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5 stars AN ABSOLUTE MUST! The Residents at their best. Let the strangeness of the vocal arrangements wear off and you will discover an album you can listen to over and over again without ever getting bored. The "residential" use of traditionnal instruments associated with seemingly atonal vocals make this one of the best and most original Residents album. Enjoy!
Report this review (#49654)
Posted Saturday, October 1, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars An outstanding album with 5 songs that never seem to get old. The atonal vocals fit in perfectly with the all electronic muisc in the background. Not Available is an album that tells a story but seems to be very hard to follow and lost in the music. An album with very good sound quality and even catchy little riffs throughout the songs.

Not Available was originally supposed to be kept in a vault and not be released until the Residents forgot all about, a true mark of their following of the Theory of Obscurity. Luckily they did release it four years after recording it and its a real gem. The Residents at the top of their game.

Report this review (#85943)
Posted Sunday, August 6, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars I recall talking with someone once about the "progginess" of the Residents. They said something like "if you think the Residents are prog, just listen to The Commercial Album, because they're not". However, the Residents have proven that they are great composers and musicians, capable of more than just commercial jingles, and on this album they prove it.

The trademark Residential weirdness remains, as it has on all of their albums, but underneath the weirdness, the strange vocals and primitive electronic beats is very brilliant, excellently arranged symphonic prog.

All of the tracks on the album flow together like one composition. Within the individual parts of this composition are many movements that flow together seamlessly. These different parts are held together with some simple, cheap sounding keyboards, early drum machines, and occasional accoustic drumming and a few non-eletronic instruments thrown in. Even with the primitive technology, the band is able to make music that sounds very beautiful and surreal at times.

Lyrically, this album may have a continuing concept, and it may not. One can't really tell and it wouldn't matter if they could. This is one of earliest examples of voice used as an additional instrument. The singing Resident, accompanied by a female singer and a speaking southern gentleman, provide vocal harmonies that, while sounding strange and dissonant, manage to compliment the music perfectly.

However, this is far from easy listening. The Residents obviously designed this music with the intent of attacking the listener. The sounds produced on this album can make the listener feel seasick, which seem appropriate, as the general concept of this album seems to have a very "out at sea" feel.

Like all Residents albums, this is something that has to be heard to be believed. This album is essential listening to any prog fan, especially fans of symphonic prog, and anybody doubting the progressive tendencies of this band.

Report this review (#88812)
Posted Saturday, September 2, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars With no apologies and great enthusiasm, I give "Not Available" 5 stars. Let me just say that I believe these noble 5's should be doled out slowly, carefully and thoughtfully. Following Progarchives' own criteria, I want to make the case that this is an album every prog fan should own. Which isn't the same thing as saying that everyone will like it. Many people, if not most, will not. But this is truly experimental, progressive music, and I think it is one of the finest prog products to be dropped into our universe.

According to Residential folklore, "Not Available" was the second official LP by the Residents (after "Meet the Residents"). It was ostensibly created on the grounds of the "Theory of Obscurity," which stipulated that the artists could develop a work with no audience in mind; no worries of accessibility or sales should get in the way of what the artists wanted to create. The folklore continues that because the Residents were so late in turning over "Eskimo," Ralph Records or the Cryptic Corporation dug in the archives and released "Not Available" to fill in the gap in the release schedule. Because the Residents themselves hadn't chosen to take this action (insert skeptical cough here), there was no violation of the intention behind the recording of "Not Available." Most fans will tell you that the music found here sure doesn't sound like something that would have come fresh off the heels of "Santa Dog" or "Meet the Residents"; the developments that emerged on albums like "Fingerprince" and "Duck Stab" are fully in force here. Still, most fans will also tell you that they file away "Not Available" as if it were the second album. Some things are sacred don't you know.

Whether you buy the Theory of Obscurity business or not, this is far out music?music that tries to go as far out as possible. Consisting of four songs?"Edweena," "The Making of a Soul," "Ship's A'Going Down" and "Never Known Questions"?plus an epilogue, it does feel all of a piece, or at least of one constant mood and atmosphere. There are the portents of a concept album, since there are repeating characters (like Edweena and her pet porcupine) and themes, but this is not a linear concept album; it skews at Dadaistic angles and tells it tales in Absurdist rhymes. You know you are being told something, but the persons trying to tell you their story have locked you in a room and they keep asking you questions in a language you don't understand. "Strangers have left on longer trains before!" What does that mean? "Can two be more than three?" Is that a good question? A dumb question? What do these people want from me?

Everything about this album feels truly alien. Wailing horns soar against primitive pianobar music, but it's not the blues, it's not jazz. What the hell is it? When I first heard this, lo those many years ago, I had never heard anything like it?and I still feel its novel impact with every listen today. After thousands of listens, it's still like finding a crack in the wall of your apartment you never noticed before, one that opens out into a whole other dimension of reality you didn't know existed. And this is what makes this a true classic of progressive music for me. Sure, this is not progressive in the vein of the symphonic sub-genre (a sub-genre I dearly love); that is, this is clearly not about licks, chops, scales and proficiency. This is about pushing the boat out and exploring new territories. It is that fearless journeying into the unknown. While that mission defines the Residents' terrain, I think no album of theirs displays this spirit better than "Not Available." It is not an album that is ever in the background. When it is on, it takes over and permeates the world, spreading a blissful discomfort that is the albumen of innovation.

This is my "Revolver," my "Pet Sounds," my "Selling England by the Pound," my "Close to the Edge," my "Dark Side of the Moon," my "OK Computer," my . . . you get the picture.

A five-star masterpiece like no other. No apologies.

Report this review (#229128)
Posted Thursday, July 30, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars The atonal voice harmonies,the swaggering attitude,the subtle synths,The crude anti-pop textures...It's all here.Without a doubt,this was my first residents album and definitely my most favorite.Why it is my favorite,I really don't know because this album can actually almost make me feel sick at times just listening to it.I guess that is why this album has to be one of my most beloved masterpieces.And I do consider this a masterpiece.I'm about to tell you why.

When you hear some form of music that seems rather bad to taste,you simply turn it off.No real impression left on your mind.When you hear music that sounds familiar to your favorite music like for instance The Beatles you continue to explore it,you give it permission to sway you along.After listening to an artist like The Beatles for so long you become pretty attached to their characteristics (vocal harmonies,great consonant chord progressions,light use of peculiar instruments for added subtle textures,gentle passages with rocking choruses).Overall it is things that you think make up great music.

Then later on down the road you come to find music that defies the kind of music that you have been in tune to for years,in this case the Beatles.Say for example you come across a Metallica album.It doesn't seem to fit your style so you put it off.You might just come back to it later on but for now it doesn't make much of an impression on you.It doesn't quite fit your required elements of what makes good music but you can also note some similarities.So it might grow on you later,you give it a second chance.(Please be patient,dear reader.I'm getting to the conclusion for all of this as soon as possible!)

Now after a while has passed,you now like both The Beatles and Metallica and you can also note some similarities between the two which helped you like the latter in the first place.

More years have passed and you have grown an even bigger musical taste for music.The small and innocent taste that you once had for The Beatles has added other flavors along the way,like for instance heavily distorted guitars and masterful musicianship.So now you also like Metallica,Led Zepplin,Rush,Pink Floyd,etc..I shall remind you once more that these added flavors all sprung from the core taste you had as a child.

Now you're getting old and you've prety much heard thousands of bands,some of them you like,some of them you don't.But they all vaguely but undeniably share that same root structure,that same root feeling that you got when you heard the music of your childhood.It seems to go around full circle,no loose ends.

But then when you least expect it (and this is the part that I was trying to get to),someone you know, a nice friend, out of nowhere suggests an music artist that you haven't yet heard.You think that this artist won't sound much different from the thousands of bands that you've already heard,like Iron Maiden or Aero Smith.You figure that you've already heard it all and that this new artist will seamlessly fit into the "circle of music" that you've formed in your mind.It might fit into the metal side of the circle or the pop side.You don't know which yet but you're sure it will fit in there somewhere.

So what do you do?You don't think this new artist will make much of an impact on you but you don't want to be rude to your friend,so you take the suggestion kindly and look up the artist,you find an album of theirs,then finally you pop it in your player,expecting the same old feel of music that you've felt all along

Then it hits you.By the time the first track is half-way done you start to realize that those nice and gentle vocal harmonies,the usual distorted guitars,the predictable beats and fills, and the casual solos,well,they are totally absent from this song.Even the "feel" that you got from other songs and artists has suddenly vanished.Like a newborn baby,you are born again in the world of this song.And what's even more frightening, this song seems to be anti-everything you've heard before.And I'm not talking about typical rebellion like punk had against prog.I'm talking about the total opposite of everything that you've stood for in music.This song destroys your expectations,pulls you from the sky and drags you back down to earth.It's like everything you thought you knew about music has suddenly become an almost meaningless tiny part of a greater whole.You have just started back at square one.And from this whole experience,this almost reincarnation, you start to get a little sick from the immensity of it all because it's just so...different.You don't know how to approach this new discovery let alone even knowing how to leave.And all this happened with just one song.

This is how Not Available by The Residents hit me.

Sure I've heard of Captain Beefheart.I've heard Frank Zappa.I've even heard Unexpect.But even those bands I was still able to tie at least one relation between them and other bands I've heard of in the past.So they didn't complete knock my senses out cold.But The Residents?My god, I've never felt so musically lost in my life.It's like they took my whole view of music and turned it completely inside out and upside down.This is why Not Available made me feel almost sick to listen to it.And even if I wouldn't dare listen to it casually it would not do this album justice to give it anything lower than five stars.It may take unnecessarily high distorted noise or complete colossal interweaving frantic dissonant musical textures to make someone put their headphones down and call it quits.But it takes a real oddity,a real alien of a musical work to make you almost sick and ironically at the same time make you listen to the whole album through without any rational explanation of why you did.It is a tangle of contradictions this album.

And need I go onto what the album holds?I would sound truly dumb for trying to describe it all.It has to be heard to be believed.Simply put,you cannot put this album into words.One thing I can vaguely try to describe is how the lyrics seemingly create these repulsive yet pitiful characters.They seem to be trapped in world that seems almost hopeless,with such a saddening environment that never makes any sense to the listener,like everything is out of whack and nothing ever works.So you can kind of see where I'm coming from when you hear the singers in this album.God how they sound so hopeless!Their characters mention nothing but illiterate nonsense ("But when a friend has shrunken skin where do you throw the bone?").It sounds as if they live in such a small,dark nihilistic world that is made of only fragments of questions and never any answers to fit the puzzle.But there are these unexplainable moments in the album where some passages seem to almost be upbeat and happy.And as a consequence it's almost as if the music itself is the worthless hope what keeps these useless characters living on in the wretched hellish world that is Not Available.This also contributes to the sickness that I get when listening to this album.I have never felt more sorry for imaginary characters in an album my entire life.To me these characters are almost the equivalent of the hopelessness that awaits children who grow up in the middle east and are given no choice but to be taught nothing but hate for infidels so for the rest of their life they are brainwashed and become martyrs who waste their lives away just so they can kill a few people.I'm not kidding,this album left such a strong impression on me when I started to really pay attention to the lyrics and everything else musically.It's all just so sad,it leaves a sort of "what's the use" kind of despair because the way the songs chug along just seems to feel as if the The Residents are "neglecting" the songs themselves,like leaving children out on the street to die.Notice how the beats of the songs sometimes just seem to lazily drift all over the place with no remorse for rhythm.But if you listen closely you realize that The Residents truly do not neglect their songs at all.They spend great amounts of time creating each one.It's just the feel that you get from this album that makes it feel that way.

But of course this review is just my impression of the album.And though I may have treated it in a dark manner, you might get a completely different feeling.But I guarantee you that it will be a strong one.No other album has given me such a strong feeling of despair before and though I definitely don't like that kind of feeling at all I can certainly appreciate how music has the power to make you feel that way.It reminds us all that music is still an important factor in the development of a human being.It helps us all to feel alive in dark times.And eliminating music from schools like we are now will only lead to drastic consequences.This album is proof that you don't have to be a guitar god or a virtuoso composer to make moving music such as this that can open your mind so much to more horizons.


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Posted Saturday, August 8, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars I listen to quite a bit of music and I am always searching for new sounds the vary from various genres straying into something without definition. I have known of The Residents for quite some time but really never listened to them. So I just thought I would listen to the CD with the highest regard and it left a huge mark on me. This is probably the only band with the exception to Especially Likely Sloth where I was not quite sure of what to think.

At first of course I did not quite like it but after the first song that soon changed as I began to feel the CD. I am sorry I cannot place into words exactly how I feel but the CD just feels completely serene and at it's place. Because of this it made me feel at home, like I belonged in this strange world The Residents have created.

Also, I am not sure if it is just me but this CD constantly reminds me of my childhood and so many of the beats and sound just resonate like I know them very well. I have no idea why but this gives me a warm sensation. Who knows, maybe my parents made me listen to it as a child lol.

But overall because this CD left such a huge mark and created such a massive involving ambiance I do not see how I could not give it a 5/5.

Report this review (#244240)
Posted Sunday, October 11, 2009 | Review Permalink
Prog Metal Team
5 stars According to the legend told by the Residents this album was originally recorded as a follow-up to the debut album but became shelved until the band members had completely forgotten about its existence and therefore complying to the Theory of Obscurity.

Although I doubt that this album was actually recorded right after Meet The Residents, since it doesn't sound a bit like the band's early material, it still ranks among my top 15 album favorite albums of all time! There is just so much thought put in every single moment that, as a listener, I actually feel privileged to be along for this short ride!

I guess the idea of concept album without a real concept might put some people off but I personally find it very charming and I, by no means, see it as a mockery of the progressive genre. What I'm mean is that Not Available has characters and plot line that becomes apparent over the course of the first three tracks while Never Known Questions sounds like a complete conceptual mess to my ears. Still, the fun part is that the album's Epilogue makes the listener assume that we've just heard a masterpiece of a concept album. So in short, this album's concept has a beginning and an ending but lacks the middle section, which in my opinion is a very unique experiment in conceptual music writing!

If anything, this album should be considered an interesting spin on the concept piece writing and I'm surprised that it hasn't caught on in the progressive rock community. Not Available is a masterpiece both musically and conceptually and therefore should be in every respectable progressive rock music collection.

***** star songs: Edweena (9:29) The Making Of A Soul (9:59) Epilogue (2:21)

**** star songs: Ship's A'Going Down (6:34) Never Known Questions (7:00)

Total rating: 4,61

Report this review (#255991)
Posted Monday, December 14, 2009 | Review Permalink
Eclectic Prog Team
1 stars There's supposed to be some vague, bizarre concept to Not Available, but sometimes, a "concept" is really just nonsense called a concept. The vocals are nauseating- probably the point, but honestly it seems like some young guys made slow and ponderous, but generally decent music and then got stoned, at which point they broke out the microphones and various effects and just went nuts. This is South Park prog on barbiturates.

"Edweena" Dark kettle drums and a quasi-orchestral theme begin this strange album. Warped vocal disharmonies set in, making it a painstaking and uncomfortably gradual piece.

"The Making of a Soul" If witchcraft had a sound, it would sound like this. Repetitive drums chant as chanters join them, all as an enchanting tone wails through it all. The spoken-word vocal is high-pitched. Just add whistling S sounds and that's Herbert the Pervert.

"Ship's A'going Down" After a grand opening, the piece disintegrates into more eccentric vocal gobbledygook, full of funny voices and odd characterizations. Honestly, this is horrible.

"Never Known Questions" More decent music marred by dreadful vocals makes up this outlandish track.

"Epilogue" Probably the best and most melodic part of the album, but it is still just dreary drivel.

Report this review (#283716)
Posted Thursday, May 27, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars Possibly - actually, scratch that - definitely, the only group capable of out-Zappa-ing Frank Zappa and The Mothers Of Invention for pure, unadulterated, full-on weirdness, the surrealist American group 'The Residents' have carved a long and successful career out of creating some of the most uncompromising 'music' ever recorded. 'Not Available', an album which was released in 1978 but purportedly recorded several years earlier and then locked away(hence the title), is, for those of you out there who have yet to discover the 'delights' of this zany troupe, a perfect illustration of everything that makes 'The Residents' what they are. To call it music per se is a bit misleading, and though there are occasional melodies and instrumental passages, the way the material is constructed is almost anti-musical, bequeathing it with a truly whacked-out avant-garde ambience that makes Zappa sound like Katy Perry in comparison. Seemingly the product of several damaged imaginations, 'Not Available' is filled with strange voices, weird, semi-improvised interludes, much instrumental madness and deliberately obfuscating noises. Listening to it from beginning to end is bit like recounting a bad LSD-trip whilst half asleep and having watching a particularly crazy Alejandro Jodorowsky film with a blind-fold on; a chastening experience indeed. There are smatterings of melodic moments, such as some fairly-pleasant keyboards on 'Edweena', but each time a pretty musical passage arrives it is quickly usurped by some mad mumbling or discordant madness from one of 'The Residents', determined as they are to prevent anything they create from ever sounding like anything remotely 'normal'. Those of you who are interested in discovering this unique group beware: actual tunes are in short supply. 'Not Available', though by no means their weirdest release, does feature occasional inspired moments of surreal humour but the place to start for the uninitiated should be 'Duck Stab/Buster Glen', a much more melodic album that retains the groups chaotic sensory style but also tones down the insanity to almost acceptable levels. To call 'Not Available' a progressive rock record is a bit like calling King Crimson a pop band, they do feature elements of prog, but they are few and far between an the link is tenuous at best. Still, there is very little in the modern musical world that is as fiercely original as a Residents album, and they have to be heard to be truly (dis)believed. As a piece of music 'Not Available' is clumsy, discordant and slightly disturbing; as a deliberate attempt to subvert the conventions of modern pop music however, it works wonderfully, displaying the group's keen wit and sense of the absurd. For those who can take it there are many dark thrills to be had, but for those in search of good progressive rock the message is simple: avoid like the plague. This is stern stuff and is very definitely not for the squeamish. STEFAN TURNER, LONDON, 2010
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Posted Saturday, August 7, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars A truly tortured and dark album. Much like many other Residents album this one in particularly would not be out of place as a horror movie soundtrack. That is exactly the appeal of this album, you may not always been in the right frame of mind to appreciate it, but when you are there is no better album in the world. Said to have been the bands own form of group therapy, the sound is very raw and emotional which only gives weight to this theory. It is a must own for any eclectic prog lover...just don't listen to it in the dark!
Report this review (#303509)
Posted Monday, October 11, 2010 | Review Permalink
Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
4 stars Weird music, weird vocals, weird concepts. That describes the best albums of The Residents. I agree with other reviewers. This album does not sound like it was recorded right after "Meet The Residents". It sounds much more like "Fingerprince" than the first two album. But the liner notes say it was the second recorded. And The Residents wouldn't lie to us. ;)

The music is some of the best ever made by the eyeballs. Four long, supposedly linked pieces, and a short epilogue. But I dare anyone to try to come up with a coherent story bringing the theme together. No matter, this is a wonderful set of songs. Unfortunately, at least on my ESD CD, the sound is somewhat muffled. But at least you can hear what each instrument is playing.

The CD is filled out by "Title In Limbo", an EP The Residents recorded with fellow Ralph Records artists, Renaldo & The Loaf. This EP is where the great songs Mahogany Wood and Monkey & Bunny came from. A classic.

And for real Residents fans, search for "Now Available", an amazing Residents parody by Forever Einstein's C.W. Vrtacek. It's a hoot.

Report this review (#365533)
Posted Monday, December 27, 2010 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Possibly the best album the eyeball-heads ever made. According to legend, this album was recorded as the follow up to the debut Meet The Residents. Due to their "theory of obscurity" the band only released the album after forgetting having made it. The only real evidence that this might be the case is the absence of guitarist Snakefinger. However, this does not sound like their early work and instead sounds closer to their most recent albums. The synths being used here, and what sounds like vocoderized vocals in places, make this album sound more late '70s.

As usual, no one knows who the members even are. I think one of the eyeballs was a woman at one point, and you can hear what sounds like female vocals sometimes. The Residents singing style is weird and unique; Les Claypool was clearly influenced by these weirdos in the vocal department. The music is mostly based on drum machines, synths, sax, percussion and piano. I'm not sure if this supposed to be a concept album, but it seems like that is the case.

"Edweena" opens with about a minute and a half of drum machine and tympani(?) with synths. There is some vocoderized gibberish vocals, then changes to the main theme with just synths and vocals. Some chanting. Changes to a melodic section with female vocals. Some tympani and chanting. An oddball voice and a capella chanting before main theme comes back. "The Making Of A Soul" starts with boogie-woogie piano and soaring saxes with some kind of percussion. Chanting vocals. Later some slightly vocoderized vocals. Then lovely piano playing. Synths join piano and some typical weird vocals. Back to saxes and boogie-woogie piano before the music stops. A new part now with drum machine. Vocals at first and then later dissonance. You later hear two voices talking.

The beginning of "Ship's A-Going Down" is both majestic and creepy with the mix of synths and wind instruments. Then it just gets crazy. Different weirdo vocals and changing to different sections. The music stops almost halfway. Then a spoken voice, followed by a chanting of the song title. Near the end is some cool piano and sax playing. "Never Known Questions" starts with a drum machine beat and a catchy modified piano line; sounds slowed-down and treated. Then vocals which are actually pretty normal. Catchy 'chorus' of "spark the rock". There is some actual singing in this song instead of just the typical talk- singing.

The music stops halfway and then some vocals and piano. Just vocals for awhile with background sounds. Then a melody on what sounds like accordion. The same melody later gets played on synth. "Epilogue" is obviously the last song on the original album. The main theme from "Edweena" gets reprised. Some more chanted vocals. Near the end is what sounds like some symphonic string-synths and piano with a kid talking. Some CD versions have bonus songs from something called 'Title In Limbo'; I have never heard these songs.

I think this would make a good introduction to this group; if you don't like this, chances are you will not enjoy anything else they did either. Definately a group with their own sound. As weird as this album is, it's still a lot more accessible than some of their other albums from this period. A great avant-prog album. I would give this 4.5 but it's not exactly 'masterpiece' material. So 4 stars it is.

Report this review (#393205)
Posted Thursday, February 3, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars A confusing, occasionally disturbing and sometimes beautiful album released in '78 after being stuck in a time capsule for 4 years. If you've heard 70's Residents before, you'll love this, guaranteed.

It's a bit more downbeat than 'Duck Stab', equally as crazy - but not as colourful - full of squeaky, whining vocals mouthing indecipherably cryptic lyrics over an almost cabaret like atmosphere.

Probably their most cohesive album to date and without a dull moment. I'm far happier listening to this type of music than Genesis or Yes. Conversely this means fans of them will no doubt dislike this immensely.

The Residents are unlike anything else on the Prog Archives - and probably shouldn't even be here. I guess the 'Progness' kicks in due to the 'concept' that is described in the liner notes of the CD where it suggests a love triangle between Edweena, a porcupine and Catbird. What the??! Who the??...

Conclusion? Well conclusions are places where people get tired of thinking, and I'm tired of thinking on how to describe this madness. One of the strangest cd's I own. Unclassifiable, with a complete disregard for musical convention.

Cartoons from the depths of hell with the Residents on 'Ugly' drugs.

Report this review (#402340)
Posted Thursday, February 17, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars The small amount of Residents material I've heard has always been a bit of a mixed bag for me. For every moment of pure, avant-garde genius, it seems there is a moment where silliness was given priority over composition. Not that there's anything wrong with silliness, but there comes a point where it becomes a hindrance. I can't help but be impressed by some of the stuff on this album, but I also can't help but wonder why anyone thought that repeating the same few words in what is frankly a pretty annoying tone of voice was a good way to take up several minutes of album space. So in my opinion there are a lot of flaws here. That said, there's also a ton of innovative and original music here, and that's something that should never be undervalued.

'Edweena' begins with an abrupt burst of sound before immediately charging into a vaguely middle eastern, vaguely jazzy, vaguely dissonant section featuring what sounds like a timpani and some sort of horn. Some bizarre, high-pitched vocals make an appearance as well before the track suddenly switches into a more laid back theme and slower vocals (that sound distorted and sound completely stoned out) that enter and sing for a while, fading in and out of tune and sliding from pitch to pitch. Before the 5 minute mark the track makes yet another turn, this time featuring piano, horn, and vocals in a style that almost sounds like, of all things, Comus. Something about the high pitched vocals and overall ambience is very reminiscent of that group. There's a brief a capella section featuring those same tuneless, sliding vocals before some earlier themes get a reprise and the track comes to an end. 'Edweena' has some very good moments, but it's also very disjointed, even for avant-garde music, which in my opinion makes for a rather mixed listening experience.

'The Making of a Soul' begins with the same tribal drum and horn combination that appeared on 'Edweena.' Some wordless vocals add additional percussion effects to this mix before a brief lyrical section leads the track into a piano solo (which I find to be actually quite pretty). This is augmented by some equally lush strings and over the entire mix a half- spoken vocal line is delivered, in a very strange, high pitched, raspy tone. Following this is a bizzaro-folk section with a kind of demented honky-tonk sound. The instrumentation is constantly added to, with the track getting noisier and noisier, until everything drops out, leaving only some minimal keyboards and percussion over which a strange vocal mantra is repeatedly delivered. The track concludes with a wash of synthesizer and a final, dissonant, vocal harmony.

'Ship's A' Going Down' is probably the strangest track to appear on the album up to this point, and that's really saying something. With dissonant, slightly arrhythmic horns and vocals delivered to sound like the singer can't breathe properly, this track seems to have gone fully insane where the previous two were only slightly nutty. Featuring sections that contain nothing more than distorted, spoken-word vocals and others that make use of the same asphyxiating vocals over keyboard parts that would be very peaceful in any other context, the song probably hits the apex of its insanity in its middle third, which features no vocals except the constant repetition of the title phrase in various states of panic. Following this, however, there's a really excellent experimental horn part. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Toby Driver had been inspired by this album when writing some of his own horn parts, and I mean that as a compliment. Albums that sound anything like Toby Driver's work are few and far between, and to hear one sound so similar in 1978 is really a testament to the fact that whatever else the Residents were, they were certainly forward-thinking.

'Never Known Questions' again begins with a minimalistic, somewhat tribal percussion part. Groovy keyboards establish a repeating line over this and more of the slightly-off, almost- dissonant vocals that have been ubiquitous on the album begin singing over this. Were it not for the off kilter vocals, however, the opening section of this track would be a fairly accessible piece of music. Midway through the track, however, the music abruptly fades out and an entirely new theme enters, with rasping, nonsensical narration and some minimal keyboards that eventually develop into a full-on, eastern sounding, almost folky backing section. Really, if not for the bizarre vocals this would be fairly accessible.

'Epilogue' is essentially just a reprise of some of the themes from 'Edweena,' though there is some variation towards the end with some cinematic synths that are actually very pleasant. Not too much else to say about this one; it gives the album a nice sense of circularity and it closes out the album on a pleasant note.

Overall, though, as a work of experimental music, Not Available has never really clicked for me as much as it seems to have for some people. While it's certainly a boundary pushing release, it often seems to me that the group is trying harder to be strange then they are to make genuinely interesting music, and Not Available simply isn't charming enough in its weirdness for that to work. Don't get me wrong, it certainly has plenty of good moments (90% of 'The Making of a Soul' is absolutely brilliant), and it's worth a listen for anyone who likes this kind of bizarre, off-kilter music, but in my opinion this is far from being a masterpiece of experimentalism.


Report this review (#673162)
Posted Wednesday, March 21, 2012 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
3 stars Just as it begins to feel accessible, the disharmonious vocals return and blow it all out the door.

The Residents continue to push boundaries over and then they topple to the ground in a pile of rubble. With this album the actual musicians are anonymous and perhaps even confined to a bunch of guys messing about in a studio. The music seems thrown together on a whim and nothing makes sense. There is some esoteric concept mixed up in it but good luck in deciphering it. It begins with 'Edweena' that has a ton of horn and percussion competing together. The high-pitched vocals get on the nerves until it all changes its mind and we are on another time sig with slow meandering nonsense. The instruments are out of tune and there are no chord structures to latch onto. Of course all this is what The Residents revel in. They challenge the forms of music and mock us for listening to it.

'The Making of a Soul' is the best thing on this album with mass attacks of asylum music and wilful switching of ideas. Primitive drums have a bash and then later we have lush strings and twisted keyboards. The vocals are disconcerting and badly done on purpose. The weirdness is compelling but it may grind on the nerves after about 10 minutes.

'Ship's A' Going Down' is a case in point as it is too stupid in places to appreciate. The vocals are deplorable and this is very hard on the ears from the beginning. The high strangeness will appeal to the Avant fan but you have to be dedicated to lunatic music to return to this on a regular basis. At 5:15 the vocals mercifully cease and there are nice atmospheric horns that are improvised but generate relaxing textures. The next section is a pleasant synth motif that is very ambient after all the oddball whimsy. At 8 minutes a new passage of music begins with some low end synth and wah wah guitar, and I like this part in particular.

'Never Known Questions' again is part 4 of this incoherent story, beginning tribal percussion, and urgent synth lines. Just as it begins to feel accessible, the disharmonious vocals return and blow it all out the door. The vocals state to "spot the rot", a theme that surfaces on other albums. The next section rasps with trippy lyrics that make little sense; "When Edweena made me mushrooms, She ate the grate and ground the groom; My mother made me eat boysenberries, But my gracious sakes just ate me first. Calling cards and polling wards are just to many... See? Calling cards and winking bards are just a way to see." After this nonsense there is an Oriental piece of music that fades up.

'Epilogue' reprises vocals and music on 'Edweena, and the synths become prominent at least ending on some decent music.

I am not a huge fan of this preferring "Commercial Album", "Meet The Residents" or "Third Reich N' Roll" but nevertheless this will leave some spellbound with its high strangeness. For me it is all a bit too much, making me feel nauseous, and I prefer to move on to other Residents material. Still it is noteworthy for its unusual structure with 5 tracks that attempt to tell a tale. Whether there really is a tale or not will remain The Residents' little secret. I suspect that it is all just an incoherent challenging album designed to make us wonder what the heck we listened to in the first place. One for the extreme Avant music connoisseur.

Report this review (#765870)
Posted Thursday, June 7, 2012 | Review Permalink
Retired Admin
4 stars Confusing grace with outer space: a Rock Opera from Mars

This is easily one of the strangest albums I've ever heard. It's hard to recall exactly what my initial feelings were when I first heard it, as a lot of the strangeness has sunk in and feels more natural now. But I do remember that I was taking an afternoon nap when I first put it on, and I remember that somehow the warped dream logic of this album made perfect sense when I was half asleep. It's the kind of "cool dream" that I'm always hoping to have - when I have the occasion to nap in the afternoon, I will often choose my music carefully, looking for something that might give me the same effect as this album did all those years ago.

The unique history of this album has already been covered in other reviews, but the important thing to remember is that this album was initially created with no intention of being released - not because it sucks (it doesn't), but because they wanted to see how it affected the process of creation.

The result is quite different from anything else the Residents have ever released. While their other early albums have a random, anarchic anything-anytime-anywhere feel to them, this album is strangely symphonic in nature - structured like a concept album/rock opera, with lengthy tracks featuring recurring characters and an ostensible story line. But the beauty of it is, it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Ugly noise suddenly gives way to touchingly beautiful music, challenging any ideas that these guys don't know what they're doing. Lyric lines of total random nonsense suddenly give way to a really emotionally resonant lyric that make you think that maybe there IS something going on here. Just when you think the whole project's gone off the musical deep end, it brings you back in with a reprise of an earlier musical theme (which you might have originally thought was just random noise the first time around) - all executed as if they accidentally came up with all this.

It's rarely pleasant to listen to, but the way this album walks a tightrope between total chaos and total order is really quite fascinating. There are four lengthy tracks followed by a brief instrumental epilogue, and the four lengthy tracks each go through several movements, establishing the occasional strong musical theme, bringing in spoken voices, dissonant group unison vocals, and the ridiculously-voiced "porcupine" character. Lots of cheap keyboards, pianos, clangy percussion, and tape effects, all servicing a total wack fest of a concept, and somehow making it sound Important.

Very close to a 5 here, but it's a little too rough around the edges (to put it mildly) to deserve "masterpiece" status.

Report this review (#789976)
Posted Tuesday, July 17, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars Like The Residents, I'm a subscriber to the Theory of Obscurity. In a nutshell (and is there anything about this band not in a nutshell?) the theory says any act of creativity, whether music or painting or poetry, is immediately compromised when considering a possible audience. The purest forms of artistic expression are therefore always selfish, and can only be produced in a commercial vacuum.

It was the guiding principle behind what may or may not have been their second studio album, supposedly recorded in 1974 and never intended for public exposure, but released four years later when their ambitious "Eskimo" project fell behind schedule. That's the official version of the story, but like a lot of Residential legends it sounds more like a marketing ploy.

The Theory itself is still valid, of course. And obviously attractive to a band without an audience to begin with. If nothing else, their total lack of commercial appeal liberated the group to make what still stands as their richest, deepest, and weirdest album ever, quite an accomplishment for a collection of misfits with a musical yardstick already positioned at such an obtuse angle.

And on top of their typically bizarro style it's a concept album too: a four-act avant-rock opera of sorts, relating the enigmatic Pilgrim's Progress of a girl named Edweena, someone's Uncle Remus, and a porcupine named Knowledge (among other equally obscure characters). One of the reasons given for deliberately mothballing the finished tapes was because the narrative was "too personally revealing", according to the Residents' own web site: yet another example of their performance art leg-pulling. Nothing (repeat, nothing) about this thing is revealing, even with a lyric sheet, not available (so to speak) with the album itself, but easily accessible to motivated web spiders.

As for the music, it's "guaranteed to shake you up", as the pathetic narrator whimpers in "The Making of a Soul". Newcomers might not get past the oddness of it all, but listeners on the same aberrant wavelength will find the album a haunting, perplexing, perversely funny experience, striking a fine balance between the band's more sober avant-garde aspirations and the comic eccentricity favored by a lot of their fans.

Ideally I should have filed this review someplace where it couldn't be read until I had forgotten all about it. But, in the immortal words of the mysterious porcupine, "is firm corn merrier under gifts of less important love? We wonder..."

Report this review (#957502)
Posted Saturday, May 11, 2013 | Review Permalink

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