Brutality with zero latency. X, by the masterful do-it-yourself guitarist, Joboj, begins with an all out assault as soon as you hit play. Shortly into the opening track, appropriately entitled “Chest Compression V.6”, we are pushed out by the riff-tide into an anxious audible area filled with incomprehensible murmuring and steadily quickening “beeps”. As these things go, the track explodes once more, this time into a groove-filled rhythm backed by turn-table scratches and wailing guitar wizardry. This is just the beginning of things to come. You may be unaware of it now, but you're in for a funky, groovy, brutal, melodic, chromatically careening ride to a place you've never heard before.
You'll love it.
This is a review I've been wanting to write ever since I began Better B#, but one I put off until very recently. Was it that the world just wasn't ready for this guitar marvel, also known as Joe Bochar, who plays every instrument on the album, including programming drums -- done better than any I have heard before or since? Or was it that his recent focus on being a guitar luthier over a musical artist resulted in a feeling of less urgency for me? Perhaps I simply wanted to hone my writing skills a little more to do justice to such a fine example of music. I don't know, alright!
X is the third instrumental guitar album from Joboj, and without a doubt his most developed in terms of songwriting and production. I am extremely uneasy to please when it comes to instrumental albums. I usually long for the variety of a voice, and with it an additional connection to the music through lyrical subject matter. Even some of my favorite guitarists have released purely instrumental albums that I can't make myself sit through. It often becomes a monotonous stream of high speed guitar solos over a backing track of some sort. The albums that Joboj has released, with X as the pinnacle, have been some of the chosen few that I can listen to attentively, or let drone on in the background, that never once bore me. His ability to make a cohesive piece of music, rather than one purely serving the purpose of propping up his fretboard abilities, set him apart from so many of his guitarist peers.
While Joe's previous album, Orange, was a brightly colored adventure in melody, X finds him in a moodier, brooding place. Both albums were released after moving to Los Angeles, and it is as if the former embodies the surf and sands, while the latter focuses on the dark underbelly of the city. Despite saying that, X is not based on the concept of Los Angeles' darker side, but more likely the mood of the music is simply influenced by it. Rather, if we look at the artwork for the album, we immediately notice a Matrix-esque image of an individual who is either “plugged in” or actually a part of a computer system. Questioning whether we are a number, composed of 0's and 1's, or even commenting on our growing technological dependencies also accounts for such a dark tone. However, as it is an instrumental album, aside from the artwork, all we have to judge the intent of the album are the song titles, which consist of curiosities such as the sinister surf tune, “Vulcanized Rubberneck”, the paranoia-inducing mellowness of “Tryptophen Junkie”, and the absolutely funk-filled album closer, “Screaming Chicken”. Right in the middle of this brooding environment is a complete change of scenery. One moment we are amidst a sorrowful series of arpeggios and the next we are swept up into the one cheerful song on the entire album, shining like a warm sun arriving between sections of a dreary storm. This little cozy tune is oddly entitled “Bitch” and fills me with joy every time I hear it.
You don't have to be a fan of “guitar music” to enjoy X, though if you fancy artists like Joe Satriani, Buckethead, and the solo work of Gun N' Roses guitarist Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal, you'll be pleased to find that Joboj is no slouch. Bochar gives everyone the opportunity to enjoy his work by making it as if a group of mutually talented musicians came together and put a little piece of each of themselves into the songs. While he does take liberties every once in a while to melt your face off with his soloing exploits, overall the guitar serves the song, rather than the song serving the guitar. As I find myself arriving at the end of the album, I suddenly appear back at the start of it, finding that I need to take “just one more listen.” I have played this album for years, yet I still find myself pleasantly surprised at all the intricacies that have been placed meticulously for my aural pleasure. X is, quite simply, a damn good album.
I love it.
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