Friday, August 7, 2015

Infected Mushroom Part 2: The Electric Driven Period

Hey y'all.  So I mentioned in my previous post that there are three stages to Infected Mushroom, and this stage, containing Converting Vegetarians and IM the Supervisor, is what I'm going to call the electric driven period.  It's where Infected Mushroom broke from their original psytrance sound and decided to try new things. That doesn't mean they broke free instantaneously.  Fan expectations are always going to be problems, no matter who you are and what you do.

This is something I call "the webcomic effect."  It happens in every art form, but is most obvious in web comics.  That is, the writer/artist is in a process of learning what they want to do with their comic, and after a while, they figure out exactly what the plan is, often resulting in a comic becoming very different.  The trouble is, this realization of what the author wants often comes at a cost at alienating the things that early fans liked.  To the author, the things they stopped doing are just dead ends.  To the fans, those are important details that were never addressed, or the ideas that drew them in, but aren't being continued.

It happens with music, too.  In most cases, it happens later in music than it does in other art forms. The musician, at first, can do whatever is on his heart.  Later on, however, he has to make money if he wants to continue.  Or he can just be bored of the same old and want to try new things.  The latter is more than likely the motivation for Infected Mushroom's biggest change: a turn away from pure psytrance.  It was a slow change, and probably reflects who Erez and Duvdev are as people.  Nobody can stay producing the same stuff all the time, and this feeling already shows by their album history at this point.

For this period, Infected Mushroom finally emerged from the over-serious, artsy-fart intellectual depths of psytrance and allowed themselves to try new things.  I call it "electric driven" because even while IM is emerging from pure psytrance, they were not yet bringing in the rock influence that characterizes the albums of the next period -- they were, to my ear, drawing from other electronic music genres.  There's dance, techno, and vocal house influence all over these albums.  It's as though IM wants to experiment, but they're being extra careful not to stray too far from their audience.

However, they really were breaking free of fan expectations, and better yet, they were doing it on purpose.  They weren't simply making music until the fans got sick of it, or until they changed into people that no longer felt emotionally connected to the sound they produced.  They were making purposeful strides to change their sound choices so that not only would their sound not grow stale, but so their albums could grow alongside the band and their fans would be used to their change.


Album #4: Converting Vegetarians

It feels like the change in sound was hesitant, as this is IM's only two disc release.  The first cd is more of a culmination of everything they've done so far, like a natural progression of what they've become.  But it also feels like a pat on the head for those that prefer IM's older style, a way IM can "pay their dues" before moving on to better sounds.

The second disc was where they decided to go a more experimental route, one that is less psytrance and more open and warm.  Trust me, I've been listening to a ton of psytrance lately, and psytrance is not open or warm.  Disc 2 turns out to be my favorite kind of electronic music -- the extremely strange but unabrasive tones of oddity for its own sake.  I have been looking forward to this disc the entire time I've been writing these.



Let's talk about the album cover real quick.  This is a great cover.  It's simplistic, but the simplicity represents both the more refreshing turn in the music from disc to disc, and is an efficient way to make the concept of the title pop.  It's like the artists took a brain on a fishhook and are going "here, vegetarians, have a tasty, tasty brain!"  It's both funny and creepy at the same time.  I especially like the pale blue background.  It's a nice, peaceful contrast to the inherent violence of a brain on a hook. Adding to the humor factor is the way Infected Mushroom printed the title of the album.  It sure does look like a "Grade A Meat" label.

My only (small) complaint about it is that it doesn't particularly match the songs inside the album.  I guess that's debatable, but I'd expect an album with a brain on a hook to have more violence, or something.

Songwards!

1. Albibeno
I wasn't quite sure about this one at first, but then it really got good.  I am all about this track.  It's the perfect blend of dancing and listening music.

2. Hush Mail
Y'know, the second cd is supposed to be the experimental side, but this is a real weird beginning right here. It's not a bad track, but it's not all that easy to get into.  On the whole it's solid, yet it's bouncing back and forth between the annoyingly experimental and the fairly typical.

3. Apogiffa Night
Three out of three song titles, and I still haven't understood one of them.  Oh well.  It isn't as if that isn't SOP for electronic music. Okay, so a cinematic beginning...hm, pretty nice.  Nothing that exciting, but it's good.  On the whole it feels like part of a soundtrack for a fight movie.

4. Song Pong
Oooh, that beginning.  I also really like the sounds chosen for this particular song.  They feel haunting, weird, and even a little relaxing, in a way. Nice

5. Chaplin
This one takes a couple of repeat listens to really get.  I love the beginning, but after that it gets a bit dry for a couple minutes.  Picks up again at the 3:40 mark.  It doesn't really reach its potential until the last minute of it, but it's still pretty good.

6. Echonomix
This album keeps getting better.  This is a very strange track, and it sounds very strange and interesting. 

7. Scorpion Frog
Y'know, I'm not sure how to feel about this song.  It's got some good sounds, but it feels like they could have been used in a more interesting way.  It feels like bits and pieces of this song are better than the others, and that the good bits should have been emphasized more.  On the other hand, it's pretty nice after five minutes.

8. Deeply Disturbed
This track is well loved by much of the IM fanbase.  It's got more subtle use of sound sampling, as though they wanted to do a reference to the sound of BP Empire while not going full psytekk.  It's a great song, but the voice sampling bothers me.  It's "I'm deeply disturbed and I'm deeply unhappy." I disagree with these lyrics -- or maybe just the latter half -- because IM makes me happy. This song in particular makes me feel very happy.

In short, this song is the best standout of the album and is just generally great, other than the lyrics.

9. Semi Nice
Accordiooooooon.  The world needs more accordion in it.  And even when the accordion goes away, the humor and wonkiness of the instrument doesn't leave the song.  This song just wants to have fun, and it does, oh it does.  The ending is appropriately odd.  Not just semi nice, but really nice.

10. Yanko Pitch
...Does this title have something to do with baseball?  Like, "Yankee pitch?"  I dunno.  Anyway, I like how the grit of this song clashes with the humor of the previous.  It's bound and determined to take things seriously, and it wants to dance.  It's not as strange as the rest of the tracks, but it's a comfortable, solid piece that I like listening to.  The last two minutes of this song are LOVE.

As much as disc 1 is solid psytrance, I don't feel like it's enough of a progression from the older stuff. Plus it lacks most of the fun of Classical Mushroom or the cold depth of BP Empire.  For that matter, it lacks the abrasive challenge of The Gathering.

The real critical flaw of this disc was that it was arranged backwards. With the exception of Albibeno, the album started only alright and then went on a long, upward slope in quality from the beginning of the disc.  Thus, the listener is burnt out on the less interesting stuff before the good stuff has a chance to kick in.  I'm ready to suggest that people should listen to this disc backwards.

Not that any song on this disc is horrible, mind you.  It's just really clear that IM wanted to get a move on towards more experimentation.

Disc 2 time!

11. Converting Vegetarians.
THIS IS MY SONG.  It is strange, odd, and the lyrics blend perfectly with the music to create an absurd mix of nonsense.  It's marvelous, a perfect blend of perfect elements.  Now come on, vegetarians, and get your tasty, tasty brains!

...On a mostly unrelated note, I wonder how a vegetarian would feel morally about becoming a zombie.

12.  Elation Station
Exactly what it says on the tin.  It's a perfect song to listen to to feel happy, or maybe to get into the car and drive to the beach with.  

13. Drop Out
This is a creepy, soothing track.  I don't even know how to begin to explain how weird it is.  The sample at the beginning seems abrasive at first, but the more you listen to the song, the more it makes sense. 

14.  Avratz
Another soothing, exotic track.  It makes me feel good and comfortable.  Surprisingly natural for electronic music.

15. Blink
...As much as I like this cd, IM didn't do everything right.  Like this song, for example.  While the music itself is nice and spacey, the lyrics are stupid.  They're basically self important, meaningless drivel, made even worse by the dreary, progressive speak-singing of the female vocals. It's like a fifteen year old British girl wrote the words when she was bored in geometry class.  The epicness of the music doesn't match the trivialness of the words.  All I can hope is that there's an instrumental of this song floating around somewhere.

16. Shakawkaw
Like the title implies, this song isn't entirely serious.  The beginning might sound that way, but overall this is just a mellow, fun song.  It's definitely on my top ten list of best IM songs.

17. Pletzturra
Man, they sure went with a lot of chillout this disc.  A refreshing, natural track with great piano.  It combines the sounds of trance with a the melodramatic whines of old black and white cinema music, all before going straight into what feels like a tour of a distant tribal culture.  This song is definitely a voyage.  The banjo ending cracked me up.

18. I Wish
Nice electric rock fun.  The lyrics here actually work, and the male vocals are nice.  Sure, it's a tad on the melodramatic side, but there's a way to be dramatic in music without trying too hard.  This is it.

19. Ballerium
Bit more subdued right here.  This is perfect groove/study music.  It plays off normal trance with its constant, slow build up, but has more emotional sounds.  Very weird, very minimal, not particularly ballet.  Still a great song, though.  Ends in humor.

20. Selecta
Not much to say on this one.  It's just fun, electric synth.  The guys are playing around with different styles, and I love the spooky beginning.  The silly part that begins about four and a half minutes was a bit much in terms of silliness, though.  Speaks volumes about the guys' personalities, more than likely.

21. Illuminaughty
A much better example of female vocals in an electronic track.  Just a good track all around, one that's fun to listen to and just enjoy for its urbanness.

22. Jeenge
Ooh, guitar beginning, how I love this.  This song is more focused and serious, but also so great and relaxed.  It's the electronic equivalent of having a jam session on your porch at sunset.

23. Elevation
Certainly more ballet-like than Ballerium.  Lots of natural instruments open songs on this album.  So mellow, like an electric jazz club. Relaxing like a back massage.  It's making me want to fall asleep.  Something about it reminds me of the Rocky soundtrack.

It's clear that with the second disc, IM wanted to have more fun.  They'd been really serious with the previous three albums, and now they just wanted to be comical and relaxed, easing up on the melodrama.  Everyone grows up, and most of the time people relax when they do.  The second disc was much easier to listen to than the first, and more open.  Every song on the second cd besides Blink was a good one, and all they'd have to do to fix Blink is cut out the lyrics.

People can whine all they like about the "days when Infected Mushroom used to be good", but I can't sympathize with the the "edgier than thou" crowd.  Warmness and openness in music is great, especially since a lot of the stuff on and past disc 2 is stuff a person can relax to. This stuff was magnificent, fun, and not pretentious in the slightest.  I am all about Converting Vegetarians.

My suggestion for this album is to listen several times to the second disc, and then check out the first if you feel like it.  Listen to the first track and then the last three if you want to hear the best stuff.


Album #5: IM the Supervisor

This album was conceptualized when Amit was arguing with a receptionist at a German hotel. Apparently there were language barrier issues.  Um, that's a weird thing to want to immortalize with an album, but okay.  This album is less emotional and less relaxed than Converting Vegetarians, but it's still a good time.  It focuses more on dancing tracks rather than listening tracks, and wanders from trance into techno at times.



Conceptually speaking, this album cover isn't as interesting as previous ones.  It's not as complicated as BP Empire's or The Gathering's, as creative as Classical Mushroom's, or as to-the-point as Converting Vegetarians'.  All the same, it's not bad.  It creates visual interest with its details.  One also wonders what it's like to be a mushroom woman.  Doesn't look pleasant.  It matches the sound, but not the title of the album.  Unless she's supposed to be the "supervisor" of a world, spying on everyone through her violet orb.



While this cover gets more interesting the more you think about it, the pose of the figure is cliche.  I think I like the album cover version where you only see a part of her head better.  That way it's creepier when you find out it's the hair of a mushroom monster.


Don't ask me why there's so many versions of the album cover.

1. IM the Supervisor
A very catchy, danceable track.  It's not as deeply layered as much of IM's work, but it's a great club track that will catch the ears of the unintiated and bring them forcibly into the realm of the Infected. 

2. Ratio Schmatio
A fun, listening track, one that is nice and spacey.  Like IM's older work, it rewards listening, and grows better the more it goes on.  The part around four and a half minutes in is golden.  It makes me want to dance.

3. Muse Breaks RMX
A highly enjoyable track, one that is funky and weird.  It has amazing female and Jamaican-ish samples, coming together to create a party atmosphere.  Yes, it's a remix, but it's also brilliant and ecclectic.  Very attention-grabbing.

For the fun of it, I went to listen to the original of this song, by J. Views.  It's much more jazzy, much more horror. I think I like the IM version better for its cheer and fun, but it's really a matter of opinion which is better.  Objectively, they both have interest and purpose.  One's a dance track, the other's a listening track.  The best way to make a remix is to make one that allows listeners to like both the original and remix for different reasons.  And this is a demonstration of how good remixes work.

4. Meduzz
A pretty good, poppin' track.  It's not one of their best songs, but it's fun and driving.  Feels a bit like a track in a movie where something intense and fantastic is going on, like a car chase between mythological creatures.

5. Cities of the Future
I'm pretty sure this is the first IM song I ever heard.  It's either this or Becoming Insane, but more likely it was this one.  I can't even remember where I first heard it.  One of the strange things about this song is that it seems to have a lot of haters.  I'm looking up reviews right now, and they're getting on its case big time.

But y'know what?  I love it.  It's perfect, just the way it is.  Granted, it's much more techno than trance, and people might find the samples abrasive, but it's a marvelous adventure track.  The extended version is perfect for jogging, and the squelching, screeching bit after the main vocals is amazing.  The haters can all go re-listen to The Gathering.  They're happier that way.

6. Horus the Chorus.
Fact: I skip songs with bad titles.  This one included.  Horus is an Egyptian god, and it's never a good idea to play around with Egyptian mysticism.  You might think I'm nuts, and probably IM just thought this title sounded cool, but I have hypersensitivity to emotional stimuli.  If I feel weird about something, I don't mess with it.  Skipped.

7. Frog Machine
A deeper song that hits hard and weird.  I know this song has fans, but I'm not all that into it.  It's pretty fun and danceable, and I quite love the end, but most of this song just doesn't do it for me.

8. Noon
First minute or so is not that great. I like it a bit better than Frog Machine, but it feels like it's missing something.

9. Bombat
Like Noon, it has its good bits.  This one is elevated above it, I would say, as it tries a bit harder and incorporates more interesting twists and turns.  The ending is particularly nice.

10. Stretched.
I LOVE this.  It is magnificent in every single way.  It's a song of a sunset, that ending of a trippy movie where the guy rides off into the sunset with his true love while the world goes insane.  This is beautiful, perfectly incorporating trance with rock and piano.


Honestly, after reading a lot of reviews for this IM the Supervisor, I get the feeling that some people hate anything that actually sounds like it has life in it.  One hint of vocals or emotions and early IM fans become the boy that cried "mainstream." On the other hand, I can't blame them for not getting so excited about this particular album.

No, not because it's mainstream, because it isn't.  Trust me, my sister is mainstream, and she would never listen to this.  An issue that electronic listeners don't always realize they face is that they've lost all sense of what's really, truly mainstream.  If we don't have a relative, friend, or radio station at our jobs that reminds us what it means (why hello there, Random Access Memories), then we get to thinking stuff like this is.  Not even close.

The real fault of this album is that it's being carried by some good tracks, and many of the ones in the middle feel aren't that great.  There's just, overall, not that same level of depth.  There are a few outstanding tracks, and the rest feel just okay.  A bit like Converting Vegetarians disc 1, only with more of a preference for the dance club.

Let's get something out of the way.  Being "danceable" is not an insult to a song.  Two purposes of songs are listening and dancing (there's more purposes, but those are the relevant ones). Accomplishing either goal makes a song successful.  One can say that a song is a good or bad dancing song, but saying that it's just for dancing as though that's supposed to be an insult is just nonsense.

See you next time, when we'll dive right into the Rock Period, where the haters scoff and people who just want to have fun keep listening.

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