Tuesday, 13 January 2009

"New" album

So, after a short period of waiting, Jamendo put up my "new" album. It's "new" because it's not new, but I see it as a sort of reissue, in a more official fashion. "Better Than the Beatles!" (the quotes are part of the title, since it indicates it's a paraphrase and and irony) is the album immediately previous to Big Robot, Little Robot, and I'm publishing it mostly because I recently "rediscovered" it and realised it's actually quite good, even though it's quite a mish-mash of stuff. It's got but 5 tracks, and musically they're completely distinct, but conceptually, it does have a common thread uniting them.

The basic idea is that, after completing three albums using not much more than General MIDI sounds, I was being confronted with the idea that the albums were not very good because: a) they sounded unrealistic and annoyingly video-gamey and; b) they sounded unemotional. I can understand a), because I was only making music that way because of my poor equipment (an old AMD K6 computer with dial-up Internet), but b) left me quite puzzled. I highly doubted the notion that says the fact that I make music with genuine care and attention means nothing to the final product, and that merely tweaking the veloticies and positions of the notes slightly would make it more realistic and thus more "emotional". In that case, emotion is a fakery! A forgery! A blatant lie! That bothered me deeply, and I decided to put that to the test.

The idea here is that, basically, each track approaches that problem from a different angle. The two songs on side A have vocals. Yes, folks, I SING on those tracks. The first one is 'Thunders', a 16 minute monster with a sort of talkin' blues rant against, of all things, rain (that explains the cover artwork). The first half was recorded entirely on a very old Casio keyboard I owned since I was a kid. It's controlled via MIDI by the computer, and there's no handplaying at all - yet it gets VERY intense at parts, culminating in a massive ensemble with ALL of the keyboard's instruments playing a half-improv on locrian B, and from there are more "conventional" sounding rock band takes over, with two drumkits ping-ponging in stereo. It's still all entirely synthesized, with MIDI instruments and all, though. The second half also features the poem De Destructione Romae, written by Swedish writer Christina Nordlander specifically for me to use in a song (thank you, Chris!).

The second track is 'I'd Rather Be Home', a four minute pop tune with the same MIDI band and a slightly untrivial chord structure. The vocals kick in on the last third of the song or so, a style sort of borrowed from the Cure, though the vocals ain't worth of even a tenth of Robert Smith. Side B starts with a seven minute piece entirely handplayed on an electronic keyboard -- the main idea was to write a piece with little to no melody, but giving it the "human touch" by picking the most intense and mistake filled take. It's basically asking whether "emotion" compensates for the lack of actual content. The next track, 'Tetralogy', reverses that, by sticking entirely to MIDI and sampled percussion; the trick here is that the entire score is palindromic, and yes, it's an exact palindrome: the first half of the song was written, copied, pasted and reversed, thus creating an exact mirror image. But all the parts are written in a way to give the song a sense of flow and motion, and the palindromic nature of some isolated elements of the song results in "echoes" of things already heard.

In case you're scratching your head there, yes: this thing is very, VERY pretentious. I was indeed a bitter, annoying guy when I wrote that music, and everything oozes that kind of artistic irritation. And to lighten up things considerable, the last track bursts in with a sample of very weird canned laughter (taken from the Brazilian dub of the ultra-classic Mexican comedy El Chavo del 8, no less -- my Brazilian listeners will probably recognise that in a matter of seconds) which leads into a very upbeat, energetic and danceable piece of South-Brazilian accordeon-laden traditional music. Once again, the sounds are all synthesized, but the entire recording is augmented by sounds recorded live in my house and horrible bursts of feedback caused by swinging the headphones before the microphone! This is a sort of homage to the summer of 1996, when I grabbed a cassette recorder and made a whole side of tape with me playing keyboards and crackign stupid comments with my cousin, while all the sounds from the house flew right on top of the songs. Fun times!

I have to say, though: even all tracks are charged with that sort of cheekiness, I still enjoy them. And I think it's better to remove the "concept" and enjoy the songs by themselves (and for that you'll have to take 'Pompous and Pretentious' as a sort of Residents-y aimless improvisation), and I have far outgrown those issues. In particular check out the two last tracks, as that's a kind of music I probably won't be doing again for a long while; and the second track is a good example of what I'll sound like when I become a sell-out corporate whore (ha!).

Oh! And of course, in between the songs you'll find several recordings taken from very ancient vignettes from Brazilian TV. Those tunes were highly likely copied (illegally?) from North-American TV stations, so if you should complain about their use, blame them, not me. Ha! In either case, the end of 'Thunders' features the first movement from Entends-Tu les Chiens Aboyer? by Vangelis; the intro of 'I'd Rather Be Home' incorporates a barely audible 'Jamaican Girl' by Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra; and the album closes with a sample of 'The Fight', by Giorgio Moroder. The poem De Destructione Romae belongs to Christina Nordlander, and the rest of the music and words is mine.

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