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TRACK LIST: 1. Waterwheel 5:53 2. Take On the World 5:49 3. Settle for the Second 3:52 4. Emperor's New Clothes 4:36 5. Nothing Will Be the Same 5:45 6. Stalemate 4:50 7. Rather Than Words 4:45 8. Juliet's Waiting 5:03 9. Dream Another 5:36 SOLO PILOT: Mikko Muranen – all instruments
Prolusion. LOW BUDGET ORCHESTRA is a one-man band - one man being Finnish composer and multi-instrumentalist Mikko Muranen, known for his industrial doom metal projects Dogmeat and Man Bites Dog, as well as for his ambient/experimental work under the name of Mutantum. With this project, Muranen aims at creating high-quality music on a low budget - hence the absence of other musicians. “The Second Best”, as its title implies, is Muranen’s second album, released two years after his 2006 debut, “Extraordinary”.
Analysis. By today’s standards, “The Second Best” is a very short album – at 40 minutes, little more than an EP. According to Muranen, each of the tracks here is supposed to tell a story – therefore, the album is meant to be listened to as a whole, and not by picking out single tracks. The songs are all around the 4-5 minute mark, linked together by short snippets of speech at the end of each, broadly dealing with the topics of ‘life, the Universe and everything’. As will become evident even at a superficial listen, Muranen composes his music on guitar, and then builds layers using other instruments. Electronic drums are used throughout, which accounts for the lack of more complex, irregular rhythm patterns that would confer a ‘warmer’, more natural quality to the music. Muranen’s metal roots show up in the sometimes aggressive riffing patterns, and even more so in the extended guitar solos to be found on every track. As the tracks have been conceived as a whole, it is not easy to pick one over the other. While stating that they all sound the same would be rather harsh, it is also true that the differences between the single items are not as evident as one could wish. With minor variations, they all seem to share the same structure, with the guitar solo coming in about halfway through each song, and the almost overwhelming presence of the mechanical beat of the electronic drums. The overall effect is often spacey, with sweeping waves of layered keyboards overlaid by hard-edged, metallic guitar riffs. Most tracks are mid-to relatively fast-paced, with the notable exception of Rather Than Words, which uncharacteristically starts with a guitar solo; while The Emperor’s New Clothes comes across as one of the more upbeat offerings, mainly due to its energetic riff. However, Nothing Will Be the Same is possibly the standout track on the album, rich in varied guitar parts - harsh and melodic in turns - over a backdrop of majestic, multilayered keyboards. I would be so bold as to say that the album’s main strength is its short running time, which makes the somewhat soulless electronic drumming easier to take. Muranen is undoubtedly a very accomplished musician and composer, and it would be interesting to see what he could achieve if he decided to put together a ‘real’ band. For the time being, “The Second Best” is very much what its title jokingly suggests – an album that has not yet realized its creator’s full potential.
Conclusion. Fans of keyboard-driven instrumental music will probably find a lot to enjoy in “The Second Best”, while those who object to the use of electronic drums should steer well clear of it. Though it is doubtlessly a pleasant listen, deserving high marks as regards technical proficiency, it tends to come across as monotonous after a while, even in spite of its short length. It is to be hoped Muranen will take some other musicians on board for his next venture - especially a real drummer, whose contribution would add a level of interest to his soundscapes.
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