The Mars Volta – Noctourniquet (2012)

Let me start off by saying that The Mars Volta is not a band whose discography I have familiarized myself with. I have listened to an assortment of songs from random albums and really have no sentimental attachment to this band like so many people. The thing that attracted me to this band was actually their old drummer Thomas Pridgen. If you’re a follower of modern drumming then you’ve probably heard of Pridgen who is known for winning the Guitar Center Drum-Off at the ripe age of 9, a year later becoming the youngest person to ever receive an endorsement from Zildjian, and other prodigious shit like getting a 4 year scholarship to Berklee at age 15. He’s a badass and after five seconds of Wax Simulacra you’ll know what I’m talking about. The band doesn’t have Thomas Pridgen anymore, but they still have their fast, noisy, in your face brand of progressive rock that they’ve become known for. The best thing about this album is how full every song sounds. All the basic elements of a band (guitar, bass, drums, vocals) are the most immediate sounds to hit the ears, but the real secret to the atmosphere of this album are the synthesizers and the production. On the opening track The Whip Hand, a synth buzzes back and forth between the guitar and drums before another synth explodes into a  heavy trip-hop break. Meanwhile, a higher pitched Cedric Bixler-Zavala scares away mainstream music fans by screeching “I am a landmine/ So don’t you step on me.” This album doesn’t sound like any progressive rock that I’ve ever heard. Like other prog rock bands there is a high level of instrumental ability, odd time signatures, and strange guitar tones, but The Mars Volta feels like a different animal. For one thing they are a lot noisier than most prog rock I’ve heard, a lot faster and a lot busier. The single The Malkin Jewel, for instance, hardly sounds like a single with it’s complicated arrangement that feels like two songs being played at once. The band attacks with full force on tracks like Molochwalker, The Whip Hand, the fantastic Dyslexicon, and parts of Aegis,but what surprised me most about this album is how many songs are actually slower and more chilled out. What surprised me even more is how quickly the slower songs became some of my favorites. Empty Vessels Make The Loudest Sound, Trinkets Pale of Moon, and In Absentia are not only catchy, but also beautiful. The only problem with the pace of some of these songs is that they make an already long album (64 minutes and 31 seconds) feel even longer. I admit that while I really like this album, I rarely ever sit down and listen to the whole thing in one sitting because it is simply so long. The track lengths are also somewhat long, averaging somewhere around five minutes which can be too long for songs like Zed and Two Naughts, which is also a little repetitive. But hey, maybe I just have A.D.D. The length, however, is merely a wispy cloud in an otherwise clear sky. The bright moments are blinding. The abrupt shift and guitar part in the last two minutes of In Absentia, the vocals in Vedamalady, and the build up to the end of Empty Vessels are just a few of them. Overall? It’s a great album that I wasn’t expecting and I know I’ll be revisiting it throughout the year over and over.

Overall: 8/10

My Itunes Track Ratings:

The Whip Hand: ****
Aegis: *****
Dyslexicon: *****
The Malkin Jewel: *****
Lapochka: ***
In Absentia: *****
Imago: ***
Molochwalker: ***
Trinkets Pale of Moon: ****
Vedamalady: ****
Noctourniquet: ***
Zed And Two Naughts: ***

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Top 5 Favorite Drummers – #1 Tony Royster Jr.

You’ve likely seen the video of a 12 year old kid name Tony Royster Jr. playing a mind-blowing drum solo in front of a large crowd of people. The first time I saw that video I was probably 12 or 13 years old myself and my uncle (who is a drummer) showed it to me ON VHS. I couldn’t help but think that the kid at 12 years old could probably wipe the floor with just any drummer I had heard up to that point. It’s so nice when a prodigy lives up to the expectations, or in this case surpasses them. At 27 he is touring with Jay-Z and Nick Jonas and basically just being a badass whenever he shows up to a place with a drumkit. He’s got groove, he’s got chops (oh man does he got chops), he’s got speed unlike anyone I’ve ever seen (that’s including when playing rudiments and double bass), and his ability to improvise is unmatched. Every single time I hear Tony play I hear a new thing that I previously thought impossible or maybe never even thought of at all. He is also just a great showman which I don’t think should be shrugged off. James Brown, for example, could sing and dance incredibly well, but the crowd still wanted to see him collapse on stage as his band wrapped a cape around him. Well, Tony doesn’t have a cape, but he does have stick tricks, complicated patterns between the hand and foot, and the best crossovers I’ve ever seen. If you put a gun to my head and said “Who’s the best drummer in the world?” I guess I would have to say Tony. There’s just nothing he can’t do and he’s an inspiration to anyone who hears him play. Man-crush, ladies and gentlemen. Man-crush. Here’s one of the millions of freak-of-nature videos of Tony ripping the world of drumming a new asshole. How he manages to do all this and stay in time I will never know:

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Top 5 Favorite Drummers #2 – Benny Greb

Benny Greb has got style. There is no getting around it. If Benny Greb were two miles away from me and all I could hear of him was the distant rumble of his bass drum, I would still be able to tell it was him playing. His style is very distinct: lots of ostinatos on the foot pedals and a back and forth between grooves spread across the toms and heavy, deep beats in the pocket. All four limbs have minds of their own, each roaming freely about the kit to create a nice full sound. The thing I love most about Benny, though, is his feel. It’s hard to describe without hearing, but when he gets in the pockets and even plays just a simple beat, it invokes that strong, visceral feeling that makes you bob your head and tap your foot. Think of the feeling you get when you hear the drum intro on When the Levee Breaks or the drum break on The Funky Drummer and you’ll have an idea of what I’m talking about. Greb’s style is completely his own, but at the same time it feels almost familiar. I don’t know how he does it, but regardless he is a huge influence on myself and the drumming community. Here’s my favorite drum solo of all-time (even though it’s a compilation of one of his performances) and I think it sums his style up nicely. Here’s the monster of a solo by Benny Greb:

I mean come on. He has 5 foot pedals and one of them is rigged up to hit a little bongo. Sick.

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Top 5 Favorite Drummers #3 – Bill Bruford

The first time I remember thinking Bill Bruford is a genius was when I first heard the song Heart of the Sunrise by Yes. What struck me about that song is how he never sits on any single idea for more than 10 seconds. His playing is constantly changing, which is why it took me a whole week just to memorize the first minute of the 11 minute song. Bill Bruford is most known for his work with Yes and King Crimson in which he utilizes odd time signatures, creative rhythms, and a shitload of paradiddles. I like to think of Bruford’s playing as a microcosm of his career. As with his drumming, his career was constantly changing. He never stuck with any band for too long, and it seemed like he was always itching to try something new. When working with Yes and King Crimson I’ve heard that he often would hear someone’s idea for a song or a riff and would then just suggest that a beat be dropped or added. 4/4 became 5/4 or 3/4, and before you know it King Crimson is jamming out in 13/8 at the end of the song Starless. His drumming served to better whoever he played with and whatever track he was playing on. It’s the relentless desire to push and constantly move forward and try something new that makes me love Bill Bruford. Aside from that the guy can just flat out play:

Bruford on working with King Crimson:

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Top 5 Favorite Drummers #4 – Bernard Purdie

If you’ve ever listened to music, odds are that you’ve heard of Bernard Purdie. As the most recorded drummer in history he was worked with the likes of Steely Dan, Aretha Franklin, The Rolling Stones, James Brown, Miles Davis, and the list just goes on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on– as does the list of people influenced by him. I like to think that the reason he was in such high demand is because he’s not only a great drummer, but an awesome guy. When I watch videos of Bernard Purdie playing, I can’t help but get infected by his laughter and his great attitude. Purdie is by no means a flashy drummer. He is a pure groove man and in my eyes nobody does it better. At first glance his drumming might seem easy, but if you listen to his ghost notes and his hi-hat playing, you’ll realize it’s a little more complicated than it seems. When it comes to creating a deep groove, Purdie is your man. He’s calm, he’s cool, he’s Bernard Purdie. 

 

 

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Top 5 Favorite Drummers #5 – Steve Smith

This week I’m going to make a list of my five favorite drummers as of right now. This list is constantly changing as my preferences become different and I discover new drummers, but I thought it would be fun seeing as I’m an avid lover of everything drum related. So I’m starting the list today and ending on Friday with my #1 favorite drummer. I cannot stress the word “favorite” enough. A lot of people make lists that use words like “best” and “all-time,” and what they all forget is that in the world of music there is no authority on who is the best, and if there were it sure as hell wouldn’t be a 20 year old kid from the suburbs of St. Louis. So! These are just my favorite drummers. I’m going to start the list with an amazing drummer named Steve Smith. Smith, who is probably most well-known as one of the drummers for Journey. Despite having worked with a bunch of artists I don’t like (Mariah Carey, Savage Garden, Journey), he has also worked with people like Dweezil Zappa, Bill Evans, Stuart Hamm, and Victor Wooten. His work with these artists is not why I love his drumming so much. To me he is a master of the drum solo. He seems like an old school kind of guy because he plays with traditional grip, has a jazz background, and is pushing 60, but also incorporates new tricks like top-notch double bass drumming and one-handed rolls (or gravity rolls). Above all that he is incredibly musical. It can’t really be explained, but his drum solos feel more like compositions rather than a collection of beats and fills. His drums are also tuned beautifully which add a lot to the musical element. I really can’t find any weaknesses in his playing. I think one could easily make the argument that he’s the best drummer playing today or even ever. His left hand is extremely fast and accurate, his feet are solid, and his limb independence is mind-blowing. In the video posted below, watch as all four limbs, at times, are all playing separate rhythms but manage to come together as one to make for an absolutely beautiful drum solo. Ladies and gentlemen…Steve Smith.

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