EL-P – Cancer 4 Cure (2012)

Review by: Franco Micale
Album assigned by: Jonathan Moss

I’m going to be honest, I’m not one who is really qualified to review rap music. For one thing, I have been so busy lately that I have not been able to find a satisfying amount of time to really digest, listen to and examine this album from multiple angles. On top of that, hip hop is such a lyrically focused genre of music, and while I can be good at analyzing and dissecting apart literature, poetry, and lyrics, it tends to take me a lot of work, and I’ve just finished my summer quarter of school and I really don’t want to force myself to write an essay detailing the philosophical and sociological messages of “Cancer 4 Cure”. So, pardon me if I am not reviewing and judging this album “properly”. 

I will talk about what I know, and this album sounds amazing. The whole thing, when I visualize it, is like some giant, cinematic, sci-fi action movie, except the movie is about some dystopian society filled with drones, security cameras, and watchguard robots. E-lp’s lyrics seem to deal with detachment and disassociation from the world…finding dissatisfaction from relationships, cheap thrills, technology, fame, the government… just listening to him rap stirs my soul in various way. I can feel the ANGER, the RAGE, the PASSION in what he’s doing, both in his words and his delivery. I don’t know if I can really nail down any specific moments that catch my attention, but to me I consider this album to be solidified proof that anyone who says that rap music is a “stupid” genre of art either:

Have barely heard any rap music, or
Are over the age of 40 and can no longer find appreciation in trendy new types of music

Anyways, moving on, let’s discuss the SOUND and STYLE of this album.This album is a mixture of synthesized sounds, mechanized drum beats, and variety of samples and big, attention grabbing effects, which all seem to create what is the auditory equivalent to a high budget sci-fi movie. This flashy production contrasts and compliments E-lp’s frustration and desperation in a consumeristic and technology driven world,and on a surface level, everything just dazzles me.

Overall, I could go into more detail, but eh. I just don’t feel like it. I’ll let you listen to it, and decide for yourself the quality of this album.

So overall, even though I don’t feel extreme love towards it, it’s a perfectly great and solid album with not a real bad moment. For people who are interested in rap music, but aren’t really sure where to start, this might not be a bad beginning point.

Did I enjoy this album? A: Yes

Should you listen to this album? A: If you like rap music, yes you should.

Is it essential that you listen to this album? A: I don’t know how innovative or revolutionary or how different this is from other rap music, so I don’t know if I can answer this. But yes, it feels important enough.

If you like this album, what should you listen to? A: I haven’t heard them, but Run The Jewels is the main project that E-lp is a part of, so I’d check that out.

FAVORITE TRACK? A: Album was very consistent, can’t quite pick out one.


THE FART GUYS – The Fart Guys (1998)

Review by: Andreas Georgi
Album assigned by: Franco Micale

This review was a breeze! No one had to pull my finger to do it. At first I was like the constipated composer – he was stuck on his last movement. Or the constipated accountant – he couldn’t budget! Listening to this album was like a breath of fresh air. Rip roaring fun. It’s a real gas! This album is like farting in an elevator – it’s wrong on so many levels. Then again, a crowded elevator always smells different to a midget.. I’m not one to wear my fart on my sleeve, but as they say, laugh and the world laughs with you; fart and they’ll stop laughing. Confucius say, “Man who fart in church sit in own pew.” Therefore, so as not to be selfish, I would like to share some spirited poetry:

A Belch is but a gust of wind
That cometh from the Heart,
But should it take a downward trend,
Turneth into a Fart

Beans, beans, the musical fruit
The more you eat, the more you toot

CATHERINE RIBEIRO + ALPES – Le Rat Dèbile Et L’Homme Des Champs (1974)

Review by: Franco Micale
Album assigned by: Roland Bruynesteyn

Although I like this album, it’s very difficult for me to actually judge it for what it is. The big issue I have is that I don’t speak French, so therefore half the time I have no idea what is going on; a lot of the music here seems to be highly lyrically centered. Also, the production and musical content here leaves much to be desired. Basically, the best way to describe this album is that it’s like a mixture of Renaissance, Can, and Nico, except with a very sparse range of instrumentation. There is also a noticeable lack of drums on this album, and although this sound does make for a fairly unique style, it wouldn’t have hurt to ingrain some more rhythmic textures to the songs. On top of that, the production is rather weak to my ears, as the instruments sound muddled together without any attempt to make the tones or timbres shine out. Also, melodically, few of the songs here really stick to my attention in any way, but I don’t think the band was necessarily aiming to create catchy melodies, so I’ll give them a pass.

However, despite all these flaws, I can’t deny that Catherine Ribeiro totally owns the show here. She displays some of the greatest and most expressive singing I’ve ever heard in rock music. I remember I once made an argument about how good singing in music was just as important as solid songwriting, and I declare this album as definitive proof of how right I was. If someone with a horrible voice had sung any of this, then I guarantee this would have been unlistenable, but this woman really raises this album’s quality from abysmal to highly captivating.

Because of Ribeiro, I can honestly say that the first three songs on this album are actually really great, all else aside. The album hits it off with “La Petite Aux Fraises”, a rushing piece with an intense performance from Catherine and a gripping arrangement, in which all the instruments sound as if they are racing against each other. There is also this jiggly and jostling percussive sound that I can’t quite discern. It sounds similar to the electric jug that would appear on a 13th Floor Elevator song (like on this tune), but I can’t tell. Anyone know?

The next piece, “L’ere De La Putrefaction,” is one of the two lengthy suites on the album, and it definitely has a “thematic” and “epic” feel to it. Even though it feels a little clunky at times (what’s with that gap of silence between the third and fourth movement of the suite?), when the piece gets heated, it’s BURNING. I especially love the last part, where the music gets all intense, Catherine boasts her singing out loud, the organ plays a fiery, Morricone-esque melody, and then they even bring in DRUMS! FRICKIN’ DRUMS! The piece just builds up more and more, the drums start going crazy and banging all over the place, all the instruments start doing random stuff, and then BOOM BOOM BOOM! Everything crashes and ends with a blast. Whoa…the whole thing plays out like a climactic scene in an epic movie, and if the rest of the album was like this, I definitely I would have gushed over this more.

Now, as the individual songs go, my favorite song here is the folky “Un Regard Clair”, if only because of how great Catherine sings on this track. Listen to how she oscillates her voice back and forth, swaying between triumph and despair, as if all the passion swelling within her is about to break her down in tears. And kudos to whoever wrote that concise yet anthemic organ melody that correlates to her singing, as it pushes the piece’s emotional power a few inches further. 

So that’s the first side: Extremely solid. Had that side been released alone, I would have easily given this album an 8/10. But then comes the second side, completely comprised of a 25 minute suite, and from this point on my opinion on the album becomes distorted. Basically, this isn’t so much a song as it is a long-winded poem spoken by Catherine, with the music providing the atmosphere and texture. Now see, it’s difficult for me to judge any of this because, well, I don’t speak French, so therefore I have no idea what the hell is going on. So this means I only have the music to focus on, and frankly, a lot of this is very grating. On one hand, I can admit Catherine really gives a fantastic performance on this track, injecting so much life and personality into the words that she speaks. When I focus on her voice, I find myself really enthralled by the track. On the other hand, the actual music here is very tedious, with no rhythm, structure, or logic to hold anything together. I guess it can be amusing at first, but the end result sounds like an ill-fated cover of The Doors’ “Celebration of the Lizard”. Perhaps once I major in French, I can appreciate this more… but for right now, ehhhh…

So in conclusion, flaws aside, I would say that while this isn’t the most likable album ever made, this is a perfectly enjoyable one if you pay close attention to Ribeiro’s voice, and disregard all of the other flaws surrounding the album. She is able to find all sorts of pitches, moods, and resonances to keep the music engaging. Once you have that in mind, everything else becomes very interesting, as she is able to lead you down this twisted, confused, yet sprawling and ambitious journey. But no matter what, this album is really not easy to swallow, so proceed with caution!

Melody: 2/5 
Resonance: 5/5
Diversity: 1/5 
Adequacy: 1/5
Originality: 3/5

Overall: 6/10

PHILIP GLASS – Powaqqatsi (1988)

Review by: Andreas Georgi
Album assigned by: Franco Micale

“Powaqqatsi”, which means “Life in transformation” in Hopi, is the second of 3 “qatsi” films, for which Philip Glass scored and recorded the soundtrack. I am not familiar with the other two. I vaguely recollect seeing one of the 3 movies, and I THINK it was this one. The movie presents in a non-narrative manner without dialog several scenes of events around the world. I honestly don’t remember much more, but it has no bearing on the appreciation of this album. It definitely sounds like a movie soundtrack, but stands up very well as a work on its own. I am familiar with some, but not all, of Glass’s work – his piano etudes, the Low and Heroes Symphonies and “Knee Play” segments from “Einstein on the Beach”, as well as other scattered pieces I’ve heard performed over the years. The basic elements of Glass’s general style are very much identifiable in this music, but this is “big screen” Philip Glass. It uses Minimalist elements in its structure – the subtly-changing repeating simple lines that weave patterns with each other, but it certainly is not “minimalist” in its arrangements. Most pieces are quite dense with orchestra, percussion, choirs or other vocal ensembles, and a very wide range of different “ethnic” musical influences. This is kind of Glass’s “World Music” work, reflecting the themes of the movie. The sound alternately evokes Brazil, India, China, and the Middle East without necessarily directly quoting their musical styles. The obvious exception is the vocal (in Arabic, I assume) on “From Egypt”. Sometimes the music gradually transitions, while other times it jump cuts abruptly. Dense, bombastic (in a good way) pieces like “Caught” contrast with sparser & gentler passages.
In a nutshell, it’s a definite thumbs up for this one. The “CLASSICAL” and “MINIMALIST” labels should not scare away listeners. Glass’s work (as far as I know it) is very much tonal, and this album is quite accessible for listeners who are somewhat adventurous and interested in world music. 

This review is also posted on Amazon here.

THE RESIDENTS – Not Available (1978)

Review by: Jaime Vargas Sánchez
Album assigned by: Franco Micale

First, I absolutely won’t comment about the extra-musical aspects, the theory of obscurity, or whatever, as I think it’s probably a put-on.

How to describe it? Hmm, what about this? Imagine Mike Oldfield had gone totally insane right before the first recording session of “Ommadawn” and that might be a nice start. Minimalist synth phrases intermingle with weird voices, tribal-like beats are cut short by Steve Reich-esque signature changes…

The Mike Oldfield comment is not casual, as the ending section of Part One has a repetitive keyboard riff that appears throughout the album serving as a “main theme” of sorts, and it does remind me a bit of “Tubular Bells”. That part had begun with something that I can only describe as “electronic Moros y Cristianos music”, because it reminds me of the kind of music brass bands play in Eastern Spain the festivities that remember the Muslim vs Christian battles in medieval Spain. Which usually resemble Hollywood music like Lawrence of Arabia more than actual Moorish music but you get my drift. Part Two begins with a sax that is treated in the studio to sound like a folk instrument from Hell, segueing into a deranged deconstruction of a piano ballad and then some music that would be great as the soundtrack for a German expressionist film. When you thought that Part Three was going to be almost entirely devoid of interest they manage to set spooky music to an habanera rhythm. The beginning of Part Four sounds to me like a lo-fi version of Air’s “Moon Safari” which again seems to be spliced into a weird Latin-tinged thing. And the album continues with those wild juxtapositions.

In short, here’s an album that I find definitely interesting and might return to, although it does not “resonate” with me, which I don’t think was its purpose anyway. If you find yourself deeply moved by it, I don’t know what that says about you, honestly 🙂

By the way there’s an aspect of the album that brought me memories of my childhood: my grandpa had a Farfisa Matador-R organ from the 70s and some of the tones – and definitely the rhythm box sounds – remind me of it. A lot.

FAD GADGET – Gag (1984)

Review by: Francelino Prazeres de Azevedo Filho
Album assigned by: Franco Micale

Fad Gadget is the artistic pseudonym taken by Englishman Francis John Tovey, who Wikipedia describes as an avant-garde electronic musician. His 1984’s album, Gag, is notable for featuring industrial music’s most famous stick figure, Einstürzende Neubauten, on one track. So, it was to my surprise (a pleasant one), to find that this album is a catchy post-punk/new wave record.

It starts on the gothy side of the post-punk spectrum, with lyrics like “as I dream, I live / and as I sleep, I walk” or “they have no reflections / drink blood but pierce no veins”, that almost seem parodic, and might as well be. But as that kind of sound starts to overstay its welcome, Mr. Fad surprises me with the badfingerish “Stand Up”. The album then takes a turn towards the poppier and happier aspects of the genre, bringing acts like XTC to mind. Some tracks, like “One Man’s Meat” or “Jump” are clearly inspired by Gang of Four. Overall, the album is very diverse, even if it doesn’t depart from post-punk, because the genre has many possible paths, and Frank Tovey tries to go through all of them in a single record.

All this diversity wouldn’t be enough, if the songs weren’t good, but there isn’t a single weak track on this album. The strongest point to me is Fad’s voice. It has a remarkable range of moods and personalities, from the crooning on “The Ring”, to the more aggressive “Ad Nauseum”, and all of them are great. Instrumentally, the album is solid, with a wide variety of instruments that all contribute to the music, but in my limited listens throughout this week, nothing really jumped out as great. Even the Einstürzende Neubauten participation on “Collapsing New People” was good but not really impressive.

Overall, Gag is a pretty good album, and, I might say, one of the best I’ve listened of this era. It might even serve as an introduction to post-punk, because it travels through the many variants of the genre, always making sure to show their strong points.