Sunday, August 08, 2010

Cathedral and Grong Grong are Worth It! Ariel Pink, Toro Y Moi, and the Newsboys just plain suck.

The Guessing Game
(Nuclear Blast)

Determined to exploit every conceivable nook of Prog, pseudo-Prog, brutal Prog, and (this being Nuclear Blast and all) Prog Metal possible, this bunch of British vets have created a double disc album-of-the-year contender that sounds effortless. They're Prog because their songs are shape-shifting organisms with new elements busting out all over, ignoring conventional song structures. (Also there's a Mellotron.) The pseudo-Prog is audible in their weird debt to jazz rock shuffles and Ken Nordine. You can hear the brutality in Garry Jennings's crushing doom riffs, though the band use that sound more for the joy of its sonic kickassery. And the Metal holds it all together. Leader Lee Dorrian (ex-Napalm Death) ensures that every fill, solo, and flourish sounds as good as what's come before it, all the while drawling out his sprechtstimme with a sense of detached cool. Ultimately, the whole thing is a celebration: of how much ground you can cover with a rock band, and, in closing song "Journey Into Jade," of what such a band can mean to the world, even if it's all ultimately a guessing game.

Grong Grong
To Hell 'n' Back

(Memorandum reissue)

This '80s Australian sicko-punk band had a pretty good sense of what they WANTED to mean to the world; they just had a strange way of going about it.

Guitarist Charlie Tolnay on Grong Grong's songwriting process:
“It was just so simple. Dave [Taskas] would think of a bass line, or I’d think of a guitar line, then we’d put drums to it, and then think of some lyrics and that would be it.”
Maybe the weirdest thing about Grong Grong--aside from their lurching monoriff "songs," tin can production values, and squawl that sounds like guitar strings scraping the scales from a screaming eel--is the fact that they actually had some showbiz acumen. Singer Michael Farkas might have barked out every grotesque image that popped into his head, but he also hired a sax player and led his combo to a Battle of the Bands victory on the radio. Amid the odes to "Vlad the Impaler" and a "Meat Axe", they made room for a band theme song ("Grong Grong") and a dedicated show opener ("Club Grotesque"). As far as it's possible for a group like this, they almost hit the big time, derailed only by Farkas's overdose and subsequent coma. (He recovered, partially paralyzed.) Like most good post-punk bands, they had arresting grooves and a singer who could bellow like nobody else. So God bless Memorandum for this collection of live stuff and demos. It sounds great driving through a summer heat haze or trying to endure a bad campground.

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti
Before Today

These guys are prog too, right? Because they keep changing time signatures, and they let their cleverness get in the way of their tunes? The disjointed songs sound like they'll fall apart any second, which may be what Ariel Pink was going for. Only, where sometimes that's a good thing--like with Cathedral or early Weezer--here it's pretty terrible. Cathedral thunder like the carousel-gone-wild at the end of Strangers On a Train; the Haunted Graffiti sound like wet tissue paper in a fan. Mr. Pink's voice and his drummer hardly bother to show up. "Butthouse Blondies" at least has the courtesy to rock--for almost half its running time!--but nothing else is compelling, even when the band manages to land on a pretty chord. When Pitchfork's Mark Richardson calls "Round and Round" "one of indiedom's most unifying and memorable songs in 2010," and also "endlessly replayable," I honestly have no idea what he's talking about, unless he means it's replayable as a torture device for some common enemy. So, while I'd be happy to blast it Cusack-style outside Sarah Palyn's window, I'd be sure to demand some earplugs for my trouble. Indiedom can do better.

But wait, there's more! Apparently Mr. Pink is a big influence on:

Toro Y Moi
Causers of This

As a work of production prowess it's pretty flawless, seamless, facile, all that kind of stuff, and I SUPPOSE could serve as swank mood music for your next Espana y Gaul dinner party, because Lord knows the musical substance wouldn't distract anybody from their conversations. (Trust me: when you're proffering educated opinions on the new Rick Bayless restaurante or your latest homebrewing discoveries, you don't wanna be derailed by the crass sound of a hook!) T Y M is the nom de glo of Chaz Bundick, who's part of this new chillwave scene that WE WILL ALL STILL CARE ABOUT NEXT YEAR, assuming nothing else happens between now and then. I enjoy my hazy '80s memories as much as the next huppie, but I prefer to re-enact them by chilling to actual pop songs, whether by Groove Armada, Diana Reyes, my beloved Kylie, even the ol' Vampire Weekend boys. And strangely enough, all those schlockmeisters boast more interesting "soundscapes" than Toro Y Moi. So there!

Born Again

At this point the NEWSBOYS are only 1/4 Australian, and sound NOTHING like Midnight Oil. Or Grong Grong.

CD's called Born Again, and it's a concept album about Nicodemus. JUST KIDDING! You'd like that, wouldn't you, people who don't read this blog? (That's OK, you don't have to start.) First song sounds like ALL OTHER MODERN ROCK SONGS FROM HOT ac RADIO STATIONS LIKE 101.9 "THE MIX"--Michael Tait (formerly of DC Talk) is putting it all out there to let us know "where he stands," i.e., that he's a Christian, like we didn't know. Now the guitar solo. That was a guitar solo? The guy played one note. What is he, the Edge? (Answer: no he is not.) Yeah, that song sucked. Wellness does not bode.

"HEY!" They're excited, you can tell. OR CAN YOU? (No I cannot.) Tait seems to be singing about how he came up in "the industry" now. You've only got ONE SHOT--to prove what you're all about! That's a harmful message to send today's youth--isn't the message of the God of Grace that you get shot after shot? That, while our missioning message should be fueled by an existential urgency, we need no longer fear the grave, the ever-rolling stream of time culminating in DEATH, because Christ has conquered death and the grave forever and ever? (All around the world every boy and girl!) What would Grong Grong do? (WWGGD?)

"Even though you brought this world to shape/ You love me in a personal way." I guess I'll let 'em get away with that--that's sort of one of the crucial paradoces, right? (I just noticed that "crucial" is derived from "crux.") Mr. Tait is seeking something "way beyond [him]self." Though storms come his way, though Kid murder Play, though bishops be gay, Tait will persevere. "Like the wind that moves the leaves, Lord you move me to my knees." This is an awful CD, by the way.

Here's the one where God gives us strength. The strength to waltz, apparently. You ever try to waltz? It's a strenuous endeavor, I gotta say, especially if you're supposed to be leading. (With G's help, Tait can "do the impossible.") Anyway, waltzing. You gotta know where you're going and be keenly aware of spacial relationships, because it's not just YOU that's gotta stay out of everyone's way, it's HER too (or HIM, if you're a gay bishop), and S/HE will be more keenly embarrassed than you if you ram into another couple. There's not much that can save face in that situation. If you're lucky, nobody's hurt and you all head over to the punch bowl, which some punk kid has (again luckily) spiked, and then you can imbibe and jibe, and maybe bribe the picture-taking lady to erase any record of this humiliating incident. As I say, luck plays a big role. We can call it "providence" if you prefer.

Whoa, new song! They don't mean to brag, don't mean to boast, but... actually, that's pretty much it. "When the boyz light up, who gets the praise, who owns the show? We ain't nothing but the conduits." This is where Tait and the boyz deflect the inevitable adoration of their audience to the One who has so blessed them with the ability to rock bellz. I refer, of course, to Hal Leonard. His influence is immense.

Ooh, now we're chuggin' like Muse. Not quite as dramatic, but still, best or second-best riff on this turd.

Do the guitarists know how to do anything other than play chords? Or play rhythms that aren't straight eighth notes? There's no modulation or variation or amelioration or animals-we-ation of anything here. Well, I guess they DO get soft and then they get loud again, whoop-de-doo. Tait's running to God, fantastic.

Does God like this music? Well, look, you can't really put God onto that plane--the "music-digging-or-not" plane, let's call it. God hears music. God doesn't hear music. God is music. God is not music. (I'm doing my non-personifyin' exercises; they're like kegels for the soul.) Whether God does or not, I DON'T. And I don't say that about all Xian rock, you know that, whoever nonexistent reader you are. "Get on your knees!" bellows Tait. HE MUST WIN US OVER. HE IS CONDUIT (for sale).

Here's my dilemma. I really don't want to listen to any more of this album, but they're going to cover DC Talk's "Jesus Freak," which is a really good song and it'll be either the best thing on here or a train wreck beyond comprehension. So I've gotta stick it out. (Current song sux, stopped keeping track. Mountains, mighty like you know who...)

Here it is. Why is "Jesus Freak" better than anything else that sounds remotely like it? Better riff, for one thing. We'll see how the rapper does. Sounds pretty good, gives me chills. Why do I have no control over my senses when I hear this song, even a remake of this song? Probably because I have a history with it, plus some sense of its historical significance. Please, God, let that be the end of the album.

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