Sunday, November 16, 2014

Qualeaceans - Capture of Ziz

Imagine that you are leaving an art museum, and somehow you have just barely managed to avoid the modern art wing. A shudder runs down your spine as flashes of Jackson Pollock’s random drippings and Duchamp’s urinal violently pop into your mind. Shrugging it off, you head home to safely unwind by listening to some new music. The bad news is that you haven’t escaped, the first thing you listen to is Qualeaceans’ “Capture of Ziz,” another silly experimentation with “forms” and “concepts.” The good news is that it isn’t anywhere near as terrible as the modern art wing, but unsurprisingly “Capture of Ziz” also has the similar major flaw of prioritizing experimentation much more greatly than musicality. While the single-song album has some very interesting highlights, the overall experience is mostly an unrewarding exercise in exploring musical ideas rather than executing those ideas to create music.

The album’s single 80 minute track titled “In The Cavern Of The Flightless” is divided into five distinct sub-parts (you know, what most bands would call songs). For the sake of both easy reference and summary evaluation we can roughly title them as follows:

Industrial Heavy: Start - 24:00
Silly Noises I: 24:00 - 40:00
Acoustic Weirdness: 40:00 - 53:30
Silly Noises II: 53:30 - 1:04:00
Sludge Heavy: 1:04:00 - End

As you can easily see, the album has a symmetric pattern of varying sections. This is a very helpful compositional tool to keep interest and cohesion for a band that needs to be paying desperate attention to both concerns. After all, it isn’t easy to keep a listener’s attention for an entire album, let along a single 80 minute track. So, having someone sit through repeated listens of Silly Noises I -& II requires some forethought. Oddly enough, the overall structure makes sense, but when you take a look at any given moment of the album there are few riffs to speak of. “Capture of Ziz” is more about establishing moods than any one particular melody. In other words, the band has a general sense of direction, but can’t work out the details.

Generally speaking, there are recurring problems across these five songs, with the most fatal being grueling repetition. It is like the band wrote small pieces of music and then copied and pasted chunks of recordings over and over again until they filled up a 20 minute song/movement. This issue plagues almost the entire album, but a very obvious example of this lazy copy-and-past repetition is in “Industrial Heavy” at around 9:30-10:30 where an uneven cymbal hit repeats around a billions times. Speaking of the drumming, its pretty damn awful. Without any real sense of rhythm, a lot of the repetitive beats feel like something a guitar player would come up with. They accent the underlying music rather than establishing a pulse; downbeat, backbeat, or otherwise. The strongest track, “Acoustic Weirdness,” also has no percussion.

The next big problem is the approach to lead melodies throughout the album. Essentially they are random and very chromatic, as if someone was trying to emulate Slayer solos but didn’t have the ability to hit notes clearly or play with that kind of overflowing speed. Most often this is with a lead guitar, but it also happens with electronic noises, flutes, harmonica, and what might be sound effects from Lost in Space. Danger, Will Robinson! Even though metal has a lot of aimless melodies used to great effect, they fall short here because they just sit on top of the ctrl+c ctrl+v song structures. This is illuminating because the more orthodox and heavy parts of the album highlight why the random and chaotic bits still sound so very flat, i.e. the excess repetition.

What then makes this album mediocre instead of completely terrible? Qualeaceans have some interesting and excitingly fresh ideas, even if they are over stretched across long troughs of compositional laziness dressed up as experimentation. In more optimistic terms, this could have been a fairly compelling EP with the proper editing. The undeniable value of music like this is how it can discover new sounds, which from a music lover’s standpoint is nothing less than thrilling. Take for example the fascinating mood in “Silly Noises”at about 28:00. Drawn out echoes with a tremolo picked lead underneath, which later gives way to ominous tremolo bass notes. Pretty damn cool.

The central highlight though is the “Acoustic Weirdness” portion of the album, where unsettling clean leads echo behind bizarre lyrics. The vocal approach here differs from the mundane approaches elsewhere. They are spoken word, but done as if the speaker had no prior experience with English. Syllables are softly accented in unusual ways, feeling more like an alien accent than a foreign one. Its a very intriguing mood, and lines about stimulating erogenous zones are so odd that they actually amplify the overall feeling. Most importantly, the tempo and energy levels vary here and that allows this movement to escape the repetition problems on the rest of the album.

Still, the interesting bits aren’t enough to save the album. Although only a few of the silly noises are unbearable enough to be overly irritating, it ends up being a question of repetition tolerance. Sure, budding creativity is often promising, which is why a band like Qualeaceans making a mediocre album probably has a brighter future than bands releasing similar quality stuff while only emulating their influences. Overall though, it isn’t the kind of album one would want to revisit after really digesting it. Moreover, the songwriting problems are severe enough that the band has a long long way to go. Like the modern art wing of the museum, “Capture of Ziz” may be worth poking your head in for a quick look, but your time is probably better spent elsewhere.

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