- 904 words -
Yeah, it’s a two-parter. And these are two really weird ones, at least for me.
So during the first half of the month I stumbled upon System of a Down after deeming them too American for my tastes a long while back. Then I watched their concert in Armenia and have been hooked ever since. I can’t iterate enough what watching live versions of songs can do to change your opinion of them. I went on to download Toxicity, which I thought to myself must be a good place to start given its place on many Top 10 lists.
Let’s get to the meat of it. In spite of the vulgarity and aggressiveness and general repulsiveness I tend to associate with metal - which in itself is amusing given how so much metal I’ve come across so accurately follows the stereotype - this album is almost all this, but also surprisingly and delightfully nuanced.
The songs and short and lead off into the next - not unlike another album I’ve reviewed - thus the album being so much greater than the sum of its parts. There’s a particular string of songs here that grab me every time; Needles > Deer Dance > Jet Pilot. These songs have similar anthemic choruses - each with a message of frustration to the powers that be, delivered in demeaning fashion e.g. the “tapeworm” in Needles - and calculated accentuations from the drums.
Unfortunately I can’t say I’m fond of the middle third, the songs Forest and ATWA in particular, and find myself skipping to the end where you’ll find songs that deliver a subtle change of pace from the first third.
The second album, Elephunk, I downloaded on a whim to satisfy a random R&B craving. I thought I was finished with the Black Eyed Peas in my middle school years. In spite of changes in tastes, I guess there’s something about this band - in this era of their careers in particular - that really resonates with my weakness for groove.
Now, giving this album the amount of praise I’m about to give it is a bit embarrassing as it’s painfully obvious these guys don’t take themselves as seriously as other artists in my palette. And I don’t mean that in the overly-ambitious, bombastic sense. The range of topics on this album span from long weekends to Latin girls to the regular “shawty move your booty” R&B signature of the mid-00’s, juxtaposed by some altruistic (Where Is the Love?) and introspective (The Apl Song) songs here and there.
The goofiness of this album is made up for by the utter grooviness of almost every single song on here. The grooves on here are as diverse as its subject matter. Labor Day (It’s A Holiday) and Let’s Get Retarded are driven by head-bobbing (maybe even head-banging) rhythms, while Hey Mama and Latin Girls are accompanied by Latin percussion such as cowbells, maracas, and bongos.
The ambitious instrumentation doesn’t stop there. The Apl Song features soft guitar picking while the arguably weirdest song on here, Anxiety, features Papa Roach supplying hard rock (yet muted) guitar riffs and drums. Take it as you wish, but I think it gives an acoustic, traditional R&B feel to these modern R&B songs.
One last thing that’s really the cherry on top of it all are the vocal performances by all four members of BEP. It’s obvious that each member fulfils a unique role in the album. will.i.am’s the leader of the pack, and that shows in his over-the-top performances at times, as if his vocal chords are tethered to an effect pedal. There’s Fergie who either gives the songs a soft touch with supple hums or a blast of energy through impassioned vocals. Then there’s Apl.de.ap and Taboo, whose contributions act more as extra flavour, but do a good job nonetheless. However it’s when their voices collide, sometimes even harmonise, that they create their magic, which is odd for their genre of music.
Toxicity is a good album for what it’s been for me - a taster album. The real meat of their discography, for me at least, occurs later in albums like Steal This Album and Mezmerize/Hypnotise, where they sound a little more mature and a little less frustrated - a tone foreshadowed by the final song on Toxicity, Aerials.
It also made me pay attention to vocals and lyrics more so than any other artist in recent memory. Perhaps it's because they direct their anti-authority agenda to specific causes, as evidenced by some of their songs with topical focuses e.g. the Armenian Genocide.
Tracks I play the most: Needles, Deer Dance, Jet Pilot, Chop Suey!, Science, Psycho
Tracks I play moderately: Prison Song, X, Bounce, Shimmy, Aerials
Tracks I usually skip: Forest, ATWA, Toxicity
Although I have to say their stuff is pretty heavy-handed and can be tedious to listen to, which I experienced the first time I started listening to them. Elephunk has counteracted that almost completely with its “forget about everything and let’s just have fun” nature.
Sigh… such is the duality of man.
Tracks I play the most: Hey Mama, Shut Up, Latin Girls, The Boogie That Be, The Apl Song
Tracks I play moderately: Hands Up, Labor Day (It’s A Holiday), Let’s Get Retarded, Smells Like Funk, Fly Away, Where Is The Love?
Tracks I usually skip: Sexy, Anxiety