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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club -- American X: Baby 81 Sessions

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8/10

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's American X: Baby 81 Sessions sounds like a broadcast from an unknown signal on an old radio in a burned out shack after the apocalypse. It's rock music, mostly settled noisy repetitive bluesy grooves (screw commas on this review).
I should preface my criticism by saying that outside of this EP I've never listened to this band. I was watching Friday Night Light's one night (not a Friday...either a Tuesday or a Wednesday) and an instrumental guitar track caught my ear. I thought it was just work by show composer (and Baton Rouge native), Snuffy Walden,(commas, you know I can't forget you! Also, parentheses, I love you, too!) but after some research I discovered it was actually the closing track for this EP.
The song, "Last Chance for Love," is a moody, emotional composition and sounded right at home on that excellent television program, as you can hear here:


The rest of this EP precedes this song in like manner of emotion, but not sound. As I said before, it's groove-oriented, dirty rock music from the end of the world. EP opener, "The Likes of You," exemplifies this sound perfectly:


According to the Wikipedia (which I'm just gonna make my source for everything), these songs were possibly left off the full length Baby 81 album because of their "uncharacteristically dark sound." Hey, good for me, because that's how I like it, and I like this EP (and commas) a lot. If this sound gels with you, too, you unfortunately cannot find American X in stores, but you can do like me and order it for a fair price from Amazon. At the end of the world, they're going to be the only company left,(just like this is the last comma) anyway.

2007 Red License
1. The Likes of You 5:11
2. Vision 5:01
3. The Show's About to Begin 5:02
4. MK Ultra 4:25
5. Whenever You're Ready 3:12
6. Hours 5:04
7. Last Chance for Love 3:59

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Björk -- Biophilia

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7/10

Björk composed most of the music for Biophilia on an IPad for an IPad app or something like that, but I don't really care. She took that music, tinkered it into a full-length album, and I only know Biophilia in that context.
Björk intended this music to cover the scope of a tiny cell all the way to the circumference of a planet. With that thought in mind, she should have used something other than an IPad to make the majority of the music. While mostly lovely, this music also feels very small. For a Björk album, Biophilia feels too safe. There is nothing at stake. On her previous great work, her emotions seemed nakedly on display admist vast, epic landscapes. Nothing here sounds large or important.
Listening to Biophilia is mostly enjoyable, though, and the scientific facts Björk tosses out (did you know that the Atlantic Ridge drifts at the same rate as your fingernail grows?) are interesting, but the experience is also, unfortunately, mostly forgettable. Only a few of the songs actually stick, but like all Björk albums, there are highlights. The best track might be "Virus," which compares the battle between a cell and the titular organism to a love/hate relationship between two humans. In fact, the best thing Biophilia has going for it is Björk's lyrical scientific metaphors for human interaction. She has obviously put a lot of thought into them, and it shows. That, if anything, helps keep Biophilia from being a completely minor work.
Unfortunately, it has now been a full decade since Björk released a truly great album. While she is aging gracefully, here's to hoping that she is not past her prime but just transitioning into the next stunning phase in her career.
Just listening to this song gives me hope.

Björk -- Virus

2011 Universal
1. Moon 5:44
2. Thunderbolt 5:15
3. Crystalline 5:08
4. Cosmogony 5:00
5. Dark Matter 3:22
6. Hollow 5:49
7. Virus 5:26
8. Sacrifice 4:02
9. Mutual Core 5:06
10. Solstice 4:41

Monday, November 28, 2011

Björk -- Voltaic

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7/10

Even Björk regarded her 2007 album, Volta, as "just okay." She immediately recorded a live album after Volta's release, and even though it is entitled Voltaic, her lack of faith in the new material can easily be seen by the lack of Volta tracks found within. Less than half of the eleven "live in the studio" tracks come from that album. This isn't the only reason Voltaic is a better listen than the album whose title spawned its moniker.
The key to Voltaic's enjoyability is its cohesion. Björk brought the brass band that played on some of Volta's tracks into the studio for this live recording. Their constant presence, even on old favorites like "Hunter" and "All Is Full of Love," makes Voltaic a much more satisfying, comforting experience than Volta. While the performances of each song are a bit businesslike, the flow from track to track is excellent. The only real problem with Voltaic is that the tracks that weren't great on Volta, namely "Innocence" and the woeful "Declare Independence," still aren't good songs, despite the change in sound. As I've previously mentioned, though, there aren't many of those songs to be found here.
Voltaic is good fun for any Björk fan, and yet another fairly accessible window into Björk's world for newcomers. Also, this trumpety version of "The Pleasure Is All Mine" is really nice. I'd love to see all of Medúlla performed in this fashion. Plus, whoever made this video deserves a medal. How fitting.


2009 Nonesuch
1. Wanderlust 5:46
2. Hunter 4:18
3. The Pleasure Is All Mine 3:20
4. Innocence 3:59
5. Army of Me 4:20
6. I Miss You 3:30
7. Earth Intruders 3:51
8. All Is Full of Love 4:04
9. Pagan Poetry 5:14
10. Vertebrae by Vertebrae 5:08
11. Declare Independence 4:18

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Now Is the Time for War!

When driving through the cold and rainy, late-November, South Louisiana weather, accept no substitutes!
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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Reason # 256 That My Wife Might Be Better Than Your's

She enjoys the films of Terrence Malick.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Björk -- Volta

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7/10

Björk's sixth album, Volta, follows a very simple rule:
If a song's got a bunch of horns, it's good. If it doesn't have a bunch of horns, it isn't.
Björk worked with producer Timbaland on three of Volta's tracks. Those three don't really have any horns. Go figure. The true problem with this album isn't necessarily Timbaland, though. The problem is that Volta sounds like Björk only realized what the musical theme of the album could be when time had already run out. If I haven't pounded in what that theme is by now, it involves horns. All the best songs on Volta have them. One of these songs, "The Dull Flame of Desire," is one of the best Björk has ever done. It's also one of her only duets, and she should really, really do more:

There are plenty of lovely songs like this one, though I am particularly partial to "I See Who You Are." The problem is that there just aren't enough of them. Volta turns out to be Björk's album that could have been. If she had stuck to the tribal percussion + horns sound, she could have been looking at another classic. Instead we get some good tribal percussion/horn mashups mixed in with laser gun pew-pew Timbaland dance songs that just don't work. Man, I still can't even talk about it...

2007 Atlantic
1. Earth Intruders 6:13
2. Wanderlust 5:51
3. The Dull Flame of Desire 7:30
4. Innocence 4:27
5. I See Who You Are 4:22
6. Vertebrae by Vertebrae 5:08
7. Pneumonia 5:14
8. Hope 4:02
9. Declare Independence 4:13
10. My Juvenile 4:03

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Björk -- Medúlla

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8/10

I've been doing these reviews for four months, and none have given me headaches like these Björk ones. Her music is not only hard to describe, but the ways in which it has been described are extremely repetitive. Not only do I need to describe the hard to describe, but I have to describe differently from the sludge of the masses. Medúlla might be the easiest of all Björk's albums to describe, but also perhaps the most difficult to enjoy--and for the same reason: Medúlla is simply an album of vocals. There are a few light instrumental touches, but for the most part, the beats, basslines, vocals, and sounds of Medúlla are all made by humans.
This ends the skyward trajectory Björk has been on since Post. She seemed like some kind of beautiful alien singing upon and about alien landscapes. On Medúlla she and the music sound unmistakably human. Honestly, this isn't really what I want from Björk. I want a foreigness made intimate, not a humanity revealed, which is what Medúlla does for Björk. Her age and the limits of her estimable vocal ability finally begin to show as everything but voice is stripped away. A lot of the songs here are quite good. The best have a medieval, late fall feel, while the worst sound like a class project, the kid in the back doing the beat, the two dorks in the corner doing the trumpets. Sometimes the best and worst qualities happen in the same song, but the song is still somehow good.

Making something of all this can be difficult. It's easy to enjoy going along with things up until around the ninth track, "Oceania." It's clear that this song is supposed to be a single, but something about all the singing gets a little stale, and the feeling never really leaves over the next five tracks. Maybe if Björk had culled a little more tightly, this collection could be on par with her previous albums. Some of the short tracks sound completely useless, and could easily be ditched in order to keep out the voice fatigue that sets in. This is a shame, though, because up through the beautiful ballad, "Desired Constellation," which breaks the rules and uses a sample as a backbone, things really do work. That's eight songs of almost nothing but vocals, and they all work together. Maybe picking the best two out of the next six would have been a better idea than padding the material out with the most tracks on a Björk album ever.
Regardless, Medúlla is an obvious must have for Björk fans, and even those curious new listeners may find something to enjoy here. Just don't expect to be able to spin the whole album without taking a break.
Another difficult Björk review down, and I hope it is not as difficult to read as it was to write.

2004 Polydor
1. Pleasure Is All Mine 3:26
2. Show Me Forgiveness 1:23
3. Where Is the Line 4:41
4. Vökuró 3:14
5. Öll 1:52
6. Who Is It (Carry My Joy on the Left, Carry My Pain on the Right) 3:57
7. Submarine 3:13
8. Desired Constellation 4:55
9. Oceania 3:24
10. Sonnets/Unrealities XI 1:59
11. Ancestors 4:08
12. Mouth's Cradle 3:59
13. Midvikudags 1:24
14. Triumph of a Heart 4:04

Monday, November 21, 2011

Björk -- Vespertine

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10/10

How about a rant instead of a review?
Björk's Vespertine is a perfect album that's received terrible reviews. I don't mean that the scores or grades it received were poor. On the contrary, Vespertine was one of the most positively received albums of 2001. But just about every review written about it either just took quotes from Björk herself about the album, and made that the review, or overgeneralized so heavily that the descriptions of the album weren't even close to accurate. The general consensus of these reviews is that Vespertine is about Björk staying in her house and whispering. And yes, sometimes she whispers--but sometimes she sings louder than ever. And yes, she sings a little bit about being inside--but most of those songs are about her being in her bedroom having sex, so does that really count? And really, if anything, isn't this album about the tension between staying insular and (at points literally and graphically) letting somebody in? Stressing about the consequences of opening yourself to the world versus just relaxing and taking the day as it comes?
There's also the sentiment that this album is about intimate, small things--

Threading the glacier head, looking hard for moments of shine, from twilight to twilight...I tumble down on my knees, fill the mouth with snow, the way it melts, I wish to melt into you That actually sounds pretty epic to me. Also, she doesn't whisper these lines, but anyway. Those choirs sound pretty loud, too. And the percussion is SOMEONE MARCHING THROUGH SNOW.
Anyway, I think Vespertine is obviously a very personal album for Björk, but it's also a very easy album in which to lose yourself. Like its predecessor, Homogenic, it is a musical journey from start to finish. There is certainly a kind of darkness to be found within as well, especially toward the end--sometimes letting people in doesn't always work. "An Echo, a Stain" is actually pretty frightening, and "Harm of Will" is beautifully disturbing.
So to conclude my badly organized rantings, Vespertine is a beautiful, complex album. It's not the type of thing that can be summed up by buzzwords and generalizations. As you would expect, considering the artist, it's a complete original, something that has to be experienced to be interpreted, not something that can be accurately described. And that's it.

RANDOM THANK YOU FOR THIS REVIEW: Thanks to the DJ's at KLSU the semester this came out (and the first that I DJ'd!) for playing this ad naseum and gushing about it in non-traditional, excited terminology, while I watched the winter sunset from my car in the parking lot of the abandoned Delchamps next to my apartment because I didn't want to go home. One more for the road?


2001 Elektra
1. Hidden Place 5:28
2. Cocoon 4:28
3. It's Not Up to You 5:08
4. Undo 5:38
5. Pagan Poetry 5:14
6. Frosti 1:41
7. Aurora 4:39
8. An Echo, A Stain 4:04
9. Sun in My Mouth 2:40
10. Heirloom 5:12
11. Harm of Will 4:36
12. Unison 6:45

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Björk -- Selmasongs

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6/10

Selmasongs, featuring music from Björk's film debut, Dancer in the Dark, is a strange beast. It starts out as a film score with the big hopeful "Overture," but the found sound beats of the film begin on track two, "Cvalda." Machinery noises from Björk's character's workplace make up the rhythm of the song, and Björk and actress, Catherine Deneuve, provide the vocals just as they do in the film. This approach changes immediately on track three, "I've Seen It All," where actor Peter Stormare's shaky, character-filled vocals from the film are switched out with vocals by Radiohead's Thom Yorke. This makes for a great song, but with Peter Stormare's vocals cut along with the deep, frightening background work by some fieldhands, "I've Seen it All" doesn't fully resemble what can be heard on Dancer in the Dark, and the emotion is completely different. I prefer the version from the visually stunning film, which may be because I saw it before I heard Selmasongs, despite the fact that I love Yorke's vocals on the new cut. I'll let you decide which is best(but you really should watch the film anyway--it is easily one of the best musicals of this young century):

vs

I am glad Björk kept the train on the tracks percussion.
Many of the rest of Selmasongs' tracks are also slightly different from what is found in the film. They are still backed by the film score, though, which sounds to me like the hopeful music in the first twenty minutes of an 80's horror or disaster flick before everything goes wrong.
Despite the song changes, Selmasongs is a decent listen for fans of Dancer in the Dark, who should still be able to connect with the songs, and fans of Björk in general. I am hard pressed to recommend this to anyone else, though. Radiohead fans may enjoy Yorke's appearance on "I've Seen it All," but the rest is hit and miss for non-Björkites.

2000 Elektra
1 Overture 3:38
2 Cvalda 4:48
3 I've Seen It All 5:29
4 Scatterheart 6:39
5 In the Musicals 4:41
6 107 Steps 2:36
7 New World 4:23

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Björk -- Homogenic

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10/10

While Björk's first two albums are quite enjoyable, they are also quite sonically scattered. They were, however, aptly named, and Homogenic, Björk's third album, is as well.
Homogenic is Björk's first album to feature a cohesive, homogenized sound. Björk, facing some heartbreak and pehaps a little growing up, sounds more focused than ever, employing an excellent combination of simple, sometimes aggressive electronics, and strings (there's an organ, harmonicas, accordians, and other organic instruments which fit in nicely, as well). This makes for an album that is epically icy, yet calming, glowing, warm. If that doesn't make sense in the context of other music, it's because Homogenic doesn't really sound like any other music, and Björk's voice doesn't really sound like that of any other singer.
Homogenic also features another mark of a great album--movement. It starts in a relatively cold, confused place, and ends in a place of understanding and comfort. There is a definite beginning, middle, and end on this late night journey through a frozen canyon full of scattered, roving, neon lights.
And finally, I think it says something that a primarily electronic album that sounded awesome 14 years ago still sounds awesome now. Homogenic is a modern masterpiece. If entering Björk's cannon has proved chillingly difficult, this album is an easy way in. I think that was a double entendre, but i'm not sure. In that spirit, here are two Björk robots making out:

THANK YOU NOTE: Thanks X-Files: Fight the Future, for featuring "Hunter" on your soundtrack and again giving my high-school self some much-needed Björk exposure.

1997 Elektra
1. Hunter 4:15
2. Jöga 5:05
3. Unravel 3:21
4. Bachelorette 5:12
5. All Neon Like 5:53
6. 5 Years 4:29
7. Immature 3:06
8. Alarm Call 4:19
9. Pluto 3:19
10. All Is Full of Love 4:33

Monday, November 14, 2011

Björk -- Telegram

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5/10

I won't mince words here: re-mix albums are usually pretty pointless. Björk's Telegram doesn't do much to reverse this sentiment. A bunch of really good songs, all from Post sans one, get mugged by generic techno music, or lightly touched up to the point that their inclusion is useless. The one new track, "My Spine" was left off of Post for a reason: it is terrible. There is one reason and one reason alone to have anything to do with this release, and that is the new version of Post's best track, "Hyperballad." This is the version I used to listen to on loop in high school until five a.m. For some reason, my hair always looked really good the next day.
Björk re-recorded her vocals for this track and handed them over to the experimental Brodsky (string) Quartet. The result is a primarily electronic song being transformed into nothing more than strings and Björk's wonderful vocals, and it's one of the best songs Bjork ever put to tape.

Check it out, and forget about the rest of this (except maybe the trippy version of "You've Been Flirting Again," which is pretty decent) unless you are really, really interested in the deconstruction of a song, in which case you might find more to dig into here.

1997 Elektra
1. PossiPossibly Maybe [Lucy Mix] 3:03
2. Hyper-Ballad 4:21
3. Enjoy [Further Over The Edge mix] 4:21
4. My Spine 2:33
5. I Miss You [Dobie Rub Part One-Sunshine mix] 5:35
6. Isobel [Deodato mix] 6:11
7. You've Been Flirting Again [Flirt Is A Promise mix] 3:20
8. Cover Me [Dillinja mix] 6:22
9. Army of Me [Masseymix] 5:18
10. Headphones 6:17
11. I Miss You [Original mix] 3:59

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Björk -- Post

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9/10

So this is where I fell in love. Impressionable teenagers can always be easily swayed by singing Icelandic pixies and sub-par Russian tennis players (hey, she was an ace at Doubles!). Everything is better on Björk's sophmore album, from the songwriting and production, to even the singing. A key word here is nuance. A lot of the sounds on Debut were simple and concrete. There's a lot more mystery to be found on Post.
Björk starts off in tough-girl mode with "Army of Me," the music and her voice already sounding far more alien than anything on Post's predecessor. She quickly turns vulnerable, though, or at least as vulnerable as Björk can be on,"Hyperballad," the song that made me a lovelorn 17-year-old. Really, what weird 17-year-old boy isn't going to fall in love with this?

Again, there is that combination of the future--weird electronic stuff, bass, and beats--and history--the lovely strings in the background--that I mentioned in the previous review, but the mix is far more sophisticated and less obvious.
The day-glo feeling of the front cover continues into "All the Modern Things," but takes a far left into the histrionic with "It's Oh So Quiet," a journey into shrieking, big-band insanity. It is Björk's highest charting song to date.
"Enjoy" is a return to the more electronic-based sound, albeit menacingly, followed by the short, symphonic "You've Been Flirting Again."
"Isobel" is the centerpiece of the album, and rightfully so, as it is an amalgam of all the sounds found on Post and contains one of Björk's ongoing lyrical themes--love/emotion/nature vs. technology/callousness/modern society. "Possibly Maybe" follows as another song to make a strange 17-year-old fall in love. It's trip hop, the lyrics are a little naughty, and she does that thing where she grinds her voice. What's not to love?

Speaking of voice-grinding, there's a decent amount of that on "I Miss You," the closest thing to a traditional dance song on Post, though not that close. This song also features a pretty sweet horn-breakdown around the mid-point.
"Cover Me," the pen-ultimate track, is a short, mysterious song that works as a nice counterpoint to "You've Been Flirting Again."
"Headphones," Post's beautiful, unexpectedly subdued closer, is even more fitting considering it's the perfect "headphones in the bathtub with the lights out" song (I keep recommending this, but no one is close to as cool as me to actually try it). A soft, calming beat and bassline, and a gentle army of Björk's wash around the speakers for five and half minutes, then Post is over, better than its predecessor in every way, and a fine promise that even better works lie ahead.

1995 Elektra
1. Army of Me 3:54
2. Hyper-Ballad 5:21
3. The Modern Things 4:10
4. It's Oh So Quiet 3:38
5. Enjoy 3:56
6. You've Been Flirting Again 2:29
7. Isobel 5:47
8. Possibly Maybe 5:06
9. I Miss You 4:03
10. Cover Me 2:06
11. Headphones 5:40

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Björk -- Debut

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8/10

There was a time I think I was in love with Björk. Don't worry, my wife doesn't have anything to be concerned about. I was a teenager, and Bjork wasn't pushing fifty. Yes, this was a different era, the President was from Arkansas, Napster wasn't even born, and Björk wasn't PUSHING FIFTY. How the heck is she now almost fifty? How am I so old? WAHHH!!!
Anyway, that time has long passed, and even back then, Björk's Debut was half a decade old. The song that led me to her like the smell of pie on a windowsill was "Hyperballad," which is still an album away, so now it's time to make sense of Björk's 18-year-old freshman album (if you don't count that stuff she recorded as a child...I don't).
The lead-in, "Human Behavior," is still one of Björk's most well known songs, and for good reason. Björk has one of the most distinctive voices in the world, one thousands have failed to describe aptly. I won't try here, though I can say it feels like butterflies fluttering around in and hollowing out your chest. If Björk was simply paired with standard pop music, her voice wouldn't make as big a difference. It's the innovative sounds she's had behind her that have propelled her into greatness. There is a sense of something new, yet there's also a sense of history involved, coming out in "Human Behavior" through the ancient, crackly orchestral cue that pops up and swiftly disappears 1:58 seconds into the song. Also, there was a weird video:

What's strange is that the second track, "Crying," is conventional, dated, early 90's dance music, and it isn't the only track of its kind on Debut. Every other track on the first half is disappointingly like this, surrounding the excellent (I know surely written about me) "Venus as a Boy," which because of its prominent use in Luc Besson's film, The Professional (THANK YOU LUC BESSON!), was some of my first Björk exposure. Thankfully, conventionality isn't the case with the final five tracks.
"One Day" sounds like a good dream. "Aeroplane" is jungle jazz music, animal noises intact. "Come to Me" is another dreamy song from somewhere past the end of time, and contains more orchestral input, the organic settling cozily with the technological. "Violently Happy" is sadly a return to the more basic dance sound, but is completely subversed by the lyrics. "The Anchor Song" is a fine ending, a duet between Björk and a bunch of NPR ready horns.
Overall, Debut is a bit more down to Earth than one would expect given Björk's later, celestial works. That said, it's still a varied listen, contains plenty of great songs, and well displays the timeless, unmatched quality of the various patterns of sound soaring skyward from somewhere beneath Björk's lips.

1993 Elektra
1. Human Behaviour 4:12
2. Crying 4:49
3. Venus as a Boy 4:41
4. There's More to Life Than This 3:21
5. Like Someone in Love 4:33
6. Big Time Sensuality 3:56
7. One Day 5:24
8. Aeroplane 3:54
9. Come to Me 4:55
10. Violently Happy 4:58
11. The Anchor Song 3:32

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The Billions -- Never Felt This Way Before

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8/10

Well, this is a weird one.
One of the only things I don't miss about my DJ days is the huge amount of mediocre CD's we got in the mail that sounded exactly the same as the last. Anything that sounded different was a welcome respite. One day we got an album with Braile on the front cover from a label called Northern Records. We played it out. We loved it.
The Billions' Never Felt This Way Before is pretty different. In fact, it's so different, I don't really know how to review it. I could say it is 70's style midwestern rock with odd indie, 80's rock, and Beach Boy pop touches, but that doesn't really make a lot of sense. Also, most bands don't have three separate vocalists/songwriters (two of them, brothers). As I am pretty sure I cannot paint an accurate picture of this music with words, and as I am also pretty sure almost no one in the world has ever heard this album or even heard of this band (I haven't been on the radio in seven years, and listeners, apparently I don't trust your memories), I am just going to post each song for streaming and comment.
1. "I Won't Turn Away"

The song starts off like it could be Kansas except for all the tinkling bells. Then the drums come in, and it seems like a straightforward acoustic rock song, until the tom-tom and Rhodes pre-chorus builds up a fury with the guitar into the chorus again. This is a good song, though the music has already stopped making sense.
2. "Hey Girl"

Sounds like a love song from the nerdiest paramour alive. "Hey girl, why you walking, when I'll take you anywhere you want to go?" He sounds like he's on a really geeky bicycle. "I don't know you, but I'd like to learn all about you" Kind of creepy stalking language, yet still sounds sweet, like he will listen to her talk while he stares wonderously through his thick-framed glasses. Dorky keyboards, an irrestible, driving, palm-muted 80's guitar riff, and an early 70's folk flute, plus a surprisingly agressive, drum-roll-y bridge make this quite and enjoyable song. Great outro, too. What the heck is this?
3. "My Life"

Uh, oh. Looks like we've got our first ballad. But wait, all these weird tossed in "La, la, la" background vocals are pretty interesting. So is the piano arpeggio before the chorus. Also the random Eric Clapton guitar. This band must have a list of influences a mile long.
4. "Never Felt this Way Before"

The title track might be the most conventional on the whole album. Maybe the most hardrocking, but not a major departure from anything else. Not really any weird touches, just a decent, straightforward rock song.
5. "Everybody's Waiting"

Kind of a laid back little jam, definitely keeps the 70's vibe. Nice nostalgic lead guitar and keyboard in the background.
6. "Asya"

Another nice weird one, kind of a slow, dreamy duel between an acoustic guitar and a big symphonic keyboard (and trumpets?) over a girl who won't give the singer the time of day.
7. "Another Lonely Day"

A trumpety ballad about missing a dead loved one. Might be the weakest track, as it's a bit plodding, but it's not a bad song, and it doesn't kill the tone.
8. "Cure the Sea"

Now this is the one. An album like this needs a big, powerful track to seal the deal, and this is it. "I am the cure to calm the sea. Cast me out. Throw me overboard into the sea. I am the cure." Nice fakeout near the beginning with the tinkling bells promising this will be more whimsical fun, when they are just about to get blown away by the wind. Great, timeless song that packs a whallop and builds to a hurricane of a crescendo. I also enjoyed the vocal trade-offs. If you skip everything else, don't skip this one.
9. "The Reason We Sing"

If you've found nothing else weird yet, I offer you this track. "Quirky" is an understatement in regard to this synth/organpop anomaly, but its Outfield-like guitar line between chorus and verse and its honest delivery make it a winner, but probably an acquired taste for many. My old cat used to love this song.
10. "Into the Light"

When you've balanced whimsy and power throughout an album, it's probably best to end with power, and The Billions do. I love the story in this song, and how it changes with age. In my early 20's I thought the line "the night came softly and tried to steal my past" was threatening, but as I hit 30, I realize that in the context of this song, the theft is a gift to be received. A really great song.
Well, there you go. This is the best I can do for an album that has stuck with me for nine years. I hope this gets somebody else to listen.

2002 Northern Records
1. I Won't Turn Away 4:38
2. Hey Girl 3:29
3. My Life 3:14
4. Never Felt This Way 3:27
5. Everybody's Waiting 4:32
6. Asya 3:47
7. Another Lonely Day 4:37
8. Cure the Sea 6:42
9. The Reason We Sing 2:40
10. Into the Light 3:58

Friday, November 04, 2011

Between the Buried and Me -- The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues

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6/10

The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues is not only Between the Buried and Me's first EP, but also their most relentless recording to date. Unfortunately, this may not be a good combination.
Parallax's three songs are just as jam-packed with variation and innovation as anything Between the Buried and Me have done, and stil come out to thirty minutes of total music. On their own, they are all pretty good songs. The problem is that a three song EP doesn't really serve Between the Buried and Me's sound. While there are a few brief respites in each song, and a particularly entrancing intro on the EP closer, "Lunar Wilderness," a key component from the last three albums is missing: a breather. The Great Misdirect has those two wonderful, well-sung songs sequenced with the four brain-crushing ones. Colors has longer, relaxing passages spaced throughout. Alaska has those incredible, epically beautiful instrumentals. There is never a half hour stretch without a break on those albums, but that is exactly what this EP is.
That flaw causes others. Hypersleep Dialogues is supposed to be part of a larger whole, the first in a two part album, but the lack of a break or some sort of transition makes it feel even more incomplete. This is particularly disappointing because, as I've said, these three songs are quite good on their own. "Lunar Wilderness" may be one of the best, most emotional songs Between the Buried and Me have ever recorded.

Listen to Between the Buried and Me's "Lunar Wilderness"

The band's incredible instrumental talent still shines through, and the lyrics, which may be about a restless scientist accidentally destroying the world, or may be about absolutely nothing, are intriguing as always. While the follow up may render Hypersleep Dialogues in an entirely different light, for now it is a half-baked, but decent listen.


2011 Metal Blade
1. Specular Reflection 11:21
2. Augment of Rebirth 10:19
3. Lunar Wilderness 8:22

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Between the Buried and Me -- The Great Misdirect

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8/10

Between the Buried and Me's The Great Misdirect starts off with an unexpectedly lovely song. Vocalist, Tommy Rogers, sings longingly over carefully picked guitar and complicated, yet subdued rhythms. There isn't a scream or a shade of death metal to be found.

This isn't even the only song in this vein--"Desert of Song" is just as beautiful. On top of this, some of the songs have actual, catchy sung choruses. However, despite an intro worthy of the title, The Great Misdirect is one of the heavier, more insane things Between the Buried and Me have released.
Second track, "Obfuscation," begins with an anthemic riff, but before you know it, Rogers is growling and screaming, and the instruments are grinding it out. The madness of Between the Buried and Me begins again. The Great Misdirect is an hour long, but contains only six songs. This tips that something crazy is afoot, and after the 18 minute riff-session, album closer, "Swim to the Moon," it's easy to feel exhausted. The band pack in just as much variation and unpredictability as previous releases...in fact, they pack in an overwhelming amount. My first listens to this were pretty similar to my first week of college Spanish class. I got almost nothing out of it. I thought The Great Misdirect was impenetrable. It wasn't until almost two years later, after ten or more listens, that things started falling into place. As I began to remember the myriad riffs, where the quiet moments were, The Great Misdirect went from completely disarming, to kind of comforting. The lyrical themes (there are so many lyrics, I found myself unable to even read through the booklet after buying the album) start to gel together to form a picture of misinforming governmental powers,growing despite oppression, and maybe six or seven thousand other topics.
Colors sounded like the band doing every thing they knew, and The Great Misdirect sounds like the same band with two years additional knowledge. Between the Buried and Me might come off like a kid randomly spouting knowledge, but closer listening proves that this band has memorized the textbook...with the textbook being exciting, engaging music, and not like, Organic Chemistry or something. Actually, I guess Math, Science, and English are applicable. You know how sometimes you come up with a bad metaphor and can't get out of it? Well, here is my solution for this one:

RANDOM POINTLESS RAMBLE NOTE: I compared a segment of one of this band's songs to Radiohead the other day. Radiohead has a song called "Sail to the Moon." "Sail to the Moon" is 4:18 long. Between the Buried and Me's "Swim to the Moon" from this album is 17:53 long. Think the time difference is due to the different modes of transportation?

I think that did it.

2009 Victory Records
1. Mirrors 3:37
2. Obfuscation 9:15
3. Disease, Injury, Madness 11:02
4. Fossil Genera -- A Feed from Cloud Mountain 12:10
5. Desert of Song 5:33
6. Swim to the Moon 17:53

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Between the Buried and Me -- Colors

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9/10

Colors is Between the Buried and Me's 5th studio album. Colors' centerpiece is a thirteen-minute track called "Ants of the Sky." The first 15 seconds is death metal. The next 15 seconds is punk rock. The next 40 seconds is intense guitar and drum soloing, followed by ten seconds of church music, then 30 seconds of 70's freewheeling guitar solos, then a minute of organ-led death metal, followed by spastic riffage, and then more death metal. The three-minute mark is broached. 3:45 in, it sounds like the guitar player from Boston is jumping in, then at four minutes, the one from Pink Floyd (whose Dark Side of the Moon, Colors' cover is an obvious homage to). Then there is an organ and cowbell duet, then more crazy, shifting death metal. At 5:52, some sort of samba happens for about 40 seconds until the metal starts again. At 7:40 the death metal vocalist turns into an angel and sings pleasantly while his band does quiet, building things, then heavier things with big tom toms (and the ghost of his death metal growl still hovers), until 9:40, when all of the heavier sounds go away, the music sounds like Radiohead, and the vocalist continues to sing prettily. At 10:50 the band shifts into what I can only describe as "Weather Channel Music," until the 11:30 mark magically transports "Ants of the Sky" to the floor of a backwoods Kentucky bar (rowdy voices and all). Of course, there is still a minute and a half left, and at 12:20 the victorious 70's guitar riff returns to play out the song over the death metal vocals and some keyboards.

(This guy posted the lyrics underneath the song, showing the thought maelstrom you're getting tossed into, as well)
This is only 13 out of 64 insane minutes that flow as one song. The rest is awesomely much the same. I hinted in my review of Between the Buried and Me's previous album that they would soon find balance between heavy and pretty, but after listening to Colors for the first time in a while, that statement is not accurate. There is no balance to be found on Colors. What makes Colors a great album is the fact that ANYTHING can happen at ANY moment without regard to whether it SHOULD happen, or if it HAS HAPPENED before--this could have led to disaster, but the band threw everything in their nutty heads at the wall and everything stuck. This is an incredibly technically talented band reaching an artistic peak, paving roads through disparate rainforests of sound on quicksand soil, yet somehow still forming solid ground.

2007 Victory Records
1. Foam Born, Pt. A: The Backtrack 2:13
2. Foam Born, Pt. B: The Decade of Statues 5:20
3. Informal Gluttony 6:47
4. Sun of Nothing 10:58
5. Ants of the Sky 13:10
6. Prequel to the Sequel 8:36
7. Viridian 2:51
8. White Walls 14:13

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Between the Buried and Me -- Alaska

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8/10

"If you thought that SYSTEM OF A DOWN was "originally bizarre" and that THE MARS VOLTA was "strangely ethereal," and that TOOL was "weird but awesomely heavy"...well...welcome a band that you never knew existed...the deranged, progressive, maniacal yet tranquilizing world of... BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME."

Who could resist such a welcome? While visiting FYE after a hard day's work administering disaster relief food stamps to Hurricane Katrina victims, I saw this on a sticker cloaking the front cover of a CD titled Alaska by a band called Between the Buried and Me (I love me some long sentences). Pockets often empty suddenly flush with cash from the insane amounts of overtime I was working and wanting of course to keep the Louisiana economy going, I picked this CD up for a bargain price. The first two of the three bands listed had been rocking my world all year (in fact, they were probably releasing their career best work in 2005), and Between the Buried and Me were about to join the fray.
After about a minute of listening to Alaska, one thing became clear: beyond the "anything can happen" feel, Between the Buried and Me did not sound like any of the previously mentioned bands. They were insanely heavy most of the time and actually fit the second part of the sticker pretty aptly: deranged, progressive, maniacal, yet tranquilizing. Perhaps the best description of this album can be found in the best song, "Selkies: The Endless Obsession." The beginning of the song is an anvil hurricane, the middle is progressive, and the ending is wonderfully tranquil:

This song shows off everything Between the Buried and Me can do well, ridiculous brutality, insane guitar solos, almost supernatural technical ability on each instrument, nutty time changes, and soothing melodies. The rest of the album is quite good, though the mix of heavy and pretty is tilted quite far toward the former, which is really the Alaska's only flaw. Blast-beat riffage can get old after a while, and when you can do pretty so well and have a vocalist with such a great singing voice (check "Backwards Marathon" from 2:30 to 6:30

and all of its instrumental descendant, "Medicine Wheel" for more pretty), why not do it a little more? There are enough surprising and surprisingly beautiful moments to make this album quite good, but the band hadn't quite perfected the mix to the degree they would soon. Still, I was quite happy with my purchase six years ago, and I like Alaska just as much now. It's as brutal and beautiful as the state it's named for.

2005 Victory Records
1. All Bodies 6:12
2. Alaska 3:57
3. Croakies and Boatshoes 2:22
4. Selkies: The Endless Obsession 7:23
5. Breathe in, Breathe Out 0:55
6. Roboturner 7:07
7. Backwards Marathon 8:27
8. Medicine Wheel 4:18
9. The Primer 4:46
10. Autodidact 5:30
11. Laser Speed 2:53