Friday, November 30, 2007

The Bongos - Drums Along the Hudson

What is the perfect pop song?

In the aftermath of the punk implosion, when it was cool to actually know how to play your instrument again, The Bongos burst forth from the mean streets of Hoboken, New Jersey, asking that very question. What is the perfect pop song? Combining driving acoustic guitars and throbbing bass with edgy, often quirky song structures, nearly impenetrable lyrics and the perfect-pitch, quavering tenor of Richard Barone, Drums Along the Hudson emerged as their answer.

Hanging onto the D.I.Y. ethic of punk, but abandoning its posturing for craft, The Bongos created beautiful post-punk melodies, dripped in honey and wrapped up in the guise of pop songs. Drums Along the Hudson, collects their initial singles and serves as their first full-length L.P. Recently reissued by Cooking Vinyl, and blessed with the inclusion of a literal ton of unreleased live tracks and a new mix of “the Bulrushes” by Bongos fan Moby, Drums Along the Hudson is a must buy for any fan of power pop.

Whereas other bands of the time, like The Beat, or the Plimsouls infused basic sixties song structures with a new found energy, The Bongos favored offbeat song signatures, unexpected tribal drum breaks, punchy guitars and avant-garde sax riffs. “In The Congo,” starts off with a stuttering electric riff, before the acoustic guitar bursts forth, strumming the song to a frenzy. “The Bulrushes,” perhaps the Bongos most beautiful melody (apart from “Sweet Blue Cage” from the Numbers with Wings EP) thrives off the acoustic guitar, the strumming keeping time for Barone’s lyrics of vague religious epiphany. At all times, the excellent rhythm section of Norris and Giannini never falters, propelling the song forward.

Now, don’t let all this talk of acoustic guitars lull you into thinking that this is folk music. The Bongos rock with the passion of the Minutemen, the acoustics offering a unique aural texture to their punchy songs. Lyrically, the Bongos can express great sentiment or sinister mystery, often within the same song. On "Telephoto Lens," hiding behind a war drum intro and a staccato guitar burst, Barone’s sweet, innocent tenor sings, “Telephoto lens/Alone in the City/I’m making some friends/tonight,” adding a new twist to urban voyeurism. The meanings of other songs like “Clay Midgets,”” Video Eyes, “and “Certain Harbours,” are anybody’s guess.

But again, don’t let the slanted lyrics lead you to believe that the Bongos are obtuse or inaccessible. The exact opposite is true. The absolute simplistic pop beauty of “Hunting,” and “Zebra Club,” are as readily accessible as anything by Squeeze or Talking Heads. This is quite simply beautiful music, catchy, punchy and fun.

The strength of the original release of Drums Along the Hudson propelled the Bongos to go on and sign with a Major label, where they released the tantalizing Numbers EP and their only true full-length LP, Beat Hotel before they were lost to time. Richard Barone went on to craft an adventurous solo career, while the other members broke off to other projects, yet still, the Bongos music lived on. Now thanks to Cooking Vinyl, we can all relish once again in the sumptuous melodies of some of the early eighties most perfect pop songs.

–Racer X

Buy here: Drums Along the Hudson

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

BrainToy - Tremors

Braintoy is one of a number of gems that I’ve mined from the music mountain known as Myspace. I stumbled on these cats about a year ago and was impressed enough by their samplings to shell out my hard earned cash for their E.P. “Tremors”. I think it’s money well spent because even after a year, this disc has held up well.

When the disc kicks off, we’re asked “Is this what you’ve been waiting for?”, and for me, the answer is, “Well . . . yeah. I guess it is.” You see, I was at a point where pretty much everything that I was hearing made me want to tear my eyes out and shove them in my ears to block the noise. I needed something new. Something fresh. Something that would keep my eyes in my skull, perk up my ears, and get my toes tapping.

“Tremors” is a five song disc that borrows from “Opiate” era Tool. The rest of the sounds are all Braintoy. Christian Anderson (guitarist) uses an arsenal of effects and tones to carry the mood of the band. Let’s not forget his ability to simply bring the riffs that rock, and his brilliant moments of virtuosity. Devin Gasteiger (bass/keyboard) thunders along in the background, adding flourishes of texture, delivering punchy bass lines and staying in tight communication with Riley O'Connor (drummer). Riley’s performance is purely awe inspiring in that he holds this crew together through the complex time changes and dynamic shifts. Brett Fitzgerald (vocals) perfectly conveys the emotions of the songs, at times channeling his inner Maynard Keenan, at times creating his own unique voice.

Songs that you’ll want to pay close attention to are As I Am, Cul-De-Sac, and Humour Me. These particular songs highlight Braintoy at their best. A heavy dose of cerebral metal with a leaning towards prog-rock. Highly complex arrangements made accessible by uncanny melody. Smart music, but not pretentious. Brainy tunes with an underlying primal groove. “Tremors” gives us a glimpse of a band on the brink of doing something spectacular. Is it the greatest disc in the world? No. Is it something to pay close attention to? Most certainly.With a new singer in their camp who’s range and ability simply enhance the Braintoy sound, the future is bright for the band (as well as for my eyes!) If you can find the disc, it’s well worth the price. Be a part of the Braintoy movement before it passes you by.

--Pope JTE

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Bad Brains - Quickness

Yo, crib can be crabit/hot hot standings with the quickness/well dem callit hip hop while others cuckin’ be bop/they rushin’ go go/ I check for One drop/ma jam the disco through acid rock/mash it up with hardcore/dem rockers broke the scene.

Someone needs to check, because I’m not sure if the Bad Brains aren’t still banned in DC, but 25 years ago the Rastafarian rockers were purveyors of some of the loudest noises to be placed on record, the Rior sessions. To this day, Rior is still, literally, one of the most ferocious performances ever recorded, making the Stooges look like a lounge act, and Never Mind the Bullocks sound like Foreigner.

Energy such as that is hard to focus, and succeeding Bad Brains albums were a continued dilution of their power, their energy, their songwriting, their sheer uniqueness through various producers. The less said about those albums, with the exception of part of I Against I, the better.

Then Quickness came along to knock the knick knacks off the bookshelves again. A full 7 years after the Rior session, and long after the DC hardcore scene had either grown up, flunked out, O.D'd or moved on and gotten real jobs, Bad Brains was focused with an album full of solid songs and Rastafarian fury.

Produced by Ron St. Germain, who has the talent for being able to make records loud but crisp, not muddied or distorted (a talent that he would take the third Living Colour record), allows us to get a faceful of Dr Know's guitar, and HR's vocals in a way that prior releases only hinted at. If you’d been this close at a club show, you’d be bruised and bloodied by the second number. Quickness opens with Soul Craft, as molten guitars collude with HR's scat singing: Peaceful direction in this unity/strap on survival kit/no drugs inside of you/fly the sour craft on your own. That taste in your mouth is copper, someone’s broken your nose and you're crammed up by the mosh pit right against the PA and you're not moving anytime soon. Quickness lays down their intentions to retake the musical territory that they themselves helped bulldoze.

Describing music can be like smelling colors; you’re not quite sure if you can ever convey the flow of sound as it washes over you, much less convey accurately the punch in the gut that the best rhythm sections convey. Even a deaf man could keep time with the assault of bass and drums and guitar the rocks With The Quickness, You’ Juice and No Conditions. And when you’re convinced that the band can’t pull it back to save their, or your, lives, the settle into the experienced reggae groove on The Prophets Eye.

Time has dulled the legacy of Bad Brains, as well as diluted line ups that have toured under the name as original members have gone and come. But while the rest of the world watches The Decline of Western Civilization: The Metal Years on IFC and, rightly so, laughs their ass off, some one needs to chronicle the time in the ‘80’s when bands changed the music landscape as much as any time since the ‘60’s. Pick up Quickness and the Rior Sessions. Bulldozed indeed.

--Fearless Rock Iguana

Buy here: Quickness

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Down - III – Over the Under

Oooph! That’s either the sound of some unsuspecting swab getting sucker punched while he’s sleeping, or it’s the sound you’ll make when you put on Down’s latest release, “Over the Under”. This album is stunning in it’s pure and unadulterated heaviness. It’s punishing in it’s passion, and it’s unapologetic. It’s frighteningly familiar, and all too real. A perfect reflection of the frustrations of not just five like minded musicians, but of an entire region of this country. It will hit you on a primal level, but it will also affect the psyche on a cerebral level. It’s as honest of an album as you’ll get.

We all should know that we’re going to get an uncompromising piece of music when Down comes to party. They’re one of those bands that plays what they want regardless of the current market trends. They’re not too concerned about offending you. They’re true to themselves so that they can be true to their fans. And, up until this point, I was never completely sold on the band. Yeah . . . the previous releases rock, and they rock well. But, there was something missing, and I’m still unsure what that “something” is.

Three Suns and One Star opens the album with the typical intensity one would expect from Down, and kind of reacquaints you with the power of the band for the next few songs. You know that sound . . . guitars tuned down to the ridiculous. Bass rumbling steadily in the background. Drums that feel like your mom’s pelting you with pots and pans. And all of that kept in neat formation by vocals that range from that of a crooning blues man, to the screams of a haunted soul. Once we get through the first four tunes the real fun begins with On March the Saints, Never Try, and Mourn. The latter has got to have the sludgiest riff ever put to disc! It’s almost as if the beginning of the album is a massive build up for the middle and end parts. The disc mellows just a hair with the Kashmir-esque Beneath the Tides and the mesmerizing His Majesty the Desert, and finally picks up the tempo one last time with Pillamyd and In the Thrall of It All. All of it is then neatly wrapped up with Nothing in Return (Walk Away), which is a grinding blues based beast of a tune.

Through the ass kicking that you’ll inevitably receive from this album, there is melody. We’re not just dealing with a metal band yelling incomprehensible lyrics for an hour. It’s the catchiest disc that Down have released and it’s also the most concise. Maybe that’s the “something” that was missing before? The band doesn’t stray far from the course by putting on throw away tracks or interludes. They start this thing heavy, and they end it heavy, showing just enough heavy metal virtuosity to keep the attention from wandering too far. All of this leads me to the boldest statement I’ll be making for the rest of this year. Okay . . . here it goes . . . deep breath . . . look the reader square in the eye . . .

This may very well be the best metal album of 2007, and I’m watching it climb the Everest that is my top albums of all time. There, I’ve put it in print even . . . “Over the Under” is one of the best metal albums of all time! It has everything you need to rock out. Good riffs? Uh huh. Singability? Yup. Dynamics? Yes sir. Attitude? Without question. Give yourself the gift that truly keeps on giving (all year long, Clark), and buy this album. Don’t let it pass you by and wonder ten years from now why you were never part of the movement. It’s just that good!

--Pope JTE

Buy here: Down - Over The Under

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Wild Magnolias - They Call Us Wild

The Wild Magnolias are the penultimate New Orleans Mardi Gras funk band, and I mean that literarly, as in Mardi Gras is their entire reason for being. Emerging from an African-American gang-land tradition that goes back decades, the Magnolias are one of the Mardi Gras Indian tribes, gangs of men that traded street brawling and crime for massive funk song contests and flamboyant Mardi Gras costumes. This black Indian culture, rooted in caribbean influence, was so pervasive through the wards of New Orleans in the seventies, even the City's first family of funk, the Neville Brothers had their own Tribe, the Wild Tchoupitoulas led by their uncle "Big Chief Jolly" Landry. Wearing their sequined coats and headdresses, these tribes would parade through the neighborhoods and wards, searching for other Mardi Gras Indian tribes to engage in an all out funk and roll battle.. The result is some of the most smoldering music to emerge from the Big Easy.

Recorded in1975, this reissue of They Call Us Wild is matched as a two-CD set with The Wild Magnolias, the debut album from 1973, and both discs are a rollicking good time of down home funk. A simmering stew of call and response chanting, gruff boasting vocals, deep rolling baselines, scat guitar and tons of caribo-african polyrhythms. The Magnolias lock onto a grove and don't let go. Imagine Parliament/Funkadelic dispatched from the outer reaches of space and plopped down face-first in the bayou, with as much zany flamboyance as George Clinton can muster, a hint of the barrio groove of War, and a smattering of early Meters bass thumping, and you'll begin to get a feeling for the way Big Chief Bo Dollis leads his Indians through their funk/caribbean pastiches.

Originals like "Handa Wanda," and "Two Way Pak E Way," set the pace with thundering funk bass hooks leading into an African-style call and response that is so mesmerizing it becomes hypontic. Calypso touches flitter across "Meet the Boys (on the Battlefield)," while the rolling funk version of the N.O. classic "When the Saints (come marching home) needs to be heard to be believed. Ol' Louis Armstrong never heard the song played like this before.

Admittedly, The Wild Magnolias would be best seen to be appreciated. With their tribal outfits and the outrageous flamboyance of Big Chief Bo leading a full band of percussionists, one can only imagine what they must be like, parading through the streets of New Orleans, pounding out the funk to the thousands of drunk and gyrating revelers. Still, this CD collection adequately brings their stomping good time back to the suburbs. Plug it in, turn it on, mix up a hurricane, grab your beads, let loose your ass and bring Fat Tuesday home. Amen. -- Racer X

Buy here: They Call Us Wild

Monday, November 19, 2007

Curve - Cuckoo

We travel back to the dark days of 1993 to look at Curve’s second full length release, Cuckoo, a dark, noisy, brilliant album.

Back when the electronic mash up of samples, noises and distortions were being assembled with something like the rock and metal vibe, something that Trent Reznor would pioneer, and Filter would take to extreme with Hey Man Nice Shot, Curve was releasing a series of small singles with some of the same intensity, but a cooler, more detached demeanor. Taking the training wheels off, they would release Doppleganger in 1990, with a stunning track in Fait Accompli to cap off a great first effort.

Cuckoo would follow up two years later. Toni Halliday, who suffered the handicap of being hot in a decidedly goth way, opens up the album with the lines “I had a heart but I buried it someplace/I had a brain but my body won the race”, perhaps in reaction to the someone in the brit music press memorably calling her a “nosferatu love kitten”, surely one of the great nicknames of all time. What Toni, I’m sure, thought was lost was that she was a confident vocalist with a strong presence who was more than just a pretty face.

Working with Alan Moulder, Garcia and Halliday would craft an album that is filled with deep throbbing bass lines, powerful guitars and interesting percussion, over which all of Toni applied her icy vocals. Curve understood the delicate balance of light and heavy that Nine Inch Nails did so well on their first album and then lost.

Was it Toni or Dean that wrote “There she is in the doghouse/she sure doesn’t’ know what she’s done wrong/still she lies in the doghouse/don’t think that she can carry on” on Crystal? Or the group chorus that sings for all angry abused lovers on All Of One “You told me I knew nothing at all/and I believed you”. Or the memorable couplets of Turkey Crossing “All my traits are charming/they live beyond their means/ you might consider that a failure/I’ve had it with you/you’ve had it with me.”

There was that moment in time in 92 or 93 when if you weren’t Nirvana (or a Blink 182 follow-up) then you were crushed under the weight of the single wave of grunge. Curve was too controlled, too icy, and too English at times to have ever reached the critical mass, despite the craft that they displayed. Now, almost 15 years on, we can listen Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus, the 3rd track in, without completely cringing that they decided to lift that particular bit of pop culture for a title. Listen to Toni’s breathy deliver on the first part of the chorus, and you’ll find yourself hearing that in your head the next time you see the book in the remainder bin at Barnes and Noble.

Even the production works at high volume; indeed, the album makes use of the broader palette on CD to produce work that needs to be played in a large space with a good sound system. Cuckoo was on the jukebox at the Sophies, one of my favorite pool playing joints on 5th St. in New York, and I would program a couple of the tracks so that I could shoot combos to the rich drums of Superblaster, Missing Link or Left of Mother.

Curve would record other albums long after this one, but to me, this is the one that stands up as Toni and Dean are at the height of their creative powers. The balance is just right. Turn out the lights and turn up the music.

Below, a video from Missing Link from Cuckoo.

- The Fearless Rock Iguana

Buy here: Cuckoo

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Eric Hamilton – Dear Pia

So, a couple weeks ago, I’m sitting in traffic on my way to my 9 to 5 gig, when a random song pops up on my trusty iPod and the lyrics catch my attention, “ . . . instead of being stuck here with the cattle on the interstate”. After a quick glance at the screen, I notice that it’s Eric Hamilton’s If I Were a Cowboy, and I realize that I need to listen to this disc a little bit more. I remember buying the album, “Dear Pia” and I remember playing it a few times. But outside of the opening track, I didn’t remember much else about the disc. If someone had walked up to me and asked me if this album was good, I would have probably just nodded yes on Hamilton’s reputation alone, not on the actual contents of said disc. Kind of sounds like a bad sign, doesn’t it? Fear not, Loyal Ones, for I have spent many a day revisiting “Dear Pia” and embracing the musicianship of Eric Hamilton.

“Dear Pia” is an acoustically driven album that highlights Eric’s various styles. He can rock as hard as the next guy, but he brings a whole new sultry swagger to his blues-roots groove by way of his vocals. Honest vocals hit the nerves to the point that you too can feel his pain. Country-fried rock with little jazz flourishes here and there, perfectly timed bits of bluegrass, a pinch of Latin flair, some funk. He pulls it all off flawlessly.

The disc opens with a great jazzy-blues bit entitled, Nightlife of the Living Dead, which highlights his ability to create characters with lyric. He then lays down a groovin’ acoustic riff on I Don’t Mind that will inevitably have your feet moving. And, it goes on from there. Ebbing and flowing from mid-tempo, head bobbing tunes, to slow paced tearjerkers, ultimately wrapping up with an all out ho-down inspired ditty. By the time “Dear Pia” comes to an end, I find myself wondering, ‘Why the hell don’t I listen to this more?’

Though Eric Hamilton seems to adapt well to various musical styles, his strongest suit is the more mid tempo straight forward tunes. And, if he’s got the acoustic guitar going, boy . . . sit down! It doesn’t get much more emotional than that. Take a listen to So Tore Up With You and Another Shade of Blue and get back with me. It’ll bring back images of all those singer / songwriters from the ‘70’s that you love so much, just more edgy. It’s probably this aspect of his style that keeps me coming back for more. Honesty. He’s a musician who’s lived what he writes. He’s struggled with the typical industry issues . . . poor management, poor promotions, lack of support, etc. Yet, he’s still out there writing and recording, and it looks like he’s getting the necessary support from his label, Rawhide Records.

And, while Eric is out there living the musician’s life, I’ll continue sitting in traffic wishing I were him, and eventually writing reviews on the rest of his catalogue.--Pope JTE

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Jen Trynin - Gun Shy Trigger Happy

The aura of the lost classic pop masterpiece is a hard one to describe. It gleams out at you from behind the counter of the CD store, jumps out at you from the stack on the floor of an ex-girlfriend’s bedroom, calls to you from a late night video binge of forgotten 120 Minutes recordings. Somewhere out there, is a lone voice calling from the past, and it informs your present in an eerily preciecent way.

Jen Trynin was signed to Warner Bros in the fall of 94, in the wave of rock’s “Girls with Balls” off the strength of her self distributed debut Cockamamie. When Cockamamie failed to hit, and Jen was out on the road having an ill-advised affair with her bassist, Alanis did hit, and Jen and Cockamamie were thrown under a bus.

With a little more experience, a ton of anger, and the ability to be scathingly honest in her couplets, Jen went into the studio and recorded Gun Shy Trigger Happy. With this, she staked her claim to great lost pop rock masterpiece.

Jen doesn’t mess with all the little fidgety guitar parts, playing her power chords with authority while singing soaring harmonies on top of a wall of sound. The opening cut, Go Ahead, explodes out of the speakers, the band at full volume with a chorus of Jens singing. “Go Ahead/I won’t be too far behind/kill the lights and I’ll try and keep my mind on you and my body in this bed”. The band doesn’t let her down, delivering with a ferocity that leaves you totally unprepared for the pop smarts and delicious harmonies of Februrary, which would hardly have sounded out of place coming from a small transistor radio on the beach back in 1969.

Writing Notes, is sparse and quiet, and we sink into the melancholy of the lyrics, “writing notes about being sorry driving out of town too drunk to see I miss who I used to be” over a sparse backbeat. There is Motown in the background vocals and a plaintive yearning in the lines “do you have anything to hide/don’t you have anything to hide?”

Working outside of the power trio format that she confined herself to on her first record, Jen expanded her sound, and she and Deneen worked to let each song find its own voice. Bore Me, leans on a heavy backbeat, with squirmy guitar flitting in and out of the production. Washington Hotel, lyrically plants her wants and needs front and center “I don’t know why I think that you could do anything for me/but I’d rather die thinking you can’t live without me/you can’t live without me” while sonically she’s channeling Led Zeppelin (Carouselambra-style Led Zeppelin). “I’d like to say it was great while it lasted/but I won’t lie/I’d like to think that it was you I was after/and not ask why” she opines on I Resign. The music swirls around the lyrics and creates a trance of sadness and regret.

Small wonder that she finally pens one in the third person on Around It. As Jen has written extensively about this time period, and the affair that prompted much of the lyrics on this record, it is clear that this is a brutal period of self assessment and critique. Putting a song finally on someone else must have been a relief.

Not surprisingly, Jen closes the 13 song cycle with a small quiet song, Rang You and Ran, that is simply a small, quiet story of one woman’s relationship admission: I’m not good at this and I don’t know why.

Jen Trynin’s story is that she is the least equipped person on the planet to deal with pop stardom. Her one other bit of sonic legacy is playing a mean, kick ass guitar on the one and only Loveless album, available on Q Division records from 2005. Gun Shy Trigger Happy is her one, shining bit of pop rock Valhalla. Rock on Jen.

--the fearless rock iguana

Buy here: Gun Shy Trigger Happy

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Thieves - Tales from the White Line

Coming from Oxford, The Thieves take the mood and ambience of Brit-rock and add a hefty dose of AC/DC muscularity, creating a sound wholly unheard elsewhere on the British Isles. The result leaves the band a little hard to categorize, too rocking for the Manchester shoe-gazers, they're too produced to be comfortably called a garage band. In the end it doesn't matter, this is Brit-rock the way it's supposed to be; Stereophonics on adrenaline, Oasis with testicles.

Gone is the annoying pretense of Oasis channeling the Beatles, in its stead we get the perfect pop-rock of "Gimme Some Lip," blasting off the lead track with a muted AC/DC riff blending into one of the most infectious choruses to ever emerge from Oxford. "It Still Goes On," starts off with synthesized vocals over atmospherics, before dropping into a perfect Manchester shoe-gazer, trance beat, as Stone Roses-esque as these boys get, before "Oh No," takes you right back to the garage, or whatever passes for a garage in the UK. The Peter Criss drum opening marches right into a three-chord riff that would make Jet proud before launching into another pulsing chorus, guaranteed to stick in your brain. The whole thing is finished off with a fuzz lead guitar solo. Nicely done.

The Thieves made small inroads in the US after leaving Oxford and settling in LA, but there is much more here than the market has caught onto. "Just a Piece," charges at you with an urgency rarely heard in the UK scene. "Everynight," beats the Strokes at their own game with a smoldering bottom end, "Silverliner," throws in a touch of the Mississippi swamp, loose string picking over a rolling blues beat, while "Don't You Lose Me," comes at you all AC/DC swagger and riffs before chiming into a prototypical Manchester melodic chorus. Beautiful.

If you like your Brit-rock a little simpler on the production and song structure, clear of the pretense and ego, and thick in the riffery of classic rock, the Thieves are for you. Check them out at www.theband or or find them at liquor and poker records, another fine band from an excellent label

Buy the CD

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Trettioariga Kriget – I Borjan Och Slutet

Music is a universal art form. I realized this a couple of years ago when I first stumbled on these prog-rockers from Sweden. Do me a favor, O Loyal Reader. Put aside any predisposed feelings about lyrics sung in a foreign language. In fact, open your mind and grasp what is really at the heart of why you listen to music in the first place. The melody. The groove. The soul. Baby . . . this is music and it’s beautiful!

I eagerly awaited the release of Trettioariga Kriget’s “I Borjan Och Slutet” (Thirty Year War – In the Beginning and the End), as if it were the most important album of the year. And, in some ways, maybe it was. Early in the year of 2007, I marked the release date on my calendar and referred back to that date to ensure it didn’t get by me. In so many ways, this is a disc that pulled me back from the proverbial precipice edge. It’s inspired me. I immediately went home to pick up my own guitar and play. To create with sound and emotion. Something that helped me see the bigger picture. Ya’ know?

My first impression was the crispness of the individual instruments. The drums have a serious “pop” to them. The bass is always present, but never over powering. The guitars have a voice unto themselves and guide the tunes through the various emotional shifts. The keyboards and vocals flow into the remaining nooks and crannies to complete the overall picture. Hats off to Dag Lundquist, not only for his spectacular drum work, but his production skills have been brought forth an epic piece of art!

The disc starts off with the band slowly entering the scene and gradually building up the emotion. Each instrument working together, yet speaking in its own voice, avoiding the pitfalls of dynamic shifts and time changes. With the first song being an instrumental, it’s a great way to introduce first time listeners to the band. Just as said listener is getting settled into the swing of things, TK effortlessly slide into the second track with Stefan Fredin’s droning bass tone and Christer Akerberg’s ornate guitar work layered over the groove. The disc continues in this fashion for the next hour, adding flourishes of honky-tonk guitar riffs, middle eastern influences, ebbs and flows. Robert Zima’s vocals have the perfect timing of melding tone and melody to the context of the songs. He never attempts to sing beyond his abilities. Mats Lindberg adds the right amount of texture, especially in the center section of Lovsang and it’s dramatic build up. Dag . . . well, he’s just the hero of the day. A little Pink Floyd influence with an ‘80’s pop sensibility makes this band one of the more interesting bands around.

I credit the collaboration of Fredin’s musical prowess and Olle Thornvall’s lyricism, as well as the aforementioned production work, for what is a seamless album. Though every track stands alone with it’s own feel, listening to “I Borjan Och Slutet” is best done straight through. Not that it’s traditional concept album by any means, it’s just that the songs are arranged so well and flow into one another effortlessly. It’s a complex album with dynamic shifts, so the listener is never bored, but it’s also straight forward enough that damn near anybody could enjoy it. And, to help us non-Swedish speaking folk, TK included the English translation to the lyrics, which helps us appreciate Olle’s work that much more.

This is one of those rare discs where every song is practically flawless, but I do have personal favorites that touch my soul. Barndom opens my eyes and has me looking forward with great expectations. Benke, Lovsang, Oknen, have me excited about living and deeply focused on the tasks at hand. And most importantly, the title track makes me joyous and proud of my accomplishments. After breaking this album down, one can see that it’s really a story about the various cycles of life. From the opening notes of I Krigets Tid I, we are born and entering the world of the living. By the end of the disc, we have lived our lives and are looking towards the next journey.

Brilliant work, gentlemen . . . now I eagerly await the follow up! --Pope JTE

Buy here:

I Borjan Och Slutet

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Verve - A Northern Soul

There is a moment, about 3 seconds into the second song of The Verve’s A Northern Soul, when the band launches into full flight, the top rack of lights fills the stage and the promise of a rock band is fulfilled. The power chords fill the concert hall, fill your room, fill your headphones, and the four musicians whole have become greater together than the sum of their parts.

A Northern Soul is distinct expansion upon the Manchester sound from the mid-90’s, the biggest export of which was the Stone Roses. The Verve come from a hippie shoe gazing background, acoustic guitar included, but they shoe gaze not because they’re on heroin, but because they’re slightly shy. When they plug in, the groups’ sound is massive, just the right amount of echo and delay to give all the depth and beauty to the wall of guitars.

Opening with A New Decade, yearning acoustic guitars, trippy drums, The Verve balance with the bombast of This Is Music, a devastating track that announces their intentions for the rest of the album: we’re gonna give you a little down time, but then we’re going to rock the house the rest of the way. The distorted guitar noise of A Northern Soul sounds like a mistake until the drums and bass kick in, and give a solid rhythmic foundation for the guitar to rest in.

The Verve didn’t actually have a hit until their last album with the song Bittersweet Symphony, sung over an old repeating Rolling Stones sample. (Their finest 3 minutes, the song Blue, appears in its best form on their outtakes and B-sides album, never the best career move.) Here they use some of the same motifs: repeating patterns stretched and pushed against some great drumming to build the tension on the rockers, played again and again, avoiding, deftly, almost all of the cliché’s of “trance rock”. Without a standout single, A Northern Soul falls deftly into the 1970’s AOR tradition of playing the whole album and only putting the roach down to flip the record over. Thank God for CDs.

While slower acoustic interludes allow the Verve to wear their influences on their emo sleeves, there are moments of classic rock beauty on this little neglected gem of an album. Track it down at your nearest used CD shop

The Fearless Rock Iguana

Buy here: A Northern Soul

Friday, November 9, 2007

L.A. Getaway - A Sleazy blues bar in the Canyon

It's 1:30 am after a hard night of drinking. As you stumble back to your New Orleans Hotel, walking through the quagmire of spoiled beer and vomit that cover Bourbon Street, remnants of another Friday night in the Big Easy, you decide to stop off at one last bar. It's that darkened place just off the main drag away from the tourists, with a flickering neon sign and a passed out bum in front. As you wrap your hands around your fifteenth cold Black Voodoo beer of the night and grab a seat, a bunch of hairy, bearded guys climb up on stage and grab the instruments that the house band left behind. After a brief discussion of who's going to sit in on which instrument, the boys begin to play. L.A. Getaway has arrived.

From the down home boogie of "Bring it to Jerome," to the honky tonk of "It's your Love," and the gospel strains of "Long Ago,” L.A. Getaway bring it on home. A minor supergroup of sorts, L.A. Getaway are Joel Scott Hill of Canned Heat fame, drummer Johnny Barbata from the Turtles and Chris Etheridge, of the Flying Burrito Brothers. Armed with a handful of Crosby, Stills and Nashesque Laurel Canyon rockers, a case of beer and an armful of blues, these relative misfits came together to lay down some magic, a free form jam, in what turned out to be a one off recording.

Joel Scott Hill is just becoming recognized as one of the unheralded great white American Blues vocalists. Each inflection in his tone hints at a man who has seen his share of hard times. But don't think this album is a downer, far from it. L. A. Getaway is a rollicking blues biker bar of a good time. "Craney Crow," a midtempo boiling blues number reigns supreme on this bar room selection, with the haunting "Ole Man Trouble," coming in close behind. Elsewhere, honky tonk, barroom boogie like "Eyesight," and the title track make L.A. Getaway a secret stash of blues magic, a brief flash of lightning captured in a bottle. Recently reissued on Water CD's, a great re-issue company from San Francisco, it is definitely worth your time. Now shut up and pass the beernuts. --Racer X

Buy here: L.A. Getaway

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Shadows Fall - The Art of Balance

Have you ever found yourself panning for gold in an icy northern California stream? Wading through the spring thaw and finding, wedged in between some slime-covered rocks, a chunk of shining metal? Kind of a cool idea. Well, without going through the physical extremes, I recently found myself on a similar trek, with similar results.

Shadows Fall is about as fine a metal as real gold! From the first distorted notes of Idle Hands to the last strains of the most epic rendition of Pink Floyd’s Welcome To The Machine, I realize that I’ve stumbled onto something special. They’ve been touted as being “ Poised on the cusp of metal greatness “ by Transworld Stance, and me thinks that they would be correct!

The music has a classic Iron Maiden quality with it’s flowing scales and chaotic bursts of sound to graceful acoustic interludes. Lead guitarist Jonathan Donais showers us with some of the most captivating and melodic guitar work that I’ve heard from a metal band in quite some time. The solo for Stepping Outside the Circle and The Art of Balance are tasteful with just a touch of virtuosity.

As for the rest of the band, they compliment each other extremely well. The rolling time changes remind me, again, of Iron Maiden, as do the guitar harmonies. Very reminiscent of the glory days of heavy metal!

The break in the middle portion of Mystery of One Spirit is phenomenal, with it’s jazzy tones that blend perfectly with the more aggressive guitar solos. The whole CD keeps the listener, well . . . listening. You’re never really quite sure what the band intends to do next, which makes this one a fun listen.

While the music tends to remind me of the more traditional metal bands, the vocals bleed with the aggression of the world of hardcore. But don’t take that to mean that Brian Fair can’t sing. He carries that hardcore sound with a touch of melody to make things interesting. Though I do believe that if Shadows Fall is going to take that next step to “ metal greatness,” Mr. Fair will have to find a greater range. Don’t get me wrong, his voice works great on this album, but if in ten years Shadows Fall release The Art of Balance, Part V, I will be disappointed.

The whole album is a highlight, but the tracks that I suggest you pay close attention to are Thoughts Without Words, The Art of Balance, Mystery of One Spirit, A Fire In Babylon (which should get a honorable mention for the brilliant composition and musicianship, every member shines like the sun of their own solar system), and Welcome to the Machine - Roger Waters should be pleased, but who really knows what’s going on in the mind of that guy!

I would usually reserve this area for my more negative comments, but I have nothing. That’s not to say that every moment on The Art of Balance is good, but it’s hard to find anything bad. If I were to find a negative within this disc, it would be Brian Fair’s vocals, but as I mentioned . . . it works for now. Hell, listen to Welcome to the Machine and tell me this guy doesn’t have the potential to create his own voice.

It’s albums like this that make me excited to dip my feet into those icy streams in hopes to find more gold. Thanks guys, hell of a job, hell of an album, and don’t lose sight of what made this magic happen. - Pope JTE

Buy here: The Art of Balance

Friday, November 2, 2007

apb - Three

The last few years have seen been an embarrassment of riches for the apb fan, with the successfully reissued Something to Believe In followed by the excellent live Radio 1 Sessions, the BBC Recordings. But still, after a gap of 21 years, no fan could be faulted for wondering which apb were going to show up on the new CD Three; the smoothly-produced white boy soul of Cure for the Blues, or the earlier boisterous funk rockers of Something to Believe In. The guys in apb, however, never leave us guessing. Skipping over both periods of the band's history, they dip farther into their past, digging deep into their early funk Buzzcockian punk roots. Eschewing the pop-synth of Cure for the Blues, "Ghost of My Love," roars out of the speakers, all spastic guitars and looping bass lines, an immediate successor to their early-classic "Shoot You Down." I'm sorry, but no band that hasn't played together in two decades has the right to sound this urgent. Gone is the wide-eyed optimism of "Palace Filled with Love," replaced with the bitterly sardonic, "I can't wait for the day to come, when the ghost of my love is finally gone." Whatever happened in the years since their last release, a happy love life clearly wasn't one of them. As an opener, it's a stunner.

From there, the boys never let up. "Free Again," locks in a punk funk groove with more urgency than anything heard from the recent spate of eighties revivalists. "Love by the Seasons," throws the listener a curveball, dipping into the band's artpunk aspirations a la Wire or Pere Ubu, while "Yawn" dips into a beastially heavy Buzzcocks riff for the chorus, bursting through Glenn Roberts's jerky guitar fills.

And just when you begin to miss the looser free-for-all funk of "Danceablity," the boys come raging back with "Drag," finding Iain Slater's slap-happy fingers dancing across the frets in a scattered flurry. Then, just when you think the guys have reached their zenith, "Bad Tempered Spinster," boils out of the speakers, locking into a groove that could make Shriekback wish they were next in the reformation line. "Less" blasts out, another angular Wire-esque art punk montage, before "Shock You," races off to the finish line. George Cheyne's drumming is never more urgent, bashing though Slater's slap bass and keeping the boys locked into another full-out funk boiler until "Choose Your Exit" rips you back to another Buzzcocks pop-punk workout. And at this point, as you're fighting to catch your breath, sweat dripping off the end of your nose, there are still five songs left, climaxing with the full-on funk punk of "House of the Living Dead." The final two songs are unnecessary, afterthoughts to the aural frenzy that you've just witnessed.

With a fuller production than Something to Believe In, filling in the spaces that at times made that collection of singles seem a bit thin, Three ranks as the most satisfying apb listening experience so far. Immediate and riveting, more than anything else, this sounds like the music of a bunch of guys having fun. They bring to the front everything that made apb so amazing in the first place, locking into the spastic funk punk grooves that inspired a countless number of followers, such as the Chili Peppers. With the apb boys all entering their 40's now (my guess) they have no right to sound this aggressive, this much on top of their game. But they do. Thank God, they do. --Racer X.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Voivod - Killing Technology

When it comes to the proverbial leap of faith, this is the album that I can most easily relate to. I had never heard a lick from the disc, let alone from the band. Hell, I didn't even know if I was pronouncing the name of the band right! And it's all due to Chuck Billy's fashion sense!

It was while I was watching Testament's Over the Wall video that I noticed singer Chuck Billy wearing a Voivod t-shirt and thought, 'Hey, if it's cool enough for Chuck . . . ‘. So, I raced out to the local record store, picked up a copy of the album ( ah yes, days of vinyl) and proceeded to change the way I look at music.

Killing Technology is raw. The production has a scraping, discordant sound to it, which definitely lends to the discs overall anarchic feel. Inspired by the extreme music of the early to mid '80's, this is the disc that opened the doors to a fabulous time for Voivod and their fans. This is the last album connecting the band with their more thrashed out metal beginnings, and the first vision we get of their soon to be spaced out future. It's an experimental journey through the last realms of "civilization" before the band take off on a psychedelic trip to outer space and the inner psyche.

The title track, Tornado, Forgotten in Space, and This is not an Exercise have got it all. Mind bending guitar riffs that make the transition from earthbound to airborne. Grinding bass that pushes the under current of the songs. Drums that flow from manic tension to progressive jazz in a matter of beats. And it’s all wrapped around Snake's schizophrenic vocal tirades of social and political injustice.

The lone complaint I have towards the CD version of this album is that some jack-ass decided to tack the B-side song Too Scared To Scream in the fourth position where the original vinyl version's side one would have been complete. It's a minor complaint that keeps me cringing when I listen to the album straight through , but it’s one of those things that’s a pet peeve for me. Don’t fuck with the original running order of the album! It was put together that way for a reason!

The second B-side addition to the disc, Cockroaches is a bit of a throw away as well though still cool to have. Let's put it this way, the addition of the B-side tracks doesn't necessarily make this album any better. They’re nice to have, but it would have still been an epic album without them.

Pick it up, enjoy your last days on earth, and prepare for take off when you pick up Dimension Hatross and Nothingface. --Pope JTE

Buy here: Killing Technology

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...