Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I before E

The rubric that I follow to determine which albums I share my impressions of is complex to the point of ultimate convolution. Like the dance of the honey bee, it is a strange and mysterious phenomenon that not even I totally understand.

Still, I awoke last week to find I had – almost subconsciously, mind you – left one final review slot open for this year, and that was for the debut album from nerdcore supergroup The Grammar Club.

Of course, being that I am what may easily be called “chummy” with 80% of the group, I felt it in my best interest to take a very hardline stance concerning their assessment. I vowed to be relentless, an unshakable force of journalistic integrity, a surgeon of criticism who would excise the respect and warm feelings that I have for these gents and coldly cut to the very artistic core of their endeavor.

And yet, even after detaching myself from the individuals involved, I couldn’t seem to find any legitimate flaws of note within Bremelanotide. And with that, my dreams of launching a scathing critique of the album were crushed. Even from the most objective of viewpoints, The Grammar Club has created a musical tour de force that both amuses and entertains.

So please, continue reading. In the meantime, I’ll be in the corner. Nursing my man-crush.
  1. “Balloon Flight”: The first-song-on-an-album concept used to be an institution; it was where a group or musician came out guns-a-blazin’ and grabbed you by the eardrums. Are You Experienced lead off with “Purple Haze.” Rush’s Moving Pictures started with “Tom Sawyer.” Shit, Straight Outta Compton kicked off with the title track, and didn’t really let up until half-way through the album. Still, modern musicians (on both the rock and hip-hop sides of the fence) seem to have abandoned this concept in favor of the slow burn, either starting with a short filler song or, worse yet, with an intro track simply dubbed “Intro.” The Grammar Club, however, decided to start on a high note, and “Balloon Fight” is easily the best track 1 of the year. It teases you for ten seconds or so with a few heavily-compressed, chippy bars, and then explodes into a bit-pop masterpiece. Beefy and Shael boast phenomenal vocal interplay that is only outdone by their understated harmony. Sharp (if only occasional) scratching from Snyder and moving instrumentation from Adam and Glenn make this track instantly memorable.
  2. “Bank Holiday”: The closest thing to a disappointment on this album is “Bank Holiday.” It’s not that the song is a letdown, mind you. In fact it’s quite the opposite, but as competent and dynamic as this track is, with Shael’s creepy and commanding vocals, its hooky guitar lead, and a beat that’s anything but traditional, the truth is I’ve already heard it. It’s wrong to deduct points for something as arbitrary as that, mind you, so I won’t. Suffice it to say that this track is different enough from the version offered in the band’s premiere video to keep you interested, with various musical tweaks, the addition of Snyder’s contribution behind Beefy’s verse, and Glenn’s double-time rhyming – my favorite part – much more texturally appealing in this final mix. If you enjoyed the song its first time around you’ll no doubt dig this one even more, but, for me, it was more a calming repose in familiar territory before journeying farther into the unknown.
  3. “Girl Trouble”: The album thus far has played delicately with aural combinations and subtle layering, so when “Girl Trouble” charges ahead behind DJ Snyder’s commanding scratching it’s a little hard not to be startled. It is equally hard not to bob your fuckin’ head. Beefy’s almost monotone rhymes and the subtle key trains that back it up lead you into the groove, and then Shael’s pitch-perfect 80’s synth-pop chorus ensures you stay there. Glenn Case makes another unscheduled appearance on the third verse, which bisects the song nicely and leads to more of Shael’s savvy vocal pop in the bridge. All the boys really bring it on this one, and, try as I might, even I can’t find anything to bitch about.
  4. “Heart Tits”: Musically, this track is a bit similar to “Girl Trouble,” and I’d have no trouble believing that this was by design. Shael’s vocals are knowingly repetitive and at times intentionally strained, while Beefy’s rhymes are both quicker and a bit higher than most might expect. The instrumentation relies heavily on a bass line that is no more or less “fat” than necessary (Glenn, is that you?), and that, combined with Beefy’s brief question-and-answer delivery and the song’s undeniably ingenious title/concept, make this a geek rock classic.
  5. “My Gay Shirt”: Is it wrong that, from the intro, I expected this to be a cover of Quiet Riot’s cover of Slade’s seminal rock anthem “Cum on Feel the Noize?” It wasn’t, and I’m totally cool with that, but I’m just sayin’. A mid-tempo rocker that manages to integrate a ridiculously speedy synthy-chippy hook, “My Gay Shirt” also boasts some really fun guitar accompaniment. (With licks that hit on the “upbeat” for half the verse, giving it almost a ska-core feel.) Lyrically, this one is well-written, but a bit drier than the rest of the album. Still, if you find Shael and Beefy aren’t doing it for you, there’s more than enough going on in the instrumentation to keep you interested. On a personal note, Shael’s laboriously detailed description of the shirt alone makes me lament the fact that he doesn’t do more rapping.
  6. “Post-Collegiate Shuffle”: Nothing strikes a chord with me quite like a meditation on the generally fruitless nature of higher education. In an album full of tits and professional wrestling, a semi-serious track like this may leave a bad taste in the mouths of some fans, but I have to say that this was a really unexpected surprise that I genuinely believe deepens the overall project. Shael Riley has this uncanny ability to sound emotionally vested in even the most ludicrous subjects, and it’s nice to hear him leverage that to a topic relevant to many of his listeners (even if I do generally prefer him waxing poetic about the surreal and hypersexual.) The musical changeup that accompanies Beefy’s vocal contribution is every bit as biting as his lyrics, and, for some strange reason, puts me immediately in mind of the music from the Castlevania series. With everyone handling production duties I’m a little unsure whose hand to shake on this, but the subtle way the song degrades and gradually trails off at the end was a brilliant choice both mechanically and thematically.
  7. “Alternate Ending”: Again, Shael and company remind us that there’s more to The Grammar Club than dry-cleaning, animal husbandry, and dick jokes. The marriage of Snyder’s scratching and the intro beat strikes me as a bit odd as the music swells and then recedes, but it works, and Shael’s delicate, almost pained vocalizing fits perfectly. Beefy’s rhymes start a little shaky, but he manages to pull it together despite the fact that he is, quite literally, rapping a goddamn waltz! Wait, is that Bach?! Funny and touching on the lyrical front and impeccably orchestrated, “Alternate Ending” is the most unexpectedly beautiful song I’ve heard in ages.
When you put a team of brilliant artists together, often the musical yield is far less intense than one might expect. Perhaps this is due to an inherent clash of egos. Maybe it’s simply that, with so many brilliant ideas generated, some of the best are lost to the artistic ether. Hell, it could be just because they try and save all the really good tracks for their individual efforts.

But sometimes, a team of solo artists are able to come together and make something that is – at the risk of sounding contrived – greater than the sum of its parts.

The Grammar Club is the nerd world’s answer to the Traveling Wilburys, taking the best of what each contributor has to offer and supplementing it with the kind of musical magic that can only happen when all parties involved have a deep, genuine respect for each other’s ideas and abilities. (The ‘Club is, of course, both more handsome and more alive than the Wilbury’s, but that’s neither here nor there.)

The point I’m trying to make is that Bremelanotide is an album I came away from with but two regrets. The first is that, unlike his bandmates, I don’t know guitarist/producer Adam, so I can’t tell him personally what a truly inspiring experience listening to this project really was. And secondly, it was just over too soon; I could've easily done with another 7 tracks of this caliber.

While no album is perfect, this one is so expertly crafted that even my nitpicky ass couldn’t find a flaw worth exploiting. Each contributor not only pulled his own weight, but obviously inspired those around him to expand the scope of their musicality. That being said, there’s no reason this one shouldn’t make its way into your collection.

As the final days of 2007 tick away, you owe it to yourself to experience one of the best albums of the year. Take a listen and spread the word.

“Ghost brontosauruses sung out in chorus sayin’, ‘Son, what am I s’posed to do?’”


Anthony said...

Already spread the word! Check out my latest post!

I downloaded this album because I have a man crush on Shael ever since my humble VG inspired music beginnings over at OCRemix all those years ago. This album is very impressive, i don't usually get into albums so fast. but it is quite catchy and polished. I probably listened to it five times over at work last night!

Matt said...

Comparing a group to the Traveling Wilburys AND having it be a complement? +5 nerd points to you Z!

Nice review. I've only given the album a couple of listens since my ears have been in other places, but I've liked what I've heard so far. My Gay Shirt leaves me a little cold lyric wise, but I wouldn't be surprised if it grew on me. I definitely need to spend some more time with this one.

Glenn Case said...

People know me as a person who can ramble on, talking non-stop.

With that in mind, you should know that I am nearly speechless here.

Thank you for even taking the time to listen to the album.

Thank you for taking the time to construct such a thoughtful, positive, yet honest review.


Glenn Case

Z. said...

Yeah, Anthony, you GM4A cats are always once step ahead of me! :)

Matt, I think you know me well enough to understand that there are but a few compliments higher than that of an allusion to the Wilburys.

Hey, Glenn, thank you (and all the members of the Club) for providing listeners like me with such a phenomenal album. It was totally worth the wait.

Church said...

Yeah, about the only thing to say about this EP is which song is the most awesome. "My Gayest Shirt" is my fave (Matt, listen some more.)

Matt said...

While shirt is growing on me quickly, I've got to disagree with you there Church, I'd easily put Bank Holiday or Balloon Fight over Gay Shirt.

Z. said...

It is a tough call, Church, but I think I agree with Matt; right now I'm all about "Balloon Fight."

Anthony said...

haha. When I first grabbed the album I thought, someone finally made a song about balloons and their usage in combat! Then I read the title again and was a bit saddened. Love the song, but my days of dreaming about someone rapping about the perils and hardships of balloon fighting shall continue indefinitely.

Z. said...

Yeah, Anthony, I was sitting in traffic yesterday afternoon and I suddenly found myself thinking, did I write "Fight?" :D

Matt said...

I just this very second noticed that the title is really Balloon Flight. What the hell? Balloon Fight is much cooler!

OK, we need t-shirts that say something like "Fuck Flight, Let's Fight" or something random like that.

Z. said...

Shael said the Club is getting ready to release some t-shirts. Maybe we should petition for "Balloon Fight" tees?

Church said...

Where's John Belushi when you need him?

Oh. Right. Damn.

Geof said...

Just wanted to add that I finally downloaded this a couple of days ago, and I absolutely love it. And as much as I love pretty much every track, "Alternate Ending" gets me the most, mostly 'cause Shael's vocals at the very end give me goosebumps.

Z. said...

Yeah, Geof, Shael's vocals really get powerful on "Alternate Ending."