Wednesday, January 6, 2016

GnR Rumors to Return

So Guns n Roses are "confirmed" to reunite at Coachella. I put "confirmed" in quotes because this is GnR so it's a crap shoot that it actually happens. I would bet it will, because there is a shitload of money at stake and even Axl has to appreciate that. But again maybe not.

I for one won't be going to Coachella to see this. Nor would I pay the astronomical price a ticket to the show would cost once they go on tour. Again, assuming they do. It's Axl and it's Slash and it's Duff, so that makes the reunion. Matt Sorum on drums is fine; it'd be nice to see Steven Adler, but for me Izzy Stradlin was the secret weapon in GnR. Gilbey Clarke is a good guitarist (his Pawnshop Guitars record is really good) but Izzy really brought that 70s Stones vibe to the band. GnR get lumped in with metal but they are not a metal band. They are a heavy rock band. They wanted to be the Rolling Stones. Izzy is so under-rated as a guitar player and song writer. He's doing his thing now and god bless him.

I got to see Guns n Roses in 1991 in Dallas at Starplex Amphitheater. This was right before the Illusion records came out. I don't remember much from the show except that Axl was late and water bottles and beer bottles were being thrown everywhere and girls were lifting their tops whenever the camera panning the crowd would show them on the big screens. To a 17 year old, it was awesome. Skid Row opened and they were adequate. When GnR hit the stage Axl said "If another bottle hits this stage we walk." Naturally three bottles landed at his feet but happily the band played on and it was a great show.

The thing about GnR is that with Appetite For Destruction they really sounded dangerous.  When the record came out I was listening to Iron Maiden and Metallica and Rush and Pink Floyd and Zeppelin. But GnR sounded so raw, crazy. My brother played me Appetite on tape and it was unlike anything I had heard. I was 13. Dangerous music. That opening riff to "Welcome to the Jungle". What is this?!? "You in the jungle, baby! Yur gonna diiiiiiiiiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeee in the JUNGLE!!!" This sounded real and heavy.

Appetite still stands up today. Every song is great. "Pretty Tied Up" is the weakest track because it's lyrically dumb, but at least it fits the record. "Paradise City" might be my LEAST favorite track on that record, just because it's overplayed. "Mr Brownstone", "My Michelle", "Rocket Queen." FUCK! Those songs are just killer.

I'm not going to see them though. I wish I could have seen them in 87 or 88 but I saw them in 91 with Izzy and that is good enough for me. It won't be the same. Maybe it will be great. I was totally wrong about the Zeppelin Celebration Day reunion show. Maybe I will be wrong here. But GnR have a lot of baggage, and Axl just doesn't sound the same.  I hope it goes well for them, because I hope the people who do go and were too young to see them at the top have a great time. Plus I am old and cranky and am tired of big stadium shows.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Favorite Non-Heavy Records of 2015

Yesterday was the heavy records, meaning metal, stoner rock, doom,  psychedelic, etc etc. Today I am going to do the comparatively mellower stuff. So this will be power pop, indie rock, alt country and that sort of thing.

The way I cull these down to ten is by thinking "If I could only listen to ten from 2015, which would they be?" So with that as the basis I narrow it down. I'd rather have this than that, even though I really like that.

Again, no order to these. Scratch that. My #1 of the album actually isn't on the list, because it is my band Braddock Station Garrison's album: A Hint of Recognition. Shameless self promotion. In fact, unlike the other list, these are bands that I would love to open for. In fact, we have played with one of them before!

The Dark Beautiful Sun by William Duke: Jangle-pop goodness. Has a real Byrds' flavor, if they stuck to playing their poppy stuff. Opening track "The Golden Ring" has a tempo change in the middle that I swear I am going to steal.

1989 by Ryan Adams: Sure, it is his Taylor Swift cover album, but that doesn't stop it from being amazingly good. I have a lot of respect for Taylor Swift. This album shows that she is a good song-writer; a cover can be well done and interesting, but the song needs to be strong or the whole thing falls apart. Ryan just puts his stamp on each of the songs, and it works. When Taylor decides to record a stripped down record, Ryan Adams should be behind the board.

Laugh In The Dark by Tommy Keene: I took my guitar player Tom to see him at Iota and he was impressed. The song-writing is just a clinic. Every track, both old and new, was fantastic. Tommy's new record is more of the same. Just great power pop songs, perfectly written and executed. I tried desperately to get on the bill when he played Iota, but to no avail.

Parking Lot Regrets by The Silverites: Disclaimer, these guys are friends. But that doesn't stop them from making the list. Again, great melodic, smart power pop songs.  Out of all the bands we play with, they are the ones I hate to follow, because it is damn hard to be as good as they were. That said, I will play with them any time, any where.

Lessons From A Shooting Star by Rene Bo: I heard this guy on a Swedish power-pop podcast that my band was honored to be included on. The thing about power-pop is that when it's done well, it really affects me musically. It makes me want to pick up a guitar and play, and write, and borrow. HA! And hearing this makes me want to write songs.

Monterey Canyon by John McAteer and Gentleman Firesnakes: Disclaimer 2, John is a friend from high school. And if his band ever got out of Little Rock and played DC I would beg to play with them. This record has a bunch more keyboards on it; has a positive 80s vibe to it.  John has a very strong vocal style that works very well with the songs. And the songs, they are great!

Earthquakes & Tidal Waves by Dot Dash: Another local band that I think are just great. These guys have an edge to them more than the others, power-pop mixed with punk in a good way, not in a cheesy Green Day way. They were the other band on the bill with Tommy Keene I was desperate to get on to, to no avail.

Kintsugi by Death Cab For Cutie: Knowing that Ben Gibbard broke up with Zooey Deschanel, you can hear where that seeps into the songs.  When it was about to come out, I read interviews where he said this would be a different DCFC album and fans might not dig it. That is true, but if you don't like it, then you really aren't interested in seeing the band evolve. It's not a drastic evolution; it feels natural for them.

California Nights by Best Coast: This record I was most torn about putting on my list, because it is very simple lyrically.  One of the things I like about the other records is that they are all smart. Clever. That isn't happening here, and that is not meant to be a swipe at them. It is what it is. But the music and the melodies and the performances are fantastic. I keep coming back to this record because it's great to listen too.

The Traveler by Rhett Miller: This record was the last to make the list and had to fight it's way out of a very good crop. But Rhett always does great stuff. Another of his power-pop records he gets to make when not with the Old 97s. It's more of that and it's just plain good.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Favorite Heavy Records of 2015

Wow! Not a single post in 2015. That is sad. As my second resolution for 2016, I will write more often. Let's set a goal of at least once a week.

For my first entry of the year, I will list my favorite heavy records of 2015. I decided to break my list into two because a) it gives me an opportunity to write two lists; and b) while I think good music is good music, I am also somewhat nitpick when it comes to genres. So instead of going deep into Best Heavy Rock and Best Metal and Best Power-pop and Best Acoustic-Driven-Singer-Songwriter, I am just going to do heavy and not-heavy.

There's no order to these, except for alphabetical. Which I guess means there is an order. Just not favorite-like.

Purple by Baroness: After nearly killing themselves in a bus crash in the UK, Baroness returns (with a new rhythm section) for their latest LP. What I like about them is that they are an evolving band. They stick to their heavy roots, but they aren't afraid to branch out. This new one does that by incorporating synths alongside their heavy-riff-based muscle. That's a good thing, because it is used really well.

Meliora by Ghost: Papa Emeritus and the Nameless Ghouls return for more Dio-inspired pop-metal. The Satan-worhsiping schtick is still there, but it is so tongue-in-cheek you can't help but chuckle at it. That said the music and the melodies are fantastic. They are not going to "save metal" like some articles I read have suggested, but they are good trashy fun.

Innocence & Decadence by Graveyard: If I was ranking the records by which I liked best, this would probably be number 3 or 4. This is what I call heavy blues rock. It's one of the records I felt my friend Tom would like (and his record collection taps out after 1985...hahaha!) so he got it for Christmas. It has the classic rock sound of the 70s that I think never goes out of style, especially when it is done well.

The Book of Souls by Iron Maiden: Iron Maiden is one of the two dinosaur-bands (the other being Rush) that still make records that are not only worth listening to, but worth coming back to. This would have been #1 on my list. A triple LP (or double CD) and it is a masterpiece, which is really hard to do when you are 40 years into your career and have records like Piece of Mind and The Number of the Beast in your catalogue. This isn't the same old thing; they challenge themselves with long songs, short songs, classic Maiden sounding songs, and boundary pushing prog songs. This is a band that is still at the top of their game. Gave this to my friend Michael for Christmas and he loves it.

Mondo Drag by Mondo Drag: A late fine in 2015 and what a find. If I had discovered it earlier it would have been given as a gift to Tom. More heavy blues with organ work at the front end. Very Deep Purple-ish and that's a compliment. Really excited for their new record in 2016.

Love, Fear and the Time Machine by Riverside: The most progressive of the records here. They remind me of Dream Theater but without the pretension and the show-offy-ness. Or what Pink Floyd would sound like if they gave into their prog side. They are from Poland so that's another reason to like them. How many bands come from Poland!?! It's a bit long but it's worth the commitment.

High Country by The Sword: Austin isn't really known for heavy rock but here is The Sword. Like Baroness these guys are building on their heavy rock base, adding synthesizers to positive effect, no matter what their core fans might say.

Crooked Doors by Royal Thunder: More heavy blues rock, this time with lady on vocals. I like that. We'll get another in a moment. Lots of bands these days have a heavy sound amplified with a female singer and it is a great dynamic. This would be in my top 2 if I was ranking them in more detailed. Maybe I should explain more about heavy-blues-rock: guitar riffs with a fat rhythm section. Not really metal, but definitely close to that.

The Night Creeper by Uncle Acid: Here's an album that was initially a bit of a disappointment but is still in my list. Trick is these guys are such a good band and have such a great sound. Their records sound muddy, though, and that's probably why it took me a while to appreciate this record. That and the packaging, which was supposed to be special edition, sucks: there are fancy pictures and whatnot, but no slip case for it. WTF, Rise Above Records? Anyway, if you miss what Black Sabbath used to sound like, these guys will take good care of you.

Grief's Infernal Flower by Windhand: Pure sludge-stoner-doom metal, heavy and slow and fierce. Another female singer and one of the best around (Dorthia Cottrel...and her acoustic solo record this year is also great). This is another record that took a while for me to appreciate.

Later this weekend I will go through my favorite non-heavy records. That will be more alt-country and power poppy kind of stuff.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Steve's Top 10 Favorite Records Of The Year

I have been woefully uninspired in terms of writing. I chalk it up to a very busy fall spent with my band tightening up the sound in preparation for our return to the studio. BE PREPARED!

Anyway, I still have been listening to a shit-ton of music and here's my favorite 10 records of the year, irrespective of genre. I will do a metal/heavy-rock list later, because even though the top 5 are all power-poppy and Americana records, I still love my metal. But more importantly, I love great songs, be they heavy or slow or hard or dreamy or toe-tapping or sing-along or shout at the top of your lungs. A great song is a great song.

So the order for these were determined by the following methodology: which record would I want more. So if you were a jerk and started taking records out of my collection and saying "you can't have this" this would be the last 10 getting plucked.

10 - The Autumn Defense - Fifth: A perfect slice of 1970s FM radio. For fans of Wilco and Jackson Browne.

9 - Pallbearer - Foundations of Burden: Super heavy prog meets doom metal with hooks. These guys should be the standard bearer for stoner rock. For fans of pot.

8. Alcest - Shelter: Ethereal French progressive rock. It isn't showy but the melodies and the moods are beautiful. For fans of clouds.

7. Elephant Stone - Three Poisons: Psychedelic India-inspired rock from fine Canadian band. Second year in a row they have made my list. For fans of the George Beatles songs.

6. Opeth - Pale Communion: Opeth have fully embraced their inner-prog-nerd. Old fans might hate the direction but I am glad to see the Cookie Monster vocals are a thing of the past. For fans of Pink Floyd.

5. Sloan - Commonwealth: Canadian power-poppers great double album where each member gets a side. Four distinct song-writers that together are brilliant. For fans of Paul Beatles songs.

4. The Both - s/t: Aimee Mann and Ted Leo join forces for an album of wonderful songs. For fans of harmony.

3. Foo Fighters - Sonic Highways: No Dave Grohl saturation for me this year. I love the record and I love the exuberance he has for rock n roll. If he can turn people back to rock music, the world is a better place for it. For fans...frak it, you know who this is.

2. Jenny Lewis - The Voyager: A lost Stevie Nicks record by a great song-writer. And produced by Ryan Adams, who by the way....

1. Ryan Adams - s/t: The best record he has made since Gold. The record Tom Petty used to make. Glad to have Ryan back.

There it is. That's the list. Find me another list where you'll find The Autumn Defense AND Pallbearer AND Jenny Lewis AND Opeth.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Fantômas and Musical Journeys

I consider James Blackshaw one of the most talented musicians I have ever come across. I have written about him before and the growth he has exhibited, from records featuring just him and his acoustic 12-string to more sonically complicated records involving keys and strings.

His latest record continues that journey forward and see him stepping not only into the role of player but as composer. Fantômas: Le Faux Magistrat was recorded live at the Théâtre du Châlet in Paris on Halloween 2013. In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Fantômas silent film series, directed by Frenchman Louis Feuillade, composer Yann Tiersen was asked to run the score and accompanying live performances for screenings of the five films. For the final film, Le Faux Magistrat, he asked Blackshaw. And this record is a document of that performance.

It features Blackshaw on his usual nylon string guitar as well as the grand piano. For this he is joined by Charlotte Glasson, Duane Pitre, and Simon Scott playing assortments of guitars, saxophones, flutes, violins, electronics and percussion instruments.

I confess I don't know anything about any of these films or people, except for Blackshaw. His name on the record's spine is what got it into the shopping basket (virtually, of course). But I know interesting music when I hear it. The images on the record hint at a dark, noir-ish endeavor. The music is equally foreboding and lovely. It is broken into 13 pieces and spread over 2 LPs.

For me it is a real listening experience. Four great musicians playing live to a film involves a tremendous amount of skill. Especially when they are rotating from instrument to instrument. It is hard to image that 4 people could pull this off so well. A sinister piano melody is augmented by a dark, almost sleazy saxophone in one of the opening pieces, which will give way to a lovely 12-string figure, soon augmented by a haunting violin and vibraphone. It doesn't deserve to be background music. With so much going on it's worth the listener's effort to apply themselves to the music.

I wouldn't dream of performing music like this, the meager talents I have do no begin to approach what is going on here. I appreciate it immensely. I appreciate the talent and the skill, both natural and that honed by years and years of practice, to make this as wondrous as it is.

Here is a link to Part VIII. For whatever reason the embed won't find it.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Autumn (Defense)'s In The Air

The Autumn Defense is a project featuring Patrick Sansone and John Stirratt, both members of Wilco. While Sansone has been part of Wilco for only a few years, Stirratt has been playing bass there since they formed from the ashes of Uncle Tupelo.

The Autumn Defense offers the two an opportunity to share the spotlight, which in Wilco is occupied primarily by Jeff Tweedy. Whereas Wilco started as alt-country, morphed into a sort of American-Radiohead, before settling into a dad-rock niche, TAD delights in the soft rock of the 70s. Singer/songwriter type stuff but lushly produced and orchestrated. I have listened to a few of their albums before but with their latest, called Fifth, they finally and perfectly hit their stride.

I am a big fan of the early records of the band America, and Fifth fits in perfect harmony with those records. Fifth sounds like it stepped out of a time machine, especially the lovely "August Song" which could easily find itself on Homecoming. The harmonies are not as overt as America did in their best days (think "Ventura Highway") but TAD come close. "The Light In Your Eyes" has a particularly great chorus section.

I would not categorize the record as an homage, because that is a bit of a negative descriptor. Fifth is a great record on it's own merits. It's well written and well played and extremely well made. There is nothing searing our loud or heavy here. Fifth is the kind of record you play on cool night on a desert highway with the top down. It doesn't push boundaries but it plays within established ones to great effect. Great songs are great songs. And when they sound this good they make for a very enjoyable listening experiencing.

Here's "August Song"

Monday, June 16, 2014

Beauty & Ruin

Reinvention has it's place. Where many critics will chastise an act for not growing, I am not fond of change for change's sake (nor am I critic, but that is a different matter). I wrote just yesterday that if you find your groove and the songs continue to be high caliber, you should stick to it.

Take Bob Mould. His last record, Silver Age, was one of my favorites from 2012. It was a straight-forward noisy power pop record. It wouldn't be surprising if he changed things up again, exploring the darker side of things Black Sheets of Rain style or even going more electronic. But Bob Mould has other things on his mind. Namely, it's the death of his father and of his own mortality. His new record Beauty & Ruin deals with that life change.

Musicially, "Low Season" starts off as a slow burn, it's deliberate pacing giving way to the punk kick of "Little Glass Pill," which segues into the Sugar-infused "I Don't Know You Anymore." His band of Jason Narducy and Jon Wurster is top shelf.

But the lyrics bite. Take the last of those three tracks: A thousand pieces of my heart/Swept across a weathered floor/And no idea how to start/Solving puzzles from before. Side 1 of the record is labeled "beauty" but beauty is hard to find here. Take side closer "The War:" And all these songs I write for you/They tear me up, it's not hard to do/Listen to my voice/It's the only weapon I kept from the war."

The second side, titled "ruin," is where the light begins to shine. Surrounding the Replacements-esque "Hey Mr. Grey" (complete with a kids don't follow reference), it flickers through songs like "Forgiveness" (and it's Brick-In-The-Wall guitar intro), "Tomorrow Morning" and "Let The Beauty Be" before coming to a close with "Fix It" where Bob sings it's time to fill your heart with love/Fix it, fix it, full enough/Time to fix who you are."

Bob Mould's homosexuality undoubtedly caused whatever friction, whatever distance he and his father had in their relationship. This album sounds like catharsis. It sounds like closure after the fact. I don't know the back story, I don't know anything about what Bob's mindset is here, but the music shows a broken relationship's turmoil. It shows an artist dealing with heavy shit. And for a master songwriter like Bob Mould it's a powerful listening experience.