Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Music Review - Soen - Tellurian

I decided that for 2015 I should get back into the game and write more CD reviews, shooting for one a month and hoping that this would lead to the discovery of some great new music. The first album I reviewed was this one and it didn't cost me a dime 'cause I just listened to the full album on YouTube a few times. My how the times have changed.

The debut album by Soen sounded more like Tool than Tool sounded like Tool on their last few albums. Since Tool’s music doesn’t wind my gears, neither did Soen’s debut album. Their second album, Tellurian, is a different story. Sure, the Tool influence is there but it’s mixed with mid-90s Opeth. I’m a finicky lad so to my ears Opeth’s first few albums were too raw and their albums after Ghost Reveries seemed to be lacking oomph so I’m left with a small handful to enjoy. Imagine my surprise when I found out that the drummer for the Opeth albums that I like (and not the drummer for the albums I didn’t like) is Martin Lopez, also the drummer for Soen. I never would have imagined that a drummer could exert so much influence over the style and sound of a band but perhaps I’m just ignernt.

What does such a Tool/Opeth love-child sound like? At times it’s light and airy and others it gets downright heavy, progressive but never overly complicated (like some King Crimson), often melancholy and atmospheric but not downright dark. And vocalist Joel Eklöf, to his credit, never goes Cookie Monster on us, even though there are times when I feel that a little vocal gravel would have been appropriate. So while at times the music will burst into a frenzy of distortion and tumbling rhythms, the vocalist remains as tranquil and smooth as his cue-ball head. Some songs, like “The Words,” hypnotize you with soothing melodies, only occasionally bringing in the distortion as a kind of background noise, while other songs like the angular “Ennui” kick off with a bang and only let up long enough to make sure the next punch lands in the right spot. None of the songs are going to rip your head off, though there are quite a few times when your pulse should quicken. Rather, the music is almost artful and, dare I say, delicate, but in a masculine kind of way (he says scratching himself in a manly manner). Going back to Opeth, the album is mostly sedate like Damnation, never coming even close to the frenzy found in parts of Blackwater Park, and yet there are times when the songs pulse with the energy that only distorted guitars can provide.

Now about that cover. Look at that, will ya? It’s an anthropomorphic rhino eating little humans. Unsual, yet artfully presented. Tellurian is a bit like that: a little bit artsy, a little bit monstrous, and a little bit human.

Hard Root Beer Review - Sprecher

Next up is Sprecher's Hard Root Beer, an "adult" version of their regular root beer.

The first word that came to my mind upon the first taste is "weird." It's not quite a root beer flavor but it's not quite NOT a root beer flavor. It's definitely not a beer flavor. There's lots of foam when you pour it into a glass but there's no carbonation in the actual drink, which makes for a disconcerting mouthfeel where the flavor makes you believe you should have some tingle but there's no tingle. Unlike Father's this one isn't overly sweet, which is a mark in its favor. But it isn't overly good either. A quick check of the label shows that they pretty much just took malt liquor and added their normal flavoring (with natural and artificial flavors, which can mean just about anything except it's made with 100% roots and berries).

And so another one bites the dust. I won't be purchasing any more Sprecher's Hard Root Beer, although I'm curious now to try their regular root beer to see if it's as bizarre tasting as their hard version, or if it's actually good. I figure it must be or else how would it have lasted this long on the grocery shelves?

Friday, October 16, 2015

Hard Root Beer Review - Blackmaker

There I was, in my local Belmonts Beverage, looking to pick up a bottle of something my wife needed for a recipe: Grand Marnier.

On cell phone: "Hey, this stuff is like thirty bucks for a bottle. How much do you need for the recipe? Two tablespoons? How 'bout we use some triplesec instead?"

On the way out I saw a display of these nice rounded bottles filled with a black liquid. Blackmaker Rootbeer Liqueur, or so it claimed to be. Seventy proof, ten bucks for a 750 ML bottle and its made with real spices. I'm a sucker for trying out new liquids (hence my tendency to pick up cans of unknown origin at Big Lots), plus I didn't want to leave without buying something and have the employees think I was shoplifting, so I took a bottle home. After paying for it, of course.

WHAMMO! While most of the stuff sold as "root beer" is meant for mixing so as to cover up a flavor born in a laboratory, this stuff is the real deal! Ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, sweet birch, anise and wintergreen all combine to make a drink of depth and complexity such that all you need is a little ice and water ('cause it's bloomin' seventy proof!) to enjoy. It has no carbonation 'cause it doesn't need any. It's so good I would drink the stuff sans alcohol.

Blackmaker is the real deal. It's the root beer beverage by which all others will be judged, although unfortunately it is no longer available at Belmonts. From what folklore I can gather, Belmonts picked up a bunch of cases of this stuff as it was being discontinued at the distillery and sold it for ten bucks instead of it's usual $25 or $30. 'Tis a shame but I was able to snag another bottle before it disappeared from this world forever.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Music Review - The Choir - Diamonds and Rain

Choir – Diamonds and Rain – 1986 I picked up on The Choir with Wide-Eyed Wonder so I didn’t get to hear the band as they developed their sound. This meant that by the time I heard Diamonds and Rain I had also heard Chase the Kangaroo and other classics, putting this 1986 album at a disadvantage. It doesn’t help that the album contains two songs that are among the worst that the band has released. Maybe that’s why for decades I felt that the entire album was unlistenable, blaming the cause for this at the feet of producer Charlie Peacock.

I was wrong. Aside from the two songs, and the bass being way too low in the mix, the album has some very fine examples of songcraft. The album opener, “Fear Only You”, is a fantastic and energetic worship song, made before it became obligatory that worship songs be bland, repetitive and mindless*. Another solid praise song is “All That Is You”, especially if you like slinky bass lines, ringing clean guitars, saxamaphone and cool breakdown sections in addition to your honest and reflective lyrics. “Render Love” is a poetic song full of open space and the kind of inventive yet simple bass lines that makes we want to pull my Carvin 5-string out of its case and plug into my amp. This song was also referenced in Chase the Kangaroo, which I always find enjoyable and amusing.

Speaking of the Kangaroo, “Black Cloud” would fit right in there with its edgy guitars, dark, murky sound and potentially fretless bass sliding all over the place (a classic Chandler sound honed from his days of playing slide trombone). And lots of echo and reverb. Whereas in 1986 a Christian song with the title of “Black Cloud” would have an obligatory final verse where the listener is cheerfully reminded that Jesus will take away all of your black clouds this song takes the Psalm 88 approach and gives no such reassurances. Such is life. Also outside of the (1986) norm is “Listen to Her Eyes,” an excellent and mature love song that makes no attempt to force the lyrics into also being about God. By not trying to stretch an analogy the band is able to write a beautiful song of “If your love is more than words / Listen to her eyes / Read her tears like pages / Hold her when she cries.” “Love Falls Down” is the final strong song on the album with creative instrumentation, a catchy melody, and an energetic bridge that quickens the pulse.

Perhaps the reason Diamonds and Rain retained such a low opinion in my brain are the quartet of mediocre or worse songs. “I Painted Mercy” is the best of the lot, followed by “When The Morning Comes”, a song which seems to want to be a big, dramatic closer but just doesn’t come together. From there we come to “Kingston Road”, a Peacock song with an irritatingly cheap sounding synth clarinet and a trite, sing-songly melody that makes one glad it’s 1986 and your CD player has a skip button. But don’t push it too many times or else you’ll land on “Triangle.” It’s a song about addiction that probably should have been recorded by Petra or Degarmo and Key.

Again, I will admit that Diamonds and Rain is immensely better than I previously gave it credit for, containing far more solid songs packed with character and poetic insight than most other Christian bands of that day. Plus the band decided that since they were pushing thirty they should probably drop the “Youth” from their name, a wise move in pre-internet days although now it’s kind of like naming your band “3” and wondering why people can’t find you on their favorite search engine. And yes, I realize that I’m all about ‘dat bass here but hey, I’m a bassman. So allow me to point out that Steve Hindalong plays on the entire album and comes up with some very creative and catchy drum parts and Derri Daugherty continues to come into his own by combining his love of fuzzy shoe-gazer guitar with true melodies and U2 (most Christian guitarists did) to come up with his own sound.

* 99.5% of ‘em, anyway.