Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Review+ Spotlight: Shining - Grindstone (2007, Rune Grammofon)

Layers, so many layers…
FIrst, a few words about the band from the bio I wrote on them for Prog Archives: 

"First period"
Shining was formed in 1999 by Jørgen Munkeby (guitar, sax and various instruments) when he moved from his hometown of Tønsberg to Oslo to study in the Norwegian State Academy of Music. As he has been playing in bands ever since he was ten years old, he wished to form a new one in Oslo. In this new school there was a good opportunity for him to choose musicians for this project of his and he chose three he thought to be the best. This new band started playing Jørgen's music he wrote for the band and also performed in several shows as a support band, in which Jørgen says the band gave highly energetic shows, playing loud and fast. In 2001 the band released their first album, Where The Ragged People Go on "bp Records", and in 2003 after a tour in China, they released Sweet Shanghai Devil on "Jazzland Records". These two albums are strictly acoustic jazz music, with much improvisation and with a hardcore feeling which is due to the way they were recorded - "Ragged was recorded with only two microphones, S S Devil with three". Jørgen say that they set themselves rules of how they should and should not play. However by the time they released those two albums, they felt those rules are too restricting for them, preventing them to do something else, more varied.

"Second period"
Since the band members were playing and composing in other bands as well (for instance, Jørgen and Morten playing in Jaga Jazzist) they were exposed and experienced in playing other types of music. For their next album they used as many instruments as they could, and took advantage of everything they could in studios to get the mixed genre result that is In the Kingdom of Kitsch You Will Be a Monster, which was released through Rune Grammofon in 2005. Shining's lineup was reinforced after that album with a new bassist and keyboards player (Andreas Schei from Jaga Jazzist). 2007 sees the release of Grindstone which continues Kingdom's sound and progresses from it as well.

In their two albums, In the Kingdom of Kitsch You Will Be a Monster and Grindstone, once you get passed the aggressiveness and noisy parts, and give the album a proper listen, you will realize there is a lot that is missed on initial listening. Additional layers of music reveal themselves, more instruments are heard through all the seeming chaos and various styles of music manifest themselves throughout the tracks.
You start to appreciate their ability to create levels inside their music that become apparent as you train your ears with their albums. It can be brutal at times, but it is also melodic (and even Kitschy.). The instrumental music in one track can be this aggressive type mentioned or can be a more amorphic and experimental while in others you hear a minor jazz influence. All in all, they created their own sound. The music is complex, shifting a lot throughout the track, many odd time signatures which alternate, use of a variety of sounds to create their style, and at times gets quite heavy (not in a classic metal kind). It is however a varied album and the tracks, while having a thread connecting between them in terms of their sound and spirit, each has its special place and identity and is different from the others.
When looking at the musicians, composers and bands that they state as their influence, one gets the idea of how they got to their present sound.

It is well worth the time to look over the new for interviews with the band and Jørgen and read about their influences, their early time together and about small anecdotes like the song titles.

The following is taken from the press release of Grindstone and it is one paragraph shortly giving the musical background of the band:
"The press dropped many names when trying to place Shining´s previous album on the musical map, from The Mars Volta and Slayer via King Crimson and Mahavishnu Orchestra to Henry Cow, This Heat, Ornette Coleman, Ligeti and Messiaen. One thing they all agreed on was the striking originality of this young group who had gone through a radical transition from starting out as a postbop jazz quartet. With "In The Kingdom Of Kitsch You Will Be A Monster" they tried to squeeze in as much as they could, but masterful editing and production from Kåre Chr. Vestrheim made it all stick together in a very convincing way. Vestrheim is also the producer of this album."

Source for bio - several interviews done with Jørgen.

Thanks to Jørgen for providing the background material for the bio.

Now to the review of Grindstone:

I had the pleasure to add Shining to Prog Archives and in the process I got to know the band and its history better. The band also helped with the addition, sending me information needed for it, and for that I thank them (not to mention my enthusiasm with their music). This album belongs to the band’s “second period” where they stray away from their “first period” where they released two albums and played acoustic jazz with improvisation and with a hardcore feel due to the recording manner. As they felt they no longer want to play within the constraints they set upon themselves, they moved on to their next stage in which Grindstone belongs. (Read the bio in their page to know more, and use the links there to visit their website and Myspace and listen to their music).

This is the story of a certain person listening for the first time to Shining and he chose Grindstone to begin with: “It starts with a bang.

I was struck straight in my brain auditory center.

Dazed, my brain recuperated, still dizzy and shaking from the wall of sound, unable to discern the notes apart, as they came on ceaselessly, mercilessly, attacking and charging over and over.

I then re-assembled my listening sense, told it to be courageous, raise its shields and try and absorb the audio assault.

Now, when I was all prepared and knowing my enemy I started again. And low and behold, the experience was amazing! With more and more listens, I came to realize the beauty behind the beast; the delicacy behind the “savagery”; the sophistication of the arrangements, the instrumentation, and the compositions all of which are built into layers. Their quirkiness and oddity and the beauty of those.”

Well I am over-dramatizing it, obviously, as I got into their music from first listen actually, but it is true that their music is a sort of “attack” on your senses and if unprepared or unaware, a track like “Winterrise” might repel you or simply stun you.

Variety, aggressiveness and quirkiness - The album’s nature is one of very high energy and even aggressiveness. While there are some intervals to breath somewhere in the middle (track 5 for instance “Moonchild Mindgames”), it is most of the time relentless. It is also “weird” or experimental as I prefer to see it. They opt for trying to create new sounds, new ways of creating melodies. They sure not like to conform and play it safe. Their varied sounds, are not made up of taking others music or style and re-hash it, but rather take from several sources to blend it, “bake” it, add their own ingredients and prepare a “musical cake” of their own. They can be weird like in “1:4:9” and yet this is to me at least (and I realize I am into these kind of things) a well thought-out experiment in constructing a melody from ingredients and an approach which would usually not be used to do so. This track is a dark passage into the final installment in this album, “Fight Dusk With Dawn”.

Layers - Shining’s music is built layers upon layers. At first it might seem like some cacophony, but you must concentrate and focus on it, identifying the main thread of the music, follow it and then will hear the other layers which can confuse and give the illusion or the appearance of chaos (maybe controlled chaos would be a good description). Take the two first tracks, where there are many instruments involved; improvised ones along with the usual rock instruments with their hard and rough edge and then others like the flute bringing in a softer side and then keyboards adding a majestic sound to top all of it. While listening, try to follow each instrument, one at a time (obviously you’ll need repeated listens) and see if you get what I mean.

Instrumentation - What is great with Shining, apart from the sound that captures you in the middle of a ring of sound, is the instrumentation. I hear so many different sounding instruments there; some sound like some improvised Their cleverness is to me, expressed in the way the build their layers using their various instruments, combining subtlety with aggressiveness (for instance the flute vs. the bass and guitar in the first track); in the fact that they build their music however they like without confining themselves to one confined style or genre. In their music they mix their experimentalism with rock, electronics, jazz, metal but I can’t say that I heard anything quite like this. Not only they have their own particular sound(s), they have a varied one at that, not restricted to one path.

Melody - Now, you’d think that with all this that I talked about, there is no music actually being played, only gimmicks. Well, that is not the case at all. Take the first track, which is named like their previous album “In The Kingdom Of Kitsch You Will Be A Monster”; it has a very melodic line, a fantastic and catchy musical phrase. “Psalm” has a beautiful female vocals backed by backing vocals, along with the guitar and keyboards which start playing quietly behind, increasing in volume slowly, then suddenly all gives way to some experimentation with the sound, and then comes back at full volume of all participants – vocals and band, giving a captivating melodic line. The combination of the female powerful chanting vocals and the guitar riffs, the contrast of roughness and delicacy is a characteristic of their music I admire. They can also be quite amusing or entertaining, like in the two short tracks “The Red Room” with some jazz put in there and “Asa Nisi Masa” with its voice alteration.

Final words - While I don’t find all of the songs being of the same entertaining factor or of equal level, the end result is that I’ve been through a musical experience like which I am not experiencing frequently. And this is one of the things I am looking for when listening to music.

This is highly recommended if you’re looking for a special experience, a non-ordinary form of progressive music, an original take on creating sounds and melodies. Give this proper several listens before judging, though. Play it at times when you’re feeling adventurous and ready to be bombarded, caressed and intrigued.

Official website
Prog Archives
YouTube Channel

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