Tag Archives: Rock

Empathic Vibrations: How Music Allows Us to Understand One Another

This post is part of a series of daily blog posts written during the month of May as a form of artistic protest. This Blog March was organized by writer/musician Robin Renée. You can learn more about Robin and the Blog March by visiting her website.

A few years ago, I had a co-worker who was really into music. When he found out that I enjoyed many of the classic rock bands that he liked, he’d come by my desk to have long, meandering conversations about music. One day he and I were discussing Hendrix, and he said that he didn’t like Jimi Hendrix and thought he was overrated. I told him that I tended to agree, that the cult of personality surrounding Hendrix had gotten a bit out-of-hand. Then in another conversation, we were having about guitarists we thought were overlooked, I suggested Prince and his reaction was one of disgust. “Prince? Prince? Surely you are joking…” I thought that was an odd reaction for such a big music fan to have, but I didn’t think too much about it. Then there was the time the subject of blues music came up, and he emphatically told me that he couldn’t stand it and that it held little artistic merit (or some such thing). I thought that was a pretty odd perspective to have, especially considering his favorite band was The Rolling Stones. I called him out on this, and he shrugged me off.

Imagine my surprise, however, when his hero Keith Richards released an album of all blues covers. There was no way that this guy was going to like that, right? Wrong, he loved it. I called him out on his inconsistent stance on blues. Then I asked him if he listened to any music made by a black artist and he told me frankly: “I don’t listen to black music…it just doesn’t speak to me. I can’t relate to it at all.” I laughed, not because the statement was funny (though it was) but because I thought this guy was joking. He was not. It turned out this guy avoided “black music” and only listened to bands/singers who were white, like him. Now, whether or not this guy was racists is neither here nor there–the point is, I think it’s pretty common for people to enjoy music made by people who most resemble themselves. As I’ve said many times, I didn’t seriously listen to female bands/singers until I was in my early 20’s when radio host/E-Street Band member Little Steve told me that Tegan & Sara were “cool.”

Now, if you think about it, it doesn’t make sense for this guy to think he has more in common with Keith Richards than he does with someone like Robert Johnson. This guy was a teacher so economically, Johnson and his day-to-day life were much more “relatable” than Richards (who is a millionaire-vampire).

As I’ve matured and expanded my sphere of listening, I’ve come to realize how valuable it is to hear music created by people vastly different from myself. About a year or so ago, I was listening to a rap song, I wish I could remember what song or who the artist was (I think it was Run The Jewels), but I remember taking my headphones off and thinking: Oh, my God…”Black Lives Matter” means “All Lives Matter.” I had never taken issue with the sentiment of BLM, but like a lot of middle-class white people, I also thought it should be “All Lives Matter.” But through exploring both classic and modern rap/hip-hop, it became apparent to me that the way I experienced the world was fundamentally different than the way people of color experience it. Listening to rap provided a window of insight into how other people see and feel about things. I no longer have a problem with “Black Lives Matter,” because I can see now how they currently don’t matter (in this country and elsewhere in the world) and it was music that allowed me to begin the process of understanding. And right now what the world needs more than anything right now is more understanding.

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Run the Jewels.

100+ days ago, I would say this revelation would be pretty important, but now in May of 2017, I think it’s probably the most important thing music is. No matter who you are, take the time to explore the art of people who are different from you. Art is where we exalt our joy and preserve our pain. That old saying about not knowing someone until you walk a mile in their shoes? Well, one way you can do that is to experience their films, books, and music. I love Keith Richards to death, but it blows my mind that a person could enjoy his work and have zero interest in his mentor Chuck Berry. Don’t you dare be that narrowminded.

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The master and the apprentice.

Our Hater-In-Chief and those like him can only see divisions, but the truth is that our world is overflowing with art that can link us together. We’re all floating islands of isolation, but art tethers us not just to this world but to one another. Stop reading this post and listen to music made by someone who doesn’t look like you.

And if you want a suggestion:

 

Check out the next Blog March blog, by David Jamison here: https://davidjamison.wordpress.com/

 

 

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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.

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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).

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Spring/Early Summer 2016 Album Lightning Round: A Whole Lotta Love

My buddy Ovidiu Boar over at Tangle Up In Music has a really nice recurring column where he combines a bunch of short album reviews into one long post. I’ve got a pretty large backlog of albums to review that came out over the last few months so I’m adopting (read: stealing) his format in order to purge myself of these albums. I believe in giving credit where credit is due, so go check out Ovidiu Boar and his fantastic website.

Alright, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, here’s a couple of albums I’ve been meaning to review:

WEEZER (White Album) by Weezer

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Weezer are one of those bands that I sometimes wish would just stop recording and retire. But every time I completely write them off the band turns up with a decent album. The last time Weezer surprised me was back in 2008 when they released THE RED ALBUM, and that was nearly a decade ago. Since that time, the band has continued to tour and released albums. None of them were very good/memorable and when they came out, I didn’t hear anyone talk about them. I’m not sure what’s going on with Weezer, but when the best song your band’s put out in 8 years is a cover of “Unbreak My Heart,” it might be time to hang up your boots. Then last month, when I was listening to the new Monkees album, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my favorite track was written by Rivers Cuomo. Which got me excited about the new Weezer album, which is again self-titled and will henceforth be referred to by its color designation. THE WHITE ALBUM doesn’t have anything on it as good as his Monkee’s song “She Makes Me Laugh,” but the album isn’t a disaster. In fact, there’s some pretty good stuff on it. Before I praise the band, however, I have to acknowledge that once again the single is the worst part of a Weezer album. “Thank God For Girls” once again features Rivers embarrassing-as-hell rapping. I’m not sure who keeps telling him he can pull this off, but I wish they’d be honest with him. Rivers: you can’t rap, please stop.

“(Girl We Got A) Good Thing” should have been the single! It’s a great pop ballad that actually would have fit nicely on that Monkee’s album I keep mentioning. A fun, throwback pop song, it’s the kind of track the band’s marketing should be pushing. The album opener, “California Kids” is another track I really enjoy.  Both of these songs have a Beach Boys-by-way-of-The Cars sound that I really dig it.

“Do You Wanna Get High?” has a catchy chorus that (subject matter notwithstanding) also would have made a good choice for an album single. Near the end THE WHITE ALBUM loses steam, particularly on “L.A. Girlz” which is as dumb as the track’s spelling. Thankfully, the album redeems itself with the  fantastically sublime campfire singalong closing track “Endless Bummer.” This is hands-down my favorite track on the album, mostly because it’s the kind of sad sack song Weezer used to be really good at writing.  Any song (or album for that matter) with the lyrics “kumbaya makes me violent/I just want this summer to end” can’t be anything but awesome. Weezer, I’m glad you’re still out there plugging away. Hopefully it won’t be another 8 years before they put out another good album.

 

PAGING MR. PROUST by The Jayhawks

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The Jayhawks are one of those great 90’s college rock bands I don’t ever hear enough people talk about. I’m not exactly sure why they never reached the same legendary status of their peers R.E.M, but they really should have become household names. The last Jayhawks album I listened to was RAINY DAY MUSIC from 2003, which if you haven’t heard is fantastic and worth checking out. The Jayhawks are an Americana/Folk-Rock band that sometimes sound an awful lot like Neil Young & CSNY so if you’re a fan of that kind of music, The Jayhawks are probably your next favorite band.

PAGING MR. PROUST features the same brilliant harmonies and guitar playing one would expect to find on a Jayhawks album, but with an extra shade of darkness. I’m not sure how to explain it, but this music reminds me of autumnal sunset. There’s a cool edge bleeding into the band’s warmth and a lonely feeling permeates the album. PAGING MR. PROUST opens with “Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces” a song drenched in 60’s era folk. The harmonies kick in and I suddenly remembered why I love this band so much. “Lovers of the Sun” with it’s quiet melancholy is achingly beautiful and my favorite track on the record. My second favorite song is the harder edged “Comeback Kids,” which is a great love song that isn’t afraid to sound a little spooky. Another standout track, “The Devil In Her Eyes” features a stratospheric guitar solo at the end that recalls Mr. Young’s PSYCHEDELIC PILL record from a few years back.  “Dust of Long Dead Stars” with it’s Romantics-esque guitar riff is another standout track.

Not everything on the album fires on all cylinders, and there are sadly a few duds on the album. I have tried to love “Lost the Summer” but just can’t connect with it. The track’s intentionally cold, detached feel is no doubt the barrier preventing me from enjoying it. I can intellectually see that it’s great, with some fantastic guitar work, but it just doesn’t move me. Similarly, the scratchy/glitchy sounding “Ace” is more filler and less album track. I’m not sure why the band felt that this needed to be included on PAGING MR. PROUST. Still, these minor blemishes can’t distort the overall beauty of this Jayhawks album.

 

THE GETAWAY by Red Hot Chili Peppers

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I nearly copied and pasted my opening paragraph from my Weezer review. The Red Hot Chili Peppers are yet another 90’s band that I sometimes think should just give up the ghost and retire as legends. I found their last album, 2011’s I’M WITH YOU, to be pedestrian and highly forgettable. The band’s last truly great album was 1999’s CALIFORNICATION (I really liked parts of STADIUM ARCADIUM but being a bloated double-album take it down a few notches in my book), which if you’re keeping score was a really long time ago. I’ve never really been a real big Chili Peppers fan, but back in 2012 and 2013 the band released a bunch of songs recorded during the I’M WITH YOU sessions–songs that weren’t featured on the album. These songs, collected as I’M BESIDE YOU, are some of the best songs I’ve ever heard from the band. I actually need to sit down and do a write-up on these tracks because they are outstanding. So, these amazing b-sides are what piqued my interest for THE GETAWAY.

How is the album? It’s pretty good. Nothing on the album is as great as those b-sides from 2012/2013, but there are some good stuff on THE GETAWAY. The title track is a great, classic late-era Peppers-sounding track. With a funky beat and that distinct electric bass that’s come to define the band, it starts the album off right. Sadly the album can’t maintain this momentum and becomes a bit underwhelming, with one too many un-funky tracks for my liking. Besides the aforementioned “The Getaway,” I also enjoyed the equally good “Dark Necessities.”

And while the album never drops off, never to regain the heights of that one-two-punch, there are good tracks sprinkled throughout the rest of the album. For example, I enjoyed “Detroit” the band’s love letter to that hardscrabble Michigan city. The buoyant “We Turn Red” sounds like a single waiting to happen, it’s a great song that recalls the band’s earlier efforts. I wish the bulk of the album had been as energetic, the only other track on THE GETAWAY that comes close to being as interesting is the shimmering dance track”Go Robot.”And while I don’t think it’s fantastic, it’s worth checking out the album closer “Dreams of a Samurai” which besides being very strange, seems to reference the recent death of Scott Weiland.

Sadly, I don’t think I can recommend THE GETAWAY but there’s enough interesting stuff on the album that I also can’t outright dismiss it. If you’re a diehard fan you’ll probably be pleased enough with the record, everyone else should just stick to the singles. And, of course, stay tuned for that post on those amazing b-sides the band put out a few years ago.

 

That’s it for now. I imagine I’ll have to do one more of these to get myself fully caught up. Chime in below if you’ve heard any of these albums and agree/disagree with me (I love hearing how wrong I am).

 

 

 

 

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GOOD TIMES! by The Monkees

Can somebody please tell me when it was that nostalgia became such a huge commodity? I don’t remember there being so much reverence for the past when I was a wee lad. Sometime in the 1990’s when they started adapting shows like The Brady Bunch and Lost in Space into feature films is when I became aware of nostalgia for the first time. I used to think it was kinda sad/lame, but now that I’m turning into an old fart I’m beginning to see the appeal. Anyway, I bring all this up because when I first heard that The Monkees were going to put out a new album in 2016, I was pretty much nonplussed but I could smell the nostalgia in the air. These long lost reunions never yield anything close to good, so I wrote the whole concept of a new Monkees album off.

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The Monkees were never really my thing. Besides being too young to watch their television show, I was born in an era where they were considered a joke. A sad, pale corporate imitation of The Beatles. Growing up I was a Beatle-fan and had no time for The Monkees and their less-than serious 60’s shtick. It wasn’t until I got much older that I learned that while The Monkees weren’t exactly serious musicians, they had a ton of real talent backing them up. People like Carole King and Harry Nilsson were penning songs for the imaginary TV-band. It was around the time that Gorillaz came out that my attitude towards The Monkees started to change. Perhaps I’d judged them too harshly. Less of a band and more of a cultural happening, The Monkees occupy a very strange (very meta) part of 1960’s culture.

So what about this new 2016 album, GOOD TIMES? Well, I got interested in it a bit once I found out that Adam Schlesinger from Fountains of Wayne was going to produce the record. Then I found out The Monkees were tapping Andy Partridge of XTC and Rivers Cuomo of Weezer to write songs. Then I heard the album would feature new covers of Harry Nilsson and Carole King songs–and the deal was sealed for me: I had to hear this record. It’s a strange thing to log into your Spotify account and boot up a new album from The Monkees. But that’s the world that we live in now, so that’s what I did a few weeks ago when the album was released. To my shock, GOOD TIMES! is a fantastic pop album that’s a ton of fun to listen to. Is this groundbreaking, earth-shattering music? No. Is GOOD TIMES! a soul-lifting, life-inspiring album that reaffirmed my love of music? Not quite. Is it the best Monkees album of all time? Yeah, it is.

I realize that statement, “best Monkees album of all time,” might seem like faint praise…because it is…but remember this is band that put out “Last Train to Clarksville.” While not the greatest song of all time, “Last Train To Clarksville” is a one of the better bubblegum pop songs from any decade, not just the decade when Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney were at their pop zenith.

GOOD TIMES! opens with Nilsson’s “Good Time,” a soulful, sweaty party song. Lead singer Davy Jones has sadly left us, so Micky Dolenz does most of the singing (though Jones does appear posthumously on one track, the Neil Diamond-penned “Love to Love”).

“You Bring the Summer” is a lovely, charming pop ditty that recalls the quaint, innocent teenybopper party songs of the early 1960’s (read: before the drugs really hit). Written by Andy Partridge, the track sounds like it’d belong on the gentler-side of one of his Dukes of Stratosphere recordings. There are a couple of odd British phrases (i.e. “sun cream” rather than “sun screen”) that add a glaze of weirdness to an otherwise basic (albeit very proficient) pop song. Rivers Cuomo’s song “She Makes Me Laugh” is easily the best song on the album, a sunny song of love and devotion. The track artfully blends Beatle-esque rock with Beach Boys-like backing vocals. This is the sort of song you hear and when you get to the end you hit “repeat” so you can go again. The only part of “She Makes Me Laugh” that bums me out is the fact that Rivers isn’t able to conjure up a song like this for Weezer. Whatever happened to Mr. Cuomo and Co. can’t be blamed on a lack of talent–Cuomo can still write a really great song. I guess there’s always the next Weezer album, but I digress…

Another really great track is “Me & Magdalena,” a soft ballad written by Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie. The song has a dreamy, twilight feel that’s very comforting…it took me a few listens before I picked up on the fact that the song is ostensibly about death/dying. It’s not the buzzkill that you’d think and is head-and-shoulders above the rest of the material on the album (i.e. it’s more than just a fun pop song). This song is so good, in fact, it’s got me thinking I need to revisit Death Cab (a band that I never really gave a fair shake to if I’m being honest).

“Birth of an Accidental Hipster,” the strangest track on the record, has the most interesting pedigree. Written by Oasis founder Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller of The Jam, “Birth of an Accidental Hipster” is weird. There are weird vocal effects and the song yo-yos between faux-psychedelia and campfire sing-a-long. The first time I heard it I was convince that it was the worst song on the record. Then I saw that it was written by two to of the best British songwriters of the last 30 years, so I gave the track another chance. Then I gave it another chance. And another. Eventually the song wove it’s magic on me and it’s one of my favorites on the record. But like “Me & Magdalena” it doesn’t feel like a Monkees track, it’s a bit of an outlier. But that’s a good thing.

“Wasn’t Born To Follow”is a Carole King/Gerry Goffin song that was most famously covered by The Byrds. The song has a pastoral, Kinks-like quality that I really dig. Like the Harry Nilsson track that opens the album, this older song is less bubblegum than those written by the youngbloods. It would have been interesting to hear an album of just these type of songs. I found the tonal shifting with these more meaningful songs and the new bubblegum was a bit dizzying. GOOD TIMES! is front-loaded with new, sugary songs and ends on decidedly more adult fare.

Overall, GOOD TIMES! is…well…a really good time! A handful of these songs will probably haunt my playlists for years to come. I wouldn’t call this an all-timer by any means, but for a 2016 Monkees album, GOOD TIMES! is pretty outstanding. Worth noting, there a bunch of non-album tracks that one can hear depending on the venue by which they consume the record. On Spotify/digital streaming services, the bonus tracks are “Terrifying” written by Zach Rogue of Rouge Wave and an electric uptempo version of “Me & Magdalena.” I’m not a fan of the latter, but “Terrifying” is damn good and probably should have been included on the album proper. I’m half tempted to seek out the other bonus tracks just to see what other fantastic nuggets were omitted.

Put aside your preconceived notions and give GOOD TIMES! a shot if you’re a fan of any of the songwriters mentioned above and/or if you’re a fan of old-fashioned pop music.

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Best Coast & Wavves at the Bluebird February 27th 2016

Let’s get this out of the way: this is going to be a terrible concert review. If you want a track-by-track accounting of the Best Coast/Wavves show I attended on Saturday February 27, 2016 you should look elsewhere. The show was probably very good and not the massive existential crisis I am about to make it out to be. Both bands are great and combining them in one show really is a fantastic sensory experience. While the two bands couldn’t be further apart in terms of style and fan appeal, seeing them back-to-back was an incredible experience. I’d seen Best Coast twice and Wavves once by themselves, but seeing them together was something else entirely. I liken it to mixing peanut butter and chocolate, the mixing of two different, complementary, flavors that combine to make something even tastier.

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This is face of a man who is scared shitless (and full of Miller Lite).

This concert was important for me historically because it was the last concert I will attend as a childless man. My wife and I are expecting our first child in mid-April and the specter of parenthood which has been hanging over me is reaching its cold, icy fingers of responsibility around my throat. Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t be happier and am genuinely excited to be a father, I can tell that I am at the end of an epoch. I’m now very much sensitive to the passage of time and my mortality. Which brings me to the Best Coast/Wavves concert. The tour was billed as “Summer Is Forever II” which played on the fact that both bands are from California and sing a lot about summer and the beach. Bethany Cosentino, whose songs are usually very introspective and melancholy despite having a veneer of sunshine, fronts Best Coast. While Nathan Williams leads Wavves, a pop-(stoner)punk outfit who are increasingly reveal themselves to be more introspective and insecure with each subsequent album. The romance between Cosentino and Williams has been widely reported, and though they’re probably only friends now, the tour definitely played up there past.

This show had plenty of yings and yangs, but let me fixate on the ones that really mattered. For one thing, the very notion of “Summer Is Forever II” is both appealing and stomach churning. I walked into the Blue Bird Theater about 30 minutes before the start of the show, the crowd slowly filling with fans sporting the telltale black “X” of the under 21. I found a spot in the middle of the venue, confident that nobody would really get near me until the sold-out crowd showed up later in the set. I was right. For the most part I was invisible. Not yet old enough to be the “old guy” at the rock show, I was old enough to be be apart from the majority of the crowd. Ying: young fans Yang: old ass blogger.

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Sipping a Miller Lite from a plastic cup, I stared at the open band Cherry Glazerr and pondered the “Summer Is Forever II” banner at the back of the stage. I’m going to skip over the part where this tour is a sequel to a 2011 Best Coast/Wavves tour, and instead focus on the fact that a sequel can only happen if the first one ends. That would seem to suggest, to me at least, that summer isn’t forever. Best Coast took the stage and after a few songs Bethany remarked that she was sad that the tour was ending in a week. Already the magic was broken: all of this was going to come to and end…and soon. I’d seen Best Coast in September, at the same venue, and I thought that this Saturday performance was better than the one I’d seen on a weeknight.  The songs sounded better and the crowd was really digging the music. The songs that play sad and a bit navel-gazey at home in my earbuds felt more upbeat and playful live. There was really only one song I wanted to hear, “In My Eyes” with its sing-songy chorus and when it was played in the middle of the set I felt satisfied. Ying: A young lead singer. Yang: She was wearing an old Sublime t-shirt.

Wavves are by no means a “hard” band, but they’re certainly rougher than Best Coast. And it’s not just a boy/girl thing either; their approaches are completely different.  That’s part of the mystique surrounding their sometimes coupling: he’s so coarse and unrefined and she’s so sensitive. The two had a real Beauty and the Beast thing going on, the kind of thing Hollywood couldn’t invent on its best day. While I think Wavves make the better music, I haven’t been following their music as closely as Best Coast. Mostly because Wavves second-to-last album was a dense collaboration with Cloud Nothings title NO LIFE FOR ME. They actually played a song off this record that sounded pretty good live, which makes me think that I’m probably wrong about not liking it so much and need to give it a re-listen. Wavves started out as a kind of neo-stoner rock surf outfit that’s slowly mutated into a neo-Grunge band in the vein of Nirvana. I can’t blame them for aping Kurt and Company, who were acting indifferent and complicated back when Wavves were just an itch in their daddies shorts.

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The crowd got rowdy during the Wavves set and the house started throwing kids out for stage diving. I immediately noticed a member of the Wavves staff whose job it was to monitor the goofballs clambering onto the stage. The first few meekly jumping off as soon as they got on stage and them more brazenly trying to shuck and jive on stage or take a quick selfie with the band. The dude working for Wavves either pushed them back into the crowd or carted them off stage and out the emergency exit. The soon-to-be father part of me couldn’t help but worry about the bigger dudes when they leapt into the crowd, sometimes headfirst. The section where I was standing wasn’t moshing, but the first few rows were really…enthusiastic. I was glad to be standing apart from the fray, mostly because I no longer want a lot of sweaty contact with co-eds.

Wavves played the song I most wanted to hear, “Demon To Lean On” from their second album AFRAID OF HEIGHTS, though it sounds like it could have come from mid-1990’s Seattle. They played “Heavy Metal Detox” which is the only song I remember from their most recent album V. Other highlights from the show include “Nine is God” which is on the Grand Theft Auto V soundtrack and  “Green Eyes” off their second album KING OF THE BEACH. Both of those songs made me remember why I love Wavves so much. Ying: They don’t give a fuck. Yang: They give so many fucks.

After a fairly long set of stage-diving, sweaty choruses, and inflatable alien dolls; Wavves bid us goodnight and walked off the stage. Then the house lights came up and it was clear that the show was over without an encore. A younger me would have felt cheated and would have complained, but I’m old and so I was grateful I was getting to go home. And just like that, I shuffled out into the cold and waited for my Uber to come so I could go home. That was it. That was my last rock show as just “Jason” before becoming “Dad.” Anticlimactic? Hell yes. Just like how summer isn’t forever, everything has a season. And those seasons all end, without exception. I remember going to shows in 2003 with one, two, sometimes three encores. I remember leaving with ears that would ring for a day or two after the show. I’ve caught guitar picks and pieces of drum kits. I’ve been pushed in a crowd and pushed back. I once saw a domestic dispute at a Tina Turner concert, how’s that for seeing everything? It feels like the show is over and everybody has to go home, but really it’s just me that has to go.

I have tickets to see The Flaming Lips in May, which I’m super-stoked about, but it feels like this is the end. This “Summer Is Forever II” show couldn’t have been a better ending for me. I love how superficial and finite it felt. Both bands perpetuate a kind of youthful exuberance that appeals to the aging hipster in me. Part of me likes to think that when I’m home doing dad-things they’ll be out there somewhere rocking…like the Dude in the Big Lebowski taking it easy for the rest of us. But the truth is, both of these bands are getting older. Nathan got a haircut since the last time I saw him in 2011. The long-haired rocker has become the sensibly coiffed crooner. Everything keeps moving forward and everything comes to an end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Piss The Season” by Wyldlife

It’s not even Thanksgiving and already it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! Living the great Capitalistic dream of moar! moar! moar!  can really bum a guy (or gal) out. Luckily for all of us naughty boys and girls, New York pop-punkers Wyldlife have the cure for another crappy holiday…their new-ish single “Piss The Season”!

Piss the Season

Don’t eat the yellow snow, indeed.

The song blends the band’s fuck-the-world snarl with happy jingle bells, which actually works better than I could have imagined. Another New York Christmas all alone? Somehow Wyldlife is able to take the pathetic and make it sound badass. So if you’re staring down the barrel of another lonely holiday season, take solace with the boys in Wyldlife:

You can go on Bandcamp and buy Wyldlife’s holiday themed EP HAPPY HOLIDAY’s now. I’ve been listening to it off and on for the past few days and wholeheartedly vouch for it’s awesomeness.  And if Santa is reading this blog post, can you pretty please bring me a new Wyldlife album? I know I haven’t been very good, but boy do I deserve it…

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YOUR NEXT FAVORITE BAND: The Star Spangles

Back in 2003, I was going to school during the day and working overnights as a security guard. It was lonely, boring work that involved a lot of sitting around and listening to late night radio. On Saturday nights, I’d snuggle up next to my $2 pocket radio and listen to Little Steven’s Underground Garage. Those were halcyon days, or rather nights, and it was during this period that I discovered many great artists thanks to Steven Van Zandt and his show. One of those bands was The Star Spangles.

I can still remember the first time I heard The Star Spangles. Their song “Which One of the Two of Us Is Gonna Burn This House Down?” was featured as the Coolest Song In The World on Little Steven’s show. Despite the impossibly long title, the song was a lightning quick burst of punky-pop. And it totally knocked me on my ass. Over the next week or so, Little Steven played the song a few more times, as well as the band’s other single “I Live For Speed.” I immediately got a digital copy of the band’s album BAZOOKA!!! and found that all songs were fantastic.

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You might recall that the early-to-mid 00’s (the aughts) was a period known as the Garage Rock Revival. This was a heroic return of basic, balls-to-the-walls rock that spawned a series of great albums by a half-dozen or so bands. These bands typically hailed from New York/East Coast and featured “The” in the band name. The Hives. The White Stripes. The Vines. The Strokes. The Star Spangles were cut from the same cloth, though their sensibilities skewed heavily towards punk. Their lead singer, Ian Wilson, had a sneering Sid Vicious quality and a Nick Cave haircut.

BAZOOKA!!!, as stated, had two great singles but it was the deeper cuts that really impressed me. The kinetic “LA” with its gritty, chugging guitar riff seared itself into my mind. This song should have been in a Grand Theft Auto video game and made the band a huge overnight success. Similarly, “Crime of the Century” with its Keith Richards-esque riff should have burned up the rock charts…had their been relevant rock radio in 2003-2004. Timing and changing musical taste worked against The Star Spangles, which happened to many bands in this era. Indie rock was getting huge and The Star Spangles were seen as a quaint throwback.

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The band did appear on Letterman and toured a bit, but for the most part they dropped off the map. I was a bit crushed, but as the 00’s wore on it became obvious that the Garage Rock Revival wasn’t going to last longer than a few years. Only the super-talented Jack White was able to survive the Revival’s sad collapse.

I cherished BAZOOKA!!! but had written the band off for dead when sometime in 2006 I found out that The Star Spangles were back! Their follow-up album, DIRTY BOMB, was self-released and featured a new band lineup. Both of these facts filled me with a sense of dread, would the second record stack up to the great first release? Happily, DIRTY BOMB turned out to be wonderful.

Though DIRTY BOMB is a bit less polished than BAZOOKA!!! it’s also a bit more complex and, in my opinion, the better of the band’s two albums. Still featuring a heavy dose of punk, DIRTY BOMB had a few slower songs as well as the (awesome) country-tinged “Someone In You.” The album was also more commercial and poppier, especially tracks like “This Side of the Sun” and “I’m On A High.” Both of these songs should have made a big impression on the music world.

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The band’s propensity for fast songs full of hard charging guitars and killer lyrical hooks remained, and I had renewed hope that the band would continue to record and tour. But sadly, DIRTY BOMB was the band’s swan song.

What the hell happened to The Star Spangles? Part of the reason I’m writing this post is to hopefully find out. The band’s web presence is limited now. You can find DIRTY BOMB on iTunes and CD Baby, but BAZOOKA!!! has now vanished falling out of print. According to the band’s threadbare Wikipedia page, the band had a “falling out” with Capitol Records in 2006. What happened exactly? Would the band be a household name if they’d managed to stay on Capitol Records? DIRTY BOMB’s pop-heavy sound could have easily landed the band on the radio if they’d just had a bit more promotion.

The band’s lineup change probably had something to do with the band’s failed commercial prospects. Originally The Star Spangles featured Nick Price on bass and Joey Valentine on drums, however on DIRTY BOMB Chris Orlando and Todd Martin replaced them. Only lead singer Ian Wilson and Tommy Volume remained in the band for The Spangles whole run, which has led me to believe them to be the Mick & Keith of the band. I assumed that Wilson or Volume would go onto to do other projects, but after an extensive search online I’ve turned but zilch. Did both of these guys fall of the Earth? Did they get straight jobs working in cubicles? If they’re working in the music industry they’re doing so under different names…of they need to hire a better marketing team. Anyone with information please either comment below or email me at DefendingAxlRose@gmail.com.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to accept that sometimes really great bands only put out one or two albums. Rather than be greedy and whine about all the great songs/albums I didn’t get from them, I try to focus on what the band did put out. Honestly, fate and a fickle music industry was stacked against The Star Spangles.  Dropped by their label and faced with a lineup change, we had no right to expect a second record and we got one. I’m satisfied with that, though I do wish these guys were still around.

Do yourself a favor and check this band out because they’re fucking fantastic.

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“Home By The Sea” Is A TWILIGHT ZONE Episode Written By Genesis

Genesis has always been a guilty pleasure for me, but a pleasure nonetheless. I’m not sure how you feel about Genesis, but I have an odd fascination with the band. In fact, I think I love them. It’s not like I really had a choice in the matter, I grew up in the 1980s thus the band is encoded in my DNA. My love for the sappy, syrupy Phil Collins-era eventually led me to the darker, stranger stuff generated in the 1970s when the band was led by Peter “Shock the Monkey” Gabriel. I can (and do) defend a lot of bands, but Genesis has always seemed indefensible, even to me.  Having one of the periods most famous drummers and then using the then-fashionable drum machine on your records? Egregious.

But amid the  puppet music videos, the drum machines, and embarrassingly earnest love ballads, Genesis never really stopped being a prog-band at heart. Even long after Gabriel had vanished from the band Genesis would tuck weird (and lengthy) progressive rock songs onto their albums. These songs no doubt confused the average pop fan who bought their records for the radio singles. Worse, however, these progressive artifacts always seemed to bring the band’s albums grinding to a halt (even though many of these songs are quite good). I find it interesting that a faction within Genesis fought the good fight to keep the band weird even as they were churning out mega-pop hits like “Invisible Touch.”

"Spoooky"

“Spoooky”

As the 1980s wore on, Genesis evolved away further and further from Gabriel’s version of the band replacing his cold theatricality for Collins’ affable charm. And yet, even as they basked in the neon glow of the mainstream (read: MTV), the band continued to make strange music that the public enjoyed.  I’m not 100% sure, but I have the feeling that the majority of people consuming Genesis’ music were oblivious to the darker nature of some of the bands output. I am no exception. The best Genesis songs, in both the Gabriel and the Collins era, are the ones that strike a balance and perfectly merge the band’s bizarre oddball sensibilities with more mainstream pop music. For my money, the best peanut butter and chocolate mix of the two sides of Genesis is the 1976 album A TRICK OF THE TAIL, which was the band’s first post-Gabriel album. If you find the Phil Collins stuff to be too poppy and the Gabriel stuff to be too stuffy/overblown, I implore you give A TRICK OF THE TAIL a listen. It’s the best album the band ever released, mostly because Gabriel was gone and Collins had yet to fully commit to being a pop idol.

Anyway, a few months back, I became obsessed with “Home By The Sea” off the band’s 1983 album GENESIS. For most people, myself included, GENESIS is the record where pop finally won out over the progressive side of the band.  I always remembered if for it’s pop hooks.  It was these same hooks that led me back to reevaluate the album. After hearing “That’s All” on the radio for the 10,000th time, I gave GENESIS another listen.

It was just as I remembered. The album is loaded with hooks, but among the tracks one stood out. “Home By The Sea” isn’t just a good song for this period of Genesis, it’s a good song period.  It’s so good, I found myself humming it all day long. I hummed it while brushing my teeth, driving to work, making a cup of coffee, riding in an elevator, and staring up at the ceiling while I waited to fall asleep. In short, I was haunted by the song.

Home By The Sea cover front

The more I thought about the song and the lyrics (the ones I could remember) I realized that despite being catchy, “Home By The Sea” is a dark, strange song. I decided to read the lyrics and re-listen to the song. When did, I was immediately struck by something incredible: “Home By The Sea” is a fucking Twilight Zone episode! Well, not really…but kinda. The song is about someone sneaking into a house, presumably with ill intent, and getting accosted by ghosts!

“Coming out the woodwork, through the open door

pushing from above and below

shadows but no substance, in the shape of men

round and down and sideways they go

adrift without direction, eyes that hold despair

then as one they sigh and moan”

These ghosts are lonely and force this person to stay with them as they relive their lives. The song talks about pictures coming to life and while it all could be a metaphor for holding onto the past (or growing old), on the surface this is a creepy ghost story of a song.

“Images of sorrow, pictures of delight

things that go to make up a life

endless days of summer longer nights of gloom

waiting for the morning light

scenes of unimportance, photos in a frame

things that go to make up a life.”

I’d heard this song on the radio countless times over the years growing up and none of this had ever occurred to me. During my re-listen of GENESIS, I discovered that the song is actually part one of a two-part suite of songs, the other being “Second Home By The Sea.” That second half is a fantastic near-instrumental (Collins sings a bit of “Home By The Sea” at the very end) that adds a sense of grandeur to the ghostly tale. Combined into one, “Home By The Sea/Second Home By The Sea” is over 11 minutes long which probably explains why it is broken apart (which feels like label interference). But taken as a whole I find these songs to be incredibly powerful.

It’s important to remember that this song(s) appears on the same album as “Taking It All Too Hard.” I can’t think of a greater tonal shift than the leap from “Home By The Sea” to “Taking It All Too Hard.” Sure, the songs don’t appear back-to-back, but the fact that they inhabit the same album is very strange. Not ghosts coming out of the walls strange, but strange nonetheless. That GENESIS reaches such sublime heights while also spiraling so low seems like proof that the band isn’t very good. However, I actually think the opposite. I think it takes real talent and chutzpah to be both on both ends of the creative spectrum on the same record. Straightforward radio pop and a mini-prog suite about ghosts? Amazing. Like something from The Twilight Zone. 

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FLOATING OUT TO SEE By Gringo Star

Atlanta-based rockers Gringo Star returned this year with their third album FLOATING OUT TO SEE.  The band endured a couple of serious changes since their last album, COUNT YER LUCKY STARS came out in 2011.  For starters, the band lost one member/songwriter.  Then the band decided to forgo the usual studio/label process and instead record and distribute FLOATING OUT TO SEE for themselves.  So much change was bound to be reflected in the band’s new music.  That said, FLOATING OUT TO SEE marks a dramatic change for the band.

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Perhaps change is the wrong word, call it instead an evolution. FLOATING OUT TO SEE takes the psychedelic elements found on COUNT YER LUCKY STARS and increases them greatly.  Gringo Star continues to be influenced by the British-invasion era rock bands, but sonically the band is more spacey and expansive on FLOATING OUT TO SEE.  Though Gringo Star still reminds me of The Kinks, on FLOATING OUT TO SEE its as though The Kinks are playing 20,000 leagues under the sea.  The production has a murky, dreamlike quality that married with the sometimes-surreal lyrics make FLOATING OUT TO SEE a wacked-out beach party.

From the chirpy evanescence of “Find A Love” to the gloomy “100 Miles,” FLOATING OUT TO SEE covers a lot of sonic ground in a very short amount of time.  The album’s concentrated quality does mean that it takes a few listens before the album gives up all its hooky-secrets.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that FLOATING OUT TO SEE lacks the immediacy of its predecessor.  Tracks that do immediately stand out, however, are “Peephole” and “Going Way Out.”  The former feels like a classic Ray Davies track with its jangled tale of neighborhood paranoia.  Likewise, “Going Way Out” recalls the dreamy popscape of John Lennon’s “#9 Dream,” it’s a fantastic song that sounds even better in the dark with headphones.  In fact, I’d encourage you to listen to the album at least once with headphones.

The album overall has a very chill vibe.  But that’s not to say that FLOATING OUT TO SEE is totally laid back and tranquil.  The garage rocker “Taller” gallops and the edgier “Look For More” has a thumping, brash Tame Impala-like quality that I really dig.   Really the complaint one could lob against Gringo Star is that for an album with 13 tracks, it runs a tad short at just over 35 minutes.  Sometimes less is more, but I’d really have liked for FLOATING OUT SEE to last just a little longer.

Change can be a scary thing, but Gringo Star has weathered it nicely.  On FLOATING OUT TO SEE they’ve crafted a solid album during a period of what could only have been chaotic and uncertain.  Hopefully the band will continue to grow and get us another batch of exciting material sooner, rather than later.

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