Irrelevant Troubadour

Sabbath Assembly, Restored to One
March 8, 2011, 5:23 pm
Filed under: music

We have gathered here today to give praise unto our Lord the TV Tropes Album Exchange Club.  Our sermon today concerns Sabbath Assembly’s album Restored to One.  Let us pray.

Reading criticism of this album,  the main question people have about this is, “Is this for real?” My answer: kinda. The question remains, though: what would posses a bunch of psych-rock nerds to cover the hymns of an obscure 60s and 70s religious movement?

One thing this album is most emphatically not is a hipster piss-take. Even if Sabbath Assembly perhaps doesn’t respect the content of these songs (more on that later), they certainly respect the music. The thing that grabs me most about this music is that, for an album of quasi-satanic hymns by people who’ve been involved with Sunn O))), No-Neck Blues Band, and Six Organs of Admittance, this album is remarkably normal-sounding. It’s got some psychedelic tinges, such as the raga rhythms on “Glory to the Gods in the Highest” and the queasy organ on “The Power that is Love”, but mostly these songs are backed with a pretty standard pop-rock sound. The vocals, though powerful, sound almost syrupy-sweet. Yet that adds some power to this album, I feel; had it been loaded down with a bunch of drone and psychedelic effects, the album would’ve come off as trying too hard. Instead, the music is allowed to breathe and to assert itself, and it benefits from it.

Besides, the inherent strangeness of adapting hymns to a rock format is psychedelic enough as it is, giving the entire affair a very devotional air (as I’m sure was the original intention). Indeed, these are some damn catchy hymns, and it’s good that Sabbath Assembly saved this music from languishing in obscurity. This album is, if nothing else, a great historical document.

That, in fact, is this album’s main problem: it has trouble becoming more than a catchy historical document. When singer JEX sings, “Recieve our devotion, Lord Satan, ” it really doesn’t feel to me like she’s actually devoted to Satan. This, for me, robs this album of a lot of its emotional content. Many of the previous reviewers I’ve read have talked about how creepy this album is to them, but I’m not hearing it. To me, this album is like looking at the gravestone of a stranger: you feel as if it’s an important symbol for someone evoking memories and emotions, but to you it’s just a stone with a name on it. For an album about orgiastic devotion to a deity, there is very little religious feeling—of any kind—to be had here.

Still, I can’t say I didn’t enjoy this album. It’s great music. It just didn’t hit me, mainly I think because it didn’t hit the people making it.


OutKast, Stankonia
March 3, 2011, 8:27 pm
Filed under: music

Howdy folks.  You know what time it is?  It’s TV Tropes Album Exchange Club time!  This is a review of OutKast’s Stankonia.

So this album is amazing. Let’s just put that out on the table where we all can see it.

It’s strange: my usual wall-of-text tendencies have deserted me for this album. Partly it’s because I don’t have a lot of experience in the criticism of hip-hop; partly it’s because I can’t really find many major flaws in this album to nitpick. Instead, I think I’ll just go though it and point out the moments on this album that most struck me.

  • I quite like “Gasoline Dreams”. The psychedelic guitar backing makes the whole thing sounds amazingly vicious.
  • Some great wordplay in the super-cool “So Fresh So Clean”. “A leopard-print teddy…Pendergrass” indeed. Though I don’t know why Andre 3000 felt the need to namecheck Anne Frank; that only works for Jeff Mangum.
  • I know it may be a bit overplayed, but I don’t think I can gush enough about “Ms. Jackson”. Seriously, this song has everything I like: backwards drums, slap bass, a hooky chorus, and lyrics that manage to tell an impossibly complex story, a conflicted internal monologue.
  • “Snappin’ and Trappin'” is another great song, but I can’t help but notice how much Big Boi manages to overshadow guest rapper Killer Mike.
  • “Kim & Cookie” is hilarious.
  • Oh man, “I’ll Call Before I Come”. I actually did a double take when this song came on. Why? Because the kind of vintage synth-funk backing they’re rapping over sounds exactly like Sly and the Family Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On, one of my favorite albums. Seriously: compare “I’ll Call Before I Come” to this:
  • “B.O.B.” is, according to Pitchfork, the best song of the decade. For once, Pitchfork isn’t all that off.
  • The only song I really didn’t like all that much was “We Luv Deez Hoez”, though that may be a result of my hatred of fake laughter.
  • “Humble Mumble” seems to be a favorite here, and I offer my complete agreement.
  • “?” could’ve been a good deal longer. It could’ve been a great song on its own; instead it serves as an intro to the great dark soulful number “Red Velvet”, but it could’ve stood on its own.
  • Then again, I also thought “Cruisin in the ATL” could’ve been its own song, so what do I know.
  • “Toilet Tisha” is way better than any song with the word “toilet” in the title has a right to be. It also manages to be scarier than any “horrorcore” rap I’ve ever heard; it perfectly captures the nightmarishness of the story it tells in the music.
  • Hey, is that Cee-Lo Green on “Slum Beautiful”? I knew him mostly as a singer, but he’s a rather taleneted rapper too. Cool.
  • Not sure I would ever listen to “Stankonia (Stanklove)” on its own, but it makes a great album closer.

So in summing up: yeah, I really liked this album.

Something I Just Realized
February 25, 2011, 1:49 am
Filed under: music, ridiculousness

According to Wikipedia, Joanna Newsom has been in a relationship with Andy Samberg since 2007.  This means that there’s a good chance that she may have written the love songs on Have One On Me (a great album, by the way) about him.  This means, in turn, that said songs are now retroactively hilarious.

If you don’t get why, listen to this:

while looking at this:

That is all.

Frank Zappa, Zoot Allures
February 20, 2011, 5:55 pm
Filed under: music

Bluh bluh TV Tropes Album Exchange Club bluh bluh Zoot Allures by Frank Zappa bluh bluh listen to it.

There are many sides to Zappa. There’s the doo-wop loving soul man, there’s the high-minded classical composer, there’s the irreverent rebel prankster, there’s the wild jazz-rock berserker, there’s even the purveyor of hooky pop songs. Unfortunately, this album is mostly devoted to those sides of Zappa I most dislike: the technical guitar geek and the pointlessly crude, sleazy, and misogynistic novelty singer.

Having said that, I quite like this album—I’d say, in fact, that it’s the best bad album that Zappa ever made. Is it comparable to Freak Out! or Weasels Ripped My Flesh! or Burnt Weeny Sandwich or Roxy & Elsewhere? Nope. But taken on its own merit and disregarding just how much better Zappa could be when he applied himself, this thing’s awfully enjoyable.

Why is this? Well, quite simply, the songs are catchy. The rollicking “Wind Up Workin’ in a Gas Station” and the glam-rock “Disco Boy” are tons o’ fun (even though I rather dislike the chipmunk backing vocals), the moody “The Torture Never Stops” is great if a bit long, and loathe as I am to admit it, I even sometimes get “Ms. Pinky” and “Find Her Finer” stuck in my head, though I have to pretend I don’t know the words.

And that brings us to the lyrics, always the most divisive thing about Zappa’s rock albums. Yes, I know they’re satirical and goofy, but the fact is that to me, they’re just plain not funny. They’re just kinda…gross. And the fact that he kept returning to these kind of lyrics over and over again throughout his career doesn’t help matters. “But Irrelevant Troubadour, what about Zappa’s instrumentals?” no one asked. Well, I usually love ’em, but on this album? Not so much. Don’t get me wrong, “Friendly Little Finger” is great, but “Black Napkins” and the title track to me sound like the dullest sort of guitar wanking.

The general impression I get from this album is that it just plain isn’t one Zappa cared that much about. I’ve read that his rock albums from this time period mostly served to finance his classical compositions, and if so, it would make sense that this album is so half-baked. Now don’t get me wrong, this album is good at what it does—unfortunately, what it does isn’t much.

I must give this album some extra credit though: “Ms. Pinky” is probably the second best pop song about a blow-up doll ever written, after Roxy Music’s “In Every Dream Home a Heartache”.

George Crumb, Unto the Hills; Black Angels
February 17, 2011, 7:03 pm
Filed under: music

Some people like gentlemen’s clubs, some people like turkey clubs, some people like billy clubs, but me, I like The TV Tropes Album Exchange Club.  This one’s a review of George Crumb’s Unto the Hills and Black Angels, which I’m evaluating separately since they’re separate pieces.

The one adjective I can think of to describe Unto the Hills is “spare” (that and “not on youtube”).  Spare like empty, treeless hills at midnight under a full moon; spare like a burned-out Appalachian ghost town. Spare, yet haunted: this is piece that is dominated by silence and negative space, and the sounds that stand out—the percussion, dissonant chiming, piano, vocals (which I quite liked; they seemed very pure), eerie strings, and occasional Scare Chord—seems like ghosts, barely at the edge of perception. This piece is like stepping into an abandoned house and hearing, in the back of your mind, the music that once played there. As such, the interpolation of the Appalachian folk songs really works, making the piece seem like a sort of a requiem for this rapidly vanishing culture.

As for Black Angels? I’m torn. I probably enjoyed this more than Unto the Hills as a piece of music, but it lacks the thematic import the other piece had. Perhaps I’m simply lacking context. George Crumb certainly realizes just how versatile a string quartet can be, using is as everything from a percussion ensemble to a punishing noise attack to a barely-audible musical sigh. Yet these disparate elements really didn’t come together as a whole for me. While I could appreciate, say, the dissonant noise assault that opens the piece or the mournful yet defiant hymn at around 10:30, I really didn’t know how to connect them to each other. I also wasn’t much of a fan of the shouted interjections; they seemed like a cheap shock than a real musical element. But then again, as I mentioned earlier, I don’t have the liner notes; it could be that the only reason I’m missing the thematic relevance of all of this is because I don’t know it. Then again, I don’t have any background material on Unto the Hills either, so I really don’t know.

Nurse With Wound, Rock ‘N’ Roll Station
February 12, 2011, 1:40 am
Filed under: music

Everybody loves the TV Tropes Album Exchange Club, right?  And everybody also loves Nurse With Wound’s Rock ‘N’ Roll Station, so this is bound to be the most popular post on this site.

This has to be the least rock ‘n’ roll album ever to have the phrase “rock ‘n’ roll” in the title. I mean, the only rock-related thing I could hear here was a short sample of surf guitar at two minutes into “Two Golden Microphones”. Where’s the pedal-to-the-metal, balls-to-the-wall R&R action I’ve come to expect from those masters of down ‘n’ dirty blues and boogie-woogie rawk Nurse With Wound?

Speaking seriously, this album seems to me to be a deconstruction of electronic dance music. It’s built around urgent, pounding, repetitive beats, but they’re beats that have been so simplified as to no longer be at all danceable. These rhythms wind in and out of each other, and sound less like music than some sort of ritual drumming or the workings of dark industrial machinery. Yet in some cases this experimentation fails, such as on “The Self-Sufficent Sexual Shoe”, which sounds less like a deconstruction of dance music and more like a failed attempt at it.

This isn’t to say that this is purely a rhythm album; there are lots of interesting things going to top of the beats. My favorites would be the deadpan yet absurd narration and chopped-up crowd noises in the title track and the ticking, whirring, and occasionally didgeridoo-ing insanity that is “Two Golden Microphones”. Also worth mentioning are “Finsbury Park, May 8th, 1:35 PM (I’ll See You In Another World)”, which is as close as this album comes to pure noise, and “R+B Through Collis Browne” which sounds like a less forceful version of what was going in “industrial” music (a genre Nurse With Wound arguably pioneered) at the time.

This album is unique and fabulously intelligent; having said that, I highly doubt that I am going to listen to it again after this review is up. It’s an experimental album in the purest sense of the world. It would be more apt for me to say that I was fascinated by it than to say that I enjoyed it. I suppose this music just arrests different parts of my mind than I usually desire to stimulate with music.

The Crystal Method, Divided By Night
February 4, 2011, 12:14 pm
Filed under: music

Yet another dispatch from the TV Trope Album Exchange Club.  This is a review of The Crystal Method’s Divided By Night.

So when I first downloaded this album it had the tracks all out of order for some reason—more accurately, they were in alphabetical order, so “Black Rainbow” was first, then “Blunts & Robots”, etc. And honestly, now that I’ve listened to it in the correct order, I have to say I prefer it alphabetically. I don’t know, it just seemed to flow better that way. The album in its original order just seems sort of slapdash.

As for the album itself? Well, to be fair to it, I’m almost certainly not appreciating it in the right way; this is an album that’s meant to be heard on the dancefloor at 12:30 after two overpriced cocktails at an overhyped club in some generic major city that caters to bored office temps looking for some release from the drudgeries of their daily existence. Indeed, I can imagine, in an alternate life, being a data entry clerk from Wichita, Kansas and hooking up with a rather tipsy paralegal named Lana to the strains of “Kling to the Wreckage”. But I’m not, I’m listening to this album in a college dorm room on headphones, and as such am robbing of the context it deserves.

What, then, do I hear on these headphones? Well, as most of the people before me have said, I hear generic electro. This is not to say this album is all bad, persay—just like any other form of music, generic electro can be good. But this album only rarely rises above (or below, for that matter) mediocrity, and when it does it’s due pretty much entirely to the guest artists. In some cases they provide the album with its highlights: these are the Matisyahu-driven “Drown in the Now”, the surprisingly touching dark ballad “Falling Hard”, or the bittersweet and hooky dark pop song “Black Rainbow”, which is my favorite track on the album. In other cases they lead to the album’s biggest embarrassments: the dumb ‘angry’ number “Kling to the Wreckage”, or “Sine Language”, which the less that is said about the better. But without the guests this album just sort of fades into grayness and buzzing synths. It’s background music for the bored to wiggle to, and while it has a place in the world, that place is not in my music collection.