Bjork can be classified as many things by many people. There are those who would label her an artistic genius, others make a case for her as a legitimately insane Icelandic pixie. Some people can put on a Bjork record and feel bored to the point of the deepest slumber, while others cannot help but hold onto every note as they float out of the speakers and into the air around them.
At the end of the day, no matter what level of appreciation you hold for Bjork’s professional or personal actions, it is almost a universal opinion that Bjork is an island unto herself. An island which, for better or for worse, is always experimenting with conventions of music and dabbling in the fringe styles of music where no other popular artists dare to tread.
It should come as no real surprise that when Bjork decided to head into the studio to record her latest full-length album, Medulla, she told a Rolling Stone reporter “instruments are so over.” Her new record almost entirely consists of intricately layered vocals and cleverly effected beat boxing from some of the world’s best human sound makers, including Icelandic choirs, Rahzel, Mike Patton and Japanese internet phenomenon, Dokaka.
Medulla is not a novelty act by any stretch of the imagination. Rather, it comes off as a synthesized album that has been naturalized into an equally enjoyable organic counterpart. Bjork unleashes her hypnotic vocals with the same force she would if she were working with a more solid, machine-made track leading the way. This level of comfort with the material is what prevents Bjork from stumbling over into the trappings of being weird for the sake of being weird, and keeps her squarely planted in the concept of taking a seemingly weird idea and making it a completely plausible reality.
Perhaps even more interesting than what Bjork has done with Medulla is the inevitable question of “What will Bjork do next?” The possibilities seem vast. Will it be some kind of industrial calypso record or an entire album played in reverse? Whatever Bjork has fermenting in the back of her head, it will probably come as yet another shock to many. In the meantime, Medulla is another highwater mark in her catalog for you to kick back and enjoy while you ask yourself “How can I make my voice do all that?”
The Dillinger Escape Plan
Being one of the most influential musical acts of the past decade does not come without its burdens. In 1999, The Dillinger Escape Plan released Calculating Infinity, a brutal, chaotic, insanely musical and technical journey into the minds of obvious geniuses. Their mix of lunatic heaviness and impressive musicianship inspired tons of copycats, none of whom came close to the level Dillinger was at. The term “math metal,” which is now a subgenre unto itself, was basically coined because of Dillinger, because of their nonstop tempo and time signature changes.
Through constant touring, they have won themselves legions of fans who span every possible demographic. As with every classic album, there must be a follow up, and finally, after five years, that time has finally come for Dillinger.
It should first be said that the lineup on this record is significantly different from the one that appeared on Calculating Infininity. Greg Puciato is now singing, replacing original vocalist Dimitri Minakakis, and more recently Faith No More front man Mike Patton. Puciato brings his own bag of tricks into the band, including an honest-to-god singing voice, but more on that later. Dillinger also now features Brian Benoit on second guitar and Liam Wilson on bass. Founding members Ben Weinman on guitar and
Chris Pennie on drums still forms the core of the group.
There are songs on this record that are pure Dillinger. The opener, “Panasonic Youth,” is likely to floor even the most jaded metal fan. It is as brutal and moshy as anything they have ever done, and does not skip a beat from Calculating.
Things continue more or less in this vein until track five, “Phone Home.” More influenced by Nine Inch Nails than any other band, “Phone Home” is a very significant song for Dillinger, because it is their first song ever to feature next to no screaming. It is also their first song to follow a fairly straightforward verse/chorus/ progression, and not blow through 35 different parts in two minutes.
There are two more songs like this on the album, and they are likely to polarize the group’s fans. Some will hate them and accuse Dillinger of selling out, but every band has to progress. Maybe writing more cohesive songs was what Dillinger felt they had to do. However, it cannot be argued that Puciato has the vocal chops to pull these songs off.
Regardless of someone’s specific feelings on these songs, Dillinger still knows how to rock, and this record is still light years ahead of almost anything that is being done in heavy music right now.
The Tipping Point
Many fans might wonder if The Roots would run low on quality material by adding only 11 tracks to their latest album, The Tipping Point. Unlike their past albums, which have nearly 20 songs, the West Philly crew chose to follow the idea of “quality versus quantity.” The Tipping Point is a blend of the Roots’ style of jazzy hip-hop with catchy commercial beats usually heard on tracks produced by Timbaland or Kanye West. They have broadened their horizons and developed the most commercially appealing record put together since Phrenology.
“Guns are Drawn” utilizes gritty-street beats with echoing background vocals giving it a live studio sound not heard on many records. The jazz-infused “Stay Cool” adds to the notion of staying calm in any situation with lyrics like “I pump bass for ya’ll bathing apes to get charged/ Naw, I’m not a dealer…I’m a poet at large/ We in the wind with the roof back letting the breeze hit us/ the bath robe on with sweat pants and slippers.”
On the politically conscious, “Why (What’s Goin On?),” Black Thought questions society and war over a B2K-sounding pop beat similar to Jadakiss’ version of “Why.” He responds lyrically with: “The world keeps spinnin,’ my people’s steady losin’ while the rich keep winnin’/ even our children and women, 2K4, livin’ above and under the law/ young teen joins the marines, says he’ll die for the core.” Comedian Dave Chappelle makes an appearance on a hilarious hidden track after “Why.”
The track, “Somebody’s Gotta Do It” features an amazing rhythmic flow from popular underground lyricist, Jean Grae, over futuristic keyboard beats.
One of the most lyrically versatile songs, “Web” returns to the style many listeners would expect from The Roots. Black Thought flexes his verbal ability taking hip hop music to its most basic and essential form, freestyling: “Emcees never showed loyalty yet/ Kool Herc ain’t ever got a royalty check/ I do work no question and bomb your set/ I’m calm collect, sharp like my name Gallette.”
Unlike the sounds of their previous albums, The Tipping Point is a turning point for The Roots that is deeper and commercially accepted, helping them expand to a broader audience much like their style.