Rob Swift: The Architect

This is the best Ipecac release I’ve reviewed in a long time. As you might guess from the cover aft, Rob Swift is a turntablist. In fact, he’s a member of the X-ecutioners (or was…Roc Raida passed away in 2009) who also had a release on Ipecac (of which I was not that fond).

But this…this I’m fond of. Many of the tracks are arranged into suites with “Movements,” and there’s a classical music influence all over the record. There’s samples and synths, to be sure, but many of them are strings, piano, woodwinds, and brass, all put together in an utterly modern fashion. And Modern with a capital M on top of it…the classical influences here are of a profoundly 20th Century variety. I hear Varèse’s industrial instrumentation and the spliced-together-tape experimentation of Terry Riley.

Turntablism’s such a funny beast. It’s still a completely under-the-radar genre, mostly serving as a backdrop to hip-hop, and due to technical limitations, it should be completely eclipsed by Pro Tools twiddlers. And yet, I find practitioners like Kid Koala and Rob Swift to be completely superior to anything I’ve heard in electronic music (and for the most part I can take or leave MCs as a group). I tend to scoff at musical Luddites, but maybe there’s something to actually mastering playing something beyond just these two anecdotal points and what common sense would dictate.

That last paragraph is just there because I’m finding it hard to write about this album in particular. It works best as a whole. Like a symphony, it’s hard to break down into parts that would stand alone. If I have one complaint it’s that the set-ups outweigh the meat. For example, “Rabia,” the first suite, starts on the CD’s eighth track, and before we get there we have tracks named “Overture,” “Introduction,” and “Prelude To The First Movement.” They’re all good (though there are a few throwaway moments in there, too), it’s just a lot of introduction. Like a meal of tapas instead of an appetizer and then main course.  But man, what tapas.

Rating:
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Mix: “Rabia – 2nd Movement,” “Spartacus,” “Ultimo (feat. Breez Evahflown)”
– “Introduction,” “The Architect,” “Principo (feat. Breez Evahflown),” “Sound The Horn,” “Rabia – 1st Movement,” “Rabia – 3rd Movement,” “Lower Level – 1st Movement,” “Lower Level – 2nd Movement,” “Lower Level – 3rd Movement,” “Sound The Horn (Reprise)”
– “Overture,” “Story Of A Man,” “Prelude To The First Movement,” “D.R.E.W.,” “Intermission”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

10 Minute Warning: 10 Minute Warning

0000138218_350Seattle’s 10 Minute Warning’s claim to fame is that their rhythm guitarist was Duff McKagan, who would, in the time between 10 Minute Warning’s two active stints, serve as the bassist for an L.A. band called Guns N’ Roses. It was on 10 Minute Warning’s second active stint, after GnR had mostly imploded and McKagan had moved back to Seattle, that the band would record their self-titled, and only, album.

There is no reason to listen to this unless you are some kind of manic Sub Pop or Guns N’ Roses completist. I like the dirty punk riffs of the guitars of McKagan and Paul Solger, but this attempt at returning to proto-grunge a la Green River fails due to a lack of strong identity on the part of vocalist Christopher Blue. Blue, with drawn out notes and quavering melodic lines, is singing as if he’s in some alt-rock-era pseudo-grunge band like I Mother Earth, I Love You, or My Sister’s Machine, but what’s needed is more of an angry punk carnival barker kind of thing, a la Mark Arm. So for the most part you just end up with a big mismatch, and when Blue’s eccentricities do blend into the rest of the music, it’s just middling, because it doesn’t have the raw aggression that the instrumental members do best.

So the band’s got the wrong personnel for either style, and it’s confused about what style it wants to be. Side projects and the like are often meant to be experimental. Not sure if this one was or not, but either way it was a failed one. And in any case, this isn’t completely without merit, and it’s inoffensive as all get out. It’s just boring and completely unengaging.

Rating:
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– “Swollen Rage,” “Buried,” “Face First,” “Mezz,” “Erte,” “No More Time,” “Is This The Way?,” “Pictures”
– “Disconnected,” “Pictures”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

King’s X: Out Of The Silent Planet

I started this trek through King’s X’s catalog because Dig Me Out podcast is going to review the band’s sixth album, Ear Candy and I’m kinda OCD. So I started listening to it and my first thoughts were on how familiar it sounded. I figured the band must have really borrowed heavily from these songs for their later releases, which I had. But it turns out I have this CD, too. Go figure. #MusicNerdProblems

This is a ridiculously good debut album. It’s obvious these guys had paid their dues before putting it together. The songs are all expertly crafted, catchy, well-layered progressive hard rock. They sound a lot like a less silly Galactic Cowboys (a much younger band also from Texas that they would tour with when I was in high school). In fact, you can hear how they influenced a lot of progressive bands in the decade that would follow…it’s like, even though Rush had a few good albums after this, this is where Rush should have gone.

The only complaint I have is that it’s missing a je ne sais quoi. I can’t find anything specific to criticize, but things are a little bit too sludgy/ploddy to excite me for more than parts of a song. They would somewhat publicly ditch Sam Taylor, the producer of their first four albums, stating that he couldn’t capture their live sound on record, and that may be them hearing the same problems I am. Given the excellent content, it’s hard for me to give this less than 4.5 clowns, but since the band themselves were unhappy with the production, let me use that to justify a half-clown demerit.

Rating:

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– “In The New Age,” “Goldilox,” “Power Of Love,” “Wonder,” “Sometimes,” What Is This?,” “Far, Far Away,” “Shot Of Love,” “Visions”
– “King”
Filed Between: King Can (Maximum Power Super Loud) and King’s X’s Faith Hope Love
Song Notes: After the jump
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Sleater-Kinney: Call The Doctor

Well that didn’t take long. Just one year and one album after their at-times-fumbling-and-halting debut, Sleater-Kinney released 12 songs and thirty minutes of almost pure brilliance.Call The Doctor is immediately so much more confident than its predecessor. The band has defined things to say and some really cool ways to say them. They are ably moving past the Bikini Kill/Babes In Toyland they were mired in a year ago, bringing in other influences like Sonic Youth (who get a call-out in the brilliant “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone”). (Check out the guits in “Taking Me Home”.)

Lyrically the band treads in the same vein (mixed metaphor alert) as they did on Sleater-Kinney, with gender-politically-charged lyrics, but now the ideas are smarter, more advanced, and more multi-layered. They’re not as easy to write off as angry riot grrrl (not that I would be doing any such writing-off myself). I don’t think Sleater-Kinney of 1995 could have written lyrics quite as bold as “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone,” where the protagonist wants to simultaneously be the object of affection to her paramour and also retain complete control over how much and how often she sates that desire. Or just try to listen to “I’m Not Waiting” and not feel your legs getting sticky:

I’m not waiting
‘Till I grow up
To be a woman…
I’m your little girl
Your words are sticky, stupid
Running down my legs

This album belongs in the collection of everybody who likes punk rock. I hear the band’s later albums are more highly regarded, but I’m going on record here as saying I don’t think that’s possible. Anyway, let’s find out. To be continued.

Rating:
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Mix: “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone,” “I’m Not Waiting”
– “Call The Doctor,” “Little Mouth,” “Anonymous,” “Stay Where You Are,” “Good Things,” “Taste Test,” “My Stuff,” “Heart Attack”
– “Hubcap,” “Taking Me Home”
Filed Between: Slaughter (Stick It To Ya) and Sloan (Twice Removed)

Waxahatchee: “Hollow Bedroom”

This song was supposed to be reviewed in the Xbox Music Best Of 2013 playlist, but I couldn’t get it to download until much later.

Clocking in at 111 seconds, this is a female’s gravelly voice and two guitars, one more distorted than the other, playing basically arpeggiated chords, and then some gradually ascending, and then sometimes she mixes it up with some descending, power chords.

It’s pleasant enough, but I’m not aching to hear more. It’s a pretty big win for new music lately for it not to cause a strong negative reaction in me, so you could almost give it a full heart based on that, but no, open.

Reign Of Fury: World Detonation

You could look at this album’s cover art, listen to the record, and be forgiven for thinking that it was circa 1988. Lyrics and artwork about nuclear holocaust, anthropomorphic demon on the cover, sharply-pointed font, and eight roughly five- to eight-minute thrash rhapsodies…apart from a minute or so of Cookie Monster death metal vocals, Reign Of Fury makes no effort to incorporate anything from the last 25 years into their 2013 release.

And that’s all good because the album’s all good. I mean, it’s a bit weird that you would look back at 80’s era Testament and Metallica and think, “Yeah, we can outdo that.” Because, no, you can’t, and no, this doesn’t. But still, this proves that there are a ton of great songs from that canon that haven’t been written yet and, hell, let’s go ahead and release them as an album. They do a hell of a job with it and I can’t find much to criticize.

It’s good enough that I’m tempted to give it 4.5 clowns, but…well, I feel you could avoid veering into the faster/darker/eviller/lessMelodicer tunnel that metal’s gone down in the past two decades and still find some way to move the genre forward. With their debut album, they’ve shown that they mastered the genre as it was at its apex. I’ll be here for their next releases to see if they can show us a better way forward for metal from that point than that which we’ve taken.

One lingering question I have is whether or not this is a Christian rock band. I can’t find any explicit evidence that they are, but there’s an awful lot of discussion of God and Jesus and heaven and hell in the lyrics (see song notes below for more). Of course, with metal, it’s tough to tell, because you can write about gods, sacrifice, death, war, legends, seven sons, elven rings, and so on, even before you get to Revelations-style stuff, and it can still sound very cool as long as it’s not super overt. (For overt, see Tourniquet.)

Rating:
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– “Infernal Conflict,” “Envy The Dead,” “Heaven Awaits – Hell Takes,” “Born To Die,” “World Detonation,” “Vile Submission,” “The Hound”
– “Goodbye Mother Earth”
Filed Between: Steve Reich (You Are (Variations)) and Brian Reitzell (30 Days Of Night Soundtrack)
Song Notes: After the jump
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Ministry: With Sympathy

I’ve been really struggling to figure out how to write anything about this album other than WTF, I can’t believe this is Ministry, this sounds like like Dead Or Alive or Human League or any other synthpop album from 1983. I finally figured out that I was stuck because I kind of liked it…quite a bit, actually. And so I couldn’t just immediately write it off, but at the same time, it’s really hard to get past the surface level timbres and beats that are just so synthpop circa 1983 and get down to what’s likable. I mean, it’s compositionally super fucking solid, but the genre is so off-putting, like the quality just doesn’t fit into what I associate that which I associate with that genre.

And that’s really kind of the sum of where I fall on the whole thing. It’s like alt-synthpop, where it’s just a bit too smart lyrically and compositionally to get major radio airplay, and yet it’s solidly in a genre that is only going to survive if it can appeal to the masses. I guess there was like Depeche Mode and Pet Shop Boys and groups like that, and I can definitely hear some Depeche Mode going on, but still, this is just so much more put together, at least in terms of songcraft if not timbre, than those bands.

Although there are a few notable songs, “I Wanted To Tell Her” is the standout track on the album. There’s a female vocalist (possibly Shay Jones) who elevates the song to a new level with her melody and emotional, character-driven melody. I wish there were more of her on the album, because I love this song, but underneath her are the hit-and-miss rhythms and keyboard textures and melodies that define the rest of the album. And just like some of the full hearts below are examples of giving the benefit of the doubt to tracks that maybe really be open hearts, calling this track a mixer might be a stretch, but it’s such a standout and I do kinda want to share it.

Look, in the end, this album does not rise up above much more than a curiosity in the catalog of a band that would go on to basically define the industrial/metal hybrid in the next decade. But if I ever get the urge to listen to a synthpop album, it’s going to be this one, and I’m going to enjoy myself.

Rating:
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Mix: “I Wanted To Tell Her”
– “Revenge,” “Work For Love,” “What He Say,” “She’s Got A Cause”
– “Effigy (I’m Not An),” “Here We Go,” “Say You’re Sorry,” “Should Have Known Better”
Song Notes: After the jump
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