Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Anyone can be the hero

Is there really any need to go over why I don't review albums again? Probably not, but I'll throw out the Reader's Digest Condensed Version:

I simply don't feel it's my place to tell you what to listen to.

You're all adults. You have your own ideas and attitudes and likes and dislikes. Still, sometimes an album comes into my possession that compels me to elucidate.

The problem inherent with that, of course, is that there's no guarantee that what I take away from a song will be the meaning that its author originally attributed to the work, and it sure as hell won't be what you take away from it either. Art's like that. It's what makes it powerful.

It's also how fights get started.

So, I guess I should preface this by saying that Ultraklystron's Romance Language is a work fraught with intense emotion. As such, its songs tend to personalize themselves to the listener. As I worked my way through the album time and time again, I found myself in the shoes of the lyrical protagonists. Karl Olson weaves a complex web of sense images in his work that seems, at times, to blur the line between his personal experiences and those of the anime characters with which he so strongly identifies. Still, somehow, in the midst of this, he makes room for the listener too. It never gets crowded because there's plenty of room to feel.

The following outlines what I observe of the songs in questions – the verbal mechanics and the musical nuts and bolt – but it also relies heavily on how those tracks make me feel and how I believe their storytellers (whether they be Ultraklystron or Shuu-chan or little ol' me or some mix of all of us) emote. It's far from an exact science.

So read on if you like, but take things with a grain of salt. These are simply my impressions. Any legitimate truth found herein is simply fortuitous.

  1. “Broken Sutures”: Now this is an excellent starter, complete with some classic Karl Olson ambient in the intro. It's rare that a song of love lost manages to take such a very frank look at the decaying of a relationship. This track both prepares the listener for the first “arc” of the album and summarily misleads him into believing that Karl's only going to focus on the less-than stellar aspects of love.
  2. “Girls With Glasses”: This song leads with a very nice piano hook, but switches it up with a scream rock chorus. It also boasts some of that Ultraklystron speed-rap that the man is becoming known for. Thematically, Karl cheers on the socially awkward: a group that he both teasingly rejects and, alternately, affectionately embraces throughout the release.
  3. “Cosplay-free Saturday”: More scream rock and a very heavy beat for Ultraklystron, but don't call it Linkin Karl; this musing on romance and emotional connection vs. sex and the essence of genuine sentiment vs. half-hearted role playing again blurs the line between personal experience, hypothetical consideration, and good, old-fashioned otaku observation.
  4. “Shoujo n' Shonen”: The amazingly bright Baddd Spellah production of this cut plays against Karl's own, more subdued style nicely. The split vocals with Nursehella is also a brilliant touch, as her direct and sexual delivery contrasts well with Karl's more coy and reserved rhyming. For the outsider (like yours truly) the veritable orgy of anime name-dropping is a bit dense, but the track is hot enough to make it worth the trouble.
  5. “Hearts Bangin”: In this song we finally get a little braggadocio from Karl, though not of the sort one would expect from an MC. Not many cats could get away with repping their own righteousness and moral fortitude (Who else could use the word “coquettish” to describe himself?), but Ultraklystron pulls it off. There's a very nice rocked-up chorus as well, that combines with the tracks other superlative elements to make this a definite highlight to what is already shaping up to be a wonderful album.
  6. “Well That's Moe”: Thanks to karl and the fine folks at Wikipedia, I now understand what moe is. Sort of. This is an example of an Ultraklystron song that isn't expressly for me, the non-otaku listener, and that's okay. It still manages to be fun, even if impenetrable to the outsider. Please note the flow. Other MCs will be tested on it later.
  7. “Chocolat Cay-kee”: This one boasts an oddly familiar backing (that I just can't seem to put my finger on), but still sounds unlike any other nerdcore track I've ever encountered. Lyrically, it's a meditation on love, trust, and duty that proves another highlight of Romance Language .
  8. “Amour”: This marks the work's first song to unabashedly reference Ultraklystron's romance with fellow nerdcore artist Nursehella. Like Beefy's “wonderfulamazing” it's an impeccably personal song that invites the listener into the mind (and heart) of the artist. It's another brilliant track, that somehow, despite boasting ridiculously fast rhyming, a sing-songy chorus, and an overall disco feel, really works.
  9. “Sunlight”: I've got some minor lyrical gripes about this song. Rhymes about cigarettes and “playa-haters” seem almost too pedestrian for Ultraklystron, but I reckon it's not my place to choose the man's words for him. This track hinges musically on a slow and dirge-like vocal and musical tone, and thematically it references some problems within the scene. Like any good song, it makes me wonder if these problems and misunderstandings aren't used as a metaphor for bigger issues. Complaints and conjecture aside, it manages to be a cool, slow-jam with an odd (but good) ending.
  10. “Home”: This is a sincere love song that I honestly couldn't say a bad word about if I wanted to. Even more than that, it's a trust song. Karl did an excellent job of confronting a near-insurmountable subject.
  11. “Girls With Glasses (Reprise)”: As odd as it may sound, I think this one is my favorite song on the concept “side” of this album. It's so pure, so simple, so sincere. This is a phenomenal ending cut that maybe loses some steam only because it doesn't actually end the album proper. Thematically, Karl finds validation (which he's been lyrically searching for – one way or another – throughout the album). Sure, there are a couple of staggered rhymes, but that simply adds to the charm.
  12. “Front to the Back (K-beam Remix)”: Truthfully, Ultraklystron loses me a little with the intro, but makes the song more than makes up for it by morphing into a very accessible party jam. Who knew Karl had it in him? Despite my misgivings concerning it, cuts like this really make up for the dualist nature of the release itself.
  13. “So Long Kids (Remix)”: This is certainly not a bad remix, but I prefer the original, though, truthfully, it's not my favorite Ultraklystron song. This is definitely fan service for the anime faithful among the ranks, and I certainly can't fault Karl for that.
  14. “Scenester Blues (Remaster)”: This is a frank observation on what Karl dislikes about the nerdcore community. You've heard it before, but it bears repeating.
  15. “Opensource Lyricist (Remix)”: This track really makes me look forward to the new album. As a long-time listener, I kept waiting for a serious onslaught of anime references I couldn't possibly comprehend, but it never came. This funny, ironic, and a little self-effacing song is cut from the same thematic cloth as Beefy's “Buy This CD” and Frontalot's “Charity Case,” but it certainly doesn't lose any steam because of it.
  16. “The Mind Explodes (Remaster)”: This one is all about the chorus. Shit, I respect any man who looks more like Harry Potter than me but who'll still say, with a straight face, “I got a chamber of secrets.” ;)
  17. “Cuteness (Remix)”: The chainsaw backing and outrageous flow make this a track not to be missed, even though some parts feel out of time to me. This is Karl's “I'm a badass” track, and it's so different from the rest of his catalogue.
  18. “Gleam”: Who would've thought that one of the best pop songs I've heard this decade would be from a nerdcore otaku? This is quite possibly my favorite song of the entire album because it's both amazingly good and totally unexpected. A love song about saying goodbye? A complicated love song if ever there was one!
  19. “Hit Reply (Remix)”: This one almost sounds like an mc chris joint, but Karl's style is unmistakable. His fingerprints are all over it. Once again we have a stunning ending track that's also not the end.
  20. “Nerd Slangin” ( AKA: the hidden track): This sweet and almost soulful tune is like a mint on your pillow after a long day of con-hopping. It's a love letter to a woman as well as a love letter to Adult Swim. Now that's nerdcore.
My major misgiving going into the album was its split nature; it is both a concept album and a rarities and remixes collection. I guess I was worried that the work couldn't be strong on both points. I was wrong. Ultraklystron merely wanted to give his listeners a little more for their money, a little more bang for their buck, and he delivered. For the more anal among you, I simply suggest that you convince yourself that it's two totally different works merely joined for convenience's sake. It worked for me.

Hell, in the end Karl's only sin was trying to give you more for less, and I ain't about to fault the guy for that.

So I guess this begs the question, would I recommend this album ? Honestly, I think that it would be wise for fans of Ultraklystron, anime, or nerdcore in general to take a listen. Despite the sea of differences between the two, I compare Romance Language to Beefy's Tube Technology. Both represent superlative efforts by nerdcore artists ill-content to let their lyrical, musical, and thematic styles stagnate. I'm confident that you'll find something that you like… many things, in fact.

It's $8 shipped, and that's a small price to pay to support an independent artist. So, if you've got some extra bucks, why not throw a few Karl's way? You won't be disappointed.

“I've recognized a lot of things about myself lately.”


ChurchHatesTucker said...

I simply don't feel it's my place to tell you what to listen to. Funny thing is, you do that every two weeks :)

Seriously, good review. I'm going to have to revisit it once I hear the album. (Music reviews are odd like that. They only make real sense after you hear the material. At least to me.)

Z. said...

Touché, Mr. Tucker! ;)

Give me a holler once you give the CD a listen. I’d love to hear your thoughts: to comare notes, if ya dig.

Matt S said...

Don't think I don't realize what your doing Z. Distract me from this album with the shiny toy of Wrock and then get the review out there before I get a chance. You're sneeky, I'll give you that. Just remember, I've got my eyes on you.

Seriously, great review. I keep trying to remember to put down my comments on this album, but then I get side tracked.

Your review brought up some interesting ideas that I need to contemplate though. For one, I think I took the lyrics a little more literally then you did (I have a tendancy of doing that). So, now i'm really curious to listen to the album again with your view.

Also, I agree on the split side element of the album being a potential problem. I actually split them into two seperate albums in iTunes so I could hear Romance Language on its own.

My only major difference with you is that I think Amour may have worked better if it had been slowed down a bit more. Its been awhile since I've listened to this album, so I can't site specifics anymore, but that was the thought that occured to me when I listened to it.

Oh, and I think Ultraklytron wins the 'most improved' award in my book. As good as his first album was, this is markedly better. I'm so looking forward to following Karl's career.

luzid said...

Z, I understand your hesitation and desire not to open up the floodgates of jealous "why don't you like my shit, I'm awesome" flamewars, but I personally found this to be an excellent breakdown of why we should check out this album. (To be honest, I'd like to see you do more of these, like with Zealous1's Collabacide, which drops Thursday - woohoo!).

No one wants to hurt anyone's feelings or wound fledgling artists that just flew from the nest, but let's face it: if we want this genre to be accepted and respected, we should celebrate the bright spots and offer constructive criticism on the flawed approaches some take (fearful-to-let-go spitting, lazy/uninspired wholesale appropriation of beats, unbelievable rhymes that ape gangsta rap for the sake of fake cred at the expense of real insight).

Hell, when I eventually release my album (currently in production), I hope people will tear it apart for flaws. If an artist isn't critiqued, did they make a sound?

Anyway, great piece!

Z. said...

Damnit, Matt, you’re too smart for me! I was originally gonna distract with a delightful piece of saltwater taffy, but that proved too difficult due to postage and shipping times. Perhaps that plan would’ve been more effective. ;)
I should’ve known my fellow music dork would’ve been a little weirded out by the split-thing. Good to know I’m not the only one.
I can see the logic behind a slowed-down version of “Amour.” Somehow the delivery and the subject matter don’t exactly jive. At the same time, though, I do kind of dig the juxtaposition.

Thanks for the love, luzid. I appreciate your input. I too am looking forward to Zealous1’s release. He’s a lyrical powerhouse and I can’t wait to hear what he’s got in store.
I’m really picky with my album impression pieces for a number of reasons. The chief among them, however, is probably a concerted effort to safeguard my free time. The process, for me, is fairly exhaustive as I feel like I have to listen to the album a good six or seven times before I can even begin to make any kind of informed decision as to quality. Even then I sometimes fear that I’m way off base with my notions concerning a particular song.
I do plan to do more of these in the future, but I reckon they’ll be few and far between. The two I’ve done thus far have been very unique situations; Beefy himself asked that I review his last album, and, since Karl and the guys over at NWNC went out of their way to hook me up with this CD, I felt like a detailed piece was certainly in order.
But I’m always trying to make HP the kind of blog that fans want to read with the kind of content that they really show an interest in, so I’ll see what I can do about making these freak occurrences a little less so. :)

ChurchHatesTucker said...

Matt, oh he's good.

He subtly pushed me to stumble across Wiz Rock in such a way that I didn't realize his hand was behind it all. Then he fronted like he hadn't given it a thought in two years, knowing that it would completely obsess me and I would have to send him "Have you heard 'X and the Xs,' lately?" emails. That gave him a plausible excuse to, very casually, drop a Wiz Rock track into his propagandacast, and divert attention by giving ME a 'shout out' in the shownotes.

Just when I start to think he plotted this all for my benefit, it's Check and Mate, Matt. BTW Church thnx 4 Bing a pwn, k bai.

And Beefy thinks he's going to unite us against terrorism? The fool! The Fool!

Although that would be a cool compilation... (Arghh! That's just what he wants me to think!)

Luzid said...

"And Beefy thinks he's going to unite us against terrorism?"

That's too odd a comment not to ask for a follow-up.

ChurchHatesTucker said...

luzid, sorry for being opaque. It was a refernce to a comment Beefy made in the latest "Just Another Lazy Podcast" (wefightcrime.org/jalp)

Z. said...

You should really copyright the term “propagandacast.” Else I’m gonna have to steal it, Church! ;)

Yeah, luzid, I wondered if any non-JALP listeners would miss that terrorism bit. The long and short of it? Beefy is a silly man. :)

ChurchHatesTucker said...

I'm a copyfighter, Z. Run with it.