A Colorful World: Technopera

Posted: November 18, 2014 in New Indie Music

Lee Negin

The Cheeze Chronicles, Vol. V

Self-Released, 2014

Reviewed by Kent Manthie                                   cheeze chronicles cover

“Support indie music, or be condemned to ‘style’ without substance!” That is a wonderful motto, a slogan that happened to catch my eye on Lee’s website, the other day. Negin’s latest album is The Cheeze Chronicles, Volume V. It’s described as a “technopera”; a conceptual stylish album with a great cover. In my opinion, that’s a pretty ambitious project.

Just one listen to The Cheeze Chronicles really blew me away. There was so many aspects of what I was hearing that I knew I was in for a difficult deconstruction of the album.

The album’s opening track, “Scrying the Now”, reminds me of the opening intros to some Parliament and Funkadelic albums, which, then, took off at (especially Funkadelic) full-speed into the ether, bringing their cosmic-slop, funkified circus, via special delivery from the “specially designed Afronauts”. But, there’s so much more to what Lee Negin has pulled off here. “Scrying the Now” opens with a high-pitched voice, speaking to us in a kind of introductory way, then the song goes into a noisy, slow-rolling mode that sets the stage. “Just Saying…” starts the action full-force.

Lee’s been around for quite a while, he’s no newcomer. A multi-instrumentalist, videographer and producer/engineer, he began making music back in the early 1980s. He was a pioneering force in the Techno scene that busted out from Detroit. His recording were an amalgam of techno, new wave and some old school funk to add spice to it all. His influences are many, which gives him a wide variety of sounds from which to choose, not limiting him to sounding derivative, but actually more original. Currently, Negin resides in Seoul, Korea, where he continues to make music and is constantly working on his art.

After taking a break from recording, having slowed down to focus on himself and more personal things, Negin eventually returned in 2010, when he released the 1994 album song, “Balance”, after hearing that one of his songs, the techno classic “Nothing Goes Right” from the 1980’s appeared on a compilation released on a German label, Genetic Music. Since then, he has released seven full-length albums, several EPs, a few singles as well as nearly 30 videos.

One thing that sets Lee’s music apart from a lot of his contemporaries in the electronic music world is his use of real percussion, not just relying on a drum machine and/or synthesized percussion. This is evident on tracks such as “Janus Half-Baked”, which also features a trumpet sound – now, I can’t say for sure, but the trumpet may, in fact, be a synthesized sound of a trumpet. Either way, it adds a cool flavor to the track.

The deeper one gets into The Cheeze Chronicles, the more mind-blowing it gets. It’s not an album that has all the good stuff in the first half, only to get pulled down when there’s still plenty of music to get through. Later tracks, such as “Cogs in the Machine”, “The Bovine Tragedy”, the eclectic, Zappa-esque “Sterne Drek auf der Autobahn” and “Happy Trials to You (Until We’re Meat Again)” keep one intrigued and even mesmerized to where you just can’t turn it off, like a good book, you just can’t put it down; you need to know what happens with each turn of the page.

With The Cheeze Chronicles, Volume 5, Lee has placed so many bits and pieces of his influences into a crucible, heated them up and blended them together until out came a unique brilliance he could call his own. The sounds that emanate from this album have a somewhat lysergic, mystical quality to them, in that, while listening to this opus, one is overwhelmed by the visceral spectrum of color that can be seen in the vibrations of the music. You’re on a ethereal trip, discovering new heights and depths, all the while, never feeling pushed or pulled, but gently floating through the atmosphere of sound.

Then there’s the lyrics:  the lyrics are wonderfully woven together.  The libretto for this “technopera”, written by Negin, shows a gift for songwriting, both lyrical and musical.  Lee craftily mixes together an eclectic mix of subtle humor, satire/parody, poking fun at the overly self-important “BUY” society, which defines the modern era; all this and a groovy musical score to bring together a multi-faceted, unique creation.  Track number two, “Just Saying…” is introduced by a familiar figure:  a Mr. Paul Caruso, from radio station EXP (remember Axis:  Bold As Love by Jimi Hendrix, anyone?); the song is a satirical yet scathing indictment of the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church, especially its hierarchy, starting with the priests who’ve been preying on young altar boys, aged 11-13, on average, for quite some time and goes on to decry the way the church is blinded by money, yet keeps the sheep in line by constantly banging the drum of the “wages of sin” (but, wait a minute, if you’re really a Christian, you don’t have the burden of “the wages of sin” anymore, since your resurrected Jesus, died and came back to life to absolve all believers of their sins.  This is part of the problem with Catholicism in the first place, their need to place priests as middlemen between the layman and “god”) and hellfire and damnation.  No wonder Protestantism sprung up and spread like wildfire when it did.  But, that’s something for Christians to sort out, since it is nonsensical in the least, to logical, critical thinking minds.

“Janus Half-Baked” is about the crazy things going on all the time down here, on earth, as seen by the “Aliens through Cheeze”.  Next we have a few somewhat instrumental tunes, with a bit of chattering in the background in English and in Mandarin.

Track number seven, “Acid Reflux” is a humorous, ironic take on the old drug culture and the “establishment’s” vain warning of the “dangers” of such harmless things as “marijuana”. That’s just the beginning. After that funny little introduction, you move through a Eastern, mystical musical koan, on which you could spend forever meditating, but then, things keep moving until they’re not, meaning Cheeze Chronicles has a musical version of the old Entr’acte of filmdom, back in the days of epic, Technicolor films, usually heavy stuff that runs well over 2.5 hours, which gives the people a chance to ‘stretch their legs’, go to the restroom, get a drink from the fridge/concession stand (depending on your location when watching/listening), and so on.  In this case, the ‘Entr’acte’ is “Enter Emission (Strumpets & Cheeze)”, after which Part 2 begins, starting off with “Let’s Go Shopping” which, along with “Cogs in the Happiness Machine” and “(Let’s Join) The Twit Parade” lampoon the corporate commercial dope pushers of consumerist pap and artificial happiness, instant gratification promised (or your money back)!

When you put it all together, you get an album of entrancing beauty and startling vision, both musically and by the variety of found sound voices and tinkering, metal cash machines, beeps and chirps and a sense of gratifying grooviness.

This is the kind of album that has come out at just the right time.  Something fresh and coming from a place far away (mentally & geographically).  The underlying, secondary take-away here is that more originality and excitement is desperately needed in today’s interconnected world; but keep the focus on being original.  The Cheeze Chronicles is not a template that should be aped, but a bit of inspiration; a sort of guide to bringing music, entertainment and the like, up to date with the current era: there have been giant steps taken in technology that allows for easier as well as better quality music; alas, much of the music is not evolving in step. With the complexities of the average, well-equipped studio and the plethora of digital devices with which to create anything you can dream up, the one piece of the puzzle that seems to be missing so often is the human factor that is the imagination.  With a greater and deeper usage of imagination, there is so many things that haven’t even been thought of yet, but will be and now, with the tools to make the once impossible or implausible now available, this should herald a new paradigm of music that fits the times and not the other way around.

There is so much more to this unique, technopera, that, really, the best way to get a feel for it is to actually listen to it. And, when you do, tell a friend or two or three, continuing the great word-of-mouth spreading that is one of the best ways of getting people listening. Ads are so phony, but the opinion of a trusted friend can carry a lot more weight, so one is a lot more apt to follow their friend’s advice than even pay attention to an advertisement.

If your interest has been piqued by now and you’re wondering where you might get a copy of this album, check amazon.com, on which you can usually find almost anything. Or else, you might look on Facebook, where Negin has a presence. There you can find a lot of posts of various songs, pictures and news about what’s going on with Lee. One other place you may find him is Reverbnation  http://www.reverbnation.com

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