Thursday, September 24, 2015

Throwback Track of the Week: Alice in Chains - Them Bones

Alice in Chains 1992 sophomore album Dirt is an absolute classic, although not exactly an easy listen.  A de-facto concept album, much of the lyrics reflect vocalist Layne Staley’s desperate struggle with heroin addiction; as the music carries the themes of anguish, self-disgust, and volatile helplessness.  

Opening the album is quintessential track Them Bones, which delivers an immediate gut-punch via a primal, sickening howl straight from the depths of Staley’s tortured psyche.  Over pummeling power chords, Staley drones and drawls his way through his acceptance of his own mortality and the futility of life, culminating in the massive two-line chorus: “I feel so alone/gonna end up a big ol’ pile of them bones”.  Barely fitting into the 2:30 runtime is one of guitarist Jerry Cantrell’s best solos; effect-laden and soaring over the murk. 

Layne Staley’s story is one of the most tragic in rock and roll history, but like a cornered animal he was able to translate his darkest moments into pure artistic aggression; and as a result gave us some of the most emotionally genuine metal music ever recorded.  

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Matt's Ultimate Thunderstorm Playlist [PART ONE]

[Note: This is the first of a series of posts.  Once completed, the playlist will be made available for download in its entirety]

They tend to be associated with “dark and dreary nights” trapped indoors; but to me there isn’t a more visceral experience during the summer than watching a thunderstorm roll through in all of its glory.  Few things are more enjoyable and awe-inspiring than taking in nature’s brilliant display of raw power as it reminds us how small we really are.  While it is sometimes best to allow the storm itself provide the soundtrack, I feel there is absolutely a place for a certain type of music in the experience.  This of course raises the question- what music generated by us feeble humans could possibly stand up to the powerful and all-encompassing atmosphere of a thunderstorm?  There’s plenty of mopey sad bastard music out there; some of which works alright, but for the most part is better suited for a prolonged, dreary rainfall than an outright storm.  On the other hand there has been many a rock band that has tried to replicate the energy and power of a mighty tempest, but when it comes down to it the safe, predictable song structures do no justice to the real thing.  As I began putting this playlist together it quickly became apparent to me that to find music that truly enhances rather than hinders the experience I would need to dig deeper.  Music for this purpose is all about mood and atmosphere- the most intangible aspects of an already intangible art form.  You know it when you hear it, which as it turns out is satisfyingly fitting.

Television - Marquee Moon

I remember, how the darkness doubled
I recall, lightning struck itself

Not every song on this list will directly reference thunderstorms in the lyrics, but I can’t think of a better way to kick things off than with the opening lines of Marquee Moon.  Nowhere else in music is the atmosphere of an impending storm better depicted.  As the song pushes along via the trembling pulse of its anxious bassline and jittery electric guitar meandering, there ensues a very particular moment when the vibe shifts from being ominous to powerful, to cathartic, and finally spirals back to unpredictability; and it’s probably my favorite 30 seconds or so of any song ever.  

Spiritualized - Electricity

While Jason Pierce’s Spiritualized is more widely known for droning, druggy psychedelia, he is more than capable of channeling his unique compositions into uptempo bursts of manic energy.  Such is the case with the aptly named noise freakout Electricity, which is the aural equivalent of jabbing a fork into a bundle of frayed wiring.  I’d prefer to never be struck by lightning, but should it happen it would be awesome to have this song playing at the time.

The Doors - Riders on the Storm

Alright, so I don’t exactly have many nice things to say about The Doors…but for this particular playlist this particular song is absolutely essential.  The drawn out organ noodling and Jimbo’s low, ominous pseudo-croon manage to really work within the context of rolling thunder and steady rain.  Surely they were aware of this based on the lyrical content and tacky sound effects, but I digress…this is as good of a thunderstorm song as there is. 

Silversun Pickups - Panic Switch

The aggressive buzzsaw guitars and rushed, stuttering rhythm combine to give this song an incredible sense of anxious, high-voltage energy.  Meanwhile the ethereal, oddly calm vocals seem to exist perfectly at the eye of the storm, surrounded by urgency and panic.

Cream - White Room

It gets a pass because it fucking rocks, but this is a weird song.  What’s with the intro?  The lyrics frankly don’t make any damn sense.  The choruses are nothing more than awkward psychedelic breaks.  The guitar is overdriven and wah-wah’d to the brink of destruction.  The missing piece however is Ginger Baker, who’s drumming emulated rolling thunder like none other; and brings everything else together to earn a place high on this list.

David Essex - Rock On

This mostly forgotten glam-rock classic has become a movie soundtrack staple for a reason- From its dirty, slinking bassline to the cryptic lyrics that arrive dripping in reverb from a million miles away; this sparse, airy groove is just begging for a backdrop of thunder and lightning.  

Red Rider - Lunatic Fringe

The intro to this song sounds like a werewolf mid-change, and the rest of the song doesn’t disappoint.  As the rhythm pulsates ominously and distant lyrics are howled into the void, it’s hard not to visualize dark clouds being sliced open without warning by lightning.

All-American Rejects - It Ends Tonight

I’m thoroughly guilty of dismissing them at the time, but in hindsight it’s a real shame that All-American Rejects got thrown in with all of the pretty-boy try-hards that infiltrated pop-punk during the early 2000s.  It Ends Tonight is Exhibit A:  Dripping with genuine, well-delivered angst without being whiny, this song internalizes all of the chaos and tension of a doomed relationship; using the unspoken metaphor of a thunderstorm to set up the explosive catharsis of finally letting go.  


Friday, April 17, 2015

Green Day hits US Stage for first time since 2013 - performs with Tim Armstrong, John Kiffmeyer

You wouldn’t have known it if you weren’t among the one-thousand or so people present, but last night in downtown Cleveland the stars aligned and for about five minutes everything was right with the universe. 

In preparation/celebration of their impending Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, Green Day settled into Cleveland’s House of Blues for a rare small-club gig.  Reuniting with original drummer John Kiffmeyer and performing under their original name Sweet Children, the band barreled through an incendiary “warm-up” set of their long-lost gems such as Dry Ice, At the Library, and Private Ale- tunes that haven’t been performed live in about two decades.  

At some point during the ensuing three-hour show, Billie Joe and company were joined by another surprising guest- none other than Tim Armstrong.  Tim or course was the frontman of Operation Ivy (and later Rancid), legends of the very same Bay-Area Gilman Street punk scene that provided Green Day’s original upbringing.  Despite having since been disowned by the Gilman Street community due to their commercial success, Green Day has consistently incorporated a cover the Op Ivy classic Knowledge into their setlists as a tribute to their early idols.  In a cathartic instance of things coming full circle, Tim burst onto the House of Blues stage- Gretsch semi-hollow slung down to his ankles as always- and together with Billie Joe launched into a scathing rendition of Knowledge, followed by the early Rancid song Radio (which the two had wrote together twenty-one years ago).  

This unexpected collaboration represents far more than just two living legends joining forces.  Although Green Day is still unwelcome in their old warehouse home at 924 Gilman St for being on a major record label, This display of awesomeness with a local king is another important stop on their long road to reconciliation with their own roots.

UPDATE:  Interestingly enough, some of the oldest readily available live footage of Green Day/Sweet Children is a concert performed at their Pinole Valley High School in 1990.  The show features very entertaining teenage versions of Billie and Mike playing many of the old songs that they resurrected last night.  For comparison sake, here is At the Library from that show:

UPDATE:  As of March 17th 2015, the inevitable finally came to fruition as 924 Gilman lifted it's fan on Green Day after 21 years.  The band performed a surprise concert at the venue (again joined by Tim Armstrong) to benefit DIY publisher AK Press, who recently lost their warehouse in a fire.  

Friday, April 10, 2015

Throwback Track of the Week: New Found Glory - Understatement

Ahh the early 2000s, when “pop-punk” was still cool, and had yet to become the temporary Hot Topic marketing institution that it seems doomed to be remembered as.  Or maybe we were just the perfect age for it; choosing to remember it through a nostalgic lens?  Whatever the case, those post-Dookie, pre-sellout “punk” albums of the late 90s and very early 00s will forever hold a special place in the hearts of us pre-9/11 tweens.  

Sticks and Stones was a perfect album for its time, hitting right at the pop-punk peak while simultaneously hinting just enough at the oncoming heavy breakdowns and obnoxiously angsty lyrics of an over-commercialized subgenre.  This album, and it’s lead song in particular, represent that very nexus.  It’s on this track that the kenetic musical energy meets the contrived whiny-voiced angst; but because the songcraft is so authentic, the momentum so perpetual, it all just seems to work.  

It’s still impossible to determine whether this was the pinnacle of pop-punk, or the beginning of its end.  Perhaps it’s simply meant to exist in that subliminal crossroads, for better or worse.  

Friday, April 3, 2015

Throwback Track of the Week: The Modern Lovers - Roadrunner (1972)

The Modern Lovers are not a band that immediately come to mind when one thinks of the influential rock groups of the past.  Instead, history has confined them to a long list of proto-punk bands that despite not showing up on any VH1 specials, had a massive impact on modern music as we know it.  Born out of early 1970s Boston, The Modern Lovers owed a lot of their sound to NYC legends The Velvet Underground.  Taking the generally grimy and dark tone of the Velvets; the Lovers did something very special- they made it FUN.  

Nowhere is this on better display than their early 70s standout Roadrunner.  The Velvet-esque edginess is all here, via the organ drones, pounding noise, and overall detached cool.  Unlike their forefathers however, the pace is quick, the lyrics are positive and irreverent, and the song just has a way of embracing life in all of its recklessness and absurdity.  This culmination results in a song that aggressively foreshadowed the upcoming punk rock movement, and remains fresh and exciting to this day.  Rather than wallowing in hipster smugness, this thing groves and moves like rock and roll truly should.  

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Throwback Track of the Week: Steve Miller Band - The Joker

You know this song.  Even if you’d prefer not to admit it, you LOVE this song.  The Joker has held up for decades as a staple of classic rock radio as well as a counterculture anthem thanks to its not-so-subtle drug references, slinky bassline, slackerish lyrics, and hazy slide guitar solo.  Hell, how many songs could lay claim to the very invention of a word!? (Pompatus of love…your guess is as good as mine)

Steve Miller (who is originally from Milwaukee and attended UW-Madison) started his “Steve Miller Blues Band” upon moving to San Francisco in the late-60s.  Musically he was influenced by several very different genres; from doo-wop to old school blues to British Invasion- but had a knack for combining all of them through his own personal style instead of subscribing to any one in particular.  Add in his laid back and fun-loving approach to songwriting and it isn’t hard to see the Steve Miller Band fitting right in with today’s recklessly genuine garage rock scene.  

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

King Tuff Premiers Raucous New Video for "Madness"

In anticipation of their upcoming US/Canada tour, King Tuff has released a brand new video for "Madness"- one of many standout tracks from last years glammed-out album Black Moon Spell.  The video admirably encompasses everything that King Tuff is about- which is to say it involves gleefully trashy rock n' roll, riotous live footage, batshit crazy fans, cheap beer flowing indiscriminately, and plenty of far-out camera angles and cartoonish visual effects.  Oh, and gorillas.  Lots of gorillas.

King Tuff will be taking their incomparably fun brand of garage/glam rock on the road throughout the US (plus Toronto) from late-March to mid-June.  Tour dates include back-to-back SOLD OUT shows at Chicago's Vic Theatre and First Ave in Minneapolis on April 3rd and 4th, respectively.
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