Review Summary: It’s less akin to “Apocalypse Now” and more like “Waterworld”.
Why did I give those movies as examples for the album? Well, both films had a huge amount of buzz surrounding them, with promises made for the awesome end product again and again. Each film ran into numerous walls, from men being lost at sea to the Vietnam air force deserting the film crew to neutralize a threat. In the end, Apocaypse Now turned into a wild success, while Waterworld failed to deliver on nearly every front, leaving many disappointed. This album may not be as grandiose as either film, but to me, the inconsistency and ambition bring it down considerably, leaving me with a taste in my mouth similar to when I watched Waterworld. It just could’ve been so much more, though it remains a fun yet challenging listen, and several hidden gems on this album are worth looking into. Lucky for you, I’ll tell you which ones they are at the end of the review.
The album opens with the appropriately named “Dronzertronics”, bursting with noise, then filtering out to a soft drone. A sample is layered over the track, spoken in harsh vocals. It’s like Cookie Monster on open mic night. The short song transitions into “Treeqt’s #rare track (The Fripp Ambien Edit)”, a reverb-drenched affair that sounds like furniture moving around. These two tracks almost made me turn off the album – they weren't particularly well done, and made me unsure of what would happen for the next hour and fifty minutes. The third track, however, is the first sign that this album may actually have some redeeming points. “Gerald Sucks At Making Music” could possibly be a true statement, but this song points to the contrary. After a rough start, the song introduces a tasty electronic beat reminiscent of the SNES days. About six minutes in, ambient synth is thrown into the mix, creating a transcendent effect that fits perfectly. I think the same song cut down to 4 or 5 minutes would’ve have been much more entertaining.
In truth, this is probably the best advice the album could get. Most songs overstay their welcome and fail to introduce enough variety – even for largely ambient music. Case in point, “Grundler Deceiver” is a sloppy albeit interesting guitar song, reminding me of early Pink Floyd work like "Set The Controls For The Heart of The Sun". Following it is “Murder and Death In Satan’s Courtroom (Part II)”, which basically sounds like a RZA song on Quaaludes. Both songs are okay in their own right, but still fail to grab my attention. “The Elitist Song” follows in suit, bringing some great beats and ideals but falling short again. More instrumentation could’ve gone into every track, and it would’ve helped each one immensely.
The first truly great track appears next with “Bubbles”, a relaxing jam with a simple drum beat, some quiet vocal samples, bloated synth, and smooth guitar chords. The song is only 2 and a half minutes long, yet it manages to stand head and shoulders above everything else so far. Changing tone instantly, “Damage” pops up as an old-school style rap track. The voice and flow are actually quite good with some pretty entertaining lyrics. Sadly, the beat is dreadful and repetitive (even at a 2:30 run time). If another member of the album had helped craft a better beat for the song, it easily would have turned into a standout track.
“A Resolution” comes in instantly afterwards, introducing a crunchy guitar noodle. It never really goes anywhere, but the idea is there. Some more work to expand the song would make it great. “*** Off, Get Weed, Kelsey’s My Everything” is another guitar-heavy track following “A Resolution”. It's mostly experimental, jumping around with odd notes and harmonics. Although the concept is great, the song simply doesn't work overall, sounding too random and chaotic. Following this is the wildly different “Romancing The Ghost”. It's the first traditional song on the album, with drums, bass, and guitar, all at once (!). The song works pretty nicely too, with some groovy bass lines and almost jazzy guitar. It sounds a little like “Never Meant” from the classic American Football, and even with some poor production, it remains one of the more interesting tracks on here, too.
Following this is “Requiem For Scott”, a haunting and soaring drone track that drags on just a little too much (even for drone). To me, adding an acoustic guitar and some samples would’ve turned it into a great track, in the vein of Giles Corey. The next triumph on the album comes with “Moonlit Canyon”, one of the longer tracks at over 7 minutes, but never getting too boring. It opens with an odd sample, a bass line, dreamy synth, and a nice drum beat. Thankfully, the song changes up, adding more drums, additional cheesy synth, and later some nice acoustic guitar. My complaint lies with the vocals, done in a black metal style, which aren’t bad themselves, but really don’t fit in with the music. Especially since the backing vocals are quite nice, with a faint and hazy sound – the whole song could’ve used them, really.
The oddball of the whole album is “Conscious” comes next, and it really just doesn’t belong here. While the album is mostly ambient, this song is an odd, crusty-punk riot with thundering bass. Like many tracks on here, the foundation work is solid, but it lacks a certain quality which makes its appeal limited. Now, we’re halfway through the album. Here, we come back to the more electronic roots it began with. “Stay” is a piano-tinged song with a decent and simple beat underneath. It actually sounds a bit like a movie soundtrack; throw this in at the end of X-Men 2 and I wouldn’t know the difference. Again, however, the track is so repetitive it gets on my nerves by the 2 minute mark, hurting it in the long run. “Welcome to 2067” manages to add some different sounds, but none of them are particularly interesting enough to warrant your attention for its duration. Unfortunately, this happens with “Themisto”, as well, a haunting track that really does nothing over the course of 4 minutes despite some interesting melodies. Drone and ambient can be hard to pull off, and without the right amount of noise or improper transitions, they fails pretty fast.
“New York at 37,000 feet” actually manages to execute an eerie yet engaging ambient sound. This track managed to hold my attention with cool, fluctuating synth and soothing white noise in the background. New York at 37,000 feet certainly describes it perfectly, and this is probably the first minimal track that works. Next, “に恥ずかしい [Embarrassing]” is by far my favourite song on the compilation. The song trudges along at a slow, relaxing pace, with enough layers of sound and vocals to keep it entertaining the entire time. Three minutes is cutting it close, but it’s just long enough that it doesn’t fail whatsoever. “Sleepyhead” disrupts us with a harsh, quick beat, before transforming into a piano-driven song. It works well, but doesn’t deserve to be almost 5 minutes.
Likewise “Pop-op”, a possible Community reference, has some nice ideas and beats, but lingers just a bit too much. In my opinion it does fare better than “Sleepyhead”, perhaps because it incorporated a few more sounds. Both tracks are solid, but neither stand out. Yet, the follow up “Cauterizing Astral Wounds” is an excellent track that made me rewind and confirm my disbelief. The song begins with some weird, nasaly rhythms, but it soon blossoms into an instrumental epic with shredding guitar and dissonant chords. It’s like a rough, electronic-tinged Scale The Summit, but it completely works, and was probably the biggest surprise of the album.
“Books” comes right after, not giving you a chance to breathe, bringing a post-hardcore style into the mix. Somehow it works, perhaps because it comes after “Cauterizing Astral Wounds"'s more electronic sound. The song turns into a more relaxed affair with quick guitar, then returns to a distortion-filled romp. It’s a nice change from all the ambient tracks, without feeling too alien at the same time. Vocals would’ve helped it, but as it is, it’s a complete blueprint for a great track. “Absentee” and “Stronsay” follow with the most vocals we’ve heard on the album. “Absentee” has some pretty decent vocals, and the music is catchy, riff-y, and well done for the most part; but the production is worse than early Burzum. “Stronsay” has operatic, NWOBHM vocals, which actually sound great and show a nice range. Accompanying them are amazingly cheesy prog-style synth and some great drumming, but somehow I just didn’t enjoy the track - I'm not a fan of this music. While some of it sounded professional, it still retained an amateur feel that brought it down.
Nearing the end of the album, both “Lazarus” and “Swell” are something we’ve heard before (a lot). The boring beats and lack of movement make the two songs completely unnecessary, especially when we’re so close to the end. Earlier in the album, they may have been a welcome addition, but placed here they simply become monotonous. Likewise, “The Eyes That Tell The Story” is a decent sample that entices you to keep listening, with some swelling notes behind it giving it a cello-like quality. However, when an album has strained to keep your attention so much, I would’ve appreciate we cut to the chase a little faster. Especially since the epic closer “Flatliner” had enough calm that the sample could’ve been blended into the closing track, adding a great element to the track and cutting down on the run time.
“Flatliner” itself is somewhat of a ambient-post-rock bastard child, teasing us with a simple riff and some delayed guitar, never really going anywhere until around the 6 minute mark. Removing some of the intro or adding in guitar and synth would have immensely helped this track. When it gets going, it’s a great track that blends genres together (though it certainly isn’t an “original” song). Unfortunately the best part also ends almost immediately, trailing off with some final guitar, living up to is title name and leaving this track somewhat of a mixed bag. Just like the album.
Let me finish by saying I never thought this would actually happen. Ambitious music collaborations are usually doomed to “development hell”, however amateur or professional they may be, so it certainly came as a surprise. But, all of the talk, messaging back and forth, and lo-fi recording actually added up to a real album. The final result is pretty shaky, often times utterly terrible, but I cannot deny the hard work that went into many of these tracks, forming a huge range of sounds and styles. While not everyone who contributed is a musician, sometimes the album really did keep me entertained. It truly is a Waterworld of an album, giving you a few tastes at what it could have been. If you want to check out the album at all, look at the recommended tracks. Certainly, there will be something to please you.
Romancing The Ghost.
New York At 37,000 feet
Cauterizing Astral Wounds
6:00-8:40 of Flatliner