29 April 2006

So I got the album in the post today, its earliness feeling like a reward for those weeks I spent not downloading it. I wanted to hear it first time on the Death Deck, so it could sound good, and with the packaging in my hands. Call me old-fashioned, but some musical events are still special to me.

I got through breakfast and a cup of tea (had to watch the episode of Green Wing I had taped last night), and then to matters at hand. I’m not sure where I stand on the packaging. It’s certainly very nice, and very smart. I dunno though. It’s like, while Tool had always been a really geeky, sorta-Prog band, they had hidden it under that veneer of aesthetic cool. With the stereoscopic lenses attached to the case, any pretence it out of the window.

Anyway, I stuck the CD on. Much like Frances The Mute, this is an album whose opening track sends a message – a message of ‘remember us! Well we’re back. And on steroids!’ The general sound was one of Tool-but-a-bit-different. The elastic basslines and odd rhythms were there, and it had me at once pumped up at its quality and slightly disappointed that so little had changed – much like last album’s ‘The Grudge’.

Déjà vu struck in a very hardcore way throughout listening to this album. I was disappointed back in 2001 when half a decade of development resulted in an album that didn’t really take any leaps forward. I was philosophical when another half-decade yielded similar results.

I had been caught up in the event of the album, rather than just relaxing and listening to the music itself. Much like the Mars Volta albums and Tool’s Lateralus, I know that it will take time to really get the most from the album. So I quit worrying.

And I think Tool quit worrying, too. While the sound as a whole seems to have remained (and let’s be honest, Radiohead has been rocking a consistent sound since 1997. Aphex Twin since at least 1996), there are obviously differences.

First of all, this is most definitely Prog. The last album had a pretty clear Prog implication, but this is all out Krautmetal (yeah, I’ve just created that term). Odd time signatures abound, but in addition to that (it’s not like Dillinger Escape Plan and Coalesce are Prog or anything), the ideas and images are very LSD-inspired. The vocal melodies are also very far removed from traditional Metal.

Combine this with blooming thunderstorm sound effects, a track consisting of a riff backing medical dialogue (I swear I thought I was listening to Queensrÿche it was so concept-y) and a throwaway minute-long song which sounds like Maynard’s trying to go all Sigur Rós – which I wish they had thrown away – and yeah, dorkness abounds.

Much was made in the years prior to release of how the band was influenced by one-time touring partners Meshuggah. I was dreading a clinical trudge through off-kilter monotone riffs and death growls, but my fears proved unfounded.

The only discernable Meshuggah influence to the sound (other than the fact that Tool have always played off-kilter riffs) was that, for long passages, melody was dropped in favour of rhythm. That’s riffs as rhythm, vocals as rhythm – even when a part is as melodic as an up-tempo arpeggio the effect was still a rhythmic one as there was no real melodic development there.

Still, the sound of guitar solos (that are oddly reminiscent of Metallica’s 1996 ‘2x4’) and a looser, jam(ish), overall feel suggest that Tool would rather be a really good rock band than the Saviours of Metal or anything like that.

And once I had relaxed about the whole thing, I was happy with it too. I like the fact that they are developing sounds and atmospheres rather than trying to fill every second with a wall of absolute perfection. I like the fact that while it’s not as modern as Kayo Dot or sunnO))), it doesn’t have to be.

I mainly like the fact that while I do enjoy it, I know I am going to enjoy it more in the months and years to come.

15 April 2006

Some Singles This Week

Yeah, so the quality slides yet further. I thought that seeing as I am actually quite charty sometimes it might be nice to talk a little about some singles that I have either been feeling or not feeling in the last week. It might even become a regular thing. To be fair, I don't think anyone reads this anyway, so who's going to complain? Besides, it can't be any worse than the one in The Guardian's Guide. And here's a revised (as of 25th April) version, to make it less dodgy.

This week I have probably been most impressed with Rihanna's latest. Her debut single, 'Pon De Replay' was one I have a fondness for, due to the cool rhythm and tight, blatantly studio-created, harmonies. I was disappointed with her followup, which I remember little about, other than the video was on a beach. There was no attitude to it.

It was with much relief that I heard 'S.O.S. (Rescue Me)', then. In terms of modern updates of the 'Tainted Love' cover, it destroys the Marilyn Manson version as the mix is far more hectic and has this 'Sad But True'* kind of rolling incessance to it. I think what I like most about it is the fact that until the very end there is no pause in the vocal. Verse-pre chorus-chorus, with no purely instrumental sections to detract from the addictive volition of the piece. The best bit is the non-segue of 'You got me tossing and turning, I can't sleep at night / This time please someone come and rescue me'. The 'bwoy' segment about halfway through is really saucy, too.

The mix really makes the most of the 'Tainted Love' 'BOOP BOOP', as well as the multi-tracked vocals, and just rolls on like a locomotive. It's briliant, and thankfully there is no guest rapper (a la 'Check On It', ) to break the flow of the song and muck things up with stilted rhyming. Granted, there have been some great guest spots like Redman on Xtina's 'Dirrty' and Ludacris on Ciara's sexy-as-hell 'Oh', but in general the guest rappers pollute female-led pop songs far too often.

That is a fate which sadly befalls this next female-led pop song. I say 'sadly', on account of this being an otherwise prime slab of pop brilliance. I was very pleasantly surprised with 'Say I', by Christina Milian (featuring Young Jeezy, who is now presumably now able to 'take it easy'). I've never been a particular fan of hers, though a couple of her singles were innoffensive enough. So I didn't think this would be much of a song when it started, but it has a very smart choice of main sample (I forget where from) and a killer hook. Who could have known one letter could be so thrilling?

Rather than the smooth and sultry confidence of recent high-points of neo-R&B 'Oh' and 'SOS', this is instead an emotionally charged call-to-arms which actually recalls prime Aaliyah at times. And from me, that is about as high praise as this genre can receive. While this is not quite an 'Are You That Somebody' or 'Try Again' in terms of genre classics, there are moments like the second verse that really set the ol' juices flowing. I dare you to really listen to the passion in the otherwise formulaic 'You wanna dance then get down / You wanna chill then sit down' line and not be feeling it.

Then we get to the guest spot, and it drops off. I'm sure his own material is fine enough (I have never heard it), but slo-mo lines like 'The media talk so bad about me / But the streets they do so bad without me' are so awkwardly-rapped (even with 'clever' splicing) as to make the mediocore stylings of 50 Cent come off like Ghostface covering Rakim lines. Poor is most definitely the word.

Thankfully, The Other Xtina brings the quality back with some Aaliyah-sounding 'oh's, 'we can make it if we try's and that briliant, minimalist chorus, and this is undoubtedly her best single yet. She looks like Toyah Wilcox at points in the video; not sure whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, but it's a thing nonetheless. And not even the mumbling of Jeezy can bring it down.

And Infernal's 'From Paris To Berlin' has really been growing on me. It's like a Scissor Sisters song, but without the overt coolness, and is much catchier. I think someone high up must have been unimpressed with Chris Moyles hating on it the other week (he said it was rubbish. Which it really is, but then he went on to champion those Brighouse bores, Embrace), as it's got a massive push this week from Colin & Edith. You'll hate yourself for liking it, but you'll like it anyway.

Obviously, none of these singles are anywhere near as good as 'Crazy' by Gnarls Barkley, but that goes without saying. Can't write it up here, though, as I got it in December. Still, it's received deserved success, and is the best 'hit' single in years. And I heard the album on my semi-pimpin' hi-fi (fully pimpin' when I get that Cyrus CD player to match my amp) yesterday and it is grand.

There seem to be a couple of issues with it in terms of some songs ending prematurely, and the quality dipping a tad in the middle, but as a whole it is an album that is great. And at 37 minutes it is of a refreshing and perfect length for a poppy album. If only Outkast might learn from their Dungeon Fam brother...

And I have no idea how recent it is, but new to me is a song by the beautifully-voiced Feist, by the name of 'Mushaboom'. I actually haven't heard the original tune, but a Postal Service remix. Now, I like Postal Service (especially their 'Such Great Heights' single), and this remix is good, but I dunno. There is something very twee about the whole thing and it repels me ever so slightly.

I should hear the original (and the album, for that matter), as I really liked her cover of 'Inside And Out' from last year. And fool that I am, I only realised it was a Bee Gees cover recently. Erk. And in searching for a pic for this blog, I have discovered that she is not only talented but also pretty.

And deserving at least a slight mention is 'Bjorkbeat' by The Calico Sequence. It is, as the moniker implies, a slightly more dancey take on the lovely Ms. Guðmundsdóttir, mixing the excellent 'Joga' with the equally excellent 'Pagan Poetry'. It's short and somewhat throwaway, but is definitely worth a listen. Google their name, as they've stuck the song on their website for free.

* That's a Metallica single (1992, off the top of my head), for those who do not know things they should know. Listen to it, and the self-titled album from whence it was pulled.

14 April 2006

Live Review: Boris, 13th April 2006

Sheffield Corporation. Support: Grails

So this was a last minute deal for me. Thought I was going to be out of the country for this one, but an important job interview forced me to delay the holiday, meaning I was free this evening. Luckily, one of my allies in good music was up for the trip to Sheffield, tickets were still available, and the trip was planned!

Finding the venue wasn’t too bad; after some bizarrely convoluted directions, we found the venue was actually pretty much a straight line from the train station. So easy was it, combined with the lateness of doors opening (not the advertised 7pm), that we decided to get a drink at a nearby bar. A bar, it must be noted, that seemed far more posh (and therefore desirable, natch) from the outside than it proved to be. Still, they had Britvic.

Anyway, I was paranoid that the much-desired Boris merchandise would sell out, as it is wont to do (and in fact that’s what it did the first time I saw them. Fortunately I was second in the queue so I was unaffected). We went to the venue, which was now reasonably full.

Didn’t seem to miss out on much, as I got the CDs I wanted (exquisitely packaged Boris: At Last – Feedbacker - (Conspiracy Records, 2005) and the Mabuta No Ura soundtrack (Essence, 2005)), and a couple of t-shirts. Oh yeah, there was a particular shirt that had sold out in Medium Blue, so I got Medium Green instead. Big loss, I know.

First up was a local opening band, with all the derivative sound and awkward appearance that nomenclature suggests. It was OK, but nothing any fan of Dillinger Escape Plan or even Poison The Well has not already heard. Who cares, they quickly finished and I sought out a cloakroom.

Unfortunately there wasn’t one, so I was stuck having to hold my (now packed) rucksack for the whole show. (I refuse to put it on my back – not on the dance floor; I refuse to be one of those annoying people.) That would limit my mobility, but the main thing was seeing Boris and buying cool Boris stuff, so I could handle that.

Grails came on and they impressed me massively. For some reason I had always imagined them to be Japanese, but they looked and sounded very American.

This was instrumental music, with a really cool sound. Instinctually, my brain drew comparisons with No-Neck Blues Band and the brilliant last Earth album. So yeah, this was all about the long songs featuring drones and country-ish guitar sounds. I especially loved the acoustic guitarist going nuts for the noisier passages.

What seemed to be the main man (he was centre-stage) was quite the dapper fellow. Indie hair, coupled with a suit and very Krautrock bass playing. That, and he occasionally sat to dabble on his Moog. And on top of that, there were periods when he played his bass one-handed while handling effects with the other. One of those bands.

Like I say, the songs were long and, as a result few, in this support slot. Watching them, I wished I had picked up their CD instead of that second Boris t-shirt, but the CD will still be there in the future. They were informed late into the set that they had five minutes left, so they engaged in what seemed like a jam, and was a delightful slab of textural density and feeling. Good band indeed.

The weird thing is that, as much as I was enjoying the set, near the end my attention was drawn to Boris, and how much I was going to love their set. And after hella delay, during which the band was hiding behind a slight wall, they finally came on. Still hard to think they released Absolutego in 1996; they look like a set of teenagers!

When they started, the sound was absolutely massive (especially once attractive guitarist Wata was upped in the volume stakes). My friend had asked earlier if the band was slow or fast. I said they were pretty slow for the most part, but they brought the energy for this tour.

No performance of even a segment of the eerie, epic Flood (Inoxia, 2000), the band was definitely in the mood for 2002’s excellent Clutch-beating Heavy Rocks (also Inoxia). Don’t think they played my favourite, ‘Dyna-Soar’, but what they played definitely sufficed.

The set rattled through some really intense rock songs, and at point I was feeling quite sick. Ah, it had been a while; that used to be my benchmark for judging whether a gig was truly great (Neurosis and Iron Monkey definitely passed this test). The penultimate track was a long and beautiful noise-drenched affair that reminded me of Xinlisupreme’s classic ‘All You Need Is Love Was Not True’.

With the curfew beckoning, and our train in the none-too-distant future (we missed it), they finished with probably their finest moment, the glorious opener to Pink (DIWphalanx, 2005), '決別'. Or ‘Farewell’, as I think the forthcoming western Southern Lord release would have it. This tune is one of those exquisite blasts that, when you first play them, you just think ‘this is the best song ever’. You know deep down that won’t really be the case, but for that period, it really is.

The band did justice to its take on the My Bloody Valentine/Jesus & Mary Chain uber-noisy indie drone song, and I was lost in enjoyment of the moment, once more. I thought closing with this was a wise move, as it’s one of those songs you just can’t follow.

All in all, it was a great gig, save for a couple of (peripheral) qualms. Firstly was the lack of a cloackroom, the presence of which would have saved a lot of hassle. My main issue, though, was with the audience.

From the cretin who declared Metal ‘dead, innit’ while Grails were playing, through the 99% of the audience who didn’t move at all during Boris, save for chatting to their friends; to the moron I had to restrain myself from hitting (something I haven’t done in anger in about a decade) for his repeated anti-dancing sentiments.

Anyway, stupid, passionless crowd aside it was great. My friend spent the gig dancing in rather a camp manner, and came away from it loving Boris and wanting Pink. I came away from it having seen one of my current favourite bands in the whole world.

Just a shame the journey back to the station wasn’t as straightforward as the one to the Corporation had been. C’est la vie…
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