Fleshgod Apocalypse – Agony review

Balance is one of those things that is not instinctive. Babies have to learn it for basic walking to occur, and gymnasts and dancers and their ilk must learn it to perform in their chosen professions. Musicians also need to have a certain amount of balance, knowing how to structure a song to give it a feeling of completeness and finality; there is also the balance between the Apollonian and Dionysian dynamics of work, with the former being the orderly and logical, and the latter being the emotional and chaotic parts of a work. At first listen, Fleshgod Apocalypse is fully Dionysian, nothing more than a sonic blur of blast beats and shredding. But upon closer inspection, it lacks any emotion; it’s a near-hour long mathematical send up to Apollonian art. There is a staggering amount of order and logic to what is occurring, with absurdly tight timing and impossibly fast drumming.

Technical Death Metal is a bit of an acquired taste, and to make it Italian Technical Death Metal just adds more level of absurd to it. Not to say that Italians are absurd, more so screaming in Italian is. And there is plenty of that. There are also a lot of symphonic bits that appear throughout the album. The opener sounds quite a bit like the theme from Pirates of the Caribbean, and that feels pops up often throughout the album, usually as a way to segue between two songs. Or to segue between every song.

In all fairness, there is a chance that on the Italian Technical Death Metal scene, this album is as fresh as a newly picked bouquet of roses. To anyone who has a wider variety of taste in music, Agony, the name of Fleshgod’s second album, is what it’s name suggests: an agonizing exploration of monotony. There really isn’t much to distinguish one track from another, aside from occasional piano pieces or interesting drum fills. Although it is interesting to hear someone yelling something presumably angst-filled in Italian, this album really isn’t worth the effort to download.

Black Tide – Post Mortem review

To sum up a genre such as metal would be a near impossible task. There are so many splinters from the original sub-genres that listing them all would take more time than I am willing to type for. That said, Black Tide is the future face of hardcore metal. Founding members and brothers Raul and Gabriel Garcia are only 20 and 18 respectively, yet they convey meaning well beyond their years. Having opened for numerous big names at Ozzfest and touring with Avenged Sevenfold, the group is now blooming into other areas, their work associated with no less than 10 different video games.

Its clear that the group loves what they do, and they’re good at it. For example, just the second song on the album, Bury Me, has towering guitars and a thrasher of a drum beat, and even that guttural growl we’ve come to expect from some areas of metal like screamo. All throughout the album, their technical prowess apparent, masters of their respective craft, resulting in a tight and driven piece. Take It Easy is borderline emo, but that’s not to say it isn’t enjoyable. “Walking Dead Man” has all the hallmarks of their influences, from the opening riff that sounds like it’s speed-addled, to the treble walk down the fretboard, and overall just makes you want to smash things with your hands. If you’ve ever heard Dragonforce, you’ll have an idea of what I’m talking about.

I like metal: it’s tough for me to say why I like it. It seems too cliche to say it speaks to me, but it certainly triggers some internal switch that keeps me entertained. These boys are able to hold their own with the big dogs, and it’s not a far reach to say that they will be influencing kids with long hair and an axe in the near future.

Southern Shores – Atlantic EP review

Once in a blue moon an artist or band will craft a sound – a sonic experience – that immediately falls effortlessly into an impeccable existence in terms of both form and function.  One such example of this increasingly rare phenomenon is Atlantic, the debut EP release from Canadian duo Southern Shores.  Emanating from the frigid coastline of Halifax, Nova Scotia, this impressive first compilation of disco-infused pop tunes sounds more like it belongs under the sun on some trendy summer beach along southern Europe.

Though every track is well placed and perfectly composed – not a single second goes to waste – Atlantic, an indisputably warm and easy-going record sadly stands at only 6 tracks and a mere 23 minutes long.  And though short and dizzyingly cohesive, the diversity present on this record is intoxicating.

Opening track, “Take Me Anywhere,” is bursting with carefree enthusiasm as ethereal synth sweeps combine with dialog samples from the 1940’s film, “Out of The Past” to set the stage for a nostalgic-yet-innovative throwback to sounds and vibes of old.  Leading us into the middle of the album, “Tangier Winds” is a more relaxed track dripping with the sedation of late-afternoon summer sun; heavily delayed vocal call and response leans towards a less politically inspired Thievery Corporation vibe while purely euphonic soundscapes urge eyelids to repose.

Though this entire album is artfully crafted, the second half of this short release is where Southern Shores truly find their stride.  “Night Is Young” evokes fond memories of Gloria Gaynor as gospel-esque vocals permeate the feel-good simplicity of half-time disco grooves while album closer, “Meridian” lends itself to a regretful departure back to whatever reality you live in.  Its laid-back syncopation of melodic and rhythmic elements spins a coolly fluent conversation between South African-style gang vocals and island melodies proving once and for all that this duo have achieved extreme rarity by releasing a debut incapable of negative review.

The only downside to this EP is that we’ll have to wait for future releases to further indulge our ears in this pleasurable escape from the normal.  Until then, however, I’m sure this will do just fine.

John Hiatt – Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns album review

John Hiatt released yet another studio album at the beginning of this month entitled Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns on New West Records. The several Grammy awards nominated artist has been creating his own brand of Americana folk bluegrass tinged new wave since the 1970s. Although he has had many a critical success, Hiatt has only broken through to the Top 40 charts a few times. However, the songs he has written have received the royal treatment, being covered by true greats such as Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, and Eric Clapton.

Dirty Jeans is the follow up to 2010’s The Open Road and the twentieth full release Hiatt has penned so far. The best tracks on the album are gritty down south numbers dripping with heartfelt emotion and hard truths. And then there’s the bad. All of the love songs are just terrible. The excellent storytelling turns into unnecessary romantic drivel.

“Damn This Town” starts Dirty Jeans off in the right direction. Twanging guitar surrounds a story about facing family hardships in a small working class town and finally getting the balls to leave it all behind. Lyrics include this striking line: “I’m 58 years old still living at home like a kid.”

Track eight “Train to Birmingham” is a lonely ride during which “drinkin whiskey for the pain” is common place. The second to last is “Adios to California” a song that would fit on any good road trip playlist. Ending the album is “When New York Had Her Heart Broke,” a very well meaning 9/11 tribute. The story is a familiar American tragedy, yet it is told in such a sappy manner that it loses any real impact it could have had.

John Hiatt will be on tour with his backing band The Combo comprised of Patrick O’Hearn on bass, guitarist Doug Lancio, and Kenneth Blevins playing drums along with some vocals. Big Head Todd and the Monsters will be joining Hiatt on select tour dates.

Ghost Brigade – Until Fear No Longer Defines Us review

The latest from Finland’s Ghost Brigade isn’t quite metal, nor is it straight alternative rock. Rather, it occupies that grey area of dramatic mainstream alternative alongside groups like Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, Evanescence, etc. Maybe Evanescence is stretching it, but this is definitely some standard alternative radio fare. Dramatic, moody vocals accompany deep, melodious guitar tracks. Singer Ikonen’s mid-range, depressive voice suits the genre perfectly and is versatile enough to fit the album’s alt-rock opener and heavier middle tracks. The album does delve into some more bone-crunching tunes after the placid opening, for those who prefer the thrash side of the menu. Then it slides into some generic last few tracks that sound like a perfect blend of 90s alt and new metal.

The thread tying the whole album together is perhaps the pervasive sense of depression and despair. As Ghost Brigade is another alternative metal band from Finland, this shouldn’t be too surprising. The album succeeds in being a downer. If you aren’t depressed to begin with, however, this could make “Until Fear no Longer Defines Us” kind of a boring listen. The emotional palette of the album is entirely shades of grey.

Whether the listener prefers alternative rock or alternative metal, it’s hard not to find the album totally morose. The middle tracks could have real bonecruncher status if it weren’t for Ikonen’s voice, which stays basically the same throughout the whole album. Replace Ikonen with the guy from Stone Temple Pilots, and it would be hard to notice the difference. Unfortunately, this kind of waters down Ghost Brigade’s metal qualities. Ikonen is just a little too moody to make real dark metal of the sort that usually only comes from Scandinavia. This is too bad, because although Finnish metal can get dark, real dark, it usually isn’t quite as boring.

“Until Fear No Longer Defines Us” would probably find more fans in the alt base than among metal heads.

Guy Clark – Stories and Songs review

Guy Clark’s career has played out a movie, he started out in the hills of Texas with a guitar and some songs, now almost 40 years later he’s still releasing albums while many of the stars that he wrote songs for have gone by the wayside. Obviously, Clark is getting up in age as you would expect someone with a 40 year career would and his aged, wisdom giving demeanor on Stories and Songs fits his music faultlessly. The album flows like a stream and imitates the intimacy that a Guy Clark concert emits. The transcript of the album would read like an episode of Storytellers with Clark telling, often times hilarious stories in between songs.

Musically Clark is an old school singer songwriter whose Texas hills draw makes a lot of his songs lean toward the country western side of the fence. There are all of your typical instruments that you have come to expect to be the major players in Americana music. There is some really great fiddle work on tracks like “If I Needed You” and “The Cape.”  Due to the subdued nature of the rhythms there are some occasional tom drum fills and some mild rapping on a bongo. The thing that really drives the music is Clark’s guitar work. Saying that he is a guitar picker is an offensive understatement.  Clark slides chords around the fret board with such dexterity and precision that it’s hard to believe that he’s 70 years old. Not unlike lots of Americana and Country music there are some hacky, almost corny songs thrown in the mix. Songs like “Homegrown Tomatoes” which is about how good farm fresh tomatoes are and “Joe Walker’s Mare” a tale of a man finding a horse, just seems elementary and childish compared to deeper songs like “L.A. Freeway.”

Overall this album is a good for Clark fans and fans of Americana music but honestly if you aren’t a fan then Songs and Stories will probably miss the target. Clark is an amazing musician and is a legend, but just not for everyone. If you enjoy the music that people like Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle and Ricky Scaggs put out then you should check this record out because you can hear Clark’s influence in their distinct sounds.

Wooden Shjips – West review

The Wooden Shjips (pronounced shyips) are a psychedelic rock quartet from San Francisco, California. The album as a whole is reminiscent of all the spacey, 70’s acid bands that we all know and love, but a bit more progressive and experimental instrumentally.

The first track, Black Smoke Rise, is a good introductory song as it is a classic but modern interpretation of psychedelic rock, a genre which doesn’t have much relevance or popularity in music today. However, Lazy Bones provides a stronger influence on the rhythm section and is the most upbeat song on the album.

Home strays away from the typical psychedelic rock mold and uses a sound that is more classic rock, a vocal which has a stunning similarity to Bono, and features the best guitar solo out on the album. The album retains a certain level of darkness and depth, the drone of the guitar remaining stable throughout.

All songs start out fairly exciting, experimenting with different instruments in the intros, but all fall into a long stream of slow, hypnotic guitar which you can expect on each track on West, creating a relaxing and mesmerizing sound I haven’t heard in years; a blend of Pink Floyd and the Pixies, spacey but intriguing, and a dreary guitar that reminds me of a young Sonic Youth.

Though the album is good when viewing it in its pre-destined psych-rock category, each track is predictable and lacks any real melodic surprises. The drone of the guitar is expected and ties each track together creating an experience in which the listener can get lost; the exact purpose of such a genre.

West is an album that would be great background music to sit around and get high to, and as far as acid/psychedelic rock is concerned, can be deemed as well-accomplished.

Dave Stewart – The Blackbird Diaries review

For a guy who’s biggest hit still remains 1983’s “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This),” Dave Stewart’s newest album, Blackbird Diaries, comes as a huge surprise. The former Eurythmics guitarist strays far from the ’80s techno for which the majority of the world knows him and instead grinds out straight-laced country-rock on this full-length 13-track LP. Complete with Martina McBride and Stevie Nicks collaborations, Stewart shoves aside any hint to a younger generation that he was ever an influence on ’80s sub-culture.

“So Long Ago,” the record’s first track and single, kicks off with a Joe Walsh-esque guitar riff and fills all the verse-chorus holes with “Funk 49” slide. Looking back on moments from his life, Stewart sums them all up in a quaint and simple manner: “That was so, so long ago,” and from that point forward, the Blackbird Diaries sounds exactly like a man flipping through the pages of his journal. Though Stewart’s been married for the past seven years, titles such as “Stevie Baby” (no, this isn’t the one Nicks is featured on), “The Gypsy Girl and Me,” and “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” give the impression that problems may have arisen in the confines of their sanctum. “Time is slowly ticking away/ But I know you’ll come back and be with me one day/ ‘Cause I miss you,” he bellows on “Worth the Waiting For,” which doesn’t exactly exude promise, and on “Cheaper Than Free,” he laments with the backing of Nicks, “What’s deeper than a deep well/ The love into which I fell.” Needless to say, the Blackbird Diaries isn’t the work of the same man who once cranked synth-reverb on “Here Comes the Rain Again.”

With this album, fans of Tom Petty would never imagine Stewart produced a couple of tracks on Southern Accents. Blackbird Diaries sounds more like something off Into the Great Wide Open. With the newfound twang of a southern blues artist, yet the well-version of a man who’s been in the game for over 25 years, this LP may be about reminiscence, but it’s revamping the future for this underrated guitarist.

Library Voices – Summer of Lust review 

Being described as “cute and catchy”  (as described by alternative weekly, Now) might be insulting to mature, multi-faceted, virtuoso musicians with transcendent, beautifully fractaled, mind-fuck stylings.

Enter Library Voices. With their new album, Summer Lust we have something very cute and catchy.

Me, I don’t really enjoy cute.

But you, if you like really obvious, teenage lyrics layered over boppy, eighties-synthed out little pop ditties that sound sort of like George Michael doing recreational Ritalin, then have a gander at the track called, “If Raymond Carver were born in the ‘90’s.” This sounds like it should be on the soundtrack of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or some shit.

Now, when they say this is “indie rock,” do they mean Independent music, like the Smiths or Gwar, or do they mean “indie” like in that grandfather-sweater, fake glasses sort of way? Probably the latter.

Generation Handclap is kind of fun, musically, in this Beach Boys-without-balls sort of way. And if the Beach Boys have balls, well, that’ll give you an idea of what you’re getting into here.

But the track Reluctant Readers Make Reluctant Lovers is kind of cool, with this drumbeat that sounds like the one they used in The Boxer by Simon and Garfunkle. There’s some nice melodic harmonies on the chorus, if they could just ditch that synth in the background. It sounds like a child-sized Keytar or a recorder.

It’s so precious, but all these terrible 80’s synths…it’s just annoying. Some people eat this shit for breakfast, lunch and dinner though, so if you can’t get enough of those shooting-star synths misting over Ringo-Star perky drums and little-man vocals with tragic, self-pitying lyrics about his small-city college-time dalliances, then you’ll wet yourself.

Traveler’s Digest is the cream of the crop; they even throw in some real 1986 saxophone and someone is seriously blowing a load on a Casio keyboard here.

The Prime Minister’s Daughter is kind of funny; does Stephen Harper even have a daughter though? Oh, Canada. At least MY home city doesn’t rhyme with Vagina. Poor Library Voices. I would have said I was from somewhere else.

Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter – Marble Son review

Can there be a sweet hereafter for Jesse Sykes after Marble Son?

The dive-bar, alt-country sound of Seattle based unit, Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter, gets a facelift for their fourth album, Marble Son, and strides shamelessly onto shelves. What distinguishes Sykes from other heroines at the helm (like Nico and Neko Case, which she carries the phantasms of in many songs) are the immutably clean guitars of Phil Wandscher. Without Wandscher’s interesting riff collection throughout, keeping you from floating off into the lonely cloud of Sykes incorrigible rasp, the listener is shot down repeatedly with cryptic lyrics track after track.

If you have a decoder ring, bring it along before buying this album. By far, the band’s most experimental offering, after wading through the vaguely 60’s sound of songs like “Ceilings High” and “Your Own Kind,” leaving off at the larking chirp of “Wooden Roses,” the last track on the 11 track album, I was left bereft of even a smirk.

Upon discovery of past albums for the sake of indulgence, Marble Son, sunk even further into the mire of forced and embarrassing. Their past albums; Reckless Burning and Oh My Girl, seemed to stay true to something, making Marble Son feel even more like infidelity. Wandscher’s distorted twang gained a presence, which is clearly the highlight of Marble Son, but not enough of a redemption factor to voodoo a 20 out of my wallet.

If you’re looking for a lethargic, prosaic indie album this summer, Sykes fourth album is your diamond. But if you are just looking for a Neko/Nico fix, put your wallet away and pull out on an old Velvet Underground album from your vinyl collection.