Mystery Art Orchestra ‘Prismatic Dream’ – dark and moody from Brandenburg/Berlin

On May 25th, the Berlin/Brandenburg outfit Mystery Art Orchestra released their album “Prismatic Dream” and asked me ages ago to do a review. Originally, I was a little on the fence because I always expect the worst but this band is quite the surprise.

By the way, this is a very atmospheric moody video with good story telling. I like the “Twilight”-shots of the forests in Brandenburg (don’t be smug, the camera work in the first “Twilight”-movie was pitch-perfect melancholia).

Opening with tittering violins and then delving into deep drums and electric guitars like a late 80s metal band (looking at you, Danzig!), one could think that this is going to be a blast from the past. And it is. Although more new wave/post-punk than metal, Mystery Art Orchestra indeed reference the darker, more sinister side of the 80s. But they also lead their songs into mesmerizing instrumental parts that are verging on psychedelia. That in itself is a lovely combination. Add to that a charming lo-fi production and vocals from the other room (love that garage sound) and you have a beautiful journey through time and space and warbling guitars.

I am not too sure about the vocal decisions on some of the songs (there’s some grunge-Cobain flair on “Dead Faint” that can also be heard on “Immaculate Youth” that bothers me on these songs more than on others) but as with most post-punk outfits, the vocals are not  front and center and therefore merely raise an eyebrow.

One of the greatest things is the guitar work on the album. “Dead Faint”, for example, has a beautiful Smith’s guitar with a little Beach Boys-tinge that sounds outright sinister with all the bass b(l)ooming from the sidelines. Don’t forget, this genre lives and dies by the guitar and this one does amazing, sweetie.

Songs like “Camouflage” remind me of the big, gigantic 80s flashback of the early 2000s (Editors, Interpol, The Departure) as well as Black Rebel Motorcycle Club but with synths (!).
You can clearly hear that the band still is trying out a little which direction they want to take (they started out as a psychedelic band and moved more towards post-punk in recent years) but everything sounds cohesive enough for the experiments to be entertaining and part of the overall feel of the album. There’s a few songs I could take or leave (“Immaculate Youth” is a little bit too clichè which is not helped by the much stronger “Awake” preceding it).

This is some “A place to bury strangers“-video right here.

I also feel as if “Dreams” tries something that Echo & The Bunnymen perfected, which is the dreamy, slowed-down wave ballad. As it is, it also leans more towards the slightly unfinished cruise ship lounge-variety hour than “Ocean Rain” (but then again, Ian McCulloch is a singing power house).

But enough criticism, I am generally very fond of this album and will absolutely dig it up once Autumn hits Berlin, because 80s post-punk is the best for gloomy and rainy evenings. I especially applaud the track list because they throw the heavy songs right into your face at the beginning and only later show that they can also be a little more radio-friendly. In my case, those heavy songs were so interesting that I immediately wanted to write about the album, so kudos for that.

All in all: if you like blurry guitar sounds, melancholic vocals and long stretches of instrumentals lining your car rides, lonely walks or meaningful stares out of the windows, you’ve reached the right address with Mystery Art Orchestra.

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Black Mountain ‘IV’ is close to epic

I’ve read quite a few reviews on this album (one weirdly comparing the album title with Black Sabbath which should be reason to dismiss the whole review for such an obvious blatant mistake in the first sentence) and all of them remarked that it’s a shame that the music is so eclectic and not as deep, proggy and for stoners as, I guess, deep proggy stoners prefer them to be.

The thing is: I admit not to know all Black Mountain albums but I am quite sure that this artists’ collective was always eclectic in sound, genre and vocalists. Since I can remember I was fawning over the fact that you never know where a Black Mountain-album will lead you to. How is this core element of their music something that suddenly makes reviewers go „bah!“?

I guess, there’s a certain nostalgic aspect about „They used to be so much better before they experimented with their sound“ and one reviewer even criticized the unusually clean production which is maybe right for Black Mountain but is a given with most prog-bands. To be honest, I can’t find any flaw in songs like „Mothers of the Sun“ which is so incredibly satisfying as

– Canadian

– proggy

– experimental

– overly long

hymn. I don’t know why I am not outraged that these kinds of big bold monster-songs are so sparse but maybe because the ones that reach me are so fantastic.

And geez Louise, the video is every 70s psychedelic movies-fan’s dream.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_USHKQ4Ntc8

(It’s also incredibly funny for me that it kinda starts like „Edge of Glory“ by Lady Gaga – probably not intended)

The Womb sounds chill like any womb should feel

Psychedelic music is essentially a nice day in the sun, spent idling around, sitting under a tree and letting the thoughts drift (no need to enhance them with additional…erm…remedies). However, you don’t have to just idly stroll along if you’re a psychedelic band as White Denim continuously and gorgeously demonstrate every damn album.

The Womb are likewise the kind of band whose album (dto.) starts smooth and chill but eventually lifts up into „Batstone“ and feels like that shadow over your face, of someone standing right in front of you, asking you to take a walk or dance or maybe have a grillwurst with. „The Womb“ is not as eclectic and energetic as White Denim at their best but it plays likewise with the expectations that psychedelic music creates – you expect a slow boat ride and then – if you’re lucky – get some (safe) rapids along the way to get the heart pumping and the adrenaline going. Oh, and don’t worry, instead of the crazy waterfall or some murderous forrest-people (tuck away that banjo!) you’ll get a beautifully open lake to keep that smooth sailing.

Cover me badly: Spirit ‘Taurus’

Disclaimer to my mom: Sorry, but a gal’s gotta do what a gal’s gotta do.

Update: Looks like Taurus had it with “Stairway to Heaven” being one of the greatest rock songs of all time. They sued and a judge decided that the melodies are close enough to be put to trial. Ooh weeh!

Spirit are one of those lost and forgotten prog rock bands from the late 60s, early 70s who have a beautiful orchestral and quite aloof sound (so no King Crimson madness and instead the roots of art rock that sometimes even hint at what Ween might have listened to before they came to be Ween). Their song “Taurus” – coincidentally my favourite zodiac sign if I had to choose – is a lovely relaxed guitar piece backed up by a luscious orchestra and even a cheeky cembalo. It’s one of those slightly humorous ventures into anachronistic sounds of the courtyards of yesteryear because despite its sometimes gaudy reputation (thanks to the gaudy leanings by the late 70s early 80s), early prog rock was quite smart and witty.

The song was on Spirit’s self-titled debut album which was released 1968 and toured heavily. One of the supporting acts, Led Zeppelin, apparently liked the song so much that they did their own cover version. However, they failed to grasp the concept of a cover song and kind of renamed the whole song and left out the original credits and added a bunch of stuff so their guitar player could noodle along for a while.

http://www.metatube.com/en/videos/237801/Taurus-by-Spirit/embed/

(sorry; I could not properly embed the video)

Now, the cover “Stairway to Heaven” is hailed as one of the greatest rock songs of all times and – as with quite a few cover songs – the original got shoved a little into obscurity.

Unrightly so, because “Taurus” is a great song, a little pretty ditty gently placed in the middle of an album that is overall a very impressive debut, especially given that these guys didn’t rip off a whole catalog of blues musicians of that time like some other bands might have done (or would do a little later).

Besides, the weird thing about “Stairway to Heaven” – but this is solely subjective – is the fact that I personally think that the way that “Taurus” was implemented into the intro is not very delicate. The real strength of “Stairway to Heaven” doesn’t lie in the watered down original melody, it lies more in Robert Plant’s climactic vocal delivery (and the noodling, I guess), so the rip-off is pretty much wasted (again, in my humble opinion). Additionally, the lyrics provided by Led Zeppelin really don’t do the song a favour because they are…not very good (as many lyrics are that try to be a lot more philosophical than they actually are – crying spirits and random ladies and pipers usually don’t make for good song lyrics in my experience).

So, to get that sub-par cover out of your heads, here’s “Fresh Garbage” by Spirit. A pretty fun song.

White Denim: If life gives you lemons, listen to ‘Corsicana Lemonade’

I gotta say, I was a little concerned when I listened to the mid-albums EP “Takes Place in Your Workspace” because although I enjoyed it, I thought that the most psychedelic Texans of all psychedelic Texans would have given up their weird little rock to go into smoother, funkier directions. But “At Night In Dreams”, the opener to their new album “Corsicana Lemonade” dissolves all doubt in a sugary, swirly treat of psyched out art-rock beauty that sounds great on the record and will turn your brain into liquorice in a live setting.

One of the things I look for in pretty much everything and everyone I encounter is ambition. It doesn’t necessarily have to lead to success but if people don’t have a certain drive to do/achieve/create something, whatever they do will always lack a certain something. And boy, if ambition succeeds, it is a delight. White Denim are an afternoon delight at that. They do the kind of music that smoothly swirls into numerous directions and manages to surprise you. I didn’t manage once to listen to one of their albums without smiling because their willingness to travel into the Zappa-oddness of seemingly chaotic but highly orchestrated rock is both beautiful and humorous. “Humorous?”, you might think, and I will nod and smile knowingly. “Yes, humorous” because a lot of humor derives from surprise and White Denim always surprise with great big solos, little details, awesome melodies and Classic Rock moments of epic proportions (I won’t name the song because I don’t want to spoil anything but there is one heavy, sweet-sauce of a Classic Rock Moment to conclude a song on this album that will make you want to wear super tight jeans and grow a moustache at once).

This is a tightly knit band who lets every single instrument shine (and has one of the very few rockstar-bassists to give bass-players a good reputation as musical masterminds) and whereas their last album “D” leaned into flowery pop directions of the late 60s, “Corsicana lemonade” starts with high-tempo artrock to knock your socks off and then spins around in all directions without ever losing the ground.

As someone, who endured roughly 10 Zappanale-festivals with numerous bands that covered and/or sounded like Frank Zappa, let me say this: It’s oh so rare to have the musical circus of Zappa without the endless showing off of musical abilities. WD don’t need to show off. They have it. They show it with every earworm (“Come Back” is an immediate hit to feel like a sexy mofo), every smooth RnB-piece that slowly circles its way up to a prog-dish, every good-natured composition and boy, is this album uplifting.

I know that we all love to pull out all the melancholic, depressive albums in autumn because it feels so good to wallow in self-pity but in case you’d like to not turn every day into a Morrissey-quote, just put on this album and turn that frown upside down. It will make you so happy that you don’t even want to punch me for using that lame phrase that only horrible people say.

If you like prog-rock, art-rock or just any late 60s, early 70s-rock, then it will be really really hard to dislike this album. It will be so hard, that you won’t even try to dislike it, even Sisyphus would be like ‘Fuck it, I am liking this, I don’t have the energy to dislike it’. Even Tom Hanks would be like, ‘Damn, I can’t think of anything or anyone that/who is more likeable than this album.’

Oh, and that last song, “A Place to Start”? Best outro ever to dive right back into it again…

Celebration ‘Hello Paradise – Electric Tarot’ aka Hello Gorgeous

You know when you are a music-geek and want to punch yourself in the face? When you miss a new album by a pretty awesome band by TWO AND A HALF YEARS! I actually thought that I looked Celebration up regularly to see what this fantastic Baltimore-band is up to but apparently I didn’t (or I did and then blacked out…who knows.) Ok, so in 2011 (again, sigh, eye-roll, self-face-palm), they released “Hello Paradise – Electric Tarot” which – just as I am writing this – is being played and enjoyed so much that I feel a little sick. Back in the days – when “The Modern Tribe” (2007) was released – I compared them with TV and the Radio which fit a lot since both bands had this mixture of overwhelming soul-vocalists, global sounds and a very experimental alternative sound. They also worked together on and off stage, so the connection is not too hard to make.

Now, their current album (follow the link and you can download it for free) is marking a very own and unique sound. I always liked that Celebration are very bold in stylistic directions but still manage to sound beautiful. Experimental chaos and beauty don’t go together all too often but in this case, they make a great prom-date. “Hello Paradise” opens with a slightly Eastern sound (I am thinking of Led Zep’s “Kashmir” here) that pops up now and then but stays relatively subtle. They ditched some of the alternative edge from their previous album to add a little more soul and pop (using “pop” here as one of those people who also would call Zappa’s “Bobby Brown” a nice little pop-song) and dive into some retro-themes without letting go of their quite modern sound (does that make sense?).

The Hammond still has its place, as well as the dreamy sounds that made “The Modern Tribe” so darn amazeballs. “Open Your Heart” is yet another great 50s-inspired slow-dancing-tune that I always enjoy when done by bands who know how to put their own twist on it.

There is so much you can enjoy with this album, it’s like a gigantic wedding cake that you discover with a spoon…yeah, better work on my metaphors a little.

I’d like to post all songs of the album here, just to show all sides of them because right after “Shelter”, they belt out a fantastic rock hymn that actually has some Led Zep-quality to it but still keeps that hint of fuzz in the background only to break into a heart-pounding climax that already made 2007’s “Heartbreak” one of my all-time favourite songs that I actually HAVE to listen to every other month.

Here’s the genius of this band: They are experimental, they make gorgeous music, they are all seasoned musicians, they have a great sense of song-structure and they can fuse old-timey classic rock-themes with modern alternative sounds without sounding like carbon copies or over-ambitious hipsters. This band is a great example how to have your own sound and instead of changing it with every album, expanding it slowly, so their universe grows wider and wider until we can see everything, from the galaxies far away to the tiniest blood vessels in our pumping hearts.

Holy, even recorded with a potato this sounds awesome.

Oh, and to show that for once I am a little up to date, here is their new song which was released in September of this year.

Goat: Don’t forget that tie-dye shirt, man!

I should know better than to be surprised whenever a band with a certain style comes from a country that seems unexpected. After all, this is the 21st century, everything is possible. But still, to hear a band like Goat coming from Sweden…it surprised me.

I might have read about Goat on some other blog, I can’t remember but I gladly link to it if you let me know. Now, Goat have a very unfortunate name because there are other artists of a wide variety of genres that have the same name but only one Goat plays wild and highly exciting psychedelic artrock that will artrock your socks off. The band comes with a mythology, that’s how freaking psychedelic they are. Apparently, they are from Korpilombolo in Sweden. Once, there lived a witch doctor who practices voodoo but he was hunted and slain by Christian knights and cursed the city.

In 2012, they released their debut “World Music” and it’s a hippie journey into the drug-fuelled, consciousness-enlarging world of crazy music. It’s mostly instrumental and if we hear vocals, they are distorted beach-punk vocals that seem to come from the other side. Their newest songs, “Stonegoat” and “Dreambuilding” have a little more artrock in them (guitarero-pleasures) and are my personal favourites because they escape the late 60s, early 70s a little to create some modern chaos.

Apparently, the band goes on stage with masks and I am quite sure that every show will be accompanied by the faint smell of some form of smoking herb that enhances your mind (at least, that’s what I was told).