Wednesday, August 26, 2009
If De-loused is shrouded in obscurity, mystery, and mythology, then Dismemberment Plan's 2001 Album Change is at the other end of the poetic spectrum. The defining feel of the album for me is one of clarity.
The albums cover suggests it's nature pretty succinctly. We have the idea of change in the lower left, framed by a vast blue sky which leaves room any number of possiblities. It hints at what the lyrics make plain, it is time for airing our some demons, cleaning out the closets, and getting rid of some baggage. It makes for great road music.
The tone of the album is a two part mix that works perfectly to capture the feeling of starting afresh. The past is all there in all its mire and angst, you wouldnt know it at first but you're in for a lyrically dark album, singer Travis Morrison puts all the weird shit on his mind right there onto the track, and he does it with great poetic skill. It sounds like something out of Dave Eggars , its dark and heavy, buts its just quirky and fresh enough not to embarass itself too much with melodrama. Which brings me to the second part of the trick which is the rest of D Plan's musically optimistic tone. There's so much energy there musicly that you're convinced that the narrator is going to make it out alive and all the better for having confronted his demons. I use "narrator" because as tangible and many of the songs feel they are mostly fiction or at least offered from a perspective other than the singer's.
The album starts out with a sort of introduction: Theres no heaven and there's no hell/no limbo inbetween/i think its all a lie/ just a white light out to velvet black/then back to neutral grey/thats all when we die. It then comes back to say don't be fooled by my realistic take on the afterlife, I'm actaully fairly sentimental, "but you can bet I'll keep it real."
Starting with the second song The Face of The Earth we get a couple doses of brilliant little every-day vignettes which use what seem like insignificant details to capture the core feeling of each event: as kisses go it wasn't anything out of the ordinary/the alkaline lips/ her fingers hooked around by belt/she had to go/ she took a step back in and then she started to smile/ a heard a funny sound/ and everything seemed to shift.
The albums 4th track Pay for the Piano is a call to arms in the vein of Ted Leo's Shake the Sheets, another album that nearly made the list. And, while I have a chance I want to pay tribute to a couple others you wont be seeing. First Maratime's We the Vehicles which features D plan alumnus Eric Axelson which plays to me like a Change-lite. It's beautful, clean, and focused but missing the raw fire that puts Change over the top. Also, Mountain Goats Babylon Springs EP, puts off a similar vibe. But, well be seeing more of them soon.
Starting with the 5th track we get three songs of hard-core self-searching and bitter depression, sort of the existential core of the album. This trifecta by turns bring out some of the best emoting the album has to offer, best exemplified by the explosive Secret Curse which ticks like a time-bomb through the verses: secret curse/unwashable stain/ugly when bold/boring when plain/stricken with pleasure and taken with pain/ I'm nervous and lost and I cannot refrain, and then completely freaks out and fluxes as Morrison howls "IM SORRY!" over the chorus.
Next up Following Through rolls around and the spell is broken. The narrator cuts his losses and moves on with a statement of autonomy and freedom. Then comes the albums 2 song hit parade Time Bomb and Other Side.
Time Bomb is what got me into the album in the first place. The hooky verse, easy emotion, and focused narrative are the most accessible minutes of the album. I kept going back to D Plan's(or simply "The Plan" as many fans prefer to call them) web page to listen to the mp3 on repeat, to hear it build and get bigger every 30 seconds and let the self-pity wash over me like a thousand comforting hands.
Man am I a sucker for some self-pitying. Bright Eyes I'm Wide Awake It's Morning, was another front runner for this list , and his side project Deciperacidos too. This isn't to say I'll be leaving the exquisite pleasures of comfort music off the list entirely, its just too rewarding to sink your sadness down into a bath of lush violins and minor guitar chords. I dont think I'll ever get over it.
The Otherside is a much more sofisticated attempt which basicly makes the statement that yes, relationships with people can be hard work and we are going to hate eachother some of the time, we're going to doubt eachother, and be confused about what exactly it was we wanted in the first place. But, if we can keep from copping out we might be redeamed and reaffirmed just around the corner. You get the feeling that the otherside is the albums central statement or lesson learned. The music is tight and fast every bit as sofisticated as the lyrics. It reenforces the albums feel of accountability and honesty. Good luck finding a handful of albums in the history of rock music that can do this with any sort of success, or for that matter even try.
The album ends with the bouncy Ellen and Ben the story of a doomed relationship as told by an embittered witness. It gives a sense of being above and beyond and past and condescending that makes a great sort of bookend.
Don't expect a song by song for any of the remaining posts.
St. Louis locals So Many Dynamos have been trying for years to get the word out about The Plan and this was my introduction. I still feel like I'm in on some great secret that few people really know about. I just as easily could have never found this album which is what makes the experience all the more enamouring . You might have noticed I've given very little past or future in which to place the album, and thats basicly how I view it; just a great peice of humanity that needs little context in order to be appreciated.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Matt posted his mini-comic adaptation of a short story I wrote some years ago.
Check it out over on his page.
Here's the short with all spelling and punctuation errors in tact,
written in all the subtlety and elegance of second person...
Wake up. Your eyes open, and through the sleepy haze and sideways beems of light that irritate and force your eyelids to shut back, you see a soft smear of red. You close them back momentarily and feel the tears well up in the sides of your eyes. You blink once, then twice, and then look at the ground as you try and open them again. The ground below you is cement. Its smooth cement and your black shoes with thier hard black soles make a tapping sound as your foot taps nervously.
You follow your shoes up to your pants. Your pants, black also, the material is soft and flowing yet heavy, all the way up to your waist. Someone walks by. "Good luck", they offer, and they slap your back through a dark blue jacket, through a stark white, pressed shirt. You turn your head to meat them. Theyve turned their head and theyre walking away with a clip board in their hand, checking off a list.
On the other side of soft smear of red you hear the murmuring of a voice, loud, yet full of bass and hard to understand, followed by a chorus of laughter and then clapping. On a table beside you, you see a nearly full bottle of water. You grab it, quicly remove and drop the lid, and drink the whole bottle in a few quick gulps. You begin to look around for someone else. Noone is around you so you walk closer to the soft red curtain and pear around it. After your eyes adjust to the bright light, you see a man wearing exactly what your wearing, at a microphone, making hand gestures, he catches you out of the corner of his eyes as you lean out further to see the enourmous audience that waits on each word. He quickly looks back to the audience as you run briskly backwards strait into a young girl and nearly knock her off of her feet.
"hi", you say, "where am i?"
She hesitates and then laughs with all her lungs "Save it for the show" she says
You look at her, squint your eyes slightly, and bring your brow way down, you gesture back at the red curtain "wait, you mean, i have to go out there?"
She once again laughs up internal organs and offers up a "you're better than ive heard, i gotta go, Good luck again"
The murmuring voice on the other side of the curtain crescendos and breaks off. The laughs are cut short by more clapping and applause that last longer this time. Through the curtain comes a beam of light that hits the floor in a semi circle. With the beam comes a man.
"hey", there you are, "i got em warmed up for ya"
He grabs a towel on a nearby table and wipes off his face, the girl breezes by you and out beyond the red curtain. You can hear her voice in the murmur of the PA system. The man dressed like you sits with relief into a chiar next to the table. "tag" he says "your it"
Behind the red curtain the murmer reaches a slow down pace and she pronounces with a sing song finale voice in four long sylables, someones name.
The man in the chair looks at you, he stares you right in the eyes.
he laughs "now you can go"
You walk slowly forward toward the curtain , the girl rushes past you "get out there" she says half serious.
You push past the curtain, the spotlight hits you unexpectedly almost shoving you back out. You squint against it and then push forward again in a straight line to the microphone at the middle of the stage.
You grab the microphone it makes a loud noise as you pull it "hi" you offer "i dont know what im doing here"
The crowd roars with laughter
Reading over it again, it's kinda like a weird episode of Quantum Leap.
Kudos to Matt for finding a better tone in which to tell it.
Friday, August 21, 2009
In case you're wondering, this is an actual book. As you may have gathered its the story of an alligator who hungers for the flesh of a nubile human. The alligator persists in his hunger and nearly claims his prey. The book ends with the hopeful thought that if he can get big enough, someday this dream will be a reality.
In the spirit of this book. I present the books publishers, and you with the following story i've written and illustrated entitled "There's too many lions at the mother fucking zoo!"
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
So to begin the list, which is layed out in no particular order of importance, I want to start with The Mars Volta's 2003 full length debut De-loused in the the Comatorium.
First I'm going to attempt to save this damsel in distress from the bitter claws of the too-self-conscious breed of indie music reviewers, then I want to get on to some real cannonizing.
Critics of the Album site a few key aversions:
1. The ablum has zero filter for modesty or scale.
2. The lyrics are self-gratifying gibberish.
3. Toooo jammy...please play the 5 chords i know!
I want to point out that the first 2 statements are the albums strengths and are mistaken as its weaknesses, and that the third, if you give the album any sort of honest listen, is just lazy.
I'll be the first person to admit that after having listened to this album at least 100 times I have very little idea what the proported "story" is actaully about, nor does it matter. If you want to judge it on those terms thats fine but your missing the point. Better to look at Deloused as a work of inspired surrealism.
The album fades in with an angular back and forth guitar time-keeper which mimes the sound of sirens while washes of synth and guitar swells fade in and out like electric medical equipment. The first set of lyrics paint a pessimistic picture of a hospital ward and the frustration builds in staccoto guitar and drum blasts until the album begins proper with the forlorn narrator screaming: Now I'm Lost! as the music erupts around him like satan's own salsa freak-out turned up to a hellish 150 BPM.
It's safe to say I was irrevoacably taken at this point. Everything that Cedric Bixler and Omar Lopez were doing right with At-the-drive-in's Relationship of Command they were now furthering with De-loused. Relationship's raw poetics, fierce urgency, and brazen experimentalism were all present with an injection of latin rhythm and operatic vocals.
ATDI's main reason for dissolving was that the afore meantioned beleived that thier trademark brand of post-punk just wasn't giving enough reign to thier predoliction for artisic expansion. And so, ATDI dissolved forming The Mars Volta, but also Sparta, who did a fine job of keeping up the ghost of many of ATDI's best qualities for about an album and a half.
If you take The Mars Volta's narrative bait, which isn't really necessary to enjoy the album, our narrator is a man trapped in his own head. Much like the protagonist in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly but without the hopefull tone. He is a man stuck in dreams, a place where emotions take free reign, and connections between dispareate elements are barely traceable but often rewarding. In this context ,you might begin to get a picture of how I digest this album and why I keep going back to it.
And, cinema is really where the best comparisons lie. For me, one of the closest comparisons is Fellini's Satyricon. As Fellini's camera pans past, deformed figures stare with a mixture of fear, confusion, disgust, or apathy framed by a crumbling and cascading architecture. Voices fade in and out confessing thier dark desires. Ancient mythology is vulgarly evoked. The effect is unsettling. As viewer I'm left with memorable images that have definate, yet understated connections, like waking dreams. The Volta could likely be better appreciated in comparison to other Latin-American surrealists, yet I lack the experience to conjure up anything more than a few Garcia-Marquez shorts and Frida Kahlu paintings.
But back to the point, TMV like surrealist cinema treat their albums as high art. One example of this comes in the form of another Volta trait that critics can't stomach and that's the large expanses of quiet electonics and down tempos which frame thier frantic episodes. In the art world you might call this "negative space" a concept which is used to enrich a compostion by bringing aspects to the forefront. With deloused TMVs use of negative space is very obvious. What many critics denounce as gratuitous noodling, is to me a perfectly paced and lushly produced frame for their explosions of imagery.
De-loused ...Produced by Rick Rubin
Lopez' guitar is capable of carrying the melody of any song on deloused and does on a few occasions, yet when its not, and hes teaming up with drummer John Theodore to create a song's rhythmic soundscape the effect is tight and hermetic. While Lopez is highly capable of noodling around he is kind enough to save it for the live show and his solo project.
Most of the highest points on De-loused, an album filled with otherworldly "moments", though are when the rhythmic engine churns while Bixler provides the self-assured melodies. His voice and range are capable of feats which few men can boast.. His melodies feel at the same time ancient and futuristic, and they project the lyrics with confidence that suggests they are somewhere inscribed in granite. His lyrics are full of creative juxtaposions, what he leaves behind in consistancy he more than makes up for in shear freshness of image. Yet an emotional strain of confusion, forlorness, and uncertainty rings throughout De-loused, which really pulls it together thematically and makes for an equally exultant and cathartic listen.
It's not meant to be easy to intellectualize a Mars Volta album. I'm tempted to say that some of the "inspirations" they offer like finding a lost diary or an old quija board seem more like interesting bait for concept junkies like myself, which may never flesh out a narrative, but perhaps provide some sort of intellectual framework for those who need a conveniant mode of peristalsis. Other times they seem like an elaborate joke played by the gods on our tiny little hob-goblin minds.
If this Interpretation of the album is true, and it seems pretty legit, it makes classic-rock geek gods RUSH look like Andrew W.K. on a particularly lazy day.
In my estimation Bixler and Lopez have made 6 great albums, everything from ATDI's In-Casino-Out on up to TMV's Amputecture. They took a necessary leap after Relationship of Command(an album which would likly be on this list were it not overshadowed by De-loused)...and made a work of art which exceeds the camp of their moniker and gives the over used modifiers "mind-bending" or "epic" a comfortable place to hang out and be sincere.
Today I listened to the album again focusing on the lyrics with a little help from LyricWiki.org and the albums own Wiki page (which has a link to a story book which came with a special edition release) in order to make some sort of sense of the story.
Starting with the basic premis which is: Friend of the band Julio Venegas(mexican surrealist painter) overdoses on rat poison, falls into a coma, and does battle with his subconcious, only to wake up from the coma a week later and jump off an overpass into traffic a la Kafka's The Judgement.
The lyrics are uber-opaque, but I was able to get a sense of the arc of the story which is so well layed out in the above interpretation that I've decided not to do my own inferior version.
If you already love the album then I hope I've done it some justice. If you don't already love it, then that means you've never heard it. In which case, get the album, kick everyone out of the house, get in your socks on the linoleum, put the good china in the cabinet, and get your air drumsticks ready, I'll see you in a week.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Over the course of the coming months I'm going to take it upon myself to write lengthy reviews/love letters to ten albums. These albums will have been released at any time over the past ten years and will have captured my ear and my heart in some great big ugly way. Indeed this is my top 10 of the 2000s list.
Monday, August 10, 2009
Life is an endless parade of death and disillusionment, marching thoughtlessly forward as the path of incredulous hope is crushed with ease under the heel of it's careless sole. At approximately 1 AM this morning I swallowed what remained of a bottle of tums and washed them down with a mouthful of Alberto’s VO5. As the calcium courses through my veins aided by the volumizing proteins of my milky death rinse, I come here in my final anguished moments to post my last grievances with this brutish world.
What a cruel ride it’s been. To everyone along the way who has tried in every way to make it as soul-crushing and horrible as possible, I tip my hat, I couldn’t have done it without you. But, the real credit goes to the man who’s been with me since the beginning. He’s an all-consuming voice in my head and he calls himself Dr. Safety.
As life has pulled my fragile frame through the proverbial mangler, Dr. Safety has been at my side assuring me that the pointless pain of living can be forever soothed by what he refers to as "the mortal therapy." As the brittle walls of my shaky existence come crashing down around me in a hell storm of torturous reckoning, I leave my case in the hands of the good doctor and in the faith of his velvet cure.
To those left behind, I assure you now that you’ve played no small part in my untimely voyage to the infinite. Each of you like the many stones of a great wall has played some role in the aggregate of my shattered being. Reckless guardian, reviled lover, off-handed heckler, this note is for you. I have forgotten nothing, and the pain of each encounter resonates within me at a deafening frequency which grows louder each sunless day.
Why now then? You might be asking yourselves. Well the answer to that is simple.
As the autumn of my youth approaches, my pride has contracted me to build my modest home on the banks of a mighty torrent. In the throws of a raging tempest my foundation was unearthed and my life’s work was carried out to the vast sea where the ashes of my indentity litter the ocean floor. Looking back perhaps I shouldn’t have played that many PowerBall tickets.
And now with my chalky death soon approaching,
Goodbye cruel world, Good morning Doctor
I regret everything,
Saturday, August 8, 2009
I just finished reading this book...
...and i say, if you haven't read it yet, then by all means get to it.
Brian S. I'm sure you'd probably spot this cover art in a crowded room. And with this book the design and content, the form and function, are linked inseparably in a way I've not seen in a graphic novel.
The life of Asterios Polyp, an accomplished architect who's designs have won countless awards yet have never been built, is narrated by the voice of his unborn identical twin brother Ignazio. The story centers around a late-life-crisis which pits Polyp against a heart-breaking divorce, and a lightning fire which destroys his home and all its modern, angular furnishings.
Author David Mazzucchelli is a name I'm sure you're familiar with Matt, as he gets the illustrating credit for Frank Miller's Batman Year One. Mazzacchelli's characters are distinct and multi-dimensional in both personality and physical embodiment, and are, by way of his design, capable of both instant recognition and surprising depth. Their shapes, dimensions, font design, are all clues to their inner working and inherent conflict. Douche Brian, after having been overheard to say something to the effect of "I don't like modern design. I prefer more ornate shit." , were you a character in this book, you might find you self drawn in the labored style of a Victorian nobleman.
The story succeeds fantastically at illuminating one of arts great paradoxes...that is, of the false but apparently inevitable dichotomy of medium and message, and it does so in a way that never burdens the metaphor.
Now that I've written a post both totally informal and cringingly self-important I'm going to go ahead and say I've officially written a "blog". To my audience of 3 and my fictitious potential readership of millions, I now apologize for the disservice I've done you both.