Friday, May 17, 2013
Like a lot of kids, I looked up to my older cousins. This can be trouble if your older cousins are deviants, but thankfully, mine weren't. One in particular, who I will simply refer to as The Lieutenant, became my music guru. The Lieutenant loved rock music and had a vast array of classic and modern rock knowledge. He also had the most impressive Christian Rock collection I have ever seen, though it was stolen by someone acting particularly awful during the summer of 2000. Another cousin my age who I've referenced before, The Rabbit, and I spent countless hours jamming out to awesome music in The Lieutenant's car, as he showed us band after awesome band. Grammatrain was one of those bands.
Grammatrain's debut album, Lonely House, is a groovy, jammy rock album with some punk, metal, and grunge influences. It rocks pretty hard, and the brother-composed rhythm section really sets the tone. I realize something about this album now, though. Back in the 90's, we ("we" stands in for my awesome crew) often said, "Yeah, Grammatrain, Lonely House!" and proceeded to rock out to the first few tracks. Lonely House is a very long album for this type of music. Thirteen tracks with five broaching five minutes or more is a lot of groovy jamming. I think, somewhere around the middle, we often forgot we'd put Lonely House on, and moved to something else. Lonely House gets into something good, and keeps doing that good thing, but it's a WHOLE lot of that good thing. Lockstep grooves and guitar solos only go so far. The highlights for me are when the band sort of go off the reservation, which doesn't happen much, but usually results in something special. My particular favorite is the slow building release of "Need,"
, though the quiet seething of album closer, "Apathy" is also quite satisfying. The latter song also contains the lyrical nugget, "I guess I'm just not good enough for Christ to shake my hand/I was born below you and I'll try to understand," aimed obviously at someone who is too big for their britches. And on that archaic "britches" reference, I'll end this review with the observation that I still pull out Lonely House to jam and relive the good ole days, but once I get to track eight, I usually skip ahead to "Apathy" and then call it a night. I've still gotten a good half hour of music, and good vibes to last a week.
1995 Forefront Records
1. She Don't Know 2:32
2. Believe 3:36
3. Execution 3:56
4. Lonely House 5:43
5. Psycho 5:42
6. Sick of Will 3:01
7. Need 6:28
8. Drown 3:55
9. Undivine Election 3:35
10. Jerky Love Song 0:40
11. Humanity 4:24
12. Picture Pains 6:32
13. Apathy 2:58
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Sometime near the start of my sophomore year of high school in 1997, I saw a commercial for Goldeneye 007 for the Nintendo 64.
I immediately sold my Super Nintendo (a horrible mistake, though one I later rectified) and bought a Nintendo 64 (a great idea). The late 90's featured a huge debate between the Nintendo 64 and Sony PlayStation crowds. I fell into the Nintendo camp. The Playstation fans argued that their disc-based system could feature better sound and full speech. Those things were true, but that missed the point of what made the Nintendo 64 so great: it was backed up by a ton of incredibly awesome games. Goldeneye was one of the best, but I had to wait nearly sixth months for the local New Roads Wal-Mart to stock it. In early March of 1998, during the final week of basketball season (and during a very nasty, extended bout of insomnia), I got my copy of the game and replaced the hours I'd spent setting screens and making layups with hours setting proximity mines, and filling enemy soldiers full of Nintendo 64-rendered lead.
Goldeneye was quite a game, one of those N64 gems that gave loners an excellent quest to complete, secrets to earn, and for everyone else, a multiplayer mode that has yet to be eclipsed. The N64 was known as the "party machine" for this last factor--it had four controller ports so that friends could play together. The PlayStation had two. Suck it, PlayStation.
Anyway, Goldeneye was quite a game, but I'm not here to review it. I'm here to review its awesome soundtrack. Goldeneye 007's N64 soundtrack works on three levels: 1. It does a good job of operating in the vein of Éric Serra's soundtrack for the film it is based upon. 2. It does a good job of operating in the spirit of the James Bond universe. 3. It does a good job of operating in the strange aural world of the Nintendo 64. The system's tones and pitches are ingrained upon the minds of millions of impressionable kids who grew up on or came of age while playing it. Nintendo 64 was the first system to successfully pull off 3D, but because it was the first, it featured a lot of empty, lower-detail, grayish rooms, and foggy, minimalistic landscapes (The system also featured vibrant colors as well, but there is a certain blur that unites all N64 games together.). These familiar sounds I'm describing are the soundtrack for these rooms and landscapes. Goldeneye's soundtrack perfectly captures this trademark N64 aura, even as it propels the game's fast-paced, exciting gameplay.
If you want a nostalgia burst, you can download the entire soundtrack here. It was never formally released, so there's no need to feel guilty. Rare, the best N64 third-party developer, had a trifecta of awesome composers working on their N64 game soundtracks. Throughout these reviews, there will be more on them to come...in fact, really soon. The story of the N64 has just begun!*
*(Explanation Point neccessary due to reviewer enthusiasm)
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Pop music is often like the result of a large group of people trying to decide on a restaurant. Once the group gets too big, everyone just has to settle for McDonald's, and McDonald's sucks. Pop music is music made for the largest group of people possible. It almost always sucks.
It doesn't always suck, though. Peter Gabriel's 1986 album, So, is one of my favorite of all time, and I can't even pretend that it isn't pop music. It went platinum five times. However, So is full of imaginative, powerfully emotional songs. Gabriel managed to capture the zeitgeist of popular tastes at the time, and yet create something timeless and artful.
So anyway, here's this Gotye kid. As of this posting, his video for the song "Somebody That I Used to Know" has over 400,000,000 views on Youtube. That is not an exaggeration. It's a fact.
That's a lot of eyeballs, but "Somebody That I Used To Know" is a really cool video, and the song is great. It somehow matches the tastes of millions, but hits the highest common denominator of the pack. This doesn't happen often. This Gotye guy is special.
You know what?
This is South Louisiana. From here on out, it's Gauthier.
The rest of Gauthier's Making Mirrors is just as experimental, sometimes not as poppy, but always rings true to the vision of a talented, individual artist. This guy isn't the product of a corporate boardroom. He's legit. Even when he's failing, like on the Motown-inspired mistake, "I Feel Better," his earnest delivery carries the song. He's best off in the Gabriel vein, though, creating vast aural landscapes to plant his melodies upon, especially on "Eyes Wide Open." He does a great job of tightly controlling a song, but knows when the album needs to breathe, like the expansive, darkly self-critical "Smoke and Mirrors," or the delightfully strange "State of the Art."
Gabriel was in his mid-30's when he recorded So. Gauthier will be there in a few years. I'm excited to see what this time in the spotlight will do to him. I hope it elevates Gauthier to a position where he grabs his opportunity to craft a timeless classic (which Making Mirrors is not, fine album though it is), and doesn't fizzle him out like so many others. Considering the talent he shows on Making Mirrors, the former seems far more likely.
1. Making Mirrors 1:01
2. Easy Way Out 1:57
3. Somebody That I Used to Know (featuring Kimbra) 4:04
4. Eyes Wide Open 3:11
5. Smoke and Mirrors 5:13
6. I Feel Better 3:18
7. In Your Light 4:39
8. State of the Art 5:22
9. Don't Worry, We'll Be Watching You 3:18
10. Giving Me a Chance 3:07
11. Save Me 3:53
12. Bronte 3:18
Friday, May 10, 2013
At the end of 2010, just nine months after their last album dropped, Gorillaz returned with a new full length. Here in early 2013, after a recent spat between musical frontman, Damon Albarn, and artwork frontman, Jamie Hewlett, we may never get another Gorillaz album. Very fitting then, that The Fall could be their final work.
The Fall is a completely different beast from the rest of Gorillaz's recorded output. Gone are the guest spots that outnumber the track count. Two songs feature instrumental input from some old men that used to be in this band called The Clash. Another features the excellent vocal guest work of living legend, Bobby Womack. The Fall is just as genre-less as the rest of Gorillaz's work, but it completely eliminates any rapping, a four or five track staple of all the rest of their albums--there are no late-night visitors, ala Demon Days. This album is almost all Albarn.
As such, instead of coming off as a collaborative effort like the rest of the band's work, The Fall feels intensely personal, a confessional through the mouthpiece of an animated monkey. Albarn recorded the entire album on his IPad during Gorillaz's Plastic Beach tour. The Fall is thus a travelogue of sorts, a way for Albarn to vent his emotions and feelings (editors note: aren't those two things the same?) as he travels across America. In this sense, The Fall is reminiscent of Kevin Shield's soundtrack for the film Lost in Translation. The Fall very much contains the sense of wandering across a foreign land, feeling homesick, yet enjoying the experience. Albarn throws a lot of weird sounds onto this album, yet fuses and familiarizes them with the organic, whether with a picked guitar, a strummed ukulele, or a nostalgic wave of noise.
While The Fall might not contain the epic feel and catharsis of Gorillaz's two masterpiece LP's, Demon Days and Plastic Beach, I have a soft spot for its unique and intimate nature. It also reminds me of the more whimsical moments on múm's Finally We Are No One, though I wouldn't go so far as to call The Fall whimsical. It's a document of a strangely alien, yet wonderful period in someone's life, one I'm grateful was shared. I feel like that last sentence needed more adverbs. Here, I'll set this song up with some to end the review. "Hillbilly Man" starts off with a gorgeous and achingly beautiful melody before wandering off the beaten path to encounter a big beat and some bizarrely...wait, is it still an adverb if it's describing an adjective? Was there supposed to be a comma in there? Joel Schumacher's directing skills, I HATE English!
1. Phoner to Arizona 4:14
2. Revolving Doors 3:26
3. HillBilly Man (featuring Mick Jones) 3:50
4. Detroit 2:03
5. Shy-town 2:54
6. Little Pink Plastic Bags 3:09
7. The Joplin Spider 3:22
8. The Parish of Space Dust 2:25
9. The Snake in Dallas 2:11
10. Amarillo 3:24
11. The Speak It Mountains 2:14
12. Aspen Forest (featuring Paul Simonon) 2:50
13. Bobby in Phoenix (featuring Bobby Womack) 3:16
14. California and the Slipping of the Sun 3:24
15. Seattle Yodel 0:38
Thursday, May 09, 2013
10/10 sort of
Let me speak in non-absolutes so that I can never be wrong. If Demon Days was sort of a night album, and sort of a space album, its follow-up, Plastic Beach, is kind of a day album, kind of an ocean album, and kind of a discussion about consumerism and waste. Plastic Beach sometimes satires the wastefulness of using and throwing out so many things, yet also sometimes finds a strange serendipity in the results. The Plastic Beach, composed of waste and trash, sort of becomes a place of peace and rest. Thus, Plastic Beach somehow miraculously duplicates the transformatively positive feelings of Demon Days, even though it goes about doing so in different ways, kind of.
Musically, Plastic Beach sort of continues Gorillaz' genreless wanderings, as there is possibly no real way to describe this music in genre terms. There's some rapping sometimes, and some pop-singing sometimes, and some soul-singing, and some electronic stuff, and some more organic sounding stuff, I think. It just is, for the most part.
What must be said with certainty, though, probably, is that none of this would work without great songs. Plastic Beach pretty much features standout after standout, as Damon Albarn's guest-star selection skills kind of continue to shine. I don't know how Albarn pulled Bobby Womack out of retirement and a sinking lack of confidence, but Womack is the star of this album, maybe. The two tracks Womack sings on kind of anchor the album, his worn voice soaring high over Plastic Beach's musical seas. The first, "Stylo," features a video featuring probably the perfect guest star.
Womack also leads the stunning pen-ultimate track, "Cloud of Unknowing" which pretty much sums up the ultimate ends of human emotion and thought. I'm serious, I think.
I think Albarn also talked Womack into recording a solo album, The Bravest Man in the Universe, after boosting Womack's confidence with these songs. It's sort of awesome.
The best thing Plastic Beach has going for it, probably, is its undoubtedly human touches, perhaps proving a band composed of animated monkeys can do a better job of conveying emotion than some human ones. "Melancholy Hill" kind of touches on the classic sadness/happiness combination feeling that the French probably have a word for.
I think it took Gorillaz five years to follow-up Demon Days with this. If they can do it again with Plastic Beach's successor, I'll gladly wait another half a decade...I think...probably...sort of...kind of...how on Earth do you hipster writers talk this way all the time?
1. Orchestral Intro (featuring sinfonia ViVA) 1:09
2. Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach (featuring Snoop Dogg and Hypnotic Brass Ensemble) 3:35
3. White Flag (featuring Bashy, Kano and the Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music) 3:42
4. Rhinestone Eyes 3:19
5. Stylo (featuring Bobby Womack and Mos Def) 4:29
6. Superfast Jellyfish (featuring De La Soul and Gruff Rhys) 2:54
7. Empire Ants (featuring Little Dragon) 4:43
8. Glitter Freeze (featuring Mark E. Smith) 4:02
9. Some Kind of Nature (featuring Lou Reed) 2:59
10. On Melancholy Hill 3:53
11. Broken 3:16
12. Sweepstakes (featuring Mos Def and Hypnotic Brass Ensemble) 5:19
13. Plastic Beach (featuring Mick Jones and Paul Simonon) 3:46
14. To Binge (featuring Little Dragon) 3:55
15. Cloud of Unknowing (featuring Bobby Womack and sinfonia ViVA) 3:05
16. Pirate Jet (featuring The Purple, the People, the Plastic Eating People) 2:32
Tuesday, May 07, 2013
Monday, May 06, 2013
D-Sides title is supposed to be a joke, a play on the fact that the songs contained within are the B-Sides from the album Demon Days. The title might as well be literal. These are D-Grade songs at best. They are at an absolutely embryonic, demo stage. From what I can gather, Damon Albarn recorded about 30 very rough demos for the excellent Demon Days, took the best fifteen, re-worked them, polished them, filled them out, and sequenced them for that album. The rest are left here to languish, and it's easy to see why they didn't make it to Demon Days. These players are not ready for prime time. The entirety of D-Sides has the same blurry, unfinished feeling as Gorillaz self-titled debut, but Gorillaz has some great songs. D-Sides has only one song that even approaches that level, and that is "Hong Kong," which was originally featured on a War Child charity album.
"Hong Kong"'s beautiful, Eastern instrumentation classes up the place a little bit, but not enough.
D-Sides second disc is full of remixes of Demon Days songs. I don't mean little tinkerings of the songs, though. I mean, full on, ten-minute "I am on ecstasy and sweating so much I might be swimming, but I'm not quite sure" remixes. They are decent for what they are. "DARE" and "Kids with Guns" get three-remixes a piece, and three other songs get single remixes to round out the tracklist. I listened to disc two once when I first got this album. I listened to it again for this review. That was enough. Stick to Gorillaz regular full-lengths.
1. 68 State 4:48
2. People 3:27
3. Hongkongaton 3:33
4. We Are Happy Landfill 3:39
5. Hong Kong 7:15
6. Highway (Under Construction) 4:20
7. Rockit 3:33
8. Bill Murray (featuring The Bees) 3:52
9. The Swagga 4:57
10. Murdoc Is God 2:26
11. Spitting Out the Demons 5:10
12. Don't Get Lost In Heaven (original demo version) 2:59
13. Stop the Dams (featuring Ghostigital) 5:38
1. DARE (DFA remix) 12:14
2. Feel Good Inc. (Stanton Warriors remix) 7:24
3. Kids with Guns (Jamie T's Turns to Monsters mix) 4:22
4. DARE (Soulwax remix) 5:42
5. Kids with Guns (Hot Chip remix) 7:09
6. El Mañana (Metronomy remix) 5:44
7. DARE (Junior Sanchez remix) 5:26
8. Dirty Harry (Schtung Chinese New Year remix) 3:53
9. Kids with Guns (Quiet Village remix) 10:08