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March 25, 2007


CD Review: Ego Plum and the Ebola Music Orchestra - The Rat King
Ego Plum definitely has something going on here, but I'm just not entirely sure what. I've listened to this nominal "classical" music at least a dozen times now, which tells you right there that I think it's good to give it that much attention. It has puzzled and intrigued me. But I'm still struggling to wrap my little hillbilly mind around it, so I'm just going to say a few things about this crazy thing and y'all can take them for what they're worth.

It would appear that he has scored at least a couple of films. That would seem like the closest thing to how to try getting a handle on what he's doing. This is definitely orchestral music. There are guitars and drums in the mix, but these compositions mostly couldn't be construed as "rock songs."

The most common point of comparison I've seen is Danny Elfman, but that just seems lazy. This stuff doesn't sound much like any Elfman I've heard. But then, Elfman has never made much impression on me. I can't really remember any specific composition of his other than his Simpsons theme. But I remember bits of most of these Ego Plum pieces.

I've seen the Residents used as a point of comparison. I don't pick up much comparison, mostly. But I can hear a bit of their co-conspirator, the late and under appreciated Snakefinger, in some of his guitar lines.

Looking for things in the range of rock/classical crossover acts, Frank Zappa is the obvious standard bearer. But Ego Plum sounds pretty much nothing like Zappa, or his Edgar Varese nonsense. I'll take this over any kind of the avant garde classical Zappa stuff. Plum is more tuneful and structured. I can't explain it with a sentence on a page very well I'm afraid, but there's a lot more "there" there in The Rat King.

A lot of that Zappa stuff didn't seem to have any structure or melody, or to go anywhere. These pieces definitely do. They even have hooks - actually, quite a few of them. He's not particularly following obvious simple pop music ABACAB type structures. But there are identifiable themes and development and sections and he's going somewhere.

The carnival would be the most cited place explained for where he's going. That might be from some of the instruments, glockenspiel and xylophone and organ sounds. "Carnival" is about as close as anything, but this doesn't really put me in mind of the county fair.

I'm obviously fairly intrigued by this recording, but I have a couple of aspects that I'm not as impressed with. Most especially, I'm not real impressed by these lyrics. In fairness, they're not really emphasized. I almost didn't realize there were lyrics to most of these songs for awhile. They work more for me mostly as sounds and music, color.

But partly that's because most of them don't make much obvious sense. Now, in all other ways, Mr Plum is certainly a meticulous and thoughtful composer, so I'm pretty sure he's not just dashing out crap without thought. But a lot of this would be like trying to make sense out of a Tori Amos lyric. They probably mean something very specific to him, but I'm mostly not quite getting anything out of them.

One line does pop out at me out of context, creating a memorable visual interest in "The Harpsichord," explaining that "It's a bit like being trapped in hell with a watergun, trying to put out all the fires."

I particularly un-enjoy the album cover, and I suppose the title. Rats are just not particularly an appetizing topic to me, and the dead ones tied together on the cover don't thrill me - particularly what appear to be big fat rat nads. Yuck. You might take it as further testament to the quality of the music that I repeatedly choose to look at that picture to get at it.

There is a little more help, however, in the inside sleeve, though I might have preferred such to be in the actual music. But the rats reappear, with a "June 27, 2006 Manifesto" wrapped around them. The six rats are named Fear of Failure, Fear of Success, Fear of Mediocrity, Fear of Risks, Fear of Rejection, and ?. If you can piece together the manifesto behind the plastic of the CD hold and from around the rats, they involve 20 points of self-help philosophy. "1) The act of hammering six nails to build a bookshelf is more important than all the books you will put on it."

Rats or no rats, this an outstanding piece of work. If you have any interest in arty avant-garde rock heading into modern classical terrain, you definitely need to hear The Rat King.

Download "Introduction" from The Rat King

posted by Al at 3/25/2007 10:46:00 PM

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