Into the Half Light

For more than a year, some of my friends and former coworkers have been sharing music. The idea is that we’re supposed to review/rate what’s shared with us, then share those reviews with the group, but that doesn’t always happen.

The Aristocrats – The Aristocrats (2011)

Apparently the band got their name from a somewhat dirty jokes, and that shows in some of their song titles.

Spencer wasn’t kidding when he said this was an instrumental hard rock album with jazz influences. I can’t think of a better way to describe it. Except maybe instrumental prog.

Instrumental albums all seem to have the same upsides and downsides. The main downside is that everything blends together. A potential upside (if done well – otherwise it’s another manifestation of that main downside) is that they have to be musically interesting to be more than background soundtrack to whatever else you’re doing while you listen to them.

One potential problem that a lot of prog has is that it’s made by musicians for musicians. They walk a fine line between boring and maybe a little too interesting. They don’t really think about the general music-buying population when they write some of this stuff. While I think these guys did better than most, I think they still suffer from that a bit. Especially See You Next Tuesday and parts of the track after that. It’s just the nature of the world they live in. It may be more accessible than a lot of other prog, but it’s still long tracks with a lot of varying movements within them.

And part of the problem with reviewing an album like this is that I love maybe a third of the movements across the album. But without words, I have a hard time identifying them. I guess I could give time stamps, but that’s not really easy for anyone. I don’t know if there was one track I could say I loved every individual “theme,” and so I think I just have to give this an overall rating … a 4/5, I think.

On a related note, this whole thing reminds me of a much jazzier Joe Satriani album.

That’s just a medley, which takes some of the best parts of these five songs and puts them together. As far as I know, it’s not something Joe did himself; it’s fan creation.

Anyway, the only other thing I have to say about The Aristocrats album is the first two tracks had another, easily avoidable problem: the bass had a weird effect on it, and I didn’t like it.

The Verve – Urban Hymns (1997)

Due to a similarity of names, I always used to get these guys and The Verve Pipe (the guys who sing The Freshmen) mixed up.

And let me get this out of the way, too: Bittersweet Symphony might be a great soundtrack piece, but as a musician, it’s a really boring song to play. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I learned it samples a cover of a Rolling Stones song. Here’s the original original:

Can you hear it? Maybe it would help to hear the orchestral cover The Verve sampled:

I could hear it before, but it’s pretty obvious after that. The Verve had negotiated a deal to sample the track, but after they released the song, lawyers got involved and it got ugly. Keith Richards was actually pretty cool about it. In a 1999 interview, he said, “I’m out of whack here, this is serious lawyer sh*t here. If The Verve can write a better song, they can keep the money.”

I actually enjoyed quite a bit of this album more than thought I would. Sonnet was a little bluesy, The Drug’s Don’t Work was a great kinda low-key tune. Lucky Man felt like a more “original” Bittersweet Symphony, if that makes any sense. But it was Velvet Morning that was the highlight for me. It just felt so different than the rest of the album.

The one real lowlight was was Neon Wilderness, which sounded like the outro of a song recorded at three in the morning while the band was using something maybe-not-so-legal. Mostly, it just felt like noise. That’s the sort of thing you tact onto a song at a live performance. Not a record where someone like me would have skipped it, if I hadn’t been dedicated to giving the whole album a listen.

I’m not exactly sure why, but a lot of the album felt like U2 b-sides. They weren’t bad songs, but they weren’t really engaging for me. Except for those couple of highlights and that one lowlight, that’s actually how I felt about this album as a whole. I enjoyed it. It wasn’t bad, but I probably seek it out again. 3/5

Catch 22 – Permanent Revolution (2006)

This week I’m sharing an album I’ve had since it came out, but appreciate more since I’ve been reading some of the historical influence. You see, I’ve had some extra time to read over the past couple of months. It started with late Cold War political thrillers and spy novels, which sparked a little interest in early Communist history. I think it’s a little bit important that you at least know basically what this album is about before you listen. This is an alt punk rock (mostly) concept album that follows the life of Bolshevik revolutionary Leon Trotsky. The album takes you through beginning of Trotsky’s political activism in 1902 at The Spark newspaper, through the 1917 Oktober Revolution when the Communist Party won control of Russia, the 1921 Decembrists’ Revolt, the 1922 founding of the Soviet Union, Lenin’s death in 1924, when Trotsky was expelled from the party in 1927, the 1928 Stalin takeover and his 1936 purge of any who (he thought) opposed him (or would be any kind of opposition, because he was a super-paranoid SOB) which resulted in his absolute rule of the country, and finally Trotsky’s 1940 exile and eventual assassination.

Let me talk a little about the music. I really love the reggae feel of The Spark, but when they go full-punk … not so much. It’s just a little much for me. They go back to it on Bad Party, as well, but it grew on me a little there. Opportunity is mostly reggae, too, but when it departs, it feels better; more natural. And then Alma Ata, for some reason, decides to go latin jazz. Sure. Why not. I like it. I love the feel of On the Black Sea, too. A Minor Point is a great hard alt. rocker with a fabulous solo. But I think my favorite track is The Purge. I feel like the whole album has been building to this track and the energy doesn’t disappoint. Musically I think it compliments the lyrics better than any of the others.

This is a 3 or 4/5 album for me. It has some great tracks, and some I’m not so sure about. But the whole effect for me is an interesting, entertaining half-hour of music. But don’t listen to it on shuffle.

Oh, and yes, this is the ska-punk band Tomas Kalnoky started before he left and started Streetlight Manifesto, although I don’t really think of Catch 22 as ska anymore.

Here’s what my friends thought:

“The spark – I agree the sudden punk move is jarring. Doesn’t flow well. but otherwise the song is good.

On the Black Sea – I like this tune a lot. I really like the triplets in the chorus.

Alma Ata – the bossa juxtaposed to the punk of Bad Party is really good.

The Purge – This is a powerful track. The lyrics are clear and the message is haunting.

Opportunity – I like the bells in the chorus background, nice sound.

This album started like just an average ska album, but it really grew on me as it went on. I’ll be listening to this more. Also your background introduction made all the difference.” 4/5 – Spencer

“Perhaps you were expecting this reaction, but this just isn’t my thing. I know I give ska and similar styles a hard time, but it’s just a genre I have a hard time enjoying these days aside from a few nostalgic albums from back in the day. I won’t say this album is inherently bad, because it’s objectively put together very well, and I respect the concept and presentation of said concept. But I’m also not interested in the the subject matter enough for that to make the difference either. It’s just not even close to what I want to listen to these days. I didn’t hate any of the songs, but I didn’t really like any either. All of them gave me the same feeling, which I admit is heavily influenced by my inherent bias against the genre from the beginning. I just found it really hard to get into. I also found the singer’s voice to be off-putting. Sometimes I can push through the wall if the singer is interesting enough, but no luck here.

I know I was pretty vague in this review, and I apologize. Admittedly, I didn’t put a ton of effort into dissecting it as I probably should have to be fair. But that was part of the problem, I really didn’t want to haha. Usually that is a no-no for me, as I want to at least break down some details. But I thought this time I’d let that reaction be the point review – I don’t have any strong feelings for it, good or bad, so I don’t feel a strong need to dig into why.” 5/10 -Chris

“In all fairness I have had a hard time really appreciating any of the Ska albums that have been shared. It just doesn’t seem to resonate with me. The album seems good, and if you are into that kind of music it would probably get a 4-star review. But for me, the constant up and down rhythm of both the instruments and vocals just grates on me after a few songs and it all just kind of sounds the same in the end. So my review of two stars here really stems more from my disconnect with the music, and less with the talent/quality of the piece. I just can’t seem to sync with it.” 2/5 – Tim

Tell me your thoughts on Catch 22, The Aristocrats, Joe Satriani, The Verve or whatever in the comments below.


6 thoughts on “Into the Half Light

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