Review: Ocelot of Salvation by Immortal Onion

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The instrumental Polish trio Immortal Onion have given a zarathustrian gift to the world of music with Ocelot of Salvation by bringing wild – even fevered – musical ideas from the periphery to a very listenable central place with burning feel and immense musicality. Hearkening to the concatenated aesthetic of Nature, the music of Immortal Onion moves through transformations that might as well be a discourse between Heraclitus and Parmenides – a fascinating riddle of the crystalline and the fiery. In spite of it’s depth and complication, Ocelot of Salvation is presented in a timbral structure that is personal, pleasant, and humble. (Somtimes funny too.) Great work, gentlemen; this is one of the best albums of its kind.

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Review: Melodrama by Lorde

Lorde’s Melodrama deftly employs a fascinating palette of timbre and rhythm that weaves a whole-album listening experience with a degree of richness that is quite rare in any genre of pop music. Thoughtful rhythmic contrast between vocal and instrumental elements, each evolving, creates remarkable aural interest without heavy reliance on hooks – it’s fresh.

Thematically, Lorde goes well beyond the first-level thinking that dominates pop music – especially on the topic of codependency in relationships. A number of contemporary hits celebrate the emotional roller coaster of unhealthy relationships in a sort of self-immolating frenzy, but (as she previously has with songs like Team on Pure Heroine) Lorde addresses these issues with a more subtle and aware attitude that is very emotionally impactful and cathartic.

While the album does a achieve a whole-album listening experience, there are a few moments where the realities of the pop industry jar the listener; for instance, after the synths of Sober II fade away, the following would-be unplugged tone of the piano at the start of Writer in the Dark is baked with so much compression as to sound quite overpowering. While hits are a mainstay of pop, I question the aesthetic value or even possibility for something designed to stand completely alone without regard to external arrangement or composition; after all, doesn’t the expectation that an infinite train of disjointed stand-alone hits can serve as the energizing music of a society stem from a shallow, short-sighted worldview – an attempt to disregard the deeper natural essence of things, even concatenation? What energy is yielded from blindness and disregard?

Review: INNATE by EYOT

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EYOT’s new album, INNATE,  is understated and brilliant.

The album is a journey through dark mysteries, heroic anthems, and illuminated reflection. All of this has a very powerful air of character, yet never feels like imitation or style; even the segments that might be seen as most imitative or literal are deconstructed in ways that create a captivating sound, which is very impressive for such a timbral palette. Of course the timbral palette was carefully designed to be so simple, almost as if to scoff at most musicians’ reliance on timbre to ornament their shallow forms. Nonetheless, the four musicians of EYOT approach their play very humbly in spite of their obvious skill. Their solos are grippingly interesting in form and deeply evocative in feeling, yet are never self indulgent or overbearing.

 

Also, the music video for the opening track, Veer, is a perfect fit for the music’s mystery and illusion. It’s full of brilliant tricks.

Review: The Violent Sleep of Reason by Meshuggah

Meshuggah in part created the “breakdown bandwagon” that led to the golden age of metal in the 2000’s decade, but as nature would dictate this golden age decayed – djent and deathcore had nowhere to go, and thus imploded into disingenuous and hollow formal masturbations devoid of spirit and invention. Meshuggah was in a tight spot with their 2012 album Koloss because the rest of metal had worn out their sound. What could happen next?

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The Violent Sleep of Reason is brilliant and formally transcendent. Recorded live, the album’s riffs are overflowing with energy and are among the heaviest ever played – all without a formulaic breakdown. In an interview about the albums release, drummer virtuouso Tomas Haake claimed: “I don’t view us as a technical band. We’re just a metal band trying to find fresh sounds.” While superficially this album might sound much like all Meshuggah’s previous work, when considered subtly, and Haake considers it while composing, it is quite unique; this is Meshuggah’s most melodic album to date, and perhaps their most lyrically powerful and emotionally varied. Can metalheads cry? (Well, I almost did at the end of Nostrum.)

As Meshuggah’s music is entirely an indictment of western civilization’s shallow and delusional nature, the vast rage and allegorically mechanical tones in this music makes it a challenge to listen through an entire album. Remember that Meshuggah’s music is not created for consumption. Nietzsche ended Twilight of the Idols thusly:

“Why so hard?”  the kitchen coal once said to the diamond.  “After all, are we not close kin?”  “Why so soft?”  O my brothers, thus I ask you: are you not after all my brothers?  Why so soft, so pliant and yielding?  Why is there so much denial, self-denial, in your hearts?  So little destiny in your eyes?  And if you do not want to be destinies and inexorable ones, how can you one day triumph with me?  And if your hardness does not wish to flash and cut through, how can you one day create with me?  For all creators are hard.  And it must seem blessedness to you to impress your hand on millennia as on wax.  Blessedness to write on the will of millennia as on bronze — harder than bronze, nobler than bronze.  Only the noblest is altogether hard.

Review: Man Made Object by GoGo Penguin

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Using a limited instrumental palette, GoGo Penguin achieves a both rich and relatable experience in their album Man Made Object. While it is clear that each musician in the group is a jazz virtuoso, they never engage in self-indulgence – a very fresh take on the genre. The music is largely manically energetic, but greatly and deftly varied using light polyrhythms and syncopation, as well as reversion to intentionally simplistic and other times intentionally simple segments. All of this is united by a constant anthemic attitude and live feel, which leads to a very enjoyable listener experience.

Review: No Man’s Sky

Today’s video game industry has learned to stimulate addictive responses in players through the employment of cheap gathering mechanics and reinforcing “achievement” of things that really aren’t difficult: this is escapism for millions of people who lack agency and power in their real lives. Of course a game like No Man’s Sky – which at its core is about “letting go” – would be hated by those masses who don’t expect video games, but expect “holding on” simulators.

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The gods of consumerism would have all humans believe: “I am not fun. My toys are fun.” No Man’s Sky reverses this in both theming and gameplay, and creates a beautiful and unique experience of wandering. People have complained: “Why can’t we build? There’s no point to go back,” but are deaf to hundreds of in game interactions and text logs that explain an alternate view of reality.maxresdefault-1.jpg

How has the industry bent over for the masses who decry a creative indie game for failing to deliver “What they expect from a game.” Perhaps a strike is in order.

Review: Basses Loaded by (the) Melvins

a2965628692_10.jpgMany reviews are painting this album as unfocused and lacking energy, and are painting the Melvins as drained of art. On the contrary, there is an important distinction between eliciting feelings of foggy weariness and being foggy and weary.

Singing the song of the exhausted skeleton on the cover, the album opens with the lost and alarmed track Decay of Lying, and proceeds to take the listener on a varied journey through downtrodden, curious, bitter, ridiculous, and ecstatic emotions. Lots of this feels like Neurosis’ Times of Grace, but comes from a more punk background.

Even the most stylistic and uncreative tracks have brilliant and thought-provoking moments – like the fade out and fade in at the end of I Want to Tell You that blends into the heavy groove at the beginning of Captain Come Down; this implies a lot of self-awareness and critical thought about the work.

One question I’m struggling with while writing this is: What the hell is with Shaving Cream?

The songs definitely aren’t as integral as other Melvins albums like A Senile Animal, and this is a common line of criticism for Basses Loaded. Critics tend to view artists as convenient objects under a microscope. Once artists create something good, they are decried as failures when they deviate from the course of their past selves; where do you go from the top of a mountain? They have the dangerous choice of risking imperfect change or risking stagnation. In Basses Loaded, they took both risks, and came out with something as fun, ridiculous, and gritty as ever.

Review: The Colour in Anything by James Blake

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James Blake presents a very genuine and abstract musical composition in The Colour in Anything – always full of character but never chained by style. The album is best heard listened through as a whole; falsetto vocals, dark watercolor-like pad textures, and massive synths groove together through both polyrhythmic and highly melodic segments that form a very aurally interesting album.

Notably, Blake traces his polyrhythmic and synthetic influence back to the much less chill genre of old Drum & Bass – he samples Acen’s Trip II the Moon in his track Choose Me. This interesting reinterpretation of good music into a new style is a mark of good abstract thinking and creative musicianship. In this way, Blake blends naturalism and heavy synthesis in a way better than any preceding record.

 

Review: We Like it Here by Snarky Puppy

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Although the modern world has a constant s0und track, music has lost much of its depth and feel. However, We Like It Here by Snarky puppy is a refreshing journey into real music and great musicianship. Although the compositions reflect jazz classics and the music of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, it never sacrifices music to style, and maintains an overflowing energy throughout. This is a great album of music for musicians.

Analysis: Modern Jesus by Portugal. the Man

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Portugal. The Man, the rock band from Wasilla, Alaska, known for albums like The Satanic Satanist and Evil Friends, released the music video Modern Jesus on 7 August 2013. Complex and provocative in its tone, the film is assembled from seemingly mismatched candid footage from both cell phones and high definition cameras, capturing an American landscape in a manner that recalls Cormac McCarthy’s aesthetic: “We are come to a world within the world. In these interstitial wastes that the righteous see from car another life dreams.” Modern Jesus represents a commingling of Protestant culture with a particularly American flavor of antireligious egoism.

The music video opens with a graying man walking to in a rust belt city on a cloudy day while a younger man enters a church to sit contemplatively. An energetic synth riff and intricately arpeggiated acoustic guitar accompany the vocal welcome: “Come on in, Take a seat next to me, You know we got, We got what you need” (Rojas). The song swells with triumphant mellotron accompaniment to the hook: “Don’t pray for us, We don’t need no modern Jesus, To roll with us, The only rule we need is never, Giving up, The only faith we have is faith in us” (Rojas). The musical character recalls early prog rock or baroque rock like the Beatles’ White Album but incorporates rhythm and blues instrument timbres and percussion from groups like the Wu Tang Clan; this creates an notably transracial tone that is reflected in the video.

The initial contemplative scene in the church is interrupted by a twerk dance, known as carnality and irreverence, and the film proceeds to feature a candid cast of a wide variety of extremely memorable individuals – teenage punks, biplane pilots, a parade of Indian cowboys, rural southerners, a Wyoming cowboy, a Black crew, bayou dwellers, and a corpse-painted fight club – all engaged in equally memorable activities – training boxing, playing with and shooting assault weapons, performing ATV stunts, dancing to banjo, tending cattle during a blizzard, boating among cyprus, starting fires, and fighting.

Although the film may seem like a random assembly of footage, it was constructed with specific design intentions. The clips were filmed on a roadtrip by the director of everyday people who agreed with the song – that they don’t need a savior such as Jesus. An interview with the band reveals that the song is “a reminder real life is often more interesting than fiction — and that embarking on a creative journey without a plan can often lead to brilliantly unraveling realities” (Hua 1) The video’s composition itself speaks the themes presented in the lyrics.

The song addresses agency with the attitude of American egoism. The song ironically reminds us: “We know that we’re helpless, At least we always assume” but invokes imagery of autonomy and human empowerment – such as passersby saving people in crashed vehicles in a blizzard on I-80 – while lyrically rejecting Jesus, a symbol of savior, and thereby rejecting humanity’s need for salvation in general (Rojas). This theme is especially visible in the last lines of the chorus “The only faith we need is faith in us” (Rojas). While egoism has taken many forms in history, it has found a home with American Protestants, interpreting their Christianity through a bricolage lens of work-ethic mythology, American independance narratives, and hyper-rational philosophies like those of Ayn Rand. Any assertion of independence and self-empowerment in the American context will inevitably relate with this powerful Protestant cultural force.

Contrarily, the song presents objections to consumerism, modern medicine, and oil – in some ways cornerstones of 21st century America. “You don’t need sympathy, They got a pill for everything,” They sing in the a rainy and distressed urban landscape (Rojas).  While climbing on oil rigs and filming the fires that burn atop refineries, they reassure the disenfranchised dwellers of the rust-belt ruins: “You don’t need to feel blue, Cause we won’t sell you nothing, You can’t use” (Rojas). However, upon the word “use” the fight club begins smashing construction materials on and with each-other’s bodies. Dissatisfaction with consumerism and oil-economy is something of a group trait for young American atheists – smashing the modern products of this industry is a fitting activity in broader the trend.

While the video contains rebellious elements, its existence is influenced by the Protestant worldview that shapes much of American culture; it still talks in terms of prayer, heaven, and hell, as well as addressing existential concerns that may be seen as deriving from the Protestant worldview, and addresses concerns from these influences in a similar framework to atheist philosophers like Nietzsche and Camus. Well-stated in the anti-Western perspective of Vine Deloria, “Nietzsche foresaw that a tragic breakdown in both vision and values was occurring in the psyche of [Christians]. [He] attempted to solve the problem of decay inherent with the passage of time within the Western vision of the world.” In spite of Modern Jesus’ purported anti-religion, it exhibits these concerns about temporality that may emerge from Christian worldview: “We’re the ones who start little fires, Yet they burn out, But when they’re on the rise, They can’t help but shine” (Rojas).  Similarly, Modern Jesus approaches death anxiety by invoking imagery of oblivion rather than afterlife: “Just take that dark cloud, Ring it out to wash it down, And when the wave approaches, Take our ashes to the ocean” (Rojas). The song’s reference to having drinks at Heaven’s Gate, emphasizing religion as a suicide vehicle, is not unlike Camus’ understanding of religion as intellectual suicide to escape the fundamental challenges of existence.

Even when individuals do not ascribe to the mainstream cultural and religious framework of their time and place, they will often approach the concerns and questions of that framework in some way rather than reject the questions of the framework altogether. In this way, a song rejecting Jesus may be seen as maintaining a distinctly Protestant American perspective.

 

 

Citation:

McCarthy, C. (1979). Suttree. Random House.

Deloria, V. (1973). God is red. New York: Grosset & Dunlap.

Hua, V. (2013, August 14). Portugal. The Man – Modern Jesus Music Video (MV of the Week Interview w/ Zach Carothers). Retrieved May 06, 2016, from http://www.redefinemag.com/2013/portugal-the-man-modern-jesus-music-video-zach-carothers-band-interview/

Rojas, A. (2013, August 07). Portugal.The Man – Modern Jesus [Official Music Video]. from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q8e1sSNsf44