Sleepytime Gorilla Museum - Grand Opening And Closing

Year of Release: 2001
Label: Seeland
Catalog Number: Seeland 523
Format: CD
Total Time: 59:03:00

If you were to imagine an asylum for the mentally ill filled with patients who had once been top musicians in their field but had slipped out of what we call reality, the music they'd create together would sound a lot like this. At times angry, frantic, erratic, brutal, and at others fragile, and in each case very eccentric. When I described their recent NEARfest performance, I used the term Fellini-esque, but that requires at least a passing familiarity of who director Fredrico Fellini was and the style of film he created. Usually the reference is a shorthand for the darkly weird, and that is an apt description. Sleepytime Gorilla Museum's music uses the broad spectrum of music from trashy metal ("1997") to something quite fragile ("Ablutions," where Carla Kihlstedt sings lead, and "Sleepytime") to something that falls in between, though more towards the former ("Sleep Is Wrong").

One can't help but like this in the same way we are drawn to the absurd, the odd. We are at once repelled and fascinated, the latter reaction taking over, causing us to return time again to that which we wish to understand so we can then make sense of it, to assign it some "normalacy" so that we can move on to the more mundane aspects of our lives. For as long as it remains an enigma, it has our attention, it becomes our "hobby horse" (sorry, you'll have to read Tristram Shandy to know what I mean by that, though he has nothing to do with SGM's Grand Opening And Closing). Thus, as SGM's work is concerned, one is compelled to play this over and over, trying to make some sense of it. That isn't to say you can't figure out what is being sung, but words have deeper meanings that what appears on the surface. In fact, there are occasions where the lyrics make literary references, such as a reference to Dylan Thomas in "Sleep Is Wrong," ? the oft quoted "do not go gently into that good-night / Rage against the dying of the light."

Now, there will be many who, on a stylistic note, will be repelled and to such a degree that the fascination is squashed. That is, if you flatout dislike metal of any variety, then parts of this release will surely keep you at arms length, as SGM's metal element can get particularly growly. Here, because it is part and parcel of the music and not some affectation that would would just as well as "clean" vocals, I am not put off at all. Those folks would then gravitate to the minimalist instrumental "Sunflower" which ends the album ? acoustic guitar and chime are the only instruments used in a piece that is more ambient in nature and the true contrast to the bombastic metal elsewhere.

SGM are Kihlstedt on electric violin, percussion guitar, autoharp, pump organ and voice; Nils Frykdahl on guitars, Tibetan bells, autoharp and voice; Moe! Staiano on percussion, metal, pressure-cap marimba, spring, spring-nail guitar, popping turtle, food containers and tympani; Dan Rathbun on bass, slide-piano log, pedal-action wiggler, thing, autoharp, and voice; and David Shamrock on drums and piano (he has since left the band). Frank Grau, the band's new drummer, guests here on "The Stain." Quite an assortment of instruments, many non-traditional for progressive rock, and even those that are conventional aren't conventionally played or used to make conventional sounds. Yes, I guess you could say, SGM are unconventional -- erm, isn't that what progressive rock is supposed to be? Bucking convention?

The Sleepytime Gorilla Museum was, it appears, a real thing, though not really a museum. The liner notes detail the history, and this album's title refers to the fact that the museum's grand opening on June 22, 1916 was also their closing -- a fire, staged or otherwise, cut short what was billed to be a "Free Salamander Exhibit." Because the folks behind the museum have been shrowded in mystery, and because of my own cynical nature, I can't say whether the whole "backstory concept" isn't instead just pure invention, making this a concept album within a concept album... and would we really ever know?

At any rate, the album itself is real, I have it here. The band is real, I just saw them play live... no, won't go speculating there. Yes, it is sometimes ugly, but it is also sometimes beautiful. It is the kind of album that will engender strong reactions ? either you like it or you hate it. Well, that's not entirely true, as the third reaction is a mix of like/hate depending on the particular track. Where do I fall? Well, actually, I'm in the like it camp.

Sleep Is Wrong (6:35) / Ambugaton (5:38) / Ablutions (6:05) / 1997 (4:48) / The Miniature (0:59) / Powerless (9:30) / The Stain (6:46) / Sleepytime (10:16) / Sunflower (7:52)

Carla Kihlstedt - violin, percussion guitar, autoharp, pump organ, voice
Nils Frykdahl - guitars, tibetan bells, autoharp, voice
Moe Stiano - percussion, metal, pressure cap, marimba, spring, spring nail guitar, popping turtle, food containers, tympani
Dan Rathbun - bass, slide piano log, pedal action wiggler, thing, autoharp, voice
David Shamrock - drums, percussion
Frank Grau - drums

Grand Opening & Closing (2001, 2006)
Live (2003)
Of Natural History (2004)
In Glorious Times (2007)

The Face (DVD) (2005)

Genre: Other

Origin US

Added: July 13th 2003
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 419
Language: english


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