Saturday, October 31, 2009

Heaven & Hell - The Devil You Know

One of my biggest fears in writing this review is the perception that I am the site’s lone Ronnie James Dio and that role puts me in a category of irrelevance. Kind of like the irrelevance that Dio himself faced about ten years ago when he was playing the shtick in clubs and secondary markets. Only the faithful showed up then and I would probably count myself as one of those vocal naysayers, laughing at every one of those few hundred patrons coming to get a glimpse at this tiny old man.
Tenacious D may have resurrected Dio to a pop culture joke, but it was a re-examination of his work with Black Sabbath in the early 80’s that resurrected him to a credible and influential voice in metal.
The reunion shows were supposed to be a swan song, a final glimpse at a band that was on its own deathbed at the time of conception. But there were reports during the tour that the band-now named Heaven & Hell thanks to the endless meddling of Sharon Osbourne-was preparing to record a new album together, the second reunion of this line-up.
Initially, I found myself as a naysayer, rolling my eyes at the notion of a disc of new material, envisioning a slow death of decreasing popularity and smaller venues. The fellas seemed intention on exiting the metal arena in embarrassing fashion, too old to know when it’s time to put away the gargoyles and call it a day.
The Devil You Know should be the sad remnants of that union, the document that tells us that the moment ended decades ago and, while reminiscing among the old farts is fine, the idea that they can translate it into credible new material is silly.
Well Holy Diver, the joke is squarely on me as Heaven & Hell deliver their heaviest recordings closer to the age of seventy than they did at twenty-one. It’s an effort that provides them with a reason to exist-albeit under a new name-and it should provide an inspiring reference point to anyone considering what the shelf life of a metal band should be.
Dio, who’s voice is still impressive at his advanced age, has moved from an egotistical bellower to one that has transitioned his talents into an ominous howl. The end of days is written all over this record, and Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler work each riff like it will be their last with Vinny Appice plodding along at a snails pace. Seriously: the album is more than half over before the band kicks it into second gear with “Eating The Cannibals.” All of this dirge and slow motion head banging begins to sound the same by the end of the album, and repeated listening had me reaching for the remote so that I could program only the best songs on the album.
One of those is “Bible Black.” It begins as a forlorn acoustic number until the ninety-second mark. At which time the band unleashes into a menacing refute of Christianity. “Let me go!/I’ve seen religion, but the light has left me blind!” Dio roars while Iommi delivers another worthy riff underneath the sacrilege.
While not as noteworthy as Heaven & Hell or The Mob Rules, the fourth installment of this Sabbath line-up is most surprising for its consistency. Not even I imagined that these four old-timers would have been album to create an album that matches the releases that are already available, particularly since it’s been over fifteen years since the last installment. It also annihilates practically everything that Sabbath’s more notorious frontman has released during that time. Which begs the question: shouldn’t Sharon be doing more to make sure her husband is contributing to his own legacy than worrying about what his former bandmates are doing? Because, judging from The Devil You Know, Heaven & Hell are doing more to retain Sabbath’s lofty stature than he is.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Black Moth Super Rainbow - Eating Us

Check it if you don’t believe me, but Black Moth Super Rainbow’s “Forever Heavy” is one of my most spun tracks according to Last FM. The song, from their last effort Dandelion Gum, is a trippy and memorable blend of old school analog synths and a weird
“Born On The Day The Sun Didn’t Rise” is similar to “Forever Heavy” in the sense that it too is the lead off track to their full length-this time it’s their latest entitled Eating Us-and it’s infectiously similar to that ’07 gem.
I have a feeling that it too will become a popular track and show similar high numbers to my spin totals, particularly after this summer is over.
In fact, much of Eating Us resembles the same acid-laden landscapes that precede it, with one very noticeable difference: the production quality. BMSR opened for the Flaming Lips last year, and the OKC pranksters must have put in the good word to producer Dave Fridmann. He uses his trademark big drum sound, puts a lot more audible detail in the mix and might have had a hand in streamlining every song to economical time lengths. Unlike the sound stamp that he placed on the last Tapes ‘n Tapes album, his work with BMSR is a breath of fresh air and provides new dimensions to their sound.
All of the retro keyboards make an appearance again, and the vocoder that was used somewhat sparingly in Dandelion Gum is used to the fullest here. Fridmann also pushes more stringed instruments here, including a beautiful string section at the end of “Gold Splatter.”
Eating Us is a much more mainstream endeavor, with its terse running time and focus on melody, and there are certainly more than a few tracks that could garnish widespread attention. BMSR always seemed to be a band that was destined to become merely an enjoyable curio, referenced as one of those underground bands who delivered a few great songs before disappearing into the psilocybin landscape. Their latest shows that perhaps the band has bigger things in mind and that they’re not quite content with becoming an underground footnote. A lot of forethought went into the making of Eating Us; whether or not it’s the work of Dave Fridmann or the members of BMSR will be seen with future releases. But for the time being Eating Us leaves you feeling full and very satisfied.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Black Moth Super Rainbow - Dandelion Gum

Hailing from rural Pennsylvania and sporting one of the weirdest band names since The Flaming Lips (a band they’re opening for this fall), Black Moth Super Rainbow have quietly made a few retro-minded instrumental albums over the past five years. Dandelion Gun, their latest offering, continues with their psychedelic soundscapes while managing to make a more lasting impression than the last few Air albums combined.
Their secret is two-fold: memorable melodies created on instruments (and recording studios, for that matter) that are no less than a quarter-century old. The instrument of choice ends up being a variety of pawn-shop synthesizers underneath a dated vocoder. This strategy makes deciphering the vocals (when they’re present) nearly impossible and, because it’s used so frequently, there’s a chance that a listener can grow fatigued of the gimmick while sober and/or long periods of listening.
But when Dandelion Gum is taken in small sittings, and one of the best methods is to throw in an individual track on a mix-tape, the results are enormously rewarding. For the past month, I’ve been enamored with the opening track “Forever Heavy,” going as far as to include it on my own commute mix and add it as a song profile to my own MySpace page (they’ve since deleted the track).
That song, as you’ll discover throughout most of the album, eloquently balances a low-fi economics (here’s hoping B.M.S.R. never get a proper recording budget) with lysergic-fueled visions (apparently, Dandelion Gum is “Hansel & Gretel” themed concept album that probably makes sense after a few tabs of acid) to create a spacious, and sometimes creepy, album.
As hokey as their stage names are (the band members are referred to as Tobacco, Iffernaut, Father Hummingbird, Power Pill Fist, and The Seven Fields of Aphelion) and as limiting as their antiquated equipment may be, Black Moth Super Rainbow are deserving of a wider audience, which is hopefully what will happen after a high-profile tour with their fellow Oklahoma zanies. At the same time, with Dandelion Gum being just a few tracks short of long lasting flavor (get it?), they’re well on their way to getting that wider audience completely on their own.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Bob Dylan - Together Through Life

It’s quite possible that the worst Bob Dylan album of all time is the one in which he joined up with the Grateful Dead for the Dylan & the Dead release. Twenty years after that disastrous merging, Dylan again looks to the Dead camp and calls up lyricist Robert Hunter to help out with album 33, and not just on a few cuts, but nearly every single one on Together Through Life. It’s an album that may not challenge Dylan & the Dead in terms of sheer blandness, but it comes close and it certainly knocks the wind out of Dylan’s late career winning streak.
Aside from a few unique forays into “Tex-Mex,” there’s little intrigue to be had at all, with everything sounding very much the age of Dylan himself and with none of the lyrics providing any insight to Zimmy’s mindset as he approaches 70. Instead, everything sounds like it was put together in haste with Dylan’s words taking shape as an afterthought.
I get the idea that Dylan makes the records that he wants to and that there’s no reason why he needs to consider what any of us should think the next step should be. But this seems like a patchwork, cobbled together from mundane musing on love and half-baked songs born out of movie soundtrack compositions instead of real inspiration. It is the sound of Dylan going though the motions with a very competent band who make each song sound like a dust-worn border town.
And then there’s the matter of Dylan’s voice, so wrecked at this point that you’ll cringe at the sight of Bob lighting up on the inside sleeve photograph. As wasted as it sounds, his voice may be the only truly intriguing thing that Bob contributes in Together. Everything else-either by pen or by phrasing-is just too cozy for its own good.
Even the arrangements sound congenial, like their true inspiration came from a couple of podcasts of his radio show instead of Dylan or Hunter’s prose. There’s no complaint about the performances mind you-they’re all nicely executed, well suited and completely forgettable-but when you’ve got Bobby phoning it in under the pretense of laid-back spontaneity, for fucks sake have someone spike the punch a get shit going. As talented as the musicians might actually be, they all sound like they’re sitting on their ass, working out after-hours Tex-Mex run-throughs and a few nods to the Chicago blues. It sounds like everyone had a swell time playing-hell, even Dylan busts out with a laugh on “My Wife’s Hometown,” but the thing about “after-hours” is that not all of us are invited to the show. The bar is closed, the doors locked, and we’re left outside, pining for a glimpse of greatness from a man with a well-documented past. You listen for those hints of greatness before realizing that the man is not the slightest bit concerned with it.
Because-and this is key-we understand that time is a precious commodity here. There’s a disservice to both himself and to those of us who love him when we see him spinning his wheels like with Together Through Life. We’re wanting every moment and every album to count from here on out, and we remember those years when Bobby’s releases were disappointing affairs. The slightest hint of a slowdown, particularly after coming off a few very good efforts, only gets me even more worried about album 34.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Dethklok - Dethalbum II

Kick Triplets?
Murmaider sequel?
Yes, Dethalbum II is similar in many ways to its predecessor and it packs a mean metallic punch. But one of the things that it loses over the debut is a sense of humor. I hope that Brendon Small isn’t thinking of taking Dethklok into legitimate territories, because the animated series brilliance is how laugh-at-loud funny it is.
That must be a little tough for Small, a talented musician himself who has surrounded his surprise hit series with equally talented musicians.
It’s not surprising that half of them have histories with members of the Zappa family-another artist that struggled with finding a balance between absurdity and legitimacy-because Dethalbum II is chock full of nearly too perfect performances that is obviously way smarter than the fictional characters could possibly come up with.
Don’t get me wrong: there are funny moments throughout the sophomore effort, but it isn’t as obvious as the debut and much of it is darker.
Take the song “Dethsupport,” which is a timely commentary on our health care system. Dethklok solution to even the most mundane and treatable of ailments (nearsightedness, epilepsy, cataracts, etc.) is to simply “pull the plug…kill me now!” because the treatment is too expensive. The humor is in how close the lyrics resemble the Republican rhetoric how overhauling the health care system would create “death panels” and result in Grandma and Grandpa dying from bureaucracy.
Other tracks, like “The Cyborg Slayers” aren’t even funny at all or are only funny in title alone (“I Tamper With The Evidence At The Murder Site Of Odin”). But the musicianship is so impressively brutal that you can’t help but play this at such ear-damaging volume and enjoy it.
All joking aside: Dethklok’s Dethalbum II continues to affirm that the band continues to stand head and shoulders above any other cartoon band. It certainly is a bit harder than the debut, but then again, the jokes are harder to come by too.

A review of the Dethklok show in Des Moines can be found here.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Right Turns On Left Of The Dial

Do you want to know why people don’t listen to the radio anymore? Because there’s no personalities, there’s no distinction between one station and another, they play the same songs that they’ve always played for the past quarter century, and there’s no localism being broadcasted.
One would think that the stations left of the dial-those that take up the non-commercial bandwidth-are staying true to their roots and broadcasting the things that other radio stations are too afraid to play.
What we have here is an actual playlist from KRUI 89.7 FM, a student run radio station at the University of Iowa that used to be a Mecca for subversive and challenging music. Sure, the quality of the airshifts varied from dj to dj, but I don’t ever remember it looking this bad:

You Don't Need to Be A Prostitute - Flight of the Conchords
Magnolia Mountain - Ryan Adams & The Cardinals
Percussion Gun - White Rabbits
Walking the Dog - fun.
Charmer - Kings of Leon
Kids - MGMT
An Eluardian Instance - Of Montreal
Have You Ever Loved a Woman - Eric Clapton
Non Dairy Creamer - Third Eye Blind
Doris Day (Don't Go) - Jack's Mannequin

Again, this may be just a show that’s playing by their own rules and totally dismissing the intent of the station. Maybe the thinking is that by including such mainstream acts like Third Eye Blind, Eric Clapton, and Kings of Leon that they’re actually being rebellious or an alternative to the alternative.
My thinking is that they’re not thinking. That they’re using the public spectrum like an Ipod shuffle while encouraging us to, ironically, reach for their own Ipods.
And yeah, in case you’re wondering: Flight of the Conchords have a new disc out and, like their first one, the best FotC you can get is the one available on dvd.

No Soup For You!

True story: I was messing around online at work and I noticed that the number one search item for a few hours today was Soupy Sales.
What on Earth, in this day and age, are people searching for Soupy Sales on the internet?
And then I noticed that Soupy passed away today.
The dude rubbed shoulders with the Rat Pack, knew a bunch of hip jazz musicians, and sired on-time Iggy Pop and David Bowie rhythm section members Tony and Hunt Sales.
I never really paid much attention to Soupy; he was after my childhood and I really only remember him from those game shows in the 70's. I do remember my father speaking poorly of him as an unfunny hack. Balance that with Iggy Pop's claim (on the Dinah Shore show) that Soupy sales was an influence on The Stooges.
When in doubt, trust in Iggy.
Here's Soupy with a surprise visit from Alice Cooper.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

You Can Never Go Home

I wish I could adequately tell you how awesome my hometown was growing up. It had its share of typical small town bullshit, but there was moments of joy. In fact, there was a point in the mid-90's when I thought the town may be on a the brink of a turnaround.
As we entered into a new century, I understood that it wasn't to be.
It's been a year since I've been to my hometown-ironically to help my parents move, thereby ensuring that any real return home would come to an end. It's just as well as those who remain there seem content on watching the town deteriorate. Each time I did manage to go back it became frustrating watching neighborhoods crumble and the exodus of families leave for better opportunities.
It was like seeing an old girlfriend, one who developed a nice meth addiction since you saw her last.
But I remember when she was cute, just like her funny name.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Juicy Fruit

Check out this late night finds. A pair of hit singles from the 1910 Fruitgum Co. Who are these guys? One of the originators of bubblegum music, a genre from the late 60’s that focused on non-threatening pop music. It was a genre that was met with such disdain from my father that I never actually had any singles by these guys, the Ohio Express (“Yummy Yummy Yummy”), The Archies, or any other “group” that had a hit or two on the radio.
The 1910 Fruitgum Co had 3 top five hits and one top 40 hit that The Ramones covered (“Indian Giver”) before imploding thanks to label chokeholds. You see, Buddha Records-the band’s label-didn’t really want creativity. They wanted hits. And if you didn’t conform to their demands, then you were quickly replaced. See the awesome movie That Thing You Do! for more details.
Take a look at the first video for the band. This is the original line-up, a group of guys from Jersey who happened on to a record contract. The lead singer and keyboard player-Mark-was the last piece of the line-up and the youngest member of the band. More on that later. Notice how goofy the bass player is in the video. He’d become the first member to go. Now check out the dude playing the Fender Jaguar. He’s either really high, or he just doesn’t give a shit.

As you can see, 1910 Fruitgum Co. shows were only attended by two people at a time. Now here’s hit single number 3. The Talking Heads covered this one when they were first starting out.

Did you notice how every member of the band-aside from the lead singer, Mark-are no longer in the band? Keep in mind, this was merely a year after their first hit. The band was on the road performing when they went to do a radio interview. The DJ began asking about the new single, a song that the members had never even heard before. Except Mark. He followed Buddah record’s suggestion that he cut the vocals on a new track without the rest of the fellows. Then, as the band was touring, the label released the song to radio without telling the rest of the guys about what had happened! That’s what you call a “dick move” in the business. Naturally, the rest of the guys got pissed, split with the idea that they could do it on their own, leaving Mark to continue on with the 1910 Fruitgum Co. name and to work with a bunch of session players. Except the tambourine guy, he might have been Mark’s secret lover.
The best moment is when Mark says the secret of their success is because of the label promoters. When the host politely suggests that “talent” has something to do with it to-an obvious attempt at stroking the young musician-Mark stands his ground and firmly reiterates that the promoters at the record company are more important to a band than talent. You can see-in one short year-how the guy has turned from a scared young pop hopeful into a cynical and defeated old man. Before too long, Mark would also leave the band and enjoy a life of a piano salesman in New Jersey.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Preparing To Be Face Fisted

The waiver has been signed, so this may be my last post ever.
With any luck, I will die from scalding hit Duncan Hills coffee being poured over my body at tonight's Converge/High On Fire/Mastodon/Dethklok show in Des Moines.

Is it just me, or does the middle age dude playing guitar with Brendon Small serve as an image killer? I mean, I understand that I won't actually be seeing Murderface, Pickles, and the rest of the cast, but I didn't know that they would reanimate the corpse of Jerry Garcia for rhythm guitar duties either.
But seriously, a quick search of the net finds the old fart to be Mike Keneally, a Zappa protege who has traded licks with the best of them while still managing to look strangely out of place while shredding with a fake melodic death metal band.
I have high hopes that this will be as brutal as the line-up suggests it will be, regardless of how anyone looks.
It better be: I'm using one of my floating holidays to recuperate.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Kylesa - Static Tensions

I’m going to confess that, while I was waiting for the release of Mastodon’s Crack The Skye, I totally immersed myself in Kylesa’s Static Tensions and the experience was very gratifying. While the Savannah, GA’s quintet delivers a different kind of metal than their Atlanta brethren, it is an equally challenging offering.
It would be easy for a band with drop tuning foundations to get lost in the landscape. After all, there is a ton of bands out there wallowing in the sludge and most are interchangeable. What Kylesa have going for them is lean set of tracks for their fourth effort, all logging in at an efficient 40 minutes and nicely decorated with aggressive riffs and plenty of trippy sidesteps.
While none of the tracks reach the six-minute mark, there are enough psychedelic meanderings within the guitar parts to make everything sound concisely epic.
Then there’s the bands ace card-a dual drummer attack-which is immediately noticeable but curiously underutilized. Drummers Carl McGinley and Eric Hernandez frequently drum in tandem with each other instead of against each other’s patterns. There are plenty of moments of polyrhythmic workouts but surprisingly little in terms of bashing every bit of white space into a whimpering pulp. There’s nothing wrong with this approach, mind you, but I expected a band with this type of arsenal to use it to the fullest.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of Kylesa’s approach is with guitarist/vocalist Laura Pleasants’ contributions. Thanks to a strategy that splits vocal shifts between her and other vocalist Philip Cope, Static Tensions doesn’t wear thin and the result is a metal album with brains, heart, and hints at the possibility of greater things.
Kylesa is band with a revolving door of members, which has been their Achilles Heel for past efforts; there’s been little opportunity to grow as the band focused on getting the right members on board.
Thankfully, they have a fine line-up in place for their upcoming tour as Mastodon’s opener. Here’s hoping the journey will solidify this line-up’s camaraderie and spark them to look at further forays into the more aggressive corners of stoner metal. Because Static Tensions demonstrates, it’s a journey that Kylesa is well equipped to undertake and that they might be miles ahead of their closet competitor already.
Awesome cover, too.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Get Up Kids - Something To Write Home About

It’s a shame that the Get Up Kids are-at this moment-pegged with an image problem. And how ironic is it that while this image problem is in full bloom, they are now hitting the road for a series of reunion shows. Will the fanatical and those that admit the band had some pretty formidable records show up, or only the faithful? Have the faithful diminished to the point where the band is full circle, touring the same venues like they did when they first started?
The band is guilty of more than a few crimes, the first is that they helped accelerate a genre known as “emo,” which in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, when you get around to considering who the true originators of the genre are: Rites Of Spring.
The Get Up Kids tidied up the genre that Rites created (and ultimately destroyed by calling it a day after one landmark album) but they also managed to sound like a bunch of whiners, which is crime number two.
According to those aforementioned fanatics, the album to get the GUK’s second full-length platter, Something To Write Home About. On its release, it was met with such praise that I picked it up. I remember liking “Company Dime” and “Holiday” seemed kind of catchy, but I’ll be goddamned if I’ve heard it since then and a recent spin (resulting from the news that they’re playing close to home) had me scratching my head “Why do I even have this?”
I had money to burn back then, and there must have been some review that caught my eye. Which is why now I must implore you to save your money or your internet connection and avoid this album. Don’t make the same mistakes that I did.
Something To Write Home About is a collection of twelve songs that seem to dwell on missing a girl. The irony is how connected out society was becoming at that time (1999) which only points to the possibility that nearly every one of those twelve songs is rooted in bullshit. The idea that life on the road promoted such sorrow and loneliness by only the SECOND ALBUM seriously points the need for every one of the Get Up Kids to contemplate another career choice.
Crime number three is creating tepid arrangements around such pansy-ass themes that you can actually feel a vagina beginning to grow where your balls should be immediately after listening to this. The album is littered with keyboards and acoustic guitars during those moments when someone must have mentioned “Hey, let’s throw in an acoustic guitar right here and sound like bigger pussies!”
Something To Write Home About is an album of tempered performances and of tempered creativity. It tries so hard to be important that it overlooks the fact that its themes translate into such unintentional pathos. It renders all of its emotional content useless which makes it hard to understand how anyone would even be able to connect with it.
Ten years later, The Get Up Kids will see first hand if anyone still relates to Something To Write Home About during their reunion tour.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Mastodon - Crack The Skye

On the band’s fourth full-length (fifth if you count Call Of The Mastodon) Atlanta’s Mastodon make an album that will finally test the patience of the alternative elite that have traditionally supported them. I tend to view these music-types with more of a suspicious eye then an indie rocker who will verbally announce disdain for anything metal because at least the metal hater is being honest about it.
Yes, I’m one of those who believe there’s a large contingency of hipsters that have stood by Mastodon on the sole reason that they needed to find a relatively underground metal band to align with just to prove that they’re open to all kinds of music.
Their affection towards Mastodon should end with Crack The Skye, an album that puts the notion of “concept album” to a point of ridiculousness while utilizing a famous producer (Brendan O’Brien) to help capture the mayhem and, quite possibly, tidy up the results to get it ready for mass consumption.
While Crack The Skye isn’t quite The Black Album, it does share that album’s spirit and intention: to make the most technically precise album of their career and to make it the most accessible too.
Here’s where the bands took different roads: Metallica started to compose songs that were completely different from their catalog arsenal. Mastodon is taking songs that are in their catalog titles into entirely new dimensions. They’re now toying with progressive elements. They’re singing. They’re creating songs that you may actually hear on the radio, not just the stations on the non-commercial bandwidth.
It is these elements that will most certainly take a negative view to anyone that isn’t a real metalhead underneath all that pretention.
While Bob Rock taught Metallica that recording is the process of capturing the perfect take of each song, Brendan O’Brien is teaching Mastodon that recording is the process of capturing the perfect sounds of each song. He’s introduced the band to an impossible amount of vintage gear-amplifiers and guitars-and these brushes are used extensively. In every song. In every manner.
The amount of soloing will make your head spin, but it’s the tone and texture of these sounds that will make you understand what a great producer O’Brien is. There’s a great risk that any band would faced when dealing with this amount of interplay. O’Brien’s gig was to introduce new tones for these indulgences, but it fell upon the band themselves to make sure the execution worked.
They do, particularly Brent Hinds who treats every solo like it’s his last. Perhaps it’s the result of one scary and stupid altercation with the bassist of System of a Down that left Hinds with a brain injury, severe enough to the point where he was at risk of losing his craft. His soloing gets more intense as the album progresses, until it gets to the last song on the album, A thirteen-minute-long epic called “The Last Baron.” Halfway through it, Hinds unleashes a solo is so sick that you have no idea how they’ll come out of it let alone how they got there. The answer is clear: the band has decimated nearly every aspect of metal in the course of the album that by the time they reach the final track, they have no choice but to start lifting techniques from the Zappa camp.
Crack The Skye clocks in at a wonderful fifty-minutes in length. As a result, it doesn’t wear thin while it gives you plenty of extra sonic gravy to savor with repeated listens. It’s the kind of album that your older brother, if he really loved you, would bequeath to you when he left the house for good.
The only downfall of the album is the concept-something about a kid hiding Rasputin’s spirit and using it to travel through the astral plane in order to get back to Earth-is impossible to take seriously.
Not only does the concept itself take on too much and serve as a point of contention among non-metal critics, it’s a distraction from what the real concept of Crack The Skye is. The album’s namesake is drummer Brann Dailor’s sister, Skye, who passed at the age of 14. Dailor, one of the album’s chief composers, has spent a long time dealing with that pain, and this album seems like one of the first attempts at coming to terms with the tragedy. The fact that he’s hidden the album’s true meaning in a mess of Muscovite Tsardom indicates to me that Dailor’s still not ready to let go of some of his emotional baggage just yet and having to explain such a wordy concept theme is more tolerable then having to recount the details of his own personal tragedy.
What he leaves off the paper, Mastodon executes through sheer musicianship and that is what makes Crack The Skye special. The moment you forget about the “concept” or worry about what it was supposed to be, you can do nothing but admire the performances it contains. There’s no band today that can match what Mastodon is able to do with their instruments.
Is it better than Leviathan or Blood Mountain? It’s probably in the middle. While those aforementioned albums have a bit more muscle to them, Crack The Skye has a bit more passion behind it. Not only with the “real” concept it avoids through ridiculous diversions, but in the manner how the band talks through their shit by playing together. There’s a scene in the deluxe edition DVD where the band discusses the making of the album. Brann begins talking about the inspiration his sister provided them, while a later interview with Brent Hinds shows his not entirely certain about the details of Dailor’s sister. As the album shows, Crack The Skye is the band’s sonic therapy session and it is even complex and layered than the real world baggage that helped forge it.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Mastodon will be appearing with Dethklok and High on Fire October 14 at the Val Air Ballroom. Cook venue. Awesome line up. Don't be stupid. Show up and get floored.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Celluloid Heroes

Cedar Rapids has been in the news from the flood of ’08 and the presidential elections from last year, our town has been quietly absent from any national recognition. It now appears that we will be featured in a major motion picture and our fair city will also serve as the film’s name.
The film features Ed Helms as “a wholesome and naive small-town Wisconsin man (Helms) who, when his role model dies, must represent his company at a regional insurance conference in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where his mind is blown by the big-town experience.” The Hollywood Reporter also reports that John C. Reilly has also signed on to the film, which is scheduled for release next year.
The reality of Cedar Rapids is much different, of course, directly resulting from the aforementioned flood and the slow process of recovery. If you were to visit our town right now, you’d probably be surprised at how little it has to offer right now, aside from the occasional minor league sports, an art museum that prominently features native Grant Wood, and a wide array of chain eating establishments. Most of the town’s character was knocked back a few steps with the influx of water, and hopefully some of the charm will return when things have rebuilt.
Our neighbor, Mount Vernon, is just down the road a spot, and it hides one of the state’s best restaurants (it’s up there with some of the best eats in larger cities and over half the price) and a cool vibe that’s really prevalent during the fall and winter months. Apparently, it’s on the hipster’s radar too.
Aside from that, we’re kind of in transition. The preverbal “pardon our progress” sign is on which means that we’re in need of a nice Hollywood makeover.
We’re content to recommend that you visit Des Moines which has a burgeoning night life (2 hours away) or Iowa City for drunken tomfoolery and related assaults from drunken youth (about a half-hour away, so technically in the neighborhood). We also have Dubuque, which is your atypical river town (an hour away) albeit with more Catholics per-capita than most Iowa cities, or Davenport, another river town that is part of the Quad Cities (an hour away). I really have no idea what made that area a destination point, but all four points (Davenport, Rock Island, Moline, and Bettendorf) all make up a reasonable amount of Midwestern population and pointless commuting. Then there’s Waterloo/Cedar Falls, which is like North/South, black/white, rich/poor, all rolled into one. It’s about an hour away. I like it. Lots of cool nature shit (Backbone State park, about an hour to the east is pretty awesome and will change the opinion of anyone who thinks Iowa is all cornfields and farms.
I failed to mention Council Bluffs, which is essentially a suburb of Omaha with a few casinos, and Sioux City that is in the northwest part of the state. It’s close to South Dakota and is strangely Republican. They keep voting this moron Steve King into the U.S. House, so we don’t visit there.
Hopefully, by the time Cedar Rapids the movie is in theatres, we’ll be dressed up enough to have you stop buy and say hello. I hope the director will treat us with a modicum of respect and not point too much fun at our version of a “city.” We actually think the model that most of you are familiar with is kind of silly-what with your hour-long commutes, toll roads, and endless entertainment. “You can’t always get what you want.” Is our model, and the stuff that passes as sushi at Target is almost as good as the real thing.
But seriously, you can find the good sushi here.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Totale Finally Figures Out That 3 Doors Down Are Corporate Sellouts

I don’t know if this is confession or an incredible source of pride for me, but until right now, I had no idea that the song on one of those Caveman Geico commercials was, in fact, a song. I use the word “song” lightly of course, but what I mean is that I had no idea that it was created for something other than a Geico commercial. I’m sure that 3 Doors Down made a ton of money with this pairing, but it’s saying something when you agree to have a moment of creativity that will forever be associated with cavemen bowling.

Friday, October 2, 2009

OCD Chronicles: Kim Mitchell-"Go For Soda"

One of the coolest things that my father ever did for me was to hook up and FM antenna that I got for free, on the ceiling of our attic and run the cable all the way down to my bedroom. He tucked the cable into the trim on the wall and snaked it to my Technics receiver, transforming it from a static inducing nightmare into an awesome FM signal-capturing giant. I was able to pick up rock stations like 97X in the Quad Cities with no trouble and, on occasion, I could even pick up the legendary KSHE-95 in Saint Louis when the leaves fell off the trees.
For those of you not familiar with KSHE, it was the premier AOR station in the Midwest. They played your typical AOR hits, but they also developed their own-regardless if it was a hit elsewhere in the country. Back in the early 80’s they spun some pretty new wave sounding songs that most AOR stations wouldn’t touch. I’m not saying the songs were good, I’m just saying it made the station sound a tad more eclectic than other stations with similar formats.
It was from these memories that recently I began creating an IPod playlist with somewhat of a nod to the old KSHE 95. I began adding minor hits to the mix, carefully avoiding the trappings of worn out rock tracks like “When The Levee Breaks” or “Crazy Train.” Instead, I began filling those spaces with things like April Wine’s “Say Hello,” Honeymoon Suite’s “New Girl Now,” and Saga’s “On The Loose.”
Notice a pattern?
What the fuck is with Canadian rock bands from the 80’s with their occasionally catchy songs, only to disappear into obscurity? I suddenly remembered one such Canadian rocker with his only claim to American fame that was woefully missing from my AOR playlist.
Kim Mitchell’s “Go For Soda.”

If you’ve never heard the song before, you’re not missing much, really. Musically, it’s forged from anonymity, a relic from the 80’s that you’d easily overlook in between songs of similar structure. But if you spend a few moments paying attention to it, “Go For Soda” may harness you in. Mitchell comes up with a pretty good guitar hook and a chorus that seems to celebrate sobriety, without an indefinite article. I mean, why not go for a soda. For Mitchell, he just goes for it.
I quickly download the song and chucked in a few bucks for a track from the obscure Kansas City group Missouri a track from another Kansas City alumnus called Shooting Star and the long version of Manfred Mann’s “Blinded By The Light.”
Real AOR stations don’t play single cuts.
All together, I have a pretty nice playlist of AOR cuts with just the right amount of familiarity and surprise closet classics.
And Kim Mitchell? From what I hear he still goes out every once in a while to play “Go For Soda” for the millionth time when he’s not working his day job as a DJ for an AOR station.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Brian Johnson Gets His Nodes Scraped-AC/DC Tour Postponed

Who the fuck schedules a medical procedure when the band is on a world tour?
Brian Fucking Johnson, that’s who!
Yeah, I’m a little ticked that six dates of AC/DC’s Black Ice tour have been postponed while Johnson recuperates under doctor’s orders from some unnamed ailment. I’d wish him well if one of those six dates didn’t happen to be a date that I planned on attending.
Sure, the tickets will be honored when they get around to announcing a new date, but I chose the Des Moines date because it was a weekend and it worked out better economically. We sold our tickets to the Chicago show for this date and, wouldn’t you know it, the Chicago show went off without a hitch.
The band is also supporting what looks like a fairly worthless box set called Backtracks. Not only is the name of this compilation pretty weak, but so are the tracks. Evidently, only one disc is devoted to rarities, and some of them have already been featured on Bonfire. Then there’s two other discs of live performances-neither one a complete show-so if you’ve got a hankerin’ to hear “Hail Caesar” from the Stiff Upper Lip tour, well now’s your chance!
It also includes a 180-gram vinyl version of the aforementioned rarities disc and it comes housed in box that’s shaped like an amplifier.

You may be thinking, “Wasn’t there a box set that was shaped like an amplifier not too long ago?” and the answer is “Yes.” The Heavy Metal box set came shaped like a Marshall head with knobs you can turn. I’ve got the set and it’s pretty clever.
AC/DC decided to go a step further and make their box set that’s shaped like an amplifier actually work. That’s right, you can plug in an electric guitar directly into the packaging and a tone that vaguely resembles an electric guitar comes out. Angus Young demonstrated this in a promotional video for the box set and, in the process, managed to show us how awful he can sound when playing through a fucking toy.
The price, you ask? $200.
And not one note from the fabled Back In Black sessions with Bon Scott on vocals.