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Sleepytime Gorilla Museum - Of Natural History CD (album) cover


Sleepytime Gorilla Museum



4.14 | 235 ratings

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4 stars Sleepytime Gorilla Museum's "Of Natural History" is a genuine oddity of avant garde prog with a blend of lunatic melodies mixed with metal distortion and some downright bizarre singing. The music is quite difficult to describe and exists in a league of its own. The band is made up of Nils Frykdahl on guitars, flute, Matthias Bossi on drums, glockenspiel, xylophone, Dan Rathbun on bass, log, roach, trombone, lute, Moe! Staiano on metal, wood, bowed spatula, glockenspiel, spring, paper, Carla Kihlstedt on violins, percussion guitar, autoharp, organ, and Frank Grau on drums, and melodica. It is certainly compelling music, bleak and eerie at times but never dull. The music interchanges so suddenly and aggressively forceful that it is rather unsettling, but it is an amazing achievement in sonic violence. The moments of beauty always have a beastly sound lurking around the door, and one never knows what to expect. The twisting musical shapes are jarring and at times amusing, in their ceaseless time signature changes. The concept of the album involves being dissatisfied with technology and attempts to escape modernity to embrace the old days of horse and cart. Technology is viewed as a monster, controlled by an adversary that must be defeated. The environmental message of returning to nature is veiled behind very obscure twisted lyrics, but it exists as a framework for the high strangeness. The breaking down of musical barriers is part of the exploration of breaking from societal control.

It begins with a snoring dog, and then some deep bass tone singing 'A Hymn to the Morning Star' that is bleak and very original in style. But there are no other songs on the album like this. The sound and style changes completely from song to song. 'The Donkey-Headed Adversary of Humanity Opens the Discussion' is basically yelled phrases and very distorted guitars that get louder and louder. 'Pthisis' has a striking vocal of Carla that is very much in the style of Bjork, and some weird music appropriately serves as a landscape.

'FC The Freedom Club' is a raucous mini epic with a lot of power and aggressiveness. The music is frenetic, riffing Meshuggah guitars and a nasty syrupy blend of violent violins and dramatic drum blastbeats. The music is very intense and it builds into a fast tempo and some odd musical arrangements. This is what avant metal is all about. It even features some high register vocals that are kind of pretty on a background of glockenspiel and ethereal music. It ends with insect sounds in an imaginary forest creating a rather eerie atmosphere.

This blends nicely into 'Gunday's Child' with an acoustic intro and some strange melodies. It feels like a tuneful Residents song, even when the vocals come in, loudly mixed to the front end and whispered seductively. It builds into a manic bass heavy tempo with avant string sounds and some passionate singing. This song has some weird time sigs and is perhaps darker in style than previous tracks.

More cicada effects are heard for the appropriately titled 'The 17 Year Cicada', which is really a musical piece of Oriental percussion and some booming bass drums. The cicadas are intensely scattered along with high pitch pipes and frenetic flute playing. The roaches sound like they are being squished and strangles leading to the odd meter of 'The Creature'. This track is very dark with some heart pounding lyrics spoken out in a deep bass voice. It is a musical poetry about a perpetually hungry creature. The squishy sounds and bizarre music is very much like The Residents' style. This is perhaps the weirdest track on the album, with disturbing lyrics and breathing, insect noises, as well as dramatic creepy clangs and bangs. The bass is kind of like Primus, all over the place and out of sync with the weird guitar melodies.

The strong Southern American accent of spoken dialogue next reminds me of Godspeed You! Black Emperor on 'What Shall We Do Without Us'. It has a hillbilly violin sound, like Comus, a female vocal at times and then builds to loud crashing bass and guitar before returning to the violin hoedown sound and female vocals. This is as weird as they get, and ends with more crickets chirping. It all feels as though we are outside a shed listening in on a bunch of hillbilly lunatics.

The spoken dialogue returns to usher in the lengthy 'Babydoctor'. At 14 minutes this is the longest song and it begins slowly with strumming guitar and a creepy atmospheric drone. A heartbeat bass comes in with rhythmic tones, building in volume. It eventually gets extreme with growling vocals and a blend of fast percussion, guitars, strings and a plethora of heavy banging on homemade tools. The percussion is terrific, off kilter and jazzy. After an aggressive freakout, it drops into a slow tempo and some whispered voices. A tolling bell rings out and some eerie violins, creating an ominous atmosphere. Dialogue returns that makes little sense but adds to the uneasy feeling that something sinister is going to happen.

'Cockroach' follows with deeper vocals and some unusual effects, including squeaks, ethereal female vocal intonations and xylophones. 'The Hidden Track' follows that is not even hidden, which is part of the irony, and there are more cicada insect noises that build and those odd dialoguing men return. I like the bullfrog noises here and the overall night insect sounds. I wish I knew what the men are on about but it sounds deceptively like frivolous chatter. The insects continue for a while and then the snoring dog returns heard at the beginning of the album. It goes silent until bird whistles chime in, as if we have survived the night and are now in the dawn of day. The weird male voices sound as if they are mimicking nature's sounds.

I can only conclude that this is an album of an incredible original sound, disharmonious and experimental unlike any music I have heard. It deserves its reputation as a triumph of avant garde prog, as it is constantly striving to break down the barriers of music. It is brutally unsettling, but nevertheless a very compelling experience.

AtomicCrimsonRush | 4/5 |


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