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Sleepytime Gorilla Museum - Grand Opening And Closing CD (album) cover

GRAND OPENING AND CLOSING

Sleepytime Gorilla Museum

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.71 | 85 ratings

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Pnoom!
4 stars Rating: B+

None of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum's members were really new to avant-garde music when Sleepytime Gorilla Museum released their debut (notably, several were in the band Idiot Flesh). This really shows in their debut, as it is startlingly mature for a debut album. It's a little rough around the edges in many spots, and the songwriting isn't as tight as on Of Natural History and In Glorious Times, but Grand Opening and Closing successfully captures a band with a plethora of good ideas and the talent necessary to make these ideas gel into a cohesive whole.

Right from the start, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum give an example of their trademark style, as "Sleep is Wrong" combines riffs that wouldn't be out of place on an Art Bears album with heaviness that would make Meshuggah proud. This is only the base, though, as the fiery violin lines and the wild vocal harmonies turn "Sleep is Wrong" from a good song into a great one. From there, Grand Opening and Closing never lets up, throwing a motley assortment of "lullabies and headsplitters (as per the liner notes) in the listener's direction.

On the heavier, headsplitting end of the spectrum are "1997 (Tonight We're Gonna Party Like It's.)", "Powerless", and "The Stain". "1997" explodes out of the gate with a fury that will single-handedly knock out half the listener's teeth, mixing the brutality of nu-metal with an intelligent, intense violin line. "Powerless" takes a bit longer to build, but features fantastic bass work by Dan Rathbum, particularly on the piano log, a type of bass instrument he invented (and one of the band's trademarks). On the less heavy end is "The Stain", which is a headsplitter more because of its crazy, indecipherable riff rather than its heaviness. This "riff" (if it can truly be called such) jumps around without end (even from one instrument to another mid-riff), starting and stopping at odd places, and just generally does all it can to baffle the listener. It succeeds, and it does so without sounding overdone, avoiding one of avant-garde's most common pitfalls.

Balancing this are the softer "Ablutions" and "Sunflower" (and the relatively insignificant, if beautiful, "Miniature"). The former is a haunting, evil piece about counting oneself to sleep. Driven by Carla Kihlstedt's soft, sinister vocals, it never gets loud, but it creeps under the skin and makes it crawl. "Sunflower", on the other hand, is a far gentler lullaby, a slow, instrumental piece with lots of harpsichord. After all the craziness on the CD is through, "Sunflower" guides Grand Opening and Closing to a calm close. It's one of the least interesting songs on Grand Opening and Closing, and probably could've been left off.

The best songs on Grand Opening and Closing don't really fall into either camp. "Ambugaton" and "Sleepytime (Spirit is a Bone)" both start out sounding like lullabies but end in definite headsplitter territory. "Ambugaton" is an instrumental piece (still the band's finest such piece to date) that starts calm, relaxing, and repetitive, then explodes into a far heavier, wilder instrumental. The highlight of Grand Opening and Closing, however, is "Sleepytime", which, like "Ambugaton", starts calm and relaxing, with Nils crooning "sleepytime" over and over again. The song slowly builds intensity, never really exploding, but eventually reaching a fantastic climax that sees Nils screaming nonsense at the top of his (clearly vast) lungs.

All of the songs on Grand Opening and Closing are well written musically, but what really makes them come together are the fantastic vocals of Nils and Carla. Nils has one of the most versatile voices in modern music, and Grand Opening and Closing is pretty clear proof of that (and he improves on their later releases). He really can do everything, from beautiful to screaming, and he always makes music around him more engaging. Counteracting his harsh vocals are the softer vocals of Carla. Comparisons to Bjork aren't unwarranted, as Carla has a similar voice and uses it in similar manners. Her vocals aren't really used for lead much here (except "Ablutions"), but they are used fantastically to contrast with Nils' on some of the heavier songs, notably "Sleep is Wrong", "Powerless", and "Sleepytime".

Take those vocals and combine them with the fantastic songwriting that's readily apparent on Grand Opening and Closing and you're left with a fantastic if somewhat rough debut CD by one of the most engaging bands around. Despite the prevalence of avant-garde elements in their songs, they are quite accessible, really, and would serve as a good introduction to avant-garde for those who like their music loud. Of Natural History or In Glorious Times would be better options to start with this band (especially Of Natural History), but Grand Opening and Closing lays the foundation for all they've done since, and is fantastic in its own right. Highly recommended.

Pnoom! | 4/5 |

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