Month: January 2018

Charles Mingus : Mingus Ah Um (1959)

Essential: Absolutely necessary; extremely important.

MINGUS 1

COLORFUL COLORS!

Mingus’ Blues and Roots was a huge changing point musically. It is also an album I’ve already taken a look at here so I won’t spend much time on it. Structurally, Ah Um is very similar to the aforementioned album. This isn’t a surprise considering how closely the two were released. What is shocking is just how much more brilliant of a whole Ah Um is to Blues and Roots. The latter being no slouch and still one of the best in the genre, this record is an entirely different beast.

Better Git It In Your Soul opens things up ferociously and spectacularly here. Things are firing on all cylinders straight out of the gate which makes Blues and Roots seem like the warmup lap in retrospect. I fail to think of a better opening song to introduce any album in music. It bounces in a jovial manner all around the listener like an overstimulated kid at a carnival. The shouts and instrumental changes are as vibrant as ever but things are just that much more tighter than previous outings to be noticeable.

MINGUS 2

Not a bad pressing in the slightest

Obviously, the main driving force across the entire album is Mingus’ bopping bass. In the past he has had the tendency to overplay his hand which isn’t unusual for bandleaders of the era. It is his name on the marquee and on the record sleeves after all. Still, it is nice to hear him take a few steps back and allow the band to take the lead more often than usual on studio albums. On the more upbeat tracks such as Boogie Stop Shuffle the brass takes the lead and it works well to add variety. Actually, everything here is paced well throughout with some of the best sequencing I’ve heard on any album ever.

Mingus Ah Um, as a whole is a must-have for anyone with even a passing interest in music. It is for anyone in any mood. The songs are so vastly varied from one another and brilliantly composed that it is impossible to turn off once the needle has been dropped. For a tasty introduction give Goodbye Pork Pie Hat a listen, then follow it up with any other song. The differences are so instantly engaging but different that it is a surprise that they are on the same record. This could have been a very easy thing to mess up and make sound disjointed or fragmented like a lot of other albums of this era.

If you don’t own one of the many versions of Mingus Ah Um you are doing yourself a great disservice. The high scores and universal praises are justified, not that anyone else’s opinions should ever matter. At the time it was criminally overshadowed by all of the other big records but it is by far my personal favorite. Any day, any year, any mood.

MINGUS 3

Track List:

Better Git It In Your Soul
Goodbye Pork Pie Hat
Boogie Stop Shuffle
Self-Portrait In Three Colors
Open Letter To Duke
Bird Calls
Fables Of Faubus
Pussy Cat Dues
Jelly Roll


Bathory : Bathory (1984)

Revolutionary: Involving or causing a complete or dramatic change.

BATHORY I

DRAGNET

It is nearly impossible for me to be critical of this first album by this immeasurably important band. Born from one man’s ambitions, Bathory is unquestionably one of the most inspirational acts to have ever existed in heavy music. Personally, there is no way I could possibly praise this band or this album enough so if you’re looking for a more objective opinion you may be in the wrong place.

The first time I heard Bathory it was on an shoddily crafted mixed tape tossed my way by a friend in the early 90s. It took a bit more than a little convincing for him to assure me the integrity of the tape hadn’t been compromised. “Yes, it is supposed to sound like that.”

BATHORY2

Could use a bit of color. How about some light purples, or a nice fuchsia?

At that time I was growing painstakingly bored with music and my rebellious teenage years were beginning to make me more fueled by angst than anything. Metallica never appealed to me, I’d yet to appreciate Maiden and the death metal scene was getting a bit repetitive. Bands like the Misfits and Black Flag were beginning to appeal to me more than the “metal” acts so Bathory couldn’t have entered my life at a better time.

I’d be lying if I claimed to like this album the first time I heard it. The production quality takes a bit of getting used to and can come across as amateurishly shrill for the untrained ear. Still, there was something magnetic about the pure aggressive adrenaline on display here. Of anything I had heard up to that point in life, this was the most honest. It sounded like a young man ferociously screaming into a microphone while bashing on his guitar. Alone, in a cold room. Honest, unadulterated emotion.

Quorthon as Bathory changed my opinions on music and continues to inspire me to this day. The iconic goat head image that dons the cover of this masterpiece is easily visible throughout my home. From T-shirts to countless reissues and demos I shamelessly own almost all of Quorthon’s work. Sadly, Forsberg died at a very young age so Bathory is no more. I just hope to introduce as many people as possible to the legacy of music he left behind. Patience might be required for those unfamiliar with the harsher elements on display here but time and an open mind might open you up to an entire catalogue of good, honest brilliance. Music crafted by an imaginative teenager with a bit of talent and a dream.

Rest in peace my friend.

BATHORY 3

Track List:

Storm Of Damnation
Hades
Reaper
Necromancy
Sacrifice
In Conspiracy With Satan
Armageddon
Raise The Dead
War
Outro


Opeth : My Arms Your Hearse (1998)

Streamline : Design or provide with a form that presents very little resistance to a flow of air or water, increasing speed and ease of movement.

OPETH MY ARMS 1

I highly oppose the purchase of picture discs but at the time this was the only option available.

After two experimental albums, Opeth returned with one less member to create their heaviest hitting album yet. Morningrise tightened the somewhat loose and fragmented orchestrations present on Orchid so it’s no surprise that Akerfeldt and company managed to create something even more streamlined on this third outing. As a result, things are a bit of a mixed bag.

On one hand, My Arms Your Hearse is easily the most accessible Opeth album for heavy music fans to sink their teeth into. For those primarily interested in “metal” this might be the Opeth gateway for you. Almost completely removed are the acoustic sections and  experimental instrumental sections. Sure, everything is tighter but at the cost of a lot of the interesting intricacies that attracted me to their first two records. It is artistically sound and well conceived but very straight forward. Some might consider this a sign of focused growth, I find it a bore.

OPETH MY ARMS 2

It’s bad when you’re afraid to handle your vinyl. Music should be built to play, not looked at. Delicate little creature this one.

For those who have read more than a few of my posts, it should be common knowledge that I don’t often like to compare bands or relegate music to genres. With My Arms Your Hearse it feels like Opeth is trying to appeal to a broader fan base by creating an homage to Akerfeldt’s favorite metal bands. I say, if I wanted to listen to Morbid Angel, I’d listen to Morbid Angel.

The absence of the bass sound present on Orchid and Morningrise is missed greatly here. Yes, this is subjective but Akerfeldt’s bass playing on this thing doesn’t resonate with me and the songs severely lack depth as a result. As a “heavy metal” album the guitar tone isn’t particularly captivating either. The harmonies present in the past are replaced by fuzzy walls of distorted sound. Riffs are often difficult to parse as each stringed instrument blends together and rarely has a voice of their own. Even the quieter moments are limited to simple chord structures regularly played in a minor pentatonic scale. This isn’t too dissimilar to what was being performed on their previous records but the stripped down nature of the music makes their limited technical abilities show like a tampered with pimple. Opeth are most compelling when they switch things up frequently. Akerfeldt’s strengths as a composer are in his ear for assembling progressive pieces from scraps of riffs.

My Arms Your Hearse is a concept album in the most literal of ways. Not only is there an overarching theme throughout but the songs blend into one another without much of a break in the flow. The last word of each song is the title of the next which adds a fun, albeit gimmicky element to the overall piece. So far, it is a very well sequenced album but the lack of variety tends to make all of the songs blend together. Again, some might see this as a positive. Things trot along well enough but, again, I could listen to dozens of other better straightforward heavy albums to satisfy that itch. The few melodic and clean moments throughout feel out of place and ruin the momentum too much. Some of the clean lyrics are also extremely jarringl, particularly when juxtaposed with the heavier sections. The lyrics at the end of When are particularly cringe-worthy.

With all of that negativity out of the way it is still hard not to recommend this album. As an introduction to Opeth it might be a good entry point for heavy music fans. The first few songs flow very well before things start to feel monotonous. Demon Of The Fall is the definitive high point here. As a result the remaining tracks fall extremely flat. Credence is an unmotivated, lazy excuse to change things up a bit but ultimately falls flat with it’s amateurish vocals and boring guitar work. Karma relies too heavily on the structures introduced in the opening tracks of the album and overstays its welcome. The closer, aptly titled Epilogue is so poorly conceived that it almost sounds like it was written by an entirely different band. This is also where the album should have concluded. As a conceptual piece it would have been nice if everything concluded in a nice little package but there are “bonus” tracks added. They ruin the integrity of the piece as a whole and are out of place.

An album should be appreciated on its own merits. However, I struggle to separate this piece without comparing it to the previous two outings and as a result it disappoints. There are good moments peppered throughout but nothing that holds a candle to anything off of Orchid or Morningrise. Still, it’s a good sign to see a band who isn’t content on resting on their laurels. I’ll always support the will to challenge and change a formula. I don’t always have to enjoy the result but it can at least be respected.

OPETH MY ARMS 3

Track List:

Prologue
April Ethereal
When
Madrigal
The Amen Corner
Demon Of The Fall
Credence
Karma
Epilogue
***
(Songs that don’t belong on a concept album)
Circle Of The Tyrants
Remember Tomorrow


Air : Moon Safari (1998)

Dainty : Delicately small and pretty.

air moon 1

Kubrick is dead so Air couldn’t fake a moon party to go with their safari outfits. Though, dude in the back just looks like a janitor. Or maybe an inmate. Cosplay is fun kids.

There was certainly no shortage of electronic music in the mid to late 90’s. From pop fluff like Moby to the more adventurous Massive Attack, it was impossible to avoid. As a fan of rawer, heavier music at the time it was a rarity to hear anything new and interesting at the time unless I dug for it. If it wasn’t as lightweight and safe as “muzak” it was so closely and transparently trying to emulate the sound and image of Nirvana. The music scene was a burning hot trash fire.

Moon Safari is Air’s debut record. It is as dainty and fluffy as anything else from that era but the music is so well composed and catchy that it stands out as one of the best. Every song is well conceived and performed. There isn’t a lot of depth to be heard here and the lyrics are as vapid as any Moby song but the difference is that there isn’t an agenda present here that isn’t entertainment. This French duo set out to write a fun, lighthearted record. It isn’t rife with political bellyaching or full of emotional manipulation. There is something warm, honest and simple about Moon Safari and it holds up as a nice little record to listen to when your ear holes need something safe and easy.

air moon 2

So, which one does the singing?

None of this is intended to suggest that Moon Safari is at all boring or uninteresting. In many ways, it is the opposite. Stylistically it changes drastically from song to song. No better example of this is the almost jarring, but wonderful one-two punch of La Femme D’Argent and Sexy Boy as the album’s opening tracks. The almost wistful nature of the former song makes the vivacity of the next much more enticing. Sexy Boy is a great little number that has had me rushing for the skip button or turntable needle quickly out of embarrassment. Yes, I’m comfortable with my heterosexuality but the broadness of the lyrics are unabashedly corny and direct that they are embarrassing to listen to in public. In solitude, it is great fun. There are plenty of things best enjoyed alone. To all of you heavy handed liberal individuals out there, the song would have been equally as embarrassing if they sang “sexy girl” over and over. It falls into the same shamefully delicious category that I place Blur’s “Boys and girls.” Both great songs that deserve each other.

My favorite aspects of this album are Hirsch’s vocals and the ambient sounds heard in the backgrounds of songs like “All I Need” and “You Make It Easy.” Hirsch’s sings only a bit louder than a whisper and it pairs well with the terrific orchestrations. I’m a sucker for repetitive acoustic guitars in my electronic music and Air use them frequently and well.

Moon Safari is easy to recommend to anyone. It is inoffensive enough for anyone to listen to. It is one that I frequently toss on but it is a rather middling album overall. I’m sorry for all of you who pray at the Air church. Every compliment I seem to give this record seems to come evenly with a sarcastic quip. Sometimes everyone just feels like eating a fluffy marshmallow or a flavorless wafer. In a world full of Hollywood governments, politically correct band wagoners and Vegans it is nice to just sit back and listen to some relaxing elevator music every once in a while.

air moon 3

Track List:

La Femme D’Argent
Sexy Boy
All I Need
Kelly Watch The Stars
Talisman
Remember
You Make It Easy
Ce Matin La
New Star In The Sky
Le Voyage De Penelope


Queens Of The Stone Age : Era Vulgaris (2007)

Filthy – Disgustingly dirty

QOTSA ERA 1

“And the award to the most unusual album cover goes to….”

There are many iconic names in music. From Jimi Hendrix to Miles Davis, Madonna to Prince. Household names instantly recognizable to all who don’t live under a rock. Josh Homme is a name often overlooked when most discuss important musicians. From Kyuss to Queens of the Stone Age and every project in between, he has simultaneously found a way to provide fun pop music throughout the years while retaining some semblance of creative integrity.

The man can come across as a pretentious prick but his prolific musical output and bizarre songwriting sensibilities almost earn him the right to shout at fans in his audiences or liberally speak his mind about other people and their respective bands. This isn’t a character study. I’m here to write about Josh Homme’s fifth studio album under the moniker Queens of the Stone Age. I word it that way because this outfit is very much a Homme solo project with an ever revolving door of musicians. It’s a vanity project that has kept me interested throughout the years due to how fresh every album sounds. Whether I care for a particular album or not doesn’t subtract from my respect for Homme himself. It is rare for a musician to continue to experiment, take risks and start fresh with each new record. So, enough drivel.

QOTSA ERA 2

At least the innards match the strangeness of the exterior.

Era Vulgaris is an odd follow-up to the very radio friendly Lullabies To Paralyze album. There is a bit of an odd trend that I’ve been recognizing across the QOTSA productions, primarily in the sequencing. Try to stay with me here because this gets weird: Songs For The Deaf was the first album to gain mainstream popularity for the band. The A side is filled with an unusually varied grouping of songs. However, the B side contained music that was much more groovy, catchy, “poppy,” for lack of a better term. The A side to Lullabies To Paralyze kicks off right where Songs For The Deaf left off. Radio-friendly is a lazy way to describe it but it is more accessible and broad. The album takes a sharp turn roughly around the half way point and becomes an experimental powerhouse of unusual tempos and unorthodox sounds.

This record starts off sounding a lot like the latter half of Lullabies. A strange, almost nightmarish sound resonates from start to finish here. It is easily Homme’s most experimental yet focused entry to date and should be applauded for combining bowel churning instrumentals with dance-able rhythms. There is nothing else quite like it and I, for one, dig the direction these guys are going in. That is, I enjoyed after forcing myself to listen to it over and over. At first, it sounded lazy and contrived to me. It took months to grow on me after release and once it did, it became a favorite.

The hurdle to leap here is the density. Listening to songs like Sick,Sick,Sick or Battery Acid passively or in passing will make them sound like hollow (pun intended) radio fluff. Every song contains multiple hooks, tempo changes, odd instrument pairings and dark lyrics presented in an almost crass, sarcastic fashion. The entire album is full of groovy swagger inside an angst filled skin. Misfit Love is one of the more original compositions and a stand out for the subtle, nuanced wall of sounds in the first half and it’s bombastic culmination. Moments like this are peppered throughout and an absolute treat to discover. Surprising, fun and exhilarating.

Era Vulgaris is an impressive, engaging outing that proves Josh Homme should continue to try to shake things up. I’m often not a fan of lineup changes in a band but this is a rare exception as Queens Of The Stone Age has and always will be a vanity project. I’d also recommend trying to find a version that has the bonus songs on it as The Fun Machine Took A Shit And Died is a real gem. A circus dwelling, freaky gem. Run Pig Run also deserves a shout-out for being one of the most horrifically catchy pieces of ear candy that I’ve ever heard. It isn’t a particularly great song but it is as memorable as getting your pubic hair stuck in a zipper. Though, a smidgen less painful. Both might make you involuntarily whistle…loudly.

QOTSA ERA 3

Track List:

Turnin’ On The Screw
Sick, Sick, Sick
I’m Designer
Into The Hollow
Misfit Love
Running Joke
Battery Acid
Make It Wit Chu
3’s & 7’s
Suture Up Your Future
River In The Road
Run, Pig, Run

***The more common versions have Running Joke sequenced after Run, Pig, Run