Review Summary: One of the best post-hardcore albums of all time.
Glassjaw - Worship and Tribute
Three is a rather round number. Not that's it's even or round by divisibility or anything, but it's considered "The Magic Number" by some (http://image.allmusic.com/00/amg/cov200/drd700/d739/d739794912y.jpg). Usually when people are giving examples they'll bunch their examples in threes, and some of humanity's greatest groups came in threes (see http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/bobhope/images/vcvg20.jpg and http://www.latinoreview.com/moviereviews/2002/juwanna/images/triplets.jpg). In my three-sibling family there is a particular dynamic in which two brothers may gang up on the third, and allegiances can shift at any moment. Three is a dynamic number yet a triangle is the sturdiest geometric structure. Maybe these wondrous elements of the three are compelling me to choose my Top 3 albums of all time, and maybe I'm just a music goober. In any case, Thrice's The Illusion of Safety
, Dredg's El Cielo
, and Glassjaw's Worship and Tribute
are my top three, respectively. I've felt this way for over 3 years now, and I don't see any reason for an album to usurp this holy trinity in the future so I feel it's safe to call these something as grandiose as, DFelon204409's Top 3 Albums of All Time! So, to graft my insight on each of these albums onto the (un)willing epidermis of the music community, I'm going to review each of those albums like a motherfuc
The third, Glassjaw's Worship and Tribute
, took me the longest to digest. While the other two albums are rather deliberate in composition this album seems much more amorphous and whimsical. Never before have I heard the sounds that these guys pull out of their instruments and frankly, I don't think they even know what tones and squeaking noise they're going to create during the writing process. It's this originality in their sonic landscape that first distinguishes this album from any other I can think of. Glassjaw has a unique sound that genre-wise places them with nu-metal, alternative, post-rock, and most notably post-hardcore all at the same time, but really can't be distilled in a sentence. This original sound comes from a few varying factors. Firstly, Glassjaw messes around with effects a lot. There's a lot of time spent generating unique tones for each instrument and instruments that drastically change tone and effects in every verse, chorus, bridge, and small interlude on the album. They have a great sense of how to harness the spontaneity of tweaking with effects. So much, in fact, that they were able to create a metal/rock song with any actual power or bar chords, just the tonal screeching of effects and little licks on the guitar (see "Stuck Pig"). Essentially they use effects to create a freer sense of harmony, tone, and dynamics on their songs. Secondly, while Glassjaw do use straight guitar chords like many other bands that create rock music, their presence feels rare in the music. Instead they write using a collection of wildly assembled riffs that imply harmonies at certain moments. In conjunction with the use of unique effects, the general feel of this album is already unlike any album before it. This blurring of harmony is only more intriguing with the fact that Glassjaw's genre constantly shifts.
And though I've been speaking vaguely about how cool these neat factors are, there are some great concrete elements of the band to analyze.
Firstly, everything to do with the vocals are superb. Daryl Palumbo is such an amazing vocalist and Worship and Tribute
could still be amazing even if it were an acoustic or instrumentally stripped down album. Yes, that's right, even if all of the unique effects from the earlier paragraph that I've been touting were removed, this album would still be intriguing and amazing. His vocals (and lyrics) are amazing because of the insanity of his voice. His range is amazing as he wildly oscillates all over. He changes timbre and dynamics as well as octaves with skillful leaps geared to produce a particular effect: it makes him sound like he's crazy. He also has the tendency to assign odd emphasis to certain syllables, notes, or words. These stresses imitate the unusual and unique vocal stylings of Mike Patton and Chino Moreno (possibly indicating why the album is titled Worship and Tribute
), which further establishes the volatile tension surrounding the vocal performance. These vocals have true character, which manifest most memorably on "Pink Roses" (tons of natural vibrato and amazingly powerful sustain), "Must've Run Away" (his voice produces tension despite the song being the slowest and calmest on the album), and "The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports" (for his rather infamous spoken word sportscaster impression). In addition, the lyrical content is far better than those of kindred bands. Palumbo writes in a style that mirrors his vocal style; they are crazy yet intelligent, and always interesting. While I am discontent with the cohesion of some of his lyrics, the imagery is truly original and vivid. On a whole some songs don't hang together very well, but one is always left with an impression of all the images together. Even if the lines don't have a discernable dialogue, plotline, or meaning, the listener can get the groove of what Palumbo is saying by tone and implication alone, which is pretty cool on its own. The album itself is replete with great images and one-liners the most poignant and notable of which for me are the frightening lyrics of "Pink Roses" ("what gets me this down? / the smell of magnesium, / the smile of a clown"), the peculiar political lyrics of "Radio Cambodia,," ("contrary to what you believe / we oscillate and vary speed. / the food in jail is sulphury. / how do inuits spell relief?"), and last the brutally powerful screaming of "sailor scent" to end the album on the song "Two Tabs of Mescaline." All in all a powerful experience from Daryl Palumbo.
Secondly, the songwriting absolutely rules. Each song is distinct and memorable while allowing the album to flow well but also be paced well by alternating faster and slower songs, etc. As mentioned earlier, Glassjaw doesn't sound like anybody else and this is derived primarily from the way harmony is implied. Glassjaw intelligently uses the feedback and screeching of their effect pedals, not only ot vary the sonic palette of their sound, but also as pitches. Usually effects are considered auxiliary components to songs, but I find myself hearing this idea less in songs like "Stuck Pig" where riffs will be played and the echoey dissonance of the effect on the instrument playing the riff also reverberates with equal importance and tonality, "Stuck Pig" is the best example of a rock song that isn't composed with pure triadic bar chords. During the song, one guitar is always soloing or running the pick against the strings to produce pick scrapes, and the other is hitting tritone and other chords in astoundingly unique rhythmic patterns. The end result is a wild, wild song that feels like it could crash and burn any minute. In fact, the perfect word for this song is "dangerous." It's so violently aggressive yet innovative that it feels like it's on the frontier of a totally new type of music. Ironically enough though, this is one of my least favorite Glassjaw songs. I appreciate it for its ingenuity but at the end of the day, Glassjaw is even more successful when they aren't so obvious and balls out with their idiosyncratic use of noise. More tastefully placed riffing and effects in the subsequent song, "Radio Cambodia," over an exhilirating punk beat renders that song one of the catchiest yet also meticulously arranged songs on the album. Much like punctuating screaming at crescendos in songs to produce a heightened emotional tension, making a guitar wail or echo at moments that can send a shiver down my spine like during the bridge of "Mu Empire" gives the album another huge emotional boost. One last thing to note about the songwriting is that as I mentioned earlier, each song is distinct, and each has a great personality. "Stuck Pig" is the violent, frightening heroin-addicted one, "Pink Roses" is the bitter, alcoholic one, "Cosmopolitan Bloodloss" is the sardonic and even chic single, and "Ape Dos Mil" is the expansive and passionate song. This range of tones and personalities also ties in with the variety of the lyrical content, which has a foot in politics, love songs, and drug songs.
Thirdly, and lastly, is the technicality on the album. The individual instruments aren't overtly technical but they are satisfying when they pick up speed and careen in unpredictable ways. Because the individual parts are original and fresh, understanding them comes with its own difficulty, so, while the riffs may not be shred and the drumming may not indulge in wacked out time signatures, there is an understated beauty to the technical aspects of the musicians' playing. They are mostly self-taught and the diversity of influences obviously creates an interesting synthesis. The 6/4 time signature in the introduction to "Mu Empire" feels foreign because of the shift from the 4+2 beat structure to a 5 +1 beat structure. The cool, high-pitched guitar riff later on the song sounds catchy and interesting, yet not to fast, but always tangles my fingers up because of the unusual voicing and awkward movements required to play the sweet little riff. These subtle points of technicality are great and add yet another facet to the music. For me, technically, the bass is the most impressive. Or maybe not technically, but its flavor is the most distinct and independent. For me the guitar and drumming only stray away from being aggressive on the slower songs or the slower parts of faster songs, but the bass is in its own universe. It can be just as intense if not more than the other instruments (check the undulating arpeggiations on the chorus of "The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports"), but will also propel an aggressive section through interesting triad harmonizations instead of belligerent playing (see "Ape Dos Mil" chorus). It is also just plain awesome at most parts of the CD, my favorite being all of "Ape Dos Mil" and "Must've Run All Day." All in all, a beautiful spectacle.
And Glassjaw is just that. They are a rare orchid surrounded by imitators and harsh critics. This album beautifully balances the need for emotional responsive, poignant moments and achieves this through tasteful songwriting and emotive playing and lyrics, but also manages to appeal to the need for exact technical construction with its innovation in their use of effects and the magnificent vocal and bass performances. And even after all this worship and tribute on my part, I still can't explain why there is a place in my heart for every moment in this album. It's absolutely stacked (yet balanced) with inspiring and beautiful sections. My infatuation with this album is best summed up by the post-coital mood to "Must've Run All Day" which has had its time as my favorite song on the album along with "Ape Dos Mil" and "Radio Cambodia." I am left excited and bewildered, but content and satisfied.