Prologue: SeemsI abandoned this project for a minute. Work got the best of me. Actually, I was embarrassed to admit how much Beatles music I was missing. Still am. But it’s been long enough.
It’s hard to quantify, but I think I’ve gotten some good out of this project. I have a much easier time reevaluating bands I once thought were awful (woohoo, right?). I still often think they are awful, but I’ll never not give someone a second chance. I still have to listen to the radio at times, and I guess I’ll never get over my dislike for most of that stuff unless I spend some time away from it. It’s not my prerogative to have some fantastic revelation about any of today’s top pop country hits, so we’ll call it a truce? It’s not important! I get so much more out of music now. I really encourage everyone to look at music differently: see it’s small, moving parts; see the forest for the trees; see what the artist says and feel what they want you to feel; get outside of whatever box in which you are trapped. I have much more music to get through, and maybe I’ll actually complete my Beatles discography, which is as much of a public good I could expect from anything I ever do.
Also, I don’t know if any of you readers have any questions about law school, but I go to a very good state law school and I’ve had some success with it. I’d be happy to answer questions about that if you have any.
The Beatles - Help!
I treasure the ability of The Beatles to influx big pop hits with a progressive ingredient that would lead to the more polarizing material of the band’s later career. For example, George Harrison’s guitar really acts out, almost teasing the melody and structure when the guitar slides down in main the transition riffs. Other times, Harrison hits strong bass notes that give “Help!” a respectable backbone, but still sticks out with an uncommon boldness. The drums come in stereo left, which gives the wall of sound some thoughtfulness that it really deserves.
The verses have a surprising amount of momentum. The speed and intensity of this song almost seems to big for its own good. That works both for and against The Beatles. For example, the final, stripped down verse seems like an afterthought because this Juggernaut of a song doesn’t allow us to catch our breathes when we listen (or perhaps hold on for the ride). However, this song moves so quickly and so powerfully to convey the frustration around which the lyrics center. Because of how strongly the Beatles move this song, it feels just like the maelstrom that perhaps makes us feel the need for help described in this song. Really impressive. It leaves me wondering what I’ll uncover when I view the other early Beatles tunes, which I tended to not listen to because they seemed so poppy.
3.5 out of 5 stars.
Epilogue: I can’t even tell if there is an album that’s supposed to go with this song. From what I can tell, it’s a single that went along with the film, Help!, so I guess I’m not missing a goldmine. Correct me if I’m wrong. Here’s the real Beatles pickle for me. I have “Hey Jude”, but then I have some incomplete albums. I guess there’s no getting around cheating and trying to listen to the full albums despite not owning them, but I can’t seem to find them on my reliable music sources. I’d hate to listen to these albums on youtube or something. This is why I haven’t included any kind of link, as I usually do. If anyone is interested in trading some music to help me complete my Beatles repertoire, hit me up!
The first half or so of this album consists of several powerful songs worth going through individually. “Come Together” beings with a mischievous, playful backbeat. The slow and steady guitar solo is the essence of fit, gliding on top of a crescendo in volume and gravity. Lennon and McCartney sound slightly demented together, which complements the disjointed, jiving lyrics. Like many parts of the album, this interesting opener eases the listener into a sound that is more interesting and vivacious than meets the casual ear.
In “Something”, a slightly jarring introductory hook makes the verse seem even smoother than it is alone. This must have been pretty tough to accomplish, considering the verses’ gliding harmony and soothing guitar chorus echoes. The bravado of the “you’re asking me” section feels like rising into the clouds might feel. Laying those vocal harmonies on top of the later verses is almost too much; they just barely sell it with sincerity, but I do genuinely feel the sweetness as the natural texture of the vocals soothes my ears.
“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” is the kind of song hilariously termed “granny song” by John Lennon, but the levity is probably needed between “Something” and “Oh! Darling”. Also, the guitars raise the sonic existence of the song like a scaffolding allows buildings to reach higher into the sky. Plus, how did they figure that the odd synthesizer in that number would make a good fit? It does, but just barely.
“Oh! Darling” smashes together some really fun doo-wop sound with George Harrison’s progressive, plucky guitars. The oddness of the chorus’ arpeggio almost distracts me from the powerhouse vocals. Almost. I sometimes wonder if these gentlemen put songs like this, and “Octopus’s Garden”, on their albums just to anger other musicians over how easily these peculiarly memorable and enjoyable melodies come to the band. By this point, the guitars sound otherworldly, like they emit a sound that should not be impossible. Paul McCartney on bass moves songs (especially in “Something”) so vitally that I sometimes wonder if the Beatles would be any good without him. Things have locked in step to prepare you for the most mind-blowing moment of the album…
“I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” is nigh-incredulous. The total picture of this song is so torrential that it almost shouldn’t work. Sometimes listening to the Beatles easily fools me into thinking that the music is not that great. This is probably because they have the kind of mastery of music that, like that of great sports players, makes the execution seem effortless from the outside. The complex flow of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and the immaculate arrangements of “Something” and “Oh! Darling” zoom past you because they are buried under the impressive performance of these gentlemen. The outro of “I Want You” takes a different approach than that, though. The dark, menacing guitar/bass riff helps the white noise escalate the senses into overload, and the stark cutoff at the end is nothing short of cruel. I often think of the ocean at its most stormy and horrific when I experience such rocky dynamics, but somehow my senses escape Earth altogether during this smashing number.
In all likelihood, this happened to me at some point.
“Here Comes The Sun” should feel schizophrenic after “I Want You”, but again these gentlemen suck you in with a comforting, reassuring and heartfelt song. It’s like they are bringing you back down to Earth but reminding you of what you saw when you went all the way up and out there, wherever and whatever that may be, with them. Finally, I enjoy hearing “Because” at the end of the first half of the album’s barrage of intense, stand-alone songs. The heavily paced exposition of “Because” and the gorgeous, impossibly huge-sounding vocal arrangements that follow raise more questions than resolutions, and that kind of mystery is exactly what counts when beginning the next part of the album.
The second half of the album begins and finishes a journey that has a complex, wistful tone, perhaps underscored by the imminent breakup of the band. Different sections flow like water in “You Never Give Me Your Money”, which sets up the oddness of the next few songs. After the bizarre lushness of “Sun King”, a funky rock trio kicks off that ends with a real sleeper hit of the Beatles, in my opinion. “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” is what I experience to be the most passionately forceful song on the album. It powers through the passionate composition and arrangement. The acoustic rhythm guitar smashes the beat’s emphasis while McCartney’s bass adds more of his own touch of sophistication. The real center of the song, for me, is the lead guitar part. Harrison shines with a sound that holds up the rest of the band while still existing in its own world. Moreover, each guitar note throughout this suite hits with an air of importance, as if this entire segment of the album is meant to have your full attention and care.
The Abbey Road sound gives way to one last grand endeavor, beginning with “Golden Slumbers”. The heavy orchestration shifts the album’s world suddenly, like the wistful outro of a musical so emotionally intense that an experience any more worldly would be too much to experience. “Carry That Weight” picks up perfectly the somber, beautiful tail end of “Golden Slumbers” with a rousing chorus that makes me feel like I’ve climbed to the top of a mountain. “Carry That Weight” and “The End” are a very fitting “end” to this album (even though “Her Majesty” sends us off) because they fit not only the cycle beginning with “Golden Slumbers”, but also the second half and totality ofAbbey Road. I love how “Carry That Weight” amplifies triumph through its emotional lyrics and lush orchestration, and then “The End” picks up that escalation in a more viscerally exciting manner by turning towards a rock form that distills almost everything about each individual member of The Beatles.
Finally, everybody has had some exposure to the “…and in the end” portion of the song, but if you haven’t experienced it as a grand pre-“Your Majesty”-finale, you need to take the time to sit through this whole album with a caring ear.
5 out of 5 stars.
I’m pretty blown away by this album. It’s easy for that to have meaning to me, because I have never been a much of a Beatles worshipper. That being said, this album has always been the easiest of the Beatles’ to understand in my head. I think it will be even more interesting to learn more about how this band’s sound developed up until this point. Gotta go search for more Beatles music, my collection is woefully incomplete. Also, sorry about lack of links; it seems that grooveshark has been policed of Beatles songs. I find that odd, considering King Crimson is lying around, but alas.
Licensed to Ill
The Beastie Boys created a seminal album that at once put them on the map and also made many doubt whether they could attain more than party band status (a poor prognosis). On Licensed to Ill, the Beastie Boys drive a hard, slightly insane trip that crosses pig-headed adolescence with believable thick-skinned toughness. They create their very own world of sound on this album, well worthy of its historic praise, but they sometimes raise the question of where the line between ferocious brashness and novelty/comedy music really lies.
However jocular the Beastie Boys really are on this album, “Rhymin & Stealin“s introductory mash-up of “When the Levee Breaks” and “Sweet Leaf” is about as serious as it gets. The music and samples on this album focus on sharp attacks that hit the ears quickly, leaving a deserted battleground of silence between each note. This album’s sound, while forceful, is brazenly sparse. At first, it sounds like a garage demo with unusually superior production at some point. What I think is happening is that the Beastie Boys are creating as unique a sound as possible by painting on an almost desolately blank canvass. This tactic allows them to avoid unnecessary noise and ensure that they speak with their own voices. Considering that most of this album’s sound is made up of samples, I must say I’m impressed.
This tactic can be a little limited at times; I definitely warmed up to this album, but it took several listens. First, these guys sound like a couple of kids with god-given confidence on this album. The vocal rhythm is laid back and simple, the Beastie Boys instead emphasizing long, swooping yells and theatric, bombastic displays of just about everything else. It really tends to sound repetitive and gimmicky because it is so highly animated. With songs like “She’s Crafty” and “Girls”, I really started off wondering whether I was listening to a bunch of guys sitting around drinking and making fun of rap. Also, the samples’ simplicity sometimes works against itself. The sing-song melodies in “Slow Ride” and “Girls” seem awfully questionable. Sometimes, the best I can think is “yeah, I get how a bunch of friends had a laugh over this song one day”. You have to peel back the surface and realize the beautiful Seinfeld esque quality of this album: it’s about everyday life for these guys, which can involve being crude, tough, funny, and irreverent.
The real golden quality of Licensed to Ill is that it is, as a whole, almost as similar to punk as it is to rap. The samples have a simplistic mixing style that emphasizes force over pleasant melding and mixture of sounds, which gives it a sort of “I don’t care, I’m just gonna blast it” attitude. ”Fight For Your Right” raises a good question: are these guys using a really old school rap style, or are they punk rockers who could care less about the pretense of tone and instead jumped into the rap scene in the 80’s just to poke the world with a giant stick? The absolute best part: they don’t just mix punk sounding instruments with rap sounding vocals. I’m not just making this up to get around admitting that some kind of rock/rap fusion sounds good. I would never even admit that to you if I did. I’m saying that they get behind the idea, perhaps feeling, that practically gave birth to punk music, to rock and roll even, and they channeled it into a very early style of rap.
The refrain of “Slow and Low” ramps up the raw, mean energy that defines this album. The track pushes the album’s boundary in a new direction to round out an experience that is more diverse than it seems. Although the sonic universe of Licensed to Ill can’t compare in size to that of Ill Communication, the Beastie Boys find a way to explore different sides of their own outlooks and ways of living. It’s a very interesting statement with a very interesting angle on the idea of similarities between punk and rap. My last thought on this entry is that I’m probably not going to use and abuse this record as I have Ill Communication. Even with the kind of appreciation for this album that I’ve explained here, I don’t have but a couple of stand out tracks that I’m going to keep in my mind and my playlists (“Slow and Low”, “No Sleep Till Brooklyn”, “Brass Monkey”).
3 out of 5 stars.
Epilogue: Going through these albums felt, and was, completely backwards in this order. This one represented the raw idea of the Beastie Boys, while Ill Communication represented one of their higher points of refinement. Plus, Ill Communication still blows my mind. I cannot stop listening to it. Licensed to Ill is more along the lines of what I was afraid of with regards to critiquing this group. I wasn’t really feeling this one, but it’s good to keep current with the practice of it.
Up Next: The Beatles!
Prologue: I’m so glad I’ve returned to this band after going through this revival in critical music appreciation. It’s incredibly easy to keep Beastie Boys in the one-hit-wonder category for most people who are not avid listeners. The interesting thing about that statement is that anybody who goes a bit above the average Beastie Boys listener probably think it’s insane. Actually, the simple trade-off style of the rapping and the great old-school sound of the samples on these records do seem to make up a big part of the “rap as it fits in popular culture in the 80’s/90’s”. But the better things fit in history, the more likely it seems that the greatness of these things get overlooked. That being said…
There’s no getting around it, the 3 frontmen of Beastie Boys can’t help but have an in your face style of presentation. Maybe it’s the nasally tone of some of their voices; maybe it’s how masterfully they can sell it. At any rate, on Ill Communication, the Beastie Boys seem to take everything you thought was an overdone relic and turns it into complete gold.
I think the sampling really steals the show on this album. When I listen to this whole thing, I feel like they are taking me through a cultural panorama spanning from space to the streets to the jungles and the sewers. You don’t hear everything you could conceive of sounding great with old-school rap here, but the organic flow of the album gives the style itself an impression of hugeness that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Next, I never, ever realized how talented the rapping is on this album (or maybe of just these guys altogether). The Beastie Boys have a very idiosyncratic style, so much that I didn’t really expect to be all that impressed. I was pleasantly wrong in that expectation. This old school rhythmic style of rap really strikes a resonant chord with the organic samples, and like I said before, they really sold to me what I thought I wasn’t buying. I don’t even think Beastie Boys needed this much variety to make a great album. Just the sounds of the deep, hazy drums, and the forceful bass more than suffice to go the distance with these talented guys (see Get it Together, Sure Shot, B-Boys Makin’ With the Freak Freak, basically anything on this album besides what I’m about to mention).
The instrumentals keep the album flowing while giving it a smashing variety. On the outer rims of style, they throw barreling punk rock at your face (Tough Guy), they put rock and rap together in a way that sucks less that usual (Sabotage), and then some great vintage funk style with some pretty serious forcefulness (Sabrosa, Futterman’s Rule). After that crazy trip, I feel like the monk-chant themed duo of Shambala and Bodhisattva Vow are just there to blow our minds completely. That is, until I listen once more, and then I hear the coolest, spaciest sound of the whole album, and I believe what they are feeling. Plus, these guys can play. Play something fierce.
Look, the moral of this story is that I think you are misguided if you believe there is nothing more than “Fight For Your Right” to these guys. This album is a must-listen if you are interested in rap, especially old-school. It’s a must listen if you are interested in organic fusion that doesn’t suck. It’s fun and it’s serious. It strikes many chords, resonances, and beats in ways you couldn’t imagine until you hear it.
4 out of 5. Very, very impressive.
Epilogue: Not much to say, here. I’m serious about the question in the title, though. Let me know. Let me know if what I’m saying is complete garbage. I don’t claim to know anything at all about rap. I’m willing to learn, though. If you’re still reading, thanks. I’m really busy, but it’s because things are going really great for me in law school and whatnot. This was difficult to write, at any rate. There are too many tracks to separate out and analyze, so I went for a bit more of a compact style. Hopefully I got at the essence of the album. If I missed anything, chime in, I’ll put your name on it.
Next: Licensed to Ill
I most certainly will. I’m going to work on my review of Beastie Boys- Ill Communication, and then I’ll give it a look-see. Thanks for remembering about my blog! It sure has been a while.
Come to my page and add me as a friend. I’m interested in exchanging music, if you are so interested.
innergarden said: I must have listened to nothing but this album for like 3 straight weeks shortly after it came out. If i could genre-fy it I might call it Avant-Dance.”
I definitely did not emphasize the heavy use of dance rhythms in this album. Because many of the bands I listen to similarly emphasize dance rhythm and feel, I tend to take it for granted. Realizing this, I hope that I was able to point out the other (in this case, I think, more important) elements of the album. It doesn’t really come out until you listen to the whole thing with all of your attention and fervor. That being said, I really think it’s a lot more progressive than it seems on the first listen; I definitely only noticed the good grooves and interesting bells and whistles (figuratively) when I first got into this album.
I realized that my “23.1 Days of Music…” title has become outdated. I’m happy to rename this blog 34.1 Days of Music, So What? And all that stuff. If it looked like I would be in danger of completing this project in the near future, I’d be even happier than I already am just to have gotten so much new music since Christmas.
Prologue: Anyone remember me? No? That’s okay. I’ve been very busy enjoying law school and life more than usual. But now it’s time for a mental health break, which usually means this blog if I’m not on vacation. I’m surprised I experienced writer’s/listener’s block when I got to Battles. Mirrored is a fantastic display of inventiveness, vibrant energy, texture, and all sorts of other things that should facilitate the writing process. Suffice it to say that I had to get law school under my boot for a while.
This album probably couldn’t start off any better than it does with “Race- In”. Like an overture showcases the main themes of a symphony at the beginning, this song displays the electricity, texture, and obliqueness that make Battles one of the most fun bands to listen to in a long time. Every mixture of idea and sound brims with excitement; whenever this album sounds too frantic for its own good, it usually convinces you that you are the one going too slowly, and that you need to get your head right and keep up.
Battles often develops several themes within a song, mixing and matching them together obliquely for various effects much like electronic artists (Daft Punk’s Homework comes to mind). In “Atlas”, for example, different themes in the voice, drums, guitar, and bass line swirl together to create different levels of drama and excitement. These mixtures are “oblique” in that they strive neither for the most perfect sounding harmonies nor intentional disharmony (see especially the guitar/synth/whistle harmonies in “Ddiamond”). The mixtures simply happen, and intent becomes irrelevant as sense and experience dominate the landscape of this album.
The traditional drum sound particularly interests me. Listening to the other voices, you might think this sound would comport electronic drums. Here, the ferocity of the ex-Helmet drummer, John Stanier, often dominates the sound and counters to the more playful journeys of the guitars, voices, and synthesizers. Although it sounds like a push and pull kind of relationship, no one part of the band ever really loses the others.
The use of voice in this album is the most creative singular method used by Battles. In “Tonto”, an insane counterpoint between the different vocal lines adds depth to the primarily groove-based tune. The mind-bending slides of the vocals in the latter portion of “Rainbow” pulls the plug out from an emotionally intense journey, resulting in a disorientation that is pleasing if you are inclined towards the more disturbing forms of music.
As distinctive as Battles’ sound is on this album, Mirrored is far from a one act show. The thoughtful ambience in “Leyendecker” signals a darker, less accessible turn in the album to follow. “Rainbow” turns towards the Romantic era of music, using disorienting ebbs and flows in the beginning, slowly building up to the bombastic centerpiece that strikes out in an emotional release. The song then deconstructs itself, only to take a similar course with even more emotional turbulence and unrest than the first half of the song. “Bad Trails” strikes down form into shades of ambience and themes that seem familiar and yet not, like someone you pass in the street, sure that you might recognize him, but never get the chance to find out.
“Snare Hangar” brings us out of the deep dark jungle with a return to the joyous form found earlier in the album. “Tij” might start out as a drummer showcase, but the unbridled intensity of this track never fails to ensnare me through its entirety. The crazy thing about this song is that the true climax is minimalistic compared to the hugeness of the beginning (around the 5:40 point). Again, this is Battles exploring elements usually found in electronic music to create an interesting hybrid, at least in theory, of natural and synthesized music. After everything this album takes me through, “Race- Out” sounds more like a preview into another world than an ending. I have always loved this song, but I’m failing to see its functionality as an ending (possibly because listening to “Tij” is so incredibly taxing). However, the amount of focus shown in this track speaks for itself. The engine of ambience, in the beginning, turns over into the type of groove, interplay, and oblique music-making that Battles established throughout this entire album, which reminds you who and what you are dealing with as this mind-bending, taxing, experience comes to an end.
4.5 out of 5 stars.
Epilogue: Normally, I try not to simply go through each track in an album review, but it seemed oddly appropriate in this case. I just never knew how good this album was until (1) I gained the maturity of musical appreciation that I did through my work so far on this blog and (2) devoted time to listening and understanding this album as a whole. Just like in my review of Adult., I really gained access to an album I used to listen to only for the pure thrill. My favor towards this album speaks to how much I love it when music takes me someplace rather than just chugging along. Here, there is a nearly perfect combination of recording quality, creativity, virtuosity, and use of theme and texture that elevate this album above the general mush of music that inundates all of us today. Maybe my senses have been dulled by the internet, but I really need something to strike me in a piece of music for it to enthrall me as Mirrored has.
Next: Bauhaus- Crackle
Friends, readers, haters.
I’m coming back with a review of Battles- Mirrored. Probably tomorrow. Thanks for not unfollowing me. Just got a lot of new music, and it’s been just wonderful.
Prologue: When it comes to a guest-driven album, I have negative feelings before I even listen to it. This is probably Rob Thomas’ fault (Santana gets the benefit of the doubt, given the 70’s and all). It’s been done really well, at least by Ray Charles. In general, I find this concept draws the listener’s attention in too many different directions. Maybe, though, I shouldn’t be judging these projects the way I judge cohesive albums. That’s easy enough for me to observe, but it leaves an interesting question. What on earth are these duet albums trying to get at?
This album’s sound quality mixes high fidelity with natural, acoustic sound. A good rhythm and blues band never really cares for the trappings of a particular era of recording style, but its still pretty hard to pull of anything blues-related with flashy production quality. Stevie Ray Vaughn managed it a few times. This album, however, is one of the best examples I can think of with regards to the blues in hi-fi. The sounds come out clear without sounding too much like arena garbage. The drums don’t have 80’s-tastic reverb, which is an accomplishment in and of itself when you think about most newer blues albums (even really good ones).
This album may lack cohesion, but that doesn’t mean it lacks stellar performances. In “If You Love Me”, Van Morrison channels more blues (and by that, I mean a lot less classic rock radio) than I have heard him channel since his earliest recordings. The Rolling Stones actually stand out as a band (and not just as Mick Jagger) in “Paying the Cost to Be the Boss”, which makes the track excel amidst the all too general sound of the backing band on most other tracks.
I expected more guitar interplay on this album, to the point it would become annoying. However, I was pleased to experience a very tasteful assortment of guitar, vocal, and other instrument/voice trade-offs throughout the album. Only the Clapton track, “Rock Me Baby”, has a traditional guitar trade-off, and its rightly reserved for this track alone. My favorite contribution, by far, was D’Angelo’s in “Ain’t Nobody Home”. Other guest appearances made me think “Oh, theres ____, that’s interesting”. D’Angelo, on the other hand, brings his presence into the song before diving into his own verse. It makes a huge difference, especially when the barrage of other guest-appearances pull this album in a few too many directions for me to simply enjoy it without having to re-adjust my frame of reference for each track.
I don’t really know what to say about “Keep it Coming”, featuring Heavy D, other than the love-making references centered around King’s guitar made me pretty uncomfortable. In all seriousness, King’s delivery of the chorus is spot-on. The rap doesn’t really mix well with the track, but that just might be my disappointment that King didn’t follow up with his promise to “try this rappin’ thing” talking.
King’s sound is absolutely centered on rightness, observing Louie Armstrong’s rule that good music is not what notes you play, but what notes you don’t. His sound is so tasteful and understated that it is the easy to take for granted. Still, you always know its him when he’s playing. It may not push any musical limits, but his playing never fails to take a song by the collar and put it in its place.
Each song has its own slight variation of style. That’s what’s so great about these gigantic, modern rhythm and blues albums. Just watch the Blues Brothers (I think I’m gonna get my hands on that soundtrack, actually) to see of what this kind of backing band is capable. This music both converges diverse talents and stays true to a deeper spirit of good music in general. I don’t really enjoy this album as a whole, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Trying to pull all of the pieces together, I just see each guest singer coming up trying to be a part of something big. Still, a good backing band, many good guests, and many good songs should a good album make. If I feel cheated out of a more meaningful album, I can still respect the idea of attempting a duet based album like this. I bet it’s pretty hard to actually pull one of these off as well as King pulled off Deuces Wild.
3 out of 5 stars.
Epilogue: Good album, very enjoyable, but I didn’t feel inspired enough to gain any good insight. This can be explained by my preference for albums over collections. Sometimes, a collection tells a pretty story itself, but I didn’t get that from Deuces Wild. I’d highly recommend it to anyone interested in rhythm and blues, or anyone who enjoyed the Blues Brothers (anyone with an ounce of sanity, in other words). However, I still don’t know if there is some significant point to albums like this; maybe there isn’t supposed to be one. To really pull myself out of my super-objective music appreciation mode, I’m generally unhappy with music that doesn’t push the boundaries of style, presentation, or something at some point. On the other hand, and taking my ego back out of the equation, this album drips with talent, and it seems to accomplish what it was meant to accomplish, whatever that may have been.
Next: Battles- Mirrored
done, friend. i haven’t had the time to get to a post because of a school assignment, but it was nice to take a break and think about this kind of stuff.
Prologue: I am super-excited about this post. With the exception of a few songs I am saving for compilation reviews (e.g., Kill Bill Soundtrack, Ocean’s Eleven Soundtrack, things Metallica managed to cover), this is the last of the A’s! That means B.B. King, Battles and Bauhaus are in my very near future. I am forcing in the time I need to listen, thing and write because it keeps me relatively sane as the new semester starts. I don’t know how I lived without it last winter. Anyways, Art of Noise presented quite a challenge. I don’t really know how to describe what I like about most electronic music, barring something absolutely crazy that stands out in my ears. I guess that makes this review my first attempt at a general techno/electronica album. Be gentle, I’m new at this.
The Best of Art of Noise
To start off, some of these samples just don’t stand the test of time in my mind. Nevertheless, I failed to encounter a single song on this album that didn’t suck me into its atmosphere at one point or another. I don’t know whether to call this a guilty pleasure or a pleasurable exercise in listening to whatever I feel like listening to. However, something about Art of Noise sets it apart from your run of the mill 80’s techno (if I’m misusing/interchanging techno and electronica, feel free to school my ignorant mind). Sometimes in a Kraftwerk kind of way, other times in a Frank Zappa/I-dunno-what-is-serious-and-what-is-in-jest kind of way.
The beats start off stale, but they become enduring. Although the group only hints at it, the humor and surreality of these outrageous samples can break your guard down somethin’ fierce. It’s as if they are the punk equivalent of electronica in their day; maybe they don’t have their sampling technique down packed, but they still take a stand and yell some craziness into innocent crowds. “Beat Box (Diversion One)” reads like a techno playbook from hell, and I wouldn’t take the car soundbite seriously if you paid me to do so, but I’ll be darned if I’m not a little impressed by the band’s moxy in throwing it all in my face.
There are plenty of things about Art of Noise that I don’t have to rationalize enjoying. The ephemeral synths are a centerpiece of pleasure for each song. The out of this world synthesized voices stand out more than anything. From the playful “DUMMM… DUMMM.. DAH DUH DUM” of “Beat Box (Diversion One)” to the very progressive melody of “Legacy”, Art of Noise rarely fails to deliver with this particular sonic vehicle.
Given the sense of humor and surreal delivery of these tracks, “Moments in Love” hits with impressive force. The indian/bongo sounding drums and piano nearly trip over the cheese line, but the simple choral line delivery breaks through all pre-conceived notions I have about 80’s music and gets in my soul a little bit. Moving on from this breathtaking track, “Opus 4” and the Max Headroom-endorsed, computer generated swagger known as “Paranormia” really open the door to what Art of Noise is trying to get at. What that is is more difficult to explain than anything else about Art of Noise. When I listen to this collection, I hear a talented group challenging my notions of what I enjoy and how I enjoy it (hence my Frank Zappa reference, earlier). I’ll be honest, I loathe a few of the sounds on this collection, at least out of context with the work as a whole. However, the mental odyssey on which Art of Noise takes me never fails to draw me in when I really manage to listen.
3 out of 5 stars? This one’s a mystery to me folks. Lots to love, lots to guffaw at.
Epilogue: Ta-da! I finished a whole letter of the alphabet. I’m pretty happy that I’ve been able to commit to this project, insanely long breaks aside. I’m worried that I get too abstract when I talk about electronica or techno, which I do because my musical/emotional vocabulary is mostly undeveloped in this genre. I guess I understand what it is I like about Art of Noise more than I did before, but I’m not sure it’s taking me anywhere in particular. Even if it doesn’t, I am excited at the prospect of reviewing more genres that are newer to me than my old rock and roll, blues, and jazz staples. At any rate, it’s time to move onto the B’s!! Here’s a preview of what’s to come:
B.B. King; Battles; Bauhaus; The Beatles; Beck; Bedrich Smétana; Béla Bartók; Bill Evans; Billie Holiday; Billy Cobham; Billy Joel; The Birthday Party; Bitplane; Björk; Black Dice (yikes); Black Sabbath; Black Star; Blind Guardian; Blind Melon; Blonde Redhead; Blue Scholars; Bob Dylan; Brak (yes, Brak); Brian Setzer; Broken Social Scene; Buddy Guy; Buddy Rich; Bush
I bought my first Elliott Smith album the same day as I bought my first Primus album. I think it made sense to nobody but me.
Man, Art of Noise can really be cool sometimes. The 80’s cheese overloads my brain, though. Anyone else an Art of Noise listener? I just wantonly picked up a best of album many years back; I can’t say I have any amazing perspective on it yet.
This song is of a style called hard bop, which sought to recreate the original bebop of the the 1930’s. To be all too simple about things, small groups emphasized individual creativity with songs that featured the whole band playing a theme, a middle section of mostly improvisational solos, maybe a return of the theme between solos (maybe not), capping it off with a final return to the theme. Give it a listen and consider some things I have to say about it.
There are plenty of interesting things of substance to note about this song. In particular, I am struck by the crisp, sharp notes from the horns’ improvisation, which stand out like paint strokes of sharp contrast. The theme, on the other hand, is somewhat laid back and dreamy. The trumpeter comes in after the first sax solo with staggard rhythms and nasty note delivery that sets a vibrant spark in my earspace. My favorite part about this music is how organically the voices intertwine. If you really listen to how the horns deal with the piano/bass chord changes, you will find at any point the horn player either preempting the change, lagging behind it, or hitting it full force. The intent with which these kinds of musicians do this kind of thing has always astounded me. It sways the careful listener back and forth, and it unsettles the groove just enough to make the groove more savory.
I’m not sure I’ve said anything so far I can’t say about most of the jazz that I have. It’s all so subtle that I could spend days listening to it, unlocking new secrets. Of more interest to me is the ability of this song to harmonize whatever setting in which I listen to it. When I listen to it at my desk, with my good speakers, everything in my room seems to lock into place and make sense. Things that were once messy are now carefully placed, locking into little purposeful cubby holes. When I listen to it walking wherever I go, all of the noise and bustle around me slides off my shoulders like water from an umbrella. Many kinds of jazz emit chaos, fury, sadness, some extreme or another. This particular song seems to be totally devoted to striking at the essence of whatever jazz has been trying to get at in general since it came to fruition.
4 out of 5 stars
Up next: Art of Noise
This one was pretty tough. I used to be more of a scholar when it came to jazz, but not so much now. I remembered that one of my friends suggested I pay more attention to how songs make me feel, so that gave me a really interesting outlet. I really hope you give this song a shot. It is really groovy, and it deserves everyone’s time when they can give it. Also, make sure you show my blog to your friends!
most. definitely. looking forward to it.
This song stands in an interesting contrast to other Arcade Fire songs. “Cold Wind” builds heavily on the same idea until the break in the middle. It has a harrowing effect. The main theme and melody of this song evokes loneliness that pierces straight into the heart. It seems so simple (indeed there may not be too much more needing to be said), and yet something just gets under my skin when I listen to this song. I feel utterly powerless against it. I think Arcade Fire distilled something very emotional in this song, perhaps better than they have with anything else so far. It’s uncertain and very lonely; it fits the imagery of driving down a desert road at night when the wind is cold to visit a loved one’s grave.
I’m actually sad to be leaving Arcade Fire. I listened to them so very much from 2005-2008 that it doesn’t really do the same for me anymore, but challenging myself to describe this music was a wonderful experience on many levels. I’m sure I’ll pick up Suburbs, but not immediately. The thing that prevented me from picking up Suburbs was this weird sort of inability to move forward with my Arcade Experience. I was so wrapped up in the progression of the EP to Neon Bible that I wasn’t willing to accept the new things I was hearing. Also contributing to my inability to pick up Suburbs was (a) people finally starting to become annoying about how much they love Arcade Fire and (b) I really didn’t dig the first few songs I heard. I’m sure it’s worth it to get over these things; I’ve heard that the new album is amazing. Still, my past experience with this band has been so fulfilling that I’m not really worried about moving onto their next album or not. Sure, it seems like it was a phase, but I don’t think that means anything bad about their music. I’m glad you all enjoyed these reviews so much in particular. I sure did!
Up next: Art Blakey, then Best of Art of Noise
I’m not sure anything about this album can surpass the sheer sonic force and splendor that Arcade Fire gives us. Where previous works evoke old houses with bittersweet memories in empty rooms, here Arcade Fire turns its heart to the sky and fills every inch of space with feeling. Listened to right after Funeral or Arcade Fire EP, the opening track “Black Mirror” sounds like it is meant to shake the dust from the rafters.
Many times, you can hear Arcade Fire redefining itself. In “Keep the Car Running”, the band sheds its conventional indie cocoon with a rock-oriented song that evokes more Bruce Springsteen than (I’m too lazy to think of an appropriate indie band reference; you’re probably better at it than I am, so go to town). “Ocean of Noise” starts off with a dark setting that almost seems smug, but paints a beautiful, terrible picture of an quietly uncontrollable storm. The closing section of this song must be experienced with good speakers, high volume, and your favorite drink. I’m very serious about this. “Black Wave/Bad Vibrations” turns the beat changing device (used in Funeral) in a new direction. Here, the switch occurs at the very center, and it is there to make your feelings hit the brakes to be tugged from hope to terror, uncertainty, and power. This song has a profound effect on me: on my mood, on the way I feel and look at things when I’m listening. The powerful, distorted baritone guitar ties the two sections together, but that just makes it all the more terrifying.
“Intervention” still stands as the centerpiece of the album for me. The organ used in the intro seems to make a statement of grandeur larger than this band can live up to. If not for the climax of the song, I don’t think it could. Stick around for the chorus (not the song structure, but the group of singers). They way it melds with Regine’s voice provides the answer to the question posed by the intro, if you will. As an Arcade Fire fan, the re-recording of “No Cars Go!” holds a special place in my heart. It’s a nice companion piece to the old version, and it is the one point in the album that speaks to the hope and release at which the rest of the album can only hint. I’m not sure if the album would be more interesting without this song or if it would completely fall apart under the weight of the world that this band sometimes seems to be putting on its shoulders. In all honestly, I think it is a bit of “emotional sherbet”, something meant to cleanse the pallet before you head into the final song, “My Body is a Cage”, which takes you into deeper places of fear and emotional chaos than anywhere else on this album.
At the end of the day, I love a lot more of the individual tracks on this album than I did on Funeral, but Neon Bible doesn’t make the same kind of emotional journey that Funeral does. It’s an emotional roller-coaster ride, like the part where the phoenix rises out of the flames, but only the part that’s completely on fire. That being said, the feelings and emotions that this album runs through are a bit hodge-podge. Again, I think the best attribute is the wonderful, wonderful sound that this band produced. It can capture you, if you let it, and take you many wonderful (if at times terrible) places.
4.5 out of 5 stars.
Please take a second to recommend me for Tumblr Tuesday! If you’ve already made your pick, please tell your friends about my blog! More importantly, send me comments about any thoughts you have on my words. Soon: my review for Neon Bible.
Make sure to pick my blog, and label it as music!
if you try to steal the beat
the beat will steal you
I buy it. I don’t download. I know it’s nigh impossible to get knicked, I just don’t want to take the chance. In law school, you know.
thank you very much! i was really having trouble getting all of that out. i just looked at your blog, i find everything very interesting, and am eager to explore it!
Lord have mercy, my first reblog! Thanks willdrewreviews! I’ll be sure to reblog your review of The Suburbs, seeing as how I haven’t gotten around to obtaining that album, and have no money.
Prologue: If I am not careful, I will simply do nothing but gush with joy throughout this album review, and it would be as disturbing as it sounds when you read it out loud.
Funeral is the first I ever heard of Arcade Fire, and I don’t know if anything else they do will be able to measure up to it in my mind. That being said, I’ll be on my way; I’ll try and be reasonably objective, or at least usefully descriptive, about it.
Funeral opens with a little number called “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)”, which is by and far my favorite Arcade Fire track. Every musical voice melds together into one grand medium that almost seems ill-contained in only one media format. This song is really where Arcade Fire best transcends the common multi-instrumental identity of this era. Usually, it sounds really great (to okay, to bad, it depends) to have each quirky instrument give its own bit to the sound of a band or of a song. Here, on the other hand, the voices act in perfect concert. Consider the opening seconds of this song. The strings, twinkling piano, and reverberated guitar create a starry and snowy background in a way that de-emphasizes the distinction between each instrument.
The next two songs finish up the wonderfully effective High Fidelity rule: start out strong, continue stronger with the next song, and then cut to a softer song.
“Neighborhood #2 (Laika)” turns the intense serenity of the first song upside down with surprising force. “Une Anne Sans Lumiere” seems to be a catchy pop song of the day with some interesting instrumental nooks and crannies and some Dali-esque mixture of French and English. However, Arcade Fire livens it up with an interesting tempo change that has become a signature of their sound (to me, anyways).
The most interesting songs confused me at first. “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)” hit me in the face with a hodgepodge of the same instruments you’ve been hearing transformed into a wave of force. “Haiti” seemed like a misguided attempt at a Caribbean theme, but it really hit my heart when I gave the lyrics a closer listen. Another tempo change, this time in “Crown of Love”, first hit me as a weird disco vehicle, but I later realized that it fully illustrates the passion that the band exudes in the last half of the song. The final track, “In the Backseat”, ends on a powerful and mysterious note. Singer Regine Chassagne shows off her vocal strength (imperfections and all) that make her stand out as a female vocalist, despite being one of many that sound a lot like Bjork.
This album is about growing up, and it works on many levels. I can’t point out anything done perfectly on this album (many of the string arrangements leave much to be desired), but that’s completely besides that point. I believe that this Arcade Fire album expresses more pain than hope: the pain of adjusting to new surroundings and the loss of old concepts that used to define oneself completely. You can find this pain in the simple subject matter of the lyrics, in the pleading sorrow of the music, and even in the sometimes uncomfortable instrumental arrangements. Thus, this isn’t necessarily an album that will sweep you off of your feet at your first listen. If you gave this a go and didn’t like it, I really think you should give it another. If this album were to be done with you the very first time you listened to it, I wouldn’t dare call it a great album.
I do so dare. 5 out of 5 stars, because even Funeral’s greatest weaknesses work so well towards its inner soul.
Next time: Neon Bible
i just realized that last.fm barely has any of the tracks on it :( but i guess you can still get the gist of it!
Trying to finish Arcade Fire Funeral review
Distracted by massive amounts of King Crimson, Genesis, Frank Zappa, Gentle Giant recently acquired.
Thanks everyone for not un-following me!
Oooook. I’m all rested up and ready to get back into this writing gig. I am eschewing the song by-song structure. Sometimes an album will have a song or two about which I fail to care, and I see no reason to spend time hung up on finding things to say about such songs. So, I’m going to finish the Arcade Fire EP quickly and move on. Sorry to have taken so long!
While pretty good by itself, this album is most interesting when thought of as a part of this band’s musical journey. Arcade Fire deals in the emotions of growing older and losing the concept of “home”. When you think about it, this theme can give rise to a nigh-infinite range of emotions: from happiness to sadness, from tranquility to rage. Considering that, it’s impressive that Arcade Fire touches on each of these spectrums’ ends while still refining a consistent sound at this early stage.
Still, Arcade Fire seems to have been refining its ability to let these songs fall into place. “Vampire/Forest Fire” is a good denouement to the album. It starts off with the slightly rustic sound Arcade Fire favored on this EP. The first movement ends, and the song enters the woods, lost, until the song finds providence for my favorite part of the entire EP. It’s a great ending, and probably the best indicator of what is to come with the band (in a chronological sense). And again, the final movement of the song means so much more after the foggy, wayward middle part makes the final movement stand out so sharply. This is song structure that tells a story, people. It helps raise these songs above the limitations in production value and band experience. Because Arcade Fire writes such interesting songs, you have to really listen to find the flaws. These flaws otherwise cease to matter, which to me is an indication that the songs take on lives of their own.
I’ll save my thoughts about Arcade Fire as a whole for later. However, it seems important to note that many bands use this kind of instrumentation. Many bands fall short of Arcade Fire, despite using the same instruments, because their songs go through the same motions we have heard all of our lives. Arcade Fire, on the other hand, go into whatever kind of mode they need to go into in order to put each album together. More on this with their next, and my favorite, album: Funerals.
3.5 out of 5 stars.
Thanks to those of you who stuck with me. It was sad to be away for so long. I hope you can all bear with me the next time another break inevitably happens.
I’m pretty excited to get to metal. As for alternative, I’m not sure I know what that means, except when I see such a band front of me of course. Sorry, it’ll be pretty bleak for the rest of this semester, law school is my life right now, but thanks for following!
Sometimes, the most ornate bands surprise me with minimal arrangements that shoot for the sky. Actually, I can’t think of any other examples, but the first verse and bridge of “My Heart is an Apple” completely outshine (in my opinion) the rest of the song. The simple voice, organ, bass, and drums of the first verse pulls your heart in the opposing directions of emptiness and serenity. After hearing Chassagne’s soft vocal interlude, every single tone and rhythm of the remainder of the song becomes more pronounced. After setting up the dénouement, Arcade Fire pulls the plug from out of nowhere, and there you have one of the oddest songs they have ever built.
Where this song lacks in the grandeur we usually expect from Arcade Fire, it totally compensates with a creative song structure. Now that I listen to it more carefully, it makes me wonder whether or not I’ve been listening to the wrong parts of Arcade Fire songs this whole time.
When I hear “Woodland National Anthem”, I hear a group of people walking up to a fire in the middle of the woods, each musical voice emerging into the light as it comes in. Like in “No Cars Go!”, the band lets each part build up, but this time throughout the entire song. Unfortunately, the broken down recording style leaves my ears hungering for more in this case. I really dig the sharp drum hits and even the forceful, sharp double vocal lines, but the my ears want more fullness than the audio gives in the end.
By the way, music enthusiasts, I made sure to hear a good quality version because mine was only 128 kbps. Thanks for that suggestion, @maxisonfire.
Still, it’s a really cool idea to have this song, even with the odder than usual lyrics. Maybe they intended it as an interlude. It certainly fits in the album that way. The outro of strings really makes you feel like you are being whisked away to the next story, which I will review next time: “My Heart is an Apple”.
Arcade Fire really eases into “No Cars Go!”, allowing the song’s introduction to set the stage for one of their great quasi-narrative songs. Why do I call it quasi-narrative? If you listen to the lyrics, you don’t find any sort of story. What really happens: the music lets each voice come in one at a time, like a narrator describing each detail of a scene well enough to put the picture in the eyes of the reader. Even though the lyrics following the introduction are definitely more abstract than the words of a narrative, the expository style of the first minute or so of “No Cars Go!” opens out hearts so that Arcade Fire can pour the words in, supposing we can listen.
There’s plenty else I like about this song, especially the contrast of the bridge section and the final buildup to the end. However, I believe I’ve mentioned the best part of this song that makes it stand out to me. I could talk about the multi-instrumentality of this band all day, but anyone can get 10 or so people together and have a cohesive product with enough work. This is a good illustration of how lyrics can be effective without necessarily meaning any one thing or another. It’s one thing to put words in simply because they sound good. It’s an entirely different thing to develop them like Arcade Fire has done with “No Cars Go!”.
Next time: The Woodland National Anthem
With “I’m Sleeping in a Submarine”, Arcade Fire presents the ever-daring voice of Regine Chassagne. Chassagne sprinkles us with frailty that toes the line between innocent and jaded, but is rarely less than beautiful. I’ve met many who have written her off as a Bjork impersonator, but few of these people failed to warm up to her. I honestly am simply in love with the girl. Few singers in my personal experience have managed to sound as honest as her. The slow, swaying melody of the chorus does wonders to set up the climax of Chassagne’s voice in this song. That strength with which she is able to sing, alongside the other dynamics she is able to maintain, really makes her voice a powerful instrument for this band.
Also, don’t ask me how, but I think the combination of piano, bass, and cello in the beginning legitimately evokes a submarine. Maybe a weird, claymation Steve Zissou submarine, but a submarine nonetheless.
Next time: No Cars Go! I’m very excited.
Prologue: I fell in love with Arcade Fire in France, May of 2005. I had never heard of anything quite like it before. Since then, I’ve held other bands with similarly multi-instrumental arrangements to a standard set by Arcade Fire. Since 2005, it’s become pretty fashionable to write this band off for a troubling number of people. If you are reading this and are one of these people, please consider coming into this review with a clean slate with regard to Arcade Fire. Act as if you have never heard of or listened to this band, and see what happens through this deluge of entries. I use the term deluge because I’m going to start going song by song, followed by an album wrap up.
Arcade Fire EP: “Old Flame”
“Old Flame” opens this quirky EP with a pretty definitive statement of this band’s sound at the time (somewhat tinny but bold guitar, accordion, no-frills strings, and whatnot.) Win Butler’s voice jumps and punctuates rather manically throughout the verse, which really does a wonder to make the chorus prettier.
The style of the recording in general, in this song and in the rest of the EP, might be the greatest thing this band does to establish its trademark wistful mood. The atmosphere evokes the reality of aging and the yearning for the innocent youth that you can feel dying through Butler’s vocal frustration. This sound may have resulted partially from necessity (the EP was recorded in a hotel, for example). Even if this EP was totally a coincidence on that matter, it’s strong evidence that Arcade Fire used this experience to become what they are today.
See you next time with “I’m Sleeping in a Submarine”!
well thanks man. i’m in law school right now so my output will be unfortunately minimal until things calm down a bit in the spring. i’m switching to a song by song format, followed by an album wrap up at the end of any complete albums I run through. look forward to reading yours, i hope you can check out some of my older material too.
I think it would be fun and easier for me to write, having as little time as I do, if I switch to a song by song format, with a comprehensive review at the end of each artist and album. I hope that keeps things more interesting for everyone than 1 long ass post every month, which is how it is these days!
I hope I haven’t bored all of you away just yet!