If someone asked you what kind of music your grandfather listens to, your answer would most likely be that he listens to laid-back, relaxing, slow stuff. And if your grandfather made
music, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to assume that it would probably also be similar: slow and relaxing. Well here’s something interesting: John Zorn is 53 and he composes some of the most hard-to-swallow shi
t out there. Far from the lazy old man stereotype, Zorn has stamped his name on hundreds of projects over the years and shows no signs of slowing down. On his 2006 composition Astronome, as well as the album prior to this (Moonchild
) and the album after this (Six Litanies for Heliogabalus
), his work is executed by vocalist Mike Patton, bassist Trevor Dunn, and drummer Joey Baron.
First off, this album isn’t accessible. I’m not presenting that as a con, just as a warning. If you’re going to listen to this, be prepared for some weird shi
t. Having already heard his latest album, I was luckily prepared for Zorn's other bizzare compositions. Anyone who’s ever heard vocalist Mike Patton’s various projects knows how versatile and slightly 'different' he is; he chokes, he screams, he screeches, he spouts gibberish, and offers respite in the slower parts with soft breathing and whispering. You remember Donnie from The Wild Thornberrys? He sounds like that a lot of the time.
Patton’s vocal work may offer the main entertainment, but Trevor Dunn and Joey Baron certainly don’t slack off in the music department. Dunn’s bass playing is all over the place, running a huge gamut of techniques. He plays jazzy riffs, scratches strings, and in the times when the sound isn’t meant to be so subtle, he just plays fu
cking loud. Joey Baron gives the ongoing craze a strong backbone with his fast fills and great cymbal work, as well as going balls-out insane when he needs to.
There are three pieces here, each lasting longer than twelve minutes, and split into different parts; however, there isn’t much of a way to know when one part ends and another begins. Because of this, Astronome
might seem like a tedious listen, but Dunn, Baron, and certainly Patton skillfully keep things interesting for the duration of the album. Zorn achieves a rare thing with Astronome
: it’s all over the place without actually seeming all over the place. In other words, it’s an absolutely crazy album, but it’s very structured and composed, and Zorn certainly knows how to balance soft and heavy equally. Now, when you hear the word “heavy” you probably think of heavy metal, but Zorn offers a different sort of heaviness that would put most metal artists to shame; it’s a heaviness that will frighten lambs. When the quieter parts come in and you can finally breathe again, Zorn plunges you back down into the depths.
You may ask, "Well, is there anything wrong
More than anything, Astronome
is an experience, and because of this, it doesn’t offer much in terms of replay value. However, if a month or two has passed since you last listened to this, pull it out again and you just might be able to recapture that intense feeling you got when it first hit your ears.