Album Review: The Incompetents – “More Songs from The Victorious City”

For my first album review, I will review the Incompetents’ debut album, “More Songs from The Victorious City”, because it’s the album that started it all with me (I had owned two other local albums before, but this one is what took things to the next level). Since this is the first review, I will briefly explain each category, but next time I’ll just be stating the category and getting straight to the content.

You know what they say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, but they never said anything about albums! I do pay attention to the album artwork (both exterior and interior) and logos and other visuals, because I am an artist myself and hopefully a graphic designer-to-be. This segment is directed towards the musicians themselves and the graphic designers that were hired by them.

-The Look: “More Songs” does not have a cover really. Where there should be a cover, there is a gaping “mouth”, the mouth of Roro the Monster, a creation of Alfred Tarazi, and the band’s mascot. At the bottom are teeth, at the top, drippings. Above is the band name, and below is the album title and between that, you can see through the mouth into the interior left-hand sleeve which contains 8 square cards (they appear to be square).

There is one card for each song. This is definitely something I had never seen before, in Lebanon or anywhere else even. Each card has an image on one side and on the other side, lyrics and credits. A brief review of each card:

1-“The Damned Don’t Cry” Cover by Youmna Habbouche: I like this piece. It fuses between nature and the city (i.e. antennas) and has a “rough” feel. It also plays on the “cry” theme by featuring eyes and a single teardrop.

2-“Bullets Gently Flying Over My Head” Cover by Ahmad Gharbieh: This piece is somewhat simple… too simple for me. A hand drawn rat says the lyrics to another, scribblier rat, in front of a plain white background. But they’re not even that well drawn. I’m not a super-duper artist myself, but leaving out so much, it just doesn’t click with me. It could have been better.

3-“Bullets Gently Dancing Over My Head” Cover by Walid Mohanna: This piece here is great. You’d see a pink cat, but a regular head, that has glowing eyes (each a different color), and a rainbow hanging above its head. This creature, against a very classy “wallpaper”-ish background….splattered with blood. Very psychedelic, very surreal, I like!

4-“Disposable Valentine” Cover by Yasmine Yared: Does this look like it was made by a child? That’s because, it was! It was made by Serge Yared’s niece! Well, I can’t really judge this because a child is a child, drawing by raw instinct and emotion, not knowing what’s right or wrong, so I’ll just say it like it is: I see, a very rectangular cat (perhaps a cat-bull hybrid?), with nine throbbing hearts, and it is either floating in mid-air, or the ocean. Perhaps it is the overwhelming love that its nine hearts enable it to experience that cause this gravity-defying phenomena, or enable it to hold its breath for that long underwater (lots of oxygen pumping can be achieved with nine hearts). This girl has potential.

5-“Urinal Blues (Part 1)” Cover by Alfred Tarazi: This is a powerful piece. We have here, 6 beasts (Roro the Monster) with wide-open mouths. They are a thing to fear indeed, but what deliver more power are the colors used, red, white, and black. Jack White has adopted these three colors for his duo, The White Stripes (whom I am a fervent fan of) claiming that they are the three most powerful colors there are. They certainly do strike me in a special way, and they really do add something to the effect.

6-“Prelude to an Abyss” Cover by Josette Khalil: This is an incomplete cover. Serge Yared and Fadi Tabbal are missing their bodies! They are up in the sky amongst the clouds… bodiless! Full cover can be found here: www.theincompetents.com. It’s nice, not mind-blowing, but also not atrocious. The text on the back is cool though!

7-“Urinal Blues” (Part 2) Cover by Rafik Majzoub: I really don’t know what to make of this. There is a bottle, in a crown, with a penis, urinating, and a passed out king, with a duck behind his head? All of this on top of some sort of official typed document, with scratches and circles over and around some words. Seriously, I neither find it magnificent, nor grotesque. I find some things I like in it, and some things that I just can’t tolerate. I am neutral.

8-“Monster Song” Cover by Elie Dagher: To start off, I like the style. There is a nude man with a fig leaf covering his genitals, and it appears that his hands are chained together. A nude elephant-lady with a her bloody trunk between her legs being sniffed by a rat, stands alongside a woman, or man with breasts wearing nothing but a cat mask of some sort, a bell around his/her neck, and a white thong with red hearts on it, behind him/her stands a bewildered chicken. Both these humanoids are standing in front of an oversized bottle of pills that reads “The Pills”. Up in the sky, a man hangs from a noose that seems to be coming out of nowhere and is about to shoot himself in the head. His shirt says “Misunderstood” in a lateral format though. In the background, several people, two men smoking, one lady just staring, one man standing near a table, one lady with her back to the viewer. I like how there’s more than one thing going on at the same time. It’s all very surreal and symbolic, with hints towards sex, drugs, and suicide. But the song lyrics are not written down on this!

Now for the inside, to the left we have Roro superimposed over a map of Beirut, all of this in the mouth of yet another larger Roro. To the right we have a map of Beirut in red on top of which are the album credits and notes (which I found quite charming and funny). They say “And now taht you have purchased this CD, you can be sure that your life is just about to change drastically…”. Indeed it did. How drastic a change? All the topics in this blog I would never have dicovered if not for thic CD. It really pushed me in the right direction.

The CD itself is a variation on Roro, this one having a more circular form.

The back cover is, well, Roro! (as if he hasn’t appeared enough already!) He hovers over the map of Beirut, which is speckled with colored stars, and track names… 

Pssst! Go back inside, because there’s some… hidden artwork! Yes, that’s right, artwork that is not immediately visible unless you remove some things (no, you’re not tearing off bits of the case!). First of all, remove the cards and the CD. Look through the front, you will find Roro in red, in front of a black-star-covered map of Beirut. These are basically the three elements that make up the interior artwork (not the cards). Then, look inside, in the left and right sleeves and you will find two pieces of artwork by Alfred Tarazi (the one in the left is upside down and barely visible due to the hole that is Roro’s mouth) (you can find those images here: www.theincompetents.com). I like! BUT, not really matching the spirit of the album I say. Good move not using them.

Sorry that took so long, but albums don’t usually have as much artwork as this one does! It will be shorter in the future, but that really depends on how many pieces of artwork the release features.

Now for the part you’ve all been waiting for, the music. I wanted to do a song-by-song review (like I once did for this album), but instead I’ve decided on just giving an overall reaction and a couple of comments on each song.

-The Sound: I really liked this record. At first listening to it was “difficult”. I wasn’t repulsed by it, but the thing is, I didn’t immediately think “this is fantastic!” after listening to it. I had to let it grow on me for a while. It has a very fun sound, very expressive even when the song isn’t necessarily joyful. I liked the overall atmosphere of “this is who we are, like it or not”, and the warmth and simplicity (humbleness) of the songs. It has a very acoustic guitar-heavy sound, though I love the variety in instruments that spans everything from jaw harp to duduk. The synthesized pieces and effects showcase Fadi Tabbal’s mastery of audio technology. I enjoy the little sprinkles of humor here and there.

-“The Damned Don’t Cry”: It’s nice. I like the jaw harp, the spoken word segment by Ziad Nawfal, and the background “oohs”. But, it’s a bit too long.

-“Bullets Gently Flying Over My Head”: I love the slide guitar here, it’s relaxing and reminds me of floating or hovering. Unlike “The Damned Don’t Cry”, I wish it were longer!

– “Bullets Gently Dancing Over My Head”: I think the technique that was used on this one (vocal over-dubbing to form an acapella-beatbox tune) was a clever concept.

-“Disposable Valentine”: At first I was not too impressed by this one, but some information came to my attention and I saw it in a new light. I can appreciate the “I give up” feeling. This one is more of a “feel” song than a “groove” song; You’re supposed to be affected by its lyrics more than you are supposed to be affected by its melody.

-“Urinal Blues (Part 1)”: I liked the whimsical and jazzy style.

-“Prelude to An Abyss”: The mix of acoustic and electric guitar is a switch from the dominant acoustic guitar sound.

-“Urinal Blues (Part 2)”: The percussion is nice, and the kazoo adds character.

-“Monster Song”: This is an epic! It consists of 5 portions: “The Deal”, “The Euphoria”, “The Downfall”, “The Guilt” and “The Redemption”. I like the “industrial” feeling of “The Deal”. “The Euphoria” is joyous and simple and psychedelic in a sense. Now for “The Downfasll”, I adore it! It packs a lot of energy, every single element of it! “The Guilt” is two pieces intermingled with one another. One is an ominous organ-driven piece which is nice, and the other is an acoustic guitar driven piece, which I think is too similar to “The Euphoria”. Finally comes, “The Redemption”. This is a very spiritual and heart warming track. There are the echoes, the choir (The Sunken Ship Choir), and the general “uplifting” feeling. To sum it up, this track gets my approval.

Well, that it’s for the first album review. The future ones will hopefully be shorter.

Check out my analysis of The Incompetents here: https://feelnotes.wordpress.com/2009/09/22/artist-analysis-the-incompetents/

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