Shafty objectively reviews the new Psychostick CD, despite the fact that two of the band members are also Pluh editors. What are they going to do, decrease his pay from zero to negative zero? HAHRHARH ARHARHRHRHRJRHRRrwr@22!1
(Disclaimer: Shafty completely digs this band. The members of Psychostick asked, however, that he set aside his fanaticism long enough to objectively review their first full-length CD, We Couldn't Think of a Title. This review has not been pre-submitted to Psychostick for suggestion, comment, or approval, and the opinions expressed herein are the sole personal opinions of Shafty alone. This is as honest as it gets, folks.)
What a long, strange trip it's been. Compared to most Psychostick fans, I'm a relative newcomer. By the time I first heard Psychostick in January 2001, their second demo (Die.... a Lot!) had been released for quite awhile already.
Because I live 1,158 miles away from Phoenix, until recently I had never seen Psychostick live and my only exposure was limited to the three Die songs: (1) "Fake My Own Death and Go Platinum," (2) "Scrotal Torment," and (3) "Those Stupid Ifs." In the context of this review, I intend to comment on (a) Psychostick, generally, (b) their musical growth since Die... a Lot, and (c) the merits of We Couldn't Think of a Title.
Another word about myself, and then I'll shut up: I spent over three years as a producer and disc jockey (among other positions) at THE Houston-area AOR (album-oriented rock) radio station. In that capacity I received (and listened to) hundreds of CDs from unsigned bands looking for airtime. I worked alongside three different music directors, and spent time programming the music "set list" that told the DJ's what to play. I also scouted local bands for a college radio station. In short, without meaning to pat myself on the back, I feel I'm more than qualified to give a candid assessment of the strengths and weaknesses that Psychostick's We Couldn't... brings to the table.
Comment: A few minor mastering imperfections linger, as best I can tell. Very good overall, though, especially given the limitations.
Let's be frank--Psychostick is an unsigned band that has released an independent album. Although that frees them of the constraints of having a nosy record company assign a "producer" to screw with their music, they didn't get the perks that come with having a record deal: fancy studio; professional, experienced sound guys to mix the songs; or record company album promotion. They therefore face a real competitive disadvantage when it comes to getting you to spend money on their CD, as opposed to, say, Metallica's or Linkin Park's new album. Maybe it's unfair of me to compare their album to a record company release but, after all, record company sound quality is what we've come to expect--and that's the standard that I'm going to hold this album to. Anything less is an insult to them, and shameless patronizing. Who wants to hear...
"It's good... for an unsigned band." ?
Pardon my asterisks, but f**k that. As is evidenced by the rest of this review, Psychostick paid careful attention to even the most minute detail on every aspect of this album. If you are going to take the time to have your album look like a record company released it, you ought to have the album sound that way, too. Fortunately for Psychostick, it does. A glance at the back of the CD case indicates that drums were professionally recorded at a "real" studio, guitars and drums at Joshy Apartment Studios, and vocals at Robby's Crappy Yet Effective Vocal Booth. That the majority of the album was recorded in band members' apartments is not unexpected and, fortunately, it doesn't deteriorate from the overall sound quality on this album. On every track, the drums are exceptionally clear. Likewise, the bass was solid and thunderous enough to consistently rumble the seats in my Lexus (something that rarely occurs with most albums). And, with one minor exception (the verses on "Throwin' Down"), Rob's lyrics come through clearly and at the right volume.
One of the reasons "Throwin' Down" works so well is BECAUSE the vocals are sung so rapidly. The impression I get, every time I hear it, is that the singer is spilling his guts about EVERYTHING that annoys him about his girlfriend; the fact that "[she's] hogging all the oxygen since all [she] does is talk" means that, if he's going to get it off his chest, he better do it quickly before she opens her mouth. Rob's natural tendency, while rapidly singing/rapping the verses, is to lower his voice somewhat to try and get them out with sufficient clarity and enunciation. During the verses, then, it's occasionally difficult to hear the lyrics clearly, because vocal volume drops while everything else remains constant. I would have preferred that the vocals be a little louder during the verses especially given that, due to its angry nature, "Throwin' Down" really is supposed to be driven by its vocals. All in all, this is at worst a minor inconvenience and, because most Psychostick fans already know the lyrics to the song, most might not notice anyway.
There are two places on the album where I noticed that the vocals were mixed exceptionally well. On the latter part of "Throwin' Down" (starting at roughly 4:15), the decision to have Rob vent on BOTH channels fits in perfectly with the theme of the song, that is, a henpecked guy who finally snaps and unloads his fury on his ex. Second, the vocals actually sound hollow at times on "Prozac Milkshake," particularly in the early-going. Although "hollow-sounding vocals" doesn't sound all that appealing, it is with this song; the haunting vocals lend the song a bit of a sinister, eerie sound that serves it nicely. Guitars were also recorded and mixed well. Josh's Warhead amp sounds particularly brutal and throaty on Two Ton Paperweight and H.F.P. Very crushing.
Again, another minor beef: the guitar sound isn't quite as crisp on "Pluh" or "Largiloquent Dithyramb" as it is in the rest of the album; I'm not sure why that is, or whether it's intentional. It doesn't necessarily sound like a hiss, but it seems like there's a bit more background noise than I would have expected. I recognize that "Pluh" is supposed to include more guitar distortion than some of the "cleaner" sounding songs, and this is probably a nitpicky point. Overall, though, the production quality of this album is very good, and much of it is exceptional. Importantly, the album sound is dramatically improved from Die... a Lot. 4.0/5.0
Comment: Could use less in-between song banter, but otherwise outstanding. The entire album (including packaging) actually follows a common theme.
The first thing I appreciated about the packaging for We Couldn't Think... was that the CD came in a shrink-wrapped jewel case.... just like the CDs you buy in the stores. Too many independent CDs come in paper cases, or look like they were printed on the drummer's girlfriend's HP color Inkjet printer. Not We Couldn't..., though. When you open it up, you get that reassuring "new CD" smell from the glossy liner notes. Nice touch. I also like the CD cover a bunch. It's rare to find an album with a theme that's actually carried out by the CD packaging. The whole concept behind this album, of course, is supposed to imply that the CD was kind of hastily thrown together (it wasn't, I assure you), and the CD cover bears that out. The album title is messily scribbled on a piece of stained paper (complete with doodles) that looks to have been ripped out of a legal pad, and the song names are likewise scribbled (in several different handwritings) on the back. And, although I might be the only person who really appreciates this, the album includes the following warning:"All lyrics, logos, artwork and recordings are (c) Psychostick LLC. Unauthorized duplication is a violation of applicable laws. We'll kill you!"
I love that they didn't use cookie-cutter legal warnings; the law is boring enough as it is. And how many albums actually conspicuously list HIDDEN TRACK!!!!!! (underlined several times) on the back of their album? The interior of the album is also well-designed (although it's a shame that Mr. Sticawski is not as prominently featured as in Die... a Lot and most of the band's promo posters). It's nice to see that the photo montage was described as "mandatory collage of pictures"; at least the band can poke fun at itself and every other band on Earth (all of whom have done such montages at one time or another). In all, the photography for this album (particularly the photo of each musician) was REALLY well done.
I guess I'm a little surprised that the artwork underneath the CD was done in black-and-white, given the creativity employed in the rest of the packaging; at the same time, I think this is the first time anybody's tried to do anything particularly clever with under-CD artwork-- most albums just have stupid scenery and stuff located there: "Look, it's my kid's paint-by-numbers picture! Let's put it under the CD!"
Argh, there's TOO much of the "band guys talking between songs" stuff going on. Some of the banter is funny, and the conversation between Josh and the telemarketer (following "Largiloquent Dithyramb") is CLASSIC. The problem with too much "band guys talking" stuff, though, is that it almost always sounds contrived. For some reason, even though we hear our own voices thousands of times a day, whenever we're consciously aware that our voice is being recorded, we all say the most asinine stuff on Earth. If you don't believe me, call your answering machine and try to think up something clever on the fly. The first Death Burger was certainly worthwhile, although the best part was when the ass-clown at Sonic tried to play along with his own pitiful English accent. Stick to flipping burgers, boy-o. And a similar message to Psychostick: your songs don't really need any introduction. I'd suggest a little less of this stuff next time around. The only exceptions to this rule, of course, are for the brilliant voiceovers done by the ladies. First, as to the awesome cameo appearances that lead into "In a Band to Get Chicks"-- how Psychostick got such lovely and talented ladies to do voices for their album is beyond me. Second, Lindsey's Beast impression is particularly convincing; I find myself cringing when I hear her lead-in to "Throwin' Down." 4.5/5.0
Comment: This band is the "They Might Be Giants" of metal.
I hate to say it, but "originality" and "metal" aren't usually words that are associated with each other, except in the rare circumstances when some record company actually endeavors to promote a metal record. Let's face it: metal hasn't seen a whole lot of innovation over the past 10 years, unless you count nu-metal (which I don't). I'm not going to throw away my credibility by claiming that Psychostick pushes the musical envelope or anything, but this band has carved itself out a niche by actually introducing humor into metal. I can't think of another band whose music makes you alternate between laughing and wanting to destroy stuff... but Psychostick's does.
In We Couldn't Think of a Title, Psychostick's song themes are (in order): (2) itchy balls, (3) shitty cars, (5) diarrhea, (6) pathetic losers, (7) a word Josh made up, (8) beer, (9) teenage angst, (10) psycho ex-girlfriends, (11) hatred of mundane chores, (15) sappy cheesy love songs, (16) oversleeping, (17) the fakeness of "it's all about the music," and (18) the fickleness of the record-buying public. Enough variety for you? In addition to employing amusing song themes, the album is chock-full of smaller jokes as well. My personal favorites include the running joke about milk on "Why, Oh Why" and--this always cracks me up--the part in "Orgasm = Love" where the harmony sings, "WHOA, ROMANCE..." Great stuff.
This is a funny album, but also one that makes you want to knock stuff over and burn things. Err... I'm not the only one that wants to burn things, am I? I am? Oh, then I was just kidding about that part. *uneasy laugh* This band has always marketed itself as being DUMB and, in many ways, it is. But there's also a great cleverness to many of their songs, particularly in the frivolous manner in which they address normally touchy subjects. ("Now that we have drunk some beer, let's go drive a car.") That takes courage... or incredible DUMB. They also poke fun at other artists, genres and music. "Orgasm = Love," for example, is a clever dig at sappy songs, and H.F.P. is a classic thrash metal song with incredibly old-school (albeit updated) lyrics. In short, originality is clearly one of Psychostick's strengths, and We Couldn't Think... exhibits it nicely. 5.0/5.0
Comment: Excels where most young bands fail: every song has its own theme and mood. Many of these tracks deserve airplay... if radio didn't take itself too seriously. Lyrics to "Orgasm = Love" waaay too over the top, though.
As with tired sports cliches, every musician (at one time or another) has used the old "you can't really categorize our music" answer to describe the type of music he plays. So, just for the sake of annoying everybody, let me reiterate:
You really can't categorize Psychostick.
Generally, Psychostick would probably be filed at Sam Goody under "Popular Music" or, more likely, under "Heavy Metal." (Technically, I think the term "heavy metal" hasn't been applied to music since the mid-80s but, then again, Sam Goody also categorizes Mariah Carey as "popular music." And popular, Ms. Carey most certainly is NOT.) That having been said, I don't think that there's really such a thing as "the Psychostick sound" (unless flatulence could be considered). No two songs sound alike, and the songs from this album succeed in crossing genres. Thus, if radio had a sense of humor (it doesn't) and were open to creativity (it isn't), you could expect to hear "Scrotal Torment" on a rock station, "Prozac Milkshake" in pop/top 40, and "Largiloquent Dithyramb" in college radio. The songwriting really is a strength and, being at best an average musician, I'm not really capable of properly explaining myself in musical terms. I can speak, however, from a radio standpoint--and many of these songs are catchy and have "hooks." Which, in addition to the standard 3:30 song length, are about all you need to know when you're deciding whether a song is worthy of airplay. (Whether it will actually get played is actually a separate inquiry that has more to do with who owes whom a favor, but that's a subject for another time.) If I had to bitch (and I will), be careful not to play "Orgasm = Love" around anybody you're worried about offending. It's a clever song that makes its point effectively, but it then digresses into gross-out humor that's a bit pointless. A little bit goes a really long way. Don't say I didn't warn you. 4.5/5.0
Comment: There are no weak links to this band, but the bass really adds the "heavy" depth that drives this album. More than one "hell yeah" song!
If there's an obvious area where Psychostick has improved the most since Die... a Lot, it's in the addition of Mike Kocian as the bassist. This guy is baaaaad, and not just in the evil sense. When kids these days say "bad," they mean good. And to "shake one's booty" means to wiggle one's butt. Permit me to demonstrate. Ahem. I've said it before, I'll say it again: what separates metal from great metal is the bass player. Screaming guitars and growling vocalists aside, thunderous bass licks are what provides the "heavy" in metal. That was something that I found lacking in Die... a Lot: funny songs and vocalist, interesting music but, ultimately, lacking the HEAVY. This, however, is not Die... a Lot-era Psychostick. The bass is now prominent in Psychostick's music, and that's definitely a good thing.
Alex Preiss is also a very talented metal drummer and, although he isn't given the opportunity of a drum solo on this album, check out the original opening to "Why, Oh Why" when The Boy is showcasing his mad skillz. Incidentally, while I was writing this review I listened to each song three or four times; and my honay (who doesn't really like metal) heard the opening to "Why, Oh Why." Her comment: "that's a really great opening to that song."
Ditto Joshua "Special J" Key (whose "caught-in-bed-with-the-Warhead" photo is classic). Doubling as the mixing sound guy, Josh sends his guitars in and out of both channels to create that kind of "dueling guitar" effect that Eddie Van Halen used to showcase on some of VH's early albums. (This is NOT a comparison to Eddie Van Halen, but it's nice to see Josh paying appropriate respects.) Guitars have never been an issue with this band, though (they've always been well above-average) and Josh once again delivers solidly on this album.
Finally, Rob Kersey's vocals have matured somewhat since Die... a Lot. He is now capable of both melodious singing and full-out growling and screaming. I appreciate the outtakes on track #18 because they helped me to realize just how hard it is to nail that high note in "Two Ton Paperweight." Obviously, it's not Psychostick's intent to KILL with every song; and their "serious" songs are well done and display another facet to this band that had been missing with Die... a Lot.
This isn't a pop band, though: when they want to, they CRUSH. All of the heavy songs are excellent, but my two favorites among the "death" songs are "Two Ton Paperweight" and H.F.P. "Paperweight" is the first of several "hell yeah" songs on the album. Never heard of a "hell yeah" song? No metal album is complete without one. Simply put, a "hell yeah" song is akin to the staff ace on a major league baseball team. *looks at his audience* Maybe a sports analogy wasn't the right one here. A "hell yeah" song is one that, when other people are in the car and this song comes on, you say, "hell yeah, this song kicks ass" and jam up the volume while lowering the windows. Or words to that effect. It's one of those songs that you put on when you're about 3 minutes from school/work, and you want to really enjoy your last few minutes before dreaded school/work. "Two Ton Paperweight" starts out aggressive and strong, and essentially maintains that intensity.
With all due respect to "Throwin' Down," though, H.F.P. may be the heaviest song on the album. Here the band really shines through as a cohesive unit, and you can appreciate the power of Josh's Warhead amp. In addition, Rob's growling/screaming on H.F.P. reminds me somewhat of Anselmo (although, again, I'm not going to flatter Rob enough to actually make that comparison). This is a heavy song, and a great one to end a great album with. Great job, guys; this album was worth the wait. The attention you paid to minutia really pays off, and the only drawback is that it may be really hard to top We Couldn't Think of a Title when it comes time to release Psychostick's sophomore full-length album. 5.0
|Sound/Production||Nice job, Josh.||4|
|Presentation||So much LAUGH!||4.5|
|Songwriting||*reads Orgasm=Love lyrics* BARF!||4.5|
|Final Verdict: 4.6|