Ron Jarzombek - Guitars, Bass, Programming
Roland Emessy 1 - Strings, Synth
Prodeus Effecks - various other instrumental appearances and synth effects
Total Time - 45:22
45 songs in just over 45 minutes of playtime? And it's not grindcore, you say? Well, it must be something pretty bloody interesting.
You're goddamn right it is. For 45 songs, track-by-track can take a running jump; in any case, Solitarily Speaking...doesn't lend itself to track-by-track analysis.
This album is an immense musical undertaking, and the title is as good a place to start as any. Looking at it, and especially if you know Ron Jarzombek primarily as the erratic genius behind Spastic Ink, you'll probably think that he's using such a complicated title to be pretentious. In part, he is, but the title also literally sets out the concept of the album - it's a solo album, and almost every song has some restraint (a "theoretical confinement") placed upon it. Think of Spastic Ink's first album, Ink Complete; they had a couple of songs with some restraints placed upon - See, and it's Sharp!, for example, used only C and C# notes (and 4/4 time sig throughout - they wanted to set limits), and Eighths is Enough used themes consisting only of eighth notes. Compared to this album, however, these confinements are small and petty.
Every song on the album has a theme, in terms of what aspects of guitar skill are being used (since Ron Jarzombek manages almost all of the instruments on this album, it's pretty much wholly about the guitar), and a concept of some kind, however small. The booklet explains every song's story, in a similar way to Ink Complete. The titles of the songs look throwaway, as if he's simply grasping at any title he can think of, but, on the contrary, each relates pretty much directly to how the song was created. Some are fairly simple, while others go so far as to use a system he designed whilst in Watchtower (his previous band) whereby each letter of the alphabet is assigned to the guitar, and so melodies are created by spelling out words.
So, what do we have so far? A guitar virtuoso, playing incredibly technical music, with confinements, and a small concept behind each song. So why should you buy this album, instead of a better known virtuoso album such as Black Utopia, or something by Satch, or Malmsteen? Well, two reasons. Firstly, Jarzombek's humour; his playing is not soulless, it's infused with his eccentricity and humour, something especially evident in the notes inside the sleeves, which literally made me laugh out loud when I read them whilst listening to the album. I think this sets him somewhat apart from many other virtuosic guitarists (Vai being the obvious exception). Special mention here goes to track 19, Sex With Squeakie, which details another episode in the life of Squeakie, the squirrel who first made an appearance on Ink Complete, in A Morning With Squeakie.
The second reason is the really amazing thing about this album - it is one song. Ron Jarzombek has, incredibly, succeeded in producing a set of incredibly complex tracks which flow together perfectly, for 45 minutes. You can listen to the whole album in one go, and hear it as one track; you can listen to any one track at a time, and enjoy it as a track, and you can start the album playing on (almost) any track, and let it run through to any other track, and listen to that as if it were one song. It's astonishing, and this is what makes it a truly immense musical achievement, for which it deserves respect.
I can't help but give this album a 5/5 - it overwhelms me with the enormity of it's complexity, and sounds great as well. Recommended for anyone, really, as one of the biggest, in terms of concept, and interesting albums I've ever heard, but especially fans of Spastic Ink (especially on Ink Complete) and guitar virtuosity.
For information (I didn't want this to be part of the review), here is a brief description of the basis of each track. Hopefully it might spark more interest (sections in "s are lifted directly from the booklet).
1 Wait a Second - This is just a note fading in, as an introduction.
2 A Headache and a Sixty-fourth - In a Watchtower rehearsal, someone said "I've got a headache". Someone else said "I've got a headache and a half", which inevitably led to "I've got a headache and a quarter". This carried on down to "headache and a 256th". For some reason, sixty-fourth was the one which stuck in Ron's head. The track is based around annoying themes and tones, to simulate the headache, firstly for 4/4, and then a measure of 1/64.
3 I've Got The Runs - includes lots of scale runs.
4 Spelling Bee - The notes used spell "bee", in various ways - BEE, BbEE, BEbEb.
5 911 - uses frets of 9, 1 and 11.
6 Melodramatic Chromatic - Uses an ascending and a descending chromatic line, and sounds melodramatic while it's at it.
7 To B or not to B - Mostly uses only B notes, but with quick flashes of sound which use all the notes except B.
8 Dramatic Chromatic - Similar to track 6, except it sounds dramatic.
9 Frank Can Get Drunk and Eat Beer - Named after a mnemonic used to learn the order of sharps in major keys. it starts in G Major, then modulates through all of the keys (adding one sharp per 4 measures) until it reaches C# Major.
10 Battle of the Hands - Playing individuall through their respective channels, the left hand plays a phrase, and the right hand responds with a very similar phrase. Interrupted by flashes of both playing together.
11 About Face - Starts with an ascending pattern of FACE, then a descending pattern of ECAF.
12 Having Second Thoughts - He wanted to write something with only m2 and M2 intervals, and this is what he came up with.
13 Two-face - Two quick F Major 7 chords (FACE).
14 7 Up - The first theme is based on an m7 interval, the second on M7 intervals. The harmony lead is the interval of a 7th above the melody.
15 Sabbatic Chromatic - Sabbath-esque riffing, using chromatics.
16 126.96.36.199 - This is the old IP address of the Spastic Ink website. The individual numbers are the fret numbers played on the low E string, and the resultant notes fit on the B minor blues scale.
17 Grizzly Bears Don't Fly Planes - Another mnemonic, used to notes on the lines of the bass clef. The bass plays those notes, and the rhythm guitar a G9 chord which the 5 notes make up.
18 Snuff - Named after Snuffleupagus, from Sesame Street, because of a bassline (written during his Watchtower time) which had a rest on the first down beat, and came in on an upbeat, which apparently reminded Jason McMaster of Snuffleupagus walking down Sesame Street. From then on, whenever Ron wrote a tune which didn't come in on the first downbeat, it was "snuff". On this track, the lead guitar themes and melodies never hit a note on the downbeat.
19 Sex With Squeakie - Detailing the continuing adventures of Squeakie, the squirrel from Spastic Ink's first album. Here, he meets a lady squirrel, quickly woos her, and gets down to serious squirrely love.
20 Two Thirds of Satan - All of the measures are 6/4 + 6/4. The notes used are in two sets of 6, each cluster contains a tritone which has two notes 6 halfsteps apart , and the cluster progression moves up, or down, 6 half steps.
21 At the 7-11 - "Only 7 (add 11) chords appear on this song."
22 On Second Thoughts - after writing Having Second Thoughts, he thought he should have written something heavier using only m2s and M2s.
23 The Whole Truth, Nothing But.. - "This song uses the whole tone scale in the lead melody/harmony, with whole notes in the rhythm. Honest!"
24 Sick, Dirty, Sick - "Sick, Dirty, Sick" is how much the Jarzombeks' favourite Chinese meal costs. This track sounds oriental, and uses measures of 6/4, 3/4 and 6/4.
25 Minor Yours - "A progression of G that only uses minor chords."
26 Minor Else! - "All minor chords agin in G, but this time I mean it!"
27 Give Me a Break - just a lull in the music.
28 Yum Yum Tree - Refers to a game Ron, his brother Bobby, and their dad used to play when they were younger. This uses the aforementioned alphabet-assigning system of writing tunes mentioned earlier. It is used here to spell out Yum Yum Tree.
29 At the Stop'n'go - Full of stops, starts, anticipation, hesitation and delays.
30 On a Scale From 1 to 10 - The fret numbers 1 through 10, ascending on the D string, descending on the A string, ascending on the low E string, and descending on the low B string.
31 Static Chromatic - "A chromatic riff that goes absolutely nowhere".
32 Rigidude - named after a guy who walked very stiffly, "like an upright ruler", though there is no mention of why the song is named after him.
I'm glad you're both interested..I thought this album would be obscure enough to get no replies, so thanks. Personally, I think Neubauten probably beats Ron out on the crazy scale, but this album is definitely right up there.
It is incredibly pretentious, but I think it sounds pretty good. The music itself is probably a 4/5, but the album gets a 5/5 for the scale of the idea behind it, and the amount of work I imagine it must have taken.
Overall, I'd recommend hearing Ink Complete first, if you haven't heard any of his work, as it's a similar style, but more focused on actual songs.
It is incredibly pretentious, but I think it sounds good as well. I would recommend hearing Ink Complete ahead of this though, if you're going to check out anything Jarzombek-related at all, as they're more actual songs, and overall, more enjoyable. I rated this 5/5 because of the amount of effort he has put into it, and the scale of idea behind the album. The music itself is probably a 4/5.