Friday, July 1, 2011

Devin Townsend Project - Deconstruction and Ghost

This post is gonna be a bit different than usual. It'll be a double review of sorts, and I'm going to give the backstory before I get into anything else. If you don't know who Devin Townsend is, let me enlighten you. Mr. Townsend is a guitarist, singer, and producer well known in the metal community for both his work with Strapping Young Lad and his solo efforts. He was known for his often silly antics and being.. well.. kinda crazy. In a very appealing and charming way, though. Not to mention being very talented and having a distinct style that's immediately recognizable. Then in 2006 he split both Strapping Young Lad and his side project The Devin Townsend Band and took some time off. He apparently quit alcohol and marijuana during this time and was becoming concerned that he found it difficult to write music without drugs. Then after he took a year off and did some self-discovery, he started this project, stretching across four albums, each with a different line up of musicians, that's meant to reflect different sides of his personality and the different sides of his personality, while writing sober. The first two albums came out in 2009 and were very different from eachother, one being a sort of rock ambient hybrid and the other a very heavy yet accessible piece. Now this year he's released Deconstruction and Ghost, on the same day. These are what I'll be discussing.

Deconstruction is the heavy of the two Townsend albums released this year. In a lot of ways it's a throwback to some of his work before the Devin Townsend Project. While Addicted, the album before this one, was heavy, it was also very commercial and accessible and had a more serious face than what we have here. This is more to the liking of Townsend's album Ziltoid the Omniscient. Townsend's trademark humor is back, and just overall bringing something I think would appeal to fans of his older stuff that haven't liked the other albums in this project. According to Townsend himself, this is a concept album about: a man who goes to hell and meets the Devil, who tells him that he will show him the secrets of the universe, then shows him a cheeseburger. But all he gives him is a cheeseburger. So the man is a vegetarian and deems his journey pointless. Yeah... remember how I said he was bringing more of his humor back? This is what I meant. And this sort of humor doesn't appeal to a lot of people, but others and fans of Townsend will love it.
But the way this album begins you wouldn't expect it to be that way. "Praise the Lowered" starts out very quiet and creeping, with Devin softly singing and saying "get ready". It goes on like that for a bit and slowly builds up before exploding into aggressive chugging guitars and screaming. Then the album never goes back to that more gentle face it started out with (except maybe briefly in "The Mighty Masturbator" we'll get back to that later). It's a fantastic opener, but for me it was a dynamic that was missed later on in the album. Because the rest of the running time (which is pretty long, clocking at 70 minutes) is all chaotic and crazy. The timing is changing a lot, and just when you're getting used to a riff or pattern it changes. It's really fun and exciting for the first 1/3 or so of the album, but find myself having less and less fun as it goes on from there. The chaos that was earlier very attractive and exciting starts to feel a bit stale as it goes on. "The Mighty Masturbator" brings it back a bit, by having the only build-up in the album besides the opener. It has the most variation in it, and the most humor. But it still feels overlong at 16 minutes.
I think those are the two main problems I can pinpoint with this album that's keeping me from loving it. I feel like it would have better suited a shorter album, and shorter songs. And if it was to still be this long, it could use more build up. Essentially this is the problem of little build up, lots of pay off. Which is usually preferred to lots of build up and little pay off, but it's still a problem that kind of kicks the album in it's shins. But overall this album is great. Devin's funnest album in years, and any fan of his heavier and more humorous work should love this, and those that like progressive metal and haven't heard Devin should check this out. There's a lot to recommend here, but it just might bore you sooner than you'd expect.


Favorites: Praise the Lowered, Juular, The Mighty Masturbator

Now onto Ghost. A total change in mood from Deconstruction. Here we have Devin's calmer side. Pretty guitar melodies, gentle singing, woodwind instruments, and lots of ambiance. If you've heard Devin's album Ki then you know what to expect here. It's the polar opposite of Deconstruction. Where Deconstruction was fast, heavy, chaotic, frantic, Ghost is slow, soothing, peaceful, etc. It's perfect when you think about how it's meant to represent different parts of his personality. Here is where his "self reflection" really shines through. While it's, I'm sure, an incredibly personal album, it feels very open and inviting. Like it's asking you to fold your legs, straighten your back, and meditate. Which this is perfect for.
I think I have a problem reviewing calm ambient stuff. Like how I talked about that Codes in the Clouds album and just couldn't come up with much to say about it. I guess it's because they're kind of those albums that are supposed to just be really "deep" when it comes to their sound and it evokes different feelings in everyone, so the only things I can think to say to describe it are very personal things; the emotions and memories that it brings out in me. I guess that right there says that the album accomplished it's goal in my case. There are quite a few parts of this album that hit particular chords with me, especially when Devin comes in with layered vocals and is surprisingly good at complimenting the peaceful mood of the album. And the lyrics are pretty simple, yet might bring up those sort of "life questions" in you. Like the song "Feather" which seems to be about family. And I haven't mentioned yet that there are occasional female vocals here too, which are good and fitting but not particularly fantastic.
While I've said a lot of things good about this album and said it accomplished it's goals, there are times here (like with Deconstruction) where I can find myself getting a bit bored. Which can happen a lot with ambient music and might be hard to avoid. But there's just quite a bit of this (also 70 minute long) album where it feels like there isn't enough going on. There will be nature-y sounds and just ambient noises, which, while calming, can just feel like it's not going anywhere. Particularly toward the beginning of the album. Later on it's a little less ambient and more, maybe folkish? Devin brings in a banjo on some tracks and the songs are constructed in less of an "easy listening" way, but while there's a lot more going on here than others, they still don't particularly stand out to me. But maybe that isn't the point. The album in some ways takes a lot of thought, and in others hardly any at all. The music makes you think, about what depends on the person, but it's not really trying to get you to think about IT, necessarily. I don't think it even wants all your attention. It WANTS you to sit back and drift in your thoughts. Get lost in it. My problem is sometimes I'm getting lost, but not in the music. I'm more drifting away from it than drifting in my thoughts along with it, so to speak. But overall this is really good. But, also like Deconstruction, it feels a bit dragged on. The length of both these albums are around 70 minutes and it can feel like a chore to listen to them, which is rarely a good sign in my book. But if you like ambient, rock/non-electronic ambient in particular, then check this out. You really have to be in the right mood for this music though.


Favorites: Fly, Feather

Codes in the Clouds - As the Spirit Wanes

This album came out all the way back in January, but I want to talk about it so dammit I'm going to. Not to mention I think it needs more attention. Once I'm done catching up on all the 2011 albums I feel like talking about that have come out thus far, I'll have like a three month cut off date.
Codes in the Clouds is one of the more recent post-rock bands to come onto the scene, from England. Which is cool because a lot of post-rock bands tend to be Japanese, I'm noticing... anyways, I was really excited to hear this album, as a huge fan of instrumental rock and post-rock in general. Especially since I heard a few songs off their 2009 album and was very impressed with what I heard. So now we have As the Spirit Wanes (which is free to listen to on their bandcamp page, link at the bottom of this post). And it's about what you'd expect from instrumental post-rock. Emotive, sometimes feeling melancholic and cloudy-day like music, and then a huge crescendo will come in like the sun bursting through the clouds. Probably sounds like a very familiar feeling if you've listened to the likes of Sigur Rós. What we have here is very pretty guitar work, for the most part. There's bass and drums to compliment them, but for the most part the guitar is entirely in the foreground. There are moments where a violin might come in, but less so than a lot of post-rock you'll hear. And while this is more simple in instrumentation and production than you might expect, they're still very good at getting those emotions from you. It does sometimes suffer from that more simple instrumentation though.
At times the album can feel a bit predictable, like you know exactly what they're going to try and throw at you next. Overall it's quite enjoyable and emotive, but doesn't require as much attention as you might expect from the genre. It's pretty, it's melancholic, it's hopeful. It goes through the usual. But it still does so in a very enjoyable way. This kind of music is perfect for laying in the grass and staring at the sky. Or even laying in bed and you just want to think. It's thoughtful but not overbearing and doesn't feel like it's trying too hard, which is one of the things I like about it. It's not up and in your face desperately trying to get an emotional response from you. It just sits down, does it's thing, and walks away letting you decide for yourself.
I haven't had a lot to say in reviewing this, and that might seem like a sign that it's uninteresting, which I wouldn't say. It's just that while I like it there isn't a lot to give much comment on. It's fairly generic post-rock, but it's good post rock. If you like post-rock at all you should like this, and maybe if you've been wanting to try out on instrumental stuff this would be a decent place to start, as it is accessible and an easy listen. And it's free, dammit. No point in not seeing for yourself.


Favorites: Where Dirt Meets Water, You and I Change Like Seasons, Cold Calls