Musings on music delivered when I dig myself out.

Fischerspooner -- Odyssey
Capitol; 2005

Fischerspooner is a joke that is meant to be understood and appreciated for being a joke; and this is what makes them a serious group. Even if the band's carefully choreographed live shows are full of schtick, it's serious business for the performers.

The one area of the Fischerspooner collective that is still ambiguous with regards to its "seriousness" is the music. Its debut album #1 was both slick and simple, relying on just enough hooks to make the otherwise elementary electro tunes work; and for its work (or possible lack thereof) the band yielded a hit with "Emerge." The joke was widely appreciated, but not for being a joke.

But what happens when Casey Fischer and Warren Spooner put on somber faces and give music a more dead-pan try? The answer can be found in the twelve tracks of Odyssey, Fischerspooner's sophomore album.

The most noticeable difference between the two albums is the addition of a little thing called rock and roll. On top of the signature neon-lit synth bloops are neatly chopped up guitar lines; below are (gasp) organic drums! The tunes gain a bit of pep from their additions and retain their electro style, with Spooner's icy and digitized voice still at the helm.

What wounds Odyssey is just how serious the creative duo takes their task; essentially, they suck out all the fun. Tracks like "Ritz 107" and "Everything to Gain" are nuanced but rather dull. The predictable "We Need a War" gains little from guest lyricist, the late Susan Sontag. Many of the songs (with the notable exception of "Just Let Go," which is quite good) just lack the zest that would allow listeners to let their proverbial hair down and just dance or smile. Is a joke still a joke if it takes itself too seriously? Not in the way Fischerspooner intended to be. Lighten up, dogs!

High on Fire -- Blessed Black Wings
Relapse; 2005

It's a real shame what passes for metal these days. Modern rock radio will have you believing that crying about your parents and that girl that got away is standard metal fare, so long as it's punctuated by "pained" screams and supposedly heavy melodies. High On Fire will have none of that. Fronted by Matt Pike, ex-singer and guitarist for doom metal pioneers Sleep, the power trio is probably more comfortable with their music scoring scenes of Vikings tearing apart villages than FOX's new teen drama. Blessed Black Wings falls in line with that attitude as well, and is just as uncompromisingly brutal as their past two efforts.

For the uninitiated, the music of High on Fire might be a bit intimidating. It's built around the repetition of guitar and bass riffs thicker than a woolly mammoth and as sludgy as the rankest bog. Combined with drumming that might as well be an army galloping into battle, the group's monstrous sound is a rude awakening for those that dare classify Linkin Park as heavy. But intimidating does not mean inaccessible, as the nine songs of Blessed Black Wings are laden with devilishly pleasing arrangements. Pike's slashing guitar work paints dark and foreboding mental pictures with thunderclap drums keeping pace. Wading through the muck of tracks like "Devilution" proves fruitful when pummeling melodies reveal themselves and capture listeners' attention.

One element that might prove difficult for casual listeners of metal to get past is High on Fire's vocals. Like a barbarian that's swallowed hot coals (or Lemmy from Motorhead), Pike's voice is coarse and used to scream battle cries about demons and dragons. When he actually sings, his harshly-fashioned voice fits into the bludgeoning mess perfectly; because honestly, who wants a pretty boy's voice floating over a quagmire of doom metal?

Blessed Black Wings is a small step up for High on Fire, primarily because of its slightly polished production. Given that he's known for recording groups in a way that minimizes the guitar and maximizes the drums, famed producer Steve Albini was taken to task with recording the group. Pike's guitar tone is still wonderfully distorted and loud as all hell, and the bass is still basically indistinguishable (it's really just there to fatten the group's already massive sound); but there's a bit more space in Blessed Black Wings where Surrounded By Thieves was a claustrophobic's nightmare. The trio's sonic assault is still dirty and imposing, but Albini's production cleans things up a bit like only a mother's spit can (how does he do it?).

Played loud and proud, Blessed Black Wings was exactly the right record for High on Fire to make. While it moved a little away from the stoner territory towards dooming pastures, Pike and Co.'s ferocious riffs and stampede drums still hit all the sweet spots that make me throw up the horns. Albini's famed knobbed twiddling is a plus as well, as the finished results are less choked by pot smoke and acutely fierce. This is not the metal brought to you by baggy pants and teenage angst; no, this is metal that kicks ass, takes names, and then uses them as unholy rolling papers. Frankly, I'd have it no other way.

Caribou -- The Milk of Human Kindness
Domino; 2005

In 2003, Dan Snaith was forced to change his musical moniker, Manitoba, when he was sued by the lead singer of the group The Dictators, "Handsome" Dick Manitoba. Apparently "Handsome" had recorded an album under the name Manitoba's Wild Kingdom 15 years ago and was worried there would be confusion. Inventive creature that he is, Snaith again looked to his native Canada for nominal inspiration. Settling on Caribou, he proceeded to make The Milk of Human Kindness, a wild album to match his new name.

Where previous albums Stop Breaking My Heart and Up In Flames were dance-worthy sampledelica, The Milk... is a bit more furry. Imagine if you plunged the Postal Service into the wilderness with only a hunting knife and made them sing about their lives. Not logging chants, no, but visceral pop tunes with rough edges. The record feels much more organic in nature than Manitoba releases, even when it's being digitally manipulated to high heaven. The album opens with trance-inducing rhythm of "Yeti," which finds Snaith dancing around a glowing campfire. Three tracks later, "Lord Leopard" drops a harpsichord breakdance beat. The Milk... later closes with the thrumming pulse of the kraut rock borrowing "Barnowl." It's certainly a diverse pack this Caribou runs with.

As before, one of Snaith's greatest talents is still his ability to translate moods through his compositions; The Milk... is likewise diverse in tone. Perhaps the most evocative is "Brahminy Kite," which evokes a near-pop panic attack with its persistent, propulsive and Silver Apples-biting drumbeat. Woozy guitar strums in "Subotnick" (which name-checks early electronic musician, Morton Subotnick) convey a gentle if murky comedown. The chopped-up chime-beat of "Pelican Narrows" lay out a trail of footprints belonging to a lost and tearful child, narrated perfectly by the tune's surrounding melody.

The Milk... finds Manitoba's electronic and I.D.M . roots intact in Caribou, even if they've grown into more of a "traditional band" style. "A Final Warning," "Bees," "Hammerhead Hands" and "Drumheller" are structured more like rock and roll songs, each warped to a different degree by swells of samples and computer-freakery. "Hammerhead Hands" is left to its Beach Boys-like devices, whereas "A Final Warning" gets frantically rubbed down with electrons. The distortion can be minorly abrasive to the virgin ear, but repeated listens bring out the beauty in the jagged textures. I'd estimate that fans of Manitoba's glitchy electronic side will still be pleased; both because it makes an appearance and because the rest of the tracks are so mind-numbingly good.

It seems that Dan Snaith thought of his loss of the Manitoba title as a challenge. How exactly would he evolve his sound to match sonic "nom de plume?" The answer is clear in The Milk of Human Kindness's depth of mood and melody, and its carefully crafted organ-tronic aesthetic. It's an album that peaks more into Snaith's creative mind, and at the same time reveals his hand. There's more to Caribou than he let on as Manitoba, and The Milk... is his chance catch listeners by surprise.

I Got Love For

ATOM 0.3

Establish Contact:

Last posts


Add to your Kinja digest