Thursday, July 14, 2011

Rock Albums Post IV: Smart Music Part I

This is Part One in a continuing series

Battles - Gloss Drop (2011)

Battles is an experimental rock group from New York City. Their music includes fragments of Math Rock and Prog Rock all bundled in their own uniquely creative sound. "Gloss Drop" was released on June 6, 2011. The album has reached #98 in the U.S. and #48 in the UK. "Gloss Drop" is the 2nd studio album released by Battles.

"Gloss Drop" is primarily an instrumental album with a guest vocalists singing on four of the tracks. The lyrics are minimalist at best and don't really dig in as deep as the music. It's the music here that challenges the mind and stimulates our intellect. "Gloss Drop" is music's equivalent to a 3D movie. The music is flexed out in all areas. It jumps out of your media player right into your very existence. The music takes on it's own life in the way your mind processes this auditory treat. The music is artfully and skillfully performed with a measure of beauty meets urgency and an underlying sense of dry humor. 

"Sundome" hints of reggae blended into layers of keyboards, echoing voices and a myriad of sounds. Midway through the tempo changes and the song takes on a prog feeling pop rhythm with the many various sounds intertwining and meeting with captivating effect.

In it's complexity "Inchworm" delivers a punch and rhythm that simply delights the listener into the passion of the music yet keeping it all somewhat distant and dark wrapped in a sunshiny sort of mania.

"Ice Cream" sports a witty yet very understated sense of humor. It's a dry sort of humor which may not be realized by most listeners. I especially love the organ sounding effects added to the mix which is full of a multi-layer of finely tunes bings, bangs, bells, whistles and chimes. The song fills the mind with layers of music while entertaining the body with rhythm and beat. The lead vocal is performed by Chilean singer Matias Aguayo.

My favorite track on the album is "My Machines". There are many reasons I like this song but the most prominent is Gary Numan supplying the lead vocal. He has always been a huge favorite of mine and still is to this day. The song starts with a propulsive unrelenting waterfall of percussion and a funk-filled bass line which really drives the song. Numan's lyrics speak of the inner mind of dreams and taking a look inside of them. Like the other songs on the album, the lyrics are vague and minimal, but in this case do have a deeper meaning. Numan brings a force to the album which adds to an already near perfect album of songs which each have the strength to stand on their own.

In the end the album brings a sense of jubilation only captured if you're paying attention to the layers of emotion spread throughout the music.  


Bright Eyes - The People's Key (2011)

"The People's Key", the 7th studio album by Bright eyes was released on February 15, 2011 (band founder, Connor Oberst's 31st birthday). The album sold well in the U.S. reaching #13 and also #38 in Canada, #46 in the UK and #55 in Australia. 

In this album Oberst ponders the existence of faith and science as an intermingling unit or force. The brings forth his thoughts and ideas forth in a relaxed soundscape of sincere beats and electrified keyboards, guitars and bass. 

"A Machine Spiritual (In The People's Key)" brings forth an alien sort of earth in which all it's inhabitants walk through life on autopilot. Their life is relegated to It's a sort of we all get a little to comfortable in our lives and take advantage of it. Connor Oberst explained in an interview with NME; "It's the idea of when in the not so distant future, artificial intelligence surpasses human intelligence and humanity as a notion is just kind of quaint".

Opening with a crunchy guitar line "Haile Selassie" speaks to the heart of freedom from evil and liberation from darkness. Haile Selassie was the Ethiopian Emporer from 1930 - 1974. He was considered a messiah in the Rastafarian movement of the New Golden Age. it was believed that Selassie would lead followers into the realm of the new day of light. Although Oberst does not follow the tenets of Rastafarianism, he does believe that their are forces of good and evil in this world. Oberst encourages the growth of love, peace and human equality.

"Shell Games" finds Oberst confronting his evil way. he talks about change and putting away the selfish and flashy ways. Oberst is ready to come down to earth and face reality - real life. He reaches out for a loving hand to share. He's opening his doors to the inclusion of others in life. There's an emptiness in life which we will never overcome alone.

"The People's Key" is a bright fresh breath of hope and introspection wrapped in smart electric infused acoustic sounds. Bright eyes offers today a new breed of folk fused pop music. It's thoughtful with a good catchy beat.

Brian Eno - Here Come The Warm Jets (1974)

After recording two albums with Roxy Music Eno released his debut solo album, "Here Come The Warm Jets",in January 1974. At this point in time Eno already had the reputation of taking synthesized electronic sounds to a new level. With this album he cemented his reputation and diverged into many different aspects of the music world. 

"Here Come The Warm Jets" showcases the deeper thoughts and complex humor that lives inside the intellect of Brian Eno. He wrapped his intellect inside some of the decades most enticing rock music sounds. Probably the most captivating aspect in Eno's music is his element of chance. While his music is intricately produced and arranged he will throw a curve ball and leave an instrumental interlude to chance in it's progression. Eno let's his music take on it own life throughout the process. His music not only contains his own personal touch but also an element in which the music becomes that of the listener. The listener not only identifies with Eno's music but becomes part of the music itself. Eno has infused so many layers and complexities in his music that it becomes an extension or another dimension of the creators and the listeners of the music.

The album was only a minor success on the charts reaching #26 in the UK and #151 in the U.S. The album's biggest success came from the buzz created by numerous positive reviews from music critics throughout the world.

Several guest musicians performed on the albim including John Wetton and Robert Fripp (both from King Crimson), Simon King (Hawkwind), Bill MacCormick (Matching Mole), Paul Rudolph (Pink Fairies), Chris Spedding and Phil Manzanera, Andy Mackay and Paul Thompson (all three from Roxy Music). 

The title track "Here Come The Warm Jets" ponders the emptiness of life. The longing to be somewhere or something. The heavy layered music support the lyrical theme by foreshadowing with dark cloudy sounds of emotion through the condensed and precisely mixed instrumentation. 

"Baby's On Fire" has become one of the album's main highlights. The song opens with a foreboding bass line that would fit perfectly in a James Bond chase scene. The coolly works into a dazzling frizzle of musical electronics. Eno's vocal performance accents the music in an understated yet macabre way.  It's Rocky Horror meets prog rock (this was a year before Rocky Horror made it's debut). Critics have noted Robert Fripp's guitar solo as an outstanding feature of the song. 

In 1973 Eno split from Roxy Music due to Bryan Ferry's dominance and authority with the band. He wrote the song "Dead Finks Don't Talk" as a slight (yet pungent) jab at Ferry, using terms such as "naughty sneaky" and "oh perfect master" in the song's lyrics. The song displays the intensity of Eno's humor combined with his anger for Ferry. Though the songs lyric is grim the music itself has a happy sort of feel to it giving it the irony which Eno felt during his time with Roxy Music.

"Blank Frank" is my favorite tune from this album. I like it for it's aggressiveness. Eno growls his words out with an attitude of doom and despair. The song speaks of an always present danger. A darkness which forever lurks.  The first musical solo (about 1 minute into the song) features a Robert Fripp guitar solo sounding quite a bit like a machine gun. This effect conjures thoughts and visions of social unrest and world dominating wars. This could be reflective of a person (an emotion or feeling) that has experienced some sort of life changing trauma. 

Eno did not write light cheerful pop tunes for that perfect sunny summer day (oh, how I love those perfect pop tunes of the 70's). Instead Eno wrote songs which challenged the mind. Songs which caused a bit of discomfort. He touched on feelings and thoughts that others generally stayed away from. After the mental challenges, the social awkwardness and eye opening, Eno gives his unfailing gratitude and artistry over to the music and to those who take the time to dig a bit deeper into his creations.


Joy Division - Unknown Pleasures (1979)

Joy Division was an English post-punk band which formed in 1976. They released their debut album "Unknown Pleasures" in June 1979. The buzz was huge for Joy Division. Although the album did not sell very well it did manage to reach #1 in New Zealand and critics rated this one of the 100 best albums of 1979. The future held quite a bit for Joy Division. But, fate prevailed and the life of Joy Division was cut short on May 18, 1980 when lead singer Ian Curtis committed suicide. Only 2 months before the release of their second studio album "Closer". 

"Unknown Pleasures" has gone on to become a post-punk classic. The mood is bleak, clouded and somber. The songs speak of doom, disaster and despair without any real chance of hope or redemption.

In an article on allmusic Ned Ragget states as much as this producer Martin Harnett's album it's the songs and performances that are the true key. Bernard Sumner redefined heavy metal sludge as chilling feedback fear and explosive energy, Peter Hook's instantly recognizable bass work at once warm and forbidding, Stephen Morris' drumming smacking through the speakers above all else. Ian Curtis synthesizes and purifies every last impulse, his voice shot through with the desire first and foremost to connect. 

"New Dawn Fades" pictures a man who's hopes are shot down by his desire of wanting more and feelings of never being satisfied. Moby recorded an excellent cover of the song in 1995 for the movie soundtrack "Heat". 

In 2007 the Killers recorded a version of the song "Shadowplay", which was used in the movie "Control" and is played during the credits of the film. The Killers also released the song as a single to promote their 2007 compilation titled "Sawdust".

"She's Lost Control" is one of Joy division signature tunes and was the inspiration for the title of the 2007 biopic referencing lead singer Ian Curtis' life and death. This song is about the vulnerabilities of living in confusion with no escape. Not knowing whether you're alive or dead. The song is driven by bassist Peter Hook's prominent yet minimalist bass line structured with Stephen Morris' mechanical perfectly syncopated percussion. "She's Lost Control" is like walking into an expansive winding tree lined forest during the darkest night of the year. If you get lost there's no way back home.

In a dark tone singer Ian Curtis sings his feelings of lost control. In the song "Disorder", he has a hold of one part of his life but has lost control of another part. 


The Mars Volta - Frances The Mute (2005)

"Frances The Mute" is the Mars Volta's 2nd studio album and was released on March 1, 2005. The mars Volta's first album "Deloused in the Comatorium opened the door for the band with "Frances the Mute" they experienced global success. The album is their first and only to achieve GOLD status in the U.S. and reached #4 on the U.S. Billboard chart (this is their 2nd highest charting album). In the UK the album made it to #23 and is their highest charting UK album. In New Zealand the album reached #21. It also reached the Top 20 in several European countries including #1 in Norway. 

Many fans consider the Omar Rodriquez-Lopez produced album to be The Mars Volta's best work. The album is full of out of this world guitar work and a mesh of music that inspire and moves the listener. The Mars Volta is not your average rock band - they are one of the "best of the best" and belong in the ranks of artists as Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix and all the other great and influential rock bands. 

The album contains 3 pieces which I call suites. The first is the four part "Cygnus.. Vismund Cygnus". Cygnus, the blind and deaf mute, follows a world in which reality is the illusion. The world is looked at through the lens of birth and death. It's lyrics are poetic in a dark and detached manner. The second suite is "Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore", which is also written in four parts. With"Miranda" The Mars Volta creates it's own world in which human and inhuman meet. Again the topics of life and death arise. The Mars Volta questions our mortality. Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers) steps in to play the trumpet on the "Miranda" suite. The crowing jewel in this album is the five part "Cassandra Gemini". The band performs beyond all expectations on this suite. The subject in this song experiences the feeling of losing his (or her) identity or way in this world. The person experiences a sense of feeling lost and out of touch. This suite has a fascination with breaking the skin, whether it's piercing, stabbing or biting the skin, they speak of blood and death (or maybe the living dead or life after death). The topic can be debatable, but that is how The Mars Volta styles their songs - they leave an element up to the listener to decide how they interpret the meaning of the songs.

"The Widow"is the album's highlight track. The song was released as a single The song was dedicated to Jeremy Michael Ward (a founding member of The Mars Volta) who died of a heroin overdose in May 2003. Released as a single, "The Widow", reached #95 on the U.S. billboard singles chart as well as #20 in the UK. This is the only Mars Volta song to make it on any charts in the U.S.

Much of the inspiration for "Frances The Mute" came from a journal which Jeremy Michael Ward found while he was working in the repossession business in Los Angeles. 

Rush - Grace Under Pressure (1984)

This album is about pressure and how people react under different kinds of pressure. 

"Grace Under Pressure" is Rush's 10th studio album (released April 12, 1984) and their 4th after their shift from hard rock to progressive rock. With this album Rush took the opportunity to further experiment in melding different genres to form a fresh forward leaning sound. They took elements of ska, pop and synth rock and fused them with in their prog rock framework. 

"The Enemy With In" is about how fear works inside our minds and bodies. It's Neal Peart's look inside his own soul. The ska influenced guitar chords drive the song into a frenzy of intensity. This song is part one of the Fear Trilogy (which as of 2002 is a quadrilogy). Part 3 of the Fear Series, "Witch Hunt" was the first to be released in 1981 on the album "Moving Pictures". Part 2 was "The Weapon" from 1982's "signals" album. "The Enemy with In" is part yet released third. In 2002 Rush added to the trilogy with "Freeze" included on their album "Vapor Trails".

"The Body Electric" describes a robot who struggles to break free from the growing dominance of the robots' social structure. The theme of this song seems to have some influence from the George Lucas film THX1138.

Lyricist Neal Peart states that the lyrics in "Red Sector A" intentionally evokes imagery of the concentration camps during the Holocaust. The lyric, "I clutch the wire fence until my fingers bleed", intensifies the pain felt by the prisoners of war. Peart fashioned the lyrics so as to relate to any similar prison camp scenario.

"Afterimage" was written in tribute to Robbie Whelan, a friend of the band (most prominently Neal Peart) who worked as an assistant engineer on some of Rush's earlier albums, most notably "Moving Pictures". Robbie died in an accident on his way to Le Studio (in Quebec) where he worked.

Talking Heads - Remain In Light (1980)

Released on October 8, 1980 "Remain In Light" (Talking Heads' 4th studio album) is the third in a trilogy of Talking Heads albums produced by the legendary Brian Eno.

The album was released to instant critical acclaim garnering praise from almost every rock critic on the music scene. The album ended up in many critics "best of"list. Michael Kulp (The Daily Collegian) stated the album deserves the tag "Classic" attached to it like each of the band's three previous full length albums. Ken Tucker of Rolling Stone Magazine commented the album was full of songs to which you can dance and think, think and dance, dance and think in to an infinity.

During the months of recording this album the process lagged as David Byrne was struggling with writer's block and Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth were busy with the Tom Tom Club. It looked like momentum on the album stopped and it was wondered if it would be completed. At the request of Byrne, Harrison and Eno guitar virtuoso and musician extraordinaire Adrian Belew joined the band. Belew was brought in to add guitar solos by using his unique Roland guitar synthesizer. Even at this early stage Belew's resume was quite impressive having worked with Frank Zappa and David Bowie in the previous few years. The band's enthusiasm rebounded after Belew joined in and recording of the album accelerated.

Belew's inclusion spiked the band's sound and added to the overall effect. Belew shined throughout the entire projected but most prominently on the song "The Great Curve".  The song's lyric is greatly influenced by the African culture as Byrne has cited Robert Farris Thompson's book "African Art In Motion" and John Dean's testimony to African American former slaves during the Watergate trials in the 1970's. Byrnes interest in African art rings through in the chant-like vocals and enmeshed polyrhythms. Belew gives us one of his finest guitar solos taking the song to a dramatic and grand end with his synthesized and electrifying treatment. As an extra added bonus Robert Palmer was brought in to play bongos.

David Byrne has stated that the song "Once In A Lifetime" is meant to be taken literally. He's said, "We're largely unconscious. You know, we operate half awake or on autopilot and end up, whatever with a house and family and job and everything else, and we haven't really stopped to ask ourselves, 'How did I get here?'." The song only reached #103 on the U.S. singles chart, but made it to #14 in the UK and #16 in Ireland. 

Funky bass with soulful African rhythms and beats drive "Houses In Motion" as well as Adrian Belew's ever present synthesized guitar work. The musical interludes include a tasty blending of Jon Hassell's electronically manipulated trumpet performance and Belew's altered guitar sounds topped with a fantastic percussion section. "Houses In Motion" was the album's 2nd single and received a fair amount of rotation in the underground club scene. 

As started with the song "I Zimbra" from 1979's "Fear Of Music, the Talking Heads scored their 2nd (and biggest of 3) U.S. Dance Club hit with "Crosseyed and Painless" which reached #20 on the Billboard Dance Music chart. Their 3rd dance club hit was 1985's "And She Was". Byrne's influence for this funk-filled song comes from old school rappers especially Kurtis Blow's "The Breaks".

U2 - War (1983)

With "War" U2 was still at the beginnings of what turned out to be a magnificent career which has endured through 4 decades now. "War" drew upon the direction which was finely honed on their 2nd album "October". Their musical ability and vision evolved far beyond anybodies expectations. U2 proved musically that they were ready to stand with the greats of all-time. This time around with their Released on February 28, 1983, "War" is U2's 3rd studio album. 

"War" has the interesting distinction of having knocked Michael Jackson's "Thriller" out of the #1 spot on the UK album chart, only to give the spot back to Jackson the following week. It was their first UK #1 as well as being their first Top 15 album in the U.S. reaching #12. The album was certified quadruple platinum for sales of more than 4 million in the U.S.

The album opens on a very strong note with "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and continues from there victoriously and thrillingly right to the end of the album. The opening militaristic machine-gun drumwork helped set the pace and theme of the song. Denise Sullivan commented for AllMusic that Larry Mullen's opening drumwork "helps set the tone for the unforgiving, take no prisoners feel of the song as well as for the rest of the album". In the U.S. the song received a large amount of radio airplay on album oriented FM radio. It made it's biggest impact in the Netherlands where it reached #3 on the singles chart. 

"New Year's Day" is the song that started the fast paced explosion into rock and roll super-stardom. This was their first song to make it into the Top 20 in more countries than their 2 previous albums and was the start of an international boom of popularity. The song became an anthem of freedom and love to fans around the world. The song is a blending of a love song and a commentary on the Polish Solidarity movement.

As with all the songs on "War", "Two Hearts Beat As One" is driven by Adam Clayton's propulsive and affective bassline. The song moves with an intensity of anguish, confusion and love. Bono wrote the lyric while on his honeymoon in the Caribbean.

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