Aug 27, 2012

Reason #435 to Love the B-Side

Not that I'm really keeping track, but today I discovered yet another reason to love the B-side while listening to the recent reissue of Paul (& Linda, I suppose) McCartney's RAM. Tacked on to the bonus disc was this crazy, nearly nine-minute track that instantly became one of my favorite solo Paul tunes ever. Part way between a bluesy jam and, I don't know, a Circle krautrock thing (seriously, the way this thing repeats really put me in mind of a Circle tune), "Rode All Night" was an unexpected treat. Long live the B-side!

Aug 20, 2012

Random Thoughts on Recent Albums

As part of my ongoing obsession with cataloging and tracking everything I've been listening to, this year I decided to start logging all the albums I listen to on lists over at RateYourMusic. And rather than just noting that I've listened to them, I like to add a few sentences or a short paragraph with my thoughts. These aren't really meant to be anything special, just a way to capture my off-the-cuff feelings about an album I've just listened to. In lieu of interesting new content here, I thought I would toss some of them up so you can see what I've been thinking about some recent albums. Like I said, these are tossed off fairly quickly and not really edited, so don't expect brilliance.

2 Chainz - Based on a T.R.U. Story (Def Jam)
I've tried to be a little more proactive about following mainstream rap this year, particularly some of the marquee releases that I tended to skip in the past few years. I was sick of getting burned and, despite a decent run of albums earlier in 2012, I'm starting to get that feeling again after the Rick Ross and this one. I feel like 2 Chainz is a decent feature for a verse or two, but he grows tiring over and entire album. My main problem is that he doesn't quite know what he wants to be - a street-hardened trap rapper, a grocery bag punchline artist, a mainstream pop guy, or something somewhere in between. Bouncing between all of them clearly isn't the answer. (As a slight digression though, to be fair to Chainz, the marketplace for rap in 2012 kinda demands that rappers cover all these bases, but that still doesn't mean its a good look that leads to listenable albums). I was feeling good after his two solo songs that came after the weak Wayne song, pairing two drug tales back-to-back like that had me feeling he was going to be a bit different, but then came goddamned Drake and ruined that for me. Some of the other features fair better, Nicki Minaj spits a great verse and I'll always appreciate Scarface or The-Dream popping up on someone's album. I will give him credit for a least trying new things, even if they fall kinda flat. I wasn't expecting a dubstep tune, no less one featuring Chris Brown. Its terrible, unsurprisingly, but points for trying. The track with The Weeknd fared better. I still think 2 Chainz is talented, but I'd rather see him carve out his own niche in the future. Or else I'll just have to stick to his feature verses.

Various Artists - Just Tell Me That You Love Me: A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac (HEAR Music)
Tribute albums can be a hit or miss proposition, but I figured that with so many great Fleetwood Mac songs that it would be hard to mess this up. Well, hmmm... it isn't terrible, but it's really not very good either. Some of the early tracks on the album that take on the early Peter Green years are pretty cool, but once you get into the Buckingham-Nicks tunes things get a little more sloppy. Right now I'm not happy with Best Coast for ruining "Rihannon" and MGMT for whatever the hell they did to "Future Games". The Bonnie Billy/Matt Sweeney take on "Storms" is great, as is the Craig Wedren/St. Vincent version of "Sisters of the Moon". Surprisingly I also liked the Karen Elson take on "Gold Dust Woman" and The Crystal Ark's "Tusk" too. And I guess Lykke Li's "Silver Springs" isn't bad, but there is a lot of filler. 

Evoken - Atra Mors (Profound Lore)
Yet another thrilling Profound Lore release, this time from the legendary New Jersey doomsters Evoken. For their first album in five years, they delve even harder and deeper into their darkened funeral world. Composed of six tracks all right around the ten minute mark and two brief interlude passages, this is one of the heaviest records I've heard all year. Bleak and unrelenting, Evoken sucks you into their grip from the start and refuses to let go until the last second of the album. I can definitely see this ending up very near the top of my list this year, such a powerful album.

Rick Ross - God Forgives, I Don't (Maybach Music)
Oh man, this is kind of a bloated mess. In the past Ross has been able to coast by on his charm and expensive beats, but I don't think there's enough charm in the world to overcome this mess of an album. It starts out decent-ish, particularly with the Dre and Jigga featuring "Threee Kings" but Dre's verse is basically an ad for his headphones and only Jay's verse brings life to the tune. Then we get another entry in the "Maybach Music" series, but this time it only features a weak Ne-Yo verse. Ugh. And I won't even mention the run of gross sex jams towards the end of the album. The only bright spot is when Ross hands things over to Andre 3000 on "Sixteen" to let him just go crazy on a long verse and the guitar. The beats on this album are as slick and expensive as ever, too bad there's no personality to go with 'em. 

Frank Ocean - Channel Orange (Def Jam)
All hype aside, this is revealing itself to be one hell of an album. I originally had issues with the first 15 minutes or so, but while I still think gets off to an unfortunately slow start, the whole thing is really growing on me. The tracks everyone is talking, "Pyramids" and "Bad Religion", are being talked about for a reason, because they are, simply put, the best R&B tracks of the year so far. But, damn, there are a lot of other compelling things about this album - the classic pop feel of "Thinkin Bout You", the beat on "Sweet Life", pretty much all of "Super Rich Kids", the narrative of "Crack Rock", Andre 3000's verse on "Pink Matter", etc etc etc. Hell, even John Mayer manages to not make me wince. This is a stellar album and its great to see Frank Ocean break through to the big time, he deserves it.

Circle - Serpent (Ektro)
Yes, time for another album by favorite Finnish metal/psych/kraut/crazy collective, heck, they're damn near my favorite band full stop at this point. This is yet another in their series of live documents, this time capturing a show from Bristol last October. The band is in fine form, as usual, opening things up with their trademark craziness and jamming. You get some NWOFHM style riffery, krautrock grooviness and, on "New Fantasy", even moments of piano-led jazz. The best number, as far as I'm concerned, is the closing 11-minute take on Brian Eno's "Here Comes the Warm Jets" which not only pays tribute to Eno, but wraps up everything great about Circle in one nice package. 

Testament - Dark Roots of Earth (Nuclear Blast)
An argument could, and should, be made that these guys are the fifth member of the 'Big Four' American thrash metal bands. Hell, if we are going to continue counting the bands' output, I vote we kick out pretty much any of the other three but Slayer and slot these guys in. Their 2008 album, The Formation of Damnation, was a thrilling return to form and this new one picks up right where that left off. This is solid, heavy as hell thrash updated for modern times. Not content to just be a "throwback" act, Testament tosses in enough modern touches to keep their sound fresh and ferocious.

Purity Ring - Shrines (4AD)
Basically this is like what you would've gotten if Salem ditched the horrible rapper and hired a better female vocalist and quit worrying how "shocking" they could be. This is electronic pop that is heavily, heavily influenced by the production of Southern hip-hop, in other words lots of loud bass and ample use of the screwed and chopped aesthetic. But instead of a rapper, you get pretty pleasant female vocals singing over the huge beats, often times about creepy body parts and hinted gory metaphors. It sounds tremendous for a track or three, but as you realize that this is pretty much a one-trick album, it loses some of its effectiveness. Still, its a sound that is pretty exciting and I'm hoping they find a way to branch out more in the future. This is certainly better than 90% of that witch-house stuff anyway.

Nachtmystium - Silencing Machine (Century Media)
I'm a huge fan of this Chicago black metal crew, particularly for the ride they've taken fans on over the past three or four albums. After really distilling their black metal sound with 2006's Instinct Decay, they flew off into some wild ares with both halves of their Black Meddle series. The fist part took black metal to Pink Floyd's 1972 stadium tours, while the second part went on a trip through post-punk and industrial 80s. Both worked really well and brought new sounds to the USBM world. Where would they take the music this time? Actually they took the lessons learned through those last two exploratory releases and dove back into the black metal world. Some might view this as a "return to form" album and they wouldn't be wrong, but I think it sells short the Meddle series. This is, thematically and sonically, much closer to pure black metal (whatever that means these days) but with some interesting touches and flourishes. These songs go from fierce to melodic and back again, without sacrificing the trademark Nachtmystium vibe. I'm really anxious to spend more time with this.

Aug 4, 2012

Black Sabbath Live at Lollapalooza

Thanks to my wonderful wife and her timely Craigslist sleuthing, I was able to obtain a very, very last minute ticket for the first day of Lollapalooza. I'd wanted to go since I found out that the original (more on that later) Black Sabbath was going to headline Friday's nights schedule, but tickets for that day sold out before I could grab one. Anyway, wristband on my wrist, I waltzed over to Grant Park and after a walk around the grounds and a stop by the merch tent for a Sabbath t-shirt, I headed up to the north end of the park to the Bud Light stage where Sabbath were to play. After tolerating an off-sounding set by Passion Pit (who had a surprisingly large crowd gathered), I headed towards center stage. There had been quite a few diehards camped out in front of the fence literally all day, but I was about to end up in the second row just stage left - pretty much right in front of Tony Iommi when the band came on stage.

After an hour-long break to set up the stage, the video monitors sprung to life with a short video showing clips of the band in much younger days. Then the band took to the stage to thunderous applause and went into a very fitting opener, the first song from their first album (you know, the one that launched this whole heavy metal thing), "Black Sabbath". The crowd went absolutely wild and stayed that way pretty much throughout the rest of the set - banging heads, throwing horns, and just generally showing lots of enthusiasm. The crowd around me was full of huge Sabbath fans that had come from as far away as North Carolina, Vancouver, and even Brazil just to see the band. My favorite was the girl near me that couldn't have been much more than 20 that absolutely went bananas when they played "Fairies Wear Boots" and danced her ass off. It was a great crowd and the entire band seemed to feed off the energy.

Ozzy seemed to be having a great time up on stage, stomping and clapping like a madman through the set. And his voice sounded pretty solid, much better than I had been warned, even if he did flub several notes throughout the night - but it went to prove he wasn't lip-synching. Geezer sounded great, anchoring a lot of the songs with his heavy bass work. But the real start of the show, as far as I was concerned, was Tony Iommi. Despite looking a little more gaunt than usual, no doubt due to his recent battle with cancer, Iommi tore into every single riff and solo like a man possessed. He sounded absolutely great the entire night and it was a thrill to watch him flash a huge grin at the crowd when they shouted his name. As some of you may know, there was a lot of in-fighting this year between original drummer Bill Ward and the rest of the band. Unfortunately this meant that he wasn't a part of this year's shows, so it was really only 3/4ths of the original Sabbath. He was replaced by former Rob Zombie drummer Tony Clufetos, who I thought did an admirable job give then circumstances. While he lacked Ward's trademark swing, he more than held his own and brought his own heavy touch to the songs without getting flashy and drawing too much attention his way. That flash he saved for his drum solo, but considering the other members had left the stage at that point, I think he earned it.

I could quibble about some of the songs they didn't play, but that seems a little pointless considering how great the set actually was. After "Black Sabbath", they tore their way through the rest of side one of that self-titled album, following up with "The Wizard" (complete with Ozzy on harmonica), "Behind the Wall of Sleep", and "N.I.B.". Following that, they tore through a lot of the momentous songs from their catalog including "Iron Man", "Sweet Leaf", and "War Pigs" (the latter of which initiated a tremendous crowd singalong that I won't soon forget). They even pulled out a couple unexpected numbers, including the underrated "Dirty Women" and the fantastic "Under the Sun". All in all it was a thrilling show and I'm ecstatic that I was able to see even three-quarters of the band that invented heavy metal. A great night.

1. Black Sabbath
2. The Wizard
3. Behind the Wall of Sleep
4. N.I.B.
5. Into the Void
6. Under the Sun
7. Snowblind
8. War Pigs
9. Electric Funeral
10. Sweet Leaf
11. Symptom of the Universe
(drum solo)
12. Iron Man
13. Fairies Wear Boots
14. Children of the Grave
(encore break)
15. Paranoid

Aug 1, 2012

Happy Birthday Jerry!

Jerry Garcia would have been 70 years old today. Here's Jerry with some great guitar work at Alpine Valley back in '89.