Saturday, September 19, 2015

Nitpickery: Converting Vegetarians II

Hey y'all.  So Converting Vegetarians II is out digitally, and the audio cd will be out in October.  The songs, however, are all out on Soundcloud now.  I don't know if that's the best business decision, but what do I know about the music industry?

It's been weeks since I started my Daft Punk vs. Infected Mushroom review.  I've been listening to IM near nonstop since then, with a break for three different versions of Los Peces en el Rio when the mood struck.  But it's been a crap ton of Infected Mushroom, particularly a number of their non-album songs.  Holy crap, these guys do a lot of work.  Apparently Duvdev and Erez have their solo careers as well.  I don't know how they get it all done.

In any case, the point is that my experience with the band has changed.  I still love them and everything, but my inner cynic is rising to the surface.  As it does.  After repeated listening, I'm starting to see what the critics of Infected Mushroom are saying.  Granted, I never did fully disagree with them.  Over time, Infected Mushroom has become a little more open to people not of the electronic genres.  My defense was that this was IM's choice because of what they as musicians like, not because of executives, and that they stuff they make, whether mainstream or not, is generally good.

Also, some of the protest against IM's apparent usage of more mainstream sounds is because some people want their musicians to be like their secret club: only the hardcore allowed.  I sympathize with this opinion only to the degree that I don't want IM to just do club music.  Club music, particularly these days, is generally shallow.  It only requires a danceable beat.

All the same, complexity is very important.  These guys need to remember to be complex, because their complexity has generally been their major draw.  Particularly if they're going to do a throwback album.  I was very excited for Converting Vegetarians II, especially since I discovered the guys at the right time to get into their stuff and learn to appreciate them for who they are in time to anticipate it.  Now that I can listen to it, let's assess how well it did.  I'll be judging its songs based on two criteria: how much I want to listen to them, and how much they reflect the Converting Vegetarians spirit, as established by the first album of that name.

But before we get into that, let's talk about the album cover.  I part like it, part don't.  It sort of reminds me of the Vicious Delicious cover, in that it's trying too hard to be creepy, and the color combination isn't that eye-catching.  At the same time, it does imply a sinister world, and has much more depth.  Notice that the brain is being converted both by machine and by organic life.  I like that.  On the other hand, it's nothing but implied violence, lacking the bright blue background which made CV1's cover stand out.  Though I do appreciate that it's primarily orange instead of red.

All in all, I'd rank it as one of the lesser album covers.  It lacks humor and worldbuilding evident in most of Infected Mushroom's art.  I'dve liked it better if someone had decided not to make it a metal-like cover.  Had they tried for something more odd, more in line with the first four albums' art, it would've been more interesting.

Alright, to the songs now.  The things that characterized Converting Vegetarians 1 were oddity for its own sake, humor, and calm, relaxed complexity.  It personally reminds me of jamming on the back porch with good friends.  Which of the songs here does the same?

1. She Zorement
I like this one.  It's a little more club-ish than I'd like, but it's still got humor.  The humor makes it a little like Converting Vegetarians, as do the odd sounds Duvdev blends in.  It's not quite the album opener that Converting Vegetarians was (holy crap, they need to stop naming stuff "Converting Vegetarians"), but the lyrics are great.  Thumbs up.

2. Yamakas in Space
This is kind of a weird name for a trancey song, but alright.  I really love this one.  It's very odd and ambient.  It's the sort of thing I'd expect for an album with this name.  So yeah, it represents the CV sound very well, calling to mind some of the later tracks on disc 2 of its predecessor.

3. Sense of Direction
I like this one.  It's always fascinating to hear Duvdev's voice edited into sounding female.  "Duvdevina" is a great singer.  This isn't as strong as the previous two songs, but it's something that feels very nice, and does sound CV in the non-lyric parts.  The lyrics are a bit emo, but I think they're the best lyrics on the album.  They aren't trying too hard, and they blend well with the music.  It's not a standout, but it's nice. 

4. Animatronica
Saslknsfdovsdph.  Andafoldsdnsknvds.  This song is so great it melts my brain.  This sounds exactly like the way an 80s child fantasy movie feels.  This is like flying through space on a centaur.  Like fantasy turned into reality.  Like all the best bedtime stories.  Like everyone's favorite metaphors in a blender.  When I first heard the preview for this song, I listened to it on repeat for over an hour.  Not joking.  Then when the Soundcloud playlist came out, this track went on again and again.  Akfsnofiewishdsfd.  10/10, gg no re.

My only complaint about this song is that the transition from the introduction into the part which became the preview is really clunky.  It's like IM made the preview, and then just stapled the first part onto it for the full version.  I'm getting used to it, but it's still a little weird.  Not that it's stopped me from listening to this song a million times more.  Is it like Converting Vegetarians?  I don't think so.  CV1 was more meditative -- it wasn't the sort of music that takes me on a journey the way this song does.  At the same time, when a song is this good, I don't particularly care.

5. Feelings
Maybe this would be better if it didn't have lyrics.  Also, I'm not a huge fan of how accoustic this song is.  It's definitely not at all CV, besides perhaps being a little meditative.  Honestly, it's not great.  If they'd removed the words and just played around with the background music more, it would be better.  I don't hate it or anything, but it's letdown right after my new favorite.  Plus, Duvdev said it reminded him of Justin Timberlake.  Gross.

6. Pink Froid
Uh, no.  Not so much.  It's too derivative of Pink Floyd.  Some people might like that, judging from Soundcloud's listen counter, but I personally don't find it that appealing.  Not to mention that the name is an old, old pun.

7. Demons of Pain
Despite being off put by the name, I actually like this one.  The background music is nice and icy, and the words are fitting.  There's something nice and 90s about this one.  Again, not CV, but it's good for what it is.  I love the simple pleasantness of it.

8. Zoan Zaound
Uh....nice name.  Anyway, this is probably the most "Converting Vegetarians" the album gets.  It has both the oddity and chirpy humor of CV1, though not quite the depth.  Perhaps it's a more of a disc 1 feature.  Shockingly repetitive for an IM song, but still worth hearing.

9.  Blue Swan 5
Not at all CV.  Converting Vegetarians never depended on electric guitars like this.  At the same time, I do like the track.  It has a nice level of complexity to it, feeling very adventurous and exciting.  Which is good, since it's one of the longer tracks on the album.  Seriously, there's so many short tracks on this one.

10. Fields of Grey
Ah, the commercial hit of the album.  The lyrics are CV1, but not the way they were used.  To be honest, the words are super cheese.  Very typical of electric pop.  I'm very glad to hear, however, that the words were written before Sasha Grey entered the picture.  Her participation in this song is its worst aspect.  She adds nothing to the song that couldn't have been done by Duvdevina, or any female vocalist.  Her words are auto-tuned to death.  At the same time, I'm not all that excited about Duvdev's vocals either.  Not in the album version, that is.

J'adore the accoustic version. 

As far as the album version goes, I'm getting used to it.  The background music is nice, and Duvdev does a good job.  Strangely though, I like both the words and background music when they're split up more than when they're together.

11. Leopold
I like the first minute or so.  At the 1:27 point, it turns right into cheese.  In fact, it comes pretty close to a video game song I've heard before.  This is straight up NES here.  I suppose the random, mixed nature of the sounds in this song is very like CV1. This is oddity for oddity's sake, undeniably. I like more the more I listen to it.

12. On the Road Again
Glitchy anthem trance.  More of a no, for me.  Not CV1, and not something I'm excited to listen to.  It's not awful, but it's pretty forgettable.

13. Stuck in a Loop
It's alright.  Very calm, very trancey.  CV1 in a sort of meditative sense.  The vocal samples are unnecesary, but it's a nice, sleepy song.  I'm sorry to say it's a bit too typical for my tastes, but there's nothing really wrong with it.

14. Mexicali
Ah, here we go.  The rockish elements take it further away from CV1, but Mexicali is a good song overall.  It has complexity and depth, and is perfect to sit there and listen to with your headphones on.  It doesn't seem all that Mexican, but hey, if it sounds good, whatever.

15. The Surgeon
It's a nice album ender, one that encompasses the old and new sounds of Infected Mushroom very well.  It builds slowly, becoming one of those songs you really have to listen to a lot to appreciate well.

Overall, this is a pretty good album.  Sadly, I don't feel it's a proper sequel to Converting Vegetarians.  The first album of that name was strikingly different, and each song (on the second disc) was its own meditation on sound.  While there are good sounds here, they incorporate rock in a way CV1 never did.  Also, the last four songs tend to blend into each other too much.  It would have been much better if they'd named this album Animatronica, and given the album art some sort of mechanical do-up.  That way fan expectations wouldn't have been so high.

Then again, by naming this Converting Vegetarians II, they brought back in fans hoping that this would be another pure psytrance romp.  While it's certainly closer than any album since Vicious Delicious, CVII represents the place that Infected Mushroom is at now, not any place it used to be.  While I would love a pure psytrance album from the guys, even if they do go back to the genre, it will be on their terms, not on expectations of things gone by.

Trouble is, the guys seem to have interpreted Converting Vegetarians as an ambient album.  Well, they made it, so I can't really argue.  To me, though, ambience wasn't the defining feature of Converting Vegetarians.  Yes, things were mellow and intense, but there's more than one way to be ambient.  CV1 represented cold oddity, a sort of sinister concoction of tunes that each went their own direction.  This album doesn't live up to that.  It lacks the bold experimentation and relaxed humor of its predecessor.

At the same time, Converting Vegetarians II isn't bad.  It just didn't need to be burdened with all the expectations of one of Infected Mushroom's best albums.  If you like imaginative ambient, here you go.  This album is perfect to write to, what with its emo lyrics and imaginative music voyages.  It's just not as intense as some of their previous work. 

Fans can complain about it all they want, but Infected Mushroom has changed.  You can either take them as they are, or whine that nothing stays the same.  Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger, my friends.  Daft Punk didn't stay grungy, and we don't stay children.  We have to move on.  It's not as if modern Infected Mushroom sucks.  At its worst, IM is meh, and IM is very rarely meh.  I'm a bit concerned that their move to America made them emulate American music too much, but so far, they've been doing pretty good.  Next time they just need to be inspired by things that aren't Justin Timberlake related, and have guest vocals who are actual singers.

And now, to listen to Animatronica again.  And again and again.

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