Looking Back on… Three-way dance: Celldweller, selftitle.

(This was a concept I kind of came up with at random, where X amount of staffers from YHCOR would review the same thing and contribute opinions on it; consider it similar to The Tribunal from IP Games or the standard EGM scoring system, only with non videogame properties. In this case, the first Celldweller CD, which probably didn’t deserve the effort put into this project. Still, a couple of us listened to it, and this was the result.)

Three-way dance: Celldweller, selftitle. (For those wondering why it’s called three-way dance despite the fact that there are only two reviews here, basically another mutual friend who hasn’t come up yet in recaps was supposed to contribute something for this, but never did, and I never fixed the title. Whoops.)

For shits and giggles, I had been planning on doing “multiple perspective reviews”, where a bunch of us would write a bit on a particular piece of whatever, and comment on it appropriately. Now, as it so happens, myself and vXd managed to get our hands on a CD by a band by the name of Celldweller, which, for reference purposes, is a semi-indy band located out of NY. (Not so much “band” as “single person,” as Celldweller is the brainchild of Scott Albert, AKA Klayton Scott, AKA Klayton these days.) Needless to say, I figured, hey, why not do a MPR on this CD?

Yeah, I’m just so creative, I know. (Well these days I’m writing columns about why high ranked games aren’t perfect and why your favorite romantic objects in gaming and anime would suck to date, and before that it was columns about Achievement hunting and bad games, so I guess I have my moments. This was absolutely not one of them though.)

For reference purposes: Any reference to he, him, etc, refers to Klayton Scott, the lead singer/sole member of this wonderful band, IE Nine Inch Nails. Fair enough? (And yet I keep calling it a band despite it being a dude. Okay past me.)

Okay, first up, vXd, with his take on the CD. He will be taking the “I listened to N*SYNC when they were underground” perspective, IE, comparing this product to Klayton’s earlier work. (Yes, Klayton was actually in normal bands before this became a thing; he was originally part of a band called Circle of Dust, as well as a musical project with Criss Angel for a bit before Celldweller became a thing. Also I’m using the term “A thing” loosely here; while tracks from the project have been used in licensing deals for about a decade now, and is probably fiscally viable for that reason, it’s not like any of said tracks have been on the radio or any of the CD’s have even gone gold. In other words, despite what his Wikipedia article says, Celldweller hasn’t been widely successful, Klayton, and you really shouldn’t edit your own Wikipedia articles, they frown upon that.) And on we go:

Having followed Mr. Scott’s endeavors with the Celldweller project as far back as 2000, I have to honestly report that I am both very pleased with the final record, as well as slightly disappointed. How, you might ask? (We’d probably ask “why,” technically, but whatevs.) Well it is simple; being an advocate of the underground, and an offender of the mainstream, puts me in a slightly difficult situation in certain respects with Klay’s record. Listening to the mp3 files of songs from the self titled debut a year ago, Klay’s vision, style and creativity were instantly brought to my attention. (To qualify this: basically, Klayton released a handful of tracks under the Celldweller name in a rough form a year or so before releasing the final record, which has actually been something of a staple of his for a while now, but at the time this was the first time we were really exposed to it, so we weren’t prepared for how different it would end up being.) The tracks were sounding wonderful in their perfect little space between Mr. Scott’s past endeavor, Circle of Dust, and more popular mainstream rock/electronic hybrids like Linkin Park. (Yes, we like Linkin Park, and yes, Celldweller had rapping in it.) I made it a point to follow the Celldweller project’s progress until the release of the record, turning quite a few people onto the uniquely solid sound, and having more than a few of them tell me the same thing after giving the record a listen.

“He shouldn’t have changed that.” (“That” being specific aspects of several of the songs, including entire verses and choruses, time signatures, the whole bit. It’s a lot of change, most of which was just too much relatively speaking.)

I unfortunately have to agree.

While Klay’s overall vision of what the Celldweller project was supposed to be is still intact and consistent throughout the record, I feel that Klay should have merely sharpened his sword, rather than forge an overly enhanced replica. (That’s actually a pretty good summation of the problem with… most of Klayton’s work, actually; he makes killer demo cuts, then gets into the studio and bukkakes them with way too much sampling and sappiness, and that track is the one that makes the final record.) The record does have a very crisp, studio produced sound to it that by all means is 101 % acceptable. Never would I comment negatively on an artist’s decision to produce professionally, however, it seems Mr. Scott got a tad too carried away in the various studios he reworked the Celldweller project in. (That’s putting it mildly.) Besides obvious matters of opinion, missing and/or slightly altered synth loops, lyrical revisions, etc- it seems a good deal of what Klay tried to make better in his songs came off as sounding silly, (Dirty Vegas-esque robot voices, (Dirty Vegas made that “Days go By” song that was on the radio for half a year in the early 2000’s, for reference.) goofy little techno synth riffs) or inferior to the original (guitar chords played in ½ clicks rather then ¼ during “Fadeaway” completely threw a particular section of the song off, and the complete re-hashing of “Switchback” simply proves the motto that “less is more”).

The other tracks that were not published on MP3.com, (“The Last First Born”, “I’m Afraid Now” etc.) are very decent, and truly showcase Klay’s musical diversity, but they carry a very “B side” vibe to them, and more times then not, it sounds like they don’t belong on the record. (Listening to them again, they sound very underdeveloped, like Klayton realized he needed a full record’s worth of material and just threw some shit on the disc to get it out the door.) I am also confused with “Unlikely (Stay With Me)”, an apparent remix of “Stay With Me (Unlikely)”, as it is rather bland and un-fun to listen to. (That’s a fucking understatement; it’s too bare-bones to be a song, too annoying to be an ambient soundscape, and too underdeveloped to be an instrumental. It’s just a crunchy guitar, a couple of loops and pads, and some weird repeating vocals/vocal effects kind of shoved together into a three minute… something. Also he does that fucking “escalating drum beat” thing every electronic musician was doing at that point, and it was trite before that point.) However in the defense of Klay’s studio work, “Own Little World”, “Under My Feet”, and “Stay With Me (Unlikely)” have definitely benefited in their professional reworking, sound much more clean and powerful, with minor subtractions (terribly over dramatic robot voices (ugh) in “Own Little World”, and missing synth loops in “Stay With Me (Unlikely)”). (Also a changed chorus in the latter that none of us really liked; it was very emo before emo was a thing.)

Overall however, it is fair to say that had I not known of the Celldweller project 3 years prior to the records release, I would probably have less negative things to say about it then I do. Mr. Scott is certainly a talented musician, who can produce good shit in many different genres of sound- even with the various changes; the songs he’s written still remain great on the final record. The record comes off as not being totally bastardized, but slightly compromised, as the influence of the professional music scene has tampered with what Klay’s fans already considered works of musical art. (Boy did his opinion change quickly; two or three years later Klayton released a cover of The Bee Gee’s “Tragedy” that had him laughing at how corny it was, and today he hasn’t listened to any of Klayton’s work in years. Not that I’m any better, as we’ll see shortly; it’s just interesting how our opinion’s can change, is all.)

Final Score (vXd): 8 out of 10.

And now it’s my turn. I will be taking on the Devil’s advocate position for this one, IE, yeah, WE like it, but should YOU buy it? (No, though The Beta Cessions isn’t bad. Yes, it’s spelled that way on purpose.)

Please note, in advance, that I love the CD, and any and all words I write from here on out are me taking an objective stand on whether or not the CD is for Joe Everyman. We’ll see if this works. (I mostly don’t love it anymore, but it’s still fine.)

Okay, so the Celldweller CD is a wide collection of sounds and experiences, produced by a man who is extremely versatile in his musical range, (By which I mean genre and production, not singing or anything like that.) and at the same time has a very strong idea of what he wants out of his sound. Excellent, I can appreciate that. And Mr. Scott has a very Trent Reznor-ish quality to him, in that he plays his own instruments, writes his own music, programs all of his beats, etc. So, yeah, I can easily respect the man for making his own music, because I know that takes a lot of work and effort. (Well these days, less so, but you still need some skill to pull it off.)

So yes, this CD is good.

But that doesn’t mean you should buy it.

See, there are three major failings I can pick and highlight in this effort. The fact that it’s an indie release means shit, because you can order it from BestBuy.com for crying out loud. (Yeah, that was a thing I guess, back before Best Buy fucking tanked as a retailer and Amazon became the de facto place to buy anything online. Related, you can buy the 10th Anniversary Edition of this record, for… some reason, on Amazon if you’re so inclined. I wouldn’t, but there it is. You can, however, listen to a bunch of his records through Prime Music if you’re a Prime user, free of charge, including Soundtrack for the Voices in My Head Vol. 2, which has a cover featuring a woman in snow gear from the future, so… I guess Klayton has weird fetishes, I don’t know.) Ditto his small fanbase and local exposure; bands get big because we support them. No, my three failings come down to this:

1. Too much genre crossing.
2. Over produced sound.
3. Klayton can’t sing well.

To break that down…

1. Alright, I appreciate when a band doesn’t stick to one sound. I mean, Sister Machine Gun offers an industrial-techno-jazz-classical style that is a lot of fun to listen to, (Yeah, there’s a band no one’s ever heard of outside of me and my close friends. SMG was one of those interesting industrial bands that experimented a lot, mostly due to the influence of frontman Chris Randall, but after releasing arguably their best work in Metropolis, they kind of stagnated upon going the indie route. Randall announced that the band is coming back recently, and the band’s Facebook page has a 3/10/15 teaser image, so it seems they’re giving it another kick at the can, so if you’ve never listened to them, which is likely, give it a shot.) No Doubt and Madonna have proved adaptable as mainstream figures by changing their sound every album, (Less so these days; No Doubt took a decade off from releasing content, then released a CD in 2012 that showed extreme fan atrophy, as the band went from a 2x Platinum release to “not even Gold,” while Madonna announced a new CD recently, it was leaked, and still no one gives a shit.) and hey, Kid Rock is working with country as well as rap. (Yeah, that was really a case of a musician getting fucked once and deciding never again, as Rock saw the writing on the wall with rap rock and decided fuck that, I’m not going down without a fight, before changing to southern rock more or less for good. I suspect his newest record will peter out sales-wise, but even if I’m not his biggest fan, he deserves some success after busting his ass for a decade in obscurity, so good on him.) It’s nice to see a musician not constrain him/herself to any one particular genre, and it gives the musician a fuller appearance, as they can produce multiple types of music, whether good or otherwise.

However, when you’re genre crossing in one fucking SONG, then you really need to stop, take a step back, and go “damn, what the hell am I thinking” before you keep going. (To be fair I was okay with this when The Weeknd did it, so I think I just didn’t like it when Klayton did it.)

Klayton did not do that. And honestly, he should have, as the album would have been better for it.

There is a track on the CD, “The Last First Born”, if you care, that crosses from techno-industrial to straight techno to rapcore and back again about five times in the seven minute track. It has a definite flow, and it sounds excellent, but honestly, the song is way too expansive to mesh with a large amount of listeners, and could honestly turn off prospective buyers, because it’s really fucking out there. (Okay I went back and listened to that, and yeah, it’s really fucked conceptually. It’s interesting, but it’s experimentally bizarre more than OOOH YAY, so yeah, it’s not a winner.)

And, on the subject, the CD itself crosses so many damn boundaries that I have to seriously wonder if this wasn’t meant to be more of a demonstration of what Klay can do, rather than a full-on project. (Given how many soundtracks, commercials and trailers Klayton’s work has appeared in, I’d say “yes” to that one.) In the video-game world, we call something like this a “tech-demo”: It showcases what the developer can do, but doesn’t really flesh any concepts out as well as a full release would. And that’s a shame, too, as overall, the CD shows serious promise, but jumps around like a Jack-Russel fucking terrier.

2. There’s no one thing I can point out that easily makes this point, but I believe the single most obvious choice I can make is the robotic overdub voices. In all honesty, Klayton might have thought that placing robotic voice effects into the songs would improve the quality of the production, and vary up the sound of the album. From a personal standpoint, it made the songs he placed these into sound childish. (Yeah, it was very much just a lot of Daft Punk voice, only in songs that sound nothing like Daft Punk, so it creates a weird emotional disconnect with the song that just makes it narm-worthy.) Some songs, like “Switchback”, benefited from the placement of the vocals, but other songs, like “My Own Little World”, where the results sound insipid and elementary. (I feel like that sentence sucks but I think you get the point.)

3. Do I need to spell this out? His voice cracks in certain songs, among them, “I Believe You” and “Stay With Me (Unlikely)”. It’s not the worst thing I’ve ever heard, but it detracts from the effort. (To be fair, musicians can do this and make the song work, but it’s the difference between writing emotionally complex music and songs, like a Rob Dougan or a Tom Waits, and writing commercially interesting music and blunt, insipid songs, which is what Klayton does. Just a thought.)

Now, one more time, for effect, I personally love this CD. (One more time, not so much.) I listen to it several times a week, mostly to and from work, because the beats are bad-ass. HOWEVER, I cannot honestly say everyone out there on the other side of the monitor will like it. I’m sorry, Klay, but I can’t. If your musical tastes are VERY broad, and you can accept a wide assortment of music in the same song (IE, if you like Velvet Acid Christ (HAHAHA Oh God VAC. I still fucking love the fact that VAC exists, even if I don’t listen to them anymore.) or Sister Machine Gun), then this CD is a must-buy. But for all of you people who hate Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (I’m dating myself there), (I have no idea what that’s in reference to, except possibly, “Two great tastes that taste great together.”) you might want to check out his website and listen to a few tracks first.

Final Score (Mark) Personally: 9, Professionally: 6.

And that’s it for this round. Look for this again when we find something we all want to write a piece about. (And then we never did.)

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