Monthly Archives: March 2010

Nothing Lasts…..But Nothing is Lost – SHPONGLE – 2005

 Let me assure you, my first impressions weren’t strong. I’m sure you were as wierded out by the name as I was. Anybody would be, as ‘Shpongle’ tends to evoke wet farts of a particularly moist kind. So that’s wrong.

What’s also wrong is the genre name, a pretentious sounding ‘psychedelic downtempo’. See that probably sounds fine to the kind of person to whom bass-line is just another line to be snorted, but to us straight-up folks, ‘psychedelic downtempo’ only makes us want to stay out of the aforementioned company.

My opinion of dance/trance music has always been that its effective, but a bit shit, ‘cause the musicians aren’t really ‘musicians’, ya know? That’s what all of us Rockist fogeys think and have thought for a while. And well, as they say, every stereotype has a grain to truth to it. Electronica musicians strike most people as DJ’s uselessly scratching away at their pointless machines. So, another point down. So in concept, genre and the stereotype tests, Shpongle fails. So all that remains is the album itself. It is all that stands between Shpongle and eternal damnation in rave-party hell.

Does it stack up, then?

**** yeah.  

As opposed to the doped out caricature, we have this album that- at least in my eyes- goes against the grain. There is a real artistry-type element here. The best part about Shpongle is not the electronica part. In fact, the grooves themselves are pretty stock stuff. Nothing to loosen the bowels there. The spark of genius comes in the inclusion of ethnic elements from everywhere and the kitchen sink.

Strange puking sounds actually sound excellent (“Outer Shpongolia”).One hears chants from all over the place; I heard Arabic/Islamic chants in “Periscopes of Consciousness”, African Chants in “Levitation Nation”, vaguely Desi sounding stuff in the in “Outer Shpongolia”, horn sections on “The Stamen of the Shaman” and god knows what else.

<cough> Nerd.

The basslines are the sorts that I really would want to sniff. They drive this stuff. And that just makes it the business for a bass-noob such as me. They aren’t insanely hard or anything, but excellent executions of the sound. Tracks segue into each other, effortlessly melding Spanish guitar, Jazz bass, African chants, Calypso drums and full on electronic-dance beats into an incredibly dense and diverse kind of music. God, this is good!!

I can’t recommend any particular tracks since they all segue into each other, but on arm twisting, I’ll concede to the fantastic “When Shall I Be Free” (which features a rare lyric that is err…repeated endlessly), “Outer Schpongolia” and “Periscopes of Consciousness”. So, Coke snorters, weed smokers, smack addicts. Let me tell you that while I’m not gonna go down your path, I totally get the idea.  This sounds very right.

-El Bajista



Armistice – MUTEMATH – 2009

We all like to gloat about how a current hot new artist is in fact an old favourite of ours. You know that an “I knew about them before they were famous” lets some of us have the glow of esoteric knowledge on our faces, and lets some of us get laid too. No? Well, I see people posting a thousand and one wierd artist names on their Facebook and Orkut pages copied verbatim off Wikipedia lists, and I can’t help but scoff. If you are one of them (you know who you are)….damn you’re pathetic.

Anyway, even though I’m positive that very few of you will have heard of Mutemath, I won’t claim them to be either underground or esoteric. What they are though is fresh, new and destined for commercial success. Armistice happens to be their second album (the first is reviewed HERE), and after that one, I’m was happily looking forward to this. These guys have what can broadly be called an Alternative Rock sound, but they have a much more electronica and rhythm section oriented sound  than say, Radiohead. In other words, the guitar player isn’t as forward in the mix as you would normally expect, while the drums and bass (especially drums) occupy a large portion of your headphone space. It’s a unique and pleasant sound.

Very few of you will have heard of Mutemath, but I won’t claim them to be either underground or esoteric.

All this is great, ’cause these guys are musically very accomplished. Non-resolving and unexpected rhythms (“Clipping”, “Backfire”) meld with typical modern rock bass and guitars and soundscapey keyboards. And radio-ready hooks. When I first heard “Spotlight”, I thought it sounded a bit too desparate for some airplay nookie. But that hook is so infectious, that I soon found myself singing along to it. Good shit. And the same thing can be heard all over the album. Thankfully, before I started thinking ‘sell outs’, I was introduced to some of the more esoteric cuts. Stuff like “Odds” and “Pins and Needles”, for instance, will have drummers enjoying the loud drums and mind**** rhythms.

Unlike the first album, which was largely based on bass-hooks, this one has more vocal hooks from singer/keyboardist Paul Meany. I don’t have much to say about him, other than that he writes good lyrics (“The Nerve”, “Clipping” etc.) and has a properly pop-rock voice. Which is all wonderful and great and hunky dory.

Except it’s not.

See, in a commercial, single-oriented band like this, it is de rigeur to have a distinctive voice. It needn’t be pleasant. It needn’t have the range or Robert Plant or even be as sweet as puppy breath. It needs to be distinctive. Is Chris Martin’s singing immediately palatable? Is Noel Gallagher’s voice always smooth and tuneful? Heck, is Atif Aslam ever in key!?  No, but all of them are distinctive. As unfair as it is, unique voices sell in the marketplace, not great bass players or kick-ass drumming (both of which Mutemath has, FYI). So I say, the only thing that is stopping Mutemath from world domination now is a singer with a charismatic voice. It could be eccentric enunciation. It could be hoarseness. It can be done. But they need it quick.


And that is a pity, because Meany is an excellent frontman, as he is good looking and a charismatic performer to boot. And the whole band has an often chaotic performance style involving breaking stuff, jumping around and playing each other’s instruments. Even their on-stage placement is unique, with them playing side-by-side on stage rather than with the drummer being out back. So as you can see, they have their shit together. Yes, this album has some annoying cuts like “Burden” and “Lost Year”, but that is forgivable for what is still a very young band. Damn, if only Meany’s singing was more unique, this would sound very right.

- El Bajista

All MUTEMATH reviews HERE.



You (Radio Gnome Invisible Pt 3)-GONG-1974

Let me try and give you an idea of how Gong sounded back in 1974. Imagine the soundtrack of a 70’s sci-fi movie where you can see that all the sets are made out of cardboard. Imagine a sound so dated that in a couple of years from now, the tape would be qualified for storage in a museum. Imagine corny saxophones over corny synths which were cool, back in, err, 1973 I guess?

There is supposed to be some concept. Bah!!

Even that wouldn’t be a criterion to put down this album, if the songs themselves had hooks. But they sound like the psychedelic era Spinal Tap, and if you don’t understand that, it means that I am putting the album down and marking it in my “Don’t hear this again” folder. But you have to see Spinal Tap the movie!! You just gotta!! It’s great!!

The first 15 minutes of this thing has nothing but filler pieces each spanning 2 minutes, all having names like “Pot Headed Pixies” and not worth my time. It’s the part where I suppose they are trying to be cool and cute. Ewww.  It’s only the last part of the album that sees something going. We have some sax and jazz oriented jamming on what is my pick for the best track, The Isle of Everywhere, which is really the only track I will ever want to listen to again. At least that piece is coherent, if not very memorable. The album is very poorly planned, with the short pieces all in the front, having no flow whatsoever, and with the jams at the end. They do not want to make me listen to the album as a whole. The stop, start, doodle go and stop technique used by them on “You Never Blow Yr Trip Forever” irritates me further. If I want coherent space-rock I would pick Hawkwind over this mess any day.

Not good. This hasn’t stood the test of time. Now I am off to listen to some King Crimson, who, thankfully, have aged very well.

-Baba T

Discovery – DAFT PUNK – 2001

Daft Punk. Electro-synth. Animé. The movie ‘Interstella 5555’ is where is all of this comes together. It was love at first sight. What took my breath away (besides the really cute chick) was how masterfully Daft Punk’s album, Discovery, was used as the soundtrack. That was when I started to pay attention to the actual album.

Liquid metal ?

While many consider Daft Punk’s class of music nothing but a record player stuck on a convenient groove (pun intended), I say there’s more than meets the ear. Discovery spans fourteen tracks. Each one has a unique setting and feel. Some of them, you will know, are not the greatest, but the others, the others, are just pure brilliance.

Discovery begins with ‘One more time’ and naturally so, since as a single, it was top of the charts. This track will invariably get some part of you moving, even if it’s the forty-second time you hear it. The next track, one of my favourites, ‘Aerodynamic’ has been constructed with one intention; To give you a high. There are noticeable ‘channels’ that are switched on and off, and finally a blend of everything in just the right proportions.

probably something DJ Tiesto prostrates before

‘Digital Love’ has been made popular by a couple of Nokia ads and for good reason. Now, in spite of Daft Punk’s house-electro-synth tendency the guitar-esque solo found here is comparable to solos found in some good old rock classics. ‘Harder Better Faster’ is another chart topper though the vocals might have been taken a bit too much tweaking. Kanye West’s cover adds some vocal density, but Daft Punk’s feel is unique. After some of the previous intense tracks, ‘Crescendolls’ seems more of a brawl with a mixer. It’s not something you might listen to over and over again, but functionally it serves to show the scope and span of Daft Punk.

Electrons taste good. Real good.

‘Nightvision’ is a very soft track and the observable absence of drum-power gives it an almost dreamlike quality. Things take a downturn when you get to ‘Superheroes’ and ‘High life’ but they’re not that bad. They just bask in the shadow of the brilliance of the other tracks. There’s no true escape from sibling rivalry.

Once you hit ‘Something about us’, it hits you; These guys can express what they want through their music. A lot of what is done is an electro-synth mimicry of a range of possible analogue sounds from real instruments. This track lets you see how plucking can be approximated, basslines paused, chopped and muted, and a lot more. The wahwahs are a bit more pronounced than necessary, which makes it seem a bit immature but it offsets the more serious ‘dull-tone’ solo.

Suddenly, things pick up with ‘Voyager’. What you need to look out for here is the bassline. Not uncomplicated yet distinguishable. And very catchy. You might want to extract the bassline for a purer experience, and I assure you, the exercise is worth the effort. ‘Veridis Quo’ and ‘Short Circuit’ fail to impress but the occasional fling with syncopated beats is commendable.

Another one of my favourites is ‘Face to face’, which lets silence take over and establish the beat. It’s probably something DJ Tiesto prostrates before, every morning.

One identifiable formula used often by Daft punk is to let the heavy drums and bass kick in late. But when they kick in, they kick like there’s no tomorrow. I have a feeling this will never get out of fashion. Another less discernable fingerprint is the use of basslines that support a structure of loops that in turn cause shifts in the bassline.

Daft Punk’s lyrics are not the best you’ll hear, but they get the job done so let them be. The sound is in a different league altogether. Noticeably repetitive at times but that’s just to get you to notice the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) additions that fill in later. There may be a few times where you go meh, but take a step back and let all of it sink in. Call it what you like, but even like Oscar Pistorius on the run, this sounds right.

-Braggadocio Al

More Electronica reviews HERE



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