McStine & Minnemann – II (Album Review)

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Unprecedented times call for unprecedented music. In July of this most off-the-rails year of 2020, the fresh but extremely experienced duo of Randy McStine and Marco Minnemann unleashed their genre-defying debut recording. Less than half a year later they are back for more with followup “II”. While it’s to be expected that the lack of live gigs would lead to increased studio output, the undeniable chemistry between these two musician friends has apparently consumed them as they inspire one another to explore every crevice of light and shadow in these 16 tracks. If any kitchen sink was left untouched in their first release (a proposition which is highly questionable to begin with), it surely has been thrown in for this followup. So buckle up and keep your hands inside the ride at all times.

Several elements from the debut album are continued in this sophomore offering, most notably the tendency to pack as many styles and left turns into a 3 to 4 minute song as possible. However, the duo has also discovered a penchant for going a bit more bonkers during short interludes at around a minute in length. About seven of these freakouts are sprinkled throughout the album, featuring such evocative titles as “Old Sparky”, “Hello Dear Miss Swan Song” and… “dumbdumb”. From thrash to ambient to near acapella, there’s something for everyone in these startling diversions.

“II” Album Artwork

Back to the more “traditional songs” (tongue in cheek)… There’s no question that McStine can write a potent rock hit when he wants to. But where his other band The Fringe might focus on that kind of consistent output, this collaboration with Minnemann leads to more schizophrenic places. Therefore, even the most radio-friendly of these songs retains its predictability for only a short portion of its run time. Case in point: “I Don’t Feel” carries an incredibly catchy chorus which would make Richie Kotzen proud, but outside of their three repetitions there’s almost nothing obvious about this little number. For most listeners who are drawn to these particular musicians, that’s going to be a good thing. Whether it’s the walking bass lines, the scat-like guitar runs, the drum breaks or any other of the numerous inventions on display, there is no shortage of quirks or surprises in this piece which fades out as innocuously as it appears. Likewise, “I Don’t Need It” features several soothing sections of pop bliss, but juxtaposes those brief moments with McStine singing an extended discordant F note over the E chord in each verse. Like we said: a little something for everyone.

Big Wave” and “Tired” are the only pieces which approach anything resembling traditional song form, perhaps leading them to being some of the strongest numbers in this collection. McStine’s wide collection of guitars are at the fore on the latter, reveling in delightful melodic bliss. His bass playing on “Girls At the Gig” is satisfyingly fat, delivered with a well-balanced production which shines throughout. While Minnemann can transform any song into a drum masterclass, the arrangements of “Distant Bodies”, “The Horse is Dead” and the charmingly titled “Quarantine Sex Slave” particularly draw attention to his strengths, the former even featuring a drum breakdown section. Of course, Minnemann does much more than drum on the album, his abilities on guitar, keys, voice and songwriting complimenting McStine’s diverse abilities. Shudder to think if this duo would add a member and become a trio.

While this album is only 9 minutes longer than their brief debut, for this duo that translates to about 253 additional musical ideas than the previous album. The tracking is relentless with one song fading – or exploding – right into the next, at times jarringly so. To a certain extent, less is more for these guys and where the debut succeeded in delivering a dizzying amount of notes in a concise package, the material in their followup runs the risk of being too across-the-map for the listener to truly savor. Undoubtedly some fans will relish in this onslaught; it’s really a subjective call. What is undeniable is that both of these artists are delighted to be creatively unrestrained, going in whichever direction their frenetic inspiration takes them. Hats off to creative souls such as these.

Released by: Self-Released
Released on: December 1st, 2020
Genre: Progressive Rock

Musicians:

  • Randy McStine / Vocals, Electric and Acoustic Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Percussion, FX 
  • Marco Minnemann / Drums, Percussion, Electric and Acoustic Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals, Bass, FX

“II” Track-listing:

  1. Love Before Algorithms
  2. I Don’t Need It
  3. I Don’t Feel
  4. Girls At The Gig
  5. Big Wave
  6. Tired
  7. REM
  8. Love After Algorithms
  9. The Flame
  10. Old Sparky
  11. Quarantine Sex Slave
  12. Hello Dear Miss Swan Song
  13. dumbdumb
  14. Distant Bodies
  15. Running In Place
  16. The Horse Is Dead

8.8 Excellent

Having only debuted their duo this past July, Randy McStine and Marco Minnemann waste no time in continuing the thread of their inspiration for album number two. Their original blending of styles stretches out even further than their first release, to startling directions. It’s almost as if these two creative souls were locked in their homes for three months straight with no other outlets than to swap music files back and forth…imagine that. What results is a wild ride with the listener hanging on for dear life.

  • Songwriting 7
  • Musicianship 9.5
  • Originality 9
  • Production 9.5
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