Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Musical Interlude

Alternative working title: Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Lose, and Sometimes You Just Scratch Your Head.

I recently had a couple of Amazon gift certificates bestowed upon me, which gave me an opportunity to raid my wish list and pick up a few CDs. The results were mixed; since I've seen little or no press on any of the bands which I purchased I figured I'd toss in my $0.02 for general consumption.

The big win was The Butcher's Ballroom by Diablo Swing Orchestra, an excellent album which I stumbled upon by way of an Amazon recommendation. "Swing orchestra" is an apt description for the group; the initial track on the album, "Balrog Boogie", is a swing tune spiced up with electric guitar and other non-swing elements. I'm admittedly a sucker for this type of thing; I have a soft spot for contemporary re-interpretations of older forms with a little bit of an edge to them.

Such endeavors have a tendency to descend into gimmickry, but DSO manages to avoid that for the most part. They don't limit themselves to swing; other tracks on the album evoke Spanish ballads ("D'angelo"), middle-Eastern string compositions ("Gunpowder Chant"), and classical music ("Velvet Embracer"). All of the tracks on the album are technically well-constructed, stylistically interesting, and show genuine creativity. If I have one minor complaint its that the female vocalist (vocalists?) sing in an operatic style for the entire album, which starts to get a little old after awhile. But apart from that I highly recommend it.

On the other end of the win/lose scale is New Erections by The Locust. I don't recall how this one got on my list; I think I may have heard them on The End. In any case the album is a big, fat bucket of fail; it was genuinely painful to listen to the entire thing from start to finish. Justin Pearson screams his way through the entire thing, completely negating whatever musical virtue it might otherwise exhibit. It's like listening to an amalgamation of the worst aspects of the DeadKennedys and System of a Down. According to their Wikipedia page that's intentional; Mr. Pearson says that he "wanted to change the way people perceive music, or maybe just destroy it in general". Well, let's hear it for success.

And then there are a couple that I haven't quite made up my mind about, Summon by Bloody Panda and All Reflections Drained by Xasthur. Neither have much in common with typical notions of "music", but unlike New Erections both albums are at least listenable even if the effort frequently seems academic.

Summon feels like a cohesive composition that someone has put a modicum of thought into, but its not something that I'd toss in casually at a party. It tends towards sustained electric guitar and organ alternately punctuated by chanting, screaming, and percussion. Not particularly accessible or melodious; definitely an "art" piece, treat accordingly.

All Reflections Drained is so-so; taken one by one there are a number of pieces which aren't bad, but after awhile they all start to sound alike. Maybe it's just the mixing/recording quality; often one instrument will drown out all the others on a particular track. The drums, in particular, sound like they were recorded in someone's garage. Lastly, and perhaps I'm being uncharitable here, the first time I read the track listing it brought to mind nothing so much as this Penny Arcade cartoon.


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