Sep 29, 2008

np: "Scotland's Shame" - Mogwai

I was really kind of surprised by the relatively lukewarm reviews the latest from these Scottish post-rock stalwarts was getting, but thankfully others are starting to recognize how good this thing. I'm not going to say anything crazy like that this is a better album than Young Team or Come On Die Young, but for my money - this is easily their strongest release since 2001's Rock Action. The two previous full lengths, 2003's Happy Songs for Happy People and 2006's Mr. Beast, always struck me as a little too spotty to leave a favorable impression (despite some strong individual moments on each - "Ratts of the Capital" and "Glasgow Mega-Snake" to name a pair). The Hawk is Howling, however, fires on all cylinders right from the get-go and I'm finding myself anxious to return to it already.

The opening pairing of "I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead" and "Batcat" works really well, with the former building up to the noisy full-bore crescendo of the latter - a strong opening statement. But my favorite run would have to be the final four tracks of the disc, "I Love You, I'm Going To Blow Up Your School" through the stunning closer "The Precipice". Totalling nearly 30 minutes by themselves, these flow together really well and form a pretty damn good soundtrack to the confused, teetering on the brink state of the economy we've been dealing with lately. I was reading a story on today's horrific 777 point drop and "Scotland's Shame" seemed to just fit. It was kind of spooky. Longtime fans may complain that this isn't anything Mogwai hasn't done before and I can ultimately see that point, but I think this is such a successful album because it feels so familiar yet packs a much harder punch than the band has for some time now. I was also struck by the brief, subtle forays into psychedelica with the organs and softly cooing guitar drone throughout "The Sun Smells Too Loud". All in all, this is a pretty solid release for a band that hadn't done a whole lot for me in the recent past.

Mogwai - "The Sun Smells Too Loud" (taken from The Hawk is Howling)
Mogwai - "Scotland's Shame" (taken from The Hawk is Howling)

Sep 28, 2008

np: "The Bitter End" - Black Stone Cherry

Every now and then I give in to the populist urge and check out a band I've never heard solely because they seem to be extremely popular with a certain subset of people or another. Such is the case with the latest album from this Kentucky foursome signed to Roadrunner. I kept running across their self-titled debut from 2006, but always dismissed them as being a slightly more "Southern" version of those paint-by-numbers post-grunge bands that litter rock radio stations these days - Seether, Hinder, Three Days Grace, whatever. Turns out my assumptions weren't far from wrong, but I think they're a slightly better band than I was willing to give them credit for being. Don't get me wrong, there are enough problems with this disc to keep it far, far from my end of year lists (overly preachy lyrics and over-dependence on classic rock themes being two of the largest) but there is some talent present. Lead singer Chris Robertson has the perfect voice for this sort of whiskey-soaked rock and some of the riffs are pretty damn catchy, so this is a not completely terrible southern rock album. Then again, I'll also admit to liking Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Black Crowes - so take this as you will. The ballads are mostly forgettable, but the harder rocking tracks might float your boat if you dig the southern vibe.

Black Stone Cherry - "Devil's Queen" (taken from Folklore and Superstition)

Sep 22, 2008

np: "Maggot Brain" - Funkadelic

It has recently been brought to my attention that there are still people on this earth that consider themselves music fans but have never heard the song "Maggot Brain" by Funkadelic. And really, that's a crime on par with being a sci-fi fan and never seeing Blade Runner or being a Cubs fan and having never been to Wrigley Field. In an effort to help rid the earth of such people, I'm uploading the song to share with you right now. Because, really, you need to hear it. Why? Because it contains the best guitar solo. EVER. No, it does. You can try to name all the greatest guitar solos you can come up with - "Stairway", "Freebird", "One", "Crazy Train", "Eruption", "Comfortably Numb", "Highway Star", "Pride and Joy" - but none of them even come close to touching the sublime soulfulness that is Eddie Hazel's guitar playing on this ten minute track. Download. Listen. Repeat.

Funkadelic - "Maggot Brain" (taken from Maggot Brain)

Sep 19, 2008

np: "Skull Lender" - Past Lives

See what happens when I go and gush all over my beloved Cubs? They blow it. And what happens when I post a picture of Zambrano? The Cards light him up for 8 runs in two innings. Gah.

Anyway, Past Lives. A few weeks ago I was talking about the band Jaguar Love and their new full-length that I couldn't get enough. Well, funnily enough I got a new promo package from Suicide Squeeze in the mail yesterday and it contained the debut EP by yet another band risen from the ashes of The Blood Brothers. They are called Past Lives and are basically everyone else from The Blood Brothers not named Johnny Whitney or Cody Votolato. And the verdict is, after one listen, pretty positive. They aren't striving for the same sort of pop overload as Jaguar Love, nor do they reach for the spazz-core heights of The Blood Brothers, but they do a nice job of falling somewhere in the middle. I'll definitely be looking out for their debut full-length when it hits the streets. In the meantime, you can sample all five tracks from the EP on their MySpace page.

Sep 18, 2008

np: "Lookaway" - Sepultura

Not for nothing, just the song that happens to be playing right now. The bigger thing on my mind right now is the number 2. As in, two more games until the Chicago Cubs clinch their division and secure a spot in the MLB playoffs. And as a Cubs fan I am the eternal optimist (at least when it comes to baseball), but I really think this could be a great year for them. Hell, it already has been a great year. They've already put together 92 wins without depending on any single player, just great everyday performances from a whole bunch of guys. It certainly helps that the pitching staff is finally coming together nicely. I was at Wrigley for Tuesday night's win over the Brewers and I thought that was an exciting game, but it had nothing on today's dramatic 12 inning comeback. Anyway. I'm excited and here's hoping the best for my Cubbies.

Music-wise? Not a whole lot new to report, I'm still spending a lot of time going through this year's metal releases to finalize my list. And, of course, things got a little more difficult when I heard another strong contender for my list today in the latest from All That Remains. I've avoided these guys, like I have most metalcore bands, because I've typically not taken a lot from that particular sub-genre. To be honest, all those bands mixing the earnest emoting with metal riffs all sort of sound alike to me. The only other metalcore band I've really gotten into was Avenged Sevenfold after their 2005 album City of Evil, but mainly because they seemed to break free of the typical metalcore sound and embrace a more classic approach to their metal (unfortunately they destroyed all their good work with that awful self-titled thing from last year, but I'm already way off topic). Anyway, All That Remains.

After reading plenty of positive thoughts from writers I really respect, I figured there must be something worth hearing and I gave their latest album, Overcome, a chance. I'm glad I did. Of all the metalcore bands out there, they really do a fantastic job of naturally melding the emotive clean vocals with the death metal growls. But what really clinched it for me is the fantastic guitar-work. I'll be damned if those aren't some of the crunchiest riffs and blistering solos I've heard this year. They may not be the most original of metal bands out there right now, far from it, but the undeniable fun of Overcome is difficult to ignore.

All That Remains - "Chiron"
(taken from Overcome)

Sep 15, 2008

np: "All Nightmare Long" - Metallica

I've had this since last Friday, but due to a writing deadline this weekend I'm just finally getting around to listening to it. Initial thoughts? It's pretty frickin' great. Time will tell if this is really, truly great or if I'm just happy to have something so far away from the horrid St. Anger - but I'm really liking what I hear so far. Some of the lyrics are still pretty lol-worthy, but really - when has Metallica ever been about the lyrics? I'm just really happy to hear them doing thrash again, as opposed to the... well... whatever the hell they were trying to accomplish with that last one. I'm also absolutely loving Kirk's solos, glad to hear those again. Something about this album seems to be bringing out the faithful and the haters alike, there seems to be little middle ground on this one. Whatever. I like it and I'm tending to side more with this guy than this guy (and no, not just because he's my editor over at Metal Edge).

Speaking of the Metal Edge though... the October/November issue is out there on newstands and, in addition to the really interesting Manowar feature by Adrien Begrand, you can read what I had to say about recent albums by Grand Magus, Hero Destroyed, and Knights of the Abyss. The Grand Magus is a solid outing, finding them moving further away from their typical doom sound and more into traditional metal territory - but it's a good fit for them. Hero Destroyed is a promising new addition to the Relapse roster and I'll be interested to hear their full-length, even if the arrangements on this teaser EP did run a little same-y. As for the Knights of the Abyss, well, I found it hard to say much positive about that one. It just struck me as deathcore-by-numbers, nothing that isn't being done better by other bands.

In other metal news, thanks to the long lead time for print journalism, its time to start compliling my list of favorite albums for Metal Edge. This will mark the first year I've had to put together a single genre based list and I'm finding it tougher than I expected. I've heard tons of great stuff, but I don't know that I've spent enough time with some of the albums to determine just which are the cream of the crop. As of right now I can see the albums from Harvey Milk, Krallice, Black Mountain, Coffins, Nachtmystium, Opeth, Torche, Gojira, Testament, Disfear, Lair of the Minotaur and, yes, Metallica placing on my list. Now I just need to spend some time relistening and figuring out just how they drop into the overall ranking and see if there is anything else I've missed.

Sep 3, 2008

np: "U.S. Blues" - Grateful Dead

I figured this was a fairly appropriate song title for this evening, given the depressing several minutes of RNC coverage I was subjected to. Not to mention the very real possibility, no matter how slim, that this woman could someday be the leader of the free world. That very thought sends shivers down my spine. I try to stay away from politics on this blog, but there are so many things about this woman that chill me to the core. I'll leave it at that for now, but please... if you have any hope for the future of our country, not to mention common sense, you'll make sure she gets nowhere near the White House.

But, hey, at least someone is having some fun with this whole thing.

I'm also listening to this particular track because my wonderful wife (along with some help from my father and mother-in-law, both also wonderful) got me the fantastic Grateful Dead box set, Beyond Description (1973-1989), for my birthday. This covers the less canonical half of the Dead's studio output, but I think a great majority of this stuff holds up just as well as their earlier albums. There may be no single album as soldily classic as American Beauty or Workingman's Dead, but I've always felt that stuff like From the Mars Hotel and Blues For Allah got short shrift from casual fans and Deadheads alike. I mean, hell, the former contains great studio versions of Dead classics like "Unbroken Chain", "Scarlet Begonias" and (one of my all-time favorites) "U.S. Blues". Sure, the disco Dead period and eighties albums were full of more hits than misses, but these all deserve a place in any self-respecting (hush you) Deadhead's collection.

But, much like the first box set, this is all about the wealth of bonus live material added to the original discs. Not only are we treated to first class, era appropriate live versions of stunners like "Eyes of the World", "Fire on the Mountain" (from the Egypt shows) and "Althea"; we also get ENTIRE DISCS added to both the Reckoning and Dead Set live albums. It's fantastic.

In tribute to this fine collection and in an effort to convert more of the non-believers out there, here are a couple Dead gems to get you through your day.

Grateful Dead - "U.S. Blues"
(taken from From the Mars Hotel)
Grateful Dead - "Picasso Moon" (taken from Built To Last)
Grateful Dead - "Stagger Lee" (taken from Shakedown Street)
Grateful Dead - "Stella Blue" (taken from Wake of the Flood)

Sep 2, 2008

np: "Georgia" - Jaguar Love

Right now I should be listening to one of the several albums I have to review, but I just can't get past this particular song at the moment. This is seriously the best Elton John ballad that indie rock has ever given us. I'm not talking the Disney-fied ballads of latter day Elton, but the classic piano man ballad narratives. Your "Tiny Dancer", your "Levon", your "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters". Just replace the piano with organ, crank up the guitars, and voila! You've got "Georgia". The lyrics are a tad more bleak than the fare Captain Fantasic and Mr. Taupin used to crank out, but lines like "we'll I've been here before, where the waterfalls decompose, and symphonies go blind in the desert, so grab a microphone put the tape in press record, Georgia can you hear my heart explode?" are no less evocative. It's a great song on an unexpectedly thrilling album.

A little background for the uninitiated. Jaguar Love is the band that resulted from the sad implosion of two of my favorite Seattle area bands to emerge in the latter half of the 1990s - The Blood Brothers and Pretty Girls Make Graves. The Blood Brothers dealt in spastic post-hardcore that resulted in chaotic albums like ...Burn, Piano Island, Burn and Crimes; while Pretty Girls Make Graves traded in a more delicate, thoughtful version of post-punk that got them labeled everything from emo to art punk. Their 2003 album The New Romance made my Top 10 for that year and deservedly so, it was a beautiful album. The 2006 follow-up, Elan Vital, failed to live up to my expectations but I was gutted nonetheless to hear they disbanded.

I didn't follow up on the former members' comings and goings in the intervening months, so it wasn't until I read a press release from Matador that I knew Jaguar Love even existed. Even then I didn't get around to actually hearing them until I picked up their debut full-length, Take Me to the Sea. The Blood Brothers/PGMG connection had me intrigued, but I honestly had no idea what to expect given the divergent tastes and detours of the former bands. What I didn't expect, however, was a fairly traditional take on pop and rock songwriting. Sure, Johnny Whitney's vocals ensure that this won't accidentally end up next to Coldplay and Feist on the Starbucks shelves, but this stuff is pretty straightforward and suprisingly tuneful. There are still a few dissonant guitar stabs here and some head-turning twists of phrase courtesy of Whitney, but this stuff isn't exactly Merzbow meets Black Flag.

Can you tell I'm having a hard time working out just how to describe this album? Because I am. I just know that it immediately grabbed me on first listen and I keep returning to it over and over again. First and foremost to witness the majesty of "Georgia" again, but really, there isn't a bum track on the whole disc.
Give a listen for yourselves. Then go buy the album.

Jaguar Love - "Georgia" (taken from Take Me to the Sea)
Jaguar Love - "Bone Trees and a Broken Heart" (taken from Take Me to the Sea)