Wednesday, June 24

Dancing On The Corpse's Ashes

Artist: The Mars Volta
Album: OctahedronAdd Image

Comments: The Mars Volta are the most polarizing band of my lifetime. No other group has caused so much mindless devotion and vehement hatred in my quarter century on earth. It is either loved and praised for its mind-bending amalgamation of genres and sounds, or reviled and hated for it's self indulgent tendencies passed off as progression. There is no middle ground: everyone falls into one of these two camps.

I, along with anyone else raised on bare bones punk rock, I suspect, fall into the second group of fans who wish that Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriquez-Lopez would hurl themselves off a cliff (or wish, at least, that they had stopped with At The Drive In).

That being said, each Mars Volta album has always been able to spark some interest, generate some small good will. Despite all the dissonance, the gibberish, the swirling, meaningless clouds of noise for noises' sake, the endless bullshit of it all, each album has always had some redeeming quality. Be it fragmented pockets of actual songwriting (“Ciatraz ESP,” “Drunkship of Lanterns” off Deloused in the Comatorium), snippets of interesting guitar work (a number of songs off Frances the Mute) or the band just cutting through their progressive title and simply kicking some ass ("Goliath" off last year's The Bedlam in Goliath), TMV have always been at least marginally interesting, at least to the point that an album would warrant a handful of listens.

And then there was Octahedron, the band's latest album.

It's hard to pin down exactly what is so repulsive about this record. I mean, it sounds fine, which is to say it sounds like every other Mars Volta record: hyper active drums, ethereal guitars, bad high school poetry style lyrics delivered in a goofy falsetto, massive breakdowns of meaningless sound.

What's lacking here is any kind of interest. Octahedron sounds like a band going through the motions, making music out of obligation and not inspiration. Every note, every movement, every single element of every single song comes off as lazy and uninspired. It is as if the band said “Fuck it, this is good enough,” and released the first thing that came to mind. If the guys themselves can't even muster up some excitement, what are we listeners supposed to do?

Its as if the band can't even muster the energy to try and write new songs. Album opener “Since We've Been Wrong” sounds like a second-rate “The Widow.” “Teflon” plays like any track off Amputechture. Some bands write the same song over and over again because its all they know, but TMV have proved themselves talented enough to progress, even within their own brand of shitty “progressive rock.” This is not some pop-punk band using the only three chords they know. This band can do better, has done better. This is laziness.

Maybe I am being closed minded. I've already admitted that I don't like the band. Its possible that I am just totally missing the point, and Octahedron is a masterwork of rock so far above my head all I can do is bad mouth it. Still, every other Mars Volta album has jumped out at me at least once. This album passes by without a single interesting note, without one thing to engage a causal listener, devoid of anything worth going back to.

In a recent interview, Bixler-Zavala and Rodriquez-Lopez talk about a possible At The Drive In reunion, calling such a thing unlikely given the amount of material they still want to make as The Mars Volta. Octahedron makes that claim extremely hard to believe. This is kind of album bands put out before a break up.

Key Tracks: Since We've Been Wrong, Teflon

Buy, Steal, Skip: Skip

Tuesday, June 16

100 Best Rap Songs Ever: #35

Artist: Wu Tang Clan
Song: Triumph
Album: Forever
Comments: 36 Chambers is, for my money, one of the top 10 rap albums of all time, and probably high on the list of "Best Debut Albums." Forever is not nearly as good, but it does feature what might be their best song in "Triumph," a hookless banger of a track that finds ever member of the Clan absolutly killing it (except for OBD, who plays hype man).

Pay special attention to Method Man (second verse), U-God spitting waaaaaaaay above his usual ability (forth verse), RZA being his usual werid self (fifth verse) and Ghostface Killah taking a shit on Masta Killa by starting his verse with "Hey yo, fuck that!" (seconf to last verse). Try and listen to this song without getting amped. You won't be able to.

And, not for nothing, but how awesome is this video?

BONUS VIDEO (To make up for the lack of ODB on "Triumph")

Tuesday, June 2

100 Best Rap Songs Ever: #67

Artist: Clipse
Song: Grindin'
Album: Lord Willin'
Year: 2002

Its The Return Of The...Oh, Wait...Not Really

This review appears on No Ripcord.

Artist: Eminem
Album: Relapse

Comments: Despite all the negative things I am about to say about Relapse, there are two very important points that must be kept in mind.

1) From a technical standpoint, Eminem is the best rapper alive. Better than Lil Wayne, better than Jay-Z, better than any backpacker, underground, grime or regional act anywhere else in the world. His flow, delivery, internal rhymes and complex structure will always be more important that his content, and in these areas he is without rival.

2) Relapse is, by a wide margin, the man's best album since The Eminem Show.

Those facts established, let's talk some shit, eh?

Controversy played an enormous part in Eminem's success in the late '90s. In fact, one could argue that shock was the main factor to his meteoric rise, more so than his talent, his production or his skin color. Considering his fall from the public eye thanks to diminishing releases and a four-year absence from rapping, it is not surprising that Relapse leans heavily on the scare tactics. The rapper downs bottles of pills, kills everyone in a McDonald's, jerks off to Hannah Montana and drinks his cousin's bathwater. All on the first track.

The difference here lies in what is behind the words and not the words themselves. Sure, Eminem's albums have always been twisted, violent affairs. However, the mania on previous albums was fueled by an almost palpable anger, a desperate search for some kind of peace through ultra-violence. And while tracks like "Underground" and "Beautiful" are powered by this same intensity, the vast majority of the album's tracks are little more than gross-out jokes.

Speaking of jokes, odds are good that by the time this review hits the web, "We Made You" will have been played over 10 times in a single day on most mainstream FM stations. Clearly this track is an attempt to re-create the angry frat humor aimed at pop culture that served Em so well in the past ("The Real Slim Shady", "My Name Is"). This song and the album at large miss the mark in this respect as well. I have a theory that in this modern age of hyper-fast celebrity news turnaround, such songs like this cannot work any more. It would certainly explain why jabs at Lindsey Lohan, Kim Kardashian and Sarah Palin cause more eye rolls than chuckles.

More likely, however, is that Eminem has lost the fire. His first albums were, as he was quick to point out, combative middle fingers aimed at everyone and everything that pushed against him. Now he's making albums about recovering from addiction, sounding worn out and uninspired. Dude needs to find a muse or something.

"I may be done with rap / I need a new outlet," Em raps on "Beautiful." I hope it doesn't come to that. Even at his worst, Eminem is worlds more talented than anyone else rapping today. When he's on, like on "Crack a Bottle", "Stay Wide Awake" and the other previously highlighted songs, he is a titan. Relapse is billed as a return to form, but it plays more like a departure note.

Key Tracks: Underground, Beautiful, Crack a Bottle, Stay Wide Awake

Buy, Steal, Skip: Steal

Monday, June 1

Dan Deacon Gets His Empire Strikes Back On With More Serious Second Album

This review appears on No Ripcord

Artist: Dan Deacon
Album: Bromst

Comments: Time is a son of a bitch. It robs us of our bodies, minds and good looks. It takes our friends from us. But perhaps most damagingly, it alters our view of the past. The further detached we are from events, the more blurred they become in our memory, which leads to broad strokes of emotion in place of and accurate recalling of events. Right now, I am 23 years old with no job, no health care, no car and less than 1,000 dollars in the bank. This is undeniably a shitty time in my life. And yet, I am sure that a few years from now, I will look back on this as a "golden age of my early 20s" where I "found myself" and "discovered what I really want to be."

This same principal applies in music. When Dan Deacon's first record came out in the summer of 2007, I originally claimed it was silly, fun music for silly, fun people. Since then, however, my view has shifted and distorted the album into some kind of electronica classic, a high water mark for the genre and as essential an album as The Blue Album, The Lonesome Crowded West or Doolittle. I look at that album now less as a fun record of goofy experiments and more as serious art that strives to push forward. By looking back through rose-colored glasses, I've forgotten what attracted me to that album in the first place, the fact that it was fun, easily accessible electronica for anyone with a pair of dancing shoes and a sense of humor.

Time is fucking me again. It's been two months since Bromst was released and odds are good that if you are reading this website you have already formed an opinion on it. The record has received tons of positive press, and the general take on it is that it is a big step forward for Deacon, one that establishes him as a serious, mature artist. As if there was something wrong with making music with a sense of humor in the first place.

And so, we have Bromst, an album that does indeed show signs of Deacon taking his music seriously, but at the expense of what initially made him great. His skills as an arranger and sequencer are as strong as ever. The album's opener "Build Voice" is a prime example of this, almost as if the track is nothing more than a warm up exercise for the rest of the album. The slow fade in of theme, the addition of melody, the development and exposition, the breakdown, the final crescendo: the track is a blue print, a note to other, lesser artists explaining "This is how it is done, this is the way the pros do it." The track itself isn't nearly as interesting as what it seems to say.

In an effort to grow up his sound, Deacon has introduced new noises to his normal pallet of 8-bit video game midis and Saturday morning cartoon blasts of colorful notes. Bells, horns and unaltered human voices are just some of the new, more mainstream effects that he uses to create his music. Of course, calling Deacon mainstream is like calling the Mojave desert a nice summer vacation spot. Deacon still deals in spastic bursts of fuzzed out dance music with a manic communal feel, but the fun doesn't come as easily this time around. "Red F," "Padding Ghost," "Woof Woof," and "Get Older" all strive for that Spiderman of the Rings feel. Only "Woof Woof," with its barking dog samples, achieves the same level of exuberance. "Baltihorse" and "Surprise Stefani" find Deacon taking a shot a slower, more restrained songwriting, and though these tracks do eventually grow after repeat listens, casual fans may not stick around long enough to be drawn in.

While the album lacks a powerhouse number like Spiderman's "Wham City," Bromst boasts two of Deacon's finest tracks in "Snookerd" and "Of The Mountains." The songs are placed next to each other on the album, and they embody every good thing that Deacon does. They are layered and arranged beautifully, each song working together to create a 15+ minute anthem that rises, falls, swells and sways with a weight and beauty that modern pop music so rarely achieves. Classically arranged, professionally rendered and lovingly created, these two songs are as close to symphony as any electronica artist has ever come, and stand as Deacon's finest work to date.

It is in moments like the final chorus of "Snookerd," or in the whistle-lead breakdown during "Of The Mountains" that maturity looks best on Deacon. Those moments show that when he puts his mind to it, Deacon can advance his music while retaining the sense of fun that made him such a hit in the first place. Bromst is not as immediately enjoyable as its predecessor, but that's OK. Deacon is out to be your new favorite artist, not just some flash in the pan. Time fucks with everyone, and I am sure I will look back at this album differently two years from now, but right now, Bromst is an excellent followup to a slightly more-excellent debute, and proof that Deacon is here to stay.

Key Tracks: Snookered, Of The Mountains, Woof Woof, Build Voice

Buy, Steal, Skip: Buy