Categories
Music Reviews

Citay

Citay

Citay

Important

Citay is the freak-folk brainchild of former Piano Magic member Ezra Feinberg. Named after the historically over-enunciated/sung word “city,” Feinberg’s outfit — including Fucking Champs’ Tim Green — opts for a mostly instrumental project. Lyrics do appear from time to time, but always in the hazy glow of reverb and chorus saturation.

Apparently, Feinberg’s inspiration for this project was the mysticism and pagan folk moments in early hard rock and the fact that these quiet interludes had yet to be extrapolated into a full-length album. His arrangements work surprisingly well, without the promise of bombast. He keeps the guitars sweetly-harmonized and double-tracked and adds appropriate doses of rustic sounding garnish in the form of mandolins, glockenspiel, etc. throughout, keeping a tight rein on the melodies. Where the disc stalls is when Feinberg gives into the old notion that eastern instruments automatically equals psychedelica. Synthesized or not, sitars are as tired a rock trope as a musician can muster. Citay’s best moments come on “Sticks” and “What Never Was and What Should Have Been,” where the imported sounds are kept outside the border and the home-grown folk is allowed to flourish. It’s more Heart than Led Zeppelin, and with the amount of traffic on Zeppelin’s trail of influence, it’s nice to hear reverence paid to the Wilson sisters. As abstract as it is rewarding and unexpected, Citay could act as the missing link on many a rock evolution chart. Not bad for a debut album…

Important: www.importantrecords.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Apes

Apes

Baba’s Mountain

Birdman

Take Grandaddy’s rustic analogue parade through a haunted, psychedelic bass-synth forest, and you’ll end up somewhere in the neighborhood of The Apes’ Baba’s Mountain. This is, of course, the same bearded community where bands like Black Mountain and Oneida have set up shop, and where all the food and drink are as acid-laced as possible. The Apes, though still opting often for a bludgeoning sound, rely decidedly more on the pop hooks than the rock riffs of their compatriots.

The band’s assault weapon of choice, the organ, though heavy on the low-end, takes the place of guitar throughout. The results are some thick, echoing melodies that crackle like fraying synapses. While the organ’s inclusion alone lends them to psychedelica, The Apes slip in subtle pastoral colors — like the harpsichord on “The Zookeeper’s Night Out” — to blow drug-addled minds while tapping into the other half of the Summer of Love. It’s a very Hunter S. Thompson-vision of the ’60s. Oh, did I mention it’s a concept album concerning The Apes’ deadly joyride up the titular mountain that may or may not have involved demons, cannibalism and some sort of mystic named Mortis? How can you possibly resist?

Birdman: www.thebirdmangroup.com

Categories
Event Reviews

H.I.M.

H.I.M.

with Skindred and Finch

Orlando, FL • Nov. 3, 2005

H.I.M. may not be a household name here in the States yet, but in their native Finland they are rock royalty. Embarking on a “celebrity” endorsed tour (Bam Margera is rather obsessed with them, calling them “the greatest band in the world,” and adopting their heartagram logo as his own), they are surprising American promoters by selling out the clubs and theaters they’ve been booked into. Add that to the fact that their audiences are fanatical, and you’ve got the makings of a cult following. Just weeks into their first major U.S. tour, this band has already outgrown the midsized venues of America.

Skindred

Jen Cray
Skindred

The House of Blues looked like Halloween, with the majority of its patrons wearing varying degrees of Goth chic. It’s amusing and encouraging to see so many young faces bold enough to smear on heavy eye liner and wear black lace. I felt 19 again, going to ’80s goth/industrial night at The Embassy! With such gloom and doom coloring the audience, it’s amazing that openers Skindred went over as well as they did. A rap/thrash/punk/reggae outfit from South Wales is an odd choice to pump up H.I.M.’s crowd, but singer Benji Webbe’s presence onstage is irresistible. Even if the music doesn’t grab you, his charming ways will. Dressed in black and highlighted with rasta colors, Webbe ignited the crowd with his exuberance and his tongue-in-cheek ridiculing.

“If this were a contest, this side of the crowd would be kicking your asses,” he calls out to half of the pit. When someone gives him the finger he replies, “Fuck me? For telling the truth?!”

After Skindred’s 30 minutes of pure entertainment, Finch played. Watching them makes me ponder a question that’s been aching my brain for the past couple years: When will emo die? It’s on its way down, but it can’t get there fast enough for me.

Ville Valo and crowd

Jen Cray
Ville Valo and crowd

The wait for the headliner’s set induced more than the usual amount of impatience. This crowd was so desperate for H.I.M. (and specifically for singer Ville Valo) that people were piling into the floor area at such an extreme rate that the fans upfront were begging security to help them. Crowd surfers were toppling over heads not in elation, but in a desperate attempt to get out of the crowd, “I can’t breathe! Get me out!” was a common plea. As the security hands pulled bodies from the masses the mostly teenage wreckage inevitably collapsed at our feet in the security pit. Few passed out, most looked on the verge of vomiting. All of this, before the main act started!

Valo

Jen Cray
Valo

Having delayed their set an extra 10 minutes, presumably to allow for the crowd to settle, when the lights lowered and the famous heartagram backdrop was illuminated by blacklight, all worries of suffocation seemed to cease. There’s the roar of the crowd that naturally welcomes a headliner, and then there’s the reaction of a H.I.M. crowd, which was borderline maniacal.

Opening with their current single, “Rip Out the Wings of a Butterfly,” Valo’s baritone crooning and slow-paced seductive presence onstage reminded me, oddly, of Frank Sinatra. Yet his style of dress could be likened to Willy Wonka, and his smile to The Joker. He’s a strange arrangement of influences that can only be categorized within the title they have personally chosen for their musical sound, Love Metal.

H.I.M.

Jen Cray
H.I.M.

Spending the majority of his time at the edge of the stage, singing to the largely female audience upfront, Valo is a metal frontman who seems to want to romance his fans rather than nail them. Backed effectively by four very versatile looking Finnish men, H.I.M. has something extra to offer that it’s difficult to label. It’s not just their music, which doesn’t do much to satisfy my ears, it’s their presence. Specifically it’s Valo and the aura that surrounds him. The fans can certainly sense it. Over the course of the long set, which included the Chris Isaaks’ cover of “Wicked Game” and the dark and sexy “Your Sweet 666,” the Orlando audience rested comfortably in the palm of Valo’s hand.

H.I.M.: www.heartagram.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Bottom

Bottom

You’rNext

Small Stone

Yikes! I thought I knew what I was getting into when I requested Bottom’s new album be sent my way, but I was very wrong. This is music for hardcore stoners and those folks who believe grunge is still a viable form of musical expression. You’rNext begins rifling through sour notes, upended chord progressions and horrifyingly loud paganism. It yields mixed results, but it is certainly better than the regression the songs take toward the end of the disc when frazzled, nervy tension short circuits the easy going grooves of the closing tracks. The liner notes claim copious amounts of Bushmills and “smoke” fuelled the creation of this album, which is appropriate considering how far off the rails the band’s sound ends up. It’s not a total wash though, as “Requiem” is a potent mixture of Sabbath riffing and sporadic vocal bursts from an all-female choir. Perhaps this was the song recorded during the window opened by the ideal mixture of substance abuse and creativity … who knows, but more time spent cultivating material like this and less time leaning on tired crutches like Tool and Alice in Chains would do both the band and its listeners a world of good.

Small Stone: www.smallstone.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Shepherd

Shepherd

The Coldest Day

Exile on Mainstream

Shepherd is the kind of band that you will listen to after a rough day. Their music is drenched in anger, frustration, gloom and doom; the best way to accentuate your crappy mood is to put on a disc like The Coldest Day and let it all soak in.

To give Shepherd the simple “doom” tag is unfair, as they are much more than that. The band has a flair for sinister yet catchy melodies, which they play on guitars that hark back to Sabbath in their heyday. Their bass player also goes for the overdriven sound, and the combination of the two overdriven instruments sounds rather ’70s in tone. Yet, the songs do not sound dated at all. Their melodies are based in various blues structures that sound timeless and triumphant. It’s as if Shepherd’s music is the battle cry for the frustrated and pissed.

I had a hard time getting into singer Andreas Kohl’s voice. I would have liked to have heard a vocalist who sounds a bit angrier; Kohl sings a bit too much, in a strange, almost Nick Cave-esque voice. It just doesn’t mesh well with the music.

Overall, The Coldest Day takes the somewhat tiresome “doom” genre and ups the ante by adding undeniably catchy melodies and hummable hooks. While this is definitely some dark and angry stuff, it might have a bit too much sunshine in it for fans of Khanate, Sunn 0))) and Isis. You really need to appreciate strong songcraft and melodies to enjoy Shepherd. Surely, fans of Sabbath, Grief, and The Obsessed will find this album quite enjoyable.

Exile on Mainstream: www.mainstreamrecords.de

Categories
Music Reviews

Black Mountain

Black Mountain

Black Mountain

Jagjaguwar

The two names bandied about when discussing Black Mountain are The Rolling Stones (circa Exile on Main Street) and early Black Sabbath. While these references do retain a ring of truth, the actual influences Black Mountain draw upon are far too many to capture in such musical shorthand. De-facto ringleader and principle songwriter Stephen McBean is smart enough to write songs with hooks and chops that are instantly recognizable, thereby indicating some of his influences. Yet, he covers most of his tracks with a laconic vocal style and lyrics that are slightly more expansive than these references would suggest. Name-checking possible references by naming one track “Druganaut” and another “No Satisfaction” serves only as red herring; both are anything but direct cop-outs or copies of the songs whose title they may share. “Druganaut” itself is a leisurely groove that screams sex with a languid rhythm section that ebbs and flows. “No Satisfaction,” on the other hand, is a driving proto-Velvet Underground track that The Strokes have ridden to success. But The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas would have given his right arm to have written a song this positively joyous and enthusiastic.

The opener, “Modern Music,” sets the stage with its skronking saxophone bleating and rolling drum fills, as McBean sings, “Oh, I can’t stand your modern music.” McBean’s singing style, existing as it does somewhere between nodding off and barely waking up, places heavy emphasis on the last syllables as “music” slurs into “musack,” as if no more of an insult could be delivered. Counterbalancing McBean’s cryptic style is Amber Webber’s vocals that almost border on a call and response with an emphatic “no way” between verses, carrying the cadence that remains the hallmark of this track. If Webber only shares vocal duties on this track, she remains a prominent presence throughout the remaining tracks. Webber’s singing is particularly welcome on the heavier tracks, such as The Blue Cheer inspired rave-up “Don’t Drag our Hearts Around,” the anti-war ode “Set us Free” and the closing track, “Faulty Times.” Her presence alone guarantees this record offers something more than the aforementioned references to possible influences would suggest. Who can imagine an early Mick Jagger or Ozzy sharing the microphone with a woman on one song, let alone eight?

Black Mountain bill themselves as a collective and not as a band, and it is this spirit that comes shining through on this album. Of all the possible influences that the band draws from, perhaps it is the utopian spirit that emanated from California in the sixties that lingers here. That brief, shimmering moment when the personal and political commingled, that’s what comes across most clearly on this release. Black Mountain works just as good for getting your groove thing on as for throwing rocks at the president’s motorcade.

Black Mountain: www.jagjaguwar.com/blackmountain

Categories
Music Reviews

The Bad Plus

The Bad Plus

Give

Columbia

Straddling the line between exuberant hipness and studious methodology, The Bad Plus bring a fresh scent to the world of fusion, that strange hybrid of rock and jazz that seems to stagnate with surprising frequency. By sticking to the drums/keyboards/bass trio format, the band is begging comparison to Medeski, Martin and Wood, but if they can be dimensioned by that yardstick, it’s only by the fact that they share the knack of somehow keeping all the instruments in the foreground, whirling around in some crazy syncopated synchronized dance.

Selections on Give are divided between original compositions and some interesting choices of other people’s music. The Bad Plus are consistently spectacular, weaving their intricate musical plots and storylines together into an almost overwhelming cascade of ideas. The opening “1979 Semi-Finalist” is cool and composed, a meandering melodic line punctuated by significant pauses and grand aspirations. This is quickly followed by “Cheney Pinata,” a playful song that could have come out of a Havana conservatory, blending insistent afrocuban rhythms with a melancholy chorus. They do a take on Ornette Coleman’s “Street Woman,” which is excellent but hardly surprising, and a version of The Pixies’ “Velouria” that is chilling in its transition from wispy outline to thundering symphony. The other cover on here, Sabbath’s “Iron Man,” is the only clunker on this whole disc — not that it’s bad, mind you, just that by the time it arrives at the end of the album, it comes across as a stab at irony that doesn’t measure up to the rest of the material.

Of special note is “Layin’ A Strip For The Higher-Self State Line,” a raucous boogie where drummer David King spins and wobbles around the beat like a top, while bassist Reid Anderson squeezes out bluesy honks from the upright bass and Ethan Iverson pounds the piano into a quivering mass of iridescent pulsating lightning. This is one of those tracks I can hear over and over, noticing new cues and details each time.

Production by Tchad Blake is minimal — Give was recorded mostly on first takes, with no overdubs. The band apologetically lists their edits in the liner notes — a wrong note here, a better drum solo there — but the feel on Give is that of being present at a string of magical moments.

The Bad Plus: www.thebadplus.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Cathedral

Cathedral

The Serpent’s Gold

Earache Records

*Ahem* Even though I didn’t get the full-length version for review (as if I’d sell such a precious totem of the doom genre on ebay or something), I will say that the full-length version of The Serpent’s Gold sounds absolutely drool-inducing. You get a disc full of the hits (which is where my review begins and ends sadly), arranged together in cleverly random order. For instance, the somnambulist suicide rumble of “Equilibrium” slumps down right next to mushroom magic carpet ride “Utopian Blaster.” Then you also get a second disc full of rare and unreleased shit that looks so goddamn choice. The packaging is cool too. The Serpent’s Gold shapes up to be a fine overview of the band that basically served as midwife to the current generation of doom and stoner bands. Not bad work for Napalm Death’s former lead vocalist, eh?

“Ride” sets the stage perfectly for this compilation. It’s a fine example of Cathedral’s later period evolution from not-waving-but-drowning wrist slitters to a more polished band of Sabbath-via-Blue Oyster Cult worshipping howlers and groovers, with Lee Dorrian’s vocal and lyrical performances getting more over the top with each successive album. I obviously prefer the earliest stuff. “Forest of Equilibrium” is always gonna be way up there in my personal metal canon, and Soul Sacrifice is about as deep into their catalogue as I can go before retreating back to the first record, but fair is fair; their change in direction provided a lot of really fun and fucking groovy HEAVY metal. And it’s not like it should be a surprise to anyone, back when I saw them on the Earache Grindcrusher tour wayyyy too long ago, Forest of Equilibrium was the only record out (perhaps best seen as a full stop in and of itself), and yet Dorrian was already honing this over-the-top stage persona along the lines of the Black Crowes Chris Robinson dosed up on thorazine. The writing was on the wall. They wanted to rock, hippie freakout style. So were Cathedral doom metal’s first jam band? I think it’s fair to say (“Stained Glass Horizon” or the shouts of “that’s hot” and “disco supernova” midway through, of all songs, “Cosmic Funeral”). Their mid to later stuff was bellbottoms and kaftans and cosmic vibes all the way, man. Though with teeth. Big nasty teeth. Oh my.

That’s not too say that I don’t take a perverse delight in their more accessible fare, like the Vincent Price homage “Hopkins the Witchfinder General,” a blazing hunk of Hammer-fuelled doom rock that sees Dorrian taking on Price’s role and even sharing a few sampled lines with the great man himself. “Autumn Twilight” is where you can see Cathedral first rising from their despondent torpor and actually beginning to rock. Like a fucking bastard no less. The riffs are downtuned and huge, like wooly mammoths marching to the Burning Man festival. Or something. It’s a fucking great song, and by the time they start trading guitar solos back and forth…… mah god. The handclaps that accompany the main riff on “Midnight Mountain” fucking rule it. Next up is the latter-day version of the one slightly “upbeat” moment from Forest Of Equilibrium, “Soul Sacrifice.” It’s a monster; the guitars were just monuments of fuzz and distorted weight, Dorrian sounded like a dying old man. This one takes me back. It was all about burrowing further into your own depressed psyche, and this was the perfect music for it, no more perspective, only darkness.

“Enter The Worms” sounds like the title, burrowing its way further and further into your subconscious, simple and catchy, with an evil vocal. I love it when Dorrian screams “Are you high? Are you high?” at the beginning of “Vampire Sun.” Goddamn, they had so much fun I can’t begrudge them a thing. “Ebony Tears,” the opening track off Equilibrium makes a totally incongruous appearance right after the jamtastic “Cosmic Funeral.” This was the brilliant template for early Cathedral, so slow and dreary you weren’t sure if half the band had fallen asleep at any given time, the guitars buzzed monolithically and morosely on riffs that were seemingly being played at half-speed, the rhythm section lurched like it had been hit by tranq darts, as Dorrian sputtered and groaned in a defeated roar. The solo is the sound of glass tears. There is no way to stress how heavy this was at the time. Total Melvins godhead. “Melancholy Emperor” is a little more dissonant and grungy. “Voodoo Fire” is almost as campy as “Witchfinder General,” with its voodoo ceremony interlude and evil vocoder. Closer “Imprisoned In Flesh” is gone way too soon, a gentle almost Nick Drake-ish lament. Amazing stuff. Here’s to another ice age.

Earache Records: www.earache.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Starchild

Starchild

Starchild

12th Records

Boy, when Starchild say that they are influenced by Black Sabbath, they aren’t kidding! I’d actually call it something closer to a blatant rip off. But “influenced by” and “we’re ripping off” aren’t all that different, I guess.

I’m probably being too hard on these guys, but once you hear the vocalist, you’ll know what I’m saying; he sounds a lot like Ozzy. This guy doesn’t just sound like someone trying to sound like Ozzy, he really sounds quite identical to the man himself! The band, too, mimics Sabbath’s slower, gloomier and sludgier stuff. It’s good, though, that these guys were smart enough to not snazzy up their guitar sound; it’s total mud, filth and dirge. Fans of the dark and heavy will throw a fist of approval high into the air. The drums, sadly, sound like they were recorded in someone’s bathroom, and lack the adequate punch.

Don’t get me wrong, claims of plagiarism aside, I actually enjoy Starchild quite a bit. This disc will appeal to stoner metal fans and sludge fans alike. The overall feel is one of complete gloom and loss. Who could ask for anything more?

Starchild: www.starchild777.com

Categories
Music Reviews

The Melvins

The Melvins

26 Songs

Ipecac Records

Can you believe this was recorded back in 1986? The same year as “That’s What Friends Are For” and Mister Mister? On a two-track, no less? Yeah, me neither. This review is terrifying for me to write just because 26 Songs — formerly 10 Songs before the lovely people at Ipecac Records got a hold of it and added 16 rare tracks and demos — is an absolute monolith of a record. It’s an historical artifact of immense importance (hey kids, about Nirvana…) but still sounds completely pure and undiluted by what came before, and especially after. To put it in context, consider them the Pacific Northwestern peers of the Swans, only less posey, THAT brutal and uncompromising. Place this album in its rightful spot as a touchstone for metal, hardcore, punk, stoner rock and pretty much anything that doesn’t involve Lou Pearlman.

Damn though, 1986? That means that “At A Crawl” is eighteen years-old! The fuck? Ten Songs is like the auditory version of of Dorian Grey, without that pesky portrait, of course. “Easy As It Was” is perfectly representative of the band’s aesthetic; reveling in malice and Keith Moon-esque drum rolls (though at half speed), the guitar thrashes back and forth like it’s a mastodon sinking in quicksand. The element that often gets overlooked in Melvins material is King Buzzo’s voice. It’s easily as dynamic as any instrument — growling, screaming, shuddering, whining, shaking. Brilliant. Songs that crawl along at Saint Vitus pace nevertheless last for Black Flag-esque periods of time, choruses and bridges are dispensed with quickly so that the next destructo-cement-mixer riff can be rolled out.

The drum inventiveness of Dale Crover cannot be overstated. Like the propulsive rhythms and fills that drive “Grinding Process.” Add an underlayer of dissonant riffs (for the drums are in the foreground for this number) and a spazz-blues guitar solo and a crawling coda. “#2 Pencil” starts out like a Slayer number and then decays into total somnambulant drone that’s almost painful in it’s deliberation alongside lyrics like, “have its lead lodged deep in my head.”

“At A Crawl” sums itself up quite neatly: an exercise in sadomasochistic surrender. “Snake Appeal” nicks a Stooges song title, tweaks it a bit, and then lashes it onto a teethgrinding rush of jerky speed, with Buzzo shouting out the words as quickly as possible. The depths of pain hinted at in the constipated screams of “Never!” on “Show Off Your Red Hands” still freak me out. Buzzo’s method, lemme tell ya, he’s as method as Nicholson. The original grouping of ten fade out with dual instrumentals, “Over From Underground” and “Cray Fish.” They’re good brutal death/punk/noise workouts that mine the same chord groupings over and over again, without the distractions of human words. (Much like mine.)

After the first clutch of ten, we’re then treated to demo versions of most of the songs on the album which basically serve as peeks into the band’s aural sketchbooks, working methods become a little clearer (well not really), and as much energy is put into demo recordings as is the “final version.” I was fucking well jazzed to see a demo version of the monstrous “Set Me Straight” appear. It’s a bass-heavy leviathian that probably provided a pretty definitive blueprint to the then-nascent doom metal movement, to say nothing of Soundgarden. Buzzo’s vocals are brilliantly nasal and feral. “Operation Blessing” and “Breakfast On The Sly” are the two other non-album demo tracks included here. “Operation Blessing” is the polar opposite of the Melvins aesthetic, a lightning-bolt of Extreme Noise Terror/Napalm Death-esque hardcore. “Breakfast On The Sly” is almost jaunty for the Melvins, an angular shuffle with inspired screeches and grunts from King Buzzo. The uncharacteristic burst of freakout speed from the Kill Rock Stars comp track, “Ever Since My Accident,” closes out the record, for all intents and purposes. Well, not really, cuz then there’s “Hugh,” which is a bout of Angel Dust-inspired ramblings from a high-school friend, Hugh Natch, while the band giggles away in the background and eggs him on, before letting him lead them through a messy blues jam that will apparently “make them a million dollars.” Ah, what might have been.

Typically perverse, but true art is always equal parts frustrating and brilliant. Just try and stop them.

Ipecac: www.ipecac.com