Albums

Classic Album Review: Skalmold – Baldur (2010, Tutl Records)

Posted on by Paul in Albums, Classic Albums | Leave a comment

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I’ve been on a bit of a nostalgia kick as of late, for several reasons. One of the reasons is the fact that we’ve just wrapped up our coverage of this year’s SXSW, which commonly involves a bit of looking back and reflecting on what went down over the week, and which also often leads me to reminisce in general about past editions of SouthBy. And the realization that I’ve been going to Austin every March since 2011 and that the Panic Manual has had a presence there since 2009 gets me thinking about the past, and also that I’m getting old. The main instigator of all this nostalgia however, was a bit of a Spring cleaning jag I went on earlier this week wherein I uncovered a few artifacts from my time here at Panic Manual, including a bunch of old handwritten notes for potential posts. Yes, back in the day I wrote out many of my original rough drafts by hand – very old school of me.

Among these scraps of paper, I found the beginnings of a planned review of Baldur, the debut album by Icelandic Viking/folk metallers Skálmöld. I do not really remember ever listening to this album, though I do vaguely remember that when I started out writing for Panic Manual, I had big plans to broaden our scope by writing about more metal. And I guess something about this album caught my attention at the time, probably the Berserker Viking dude on the album cover charging forward while holding an axe. It is a somewhat striking image, and one that predates the premiere episodes of Game Of Thrones or Vikings by a bit, so they were a little ahead of the curve I guess.

Anyways, in the interest of not being wasteful, I decided to finish that review up and also delve even further into nostalgia by resurrecting our old Classic Album Reviews series, even though at the time the first draft of this review was started it was a relatively new release. Is Baldur actually worthy of being designated a classic? Not likely, but odds are it might be somebody’s favourite album somewhere in the world, so let’s just go with it.

And now, without any further ado, here’s the first paragraph of a review I started nearly a decade ago:

They say you can’t judge a book (or an album) by its cover. But just look at that cover! It’s practically screaming to be judged. And what it’s saying (in a Viking warrior cry) is “I am awesome.” It’s the kind of cover that kind of tells you exactly what kind of music you will be hearing.

And that’s it. That’s as far as I got with this review, which indicates that I may have never actually sat down and listened to the album, but that I at least had something to say about the cover image that I considered kind of funny at the time. And so after taking a very long break, I’m finally putting pen to paper (virtually speaking) and wrapping this one up. So what does the album actually sound like? And does it hold up?

Initially released on Faroe Islands record label Tutl in 2010, but later rereleased in 2011 on Napalm Records, Baldur was Skálmöld’s introduction to the world. The band has gone on to put out four full length albums in the years since the release of this one. I have listened to none of them. But I have now listened to this one at least, and it’s a pretty solid album as these things go.

For those unfamiliar with Viking metal, it’s pretty much what you might expect from the name – fairly epic sounding stuff full of Nordic chanting and more aggressive vocals as well as plenty of melodic guitar lines along the way. The Viking aspect is not just a refelection of the band’s Icelandic roots, but also represented in the story behind Baldur, a concept album with supernatural elements telling the tale of the titular Viking and his epic quest for revenge after the death of his family. I gathered as much only after reading about the album online – the lyrics are all in Icelandic, so I’m fairly unclear on all the details. Sounds like a cool story though.

And finally, I’ll wrap things up with another note that I found in amongst those papers, this one from a 2011 Summerworks review of a show by Toronto indie folk band Great Bloomers. It didn’t make the cut at the time, not really fitting in anywhere in the review, but now it can finally be revealed (even though it doesn’t really fit at all in this review either). So I leave you with these thoughts, written down on a yellow sticky note on that August evening long ago:

After the show, some dude asked me for change, told me he was 79 years old, then asked me if I was some guy named Herman and/or a cop. I told him I wasn’t but he seemed pretty insistent that I was.

True story. I wonder whatever happened to that guy. And I wonder if he likes Viking metal.

Album Review: Soccer Mommy – Clean (2018, Fat Possum)

Posted on by halley in Albums | Leave a comment

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“I choose to blame it all on you/’Cause I don’t like the truth.” Oh.girl. Say no more.

While Sophie Allison, aka Soccer Mommy, confirms her genius in these words alone she does say more – much more – and much more that is great in her latest album Clean. Clean will calm, empower, befuddle, and enlighten you. It is somewhere between a journal, a manifesto, and an unexpectedly delightful “thinking about you” card in the mail from a long-lost friend.

Allison’s wisdom-filled lyrics and growing success is all the more impressive due to her DIY-approach to music and her young young age (only 20!). She garnered attention on Bandcamp based on her own recordings – specifically the self-released hit “Songs for the Recently Sad.” Allison’s precocious achievements lead to an album deal in 2017 that has propelled her even further down the path of commercial success.

But Allison’s foray into the mainstream limelight has done nothing to compromise her commitment to authentic, soul-searching tunes. Clean has so many strong tracks it’s difficult to decide which ones to highlight (ahem – just listen to it – ahem)… but if you insist: “Your Dog”, “Scorpio Rising” and “Wildflowers” rock my socks.

Bonus: she’s touring! Check her out online, in person, any way you can.

The Lost Art Of Liner Notes: Country Chart-Busters Volume 5 (1974, Columbia Records)

Posted on by Paul in Albums, Classic Albums | Leave a comment

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After a lengthy break from writing about liner notes written on the back covers of random old LPs, our Lost Art of Liner Notes series returns as I make my way through a bounty of ten cent records I acquired on a recent record shopping expedition.

Today we take a look at a record which featured a minimal amount of liner notes – the fifth edition of a country music compilation series entitled Country Chart-Busters. So why write about the liner notes when they don’t really say that much, you may ask? Well folks, they do say that a picture is worth a thousand words but for the picture that accompanies the liner notes on the back cover of this album … well, really there are no words. See for yourself:
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Can’t sleep … clown will eat me.

Why someone though it would be a good idea to include a grainy photo of some creepy-as-hell clown on a collection of country hits I have no idea. While the front cover is a jovial, old timey depiction of three country musicians somehow managing to ride a horse simultaneously while standing up and holding guitars, the back cover is pure nightmare fuel from way out of left field. Is he supposed to be a rodeo clown or is he some ghoul who will murder you in your sleep while the sounds of Johnny Paycheck and Barbara Mandrell play softly in the background? Or worse yet, is he Crazy Joe Davola?

Anyways, read the liner notes below while trying to figure out who thought this was a good design idea and whether they got to keep their job after this was released. And then try to scrub this horrific image from your memory forever. The sweet sounds of Lynn Anderson may help in that regard.

The most amazing thing about Country Chart-Busters, Vol. V is that all of these songs are on one album. ten of the biggest stars in the World of Country performing the classics that have made country music what it is today. Songs like “Kids Say The Darndest Things” by Country Queen Tammy Wynette, Lynn Anderson’s “Fool Me” and “Nice ‘N’ Easy” by the fastest rising star in country music, Charlie Rich. Stars like Sonny James, Freddy Weller, Connie Smith, Barbara Mandrell, Jody Miller, David Houston and Johnny Paycheck make Country Chart-Busters Vol. V an album worth writing home about. There’s only one way you’ll ever hear such amazing talent performing material of such outstanding caliber and you’re holding it in your hands.

The Lost Art Of Liner Notes: Baroque Bouquet – Plant Music (1975, Amherst Records)

Posted on by Paul in Albums, Classic Albums | Leave a comment

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Liner notes. They can get pretty weird sometimes. And there are perhaps none weirder than those of Plant Music, a collection of “Music to keep your plants Healthy and Happy.” Yes, apparently the great scientific minds of yesteryear (or possibly just a couple of stoned botanists) decided to dedicate their efforts to finding out exactly the right mix of instrumental music to soothe your savage plants. I guess it probably checks out – just look at the great effects of music on the growth of Audrey II.

I can’t help but question their expertise though after seeing them refer to acid rock as an “extremely simple musical form.” Not cool, man. Not cool. Also, what the hell is up with that bit where they casually mention the “sacrificing of animal life” being used as the stimulus in one earlier experiment? That’s pretty messed up. Maybe Audrey II really was involved in these experiments …

Anyways, check out the liner notes:

That music has profound effect upon life forms has been intuitively felt since antiquity. The effect of music upon plant growth has been studied at least since 1906. Bose (1906) suggested that plants may nearly be deaf. However one of his followers, Singh (1965), states that plants excited by pure notes of high frequency give direct responses and that under musical irradiation certain plants have improved both in yield and quality.

Weinberger (1968) reports that exposing wheat seeds and growing plants to high pitched sound can triple their growth.

Backster (1968) observed plant responses by means of a polygraph. Though not specifically referring to music as a stimulus to plant response he was led to the hypothesis that plants posess an “undefined primary perception” capability. He reports that such perception was indirectly demonstrated by the polygraph to which the plants were connected. The sacrificing of animal life in an adjacent room was the stimulus.

It seems to us (Boyles/Shannon) that to the degree in which Backster’s hypothesis is true, plants show this facility to “primarily perceive” music stimuli and possibly to respond selectively to contrasting types of music. 

This was part of the basis for our interest in the question: Do growing plants respond to energy sources in the form of musical sound, and if so, what generalizations can be made regarding the “types” of musical sound to which plants may selectively respond?

We reviewed the descriptions of existing experimentation done in the past and found that both strong positive and negative (stem slant) existed in experiments in terms of music varieties. The plants in all the experiments, in which we  were able to read the results, appeared as if a wind had blown plant stems uniformly away from one “type” of musical sound source and uniformly toward a musical sound source of another “kind”. We also found an accelerated deterioration of plant life quality ending in nearly 100% mortality after days of such exposure. The method of experimentation are all fairly alike: Environmental chambers were used, like plants were used in as many types of music as were being tested. Equal light sources were used as well as circulating fans. Temperatures of the chamber were also equal, and humidity factors were the same. The variable, of course, in all experiments was the types of music. After the experiments the plants were measured for life and growth in many ways.

A. Degree of slant of the stems both to and from the sound source.
B. Amount of root growth as contrasted to the other members of the studies.
C. Amount of new foliage.
D. Overall height and width of the plants

Within the limitations we have described, it appears that growing plants respond both toward and away from contrasting sound energies introduced into their environments.

Response to Bach and Shankar musical forms is evident in all experiments we have read. response away from percussion, and also from non-mathematical and extremely simple musical forms (acid rock) is equally evident.

We conclude that some presently unknown plant response mechanism may operate in sonic manipulated environments or that some known mechanism may respond in some unknown manner in such environments.