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.