Saturday, April 30, 2011

ALL - Breaking Things

Breaking Things was one of those great achievements of a band firing on all cylinders. It has been my opinion that ALL albums tend to possess handfuls of throwaway songs that I'd rather skip and forget about but Breaking Things has no such instances. Looking back, ALL was the perfect band for my teenage sensibilities; able to weave heartfelt tunes about love and loss seamlessly with scathing indictments of politics and culture. While most of my early teen years was spent listening to bands with a 'simpler-is-better' policy, ALL had no qualms about showing everyone that their musical chops were above and beyond most of their contemporaries. Whether it is Stephen Egerton, who jumps with ease between crisp guitar melodies and discordant offensiveness; Bill Stevenson, who's solid surf inspired drumming is layered with years of punk influence; or Karl Alvarez who commands his bass to dance with a fury underneath it all, the group stands with few in their willingness to play to the height of their ability. Breaking Things also marks the first appearance of vocalist Chad Price, who's gruff voice was perfectly suited for the much more aggressive vibe displayed on the record.
Breaking Things was released when I was in 7th grade and was the second ALL album that I purchased. Its greatest attribute is the fact that it is played with much more passion and conviction than on all effort before and since; even the tunes that could be deemed 'slow songs' sound absolutely gigantic. As such, when heavier songs do appear, the group sounds to be a much more dangerous band than they actually are. It was such a refreshing album for the teenage me; the songs about girls and pain and loss were much more loud and cathartic than most power pop and the songs of rebellion and aggression were even more so. I know of few bands who could pull of the desperation of 'Shreen' and the rage of 'Politics' on the same record. Breaking Things will always be close to my heart because as a child, it enticed me both ends: the boy who craved the emotion of indie rock and the cynic who craved the antagonism of hardcore.

Friday, April 29, 2011

AC/DC - If You Want Blood, You Got It

Here we see the Australian greats at their most unhinged. Being the age that I am, I did not have the privilege of witnessing the coming of If You Want Blood . . . but I am sure that if I had been able to pay attention, it would have finally dawned on me that not one of their recorded works to that point had adequately documented the ferocity that they could unleash. Which is saying quite a bit considering that none of their studio albums could be called tepid or bland. But here we can finally see that absolute fury that they were capable of when not constrained by production.
AC/DC had always been one of the great forbidden bands. My impression of them as a child, from the little exposure that I'd had, was that of a dangerous band who would just as soon leave me for dead if it suited their fancy. What strikes me as odd as I sit here reflecting upon this, is that I was not as enticed by this as I should have for there were certainly dangerous bands that I had actively sought out in my youth. But for whatever reason, AC/DC stayed more or less on my periphery until my late teen years. And for that, I blame Brian Johnson. Not that he is a slouch without the means to bleed his pipes with the best of them, but he always struck me as unremarkable. And since most of my exposure to the group had come from Back in Black, The Razor's Edge and the soundtrack to Maximum Overdrive, he had been the beacon of my knowledge and no amount of heroics by Angus Young (epic as they may have been) could sway my opinion of AC/DC being not worth the effort.
But thank God for Bon Scott and the used vinyl store that had opened in my hometown for showing me the light. A 2 dollar copy of Powerage was all that it took; I became a steadfast believer. It was then that I saw that Bon and Angus were two wild children who were truly meant to be together. Their individual energy worked in symmetry; each magnifying the other. And nowhere does this shine more than on If You Want Blood . . .
Recorded live on the 1978 Powerage tour, this album displays AC/DC in their prime. I defy anyone to find an opening track to a live album, or any album for that matter, that compares to the energy released during the opening track once the whole band joins their feral lead guitarist on stage. Nary at note is missed on the entire album. The group rips and tears from song to song as if some unknown force compels them to push harder, faster and louder. The rhythm section of Malcom Young, Cliff Williams and Phil Rudd moves as a single punishing unit, providing an unquestioning backbone to the ferocity of Bon and Angus, embellishing ever so rarely and only when necessary.
As a performer, Bon Scott to me was the very essence of rock and roll idolatry; a dedicated man who adored so deeply the responsibility of the front-man to forsake well-being and vanity for the sake of the performance. No matter what cunning words his tongue was spewing forth, they always seemed brutishly sexual and one always got the impression that his lips were curled into a lecherous sneer. On If You Want Blood . . ., this sensation is only enhanced and every time he opens his mouth, it feels like an aural thrust bursting through the stereo as if he wishes to saturate your very being.
This is the live album to which all others should be compared, a monument to the idea that once pushed in the right direction, one needs only to step back and watch the great ones work their magic.

Monday, June 28, 2010

My Top Albums of 2009 part 3

19.Propaghandi - Supporting Caste

As a teenager, Propaghandi was one of the more important bands for me as far as an introduction to social justice goes. As the years went on though, I drifted away from them for one reason or another. It turns out that the years have been kind and their humorous, pissed-off wit has become more refined and brutal. They are no longer the skate-punk band that I remember, and that's a good thing. Speed and sarcasm are still tools of their trade, but they are a more dynamic unit, with hardcore, metal and even a little indie rock added to their arsenal.

20. Polysics - Absolute Polysics

Polysics are yet another band that proves the Japanese can take a genre that has become otherwise boring and breathe massive amounts of life into it. At their very core they are a new wave band (quirky new-wave, not moody new-wave) and on the surface they are a spastic dance band with enough energy to power a small town. I absolutely adore how thick and driving the bass is on this record and it serves as the perfect counterpoint to the scathing guitars and the downright bizarre synth lines that dance around the songs with dizzying fury.

21. Regina Spektor – Far

My favorite Russian song sprite returned in 2009 with another oddly melodious series of piano compositions. Her lyrics play out like folk stories that weave between the distant past, the urban present and the dystopian future. The strong suit of Ms Spektor has always been her piano playing; weird and deceptively simple. But she plunks away at the keys with such purpose and the progressions are so foreign that the simplicity cannot be seen as a handicap. Her strength is coming up with melodies, both on the instrument and with her voice, that wouldn't ever occur to any other.

22. Rosanne Cash - The List

What passes for country music these days is a sad state and Rosanne Cash is one of the glowing exceptions that heralds the golden days of the genre. It probably helps that she is the daughter of one of country music's grand pioneers, but her songwriting abilities are so strong that I suspect her familial heritage is a moot point. What's more important is the brilliant channels she has opened up to the musical heritage that her genre has laid down over several decades. She is a haunting storyteller, but the advantage she has over all the other contemporaries who dabble within the genre is that above all, her music is smart.

23. St. Vincent – Actor

I avoided liking St. Vincent for a long time if only for the reason that she seemed to be just another oddly creative female musician. That might seem harsh but I tend to be drawn to such musicians and I wanted to make for certain that it was her actual music that I adored and not simply the idea of her music. It was a foolish endeavor because the more I listened, the more I couldn't resist it. The music is primarily electronic but laced with organics here and there. But the charm it all is how she wields both of those layers, doing things that I haven't often heard and doing it with gusto. She is disjointed and beautiful, distorted and lucid, scathing and inviting; everything that I love in a musician.

24. Tanya Morgan – Brooklynati

Hip-Hop outfit Tanya Morgan embodies pretty much every aspect of the genre that I have loved from the last 15 years or so and packages it up into a brilliant concept album. The setting is the fictional city of Brooklynati, a chill, laid back urban area of unspecified location that seems to have called its inhabitants from all over. The album moves seamlessly through outstanding songs and downright fantastic skits in ways that I have not heard in a long while. The songs owe much to Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul and early NWA, but there is also a block party feel that emanates through every track to further transport the listener to the beautiful city within the artists' minds. The frosting on the cake, however, is a downright uncanny parody/tribute of early 90's Hip-Hop/Soul by way of a fictional group frequently referenced throughout the record, Hardcore Gentlemen. If it doesn't transport you back to 1993, nothing will.

25. Thunderheist – Thunderheist

I jokingly like to term this genre Hipster-Hop because of the obvious roots of its creators and the even more obvious target audience. Vocalist MC ISIS has a sort of lazy delivery to her rhyming that I have come to adore in groups like The Cool Kids and it works even better here in the midst of the low-fi electronic orchestrations of Graham Zilla. The pair works well together, each bringing a distinct attribute to the creative process in order to create a fantastic dance record that is not afraid to bend the rules, even if it is just ever so slightly.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

My Top 25 Albums of 2009 part 2

11. Kid Sister - Ultraviolet

For some reason, I knew I was going to like Kid Sister the moment I heard her name. Not only is the music incredibly fun in every sense of the word, but there. is a unique quality to the way she raps that I cannot quite pinpoint, but that I adore nonetheless.

12. Mirah - (A)spera

The Northwest's own Latin influenced Indie rocker returns and from the very beginning, it is apparent that her lyrical prowess hasn't diminished in the slightest. And though this effort tends to run a bit slower and a bit longer than previous albums, her creative ability to orchestrate underutilized instruments underneath beautiful vocal melodies shines through regardless. Mirah is a talented treasure.

13. N'Dambi - Pink Elephant

There is no way that I can describe this record other than straight up excellent R&B. Think Al Green, think Stevie Wonder. N'Dambi is an artist that I discovered later in the year and I have yet to really delve into her, but this record hooked me instantly. While I enjoy the neo-soul trend that is happening as of late, it is nice to hear someone taking the smooth and genuinely sensual route as opposed to the all-out party route (not that there is anything wrong with the all-out party route. As you will see).

14. Neko Case - Middle Cyclone

I am of the opinion that Alt-Country will never have a finer figurehead. With her powerful voice and song-writing prowess, Neko Case is a simply haunting commander in ways that most artists can only hope to achieve. Middle Cyclone is a perfect example of such things. It walks a fine line between somber and joy, but in fin Neko Case fashion, it never gives too much advantage to either.

15. No-Fi Soul Rebellion - Oh Please, Please, Please

I'm still not entirely sure how to classify this husband and wife pseudo-duo but that is part of why they appeal to me so much. It is part electronic funk, part hip-hop, part Indie Rock, somewhat goofy and it all comes together with an accomplished seriousness. I may not agree with their choice for the albums closer, but the nine tracks before it make up for it in all of their dance-inducing gloriousness.

16. Noisettes - Wild Young Hearts

Another easy contender for Album of the Year, the Noisettes represent to me what I most adore about music in this day and age. The best parts of the Neo-Soul Revolution come when bands fuse said soulful antics with other categories. With the album moving quite adeptly between lo-fi Punk, pulsating disco and heartfelt folk, Shingai Shoniwa is free to weave her R&B vocals throughout the tapestry to breathe new life into otherwise tired genres.

17. The Pains of Being Pure At Heart - The Pains of Being Pure At Heart

2009 must have been the year for e to reminisce because yet again we have a group that causes me to long for the music of my youth. This album draws heavily from the simplest of simple Indie Pop greats like Crayon, Beat Happening and from legendary alternative pioneers The Vaselines. Lo-fi does not even begin to describe it; everything about it is minimalist and as a result, it could not be more refreshing.

18. People Eating People - People Eating People

I've already mentioned that Converge and the Noisettes were jockeying for Album of the Year and People Eating People easily completes the top 3. This eagerly awaited album perfectly captures the talent within Nouela Johnston; all she needs is her piano and a drummer to back her up and she can write music much more aggressive and technical than that of any Hardcore group. But above all of that, the album is catchy to the point of amazement; she possesses a wonderful ability to make even the most cynical of lyrics sound fun. I'm already pining for her next effort.

Friday, January 8, 2010

My Top 25 Albums of 2009 part 1

01. The Bird and the Bee - Ray Guns Are Not Just The Future

This excellent electronic pop duo delivered unto me an album that I did not find appealing on first listen, but thankfully I recognized how foolish I had been. While not as traditionally 'catchy' as their previous work, Ray Guns works in layers and mood to create sing-a-long songs that are far more creative than the norm.

02. Chatmonchy - Kokuhaku

One of my favorite discoveries from my first trip to Japan in 2006, my return in 2009 was made all the better upon learning that Chatmonchy had just released a new album. Since I hate to use the word 'mature' when describing albums, I'll simply say that Kokuhaku is a more focused and driven effort that still maintains all of the fun that I have come to expect from this excellent trio.

03. Converge - Axe To Fall

A contender for album of the year, Axe To Fall sees converge returning to a brutality we have not seen since Jane Doe. Kurt Ballou and Ben Koller are finally in an unstoppable synch and Nate Newton holds down the low-end while bellowing auxiliary vocals that bring to mind greats such as the Melvins and Karp. The riffs are more diverse, with metal, complex hardcore, and dare I say it, black as pitch country melodies tearing apart the air. But it is Jake Bannon who is as furious as ever, spitting venom across the soundscape that reminds me why I fell in love with this band so many years ago.

04. The Cool Kids - Gone Fishing

The only downside to this record is the length; at 21 songs, it certainly would drag if each tune was not so strong. The Cool Kids have one of the most simultaneously hysterical and fresh brands of Hip-Hop since Biz Markie and I hope the get the due soon.

05. Cymbals Eat Guitars - Why There Are Mountains

Is it wrong to put an album on here for purely sentiments sake? Screw it. I 'll do it anyways. Cymbals Eat Guitars is a group that pulls one of my favorite elements from the early 90's Alternative boom: melodic dissonance. Upon listening to this band, who gloriously channel Pavement, it occurred how radio-friendly and sanitized Indie Rock has become. They are not perfect by any means, and they walk the line between good and bad quite precariously here is to hoping that they err on the side of noise rather than of sound.

06. Dinosaur Jr - Farm

Speaking of the Alternative boom, the band more or less responsible for a portion of it returned for its second album since reforming in 2007. They are as loud as ever, grasping hold of the 'wall of sound' concept and running with it with reckless abandon. I'd like to say that this hearkens back to the very earliest of the Dinosaur Jr eras, but sadly that it not the case. However, conjuring their mid-90's eras is almost as good and hearing Barlow tunes on a Dinosaur Jr album once again more than makes up for it.

07. Future of the Left - Travels With Myself And Another

Ever so often, when the lingering corpse of Punk Rock begins to bore me, I will be introduced to a band such as this that revitalizes my belief in the genre. Not content to merely stand on the shoulders of who has come before them, they instead pull from many directions, touring literally dozens of sub-genres. The result is something that sounds always familiar, but is constantly out of reach. One could not ask for much more.

08. The Gossip - Music For Men

For one reason or another, I resisted liking this band the longest time despite the fact that I should automatically like anything that has Hannah Blilie as the drummer. Everything changed with Music For Men. They have finally perfected their blend of soulful indie funk and I could not be happier that I followed my whims and picked up the album.

09. Har Mar Superstar - Dark Touches

Here is another album that I just did not care for upon first listen and for the life of me, I am not sure why. His humor is intact, the beats and grooves are as funky as ever and the melodies are so spine-tingingly perfect that I can't imagine anyone disliking it.

10. - Japandroids - Post-Nothing

This album reminds me so much of my teenage years that I can't help but picture myself playing drums in Searching For Venus and discovering bands like Lync and Braid. If anyone has ever forgotten what Indie Rock used to be like, look no further than this album.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My thoughts on the final Kane Hodder shows

I have not written on this blog in a long while but if there was ever an appropriate time to kick start it, this is it.
On the dates of December 18th and 19th, Kane Hodder, a band for whom I was vocalist and principle songwriter for the better part of 7 years will be calling it quits. I'd like to think myself capable of delivering to you a beautiful recollection of the times and trials that had been endured by all who had played under the moniker, and perhaps someday I will do just that, but at the moment I do not have the will to write such things.
What I will say is this: when Kane Hodder returned from our latest trip to Japan in June of this year, I held no delusions of ever performing with them again. Not to say that it did not pain me to feel such a way, but things had turned in such a way that somewhere along the way, my joy in music had been stripped of me. The real tragedy of that situation was the ten or so songs that we would leave behind. They were amazing, some of my best work and undoubtedly our best work in the current incarnation. Some day, I hope to complete that work
When I was asked to take part in this reunion of sorts with those whom I had more or less began the journey with, I felt pangs of that joy once more, but I never thought that it would be anything more than a fun, but ultimately pitiful grasp at a past glory. But things have certainly changed and I see myself eager to bare my soul for my friends once more.
But still, my thoughts are complicated to say the least.
Two nights ago I stood with a group of people that had not been assembled in three years and we began playing songs that I had written in my lonely apartment in Bremerton. I became flooded with images of good times and bad times, of friends gained and of friends lost and even so, I felt a twinge of regret.
Aaron and Jerome bled for us when they did not have to. When they joined our ranks, I was ecstatic beyond account, and those feeling have not ebbed. However, how different would things have been if we had dropped our moniker and began a new journey as a new family?
I do not regret my time with them in the slightest, but sometimes I regret how that time was spent. I listen to the absolutely amazing songs that we wrote between the five of us and I mourn for the band that could have been. We could have been unstoppable, but we chose to chase a dream that had died off.
I do not wish to belittle any of the things that we did, and I do not wish to discount the multitudes of people who stood by us through thick and thin; when I think of all the people that Kane Hodder has brought into my life, I count myself among the luckiest of all people. I merely wish to properly enunciate the bittersweet duality that I am feeling. I do not doubt that when I am onstage this weekend that I will become overwhelmed with an emotion that I do not feel often.
I have no excuses for the way things have played out and I refuse to make them. Since becoming a father, I have found myself less and less willing to fight for the past. I will celebrate it; I will celebrate it to lengths the likes of which few have ever seen, but I will not mourn it. I have not decided to do this for myself; I said goodbye to Kane Hodder months ago. But for all of you who have stood by us, who have sang and cheered and even for those who have reviled us, I realize that my life would be incomplete if I did not say goodbye to you.
Over the years, Kane Hodder lost sight of its guiding ideal. This weekend I will stand before you to show that I have remembered that you are all the ideal that we were chasing in those early days. Touring and dreams of success were the poisons that drew us away from you. We became wicked, playing for monetary gain only. And even as the fans dwindled, we still chased a fevered dream of achievement when it was in actuality our ideals that we had abandoned.
This weekend I will beg your forgiveness as I cleave my throat into pieces.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Blitzen Trapper The Fratellis

Blitzen Trapper
Furr 2008 Sub Pop
The Fratellis
Here We Stand 2008 Interscope

The Beatles can be an incredibly vital influence to draw upon. They built blueprints for both pop songs and rock songs of which the reverberations are felt deeply even outside of those particular genres. However, they also happen to be one of those rare bands that is hard to emulate without lifting from them directly. As a result, bands attempting to do so will more often than not end up in one of two extremes. Either they fall short in a pitiful mess of things they truly did not comprehend, or they end up becoming a pale imitation, playing note for note certain sections but lacking any sort voice they can their own. Very rarely do they hit that perfect balance and actually build upon the great foundations laid before them.
Portland's Blitzen Trapper and Glasgow's The Fratellis have both released albums this year that bear many marks of The Beatles throughout them. Only one, however, has accomplished something admirable.
Two years ago I heard the Fratelli's disc Costello Music and was quite pleased. It seemed to be a much better version of the modern New Wave/Brit Pop peddled by bands like Franz Ferdinand, but without relying on repetition like so many others of the genre. There was brilliant tempo changes and clever production throughout. They laid groundwork in rock and roll but they laid Spanish folk, Irish drinking music and Punk rock within the layers drawing upon both the Beatles and the Clash equally. And it was raw. Raw and eclectic. I was very excited to see what they had in store next with their 2008 release, Here We Stand. Unfortunately what I found was that they had all but abandoned the eccentricities that had made them so intriguing and opted for a more homogenized and safe route. It is as if they had heard people praise their clever use of The Beatles' influence and decided to run with it. Gone are the brilliant, genre-jumping pop compositions which are replaced with tunes that can be jaw-droppingly similar to the legendary group. The biggest offender occurs near the end of the disc. "Lupe Brown" lifts note for note sections of "She Loves You" with vocals that sound to the letter like the harmonies of numerous other Beatles' tunes. I've shown many people this song and they listen in disbelief as it plays out. Normally the consensus is that they are not even trying to sound different. At such words, I lament the excitement I had to hear this record.
I had not heard Blitzen Trapper prior to hearing Furr and on initial listens I was inclined to write it off. However, unlike the Fratellis this band has actually pulled off what few have managed. They do manage, at times, to successfully weave something of their very own out of the blueprints left behind. Certain songs are very well crafted, weaving very well their own voice within the Fab Four's influence. And maybe it is because that is but a small piece on a much larger plate. Blitzen Trapper is without a doubt well versed in classic rock and Steely Dan, Tom Petty, the Eagles and Elton John leave their occasional mark upon the grander outcome. But even they fall victim to the pitfalls of such attempts. The outstanding offense is "Black River Killer" which is essentially a reworking of Tom Petty's "Last Dance With Mary Jane." But even the weak songs on Furr are much more diverse than anything on Here We Stand and the album is indeed enjoyable on certain occasions. I'll keep a watchful eye.
It is my hope that The Fratellis can recover from their slip up here in 2008 and return with something as vibrant and lively as its predecessor. Yes, I can respect and even like to see growth but maturing does not mean diluting what was great.