Thursday, April 10, 2014

Pass The Buck

Peter Buck was the first former REM-er to come out with a solo record. He also appears to be the only one planning to do that. Only a year after his eponymous and vinyl-only solo debut, he returns with I Am Back To Blow Your Mind Once Again. The debut was not earth-shattering. It felt loose and fun, things that Peter Buck never really seemed when he was in REM. The follow-up here, also a vinyl-only production, is more of the same.

His primary cohort is Scott McCaughey, he of The Minus 5 and long-time collaborator/pal of Buck. It is kind of a bluesy, boozy record.  I don't suspect this record took terribly long to make. It reminds me in terms of feel of the record he and Mike Mills and Bill Berry did with Warren Zevon back in the early 90s as Hindu Love Gods. It's the kind of record that musicians make when they are having a good time. It's not an artistic statement, it's not reaching for something great. It's a portrait of a talented artist doing his thing. It does not quite live up to it's name. But it's a welcome diversion.

Buck does not have the most magnetic voice. It is often drenched in effect but his voice is sort of a natural effect. He was not meant to be a front-man. But that is not a criticism, just a fact. It suits the vibe though. When McCaughey takes the lead vocal on the nice mid-tempo cut "Fall On My Own Sword" it's a noticeable shift.

The first three songs are solid rockers, especially the third one "Life Is Short" where Kurt...somebody. The credits on the back label don't go into much detail. Anyway he gets off a great psychedelic guitar solo that goes on a bit too long, which is perfectly fine.

The Drive By Truckers' Patterson Hood shows up for the most interesting song on the record: "Southerner." It features Buck on a sinister sounding enow guitar while Hood recites the lyrics, capturing what it means to be a southerner of a certain age.

The only song I could find on YouTube was "Drown With Me," which features Sleater-Kinney's Corin Tucker on lead vocal, and sounds like it could have come off of New Adventures in Hi-Fi. I didn't look that hard for a video, though.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Holdin' Steady

The Hold Steady are one of the best live bands on the planet. There is an incredible energy that fills every one of their shows. As Craig Finn shouts at the end of their live record "There is so much JOY in what we do!" I got to see them for the fourth or fifth time (I forget) on Monday at DC's 930 Club. As always they put on a great show but it did seem a little more subdued than previous. Maybe that was because they are a bit older, or maybe because my wife and I perched from the club's balcony so that we had perfect sound and a perfect view. When I've gone solo I usually get down front, so though  the mob at the front didn't seem particularly ornery, perhaps being away from it proved less exciting. The crowds are part of what make their shows more revival than concert. Everybody knows the words to the classics, and the classics were well represented. It was a wonderful show, and if you like classic Thin Lizzy-sounding rock with a madman holding court at the lead singer mic, then you should love The Hold Steady as much as I do.

Their latest record is Teeth Dreams and it is an improvement from their somewhat disappointing Heaven Is Whenever. That 2010 record sounded a bit lethargic to me. It was their first without keyboardist and backing vocalist Franz Nicolay. He brought a lot to the band. It took a record for them to adapt. Steve Selvidge, who used to be in Lucero, is now an official member and he brings a great compliment to Tab Kubler's guitar playing. They share lead duties and it rely ram homes the Thin Lizzy sound for me. A bunch of their solos start together, diverge to wrap around one another, before coming back. The short solo in "Saddle Shoes" is a nice sample of this.

Lyrically, Craig Finn is one of the best around. Maybe THE best. As always his songs are more stories. Tales of losers and drug addicts and lapsed Catholics and teenagers looking to score.  It's interesting, it's smart, it simply resonates. His voice is not for everybody, he uses this sing-talk style that folks tend to find grating. I found it grating when I first heard them, but the music draws you in and lends itself to the stories Craig is telling, the worlds he is building in his lyrics. The album closes on a new note, a great nine-plus-minute opus called "Oaks" which features some of Craig's best singing.

Here's a cool trailer for the new record. All hail The Hold Steady!!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Singin the (Transgender Dysphoria) Blues

A good record is a good record.

Sometimes I feel obligated to buy a band's record simply because I really liked their previous record or records. That can get a bit expensive and start to occupy a lot of real estate. The four crates full of CDs that cannot fit into my lone remaining CD rack are testament to that. With Spotify I have become more discriminating in what I actually buy. And since I only buy vinyl now, (NERD!) which is more costly than CDs, I need to be even more vigilant.

Against Me! are a sort of punk band that I was sort-of aware of.  I was never really into that scene or style, though a few songs I heard through RockBand I thought catchy enough to download for the video game. Their current claim to fame is that band leader Tom Gabel is now Laura Jane Grace. Her gender dysphoria has been a source of pain for her. She's in the process of fixing that. Good for her. I admit I don't understand it but it isn't for me to understand. She is still a person and she needs to do what she thinks is best for her.

That gender dysphoria and Grace's struggle with it is also the inspiration for Against Me!'s new record Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Emotional turmoil makes for great art, and Against Me!, a band I never really thought too much about, have gone and made one of the best records of 2014 (so far). It's a short record, around 30 minutes. It gets in, it kicks ass, it leaves. No hanging around beyond the prescribed time. Ten well-written, well-played songs. Mostly fast, mid-tempo in the middle, a slow-burner acoustic track near the end before going out with a bang.

It doesn't make me want to go back and get their other records. What I recognize here is the growth of the band. I know those other records and they are what they are. Real fans of Against Me!, of which I do not claim to be, appear to be not as enamored with the new record as with older ones. How much of that is due to Miss Grace and her struggles? Probably some. Musically though, the record is a step away from previous records. Less punk, much more power-poppy, but still with a snarl.

The anthemic title track opens things like a call to arms, followed by the rocking and catchy as hell "The Trans Soul Rebel." "Unconditional Love" has a fantastic sing-along bridge. Song title of the year may start and end with "Osama Bin Laden As The Crucified Christ." It also happens to be a nifty track with a cool little Cars-esque guitar run weaving in the depths. Side two opens with a great, straight-forward guitar riff in the song title of the year runner-up "fuckmylife666." Outrage gives way turmoil. Look at the song titles. Those are followed by "Dead Friend" and "Two Coffins." Resignation seems imminent. The album ends with "Paralytic States" and "Black Me Out." These final tracks do not represent giving up, nor are they a final howl on the way down. It's recognition of who Laura Jane Grace is. It is acceptance of that. Maybe the most difficult thing she ever had to do was accept who she really was; why does it need to be difficult for us to accept who she is?

Here they are doing "fuckmylife666" on Letterman. Not surprisingly, Dave does not say the name of the song.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Why Temples?

Putting the debut album from Britain's Temples is like putting on a record released straight out of 1968. "Shelter Song" opens with the chiming guitars at home on any Byrds record. But it is Byrds meets psychedelic-era Pink Floyd or Cream with the trippy rhythms, especially on the title track. "The Golden Throne" has a killer chorus as the drums take over with nice keyboard flourishes before giving way to a sinister-ish guitar line. "Mesmerize" gallops more than the other tracks with a Rick Wakeman-like keyboard line coupling the chorus back to verse.

Those ever present rhythms make for a very strong foundation; the bass and the drums do not quite thunder but they are definitely not weak. They anchor the songs nicely. Bolstered by reverb-y vocals and keyboards and ringing chords. The production is very classic sounding, very heavy in a way...maybe not heavy but thick. The sound, especially the drums, have bottom.

I read about the record first in Pitchfork. They were predictably blah about it. I reckon when you listen to as many records as they do it is hard to get jazzed over something. The music here is not especially unique. I agree in a way when they say Temples are Tame Impala without the modern flourishes. I think the fat drum sound steps it away from a total psychedelic tribute. It builds upon that scene, if not grandly at least functionally.

Reading about them, it seems they have already opened for the likes of Suede and even The Rolling Stones. Noel Gallagher has sung their praises. It makes me wonder where this comes from; how notice like this happens, especially for a band so young Is it great? I wouldn't say it is GREAT, but it is enjoyable if you like this kind of music: British bands wearing their influences on their sleeve and doing a great job at it. What makes it stand-out, though? Why do Temples get the notice but others don't. I can't imagine there are not others bands like this doing similar things. What sets apart a band like this from a band like mine (other than talent and inspiration and about 20 years and plenty of time is a big studio)? Maybe those things are really all it takes. What it is, the music business is about 10% talent and 90% luck. Lots of bands are talented and write great songs, but they simply never break through where Noel Gallagher gets to say nice things about you. Lucky for my band we aren't leaning on our talents for our livelihood. Otherwise we'd starve. At least we admit it.

Here's the title track from this fine new record.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Gimme Shelter

I have written about France's Alcest before. Their 2012 release Les Voyages de L'Âme made number 8 on my favorite records of 2012 list. When they started years ago they were another black metal band with growling vocals and sheets of noise. Happily, they have grown to a classic-sounding progressive band; they might be one of the best currently working.

Their new album is the lush Shelter. I had ordered it on Amazon but it was out of stock for what seemed like forever. I eventually gave up and went to my new favorite place Discogs to order through their marketplace. I think my copy came from Germany, but the price was plenty reasonable and it showed up about two weeks after ordering, which is not bad considering it had an ocean to cross.

Alcest is primarily Stéphane Paut on everything but drums and Jen Delfandre on drums. They go by Neige and Winterhalter because they are French and prog and why not, you know. I got to see them a couple months ago at Empire outside Washington DC opening for Anathema. It was a sensational show. Their brand of progressive is very anthemic, very dynamic, music that does not take long to soar. It is not everybody's cup of tea but I love it. It is emotional and powerful.

Shelter builds on that, easily their most progressive record. This one actually has vocals in english, on the album's penultimate "Away." Vocals here are done by Neil Halstead of Slowdive. That track is immediately followed by the fantastic closer "Délivrance." It is a beautiful track, typical of Alcest, starting with a lovely guitar figure before working it's way to a frenetic closing.  Some reviews of the records accuse the band of running in place, but I am all for good songs done exceptionally well. Shelter does that. There's no harm in doing what you do best.

Here is the album closer "Délivrance."

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Braddock Station Garrison at Empire March 9!!!

Next Sunday March 9 is an enormously important show for my band, Braddock Station Garrison. We have the opportunity to play Empire in Springfield. Historically a metal club, they have recently turned over ownership and have begun booking more Americana and country acts. We were approached by one of their booking agents to see if we wanted to participate in their monthly "Whiskey & Boots" country and folk night. While we are not a country band, I do think we have a good Americana vibe. Neil Young, The Jayhawks, Wilco, Son Volt are artists that have influenced my writing. Along with Cash and Kristofferson and Merle and Willie and Waylon and Townes Van Zandt. Modern country does not appeal to me but I respect the artists who represent that style and do their thing. We are super excited to be playing with some excellent regional acts. It is an honor to be sharing the stage with them.

I am especially eager because unlike some of the other places we have played this is a bonafide music venue. I mean no disrespect to those rooms we have played; we love playing their and we appreciate the chance. But Empire is a real room. They have a real soundboard. They have a stage that comes up to the crowds chest. They have a backstage area; instead of walking up from the crowd we will be coming in from the side like a real rock n roll band.

I have seen several shows here. It used to be known as Jaxx and I saw King's X there and I saw John Paul Jones. Recently I saw Anathema and Alcest. Knowing I get to play a stage where I saw King's X, one of my most favorite bands ever, play...where I saw John Paul fucking Jones blows my mind. It is going to be a great night.

As part of the deal the club gave us free tickets. Yes...FREE TICKETS!! We have some left, so if you are interested hit me up through the band email: Otherwise they are $10 in advance and $15 at the door.

Another good thing: it is an EARLY show. Doors open at 5pm and we go on at 6pm. We play about 45 minutes. The show itself will end around 10pm so it won't be a late night at all.

A big turn out will maybe possibly probably-not-but-who-knows get us another show at Empire, maybe opening for a touring act. Granted I wouldn't want to play in front of Armored Saint or Gorguts or Metal Church, that just would not be the right crowd for us, but I derma of opening for King's X. That we could pull off.

We would really really really appreciate it if you could come out and see us. It is going to be a great night and on behalf of Tom and Jim and Mike I can say we absolutely LOVE to see you there!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Rise Above the Rest

With my renewed interest in the metal scene, I have realized it is far easier to find new bands that previously relying on Pitchfork and other review sites for passing along info. With metal, labels still have a place to play, giving traction and attention to bands that could be potentially working the margins. I wrote earlier about a couple records from a small American label called Easyrider Records. Another such label is the well-stocked Rise Above Records from England. Formed almost twenty years ago by Napalm Death's vocalist, they have a great catalog of heavy bands. If you are a metal head, you should seriously check them out.

Blood Ceremony, Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats and Electric Wizard are three of the bands I really like on their roster. Two others I have recently been digging include The Oath and the wonderfully named Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell.

The Oath are a Berlin-based band and led by Johanna Sadonis on vocals and Linnéa Olsson on guitar. Both ladies are striking blondes. I mean...seriously. That is the bait to get you to notice. The music backs up the image. Solid playing, classic NWOBHM vocals, and two great songs make up their 7" single "Night Child"/"Black Rainbow".

Their sound is rooted in classic sounding European metal. It is not the scary kind of metal. It reminds me of a less interesting Blood Ceremony with their witchy underpinnings. That does not mean they do not have their charms. This EP is a nice appetizer for their full length due later this year from Rise Above Records. Sweet!

Here's "Night Child."

Whenever I think my band has a complicated name, I just need to think of the UK's Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell.  Named after a English naval hero, this power-trio is much much more 70s hard rock than metal. Their latest limited edition 7" on Rise Above Records is "Black Sheep" backed by "Elementary Man." Both are hard and fast and heavy songs. They are not deep or thought provoking but rock and roll doesn't always need to be deep. Many times they should just kick serious ass. If you like classic sounding riffs, check these cats out.

I can not seem to get the video to embed right, so here's a link to "Elementary Man." Just look at the clothes and you'll know everything you need to about these guys.