Monthly Archives: December 2013

CHINESE DEMOCRACY (Possibly) Worth More Than In 2012

Last night, while mining the depths of Amazon.com’s music section, I decided to check-in and see how much a brand-new copy of CHINESE DEMOCRACY was going for these days.  The last time I did this two years ago, I was horrified to see that the album was going for less than $4.00 a copy.  That was back on October 25 2012, would the album be selling for less than $2.00?

As you can see, the value of CHINESE DEMOCRACY was low in October of 2012.  This would have been the prime opportunity to "buy low"

As you can see, the value of CHINESE DEMOCRACY was low in October of 2012. This would have been the prime opportunity to “buy low”

Thankfully for Axl, the album’s value has…increased!?

$1.22 increase! A thousand shares of CHINESE DEMOCRACY could have netted you $1220 profit! That's simple rock 'n roll investing, folks

$1.22 increase! A thousand shares of CHINESE DEMOCRACY could have netted you $1220 profit! That’s simple rock ‘n roll investing, folks

I’m kicking myself for not checking the price last year and this year on October 25–not that doing that would provide a reliable barometer of the album’s value.  As most of you serious online shoppers know, the prices on Amazon.com are in a constant state of flux.

And even taking Amazon’s pricing system out of the equation, CHINESE DEMOCRACY has a couple of things working against it in terms of it’s price/value.  Firstly, the album was sadly panned by many critics and ignored by the public.  But bad reviews and a lack of singles doesn’t necessarily make a cut-out-bin record.  Even after all these years the name Guns N’ Roses as a brand still has remarkable value.

Secondly, and the biggest reason CHINESE DEMOCRACY’s value is so low is the fact that Axl twisted Best Buy’s arm and made them buy a bajillion copies in advance so they would have exclusive rights to the infamous album’s initial release.  It’s a smart move on his part, because the albums Best Buy bought to sell were counted as “sold” albums, thus making the album appear to be a bigger hit than it was.  AC/DC did a similar deal with Wal-Mart when they released BLACK ICE back in 2008.  But there’s a downside, much the same way a Chevy Impala don’t have much re-sale value because they’re used so much as fleet cars–Axl prematurely saturated the market with albums. Thus, an abundance of unsold albums means the price is gonna drop.  I can understand why bands do these store-exclusive releases, but I really dislike them.  CHINESE DEMOCRACY was probably one of the last new CD’s I bought at Best Buy because I dislike the store so much.

The album’s going for just under $5.00, which isn’t great but it is higher.  Of course, beyond the Amazon price-fluxing, this higher price could be due to inflation or some other over-reaching economic force I’m too stupid to understand.  I’m going to definitely try to keep an eye on the album’s price for future music-geek research.

That said, at less than $5.00 there’s no excuse for you to not own this album.  I’m going to pick-up where I left off on my track-by-track review of CHINESE DEMOCRACY soon-ish because I really do feel like it’s an amazing, underrated album. The merger of Industrial rock and tender piano ballads is just too incredible.

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Kaiser Chiefs Carry On With “Misery Company”

Brit-rockers The Kaiser Chiefs have released a brand new song off their upcoming album EDUCATION, EDUCATION, EDUCATION & WAR.  The album, which will be the bands fifth, marks the first since drummer/lead-songwriter Nick Hodgson quit the band in 2012.  The new song, titled “Misery Company,” is pretty good and raises hopes that the band will pull themselves out of their death-spiral-of-mediocrity.

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I loved the first two Kaiser Chief albums and had high hopes for the boys from Leeds. The band combined the best parts of 90’s Brit-pop with punk and a danceable beat.  But public and critical reaction to the band’s second album YOURS TRULY, ANGRY MOB was the beginning of a decline for the band. Their third album, OFF WITH THEIR HEADS was the last one I sought out and listened to.  I haven’t been able to get the courage up to listen to their fourth album, THE FUTURE IS MEDIEVAL.  The law of diminishing returns now haunts the band.

“Misery Company” is pretty good.  It has the hallmarks of classic Kaiser Chiefs with it’s chugging beat and droning guitars.  The keyboards and maniacal laughing are nice touches, too.  I do wish the song had more memorable/catchy lyrics and was a little more aggressive.  The song’s good, but feels more like a second or third string single. Had the band been on a tremendous roll, I’d say they were just holding back the good stuff–but at this point I think “Misery Company” probably is the good stuff.

I guess it’s true what they once said: Everything is average nowadays.

EDUCATION, EDUCATION, EDUCATION & WAR comes out on March 31, 2014.

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St. Vincent and the Business-side of “Birth In Reverse”

St. Vincent’s new single is out, and boy is it great. It fills me with optimism regarding the singer/songwriter/weirdo’s forthcoming album ST. VINCENT.  Even though this will be the singer’s fourth album, much fuss was made in the media regarding the fact that ST. VINCENT will be her first major label album.  Why is this a big deal? I personally don’t care what sort of label is releasing her album, but after I read a few news articles online I noticed that all of them went out of their way to mention that this new record would be her first on a major label.

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None of these articles came out and said so, but what I inferred was that this new record is going to be St. Vincent’s first real album.  Like somehow being on a Universal imprint label (that’s right, folks, the album is going to be put out on a smaller record label owned by a conglomerate) legitimizes her as an artist.  Though can that really be the case?  Maybe I’m reading into this incorrectly…the only other thing I could think is that perhaps people view this as St. Vincent selling out.  Ugh, I hate the business side of the music business.

I don’t think that the freaky-lady who recorded one of the best albums of 2012 with David Byrne is only now a legitimate force in the music world because Universal is going to foot the bill to put out her next record.  I also don’t think anyone capable of releasing such a bizarre, interesting record with David Byrne is capable of selling out.

Anyway, St. Vincent’s new single “Birth in Reverse” is as funky and weird as one would hope from the lanky songstress.  That said, one definitely gets the sense that she’s learned a thing or two from hanging out with pop-freak Byrne.  “Birth in Reverse” maybe strange, but it’s also catchy and has a rad fuzzy-guitar riff.  Say what you will about The Talking Heads, but the band always put out catchy but off-kilter songs.  So, if Ms. Clark is going to take musical cues from David Byrne, I’ll forgive her for going to Christina Aguilera hairstylist.

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METAL MONDAY: Zombies & Venezuelan Thrash Metal

This week marks the return of METAL MONDAY. I’ve got a lengthy list of bands I plan on featuring in upcoming METAL MONDAY posts, but today I want to spotlight Kraptor.

Hailing from Venezuela, Kraptor are an awesome thrash metal band. What I like about Kraptor is the band’s above-average musicianship and sense of humor.  Kraptor know how to play their instruments but avoid that cold, sterile sound many wanna-be-virtuosos usually crank out.  The band has a tight, professional sound but don’t take themselves too seriously.  I love a metal band that can play their instruments but are also unafraid to be fun.  

Kraptor, don't they look fun?

Kraptor, don’t they look fun?

The band’s sense of humor is refreshing in a genre filled with deathly serious/super angry bands.  Kraptor’s album, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, is a thrash metal concept album that spoofs B-movie horror movies but still manages to knock you socks off.  The killer cuts are interspersed with short newsbreaks reporting on the chaos caused by a plague of zombies.

While this ain’t Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, Kraptor’s album works for me thanks in large part to the juxtaposition of the melodic yet muscular tunes and hilarious zombie-outbreak story.

The album as a whole is strong, but I highly recommend “Civil Disobedience” and “Damage Brain.”  There’s a particularly propulsive guitar solo near the end of “Civil Disobedience” that made me sit up and take notice.  Kraptor is a great little band that deserve more attention here in the States, and while the the band doesn’t seem to have an official website,  you can follow them on Twitter.  I recommend you do so.

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Obscure Song Detective: The Case of the Mysterious “Banana”

One of the true joys of being obsessed with music is the endless hunt for one’s next favorite song.  This chase for new bands and songs is what keeps me going.  People think I actively seek out obscure bands and songs because I’m a snob—but really I just ran out of mainstream stuff.  It’s rare that I’ll hear something on the radio and not know what I’m hearing. When it happens, I get really excited and I feel like a desert wanderer who has just spotted an oasis.

I was driving to work when I heard a song on the radio that I’d never heard before.  It sounded like a live Bob Marley & The Wailers track.  This was at 7:09am on the morning of September 27, 2013.  I know this because I did what I always do when I hear something unknown: I took out my phone and used the Shazam app.   Shazam is probably my all-time favorite app, it’s great because it saves nerds like me from falling in love with a song and then never getting to hear it again.

I used the app and Shazam tells me that the song is called “Hooligan” and is taken from an album titled ONE LOVE AT STUDIO ONE.  This album contains some of the earliest Bob Marley material available, which explains why I vaguely recognized Marley’s vocals but not the song.  I liked “Hooligan” so I went on Spotify to see if the track was available.  The ONE LOVE AT STUDIO ONE album was not on Spotify, but “Hooligan” was available on a reggae compilation titled ORIGINAL SKA.  By the time I’d done this, I was sitting in the parking lot of my office building, so I bookmarked the album and went inside.

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Later that day on the way home I fired up Spotify and gave “Hooligan” a listen.  The track didn’t really move me the way it did earlier in the day.  It was probably a different version than what I heard on the radio.  Regardless,  I let the compilation play and discovered it contained a pretty good cover of “Son of a Preacher Man” by a band called The Gaylettes.  The sound quality was terrible, but the vibe on the track blew me away.  I got home and eyed the list of songs on ORIGINAL SKA.  One track stood out among all the others: “Banana.”  A reggae song called “Banana,” how cool was that?  My mind reeled with the possibilities.  Life is full of letdowns, and I’ve learned that very little ever lives up to our expectations.  Still, I had to hear this song because it had such an interesting title.   I figured the song would give me a chuckle and I’d move on with my life.  Instead, I stumbled onto an incredibly awesome song with a murky, mysterious past.

Rather than being the depressing banana-picking song I had expected, “Banana” is a joyous ode to everyone’s favorite elongated, yellow fruit.  It’s lighthearted, fun, and has a tremendous amount of charm. I played the song over and over for a few minutes, grinning from ear to ear like a moron.  “Banana” is an awesome song that I truly love.  I know I love it because I can’t rationally explain my affection for it.

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I played the song for my wife and the members of my family, everyone who heard it liked it.  “Banana” and it’s goofy lyrics even became a kind of shorthand between my and one of my sisters. I began texting them pictures of myself eating a banana with the caption “Everybody like it!” a lyric from the song.  For most people, the story would end there: I found a really cool, obscure reggae song that cheers everybody up…The End.  But being the songhound that I am, I couldn’t just stop there.  I had to know was there more where this came from?  Did the genius that cooked up “Banana” have a really great song about blintzes? I started by looking at ORIGINAL SKA which attributes “Banana” to an artist named E.K. Bunch.  I did the logical thing, I clicked over to see what other songs E.K. Bunch had available on Spotify.  But this proved to be a dead-end; there was only “Banana.”

I was confident that Google would provide more clues, so I searched E.K. Bunch “Banana” song.  I was directed to a couple of videos where the people had recorded the song off their old 45 copies, but there was little else.  Interestingly, I noticed that the song was often attributed to E.K. Bunch/The Pyramids.  This was my first clue to the origin of “Banana.”   But information proved to be scare on The Pyramids, so  I kept listening to “Banana” and put the search for its source on hold.  I didn’t give up per say, life just got in the way: I moved 800 miles away from my home in St. Louis and Thanksgiving happened.  This week, however, I found myself in a strange city with no job but with lots of time on my hands.  So I decided to get to the bottom of the E.K. Bunch mystery.

A visit to the Trojan Records website explained why tracking down “Banana” was so difficult: it turns out the band behind the song went by a bunch of names (pun intended).  They were The Bees, Seven Letters, The Pyramids, E.K. Bunch, Zubaba, and Symarip.  That last name, Symarip, was the key to blowing the lid off the entire “Banana” mystery.  Having gained a majority of their fame as Symarip, this band name is the catch-all for the others.   The band started out as The Bees and was formed in the 1960s by Michael Thomas and Frank Pitter who were of West Indian descent and lived in the United Kingdom.  Eventually, The Bees added members and moved to Germany.

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The band became Zubaba then The Pyramids and then ended up switching labels due to a dispute and wound up unable to use their name.  Someone in the band decided to change their name to Pyramid spelled backwards…minus the letter ‘d.’ Somehow this name, probably with the help of a mystical herb, morphed into Symarip. This became the name they released and re-issued their songs under.  Once I had all this figured out, I went back on Spotify and found a really cool live version of “Banana” on an album titled MOONSTOMPIN’ AT CLUB SKA.

While browsing the band’s Spotify page, I noticed that Symarip had a ton of songs about skinheads. I even realized, upon re-listening to “Banana,” that skinheads are mentioned in the song! How had I missed this earlier? I was shocked and worried.  I was shocked because in the United States, and unfortunately most of the world today, the term skinhead has a very negative connotation.  I was worried because it appeared on the surface that my new favorite song was racists!

Apparently the term skinhead has changed meaning over the years thanks in large part to a few bad apples.  The skinhead movement began in the 1950s in the UK.  At that time, a skinhead was basically a kid that wore work boots and jeans and liked American R&B music.  These kids got together in dance halls and listened to ska and reggae music—which is why Symarip has a ton of songs devoted to skinheads.  Eventually some of the skinheads became violent in the late 1960s and the term became associated with the White Power Movement in Europe.

It’s amazing to me that a chance encounter with a really old Bob Marley song led me down a path ending with the White Power Movement.   This is the amazing part of being a music geek,  the discovery not only of old music…but of the past itself.  Maybe I get a bigger kick out of this sort of thing because I was briefly a history major in college, I don’t know.  What I do know is that I love falling down the rabbit hole into obscure music and learning all these strange tidbits of trivia.

CASE CLOSED: “Banana” is an awesome song, dashed off by an obscure reggae band that changed its name multiple times. The first thing that you should do is go and listen to the song.  Then listen to it again and again, dance if necessary.  Then visit Trojan records website and read the entire history of The Pyramids.

Also, check out this pretty rad live version:

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“Vincent Van Gough” by Resistor

It’s not often, but sometimes a song hits you at the exact right moment in your life.  As a fat, midwestern schlub writing music reviews on his Axl Rose-themed blog, Resistor’s “Vincent Van Gough” struck a nerve.  I guess what I’m trying to say is: please take this review with a grain of (rock) salt, because this song got my number in a big, big way.

"Is it any wonder I reject you first?"

“Fame: Is it any wonder I reject you first?”

Resistor is synthpop band languishing in obscurity that is poised to release their first album…soon-ish.  The album’s single/central thesis is “Vincent Van Gough.”  The song is a tongue-in-cheek look at fame starvation in the Internet age.  The song is an anthem for all those lonely Brony’s trying, and failing, to achieve fame online: like I said, it hit close to home for me.

Synthesizers have always fascinated me, so Resistor’s synth-chic rubbed me the right way.  Lyrically the song has a very Ray Davies cheery-but-dark sensibility that plays well against the bouncy, upbeat synth accompaniment.  The song gleefully name-checks a bunch of really talent people who didn’t achieve fame until after their death (hence the song’s title).  I particularly loved the chorus, “I always heard, if you build it they’ll come, but if that doesn’t work, you can always try dying young.” Every time I hear those lines I smile but also involuntarily wince. Fame’s a bitch.

Go take a listen to “Vincent Van Gough” over at Resistor’s SoundCloud page.

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FERAL II: WILDLIFE by New Fad Zoo

New, New Fad Zoo

Barbeques, pool parties, hot chicks, cool dudes and everything in between: welcome to the world of New Fad Zoo.  The Atlanta-based rap group’s second album, FERAL II: WILDLIFE, is another trip down the rabbit hole of expertly crafted music.  Just like on their 2011 debut record, New Fad Zoo blur the lines of genre.  The band expertly marries thoughtful, sometimes funny, lyrics with top-notch musicality.  These guys can do it all: write catchy hooks, pivot from jesting to serious philosophical musing, and create a musically diverse album. 

I was initially skeptical when I saw that band had chosen to name their second album FERAL II.  The idea of sequels, in any media, usually conjures thoughts of desperate cash-ins and creative bankruptcy. Fortunately, FERAL II: WILDLIFE takes the focus and energy of FERAL and expands upon what New Fad Zoo has already done.  Not only did the band avoid the dreaded sophomore slump, but they managed to surpass their first record in every respect.

The delightfully cheeky album opener “Party Animals” asserts dominance over the listener with its funky groove and big cat growl.  New Fad Zoo tosses this goodtime party song off effortlessly, as if writing a fun song were breathing.  The moody “Strobe Lights” explores the darker side of love and the desire for fame and has a hauntingly cold, electronic sound that recalls Kanye West’s 808s AND HEARTBREAKS. Meanwhile the album closer “You Are Loved” is a tender ballad that manages to combine late 1980’s Billy Joel and Outcast (and that’s a good thing).  Any band would be lucky to master one style, New Fad Zoo is adept at all three: modern party song, moody electronic rap, and classic R&B.

FERAL II presents the listener with the complicated worldview of talented young men.  The band’s attitude towards drugs, alcohol, and women schizophrenically seesaws over the course of the album.  Like all good heroes, the boys of New Fad Zoo are complicated–sometimes falling into the trap of objectifying women yet also acknowledging on the track “Triangle” that: “if I had a daughter, I’d surely be pissed if a nigga dared harmed her, but that’s the world we be living in.” The song interestingly asserts that there are three groups in the battle of the sexes: Men, Women, and Bitches.  The song’s hook is sung by the angelic Melanie Annabelle who proclaims, “Women hate bitches, bitches hate men, men want the bitches, and women want men.” New Fad Zoo don’t pass judgment other than to point out that “it’s a fucked up world.” Indeed.

Will Rap 4 Food

New Fad Zoo’s first album had what I proclaimed to be a billion dollar single with “Love Is Wild.”  That song sadly failed to get snatched up by Madison Avenue ad executives or the numbskulls at Clear Channel.  I foolishly didn’t think they boys had it in them to craft another perfect single, but once again they surprised me and minted another $1B song: “Luv Is.”   The hauntingly beautiful hook, provided by Melanie Annabelle, and the awesome Beatles shout-out sold me on the song.  After listening to “Luv Is” a dozen times I’m confident in saying that this is the best song not on the radio today.

It’s easy to gush about FERAL II: WILDLIFE because like its predecessor, the album is the clear result of what happens when talent people pour their hearts out into their work.  There isn’t a single track that feels dashed off or undercooked.  New Fad Zoo clearly loves crafting, not just making, music and it shows.  No track sums this up like “Want It So Bad.” Part inspirational anthem, part pep-talk to themselves, “Want It So Bad” is the answer to the question of whether or not there will be a third New Fad Zoo album–and I can’t wait.

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Morrissey drops “Satellite of Love”

British crooner, and former Smiths singer, Morrissey released a live cover of Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love” today.  The song was apparently recorded two years ago in Las Vegas, but is just now being released to no doubt honor the recently deceased Velvet Underground member.  That, and the Moz also has an audio book coming out this week, but I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.  Even if it is a bit of a gimmicky-marketing release, the cover is really good.

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I’m probably gonna catch a lot of hell for this but: I’m not a big Lou Reed fan.  He has a couple of really good songs, but overall I think he’s a bit overrated.  That said, I think that Reed’s songs work best when he’s being covered (I call this the Bob Dylan-effect). Morrissey brings his usual charm and almost embarrassingly earnestness to the song, which increases my appreciation of “Satellite of Love.”  In fact, if I hadn’t just re-listened to Reed’s TRANSFORMER I’d have sweared this was an original song.

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