“Crash” by Against Me!

I’d pretty much written off fun pop-punk as something that only existed in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Punk is one of those genres that really belongs to young people, and when a new crop of artists didn’t spring up to replace the old guard…well we ended up with old punks. Nothing is more depressing to me than old punks. I’m not going to hijack this post, which is about a great new Against Me! song, by bashing Green Day. But boy is it difficult for me to not bash Green Day.

 

Shape_Shift_with_Me_artwork.jpg

Young and old punks appreciate clean boots. 

 

Anyway, I was vaguely aware of Against Me! but hadn’t really heard them until a few months ago when a podcast I listen to turned me onto their latest single “Crash.”I was blown away not just because the song is catchy as hell, but because it seemed to reinvigorate my interest in the pop-punk genre. Leaning more pop than punk, this track has a nice buoyant quality to it. The lyrics, while pretty straightforward, do a good job of reflecting on getting older without getting bogged down in the typical old-punk lameness. This song impressed me so much, that I wound up listening to all of SHAPE SHIFT WITH ME, the band’s new album. It’s a great record, one that will definitely end up on Best of 2016 end of year list. I thought about reviewing it now but decided to focus on this song because it’s so damn good.

It’s been a tough week, take a moment to check out “Crash” and forget about your troubles for a while. The band released an awesome KISS-inspired music video for the song, check it out:

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

NEW SKIN by CRX

Led by Nick Valensi, the lead guitarist of The Strokes, CRX’s debut album NEW SKIN is an interesting mix of Strokes-ish indie rock and a blend of influences ranging from throwback classic rock, shimmering pop, desert rock (!) and even metal. I didn’t have CRX on my radar until the official Strokes Facebook page mentioned that Nick’s album was releasing at the end of October. I knew that this was going to be an album for me when I saw that the first comment on the post bemoaned the fact that NEW SKIN had such a strong pop sound.

unnamed-26.jpg

At this point in time, The Strokes are a bit like the UN: a good idea in theory that doesn’t ever seem to pan out in the real world. Maybe that’s a bit harsh, but the last record produced by the band was really forgettable. It’s a shame, too, because they’re a talented bunch of lads. This has been proved time and again as the various band members have put out great solo records. Guitarist and keyboard player Albert Hammond Jr. has put a couple of jaw-droppingly good records over the years (seriously, go check them out) and lead singer Julian Casablancas put out an electronic-infused album a  few years ago that had a couple of great tracks I still listen to today. Valensi’s band CRX now joins the esteemed pantheon of Strokes-solo projects that  make me miss the glory days of the band.

When NEW SKIN opens, it sounds like The Strokes doing The Cars with a dash of Cheap Trick. Because I’m such a fan of power-pop I got really excited by the album’s first few tracks. In particular, the album’s opening track “Ways to Fake It” which, if I’m being honest, sounds like a lost cut off The Strokes FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF EARTH. Rather than mumble and moan like Casablancas, Valensi’s voice is refreshingly presented crystal clear and I think this is what saves the song from being a straight-up Strokes track. “Ways to Fake It” is the best track on the album and the perfect choice for a single to entice Strokes fans to listen to the rest of the album. The second track “Broken Bones”is a moody slow-burn with some great guitar work. I also really liked the loopy New Wave “Anything” and “Unnatural” which reminded me of early Queens of the Stone Age (of all things).

The second track “Broken Bones”is a moody slow-burn with some great guitar work. I also really liked the loopy New Wave “Anything” which reminded me of Albert Hammond Jr.’s first solo record YOURS TO KEEP. The out-of-left-field”Unnatural” also tickled my fancy, mostly because it reminded me of early Queens of the Stone Age (of all things). I wasn’t expecting the album to pivot as much as it did near the middle and end, but pivot it does. The last few tracks on the album lean heavily on hard rock and metal side of things. Particularly “On Edge” which definitely has a Motörhead vibe and the final track “Monkey Machine.” Despite these variations, CRX never really enters the metal genre proper the veneer of pop polish coats all of these songs. And this is my biggest criticism of NEW SKIN is that it plays things a little too safe, Valensi gets right up to the edge of doing stuff his fellow bandmates aren’t doing (either in The Strokes or solo) but doesn’t commit and cross that line. Valensi, who I think has a good voice, just isn’t up to the challenge of coloring outside the lines of the typical indie-rock vocal performance.

I think that NEW SKIN is a solid debut that I hope is the first of many records. I’d like to see the band explore more of their roots and influences a bit more and challenge themselves with a bit of experimentation. Hopefully by doing this CRX will be able to justify their existence as more than just a placeholder until Valensi’s other band gets back to work.

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Campaign to Send Me to See Kanye West Official Over

You might recall a few months ago when I started a Go Fund Me campaign in order to send me to Las Vegas to see Kanye West perform live. Don’t remember that? Well, it happened. Fueled by the  desperation to see the man perform LIFE OF PABLO live in person and a lack of funds in order to travel outside of Denver, I emulated my musical hero and took to the Internet in order to (essentially) beg for money. So how did I do? Well, I made $6 more than Kanye made when he infamously sought money from Internet Zillionaire/Facebook Mogul Mark Zuckerberg…of course, that means I only raised $6. Well short of the $900 I was asking for. Now, let me admit now that that figure was pretty high, but consider the fact that I need airfare, a hotel, and a ticket to Yeezus’s show. I only guestimated, so $900 might have been on the low side…who knows?

yeezus-denver

The campaign is over, I’m no longer accepting donations, mostly because it’s too late for me to raise money to attend the Vegas show. But don’t shed any tears for this middle-aged rock blogger, for every time Yeezus closes one door he immediately opens another (and then tweets about it). This week it was announced the second leg of Kanye’s tour would come to my beloved Denver, Colorado! Huzzah! So this Friday at 10:00am I’m dusting off my credit card and paying whatever number fate demands I pay in order to see Mr. West. I wish the show wasn’t on the Monday after Thanksgiving, but we do what we can with what we are given, right?

I’m going to document the shit out of this concert, so stay tuned for updates!

Tagged , , , , , ,

LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL by The Beatles

I can’t think of a band I associate less with live performance than The Beatles. That’s partly because the group was long disbanded by the time I was born in the early 1980’s (thus no chance of me ever seeing them live). But for the most part, it’s because The Beatles so famously turned their back on touring and became the quintessential studio band. Over the years I’ve heard a handful of live Beatle recordings, mostly from the LIVE AT THE BBC double-album. I remember getting my hands on that set way back in my early Beatle-years and promptly tossing it aside. It’s not that the band was bad in concert, it’s just that live recordings from the era in which the Beatles performed live are spotty at best. So when it was announced that LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL would be coming out in conjunction with Ron Howard’s Beatle documentary THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK, I bookmarked the release date but didn’t hurry to get around to listening to it until recently.

LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL documents several concerts from August of 1965, near the very end of the groups touring life. Released originally in 1977, LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL has been remastered and remixed. I was pleasantly surprised at how good these recordings sound. I would say that this album is 100% absolutely the best live recordings of The Beatles I’ve ever heard. That said, the performances are solid but ultimately pale comparisons of their studio counterparts. It’s been argued that George Martin is the so-called fifth Beatle, these recordings help make that argument in my opinion. It’s not that the band is terrible live, it’s just that the songs are so damn good on the studio recordings.

beatles

I may be a bit biased, as live albums really aren’t my thing. The only way a live recording can move beyond the good and into the essential is when they capture the intensity of their performance and bring something new to the table. Many songs recorded live differ from their studio versions, either because of technical limitations (no string section? no problem!) or because playing the same song over and over  gets boring for bands and they do something a little different. These live embellishments separate the hacks from the great artists. A decent song can become sublime when stretched out into an intense extended jam. Guitar heroics/wankery can also take a live recording to the next level.  Sadly, LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL was recorded before the 1970’s, arguably the heyday of the live album. Thus, The Beatles are just performing their songs as best as they can like they appear on the albums.

What LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL is missing is between-the-songs banter. The few times Lennon announces the next song with a goofy voice is a real treat. It’s a shame that there isn’t more of this sort of stuff on the album because it’s something the studio albums don’t have. What there is plenty of, however, is screaming girls. Famously one of the reasons the band quit touring, the girls are screaming on LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL. And. They. Don’t. Stop. It almost feels like a parody there’s so much crowd noise on the recording. Though it never goes away, the audience never really gets in the way, either. I chalk this up to an expert remastering. Ironically, those who’ve listened to LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL have probably heard the concert better than those who attended the show. One of the Beatles (I think it’s Lennon if I recall correctly) even asks the crowd at one point, “Can you hear us?”

Overall, LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL is a fantastic musical artifact. The album is a bubble of amber perfectly preserving a fly (or Beatle) for all time. I’ve listened to it all the way through three times and frankly can’t imagine putting it on again. I’d much rather listen to the albums. LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL is really just for completist and band scholars (such as myself) and not an essential recording. The album has made me want to see Howard’s documentary, which apparently a Hulu-exclusive (which bums me out because now I have to wrangle a Hulu account in order to see it).

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

End of September 2016 New Song Round-Up

Well, it’s officially autumn! As summer fades into the distance, a middle-aged rock nerd’s thoughts turn to assembling a Best of The Year list. I haven’t done one since 2012, mostly because I wasn’t focused enough on music throughout the year. I’ve slacked off a bit this month, hence a New Song Round-Up post for September. I wish I could say I was busy doing something awesome, but the sad truth is I just couldn’t get myself focused enough to sit down and write anything up. Some big albums dropped in the last two weeks and I’m determined to get at least two album reviews out before October. We’ll see if that pans out (don’t hold your breath).

Anyway, without further ado, here are some new songs that hit the airwaves (???) and my radar this month. I’m sure I missed something, let me know what I should have paid attention to down in the comments.

The Defending Axl Rose End of September 2016 New Song Round-Up

“I Love the USA” by Weezer: You know that Best of 2016 list I mentioned above? Weezer’s latest THE WHITE ALBUM is 100% a lock for a top 5 spot. I can’t believe how much I disliked it upon first listen and how much it’s grown on me. Seriously, if you haven’t checked it out do yourself a favor and pick it up. It’s great. What’s not so great is this B-side, “I Love the USA.” I really don’t know what to make of this track, to be honest. Apparently, this song was written to commemorate a successful NASA mission to Jupiter. You really wouldn’t get that from the lyrics (at least, I didn’t), but luckily Rivers Cuomo was nice enough to tweet an explanation. The song starts off as a soft piano ballad before building into a super-jingoistic guitar jam. With lyrics like “fuck yeah, this place is great/God save the King/God save the King” it’s easy to see how I missed the whole NASA commemoration point. This track probably would have worked better if it was ironic (maybe a scathing indictment of how messed up the country is?). The whole thing ends with a line about a missing boy who “didn’t make it.” What does this have to do with the Juno probe to Jupiter? I have no idea, and frankly, I don’t care. Sadly, “I Love the USA” isn’t the outlier in the modern Weezer canon, but instead that new album is the odd duck out (because it’s good).

Am I being too hard on Weezer? Let me know, I honestly can’t tell anymore.

 

“Hyper Dark” by Sleigh Bells: I really, really, really, really loved that first Sleigh Bells album. I had high hopes for the band but three albums in, I’m starting to lose faith. Modern bands that explode onto the scene seem to have a dismal track record for sticking around. It’s not that these bands aren’t talented, I think the issue is that labels don’t let bands percolate long enough. Then again, The Beatles cranked out hit after hit at a breakneck pace. Maybe the problem is that most of these bands are really only  capable of one good album? That’s exactly one great album more than I have inside of me, so forgive me if that seems judgmental.

Anyway, this new track from Sleigh Bells, “Hyper Dark” is ushering in a fourth album JESSICA RABBIT (which comes out in November). The song starts off a bit boring but rebounds into something almost interesting. It’s missing the brash brutality of TREATS, instead favoring an 80’s-ish dream pop quality. I wish the guitars were a tad louder, like on the band’s other new track “It’s Just Us Now.” That track had the bombast that made Sleigh Bells famous and got me excited about this new album. If JESSICA RABBIT strikes an equal balance between loud/fun Sleigh Bells and the quieter, more experimental stuff (like “Hyper Dark”) then this might be the follow-up album I’ve been waiting for.

 

“Waste A Moment” by Kings of Leon: If you’d gone back in time and told me how lame Kings of Leon were going to become when I first heard “Red Morning Light” back in 2003, I would have laughed in your face. YOUTH AND YOUNG MANHOOD is a stone-cold classic, a truly fantastic southern fried garage rock album. “Waste A Moment” is bland vanilla pudding. I’m not sure what about this song’s production is sapping it of all of its visceral energy, but this song could possibly put me to sleep. There’s no passion, no urgency to this song. I think the last Kings of Leon album I gave a fuck about was 2007’s BECAUSE OF THE TIMES. What happened to this band? They lost their balls and got dump trucks full of money. I don’t begrudge them from making a living, and hell yes I’m super jealous they have millions of 50-year-old women swooning at their shows now, but where is the band that wrote a song about Molly’s…ahem…chamber? The band has a new album, WALLS, coming out soon but just like the last two records, I’ll be sitting WALLS out. The only reason I even wrote about this track is because I wanted to mention how fucking great YOUTH AND YOUNG MANHOOD is. It’s great. Go listen to that, skip this song.

 

“Perfect Illusion” by Lady Gaga: I bet you think I’m going to trash this song, but I actually really dig it. When I saw that Lady Gaga had a new single out I decided to give it a listen mainly out of curiosity. Okay, I’ll admit…I wanted to see just how bad it was. I really like THE FAME and thought that Gaga was going to be my generation’s Madonna or whatever…instead she kinda became a disappointment/one trick pony whose only real talent was shocking little old ladies with meat dresses. To my surprise, Lady Gaga decided to channel Bruce Springsteen (and 90’s R&B)! While it’s a typical our-love-was-a-lie song, there’s passion in the vocals. I honestly wouldn’t have known this was a Lady Gaga song had I not known it was her. I guess I’ll have to give the new album a listen (barring any sort of freaky ass album art).

 

“Revolution Radio” by Green Day: You know, I think I was too harsh on Green Day last month when they released their song “Bang Bang.” I don’t think that “Revolution Radio” is the best Green Day song of the last 10 years, but it certainly isn’t terrible. And compared to “Bang Bang” it’s a 10/10 masterpiece. Sure, the cherry bombs and snarling is a bit cliche (and silly coming from dudes this old), this track sounds like Green Day. Not my little sister’s Green Day, but the version of the band that I remember listening to in the late 1990’s. The opening reminds me of the theme song for the old Colbert Show, but that’s my problem (not the song’s fault). “Revolution Radio” sticks with the protest themes we’ve come to expect from latter-day Green Day (“legalize the truth,” seriously guys?), but I can’t help but wonder what a snarling party anthem from old-ass Green Day would sound like. I wouldn’t mind if the band stopped being so serious and got a little fun. A little fun never hurt anyone guys.

So that’s it for the new songs of September! There was a new Beach Slang single released, but the album came out today and I decided to just do a write-up of that rather than feature the track here. Like I said above, I’m sure I missed something so please tell me below!

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Check Out This Video For “Approximately 900 Miles” by Harrison Fjord

Arizona musicians Harrison Fjord have a couple of really great things going for them. For starters, they have one of the best pun band names this side of Ringo Deathstarr. Secondly, they make awesomely atmospheric music that falls somewhere between jazz and psychedelic rock. The band sounds like a mellow, laid back Pink Floyd. I ran across them because they gained a bit of Internet fame thanks to a super-cool music video for their track “Approximately 900 Miles.” The song is a cornerstone of their most recent EP, PUSPA IN SPACE.

a1112853986_10

The band apparently shot the video high up on the Mogollon Rim, bringing a generator to power their gear. I really dig the song and respect the hell out of them for putting out such a cool, creative video in this day and age (aren’t music videos all but dead?). If you enjoy indie rock that’s a bit quiet and a whole lot spacey, give Harrison Fjord a listen.

And even if you aren’t interested in jazzy-psych-rock from Arizona, check out this rad music video:

They don’t make ’em like they used to…

Tagged , , , , , , ,

METAL MONDAY: Mac Sabbath Is The Fast-Food Themed Black Sabbath Cover Band You Never Knew You Needed

Have you ever gotten something and wondered how you lived your life without it? I know I existed prior to getting an iPhone, but it’s changed how I live so fundamentally that I honestly can’t imagine going to back to a life without it. Well buckle-up kids, because you’re about to have a life-altering experience. Seriously, you’ll never be the same once you see and hear Mac Sabbath.

Well buckle-up kids, because you’re about to have a life-altering experience. Seriously, you’ll never be the same once you see and hear Mac Sabbath. What is Mac Sabbath? It’s a fast-food themed Black Sabbath tribute band. Well, I guess they’re kinda/sorta a tribute band. See, they don’t just dress up like McDonald’s characters and sing Black Sabbath songs, they change the lyrics in order to attack and expose the evils of the fast-food industry. The band is equal parts metal band, post-modern art, and political satire. Mac Sabbath is definitely one of those things that’s too good to be true.

macsabbath-album.jpg

Take for example “Frying Pan” which is the band’s take on the classic Sabbath song “Iron Man.” Mac Sabbath turns the song into a (humorous) indictment of the fast-food industry from the perspective of the poor wage-slave making our pink slime-infused meals.

“I once burned your meal
My old job was cooking veal
Now it’s a culinary crime
All our future is pink slime”

And of course they’re able to work in a gluten reference:

“Everybody wants it
On gluten bleached flour bread
Everybody needs it
Till they’re fat and dead”

I can’t image writing lyrics to songs, let alone writing lyrics all around a single theme and making them fit into the framework of an established song. A lot of people try their hand at this, and while there are a few standouts who really do a good job, I feel like most comedic attempts at parody songs are just that: attempts. Mac Sabbath really hit it out of the park on their songs. I listened to six of their songs and all six were well-done (pun intended).

While the members of Mac Sabbath are talented satirists, it’s worth noting that they could also pass as a pretty decent Black Sabbath cover band. The music sounds remarkably good for something so batshit crazy. You can tell that besides really hating the fast-food industry, the members of Mac Sabbath really love Black Sabbath.  Sure, the drummer is dressed just like the Hamburgler, but he’s also a damn good drummer.

PROMO_Mac-sabbath

Drive-Thru Metal is Finger Lickin’ Good

These guys are based in L.A. but apparently tour just like any other rock band. And just like Kiss or Ghost (B.C.) they stay in character most of the time and always appear on stage in full regalia. The band even has hilarious metal/McDonald’s mash-up stage names like Ronald Osbourne, Slayer McCheeze, Grimalice, and Catburgler.

Considering such how detrimental to our bodies and the environment fast-food is, making them the fodder of a metal band makes 100% perfect sense. McDonald’s is far more nefarious and scarier than say, popular metal villain, Satan. I would love to know what the good folks at McDonald’s think about this band (though I can guess) and I’d also like to know what Black Sabbath thinks about them as well. Considering that band plays with the intellectual property of two mega-corporations (McDonald’s being a tad bigger than Black Sabbath) I’m kinda shocked these guys are able to exist.

I’m probably late to the Mac Sabbath party, but I had to write about this band because it’s one of the more creative things I’ve seen this year. And, hilariously enough, they’re the most balls-out metal thing I’ve encountered in years (thanks to Cartoon Network canceling Metalacolypse). 

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

ROCK ‘N’ MAILBAG #4: Chris Mess

Welcome to the fourth installment of my semi-irregular series Rock ‘N Mailbag! For a few months now, I’ve been getting solicitations via email from independent artists wishing me to review their albums.  I’m not sure how these people are finding me, but rather than dismiss them, I’ve decided to listen to them and give them a little love.

It’s been awhile since I fired up the old rock ‘n’mailbag so I decided to dip in and see what was inside. Back in March, I got an email from Chris Niccoli who headlines a Seattle-based glam rock band Chris Mess. First off, this band gets immediate points for having a pun-band name. I thought that perhaps that Chris Mess was a person but once I said it out loud a few times I got the joke. The Chris Mess Bandcamp page describes the band as “A bit loud Cheap Trick strut, with a smattering of absurdity and vocal craziness a la Queen, The Darkness, Ziggy-era David Bowie, and The Sweet.” I’d agree with that assessment and say that band’s sound is definitely reminiscent of all the bands mentioned. There’s a fun throwback quality to the band’s sound that I dig.

Screen Shot 2016-08-28 at 10.32.47 AM

Chris’s vocals aren’t quite as wild and crazy as bands like The Darkness, but there’s some high-pitched wailing going on. The CHRIS MESS EP is seven songs, five originals, one cover (David Bowie’s “Suffragette City”), and an acapella version of the first track. The production is clean and modernizes the band’s sound enough so you can tell that Chris Mess is a modern artist and not of the era they’re repping. I really enjoyed “Bong for your Mom,” which has a groove and some sweet harmonies. According to the Bandcamp site, the track is about Seattle’s cannabis scene. I also really enjoyed the manic, unhinged “Vitamin D” though I wished it was just a smidge heavier. The same goes for “Don’t Make Me Hate,” which is an okay track that could have been an A+ effort with a little less Queen and a little more Black Sabbath.

The Bowie cover is a nice tribute, but I have disagree with the band’s description that the track is “revved up.” It’s a  serviceable effort but doesn’t strike me as a particularly juiced-up version of the song. I think Chris Mess would have been better served by paying tribute to The Thin White Duke by perhaps choosing a more obscure song. Again, there’s nothing bad about their version, it just didn’t do much new and (of course) pales in comparison to the original.

Overall, the CHRIS MESS EP is hands down one of the better things sent into the ROCK ‘N’ MAILBAG. The original songs show real promise and the band seems adept at blending their influences together. I’d be interested to see the band live and hear a proper album from this band.

Tagged , , , , ,

Gonna be in the USA in 2017? Wanna see Metallica? I got good news for you!

I guess for the remainder of 2016/early 2017 I may have to change the name of my website to Defending Metallica. Since last week’s brand-spanking track release, I’ve anticipated more Metallica news. Well, today Rolling Stone reported that the band is planning a fairly extensive tour starting in January. No specific dates have been announced, but I’ll wager that Metallica is coming to a city near you, regardless of which city you live.

 

859050

Coming soon to a town near you. And you. And you. And you. And you. And you. And you. And you. And you. And you. And you. And you. And me

 

How can I be so sure? The article quotes Lars Ulrich as saying “It’s time to come back and do some proper penetration of America.” Wow, that almost sounds like a threat, doesn’t it? I’ve yet to see Metallica perform live, but I have a feeling that’s about to change in a big way. Besides a list of actual cities, the thing I’m most eager to see are the bands that will open for Metallica. I’m hoping they pick some fairly obscure, up-and-coming metal outfit to feature.

Bottom line: start rolling those pennies, you’re gonna be buying tickets.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,