Ideamen got a hold of me recently and asked if I wanted to review their upcoming album. Having never reviewed an album I’ve wanted to go that direction, though admittedly I wanted to have a better understanding of music production before I tried. I decided to take a crack at it anyway. My knuckles are cracked, my brain is semi-activated, and I have matcha ready. Let’s do this.
Ideamen’s second album “Schemata” is a mix of jazzy swings mixed with the carefree demeanor of radio rock with hints of progressive elements throughout. The album at times is satirical, commentary, free-spirited, but always cohesive about conflict inherent to the human condition. Though at times some of these elements serve to be rather cacophonous and disadvantageous aesthetically, the catchiness at times makes up for it. I’ll break it down with each song to demonstrate what I mean.
The album starts off with “Prologue” and “Red in the Sky”. The listener is offered an interesting introduction that mixes the sound of space-age effects, dark tones, and with little warning into a light, alternative style. I feel in many ways “Prologue” certainly does its job an not only an introduction but as an overture. For the rest of the track the tone switches from the light, faced paced to the dark, slower, somber tones albeit with little transition between the styles. I’m not sure why this is, though I suspect it’s to serve as something of dualistic themes or at least alludes to some conflict where transitions could muck up some of the expression of said conflict. The reason I think the latter has to do with some of the dissonant chords used throughout the second song. Regardless it doesn’t lend much to the pieces other than a sense of clunky songwriting.
The third song “Momenta” is a contrast to the possible themes in the previous two songs. I found it lyrically lacking, as I felt it resorted to some cliché expressions offset with phrases seemingly social commentary in nature that don’t quite fit together. I could overlook the lyrics as everything else made it catchy and entertaining. It starts off as well with the same space-age effects but then breaks into driving beats and bright toned chord progressions. Unlike the previous two songs there are more transitions and the space music effect progresses as both a theme and as a transition at times. It gives the impression one is moving towards something (which I suspect is what the song was trying to do given its title).
I personally felt “Running Home” was the song that showcases the styles where this band feels most at home. The song starts off with an easy jazz riff that, while continued as a theme through the song, didn’t feel too contrived or forced. Other themes such as the distortions were well placed to add to the song and overall feel of the album. It felt like more of the space-age effects were more purposeful rather than arbitrary placed for how cool it sounds. In fact, more with this song felt purposeful: there were drum beats to draw emphasis to certain phrases sung; the transitions were less abrupt and awkward; the guitar distortions even compliment the space-age effects; and while the lyrics were cheesy at times they were catchy. If there was any song from the album that would get radio air play it would be this one.
In a way “Bad Apple” feels like a song meant to compliment “Momenta”, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. It has the similar genres blended, they have a similar tempo, similar elements of combining cliché lyrics with something slightly more, similar stylistic changes in the middle of the song, all of which gives it the same feel. Even though I noticed these elements there are some major differences. The time signature is more complex (or at least more noticeably complex) than “Momenta” seems to have. It also, to me, evokes the earlier theme of conflicting ideas. I see this with the opening bell in the beginning of the song, not to mention the increasing tempo in the song whenever the lyrics take an aggressive tone. To me it evokes more of the idea of conflict with how chaotic the song gets towards the end, which is something I really enjoy.
While the other songs left some impression on me I’m kinda disappointed with “Two Complaints”. Everything that the song seems to have going on with it should leave me more satisfied that what I am objectively, even though I enjoy it on a personal level. I do like that something more is developing with the conflict of two ideas, which to me seems like it’s about freedom versus “order”, dreams versus reality (at least that’s what I’m thinking. I’ve been wrong before, and this would be no exception) type of stuff. Beyond that I did like how the sense of resolve in the song is complimented with power chords. I also enjoyed the bookending, though I’m not sure what purpose it serves within the song. I guess a few more listens on my part will make things come together…
Where “Two Complaints” was lacking “Off Is A Crime” makes up for it. The first thing I noticed and loved are the complex rhythm and time structures of the song to emphasize how things are “off”. I also enjoyed how the song bookends the phrase, “Do what you want, I’ll be watching.” It’s done quite well and changes meaning compared to when it’s used in the beginning. There was something that I’m iffy about with this song. I’m not sure what the tons of sociopolitical commentary was supposed to do, other than denounce the current pop culture. Admittedly while fun to criticize it’s overdone. I do appreciate, though, how they comment on how it’s not easy to break free from the everyday trappings used to distract us. Regardless the elements of progressive rock combined with sociopolitical commentary lend a bit of a Frank Zappa feel to the song.
In continuing the repetition of themes “Brainchild” is an elaboration of the “Prologue”, only now the listener has a stronger understanding of what’s going on musically and through storytelling. I’m not sure there is much to add to this song as I pretty much covered some of it already. I will say it does expand quite a bit with the synthesizer and space-age effects. It also takes this opportunity to inform the listener the exact nature of the Brainchild and the role it plays in the dystopia where the aforementioned musical effects emphasize. In this way it comes off like “A Night at the Opera” and “The Epic of Zektbach”, which is effective for this song. By doing so the song is expanded into a rhapsody and ties together storytelling with the musical concepts bouncing around the album. In this respect the song fully captures the heart of the album.
It seems the album takes a creative turn and deviates almost completely from the themes presented. The song “Downtown Crier” takes on a radio alternative feel but with stronger vocal harmonies and more focus on chord progressions. The darker melodic tones of this song really convey the sense of confusion and angst in the lyrics. The song otherwise keeps it relatively simple which works very well given how complex the previous song was. It gives the listener a chance to appreciate the song for what it is.
The off-key moments followed by a return to harmony sums up “This Dog Rolled Over and Died” as the album returns to some of the original themes of conflict. Added to this litany of themes is the constant reminder of the ease of surrendering, as well as how easily things end. The dissonance of chords, harmonies, and themes result in an overload of cacophonous sounds. Ultimately this creates a feel of disconnect and inertness with bouncy interludes, which makes the song catchy and enjoyable.
Minor keys and funk converge and create an interesting song called “Into the Sunrise”. That’s not the only thing this song offers to make it interesting and layered. Melodic and exotic tones compliment the funk and alternative influences in this song. This is another song which I would expect to hear on the radio, though not as likely as “Running Home”. In a lot of ways this song compliments the aforementioned song topically, especially in the ways how the lyrics mention experiencing life rather than living vicariously.
Ending the album is “Dead Utopia”. The listener is treated to grandiose movements tempered with alternative melodies and experimental sounds. The album wraps up things in a way which allows the listener to effectively figure out how everything resolves in a grand, yet subdued (compared to the rest of the album anyway), finale. While it does convey the nature of the song’s quiet, casual resolution I’m not sure if that’s really how the album should end. On one hand the opposing idea of grandiose movements and at times suppressed volume capture the sentiment of surrendering to the outcome well. It’s as if the speaker is coming to terms with things, if only with himself. It doesn’t come off as quite a monologue nor a soliloquy given the way the music builds up in movements and at times volume. On the other hand I think there are too many dualistic ideas going on where such endings deserve a stronger statement aesthetically. I’m not sure all the themes were properly resolved in this manner. If that’s intentional, then I think it needs to be more pronounced in the lack of resolution. Otherwise the album ends softly and almost in a dissatisfying manner.
The album “Schemata” combines styles one expects to hear on the radio and less conventional forms of music adding sometimes tongue-in-cheek social commentary. The repetition of themes and musical forms reflect on the current issues of – as I see it – dependency on technology and social media while ironically building an album around the very things denounced. In this way the album comes off as self-aware as well as aware of social issues of disconnect. Unfortunately in trying to convey these very issues through at times disjointed transitions and bombarding the listener with these concepts repeatedly it grows tiresome and at times unclear in its message, especially in the beginning. If this is the desired result then Ideamen accomplished this well. Otherwise listeners who don’t put much stock into what some no-bit music critic thinks will enjoy it for its social commentary and experimental elements. The sometimes awkward dissonance on multiple levels throughout the album provides its own charm that most listeners can enjoy.