Twisted Helices is Ram Samudrala. He plays guitar, sings, and programs the keyboards, which serve as the entire rhythm section for the songs he writes. He's sick of hearing hundreds of bands all sounding like clones of each other, so he lives up to the twisted part of his band name. I'd say he fulfills this part of his philosophy quite well. On to the review... Side A consists of six songs -- Tick in My Head 1, Noises, Let us Blame God, The Lie, Don't You Believe in Me?, Tick in My Head 2-3, and Lynno and Reeno. Tick in My Head 1 is an instrumental consisting of many interesting sounds. The song sets up a trancey feel in the many of the elements meander around the same 4 or 8 bars over and over. The mix could use some balance as levels tend to overpower each other as elements are introduced. Noises poses the question: "How does one separate the signal from the noise in the real world?" It has a catchy feel with an interesting commentary "Intel inside. Intel inside. Every single one of us... Intel inside" (transposed from the INXS song "Devil Inside") establishing a good supporting atmosphere for the lyrics. However, Ram makes the attempt to incorporate two lead singers with his overdub, interfering with the coherence of the main vocal. There is little straying from the established rhythm, resulting in attention deficit. The catch phrase of Let Us Blame God seems to be "get over it"! It contains a cool shuffle rhythm that immediately draws your attention, but the vocals are drowned in processing leaving you scratching your head trying to figure out the lyrics. Had Ram not included the lyrics on a separate sheet, I'd have no clue. We don't always pay attention to lyrics when we listen to music, granted, but the ideas within his songs deserve some deep thought. Sometimes less is more. The Lie speaks of being in an abusive relationship with the futile hope that things will get better as time passes. Again with this song -- a very catchy intro, but awfully repetitive. Voices are lost in effects, periodically breaking free from the blanket of processing. The guitar loses focus and drifts on and off the beat setting up an uneasy feel. This may of course be a good thing as I found I focused more on the lyrics. Melody of the flutey-reed sound is reduced to a simple progression played in octave leaps. The voice has emotion, but the monotony of the rhythm stifles it. Don't You Believe In Me? comes in strong with a guitar styling similar to that of Johnny Marr (ex of Smiths) blending into a pop-ish rhythm. The drum sequencing has plenty of human feel to it, resulting in a stable level of interest. But we have the same problems with overuse of vocal effects and vocal competition. Voices jut out of the mud for the phrase "Don't you believe in me?" which certainly dramatizes it, but at what cost? It's like watching a commercial with teenagers playing volleyball on the beach and enjoying it all only to have the sponsor come on and mention "2000 flushes" toilet deodorizer. You ask: "Did I miss something?" Okay. Okay. I must sound like I'm putting Ram down, but I'm not. Remember it's a critique. Helpful hints. Ram comes close to getting it right with Tick in My Head 2-3, his satiric tribute to WEEN. This track reminds me of the early twisted phase of Pink Floyd. He's created a neat effect with his voice slightly delayed between the left and right channel that sets up a dark, perhaps demented, feel for the song. TIMH3 introduces a sinister drum rhythm that enhances the whole piece. Watch the levels on your guitar when kicking in with distortion, though. Lynno and Reeno is, again, a catchy tune. Ram cuts loose on this one with plenty of emotion in his voice. He wrote the some "for Lynn and 'reen for Valentine's day". That could only explain the attention given to the overall mix. The only gripe I have is the vocal level getting the best of you again. Other than that...it's a template for a mix to keep as a reference. Side 2 contains alternate mixes of the songs with similar problems, but they get better as the tape progresses.
There are many great ideas but I think you should mix with the audience in mind -- you know what you're saying, but without the lyric sheets, they won't. Maybe have a friend sit in on a mixdown session and see what suggestions come up. Don't be afraid to stray from your original ideas.
Comments: Overall vocal level and clarity could use some attention. Explore the re-mixes and avoid repetitive looping of melodies.
Twitching Reality is published by Mike Lemega (MLemenga@tvo.org).