Music review: Midyear must hear albums, Part 2
Here are capsule reviews of new releases for the wet season that can’t be missed. Check out Part 1 here.
There’s a sketch on “Funny or Die” where comedians Paul Rudd and Jason Segel (reprising their characters from “I Love You, Man”) crash the dressing room of Rush and have this exchange while mucking up the buffet tray. “Man, how does Geddy Lee still hit those notes after all these years?” To which the other dude replies: “Voice of an angel, brah.”
From what’s on their new album, I’m inclined to agree. The Canadian power trio have been rocking it since the late 1960s and haven’t stopped since. Their discography is an effort to express a distinct and yet all encompassing musical language now known as prog rock.
Coming off their last proper LP, 2007’s “Snakes and Arrows,” this new album is a fully fledged concept that comes with a tasty steampunk storyline. There’s even a forthcoming novelization by sci-fi author Kevin J. Anderson. “Clockwork Angels” is loosely about a young man literally following his dreams, journeying through his mental landscape. Here there be pirates, carnival freaks and performers, anarchists, and the occasional lost city. Against the youth and dreams of the young man is set The Watchmaker. He is the enemy, ruthless, authoritarian, attempting to dominate the steampunk world under his fascist rule.
This thing is pure Rush from the psychedelia opener “Carvan,” continuing unrelenting to “BU2B” and the titular track. Pizzicatos, driving rock grooves, drop in fills, Lee’s twisting bass lines, and funk riffs, you name it, it’s all here. You can track the story if you listen to Lee’s clear vocals but for pure bliss nothing beats the nine minute virtuoso performance that is “Headlong Flight.”
As polarizing as Rush can be, if you are at all interested in complex rock, you must check this out.
THE SMASHING PUMPKINS
What else can be said about the confusing maelstrom of success, social rocker climbing, inept musical and artistic moves (book of poems, anyone?), and decidedly overcompensating, too precious albums that’s littered the post-break-up career of the only remaining Pumpkin?
Here: that singer and guitar god of the alternative nation Billy Corgan is still capable of penning good rock songs.
Hence “Oceania,” an album within an album, light years better than the failed politics meets Pumpkins angst of “Zeitgeist” (an album so embarrassing I, a Pumpkins completist, erased it from my hard drive after three runs). Something that Corgan’s billed as part of a much larger work in progress that is several albums long, a story arc titled “Teargarden by Kaleidyscope.” When finished, he claims, the monstrosity will be 44 tracks long.
“Oceania’s” not so much a return to form—no, this is SP by way of Zwan’s neu-hippie guitar overload sans the alternite angst—as much as it is a return to being Corgan the rock songwriter. The fist at the heavens rockers that are “Quasar” and “The Chimera” evoke the lofty heights of their sophomore LP “Siamese Dream” including the gorgeous guitar work without actually repeating the grunge of it all.
And as much as Billy would like to declare his other members superfluous, even vestigial as an appendix, don’t you believe him. Young drum prodigy Mike Byrne, with his strong flourishes and decidedly very rock grooves push the sharp punk and oomph forward, contrasting enough with the technical fusion we’ve all come to love in former long-time SP drummer Jimmy Chamberlin. Just listen to “Panopticon” or the sprawling nine minutes of the title track.
It is Byrne and bassist Nicole Fiorentino who keep Corgan from going over the musical top, into flights of obscurantist, doe-eyed, entranced by the fuzz “Gossamer” fancy (again) and keep him grounded in the song. Even if he makes a mantra out of singing “Thorazine! / Thorazine? / Thorazine!” in mildly varied tones on “Pale Horse,” Fiorentino’s bass is there to catch him, with hooks, with a rounded out melody, thwarting Corgan’s unattainable, and by now gauche, golden god aspirations.
The whole album shares a spiritual dialectic with the quieter moments of “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.” Even in its most rocking parts, the new Pumpkins sound delighted. It should also serve to remind us never to count out Corgan or his musical stamina. It seems he’s found the cool pumpkin patch again, after stumbling in the decaying vineyard way too long. Yes, let us follow him into the waters.
When the history of French metal is written, the way Gojira attacks music will be hailed as an historic watershed where speed, eloquence and sheer gigantic power are combined into effortless gestalt. An apt thing, especially on “L’Enfant Sauvage” (The Wild Child) where they just take bites out of the listener and still seem as magnificent and awe-inspiring as a, well, monster. To admire what’s eating you as a brilliant spectacle? Yeah, only Gojira can do that.
The band’s name, by the way, is the original Japanese pronunciation of Godzilla. Tracks like the precision killing force combined with spaghetti western riffs that is “Explosia,” the unrelenting heaviness of “Born in Winter” and the epic title track recall elements as diverse as Pantera, Meshuggah, Suffocation and even ye olde Sepultura, especially Max Cavalera’s riff work.
Everything is technically flawless, but unlike their less proficient death metal cousins who favor the guttural and barbaric yawp, Gojira adopt an atmospheric bent that never spills over into metal gaze territory. Though this one is still closer to Les Discrets in spirit than their previous albums. Blame the vibrant and muscular vocals of Joe Duplantier, his pipes lend even the most brutal track an air of magnanimity, signs of emotive depth in a genre belittled as simple gruffness, Cookie Monster going on a cannibal rampage. There are very few metal clichés here and even the double pedal attack is employed more as cadenza rather than stock in trade rhythm post.
Generally ignored and treasured as an underground secret for the first part of their career, Gojira are now reaping their dues, currently hailed as a mainstream a darling as can be in these latter days. It’s a very metal path to success and it’s easy to see why.
For sheer head banging, claw-raising fun, head on over to “The Axe” and “Planned Obsolesence.” But for trademark Gojiramazing-ness (something that’s since become synonymous for events of metal wonder, and which I didn’t coin, by the by) listen to “Mouth of Kala” and behold how speed is harnessed in a brilliant, inventive and bloody way. –KG, GMA News