Month: August 2017

UNKLE : PSYENCE FICTION (1998)

Scattershot:Denoting something that is broad but random and haphazard in its range.

UNKLE 1

Phone home.

UNKLE’s Psyence Fiction is an odd one to pin down to write about.
It is, essentially a group of musicians playing together over the orchestrations of James Lavelle and DJ Shadow.

Typically, I tend to veer far from reviewing songs as individual pieces but that might be necessary to describe this record.

“Guns Blazing (Drums of Death Part 1)”
After a brief, spacey intro we are bludgeoned on the head by this trip hop track featuring Kool G Rap on vocals.
It is a great way to start the album.
The percussion is heavy and the bass lead synths are among Shadow’s best.

“UNKLE Main Theme”

A psychedelic instrumental excursion. The leading riff is intoxicating and could easily put someone into a coma. A weapon of mass destruction.

“Bloodstain.”

Alice Temple really shines here.
It is a shame that she failed to produce anything this breathtaking post UNKLE.
Her vocals are absolutely brilliant but the music is a bit too fragmented. The bass is a tad too overwhelming and doesn’t gel with her wispy voice.

“Unreal”
Another instrumental in the same vein as the “Main Theme.”
Equally as enthralling and groovy as all get out.

“Lonely Soul”

Richard Ashcroft is the star of this orchestral piece.
Hopefully some money was made from this tune as we know The Verve made little from their biggest hit due to a copyright lawsuit.
Brilliant, beautiful and captivating.

“Getting Ahead In The Lucrative Field Of Artist Management”

UNKLE 2

An odd little vocal skit.

“Nursery Rhyme”

A bizarre pop rock tune sung by Badly Drawn Boy.
It does absolutely nothing for me and stands out like a sore thumb.
Somehow the two hip hop/rap songs coexist more fluently than this piece.
It is harmlessly mediocre.
A typical guitar based rock song.

“Celestial Annihilation”

Now we’re talkin’!
Here we have an instrumental track so layered and brilliant that it could have been placed on an early DJ Shadow solo album.
The keyboards are reminiscent of 80s action film soundtracks and the background drones are ambient perfection.
Aces

“The Knock (Drums Of Death Part 2”

Mike D stars on this track and as such, it sounds like a beastie boys song. Jason Newstead makes an appearance on bass. I must say, it is nice to hear him play along to a drum track that can keep proper time. The breakdown in the middle of the song is very reminiscent of DJ Shadow’s earlier work. Particularly, The Private Press.

“Chaos”

Atlantique Khan drives this beautiful little piece.
It is quietly haunting and surreal.
Phenomenal.

“Rabbit In Your Headlights”

Thom Yorke of Radiohead leads this song.
So, it sounds like Radiohead.
The music video is highly recommended.
Musically, it is overlong and a bit simple.
It isn’t a bad track but it doesn’t do anything different. If you have heard OK Computer, you will be underwhelmed by this.

Overall, Psyence Fiction is one of the best compilation albums I’ve heard.
That isn’t crediting it too much.
Albums such as this don’t do anything for me.
They are too fragmented to get invested in.
The sounds and themes are constantly changing and it becomes difficult to ground yourself long enough to become captivated.

Lavelle brings some pop sensibilities to Shadow’s turntables on this record.
Unfortunately, the vocals seem distant and detached.
There are elements of greatness here but, perhaps the focus should have been on allowing the musicians to play in the same room as the singers.
Perhaps they did and I’m just talking out my ass.
It doesn’t sound like it though.
A lot of the songs have zero chemistry between the musicianship and the vocals.

I give a cautious recommendation.
If you’re a fan of DJ Shadow’s early work, you won’t be disappointed.

UNKLE 3

Track List:

Guns Blazing (Drums Of Death Part 1)
UNKLE (Main Title Theme)
Bloodstain
Unreal
Lonely Soul
Getting Ahead In The Lucrative Field Of Artist Management
Nursery Rhyme/Breather
Celestial Annihilation
The Knock (Drums Of Death Part 2)
Chaos
Rabbit In Your Headlights


Sade : Diamond Life (1984)

 

Sexy: Sexually attractive or exciting.

sade 1

“D’oh” has a definitive dictionary explanation but “sexy” leads humanity down a rabbit hole of derivative terms.
“Sex” as a verb only leads to a definition in which it uses the root word to describe itself : “To ascertain the sex of, especially of newly-hatched chicks.”
What?

There is no better way to describe Sade’s Diamond Life than “sexy.”
It is smooth and flourished with sensual saxophones.
What word would you use?
Picture this: You walk into a steamy room filled with lilac bushes and almond oils.
You are alone and the suspicion of being watched doesn’t matter.
Saxophones, lightly struck keyboards and a smooth voice beckons you to test out the facilities.
What would you do?
How would you describe that moment?

Diamond Life is a pleasure for the senses.
One can not simply listen to this album.
The perfect moment needs to be in place.
Age, race, sex mean nothing.
Listen to this record and let it wash over you.

sade 2

“Smooth Operator” might be the obvious choice but might I be so bold as to suggest a bit of “Hang On To Your Love” or “When Am I Going To Make A Living?”
They don’t write accessible music like this anymore.
Every song has an exciting hook with expertly written musicianship.

With soulful vocals akin to classical rhythm and blues bands and instruments akin to jazzy soul, you have nothing to lose here.
Sade’s vocal delivery can be a bit monotone and bland at times.
However, she makes up for it with her passion in delivery.

Have you ever listened to the British band “Pride?”
Sade was a backup singer.
Cutting her teeth there must have given this former fashion model the confidence to do her own thing.
Either that or the record label needed something new.

Don’t be cynical.
Enjoy this record on its own merits.
It is safer than “Aha” but an extra ice cream scoop more dangerous than “Kenny G.”
I mean, would you prefer listening to “Kenny G?”
No
No one would.

sade 3

Track List:

Smooth Operator
Your Love Is King
Hang On To Your Love
Frankie’s First Affair
When Am I Going To Make A Living
Cherry Pie
Sally
I Will Be Your Friend
Why Can’t We Live Together


OPETH: MORNINGRISE (1996)

PERFECTION: The condition, state, or quality of being free or as free as possible from all flaws or defects.

opeth morningrise 1

A Palladian bridge over a watery pass full of music inspiring salmon swimming upstream.

Damn you, Opeth!

As a young musician I felt utterly deflated by this album’s perfection the first time I heard it.
For years I had aspired to write an album so varied.
It has been a point of contention as to who was the first to write the first grand, sweeping record with sinfully heavy passages juxtaposed with soft, angelic acoustic passages.
Was it me in my bedroom alone?
Or was it this Swedish foursome?
You win THIS round Opeth!

My imaginary album would have likely paled in comparison to this masterpiece.
Firstly, I could never find a drummer who wanted to commit to long, sprawling pieces of dynamic music; Every drummer I knew wanted to play hard and fast or rhythmically slow.
Secondly, there are no secret power doling salmon in my neck of the woods. Only lazy cows and their stony judgemental stares.

Morningrise was my introduction to Opeth.
It paved the way for my obsession and has ruined the likes of many bands for me.
This record single handedly made me question my musical tastes.
In a lot of ways, it made me loathe every other album I had once loved or attempted to enjoy for years.
Sure, popping on another album was inevitable but nothing came close to appealing to me as much as this did.
It was questionable as to whom Orchid was written for. With it’s sporadic movements and challenging song lengths it always felt very loose and thematically confused.
Who was Morningrise written for?
Me.

morningrise 2

From the chilling opening of Advent to the aptly titled Bid You Farewell, there is not one moment that doesn’t flow thematically.
The sequencing is perfect.
The songwriting, spot-on.
All of the superlatives in the world can’t describe how I felt the first time I heard The Night And The Silent Water (My first Opeth song.)

Performance and production wise, Morningrise picks up right where Orchid left off.
The band is the same and, this time, there are no glaring post production mishaps to hold it back.
Everything is firing on all cylinders here.
The music is tighter with less reliance on mid song atmospheric jam sessions so if that was a turn-off for you on Orchid, give this sophomoric effort a spin.
If you enjoyed that album, this one expands on almost every element while adding a coherent grace through restraint.
There are still lengthy atmospherical passages but they are weaved with more tact into the song structures.
For those with a preference for the arbitrarily jolting shifts, there is Black Rose Immortal; A twenty-plus minute crescendo of monstrous lunacy.

There is some great pacing going on here.
Advent, The Night And The Silent Water and Nectar all build and tease until that moment of climax that is the aforementioned magnum opus.
This album is a sum of all its collective parts and needs to be heard to be understood.
Listening to it from beginning to end is the best way to experience it.
For example, Black Rose Immortal wouldn’t be as grand if it weren’t for the ending moments of Nectar.
The Night And The Silent Water would feel a tad shallower if it weren’t for the last, raw acoustical sections in Advent etc…

A first on this record for Opeth is a song completely devoid of heavy vocals.
It is a lovely way to conclude the album.
Yes, there is another garbage demo track on both the vinyl and CD versions but, again it can be overlooked.
It can be a bit of a pain to stand up and press “stop” manually after the fifth track and is definitely mood breaking but it is a small price to pay for a journey this fantastic.
Make sure to give yourself enough time to put the bong down properly and brush off the Doritos’ dust before the garbage bag production of the demo song begins.
That is one startled mess you don’t want to have to clean up.

Enough praise.
Listen to this album from beginning to end.
I bid farewell.

morningrise 3

 

Track List:

Advent
The Night And The Silent Water
Nectar
Black Rose Immortal
To Bid You Farewell
1/4 Inch Sheet Metal Dancing In A Hail Storm Of Torment

 

 


OPETH: ORCHID (1995)

 

“PROGRESSIVE: Happening or developing gradually in stages.”

orchid cover

Yes, it sits upon a throne.
A sultry temptress awaiting your purchase.

With a cover like this, who knows what to expect.

A lot of things are flippantly lauded as “progressive.”
From Noun to Verb and back again it has often been used to describe challenging artistic endeavours.

When it comes to music, genres have become a necessity.
At this rate, “Indie Death Neo-Elven Avant-Garde” will be a household term before we know it!
As such, the overwrought necessity to compound and compile everything into an easily searchable term for our “Spotify” algorithms has become tiresome.

Sometimes good music is just “Good.”
Categories and superlative hyperbole aren’t necessary.
Like all art, it is subject to the onlooker (or listener) to decide.
“Onlistener?” (Call Emmanuel Lewis, I’ve created a new word for his dictionary)
Tempo and structural changes are things that most interesting songs inherently contain.
This debut record from the, then, children of Stockholm has more in store than long songs and tales of fantastical adventures.
At it’s core it is a forward thinking, adventurous experiment of music and, to me, that is more progressive than many other bands who have adopted the generic label.

Opeth’s Orchid is a wonderfully unusual, beautifully performed mess of influences and ideas.
To call this album derivative of jazz, metal and folk would only be scratching the surface.
It is influenced, inspired and intelligently composed.

The pink orchid displayed on the packaging perfectly encapsulates the music therein.
In the days when one would purchase a full record on a recommendation or a whim, this cover may have caught some people off-guard.

orchid 2

Johnny “knuckle-drag metal meister” may have given it his seal of head banged approval.
“The riffs man! The growls! They are from Stockholm! The kvlt! “
Stockholm, yes.
That mystical faraway land of aggressive metal music and ABBA!

Pressing play or dropping that needle would exhibit a sound much more complicated than, perhaps, expected.
This record is a bit of an anomaly.
It is simply packaged behind a beautiful pink flower on a black background.
Beauty and darkness.

 

The music within represents the artwork masterfully with compositional allusions to a plethora of different styles.
Throw in some intense vocals with obtuse lyricism and you have an odd little amalgamation.

Every guitar harmony is laced and delicately sewn with heavy riffs and folk inspired acoustics.
The bass pops with unapologetic swagger as every song ebbs and flows between said beauty and brutality.
Clean vocals are minimal and delivered in a shy manner that gives an ethereal, haunting feeling to each song.
It is hard to tell whether the latter was intentionally planned or if Akerfeldt had yet to feel confidence in his delivery.
Either way, it works.
It all works.
Mostly.

It is concise when it needs to be but also extremely experimental and loose enough to sound organic and fun.
Finesse is set aside in favour of atmosphere.
There is nothing else that sounds like it.
Some of the musical inspirations can be heard at times but it doesn’t borrow shamelessly or strive to be one particular thing.

Akefeldt and Lindgren’s guitar harmonies are otherworldly. Often, they opt for atmospheric volume swells and ambient noises over the usual tremelo picking in heavy music.
Johan’s bass playing soars above the rest.
The snappy four fretted finger fury is my favourite element here.
It is unconventional, well written and adds wonders to Nordin’s percussion.
Speaking of Nordin; A break from the drums allows him to toss in a brooding, bit-sized piano piece entitled Silhouette.
It is poorly placed in an awkward bit of sequencing and sloppily performed at times but the skill is unquestionable and atmosphere is hauntingly spot-on.

Hyperbolic superlatives aside, this isn’t an album for everyone.
Fans of heavy music might find that this collection isn’t meaty, raw or “metal” enough.
Also, if you aren’t into long songs with frequent shifts in styles, look elsewhere.
These tracks bounce around more than an overstimulated child with a gut full of caffeinated chocolate.
It is hard to understand who this album was intended for.
I imagine they made it for themselves.
For some, the individual tracks might overstay their welcome and make them feel like arduous slogs with sections sounding too familiar to other songs.
This could arguably leave a listener feeling bored or confused.

To me, it is a near perfect experience not without it’s flaws.
The production sounds great and every instrument is captured well.
However, Requiem and The Apostle In Triumph have an error that blends part of the latter track with the former.
It is extremely opposite as the opening to the last song begins with an acoustic continuation of the prior track that leads to a fadeout.
This may seem like a nit-pick but it has been a bee in my bonnet since the days of the CD release.

Apparently, this was a mistake present on the first issues of distributed discs.
Fine, I can live with that.
So, why is it that after all of these years this “mistake” has not been rectified?
This is a premium priced record.
It is pressed in limited quantities and can be an investment for some.
I don’t work in the business but, surely something could have been done about this.

The next issue I have is with the inclusion of the demo song “Into The Frost Of Winter.”
It was excusable in the 90s when every compact disc had to be bloated to the point of gluttonous explosion with outtakes and live tracks but it has no place on a record.
Finishing up a fully realized album with an immersion breaking song recorded in what seems to be a tinfoil lined dumpster is jarring.
It sounds like a group of rats fighting and barfing inside of a paper bag while highway traffic passes in the background.

Still, these are issues with the label/production and have nothing to do with the musical capabilities of this foursome from Stockholm.
It is hard to believe that they were so young when they wrote this.
A helluva debut.
Perhaps there is something in the salmon from Sweden.
A fish so magical that it fed and aided some of the greatest names in heavy music with it’s mystical scaly powers.
If only buckets of fried chicken and potato salad created the same results…
One can only dream…
orchid 3

Track list:

In The Mist She Was Standing
Under The Weeping Moon
Silhouette
Forest Of October
The Twilight Is My Robe
Requiem
The Apostle In Triumph
Muffled Noises Within An Empty Can Of Torture