Thursday, May 26, 2011

My Education/Theta Naught: Sound Mass album Review

With a mere five tracks, I was at first tempted to call the My Education/Theta Naught album an EP. But further investigation led me to realize those five tracks make up 52 minutes and 18 seconds of well-crafted and detail-orientated music; I’d say that’s significantly more than an EP.

The album is an improvisational collaboration effort between both Theta Naught (Salt Lake City, UT) and My Education (Austin, TX). The lineup behind this album is :

James Alexander - viola
Briawna Anderson - harp
Darren Corey - drums
Henna Chou - cello
Chris Hackstie - pedal steel
Josh Ogzewalla - guitar
Brian Purington - guitar
Ryan Stanfield - bass, saw, banjo
Chris Stelly - drums
Scott Telles - bass

The 17-minute opening track (creatively titled “Careful With That Saw, Ryan”) begins gently, creating a peaceful and soothing soundscape. Halfway through, timid distortions on stringed instruments interrupt the tranquil sounds as the track gains momentum with the introduction of guitar and percussion. It climaxes with a marching drum beat and fluctuating instrumentals as calm as it opens with, but with more drive and definition.

Track two, “Nonet”, sounds more like a rock song than ambient sounds. Snares, bass, and strings open the song, riding the fence between an alternative rock interlude and more of the beautiful music from the album’s epic opening track. Following similar structure to “Careful With That Saw, Ryan”, “Nonet” opens lightly and builds to a climax, then instruments once again drop out until the music simply dissolves.

The album’s third and fifth songs, “A Casual Show For Yachting” and “Salt Lake City Film Society”, offer little diversity from “Nonet”, excluding stronger strings and edgier electric guitar. File them both under the umbrella of “easy listening”.

“Communion” is the album’s best track, incorporating the most noticeable amount of instrumentation and taking a few extra steps outside of their traditional sound. It’s ambient (My Education’s norm), but guitar plays a heavy role, noodling around on the song’s meatiest segment and finally meeting expectations of a band that defines themselves as a “rock” band.

In my opinion, it’s a stretch to call Sound Mass a rock album, though select elements of the genre are certainly present. Rather than exciting listeners to get up and dance, the mega chill tunes instead offer a universally appealing sound that’s more entertaining than elevator music, but could easily function as exactly that. It’s ideal for those who need something engaging to listen to while doing homework or writing a report but can’t be distracted by lyrics. And personally, I found the new age instrumentals to be particularly relaxing while lying in the tanning bed.

Both the artists' extensive cabinet of instrumentation is put to good use with proficient songwriting skills on Sound Mass. It’s not your next workout album or summer anthem music, but it will help you relax and ease the fast pace of life.

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