Nothing Is Cohesive

Transcendence

TMG Records, 2004

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/25/2005

A great album is like a great painting, a great wine, a great movie or a great kiss. It takes your breath away, tickles your senses, steals time and leaves you changed -- maybe sad, maybe smiling, anything but indifferent.

Nothing Is Cohesive is a great album.

It is also one of the most aptly titled discs to cross my desk in many a moon. If you're looking for 12 variations on the same basic theme, go buy a Nickelback album or something. This is art here, folks -- diverse, challenging, reckless, brilliant.

So after that build-up, what does Transcendence -- Ed Hale (vocals, guitars, piano, keys), Fernando Perdomo (guitars, drums, vocals, sitar, keys), Roger Houdaille (bass, vocals, guitar), Jon Rose (piano, keys, vocals), Bill Sommer & Ben Belin (drums) -- actually sound like? Imagine Keith Richards, Paul McCartney, Frank Zappa, Roger Waters, Jeff Tweedy (Wilco), Dan Wilson (Semisonic) and Bono partying all night and then cutting an album with Beatles producer George Martin manning the boards, and you might be in the neighborhood. It's an erratic, ecstatic kaleidoscope of tones, textures, voices and attitudes that takes all the right lessons from '70s rock and employs them with imagination and flair, and it adds up to utter shambling magnificence.

We open with a brief, mood-setting snippet of ambient electronics before the band cranks up the engine and dives into the postmodern space-rock of "Somebody Kill The DJ," full of dreamy vocals, dirty riffs and cheeky electronic accents. Its sequel "I Wanna Know Ya" is an early highlight that gives you 2:30 of raunchy Glimmer Twins swagger before flying off the hinges at the solo in favor of a raucous outro/breakdown.

Next up is Mr. & Mrs. McCartney's "Tomorrow" ... and "Tomorrow"... and "Tomorrow." First you get a silly 53-second sound bite of the chorus sung as if it was a '40s Broadway ballad. Then you get a full-out version that feels like the steaming wreckage of a head-on collision between Supertramp and Queen, the electric piano propelling the bouncy melody along under swelling, multi-tracked choruses... at least until two minutes in, when the tempo shifts completely and you get a third, ecstatic, "Hey Jude"-like vision of the song…!my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Stay with me now, I haven't even gotten to the best stuff yet.

"Caetano" starts out like a U2 ballad, with some of Hale's most Bono-esque, laconically melodramatic vocals. Then as it swells and builds with layers of bright guitars and "la-la" background vocals until you recognize the song as the devastatingly accurate parody of an egomaniacal frontman's number one fan: "The people can't wait to be near you / Fall to their knees when they hear your voice / Man you're a God / The power to heal from just your singing." Finishing up the first half of the disc, "Come On" sounds like 1974-ish David Bowie on a caffeine bender, guitars squealing in glorious pain toward the end as the frenetic beat finally collapses in on itself.

Kicking off the second half of this disc, the sweet, wistful ballad "All This Is Beginning To Feel Like An Ending" builds from just piano and voice to a crescendoing guitar-drum duet that feels borrowed from Who's Next. Simply gorgeous rock and roll, and it's followed by one of the most dynamic pieces here. "Revolution In Me" comes off like Bono singing Hendrix, soaring vocals over psychedelic chords, with a sunny little pop bridge stuck in the middle and a Wilco-style freakout/train wreck at the finish.

"Cleopatra Ecstacy" brings back the Bowie vibe before segueing into the unnamed track 11, a sound-collage experiment that features those time-honored standards, the truck-backing-up noise, swirling guitar feedback and the mysterious woman speaking French. (I half expected the finish to be her saying "yankee hotel foxtrot" in a Parisian accent…) "Softening," which didn't make much of a mark with me the first couple of listens to this album, may actually sum it up best -- an introspective, Abbey Road-ish piano ballad that gradually piles on fresh accents and elements and twists until it builds into a veering, overwrought bridge that segues into an ecstatic outro that finally breaks down completely. Four minutes, four movements…!

And then there's "Bored," easily the least boring song I've heard in 2005.

Opening with a quiet chorus of vaguely Eastern-sounding chords, the band suddenly hits the gas 30 seconds in and has a hyperactive musical epiphany that sounds like Dick Dale and Ravi Shankar sharing a fatty -- before segueing back to the opening chords and building them again into a completely different jam. You could call it prog, but how many prog bands write songs whose lyrics open -- three minutes into the song -- with "I'm so fucking bored / I just can't believe I'm stuck in this hell that I live in / I'm such a fucking whore / Prostituting my integrity to secure this false celebrity." (The lyric sounds, in fact, like an inversion of "Caetano," taking the singer's perspective instead of the fan's.) And then the song builds some more, and changes some more, and revisits and embellishes previous themes, and feels at the end of its seven minutes like one of those magical rooms that is much bigger on the inside than the outside.

After that epic musical moment, the rest is denouement, and rightly so. "If Your Baby Could" is a disarmingly pretty acoustic love song, and the title track closes things out with an alternately jittery and spacey dueling-electric-pianos instrumental.

Indeed, Nothing Is Cohesive, but that's what makes it special. It's like an episode of Lost, where you think you finally know something, and then they find another way to turn your expectations inside out. It's musical anarchy, beautiful chaos. It's art. It's Transcendence. Do not miss it.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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© 2005 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of TMG Records, and is used for informational purposes only.