Friday, February 23, 2018


Chinese Restaurant

Steeped in the krautrock-isms of their German neighbors, the Italian duo Chrisma (later known as Krisma in the 80s as they got more and more glamorous and kool) got help from Vangelis' brother Niko Papathanassiou for their debut singles 'Amore' and 'U' in 1976. These singles snagged a few features on splits with such artists as...The Chanter Sisters(?) and even, surprisingly enough, Black 'freakin Sabbath. Don't quite know how that happened. Either way these singles, 'U' in particular, got enough traction for this married couple to be slated for a debut LP in no time at all.

What emerged in the wake of the two, pop rock/disco singles was a surprisingly dark and art-punkish album. Oddly enough it seems Chrisma pulled a 180 and went the direction that Television and Wire were going in the same year and put their foot in the door of the up-and-coming post-punk trend (that was ironically enough occurring at the concurrently to punk's infantile stages). Chinese Restaurant bears a few similarities not only to fellow European synthpop and post-punk groups like Joy Division, but also to the more protopunk bands of the progressive rock boom in the early end of the decade. It does make sense when you do some lightdigging into the history of Maurizio and realize he himself produced some rock progressivo Italiano himself between '70-'73. Above all though the aforementioned krautrock undertones are the most pertinent with a heavy Can influence with, not only the fact that Maurizio sounds beautifully like a stir-crazy Malcolm Mooney on tracks like 'What For', but also with the use of repetitive, spacey guitar hooks following machine-like percussion hearken back to what Can were doing circa Monster Movie. Similarly, songs like 'C-Rock' and 'Black Silk Stocking' have a distinct Neu!-ish quality to them.

Regardless of where Chrisma got their influence, their debut is packed with all sorts of musical goodies. The suave Italian nature of the musicians, combined with methodical ways the melodies play out with either quiet, soft vocals or monotonous, sarcastic monologues make it quite an enjoyable experience. The album is all very modernist, with each song sounding more like a bunch of TI-30s punching out a roll of mechanized melodies. Ezio Vevey's fuzzed out riffing, while fairly proficient, is noticeably tightly bound to the staccato percussion, creating something of an almost hypnotic musical environment. I realize many post-punk bands at the time also used a similar method, but how these guys differntiates themselves from said bands is how they utilize their prog influencers, like the touches of Kraftwerkian progressive electronic on songs like 'Lycee' and 'C. Rock'. Slightly proggy, krautrocking post-punk is what Chrisma goes for here, and while they can stoop to overbearing levels of repetition and musical meandering at some points, the end result is overall still fairly pleasant and intriguing.

RIP Maurizio Arcieri.

Written on February 24, 2018 for Frying Pan Media
To bright tomorrows.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

//INTO THE FIRE | Music Review #159 | BJÖRK - DEBUT (1993)

One Little Indian

The secret to this Icelandic woman's appeal is not one sole reason, but rather several small reasons that form a larger whole. Like a puzzle with a thousand multicolored pieces that form Botticelli's The Birth of Venus when put together. Her public image as a quirky, slightly crazy woman going WWE on reporters who harass her, her surreal music videos, and her seemingly endless supply of creativity that makes each of her studio albums different from the last have created the character of Björk Guðmundsdóttir as we know her today.

Her debut Debut is, other than being the springboard from which Björk and her listeners started their adventures, the clearest insight into Björk's musical sensibilities and her ideas for where she'd take her career. It's certainly different from her Siouxsie and the Banshees-esque post-punk career in Tappi Tíkarrass and later The Sugarcubes (who disbanded a year before Debut's release). Though it's clear Björk synthesized much of the playful and humorous nature of The Sugarcubes into her persona, Debut is a contrastingly eclectic affair then anything she had previously produced or been involved in.

Björk's first record is her first showing of her head-over-heels attitude towards experimentation, albeit is a bit more grounded in reality than her latter-day antics like the entirely a Capella Medulla or the bloated ambiance of Vulnicura. Part of it is sort of reflective of the time's zeitgeist- tracks like the killer 'Big Time Sensuality' or 'There's More to Life Than This' are unabashed dance-pop tunes with Björk's flavorful vocals overlaying house-like beats. At the same time though there are times where Björk opts for more folksy, tasteful sonics like the hedonistic 'Venus as a Boy' or the gentle, harp-driven lamentation of 'Like Someone in Love'. This variation from one track to the next keeps this album more fresh and interesting than even some of the albums I keep closest to my heart.

It is the tone of Debut, and similarly all of Björk's music, that evokes the most quality. It becomes clear quickly with the album opener 'Human Behavior', a beautiful mess of a song whose jazzy textures provide the backdrop to Björk singing about the illogical nature of human behavior, but also it's irresistibile and satisfying qualities. It sets the stage for Björk's lyrical and vocal motifs for much of Debut, as she sings her heart out about sexuality and the eroticisms between humans that she, as she's stated in many of her interviews, is fascinated with. All of this is done though on a much more childlike, naïve nature, like the perspective of a Martian experiencing said things for the first time. The thing about all this though is that Björk's singing voice isn't even that great. Sure she can kind of hit high registers and hold notes well enough, but what hooks me more than anything is her pure and vigorous passion with which she cranks out her performances. She becomes practically possessed by her own music, snarling and screaming her lyrics for the entire world to see. It makes her more endearing than 75% of her peers in the craft, and makes her more of a musician than I think most of us'll ever be.

Debut is erratic, haphazard and a tad stark raving. At the same time though it holds up, not exactly as a superior to Björk's later work, but as a young and creative woman's musical insight into human romanticisms, which are funnily enough as puzzling as Björk herself.

Written on February 21, 2018 for Frying Pan Media
To bright tomorrows.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

//INTO THE FIRE | Music Review #158 | FEIST - LET IT DIE (2004)

Let It Die

Summer, 20XX

One of my fondest and youngest memories is a day when I decided to hit the old country roads one particularly humid day in July. The air was filled, not only with heat, but also with the cacophony of bugs hopping helter-skelter through the tall meadow grasses. As usual, when I take time to actually step out of my troll cave, I need a soundtrack to accompany me. I chose a recently purchased CD I had nabbed at the thrift store a few towns over, which attracted me with its mysterious cover art and blunt title. It was on this day, moseying past shabby, peeling farmhouses, rows of young apple trees held up by metal apparatuses, and dense, messy fields of yellow and green that I found myself listening through the entirety of Leslie Feist's Let it Die.

That same week I'd listen to Let it Die on repeat. 'Mushaboom' would be the theme for housework. 'Inside and Out' would be a incongruously cheery soundtrack for the boredom behind unfocused eyes looking through a car window. 'Lonely Lonely' would be a replacement for the silence of laying in bed and staring at the ceiling in the dark. It was truly an odd but introspective time.

It was unlike much of what I had listened to before then, which was mainly progressive rock and heavy metal music. I would consider what Feist did to me that day to be akin to when Pink Floyd triggered my insatiable hunger for artful music a few years prior. That is, this album was able to show me the less grandiose and more restrained side of pop music. It did this by showcasing a veritable rainbow of themes throughout its tracklist. The album bounces from lethargic, softspoken indie pop like 'Gatekeeper' and 'One Evening' to disco power ballads like 'Inside and Out' (originally a 1979 Bee Gees cut) to even a cover of Françoise Hardy's 1963 funky French pop song 'L'amour ne dure pas toujours'. 

Although the album skips around a lot thematically it remains fairly grounded in Feist's homebrew indie sound (which sounds a bit like a Canadian, white-collar Björk with more rock). This generally entails Feist leading the melodies and really the song with her flagship guitar and commanding vocals, with very small accompaniments like minimalist percussion (sometimes just hand claps) and subtle uses of sax or piano here and there. The centerpiece of the performance is Feist herself after all, so rather than having a full band of competing musicians she instead restricts them more as an illustrious background than anything else. Feist and her band bring in elements of bossa nova and chamber pop with her timid indie attitude to create a heavily stylized singer/songwriter sound that channels cute, juvenile attitude, sensuality and bittersweet longing all at the same time. 

Let it Die falls into the category of personal gems rather than objectively perfect gems. The album is brilliantly crafted and has a great attention to detail, but it holds more of a place in my heart more than it ever could in my head. Like I thank The Wall for opening up my eyes, I thank Let it Die for opening up my heart.

Written on February 20, 2018 for Frying Pan Media
To bright tomorrows.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018


The Flaming Lips
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
Warner Bros.

The fifteen-year journey the Flaming Lips trekked until they hit their often-considered-to-be creative peak with The Soft Bulletin in 1999 was a long and arduous one. After a decade a half of creating commercially unpalatable noise rock, conducting musical parking lot experiments with car stereos and being generally abstract, The Lips were finally starting receive more and more airtime using success that had been growing slowly since 1993's Clouds Taste Metallic. Compared to Clouds Taste Metallic though, The Soft Bulletin was strikingly different, employing a more ethereal wall-of-sound technique that would become what the band would continue onwards with and become known for. 

Thus enters Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, the Lips' breakthrough into the new millennium and likely their most ambitious record to date. Although it does take much from its predecessor's attitudes and themes, it and The Soft Bulletin are not nearly the same. For one, it's a definite transformation from neo-psychedelia to dream pop a la Mew or Fishmans. Psychedelia is still here in spoonfuls, but the utilization on synths and other electronics is increased tenfold and with a drenching of sugary upbeat-sounding yet bittersweet melodies, The Lips are able to easily create a dense, impenetrable dreamscape. Unlike their more experimental Japanese contemporaries in Boredoms (although the album is influenced heavily by drummer Yoshimi P-We), The Lips opt for being tight-knit as opposed to being completely bonkers. That is, the staccato, machine-like nature of the instrumentation is conveyed as extremely loud and bright, yet is also extremely concisely delivered, giving for a very stark contrast between delivery and what sound is delivered. Steven Drozd's  reverb-heavy electrodrums on tracks like 'Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 1', 'Fist Test' or 'Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon' lend a sense of importance and weight equal to that of a standard kit, not to mention they're almost melodic nature in which they combine with the hypnotic guitar and the creamy bass to create an amalgam of often-times breathtaking soundscapes. 'One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21' is a perfect example of the perfect storm that comes out of this instrumental torrent and Wayne Coyne's amateurish yet delicate vocals.

One thing that the Lips are able to consistently do impeccably, even in their earliest years, is hold emotional weight. Coyne's infatuation with the beauty of life and death has weaved its way into the band's music on more than one occasion, such as with 'A Spoonful Weighs a Ton' on 
The Soft Bulletin or 'Can't Exist' from Oh My Gawd!!, and he doesn't stop here. The meaning of being, of loving, of existence and of living life to the fullest even with the weight of death constantly on your shoulders come straight from the innermost reaches of these men's hearts, and make Yoshimi and most other Flaming Lips records tearjerkingly heartfelt in their delivery. The bluntness of 'Do You Realize??' and 'All We Have is Now' will strum the chords of the deepest part of your soul, guaranteed.

Yoshimi may not be able to compete with what the ground The Soft Bulletin broke, but its emotional value and competently put together construction are able to turn it into an album that still transcends boundaries of what we know as psychedelic music.

Written on February 6, 2018 for Frying Pan Media
To bright tomorrows.