Thoughts on Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy

Saw Guardians of the Galaxy last night and loved it. Hey, here’s a numbered list (don’t worry, no spoilers) :

1.) Congratulations to Marvel / Disney for their huge success with a film that isn’t a “remake.” (Even though it is technically based on pre-existing characters from an old comic book that mainstream audiences have never heard of.) What I mean is, it’s not a remake of an ’80s movie updated with forced “gansta culture” and an obnoxious rap soundtrack.
2.) Speaking of the Soundtrack: it was totally “out of left field” — who would think to put a bunch of ’70s soft rock ballads in a sci-fi adventure movie? It was a brave choice, and worked well!
3.) The humor was awkward and tense, just the sort of thing I like.
4.) It’s easy to impress me with exotic characters in body paint, because I’m a sucker for saturation.
5.) I’m a camera geek, but I was so sucked into the story that I don’t remember anything about the cinematography. (Except for that shot of young Star-Lord in the field, towards the beginning of the movie. Nice!) I suppose this is a good thing?
6.) I will probably see it in the theater a second time.
7.) I own Disney stock, so this all works out well for me!

-Carl.

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Free Salamander Exhibit: (REVIEW + COMPLETE SHOW AUDIO)

Photo by Cari Veach // burntflower.net

[ Free Salamander Exhibit (sort of previously known as Sleepytime Gorilla Museum) recently toured California. My correspondent to the south, Mike Stone, wrote this review of the show and provided an audio recording. ]

• • •

Free Salamander Exhibit, Casbah, San Diego, March 3rd, 2014

Review and Recording by Mike Stone
Photos by Cari Veach // burntflower.net

Every so often I encounter a band that gets my full attention immediately, whose songs get instantly stuck on repeat in my mind’s ear, and in heavy rotation on the car stereo. Sleepytime Gorilla Museum was one such band, bludgeoning my senses with “Sleep is Wrong” from their 2001 debut, “Grand Opening and Closing!” They instantly became an all-time favorite with their artfully progressive and challenging music, full of hooks and emotion. Over the next few years, I saw them live every chance I got. Each show was more intense than the last, and their songwriting and production got more focused despite a vast scope. When they announced that they would be “closing the museum,” I was saddened. I sincerely hoped that the hole left by the disbanding would get filled, somehow. We’ve all seen it happen: our favorite acts lose a one or two key members and try to continue on without, often ending up watered-down or just simply lacking the chemistry that won our hearts.

Free Salamander Exhibit, comprised of former Sleepytime members, Nils Frykdahl, Michael Mellender, Dan Rathbun, and David Shamrock are joined by Drew Wheeler, have managed to pick up where the Museum left off.

Opening the show with “The Gift,” the band welcomed their fans with a refreshing familiarity: ethereal and improvised atmospherics jumping headfirst into a heavy and angular onslaught. Immediately noticeable here, was the healthy inclusion of metal. With David Shamrock on drums, double bass blazing, and the triple guitar melee with Rathbun’s underlying and powerful bass, this was a grooving and difficult piece, around twelve minutes in length. It was the only song that I had any familiarity with, having been posted on YouTube from a few sources, but the poor sound quality of the average YouTube clip couldn’t prepare anyone for the dynamic and exploratory sound of this band.

These are seasoned musicians, and the core of the band has worked together in many incarnations, and with a very necessary level of educated prowess, the chemistry I loved so much with Sleepytime Gorilla Museum is still very much here. Donning masks made of large wicker baskets and clothes made from strips of burlap, among other things, the band appeared as though from a dystopian and pagan time as their basket-heads rocked back and forth in cartoonish fashion with the music. It was a few songs into the set before they were to remove the baskets, revealing crudely applied but effectively dramatic makeup. They certainly haven’t lost the somewhat burlesque tone of the Sleepytime era. Transitions from song to song are segued through the characters that Frykdahl puts forth, sometimes a little crazy but always interesting and even funny.

Rathbun is easily one of the best bassists I’ve ever seen, not in any “flashy” way, but in his amazing ability to execute such twisty, angular parts with ever changing counts (as far as I can figure out). The bass tones were delightful: full and sonically gigantic without being overbearing. He also played an instrument that I believe to be the “Sledgehammer Dulcimer,” a log-length stringed instrument that is played with sticks and/or plucked, and with carpenter’s clamps used as capo’s to prepare for different tunings. The instrument is rich and full-bodied with a distinctive growl, a great merge of bass and percussion.

Photo by Cari Veach // burntflower.net

Next in the set was “Unreliable Narrator.” This was the only song that I could say hinted to any other bands, though only in glancing similarities to King Crimson and Meshuggah. This is heavy and grooving, and I could not help to nod along with the pulse, despite so many changes in the upbeat/downbeat continuum. The guitar work here was exceptional. Often when a band employs more than one guitar, we hear the guitarists simply mimicking each other or layering the same parts, but Frykdahl, Mellender and Wheeler kept an outstanding interplay, creating a richness of auditory vines, flowering here and there. It was difficult to decide whom to watch at any given moment. It’s really quite impressive to see this level of interplay displayed in the live format, and I can’t wait to hear these songs represented from the studio.

“Atheist’s Potluck” began with happy bells falling into a bouncing and carefree groove with lovely guitars intertwining through several progressions, eventually landing in a driving straight shuffle with crunchy guitar. It really does seem like there’s more metal influence with this incarnation. Devoid of lyrics, the song still told a story with clear paragraphs and an ultimately satisfying resolve.

“Who Will Speak For Me?” began with Mellender on another instrument I recognized from the Museum, also an apparent hybrid of dulcimer, guitar and percussion, but much smaller than the Sledgehammer Dulcimer. Performing a quick loop sequence, he then picked up a horn to accompany Wheeler on glockenspiel over lonely bass and guitar. This was the most lyrically engaging song for myself. Frykdal’s lyrics can often be so fast and rhythmically challenging that it can be difficult to keep up without repeated listens, but this was of a deliberately clear cadence. It began: “First they came for the communists, but I was not a communist, so I did not speak out.” Sleepytime’s music was always lyrically rich and highly interpretive, it was part of what made the whole experience a much deeper affair than your typical “rock show.” Similarly, these songs will beckon many listens and feed much speculation about the intent of the authors.

Photo by Cari Veach // burntflower.net

Mellender furiously switched from instrument to instrument in the course of many songs, Frykdahl, passionate in his executions of guitar, flute and the lion’s share of lead vocal duties writhed in reaction to the very music he was producing as though he was along for the ride as much as the audience.

Shamrock’s drumming was well thought out and smartly delivered, congruent with his previous Sleepytime tenure. His playing wove into the rest of the instrumentation so well that the clever nature of his rhythmic placement often was easy to overlook. Wheeler is an excellent addition to the group; also a multi instrumentalist, I am curious to learn more about where he comes from. The diminutive stage was such that he was a little bit hidden behind Frykdahl and Mellender. I look forward to seeing them on a larger stage as the interplay between these five performers is really something. A friend I had coaxed into attendance repeatedly called the performance a “breath of fresh air.” It is no small accomplishment to remember so many parts on so many instruments and play them all with passion as they do.

Next in the set, “The Keep” was cleverly aggressive: “Flute Metal,” if you will. The many tricky and polyrhythmic passages were delivered like punches. It was very heavy, yet still with a definitive pulse that was easy to clue in to.

“Undestroyed” was a sweeping and melodic offering. Written about Leonard Peltier, it was highly dynamic and dare I say, epic? The word is so overused in this generation, but how else could I describe a song with such strong emotional content and dynamic range? This is music for the challenging listener. Building and building to a raucous crescendo, it dropped back down into a breakdown reminiscent of wind-up toys running out of tension. This song was a ride with as much care put into the ending as beginning.

Photo by Cari Veach // burntflower.net

Frykdahl’s banter almost seemed like channeling. Channeling the next song? How much of this stuff does he come up with on the fly? This time, he channeled two people, dressed as Porters from the San Diego Porters Union, up to the stage, each with their own piece of old luggage, which they clumsily fumbled with as the “Porter’s Jig” was performed by the band. The second instrumental of the night, it was a non sequitur that brought another dimension to the night. Because, why not? This lead into the much more thought-out whimsy of the next song: “Time Master.” Full of juxtaposed parts and somewhat cartoonish vocals, it told some sort of science fiction story, but again, absorbing this cacophony for the first time, I am forced to learn about the story later. No complaints, though.

“Anxiety of Influence” was full of dark angst and more of the signature rhythmic interplay. With long phrasings and cleverly dissonant harmonies with a decisive conclusion, this was no vaguely presented faire.

Photo by Cari Veach // burntflower.net

More banter from Frykdahl lead to old-southern style a capella improvisations, dropped in on by Mellender on the baritone horn, as if announcing the races. This was to be the final song of the performance, and it started huge, heavy, dark and dissonant. Once again with a swinging, sweeping rhythms and angular punctuations, this reaffirmed that these musicians have continued forward from where Sleepytime left off. Again, I cannot wait to hear studio versions of these songs. The renewed fervor and heady injection of metal to the equation shows that there is much to look forward to from this quintet.

ADDENDUM

Opening the show were California Bleeding, a drum and guitar duo that liberally explored noise and doom in ways reminiscent of the Melvins crossbred with Hella. They were sonically thick with exploratory interludes and a healthy respect for space between heavy-handed flurries of sludge. I would definitely see them again.
https://www.facebook.com/pages/California-Bleeding/145600172167998

Ana was an unorthodox trio with guitar, keys and an interesting setup for drums, including a 28” marching bass drum and a fire bell. It is refreshing to see that there are local acts that are still trying to do something really different. Their songs were measured and moody with great choices in tones. Very dark and dissonant. Overall, a great lineup to help open the new Exhbit.
https://www.facebook.com/ANAsound

Bravo.

[ Mike Stone is a musician who exists in Southern California, and has a red telephone on his desk that connects him directly to Demise O. He is working with the very first entirely online and international faction of the Immersion a Composition Society, the Interroclef Lodge (Interroclef.bandcamp.com) ]

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Secret Chiefs 3 @ Casbah San Diego (REVIEW & AUDIO)

Secret Chiefs 3

[ Secret Chiefs 3 recently toured California in support of their latest album: Book of Souls: Folio A (which you can purchase in my shop). My correspondent to the south, Mike Stone, wrote this review of the show and provided an audio recording. ]

• • •

Secret Chiefs 3 and miRthkon at the Casbah San Diego, CA February 12th, 2014

by Mike Stone

Clubs in San Diego tend to shy away from a lot of the more challenging acts that are touring, these days. I typically find myself making the trek north, to Hollywood, or in the best case, Orange County to see bands I might consider “Avant Garde,” experimental or just out of the ordinary. Secret Chiefs 3 is one such band, and I have driven many miles to see them many times. This night, I was lucky enough to catch them locally, in a club that many consider legendary for San Diego, the Casbah, an intimate dive directly under the flight path of approaching airliners that roar by, just above the building.

Opening for Secret Chiefs 3 was miRthkon, a band I had seen online and heard on the Other Rock Show, a radio show from London on Resonance 104 FM, but I was not prepared for what they presented, right from the start.

miRthkon label themselves as “Oaklandish Chambercore,” and I suppose that were you to attempt to pigeonhole this ensemble in a concise label that would be the best anyone could do. The band consists of two guitarists, Travis Andrews and Wally Scharold, two horn players, Carolyn Walter and Jamison Smeltz, bass guitar by Matt Lebofsky and drums by Peter Valsamis. Nearly everyone provided vocals. miRthkon had me grinning ear-to-ear almost immediately with a high-energy offering: a twisting and turning ride with hooking interplay between the horns and the guitars. The infectious energy bled from the stage. Band members appeared to be somewhat in their own worlds, and rightfully so. This is not the kind of show to be looking for puffery from a “front-man,” this was serious music, requiring concentration and some sight-reading by the band members. (I’ve been told that Valsamis only had two shows with the band as a fill-in, so his performance was even more impressive, considering.)

miRthkon were not just impressive, their music was infectious fun, reminiscent of bands like Estradasphere, mixing genres like a deck of cards: chamber music and metal, jazz and funk, math-rock and fusion. There was so much going on! One attendee likened them to Zappa, not too off the mark, really. It was obvious to me that I will have to spend an awful lot more time exploring their catalogue, as well as their live DVD. One 45-minute set simply wasn’t enough to grasp what they really put out. To anyone who needs to be challenged by the music they listen to, miRthkon gets my highest recommendations.

Secret Chiefs 3 has long been a favorite of mine; being a fan of Mr. Bungle, it’s a natural conclusion, since the band began with three core members of that group: Trey Spruance, Danny Heifetz and Trevor Dunn. The band has several incarnations though, with an ever-revolving collection of amazing players, they appear almost like separate bands from tour to tour. I’ve seen them a total of six times now, and almost every instance has been markedly different from the last.

This night the lineup consisted of Ches Smith (Trevor Dunn’s Trio Convulsant, Charming Hostess) on drums, Toby Driver (Kayo Dot) on bass and some keyboards, Matt Lebofsky pulling double duty tonight on guitars and keyboards, Timba Harris (Estradasphere) on violin, trumpet and guitar and, of course, Trey Spruance on guitar, keys and several other guitar-like instruments that I shall refrain from labeling, as I’m unsure which was which.

Conspicuously absent from the stage was any vocal microphone. Not a single one to afford awkward banter or clichéd pleas for website visits. Vocals are a rarity in the SC3 catalogue, a typically un-necessary addition, as the music ranges from venerable covers of soundtrack composers of yesteryear to fusions of surf-rock and middle-eastern rhythms or stylistic mash-ups of klezmer, classical music and death metal. There is typically so much going on that there is little need for lyrical content.

The band approached the stage in hooded robes, all white, except for Spruance’s, which was brown. Each robe had it’s own variance of a design that include stars and cryptic-looking symbols. Their deep hoods precluded much eye contact with each other or the members of the audience, adding an air of mystery to the presentation.

Full show audio below courtesy of Archive.org:

Starting the set with “Danse Macabre” composed in 1874 by Camille Saint-Saëns, this was obviously not your typical rock show. Next up was “the Seven” and “Balance of the 19”, two of what I can only call eastern fusion songs, with their off-kilter rhythms and interesting structures, really somewhat of an SC3 signature in recent years.

Fourth in the set was “Exodus,” a soundtrack piece that brings images of majesty and memories of spaghetti-westerns from the sixties, certainly one of their most recognizable covers. The restraint of the musicians in service of the song was palpable but never awkward, yet they still brought a modern flavor to the arrangement.

Restraint would soon give way to exploration and channeling, as they launched into “Tistrya” and “Observance of the Word: Vajra,” both favorites of mine.

“Vajra” encompasses tricky and disjointed parts intersected with free-jazz style improvisation and lots of visual and sonic communication between band members. The song really shows off the capabilities these accomplished musicians possess. Ches Smith seems almost taken over by the rhythms and energies of these songs, often appearing to be out of control, sometimes throwing phantom punches at his cymbals, standing and weaving like a boxer reeling from hard punches during drum breaks. Improvised maniacal incursions separate intense and powerful body sections of this gem. Timba Harris commanded the stage with the violin, driving the improvised sections through the aforementioned free-jazz darkness. Spruance provided the “color” through his parts, all the while dancing and turning to and fro, certainly lost in the atmosphere of the song. This seems as though it must be a favorite of the band, as well, given the autonomous freedom afforded to all within the structure. It has been different in every incarnation of the band, as well as from performance to performance.

From the aggressively free “Vajra,” they brought the tone back down, once again, to a level of conservative compositional reserve with “Sophia’s Theme,” almost a palette cleanser. Encompassing elements of soundtrack music and mellow surf-rock, this song was a perfect set-up for the following song.

SC3 Review

“Toccata” combined spooky cathedral organs with crunchy metal guitar, grandiose violin leads and fast, punk/metal drumming with high energy and a fevered conclusion.

Up next was “Engagement of the Sword: Combat for the Angel,” a selection from the release “Book M,” which is certainly a great starting point for anyone unfamiliar with the band’s material. This is a rhythmic drone, in a way, again dissected with improvisational excursions throughout. Here, I really started to notice how free Ches Smith was with his approach to the drums, playing outside and exploring variance after variance of the groove, punctuating each instance with fills and “outside playing.” I could see that each member really had to watch or listen for the subtle cues; they seem to thrive while being kept “on their toes.”

From the album “Traditionalists,” the following three songs, presented as an unabbreviated medley, are reminiscent of their earliest styles: highly experimental and noisy, at times. “RFID Slaverider,” “Codex Alimentarius,” and “Zombievision 2012” served to remind me what first attracted me to this band besides it’s affiliation with Mr. Bungle: unbridled experimentalism. Executed with meticulous placement of parts, the musicians really demonstrated the strength of memory. So many parts, so many different sounds to produce with only five people!

Up next was “Radar,” composed by Bernard Herrmann for the classic science fiction movie, “Day the Earth Stood Still,” a contemporary interpretation for the five-piece “rock band” format. Again, SC3 in their regard for composers past, have shared with us something worth revisiting, though under a new light. Though they have afforded certain looseness from the original, orchestral recording from 1951, the translation is faithful and exhilarating.

Flourishes of color from cymbals and an underlying, ominous tone from Matt Lebofsky’s keyboards then led into the high-energy “Saptarishi.” An exciting up-tempo groove with interjected oddball accented bridges lead to a series of traded solo sections. Here, Ches Smith really went into free mode, once again appearing as though he was taking things too far, only to show us all he was in control all the while. Punk infused with jazz, or jazz infused with punk? I don’t care. This is good music.

“Labyrinth of Light” gave yet another nod to the “surf-rock” style, complete with spring-reverb dive bombs on guitar and jumping organ sounds to a straight forward pulse, combining to produce an “epic” and huge ride, culminating in a crash and burn ending.

This was to be the one obligatory moment for the show. Feigning the end of the show, the band left the stage bathed in applause from the intimate crowd, only to come back only moments later. Recently a certain friend pointed out the absurdity of the walk-off and “encore” that every band seems to do every show, and ever since, it has seemed a little silly. I suspect that even some of the band members, themselves, weren’t quite sure why this was necessary. Perhaps this is a tradition that will someday fade out, an unnecessary appendage like the human tail.

SC3

The encore began with “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” John Phillip Sousa’s march. Lovingly recreated in a five-piece format, it brought a little admiration to something I certainly have overlooked for as long as I can remember.

The coup de grâce of the evening, however, was my favorite live song of Secret Chiefs 3, “The Brazen Serpent.” There is no studio version, as of yet, and I suspect this is due to the improvisational chaotic nature of the song. It just might not translate well through the sanitary processes of recording in studio. It is a blistering song with a difficult count (as near as I can tell, it’s in 15, but I’m a terrible counter) and it provides each member of the band an opportunity to really stretch out and show off a bit. It was as intense as any live song I can remember. This was the song I most wanted to hear and see, and it was no disappointment. The intensity built and built while teasing over and over that “this could be the end!” only to jump back into the chaos, once more and with greater fervor. When the conclusion was finally reached, the release was met with an explosion of admiration from the audience. Really, the most fitting song to end the show. I could hear many in the audience firing off expletives in disbelief.

One of the great things about the Casbah is that the small size affords meeting the musicians after the show much more plausible affair. One young fan waited eagerly to meet with Trey, carrying with him what appeared to be an incredibly well crafted kalimba (thumb-piano) with literally hundreds of tines. The tines were laid out in a configuration that appeared to be microtonal in nature. It was an electric instrument, like a bastard child of a third-world instrument and a keyboard with four levels of keys. Spruance was visibly excited by the concept of this instrument, showing the other band members and talking intently about the possibilities of such an instrument. This all reminded me, once again, why Secret Chiefs 3 is one of my favorite bands: the excitement of creation and exploration is alive and well in this band. There are still people out there who are trying to make something new, something different, and who are also keenly aware of the artists of the past that the mainstream seems to have cast aside.

Great music, great venue. Great night.

• • •

[ Mike Stone is a musician who exists in Southern California, and has a red telephone on his desk that connects him directly to Demise O. He is working with the very first entirely online and international faction of the Immersion a Composition Society, the Interroclef Lodge (Interroclef.bandcamp.com) ]

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Review of Öz Ürügülü: Forgotten Archives (CD)

Öz Ürügülü: Forgotten Archives (CD)

Years ago, I convinced this guy in Switzerland, Angelo Gwerder, to draw some stuff for me. He ended up illustrating the Marco Minnemann Flying Saucer and the Doktor Zoltan Caret Drones T-Shirt. (I’m pretty sure he’s the one wearing my Bomb Hawaii! T-shirt in the photo below.)

I had no idea, but he is also a fantastic guitarist!

(I’d say I should be drawing HIS T-shirts, but at this point he’s better than me at everything, so, I give up.)

He recently sent me some finished CDs of his Swiss band, Oz Urugulu (no, I don’t know how to pronounce it), and I was blown away.

Oz Urugulu

This band is somewhere between Steve Vai and Secret Chiefs 3. With a horn section! But what impresses me most is that — although their influences are obvious (they must listen to the same three bands I do) — its what they do with those raw materials that catches my ear.

My favorite piece on this album is “Concerto For Group And Espresso Machine Movement III.” They even include the avant garde manuscript in the CD packaging!

The most important thing here is that they are obviously having a lot of fun — everything is high energy and playful. And each of the musicians gets his moment to prove he knows what he’s doing. From the fusion bassist to the bizarre electronics-bending dance-beat freak, whoever he is.

Even the sections of random cacophonous banging are entertaining to me.

Now, what I want to know is: what will they do next? Here’s hoping they stay together and make more!

You can order their CD in my store: shop.carlkingdom.com/products/oz-urugulu-forgotten-archives-cd

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My Review of The Aristocrats: Culture Clash

The Aristocrats

In late 2006 I was hired by a producer to pick up a guitarist at LAX airport and take him out to dinner. He handed me a bunch of cash and told me to hurry (everything he wanted me to do was fast, fast, hurry, hurry — whether it was dumpster diving for cardboard boxes behind drug stores or cleaning out his tool shed.)

“What’s the guitarist’s name?” I asked.

“Guthrie Govan.”

Ha. So I took the producer’s minivan and spent the evening with Guthrie. He was a charming British guy with a dark sense of humor. I asked him what it’s like to visit L.A. “I have to block out the false positivity,” he said, deadpan, which made me laugh for a century.

Years later, he’s started a band with Marco Minnemann and Bryan Beller. (Those two guys are now Joe Satriani’s rhythm section, which I still haven’t witnessed in person, although I plan to.)

I’d heard a lot of buzz about The Aristocrats. “It’s what the kids are listening to these days.” I felt uncool. I listened to some samples of the first CD and I didn’t get it. But I was a huge snob back then, with little patience. Individually, I love all three of the band members. And I’ve heard great things from everyone around me. So I decided to immerse myself in their latest recording and force myself to “get it.”

It’s strange the way this all works — it’s like getting accustomed to a series of inside jokes and shorthand vocabulary when you make a new friend. I must say this record has grown on me. (DISCLAIMER: Even after listening to this record five times in a row and pondering it as I write this text, I feel like I’m a total outsider and that maybe there is some band “concept” or “plan” I am missing out on, because I haven’t read their interviews or researched them until now. I also refuse to open the CD booklet. Maybe the joke will be on me.)

My observations can serve as a “listen to this album along with me” kind of thing. If I actually listened to albums with people. Here we go…

It all starts with a track called “Dance of The Aristocrats.” I don’t know what they were thinking with this track. It’s the oddball of this oddball album. It reminds me of one of those Casio Keyboard demo songs from the ’80s. The drums sound like Roland V-Drums, and there is a strangely off-time tambourine in the intro! Most of the piece seems to be missing the melody. An idea: maybe they would hold a contest and ask a member of the audience to Karaoke to this song with improvised lyrics. Hmm. Why did they start the album with this track? I don’t believe it “sells” them as a band. (Not that it’s necessary for them to think in those terms at this point, but regardless, it’s an odd choice to put in the opening slot.) In fact, the song order of this entire album is bizarre, as I will reference later. Maybe they all switched instruments as a gag.

Moving on to the title track, Culture Clash: I could not help but admire the guitar tone when the song kicks in at :32, because it’s an improvement on Steve Vai’s tone from Eat ‘Em & Smile. I’m thinking “Ladies Nite In Buffalo.” Hear it? Am I crazy? Fine.

Track 3 is an all-out country-rockabilly guitar-shredding loony bin: “Louisville Stomp.” Anyone else making this song might have gone the obvious route and pressed the “Hot For Teacher” button, but not The Aristocrats. Classy restraint. Well done! And for my favorite part of this, I nominate Bryan Beller’s bass part.

This is them.

“Ohhhh Noooo” is where the album suddenly changes, in my opinion. This track was the first to grab me on the first pass. It’s Track 4, so I began to wonder if each of the band members contributed three songs each, for nine total. If so, I would *suspect* that tracks 4, 5 and 6 were written by one person, most likely Marco. But knowing the answer for sure would take the fun out of my blind taste-test. This track is where I begin to notice a lot of rhythmic diversity.

In “Gaping Head Wound” the rhythmic diversity continues. Excellent! Long notes, short notes. Stops and starts. My kind of party! Also an increase in the frequency of dynamic changes. And a fantastic double-kick fill at 1:10 (I declare: my favorite moment on the album). Now, no offense to anyone intended… but at 3:45, I became suspicious of a guest soloist by the name of Steve Vai. Wait, I mean Mike Keneally. Bah! I wasn’t paying close enough attention at first, and soon realized I am a fool. Guthrie’s playing has matured and contains much subtlety. Very impressive. Of course, my point of reference is guitar shred CDs from the back room of Troll Music in the early ’90s, so I should shut up. (Also, my apologies for losing that copy of “Erotic Cakes” Guthrie gave me. I may have been better prepared for all of this.)

“Desert Tornado” continues the middle third of this record with a disorienting drum intro by Mr. Minnemann. I broke the rules and had to email Marco to ask him: “What the HELL are you doing there? Is that two drum sets?” No, he just overdubbed some additional percussion. You might be sick of my David Lee Roth bullshit (I know Bryan Beller is by the look on his face), but I swear there is a rhythmic hook from Skyscraper here at 2:13. Look it up. This song is quite dissonant and spooky, and doesn’t seem to follow traditional chord theory. So I’m blaming Marco.

I thought the next track was called “Cockroach Umbrellas” but I was wrong. I’m sorry about that. I promise to shout it at the live show, only once. OK, more “Eat ‘Em & Smile” guitar tone at :34. It’s not a complaint! Guthrie’s tone is welcome inside my ears anytime.

“Living The Dream” was another oddball. It’s the only “punk rock / metal” track on this album. Makes me think of The Melvins, but played twice as fast! It’s fun and rare to hear Marco play so aggressively. And this is another example of a song being placed in a strange place on the record. Why did I have to wait so long to hear this side of The Aristocrats? I can’t tell, but I think that might be a long Bryan Beller bass solo in the middle, over a mystical drone. And I didn’t want to write this, but I shouldn’t stop myself. This piece reminds me of “Kill The Guy With The Ball” by Steve Vai. STOP WITH THE VAI REFERENCES, CARL. Really, though. It sounds like it wasn’t composed by a guitarist or bassist, or someone with a typical understanding of harmony. I’m most likely very wrong, and all the members and fans of The Aristocrats are laughing right now at my ignorance.

And finally, “And Finally.” This track has a Zappa vibe. And it’s not the typical Zappa sound. More like a Zappa ballad. At 3:26, you might hear what I mean. That lydian “Inca Roads” feel. And this is another track that seems to be in an odd place on the record.

The Aristocrats are unpredictable, and it was fun to spend the time in decoding this record. I’d even like to see them go more in the “confusing” direction, but I’m not so sure they’re doing it on purpose. Regardless, I very much appreciate what they’re doing, and look forward to seeing them on their upcoming tour.

I hope my observations were valuable to my many friends who raved about this record. The guys are incredible musicians and records like this are important for aspiring musicians to study. And I can tell they had a lot of fun making it, doing whatever they wanted. Big thanks to BOING! for putting it out.

If you do not have this record, you can Buy It In My Store.

And check out the official The Aristocrats website for tour dates, etc.

-Carl.

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Music Product Review: bem Bluetooth Speaker

BEM Bluetooth Speaker

I think it’s pronounced “Beam.” Anyway: this little cubical device (it’s 3 inches across or so) has made it possible for me to listen to Toto IV from my iPad while I take a shower. And it puts out a surprising amount of low-frequency. I can finally hear music over all the splashing. I’m not saying it’s waterproof, but I am saying — yes, I listen to Rosanna while I’m in the shower.

You can order a bem Bluetooth Speaker on Amazon for under $60. I have the red one.

-Carl.

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7-Point Review of Prisoners (Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal)

Prisoners

We watched Prisoners last night, starring Hugh Jackman. Here’s my 7-Point Review.

Acting: Convincing.
Dialogue: Good.
Story: Complex, Maybe Convoluted.
Cinematography: Fine.
Editing: Choppy.
Soundtrack: Sparse. I don’t remember any!
Recommended: Highly!

Check out Prisoners on Amazon Instant Video.

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New Rejectionary Art Album w/ Morgan Ågren & Marco Minnemann!

iTunes_Flyingfish_Front_Cover_Final_1024x1024

I’m introducing you all to an album by Revolutionary Art called Exocoetidae: Flying Fish.

Hard for me to describe it, but it’s “abstract” in the way Mr. Bungle’s Disco Volante is. It’s so weird and dense it scares me. This is not an album you can scrub through an audio player and go, “Yeah, OK, I get it.” There’s so much going on, it’s the kind of listening experience that is going to require an investment of time and attention. (I haven’t even listened to all of it, and here I am telling you why you should.)

You might remember Lee Wanner from Morgan Ågren’s Conundrum. He and his musical partner Paula Stefanini are mad scientist composers / sound sculptors on par with Devin Townsend and Trey Spruance, but this is a more modern and complex sound — and more adventurous since there are no human performance limits. It’s got the bravery of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and Frank Zappa. Yet it sounds like none of those references. Some of it is mechanical, some of it is sloppy and ugly and heavy. Some of it is absurd and funny. There’s even a shredding country guitar solo that goes on for way too long!

And it has drum tracks by Morgan Ågren and Marco Minnemann. What? Yes. The disturbed individuals behind this album bring two of the world’s most creative drummers into their own strange world of Rejectionary Art. And it’s the most adventurous music I’ve heard out of Los Angeles in a long time.

SO HERE’S THE DEAL:

I’m offering a FREE digital download of this album for all orders for Morgan Ågren’s Conundrum: A Percussive Misadventure placed before the end of the day on TUESDAY, DECEMBER 17. That means: buy the DVD, get this Rejectionary Art album as a free download. (I’ve set the store up to automatically send you a download link when you buy the DVD.)

If you already have the DVD, you can just buy the Rejectionary Art album by itself. I won’t cry.

Hope you check it out and enjoy it!

-Carl.

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Review of “Artifact” Film by 30 Seconds To Mars

Nice Scarf

I watched the 30 Seconds To Mars documentary Artifact tonight. 

I went into it quite skeptical. I spent a few minutes wondering if I should spend the $4.99 to rent it on Apple TV. The trailer didn’t look too bad, and I hate the music business as it is. Since I’m mostly ignorant about the band and their music (it sounds like compressed, sound-replaced, quantized, auto-tuned Foo Fighters to me), the only thing drawing me towards it was the cinematography. 

As far as that goes, I was impressed!

But here’s the problem. THERE WAS NO CINEMATOGRAPHER CREDITED. Only Jared Leto as Director & Producer, and a handful of camera operators who had no previous credits. 

I hereby “call bullshit.”

IMDB claims the movie was shot on a Red One in Redcode RAW. Wikipedia claims “Four filmmakers taped more than three thousand hours…”

This all gives me a headache. Why?

1.) 3,000 hours of Red RAW footage. Hahaha. Very funny. That’s 8 hours of RAW footage a day for a year. Good luck EVER editing that. Or buying enough drives to store it.
2.) The cinematography was too good. Beautiful shots. Was some of it stock? Maybe.

Or maybe someone had a falling out with their cinematographer before the release?

Here’s something: I didn’t dislike the members of the band as much as I thought I would. They seemed charming and authentic enough. I’m not into fashion, so what do I know? Jared Leto came off as “distant.” Didn’t connect with the camera like the other guys in the band did. Maybe it was a level of pretense that goes along with being a star. I don’t know.

Here’s something else: Jared Leto spends most of the movie complaining about the bad contract he signed with EMI. He claims to have NEVER been paid for any 30 Seconds To Mars album sales. But at no point does he accept responsibility for signing the contract. (Don’t like the contract? Don’t sign it.) And in the end, after all the drama, he decides to sign ANOTHER contract with them, instead of turning his band into an independent business. I’m paraphrasing, but Leto described it as, “I’d end up doing a whole bunch of work I wouldn’t wanna do.” And this is why the game continues — musicians don’t like the idea of having a “job.”

Anyway, check it out sometime. Amusing story about some rich kids getting dressed up and posing as victims of the music business. Much better than the Dream Theater drummer auditions.

Thanks to Toni for the embed code.

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Review: Opeth / Heritage

Opeth’s Heritage is probably the only “mainstream” album that got my attention in all of 2011. It may seem I’m a little late in reviewing an album that came out last year — but I’m a believer in the timelessness of art (a.k.a the ability for it to be valid for more than four months), so here we go.

Understand that I don’t regularly listen to music aside from Classical KUSC. But Mike Olekshy suggested I give it a try. I’m surprised that I did, but he knows how old I am and how much I hate music, so why not?

The first thing I noticed about Heritage is what I noticed about other Opeth albums: The lack of posing. It was self-confident. It didn’t beg for validation, screaming, “please listen to me and like me.” It leaned back and took its time.

The songs had no aggressive ear-worms, and it was hard for me to predict where it was going next. It stimulated curiosity, in just the right way for me — at a time that I was tired of music being reduced to worn-out patterns.

Sure, on the surface, some of this music (especially The Devil’s Orchard) has a retro or “classic 60s / 70s rock” vibe to it, for its use of organ, fuzzy guitars, and ambient-mic’d drums. It brought back memories of King Crimson’s 21st Century Schizoid Man. That’s an easy comparison. And it wasn’t unintentional.

But forget all of that. Soon after discovering this album, I had an enlightening conversation with Henrik Linde, in which he made the funny observation that when a band writes long, dynamic songs with organ, it is instantly entombed in the label of classic or progressive rock. I can see the same has happened to a band like Spock’s Beard, another band I love.

A common complaint about this album is a “lack of growling.” Huh? Do you find it strange to judge a work of art by the number of growls contained in it? I do.

So it was easy for me to see past those clichés and hear that this was an album of substance. I listened to Heritage many times, saw the band perform it in concert, and even picked up my guitar to learn the opening riff of The Devil’s Orchard.

What I appreciate most about this album (and I mean it) is that is exploits all of the The Elements of Music. For the purpose of this review, those are:

Melody
Harmony
Rhythm
Tempo
Dynamics
Timbre
Texture
Form

And what I mean is, all of those Elements were used in a way that grabbed my attention. “That was clever, how they did that.”

If you’re a fan of rock and looking for a way to expand your appreciation of music, listen to Heritage with the elements of music in mind.

I give this album 5 Pentooplets.

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