Have you ever read a great book and thought to yourself, “Man this would make such a great movie?” Only to then destroy that thought because you know Hollywood would fuck it up?
It’s one thing to create a piece of art for another medium. It’s another thing to create a piece of art that is so well made that it would be impossible for any other art form to do it justice. When I read the request for this album, that the songs were originally created as a demo for a video game soundtrack, I was immediately curious. Then after I listened to the album, I thought, “Oh my God this would make a great video game soundtrack.”
To begin with there’s this feeling of childlike wonderment throughout the album. Whether it’s the particular sequence of notes, or the textures of each individual track–everything feels fantastical. When you listen to this album you’re no longer on Earth. In fact you’re no longer in this dimension. You’re immediately transported to something new, exciting, and dynamic.
Then there’s the emotional complexity of each track. Where most songs are emotional roller coasters, this album is an emotional environment. Something so concrete, vivid, and all encompassing that you can almost reach out and touch it. I’ve mentioned many times how music can transport you to other worlds, and this album in particular not only exceeds, but excels in that department.
So when presented with the possibility of this being a video game soundtrack. I imagined the fantastical world it would take place in, a flurry of ideas and new possibilities presented themselves to me. Then I remembered, “The book is almost always better than the movie.”
To illustrate my point we have to go to the first track, Unmade Exegesis. The song starts off with this deep low piano key, which immediately grabs your attention, snaps you out of complacency, and forces you to listen. Then a raspy electronic hum is heard, like the beginning of an electronic thunderstorm. It grows louder, when all of a sudden it’s overtaken by this amazing distorted sounding synth. That sounds so otherworldly, and so alien that it immediately gets the imagination going.
Yet it’s only a hint of what’s to come, a mystery yet to be solved. Like some brave explorer in the depths of some unknown wilderness comes across some strange artifact, a giant foot print of some unknown creature, or some new otherworldly technology.
Then when the heavy bass of the drums starts to kick in. When all the shimmering synths, swirling pads, and mutated choirs sing. It’s only then when you see the scope of the mystery unfold before your eyes. It’s a sense of wonderment and awe, a sense of discovery, and the realization of all the new possibilities–that stirs that excitement in your heart. And this is only the first track.
Next up we have Rampant Wild. This is the track which even if you don’t like video games, don’t like ambient music, or really don’t like anything–that you can’t help but like. This track could work with almost anything. I could imagine that if we were in the 80’s and Kate Bush needed a new single, this would be one of her showstoppers. While at the same time if there was some romantic movie that did a montage of a couple in love it would work perfectly.
It’s an incredibly romantic sounding song. Nearly every synth in this track just oozes this kind of butterflies in your stomach, love at first sight kind of sound. Whether it’s the subtle flute synths in the background, the plucking synth strings, or even that beautiful choir. Everything just screams romance.
It’s at this point where I desperately wanted someone to make this into video game music, and when I also realized that it’s not possible. Well let me retract that. It is possible. Just like it is possible for their to be a movie version of Paradise Lost. Yet it’s when one medium’s strength so completely overshadows another medium’s weakness.
This track doesn’t make you think about love, or look at it objectively. As soon as you hear those synths you are in love. You can feel it, touch it, and see it so vividly and so clearly. You would want any artistic medium that has romance in it to capture those emotions.
And yet when we look to video games, it hasn’t gotten up to snuff. Sure there are plenty of amazing video game relationships. Just like there are plenty of great movies from Hollywood. Yet let’s take any RPG where you can romance one of companions. Does it make you feel like you’re in love? Or are you looking up guides to say the right thing, and seeing if the character is mechanically useful to you? Because let’s face it, if a song sounds as romantic as this, you gotta be delivering on that romance.
Then we get to Interior Versions a soundscape that is so unique, beautiful, and borderline macabre. It’s like the music that would be playing in an underworld lounge. Where all the ghouls, and undead settle down and have a drink. It’s a very specific, and very different interpretation. Yet as I’ve said before this is an album that gets your imagination going. So you gotta forgive me for the liberal interpretations.
The reason I believe it’s able to keep your imagination going wild is that it has the amorphous structure. It appears at points to have a traditional musical structure. Then the track mutates, morphs, and distorts itself into something else.
We can see this in other tracks such as Failed Village, where the synths have this ethereal kind of edge to it. The ethereal nature of the synths gives it a kind of cohesion. Yet this cohesion unravels as the bass is introduced. It feels off as though the bass is playing wrong notes, is out of time, or maybe it’s not even the right instrument. Every instrument introduced after the bass has a musical cohesion. In fact the instruments are not only musically cohesive, they are also structured in a way that makes it sound beautiful. Only to then dissolve into a slowed down musical deconstruction.
Which provides this unique dichotomy. At one point the bass, and musical deconstruction–at the end–creates this sense of unease. Yet there’s these beautiful lush soundscapes. It’s like when you’re a kid and you accidentally watch a rated R movie. At first your terrified because you are told it’s forbidden. That it will give you nightmares. Yet as you watch it, even with the gore, sex, and violence. There is a kind of wonderment to it. An enjoyment out of the macabre.
So how does First Kings accomplish a “Spiritual” sound? Well, we have to look at one particular instrument–the drums. While the beginning starts off with the typical kind of drums you hear on most electronic songs. Then a new drum is introduced. The conga. Now a conga is an interesting instrument. Sped up, it sounds like a Glorida Estefan song. Yet when it’s slowed down, that’s where it gets interesting. That’s where our cultural memory of “Spiritualism” comes into play.
I bet if you were to isolate just the congas alone, and to ask somebody what imagery comes to mind. They’d be saying things like, “Oh, I’m out in the desert in front of a fire. A tribal chief gives me these sacred herbs to eat, and now I’m tripping out.” Okay maybe it’s just me. Yet in our collective unconscious we have this residual memory of this kind of “Spiritualism.” Before organized religion, technology, and even civilization. I guarantee you that during those times they weren’t using Pipe organs to compose their spiritual songs–they were using drums. If you don’t believe me just think of tribes out in the Amazon, untouched by civilization. Are they plugging up the ole strat? Or are they playing on drums? I rest my case.
If you read this blog a lot, I’ve always been fascinated with artists who are able to combine the spiritual, and the technological. It’s that unique combination of synths, and tribal drumming. Except usually when a song invokes those feelings. It’s not with a lush synth soundscape filled with wonderment and awe. Usually there’s some kind of existential threat. Yet not with First Kings, who instead of fearing technological progress, and the reversion back to primitivism–seem to be enjoying it. Not only are they enjoying it, but there’s this sense of wonderment with it. That there’s this new world being created, that just begs you to explore it.
It’s with that sense of wonderment that Curating The Hive which starts off with a sinister synth. It’s so sinister that it made me recall the opening of The Shining.
Now while the opening of The Shining starts off sinister, and ends up being even more sinister. Curating The Hive starts off sinister, and begins to gradually become playful. How does it do that? Well listening to the track, you can hear a sort of eerie kind of synth. A synth wails in the background, this shrill guttural noise. Like the wailing some unknown creature that you’ve never seen before. Then as the synths cheerfully pluck away, bit by bit you realize it’s a creature that you’re not supposed to be afraid of.
That ability to tame a sinister sound into something more playful is an incredible feat to accomplish. Yet it’s that ability to harness in the harsh soundscape into something that has a sense of wonderment is where the true mastery lies. I can’t imagine how many hours it must have taken to precisely create this kind of sound. Yet somehow First Kings is able to layer the synths, arrange the music, and transform the strange into the beautiful.
Then when we get to Becoming Real it’s where you see the synthesis of the strange and the beautiful are fully fleshed out. Where instead of creating an strange sound that gets more tame as the track progresses; First Kings starts right off the bat with the strange and the beautiful. Whether it’s the notes that are being played in a creepy melody, while having this lush beautiful sound. Or a beautiful synth, playing side by side with some strange theramin, that sounds like it’s out of a 1950’s B-movie. It maintains this sense of finding beauty in the strange. Which reminds me of a GOOD Tim Burton film. Where we see strange things. We see ugly things. We see outcasts, social rejects, and monsters. Yet we never see them as being ugly, strange, or as monsters. We see them as endearing, interesting, and even lovable.
Now First Kings doesn’t have Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, a movie studio, cameras, or even a script. Yet somehow First Kings is able to accomplish this seeing beauty in the strange in a few tracks. While Tim Burton (who is undoubtedly incredibly talented when he’s not being a sellout) needs a whole movie to get you to see.
Then we get to the final track Mould Elegy. Which is an appropriate name. It is by far the darkest and most tragic track on the album. When listening to the whole album, I couldn’t help but feel enraptured by this strange new world First Kings had created. It was a place of beauty, and oddities something entirely new to explore. Yet the strange doesn’t transform into something beautiful, rather it dies.
The beginning of the track creates this swirling desolate soundscape, that’s harsh and brutal. The synths that before created a sense of wonderment, and even playfulness now sound like the last bleeps and blurps of a dying machine. If this song was by itself I would praise it for creating such a desolate soundscape. Which it does fantastically. Yet it’s within the context of the whole album that this song has a tragic undertone.
I said earlier that Rampant Wild was the point of the album where I realized that this album wouldn’t work as a video game soundtrack. Yet it’s Mould Elegy where I realized it didn’t need any other art form. The fact that First Kings was able to take me to this emotional landscape, and somehow to create a narrative, without a script, vocals, or associated imagery is mind blowing.
Yet at the same time I would love to see another art form be as creative as First Kings, and to use this album as a muse. That’s because this album begs you to be more imaginative. To see the world through different lens, and it’s just inspiring to hear as an artist. And as someone who makes art themselves, if your album makes me want to make more art, then I am going to have to give this album my full recc. Please check it out!
Music is like a drug. For any music lover there seems to be that “one song.” That song that drew a line in the sand, from casual listening, to full on consumption. And while Harmony is the gateway drug, dissonance becomes the hardcore narcotic, that only the most desperate addict seeks out.
While yes, dissonant music is heard everywhere. Hell even Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze has some dissonance to it. Yet there is this thin line between chaos and art. What is pure garbage nonsense to one person, is a prized piece of art to another. Yet for me as a fan of music, and as a critic is not that the sound is dissonant. But rather, what does this dissonance achieve? What is the desired effect? And does the artist achieve this effect?
So it’s my pleasure to introduce DuffDoes, a man who knows how to use dissonance to convey an emotional response in the listener. I mean with a song titled YESTERDAYWASABLUR, we have to ask ourselves: how does DuffDoes achieve the feeling of a hangover? So with that all out of the way let’s nosedive straight into this hangover.
Right off the bat, we hear samples of water pouring. Or as the title suggests alcohol, lean, or whatever else kids are into these days. This sample loops over and over again in the intro. Kind of like when you wake up with a side splitting headache and while “YESTERDAYWASABLUR” the only consistent and immediate thing you know is that you were in fact drinking. That coupled with the reverberated synth, and razor sharp hi hat–does an excellent job in conveying that physical sensation of waking up with a hangover.
Then there’s the actual beat, the 808 kick, bells, clap, and hi hat do an excellent job in tying the whole song together. I mean after all while you maybe going through a hangover at the moment you did have fun while you were fucked up. It’s why every early 20’s something has the great idea that if they drink all the time, then they’ll never have hangovers.
Yet the melody of the song tells us a different story. While the beat ties everything together, the melody does all it can to mutate, transform, and change into this dissonant sound. As though while, yes, the night before was great. This hangover is a little bit different, and one hangover too many. After all burning your hand on a stove the first time is a funny story. Burning your hand on a stove for your whole entire 20’s, and then it’s just sad. Which is why the mutated melody provides this additional, almost tragic subtext to it.
This is a great song for any artist to listen to, just to understand how to use dissonance in an effective way. There are far too many times where it seems like music lovers go for the most obtuse, abrasive, ear piercing, atonal, music humanly possible. Not because it conveys an emotion, theme, or even music but because it’s so “different.” Not only does this track do a great job of conveying the emotion of YESTERDAYWASABLUR but it’s so well produced as well. Everything is crisp, fresh, and sounds absolutely fantastic. Which gives the experimentation of the track a little extra validity. After all, when a professional experiments it’s avant-garde. When an amateur experiments it’s shit. And DuffDoes is no amateur.
So give this track a listen. If you ever want to make that dissonant avant-garde sounding track that you’ve always wanted to make. There’s no better artist to look to then DuffDoes.
When anybody asks me who my favorite musician of all time is, I don’t hesitate to tell them that it’s David Bowie. He was a man who was of his time, ahead of his time, and before his time. Pop musicians before Bowie never really evolved their sound. Yeah sure Ozzy Osbourne’s sound drastically changed when he left Black Sabbath, and had Rand Rhoads as a guitarist. There are probably innumerable examples like that.
But nobody before Bowie, killed a persona at the height of it’s popularity, to pursue something entirely different. Not only would he pursue something different, but each time he changed his sound, he evolved his sound. The best analogy I can make is imagine a martial artist, who is the world’s greatest kick boxer. Who after winning the heavy weight championship of the world, decides to get into Sumo Wrestling. Trains super hard, and becomes the world champion of Sumo Wrestling, then changes to Brazilian Jujitsu. Meanwhile, as he changes from sport to sport he adds his own personal flair to it, adds it to another sport, and BAM he creates something entirely original and destroys the competitors while doing it.
So when any artist is doing a cover of Bowie, we’re also participating in a piece of musical history. That’s mainly because Bowie was the king of being into something “Before it was cool.” There’s so many different genres, artistic influences, cultural references, and soundscapes that it’s only now with the globalized digital world we live in that we can see how the fuck the underground gay scene, mimes, kabuki theater, Pink Floyd, and Andy Warhol can even be synthesized into something entirely new.
With this broad spectrum of musical creativity, an artist has so much to work with. Even in this album, since Bowie used so many different genres techniques, sounds, and influences that any artist doing a cover of Bowie can almost do anything, and still it’s within the realm of possibility for a Bowie song. For example if you ask me to play a Black Sabbath sounding song, I’m not going to bring out a synthesizer. Ask me to play a Kraftwerk sounding song and I’m not going to bust out my ole acoustic guitar. Ask me to make a David Bowie sounding song, and I can literally do anything.
So with that preface, let’s dive in and review this wonderful album. The first song Cyber Monday – It’s No Game (Part One) already starts strong with the very first sample. In Bowie’s original It’s No Game (Part 1) it starts off with what sounds to be a tape recorder, maybe a cassette, or even a Walkman. I don’t know. Mainly because I never grew up using a cassette player. Yet when Cyber Monday uses that old classic internet dial up tone, we already know what it is.
It’s genius because it does two things, one updates a classic, because more people probably remember the internet dial up tone than a cassette player. And two provides a sort of commentary on music itself. We aren’t finding music rummaging through Record stores, we find music by internet streaming services. This kind of meta-commentary is often used by Vaporwave and if you’re going to be covering David Bowie, what’s a better place to start than by using a variety of different genres?
Next we go to the actual musical arrangement of this song. Where instead of using heavy reverbed out guitar, they use these spacious shimmering synths. Which anybody who really has dived into Bowie’s catalog knows how forward thinking he was in regards to synthesizers, and pioneered many of the sounds we take for granted. Using synths to cover guitar based songs can be tacky, if not out right disrespectful, to an original song. Yet this is David Bowie we’re talking about. In South Park it’s a running gag that any idea that’s out there, “The Simpsons already did it.” Which in this case, any musical idea can be answered as, “Bowie already did it.”
So when in the original song, the guitar sounds like it’s hooked up to an amp that is sparking out, short circuited, and on fire. The question is: how you can provide the same type of sound using a synthesizer? Then the next question that has to be asked is: does it sound good? The answer to that is: yes, to both of those questions. The synths take on this razor thin electronic hum that sounds so sharp that it would cut your ear drum. It’s the perfect synth answer to the bizarre guitar tone on the original song, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better synth tone.
Yet there’s something missing in this track that’s not in the original. That is the sample of a Japanese woman speaking. Now when Scary Monsters was released in 1980, hearing a Japanese woman speak on an album would call back to some exotic, mysterious world. Since at that time, unless you were incredibly cultured, or were David Bowie himself, Japan was still an enigma to most Westerners. Now with anime, video games, manga, etc. Japan doesn’t really hold that sense of mystery. I already have some conception of Japan. So listening to it now, it doesn’t provide the same emotional response as it would back in 1980. So when Cyber Monday removes it from their cover. It improves the song for modern listeners.
Because let’s face it, if there was a movie that had a bunch of Indians eating frozen monkey brains it would seem tacky, stereotyped, and not true. But in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which was released in 1984, it seemed more believable. Mainly because people were ignorant of India, and it’s in that ignorance that you’re able to feel some sense of exploration into unknown territory. Yet we’re not as ignorant as we were 30 years ago. So when listening to this song now, it’s a great rock track with some Japanese woman speaking for some reason.
So next up is Foreign Technology – Up The Hill Backwards. The original Up The Hill Backwards is a lot more stripped down in terms of bizarre guitar tones. While at the same time is very vocal centered, with a droning organ, heavy hitting drums, and has an incredibly interesting groove. The main takeaway for this track would be, that it is a rock song. You could see almost any rock band covering it, and it would still work in their style. It’s a basic rock song, as much as David Bowie could be considered basic. With this simple foundation, the surprise will be how Foreign Technology utilizes this simple structure, to express their own sound.
So when listening to this track the first thing that you have to notice is the beefed up guitar tones. Then there’s the almost bagpipe sounding synths. Which before the droning organ in the background was so distant you’d swear you were hearing it from another county. You know when a cover is going to be great, when it already sounds ten times larger than the original.
The other thing is that while the original track was stripped down, it provides a lot of opportunity for experimentation. Which is in and of itself exciting, it’s like when you ask a Jazz musician to play their own version of say, Jingle Bells. Each musician’s interpretation of the song is going to sound incredibly different, yet each one is going to be jingle bells. You’re not excited to hear jingle bells, you’re excited to hear the artist play their version of it.
While the intro is hard hitting, beefed up, and sounds gigantic the rest of the track takes on a more spacious quality. Both in terms of sound, and thematically. While Bowie’s original song had the vocals in the forefront, and instrumentation in the back. This song does the complete opposite, and provides an entirely different kind of experimental tone. To begin with, the distorted vocals sound like an Astronaut floating out in space. Combine that with the reverb drenched spacious instrumentation, that constantly shifts, changes, and mutates. Kind of calls back to some sci-fi space exploration into some new unknown world. And what’s a more fitting tribute to the Man Who Fell To Earth?
This song in particular, since it is the namesake of the album, has a lot of potential for any artist covering it. Since it is the song, of the album, that transitioned Bowie from Experimental artist to Phil Collins 2.0. There are either two ways to go about it, you can make it more pop friendly, or more experimental.
Or instead you can do what Depussy did, which is make the song live up to it’s name “Scary Monsters.” From the bass thumping Techno beat intro, to the menacing vocal growl, this track lives up to the name “Scary Monsters.” In fact if they ever made a remake of Blade (which I know they won’t because Hollywood sucks) this would be a perfect song for it. This song is so menacing, yet with the upbeat tone of the original song it doesn’t go overboard into edge lord territory. In fact with it’s fast paced hard hitting synths, it provides the track with a lot of energy, and provides action to an upbeat albeit experimental song.
This kind of heart pumping beat provides the song with a pop edge. Because let’s face it, everybody loves a song that pumps them up. There is nobody on Earth who just listens to music to contemplate the nature of existence. Sometimes you just want to let loose, get in a fight, dance at a club, or dunk on some fools who think they’re the next MJ.
So like the original song, while it is experimental, it still retains a pop edge. Though how David Bowie accomplished it, and how Depussy accomplished it are two entirely different means, they still nonetheless accomplished an experimental pop song. So while each version ended up in the same destination, the journey taken was wildly different.
Next up we have Destination – Ashes To Ashes (Destination’s Messed With Major Tom Mix). Ashes to Ashes is one of my all time favorite songs. Ever. I cannot understate how much I love this song. It’s a song that I would always skip, when I first discovered David Bowie. Mainly due to it’s bizarre intro, and the bizarre groove it had. Then there was David Bowie’s fragile vocals. His voice (which at the time) sounded like it was going through puberty. I couldn’t listen to the whole song all the way through. I kept skipping it, over and over again. It wasn’t until a girl I had a crush on started to date another guy that I was finally in the right headspace to listen to the song.
Which really fits in well with the theme of Ashes to Ashes. David Bowie’s first hit was Space Oddity. A song that got him to the top of the pops. Yet a song that almost doomed him to be a one hit wonder. Created during the time of the Apollo moon landing. It was a song about a man, Major Tom, an astronaut who gets launched into space. Who the public admires as a hero, only to then have his communication cut off from the rest of the world, and now drifts helplessly out in the black abyss of space.
Then Bowie defied expectations, became Ziggy Stardust, and became the rock star he longed to be. Then came the drugs, the alcohol, the terrible management, a divorce, sobriety, a different, sound, and now we get to Ashes to Ashes. A song where the heroic astronaut finally is able to get back into communication with the rest of the world. And when he does, the world is horrified to find out that he’s become a junkie. Where the general public doesn’t want to know what shirt he wears, rather they tell their kids that if “You wanna get things done, you better not mess with Major Tom.” A man that fell from grace to become a loser. So when a romantically rejected 16 year old me gave this song a second chance, well you can see why it resonated with me so much.
So with that kind of emotional baggage, Destination has a lot to live up to. The question is, are they able to live up to this epic tragedy? Well obviously I’m writing a review on it, so yes, they are. One of the reasons I passed on the song originally was because of the bassline, and the groove. It fit incredibly well with the theme of the song, that is of drug addiction, and emotional isolation. Everything felt off kilter and as a result you don’t immediately understand the tragic nature of the song during the beginning parts. Destination, on the other hand does an excellent job of setting up the immediate tragedy of the song.
How do they do it? Well it’s mainly due to the instrumentation that they’ve chosen. The plucking bass in the original highlights that kind of false sense of bravado when you’re under the influence. While the electronic keys provide that melancholy sound that the song is themed after. When you combine these two elements, at first listen, they clash together. Which is why I suspect I kept skipping this song when listening to it. Destination on the other hand does something different. They focus on the melancholy keys, distort it, allow it to mutate, and it conveys both inebriation and tragedy very effectively. While the bassline is instead replaced with this synth swirling around your ears.
By utilizing modern techniques of electronic music, Destination is able to convey the melancholy theme of the song in an incredibly effective way. Yet there is one thing that is impossible to do. That is have David Bowie’s vocals. Like I said before, David Bowie’s vocals, when I first listened to the track, turned me off from the track. His vocals were so vulnerable, and it sounded like he was fucked up when he sang about being fucked up. They were so experimental, and he pulled it off so well that it cannot be replaced. They are vocals that each time I listen to them, they resonate more and more with me. Mainly because I’ve matured both as an artist, and as a musician.
Don’t get me wrong I believe that the singer for Destination did a fantastic job. She has a beautiful voice, that is a pure joy to listen to. Yet in this track out of all the tracks in the album, I firmly believe that nobody can surpass Bowie in his vocal performance. It would be like if Hollywood did a remake of The Godfather. No actor would even remotely want any of those roles. Mainly because the shoes that they have to fill are far too large for any actor to fill. Likewise with this song, and Bowie’s experimental approach to his vocals, no singer could ever replicate the depth of emotion that he brought to the track. But I have to hand it to Destination they got closer to capturing the emotional vulnerability of Bowie, than I thought that anybody could.
Yet due to Destination’s strength of being able to effectively use synthesizers, utilizing nearly every tool at their disposal they were able to convey that level of emotion that was in the original. This track is a behemoth, it is so well done, that for any band to convey the complex emotions of the original deserves a listen. This out of all the songs on the track is the most daunting challenge, and Destination did an amazing job. It took a lot of courage to even cover this track, and I have my utmost respect for them as artists. They were Rocky Balboas against an Apollo Creed, and the fact they are able to go the distance and stand on their on two feet, is something to be proud of.
Next up is Dead Amps – Fashion and unless you literally have had no contact with the outside world for 30 years, you’ve undoubtedly heard this song. It’s an incredibly pop sounding song. While yes, it’s still David Bowie, and it still has his unique flair. It’s so popular that there’s a realm of possibilities with the song. To understand what I mean, take Black Sabbath’s Iron Man. It’s an incredibly popular song, yet there’s still a lot that can be done on it. For example, the guitars could be heavier, Ozzy could be replaced with anybody, the guitar solo could be improved, etc. It’s the same principle with this song. Bowie doesn’t have to be singing on it, like with Ashes to Ashes. It’s just a fun song about fashion.
So with that in mind we have to look at how Dead Amps approaches this song. Like I’ve said before it’s a fun song about fashion. So what they really have to do is capture that fun. After all David Bowie wasn’t just a pioneer in music, but in fashion as well. This song while at times is incredibly goofy, is also capturing Bowie’s emotional reaction to one of his favorite past times that is fashion.
So let’s see how they go about this. Instead of the guitar intro, they use a heavy distorted synth. Which works so well for this track. The guitars in the original, while yes they were excellent, they also could be seen as abrasive. Which can be attributed to the specific guitar tone that is used throughout the album. By using a fuzzy distorted synthesizer, the song is able to be more pop sounding, and thus friendlier. And if a song is friendlier, well it’s going to be more fun.
Then there’s the vocals where the track really shines. Like I’ve mentioned before there are some songs where the vocalist can be replaced, and it wouldn’t make a difference, or even improve the song. While Bowie is an excellent vocalist, his vocals are not needed in this track. Yet with Dead Amps female vocals, and particularly the chorus “Turn to the left, Turn to the right.” By double tracking the vocals, and adding a bit of female charm to the track, the track instantly becomes so incredibly fun. Then there’s the fact this is a male song, sung by a female there is a possibility of a duet, while before there was only Bowie. The interaction between male and female vocals works so well for this track. And then just to add even more charm there are the robotic vocals. Which is just the icing on the cake.
All throughout these various synths are used throughout the song, and provides it with such a campy feeling. Then when there is guitar it’s so well produced and does such a great job at providing a funky rhythm section that, I can honestly say that this song is great on it’s own, without the baggage of being a David Bowie cover.
Next up we have Nathan Carlson – Teenage Wildlife. It’s a David Bowie song that looks back to the past. To those 1950’s teenage Americana of getting your own car, and driving Pacific Coast highway. It’s his most nostalgic, and has those 50’s throwback sounds. With the crooning background vocals, old rock rhythm sections, of the 50’s with the perfected guitar tones of 1980. This is the song, where if you don’t like the guitar tone of the album, this is the track that you just have to admit sounds good. It captures that sense of nostalgia that we all falsely have of our teenage lives.
So I highly doubt that Nathan Carlson has the 1950’s as a frame of reference for his teenage years. I know nothing about the guy, but just call it a hunch. Then what would be our version of the 50’s? What genre tropes can we use to invoke those feelings of nostalgia? If only there was a retro genre that captured that wave of emotion of our youths…Oh yeah, retrowave. That was probably the worst sentence I’ve ever written, but you get the idea.
Even if you didn’t grow up in the 80’s, you had parents who listened to 80’s music. We all latch on to certain aspects of it, the synthesizers, the robotic vocals, the electronic bass, etc. If Bowie was alive today he would have remade his song the way that Nathan Carlson has. Because it’s not the particular sounds that makes this song what it is. But it’s the emotions the song invokes. That of nostalgia. For people in Bowie’s age range, it would have been the 50’s. For us it would be the 80’s-90’s. This song excels because it so well captures the 80’s aesthetic. Instead of great guitar tones, it’s great synth tones. Nearly every compliment of the original song can be attributed to this song, except it’s with synths.
Now we’re getting into some interesting territory with, Waffensupermarkt – Scream Like A Baby. The original track is very dramatic. With a nearly campy start, with it’s drama, then it’s spooky synthesizers, and various people’s vocals double tracked. Is a lot like Fashion in that it’s a fun song. All though it’s not because Bowie is really into babies screaming like he is into fashion, but because it’s just a fun campy song. I mean there is a misconception about experimental music. Most people have this image of a tortured soul living down deep in a basement. Alone with their synthesizer/guitar/whatever and making bizarre tragic music, to make sense of their bizarre tragic nature. When in actuality making experimental music is just having a party by yourself, and trying to see how much weird shit you can get away with.
So with a name like Waffensupermarkt what kind of music do you imagine they create? Hip hop? Bebop? Surf Rock? No. You don’t have a name like Waffensupermarkt without being experimental. Like I said before the track has a dramatic beginning, the riddle to this song is how Waffensupermarkt combines the drama, and experimentation into something his own. He beyond exceeds expectations.
The vocals are beyond creepy, and the synths can be so overpowering that they overwhelm you. Yet like I’ve said, making experimental music is incredibly fun. Listening to this track you know that this was probably a joy to make. Each synth is so unique, and something you’ve never heard before in your life, and just when it gets you to a point of familiarity, everything changes. Then you’re back to the experimental playground that Waffensupermarkt has provided.
Yet it’s the ebb in flow of the experimentation where the drama occurs. Where the atonal soundscapes provide the tension rather than Bowie’s dramatic vocals, and composition. By constantly shifting from the familiar to unfamiliar, we as a listener get conflict, resolution, and then more conflict. By embracing the experimental Waffensupermarkt is able to create a song that combines the creativity and forward thinking that Bowie was famous for. And it is definitely not a song for the faint of heart. Yet if you’re like me, make music, or just want to listen to something new. Then this would definitely be the track to checkout.
Now we’re in the homestretch 3 more songs to go. Next up is SutajioWest – Kingdom Come. Now Kingdom Come is another song that I believe is perfect. It’s the song where all the ideas of Scary Monsters come together and get ironed it. If I wanted to introduce someone to this album, this would probably be the song I would show them first. It does the best job at summarizing everything that the album is about. While at the same time, it’s a song that can stand on it’s own. Nearly everything about the track I believe is perfect the guitars, the bass, background vocals, Bowie’s vocals; everything is just perfect.
So now with SutajioWest he doesn’t really have the luxury of being able to create a summation of the cover album. Mainly because it’s a collaborative effort. Yet if there is one theme on this album it would be the creative interpretation of an artist who was renowned for his creativity. With that summation of the album SutajioWest does what this album does best, which is to be creative.
While the original song was very much a refinement of all the ideas that was throughout the album. SutajioWest creates something wildly different, yet somehow it captures the same kind of emotion. The song itself is about a man who has a rough life, either due to economic circumstance, or some emotional turmoil. Who just pleads for Kingdom come, where he no longer has to endure what he’s been put through.
Bowie used the backlog of all the techniques used in the album to convey this kind of quiet desperation, while SutajioWest has a different approach. From the distant vocals that sound so broken down, to the thumping trudging beat, and the synths that seem to never find a resolution, everything in this track paints a bleak picture. Then coupled with the electronic soundscape creates a cold and unwelcoming environment. While Bowie avoids synths during this song, and instead uses guitars, bass, and back up vocals. Bowie’s song sounds far more optimistic. While SutjijoWest’s cover sounds like a cold mechanized walk to the gulag. And what’s more relevant to our modern lives than some cold mechanized environment? Which like previous tracks on this album is a different journey to the same destination.
Now we get to the last song with vocals, Mark LaFountain – Because You’re Young. So with the original the track immediately starts off with some western kind of twangy guitar, and then there’s the glittering synths that flutter in the background. It’s again one of those incredibly upbeat fun songs that leaves the audience demanding an encore. The ending vocals in particular will knock you on your ass. It’s just so well executed, usually when you get to the end of an album, or on the B-side it’s where the creative spark of the artist begins to die. Yet with this song, it still maintains so much potential that it makes you excited to listen to the whole album all over again.
Yet this album is a collaboration, there isn’t any artist fatigue when there’s a collaboration like this. And when you listen to every track you can tell that each and every single artist has poured their everything into it. And Mark LaFountain is no different. While the bass was great in the original track, it’s in this track where the bass really takes off and becomes it’s own. I mean when listening to the original track, I’ve never thought the bass could be improved but God Damn Mark LaFountain has proved me wrong.
Then there’s his vocals. And God Damn this man can sing. Truly if there was a contender for a Bowie vocalist, this guy would be it. Nearly everything in the original has been improved in this track, and I don’t say that lightly. I mean David Bowie was known for being a great Saxophone player and I can imagine him listening to this, and going “Damn I should have played the sax in this song.” Then there’s the synths, guitars, everything is just pure excellence. If Mark LaFountain isn’t on your radar, then you need to readjust your life priorities and listen to this man’s music.
Finally we get to the end of this excellent album, of a collaboration of fantastic musicians with REKKT – It’s No Game (Part Two) [Instrumental]. Now even though the original had vocals, it wouldn’t be insulting to a David Bowie song for their to be an instrumental cover. After all this was a man whose B-side contained some of the greatest instrumentals of all time. And like the rest of the B-sides it departs from the main album by having an almost 50’s feel to it. With great backing vocals, old rock rhythm guitars, etc.
REKKT brings back the abrasive side of Bowie’s album. With a dubstep influence that fits perfectly with the bizarre guitar tones of the rest of the album. With a heavy synth that calls back memories to the Bowie produced Iggy Pop album it’s a great homage, and yet at the same time a great update. There’s one thing to retain an artists music to it’s purist element. But by that time you’re doing nothing more than just being a cover band. Bowie himself was incredibly creative and innovative at nearly every point in his career. By taking such a radical departure from the original source material, and yet at the same time utilizing some aspects that were lost in the source material. REKKT is both departing, and returning, to and from Scary Monsters.
And like I’ve said before this is a creative tribute to the artist who constantly changed his style, look, sound, and image all for the sake of his art. This collaborative effort is both a living monument to Bowie the artist, and to artists everywhere who were inspired by his work. REKKT recognizes this, and by creating an entirely new sound for an old classic, he is honoring Bowie the way he should be honored.
Every single artist on this album should receive nothing short of the highest praise. It takes a lot of balls to do a David Bowie cover. The man never lost his creative edge, and continued creating even when he was battling cancer. Not only did he continue to create but he continued to innovate. So when historians look back at this period of time, Bowie will be seen as something as a Mozart or a Beethoven. Some musical anomaly that happens only once in every generation. An artist who was able to constantly push the boundaries of what it meant to be an artist.
I believe that it’s impossible for any musician to deny David Bowie’s large presence on the music scene. We all have that moment of hero worship when it comes to his vast body of work, and for a group of musicians to create such creative works to honor him is nothing but spectacular.
This is a beautiful album that any Bowie fan should love, and appreciate. It will always remind us of why we fell in love with his music in the first place. And hopefully it will shine a light on the talented artists who did such a great job at honoring a great man. I knew from the moment this album was announced that it was going to be great, and it far exceeded my expectations. You all did a great job, and should be proud of yourselves. You have my sincerest thanks.
A song comprised of guitar loops, harmonized screaming, Post Punk basslines, a beat switch up, and a fucking saxophone solo. If you just read that and are thinking to yourself, “How the fuck is this a song?” Well my friend, rest assured you’re normal. Pool View on the other hand is definitely not normal.
Now you may think that I don’t like this track, far from it, I LOVE THIS TRACK. I have no idea how Pool View was able to combine any of these ideas, I have no idea how the formation of this song even came to existence, I have no idea what his influences are, I have no idea how he came up with this song.
This is kind of existentially terrifying for me, as a creative person I can kind of see the gears turning in someone’s head when they release a track. I can kind of pinpoint their influences, see who they borrowed from, what genre they’re paying homage to. Yet with this artist, I can’t.
It’s that full unbridled creativity that draws us into art. When we see something like Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, or even The Matrix. We’re blown away by the vision of its creators. Yet with each of those films, if we are culturally astute we can see the influences of other media. Star Wars is just Flash Gordan mixed with some Akira Kurosawa, Joseph Campbell, and WWII serials. The Lord of the Rings is an amalgamation of European myths. The Matrix is a homage to every sci-fi ever. Etc.
With this little microcosm of a song, maybe you hear a bit of musical influences. For me personally I heard a bit of Red Hot Chili Peppers in the intro. I heard a bit of Hip Hop, Jazz, punk, etc. Yet it’s the fusion of all these elements into something entirely new that astonishes me. It astonishes me because even though it seems familiar, it’s not. It’s like landing on an alien planet. It seems like Earth since it has life, and solid ground. But everything around you is so unfathomably different.
Everybody has heard the announcement that A.I. will eventually be creating music. And nearly every artist, musician, has had to roll their eyes at this statement. Yet for the people who believe in that, could an A.I. come up with a song as original as this? Fuck even 99.99999999% of the population isn’t creative enough to come up with something remotely as original as this.
So if you think that music as an art form is dying. I implore you to checkout this song. It is honestly amazing. It’s the type of song that you listen to, that makes you checkout some of your previous tracks, tracks that you thought were “Too weird,” and forces you to take that creative leap of faith. Because if you don’t, other artists like Pool View will.
So with a name like Meme-brane I kind of expected this album to filled with meme music. Distorted minecraft music, Despacito 2: Electric Boogaloo, the Shrek movie played at .0000003 speed. I was ready to listen to the ear drum melting music of the Zoomer meme generation. Then I saw the cover art. “Hm, maybe there’s something more to this artist,” I thought to myself. And then I listened to it. My jaw dropped down to the floor, and I was blown away.
To begin with it has everything I love in electronic music. It has these bizarre sounds, heavy drums, this cold detached nihilism, layered synths, dirty guitars, etc. When a lot of people say they don’t like electronic music, they usually refer to how artificial it all sounds. That there is no humanity in it aka emotion. And most electronic music sounds like the life has been sucked out of it. This is not the case with Meme-brane. Nearly every track is perfectly arranged, structured, intricate, and meticulously thought out.
So a better comparison for this type of music would be instead of picturing a virtuoso playing a violin in front of a crowd. Imagine an author instead. When you read say, Hemingway, Faulkner, Salinger, or Tolstoy–you know that every single line that is written was written with a purpose. There isn’t a period, comma, or word that isn’t carefully chosen, poured over, and thought through. Even media that is a collaborative effort such as film, envies the ability of authors to single handedly create their own worlds. The modern electronic music producer has the same ability, and listening to Meme-brane you cannot help but feel that this author has complete mastery over his sound.
To start with this album review we have to go to the beginning. The first song n1 is an incredibly intro, and what caused me to be so excited for this album. It has this distorted Brian Eno-esque synth playing. Which is incredibly minimalist, but which serves the song, and as a result the rest of the album.
It’s like when an author starts with an amazing opener, like let’s say, A Tale of Two Cities starting line, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” That opening line provides so much mystery. You immediately want to know how something so contradictory could take place. If you read more in-depth you realize that this is an excellent foreshadowing, because you know that there is going to be a lot of drama. There are going to be incredible highs, and incredible lows. You know everything this book is going to be about in the very first line. Yet the enjoyment is to see how the author plays this out.
Likewise with this album with the distorted synth mantra being played, the heartbeat that sounds like the electronic pulse of a machine, the swirling distorted pad in the background, and the shimmering keys that are being played. It sounds more like the birth of an electronic beast. Since I’m at the age where everybody is getting married and having kids, there’s nothing a parent loves than hearing the heartbeat of their unborn child. I can’t tell you how many times people have come up to me with their phones and made me listen to their unborn child’s heartbeat. Though instead of a child, an electronic album is being born.
This is where the authorship shines through. This is where where we change from reviewing an album, to reviewing a world. A world that Meme-brane has invented, and immediately from the intro we are thrust into this sense of mystery. This is Meme-brane’s version of, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
So with the next track Exponentialism we see the formation of what this electronic birth has brought us. It immediately begins with where n1 left off at. A seamless transition that rewards the listener for listening to the whole album rather than one song. This bizarre little electronic beat limps along. It’s obviously not strong enough on it’s own, and as listeners, we know that something needs to be added to it. The question is what? And the mystery is how Meme-brane is going to add to this track.
So along comes another beat. That just feels a little off. This syncopation adds this feeling of unease. It’s off balance, something isn’t right. We need a resolution, and when we get bizarre vocal samples. We are still not getting much help. If the beginning was an electronic birth, this song is a struggle for survival. For when we do get music that does provide us with a resolution, it’s harsh, brutal, and violent. The synths are heavy, distorted, so sharp they’d cut your eardrum. The samples are so strange, and alien to us that it’s like the ambient sounds of an alien planet. Then there are the guitars that are so heavy, and distorted they’d make Slayer blush. This is not a peaceful resolution to the mystery we were presented with.
This is the music equivalent of man who wakes up and has amnesia, and when he looks into the mirror, fails to recognize the man looking back at him. Then when he returns to his room, he finds a blood trail, follows it, and finds a murdered woman in his bedroom. We as listeners know that this mysterious sound that Meme-brane has provided for us, is not going to be peaceful. There’s going to be conflict, there is going to be harshness, there is going to be drama, and more importantly there is going to be emotion. Something that every person who doesn’t like electronic music, feels that’s missing in electronic music.
Now the scene has been set. We know the general rules of the album, and the next song Exit Strategy compounds on the ideas that were introduced in the prior song. We’re introduced to that same syncopated drum beat, except this time this sinister synth growls in the background. In terms of say a novel, or a movie. This is the part in the act where we get over the initial shock of the mystery presented before us, and now we’re fully enveloped into the world the creator has presented before us.
This sonic soundscape of a world we listen to is as ominous as it is mysterious. The track ebbs and flows, and has that typical dynamics in music. Yet it’s not played out in a stereotyped manner. Usually when a track gets quiet, it’s more meditative, introspective, emotional, melodic, etc. Yet here in Exit strategy. The music is just filled with this ominous sound. It’s bubbling right beneath the surface. You can hear the building tension, as though a rage is building up inside of you. And then when it finally gets loud, it’s abrasive, harsh, confrontational, and overall beautiful.
Next up we have Three Skinny Sisters which starts off with this incredible drum beat. Personally I love variety when it comes to drumming. Sure, the best thing you can do is create a beat that serves the song. Yet when a drummer knows when to use every tool (or drum kit) at their disposal it creates a different kind of mood. That being said, it creates a mood. With the gate-reverb kind of sound, and tom fill ins. It has this 80’s throwback kind of sound. Mix that in with the basslines you got a groove. So now that there’s an electronic groove going on, what do you do next?
Well seeing as Meme-brane has this authorship going on, and given the previous songs, this isn’t going to be a simple groovy song. We’re already immersed into the world they created so with the introduction of this sinister atonal synth. It creates this ominous sound. Which is only more ominous with the introduction of an arp that is so sharp, so vicious, that it gets your blood pumping. Which culminates in this orgasmic fat thick sounding synth, and at the end a chaotic swarm of shrill synths swarm upon your ears. It’s one thing to create a groove, it’s a whole other matter when it’s sinister.
Next we get to (404) Hope Not Found. Which is probably one of the greatest song titles that has ever been created. I kicked myself as soon as I read it for not coming up with it myself. Even looking at the wave points of this track you’re already hinted at the buildup that will transpire. Nearly every song has this excellent crescendo in rising tension, and how to get you pumped up. Yet it’s in this track that I have to mention the pure creativity of Meme-brane’s sound.
As I’ve mentioned earlier the drums on every track is incredibly well done. Each serving the song, and each providing additional emotional context. Yet it’s in this track where you realize the creativity behind each track. The beat is this amalgamation of drums, distorted synth bass, and metallic hi hats. It’s the fusion of these elements which creates this unique sound. Most artists are comfortable in having a few tools at their disposal and using only those tools. In this track you get an understanding that Meme-brane is not only adept at crafting great music, but at the same time exploring the possibilities within each song. You can imagine Meme-brane tinkering on an individual synth, a cymbal, bass, or whatever to achieve that perfect sound. Experimenting, combining each texture to create something of their own.
So while I’m on the point of experimentation. It’s no surprise that this track has some of the most experimental sounds of the whole album. As as soon as you hear the distorted robotic vocals on (404) Hope not found, you can’t help but smile. It’s the kind of sound that as an artist you see all the time (either as a DAW plug in or guitar pedal), you’ve probably tinkered with it, but have never found the use for. Listening to it so well executed in this track, provides that kind of joy when you realize that a door has been opened. That there are more venues for creativity than you’ve realized.
Now as I’ve said, you have to look at this album through the lens of an author. Any great writer can tell you how to make something dark. So I’ll paraphrase George Lucas, it’s easy to make someone cry, all you have to do is to kill a puppy. That’s easy. Yet it’s the dichotomy between dark and light that creates great art. Or in other words, your audience needs a breather. They need something to lighten the load. Usually in film it’s those comedic moments, or maybe just a comfy introspective page in a book. Something that lightens the mood. Which the next track Angel Grinder does perfectly.
The synths have the complex melodic structure. Which given the previous track is an excellent way to settle your audience down. The complexity offers up an easy way to deescalate the harsh brashness of the previous tracks. While the melody offers up a way to truly lull you into a state of relaxation. Add on to this the soft pads in the background, and you’re already on a new state of chill.
Yet this song is called “Angel Grinder” and we’ve established the Angel. Now we gotta get to the Grinder. There’s this distorted synth, that gets introduced soon after the relaxing synths. It’s not enough to disrupt the peaceful mantra that you’re in, but it’s enough to say it’s not relaxing. Then there’s this ambient noise, a sort of guttural growl of a beat. Which kind of reminds me in those old Survival Horror games, where you find a safe room. There’s always this incredibly chill music that’s being played while at the same time a zombie is staring at you right outside the doorway.
When the beat kicks in, it adds a degree of energy to the track, a sense of momentum. The guttural growl of beat is still audible, but then there’s this clear synth being played, and quickly the guttural groan is gone. Then what is followed is a series of tape loops, glitches, electronic flourishes that pulsate, and flutter around, before finally finishing in this perfect ending. Where all the sounds die down except for that peaceful pad, that creates the ultimate chill atmosphere.
So after the relaxation that was Angel Grinder, we gotta get up, and the next song for that is Factorial. Which has a lot of energy compared to the previous tracks. Either due to tempo, or simply by the way it sounds. While the tracks previous to it, were this bubbling under the surface viciousness, this track is of pure momentum. This track also has some of the best synth structure I’ve heard in a long time. Every synth is made so well, and sounds so radically different from anything I’ve heard that I could write an entire review on them by themselves.
Then there’s the beat. The beat in this track doesn’t come out until a quarter way through. And when it does, it’s not like the rest of the percussion which is always a little bit off beat. It hits on time, and it hits like a truck. It’s an incredibly bass-y kick, that combined with the clear precise sounding synths, distorted guitars, and deep electronic hums all blend well together to create this really enthusiastic sounding song. Which is an incredible feat since nearly every song prior to this was used to create an ominous, vicious, brutal sound, and yet the same tools are being used to create an incredibly upbeat song. You can’t help but admire Meme-brane after listening to this song, for not creating a unique sound, but creating a unique sound that can create so many different emotions.
Next up we have, ArcheTriptych which has one of the most bizarre intros I’ve ever heard. The beat sounds almost like noise music, as it squeals, mutates, and pulsates through. Then the drum beat starts, and then forms the cacophony into harmony. Which as I’ve mentioned before, is something I truly enjoy. It’s always a joy to hear something, in anybody’s work, that sounds so weird and atonal to then morph into a melody, and it’s always fun to figure out how it’s done. In this track it’s mainly accomplished by anchoring the sound to the drumbeat and then add additional instruments.
Then as the track progresses, as the drums play along, the synths stutter and pause, and the guitar’s power chords surge throughout the track. A bizarro kind of groove begins to emerge. Whereas before when a song had a strong groove it had a sinister quality, this track in particular has such a strange and mysterious sound. It’s almost like the music equivalent of finding Cthulhu. Something so alien and foreign that it defies human imagination. When I say I have never heard of anything like this before that is 100% true, and I believe it’s due to Meme-brane’s background in creating Ambient music.
I’ve reviewed plenty of Ambient albums and ambient albums can have some of the most original ideas. Since by it’s nature it’s not tied down to any musical structure, it instead relies on textures, different kinds of sounds to create different kinds of moods. It’s in this track where you see how because Meme-brane had a background in Ambient music, that Meme-brane is able to create such evocative pieces of music. Even the genres that Meme-brane self titled himself after Synthwave, Industrial, Gothic, Breaks, etc. I can’t think of a single artist that is able to create such unique sounding music.
Finally we get to Veil of the Cryptographer. Which immediately shows the ambient influence. With a swirling electronic ambience, and deep growl of a synth, punctuated by a sharp and precise beat. With 8 songs preceding it, you’d think Meme-brane wouldn’t be able to surprise you, yet you’d be wrong. In nearly every song there are key characteristics that carry through. Key sounds that is unmistakably Meme-brane’s sound. Yet there’s always an introduction of either a new instrument, new arrangement, a new subtraction, sample, etc. That always surprises you. You never know what to expect, and with a song that’s 8 minutes long it defies imagination how Meme-brane is able to keep the creative juices flowing for so long.
The best comparison to make is that it’s like reading about an intense weight lifting program from Arnold Schwarzenegger. You hear about how many hours he poured into the gym, the amount of willpower he poured into being the best bodybuilder, and you sit back in awe thinking to yourself how that’s humanely possible. It’s the same principle with Meme-Brane’s creativity. When after 8 songs, and during an 8 minute long song, that Meme-Brane is still able to remain fresh, creative, you cannot help but admire this superhuman power of creativity that Meme-brane has unleashed onto the world.
This album is by far one of the most unique, and interesting sounds I’ve ever come across, and I implore anybody to check it out. For any artist who has writer’s block, listening to one track of Meme-brane, you’ll be able to come up with a thousand new ideas that you never thought was possible. As I said I came into this album review thinking it was meme music, and came out of it blown away. I still have no idea how Meme-brane was able to pull this off, and with that I give this album my full uncontested Recc. You must check this out.
There’s a loading screen in Fallout 2 that has always bothered me. It’s a man dressed in tribal clothes–tattoos, face paint, a skull necklace–wearing a Brotherhood of Steel helmet. The game takes place years after a nuclear holocaust. When man is on the brink of extinction. In the first game you encounter the Brotherhood of Steel, after voyaging out in this dark apocalyptic world, they are a breath of fresh air. They seem to be making scientific progress pushing humanity forward, and yet you have this lingering notion that they’re not going to survive. And they don’t.
We live in a time of technological comfort. Where everything is a keyboard stroke of coming true. Yet there is an existential angst that comes with that. What happens if it’s all lost? What happens if we lose it all? Are we all just brute beasts; doped up to forget our base nature?
We can see this conflict play out on Cyber Shaman’s Shaman’s Dark Electro vol. IV. In fact the very first song hints at this dichotomy and the conflict it brings. I mean, with a name like Guerro des son (War of sounds), and even the name “Cyber Shaman” brings about images of two complete opposites. Yet it’s in this dichotomy, that of the organic and that of the synthetic, which we hear throughout the album.
First off, Cyber Shaman is an amazing electronic music producer. I’ve mentioned earlier that musicians tend to lose their identity the more gear they have. Mainly because it causes them to become a jack of all trades and master of none. As a result their music sounds incredibly basic and bland. But not Cyber Shaman. Like a classical music composer Cyber Shaman is able to craft these individual synth textures, each one feeling fresh and unique. It hearkens back to when electronic music was first being made. When musicians threw away the manual to the synthesizer they were using because it was more fun to experiment and create new sounds, rather than use blatantly fake sounding strings. Or better yet, let me show you a clip of David Bowie, because who doesn’t like David Bowie?
Yet I said this album had a dichotomous nature, and I’ve only addressed the electronic side of things. Now let’s get into the organic. Throughout the album there is this amazing percussion, the first track Guerro des son does a great job of preparing the listener for the musical journey that they are going to make. With the bizarro percussion that is put through effects, and yet sounds like a junkyard drum kit. Or better yet, what a drum kit in an apocalyptic nuclear wasteland would sound like. Yes it’s put through a lot of effects, yet you can but hear the hint of tribal-like drumming throughout the album. The later songs compound on this idea, but this track is your first glimpse of what is yet to come.
The next track Renouveau (renewal) captures another aspect of the album that is quite unique to Cyber Shaman. Mainly it’s his ability to warp, and mutate each song. There’s a general sense of fluidity in his sound. Rather than being binary (Chorus, verse, Chorus) each track starts off with a motif only to mutate into something entirely different. And when I say motif, I don’t mean a series of notes that repeat themselves. Rather the motifs in this album are the individual synths and instruments used on each track.
The beginning of Renouveau sounds like you’re going on an underwater exploration. Only for the drums to harshly interrupt that tranquility. Then the track dissolves into this rhythmic electronic kind of seance. With the synths giving out this electronic howls. You can still hear–faintly–the underwater meditative kind of track in the beginning. Yet this track devolves from tranquility to that of anxiety. As though you while exploring deep underwater you encountered a cybernetic Cthulhu.
Now I’ve touched a lot on the percussion of Cyber Shaman, and yes it deserves all the praise it gets. But as I can’t make an argument on something being organic when I only provide one example. So for the next example we go to Attendre si peu (“wait so little” which is what google translate told me, so I’ll stick to it). Immediately it starts of with this guitar strumming, that so clean and then the distorted synths begin to disrupt this period of brief tranquility. The synths no longer sound like synths, they sound like the guttural noises a cybernetic monster would make.
Then as the electronic synths begin to fade away–as though they are low on power–you hear it. This lone trumpet. Which is so soulful, and so perfect for this track.
As I mentioned before there is a certain fear that comes along with technological process. A fear of losing it all. Where our overuse of technology can unleash a nuclear Armageddon, and we revert back to our primal nature. Yet, this is quite an abstract concept for music. After all how can this apply for an electronic music album? Well we can look to Myspace for that. One of the greatest tragedies in all of music is that almost all of it, we’ll never get to hear. Because it wasn’t written down. If you look at the historical epics, and tales of great music being heard, we have no idea what it sounds like. What was Alexander the Great’s favorite song? We’ll never know. What about Jesus, Buddha, Caesar, Cleopatra? What kind of music did they enjoy? We won’t ever know.
Likewise modern musicians find themselves in a similar predicament. We upload our music to streaming sites, hoping that it would be permanent. That maybe one day, somebody will hear it and really enjoy it. Yet as the Myspace fiasco showed us, nothing is permanent.
And nothing captures that kind of existential angst better than Attendre si peu. Where amidst the electronic digital behemoth a lone trumpet plays it’s beautiful siren call. The fact the whole album has this electronic orchestral feel to it, where everything sounds almost foreboding, and tribalistic–and to hear that lone trumpet. It’s an album worth listening to in order. Rather than cherry picking songs, because Cyber Shaman understands how to create music narratives. How to create a sense of consistency, lull the listener into complacency, and then only to surprise them with something so radically different that it becomes incredibly rewarding to find out.
So now that we’ve covered the existential fear of the digital era, now we go on to a different kind of fear. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Now it could be the I’m a nerd, and I like attributing science fiction to album reviews. Yet I cannot but help to bring the comparison to science fiction. Since this album is so electronically layered, and the medium, as they say, is the message.
Immediately the track begins with this electronic rhythmic wailing. As though you are observing an electronic black mass, done by machines. After all spiritualism/religion is a purely human phenomena. I don’t think Koko the Gorilla is really concerned about Gorilla Jesus. Yet there’s some existential angst that comes with the realization that there’s something out there that could become spiritual. For example there’s a certain kind of existential dread about meeting extraterrestrials, but then there’s the existential dread that they know something that we don’t. And their knowledge is so far removed from our grips of comprehension, that we become infinitely small in the universe. Where all religions turn to dust, and everything we believed for thousands of years, disappears within the blink of an eye.
Yet what if a machine becomes spiritual? What does that say about us? Was all of our spirituality merely the firing of neurons between synapses? Nothing more than electrical impulse? And the machines we create can have the exact same experience?
This song in particular hits that existential dread right on the head. As the black mass wails continue, a synth arpeggios along, and we faintly hear a sample. But we can’t make out what exactly it’s saying. Yet it is saying something. To us, it’s mere gibberish. But to the machines in the seance it could be a religious mantra, a black magic spell–anything. For in the time post-human–where all the skyscrapers become archaeological sites–we’ll never know what we’ll be remembered for. And that is a scary thought.
So with that kind of existential dread lingering throughout the album, Cyber Shaman, like any great artist knows when to alleviate that. The next 3 tracks build in an upbeat tone, Ridicule, L’Ordre, and finally to Métal Sucré (Sweet Metal) which is orgasmic to the ears.
Whether it’s the pads in the beginning that swirl around your ears, which is an oh so picturesque of a beginning. It almost begins like a robotic ballroom dance. With the synthetic violin playing this tender, vulnerable melody. It’s the kind of vulnerability you get when falling in love with someone. Where you strip down all the bravado, false assumptions, and get emotionally naked. And then you get actually naked for some baby makin’. Which let’s admit if you’re able to make a tender melody on an electronic instrument, is an impressive feat. Then there’s the actual context of the rest of the album, bordering on this cybernetic nihilism. Hearing this is such a catharsis. But it doesn’t end there.
Then you’re transported to some distant foreign country. The kind that you’d see in Indiana Jones. You know, something like Nepal–where even the people of Nepal think the Nepal of that movie is incredibly foreign to them. This is all propelled by middle eastern instruments, a brilliant percussion that gives the track momentum, synths that bubble in the background, and these beautiful female vocals. It’s the allusion to these cultural motifs, that’s ingrained in our collective unconscious that provides this track with so much momentum. That sense of exploring the unknown, that sense of adventure, the sense of action–which provides this track with so much of a catharsis.
Which is fitting after listening to an album that is so heavily electronic and has such an intense existential kind of atmosphere. I mean, why do we invent new technology? We do it because deep in our hearts, we are all explorers, and we want to know the mysteries of the universe. And we will keep pressing forward, regardless of the hazards, because the rewards are so much greater.
So finally we end with La Toune de la fin. Which begins with this focused synth melody. And when I say focused I mean a warrior’s kind of focus. A steel willed determination, which stands in contrast to the electronic distorted growl in the distance. Yes it’s an incredibly sinister sound, and one that does not provide a resolution. After all does our constant need to push technological limits account for the human condition? No. Yet here these two elements battle out, with amazing drums in the background, and the occasional melancholy piano keys. This is not such a clear cut answer, and I don’t believe Cyber Shaman wants to be resolved on this album.
Overall this album is a must listen for any music fan, or sci-fi nerd. Personally it was inspiring to see the limits of electronic music being pushed into new uncharted territory. And seeing creativity like that on display only drives me to be a better artist. Because these synths, and collage of sounds are something for any music listener to stop, and take a listen to.
So with his ability to create any amazing an electronic orchestra, I give this album my full recc. Please check it out.
There seems to be this line drawn in the sand between what is professional, amateur, and experimental. The amateur attempts to be professional, and when that fails they attempt to be experimental. That’s why there’s a stereotype of the “Film school” Director. That aspiring filmmaker who just can’t make the cut into professionalism, so they instead set their sights low to the experimental side of things.
Then there are the “Professionals” the people who set the standard. And because they set the standard; in their wake they leave behind a trail of imitators. That’s when things get boring. It’s how we get Zack Snyder, Generic Popstar A, B, and C–it’s how we get stasis. In that stasis we forget why we even love the art form that used to be so near and dear to us. If everything is the same, how can it speak to me?
Yet what happens when a professional turns to the experimental? Now that’s an interesting combination. That’s where we get our Kubrick’s, our Picasso’s, our Beatles’ and even our Kanye West. When listening to Jack Goldstein, it is impossible to believe that this person is an amateur. No, this is a professional. Not only is he a professional, but he is a professional in the avant garde.
Now that maybe a strange way to start a review, but I’ve just begun. The first track on this album, LOVE, THE ANSWER TO THE PROBLEM OF HUMAN EXISTENCE, is an abnormal introduction. To begin with it doesn’t start off with the album’s strengths, which are mainly the vocals, until a good 30 seconds into the song. Instead we hear this pulsating ambient noise. This ambience is something strange foreboding, something so foreign and alien, and yet there’s no other way to start this song with a title like LOVE, THE ANSWER TO THE PROBLEM OF HUMAN EXISTENCE. After all if you have an answer, you need a problem. This kind of answer/solution type of sound pops up throughout the album. In this track in particular it works incredibly well.
Why? You might ask. Well the ambient sound is unnatural, or maybe it is natural. It’s hard to tell. Whether it’s some ambient tape loop, some sample slowed down and reverbed out, or maybe just some synth put through some bizarre effects. Either way the droning nature of the noise creates this sort of unease. This introspective kind of feeling that what you’re listening to is unnatural, that it’s not quite the state we should find ourselves in. Yet, we still find ourselves in it. It’s a state of being unable to love. Whether it’s the job that you’re stuck in–all the while dreaming of a career up on the stage. The relationship you’ve settled for–seeing more and more flaws as the days progress. The mundane life you live–all while believing that there just has to be something more. All of these feelings wash over you, and then it happens. The vocal harmonies.
Suddenly you find yourself immersed in these heavenly vocals, while this soothing keyboard lulls your anxieties away. When Jack Goldstein presents a problem, such as the existential angst of modern existence, he’ll provide a solution. All in the span of little over a minute. And we’re just getting started.
WE’RE STARTING OUT is a not only a great song, but a nice segway to review the rest of this album. I mentioned this before that Jack Goldstein isn’t an amateur. There’s an orchestral beginning to this track, with an almost atonal string section. Yet it’s atonality isn’t chaos, rather it sits on the edge of harmony and chaos. Then comes the drums. The drums are so layered, so complex, and so creative; that it almost becomes this jungle kind of sound. The drums and bass of this track forms a foundation for Jack Goldstein to really experiment. There are flourishes of vocal harmonies, samples, keyboard flourishes, it’s got the whole nine yards. These sounds often ebb and flow within the track, providing emotional ups and downs as the track progresses. It’s in this ability to experiment and provide emotional clarity that Jack Goldstein shows off his craftsmanship; and what separates him from the “professionals” and the “amateurs.”
Next we have CINQUE PORTS. I already touched on how talented Jack Goldstein is at creating vocal harmonies, drum beats, samples, etc. But on this track he introduces another layer to his sound. The guitar. Now like I’ve said before, I am a sucker for somebody who knows how to use guitar tones. I’m the type of person who likes to watch people purchase, say, a telecaster and a gibson and watch them jam out. Mainly for entertainment, because I’ve got no life. But the other reason is because almost everybody plays guitar. Throw a stone in a crowd, and you’ll probably hit at least one guitarist. Yet what separates somebody who plays guitar, and somebody who plays guitar (besides the italics) is their ability to know how to craft a certain sound, and thus create a certain feel.
In the beginning you have this trebbly, thin, distant, sounding guitar, which then gets overtaken by this fat sounding trudge of a guitar. Each of these compliment each other, as the sound puts layers upon layers of different guitar sounds. Yet it’s not like listening to Bach, where (and please don’t hurt me) it’s so complex it feels like listening to a math problem. No this is something that you can hum along to.
Even the little glitchiness, cascade of guitar effects, and electronic bleeps and blurps provide little nuances. Kind of like when you’re watching an actor pull off an emotional scene, and the veins on their forehead protrudes, or snot comes out of their nose while they’re crying. While those are actors who are so into the role that they feel the emotion they’re conveying. This kind of emotional flourishes comes not from spontaneity but rather careful planning. After all this was recorded with modern equipment, trying to capture that live kind of sound with all of it’s human elements is incredibly difficult. Yet Jack Goldstein somehow manages to pull it off.
So the next song DUNGENESS does something that is incredible. How do you make a song lighthearted, fun, comfy, all the while being experimental? After all experimental music isn’t known for being upbeat. In fact it’s nearly impossible to find a song that’s experimental and that’s not abrasive. Yet here is DUNGENESS which is probably one of the most upbeat songs I’ve ever heard. How does he do it? Well with a banjo of course!
Now if you’re like me and you hear a banjo two things come to mind: Deliverance and Banjo Kazooie. Which I’m sure a lot of psychologists would have a field day with since one is about male on male sexual assault, and the other is an N64 children’s game featuring a bear and bird. Now this isn’t an instrument one would expect to find in a British avant garde album, yet here we are.
Now why do I bring up this instrument since there are a plethora of other instruments that are probably more important and more prominent in the track? Well as musicians we often find ourselves limited in due to genre, convention, what sells, image, etc. Yet we never really utilize everything that’s within our arsenal. Better yet, imagine being a painter and for some reason you never use the color orange. You paint picture after picture, and then one day you see somebody paint this beautiful painting using orange. It’s that sense of freedom knowing that if one thing is possible, then everything is possible. Which is why even though if you were to take out most of the obscure instruments of the track, and even Jack Goldstein’s father’s monologue, and replace it all with something more conventional–the track wouldn’t be as fun to listen to.
Then we get to BECKON CALL most of the music has been pretty optimistic, or I’d just say fun to listen to. BECKON CALL is when it gets real. It’s the kind of track that I’d imagine being played out in some moody detective movie in the 80’s that never has existed, because no movie during that time has been that good to deserve a song like this. It’s mainly due to the spaghetti western guitar strumming, the moody synths, and gritty trumpet playing. Something that would be playing while the detective is on the third act of his story arc–pours himself a whiskey without the ice–and has ran out of leads. We all know how the story plays out, yet it’s good artists who know just how, when, and why to subvert our expectations to then deliver a twist that everyone will remember. And Jack Goldstein knows when to deliver a good twist.
The sound then devolves into this cacophony of what sounds like Modern Jazz and then gets overwhelmed by this electronic swarm and then…You’re cruising. The sound develops into this moody kind of groove. That kind of groove you get when you’re in the zone, when you get over your two left feet, and dance in harmony with that beautiful girl in the club. And this isn’t some bump and grind kind of dancing–this is that soulful, baby making, take this girl home to mom but don’t tell her where you met her, kind of dancing.
Then the last piece of the song is a triumphant rock track. Something you could imagine Led Zeppelin playing sold out arenas towards. Which judging from the previous descriptions of this track you probably weren’t expecting. And I wasn’t expecting either, this track has more twists, and turns than a soap opera. Yet narratively speaking it all works. Kind of like when you watch a really good movie and they play a rock track, because the people who made the movie know it’s good, and know there’s reason to celebrate.
Which brings us to the last song, GHOST SIGN. THIS is how you end an album. The instrumentation feels like a college football team’s anthem, and it’s that sense of victory that this track ends with. Because after all listening to this album, you can’t help but feel that Jack Goldstein has accomplished something special here. Not since Pet Sounds or Sgt. Pepper has an album sounded so experimental and yet at the same time accessible. This isn’t an album to listen to, it’s an album to lose yourself to, to immerse yourself in the experience, and understand what pop music is capable of.
I said when reviewing this album that I haven’t heard any British music that’s been submitted to me that’s sounded bad. But GOD DAMN I didn’t expect it to sound this good either. This album comes out May 12th, and I URGE YOU TO BUY IT. I’m not getting paid for this, and there’s no benefit for me to shill this album. Yet I can’t help but want to show this to as many people as possible.
So undeniably this album gets my recc, and BUY THE ALBUM. This album NEEDS to be on your radar, because if it’s not you’re missing out, and there’s nothing worse than missing out.
There’s been this kind of desire in music for awhile now. It’s like when Kurt Cobain said, that he wanted his band to be vicious like Black Flag, heavy like Black Sabbath, while poppy and melodic like the Beatles. While other bands had done it–specifically Husker Du and the Pixies–it was that unconscious idea that was brought up to the mainstream that made them the overnight success that they were.
Now hip hop kind of has that same kind of unconscious desire: to sound heavy like metal, to have the viciousness of punk, the nostalgia of vaporwave, and the instrumentation of electronic music. That’s kind of why, regardless of what Kanye does, music lovers can never really fault him. I mean how often does a hip hop track sound Psychedelic?
So what do unconscious desires have to do with Ryan Deranged’s album, Deranged EP? Simple it fulfills the desires you never knew you had.
So let’s dive into the first track of Deranged EP, Hamartia. In Soundcloud rap, the Navi sample, “Hey” in Ocarina of Time is kind of a staple. I mean I even have the Skull Kid’s laugh in one of my songs. If there’s ever a debate on whether someone is an industry plant or not; if one of their early songs doesn’t feature an N64 Zelda reference, then they’re probably a plant. Yet also the reason I point out this sample, is because it gives the track a really needed levity. What I mean by that is that there are hip hop groups that are experimenting with heavier, darker sounds; bands like Death Grips, $uicideBoy$, or GHOSTMANE. Yet I wouldn’t say those groups are “fun” in the way that Ryan Deranged is fun.
The best analogy I can come up with is picture punk rock, all the earnest bands singing about Anarchy, getting fucked up, social upheaval, and political views delivered with a sneer and sarcastic lyrical delivery. Then imagine the Misfits, who wore makeup to look like Ghouls in their devil locked hair, singing about B-movie horror movies, and Jaqueline Kennedy giving blow jobs. While the punk groups seem like outsiders with outsider opinions, who are abrasive, edgy, and do controversial shit to do controversial shit. The Misfits seem more like the class clown, and let’s be honest a class clown is always more preferable than an edgelord.
So Ryan Deranged has an incredibly “fun” kind of approach to what other bands have doing. As mentioned before the Navi sample, combined with the dirty synths that aren’t abrasive, the sword slice samples, and the distorted laugh sample. All of these individual elements builds up a track that is just sounds fun.
Now that I’ve kind of set the stage, let’s dive into the rest of the album. Chaos, has some amazing bars. The flow is absolutely on point–in fact let’s say that the sound isn’t your cup of tea. Anybody can admire a virtuoso even if they have no idea what is going on. I know nothing about soccer. I just know that you gotta get the ball in the goal. Yet if you were to show me a compilation of the greatest soccer plays ever made, I would be impressed. The same I would say for Ryan Deranged, even though he goes out on a limb with a unique sound, he at least has some virtuosity that even a casual listener of hip hop can respect. So with the imagery, as I described in his track on Hamartia, this track really embraces the fun of this kind of hip hop. With violins that sound like something that would be played on an early N64 horror game, distorted heavy synths, HEAVY 808’s, and glitchiness of some aspects of the track; it’s so over the top that it becomes enjoyable.
The next track If you don’t know now you know, sounds more like a cheesy video game boss kind of music, and I mean that in the best way. With the looped distorted laughter, brevity of the track, and that same signature distortion. It’s over before you know it, and the same applies for Opus Dei. Which again calls back to punk, where the Ramones would play 20 songs in 30 minutes or 30 songs in 20 minutes. With this whole album being under 10 minutes it’s really a breeze to listen through. Not just because of it’s length, but also due to the fact that the sound always manages to surprise you, while still sticking within Ryan Deranged’s sound. It’s such a unique sound that every synth, every 808, and every sample seems novel. In having this fully fleshed out style, played out in such a short amount of time, that it’s incredibly rewarding to listen to. After all Shakespeare said, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” The songs by being shorter, keep all the bullshit out, and just focus on what matters–the music.
So with the last track, Babylon–which opens up with same amazing samples that call back some Sci-Fi Horror movie–it’s the best summary of what this whole album is. While most of soundcloud rap that’s experimental try to be abrasive, shocking, emo, and political; Ryan Deranged goes a different approach, and one that should be further explored in this genre of hip hop. Because if you try to be abrasive, shocking, emo, political, etc. all it needs is somebody to take the piss out of you, for everybody to see your music as schlocky. So when this album, that sounds like a video game Boss’ EP, embraces this campy sound–it adds something that is needed for this type of experimental Hip Hop to survive. Fun.
So I can’t give this album enough reccs. You gotta check it out for yourself. It’s the kind of album that everybody didn’t know they needed to hear, until they’ve heard it. With that I give this album my full recc.
It’s hard to make a good impression in a short amount of time, especially in the dog-eat-elephant world of underground music in 2019. That is, unless you’re Noisemad, fresh off the release of his new Deadcity EP. Three tracks in length, the project wastes no time submerging listeners in an ocean of polished production, aptly coupled with harsh, unrelenting lyrics. This is clearest on the intro track, “Meat Wagon,” which features a John Carpenter-esque key melody alongside a screamed refrain. It’s a powerful sonic package that’s hard to ignore. Noisemad doesn’t let up as the runtime continues, delivering equally razor-sharp lyrics through the second and third tracks, Red Light District and Wanted.
Coming in at about seven minutes, Deadcity EP is a quick but intense listen worth hearing.
In the microcosm of independently-released music, it’s all too common for relatively average projects to be erroneously labeled as experimental. Texas-based rapper/producer Johnnascus’ most recent release, Identity Crisis, is not one of these projects. Identity Crisis is an EP bursting with otherworldly bridges and authentic eccentricity, with genres within ranging from noise, to metal, to rap and even gaps of ambient. Johnnascus himself shows tremendous vocal range, bringing servings of screams, singing at a variety of pitches, and everything in between.
The first track, “Question Everything,” features a monologue setting the stage for the rest of the project, detailing meditation interrupted by an existential crisis. Playing out against a backdrop of haunting key melodies from producer Sleepy Randy, the track explodes into a stunning bevy of layered percussion and vocals. Similarly aggressive tracks can be found throughout the 36-minute runtime, including “My (A)sexuality” (prod. by Bruhmanegod), “Sad Satan LSD” (prod. By Bruhmanegod), and the self-produced “Gen Z.” The track listing here has no shortage of softer, more melodically-minded cuts either, including “2am,” with a stream-of-consciousness vocal flow that soars alongside a gorgeously mixed synth instrumental.
Identity Crisis is what so many projects dream to be: cathartic, polished, even unsettling. For any fan of music that doesn’t color inside the lines, it’s worth a listen.