KAYAH & ROYAL QUARTET – Kayah & Royal Quartet (2010)

Review by: Kyle Wilson
Album assigned by: Nina A

(This reviewer knows very little about classical music, from specific composers, to how it’s written or performed, nor is he well versed in Polish or Romani language, culture or music, as he is mostly an ignorant, white American who loves the Beatles.
While he has a general appreciation for string and horn arrangements, believing they always make songs sound better, he is utterly unable to provide accurate musical descriptions of such songs beyond the use of such vague terms as “heavy”, “dark” and “menacing”, or on the lighter side…”light” or “fast” or “ethereal fluttering.” Terms like “fugue” or “baroque” or “arpeggio” might as well be names of Italian drag queens.
Furthermore, before being assigned this album, he was completely unaware of the existence of Kayah, Polish singer-songwriter, whose songs appear to be a blend of Polish, Romani, jazz, soul, funk and pop influences, among others. He was therefore totally oblivious to any of her albums, including Kayah & Royal Quartet, a 2010 collaboration between her and the Royal String Quartet covering a selection of her songs.
In an attempt to better understand her music, the reviewer attempted to learn as much about her as possible, and listen to a few of her studio albums. Beyond feeling that what little he listened to was “not bad,” he found it difficult to commit himself to listening to albums in a language he did not understand, despite his OBSESSION with mariachi music.
In a last ditch effort to have some kind of knowledge of the music to make analysis even remotely interesting, he looked up the lyrics. In Polish. Which he couldn’t understand. Even with words he couldn’t understand, he hoped they would at least give him some semblance of comprehension about the basic structure of the pieces as pop songs. The help was minimal, and with such wonderfully useful Google translations as “carat big as her anxiety when you raise your hand this buys her dress,” he feared he would have nothing to say.
Finally, the reviewer decided to stop worrying and just listen to the album.
He was honestly surprised at how much he enjoyed it, and then worried if this made him racist. He reluctantly concluded that it didn’t, but that he should keep an eye on his privilege, just in case. 
As he listened to the album, he began to write down some first impressions. I, the disclaimer, must warn you: these are superficial descriptions, and might trigger you to be amused and bewildered.
“Kwartesencja – slow, menacing and sharp, matches the tone of the album cover, Romani influenced, instrumental, nice, optimistic tone in the last 30 seconds building up to the next track.
Za Blisko – discernible vocal melody, but hard to pin point with the Polish lyrics. Bright and sumptuous arrangement, smooth and clear vocals. The part in the middle with the fast whispering is annoying and for a brief moment crosses into Yoko Ono territory but then the music disappears and all we hear are Kayah and her slow, heavy, breathy heaves. Sexy as fuck! Then a split second of acapella singing as the song begins again and then crawls to a descent and then a slow fade. Damn!
Prosba Do Twych Ust – It is admittedly difficult to tell these vocals and melodies apart without understanding the language. The thing is, with Za Blisko, I was able to discern the chorus, but with this track, it’s almost impossible. Not knowing the language, I may need to stop trying to analyze and just take in the sound. And what a sound it is! Soaring, powerful, sometimes angry vocals, to a musical backing that is at times searing, and other times ethereal, with the strings fluttering like a butterfly.
Testosteron – Holy shit this song is amazing! It starts with some nice, tasteful plucking strings, with a clear melody in the verses, before the chorus begins and the strings get heavier and darker, sweeping past as Kayah blasts the male hormone for all its destructive capabilities, and then she declares the title of the song and the strings become HEAVY and low, and you feel the misery and anger she’s singing about as the deep, menacing strings rise back up for the second verse, but they are building, building, building and then 3 minutes in, the climax! The strings rage in a monstrous, frightening surge, as she gives one more powerful delivery of the chorus, and then the song just ends, with her words hanging in the air. Breathtaking! I prefer this version over the original 1000000%!”
Thus ends the first impressions of this reviewing giant, who only really bothered to analyze the first four songs, although he was so honestly blown away by the fourth song that every other one would probably sound the same to him.
Which was his general, uninformed, Philistine opinion when he actually bothered to listen to the whole album, apart from the surprising English language cover of Grace Jones’ Libertango.
The “reviewer” seems to think that, apart from Testosteron and Libertango, which are the “obvious” standouts, the album is mostly all just the same vibe, of being nicely produced, with clear, sexy vocals and some “cool,” dramatic string arrangements.
Which, considering this is a European pop star collaborating with a string quartet to cover some of her own songs, this seems like a fairly redundant viewpoint to have, but again, this reviewer isn’t that great, hence the disclaimer. I mean, he’ll probably end up turning it in late. And so, after being 
thoroughly forewarned…)
Oh. Um. The album was pretty good. Nice. Testosteron was awesome. I mean…
This is the bit right? That the whole actual review was in the disclaimer? It’s kinda dumb…

THE HARVEST MINISTERS – A Feeling Mission (1995)

Review by: Dinar Khayrutdinov
Album assigned by: Kyle Wilson

After three listens of this album on bandcamp (and it isn’t available elsewhere) I was asked to pay for it or go to hell, and, since 10 euro is a bit more than I can afford right now (I seriously considered buying it, yes, because it is a pretty good record), here is my review of the album based on my memories of it.

In one word – it is pleasant. In more than one word – it is the kind of folksy chamber pop that Belle and Sebastian (and some other similar bands) are famous for; yet you have to give these Irish guys credit – they did it before B&S, and they were good at it too.

The name of the band and the title of the album are gloriously deceptive – this is not Christian rock by any definition, and the “mission” these fellas are carrying is that of simply putting up a bunch of nice folksy tunes that would make you feel something. Moreover, I don’t see any particular ‘Irishness’ here either – this music has more in common with Hank Williams than stuff like The Dubliners or The Chieftains (it does have a lot in common with Van Morrison though, but that’s another story). But whatever. All thirteen songs on this record are pretty good – they all sound very nice-and-gentle, are pleasantly arranged and generally create an atmosphere of a quirky indie movie (I can totally see Wes Anderson or Jason Reitman using some of these tunes in their weird but touching movies). The arrangements are a very tasteful “middle way” between acoustic folk and lush pop, with strings and electric instruments popping up here and there for embellishment but most of the melody being still played on piano and acoustic guitars or carried by vocals (both Will Merriman and Maeve Roche do a very good job with them, Will being more of an ‘everyman’ protagonist, while Maeve often providing angelic back vocals). Of course, some of the songs appealed to me more than others (a personal favourite is An Inopportune Girl – that is the one song here I would describe as downright heavenly), but really all of them are good.

So if you enjoy mellow chamber pop and traditional musical values like melody and pleasant harmonies, then you might give this album a try. On the down side I could complain about the relative lack of substance, but honestly I just don’t want to. These guys made me feel good by offering me some melodic enjoyment, so God bless them for that. Indeed this music makes one love and forgive everyone around, so it might be a Christian album after all.

DADAWAH – Peace and Love (1974)

Review by: Kyle Wilson
Album assigned by: Syd Spence

Reggae and Rastafari will always be connected in the cultural zeitgeist, at least when it comes to Jamaican music, but where Bob Marley uses it as a backdrop for creating pop songs with great grooves and catchy vocal hooks, Ras Michael, here going by the name Dadawah, gives us a deep, religious exploration in his “classic” 1974 album Peace & Love.

I put “classic” in quotes to convey my mixed feelings about the album, but it is certainly Classic with a capital C for a lot of people. Almost every review I’ve seen praises it as one of the greatest albums of all time. Perhaps I’m missing something, though I’m sure I’m not the target audience.

I consider myself one of those annoying people who claims to be open to any kind of music, but who is probably more elitist than I let on. Reggae has never been one of my favorite genres, despite the fact that I’m white, American, secular humanist and I have never smoked pot in my life. I know. Shocking. Still, every genre can be good, even *gasp* country music! And of course, I like the aforementioned Mr. Marley, because I’m human.

So when I was assigned this album, it was a little daunting, not to mention confusing, since it seems to have nothing to do with winter, but I went ahead, before reading any reviews, and started listening to it, all 4 tracks in 38 minutes…

Overall, it was…good. The tracks are obviously all very long, but prog this ain’t.

Basically, the whole album sounds pretty much the same. Dadawah and his musicians spend about 3/4 of the time chanting and yelling mantras about Zion (which is Ethiopia) and “Jah Rastafar-I!!” over a series of long, repetitive grooves, thanks to some nice sounding bass, piano, electric guitar, and traditional nyabinghi drumming, and what seems like relatively little time actually singing the words with real melodies.

Which is fine! This is a (purportedly) honest exploration of Ras Michael’s religious beliefs, and he’s clearly going for atmosphere and spirituality over memorable melodies. On the entire album, there was only one line that stuck with me, melody wise. The “come away, come away, from the land of the sinking sand” bit on “Run Come Rally” was genuinely catchy. Lyrically, when I could actually make out the words, it seems to be mostly religious and Rastafari clichés, and a lot about peace and love (shocker!), though I liked the line about there being a time when there will be no first, second or third world nations, which I believe was in “Seventy Two Nations,” appropriately.

A quick track by track run down, just to get the last important details out of the way.

“Run Come Rally”: A lot of chanting and decent grooves, and one catchy line apparently.

“Seventy Two Nations”: Musically and lyrically seemingly identical to the first track, and in my two listens of this album, I couldn’t tell where the track started.

“Zion Land”: My pick for best track. I can’t really figure out any of the lyrics, and I was unable to find them online, but considering the title, probably something about the Bible. What I like though, is, almost no chanting. Ras Michael actually sings throughout the whole song. Also, this may sound strange but, this track gave me something of a…Procol Harum vibe? Maybe I’m wrong, but it’s just the first thing I thought of.

“Know How You Stand”: Apparently this album is a trip through to…the apocalypse? The renewed Zion? If you say so. All I know about the last song is, it seems to be the most…musically dynamic? The grooves seem to be louder and more menacing.

And that’s about it. Like I said, I only listened to it twice. After the second time, I doubted I would ever listen to the album again, but honestly, I might. It inspired just enough curiosity. Maybe a third listen will inspire even more.

I suppose I get the hype. The album sounds very important. I just don’t agree with it. But hey! People can love whatever and whoever they want! Peace and love, mon! Peace and love!

In conclusion, as an album, it was…interesting. As an expression of a religious belief that Jesus Christ was reincarnated as an Ethiopian emperor who consistently denied being Jesus Christ, it was…interesting?

MY LITTLE PONY FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC – It’s a Pony Kind of Christmas (2015)

Review by: Michael Strait
Album assigned by: Kyle Wilson

(A Review in the Form of Stream-of-Consciousness Notes)

Track 1: Six ponies. One choir. ALL AROUND THE WORLD OF EQUESTRIA – they don’t even HAVE Christmas in Equestria you FOOLS
Knowing that these songs don’t even have context only makes them worse tbh
IT’S SO GENERIC I CAN’T EVEN THINK OF ANYTHING TO SAY ABOUT IT. Just such a generic musical number. Lush instrumentation, I guess – many strings, gently-plucked acoustic guitar, childish vocals… ay, who’s surprised. I wonder how many parents were subjected to this?

Track 2: OH GOD A ONE-TWO-THREE-FOUR INTRO FOLLOWED BY PUNK GUITAR RIFFS. IN A RENDITION OF JINGLE BELLS. When I say “punk”, understand I mean – compared to this, Green Day is fucking Nails or Amebix. I know nothing about these characters but apparently they’re overexaggerated to make sure the children can recognise them without the visual cues. I wonder how many people have masturbated to this? OH SANTA EXISTS IN THIS WORLD, HOW SEXCELLENT

Track 3: Rarity! She’s the only one I know anything about. She’s the best pony according to my ignorant opinion. Oh hey this one is a folk song. A drum machine comes in though. How innovative! Rarity is something of a dangerous innovator in the ponyfolk scene, perhaps – inserting mechanisation into one of the most traditionally spontaneous forms of music. At least I think it’s a drum machine – could just be one dude barely playing a kick drum but oh well. A veritable David Tibet, this lady

Track 4: Genericsville again. Arranged like any bargain budget wannabe-Disney musical number. At least it’s teaching children the word “boutiques”, that’s a good service. Considering how much the opening medley sounded like this, I take it that Twilight Sparkle is the Thom Yorke of the lot, i.e every project she is involved in becomes essentially a solo project of her own with none of the other members having any significant creative input. I hope you all get burned alive

Track 5: As traditional a lullaby as there is. Not the worst vocalist of the lot. Has a decent vibrato. Fluttershy, this is. Absolutely no impression Fluttershy makes on me hmm. Oh, I wish that I could fall asleep and wake up happy, wake up happy… Double bass! JAZZ

Track 6: IS THAT A UKELELE. Of course it is. This bitch is clearly the mischievous little cunt of the lot. YUM!!! I’m about to go full Anakin in this motherfucker. Not even the Younglings will survive. YOU ARE RUINING MY APPRECIATION OF THE GLORY THAT IS RAVIOLI WITH YOUR ENDORSEMENT OF IT YOU PINK FUCKSHIT. THIS IS LITERALLY THE LONGEST SONG. A WHOLE 3.20 MINUTES. PROG ALERT. PINKIE PIE – BOLDLY BREAKING BARRIERS. Actually this song is insufferable at the best of times and I don’t care if that’s heresy. God, can’t I just be listening to Carly Rae Jepsen instead of this?

Track 7: A male appears! Are they considered inferior in this world? They don’t seem to come up a lot. I should mention that this appears to be an original tune – good on ‘em I guess. I don’t even know what genre I’d call this unique masterpiece. It’s got pianos, horns, and a guitar – it’s… is it ska? I don’t know much about ska. I love Madness, though. The Specials are reputed to be good as well but I keep not getting round to them.

Track 8: Another male! An even younger one. This is a jazz song. Oh good god, it actually IS a vocal jazz piece. Some child out there is listening to this RIGHT NOW and enjoying it – and hey, to each his own! Personally I’m gonna make sure my child listens to nothing but Kanye West and Merzbow HE’S SCATTING FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUKC

Track 9: Auld Lang Syne. Scotland is underrated. Shortbread is gorgeous, bagpipes are beautiful, and this song has always been wonderful. Apple Jack sounds countrybred – is this the woman who was the protagonist of that poem featured as the final song on The Roots’ album “Things Fall Apart”, whose husband beat her up and called her “white trash” when he wasn’t busy drinking? Why is COUNTRY TRASH singing this SCOTTISH CLASSIC, that would be like getting some FILTHY WELSHIE to read a recital of THAT ONE AMERICAN FOLK STORY ABOUT A TIMESKIP AND NINEPINS

Track 10: More generic musical number stuff. It’s a choir. THE FINAL FRIENDSHIP IS REBORN. THIS. IS. THE. FINAL. BATTLEEEEEEEE
Do ponies know what Harsh Noise Wall is?
Loyalty binds us together. This is filthy right-wing monarchist talk. People are not nice. People are not loyal. Ponies maybe, but hey, we humans enslaved the pony race and use them now as transport and glue so look who wins

Final rating: In the Grim Darkness of the 41st Millennium, There is Only War/10