Flunk – For Sleepyheads Only

Flunk - For Sleapyheads Only (2002)

Flunk - For Sleapyheads Only (2002)

I regard For Sleepyheads Only as one of the main gates through which I discovered a whole new world in terms of music. It is not the ultimate listening experience for your ears, and it will probably not be remembered as one of the biggest achievements ever in music, however it does have something that makes it stand out of the crowd: it is simple, it is straight forward, and it is surprisingly easy to understand.

Unlike following Flunk albums, this was less focused on vocals, and featured a prominently experimental nature, and due to this you could say that they were not afraid of moving through different directions to pull this off. This means, unlike many others, they were not obssesed with what others were doing at the time, and not only avoided releasing basically a carbon-copy of the same sound and structure of any other electronic / trip hop album of the day, but instead created their own identity, which would be carried on subsequent albums, and evolve to become what we know today.

Although there is this certain sensation of randomness and experimentation to it, the force behind this album is the same that we can always find on any other Flunk album: the intriguing, warm and uncanny vocals by Anja Oyen Vister.  This might not be the best suited album for those looking for a display of her charm and abilities here, but it will serve well just for the sake of knowing their earliest material.

This album lacks the well known soft pop rock / trip hop attitude that we know very well from this Norwegian band, but don’t let that spoil you the interesting experience that For Sleepyheads Only represents. At the beginning it might not sound familiar but as you advance through it, if you are paying attention you will have the unique chance to experience something interesting about his particular album: instrumental tracks. That’s something you won’t see on any other Flunk album, and although instrumental tracks might seem a little bit out of place here, the pieces end up aligning nicely. Those tracks are not mind-blowing by the way, the novelty here is just listening something uncommon nowadays for this band.

The structure of the album is pretty much laid out this way: lots of electronic influenced rock with some bits and pieces of chillout here and there, a couple of instrumental tunes that are also influenced by the same elements, and just a gentle, minimal taste of trip hop nearing the end. It would not be this album where the trip hop + Anja Oyen Vister vocals would be the focal point of attention, but hey, you can’t blame them for trying to cover different areas right on their first attempt.

The title of the album though, where did that came from? The last track, Distortion, seems to me like a lucid dream induced litany, and that’s not necessarily bad, but maybe it was an attempt to induce some sort of trance to unprepared minds? Probably not, maybe I’m just reading way too much between lines here, trying to make sense on the album’s title. An excellent track though, should be part of your before-going-to-bed soundtrack (if you have such nonsense, something I actually have).

If you happen to know Flunk’s recent discography and neglected to invest time on this album, you are missing on some interesting aspects you might not be aware. I wouldn’t blame people who let this one aside because it differs greatly from other more accessible and easily available Flunk albums, but this definitely deserves to be in every trip hop collection, not just for what it is, but also because it represented the beginning of one of our favorite trip hop bands.

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Lamb – Lamb

Lamb - Lamb (1996)

Lamb - Lamb (1996)

My formula for a good trip hop album always include some of the following: female vocalist + electronic influences, female vocalist + pop, female vocalist + ambient.  It was not until I got my hands on Lamb’s self titled debut album a few weeks ago that I noticed that female vocalist + drum and bass is actually an interesting choice for a change.  It is an old album, sure, I was just starting junior high back when this was released and my interests were completely different back then, and 15 years later here I am, writing a review for it.

I can’t stop thinking on the simplistic and yet effective way this album delivers. On one hand there is the strong drum and bass influenced part of the album, which dominates most of it, and on the other hand you can tell how the momentum starts to fade and it switches to a more traditional trip hop formula towards the end.  And that’s probably what I liked the most, that intense drum and bass experience, which comes blended with just the right amount of electronic beats that somehow reminds me of the first Portishead album during certain songs.

Lou Rhodes vocals might seem intransigent at times, and I have the vague impression that there’s a reason for it. The focus is not always her voice, actually it becomes one more layer in the background to assemble a thicker, layered sound whenever the situation demands it.  However this harmony is discarded near the end and it is an absolute blessing during the final three songs, proving that there is more to this album than just a merely drum and bass eargasm all the way through.

I was trying to avoid turning this review into a 400 words essay about how good the song Górecki is, and I managed to not mention it during the initial 300. That single song is probably the reason most of us got into this album in the first place anyway, so there’s no reason to keep avoiding it.  Yes, it’s an old song by all means, and still feels and sounds new to me every time I listen to it, it turns a dull and rainy afternoon in the perfect scenario, or maybe those lonely and dark hours after midnight into a bearable, even cozy moment.

But maybe the biggest achievement here is the fact that you end up liking the whole tortilla when you were initially driven here for just one song. I would put this album in my list of essential albums for this genre, even though I know there have been so much more emblematic and characteristic ones labelled as such over the years.

Random thoughts: Life without mainstream music

The function of music is to release us from the tyranny of conscious thought

Free yourself

It’s been nearly 5 years since I last tuned to a commercial radio, and it’s been a hell of a ride since that point. Can’t really point out the motives behind that decision, I guess I just grew tired of it and wanted to explore something different.  One thing I’m sure though: I never did it just to become the weird dude that listens only to his underground and nearly unknown stuff, as if that would give you some sort of aura that puts you apart from the rest of the world.

But the truth is that there is a great deal of satisfaction on crafting your own musical taste according to your own discoveries. From my own experience I learned that this is pretty much a solo journey, where those around you will probably never even notice something is happening other than the fact that you’re isolating yourself from the music everybody else listens to.  And it is a very rewarding path to follow once you realize that you came across artists, bands and genres that open new worlds to you, yet you would not have known of it from most mainstream media outlets.

It is a bittersweet victory. Sweet because it is like the first time you logged on to the internet… that excitement and feeling of freedom and the endless possibilities when you discover something new. Then comes the somewhat bitter part: having almost no one to share it.  Some might think of that as one of the advantages of it, but to be honest, to me the purpose of this was never to be different, or to build a wall that others might no be able to pass.

In the spirit of not give the wrong message, I’m not advocating for people to stop listening to what they like, I’m more in the line of letting people know that once you reach the point when you get bored with what mainstream music has to offer, or simply wanting to explore the darker and undoubtedly more diverse path of underground music, there are plenty of choices and routes to follow.  I took that path 5 years ago, and have absolutely no regrets about it, in fact I consider myself very lucky to have devised it.

Unfortunately there is not a manual or a For Dummies book about this, it is pretty much like a trial and error process.  If you are in the early stages of discovery, you might already know where you are heading to, but if you are just curious and want to give this a try, you should probably be better off with recommendation systems like Last.FM or Pandora for some time, and once you already know a couple new artists you should do what I always do: get always the full album for each song that you liked, even when you know absolutely nothing more about it.  This pays off around 50% of the time, at least for me, sometimes you will find nothing more there, and sometimes you end up discovering truly amazing pieces of music that will lead you further into new directions.

If you are actually considering trying this, please do it for the right reasons, and not just to give out a statement against the mainstream music industry (in the end, you thought they would actually pay attention to your rants?), or to look cool for listening something different that nobody else understands. We don’t need that kind of people on our boat 😉

At the end of the day what matters is that you found something you feel comfortable with and you actually enjoy it.

Télépopmusik – Angel Milk

Télépopmusik - Angel Milk (2005)

Télépopmusik - Angel Milk (2005)

Hollywood on my toothpaste, huh?  I was a little bit skeptical about Angel Milk mostly because I actually never enjoyed Genetic World as other people seemed to enjoy.  Don’t get the wrong idea, I’m not biased towards records of the same artists I’ve enjoyed in the past… Alright, I’m completely biased, I admit that, and that’s pretty much all the reasons behind my initial rejection for Angel Milk.

This album has nothing particularly striking at the beginning, and it is a nice surprise when a few songs later it finally starts to reveal its secrets.  The process is not seamless though, as sometimes you can’t help think that the transition between the different musical directions this has is sometimes not blended that smoothly.

All of the above can be easily forgiven when you finally discover how truly amazing this french trio is.  The line between mundane and ordinary gets often blurred with magic and sublime here, and while I would have hoped for more in the lines of the later, those brief moments of clarity are just enough to regard this album in a special place for a while.  Maybe I’m being a little bit too harsh with this, as I’m absolutely convinced that someone with better understanding of all the genres and influences involved here will say otherwise.

For the most part, is the electronic influence the real winner here, and Into Everything is probably the most recognizable song from this album, and based on that, I was left a bit on shock with songs like Love’s Almighty, that fuses downtempo with some more cabaret style instrumentation.  However, the best and more elaborate moments are when you approach the trip hop influenced areas of this album, which has plenty, and a not so common trait is how easily it goes from melodic (nearly mellow at moments) to some more darker, grim tunes, as most albums focus on one or the other, not both.

A more common practice among electronic artists is to use guests for their vocal work, and Télépopmusik with Angel Milk is not the exception.  What I found interesting though, is that this album features two completely different vocal styles: Angela McCluskey and Deborah Anderson, and that is like attempting to mix water and oil in the same glass in my book, but the result was a lot less dramatic than I expected to be honest.  McCluskey gives that elegant and distinctive touch to Don’t Look Back, Love’s Almighty, Nothing’s Burning and the surprising Brighton Beach. Anderson on the other hand is the voice behind Stop Running Away, Into Everything  and Close, and unlike McCluskey, she provides a more fragile and melodic work.

What I like about Angel Milk is how evident the transition from the more electronic driven Genetic World is.  Not only the sound evolved, the options here are broader too.  Obviously the focus on this album is not on the lyrics, but still there is some interesting questions and statements spread through, such as Close for the mental dilemma of a separation, or Hollywood On My Toothpaste for another kind of statement, just to name a few examples.

One last warning: Angel Milk comes with a trick.  It appears easy and accessible at first, and then you hit a wall.  You can just stand up and start walking somewhere else, or you can try to see what is on the other side.  I can’t guarantee that you will see the same things I’ve seen, but it might as well be well worth the try…