11/29/2017

Milestones: 'Resigned'

MICHAEL PENN
Resigned
[57 Records/Sony – 1997]


Brendan O’Brien is best known as a top-tier producer whose credits include everyone from AC/DC to King’s X and from Springsteen to Stone Temple Pilots. But for a while in the mid-‘90s he entertained the idea of running his own label, the Sony-distributed 57 Records, whose roster included such talented singer/songwriters as David Ryan Harris and this gentleman right here.



Sean and Christopher’s older brother (and Aimee Mann’s husband) won an MTV Best New Artist award for his single “No Myth” in 1989 but hasn’t made much of a name for himself with the public at large since. (He’s a well-known composer around Hollywood, tho: he’s got Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights and the HBO show‘Girls, among other credits.) For his third and arguably best album, he joined 57 and had his boss produce and play some tasty bass parts, resulting in some of the most satisfying guitar pop of the ‘90s.
Presumably busy with soundtrack work, he hasn’t released an album of new material in a decade, so it’s hard to discern where his solo career is headed at this point. Regardless, the man's catalog is worth exploring, with this particular release sure to reward all who deign to give it due attention.

Highlights: “Try”, “Me Around”, “All That Implies”, “Selfish” (feat. Mann on backing vocals), “Cover Up” and “Figment”.

11/27/2017

Third Time is a Different Charm

NOEL GALLAGHER's HIGH FLYING BIRDS
Who Built the Moon?
[Sour Mash/Universal-2017]


Just as he did with his previous band on album number three, Gallagher mixes things up and ventures into a slightly different musical approach on the third installment of the High Flying Birds adventure. But while OasisBe Here Now [Creation-1997] didn’t stray too far from the band’s formula, Who Built the Moon? delves into a variety of styles and motifs, starting with a track that wouldn’t be out of place on a ‘90s Middle Eastern-influenced dance compilation (“Fort Knox”), horn-inflected glam (“Holy Mountain”), Jam-style Motown homage (“Keep on Reaching”), mid-tempo, light electronica (“It’s A Beautiful World”), ‘70s disco/rock (“She Taught Me How To Fly”), and a slice of Pink Floyd meets The Beatles' “Come Together” (“Be Careful What You Wish For”). And that’s just the first half.


Alas, the album’s second half covers more familiar terrain yet still departs a bit from the more mature Oasis type fare of HFB albums one and two. (The Stones-y "Black and White Sunshine" is quite engaging and "End Credits" is particularly breathtaking.) While it's all probably a tad unusual and maybe disconcerting to a chunk of his loyal fans, this is Gallagher being restless and expansive, a condition which, in addition to collaborating with electronica artist/composer David Holmes who produced the album, results in an alternate take on the Gallagher blueprint. For those expecting the man’s classic and charmingly direct songwriting, Who Built the Moon?, with its colorful panoramic sonic canvas, might take a little getting used to at first—it’s his most “produced” release, solo and otherwise and definitely a grower—but it's a rewarding step forward, nonetheless.

Ultimate Guitar Hero


11/12/2017

Drown In This

QUICKSAND
Interiors
[Epitaph - 2017]


Comparisons are frequently made when discussing music, whether it’s critics giving readers a point of reference or the audience using elements of an artist’s sound or style as shorthand in an effort to dissuade or entice fellow listeners.

In an admittedly superficial way, this came to mind when taking into account the similarities between ‘90s favorites Quicksand and My Bloody Valentine. While the latter exploited a new formula and ended up with a masterpiece, the former made the best of an established format, with some great moments along the way. But then there’s the shared circumstances: difficult followup recording sessions; crippling internal tensions; stopgap reunions; and of course, the 22 year gap between albums two and three.

Conversely, while the return of MBV, third record in tow, was treated as a major event, it can be argued that only the most diehard and faithful among the followers of the influential NYC post-hardcore unit led by the great Walter Schreifels were patiently awaiting the third installment of this particular saga. But in an interesting twist, Quicksand’s album is the one truly worth the wait.

With Interiors the band has attained that elusive duality of having one foot in an illustrious past while expanding the horizons of their sound. It’s quite evident that Schreifels’ stint in Rival Schools during Quicksand’s breakup and his brief foray into the singer/songwriter realm have informed the melodicism of this collection of songs. But the wallop that anchored their first two albums is ever-present across the board, even in Interiors’ most ethereal moments. Yes, indeed.

If Quicksand can manage to keep their past internal dissonance in check and go for the long haul, their future is most certainly one worth looking forward to. Welcome back, gents.

Highlights: Lead off track and first single “Illuminant”, “Under the Screw”, “Warm and Low”, “Cosmonauts”,  “Feels Like A Weight Has Been Lifted” and the title track.

11/09/2017

Mossy Elixir: Rolling Stone at 50

"You're probably wondering what we're trying to do. It's hard to say: sort of a magazine and sort of a newspaper. The name of it is Rolling Stone which comes from an old saying, ‘A rolling stone gathers no moss’. Muddy Waters used the name for a song he wrote. The Rolling Stones took their name from Muddy's song. "Like a Rolling Stone" was the title of Bob Dylan's first rock and roll record. We have begun a new publication reflecting what we see are the changes in rock and roll and the changes related to rock and roll."

So stated publisher Jann Wenner in the November 9, 1967 inaugural issue of his magazine.  A lot has transpired over the subsequent five decades. For much of that time it was incredibly powerful and influential, anointing stars and prolonging careers, while nurturing a small army of talented writers who left their stamp on topics ranging from pop to politics. (A couple of whom, particularly Matt Taibbi, rescued the magazine from total irrelevance in the ‘00s.) When it was good, it was very good. And for a long stretch the magazine deserved its exalted reputation as the mainstream's go-to source for rock and pop culture with a splash of politics. But, along the way, the missteps piled up and at times in a seemingly tone deaf and almost deliberate manner. That its online comments section—regardless of the topic at hand—has become a nest of often disgusting vitriol-spewing for a significant number of reactionary conservatives, is as far removed from its hippie, San Francisco origins as one can imagine.

Rock and roll’s diminishing stature as youth culture’s lingua franca, not to mention physical publishing’s economic woes have sent many other competitors to their graves. Yet Rolling Stone lingers on. How much longer? “We’ll see”, said the blind man.

[Above: Rolling Stone no. 980, Aug. 11, 2005]

9/19/2017

Rocking in the Name Of

PROPHETS OF RAGE 
self-titled 
[Fantasy/Concord - 2017] 

Pop is more disposable than ever. Hip hop is the new ‘hair band’ nonsense. And rock—at least its mainstream iteration—is pretty much dead. So with today’s young bucks too busy marketing their clothing and fragrance lines to care about standing for anything else during these turbulent times, it's a good thing to have a bunch of old farts willing to step up and embrace what used to be the province of disaffected youth: the voice of anger and discontent. And not a moment too soon.

Expanding on the Rage Against the Machine formula of pairing knockout riffs with socially conscious lyrics by supplementing them with funkier grooves and more weed friendly lyrics, the rap/rock supergroup sextet demonstrates once again how the much maligned hybrid could be transcendent in the right hands—and with B-Real and Chuck D on the mic, backed by the instrumental RATM powerhouse, one could not ask for better custodians.

Truth be told, this perhaps isn't the long awaited 4th RATM studio album of original material. And, consequently, reactions across the music-crit intelligensia have been lukewarm or dismissive of these middle-aged, musical provocateurs, as they give a pass to the current Nero-like pop and rock and rap stars who can’t be bothered to be artists. Pay no attention to that noise; that’s all about profits. What we have here are prophets. And yes, they do indeed rage.

Highlights: “Hail to the Chief”, “Unfuck the World”, “Who Owns Who", “Smashit”.

3/20/2017

Today in Music History (March 20)

1969 John Lennon marries Yoko Ono at the British Consulate Office in Gibraltar. Lennon details this event--and his and Ono's subsequent bed-in--on The Beatles' "The Ballad of John and Yoko".

1973 - Slade hit No.1 on the UK singles chart with "Cum On Feel The Noize", the group's fourth UK No.1.

1977 -T Rex play their final ever gig.

1982 - Joan Jett And The Blackhearts begin their seven week run at the No.1 spot on the US singles chart with "I Love Rock 'n' Roll", a No.4 hit in the UK. The song was written and originally performed by The Arrows.

1991 - Michael Jackson signs a $1 billion contract with Sony, the richest deal in recording history.

Today's birthdays include...producer/dub icon Lee "Scratch" Perry (81); guitar great Jimmie Vaughan of the Fabulous Thunderbirds and brother of the late Stevie Ray Vaughan (68); and Stray Cats drummer Slim Jim Phantom (56).

3/16/2017

Today in Music History (March 16)

1948 - Billie Holiday is released from prison early because of good behavior.

1974 - During a US tour Elvis Presley plays the first of four nights at the Midsouth Coliseum in Memphis, Tennessee. He hadn't played his hometown in over a decade.

1977 - After being with the label for just six days the Sex Pistols were dropped from A&M. 25,000 copies of "God Save The Queen" were pressed and the band made £75,000 ($127,500) from the deal.

1992 - During a Metallica gig at Orlando Arena fans dangled an usher by his ankles from the balcony as trouble broke out at the concert. The band were charged $38,000 for repairs and cleaning after the audience trashed the building.

2010 - A rare Led Zeppelin recording from the group's 1971 gig at St Matthew's Baths Hall in Ipswich, England was unearthed at a flea market. The bootleg copy of the audio from the group's gig on November 16th 1971 was picked up for just "two or three pounds" by music fan Vic Kemp.


Today's Birthdays include...Heart guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Nancy Wilson (63); Public Enemy's own Flavor Flav (58); singer/songwriter Tracy Bonham (50); and Van Halen bassist Wolfgang Van Halen (26).

What We're Listening To...

Field Music is a British band that has been around for over a decade now. Tones on Town is our fave of theirs.

• Of the two brothers in Field Music (both are multi-instrumentalists) one records on his own as School of Language. The album Sea from Shore is in the same vein as Field Music but a tad less polished, in a good way.
 

The Holy Fuck are Canadian dudes whose music can probably best be described as instrumental electronica played with (analog) instruments. Latin is very cool. "Red Lights", "Latin America" and "Lucky" are our fave tracks.

• Ex-Supergrass frontman Gaz Coombes' Matador is one of the best records we've heard in a while. Probably better than anything his old band ever did.

Martin Courtney is from a Brooklyn via NJ band you may have heard of called Real Estate. His solo record Many Moons is mellow, singer/songwriter fare but lively, with some breezy tunes.

3/14/2017

Paupers, Pirates and Pop Stars

HOW MUSIC GOT FREE: 
A Story of Obsession and Invention
Stephen Witt
[Penguin - 2015]

Witt chronicles the invention of the mp3, the widespread music piracy it made possible, and the response from both the music industry and law enforcement to these developments. Interestingly, Witt’s portrait of the music pirates, for the most part, falls into either trying-to-be-cool (as in the infamous Rabid Neurosis group that disseminated thousands of albums over its decade run) or the altruistic but legally na├»ve (ex: Oink’s Pink Palace, which counted NiN’s Trent Reznor among its members) yet fails to achieve sympathy for any of them. (In case you're wondering, Napster is barely mentioned, which makes complete sense within the context of Witt's narrative.)

The music business is ostensibly represented by Doug Morris, one of the most colorful and successful executives the industry has ever known. Morris’ rise depicts how the alternately greedy, embarrassed and ultimately successful in its own way music business still manages to exert an imposing influence despite a decimated marketplace (100+ million CDs were sold in 2016, down from 500+ million a decade prior).

How Music Got Free is an informative and, at times, a compelling read; one whose best attributes, arguably, are depicting how across-the-board greed and stupidity does not affect everyone equally, regardless of intent or milieu; and how the battles for copyrights and preservation of intellectual properties in this seismic market and paradigm shift (streaming services are the number one method of consuming music these days) left artists to suffer the financial consequences. As one of the top former pirates himself responds, when asked about his listening habits these days, "I have a Spotify account like everybody else."