Archive for July 2012

Paul Simon – Graceland (1986) — 10/10   Leave a comment

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Background:

Paul Simon achieved his initial fame in the United States playing as a member of the famous duo Simon and Garfunkel in the 1960s, playing chiefly folk music. Afterwards, they broke up, leaving Simon to a moderately successful solo career, but on the release of his “Hearts and Bones” album in 1983 and its own limited commercial and critical reception, he was in a bit of a slump.

One day, he decided to listen to an instrumental called “Gumboots” by the Boyoyo Boys. This was the turning point–having found a new musical inspiration, he wrote lyrics to the song, and would later sing it over a new accompaniment by the Boyoyo Boys; this track would be the fourth on a new album called Graceland.

Having been so inspired, Simon then took a plane to South Africa to record with local and Western artists alike in Johannesburg,playing and singing with such American writers as Linda Ronstadt, and local South African groups like Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Betwixt accusations of plagiarism by Los Lobos and of breaking the cultural boycott on apartheid South Africa, he released the album in 1986, accompanied by a single from the album, “You Can Call Me Al”, a music video from the single featuring Simon and Chevy Chase for airing on MTV, and Simon’s warmest commercial and critical reception to date.

This album:

Graceland is an epic eclectic experience, blending pop, gospel, zydeco, rock, a cappella, and the many musical traditions of South Africa. The opening track is the initially-metrically-confusing “The Boy In The Bubble”, a sort of ode to the Information Age as Simon saw from the vantage point of the mid-80s. A perfect opener, mind, having energy and power, while still easy enough to let you in to hear the rest of the album.

Then, the title track. One of the few times when I’ve heard music clearly represent indescribably complex emotions. The song itself is about a man who has lost his love, and is travelling on a sort of pilgrimage to the fabled home of Elvis, at Graceland in Tennessee, with his son. The very song itself seems to evoke that feeling, of love, loss, and hope, as he travels with poor boys, pilgrims, and families, with ghosts and empty sockets.

Through a few more tracks, all of which are spectacular and unique, to the famed single “You Can Call Me Al”, with a spectacular spunk about it, and a synth riff that could draw a smile from “The Thinker”.

And as one winds down through this album, with its pop songs like “You Can Call Me Al” or (sort of) “Graceland”, its more 80s-y tracks like “All Around the World or The Myth of Fingerprints”, “Crazy Love, Vol. 2” or “The Boy in the Bubble”, its American “roots” style music, like “That Was Your Mother” or “Under African Skies”, or its more African-influenced tracks, notably “Gumboots”, “Homeless”, or “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes”, one begins to realize something. Though Simon is bravely mixing all these different styles, all these different genres, into one album, they all have this unifying undertone to them, this rich warmth that they all share.

This, dear readers, is the model for what an album should be. So richly unique, so amazingly experimental, pushing a few boundaries here and there, with every song its own unique gem; but when you zoom out, you can tell they were all made for this album–the gems aren’t just gems, but are rather all set in the effin’ British Crown Jewels.

And, as a bonus, the album is extremely accessible. Anyone, anywhere, can and likely will enjoy the hell out of this album. I would, therefore, recommend it to everyone.

It is these criteria–the perfection and uniqueness of the individual songs, the construction and connection of the album itself, and its ability to be listened to by all people of all ages and walks of life, that makes this album truly perfect. 10/10, and in my top 5 ever.

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Posted July 31, 2012 by farglenargle in Uncategorized

The Mars Volta – De-Loused in the Comatorium (2003) — 9/10   Leave a comment

A good album to start with.

Background:

The Mars Volta are an El Paso-based progressive rock group that blends the “traditional” (used loosely) progressive sound typical of, say, King Crimson or Dream Theater, a heavier rock sound like Led Zeppelin, and musical traditions of the American Southwest, as affected by Mexico. If you’ve never listened to them, I recommend the 4-minute radio edit of “L’Via L’Viaquez” to get an idea of what you’re getting into.

This album:

De-Loused in the Comatorium is the debut by The Mars Volta, and (of course) features their opening lineup, including drummer Jon Theodore. Objectively, it’d be easiest to describe this album as having a reeeeally heavy sound, thick guitar parts, and intricate rhythmic structures.

First, let’s look at technical skill–not a truly important point (The Beatles were NOT especially good at playing their instruments, Ringo excepted; their talent for writing made them what they are)–but an interesting one, nonetheless. To start, their drummer, Jon Theodore, is a force to be reckoned with. He does things to the kit that sound impossible and mind-bending, and can create a groove while going crazy, as he is wont to do, in such a way that gives seasoned drummers like Ian Paice a run for their money. As well, the guitar work, while not particularly solo-heavy, is formidable. Parts of this album sound as though a wall of guitars is being fronted against the eardrum, and their guitarists know what they’re doing.

Next, a look at the songs themselves. They’re all spectacular demonstrations of this talent and of the lyrical and instrumental songwriting capabilities of the members of the band, and weave through musical intricacies rare in this past decade. The main focal points of the album appear to be the “Esp”s: “Inertiatic Esp” and “Cicatriz Esp”, along with “Take The Veil Cerpin Taxt”, to a degree. These three are hugely different, yet possess something of an overarching sound that makes them feel united.

That last part leads me into the construction of the album itself: it’s beautiful. It fulfills what an album is supposed to be: not a collection of songs, but a musical statement in and of itself. This whole album is united sonically, musically, by an indescribable common thread, and is actually indivisible; that is to say, you can’t listen to “Inertiatic Esp” without the context provided by “Son et Lumiere”. That’s the only weakness of the album’s construction. In my mind, the perfect album is both woven together perfectly by musical similarities, as this one is, but is also separable, such that no song needs the context of the others to be

In that sense, the similarities and inseparability of the songs on this album make the album function much like a song. As such, the album isn’t very accessible to people not accustomed to sitting down and really¬†listening to the music. Therefore, I wouldn’t recommend the album to the average listener.

Overall, I’d give this album a 9/10, with it falling short in the areas of separability and accessibility, but being, from a musical perspective, pretty perfect.

Also, Jon Theodore makes me pretty happy. But, that’s just me.

Posted July 28, 2012 by farglenargle in Uncategorized