Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Seven Song Leak: A The Sky I Scrape Review!

Questionable timing, I know, (we ought to just shut down the main page the two weeks prior to April 1st) but what follows is a brief review of the disc of demos/rough mixes of 7 songs that are presumably slated for Pearl Jam’s 10th record

Roundcorner: making the demo

 By way of background, someone who got a hold of these (a friend of the band, I assume) had contacted B a few weeks ago. B had been attempting to get them to share the material but they were unwilling to do so. The best B could do was some descriptions they passed along. He had been trying to persuade that person to make it available to us for review ever since, and that person agreed.

First of all, let me just say thank you to the person who made these available. I do NOT know who this person is. I also do not have copies of these songs. They made them available briefly this morning, streaming on a website, and B had to promise on my behalf that we would not try to rip them or share it. Since we don’t want to disqualify ourselves from leaks like this in the future we obliged. Plus being able to post a first review of new Pearl Jam material is kind of a dream come true, so I’m just gonna do what I am told. Long story short, I cannot make any of this available. I don’t have it. Neither does B.

We also just got to listen to the songs once, and what follows is from that one listen, so take all of it with a grain of salt. it’s not like I just got to spend 4 hours listening to the same 7 tracks on repeat.

These aren’t personal demos. They seem to be the band playing developed songs, although I would presume (especially since Ed isn’t on half the tracks) these were all works in progress. The production sounded unpolished, but not nearly as abrasive as S/T and not nearly as slick as Backspacer, although that may obviously change in the final iterations of the songs.
I also didn’t pay much attention to the lyrics. Ed is hard to understand on first listen, and I was trying to just listen carefully to the song as a whole. There was a lot of mumbling in places (think anywhere in between, although this was more finished), so I think a lot of the singing was placeholder lyrics as he worked on a vocal melody. Believed In seemed the most fleshed out, lyrics wise.

I didn’t hear that much Pink Floyd, although I’m not sure exactly what that means. It is also possible these were older songs, before Mike made that comment.

Overall, I’m not sure why the leaker described all these songs in Backspacer terms. Maybe because it’s still the most recent record? I can see some of the comparisons on a few songs, but this felt like its own beast. I’m not sure the songs felt coherent as an overall collection, but this is only half of an album, nor is it at a stage where final production could give it a cohesive sonic identity. In any case, there was a lot to get excited about. They’ve been sitting on some damn fine songs.

Okay here we go.

Not the kind of song I have come to associate with Jeff. This is a fast, heavy number, but it is dirty, rather than glossy. Think Comatose or Habit (which, other than the outro, was what I was reminded of a bit more), not Supersonic. Very loud, very aggressive. Overall the sound is really pretty cool. The guitar equivalent of tires tearing up a muddy field is what I pictured (actually, imagine if You Are was sped up quite a bit). The chorus is a bit slower, and really churns in place---slow, but like it is revving up to take off again. There is a cool baseline driving the whole thing, thick and dirty. No bridge to speak of (or at least it is not so differentiated from the rest of the song that I was aware it was a bridge), but a longish outro with a pretty blistering mike solo. Fast playing, no outro jam like Habit (reminded me of an extended Comatose solo). Jeff isn’t actually singing on the verses (no one is) but he does on the chorus, which does have the lyric cold concession repeated each chorus, alongside a few other ‘adjective/noun couplets’. ‘ It’s a cold concession, it’s a bitter pill... (there were 4 or 5 phrases and then a countdown 5,4,3,2,1’ before exploding back into the verses. Not sure if this will be political or not--the chorus seemed ambiguous enough that it could go either way. I guess we’ll see how the verses are written. I’m really excited for this one. Quite possibly the thing I enjoyed the most. Granted some people don’t love how eddie sings the aggressive songs these days, but I think this is where he may be at his best right now, and with a good performance I picture this being great.

This was about three and a half minutes long.

Believed In
Mid temp acoustic number with clean accents. Not that it sounds like wishlist (it doesn’t) but the way in which the guitar compliments sound so much brighter than the rest of the song. On one listen it felt like it was reaching for some complicated stuff--the song felt let down (believed in, rather than believe in), and the music was a little minor key, but leaving open the possibility that the singer’s faith can return. That came more in the way the song was sung (eddie sounded really good with some nice wordless soaring moments and not breathy) and the musical accents and solos, which were about losing faith. Seems like the kind of political song Ed would have written given the last few years. It didn’t sound like an album opener, but it conceptually seemed like it could be a bridge between backspacer and the album. Two nice little solos between verses. I wonder if stone and mike each played one. One had a chiming, almost U2 feel to it (the second one), and the first was a bit scruffier--almost like it was trying to climb out of a darker place of the course of the two songs. Really cool pivot during the bridge--afterwards the melody is basically the same but it doesn’t feel as dragged down--like they started playing the same part in a major key (if I’m using that properly). One of the more clever songs they’ve written in a while. If I am Mine was a little cleaner and they decided to build the second half of the song around the feelings in Mike’s solo you’d get something like this--it ends with a slow ‘pattern’ that sounds really nice.

This was 4 minutes

I think it makes sense to talk about these two songs together. It’s like PJ decided to release Light Years AND puzzles and games on the same album, or matt’s version of the Fixer and eddie’s fixed version. Both songs are built around the same fractured, sideways sounding riff (that’s the best I can do to describe it--like you were playing an electric guitar with a tuning fork). Very cool songs.

Mercury turns that riff into a very fast, very relentless beast of a song. Imagine that breakferall or GSMF or Brain of J just started with the drums and then the guitar kicked in, instead of vice verse. Couldn’t really make out what eddie was snarling here (sounded placeholder--like early live versions of Lukin). No bridge. Instead the song grinds to a halt, Eddie whispers some stuff (couldn’t make it out) and then it tears off again. Badass solo that does sound like the supersonic bridge a bit, but accelerated. This and 3,2,1 would make a pretty fantastic 1-2 album opener if they wanted to go the aggressive route.

This was pretty quick. Barely over 2 minutes

If there was a Pink Floydish song on the record Transience is it. They took the Mercury riff and slowed it down, so the main riff leaves a lot of wide open spaces for the other guitar to sort of wrap itself around. Certainly more atmosphere here than anything on Backspacer (at least atmosphere in the traditional sense). There is a hushed quality to a lot of this (think the start of inside job--the opening two-three minutes). No solo to speak of. More of a soundscape in that regard. There is a bit of a slow jam at the end--not a solo as much as the two guitars are kind of weaving around each other, playing complementary parts. This song has a lot of potential, but Ed did sound a little breathy /overannunciated here, and the vocal melody felt underdeveloped.

Longer song. 5 minutes

This combo would be a great way to open/close a record--echoes of master/slave.

The Gift
A matt song. a mid tempo number that is almost catchy until Matt decides he would rather do his off kilter drumming which takes you just out of the song enough to make it vaguely unbalancing. There are lots of surprises in this one and some pretty interesting guitar interactions between stone and mike (almost like some odd call and response moments), I would have liked a smoother song to offset it. It’s all a little to disjointed for me. I bet everyone who isn’t me loves it. I didn’t pay attention to the lyrics. It’s a matt song so I’m sure I would have hated them if I had. Jeff sounds really good here. He’s fairly prominent in all these mixes, as is Matt.

4 minutes. 

This is pretty, a wobbly guitar sound that is reined in by a nice thick tone and further enhanced by a very prominent piano line. it’s very peaceful--almost like a lullaby, except meatier, and it has that odder time signature. Actually, you know what. This may reflect how the stuff I watch/listen to with my daughter has affected my musical tastes, but if the Sesame Street song Sing was performed while on gentle acid you might get something like this.

3 and a half minutes.

Alford Pleas
I’m not sure I’d call this one an instant classic, but it does sound like an Ed song, or at least the style I associate with him (although I guess it isn’t or it would have lyrics already). It starts out like the faster part of Unthought Known with some electric humming in the back that turns into a siren guitar that I liked. the beginning is fairly conventional (I don’t mean that in a bad way though), although it is catchy. About a minute in though the song totally changes direction, and becomes a bit more spacier (a little too abrupt for my tastes), or at least as much like that as Pearl Jam gets. It slows down, gets claustrophobic and a little creepy, and then ends going back to the earlier themes. it feels like the most collaborative of all the songs on here--elements of a few different people’s signature styles, (ed and Jeff, anyway). The quality here is a bit muted compared to the other songs though. No words yet from Ed, although it really sounds like they wrote this song to be a musical platform for the WM3 story. I wonder if they want to let that guy who collaborated with Ed on Army Reserve do some writing for it.

4 minutes

(transience was last on what we heard, but I don't know that the order is significant)

Overall, this is a very promising set of songs. 3,2, 1 and Transience/Mercury in particular have me very excited, and Believed In was also pretty clever and felt fresh. Alford Pleas and Jumbled both have a lot of potential. The Gift, but I suspect what I was uncertain about other people will love. If nothing else, this has me REALLY excited for the new record. I can’t say if it will be a classic or not based on what I heard, especially since Ed’s voice tends to be what makes or breaks the songs and he can be hit or miss, but if he brings his A game to the studio this could be a pretty excellent record. Thank you again so much to whoever made this available! And to B, for making this happen.