The Art of Jeff Jordan

Jeff Jordan is a surrealist painter and one of my personal favourites, whose art work also happens to appear on some of my favourite albums too. He is mostly known for the art work featured on albums from The Mars Volta, especially for his work on ‘Amputechture’, which opened up a new part of his career as an album cover artist primarily for progressive bands. For this blog I am going to list some of my favourite albums featuring Jeff Jordan’s unique art works.

The Mars Volta – ‘Amputechture’

bigmutant

Jeff Jordan’s ‘Big Mutant’ adorns the third record from progressive metallers The Mars Volta. The record is a brilliant juxtaposition between hectic instrumentation and relaxed textures, with most songs coming in at over seven minutes in length. Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s leads are thick and dripping with distortion, whilst Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s vocals squeal at high pitches. The record features many flamenco elements including increased use of horns, Spanish lyrics, a wide variety of percussion and acoustic guitar sections.

My favourite Mars Volta song, ‘Day of The Baphomets’, is the longest track on the album (which comes in at twelve minutes) featuring a bongo solo, crazy guitar and horn solos and the catchy refrain of ‘poachers in your home’ which (whether a good or a bad thing) will be circulating your mind for several days to come.

Leprous – ‘Bilateral’

Leprous

‘Bilateral’ is the third full length effort from Norwegian progressive band Leprous. Frontman Einar Solberg is incredibly vocally diverse with a large range, and the ability to switch seamlessly between a screamed and a clean Jonathan Davis reminding vocal attack. The album is very keyboard and synth heavy, posing as a modern, heavy take on bands such as King Crimson and early Genesis. It’s also not too hard to see the percussive elements of their sound being inspired by progressive masters Tool, shown best with ‘Restless’; a brilliant cut which condenses their varied styles into a very accessible track.

Protest The Hero – ‘Volition’

Volition

As mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Protest The Hero’s fan funded, fourth studio album ‘Volition’ is yet another brilliant piece of progressive metal from the Canadian five-piece. Protest the Hero are known for their fast calculated sound, with guitars, bass and drums driving forward with perfectly executed complex rhythms. The album ‘Volition’ takes the band back to more of the pop, louder-than-life choruses featured on their first album ‘Kezia’, whilst still keeping the technical proficiency from both ‘Fortress’ and ‘Scurrilous’.

The Mars Volta – ‘Octahedron’

ArtScans CMYK

‘Octahedron’ is described by The Mars Volta as their acoustic album and whilst the songs are certainly less crazy, they are hardly fit for a campfire sing-a-long. Although opener ‘Since We’ve Been Wrong’ awkwardly reminds of ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’ (more from rhyming similarity than actual musical plagiarism), the album follows a vastly different musical direction and is very successful at it. ‘Teflon’ has a distinct groove and succeeds in being reigned back and concise. Although ‘Cotopaxi’ could so easily be featured on the previous album ‘The Bedlam in Goliath’ (which features the artwork ‘Agadez’ from Jeff Jordan) for its high octane approach, it’s welcome on ‘Octahedron’ for the good contrast in provides against the ambient pair of ‘With Twilight as my Guide’ and ‘Copernicus’.

T.R.A.M. – ‘Lingua Franca’

photographed by Joseph Wilhelm, http://www.meridianfineart.net/

T.R.A.M. are a jazz fusion/rock super group consisting of guitar virtuosos Tosin Abasi and Javier Reyes from Animals as Leaders, Suicidal Tendencies’ drummer ‘Eric Moore’ and wind player Adrian Terrazas-Gonzalez. The album is a revision of and a tribute to the elements of jazz that have inspired the progressive metal sound of Abasi’s main project. Elements of Abasi’s unique guitar technique come across on the album, especially the sweeps and tapping, although they aren’t quite as prominent as with Animals as Leaders, allowing his fellow musicians to rotate through the spot light.

Please check out Jeff Jordan’s art at http://www.jeffjordanart.com

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Images:

Amputchture, Octahedron, Lingua Franca art work from http://www.jeffjordanart.com

Leprous art work from http://www.leprous.net

Protest the Hero art work from http://www.nuskull.hu

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Introducing Sóley

I doubt there are many people reading this who have heard of Icelandic solo artist Sóley Stefánsdóttir, so allow me to introduce her music to you. Known simply as Sóley, she is a multi-instrumentalist and talented vocalist who is also a member of the Icelandic indie-folk seven-piece called Seabear.

‘We Sink’ is Sóley’s first full length record away from her natural Seabear habitat (pun intended) and is essentially an experimental take on the ‘anti-pop’ genre, which combines elements of art rock and also avant garde (think The XX without the electronic beats and bass lines).

The album starts off with a collection of the more accessible songs on the album. ‘I’ll Drown’ is predominately played on piano, whilst percussive loops drive underneath Sóley’s quiet and beautiful voice. For ‘Smashed Birds’ she switches to the guitar, creating easily the most commercial orientated song on the album, with traditional pop song structures and melodies, whilst ‘Pretty Face’ adds swells of atmospherics and snare drum rolls to the formula.

The bizarre storytelling in the acoustic ‘Bad Dream’ is layered with echo effects and is the first of the more experimental tracks. Most of the tracks on ‘We Sink’ are fairly minimalistic; Sóley’s dreamy words and sounds in ‘And Leave’ are supported mainly by a sparse drum beat and a series of droning keyboards, whilst ‘Blue Leaves’ and ‘Kill The Clown’ are essentially duets between Sóley’s vocals and her accomplished piano playing.

Her lyrics are polar-opposites from the all too usual chart-topping themes of love and sex, instead she opts to write about fantastical stories including an imaginary evil rabbit featuring in ‘Bad Dream’, defeating a rampaging clown in the aptly named ‘Kill the Clown’ and a strange house on fire in ‘Theater Island’.

The trilogy of ‘Fight Them Soft’, ‘About Your Funeral’ and ‘The Sun Is Going Down I’ are the three weirdest tracks on the album, each making heavy use of eerie sounds, atmospheric noises (reminiscent of Steven Wilson’s Bass Communion side project) and vocal effects. The first and last of the mentioned songs are essentially strange musical interludes and although they provide interesting listening, they are not really necessary and if anything they break up the flow of the album, instead of improving it.

Regardless of these flaws, both ‘Dance’ and ‘The Sun is Going Down II’ are fantastic songs, both built around supremely memorable chorus melodies, supported appropriately with moody atmospherics, piano motifs and more of her rough percussive loops. ‘Theater Island’ concludes an altogether excellent and highly experimental effort, which despite the frequent indulgence in bizarre (sometimes absent) musicality, Sóley still manages to form an album of charming and ultimately successful cuts. I look forward to her future releases.

Recommended Sóley:

  • ‘I’ll Drown’ from ‘We Sink’
  • ‘Dance’ from ‘We Sink’
  • ‘The Sun Is Going Down’ from We Sink’

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The Business of Music

On the weekend I picked up the latest release from Canadian progressive metal band Protest The Hero. The album is a fine slab of hectic metal, which works its way through scorching leads (on both guitar and bass), a schizophrenic vocal attack, and metronome-tight rhythms. Like all Protest The Hero releases, ‘Volition’ continues to push the boundary on what’s possible when amalgamating the normally polar opposites of technical wizardry and pop melodies, and is easily level with their superb debut ‘Kezia’.

However, it is not the music I wish to review, but their chosen business model.

But before I discuss their model, I’ll explain how the majority of bands go about business – via the record label. When a label discovers a band they take a risk and offer the band a record deal. As well as setting out an agreed number of records that the band is contractually obliged to release on that label (usually three plus albums), the label also gives the band a lump sum, called an advance, which the band use to fund the recording and production of an album. In this way bands need and depend heavily on the existence of record labels.

The record labels invest in the production of a band’s album, hoping that it will sell enough to repay the initial cost and the band does not receive any of the sales money until the advance money is paid back – just like a loan. In the current environment of high piracy, it is becoming a much more risky game and hence it is also becoming harder to get signed.

After fulfilling their label’s record quota, Protest The Hero were in a situation where they could no longer sustain the record label model. Instead they opted to go down the fan funding route, an option many bands are turning to. This model relies on fans donating via sites like Indiegogo and Pledge Music and offers them exclusive rewards and offers, as well as the knowing they helped fund the record that they will eventually hear. Of course these specialist donating websites also take a fee, but at a significantly lower percentage than record labels would (about 3-10% typically) and you get an immediate return, with no advance/loan to pay back.

One of the great aspects of this process is the reward process, which allows the fans to become much more engaged with the final product. Protest the hero offered an array of rewards which scaled with the size of the donation, from exclusive digipak versions and merchandise bundles to album listening and pizza parties, signed guitars and even a chance to appear on the album if you forked out $5000. In the end Protest The Hero smashed through their initial goal of $125,00o, raising a impressive $341,146 – almost three times as much!

However, this method is not completely risk free. Breed 77’s latest album ‘The Evil Inside’ was funded in much the same way, getting fans to donate towards a new album and rewarding them with a wide variety of exclusive merchandise and events. Breed 77 managed to get 105% of their goal, 5% of which they generously donated towards Amnesty International. Unfortunately the finished product they released was sub-standard for a Breed 77 album. The old flamenco flare had gone, instead replaced with mundane hard rock riffs and for the first time in their discography bland vocals from the very talented Paul Isola.

As a massive fan of Breed 77 over the years, if I had donated, especially if I had opted for one of the more premium packages (the most expensive of which came to £180), I would have felt let down when I heard the new album. This is perhaps the one aspect of this model which is holding it back; being able to deliver (and making your fans believe you are going to deliver) your promise on making a great album. If you don’t deliver then fans won’t want to donate again and with the current record label model on the edge of extinction for small to intermediate levels bands, there’s not much else you can do.

Although the gamble arguably didn’t pay off for Breed 77, Protest The Hero ended up with an incredible product, elevated more when you consider it was carried solely by the dedication of the fan base. There are many bands who have made this work, including  Australian band Mammal and rock giants Marillion, who both funded the creation of albums through pre-orders, the latter doing so way back in 2001! All things considered, there is definitely still life in the music industry.

Recommended Protest The Hero:

  • ‘Turn Soonest To The Sea’ from ‘Kezia’
  • ‘Bloodmeat’ from ‘Fortress’
  • ‘Sequoia Throne’ from ‘Fortress’
  • ‘C’est La Vie’ from ‘Scurrilous’
  • ‘Clarity’ from ‘Volition’

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What’s next for Slayer?

Slayer are one of the so called ‘big four’ – an elite group of four thrash/heavy metal bands alongside Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax, who pioneered the genre in early eighties. In February drummer and founding member Dave Lombardo was left out of their tour due to a pay dispute and eventually was fired for the third time from the band. Meanwhile guitarist Jeff Hanneman was struggling with his health after contracting necrotising fasciitis, before sadly dying of liver failure in May.

Now a very different Slayer lines up with exodus guitarist Gary Holt and replacement drummer Paul Bostaph, alongside original members Kerry King and Tom Araya. There have been mentions of Slayer calling it a day, with Araya questioning his reasons to continue, posing the question “why am I doing this now?”. However, this has been countered with Bostaph calling quitting ‘weak’ and King explaining the need to continue for both financial and sentimental reasons.

Slayer seem to have chosen to continue; with a new album already in the works. In August Araya said they would be including two of Hanneman’s unreleased songs on the new album, with potentially more after they had gone through all of his riffs and ideas. However, King has recently stated that Hanneman’s unreleased material will remain that way, as he “doesn’t want the last thing for people to hear from Jeff to be mediocre”.

Whilst I completely echo the sentiment that a musician’s unreleased work should only ever be released posthumously if previously stated that it could (see my previous blog: https://rockatlantic.wordpress.com/2013/04/02/are-you-experienced/ ), Araya had confirmed that one of the songs was complete and was revealed to the other members with every intention of it being included on a new album.

If Hanneman’s contribution is to be cut from any forthcoming record, it only makes sense that the new guitarist Gary Holt, who had the late guitarists blessing to play for Slayer whilst he was ill, is allowed to take on an active role in the songwriting process. However, King was also quick to dismiss this notion, stating that the “fans aren’t ready” for Holt’s creative input.

However, why should fans settle for an album written solely by King, when previous albums have seen writing duties split almost half and half, with Hanneman even writing all but one song on their 1998 effort ‘Diabolus in Musica’. From Holt’s work in Exodus it is clear he can write good music, and if he has ideas to bring to the table, it can surely do no harm.

Regardless of who ends up contributing creatively toward their eleventh studio album, it will surely define the new look band going forward. I hope that King and Araya can come to an agreement on whether to include Hanneman’s material and that the new band members get their chance to put a stamp on Slayer’s future output, because without Hanneman their sound will surely change anyway.

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