Thursday, June 16, 2011


Saul Williams: “Volcanic Sunlight”

So a few years back Saul Williams put out an album with Trent Reznor called “The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust,” a title which is somehow both clever and a complete train wreck. Then he put out a spoken word album called NGH WHT or something, which reminded us all that spoken word poet Saul Williams frequently owns a lot harder than music-backed Saul Williams. Now out of nowhere Mr. Williams hits us with Volcanic Sunlight, an album no one knew about until it leaked.

I guess the idea was that it was just going to be released in France first, so maybe there’s been a bunch of press for him in French? Or maybe the dude just figured he would ignore all the lessons T.Rez taught him about releasing an album in the 21st century? Either way, it isn’t good when people who consider themselves fans of an artist don’t even know about an upcoming album until it leaks, and then decide to just download it because there don’t seem to be any plans for giving it a proper release anywhere outside of France.

Anyway, I was really excited to listen to it, and the first track “Look to the Sun” seemed to validate my excitement. It’s a lot poppier than any of the Niggy Tardust tracks, but you don’t even care because of how well it’s arranged. Then that song ends and the second track, “Patience,” begins. Have you seen that gif of some politician looking really happy and then presumably the main camera cuts to commercial or something and his face immediately converts to a frown? That was me during the transition between these two songs. “Patience” kinda bites.

There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground on “Volcanic Sunlight.” There are a bunch of really great songs, and then there are a few that should’ve been put in a capsule and dropped into the deepest ocean or shot into the sun or something. Luckily the whole thing ends on a good note- the last four, from “Rocket” to “New Day,” are really solid.

Overall I’d give it Three Train Stations and Two Cabooses on the Train Music Scale. It’s probably his most accessible album yet, as long as a handful of duds don’t turn you off from the entire thing.

ohGr: “unDeveloped”

ohGr has been getting better and better with each release. The first album in this ongoing Skinny Puppy side-project was pretty disappointing, with the sole exception of the weird masterpiece “Cracker.” Their second album, Sunnypsyop, was a marked improvement, featuring multiple songs that didn’t suck. It sounds like I’m being pretty harsh, but at that point I don’t think they ever really lived up to the expectations they created with “Cracker.” 2008’s “Devils in my Details” blew my mind, though- written and recorded over the course of just a few days, the songs on that album weave in and out of each other, with long transitions and intros tying together relatively short songs. It also set up a new formula for ohGr- really catchy, poppy singing intertwined with distorted beats. A fantastic album.

My expectations for unDeveloped weren’t very high, though. There’s been a lot of talk about problems between Skinny Puppy and their label, and suggestions that they had recorded a throwaway album to satisfy their contractual obligations. Then all of the sudden ohGr has this album that was recorded in secret at some point? Combine that with the title and I was pretty sure they hadn’t done anything on par with “Devils in my Details.”

Welp, I was wrong. “101” and “Crash” start off the album with the ferocity that Skinny Puppy used to have. The next block of songs are all winners- especially “Comedown,” which is probably the best thing ohGr has ever written. Stylistically they’ve kept a lot of what made DimD so cool- long brooding intros leading into well-written hooks and bits of theatricality that singer Kevin Ogilvie must have picked up during his recent spate of performing in musicals. “Bellew” and “tragek” are other highlights that sound like they could have mainstream appeal. Hell, I’d say the entire thing is non-stop goodness up until the last song breaks their spree. “Nitwitz” is a bit of a misstep, but after how good all the preceding songs have been, and considering that their first album had the exact opposite good/sucks ratio… I’ll forgive it.

It’s weird that ohGr seems to have eclipsed Skinny Puppy at this point, but DimD and now especially unDeveloped are better than anything Puppy has produced since the early 90s. Anyone looking for something electronic and new should think about giving it a listen, preferably on a good pair of speakers. Train Music Scale- 6 Piles of Coal, 2 Conductors, and a Well-Made Junction.

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