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Monday, January 22

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04232004_cursors.jpg -NH

The Cursors
I, Pythagorus (Cosine Records, 2004)

It's the fall of 2002 and there's three of you sitting in a library on the MIT campus studying for your finals. One of you is a computer science major. One of you is a statistical mathematics major. One of you is a political science major. The three of you also happen to be prodigies of sorts. And it's on this fateful day that you decide to start an Internet company.

Whoops. Factual malfunction there. What I meant to write was: And it's on this fateful day that you decide to start a mathcore band.

I, Pythagoras is more than just a mathcore band in the typical sense. These three young men who go by the monikers of Al Jebrah, Kurt Tinuum and Ari Thmetic apply mathematical theorems, structures and proofs to music. I agree, this sounds absolutely pretentious. Yet I know a good chunk of you are already salivating with the prospect of dropping the name of this band the next time you see your friends. It sounds lofty.

You're also about to expect me to trash this band. However, it works. Combining the oddest of time signatures and the rhythmic pulse bass lines of Kurt Tinuum with the sixteenth note double pedal-powered drumming of Ari Thmetic and there's no chaos here, just insanely beautiful melodies.

From the detailed liner notes you will be informed that each song has been carefully "calculated" and "beat-matched" to a particular mathematical theorem. The first song, "a2 + b2 = c2," is a particularly complex and layered rock song that'd cream the pants of many a Tool fan. It's a non-stop progression of prime numbers till the end of the 13 tracks. Oddly enough, or rather appropriately enough, all the tracks are numbered via primes.

Their website (http://www.314159265358979323846264.nu/squared/divided/by/) is challenging. You're presented with a simple equation on the homepage, which you are required to solve to move on to the next page. As you progress deeper, you'll find hard and harder equations to solve. The rumor on the Web is that when you get to the end, you'll find four bonus songs as well as an alternate track listing arranged around a Prime Circle that will apparently answer the question we're all dying to know. I haven't gotten past page 4.

But the music is where it counts (pun intended). Give it a spin; somehow amidst all this that spanks of gimmickry and logic is a message that speaks to the soul.

Incidentally, the last song is called "Primes From Factorials," which will be the name of the next band I'm in.
-NH

04232004_reservoirtips.jpg-AH

The Reservoir Tips
Smoke'em If You Got'em (PMUSA, 2004)

The tobacco industry is a wily thing. They've been criticized for marketing to kids, eventually paying billions of dollars to settle with the government. And yet for two years after giving my address in some bar so I could get a friend a pack of smokes, I'm still getting a Russell Simmons-edited magazine completely sponsored by Kool.

So here we have a band sponsored by Parliaments as a way to reach college-aged potential smokers. (Not that this is a first -- remember the Virginia Slims "Women Thing" band search?) The Reservoir Tips play your standard alt-rock fare, with a difference -- every song refers to smoking or cigarettes. Every single one.

This is pretty much unheard of. I mean sure, Smashmouth sells their songs wholesale to any advertiser who calls, and Lit sought out and won a tour sponsorship by Jagermeister, going so far as to put the liquor's logo on the drum kit. But neither of those bands has gone so far as to actually insert product endorsements into their songs. I hope these guys got a lot of money for this up-front, 'cause any cred they might have had is gone. No way there's a follow-up album.

That said, "Smoke'em If You Got'em" isn't bad. I'd be more impressed if every song wasn't a commercial, but there are some bright points. The title track (and first single) pokes fun at the bar scene with some pointed lines aimed at frat boys and sorority girls, given appropriate snottiness by singer Phil Morrison. "The Truth is Out There" is a paranoid, stream of conscious number that could have sprouted from a mad advertising executive for all its references to past cigarette ad slogans. And "Out of Fluid" contains one of the best guitar riffs of the young millennium -- too bad the song is about a dead lighter. Pick up some matches, kids.

Morrison and his bandmates -- Kent Winston on guitar, Chet Sterfield on bass and Paul Mahler on drums -- must be aware of how much damage they've done to their young careers; their faces are obscured by a haze of smoke in the band photo in the liner notes, and their nommes are obviously de plume. Who knows? For all we can tell, this is Lit in disguise.
-AH

04232004_orchid.jpg-AH

Orchid Grinder
The White Orchid Album (Internet download, 2004)

There have been a lot of mash-ups lately featuring the Beatles' White Album mixed with various other things, from Jay-Z to Metallica. Each has had its flashes of brilliance, but, with the exception of Beatallica, they've focused on repurposing the Beatle's relatively simple beats.

The most recent addition to the list is a little different. Orchid Grinder, a little-known DJ from Miami otherwise known as Jose-Marie Galante, takes the lyrics from the Fab Four's opus and lays them over Latin-American beats. We're not talking Ricky Martin here: Think tango, samba, mambo, cha-cha.

Mash-ups work best when the two components blend seamlessly, and here is that principle exemplified. Witness the quiet elegance of "Adios Guitar," which couples "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" with "Adios Nonino," a tango by legend Astor Piazzolla, here slowed down a bit to match the former's tempo. The lyrics fit perfectly with the music, as if George Harrison penned his masterpiece with this outcome in mind. Galante includes Harrison's solo in the mix -- one of the few instances on the record where the Beatles contribute more than their voices -- to great results. The guitar soars over the band in a nearly operatic gesture, like a soprano lamenting the loss of her lover. It brought tears to the eyes of this reviewer.

Similarly, "Blackbird of Ipanema" turns "Black Bird" into a mambo with the help of Stan Getz's classic rendition of Antonio Carlos Jobim's most famous song. Paul McCartney's voice echoes Astrud Gilberto's in the original, and the tune retains its melancholy tone even as it's transformed into something danceable. Simply stunning.

The album is not without its low points, and some experiments are less successful than others. "Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da" and "Rocky Raccoon" are fairly obvious choices for cha-chas, and "Helter Skelter" doesn't quite work as a merengue. But the experiment as a whole is entertaining and often thought-provoking. What if those boys from Liverpool set up shop in Rio instead of getting into transcendental meditation...? the Mind boggles -- but Orchid Grinder conjures the image.

Thanks to the strong-arm tactics of EMI and Apple Corps., the White Orchid Album is only available on file-sharing networks. We can hope that at some point true art such as this will be allowed to find its audience (or at least generate some revenue for the creators in addition to the corporations), but I fear any such works containing the Beatles will only be allowed once the surviving members of the band -- plus Yoko -- shuffle off this mortal coil. Too bad.
-AH

 

About the Author(s)

Naz Hamid and Andrew Huff are the co-founders of Gapers' Block.
They're rockers, they rock out.

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