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.
Once again, I’ve got some full-length albums that I’ve already reviewed in a past life, so they’ll end up in this Quick Takes column. I’m going to get some heat for not re-reviewing Angel Dust in all its glory, but oh well… The Quick Takes in today’s column have been previously published and presented with minimal revision. First listens/new reviews of This Is My Normal State and A Beautiful Machine round us out.
At fifteen years old, I was already digging this record. Seems a bit weird for that young age, but considering that I was diving headfirst into any music that came my way, it’s not that surprising that Angel Dust stuck out to me more than others. It’s semi-difficult stuff considering I was into Nirvana and Pearl Jam mostly (and really anything on Sub Pop). This was also back when MTV was relevant, playing actual (and decent) videos at normal hours of the day. “Midlife Crisis” was the first single from this record, and it was a dark song, and the video was dark, and it was awesome. Mike Patton gets drawn and quartered at the end of it. That stuck in my brain. “You’re perfect, yes it’s true, / But without me, you’re only you,” Patton snarls over dank keyboard and guitar bursts, and you start to believe him – he’s getting in your head, isn’t he? Second single “A Small Victory” followed, and it was a lot poppier, but equally brilliant. And tracks like “RV” (hilarious!), “Be Aggressive” (stalker creepy!), and “Kindergarten” (nostalgic at fifteen?) were remarkable. And then there was the horrifying closing trifecta beginning with “Crack Hitler” and ending with their eerily tranquil cover of the “Midnight Cowboy” theme, sandwiching one of Mike Patton’s most terrifying vocal performances in the monstrous “Jizzlobber” (ewwww….) – this just hinted at Patton’s direction, and it was clear he was now steering the good ship FNM, following crossover smash album but ultimately fairly forgettable The Real Thing with this sprawling monster.
I do find some of the Dave Mustaine-ish spoken word stuff (especially in the first two songs) silly these days, and the metallic slap-bass does at times remind me too much of the Red Hot Chili Peppers (and godawful funk in general), but the instances can certainly be forgiven in light of the circumstances that surround them. (And I hate the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Ugh.) Make no mistake, this is an absolute classic, my favorite Faith No More album from beginning to end. This album also points to Mike Patton’s growth as a singer and songwriter, forecasting his forays into the avant garde. And honestly, is there an artist with a more enviable and varied resume? He’s royalty in so many circles: rock, metal, rap, classical, jazz, noise, electronic, animation, the freaking business world. He’s doing it all. And doing it well.
(Lost Children, 2009)
The most immediate and striking thing about the Angel Falls ++ EP is the ethereal female vocals floating over the chiming guitar leads. I played it for my wife Julie in the car on a recent trip, and she thought it sounded like fairy song. And although the band hails from Bristol in Southwest England, the singing doesn’t appear to be in English – probably adding to the dreamlike fairy quality. Thus their greatest contemporary comparison has to be to Sigur Rós, as Jonsi Birgisson’s androgynous vocals drift similarly over his band’s lengthy compositions. So too do Yuka Kurihara’s over This Is My Normal State’s, and this, their debut EP, owes a great deal to the contemporary post rock scene, recalling other such luminaries as Mono, Explosions in the Sky, and This Will Destroy You. So to say it is slightly derivative would be fair, but it’s still worth the listen. The buildups are truly beautiful, and the cathartic crashes are massive. The three songs here stretch to about 29 minutes, so get comfortable before you strap on your headphones and indulge in the mystic passages. And this comes courtesy of our friends at Lost Children, so you know you have to download.
(Fat Cat, 2001)
I was disappointed when I scored this on eBay when it first came out. (Granted, I got it cheaper than I would have in a store…) Despite the presence of Sigur Rós on the soundtrack, it failed to live up to my expectations. Since the record was, indeed, a movie score, I wasn’t as finely tuned in to what was happening with all the incidental music here, as I hadn’t seen the film. My sense of appreciation was dulled into thinking that the tracks all sounded the same (which they don’t). Sigur Rós as I knew them only popped up at the end, fortunately with two tracks I didn’t have, but it was only two tracks! I put the album away, and haven’t come back to it since. Fortunately, I do appreciate it a little better now. The movie, which I haven’t seen, goes a little something like this (from IMDb):
“Páll is an artistic and sensitive young man. Getting dumped by his girlfriend, Dagny, triggers his descent into madness. We follow him on his way to inevitable doom; at home with his parents who finally can’t cope, and in the mental institution, Kleppur.”
Yep, that’s what it sounds like. Descent into melancholy, and madness. The Sigur Rós songs later ended up on the Ny Batteri EP as B-sides.
This is “Skye” from Melbourne’s swan song as A Beautiful Machine. I have no idea who Skye is. There’s very little info about him. He records under a bunch of other guises too, such as Terminal Sound System, Halo, Circle of Lebanon, Antisound – find out more on his website. A Beautiful Machine makes straight up space rock. Actually, I think the term “planetarium rock” is probably more apt, as the swirling, chiming, echoed guitar is the perfect soundscape for an interstellar light show. But Laser Floyd this is not: when the distortion does kick in, a Medicine-esque squall of white heat from a collapsing star bursts from your headphones. This is acid-drenched psych at its best. “Another Time” and “Another Place” bookend the album, the former gradually building over its eight-and-a-half-minute run time to a guitar cacophony, while the latter reprises the former’s guitar shimmer for a gradual seven-minute fadeout. The pace is slow throughout, the bass is deep and spacious, the guitars alternately meditatively transformative and blustery hallucinations. Another Time trips you out like a low-key localized supernova. Download here, if you dare.
(Kaos Ex Machina, 2007)
Digging more into the drone and hard ambient scene here, and I’m really coming to appreciate it more. Metamorfrozen’s Antarctica is exactly what you’d think it would sound like: an ambient soundtrack to the mysterious icy continent. Synths and strings are the main instruments, and static and noise accent, evocative of icy seas, cracking glaciers, frigid wastes, windswept tundra, endless night, scant life, and cold cold cold. It’s as breathtaking as the polar temperatures – I would certainly watch any documentary about Antarctica with Metamorfrozen in the background. The scope of the record is as huge and cinematic as its namesake, but even within the beauty there is a danger, a horror, an “Ice-o-lation” as it were (yes, that’s a track title). The record itself is monolithic, and a perfect mood piece if you find yourself stranded in the frozen wastelands. Download it if that sounds like your cup of tea. (Brr, a cup of tea sounds just about right…)
I walked past a restaurant this morning that smelled like a steak sandwich. It was weird and kind of gross, even though I love steak sandwiches. It was just that it was morning, and the smell was out of place – all that meat and grilled onions. Kind of a shame really – waste of a good smell.
Anyway, this is The Prayer Chain’s last release, after their “big statement” record Mercury, and it’s actually really good. Well, the EP part anyway. This is split up into two parts, 6 new songs, and 8 live tracks. “Antarctica” and “Friend and Foe” are standouts – vocals are buried, the mixes are rambunctious, raw, and gauzy, entering at times into shoegaze territory, which really fits the dynamics of the band. (Anything’s better than the grunge retread sound of their dated early records.) So of course the parenthetical statement is the problem with the live tracks (even though several come from Mercury) – most sound dated, especially the ones from Shawl (particularly “Crawl,” whose ferocious dynamics are rendered completely and surprisingly limp in this setting). The Mercury tracks even suffer from the live setting, and actually sound better on record where the studio tricks make for a fuller experience. Oh yeah, that’s where I was going with the steak sandwich reference – listening to the EP was like eating a really good and satisfying breakfast, and the live tracks intrude upon that reverie like a steak sandwich half an hour later. And I guess that I should but I won’t care about how that transition sounds to you.