Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Church - Gold Afternoon Fix

Many people might think that the esteemed Ripple office is a place of ultimate harmony. A musical sanctuary, an aural utopia, where nary a negative word is ever said. The Pope and I walking amongst the enormous leaning towers of CD's, working our way through the maze of vinyl, always in complete agreement as what constitutes a Ripple Classic.

Actually, that's not entirely true. While the Pope and I do see eye-to-eye on many great albums, really what we see eye-to-eye on the most is that music is an entirely personal affair. What moves one doesn't necessarily move the other. And in the end, that's the greatest thing about what we're doing here at the Ripple. We respect everybody's individual taste. We're not here to tell you what's good or great, that's for you to decide. What the Pope and I are actually here to do is to spread the word on the music WE love, and tell you why. In the end, the best we could ever hope for is that our enthusiasm and wandering words (and video samples) will pique your interest enough for you to research out the disc and make a decision for yourself. In doing so, maybe, just maybe, we can help open your ears to a sound that you may have missed.

So while the Pope and I completely respect each other's innate right to like whatever piece of music we like, it still doesn't mean that we always agree. Case in point, The Church.

To be honest, upon listening to this disc, the Pope didn't get it. I, on the other hand, have listened to The Church since their "Unguarded Moment," debut, enjoying their haunting, meditative brand of neo-psychedelia. And while I'll be the first to agree that Gold Afternoon Fix isn't a perfect album, not necessarily even The Church's best, (that honor probably goes to Heyday, the Blurred Crusade, or Starfish) there's still a great deal here to enjoy.

Coming on the tail of their breakthrough America hit, Starfish, and the surprise hit “Under the Milky Way,” Gold Afternoon Fix should have been the album that broke the band wide open in America. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. Since their debut in 1981, The Church had been perfecting their blend of post-punk neo-psychedelia, ominous and ethereal, highlighted by the jangling Byrds-like guitar interplay of the excellent duo of Marty Wilson-Piper and Peter Koppes, the steady beat of Richard Ploog and the thick melancholy captured by the monotonous baritone of singer Steve Kilbey; all underneath the conscious radar of most American listeners. Already big in their native Australia, when “Under the Milky Way,” a shimmering slice of pop psychedelic heaven broke through the American top 40, all eyes looked towards the band to finally fulfill their potential and rise to the level of an Australian R.E.M. or even U2.

Originally signed up to be produced by John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin fame (now there’s a what if to ponder) instead the album was produced by Starfish producer Waddy Wachtel. While not a bad album by any means, the resultant disc lacked the necessary vigor and fire to build on the spark created by Starfish. That’s not to say that Gold Afternoon Fix isn't worthy of attention. On the contrary, this disc features some of the Church’s most memorable compositions, some truly fantastic songs, as well as several forgettable ones.

“Pharoah” starts the show off, thick and ominous, about as dangerous as the band can be. Underneath the building guitars, Ploog’s beat is incessant and full of mystery. Immediately, we can see that Kilbey’s distinctive voice and the guitars of Wilson-Piper and Koppes are in fine form, leading to a captivating chorus. “Metropolis,” the album’s first single is a gorgeous shimmering pop song with a lovely chorus and vocal performance, but it lacks the immediacy of “Under the Milky Way,” tending much more towards subtlety. Fortunately, songs like “Terra Nova Cai n,” and the excellent, Wilson-Piper sung “Russian Autumn Heart,” bring on the punch and vim needed to propel the album. All out bursts of psychedelia like “Grind,” and “Disappointment,” show that the boys haven’t lost touch with their non-commercial roots. “You’re Still Beautiful,” and “City,” are simply beautiful songs, exceptionally played.

But eventually, the interspersed stream of mid-tempo, slower compositions like “Monday Morning,” ”Laughing,” and “Transient,” bog the album down. In the end, the great songs are still great, but they seem to get lost under the weight of an album that never quite has the wings to take off.

Unfortunately, this was the one shot the boys had to break it in America. With the chance lost and the even less commercial follow-up Priest = Aura, The Church were relegated as a one-hit footnote in American music. And that’s too bad, because really, there’s so much more to the band than that. This album, like their whole catalog is certainly worth exploring for fans of more meditative, shimmering, slightly unsettling post-punk psychedelia.


Buy here: Gold Afternoon Fix

Friday, August 29, 2008

Colour Haze - All

There’s a new psychedelic vibe bubbling up from the underground and here at The Ripple we’re tuned in and turned on. My first taste of this new sound came when the latest Dead Man CD, Euphoria dropped into my lap. Admittedly, I didn’t quite know what to make of it at first, but after repeated listens, I was addicted, hooked, as if my brain synapses had just wrapped around the finest bud of Maui Wowie or Acapulco Gold. Now I got Colour Haze’s new CD All warping out of my speakers and I think I’ve died and gone to THC heaven.

Long Germany’s prime purveyors of stoned-out psychedelic rock, Colour Haze dig deep into their resin-lined pockets on this, their ninth album and third for label Elektrohasch Records, brushing the stray leaves and twigs off their instruments, refilling the bong and diving head first into a fuzzed-out, swirling ride of psychedelic stoner bliss. Currently composed of Stephan Koglek on vocals and guitars, Philipp Rastohofer on bass and Manfred Merwald on drums, the band started way back in 1995 with more of a straight forward Black Sabbath inspired sound. But as the current lineup cyrstalized in 1999 they abandoned the heavy riffs for a more freeform exploratory jam sound, bubbling bongs and mushrooms, and they’ve never looked back.

Nor should they. “All,” is a mini-masterpiece of fuzzy riffs, intermittent polyrhythmic drumming, droning bass and swirling, undulating, dancing guitar parts. And by the time the sitar pops in around track 6, “Stars,” you’ll be so heady from the acrid smoke you won’t even care what comes next. Colour Haze sound is similar to Dead Man’s but with some heavier riffing and tighter compositions. Whereas on Euphoria it was going to be anyone’s guess where each song would wander off to, even All's most free form jams maintain a balance of structure, a framework to lead the musicians through the smoke and back home again.

“Silent,” features an insidious riff that worms into the brain like psychoactive bubblegum, riding on the crest of a bubbling bass line. “Turns,” features some beautiful delicate guitar work tripping over the backward masking effects. “If,” brings in shades of the long lost Sabbath influence, actually pounding at you with enough ferocity to make you sit up and take notice. “Moon,” brings in a soulful, quasi-funky riff percolating under the jazz guitar explorations. The title track “All,” clocking in at nearly 15 minutes, is a sonic trip through every chemical induced state known to man. The boys do their best to play with dynamics, near ambient moments intertwined with passages of power and muscle, and throughout it all, while clearly not the focus of the band, Koglek’s vocals are never lacking, adding texture to the spacey vibe. I have absolutely no idea what he's singing about, but really, does it matter?

Amazingly, after this fantastic, nonstop mindwarping freakout, my favorite section of the album is near the end, the killer one-two punch of “Fall,” and “One.” Within this near-15 minute section you’ll find everything from swirling spacey ambience, tightly plucked guitars, jazzy breaks, fuzzed out chords to pulsing down-tuned riffs. The drum work alone left me near speechless, just a gape-mouth mute astonished by what I just heard.

All is an album of undying warmth. An experimental journey through soundscapes of tone and texture. Koglek is an under-rated master of his guitar, loading up on riffs and dropping down to mind-altering solos at the drop of a pick. And somehow, the rhythm sections manages to keep this freaked out train on the tracks.

While, overall there is a certain sameness to the songs, an over riding “don’t bother me, I’m lost in my beanbag chair and not getting up” tone to the album, this is about as urgent and groovy as the neo-psychedelic space bands get. Colour Haze clearly know their hallucinogenics and their instruments, and fortunately for us, knowing one doesn’t preclude the use of the other.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Bolt Thrower - Those Once Loyal

Whoa! Did you feel that?

It felt like something just crashed into our building! Holy crap . . . Racer! Check this out! The street is littered with paramilitary troops and it appears that the world is ending!

Okay, it didn’t happen exactly like that, but it was darn close. It turns out that the earth shattering noise that just shook the Ripple offices was someone (me) inadvertently (purposely) pushing play on the CD player without first removing Bolt Thrower’s Those Once Loyal. Yeah. It’s that mighty of an album. You haven’t heard it? Cool. I didn’t expect that you would have.

Here’s the skinny. Bolt Thrower is an uncompromising death metal act that seemingly worships warfare. I say that because everything that I’ve ever heard from them pertains to the art of war, and for years, I figured that was all they had to offer. I’ve since come to find out that, like all things, there’s more to it than that. Not only does Bolt Thrower write aggressive tunes about death, destruction, and the inevitable end of existence, but they write with the kind of detail as if they were teaching a class on the subject. Detailed lyrics that delve into the psyche of our soldiers make the subject matter a whole lot more interesting than had the band simply stated, “Killing is my business and business is good,” over and over again. Of course, wrapping ones head around the lyrics is no simple task if there’s no lyric sheet on hand. The vocals, in traditional death metal fashion, are guttural utterances that take some time to cut through and decipher. I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff, so it was easier for me.

The album intro is a doomy feedback drenched melody that suddenly vanishes, and in its place, a surprisingly clean guitar solo over a grooved out rhythm. The first time I heard this, I remember thinking, “This doesn’t sound anything like the Bolt Thrower I heard as a kid.” My earliest memories of the band are from their first album and my recollection is that the production was thin or muddy, but this . . . damn! This is sharp and the instruments cut through the din of chaos to give us a clearer understanding that Bolt Thrower have chops a plenty. Yes, the vocals are rough, but in context with this music, it works perfectly.

Not only is the production value good, but the tunes are solid. To the point and in your face, these songs have an element that I didn’t expect. The power of groove! Opening track, “At First Light,” is a riff happy fest that shifts from fast to mid tempo grooves within seconds. At the chorus, the melodic guitar line from the intro kicks back in, and gives an element of texture that seems to be missing in a lot of the extreme metal music of the day. Go ahead and blast away, but as I’ve been trying to pound into everybody’s heads for some time now, you gotta’ change things up to drive the emotion home. Bolt Thrower has mastered that technique.

Check out the fade in on “The Killchain,” and then get pummeled by one of the groovinest rhythms ever. If I had a theme song like Darth Vader, this would be the one I’d want. I mean, Christ! This riff bounces heavier than anything I’ve heard. The secret to the groove? Simplicity. It’s all about the tone and the tempo. Nothing fancy. And, you gotta’ love how they change it up once they get to the mid section of the song. Bloody f’n brilliant!

“Granite Wall” and the title track carry on with the heavy groove theme, but it’s “Anti-Tank (Dead Armour)” that lights me up every time I hear it. The lyrics describe, in moving detail, the mindset of so many of the soldiers, and I kind of find it inspiring. Lines like, “Selfless acts of bravery, in the face of overwhelming force,” and “Out gunned. Out-numbered. But, never outclassed,” just get me every time I hear them. The lyrics, in context with the music, are even more powerful. I’ve actually stopped more than once to give a quiet prayer to the boys overseas. It’s that powerful and one of reasons that I continue giving Those Once Loyal praise and permanent residence in the Pope mobile.

“Salvo” pummels us into jelly, and features a perplexing off time riff that ends up blending perfectly with a barrage of double bass drums. Smooth melody lines course through the body of the tune, before the riffs double up and wallop the ears once again. The lyrics key in on the desperation of being on the frontlines, getting caught in a cross-fire, facing death at the hands of government policies. On further research into this album, I’ve come to find out that Bolt Thrower reportedly drew their influence from the conflicts of WWI when writing and recording Those Once Loyal. I hear it, and quite honestly, the lyrics make even more sense because of this knowledge.

As much as I hate war, I’ve always been a wee bit fascinated with the history of it. World War II, World War I, American Civil, American Revolutionary . . . these were all of the topics that we were taught in school. What our schools failed to teach us at any point was that there’s a human element to these wars. Sure, the books all mention dates and the estimated lives lost, but they don’t touch on the fear, the loathing, the desperation, and the power mongers who pit young men against young men just to acquire more land or the realization of their ideals. Those Once Loyal inevitabley gets me thinking and then gets me more and more pissed off at the world around me. Thanks, Bolt Thrower! My blood pressure is on the rise again. But, seriously, how great is that? A band records an album, extreme as it may be, and it gets me thinking. Thinking! What power this band holds! This album won’t sit well with all, but there’s no way that it can be swept under the carpet. No way . . . not happening. At least, not on my watch. For those who do pick it up, do me a favor, read Erich Maria Remarque’s novel All Quiet on the Western Front first. It will give you a great appreciation for the time period and have you questioning why our world leaders still act the way they do.

-- Pope JTE

Buy here: Those Once Loyal

Monday, August 25, 2008

Proto-metal Report - May Blitz - May Blitz/The 2nd of May

One of the things I like best about exploring this endless vein of gold that is proto-metal, is never knowing exactly what I'm going to find next. As I wrote before, the proto-metal period (roughly 1969 - 1973) was a time of dissolution of all the rules. The ecstatic feyness of the psychedelic '60's giving way to the bitter dissapointments and despondency of the Vietnam/heroin '70's. Rules fell apart, genre's collapsed. In fact one of the most beautiful things about this time period is that bands we now call proto-metal, actually share very little in common in terms of sound, other than a desire to be heavy. Believe me, Bang sounds nothing like High Tide, who have very little in common with the JPT Scare Band.

And then there's May Blitz.

Another out-in-left field obscurity from this period, May Blitz, on paper are actually the band that shoulda been. Signed to the Vertigo label, an awesome purveyor of early heavy music, after the success of that label's releases of Black Sabbath and Juicy Lucy. Inspired by the heavy vibe they were discovering, Vertigo went out in a hurry and signed future legends Uriah Heap in 1970 and then rushed to bring on their next heavy act, May Blitz, certain that they'd found another winner. With James Black on guitar and vocals, Reid Hudson on bass, the three-piece was led by Tony Newman on drums, fresh after his stint replacing Aynsley Dunbar in the Jeff Beck Group where he played on the classic Beck-Ola album.

Despite this hefty pedigree, May Blitz's success would never come, producing an entire recorded output of 2 albums, both brought together here in this combination CD. But what a freaked-out blitz of psychedelic proto-heaviness it is.

The entire vibe of this band can be summed up by the title of their stoned-out 8 minute 20 second opener, " Smoking the Day Away." This is massively, smoked-up and THC-d out stoner vibe, doomed-down psychedelic blues. Leading off with a haunting, foreboding guitar line, Newman's drums percolate underneath, rising to the top like bubbles rising in the bong water. James Black was a talented guitar player, heavy into the Clapton blues vibe, with a voice vaguely reminiscent of the Slowhand man as well. Think Cream here, but slowed down and stoned to the point of near catatonia and fused with the darkness of a bad night on acid. Slightly buried in the mix, Newman's drumming is nothing short of remarkable. This is slow, smoldering number, heavy in its feel, but not it's drama. Dig the midway breakdown and redirection into another riff. Nicely done. Cool and smooth. Now, pass the roach please.

"I Don't Know," is a laid-back slab of hashish blues rock, with a nice bass breakdown leading into a blinding fuzzed out blues lead. Great middle section with the guitar, bass and excellent jazz-inflected drumming all exploring their own individual corners of drug nirvana, before bringing it all back together in time to gel before the tape runs out. "Dreaming," a slower psychedelic number lays on a heavy vibe, making you realize that the dreams we're talking about here are definitely some acid infected bad trip before "Squeet," brings on the heavy rock funk, tipping over a descending bass line, some scat guitar and the rolling thunder of Newman banging on his skins. Perhaps Black's best vocal performance even if I have absolutely no idea what he's singing about when he bellows, "Squeet all over the walls." Sounds like a job for the maid to me, or a new batch of drugs from the corner pusher. But still, dig that great bass breakdown, laying it on under Black's extremely jazzy solo as it mutates into a full-on psych/blues freakout.

And it goes on for the full seven tracks that make up the first disc. Slow burning slabs of stoned out blues-psych rock, heavy in its execution. Don't expect full on near metal like Sir Lord Baltimore, (except for the straight-out grinding proto-metal of "Fire Queen,") but a more laid back, yet still darkly heavy vibe.

For the second album, originally enough titled The Second of May, the guys tried to bring on a slightly more commercial sound. And to that extent, they succeeded. The lead track, "For Mad Men Only," pounds at you with more fury than anything on the debut. Led by a terror of a lead guitar riff, this is more what you'd expect of true proto-metal; mean, aggressive and shoved right down your throat. "8 Mad Grim Nits," keeps this heavier vibe going through an extended, moderately bizarre instrumental acid-fueled jam. Midway through "Snakes and Ladders," the song morphs into something frightening, massively distorted detuned sludgy metal riffs with ghostly vocals. Otherwise, the album alternates between a slightly more pop feeling psych vibe with great harmony vocals and a darker, trippier sound, like the "Hair," soundtrack filtered through a sliced up Marshall amp and on some nasty downers. I swear "In Part," can only be described as the first ever appearance of rap-metal.

Critical reaction to the second album was nearly absent, no doubt hampered by some seriously ugly album art, and the band broke up, Newman going on to play with Paul and Adrian Gurvitz in the Three Man Army then drumming in studio and on tour with Marc Bolan, David Bowie, Mick Ronson, Chris Spedding and even David Coverdale's Whitesnake. May Blitz became a footnote in his resume. A lost forgotten, near-success.

Ah, but not with the Ripple Effect around. Cause we're here to tell you that if you can wrap your ears around a totally spaced out, lethargically aggressive attack of sheer acid-drenched blues, coated in the armor of that early anything-goes-and-everything's-thrown-in experimentation of the proto-metal vibe, we've got another little, slightly bizarre treasure for you. It's hard to call May Blitz originators, but believe me, they explored a muse that was entirely their own. An absolute oddity, yet a treasure all the same.


Buy here:May Blitz/The 2nd of May

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Free - Tons of Sobs

It was released to staggering indifference.

It was 1969, and three albums would arrive to typify British Blues: Jeff Beck’s Truth, Led Zeppelin I and Free’s Tons of Sobs. Two of these are venerated for having been the building blocks of blues-based rock. If you have both of those and think that you know the whole story, then I’m here to tell you that you’ve been missing something.

Free was still two albums away from the song that would put them into their little corner of rock Valhalla, “All Right Now." This is the starting point for the great unsung British rock band.

A quick listen to all three albums shows the same influences, but their execution is completely different. Jeff Back’s group was never totally cohesive, and even the “live” blues on their first album was a studio effort with overdubbed audience. (in fact, there is a better version of the same song on the remastered CD available now, with no overdubs). Zeppelin I sounds huge, massive, as if somehow, even from the first notes of "Good Times, Bad Times," Page and the rest had already shed the remnants of The Yardbirds in a single tour and were already a completely different entity. Tons of Sobs puts us front and center at the club show of a band that exploded from the first rehersal. Free , in fact, would be amazing live, and the records would only carry part of that weight. Lets listen in

Tons of Sobs opens and closes with a fragment of a song, "Over the Green Hills," and bleeds straight into "Worry," with Kossoff’s repeating guitar triplets letting us know that we walked into the pub in the middle of the performance. As the guitar solo ends, Kirke’s drums and Fraser’s menacing bass stalk in and we know that we’re in a whole different space. “If it’s the cold black night/that eating up your heart/the cold damp sweat/keeps you and sleep apart” sings a young Paul Rodgers. Free isn’t pretending to be anything other than what they are: a young blues playing their favorite music.

"Walk in the Shadows," and "The Hunter," show just how good and tight a band they were. Both have Fraser, whose bass was both melodic and inventive, locked in with Simon Kirke’s drums, riding the back beat while Kossoff alternates between riffing and some absolutely incendiary fills and solos. Rodgers is in amazing form already at the age of 18, putting real edge to such lines as “When I get you in the shdows baby/I’m going to give you whats in store.”

"Going Down Slow," sounds like it should be on Beck’s album, even opening with the obligatory boogie woogie piano, but this sounds like it really is live, a full band that doesn’t need the studio to make the thing work. "The Hunter," is uptempo from Zeppelin’s version, with some great guitar work, and, without the bolero ending that Page and Plant grafted on the end, sounds a lot more like Howlin’ Wolf then either of the band’s could manage.

In fact, Free was as preoccupied with getting some as Robert Plant or Howlin’ Wolf were. Two of the songs, "Wild Indian Woman," and "Sweet Tooth," have more double entendres than anything that the 60’s had run across in a long time; “You don’t need you horses baby/you’ve got me to ride/you don’t need your bed/I’ll keep you warm inside.” Lets spend the night together indeed. Sung in Paul Rodger’s most seductive voice, gliding on the back of a rhythm section that knew how to swing, one shudders to think of how well this worked for him in the pubs of North London in 1968.

On the deluxe version of the CD, the most readily available version, are a number of alternate takes and missing tracks, the most significant being the live BBC version of "I’m A Mover," which is certainly less polished than the studio, but far better in terms of sheer effort and energy. Loose and loud, Free has swagger, and a drummer who sounds even better when not compressed in the mix.

Two albums from now, on the Deluxe Edition of Fire and Water, you can flip from the classic "All Right Now," studio track to another live BBC track, and its like getting run over by a bus. Free could bring it all right. Bad Company had the hits, but I’ve never heard anything live from them that had the spark that Free had. Tons of Sobs is where it all starts however. Do yourself a favor and jump on the bandwagon 40 years later.

--The Fearless Rock Iguana

Buy here: Tons of Sobs

Friday, August 22, 2008

Rumors Heard in MySpace, Episode 7

Well Waveriders, it’s the end of August and the kids are preparing to go back to school. The temperatures are in the hundreds and everybody is looking for some relief from the heat. And, I mean everybody. I coulda’ swore I saw the devil himself hosing down in my backyard before standing in front of the air conditioning unit. But, I’m not here to talk about theology or the financial dilemma I face with my utility bills. I’m here to tell you about the word on the street . . . or, in this case, the information super highway and cyber social gathering Mecca known as MySpace. As many of you know, I’ve spent many hours surfing and finding some interesting bands that no one else, but a select few, know about. And as is the case with every Episode up to now, I’m going to spend the next few scorching moments telling you about the hot topics and burning issues as they pertain to a handful of artists that we care about. Like how I threw all that temperature related stuff in there? I sat up for hours working on that one.

There’s a particularly interesting lad out here doing something that kinda’ boggles my noodles. The band is called Nothing Project and is literally a one man band. This dude, Marcus Connor, plays every instrument on the band’s debut album, One Man Rock Band. Oh . . . I forgot to mention that not only does he play all of the instruments, but he plays them all at the same time! Hello! Mr. Fantastic? Is that you? How the hell does he do this stuff? The picture in the CD booklet tells a small amount of how he pulls this off. Apparently, while Marcus is playing guitar and singing, his feet are busy hammering away at a bass drum and a snare drum. On first listen, I thought, “Eh.” On second listen, I was blown away. The music falls in line with the bluesy noise rock of The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, but I like this stuff a whole lot better. Maybe because I’m amazed that he’s pulling this off with no studio trickery. This is all performed by one dude . . . at one time. Excuse me a moment as I go to my studio and destroy my gear. Swing by his page and be prepared to throw any of your musical aspirations in the corner with your dirty clothes.

From one man band to two man band, the brothers Mardo are no longer performing under their surname. There may, or may not, have been some rift within the ranks of the band, which has put a hamper on the boys getting in the studio, writing, recording, you know . . . doing what bands do. So, for the time being, Mardo (the band) are no more. However, Mardo (the brothers) are still at it and have put together a project called Heavy Young Heathens. The music doesn’t have that same crazed out, “shake your shit,” Mardo sound, but in so many ways, this is a much more mature and all around intriguing sound. I insist that you not take my word on this one. Go by their page ( and be prepared to spend some time chillin’ out. They have five tunes that you can download from the page, which should be available on an E.P. in the very near future. They’ve completed a video for the track “Sha La La La” and you simply have to read their blog regarding the director of the clip. Oh . . . and if that weren’t enough, they’re planning on a string of dates for a tour through this great country of ours. Guys . . . don’t forget to drop by the Ripple offices. I have a bottle of whisky I’ve been meaning to get to you.

Keeping with the theme of brothers in rock, Hal and Sam Stokes are the blood line of The Thieves and they’ve called it quits. Not as brothers, but as members of the same band . . . at least, for the foreseeable future. Sam has left The Thieves to join ex-Darkness vocalist, Justin Hawkins, to form Hot Leg ( There are a couple of tracks that you can spin on your little media player to get a sense of what these guys are about, but Thieves fans (that goes for you, Mud Skipper) remember that all things in rock n’ roll are temporary. The Thieves will be back one day to make all right again in the world.

Getting away from the straight up rock styling’s of the last few bands that I’ve mentioned I want to bring some more attention to the progressive leanings of The Awakening. I had touched on their demo a few months back and that they were working to get some vocal tracks down for an upcoming album. Well, as of yet, I haven’t heard anything with the vocals, but there is a new track that’s been posted on their page ( The song is called “The Terminal Shards” and has a serious Opeth vibe to it. The guys in the band mention that all of the posted recordings are rough recordings, but man . . . they sound great! I have a sneaking hunch that the completed album will turn my bowels to water. Not normally something I would look forward to, but in this case, I’ll stock up on Charmin and reading material.

Also, in prog news . . . Heir to Madness has released The Citadel ( It’s a sprawling, multi-layered mood rocker of an album and demands your attention. It’s an ambitious outing from the one man recording unit of Jay, err . . . Jay something. I never did find out what his last name is. Really . . . what’s in a name? I’m always amazed when I hear an album that has so much going on in it, and then find out that only one person was involved in the whole process. That’s Mozart type shit! File Heir to Madness with all of the other great MySpace one man music composers, such as Mountain Mirrors and Dimeansion X. There’s some involved and complex work coming out of these guys, and on top of that . . . good work. It’s one thing to create an album by one’s own blood, sweat, and tears. It’s something all together different to make it sound good. We should really get these three guys together and see what kind of magnum opus that they would pull out of their back pocket. Racer? Call legal. Make it happen. Keep your eyes open for a featured review of The Citadel in coming weeks.

Avant-garde metal mavens, Urizen, have released an E.P. entitled Universe. There are a couple of tracks to listen to on their page ( They’re different, bouncing from speedy hyper metal to jazzy lounge vocal tracks. I appreciate their approach towards music because one never knows exactly where they’re headed. Keep the listener on their toes kind of thing. Oh, and while you’re there, check out the select tracks from their full length disc called Autocropolis. I actually picked this one up a few years ago and it’s made its way into steady rotation on the ole iPod. And it hasn’t been reviewed? Time, people! I need more time!

Bouncing from studio to stage, stage to studio, San Diego’s Incomplete Neighbor ( are living the rock n’ roll dream. I’ve just come into possession of some demo tracks and these guys have my attention. The four songs that I’ve heard range from skull vibrating rock to ambient shimmering chill, all done with the vocal flavorings of Bono. They’ll be playing a few local shows in the near future, one of which I will be in attendance for. September 13th at the Ken Club. Should be fun. Future fodder for a Field Report? Quite possibly. But it will have to wait until after the Field Report for King’s X, for I am to embrace their groove flavor on the 27th of August.

Back in June, I had reviewed Oblivion Beckons from the ever so technically adept metal band, Byzantine. I mentioned that the band broke up mere days after the release of the album due to a myriad of events, namely three of the four band members embracing the art of fatherhood. Well, unfortunately, things haven’t changed and the band is still no more. However, vocalist/guitarist “OJ” Ojeda has put together a project to keep him busy when he’s not working nine to five or changing diapers. The project is called Black Cap Miner and is a nod to the old school thrash movement of the mid to late ‘80’s. My understanding of it is that OJ got together with some childhood chums and hashed out some of the tunes that got them through adolescence and beyond. Swing by, check out the blog for more info (, and drop the cats a line of support. If any group of musicians deserves the undying support of legions of rabid fans, it’s the guys who made up Byzantine. Stupidly talented and down to earth human. What more could a music fan ask for?

Before I put a wrap on this month’s episode, I’d like to turn the spotlight on one of my favorite MySpace tunes. It’s from a wonderful singer / songwriter going by the name of Kika. Swing by her page ( and listen to the track, “Not the One.” It’s an acoustic guitar driven tune and has got a great melody that she sings with that right amount of passion. The rest of the tunes on the page are pretty good too, so if you’re into that Natalie Merchant (why is it so many female singers are compared to her?) vocal sound, then Kika should work well for you.

Until next month, stay cool and watch out for a dude with a pointy tail running up your water bill. - Pope JTE

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Venomin James - Left Hand Man

War is hell.

Inherently, we all know this, yet for some reason we can't help but glorify it, romanticize it. It's been done since the days of Homer through Hemingway. You can even hear this in our music. There's a whole genre of music, Battle Metal, devoted to little more than glorifying the brutality of war, romanticizing the march, the machismo of the onslaught, the beauty of the kill.

You won't find any of that in Venomin James.

Pulverizing, Sabbath inspired doom metal, Venomin James is a battering ram of detuned guitars, sludgy bass licks and drums pounding at you with the vehemence of a heavyweight boxer beating his opponent's face into oblivion. This is a full-on assault of monsterous riffs, dynamics and power, wrapped up and dropped off in the south, hinting at a touch of the ferocity of Corrosion-style swamp metal. Touches of classic stoner metal flourish amongst the unadulterated fury of the heavy doom vibe.

So far so good. But that's not where the story ends. While a band should never be labeled or judged on the basis of their history, Venomin James has a history that can't be ignored. Formed by vocalist Jim Meador upon his return home from the war-ravaged battlefields of Iraq where he'd served his tour of duty as a sergeant in the U.S. Army at Abu Ghraib. Meador returned from that journey, having faced his own mortality "haunted by memories of intense violence and the unforgiving ugliness of war." This apocalyptic view of life and the human condition worms its way through the doom vibe like a parasitic amoeba, washing the colors of their pounding rock in black, and adding a verisimilitude and authenticity to their hellish view of society that few bands could ever dream of.

Armed with his belly full of disillusionment, disgust and venom, Meador rounded up guitarists Tomasz Scull and Joe Fortunato, two immensely talented riff-meisters steeped in old school doom tradition, to bring his apocalyptic visions to life. Add to that Geezer Butler-inspired bassist Erin Corcoran and the pounding fury of Jared Koston's drums. Venomin James fully formed, Meador finally had an outlet to unleash the pent up demons he'd been keeping hidden within.

But like I said, history doesn't define a band, and I'm sure Meador, more than anyone, would want this musical beast to be judged on the fury of their riffs today, not the terrors of his past. And to that end, I can only say one thing. Hell yeah!

Now, that doesn't mean you can separate past and present. When Meador sings in the opening track "Abu Ghraib," "I hear them crying/Smell the dying/The walls whisper ancient truth./Alone I sit/salt crusted skin/In a temple of lies and abuse," the words hit with the weight of a 80 megaton bomb. This was the infamous site of Hassam's torture and abuse. A home for the dead, the dying, and the those who only wished they could die to end the pain. This isn't some far-off war fantasy, dreamed up by some stoned kid in the desert upset that his parents won't increase his allowance for the week. Meador knows what he's singing about. From the first darkly ominous bass notes, this is a song of anger and madness, capped by Meador's vaguely Ozzy-esque, but deeper voice. The riffs churn in a swirling maelstrom of deadly desert sand, the drums pound out the footsteps of the dead and dying. "Have I reached my final destination?/A temple strewn with shallow graves/the blood that stains your walls/I'm drowning in/as I stroll amongst your waste." Doom rock doesn't get any heavier or meatier than this. Final destination, indeed.

"Bulletjuice," launches at you with perhaps the disc's best riff, a mastadon sized onslaught, as Meador sings of the soldiers getting stoned to carrying on the daily battle of war. "Locked and loaded with a bottle of pills." Searing leads tear apart the mid-section before that amazing fuzzed out riff roars back in, ripping the skin from your flayed flesh.

"Feed the Flames," is VJ's answer to "War Pigs," a brutal condemnation of the politicians that feed the war machine, pushing violence and death to suit their needs, mindless to the rotting and decaying bodies left in the wake of their decisions. The riff is brutal and accusing, spitting bile at the real life war pigs with an anger that Ozzy and crew could only have guessed at. And whereas, Ozzy was content to sing about the madness of war and the machine, Meador won't be satisfied until he sees the whole machine burned to the ground. "I've got a new ambition/I've got a black intention/I'm a man on a mission/Slave to a broken system/Infernal politicians/Sugar coat, I won't listen..../They sabotage my minds condition/I wanna burn it all..and Feed the flames."

"Downer," brings a slightly sci-fi'd tinge to it's guitar tone. "Iron Horse," is a slow and infinitely plodding march towards destruction. "Undertow," plans its attack fast and furious and "El Brujo," can only be described as a balls out, mind-numbing beating of stoned out heaviness. And through it all, the musicianship of VJ bring the horror of Meador's visions to astonishing life. With these guys the past may not define the band, but you can't deny that the past is part of the band.

Yeah, I know I'm going on and on about this one, but think about it. When have you ever heard an album like this? The guy's been there. He served his country with valor, he answered the call, only to find horrors beyond anything schlock-horror peddlers like White Zombie or war-glorifiers like Man-O-War could ever dream of. If for no other reason than that, the album deserves to be heard. Or, you can just forget all that and raise your fist in a pounding salute, because regardless of the message, Venomin James just freaking rocks.

Apparently, the boys got a new album coming out in the fall. I can't wait to hear what they come up with next. And Meador, thanks for all you did. The Pope and I welcome you home, my friend.


Buy here, CD Baby: Buy the CD

Buy here, Amazon: Left Hand Man

Monday, August 18, 2008

Yusuf – An Other Cup

My history with this cat (no pun intended) goes way back to when I was but a wee lad and the disturbing movie, Harold and Maude, was in theaters. You see, I had two cats (again, no pun intended) named Harold and Maude, and my mom thought it would be cool to take her very young and only son to see this movie. I haven’t been right since.

My second encounter was when my good friend, Racer, played me portions of Tea For The Tillerman from Cat Stevens, the name that Yusuf Islam went by prior to converting to the Islamic faith. It was at that point that I found some of the music that I had been so desperately looking for. Over the next several years, I picked up anything that I could find from the Cat man and absorbed the soulful grace with which he wrote, recorded, and performed his music. In a lot of ways, his songs were my guiding light and the road map by which I traveled through life.

After years of being out of the public spotlight, except for various comments that were blown out of proportion by the media, Yusuf Islam has returned with an album of new, and for the most part, original music. And let me say, listening to An Other Cup is like finding an old friend whom you’ve lost touch with, and then getting wrapped up in hours of catch up conversation. The music doesn’t so much pick up where Cat Stevens left off, but lands right smack dab in the middle of his greatest works. The spiritual essence is still there and is conveyed with the graceful subtlety Stevens was always known for. Acoustic based songs with that familiar richly textured voice fill forty plus minutes of CD space, and carry this listener to a time when life seemed so difficult, but in hind sight, was truly simple.

“Midday (Avoid City after Dark)” starts off with a nice bit of mellow guitar and percussion, and then it happens. Yusuf’s voice cracks through the music and all is right with the world once again. A song about enjoying the simple things that life has to offer, such as feeling an ocean breeze and hearing the laughing voices of children at play. The acoustics strum away in the background, giving the tune a nostalgic feel, while the piercing cry of the brass section gives the tune a more modern feel.

“Heaven / Where True Love Goes” is a knock-out blow of a tune. It begins with Yusuf’s voice with just the right amount of inflection, and then just builds upon itself. Note after note, like bricks of a house, are laid on top of each other until the tune rises from the ground and through the stratosphere. The chorus melody is as uplifting as any tune out there, and overall, “Heaven” should be mentioned in the same breath as any of the classic Steven’s material. It’s just a great love song, both of a physical love, and spiritual. You gotta’ love how he can do that double entendre thing!

“Maybe There’s A World” and “One Day At A Time” invoke the same sense of “I’ve heard this before, but not quite like this.” Both are hopeful tunes with lush, atmospheric passages that give one the sense that the songs are more relevant today than the era that they were borrowed from. “In The End” is rife with poignant lyrics of accepting the truth of life. Everything that we do has consequences. Good or bad, and we know the truth behind every action. It’s all about being honest with one’s self. A tale told as only Yusuf Islam can.

Yusuf’s interpretation of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” is a moving piece. Made famous by Eric Burdon and The Animals, this tune carries a whole new weight with its slowed down tempo and quasi-new age vibe. Performed with just a piano / keyboard, Yusuf gives it an almost a cappella feel, and ultimately the tune feels more plaintive and somber. “I Think I See the Light” is straight off of Buddha and the Chocolate Box. Piano driven with an upbeat vocal line at the chorus, this tune is a mover and is about as close as Yusuf comes to “rocking out.” Impassioned and uplifting, groovy and all around awesome, this tune sits with “Heaven / Where True Love Goes” as the highest of the highlights on this album.

If you didn’t know that this album was ever released, don’t feel too bad. You’re not alone. Somewhere along the line, the media mentioned An Other Cup was being released and the immediately went off to tell us how important Coldplay are. Sorry. Coldplay has yet to change my life. For fans of Cat Stevens who just wish they had something new from him, fear not . . . An Other Cup is a perfect piece of the collection. It’s great to hear the spirit come back into music, though from a slightly different perspective. As much as Yusuf Islam is no longer Cat Stevens, the two men can never truly be separated. There’s way too much history there. However, I do hope to hear more music come from Yusuf that grows from this release. The voice still sounds great, and he still has a message to get out there. In fact, it may be even more important now than it was when he was a pop star. As it was with my second encounter with the man, this album came along at the right time, and is truly the music I’ve been looking for.
-- Pope JTE

Buy here: An Other Cup

Friday, August 15, 2008

Punk Me? Punk You! - A Ripple Punk Rock Round-up of Two Exciting New Bands

Bill Bondsmen - Swallowed By The World

I avoided hardcore punk during a good part of the last decade because most of it was full of itself.

Hardcore and the rebellion of punk started out as vehemence against Margaret Thatcher’s England during a time of record unemployment, governmental crushing of the miners strike, recession and living on the dole. Even in Reagan’s America, hardcore punk was a protest against the greed, corruption and junk bonds that made millionaires out of a few while the inner cities wallowed in their own feces.

But last decade, things were actually pretty good here. Sure, there’s always something to complain about, but overall, the economy was good, race relations were better, civil rights were increasing and we were at peace. So what did the punks have to be angry about? They became a bunch of whinny paps complaining that they couldn’t get a date with a cute girl or the group of popular kids didn’t like them because they had acne on their backs. Forgive me, but I was a radio DJ in the halcyon days of Black Flag, The Anti-Nowhere League, Fear and The Dead Kennedys, and you’re whining to me because you can’t get a date? Oh, go sit in the corner and be quiet little boy!

But now we’ve got our eighth year of Bush to endure, we’re in a no-win war with thousands of young soldiers getting blown apart by roadside bombs, the economy’s in the shitter, unemployment is rising, family homes are in foreclosure, gas is at record highs, and there’s no answer in sight. In that environment, hardcore makes sense again. Still, I approached this new offering, the debut disc from this Detroit outfit, Bill Bondsmen, with caution. Fortunately, the boys didn’t disappoint. Bearing all the expected influences, especially Black Flag and a coked-up Ramones musicality, Bill Bondsmen got something to say. Whether railing against our disposable society, (Generation Landfill) having the electricity turned off because you couldn't pay the bills (It’s Always Darkest After Shutoff) or just trying to get by day to day (Dear Debt Collector) the boys are pissed and they’re going to let you know about it.

But still, anger’s not enough to turn me on (though it sure did help in my rugby playing days). What sets Bill Bondsmen apart for me was that the boys seemed to care as much about the music as the message. Each song features some unique or different musical moment, enough of a twist to make things interesting. Like the brief breakdown during “Generation Landfill,” or the bass line running through “Something’s Died.” “Answer Me,” starts off with an honest-to-goodness riff while “If You Want a Picture of the Future,” features a not-subtle full-on jazzy drum and bass breakdown. Now don’t get me wrong, this is full on thrash hardcore with enough speed to dislocate limbs in the mosh pit, but they do it in their own way. They even end the album with a full-on hardcore epic, the slower, droning building to thrash of “A Bird in the Hand Means You’ve Been Dead for a Few Years.”

In the end, the boys of Bill Bondsmen aren’t going to change the world with this offering, but they ain’t gonna go down without a fight either. Their bleak vision of where this country is headed is best summarized in the title of the sixth song, “If You Want a Picture of the Future (Imagine a Boot Stamping on a Human Face Forever). I hear ya guys, loud and clear.

Juanita y Los Feos – S/T

Also on the Dead Beat Records label, garage punk howlers from Madrid, Spain, Juanita y Los Feos come at you like a trashy, raunchy hurricane, blasting in off the Mediterranean, tearing across La Costa Del Sol before strking ground where they wreak their havoc. Fronted by the endlessly charismatic lead singer, Juanita y Los Feos blend trashy, mutated surf guitar vibes with the manic energy of classic punk bands like X and the Avengers to create some unholy, distorted mid-fi punky garage rock.

Think of your favorite high energy surf punk bands of yore, like Agent Orange, fused with an edgy, methed up B-52’s, a hefty dose of amateur-addled guitar playing and you’ll begin to get the idea. Frazzled dischords of surf guitar chopping through sixties laced organs. And then there’s Juanita, belting it out with more energy than a fifth grade classroom on Red Bull and a case of Oreos.

Never longer than two and three-quarters minutes, each song is a sonic blast of adrenaline, riding its own garage beat all the way through your cerebellum. “El Abujero,” is a frantic ride of fuzzed garage guitar and punk harmony vocals. “Madre Soltera,” ushers in the mutated organ, undermining the frantic punk energy. “Reina Por Un Dia,” is the best B-52’s song they never recorded, but should have back when they were young and cool and still into punk. “Maldito Desagradecido,” follows this same pattern, bouncy surf guitar riffs under Juantia’s screaming protests, sounding like something from a coked out Annette Funicello movie. “No Tengo Ritmo,” my personal favorite is a nonstop blast of bouncing organs, jaunty guitars and an incessant beat, bringing back the best of balls out fun punk from days gone by.

Juanita y Los Feos shouldn’t be missed by fans of high energy, garagey punk. Never less than entertaining, Juanita y Los Feos is a tattered, ruptured, dingy treasure. A cacophony of punk, short blasts of surf garage distortion. A trashy motherlode of timeless gems, fuelled up and methed up for the new generation. Actually, it’s lots of things, and all of them are good.


Bill Bondsmen

Juanita y Los Feos

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Gov’t Mule – High & Mighty

When I first heard the advance tracks for High & Mighty way back . . . when the hell was that? 2006? Crap . . . time flies. Anywho’s, when I heard those tracks, I thought, “Gov’t Mule has just delivered us from the dark ages of music.” Think back a couple of years and try to remember the music of 2006. The industry was screaming for a hundred cc’s of something new to kick start its heart. Now, I’m not going to be as bold as to say that High & Mighty is the best rock album of all time. Hell, it’s not even the best Gov’t Mule album. So, why write a review for this one before the first album, Dose, or Life Before Insanity? Quite frankly, High & Mighty came out of nowhere and knocked me on my keester when I needed to get knocked around the most.

Always ones to bring insight to their bar room brawlin’ brand of rock n’ roll, Gov’t Mule take it up a notch with some venomous lyrics aimed at the rich and powerful, impassioned lyrics of strength and love, and head shaking lyrics about the mind set of society. In other words, Gov’t Mule give their listeners food for thought to go with the stellar musicianship that comes from a life time of livin’ the dream.

The opening few minutes of the lead track let you know that the Mule is indeed back and quite possibly better than ever before. I mean no disrespect to the late Allen Woody by that comment. The first three Mule albums are classics and his work will never be forgotten. But, this is a new era for Gov’t Mule and the additions of bassist Andy Hess and keyboardist Danny Louis have melded with the stable personas of Warren Haynes and Matt Abts to create a sound that will continue to grow for years to come. “Mr. High & Mighty” has all of the classic qualities that a rock song needs. Great guitar work, solid drumming, vocals that melt polar ice caps, lyrics that are immediate and thought provoking. This is what we started listening to rock n’ roll for, my friends! Check out Warren’s solo. That tone don’t come from no box . . . that’s pure Warren Haynes. Dare I say, what legends are made of? For you old school rockers who have never stopped spinning you’re AC/DC collection, give this tune a spin and see that’s there’s a whole new world awaiting you.

Just as “Mr. High & Mighty” fades out, “Brand New Angel” opens with Haynes hammering away at a muted riff and I can just about hear Will Farrell hollering out for more cow bell. Note Haynes’ licks throughout the verses. Great bluesy fills! And that riff as the band drops into the guitar solo is an awe inspiring ditty. But, this songs greatest contribution to the arts is Danny Louis’ keyboard solo. The first time the Skip (Delta Mud Skipper) and I heard this tune, we thought, ‘Damn. That’s an odd tone for a guitar.’ A few seconds later we realized that it was the keyboards creating that beautiful wash of sound. Absolutely amazing tune!

High & Mighty has so many great tunes on it, I could probably ramble on for hours and point out every little nuance, but that would take some of the fun out of it for you. However, there are a few other tunes that I just need to tell you about. “So Weak, So Strong” highlights that Warren Haynes croon that has become part of his fingerprint. The intro alone is enough to buy this album. As the keyboards kick in, there’s this mellow Zeppelin vibe that comes out, and shows just one more reason why the recent additions of Hess and Louis opened a billion doors for the Mules musical explorations. It probably doesn’t need to be said, but there’s another stunner of a guitar solo on this one.

“Child of the Earth” is a tear jerker. The wail of the opening guitar notes, followed by Haynes’ rich molasses and bourbon vocals, absolutely melts me. Damn. Racer! Pass me a shot of something. Anything . . . just get me something! As mournful as the tune is, it has an undertone of hopefulness that’s inspiring. Here’s a shocker . . . Warren’s laying down a guitar solo for the ages. “Like Flies” is an agro riff monger with an industrial (?) slant. Distorted vocals and a primal drum beat push the boundaries of this tune. Hess’ stuttering bass approach is pure genius. You can’t keep your head from bobbing to the groove, especially at the breakdown as Warren blasts us with a bit of slide guitar. “Million Miles Away” is a gospel soaked ballady-type piece. Louis’ piano shines as the background singers howl away. Hess and Abts keep the song steady as the surrounding textures explode around the structure of the song.

Really. Somebody tell me why High & Mighty wasn’t received with open arms by a clamoring mass of rock hungry music fans. I know the Skip and I have told people about this album, but for some reason, those words have fallen on deaf ears. Every song has something new to offer. Old school flavors with a new school approach. Maybe it’s too intelligent for the masses. No . . . that can’t be it. Oh, I get it. The band members aren’t hot little sexy numbers that will have the masses tuned to Mtv for hours at a time. No, wait . . . that can’t be it. Mtv stopped playing music years ago. Alright, let me put it to you this way . . . if you like Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Allman Brother (Hey, Warren was/is a member,) then you’ll like Gov’t Mule. They’re simply a natural progression of the great music that filled the airwaves in the late ‘60’s and ‘70’s. The music features complex arrangements to standard blues rock, super human musicianship, soul. It’s heartfelt music that rock’s your nuts off one minute and soothes your pain the next. Seriously, watch the videos for “Mr. High & Mighty” and “Brand New Angel,” and see for yourselves why Gov’t Mule is one of the most underrated bands of all time.
-- Pope JTE

Buy here: High & Mighty

Monday, August 11, 2008

Shuteye Unison - S/T

I wish it was autumn.

That's the first thing I thought of as the new Shuteye Unison self-titled debut spun around in the Ripple CD player, it's gentle tones sparkling through the speakers. I wish it was autumn.

It's hard to explain, but something about the music, the dreamy, shimmering indie pop of Shuteye Unison just makes me think of brisk autumn days, a cool breeze lilting through the trees, rustling the leaves, stirring them to revel in their glorious tones of red, orange and gold. A simple melancholy floating through the air heralding the coming of the darker winter nights. The glistening of the first morning dew on the front lawn, a harbinger of the arrival of the imminent frost.

That's Shuteye Unison.

Now, it certainly doesn't hurt that autumn is my favorite season. There's just something about nature in autumn as it prepares to sleep. The simple joys of reaching for my favorite sweater, the heat of the summer finally past. The chill in the air makes me introspective, a time for solitary walking, crunching the fallen leaves under my hiking shoes, the flip-flops and sandals safely packed away for the season. It's a time for taking stock of my life, for recharging my energies. Time to start a meditative journey.

That's Shuteye Unison.

I never had the pleasure of hearing The Rum Diary, but when they went on hiatus, three of the members (Daniel McKenzie, Jon Fee and Jake Krohn) began to write and record together. Their muse inspired, Shuteye Unison was born. Self-recorded and mixed with Pall Jenkins (The Black Heart Procession, Three Mile Pilot)l, the band displays a wealth of texture and restraint. This is dreamy, glistening alt-pop, instantly accessible, shimmering in its tone and downright beautiful in its scope. An ambient, post-punk dreamscape of textures, looping bassline and sparkling guitars. It is an album of patience and quiet, of mood and intent, spiked with enough muscle to propel the songs through to the end. It is an album of infinite complexity and sublime simplicity. Starkly somber in tone, yet ultimately uplifting. Grand, yet intimate. It is contradictions within itself, yet as clear as a newborn autumn morning.

To my ear, Shuteye Unison recall some of the best hypnotic alt-pop of days gone by. The floating dreaminess of the Cocteau Twins. The vocal tone and melodies of my personal favorites The Lotus Eaters. Shades of David Sylvian. Hints of Autolux. The ambiance of the more introspective 4AD label. The album is dense, but not suffocating, a streak of light shimmering off a still pool.

Beginning with the ambient intro "Crf030608," it doesn't take long for the vision of this band to be revealed. "Tomorrow's Five Horizons," rides on a melodic bass line, a throbbing drum sequence right into the soaring guitars. The song is one seamlessly lush hook. An effortless atmospheric journey through passages of soaring beauty and lulling quiet. A warning of a future ecologic apocalypse told with a rapturous chorus and delicate harmonies. It is a stunning work of subtle beauty.

"Fields Landing," follows, a mournful, almost pre-war feeling, with the drums marching out a beat similar to a weary army trudging reluctantly through a muddy field. The melancholy synthesized tone, near bagpipe like in quality, add to this feeling, a Scottish Loch, a misty, green hill of grass. But this isn't a war song, it's a journey, a search for sanctuary. And finally, when the guitar crashes in with vigor, the song launches into its own time and place. Throughout the song, as the entire album, the hushed vocals are an instrument, adding a delicate touch of fragility, a tone, a hint, rather than a focus. The overall effect is striking.

"Latin Metrics," rides a stuttering drum beat through the shimmering guitar, creating wave after wave of hypnotizing post-rock. The drumming on "Slow Ravens," sucks me in like a kid looking down a well, dreaming and imaging what strange universes dwell inside. Moments of fury strike through the chiming guitar tones, chords of aggression, driving this song more urgently than those that came before. This is probably my favorite track, if I was forced to pick one, but in truth, the six tracks here, including the final nine-minute opus, "Through the Dunes," all act together as one unified whole, a transportation into a lush, atmospheric world. A warping of dimensions to the ambient, tuneful place that is Shuteye Unison.

I've heard that the group is already at work writing and recording their next album for the Park and Records label, an eco-friendly music venture based outside of San Francisco. If the six songs on this extended EP are any inclination of the majestic beauty that is still to come, I'll be there. Wood crackling in the fireplace, my window open to allow in the chill of the autumn night, my stereo turned up loud for the music to engulf me, and as the boys suggest, a Guiness in my hand.

Autumn. Always my favorite time of year.


Shuteye Unison doesn't have a video yet, but these performances by Rum Diary can give you just a slight hint at the sounds and tones that await you.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Broken Iris – The Eyes of Tomorrow

This disc has a unique history in Ripple lore. Initially, The Eyes of Tomorrow spent a good eight to eleven cycles in Racer’s CD player, and then made its way down to me where it spent another eight to eleven cycles toiling in my player. I can’t recall any album up to this that has bounced back and forth so much before we could begin tippity tapping our thoughts across the LED screens of our respective computers. But, here it is. The Eyes of Tomorrow, the debut album from California's Broken Iris, is a stellar and addictive listen that blends emotionally charged hard edged rock with infectious melodies and ambient soundscapes.

The album is based on a story that was penned by a former guitarist (Tony Verdi) for the band, and incorporates some serious dark tones to convey the message of the ups and downs of love. Anyone who has ever gone through love knows the sensations of confusion, excitement, frustration, and bliss, and Broken Iris perfectly capture those emotions. The lyrics walk hand in trembling hand with the emotionally sprawling musical passages. Listen to the emotions packed into the vocal performance by Adam Roth towards the end of the title track. His voice cracks at just right moments, to the point that I’m buying what he’s selling. I’m convinced that he’s not just singing the words, but feeling the pain. I just had a shiver. Great stuff!

“Unfolding Time” soars with another beautiful vocal performance. The orchestrated string arrangements add moving textures over the standard acoustic rock foundation. Emotionally uplifting and inspiring, the tune eventually fades to the majestic “Beautiful Girl.” This tune reminds me of A Perfect Circle in the vocal approach, but these vocals feel so much more vulnerable and fragile, almost as if Adam is going to break down at any moment. The layered vocal tracks add an element that, in my mind, symbolizes the multiple voices that we hear when we’re searching for the words and too many thoughts race through the mind to be coherently expressed. You know that confusion of wanting to say all of the right words, and all at the same time. Manic, desperate words blurted out to keep one’s love from walking away. Brilliant!

When I first saw the track, “The Ripple,” I immediately thought, ‘How nice. These guys don’t even know us and they’re writing songs about us.’ Once I sat back and listened to the tune, I found that it really has nothing to do with us, and everything to do with the magnitude of life. I didn’t really think it had anything to do with The Ripple Effect. I just thought it would be a humorous slant. No one’s laughing? Okay then. This is one of those tunes that I woke up several mornings humming due to its infectious melody. The numerous vocal harmonies kick off the tune and the song continually builds with the addition of the various instruments. By the way, the acoustic guitars on this disc are spot on. Well produced and shimmering, they are the hidden weapon buried in the mix and acts as the foundation so the vocals can have their out-of-the-box approach. Really . . . I was kidding about the whole Ripple thing.

Broken Iris does a good job of mixing the tempos on The Eyes of Tomorrow. Though most of the album is heavily ambient, they break up the potential monotony by mixing in enough rocking elements to keep the head bobbing and toes tapping. It never gets too loud to be abrasive, and the instrumental work shows that these guys have a proficiency that should allow them to grow with their music. Every time this sucker gets spun, something new pops from the mix to tickle my ears. The haunting piano melodies, the acoustic guitar work, the vocal harmonies . . . all of it works together to create a sonic stew to enjoy listen after listen. Has it changed my life? I’m afraid not, but I do believe that future efforts from these cats will. I’m curious where they’re going to take their sound and somewhat excited. The Eyes of Tomorrow is a strong debut and definitely worthy of attention. - Pope JTE

Buy here: The Eyes of Tomorrow

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