1. Breaking Benjamin
Well, it's the second time that I've overlooked an amazing band's debut album while having really enjoyed their later stuff (see The Album Quest, Part 1: the Arctic Monkeys section). In any case, I thoroughly enjoyed the raw power and omnipresent metal influences throughout Breaking Benjamin's first full-length production. When listening, it becomes very clear where the foundations for the band's later awesomeness were laid. The single "Polyamorous" is an instant hit, very catchy but also very well written/composed. "Natural Life" and "Next to Nothing" are equally solid tracks, and overall the album delivers with a force more violent than any other Breaking Benjamin productions - Ben Burnley's use of growled vocals is a lot more present here than in any later albums. This album is a must-listen if you came to Breaking Benjamin from the metal side of things.
BXI is apparently one-off collaboration between Japanese noise-rockers Boris and former The Cult frontman Ian Astbury that for some reason deserved its own band name as well as album title. In any case, one listen to the short but extremely sweet piece of work tells you why it did indeed deserve its own band name. For this is a dimension of Boris we have seldom seen before. It's a sound we've been offered snippets of, most notable in Boris' collaboration with Michio Kurihara (Rainbow) and their album Soundtrack to the Film "Mabuta No Ura", but in fact it is an atmosphere very specific to this album. It seems almost as if Boris crafted this feel to go with Astbury's voice as much as they could, and in this aspect they most certainly succeeded for the two complement each other to perfection. One can actually easily say Boris and Astbury succeeded at basically everything in this album, from the three masterful original pieces to the fresh and intelligent cover of The Cult's own "Rain" with Boris' guitarist Wata providing very ethereal female vocals that just work for some reason. And when things "just work" with Boris, things are just awesome.
3. Chad Smith's Bombastic Meatbats
a.) Meet the Meatbats
We all know Chad Smith, if not by name. He's the guy who has so seamlessly accompanied Flea's phenomenal bass work at the root of the Red Hot Chili Peppers since he replaced D.H. Peligro circa Mother's Milk, so all of the classic Chili Peppers tracks (Under the Bridge, Scar Tissue, By the Way, Snow ((Hey Oh))...) have had him pumping out the rhythm. Anyways, through various side projects he met a few wonderfully talented players and ended founding the Bombastic Meatbats, a funk/jazz/rock fusion band of tremendous awesomeness. Their first album, Meet the Meatbats, is a perfect balance between the three genres, often blending all of them in a single piece. All instrumental, the four members of the Meatbats take turns in being awesome, each having their turn at some sort of blistering solo, funkadelic riff, or jazzy atmosphere. Makes for some great homework music!
b.) More Meat
The Bombastic Meatbats' second album is slightly more on the rock side of things than the first one, but songs like "Shag" keep the chill jazz mood going. Although I enjoyed the first album slightly more than this, I think that is only personal preference, for musically both works are equally as solid. And if you ever wondered where one can find a crossover between jazz and metal guitar work, this album is a great place to look (or rather listen, I guess). Starting off with chill and intelligent jazz improv riffs, Jeff Kollman slowly builds up the intensity until he is fully shredding through jazz scales before coming back down to earth. Really cool and eye-opening stuff. So yeah, highly recommended.
4. Creep AC
a.) Do the Humans Kill the Earth?
Alright, I'll be straight up honest with this one: it was the definite "low" of this series of albums. A sort of grunge/punk/alt. rock group stuck somewhere between Boris and Nirvana, these French guys never really grabbed a hold of my attention. The guitars were loud and sure, there were some good riffs and rhythms at times, but the musically low-quality vocal work, cliché lyrics and overall over-reliance on pumping power chords as loud as possible ruined most of the experience. I think I'll be deleting this soon, to make way for the Tom Waits discography I just downloaded...
5. Crippled Black Phoenix
a.) I, Vigilante
In a complete 180 degree turn in quality of music, we know find ourselves with what I would consider the finest piece in this entire series of albums. Post-rock supergroup Crippled Black Phoenix, composed of past members of bands including Mogwai, Iron Monkey, and Electric Wizard, have created here a WW2-themed mini-album/EP that simply blows one's mind far, far way. These long, epic tracks have a way of capturing the mind in their atmospheres and not letting go, making the 10-odd minutes seem like almost nothing, and sometimes almost too short. Although one senses a heaving Pink Floyd influence, you are never overwhelmed by it and always feel like this is something fresh and new. Very high quality music, very much recommended.
b.) A Love of Shared Disasters
Not quite as purely awesome as I, Vigilante but yet still very very good, A Love of Shared Disasters goes for more of a slow, melancholy approach that seems very fitting for the subjects explored in the lyrics. The atmospheres are mostly gloomy and esoteric, sometimes getting heavier and feeling like humidity-saturated 40-degree summer air. The layers are always interesting and once again grab a steady hold on your musically-attentive mind.
c.) 200 Tons of Bad Luck
Similar to A Love of Shared Disasters, this album often goes even heavier and gloomier than the former. The atmospheres are saturated with melodies and harmonies that never seem to hit a positive note, and that's fine because they're so good you don't really want them to, as if that would ruin the whole feeling and it just wouldn't be the same; for some reason I think that's true. So it's not really depressing as much as just a natural melancholy mood, much like Jacques in Shakespeare's As You Like It: heavy, gloomy melancholy is the music's normal state of being, and that's just awesome. So if you're prepared to sit down and get lost in that world for some time, then go ahead and go through this album. If you only want a few minutes in it, then listen to a few tracks and you'll get a nice dose of it. In any case, it's highly recommended you try something with this awesomeness.
Focus is the original Cynic album. The band got together, recorded it, toured, then went their separate ways until just a few years ago when they decided to get back together and make an EP. In any case, Focus is genuinely great electro/jazz/death metal fusion. The riffs are powerful and very intelligent, as expected from any good death metal band, the drums rock with the riffs very well, and as to the rest... It's all in the song structure really. Tracks start in death metal, and then break into an electro-jazz fusion funnily reminiscent of the Bombastic Meatbats. The bass starts doing a lot more work than one would expect from a death metal band, or at least it's a lot more noticeable. A bit of tapping, some really cool intervals, all mixed with some great keyboard work and all under some really cool vocoded vocals. A good metal drum fill and we're back with the death metal riffs and growls. It's a great journey that is very nourishing to the music-thirsty mind, for one discovers many combinations of sounds that one is not very used to, and (hopefully) one finds this awesome. So if you're ready, take the plunge into the awesomely weird world of Cynic.
Well, that's it for now. Next time: it's all very dark and melodic-death-metal-ish with both Dark Lunacy and Dark Tranquillity. We then move on to David Byrne and Fatboy Slim's collaboration Here Lies Love, Death Cab for Cutie's Plans and Narrow Stairs, and finally we finish with the two Decemberists albums I have not checked out yet for some reason - Picaresque and Her Majesty.
In other news, my upcoming project with Chris Drexler-Lemire now has a name which we will not reveal, and house music has a very exciting week: both deadmau5's new album 4x4=12 and Daft Punk's Tron Legacy Soundtrack come out. Get pumped (and by pumped, I mean side-chained)!
Cheers, and sorry if you didn't get the ultra-nerdy house joke,