Wednesday, 30 December 2009

The place of emotion in music

I've been willing to talking about this for a long time, but it always seemed like a foreboding task. It's not a complex argument, but it's difficult to deliver it the right way.

The topic of "Emotion" in music always baffled me, somehow. It might seem strange, since emotions are extremely intuitive, and everyone knows what they are. That's exactly the problem: everyone seems apt to talk about emotion in music, because they know emotions so well. But talking about emotions in PEOPLE is different from talking about emotions in music. "Emotions in people" are clear and intuitive because emotions are IN the people, they come from within them. Emotions are not IN music. Music has no emotions, they don't express emotions -- it's the ARTIST that uses music to express their emotion, if he wishes to. This line of reasoning may sound clear and obvious, but many, many people don't follow it.

Go out and see how many people talk about how "emotional" a particular song is. Go and read the opinions of who think someone's playing or singing is "emotional". I ask myself: how is a listener able to objectively detect that? That would imply that music can deliver distinct, unambiguous emotions by itself. So, that means we only need to find the correct combination of musical and sonic properties to deliver one specific emotion. That way, we effectively transform music into a language, free of ambiguity and obscurity. And... there are problems. Firstly, art doesn't have to be a form of one-way communication: it's not a lecture, not a lesson, it's not the artist telling the audience how it's supposed to react. Music, as well as any form of art, can be interpreted differently by different people, and in my opinion, THAT is what should be encouraged. The audience should fill in the gaps with their own perception, turning art into an almost interactive experience; yes, interactive, since the art "changes" as the audience changes their perception. So, making music an unambiguous language is an obstacle for that. Secondly, different cultures around the world have adopted different musical systems, which means that one musical piece would NOT be interpreted the same across those different cultures, even if the artist truly, really wanted that. So the "language" of music is a social construction; it is restrictive, alienated people outside that culture and diminishes the possibilities of innovation and originality. In short, it sucks.

Unfortunately, that's how music has been progressing since... well, forever. Certain combinations of chords and melodies are perceived as "emotional", and quickly they become clichés; tired, annoying, ineffective clichés. Is THAT what we want from music? Now you see why 20th century classical music sounds so "crazy"?

Oh, no, but I'm getting it wrong, right? Emotion in music does not come from certain notes or chords: it comes from the energy, the spontaneity, the "feeling" of the artist. Oh, well. Again, I could question how "energy" and "spontaneity" could be unambiguously detected by the listener, but actually I wouldn't have a very strong point. However, recorded music nowadays is NOT AT ALL what most people think it is. Any piece of music you hear nowadays most likely has been a product of painstaking, tiresome, cold and calculated studio work. Dozens of takes are recorded, lots of effects are applied, even complete takes are edited all the way to Hell and back, things are chopped, spliced together, and so on and on, to the point where there is hardly anything "spontaneous" going on. With that, it's hard to tell if an artist is truly "expressing" himself, because the bigger worry is with making the whole thing sound RIGHT. So, we have no way of telling whether one particular part of the performance is pure human emotion or pure fakery. The only way you can tell is by intuition. Either you know the artist well enough to recognise his habits and know what they mean, or you're most likely guessing.

And yet, even with all that effort going into making the recording sound "right", we enjoy those recordings. To us, it doesn't matter how many dozen edits there are, or how many dozen takes were recorded, or which instruments are playing in each track. Music, even almost completely drained of "spontaneity", is still enjoyable. How come?

The truth, as I see it, is: emotion is not in the music. Emotion comes from within YOURSELF. The music merely provokes you, and it's YOU who concocts those emotions. That's why music works differently in different people, to the point where certain pieces of music can cause wildly different effects and provoke radically different emotions in different people. And that, my friends, is one of the things I like THE MOST about music.

So, the next time you're talking about how "emotional" a song is, don't be surprised if I dismiss your opinion entirely -- it tells more about YOU, as a listener, than about the music, which is what I'm more concerned about.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Of How a World is Built: PROGRESS!

In spite of the worry and bother brought forth by the closing of the semester (which was lot less dire than in previous semesters, I'll admit), the album has been coming across nicely. Most of the instruments have been recorded, and only the last track has several tracks yet to be recorded or written -- but I'm in a pretty good pace, and I'm quite satisfied with the palette of sounds I've assembled. So, in short, hooray!

Notice: recording all parts is not the entire job. There's a lot of mixing and tweaking job to be done, and a bit of "post-processing" and addition of effects which will be made in a later stage. I've still yet to hear these tracks in close detail, to determine whether they sound good enough, and I'll leave that for after the last track is entirely recorded. But yeah, the parts remaining are relatively few. I dare say I'm about 85% finished with the album, and if everything goes fine, by early next year, I'll have it out.

One problem? I'm still undecided on the visual artwork. I have a few ideas running in my head, and I don't know in which one I should invest. This is for later, it's true, but I feel like being so into the album should help me to choose. Maybe I should focus exclusively on the music instead.

Anyway, I already have plenty of plans of things to do after this album. But I won't get ahead of myself: I really, really want to make the best job I can do with this record, and make it as good as I can, in terms of sound. The material here truly demands a lot of attention to detail, and I don't want to rush things.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Annotated Discography: Ween (part 9)

First off, I'm cheating: I started playing the album BEFORE I came here to post. Why? I didn't really plan to post, but I decided to DO something and make my first post after, what? two months. TWO months. Anyway, the album:

Shinola, vol. 1

This is an "assorted bits" album put together by the band, apparently supposed to be the first in a series which currently contains only one instalment. Another "hilarious" joke from the band? I'd guess not: they're probably amassing more material for a second volume. This album comprises left over tracks from several sessions, a few new tracks and altered versions of songs released on other alternate releases. I don't want to go in details here because, honestly, it doesn't matter. What matters is the music. And in terms of music, this is probably their most inconsistent to date. "Duh, it's an odds and ends album!", you say. Well, but these are odds and ends with wildly varying quality, I say. QUALITY, see?

So, anyway, I've only heard the first track so far. Tastes Good on th' Bun, as far as I can tell, is a Pure Guava outtake. Surely sounds like it, and, well, for it to have been left off from an album like that, you can guess what it sounds like: meandering, pointless, and trying to pass itself off solely on its "quirkiness" and whacky sense of "humour". GOODNESS, does this overstay its welcome. Alright, NOW we're going fully real time. Off we go with...

... Boys Club, a parody on overly "gay" pop tunes. Yeah, you could guess that. Okay, the sound they're getting is really convincing and funny, with an EXTREMELY "slick" production, squeaky backing vocals, a groovy chord progression and a fun vocals impression by Gene Ween. Again, it probably goes on for about 20 iterations of the chorus too many. Am I noticing a trend there? Oh, well, it's not a bad effort at all. Now, I Fell in Love Today, a... blues send-up? Very slow and plodding, an insistent guitar line, and with a "soulful" vocal delivery. Yeah, so the joke is a lot more subtle here, but we're still trudging on "obvious pastiche" territory -- which already sets the standards lower than those on the three previous albums. Okay, so Quebec had two obvious parodies at the start, but then it turned the table completely around with Transdermal Celebration (man, what an AMAZING song, that! Can I stop this album and put that song on instead?... no?). Oh, I like the effect on the guitar solo here! It's a shame that we only get so little of those clever guitar effects on songs like these! Ok, guys, I already heard you can do a pretty good imitation of this stuff, now can we PLEASE go on? Which sessions did this get culled off? This is not a new one, is it?... oh, Wikipedia says it is. Crap! You'd better set the standards higher now!

Hm, now it's Big Fat Fuck... ok, I asked for too much. This was released before on an Internet "release" called Craters of the Sac, and that version was seven minutes long. WHAT?? Ok, so this track is at least actually amusing in a way: it doesn't try to be anything other than gross, and not only in terms of lyrics. The whole song sounds slowed down, especially the vocals. Sort of goes back to The Pod, but with actual humour. Yeah, it's gross, repetitive, moronic humour, but it's at least imaginative. Wouldn't want to hear this for seven minutes, though, please, no. And it stops, and we're off into Gabrielle, a Thin Lizzy parody as far as I read. And it's great! It's catchy, tuneful, energetic, and they get a really good sound going with a neat vocal impression and a hooky chorus! Finally, it's getting really good! I like the lyrics, too: it doesn't go out of its way to shove the "joke" in your mouth, and it works even better because of that. "Nobody's perfect, baby, and I'll always love you anyway"? Darn yes! Simple and effective. Great guitar solo, too. Fun playing around with the tremolo effect, too! Yeah, I just like it that much, and I don't even need to say this is the best track here so far.

And now, we go into Did You See Me?, and from the first seconds I can already tell this is going to be something else entirely: slow, strummed acoustic guitar playing those cliché "mysterious" chords, probably pulled from 70's Rush albums. The bass comes in -- ok, they're going for a Pink Floyd vibe, it seems, and so far they're nailing it to a tee. Haha, from the FIRST note I can already tell Dean has got his David Gilmour mode 100% engaged. I'm loving it!

... guys, please, I have already heard this album several times before. I'm only speaking like this for literary effect.

Okay, this just IS Pink Floyd: the string-y keyboards are on, the heavy guitar is doing its thing and the drums are heavier. And the whole song is heavier now! Wow, we're pretty much back in the 70's in less than two minutes. So far, no vocals, and this thing RULES! Ok, it's quiet now, and the vocals are in. Encoded, muttery vocals, and with a weird, bubbly effect going on underneath, like something out of an early Residents album. I like the vocal melody. Ok, this is the best song so far. Well, now we're into Genesis territory. Maybe not Genesis, but they're doing something hilarious, which Mark Prindle calls "Medieval rock" break which is a 100% apt label. Funny as hell! DOO-DOO-DOO! DOO-DOO-DOO! Doo-doo-doo-doo-doo, DOO! Great stuff. Now with the acoustic guitar coda. Awesome. Apparently this came from the The Mollusk sessions, and it's up to par. It is outtake-ish, but perfectly up to par.

How High Can You Fly?, and we're still on the 70's, with a hum-along guitar melody, and a VERY tremolo heavy vocal singing the song title over and over. The guitar melody sounds like something they wrote for White Pepper, but ended up replacing with the far superior Flutes of Chi. The spoken voice is also great. This is moronic humour, but it's inventive, and far better than the first four tracks. I like it. Transitions are in, and from the first seconds I can tell it's a parody on "adult contemporary", and they do an amazing job at nailing the airy, reverb-laden sound and cheesy keyboards. Great stuff! Colour me impressed, guys! This is really good stuff! And even the song itself is quite catchy. Great guitar work, as usual. And now, it's Israel, probably the most bizarre piece in here. But this is the GOOD kind of bizarre: not the thing supposed to shock and awe you, but the thing to leave you genuinely puzzled. On surface, it's a parody of soft, cheesy jazz music, with a melody played on saxophone and sounds of sirens, applause and the guys impersonating preachers. And there are backmasked speeches! Okay, hold on...

No, they're just fragments of the normal speeches played backwards. Yeah, I never checked it before, and only did now for documentary purposes! The synthesized "doo doo" sound is extra funny! I like this track. Its oddness is sort of captivating. The voices repeating "Israel Israel Israel" at the end is weirdly hypnotic. Now, it's The Rift, which opens up with "sci-fi" sound effects and gives way to a strangely groovy drum pattern. It's very slow and "spacey", and the vocal melody is sort of catchy. The lyrics are silly. Oh, shut up, already. This crap is almost 6 minutes long. Is it part of the point to leave me so uninterested? Okay, I can see you have your "ooooh, yep!" in place. And the guitar effects and the sci-fi noises. That's okay. Now just go away already. Good, it's going away. Finally. Now let's move on.

And we're into Monique, the Freak. Right away, it's great: a Prince parody, with a solid groove, a sticky guitar riff, those clean guitar strums and, ick, those vocals are so spot on. So spot on it's sick. And a vocoder on the chorus. Of course! Perfect. It's already fun as hell. The lyrics are so moronic and so spot on, it's hard not to get along with it. Ah, and I LOVE the backing vocals! Brilliant stuff. The whole thing just gels together and works wonders. And again, that Vocoder. Brilliant. Yeah, but NOW is the great part, the instrumental break with that awesome guitar riff. And the guitar solo. Yeah, the guitar solo! Great sound, great playing! This would go on for 10 minutes on Craters of the Sac, and it could as well go on here! Ah, and the backing vocals on the break! Also great stuff. Really, this is great from start to finish, alright. You know? I can almost say this track is too short, even at nearly 6 minutes, and even with that great guitar work near the end. But they kept the best for last! At least best in terms of humour, because Someday might be one of the very, very best comedy pieces in their whole catalogue. And I say comedy in a GOOD way: good musical comedy is not easy to make, and this is fantastic. The imitation of cheesy, starry-eyed, Disney-esque romantic ballads is spot on for the first half, but then it's BRUTALLY deconstructed after that: atrocious "chorus", dumb lyrics, a deeply intoned voice speaking back the chorus lyrics, and the whole thing is off! Amazing. And given that twist alone, the absolute stupidness of the whole song comes to life, bringing along with it pretty much every other song in the genre. Even the "orchestration" near the end becomes brilliantly, pathetically hilarious. And, EVEN still, the song is beautifully written. It's definitely not a joke for the sake of the joke: it's well constructed humour.

Anyway, that's an amazingly strong ending for the album, with two fantastic tracks back to back. I still hold Did You See Me? as an easy favourite, and everywhere else, well... it's a mess, you can see. Though the low points are almost all at the beginning of the album. Don't know if that's good or bad... Either way, this album is a necessity for Ween fans, while casual fans need only to fish out the best tracks in here and dump the rest, I guess... Feel free to disagree. I'm here to be disagreed with!... sort of.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Annotated Discography: Ween (part 8)

I feel like I should apologise for the long delay between last post and this, but you know what? Screw it. There's nobody to apologise to, since nobody reads this, and I have my own good reasons to not have posted since then. It certainly hasn't got to do with me being bored with this or not wanting to do this review. Though I have to admit I'm not as excited as I was at the beginning. Yet, strangely enough, I do intend to start another series once I'm done with Ween. Though I was thinking of doing something different... Well, who knows. Let's focus on Ween for now. Today's record is Quebec. It's the third great Ween record in a row, and it seems to follow a more "serious" trend. Some tracks are blatantly parodic and humorous, some tracks are subtly parodic and humorous, and other tracks give me no reason whatsoever to believe they're either of those two things. The band is still all over the place with band homages and style pastiches, the songwriting is still brilliant and the performances convincing, most tracks are wicked good, and, hey, I seem to pick up a vibe of honesty from a few songs here. Maybe it's just wishful thinking: the last two albums were so endearing and good that I WANTED to get a glance at the real faces of the two guys. What would be the problem? They are not a novelty outfit after all. I'm all for making music for fun and enjoyment, but nothing should hold you back from pouring a bit of REAL blood and sweat over your songs.

But once again, let's go in depth. I'll hit play now and get writing.

They open up with It's Gonna Be a Long Night, a very direct and obvious Motörhead parody. They've done that before with Stroker Ace, but I think the parody is even more straight and clear this time around. The strained screaming on one note is very reminiscent of Ace of Spades, and the gruff, fat guitar sound is purely Motörheadesque. GREAT song, and great album opener. Of course, its greatness is a bit compromised by it being TOO similar to Motörhead songs and having little of Ween's own unique style on it. I don't know, it's a brilliant song and I'm enjoying it a lot, but it's sort of like a way to wake you up before the REAL show. It's a short tune and it's just ending now. Awesome. Zoloft is on now, and I think this is the first time Ween goes bossa nova. Notice: this is AWFULLY fake bossa nova, with a dull, electronic drum beat, airy pad chords, and the whole song is concocted for purely humorous effect. DON'T think that João Gilberto and Antônio Carlos Jobim are recognised as a geniuses for making music like this, guys! To be honest, I think this is a weak song. It's not terribly catchy, it's not terribly well crafted, and singing about antidepressants is nothing new, is it? Now, those backing vocals in the end, that freaks me out. Why? BECAUSE IT SOUNDS LIKE SIGUR RÓS. Really, the first time I heard that, I was going WTF -- these guys listened to Ágætis Byrjun or what? Man.

Transdermal Celebration is on now. I'm absolutely mad about this song. It's so good it's sick; amazing work here, guys. Everything is insanely catchy, from the vocal melodies all the way through the great guitar licks and embellishments. The wacky sci-fi tale told with over-the-top words and terms is great stuff too. They even made a video for this song that pretty much TELLS, visually, what they're singing here. I love it; if I had to make a super-ultra-condensed compilation of awesomeness with the best Ween songs, this would be one of my first picks -- along with every track from The Mollusk, of course. That guitar riff and bookends the song is beautiful as hell, by the way. Now, it's Among His Tribe, one of the big question marks in this album: a quiet, folksy, hushed song, with lyrics without a single hint of irony or mockery. I don't see what they could possibly be making fun of here, though some of those electronic sounds seem not to belong there at all. Faced with this song, I have no choice other than to take it for what it seems to be, and it is a very pretty song. Nice song, though sometimes I barely notice it at all.

Side B opens with So Many People in the Neighborhoor, one of those songs that can lure people into thinking of Ween as an actual novelty act. Silly sounds, non-existant melody and repetitive, inane lyrics. I don't enjoy it much, to be honest, but the chaotic "instrumental" breaks are pretty impressive and fun, with how they weave distorted, buzzing sounds and distorted, undecipherable vocals. I don't know what else to say about it -- it's ending and I sort of like it. Tried and True, now that one is far more impressive, drawing influence from acoustic, slightly country-influenced pop. That descending guitar line is pure brilliance, and the lyrics and singing and over-the-top and pompous enough to be non-serious but without being obnoxious. Though I have to be frank, I can't stand the use of the word "smell" for comedic purposes. Other than that, I like this song a whole lot, especially the guitar work. That sitar imitation is used for very good effect. Now, Happy Colored Marbles goes back to the semi-novelty camp, this time with a "toy organ" and marimbas, silly vocals and "out there" lyrics. At least the song is really catchy, and the slow tempo and unsettling sounds are creepy at JUST the right amount. The explosive, climactic ending is awesome! Great concoction of sounds, and a great effect caused by the sound of "real" instruments breaking out of the fake, electronic "toy" sound. That moment alone makes the song worth it. To close the side, it's Hey There Fancypants, a very straightly-played ragtime. I can't stand the kind of song they're imitating here. Really, just hearing the lyrics makes me want to die -- I HATE this kind of stuff, and even though I appreciate how well written and performed this song here, I don't like the song at all. Of course I don't put the blame on Ween -- I'm not that stupid. Still, eh. If I could cut out one track from the album, I wouldn't hesitate before choosing.

Anyway, we move to side C with Captain. This time, we're all the way back to 70's "art rock", slow, very echoey, desolate, plaintive and repetitive. It builds very slowly, laying element over element; first the guitar line, then the repeated vocals, the chimes, then the lead guitar, and so on. As tempted as I am to compare this to Pink Floyd, it's not similar to Pink Floyd at all -- I'm not sure what band it is similar to. But yeah, I'm familiar with the kind of vibe they're trying to create, and it's a very good effort. Those slowed down vocals are too jarring, but I like the lead guitar, and the song isn't trying too hard to show it is a pastiche. The balance of elements is just right, and the strings at the end are a VERY nice touch. And now it's Chocolate Town, a bit of country pop or whatever the hell you call this. VERY, VERY nice song, catchy, tuneful and poppy. The lyrics are obviously silly, but the vocal efforts by Gene almost make them resonant. Either way, great song, and now we come up to I Don't Want It, a... love ballad. Played ABSOLUTELY straight. Well, perhaps a bit TOO straight, since they lay down most romantic ballad clichés and nail then down perfectly. But know what? This song is GORGEOUS. If it was written by any other band, it'd probably be my favourite ballad ever. But since this is Ween, I can't shrug off the fact that they're probably doing it just for fun. But HOW can this be "fun"? It's sad and gut-wrenching! No sense of "parody" can twist the inherent beauty of this song, not even ending almost every line with a little "ah", as in "I'd lie in your arms if I could-ah". And that guitar solo in the end is the band's crowning achievement of beauty. I love it dearly. And it's immediately followed by The Fucked Jam. This is probably the band's most idiotic instrumental ever, but then again, Ween KNOWS how to make "idiotic" become a compliment. It consists of a dull drone of electronic drums and a buzzing bass drone, and on top of that they put a layer of SOMETHING... I don't know what it is, it's SOMETHING. It seems like some random, senseless vocal blabbering encoded into a buzzy, annoying synth drone. The very quick inflections of that synth surely do sound like vocal noises. And that's all that goes on for three minutes. Actually, not quite: they add those false endings here and there, exactly to make you unsure whether the song has ended or not. And since this closes side C, the effect is vastly improved. It's a funny song, but perhaps a bit TOO novelty.

Then, we get Alcan Road. What's the matter with this song? It's five minutes long, and I can barely hear anything at all. It's got wind sounds, slow droning bass notes, some other echoey effects and a "mysterious" guitar line. Really, I have no idea to say here. It IS a pretty beautiful song, but I don't quite know what to make of it. Weird. Anyway, let's go on to The Argus, which has a sort of British fantasy prog-folk vibe already from the beginning. "Yesterday we lost our lives, tomorrow we were born". Yep. It's very calm and pleasant and jangly in the beginning, and the melody is actually very catchy. Once again this falls into the category of "obviously, but not obnoxiously humorous". I love that instrumental break: it's SO 70's British fantasy rock! The mood shift afterwards is also really neat, all full of fairground flutes or calliopes or whatever those are called, and the ending is also very beautiful. This song is a nice example of how well Ween can mix clever, subtle humour with actual, honest beauty. But now, we get to the closing song, If You Could Save Yourself (You'd Save Us All), which now goes to glammy, bombastic hard rock ballads, complete with verses sung over a very hushed and quiet background. I could never be sure of how much of this song is actually serious and how much it isn't, because as much as it's clearly a parody of a very well known style, there's a tinge of honesty here. Or maybe it's just personal bias of mine? Either way, I REALLY like this song. I guess that particular line in the last stanza is the only thing that hints at obvious humour, but otherwise this song actually is quite gut-wrenching. The vocal delivery is amazing, and the songwriting is honestly impressive. I love this song, and the bombast and heavyhanded delivery is actually completely understandable and justified for a band that is known for being so self-aware and humourous. It's so good, I actually wish to hear more like this from them!

Either way, that was Quebec, another excellent Ween album. As for the next ones to be reviewed, do not expect so much praise. But THAT is for later.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Annotated Discography: Ween (part 7)

White Pepper

The Mollusk is amazing. And this one is... well, not better, but virtually as good as it. It should be noted, though, that I can see a clear difference between these two albums; not really in terms of musical quality, which is as high as ever, but in terms of humour. The Mollusk was quite openly mischievous and playful in its essence, and it bounced along from song to song keeping an air of lightness all along. White Pepper, oddly enough, is more ambivalent. At times the songs sound quite serious, to the point where I sometimes can't tell whether they're being earnest or just pretending so in order to play a prank on me. This time around the genres are more spread apart, and they put A LOT of effort (as well as budget) in order to sound just like those actual genres sound. Sometimes the humour is dead on obvious, but when it isn't, it seems sort of unsure. In fact, the first song seems to address that quite directly. So, let's get the walkthrough started.

Exactly Where I'm At opens with straight 4/4 drum beats, and soon enough we get encoded vocals and an organ-like drone. First thing: the melody is dead catchy, and the singing isn't exaggerated or obnoxious, even though the lyrics are kind of silly. Also, I LOVE this little guitar riff. And, soon enough, the whole band kicks in. I'm all staged / It's all an act / I'm really scared that I may fall back in the abstract? Are they, like, being honest and saying their "comedy" act may end up preventing them from being earnest and serious when they want to?... hmm, either this is a VERY elaborate prank, or they're trying to reach out the their audience somewhat. I honestly think it's not a prank, even more because the music is so beautiful and layered and elaborate, and this isn't at all a "parody" of anything: it's a wonderfully crafted and arranged rock song with great guitar solos and sounds. I love this song. The coda goes on and on, and it could just go on forever and I wouldn't mind. The ending falls back with the encoded drum beats, some guitar picking and theremin-like noises. And we're off into Flutes of Chi: wow, beautiful! Great little meandering melody, and this time around, it's easy to tell they're reaching back into the "psychedelic" era with sitar-like sounds, starry-eyed lyrics and a bendy and contemplative vocal melody. And it's amazing. I actually like how this song is a lighthearted and funny commentary on hippie tunes, and yet it's perfectly enjoyable as a hippie tune in its own right (though 'three times thine inequity' may be a dead give away, but who wants to keep picking apart Ween lyrics?). We have a pair of solos, one sort of George Harrison-like and dum-dum-dum-dummm, and the second more meandering and loose. Love that. Great vocals by Gene, and again, that great main theme—the kind of stuff that gets stuck to your head for days on end.

It's over now, and after a lengthy final guitar note, we kick into Even If You Don't, and it's an obvious Paul McCartney parody, with beats borrowed from Your Mother Should Know and Getting Better (*ting!* *ting!* *ting!* *ting!*). The melody is wicked! Absurdly catchy and sing-along, and it's nicely coupled with vicious and desperate lyrics. You know, actually I get all irked when bands borrow this ding! ding! ding! beat, but Ween sort of nailed down the way to make it work both as an acceptable pop cliché AND as a parody. Parody? It's more like a homage, or something, I don't know. Look at the album title: White Pepper. Beatle-y much? Awesome guitar solo, too. I sort of like the verses more than the chorus in this song, in fact, but heck—it's all good. And it ends greatly, we're into the HILARIOUS Jimmy Buffet parody Bananas and Blow. Ween are doing with Buffet here more or less what the Mutantes were doing with Sergio Mendes decades before, and it's great: the atmosphere, melody, instrumentation and Dean's vocals are all dead spot on, yet the lyrics—with a full on pseudo-Castillano style—talk about being stranded with only bananas and cocaine for sustainment. Some reviews suggest this ain't exactly a "fan favourite", but heck, I easily elect this as one of the cleverest, most intelligent pieces in Ween's catalogue—AND, of course, it's catchy as hell. The conviction with which Dean opens the chorus with "bananas and blow!" already makes the whole thing worthwhile. And, oh yeah, that mean Spanish guitar solo (I dunno if it's an actual Spanish guitar, but it's meant to sound like one). And now we're into? A Motörhead parody! And, heck, Stroker Ace is SPOT ON YET AGAIN. The one note singing, the riffage, mad screaming in the chorus—plain awesome, and again the lyrics are obviously silly and over-the-top. The two amazing things are: the song is plain awesome, AND it comes hot off the heels of a Jimmy Buffet parody tune and it fits perfectly. Maybe it's just a personal bias of mine in favour of the album, because it's a completely broken flow, but it works. And now? It's an instrumental called Ice Castles. Now THIS may sound utterly strange to you, but the trick is not that obscure: it's a joke on the Mellotron, the famous keyboard loved by Prog rock bands. The song has a mood of 70's Prog mystique, very slow and waltzy, but the sounds are fluctuate up and down in pitch wildly, pretty much like a Mellotron that's been worn out a little TOO severely. The melody is actually quite pretty, but if it weren't for that "skit", this track would probably be quite a blank. But, yeah, it's just a comedy skit. Whether that's good or bad is up to you. We close off side A and move on to the flip side with...

... Back to Basom, and we're, yet again, into completely different territory. This time, this is full on into "soft rock" ballads, with melty singing, wailing David Gilmour-esque slide guitars, Strawberry Fields Forever Mellotrons going "DOO-doo-DOO-doo", synthesizer flourishes and a very, very, very beautiful melody. Yet, this is meant as parody. You know? The song works on its own and it's actually quite gorgeous and dreamy, but the lyrics try to pull you in the other way, going "NO, this is a JOKE! See the lyrics? Let to locate the last trace of waste / I picked it up and it was smiling?" Sorry, folks, I don't know why I should laugh at this. This humour is kind of self-defeating, you know? You're making fun of yourself because you're a good musician and can do great, varied music? (and yeah, I can praise their "diversity" here because they're doing GREAT songs, not merely pastiches) I don't know, I love the song but I can't take this as comedy. Bananas and Blow? It's hilarious. This? It's not. I don't know, I may be rambling and the song is already ending, but I just love it as great music. Love those sounds! Great use of synthesizers and effects. And we're off to The Grobe, a parody on alt-rock, grunge, or whatever the cool kids call this: the guitar is distorted beyond recognition, the rhythm is slow and the riff is low-pitched and catchy. The vocals seem to run through a rotating speaker ("leslie") and the lyrics are catchy beyond imagination. Yet, once again, the music is awesome. Is this a parody on self-aware and "philosophic" rock? Maybe. Once again, the music and humour seem to be in entirely different planes of existence. The humour at least seems to have a point here, and, I dunno, but it doesn't seem to be so self-defeating here as it were on the last track. Maybe it's because I'm already used to ignoring it in favour of the music. But I don't really ignore it: I think the lyrics are clever in their silliness—and, like I said, have a point. But the music? It's great, catchy, and kicks massively. And we get into Pandy Fackler, a Steely Dan parody. That is, I hear it called a Steely Dan parody everywhere, but it doesn't quite sound like it to me; it's too fast, too jazzy and lacks the harmony vocals. But, well, it isn't too far from Steely Dan, and the lyrics aren't too absurd or too senseless to defeat the music, and I love the sound they concoct here. But then again, coming up with this sound is pure studio trickery, there's no "magic" involved. One George Starostin used this song as an example that Ween COULD be a Steely Dan-like duo if they wanted to. They could? With THIS absurdly banal and ridiculous instrumental theme? I'm sorry, Mr. Starostin, but you don't pull off jazz-pop merely going up and down the scales. This works as an imitation and nothing else! The electric piano solo is brilliant beyond thought, though! Great freak-outs and uses of effects. And, well, the instrumental theme is kinda catchy, but absolutely childish. Not that that's BAD, you know...

And now comes Stay Forever, a romantic "country-rock" ballad sort of thing. Is THIS a parody, folks? How can I POSSIBLE take this as a parody? It's gorgeous, dreamy and sweet, and it warms my heard like nothing else can: "When I'm away, I wanna put my arms around you / And I wanna know, do you feel the same way? / 'Cause if you do, I wanna stay forever with you". THIS is the real deal. Why can't I imagine Ween are being honest and earnest in this song? If this IS a parody, then it's an awful one. Yeah, it sounds a lot like romantic ballads you could hear on the radio on the 70's or something, but that's not funny on itself. It's a brilliant song and one of my favourites on the album, in fact. Wonderful melody, and great vocals by Gene. Maybe this is what they were referring with "falling back in the abstract"? Who knows. Now we get into Falling Out, once again sort of country-rock but faster, and far more bitter. Now this song has a better tinge of humour, but it's a lighthearted, inviting touch of humour. And the song is hella catchy too. Great song, toe-tappingly catchy and fun. And, to close the album, the gentle ballad She's Your Baby. It's the same thing again: there's nothing here that makes me take it as humour, and to be fair, I just think I shouldn't. I love the song, and the romantic and dreamy mood absolutely carries me away. Great melody, really nice arrangements and the usual great vocal and guitar performance by the folks, and also a great little guitar solo to close off the song and the album.

The complaints about self-defeating humour DO NOT detract from the fact that this album is brilliant, though. Yet, it is part of the reason why I find it inferior to The Mollusk. But, to be blunt, the real reason why is that The Mollusk is fantastic beyond comparison, and nothing else Ween did can even dream of being next to it. White Pepper, though, comes very close. Don't miss it.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Annotated Discography: Ween (parts 5 and 6)

12 Golden Country Greats

Unless I'm terribly mistaken, I've listened to this record exactly ONCE so far, so I'm extremely "fresh" on it, and this review will be every bit as "real time" as it can be. Two things I can say: as far as I can recall from the first listen, this is far better than Chocolate and Cheese (which shouldn't be too surprising), and being so surprisingly short (barely 33 minutes long), I think I'll be able to review TWO albums in a row. This also means you guys will figure out why I am so eager on making this "annotated discography" thing.

Well, first things first: it's a country record, coming from a band that enjoyed the pleasure of hopping from one genre to the other (without me caring at all). Also, everyone who talks about this record has the moral duty of saying there ARE NOT twelve songs here, and the title refers to the guest musicians invited for the sessions. However there WERE twelve songs written for the album, but two of them got cut from the album. So, what do we get from a country album written and recorded by Ween? Read on.

It starts with I'm Holding You, and it's a country ballad that already sets off the sound with slide guitar and all that follows. It's surprisingly mellow and beautiful, though it's obvious the "I'm holding something more precious than fine ore, baby, I'm holding you" isn't meant to be actually romantic (though it's funny more in an endearing than outright outrageous way). What can I say? It's a genuinely beautiful, well written and performed song. I guess it's meant to get us scratching our heads, as in, is this WEEN? Yep, it is. And I say, as much as there definitely is comedic value in the song, I'm far better off enjoying the song itself. Anything wrong with that? Okay, not we get Japanese Cowboy, and it's a more upbeat boppy country tune. Don't know much of what to say here, and the only thing that strikes me is that the vocal melody is amazingly similar to the melody of Vangelis's theme for Chariots of Fire. It's most certainly unintentional, but it's still a quite pitiful similarity. Not that it makes the song bad, or anything. It's an enjoyable song. Maybe I have nothing to say because I know shit about country music, so there. Piss Up a Rope is on now, and this is more with that rock-ish 4/4 beat instead of the 2/4 march of the previous song. Okay, we're back with the crude words and Ween-ish humour—LOTS of it. It's funny, though, for the way they use those strategic breaks with lyrics like "On your knees, you big booty bitch, start suckin'", and the solo is really crazy. My foot is tapping, so that's a good sign. Now we get I Don't Want to Leave You on the Farm, a fast but more mellow tune, cute and also enjoyable. The lyrics are more of that quirky, stereotypically-country romanticism. "I'll keep truckin' and keepin' myself stoned". Yeah, that. The last song on side B is Pretty Girl, probably the most upbeat song here so far, quite intoxicating and with some serious fiddle playing. The lyrics are hilariously and exaggeratedly stereotypical: "There's a scum-suckin' lip pucking fat ol' truck drivin' man on town / There's a boot lickin' hiney ticklin' dude around". Neat. I love that fiddle. You know, I know shit about country and I don't really hate country music in general (maybe that's because I don't live in the USA?), and this album makes me feel like listening to more of that music. I guess Ween takes bonus points for that. Again, great fiddle. Side B is over.

We move to Powder Blue, a more bluesy affair. Bluesy? I don't know how to describe these songs, really. It's got the rhythm of Piss Up a Rope. The ascending riff is nifty, but the melody and lyrics are awfully repetitive and monotonous. I like the backing vocals, though (credited to the Jordanaires). Now Gene is "introducing" the musicians. Great soloing! Oh, and he "introduced" Muhammad Ali, and the song was cut off (yeah, it was a mess up with an unauthorized sample. Sucks, doesn't it?). Mister Richard Smoker, more upbeat than before, and with funny "doodley ba-boo!" vocals and great soloing. "You smoke big dick"? Yeah, it's Ween alright. Wow, they just modulated the song up a tone FOUR times in a row in the coda. Were they aiming for a Guinness record or something? Hehe, great trick. Help Me Scrape the Mucus Off My Brain; yeah, more of those cliché Ween terms and running gags. The song itself, though, is good. But the stuff is starting to get awfully repetitive, you know? I guess THIS is the problem with country music; when it begins to repeat itself, it REALLY repeats itself. And even having merely 10 songs and 30 minutes of music, the album still suffers. But I won't complain about that yet, ok? Maybe the next two songs will present something new and invigorating. The solos in this song were, once again, great, though. Now it's You Were the Fool, another ballad; the beat is quite unusual, though. Hey, I did right in persevering: this IS different! And quite beautiful, too. I enjoy the beat, the melody and the mood all around. Great stuff. Yeah, I'm not writing much right now and just enjoying the song. Now we get some distorted guitar and feedback? Cool! This is also a quite long fade-out ending, too, and would be an excellent ending to the album. There's still one more song, though. Fluffy is... yeah, another ballad. Wait, a ballad? Well, there is just a mellow acoustic guitar and Dean moaning some pretty weirdly silly lyrics about a dog. Ok, it's quite bizarre, i.e. a very apt way to end a Ween album. Heh, this is awesome; only Ween can make an "emotional" song about a dog sound so genuinely silly; because songs about dogs ARE silly. Go ahead, call me insensitive. Great, now the album is over. Guess what? It's quite great; and again, if I had got myself acquainted to Ween following the chronological order of their albums, I'd be dangerously afraid that they would have to devote themselves to country music in order to make great albums—after, you know, the complete train wreck of Chocolate and Cheese. But no, we keep trudging ahead and reach:

The Mollusk

And THIS is why I started this whole thing. Ok, be ready guys, because I'll be raving madly in this review. I listened to this thing dozens and dozens of times and it only gets better. Basically, we're back to the more "diverse" side of Ween, but not exaggeratedly diverse; once in a while they bounce into something unpredictable, but overall they have a more down-to-earth theme. Many reviewers will talk about its maritime and oceanic sound. I think that's bullshit. Yeah, they mention the beach, the ocean and ships once in a while, but that doesn't make a "concept"! Besides, the sound is way too layered for me to stamp a label on it. Yeah, that's right: LAYERED. This doesn't merely sound like an album made on a big budget: you can clearly sense the effort they put in here. And this time around, as much as there are jokes and humour here, they don't overshadow the musical content. You can laugh at some bits, but I think it's a much, much better deal to listen to the music instead. So, follow me now.

Man, this will be a hard review.

I'm Dancing in the Show Tonight is a send-up of show tunes, starting off with a boppy electric piano and bizarrely processed vocals. What effects are these? Wow. The sound is entirely synthesized, but it's very, very convincing, and the melody is clever as hell. THIS is the big deal: intricate, careful and entertaining arrangement, with a great mix of weirdness and true technical accuracy. These guys surely learned their business! And we're straight into the title track, and right off the bat, it's gorgeous. The signature flute-y sound sets the tone, and they follow it up nicely with a "dialogue" between two voices, each one trying to sound more pompous than the other. "Bring forth the mollusk cast unto me"? YEAH, man, THIS is the unique kind of Ween humour I've come to love. "Does it speaketh of the trinity?" Keep going, guys! What more could I ask? Gorgeous, catchy music coupled with lighthearted mock-prog-rock lyrics! And a great synthesizer solo using a "trumpet" sound often used by Rick Wright. It might even be the same synth; but it's something of a cross between the "synth trumpet" of Wright with that of Vangelis. And I missed the "voiceover" bit. Great stuff. More great soloing. Awesome instrumentation. All that. Yeah, I'm caught in it already.

Polka Dot Tail is a far stranger thing, with a waltzy, pounding rhythm with lyrics that are silly without pushing it too hard. Fun mix of "folk" with whatever they're mixing here. I like these lyrics: they're absurd but somehow evocative. And the melody is great, also counting on buzzing and squealing synths and some psychedelic guitar soloing. And the way Dean (I suppose) calls "Billy..." before the solo totally owns me. And the synth freak out before the last solo is purely brilliant. I don't know what happened to these guys, but they became true masters of the business. I love this thing; and as soon as it's over, we're dumped into the insanely fast and fuzzed-out I'll Be Your Jonny on the Spot, which is sort of "electro-country" or something like that, with almost moaned, monotonous vocals. I'm not crazy about this song on its own, but it's position here is necessary, a great way to pump up the energy. I love the solo, though. It ends suddenly and we're left with the "contemplative", dreamy, phased-out ballad of Mutilated Lips. The sound in this song DRIVES ME NUTS! The acoustic guitars, groovy percussion, well-timed licks and the heavily processed vocals are a true work of art. The lyrics might be a little over-the-top with their absurdity. Yeah, of course they're trying to get over-the-top (it's a parody, after all), but that in itself achieves little. I love the "Find me the skull of Haile Selassie, I" bit, still. And, again, it's the music that matters, and it's amazing. I love the sound of the guitar in the solo; it matches the song perfectly. I'd love to hear Mike Oldfield playing that solo, heh heh. I love this song, simply. And next comes... The Blarney Stone, which is an Irish "drinking song", with AMAZINGLY convincing throaty vocals. The lyrics are extremely clever, and they went to real extents to recreate the drunken mood of an Irish pub, yelling in the backing, bagpipes (it sounds like an accordeon, though) and glass noises all around. This is awesome, really. Plain awesome. I just wonder why they rhymed "eye" with "eye" in the chorus. Intentional? Who cares, the song is still awesome. Was it Dean who sang this? Dude must have got his throat aching for weeks after that.

And it leads into what? A soft-rock ballad, It's Gonna Be (Alright) (I love that awkwardly parenthesized title). Once again, the sound is amazing, even if it's meant as a straight, no-nonsense parody of soft-rock, it's still beautiful and well crafted. Wonderful melody, too, and the lyrics never make it clear that they're meant to be a parody. Maybe they aren't?... nah. As much as I thought Joppa Road was a brilliant satire, this is so much better, it's unfair to compare. Maybe I'm reading too much in the song: perhaps it's not a satire, a mockery, and more of a harmless imitation. Either way, though, it's nothing short of brilliant. The Golden Eel comes next, with its nearly indescribable sound; distorted and sparse, almost reminding us of those stupid jokes like Candi—except there's a MELODY going on, and a good one. And the chorus comes in and bursts things up completely, with a heavy rhythm and keeping up flawlessly with the humorously pompous lyrics. That solo is GROOVY, too, sounding as if it was recorded on a faulty tape unit, and then launching into an awesome, heavier instrumental take on the chorus. Awesome way to close side A.

Side B starts with Cold Blows the Wind, and it's the only song that doesn't live up to the standards. I know that it keeps up with the "pompous" lyrical thematic of the album, but placed smackdab in the middle of the album, it's almost as monotonous and dull as Buenas Tardes Amigo. Ok, that was nasty; let's not compare anything to that atrocity: the sound here is far more profound, crafted and thought-out, and it's shorter too. The synth sounds are cool, too, but already by this point, I already stopped caring about the singing and the lyrics. But, wow, they do an awesome imitation of a Mellotron near the middle of the song. Is that an actual Mellotron? If it is, great! If it isn't, wow, great job in recreating the sound of it. A Mellotron makes anything better, especially a song like this. The sound is already far more interesting than in the beginning of the song, so my attention is already caught. Right, it's over, and we're into Pink Eye (On My Leg). Surprisingly, it's an instrumental—we haven't had much from Ween, have we? The H.I.V. Song was sort of one, but this is ridiculously better, with an actually clever and catchy melody and a very interesting and amusing combination of sounds, and it's much more than a stupid skit. The dog barking sounds are awesome, too! Ah, I really like this one; it's always great to have a melody like this in an album. Hehe, another awesome sample; it sounds like a man groaning, or something. Brilliant. And we're off into another "electro-country" song, Waving My Dick in the Wind. Great tune! Catchy as all hell, and the fast rhythm really does it justice. For some reason, I feel it would work more if it were a bit shorter. But, oh, whatever: we're into Buckingham Green, and it starts off as a stately, solemn prog rock number of sorts, with vocals caught somewhere between Gabriel-led Genesis and early King Crimson. The vocals give space to an acoustic guitar solo, but the sound is still eerily quiet and haunting. Awesome solo. And more Mellotron sounds? This time it sounds like the "choir" patch. Man, these guys REALLY know what they're doing. And off we go with a heavy, stomping instrumental part with distorted guitar and everything else. Very, very prog rock. And now it leads into another quiet part, but even more solemn and serious, with synthesized "marcato" strings and tympani. Awesome. Awesome song. And we're off into Ocean Man. Wow! Poppy, bouncy and boppy, and with an awesome strummed mandolin! Catchy as hell! And it caused these reactions in less than 10 seconds! I love this song, though it sounds like a tune they'd put in an automobile advert. It's awesome either way, with lovely guitars and a catchy as hell melody sung with a funny, somewhat slowed-down (I guess) voice. The lyrics are great, too, pompous and inane as only Ween could do it. And we reach the last track, She Wanted to Leave, a stunningly gorgeous ballad with a hollow, echoey sound and a guitar sound that seems to embody all the sadness in the world. Really! If the vocals and lyrics weren't so openly parodic (it's a story of unrequited love in a pirate ship, or something??), it'd be one of the saddest songs in my entire catalogue. In fact, if these exact same lyrics were sung in a serious way, it'd STILL be one of the saddest songs in my catalogue: the melody is gorgeous and the arrangement is fantastic. Yeah, it's titled She Wanted to Leave (reprise), but the reprise is of the first track, played in a VERY slow and sad instrumental arrangement. Wow, if I didn't know Ween very well, I'd honestly take this as a very depressing outro for the album. But, well, it's just a lighthearted little joke.

Honestly, this album is amazing, and Ween's existence would be entirely justified even if they stopped making music after it. But no: this is the first album in a streak of three great albums. The Mollusk, though, is to me their best album ever, and one I'm not ashamed to put in the highest ranks of my favourite albums of the 90's. I like it THAT much, and that's why I'm not bitter the band even after listening to Chocolate and Cheese. Spinal Meningitis? I forgive them. Honestly, Mr. Freeman? Mr. Melchiondo? DON'T fuck you. You guys are awesome. Thank you for this album.

As a post-scriptum, I have to say: this was my first Ween album (if I recall correctly—maybe it was GodWeenSatan: The Oneness, but right now I don't recall), and my feelings weren't THAT positive on first listens. It took me quite a while until I started to unveil those layers of cleverness and beauty, and create such a strong link with the album's mood shifts and deep sounds; but once that happened, the whole album worked like a charm. Give it a thorough, careful listen, without haste. It should give you an idea: I've harshly criticised the "mushy" stretches of The Pod, and I've stated distaste for the "diversity" of Chocolate and Cheese, yet THIS album totally enraptured me for not falling in either of those pits. Give it a try.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Annotated Discography: Ween (part 4)

Chocolate and Cheese

What a great day to review a bad album!... well, not really. Today would be a great day for SOMETHING, and certainly not to review a bad album—but that's what I gotta do, right?... actually, not really. I'm doing this because I want to. But don't question me on that, right? You can question me on the assessment of this album... oh, man, why do I have to do this? Couldn't I review a GOOD album, like Albedo 0.39 by Vangelis instead? I could, but that would break the flow. Matter of fact, screw Chocolate and Cheese: I'll review the Vangelis record, which in fact is a strong contender to my favourite album ever (except Amarok by Mike Oldfield really holds that spot).

Look, let's get this done quickly.

Take Me Away is a swingy rocker, with slightly processed vocals and jangly guitars. WOW, the production is far better than last time around. It now sounds like they're actually on a major label. And the song is snappy and upbeat. They're parodying something here, but I can't be sure what it is. Dean (I guess) has sung the same verse three times in a row. And now we get a fuzzy guitar solo. This is a pretty great way to kick off the album; it's a fun, though completely nondescript song. You know, it's neither very catchy, nor sufficiently funny to stand on its own, but it doesn't annoy me. Great ending, though! And now it's Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down). Actually, it isn't: I set Amarok to stop playback before that song, and I won't listen to it. I know, I'm supposed to walk through the whole album and review it in real time, but I refuse to listen to this track. Aside from being not at all good, it's painfully unfunny and preposterously stupid—it doesn't sound at all like the cool, smart guys who did Push th' Little Daisies and Right to the Ways and the Rules of the World! I know what "dark humour" is, I can more or less define it: it's a joke regarding death, sickness, or overall something very disturbing. That's not what this song is: it takes a child with a fatal illness and passes that AS THE JOKE. That's not dark humour, and it's not even humour at all. It's not even creepy, or interesting, or thought-provoking or anything at all: it's just trying to thrive in shock value and shock value alone. That doesn't cut it. And, of course, such an offensively idiotic song features a kid dying of meningitis. I don't wish either of them any kind of bad, but if they had lost a child to a disease like that, I doubt they'd ever write that song. It's not a matter of taboo: it's basic common sense. Honestly? Mr. Freeman? Mr. Melchiondo? Fuck you. BUT, let's get on with this album and skip straight to Freedom of '76, a quite faithful imitation of soul. I guess the only remarkable thing about this song is how precisely they emulate the sound. But so what? I think I stated this before, but the fact that an artist can perform different styles doesn't mean he's amazing and impressive: it means he's DECENTLY COMPETENT. It's the least I can expect from a good musician. Gene's singing is quite brilliant, but who listens to Ween for the singing? And should I care about the lyrics? Oh, what the hell. I Can't Put My Finger on It. Yeah, neither can I. It brings back some of the humour of the previous albums, with a cheap drum machine sound, fuzzed-out guitars and processed vocals, a stomping rhythm and weirdly blurted lyrics. Good track? No. Well, the "quiet" interludes in the middle add an interesting aspect to it just for being so completely out-of-place and out-of-context, and I guess that's the point. And, oh, there's an "Indian" instrument (synthesized) playing at the end. Side B kicks off with A Tear for Eddie, and it's at least a relief for being completely instrumental. Supposedly, it's a homage to Eddie Hazel, from Funkadelic. It's a pretty faithful imitation of the style (Funkadelic was one of their big influences), with that deep phasing effect, and if this is a genuine homage (which is unclear, of course), it's a good one. The distorted solo at the end is good. Roses Are Free is a piece of faux-psychedelic pop with a boppy, heavily electronic sound, randomly meaningless lyrics, and a cleverly written chorus. I don't know what to say, really: it's not a bad tune, and the lyrics are not at all bad, but what is to be found interesting here? They did the "fuzzy-psychedelic" sound much, much, MUCH better on Marble Tulip Juicy Tree, which was invigorating, fun and dynamic; this one just drags and marches along lazily. The instrumental break adds some energy, but the rest is just the same on and on and on.

Now comes in the best song in the album BY FAR: Baby Bitch somehow recreates very nicely that 60's acoustic ballad schtick with Lennon-esque voice and singing, and the combination of laid back and "thoughtful" melody with completely crude and nasty lyrics has never been as good as here. I guess. The "baby, baby, baby bitchhhhh" chorus is brilliant, and the melody is catchy! I hope it's NOT an actual attack at an ex-girlfriend. They namedrop Birthday Boy from GodWeenSatan: The Oneness, sort of like Bob Dylan namedropped Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands on Sara. Hehe, great. Mister, Would You Please Help My Pony came in and, ergh: more of that "hahaha look how funny it is to be creepy" shit. At least the melody is kind of catchy, which can't be said about Spinal Meningitis, which barely had any melody at all. Look, I just won't say anything because I have nothing good to say about this song. I'll just prepare the next paragraph for when side C starts off with...

Drifter in the Dark, a pretty spot-on imitation of "Barbershop" tunes. It's spot-on and... ... ... um... ... yeah, spot-on. Look, I KNOW we don't find many albums out there that skip from rock 'n' roll to psychedelic pop to 60's folk to soul to barbershop quartet, and maybe that's because NOBODY CARES. I could be listening to, I dunno, The Cure right now. You know Faith? It's 40 minutes of the same thing, but it's GREAT. It's AWESOME. It's the same mood, the same sound, but THAT DOESN'T MATTER. Okay, now it's Voodoo Lady, a very, very, very awful piece of crap with an "ethnic" percussion beat (synthesized, of course) with tuneless singing and idiotic lyrics; yeah, I get the "boogie-oogie-oogie-oogie-oogie-oogie-oogie-oogie" is MEANT to be idiotic, but that alone doesn't make it good, does it? Erk, I hate this song; so completely dull and un-groovy! Oh, there come the fuzzy distorted guitars rising up and up and up and making noise all around. Yeah, the noise is cool, but unfortunately it's just a pale, pale ghost of a shadow of what the Mutantes were doing in Bat Macumba; it's so bad it doesn't even work as a joke. It's over now, and now it's Joppa Road, a quite funny and convincing parody of soft rock. The melody is obnoxiously repetitive, but this time it WORKS, because the jangly acoustic guitar and the "one-octave-apart" vocals are very, very spot-on. Yeah, Drifter in the Dark was also "spot-on", but at least this time it's a very relevant parody. Who cares about barbershop quartets, really? Now, this kind of sleazeball soft rock really deserves a comedic treatment, and it gets on. But yeah, it could be way shorter and the effect would have been far better. Now it's Candi. Sparse drum machine sounds bouncing left and right, a bit of bass guitar, a bit of guitar, a bit of muttering and NOTHING GOOD going on at all. Except for some of the noise, which is faintly entertaining. But the noise effects here are just trying to support the "joke"; what joke? I don't know. If this were one minute long, it would be okay, but it's actually four times longer than that. Eww. I almost wish I were listening to The Pod right now. Actually, I do wish. Man, WHY didn't they put the noise more on the centre of the song and get rid of the vocals? Damn. I dunno. I don't want to know.

Side D starts with Buenas Tardes Amigo, a song that gets all the critics wild with praise. It's a "spaghetti western" epic, seven minutes long, with solemn guitar strumming and Gene (maybe) singing slowly with a faint Mexican accent. It's awfully long, but it builds up as time goes on. It has a powerful solo and a "twist" at the end. I hate it. And it's followed up by the "amazing" H.I.V. Song. Do I need to say anything? No, it's NOT funny; this kind of "idiotic" and "offensive" humour needs EFFORT to work, and there's no effort here. What Deaner Was Talking About came in to wash the shit away, and yeah, it's a neat song. Not impressive or brilliant, but Gene's vocal delivery is good and the imitation of "heavenly" pop is very well done and all, but doesn't really achieve much more than what Pork Roll Eggs and Cheese achieved. But I won't complain. Now it's Don't Shit Where You Eat, a laid back acoustic tune. Okay, now it's over. Finally. And I complained about The Pod. Silly me! I didn't get their albums chronologically, but if I were doing that, I'd NEVER have guessed that they'd come up with such a wretched album.

Let's recapitulate: the good songs here are Take Me Away (sort of), A Tear for Eddie, Baby Bitch, Joppa Road and What Deaner Was Talking About. I'm not even sure about that list: some of those are only good when compared to the rest, because overall, they're just passable. Also maybe Roses Are Free and Don't Shit Where You Eat are not bad, but I don't care about them. The rest is either pure garbage or mindless fluff, and Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down) holds the honour of being the single most horrible song Ween ever put on a record (well, not including those cassette releases, but I never heard them and I don't think I really want to). Maybe it's the only Ween song I'd call "horrible"—I wouldn't call any of the other tracks here "awful". Either way, those "good" songs I singled out aren't even good to the point of me wanting to fish them out of the album for my enjoyment. Maybe Baby Bitch, but that's it. The rest can go to hell; including that album cover. What an ugly thing! Yeah, that's right: I'm not "offended" by it. It's just plain ugly, aesthetically unpleasant, and—of course—moronic, and NOT in the usual Ween way.

But stick around, guys. We're warming up.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Annotated Discography: Ween (part 3)

Pure Guava

Hooray! Finally the time comes for me to take a look at Ween's third offering. Actually, is ISN'T Ween's third offering if we consider all those cassette tapes made in the 80's, but, you know, let's not get into that discussion. This album, either way, is a landmark: it's Ween's first album on a major label. Elektra signed these guys, based on whatever criteria they came up with, and so Ween had a much larger budget and a pretty wide range of new possibilities to try. The result was... an album made on a 4 track recorder. Yeah, just like The Pod; the difference being that the sound is pushed way, way far into the "clean" side of it, and the songs, on average, seem to be far more entertaining. This is still a really huge polariser, though. Like The Pod, yeah; but better get into the actual walkthrough instead of try to explain it here, right?

Off we go!
And it's Little Birdy, which helps set the tone for the whole album. You got a lazy drum machine snapping away a mid tempo poppy ballad thing, a guitar that's weirdly caught between a fuzzy distortion and a clean strummy sound. Difficult to describe, like much in this album. It also seems to fluctuate very, very wildly up and down, as if they've got a very unreliable tape recorder. And the vocals? Very zoned-out kind of trippy, muttering rant, about a little birdy. Very, very, VERY The Pod-ish. Ok, now Gene Ween is ranting in a very nasal, whiny monotone. I think the thing that makes this stand out from the average Pod-mush is the bizarre mix of fuzz and cleanness in the sound. Also, the lyrics aren't trying too hard to freak you out -- it's the kind of stuff that some people would sing with all seriousness in the world, somewhere in the 60's; but it's vastly exaggerated here. And now we're into Tender Situation. Alarm bells go off; slow, sparse drum machine pattern, very sparse guitar picking, whispered vocals (yeah, as in, you gotta STICK your ears to the speakers to make out the words), and they're saying "taste the waste, man, taste the waste". Yeah, I know I'm supposed to take this song as a gag, but it goes on and on and on. Right, now we bump into a very amusing synthesizer "solo"; ok, glad to know they're up to SOMETHING here, not just the whispery whispers -- but the song still goes on and on. Now-- WOW, what is this? It's The Stallion, part 3, but it's unlike ANYTHING in the previous two parts. Man, barely 20 seconds into the song you can tell it's going to be AMAZING. And it IS. Somehow, they came up with a mix of drum machines and clean guitar picking (with a heavy flanging effect) that's plainly gorgeous, and the vocals are helium-powered (Gene or Dean? Can't tell), and it's doing a VERY convincing imitation of 70's prog rock pomposity. It's amazing, truly. And it ends with "Hey dude, he's the Stallion!" muttered in a hilarious, idiotic moron voice. Great guitar solo, too. Okay, I'm hooked.

Big Jilm. Slowed down vocals muttering some garbage, and every line ends with an exclaimed "Big Jilm!". It's not too slow, and the guitars are strummy and sort of bluesy. It's funny, in a way, and it doesn't get to the point of being too repetitive and annoying. It knows when to shut up, fortunately. Push th' Little Daisies is on now. I LOVE THIS TRACK. Gene's delivery is laugh-out-loud hilarious, and combines obnoxiousness and catchiness in a completely irresistible and spontaneous manner. Awesome rhythm and guitar work! Love it, just love it; this track tramples about 90% of the songs in the two previous albums. It was Ween's "big hit", too, featured on Beavis and Butthead. Shame people didn't get the joke and thought Ween was the stupidest pile of shit goin' on. But, then again, are we gonna expect anything from the MTV audiences? Heh. This helped give Ween their image as a "novelty band", though, sadly. I STILL love the song, though. The Goin' Gets Tough from the Getgo is on now. Is this a sort of parody on hip hop, or rap, or something like that? Funky rhythm patterns, spoken lyrics. By the way, the lyrics are really funny -- the mixture between inane cursing and "serious" life messages is SPOT ON, and the constant exchanges between the two come just in the right time to highlight how absurd the thing really is. I'm already halfway convinced THIS is the album The Pod should have been all along.

Reggaejunkiejew -- what? What kind of title is that? Wait until you listen to it: it kicks off with a totally crazy rhythm on a drum machine. The vocals have a "telephone" filter applied to them. They're violently cursing and insulting some wosshisface Rastafari figure or something. Might probably be a comment on marijuana smoking kids who think rastafarianism is "cool", or maybe Ween are just being dicks. Who knows, this song still has some of the best uses of "fuck you" in a song. Check it out! And the synth solo? Freaky. As far as I can guess, each of them is playing a very rudimentary, toy-like synth. Unbelievable sound here; I'm already impressed by this album. Now we get into I Play It Off Legit. The music so far is sparse, again, with some loud percussion sounds and vibraphone-like sounds, and moaned words. The guys really have a field day rhyming "shit" with "legit". I think I can just get into the song alright after the amazing stuff I heard on this track. But, yeah, if this song were on The Pod, it would merely help to bog the experience down even further. In this context, this imitation of a completely stoned, fuck-the-world atmosphere sounds quite convincing. Now, Pumpin' 4 the Man? Wow! Lightning fast, sort of a country mockery -- the drum machine just speeds along, and the vocals follow suit! I can barely review it! All I know it's very entertaining; great vocals there. It's one minute and a half long, of course; blink and you'll miss it. But DON'T miss it. And now, it's a ballad. Sure enough, Sarah has helium vocals and spaced out guitar strumming, so don't get it confused with a "genuine" song. It's not particularly impressive, though; Ween has done better as far as parodies of "romantic" songs go. But it's not bad at all. Springtheme kicks in. Okay, it's not really that good -- fairly catchy, but not impressive. Slow, "spaced-out" faux-psychedelic mood with helium vocals and nifty bass playing; and off we go with Flies on My Dick. Lovely title. Ohh, no, there comes that SLOW, SLOW rhythm. It's The Pod all over again. Yep, this is EXACTLY like The Pod, slowed down drums and muttered vocals and all. The guitar solo is quite entertaining, though. I don't care about this song, though, either way, and it goes on for way too long. I Saw Gener Cryin' in His Sleep is funny, though, with a silly, idiotic "country" mood and weird effects with microphones. It sounds like they're playing feedback, so they audibly mess up the trick on the very first chorus and Gene (?) yells out "We fucked it up again!" in the background. Catchy, funny, short track. Nice. And Touch My Tooter is slow, fuzzed all the way to oblivion and with screamed, out of tune vocals. A parody on "grunge", perhaps? It's entertaining; as much as it goes into the "murky" territory of the previous album, at least it moves, you know?

Mourning Glory (sic) already starts off foreboding enough, with a sound VERY saturated in the low end and echoed vocals, feedback bursts, barely intelligible words. It's just almost impossible to tell what's going on, but I can tell it's purposefully messed up and "badly" recorded -- they just love messing around with the tape, without regards to how it's gonna sound. This isn't really the kind of stuff I enjoy from these guys, but this is SO messed up and random, I can't help but stop and listen closely. Really, there is NO regard for how the final result will sound like; they're just sabotaging the tape, the guitars (?) screech and feedback, and... eh. I don't know. I don't even care about the lyrics, and I wonder if I should. And that was FIVE minutes of it. I just wonder how I managed to sit through it. Just, wow. Loving U Thru It All; ballad-like, very gentle guitar picking, sounds a lot like Led Zeppelin, except the vocals are all slowed down and moany. It IS a pretty convincing imitation of Jimmy Page's guitar playing -- though they do screw the thing up at times. And the vocals are just plain funny -- they sing it in short bursts, and the double-tracking is hardly ever in agreement. Heh heh. Now it's Hey Fat Boy (Asshole). It's fuzzy and messy, and the vocals sound like they're shouted into a metal box. I can already tell it's going to me mindlessly repetitive and monotonous, but at least it's sort, and the sound effects are interesting. Wow, there are only three tracks remaining? I hardly saw the whole thing go by! Ok, I've already had enough of this song; I do know "Come here! You killed my mother" is a pretty weird thing to sing, but still...

Don't Get 2 Close (2 My Fantasy); the guitars are strummy and lightly flanged, sort of like a crossover between Led Zeppelin and prog rock ballads, and the vocals are kind of "serious" (in a parodic way, of course), and the chorus? Oh, goodness, this is CATCHY! As HELL! The lyrics are hilariously "serious" and inane and overblown, almost like a reprise of The Stallion, part 3. I love it. "Don't be afraid to clutch the hand of your creator"! Awesome. Great guitar playing. And the whistling near the end? Amazing. And it ends with an "a capella" chorus! This is MORE than just amazing; it's brilliant. And, to close the thing off, it's Poop Ship Destroyer, with a simple drum machine pattern, a moronic little "marimba" tune, sparse fuzzy guitar chords, and muttered vocals. The lyrics are kind of twisted, but funny -- I'm not a fan of scatology, but the "sci fi", space terms are so jarring in this context, it's brilliant. "Let's cruise past all the golden poo"? Unbelievable.

I'll be honest with you: I had listened to this album, I think, twice until now. The reviews and opinions I read on it were nowhere NEAR a consensus. All Music Guide gave a perfect score to it (the only one Ween got!). The first times I listened to it left me sort of, well, clueless. But NOW, listening to it, I'm convinced: it's a great album. It's SOLID, you know? Even if it's got some tracks I utterly don't care about, they at least are part of an overall picture, and this time it's a picture that I care about. GodWeenSatan: The Oneness was a mixed bag of brilliance, garbage and pointlessless, while The Pod was bogged down by unfortunate, LONG stretches of pointless mush, but this time around, the "mushy" bits are nicely integrated into a much more varied, interesting work. It DOES sound like a dead-end, though; it's the kind of album that just can't be built upon, you know? So, Ween took the logical, reasonable route and decided to upgrade their sound completely and rise into a new level altogether, and they did that masterfully.

What they did NOT do masterfully, though, was make a good album, so Chocolate and Cheese sucks. Hard. More on that later.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Of Politics and Twitter stalking

This week I heard about an absolutely pathetic event regarding so called "celebrities" on Twitter. I'll briefly narrate it here. On one side, North-American actor Ashton Kutcher became a sort of celebrity in Brazil through Twitter, after the last football match between the USA and Brazil. On the other side, the Brazilian Senate is going through a very turbulent period, and its president is under pressure to leave his position. So, a group of "celebrities" started a campaign to get Kutcher to join the Twitter campaign against the president; the most notorious being a "humourist" (*snicker*), a "musician" (*pfft!*) and an "actor" (*choke*), here dubbed the Three Stooges. Yes, in case you didn't notice, those folks -- among others -- started bugging Mr. Kutcher PERSONALLY, on Twitter, to join a "campaign" against a politician he never heard about from a country that isn't his. I'll let you digest that for a while before I discuss it. But, suffice to say, after about half a dozen Twitter messages, Kutcher finally replies with an epic knock-out:

Only U have the power 2 impeach your senator. It's YOUR country U have 2 stand 4 what you believe.

Fortunately the "campaign" died after that.

Now, I'm one who thinks the president of the Senate, José Sarney, is the kind of politician that needs to disappear from this country, and he definitely needs to take a hike. The important thing to notice is, as much as it's important for people to make their voice heard about these issues, it's NOT my impeaching that guy that all our problems will be solved; that is nothing but a single tiny piece of a huge, monstrous machine of corruption. However, this whole "campaign" -- contrary to what you may be thinking -- does NOT leave the realms of Twitter and invade real life. No: that "campaign" consists of a handful of "celebrities" and a load of people who can't bother to get their asses off their seats and go out to the streets, and merely want the Internet to magically solve their problems. I know the Internet has been changing the whole social and political scenery of the world dramatically, but it's still NOT able to singlehandedly heal our problems; and those people either can't see that, or willingly DON'T see it. I think it's the latter, honestly.

And to make matters worse, those people were trying to enlist the help of a foreigner. We're not even talking about an influential leader or an outspoken personality; no, we're talking about an actor who happened to get into a -- massive, yes, but still -- harmless football joke on Twitter. It's sad to see our country is in the hands of corrupt leaders, yes, but it's even sadder to see the "personalities" opposing corruption are brainless slugs engulfed by the comfortable numbness of their luxurious apartments. And as great as Kutcher's response was, it will NOT help change their minds; it's easy to misread "only YOU have the power" as "you can't depend on me, so just give up".

Click here to see the story in further details -- the text is in Portuguese, but most of the original messages are in English.

Side note:
Review of Pure Guava may take a little longer to come out. This term isn't over yet...

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Just in case...

... you bump into any old post in which I proclaim myself as an xkcd fan, PLEASE don't confuse me with the fanatical "forumites" which will go to the greatest lengths to proclaim ANY xkcd strip as comedic genius just to look cool and "in". In fact, I'm a fairly annoyingly and persistently vocal critic of the bad strips (which are becoming worryingly frequent recently), yet on the other hand I strongly oppose the highly illogical and inane rants from that xkcd: Overrated blog (yes, "blog", not "blag"; it's not funny anymore). So I'm sort of middle ground here: I'm not a very harsh critic of xkcd, and I usually enjoy the strips, but I definitely don't want to wear the "I'm an xkcd fan and that makes me insta-cool and I suck Randall Munroe's penis because that makes me awesome" card because, really, what the hell? Guys, you may think I'm exaggerating here, but, guys! Seriously, like, guys, really! Like, guys, like, really, seriously! Like, guys...

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Annotated Discography: Ween (part 2)

The Pod takes its title, allegedly, from the nickname the band gave to the place they were living in while doing the album. That is: there really ain't any "sci fi" connotations going on here. What there is, though, is a harsh return to the band's roots of recording music on a 4-track tape recorder. The album's sound is quite a mile away from the debut, but their sense of humour is still present. This means what you get here is a... Well, my opinion is that this is one of those albums that are definitely weird, but weird in such an aimless way, that it ends up being just pointless. They're just mashing up things that were done way too many times before, and there's little place for parody and humour that I could possibly relate to. As much as GodWeenSatan: The Oneness had parts that reached back to the awful homemade cassette tapes they did, this album sounds almost entirely like one. Perhaps they took some serious lessons on how to craft actual musical pieces, but there's little here to truly grasp and digest. "Oh, but this is their challenging album!", the rabid fans say. Well, I consider this "challenging" thing as an euphemism to "bloody stupid".

But let's go through the entire album so I can explain myself better.

The album actually starts off in a great tone: Strap On That Jammy Pac kicks off the way a country song or something would kick off, with quickly strummed guitar and a drum roll. And then... well, the song stays that way all the way through! It stops on its tracks from time to time, kicking back into action with a snare hit. Very funny trick. Other than you, you get this silly voice singing some weird stuff in a weird tone. This is Dean Ween singing, I suppose, but I really can only barely discern their voices, especially since they don't try too hard making them discernible here. Anyway, as for an album opener goes, it's great, and doesn't overstay its welcome at all. And, whoa, what's with that volume swell at the end?
Dr. Rock has distorted guitar, strangely electronic-sounding drums and vocals filtered through some phasing effect. The melody at the start sort of reminds me of Heroes and Villains. The song rocks, actually; it's invigorating and reasonably catchy. This is one of the tracks that's most probably be stuck to your brain on the first listens (though the rest of the album tries HARD to erase your memories of it completely). It sounds really convincing, and the nicely executed "spacey" break at the middle leads into a guitar solo. The vocal wails are great, too. It ends and leads into Frank, which already sets the tone for the rest of the album. There's a strange percussion loop going on, and it definitely sounds slowed down (pay attention to the snare drum and you'll hear), and they lay some fuzzy, SLOW guitar riffing and tuneless groaning vocals on top (by the way, I just noticed the lyrics mention "pork roll egg and cheese" -- read on). If this is supposed to be funny, I guess the humour just misses me completely. It's not a nominally bad song, and in this position it actually seems effective. But, ohh, WHY does the rest of the album have to sound like THIS instead of like Dr. Rock? Oh, ok, the "psychedelic" guitar solo is quite cool. It's pretty long, too, at 3:46 -- considering GodWeenSatan: The Oneness standards. At some point, it just goes on and on, only giving some relief with the cacophonous noise eats the song alive at the end. Sorry Charlie is a ballad, sort of, with a faintly "country" flavour and heavily filtered, barely distinguishable vocals. I'll say, it's a very convincing imitation of the kind of "country ballad" the Rolling Stones would enjoy covering somewhere in the late 60's. I can see that the filtered vocals, as exaggerated as they are, isn't really going overboard considering they're NOT doing a serious ballad ("And your girlfriend, she's in high school / she says she loves you a lot / lord knows she can't support you / so you better sell more pot," huh?).

The Stallion, part 1, already goes back to the Frank mood WAY too soon. This time, at least, the guitar is much, much more brutal, and the vocals are just a purposefully incoherent angry ramble with about one swear word in each line. "I'm the fucking stallion, man / The stallion". "You goddamn son of a bitch / You fucking piece of shit". Yeah, that's about it. They're just trying to puzzle you, really (though I wouldn't be surprised if the "stallion" is just one of those stupid inside jokes nobody other than Ween themselves care about). Pollo Asado is just completely wicked -- a plain little ditty with heavily clean and electronic "feel good" guitars over electronic rhythms, and one of the guys (Gene, perhaps?) ordering Mexican food with a stupid Mexican food. Really, it's just that, and it's actually very amusing. Now, Right to the Ways and the Rules of the World is absolutely unbelievable; a sort of cross over between pompous 70's Prog rock ballads and the folk epics the likes of Bob Dylan would perform before going "electric". I don't know exactly what they're mocking, but they do it well: the lyrics are pompous and completely senseless, and the solemnly strummed guitar is countered by a jarringly loud organ (listening to Sister Ray much?), and the passionately yelled vocals in the "verses" is niftily countered by the plain "moaning" of the song title. They actually start laughing on the last chorus. Again, it seems like they genuinely cracked up, and then tried to make it sound intentional. I'm actually sounding kind of incoherent, since the album's been actually very good so far, and nothing like the first paragraph suggested. But this song ends side one, and we're off into side two with Captain Fantasy, a slow rocker with a pretty passionate vocal delivery by Gene Ween (it SOUNDS like him, at least). It's pretty catchy! Really good falsettos in the chorus. You'll notice that the drum track is provided by a drum machine, and most tracks here are like that. Can't afford a real drummer, ya know!

Now, there's this slow tune called Demon Sweat. VERY slow electronic drum pattern, and a very interesting keyboard loop (you know what? This keyboard thing sort of reminds me of the stuff Aphex Twin did on Selected Ambient Works vol. II, which is definitely a good thing). Aside from that, they're playing some understated guitar and singing some "melancholy" stuff. And then, it just kicks off into an organ driven guitar climax. And for some reason, they're screwing up with the tape speed. Now, there's Molly -- a slowed down drum pattern with a sort of "metallic" echo effect applied to it (kind of reminds me of some experiments of "krautrock" bands or something), but on top of that, they just sing with a painfully obnoxious "stutter": "T-t-t-te-e-ell-me-what-you-wa-a-a-a-ant-and-I'll-give-it-to-yo-o-o-o-o-OUU!". SHUT UP, dammit. Nearly 5 minutes for an unfunny skit like this? Yeah, "challenging", I get it. And they screw up some more with the tape speed, and lead to Can U Taste the Waste, which at least is short. Less than two minutes, it's sort of a parody of heavy metal -- more specific the "doom" like, slow, heavily distorted metal that goes "CHUGA-ch-ch-chug-a-CHUG-ch-ch-chug", and I really care very, very little about those stupid metal sub-sub-subgenres in order to give it a specific name. It's just the chug-a-chug and a whispered voice repeating the song title. That's all. Don't Sweat It comes around, and I realise we're already into the completely dull and uninteresting portion of the album (that lasts until, oh, until the third to last track). There isn't much to say about this song: "bored" sounding vocals, slow electronic rhythm, distorted and phased-out guitar chords. It gets louder halfway through and features a guitar solo, but I really don't care anymore. Side two is over. Actually, I wrote that a good 20 seconds before it actually ended. Yeah, there.

We're off with Awesome Sound. Slow rhythm, fuzzed guitar and fat bass, moronic groaning vocals by Dean (again, I only suppose). "Pork roll egg cheese and bacon". Hm, I'm sort of noticing a pattern. It's short, but it's even more moronically repetitive than before. The guys sound like they're enjoying themselves near the end, but I sure as hell am not enjoying myself. Laura. Oh, crap, can I just skip to the end of the album now? Really, maybe I'm too shallow to get the humour here, and the brilliance lies exactly IN how these songs sound so bored and moronic. Yeah, the liner notes state they consumed 5 whole cans of Scotchgard during the recording, but the guys themselves later revealed it was just a joke (duh). Maybe they're emulating the feeling of actually being stoned; in which case, I couldn't care less. Damn, I'm not even describing the song. Slow rhythm, fuzzy guitar, obnoxious vocals. There. Ok, the guitar chaos gets pretty cool now, near the end; yeah, after three and a half minutes of garbage. Boing. Boing? BOING?? They aren't even trying anymore, are they? At least it breaks the mold a bit, with a sort of freaked-out quiet blues, with slowed down vocals. Mononucleosis, now, is actually written after a REAL case of mononucleosis the guys got. At least here I can see a justification for this kind of sound, since it emulates the sick feeling quite well. Great guitar solo. Sort of catchy tune, in fact; at this point in the album, it's a relief. Relief? Oh My Dear (Falling in Love) certainly sounds like that! A "gentle" little lighthearted jab at love ballads; sort of a more "mature" version of Don't Laugh (I Love You). Sketches of Winkle -- a fast, furious, distorted rocker. Gee, thanks for boosting up the energy a bit. I needed that, guys; but I wonder, maybe, if it's too late already? That stretch from tracks 9 to 15 just killed me. Great riff, though.

With Alone, we open side four; with a very, very quiet drum pattern and a very, very quiet (and really good) bass line. And very, very quiet vocals. I guess it's a good tune, but only contributes to the lethargy. Really, by now I'm just bored. More fiddling with tape speed. Moving Away; has a strange, "blues" twist to it, but like it's something out of those pompous 80's hard rock songs, with some restrained wails and "passionate" singing. Note: the instrumentation if very, very sparse; but I like it how the tension is boosted by this simple trick of making it sound like everything is just about to explode any time. Pretty funny, in fact. Yep, you read it right: I find it genuinely funny. Ok, the fake "gospel" female vocals (Gene with the tape sped up) are downright hilarious. Great stuff. She Fucks Me. Oh, damn. Very slow rhythm again, radically out of tune guitar, slowed down spoken voices -- two of them at the same time. One of the voices is just repeating "Pork roll egg and cheese on a kaiser bun" (I just realised that right now, reading the lyrics Amarok pulled up for me). I suppose the jarring mix of sentimental words of love and "she fucks me" is amusing, but the morose instrumentation at this point in the album just makes this thing sound like mush. And, goodness, is it long! They could have as well chopped it up in half. Now, 'Pork Roll Egg and Cheese' (yeah, you BET there was a pattern going on), and it's a relatively uplifting "pop" song, with Prozac-y vocals and clean guitars. It's pretty catchy, and at this point, it sure as hell is refreshing, and the freaked out ending is funny too. And, oh, FINALLY, the last track; The Stallion, part 2, is quite different from part 1, and it's... oh, crap: slow rhythm, distorted guitar, moronic vocals. At least the lyrics and the vocal performance are pretty entertaining, with the titular "Stallion" making a complete ass out of himself; you won't believe it until you hear him getting so obsessed with spelling out his name that he spells out nearly the entire alphabet just to show how absolutely awesome his name is. Gee, why did it take them so long to make something actually amusing out of the "slow and distorted" formula? Dammit. It fades out, and kicks back in for a final wind. Gotta dig those moronic, pompous lyrics. And it's over. Ohh, YES, it's over. Ok, I'll be fair: there ARE very good stretches of music in the record. Side A is pretty much entirely classy. But once it starts to sag, it REALLY, REALLY sags, and kills the whole experience for me. No, I don't get why it should be "challenging" and "difficult". Challenging and difficult don't necessarily mean "good": they just mean challenging and difficult, simple as that. And in this case, the reward is pretty much zilch. I just don't enjoy the record. Maybe I've listened to it too few times? Maybe should I keep on trying? WHY? You'll see, later on, why I give such little importance to this record.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Cheap excuse

I'm absolutely loaded with stuff to do recently, and I'm seriously out of time to keep up with the annotated discography for now -- but instead of letting it die painfully, I'm keeping my energies to fully endure and write about The Pod the same way I did with the previous Ween record. I'm not giving up, folks, I'm just burdened. I've even put the work on my album on hold. But it'll end soon, and maybe this weekend I'll keep up with the posting again.

Aside note: Stereolab went "on hiatus" more than two months ago. That sucks. Of course the guys are certainly doing what's best for them, and they souldn't force themselves to keep the band up just because some lousy fans want them to and churn out half-assed albums, but... I feel sort of worried with that "hiatus". I hope they do come back, however long it takes. If they break up, it'll be a shame. Chemical Chords is one of the best records they ever released, and if they have it in them to make another album up to that standard, I want to live to hear it. Either way, Mr. Gane, Miss Sadier, rock on. You've done much, much more for music than one could reasonably demand. I'm honestly a fan of yours and of everyone who contributed to that magnificent legacy.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Annotated Discography: Ween (part 1)

I've decided to do here a bit of what I used to do on my old reviews website. Sort of. Though I'll do it differently. Sort of. See, there are certain bands that certainly deserve to have their discography carefully "walkedthrough", for some reason. It's a completely arbitrary choice, but I'll do it anyway. So, what band do we have here? Ween? You might have heard their Push th' Little Daisies song. It's obnoxious, silly, and ear-wormingly annoying. And that's just the point. A lot of people praise Ween for their diversity, or for their originality, or for their extremely witty and clever way of parodying and deconstructing well known music styles. I praise Ween for none of those. Diversity? To the hell with diversity. I don't need to listen to 30 different genres coming from the same band -- I can just listen to different bands, you know! Besides, if they're versatile, good for them -- that's the LEAST I expect from a decent band. Originality? Hardly. Think Frank Zappa. Think os Mutantes. Parody and deconstruction? Sometimes, I wonder if they really intend to do that at all. Case in point: GodWeenSatan: The Oneness. Is it really a carefully thought-out parody of the current musical scenes, using nonsense and absurdity to reach the core of rock 'n' roll? Or were they just having fun? To boot, several of the "rocking" tracks were lifting from homemade cassette tapes they recorded and released in ultra-obscure labels and which now are only available as FLAC recordings of second-generation copies which you can find in BrownTracker. By that time, they were certainly having fun. So why wouldn't they be now? Okay, but let's slow down. Here the plan: I'll put the album on, and write down my thought as it goes. Don't expect anything real-time: I'm not that fast, and I'll occasionally stop the playback to let the thoughts sink in. Let's start.

You Fucked Up. Pounding, heavy riff rocker, with yelled vocals. Sets the tone for most of the album. It's so over-the-top, it DEFINES over-the-top. This is one of the songs that date back to the duo's homemade cassette albums. It's short. Matter of fact, it's over already, and here comes Tick. It starts "novelty" style with silly vocals and a thumpa-thumpa-thumpa rhythm before it goes into hard rock again. Guys, seriously, do you call THIS "deconstruction"? Parody? Parody of WHAT? It's just two guys having fun in the studio, because they can. So far, we can observe that their guitar playing is competent, and the riffs are GOOD. As in, ROCK OUT GOOD. Melody? None. Lyrics? Stupid. Fun? Yeah.

I'm in the Mood to Move. The first thing we could call "parody" here, and it seems to be mocking "macho" rock, with extremely sparse percussion and a two note bass riff. Repetitive as hell. Short. Obviously done for laughs. Gots a Weasel? Boogie style tune with a really clever diminished-chord ascending guitar riff and stupid lyrics and pretty convincing vocals. Really random yells alternating speakers. Okay, this IS really fun. It's a neatly constructed song, obviously silly but not going for excess just for excess' sake. Now it's... oh, Fat Lenny. Repetitive, dull guitar riff and obnoxious yelling on top. I've seen a comment somewhere that it sounds like Cartman, from South Park. It does! But it's not supposed to BE like Cartman, because this is just juvenile dickery. Pointless. Fun? Not really. Oh, and if you listen to Ween, you're gonna bump into the expression "lick my/your brain/mind" A LOT. Why? I think they forget they already used that "clever" phrase and use it again. And here we segue into Cold and Wet, and this stuff starts sounding like mush already. Nothing new here. At least the songs are short, and this time we have a foot-tapping rhythm and a catchy guitar riff and one guitar playing in each speaker, playing the same thing. Pretty competent!

Bumblebee. More juvenile dickery. If I'm not mistaken, this also dates back from the homemade tapes, and it does sound like something a 14-year-old would laugh his head off at. "Oh", you say, "but this is parody! It's deconstruction!" Oh, yeah: they're deconstructing... um... well, they're making a parody of... um... of WHAT, people? There's no parody here! By the way, I'm listening to the reissue that includes 3 tracks, so I'm now in part 2; and I wish they had left this out. This is just two guys making inside humour, and it only sounds neat because it was done in a studio. And now it's Don't Laugh (I Love You). Okay, this is great! Really great! Now THIS is something I'd call parody, and not a heavy-handed parody, but a lighthearted joke. Start with the title: awesome stuff. Sunshine bubblegum pop but with helium vocals. Catchy and funny. The "Ernest Hemingway" bit is awful, though -- WAY too "haha nonsense is funny" for my taste. The tingly rhythm guitar is also great, as is the "nyoo nyoo nyoo" solo. THIS is really great stuff, poking fun at excessive repetition as a way to force the "catchiness" into your brain. The coda? I could live without that one, actually. Guys, I did realise it was a joke, I'm not stupid. SHUT UP, goddammit.

Never Squeal has a very, very clever riff and a groovy boogie rhythm. The spoken vocals are worthless, but they're not really the point. The point is... uh, well, I guess they are the point. I just focus on the rhythm and the riff, which are great. Those breaks are great, too. And here comes... the chainsaw solo. This is one of the best parts of the album, really -- the song builds intensity, builds, and in comes the chainsaw! This is one of those great juvenile ideas that don't seem stupid. Side 1 ends, and we go into Up on the Hill. Can I be frank? The "Boognish" schtick is the worst thing they had come up with to that point. Even they admitted that by pretty much abandoning that shit later on. The a capella gospel parody is great, sounding pretty convincing even being an obvious joke. Great stuff. When it turns into "hardcore", the humour is lost completely, because like I said, this Boognish crap is worthless. Aside from that, the lyrics pick on gospel cliches really neatly. And then, Wayne's Pet Youngin'. Is it just me, or is the counting at the beginning the best part? Other than that, this is just mush, just like those first seven songs. Maybe it's just a way to pump up energy before the following track:

Nicole. As far as I know, this is meant to be a doo wop send up, but done with a reggae tinge. Hmm, did anyone else think D'yer Mak'r? True, it sounds completely different. Nicole is slow, and sounds more like the electro-fake reggae of the 80's or such. It's actually catchy, I'll admit. But it's nine minutes long. Why? Well, because it keeps building those weird sound effects and those off beat percussion echo effects (a reference to Jamaican dub). The combination of instruments, with that weird voicebox and the subtle electric piano and guitars is pretty good. It's enjoyable, and the singing is funny without being annoying. Halfway through, the verses go away, and we're left with the sonic marathon of hell. It's actually not very chaotic, really: the dub-ish percussion gets more intense, the sweeping noises become more frequent, the voicebox goes haywire, some "telephone" voices appear speaking shit, and that's pretty much it. What's the intended effect?... I'm at a loss. Man, I can only imagine how much time they spent making that stuff and layering them into a 9 minute song. So much ado about nothing. There's a funny use of the dub-echo, when they say "Fuck it! Fuck it! Fucker!-er!-er!-er!-er!". That's funny, but not that much. Most of the voices are just empty dickery. Yeah. This is not really "intelligent parody", is it? It's just silly humour. Nothing WRONG with that, but not my style. Common Bitch, now, does sound like a deconstruction -- it's not just over-the-top, but hateful and vicious. And the yelling at the intro is funny, too. This is not just "exaggerated" -- this is actually a good representation of what "angry" music sounded by that time.

And now comes one of those tracks that make the "diversity" fans have multiple orgasms. El Camino. "Oh, my God! A Mexican song! These guys are so diverse!" Ah, come on! They're just piecing together Mexican cliches that even a kid could assemble, and throwing rock arrangements on top. Not that it isn't funny -- it is! It's enjoyable as hell, because it shows the guys aren't doing it for fun, not to show off how clever they are. It's not a "clever" song -- it's an obvious song, but very well executed and fun. Old Queen Cole, now, is a song I always forget entirely. More mush, basically. Nothing to distinguish it from the rest, other than the wild guitar noise. Stacey, also an add on for the issue, is more of the same. I could as well skip it, straight into side 3.

Nan is great. Really, really wicked rhythm and guitar work these guys got going here. Even if it was entirely instrumental, it'd be one of my favourites, actually! But it has vocals, and actually, they work! They create this really, really obnoxious and atrociously annoying character who won't shut up, and their performance is brilliant. It seems they're abandoning the "juvenile" aspect here and going for something more convincing. As much as they're running amok with swearwords, they're not just gratuitous grossness. And we're into Licking the Palm for Guava... okay, forget what I said. We're back into the juvenile camp, except this time the sound is saturated to all hell, and when the vocals stop, it's flooded by ear-piercing feedback -- and it segues straight into Mushroom Festival in Hell, which sounds the same!! I'll admit: the squealing in the segue is awesome. The song itself? At least it pumps some energy into the sound, and the lyrics are an obvious send up of "menacing", pretentious heavy metal -- except with the stupid "lick the mind" line again. Guys, it's clever, but it's only clever ONCE. Funny singing, though. It's not a bad song. Maybe one of the best here, in fact. Now, L.M.L.Y.P. IS, by far, one of the best in here. A Prince parody! A hell of a convincing Prince parody! The guys do pretty much everything right! Matter of fact, I think I don't have ANY criticism here. Funny, intelligent, over-the-top at JUST the right measure, disgusting and ridiculous, and they get the wah-wah licks just right! Fantastic. And, unlike Nicole, the length is entirely justified. Love the "rap" section and the way it gets pretty much unintelligible. And the brilliant bass riff? Yup, that too. I'm also so, so, so very glad for them to make this kind of disgusting, gratuitous "sexiness" sound absolutely, laughably ridiculous. Thank you, guys, the world needs more of this. I know they didn't intend to attack Prince, since they're actually paying homage here, but I do want to attack and destroy that kind of thing, and this song suits me fine. That's not the biggest reason why I like this song, though -- I'm just being a pedantic prick.

"Shit, baby!" That's just priceless.

Shame it leads into the idiotic Papa Zit. More mush? BAD mush? Awful mush? Dammit, guys. Terrible.

Anyway, Hippy Smell is the only song on the reissue that I really like, though it sounds a bit out-of-place here. But it's funny, and actually a really catchy piece of "acoustic pop". It sounds out of place because side 3 originally ended in a very, very abrupt way with the 19-second-long country rant Old Man Thunder, which is meant to sound completely unintelligible and meaningless after the third word. THIS is funny! I like it.

Side 4 begins with a sample from Echoes, by Pink Floyd. Why? I don't know, but it leads into Birthday Boy, probably a parody of 80's "indie" pop, which is solely electric guitar (gently strummed and FUZZED ALL THE WAY TO OBLIVION) and voice. It's a great song, actually! It's obviously jokey, but the joke doesn't get in the way of enjoyment. Also, does anyone BELIEVE it when he says "Jesus Christ, the pain! Take one!". Take one? Yeah, sure. And it ends with another sample from Echoes. The guys are Pink Floyd fans, in fact. Good for them and good for everyone. Now, Blackjack, featuring a stupid little percussion loop done on what's probably an old Casio keyboard (I have one of those!), a single bass note banging on, waxing-and-waning, and the guys repeating dumb words rhythmically. This is probably the most gratuitously dumb song in the album, and I actually don't criticise it -- at this point, it almost seems like a joke on their own dumb jokes. And they start yelling, and shouting, THE SAME WORDS. And at four-and-a-half minutes, it does seem like an eternity. And that obnoxious "laugther" near the end? Ouch. In fact, I don't know if I'm listening wrong, but it sounds like they start laughing genuinely, and then fake the laughter all the way into obnoxiousness. I don't know. It's just a guess.

From there, we go into Squelch the Weasel, a very convincing and genuine parody of "medieval" ballads from British prog bands. Notice how the lyrics are completely inane, but peppered with "beautiful" words. And the singing? Who are they imitating here? I'd guess Greg Lake, and it sounds very convincing. Then it leads into a great contender for the spot of my favourite song in the album. Marble Tulip Juicy Tree is unbelievable, and if you wish to salvage a single song from the album (why??), I'd seriously consider suggesting this one: an absolutely awesome parody of psychedelic rock with JUST the right mixture of distorted guitar, backwards buzzy guitar and helium vocals, and the melody is brilliant! And the spoken word at the end closes everything with the golden key. Great, great song, up there with the Ween classics... only followed by the dumb "pot song" Puffy Cloud. I can't find any way to describe other than "dumb". And all that giggling? I can only guess they weren't supposed to be genuine, because if they were, they pretty much failed.

And it ends. And I'll admit, I didn't put myself in the best of the moods to review this album. But I was merely taking it for what it is: a "shut your brain off and enjoy" album. The problem here is that the album doesn't INVITE you to shut your brain off; and if I'm willing to go into that kind of fun, I won't look for two kids doing inside jokes. Besides, the album itself shows that things doesn't need to be brainless in order to be fun: Nan, L.Y.L.Y.P. and Marble Tulip Juicy Tree are extremely fun and enjoyable, and there's obviously something else going on other than sheer mindless fun. In short, this album shows potential. It doesn't show ONLY potential, though: some excellent songs made their way here, but they're surrounded by muck. But I'd be lying if I said I don't enjoy this album at times. I do. Or, at least, I did. But this is just the first of ten albums to be reviewed. Don't lose me yet.