Friday, November 30, 2012

Foals Announce New Album "Holy Fire"

I still bring up Foals' sophomore effort Total Life Forever on occasion, and I'm willing to bet that they put on a pretty good live show too.

They've followed up that terrific record with a new one that's just around the corner as recently announced below, cheese.

The cheddar:

Foals has announced the release of their third full-length album, Holy Fire, available via Warner Bros Records in the US on February 12, 2013.

Produced by Flood & Moulder (PJ Harvey, Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins) at Assault & Battery studios in London, Holy Fire is the Oxford five-piece's most direct and fully-realized album yet.

Of the electric "Inhaler," front man Yannis Philippakis says "It's heavy, that song; it was liberating," adding that it is the sound of the band shedding their inhibitions.

Foals released their debut album Antidotes in 2008, followed by 2010's breakthrough Total Life Forever. Both are certified gold. Total Life Forever was nominated for the 2010 Mercury Prize, an Ivor Novello award for Best Song and they received five nods at the 2011 NME awards, winning Best Single for "Spanish Sahara." TLF was also voted The Fly magazine's album of the year in 2010.

 The band will hit the road on a small club tour in the UK next month, look for them stateside in the spring.

Foals are:
Yannis Philippakis (vocals/guitar)
Edwin Congreave (keys)
Walter Gervers (bass)
Jimmy Smith (guitar/keys)
Jack Bevan (drums)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Eric Burdon and the Greenhornes - Eric Burdon and the Greenhornes EP

“My name is Winston Churchill” states the grizzled voice at the beginning of The Greenhornes’ new e.p. “And I’m having a fucking nervous breakdown.”

That old voice belongs to none other than Eric Burdon, and that’s about the only indication of the man’s age that you’ll hear during the quarter-hour offering. During this 4 song sampling, Burdon turns back the clock on his 71 years on Earth, reminding both the unfamiliar and the lost fans that he’s still got some chops to be reckoned with.

Beginning with the incredible stomp of “Black Dog” (no, not the Zeppelin track), Burdon sounds like he’s shaking the cobwebs loose while the band lays down some pretty dirty riffing.

While the one-take Jake approach starts off strong, you begin to wish a bit more time was spent creating music that attempts to add to Burdon’s legacy instead of simply referring to it.

The same care was needed as Greenhorne members Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler displayed with Loretta Lynn during her Van Lear Rose record. Instead, they allow Burdon to end this otherwise fine offering with “Cab Driver.”

It finds the Greenhornes enabling Burdon down this misguided attempt at humor which sounds lazy at its best and racist at its worst.

That aforementioned Churchill line is a reference to Winston’s battles with the “black dog” of depression. Instead, Burdon should have focused on making more character studies like what’s taking place at the beginning of Eric Burdon and the Greenhornes instead of depressing the entire proceedings with such embarrassments like this e.p.’s final moment.

Stream Eric Burdon and the Greenhornes here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Hives Join Pink For 2013 Tour

I say this without a hint of sarcasm: I wouldn't mind seeing The Hives open for Pink.

It seems like the kind of show that both my wife and I would both enjoy, which is a rare commodity in our home.

I really have no frame of reference for how popular Pink is-she seems to have a lot of hit singles, but then again, what's a "hit" single?-and I have no idea if she could realistically fill an arena. But it's been a while since I've been to an arena show, and my gut says that this could be a fun night.

Then again, I bet every night is a fun night when The Hives are on the bill.

The poop:

The Hives add some Pink to their black tie, white noise sound

"As long as you scream 'The Hives!' at the top of your voice, nothing can go wrong in your life." 
 - Howlin' Pelle Almqvist, World's Wisest Frontman 

The Hives will return to the U.S. in February for a nationwide arena tour in support of P!nk. Kicking off February 13 in Phoenix, the dates will take them to 25 cities across the U.S. See below for details.

The band is currently in the midst of a world tour - kicking off their European headline dates next week - in support of their widely-acclaimed new album Lex Hives that has included show-stopping sets at Coachella, Reading & Leeds and Jay-Z's Made in America festival, as well as appearances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Conan, Last Call with Carson Daly and more.

Carson will air a second episode with The Hives on December 10, featuring two songs from their October 8 set at The Wiltern in Los Angeles. The Hives are Howlin' Pelle Almqvist, Nicholaus Arson, Chris Dangerous, Dr. Matt Destruction, and Vigilante Carlstroem.

February 13, 2013 - Phoenix, AZ @ U.S. Airways Center
February 15, 2013 - Las Vegas, NV @ Mandalay Bay Events Center
February 16, 2013 - @ Los Angeles, CA @ STAPLES Center
February 18, 2013 - San Jose, CA @ HP Pavilion at San Jose
February 21, 2013 - Houston, TX @ Toyota Center
February 22, 2013 - Dallas, TX @ American Airlines Center
February 24, 2013 - Orlando, FL @ Amway Center
February 25, 2013 - Fort Lauderdale, FL @ BB&T Center
February 27, 2013 - Tampa, FL @ Tampa Bay Times Forum
March 1, 2013 - Atlanta, GA @ Philips Arena
March 2, 2013 - Nashville, TN @ Bridgestone Arena
March 5, 2013 - Detroit, MI @ The Palace of Auburn Hills
March 6, 2013 - Columbus, OH @ Schottenstein Center
March 8, 2013 - Louisville, KY @ KFC Yum! Center
March 09, 2013 - Chicago, IL @ United Center
March 11, 2013 - Toronto, ON @ Air Canada Centre
March 12, 2013 - Montreal, QC @ Bell Centre
March 14, 2013 - Washington DC @ Verizon Center
March 22, 2012 - New York, NY @ Madison Square Garden
March 23, 2013 - East Rutherford, NJ @ Izod Center
March 25, 2013 - Uniondale, NY @ Nassau Coliseum
March 27, 2013 - Uncasville, CT @ Mohegan Sun Arena
March 28, 2013 - Boston, MA @ TD Garden

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sweet Billy Pilgrim - Crown And Treaty

Occasionally, an album arrives and upon first listen you get the sense that the music jumping out of the grooves wasn’t created in a sterile studio with too little daylight and too much attention to detail. With Sweet Billy Pilgrims third release, Crown and Treaty, you get the sense that the recording studio is nothing more than a few rooms in a house with wires littering the floor and dirty dishes pilling up in the kitchen sink.

Fuck those chores, particularly if the end results command a record as eloquently crafted as this. Crown and Treaty doesn’t suffer from any poor fidelity sonics resulting from this homespun approach. It’s as detailed as anything as you’d expect from a band with a recording budget that matches the muse that they’ve set out to scale. This muse is in full, beautiful array throughout Crown and Treaty, in what is certainly one of the best albums that you’ll hear all year.

Crown and Treaty incorporates delicate organic instrumentation (clean guitars, banjos, pianos, whatever’s lying around) with some great harmonies, initiated by Tim Elsenburg’s gentle voice. With the recent addition of Jana Carpenter to the fold, Sweet Billy Pilgrim has now found a wider range of vocal emotion, which only begins to take off during the album’s second half.

Prior to those moments, Crown and Treaty offers a wide range of expression through its original arrangements and Elsenburg’s own imaginative lyrics.  There’s a sense of maturity throughout his study on melancholia, suggesting that the existential crisis that we all experience is preordained from day one. Or, as Elsenburg himself details more succinctly in one track, “Life is a place we arrive at upside down.”

If it’s not his own demons he’s documenting, he uses other source material for the task. “Kracklite” appends Brian Dennehy’s character in the 1987 The Belly of an Architect and uses it as a discussion of the folly of trying to overcome our own mortality. “Monuments we build  tumble to the ground,” Elsenburg sings, accurately pointing out that even the most majestic of structures we place on this earth are “just another way to be forgotten.”

With Crown and Treaty, Sweet Billy Pilgrim have delivered their homespun masterstroke, an album that only begs the question of what other gems do they have hidden in their house of creativity and enviable sense of arrangements. 

Here’s hoping that this musical monument never gets forgotten.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Ike & Tina Turner On The Road 1971 - 1972

I doubt that you could go wrong with this purchase: a new dvd of Ike and Tina Turner's '71/'72 Tour with lots of behind the scenes footage of the couple together. Of course we now know what went on when the cameras were turned off, but when they were on, Ike and Tina delivered some of the best rock and soul performances that one could ever hope to see.

Here's the spiel:

Ike & Tina: On The Road: 1971-72 comes to DVD on November 20 An intimate look at the dynamic Ike and Tina Turner at their creative peak...

From the lens of legendary rock photographer Bob Gruen By combining soul music with an explosive stage show, complete with the high energy dance choreography of Tina Turner and the Ikettes, and an ingredient sorely missed in today's soul - gritty rock n' roll - Ike & Tina Turner gained a reputation as one of the great live acts of all-time.

In the early 70's, legendary rock photographer Bob Gruen and his wife Nadya toured with Ike & Tina, filming them performing, on the road, and behind the scenes. Now for the first time ever this footage is available to the public... This is a look inside a hardworking band as well as an iconic couple.

With portable video recorders not as prominent during that era as they are nowadays, no one has seen scenes like this. But with the release of Ike & Tina: On The Road: 1971-72, fans are finally treated to a must-see behind-the-scenes view of the band, at the peak of their powers. Similar to an earlier DVD set, The New York Dolls: All Dolled Up, the Gruens toured with Ike & Tina and documented everything in black and white (and some color as well).

Now, 40 years later, fans get to experience what it was like to be with one of the most popular touring/recording bands of this time period. In addition to simply awesome renditions of several Ike & Tina classics, we also get a glimpse of the group at work in the recording studio, Tina and the Ikettes practicing their dance routines (and primping their wigs!), and goofing around on airplanes and in airports. We even get to see inside Ike & Tina's house and the couple's funky retro '70s home d├ęcor, as Tina cooks dinner for her kids.

 A lot has been written about Ike and Tina's relationship over the years (mostly in the negative light). But for many years, they were able to coexist together in the public eye, and in the process, created some of the most exciting and gripping soul/rock music ever recorded.

Now with Ike & Tina: On The Road: 1971-72, we have a more than worthy visual accompaniment to their classic sounds. "The film Whats Love Got To Do With It? shows why Ike and Tina Turner broke up," says Gruen. "Ike & Tina: On The Road: 1971-72 shows why Ike and Tina were together for twenty years before that."

Friday, November 23, 2012

Finally, A Slice Of Gooseberry Pie

My Mother did something extraordinary for me this Thanksgiving, in addition to the ridiculously consistent awesomeness that is my parent's turkey dinner.

For as many years as I can remember, my Grandparents would drive from their small town in Southwest Iowa to our bigger, yet still small town in Southeast Iowa. They would come for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, occasionally deviating from this schedule, but they were with us enough that the fact that they're no longer part of the holidays is still a bit different.

And it's been almost 10 years since they both passed away.

Their presence wasn't something that stands out as "special" in the sense of an annual meeting filled with joy and memory inducing moments. In fact, there were times when their presence could be somewhat annoying as they frequently bickered, creating a holiday environment that was not up to my ideal of simply getting along for a few days out of the year.

Not that it our holiday was filled with drama or tense arguments; it wasn't. No, our Thanksgivings were just like everyone else's, filled with over-eating, Detroit Lions football games that nobody paid attention to (unless the Packers were playing them), and the eventual nap on the couch or recliner.

It was just the fact that they were there that makes these holidays without them such a weird feeling.

One of the things that my Grandmother used to do was to bake a Gooseberry pie and bring it to my parent's home for the festivities. My uncle would collect a few Gooseberry's in a forest near his place and he would give them to my Grandmother. She'd freeze them and use the tart berries for pies that generally made their appearance around this time of year. She knew that I went crazy for them, so it turned out to be a special thing for me. I mean, when was the last time you've seen a gooseberry pie at your bakery?

My mom got the recipe from her, but since my uncle died as well shortly after my Grandparent' passed, so did our gooseberry connection. They're not a popular berry-for most pie connoisseurs they are too tart-which means that even around the farmer's market circuit in Iowa they're a rare commodity.

Finally, my mom came across an older woman selling fresh berries at one of the last farmer's markets of the season in Des Moines. She had one bag of gooseberries left, and my Mom snagged it for $8. I'd seen green gooseberries listed from some dealer in Oregon for something like $30 a pound, which seemed ridiculous to me. After all, these were the fruits of some prickly shrub that dots the forests of Iowa, a plant that's frequently left for the birds and wildlife to munch on. They are not looked upon as a cash crop, at least not in the same way that those potheads in Oregon must view it with their Internet pricing.

With those berries, she brought out my Grandmother's recipe-the same one that calls for less sugar than most people would prefer, which makes it the perfect companion to a scoop of ice cream. While everyone else fed on apple, yours truly was able to secure the first slice of the gooseberry. It was a delicacy that hadn't crossed my lips in over a decade, and it immediately conjured up an emotional response that can only be described as comparable to the dish served up in Ratatouille.

The crust was nicely done and the berries stayed secure in their tapioca foundation. My grandmother would have been proud of her as I recall a few occasions when her own pie allowed the gooseberry to spill out after slicing the first piece, causing her to apologize for not putting enough tapioca mix to congeal the gooseberry innards.

I never complained. You never look a gift horse in the mouth and you never speak of any inadequacies of a pie's quality, particularly one that's baked by your grandmother.

Because you never know when your next slice of gooseberry pie will come next.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

L7 - Bricks Are Heavy

I first discovered L7 in college when I had the misfortune of hearing the band’s debut. It’s awful, horribly produced, and it’s absolutely nothing that you need to consider.

The point it, by the time their third album¸ Bricks Are Heavy, I was already predisposed to disliking this band very much and probably wouldn’t have noticed if it wasn’t for the promotional copy I received.

Bricks Are Heavy is produced by Butch Vig, which had a certain amount of credibility back when this record was first released as Mr. Vig was already regarded as the dude that helped break Nirvana.

Within moments, you’re greeted by that friendly compression that Vig painted on nearly every early 90’s document he touched, but the amazing thing is how L7 brought their A-game to the Midwestern comforts of his Wisconsin studio.

Credit Donita Sparks for shouldering a large portion of those crunchy and melodic songs. She’s no poet, but she brings a lot of piss and vinegar to the proceedings with stories straight out of the trailer park, garage, and mosh pit.

Sparks is sassy and she has an incredible knack for a good story. Like the mother huffing skinhead named “Scrap” who has a taste for sniffing up gold metallic paint in a garage, only to come out of it “seeing stars.” Sparks passes no judgment on Scrap, she merely tells his story, accentuating the “funky dyin’ brain cell!” line just enough to point out that Scrap’s story is not something to emulate.

These fringe characters were real, and there’s no doubt in my mind that they were part of L7’s world back in the early 90’s. The time capsule is here, it’s loud, and it’s catchy as hell even two decades later.

In the cd booklet, there are pictures of the band in various stages of poses, but there’s a lone picture of a girl’s legs, each one intricately inked with L7’s logo, a pair of hands shaped like an “L” and a “7.”

Those legs belonged to Stacie Quijas, a member of San Francisco’s LGBT punk community and, obviously, a fan of L7. 8 years after the photo was taken, Quijas succumbed to her heroin addiction in the form of an awful flesh-eating bacteria that was acquired from intravenous injections. It came from a nasty strain of tar heroin, and the tainted drugs nearly took another friend of hers shortly after her passing.

Like I said, Bricks Are Heavy works because there is sad reality behind these goofy characters that L7 brings to the forefront. There’s Stacie the addict, the temperamental music fan Everglade, and that aforementioned squatter skinhead, Scrap. But what they also bring to those tragic figures is a voice-supplemented by heavy guitar chords-and a fuck all feistiness that transcends gender, economics, and in the case of this album, the twenty years since these stones were first hurled.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Sub Pop Records Is Really Happy That The Postal Service Album Went Platinum

I supposed it's a big deal when a record label sells a million copies of something...particularly in this era!

But for Sub Pop Records-who's last platinum record came with Nirvana's Bleach-they got all sentimental when the Postal Service's Give Up release went Platinum last month. Good for them.

For me, this record is permanently embedded in the soundtrack to my divorce, "Such Great Heights" a cruel reminder of the lows that a person can face.

The announcement also reminds me that there were a million of others like me, wallowing in this spotty electronic album that permanently altered by perception of Ben Gibbard and Death Cab For Cutie.

Like they give a shit! There was 999,999 in back of me to make Give Up such a success.

Here's Sub Pop's Press Release:

"We at Seattle’s Sub Pop Records feel a profound sense of self-satisfaction in announcing that The Postal Service's universally acclaimed 2003 album, Give Up, is now a certified platinum record. It is only our second ever; please forgive us for the excitement. Released on February 9, 2003, the landmark album, led by the single "Such Great Heights,” peaked at #114 on the Billboard Top 200 Chart and has sold 1,067, 087 copies in the US to date. After Nirvana’s Bleach, Give Up is the second-biggest selling album in Sub Pop’s 24-year history.

The Postal Service is a long-distance collaboration between Ben Gibbard (singer/guitarist from Death Cab for Cutie) and Jimmy Tamborello (who also records under the names James Figurine and Dntel). Ben and Jimmy sent music back and forth, between California and Washington, each adding new elements until the record was complete. The result is a sweetly charming, largely electronic album with warmth not typically associated with the clicks-and-beeps set. As an added bonus, additional vocals on the record were provided by Jen Wood and Jenny Lewis.

Give Up, which Entertainment Weekly called a "near-perfect" album, is the first and only full-length by The Postal Service. And the album received 2003 year-end praise from an array of publications, including SPIN, Rolling Stone and the Village Voice “Pazz & Jop” critics’ poll. The album also earned "Best of the Decade" status from Pitchfork, NPR, Complex, Paste, Under the Radar, and more. Both Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello (as Dntel) recorded albums this year: Gibbard's solo outing, Former Lives, was released via Barsuk Records earlier this month; Dntel's Aimlessness was released this past June on Pampa Records. We’re exceedingly proud of our association with The Postal Service and Give Up is a true high point in Sub Pop’s catalog (and admittedly somewhat checkered past).

Congratulations, you guys.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Def Leppard - Pyromania

The trick is to be able to convince those of you snickering right now that Def Leppard’s Pyromania is worthy of a 5-star review, even though the album has sold more than 10 million copies in the U.S. alone
But I get it, and I understand that sales don’t always translate into worthy records, but you’d be surprised at how often they really do.

To start with, I think it’s best to acknowledge that Def Leppard set out to make a commercially viable record, something that transcends the hard rock corner they had been placed in. Because Pyromania is an album that strategically tries to break out of that mold in order to get a larger audience, and if you’ve read about the band’s hometown of Sheffield, you understand why that was an important thing for them.

That blueprint, which probably wasn’t even discussed in much detail, is based on the band’s prior work with producer Robert “Mutt” Lange on High ‘n Dry, which is actually a record that I prefer over this one. Regardless, High ‘n Dry gave the band a chance to work with the same producer that worked on AC/DC’s last three records at the time. AC/DC was the band that they were always compared to in terms of riffs and content, so the match made sense.

It also made them rich. But because Mutt Lange is such a bitch of a guy to work with, it would have been easy for them to say “Fuck it!” and find someone else to man their follow up, someone with a more pleasant demeanor and a less strict work ethic.

They didn’t. And Lange took the opportunity to not only drill the band into an obedient bunch of rock and roll workers who took every ounce of criticism to heart, indulged in every bit of studio window dressing that he conjured up, and delivered on every take that was asked of them, prompting Lange to supplant a normal count-off with “Gunter glieben glauchen globen,” just to bring some levity to the insane number of takes he demanded.

But a producer can only be as good as the material that he’s asked to work with, and in that regard, Def Leppard provided him with 10 cuts that were strong enough to capture an audience, even in their most basic form.

They run the gamut of the obligatory rock anthem “Rock Rock (‘Til You Drop”), which gives teenagers a pass for being a bit naughty, because “Your mama don’t mind what your mama don’t see!”
We took those words to heart during the summer of 1983, where this album and Prince’s 1999 shared equal blockbuster billing, blaring out of every car window that cruised Main Street as some point on Friday and Saturday night.

It’d be easy to suggest that my high praise for Pyromania is only the result of soft focused nostalgia, and I’d be willing to give that criticism some validity. But then I’m reminded of the fact that we’re no longer speaking about bands like Autograph or Britny Fox today, and it rests upon the reality that both of those bands-and any other band that attempted to follow Def Leppard’s lead on pop rock appeal-simply did not have the same amount of really good songs to work with.

Even the ballads are better than they should be, with “Too Late For Love” being a prime example. There’s the riff, the stupid Mutt Lange sound effects, and then there’s the tale of a woman who gives it up too soon. Elliot brings no sympathy to her plight, declaring “When it comes to playing life/She always plays the fool,” giving thousands of teenage boys a reprieve for their complete lack of warmth in chasing after the ladies while giving those very same women a song that they can relate to in the slow tempo package.

On the cut “Rock Of Ages,” Elliot declares that “it’s better to burn out than fade away,” but after kicking guitarist Pete Willis out of the band just prior to the recording of Pyromania for excessive drinking, it’s hard to take that claim very seriously. This was a band that enjoyed the success that their previous album High ‘n Dry very much, and after seeing the bump in pay that Mutt Lange helped secure for them, they were very willing to sober up and tolerate the producer’s unhealthy attention to detail.

Except for Willis, of course, who’s termination provided an opportunity for Phil Collen to come into the fold, take off his shirt, and similarly enjoy the windfall of cash that was about to fall in his lap.

I’m still working from the original cd pressing, which is a step-up from the original music cassette that I originally had. It’s plagued with Lange’s now-dated production and I have no idea if the re-mastered version sounds any better, but I’d be surprised if it does. Amazingly, for an album that’s emotionally and sonically tied to the 80’s, Pyromania remains an enduring piece of heavy pop rock that satisfies both men and women tied to the decade it represents while finding a new audience for their offspring who are already going through the same dramas that this record agelessly documents.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Real Reason MTV Doesn't Play Music Videos

We’ve all been there: bitching about how MTV no longer plays music videos.

Hell, they don’t even claim the “Music Television” part of their moniker any more!

But what’s really sad is how a channel like VH1 Classic, a network that seems to be catered towards my demographic, has also be the kibosh on music related material.

It used to be endless repeats of That Metal Show, concerts and programming related to the hardest rock songs of all time. Now it’s Married…With Children repeats and the strange introduction of The Larry Sanders Show to the nightly programming. I mean, I know Tom Petty had a cameo once, but seriously, what the fuck does Gary Shandling have to do with music?

But I digress. It’s now time for the younger generation to feel old for a bit.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Eddie Money Has Given Up

It’s official, Eddie Money has given up on giving a shit. Twenty years into his county fair tour, Money gives a particularly candid assessment of his relevance in a recent interview with the awesomely-titled Up On The Sun, a music blog documenting the worthy notes of the Phoenix area.

“Once they buy your greatest hits, they don’t give a shit if you live or die.” Money admits in the interview, which serves as a precursor to his performance in a minor league stadium for a benefit to the Boys and Girls club.

The rest of the interview is filled with the prerequisite “back in the good old days” meanderings, which occasionally borders on the kind of conversation that one may have with a former president of the local Rotary Club instead of a hard boozing rock and roller.

He peppers his meanderings with “I sold a lot of records in Phoenix back in the 80’s. It was `one of my biggest markets.” Conjuring up images more like a car salesmen than rock star. “When you think about it, I had 14 songs in the Top 100. That’s when Sony Records was really big and really happening.”

If Money looks fondly on the past, it’s only because he seems frightened of what the future will provide him. Besides the charity gig, Money admits “I don’t know what’s going on, but I’ll be putting out a new record within the next year.” Hinting that, at this point, the wheels of repetition continue in Money’s world, even when there’s little interest beyond the greatest hits collection and embarrassingly accurate insurance commercials.

Monday, November 5, 2012

15 Years After The Death Of Michael Hutchence

"Don't Let Your Pain Take Over You"

It’s strange how certain times of the year conjure up memories of an untimely rock and roll death.

For example, every Christmas season I’m reminded of the assassination of John Lennon. I received a copy of Double Fantasy for Christmas that year and remember how quiet it got for just a few moments when I unwrapped the present. The hush was an unscripted act of respect as it acknowledged the artist’s impact, the tragedy of his loss and how his murder deeply moved me, a fourteen-year-old kid who never experienced Beatlemania firsthand.

There’s another tragedy that’s even closer to Christ’s birth: the untimely passing of Joe Strummer. It’ll be ten years ago this Christmas, which is just a lifetime if you ask me. We could have really used a man like Joe to counterbalance the Bush years, and especially now, just to put some perspective on the entire 99% occupy movement (sorry, Michelle Shocked).

There’s the April Fool’s vibe of Kurt Cobain’s suicide, which rendered me a bit harder when getting too emotionally attached to a performer or musician. I no longer get as smitten with an artist I admire since that tragedy, and maybe that’s a good thing.

As we approach Thanksgiving here in America, there’s another artist passing that I’m reminded of. Perhaps it’s a bit overlooked, because pop music is itself made for immediate consumption and, by nature, doesn’t possess a very long shelf life.

But to me, the band INXS was a bit more than a typical pop band, and their lead singer was a bit more than a typical pop star.

We’ll reach the 15th anniversary of the passing of Michael Hutchence this month, and I’m willing to bet that we’ll hear very little about it this year, or in five years, or ten.

It’s because his death came during the decline of INXS, and it came after a half-assed comeback attempt where the songs still weren’t all the way there and the prospect of recapturing something that would bring the band back into the mainstream radar seemed highly unlikely to begin with.

A taste of that reality came during Michael’s presentation of Oasis with an award of Best New Video during the 1996 BRIT awards. Liam Gallagher joked when Hutchence gave him a peck on the cheek after meeting on stage, but his brother Noel was not as cordial. After admonishing the audience that he was now wealthier than they were, he saved his parting slam for the presenter himself: “Has-beens shouldn’t be presenting awards to gonna be’s.”

Time would eventually turn its cruel face to Oasis, but for Michael, time was something he was running out of much sooner.

He never fulfilled the promise of regaining the charts again, and he never experienced the cash flow that would have been provided on the oldies circuit. I say that without a hint of sarcasm, because I would have loved to see INXS at any capacity, any venue, and any point in their career. They were good enough to work as a well-oiled machine and Hutchence was the type of frontman who doesn’t come around very often.

I gave them up on Listen Like Thieves, and I watched as the friends who’d never heard The Swing suddenly bought up copies of Kick, leveraging the band into heights only reserved for music’s elite.

I lost further ground with X and Welcome To Wherever You Are, but they were constantly played at the radio station I was working.

Mark Opitz came back in the producers role for Full Moon Dirty Hearts, his first since spinning the knobs of Shabooh Shoobah. The album was ignored by fans and criticized by the press, but I liked it.

I missed the album Elegantly Wasted and Michael’s solo album entirely, but I was thrown for a loop when they announced that he died. Then came the back story, and the entire auto-asphyxiation controversy, neither of which were too flattering for the pop star.

Someone lying around here is a well worn VHS copy of Dogs In Space, Hutchence’s only starring role in a very weak, yet strangely compelling film about a punk band from Melborne set in the late 70’s. It’s where I first heard about Nick Cave and Iggy Pop’s Soldier album, thanks to the movie’s hard to find soundtrack.

Hutchence played the drug-addled lead singer, and his lack of any real dialogue didn’t matter. When he was on screen, your eyes were drawn to him.

Within a year, he’d be in the stratosphere, and within another 10 he’d be dead.

Hard to believe that it’s been almost as long since his death as it was when he was in the band. And the years that pass seem to turn him into a distant memory. The fact that the rest of INXS decided to use the name to parlay it into a brief reality show hasn’t helped either.

The reality is that INXS was better than a quick, final grab at notoriety.

With the 15th anniversary of the passing of Michael Hutchence, the band should now renew their focus on maintaining their vastly underrated catalog of pop-rock gems with more dignity to their shared legacy.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The OCD Chronicles: The Breeders - Saints

It’s not technically All Saints Day today, but we acknowledged it in church. Our family lit one of the candles you see their from our Sunday morning congregation, in memory of those loved ones who’ve passed.

We also view Saints someone differently. They can be alive, some have yet to be born. But we give special pause to reflect on those who have left us, which left me in a contemplative mood, bringing me back to the musicians that we’ve lost over the years.

And then there is the song that’s been going through my head. The Most Awesome Breeders in one of my favorite songs of theirs: “Saints.”

This is the J. Mascis mix that was used for the single. The album version is different, not as rockin’. Hard to believe that this is almost two decades ago, but it’s awesome enough to qualify Kim Deal as a saint.

To all you young’uns: The Breeders were a pretty big band, back in the day. I wished there were more like them now, and I’m speaking to bands that don’t have the Deal sisters in them.

This is right at their apex, so rise, Lazarus, and rock your balls off for two minutes.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Swans - The Seer

The cover art to Swans’ 12th album-like the record itself-makes a credible argument that The Seer is probably better suited for a vinyl format.
It features a painting of a dog, presumably a Yorkshire Terrier, a small breed of canine that is small in stature and originally bred to kill rats in the clothing mills of England. They bark a lot, which makes them excellent alarmist and they have a tendency to have dental problems throughout their life.
The Yorkie on the cover of The Seer features Swans’ leader Michael Gira’s teeth drawn in the dog’s mouth. Flip the cover over and there is a picture of the dog’s anus in full view. I’m giving the artist (Simon Henwood) the benefit of the doubt by assuming that it is merely representative of the dog’s backside, not Gira’s.
How this particular breed relates to Gira is another matter for discussion. I don’t know the relevance or if it even if there is one. I just know that it’s disturbing and compelling at the same time, definitely the same you get from listening to The Seer. It’s a record that not only serves as the culmination of Gira’s thirty year career as a provocative noise monger, but one that qualifies as perhaps the best album you’ll hear this year.
That praise comes with the condition that you’ll have an open mind to tolerate epic length of sonic torture. The Seer isn’t for everyone, but the reality that Gira has accomplished something very special here needs to be relayed to every music lover, including the ones that will never enjoy endless moments of sonic drones and skull crushing accentuations.
This, perhaps, is the other reason The Seer is better suited for the vinyl format.  At two hours in length, and with some songs running near the half-hour mark, you’ll need that simple act of taking the needle off the record to take a breath and compose yourself. This isn’t to suggest that all 120 minutes aren’t worth their weight, but to suggest that Gira’s dread is often the equivalent of enduring repeated blows to your optimism.
The Seer is not comprised entirely of his bag of confrontational brutality; there are moments of incredible beauty paced throughout this monolithic creature, and some of those moments come at the hand (or voice) of the album’s long cast of characters.
The most notable is “Song For A Warrior” featuring Karen O in a strategically placed spot, kicking off the record’s second half and providing a reprieve from the record’s primal first disc.
But perhaps the most beautiful is the “A Piece Of The Sky,” a nineteen-minute suite that begins with a crackling fire, develops into a nightmare chorale (featuring former member Jarobe scratching out the polyphonic drone), transforms into post-rock stomp before brilliantly segueing into a languid poetry shuffle where Gira delivers some of the best prose of the album.
It alternates, like most of the Swans most notable material, between the profane and profound. Gira points out the beauty in even the most conflicting of environments (“In the wind of my lung/In methane and in love/In petroleum plumes/There’s a floating slice of moon”).
The Seer is as abrasive as life itself, and how you chose to relate to its harsh realities is a matter of both taste and tolerance.  
But If you’re familiar with Michael Gira’s past 30 years, and are willing to believe that he’s able to deliver the most complete and compelling work at nearly 60 years of age, then The Seer will show how this old dog’s bark is just as vicious as it has ever been.   

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Pere Ubu - Dub Housing

I “rescued” Pere Ubu’s Dub Housing from a radio station, where it stayed locked up and forgotten until my efforts came into play.

And for years, I never really understood why I kept it. It’s a difficult album, and I rarely played it. Even though I initially didn’t “get” what the band-or specifically this album-was all about, at least I had the common sense of keeping it. I thought that if I gave it some more time, I would someday discover what it was about this band that had so many glowing reviews.

When I heard “Non-Alignment Pact” and “Final Solution,” two early singles from this weird band from Cleveland, I began to warm up. And thanks to the accessibility of Cloudland, I was beginning to piece together the complex stitch work of Pere Ubu, and before long, I was ready to tackle Dub Housing again.

I still didn’t get it.

Dub Housing is the band’s second full-length, and it’s a hard thing to understand how they could get an album like this on a major label. Yes, they were on the Chrysalis records roster-right next to Nick Gilder and Jethro Tull-during a time when you could get away with something like that.

And I still can’t believe how this, an album that took me so many years to figure out, found it’s way onto the label during the year 1978.

It sold horribly, or so I’ve read, and those promotional copies sent to radio stations probably all ended up in a dumpster instead of hidden away in a back shelf like my copy.

I can’t tell what exactly turned me around. Maybe it was those years of listening to Captain Beefheart records, secretly prepping me for things that didn’t always make sense. But when it finally took hold, I discovered that Pere Ubu was indeed a national treasure and Dub Housing their most vital release.

Don’t let me scare you off: there are actual songs here, and you can get a taste of both the bizarre and the traditional song structure that mixes together with opener “Navvy,” a bouncy, angular guitar pattern made positively normal when Allen Ravenstine comes in with his bag of beeps, blips, and scratchy noises.

If Ravenstine never played keyboards on any other album besides Dub Housing, he’d still deserve a place as one of the all time greatest keyboardists. There is very little in his playing that constitutes traditional structure, yet the minimalist technique and endless barrage of strange sounds is positively groundbreaking. He has a fondness for both the typical garage rock organ tones of the 60’s and a healthy quest to create the most bizarre sounds known to man, in other words, a perfect addition for a band that’s already very adapt at making left hand turns.

Dub Housing features some of vocalist David Thomas’ most manic and memorable offerings. From crazed voices of repeated phrases (“Walked around/Took a bus/Walked around/Took a bus”) to just a bunch of noises made with his mouth, Thomas does not let his limitations deter his skewed sense of art.

He is one of the reasons why I never gave up on this record. And even though it took me several years to get there, I finally relented an began singing the chorus of “Navvy” with much conviction, joining Pere Ubu with their declaration “Boy, that sounds swell!”