Sunday, April 11, 2010

“Maybe there’s no middle ground. The void has won.”

As evidenced by the massive delay between my last post and this one, I had all but abandoned this blogging business. I had vague intentions of taking it up again, but a lethal combination of an exhausting work schedule and laziness effectively killed any efforts to resurrect the OM. Thankfully some gentle nudging from my brother Brad has finally got my ass in gear. So send your thanks/curses to Brad, because the Octopus Motor is back! (Until I get busy/lazy again, anyways…)

I am definitely one of those people who goes through phases in which I tire of all of the music in my collection. Not only that, but I tire of all of the music that sounds like the music in my collection. As frustrating as this can be, I usually end up finding something that is unlike anything else I've heard before. There are few things I find as exciting as hearing something completely new after a drought of listening to the same things over and over again.

"Excited" is definitely an apt describe for how I felt after hearing Shining for the first time. The first song I heard was "Healter Skelter" (yes, that's how it's spelled) off their newest album, Blackjazz. With an album title like that, I was expecting some combination of black metal and free jazz, and "Healther Skelter" pretty much delivered just that. Or at least the first minute to minute and a half did. As random squawks and awkward staccato drumming rambled on for about a minute and a half, I was not impressed. But by the half way point through the five and a half minute long song, the drumming took shape and the squawks were enveloped by propulsive, intricate, face-shattering guitars. By the time it ended, I was sold. I had to have more and as soon as possible.

Shining are a band that is incredibly hard to pin down. Writers have described them as "part bop, part experimental composition," "jazz metal," and "neither black metal nor jazz." Odd as it sounds, a combination of "jazz metal" and "neither black metal nor jazz" sounds about right. Ultimately, Shining's music is (in no particular order) abrasive, intricate, heavy, progressive, influenced by both black metal and free jazz, intimidating, smart, and incredibly unique. The first time I listened to Blackjazz's first track, "The Madness and the Damage Done," it sounded like a disjointed wall of noise, as if there was a room full of musicians, all playing different songs as loud as they could, trying as hard as possible to drown each other out:

But by the second time I heard it, I realized that the song (and most of the rest of the album, for that matter) was an intricately woven tapestry of interlocking parts. Like some kind of experimental game of sonic Tetris. All of the musicians were playing incredibly different parts, but all those parts fit together to form an initially difficult-to-grasp whole. The drums pummel at a break neck speed, while multiple guitar lines jump in and out of the song at unexpected intervals and the vocals seem to be off in their own world. But "unexpected" doesn't mean inappropriate or random. It all fits together in a very structural, almost architectural sense, just not in a typical song-writing sense (I guess that means you can probably add "math rock" to that list of influences and descriptions).

Shining can be, and often is, heavy, abrasive, and seemingly inscrutable. The music also, just for good measure, will periodically all give way to lengthy passages of ambient noise, jazzy horn squawks, slow gentle instrumentation, or full-on, mind-breaking free for alls. Though "The Madness and The Damage Done" is probably the most accessible song on the album (and first single), to get a real sense of what Shining does so well, one needs to look no further than the true centerpiece of Blackjazz, "Blackjazz Deathtrance:"

To truly enjoy and appreciate Blackjazz takes a certain combination of patience, attention, and tolerance. This is music that will only appeal to a very small contingent of people. It's too strange to appeal to most metal fans, too heavy to appeal to most prog rock fans, and just flat out too weird and abrasive to appeal to pretty much anyone else. But that being said, Shining is making truly unique music. The more time I spend with Blackjazz, the more I realize how unlike it is from just about anything I've heard before.

As exciting as uniqueness can be, it can also cover up plenty of deficiency. I've been duped by novelty before, but Blackjazz is more than mere novelty. As viscerally exciting as Blackjazz was the first few times through, that visceral excitement has given way to a more cerebral appreciation. What was mind-erasingly intense the first few times through has shown itself to be well executed and well structured musical innovation. But make no mistake, as the layers of howling quickly pile on top of one another at the start of "The Madness and The Damage Done," I still feel my body brace itself for an intense sensory assault. And then it starts all over again, better than the last time.

One of the ways Brad was able to convince me to resurrect the OM was the suggestion of some joint projects in the near future. I think we have our first one lined up, so stay tuned to the OM for the forthcoming Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans Octopus Motor v. Brad Liening's Daily Poem Factory-Machine Blog-off Smack Down: 2010. Or as it will be henceforth known, the BL:PoCNOOMvBLDPFMBoSD: 2010!


Brad said...

Aw hell yeah.

I was trying to remember the name of this band and the album the other day and was coming up empty. Thanks for the write-up and the songs. This is what I'll listen to the next time I'm cleaning the apt or making waffles.

Side note: where are they from, again?


Scott said...

I watched BL:PoCN twice this weekend, maybe if I have time I'll watch the original, too. I'm totally going to blow you out of the water in the BL:PoCNOOMvBLDPFMBoSD: 2010.

The band is from Norway. I can see listening to this while cleaning, but I really, really love the idea of putting this on for waffle-making music.

Brad said...

AWESOME. I'm getting my copy this week sometime. I'll keep you posted. SMACK DOWN IS OOONNNN