i34867er0apArtist: Yndi Halda

Album: Enjoy Eternal Bliss

Released: Jan 23, 2007

Label: Big Scary Monsters

Yndi Halda is a post-rock group much in the same vein as Explosions in the Sky and Caspian.  The group hails from Canterbury, UK and is characterized by what may be called a more positive thematic than many other post-rock groups.  As opposed to the guitar heavy landscapes of Explosions in the Sky, Yndi Halda paints its panoramas with seas of strings, punctuating their pieces with guitar and banjo among other instruments.

With only four tracks “Enjoy Eternal Bliss” clocks in at an impressive hour and five minutes long.  These aren’t songs you should listen to on a quick drive to get milk, but don’t let the length of the pieces intimidate you.  The album begins quiet and wavering until guitar, drums and a single violin kick in a couple minutes through.  One of the last things this album is, is rushed.  The song gradually picks up momentum as the guitar intensifies into searing high notes and the violin follows the dynamic.  Short pauses in the song keep the force of the music fresh and allows it to gain more power every time it intensifies.

Halfway through the track, the power ends and you are left with only intermittent melodic guitar chords.  The second half of “Dash and Blast” builds in much the same way as the first, but then becomes a driving piece, powered by the drums as well as two guitars trading harmonic pickings.  Finally, a clarinet appears above the wall of music and guides it into a grand chorus that concludes with an expected and welcome quiet guitar outro.

“A Song for Starlit Beaches” features wistful stretches of strings and a banjo, slowly and wistfully being plucked.  The piece assembles more instruments including piano and guitar and moves gradually higher.  The song builds toward several crashing crescendos like an ocean in unfavorable weather, but always avoids becoming a squall.  In between the two thunderous upsurges is a point where only quiet piano guides the work, until a violin takes up a poignant melody before rejoining the other strings as a guitar tears the piece into another culmination.  The track is brought to a close through a reemergence of banjo, which is then joined by a ear-piercing slide guitar and finally the strings.

“Enjoy Eternal Bliss” functions as well as a whole album as it does within the ambitious songs it contains.  Perfect for a rainy morning, or strangely, a bright sunny afternoon, this album is sure to help you reach a pensive state that can break your writer’s block or spur you to take out that instrument you have neglected.

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Enter the Chicken Review

April 25, 2009

enter-the-chicken1Artist: Buckethead

Album: Enter the Chicken

Released: October 25, 2005

Label: Serjical Strike

 

 

A friend of mine had been listening to Serj Tankian’s “Elect the Dead” album a couple days ago and said he was looking for new music. I immediately handed him this album. “Enter the Chicken” is a collaboration between Buckethead and Serj Tankian (System of a Down) that took place in 2005 – the same year System released their double album finale that was the culmination of the group’s work.

Buckethead probably wrote most of the music on “Enter the Chicken,” but I imagine the work as a whole was pretty well split between Buckethead and Serj Tankian, who produced it on his label Serjical Strike. You may recognize Buckethead from his days with Guns and Roses, which ended when Axl Rose removed him from the band for being “unreliable.” Buckethead often releases upwards of a dozen records a year under various aliases and collaborations, so I doubt Axl Rose’s practice schedule allowed him the freedom he needed. Also featured on the album are vocalists Efrem Shulz from Death by Stereo and Azam Ali of Vas.

The intro track is a quarter minute of Azam Ali singing a hauntingly operatic sample. It transitions straight into “We are One,” which is when Buckethead and Tankian first let loose. The vocals are probably more spastic than any System song, even “Vicinity of Obscenity.” The guitar riffs are also much more heavy and powerful and are punctuated by thundering drums. It’s a little like System, but with the insanity and licks of Buckethead, and an extra dose of violence. This describes most of “Botnus”, “Funbus,” and “The Hand” as well. “Three Fingers” features Efrem Shulz in a sort of rap that grooves as well as the previous tracks tore it up.

“Running from the Light” opens only with Azam Ali’s vocals, and builds from a beautifully subdued song to a showcase for Ali to wield her powerful voice as it was meant to be. “Coma” is Azam Ali’s second chance to really shine, and coupled with “Running from the Light” her voice cuts the mood of the album in half. The song is mesmerizing, from Ali’s vocals, to Tankian’s harmonizing, and finally the quiet melodic guitar of Buckethead. Following is a song that, coming from Buckethead and Tankian, could only be called a pop song – as strange as that may sound. Tankian and Ali have equal parts and alternate between harmonizing and trading off during the verses. Tankian’s reappearance in the album signifies a transition away from Ali’s relatively peaceful songs, and there’s no better way to do that than with ukulele.

“Interlude” has Tankian singing a ditty over a solitary ukulele, and switches immediately into “Funbus,” returning the album to its crazy side, and crossing into heavy metal territory. “The Hand” is a frightening piece, and not only for its brilliance. Ali sings in operatic fashion behind Tankian’s vocals, which are completely insane in both style and lyrical substance. You might feel like you’ve been clubbed with a guitar neck after listening this song, but in a good way. “Nottingham Lace” is Buckethead displayed in all his instrumental glory. Concluding a collaboration that meshed together quite a few strange styles is one of his best instrumental tracks, which is where his songwriting and chops have always looked their best.

Also of note is the 2008 reissue of the album, featuring “Shen Chi” as a bonus track. At least a few of its listeners have declared it “The Ultimate Karate Song.” Chances are you may not have this on your copy, should you choose to purchase one, so here it is (Although the quality is a little poor).  Sadly it’s not a very good representation of the rest of the album.

Palace of Mirrors Review

April 22, 2009

61fjaazdsml_sl500_aa280_2Artist: Estradasphere

Album: Palace of Mirrors

Released: September 19, 2006

Label: The End

 

 

This is an excerpt from Estradasphere’s website and summarizes the group very well:

Estradasphere is a band of multi-instrumentalists from an unlikely variety of musical backgrounds. Timb Harris (violin/trumpet), Jason Schimmel (guitar/banjo/keyboards/vocals), Tim Smolens (upright and electric bass/vocals), Kevin Kmetz (Tsugaru Shamisen/guitar/keyboards), Adam Stacey (accordion/keyboards/clavinet), and Lee Smith (drums/percussion) were trained in disciplines ranging from classical and jazz to metal. This diverse instrumental and stylistic palette enables them to execute a vast array of orchestrations and even forge entirely new genres such as “Bulgarian Surf,” “Romanian Gypsy-Metal,” and “Spaghetti Eastern.”

Essentially the band is capable of playing a ludicrously diverse array of styles, and they do just that, plus create their own.  The group’s original lineup featured John Whooley (saxophone, accordion, vocals) from their early days in Santa Cruz until before their last studio album “Palace of Mirrors.”  Estradasphere became quite popular at clubs in Santa Cruz and their shows took on the bizarre atmosphere of a circus.  Fans were encouraged to come in costume and participate, which spawned a number of exceedingly strange sideshows.  Among them were fire-dancers, book readers, stilt walkers, and finally the infamous Mono Man, who “wore a cape, painted his bare chest with a large M, and proceeded to attempt to kiss people in the audience while pretending to have the disease of the same name” (Wikipedia).

After Whooley left the group they gained the renowned Kevin Kmetz who is one of the greatest shamisen players in Japan.  The next album was “Palace of Mirrors” and clearly fits their genre of “Epic-Cinema-Thon.”  After the intro, the title track begins with epic theatrical flair and continues to grow until it becomes a grand opus of strings, accordion, piano, and trumpet.  The following track, “A Corporate Merger,” starts with a jazzy guitar riff, before accordion, shamisen, and violin kick in and all begin trading themes.  The greatest realization I had from hearing “A Corporate Merger” was that the shamisen fits the song perfectly and matches the violin extremely well.

“The Terrible Beautypower of Meow” displays some really beautiful harmony on the part of Timb Harris.  “Colossal Risk” is even bigger than it sounds, and hits the listener with a musical range from walking bass lines to gloriously discordant trumpet.  “The Unfolding Pause of the threshold” is a psychedelic and heavy ride into a place that probably only Estradasphere has been.  “Smuggled Mutation” is a showcase for Harris’ frenzied violin skills, but also displays some really impressive shamisen, and underlying the whole vaguely bluegrass melody is a heavy metal foundation.  Trust me, it works.

Following the track is a sort of intermission-esque piece called “Six Hands” that seems to be entirely piano and harpsichord.  It is perhaps needed recovery time after the blistering Smuggle Mutation.”  It is very difficult to describe how much ass “Flower Garden of an Evil Man” kicks within the first two or three minutes, but suffice to say it is quite a large amount.  Nearing the end, “Those Who Know…” is the prime example of Kevin Kmetz’s ridiculous skill with the shamisen, and there is a majestic “Palace of Mirrors Reprise.”  Ending it all is “The Return,” which is probably best described as hardcore cinematic gypsy metal to the max.

This video of “Hunger Strike” off “It’ Understood” sums up the Estradasphere experience and is the epitome of their original lineup.  Instead of being intimidated by the length, start watching and you’ll be sucked in.