Review Summary: An exploratory, spontaneous album that effectively creates an atmopshere around the listener. The raw production and human mistakes left in only add to this.
There's something about late-night driving that conjures up feelings of euphoria and introspection. Perhaps it's the feeling of abandon traveling alone on a dark, 5-lane road that is all but vacated in the afterhours, and knowing that your destination is only bound by the amount of freedom you allow yourself. This stream of consciousness is much easier to be aware of at this time, whereas at other times during the day your mind can become claustrophobic from the distractions of car horns, exhaust fumes, careless drivers, and other products of modern society. These things temporarily disappear when the moon becomes the dominant solar body in the sky.
Music takes on a different light in this setting, as well. I've noticed that certain CDs take over my car stereo when I'm on the Garden State Parkway in the wee hours of the night, albums like Radiohead's OK Computer
, Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon
, and Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska
. The smart use of ambience these artists used on these records is what attracted me to listen to them, especially at that time of night. I don't know if it's the setting that compliments the music or vice versa, but it's a wonderful aphrodisiac. The emptiness of the dark road just seems to welcome the atmosphere that albums like Ataxia's Automatic Writing
Ataxia is comprised of three seasoned musicians, which include guitarist John Frusciante
, who has been the guitarist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers for almost 20 years and has released ten solo albums in his career, bassist Joe Lally
, who has most notably been the bass player for Fugazi, as well as playing for the post-hardcore group Decahedron and being involved in his own solo works, and drummer Josh Klinghoffer
, a studio drummer who has worked on albums by artists including The Bicycle Thief, PJ Harvey, Thelonious Monster, and has played drums on many of Frusciante's solo works. All the members contribute lead vocals. (Moreso by Frusciante.) Alright, enough history, let's get to the real meat of this review...
"The three of us agreed on a basic musical direction and we started rehearsing, playing long improvisations with repetitive bass lines and exploratory drums and guitar..."
. That quote is from Frusciante himself, and best sums up the structure of all five songs on this album, however, the end results sound much better than what one one might conclude from that quote. All of the songs were recorded in the studio live, with no overdubs, in two days. Each of the songs are like long, exploratory jam sessions, and contain little or no actual song structure. A stanza of lyrics may be repeated or some other similarity, but for the most part it's Frusciante and Klinghoffer exploring the boundaries of the song and sometimes going out of that boundary, and Lally really the one holding it all together. What happnes is Lally will pick a smooth, excellent bass line and play it throughout the entire length of the song, while Frusciante explores the fretboard for what otherwordly riffs he can pull out of his guitar. Klinghoffer switches duties between holding everything together with a steady beat and crashing through the music with some great chops. A prime example of this is the song Dust
, which is also the opening track.par
opens up with great bass line from Lally, which is soon accompanied by Klinghoffer with a light drum beat. All seems calm until Frusciante explodes in with a fantastic, spacey guitar riff and with what sounds like fuzz distortion and a tremolo pedal cranked all the way up. Frusciante's vocals on this track are outstanding, switching between a melodic cry and a snarling wail several times. This is also Klinghoffer's best track, with chops that really grab your attention and end up sounding like they're complimenting the vocals, very well I might add. This nine-minute long track goes on as if there's no end in sight, but in a really good way, and leaves you with a great feeling of the journey ahead. Unfortunately, the next 6 1/2 minutes of that journey as long, dull length of road.
The next track, Another
, is where the record hits it's one and only snag, and it unfortunately puts a taint on the rest of the album. The track, which puts Klinghoffer on lead vocals, just... drags
. And unlike the rest of the songs, where the droning feeling of the music actually pulls you in and really sets an atmosphere, here it just leaves you wondering, "...OK, so when does the song start?". It's like one very long intro. Josh and Lally kick the song off with what sounds like it's about to develop into something great, but the rest of the song is just the same rhythym with Frusciante playing a nice arpeggio that, however, gets really old after 2 minutes, and there's 4 minutes of it left. The weakest part, though, is Josh's vocals. He's literally mumbling throughout the entire song, and it' very hard to tell what he's actually saying, which is frustrating. The song picks up a little bit at the end, but by that time you'll be more than happy to move on to the next song, which is certainly a step up. The Sides
puts John back on vocals, much to the relief of the listening audience. The song begins with Josh's drum beat and a swooshing effect on it which, thankfully, is only there for the first thirty seconds of the song. Lally kicks in with his best bass line on this record, followed by an ambient arpeggio and wonderfully delivered vocals courtesy of Mr. Frusciante. The song also features a very cool section with two Frusciante solos layered on top of one another that simply sounds amazing. This song is really everything that Another
should have been.
Now we reach the second part of this late-night road trip with the songs Addition
, both of which are about eleven minutes each. Addition
opens up with smooth Lally bass line (Do I need to keep repeating that at this point?) and once it kicks in it's somewhat reminiscent of Dust
, which is great. However, Fruscinate's vocals aren't as strong as they were in Dust
. For most of the song, his delivers the lyrics in a somewhat monotone voice, which would work fine in a one minute verse, but after 8 minutes they can start to grate a bit. The musicianship, however, is top notch, with everybody taking turns mixing it up while keeping in groove with the mood the song sets. Frusciante's guitar work stands out the most, whether he's simply keeping the rhytyhm the very eerie main riff that he plays throughout most of the song, or when it sounds like his guitar will literally rip a hole through your speakers with these unearthly noises he creates. Addition
isn't the best song on the album, but there's enough happening here to keep you interested for the whole 10 minute ride. However, just when you thought the album couldn't get better than the outstanding opening track, we reach our final destination: Montreal.
It's hard to find the exact words to articulate why I think Montreal
is so fantastic, but I can tell you what makes it stand out from the other tracks on this album. One, it's the longest track on the album, running for nearly 13 minutes. Two, it actually has some semblance of structure (but still maintains the droning nature of the rest of the album.) Three, and perhaps most importantly, Joe Lally takes Frusciante's place in front of the mic, and lends the lead vocals for the entire song. Right from the start, you get hit with a feeling of foreboding from the rhythym section. Lally and Klinghoffer krank out a very slow tempo, simple, droning groove that sets the tone for the song. Lally does a great job with vocals in this song. He sounds a bit like Frusciante, except cleaner, and they fit in very well with the mood of the song. Frusciante displays a surprising amount of restraint wiht his guitar playing on this song, especially since he doesn't need to focus on vocals at all. Instead, he just lets the song get quiet with long segments of bass, drums, and Lally's vocals, and then will just explode in with a spacey, Gilmour-esque riff that really serves the song well. Montreal
is a song that is really easy to get lost in, and ends the record on a very high note.
is approached with an exploratory and spontaneous execution, and just oozes raw emotion.Frusciante's guitar playing is much different than what you'd hear on a Red Hot Chili Peppers album or one of his solo albums, and he really locks in with Lally and Klinghoffer, who create a very exceptional rhythym foundation. The album certainly has imperfections (although that was John's intention), and the raw production may turn off some, but this is a terrific post-rock album. It is certainly a triumph, and a highlight on John Frusciante's resume.