Sheer Mag’s Need to Feel Your Love Lays It’s Sneer On Pretty Thick…

 

Let me start by saying if you don’t like 70’s rock throwback bands, this is not the album review for you.  It’s definitely been an up and down 20 years of revivalism from the good (The Darkness), the bad (Airbourne), the inbetween (Danko Jones) and the god awful (Wolfmother).  Sheer Mag is unapologetic and that’s a fair thing – from their image to their logos and their videos.  It’s campy, but that whole era was campy. [Read more…]

The Afghan Whigs, Do To The Beast: Album Review

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It’s been 16 years since The Afghan Whigs last album. Frontman Greg Dulli has successfully navigated a post-Whigs career by fronting additional acts (The Twilight Singers, Gutter Twins) and through solo work. Sometimes absence makes the heart grow fonder and on the new Afghan Whigs album, the labor of love is heartfelt.

With reunions, I always wonder about missing pieces – especially when it comes to recorded material.  Sometimes it doesn’t matter at all because some musicians are simply hired hands as opposed to actual collaborators in the make-up of segments of a discography.  Steve Earle is no longer behind the drum kit and Rick McCollum (guitar) is also no longer a part of the current line-up.  Let’s face it, The Afghan Whigs has always been Greg Dulli steering the ship, but the music borne out of the collaborations under the Whigs moniker has always been distinct and have made a lasting impression on myself and anyone interested in musical acts with true legacies.

The album’s lead-off, ‘Parked Outside,’ begins with a chugging, gritty – if not simple – beat.  Dulli’s voice as good as ever.  The guitar solo’s just over-the-top yet classic enough.  Some signature hand claps along the top of the percussion signify this is a tightly wound affair.  More groove find it’s way on ‘Matamoros,’ as Dulli raps in r&b timing a kiss-off letter to a lover he’s wiped his hands of as a middle-eastern guitar snakes it’s way around to an even stronger middle eastern bridge.  The shortest track of the ten fades out in  a wall of guitar before seguing into the piano and strings driven ‘It Kills’ which juxtaposes themes as Dulli agonizes of losing (‘It kills to watch you love another…’).

On first listen of the single, ‘Algiers,’ one is taken aback by it’s decidedly pastoral bend.  With continued listens, the depth of the track and it’s placement on the album makes complete sense.  Once again Dulli’s vocals bring everything into focus around the music.  Another killer guitar solo (I know not which musician gets credit here between Jon Skibic, Marc McGuire or Dave Rosser) dots the track over the acoustic strumming.

While the first four tracks are a strong return to form (sprinkled with new tricks), the next six are largely a mediocre affair.  The trilogy of albums from 1993-1998 (Gentlemen, Black Love and 1965) traversed the alternative rock landscape and updated R&B, Soul and Funk within their rock and roll ethos.  The sonics employed on ‘Lost in the Woods,’ ‘The Lottery’ and the largely instrumental (if overtly U2-esque) ‘Can Rova,’ are stock, at best.  ‘Royal Cream,’ however, stands up to the best within the bands previous oeuvre, with John Curley’s bass driving the song’s structure.

‘Royal Cream,’ segues neatly into ‘I Am Fire,’ a quiet, moody soulful piece.   Album closer ‘These Sticks,’ is aided by the drama of the horn section and the building percussion and guitars.  Still, the album heads out into its final coda with a whimper and one wonders – will this reunion continue or is this it?  Don’t get me wrong – I’m glad to have Dulli back and creating music again with these cats.  I just hope the creative juices continue to flow and, for as much as other reports out there indicate that they are being progressive in their songwriting, I hope they’re not resting on laurels like a good portion of Do To The Beast seems to do for stretches at a time.   So while it’s a welcomed return – there remain question marks throughout…

 

 

Chevelle, La Gargola: Album Review

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As I tackle listening to the new Chevelle – I mean really listening to it on a pair of headphones – I start to hear something worth talking about on album #7 from the Chicago trio.

If one were to go back to 1999, when the band first dropped on the scene with Point #1, I remember being at a vendor trade show and being handed a promo copy of that album.  My close colleagues, who were hard rock fans themselves, asked me what I thought.  Well, I could hear parts of Tool and some of the other more melodic hard rock at the time.  This was before the Three Days Graces of the world.  We’re talking the Staind’s, Godsmacks, and Korn’s still commanding stages and this band coming up and trying to play to half packed arena’s waiting for the headliner.

The first two tracks, ‘Ouija Board,’ and ‘An Island,’ harken back to their early days…the more I listen, the more I appreciate.  The single ‘Take Out The Gunman,’ is pretty sweet, even if it’s usage of cowbell seems to be a running joke in rock these days.  In my opinion, Chevelle’s albums are generally pretty decent, but you never know how decent (Speaking of decent, I don’t know if I’ve just got a shitty digital copy that I DL’d or if the production of this album truly is this gritty).

For example, on one listen of 2002’s Wonder What’s Next – I knew that album was going to be huge and that it was chock full of radio and arena-friendly singles.  Sadly, I was right about Nickelback’s Silver Side Up during this time too.  Chevelle have always remained true to their sound, though – and there’s something to be said for that.  This Kind of Thinking… (2004) was kind of their ‘commercial,’ sophomore album and it was just kind of ‘eh…’  Vena Sera, well, to be honest I’d completely forgotten about that album until I sat down to write this.  That could have had something to do with first single, ‘Well Enough Alone,’ which never managed to register with me.  Too commercial and lacking in hooks, which was indicative of the album as a whole.

Sci-Fi Crimes brought it all back to Wonder territory for me and 2011’s Hat’s Off… was half an album of really solid stuff.  So after an initial strong start, where do the other seven tracks land in summary of La Gargola?

‘Jawbreaker,’ is a slow simmering boil reminiscent of a few tracks on Hat’s Off… ‘Hunter Eats Hunter,’ sounds like something off of Tool’s Opiate EP for the first 2:40, before :50 of instrumental threaten to derail the almost six minute track.  A little bit of editing here would have tightened up the aggression.  Honestly, the track could have been a lot better if two minutes were trimmed.

Featuring guitar patterns that recall dredg, ‘One Ocean,’ is an interesting, lighter turn midway through the album.  ‘Choking Game,’ is melodic to a degree before dissolving in it’s final minute into something recalling Pretty Hate Machine type industrial rock and feedback.  ‘The Damned’ is groove oriented but perhaps a bit stock for Chevelle at this point.  ‘Under the Knife’ again starts with riffs that are most cognizant of early Tool, and fortunately maintain the vibe through the entire four minutes without diverging elsewhere.

La Gargola closes with ‘Twinge,’ a slow burner with distant shimmering guitar and  a steady refrain.  It’s a good track and in the same vein as ‘Clones’ (which closed the last album).  Basically, I found six out of the 10 tracks to be keepers after giving things an honest listen.  I enjoy Chevelle and admire their work ethic.  They’re mostly consistent and La Gargola, while perhaps not as good as the last two albums, still holds it’s own early, in the middle and again at the end with some filler in between.

 

Band of Skulls, Himalayan: Album Review

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The propulsive march of the lead track that takes charge of Southampton’s Band of Skulls third album is more proof that the U.K. still has some fantastic imports.  ‘Asleep at the Wheel,’ is ripe with swagger, squeal, and bluesy abandon – reconciling 70’s power chords across the simplest of lines ‘…because where we are going is anyone’s guess.’

The power trio knows exactly where it’s going though, as their sleeves are full of their influences.  The title cut, ‘Himalayan,’ finds Russell Marsden and Emma Richardson harmonizing across Prince worthy funk keyboards and a guitar solo that makes you wish you had a few more quarters for the jukebox to play the song over.  I mean, in my minds eye, I can see Bootsy Collins and G.E. Smith jamming this track out, 10 years ago.

‘Hoochie Coochie,’ – I literally had to look around to verify it wasn’t a T.Rex cover.  Complete glam and strut.  There are a few things that separate Band of Skulls from their contemporaries (I would utter The Black Keys, BRMC and The Whigs in the same breath).  For example, Emma Richardson’s vocal presence and musical input.  ‘Cold Sweat,’ is a ragga-blues slow burner with strings, and a pace changer after the rollicking opening trio.

‘Nightmares,’ is one of the band’s most commercially accessible tunes, to date.  Everyone’s got to have their U2 moment, right?  This one was stolen from the early 8o’s post-new wave landscape right down to Bono’s ‘Ooh-Ooh-Oooh-Oh.’  It’s a tip of the cap and as such, is slightly head-bob worthy for the four minutes of space it takes up.

Drummer Matt Hayward brings the album bopping back on ‘Brothers and Sisters,’ navigating underneath Marsden’s guitar lines and laying nifty percussion changes across the bridges and chorus.  Everything about this album has a familiar vibe to it.  ‘I Guess I Know You Fairly Well’ is probably the closest to aping the Black Keys that occurs, though.  The band has enough creativity, enough of a respect for what’s come before them, to both honor and admire those sounds in creating something bold and new.

On ‘You’re All That I’m Not,’ the band lopes through its first three minutes before taking a progression through Snow Patrol to Spirtualized to Eric Clapton (circa 1989’s Journeyman).  The ghosts of Jack White and Marc Bolan rear their heads on the noir-ish southwestern ‘I Feel Like Ten Men, Nine Dead and One Dying.’  It’s a rip-off but in a post-White Stripes world, one happily accepts.  Three quarter’s into Himalayan one realizes that not only was there no sophomore slump on 2011’s Sweet/Sour, but Band of Skulls keep getting better with the passage of time.

Shimmering, foreboding strings open the Richardson-led ‘Toreador,’ before it picks up into a gallop.  The word alone evokes strong imagery – a toreador of course, being a bullfighter.  The guitar solo puts you in the arena as one imagines the eyes of the bull, steam billowing from it’s nostrils and it’s front hoof digging it’s position in the dirt.  The matador in gold sequined attire, the colored cape and shoulderblade betraying the banderillas hidden and waiting.  Ah.  Love truly is blind, sometimes.

‘Heaven’s Key,’ follows and, in some ways, reminds me of a great band out of Wokingham, Berkshire, entitled The Cooper Temple Clause as well as pretty much anything by Black Rebel.  It’s a great moody piece with some edgy guitar.  ‘Take my head/or/Take my heart/and keep your conscience clean/well/I got a feeling/it’s a burning desire/and I don’t know what it means/so ‘F’ it/are you looking at hell/for heaven’s key?’

On the album’s closing track,’Get Yourself Together,’ it’s pure homemade love.  It’s dreamy, mopey British pop at it’s finest, recalling Bowie and The Doves.

Himalayan really is a collection of mountains – all impressive peaks, with very little bottom.  I look forward to catching these cats live, hopefully in the not too distant future…

 

 

 

 

Queen Kwong, “The Strange Fruit”: A ‘Ten Dimes’ Review

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There’s a handful of powerful female voices popping up across the airwaves over the past couple years.  From the dark, gothic rumblings of Chelsea Wolfe, to the folk songstress Laura Marling, or perhaps the guitar virtuoso Marnie Stern or emerging pop artists Sky Ferriera or Lana Del Rey?  All of them have something to say and are making no bones about getting their message across.  In some ways closer to the Marnie Stern vibe comes Carre Callaway – a young woman whose actually been in and out of the scene since 2009, when discovered in New Orleans by none other than NIN’s Trent Reznor.

She’s the solo artist behind the moniker Queen Kwong and she recently collaborated with Wes Borland (Limp Bizkit, Black Light Burns) on her new single, “The Strangest Fruit.”  This was my first exposure to her as an artist.  I then tackled the smattering of EP’s and singles over on Spotify.  It’s interesting to see her growth as an artist in just three short years.  She’s equal parts Iggy Pop & The Stooges (“Eddie the Kid” single (2011)), post-punk a la Kim Deal (‘Bitter Lips” single (2011)), alterna-grunge a la Hole, or even Black Light Burns-like frenetic guitar work (2012’s “Long Gone” single).

“The Strange Fruit,” is another animal entirely.  Sparse keyboard notes, a shuffling percussion, and cinematic guitars take this track into shoegazer territory yet it holds a pop sensibility.  It’s rather brilliant stuff.  But Levar Burton really said it best.  Check out the video for the track below (sorry, no Wes cameo…)