Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Impressive Songs, Volume 1

Ever listen to the radio, only to be inundated with polished, preformulated, trite pop crap like whiny boy band pop ballads, morally bankrupt, electronica driven diva anthems, and motion picture love songs specifically written to be hits by industry insiders who know more about marketing than musicianship? Ever wonder whatever happened to genuinely emotional songs written by actual musicians with real emotions to express? They still exist; you just have to look harder for them these days because record companies find it easier to recycle the same clichéd rhetoric to a public desensitized enough to buy it than to actually promote acts who, say, actually care about music.

So I present to you, my imaginary legions of loyal readers, the first installment in hopefully a series of songs that I regard as truly impressive. As long as no one seriously objects to my providing low-quality samples of the music that I'm praising, I plan on making this somewhat of a regular feature, until I run out of storage space or bandwidth.

Dead Soul Tribe - "Some Things You Can't Return"
There are very few bands anymore that I can count on to produce new albums full of quality material with no filler. Dead Soul Tribe is one of those. I never have to question whether to buy each new album. When contronted with a band that consistently produces exceptional material, it's often difficult to select one song that stands out as the exception to the exceptional. I could easily have chosen several other songs in this one's place, but for some reason this song has always stood out in my mind as Dead Soul Tribe's benchmark work. When I think of Dead Soul Tribe, this is the song that most readily comes to mind. Starting out with a dark, ominous bassline, it moves into a foreboding chord progression with startling, ambient percussion. Devon Graves' ethereal voice picks up with a detatched emptiness of hollow reflection. The chorus follows with the agony of the dead while the guitars build to a terrifying crescendo. The song continues to weave between this solemn introspection and the anguished cries building to leave as much of a mark on the listener as that of the subject matter itself. The best part is that it's catchy enough to make you crave listening to it over and over again. You may note a Tool vibe with this song, but Dead Soul Tribe puts Tool to shame, making them look like the pretentious wankers they very well may be. Whereas Tool's last album was a coma-inducing tribute to Maynard's coma-induced mother, Dead Soul Tribe's last album was absolutely mind-blowing.

Fates Warning - "Wish"
Fates Warning was one of the originators of the progressive metal movement, and oddly enough, is one of the most underrated bands in it. Although A Pleasant Shade of Gray is widely regarded as their crowning achievement, one of their most powerful songs can be found closing their last studio album, FWX. This song is so utterly moving that, if the band decided to not release another album under the Fates Warning name, I would be content to have it be their swan song. The lyrics are obviously dedicated to the songwriter's young child, but it's ambiguous enough to easily be applied to a lover, friend, relative, or any loved one, with the wish expressed in the explosive final verses. Everything about the song, from the fretful staccato rhythm guitar that echoes through the song to the mournful lead guitar licks convey all the hope and dread that comes with truly loving someone. This is one of my favorite songs in my entire collection. Every time I hear it, it never fails to move me.

Pain of Salvation - "Diffidentia"
Pretty much everything Daniel Gildenlöw writes is packed with socio-political conviction and explosive, dramatic emotion. I could have easily chosen anything off of The Perfect Element, Part 1, which I consider to be the band's crowning achievement thus far primarily due to its themes of child abuse and social decay that are smacked across the listener's face with unabashed ferocity. Perhaps at some point I may nominate a song from that album, but right now, what I believe is one of the most remarkably powerful songs from this band comes from their God album, Be. "Diffidentia" starts out with an angry missive, "I will never submit to all the things you said God!" and then this unbelievable crunching guitar wall hits your head like a fucking brick. Partway through, it contains a startlingly hateful spoken word passage that touches upon humanity's growing contempt for the concept of God. Toward the end, we catch a little bit of God's possible contemplation on the current condition of humanity as well...

Nevermore - "Dreaming Neon Black"
Somewhere between the heavy metal version of Queensrÿche and what Metallica would have sounded like if they went on to not suck outright through the 1990s, taken to the nth degree, lies Nevermore. This is one of the most unabashedly angry bands I've ever come across. They aren't posturingly angry like most of these nu metal bands, and they aren't comically angry, advocating Satan worship, like a lot of the death metal bands. Nevermore is dripping with vehement bitterness about religion, about politics, about the world, about everything. If you ever feel angry about anything, just immerse yourself in a Nevermore album and let the aggression melt out of you. The album Dreaming Neon Black is about a man looks to many various outlets to come to terms with his newlywed wife's suicide — religion, mysticism, drugs, and eventually death itself. Yeah, this is Nevermore's idea of a romantic album, and the title track is the "love song" from it. Warrel Dane is as technically proficcient of a singer as Geoff Tate only far more dynamic, and he flows through anguish, remorse, bitterness, and resolution with uncanny ease.

Finally, something a little more upbeat, but no less remarkable of a composition:
King Crimson - "The World's My Oyster Soup Kitchen Floor Wax Museum"
Okay, the lyrics make almost no sense, but the lyrics aren't the focal point of this song. However, they are nontheless brilliant lyrics. The verses are nothing more than a word game, with each end word being the start word of another combination. For instance, the title: The world is my oyster / oyster soup / soup kitchen / kitchen floor / floor wax / wax museum. The fun is trying to figure out the word-play in the lyrics. The chorus is relatively everything you could possibly "get," including "jiggy with it," (it came out around the time that Will Smith released Big Willy Style). The focal point of King Crimson, though, has never been the lyrics, which is actually part of what makes Adrian Belew a fairly decent lyricist, in context. The focal point of King Crimson is the music. A cross between heavy metal and freeform jazz, King Crimson was one of the very first bands to truly be classified as progressive, especially progressive metal. "Oyster Soup Kitchen Floor," (as I like to abbreviate it), is an entirely atonal masterpiece. Everything about it is complete chaos, yet it holds itself together in a tightly-defined pattern. The guitar solo is one of the main reasons that Robert Fripp is one of the most gifted guitarists in the history of rock. And the piano chorus — is not really piano.

I'm trying out a new service. Hopefully these links will work. Let me know if they don't.

np: Pink Floyd - "Yet Another Movie"


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