Known Johnson

August 7, 2005

The cut

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 8:58 pm

This has, in general, been a pretty damned good year for music. I’ve found so many favored new releases that my year-end best-of is going to be quite a daunting chore. However, and not unexpectedly, a few of the new releases this year have pretty much failed to elicit much of anything in me after the initial honeymoon period, if they even managed to do that. What is unexpected is who these disappointments are from:

Dream Theater: Octavarium – Drab, repetitive, and entirely unoriginal, this is a collection of Dream Theater’s worst moments. It sounded good in theory – in response to the criticism the band received for excessive (nearly nonstop) and completely pointless soloing on their previous album, Train of Thought, they scaled back on the finger exercises. But it turns out that exercises are about all this band has to offer, at least since keyboard wiz Jordan Rudess entered the picture back in the late 90s. Strip the past few albums of their wanky soloing and you’re left with very little actual musical content – and that’s exactly what Octavarium has to offer the listener: very little. What’s worse, the band is at the peak of their infantile need to make note of their favorite bands lately, and it culminated in this album’s “Never Enough,” an almost note-for-note “homage” to “Stockholm Syndrome” by drummer Mike Portnoy’s newest favorite source of inspiration, Muse. Note to Mike Portnoy: you actually need to have your band write the music for your albums. It’s not okay to keep stealing riffs and entire songs from other bands. This is an embarassing low.

Queens of the Stone Age: Lullabies to Paralyze – Their last album, Songs for the Deaf, was so creative and fun. How could they possibly go so far wrong on this album? Maybe it’s the lost of bassist Nick Oliveri, I don’t know, but the difference between the previous album and this one are actually fairly subtle – just enough, however, to make one a great listen and the other so dreary. This album is just plain not fun, and that’s kind of what the Queens are all about. What’s more, when I finish listening to this album, I actually feel a bit depressed. Like Dream Theater above, it’s just dreary.

Four Tet: Everything Ecstatic – For such an inventive musician, this album is anything but inventive. Its presence on this list is due to the fact that I can’t even be bothered to listen to this now – I see absolutely no need to hear this again. There’s nothing new here, and for such a forward-looking artist, that’s a pretty big problem. I’m so unenthused about this album that I really don’t have much of a criticism to offer – it’s just not very necessary.

Tori Amos: The Beekeeper – It’s probably a bit unfair of me to rip on this one. I’m not a big Amos fan – I have a very low tolerance for her twee musings, but after her last album, the lovely and dark Scarlet’s Walk, I had thought maybe she’d grown past her need to use words like “pantaloons” and “knickers.” Here’s the thing – it’s not the words so much, because I certainly don’t mind their employment by the Decemberists’ Colin Meloy – it’s her delivery of them, as if she’s standing in front of her high school English class delivering her latest “poem” with that coy, overzealous “look how different and odd I am” drama-club hard sell. It’s annoying, and, because of that, this album falls into the “most embarassing purchase” file, one that rarely gets used anymore. Congratulations, Tori. I can listen to some really weird stuff but this was just too ridiculous and awful, even for me.

Weezer: Make Believe – I wanted the haters to be wrong, so wrong. I wanted them to not “get” a new facet in the band’s sound, and not “get” the joke. Unfortunately, I’m having a hard time finding the joke myself, and after many listens, I just find myself let down. The album feels lost and confused, not to mention forced into being, as if the band really didn’t feel like making an album right now but the label leaned on them to put something out. Like the Queens of the Stone Age album, I’m left with a severe case of the drears after listening to this.

The Mars Volta: Frances the Mute – This may come across as petty, but my biggest problem with this album isn’t the music or lyrics . . . it’s the sound. This may be the worst recorded/mixed/mastered album I’ve ever personally owned. I’ve never had an album that actually offends my ears so much that, despite how much I might like the music, I’m simply unable to listen to it. Frances is one of the most jarringly abrasive albums I’ve ever heard – every bit of sound is pushed to the maximum to make it as loud as possible, a trait many newer albums (see Rush’s Vapor Trails for another example) suffer from but none that I’ve heard have actually prevented me from listening to and enjoying the music. It’s actually painful to listen to this. What a shame.

Of intriguing note is that five of these six albums are on major labels. And of the above, four have already found their way to repay me – they’ve been traded in for other, better music. Weezer’s Make Believe is teetering at the edge of the abyss, but my love for previous Weezer prevents it from tumbling over at this point. The Mars Volta isn’t in danger right now, as I’m hoping that as I get older I grow more deaf, which will enable me to listen to this album – possibly. But come this fall when I’m on a tight budget while we’re on a single income, Weezer and Frances the Mute may just find their heads on the chopping block.

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