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Lamp, broken circa 1988

IF YOU SHOW ME YOUR ALBUM OF THE YEAR I WILL LISTEN TO IT

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While I know the name Sleep, I’ve never listened to their stuff. Other than Boris I’m not the biggest fan of stoner metal, or weed culture, or weed. Not that I begrudge that do like it- many of my close friends smoke heavy and often. It’s just that every time I’ve ever been high has been completely miserable, and then every single blood relative elder male in my family died from either cancer or alcoholism, so I’ve kind of cut back my vice intake in general to see if it’s about booze intake/smoke inhalation or if we cash out at 56 Just Cuz. That got dark. Let’s listen to a stoner metal record. As per last time, one paragraph per song.

So I’m doing this on my bus rides, so I’m confronting my notes to start prompting me for these paragraphs. All I have for this one was “sure is a fuzz pedal.” Upon relisten, I do have to issue a correction- it is also a phaser pedal of some kind.

Lol it’s a bong rip because they’re a stoner metal band, get it, yo dude get it? First note I have is “I’m probably gonna like the drummer most.” They’re the most obviously talented member of the band, bringing a verve to what is admittedly a pretty basic chord layout. Next is “Singer sounds like [redacted].” I got a friend who’s in a band, and the lead singer of their band is a similar kind of ham as this dude is, only their band is like full on gothic synth stuff. So turns out the genre is not the thing keeping me from enjoying that style of singing. Last one for this one is “I wonder why more metal bands don’t go crazy with overdubs. Liturgy kinda does but there’s further to go.” Upon reflection I think that’s about some amount of like Witnessing The Recreation when they go on tour. Metal fans are definitely game to come out every time a band like this rolls through town, and there’s not a lot of room in the genre for like totally shirking expectations with live presentation so I can see fans getting pissed that the guitarist isn’t literally playing fourteen solos at the same time. Except Liturgy, who doesn’t give a fuck.

“don’t know why this one reminds me of the Genesis sound chip, but it does.” It’s the part that starts at 2:15 or so, the guitar chord is an interval used in a lot of Genesis games to convey like Shreddin’ Guitar Bro. “Bass effects aren’t working for me.” Wrote that during the solo. I’ve struggled with pedals on bass for like fuckin forever, because I find it’s really easy to ruin the tone of a bass guitar with pedals. I still don’t have it exactly right. I’ll say that my favorite bass sound (the first two Noxagt records) is done with literally only a tube screamer and a tuning, so right now my kit is like a tube screamer and a big muff, but I don’t use the muff that often. “Rolled eyes at lyrics.” This is a note because I remembered physically doing that on the bus. Full roll. “First tempo change clever, second not so much.” First one was the thing at 7:50, where it felt like the thing was about to take off and was building up steam to something cool, which fizzled at 8:37 by being the metal trope vamping braking thing. Ah well.

This is a longer one. “should like this because I’m into big chords, but it feels flat because there’s no high end. Leaves all frequencies for cymbals, which is less than my favorite thing.” Pretty much exactly what I meant. Because of all the fuzz and grit, it means that the band Sleep is like solidly in the mid frequency, and that’s only so interesting. How interesting? “all songs feel extremely the same right now.” So it’s not like 30 minutes straight interesting. However, the “solo being high freq is appreciated,” or at least it was at the time. Here’s a few other off the cuff observations I made during this song that I cannot currently remember the thrulines of- “sounds like it’s always ending”; “drummer is most obvious talent in the band, riff exit was clever”; “actual beat drop/outro is nice change”

“Nice intro; break from fuzz appreciated.” It’s around this point that I stopped having so many things to say about the record, on account of how similar it’s all sounded. It’s the fourth straight long track using the same middle frequencies and pacing. The only other note I made during this song is that I “can’t imagine a world where these lyrics don’t bore me.” I suspect that was in reference to “The rifftree is risen / the bong is to live in” but really you could pick any line in here and be “no this is the one you found annoying” and I’d believe you.

YAY NO ENDING BALLAD! The Botanist is the best song on this entire album. It uses the pedals for accent instead of character, letting the rest of the band stretch out and occupy a more detailed atmosphere and pattern of development. It’s so great that it actually ended up being “a little frustrating that they waited until the last song to show range.” If you want to take me through an adventure of hydroponics and actually use pacing and dynamics to explain the differences in the things you’re talking about, I will be there for that album whether I smoke or not. This song is as adventurous and bold as anything guitar-based I’ve heard in years, and may be worth listening to the album for alone. Best case scenario, you like everything that precedes it, and then The Botanist starts and you cry. Worst case scenario, you have my listening experience where you’re like “this is the same shit over and over huh OH WAIT THIS RULES”

- - -

So, all told, I didn’t like it. It wasn’t offensive to me, but the odds I would listen to it on my own time ever again are pretty much 0. I still intend to listen to Dopesmoker at some point, because of the hushed tones people (including friends of mine) talk about it in. I’m willing to attribute this to “comebacks are really, really hard,” because they did show flashes of technique and development. It just never worked for me.

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Funny thing: I've never smoked weed. Literally not once. The lyrics are generally really bad, no argument. But, well, the bass tone tends to leave me in that weird half there/half tranced state music can sometimes being you to.

Dopesmoker is a masterpiece, but, well, the only way to describe the bass in it is "droning."

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I bought a 6 CD box set of stoner/sludge/doom metal from Cleopatra Records and it’s not all that bad. I could do without the obnoxious pot imagery all over the discs and whatnot, but all in all, it has some interesting stuff on there.

Also I’m glad my pick was disqualified (or whatever) because I already have a new favorite album of the year.

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1. “Vile Luxury” by Imperial Triumphant
2. “The Sciences” by Sleep

I went into this knowing nothing about Imperial Triumphant whatsoever. I didn’t choose to look them up, because I saw that their name was the way it was, that the album was named what it was, that the tracks were named what they were, and that the cover art was what it was. I figured any additional information would further bias me towards disliking it, and so I chose to just press play without reading anything else.

I made a lot of notes about this album, so get ready for a long read.

I need to issue a correction about the first note I have here: “Lol @ Midi Keyboard. Does set mood tho.” The problem is, that’s an actual horn section. So uh, whoever recorded those horns should have used better microphones because they sounded extremely cheap and digital. Unless that was the point. I doubt that was the point. “This might be the first death metal song where I can both hear the bass and where the guitar isn’t overdriven to shit.” Truth. “Bass tone is good too.” It reminds me of a band that’s gonna come up in my notes later, but it’s a favorable comparison. Also, the guitars are “similar to DEP’s approach to dissonance.” Lots of tritones around the middle of the neck. It’s simple but it works to rile up the ears. “Is this an album about the 20s cuz if it is the brass is perfect” You’re going to see a lot of notes like this, I’ll expand on them later. The next note is a good summary of how I feel about it. “I love this break (4:46), it’s silly but it’s working for me. Outro too.”

“Blast beat as military drums?” With the context of the rest of the record, I was unsure that this was the intention here, but the idea considering the name of the band I thought it was a neat idea worth considering, of making some kind of actual militaristic drum line sound. “Oh god these guitar breaks” I’m a fucking fan of this record as of this point, for one reason: I’ve spent a LOT of time harping on bands for sticking tight to genre conventions. Imperial Triumphant is out here making Weird Choices. “This sound is why you should fight genre tropes.” This is immediately more memorable to me and making more of an impression that Sleep did, aside from the part that Sleep’s lyrics were so awful that my brain wilted when I heard them. On an unrelated note, “bass chords!” I’m a dork for that stuff because it’s EXTREMELY hard to make them sound good (and this band doesn’t do that) so every time someone tries to do bass chords I like relate heavily. They should be awesome, they always sound like shit. Except Mission of Burma. “Wish the outro was better.” Kinda just a return to the first theme of the song with not enough elaboration that it stood out to me.

“If the point of the chords is to sound like a demon rich kid playing guitar awfully with no correction, they’re nailing it.” I have another note later that’ll touch on what I meant by this. “Either way, it’s actual dissonance instead of pedal goofs over one melody.” This is a thing that kills me about a lot of rock and metal, where the “heavy” “dark” sound is like all three instruments playing the same melody with a lot of distortion on them. It’s boring. It’s extremely boring. So full credit to Imperial Triumphant for doing something else. “Lazy transition but I’ve done it too.” This refers to the part at like 5:10 when the main track just starts getting quieter while another track starts getting louder. The platonic ideal is to break down the song with actual work and move it to this other place. I feel the reason you do a thing like this is either because in post you realize you needed to break up the pace, or because you’re out of ideas on how to bridge from one part to the other and you need to put this album out on some kind of timeframe so you settle for this. I get it. I’ve done it a few times.

“Chose the exact right time to change the pace.” I was starting to think I was blastbeated out at the end of the last song and then they were like “we know, let’s get sad and environmental.” It’s a good enough soundscape intro, plenty moody. When the actual song starts building it creates this very real sense of dread, so the intro does it’s job well. The actual song is legitimately intimidating, aided by the inherent spookiness of the Russian language. At the same time, it sounds the kind of amateurish you’d get from someone playing guitar alone to try to chase some bad feelings off. That said, “I feel like I can’t critique the playing or structure because it’s obviously deliberate.” When the blastbeats start back up, it actually feels chaotic and forceful, which is a hell of a trick after three straight long tracks of blast beats. “Second vocalist for dramatic effect is perfect touch.” It’s treated as the introduction of a second instrument, but it’s a HUGE change for the song itself and it hits hard to put over the newly raised stakes. She’s also a centerpiece of the outro, which is one of the best and most powerful things I’ve heard on a metal album in Very Actual Years. The note I have for the outro is just “THIS OUTRO.” It sounds like some ghoul is trying to climb out of the speakers and into the world. It’s just amazing.

“Since they’re still trying to space out the blast beats, I’d assume there’s an ending ballad.” lol. Anyways, I don’t have a lot notes for this song, probably because I was still decompressing from Chernobyl Blues. The first part of it is a really drastic departure, emerging into a jazzy sound from all of the Powerhouse Gone Wrong-style brass work. When it gets back into the metal stuff, I was “starting to get a little fatigued, but just as I wrote that it becomes a jazz song.” So this is the main thing I want to say about this record. This album is still solidly death metal, but it’s making a lot of really bold, really weird, capital C Choices. It’s not a thing you get a lot in guitar music anymore, where bands just go “you know what, fuck it, we’re going all in with the weird hybrid sound, whatever our means and equipment actually are, we’re going to make it work.” To be real, sometimes the choices they make on this record don’t always work as well as they think they will. But I cannot for one second criticize them them for leaning fully into it and accepting the consequences.

I knew there was a ballad coming at some point, but it’s relieving that it’s not actually an ending ballad. Although, halfway through this I wrote “wish they’d growl through a Billie Holiday song” and I still mean that. The other thing that occurred to me was that “This is Every Music Theory Major Guy: The Album.” It’s meant endearingly, because even though I don’t fuck with that crowd I at least get their glee at smashing the toy cars together until they have different paint patterns. And, again, at least it’s a Choice.

“This bassist is very extra.” I dont remember why this was the song where I decided to address it, but yeah the bassist is a HUGE dork who plays like a huge dork and I love it, and they obviously do too.  “They’re running out of tricks, but fuck at least they had great tricks.” They teased having a really good idea in the middle there of having a duet of vocalists but it kind of plays out where they’re both just going on top of one another. And then that diffuses into cacophany not dissimilar to the sound at the end of Chernobyl Blues on a theoretical level, but I find that the build before it hasn’t earned this release. Ah well.

NO ENDING BALLAD! Another huge departure at the end here, where it becomes what feels to me like a very obvious homage. “At least one person in this band likes Sleepytime Gorilla Museum.” This is an EXTREMELY SGM kind of beat, and the vocals match it. The vocals being wordless really surprises me, half because I felt they were more upsetting than a lot of the record and thought they’d have something in them for sure, and half because I don’t think I’d ever considered death growl scatting. The outro makes a big misstep I feel. “Should’ve ended on the second vocalist’s screams.” That little lick at the end adds nothing to the song and ends up just feeling like superfluous sound. It’s not ideal.

- - -

I really enjoyed this! It’s brave as fuck for a metal album, eschewing conventions and chasing their own big ideas down. It doesn’t always work, but it works more often than most, and at it’s peaks it exceeds what I tend to think the genre is capable of. I don’t know that I’d ever listen to other records of this band because I’m too afraid to find out that this is their formula and it just worked great this time, but for Album of the Year, I definitely see the argument. I had a great time with it.

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You've actually mentioned a couple of albums that I may have put at the top of my list, so I'll go for Wide Awake! by Parquet Courts.

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Just a heads up: when it comes out this month, Deceased's Ghostly White is going to be my automatic AOTY. It's pretty much that way with every album they put out, so. One track here: https://the-true-deceased.bandcamp.com/album/ghostly-white

EDIT: I completely spaced on Voivod putting out a new album this year too. If you want to listen to something really fucking good check that out too

 

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1. “Vile Luxury” by Imperial Triumphant
2. "II: Sojourn" by Wytch Hazel
3. “The Sciences” by Sleep

I, probably unsurprisingly, know nothing about Wytch Hazel. I did not think I should google them because of that band name and a similar theory re: Imperial Triumphant, where I was afraid that what I would find would bias me. I know Curt said they’re Thin Lizzy-esque. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a Thin Lizzy song, or at least known as it was happening that it was a song by Thin Lizzy. So we’ve got our expectations set? Good. I’m at home for this one so no Bus Note Transcription.

Okay I extremely like this intro. I think we’ve discussed this in the past, but I love when records just Start, like “OK I GOT SHIT TO SAY LET’S GO.” This is as close as Instrumentality can get to that, I feel. When the song starts, it’s like very much in it’s own style but it’s a really well constructed version of that style. It’s not total cornball which keeps me from thinking this is a Career Choice of a sound and instead a genuine article desire to recreate it. I can live with that. Lyrics are dull, but not worth trashing because they’re part of the territory. It’s an accurate part of the pastiche.

This is mixed REALLY well. The balance between getting vocals to be articulate while not costing the rest of the instruments any range is something that I still struggle with six albums in. The singer uses a very limited range, but it means that he can slot very comfortably into the mix, since the guitars tend to be playing high and the bass is sticking to low tones. It’s kind of the hip-hop approach to mixing, where the mid range is where the vocals live. The song is well made, although it’s not like doing anything for me emotionally? I’m more just impressed with the craft at the moment.

I was really afraid of this being a ballad for a second there. This one feels a little more rote than the last two, but I’m still with them and interested in seeing where this is going. It’s weird to see a metal album say “You cannot kill with good intention,” which might be the first time I’ve heard a metal album be like “goddamn all this dickswinging stuff sucks.” I’m sure there’s multiple examples. I know that’s a statement that comes from ignorance. Still, appreciated. I wish I had some like interesting take on guitar solos, because then I could say something while they’re happening. My own music kind of relies on a lack of soloing, so that’s probably why- I’ve never had to think about it.

Ballad time. At least the guitar playing during the verse is interesting. Folksy. I’m at the two minute mark of a five minute song, so I’m going to guess we’re about to get a two minute-ish solo followed by the last verse again. Let’s see if I’m right! Well okay there was more build than I thought there was going to be. I was expecting like verse ends and then Squealin Geetar, and almost exactly a minute of solo. This was not the song that broke me of ballads.

The song starting on the resolving chord of the ballad is a good touch. They probably do that live. I’m starting to get a little fatigue with the sound but metal is not exactly a genre known for meaningful stylistic departures mid-record (which is a large part of why I enjoyed that Imperial Triumphant record so much- cuz even when they didn’t pull it off, I appreciated that they Went For It). I’m sure there’s some amazing AMVs using this song by now, about whoever the rival character is.

Okay the southern rock organ counts as an attempted style change. It’s still like trapsing along Ballad territory so it’s not doing anything for me, but at least they have the self-awareness to try something else in the middle of the record. The build at 3:30ish works in it’s elementary nature. I have nothing else to say.

Oh! An instrumental interlude! I was about to say that the people who made this record have a good sense of awareness for knowing that it can’t be all squealing guitars and be memorable, but then they came back and so now nevermind. I find that without the vocalist, this stuff loses a lot of it’s character, but I’m not entirely convinced “a lot of character” is a desirable thing in the genre. Or all metal. Or all rock. Or anything that’s ever had a guitar.

Another good transition built out of the last song. I’ll say that the song title concerns me that this is going to be some kind of PC Principal thing. The lyrics have very abruptly given this a religious turn, and it just now reminded me that Curt said that was true of the record, but like this was somehow the first time it’s really sunk in. I guess it checks out given the rest of the record being like “man all this man shit blows” but what it was really talking about was their own value system. They’ve at least got the decency to wait until way late in the record to try and save me. The Nerve! It’s a good tune tho.

Lol okay all the corny is here. I legitimately laughed at that drum rhythm because it’s like the 80s Mall Pop Intro Drum Line and then it was like “Major keyyyyy!” and then I saw the song is called Victory. I wonder what the lyrics are OH WOW OKAY YEAH WE CHRISTIAN UP IN HERE. Well hey they’re not worse than Sleep’s lyrics. This is the worst song on here that’s not a ballad because it’s so preachy and tonally silly to match.

ENDING BALLAD. 😖

- - -

Yeah that got all sunday school all at once. Other than that, it’s well made, but it didn’t move me positively or negatively. It’s… fine. I will probably never listen to it again.

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