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


Sleepytime Gorilla Museum



3.68 | 117 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
2 stars Atonality is a fickle mistress.

Once it used to be the darling of 20th century composers everywhere. To classical music, it was the culmination of 400 years of repression by the Christian Church during the Council of Trent essentially outlawing sequences and modes the church deemed barbaric or satanic. So in order to satisfy the masses, happy tonal music was forced, and for good reason: people like pleasant sounding music.

Of course, atonal passages add spice and life to music, but purely atonal music is too much. It was fine when Schoenburg and Webern did it in the 20's and then Babbit and Stockhausen in the 50's but by then classical music was confirmed dead (Russia never even had this problem thanks to Communism) so by the late 20th century composers were reverting and composing music with more tonal structures that still echoed sentiments of a modern era, especially in the 21st century.

So even progressive music today, while far from the boundaries of radio play, still atones to some standard musical properties, there are some bands that push it past to the point of absolute absurdity. Case in point, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and their debut album "Grand Opening and Closing".

Now I get it, I was a contemporary percussionist in college, I'm well familiar with John Cage and Steve Reich and how their works, although not really accessible to the larger crowds, are commendable in their own right, and I indeed commend SGM for creating music completely and utterly unique to themselves, but each song lacks something that keeps my interest. Sure I'm used to atonal music and progressions but I can only take so much.

Put it this way, atonality is like hot sauce. Add a little bit here and there, and it adds some excitement, dials up the flavor another notch. Too much and you're just adding it for the sake of adding it. Too much hot sauce and you get less flavor and more heat. Scientific studies show that people who love hot sauce and continually seek out the hottest and spiciest things are essentially participating in self torture.

Kind of like me when I decided to sit down and listen to this album all the way through.

From the droning repetition of "Sleep Is Wrong" to the slightly interesting but ultimately plotless instrumental buildup of "Ambugation", there's nothing that really captivates me. Yes, the musical abilities of this band are outstanding, but the way that the band deliberately plays like they're drunk or insane during half the songs just gives off the wrong impression. Perhaps that's the sound they're going for, but I still don't get it. Sure, "Ablutions" is a great song when to play when you're recreating a horror movie scene walking down a dark corridor of a haunted house right before the villain guts you with a machete, but it's just way too dark and creepy to withstand more than once, even live.

"1997" is basically industrial metal on bath salts, with its drunken rockabilly freakouts, but it's still brash and vulgar and disgusting in every way possible. "The Minature" is a pointless slightly tonal minute long ditty, "Powerless" is another drunken stupor, this time nine minutes long and "The Stain" is essentially an instrumental percussion ensemble taking a page or seventy from the King Crimson "VROOM" days.

"Sleepytime" is the lone highlight off this album. Here we actually get some structure over a prolonged buildup and while it eventually showcases the band's traditional atonality, there are some moments of respite that bookend the track in (semi) peaceful tonal passages. But then we go into "Sunflower" which again is a contemporary ensemble showcasing finger cymbals and what sounds like a clavichord. "More Time" is drunk again, and "Flinch" is just screaming bookended by ambient sounds.

To be honest, this is a band that, while phenomenal musicians, can only really be appreciated live. The instrumentation they use is astonishing, and some of the more ambient pieces I feel would be more appreciated when performed live. That's the only downside to music like this, it can only be at its most effective in a live setting, where the listener can see the band, see them perform. Listening to this album through headphones does absolutely nothing for me.

This band therefore can really be considered performance art, which it is. Yes, these guys have a rabid cult following, and I get it, but the fact is while the band's best tracks are still tough to digest at times, their worst songs are borderline unlistenable. It's a sound that, while very and truly unique, is so pigeonholed for a very specific audience that it's only really worth a shot if you're willing to dig into the deepest recesses of avant garde rock and introduce yourself to more contemporary classical pieces of music.

Wicket | 2/5 |


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