July 25, 2018

FILM REVIEW: The Icarus Line Must Die

     “Everybody in your band has been psycho,” Joe Cardamone’s wife, Charlotte, reminds him in the new film, The Icarus Line Must Die, released to streaming services last week by Dark Star Pictures. Encouraging words with subtle derision as Cardamone, singer and headmaster for the Icarus Line, stresses over getting a band together for an upcoming show.
    The Icarus Line, out of Los Angeles, most often are compared to The Stooges. Both groups share the same manic scuzz thrashing and raw power anchored by spastic frontmen. But, if the Stooges were the cavemen crawling prehistorically and thumping the ground in lost sexual pursuit; the Icarus Line are those same cavemen generations later gobbling tangy psychoactive plants and then turning on each other.
    The Icarus Line Must Die was shot in black and white and feels like an early-90s lost indie. They were never going to find the Big Time, but they were going to leave every stage like a tornado of whips and dynamite had hit. After what starts off as a seemingly straightforward rock band documentary, the narrative shifts to a quietly problematic conversation about money with Cardamone and Charlotte. The film finds its emotional center early. As the two sit in a cafe, we see the hurt on Cardamone’s face as he hears of the toll his music career is having on his wife. Her patience starting to bend, he knows he needs to make this work.
     In 1998 the cringing began with Cardamone and the original line-up of Aaron North and Alvin De Guzman on guitar, Lance Arnao on bass and Aaron Austin on drums. Their first two full-length albums, Mono and Penance Soiree, are two of the great releases of the last thirty years. The music can be unforgiving; a knife jacked into your ear drum. Real nightmare shit to play in record label offices and predict sales for. Sadly the group’s career suffered fits and starts and unofficially folded the night Scott Weiland overdosed in 2015. They were the opening act for the reunited Stone Temple Pilots and dissolved with the tour. Around this time, De Guzman became ill with bone cancer, pushing the future of the band into even murkier terrain.
     The camera follows Cardamone as he embarks on turning a profit on the studio and finding a distributor for what would become the Icarus Line’s final album, All Things Under Heaven. Cardamone is left to run the studio he built with the last morsels of record label advance money and is hilariously encouraged to record a group of snotty rich kids for their dough. Cardamone squirms in his seat at the thought. When the “band” does come in for a session they treat Joe like room service and he righteously cuts the cord.

     Cardamone walks the streets of Los Angeles in contemplation and anguish. He is searching for the spark. He runs into a number of characters. Singer Annie Hardy and musician Ariel Pink bring comedic relief. Pink as the overly sure guitar virtuoso with more pedals than hours of practice and Hardy as the girl who asks the universe for guidance (herself). Keith Morris from Circle Jerks, Black Flag and OFF! worms into a few scenes to offer advice to Cardamone about recording, music, life.
     The few scenes with De Guzman are heartbreaking as Cardamone offers dry humor to an untenable situation. The old friends share some laughs. De Guzman seems to have reached some level of contentment with his coming demise as he remarks on the absurdity of church’s holy comfort. He would pass on in 2017. The relationship between Cardamone and Charlotte is most powerful. His every move hinges on her opinion. She supports him even as his career hits a stagnation point. Utterly patient, with a gleam in her eyes, they slow-dance in the kitchen with the cocker spaniel watching, knowing they’ll get along.
     The Icarus Line Must Die looks at the real world difficulties of maintaining a musical establishment in the shit-slide streaming era. The focus is on a less-praised chapter in the life of a musician and doesn’t simply recant past glory. There is no washed Behind the Music formula at work here. Joe Cardamone chases his beloved band’s quiet fade into obscurity revealing life as it all comes apart.

 source: http://imp

July 17, 2018

REVIEW: Celebrating David Bowie March 7

When planet earth lost its Starman David Bowie in 2016 the landscape went dark. The man was gone. But, for the rest of us, thankfully, his music remains locked in digital space and in our heads.
     Celebrating David Bowie, the touring tribute, features some of Bowie’s closest collaborators and friends. The concert is a reminder of the musical reach Bowie had, working with numerous musicians over his career to realize his creative concepts that would help define rock and roll’s kooky androgynous side.
     Each show on this tour has had its unique lineup making this far different from a cakewalking tribute band with no real connection to the star. The group that performed in Mesa, Arizona at the Mesa Arts Center on March 7 in the Ikedea Theater had representation from many of Bowie’s colorful eras.
     Mike Garson started playing piano for Bowie with 1973’s Aladdin Sane and acted as host of the night’s festivities. Earl Slick played guitar on Diamond Dogs, Young Americans, Station to Station, Heathen, Reality and The Next Day. Guitarist Gerry Leonard worked with late-career Bowie and bassist Carmine Rojas toured with him in the eighties.
     Filling out the rest of the stage was British musician Mr. Hudson and Joe Sumner, who fronts Fiction Plane (and is very clearly the spawn of Sting). They traded vocals on a few songs and added extra guitar and percussion. Holding down the drums throughout was Lee John Madeloni, Slick’s son.
     But the big surprise, sauntering from the back shadows of the stage, after the first song, “Disco King” began, was Bernard Fowler. (above) Longtime Rolling Stones fans will recognize him instantly as part of the back-up team to Mick Jagger’s melodies the past few decades. On this night he took on a majority of the vocals. Fowler stepped out and proved his strength and agility as a front man. He moved with the music, rose his hands into the air, shook hips and leaned down into the front row to kiss a girl who’d been standing.
     Fowler then blasted through “Rebel, Rebel,” “Fame,” and “Moonage Daydream,” during which he leaned far over the stage, pointing to his eye like a manic soothsayer. “Keep your electric eye on me, babe,” he screeched, “put your ray gun to my head.” He milked the spotlight and performed every lyric. Yeah, Fowler got his Jagger on.
     It’s telling that it took three accomplished singers to match the vocal range of one man. But, each found their niche in Bowie’s scale. Sumner had the operatic power of eighties Bowie holding notes for entire sheets of music. Hudson nailed early, very British, coy Bowie on “Starman,” “Changes,” a heart-stopping “Five Years,” and others. Fowler had the power to reach Bowie’s full-throated emotion and lower register and at times sounded eerily like the man himself.
     At the midway point the group dropped in “Win,” the only track from 1975’s Young Americans. Fowler sang syrupy and charged lurching into the depths of debonair Bowie. Masterfully representing Bowie’s cocaine era, Slick (below, left) took the lead on “Station to Station” with a crumbling wall of feedback that oozed into the crunching stomp of what was the introduction of a new persona. “The return of the Thin White Duke,” Fowler sang, low in the sound, “throwing darts in lovers’ eyes.”
     A real treat was Garson getting candid, adding insight into songs and telling stories, humanizing the icon. For example, the time, 1973, when Bowie fell on stage leaving the band to wonder if it was part of the act, or decades later, when a rare brush with backstage nerves from Bowie saved the show from electrical misfire and sure embarrassment. Pride and sadness weren’t far from each other when Garson spoke these stories of his friend.
     For “Aladdin Sane,” Garson explained, Bowie wanted something extra out of bounds. He then went into the whirlwind piano that weaves through the song. This version, played decades later, was spot on and warped into a long batty outro with every other musician winding to a halt to witness Garson pound on the keys in hypnotic isolation. Then came “Ziggy Stardust” with Mr. Hudson (above, center) on vocals and the crowd went to their feet for the rest of the night.
     Sumner powered a chunk of the crowd to take over the front rows with “All the Young Dudes” to end the set. Then they returned and hit us with an encore of “Andy Warhol,” “Life On Mars,” “Diamond Dogs,” and “Heroes.” The idea for Celebrating David Bowie first sprouted in January 2017 with a one-off show to celebrate Bowie’s 70th birthday and to mark one year of his passing. The loss of icons doesn't come easy, but at least with David we now know for certain, there's a starman waiting in the sky.

**
"Disco King"
"Rebel Rebel"
"Moonage Daydream"
"Fame"
"Changes"
"Space Oddity"
"Conversation Piece"
"Starman"
"Win"
"Rock and Roll Suicide"
"Five Years"
"Let's Dance"
"Jean Genie"
"Station to Station"
"Lady Grinning Soul"
"Aladdin Sane"
"Ziggy Stardust"
"Suffragette City"
"All the Young Dudes"

encore
"Andy Warhol"
"Life on Mars"
"Diamond Dogs"
"Heroes"

REVIEW: "Volume 1" by Bogie, Kaufman & Mann

Volume 1 is an unpolished gem of improvisation. Released last month by Figure & Ground, Volume 1 is the first in "An Archival Series of Live Instrumentals," an ongoing collaboration of off-the-cuff recordings from the threesome. 
     The musicians, Stuart Bogie, Josh Kaufman and Geoff Mann, have all etched their own spot in the wax of recent records. Bogie fronts the group Superhuman Happiness and has performed with Arcade Fire, TV on the Radio, Wu Tang Clan, and Iron and Wine. Kaufman has produced for and been involved with the Hold Steady’s Craig Finn, Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir, The National and The War on Drugs. Mann drums for the group Here Lies Man and has done film and TV scoring. Bogie and Mann also perform in Antibalas.
     Volume 1 was recorded at the end of 2015 over the course of two days, tracked in real time in a cramped room. What the speakers play back is the beauty of free-thinking musicians interlocked by the mind, discovering a new dance as a primal response. Bogie, Kaufman and Mann unravel the ethos of jam to find a subtle dynamic, minimalist and in the moment. Each song time stamped and irretrievable like smoke blown into the air. 
     "Hodges," the opening track, finds a saxophone, some drums and a guitar coming awake for a nine-minute-plus morning stretch that lingers into a yawning pipe flute and sun-rising feedback. It is the sound of a new beginning, of wormholes opening into new possibilities, the summoning of something undefined. Like the possessed brooms from Disney’s Fantasia cleaning up Mickey Mouse’s mess, the instruments are dealing with a mad hangover, rolling over the studio to reaffirm their stance. “Hodges” quells into a unified crescendo setting Volume 1 in motion.

     The next song, "Lawrence," moves like a single picked leaf in a post-storm breeze with a sleepy guitar moving along. "Palmer" hops around with sturdy drums, video game keyboards and some munchkins ya-da-da-da-ing over the top with barbecue glee. The pan flute returns on "Ping," hovering over picked acoustic guitars in an empty field. "Taylor" finds a muddy sax milling around drunk talking to the drum beat until falling out into a low wandering street groove. By the final song, “Zox,” the listener should be wide awake and running out the door to the dirty stomp of the drum beat to start the day.
     Bogie, Kaufman and Mann have found an enticing bond. What you’re hearing on Volume 1 is the sound of talented, able-bodied musicians listening to each other in a room lacking natural light, entangled in looped black cords. What they reveal on Volume 2 can be the path to a whole new sonic realm.



source: https://imp

December 22, 2017

REVIEW: "Material Control" by Glassjaw

All hail the return of Glassjaw

      15 years is a long time to gnaw on the bone. The last few years I’ve settled with the idea that Glassjaw might never formally return. Worship And Tribute, their second full-length was released in 2002 and in the time since they’ve released small batches of music and played lived sporadically. But it never really felt like a full-blown return was imminent. 
     Alas. At the end of this truly horrendous year, something worth being excited about. Material Control, Glassjaw’s third album comes for blood.
     From Long Island, Glassjaw released their debut, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Silence, in 2000. The only constant members throughout have been singer Daryl Palumbo and guitarist Justin Beck. They continue their discography without a glance at the time passed. Beck brings a screen of antsy staticky guitar that cuts across the speakers. Dillinger Escape Plan’s drummer Billy Rymer tracked most of the drums for the album. He adds the barreling brute force of a wrestler hopped up on steroids and asteroid dust. His rampant double-bass plays like he's chasing down a would-be robber.
      "New White Extremity" gut punches the opening seconds of Material Control. “Searching for a familiar face in my surroundings,” Palumbo sings over a harsh metal groove. It’s a welcoming start, fresh and familiar, a fuse sparkling toward a little black bomb. Next, "Shira" pelts the room with fist-shaped rocks and guitars like strikes of lightning. Halfway in, a magnetic guitar solo weaves through the wall of electric current. Fuck.
       "Pompeii" is a relentless beating. Daryl multiplies and comes in hot from all angles. The guitar digs in low and the double-bass anchors the song’s many transitions. The cool-eyed and seductive "Strange Hours" travels by way of two fingers galloping on the bass string, keeping an even drone.  The best song (so far), "Golgotha," is a baseball bat to the face. Rymer’s punishing drums land off-time, forever locked in the skull. Over it Palumbo mutters gutturally, "I'm not a betting man / if I was I'd have my money on the mule," dragging out “mule” like he’s screaming from the mud.
       Since Worship And Tribute Glassjaw haven't necessarily been dormant. El Mark, from 2005, is a three-song EP of B-sides. 2011 saw the quiet release of Our Color Green and Coloring Book--both shorties, but without any throwaways. In total you’ve got 14 songs that easily could've been cut into a proper album. Instead, the spontaneity of those releases, has served as the big slow tease, the light feathered tickle tease that would lead to Material Control. What a pay off.

source: https://imp

REVIEW: "Masseduction" by St. Vincent

Annie Clark tries to pogo 
the sadness away on new album.
     For a few weeks I couldn’t find anything about St. Vincent’s new album, Masseduction. Her fifth album was to be the follow-up to 2014's self-titled, a perfectly sculpted set of songs that brought new awareness, critically and commercially, to St. Vincent and headmistresses, Annie Clark. How could one of the year’s most anticipated releases not be searchable? Simple. Because when I looked at the title I saw, Mass e d u c t i o n. An art-rock album about the dangers of state-sanctioned curriculum? Alright. Whatever you say. Eventually I squinted and figured it out. Clark has said the confusion of the title was a benefit because she wanted a very fluid meaning. Cheeky girl.
     Musically, Masseduction works in the same room as self-titled. She recorded with Jack Antonoff, currently one of pop music's main men, so there's an electric punch to every track, but the sound remains the same. The incense smoke of recent collaborator David Byrne still lingers. Big funky drums, horns and tempos that pick you off the chair. But Clark also finds sad melodies to tarnish the flame of love lost. Don't ever fall for a model, subtext, [famous person]. She hurts here, too.
      “Hang On Me” lurks into the room to start the album. It’s a drunken waltz of a song. Clark sings her heart raw over bruised keyboards, trying to will a lover to stay put. “Pills” is the two-step marching ode to pharmaceuticals. Clark makes catchy a list of all the prescriptions needed to make a society run and function in peak modern times.
     One thing we don't have yet is a pill that makes you play guitar like Clark. Her unhinged playing continues to be a strong highlight on the album, following the distorted carnage of St. Vincent. The wordplay continues with, “Los Ageless,” about the tightly manicured lifestyles of the city its title mocks. And boy, is it seduuuuuctive. An outright cold slap in the face. Clark sings of candy-colored regret as she tries “to write you a love song.”
      The album title track is far and away the best song here. Clark finds an earworm singing, “I can’t turn off what turns me on” -- a phrase we should all live by. It’s a noisy guitar-ladened crush of a pop song. Clark whimpers in sexual grievance and the bass slaps down with heat. 
     In an instant the first tones of "New York" sound like it's a beauty. In big orchestral waltzes Clark sings about old times on the NYC grid and how people always seem to be on the move. On “Fear the Future” she seeks answers like she’s standing defiant before the man behind the curtain as a techno-lazered beat drills from start to finish. Rated song most likely to blow the festival crowd up. “Smoking Section” is a dramatic piano ballad where she contemplates suicide as retribution, but submits, hopelessly, to love.
      Masseduction is filled with exciting songs and Clark finds a new quivering low in her tone, but it's not nearly as solid start to finish, as St. Vincent. It's a mere half-step from that album, but easily ranks as one of the best put out in 2017. 

source: https://imp

October 03, 2017

Tom Petty (1950-2017)

"It's good to get high and
never come down" - Tom Petty
   While Tom Petty lay unconscious the world devoted the day to its new, unwelcome loss. After a daylong deluge of confusion in reporting, the confirmation finally came. One of America’s most cherished songwriters, Petty, died after suffering cardiac arrest, holding on long enough to slip away in the hospital hours later. It was officially 8:40 p.m. in California when Petty left this world for the great wide open. He was 66.
   Petty wrote about America as a place of near-constant possibility, a place where the road always lead to something better, and over the decades his music with the Heartbreakers (and without) would become quintessential road music. Does nothing feel better than belting out a Tom Petty song while pushing 100mph on a straight, empty highway?
   Any one of them. Take your pick: the vein-cutting guitar on "Mary Jane's Last Dance" first comes to mind. Then it's "Running Down A Dream," "Into The Great Wide Open," “Breakdown," “Refugee," "Don't Come Around Here No More," "American Girl," ugh, I ache making this list, "Won't Back Down," "Louisiana Rain," "Zombie Zoo," "Don't Do Me Like That," Christ, I've forgotten, "Free Fallin'." Each one instantly recognizable. Each one painfully American.
   Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers debuted with their self-titled album in 1976 just as the counterculture had settled nicely into society.  They've owned every decade since and lay claim to the most satisfying end-to-end greatest hits collection. Petty’s song catalogue highlights American life better than any other songwriter before or after. Tales about being a loser, getting a record deal, road-tripping, fighting for love, rolling joints were dislodged from the everyday American experience and spun into radio gold.
   The man wrote hits with immediate impact. His songs didn't change the nation like Dylan's or venture far into the druggy id like Lou Reed's or wax politically like Springsteen's, but they put you in the mood to take what's yours & get something from the day ahead, nevermind what else. They weren't trying to be cool, they just effortless were.
   As iconic as they get. The jangly guitar and crooked-jaw nasally voice are unmistakable, easy to replicate. The blond hair swept over his eyes and the Adam's apple that hung out like a buzzard's. Petty’s smile was kind, but mischievous with his lips curled over those picket white teeth. And his look never changed until recently when he let the beard grow and looked like an ex-Hollywood shaman who crawled back down into the valley for a visit.
   Long known as deliverers of the hits live, the Heartbreakers finally started mixing their setlist with the back catalogue and jamming out beyond their most obvious songs. Recent years saw the revival of Mudcrutch, Petty’s original group with Benmont Tench and Mike Campbell, who released Mudcrutch 2 in 2016. Petty’s last solo album, Highway Companion in 2006, and 2014’s Hypnotic Eye with the Heartbreakers, are still as good as anything in their discography.
   Still hard to accept.
   Another legend lost.

May 28, 2017

At The Drive-In at the Marquee Theater

Cedric Bixler-Zavala points to the door, live with At The Drive-In, May 2017. All photos by Eli Jace.
Went to See At The Drive-In &
All I Got Was This Bruised Rib
     It started with maracas. An afro outlined in white light. Then a train-chugging drum roll along the tom-toms to start off "Arcarsenal," the first track off the seventeen-year-old album, Relationship of Command“I must’ve read a thousand faces!” At The Drive-In singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala screamed.
     When the rumbling breaks, the opening verse brings all the power and rage of lost innocence. The crowd was an instant cyclone of human bodies, arms up, gasping for air with each lyric. “Have you ever tasted skin?” Bixler asked. On this night we came for the internal bruising. “Sink your! Sink your teeth into!”
     At The Drive-In played The Marquee Theater in Tempe, Arizona on May 8th, three days after the release of their new, long hoped for album, inter alia. Their fourth album arrives four presidencies and countless international tragedies since their third. Relationship of Command was released in 2000 and soon after, to the surprise of almost everyone involved, they broke up.
     The members would all ride the burgeoning success of ATDI to form multiple bands: Sparta, The Mars Volta, Le Butcherettes, Sleepercar, Crime In Choir, Bosnian Rainbows, Antemasque--the list extends. None ever did or would do it quite like ATDI. They toured briefly during festival season in 2012, but this feels more like a real comeback (absent Jim Ward), even if for only one album.
     They kept with Relationship coming next to the punching drum roll that opens "Pattern Against User." And just like that seventeen years went to dust.
     The first new song played was the first song of the new album, "No Wolf Like the Present." The energy hit the crowd like a giant carpet was pulled from underneath them. The breakneck rhythm forced us to break our necks swept up in the swirl. Following was, “Call Broken Arrow,” with the addicting refrain, “And he’s always stealing flowers / from my stone, stone, stone.”
     Cedric, dressed finely black head-to-toe, has the same presence on stage. But, thicker in the neck, slower on the uptake. No snake-crawling across the stage. He steadies himself before standing on top of the bass drum. Looks before he leaps. But still leaps into the crowd and moves like his feet are shrinking. He’d let the microphone fall and kick it back up in a perfect half-circle, always retaining it in time for the next lyric.
     Omar Rodriguez-Lopez wore a skin-tight turtleneck with his hair cut back and glasses firmly up on his nose through all the thrashing. Rodriguez-Lopez, who pulled double duty opening with Le Butcherettes, played like Jimmy Page with his hair on fire. He made the guitar cry and choke, dropping tears of feedback in a circle around him. The rest of the band, Tony Hajjar on drums, Keely Davis on guitar and Paul Hinojos on bass, stuck to the gig at hand.
     The songs you’d most want to hear from ATDI arrived like injections of toxic nostalgia:  “Invalid Letter Dept.," "Napoleon Solo," “One Armed Scissor.” There was a moment of magic when the entire crowd sang breathlessly along to “Sleepwalk Capsules” as the song finds reprieve from Bixler’s poetic lacerations. "Lazarus threw the party. Lazarus threw the fight," in tones desperate and helpless, “Lazarus threw the party! Lazarus threw the fight!”
     They played half of the new album and those songs cemented into the old ones like a cinder block fence. They all felt like long-lost hits to the forehead. Hearing the new songs live made me appreciate inter alia a lot more.
     The set ended with a cannon shot. During the performance of “Governed By Contagions” the crowd turned totalitarian, arms raised, clapping along with the guillotine. Released as the first single last December, it is their best new song and it rips. The moshpit was in constant motion; everyone preening for every shriek from Cedric.
     After merciless applause, At The Drive-In reappeared for an encore of new track, "Hostage Stamps,” and the telltale, "One Armed Scissor." By then I was eating my tongue, no more comments, long live ATDI.

source: http://imp

March 26, 2017

REVIEW: "Prisoner" by Ryan Adams

On Prisoner Ryan Adams
Misses Her Like Candy
     In reading some reviews of Ryan Adams’ new album, Prisoner, released last month on, I saw one writer describe the cover as a self-portrait. Could be. But, really, I see two people embracing, one face-forward, one back, with an emotional finality.
    These songs were written in the aftermath of Adams’ marriage to actress and singer Mandy Moore. If Ryan Adams, released in 2014, postulated on the circumstances that inevitably lead to their divorce, then Prisoner sees Adams in the empty, discolored days of solitude after the case was closed. Here he takes on the stages of grief song by song.
    Prisoner opens up with the just-add-water classic first single, "Do You Still Love Me?" a song only Ryan Adams could muster with such perfection. An organ leaks into the track like sunlight across a windshield and leads to a three-hammer jab of  disgruntled guitar. The song is jolted each time it hits. The chorus finds Adams pleading desperately with the title’s question. He’s hoping against hope for a positive answer, but knows there are none. There could be no better way to start an album primarily focused on the separation of wife and husband.
     There is a clouded Eighties lens over the sounds of these songs. The drums sound 25-feet in diameter. The guitarwork twangs like Johnny Marr and pasted in the background are thick "Streets of Philadelphia"-era Springsteen organs. Adams switches between an electric and an acoustic guitar. The harmonica takes its seat in the front for "Doomsday," a rambling look back at a finished relationship. The drums are big and roll through with echoes.
     Adams’ mumble buzz heavy on “Haunted House” as he paces the place where love once lived. The acoustic guitar strums with kitchen reverberation. “My friends all disappeared / They all got lost,” he sings. On "Shiver and Shake" Adams starts to regretfully accept his circumstances. His fingers barely drag across the guitar. The organ matches the tremble in his voice as he tries, woefully, to drag himself forward. “I miss you so much / I shiver and I shake,” he sings. "I've been waiting here like a dog at the door / You used to throw me scraps / You don't do that anymore."
     On the sixth song, "To Be Without You," at the halfway point of the album, Adams begins to make amends with the pain of his separation and starts to confront his new reality. The second half of the album continues with Adams lifting himself up with song. “Anything I Say To You Now,” “Breakdown” and “Tightrope,” with its streetlight saxophone moping along, are the best of these.
     In Prisoner Ryan Adams has given the world another classic album to reach for in times of intense heartbreak (‘cause there’s never been a shortage of demand). He gets down the raw, misguided emotions that come when those feelings turn. Prisoner will heal anyone in distress as I’m sure it’s already been cried on by the millions.

Key Tracks: "Do You Still Love Me?," "Shiver And Shake," "Breakdown," "Tightrope"

source: http://imp

February 21, 2017

R. Carlos Nakai Quartet at Mesa Arts Center

R. Carlos Nakai is my spirit animal
    “Get your arthritis out,” R. Carlos Nakai said, shaking out his arms, before his Quartet took the stage of the Piper Repertory Theater at the Mesa Arts Center last Sunday. “Some of this you can move to.” The R. Carlos Nakai Quartet played songs off their latest album, What Lies Beyond, released on Canyon Records in Arizona.
   Nakai is perhaps the greatest Native American flautist to ever walk the earth. Born in Flagstaff, Arizona to Navajo/Ute heritage, the musician has had a long career finding the rhythms of the wind. He has a number of solo releases and collaborations, but recently has been involved with the R. Carlos Nakai Quartet made up of Nakai, bassist Johnny Walker, drummer Will Clipman and instrumentalist AmoChip Dabney.
Dabney, Walker, Nakai and Clipman. Photo from MAC.
   For the opening number Clipman sat center stage holding a wide vase-shaped drum in his lap. He tapped on it with his fingers making a light hollowed-out beat while the band slid into the rhythm. “Eel Valley,” the next song, Nakai explained, was about the large birds of Hawaii where they spend their time when off tour. “On Sunlit Wings,” written by Walker during a trip to Egypt, was like the sun dawning over the Pyramids. Each note held an appreciation for life.
   Dabney, with long tumbling dreadlocks, took his place behind a two-keyboard setup. Throughout the performance he’d also pick up a saxophone or an acoustic guitar. Johnny Walker stood strong and steady on bass. In addition to a stacked drumset, Clipman also used a number of different drums, noisemakers and shakers.
   Nakai dressed in a green, red and purple patterned dress shirt stood to the right next to a table of flutes, all different lengths and widths. Around his neck hung a bird whistle. When Nakai plays his cheeks puff out and in like a little warbler bird. When he’s not playing the flute, Nakai lets loose in a hoppy swivel moving like a wet noodle hanging from the spaghetti bowl.
    To introduce “Kathmandu This” Clipman told a story of touring in Morocco and meeting indigenous drummers who played the traditional tar or bendir drum. The head of the drum Clipman had was about two feet in diameter and had an almost electric sound to it, a ringing reverberation and buzzing tones. The drum tumbled loudly with the bass like they were rolling in the mud. Together they created a drone that filled the auditorium. Then, Dabney dropped in on the saxophone and time bent in half. Each musician circled around each other like alternating wind currents trapped in a valley.
   “Fiddy Fo,’” Dabney explained, was written in honor of the great American jazz composer Dave Brubek and his 5/4 time signature. It featured great interplay between the sax and the flute. Each musician played in a different overlapping time signature with Clipman as the  constant barometer. “CafĂ© du Monde” was a piece of French Quarter funk that hit like a strong cup of coffee.
   On stage Nakai exhibits the spiritual calm that his music creates. During the final song he did the “wallaby dance,” a move he created during an improvisation session in Colorado. He bounced around with a goofy grin, his butt stuck out and the bird whistle swinging around his neck.
    The encore brought the party funk. Dabney got it going with the catchy refrain, “The party ain’t stopping ‘til the speaker’s blown,” and then tried his best to comply. After the band picked up speed he grabbed his sax and let loose on each wing of the stage. He ran over stage right to match the rhythm of a grey-haired lady who was dancing with her shoulders swinging left to right at the tip of the stage. Then, without showing fatigue, Dabney leapt back to his post to play the saxophone and the bassoon at the same time. His lungs created tones no average human could make and everyone was on their feet letting their applause show their joy.

source: http://imp

February 02, 2017

Code Orange / Youth Code / GATECREEPER at the Nile Theater

     The streets above ground were calm and quiet in downtown Mesa last Sunday night. Down below, though, beneath the pavement and piping, in the Nile Theater’s underground basement venue, the guttural rumble of GATECREEPER shook the upper level. The crowd was packed, pushed wall to wall by the mosh-pit void that had opened. The people moved around it like particles pulled by the gravity of a black hole.
     The metal band from Arizona started off the night with a sharp set of songs mostly from their debut album, Sonoran Depravationreleased last year on Relapse. Singer Chase H. Mason, with the black and white GATECREEPER flag behind him, stalked the stage, crutched by his microphone stand. Something jumps inside him and dies before a performance and the fumes of death rise up and spew from his esophagus. He was flanked by the rest of the band and their drone metal gnashing came like solar bursts to earth. Their last song, “Patriarchal Grip,” started with its spellbinding lull and ended with a hammer to the head.
Youth Code performing at the Nile Theater. Photos by Eli Jace.
     The second act, Youth Code, out of Los Angeles, arrived without guitar. Only a tabletop of pedals, controlled by Ryan George, were set up with Sara Taylor desecrating the mic. Their sound is a ferocious mix of Nine Inch Nails industrial scuzz and jacked up, panicked death metal. Commitment to Complication, their second full-length, was released last year.
     Their set started with a deep bass pulse and then Taylor took over. She explodes as a frontwoman. She tosses her body to the ground, her white hair whipping around. When the distortion gurgled to the surface in loud roars she’d bend down and throw a few fists to the floor.
     Apparently the teetering crowd was in a trance and didn’t know how to react. She kept shouting for everyone to dance or at least show some life. At one point during a mechanical breakdown, she thanked George for letting her scream about her problems. Whatever those problems are Youth Code make a good case for their audio equivalent.
     It was clear a majority in attendance were there for Code Orange. Even George couldn’t tamp down his excitement to see them when Taylor brought it up. The Pittsburgh group is one of the new growing warts of hardcore. Their sewer-scorching third album, Forever, was released last month on Roadrunner Records.
Code Orange performing at the Nile Theater. Photos by Eli Jace.
     Front and center I was ready for the beat down. The stage for the Nile Underground is about two feet high. Shin-level. A constant tripping hazard when the people behind you move like they’re on bath salts. Eric Balderose and Reba Meyers, on guitar, and drummer Jami Morgan all claim vocal duties, but it wasn’t always easy to tell where the carnal yells were coming from. Each lasting scream dissolved in the dark. In addition, two different vocalists jumped up from nowhere for a song each.
     Their set was stuffed with new songs. “The Mud” with its tar-melting interlude halfway through brought an eerie calm to the basement for a moment that did not last long. The slow-crushing brutality of the album’s title track sideswiped everyone.
     Joe Goldman, on bass, took up the middle of the stage looking like an outcast Street Fighter character. His presence was alarming. He threw hook-armed fists into the air, spin-kicked and left no distance between the front row. Before songs he’d lift servants up by the shirt collar and scream in their faces to get up. Miraculously I avoided the bent end of his guitar colliding with my head. 
     The Nile put on a great line-up this night. GATECREEPER, Youth Code and Code Orange, three ripening groups that each attack metal and hardcore from three different angles.

source: http://imp

December 31, 2016

The Year's 5 Greatest Albums

   2016 was a huge year for new music. Mainstream headliners like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Wilco, Blink 182, Green Day and Metallica returned for another gasp. Years-in-hype releases from Radiohead, Kanye West, Solange, Frank Ocean and Drake finally came forward. Neil Young put out two albums while Iggy Pop, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie and Leonard Cohen added to their mountainous discographies. Here are the year's best releases:

5. Post Pop Depression by Iggy Pop
Released: March 18
   Iggy Pop ages like the big oak tree that everyone pissed on in college. He soaks it up and moves forward. For Post Pop Depression, his seventeenth album, he teamed up with Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age, Eagles of Death Metal, Them Crooked Vultures), Dan Fertita (QOFSTA, The Dead Weather) and Matt Helders (The Arctic Monkeys). The collaboration makes perfect sense. Homme preserves the scuzz of Pop’s early days with the Stooges, but adds to it a tight-lipped air of cool. The guitars are thick like hamburger meat running alongside Pop’s chiseled scowl and the rhythm section provides a steady anchor.
   While listening to "Gardenia" the screws in your neck loosen. The whole song rides on a rollicking bass line that gets the body moving like an inflatable air dancer. The chorus is an act of hypnosis. “All I wanna do is tell Gardenia what to do tonight,” Pop sings in an up and down cascade with Homme’s high-pitched vocals shadowing in the background. "American Valhalla," sounds like background music from a lost episode of The Addams Family. “I shot my gun / I used my knife / This hasn’t been an easy life,” Pop sings.
   When the cavernous maw of Iggy Pop unhinges the grumble of decades past unfurls out. With every word uttered one can visualize the deep creases of his face moving in rhythm. His Adam’s apple vibrates back and forth with each syllable. "Vulture" starts with a wooden guitar lick that sounds like a throwaway demo. But, then Pop's voice drops into the song like sewer sludge and you're suddenly put on alert. “Fat black vulture white head hung low / Chewing dead meat by the side of the road / His evil breath smells just like death,” he warns dryly. Post Pop Depression ends with “Paraguay” a lacerating beat down with Pop calling bullshit on our world of constant unending information and the phonies that willingly prop it up. The snarling hero of our destructive tendencies still has enough saliva to spit back into the world.

4. Anti by Rihanna
Released: January 28
   Ri Ri, you make my heart ache. Anti was the most unhealthy addiction of the year. I got fat off of this. The downward cadence on "Needed Me" alone -- "but baby you-ou-ou-ou-ou needed me" -- makes Anti hard to put away. She gets cold with an ex-lover over a simple beat and an expanding wah-wah. When Rihanna sing, it's in a downward spiral. "Didn't they tell you that I was a savage? / fuck your white horse and your carriage." Somewhere an ex is crying in his beer in a dark bar. Every other song could've been radio signals from the ocean and this would still be on the list somewhere. BUT, add in "Work," "Consideration," "Kiss It Better," "Desperado," "Woo," "Yeah, I Said It"--come on, Lord please.
   On "Consideration," Rihanna gives the assist to SZA. Their voices move around each other in an uneven orbit. SZA bellowing beautifully bent notes; Rihanna soaring in an upward swing. The big single, "Work," though, I barely know what she's singing, gets catchier as time goes on. It's one of her best singles. She sings against a coarse electronic tremble that never lets on "Woo." Then, when you think it can't any more vicious, Rihanna screams, "I don't mean to really luh you / I don't mean to really care about you no more." Anti is a near classic from Rihanna. From song-to-song it dips and crashes through different styles, some all her own, some borrowed. Her powerful voice continues to lurk its way towards the outer extensions of R&B.

3. Gore by Deftones
Released: April 8
   Deftones continue to deliver, expanding their sound in subtle and intricate ways. They remain rooted in the punk metal headrush of their debut Adrenaline, but with each album since the sound has grown heavier and more melodic in equal parts. Gore, their eighth, furthers the formula into peak Deftones territory.
   Song structure is rarely straightforward with many little fine twists and turns. If you headbang to this without knowing the song, you’ll fast get off beat. “Prayers/Triangles,” opens the album with a slow, meandering guitar the drums break and the chorus slashes through. Throw the bottle at the wall when “Doomed User” comes on. Deftones to the core. "Geometric Headdress" erupts like a tank through a wall. Chino Moreno's scream scorches like a propane tank left to explode. Then ten seconds in it flips to an offbeat rumble with a wily guitar pushing the listener out of rhythm. Midway through "Hearts/Wires" settles over the album like the final rays of sunlight. A few simple guitar pluckings crawl over each other while Moreno sings of a memory lost. “The slit in the sky where you left / is all I see,” he aches. The slow build is hypnotizing.
   Deftones just continue to breathe new life into an old sound. Gore, the third album since Vega took over for the late Chi Ching on bass, follows Koi No Yokan and Diamond Eyes on a continuing upscale of creativity that doesn’t seem to be slipping any time soon.

2. Skeleton Tree by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
Released: September 9
   You're sitting at the desk drinking vodka from a mug in an empty room. With his voice, he's calling you. With his voice, Nick Cave is calling you. “Jesus Alone” opens the sixteenth album from Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds with a rhino-breathing vibration that pulsates from end to end. Skeleton Tree is a cloudy-eyed meandering through the forests of Cave’s mind. It captures him in a whirlpool of emotion as he attempts to create art in the aftermath of the tragic death of his 15-year old son, Arthur.
   In July of 2015 Arthur fell 60 feet off the Ovingdean Gap cliffs overlooking the English Channel in Brighton. Reportedly, he had taken LSD with friends and separated after experiencing a bad trip. The event is deeply imprinted in Cave’s trembling baritone, but hidden in the code of his indirect lyrics. You feel it rather than simply hearing about it. The songs move with the rhythm of the chilling wind. Sparse piano notes wash away in the reverb of dark wandering tones. It sounds like unimaginable hurt. “Rings of Saturn” reads as a powerful ode to his wife’s motherly strength in the face of family tragedy. "Anthrocene" sounds like it could be a remix from Liars or Thom Yorke.
   “I used to think that when you died you kind of wandered the world,” Cave sings on “Girl In Amber.” “Well, I don't think that any more the phone it rings no more.” We are particle size when seen from a distance. Insignificant, scant, a blip. We live and we die and on the world turns. Cave knows this. It’s the very principle lurking behind each lyric and on Skeleton Tree he deals with the haunt like a master poet.

1. Blackstar by David Bowie
Released: January 8
   David Bowie was in the top tier of rock and roll superstars, a god on earth, living breathing cultural history. The fact that his surprising death on January 8th surreptitiously worked as promotion for his 25th album, Blackstar, makes it all the more surreal. Was he really beamed to earth at a young age with his rocketing rise to super-stardom already planned out? The album is extravagant, ghostly, teetering on the outskirts of what is considered to be a traditional rock and roll album. It swivels and sinks into the poorly lit backroom of the musical mansion Bowie built over his fifty-plus-year-career.
   Blackstar is a seven-song voyage, a trek through the panicked headspace of someone too aware of their mortality. It shifts in moods and tempos, wandering, but never too far. The title track is a ten-minute ride alongside Bowie as he passes through the layers of Heaven. The song wears many faces, turning inside out and evolving with the minutes. Blackstar picks up with “‘Tis A Pity She Was A Whore.” A heavyset drum and bass union churns through the song as it progresses into a perpetual Coleman swirl, horns gone akimbo. Bowie hits the high notes with a twisted sadness, a hidden anarchy while singing the title line. You can see his chiseled grin slowly rise with each word.
   “Lazarus” is when the listener begins to really ache. The song saunters in with a clean, melancholic guitar scale and steady drums. But, then these soft devious horns slither in slightly offbeat. When Bowie enters he sings, “Look up here / I’m in heaven,” and your heart skips a beat. In his slow drift outward he’s catching the wind currents like the bluebird without misgiving. Blackstar is a lasting statement to not only David Bowie’s artistry, but to how he lived his life through that artistry. He worked hard through the end of his days to give us a product he’d be remembered by, a final soundtrack to the epilogue of a life lived in constant creation.

Best of the Rest:
[L-R] Ape in Pink Marble by Devendra Banhart / A Seat at the Table by Solange / Sonoran Depravation by GATECREEPER / Strangers by Marissa Nadler



The Year's 5 Disappointing Albums

     There was a lot to be disappointed in from 2016. They took Bowie, Prince, Merle, Leon and Leonard away from us. Kanye created one of the coolest stage sets -- the mid-crowd hovering platform -- only to implode a few weeks in as the stage was mechanically reeled in. Macklemore headlined Bonnaroo. Coldplay played the Superbowl. There was a mountain of notable releases this year (next week see our Best Of list) and in that pile were a number of albums that just didn't live up to their heightened hype. Here are the year's 5 most disappointing, though not totally bad, releases.

5. A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead
     Okay, I feel shitty putting this here. Radiohead is the greatest running band in the world. Five musical geniuses working in unison to deliver album after album of genre defying and re-conceptualizing--each one rewriting the code of the last. It's always a big question mark as to what the next Radiohead album will sound like. A Moon Shaped Pool, still a beautiful collection of songs from the band in their purest form, just never feels cohesive. Fine as it is, the album is in a way the first to not fully pull the carpet from under their sound. Most of the 11 songs were already available in some form for years and they're not so radical from their initial blueprint. Not that there's anything wrong with reaching back, but it feels a bit like the tying up of lose ends. But, rest assured, it's always a good year when Radiohead is releasing music.
Apologies to: "Burn the Witch," "Daydreaming"

4. LEMONADE by Beyonce
  Sorry but, LEMONADE doesn't come close to the last visual album from Beyonce -- self-titled -- released in the final hours of 2013. Beyonce's fifth album, a supposed airing out of dirty laundry from Bey and Jay’s relationship, was released by surprise with a suite of videos that ended up being more iconic than any of the actual songs. It’s Beyonce in a frilly yellow dress with a baseball bat in hand that instantly sticks out.
     Beyonce took ideas and input from all across the music spectrum and threw them in the air like confetti to see where they’d land. I respect her for casting a large net for collaborators, but, really, how many people does it take to make an album theses days? It’s getting to be like factory work. In the end what you get is a hodgepodge collection of songs bouncing from style to style without ever feeling like a whole piece. She takes a classic John Bonham beat and buries it in the mix. She does less singing and more yelling and censored swearing. Dips into country with the Dixie Chicks. And I really didn’t think artists were still sticking that obnoxious dancehall horn in their songs. It just can’t be snuffed out. Despite Beyonce's best efforts LEMONADE fails to evolve her sound in any way--her message, maybe, but not her sound.
Apologies to: “Pray You Catch Me”

3. VIEWS by Drake
     Drake. Oh my Drakey Poo. Buddy. You've gotta cut out the fat. VIEWS is an unfortunate bloated circumstance. I know 20 tracks is a great way to capitalize on streaming sales, but that's what the mixtapes are for. Don't give us an album where we're skipping every third track. At the very least, they used to be called bonus tracks. Now we're just removing the asterisks. Drake went from someone I abhorred and passed off as something Lil' Wayne pulled out of his jacket pocket to someone who I spent late nights drinking wine with and falling asleep with. Take Care and Nothing Was the Same are back-to-back classics. VIEWS is an oily mirrored version of the two, trying to set the same mood and hit the same spots. It doesn't. It feels empty. While I still reach for NWTS at least once a week, I think I'll leave VIEWS in the hard-drive.
Apologies to: "Hype," "Redemption," "Feel No Ways," Child's Play"



2. Endless / Blond by Frank Ocean
   Big sigh. We wait and we wait. We wade through rumors and false starts. Years since Channel Orange. Years since we've heard Ocean's syrupy sweet croons and high pitched tear-yanking melodies dominate an album. Then, surprised, he comes out unannounced with two bulbous, overstuffed albums as some sort of consolation prize for our time in wait. Despite a handful of songs that could stand on their own, the two albums are juiced and greased with intro and outro tracks that weigh them down. Wise man once sang despondently, "Every single record auto-tuning, zero emotion, muted emotion / pitched corrected computed emotion, uh-huh."

1. The Life of Pablo by Kanye West
     Kanye's always been a maniac. I've always loved his every move. But this shit is tragic. Other outlets are out of their collective mind putting this album in their top ten lists. Sonically, okay, he always puts something together that makes you want to listen and figure out. Sometimes, though, his splicing gets to be too jumbled. TLOP is made up of all these really incredible pieces, but when they're thrown into Kanye's blender it don't always mix and match.
     Mostly, though, what stinks this album up to hog heaven are Kanye's lyrics. Lord God they're hideous. A lot of Kanye's best lyrics have sounded corny and nonsensical the first time you hear them, but later they reveal a six-sided meaning connecting pop culture to his inner sadness and the guilt it he feels for it. Well, it's been months since this album was released and the lyrics still sound corny and nonsensical because mostly they are. A lot of the time he doesn't even finish bars and just gasps and blows into the microphone. 
     Here I will give Kanye the award for worst lyric of the year, from "Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1": "If I fuck this model / and she just bleached her asshole / and I get bleach on my t-shirt / I'mma feel like an asshole." This is where the Kanye force field finally disintegrated around me. To make all this worse, the album's greatest line was replaced in later versions. "She be Puerto Rican Day parade waving," from "Famous" was changed to, "She in school to be a real estate agent." Just not the same flair. And why wasn't "All Day" on this?
Apologies to: "Feedback" (been waiting for someone to rap over feedback), "Famous," (if only for the awesome Taylor Swift hubbub), "Real Friends," "No More Parties In LA," "Fade"

source: http://imp