*bluuuuuurrrgh!!!*

Concept: Hey, you guys, look what I bought from that pale happy-looking guy in the alley!

Sound: The densest, nuttiest songs to hit mainstream music since Magical Mystery Tour. There is no conventional percussion or beat on what might be considered very slow songs, but instead the constant warbling of warp speed backing synth lines. Also: REVERB. Reverb out the wazoo. Reverb until you drop dead of an anxiety attack. Reverb. Almost every track is an undeniable success in sonic euphoria, but its hard to be ‘feeling’ these guys for nigh on an hour without ‘feeling’ creeped the hell out. It’s like making out with a clown, that’s what it is.

Lyrics: The lyricism is…fitting. It’s tastefully organized alongside the music, and certainly exudes excitement and anticipation. Of course, there are times where (if you visualize what they’re saying) you can’t help but realize they’re completely insane: “Let’s leave the sound of the heat from the sound of the rain/ It’s easy to sleep when it wets my brain/ You close my rest with a saccharin sheen/ Kissing my wind through my window screen.” Have fun sucking on your house, oh wacky pop master.

Quick And Dirty: Completely new. Completely weird. Animal Collective remains the closest music has ever come to emulating a drug bender. (♦♦♦♦)

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Photoshop hell yeah.

Concept: Soulja Boy turns on a preset keyboard beat and tells people to give him money. Millions respond in hysterical obedience.

Sound: Start with a little story, a little guitar, a scratch, something that sounds like it’s going somewhere, something to distinguish the tracks from each other, and then duhbuhduhbuhduhbuhduhbuhduhbuhduhhhhhhh.

Lyrics: See Soulja Boy. See Soulja Boy swag. Swag, Soulja Boy, swag! You can’t do it like I have done it, man, why would you hate me, man, you are lame, man, swag, man, Gucci©, money, Soulja Boy, man, Soulja Boy, swag swag why you hate swag man money what.

Quick And Dirty: Literally any normal adult could have pulled this album out of their butt in a week. It is not just the album, but the fact that it sells, the fact that it is an object of international observation and even interest. Rolling Stone gave it two stars — that’s two stars more than zero. It is worse than a high school rock band. It is worse than a T.V. celebrity’s pity record deal. It is worse than Limp Bizkit. It is worse than GG Allin. It is worse than an instructional music video for new Perkins employees. Every time a song from this album plays, the spirits of Bach, Beethoven, Bo Diddley, and Om Kalthoum collapse in each other’s spirit arms like spirit children and cry tears of spirit blood. DeAndre Ramone Way represents the cumulative smug and willful idiocy of nearly an entire century of algorithmic pop music production, and the nadir of all music ever. (Zero)

Miles’ Mission Statement

January 1, 2009

Good morning, sweet Saint John’s campus. This is Miles, one of the Web Coordinators, with an opening pair of retrospective reviews. This should give an idea of how I plan to discuss music when I get time for that fun aspect of the position, and it will also display the standard by which I size up music coming our way in the futures near and far. All my stuff is going to be open to criticism or other comments if you see fit, but this in particular, as the tender embryo of my little career on this site. Recent history is probably a better impression; I’m going with that. The best album I’ve had the chance to hear from 2007 is Mirrored by Battles.
Here's the cover, so you know it when you see it.

Concept: Battles is what I guess the kids call math rock. Genre aside, the band makes a particular effort here to layer simple melodies over each other, with a spectacular knack for mixed and matched rhythm. The album flows pretty well, although sometimes it gets too slow and ambient to fit the heart of the songs. The band trades in electronic methods on earlier recordings (by which I mean mixing and beats) for good old-fashioned rock instrumentation, but the sharp playful feel remains, and the music itself has gotten stronger, folding and referencing itself eloquently, successfully evoking the album’s image of a pack of mirrors facing and swallowing each other.

Sound: The rhythm, as mentioned before, is by far the biggest hook of the album. Technical skill doesn’t really lend itself to the listener from any member so much as the drummer. This guy sounds like he’s exhausted himself; any trick you want, he’ll try it. The vocalist can be unnerving, consistently drawing on distortion to hurl his voice up several octaves. If you’re not too cool for the occassional Alvin and the Chipmunks vibe, it works with the melodic stomping of the other guys involved. If there’s a big drawback, it’s this: good luck dancing to it. It’s easy enough to move to some songs, but with tracks like Rainbow, slipping in and out of 19/16 time and the like, you’re better off just putting it on for a ride in the car or sitting back at the computer. It’s all upbeat, if a little dark, and very thoughtfully structured. These guys are a real team, and it shows.

Lyrics: You won’t make them out. I promise. Like the sound, they’re quirky and occasionally edgy, like some metropolitan Grimm fairytale. Otherwise, it’s all ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’. No love songs, though: the message is musical. They’re reporting live from the studio. Without the song, the words seem out of context, because they are.

Quick And Dirty: If you get tired of it, give it a year and it will present some welcome surprises all over again. (♦♦♦♦♦)

The best album of 2005, in my opinion…
Why? I don't know.
Frances The Mute by The Mars Volta

Concept: These guys aren’t normal people. Let’s just get it out there. The album is a scrambled tragedy built off of frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s convoluted storytelling obsession and the true(?) story of a diary found by their producer shortly before his death, which allegedly contained entries from a transvestite prostitute dying of AIDs searching for the identity of his biological family.

Sound: Here is why I feel this might be the best rock album of the decade. Punk, salsa, psychadelic rock, jazz, all together, all in 72 minutes, all completely cohesive. This band experiments with their sound live; it’s usually about half of the show. In the studio, all the mistakes from this process are brushed away, and in this case that’s actually a wonderful wonderful thing. The songs are so very long and musically twisted, but they are too intricate and dense to let go of. More than musical merit, this album delivers that elusive emotional power people are always looking for. One listen and it’s obvious they are experienced rockers (having existed about a decade beforehand as part of the offbeat punk band At The Drive-In) and that they’re not working sober. This is apparent because they have ideas, musically and otherwise, which would never just pop into anybody’s head. You aren’t likely to spontaneously hum any of the featured songs, ever. This album seems to have been made almost exclusively of melodies intended to haunt people. Halfway into the opening track, the band’s standard frantic sprawl gives way to a 15/16 jam coiled in reverb that is so far from the rock formula yet completely danceable yet touched with gnawing desperation and sadness. I should confess to having cried the first time I heard this song, because I found that overwhelming. There’s my bias, right there. On the other hand, many listeners might never listen to this album straight through, and never hit that point where they appreciate all the intensity and sheer luck that is in the album. A 45-minute song featuring grinding wood, corvid screeches, tritones, and a saxophone possibly trying to emulate a woman being murdered can be a strain even if it is somehow really good. If you have ever taken the time to get lost in an album, Frances The Mute strongly deserves a listen. If not, I can’t make any promises.

Lyrics: This is typically the weak point for the dynamic duo: bizarre, verbose, and opaque. However, in this album the lyrics follow through for the storyline, matching the music’s often despairing and neurotic tone with all the scrambled and cryptic sense of urgency that might be expected of mythology’s Cassandra, and at times a surreal beauty. Anthropomorphic birds, bloody parlor fiends, and buried faces abound. After all, a tale of mystery is far more compelling before it’s solved, when it’s delivered as cracked pieces in the dark.

Quick And Dirty: It could go either way: compelling or obtuse. Regardless, it’s one hell of a thing. (♦♦♦♦♦)

That’s what I got for now. I look forward to doing my part for KJNB. Until next time,
~m

Meet KJNB: Robert Lennon

January 1, 2009

Hi there! I’m Robert Lennon, one of the Web Coordinators here at KJNB, and also a DJ at the station. I’ve currently got the 11PM-Midnight slot on Thursdays for my show: Friar John’s Psalms.

I’m also one of the reviewers here, and that’s what I would like to talk about right now. One of the problems I personally have with reviewers is usually that I have no context for the reviewer. I have no idea what they enjoy, I have no idea what they’re looking for in music. And that renders most reviews pitfalls. So I felt I should try and counteract that myself. Thus, the idea of “Meet KJNB”. If you know the reviewer, you get a better sense when you read their reviews.

Some of my favorite musicians include, but are not limited to: Godspeed You! Black Emperor, A Silver Mt. Zion, Clann Zu, Mark Seymour, Stars of the Lid, Eluvium, Boards of Canada, and Mogwai. So a fairly eclectic bunch. I branch into folk music, and a lot of international bands.

When I listen to music, I pay special attention to lyrics and voice work, if they’re present. I feel the human voice is just as much an instrument as any other, and if you use it you should have a good reason. Lyrics are always important. You could have a musically amazing song, but if your lyrics are bad, I’m not going to enjoy it that much. I also enjoy it when bands experiment musically. If they try something new, I may be willing to cut them some slack on other counts. Not much, though.

I hope this little bit of information helped you get more out of my reviews.

Artist: Clann Zú

Album: Rua

Released: G7 Welcoming Committee, 2003

Reviewer: Robert Lennon – rjlennon@csbsju.edu

rua1

I have never heard another album like Rua. It is an extraordinary and unique album, bringing together Irish folk, electronica, and alternative rock music to create amazing music. In terms of lyrics, the band’s singer Declan De Barra provides some of the most sincere and powerful lyrics I’ve yet to come across. This combination leads to an album I can keep coming back to again and again.

There is a lot of musical experimentation in this album. The second track, “Five Thousand More” combines a heavy trip-hop beat with both violin and the bodhrán, a traditional Irish percussion instrument. Even on one of the ‘simpler’ tracks “Everyday”, the band works with a piano at certain points, and the violin, played by Australian Russel Fawcus, cries out along with Declan’s lyrics. It is a testament to the skill of these musicians that they are able to balance all of these musical tools, and work them together so that they work together as a coherent whole. 

The lyrics of the album are well written and delivered with strength. The lyrics switch easily between Irish and English, showing Waterford-born Declan’s roots. The themes range from dispossession, exile, and despair, to finding courage and fighting the powerful. But no matter the subject, Declan’s voice is the key piece. His voice has a range, not just of how high or low he can go, but in emotion and intensity. The first track “Words For Snow” begins slowly, with Declan somewhat softly singing. But as the song progresses and the drums kick in, his voice picks up speed and strength. He sings about the streets of a foreign city he’s trapped in, and all the saints he asks for help. As the song continues he starts yelling, ending with “for Christ’s sake get me out of here! God of all sick things get me the **** out of here! Get me the **** out of here! Get me the **** out of here! Release me!” A cry of despair in a land far from home. 

In the seventh track, “Ri Ra” (Irish for ‘uprising’), the focus is on standing up for one’s self. “No compromising with your life, there is only one who writes the ending and the script to the Ri Ra!” Declan’s voice resembles the rising up he exhorts the listener to, as his voice goes up into a nice falsetto. Declan’s voice can be reasonably called another instrument in the band, one that is just as important as the others. And it is used as well as one could hope for, working with the music, reflecting and amplifying it. 

Rua is an album that does not come along very often. It is sincere, without being naïve. It is dramatic, without being pretentious. It is powerful, without being overwhelming. It combines several far-flung musical styles in ways that I have yet to come across again. This album is an excellent choice for anyone looking for a unique sound. The day I first listened to it, I knew I wouldn’t forget it.

Stand Out Tracks: All That You’ve Ever Known, Everyday, Ri Ra, Lights Below

Clann Zú was
· Benjamin Andrews – Electric Guitar
· Russell Fawcus – Electric Violin, Keyboards
· Declan de Barra – Vocals, Bodhrán
· Liam Andrews – Bass
· Lach Wooden – Sound Manipulation