20 November 2009

Album Review: Jupiter One - Sunshower

Indie rock is a curious thing when so many of its perpetrators practice a genre that doesn't sound like actual rock--a movement that all too often thinks that awesome, horns-throwing music should be restrained, perhaps made more subtle, because to do otherwise would destroy any image of being cool, which might as well be all that matters to the band. Let's be frank, we've seen a scores of "serious" indie rockers ever since the recording studio was democratized: young musicians in skinny jeans trying to look nonchalant while pretending to go wild. That kind of half-hearted disinterest only succeeds when the music itself is credible.

Jupiter One is not ready to (or simply not good at) pulling off this delicate balancing act with Sunshower, released in the third quarter of 2009. The band's photo in the liner notes gives off that "Oh yeah, we're all just chilling with our instruments; you wanna take a photo? Nah, we don't mind..." vibe, as does, unfortunately, their music. The record starts out well enough, striking up cosmic riffs and revving up the intro with the falsetto "ahhhs" that made the Flaming Lips famous. Turning down the spacey knob a notch, the band does its best VHS Or Beta impression for the verse before switching into the symphony-sprinkled chorus lite, full-flavored without overexerting itself. The average listener would expect roughly the same kind of rock for the other 10 songs. Oh, how you are led to believe this notion! After this flashy starter, the band throws you into "Lights Go Out," a credible body mover that dances through its rhythms, alternating between post-punk's fastest riffs and the most bombastic chords Interpol could think of. K Ishibashi meanwhile croons like he's auditioning for a spot in Bloc Party, and all feels right. So, hey, that style is nailed down. Why not switch up things next song?

And so, "Flaming Arrow" presents an almost whimsical folk rock ballad about arson, and this is where the album missteps for the first time. Everything from this point loses the luster exerted so amiably . "Made in a Day" is "Lights Go Out" lite, adding organ hums and violin whines to what should be indie rock with dance pop sensibilities; instead, we get something cutesy and not so much sung as pled. Deciding to confuse us, next we get "Anna," which jumps in with power pop chords that Boston once rejected. As the first verse bridges into the chorus, the band brings in an industrial-sized vat of kitsch and slathers on the early 80s glam rock, complete with organ swirl and Beach Boys-style cries backing up the punchy rhythm.

And then the band just gives up. We're treated to dance duds nothing like the first half, like "Simple Stones," which is too laid back to sound interested and sounds like elevator muzak for 20-something kids from New York. "High Plains Drifter Finds the Oracle at Delphi" plods along at a maddening pace but tries to make up for it by just slathering on cheese on the melody, alternately tickling the listener with sitar, strings, glockenspiel, woodwinds, and a smooth pop, licked by some strange abomination that sounds like Barry White without soul. The rest of the album wouldn't be worth mentioning if not for "Come On," which carries a faux new wave sound in the name of The Killers without giving up its soft harmonic riffs and roaring chorus blasts, supplemented with "you can't be seriously that dramatic" strings.

The resulting collection of songs sounds about as fractured as a cyclist trying to pedal frantically at 50 miles an hour through a sea of bricks. Sure, you get some solid indie rock that takes cues from respectable new wave and nearly-dance pop; at the same time you get some schmaltzy power pop that Julian Casablancas thankfully chose not to throw into his classic rock-tinged solo album released not too long ago--and I haven't yet mentioned the bizarre folk rock ditties. Why are they there? Why? Why?

There's no good answer. It all sounds like a bad impression of an indie rock band too much in love with itself and whatever it can do. Yes, Jupiter One apparently feels justified in joining together whatever music it comes up with, even if the song choices match up like they were all thrown together at random. The band's got some knack for pop--the first few songs bear that out--but when not in top shape the music is lazy. Seriously, the last half of the record sounds like breakfast for hipsters--its too full of itself to care about the music.

Why? It's just that good.

No. It isn't.

18 November 2009

Dethklok/Mastodon/Converge/High on Fire @ The Marquee 11/17/2009

High on Fire is one of the better bands around currently in my opinion, and thankfully that opinion has led to me seeing them headline or play more prominent positions on a few tours, since there was no possible way for me to arrive at 5:30 for their set (a time made even more ridiculous given that the entire show was aver by about 10). I will assume they rocked as usual though and plan to catch them on their next trip through.

Converge played a fairly lengthy set considering their lower slot on the tour, but I was glad to see it. As one of the only metalcore bands who releases CDs I consistently enjoy, it was interesting to see them live. In some ways the music seemed even more aggressive live, but I believe that in part that was due to the muddling of the instruments live which made it even more of a wall of sound (also the kick drum was ridiculously powerful). It was disappointing but not surprising to see so little of the sold-out or nearly so venue really getting into the music. It feels a little cheap seeing these guys on such a commercial tour.

Mastodon played a similar set to what they did when they last came through on a headlining tour, with the entirety of Crack the Skye followed by a couple of old songs. Given that they were not headlining though, the second set of songs was smaller and, frankly, the ones chosen were a bit of a disappointment. The background videos have been improved since last time and are much more coherent and involved in the songs. It's a shame they didn't have as good a video background on the last tour so that both elements of good could have occurred in the same set.

Dethklok was absolutely entertaining start to finish. Though I expected only a screen with music being performed off stage, I was surprised to see the screen going the entire time, but with the full band also on stage, though not interacting with the crowd at all (though Brendan Smalls got into characters for that which was fun). The videos were great, though possibly less entertaining for those who watch the show (I do not, so I have no idea if it was all excerpts or if it was original material). The inter-song videos were also quite fun and helped maintain continuity in the show while the musicians got their rest...much more effectively than most bands are able to pull it off in fact. This felt like a complete show start to finish. Quite cool, I'd see these guys live again even though I don't love the music as much as many other bands just for the show.

06 November 2009

Album Review: Noah and the Whale - The First Days of Spring

This album is not so much a pistol as a shotgun, its ideas roughly discernible as a concept album. Here we have Noah and the Whale, trading bright, poppy folk for gloom. Here the listener is treated to not one but nearly a dozen songs of longing and distress. Not as much cerebral as melodramatic, it's difficult to admit that this record has any staying power.

This is a breakup album--every song on the album makes clear you know that. And while repetition gets the point across, redundant repetition drowns out of the point, and we are left to focus only on the minutiae, where every song is the same by its unity of theme. While we the audience are told from the beginning that spring is starting, no chronological progression is made, even as we are told that this is a concept album, that the narrator is progressing.

Progression is slow, reversible, sidestepped, even redefined. Virtually the same palette of sounds plays throughout the record. I do not slight The First Days of Spring for reusing instruments (as that is never a crime for a band, except in electronica), but the intended impression upon the reader's mind is only slightly changed from tune to tune. I can break down the mood into archetypes: slow, deep, drums, with a slow riff played in the alto range of an electric guitar; light airs played on a piano like wind chimes--the beauty of life; janglyacoustic guitar--raw heart; a violin with a legato like an elephant is tall--the undying romanticism of the hopeless narrator; that ol ' "get all the indie kids together" ensemble, completely with jangly acoustic guitar (the band probably owes Architecture in Helsinki royalties). Now, some diversity stands, but the presence is unmistakably novel.

For the most part, the above mentioned ensemble of ideas is repeated and mixed. Any attempts to sketch the plot will result in just that: a sketch. There's really only a few points of note: spring starts and the narrator has no girlfriend ("The First Days of Spring"). Regret, denial. A weird perpendicular shoot into happy denial ("Love of an Orchestra")? Back down to Earth ("Instrumental II"). Sleeps with a stranger to prove he's not attached anymore ("Stranger"). Even stronger denial that he's still in love with her--claiming he is no longer concerned with his ex-girlfriend ("Slow Glass"), even though she's mentioned for every single song until the album ends. The narrator claims that he failed her and she failed him ("My Door Is Always Open"). End.

Huh? Even as the motifs play out and this slow-moving eleven-song ballad depart, I can only say that the album fails its parts. Too many ideas play out. The orchestral bump in Love of an Orchestra never attempts to unite its differences with the more baroque outlook of the rest of the album. In the end, this is no more a tale of recovering from loss than the ennui of modern infatuation, captured in amber for the world to hear for as long as MP3s will be spread around--for Noah and the Whale and possibly the indie movement, love is not just an emotion or state of mind but a separation from society. Being cut off becomes isolation from not just love but society itself. The problem is that this view is only melodrama. Unfortunately, that is the only view The First Days of Spring is capable of expressing.

26 October 2009

CMJ Update #2 (Wrapup)

I only went to one panel on Friday, and it was about music and film, and may have been one of the better panels I saw. The panelists role-played and went through the choice of a song for a movie or commercial which was really fascinating and educational.

The Slayer listening party was a fun time, complete with Slayer DVD imagery and some Gallows DVD added in as well. Both DVDs are really good in fact, I might have to get them. Really bizarre but fun to see...if you like the weird and possibly grotesque. After the listening party we grabbed some authentic Chinese food in Chinatown and hopped over to the Relapse showcase.

Gloominous Doom opened up the showcase, and though it wasn't what I expected from a band with doom in the name, the music was pretty neat. The band has a bunch of technically solid players who transitioned from ska to dance to metal all in the same song, but the transitions themselves were not entirely smooth, mostly due to teh "purity" of each style played. Putting ska next to grindcore or even jazz fusion is just not entirely smooth no matter who plays it. I'd love to see this band move more progressive a la Between the Buried and Me, and less Iwrestledabearonce.

Howl was a bit more complete feeling than Gloominous Doom, though less to my liking stylistically. I was particularly not a fan of the vocals, though in general something with this band kept them from being overly enjoyable for me.

Complete Failure was a thrashy-y/grind-y band which didn't appeal to me at all. I struggle to see the appeal in music that is all blast beats and speed such that it basically devolves into noise. But that's just me.

Black Anvil were really solid. The first band of the night that the whole audience was really starting to get into, and one of two bands a lot of my CMJ friends were excited to see live. A sort of black metal-influenced hybrid, they keep the vocals black with more traditional metal guitar lines and less tremelo picking which makes for a fun and somewhat unique sound.

Revocation was, interestingly, my favorite act of the night. Normally a death/thrash sort of hybrid would hold no appeal for me, but the music was somehow catchy and good-sounding, and really got the whole crowd energized and moving.

Salome probably could have won top band of the night for me had they been a bit less experimental. Now, I'm all for bands experimenting, even live, but when you're a really doom-y, slow tempo band, experimentation for 10 minutes per song tends to drag and become tedious, very unfortunately. I also didn't dig the vocals. High-pitched screams just don't work in doom in my opinion, it detracts from the heaviness.

After the show, lots of sleep. Saturday was the day off. Did some tourist-y wandering around Times Square with some of my promoters and Kim Kelly, then hit up Jekyll and Hyde for dinner round 1, followed by dinner in Little Italy with Sarah and Becky for dinner round 2. After packing and pulling an all nighter, I hopped onto the plane bright and early at 6 am and came back to sunny Tempe exhausted and a little bit sick. A valid sacrifice for living life like a rockstar, and learning too of course.

23 October 2009

CMJ Update #1

It has been an interesting CMJ event thus far. Unlike previous years, the schedule was packed early and gradually trickles off from there.

Tuesday was a ridiculously long travel day. Leaving Phoenix around 6 AM, I arrived in NYC around 4 PM, and got to my hostel around 5 PM. After checking into CMJ and picking up my badge, I met up with Sarah for some tasty dinner before running to the Dethcote party I'd been invited to during dinner. The music was loud and not good (some dance-y club music), but the beer was free (if you knew the right people) and catching up with all the guys from last year was fun.

Wednesday I went to 4 panels which was pretty intense to say the least. When I showed up to the first panel, about social networking and music, it was fairly empty, but by the end it was packed with people sitting on the floor, and I felt a bit uncomfortable being surrounded by so many hipsters. Moving onto the second panel, I was a bit less overwhelmed by hipsters, since it was about music and mobile devices. Pretty cool stuff thrown around for a tech guy like me. Then there were the two metal panels. The first was great as some of the feedback thrown around might result in some positive changes in the industry, always nice for those of us working in it. The second panel was, well, tense. One woman in the back of the room liked to call all music pirates thieves and had many a rant about how kids were destroying metal. Needless to say, in a room of college kids, that didn't go too well. Of course, most of us get all our music for free legally anyways, because they give it to us. So it also seemed a bit pointless to bring up. Still, the discussion was great.

After the panels I went on the walking punk rock on the Bowery tour/bar crawl. That was a great tour where we went with our tour guides to several historic areas of New York and discussed how punk rock started in new york in the mid-1800's, with the gangs of New York. Interesting ideas, and lots of great history. Also saw where CBGB's used to be and saw one of the only real dive bars left on the east side. After the tour we went on the annual bar crawl and there was a lot of great socializing going on whilst drinking copious amounts of alcohol.

Thursday was college day and somehow I managed to get there on time despite the drinking of the night before, and enjoyed a nice, free breakfast. After breakfast, a couple of panels went on, and Sarah met up with me between the two and we got a lot of great ideas about things to do to improve the station, which is always exciting. A couple of bands played during the lovely free lunch, and the second one was particularly interesting, though I didn't care for the vocals. After another panel was the college radio awards, and though I didn't announce an award this year, it was completely entertaining and fun. After the awards I ran off to the open bar before a showcase, drank as much in two hours as I had during the entire bar crawl, and a group of us stumbled up to another bar after the showcase to watch the baseball game. After a few more beers we went up to the Comedy Central showcase and enjoyed some comedy before heading home for some rest.

Tonight is the listening party and Relapse showcase, should be good times. There will be a second update soon.

11 October 2009

Album Review: The Flaming Lips - Embryonic

I'm surprised Warner Bros. let this album see the light of day--who listened to this and decided that, despite its complete and utter disregard for Top 40 polish, Auto-Tune shine, and concise songwriting, this was music that would make the record label lots of money? Wayne Coyne and co. have never cared much for convention, sure, but Embryonic takes the band completely out of their familiar environment and gives us an idea of what Can might have sounded like if they found out they liked the sound of Vivian Girls.

On one hand, we have the sound of The Flaming Lips that is familiar to anyone who's heard any of their work after 1997. Punchy drumloops propel all manner of synthesizers and guitars through striking, beautifully rendered chords, as well as Wayne Coyne's own strangely in-tune voice. And with their carefully perfected bag of tools, the band shows off their artistic mastery of their instruments, sailing through tender slowness akin to The Soft Bulletin and rocking out like they'd only started touring yesterday in support of Clouds Taste Metallic.

And yet, there's this new side of The Flaming Lips that we haven't seen before--their experimental side. Avant garde? Maybe. It's arguable that Embryonic is that motivated to be so abstract when so much of the album focuses on melodic and rhythmic elements, as opposed to pure noise or arrhythmic pieces. Time signatures? Check. Key signature? Check. Melody? Check. The real avant garde masters would be offended. Lightning Bolt wouldn't let Embryonic into the same room as their material. Even listeners new to any Flaming Lips work at all would be able to tell that there are recurring elements that might constitute their repertoire--the drum loops, the voice (of Wayne Coyne), the slow, throbbing brainwave-stimulating synth loops, the dreamy atmosphere. If you were hoping that the band would venture into Throbbing Gristle sounds, you would be wrong. This is definitely tonal.

The result is the musical equivalent of half and half: half old material, half new modes of expressing that old material. Part of me feels like I'm simply hearing the sappy parts of The Soft Bulletin fed through a guitar amplifier. Is that a bad thing? If you don't mind lo-fi, you won't mind the new modus operandi. If you demand that classic Flaming Lips audial polish, this record will both appeal to you and annoy you to death. You will hear echoes of previous album At War with the Mystics (think "The Sound of Failure/It's Dark... Is It Always this Dark??") and some more. Get ready for pinging delays with deep reverb ("Powerless"), what may be called way too much vocoder saturation ("The Impulse"), freakouts! ("Silver Trembling Hands," "Virgo Self-Esteem Broadcast," "Scorpio Sword"), some random dude doing some poetry recital or something like that ("Sagittarius Silver Announcement"), glitch-style rhythmic noise ("Convinced of the Hex," "Worm Mountain"), and just about every freaky trick in Wayne Coyne's playbook.

In a way, Embryonic is the natural evolution of The Flaming Lips. Their earliest albums were noisy, wretched, and wild. Then the band matured and smoothed out the edges. Then they found nostalgia for their youth and merged their two worlds. We are at that last point. And as I listen to the songs again and again, I realize how much this style suits the band--so weird, but so beautiful. It's like The Album Leaf got drunk with TV on the Radio. Even as Wayne Coyne croons high and slow in "If" and a lazy bass strums along and all manner of amplification and synthesizer crash together for static jam "Worm Mountain," the twin paths are never more apparent. If you're left wondering why the hell The Flaming Lips would bother to do something so different, the answer is that it's really the same thing they've always done. Perhaps we're in familiar territory after all. But with The Flaming Lips, who can tell?

08 October 2009

Album Review: Dappled Cities - Zounds

It's been a while since Dappled Cities Fly dropped the last word of their group name to become Dappled Cities--I guess the band just wasn't fly enough. (Cue intro music to CSI: Miami.) It's been longer still since I first heard the few ringing strums of their debut, A Smile, fitted with all the meat of indie rock and the jangly sound of twee. But make no mistake--their newest effort, Zounds, is a beast of a different mythology.

Dappled Cities offers a full, rich album, lined with pastiche and filled out with big, bombastic detail. The band makes no apologies about jumping into that muddy area between electropop and indie rock that so many bands have explored--terrain charted by Of Montreal, Cut Copy, and innumerable artists. Zounds makes a conscious effort to fill every second of every song with sound; where there is no instrument playing, there is an echo of one. "It does not matter if something belonged there in the first place--there must be a something," this album says to me.

is as artistic as it is a serious indie album, defying ownership both by pretentious hipsters and pop aficionados. The word itself is both an interjection and a summation of the wild sounds the band produces. One only has to look at the cover of Zounds to realize how scatterbrained the music is. The photograph that comprises most of the cover's real estate portrays a band in a room, sprinkled with confetti, filled with the strangest of objects-- a ladder, the trunk of a tree, a large balloon in the shape of a 3, a piñata, several photographs, and several sets of hands playing a keyboard on the floor.

It all serves to give context to the music ensconced within the disc--this is art. True enough, the mix of buzzing, whirring, gurgling, and thumping that starts the recording with "Hold Your Back" establishes the new and improved Dappled Cities as an Of-Montreal-cum-Animal-Collective-cum-Shins amalgamation that just wants to blow your mind, not with wacky exuberance or springy lyrics but with a complete tonal invention, combing through the lessons alternative music learned in the last 20 years and making notes about each of them. Each song is a synthesizer-driven indie rock song, dressed in the trimmings of that wholesome indie style--multi-instrumental, full, busy but not fabricated. I feel like Animal Collective grew became pensive, decided to slow down, and determined to find joy in life.

The listener at every turn is led, never quite able to determine the course of each tune. The album revels in the cerebral, each tune not quite the same and made of different inspirations. The listener is mislead through each song not by the style of the music but as a matter of course--who would expect the infectious danceable "Miniature Alas" to be preceded by a bizarre spoken word ditty? Zounds is an album that completes every idea--whether it's the moody "Wooden Ships" bursting into a baritone chorus suddenly or the punchy delivery of the chorus on "The Price," nearly every creative choice by the band feels natural and purposeful--"It should have always been like this," I feel. Even if many sections of the song feel like A, B, and back again, there's always a subtle (or major) tweak produced to bring the old idea to new life.

It's easy to tell that the band is having too much fun with the album. Their grandiose patchwork of multi-instrumental chaos and graceful--sometimes over-ambitious or ambiguous--lyrics will strand careless or uncaring listeners in a sea of confusion. The density of Zounds lends it weight that will wear out an audience expecting easy listening. While by no means does the music turn into noise, there is little doubt that songs like "Apart" must be experienced, not simply heard, to be understood. The steady march of lurching indie rock (Wolf Parade style) accompanying the nearly falsetto vocals can leave the unaware audience in a haze of ill feeling. The defiant "Stepshadows" plays like a funeral dirge for a chase scene in a 1990s Western, self-satisfied by its own certainty.

Thought and creativity went into this collection of songs, but it might be more difficult for the listener to ascertain what exactly the band was thinking. You are guaranteed a sonic canvas that only years of artistic endeavors will paint. After all, Daft Punk didn't write Discovery in a day.

30 September 2009

Kylesa/Bison BC/Landmine Marathon/Khenty at Chasers 9/29/2009

Came in a bit late, so I only caught the last song in Khenty's set unfortunately. They weren't bad, at least...it sounded pretty promising. But I can't really say for sure.

Landmine Marathon was interesting. I don't think they were bad, objectively. In fact there were sections I really liked in their music. But there were too many grind sections for my tastes, and the vocals could have been better at times. Of course, at other times they could have been louder. Definitely worth checking out if you like the local metal and have more tolerance for grind than I do.

Bison BC was really good again, despite the fact that I haven't listened to their CD in a long time. Really enjoyable songs and, again, I feel they are better live than on CD. The CD has a tendency to pound my brain a bit too much, while live they pound it in just enough. Maybe it's the earplugs. Either way, I expect good things from these guys in the future. Really nice and friendly folks too. Plus, beard metal.

Kylesa was great live, again. I even listened to Static Tensions earlier today just to see if I would still get more out of seeing them live right after listening to the album, and I definitely did. So many bands sound exactly the same live and on CD. Sometimes that is exactly what you want, but Kylesa really bring so much more to the table live, and it's great. They played just about (or perhaps all) of Static Tensions, and then closed with a few older ones. But in between the two someone yelled "drum solo!" and thus we also got to enjoy a fun dual drummer duel before they started up on the old stuff. After about half the band was getting off stage, they were somehow convinced to return for an encore, which was their cover of Pink Floyd's Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun. A rendition which I quite enjoy on record, and which improves even more live as they jam in the middle of the song extensively and feel it out in a way recording really fail to capture. Even if you think this band is just ok, they are a must see live.

25 September 2009

Album Review: The Luxury - In the Wake of What Won't Change

Back when I reviewed albums for 91.3 KXCI Tucson ("real people, real radio"), I had the luck to stumble upon Boston-based britpop group The Luxury's debut album, This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things. A piece of emotive, sharply cornered pop/rock that was remarkably recorded in singer/producer Jason Dunn's apartment/bedroom (I can't remember which). The band back then (2006? 2007?) showed great promise in their songwriting, even if they couldn't afford studio time.

Now that 2009 has borne our universe most of the way through the fruits of her many months--when September is the month--I admit I'm a little surprised to find that The Luxury have followed me to Tempe, sending a CD to The Blaze. Well, this is my chance to follow their progress.

As it turns out, The Luxury have been busy, finishing first in a Boston-area band battle and recording their second album with the free studio time they won. For the large part, In the Wake of What Won't Change is bigger, more elaborate, and an improvement on what the band probably wanted to make on their first effort. Gone are the rough edges of their first record; their sophomore work hones in on the type of anthemic, alt-influenced britpop that defined the band's debut. In the Wake has two "sides" (but you don't have to flip over the disc), both with short, abstract "intros," which feels like self-indulgent bloat until you realize that the first side is definitely different from the second.

"Getaway Car," which starts the record proper after the first intro, steps nimbly over the beat, bouncing on the usual rock band standard plus an arpeggiating synth. I compliment "Take It Back" for the way it mixes throwbacks to classic rock with studio trickery, at once both heavy and soft. The first side even comes to resemble power pop at times. The Luxury does some of the best harmonies I've heard from recent bands, especially on "'Til Your Last Year" and "The Mirror Fogs."

The second side, begun by "El Jefe Y Su Burro (intro)," represents The Luxury's foray into production indulgence. I can't imagine what could have inspired the band to find not one, but two trumpeters for the aforementioned track and its follow-up, "Straitjacket," which sounds like David Terry of Aqueduct ditched the synthesizers and got major studio backing. While I am biased against extravagant arrangements without cause, I cannot deny that the trumpet blares and Jason Dunn's ridiculous energy make my foot tap hopelessly. The rest of the side finds the five-member band building U2-style anthems, heard best on "Sing for the Last Train" and "Closer."

It is also on the second side that the band makes a big misstep--criticizing President George W. Bush. My political views aside, I remember the last KASC Music Director, Owen, remarking that that no one wants to hear outdated political commentary in song form (or something like that--sorry, Owen). And yet, "012009" (referring to January 20, 2009, when Bush left office) spends three minutes to this very subject. Songs like this one, with thinly-veiled lyrics about a specific person, can quickly date a band or mark a group's amateurishness.

Misguided political statements aside, The Luxury has made an album that should get them national attention (should being the key word). If you can make it past track 11, The Luxury are a band that you need to hear. In the Wake of What Won't Change has carved out the space between power britpop and big indie rock and filled it. I just hope that these guys can resist the allure of overproduction so common to mainstream rock and pop.

26 August 2009

Bobby Dylan could never do you wrong. Or get you lost.

According to thetripwire.com, Bob Dylan is in discussion with several GPS companies to provide a new voice to guide those lost souls. Those on the road, meandering the highways and biways of this nation can now entrust the rock poet to direct them to -- well, wherever they wanna go. The grocery store. Grandma's house. The mall. Wal-Mart.

Does anyone else see the irony? Protest poet tells you how to get to any corporate mecca you want. (Likely in exchange for a rather large sum of money in the first place.)

And shall we even begin to discuss the practicalities of this? How the hell are you gonna understand him anyway. Even on his best days it's a stretch to decipher a sound clip of him talking.

And I'm not sure where he's gonna take me anyway. I'd probably end up on some stoner beach at the coast. (Not that there's anything wrong with that...) Brilliant songwriter? Absolutely. Good person to ask for directions? Gotta say no on this one.

21 August 2009

Taking Back Sunday/Kinch/Raining and OK at Wells Fargo Arena 8/21/2009

Oh dear, in all of my time spent at metal and other more niche-market shows lately, I've forgotten what it's like to be at a show featuring a popular band, that normal people enjoy. Specifically, I forgot that the average, annoying normal person actually goes to concerts. Then of course it was at ASU to boot. Crowd aside though...

Raining and OK were the opener and the first of two local bands for the evening. Initially, I was writing this review in my head and it was quite negative. There was so much looping and electronic modification of the sound I was a bit upset this was supposed to be a rock band, rather than an electronic band. The latter half of the set, however, shifted to something a bit more standard, and being the judgmental person I am, I graded them down for sounding generic initially. Then I remembered they were local, and realized that considering that they weren't another terrible indie rock band, and in fact were a pretty average opener on say a national tour, I felt these guys weren't actually half bad. In fact I'd see them again, and given that they are local, I probably will.

Next the comedian Baron Vaughn came up between bands and his first set was not that good, really. I mean, I have a poor sense of humor, but only a few chuckles here and there out of the quite large crowd, so I'm sure I'm not the only one who thought so. Thankfully, his second set was much better (probably because he stopped playing safe and went for edgy...we're in college after all). Not the best comedian, but I'd see his latter set at a club.

Kinch was local band number two for the evening, and despite their popularity in the local scene, I'd never seen them before. Good choice on my part, as it turned out. This band is just plain not good. Someone needs to hit the whole of the Phoenix local music scene over the head (or maybe stop doing so, I'm not sure). The highlight of their set was the people dancing in the back, a group which eventually grew to probably over 100 people between the two sites...oh sheeple.

Taking Back Sunday was the headliner and the reason I bothered to go, but in hindsight I didn't think about that too carefully. Granted, it was a free show, so no complaints about wasted money, but it wouldn't have been a bad idea to realize that I only own two of this band's CDs and there is a reason for that. To be fair, there were one or two songs I wasn't intimately familiar with that they played and I liked a fair bit but given their preference in the set list to CDs I don't own, nor do I particularly like, I was a bit disappointed. The Tell All Your Friends and Louder Now songs were all good choices, though Tell All Your Friends could have been represented 100% more and I don't think anyone would have complained...even if I prefer the original vocals for those songs. Speaking of band members, I also feel obliged to point out that this band has three guitarists. Now, I'm not totally opposed to the idea of three guitarists...some bands can pull it off; for example, Iron Maiden. When you have rhythm and dueling soloists, or three-part harmonized guitar riffs, I can see the appeal in the third guitar played, but for a pop punk band? Overkill. Really. There's no way to really justify the use of three guitarists in any pop punk band, and the performance did nothing to argue against that point so I stick to it. Up until the title track from Tell All Your Friends was played, I was ready to walk away from the concert quite disappointed, but thanks to two dancing and energetic girls behind me, when that song came on the energy was infectious and kept with me the rest of the show, bringing up the overall quality tremendously. Taking Back Sunday live: saved by a couple of ebullient ladies.

14 June 2009

Check Out Mos Def's new video "Casa Bey"

Check out Mos Def's New Album The Ecstatic Out Now!!! I recommend a track called "Workers Comp" from the record!!!

05 June 2009

Jars of Clay/Seabird @ Gothic Theater 6/4/2009

Seabird is a band I was previously unfamiliar with in their entirety, and to describe them I want to use one of my favorite terms: half-decent. That is not quite true though, rather, I should say they are half good. The pianist and guitarist (who are brothers as it turns out) have a great synchronization in their playing and the complexity and depth of the composition is absolutely fantastic at times. Unfortunately, the pianist also chooses to sing, and while he's perhaps not a bad singer, he's not a fitting singer for the band. The drums and bass, which are crucial to a truly great and cohesive band, weren't bad by any stretch of the imagination, but like the vocals, they brought the composition down from its potential,which is always a disappointing thing to see in a band. As it turned out the bassist was playing his last show, so maybe with a new drummer and someone else taking lead vocals I could see this band becoming great in the future. I'll have to keep an eye out.

Jars of Clay did not play what I consider an optimal set list. Perhaps, as my dad suggested, it was merely the fact that I had not yet heard their latest album. But I've heard new songs by bands live before and been blown away, and this was not the case here. To me, it sounded like they had just found garageband and were busy experimenting with it while playing straightforward rock, to a mediocre end at best. But it's ok for a band to have a poor album, the prior album was fantastic. Unfortunately, they may very well have played the entire album throughout the evening, which was a poor choice in my opinion. In addition, some older songs were re-imagined for this performance, and while I appreciate wanting to change up your old hits and experiment with them, for the most part I felt the new versions fell flat of the originals (though a couple were indeed better). I believe that if you want to change something, you should change it for the better, not just to change it. The whole experience made me wonder whether or not the prior album was a lucky fluke, because they have quite surrounded it with mediocrity and I begin to doubt their artistic vision.

28 May 2009

No Doubt/Paramore/The Sounds @ Fiddler's Green 5/27/2009

First concert in awhile, how exciting.

The Sounds are a Swedish rock band fronted by a female (as with all bands on this tour), and a bit of an 80's synth influence throughout. In many ways they're sort of reminiscent of No Doubt in fact (when they ply the 80's style stuff). As an opener, they did all that could be asked for; though most of the crowd remained seated a few were already up and dancing, and most people were at least tapping their feet or bobbing their heads in time with the music. A few songs were really solid, a few were mediocre, but I'm inspired to grab a CD by them and check it out, and everyone I was with asked if I had any of their music I could get to them, so a good crowd response without a doubt.

Paramore seems to be a bit of a polarizing band. Some people see them as the epitome of the commercialization of music, another disposable band full of lackluster musicians selling the same songs corporations like to sell to mainstream America. Those people hate fun. Paramore is fun, so thus, this explains their hate of this band. I was a bit disappointed with the new songs they played, but maybe the album will be a grower just as Riot was (All We Know was an instant like though, interestingly). The crowd drawn by this band was an interesting mix by comparison to No Doubt fans. Hipster teen girls and ex-hipster 40-ish girls...always fun to see where people will end up in 10-20 years. I was also disappointed to find out Paramore has a (pretty good) song exclusively on the Twilight soundtrack. Now the question is if I will defile my computer enough to get the soundtrack. Oh and their failure to play Born for This was a sad let down.

No Doubt was without a doubt (no pun intended) the highlight of the night. From the entertaining and elaborate stage setup, to the crowd energy, just an amazing show overall. Gwen's ability to interact with the crowd is fantastic, and the band is entertaining while still performing well and not inhibiting the musical performance. Embarrassingly, I had not heard more than half of the setlist prior to this show, but thankfully those songs were all so catchy and enjoyable that I had no problem getting into them as if I'd heard them a dozen times. The middle of the set list did drag ever so slightly, but by the time they jumped into Don't Speak they were an overwhelming force that inspired the crowd to all but spark with the electricity in the air. Just a Girl was also a highlight of course, especially when she made the women shut up (for the first time all night hah) and just had the men sing. Quite entertaining. Of course, the women blew the men away when their turn came.

16 May 2009

Love Them Now and Love Them in the Future

After I finished listening Chester French’s new album Love the Future, I honestly knew that this album became part of my favorite albums of 2009 and possibly ever! Chester French managed to include hilarious lyrics, quirky melodies, hip-hop, and rock into a thirteen track album.

The magic of Chester French does not stop at just amazing music, but they have an amazing story to tell. The duo, D.A. Wallach and Max Drummey, met in Harvard during their freshman year and found that they shared similar philosophies and musical taste. Original, Chester French were a five-piece band, but eventually they became a duo after spending their summer in Cambridge writing and producing music. It took Wallach and Drummey three years worth of writing and producing before they were discovered. Their discovery in its self is an incredible story because they became the center of a tugging war between Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, and Jermaine Dupri. These men are some of the biggest producers in the industry right now, to be the “thing” they are fighting for must be an incredible accomplishment!

Love the Future has such a diverse grouping of sounds that it takes the listener through all kinds of goose bumps. We get some rock and roll with “C’mon (On My Own)”, “Bebe Buell”, “The Jimmy Choos”,” Time to Unwind”, but then we are thrown for a loop with the subdued track “Fingers”…wait it’s not over yet…we get intercepted with “Country Interlude” that is a schizophrenic instrumental track with spurts of vocals mixed in with rich orchestras and electronic mixers. After we kind of get a break, “Beneath the Veil” takes us back to the old Wild Wild West. The next track is called “Neal”, which includes certain elements of country keeping with the theme of “Beneath the Veil”. The last three tacks of the album bring the listeners back to the beginning of the album with “Not Over You”, “She Loves Everybody”, and “Sleep”. Love the Future is a non-stop album that is fun and exciting to listen to!

12 May 2009

Ida Maria Introduces Punk Rock to the 21st Century!

Finally! Punk Rock is making a comeback after being dormant for so long! Ida Maria is a Norwegian songstress with outrageous lyrics ranging from the incredibly blunt to the deliciously inappropriate. She will definitely be many girls' guilty pleasure! Her album Fortress Round My Heart will be released May 18th!

01 May 2009

Piles o' Promos, Part the Second

The Vaselines-Enter the Vaselines

Their entire (albeit short) discography's worth of horniness and Jesus-confusion, through the always youthful lens of twee. By turns brilliant and cloying. ("Son of A Gun, "Dying For It," "Jesus Wants Me For a Sunbeam," "Sex Sux (Amen)").

The Crocodiles-Summer of Hate

Is shitgaze already going stale? Fingers crossed on 'no.' Either way, here's your archetype. Crass garage rock takes turns with ambient yawning, resulting in a resounding "so what?"

Bill Callahan-Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle

Sometimes austerity is deceptive. Slowly meandering through organic strings and snares, Callahan's baritone eventually finds inner-peace--or something like it--in orchestral lushness. PB&J may have said it out of irony, but ultimately this one is quite literally a living thing.

Rating Guide: It's like eighth grade all over again!

(;_;) (>_>) (~_~) (=_=) <- (-_-) -> (|_|) (+v+) (!u!) (^U^)

30 April 2009

Album Review: Years - Years

I consider myself one of a lucky few, and not just because of how pretentious I am--I listened to Years far ahead of its scheduled release date of May 5th. But I am redundant. Watch as I posture breathlessly about this indie-cum-experimental-cum-Dntel (because Jimmy Tamborello takes a category for himself) "masterwork." I promise to call it a masterwork at one point.

When I was debating whether or not to pick up this CD by Broken Social Scene and Do Make Say Think multi-instrumentalist Ohad Benchetrit, I was worried. Ohad never really made himself known to me, and I knew Do Make Say Think's reputation--slow movements, high crescendos, sometimes dull. Was I ready for an intelligent snoozefest?

I wasn't, which was fortunate, since Years is no sleep inducer. It's a magical, emotional post-rock masterwork. BSS and Do Make Say Think fans look elsewhere; this is not Ibi Dreams of Pavement or Almost Crimes, nor is it even related to Goodbye Enemy Airship the Landlord Is Dead. Years is a guitar plucked and kneaded by nimble hands, in parts chopped up and down with a staccato knife and others angelic like a swan. This is a tome of sense and sense decayed, of times past and present.

If Broken Social Scene is baroque pop, then Years is baroque post-rock. All the most eccentric aspects of BSS are pulled together and introduced with new elements. All semblance of pop normalcy goes out the window when you hear album opener "Kids Toy Love Affair," a nearly neurotic orchestral combination that start starts with airborne woodwinds and flighty guitar strings pressed in punches. But even this serene yet puzzling arrangement is injected with a symphony of horns and nervous violins. The elements crowd together and crow with tension and the illusion of resolve. For an album opener, its as out there as "Clap Your Hands!" on Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, but here it makes as much sense for totally different reason--this is the song that sails away from the port and tells you that your journey will not be in the standard format.

Years escapes most definitions of music, so it must be content to be called post-rock. It's not acoustic, although much of the album makes use of decidedly un-electric guitars. "Binary Blues" is You Forgot It In People it it was produced by Dntel coming hot off of Life Is Full of Possibilities, and "Are You Unloved?" The Glow, Part 2 the same way. Other parts veer off into wild, unexpected nooks and crannies, like the heartbreakingly subtle "Hey Cancer...Fuck You!" as it captures all the mood swings and chaos of a catastrophe even as the rhythm never deviates from its prescribed path. The fugues of "September 5. October 21. 2007" and "44" are about as experimental as an artist can swing without veering into crazy country.

On the other hand, Years quotes classic Broken Social Scene and proceeds to demonstrate why those hipster Canadians are so damn popular. "The Major Lift" is almost certainly inspired by "Canada vs. America" from their E.P. To Be You and Me, with its frantic horn calls and indecisive strings fractured by hi-hat stutters stolen from The Flashbulb, who's looked for them in his sock drawer twice by now. And I'd be damned if the horns (again with the horns!) that soliloquize in "Are You Unloved?" didn't take a leaf out of Feel Good Lost. "A Thousand times a Day (Someone Is Flying)" probably learned how to put that tremolo on its guitars by listening to "It's All Gonna Break."

Maybe I'm just seeing Broken Social Scene in Years where there is none. But some of the cues and references are spot-on, and in a collection of music as diverse and tangent as Years, it can't be just a coincidence. I refuse to believe it. And you know what? I'm happy with that. Years is loaded with emotion and nostalgia, and it'll be a delight both for fans of Broken Social Scene and people who obsessively listen to... well... I'm not sure. How does on classify the human heart set to music?

25 April 2009

Just Tweeted: Secret Mini Tigers Show

Per Ben Collins of Modern Art Records, or @moderncollins in tweetspeak, Phoenician big timers Miniature Tigers will play a "secret" show at Last Exit in Tempe tonight as a warm-up for their upcoming tour with Kevin Devine, which does not include a stop in AZ. Catch the boys at 8 p.m. sharp!

The Valley Tonight: Mates of State, Bandwagon III, The Real Coachella

I'll go out on a limb and suppose that you're neither one of the many attending McDowell Mountain Music Festival, with a lineup boasting The Flaming Lips, nor did you venture to Indio for Stagecoach. So you're probably looking for something awesome to do tonight that has nothing to do with confetti or traveling to California. Worry not. I think I can help.

- Mates of State, Black Kids, Judgment Day at The Clubhouse, $17, doors at 7:30PM. Dance party. Need I write more?

- Bandwagon III at Modified Arts, $8, doors at 4:30PM. You get a sweet wristband that'll get you discounts at Lost Leaf and Carly's Bistro. Featuring Courtney Marie Andrews, Dry River Yacht Club, Blaze favorites Gospel Claws, In Symmetry, Sister Cities, So And So, Towncraft (if you go, do not miss this band while you enjoy your Lost Leaf discount), plus Underscore Orkestra.

- The Real Coachella at The Trunk Space, $5, doors at 6 p.m. Featuring Pinata Party, Miss Maney Result, Stephen Steinbrink, The Johnsons, Nerd Love, Slackers Agenda Orchestra, The Big Funny, "Paul McCartney," Logan Greene & The Bricks, Mooey Moobau (CA), Skinwalkers, Nightwolf's Tribute to Glen Danzig, JJCNV, Ray Reeves, Andrew Jackson Jihad, and Father's Day

Album Review: Bishop Allen - Grrr...

Bishop Allen makes that kind of indie pop that's chirpy and adorable. Not eccentric enough to be comparable to Architecture in Helsinki or Belle and Sebastian (and certainly not as populous either with only two steady band members--seven other musicians assist the duo), Bishop is Allen is kind of like a tropical version of The New Pornographers à la Challengers.

If there's anything one can be sure of, it's that Grrr... by Bisop Allen sounds organic. The atmosphere is minimal, with every instrument ringing out in its own little space. It's reassuring to know that catchy indie pop can sound professionally recorded without becoming (too much). The background chorus on "Shanghaied" sounds fun and passionate, and listening to them I realized what Bishop Allen is about. They're that kind of indie band, the happy-go-lucky, always cheery, a little bit cheeky, taking The New Pornographers (and with them all the adventurous parts) and cranking the cute factor up to 11. Justin Rice and Christian Rudder, who front the band, could not have planned it any other way. They make no effort to remove themselves from the record, on every track leaving imprints of themselves--Justin Rice's vocal impurities (not enough to be called gravelly but audibly dirtier than James Mercer's), the distant clicking of drumsticks in opener "Dimmer", the hum of the guitar amp in "Oklahoma." This is art that was crafted out of love. The problem is that it sounds soulless.

Wait, what? How can a love-inspired collection of cute little bits be just the opposite? What is this madness I write? Is Jell-o now cake? Is George W. Bush a Hindu? Am I a teacup, short and stout?

Fear not. Bishop Allen is a band that justifies the existence of the likes of Times New Viking and Women, bands that despite such clean production are listenable because the emotions they produce don't sound like they were produced in a clean room. It strikes me as I hear the "distortion guitar" on the song "South China Moon." It produces none of the feedback expected and none of the impact it should. I don't slight just the production values. It's the realization that music is fun to listen to, and that's really it. The lyrics are passable and so wrapped up in the intricacies of relationships that they never involve me. Lovely phrases bounce around here and there, but I wish they meant something.

I have no doubt that Bishop Allen is a band whose members love what they do, but I wish they would make more than a pretty picture.

24 April 2009

piles o' promos, part the first

Robert Christgau, I am so, so sorry. 

Junior Boys: Begone Dull Care
-Blips and bleeps cross paths with sterile crooning. Seduction music for young upwardly mobile robots. 

White Rabbits: It's Frightening
-Case number umpteen of "Indie Rock" circa-Spoon, but hey, they sound really into it this time. Still, I kept waiting and waiting for a horn section to come in. A name like "Rudie Falls" practically begs it.  

Silversun Pickups: Swoon
-Well-meaning shoegaze drowns in a vat of post-grunge gloss. Goes down smooth with a dose of high school drama.

Experimental Dental School: Forest Field 
-Deerhoof and Braniac have a baby. It soon dismantles its crib and uses the parts to build a noisy, yet efficient, spaceship. It barely breaches the troposphere, but it was a solid try. 

[impromptu rating system, reflecting a clear regression back to junior high.]

(;_;)  (>_>)  (~_~)  (=_=)  <-  (-_-)  ->  (|_|)  (+v+)  (!u!)  (^U^)  (&____&)

20 April 2009

The Blaze Celebrates Bob Dylan

Today The Blaze will be celebrating Bob Dylan by spinning two hours worth of his music! Tune in from 4:30PM to 6:30PM to hear Dylan through the ages, plus exclusive tracks from his new record. You can also call in, at 480-965-1260, to win classic Dylan CDs, a 7-inch and a plethora of other really sweet, really free prizes!

Don't miss this! It's only on The Blaze 1260 AM, ASU's original alternative!

19 April 2009

The Weekly WTF? - Captain Space Clown, The Echelons

Welcome to what will hopefully be a regular feature here at the COTMA Blog - The Weekly WTF?

You wouldn't believe how many off-note, depressing, or just plain bizarre albums we receive here at the station. They accumulate, unlistened, unloved, gathering dust on the shelves. They haunt the music office like jilted, hideous ghosts trapped in poorly photo-shopped jewel case coffins. This feature should serve as a much needed exorcism.

Captain Space Clown - S/T

Official Summary: "Captain Space Clown and his intergallactic booty machine the Spacetramp rockin' all the bootay' to the back of the universe."

COTMA Assessment: Sounds sort of like an unofficial ICP/Orgy tribute project, without all the arty pretentiousness. Lots of synth pads and tuneless singing about being a space clown.

Constructive Criticism: Make it more space-clowny. Don't be Captain Space Clown anymore.

The Echelons - "Don't Kiss Her Face"

Official Summary: "sort of modern day partridge family with a punk rock attitude, except for the fact that they do play their own instruments and write their own songs."

COTMA Assessment: Considering these songs were apparently written by an 8 year old girl or whatever, the weirdly sexual cover art and creepy album title set a strange tone. I'd say her face is the last thing that tiny man has on his mind heh heh... (*creeped out shivers*). Shambling and boring songs with too many effects.

Constructive Criticism: lose the guitar solos, add some blast beats.

18 April 2009

Happy Record Store Day!

Today is going to be intensely awesome. Live music, cool sales, and lots and lots of indie exclusive RSD releases. If you're unsure of which stores to hit up, what's happening, what exclusives are out there, etc. then read on.

Hoodlums: Hoodlums is going to be a serious party all day. I'll be spinning the new Bob Dylan record Together Through Life at 3PM. You won't be able to hear that anywhere else until the album's out on the 28th. AKA, that's pretty exclusive. You'll also be able to pre-order the album, and when you do you're commitment will be rewarded with a sweet-a Bob litho. Additionally, your neighborhood friendly Hoodlums will have a ton of special releases including RSD exclusives from Akron/Family, Black Kids, Bob Dylan, Camera Obscura, Modest Mouse, Leonard Cohen, My Morning Jacket, Bruce Springsteen, Manchester Orchestra, Metric, Pavement, a Sonic Youth/Jay Reatard split... and the list goes on.

Plus! Hoodlums has local cats Porches, Wizards of Time, Stephen Steinbrink and Earthmen and Strangers playing, in that order, starting at 5:30PM. Needless to say, I'm horribly excited.

Stinkweeds: Tons of exclusives, obviously. Plus free BBQ, and a rad concert starting at noon. The lineup includes Courtney Marie Andrews, Dust Jacket, Doug Bale, Monophonic Hillside, Back Ted N-Ted, Fatigo and Gospel Claws. Hot dang!

Revolver: Sweet show kicking off at noon: Marlene O'Conner, Hexaclops, The Swamp Coolers, Psychedelic Mooj, FC Armenta, The Incognitoes

Zia: Wicked-serious in-stores all across AZ today. If you can make it down to Tucson's Speedway location by 2 p.m., you'll get a show from Black Lips and Hands on Fire. The Tempe location will have The Parlor Mob in for a live rock-out and signing, and Chandler has A Day To Remember doing a performance and signing, as well.

Pick one, hit up all of 'em, whatever. Just support your local record stores!

Joost Presents: Record Store Day Playlist

17 April 2009

Mastodon/Kylesa/Intronaut/Via Vengeance @ The Marquee 4/16/2009

Via Vengeance opened once again and I have to say, I don't at all mind this one man trickster opening all these great shows as they come through here. The music is about as you can expect from a local act, and on top of that, the "gimmick" of his act (that is, that he is the whole band) really is effective in getting the crowd pumped up. This man is everything that could be wanted in an opening act. As for him, he gets to play with some of the best bands in the genre. I think everyone is benefiting in this deal.

Intronaut kicked off the touring bands with a bang. The music is all but impossible to headbang to as it changes time signatures just about every other bar, but it is fantastic nonetheless. These guys were, in my opinion, the most talented band playing tonight. The coordination and timing required to play such complex music is beyond the comprehension of most people I think, and to top it off, the riffs are actually good-sounding and brutal. That being said, the complex nature of the music doesn't lend itself to the metal live venue very well. Some bands, like Dillinger Escape Plan, have been able to get away with complexities and still drive a crowd wild, but Intronaut seemed to struggle a little bit with that.

Kylesa was really great. Considering I'd only heard their latest CD, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. The CD is pretty good, but I expected them to be the laggard in this lineup. Now, the one thing which did bother me was the dual drummers. As I've mentioned in other reviews, this is a huge pet peeve of mine if the band doesn't utilize both drummers well. Kylesa does not. 90% of the time they were playing the same thing or very close to. Seemed quite unnecessary. The band got plenty of crowd participation though...for awhile I was convinced they would end up with the best moshing of the night over the headliners, Mastodon. Definitely a huge audience response and solid if a little repetitive music, nothing to complain about.

Now, here is where I have a mini-rant about bands I like getting signed to major labels. It's great for the band, don't get me wrong, but it makes me really not want to see them live anymore. For example, the guys behind me before Mastodon started were discussing how great Dave Matthews is (seriously, not in a satirical way). Now, normally, if I ever heard that at a metal show, no, scratch that, I would expect that I would never ever hear that at a metal show. I mean seriously. Dave Matthews. As these guys continued to talk, I felt I would be doing the world a favor to kill them given their taste in music alone, yet here they were seeing Mastodon, a band that has put out a couple of good albums. This is where I want to destroy MTV or whatever it is that brings these unelite to my shows. Unacceptable tainting.

Mastodon, however, did put on a good show despite it all. They played entirely through Crack the Skye, and then took an "intermission" of about a minute, then came back and worked through their back catalog for another 45 minutes. Now, throughout Crack the Skye, the crowd was very tame to my astonishment. Granted, the new album isn't exactly full of the heavy, mosh-ready tunes that Leviathan was, but it is a good album, and the audience response was pretty flat for the most part. But after that intermission, the crowd really did get moving. A few tracks from Blood Mountain got movement, but really, it wasn't till Leviathan tracks that we really saw what this crowd could do, and then there was a great pit going, and it was what I had expected to occur an hour previously. The crowd predictably did not get into the genius that is Seabeast, but I can forgive them for getting into the rest of stuff from Leviathan (though Seabeast is definitely the best track on that album).

All in all a great show. I can't actually pick a favorite band from the lineup, they all had their unique strengths that they played to and in the end that made it a very well-rounded show which was only really complete when taken as a whole. An art few lineups manage to cater to very often.

15 April 2009

Kick Ass Spring Concert

Biggest props go out to dear friends of The Blaze Matthew Reveles and What Laura Says. They rocked out on ASU's Hayden Lawn yesterday, and drew quite the crowd. I'll be posting some pictures and video this week, so keep your eyes peeled for it.

14 April 2009

Cage the Elephant/Electric Touch @ Modified Arts 4/19/09

At the Blaze it’s a rare honor to have a touring band that is not from Arizona, come in to do a live in studio chat. This up-and-coming band is Electric Touch and will be at Modified Arts on April 19th, playing with 3 other bands, headliner Cage the Elephant and local bands Gospel Claws & Becky Lee and Drunkfoot. The great thing about Modified is, it’s always inexpensive ($8 in this case) to see a great show.

This 4-piece band known as Electric Touch is headquartered out of Austin, Texas, and is stopping by the valley, meeting up with Cage the Elephant right after their separate one-day stints at the very popular music festival called Coachella. Four days later, Electric Touch are heading to Las Vegas and opening for Bon Jovi at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, so before these guys start playing at bigger venues, stop by to see them at one of the valley’s most intimate venues, then tune in the next day (April 20th), Monday morning at 10a.m, to http://www.theblaze1260.com/ or 1260 AM on the radio dial for an in-studio interview.

11 April 2009

Amon Amarth/Goatwhore/Skeletonwitch/Lazarus AD @ The Marquee 4/10/2009

Lazarus AD opened up the show with quite a bang. I have long since outgrown my thrash days on CD...but it is really one of those genres that's great live even if you're totally bored with it on CD. The band tore it up and the lead guitarist had some great riffs and solos peppered in there that almost made me go back and start listening to thrash again. I only say almost because I'd honestly just rather see these guys again than listen to CDs. Second best band of the night.

Skeletonwitch is a band I'd have sworn I had seen before. But it wasn't on my list of bands seen live, so I may have been mistaken. Either way, the band was pretty good musically, but the vocals really killed it for me. The vocalist himself was good, as a frontman, but stood out in a rather adverse way by comparison to the band's music. The slight identity crisis of the music was also perhaps a bit distracting...thrash, death, black, all mixed up...I preferred the black sections myself.

Goatwhore was decent, I suppose. I'd never listened to the band prior, but they really suffered from an unenthused crowd. I was at the back of the pit for these guys, and honestly the pit was barely alive at the beginning, and by the end it was really just an empty space on the floor, just in case. the lack of crowd energy and enthusiasm drags down any band's live performance, and given the more or less generic style of music, the entire performance became quite lackluster alas.

Amon Amarth headlined and, interestingly, they were on my list of bands I'd seen live. Now, this was interesting because I didn't recall ever seeing them...not a shining endorsement by any means. I wonder why I don't remember now though. They were really great. The little details (drinking from animal horns, for instance) added enough to the thematic atmosphere and the music was good, if a bit taxing for such a long period (most metal is). When I first entered the venue, I was shoocked to see that the sound booth was in the middle of floor rather than in the back...this means a small crowd usually. Well, the crowd was indeed small, but completely enthusiastic. Normally, in the place I stand people are rather casual watchers and pretty passive. Just enjoying the music. For this show, the pit was all the way back to me (I was on the edge) and even behind me people were jumping and shouting all the lyrics, to say nothing of the huge press of people on the stage-side of the pit. Huge energy for this band, and it really made for a great experience and performance.

07 April 2009

Album Review: The Long Lost - The Long Lost

I wanted to like this album. I really did. I sincerely tried. But the more I listened, the more I knew that this was not going to happen. Singer LauraDarlington, wife to would-be partner-in-crime Alfred Darlington, failed to convince me that their record is truly worthwhile.

One could say I knew it would be like this from the start. This album, 14 songs and 45 minutes long, started out interesting and never strayed the course. Unfortunately, they don't try hard to capture you, unless you think completely dopeyelectro-acoustic folk songs about love deserves your undivided attention. From the very first song, I felt Ms. Darlington's voice too inaccessible for subject matter that should close to heart. She sings soprano from a mountaintop, her whispery airs flowing around a guitar rhythm. Sometimes a drummer brushes his kit in the background. It's all very fine, but I can't feel a connection anywhere on the CD. The misses always muses from a distance. Her voice is there, but the atmosphere is so soft and relaxed that it's easy to slip out of listening. You would have to be perfectly engaged to keep our attention focused. And while it is indeed my job to listen to each and every CD that comes my way, even I found myself distracted after a time.

As I listened over and over again to understand the album, I found myself fascinated by the artistic choices the duo made. It's difficult to not call The Long Lost pretentious when their idiosyncratic rhythm and melody choices make appreciating their craft frustrating. Nothing illustrates this better than "Amiss," the second song. At first I'm led to believe that achirpy little ditty is about to happen. Then Laura's vocals come in, everything sounds syncopated and it's driving me insane. Call me a stickler for convention, but it grates on my nerves when you set up the beat and the lead instrument or lead vocal in contrast to each other. It doesn't feel right. Even more aggravating is when beautiful, great songs like "Sibilance," with all the elements in perfect balance, are broken up by off-target music; it's right after "Amiss."

Unfortunately, I get the feeling that The Long Lost is too long. Normally I would not fault 14 songs on a disc, but for the slow pace of this album, things don't work the same. Listening to the whole thing in one go requires great patience and a large volume of caffeine. This was to be expected, as the press release that came with the CD made clear that was a singer-songwriter's album, not an electronic one--Alfread Darlington's other (or at least one of them) project is Daedelus, which is distinctly electronica. "Ballroom Dance Club" is the only song that really uses electronic elements, with a mixed result.

Overall, I am not greatly impressed. I had a hard time getting over the premise of the album--acoustic folk songs slower than a geologic process withdisinterested , simplistic vocals to match. Admittedly, folk isn't my forte. My expectations of the CD were wrongly placed because the marketing misled me. Even then, I adjusted my criticism for this review. The album isn't boring, perse . To the casual listener and passerby, it will be. The average college student would probably not like the drawling "Siren Song," which sounds like it would be at home in a 1940's intellectual drama. I can only cite a couple songs that are remotely radio-worthy: "Sibilance" and "Finders Keepers." These hardly make up for the other 12 tunes. I asked myself, Do I want to bore my listeners? The answer was, No, not really.

26 March 2009

Pelican/Wolves in the Throne Room/Tombs/Early Man/Via Vengeance @ The Sets 3/25/2009

To begin, let me qualify this review by saying this was my first time at The Sets, and I was thoroughly let down. Between the poor planning (to me, when the headliner ends at 12:30, but the show didn't start till about 8:30, and it's a Wednesday night, that's poor planning) and mediocre sound (I know getting good sound out of post metal bands that rely on distortion as a part of their sound is hard, but the mixing was unacceptably muddy at many points during the night), I struggle to say I'd come back to see bands here unless I was really desperate to see them.

Via Vengeance was the first act of the night and, like most post metal bands, the music is fairly simple technically, and it's the atmosphere that really matters. Well, this band didn't have the best atmosphere development, but I don't think you could expect anymore of a lone musician playing guitar and drums...at the exact same time. Via Vengeance is a band comprised of only one member, and he simultaneously plays drums and guitar. Most people struggle for the coordination just involved in drumming! Whatever technical failings this one-man metal band may suffer from are easily overlooked in the entertainment and novelty of that one-man band.

Early Man was next up and thanks to the records I keep, I know I had seen this band previously (the name did sound familiar), but I can't remember exactly where. The thrash metal sound these guys have is fun and definitely got the crowd going, but I felt it was a little bit out of place in an evening dominated by atmosphere-centric bands. I may, however, merely be projecting my antipathy towards thrash onto these guys unfairly. Like I said, the crowd liked it...who am I to judge?

Tombs I had also seen previously...I believe last October in New York. On CD, this band is certainly not bad, but they don't particularly stand out either. The songs have a tendency to run together and the album can be tiresome played start to finish. But where that hurts on album, the band is able to exploit it to their benefit live. From the beginning to the end of the set, there was not a moment of silence, and the net result was a 30 minute post metal influenced soundscape that kept crowd interest and energized the venue.

Wolves in the Throne Room went beyond the typical atmosphere bands tend to strive for, that being an aural atmosphere. They brought in candles and a fog machine, and with the fog machine working overtime, within 5 minutes of the start of their set, the entire venue was clogged in a deep fog penetrated primarily by those candles and the blue LED on one of the guitars. Normally, a physically foggy atmosphere wouldn't really add much, but when you're dealing with black metal, you can't help but begin to visualize yourself in a dark Scandinavian forest with a very occult feel as the music is played. As a band with quite epic songs, they only played three and, alas, my knowledge of their discography is almost non-existent, but the songs were quite enjoyable. Wish they're had a longer set.

Pelican played a set of too many new songs for my taste. The song they mentioned being from their new EP sounded good, so I may have to check that out, but in general I'm a man who takes Australasia or Fire over Echoes any day. As a result, the set list was rather lacking. In addition, the fact that they started at 11:15 and didn't finish until 12:30 didn't help their cause as I got crankier and more tired. They also played a cover of a band named Earth that was completely underwhelming. The riffs and ideas could certainly have been enjoyable, but there was a severe lack of substance for how much those riffs were recycled. I was bored after 3 minutes and then they played the same riffs for another 3. All in all not as good as previous performances, but then that could entirely be an issue of setlist preference...and sound preference (as mentioned, venue sound was quite mediocre).

25 March 2009

Devil at the Wheel - Crud

Despite the name of the band Crud is surprisingly good. Devil at the Wheel is the debut effort of Detriot band Crud. I took one look at the grindhouse like cover of the album and knew it would at least be an interesting listen. Crud describes themselves as, "super-charged fetish rock", it would be hard to argue that position. Devil at the Wheel starts strong with Reality with pounding drums and guitar work and the album doesn't let go from there.

The sound of Crud has a White Zombie like feel to the sound but with far less talk of death and the living dead. The lyrics of Vin E. have a distortied sound most of the album giving it a interesting if not unique sound to it, add the backing vocals of Danielle Arsenault and you have a combonation of strong power, with steamy and sexy. The song titles all have a grindhouse sound to them from Meat Detonation, and Murder is Fun to the title track Devil at the Wheel.

If you truely want an idea of what Devil at the Wheel is like I give you this. I feel it is what a grindhouse film would sound like if it was made into music instead of film. So in the end I'll give Crud a 4.5 out of 5 for their debut album.

Devil at the Wheel is currently availble in and was released by Heavy Hitter INC.
For more information from the Blaze 1260 AM's metal department visit our blog http://arizonametal.wordpress.com/

20 March 2009

Album Review: Youth Group - The Night Is Ours

This it: a haunting, beautiful excursion into anthemic alternative rock. Australian quartet Youth Group holds a modest profile, and this is potential evidence for the absence or nonexistence of God. They are known better in native Australia than in the States, but if Architecture in Helsinki and The Avalanches can both successfully make the leap to North America, then Youth Group deserves similar acclaim. Their blend of emotional catchphrases, alternately sparse and milky arrangements, and sometimes downright (or, rather, upright) masterful song structures triumphs over the CD that holds The Night Is Ours. Every song more or less drips with overflowing emotion, unrestrained. Perhaps it is this fully owned and embraced romanticism that distinguishes Youth Group from some weird Morrissey-cum-Gang-of-Four-cum-Cure Frankenband.

While the casual listener might gag at the sound of horns or strings (notably at the approach of the synthesized varieties), such textures are common to this disc, as are the delicate presses of piano keys; where electric guitars fail to convey doldrums or pluck away your reservations for the music one by one--like a sharpshooter--these sounds amplify the intensity or cake the soundscape in moodiness. It's the musical equivalent of Edgar Allen Poe melted together with Shakespeare (King Lear and The Tempest especially come to mind) à la Henrik Ibsen.

Intellectual delusions of grandeur massaged, I am forced by the necessity of clarity in my articulations to further my review by (sigh) talking about the music. I am struck and stricken by the conflict between minimalism and ornamentation orchestrated throughout the album. In a way, the structure of the CD reflects this. The Night Is Ours begins with "Good Time," a reflection on alienation that starts with nothing but a murmuring synth note, hung in the air like wind chimes. The tone is soon joined by a pensive bass note repeated over and over, followed by Toby Martin's soft baritone vox. As he begins to question his identity, he is joined in time by plodding piano keys and drum hits until he reaches an epiphany--represented both vocally and melodically. Though slow and containing little rock substance, this short tune evokes a kind of symbolic texture I rarely have the pleasure to hear.

From here Youth Group ventures into "One for Another," which recalls the subtle energy of God Is an Astronaut, but with excursions into the kind of bass-guitar interplay that the Futureheads use to great effect and all the lush trappings of the Human League. The ending switches gears entirely, shifting into a horn blowout that almost quotes Broken Social Scene's "Ibi Dreams of Pavement (A Better Day)." "Two Sides" is equally appreciated, as much a salute to self-conscious indie pop rock as to 80's synthpop. "Dying At Your Own Party" is purely channeled Morrissey with a backing band that explores the narrator's underlying emotions even as Martin sings abjectedly. The first half of the disc ends with the full-bodied "All This Will Pass."

Most memorable is "Friedrichstrasse," a single tune that reveals itself to be a microcosm of the rest of the 38-minute effort. A ballad of escape and fulfillment, Martin croons, "I'm never gonna leave/ The possibilities/ I'm blowing through my mind./ Can I leave this behind?/ I'll make it on my own./ I'm never going home." The reason the song is unsuitable for airplay in its original form is its usage of a single curse word. But the song, with its ringing ambience, steadily drawn rising action, and majestic peak, all flesh out the musical soul of Youth Group: bright and dew-eyed, longing for all the grace and innocence of a doe with a weary, forelorn expression. "Friedrichstrasse" more fully probes the idea of layering of instrumentation to achieve climax, with great results. The song progresses confidently, rendering each successive transition transparently and comfortably.

As "In My Dreams" and "What Is a Life?" close out the album with charm and sophistication, I wonder why Youth Group has failed to achieve widespread fame as other, less deserving artists have captured. Unless my musical instincts are vehemently misguided, Youth Group has put out a stunning fourth LP. Good show, lads, good show.

14 March 2009

Haiku Review

Back when I joined COTMA it was jokingly suggested that I do reviews in haiku. So I've taken up that suggestion as a little experiment. Here are the results, song-by-song haiku reviews of some previews and singles. The little stars denote a rating out of 5. Enjoy!

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Zero Single [?]
Metro ****
Pulsating rhythm
Electronic beats pervade
Not a bad single.

Kinch – The Economic Chastisement
The Economic Chastisement ***
Ominous organ
Like a game’s dungeon level
Pretty sounds prevail.

C.V. ***
Apathetic man
Singing over piano
What does this song mean?

Handclap. **
This sounds so happy
It is hipster irony
I just can’t dig it.

Ken Hoyne – Why
Why *
This is awkward man
The album art looks hardcore
Is this a church song?

Still You *
Classic rock strumming
This shit is way too sappy
Someone please stop him.

10 March 2009

The Valley Tonight: Adele & The Script

Tonight at 8 p.m., Welsh soul songstress Adele hits up Tempe's Marquee Theater, and Irish rockers The Script open the UK music celebration.

05 March 2009

Slipknot/Coheed and Cambria/Trivium @ Jobing.com Arena 3/5/2009

To begin with, I missed Trivium because, for one thing, I'd seen them previously and wasn't overly impressed with the show or the music, but even more importantly, I couldn't be bothered to be out in Glendale by 7 pm. Maybe I ought to have tried though. Despite arriving at 7:20, I wasn't inside until about 8, at which point Coheed and Cambria had already started. Getting in was worse than airport security, and worse than Marquee security. I don't understand how this happened given that they had metal detectors.

Coheed and Cambria was about on par with their performance in Gammage last year, and like then, this was also free (for me) so it has been nice to catch them under such conditions several times. Chris Pennie really is a stellar drummer, so it's too bad he wasn't given time to really shine in their short 30-45 minute set. In fact, for awhile I wasn't sure Claudio was going to even shine much when they chose to end on Silent Earth rather than The Final Cut...but he made the various solos behind the head/talking into guitar pickups/etc work into the ending of Silent Earth instead, which was cool. The set list focused mostly on the latest album, which was a changeup from the last show, though understandable given the audience and the fact that it's their heaviest album. However, as I expected when seeing this tour announced, most of the audience was retarded, so when they left the stage, a number of people in the crowd were giving them the middle finger or complaining that they weren't heavy enough. I wanted to vomit a little in my mouth. Normally, at a real metal show, even a band no one likes is shown appreciation if the musicianship is good (as it undeniably is in this band) because real metalheads appreciate talented rock musicians in the same way that good classical or jazz musicians are appreciated...in part because real metalheads like all of the aforementioned genres.

Slipknot was the headliner of this tour, and generally the reason I came all the way out to Glendale, because though I'd never really listened to them (I knew Wait and Bleed from high school), I'd heard good things about the live show. Some people obviously don't get out enough. The music is depressingly pointless. As mentioned in my review of Modest Mouse, one thing I cannot stand is bands who clutter the stage with band members who aren't at all necessary. Normally, I regulate this criticism to bands that double in size from the studio to the stage, but in this case I have to apply it to Slipknot in general. I feel quite certain the band could be cut down from 9 members to four with minimal musical quality loss. They can't disagree, because about 4 of them spent more time running around on stage than playing music. Of course, "playing music" is a rather kind term, since two of them were just banging on drums in that painful way lead singers sometimes do where it sounds a little ill-placed or at best uninteresting. The fact that there are three drummers in Slipknot is appalling not because there's three drummers, but because there's three drummers playing the same beat. So, music quality aside, what about the stage show? Well, it was ok. A couple guys were energetic, a couple of guys were entirely boring (why is the entire stage right still in the band, I found myself wondering). Some of the stage presence was present in the brand new stage props carefully crafted to appear really old and beat up (as opposed to actually old and beat up)m and some of it was in the hilarious masks the band wears. This band is quite obviously metal, because they spend so much time cultivating a rough and hard image through carefully polished and prepared front. Might as well be Good Charlotte, I mean really.

Of course, it is unfair to rail on the band for this without giving due credit to the compliant and conformist audience. I take effort in this review to separate real metalheads from people who attend shows like this. People who attend shows like this have low IQs, are obese, lack confidence, have a lot of pent up aggression, drink heavily, and think they're unique, even in a crowd of people exactly like them, inexplicably. For every 100 of these sorts of people, there is maybe 1 real metalhead, maybe fewer. Real metalheads are intellectual. They like classical and jazz for the same reasons they like metal, and tend to prefer progressive, symphonic, avant garde and/or technical elements. They are usually engineering/science/math people, or music people, scholastically. But most importantly, they like more underground metal, so when you talk to someone who knows what you're talking about when you throw out names like Cynic, Candlemass, and Carcass, you're talking to a real metalhead. These people are not to be confused with the ignorant masses in attendance at these KUPD sponsored shows.