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Album Review: King Capisce – King Capisce

King Capisce loves saxophone. That’s the clear message I received after listening to their self titled debut album recently. It’s not that I’ve never heard a saxophone, or that I dislike saxophone, or that I suffered a saxophone related trauma when I was a child which soured me on all saxophone-related activity for the rest of my life. Some of my favorite people play saxophone, like Charlie Parker, Bill Clinton and Ernie from Sesame Street. However I clearly do not come anywhere remotely close to the level of passion King Capisce has for the instrument.

To be fair, any band that features not one but two saxophone players is going to have their sound somewhat characterized by the inclusion of those instruments. What strikes me however is the complete omnipresence of saxophone in both the instrumentation and the final mix of each track. 90% of the time if there’s a melody it’s being played on saxophone, while the other 10% of the time the saxophones are bleeding uncontrollably into the sonic spaces left by the lead instruments, preventing you from focusing your attention on the rest of the group.

I do think that the inclusion of both saxophone players is a unique and interesting texture and a credit to the band’s overall sound, but most of the time I find myself wondering what potential lies beyond the thick forest of woodwind. King Capisce’s song writing is extremely varied, and the group is very adept at changes faces track to track, shifting from sleepy post-rock to frantic Mars Volta-style prog, to a jazz style that inspires a delightfully deviant type of energy for me as a listener. The drum work is also particularly tasteful and smooth. Hell, it’s not even that the saxophone players are bad! It is just that the saxophone presence is so ubiquitous that it washes away all of these very interesting and diverse elements and leaves behind a wall of sound entirely uniform and unfortunately lacking in contrast.

As a British group, I’m guessing that my chances to see King Capisce live will be few and far between. I would still like to see a live show however, because have a feeling that, in a live setting, my opinions could very well change. There’s definitely a strong current of momentum and a spark of liveliness in the band’s music that I think would be translated extremely well on stage.

For their second album I would hope that King Capisce explores the roles of the other instruments in more depth, while taking their foot off the gas pedal on the saxophone side of the equation. I honestly wouldn’t change a single other thing about the band, and I think there’s significant potential for growth in the future. You can make your own judgments yourself by going to the band’s myspace page, or by downloading two tracks off the album which the band has generously made available to the public:

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/3463011/01%20Cheer%20up%20Cyclops.mp3

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/3463011/09%20Boundless%20%28%2BReprise%29.mp3


Invasion of the prog-lodytes: Examples of how progressive rock is sneaking into new genres of music

What years of listening to Rush records in your mothers basement can do to your complexion.

What years of listening to Rush records in your mother's basement can do to your complexion.

Prog has always claimed that it was ‘music for musicians’. It’s a pretty attractive label, and much better than the alternative ‘music for geeks who aren’t getting laid’. Regardless of the tag-line, the point is that even if you don’t actively listen to progressive rock, chances are that the bands you DO listen to count progressive rock artists among their influences. When young bands (that don’t suck) are talking to the press and the reporter asks them who their influences are, if they’re brave enough to mention people outside their own genre 90% of the time the drummer will include Neil Peart and/or Mike Portnoy, bass players will mention Geddy Lee, Tony Levin, and/or Chris Squire, and keyboard…well…ok, if they have a keyboard player, chances are he isn’t being given any face time unless he’s also the front man and super duper pretty (guitarists gets more genre dependent, but I see Steve Vai’s, David Gilmour’s, Frank Zappa’s, and Steve Howe’s names thrown out a lot).

So what happened to all these progressive-rock-influenced artists? How come none of them ended up making progressive rock? The answer is that you are simply being a naive fool. Progressive rock has worked long and hard to covertly work its way into more mainstream genres, and the fruits of decades of labor are now beginning to ripen. Below you will find examples of some genres where artists are now becoming popular who show significant signs that they’ve been infected with the prog.

METAL


What, no corpsepaint for the baby?

What, no corpsepaint for the baby?

Metal was one of the earliest and easiest genres for prog to branch into. For one, a lot of metal musicians are extremely talented. I realize that, to people who aren’t fans of metal, a lot of the music just sounds like loud noise and unintelligible lyrics, but under the growling and the corpsepaint you’ll find some of the most technically skilled musicians around. Good metal guitarists can play diminished augmented pentatonic chords using alternate sweep picking just as fast as the proggy-ist prog douche bag guitar player, they just chose not to so because it’s not brutal enough (note: metal people judge all things on a scale of 1-brutal). Metal drummers and prog drummers are in an eternal pissing contest over who can play double bass faster, and just like how metal singers and prog singers are always trying to see how high they can sing without causing a sonic boom. Also, they put equal emphasis on physical activity and hygiene in their personal lives. So prog and metal have been pushing each other’s buttons for a very very long time, and the results have been enjoyable for both fan bases:

Examples of prog/metal marriages:

Dream Theater – Basically the flag bearer for progressive rock. Train of Thought is their most metal album, but every album has significant metal overtones through out. Scenes from a Memory is widely considered to be one of the best prog album of the 1990’s if not of all time. (Dream Theater Example – “Painc Attack”)

Opeth – If Dream Theater is a prog band with metal overtones, Opeth is a death metal band with prog overtones. The band drifts between melodic haunting passages and crushing metal destruction almost too freely. If you can’t handle cookie monster-style vocals you’d best start with Damnation which is their ‘mellow’ album, but then quickly get Deliverance and give that a spin as well. (Opeth Example – Death Whispered a Lulaby, and then The Drapery Falls)

Other prog/metal bands (and their albums that you should check out):

Symphony X –  V (Example: “Inferno”)

Fates WarningInside Out (Example: “One“)

Queensryche Operation: Mindcrime (Example: “Spreading the Disease”)

ToolLateralus (Example: “Sober”)

Between the Buried and Me Colors (Example: “White Walls”)

Scale the Summit Carving Desert Canyons (Example: “Dunes”)

Pain of Salvation One Hour by the Concrete Lake (Example: Inside)

Coheed and Cambria (Example: “Welcome Home”)

Jazz


Above him, Led Zeppelin was stealing his music

Above him, Led Zeppelin was stealing his music

The other genre that prog was able to easily seduce was jazz. Jazz has been the most popular kid in school basically forever. Everyone wants to claim that they’re influenced by jazz, or that they have jazz tendencies, or that they once slept with jazz at a party but jazz wouldn’t remember it because jazz was really drunk that night. No matter how much jazz wants to deny it, jazz and prog did in fact hook up a few times in the 60s and 70s, resulting in the genre fusion. If you know jazz, think of Kind of Blue. Fusion is the exact opposite of that. It’s fast, complicated, crazy shit that most of the time sounds like a bad jam session made up of really good musicians (note: I love fusion). If someone tried to dance to fusion they’d be mistaken for a seizure victim and taken to a hospital. The people who play fusion are of course ridiculously talented to the point where they could probably have a full conversation with each other using only their instruments. One problem fusion inherited from jazz  is that any band that considers itself to have drawn from jazz and some other genre automatically considers itself to be ‘fusion’. What can I say, jazz was a whore:

Examples of prog/jazz marriages:

Mahavishnu Orchestra – If there was ever a band that sounded like an acid trip, I’d pick Mahavishnu Orchestra. Drawing from Indian, European, jazz, and classical music, as well as John McLaughlin’s own eccentricity, the music they produced was frantic, intensely complex, and mind blowing once you manage to wrap your brain around it. Birds of Fire and Apocalypse may be the best characterizations of the band’s sound, but if you don’t enjoy either album that’s fine, you’re probably still too sane. (Mahavishnu Orchestra Example: “Trilogy”)

Frank Zapppa – I’m not even going to try to explain Frank Zappa in three lines. I don’t even know if I can call the majority of what he did ‘fusion’ but he’s fucking important and he fits best here. Go listen to Hot Rats, Roxy and Elsewhere and Apostrophe, and if you don’t like those don’t worry about it, there’s about five billion other albums that sound totally different that you can get into. (Frank Zappa Example: “Waka/Jawaka”)

Other prog/jazz bands (and their albums that that you should check out):

The Mars VoltaFrancis the Mute (Example: “Wax Simulacra”)

The Dixie DregsNight of the Living Dregs (Example: “Assembly Line”)

Liquid Tension Experiment Liquid Tension Experiment 2 (Example: “Biaxadent)

Jam Bands


There wasnt actually any mud. Hippies are just this dirty.

There wasn't actually any mud. Hippies are just this dirty.

Unlike jazz and metal, prog hasn’t shared a lot of common ground with the jam scene. The Grateful Dead were thoroughly un-complicated and yet they became extremely popular by touring their asses off and playing a lot of simple country and blues covers in cool new ways  (making them…….progressive? MY BRAIN CAN’T HANDLE THAT). For a long time hippies were content bopping along to country and blues music, and probably would have been fine like this forever, until Phish came along and expanded the genre by writing songs that made as little sense as possible. Moving from the relatively comfortable confines of country and blues to the total nonsense that Phish produced (note: I love Phish) blew hippie’s minds. So hippie musicians, being totally incapable of rejecting any art form, started incorporating every possible genre of music into the covers they played, into their huge and totally awesome music festivals, and eventually into their own music. Alternative and bluegrass were some of the first genres to gain popularity with hippies, then some electronica and punk weaved its way in, and now metal and prog are starting to poke their heads in as well:

Examples of prog/jam band marriages:

Umphrey’s Mcgee – UM is the cream of the crop as far as blending technical skill and musicality. It’s really an amazing balancing act that they pull off, and they do it flawlessly. I also find their live improv stuff to be far less meandering and self indulgent than a lot of other jam bands. Anchor Drops is the place you start for their studio efforts, but after that I suggest downloading their eight billion podcasts, as a lot of their best songs haven’t ever been recorded in the studio. Honestly I’m not even going to bother discussing other prog/jam band marriages in depth, Umphrey’s is really the top of the line and an experience like no other. (Umphreys Mcgee Example: “Bridgeless”)

Other prog/jam bands (and their albums that you should check out):

The Disco Biscuits Uncivilized Area (Example – “I-man”)

Keller Williams Laugh (Example – “Freeker by the Speeker)

moe.Wormwood (Example – “Crab Eyes”)

Oysterhead The Grand Pecking Order (Example – “Mr. Oysterhead”)

Bluegrass


A tradional bluegrass band. Guitar, upright bass, banjo, mandolin, and no black people.

A tradional bluegrass band. Guitar, upright bass, banjo, mandolin, and no black people.

I’m going to be upfront about this. I hate country music more than any other genre of music on the planet. Most of the performers are talentless and I think the stereotypes it generates are more damaging to rednecks than gangster rap is to urban youth. That being said, I also think the slide guitar/dobro, mandolin, and banjo are some of the coolest instruments ever. So I compromise and enjoy bluegrass. Bluegrass to me, is what happened to all the talented southern musicians. They sing about all the same topics the crappy country artists do, but their songs are ten million times more interesting and their lyrics are ten million times more creative. To be honest I don’t know if bluegrass is actually even aware of progressive rock, but both genres are fast, technical, and full of energy, so if they haven’t met maybe I can help.

Examples of prog/bluegrass marriages:

Bela Fleck and the Flecktones – This band probably only gets lumped in with bluegrass because it features a banjo. It’s also probably one of the few, if not only bluegrass band to include sax and electronic drums (note: electronic drums that are actually awesome, unlike most electronic kits which sound horrible). All of that being said, Bela Fleck might be the most well known and universally respected banjo player ever (even more than Steve Martin!), and Victor Wooten is part of the pantheon of modern bass gods. Kind of bluegrass, kind of fusion, whatever, it’s extremely creative and fun to listen to. Little Worlds is a 3-disc set that’s probably less bluegrass-y than their past efforts, but it’s a great introduction to their sound. (Bela Fleck and the Flecktones Example: “Next”)

Yonder Mountain String Band – The shining symbol of ‘new grass‘, YMSB is talented and technically proficient and blah blah blah, but that’s probably the least attended to part of their music. What makes them such an incredible band is how they’ve taken bluegrass out of the realm of genres like polka (i.e. dance music that’s a joke to most people) and made it emotional and joyful. I’ve never seen so many universally happy people in my entire life as I’ve seen at YMSB shows. The crowd just emits rainbows and sunshine and good emotions. They make 80 year old men act like 10 year olds on their birthday, and the coolest hipster turns into a Appalachian mountain dweller before their onslaught of elation. Mountain Tracks: Volume 5 is a great selection of live tracks to check out, and their new album The Show is pretty solid. (Yonder Mountain String Band Example: Sideshow Blues)

Other prog/bluegrass bands (and their albums that you should check out)

Railroad EarthAmen Corner (Example: “Seven Story Mountain”)

Hopefully this has given you a decent idea of how prog isn’t actually as alien a genre as one might think. There’s a lot of common ground between prog and genres that are far more popular, and there has been and will continue to be bleeding between groups as new bands find their own unique sounds.

P.S. – I do want to mention one band that I left out, that being Muse. Muse has a totally absurd amount of popularity for a band that prog fans consider to be ‘one of us’. It’s not super duper technical, but it at least creates the illusion of being super duper technical, and sometimes that’s good enough. It is high energy and features a guy who sings high enough to make the guy from The Darkness jealous so I guess the leap in prog-faith isn’t too absurd.  I can’t really explain why the rest of the world loves them, not that I’m complaining either. So I guess if a band like Muse can be touring with U2 and performing on the VMAs then I can still hope that prog will take over all of music one day. A man can dream can’t he…a man can dream…


Mars Volta @ Roseland Ballroom

OBEY

“Hey, who’s playing here tonight?”

“The Mars Volta.”

“Oh, what do they sound like? ”

“Jazzy hardcore Latin prog-punk.”

“…..oh…..sounds cool…..I think….”

That’s part of the conversation I had with the guy guarding the cast entry door for Shrek the Musical, because the line to get into Roseland Ballroom was around the block. He came back later and told me that one of the female members of the cast was ‘totally super jealous’ that The Mars Volta was playing so close and she was stuck on stage that night. I found all of this funny, because this exchange was probably the perfect way to characterize The Mars Volta.

The Mars Volta is one of the more schizophrenic bands to carry the label of ‘prog rock’. Yet they also remain one of the most well known and popular bands in the genre, either despite or because of this characteristic. I discovered the band in my freshman year of college after the release of their first album, and when I mentioned them offhandedly to my roommate (a musician but not a fan of progressive rock), he already knew who they were. A progressive rock band that the world knew about before I did? How the hell did this happen?

The answer was that I had actually heard of them before I knew that I had heard of them. The two principle members of TMV are Cedric Bixler-Zavala (vocals and absurd names) and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (guitars and slightly less absurd names). The world first became aware of the pair in the band At the Drive In, which had a popular hit with “One Armed Scissor” in 2000. The group enjoyed a good amount of popularity until Bixler-Zavala and Rodriguez-Lopez left the band, citing creative differences and their quest to do as many drugs as possible at all times. At the Drive In fit rather squarely into the punk and hardcore genre, and Bixler-Zavala and Rodriguez-Lopez wanted to branch out more into the progressive genre. They added keyboards, bass, drums, and reformed as The Mars Volta, while the remaining members of At the Drive In reformed as the band Sparta, which went on to do many things better than TMV such as suck and die.

Since then TMV has produced a number of albums via a very fluid line-up. While Cedric and Omar consider themselves to be the ‘core’ of the band, ten other musicians have come and gone over the course of seven years and six albums. This is where TMV earns the schizophrenic label in my mind. While there are some recurring elements that help you remember that you’re still listening to The Mars Volta such as heavy latin influences, frantic disjointed guitar lines, manic drum patterns, and Cedric’s shrill voice, you’re still going to get a very different impression of the band depending on what album you listen to. Their first album, which was the result of their work with legendary producer Rick Rubin, was drastically different than the material they produced with At the Drive In, yet it maintained mass appeal through catchy melodies and relatively traditional song structure. Each album since then has been significantly different than the last, and while the impact of the constantly evolving line-up is evident with each new offering, one gets the impression that the band is deliberately trying to cause turn-over in their fan base by producing albums that sound nothing like the previous works. With some bands you can see a clear progression in sound from album to album, but with TMV the landscape changes less via gradual erosion and more often via violent earthquake.

I’d seen the band once before at Bonnaroo in 2005, and while I enjoyed their set there were a few things that bothered me about their performance. They came out late and ended early, cutting about an hour out of their advertised set. Also Cedric’s voice wasn’t exactly spot on, and a lot of the songs were slowed down from their album counterparts, both of which indicated to me that they can’t play their songs live. Still for the most part I enjoyed the set and came away excited that I had seen them.

That being said, I was interested but wary when I saw that the band was playing in NYC at the start of this month. I loved their newer material, the majority of their set was  awesome when I saw them at Bonnaroo, and their new drummer, Thomas Pridgen, is an absolute beast. On the other hand I didn’t want that kind of let down again from the short set and the less than perfect performance of some of their songs. Still the tickets were cheap and I hadn’t seen a show at Rosenland Ballroom since I moved to the city, so I figured it would be a good way to spend a Thursday night.

So after being stuck outside of Shrek for about an hour trying to explain to the entire cast of the musical who was playing on the other side of the block  every time a new person walked in (“The Moors what?”), the doors opened and the massive line funneled into Roseland. Roseland is a coverted ice rink, so it’s not a huge venue. They added a balcony if you don’t want to be down on the floor, but I chose to mingle with the masses for this this show. I somehow was able to get a spot 10ish rows back from the stage, which I felt was rather odd considering the size of the line in front of me when I got in. It was like 50% of the people in front of me had just disappeared (or more likely, went to the bar or bathroom before getting a spot on the floor). One of the first things I noticed was that the band had a very cool tapestry set up behind them, and it would get cooler as the night went on. The band’s album and stage art has always been based in surrealism, and this tapestry was no different, with lots of eyeballs and wings and other things messing with my perspective. So we’re waiting and waiting….and waiting and waiting….and waiting and waiting….and now the band is late, much like they were for Bonnaroo. Now I understand that no band ever comes out exactly on time, ever, for any reason, but once you hit half an hour you’re not being band-cool anymore, you’re just being douche bags. Strike 1.

So finally the band does come on stage, and they open with the first two tracks of their first album, which are some of my favorites. The crowd is in love immediately, so everyone is going crazy with a half-mosh-pit-type-deal breaking out, which is something the band usually hates. They mention that we should help out the security guards up front when we can but otherwise ignore the crowd activithy and continue blasting away. Cedric is extremely energetic on stage, and in between his cheesy dance moves and mule kicks he’s tossing his mic and mic stand around like he’s in The Mars Volta color guard or something. All of the other musicians are extremely emotional and physically expressive on stage, but the most interesting thing to watch may be the tapestry they have up behind them. As the show goes on, the different lights that hit the backdrop make different patterns appear and fade, so that depending on the light color the background behind them can totally change:

OBEY

OBEY

Im in there, somewhere.

I'm in there, somewhere, getting my knees broken.

As they transition between songs, they go into this ambient, quiet mode during which Cedric downs as much boiling hot tea as possible to keep his vocal chords from being torn to shreds. It’s interesting the first time, but they do this slow-down between EVERY SINGLE SONG. While part of me appreciates the break from the being kicked in the head by crowd surfers, by the 3rd or 4th time I’m just bored with it, and by the 7th or 8th time I’m wondering if they know how to transition between songs in any other way. I know they want to ‘jam’ more, but that would involve actually ‘jamming’. Strike 2.

As they make their way through their set the band is  sounding very tight, and the mix job is actually really well done. The only thing I could have complained about was that the keyboards were too low in the mix, which is a shame because on a lot of their songs the keyboard line is really ear catching and adds a whole new layer to the piece. Beyond this one issue the entire sound product was stellar where I was standing, which was no where near the sound board. The performances of each song sounded solid, and they only slowed down one song noticeably. Cedric’s voice was much better than it was at Bonnaroo and he really belted out some of the highest notes. The set list itself (see below) wasn’t my favorite, and I would have really liked to hear more from their second album, which features a lot of longer, jazzier songs with full horn sections, but they chose to stick with mostly newer material. Of course they don’t even have the horn section anymore, so this was probably a foolish hope to begin with.

After about 90 minutes they had played a lot of newer material, so I was hoping they might play some older songs next, but instead they…just stopped. It felt totally random and forced, as if the fire marshal had told them they needed get off the stage or something. But no, that was the end of their set, 90 minutes, no encore, half an hour before they were advertised to end. A lot of people tried to cheer them back out, but as the lights came up and the crew started chucking set lists and picks and drum sticks into the crowd people quickly gave up and started filing out. So once again the band had come out late and ended early on me, which was exactly what I was afraid of when I bought the tickets. Huge Strike 3.

As I walked home my opinion of the show and the band became more sour with each step. While the show was probably better performed than the last time I heard them, they didn’t play a lot of the songs I wanted to hear, and, more importantly, they started late and ended early. At this point it would be really hard for me to justify seeing them again live. Maybe if they’re at a festival I’ll go check them out, but while they’re a good band, their live show just leaves me too pissed off to spend my money on seeing them anymore. Of course their albums are still amazing and I’ll still be picking those up whenever a new one comes out, and I’ll continue suggesting the band to anyone who’s a fan of one of the many genres they fall into. As a live band though, TMV have broken my heart twice now, and I can’t take that kind of emotional beating anymore.

Dont worry baby, The Mars Volta wont hurt us anymore!

Don't worry baby, The Mars Volta won't hurt us anymore!

Set List:
1. Son Et Lumiere
2. Intertiatic E.S.P
3. Goliath
4. Cotopaxi
5. Roulette Dares
6. Viscera Eyes
7. Halo Of Nembutals
8. Eunuch Provocateur
9. Ilyena
10. Teflon
11. Drunkship Of Lanterns
12. Luciforms
13. The Widow
14. Wax Simulacra