experimental music

REVIEW: Mike Patton – Adult Themes For Voice (1996)

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MIKE PATTON – Adult Themes For Voice (1996 Tzadik)

I’m a huge Faith No More fan; I think they’re easily one of the most brilliant bands of any genre to grace the stage. I collect their stuff, and occasionally Mike Patton’s solo projects as well. Numerous as they are, I tend to pick and choose today. Back in 1996, that wasn’t the case.

One night, out with T-Rev record shopping, we visited Encore Records in downtown Kitchener. On their shelves, for $24.99, was a Mike Patton solo album called Adult Themes for Voice. I asked the lady at the counter, “Is this any good?”  She responded cryptically, “Well, nobody’s ever returned one.”

I did buy it, not only because I’m a completist, but because the text on the obi strip made it sound so fucking cool:

The debut solo album from a performer/composer who has worked with Mr. Bungle, Kronos Quartet, Faith No More, Bob Ostertag and many others.  Experimental sounds never imagined from just a voice and microphone.  An absolute classic.

Shit, how could I possibly say no after reading that?  I’d have to be a dick not to buy the CD.

Then, we went to go visit Tom at his store, and he put the disc on.  In-store.

First came the wide open eyes, then the chuckles, then the “I can’t believe you spent $25 on this”.

Sorry folks, it’s just not for me.  I know there are people out there who can appreciate this. I’m not one of them. It’s true that Mike Patton can do just about anything with his voice, and here he does just about anything with his voice, except singing. Different screams and guttural sounds are spliced together into brief compositions.  Tape editing is just as important as the vocals, in terms of the final compositions.  At times his voice is percussive, at other times whimpering. At all times, assaulting the ear.  It rarely sounds human at all.  It’s interesting, with the recent release of the new Faith No More album Sol Invictus, how Mike Patton has integrated some of these techniques with their sound.

Being a collector, and being a long-time Faith No More fan, I did keep this album in my library. I found a good use for it: the shorter tracks make for awesome transitions on mix CDs!

1/5

But 5/5 stars if you can listen to something like this regularly; there’s no denying the creativity involved!

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REVIEW: Mr. Bungle – Mr. Bungle (1991)

MR. BUNGLE – Mr. Bungle (1991 Warner)

For the uninitiated, get ready. You’ve never heard anything in your life like Mr. Bungle. Featuring the powerful pipes of Mike Patton, Bungle was his pre-Faith No More band which he admirably kept going through the 90’s before finally calling it a day. This album, produced by John Zorn and completely different than anything Bungle did after, is a challenging first listen for the musically timid.  It is also acutely rewarding, and can only do good in expanding your musical vocabulary. If that ain’t your cup o’ tea, it also has lots of X-rated, adult only lyrics; words that will keep you laughing, disgusted or titillated all the way through. See: “Squeeze Me Macaroni” (sex with food) or “The Girls of Porn”.

Mr. Bungle squeezes multiple genres into single songs, often switching gears multiple times within a minute. Careening joyfully from breakneck-speed horn-laden funk, to death metal guitar with doo-wop vocals, to circus music and beyond, this is not for the meek. This is for the open minded. This is for the bored, those who can no longer handle the same damn songs on the radio all the time, the same keys, chords, time changes and instrumentation. And if you’re a Mike Patton fan already, but somehow missed this, prepare to have your mind blown.The production by John Zorn is perfect. How he managed to arrange all these instruments, samples, and voices together into coherent songs is nothing short of genius. The sound is gloriously crisp. This is Mr. Bungle’s magnum opus.

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Highlights:
  • “Travolta” – Changed to “Quote Unquote” on later pressings for obvious legal reasons.
  • “Squeeze Me Macaroni” – “Hostess Ding Dong wrapped an eggroll around my wong / While Dolly Madison proceded to ping my pong”
  • “The Girls Of Porn” – “The urge is too much to take / All I can think about is playing with myself / It’s time to masturbate / I got my Hustler and I don’t need nothing else”
  • “My Ass Is On Fire” – A memorable shocker ending with Patton chanting “Redundant, redundant, reeeedundant, reDUNdant…”
  • “Stubb (A Dub)” – A song that questions, among other things, if a pet dog believes they will grow up into a human being.

 

Regardless of the contrasting styles and lightning fast changes, after a fashion the album flows, and cannot really be broken down into singles, or put on a mix CD. It needs to be listened to in its entirety, in sequence. And be careful, when turning up the volume during the quiet moments.  You might want it louder to hear some bit of dialogue that’s mixed in too quietly.  That’s just when they blast you with more guitar and horns!

If you don’t like this on first listen, don’t fret. You’ll love it by the 21st. Guaranteed*.

5/5 stars

* I don’t actually honour any guarantees.

Gallery: Kathryn Ladano – “Evil Kirk” recording session

Use the embedded player below to hear a sample of “EVIL KIRK” by Kathryn Ladano, featuring yours truly

The initial concept was Kathryn’s.  She liked that Star Trek the original series had a lot of audible bass clarinet in the music.  Often just before a red shirt was about to die, you’d hear a bass clarinet melody…and then ZAP!

We decided to add a vocal element.  I compiled some of my favourite Captain James Tiberius Kirk quotations, and Kathryn had a general direction for the music but otherwise she improvised.  We performed it live in four takes at Wildrid Laurier University’s Seminary building.  A couple effects were added in mixing and voila — “Evil Kirk”!

Buy it at kathrynladano.com , amazon.ca or iTunes

Photos:  Martin LePage

Further reading:

Part 219: Parental Advisory – Explicit Lyrics

Thanks to 80smetalman for the inspiration.

RECORD STORE TALES Part 219:  

Parental Advisory – Explicit Lyrics

Remember the PMRC? If you were around in the 1980’s you might. The Parents’ Music Resource Center was an organization cofounded by Tipper Gore. They caused a lot of grief for musicians and fans alike. The PMRC wanted albums to have ratings, much like a movie, and to restrict certain albums to certain age groups.

PARENTALBoth Dee Snider and Frank Zappa raked them over the coals in a Senate hearing, but much damage was done. The PARENTAL ADVISORY – EXPLICIT CONTENT logo has defaced many rock albums. Sometimes it’s just a sticker, but almost as often, it’s printed over the cover art.  Frank Zappa’s instrumental album Jazz From Hell was even stickered “explicit content” – an album that has no words at all!  Huge chains such as Walmart refused to carry many albums such as this, and this eventually led to the rise of “clean” and “dirty” versions of albums.  It was one way to get the records in the stores.  This way, grandma can buy little Johnny the “clean” version of Eminem for Christmas.

This had an impact on us, an independent chain, as well. In the senate hearing, Dee Snider advised that if a parent is concerned about the music their kids are listening to, “I think a parent could take it home, listen to it. And I do not think there are too many retail stores that would deny them the ability to return the album for something different.”

Dee was 100% right. That was the policy that we had. If a parent wasn’t happy with the lyrical content of their kid’s purchase, we had no problem returning it.  Even though there were times that I’d been yelled at for doing a refund instead of an exchange, we made exceptions when it came to explicit lyrical content.  In those cases we often offered a full refund, and normally getting a refund out of us was about as easy as Steve-O removing this snapping turtle from his ass.

Some parents used to get upset that I would knowingly sell an album with swearing on it to their kid. Now, to be clear, we wouldn’t sell 2 Pac to a 10 year old. We didn’t do that. We would tell the 10 year to come back with a parent, and they’d whine and leave. However when a kid is in their mid-teens, and it’s harder to tell their age (or if their parents have a pickle up their behinds), we’d sell them the disc. And that’s when some parents would get mad. “Isn’t it illegal to sell this to a kid?”

No, it wasn’t illegal, thankfully. I would have hated to live in a world where I couldn’t hear Twisted Sister until my 18th birthday. But I was smart enough to know fantasy from reality, and my parents were trusting enough to give me that much credit.

Once you give the parents a refund, they were always happy. You never know what a parent would be offended by. One guy refused to buy Nirvana for his son, because Kurt committed suicide. One parent refused to allow her kid to listen to “black music” such as Backstreet Boys. No shit.

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Very hard to tell just from this if it’s “clean” or “dirty”

For us, selling used CDs, I think the biggest problem was the “clean” and “dirty versions”. On some discs, it was nearly impossible to tell by the cover if it was censored or not, because often those kinds of stickers would be on the plastic shrinkwrap. Once the shrinkwrap was off, and the CD made it into a used shop like ours, the only way to tell would be to listen.

I spent a lot of time sampling Wu-Tang Clan albums to see if they were clean or dirty. Thankfully I knew where on the disc to check easily without spending too much time on it. We had to sell clean versions for less, because the majority didn’t want them. We had to exchange a lot of clean versions for something else too, when it wasn’t obvious by the packaging.

Looking back at the kind of music people used to get upset about, it seems hilariously blown out of proportion. I’ll end today’s tale with a quote from Dee Snider’s testimonial at the senate hearing:

“The PMRC has made public a list of 15, of what they feel are some of the most blatant songs lyrically. On this list is our song “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” upon which has been bestowed a “V” rating, indicating violent lyrical content.

”You will note from the lyrics before you that there is absolutely no violence of any type either sung about or implied anywhere in the song. Now, it strikes me that the PMRC may have confused our video presentation for this song with the song with the lyrics, with the meaning of the lyrics.

”It is no secret that the videos often depict story lines completely unrelated to the lyrics of the song they accompany. The video “We’re Not Gonna Take It” was simply meant to be a cartoon with human actors playing variations on the Roadrunner/Wile E. Coyote theme, Each stunt was selected from my extensive personal collection of cartoons.

”You will note when you watch the entire video that after each catastrophe our villain suffers through, in the next sequence he reappears unharmed by any previous attack, no worse for the wear.

”By the way, I am very pleased to note that the United Way of America has been granted a request to use portions of our “We’re Not Gonna Take It” video in a program they are producing on the subject of the changing American family. They asked for it because of its “light-hearted way of talking about communicating with teenagers.

“It is gratifying that an organization as respected as the United Way of America appreciates where we are coming from. I have included a copy of the United Way’s request as part of my written testimony. Thank you, United Way.”

CONCERT REVIEW: When Styles Collide (April 5 2013)

I’ve known one of these artists for 40 years, the other since she was born.  Rob Szabo is a childhood friend, and Kathryn Ladano got all the musical talent in my family!

563656_10152710710545468_886971882_nWhen Styles Collide:

MIX Music Series Concert #2


Musicians:

April 5, 2013, the Button Factory, Kitchener Ontario

Sponsored by NUMUS Concerts

Mix 2 posterA lot of rock fans can get into more cutting edge music, things a bit more challenging.  Many of us have ears already opened, by progressive rock giants such as Deep Purple, Dream Theater, and Frank Zappa.  When some of the region’s best musicians from various genres gather together to improvise live with an audience, it’s gonna be interesting.  The basic concept of When Styles Collide was to bring together players from different backgrounds, and see what happens.  Although some songs are pre-written pieces, all of the performances contained music made up entirely on the spot at one point or another.  Some are completely spontaneous.

Rob Szabo is a well known singer/songwriter and producer (his production helped bluesman Steve Strongman win a Juno award in 2013 for best Blues album).  Szabo is also a hell of a guitar soloist.  On another side of the musical spectrum is bass clarinetist Kathryn Ladano.  Even though the two have known each other for over 35 years (essentially all of Kathryn’s life since they were childhood neighbors), they’d never actually played together before.  Also present was Kathryn’s frequent collaborator and bandmate from the Digital Prowess days, Jason White.  The quintet was completed by Brandon Valdivia on the traps, and Brent Rowan with some smoove saxophone.

A cool spy drama from the early 60′s would make a great backdrop for the first performance (Rowan’s “By Chance”).  Mixing exotic rhythms with hypnotic patterns, sax and drums dominate.  Szabo rocked back and forth to the music before breaking out into a jazz-tinged solo.  Then it’s Ladano’s turn to lead, with some contrasting highs and lows.  The crowd broke into spontaneous applause — something rarely seen at an experimental music geek event such as this, at least in my experience! (I’m told this is more common with jazz crowds.)  They then rolled into an Ian Paice-style drum solo, before coming back to the main riff of the song.

The second piece, “A Side of Me” is one of Rob’s songs, led by a mournful riff, before Jason White joins him.  This is a vocal number, with Rob Szabo’s expressive vocals.  It sounds like it exists somewhere in early Radiohead, before they got too carried away with themselves.

Then it’s a slow jam (“Sketch 1″ from Valdivia), perhaps from that same 1960′s spy drama.  But this is the scene where our spy’s had too much to drink and he’s wandering around some dark alley after a heavy rain.  This is followed by “Rorschach” named for the classic vigilante from The Watchmen.  It’s a more chaotic jam, perhaps reflecting the character’s on-the-edge life.  Some seriously eerie sax and bass clarinet keep you on the edge, while the percussion is a distant thunderstorm.

Rob said “Incandescent” was written during a period of heavy touring.  It’s one of Rob’s best tunes, melodic and melancholy, but with an occasional glimmer to let you know he’ll be OK.  The band seemed to be having fun jamming behind him.  Brent Rowan’s sax solo was appropriate and stunning on its own, but then Jason white took the lead with some fluttering piano awesome-sauce.

The band closed their first set with an improvisation, a rhythmic jam.  It’s really cool to see and hear the music build, like waves.  You can catch glances back and forth, the musicians communicating by eye, but most of the time they seem well ensconced in their playing.  It’s also cool to know that the music never existed before this moment, and if it wasn’t for the recording equipment, it would also be lost forever just after that moment.

The second set began rhythmically, with a catchy instrumental jam (“Sketch 2″).  There were solos from the wind instruments, and a constant background of interesting and sometimes exotic rhythms.  Rob Szabo laid down a guitar part that looked really really hard; his eyes concentrating on a music stand in front of him, his hand making giant leaps up and down the frets!  A cool drum solo was also captivating.  Kathryn explains:

“The two Sketches do have some basic material that we are following.  That’s why you hear a lot of melodies repeat. It features a small amount of notes and a basic structure that tells you how often to repeat, and when to solo. That’s how we’re able to end together, because it tells us that too. Despite the structure, the two Sketches are still very free and allow us to each do our own thing a lot of the time.”

“Good Son” is from Rob Szabo’s Sore Loser, part of a double EP.  The band didn’t obstruct the quiet song, but instead accented it.  I enjoyed Jason White’s complimentary piano lines.

The jazz-funk of “Funk” (good title) rocked, like a sweaty version of “Pickin’ Up the Pieces”, saxophone taking center stage.  Then, surprisingly, a spoken word piece.  Szabo put down the guitar and exchanged it for the microphone; the words were Nietzsche.  Jason White wrote the music, which he called “Fierce Fighter”.

Kathryn wrote “I Told You So”, a tricky little number that employs some of her favourite bass clarinet tricks.  It also seems to dance around the main rhythm to “Sunshine of Your Love”.  It’s pretty lyrical and out there, very cool and weird.  The band ended with a final Szabo song, “Police Report” that evolved into an extended jam.  Rob’s echo-y guitar solo ended the show on a particularly noisy, rock n’ roll note.

4.5/5 stars

Set 1:
1. “By Chance” by Brent Rowan
2. “A Side of Me” by Rob Szabo
3. “Sketch 1” by Brandon Valdivia
4. Improvisation by Kathryn Ladano, Brent Rowan, and Brandon Valdivia
5. “Rorschach” by Jon Maheraj (arranged by Jason White)
6. “Incandescent” by Rob Szabo
7. Group Improvisation
Set 2:
1. “Sketch 2” by Brandon Valdivia
2. “Good Son” by Rob Szabo
3. “Funk” by Brent Rowan
4. “Fierce Fighter” by Jason White
5. “I Told You So” by Kathryn Ladano
6. “Police Report” by Rob Szabo (leads into a final group improvisation)
Some photos by Martin LePage

REVIEW: The Rolling Stones – Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967)

Thanks Aaron for hooking me up with this CD.

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THE ROLLING STONES – Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967 London/Decca)

It would be lazy for me to compare this album to contemporaries of the band. It would also be lazy to use the old outdated “psychedelic” adjective to describe this music. I can think of numerous other adjectives: challenging, rewarding, inventive, chaotic, grimy, majestic.

Andrew Loog Oldham had quit his post as the band’s producer and manager, leaving the Stones to their own devices.  It sounds as if they explored every possible indulgence (musically and otherwise).

Their Satanic Majesties Request takes some of the musical expeditions that The Rolling Stones had completed on Between The Buttons (think “Ruby Tuesday”), and turns that on its head. Mix in ample supplies of chemicals and a total fearlessness, and a belief that what they were doing was total brilliance, and what you get is Their Satanic Majesties Request. This album surely must have convinced parents that Satan himself was possessing the hi-fi.

Light on guitar, rhythm and blues, Their Satanic Majesties Request is still among the best Stones albums if you can penetrate its purple smokey haze. Doing so will reveal an album constructed in layers, and peeling back these layers will release melodies and instrumentation that will keep you enthralled for years, as you keep coming back to this album. Is that Mick asking, “Where’s that joint?”

I’m fond of the opening track, “Sing This All Together”, which sounds (at times) like a cross between the Beatles and a James Bond theme.  I’m sure some fans were wondering, “Where’s the guitars?”  They’re on there, used sparingly but effectively.  “Citadel” has guitars; grimy, dirty guitars, chugging out distorted chords under Mick’s dreamy melodies.  This one reminds me of early Alice Cooper, who I am sure was influenced by this album.

Bill Wyman sings lead on “In Another Land”, the watery vocal track sounding like it was recorded in another land.   “2000 Man” is as catchy as anything else the Stones produced, with neat lyrics that must have seemed so forward-thinking in 1967.  I love the guitar melody, and how it sounds like a completely different song on the choruses.  “She’s A Rainbow” is a perfect pop song, as brilliant as “Ruby Tuesday” if not moreso due to Charlie Watts’ relentlessness.  Meanwhile, “The Lantern” happily meanders along, amidst what sounds like out-of-tune guitars and horns.  Likewise “Gomper” wanders about, loads of sitar invading the eardrums, and lots of other stuff I can barely identify.

“2000 Light Years From Home” is a good one, loaded with Brian’s mellotron, again sounding perpetually out of tune.  Fortunately Charlie keeps the song moving forward, his timing always perfect.  Then, “On With the Show” brings us back in time to a simpler age, Mick affecting an accent for this fun retro piece.

While every song has melodies and instrumentation coming out the wazoo, it surely is “Sing This All Together (See What Happens)” (not to be confused with “Sing This All Together”) that is the centrepiece of this bizarre journey into the unknown. 8 1/2 minutes long, and never really going anywhere, some might consider this a waste of vinyl. On the other hand, those that have studied free improvisation will get inspiration out of this bizarre arrangement.

Brian Jones continued to experiment with multiple instruments including sitar (hey, it was the 60’s). Guests include Lennon and McCartney, Steve Marriot and Ronnie Lane, Nicky Hopkins, and future Led Zeppelin bassist / keyboardist / string arranger John Paul Jones.

The original LP featured a lenticular cover gimmick, as well as a maze inside that can never be solved.  How quaint!

Next time somebody comes up to you and says, “Yeah, this new band that I like, they sound really Stones-y,” then respond by playing “Sing This All Together (See What Happens)” and ask if this is what they meant. Watch the looks on their faces.

In the end, the Stones decided to return to their blues rock sound on Beggars Banquet, which was probably the best way to continue to have a viable career.

4/5 stars