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Old 02-01-2012, 06:28 AM   #801 (permalink)
Trollheart
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Ah yes, the time has finally come. Almost a month into the new year and there are now sufficient new albums for 2012 to allow me to resume reviewing current releases. Truth to tell, there were albums available from January 1, but I didn't want to just grab the first one just because it was the only one, so I've been patiently buying albums over the last few weeks --- and of course will continue to do so --- and now have a decent enough stockpile that I can pick and choose from. The hope, naturally, is to get through them all, so that there are more 2012 albums reviewed by me during 2012 than could be said of the last year. I'll try to do one a week, but we'll see how that goes.

First up is an album that I simply had to buy, merely because of the huge joke in the title. The wit that came up with both the band name and the album title, which together gently poke fun at one of the largest bands on the planet, hopefully hints at some pretty good music to be heard. In addition, I believe the album was released on January 1, so it's a fitting way to start off our reviews of the no doubt many albums, good and bad, to be released this year.

How to dismantle a U2 --- The Atomic Bomb Audition --- 2012 (Self-released)


A four-piece (I think: more later), The Atomic Bomb Audition describe their music as “psychedelic soundtracks for films that don't exist”, which in itself is one hell of an interesting statement. Hailing from Oakland, California, this is in fact their third album, and has been released through their own website The Atomic Bomb Audition for free download, or as much or little as you're willing to pay, following the model set by Radiohead a few years back. It only has seven tracks, though the last one is ten minutes long, and opens on “Plainsong”, a hard but very melodic metal-type song, guitars to the forefront courtesy of Alee Karim, who also takes vocals, though keyboards come in fairly quickly. This is where things get a bit weird, bandwise. Keys are credited to “The Norman Conquest”, who I have to assume is a person, as the photo of them shows four guys, but what an odd name!

The vocals are growled in a very low, almost sotto voce snarl, so much so that it is completely impossible to hear what's being sung at first, then more vocals start up and you can kind of hear what they're singing, as the original ones drop back to the status of backing. Karim's guitar, whether intentional or not --- and one would have to assume, given the title and its U2 connections, the former --- has a very similar sound to that of the Edge. Given how almost indiscernible the vocals are, I am prepared to take this opener as an instrumental, and in that way it works quite well. Following song, “Time lapse”, goes so slow it makes original Sabbath seem breakneck! The vocals are low and growly again but audible this time, a definite nod to Nick Cave in Karim's singing. The drums from Brian Gleeson and bass from James Hoopes are so interminably slow that you wonder they're not caught in some sort of slow-motion trap, but Karim's guitar adds a nice slow melodic sound to what must be close to being death metal slowed to almost a stop.

If this was an old LP record, I have to wonder how slow the ABA would sound if the speed on the record player was switched down, as we used to do? It really doesn't sound like it could possibly get any slower. Unlike recently reviewed Antimatter though, the lack of speed on this track just annoys, giving you a sense of “get on with it!” and so basically ruining what at heart could have been a good song. “Three sevens” doesn't fall into that snare, being a much faster, uptempo song, with some weird little vocoder touches and I think a theremin --- one is certainly used on the album, but I'm not entirely certain what one sounds like, so I can't be sure. It's still all a little confused though: I really find the vocals hard to make out, and even the music on this one is all over the place. Good guitar work and nice synthery, but it's hard to sort it all out.

It all slows down then near the end, into a sort of chant, but by then it's too late as the song is over, and we're into “Laura's theme”, which is indeed a retreading of the old “Twin Peaks” song, albeit given a sort of death metal treatment. If you've watched the show or listened to the soundtrack (no for the former, yes for the latter in my case) you'll know the song: all brooding, melancholy and atmospheric, and indeed instrumental, which is where the ABA seem to shine best. When they really try, they can put together some decent music. This of course is not their own song, and is the first to really stand out, so it remains to be seen whether their own original material will fare as well.

Thing with such a short album is though, they only have three more tracks with which to try and impress me, and “Ra'ad: traced upon the sky” opens with a very eastern melody --- surely that's the theremin again? --- going into a slow, crunchy guitar sound with some nice echoey effects, and just when I thought it was going to be an instrumental some muttering voices appear in the mix, like a crowd mumbling some sort of stream of consciousness: again, it's hard to make out what's being said, though I do believe that's intentional, and to fit the mood and theme of the track, which seems a bit mysterious and enigmatic. I hear Karim now singing the title, but that's about it. Perhaps this could be defined as electronic, melancholic doom or death or black metal? Very strange, that's for sure.

There's a guest vocal on “All is full of love”, another slow, doomy song very reminiscent I think of Sabbath, or maybe some other doom metal bands I don't know --- I'm not that familiar with/interested in the genre --- and the change really works wonders. A lady called Agnes Szelag finally brings some cohesion to proceedings, her voice soaring and clear, sounding inexplicably a little like Debbie Harry, would you believe? This is a decent song, with the band all pulling together to produce a recognisable melody, although that's not really fair. The other songs have their charm, it's just that sometimes they seem a little disjointed, as if no-one is sure what they're supposed to be doing. I'm sure that's not the case, but that's how it comes across to me. This is probably the best I've heard from these guys yet.

Oh, excuse me: I misread the running times. Final track, “Echoes”, is not ten minutes long. It's eighteen! And a few seconds. As a matter of fact, I think it may be the “Echoes”, a cover of the classic from Pink Floyd's “Meddle”, which should surely be interesting if nothing else. Yes, it is. It is, however, a little disappointing for me. Having failed yet to fully form an opinion of this band, I had hoped to have the chance to experience a long track of their own composition to try to break the deadlock. And though I do love this song, and to be fair they do an okay job with it, it's not their own material and so makes it a little difficult to judge the album. One good thing though: it does make me now want to go and relisten to the original...

I have to say, the vocals are very muddy and off, though in fairness the instrumentation is pretty much there: nothing like the original of course, but then that's often the point. It does, however, show again that, like with “Laura's theme”, the Atomic Bomb Audition can play when they want to, and make very good music. It's sadly only really evident though when they do covers, or when they bring in guest vocalists, as in “All is full of love”, prior to this. I guess that leads inescapably to the conclusion, sad though it may be, that it's really the vocals (or almost lack of them) that let this band down, and while Alee Karim does play guitar well, to my ears at any rate he does not sing well. Maybe this is common within this genre (whatever this genre is), but I expect to be able to hear a singer, and I don't get his style at all.

Not a very auspicious start then to my reviews of 2012 albums. I desperately wanted to like this album, mostly for the seemingly different idea to it, and the guys' bravery in self-releasing and offering their music on the net, but it seems the joke, which originally inspired me to check out this band, has worn thin and certainly does not sustain itself through a very confusing, conflicting and at times very frustrating album. I would not be in any particular hurry to hear any more music from this foursome, I'm afraid.

And now, the most obvious comment and the least funny joke of 2012 so far: I have to sadly report that The Atomic Bomb has failed its audition. It's a no, from me. Oh well. That's two disappointments in quick succession for me, with my recent review of Bon Iver's self-titled, though that was not as big a letdown as the fall I had set myself up for here. Still, “How to dismantle a U2” is not bad music, and it may suit or appeal to someone who has more experience with this genre, or who knows the band. It just isn't for me.

TRACKLISTING

1. Plainsong
2. Time lapse
3. Three sevens
4. Laura's theme
5. Ra'ad: traced upon the sky
6. All is full of love
7. Echoes
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