I posted this on my Wii U Review Blog. I am having a ton of fun playing these games and writing these reviews. If you've read any of my game reviews for The Nintendo 64 Museum, you'll know I write those in a sort of stuffy, formal, fussy form, as I try to treat that space of the Internet as a literal museum you accidentally find when you are wandering around a back alley. The reviews are written in present tense, as the games are still playable and alive, even though they have now become relics of a past age.
I have no such restraints with the stuff on my my Wii U Blog. I just write them however I want.
Click the link below to reach Wii U Game Reviews:
Wii U Game Reviews: Super Mario 3D World (Review): ZombiU Released on the Wii U November 22, 2013 by Nintendo Retail: $59.99 Wii U Game Reviews Score: 9.7/10 Mario. When I was a kid...
Monday, March 30, 2015
Friday, March 27, 2015
All of Marvin Gaye's introspection on the nature of good and evil inside himself found within the album, In Our Lifetime, gives me a headache. I think those lyrics are a sign of Marvin's increasingly troubled mental state at the time. He would only release one more album before his death. Midnight Love is that album. Two years later, he'd be in the ground.
In a wikipedia-listed quote whose source I can actually vouch for, Marvin says before beginning the sessions for Midnight Love, "I'm worried that I'm getting so introspective, no one will listen. I can't afford to miss this time. I need a hit." Apparently, Marvin recognized how alienating his lyrical pondering had become, as well. This almost leads to an over-correction. On Midnight Love, Marvin keeps his topics simple: love and healing. Also, Midnight Love not only falls squarely into the genre of 80's pop--with its pioneering use of "that 80's drum-machine sound," coupled with "that 80's synthesizer sound," and everybody's favorite "80's sexy saxophone," Midnight Love pretty much invented 80's pop music.
As a kid in the 80's, I hated stereotypical 80's music. I preferred the more timeless sounds of U2, or the Police's last album. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't have an 80's pop sweet-spot that Midnight Love strikes right down the middle...like Billy Ocean, "Carribean Queen" right down the middle. Midnight Love's beat is so infectious, its rhythms...healing. Marvin was an ailing man when he recorded Midnight Love, and in a way, he was always ailing. I can understand. The kind of healing that he wants here isn't just sexual, though that is a component. It's a deeper, nearly intangible kind of healing he was looking for. At the end of his search, he created one final lasting work for the people to enjoy--but for him, it wasn't enough. R.I.P. Marvin.
If I were you, I'd make sure I picked up the Midnight Love 2000 re-release that ends with a bonus instrumental of the song "Rockin' After Midnight." It is so fun and good-vibing, and it is emblematic of most of the rest of the album: Gordon Banks on guitar, someone else on the sax, and Marvin singing and playing eight instruments himself. Working for the people.
1. Midnight Lady 5:17
2. Sexual Healing 3:59
3. Rockin' After Midnight 6:04
4. 'Til Tomorrow 4:57
5. Turn On Some Music 5:08
6. Third World Girl 4:36
7. Joy 4:22
8. My Love Is Waiting 5:07
Wednesday, March 25, 2015
Marvin Gaye's penultimate album, In Our Lifetime, is an absolute mess. Fittingly, Marvin's personal life was an absolute mess, as well. Both of his marriages had failed, and due to his crippling cocaine habit, he was short on cash. This made him even more insufferable, as while his reliability decreased inversely with his mooching for drug money, he seemed confused as to why anyone could ever be upset with him. That's why you shouldn't do drugs, kids.
Eventually, Marvin's record company grew tired of his meanderings. They'd already blown a ton of money on a disco record Marvin had scrapped at the last second. Eventually, Marvin's session and touring bassist, Frank Blair, snatched the recordings of a concept record Marvin was putting the finishing touches on, and took them to the label. The label edited the recordings as they saw fit, and released them as In Our Lifetime.
Marvin was actually going to call the album In Our Lifetime?, the question mark fitting considering all of the pondering the album contains. It's hard to blame Frank Blair or Tamla (really Motown, of which Tamla was a subsidiary), though. In Blair's case, the bass-playing is probably In Our Lifetime's finest aspect. In Tamla's case, it's pretty tough to watch someone blow all your money without seeing any profit. Either way, it's hard to grieve the results. I'm not sure this album would have ended up among Marvin's best with his editing in place of the label's. The basic songs just aren't on par with Marvin's better work.
If you purchase In Our Lifetime today, it will include Ego Tripping Out, a disco song Marvin recorded and released as a single before his work on the In Our Lifetime sessions. I am doing this album a favor by not including it in the tracklisting because my hatred for pure disco creates a pretty bad bias, and because to describe it, I would have to use the word "insufferable" twice in the same review. Let's talk about the other eight songs.
I was going to do a track-by-track review here, and even got a third of the way through it, but just trying was giving me a terrible headache. As much as the Wikipedia intro wants you to believe this is a critically important album, the simple facts that it went out of print when Marvin's others didn't, and that finding lyrics online to half of these songs is impossible, it's pretty clear what popular opinion of In Our Lifetime actually is.
I'm more in line with that reality.This is the only one of these Marvin albums I'm reviewing of which I don't actually own a physical copy.
I like the spacey "Far Cry," which doesn't actually have any real lyrics, as Tamla only had Marvin's syllabizing scratch track to use. Gaye hadn't gotten around to recording any for the song before the masters got yanked. This works for "Far Cry" though, as it sounds like some kind of ghost dance 4:28 before the end of the world. The jazzy piano, bass, and cymbal breakdown halfway through is magical. The final two minutes of the title track do the same thing--it sounds awesome. The bassline on "Funk Me" is infectious, and I love the nerdy glee in Marvin's voice when he repeats "funk me, funk me, funk me" near the end of the song. But unfortunately, a lot of the rest of the music here is light-weight, and Marvin's good vs evil on the dance-floor lyrics have a paranoid edge that takes most of the fun out the album. Like I said, In Our Lifetime is a mess, with an unmistakeable touch of genius somewhere deep underneath, like a Caspar David Friedrich moonrise with a Thomas Kinkade landscape painted over it. Due to Gaye's early-80's drug-addled excesses, and Tamla's meddling, that's about the best In Our Lifetime can offer.
1. Praise 4:51
2. Life is for Learning 3:39
3. Love Party 4:58
4. Funk Me 5:34
5. Far Cry 4:28
6. Love Me Now or Love Me Later 4:59
7. Heavy Love Affair 3:45
8. In Our Lifetime 6:57
Monday, March 23, 2015
People didn't know what to make of Marvin Gaye's Here, My Dear in 1978, so they panned it. People don't know what to make of it now, so they praise it. Here, My Dear is Marvin's oddball record, an 80-minute concept album about his divorce from his first wife, Anna. Five songs top the six minute mark, with a handful of others coming close. Melody is not highly valued; confession is. Marvin is blatant about his feelings, even when he is feeling pitiable and selfish. The lyrics are literal (from "Is That Enough"):
You got a flair for style
and the style is all the while
What could I do
The judge said she got to keep on living
the way she accustomed to
She trying to break a man
I don't understand
Somebody tell me please, tell me please
Why do I have to pay attorney fees (My baby's)
Attorney fees (Ooh baby)
This is a joke
I need a smoke
Wait a minute
And yet, Marvin stills finds the time to include an eight-minute sex-journey through space ("A Funky Space Reincarnation") which includes the lines:
Let's razzmattazz and all that jazz
Let's touch each other
Let's touch each other's ass
This ain't no masterpiece. Despite the wide range of lyrical insanity, though, most of Here, My Dear's 80 minutes is a soothingly calm ocean of music, in the dead of night, where you float, blindfolded. Despite the stress it was created under, the actual sonic experience of Here, My Dear's music is densely comforting. Where Marvin's going to take you next, nobody knows, not even him, and it's his problem, not yours.
Yes, Here, My Dear is weird. Most of the time, mainly when Marvin throws that grit into his voice and lets the sax wail, it's great. Sometimes, when Marvin is being petty, and so self-focused it's like he even forgot to write a song, it's not. But who has ever released an album like this before? Who is ever going to release an album like this again? I mean, the court told Marvin that his wife would get half the royalties from his next album, so he titled it Here, My Dear.
This is Marvin Gaye at his most vulnerable, more honest than ever, both more and less likable. Considering Here, My Dear is the work of a musical master, even if it is his overindulgent oddball, it is worth checking out, and at least making a day of. With repeat listens, the genius therein exposes itself more and more, even if it has too ooze from between some pretty gnarly emotional and musical architecture.
1. Here, My Dear 2:48
2. I Met a Little Girl 5:03
3. When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You 6:17
4. Anger 4:04
5. Is That Enough 7:47
6. Everybody Needs Love 5:48
7. Time to Get It Together 3:55
8. Sparrow 6:12
9. Anna's Song 5:56
10. When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You (Instrumental) 6:03
11. A Funky Space Reincarnation 8:18
12. You Can Leave, but It's Going to Cost You 5:32
13. Falling in Love Again 4:39
14. When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You (Reprise) 0:47
Friday, March 20, 2015
Let's get the bad out of the way first: the moaning. Three songs on Marvin Gaye's I Want You feature a woman moaning ecstatically. While throwing moaning sounds into "You Sure Love to Ball," the penultimate track on Gaye's previous album, Let's Get It On, worked, the three attempts to better songs with it on I Want You fail. They distract, are extraneous, redundant, pornographic without being sexy, and worst of all, they belie the idea that I Want You doesn't already inhabit a sensual enough mood without them. They cheapen something truly special.
There, that is I Want You's only flaw, dropping it from a 10/10 to a 9/10. Moaning. Now let's get on with the rest of it.
Without the moaning, I believe that I Want You would be considered one of Marvin's masterpieces. The album creates a lush, relaxing mood from the onset, with deeper emotional tones than some of Marvin's previous work. "I want you," he sings in the title track, "But I want you to want me, too." Desire isn't enough. It has to be reciprocated. Marvin doesn't just want sex. He wants connection.
The rest of the album flows accordingly: a rhythmic bed, lush blankets of orchestration, Marvin's voice floating above. The whole thing feels like a 40-minute dream, replete with repeating motifs. I Want You is Marvin's most impressionistic album, fully deserving the impressionistic artwork that accompanies it. And still, it gets down.
This is an album made by a master at his peak, marred only by a silly production decision. This is an album that could only have been created by Marvin Pentz Gaye, Jr.. Despite its lesser-known status in Gaye's canon, I Want You is an album on which to stake a legacy.
1. I Want You (Vocal) 4:35
2. Come Live with Me Angel 6:28
3. After the Dance (Instrumental) 4:21
4. Feel All My Love Inside 3:23
5. I Wanna Be Where You Are 1:17
6. I Want You (Intro Jam) 0:20
7. All the Way Round 3:50
8. Since I Had You 4:05
9. Soon I'll Be Loving You Again 3:14
10. I Want You (Jam) 1:41
11. After the Dance (Vocal) 4:40
Wednesday, March 18, 2015
In high school, I had a pretty good intro to any question any teacher ever had for me about mankind, or people in general: "Well, we're all sensitive people, with so much to give..." I thought it was brilliant, but for some reason, none of the kids in my class got the joke. Starting off any response to a teacher with lyrics from a song about getting it on called "Let's Get It On," from an album called Let's Get It On, about, exclusively, getting it on, is pretty brilliant, though. This was not the only positive quality of mine that my fellow students at False River Academy did not appreciate. Moving out of the 90's and into 2015, Let's Get It On is just as timeless a collection of music as it was in 1973, the year it was released, except probably still to students at False River Academy, even though, according to teenage birthrates, they should be well versed.
Let's Get It On starts off with the titular track, and if you've never heard the song before, you've got to remedy that issue...you've got to get it on. Let's Get It On is a rapturous song that is about sex, yet could buoy the spirits of...man, I don't know, like a eunuch or some person that isn't interested in sex or something. I mean, when I was 16 and poking fun at my teachers, I was most definitely interested in sex (not with my teachers...), but most definitely not getting any, yet listening to Let's Get It On made me feel like I could climb to the top of a mountain, then throw that mountain into the sea, if not for the fact that I was then feeling so much goodwill that all I wanted to do was hug the mountain instead.
Let's Get It On is just one of those perfect, vibe-bettering songs. I don't think describing the song in any sort of technical fashion would help because it is 4:44 of pure feeling. If you aren't feeling it by the time Marvin pulls out his falsetto after that cathartic moment 3:50 into the song, you might as well just throw this album in the trash. You might also want to have your pulse checked by a professional...pulse checker.
The rest of Let's Get It On is awesome, too. Side one and two of the original record function as two separate, but spiritually connected suites. "Let's Get It On" flows into the gorgeous, longing, one-two punch of "Please Stay (Once You Go Away)" and "If I Should Die Tonight." After those two, side one closes with a reprise of the title track, called "Keep Gettin It On," literally urging people to not stop gettin' it on. No, I'm serious:
Oh Jesus, tryna tell the people
To come on and get it on, yes Lord
That's from the song's final verse, revealing the spiritual aspect to Marvin's quest to get everybody to stop warring and start getting it on.
I've heard people say that Marvin had to separate the spiritual from the sexual, but no he didn't because he is asking God for assistance throughout this whole album to help get the people to stop warring and start getting it on. I mean, I just said that. While younger Marvin faced a sort of sexual crisis due to his father's religious overbearing, sometimes unable to perform, older Marvin eventually reconciled the spiritual and the sexual. He even calls the sex he is having on "Let's Get It On," "sanctified," and assures "it isn't wrong." Maybe that's why this album is so euphoric. I don't know. Marvin was an oxymoron, an anachronism not belonging to any time. His religion was key to him, even as the person who taught it to him, his father, was his lifelong antagonist, and eventually his murderer. In a way, Let's Get It Onand its follow-up, I Want You, are direct rebellions to Marvin's physical father, yet still give glory to his heavenly one. But let's get to side two.
While Marvin co-produced side one with Ed Townsend, he produced side two solo. It begins with "Come Get to This," Let's Get It On's quickie. It's shorter and faster-paced then anything else found on the album, but it is a lot of fun, a throwback to music Marvin admired in the 50's. If you are reading this in 2050, sorry, I'm not talking about you guys. Go fly your car or something. "Come Get to This" is followed by "Distant Lover," which takes on a dreamier atmosphere, resuming that feeling of longing that imbued side one, while injecting a timeless dreaminess...ness. After that, I guess Marvin felt like he hadn't been explicit enough in what he wants because "You Sure Love to Ball" kicks off with the sound of a woman moaning and is called "You Sure Love to Ball." The song thickens the dreamy atmosphere even more, inhabiting some kind of after-sex, drifting to sleep reverie next to a window full of stars and planets and galaxies. All the loving is over, though. The ascent to the mountaintop of mortal pleasure ends with a song about divorce, in this case Marvin's from his first wife. All that gettin it on apparently obscured some deep-seated issues that needed to be discussed...Marvin and his soon-to-be ex-wife, Anna, discuss them here...literally, she co-wrote the song with Marvin. It's like I'm literally using "literally" all the time now. Writing a song about your divorce with the wife you're divorcing sounds awkward, but this is Marvin Pentz Gaye, Jr. we're talking about here. An oxymoron, an anachronism. Divorce your wife, write a song with her about it. Write an entire album about getting it on, then find yourself separated from the one you've been getting it on with. It's why critics are still putting this album on top of their best-of-lists 40-plus years later, and I am giving an album a 10 that came out almost a decade before I was born, and people are still getting conceived during the 30-minute duration of this album. Marvin Gaye was a true artist and he put all of himself out there for the people. This is also why he is dead. You gotta save a little something for yourself, dude. Then again, who's gonna tell us what's going on, who's gonna propose let's get it on, who's gonna say "here, my dear?" Without Marvin and men and women like him, we'd still be licking lichen off of cave walls.
This is one of the weirder reviews I have written. Maybe it's three straight weeks of listening to nothing but Marvin Gaye. And there are still four albums to go! How crazy is the last one gonna be?!
1. Let's Get It On 4:44
2. Please Stay (Once You Go Away) 3:32
3. If I Should Die Tonight 3:57
4. Keep Gettin' It On 3:12
5. Come Get to This 2:40
6. Distant Lover 4:15
7. You Sure Love to Ball 4:43
8. Just to Keep You Satisfied 4:35
Monday, March 16, 2015
There's a scene in the most recent Captain America film (at the time of this writing, the second one), where a certain character tells a recently reawakened Cap that all he needs to do to catch up on what he missed is listen to Marvin Gaye's soundtrack for the film Trouble Man. That's silly. Gaye made far better albums. Cap should go listen to What's Going On.
With that said, Trouble Man is a decent soundtrack. It is full of the bouncy beats, wah-chicka-wah guitar, Moog-noodling, and sexy sax that most 1970's blacksploitation films featured. It is really cool music, but somewhere around the album's mid-section, it all sort of washes into white noise. Something could have remedied that though--while most of Trouble Man includes only the instruments listed above, a couple of standout moments employ strings, the old soundtrack standby. The strings work so well with the guitar, keyboard, and horns, it's a shame they are only put to use on tracks seven and nine. They add shades of emotion the rest of the album just doesn't seem capable of drawing.
Marvin Gaye composed all of the music here, and it is a tribute to his skill that this soundtrack has outlived the film it was written for (it's also a tribute to how awful the film is). Marvin sings on only a few tracks, putting together a light narrative. 'T' stands for trouble, and Mister 'T' is gonna get all the people who tried to get him.
The album is incredible in bits and pieces. Few things feel as cool as driving down the street with your elbow out the window, "'T' Plays It Cool" trickling from the speakers at a reasonable volume. A 40-minute road trip backed entirely by the full-length of Trouble Man is a trickier proposition. Yep, that just happened.
1. Main Theme from Trouble Man (2) 2:30
2. 'T' Plays It Cool 4:27
3. Poor Abbey Walsh 4:13
4. The Break In (Police Shoot Big) 1:57
5. Cleo's Apartment 2:10
6. Trouble Man 3:49
7. Theme from Trouble Man 2:01
8. 'T' Stands for Trouble 4:48
9. Main Theme from Trouble Man (1) 3:52
10. Life Is a Gamble 2:32
11. Deep-in-It 1:25
12. Don't Mess with Mister 'T' 3:04
13. There Goes Mister 'T' 1:37
Friday, March 13, 2015
As I mentioned in the intro to this series of Marvin Gaye reviews, What's Going On was my first foray into the more serious side of Marvin Gaye's music. After I spent years using lyrics from "What's Going On" and "Sexual Healing" in inappropriate situations, David Ritz's incredible Marvin Gaye biography, Divided Soul, convinced me to dive deeper into Gaye's discography. What's Going On seemed the logical place to start. My immediate reaction to the first twenty seconds of What's Going On, however, was not logical. As soon as Marvin's smooth voice glided out of the speakers, my body hurled itself into violent, uncontrollable sobs. What's Going On is a river of goodwill. I just wasn't prepared for that kind of emotion. That, and I guess I sometimes have strong bouts of what the kids call "the feels."
Anyway, What's Going On does not contain a question mark. It's a declarative, descriptive phrase. This album is literally about what Marvin Gaye is seeing around him in the year 1971. However, where most albums of this nature are critical and harsh, Gaye approaches the world around him with a sense of community and brotherhood, pleading for love and peace. The titular opening track contains voices of people joyfully greeting one another, and those remarkably good vibes are sustained throughout the first eight of What's Going On's nine songs. The album is told from the point of view of a returning Vietnam War vet, obviously inspired by Marvin's Vietnam War vet brother, Frankie. Thus, the perspective is that of someone glad to be home, yet troubled by the injustice they see around them. One can simply look at the track-listing to know what the topic of these songs are. "Save the Children" is about...saving the children, with Gaye belting out the line "save the babies" with tears in his compassionate voice. "God Is Love" is about God's love, and His command to His people to love one another. "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" is literally (HOLY CRAP I JUST USED THE WORD "LITERALLY" TWICE IN THE SAME REVIEW...IT'S LIKE THIS WAS WRITTEN BY A SORORITY SISTER) about the Earth's ecological situation. "Flyin' High (In the Friendly Sky)" is a shockingly honest confession of Gaye's own drug problems, but delivered in such a fashion that the song is somehow not a downer, but almost uplifting, even as Marvin sings "And I go to the place where the good feelin' awaits me/ Self-destruction in my hand/ Oh Lord, so stupid minded/ Oh and I go crazy when I can't find it/ Well I know I'm hooked, my friend." Meanwhile, music provided by The Funk Brothers, as well as an ocean of strings, woodwinds, and brass, ooze positivity without ever becoming maudlin or losing that classic, head-bobbing beat. It's a miracle.
After those eight songs, "Inner City Blues" begins with a surprisingly dark and modern-sounding piano chord, as the beat kicks in, and Marvin suddenly becomes more distressed and desperate. He wanted to hang out and have a good time before, but now he just wants to holler. Taxes, crime, government mistreatment all become overwhelming, too much to bear. "Inner City Blues" the perfect climax for everything that came before, ending in a longingly hopeful, yet conflicted minute-long reprise of the opening title track.
Believe the hype. This is one of the greatest albums ever recorded, and a fine introduction to one of the greatest artists of the 20th Century. It's also tear-bait for over-emotional weirdos with wildly unmanageable hair.
1. What's Going On 3:53
2. What's Happening Brother 2:43
3. Flyin' High (In the Friendly Sky) 3:49
4. Save the Children 4:03
5. God Is Love 1:41
6. Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) 3:16
7. Right On 7:31
8. Wholy Holy 3:08
9. Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) 5:26
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
My early childhood awareness of Marvin Gaye was rather rudimentary. I clearly remember his death, and I remember his songs being played frequently at the time, but I didn't really delve into his work until high school. In those teenage years, I dove into only one aspect of Marvin's work: his sex songs. Basically, 16-year old me could not believe that some dude had not only recorded songs called "Let's Get It On" and "Sexual Healing" before Clinton had been elected, but also that those songs were and were still being played on the radio. If they were played on the radio, then I could just ironically drop lyrics from them whenever I wanted without consequence. Thus were borne excellently mistranslated lines in French class, "le chat est noir" coming out in English as, "If the spirit moves you, let me groove you." Awkward moments at Beta dances where I somehow convinced the aging DJ to allow me to watch confused teenagers look at speakers suddenly belting out the lines, "I've been really tryin', baby, tryin' to hold back these feelings for so long..." Giving teachers that were annoying me snarky nicknames, like Edith "When I Get This Feeling, I Need Sexual Healing" Atkinson. Sorry, Mrs. Edith, but you did throw an eraser at me and call me a communist.
It wasn't until after college that I was introduced to the deeper aspects of Marvin's music. On a whim one day, I picked up David Ritz's Marvin Gaye biography, Divided Soul. I was immediately engrossed, finding Marvin to be a sort of kindred spirit, picked up What's Going On, and had my consciousness expanded. The music, lyrics, and Marvin's voice in particular, mesmerized me. Traditionally, I have leaned toward female vocalists, but Marvin's voice hit upon emotions I had never heard another man exemplify so eloquently. I then picked up the six albums Marvin released after What's Going On, but before his untimely death, and I was nearly as floored.
I just reviewed six albums by a band who is certainly not everyone's cup of tea. Now here are reviews of seven albums recorded for everyone.*
*I don't mean to disservice Marvin's pre-What's Going On work. He recorded some incredible songs back then. "Heard It Through the Grapevine" is one of my favorite songs of all time. But it wasn't until What's Going On that Marvin truly began to create "albums."*
Monday, March 09, 2015
This Violents' song, "Fireflies," blew my door off about a month ago, and I still can't stop listening to it. As talented as Stacy Dupree-King and her husband, Darren King, are, it is now clear that a lot of Sucré's musical success must be attributed to Violents' mastermind, Jeremy Larson. It is incredible what he is able to accomplish on "Fireflies" with what is mostly only piano and vocals, along with just a bit of strings and a minimal beat and bass presence. And Annie Williams' voice...jeez. I have a serious crush on this song.
Also, in completely unrelated, but equally cool news, I just beat the level "Champion's Road" on my son's Wii U game, Super Mario 3D World. To get an idea of how challenging that level is, here is a video of someone else doing it. I'll post a review of the game on my Wii U review site soon. Also, coming up, a series of seven reviews on a very unexpected Nicperiment musical favorite.
Friday, March 06, 2015
Most Mars Volta Lyric: The obelisk fumes have occupied/emphatically austere/a smelter pile made by the debt collector/where the children should be seen, not heard
My Backstory: In the spring of 2012, I...who cares. Really, enough about me. The Mars Volta had gone nearly three years without releasing an album, after releasing five albums in six years. The music for Noctourniquet was actually written and recorded years before the album was released, but Mars Volta vocalist, Cedric Bixler-Zavala, felt rushed, and wanted to take his time in recording his parts. I knew I was going to purchase Noctourniquet because I had bought the other five Mars Volta albums, and I'm not a quitter, but after the lackluster Octahedron, I wasn't exactly enthused about this next Mars Volta album. Man, what a pleasant surprise.
The Album Concept: Cedric Bixler-Zavala, on his lyrical concept for Noctourniquet: "It's about embracing life for what it should be. There's a view of the elitist lifestyle - that being an artist is unattainable. I'm trying to write this story that reminds people that we're all artists." HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
As if anyone would be reminded of anything coherent when reading or hearing Bixler-Zavala's lyrics for Noctourniquet. They are the same sort of dense mass of nonsense Bixler-Zavala has written for almost every song in The Mars Volta's catalogue. In fact, they may be even more opaque and nonsensical than ever for Noctourniquet. It's like the Finnegan's Wake of music.
The Music: As nebulous as Bixler-Zavala's Noctourniquet lyrics are, his vocal performance on the album is outstanding. He has ditched the caterwauling singing of the band's first few albums for something more concrete and solid. This could be do to age, or simply because of a learned restraint that tempers all of Noctourniquet (outside of its lyrical insanity). Bixler-Zavala's melodies here are thoughtful and innovative, and it is clear that the extra time he took was worth it. I said the word "restraint" a second ago...I typed the word "restraint" a second ago--on Noctourniquet, restraint is the name of the game. The Mars Volta doesn't go totally quiet like they did for half of previous album, Octahedron, but Noctourniquet finally sees The Mars Volta lineup pared down to traditional rock band size. Cedric on vocals, Omar Rodríguez-López on guitar and keyboards (along with his production duties and musical miscellany), Juan Alderete on bass, and Deantoni Parks on drums. That's four people and four instruments (five if you count the human voice). The Mars Volta's first album features nine performers. Their second features 29. In comparison to those albums, Noctourniquet feels punk rock in its minimalism.
In addition to the small amount of performers, the band's performance is also punk in tone. Rodríguez-López, who seemed to play 100,000 notes a song in the band's early days, seems content to just pick out a few per song this time around. He plays the keyboard far more rambunctiously. Deantoni Parks, who makes his only appearance in the Mars Volta's discography, drums in such a brilliantly shambling style, the songs sound strung together with loose chains and cardboard. I mean that as a compliment, though. To play so loosely and yet still keep impeccable rhythm is quite a task. This style of play suits The Mars Volta just as well as anything they've done, and is quite refreshing.
As I said above, I found Noctourniquet to be a pleasant surprise on first listen, and it still holds up just as well three years later. I really like that the band are still able to sound so diverse, with nutty rockers like "Molochwalker" appearing right after near-ballads like "Imago." Speaking of "Imago," despite Cedric's lyrical tomfoolery, Noctourniquet is quite an emotional album, with that song in particular resonating like a lonely, reflective walk down an empty street, or in my case, field, at night. The surprising keyboard breakdown and outro for "In Absentia" is a revelatory catharsis. My favorite song, though, is "Empty Vessels Makes the Loudest Sound," with Rodríguez-López picking out a huge-sounding effect on the bridge that sounds like continents being scraped off a planet. The effect is beautiful, and really, if I had to pick out a word that uniquely describes Noctourniquet, among The Mars Volta's six unique albums, "beautiful" is it. If I could use two, I'd simply say, "night album," as night is Noctourniquet's main atmospheric component--I mean, it's in the title, literally a bandage to put on the night.
I feel like I'm rambling, which is unfortunate, but Noctourniquet is the point where The Mars Volta's music finally matches the abstract, impressionistic nature of the lyrics--describing something abstract is fittingly difficult. How fitting then, that Noctourniquet is The Mars Volta's final album. It is a powerful final statement, revealing how far a band can come from its initial sound, while still retaining its identity throughout its multiple album journey. And while I'm reaching a point of incoherency, let me finally mention Noctourniquet's cover art. It reinforces the two threads I've been spinning here, as it appears to be an abstract recreation of the very end of a sunset, matching the album's sound with the sad fact that The Mars Volta are done making music forever.
2012 Warner Bros.
1. The Whip Hand 4:49
2. Aegis 5:11
3. Dyslexicon 4:22
4. Empty Vessels Make the Loudest Sound 6:43
5. The Malkin Jewel 4:44
6. Lapochka 4:16
7. In Absentia 7:26
8. Imago 3:58
9. Molochwalker 3:33
10. Trinkets Pale of Moon 4:25
11. Vedamalady 3:54
12. Noctourniquet 5:39
13. Zed and Two Naughts 5:36
Wednesday, March 04, 2015
Most Mars Volta Lyric: Vanish to fifth dementia/Cables of ringworms have hung themselves/Of this I ate, communion shaped/Serpent rays in prism tail rainbows escape (This is perhaps the most Mars Volta lyric ever)
My Backstory: By the time Octahedron was released, my wife was five months pregnant with our first and only child. Having finally made peace with the Amputechture-era of the band, I was ready to once again buy every Mars Volta album the moment it hit shelves. However, as I had an impending life change, I was in the middle of doing what I always do in those type of situations: freaking out. I listened to Octahedron and liked it because it was Mars Volta. I put it on my "best of" list at the end of the year, even though Octahedron is not one of the best musical releases of the year 2009. I simply put it there because I was comfortable with the band, even though I hadn't dug very deep into the album. Later, once my kid was born, and I realized that fatherhood was not the end of everything, I went back and gave Octahedron a deeper look.
The Album Concept: Octahedron is one of only two Mars Volta albums for which Cedric Bixler-Zalava didn't come up with some bizarre, off-the-wall story. However, Octahedron is conceptually a landmark album in The Mars Volta discography...it is the first one to contain coherent lyrics. I don't mean every song contains coherent lyrics, as that statement is immediately proved incorrect by the lyric above, which is taken from track three, "Halo of Nembutals." But opening song, "Since We've Been Wrong," is clear in its depiction of a decaying relationship. Second song, "Teflon," minces no words in its President-assassination fantasy. Song seven, "Copernicus," paints a vivid picture of a kidnapping from multiple perspectives. Don't worry, though, incoherent lyrics fans! There's still plenty here for you to enjoy!
The Music: The Mars Volta took care to alert their fans that Octahedron would not be like their previous work. This album was going to be soft and delicate and "pop." I wish the band had had the balls to actually go all the way through with this, minus the pop part, which The Mars Volta could never be anything more than on the fringe of. The band do make it halfway through Octahedron's staring contest without their faces breaking out into a more typical Mars Volta expression, though. "Since We've Been Wrong" begins with a minute-and-a-half, nearly silent drone that runs through the background of the entire album. Then we get nothing but Cedric's plaintive vocals and Omar Rodríguez-López's guitar. "Since We've Been Wrong" is a lovely song, and when the band finally kicks in during the fifth-minute, it's more to fill out the song and give a light catharsis then to explode in chaos. This is a shockingly restrained moment from a band known for wild cacophony. "Full band" here means something smaller than on any previous Volta album, as well, as saxophonist, Adrián Terrazas-González, and rhythm-guitarist/sound manipulator, Paul Hinojos, were asked by Omar to leave the band, in order to pare down Mars Volta's sound. That said, the full band appears from the beginning on the next track, "Teflon." The song is moody and atmospheric, explosive in moments, but again, for most of its running time, remarkably restrained. "Halo of Nembutals" maintains the tone, with the band playing a little more chaotically without disrupting Octahedron's hypnotic spell. The drone at the end leads directly into album centerpiece, "With Twilight as My Guide."
"With Twilight as My Guide" is a beautiful song, composed entirely of vocals, guitar, and a bunch of really pretty noises. It is so ethereal that Renée Fleming (some kind of opera singer or something) covered it for an album she did of non-opera songs. If you've seen the Lord of the Rings trilogy, you've heard Fleming's voice, as she is the only living human equipped with elf-singing capabilities.
These first four tracks accomplish exactly what it seems The Mars Volta have attempted to do...and then the band blow it on track five, "Cotopaxi." Taking the previous sentence in the worst way possible is actually pretty apt, as the noisy, fast, and furious "Cotopaxi" sounds like a B-Side from the band's previous album, The Bedlam in Goliath, spoiling the haunting, deliberate tone of Octahedron, and leaving the listener unsatisfied. "Cotopaxi" does not belong here (even though the volcano it is named after is painted on the album's back cover). The song seems to have only been included to give Octahedron a traditional-sounding single. Unfortunately, the band follow "Cotopaxi" with "Desperate Graves," another upbeat track. By this point, the mood is gone. Octahedron was shaping up to be a brilliant night album, and now it is just an incohesive mess. It's a shame because the gorgeous "Copernicus" gets things right back on track, another dark and quiet guitar and vocal duet with a lovely piano outro. "Copernicus" is followed by one of the better closer's The Mars Volta have recorded, "Luciforms." "Luciforms" is, if such a thing is possible, a delightful descent into darkness, starting off slowly before the full band rips into a descending chord progression. "Luciforms" is tastefully restrained compared to the rest of The Mars Volta's album-enders, but like "Since We've Been Wrong," fittingly cathartic. I really wish that "Cotopaxi" and "Desperate Graves" would have gotten the memo received by Octahedron's other six tracks. Those six prove that employing the full band doesn't have to disrupt cohesion. The band could have written two songs for the five and six spots that fit in with the rest of what they were doing. Octahedron could have been regarded as The Mars Volta's masterpiece, much in the way that The Boatman's Call is often-regarded as Nick Cave's, despite the fact that Boatman is a quiet underground river surrounded by the booming waterfall of the rest of Cave's catalogue. Instead, due to its lack of its cohesion, Octahedron feels incomplete, more like a hodgepodge collection of b-sides and oddities instead of the left-field masterpiece it could have been. Bah.
2009 Warner Bros/Mercury
1. Since We've Been Wrong 7:22
2. Teflon 5:06
3. Halo of Nembutals 5:32
4. With Twilight as My Guide 7:54
5. Cotopaxi 3:40
6. Desperate Graves 4:58
7. Copernicus 7:24
8. Luciforms 8:22
Monday, March 02, 2015
Most Mars Volta Lyric: Folding wormholes/my time is riding in the alphabet
My Backstory: I mentioned in the first review that I bought all but one of The Mars Volta's subsequent albums right when they came out. The Bedlam in Goliath is the exception. In January of 2008, I was still wrapping my head around The Mars Volta's previous album, Amputechture. As I was feeling ambivalent toward the band, and a little turned off by the weird "ouija-board curse" concept they were using to push The Bedlam in Goliath, I didn't pick up the album until more than a year after its release. By that point, I had made peace with my perception of the band, and for maybe the only time in my life, was flush with cash. I picked up the album, once again from Best Buy, and gave it a couple of listens. I enjoyed it, but then loaned it to my friend, Sara. She gave it back a few weeks later, scratched all to hell. The disc was unlistenable, thanks a lot, Sara. With everything I've mentioned above taken into account, and also perhaps due to the fact that right about that time, I found out I was going to be a father and kind of went mentally wibbly-wobbly, of all the Mars Volta's albums, I have the least emotional connection to The Bedlam in Goliath. In fact, when I pulled out the disc to listen for this review, I had forgotten how badly damaged it was. I had to download The Bedlam in Goliath just to review it here.
The Album Concept: The Mars Volta have marketed their albums on strange hooks before, but The Bedlam in Goliath's is somewhere in the nethersphere. Supposedly, guitarist, Omar Rodríguez-López, bought vocalist, Cedric Bixler-Zavala, a ouija board from Jerusalem. The band screwed around on it and accidentally contacted a malevolent spirit named Goliath, who wrought bad luck upon the band. The board was buried in an undisclosed location, and The Bedlam in Goliath is an attempt to counteract the band's bad luck. Also, if a cursed ouija wasn't enough, the board also had a bunch of poems attached to it (Were they scotchtaped? Superglued?) about an elicit love triangle or something. And then there's some other stuff about Santeria and good grief. I appreciate the imagination the band puts toward all this stuff, and by imagination, I mean that I appreciate all the thought they put into making all this stuff up. According to singer, Renée Fleming, from an interview for Amazon.com, Cedric told her that "Bedlam in Goliath, was one huge metaphor for the way women are treated in Islamic society (honor killings, etc) not just a story about a ouija board... it's meant to make you question the way things are." With all that said, Cedric's lyrics on The Bedlam in Goliath are as obtuse as ever, but there are a few lines that kind of give the feeling Fleming said Bixler-Zavala was going for. As with all Mars Volta albums, you can make out with it anyway you like. Just make sure you buy it dinner after.
The Music: Alright, here we go. The Bedlam in Goliath, like all of The Mars Volta's albums, is unique among the band's discography--with that said, The Bedlam In Goliath is the relentless one. Mars Volta have gone to some intense places before, but outside of the 2:38 break the bizarre "Tourniquet Man" offers in the middle, The Bedlam in Goliath doesn't let up til close to the very end of its 76-minute running length. The vast majority of the time, the guitars are going nuts, the bass is in some sort of endless, indestructible groove, the horns are nearly mechanized, Bixler-Zavala is shrieking his head off, and the drums sound like they are being played not by a human, but by some sort of sentient hammer. This album just pounds you in wave after wave...not apt, actually--waves have troughs--more like some kind of punishing river current that doesn't let up until it deposits you in the sea.
Why, four albums in, did this sound suddenly happen? Why did the Mars Volta do anything they did? No one knows. Best guess, though, is inspiration from new drummer, Thomas Pridgen. Pridgen is generally considered one of the best drummers in the world. He can do stuff with his hands that humans aren't supposed to be able to do. I have to admit that the band's previous drummer, Jon Theodore, played with a bit more feeling and emotion, but as far as pure technical ability, Pridgen is untouchable, and perfect for The Bedlam in Goliath.
Of course, 76-minutes of sustained, direct pummeling isn't very appealing. In the past, The Mars Volta recessed their busier passages of music with ambient, relaxing sections (i.e., the ending of "Roulette Dares" from De-Loused...). The Bedlam in Goliath doesn't necessarily have that, and going off of memory, I thought I would just give this album an 8/10 on the sheer majesty of its technical power and sweep alone, the minus two for lack of diversity. However, on the many re-listens I've given this album over the last month, I've found something a bit deeper. The music doesn't necessarily have breaks, but there are so many subtle little changes in movement and delicate touches among the chaotic violence that I've made a deeper connection with The Bedlam in Goliath:
The saxophone that drops into the mix seven minutes into "Cavalettas," like a fish into the Gulf Stream. The boozy saloon piano and drunken flute during the woozy ending of the same song. The weary tempo change three minutes into "Metatron." The drum breakdown four minutes and fifteen seconds into "Ilyena" that forces your feet into motion. The album is loaded with these sorts of moments.
In addition to this new, frenzied, never-letting up pace, certain aspects of the music itself have also changed. For instance, the heavy Latin influence, which seemed to be increasing with every album, is nearly completely absent from The Bedlam in Goliath. In its place is a bit of a Northern African influence, found in the percussion and woodwinds, the drums, some of Bixler-Zavala's cadences, and the strings near the end of the album. The album's artwork, track titles, and obviously, marketing theme, also support this sonic change. And finally, this is the first Mars Volta album to contain no songs over 10 minutes long. That said, there are still three songs over eight minutes, and as stated above, these 12 tracks still clock in at 76 total minutes of music. The steroidal pace does make it fly by, though.
Even though the running time does seem to compress, The Bedlam in Goliath is exhausting through its first ten tracks. Then "Soothsayer" comes, whirls you around like a dervish, and takes your legs out from under you. Taking advantage of your aural and emotional exhaustion, "Soothsayer" sweeps in on a bed of Middle Eastern strings and chants, disorients, and calms. The song comes from out of nowhere and is incomparable to anything else in The Mars Volta cannon in its hypnotic power. It isn't quite a "break" due to its movement, feeling like the aural equivalent of shifting sand, but it is The Bedlam in Goliath's best version of one (the aforementioned "Tourniquet Man" is so bewilderingly bizarre, it doesn't really function as a break), giving the closing track that follows it more power.
So with years of retrospection and many recent listens, I can confidently say that The Bedlam in Goliath is a worthy addition to The Mars Volta's cannon, and a fine album on its own. It takes more effort to unpack and dissect than any of The Mars Volta's other albums, but it proves the task more than worthwhile.
2008 Universal Motown Records/Gold Standard Laboratories
1. Aberinkula 5:45
2. Metatron 8:12
3. Ilyena 5:36
4. Wax Simulacra 2:39
5. Goliath 7:15
6. Tourniquet Man 2:38
7. Cavalettas 9:32
8. Agadez 6:44
9. Askepios 5:11
10. Ouroborous 6:36
11. Soothsayer 9:08
12. Conjugal Burns 6:36