Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Moses Mayfield - Live EP

Have you ever reached into your closet on a cold winter's day, grabbed your favorite jacket off the hanger, stuck your hand into the pocket and discovered a $20 bill? It's a cool little feeling. Not that $20 bucks will change your life, but hey, it's always damn fun finding that little buried treasure lost amongst the lint and rolled up movie theater receipts. Moses Mayfield is just like that. By itself, it won't change your life, but damn, it's a cool little find just the same.

Over here at the grand offices of The Ripple Effect, one of our favorite pastimes is to peruse all the independent record stores we can find and dig through their discount bins. While we'll often spend hours weeding through utter crap, more often than not, we'll walk out with one or two discs that are labeled the FINDS of our trip. The Pope JTE already wrote of one of his earlier finds, the Popealopes. For today, however, we're going to concentrate on this nifty little find, Moses Mayfield.

Knowing absolutely nothing of the band, I picked it out of the bin simply because it was recorded live, and the popester and I are suckers for live music. Nothing reveals the capabilities or limitations of a band more than a live recording. So, not knowing what to expect, I slipped this disc into the player, and was very pleasantly surprised.

First of all, Moses Mayfield is a band, not a person, a five-piece outfit from Birmingham, Alabama that is, and the first thing you notice is that they're local favorites. "Control" starts off the disc with an enthusiastic response from the home crowd who've obviously followed these guys for years. A shimmering guitar riff sparks off the affair before Matthew Mayfield's gruff baritone kicks in. After a slow acoustic verse, the shimmering guitar returns for a charging chorus, revealing a tight band, clearly feeding off of each other and having fun in the live element.

Moses Mayfield play an ernest, rootsy blend of rock with jam band overtones and a smattering of southern accents. Most of these tunes carry a moody ambience to them, never blasting off into orbit, but hanging onto a thin stratosphere of melancholy. The musicianship is strong throughout, never showy or flashy, but clearly the work of a crew of competent guys. "Fall Behind," the second cut is probably a song that received some local radio play, or at least should have. With strummed acoustics, Byrd's-esque twanging guitars and a brooding tone, I'm reminded of Seven Mary Three or Sister Hazel, when either band is playing at it's peak.

The crowd obviously loves "Element," a slower, brooding ballad, but I prefer the dynamism and energy of "Strange New Place," which shows the band taking root in their Gov't Mule/Allman Brothers best. With stuttering guitars and scratching riffs, the boys let loose, proving they can blast out a bluesy southern rocker as well as any one else on the jam band circuit. I'm sure live, it's a killer. Check out the video below to get a sample, but be patient or skip past the prolonged "Swing Low," intro. It takes a while but the guts of the song come blowing through.

I've learned that the band have gone on to release their major label debut for Epic, The Inside, but I haven't seen a copy of it yet. Perhaps, I'll track it down for a future review. In the meantime, all four tracks from the Live EP have already made the grade, downloaded from the disc onto my itunes and ipod. A nice little treasure, now integrated into the ones and zeros of my life. Like that loose $20, my life hasn't been changed, but it's just a slightly happier place.

--Racer X

Buy here: The Live Ep

Monday, January 28, 2008

Faith No More - Angel Dust

In 1992, Faith No More was that one big band that everyone was keeping an eye on. Fresh off of the just-add-water success the band had enjoyed from The Real Thing, there was a ton of anticipation regarding it’s follow up effort. Rather than play it safe, Faith No More delivered a wake-up slap in the face to the Mtv generation with their new album, Angel Dust. Gone were the campy rap anthems that littered its predecessor, and in their stead were songs that began to venture more into a prog rock arena, for lack of a better phrase. The boys were coming together to create a broad soundscape, and arguably their most focused collective of songs that forced the listener to repeatedly spin the album to fully grasp the magnitude of the music. Hell . . . Angel Dust spent the better part of the early ‘90’s in constant rotation in my 6 disc changer, and to this day, still sounds fresh and vital.

“Land of Sunshine” opens the disc with a sound of familiarity . . . guitars grind over a funked out rhythm section while the keyboards create a sonic backdrop. This song acts like a bridge between The Real Thing and Angel Dust. Mike Patton’s vocal acrobatics tell us that he was holding back (or being held back) on the last recording. “Caffeine” kicks in a bit heavier than the lead track, just to make it official that things have changed for good. Note Patton’s vocals take on a texture unlike anything he had done to this point. The first single, “Midlife Crisis” has become a classic FNM song. It has everything you need. Great vocal performance, awesome drum work, a groovin’ bass, classic understated guitar work, and some intense keyboard / programming at the 2:22 mark. Though all of the songs have that Faith No More sound, there’s something just dark about the tones. It’s almost as if the band made a conscious decision to do something that would raise eye brows and be less accessible. Almost like that instant fame didn’t sit well with them and they were going to let the world know about it.

“Smaller and Smaller” is a dark and heavy tune, dynamic in composition, but rooted in a primal groove. Another great vocal performance. “Everything’s Ruined” bounces effortlessly from light to dark shades. Keyboard and bass heavy with great support from Jim Martin’s guitar work. “Malpractice” is a schizophrenic chaos-fest waiting to come unhinged, yet remaining held together when all looked lost.

One of the more surprising moments on Angel Dust is “Kindergarten”, a thoughtful and reminiscent journey through the innocence of adolescence. Personally, I thought that this song would have made a great video because of the vivid imagery that’s painted through the lyrics. Big bonus on this tune is the bass solo provided by Billy Gould. It’s got a little jazz vibe and adds a touch of class to an already flawless song.

“A Small Victory” is another keyboard laden track, which would become the second single, and also has a small touch of the sound that the band has worked to leave behind. Though a bit mellow at times, the musical dynamics work well in building tension, and Patton’s voice is filled with great nuance. “Crack Hitler” and “Jizzlobber” are two of the more brutal tunes on the album. Heavily rhythmic and diverse, they’re songs that are hard to sit still through, especially the latter track.

Honestly, I could go on for days describing every nifty little piece of music on the disc, but part of the fun is listening to it and discovering the little gems for yourself. Angel Dust is packed with hidden musical treasures. Tempo shifts, instrumental interchanges, vocal virtuosity, and all sorts of other production tricks make listening to this album similar to walking through The Metropolitan Museum of Art. If you do it once, you’ll inevitably miss something . . . and that something could be important. Classic album not to be missed. If you already own it, then you know what I mean. If you don’t own it, move your little mouse thingy down the screen and click one of the links and enhance your music collection with one of the most overlooked albums of all time. - Pope JTE

Buy here: Angel Dust

Ripple Effect - Submissions Policy

Submission Policy

The Ripple Effect receives stacks of CD’s and gazillabytes of digital files every day. Trust us, we want to hear your music. We aim to post our reviews in a timely manner, usually 6 to 8 weeks from the time of submission, but there are only so many of us. That means it's impossible to get to every disc that comes our way. To increase your chances of getting exposure on The Ripple Effect, understand these guidelines:

* Not all submissions will be reviewed. We have to totally love what a band is doing, feel it in our souls, to write a review. The goal of The Ripple Effect is to spread the word on the music we love, not every CD that comes to us. We're not critics, but music lovers. If the CD is mediocre or generic, if we don’t feel it, we won’t review it. The upside to you is we won’t publish a negative review. The upside to us is that we save our souls.

*Repeat.  Not all submissions will be reviewed.  We're not a review site, we're a music loving site.  Don't bitch at us if we don't review your album.  It means it didn't strike our hearts.  That's our prerogative.

* No Digital Files lacking information. Please be professional.  Send professionally completed, produced, finished products or exceptional demos.  MAKE SURE YOUR DIGITAL FILES HAVE BAND NAME AND SONG TITLES.  I can't tell you how many times I've heard a great song on my "to review" playlist only to find that it is "Song 1" from an un-named band.  We can't review an album if we don't know the band name or song titles, now can we?  I've thrown out tons of good music because of this mistake.

* We love vinyl, so feel free to send it in. Full albums, EP's or singles, it's all good. Did we say we love vinyl?

*Just to clarify: we place emphasis on the submissions that demonstrate a significant effort and quality. In order, we will always review vinyl first, then CD, then digital submissions. D.I.Y. efforts are always appreciated and taken seriously here at the Ripple.

* Under no circumstances will we ever review a streaming audio file. We don't work that way. We can't be relegated to listening to your song at our computers. We need finished, portable product.  Do not ask us to review from a stream or youTube video.  It won't happen.  Get us a download.

* Write us when you submit, introduce yourself and tell us a bit about you. People we like tend to get their CD's placed on the top of the stack.

So why put up with these guidelines? Quite simply, The Ripple Effect is growing exponentially. We're over 3,000,000 individual readers.  We’re listed as one of the top 10 Music Sites in the world, ranked as one of the Top 5 music sites by GuitarWorld Magazine, and the number one ranked music site by Jemsite, home of Ibanez Guitars! When we get behind a band, we get behind them 100% and cross-reference the reviews like crazy in many different forums to help spread the word. Our posts are syndicated across the web on such major sites as Guitar World, USA Today, en Blog, paperblog, and the MOG Network. Also, getting reviewed in The Ripple Effect nearly guarantees your music to be played on the vastly popular Ripple Radio Show, one of the featured music shows at Blogtalkradio.

We don’t wish to discourage you, but we all need to understand the limitations of what we can do. If you’d like to send us your music, drop us an email first. Tell us a little about your musical style so we can assign the best reviewer for you. Be nice, make us laugh, and we'll love you.

Peace and best success for your music. – The Ripple Effect

Friday, January 25, 2008

Tegan and Sara - So Jealous

In our effort to bring you, our loyal readers, only the very best in undiscovered music, we spare no expense, traveling the world for that special sound that for one reason or another hasn't gotten the vibe it deserves here in the States. In that quest, I've been to record stores from Tibet to Turkey, Hong Kong to Hungary, all to spare you the trouble. For today's review, however, we're not going any place quite that exotic, just a few hours north of the border to Calgary, the home of this bopping set of folk-punk twins, Tegan and Sara.

Now, in all honesty, I gotta be fair. I didn't discover this little gem, my wife did (now and forever after to be known as Mrs Racer.) There we were in Victoria doing of all things, CD shopping. I was digging through some of my lost 7o's Canadian bands like Prism (ultimately disappointing), Chilliwack (didn't buy it) and Max Webster (still a freakishly interesting band, review to follow.) As I was about ready to depart with my bounty of loot, my beautiful Mrs. Racer pointed upwards towards the store's installed speakers and in her most pleasant, you're-not-buying-those-unless-I-get-something voice said, "I want this." As such, So Jealous made it's way into our purchase cart.

And I couldn't be happier that it did. Tegan and Sara combine a love of punk with the heart of a couple of folksters, a smattering of pop smarts and babydoll-in-the-midst-of-a-nervous-breakdown vocals into a vibrant, accessible yet ultimately quirky sound. They're not punk, but they're punky. They're not riot grrrl, but they rock. They're not pop, but they're poppy. And even though they've toured Lilith Fair with Sarah McLachlan, they're far too indie to be called folk. For lack of a better term, let's call them agit-pop, quirk-rock, or angst-folk. See if any of those stick.

Whatever you call them, words are just words, in the end what matters is the music, and Tegan and Sara got chops in spades. The clear winner on this 2004 release is "Walking With a Ghost," which starts off with a beautifully clean acoustic guitar strumming out the opening chords, before the tight harmony vocals squeak across the top. Thirty seconds in, a beautiful sparse drum riff trips across leading right into the bass and layered synth. The melody is simple, the arrangement sparse, and the effect is beautiful.

"Speak Slow," is Mrs Racer's favorite and it's hard to argue with that . Starting with a very accessible, indie rock guitar/synth intro, the sister's leap into a punky/pop rave up guaranteed to get the crowd bopping. Mrs Racer was mouthing the emotive vocal quirks for days after listening to the song.

Lyrically, the twins explore their own nervous anxieties in love, self-image and loathing. "You Wouldn't Like Me," contains the gem of a lyric "I feel like I wouldn't like me, if I met me," while the incessant guitar ups the anxiety level without ever losing it's pop hooks. Other tracks like "Take Me Anywhere," and "Wake up Exhausted," show off the girls individuality, creating catchy hooks in the pop-punk vein without ever sounding like Letters to Cleo or any number of the relatively faceless female-led bands that emerged in the late 1990's.

In the end, Tegan and Sara produce bright, bouncy pop-tunes that explore their own world of neuroses, fears that are truly universal. Other than the dirge-like title track, the songs are never a downer, even in the midst of the breakdown. I gotta hand it to the Mrs, she swung hard and knocked this one clear outta the park. But then, I should've expected that. As any married guy knows, the Mrs is always right.

--Racer X

Buy here: So Jealous

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

David Gilmour - On An Island

By no means does David Gilmour need one as lowly as myself to introduce him, but I have this sneaking hunch that if you’re under the age of eighteen, or your parents don’t own a copy of Dark Side of the Moon (like that’s even possible), then he may just have slipped under your radar. Those are the people I’d like to address with this review. Well, them and all of those who didn’t realize that this brilliant man was still musically active. On An Island came out a couple of years ago (2006), and for the most part, was overlooked by an industry more interested in pushing bass driven, soul sucking, booty shakin’ crack onto the unsuspecting club dwellers than promoting art created by truly gifted musicians. But hey . . . that’s why I’m here. I keep telling you that for a reason, people. I give this time to you free of charge. Now . . . pay attention!

For more years than I want to go back and count, David Gilmour was the textural guitar voice of Pink Floyd before becoming the actual voice of the band in the late ‘80’s. So, as one might expect, there’s a lot of that Pink Floyd sound incorporated within the tapestry that is On An Island. The album opens with an instrumental piece entitled “Castellorizon” and is littered with sounds made famous in Pink Floyd recordings, and sort of acts as an introduction of “look where I’ve been” before we are re-introduced to that classic David Gilmour guitar tone at the 2:12 mark. The title track follows next with a beautiful acoustic guitar softly strumming the rhythm, David’s strained whispering vocals wrap around the shivering form like a warm blanket, accompanied by the great vocal tandem of Graham Nash and David Crosby. Those old Floyd textures and nuances are there, maybe a bit older, maybe a bit wiser. More of the same from “The Blue” . . . so mellow and fitting for a glass of wine (alone or with a loved one . . . your choice.) The guitar solo is a piece of perfection, capturing the mood of the tune with the grace and feel that only David Gilmour can.

Up until this point, everything has been very mellow, and David does a good job of shaking things up with “Take a Breath.” This track has an older Floyd feel to it. A little heavier and jarring, but much more up beat and lively than everything before and after. Another great guitar solo comes in towards the end of the tune to tie things up neatly. David then shows off that he’s not afraid to try his hand at the saxophone, as he leads us through the instrumental “Red Skies At Night”, never to be mistaken with The Fixx tune of the same name. The groovin’ “This Heaven” reminds us of David’s blues roots with a great bit of interplay between acoustic and electric guitars. “Then I Close My Eyes” is one of those rare instrumental numbers that actually says more than if there were vocals and lyrics. The vast textures are amazing and set such a mood that I’ll save further description for you to experience yourselves. The epic “A Pocketful of Stones”, and the wistfully dreamy “Where We Start” bring the album to a close.

David Gilmour has created a complete album that touches on aspects of rock, blues, bluegrass, with a pinch of that psychedelic ‘60’s thing that we all came to love. And honestly, I don’t think that David can play a bad note! It’s as if he’s so in tuned with the feel of these songs that he is physically incapable of playing a note in the wrong place. This isn’t an album that you’re going to hear at a strip club . . . thank (insert deity here.) This isn’t an album that will pump you up for the gladiatorial games. Unfortunately, this also isn’t an album that you’ll hear in the supermarket or pumping through the speakers of your favorite record store. It’s a damn shame, really, because it’s such a brave effort and admirable piece of music. There’s not a bad track on it! It’s not an album that’ll have you jumping out of bed full of vim and vigor to face a grueling day of breaking rocks, but on the flip side, it is an album that fits well for an evening of unwinding before turning out the lights. For repairing of bruised egos and tattered emotions. It’s a contemplative work that goes well with wine and your lovers hand intertwined within your own.

A little while back I wrote about Mountain Mirrors, and I believe that I mentioned something about being lost in a fog enshrouded forest, and in the distance there was the light of the sun . . . maybe that of a mountain cabin. That light is On An Island . . . the best album that you’re not listening to. But don’t feel bad . . . I’m sure you’re not alone. - Pope JTE

Buy here: On an Island

Monday, January 21, 2008

Puya - Fundamental

Heavy metal, despite all of its abrasiveness, rawness and power, isn't always a genre extremely open to innovation. Let's face it, the basic blueprint established by Black Sabbath with their debut album in the 70's still holds true today. Dark mystical, quasi-evil lyrics delivered over thunderous beats and mastadon-sized detuned power chords. Sure, every once in a while a new trend will emerge giving us the annoyance of rap-metal or the bombastic grandeur of symphonic metal, but really, when was the last time you heard something truly different. Say something, that could keep your head banging while simultaneously getting your hips to sway and your ass to groove.

Journey with me in our way-back machine to the glorious year of 1999. Nu-metal and rap-metal ruled as Limp Biscuit, Korn and Rage Against the Machine dominated the charts. Over in the pop arena, Ricky Martin and Enrique Inglesias held reign over the charts as the Latin fad gained steam on the back of "Living La Vida Loca." Rock en Espanol, previously ignored by American radio like an ugly stepchild with leprosy, suddenly began to make some inroads. It was in this climate of musical melting pot that Puya emerged.

Big in their native homeland of Puerto Rico, Puya couldn't buy a record deal for American distribution until the stars aligned just right under the Rock en Espanol/nu-metal constellation. And let's all give a mighty "praise Jah," that they did, because Puya's American debut, Fundamental is a devastating monster of an album.

Fusing nu-metal crunch, with rap-style vocals may not seem innovative, but throw in the pulsing latin groves, the occasional full-out Salsa breaks, ass-shaking polyrhythms and the occasional Flamenco horn section, stir it all up, season it with a hint of hip hop and spanish lyrics and what you get is a glorious stew of Latin metal, Puerto Rican salsa-core. A concoction never yet repeated with such verve, musicianship and panache.

Yes, I said it. When was the last time you heard words like panache used to describe a metal album? Don't worry, Puya still rock brutally heavy, beating Godsmack at their own game for riffs, but it's all textured with a decidedly flamenco flair.

"Oasis," sets us off on our journey with a crunching nu-metal riff capable of immediately sending the masses into a whiplash-inducing attack of head-banging. But there is nothing to bely the true majesty to come until the 29 second mark when suddenly the brutally abrasive riff transforms into a full-on salsa break, highlighted by polyrthyhms, congas, funky bass and jazzy guitar chords. But don't worry those of you who want to rock, you haven't bought the wrong record. One minute 22 seconds in, Puya storm back into the crunch followed with a massive guitar break. Don't even let it bother you that half the lyrics are sung in Spanish. When you hear the second half of the verse sung in English you quickly realize that the language is absolutely unimportant. All that matters is that these guys can rock.

The next track "Fake," is a full-out nu-metal terror which leads right into the title tune, "Fundamental," a Latin rock masterpiece, played over a massive salsa beat, complete with horns and funk, until it literally explodes into one of the heaviest metal passages of 1999. Limp Biscuit couldn't gather up these kind of riffs if they were handed to them in a paper bag. From there the song descends into a massive deluge of surging horns, screaming guitars and feedback, before breaking right back to the Latin funk. If this doesn't get your heart pounding, my friend, I've got the number of a good cardiologist I'd be happy to send to you.

"Whatever," brims out of the speakers, all War-era "Lowrider," funk, half espanol, half-english. It may take some a while to get used to horns on their heavy metal record, but give this song a sample, and see if you don't just want to roll down your windows and cruise with this pulsing out of your stereo. "Keep it Simple," follows the same lowrider vein before "Sal Pa' Fuera," kicks in a Sabbath-worthy riff, reminding us that, regardless of country of origin, the basic lessons of metal are universal. "Trinidad," may be my favorite track as it fully merges the driving metal with the salsa rhythms throughout the whole track, not breaking from one to the next. And it is impressive, how heavy a salsa beat can be when crunching guitars are layered on top of the thudding bass and horns.

Certainly, Puya may not be for everyone. First, you have to be open to a new sound other than the wailing of a dismembered corpse in your metal. And second, you have to get past the fact that you don't need to understand the language of the lyric to fall in love with its drive, passion and intent. Once those two minor roadblocks are passed, Puya awaits to carry you off to a side of Puerto Rico that's heavier than you ever imagined.


Buy here: Fundamental

Friday, January 18, 2008

Follow For Now - Follow For Now

Back in 1991, I was this weird little skinny dude with thick black framed glasses and a bad hair cut. You know the old saying about not getting laid in a whorehouse with a fistful of twenties? Yeah. That was me. But all was not lost, friends. Somewhere wrapped up in that awkward adolescent freakshow was a dude who had a sense for good tunes, and now I’m here for you. Allow me to introduce to you, Follow For Now.
Follow For Now popped out of the Atlanta scene at the same time I was going through that awkward stage of life, and looked to be the band that would fill the void between Living Color and Fishbone. Their self entitled debut album had a lot of the elements that we hear in the aforementioned bands, however, they weren’t as commercially successful as Living Color (though they should have been), and no where near as spastic as Fishbone. Follow For Now incorporated blues rock with R&B, funk, hip hop, a little psychedelia, and a hint of metal to keep the mosh happy kids, well . . . happy. The eclectic mix of influences is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it makes it difficult to find that niche market to keep the band happy and around for years to come. On the other, it’s what makes the music feel fresh after fifteen years of shelf life.

“Holy Moses” opens the disc with a funky blues rocker. Up tempo and a great attention getter to start things off. The band easily slides into a more funked out groove that ebbs and flows with “Temptation”, and the bass work at the solo break will inevitably have you gyrating. You’re allowed to gyrate. Go ahead. Enjoy yourself. “Mistreatin’ Folks” is a pretty standard slow blues burner that will have your reaching for your sunglasses even though you’re inside a darkened room. As you’re feeling all mellow and what not, Follow For Now shift gears and attack a Public Enemy classic in “She Watch Channel Zero”. Complete with the Slayer riff of “Angel of Death”, the boys deliver a great rendition of the tune. The vocals may be a bit to high in the mix, but it’s a minor flaw. Then, they slow things down again with “Time”, which I just noticed was produced by Brendan O’Brien. Huh . . . who knew? It’s actually one of the better songs on the album with guitarist / vocalist David Ryan Harris’ impassioned vocals highlighting the track.

After a brief psychedelic interlude with “Fire n’ Snakes”, the boys kick it into high gear and tell us to break the cycles that are keeping us in the ruts with “Evil Wheel”. Up tempo and funky, we bop through two and a half minutes of Fishbone-esque groove until we’re dropped on our collective ass to a slowed down bluesy piece entitled “Ms. Fortune”. We’re then served up another funked out rocker, this time with a social conscious in “White Hood”. Follow For Now wrap up the disc with “Milkbone”, a funked out metal tune with rapped lyrics, showing that they weren’t just pioneers in the black rock movement of the late ‘80’s / early ‘90’s, they were also instrumental in the whole rap rock movement that inundated the music industry several years later.

A casualty of their own musical vibrancy, Follow For Now couldn’t keep the inner workings of the band on the same page and ultimately disbanded before they could ever get in the studio for a follow up. It’s a damn shame, really. As far a debut albums go, this one’s got a lot going for it. There’s an immediacy to it and mixed in with the funk vibes, there’s a message or two. Life altering album? Probably not . . . but there’s so much musicality to it that, much like my adolescent appearance, it’s not easy to ignore. - Pope JTE

Buy here: Follow for Now

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Bang-Bang - Life Part II

Sometimes everything that could possibly go wrong for a band goes wrong: the wrong look, the wrong music, the wrong time. Certainly, this was the situation for Bang-Bang, a marketing and promotion team’s worst nightmare.

Emerging from the glam and sleaze scene of West Hollywood in the mid-eighties, it seems that everything Bang-Bang did was wrong. Just look at the cover of their only album, Life Part II, and you can see part of the problem. Their look, a glammed out fusion of tailored designer suits and more hair than one had ever seen losing a battle with Aquanet, was more in tune with Duran Duran or a glammed out Japan than the exploding hair metal scene in LA. Unfortunately, those who bought the album expecting bouncing, happy, eighties dance cuts were in for a rude surprise. Their music, a fascinating hybrid of sleaze rock, glam and eighties new-wave wrapped up in songs about reincarnation, religious alienation and the loneliness of love, was far too dark to be Duran Duran or Spandau Ballet. Unfortunately, their off-brand of pop music wasn’t nearly dark enough for the goth crowd over at London’s Bat Cave either. To make matters worse, their driving, synth-laden, funk bass heavy sound was completely out of touch with Motley Crue, Ratt or Poison any of the hundreds of hair metal bands that exploded through the Sunset Strip.

Like I said, sometimes, every thing is wrong.

Even though they were signed to a major label (Epic) it’s clear that the promotion people had no idea how to get the band past those massive hurdles. In the end, they’d just be relegated to the bargain bins of history if it wasn’t for one thing; they were so damn much fun. Some people find the band a guilty pleasure, some find them annoying. I find them oddly irresistible.

Filling a nearly indefinable chasm between new wave and hair metal, Bang-Bang was defined by Julian Raymond, the band’s architect, song-writer and lead hairdo; mixing their own brand of poppy dance rhythms, funk bass and heavy guitars, with Raymond’s dark lyrics and bleeding throat vocals. Like it or hate it, there’s no other voice like Raymond’s, an amazingly unique and expressive instrument, stretching his voice to the breaking point, singing on the very last fiber of his vocal chords.

“Rodeo,” leads us off with a jaunty, bouncy, soul-filled song that at first glance could roll onto Duran’s Rio album, but then, there’s that voice. Instead of giving us a gentle pledge of love to dance across the funky guitar fills, Raymond gives us, “I can’t tell the way I feel, about her/I can’t tell the way I feel, not for sure/about Rodeo.” It’s unclear whether he’s referring to a girl or Rodeo Drive, but the song works either way. “Fallen Leaves,” emerges next, all dark synth-bass and pounding drums, with the amazing juxtaposition of some of the eighties funkiest new wave horns playing behind Raymond’s protestations that, “I see pictures of voices I hear in the night/ I see reasons for living alone in my life.” Again, it's the uncanny contradiction of absolutely funky new wave with out-of-the-blue darkness in lyric that must’ve left the promotional team just scratching their heads.

Bang-Bang did touch upon the hit charts with “This is Love,” about as straight-forward a pop song as they could write with a truly Duran-esque bouncing beat, synth, horn fills and light-hearted tone. But again, look under the surface and the darkness lurks “Taking a chance on a brand new baby/Sitting on a branch with a thousand maybes.” In the end, other than a slightly dated, synth sound and production, the song still bops today.

Other songs hold up just as well. “Shilo,” would be one of the most beautiful love songs of the eighties, easily on par with the best of OMD, if it wasn’t for the fact that he’s singing, “we always fight about nothing/she prosecutes with them eyes.” “No Dependencies,” rips out of the speakers, scratching heavy guitar, more in line with Bang Tango than Spandau, as Raymond declares his independence from the church, marriage or any thing else that could tie him down. “Religious Holiday,” a potent anti-religion tirade and the funky-as-hell “Art of Emotion,” still rank up there with the best of the eighties in terms of craft, emotion and balls out fun. Guilty pleasure or not.

Julian Raymond went on to explore his more rock/metal tendencies in the short-lived band Dear Mr. President, before developing a very successful producing career, working with the likes of Fastball, Everclear, The Dandy Warhols, Shawn Mullins, and Cheap Trick. Epic hasn’t re-released Bang-Bang on CD yet, and may never do so. They’re probably just as confused today as they were when the band first came out. But do yourself a favor, track it down on vinyl, find Julian Raymond and send out a demand for a re-issue or keep your eyes peeled and hope. This band is just too damn fun to be lost forever in the annals of the could’ve-beens.

Sing to me, Julian, sing to me.—Racer

Monday, January 14, 2008

Avenged Sevenfold - Avenged Sevenfold

I hope you all had a great holiday season! I did. In fact, The Pope must have been a good little boy this year coz’ he came away with some looooot! When I awoke Christmas morning and stumbled down the stairs (you can picture me in a fuzzy pink bunny outfit if you like, I don’t care), I found my stocking stuffed with something dark and heavy. Quite mysterious, I thought. After all, I tried to be good. I tried to eat all of my broccoli. On closer inspection, I spied with my wee little bespectacled eye, not a lump of coal for which I first thought. No . . . it was the new Avenged Sevenfold CD. It just had that dark and foreboding appearance. Quite a simple mistake, really.

Now . . . I had lost track of these guys for the past few years, and to these fine young musicians, I do apologize. I heard their first two album some time back, and even went and caught a local performance with my little sister. To say I was a fan would be a gross overstatement, but I did respect them. They were doing something just a bit different while sonically kicking my ass up and down the block. Let’s say, those early albums set the table for what we have here today. A multifaceted, multidimensional musical odyssey that punches you straight in the nose from the first notes, and quietly, maybe even somberly, shovels dirt over your corpse as the disc ends.

“Critical Acclaim” kicks off the disc with a full on riff-fest . . . pretty much what one would stereotypically expect from Avenged Sevenfold. Double bass drums, screaming vocals, a full on barrage of noise. But, then something happens that I personally found unexpected. The vocals came out with a sense of urgency that dared you to not pay attention. Production values were cleaner and more crisp than any hardcore/metal core album I’ve laid ears on. A multi-instrumental orchestral conquest. A new level of maturity? Sure. You could call it that. I like to think of it as artistic growth.

This growth continues onto “Almost Easy”, which has a chorus that I’ve had stuck in my head for the past week. Yeah. You read that right. Amongst all this testosterone laden metal, Avenged Sevenfold have a bitchin’ sense of melody. Great vocal harmonies. Guitar virtuosity. The works. “Scream” comes in with some more interesting guitar work played over a primal groove-type thing. This is one of those songs that should have all those bad little Goth girls pole dancing with its pelvis pumping bass lines. Give it time, you’ll see I’m right.

Though the album is primarily a dark and gothy, spook-core kind of disc, there are a few more surprises that the band throw at us. “Gunslinger” and “Dear God” are acoustic based tunes, the latter has more of a country Skynard feel and had me initially questioning its inclusion on the disc. Not because it’s a bad song. Quite the contrary . . . it may very well be the best song on the album. But it’s so different than anything else on the album that it doesn’t fit with the overall theme and groove. Please . . . don’t let that deter you from picking up the album. Once you hear it in the context of the album you’ll know what I mean, and you too will fall in love with it.

The most ambitious track is the ninth one, entitled “A Little Piece of Heaven.” It would be a fitting accompaniment for a musical about Jack Skellington. It’s grand in scope, almost bombastic at times, and maybe bordering on pretentious . . . but somehow they kept this car on the road. It’s truly a stunning piece of music that will have you singing along by the time the eight minute epic is winding down. Again, I got back to that artistic growth. Avenged Sevenfold will probably get some heat from the old school fans, but to hell with them. A musician has to push their own boundaries to grow. Hell! Everybody has to do that to grow . . . so, to any detractors of the band . . . piss off! When’s your album coming out?

They’re creepy. They’re kooky. They’re mysterious and spooky. Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for Avenged Sevenfold! This album bucks a lot of trends and treats us to some remarkable musicianship. Every member of the band has an outstanding performance on this disc, and honorable mention should go to singer M. Shadows. His vocals shine and allows the band to grow to heights that require me to purchase a telescope. All the best, gentlemen . . . you deserve all the success in the world for your efforts on this album! - Pope JTE

Buy here: Avenged Sevenfold

Friday, January 11, 2008

Gov't Mule - The Deep End Vol. 1

Music so real you can taste the stale beer.

And the peanuts. Hell . . . if you strain your nostrils real hard like, you may even get that whiff of the perspiration so prevalent with the road wary musician . . . and, God forbid, you may even taste that as well.

Today we turn to the jukebox, plug in D2 and let rip a few tracks of classic rock and roll that play as if the synthesizer was never invented, and the gods of Fender and Gibson were still smiling down on all-tube amps. Guitarist / vocalist Warren Haynes and rock music’s most underrated drummer, Matt Abts did the brave thing and carried on with the good name of Gov’t Mule after the untimely death of bassist Allen Woody. Rather than call it a day, they decided to go back into the studio and pay homage to their fallen comrade with a collection of great (or soon to be great) tunes by enlisting the aid of a multitude of talented musicians who had yet to pay their last respects.

"Fools Gold" warms us up with a Jack Bruce-esque vocal, kind of like butter melting on a hot biscuit, Warren Haynes’ voice is pure comfort. In fact, there are a number of points on this disc where Warren’s voice is so inspired and soulful that one could get behind the idea of a higher spirit lending it’s strength to convey his emotion. Check out “Banks of the Deep End”, “Soulshine”, and “Worried Down With the Blues” as just a few examples. The second track, "Life on the Outside," is a killer, beginning with a great Hendrix style guitar vamp and sending the chorus home with some serious harmonies and thundering drums. Flea lends a quiet touch, not something he is usually known for, to "Down and Out in New York City" with its bell-bottomed-superfly polyester vibe.

"Effigy" covers my favorite ignored Credence Clearwater Revival song (hidden on the back of Willie and Poor Boys for those who care) and breaks it into full-on jam territory for the last couple minutes, while losing none of the power and menace of the song. Fogerty’s songwriting stands the test of time. The instrumental “Sco-Mule” incorporates the jazzy tones of guitarist John Scofield, who lends an impassioned performance for this tribute. “Beautifully Broken” always brings a tear to the eye, again brought on by Warrens earthy vocals. The final track, done with original bassist Allen Woody, sounds like a one take sound check, and for that its loose and powerful, not at all self conscience or polished. As close to an official bootleg as you’ll find on the original release, methinks.

Gov’t Mule didn’t so much rise from the ashes of the Allman Brothers band, considering that the Allmans are still together and doing there thing, minus Dickey Betts of course. The Mule have acted more as an extension of the Allman Brothers. The Deep End, Vols. 1 & 2 are solid albums that fill the void of recorded works as the band worked to figure out which direction they were going to go. After all, carrying on after the loss of not just a band mate but a family member is a slippery slope. Carry on with a replacement who doesn’t have the same musical integrity could doom the band. Warren and Matt had to be certain that their footing was sure before they continued their musical odyssey, and their decision to hire on Andy Hess (bass) and Danny Louis (keyboards) seem to have been wise choices. Three albums later, one could say The Mule have risen from the deep end (yeah . . . that pun was intended.)

Special Thanks to Heidi Silverberg for the hook-up.

Buy here: The Deep End, Vol. 1

Official Gov't Mule Store

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Early Years - The Early Years

I need to start off this review with one very important statement: I don't like noise rock. To me, music is always based in melody. Show me the groove, bring in the bass along with a memorable chorus, lyrics that aren't insipid and I'm happy. Noise Rock, feedback used for the sake of using feedback or atonal, non-melodic din passes me by as migraine-inducing, unintelligible noise. Washing mediocre songs in layers of white noise feedback just doesn't make those songs any better.

Now, with that foundation laid, you may ask why in the world I like The Early Years debut so much. And the answer is simple; they're mesmerizing.

The Early Years started off when David Malkinson, testing the waters for ambient noise, decided to pull off a solo gig, armed with only an electric guitar, an amp and a slew of effect pedals. From there, adding a guitarist with a love of garage-rock feedback and a drummer infatuated with the krautrock beat of early Neu!, Can and Tortoise, The Early Years were born, and the results are simply out of this world.

Primarily, these guys haven't forgotten melody as the cornerstone of their sonic experiments. And experimental it is. The Early Years unleash a seemingly incongruous blend of ambient mood drenched in feedback and pedal effects noise, underpinned by galloping bass lines and monotone vocals. The overall effect is a startlingly fresh contradiction in textures, a grand majesty of noise, yet it's never noisy. A cacophony of sound that is still structured and vibrant, moody and intense. This is space rock in the truest sense of the term. Simply put, The Early Years music is sublime with balls.

The Early Years is all about texture; dense atmospherics, strata of sound, carefully applied, one on top of the next, layer after layer, as a painter adds her oils to a canvass. "All Ones and Zeros," sets the stage beautifully. Beginning with a bass guitar line very reminiscent of early New Order or Joy Division, the tones get layered on top, slowly, methodically. First, the shock of a feedback guitar chord, followed by effect-dripping guitar notes building to a stuttering crescendo, all propelled forward by that insistent Teutonic drumming. By the time the vocal layers on top, the song has already left the stratosphere, circling somewhere around Alpha Centuri, dipping in and out of celestial black holes and brown dwarfs.

The “Simple Solution” and "So Far Gone," follow similar flight plans, elevating off the launch pad amid a sulfurous exhaust of feedback effects. But again, the key point, what grounds this montage of sound back here on terra firma, is the band’s recognition of melody, both in the vocal lines and the shimmering guitars that drift through “Simple Solution,” like comets streaking across the night sky. Mesmerizingly beautiful.

As complex as my descriptions of the music may sound, the truth is that The Early Years never drift away from accessible, beautiful pop. The closest I can come in describing them is to imagine a more ambient Joy Division without the despair, a more tuneful Cocteau Twins or Sigur Ros with a pulse. While those points of reference may still keep you scratching your head in ponder, it’s as good a place as any to start.

Actually, the best place would be to simply purchase a ticket to ride on their spaceship, the debut The Early Years, and strap yourself in as the layers of ambient tones carry you off on a beautiful ride through the space rock atmosphere. Leave gravity at home, it isn’t needed on this flight.—Racer X

Monday, January 7, 2008

Kataklysm - Serenity in Fire

Beware, Oh Loyal Readers! I’m about to introduce you to an album so sonically brutal that, by the end of your first listen, you’ll either be hating me for subjecting your ears to such a, pardon the pun, cataclysmic sound, or praising me for being the pariah that I am. Oh yeah, baby.

Kataklysm’s Serenity in Fire is quite possible the most punishing metal album in all existence. It’s extremely fast. It’s extremely heavy. It’s extremely, well . . . extreme!

Those of you who know me, know that I love it when my metal offers me something more than just pure aggression, speed, and heaviness. There’s gotta’ be that dynamism. That integrity. That overall “we know what we’re doing coz’ we just fucking do, and if you question us, well . . . we’ll punch your mom in the face” attitude infused in those sounds. Let’s face it . . . anybody can play fast, or heavy, or whatever. The defining moment comes when that someone can piece all of those elements together, create their own sound, and shock the most jaded listener into submission.

Yep . . . that jaded listener would be me, folks. Hey . . . I listen to a lot of metal, and man, let me tell you. I’ve subjected my ears to some really bad music (it’s not just for me, friends. I do this for you), so it’s always relieving when a band steps up, hurls a big fat middle finger at the establishment, and does something for themselves, and . . . Kataklysm do it well!

Don’t pick up this album expecting anything remotely resembling mellow. There are no power ballads. There are no sappy love songs. From the opening barrage of “Ambassador of Pain” through the last strains of “Under the Bleeding Sun”, we’re exposed to the phenomenon known as Northern Hyperblast. Blistering speed metal set up perfectly by grinding, riff driven mid-tempo thrash. Vocals that range from a guttural diaphragm wrenching bark to a hair raising demonic screech. Perfectly toned guitars creating a wall of sound, ducking, dodging, and weaving through the last remaining spaces of silence. Bubbling in pure grind fashion, bass guitars creating a wave a mile high and a lifetime broad. But, don’t think that Serenity in Fire is pure sound all the way through. Remember . . . this is my kind of metal. There’s space between the notes. There are breaks in the groove. Dynamics unparalleled.

I would say the song that best defines Kataklysm is “For All Our Sins”. A little melodic guitar groove woven in between the split personalities of the vocals and the mind bending drum work, and then a torso-torquing riff at the 4:26 mark that is impossible to sit still through. “As I Slither” and the title track are the most accessible tracks, only in that they’re more of the mid tempo variety, but don’t for a minute think that that these tracks are any softer than any of the others. The bludgeoning is just as vicious, maybe just a bit more premeditated. Don’t believe me? Wait until “Blood on the Swans” kicks in. The tune opens with a massive double bass, snare drum assault that has one thinking that they’re being riddled with bullets. But, my absolute favorite tune on the album is “10 Seconds From the End”. Great opening riff. Great dynamics. Great vocals. Fuck . . . just a great metal song!

One aspect of Serenity in Fire that caught my attention was the production value brought on by guitarist Jean-Francois Dagenais. One would think that with the absolute musical bedlam on this disc that the instruments would be muddied up, but far from it. All of the instruments stand on their own while working together to push the songs forward. Exceptional work!

I’ve been saying it for awhile now, and it probably bears repeating. Some of the best music is coming out of two countries: Sweden and Canada. Maybe there’s some direct correlation with extreme music and cold weather . . . I don’t know. In the way of the whole extreme metal genre, Kataklysm have the market cornered out of Canada, and I dare anyone to listen to Serenity in Fire and tell the band that they’re not all that and a bag of Moose Munch. - Pope JTE

Buy here: Serenity in Fire

Friday, January 4, 2008

Budgie - You're all Living in Cuckooland

There is a fascinating lost era in rock history that nestles somewhere between 1967 and the early 1970's. Famous for the death of the Peace and Love flower children, this era represents a transition from the classic euphoric optimism of the LSD psychedelic 60's to the bad trip, crash-back-down to the gritty reality of the Vietnam War/heroin 70's. Reflecting this loss of hippy innocence, music mutated from shimmering glorious idealistic pop into a vehicle for the expression of the anger of a generation, the lost hopes and daily struggles of unemployment, war, drugs and poverty. Wrapped up in exaggerated blues riffs, powerful detuned chords and dark imagery, Heavy Metal crawled out of the muck and mire like a Tolkien Orc being birthed from the muddy bowels of Mordor.

This incredibly fertile period of proto-metal can be mined endlessly for the fantastic variety of bands that burst forth, each offering their own transmuted version of heavy psychedelic rock. Bands like,
Leaf Hound, May Blitz and Pentagram may have been forgotten by the next generation of kids, victims of poor marketing and even worse distribution, but were essential in laying down the blueprint for what became heavy metal. Arguably, one of the best to emerge from this proto-metal period was Budgie.

With a sound that mixed Sabbath heaviness with Rush-esque vocals, acoustic folk passages and a fist-stuck-firmly-in-mouth sense of humor, Budgie raged out of the Welsh highlands to. . . well, not much. Moderately popular in the U.K., Budgie remained a lost treasure in the U.S. until Metallica covered their songs "Breadfan," and "Crash Course in Brain Surgery." In retrospect, they've now been recognized as one of the major pioneering forces in early heavy metal and Budgie songs have been covered by followers as diverse as Soundgarden and Iron Maiden. Now experiencing a renaissance of interest, Budgie is back.

You're all Livng in Cuckooland, is Budgie's first release of all-new material since 1982's Deliver Us From Evil, (although several excellent live CD's, Greatest Hits and boxed packages have kept the band in the public eye) and the good news is that the boys haven't missed a step in the last 25 years.

If anything, Budgie sounds fresher and more vital than they did on their last album back in the early eighties. Usually, when an old band reforms after a million years, the fans have reason to be suspect of what they'll get from their old stalwarts; will the boys sound horribly outdated, resurrecting a long-past sound, trying to re-live old glories or will they sound simply horrible, trying to tap into tune of the latest craze. Fortunately for us, Budgie does neither. In fact, Budgie is simply, Budgie.

Ignoring grunge, nu-metal, rap-metal and any other metal trend that came and went since their last album, Budgie sound oddly vital. "Justice," rages with a charging riff, produced with a wash of keyboards and effects that is neither derivative of their earlier work, nor copied from the current hot band of the day. Burke Shelley's voice, always a unique instrument, has held up well over the years. While it may have lost some of the upper echelons of it's Geddy Lee range, that loss has been replaced by a more textured tone, slightly rawer in the throat. "Dead Men Don't Talk," hits next with a riff heavy enough to make most of the current metal kids look up and take notice. "Falling," carries the torch, roaring on heavy and hard.

Joining Shelley and long-time drummer Steve Williams, Simon Lees does an admirable job filling the empty guitar slot, pumping up the energy, pounding out post-seventies metal riffs. As always, Shelley doesn't pass up the more folk-oriented numbers or his typical off-brand of humor. Continuing his trademark of bizarrely named songs (in the tradition of "Hot as a Dockers Armpit," "You're the Biggest Thing Since Powdered Milk," and "Nude Disintegrating Parachutist Woman) the new release launches "I'm Compressing the Comb of a Cockerel's Head," into the grand world of the Budgie title-mythos.

In the end, there's something oddly satisfying to hear that these elder statesmen, founders actually, of heavy metal can still rock as hard as kids half (a third) of their age. Without sounding forced or labored, You're all Living in Cuckooland has earned the right to take its place in the grand metal arsenal that Budgie has created. Hang onto the viagra for the soft codgers over in Aerosmith, these boys clearly can still keep it coming hard and strong.

---Racer X

Buy here: You're All Living in Cuckooland

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Mountain Mirrors - Mountain Mirrors

Every so often, a musician comes along and simply captures their surroundings in an intricately woven tapestry of sound. I’ve already mentioned how Down pulled the feat off impecibly with Over the Under, and now I’m pleased to present the brain child of one Jeff Sanders with his Mountain Mirrors project. Imagine if you will, walking through a forest that’s enshrouded in dense fog. Visibility is only a few hundred feet in any direction. Moisture glistening off of the surrounding foilage as your breath bellows from your mouth in a cloud of steam. The crunch of leaves and decay under every footstep being the only sound to accompany the animal-like howl of the wind. Kinda’ creepy out here all alone, huh? That’s the power of Mountain Mirrors self titled album.

That’s just some of the imagery that comes to mind when I listen to Mountain Mirrors. Beautiful acoustic passages plucked and strummed from the guitar act as a backdrop to Jeff’s lyrical paintings of desperation and doom. “Stay Evil” opens the disc with an acoustic riff and is complimented by the mesmerizing drone of keyboards, and vocals that act almost like a chant. Guest musician Oren Selas lays down some exceptional keyboard textures towards the middle of the tune that give the song an almost ‘70’s classic rock quality. “The Demon’s Eye” is quite possibly the most important song on the album. It has that Damnation era Opeth feel as the tune opens with another beautiful acoustic guitar line, but then explodes into a glowing ball of sound, pushed along this time by percussionist / keyboardist Elad Fish.

I state this song as being the most important as to it being the first tune that I heard from Mountain Mirrors some time back. Basically, if I never heard this song, I wouldn’t be telling you all about it now, ergo . . . most important song. “Karmic Dogs”, “Your Time Has Come”, and “Alone in a Crowd” all carry on in a similar vein as one another and draw from various influences, most notably the acoustic works of Pink Floyd. The cello work (provided by Claire Fitch) on “Karmic Dogs” is worth the price of purchase, and adds a doom laden piece of class to an already heavily textured work of art. “Calm Before the Storm” is the epic centerpiece of the album and is a chilling tale of the end of days that will ultimately have you reaching for a sweater. Goosebumps, baby! The album ends with the ambient and emotionally charged instrumental “Praying Mantis” that acts as the perfect closer to the disc.

While the album never takes off and rocks you, it’s probably because it was never really meant to. Mountain Mirrors is more of a soul searching, remorsefully contemplative album than anything else. Underlying social commentary mixed with solitary dread. You’ll get lost in the eerie musical passages rather than feel the need to let your hair down and freak out. Jeff Sanders takes the listener on a journey of inner reflection and holds a mirror to our moral conscience. Depressing? Far from it. More along the lines of hopeful in the face of extreme adversity. Kind of like that earlier hike through the woods when it looked like things were at their darkest, then suddenly seeing the light of the sun breaking through the clouds. The light and warmth is out there . . . it just takes a little time find, and that path isn’t always the easiest to traverse.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...