CAN – Tago Mago (1971)

Review by: Michael Strait
Album assigned by: Francelino de Azevedo

If y’aren’t familiar with them, Can are a German-Japanese attempt at removing all ethnic influences from rock ‘n’ roll (well, OK – there’s a little more to it than that), and they really like jamming. They aren’t purists like Keiji Haino, though – the jams on this record have been edited pretty heavily, as ye can tell by the presence of both a lead and a rhythm guitar on most of them even though they only had one guitarist. I’m not complaining, though – I really like these jams, especially the really long ones. “Halleluwah” is the most famous track here, and it holds the distinction of being the only 18-minute jam my prog-hating, indie-loving friend really likes. Maybe it’s because none of the participants seem overly concerned with showing off – except possibly Jaki Liebezeit, who at one early point manages to fit some insane skittering fills into his drunken-robot rhythms without breaking the flow – or maybe it’s because Damo Suzuki is a vocalist so endearingly unskilled as to make the average indie rocker sound like Freddie Mercury by comparison. He can’t really carry a tune, but the band never really give him any tunes to carry so that’s no problem. This album is about rhythms and adventures – melody ain’t important.

Anyway, “Halleluwah” is good fun the whole way through. There’s some violin playing that sounds like it’s scraping at the edge of the universe and Suzuki gets steadily more off his head as it goes – good for him! Towards the end, some swirling synths come in and the whole edifice sounds like it’s levitating, as if Stonehenge has decided it wants to visit the moon. It’s music that’s having a real good time existing, and by extension I have a damn good time listening to it. It’s a surprisingly accessible track, actually – the guitar solos could, for the most part, fit onto any ol’ rock song (they’d improve the vast majority of them, mind) and the bassist is playing a pretty funky rhythm for most of it. Same goes for most of the songs here – there’s always a lovely contrast between the drumming, keys and rhythm guitar, which are almost invariably of weirdo persuasion, and the fairly ordinary bass and lead.

Mind you, all that normality totally disappears on a couple of these tracks. I love “Aumgn” even more than “Halleluwah”, and that dispenses with all the more accessible elements of “Halleluwah” and just goes full-on freaky. It’s 17 minutes of freeform dark ambience, presumably improvised (‘cos how do you compose something like this?) and named after the only lyric. Suzuki’s not present on this one, and instead it falls to keyboardist Irmin Schmidt to repeatedly intone the sound “AAAAAAAAAAUUUUUUUUUUUUUUMMMMMMMMGGGGGGGGGGNNNNNNNNNNNN!” like a God creating the universe as the instruments lurch and slurch along in a glacial fog-sludge behind him. I can scarcely identify any of the instruments beyond the guitar – the rest is a bunch of fear groans and worried scrapes, with the occasional injection of something identifiable like a stumbling zombie bassline or a bat-wing pitter-patter on the drums. It’s all mighty atmospheric and fairly wonderful, and most interestingly of all is that it ain’t remotely corny like a lot of dark and ominous tone pieces. Even the demented church organ that comes in near the end works just fine.

Oh, and then there’s “Peking O”. Liebezeit claimed to hate free jazz, but I’ll claim he’s a fuckin’ poser because this is totally free jazz, at least the middle segment. It’s got Suzuki finally reaching spiritual apotheosis and becoming one with his inner self, speaking (or rather shouting) in tongues while a drum machine suffers a seizure and a keyboard gets drunk behind him. Even in the more held-together parts of this song, all the instruments sound like they’ve been infected with Cordyceps, sort of woozily stammering about in a vaguely coherent fashion before collapsing into freeform ridiculousness. Is it good? Yeah, I think so, but it’s not the sort of thing I can take entirely seriously – I mean, if you didn’t have a good chuckle the first time you heard Suzuki abandon all pretence of sanity and collapse into fits of babbling then I’m not sure I understand you. There’s a really apocalyptic noise-guitar at one point that sort of predicts the stuff experimental rock would start to fully explore in about ten years, and eventually the whole thing just ends when somebody switches off the tape. It’s all a bunch of good fun – just be prepared for some weird looks if you listen to it for the first time in the shower, as I did.

There’s four other songs on here, too. They’re all great, but I don’t really care about ‘em. I mean, how am I meant to when they share an album with those three? “Mushroom” has these really cool laserbeam guitars, “Oh Yeah” runs Suzuki’s vocals backwards for the first half and it sounds great, “Bring Me Coffee Or Tea” has a cool acoustic lead guitar that kinda sounds like a fragmented prism version of the American Western style, and “Paperhouse” sets the whole scene nicely, but in the end they’re all overshadowed by those big centrepieces. It’s a fuckin’ awesome album, though – a titanic edifice honouring the raw power of crazy bullshit. A lot of my favourite underground music wouldn’t exist without it, either. And it’s so much fun! I dunno if these guys took themselves seriously, but the music itself certainly doesn’t – this is a silly romp that also just happens to be total genius. Best album I’ve heard in this game so far, for sure.
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ONDATRÓPICA – Ondatrópica (2012)

Review by: A.A
Album assigned by: Nicolás Martínez

 

I am afraid before attempting to truly review this album I (and the reader alike in time) will have to go through a crash course in Latin music genres 🙂 … Just look at its RYM page: Cumbia, Vallenato, Afro-Cuban Jazz, Latin Rap, Champeta… I could say this is the kind of music they call “exotic” and leave it at that, losing an ounce of self-respect for being so clueless. Though still, while being no expert, I’d have to content myself describing it very generally, hopefully actually doing the similarly-novice among the readers a small service…
The album starter “Tiene Sabor, Tiene Sazón“ is a jaunty, bouncing tune extremely well-suited for kicking off whatever festivities they have over in the Latin world (and I hear they have many), the feel and vibe naturally segueing into “Punkero Sonidero”.
“I Ron Man” is where I was suddenly taken aback: despite the name I could not divine aforehand it was a Latin music cover of Black Sabbath’s namesake track. Suffice it to say it works, and works well. Probably quite as well as a surreptitious slip into party people’s diet regimen to slowly prepare them for end-of-the-world doominess of the original, if they can’t take it firsthand.
“A female rapper rapping over the Latin equivalent of a klezmer” were my first impressions of “Suena”, the follow up track. “Locomotora Borracha” which literally translates into Spanish as “drunk locomotive” does indeed sound like a drunken motorcade through decorated streets in a Latin funland. Ignore the kind of electronic music the term IDM actually stands for today; “Remando” is what I’d describe as truly “intelligent dance music”: it’s easy on the ears yet still quite cerebral.
“Linda Mañana“ is another festive number with a bit of a dramatic flair, featuring vocals by someone anonymous, not a single word uttered by whom I can understand (well, I can understand “La Madonna”…) but can sense the dexterity of his wordplay.
“Ska Fuentes” is, as the name indicates, a ska – embellished with horns and reminiscent somewhat of classical-era Bollywood music (that being the only point of comparison I have). “3 Reyes de la Terapia” is the odd one out – throaty vocal effects over intermittent doses of… some kind of lambada music (a la Sun City Girls’ “The Shining Path”)? It seems that way to me, lol. “A creeping beat-box fever dream wreathed in dubby echo,” is what another site describes it as, and I don’t think I can top that description.
Epic horns reappear in “Bomba Trópica” and “Descarga Trópica” is replete with a Caribbean island feel. “Libya” features some exotic kind of horns/wind instruments. “Gaita Trópica” is back into happy-go-lucky party dance territory; “Curro Fuentes” is, from what I understand, a “big-band cumbia” … to my naive ears it just sounds like a soaring melange of a large number of Latin musicians doing their thing, and very competently.
“Rap Maya” is again a strange kind of rap over some exotic accordions or maybe reed-pipes that has a very “snake-charming” feel to it. Up next is “Dos Lucecitas”, Latin-jazzy with female vocals, followed by “Cumbia Especial”, a beautiful piece (cumbia again, but no big-band setting this time) which reminds me a bit of Cat Mother & The All Night Newsboys’ “Marie”.
“Donde Suena el Bombo” made me feel proud because I could immediately detect one of the the main instruments – a marimba. It has a marching rhythm and the dance vibes that are ubiquitous on the album. The album ends with “Swing de Gillian”, a somewhat sombre piece that sounds like an elegy to more an end of a good party than a human being, given its setting and sound.
Because all good things must eventually come to an end. Unless the next time arrives for popping out this charming piece of Latin exotica and having some fun again.

KAKI KING – …Until We Felt Red (2006)

Review by: A.A
Album assigned by: Nicolás Martínez

Pretty music with pretty vocals, some of which is really touching, if a bit commonplace.
 
Much of the album is acoustic folk with ethereal vocals, like a less apocalyptic Marissa Nadler, with varying amounts of post-rock.
 
Standout tracks for me (that stand out from the rest because they try to be something different) are …Until We Felt Red, jazzy instrumental post-rock with the unusual time signatures and sludgy guitars with weird scratchy textures; “These Are The Armies Of The Tyrannized”, that actually goes into a hard rock groove midway; the beautifully atmospheric “Soft Shoulder”, which could be something taken straight from Opeth’s Damnation album; and “Gay Sons Of Lesbian Mothers”, which, strange title aside, is like the album highlight on Spotify, being the most streamed track off this album — it sounds like she tried to made a chill-dance track while remaining within the sensibilities of atmospheric folk.
 
From what I understand, this album has something of a lack of critical clout, but there’s certainly nothing dislikable here for me. In fact, when this album get evocative, it gets remarkable and conjures lush, beautiful moods on a deeply sensitive level. The only real problem is that it contains glowing embers of beauty smouldering amidst more passable material.

THE TIGER LILLIES – Farmyard Filth (1997)

Review by: B.B. Fultz
Album assigned by: Alex Alex

This quaint and charming collection of folk songs is something I would highly recommend for anyone with ears. Yes, even deaf people. The songs are unassuming and inviting, and can be enjoyed in many ways. You can listen to them. You can dance to them — they’re ideal for polkas, but a few could be waltzed to, at least until the timing abruptly shifts, as it often does in these songs. You can sing along to them, but you’ll need to learn the words first. Or you could do some combination of these three things. It’s up to you, really. I can’t make all your decisions for you.

The music is generally upbeat and most of the songs tend toward a medium to fast tempo. The folkish style is somewhat the same throughout, yet occasionally takes an unexpected turn. For example, “Motor Car” begins as a Spanish-flavored guitar piece, then becomes a kind of smooth lounge number with thick jazzy bass lines, while still (somehow) retaining that Spanish sound. “Flies” begins as a solemn J. S. Bach-styled hymn, transforms into another folkish piece, and ends with a stretch of operatic beauty. The unpredictable changes in tempo and emphasis, often within the same song, keep the music from ever becoming too stale or predictable. There is a clear sense of timing, and a skillful use of pauses and continuations, giving the entire album a very organic quality, almost as if the music itself is breathing (sometimes panting) on its own. 

The voice is perhaps the most limited aspect of the album, because it’s the sort of unchanging monotone that even Jon Anderson could mock, although to the best of my knowledge, Jon Anderson does not mock, so I only meant it hypothetically. Actually even the timbre of the voice is similar to Jon Anderson’s lilting and ethereal style… although maybe a more accurate comparison would be Tiny Tim. There is a playfulness in the voice that enhances and underscores the music, even in the most solemn songs. The vocals and the melodies intertwine so perfectly with one another that it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to imagine this specific music without this specific voice. And vice-versa.

The subject matter covers a diverse range of emotions. There is affection (a number of different types, in fact). There are laments for failed relationships, or failed attempts at relationships. There is anxiety, and the fear of dying dirty and poor in wretched obscurity. Ultimately there is faith in a happy ending, where God explains everything to us and clears away all confusion and doubt. There is religion, there is football, there is sex. In short, this is a kaleidoscope of human feelings and urges, blended into a colorful crash-collage of jagged rainbow patterns, as deep and as beautiful as a shattered stained-glass window strewn across the floor of a vandalized cathedral. Yet the brick that shattered this window is inexplicably missing, making it a mystery for the ages. 

If the album has one flaw, it is the inaccuracy of the opening number “Hamsters”. The procedure this song describes in such loving detail normally does NOT involve hamsters, as implied, but gerbils (or so I’ve heard). Hamsters would be more problematic because, unlike gerbils, they don’t have long tails, making them more difficult to get ahold of if they should venture too far. But this small idiosyncrasy only adds to the quirky, rough-hewn charm of the remarkable work of art that is Farmyard Filth. I would like to extend my most profound thanks to Mr. A. Alex for introducing me to this iconic milestone in folk rock.

In short, a remarkable and cathartic musical odyssey that I would recommend for the entire family.* 


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* other families, not mine 

THIS HEAT – Deceit (1981)

Review by: Graham Warnken
Album assigned by: Joseph Middleton-Welling

What if “Revolution 9” were an album?

Now that I’ve grabbed your attention with that shamefully clickbaity opener—that’s not this album. “Revolution 9” was a sound collage, not a piece of music, and was probably ill-advised even though I don’t mind it so much in the context of The White Album—it’s exhausting and unpleasant, sure, but those adjectives are sort of part and parcel of listening to the Great White Whale in full (I say this with the caveat that it vacillates between spots 2 and 3 on my list of Favorite Beatles Albums), and it makes “Good Night” that much more of a relief when it arrives. And here I am writing a whole paragraph that has nothing to do with the album I’ve been assigned! “Will this long-winded git ever get to the music I actually told him to listen to?” Joseph must be thinking.

Anyway, to get back to where that diversion was supposed to be going, “Revolution 9” is not music. Deceit is, to varying degrees, although like “Revolution 9” it is by turns exhausting and unpleasant. There’s a whole lot of white noise going on, to be sure, but floating through its currents are melodies and structures and all that good stuff.

The thing is, I’m not sure that makes it better. In fact, it might have the opposite effect. The melodies, when they rear their heads, whet the listener’s appetite, but they all too soon vanish into the foam again, leaving the listener frustrated and waiting for the next palatable bit to appear rather than focusing on the ambience of the sound collage. Not to say it’s impossible to fuse melody with ambient hellscapes (witness The Downward Spiral), but I think that the former has to be more present in order to balance the equation out; as is, the record is probably 70% noise and 30% melodic, and that’s an uneasy listening experience.

It’s probably my damnable Romanticism coming out, but I don’t necessarily think the political points This Heat are trying to score are best made by an album of abrasiveness. The Wall, for example, remains for me the most successful picture of hell ever put to vinyl primarily because it’s a dance of mingled beauty and destruction, the melodies and quiet moments becoming horrifying in context and making the terror of the more abrasive bits stand out. When the terror becomes one long drone it’s really hard to sustain interest. Not to say that the kind of music Deceit consists of is worthless, or that all music must be melodic, just that in this particular instance some moments of levity might have mattered more than sheer grinding agony for forty minutes.

The production is incredible, all that said. It must have taken a lot of effort to craft this album’s sound, and I would never take that away from the band. And I’m sure that in the context of post-punk, which I know nearly nothing about and to which I gather this album was rather important, its merits become a lot more clear. This one just wasn’t for me. (Even The Wall isn’t, really. I can only bring myself to listen to it maybe once every six months due to its complete horror. When it comes to music I’m less ready to abandon pleasure than I am for films or books.)

*retreats to Anthology 3 to recover with Paul McCartney’s dulcet tones and soothing acoustic guitar*

OPETH – Pale Communion (2014)

Review by: Nina A
Album assigned by: Graham Warnken
The appeal of metal music to the wide audience (all of its many subgenres seem to have a sizable enough fanbase) I have always found has to do a lot more with the psychology of the fans than the merits of the actual music. Not that I mean to say all metal music is bad because it is metal music. Nope, I actually mean to say that all metal music is not that special… because it is metal music. See, for some unspoken reason, metal music has to abide by the various metal music clichés and tropes, and that I find, is the thing that severely limits it and also cripples it somewhat. I was going to go on with more thoughts on the metal-loving community and their chosen genre of adoration but I feel that you folks will stop taking me seriously if I say “metal” one more time. So the reason I am bringing this up is because Pale Communion here (really, could you have picked a cheesier title) is a textbook example of my main problem with the genre: it’s just trying too hard. To be badass and important, I imagine. 
 
Any review of this album will probably go on about propulsive drumming, anthemic electric guitars, dynamic textural passages or I don’t know about its prog goodness or Middle Eastern whatever melodies but the truth is that none of this matters because ultimately the whole exercise is kinda soulless. They probably talk about friendship, betrayal, doom, hell, treason, hate, wisdom and other stuff from the high fantasy handbook of epic but it all just comes across as items off a checklist. A checklist I feel I’ve seen so many times already even if I’ve listened to like 20 metal albums in my life. Even worse, the sound of it all, for all its intellectual approach and expertise and delving into different genres and influences also ends up being this processed generic slick metal sound. And this is even more so what makes it mind numbingly boring. What’s up, metalheads of the world? Will you be considered less metal if you stopped sounding like pseudo-angsty metronomes?
 
Now don’t get me wrong, Pale Communion (oh, how about Brooding Aubergine or something) makes for some excellent background music, especially the more fusionish track “Goblin”, and I dig how they channeled Purple on the opener “Eternal Rains Will Come”. “River”, which I suppose is meant to be the more intimate offering in this album, also flows pretty nicely and showcases some amazing taste in arrangements and the skill of the bandmates. Truthfully, I’d probably find enough nice things to say about each of the tracks here, and I suppose it is for this reason that people feel good about praising such records very highly. Fair enough. Just don’t pretend this stuff is supposed to resonate with you emotionally or blow your mind artistically because in the end it all boils down to the formulaic metal checklist.
 
PS: There is a harmonic minor tune towards the end of “Voice of Treason” that is almost verbatim out of a trashy 90s Bulgarian pop song, which is a fun coincidence.
 
PS2: I can’t believe this came out as recently as 2014.
 
PS3: At least the cover art is somewhat imaginative.

JON SPENCER BLUES EXPLOSION – ACME (1998)

Review by: Nicolás Martínez
Album assigned by: Christian Sußner

This is definitely an interesting album, it has a rich sound but is not overthought. It has a very soundtrack vibe onto it, I feel it could be part of the classic formula of the good old American film with great music that makes the movie so much better whilst perfectly standing for itself as nice tunes to listen on the car. It’s an easy listener, there are some nice guitar riffs and vocals, nothing too fancy, but it just goes very well together. It also has a very contemporary sound; it uses sampling in a very smart way considering the foundation of the album is good old blues music.

Maybe I should give some important contextual information before proceeding with more comments. First of all, this album is said to belong to the genre of punk blues, a style which I was not familiar of. It surely is nice, it’s a combination of old and new sounds put together in odd ways, it sounds a lot like Beck to me. This album is the sixth of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, a band of New York with modest success throughout the 90’s. Consulting in various interviews on the recording and the production on this particular album, I saw the members said most of the album was made just like the others: they composed nice rock n’ roll tracks with dirty sounds. The difference of this piece was the influence of producers who mixed and remixed the tracks which gives the album the distinctive modern sound I was mentioning before.

Although it sounds like a really good rock n’ roll album, it has very noisy moments, and I’m talking about 90’s rock. I’m not really fond of those kinds of experiments, what I find most pleasurable of this album is the simplicity of the sounds which don’t necessarily translate into simple tracks. The sound of this pieces is very authentic, but it’s not built on the expertise of a single musician but rather on the chemistry of the band. It is a very good listen.