Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Review: Olive Mess - Gramercy (2002, Soleil Zeuhl)

What a wonderful mess 

Starting with a somewhat medieval sounding piece, it then morphs into a faster pace with the female singer Ilze with her stunning soprano – I am sure that this will take most if not all listener by surprise even if you know it’s coming. Now when disregarding the vocals for a minute, I noticed that the music reminds me of a 70’s prog rock French bands with their theatrical and somber approach (for some reason I thought of Arachnoid). Anyway, the complexity is there and after developing that main part long enough, they go on with their show, taking another musical route, evolving from only to come back in the end to the main theme, not before experimenting and “playing around” a bit. In this part Ilze half speaks, half sings (though not in a soprano). Her voice is stunning, full of power and emotion and when she sings in her “normal” voice it’s haunting and I would guess that a duo of her and Diamanda Galas would be interesting to listen to. 

Two characteristics that I find dominant throughout their music is a folk sound, brought about by the acoustic guitar; and the theatrical and avant-garde (not always together) with brushes of somberness which, as I said above, reminds me of 70’s French prog bands, such as Arachnoid. This second aspect in their music is due to the arrangements of the songs and the way Ilze sings. Apart from that, I like the way they develop their songs, going about and not afraid to break out totally from the original route, only to come back to it later, all the while keeping things interesting whether it’s by the complexity of the compositions or the instrumentation that is at play. At times it might sound, like I read in other reviews, too “messy” to listen to. That is probably because not enough attention and listens have been given to absorb this large-scope album, which has long songs with complex and winding structure. Naturally, first listens may cause confusion and thinking that the band is not focused or simply that the music is too chaotic to enjoy it. The “mess” will clear out as more attention and concentration is applied with subsequent listening. 

What one needs to do with this album if he finds it too cumbersome, is to “split” it in his mind. Focus on one instrument or the vocals; follow them as the music goes on; see how they go about and what melody they play. Then on the next listen, pick a different instrument. This way you’ll figure it out eventually (hopefully). This is actually a good way to listen to any album that gives you hard time to “solve” it structure. 

Ilze’s vocals – while some might be daunted, I actually think this is not only a plus side of this album it’s also one of its highlights. She masters her voice, singing in either soprano or the more theatrical, half-spoken half-sung vocals. 

Complexity/experimentation – a very good sense of adventure is what these musicians have. This is not at the expense of the melody, but as an addition to it. One only needs to understand the “context” in which it is composed and played. This is not a weird or too quirky sort of experimentation (relative to other bands in this “field”). All the while there is a good sense of direction of where they’re leading us to, what musical idea is being developed and what sound is trying to be achieved. It might be that it is too large in scope to grasp, which is why repetitive listens need to take place. Don’t dismiss this after just one listen. These are wonderfully thought-out musical pieces, both in terms of lyricism and composition. They do put a lot of effort into writing their lyrics which are as long as the tracks. 

Fantastic pieces of music, well executed and inspiring; this album will appeal to those who like an adventure, something different and yet familiar in that it takes from styles and influences mentioned above and that are part of prog-rock’s legacy.

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