Mr. Bungle – The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo (Ipecac)
It’s easy to forget an origin story. Especially when the results of a journey are so iconic. Mr. Bungle is often remembered as the experimental, genre-bending side project of Faith No More frontman, Mike Patton. Well, he got that spot (replacing Chuck Mosley), on the strength of a Mr. Bungle demo tape.
In hindsight, this is a strange move, as nothing on this demo screams Faith No More. What it does scream is “Speak Spanish or die” (“Hypocrites”) and “Anarchy up your anus / Anarchy up your butt / Butt” (“Anarchy Up Your Anus”). These are precisely the lyrics you would expect from the minds that brought you “Squeeze Me Macaroni” and “My Ass Is On Fire”, and are even belted in the ‘80s caffeine-fueled aggression of a youthful Mike Patton. Which is most impressive on “Methematics”.
Musically, the band is often described as starting out as a death metal act before experimenting with fusion, funk, jazz, and anything else they felt would “fit” into a song. As this is my first glimpse into the stuff that happened before their self-titled debut, I had always taken that as truth. The reality is a chaotic combination of thrash, punk, and hardcore metal styles, but primed with a level of IDGAF-ery that borders on riotous nihilism.
The technical skill of the players is obvious and remarkable, but is intentionally suppressed in favor of slapshod moments of effective juxtaposition. Some guitar solos on Easter Bunny are insane shreds (“Spreading the Thighs of Death”) and others are odd-timed, odd-tuned wrecking balls (“Glutton For Punishment”). The drums are consistently rampaging throughout the 56 minutes of the record.
Ok, this demo release took me by surprise. But I am 100% here for it. Is there such a thing as “pre-nostalgia”?
Because I think I’m experiencing it.
FFO: Melt Banana, Melvins, Helmet, Gemini-era Slayer
Puscifer – Existential Reckoning (Alchemy/Puscifer)
Described by frontman Maynard James Keenan as “the space where my Id, Ego, and Anima all come together to exchange cookie recipes”, Puscifer is the landing zone for all of his ideas that are too wide afield for either Tool or A Perfect Circle. Usually, that means sophomoric genital jokes couched in euphemism, overt sexual content, or bizarre ass melodies and lunatic fringe musical elements.
For Existential Reckoning, the musical tone seems to fall mostly on his long-time collaborator Carina Round. The tone of the album more closely resembles her album Tigermending than anything in their existing folio. A surprise, sure, but an absolute joy to listen to. There is a heightened use of synth and electronic elements, odd time signatures, and crescendo builds that leave you at the peak. There is also ugly distortion on the guitars and backing vocals that appear and disappear in quadraphonics. Sometimes that feels like an old-school auditory test (“Apocalyptical”), and I wanted to start raising a hand on the side that I heard her chime in on.
The lyrics have also shied away from the knee-jerk flippancy of previous releases, instead producing some actual commentary. “The age of confusion…here in the digital paradise” and “Nothing factual, nothing fictional, interchangeable, all sensational”, are summations from “Grey Area”, espousing views on the climate of modern news media.
This is now my favorite Puscifer album. I also rank it above the most recent Tool album, Fear Inoculum, and just above The First Blood Mystery on Carina’s solo album list. For whenever you want to do the deep delve into her catalog. Which I recommend.
FFO: Carina Round, Nine Inch Nails, A Perfect Circle
Bring Me The Horizon – POST HUMAN: SURVIVAL HORROR (Sony)
There comes a point in music production where a fundamental shift happens; the production BECOMES the music.
Known for their balls-to-the-wall level of excitement and intensity, Bring Me The Horizon experiments with making various genres of pop, hip-hop, and electronica a hell of a lot louder. This record is certainly an accomplishment, as there is an effortless ease with which ALL of those genres are rendered meaningless. Sometimes this effect is put to good use (“Parasite Eve”) and sometimes it’s an unintelligible mess (“Dear Diary,”). At other times it creates a watered-down version of everything (“Teardrops”).
The poetry is pretty amazing though, shining through the myriad production issues. Mostly, the lyrics focus on the dark, depressing, generally negative aspects of life today, sung with energy and vitality. The effect is a little disjointing. My favorite line from the album is definitely “When we forget the infection / will we remember the lesson”, from “Parasite Eve”, commenting on the concern that our innate ability to forget everything important will win out in the end.
The best summary I can give for the record is this: the single most interesting track on the album is “Kingslayer”, in which the band is nearly completely supplanted by BABYMETAL.
Yep. My favorite thing done by BMTH is giving up a song almost entirely to a guest feature.
This is true of most of the good tracks on the album. “Parasite Eve” is brilliant, and is entirely theirs. But the only other songs that I truly enjoyed were taken over by the featured guest artist. “1×1” is a diss-track aimed at no one in particular, starring Nova Twins and “One Day the Only Butterflies Left Will Be the Ones Left in Your Chest as You March Toward Death” is basically just Amy Lee channeling Eddie Poe.
On the whole, Bring Me The Horizon has become something of a parody of themselves through overproduction. I’d rather just go listen to BABYMETAL.
FFO: Issues, Starset, Powerman 5000
Andrew Bird – Hark! (Wegman Music Co.)
Andrew Bird is a favorite of a family member of this very blog. At least, I’m assuming this because I am a certified Spotify Stalker (Spotistalker? Stalkifier?), and this person is often seen listening to Andrew Bird. In hindsight, I should have asked this person for their perspective on Andrew Bird’s latest album, Hark!. Alas, I did not, and thus you are stuck with my shitty views instead.
See, the thing is, I do enjoy Bird as a lyricist. And I enjoy his prowess in various different instruments (including glockenspiel? what?). Bird’s 2007 album Armchair Apocrypha was a random find back in my more download-y days, and it was very nice – and fairly upbeat too. Also, the track “Pulaski At Night” is one of my favorites from the previous decade. But Hark! is… well, not.
For instance, “Greenwine” is like a reimagined “Greensleeves”, but slower and more plodding, with great lyrics (“I had nothing to say on Christmas day/when you threw all your clothes in the snow/when you burnt your hair, and you knocked over chairs/I just tried to stay out of your way”). It’s lovely, but… basically, “yeah, but…” is the shortened version of this review..
Oh, did I mention that it’s kinda-sorta a Christmas album? Because it’s kinda-sorta a Christmas album, in that many of the songs do reference Christmas, and snow, but I can’t say they’re Christmas songs. Except for the O Holy Night cover, which is entirely whistled. Once again, “yeah, but…” reigns supreme here.
One thing I’ll say for sure is that this is a very relaxing album. Skip the Calm app subscription and put on Hark!, and let Andrew Bird ferry you into the good night. And then wake up and throw on Armchair Apocrypha the following morning.
FFO: Late-career Conor Oberst, The Tallest Man on Earth, Father John Misty
Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou – May Our Chambers Be Full (Sacred Bones Records)
I really feel like this is an album that Jeremy would be more qualified to review, which is why it’s fun for me to take it for a spin instead.
In one corner: Emma Ruth Rundle. Rundle is known for her work with Nocturnes, Marriages, and Red Sparowes, which consisted of members of Nocturnes and Marriages, among other bands. Confused? I know I am. But suffice it to say that Rundle is a person of many talents, spread out amongst many bands.
Nocturnes was atmospheric; Marriages was slightly-experimental rock with a hard edge; Red Sparowes was a more-experimental, mostly-instrumental journey. So what’s the most logical next step after this? If you answered “a sludge-embalmed collab with masters of the craft Thou“, then please give yourself a pink pie wedge.
This album is fucking damp, and Rundle does nothing to dry it off. I promise this is a good thing though, as her vocals are the perfect compliment to the unabashed doom surrounding them. Hey, sometimes you wanna soar among the clouds, and other times you want to get on eye level with the fishes. May Our Chambers Be Full is all too glad to tie a cement block to your foot and push you into the ocean.
There is a fantastic juxtaposition of Emma Ruth Rundle’s measured, emotive vocals, mixed with Thou lead vocalist Bryan Funck’s guttural, dungeon-dwelling caterwaul. It just works, man. Somehow, it works.
“Ancestral Recall” paints the whole lot as nerds, as it’s the name of a Magic the Gathering card. (And I guess it paints me as a nerd, since I knew that. Shut up.) It’s a great jam, as is the following track, “Magickal Cost” – the best track on the release, IMO.
Emma Ruth Rundle and Thou’s masterpiece May Our Chambers Be Full certainly won’t be for everybody, but it was 100000% for me. This is definitely one of those “outside the comfort zone” albums for many, and one that would be of great reward if you decided to take the leap. That Jeremy guy knows what he’s talking about after all.
FFO: Bongripper, Bell Witch
Meghan Trainor – A Very Trainor Christmas (Honest OG Recording)
There’s no more hiding it: the Fairly KickAss squad are collective fans of Meghan Trainor. That hurts to say.
Some backstory: in the July 17th, 2020 slate of album reviews, our very own Jeremy reviewed Meghan’s most recent non-holiday release, Treat Myself. If you were expecting vitriol and venom, then you would be mistaken, dear reader. A few snippets from that review:
“Ignore the Nicki Minaj part of ‘Nice To Meet You’ and the melody and beat are quite pleasing”
“Close your eyes and listen to ‘Funk’ and you can almost hear Janet [Jackson]”
“Throw a Spanish verse into ‘Lie To Me’ and it could be Shakira”
Shakira! Janet!! (Nicki Minaj, but yeah.)
I knew I had to right this wrong, and A Very Trainor Christmas was the perfect opportunity. “See?”, I said in my mental review that I had already written, “it’s fucking garbo! It’s staid, it’s way overproduced, it’s an assault on the holiday – and on your ears. Do yourself a favor and spend your time seeking out Black Friday deals on a new 4k TV, since that shit goes all month now.”
That was the plan. Meghan selfishly ruined that plan.
This is… sigh… everything that a Christmas album should be. Modern, upbeat, oscillating between poppy and jazzy, but still keeping the classics classic. “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas”, typically one of my least favorite Christmas songs, shines with a new coat of paint. The minimalist cover of “Winter Wonderland” with only scant ukulele as a backdrop is similarly outstanding.
There are a few originals in here, and while not quite as entertaining as the classics, they’re still not bad, with “Christmas Got Me Blue” being the best of that bunch. It’s a bop! You know how much we love bops around these parts. Finally, we close up shop with a very traditional, lofty rendition of “Silent Night”, and it’s the perfect way to put a bow on this one.
There’s liberal harmonizing and a good bit of Auto-Tune, but it serves to lift up Meghan’s voice, not to try and hide it or drown it out. She can hit the necessary notes when needed, and she sounds good doing it. This isn’t the vocal powerhouse that Carrie Underwood’s own Christmas album, My Gift, was. But it doesn’t have to be to sound good.
In conclusion, the Fairly Trainor blog will likely continue to support Meghan’s efforts in the future, much to our collective chagrins. A Very Trainor Christmas should enter your regular yuletide rotation, without a doubt. Now if yule excuse me, I got a TV to buy.
FFO: Ring-ting-tingling, friends calling “yoo-hoo”, giddy-yaps
Ben Harper – Winter Is For Lovers (Anti-)
A genius with a lap steel and purveyor roots music, Ben Harper is here with another gem. This is artistry without any bells or…other instruments. It’s just Ben and his lap steel.
All-instrumental storytelling is not an easy feat, and as I am a philistine, I did not follow the story that is ostensibly there. I did however find each track to be moving, touching in its own way. Jazz, blues, Americana/folk, and flamenco peek out from curtains, open doors and windows, and drive slow enough to catch a smile through the side mirror. This is well worth the half hour it takes to enjoy.
Start with: “London”, “Joshua Tree”, “Verona”
FFO: Kaki King, Matt Costa
Lunchbox – After School Special (Slumberland)
90s alt-pop is still a thing. Lunchbox (not to be confused with Fairlykickass.com’s own DJ Lunchbox) wants you to know that. The music is super-tight, fun pop songs that worship the Beatles, but not production value. The guitars are louder than the vocals and the bass is tuned way too high. The lyrics are cute and cuddly, when you can hear them. The vocalist tries really hard.
“Utopia” is pretty badass, but the rest is only okay.
Start with: “Utopia”, “Gary of the Academy”
FFO: Of Montreal, Mountain Goats (with less talent and substance), Pete & Pete
Ane Brun – After the Great Storm (Balloon Ranger Recordings)
Filling my Scandinavian quota for the week is Norwegian songstress Ane Brun, with her latest release, After the Great Storm. Ane has been one of the most popular Norwegian artists of the last 20 years, notching six top-4 releases on the Norwegian charts out of her first eight albums – and After the Great Storm should duplicate the feat yet again.
Brun’s haunting lyrics are wonderful, yet stark; there’s no getting around it. Thankfully, the music is also quite haunting, yet not quite as stark. Everything fits perfectly, from the upbeat drum-heavy “Crumbs” (“You’ll never be more than a lover/You will always be the hideout” – total swoon), to the more muted “Fingerprints”.
After the Great Storm is a fine listen in its own right, or as a palate cleanser after listening to some of the other crazy shit that we tell you to spin. Ane has a second album coming out this year, How Beauty Holds The Hand Of Sorrow, and you’ll hear all about it once it drops. Unless I forget. Make sure I don’t forget, Dear Readers.
FFO: Sophie Zelmani, Anna Ternheim