Jun 20, 2016, 4:43:06 PM6/20/16
Hey, wanna read a half-thought-out and way-too-long-to-read review? Sure you do.
I've now listened through Scambot 2 as many times as the space-time continuum will allow, and I'm more and more convinced that it's Mike's best work to date. I don't want to come off all sycophanty fanboy; it's not like I've reflexively drooled that sentiment all over each of his last several albums, so take that as an indication of how sincerely I mean this: Best. Keneally. Album. Ever.
Having taken the time to re-familiarize myself with Scambot 1 in preparation, I feel strongly that SB2 is a significantly greater accomplishment in terms of both delivering the narrative and providing a gratifying audio experience independent of the story. By no means am I knocking SB1, I'm simply drawing an unavoidable comparison. (I suppose I could avoid it if I really wanted to, but nope.)
I feel like the two pursuits - story-telling and music-making - are better integrated this time around. Much of the first half of SB1 has that balance. Perhaps there are a few parts that drive the narrative but might be lost on someone who wasn't intently following the story. I'm not dismissing those bits, I'm just saying that to me as a listener, they serve a narrower purpose than they might. On the flipside, the second half of the album is mostly instrumental; so unless you're reading along, the music could be about anything or nothing, as far as the listener is concerned. It's a fantastic soundtrack but it's not immediately evocative of its corresponding narrative, at least to my limited perception.
With SB2, both sides of the equation work separately and together. If you don't give a hoot about the story - and to be fair I imagine some folks won't - there's no point in the album where that listener is likely to have a "what the heck is this" moment and hit Skip. Mike could have released this album without the booklet and music lovers would still devour every second of it. But if one is following along, everything becomes so much richer, and everything matters in a whole new way. The more I absorb the story, it's like *that music* can only be about *that thing*. I would never mistake it for "random music A plus random text B". I'm feeling that direct connection where I didn't always on SB1. I'm not sure the story of Govin significantly informs my appreciation of "Gita". But in "Sam" I now feel a huge connection to Ophunji as a newly-sympathetic character.
And when I hear it live and out of context some day, I'm pretty sure that connection will remain. "Roll" will still make me think of Scambot standing up to God. "Roots Twist" will remind me of the most fucked up master/slave friendship ever to end so badly (or not, depending on your perspective). "Constructed" will make me wish I was Scambot sitting in that green room being serenaded by Ami. (No slight to Mike's performance, but I'm dying to hear a woman sing that. It would break my heart in the best way.) But anyone who's not tuned in to the story will simply have great songs to listen to. That's wonderful.
I get a sense of SB2 being born of its own purpose more so than SB1. I'm not sure that sentence made sense, so let me try again. SB1 feels to me like it contains things that weren't born of SB1, but were brought together to become part of SB1. All of SB2 sounds like it has always been part of SB2, and perhaps could only be.
Also, it doesn't hurt that SB2 is clearly a more accessible collection of music, and a more relatable narrative thread. Not that an artist should ever feel obligated to provide the listener easy entry, but... SB1's a lot to digest. It would be a challenging album without trying to wrap my head around a deeply hallucinatory tale (including what, three dream sequences, I think? Two of them consecutive?) at the same time. I feel like SB2 is cutting me a bit more slack in both respects. There's still tons to chew on musically, and I find new corners to delight in with every listen; but I'm not faced with an abundance of music that makes me question whether I'll live long enough to ever fully appreciate it.
The story seems to have cleared its fever dream phase and entered a more linear track without losing that surreal Carroll-esque charm. That's welcome. I'll admit I was somewhat relieved to feel the paranoid tinge of SB1 dissipate as villains repent, enemies befriend, people learn about themselves and each other, and things threaten to turn genuinely happy for most of the cast. (I actually feel kinda bad for Ophunji at this point. He was a prick, but not an irredeemable one, and much of his prickdom is probably Wrangthorn's fault anyway. Perhaps karma will smile on him in SB3.) In brief, this is no Empire Strikes Back, and I'm very okay with that.
I guess what I'm taking away from these two chapters, story-wise, is... SB1 is the brown acid. SB2 is some really nice mushrooms I got from this guy I know. Something like that.
This album sounds so damn good, I just want to carry that "Roots Twist" kick drum around in my chest all day and chase away bullies.
Those two-note bass/kick figures throughout the "Sam" verse make me so happy I can't even tell you.
If you took some of the twistier melodies from "Pretzels" and graphed them in three-dimensional space, then rotated them 90 degrees along their y-axis, they would look like pretzels. I'm going to have to ask you to trust me on this one.
I can't shake the feeling that "Race The Stars" has always existed. It just took Mike Keneally to come along and pluck it from the universal aether. Something about the guitar solo in this track makes me want to laugh derisively at Trey Anastasio. But then I would put my arm around him tell him I was just kidding, because I'm in too good a mood to be mean.
"Scores Of People" reminds me of a mad tinkertoy version of the "trials and tribulations" section of "The Last Supper" from Jesus Christ Superstar.
"Roll"... FUCK YEAH! I will be head-banging to a dangerous degree when I hear this live. Is there a more epic display of ball-slingery in Mike's repertoire? There is not.
At first I wasn't convinced "Proceed" was the right track to close the album. It sounded inconclusive to me, like there should have been something following it. But again, I've grown more familiar with the story, and I get it now. Yes, it sounds like it's leading into something else. It's just not something we have yet. Given the arc so far, I'm actually a bit fearful of what that might be.
I don't really have a wrap-up for this. It just ends here. But there will be more.