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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Hamster Theatre

The Public Execution of Mister Personality / Quasi Day Room - Live at the Moore Theater

Review by Gary Hill

I happen to be a big fan of small rodents (we actually have three hamsters now), so when I saw that Hamster Theatre was releasing this album, I was interested based on the name alone. The music here is not the type of thing that would be my first choice for listening, though. This falls into the free-form RIO type of sound. You know the stuff that doesn’t have much pattern to it’s jamming, but does include lots of dissonance. Well, that said, these guys have produced an album – well actually two – this is a release consisting of two separate albums (one studio and one live) that holds up well within its chosen genre. Comparisons to Univers Zero and Birdsongs of the Mesozoic abound, but with the emphasis on a “French café” sound these guys have their own identity. While I don’t tend to go overboard on this type of music, there are quite a few tracks here that I can see myself coming back again and again to experience.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Disc 1
Race Against Time
This odd instrumental feels much like a twilight zone take on French café music.
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This has much the same general musical flavor as the last track, but with a driving bass beat behind it. After some time like this, they twist around into a free-form jazz movement that feels quite a bit like dramatic King Crimson. Yet still that French café element remains. I like this piece, strange as it is, quite a bit. The mid-segment of the track seems a bit hard to take to me, though, as a screaming horn squeals out seemingly in pain. Still, they manage to regain their footing before fully loosing me. Odd atmospheric tones take it to its abrupt and noisy conclusion.
We Unearth the Last Book of Mister Personality, and its Consequences
Mysterious, more sedate and melodic, but no less free-form, sounds create the motif for this one. They build on this element with other sounds and the like coming in as they move it forward, but then bursts of noise seem to threaten to take control. They move it out eventually with a noisy electric guitar sound into King Crimson like territory that calls to mind the Red era quite a bit. This is actually one of my favorite pieces of music on the disc. At just over two and a half minutes it is a brief one, though. 
Reddy 4 Love
Well, this is an odd one. It starts with an out of tune stringed instruments. They work in more of that twisted European chamber choir, but also include something that sounds a bit like music box melodies. This is another that’s catchy despite it’s off-kilter and unique persona. It’s exceptionally dynamic, moving from one sound to another seemingly with ease.
The Quasi Day Room Ceremonial Quadrille
Well, this is an odd one. It starts with an out of tune stringed instruments. They work in more of that twisted European chamber choir, but also include something that sounds a bit like music box melodies. This is another that’s catchy despite it’s off-kilter and unique persona. It’s exceptionally dynamic, moving from one sound to another seemingly with ease. 
Love Theme From ‘All Clytemnestra on the Western Front'
That French café sound, but twisted about a bit, starts this cut off. They build gradually on those musical themes. This turns dark and ominous later. It is another that encompasses quite a few twists and varying moods in its course.
Oye Comatose
Percussion starts this one off, and gradually other instruments join one at a time. It should be noted that we aren’t talking about rock music instrumentation, but rather chamber music items. They build this into a new jam with their typical modes. This is dynamic and moves through a number of varying (and loosely connected) incarnations. There are sounds at times which sound like shouts and others that resemble sneezes. All of this in a jazz oriented, but very chaotic sort of free-form jam. Melodies emerge and carry it for a while, then other sounds take their place. This feels a lot like Birdsongs of the Mesozoic. There is even some scat singing and some killer instrumental soloing. At over seven minutes this is the longest cut on either disc of the set.
Litost
More sedate sounds, but with an almost annoying start and stop approach, begin this. Eventually jazz elements rise over the top of this backdrop. There are actually moments here that remind me of early Genesis. There is a false stop that gives way to far more symphonic elements (in a very low volume level) that eventually end the piece.
La Sacre D’Merde
While this has more of the band’s trademark sound I also hear some early Genesis in the backdrop of this. This launches out later into a driving jam that has a lot of King Crimson built into it. Jazzy elements solo all over this backdrop. This is my favorite track on the first disc (possibly the whole album). The guitar solo segment in particular has Red era Crimson firmly emblazoned on it.
The Quasi Day Room Ceremonial Tango
This starts rather like a funeral dirge. It turns into something much more powerful, but I would say that the tango aspect never comes to fruition – or more accurately I never heard it. That said, this is one of the more cohesive pieces on the disc.
The Fairytale in Reverse
Sedate, rather dark tones start this off. It rises after a time into a very jazz oriented musical motif. After they move through a segment in that manner it cuts into a new journey that has more of that twisted French café sound. Then they move it out into a more energized excursion that still maintains that texture while bringing in more King Crimson and Frank Zappa type sounds. This one is another highlight of the disc.
Phoenix
A pretty acoustic guitar tone begins this. It turns a bit towards the dissonant as it carries on its ballad texture, but even when other instruments enter this has an elegant and beautiful texture to it. They build this one up gradually and with it weirdness rises ever so slowly. Eventually it shifts out into more loosely formed lines, but even then the ballad sounds either remain or return, depending on the point in the cut. This is another that is extremely cohesive and effective. It’s also another of the standouts on show here.
It Was Only A Dream
Bass (and I think it’s an acoustic stand up bass) starts this. As it carries forward, though it becomes a shuffling sort of café music. That mellow and quite restful texture holds the track until about the two-minute mark. From there a ticking clock takes center stage. A “tink” of the timer going off ends this.
Disc 2
Bean Dance
This piece is a bouncing, world music textured cut with all sorts of sounds of conversations and crowd noise laid over the top. It’s weird, but catchy in a unique way. I particularly like the buzzing horn sounds that come in later.
The Cat Song
This is frantically fast and has lots of killer chamber music sounds. It feels almost as if someone has it playing at too high of a speed. A false ending gives way to a more intense revisit of the themes of the track. Lots of dissonance and craziness dominate this one. This takes on something I would best describe as a “Three Stooges chic” at points.
Bur Di Lie Town So
King Crimson like sounds start this one off, but it’s got a real funky groove to it. The French café sounds emerge over the top of this. This groove is one of the more effective passages on the disc. They move it out into an expansive fusion jam and then some weird scat singing enters. Keyboard layers come in over the top of this and other instruments add to the insanity in short bursts. Eventually they take it out to just the café elements. This turns the corner later into a thundering King Crimson like jam that is extremely powerful. This whole tune is one of the better ones on show here. 
Jeanne-Marie
This starts very sedately well in the background. As it moves forward, though a hard rocking jam based on the café sounds takes this. This one is another of the more effective pieces on the set.
Bug 2: The History of the United States of America
This one starts with sound effects. Then a bass line takes it with other elements playing over the top of this backdrop. Other sounds and textures emerge as it carries forward. This explodes out into more furious sounds later and they move it beyond that point by building on the various musical themes. Another stop leads to a new jam that has an even more frantic bass line and other sounds wandering in and out over this. A saxophone weaves an understated melody. A smoking Crimson like jam takes it later.
Vermillion Hue Over Lake Lausanne
A rather funky texture leads this one off. As the instruments join this becomes a killer jazz groove. They move through in this manner for a time, but then explode it out into a chaotic Crimsonish jam. A false ending enters and ambience takes it for a time. Then sounds begin to rise up to create the basis for the next movement of the piece. This powers out into another Crimsoid excursion that definitely feels musically connected to the stuff that came before it. It turns pretty chaotic before it drops back to the sedate. Understated musical modes take the last portions of this composition and eventually end it.
Tick Fever
We are back in our French café with the opening of this track. This never moves far from this musical theme, but rather simply carries it onward and eventually powers it upward for a time.
Vang Vang
A fun carnival texture with waves of science fiction sound effects make up the early moments of this track. Mind you there are still café elements in play here. They crank it out later into a full on Crimson-like jam that is extremely potent. They throw in some killer instrumental work on this. They even work in a pretty straightforward lead guitar solo. This is another of the highlights of the CD.
Home
A sedate, but mysterious ballad type structure leads this off. The arrangement becomes more full as it moves forward. This one moves through some awesome changes and variations on the theme. They do some really great stuff on this one, and if there were a fight for my favorite cut on the set, this one would be stiff competition. It has a good amount of variety in terms of volume level and over-layers, but manages to maintain a fairly constant musical identity throughout.
The 5
The chamber music / café sound is all over this one, as well. It’s another jam that is quite cohesive and strong. They work within this structure, revitalizing and re-imagining the sounds, but never really completely overhaul them. That factor, and the solid nature of what they started with, makes this another highlight of the set.
Hamster Dance
Bouncy, fast paced weirdness makes up this cut. If you’ve ever owned a hamster, you’ll realize that that fits their personalities quite well. This is another tasty track. They drop this way back in the center of the piece and ambient chaotic textures take it from there. Eventually they build it back up, and then it explodes out into more of the themes that started it. A particularly frantic passage on this texture ends the track.
The Bug Show
A martial beat starts this one off. Then a playful chamber music texture takes it from there. They create a rather jazzy jam from there. If you were to take the off-kilter edge from this it would be easy to picture it as the theme song to some ‘70s sit-com. It actually does remind me a bit of the theme to “The Simpsons.” They bring this back in with a more rock take on the sound later, with a killer groove to it. It works through several variations in terms of the arrangement as it continues onward. This is another of the more potent pieces on the set. They segue it straight into the next track.
Cat 2: Siege on Hamburger City
This one feels like a fast paced, more chaotic take on the same basic musical concepts as the last one. It turns quite bombastic later and a fiery guitar solo leads to the closing segment.
 
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