Bigbang - Edendale Review

If you have never heard the band Bigbang you should look into expanding your music collection. Their newest release, Edendale, is not only an extremely listenable record, but also stands alone as a true album of work amongst many other new releases. They have taken their greatest influences, sharpened their skills and mastered the art of crafting a good rock song.

Feb
15
2010
Read more

Blackwater James - Blackwater James Review

When I was a kid, the sound of unbridled distortion and the rock music it carried on its shoulders so gracefully was everything. Hearing music for the first time that pushes my mind, heart and soul has always provided me with lasting memories. When the play button is pressed on the self-titled debut of Blackwater James, you know that they are serious producers of real rock music. Nashville's Chris James (lead vocal and guitar), Josh Burns (bass), Deanna Passarella (guitar), and Todd Schlosser (drums) play to destroy the boring world of radio friendly rock and take back the true meaning of rock and roll. On this eleven-track assault, Blackwater James has no problem showing you their guts to heart style mixed with a large well of influences.

Feb
10
2010
Read more

The Flaming Lips - Embryonic Review

Early reports on Embryonic had me a bit worried. An interview in Spring of ‘09 with frontman Wayne Coyne, gave early indication that the Flaming Lips’ new album would be a sprawling and unfocused double album. The idea of the band continuing to steer away from the polished psychedelic pop sounds that made me such a big fan a decade ago was just a disappointing realization. After hearing the sobering report and knowing that this album would be following up the jumbled mess that was At War With The Mystics, my expectations for the Lips’ 12th full length were low. When I finally took the time to listen to the Flaming Lips’ stretching 18 song LP, my worries were put to rest. Though sprawling and free-for-all may be good words to describe Embryonic, unfocused is not. The album is an epic and cohesive masterwork that strays miles away from the Lips’ last three albums and yet finds a way to stay familiar. It’s an album that revels in noisy atmospherics and adventurous improvisational paths. What I'm trying to say is that Embryonic is one of the Flaming Lips’ finest efforts.

Any album containing 18 songs can seem a bit overloaded, but somehow this one feels like a steady and rewarding climb to the top of a mammoth summit. You wade through the beautiful shimmering melodies one moment and then run headlong into screeching noise and experimental jams the next. The climb only gets stranger as you go on and realize that the comfortable sounds on the record that you may be familiar with, are standing on shaky ground at best. You never know when the otherworldly sounds of unrecognizable instruments will leave you hanging on for dear life. There are very few moments that you could describe as steady footing on Embryonic; and despite my affection for their more pop oriented sound, this album is all the better for the stunning direction that it took. After having scaled the summit, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

My most apt description for this album, based on my admiration for jazz music, is free jazz. Sure this is a rock album first and foremost, but jazz fusion and free jazz are obviously direct influences on the experimental progressive directions of many of the album’s cuts. Coyne himself described Miles Davis (assumedly in his Bitches Brew rock star phase) as a big influence on the record, and it undoubtedly shows. Songs like the keyboard laced “The Sparrow Looks Up at the Machine” and the jam oriented “Powerless,” lie soaking in the distortion filled aura of free-form jazz. It is music that fans of past albums may have a harder time wrapping their heads around than I have, but there’s no denying the epic tone of the album or the underlying layered quality, even if there aren’t choruses with pop hooks.

Many people will point to the most annoying song on Embryonic as the pop song hidden amongst all the noise. “I Can Be A Frog” is an out of place excuse to put a somewhat marketable song on the album. At least that’s what it seems like to me. The vocal contribution by Karen O is even said to have been recorded over a telephone conversation. Everyone’s favorite synth-pop group MGMT even helps out on the memorable “Worm Mountain.” The highlight of the entire album though, the towering “Silver Trembling Hands,” is a good combination of the pop sensibility that the Flaming Lips so obviously possess and the experimental spirit that they so readily display on the album. With a climbing bass line and a steady drum beat, the analogy of climbing a mountain never seemed more appropriate.

It’s already been stated numerous times that a rock band forging into their 3rd decade of existence shouldn’t be making an album like Embryonic. It’s just common knowledge that 50 year old men shouldn’t be writing and recording music that is this experimental, this daring and this gutsy. If there was any indication within the past few years that the Lips were slowing down, or losing touch, this album proves otherwise. After returning from my trip up the mountain, I can safely say that Embryonic is a summit worth scaling.

Jan
29
2010

Jared Burton - Amerikana EP Review

There’s an unusual place between soft, willowy idealism and overly scarred scorn that Jared Burton navigates precariously across Amerikana. It’s such a temptation to feed into the fodder of those optimistic/pessimistic outlooks that too often we forget about the territory not divided by such hard lines. The songs of Burton’s debut EP were written during the first half of the last decade, a stormy time for a country witnessing a societal tear that went as deep as anything since the shameful blemish of segregation. But Burton makes no plays for the right or the left, nor does he covet some comfortable safe haven among the moderates that would have made him neither loved nor hated by those who define themselves so stridently in specifics fed to them by outsiders, both “allies” and “enemies.” That Amerikana carries the weight of universal crisis might make the skeptical ready to lambaste him as vanilla when they wanted talking points and poisonous diatribes, but this isn’t the sound of a man who can’t make up his mind, can’t come to terms with the external struggle, or just wants everyone to get along. Being a frontline correspondent won’t do—he has a critical eye and a forgiving hand.

Jan
24
2010
Read more

Alice In Chains - Black Gives Way To Blue Review

There certainly was no shortage of hype behind the newly rehatched version of grunge legends Alice in Chains. Black Gives Way To Blue was released almost three years to the day since I had personally witnessed the high-energy 90’s nostalgia that the rebirth of Alice in Chains had to offer, on their first tour in over a decade. New vocalist, William Duvall, appeared to be an almost dead-on replica of late singer, Layne Staley. Their performance at Tulsa's Cain’s Ballroom that night left me with only one burning question – How would any new material from this legendary band compare to the Alice in Chains that was once so close to the hearts of our lost generation?

Jan
09
2010
Read more

Richard Hawley - Truelove's Gutter Review

When a recorded work takes hold of your heartstrings and soul as easily as Richard Hawley’s future classic Truelove’s Gutter, you sit back and wonder how a human being can wield that much power. The subtle production, unique instrumentation, and wonderful tonality within Hawley’s voice is close to heavenly and down right inspiring when heard for the very first time and riveting the second. Hawley has turned another page in the master’s book and slowly read the poems with grace and brilliance. A latecomer to my ears this year, I would have placed it in a number of top ten lists for 2009. No worries to Mr.Hawley since this record has already made it onto my list of all time favorites.

Out of the gate, “As the Dawn Breaks” struts as it paints an ominous picture of a large sun bursting upward through the tones of pleasant guitar. Simple and sad, Richard’s deep, velvet voice carries you through a beautiful piece of music like a feather floating on the warm breeze against the night sky. His vocal tone could truly melt steel. “Open Up The Door” launches a quiet, sweet string and harp as the second track follows with tasteful smoothness. An added guitar is a very warm companion for Hawley’s vocal texture. This song quickly becomes infectious as the layers of instruments and sound sway through time.

Another piece of brilliance, “Ashes On The Fire” has the beauty of a late summer sunset wrapped in guitar and brushed drums. It reminds of a time when old Nashville vinyl caused our hearts to break from the pure warmth of emotion. You can feel the tears fall within the crackle of each note making it hard to listen just once. “Remorse Code” is a sweet shuffle that walks beside you like a supportive friend with a hand on your shoulder. Hawley’s deep voice crawls into your heart and makes it beat stronger with every word in his velvet breath.

“Don’t Get Hung Up In Your Soul” brings a simple, sad and personal warmth into the picture as this touching, poetic tune stands brilliantly. This is close to becoming one of the most masterful recordings I have ever heard. Not only haunting and soulful, it was created with such care it has a depth that cannot be described with simple words. It can only be appreciated by the heart from personal experience. Another ominous starter, “Soldier On” carries you upon a cloud of mysterious tone and substance. Its dark undertones and far-away wonder give a stunning example of Hawley’s subtle genius and masterful production of Yellow Arch Studios in Sheffield. The piece slowly rises calmly then explodes with raw power. It is kept simple but is executed brilliantly.

”For Your Lover Give Some Time” is reminiscent of Roy Clark’s classic “Yesterday When I Was Young,” as its bittersweet, darkness and sad vocal pulls the heartstrings hopelessly back and forth. The last piece, "Don’t You Cry,” is haunting, frightening, but also childlike from the start. There is something chilling yet comforting in this one as its imagery takes you clearly down a road you worry to walk. As if inside a late night horror tale, its mysterious and dreamy tones make you look over your shoulder more than once awaiting that deadly bite. Hawley is worlds apart from other master’s of subtle tone, emotion and pure heart. He has his own signature and has boldly inscribed it on this masterpiece. It is a warm breath I am proud to call one of my newest favorites.

Dec
29
2009

The Summer Set - Love Like This Review

The newest effort from Razor and Tie’s power pop wonders The Summer Set, is more predictable than powerful, more centered than edgy, and more of the same old recipe we hear over and over on today’s airwaves. A production masterpiece through and through, Love Like This has all the sonic power of a fighter jet, but has a hard time lifting it’s weakness of emotion and content to a level of greatness this band well deserves.

Dec
28
2009
Read more

Weezer - Raditude Review

It’s not that I’m a sunny-eyed optimist (as anyone who has perused my reviews will attest), but I do occasionally feel pangs of curiosity that overshadow prejudiced predictions (as anyone who did a double take over the appearance of Chris Cornell’s latest in the review section will attest). I was warned in advance: Weezer’s decline became the stuff of legend as the aughts weaned on, and their new one is titled Raditude. Joking about how awful the name is would be too easy; it would also be wrong since, for this collection of power pop nuggets, I can’t think of anything more appropriate (even more than Look Elsewhere or Not Your Older Sibling’s Weezer). The reasoning is simple: "raditude" sounds like a clueless slang buzzword passed between teenagers of a certain easily-cowed mentality (both the extro and introverts), and the songs of Raditude are clearly aimed at them. Anyone who came of age as a teen in the mid-90s with the first two Weezer records are way beyond this flat fluff, or so I can only hope.

Dec
22
2009
Read more

Them Crooked Vultures - Them Crooked Vultures Review

Like many a slightly jaded music lover, I am predisposed to being skeptical about “supergroups.” Been burned once, twice, a dozen times too many. I believe that the last one I was naïve enough to get juiced for was Audioslave—in its aftermath, I was wary enough to lower my expectations (and mostly just ignore) the likes of Velvet Revolver and Eyes Adrift. Even on the recent occasion that they’ve produced above average results (however slight), Monsters of Folk and The Good, the Bad and the Queen couldn’t live up to any expectations beyond the fringe of realistic. So why would I be juiced all over again by the appearance of Them Crooked Vultures, the latest hotly anticipated supergroup to swing into action and drop a relatively unassuming LP? Well, there’s Josh Homme for one, from the best hard rock group of this decade. There’s Dave Grohl for another, from one of the best hard rock groups of the last decade (and the none-too-shabby Foo Fighters). And finally there’s John Paul Jones, from the greatest hard rock group of, um, ever. This isn’t a supergroup; it’s the council of axe-wielding gods deciding to send their favor to mortals.

But there I go again—drooling over the impossible dream knowing full well that there’s going to be some sort of irredeemable Jar Jar Binks in the mix to spoil it all. The Binks in this bunch is an intangible one, though. It’s not that you wish it was as good as the best of Zeppelin, Queens and Nirvana; it’s not that you expected this record to completely alter the course of history with its atomic landing; it’s not even that the band doesn’t sound like they’re firing on all cylinders and having a whale of a good time. The drawback left me struggling for a terse explanation, so instead I shall dance around it in hemhaw indecisiveness while praising it for its sure-footed charisma and tremendous performance. Yes, the eponymous offering from Them Crooked Vultures might lack greatness, but the band grazed its collective talons against the prize. It’s like a satisfying ending when one expected a finish that would be chiseled into the tablets of history—or, more bluntly, who cares: ya got laid, didn’t ya?

The basics of what you would prepare yourself for are all here. Homme cracks out his meaty riffs, ricocheting either with angular tension or flitting through high chords in a squealing solo or ten. Grohl belongs behind the kit where his combination of instinctual finesse, anticipatory timing and jarring force has rarely been rivaled from anyone new in, oh, thirty years? And as he was in Zeppelin, Jones is the everyman workhorse—bass, piano, clavinet, slide guitar, organ…whatever you need, he delivers. And they work well together—their interplay doesn’t sound casual or diffusive; the grooves they ride across bleached wastelands and their quick responses to a different man’s flight of fancy make it sound like these three have been working with each other their entire careers. The problem is that it doesn’t sound like they’ve been writing together their entire careers: the performance might be immaculate, but several of these cuts sound like jam sessions they edited down in the studio instead of proper songs (especially “Warsaw or the First Breath You Take After You Give Up,” which isn’t executed with as much epic aplomb as one would have liked).

The lack of ego-driven control helps a lot. No single member dominates (especially surprising since Homme, as both lead guitarist and vocalist, could have attempted a coup) and you can sense immediately that all three have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for each other—I still vividly recall Grohl playing Wembley with the Foo, and when Jones and Jimmy Page joined him on stage for a rendition of “Rock and Roll,” he was overcome with so much gushing, dreams-come-true glee that it infected everyone watching. That fanaticism might have been helpful for Grohl since he’s the closest to odd man out—not a lot of Nirvana/Foo style to be heard here, but the easiest (but still unfair) way to describe the music of TCV is that it’s Zeppelin-sized English blues and proto-metal as filtered through the psychedelic crunch of QOTSA’s groove-heavy robot rock. Leadoff “No One Loves Me & Neither Do I” could have been an updated Zeppelin B-side and first single “New Fang” would have fit in nicely on Era Vulgaris; most of the rest blurs the lines but remains safely in the realm, and even the prog indulgences sound culled from either group’s repertoires.

Since these sorts of side projects so rarely attempt grand statement in favor of venting creativity and pounding out brash tunes, what really matters are the songs. The early run is particularly impressive, featuring stomping rhythms and gnarly riffs on tracks like “Dead End Friends” and “Mind Eraser, No Chaser.” On the latter, Homme sings, “Drug company, where’s a pill for me?/I call it mind eraser, no chaser at all,” which fits in well with Queens’ typical hedonistic pleasures, but he continues with a devilish smirk by adding, “Robotic mambo me/DIY kit lobotomy/It’s a tuck taste dance craze movie of the week/You buy the doll, kick up your bowl, then piss on the seats.” Later, “Elephants” is the first of three blistering epics (and handily the best thanks to a breakneck Motorhead-esque riff that readjusts to a more deliberate style of punishment in the middle), and even though it wears the mark of this kind of meeting-of-masters venture (showin’ off kinda shit, yeah?), you’re still locked in beneath its trumpeting command. It’s right around here, though, that one begins to wish for a mite bit more inspiration—everyone’s still providing the ingredients, but even the best dish gets tiresome without variation. True, there’s diversity in store, such as the appropriately drugged-out spacey stew of “Interlude with Ludes,” the proggy keyboard swamp in “Scumbag Blues,” and the jerky dance funk swagger of “Gunman,” but a little more (or just less overall) would have helped make this sound like a tighter set. I wouldn’t exactly say the doldrums set in, but you certainly recognize that the album runs past an hour in length.

Them Crooked Vultures never delivers that master track, the kind that could be canonized alongside the best of these musicians’ pasts. Even with immediate, knuckle-cracking winners like “Gunman,” “New Fang” and “Elephants” in the mix, this disc indulges in a cliché even more tiresome than the term “supergroup”: it’s a “grower.” You know, like the third Foo record, Era Vulgaris and In Through the Out Door—all really good albums, but not the best either act produced by a sizable amount. But again, that sort of easy-to-gauge comparison isn’t where it falls short of greatness. Maybe they deserve the benefit of the doubt, and they certainly deserve the freedom to pursue whatever professional passions they like, but we’ve been spoiled into thinking we deserve the best from them every time. Such a selfish sentiment is fitting for my, erm, crooked consideration of this album. This is down-and-dirty rock n’ roll as it was meant to be played by these brilliant musicians, and even short of that intangible missing element, it deserves some shred of your devotion.

Dec
10
2009

A Place To Bury Strangers - Exploding Head Review

Days are precious, people. Any minute could be your last. Do we really need another shoegaze album for 2009? Musicians look back twenty years for nostalgia revivalism, so it should be predictable that it feels like 1989 all over again, with one high-decibel screeching outfit dropping their latest toxic-by-demand release on the world after another. Back then, it was mostly the Brits doing it, but now the Yanks are leading the march. Brooklyn’s A Place to Bury Strangers offers little on the original side, offers a lot on the volume side. What we know of them hasn’t changed much since our last visit, and timing is inconsequential. No, I don’t need another screeching shoegaze album right now, but there’s always something to be said for the process of flattering a good melody with extra care and finesse and than flattening the shit out of it with effects pedals from hell’s gaping maw.

Nov
11
2009
Read more


Popular

New Reviews