Monday, April 20, 2009

Sleepytime Gorilla Museum - Of Natural History (2001)

Sleepytime Gorilla Museum are, in this reviewer's opinion, the single most exciting band of the 21st century. Their sound is difficult to describe, primarily because it is so unique. Part heavy metal, part Henry Cow-style avant garde, part high concept performance art, they are truly a breed apart and always full of surprises.

This is their second, and widely considered their best, album (so far.) It is a vaguely conceptual piece dealing with the combined themes of Italian Futurism and the Unibomber. If that sounds like nonsense, it's because it is. Although all the members are virtuosos and clearly take their art seriously, they are not without a sense of humor, as illustrated by the song "Cockroach," a deadpan, yet hilarious, condemnation of the lowly insect.

The band's instrumental makeup includes violin, male and female vocals (both stellar,) guitars basses, a myriad of exotic percussion devices, and several very unusual homemade instruments including the aptly named "Viking Longboat." I saw them perform last week and it appears they have added trombone and flute to their repertoire as well.

The live show bears mentioning, as it is a highly entertaining affair complete with elaborate costumes, free-associative rants from the band members and sometimes bizarre dancing from an enigmatic performer known as Momo. But back to the album.

Of Natural History contains much of the band's finest work. There are stomping metal anthems, soft but intense dirges, instrumental interludes that change time signatures so often that even us musical snobs struggle to keep up, field recordings of a country farmer teaching the band a song he composed when he was four, and a charming duet featuring a songbird.

Seriously, check them out. You won't be disappointed.

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