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.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The World is Gonna Roll Me: A Review of Neil Cicierega's Mouth Sounds

It has been a while - far too long - since I’ve made a post on here, much less an album review.  To put things simply, I got myself caught in some kind of musical funk and hadn’t found anything that truly grabbed me with inspiration.  That is, until I stumbled upon this somewhat viral video of a bizarre karaoke performance:

Intrigued, I looked up this guy Neil Cicierega to listen to the original mashup.  Now, I was in a state of mind at the time that lends itself well to this type of thing…and my mind, frankly, was blown.  I immediately began playing his mashup album Mouth Sounds from the beginning, and for all intents and purposes spent the next hour or two mentally stumbling through the 90s on acid.  Even after I emerged, I proceeded to spend the ensuing weeks with Neil C’s music on repeat.  I was unable to find (or even fathom) anything to listen to that is as creative and continuously satisfying.

There are plenty of mashup artists that have been around longer and have achieved a much higher profile than Neil Cicierega.  While acts like Girl Talk and The Hood Internet are great at what they do, Neil takes a different approach.  A comedian and video artist by trade, with original music under the name Lemon Demon, he blends together not only different songs, but radio broadcasts, news snippets, samples from tv shows and jingles, and whatever else he can get his hands on into a surreal collage of pop culture.  In order to make everything fit into place, many of the samples themselves are and manipulated, oftentimes with jarring effect. 

If this isn't the face of a madman, I don't know what is

Mouth Sounds begins with the first words of Smash Mouth’s All Star manipulated into a number of MIDI samples and presented as an entirely new melody.  As the album unfolds like a fever dream, All Star, and Smash Mouth in general, become recurring motifs.  Cicierega manages to blend All Star with Modest Mouse’s hit Float On without any noticeable alterations to either song through both of their entireties, and later he blasphemously does the same with John Lennon’s Imagine- as heard in the near-viral karaoke video. 

Alongside the more straightforward mashups are several entirely new songs made up of handfuls of existing ones.  The surrealism comes in when C incorporates samples from movies and TV shows.  Through most of D'oh there are three or four different songs playing simultaneously- in addition to the voices of Homer Simpson, Austin Powers, and the theme song from the 90s cartoon Doug.  As we trudge arm in arm with Steve Harwell though the twisted pile of nostalgic sludge we are joined by the likes of Nirvana, Michael Jackson, Huey Lewis, Rob Thomas, and the Men in Black; among others- all in rapid-fire succession.  Meanwhile there are extended noisy interludes scattered throughout, one of which flowing into a dramatic rendition of the original viral joke Chocolate Rain (crossed with the “Tears in the Rain” speech from the 1982 sci-fi classic Blade Runner).  At one point Mouth Sounds drops everything to play a sequence of seven or eight intro jingles from film production companies (Nickelodeon, 20th Century Fox, etc), for no apparent reason other than to further twist and skew our expectations of familiar sounds.  

All throughout the madness the album’s tracks refer back to each other, such as when the Full House theme song bursts in on You Oughta Know by Alanis Morissette, a wink to the failed real-life relationship between Alanis and Dave Coulier (aka Uncle Joey) which inspired the song.  It’s this type of self-referential humor that gives the album a sense of cohesion and momentum beyond just being a bunch of bizarre concoctions.  

That said, abrasiveness is not something that Cicierega shies away from on Mouth Sounds.  Although in the end it is held up on the strength of it's execution and surprising catchiness, this is an album that gleefully offends and oftentimes revels in its own tastelessness.  You don't cross the undeniable artistic expression of Imagine with the comparatively vapid All Star without having a certain rogue sense of humor.   The genius lies in the way Cicierega finds to simply make it all work.  His fearless deconstruction of such classic works results in an entirely new creation- and dare I say an entirely new artistic statement?  

Take a listen below, or download the album for free via Neil's Website

Mouth Sounds Tracklist

01.  Promenade (Satellite Pictures at an Exhibition)
02.  Modest Mouth
03.  D'oh
04.  Vivid Memories Turn to Fantasies
05.  Bills Like Jean Spirit
06.  Full Mouth
07.  Alanis
08.  Imagine All Star People
09.  Imma Let it Be
10.  Daft Mouth
11.  Like Tears in Chocolate Rain
12.  No Credit Card
13.  Bega Interlude
14.  Melt Everyone
15.  The Sharpest Tool
16.  Mullet with Butterfly Wings
17.  Smooth Flow 

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