Friday, May 16, 2008

Monster Cellos

I realized that I haven't written about music lately. GASP! After a conversation with the Night Owls I thought I'd write about one of a series of albums that changed the way I thought about music. This time out: Space In Your Face by Galactic Cowboys.

My first experience with The Galactic Cowboys was a frustrating one. They were supposedly musical cousins to King’s X, one of my favorite bands at the time. They even had the same manager/producer. I preordered their debut album and had to suffer a month past the release date to actually get my hands on it (durned slackers at the local record store). And it was heavy. Way too heavy for me. And a bit sludgy. But after a few listens the strong melodies got to me and suddenly the guitars didn’t seem as heavy as before.

Space In Your Face, their second album, was released the summer after I graduated from college. It was sonically much sweeter than its predecessor. Gone was the sludge, allowing the rich four part vocal harmonies and power pop candy melodies to really shine. However it was still massively heavy, causing a roommate at one point to wonder how I could listen to such heavy music and then turn around and enjoy the light fare of Keith Green.

And listen I did. This album captured my imagination all that summer and beyond and with good reason. Everything the first album did well this one did better. “Blind” had intelligent but strongly Christian lyrics set to incredibly rich and complex vocal harmonies. “Circles in the Fields” and “Where Are You Now?” had humor in spades. “You Make Me Smile” and “I Do What I Do” were perfect examples of glistening power pop with a triple dose of power. “If I Were A Killer” took the pro-life/anti-abortion debate over the line and back. They even threw in a progressively twisted rhythm finale in the form of “Still Life of Peace”, which is to this day one of my favorite songs. Let’s examine it, shall we?

“Still Life if Peace” opens with an upbeat, rugged, gutsy rhythm of big guitars. What is that? Tabula and sitar? Indeed it is! The song backs off in the verse to these two instruments backing a tapestry of vocal harmonies punctuated by blasts from drums and bass. After two verses the rhythm kicks back in for a brief instrumental passage topped with a sitar solo… but there’s another instrument doubling the sitar part. Violin? Viola? A CELLO! Eight bars of stuttered 3/4 time bring on a brief carnival atmosphere but is gone quicker than cotton candy on the tongue, replaced by a guitar solo over the main rhythm that drops back into the 3/4 part for a measure or two when it feels like it, building to a speed metal riff that also alternates with the 3/4 part. Then the song backs off for another verse and the cello comes in full force, ebbing and groaning, filling the spaces with a chilling, slippery melody unlike any cello part you’ve ever heard. More main riff, more 3/4 carnival, more main riff but with the cello sawing away, then the entire band (with cello) building up the speed metal riff to a crescendo. When you heart stops pounding hit the repeat button.

The band went on to release a total of seven albums before amicably parting ways in 2000. Each album is good in it’s own way but none reach the lofty heights of Space In Your Face.

If they sound this good live, imagine their perfection on a studio album!


Big Doofus said...

Ok. So, I'm 99% sure that I'm your only have a copy of that CD handy. So I'm converting it to mp3 as I write this entry to give it another listen. It's been years since I've heard it.

Wow, they sure did have the long hair.

Big Doofus said...

I've listened a few times now and I have to admit--they still suck.

I kid! I kid! Actually, I really like it. I think that back in the day I was expecting them to sound like King's X but they didn't. Now, I can see that they were very much their own band to be appreciated for their own bit of prog-metal genius. I really like this. Ironically, as I was listening to some of the cuts the other day (and it had been MANY years since I last gave it a turn) I thought, "these harmonies sound a bit like King's X."

Then I ate my shoes.