Monday, May 16, 2005

Did I say I wasn't going to run out and get the new System of a Down album?

...'cause if I did, I totally lied.

Personally, I use the word "great" in several different ways when talking about music. There's "great" as in "fit to share a mix CD with the Dustdevils" and "great" as in "way, way better than I ever would have expected." The new System of a Down album turns out to be great.

Recent article in the Times gives them grudging respect, but goes to more than the expected amount of trouble to try to drag them down (via lyrics) to the level of their quasi-peers Linkin Park/Limp Bizket.

(Have I ever written about the fact that some years ago I very nearly became related - by marriage - to the guy most responsible for gracing the world with Linkin Park? Had that happened, could I have used my influence to bring about the Jad Fair/Linkin Park mashup that I dream of so often? The fate of the world can turn on things like that.)

I was kind of struck by SoaD's SNL performance despite the typically crappy sound. Then what's-his-name over at Stereogum took a potshot and promptly got his ass handed to him (his final post being a swiftly back-peddling "So, people who I've just insulted: please give me advice on this band that I know nothing about") and that was the straw that motivated me to get the new album Mezmerize.

I doubt it's going to end up in my top 10 of 2005, but it's easily the best (or most interesting, maybe) album I've heard in recent memory that I'll actually be able to discuss with the rest of the world, and I can just about guarantee you that it's a better use of your dollar than, for example, the forthcoming Believer snoozefest (I have so many reasons for being annoyed by this that I've decided to keep them to myself, so we can agree to disagree if you feel differently).

Back to SoaD: it reminds me structurally of Opeth in the way it quick cuts from chugga-chugga metal to a totally different genre. While Opeth go from cookie-monster grind to prog-psych (and are much heavier) (and better) this one seems to go from metal to rock-influenced Armenian folk (I mistook the latter for fake reggae during their SNL appearance. My bad).

On one level SoaD are sort of easy to stick daggers into, and if I were the type to make fun of bug-eyed guitar players with strange hair, I might. Maybe it's the Armenian thing or maybe it's their competition, but I find myself willing to cut their affect/lyrics more slack than usual, especially in the face of some surprisingly sophisticated songwriting. Clearly I don't get out much, but I haven't heard anything on the charts recently that twists and turns and eschews standard verse/chorus to the extent that SoaD do.

I have a feeling that posting an mp3 might be asking for trouble (powers that be: I'll be happy to take this down asap if it's a problem...I'm not terrifically invested in promoting things that are already popular) but I'll give it a shot. Here's the final track on the album, apparently part 2 of a Hollywood-related theme, Lost In Hollywood. It's mellower than the rest of the CD, though that's not the reason I'm posting it, and the loud songs are good too.

And since I may get asked to take that track down, I'll put up my favorite Opeth song as well. Here's Deliverance. Learn to get past the vocals, if that's a problem. Al Johnson is a great singer. Arto Lindsay is a great singer. So is this guy. Deliverance is long and kind of a big download (around 20Mb) but completely worth the effort: a well plotted multi-part epic with an incredible pay-off at the end that makes a lot of mathematically-inclined indie look pretty silly.

[Update: on May 18, Fluxblog (of which I'm much, much fonder than Stereogum) takes shot at SoaD as well. Ass-handing in progress. Strange how people fixate on their looks, which are really no weirder (in the grand scheme of the world) than anything else. Mezmerize continuing to rock the iPod, as they say. I suspect that it's going to be a tough one for a lot of people, as it's an undeniably strong album from one of the most casually dismissed - I'm guilty too - genres in current music. I'm expecting to see it on a lot of year end polls from people you wouldn't have predicted.]

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