I have a completely-filled 120 GB iPod classic, the record crate of the digital age, containing my entire music library. I’m listening to each release in alphabetical order by record title – kind of a virtual archaeological dig. These are my findings.
Howdy. I’ve been doing this alphabetical review of my record collection since February 2009, and since we started Critical Masses this June, I decided to start the project over from the beginning. Obviously, there are some albums I’m going to encounter along the way that I don’t need to revisit with full reviews, so they’ll end up in the Quick Takes column. All Quick Takes in today’s column have been previously published (save the Fugue EP), and presented with minimal revision. Thanks for hanging in there!
(Gold Standard Laboratories/Universal, 2006)
It’s like this record is literally made of meat. Everything on Amputecture is so substantial – the percussion is manic and full, and the flashy guitars cut through it all like meat cleavers. This is the first time I’ve listened to this record, and I felt like I was in a butcher shop. Pummelled and tenderized by the virtuosity on display, sitting through these eight tracks was like eating a meat sandwich: meat for bread, meat lettuce and tomatoes, a dark slab of meat, drizzled with the choicest meats. Biting down on all this meat is the true endurance. If you like meat, you’ll be rewarded with a mouthful of juicy, succulent, satisfying meat. But if you’re not such a fan of meat, then you might turn this meaty record off before it really gets going. And while I won’t be able to listen to this a ton – my ears don’t like it when I stuff meat in them constantly – every once in a while I could sit back with a fork, steak knife, and bib and dig into this fleshy sucker. Was that the grossest thing I’ve ever written? Probably. Don’t care. MmmmmMMMMMEEEEAAT!
(Lost Children, 2009)
Leave it to the Lost Children net label to grace our ears with another stellar release, this time a four-song EP from Fugue, an experimental instrumental band from Connecticut. Lost Children calls the release “[b]eautifully orchestrated and complex instrumental rock,” and I tend to agree. “How the Grass and Trees Became Enlightened” is a short ambient piece over which physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer’s famous quote following his witness of the first atomic bomb test is read. The passage in the Bhagavad Gita, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds,” came to his mind, and here it sets the stage for the three-song firebomb that follows. “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters” is the longest track here at over eight minutes, and after duelling guitar harmonies against math rock rhythms begin the track, a Mars Volta-ish whirlwind careens through the speakers, guitar, bass, keyboard, and drums virtuosic yet composed. You can barely tell when it transitions into “Telemachus,” even though the latter song has a different feel and rhythm, yet I still have to check the screen every time. And “What the Tortoise Said to Achilles” feels more epic than its five and a half minutes would suggest, beginning slow yet whipping itself into a frenzy by the end of its runtime. If I were you, I’d take the opportunity to download this, OK?
(Warner Bros., 2001)
Aargh. It’s so disappointing when one of your favorite bands starts going downhill. Built to Spill taunts us at the beginning of Ancient Melodies of the Future with “Strange,” a song similar in feel to “Singing Sores Make Perfect Swords,” a Love as Laughter cover the band tackled on their Live album. It’s promising, with its ascending chord progression and mid-tempo rhythm. But the promise is short-lived – the verse flops into a chorus that’s way too pedestrian – it’s beneath Doug Martsch’s talents. This is such a shame, as Built to Spill really is one of my favorites; Perfect from Now On and Keep It Like a Secret are two of my all-time favorite albums. But it seems like Martsch is sleepwalking on this record. The sequencing is weird, too – the best songs are tracks 6 through 9! “Happiness,” track 6, is the first song with a spiraling guitar riff that seems to mean it. “Don’t Try” and “You Are” (despite their crappy song titles) keep it moving. And the curveball of “Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss” hearkens back to the youthful chaos of “Joyride,” one of the first of the band’s songs I really connected with. But it sucks – Ancient Melodies has made me care less when Built to Spill records intermittently trickle out. Now I remember why I don’t listen to it much.
In my high school years in the mid-1990s, I went through ska/punk phase where me and my friend Scott would really get into the underground stuff on the tiny labels. Rancid were, of course, a lot bigger than that, being on the relatively better-known Epitaph records and crossing over with MTV airplay with a couple of videos. (There was even a major label bidding war for the rights to Wolves, but the band stuck with Epitaph for its release.) But in my mind (and record collection) they’ve outlived The Descendents, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Sick of It All, (early) Green Day, Gorilla Biscuits, etc., and still sound fresh and exciting today. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the first thirteen tracks could have essentially all been singles. But “Ruby Soho,” “Time Bomb,” and “Roots Radicals” were definitely worthy representatives for airplay, and for the most part there isn’t a dull moment. The album gets a little long from track fourteen to nineteen, but that’s OK, the rest is so worth it. My fascination with this genre was pretty short lived, but I actually did get to a Warped Tour event (admittedly not with Rancid on the bill), the be-all/end-all tour of the various shades of punk (pop-, mall-, emo-, hardcore-, etc.). It was hot, sweaty, and the bands all kind of sounded the same by the end – a parking lot in Philly in July is not the best place to see a concert, especially not one where you’re required to bounce and mosh and be stupid all day. Maybe I just wasn’t cut out for this scene. Fine by me.