July 23, 2020

numün Release First Video for Spatial Debut Album

Cover art for voyage au soleil.


numün, a new group out of New York City, have released the first video for their debut album, voyage au soleil.

The clip for the title track taps into the VHS membrane lifting the listener through a lost timeline. The album itself is a trip out past the pollution haze into the spatial luminescence and right into the superexploding sun.

 

numün is the sum of three musicians who work for the ambient side of sound.

Bob Holmes' recent group SUSS put out the ambient-country masterpiece, Ghost Box, and  Joel Mellin and Chris Romero both perform with Gamelan Dharma Swara, the Balinese dance group based out of New York City. Each member are also visual artists whose work has been shown in various museums around New York--the MOMA, the Met--and have been featured on NPR and other publications.

 


Holmes, Mellin and Romero began voyage au soleil with a single track, "Tranquility Base." It was featured on the compilation album, The Moon and Back -- One Small Step for Global Pop, released in 2019 by WIAIWYA in celebration of the 50th anniversary of man's debut landing on the Moon. The group remained in 1969 and began exploring the entire mission through electronic and analog soundscapes.

 

In addition to the ethereal synthlike waves, numün utilizes a great number of instruments.

Heard at the beginning of "Voyage Au Soleil" is the cümbüş, a fretless Turkish banjo. Throughout these six expansive songs you'll hear a mellotron, a 1952 Gibson hollowbody guitar, a violin, Balinese gongs, harpsichord and theremin. The album voyage au soliel will be released digitally and on compact disc by Musique Impossible on September 4.

 

July 14, 2020

Stones Dig Goat's Head Soup from Their Vault

Goat's Head Soup deluxe reissue cover art. 

The Rolling Stones are taking the Clorox wipes to Goat's Head Soup.


Last week The Estate announced the upcoming deluxe reissue of the Stones' underrated 70s album, with a new look and new tunes. The deluxe version, available September 4, includes an extra disc with 3 unheard outtake tracks, instrumental versions, and 3 Glyn Johns original mixes.

 

"Criss Cross," the defacto single, is grimy, street-walking rock and roll.


It would fit right between "Can You Hear The Music?" and "Star Star" to finish the album on a high groove. "Scarlet" and "All The Rage" are the other titles.

Goat's Head Soup is one of -- only one of in a long edifying list -- their loosest, druggiest, but also, most heartbreaker of an album. It's equal adrenaline and inner ache.

Goat's Head Soup assembled in the ether during their second major output of productivity--


--the tailend of the 60s into the early 70s. It was their third of 3 consecutive yearly releases: the incredible excess of Sticky Fingers in 1971 and the infamous double-LP Exile on Main Street in 1972.

The Stones started recording the album at the end of 1972 in Kingston, Jamaica. The fresh locale seeped into the sessions with various percussion, trumpet, saxophone, piano and a range of instruments that skitter along with the band. "Dancing With Mr. D," "Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)," and "Can You Hear The Music?" are the some of the Stones' sexiest, excessively 70s songs. Jagger screams raw exacerbated flesh. Richards cuts jags of aural delusion.


 

To counter the craze are other more melancholic songs from the group's catalogue.


"100 Years Ago," "Coming Down Again," "Winter," and of course, "Angie," find the group in contemplative remorse, nearly ballad, soul-bearing territory. Together it's a great set of songs, an emotional pinwheel.

Another surprise hides in the unreleased tracks. "Scarlet" features another legendary guitarist, Jimmy Page, from Led Zeppelin. Page has had a few run-ins over the decades with the Stones. That tends to happen with megastars hitting fame at the same rate. He laid down some guitar for the song "One Hit (To The Body)" that would end up on the Stones' 1986 album Dirty Work. As is usual with the Stones, there are numerous variations of the album and its iconography for sale. Browse here.

Original album cover art.

July 02, 2020

ENTER THE WHITE PONY

White Pony alternate cover, image by author.

June 2000, daytime -- driving somewhere in America:


*click* --CUT MY LIFE INTO PIECES-- *click* --ALL THE OTHER SLIM SHADYS ARE JUST-- *click* --IT'S GONNA BE MAY-- *click*

These are the sounds of driving with an indecisive finger on the radio dial in the first summer of the new century.

Twenty years isn't that long, but looking back, it's a gorge. Still pre-9/11, -MySpace, -Facebook, -streaming anything, -iPhone, etc. Cracked jewel cases were everywhere. Napster was one year in and MTV still had significant cultural and financial pull. This was the summer of sophomore releases from Britney Spears and Eminem--Oops!... I Did It Again and The Marshall Mathers LP respectively. Everything was pop.

The music of the mainstream was as bad as it had ever been (but not as bad as it would become.)


There's only a tiny chunk of music from this mini-era that holds up today. Then, American audiences were largely only offered two opposite ends of a colorless spectrum. There was Papa Roach, Creed, Kid Rock, and Korn over here. Spears, *NSYNC, Christina Aguilera and Sisqo over there.

Rock music at that point had since slithered from the entrails of grunge into this shitty beer metal pumped up with generic aggression and ripped off Nirvana riffs. Those cretins from Puddle of Mudd and Nickleback made a fortune. (dirty money) Forming its own branch off that was rap metal, an unfortunate experiment for all involved. At the same time it was also the apex of white girl pop. The legends of Spears, Aguilera, Justin Timberlake and Backstreet Boys were barely dug in. Suddenly every music video had a choreographed dance routine for every verse and chorus. It was all a lot of flash and bang to cover up the low grade of songwriting being done. 

Deftones, from Sacramento, California, brought a new mood to the charts.


The five-piece band released, White Pony, their third album, that summer. It would end up an important milestone, bringing them to their highest peak to date professionally. The first single, “Change (In the House of Flies),” was released May 20, 2000, on time for summer heartbreak. Opening with a single, distracted guitar strum, the song entered the radio with new emotion, a full deep breath. Starting the week, the top 5 songs, according to the Billboard Hot 100, were: 1. "Maria Maria" by Santana; 2. "Breathe" by Faith Hill; 3. "Thong Song" by Sisqo; 4. "He Wasn't Man Enough" by Toni Braxton; 5. "I Try" by Macy Gray. They snuck in when no one was watching.

“Change” begins slowly with singer Chino Moreno in whispers and builds into a big aching chorus. The lyrics are delicately haunted, daring and sexual.  “I look at the cross / and I look away / give you the gun / blow me away,” Moreno breathes out before guitarist Stephen Carpenter scratches out the silence with metallic shriek. 


White Pony album art, with Cheng & Carpenter, by Frank Maddocks.

At this period in music marketing, the music video was still the most impactful way to reach the biggest audience.


The song was one thing, but the video could breathe new perspective and insight to create a single piece of work (if done right). Total Request Live, then, was a game changer. The popular afternoon top-10 music video countdown show was just another spotlight for the major popstars, but every now and then, lesser-known artists would creep in the list and gain some traction.

The clip for “Change,” directed by Liz Friedlander, was the perfect visual match to the song’s disenchanted feeling. The band performs the song in the corners of a party house, long past the first shots were poured and lines were drawn. Beautiful models curl along the furniture, passed out. Everything is lit by lamplight and some of the revelers hide behind masks of jungle animals. The macabre scene was just as enticing as the song’s slow ragged hooks.

I was instantly obsessed.


My friend Josh R. knew this and for my birthday got me a copy of White Pony on compact disc a week or so after its release. The silver square with the white cutout pony in the corner was like a missing piece in the tableau of my music history.

“Change” definitely made it to TRL a few times and, though I can’t outrightly prove it, I’m pretty certain it grabbed the #1 video for a day. TRL’s top 10 videos for June 2000, according to user “adoug15” on rateyourmusic.com, were: 10. "Thong Song" by Sisqo; 9. "I Think I'm In Love With You" by Jessica Simpson; 8. "Somebody Someone" by Korn; 7. "Last Resort" by Papa Roach; 6. "American Bad Ass" by Kid Rock; 5. "Oops!...I Did It Again" by Britney Spears; 4. "If Only" by Hanson; 3. "The Real Slim Shady" by Eminem; 2. "The One" by Backstreet Boys; 1. "It's Gonna Be Me" by *NSYNC. Wow, what an era, honk honk.



This was the group's third time working with metal producer Terry Date. After Deftones' previous two albums, Adrenaline (1996) and Around the Fur (1997), White Pony would set them apart from other metal acts. Unlike some of their peers, they would not be pigeonholed into some formative pattern of aggression. They could expand.

Chino’s heart had always been open on songs like “Mascara,” “One Weak,” “MX” and “Fireal.”


But on White Pony he lets that thing bleed out from the carseat to the living room to the bathroom and back. On “Digital Bath,” Feiticiera,” “Passenger,” Moreno paints vivid violent imagery of drunk lust and conniving romance.

Stephen Carpenter, the group’s purveyor of grind, often namechecks the Swedish metal band Meshuggah and LA's Fear Factory as major influences. On White Pony he would find equal footing with his Cure-loving singer enough to wax heavy in all the right spots. Carpenter detunes and plays chugging riffs like Picasso's Cubist period, thick, slathered with sudden turns. He plays a 7-string and gets this thrashing higher-pitched alarm call on “Korea” and “Feiticeira.” And of course there’s “Elite,” the three-minute stabbing, which would win the Grammy for Best Metal Performance in 2001. [Nominees were: Iron Maiden ("The Wicker Man"), Marilyn Manson ("Astonishing Panorama of the Endtimes"), Pantera ("Revolution Is My Name"), Slipknot ("Wait and Bleed")].

All of drummer Abe Cunningham’s punk energy on the first two albums, finds restraint.


His quick offbeat bursts ricochet directly off Carpenter’s riffs. His snare hits like a taser, and when a song falls into cooler atmosphere, he adds that extra fill, playing unpredictably and to the mood. The three-song suite of “RX Queen” / “Street Carp” / “Teenager” is where the sonic experimentation really sets in. Bassist Chi Cheng lays down a stealthy bassline on “RX Queen.” DJ Frank Delgado fills in the empty spaces with textured atmospherics. “Teenager” is pushed by a dusty drum beat you might hear from Pete Rock, and Moreno’s full falsetto. It’s definitely the emotional center of the album, and a place metal doesn't often venture.

The beauty of White Pony is every element of the Deftones sound speaks without talking too much or over. The wide range of influences from each member creates a glowing mix of punk, thrash and doom metal, shoegaze, trip-hop and new wave.


 

As the nu-metal era died off those bands would have to evolve their sound or risk entrapment in a niche music category.


White Pony would kick into gear the cult following Deftones have enjoyed since, and help influence a number of bands, if not full genres. Taproot, Relative Ash, Trapt and Thirty Seconds to Mars all did their best Deftones tribute act. Emo, and then screamo, would owe a debt to Deftones. My Chemical Romance, Thursday, Taking Back Sunday, Muse and others would bite off their style. With White Pony the band proved they could break the metal label and all of its usual trappings to create their own offshoot.

Deftones' most recent album, Gore, was their eighth. It was released in 2016. Deftones have been mixing their ninth, again, with Terry Date. It's his return working with the band since their self-titled follow-up to White Pony in 2004. Originally set for a summertime release to coincide with a headlining tour with Gojira and Poppy, the new album has been put on hold because of the coronavirus outbreak. The tour is being rescheduled for 2021 and there have been vague rumors of a new post-summer release date. 

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of White Pony, the band will be broadcasting live from their YouTube channel Saturday, June 20, 8PM Pacific Standard Time.

April 16, 2020

Phoebe Bridgers Has A Great Week



Last week was a huge week for songwriter Phoeobe Bridgers & the girl never even changed out of her PJs.


Bridgers went on a make believe global virtual journey to promote her upcoming second album. The markets have been abuzz for a follow-up to Bridgers' debut Stranger in the Alps, released in 2017. It's a perfectly crafted album, with the lyrical acuity of these sadly strange times. And now, we need a second dose.

Phoebe's very good week started on Friday, April 3rd.


Bridgers showed up on a new song by The 1975, "Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America," off their upcoming full-length, Notes On A Conditional Form.

The following Thursday, April 9th Bridgers took to Instagram to announce her second album, Punisher, would arrive June 19th. In total, there are 11 new songs with titles like "DVD Menu," "Chinese Satellite," "ICU," and "Graceland Too."  Then she posted the video for second single "Kyoto," where she surfs a bullet train track in a skeleton suit in the city of Japan. (The video for "Garden Song" came out in February.) That night Bridgers performed the new song on Jimmy Kimmel Live! streaming live from her bathtub (in PJs). She sang into a toy Magic Mic echo-phone and played a small beat synthesizer in her lap.



The next day, April 10th Phoebe performed a quickie 5-song livestream through Instagram and Pitchfork from her home in Los Angeles.


This time, out of the tub, and into a straight-backed chair, she played three new songs: "Garden Song," "Kyoto," and "I Know The End," along with "Summer's End," a John Prine cover (WE LOVE YOU), and "Motion Sickness," her now classic song. Even against the fiber-optic buzz, Bridgers' voice soared, her face scrunching up to the right.




The new songs are a small slice of the full offering that seems so far away. Punisher will be released by Dead Oceans on June 19th.

REVIEW: "Miss Anthropocene" by GRIMES


Grimes shoots for high concept but never gets past the D n B.


Miss Anthropocene is the wily-eyed singer’s fifth album and finds her kicking her sound further out. It’s a party album for the fall of man, something to dance on the ashes of yesteryear to while Gaia chokes on plastic wrap.

Grimes is the sonic pet name for Claire Elise Boucher who started her music career in 2010, but really blew the fuck up with her third album, Visions. Miss Anthropocene is the final Grimes album for the label 4AD, following Art Angels and Visions.

The album charges up with "So Heavy I Fell Through the Earth - Art Mix."


Boucher’s voice sails through a dark soundscape against a slow-dubby beat that twitches the limbs. Grimes raps like a sped-up pixie on “Darkseid.” "We don't love our bodies anymore," she sings over a heavy drum 'n’ bass beat with a devastating down-groove. By the end she sounds like an Egyptian goddess arising from the sand. 

Her voice is the main trigger throughout Miss Anthropocene. It's breathy, ecstatic, alarm-calling and always dying for comfort. She’s a banshee in distress stepping around the palpitating beats and melting electronic detours.

The third track, "Delete Forever," is the one that does not belong.


It’s an acoustic lite-rock song that hits like early-2000s Avril Lavigne. In an alternate world I could see this spending a few weeks at, maybe, #5 on Total Request Live. But it’s 2020 and this song is just not great. “Violence” returns to the pulsating heart beat rhythm with Grimes going sex siren singing, “And I like it like that / Said I like it like that.” Alright.

“4ÆM” captures the album’s peak uniqueness in sound. Grimes sings in fading halos to a rhythm that pulled from a lost ancient world. It’s a blasting grind like an old house mix of Nine Inch Nails or Prodigy from the 90s. A single piano plays in a dark room for "New Gods.” Grimes’ vocals pull the guts from every word.

The concluding "IDORU" gets stuck on a blasting beat, two notes plunging back and forth on the keyboard.


Grimes sings out of her depth, like an anime character riding a tornado. The rhythm is coke-snorted up and feels like a ride until about three minutes in and then you just want off.

Miss Anthropocene was an attempt of a concept album wherein an “anthropomorphic goddess of climate change” does something. That may have been the aim, but what we have here is really just a pretty cool dance album. Nothing in the lyrics immediately provides an avenue for discussion of an issue like climate change. But it does make me wish I were in a blacked out fuzzy state when it hurls through the speakers.

March 28, 2020

Bob Dylan Sings About a Past American Era



Bob Dylan, the man myth legend and hopefully healthy & safely quarantined songwriter has released another epic storysong.


"Murder Most Foul" is Dylan's first release in eight years and appears to be another offering of good tidings from a musician in this strange moment in history. The timing is perfect, because this song is nearly 17 minutes and hardly a second passes without a lyric. This will be one to unravel.


 

"Murder Most Foul" comes together with some cautious piano playing.


Dylan utilizes a small elemental band to swirl around him, each member in differing modes of winding up or down, on a slow jazz rush. The drummer comes in splashing the cymbals with brushes, a violin bow slices up and down, piano keys bristle.

Seconds in Dylan breaks through with that old gremlin growl of his. "It was a dark day in Dallas, November '63," he sings, "A day that will live on in infamy." In the song, Dylan plays out the gruesome assassination of John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States--the most heinous and still unsolved event in the country's history.

"They blew out the brains of the king / Thousands were watching, no one saw a thing."


He forcefully describes the scene, offering possible motive. "You got unpaid debts, we've come to collect." Dylan sometimes plays loose with the facts in his songs, so I wouldn't allude to him having any Secret Service knowledge, but you can't say there's no wisdom in that grumble. The scene continues, through the limousine ride, arriving at Parkland hospital to Vice President Lyndon Johnson's swearing in to office on the tarmac in Air Force One.

Dylan drafts a direct line between the country's need to heal in the aftermath and the eruption of the counterculture. "The Beatles are comin', they're gonna hold your hand," he tells us before examining the remaining years of the 60s and 70s: Woodstock in the Aquarian Age, Altamont, Tommy can you hear me? I'm the Acid Queen. It's all "a party beyond the Grassy Knoll," Dylan sings. Colorful references of the time are dropped throughout, but Dylan brings each verse back to that fateful day in Dallas when the country broke.




Most listening to the entirety of "Murder Most Foul" will be encyclopedic Dylanologists and will love it.


It's just always a blessing to hear the master's voice and know he's breathing somewhere in a recording booth. But this is special because he sings about his contemporaries during another American era.

Everyone else might find it hard to keep their interest apace. There is no shift in tempo, no change in instrumentation, no real chorus aside from the lyrical sequence ending with the song's title, and Dylan shuffles lines over every measure. But, what else is there to do? Play it and listen. Dylan's last album was Tempest in 2012.

Bright Eyes Return to Our Sad World



As we step carefully six feet apart to avoid total societal collapse, Bright Eyes have returned to share in our collective moan.


"Persona Non Grata" is the group's first chunk of new music in 9 long years.

Musically the song is very simple, providing a walking rhythm for singer Conor Oberst to set the words down. The drums waltz exchanging hands with piano and guitar. For the first time the band uses bagpipes adding a haunting surge. The group is still a threepeice with Oberst up front and Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott filling out the rest.

Oberst's voice is the same shaky lilt it's always been. 


No audible aging heard, and his strangled cry still comes out a desperate blurt here and there. Just like old times. The lyrics are a detailed list of places gone and things done in characteristic Oberstian fashion. "There's a line out the church / Where your homelessness works / Where the stain glass of crimson / Meets Ezekiel's Visions," he sings in the first verse. It's a tempered message of bedroom crystal-ball examinations.

"Persona Non Grata" was thrown out ahead of schedule to tide over everyone at home on quarantine, a move Run the Jewels and other artists have also done. It's painful to think how many musicians might be sitting on new music. With this song there aren't any grand emotional swells, so it may have been the easier song to pick from the upcoming album without dimming the full listen.




Bright Eyes crested in the early-2000s with critical applause and a lovelorn following.


After hitting career peaks rare for overly emotive songwriting, the unit released 8 albums then went dormant after their last full-length, The People's Key, in 2011. In the years since Conor Oberst has been no slouch. He revived his previous side project, the Guthrie-punk band Desparecidos after more than a decade, releasing Payola, their second, in 2015. He formed the Mystic Valley Band and toured the world behind 3 solo albums, Upside Down Mountain, Ruminations and Salutations, some of his best work. On one of 2017's best albums, Strangers in the Alps by Phoebe Bridgers, Oberst can be heard, and after the two acts toured together they slipped us another new project last year called Better Oblivion Community Center. Now he's back where it all started to deliver on his end-times pronouncements.

New Video from House Lords

House Lords, out of Baltimore, have dropped the first single and video for their forthcoming album The Common Task. "People's Park" is a loosely-moving song that pops with angular rhythm like math rock with incorrect equations. The song's title comes from a neighborhood park established in Chicago's Lincoln Park by the Young Lords, a Latinx liberation organization.



In the video director Corey Hughes captures teenagers skating in semi-unison curlicues in the ice rink. Dressed in all-black they glide across the surface before a backdrop of foggy winter woods. The scene is somber, but there is freedom found in body's motion. Their movements fall in and out of sync with the rickety jam. "People's Park," like most of House Lords' work, is minimalist, capturing the house instruments propelled by a rascally rhythm. Their aim is to shake the listener's head around a little.

The Common Task will be released on March 13 by Northern Spy. Their east coast tour will begin the day before in Baltimore, Maryland. Learn more about the band here.

February 17, 2020

REVIEW: "Window In" by Michael Vallera

Michael Vallera creates dark room drone.


Window In is the new album from Chicago-based musician and photographer Michael Vallera. The entire album acts as a piece of scrambled drone surging through your speakers. It moves like space debris, hanging and sustaining. The field is wide.

Vallera has spent a career lurking in experimental music scenes of Chicago. He's released music as COIN, Cleared (with Steven Hess), and Marr (with Joseph Clayton Mills). Window In is the third album released under his birth name and third for Denovali Records, out of Germany.

The tunneling "Blue Mind" inaugurates the album.


It comes through like the halo-ridden soundwaves flaunting in the aftermath of a rocket launch. Vallera crafted Window In like a sonic blacksmith. The album's four tracks are disassembled and stripped back pieces of live recorded electric guitar, mished and mashed into a soup that never dissolves.


Outside of music, Vallera is also a contemplative photographer. He received an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and in 2018 his first photography monograph, "Wet Earth," was released by fine arts publisher Harmonipan Editions. The cover for Window In is a shivering shot of the Chicago skyline from a far-off shore with the day's light in submission. Cold waves below smack against the rocks in an uneven, but rhythmic pattern.

The album's title track is a meditation on twilight, breathing with the vibration.


The sound heard on Window In plays like film-developingchemicals as they clash and bubble making a toxic dispersal into the room. If it had a smell it might be that of rusted shipping container or a train track submerged in mildew. This is drone with a palpitating ghost pulse.

Window In is available March 27 on vinyl, digital and CD.

Photo by Michael Vallera. Courtesy of Clandenstine.

Photo by Michael Vallera. Courtesy of Clandenstine.

January 16, 2020

Hell is for Children -- The 2020 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Class

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, that beacon of overindulgence, has struck out once again.


This year’s inductees, with all due respect to Nine Inch Nails, are the wonkiest group ever selected by the increasingly out of touch voting board. Along with NIN, the Hall will induct singer Whitney Houston, rapper Notorious B.I.G, Depeche Mode, the Doobie Brothers and T. Rex.

One of the most important aspects that should be considered by voters is range of influence. Any band that heralds in a new branch of genre should instantly get in. Nine Inch Nails took the destructive power of metal and added to it gothic overtones and self-loathing to solidify industrial rock into the mainstream. He mixed in dub beats and soundscapes to heavy riffs and his aching scream.

Nails’ head, Trent Reznor, has quietly become this generation’s most influential artist, second only to maybe Thom Yorke of Radiohead.


Trent Reznor. Photo courtesy Spin.com.

While Nine Inch Nails has become a touring institution, Reznor has expanded the group’s sound with releases like Ghosts I-IV, Hesitation Marks and Bad Witch and won an Oscar and Grammy for one of his many Hollywood soundtracks. He’s even responsible for the two wimpy guitar strums on the intro for that goddamn song “Old Time Road” by Lil Nas X. (Banging my head on the desk trying to wipe away the image of Reznor inducting little Nas X into the Rock Hall in 2025.)

T-Rex is an obvious lock, conceiving glam rock. Depeche Mode carved their spot at the top of moody synth-based rock in the 80s and are one of those groups with intense fandom.

 

Then we turn to Whitney Houston and the Notorious B.I.G., the acts furthest from the ethos of rock.


Can't help but think they were largely included for their sensational untimely deaths. But I also wonder if they were picked simply to appease the growing calls of "more diversity" that rages from all quarters of Twitter when awards season rolls around. Not against all-inclusion in any sense, but what about these two artists have anything to do with rock and roll? 

The Notorious B.I.G. Photo courtesy of AnswersAfrica.


Houston’s big hit song was for a soundtrack. Her career went cold for a decade before overdosing on cocaine at a pre-Grammys party. Cocaine overdose is pretty rock and roll, but surely not the reason she’s in. B.I.G. was one of the great lyricists of rap’s heyday, an unmistakable delivery, but other than his murder being a Dateline episode I don’t see the rock and roll connection. But, hey, he’d be a first-ballot entry in the Hip-Hop Hall of Fame, which should expand beyond a museum.


Rappers in the Rock Hall was always a big question leading up to the late-70s eligibility period.


Should they or shouldn’t they? The first hip-hop entry was Afrika Bambaataa--the innovator DJ spinning records in the Bronx in the late-70s when NYC was engulfed in punk, disco and new wave. The Beastie Boys started out as a punk band and used rock, metal and punk samples in a way that had never been done before. Their first album is basically rock with some drunk shouting over it. Run DMC deserves the honor for sampling “Walk this Way” by Aerosmith and collaborating with the band. These early acts all have some significant tie to rock music’s history. It pretty much stops there, but every year there’s representation of the genre.

And if this induction garners more significance posthumously, like it seems with Houston and Biggie, then where is the love for Motörhead, MC5 and Thin Lizzy? Motörhead started out in England mid-70s and took what Black Sabbath was doing and sped it up. “Lemmy” Kilmister was the grisliest frontman and clenched the title until his death in 2015.

MC5 live. Photo courtesy of Riot Fest.

MC5 was part of the Detroit-area proto-punk scene of the late-60s, early-70s.


Like Hendrix or the Stooges, they were only around for a blip, but their influence has wide reach. Lead singer Rob Tyner and guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith, who married Patti Smith, both passed in the early-90s; bassist Michael Davis, in 2012. From Dublin, Ireland, Thin Lizzy wrote some of the best drinking-on-a-Saturday-with-friends music in the 70s and were productive with 12 albums before bassist and lead vocalist Phil Lyncott passed in 1986.

The other nominees this year were Kraftwerk, Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, Soundgarden, Judas Priest, Dave Matthews Band, Pat Benatar and Todd Rundgren, who was nominated for the second consecutive time. What’s the hesitation? Rundgren didn’t only have some of the strongest hits of the 70s, he formed the prog-rock group Utopia, produced classic albums, wrote “Bang the Drum All Day,” and has experimented with his sound ever since.

Todd Rundgren live. Photo courtesy of Guitar Tricks.

The Doobie Brothers are a total throw-in, but in this group appear to be the only current live band, along with Depeche Mode.


So it’s 2020 and we’re celebrating rock and roll with the Doobies as the main act? Hopefully their cruise ship will dock in time for the show. Nothing against the group, they’ve kept at it over 40 years, but maybe the Hall should have a second annual show that is just every great forgotten act of the 60s and 70s.

Each year becomes more of a hodgepodge of acts that have little to do with each other. Eligibility for the nomination is 25 years from an act’s first official release. That currently puts us in the year 1995. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day, Radiohead, Metallica, Nirvana and Pearl Jam have been inducted, but were sort of the resident 90s act each time.

How cool would it be to have a year with Sonic Youth, the Pixies, Smashing Pumpkins, Soundgarden, Beck, Kate Bush and Rage Against the Machine all enshrined?


It’d be such an iconic representation of a slice of music history instead of this fucking amalgam of artists from all over the decades. This would bring back the spectacle of collaboration that used to be the Final Megajam. Maybe this year we’ll get the Doobies doing a yacht rock take on “Head Like A Hole,” with Reznor shouting, “I’d rather die than give you control.”

Oh well, it’s all bullshit anyways. Hope the winners have a ball on Jann Wenner's last dime.

January 15, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: "You Can't Give It Away On Seventh Avenue -- The Rolling Stones And New York City"

On this earth, few things reach the level of unmistakable greatness in their category.

There is no greater city than New York. There is no greater band than the Rolling Stones. Bring the debate, you won't get far.

In the book, Can’t Give It Away on Seventh Avenue -- The Rolling Stones And New York City, author Christopher McKittrick gives a blow-by account of the intertwined histories of “Fun City” and the band. He attacks it like Melville describing the intricacies of dealing with whale blubber in Moby Dick. There is mention of not only every show they played in the city, but also shows band members saw in the city and hopped on stage for, tour announcements, recording sessions, the shows of solo tours, of ex-members and of the differing setlists played during multi-night stands.

Diehard fans will love all the details.

Jagger exasperates Truman Capote, ending his career as a rock journalist. Wood appears on stage to play with Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty & the Heartbreaks in the summer of ‘85. While recording Dirty Work in 1985 Lower Manhattan, the band’s studio had a revolving door. Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, Tom Waits, Bobby Womack and Don Covay were all in the area and made contributions to the album. There are countless short quips, musical icons paling around with musical icons.

Rifling through the newspapers of the time, McKittrick gives the pulse of the New York City press. The band have long held hero status; it’s hard to imagine critics ever writing off any of their previous work, but they did. Skeptical from day one, due to the group arriving on the heels of the Beatles, the press rarely gave the band all-around high praise. Their early antics never helped. When McKittrick highlights venues they played, he’ll continue with a full-forward history of the place, its changes and renovations, up to its current form of use.

 

What’s interesting here, outside of most accounts of the Stones, is the period in the early-80s to the mid-90s.

Jagger and Richards were at odds over solo careers and, in real-time, the band always felt a step from dissolution. For much of that time Jagger, Richards, Woods and even Watts with his jazz ensemble, lived and recorded in the City, sometimes merely blocks apart.

The underrated Tattoo You, released in ‘81, is actually a collection of scrapped demos leftover from the previous year’s Emotional Rescue. They wouldn’t work together as a unified force in the studio until Steel Wheels in 1989. The Jagger-Richards split was most visible during 1985’s Live Aid Philadelphia concert. Practicing for the gig in Manhattan, Jagger sung with Hall & Oates, while Wood and Richards played with Bob Dylan. McKittrick shows how creatively active these individual musicians were, even though the group was on a downturn.

It’s fascinating how the Stones’ history aligns with New York City’s.

From its clean-cut early days into the seedy 70s and 80s, then transforming into the big business arena it is today. New York City and especially Times Square is today the world’s number one family-friendly tourist vat and headquarters for much of the entertainment world. Likewise, the Rolling Stones have tidied up an image that survived Altamont, shifting musical ideologies like disco, punk and hip-hop, infighting and a wilting music industry to reign as the world’s touring juggernauts and writers of our history’s most important music.

McKittrick gives a gift to lifelong Stones fans with this book, a sort of bibliography of the facts and hard figures that have accumulated with legend. Can’t Give It Away is McKittrick’s first book. He writes about film and music for a number of outlets and lives in Los Angeles, though he is a native New Yorker.

Go further with IMP’s interview with Chris McKittrick from 2019 here.

December 27, 2019

REVIEW: "Odd West" by Jason McMahon


Odd West is the debut solo album from Jason McMahon and it plays like snowflake flurries caught in a valley.

Its beautiful cover illustration beckons forth with thick charcoal burnt guitar strings evaporating into ripped out cassette tape.

McMahon’s central command is the acoustic guitar. Odd West is instrumental, save for a few voices that drift in on a current of wind, harboring an unpronounceable truth. It’s reminiscent of the early choral chants from Panda Bear, the wandering noodlings of John Fahey, or the freezing atmosphere of The Microphones.

The music here was written over an extended break from touring, in which McMahon spent downtime with family in Colorado.

Before shaking inspiration from his guitar, he decided to tighten the strings to an unknown tuning and work through new techniques as he went. Over time this self-imposed handicap coalesced into 14 untroubled songs. His mangled tune is the trembling backbone of each one.

“Old Career In A New Town,” sets off with the adrenaline of hiking an expansive landscape. You can see your breath. Shuffling in the weather, the boot scuff of salted snow, it’s a cold march through the Catskills searching for Woody’s ghost.

 

McMahon is a workerbee for the DIY mission in New York City.

First as a former member of the band Skeletons (and it’s many monikers and incarnations); then as a cofounder of Shinkoyo Records. McMahon is also counted as one of the original architects of The Silent Barn, the open space for recording, performance and art, in its original location in Ridgewood, Queens.

After all his experience touring and recording, Odd West is the sound of McMahon staring across a field and taking full healthy breaths. “Book of Knots,” plays around with multiple threads tying like the title around jazzy firework drums. It’s loose and invigorating. The Wurlitzer organ of catatonia hits splendidly at the back of the neck. 

The wooden husk of the tattooed guitar is a hollowed-out pound of percussion against the strings.

McMahon has carved these songs, these etchings of song, slinking down through the faraway out of the marshland spires pointing up. On “Who We Are,” the strings, uncorked and haphazardly tuned, tease out a garden of feeling in the spirit. The vocals leak in like the resonating afterbreath of a charmed lost memory. The songs continue to create goosebumps, acoustic-driven and lush, spinthrifting on the Tilt-A-Whirl under cloudy skies.

Odd West concludes with the chiller “Never Stop Exploding.” McMahon finds the numb through repetition of chords, an off-kilter splash of drums beating against the grain. As the song fades, a broke solo chars the outro. Odd West will be available through Shinkoyo Records on January 31. 




December 09, 2019

REVIEW: "Wide Open Sky" by Pat Irwin & J Walter Hawkes

Guitar & trombone pace between the aisles under a cloudless sky on the debut album from Pat Irwin & J. Walter Hawkes.

Its title, Wide Open Sky, is appropriate imagery. The aboveplane is expansive and reaches out infinitely. The music here is in no hurry. Like wind where there is no weather, it moves on its own grace. The guitar rushes on first and the trombone follows twirling out like a fallen leaf.

Musicians Pat Irwin and J. Walter Hawkes have made careers working in New York City as session players and score composers. Irwin was a member of the B-52s for the meat of their career, until 2008, and has scored indies, documentaries and cartoons like Spongebob Squarepants. Most recently, Irwin was the music behind Rocko's Modern Life: Static Cling, the Netflix special, and performed on the band SUSS's debut album, Ghost Box. Hawkes, originally from Missouri, is a 4-time Emmy winner, having recorded with Elvis Costello, Norah Jones and others. He's also composed music for TV shows, including the beloved Blue's Clues.

For the run-up to the Wide Open Sky, "In Another Time" was selected as the first single.

It starts the album off with a hi-hat Casio beat, then leans in. Irwin fingerpicks along and when Hawkes hits the trombone it takes off. Their instruments combine for an ambient free-jazz experience, both numbing and awakening.  

The duo's collaborative album was self-released last month through Clandestine Label Services. The songs on Wide Open Sky are shambolically mellon collie, calmly nipping at the sensors in the ears that connect to the spinal cord.

 

“Automatic 3” uses the preset beats of "an organ found in the streets of LIC."

Sounds like the alien house band shaking it up in a cocktail cruiseship lounge. It’s more uptempo than the rest, like a lightweight Stereolab. It’s the Western sky that opens up in “Apache.” Irwin’s guitar lick sounds like a spaghetti western theme, with extra spaghetti, while Hawkes sneaks in with Mariachi-like trombone snaps.

Hawkes excels on “February” and the title track. The engagement of hearbeat guitar-picking with the trombone allows his notes to drift into the air. Together Hawkes and Irwin have given the world a contemplative album, an easy stride through a free day. Pat Irwin & J. Walter Hawkes will play the Troost in Brooklyn, New York on January 5. https://patirwinmusic.com/

September 27, 2019

Russian Circles Sneak Attack the Nile Theater


The drummer for Russian Circles has the right foot of an antagonized brutish wildebeest.

It took over half of their set last Monday for me to realize and confirm that, David Turncrantz, their drummer was only using one single foot pedal for the bass drum. He was machine-gunning, I thought for sure he had a double-bass set up. He stomped on it like a quarterback dipping and pivoting down field. His foot fidgeted in rhythm, almost hovering the entire night right above the bass pedal. He provided the constant thumping ricochet that rumbled through each Russian Circles song and shook everybody’s organs.

Russian Circles have always been an instrumental incineration. Metal from the earth. No vocals, no angst, no cries, just music crammed to the bone. Guitarist Mike Sullivan and bassist Brian Cook combine to add an atmosphere of destructive energy. Their riffs crank along with the drums, building each song up to deathly peaks.

The three-piece crossed into Arizona midway through their current Blood Year North America Tour to play the fabled Nile Theater in Mesa.


The tour is in support of Blood Year the Chicago group's new seventh studio album, and second with producer Kurt Ballou. Their last was 2016’s Guidance. Read my review of Blood Year by Russian Circles.  

The Nile is a great room for a big loud rumbling concert and Russian Circles filled up the space. Russian Circles walked on with "Hunter Moon," the opener of the new album, playing from the sound system. Then they smashed into "Arluck," with Turncratz getting a running start. “Quartered,” off Blood Year, started with the bass drum drilling, pumping dust off the walls, until the song climbed and took off.

Lights were kept low.

Maybe three or four lights flashed off and on with one blue setting. Each player was lit in their silhouette of silverlined light. Other than Sullivan moving forward one step to change pedals, he nor Cook moved around the stage.

They were stuck in place, frozen by the hard-charge of their metallic muster. Cook held onto his corner of the stage, switching to a 6-string guitar for a few songs. He hopped and splashed around, knuckling his bass down low and shooting up into the air. In his own world, he’d hunker and squat, light shadows twitching his expressions.

Russia Circles barbecued the Nile Theater for the privileged few who bothered to show up.

I’m not complaining about the freedom of movement, or lack of disinterested people, but we could’ve packed a whole lot more fans in there. It’s time artists start pulling away from Mainland Phoenix and play some damn shows at The Nile.

Continuing with the Blood Year North American Tour, Russian Circles finishes the first leg in hometown Chicago on September 28. Facs, also out of Chicago, have been supporting Russian Circles from the start. Windhand will take over the opening spot when the tour’s second leg begins October 18 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

September 16, 2019

REVIEW: "Blood Year" by Russian Circles

The new album from Russian Circles, Blood Year, is the sound of Armageddon, of lost causes and cratering landscapes.

The three-man group from Chicago continue their instrumental onslaught on your speakers with their seventh studio album. Russian Circles don’t need a singer because in the space between their instruments you can hear the screaming and wailing

Blood Year is the group's second time working with legendary producer Kurt Ballou, known for his work with Converge, Isis, Dillinger Escape Plan, Gatecreeper and other hardcore acts. Ballou worked on 2016’s Guidance and here continues to provide the appropriate atmosphere for Russian Circles. Brian Cook on bass, Mike Sullivan on guitar and Dave Turncrantz on drums continue to tighten their aesthetic of pulverizing sound.


"Hunter Moon" begins the quest of Blood Year with a stretched out, wide-open guitar playing contemplatively.

The sustain feeds discontent, alluding to uncertainty on the horizon. It's a distant memory by the time "Arluck" ramps up with a cracking drumbeat. Turncrantz stays steady but beats all hell from the set while the guitars gather together like flies to newly discovered dead meat. Riffs trickle in until you're lost in a vortex. Turncrantz plays the drums like Lucifer’s methed-out cousin, cramming the snare head with furious vigor.

And Blood Year goes on like that. Russian Circles hit the niche and just go. Sullivan and Cook continue in lockstep finding aggressive chords that hit the ground hard but also disperse into the sky. It’s heavy metal mixed with some spooky action. Each song is all blasting amps and disrespected drums. There is no break from the attack until "Ghost on High" when Sullivan meditates on a few slipping chords. The breather is short-lived. 

 

"Sinaia" begins mystically then takes off and sounds like flying through the center of the earth.

It’s a gorgeous pummeling knockout groove from the acid drip of Syd Barrett's angst. There are moments throughout Blood Year where you feel so lost and the music hits you from all sides. "Quartered" is a brain-warping beat-down with chugging riffs choking the life from you. Russian Circles extract an epic hopelessness in their riffage. There is a sense of impending disaster, or passing tragedy already struck. After more than a decade making music, they continue to explore their little corner of the universe.