CHICO SCIENCE AND NAÇÃO ZUMBI – Da Lama ao Caos (1994)

Review by: Syd Spence
Album assigned by: Francelino Prazeres de Azevedo Filho

Ever since this project began, I’ve been given records whose taste doesn’t suit my palate, which is good to a degree. It get’s me out of my ghetto of listening patterns. So far though,  I’ve not really enjoyed any of them, which i find weird because I think i have a wide palette. I mean my current listening collection has reggae, jazz, metal, and pop rock, and yet, you Only Solitairians keep giving me music that I don’t enjoy. Apparently, i’m more narrow minded then I think I am. 

However, this round I was assigned an album that I should like. It’s this Brazilian funky hip hop alt rock fusion group with leftist politics and fantastic hand drumming (that only Brazil could do.) Essentially, Brazil’s answer to Rage Against the Machine, a group that any child of ‘90s knows and loves. Yet, I don’t like this record. 

First let’s start with the MC. Now I don’t exactly know what he is talking about, I’m a dumb American that can’t speak Portuguese. It’s pretty terrible how monolingual my decaying empire is, but that’s the fact of the matter, but I digress. I’m pretty certain all the lyrics are leftist in tone, I believe i heard a Viva Zapata, and who doesn’t love Emiliano Zapata? Well, fascists of course, but surely any sane person loves themselves some Zapatistas. So good for Chico. It’s just his delivery sounds like a macho football hooligan that wanted to be a hip hop MC. I just find his tone and style unsavory. He probably is spitting the truth, but my dumb ears can’t decipher it or more to the point enjoy it.  

The next problem is the guitar. The tone is so ‘90s, it’s like a mixture of generic hardish alt rock and funk, which just turns me off. Like if he sounds like a local bar band’s guitarist attempt at sounding like John Frusciante or Tom Morello, and the guitar tones he uses are so generic ‘90s altrock that it sucks all the funk out. 

With all those problem, I must say the percussion was on point. I love those tribal drums, and this album has a lot of it. Unfortunately, they surround subpar songs with subpar guitar and a subpar MC. Not for me, perhaps next session, I’ll get a new album that I will love. 
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WITCHCRAFT – Legend (2012)

Review by: B.B. Fultz
Album assigned by: Syd Spence

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NOTE : The only versions of this album that I could find had some gaps between the songs, so I’m assuming a few of the songs were missing. It’s possible the missing songs are better than the ones I commented on, so take my lukewarm review of the album with a grain of salt.

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An album by a band called Witchcraft, billed as “doom metal” by reviewers, and released in the year 2012 doesn’t sound promising. One can already hear the overproduced mess of power chords, the unintelligible lyrics, the phlegm-throated shrieking, all the elements of something an angsty 13 year old boy might headbang to (when he wasn’t listening to Korn). 

Good News … This album isn’t like that. Surprisingly, it’s a callback to classic heavy metal. The most obvious and most prevalent influence is early Black Sabbath. From the very first song, the vocal style reminds me of Ozzy. Not the voice so much as how the lyrics are sung. Specifically mid-period Sabbath (Vol-4/SBS/Sabotage) where Ozzy was expanding his emotive range rather than simply repeating the guitar phrases with his voice. The vocalist is good enough in his way. He’s no great shakes but he has a decent enough range to pull off these songs. For heavy metal, there’s surprisingly not much screaming or growling on this album. This singer favors melodicity over brute force. The upside to this is, he doesn’t sound like a total choad. The downside is that he doesn’t make a very strong impression. He’s no Ian Gillan, just a run-of-the-mill rock singer with an okay set of pipes. 
The songs tend to grind along at mid-tempo. They’re heavy, but not too heavy. There’s lots of sludge here, but there’s also a momentum of sorts. These guys aren’t just playing that sludgy metal sound because it “sounds cool” (although it does), they’re actually trying to go somewhere with it. There is a lot of melodic string-plucking between the heavy riffs, and passages that sound like they’re trying to be acoustic even though they’re electric guitar … you know, that quasi-medieval sound, when heavy metal is trying a little too hard to sound emotional and cathartic (Blackmore’s Rainbow must have been another influence). The riffs themselves are not all that memorable. Likewise, the playing is competent, but not much beyond that. Most of these songs probably won’t stick in your head if you’re not a heavy metal fan, and maybe even if you are one. 

The solos are the most interesting part of the album, because they’re such a deliberate callback to classic rock bands (of various schools, not just heavy metal). They often resemble 70s hard rock solos (slow and heavy — think David Gilmour in “Pigs”) combined with certain melodic tendencies from 80s metal solos. They are not very fast or flashy, which probably works to their advantage. 70s solos were pieces of information, each note a specific word or phrase or gesture, which is what separated them from generic 80s noodling. A given solo might sound like Sabbath, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Thin Lizzy, even Lynyrd Skynyrd. The more interesting solos sound like a few different bands over a short span of time. While there are 80s (and later) elements at work here, the heart of the solos is rooted in 70s hard rock. 
Nothing on this album jumps out as amazing or innovative, but that’s probably not what they were going for. It’s more of a tribute to classic rock by some guys with a little skill and an obvious love for the older bands. Whatever hooks there are on this album, if any, are not especially sharp, but at least it’s a reasonably coherent tribute to old school heavy metal. And in 2012, that’s maybe not such a bad thing.

ANGRA – Aqua (2010)

Reviewed by: Schuyler L.

Assigned by: Victor Guimarães

It’s November the 9th, 11:48 AM, and I’m listening to sounds of “Aqua” by the band Angra. It’s raining, I have a lurking feeling of nausea that won’t go, and this sincerely feels like the worst day possible to be living in the free country of U.S.A.

According to Wikipedia, Angra plays a mix of power and progressive metal and are from Brazil, so hats off (to Roy Harper), ‘cause they must have really cornered the market in that area. This is ostensibly a concept album, but fucked if I know what’s going on here.

The music is loud, with barely any correlation between various sections whatsoever, and not the kind of thing I would listen to on any given day. Basically, we have this formula: brief sound collage-ism -> loud ‘n’ fast -> piano ballad motif -> more loud ‘n’ fast -> some namby-pamby constipated on the toilet -> acoustic guitar -> even more loud ‘n’ fast -> choral motifs -> WAIT, A FUCKING SITAR FOR A SECOND????

So it’s pretty much self-evident that, despite a few nice parts (the instrumental bits where they don’t focus so much on loud ‘n’ fast), this is not a good work in my view – and this has nothing to do with my foul mood at the present moment in time, I assure you!

Yes, despite some indubitably excellent drumming, bass-playing, and guitar noodles, I am very sorry to say that this recording sounds like dog shit. The cymbals are always floating away into the ether, the toms and snares sound incredibly brickwalled, the singer’s voice is placed obnoxiously at the forefront of the mix…

In fact, there’s such an alarming lack of studio ambiance I’m tempted to believe it was recorded in the singer’s asshole.

Still, there is an inspiring quote to be found in “Rage of the Waters”, the fifth track, which sort of stuck out a bit more than any of the other lyrics did, to my highly distracted and suggestible mind:

“So long, it took me to learn

Surging waves can take all your hope
But when the torment ends, comes the calm
There’s no reason to despair, no!”

Well, that really just popped my cherry. And now we’ve got a president who does that without people’s permission, ha-ha! I’m actually looking forward to it, four or more years of people screaming their heads off and getting all naked and free and united and kissing and loving and enjoying each other and LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS

MOSS AND JOE’S BIG REGGAE ADVENTURE: THE PARAGONS – On the Beach (1967)

Review by: Joseph Middleton-Welling and Jonathan Moss


First some background. Despite the fact that the name of this column is ‘Moss and Joe’s Big Reggae Adventure’ the Paragons are not technically a reggae band – except in a loose sense. The bands formation actually predates the beginnings of reggae by about several years. So what genre is this music? This is rocksteady. What is rocksteady? Well basically Rocksteady is what happens when you take Ska- slow it right down and add heartbreak. Lots and lots of heartbreak. These guys sound like they’ve women have left them more times than your average bluesmen and they’d be much more at home crying into their Red Stripe than smoking a joint. We’ve all been there. Rocksteady as a genre only lasted about two years before it evolved into reggae itself.

To put it bluntly this album is quite ‘lo-fi.’ Not that it sounds horrible or anything, but compared with Aswad last time, the music on this platter is much more sparse, with less horns and layering than most reggae I’ve heard before. It’s basically just guitar, bass and drums throughout most of the songs, with horns and other instruments occasionally popping up in a supporting role. Straight out of the gate you’re going to notice that this music is vocally dominated, there’s often a lot of harmonies and counter melodies going on and these call to mind a lot of early RnB singing, think doo-wop and early Beach Boys. The singing on this album sounds like a bunch of talented guys standing around one mic in a studio and singing their hearts out. Not exactly soulful because that’s not quite the right word in this context- think heartfelt and you’re probably closer to the mark. The bass on this album is quite quiet but whoever is playing is doing some really nice melodies- I just wish it was louder.

Here is where we run into a slight problem. You may have noticed that I’ve not mentioned any individual tracks yet. There is a reason for this. THE ALBUM IS VERY SAMEY. It’s all songs about love in some way but it’s all delivered by similar arrangements and at similar tempos. This means the record can get quite monotonous, especially if you let it blend into the background. But, if you listen closely, little elements start to float up out of the rocksteady soup to keep you interested. The key to this record is the atmosphere, the almost lo-fi production combines with the heartfelt but rough singing and makes a warm and inviting feeling, even when most of the songs are about difficult emotions- like losing someone you love. The record manages to project the illusion of a kind of homespun charm, like a bunch of friends jamming on the beach and this makes for a warm listening experience if you’re prepared to listen closely and absorb it. Of course the band playing the songs on this LP is actually a bunch of tight as fuck session men, but the important part is that they don’t let that aspect become too prominent that it stops you from feeling welcome in the music.

Plus this record has the original version of ‘The Tide is High’ on it! This version is obviously much more rough and ready than Blondie’s cover but what it loses in gloss it makes up for in that fantastic sense of innocence that 50s and 60s pop has in spades. In terms of other standouts the title track is an amazing encapsulation of all of the good elements of this record, the vocals arrangement is simple but emotionally resonant when combined with the lyrics and the arrangement is really effective at supporting the vocals in an economical way. I’d encourage you to listen to this track at least once. Everything else is nearly as good, but the record works much better as a collective experience than a group of singles, at least if you want it’s full magic to work.

I would recommend this record in two contexts. This is a great party album, it’s got a lot of relaxed reggae grooves and the singing is emotional but natural. And if you do give this album a close listen and but if you’re in the right mood for blissed out heartbreak this record will embrace you like a bunch of old friends sitting on the beach and drinking beer. I probably find it sadder than is intentional but hey ho…

Next ‘week’ it’s Beenie man!

CROWDED HOUSE – Together Alone (1993)

Review by: Francelino Prazeres de Azevedo Filho
Album assigned by: Nina A

 

I’m sorry, Neil Finn fans, but I don’t see how he could be considered one of the greatest songwriters of his generation. Not from this record, at least. A power pop album with some nice variations but no strong highs or lows. Some places in the internet would suggest this is also inspired from Maori music. I call bullshit on that. The last (and title-) track has lyrics inspired from their mythology and a nice chorus singing in their language, but nothing else in the album seems any different from regular pop-rock.
 
The atmosphere and lyrics here are usually earnest and passionate, supported by some sort of melodrama in Neil’s voice that kinda turns me off in some tracks. There’s no song that tries to rock hard, or to be very catchy. It’s like Crowded House are content with sounding pop-rock but don’t try to push the boundaries of the genre. It would feel too harsh to call this “middle-of-the-road”, though. The best way I can explain it is that the great pop-rock I’ve listened to manages to keep the strengths of both pop and rock, while this is more like half-pop added with half-rock.
 
“Private Universe” is the biggest fail in that to me. It’s an attempt at an intimate love song, but the lyrics and the melody don’t really match, and the refrain is weak. “Walking on the Spot” is not very strong either, and talks about some banal domestic drama. “Can we look the milkman in the eye?” The other ballad, “Fingers of Love” is more successful. The sentimentality in the voice acts in its favour, rather than detracting from it. With its dramatic guitars and ornate words, it’s the best track here.
 
The second best, in my opinion, is the funky “Skin Feeling”. Other strong ones: “Pineapple Head” is a cool McCartney-ish ditty with a pulsating bass. “Catherine Wheels” is nice and folksy, it even reminds me of Neutral Milk Hotel. “Kare Kare” decided to laugh at this message, the following night she disappeared leaving no trace has a catchy refrain, “soon / in a valley lit by the moon”. “In My Command” has Neil doing his best impression of Lennon circa 1964.
As you can see, there are plenty of good songs here, and that is what makes a good power pop album. Together Alone is a good album, there’s no doubting it! The problem, I guess, is that I’m too blasé to enjoy it. There are just too many similar albums that just make me feel with much more intensity!