Smalltown Poets – Under The New Sun

Today we’re going to talk about Christian music!

Now that most of you are gone, I feel that, to adequately describe my thoughts on today’s album, I really should reveal a little bit of history about myself with music in general. Hopefully, even if you don’t agree with me, you’ll at least see why I consider Smalltown Poets’ new EP, Under The New Sun, one of the most important things to happen to Christian Rock music since that most excellent of years for Christian Rock Music: 1997. Read on, won’t you?

In the year 1997, I turned 15, and I am pretty sure the only music I really listened to at that point was either Classical, from a video game, or a lot of Christian Rock. On top of the obvious explanation that I actually AM a Christian, my mom used to manage a Christian book store that had a great selection of music, most of which she was responsible for stocking. Naturally, when she would get demos and pre-releases, we’d wind up with a copy at home.

Thus, not only did I get to hear all the perennial favorites like DC Talk or Newsboys, who were HUGE at the time, but also super obscure stuff that, upon writing about it on this blog, I find that I’m literally the only source for (somewhat unreliable) information.

Looking back at that time, as I’ve said before, 1997 was a VERY good year for Christian music. While most of my favorite albums that came out that year have been long forgotten, it was a great year for original music that didn’t just seem like the Christian Rock alternative of Alternative Rock, you know? Two particular releases really set that year in the stone of my mind, both of which were put out by the once-great Forefront Records: The Waiting’s self-titled debut, and Smalltown Poets’ self-titled debut.

What this era in Christian music marked for me was not only a slew of original musical ideas and just generally great tunes, but it seemed like this general maturing of the genre. What The Waiting and Smalltown Poets (and some others) brought from their southern homes was a sense of poetry and meaning to these already great melodies and rhythms, and they did it with the most important element I think can be brought to music, Christian or otherwise: honesty.

Yesterday, neatly 15 years and some change since their debut album, Smalltown Poets released a recording of original music, for the first time since 2004, and the first to feature all 5 original members of the group since said debut. It’s an EP of 7 tracks, 5 of which are totally original, and a couple of which are hymns. I’d probably better talk about it!

Interestingly, the EP opens up with an instrumental track bearing the name of the album. I like this kind of move in music because it gives one the sense that this is a collection of songs that’s meant to be heard together (rare form in this age of digital singles), and this particular track is about a minute and a half of really good buildup. Indeed, the next song, “Turn Around“, benefits from having a nice buildup, since it has a rather minimalist intro that works best as a bridge between the full sound of the introduction and the awesome chorus to come. This is quality album construction, folks.

Once everything kicks in with “Turn Around”, the BPM’s are brought down ever so slightly for the mid-tempo “Charlie Brown’s Lament“, which is a stunningly catchy tune that, to me, most evokes the feel of the older SP recordings. The lyrics are definitely classic Smalltown Poets; a little moody and introspective, but also slightly cheeky and fun. I like how the references to the Peanuts world are so subtle; in fact I didn’t even think that any of it was a reference until I read the song title (I listened to the whole thing without even looking at it a couple of times, in my excitement), and once I did, it didn’t take anything away from the song, it just made the “Doctor is in” line funnier.

On another note, what a coincidence that they wrote a song in reference to Charlie Brown and I also made a reference when talking about their Christmas album. Crazy!

Still, I think that my favorite song has to be “Grace Is A Song“. From that guitar note that hits right after the downbeat, to the piano part that drives the whole thing, and especially that crazy good melody, everything sounds entirely new and unexplored. This is important, because it doesn’t make me reminisce about the Smalltown Poets of 1997 as much as it makes me really excited about the Smalltown Poets of 2012.

Bringing things back down into a slower, more echoey vibe, the Poets do a stunning arrangement of a classic hymn, “Jesus I Come“. Apart from the echoes, the song is actually fairly minimal and straightforward, with just enough flavoring to be easy to mistaken for an original tune, which I think is exactly how hymns should be covered by bands. Still, the best is yet to come in that regard…

The next song is “The Ballad of Time and Eternity“, and while it’s probably the most straightforward of the bunch as far as sound is concerned, what lies underneath is a really great allegorical poem set to music. I really recommend checking out the lyrics to this one; in fact I’m still trying to process it all myself.

The last song, and I’ve said this many times before while talking about the Christmas album, is entirely unfair.

Seriously, putting together an album to be heard by southern-raised old-school church-goers like myself and ending it on one of the best hymns ever written, “I’ll Fly Away”. Seriously, where is the justice? Pretty much as soon as I saw that, I knew I had to grab a tissue for my first few listens to this EP, and sure enough, the arrangement is tear-jerking perfect.  The song is complemented by a nice southern-style slide guitar, vocal polyphony, and a lovely beat, but the melody is left entirely, beautifully intact, ringing out those infamous words denoting the greatest sentiment that the Christian life has to offer: being totally ok with the inevitability of death and the life afterward. There’s a reason this song is one of the most recorded hymns in history, despite being relatively new (as in, 1930’s new), and no matter how many times I hear it, it gets me every time.

So yeah, calling “no fair” on that one, but obviously I love it.

As an EP, this is certainly a stand-out release, but what it represents to me is a kind of resurgence of the Christian Music that I remember. In this age of the dying record industry and artists having to kind of make their own mark in the world, I’m noticing that a lot of the best bands of a decade or two ago who went away are actually coming back! I noticed the OC Supertones had a Kickstarter up for an album, Smalltown Poets are back in business, and even though I joked about The Waiting coming back next, it totally happened too!

Thus, while it may not be as important to you as it is to me, I’m actually excited about new Christian music in a way I haven’t been since literally half my life ago, but to all of you out there who just want some really great music, Under The New Sun comes with my highest recommendation, and I think we should all look forward to the next thing!

(Yay SP are back!)

Year 200X – We Are Error

And we’re back!

Some of you may remember that I’ve been something of an outspoken opponent of Metal, with some notable exceptions. I really can’t say that’s as much the case nowadays. Oh sure, I’m still not a fan of the stuff I wasn’t a fan of before, but I’ve been introduced to so many other kinds of Metal, in the 2-and-a-bit years since the Album Du Jour project, that I could at least say I’m a lot more open to it.

In the case of Year 200X, however, I say “HELLS YES MORE METAL MORE MORE MORE!” whilst banging my head and moshing people in the line at Starbucks.

Why is that? Video games, of course, duh. But let’s talk about the band and their current album anyway!

Year 200X is a video game cover/tribute band based out of Lansing, Michigan (where I understand they probably need to rock a little harder just to keep warm) and was formed by guitarist Tim Lydon and other guitarist Tony Oliver. They’re joined by a group (dare I say, a rag-tag group?) of metal vigilantes who go by monikers such as Ian Whithers, Rance Talroe, Kyle Hoke, and Jake Bryan. This is the information I got from their bio, so you know it must be true!

Anyway, since nearly every band that has made the bold choice to cover video game music tend to bring a little something different to the proceedings, I think it’d be good to point out that Year 200X, in general, have some unique traits that bear extolling.

For one, the band is brutal. There’s hardly a better way of putting it. The band features not one, but three metal guitarists (exactly 1 more than nearly every other VGM band with the notable exception of Metroid Metal), and a rhythm section that seems to have been put on this earth for the sole purpose of frightening the elderly.

Now, covering video game music usually involves dual guitar leads in order to emulate the sound of the source material, and since that’s a tactic most often employed by Metal bands (again, with notable exceptions), video game bands are often considered Metal by default. This is, of course, fine if these bands identify with it, but what’s cool about Year 200X is that they completely own the Metal label, and in fact having a 3rd guitarist to hold down those chugging power chords while the melodies blaze away is something of a god-send for their sound, and there’s no better way to get that sound than by listening to their album, We Are Error (especially because they have not yet released a second album!)

Upon looking at the track-listing, which conveniently lists (in a very no-nonsense way) exactly which songs are covered in each track, a second, very personally satisfying aspect of the band comes into play: these guys have amazing taste in NES game music, which is entirely the source for every song on the album (except for one notable exception that we’ll get to). Without exception, at least notable ones, every one of the songs on We Are Error is a track I would have personally picked if asked to select 13 of the most badass pieces of music in the Nintendo Entertainment System era.

It all starts with a game I’ve talked about elsewhere recently, Mega Man 3. Without going into the 2000-word version, I will simply repeat myself in saying that the intro theme song to that particular game caused something of a catharsis for mine and many other young minds upon first hearing it (and thousands of times after). Thus, what better way to open an album than to take that calm, bluesy, and then suddenly explosive song and explode it even harder? That’s exactly what goes on with this version of the theme, and it even starts with some very tasteful acoustic guitar by a guest guitarist called Alex Atchley.

It is here that we’ve given something of a left turn in the album, as a lone guitar wails in the legendary arpeggio that opens one of the most singularly famous songs in video games, the Moon Stage theme from Ducktales. Now, the original song contains this soaring melody that is as close to being “sung” with its 8-bit square waves as any song on the system you can name. Heck some handsome dudes HAVE sung it.

Anyway, for the reason that I never believed Metal (even “Melodic Metal” which is its own genre) could really embellish a really winning melody, I didn’t expect this version to be all that good, but holy crap it is! It is so good! In fact, when I listen to the original song, it’s merely the slight shift of the beat that keeps the original from being a metal tune in and of itself, since its backing part is basically a driving 16th note bass, which translates super-easily into guitar. It’s at this point that I realize that these guys know a few things that I don’t, and that interests me even further!

What comes next is something that I would call an even bolder move; covering Life Force, (a.k.a. Salamander), a kind-of-sequel to Gradius, a shooter well-known for its first level (since it’s REALLY hard to get to the second). The main difference between the two games is that Life Force is better than Gradius, easily. It handles better, is somewhat easier, and the music is fantastic.

In fact, I know I’m right at least about that last point because Year 200X does not one, but 4 great songs from the game, spanning various levels and the boss theme. Each song is translated beautifully, to the point that, even throughout the pounding rhythms and searing leads, you can still totally “get” the original melody out of the track, even if you’re not too familiar with it, which is a good thing because the “boldness” of the choice of this game I alluded to earlier is that a tragically small amount of people ever really played Life Force. It’s a crying shame, really. You should play Life Force, it’s fun!

Another more-amazing-than-it-should-be soundtrack that the band bravely explores is that of Journey To Silius, a Sunsoft game composed by none other (well, one other) than Naoki Kodaka, the legend behind Sunsoft’s signature rock sound that they utilized for games like BatmanBlaster Master, and many others. Year 200X’s take on one of my favorite childhood games is somewhat unique, as they take two fairly similar songs and kind of mash them up rather than simply play them completely in order. To this they add another of my favorites, the Stage 2 theme, which contains more parts than you might expect. One cool thing about this cover is that it features Housethegrate, who you might remember me mentioning as being one of the two guitarists behind this album.
Still, not to be mired in obscurity, the band also covers some other especially well-known tunes such as Stage 1 of Ghosts ‘N’ Goblins (a perennial classic), ContraNinja Gaiden II, and even another Mega Man game.

While a lot of the songs on the album are being interpreted through Metal, there are a few songs on We Are Error that definitely seemed like Metal songs from the beginning. One of my favorite examples of this (and indeed one of my favorite songs on the album), is the hard-hitting boss theme from River City Ransom, a stupidly fun beat-em-up from the makers of Double Dragon (or at least the composer, Kazuo Sawa). The original version of the theme has this pounding break-down with some awesome syncopation, which is fancy-man talk for it freaking rocks. The band, of course, recreates this perfectly, and this is one of those tracks where the extra rhythm guitar adds so much to the song that you wonder how you ever punched anything without having heard this song first. Seriously if you do nothing else with the next 2 1/2 minutes of you life, you should be doing it while listening to this song like now.

In general, I really like how there is kind of a mix of medleys and single songs on the album, as it really helps shake things up and keeps the listening experience fresh. In fact, for being such a heavy album, I would almost describe it as “breezy”, as it almost always seems like it’s ending before I was ready to be done listening. I guess that’s because very few of the songs ever feel like they hang around too long, yet each one is given the traditional “two loops” treatment. Time flies when you’re  rocking out!

Still, the longer tracks have it where it counts, and the best of the medleys (weighing in over 6 minutes) would have to be the Zelda II medley, which sneakily incorporates the “Fairy” tune first heard in The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past, which would be the sole tune from the Super Nintendo age, not that I’m complaining, mind you.

The track opens up with some rolling drums as the famous arpeggio from the opening to Zelda II fades in, and then the rhythm guitar comes in and rolls right along with it. This, naturally, makes way for one of my favorite songs in the game, the American “Battle Theme”. I say American because the Japanese, for some reason or another, got a totally different (inferior) tune for their battle scenes. Like with Journey To Silius, the medley is constructed less to be simply “one song after another”, as the title theme’s main melody then blows in, only to be interrupted by a sneaking in of the original Legend of Zelda’s dungeon theme (sneaky!) Then, the Link to the Past fairy theme is played on acoustic guitars and is then given a blasting ballad treatment, which is just too cool. Then, the whole thing explodes into a spirited chugging of the “Palace Theme” from Zelda II, and from there, it’s all brought back again and then… big finish! The end!

Man, what an album.

Anyway, the long-winded point I’m trying to make is that you should definitely purchase this album (get it on CD if you can!) if you’re a fan of metal, the Nintendo, or both! I’d also recommend checking the band out at one of the fine super-large conventions where they can often be spotted.

Before I go, however, a couple of more points about the band itself, just because I feel like it. Having met them a few times, I can say with all authority that, gosh-darn it, these metal monsters are some of the nicest boys you’ll ever meet in person. I’ve had a few conversations with Tim in the past (mostly about video games) and truly, they’re some swell guys to get to know.

The last thing I want to say about them is that man, this is one of the luckiest bands out there. On top of being written about in Nintendo Power magazine really soon after getting together (thus awarding them instant exposure to the core demographic for this kind of thing), I got to see them open for none other than Nobuo Uematsu, the guy who wrote the music for Final Fantasy (up through the 10th one), and their closing number was a tribute to the man himself in the form of the boss battle theme from Final Fantasy VII (one of my favorites). Nobuo was, of course, present for this tribute, and his response was to shake Tim’s hand and say “Awesome job!”, which in 2 words says FAR more about the band than the 1964 I just typed up. Still, though Year 200X doesn’t need my help to convince you that they’re awesome, I am taking that stance anyway because, darn it all, they put out a ripping record, and I’m super glad they gave me another shot at appreciating Metal.

Minibosses – Brass 2: Mouth

Yeah I know, I KNOW I’ve been writing too much about video game music stuff, I mean between this new blog I started and the last entry I posted, it’s like VGM is all I listen to nowadays, right? Well, that’s kind of the truth! I’d say about 70% of the music I’ve been listening to is 8-bit and 16-bit era tunes straight from the source files (thanks to the RockBox firmware I installed on my Sansa Fuze), and the other 30% is listening to bands covering said video game music.

Today we’re going to talk about that 30% with what is possibly my favorite video game album ever (with all due respect to all the other albums I’ve been calling favorites lately), the Minibosses’ newest: Brass 2: Mouth: 


Before I get into the details of this album, and believe me I am going to, I want to go into a bit of history here. If you didn’t know, the Minibosses are pretty much the most well-known band that does instrumental covers of video game music. While this may seem like kind of a dull statement to make, believe me when I say that, if you decide to, oh I dunno, start your own video game cover band, the reality of the Minibosses’ popularity will soon become an everyday concern. Being the most popular, of course, also means people’s opinions are going to be the most polarized, and certainly the Minibosses are no exception.

In playing with a moderately successful video game group, I’ve heard the band praised and criticized. Naturally, I used to side myself with people who criticized the Minibosses for whatever reason (survival instinct on my part, I guess), and since I had really not seen the band or heard any of their material other than the oldest stuff you can find on Youtube, I felt that disliking the band would be justified.

The2 things happened; One, I saw them play, and two, I heard the album I’m writing about today.

I believe something happened with the band between recording their previous album, Brass (which is available as a free download from their website or as a pay-what-you-want download from Bandcamp) and Brass 2. Perhaps something to do with personnel changes, maybe they got a better producer, maybe both, who knows? All I can say is that I was somehow surprised to find out that this band, at least in its current iteration, deserves every bit of their overwhelming popularity.

As far as playing live goes, I saw them at MAGfest 9, which was my first experience with a truly “huge” event that entirely had to do with video game music. Despite my previous misgivings about the group, I was anxious to see them play because I wanted to know what they were all about, why they were so popular. It couldn’t have been simply because they’ve been around a long time, because every video I’d seen of them showed them playing for masses of adoring fans.

Once they kicked on, briefly acknowledged the audience, and then set about playing their first song, I quickly realized the piece of the puzzle that was missing from my analysis. When the Minibosses take the stage and bust out these somewhat slowed-down yet really accurate versions of the best-of-the-best-known video game songs, it takes you right back to the livingroom or bedroom of your youth, hanging out with your friends and taking turns playing through Super Mario Bros. 3 or Contra or Mega Man 2, having the time of your life and not caring about all that crappy stuff you’re saddled with as an adult. Every calculated, almost pensive note of the dual guitars, in its purest, simplest form, entirely stripped of all pretense and genre coloring or embellishment, is something an old gamer like me totally recognizes, and thus an unshakable connection is made.

In short: the Minibosses  freaking get it. They play huge 8 minute medleys because that’s what they should do. They play slower than the original game speed because it’s easier to discern the melody that way. They are every part rock and every part video game, and they do it while looking and acting like they’ve never been on a stage before, and then they claim total ownership by playing the main theme toExcitebike about 9 times throughout the night just to mess with the audience. I love it.

The crowd loves it, too; I actually snapped a little piece of their Castlevania performance from the middle of the crowd just to show other people how completely stoked their crowds are. Whether through genius or just unintentional luck or somewhere in between the two, this band is extremely effective at what it does.

So what does this have to do with the album I am talking about today? Quite a lot, because knowing what the group is all about is the factor that helped me appreciate what all goes on in Brass 2.

Brass 2: Mouth

Upon streaming that first track or playing it from your own player (or spinning that record if you happen to purchase the vinyl print), you get to hear an interesting multi-game medley called “sports!!!” which begins with the intro to R.C. Pro Am (one of my childhood favorites) and then goes on to Blades of Steel and Rad Racer, which makes for a good line-up of peppy rock-out tunes to start things with. The next track keeps this going with a cover of one of the greatest 8-bit sports songs ever: the intro song to Tecmo Bowl.

From the sports-themed beginning, we’re brought to what I am fairly certain is my favorite Minibosses track to date; a  8-minute medley from Batman on the NES titled “vantam” for whatever reason. The song starts with a slow-tempo crawl leading up to the crunchy bass-line that starts off the Stage 1 theme (among the best video game songs ever, in my opinion), which really comes out sounding like a dark, action-packed surf guitar song, which is exactly what one should think of when one thinks of Batman. The song doesn’t stop there, however, and goes into the Underground (Stage 3) theme, the Stage 4 theme (which features a very head-explodey bass part for which I really have to give props), and some other great sounds from the game.

By the time “vantam” ends with a hilariously badass voice mail message from none other than Shawn Phase of Temp Sound Solutions, you almost feel like the album could end there and you would have gotten your money’s worth, but then things get interesting.

As I mentioned before, part of what I loved about seeing the band play live was watching them basically “troll” the audience with many repetitions, often at different tempos, of the love-to-hate-it Excitebike theme. Well, if you love Excitebike, and who doesn’t, this is your album. The band sets up a theme in track 4 by playing a slowed down version of the main theme, and then moves things along to a treatment of The Legend of Zelda (with Zelda 2 mixed in) that I really love for many reasons, but among those is that they don’t play the main theme. How do you even get away with dedicating over 5 minutes of album time to a game without playing the one theme everyone recognizes? Well, I guess that’s just what they’d expect you to do, right? The Minibosses are cooler than that, clearly.

Then, a lone piano bass note pounds away at a slow rhythm, and a curious track called “The Legend of Hallowbike” kicks in. It starts with a somewhat spooky rendition of the “dungeon” theme from Zelda, and then something amazing happens. Listen for the second guitar to come in all quite and reverby, why yes, it’s playing the Excitebike theme in the middle of a Zelda song! It’s at this point that you realize we’re dealing with an album that, on top of being really well put together, is actually built on a theme, and that theme ties the whole thing together so wonderfully that you don’t even notice that some of the songs are a mere 1-2 minutes long (such as their spirited Ghosts N Goblins cover), and some of them are 8 minutes long or more, you just know that you can expect to hear that sneaky Excitebike theme at any moment, and that’s completely brilliant, if you ask me.

The centerpiece for this album (both in spirit and in track placement) seems to be the band’s entirely grandiose presentation of the music from Kid Icarus, one of the truly underrated and best soundtracks of Nintendo’s early days (composed by Metroid composer “Hip” Tanaka, if you must know, and I say you must). The track weighs in at just over 12 minutes, and covers most, if not all, of the major themes in the game, and if that wasn’t enough, they interrupt a drawn-out interlude of the “annoying” “Mad Reaper Theme” with… well, I’ll let you guess.

Really though, I could keep going on about the rest of the songs on this album, but the main point is that you need to purchase this album and listen to it over and over. The Minibosses have created an album of video game music that is not only filled with recognizable, expertly played music, but the whole thing sounds like it was build with  cohesion in mind. It needs to be heard all the way through to be truly appreciated, as it shifts between short, single songs and the “feature length” medleys, all without fatiguing the listener with too much stuff going on. At the end of the day, even if it’s not your favorite album about video game music ever, at least you’ll come away with a new appreciation for Excitebike, which I think we all need.

So yes, at one point, in building a band that exclusively covers video game music,  I thought the best philosophy would be “How do I avoid sounding like the Minibosses?”, but now I realize, upon hearing this album, that I instead find myself thinking “How can I be as good as the Minibosses?!”, which is probably why every band that does this crazy material has taken something from these dudes, and everyone that either plays video game music or simply appreciates those who play video game music owe a LOT to the Minibosses, and would be foolish to think otherwise. I have seen the light, and am now a huge fan of the band, and I can’t WAIT for the next album, even though I’m sure it’s a ways off yet.

Temp Sound Solutions – Now You’re Playing With Powar X: Endgame

Ah, another day another blog update…

Oh wait, more like 3 months eh?

I guess that Bieber album was worse than I thought. Well, it’s time to pick things back up with one of my favorite video game tribute bands in their latest album!

I don't even know how to find alt attributes anymore. Does that require Opera or some crazy stuff?

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet connectetuer velit pretium euismod ipsum enin, and all that.

To put it simply, Temp Sound Solutions is a video game cover/tribute/whatever band based in Baltimore, Maryland, and have been in the “scene” for way longer than there ever was one. Led by the world’s busiest drummer*, Shawn Phase, and filled the rest of the way out by some amazing string-guys, Kirby Pufocia and Alex “housethegrate” Liss, with Spookmeister C on the rad 5 string metal bass, TSS  are one of the truly unique video game acts out there; which may not be saying much considering there are only about 30ish bands even doing this stuff. Still, hear me out!

When listening to Powar X , which I suggest you do, you may find the presentation somewhat unique. For one, it is definitely not intended for your typical 80’s retro-enthusiast, as maybe only 3 or 4 of the songs are from A-list games or even games people have heard of. Even an embarrassingly obsessed VGM junkie like myself had to look up over half the tracks (and even had to ask the band themselves what a couple of them were). For two, despite its somewhat lo-fi sound, eagle-eared listeners will detect that there are some seriously amazing performances going on here.

As I just mentioned, the material itself is so obscure at times that you may well wonder what exactly is going on here. Well, to the best of my knowledge, based on his writing on some of the “niche within a niche” corners of the internet (including my personal favorite, Lost Levels) Shawn Phase simply (or perhaps complicatedly) loves the crap out of old games. When I asked him once “Why Garfield on the Genesis?”, his answer was simply that he loves Garfield and wanted to cover that song.

Though I have only had a few conversations with the other members of the group, I can definitely attest to the same attitude of damn-the-Man retro love being present across the board. Temp Sound Solutions is like this impossible mix of excellent musicianship and true passion for those old gray cartridges (and sometimes compact discs), and to look at them performing on stage you can just tell that they genuinely love what they’re doing, so much so that sometimes they take of their shirts halfway through so be ready for that.

Anyway, having said that, let’s look at the actual album!

We start with a chilled out track that comes from the title screen of a Sega Genesis game called Ecco Jr., which according to Wikipedia, was apparently composed by a Hungarian football player… Yeah I think we’re going to not use Wikipedia as a source today…

Whether you’re familiar with the “for the kids” chapter in the popular dolphin-based game series or not, at least most gamers should recognize the second track as the “Air Man” stage theme from the perennial favorite in a long series of games called Mega Man 2. “Air Man” is something of a favorite of mine, not just because the original song is among my favorite pieces of video game music ever, but because Kirby and House, who play the song’s featured solo in unison, both play it perfectly, and that is no easy task. The best part is that the song goes on for 4 loops, so you get to hear this super tight impossible guitar solo 4 times, each time with a little something extra added to the crazy drumming parts so as not to simply sound like the same song being looped.

Despite the expertise displayed in “Air Man” (or is it “Airman”?), that’s nothing compared to the crazy displays of phalangeal dexterity contained in the fast-flying kind of funk/metal hybrid cover of music from Gauntlet. I’ve seen the band play this in person and I still don’t believe it!

Extreme difficulty of Gauntlet and others aside, it was the tracks that I am more personally familiar with that really hit home (as is often the case with these kinds of songs). The high point for nostalgia was almost certainly the band’s treatment of the original NES Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game. Being that it was the first game I owned besides the original Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt cartridge, I was immediately rushed back to age 7, where I spent a large portion of time every day slowly working my way towards victory over an impossible Technodrome and a surprisingly easy Shredder (surprising considering the game is BALLS HARD). The band covers the first two songs you’re likely to hear in the game, and then curiously follows it up with the Technodrome music from the second game (the “proper” arcade conversion rather than the original game that was released on the system first). Still, in the words of a great ship captain/internet meme, “You know what you doing.”

Speaking of the internet, I think Temp Sound Solutions pulled one of the greatest moves in VGM band history by covering a song from a game so obscure, it was never even known to actually exist until a couple of years ago! Yes, Bio Force Ape, one of the most sought-after and prized of the “only rumored to exist” prototype games of the “old school” era, was famously discovered and dumped into delicious, buttery ROM form, and a generation who never thought they’d live to see the day are now able to play the prototype in all its unfinished glory.

Naturally, Shawn Phase and the boys saw it fit to celebrate by covering one of the songs contained in the prototype’s data, making Temp Sound Solutions perhaps the first band to cover music from games that were never released!

If pulling a unique move like that wasn’t enough for you, TSS also cover the “Commando Man” stage from Mega Man 10, (not to be confused with Mega Man X), which is an NES game that came out in, oh let’s see, last year.  Still, the song is every bit as good as any Mega Man game that came out back when they were current, so trust me, no complaints here.

Honestly, I don’t want to give away too much about the album**, as I think you should hear the entire thing, and if something comes up that you don’t recognize, by all means go and look it up! I learned several new things about gaming in general that I didn’t even know about simply by researching the music on this album, and if that doesn’t make Powar X a great tribute to gaming history, then at least it’s a freaking cool album full of kick-ass tunes.

Seriously, I think they’ve still got discs available. Hop to it! And if you’re on the East Coast or thereabouts, catch one of their upcoming shows and like them on Facebook and all that jazz!

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*I mean that in two ways; Shawn has involved himself in more projects than I can even bother to research, and his actual playing style requires hitting each drum about 4 times more than your average drummer. Easily my favorite style of drumming if you take note of my drum compliments (drumpliments?)

**Except to say that the ambiguously-veiled ending song is among my oldest and dearest memories of early gameplay! FAAAAAXANA….

Justin Bieber – Under The Mistletoe

Well, the first 5 words that you read on today’s entry should indicate to you that today we are going to talk about the BAD of Christmas. Yesterday we talked about the good, so you should understand that, no matter how bad things get in THIS entry, there is always the good.

Today though, things are going to get really bad:

A look that screams 'Hello teenage girls, I AM HERE FOR YOUR SOUL *HISS*'

Justin Bieber (or Justice Beaver, a crime-fighting beaver, if you prefer) is very popularly, VERY understandably, both a target of lust for women of all ages (no matter how creepily young or old) and absolute, deserved ridicule from just about everyone else.

Still, this isn’t about hating Justin Bieber himself, because come on, everyone does that and they will continue to do that and it’s a lot better than any insults a mere blogger like myself can throw. This will be about hating his music, as soon as I actually listen to it.

The thing is, I have only heard maybe the one song that he did on his last album, which some wealthy rappers produced for him for his 13th birthday (all I got was a Ninja Turtles action figure and Mega Man 3 on the Nintendo… in many ways I still win). Basically, I am the world’s expert at avoiding music I know I’m not going to like,  but in this seedy world of practically anonymous journalism, sometimes one have to make sacrifices, and I am no exception.

So, in the spirit of something I did before that was fun, I am going to listen to Justin Bieber’s dubious holiday classic, Under The Mistletoe, for the very first time while blogging about the experience. I have never read a review on the album, and I have only Wikipedia’s dubiously factual page about it for fact-checking.

And away we go!

(Author’s Note: it should be noted that, the very second I picked up my mp3 player to press “play”, I suddenly started choking on my own spit and have just finished a monster coughing fit, so yeah, looks like we’re getting into something heavy here)

Track 1: “Only Thing I Ever Get For Christmas”

Well, busting out of the gate is pretty much exactly what I was to expect from a modern teenage demographic pop song, it’s an auto-tuned disaster of this kid singing while simultaneously trying to sound “breathy”, complete with actual heavy breathing hiding in the percussion which is really creeping out this 29 year old blogger, let me assure you. I think about 5 choruses have passed by while I was busy writing that last sentence and attempting to extract that last bit of phlegm from my gullet, and now the song’s over! Praise the lord, at least that was short, only the rest of my short life to go!

Track 2: “Mistletoe”

The very instant that the acoustic guitar starts this plastic reggae piece of sterilized pop nonsense, I began vehemently cursing Jack Johnson, Jason Mraz, and just about any other douchey college bro who figured out that upstrokes are the easiest thing to play on an acoustic guitar while you’re drunkenly trying to hit on women, and thus made it the standard for modern romantic music, probably until the day I die, which may be today if this chorus doesn’t go away soon. Seriously, is he saying “shawty with you”? Is he even legally allowed to use the word “Shawty?” where are his parents through all this?

Wow that was bad, I may have made a terrible mistake…

Track 3: “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire) feat. Usher”

Oh man, that sprinkly bell thing that all pop songs have had since the 90’s. I don’t even care that that last sentence is a fragment, it says more about this song than I needed to know. The only thing more predictable than this song appearing on this album, besides the almost obscene amount of singing “around” the notes, Mariah-Carey-style, is that it features Usher. Yeah, well, so do my nightmares, and you don’t seem me making millions off of them, just an ill-advised blog entry. Wow, Justin Bieber cranks out a pretty mean guitar solo half-way through this using his speak-and-spell, not too bad at all.

Track 4: “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”

JUST when I was about to remark on how this track appears to be spitting on the grave of the Jackson 5 (if all 5 Jacksons were replaced with robots), Bieber comes in with this “SANTA CLAUS IS COMING GURL, WOO” and I had to stop the recording to sit here and HATE THAT with all my concentration. Otherwise, yeah this song is pretty much spitting on SOMEONE’S grave, because I can’t imagine who would do this to anyone in the name of love, though I guess that guy that shot John Lennon thinks he was doing a good thing? Anyway, this song also features one of those horrible R&B talk-downs half-way through, and I am pretty sure I’m losing the vision in my left eye.

My fingers are now poised over the phone, having dialed 9 and 1, and if this next track doesn’t pick things up I am going to have to put this review on hold and hit that other 1.

Track 5: “Fa La La feat. Boyz 2 Men”

Speaking of things that killed Motown, Boyz 2 Men make an appearance on this complete mess of random syllables (which makes sense since “Fa La La” aren’t technically words) making Bieber sound like a eunuch version of the Decepticon Soundwave. Understand, however, as someone who was watching Transformers at the age in which Bieber made his first billion dollars, that the actual Soundwave is all man.

Track 6: “All I Want For Christmas Is You (SuperFestive!)” feat. Mariah Carey

Well! Speak of the devil and the washed up singer he stole his vocal vamping and upper octave range from, Bieber does a duet with Mariah Carey here about how much they want to bone each other (no surprise there, that’s what every single other song in this album has been so far), and I shouldn’t have to point out that he is 17 and she’s 41 and that’s really creepy, so instead I will point out something even better: Mariah Carey’s own best-selling Christmas album called Merry Christmas was released November 1st, 1994, the year Justin Bieber was born. In fact, THIS VERY ALBUM was released on 11/1, the 17th year anniversary of her album, which might be considered creepy and sinister, but in fact most Christmas albums come out around that time so yeah. I just really needed something to distract me from the rest of this song because this is truly awful.

Track 7: “Drummer Boy feat. Busta Rhymes”

Now, being a bit of a Christmas music hater, so I don’t have any special attachment to “The Little Drummer Boy”, especially since it’s not really a hymn, despite what people may think. Thus, I am not mad that Bieber does his stupid auto-tune vocal scale warmup on the traditionally staccato “Parumpa pum pum” (which is supposed to emulate a drum, you idiot, drums don’t do scales!), nor am I even upset at the inclusion of a rapper doing some truly awful things to the institution of rhyming and shouting in between lines pretending the other vocal track can hear him, as I have always theorized that Justin Bieber is a tool that the R&B/Rap community are using in order to get revenge on white people. No, what upsets me about this song is that it’s supposed to be about a kid who drums because he’s too poor to do anything else for Jesus, and so Bieber doing this song implies that, having a similar background, the original drummer boy must have struck it big on Youtube and become an evil prepubescent millionaire for the his act of percussive generosity, when really he probably just remained poor for the rest of his life and had to tell that Jesus-smiling-at-him story to his disinterested grandchildren as the only thing interesting that ever happened to him. It just makes me mad that it couldn’t have been the reverse, is all.

Track 7: “Christmas Eve”

Now that we’re done hearing Bieber rap about how great he is at the drums and how he should be canonized into the damn Bible, we’re back to a confusing mess of notes about how much he wants to get laid on Christmas. I’m sure you can work that into your schedule of featuring formerly popular musicians and appearing in court for Paternity suits, kid, so buck up! I love the line “I don’t need no presents, gurl, you’re everything I need”, as if Justin Bieber would otherwise require presents. What would you even get a 17 year old kid who’s been given a free ride to the top? An abortion of the illegitimate fetus of his choice?

Wow I’m getting mean; that means the album must almost be over!

Track 8: “All I Want Is You”

We’re now at the 3rd song (or is it 4th? or All Of The Above?) about how all Bieber wants for Christmas is YOU, person who purchased his album. Seriously, remember that line I quoted above? Here’s the first line from this chorus: “Any I don’t care if I don’t get anything; all I need is you here right now”, exactly how much do you need to pound that point in Bieber? I had to check Wikipedia to make sure that this album wasn’t written by Rick Derringer and they just replaced all the references to America with Christmas and Gurl.

Track 9: “Home This Christmas feat. The Band Perry”

I don’t know who The Band Perry is, but they really should win a Grammy for “band that somehow managed to completely un-change a Bieber song”. About the only thing I can tell that separates this song from the previous 8 is that there’s a live drum set being played flaccidly by a drummer who will probably do nothing else in life except tell his disinterested grandchildren about how he drummed once for Justin Bieber… for a smile.

Track 10: “Silent Night”

I am starting this track up and hearing a sedated Bieber singing what seems like a straight version of this song (except he does an intentional pause after the word “virgin” and I don’t know what to make of that). I am expecting there to be some kind of rap segment or auto-tuned background singers singing about how he’s totally going to get some on this silent night yo gurl.

COME ON SONG, how could you fail in your task this fantastically? Well, at least each line ends abruptly so Bieber can try and pronounce the next word on the page and let the echoey bits trail off and remind all of us that this is still part of a terrible pop album and not some random, displaced bit of sincerity in this monster of an album.

AND IT’S FINISHED! PRAISE THE LORD (no I didn’t get the special edition, I’m no fool!)

Now that I’ve made it through to the other side of that train-wreck, I am now able to confirm a suspicion I’ve had ever since this Bieber kid and Lady Gaga and all them became the biggest economic forces in music:

Basically, the world as we know it is ending.

Oh, we’ve heard about it for a while, but with the world economy treading thin ice, the music industry collapsing, the world of retail cannibalizing its own limbs in an effort to stay alive for just one more holiday season, we’re staring straight into the face of an entire world of entertainment that was meant to  provide us with a good, general distraction from our daily lives, panicking and flailing under the pressure of today’s internet-based culture, where we can be entertained by anything we want, whether it was recorded in the past or in the present at the great expense of some rappers who are on their way out anyway.

In the face of that, the entertainment industry is trying its hardest to manufacture anything that will sell, and can no longer take any risks or do anything interesting that might be less popular than the last thing. Thus, we have “safe” Justin Bieber crooning his thinly veiled songs about getting laid, we have “safe” Lady Gaga who rakes in millions by cultivating a shock image without actually doing anything shocking, we’ve got retail stores and Starbucks hanging up their Christmas decorations/shopping reminders on Oct. 1st, and we’ve got all the soul and sincerity and warmth of what’s supposed to be a single day of loving your family, thinking of Jesus (if that’s what you do), and eating a lot of food and giving/getting gifts, completely stripped away and set aside until the world feels comfortable with celebrating love instead of money. When that day comes, maybe someone who sings about Christmas and really means it will go to the top, but until then, we get to either laugh, cry, or hate on artists like Bieber until they too get swept under the rug.

Or alternatively, we can just forget about all that and have a kickass party, so stay tuned for TOMORROW’s entry when we leave this depressing ghost of Christmas Presents and bring the hope back to Christmas. Stay tuned, and happy holidays!

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Smalltown Poets – Christmas

In lieu of updating this thing 12 times with 12 different Christmas albums in a theme I like to call “Chris is starting to show OCD tendencies”, I decided to update 3 times this week with 3 different Christmas albums. They will represent the Good, the Bad, and the Twisted*, and believe me, there is nothing I’ve needed more this year than something Good in Christmas music, which is why today’s entry is about an album that I still can’t believe exists, Smalltown Poets Christmas:

I get it now! Smalltown Poets was his SLED

Why would a Smalltown Poets album about Christmas be such a surprise? Well, as I might have mentioned before, the band has been on hiatus for 7 years. That’s longer than I’ve even been in bands (well, good ones anyway), so it’s like being visited by the ghost of Christian Rock past.

Still, the thing that finally brought them all back together after so long was making a Christmas album, so it stands to reason that it wound up being a pretty good Christmas album, right?

Yeah, try the best Christmas album ever.

Now, you may have heard from somewhere that I am decidedly NOT a fan of Christmas music. Without going back into all the nasty opinions I have about the institution (I’m saving that for tomorrow), I will re-iterate that  Christmas music has a habit of being very cheeseball and almost incoherent in the face of the rather broad cultural changes that occurred between the 50’s and today. I am almost sure that at least 3 generations grew up wondering why Jingle Bell Rock doesn’t actually rock (because that’s what they HAD for “rock” back in the 50’s).

In the glut of overdone Bing Crosby hits, hideous novelty songs, and the rank odor of popular artists “cashing in” on the holiday with their own take on Christmas, one may begin to crave, even ache for, some piece of genuine Christmas love that touches the soul and reminds us, as a TV special once did, what the true meaning of Christmas is. Luckily for you, Dear Reader, I am about to tell you about an album that does just that!

Christmas opens up with guitar feedback, which may seem unsettling, but don’t worry, they’ve got this under control. You then hear church bells (how I love church bells in music), and just as this seemingly epic song starts to swell, it all simply goes away, and in its place, a piano starts playing “The Carol of the Bells”, but immediately after that, a voice starts singing “O Come O Come Emmanuelover the tune to Carol of the Bells. It almost seems unfair that a Christmas song can be that awesome, but that floored me about this recording, and we’re not even a minute into the song.

As if that wasn’t enough, all the OTHER instruments burst into the song and give it a full rock band sound for like a second, and then mostly disappear for another verse, comes back in again, and then disappears entirely so that Michael Johnston’s amazing voice (which sounds just as good if not better than it did in 1997) takes a chorus entirely unaccompanied, then suddenly the song becomes a verse of “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus”, which gave this old Calvinist chills.

In listening to this album, expect amazing moments like this to pop up with absolutely no warning. On top of these smooth and introspective interpretations of classic hymns, Smalltown Poets took it upon themselves to refer to other songs within the songs, and you’ll find yourself wishing that these parts were actually longer, which is surely the sign of a good recording.

Speaking of good, the second track of the album is “In The Bleak Midwinter“, which, while listening to the album without looking at the CD liner notes, I was SURE was a Smalltown Poets original, as it’s a beautiful poem contained in this heart-breaking melody, but no! It’s totally a hymn (based on a 19th century poem, no less!) from 1906! How did they find an awesome Christmas hymn that I have somehow never heard before?

Still, there is no shortage of well-known hymns given the modern rock treatment. In particular, “O Little Town Of Bethlehem” and “The First Noel” (the latter featuring a really cool drum part from Byron Goggins) are given the full rock band treatment, but certainly not to their detriment; in fact, the backing parts doing an amazing job reminding one that these old familiar melodies are actually still really strong, and nothing is going to get in their way.

I will say this, however, the backing parts and re-arrangements (many of which are credited to Danny Stephens, SP’s errant keyboardist, boy am I glad he’s back) actually help some of the hymns that I feel don’t really stand on their own otherwise. I’ve never been a big fan of “Good Christian Men Rejoice” with its traditionally bouncy 2/4 brashness, but Smalltown Poets slow it down, add some tasty Kevin Breuner guitar goodness and a cool groove from bassist Miguel DeJesus and drummer Byron Goggins, and then throw in an almost secret taste of “Silent Night” to make this song a real stand-out on the album. My heart grew 3 sizes that day.

In fact, speaking of the “Silent Night” interval, one of the most interesting things about this album is how satisfied it seems with simply reminding us of certain songs without actually playing them all the way through. “We Three Kings“, “Angels We Have Heard On High“, and others are only introduced briefly before giving way to something else. I am fascinated by this, because it seems to me that, instead of being this showcase of the band saying “Look what we can do!” by making a huge production out of every song, the album is just this kind of fluid journey through these beautiful yuletide melodies, and even without singing the words, you understand what is being said here. Then the band gets back into the full-form songs and they just become  all that much better.

Possibly my favorite hymn to receive a much-needed rearrangement is “Hark The Herald Angels Sing” (especially after Dylan’s version, yeesh). I am not kidding when I say I may have been cutting onions during the first 4 or 5 listens of this song, but the lyrics to the song are incredible, and the Poets even include my favorite verse that seems to go unnoticed in other versions, so kudos to the boys for that one.

Another great thing about this album is that there actually are original songs to be heard. They’re given almost no spotlight (and, in fact, you may mistaken them for the traditional songs like I did), but are nonetheless excellent. “On Christmas Day” is kind of a reworking of Ave Maria (which I’m not too familiar with, being Protestant, but it’s a good tune) that has some great lyrics, and the penultimate track is “His Delight“, which is a great kind of folky song that I’m still trying to wrap my head around.

Speaking of wrapping one’s head around something, there is an almost uncharacteristically bouncy track close to the middle of the album called “St. Nick Is Alright” which evokes both memories of SP’s second album (which I need to get on here soon) and The Beatles during that magical mystery era (at least at the end). It’s a sweet song, and it’s always interesting to hear a Christian group essentially singing about Santa Claus, but they handle it so gracefully that it then becomes something to ponder further, which is something I’ve almost never done with a Christmas song, much less one about St. Nick. As impressive as this album is, I am not surprised in the least to find myself hearing the songs multiple times to find some more hidden ideas and meaning, until I think of it as a Christmas album again and notice that Christmas will be over next week.

Thus, Smalltown Poets have performed what I can only describe as a Christmas Miracle; they recorded a Christmas album that I am going to sorely miss when the season is over. From beginning to end, this is a superior album by any standard, and is a bright spot in anyone’s existence, especially if they find themselves brought down by what Christmas has become thanks to modern culture, which I will get to soon enough, but for now, thank you, Smalltown Poets, for bringing Christmas its soul back.

I seriously can’t wait for these guys to record another album of originals, and if this recording is an indication, they may be able to outdo even their earliest work, which would be awesome. Until then, please check out Christmas and give it a purchase or two, and make it part of your Christmas antidote for yet another rendition of “White Christmas” or “Rudolph The Red Nose-I can’t even finish that title”. Merry Christmas, everyone!

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*Note: I never did write this third entry. There’s always Christmas 2012 I guess! 

King Crimson – Lizard

Greetings, fellow persons!

Sorry about the delay in updates, but this whole week was spent doing some awesome stuff like “modding” my Mp3 player to do amazing things like play video game soundtracks and Bejeweled on top of its already awesome audiophilic capabilities (I’m totally a FLAC fiend now). Also I had to do holiday shopping, attend parties and, oh yeah, finally obtain some gainful employment, since this blog doesn’t pay for itself unfortunately.

Thus, it’s been a hectic, confusing, yet ultimately rewarding week for me, so I have decided to top it all off with an album that… well ok I selected this at random, but here you go, King Crimson’s Lizard:

Yeah keep telling me you miss the olden days of album covers. I'm listening.

While looking back at old entries of this here blog, I was surprised at first that I never wrote about this album, but then I remembered the very important reason why: I had no idea what to say about it.

All I could remember about my first listen to Lizard was NOTES and then NOOOOTES (Notes). I really don’t think any coherent thought entered my mind in the 42 1/2 minutes of the album’s run-time, which is odd because this blog might show you that I have a lot of thoughts about music usually.

Fast-forward a year or so, and something magical happened: a guy from a prog group called Porcupine Tree decided to work with Robert Fripp to painstakingly remaster, from the original master tapes, ALL of the King Crimson catalogue. Despite this being a very good idea, since master tape remasters are practically the only way to get these ancient albums to sound good on modern mp3/vgm/Bejeweled players, it was also kind of a predictable idea, since King Crimson had already issued 30th AND 35th Anniversary remasters of their old material. Still, from the master tapes, maaaaan.

Among the first albums to be remastered, quite mysteriously, was Lizard, so this is where I gave Lizard what I would consider my first true listen. Then again. Then again. Then again… to be honest, I’m not done listening to it, but at least I’ve finally formulated enough opinions to write a blog entry!

Fact is, I had so much trouble coming up with a single coherent thought about the album because there isn’t a single coherent thought IN the album. I have now listened to the album dozens, possibly hundreds of times, and I know every single note by heart, but I can’t begin to try and guess why any two of them are put together the way they are.

Of course, the 40th anniversary re-issue of the album comes with some  pretty interesting liner notes (penned by Fripp himself) which, when paired with the Internet, paints a rather interesting story about the album’s production.

Without going into too much detail about the band’s personnel problems in those early days between 1967 and 2009, I will say that King Crimson were basically like watching a typical teenage garage band go through the motions of getting together, going nowhere, and breaking up, except instead of that middle bit, you’ve got “becomes the biggest rock band in the world for a while”. Despite having the world in the palm of their hands through a combination of VERY quickly cultivating a uniquely complex sound the likes of which had never been heard, showcasing extraordinary musicianship with even more extraordinary focus on music rather than image, and as Fripp put it himself, being in the right place at the right time, King Crimson simply could NOT get started on that crawling thing before they were already running.

At the time that Lizard was being recorded, they had already lost vocalist/bassist/donut fiend Greg Lake to a little-known band whose name escapes me at the moment, and that was after losing everybody else as well. Basically, Fripp was a man without a band (but his non-musician lyricist remained, more on that later), so he decided to rebuild from scratch.

Apparently Fripp didn’t get the memo that you’re not supposed to include a jazz pianist and four woodwind/brass players in your hard rock band, so that’s exactly what he did. Still, if you were the only member of a garage band that left you and the only other musicians you know from school are in the marching band, are you going to say no?  Also joining the fray is, not kidding, his actual highschool bandmate/roommate Gordon Haskell on bass and vocals, and the only drummer he could find who would take part in this mess, a hero by any standard named Ian McCulloch.

With this motley crew of masterful musicians, Fripp finally had a force to be reckoned with; a band that would record an album that, maybe this time, would not sound quite so much like a repeat of In The Court.

Well, it sure wasn’t a repeat of In The Court, in sound or amount of success, but the fact that the album even happened is perhaps even more a miracle than the huge success that was the band’s first album. Basically, let’s just say that collecting such an assorted cast of kids did not lead to a lot of civilized agreement of ideas, and when your vocalist/bassist is only good at one of those things and doesn’t even like the music, well… let’s talk about the music!

It starts off with some synthy kind of harp strumming sounds, which is not bad, and then Haskell’s voice kind of staggers into the door spilling cough medicine (the type that they ban in most countries) all over the place, and your first thought might well be “Dude, do you need to lie down or turn on a humidifier or something?” And then he punches you and you can hear the wail of ambulance sirens as the paramedics revive you and, oh wait, that’s just Fripp’s guitar playing brash, diminished bits on his guitar as Gordon’s voice comes back in with all the clarity of a wet shoe.

Still, it’s hard to tell what’s more congested, Gordon’s voice or Peter Sinfield’s lyrics. The first track is called “Cirkus” (back before Mortal Kombat made it decidedly un-cool to replace c’s with k’s willy-nilly), and is full of rather obnoxious words strung together by pure pretense, which would seem like faulty songwriting if not for the fact that the same can be said about the music itself.

The material gets even more ridiculous afterward, in fact the song “Indoor Games” ends with a genuine burst of laughter from Haskell as he attempts to figure out how best to emotionally deliver the line “Hey ho”. An understandable bemusement, to tell the truth. Add to this some rather intriguing clean guitar riffs trading off with the saxophone, and you’ve got a song that is by no means bad, if bad songs are something you like.

The next song, “Happy Family“, doesn’t feature any corpsing, but does contain some thinly-veiled allegorical statements about The Beatles, a somewhat well-known rock band from whom Fripp apparently derived the idea to make an entire band around recreating the musical shock that was the ending to Sgt. Pepper. To be honest, the lyrics might be terrible in this piece as well, but Gordon’s voice is so well hidden behind a rather tasty synthesizer effect (plus his own natural store of phlegm and wintertime nuts) that, mercifully, not a word can be understood by humans.

After all that fun nonsense, we go into WHOAH WHERE DID THAT FLUTE COME FROM… I mean, “Lady of the Dancing Water”, a song that calms the storm of weirdness either to prepare the listener for what is to come, or to try and make up for the rather melody-free events that had previously transpired. It’s a very pretty song, but I wish anyone other than Gordon Haskell had sung it, because seriously somebody give him a shot of adrenaline; I think he’s had some kind of reaction.

Finally, the fifth and final track of the CD (or the entire B side to the record) is a 23 minute opus called “Lizard”, wherein Gordon Haskell was kindly shuffled off the roster to make room for a real singer, Yes’s own castrato sensation Jon Anderson. Funny enough, after several songs’ worth of passages go by, Gordon breaks back into the studio to sing for a bit before disappearing forever and ever, missing and presumed eaten by bears.

So I have written all of this to kind of give you a sense of the chaos that has unfolded in this album, but did you see that bit up there where I said I listened to it again and again? That’s because I completely love this album.

Seriously! Sure I may idolize strong melodies, and some of my very favorite songs can be played within a single octave on a piano, but something in my brain simply becomes obsessed when weirdness, the abstract, obtuse, endlessly and needlessly complex musical ideas come into play, and boy do they come in with this album.

Your average music listener, even one who otherwise enjoys King Crimson and their razor’s edge approach to pushing the envelope into the seat of their pants, will probably detest Lizard for any number of good reasons. It sounds out of tune, it hunkers down into rather long passages of go-nowhere note tinkling, hell, it sounds like Jazz in places, but the confusion and befuddlement is what keeps me coming back for more. The anticipation of another sequence of bewildering notes is a rush to me, and thanks to the amazing remastering job in the most recent re-release, the textures and tones really sing out in a good set of headphones. All 23 minutes of the album’s ending track keeps me thoroughly entertained, which turned out to be really good training for becoming an actual Yes fan, turns out.

I truly can’t knock this album for what it is, because it really shouldn’t have been, and I am so glad it was anyway. Apart from being musically one of the most interesting things I’ve heard, it’s also a rather clear window into a band that was falling apart before it even came together, and sure enough, only 1 member of the band remained to help Fripp through the next album, and it was the damn flute player.

Also, in true garage band fashion, when drummer Ian McCulloch left the group, he was immediately replaced with his ex-roommate, who could also play the drums. God bless King Crimson.

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