Monthly Archives: October 2012

“Fats Domino” by The Features

Tennessee rockers The Features have become one of my favorite bands through double-osmosis: I dragged my wife to a Kings of Leon show a few years ago and they were one of the opening acts.  So impressed with their sound, my wife did something she never does and actually went out bought some of the bands CD’s.  The Features are probably one of the hardest-working bands I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing–six times in less than 4 years.

Beyond the endless touring, however, The Features also consistently release an album every year (give or take) that’s really good.  The band’s song writing has not only been solid as a rock, but they’ve done that rare thing in rock where they’ve stayed true to themselves while still managing to grow artistically AND appeal to an increasingly wider audience.  Most recently, the band was featured in a national TV spot for a big American car company.

WILDERNESS, the band’s latest album is fantastic…but you should hear them all.

The Features seem to be a band on the verge of breaking big, and when that day comes I’m going to feel very smug.  But because I’m a Hipster-Soothsayer, I’m going to be a bit sad, too.  I mean, can a band so down-to-Earth and workman-like endure the harsh spotlight? I wouldn’t think so, but then I heard “Fats Domino” from the band’s most recent album WILDERNESS.

“Fats Domino” is a soft battle-cry, but a battle-cry nonetheless.  It’s about all the things we need, or don’t need.  It’s a list of everything not needed…and the one thing that we can’t live without: Rock ‘n Roll. “You can take everything except my rock ‘n roll, my love, put down Fats Domino.”  The song, which is in the context of a relationship ending, on the surface is about a dude asking for his records, but beyond the surface “Fats Domino” is about nourishing, enduring magic of rock music.  We live in a modern world full of so much crap that, quite frankly, none of us need.  “Fats Domino” is a song written by a band that has it’s priorities in order and their heads on straight.  That it’s called “Fats Domino” and not “Elvis Presley” or even “Chuck Berry” is both telling and extremely comforting. Not only do The Features know where they as a band are going, they know where rock has been.

I think this sort of musical literacy and historical awareness is not only endearing but also very comforting. I’m comforted that The Features love rock music.  They don’t just live it, eat, sleep, and breathe it–they know it intimately.  The Features aren’t rock stars, they’re craftsmen.  The albums they make are strong, sturdy chairs like those built by master-carpenters; beautiful to look at but also very functional.

So I don’t worry about The Features getting success and losing their heads.  The only thing that I worry is that the success will remain elusive for them, not for their sake….but yours.

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TSAR Returns with THE DARK STUFF Ep!

If there’s one thing that I love, it’s finding out that a band I really love has put out new music.  But what I love even more is when a band I’ve completely written off as “disbanded” returns with new music. LA rockers TSAR put out two phenomenal albums that really didn’t get the attention they deserved.

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Their self-titled debut album is more than worthy of a CLASSIC ALBUMS REVISITED post and their last record, BAND GIRLS MONEY was worthy follow-up that proved the band wasn’t a fluke.  But then something happened, I don’t know because I’m not in LA and I don’t follow that scene…but TSAR went away.  Then, a few days ago, I was prepping my iPhone for a trip and what do I see on Spotify? Brand-spanking new TSAR music.

THE DARK STUFF is an Ep of five songs; all killer, no filler power-pop perfection.  Upon first listen, I was surprised at how dark THE DARK STUFF really is.  Sure, the music is still sugary and fun; but TSAR aren’t pulling any punches–these songs have a real bite to them.  The first song, “Punctual Alcoholic” is a demented, spooky song that appropriately name-checks Stephen King.  The phrase punctual alcoholic  is one of those really good TSAR-isms that I’ve been missing over the last few years.  

Despite being really well-produced, the song was a bit of shock in that it wasn’t as hyper-produced as the songs from BAND GIRLS MONEY.  It’s a really good, really catchy song that instantly reminded me why I love this band.

The second track, “Police Station” is a more straight-forward rocker and sounded more akin to the songs from the band’s last album, but toned down and more thoughtful.  I especially like the reference’s to “Teen Wizards,” another of the band’s songs.  “Little Woman” returns to the darker, melodic quality that gives the Ep it’s name.

The best song on THE DARK STUFF is the last track, “Something Bad Happened To Me.”  Like “Punctual Alcoholic,” it’s more restrained than the band’s previous album but edgier.  It’s like a haunted-house where the music is provided by Cheap Trick by way of George Harrison, The Cars, and Steely Dan.  It’s a very cool, multi-faceted song that seamlessly morphs from acoustic noodle to electric monster.

TSAR is still a great power pop band, but with THE DARK STUFF the band seems to be moving away from the endless-partyrock sensability and more textured, mature rock.  I didn’t think it would be possible for TSAR to come back and actually be more interesting than they already were, but with THE DARK STUFF the band has proven that not only are they back but they’re better than ever.  I only hope that we don’t have to wait long for the full album.

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My Favorite U2 Song

A few weekends ago I was in a crepe restaurant waiting for some breakfast.  I was holding down a table for a group of my friends; the place was packed, with a line wrapped around the counter.  Sunday (bloody Sunday) morning was in full effect: I was mildly hung-over and the prospect of a new work-week loomed large.

And what did I hear?  What did I hear while my head ached and I waited for my corn beef hash?  Irish rockers U2 wailing out “Vertigo” on the restaurant’s sound system.  I whipped out my iPhone, and as I do from time to time, I posted something snarky and nasty on Facebook about the song and the band. Almost immediately I got feedback, the general consensus: What the hell is wrong with you, Jason? U2 is awesome.      

A long time ago, I used to fall to peer pressure when it came to what was hip or cool,  but those days are long since passed.  I like what I like and I don’t give a fuck.  I purchased the first two Lady GaGa albums, and I’m admitting it! On my Axl Rose-themed music blog!!! So believe me when I tell you, I like you but I could care less what you think of what I like or don’t like. When it comes to U2 I’m so torn.  On one hand, I love classic U2.  I think THE JOSHUA TREE is an amazingly, triumph of an album.  On the other hand, “Vertigo” is pretty much the worst U2 song ever.  Their current output has left me cold at times, though I did finally come around on their last album.

I remember in the early 1990’s when U2 came to Kansas City to film a music video for “Last Night On Earth” and how all the people who interacted with them said nothing but nice things. I remember when I thought U2 was lame and over-the-hill…and then ALL THAT YOU CAN’T LEAVE BEHIND came out and proved me wrong.  

I saw U2 in 2001 a month after 9/11 and Bono had me in near tears projecting the names on the side of our local arena–so when I tell you that U2 is one of the most disappointing bands I’ve ever known, realize that comes form a place of love.  What disappoints me about them? The same things that I find disappointing in myself: they’re lazy.  U2 used to consistently put out fucking life-affirming, kick-ass rock music. Music that was not only bad-ass but had a clear message either about how fucked up our world was or how it could be a better place.  This year? I’m listening to U2 sing in Spanish about what? 1-2-3?

What’s wrong with “Vertigo”? Where to start…how about it’s not nearly as good as “Another Day.”  I bet you’ve never heard “Another Day.”  Don’t feel bad if you haven’t, it just means you got laid in High School and aren’t crippled by your obsession of obscure rock music like I am.  The song came out in 1980 just before U2 released their first album BOY, and it’s my all-time favorite U2 song.  The song, which features a memorable punky-yodel from Bono, and vaguely recalls a Steve Miller song, is great for none of the reasons I like U2.

Only 2 luftballons…

It’s not particularly political and doesn’t make any large point.  The song is super-unique musically (again, I swear there’s a Steve Miller song that sounds just like it).  So why do I love it?  “Another Day” is pure and fun.  There’s a simple, but awesome guitar lick and Bono sounds like he’s having fun.  The song also has a bit of a tough-edge (pun intended) near the end with the Edge’s guitar solo…but it’s not an over-the-top wank-fest.

“Another Day” is a young, hungry band having a blast…”Vertigo” is an bunch of old men resting on their laurels.  If you can honestly listen to “Another Day” and tell me “Vertigo” is a better song…then you’re completely delusional and need professional help.

Seriously though, “Another Day” is a lost classic that I love dearly.  Long live U2.  Fuck “Vertigo.”

EDIT 10/25/2012: So while I was writing this I was trying to figure out which Steve Miller song “Another Day” reminded me of.  Today at work it came to me, like something from a dream–“Swingtown.”  It’s the vocals, nothing else really is similar.  Anyway, mystery solved.

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Bonus METAL MONDAY: New Dethklok “I Ejaculate Fire” Video

Have I told you I like cartoons? I do.  I remember falling in love with Cartoon Network’s ADULT SWIM block of adult-themed cartoons way before it was cool.  Metalocalypse is probably my all-time favorite.  It’s a hilarious send-up/love letter to all things metal.  The show follows the trails and tribulations of Dethklok, the world’s most famous and beloved band.  All the members of Dethklok are insane/over-the-top rock caricatures…and that’s what makes me love it.

Oh, they’re real…real awesome!

The show is also extremely gory and violent, which is probably  a turn-off for a lot of people, but understand: the violence is ironic.  Anyway, the band’s real-life counterparts are on tour to promote their third album which came out this month.  The video below is for their latest “single” which is distrubingly titled “I Ejaculate Fire.”

This is not high art by any means…but nonetheless awesome.  Oh, yeah: WARNING THIS VIDEO IS NSFW.

 

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METAL MONDAY: Weedeater’s Awesome JASON THE DRAGON!

North Carolina’s metal-dudes Weedeater do not mess around. Their fourth album, their epic album JASON THE DRAGON was delayed in 2010 when their lead singer, “Dixie” Dave Collins accidentally shot his big toe off…with a shotgun.  Thank God Collins was able to pull himself together to record again, because JASON THE DRAGON is the kind of album the world needs.  Metal is dominated by bands that are loud, in-your-face, and angry but often have no underlying spirit.  I love music that grooves besides just assaulting the ears with sheer bombast, and Weedeater is all about groove. Their music is a slow-burn of aggression; it feels more complex and mature.

Don’t look so smug Smaug.

Weedeater occupy the sub-genere of metal known as sludge, which I seem to have an unhealthy love for.  The sounds are dark, gloomy, and akin to a slow beating with a blunt object.  “Turkey Warlock” is the epitome of this slow descent into madness, with it’s Black Sabbath-like chugging guitar and scratchy vocals.  The song ends with a single held-note that bleeds into the next song, the titula “Jason…the Dragon.”  I absolutely love this song.  It’s about a dragon, name Jason…but more than that, it’s heavy but has a nice, steady groove.  Weedeater is rock slow and steady and are unapologetic about it.

The southern/bayou-sounding “Palms of Opium” sounds like the sort of laid-back country-jam ZZ Top used to be known for.  It’s a refreshing blast of cold water on their fire of metal, and creates a surprising shade of complexity over JASON THE DRAGON that belies their chosen genre.  Likewise, the John Bonham-esque “March of the Biploar Bear” offers up an entertaining (albeit brief) interlude.

The best song on the album though, is “Homecoming” which is full of really interesting guitar work and home to the album’s most memorable riff.  JASON THE DRAGON then ends with a frogs ‘n banjo song “Whisky Creek,” which similar to “Palms of Opium” reminds us of the bands backwoods roots.  There’s something awesome about a hillbilly metal band, hearing it is like scratching an itch you didn’t even know you had.

Bravo, Weedeater! Please stop shooting yourself and make another album ASAP.

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Aping The Beach Boys

 

Last month, Ben Folds Five released their first new studio album since 1999.   After reading a few favorable-to-glowing reviews, I decided to check out the new album despite being a casual fan of the group.  To my great joy, THE SOUND OF THE LIFE OF THE MIND is a really fantastic album that’s chock full of really good pop songs, I encourage you to seek it out.

The opposite of “Rire and Rain” but not PET SOUNDS.

One song, though, really stood out to me: the second track “Michael Praytor, Five Years Later.”  The song, which begins with drums and very familiar-sounding vocal harmonies instantly made me think of Jellyfish.  Particularly their second album SPILT MILK which my mom got me into durin the 1990’s.  Hypnotized, I found myself listening to the song over and over.

Then, around the 30th listen or so, I had a realization: The Beach Boys.  In this modern age, where artists are paying homage to other artists who were paying tribute to other artists, it can be tricky to trace the musical genealogy of a group or song .  Now that I’ve thought abou it, it’s obvious to me that on “Michael Praytor, Five Years Later”  the band is clearly doing something that goes back to the 1960’s: they’re aping The Beach Boys.

The Beach Boys, as I’m fond of reminding you all, were pioneers in rock music and highly influential.  The band has a stuffy/boring reputation among many young people today, but nothing could be further from the truth.  I’ve written before about my deep love of PET SOUNDS, but beyond that monumental album, the band’s influence can be felt today.  Being such a cultural-touchstone, other bands have been making sly (and sometimes not so sly) references to The Beach Boys in their work.  That this has been going on literally since they achieved their initial popularity in the 1960’s only serves to underscore just how damn important they were/are as a band.

We don’t know how lucky we are, boys.

The first time I can remember thinking “this band is making fun/referencing The Beach Boys” was when I heard The Beatles self-titled double album THE BEATLES (also known as the “White Album”).  The first song of the first album is “Back in the USS,” which is a direct parody of “California Girls.”  The Beach Boy-esque backing vocals are a perfect copy of The Beach Boys, but more than that The Beatles also poke fun at the band’s Apple-Pie/Baseball American-ness with their song’s Soviet Union-theme.  The Beatles were not the first, and they were not the last to ape The Beach Boys however.

Growing up, another band that I was exposed via my parents was REM.  I remember to practically wearing out their cassette of OUT OF TIME when it came out in 1991.  I had no idea what any of the songs were about, but I really liked them all, in particular the fourth track “Near Wild Heaven.”  The song, co-written and sung by bassist Mike Mills, is pretty much a spot-on WILD HONEY-era Beach Boys song.  And like “Back in the USSR,” it’s not the just vocal arrangement that’s referential to the Beach Boys, the lyrics and chords are also reminiscent of the band.  Looking back on it now, I think it’s weird that one of my all-time favorite REM songs is really just them riffing ironically on The Beach Boys. 

Not near enough…

English rockers XTC recorded a series of albums as their alter-egos The Dukes of Stratosphear and recorded “Pale and Precious,” a song that channels Wilson’s PET SOUNDS and SMILE-era lush production so well it borderlines on plagiarism. I feel weird mentioning the song because The Dukes were sort of a jokey-novelty, but “Pale and Precious” is too good to ignore.  Many people think these over-the-top homages are cheap, easy ripoffs but the amount of detail and knowledge required to create what essentially amounts to a “lost” Beach Boys song is incredible.  Anyone who willing to disregard the artistic merits of “Pale and Precious” can should try their hand at writing such a loving tribute–I have a feeling it’s harder than Andy Partridge makes it look.

Alt-rockers Everclear started their third album, SO MUCH FOR THE AFTERGLOW, with a massive Beach Boys nod on the album’s title track “So Much For The Afterglow.”  The song has an opening so Beach Boy-esque that when it comes on when I shuffle my iTunes I always mistake it for an actual Beach Boys song.  Jellyfish likewise opened their second album, the before-mentioned SPILT MILK, with “Hush” a lovely lullaby that exists thanks to The Beach Boys.

Sounds like The Beach Boys drunk on everclear.

Much like there are for The Beatles, there are a large contingent of modern bands who’s primary influence is The Beach Boys.  I vividly recall when California rockers Rooney broke onto the scene and were hailed by (the then-still somewhat musical) MTV as the “modern Beach Boys.”  The comparison wasn’t completely off-base, though I don’t think Rooney is as strongly connected to The Beach Boys as say,  South Carolina rockers The Explorers Club.   The Explorer’s Club have managed to cultivate a small, but growing fanbase with their supremely Beach Boys-like pop sound.  I  particularly enjoy their song “Run Run Run” of their most recent album GRAND HOTEL, which sounds like an eerily like an early 1970’s Beach Boy number.

This is a fantastic album, you should check it out.

If imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery, then Brian Wilson & Company must feel very flattered indeed.  It’s one thing to write a good song, it’s another thing to invent a unique style that others copy and build upon.  Below is a Spotify-playlist I’ve started for this interesting sub-sub-sub-genre of music, if you are a Spotify user please feel free to add songs you think fit into the category of Aping The Beach Boys. I’d be interested to see how massive the list can get.

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Muse’s iPad Bass

One thing has been really bugging me lately.  Well, that’s not true: a lot of things have been bugging me lately…but the only thing that’s been bugging me lately that’s in any way related to music is Muse’s bass player.  See, I was minding my own business, watching Saturday Night Live (SNL) when these clowns come on.

I know, I know.  The fault is mine, I should know better to watch SNL, but it’s a habit that I just can’t seem to shake.  Anyway, I was lame and watching it live, so I couldn’t use the DVR to skip over Muse (whom I really don’t care for).  As I tried not to pass out from sheer boredom, I couldn’t help but marvel and be disgusted by the bass players retro-fitted instrument.

I know SNL is a bit boring these days, but seriously? Playing Angry Birds during your set? Not cool, bro.

Is that an iPad?  Seriously?  I want everyone who made fun of me for playing ROCK BAND to jump on the “Muse’s-iPad-Bass-SUCKS” bandwagon immediately.

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Neil Young Is More Bummed Out By Kurt Cobain’s Death Than You

Rock ‘n Roll icon Neil Young just released an autobiography called Waging Heavy Peace and some of the book’s more choice nuggets are becoming 30 second sounds bytes on the 24-hour news shows.   One such story found in the book (which I haven’t read yet) is about Young’s involvement in the final days (and death) of Nirvana front-man Kurt Cobain.   Cobain’s suicide note famously quoted Young’s 1979 song “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black).”  Specifically the lyrics, “It’s better to burn out, than to fade away.”  The song was written for RUST NEVER SLEEPS and is about John Lyndon of The Sex Pistols abandoning his “Johnny Rotten” stage-persona.

Basically, a sad, sick kid heard Young’s song, which I’ve always interpreted as about creative death and rebirth, and took it more on face value.  That said, I can totally understand why Neil Young is still to this day shaken up by that.  What I didn’t know (until it came out in Young’s book) is that Young was actively reaching out to Cobain in the days leading up to his death.  Neil Young was recently interviewed by Classic Rock Magazine and reveled that “When he died and left that note, it struck a deep chord inside of me. It fucked with me.  I, coincidentally, had been trying to reach him. I wanted to talk to him. Tell him only to play when he felt like it.”

Neil Young: Rust never sleeps.

Interestingly, Cobain is not the only dead rock star to have interpreted Young’s song on a more literal level.  In 1980, John Lennon told Playboy “I hate it[“Hey Hey, My My “] It’s better to fade away like an old soldier than to burn out.”  Lennon, ever the provocative bastard who was always willing to say what most people might only think, went on to add: “If Neil Young admires that sentiment so much, why doesn’t he do it? Because he sure as hell faded away and came back many times, like all of us. No, thank you. I’ll take the living and the healthy.”

First off all, I think “Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)” is a fucking amazing song.  I can see how various people, at various stages of life (and metal status) might interpret it in different ways…but in general I think it’s a fantastic work of art that is pretty self-evident.  But if a person is in the wrong mindset (or worse looking for a more sinister reading of the song) can certainly find some really dark shit in Young’s tune.

That said, I personally think that  Young is right, in a creative sense it is better to burn out than fade away.  Lennon’s band The Beatles are a classic example of a group that burned out rather than fade away.  Their albums progressed and their sound evolved to such an astonishingly degree it can scarcely be believed (thankfully we have the records to prove it).   There were other factors at play, but I think part of the reason they broke up was over creative differences.

But I digress.  I know my opinion doesn’t matter, but I don’t think Neil Young should beat himself up too much about Cobain’s death, because it certainly wasn’t his fault.  I can’t imagine what it would feel like to have someone quote you in their suicide note.  All of this just puts Neil Young, and his work as an artist, into perspective and makes me really want to read Waging Heavy Peace.    

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