When my wife overheard me saying to the kids that I was going to start eating things from the freezer section of The Dollar Tree she yelped out "NOOOOO!" and then started to question my sanity. "Why are you doing this?" For the same reason a man climbs a mountain, my dear. Because it's there.
Thursday, November 17, 2016
Friday, November 4, 2016
Steve Taylor & The Perfect Foils Goliath is the best album I’ve heard in the last eighteen-odd months. It rocks hard, in a rootsy way, but with enough wit, creativity and soul that I’ve yet to grow tired of it. The album was crowd-funded and fans waited patiently for over a year after the funding goal was obliterated. On top of this it took twenty years for Steve to get around to making this album so I wasn’t expecting anything new this decade. Always expect the unexpected. Apparently Steve and his Foil met with the legendary Steve Albini to lay down six new songs. And to up the “unexpected” ante they added a new member, the bewildering Daniel Smith, a.k.a. Danielson, a.k.a. the guy who discovered Sufjan Stevens.
If you’ve ever heard the plucky music of Danielson then imagine that with an inventive “always in the pocket” hard rock band instead of his usual approximately-played quasi-acoustic backing. This holds true for half the songs. “Wait Up Downstep” starts with a quirky Danielson-rhythm played on acoustic guitar before power chords occasionally punctuate the bridge with Taylor singing. The low key “Nonchalant” seethes with rumbling distorted guitars and Taylor handling lead vocals with Mr. Smith throwing in a squeaky “HEY!” at the most perfect of times before John Mark Painter adds even more grit compliments of a baritone saxophone. “Drats” begins with Danielson singing in his trademark muppet-like voice (seriously, it’s like if Beaker could sing, but in a good way) against acoustic guitar before the band once again hijacks the song with a surging wave of thundering guitars and pounding drums. More bari sax is found on the title track, which is more of a traditional rock song, although one with hand claps and some un-tuned glockenspiel thing that magically fits perfectly in the mix. “Dust Patrol” is pure punk energy and features some of the most ragged and ratty guitars put to analog tape, at least until the bridge when everyone has a seat while Danielson is accompanied by Mexican horns and possibly a mandolin. “A Muse” quietly opens with the lyrics “I wasn’t out late / I barely had anything / Why do you act like you even care?” before lashing out into a soulful, powerful and angry chorus, backing down in the next verse with “That came out harsher / Than when I rehearsed it.” Blistering.
Wow To The Deadness completely blew away my expectations, which wasn’t difficult because I wasn’t expecting anything. However it is a worthy successor to Goliath with its peculiar, punchy melodic rock that leaves a pleasant yet puzzled smile on your face.
For the past few decades Jerry Gaskill has beat the skins for King’s X, a relatively unknown but highly influential power trio. While the other two members have added a string of side projects and solo albums to their work as a band, Jerry has released only a single solo album. Until now.
While Gaskill’s first album, Come Somewhere, sounded like it had been written on an acoustic guitar and later rocked up, Love and Scars is a full-on melodic hard rock onslaught. The modern sound is largely due to guitarist/songwriter/producer DA Karkos, plus friends like Andee Blacksugar, Billy Sheehan and Phil Keaggy. But as they say back on the farm, if you slap lipstick on pig and put it in a fancy sequined dress, you might have a date for Saturday but it’s still a pig. To that end, all the deluxe sonic treatments won’t do anything to make a poorly written song enjoyable. Thankfully as a co-writer for many classic King’s X tunes, Jerry excels at creating great songs and this time it’s obvious that his guitar was plugged in when he wrote them.
And thankfully for King’s X fans, Jerry solo sounds a lot like King’s X. Surprise! I’m sure it helps that the guitarists “borrow” Ty Tabor’s signature guitar sound and style but since it’s been awhile since a proper King’s X album, I’m not complaining. I mean, can you really rip off your own band? As a confirmed Beatles fan, Jerry also uses vocal harmonies to flesh out his rich melodies. Instead of going through song by song I’ll just say that there are grinding mid-tempo rockers, lighter songs filled with dreamy guitars and even a playful “live” song at the end. In short, it’s got everything a rocker could want.
Always one to write some way-out lyrics that leave the listener scratching their head (“Six Broken Soldiers” and “American Cheese” come to mind) Jerry combines poetic mystery with humor and enjoyment out of everyday activities. Just a few examples: “You’re only pretty when your heart beats / Or your lungs breath / After that I just don’t know” (concerning his heart attack), “So Patty cut my hair / We talked about the air” and “You’re so lovely when you’re far away.”
With Love and Scars Jerry Gaskill proves that he’s much more than just an excellent drummer and songwriter. He’s survived two heart attacks plus losing everything to Hurricane Sandy and is still able to kick back, laugh, and enjoy life. Thankfully the songs on this album invite us to sit down and enjoy the humor of life by his side.
It’s been four years since Mutemath released an album, although this isn’t exactly unusual as the band has only released four albums in ten years. What’s different this time is that the band has left their label and gone the crowd-funding route which gave them the freedom to do anything they wanted. Why they went the way they did befuddles me.
While Mutemath is known for following their muse and having a different sound on each album, for Vitals they went for an indie-Euro-pop sound. After listening to the first three songs I thought that my fifteen year old daughter might like them. She didn’t. So now I’m listening to Vitals over and over, wondering if it’s just that I’m not overly keen on the sound or if, for the first time in their career, Mutemath has dropped the ball. But back to those first three songs. All are upbeat and fun, sometimes bordering on disco, and all incorporate a lot of synth and electronic sounds. There’s not a lot of guitars and drummer Darren King, one of the best drummers playing today, isn’t able to do much within the pop framework. Still, the songs are catchy and would make great workout music for those inclined to abuse their bodies that way. “Stratosphere” sounds a bit more like the Mutemath of bygone days with a pulsing, urgent rhythm under dreamy vocals bathed in reverb, but “Used To” is anything but, incorporating low bass synths and a solid wall of keyboards in the huge chorus. The opening line of “Best of Intentions” shows the bands sly humor: “I’d like to help you get those hangups under control / But I’ve got far too many of my own.” The chorus of this song harkens back the seventies and totally knocks it out of the park.
While listening to the closing track, “Remain” it hit me that Mutemath might have been ingesting quite a bit of Phoenix. While Mutemath is certainly less twitchy than the French band, this new album definitely shares their synthy-pop vibe. This is driven home in the two instrumentals, “Vitals” and “Bulletproof”, which are both thoroughly engaging but completely different than anything the band has recorded previously although somehow still distinctly Mutemath.
This past weekend I had many songs from Vitals in my head, which is always a good indicator of quality tune-smithing. Indeed the songs are great fun to listen to and there are solid melodic hooks underneath all those keyboards, so it’s likely that my problem with the album, if I have a problem and I’m not sure I do, is that I expected indie-rock guitars and got Euro-pop synths. Perhaps I should have expected that Mutemath, a band who always defies expectations, would deliver the unexpected and just get over my hangups.
Hold your noses ‘cause the boys from Columbia City are back with yet another aromatic love offering. That’s right, Catbox is back with another fifteen glorious examples of why their band has banned from playing the Three Rivers Co-Op for being too raucous. It’s kind of difficult to believe that just two guys can be responsible for so much chaos, but then again Keith Roman plays a rather large drum kit (plus a rather small mandolin) and Doug Roush’s bass has more than its fair share of strings and, er, that’s it. There’s no need, and no sonic space, for guitars, horns, cellos, or ukuleles.
No sir, kids, this is some of the finest post rock that this area can provide, with a smidge of art rock thrown in for good measure. The bass is thick and textured while the drums are crystal clear and inventively panned across the stereo spectrum forming a sound unique to this planet. The songs themselves form a perfect skeleton upon which to hang these sounds, that being a melting pot of jazz, rock and experimental although the nucleus is always a memorable melodic hook. A perfect example of Catbox is “City of Light”, a song so out there and yet catchy that I find myself humming it days after hearing it once. The song starts with Doug showing why he’s the kind of slap and pop bass playing, laying down a funky a groove in the verse before sliding into a smooth section where he feels compelled to strum chords on the bass. “Skeletonz in the Desert” is 70s light rock meets strummed expensive jazz chords meets an aggressive instrumental bass riff, all playfully tossed around a few times to keep your head spinning. “Iced Chocolate” seems to be channeling the entire band of Iron Maiden, plus a Viking chorus and cowbell, while “Fading Beauty” mixes a very pleasing fingerpicked bass melody with mandolin and soothingly sung vocals before throwing the listener down a mountain full of sharp rocks via a few hardcore instrumental passages. As if this cake needed any icing there’s “I Am The Eyes and Ears,” a compelling song based on a character in the movie The Breakfast Club, and a three-song finale whose meaning I’ve yet to unravel. Indeed, each of the fifteen songs on We Need 2B Changed sport intelligent yet often humorous lyrics that invite multiple listens to fully decipher. A brief example from “Get In, Hang On”: “Little by little / Day by day / You suck the joy of living / In every way.”
With this most recent release Catbox proves once again that they are the region’s most unique band. Each song is an adventure so after you pick up your copy at your favorite Wooden Nickel store be sure to “get in” and “hang on” because it’s going to be an adventurous ride!
Back in the mid-eighties I admit to having a couple of W.A.S.P. albums (on cassette) and specifically remember rocking out in my room to “I Wanna Be Somebody” and “Blind In Texas.” Great catchy metal, those songs. I didn’t keep up with this band whose singer wore circular sawblades on the arms of his black leather glam-rock outfit but while I was busy going to college and raising a family Blackie Lawless soldiered on, oblivious to my own obliviousness, releasing over a dozen albums and converting to Christianity. First Alice, then Blackie… can Marilyn be that far off?
And so it was with much fear and trepidation that I approached Golgotha, ther fifteenth album. W.A.S.P. was never known for introspective lyrics and I’ve heard more than my share of Christian cheese so I braced for the worst. Add to this that Blackie is pushing sixty and I’ve also heard more than my share of aging rockers who just aren’t up to the task of melting your face off. One listen to the single, “Scream,” and I am happy to admit that all my fears were for naught. This is classic W.A.S.P. with in-your-face guitars pulsing with energy backing Blackie’s distinctive raspy buzz-saw vocals that are in excellent form. Lyrically I’m impressed. Sure he’s still no Shakespeare but he’s fortunately also not Stryper. Instead Mr. Lawless continues his string of invigorating rock anthems with lyrics that are pro-God but are handled in such a way that they aren’t heavy handed. Exhibit one: The chorus from “Eyes of My Maker”: “Take me inside / Can you bring me alive? / How can I kneel / When my soul’s a liar?” Read into it what you want. I suppose a Cannibal Corpse fan might be offended by the lyrics but only if they’re a mamby-pamby girly man.
As you would expect from W.A.S.P. Golgotha is loaded with faster songs such as the Bon Jovi-esque “Last Runaway” or “Shotgun”, which reminds me a bit of “Blind in Texas” especially in the way Blackie belts out the vocals with the strength of a twenty-year old. “Slaves of the New World Order” takes advantage of its eight-minute length to explore a number of different moods and rhythms, such as “Let me kick you in the kidneys with my steel toed boots” in the guitar solo section. On the other end of the spectrum, but also nearly eight minutes long, is the fervent power ballad “Miss You” that goes down nice and easy until the chorus when it steamrolls you with a wall of sound, paving the way to one of many melodic and dazzling guitar solos on the album. The whole shebang closes with the title track, a powerful epic if ever there was one, where Lawless cries out “Jesus I need you now” in the chorus with such honest passion that you’ll get goose bumps regardless of your chosen deity.
What started out as curiosity has led me to an all new level of respect for Blackie Lawless. Somehow he was able to make a rock solid melodic power metal album that remains true to his faith and yet doesn’t alienate those fans who have differing beliefs.