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.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Update on my next album: Of How a World Is Built

Hold your horses: the thing still has a LONG way ahead before it can be considered finished. Still, I feel confident enough to give some info on how it's coming along.

This album has been a real headache. I'll be honest. Big Robot, Little Robot was challenging, tricky, somewhat time-consuming and sometimes frustrating to make. This bastard, though, is just time-consuming beyond all imagination. But then again, whose fault is it other than mine? I can't complain. The problem, basically, is that the songs are LONG, the arrangements are THICK, and the requirements I've set to myself are way beyond what I did on the previous album: brass, woodwind and string ensembles in nearly every song? Check; complicated and carefully balanced quiet/loud and slow/fast dynamics? Check; breakcore section with dozens of different drum sounds? Check; pseudo-neo-classical collages and juxtaposition of parts? Check. Yeah, all that and a bit more

Good news, though: the album IS progressing. My initial plans were to first write the album ENTIRELY, and only then start the recording. I felt that mixing those two processes was slowing me down and sidetracking me, so I decided to keep the recording details for later, until I had all the melodies, arrangements and instrument parts worked out. The result is that the songs are all in a pretty advanced state. Here's a rundown:

  1. roughly 12 minutes long. Nearly finished. Only a few parts left to write and details to fix.

  2. about 9 minutes long. Almost finished. A couple of parts left to write.

  3. about 8 minutes long. Very advanced. A couple of difficult parts left to work out and closing portions left to write.

  4. about 14 minutes long. Pretty much finished. Probably nothing left to write.

  5. about 16 minutes long. Advanced. Several difficult parts left to work out, but might be more simple than I estimate.

As you can see, the whole thing will be about 60 minutes long. I had planned another 40 minute album or so, but the songs turned out to need more than that.

Anyway, I have now broken the plan to keep the recording stage for later. I'm already setting down the recordings for the first track, and let me tell you: I'm quite impressed. I had never imagined that I'd ever be able to make my MIDI works sound so vigorous, dynamic and convincing. I'm trying pretty hard to keep myself away from making it sound "realistic", because that was never my goal. The sounds, however, are very alive. The drums are amazingly dynamic and responsible; the guitars sound pretty thick, without falling headfirst into Uncanny Valley (at least it seems to ME); there are sampled MELLOTRONS, produced by a freeware VSTi called Tapeworm, by Tweakbench. Seriously, I'm really excited by it.

As for the title, I have settled with Of How a World Is Built (Music Without Emotion) several months ago. The primary title is justified by its "concept" (hint: it sort of follows the trend of the previous album), and the secondary title is something I've been carrying for a pretty long time, and I think this album is just the right one to put it in. The thing will be explained later on. The main point of this post is to inform that, yes, I'm STILL working. Maybe way slower than I wish, since college and work take away much of my time, and this album is littered with "dead ends" that I have to beat. But I'm doing it. Maybe by the end of the year I'll have a finished product, or something very, very close to it.

And, if my mood is good enough, I might put up the first track for a sneak preview once it's finished.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Things I like a lot less than I probably should, part 2

Led Zeppelin.

For a long time, I thought my tastes weren't quite "attuned" to this band, and even though I enjoyed a lot of what they did, I seemed to somewhat "force" myself into their material. Then, I think this sort of backfired, and I got to simply not being able to stand them at all. Led Zeppelin sort of became my nemesis -- just like some people hate the Beatles because they're oh-so-overrated and stuff, I... well, I didn't hate Led Zeppelin, but I simply wanted to stay as far from them as I humanly could.

Time passed, and I thought I might as well give them another chance -- after all, I'm a man of many tastes and I'm open to everything, and I don't want to simply stay away from a band because of oh they seem not to be all that good, and oh, they were such rip-offs and jerks (yeah, look at the Stereolab fan calling other people "rip-offs", even though I got into this band WAY after I put Led Zeppelin on my black list). So I put on their forth album, the one with no title, and... ... yeah, I don't like them very much, really. Of course, I'm not making judgements based on only ONE album -- I only have the first, second and fourth LPs on my collection, and I'm missing quite a lot of important stuff. Still? I really, really like several of their songs (off the top of me head I can name Communication Breakdown, What Is and What Should Never Be, Ramble On, Thank You, Immigrant Song, When the Levee Breaks, Over the Hills and Far Away and maybe a few others), but their albums are the primordial hit-and-miss affairs: one time you have an awesome song going on, next time you have one of the worst drum solos ever (Moby Dick, of course), next time Robert Plant is being the most obnoxious singer ever, next time they're doing whatever the hell they feel like doing and doing it wrong. And then there are the stupidly puffed up lyrical affairs (Tolkien references? Really?? And people make fun of Rush!) and, oh, did I mention Robert Plant being the most obnoxious singer ever?

I don't care about the "sexual" aspect of it all. Whole Lotta Love executes its purpose very well, but I couldn't care less about the proposal. The lyrics are raunchy, and I tell them to shut up. Really, just shut up. Whether you're saying crap about giving someone his love, or saying crap about going to live in the misty mountains, or saying crap about anyone remembering laughter; just shut up, guys.

But either way, I still really like several of their songs.