Monday, March 10, 2014

Thrift Store Mystery CD Review: Clutch, "Pure Rock Fury"

Mystery CD: “Pure Rock Fury” by Clutch
Found at: Savers
Price: $1.98
First impression:
                This is another one I found at Savers, the same day I found Leather Hyman’s “Host Body” (which ended up being pretty good, and an immediate addition to my mp3 player).  I actually bought four CDs that day, the third of which I’ll review next time, and the fourth was a post-Ricky Wilson B-52s CD.  I won’t be reviewing that one here because I’m actually a pretty big B-52s fan and already knew what I was getting myself into. 
                As for Pure Rock Fury here, I’m pretty confident that I’ll be hearing some standard hard rock, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be any good.  I flipped through the liner notes and noticed that everything is either red, white or blue, and occasionally a weird golden yellow on a black background.  They’ve got lyrics along the top and bottom all scrunched together around the artistically colored photographs, and each song is either red or blue, the credits are white and the titles are yellow.  This in itself isn’t especially odd, lots of bands do that… saves on space, probably.

But it’s all in red, white and blue which gives me pause.  It’s not just the lyrics, either, there are some band photos in there, half of which look like someone just brought a camera to the studio one day because they needed pictures of themselves.  Half of those pictures are just random shots of mixing boards (or rather a single mixing board at two different angles) and a mess of guitar pedals and cables.  All the pictures follow the same color scheme.  Were they trying to be patriotic?  There isn’t much else to suggest that’s what they were going for, but it doesn’t once deviate from the red white and blue theme.  I’m probably overthinking this.  At least the disc itself is kinda pretty.

Hyper CD…?
                Well, I popped it in the drive and all of a sudden it’s asking me if I want to instal HyperCD.exe.  I’ve seen stuff like this before, little bonus web content things that I guess are supposed to enhance the overall experience or something.  They never seem to work right, and this one is no exception.  It got caught in an endless loop of asking me to install, installing, saying it was installed successfully, then asking me to close all browsers before installing (which I had already) before starting the whole thing over again.  I let it do this about three or four times before I gave up.  I’m not too broken up about this.  Or at all.

1: American Sleep
                Okay, we’ve got about eighteen seconds of feedback and electric noise, but the tone is really fuzzy so it doesn’t pierce your ears and make you want to fling the headphones across the room, so that’s good.  Once the music starts the tone quality doesn’t really get any better… makes it sound like you’re listening to it through a wall.  It’s probably really loud and impressive on the other side of that wall, but to me it sounds just kind of weird.  Maybe I don’t have the volume high enough.
                The vocals are clear and the lyrics are kind of stream of consciousness psychedelic stuff.  Of course, the only thing that really bugs me about the lyrics is that it sounds like he’s saying “American sleep” at the end of each refrain, but the lyrics clearly say “Americans leap.”  Y’know, except for the title, which is “American sleep.”  WHICH IS IT???  Eh, whatever, the song makes about as much sense either way.  And that’s not to say that it makes no sense, the refrain is “So very relentless/ counting the sheep/ electrical fences/ Americans leap (or American sleep).”  So it could make sense either way.  That’s kind of cool. 
                The actual instrumentation is good.  It’s definitely hard rock, and under all the fuzzy audio quality you can tell they know what they’re doing.  The solos aren’t bad, but laden with all sorts of warping effects so they’re there mostly just to make it sound hardcore.  The time signature is 3:4, which I really like, and they switch it up in the refrain which is cool.  Not a bad track.

2: Pure Rock Fury
                This… this is the title track?  I… I don’t know what to say. 
                The tone quality continues to be bad, and really masks the beginning of the song.  The contrast between the fuzzy guitars and the surprisingly clear vocals continues to confuse my ears.  I keep picturing the lead singer doing his thing while surrounded by mountains of pillows, which the rest of the band is buried under. 
                It’s not a bad song, but the beginning is… weird.  The guitar plays a series of elevating tones in a frankly bizarre scale that doesn’t really seem to make sense, while the singer mutters unintelligibly (but rhythmically), and actually sounds a little like the guy from ZZ Top.  It’s really quite jarring.  The rest of the song isn’t that bad, but it’s kind of overshadowed by the beginning, and then it ends after only… three and a half minutes?  I guess it’s not THAT short, but it seems really short.  I feel the best way to describe this song is thusly: imagine you’re walking down the sidewalk, minding your own business when out of nowhere you’re set upon by a hairy, burly biker gang.  They surround you and immediately start mercilessly whacking you with wrapping paper tubes, then drive off in a roar of Harley exhaust before you’re able to fully grasp the situation.  That’s what this song is like.  So it’s awesome, but in an intensely confusing way. 

3: Open Up The Border
                Ooh, kind of a fast 6:8, a funky rock beat with more weird lyrics.  The mixing seems more uniform in this one, and I like it a lot.  The vocals are low and growly, but the singer’s pretty good.  It’s all grungy hard rock with a good beat, and it’s a lot of fun.  I bet this song is awesome live. 
                Near the end they add another track of vocals, kind of a background vocal talking about opening up the border, but the way he sings it sounds kind of sepia toned and vaudevillian, like something 1930s Strong Bad would sing. 

4: Careful With That Mic…
                Okay, the singer starts out with “Ahuhah, ahuhah… mmm hmmm mmm hmmm…” over and over again, and the ZZ Top parallel is really stark and obvious.  Then he starts talking really fast, but very articulated… he’s not even speaking in verse.  All over kind of a single chord rock riff.  They sing the refrains at least.  It’s kind of a cool song, though, it’s got a good groove to it.

5: Red Horse Rainbow
                Same beat as the last song, but with a more intricate instrument part.  Up until this point, it seems like the guitar and bass have been playing pretty much the same thing, but the two parts diverge here, and it think that helps with the tone, or at least makes it sound less fuzzy.  Maybe that was the problem.  There’s a lengthy instrumental part before the singer starts… I almost thought this was going to be an instrumental. 
                It’s actually kind of a long song.  Found it difficult to tell what exactly it was about, so I read the lyrics and I’m even less sure now.  Something about Africanized killer bees, and other man-tampering-with-nature-esque things, then something about a salamander giving birth, and apparently the only thing that can save us is a red horse rainbow.  So yeah, that explains nothing.  The song is long, but the lyrics are actually pretty sparse, so it’s mostly just guitars jamming out.

6: The Great Outdoors!
                Another funky rock beat with weird grumbling.  I kind of like this one… he sings with kind of a hic-ish accent, and it makes me think of Primus, or maybe Tom Waits if he had a better voice.  There’s some ranting about how much he hates Baltimore (though he doesn’t say it directly). 
                The instrumentation seems to be getting more and more intricate with each track, but I don’t know if it’s actually changing or if I’m just getting used to their style.

7: Smoke Banshee
                There’s some faint background noise of a crowd cheering, but it quickly becomes completely inaudible.  This song doesn’t really stand out… it’s good, but it’s not like it’s spectacular or anything, which is fine, a lot of the others have stuck out for one reason another, this one just sort of hangs out in the background.  I guess there’s just not much I can say about it.  It’s a cool rock song with more growly, passionate vocals, but I can’t really make sense of most of what he’s saying, partly because some of it’s difficult to make out and partly because I’m not trying too hard at this point because it’s just more of the same. 

8: Frankenstein
                Starts out with a groovy drum bit, and then they add in some bongos before the bass comes in with a nice crunchy line, followed by the guitar.  It’s a cool riff, and the whole song is refreshingly minimalist, so you can really pick out each part and enjoy it for what it is, and it’s got a great beat.  That, and the key seems to change when they go into the refrain, and it sounds like they’re all yelling in unison through it, something about Frankenstein, and how would you like to die, and I guess if you go downtown they’re giving it away… something about magic beans… I don’t know.  I’d probably need a lot more time with the lyrics to figure out what’s going on, but it’s about what you’d expect to hear from an angry hard rock band.  It tapers off with a neat little jam session.  All in all, a groovy track.

9: Sinkmelow
                Starts off with a single guitar line and then the whole band comes in full force.  It’s a fast and heavy song, good head-bobbing music.  Fires in the northlands/ Floods to the south/ Put the petal to the metal/ Let it all hang out.  Nothing particularly deep, but it’s fun, so there’s that.  His voice continues to remind me of ZZ Top. 

10: Immortal
                Funky drum solo time!  I think this song’s about Greek gods, or at least mythology of that ilk.  He’s claiming to be immortal and referencing Prometheus and a bunch of other stuff.  More heavy, crunchy rock… it’s good.  And really, that’s all I’ve got to say for this one.

11: Brazenhead
                Okay… this starts out with an excerpt from a live show.  The singer talks to the audience saying “this is one we’re gonna record” then encourages them to make noise so they can be on the CD.  The beat starts and he tells them to start clapping, “louder… louder…”  Then when the actual song starts (in time with the excerpt), it’s back to the studio.  Kind of cool, I guess, but it seems odd to me, like that whole excerpt was kind of pointless.  It doesn’t really add anything to the song.  It would have made more sense if the actual recording of the song was from that live show. 
                The song itself isn’t bad, another funky rock song, and you can sort of hear more bongos in the background.  The words to this one seem to be another stream of consciousness thing, a bit like the first one.  I think the refrain is talking about architecture, something about planing all the edges to make a perfect structure, and some other stuff about math and “zero meaning nothing.”  I don’t know.  It almost sounds like something Tool would come up with, but without the flowery language.

12: Drink to the Dead
                Ah, another rock waltz.  I love rock waltzes, so this one is automatically interesting to me.  I think the growing intricacies I was talking about earlier wasn’t just my imagination, because the instrumentation in this one is markedly less so.  It’s kind of refreshing, actually.  There’s less to listen to, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  It’s a good strong melody. 
                I keep thinking as I hear each one of these that it’s kind of lacking something.  I mean… it’s good music, they know what they’re doing and the songs are altogether pretty cool, but I feel like their energy had been dialed back a lot.  I think this is mostly due to the audio quality which is, as I’ve said, consistently fuzzy.  I can’t help but think this would all be way better if I heard it live.  I bring this up because it says the last track is a live recording.  So we’ll see if it lives up to my expectations.

13: Spacegrass (Live)
                The previous track ends with that same crowd noise I heard earlier, but it’s withdrawn and quiet, like you’re hearing it at the end of a very long highway, or through a tin can or something. 
                It starts out with a bass line and it’s already way better than everything so far because it’s not that fuzzy and soft tone that permeates throughout this entire CD.  Then the guitar comes in and it’s exactly the same thing.  The sound quality in this track is so much better than everything else I’ve heard so far, which is the exact opposite of how it usually is with live recordings.  This brings up only one single question in my mind…




                This song is awesome!  It’s slow and heavy and just cool, and you can hear all the instruments really clear like they’re right there in front of you and they’re tight and energetic and this is exactly what hard rock should always sound like!  The singer sounds like he’s in a band, not a sea of cotton balls!  It’s like they came out from a padded room and all of a sudden their sound is flourishing and living up to its potential, and it is absolutely glorious!  SO WHO THE HELL MIXED THE REST OF THIS ALBUM, AND MORE IMPORTANTLY WHY DOES HE STILL PRESUMABLY HAVE A JOB??? 

*Huff… huff… huff…*

Overall Impression:
                It could have been so much better.  It really could have.  The band is good, the songs are good, everything is good except for the audio quality, which is really the only problem but it’s such a big one that it really brings the rest of it down.  You sort of get used to it after a while, but then that last track comes and blows the rest of it out of the water, and that kind of ruined it for me.  Now I’m stuck trying to imagine what the rest of it would sound like if the tone hadn’t sucked and now I’m utterly dissatisfied with an otherwise great CD. 
                So… was it worth the money?  I guess I don’t know.  I mean I liked the CD and it was good music, but now I’m just angry.  It could have been so… so much better.  But it wasn't, and it wasn’t the band’s fault so I can't in all good conscience say it was a bad album.  So I really can’t decide.  I found out about a great band, though, and I guess that’s something, and like I said, the music is good once you get past the sound quality.  So I guess it was worth the money, but only just barely.

I think it actually sounds better on youtube through laptop speakers, and that's really depressing.


 EDIT: It's been almost two months since I wrote this.  I have since listened to this album on my mp3 player and somehow it sounds a lot better.  I've gotten to really like this album.  The instrumentation is great and the lyricist is actually really clever and more than a little talented.  I don't know if the change in audio quality is because my Winamp mixer was maladjusted for my first review or I'm just used to it now or what, but I feel like the former shouldn't make a difference on a high-quality recording, which I still don't think it is even if I have gotten used to it.  However, it does sound better.  Less like they're buried in pillows and more like they're locked in recording studio booths, which I guess is a step in the right direction.  Still not great, but much less of a problem than it was and I can really enjoy it now.  If I find something else by these guys, I'm definitely picking it up.