Archive for March, 2010

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Muse – Showbiz

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Showbiz (1999)

This is early Muse. Muse, before they delved into the dancey depths of despair, known as Black Holes and Revelations and The Resistance.

Now Showbiz isn’t Muse’s greatest effort, either. But it is a great effort. From “Sunburn” to “Unintended,” this album is pretty solid. That unfortunately is the extent of the good tracks on here (although I’m partial to “Escape”).

For Muse fans who are only turned on to their later output, or have figured this one isn’t worth picking up, hopefully I can change your mind. Muse is just a fun band, whatever era of theirs you pick. Even though I just bashed their last two releases, there’s still much to like about them.

The best moments of Showbiz soar into a stunning fusion of masterful piano and progressive alternative. Also soaring is Matthew Bellamy’s falsetto – which is entertaining in itself to listen to, although I’ve heard of people who find it very annoying.

Though good, Showbiz is far from being the most interesting Muse album. What interest it does hold only lasts for a short while. There are a few stellar tracks – “Sunburn,” “Muscle Museum,” “Cave,” and “Showbiz” come to mind – the last more for its extreme passion, intensity, and lack of control than anything else, which is guaranteed to get your heart pumping.

But Muse at this time is a band of great potential, still finding their voice and niche. They eventually found that it in Origin of Symmetry. But in Showbiz, you can catch shadows of the greatness to come. On the better tracks, you’ll be rocking as hard as you would to either “Citizen Erased,” “Micro Cuts,” or “Stockholm Syndrome.”

Well, almost as hard. Showbiz is a debut, after all, and it’s rare for a band to knock it out of the park on the first try. Or if they do knock it out of the park, they end up striking out every other time. But for a debut, Showbiz is great, hinting that the best was yet to come.

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Kayo Dot – Choirs of the Eye

Monday, March 29, 2010

Choirs of the Eye (2003)

This has to be the weirdest, most confusing album I own.

And where to start?

Extremely experimental meets post-rock meets classical meets jazz meets metal. None of those things should go together. But somehow, Kayo Dot have managed to do it. Whether that leaves you with something listenable is debatable. Personally, it leaves me dumbfounded that it has been done so well.

I got Choirs of the Eye because I’m such a huge fan of maudlin of the Well. I was expecting much of the same. While there are some similarities, Kayo Dot takes it to a whole new level of experimentation and challenge.

I’ve owned this music two and a half years. To this day, I haven’t wrapped my mind around  it. The music is an explosion of every instrument imaginable, from trombone to flute to heavily distorted guitars to strings to drums. It’s violence cuts, its numbness subdues, its ethereal beauty entrances. Like other maudlin of the Well music, the lyrics are sheer poetry, when you can understand what Driver is saying. He croons like Jeff Buckley and Thom Yorke (though is not as talented as either).

But it isn’t for the singing that you listen to Kayo Dot. It’s the fact that it’s insane, not only for its extreme intensity, but also for its laid back moments where it almost grooves, lulling you into false sense of security before it blows up on you again.

Choirs of the Eye, at least for me, is a musical challenge unlike any other. What it accomplishes has likely never been done before. Sure, there is avant-garde music. Maybe there’s even avant-garde music that’s been blended with metal, jazz, and classical. But I doubt that it’s been done with as much success as Kayo Dot did with Choirs of the Eye.

Before listening to Choirs of the Eye, I never would have believed music like this could exist. For at least this one thing I can consider Kayo Dot’s Choirs of the Eye a success.

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Sigur Rós – ( )

Monday, March 29, 2010

( ) (2002)

If Ágætis byrjun were Spring and melting snow and rushing rivers, then ( ) would be Fall and glaciers encroaching their icy claws over an already icy land.

Sigur Rós slows down here. The music exchanges the extreme range of emotion of Ágætis byrjun for the deep melancholy of ( ). This work is sadder, and deeper. If Ágætis byrjun were joyful exuberance, then ( ) is sorrowful wisdom. If Ágætis byrjun were youth and dancing, then ( ) is regret and old age.

The music is minimalistic in comparison, and shows another side of Sigur Rós’ brilliance. The music has a cold and haunting quality, like the year’s first rush of cold wind. It numbs and freezes you with its strains of sorrow.

Like Ágætis byrjun, ( ) strikes deep into my soul. The notes eerily describe how I often feel. But unlike Ágætis byrjun, it strikes solely into feelings we do our best to avoid – like sadness and pain and distance from a world that always seems to be going the other way. There’s the feeling of a scaling a beautiful, snow-capped mountain, hoping to see a promised land beyond of eternal spring, but instead of only finding a desert of ice.

( ) might be too bleak for some people’s tastes. But it is bleakly honest. To me, it’s about searching and searching, yet coming up short. It’s always trying to find home, telling ourselves it’s beyond the next mountain range. And then the next, and then the next, and then the next…

Maybe this sounds too depressing for you. But when describing this album, it’s impossible for me to do otherwise. And I think we mature when we contemplate the hard questions and enter the house of mourning rather than the house of feasting.

This album will mean different things to different people, making it all the more difficult to describe. But one thing is for certain – if this music enters you, it will get you thinking and feeling. Whether that’s a good or bad thing, I’ll leave for you.

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Porcupine Tree Signify

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Signify (1996)

Last winter, I listened to a lot of Porcupine Tree. I listened to, for the first time, Signify, Lightbulb Sun, and Stupid Dream. Of these, I probably like Signify the best.

I always remember winter when I listen to Signify, mostly because it was the default as I drove to work each day in ice and snow. And it is a suiting winter album.

I think and feel several things when I listen to Signify. The themes are usually bleak, dealing with disconnect and numbness. The lyrics ask haunting questions, such as “Where will be when the future comes?” It expresses discontent and anger toward religion and those use it for power, perhaps even outrightly condemning religion itself.

But musically, this is Porcupine Tree at their best, and they’re at their best quite often. If you’re used to In Absentia or Deadwing era Porcupine Tree, as I was, the style might take some getting used to. After all, it was composed in 1996, six years before In Absentia. But they rock as hard as ever and sound quintessentially Porucpine Tree. This album is host to several classics, such as “Sleep of No Dreaming,” “Sever,” “Idiot Prayer,” and “Dark Matter.”

This is one of those rare albums that’s good from start to finish. The message isn’t very good, expressing bleak discontent and outright negativity that could be depression-inducing at times, aided by the minor key tonality. It is certainly haunting and even creepy at points. But it’s Porcupine Tree and that’s to be expected. Just be aware that the album will deal with dark themes that it doesn’t attempt to answer positively.

Signify is a good album. Porcupine Tree is a highly talented band, and this album is worth a listen, if only for its outstanding musicality.

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Sigur Rós – Ágætis byrjun

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Ágætis byrjun (1999)

Ágætis byrjun is among the most beautiful music I’ve heard.

It whispers, it shouts, it thunders, it flows like clear, cold water. Sorry for the metaphor binge, but I can’t describe it literally.

I might not understand the words (because they’re in Icelandic). But the best music speaks without words.

Ágætis byrjun is that rare album that ceases to be mere entertainment and achieves art. It’s spiritual, lifting your soul to the clouds, reminding you that life and the world is beautiful. Its melodies are like memories from childhood, almost forgotten. It reminds me of when I saw the world through magical eyes, where anything and everything was possible, where love came as naturally as breathing.

I have a hard time describing what this music does to me. At the risk of sounding crazy, sometimes before falling asleep, I hear the most beautiful music in my mind. I could never remember it or write this music down. I just enjoy it while it’s still there, and maybe when I go to Heaven I can write it down. I know that probably sounds stupid, but that is the closest comparison I can find. I guess angels’ song also works.

Perhaps this music speaks to you, too. Maybe you feel the same about it. Maybe you don’t. Maybe it’s just some guy (yes, it’s a guy) singing unnaturally high, orchestrating the notes in such a way to go for the cheap emotional knockout. But that’s sort of what I love about this album – the pure emotion of it.

And isn’t that what good music is supposed to do, anyway?

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Nirvana – Nevermind

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Nevermind (1991)

This is the most redundant review ever. But whatever.

I never really got into Nirvana. Of the Seattle Four (Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Pearl Jam), they probably rank third, after Alice in Chains and Soundgarden. But they are an interesting group, if only for the drama itself.

Only being 22, I don’t have the memories of the Grunge Age like people a decade older than me.  So I could never understand this band fully, or the influence and obsession associated with them.

But what I do understand are the melodies.

Not since the Beatles have I heard so many melodies on one album kept so simple yet so unique. That was one of the Beatles’ strength, and this was definitely Nirvana’s strength. The music is instantly recognizable and enjoyable, and, like the Beatles, will be listened to twenty or thirty years from now. It only takes one listen to understand emotionally somewhere where we’ve all been, even if we can’t understand it in our minds.

Because at one time we were all young. Most of us had that undirected anger and angst. At least, I did. I think Nirvana exemplified that understanding, singing feelings we couldn’t put into words.

Maybe I’m just trying to encourage the cliche of connecting Nevermind to teenage angst in a review. After all, no review of this album would be complete without it.

So that’s what this album is to me. It’s angry, it’s sorrowful, and instantly relatable. I don’t know what it taps into that gives it such a following, but perhaps it’s these feelings. I’m no psychologist, so I’ll stop trying to be one. I guess for me, it will always be the melodies of Nevermind that I’ll remember.

I’ll remember that famous opening riff of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” I’ll remember the mocking tone of “In Bloom.” I’ll remember the bounce of “Come As You Are,” the reckless abandon of “Territorial Pissings,” the haunting sorrow of “Something in the Way,” among others.

This is apparently the album of Generation X. But to me, it’s not really that, because I wasn’t there. To me, it’s just music with a catchy melody that just so happened to change the world.

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Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works Volume II

Friday, March 26, 2010

Selected Ambient Works Volume II (1994)

I bought this on a whim. When I popped into the CD player and put my headphones on, I realized I had made a dreadful mistake and that I had wasted about $20. I felt stupid, considering I thought this would be something awesome that I would like immediately.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m pretty open-minded with most types of music. I can listen to just about anything that has artistic merit.

But with Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume Two, it seems I have met my match.

Because this music is what it says it is in the album title. It’s ambient. It has very little structure, if any at all. When I listen to this, I feel like I’m in zero gravity, floating through space, completely disoriented and confused. It’s like the feeling you have right before you fall asleep, that place where strange thoughts come, where suddenly everything feels like it makes sense.

This album is a taste of that, and I don’t believe it’s something the conscious mind can wrap itself around.

I don’t listen to this often. Once a year, at most. It’s just not that kind of music. I could listen to this on a sleepless night around 3 or 4  in the morning, alone in a dark room when I’m writing a late night paper or studying for finals, in the dark hour right before the first gray on the horizon appears. It’s music that must be listened to alone.

In any case, I won’t pretend to understand anything about this album. I don’t understand it. I don’t enjoy it very much, except when I’m in the rare mood for a song (if you could call them that) or two. But I don’t hate this kind of music, either. I understand there is merit, even if I don’t know what that merit is.

It’s not my bag, but when I’m in a rare mood, when my mind is on its level, I can listen to it. No doubt ambient music is challenging to listen to, and it may take more patience than I’m willing to have to form a more decent opinion on it. In that case, I continue listening to it, when I feel that rare mood strike.