THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS – Flood (1990)

Review by: Joseph Middleton-Welling
Album assigned by: Eric Pember

This is a record about the small things but the things that are also perversely the most important things in the world-like particles!
First a bit of background, ‘They Might be Giants’ (TMBG), ‘Flood’ is their third album and their first for a major label, it’s also probably their most well known and, full admission, the only album of theirs that I’ve heard all the way through. There were only two guys in TMBG at this point John Linsell and John Flansburgh, and they split most of the instruments between them with a few parts played by session musicians. Notably all the percussion on this album is provided by various drum machines. The sound picture is coloured by various synths and organs which combined with the drum machine, lends some of album the feel of an early Magnetic Fields LP or a less frantic Devo. Not that the album is monochromatic, some songs such as ‘Your Racist Friend’ and the closing track ‘Road Movie to Berlin’ tip the balance more strongly towards guitars. A lot of the tracks feature prominent accordion melodies and this combined with the tight songwriting lends the album a good sense of diversity. Binding together the various musical threads on this album is an atmosphere of DIY experimentation. It doesn’t necessarily feel like a band record, more like, perhaps, a group of intelligent (but emotional) scientists piecing together songs together using diagrams, test tubes and a wide range of slightly archaic instruments.
What stops the album turning into a piece of experimental art musik like Throbbing Gristle or Coil is that musically this album also harks back to simpler forms of American music from the 50’s, 60’s and in some cases even earlier. Songs by Carol King and the various Rogers, Hammersteins and Schopenhauers who seemingly wrote all the songs back in this halcyon era are often brought to mind when listening to many of these tracks. By that I mean the songs have simple and catchy melodies that nevertheless bound to formally conservative structures. Verses, choruses and middle eights are all well in evidence here. TMBG even include a 50’s cover ‘Istanbul’ that makes the connection to older forms of music explicit. This combination of high quality songwriting in the ‘classic’ mould combined with somewhat modernistic and unorthodox arrangements helps create a quirky but overall charming aesthetic that draws you in even as it surprises you. Much of this surprise is conveyed by the lyrics.
Lyrically, the songs on this album address potentially trivial subjects but these themes mask deeper and more essential emotions that come to the fore after repeated listens. ‘Birdhouse in Your Soul’ is both about a night light and sung from the perspective of the object itself. Other songs on the album are about being reincarnated as a bag of groceries and the need to wear prosthetic foreheads. When first listening to this album (at least for me) I didn’t pay too much attention to the lyrics but I really enjoyed the melodies and the arrangements. After listening a few times I came to notice the quirky subject matter and I was amused. However the problem with ‘funny lyrics’ is that they often they are only funny or interesting in the short term and after that rapidly become tedious (Weird Al et. al.). With these lyrics it’s the fact that they’re often used as cover to talk about some deeper emotional stuff. For example ‘Birdhouse’ is really a plea for companionship and ‘Dead’ is a song about deep regret. Obviously the songs are also funny and quirky but if you scratch through the surface there’s often real emotional resonance buried inside.
Take for instance ‘Particle Man’, which might be the signature song on this record. On first listen it’s easy to get caught up in the bouncy accordion and child like references to a cast of characters that wouldn’t be out of place on a Nickleodeon Cartoon. But have a read of this verse:

Person man, person man
Hit on the head with a frying pan
Lives his life in a garbage can
Person man
Is he depressed or is he a mess?
Does he feel totally worthless?
Who came up with person man?
Degraded man, person man

The song is actually about the vacuity of existence in modern late capitalist society and how it leads an unsatisfyible sense of longing and questioning within people at the bottom of the economic pile. Adorno would be proud.

In conclusion this album will worm its way into your head like a tiny particle and then beat you over the head like an angry triangle.
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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. 

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

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!

THE MICROPHONES – It Was Hot, We Stayed in the Water (2000)

Review by: Victor Guimarães
Album assigned by: Alex Smith

The Microphones is that kind of experimental band that would not be easy to find, even in experimental circles. Phil Elvrum, the creative genius responsible for this madness, is definitely something out of the ordinary — for whatever reason one may consider, be it a positive or a negative reason. 

But as I want to be objective tonight, It Was Hot, We Stayed in the Water is a big art, experimental rock album. It sounds great, it never gets boring, but ok, it could be tiring, even if just a bit. The listener can appreciate some of the basic rock song structures, with guitars, basses and drums, while getting amazed by Phil’s musical idea of telling a story. Yeah, conceptual for you. Or it seemed so to me. The album flows smooth, full of lyrical metaphors and their corresponding sounds, creating a hazy atmosphere orchestrated by elements as different as electronic beats, synthesizers and organs, plus his very nice voice, dual male/female vocal parts, production-added traits, such as the distinctive sound of wind blowing, and noises, noise-pop style. The main song structure is very good as well. Good melodies, smart riffs, yadayada. 

After listening to it once, I dug a bit and found that there are some noticeable tributes to Eric’s Trip and other minor inspirations from many other sources. For me, the album sounded quite original and I got the feeling the big Phil added his touch to everything. I respect his way of doing things. And I may say I admire his work. And maybe his madness. Anyone around who’s got the same liking for a well-organized musical journey, in a progressive, creative fashion could take the bait and listen to Elvrum’s insanity. It Was Hot, We Stayed in the Water is a good way to start.

LOVAGE – Music To Make Love To Your Old Lady By (2001)

Review by: Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan
Assigned by: Alexander Shatkevich

 

It’s called Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By but the sound is so pleasantly soporific that you’d be forgiven for thinking that rohypnol must have been involved somewhere along the line. For, despite the occasional breathy orgasmic groan and Mike Patton’s throaty perv croak, too lethargic for the vigour and tumble of heated lovemaking, the album never really screams out raging erection or well-tongued tumescent clitoris. Instead it feels like the aural equivalent of a good vintage cognac in a warm glass tumbler taken, of course, in front of a roaring fireplace — that same slow viscous consistency and that same comforting sense of crackly mellow warmth — and no one’s going to blame you if you just happen to doze off partway through. In the end Dan the Automator has dusted off some of his choicest vinyl samples to craft a captivating piece of easy listening revivalism. It’s not exactly the Swans  Scott Walker + Sunn O))), but then so what? This is an album for late in the evening, when all the business of the day is over and done with. Loosen your tie, ease yourself into your favourite armchair with the aforementioned vintage cognac in one hand and perhaps a big fat one in the other and let this wee gem of a Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By work its magic. (7/10)