Sleepytime Gorilla Musem – Grand Opening and Closing (3/15/2011)

The Grand Opening and Closing of Natural History in Glorious Times.

I had been meaning to review Sleepytime Gorilla Museum for a long time–initially as one of my first reviews, but then later it got sequenced to a later time and series, which unfortunately won’t be happening.  Sleepytime Gorilla Musem (henceforth SGM because jesus christ that name) are easily amongst my favorite bands I’ve ever heard, spanning all genres, and have been for quite some time, now that I think about it.  Relatively, mind you, because I’m not that old, but regardless.  It’s fucking awesome.

Born of the the jittery, humorous and unsettling ashes of Idiot Flesh, members Dan Rathburn and Nils Frykdahl continued on as working musicians, joining with Charming Hostess member Carla Kihlstedt and other musicians to, more or less, create the album you see here.   The actual history of the band’s name, lyrics are all buried and obfuscated beneath extensive and confusing liner notes, a Dadaist obsession (from which the actual name Sleepytime Gorilla Museum is derived; check it out on Wiki, if you’re curious).  It’s weird shit, and honestly adds to the appeal.

A lot of comparisons can (and have) been made to just about every “out there” rock band that came into existence in the 90s, most of them nebulous–the members of Idiot Flesh released their first demo, We were all very worried (at the time under the name Acid Rain), a year before Mr. Bungle had even been formed.  There is no doubt the amount of cross-pollination of Avant and Experimental rock music in the 90s was incredibly strong, but to assume SGM is another descendant of Bungle worship is silly.  The music bears only a resemblance to Patton projects in that they attempt, and generally succeed, in smashing musical barriers and preconceptions.   The histories of the SGM members themselves are also pretty extensive, and they are involved in quite a few projects that are certainly worth enjoying, but we don’t have time to discuss them here.  And by time, I mean motivation.

Stylistically, SGM are surprisingly unique.  There are no really replicators (unlike the previously mentioned Mr. Bungle it’s horde of imitators) and nothing that sounds as similar as would be worth noting.  All the more surprising considering most attempts at distancing bands from rock conventions is throwing as many haphazard instrument line-ups and genre hops at it until something sticks.  Aside from a violin, the only non-traditional instruments are home made.  Yeah, that’s right.  They make their own instruments.  Impressive ones.

The music itself draws more from Henry Cow like Avant-Rock than most schizophrenic genre-mash styles of today–utilizing jarring 20th Century Classical styles, bass heavy, angular rock music, metal-esque aggression and a strong folk accent, both via the violin and general musical styles, as well as music-concrete samples of noises from corks squeaking to coins falling, it’s quite a musical feast, but not for those with weak stomachs.  And it’s not as ridiculous as it sounds.  Nils is the foreman for the vocals, although Carla is a close second–and they’re both powerhouses.  Nils has a surprisingly good voice, with an almost opera like quality to it at times, though you’ll rarely hear it amongst the aggressive stance; Carla sounds eerily similar to Bjork of all people, however much less quirky and more unsettling.  And, both have some rather aggressive and harsh sounding vocal spots, though nothing you haven’t heard in most metal albums.   I can honestly write articles about SGM’s style, as a whole, as a progression from album to album or just as an unusual example of music in the 21st century, so I’ll leave it at this:  Bass heavy, angular avant-rock that borrows from 20th Century Classical, Folk, Henry Cow and Metal to make some surprisingly specific and effective music.

That’s about as short as I could make it.

Lyrically, it’s about as enigmatic as both the previous incarnation as Idiot Flesh was, and their liner notes are.  Bizarre, sometimes funny, sometimes unsettling and generally a perfect attribute to an already unique experience.   Lots of naturalist and Dadaist nuances obviously find there way.  I’m sure, because fuck if I know.  They are actually fairly interesting, given the time to dissect them, but some more than others, given the rather uneven tone of the album.  Another few paragraphs worth of speculation, because I love this band, but for another, non-existent time.

I chose to review this album in particular for the same reason I chose the Idiot Flesh album: I want you to hear all the albums, in the order they were made.  Each is a unique feast for the ears and the mind, and each has individual characteristics that make it stand out amongst the others, but not above; all interesting and enjoyable, but for their own reasons.  I hope you choose to follow the same path I did all those years ago and start from the beginning.  If you’re looking for something new, you really have found it.  There’s nothing else out there like it.

I can’t sing praises enough for it.

Sleepytime Gorilla are playing their final three shows in April.

Thu, Apr 7 San Diego, California, CA
Fri, Apr 8 Los Angeles, CA
Sun, Apr 10 San Francisco

Time hasn’t really permitted me to see them, as much as I’d have inevitably paid out the ass given the opportunity, and in light of their untimely demise, probably won’t again.  If you have the opportunity, there is no real way to compare the live performance of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum to the album sounds that crawl from your sound drivers.  Everything points to it being completely unreal.  Not a thing to miss.

The bottom line is:

Really obtuse, but all the more delicious for it.  Listen.  See them, if you can.

Fucking amazing.

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