Saturday, July 4, 2015

Music: Isaac Baranoff - Chester's Gorilla

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Friday, July 3, 2015

Friday, June 26, 2015

Hemispheres: Ween - The Mollusk

Welcome back to Hemispheres, where Isaac Baranoff takes a look at  the constantly evolving world of progressive rock. Developing from rock bands' interest in combining rock with influences from jazz and classical music, prog has developed into a fullblown worldwide phenomenon, with artists across the globe combining prog with influences from other genres, including alternative rock and heavy metal.

So who are Ween exactly? Well, the basic band consisted of two guys, Dean Ween (whose real name was Michael "Mickey" Melchiondo, Jr.) and Gene Ween (whose real name was Aaron Freeman). The Weens were inspired by a lot of different artists and genres, starting as a punk-inspired act in the late '80s and recording a series of self-released demo albums followed by their first professionally recorded album, GodWeenSatan: The Oneness, featuring a multi-genre sound and comedic lyrics. They signed to Elektra in 1992, releasing Pure Guava.

With 1996's 12 Golden Country Greats, the band shifted away from its multi-genre approach for a series of albums focusing mostly on a single genre: That first album obviously was a country-driven album, while The Mollusk was largely influenced by progressive rock, and White Pepper, largely influenced by the psychedelic pop of The Beatles. The band broke up in 2012, with Dean Ween retiring to become a fisherman and Gene Ween forming the Gene Ween Band.

I'm Dancing in the Show Tonight: The album opens in true Ween fashion with a quirky, piano-driven pop-styled novelty tune, inspired by a 1953 Christmas song, "Are My Ears on Straight?" recorded by then 10-year-old Gayla Peevey. The piano is joined by winds, tubas, percussion, synthesized strings and pitch-corrected vocal harmony (think the Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz, or Frank Zappa's We're Only In It For The Money). RATING: 3.5/5

The Mollusk: Folk-esque acoustic guitars mix with prog flutes and a mellow drumbeat, accompanying the singing. Synthesized orchestral-style horns come in, leading to a spoken word part and a layered, progressive synthesizer breakdown. RATING: 4/5

Polka Dot Tail: Synthesizers mix with layered vocals and a marching-band beat, leading into an electric guitar solo. The lyrics are typically Weenian nonsense. RATING: 3.5/5

I'll Be Your Jonny on the Spot: Marking another shift from the progressive rock sound of the album is a new wave-inspired tune. Fast-paced synthesizers and programmed drums drive this track. There is a synthesized equivalent of a guitar solo breaking up the vocals. RATING: 3.5/5

Mutilated Lips: Layered acoustic guitars mix with mellow synthesizers in the album's return to progressive rock. The vocals appear in both psychedelic-tinged flanges and Munchkin-esque pitch correction. There is an electric guitar solo. RATING: 5/5

The Blarney Stone: Another divergence in the album's sound -- the acoustic guitar, accordians and vocals imitate Irish folk music, though the vocals are very profane and vulgar ("Who's that girl, that pretty young thing / After I fuck her she'll get up and sing"). RATING: 4/5

It's Gonna Be (Alright): Mellow synthesizers, programmed drums and strings combine with vocals inspired by '60s psychedelic pop. RATING: 4/5

The Golden Eel: Yet another divergence in the album's sound -- combining Nine Inch Nails-esque industrial rock with Ween's trademark weird humor. RATING: 4/5

Cold Blows the Wind: Acoustic prog guitars and a subtle drumbeat mix with ballad-style vocals. Electric guitars and synthesizers join in, followed by synthesized violins, creating a chamber music-esque atmosphere. RATING: 4/5

Pink Eye (On My Leg): A blues rock-esque bassline and drumbeat leads into a theremin-esque synth line, followed by some very progressive synthesizer playing cut off by a dog barking. The theremin-esque synth returns, as the dog continues to bark, then the second synthesizer melody returns, mixed with the dog barking and human guttural sounds. RATING: 4/5

Waving My Dick in the Wind: Yet another style divergence, this track echoes the country stylings of Ween's 12 Golden Country Greats album, with similarly profane lyricism about alcoholism. The electric bass mingles with the flippant electric guitar on the left channel and the slower electric guitar on the right channel, leading into a percussion break, before the synthesizers come in at the middle channel, followed by another percussion break mixed with the guitars. RATING: 3.5/5

Buckingham Green: Ballad-style electric guitars mixed in with lo-fi, Beatles-esque vocals leading into extraterrestrial-styled synths leading into acoustic guitars and synthesized strings. Hard rock guitars and drums come in, mixing with the synthesizers and main acoustic melody. RATING: 4/5

Ocean Man: Programmed, electro-esque drums lead into acoustic folk rock guitars and country-esque electric guitars, leading into ripping, Hendrix-style psychedelic guitar, then into pulsing electro synths and floating, soaky drum hits as the vocals fade into echoes like a fucked up Beach Boys circa Smile. RATING: 4/5

She Wanted To Leave / (Reprise): Folky acoustic guitars mixed with soaky synthesizers and accented sailor-ballad vocals, and a chamber-style synthesized reprise of the opening track brings the album to a close. RATING: 4/5

While Ween are known for pushing the boundaries of testing their listeners patience, these aspects of Ween's sound are entirely absent in the band's sixth LP. The Mollusk is not the most traditional progressive rock album I've featured on the site, due to its incorporation of other genres in a manner entirely befitting Ween. Whether you consider these dudes to be alternative rock, experimental rock, avant-garde, comedy rock, or anything else that would be credible, it is their progressive rock album that is their strongest and most listenable, and the top of their albums, ahead of both 12 Golden Country Greats (my second-favorite album by the band) and the more avant-garde Chocolate and Cheese. Though it is highly accessible, The Mollusk maintains the experimental soul of Ween's sound. Recommended.


Be sure to buy my albums The Wedding AlbumNone More Black and Behind the Green Door. They're $5 each.

Monday, June 22, 2015