March 19, 2012

The Buckley Legacy - Fall from Grace

So here we are, with our ongoing, somehow Father's Day celebration, The Buckleys' Legacy. Being the second part of this rendition on the "father/son duo", if you haven't read RRR's post on Tim Buckley, go ahead and read it, if you please.

Like RRR said, I won't go into much detail on Jeff Buckley's life and career (Google and Wikipedia are your friends), but rather tell a short story and write about the astounding ability of this iconic singer, guitarrist and songwriter.

Jeff Buckley - Fall From Grace

From the start, "Scotty" grew in a rich musical environment always singing alongside his mother and introduced by his stepfather - at an early age - to bands like The Who, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. It was only at the age of 8 that "Scotty" met - the first and only time - his father, Tim Buckley. Due to drug overdose, his father passed away at a very young age and ever since, "Scotty" became the well-known Jeff Buckley. It was at the age of 12, that Jeff decided to follow his father's footsteps and went on to become a musician. As his first steps in the music industry, Jeff played in a tribute concert to his father and that was his last respects to him, since he wasn't able to attend to his funeral nor been able to tell his father anything.

And so began the musical journey of this Mistery White Boy, but on a completly different style, genre and music dimension of his father.

Jeff Buckley had a somewhat special way of writing songs, as he would prefer the small bars as to "irritate or entertain the people" that were listening to the performances of his "yet to come" songs. In fact, some of these performances are shown in records and bootlegs and in all of them, it is amazing to hear his vocal ability. He has a very unique way of singing, hell to be honest, it's his most distinguished aspect, as he ranges from a very soothing, lullaby-ish medium-low voice into a piercing, arrow-like high voice, but always strong, soulful and heartfelt. You can hear it in a number of songs from his 94' Grace album, such as Mojo Pin, So Real or Grace.

The Grace album is a treat in many ways, as it shows his ability to write classy meaningful lyrics, like Dream Brother or Last Goodbye, harmony rich songs with guitars somewhat complex in their chord choices and arrangments (like the lovely Lilac Wine)...

...his "long bow" versatile voice styling and vibrato are, of course, present and finally, his ability to perform and put his heart, soul and personal touch into cover songs, like his well acclaimed Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah rendition. In a less technical point of view - I apologize for that - this whole record can be either somewhat romantic or a mellow, heart-braking experience; whatever mood fits your tastings. Bottom line, and this may be biased - but I really don't care - Grace is really worth listening and enjoying every minute of it.

Sadly, and like his father, this story ends in disaster. On the same day that his band was flying over to Memphis Tennessee to record the now called Sketches to My Sweetheart the Drunk, Jeff Buckley died at a young age of 31, from an accidental drowning in the Wolf River Harbor, leaving behind a legacy and a legion of fans of his astounding work.

I end this Father Day's celebration with one of my favorite songs, Dream Brother. It is a very dynamic song, as it goes from a soothing hymn to a full on in your face energy, as the band pours their hearts and souls out.
Although this song was originally written and dedicated to a friend of Jeff Buckley, in my opinion it kind of resembles the (lack of) relation between Jeff and Tim:

Don't be like the one who made me so old (Tim)
Don't be like the one who left behind his name (Jeff)
Cuz they're waiting for you, like I've waited for mine
And nobody ever came (Jeff/Tim)

Maybe it's farfetched, maybe I'm overthinking, but it has similarities with the little story that was shown here.
Also, this is a somewhat special song as it was the first song I heard of Jeff Buckley and it was presented to me by a (then) great friend of mine who I was very fond of. This video is live and it shows a great performance of him and his band.

The Buckley Legacy - Sins of the Fathers

An Evening at the Buckleys'

So, Ki and I have been talking about this idea to write something different for Father’s Day, somehow celebrating the occasion.
We (rather, I) thought about going with Queen’s “Father to Son”, or maybe Cat Stevens' (beg your pardon, Yusuf Islam) rendition on the subject.
We decided on the Buckleys.

Ki is and has been for many years a major fan of Jeff while I, on the other hand, have always favoured the father. Not making this a “review”, because that is really not the point, we just wanted to write a couple of words on this iconic father-son duo (biologically, at least), what their music makes us feel and how, through the years, we keep coming back to them, even if in such a low profile and humble article such as this.
So, let’s begin.

Tim Buckley – Sins of the Fathers

Right from the start, it’s quite incredible to think that Tim was only 28 when he died. Listening to any of his songs (really, any, just take your pick) you just feel like you’re listening to the eldest of souls; it’s both inspiring and haunting, it moves you within and takes you places without. There is a deep, uncanny feeling that somehow rises from his voice without time, and the sheer strength on the expression of his singing makes, at least, for a very, very emotional experience.
When paired with Tim’s ability to create and craft complex melodies, what we get is, in my humble opinion, one of the best troubadours ever to have lived.
Many people know him from This Mortal Coil’s “Song to the Siren”, but he is much, much more than that.

However, you can’t make such an impact without a good dose of tragedy.
Catharsis never comes cheap and it takes a bucket-load (a “buckley-load”?) of skeletons in the closet, under the bead and inside your head to be able to conjure up the most inner of demons. And that he does. I will not go into detail on Tim Buckley’s life: it’s on Wikipedia, everyone’s favourite knowledge repository, the go-to tool in today’s world and time of information. But trust me when I say: it wasn't easy being Tim Buckley, it cannot have been.

Between an abusing father, failed, tumultuous relationships, growing addictions, moments of pure confrontational and aggressive behaviour and what must have been an incessant, uncontrollable and overwhelming desire for songwriting and expressing of his creativity, Tim Buckley’s music tells stories beyond stories, within stories. The tales don’t end with each silence between tracks; they carry on, they stay with you. Beyond the complex chords and creative progressions that make up for his musical landscape (funnily enough, were severely affected by an accident Tim suffered, making him unable to play barre chords), his lyrics always seem to be an exercise in derridean philosophy: denying what they say, only to confirm it.

That is actually why I thought it made sense to go with Tim Buckley as "father" for this occasion. Although it is not my part to assume or extrapolate, the fact of the matter is that Tim divorced Mary Guilbert roughly a month before Jeff was born, and the two of them only met once, when Jeff was about eight.
We cannot and will never know what Tim felt for his son - although the non-relationship the two of them kept might hint at something - but we all know the impact Tim had on Jeff, whether simply by the shocking nature of his death or by his apparent absence as a father.
But somewhere inside, being a son myself and knowing for a fact how tough father-son relationships can be, I take comfort in thinking that Tim loved his son (or maybe I just choose to believe this), albeit from afar, in the midst of all the mess that made up his life.

And love, so it seems, was at the heart of his music.
Tim's love songs tell sometimes more of how love comes hard, how sometimes it never comes at all, and in this he only seems to be reinforcing how love moves all, how love is, in fact, all. It’s a sort of reenactment of the old adage “immovable object, meet unstoppable force”, but with love all over.
This one is one of my personal favourites, where love is concerned.

There is also loss, ache, tribulations, always told as Tim only knows. It’s not sardonic as, say, Warren Zevon (yes, by now you know I’m a bit of a fanboy of Zevon’s), but it’s still amazing how he can summon negativity, confess his sins and still come up with a highly entertaining way to do so.

It’s this take on life and things, this deeply subversive way of engaging with everything that makes life what it is, sometimes quite blasé, other times filled with brooding, tainted affections, not very detached from the way in which he surrendered to drugs and addiction and affliction, that, for me, makes Tim Buckley highly flawed, tormented and human. His ghosts form a deep, deep part of what he represents, for me, personally, as a musician and singer-songwriter.

This is, of course, highly biased and a clear projection of what I listen in his voice and music. He may be this, but he is certainly much more as well. Which is why I cannot encourage you enough to give him a chance. He cannot be described in a page and a half; like his music, far richer and older and stronger than his 28 years in life could make you think, his character oozes in every chord, every note, in larger than life legacy that has endured and will endure for many, many years to come.

I leave you with two of my personal favourites of Tim’s pieces.
Its exotic, haunted, haunting, amusing, tragic and overall moving charisma makes, I believe, for a good example of what Tim Buckley represents and of how strong and truly remarkable his legacy really his.

February 13, 2012

Grammys: (a not so) Dramatic chain of Events

So yesterday (or today) was the 54th Grammy Awards. Before delving into this matter, let me just make a great man's words mine.

To summarize it: I couldn't give shi...cra...any special attention to these awards. Why, you ask? You'll figure it out (I hope) at the end of this post. Next question that comes to mind is: then, what's different this year? Well, let's go back in time.

First there was nothing. Then the Big Bang boomed, the dinosaurs kaboomed, the humans evolved and then the primates showed up (or was it the other way around?). Then there was the Roman Empire, the 100 Year War, then the Age of Discovery, Napolean, a few more world incidents; Dream Theater's A Dramatic Turn of Events, Dream Theater's In The Back of Angels nominated for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Award and finally Foo Fighters winning....wait let's go back a little...Dream Theater's In The Back of Angels nominated for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Award. Wait what? When did that happen? Well, it seems this album was really well received by critics and the general public.

Ok, great, then I'm missing something somewhere because in my humble opinion, this is not, at all, their best record so far, nor is it a "masterpiece" like some have pointed out in their reviews. I've listened to this album several times (and that song in particular) and I couldn't shake the feeling that there was something missing, that there was lacking what others didn't. It's technically admirable like all their previous work, it's well produced and all, but it lacks a bit of feeling and balls.

Anyway, I'm not here to talk about this album and I'm happy for them to finally get some well deserved recognition. But come on, why now? Pull Me Under is a great piece that was radio-friendly at its time and it didn't receive any special treatment.

So, this just brings me to the next point and unveils what I've always known. At the risk of probably sounding like a broken record, I'm gonna say: the Grammy Awards are no more nor less than a beauty/popularity contest where "Miss USA" turns "Miss Rap" and "Miss England" turns "Miss Rock".

Before moving on, let's see the definition of "best" - surpassing all others in excellence, achievement, or quality.
So, who or what decides who's best of anything? The top-selling album? That seems a bit unfair, as great unknown-to-public bands don't sell as much because they don't have this auto-selling-machine supporting them. Also, in my opinion, it doesn't fall into the definition.
So, is it quality? As far as I'm concerned, quality is a very subjective thing as it depends alot on the background of the listener.
Then, what defines what is best? I think there's no "best" and that's why (and going Eddie Vedder on you) these Grammy Awards are meaningless. This "best" label depends alot on the opinion of the listener which, again, I point out: it's subjective. Even today me and RRR were discussing about the Buckley family; while he prefered Tim Buckley (father), I prefered Jeff Buckley (son). Also, this exact post is proof of that: "Ok, great, then I'm missing something somewhere because in my humble opinion, this is not, at all, their best record".

To conclude, a few days ago I was speaking to a friend of mine about writing and art in general and at the end we pointed out the following: art in general is the expression of the self and shouldn't be objectified. Let me had: nor quantified. And that's exactly what the Awards do. It's objectifying and quantifying what is supposed to be an abstract representation and expression of self.

February 12, 2012

Back to Basics: a B-Line for Simplicity (and a couple of ramblings on some other stuff too)

Lately, I find myself going back to Devon Graves' Deadsoul Tribe and their 2004 album, "The January Tree" over and over again. Don't really know why, it's far from a brilliant album, but I just feel heavily drawn to it, like a fly drawn to a spider's web with promises of sugar (and that's where we begin and end the album references). Sure enough, we're by now in mid-February, so I guess that only goes to show how anachronistic I get sometimes.

This album tells many tales through some intricate tribal riffing and a flute that somehow manages to merge quite well amidst the sometimes confusing musical conundrum this tree is. And that got me thinking: fusions and jazzy progressions, tribal riffs and flutes, guitar solos and piano-driven ballads; it's fine, really, and I do enjoy it, but at the same time it all makes incredibly weary of the complexities thrust upon music making and the overall tone of everything and anything with the word "progressive" attached.

I guess all this is just a silly intro to the whole thing. I might as well have started with: "So, a couple of weeks ago I bought a guitar."
Actually, forget all about "The January Tree" (subliminal messages, people; buy - buy - buy...); let's go with that instead: I did get a guitar, your very own Ki picked it for me (let it be known at this point that I know three chords, maybe four if we count the thing you do with your pinky coming down from D) and I am now determined, with his help, to learn how to play it properly. Not really becoming a guitar player, I fear that's already beyond my meager still-untested skills, but rather master the subtle art of getting away with lazy strumming. (Let is also be known that I am that, through and through: lazy.)
The reasons behind my recent slight change of heart from keys to strings has many roots, but most of all is the feeling of freedom, of sheer possibility, of opening to some unseen grace that only comes to you if you sit in silence and turn all the gadgets off.
Possibility of writing a song with only two chords in it and still being amazing.
Freedom to wander in B for as many bars as you want. Maybe - I'm just saying... - maybe even throwing a harmonica in for good measure.

And as I prepare to turn 30 a bit later this year, I start thinking: am I getting old? Am I losing the will to jam? Am I beginning to find "Overture 1928" tiring and Deconstruction unbearable? I am, for that matter, trying to eat in a more whole and healthy way... Am I growing so far apart from cheeseburgers that not even Devin makes it appealing for me? Hmmm...
Maybe I just miss the simplicity of past days. The simplicity and nostalgia and overall melancholic but also spacious feeling of turning into words and sounds what's already inside, instead of overloading everything with mathematical arrangements and crazy time signatures.

Songs like "Sweet Baby James", for example.
Now, I'm not James Taylor's biggest fan, to be perfectly honest, but there's an undeniable touch of majesty as well as painful simplicity in Sweet Baby James (both the album and the song with the same name). Whether it's the echo of some prelapsarian stage, rooted in some unseen, unheard of Age of Innocence, or the coming to terms with growing old (he was 18/19 when the album came out), there is something here that surpasses what I get when turning to, say, Symphony X.
And yes, i just kind of compared "Sweet Baby James" to Symphony X. Blasphemy, blasphemy!

And it may be kind of unfair to be choosing someone who is by any standard a folk icon, so let's turn to, say, Gene Clark. Yes, he's also a big name, especially with the Byrds, but it's his White Light that gets me going, if you know what I mean. Nudge, nudge.
Slightly uncelebrated in his day, songs like "For a Spanish Guitar" or "For Tomorrow" carry such a deep, shy, strong sense of humanity that sometimes it's actually hard listening to them. It's both vivid and sober, meaningful, wholehearted. Sure, it's a break-up song, but it's not just any break-up song. It's poetry. It's catharsis. Or maybe it's just beautiful.

On this particular topic of relationships (fruitful and filled with sad, tragic stories but also, fortunately, amazing songs), there's also one that always makes me think "Man, I want be this guy when I grow up...". I'm referring to, of course, Roy Harper's "Another Day".
Now, let it be said that I love Harper's work with David Gilmour, just as much as I love what both Kate Bush/Peter Gabriel and 4AD's This Mortal Coil have made with this song, but none of these have the same despondent beauty this one has. It's not just about lost love; it's about life as a whole. I've always pictured this song like an actual painting, a still life, a photo, highly voyeuristic, taken through an open window into someone's home, but that could have just as easily been taken against a mirror. And the punch behind the words "another day", both passion-driven to move and desperately stuck, hits me every time. Quite literally.

Finally, one that usually gives mixed feelings.
Neil Young's hardly an easy guy to describe, some saying he's even harder to love. But somewhere between all the rocking in the free world and his later years, for me Neil will always be deeply rooted in the simplicity of some of his tunes, arguably reaching their ultimate perfection in "Harvest".
Now, at the time, this was battered to smithereens by the critics, labeled as "too much of the same", plain and boring. But not only did it stand the test of time - which it did - it still means something today. You go back and you feel it, you don't just listen to it with joy.
It resonates, it makes your soul sing a bit and your heart skip a beat. Or two, depending on your mood for that day...

As you've noticed by now, this is hardly a list, but rather the most random combination of stuff put together. It's also not a "must listen to" memo, since these are not even my favourite songs within the big "genre" that goes by the name of Singer/Songwriter. These are just songs I love, without any order of preference, class, grade or rating. Just random stuff that sometimes gets me through the day, other times barely allows me to cope with "another day" (pun intentional), but just simple music that makes me think back to when thinks were simple.
And that begs the question: why aren't things that simple anymore? Do we need to keep going forward and do what no one has done before? Do we really need to make music alchemy in the search for the one chord no one has ever played or listened to or even heard of?

Yes, maybe this is all just the ramblings of some dude with too much free time on his hands, but I do look forward to this past, I really do. I do start to look away from JR's Morphwizzes and Samplewizzes and all sorts of "wizzes", into a more rooted way of expression, more simple, less polished. To a music that is raw and untamed and free and pure and whole. Like we are. Or, at least, like we should be. Untamed. Wild at heart.

Technology is here, it's upon us and we're grateful. Let's face it: this post didn't write itself, and I'm most certainly not using a black board and chalk...
But at times it's all a bit too much. I yearn for simple times. I yearn for simple tunes. And quite frankly, sometimes I do get a bit sick of all the computer-driven recording, production, mixing, stages that give us the music we need to live. Because make no mistake: we *need* music to live.
And when it comes to music, I really don't want to feel that way, I want to embrace it. I want to sing my love, my sadness, my everything and anything. In simple ways that touch me and others.
Simple. Pure. Raw. Uncut. Untamed.

So, let's all join hands and pray to the angel of rock: "Please help us attain simplicity. Please give us the will to write simple tunes. And please, don't let us get sick of all these shenanigans..."

(And I *will* learn how to play this one... Won't I, Ki?...)

February 9, 2012

Eric Johnson - Ah Via Musicom

Well, this album has been promised ever since this blog was launched. With the 54th Grammy Awards coming - whatever they may be and mean - I thought it would be a fitting opportunity to introduce the album that baptized our blog, since it features a Grammy Award Winner song (won in 1992) for Best Rock Instrumental Performance, Cliffs of Dover. Ah Via Musicom was released in February 1990, so we have here an oldie and I couldn't be happier in opening up our "A Long Time Ago" page with such a great album.

Don't get fooled by the "Rock Instrumental Performance" because this record has a bit of all flavours, not just rock. This is very guitar-oriented, mind you, but don't feel discouraged because Eric Johnson is able to make ear-pleasing non-guitar-listener-friendly songs while being classy enough to please the guitarrists from around the globe (including myself). As I said before, this is not just a typical rock album. It combines an up-beat rock groove with heart-felt blues and a bit of jazzy spice for a tasteful mix of melodies and harmonies. One of the cool things of writing this review is actually rehearing it, so I'm very pleased in introducing (or reintroducing in some cases) it to you.
I should also point out that this is not entirely instrumental, as it features in Desert Rose, High Landrons, Nothing Can Keep Me From You and Forty Mile Town, Eric's voice. That being said, I present to you - at the end of this post - two songs showcasing both his voice and his fantastic guitar playing.

On a more curious side-note, this album features some dedications to fellow guitarrists: Steve's Boogie is dedicated to Steve Henning, East Wes to the great Wes Montgomery and Song for George for a friend of his, named George Washington.

January 30, 2012

Lana Del Rey - Blue Jeans (LIVE)

Alright, so something a little bit different from what we used to do. Instead of a wall of text, which can sometimes not be so eye-pleasing, we show you a video. But that doesn't mean we will stop making those lovely amalgamation of letters.

In short: I'm mainly a music/instrumental type of listener, but this time what caught my attention was this girl's exquisite voice. Her dynamics are something really cool and interesting to hear. Gotta love that breakdown at 2:24, too.

Just check it out for yourselves. Enjoy !

January 13, 2012

The Best Pessimist - I Just Want To Be Your Everything

Alright, before you get all melodramatic about the album title, let me clarify that this is NOT a love-related, (Brian Adam's) Everything I Do-esque album. Far from it, this can actually be a very sad, yet very beautiful instrumental album.

Before jumping into the review, this album was presented to me by a friend of mine in the most awkward of ways: "Dude, do you know the best pessimist?" "No clue, is he from around here?", and hell, I never thought that he would show me an artist that I would actually become fond of. So I thank thee!

Anyway, this is one of those records that doesn't hit you immediately (at least in some tracks), but has some really heart-felt songs. The Best Pessimist really builds great sounding and atmospheric ambiances with really simple, singable and appealing melodies. Throughout the whole album, you can actually hear a theme or a storyline being told within each measure, chord and note. Yes, yes, very (un)poetic of me, but I really do fancy alot theme-based instrumental albums and this - in my humble opinion - is one of them.

So, in the general hearing of things, the album has a great deal of mixed feelings: some are sad and mellow, others quite haunting and esoteric, others are lullaby-ish and calming and others are just a bit of all worlds. I especially do like the way it finishes, as the song "I" is a very powerful way to end this storyline that goes in my head. And no, I'm not going to tell you about just hear it and think/imagine your own story. It's alot more fun that way.

Before giving my final praises, and in a sidenote, The Best Pessimist is literally a one-man show, so props to Sergey Lunev for creating such an excellent sounding album with great musical landscapes and a blend of very diverse sounds and styles. Oh and look at that, final praises made.

January 9, 2012

Nightwish - Imaginaerum

This is one of those albums I’m happy not to have to give a note… As most of you may know, Nightwish are a Finnish Symphonic Metal band from Kitee. Driven by Tuomas Holopainen’s creative mind, Nightwish have been the spearhead of the Symphonic Metal scene, as well as a flagship for Finnish art. However, a few years ago they have parted ways with their iconic lead singer Tarja Turunen, leaving them with a new record and no voice for it. That led to Dark Passion Play, an album labeled as “pop metal”. There were many problems with that particular CD but the main one was the new singer, Anette Olzon. She was singing out of her range (the tracks were made with Tarja’s voice in mind) which could only lead to a grand disaster…

But this time, with Imaginaerum, that “excuse” was no longer valid. And it is not needed.

The album, as a piece of art, is absolutely flawless: Big arrangements with powerful guitars and voice. Everything is blended together in absolute perfection.

However, there is a small problem: the album is happy.

To address this problem (and minimize its effect) one must first acknowledge that Nightwish are as trve as it gets. Their music is the perfect mirror for Tuomas’ life. With that said, Tuomas has said himself that the last few months were the happiest of his life, and as such we all can hear that in his music.

Does that make it easier for me to listen to Imaginaerum? Maybe… I’m happy for the guy. I hate and reject depression with the force of a thousand suns, and to see someone leave its mire-like claws and be able to tell the tale in such a big way is something that I profoundly admire. I like to focus my mind on that while listening to this album. That way I’m able to endure all that… happiness.

My highlights:  the pre-chorus of “Ghost River” and the first half of “Scaretale”. If the whole album was like that this would be one of my favorite albums.

Note: credit must be given to Anette. If I had any heroes or idols, she would be one of them. As she was passing through hell, a lot of people (loudly) expressed their hate for her and her voice and that almost led to the end of Nightwish. However, she persevered. She kept being herself (silly un-Metal stage behavior included) and, most importantly, delivered a beast of a performance. Anette, I hail thee.

December 14, 2011

Devin Townsend: the story behind the man

Many of you might know this man from Strapping Young Lad (SYL). Personally, I’ve been following him for his solo career and compositions. In this A-chord, I’ll try to cross-reference his discography with his biography, so you can have an idea of who this man is.
Devin Garret Townsend walked into the music world at the age of 19, at the hands of guitar virtuoso Steve Vai in his Sex And Religion album released in 1993. Before being found by Steve Vai, Devin played in a Vancouver metal band called Noisescapes. The first time Steve heard of Devin was when he sent him a demo track showing his vocal skills... wrapped in his underpants. Seems this little trick did a good job since the guitar virtuoso did hear it and was impressed by the young man’s vocal habilities. Soon after, the invitation came.

After recording his vocal parts and touring with Steve Vai and contributing with some guitar parts in projects like The Wildhearts, Devin Townsend formed Strapping Young Lad in 1994 and released City (an Extreme Metal album).

The Devin Townsend Band Era

It was only in 1997 that he released Ocean Machine: Biomech and started his solo career. Ocean Machine was the extreme opposite of City: experimental, ambient progressive/hard rock.
Coincidentally it was in this time that Devin was diagnosed with bipolar syndrome and was taken into the hospital.

Ironically, and after being discharged he began to work on his second album called Infinity, claiming that his new found psychological state helped him in its composition. This album was released in 1998 and was mainly Progressive Rock/Metal and was the parent project of City and Biomech.

At this stage, all of his albums were released under his name (Devin claimed all of them were part of his personality) and members from Strapping Young Lad were playing in both bands: SYL and Devin Townsend Band.
In 2000, Physicist was released. Initially it was a project called Fizzicist, in which Devin Townsend and Jason Newsted (ex-Metallica bassist) played together.
By peer-pressure from his (at that time) fellow counterparts, Jason Newsted had to leave this project, leaving Townsend and the rest of SYL to finish this Trash Metal album. Needless to say that it was his worse album when even Devin considered it as such.

Maybe it was Physicist's negative synergies, maybe the feeling of ostracizing its fans with his 3rd album, maybe it was destiny that Devin visited his motherland Canada, maybe it was his geniality... regardless and whatever the reason behind it, in 2001 his 4th album Terria emerged as a dedication to his country and one of my favorite albums.
This is a very personal, honest and introspective album with ambient elements combined with rock and metal, in which Devin builds great harmonies, melodic atmospheres and heavy parts that altogether paint such a beautiful sounding picture.
This album also marked the beginning of one of his greatest features: his famous "Wall of Sound" effect, in which he skillfully uses multi tracks to build harmonious sounds to create his main theme from nothingness.

By 2003, Devin Townsend gets his first dedicated line-up for his solo project. In the mean time he worked in another album with SYL while recording his 5th solo album. This 5th album was a mixture of hard rock with alternative progressive rock and it was named Accelerated Evolution. Its name came from the fact that he was able to get his line-up in less than a year, while simultaneously working with SYL and his 5th album.

In 2004 Devlab is released and in 2006 The Hummer reaches the music stores. Both albums were mainly ambient albums, but are somewhat strange ones. As Devin describes The Hummer:  "much more user friendly than the Devlab...still, some people are going to think it's just buzzing and humming noises, so's not for everybody." The Hummer appears in a musical burn-out phase of Devin Townsend as he explains he's tired from touring and interviews. Also, by this time his first son is born.

In between these albums, Synchestra is released. It's a pop-metal album, with influences of polka, eastern European folk and Arabian music. This is a very powerful album with heavy and melodic riffage combined with loads of harmonious ambient work, again demonstrating his trademark Wall Of Sound. This was a so called "pleasant" counterpart for Strapping Young Lad's Alien, again, showing Devin's bipolarity.
As a curiosity, the song "Triumph" features the man who brought Devin to the music world, the guitar virtuoso Steve Vai, who solos in the end of the song.

Finally, we arrive to the album presenting the omniverse of Ziltoid: The Omniniscient. Released in 2007 it marks the first time Devin Townsend composed, recorded, mixed and produced an whole album by himself, as he wanted to prove he did not need help from anyone else. 
Townsend described his album as a mix between Strapping Young Lad and The Devin Townsend Band, with a storyline like that of Punky Brüster's Cooked on Phonics. It is mainly a humorous concept album about an alien named Ziltoid from planet Ziltoidia 9 who's searching for the Ultimate Cup Of Coffee on Earth. Such search then results in a confrontation between the Humons (yes...Humons) and the Ziltoidians... 
A very funny album indeed !

After Ziltoid, Devin goes on a "hiatus", thus ending the Devin Townsend Band Era.

The Devin Townsend Project Era

And by 2009 we enter in a new era in the career and life of Devin Garret Townsend. It is mainly a 4 album project introducing 4 different concepts, each describing different stages of his life and featuring different musicians. One important step in this era is that Devin wrote everything without being under the influence of narcotics and alcohol.

The first album, named Ki (yours truly...) is extremely sinister, with a heavy and calm environment and with a somewhat claustrophobic feeling that only "screams for help" in one song. It is an album that borrows from Terria and Synchestra, showing a stage of Devin's life where he felt depressive, angered and unhealthy after leaving Strapping Young Lad, drugs and alcohol.

It is truly a very depressing and tight album. However, it is very sober, unlike some of his older albums, with beautiful sounding melodies and environments.

His second project album named Addicted was released soon after Ki. Devin Townsend describes it as a melodic, danceable but very heavy album. It features Anneke van Giersbergen, from The Gathering, in the vocals and borrows sounds and motifs alike from Terria, Physicist and Ocean Machine. It is mainly a heavy album, with electronic influences, energetic and a somewhat pop-ish, almost commercial/mainstream feeling, yet a very pleasant and fun album to listen to.

His third album released in 2011, Deconstruction is by far his most deranged, heavy, weird, complex and strange album, presenting a massive amount of tracks ingeniously put together. It is somewhat humorous, as one track tells a story about a man who goes on a journey to find the true nature of reality. In his journey he goes to Hell and finds himself with the devil, who offers him a cheeseburger, supposedly being an "all-knowing cheeseburger"... Unfortunately the man is a vegetarian, rendering his journey pointless.  
Aside from this track, and on a more personal level, this album tells of Devin's struggle with alcohol and drugs.
It features an all-star musician lineup, including: Mikael Åkerfeldt from Opeth, Ihsahn (ex-Emperor), Fredrik Thordendal from Meshuggah, Paul Masvidal from Cynic, Tommy Giles Rogers Jr. from Between The Buried and Me and many, many others. 

And finally, we reach his most convincing ambient rock album. Ghost was released in 2011, soon after Deconstruction. It is a very quiet, very simple and powerful album. It's one of those albums that can almost sting your soul given the ambiance it creates with its great sounding melodies and harmonies. 
Far from being the last we will see from Devin Townsend, this is where we will leave him, nonetheless, here ending our chronicles of the journey of a bipolar genious man who "crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side".

Written by Ki
("with a little help from my friend", RRR)

November 16, 2011

Bilateral - Leprous

Leprous are a fairly unknown band from Notodden, Norway. Even among metal heads, few claim to know them. But they're not just another band form Norway, they're the backing band for one of Black Metals' Emperors: Ihsahn (pun intended). To any metal fan, that fact alone should be an unquestionable seal of quality.

However, to try to qualify Leprous based on their relation with Ihsahn is an absolute error. Leprous practice a rare blend of metal, prog and power. Their sound falls on the same category as Opeth's, Porcupine Tree's or Devin Towsend Project's, the undefined: it's a genre on it's own with specific rules that apply solely to it's own universe.

Although their first releases might have suffered from schizophrenia, Bilateral is a mature album in which every track has value on it's own and as part of the whole.

Instrumentally, the work is flawless: two guitars, bass,  keys (that organ...), a powerful voice and drums that feel and sound like an orchestra, various movements flowing and fighting for space at the same time and genius ecstatic moments where one has to wonder if there's anything else beyond that.

All in all, this is one of my favorite albums of all time.