- Genre Crossover
My first experience with miRthkon was in a small club in Oakland where they performed alongside the strangeness of fellow avant-rockers Free Salamander Exhibit (formerly SGM). For the entirety of miRthkon’s set I stared in awe, trying to pick my jaw up off the floor as these Bay Area locals blew the roof off with blaring saxophones, thrashy guitars, complex lines, and a serious dose of humor. Snacks represents the second release from this Altrock Records band, an album that is at once strange, quirky, and avant-garde while never losing its ability to be catchy, engaging, and fun.
Snacks is art music through and through with an overall and thorough sense of the postmodern. The record dwells in a space that invites a thorough blend of high and low brow culture, where the popular meets the erudite, and where genres and cultures crossover into a realm where anything goes. Let’s make this clear from the start: this is some serious musicians’ music, the scholarly sort that conservatory kids and music majors dream to make. The kind where they apply all of the most devious tricks, twists, and turns that they can squeeze from their knowledge of music theory. Though I’ll get back to the music shortly, I mention this up front to highlight that despite the musical erudition, the band is still quirky, even silly, bringing in that Zappa-esque touch where even the most pretentious of things ridicule their own pretentiousness in an act of self-awareness.
The visual art and text of the record (in the form of lyrics, song titles, and track descriptions) come from that side of the field where the zany occurs, I must add, which is certainly not uncommon in the sphere of postmodern and avant-garde art. The album title and individual song names, along with their accompanying artwork, are perhaps the clearest place to start. The theme, as the title of the album states, is snacks. The album cover displays the band name miRthkon in a fashionable Pringles chips sort of way, while each song is offered up as a morsel with its individualized snack photos, representations of things such as Twix candybars (“Eat a Bag of Dix”), Three Musketeers (“Nocturne op 33”), Mountain Dew (“Variety Pack”), and Fritos (“Fairies Wear Boots,” the most original rendition of the Black Sabbath piece you’ll ever hear). Along with each song’s visual image we get the nutritional facts, offering health benefits such as the beats per minute, tuning, metrics, additives (such as Wurlitzer, Organ, Harp, Glockenspiel, and let’s not forget, BUBBLES), as well as an ingredients list containing lyrics. Whether all of this is to be viewed as a festival of pastiche or parody, the end result is an album which is not only musically sophisticated, but visually entertaining on a base level without ever losing that air of “we did this in full consciousness of 20th century artistic trends.”
As previously mentioned, Snacks celebrates the juxtaposition of high and low culture in a way I think is distinctive from much of the prog rock world. While I would consider a lot of prog to be a sort of rock musicians’ aim at making high art, miRthkon is distinct in that they give the impression of simply being artists who are interested in seeing what happens when music from all corners of the sociocultural spectrum collide. Snacks is in the realm of extreme crossover and interplay between musical genres and tendencies. “Eat a Bag of Dix” (apart from warning us to avoid contact with eyes) fills the air with brutal metal riffing, swirling sax solos, loads of syncopation, and tension filled avant-chamber music. “Hapax Legomena” takes us into the realm of avant-jazz rock that is extremely catchy while not forgetting to throw in some brutal vocals and odd, heavy riffing; despite being heavy, it still allows you to forget that you’re hearing a lot of metal. “QXP13” manages to blend some punk influences with jazzy sax interplay, and “The Cascades” offers heavy sax groove with lots of great bluesy moves, odd phrasing, whammy dives and dreamlike textures. Finally, “Snack(s): The Song!,” brings in a very modern sound where synths meet fascinating vocal lines and heavy riffs.
There isn’t a boring moment on the album. miRthkon manipulates elements that are familiar and displays them in ways that are fresh and engaging, all while perfectly balancing the intellectual, whimsical, and raucous aesthetics. Add to the mix (pun intended) marvelous quality post-production where every single detail of the music is clearly accessible and we have on our hands one of the most ambitious, original, and I daresay, fun, albums of the year. For miRthkon, Snacks is a landmark album that will set the standard, not only for their own future releases, but for the rest of the RIO community.