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Artist: Mili
Album: Mag Mell
Grade: 5/10
Motivation: Beautiful themes suffering from very poor production choices

Another title takes me to an as of yet undiscovered nook in the musical spectrum. This time I’m presented with a cocktail of classical and pop music, in fifteen relatively bit-sized tracks. The songs retain the accessibility that pop music offers, while the chord progressions and structures lean more towards the classical themes. The combination works really well, and it’s clear that a lot of thought has been put into the composition. If only they’d done the same with the production…

First off, let’s start with the choice of musicians and instruments. We’re essentially looking at a four-piece band, with a singer, guitarist, bassist and drummer – which is odd, since keys play a very prominent role on this album. I’m going to go and assume that this falls under the guitarist’s and vocalist’s jurisdiction in their roles of ‘composer’. Another very obvious thing is that actual instruments are very much absent in this work. I’m unsure about the bass parts, but most of the drums and keys are electronic samples (of dubitable quality) and guitar parts are hard to come by. Add to that the fact that the sampled parts are either played incredibly tightly or adjusted to exactly fit every note and subdivision thereof, and this kind of sucks the soul out of the parts to the point where they might as well kick the drummer out and program the thing altogether.

The reason I’m not sure of the bass leads us to the second issue, namely frequencies. Each instrument sends out ‘information’ on a number of frequency bands, depending on which characteristic of the sound you want to highlight. Naturally, an important part of the bass guitar’s information is broadcast on the low frequencies, which on this production have been treated very poorly. This makes it hard to distinguish what’s being played and makes the composition lack ferocity.
Somewhere further up the spectrum the intelligibility of the vocals can be found, specifically between 3 and 6 kHz. Unfortunately, this band also contains a lot of information of other instruments such as guitars, keys and cymbals. And specifically the latter, further compounded by the poor sample choice, really screw up the mix. Listen to the last thirty seconds of the first track: the cymbals are nothing but a big hiss running straight through everything and severely compromising whatever else is trying to take up that space. But even without those, the vocals still don’t get the prominent role they should have.

These issues make further analysis of what’s being played a waste of time. Intricate composition is worth nothing if you’re not going to be able to make heads nor tails of it after the producer has either gone to great lengths to violate it or simply doesn’t have the skills and/or sense to bring out the best in it. I think the music itself could be pretty damn good, but definitely not in this person’s hands.

@Dr. Granola: Sorry if this isn’t what you’d expected. I hope I can make it up by presenting you with Auf Der Maur’s self-titled album. Somehow your submission reminds me of this.

Dr. Granola:
On one hand, I have a word for that issue where I can't make head or tails of what's playing. Espescially the cymbal hiss in the first track.
On the other, I just had my favorite artist get completely snuvbbed. Umm... It gets better I guess? I don't hear much of these issues in their more recent work at least.
I noticed you didn't mention any of the other tracks much. Ephemeral is my favorite track on the album, what is yours?
As for the recommend, I'll check it out. I'll get back to you in a couple days. Don't expect any thing comprehensoive though.

I'd have to say Utopiosphere's the best track, great structure and chord progressions and relatively little interference from the production. And from what I can quickly glean from their more recent uploads, the quality has definitely improved in this respect, making for a much more enjoyable experience altogether.

Don't worry about all the technical bla bla. Listen to the work at hand, single out the things you like and those you don't and try to describe them as accurately as possible. There's no right or wrong, it's about forming and formulating an opinion.

Artist: Murmuüre
Album: Murmuüre
Grade: 9.5/10
Motivation: A trip down the rabbit hole. Please throw me back in if you see me crawling out.

On the third attempt in this exercise I’m back on familiar ground. Murmuüre’s album is a highly eclectic mix of some type of metal – I’m not too familiar with nor interested in the different labels – industrial and soundscaping, delivering six tracks of roughly five minutes each. Reminiscent of work by Fantômas, Tim Hecker and an album by Hermann Blaupunkt I coincidentally recently covered for my local people, the songs appear not to be so much about telling stories rather than about creating specific vibes, exploring the borders of the musical gamut and zig-zagging across them. They mostly lack conventional structures, and with the surprising turns they take and the interesting choices of instruments and samples, there’s little to prepare the listener for an adventure such as this one.

Although the work might fall outside most people’s definition of what music is, it’s clear that a lot of effort has gone into composition. Each song comprises a multitude of layers even though conventional instruments play a relatively small part in them. The intricacy borders on the insane, and that’s one of the great powers of the album. Apart from the inherently metal building blocks – guitars, bass, drums and someone screaming their lungs out – there’s a lot of synths, flutes and outright noise-based samples thrown into the mix, ranging from the sweetly melodic to the unsettlingly dissonant. Chord progressions are hard to predict in the best of cases, but hardly ever feel forced – that alone is a winning approach in my book. The songs keep on stacking one surprise on top of the other, making for a roller coaster ride that makes you want to brutally elbow your way back to the front of the queue even before the carts have come to a full stop.

The production is harsh and sharp to an extent that any conventional album would have been made completely indigestible by it. The drums and guitars slice straight through everything, but are offset brilliantly by the fuller sound of the synths and other supporting sounds. The vocals have been rendered completely unintelligible, and are used as another source of noise instead. There may be lyrics in there somewhere, but that’s not going to be something you’ll find out by listening. The stereo image – the sense of space in the music – is also used to a good extent, with stuff happening all over the place. The approach to production is directly related to the approach to composition, making the sum greater than its parts.

This piece, to me, comes close to being the perfect album to lose yourself in. The only real points of criticism that I have is that 1) Disincarnate, the final track, is a bit anticlimactic compared to the rest – although in my mind’s eye, I can see end credits rolling across the screen to this tune – and 2) THE ALBUM IS TOO FUCKING SHORT. THIS NEEDS TO BE THREE FULL LENGTH CDS AT LEAST. WHAT THE FUCK WERE THEY THINKING ;)

Seldom have my ears been raped this pleasantly. Do it again.

@Uranium: thanks a million. Check out the referenced bands above if you’re really into this kind of thing. Since I’ve already asked thelaptop to cover Fantômas – potentially breaking his grumpybone in the process – I thought I’d dig up something else to have you immerse yourself in. It’s a title I’ve first heard about 20 years ago, which has been in my all-time top 3 ever since. I’m not going into the details of why this is so, I’ll leave you to (hopefully) discover these for yourself. Please enjoy Tool’s Ænima.

Tool - Aenima

I've always felt I had a love/hate relationship with Tool, a band that straddle the seldom-trodden line between progressive rock/metal and groove metal. I've not heard too much of Tool, prior to this listening I had only listened to other people's choice cuts from this album (normally Forty Six & 2 and Aenima) and to 10,000 Days and somewhat as I expected, my opinion of those extends to my opinion of Aenima as a whole.

Aenima isn't a bad album, by any stretch of the imagination - the riffs are meaty, the lyrics are pretty cool, the musicianship is real, real tight and the production is quality. Sounds weave between and around each other as one of the instruments creates a skeleton for the others to dance around, and the band pulls this off almost perfectly. The guitars take lurching turns inside single riffs, creating a pretty off-kilter sound that pervades through almost the entire album. Also a pretty sweet guitar tone, and the drumming is beautifully hypnotic, plus bongos!

The one thing I dislike about Tool is, sadly, one of its defining features - Maynard James Keenan. Specifically, his voice. It's a shame, too, because he's a talented lyricist and (from what I hear) is a stellar frontman. I just can't get over the actual sound of his voice, though, and the worst thing is that I couldn't explain at gunpoint what I don't like about it. Is it too whiny, too "weird"? I have no idea and it saddens me a little. Throughout the album, his voice is modulated in all sorts of ways and it takes different places in the soundstage of the album, which is one of the things I really appreciated about this album (but in a selfish sort of way - not only does it keep you guessing and treats MJK's voice as another instrument rather than the star of the show, it kept me from focusing on it too aggressively throughout the hour-or-so that the album runs).

The interludes are a mixed bag - some, such as "Message to Harry Manback" (apparently a belligerent phone-call from an unwanted guest of Keenan's? this was fucking great) and "die Eier von Satan" (which sounds super industrial, only very slightly marred IMO by the spoken word) are great and add to the weird feel of the album. Others are unmemorable and don't really do anything for me, and the persistence of these interludes, often one between every other or every two songs, also rubs me the wrong way.

In conclusion - Aenima's a solid album. Instrumentals are practically flawless and the chemistry between whoever's playing is so good it's almost bubbling. I feel it's kept back somewhat by Keenan's voice and the occasionally irritating interludes. I can't completely disregard MJK's voice here though, as the album would definitely feel weaker without it.
Overall, I'd peg this as a 6.5-7/10, possibly improving as I go back for more listens.
Man, it's been a long time since I've written a music review that wasn't a sarcastic paragraph or a single sentence of praise. That was real enjoyable, I'm glad I did this. I'm glad you enjoyed Murmuure as much as you did - it was an almost religious experience hearing it for the first time myself. Cheers for the recommendation! I'll be relistening to this, and exploring more of Tool as I get the time.
I'm a little busy at the moment, but I'll shoot you another album within a day or so.


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