Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Past Greatness: January '17

Welcome to the second installment of Past Greatness, a monthly series I'll be doing showcasing great, older works. The one pre-requisite I have for this series is that I must have first listened to the album within the past month, or close enough to it. All albums listed below are of 8+ quality. This month's albums are Liars' Drum's Not Dead, an Experimental Rock duality piece from 2006. The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown's self-titled hellish manifesto from 1968. And The Go Team!'s Thunder, Lightning, Strike, a genre-blending jubilee from 2004

Liars | Drum's Not Dead | Listen
2006 | Experimental Rock

During a routine Swans binge I glanced over at Spotify's related artists and saw Liars. Now, as far as I'm concerned, the trio hailing out of Los Angeles sound nothing like Michael Gira's beast, but I'm still glad I gave Drum's Not Dead a listen. The cover art, radical genre-blending, and tension between two characters in numerous titles (Drum and Mt. Heart Attack) made for a creatively ambitious album worth ingesting. For Liars, Drum's Not Dead wasn't just another album either, taking them to Berlin for its creation, finding experimental sounds and nuisances they hadn't yet played with on their first two records. The result's a wildly devastating collage of ideas, grouped together by two opposing ideologies, intent on using peace and violence as the final ultimatum.

Sometimes that secondary facet makes all the difference. Before recording Drum's Not Dead, lead singer Angus Andrew rarely toyed with his vocals, typifying the baritone the Post-Punk scene was familiar with. Risking a falsetto on songs like 'Drum Gets A Glimpse' or 'The Other Side Of Mt Heart Attack' allowed Drum's Not Dead to branch out drastically, creating visceral moments like the guttural 'Let's Not Wrestle Mt. Heart Attack' or the tense 'Drum And The Uncomfortable Can.' This fails to mention the direct lulls Liars conduct, adding yet another well-crafted layer to Drum's Not Dead, building strain and agitation through short, droning sessions of Ambient ('It's All Blooming Now Mt. Heart Attack') or periodic fluctuations in structure ('Be Quiet Mt. Heart Attack!'). The finished project is one that feels truly complete.

As far as the overall message Drum's Not Dead's intent on selling, I'm at a loss for words. Not because I'm impressed, but because the lyrics haven't made a cohesive impact on me yet. Conflicting and, at times, tough to understand, Andrew's performance will surely be made more poignant when the pieces of his demented world begin to fall into place. For now, it's his vocals and odd singing styles that keep me on my toes. I mean just compare the monotone creeping of 'It Fit When I Was A Kid' and the hushed breathlessness of 'The Other Side Of Mt. Heart Attack.' His range is stellar, made all the more fascinating thanks to his insistence on singing out of form. For the short and sweet version of this, 'Drum Gets A Glimpse' sees the two opposing forces together for one, futile moment. It's not as scaling as the grandiose finale, a classic mid-2000's Indie anthem, but it successfully encapsulates the psychotic perspectives of Drum's Not Dead, an album hellbent on fighting with itself.

The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown | Listen
1968 | Psychedelic Rock

I know nothing about Arthur Brown the person, and after listening to his crazy world, I feel I don't need to. The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, the only album by the band of the same name, feels too good to be true for music historians. A left-field Psychedelic Rock record featuring cover art truly ahead of its time and talk of Hell uprising throughout its duration, from a band that disappeared promptly after its completion? It unfolded like a movie that's criticized for being too unbelievable. And while I'm sure the truth is out there, the mystery is what I seek. Shrouding myself to preserve the mystique is what I must do. The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown is a rare case in which the work itself tells all that needs to be heard, leaving questions left and right, failing to answer them only part of the fun. It's a personal time capsule of sorts, an album that transports me to the year 1968, with the one restriction that it must be in the mind of Arthur Brown.

Essentially, The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown begins with the man himself visiting Hell. The three-track tragedy kicking things off, 'Prelude - Nightmare,' 'Fanfare - Fire Poem,' and 'Fire,' not only set the stage musically and conceptually, but psychologically as well. In these three tracks, Arthur Brown feels less like a musician, or a singer, or an artist, and more like a man who's quite literally descending into Hell, begging for forgiveness at every stop. And while the instrumentation, largely featuring that antiquated Acid Rock keyboard, vibraphone, and organ arrangement, hurts any chance at being sincere (if the album had one), the sounds instead help to facilitate a kooky, coked out, Halloween nightmare. It's an erratic start that shocks listeners into remission, culminating in the maddening 'Fire' (which Kno of Cunninlynguists sampled supremely on 'Hellfire'), escalating to eviscerating levels, with a barrage of horns, drums, and keyboards erratically leaping over Brown's deranged singer, like some inane musical gone off the rails (a la Rocky Horror Picture Show).

However, while those three songs seem to represent The Crazy World's infernal aesthetics, there's still seven songs left, all of which take a decisively left hand turn towards the world of early Funk and Prog Rock. They don't fully abstain from acknowledging the hellish ways which existed before it, but the final songs feel more accepting, passive (relatively speaking), and mature. If the three-track opening is the mental collapse, the next seven are Arthur Brown becoming accustomed to his new, crazy world. Some of the album's best material can be found here, along with Brown's true talents as a singer and songwriter. 'Come & Buy' toys with transitioning from chaos to organization, shifting dramatically in the ever-revolving choruses, keeping with the cinematic nature of the album. 

And while follow-up 'Time / Confusion' bemuses more slowly, it's that exact slow burn that allows it to thrive as well. It's the least theatrical track here, as the ensuing five all approach Arthur Brown's world from a different viewpoint, with a separate goal in hand. 'Spontaneous Apple Creation' dances excitedly thanks to drug-fueled production and anxious singing, while 'Rest Cure' acts as some educational video a la Schoolhouse Rock. Finally, the surprisingly patient and noticeably slow 'Child Of My Kingdom' acts as the reassuring summation of Brown's wacky tale. Essentially, in Hell he feels at home. I actually love how he doesn't tip-toe around his insanity, fully accepting the persistent drug usage as a sin that helped create such expressive music. Even still, 'Child Of My Kingdom' proves that without that help The Crazy World would've still maintained the illusion of professionalism because those behind the instruments are fully capable musicians, with or without drugs. Still, the drugs didn't hurt. At least in regards to the art itself.

The Go Team! | Thunder, Lightning, Strike | Listen
2004 | Indietronica

To think Thunder, Lightning, Strike could've flown through my ears eight years ago has hurt me ever since first listening to it. All the wasted time, a life without the sheer joy this album presents. Why the eight years you ask? Well, in 2008, LittleBigPlanet, a video game that knew no creative bounds, released on the Playstation 3. My cousins and I immediately fell in love, with the world, the characters, the levels, and the soundtrack. Two favorites quickly took shape; Battles' 'Atlas' and The Go Team!'s 'Get It Together.' Years had past without me knowing those names, merely their sounds, with the latter representing LittleBigPlanet so perfectly that the moment it appeared on Thunder, Lightning, Strike I teared up from nostalgic elation. An album entirely composed of that unbridled bliss? Sign me up.

Truth be told, it was maybe six or so years ago when I got my first known taste of The Go! Team in 'Bottle Rocket,' an erratic clash of Indie Pop, Hip-Hop, and children's music. So you could say I've made two slip-ups in regards to this album. 'Bottle Rocket' and 'Get It Together,' one sung, one instrumental, represent Thunder, Lightning, Strike excellently. An album so wild, risky, and eccentric that success could only come from unsullied commitment. And believe me, these guys and girls are committed, breezing through upbeat styles on a whim, dashing from kitschy theme song music to cheerleader chants to Plunderphonics. Thunder, Lightning, Strike aims to serve no other purpose than to eradicate any feelings of woe. From the aesthetics, filled with bright colors, to the layout, to the flow of the album, where freeform carelessness resides above all else, The Go Team!'s debut record seemed to be too cheerful for its own good, especially in a post 9/11 world.

The comparison is strange, and mostly unfounded, but whilst ingesting this album I just couldn't shake what I felt was its polar opposite; Arcade Fire's Funeral. In my theory, Thunder, Lightning, Strike is what would've happened had Arcade Fire never left the neighborhood. One, carefree, childish, and immature, the other, strict, morbid, and serious. Both composed by big bands filled to the brim with instruments and creativity, both seeking to accomplish an emotional goal, both debut masterpieces. Hell, there's even a song ('The Power Is On') which sets to rectify the darkened recesses in which Funeral resides ('Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)'). To me, The Go Team! truly feels like the gaggle enjoying their middle class oasis, whilst Arcade Fire sought to escape it. And the kicker on top of it all? Funeral's release date: September 14th, 2004. Thunder, Lightning, Strike's release date: September 13th, 2004. If you wanted the yin to the yang of Funeral, look no further.

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