Sleepytime Gorilla Museum - In Glorious Times (The End Records)
By: Roman M. Temin
Art rock? Post-rock? Prog rock? Avant rock? Rock against rock? Post-apocalyptic minstrel show?
Whatever term you use to describe the mercurial San Francisco-based quintet known as Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, the fact is that it creates some of the most unconventional, intriguing and eclectic music known to man. The band possesses a freakish, yet refined sound to match its freakish yet engaging stage show, and on its third full-length album, it again raises the bar for quality in this style.
Anyone familiar with SGM's first two albums should immediately recognize the sound on "In Glorious Times." Much like 2004's "Of Natural History," this record kicks off with a brooding, almost cabaret-like track (called "The Companions") that begins in a mellow, minimalist and unassuming manner, but gradually builds into a massive crescendo before ebbing again. After the restrained and mellifluous opener lulls the listener into a calm and vulnerable state, "Helpless Corpse Enactment" comes as a harsh jolt to the system. This song begins with a grandiose operatic refrain, then blasts into the musical equivalent of a hail of machine gun fire. Frontman Nils Frykdahl unleashes his guttural roar over a whirlwind of dissonant harmonies, staccato chords and impossibly jagged rhythms that rival even Gorguts' "Obscura" album.
As different as the first two tracks are from each other, the level of variety on "In Glorious Times" really never wanes. The songs run a gamut of tenors, from the gritty and metallic, to the offbeat and funky, to the ornate and operatic, and everything one can fathom in between—often within a single track. And yet there is no questioning the cohesiveness of the album or any individual song. Conceptually, it's virtually seamless, held together by incredibly well-crafted arrangements that incorporate myriad instruments. Besides the standard equipment of guitars and drums, the band indulges in the esoteric (glockenspiel, autoharp, lute), along with the utterly inexplicable—piano log, Viking boat, electric pancreas and an assortment of other homemade contraptions—without even a hint of the self-congratulatory decadence and Dadaism that consumed Mr. Bungle, SGM's apparent spiritual ancestor.
But on top of everything, the two most remarkable elements of "In Glorious Times" are the vocal performances (by Frykdahl, Carla Kihlstedt and a choir of backing voices) and the nearly orgasmic violin leads Kihlstedt wrote and performed. The woman is to her instrument what Immolation's Robert Vigna is to the guitar: a mad genius who makes turning convention on its ear seem effortless.
This is easily one of the best albums you'll hear in 2007, or any other year, for that matter. It's two parts King Crimson, one part Gorguts, two parts Art Bears, one part Magma and one part Faith No More, plus trace elements of dozens of other bands and a whole lot of idiosyncrasies. "In Glorious Times" will capture your imagination, tickle your fancy, eradicate your preconceived notions of how music should sound and perhaps even skew your perception of reality.