Sunday, October 21, 2007

Hail to the Chiefs (A Musical Post)

I haven't talked about music in a while, have I?

So, let's talk about music.

I was actually thinking about it for a while, but a little encounter really got me hyped up on the idea. I went out to San Francisco on Friday in order to buy a new suit. Nothing fancy; just a simple-yet-professional business suit. After all, I'm in business school; I should probably have something a little more cohesive than an amalgamation of different pieces of clothes from five years ago. They've served me well, but I still needed something a little more...now.

But this story isn't about the suit! Nor is it about the fact that I went to Target afterward to buy a nice dress shirt, because the prices for shirts at the Men's Warehouse were truly, truly, truly outrageous (though I must admit, I did like the way I looked). No, the story is that I ran into a couple of dirty druggies while I was waiting for the bus at the Berkeley BART station. Now, I suppose I shouldn't make assumptions, but considering they had unwashed barbarian hair, those nose rings that go through the nose, and a mangy dog wearing a bandanna at their side, I think it's not crazy to say that they partake in illicit items from time to time. Oh, yeah, and they live in Berkeley.

But story this isn't about how dirty these druggies were! Because they were actually doing something which I really enjoyed: they played some music. And this wasn't your traditional troubadour guitar or saxophone act. No, these two had instruments which you don't see much on the street, but Goddammit, you wish you did! I am, of course, talking about the wonderful combination of the accordion and the violin. I don't know what genre of music that is (gypsy music?), but it sounded great!

Now, I was able to take a short video of them until my bus arrived. It may not be the best music in the world (they said they were just learning how to play the song in question), and the sound quality on the video may not be the best (I recorded it with a phone, for goodness' sake), and you may have to turn your speakers up, but dagnabbit, it was really enjoyable sitting there and listening!



I just wish more street musicians would make these kinds of choices. I've noticed that I've only given out tips a couple times to these performers, and all of them have involved the accordion.

And now, onto the main event!

Hopefully, I'll be talking in the next couple weeks about some of the new (for me) artists that I've grown an affinity for. this time, we'll be talking about a group that I have come to really, really enjoy. It's called Secret Chiefs 3, and if you've heard of them, you're probably a liar. They specialize in a kind of out-there, avante-garde, all-encompassing fusionistic style, but somehow it works.

Now, as I've explained before, I can base my faith in a band's quality with a single song clip. Well, for Secret Chiefs 3, I was actually able to listen to one-and-a-half. The "one" part is from a page utlizing the music with a GIF from one of the Superman movies, called "Whoever has the most points wins." (It's a pun. Get it?) The "half" part was actually made by the same guy, but it mixes the song with some movie quote. You can watch the site here. (Note that it will only properly sync up with the GIF in [*shudder*] Internet Explorer, or in Firefox's wonderful IE Tab add-on. And if you use Opera...well, God help your soul.)

Anyhoo, after hearing these small samples, I decided to acquire a large number of the bands songs. Unfortunately, they're tougher to acquire than most. My normal music source was only able to get me one of their albums. That means for the rest I'd have to - totally unbelievable - buy the CDs. So, I went onto Amazon and bought some from their "new and used" section for cheap. In the end, I only bought three of their four main albums, as I heard their first one was considerably different, and worse, than their later work. I think I made the right decision.

Well, although getting the CDs proved to be a hassle, there were some benefits to it. For example, I was able to get a greater glimpse into their style. Basically, this is actually a supergroup composed of several smaller groups under the visage of a secret society. Their CD Booklet for Book M is about 16 pages long, two of which are used for song listings and production information. The rest is a series of da Vinci Code-like cryptic stuff, both exciting and frustrating, because you don't know if was made weird just to be weird, or if there is actually some meaning behind what is there (after all, I'd put one in). Here, take a look at some excerpts:



It just goes on and on like that. In some senses, I guess it's pointless, but it's damn cool. And their CD. If there is a more perplexing CD print, I have yet to see it. Take a look (I've tried to keep it as high-res as possible for easy [well, relatively] as possible).

Truth be told, though, I'd rather see crazy stuff like this than pictures of biceps and behinds. And really, you have to give some credit to a group whose CD booklet is not just filled with vanity shots, but with something that took more than an hours work to design.

But what about the music? What do these guys actually play? Well, I'll give you some samples, which I hope you'll enjoy. I tried to choose as wide a variety as possible, as they have a pretty big variety. I actually do have a confession to make, though. There were two songs on their most recent album, Book of Horizons, which I didn't like. They were death metal songs which, for the uninitiated, is hard, hard metal in which it just sounds like the main "vocalist" is trying to hock up some lung cancer that got stuck in his throat. The songs were so obtrusive to the rest of the album that I actually deleted them from my iTunes. So, if you get that album (and I recommend you do!) don't come crying to me if you don't like those pieces.

So, let's take a look at some of their songs.

The Rose Garden of Mystery
I must say, I've always had a thing for "plucky" guitars. I'm not sure what they're really called. "Spanish Guitars", maybe? I'm talking about about the ones you don't strum all the chords at once, just a single string at the time. Or maybe that's not even a different type of guitar; maybe it's just a different play style. Don't ask me. I don't know guitars.

I do know what I like, though, and I like this. It has an old Western feel that I like (and is actually in a bit of their music, as we'll see a little later). It's not totally representative of all their music, but then, none of their music is totally representative. It's just pretty nice to listen to while looking out the window on a rainy day.

Renunciation
This is apparently one of their most famous songs, so I saw fit to include it. I think it really represents how much fusion they have in their music. I hear rock (guitar), classical (violin), Indian (sitar), and some others I can't identify). One of my classes this semester is on the politics of music, and we were actually discussing about the fusion of different styles. When I remembered songs like this, I recommended the group to my professor. He says that it's really difficult to fuse a bunch of styles at once, but I think they do pretty well.

Zulfikar II
No, that "II" is not just there for show. There actually is a prequel (and a sequel) to this piece. I haven't heard the first one (it's on their first CD), but the third one is very similar to this, only a lot faster and infusing more electronica into it (it was actually the background music for the site I said counted as my "half" listening).

What's nice about this song is that it inspires little dances. When I'm listening to it as I'm going on my merry way, I notice that my legs move a little differently. They spin and twist and almost do moonwalks. It's fun.

Horsemen of the Invisible
So, this is the song whose clip got me into the bad in the first place. It's pretty self-explanatory. It's fast-paced and energizing. What's interesting about it is that as it progresses, there is some intentional distortion going on, best heard on headphones (though Lord help you if you have it at extremely loud volumes).

The Exile
Another great "Looking-out-the-window" longingly, just like the first one. Not much I really want to say about it; it just sounds nice.

The Spin Masta, Kultur Killa
This one is...well, it's all over the map. There is, like, a complete style change every 30 seconds or something. And there is also some turntabling action, with some disc-spinning that sound like, if you'll excuse the analogy, someone throwing up in reverse. (Listen closely afterward to hear people cheering at fireworks). In truth, I didn't like this one when I first heard it, but it has since grown on me, particularly the last minute of it. So, if you don't like it at first don't worry. You will eventually.

Book Texodus
If you're wondering where this group originated, it was actually in San Francisco (small world, eh?). As such, some of the band members had previous relations with surf rock (I'm guessing surf rock is like that "Wipeout" song). I don't hear it as much as most others do, but you can most definitely hear the influence in this song.

This really sounds like an ending credits song. There is just a feeling of completion to it, that everything's going to work out. Basically, if I were galloping into the sunset, I would be playing this. And then, at the very end of the song, I'd fling off my hat.

Welcome to the Theatron Anamatronique
And we end with this lovely piece. It starts off very bouncy and lively, but don't let that fool you; it becomes quite somber, almost sounding like a piece from the soundtrack. Edward Scissorhands soundtrack. Then it becomes very powerful, and very vocal. Of the three albums I have (and of the songs I didn't delete), this is the only piece with lyrics. If you're interested, those lyrics are here. It's one of the few places outside of a church you see Latin in a song (outside of my own original song "Habemus Papam," which is about my unsuccessful campaign to be pope).

Really, I think one of the most fun ways to think about this is like a drinking song (despite the fact that I don't drink). Just imagine, for the last two minutes of the song, a bunch of burly men in lion skins sitting round a bar, tossing their steins to and fro while belting out the lyrics. It's really fun.


So that's all I'm going to give you. Part of me wishes I could give all I have, because it's that enjoyable. However, that would be highly illegal. So consider this your free sample, a spoonful meant to show you the flavor available. One of the advantages of being a so called "Internet Frontiersman" (a term I may have to define one day) is that things are made known to me that are usually not amongst the mainstream. The trade-off is that I don't know much about the mainstream anymore (as I barely watch TV, I barely ever see new movies, and I haven't listened to a normal radio in months). It's a good thing, because there's lots of treasure out there.

I highly encourage you to check out Secret Chiefs 3. They're not for everyone, and they're not for every time, but they definitely are an excellent collection to anyones music library, if for no other reason than to be discreetly told to quiet down.

2 comments:

Christopher said...

You and your anti-Opera tirades...You know, I've used IE, Firefox, Safari and will soon be trying out Konquor when I start mucking around with Linux, and yet I always go back to Opera, the best in my opinion. Oh well, at least I won't have to worry about those four security holes Firefox has, or the swiss cheese of browsers, Internet Explorer with eight reported security holes. One day Andrew, you will see the light, if not by me, but by Nintendo's use of Opera...

Back to your main part of the blog - wierdness and unusual music can mean profitability in the long run. I mean, who thought back in the 60's that Pink Floyd would go anywhere?

-Comrade Chavez

mom said...

the street guys sound very fiddler on the roof-esque