Godsmack – The Other Side EP review

“I can’t find the answers”, the opening line from the first song on this re-issue, is a good answer to questions I had when I learned about this recording. The substance of those questions can be summed up as, ‘Why would you guys bother to re-release this?’ Never a fan of this band and it’s middle of the road nu-metal mediocrity, this re-issue from 2004 has further confirmed how utterly disinteresting I find this group and it’s complete lack of originality.

To their credit, it appears that they were trying to break into new territory when they first released this 8 or so years ago.¬† New for them, that is. As the songs unwind in relentlessly monotonous fashion, something suspicious begins to writhe in the back of your brain, and then the realization hits: this must be an Alice in Chains tribute cd of some sort!! That’s the only way to explain how this sounds like the outtakes from Alice in Chains ‘Sap’ EP, which was released long before 2004; it was 1992 to be exact. The main difference, in my opinion, lies in the fact that Alice in Chains were a great rock band and Godsmack is not.

If there’s anything positive to draw from this experience, it would be that Sully can actually sing in tune, and the band plays well together, like a band. Unfortunately, that’s not really saying much of anything. The tempos are all uniformly mid-paced, the emotions seem contrived, and the uniform aesthetic vitiates any sense of compositional variety. This would be a great soundtrack to a bondage pant and hairspray sale at Spencer gifts or Hot Topic, but as a pure listening experience, it is about as boring as a musical production can possibly be.

Coming back to the beginning, why did they choose to re-release this? Yes, I thoroughly dislike them as a musical unit; the fact that they are wealthy rock stars while I am some guy giving his opinion is proof that a good chunk of the listening public completely disagrees with me. So, why not make a new record? At least try and create something new. Then I would have one more thing to add to the ‘pros’ side of the list and wouldn’t find myself grasping at straws to find something positive.

Smile – A Flash in The Night album review

Smile manages to combine indie credibility and a fun musical experience. A musical entity resulting from a collaborative effort, Smile features Bjorn Yttling from Peter Bjorn and John and a guy named Joakim Aklund from an electro outfit called Teddybears.

The most interesting thing about this collaboration is the de-emphasis on vocals. This allows for the creation of pop-instrumental mini-epics that are centered around a couple of basic ideas. To compensate for the lack of vocals, a fairly varied timbral palette is utilized. All of these elements are present on the very first track, ‘Jeans Team’; the rest of the album is a play on the general presentation and mood of this track, which is musically interesting while also being fun and danceable.

Following hot on the heels of the simplistic grandeur of the first track, the second track, Satellite Blues, is just that, a twelve bar blues progression filtered through the groups aesthetic, and promoting a positive message. It’s gonna be all right. The presence of this track proves just how durable one of the oldest harmonic sequences in the Western world really is. Present is the buoyant optimism that pervades the entire album.

If there’s any criticism of this record, it’s that the general uniformity of the compositional style causes the tracks to blend together a little bit; the lack of vocals has a tendency to reinforce this particular thing. The sheer enjoyableness of the whole thing works to mitigate the mild case of monotony the album suffers from. All the same, the middle of the album does have a tendency to become one long track, something akin to a multi-movement classical work, but with less variety.

The last half to the album features a few tracks with vocals; seemingly in accordance with the general aesthetic approach of the whole album, the lyrics are almost childlike in their simplicity. The effectiveness of this approach is most apparent on track 8, From Time To Time; something about the stark simplicity of the lyrics and arrangement combine to produce an emotional impact that is much more intense than might be expected. While not necessarily the most profound musical statement ever produced, the danceable quality and directness of the whole thing produce an album that is thoroughly enjoyable in its simplicity. On top of that, it’s the first ever ‘artist album’ for Ingrid records, whatever that is.

2:54 – 2:54 album review

Striving for emotional depth but coming off contrived, London’s own 2:54 creates music that revels in redundancy. The brainchild of Hannah and Collette Thurlow, the album feels like it overreaches without actually trying all that hard. The end result is a plodding, mid-tempo affair that emotes in a way that rings false.

The first problem is that every track is roughly the same tempo. One or two mid-paced rockers would be fine; ten tracks at approximately 100 beats per minutes is downright coma inducing. On top of that is the fact that the songwriting itself doesn’t really change that much from track to track; atmospheric guitar washes imposed on repetitive eighth note basslines matched with uninspired drumbeats. Considering that the actual creation of the music is the exclusive domain of Hannah Thurlow, with Collette coming in after the demo process to flesh out the songs with lyrics and some musical input, the unasked question is if the addition of a third person in the mix would result in a more varied and interesting musical presentation.

The truly depressing part of this whole sorry state of affairs is that there are some interesting moments that get lost in all that mediocrity. Track 5, Scarlet, opens with a guitar part that possesses a Siamese Dream-era Smashing Pumpkins feel. When the rest of the band kicks in, it almost threatens to rock out. The strange thing is that it actually loses energy as it goes on, sinking under the weight of its own ponderousness. Track 3, Easy Undercover, contains a transition around the 2:30 mark that is actually quite interesting, eventually coming to rest on a single guitar part before crawling on to the end. The other two tracks that contain interesting moments are Circuitry and A Salute. Both make fairly effective use of guitar timbre; Circuitry utilizes this as a kind of atmospheric wash, a haze of guitar tone. A Salute actually contains a few timbral shifts, from mild distortion to a shimmering chorus-type effect, which does impart a type of drama to the whole thing.

As ever, the ponderous tempos and contrived emotionalism go a long way towards rendering these small bits of musical interest completely moot and ineffective.

Parasiten – Karma album review

When I realized that I was going to be writing about a Swedish hip hop group, I was really excited, primarily due to the challenge of reviewing an album in a language I don’t know, in a genre I consider myself to still be learning so much about. Then I listened to it.

This album feels strangely dated. Compared to what I’ve heard of such contemporary talents as El-P, RA The Rugged Man, and others, the production on this album has a ‘sounds of yesteryear’ quality to it. The beats feel canned, coming from the ‘ba-bap boom bap’ school that KRS ONE was promoting during his Boogie Down Production days; the fact that they’re produced in a digital environment does nothing to dispel this notion, at least for me.

Even where the production has some appealing aspects to it, such as on ‘Likvandrare’, the drums have the same rhythm as most of the other tracks; on top of that, the disjointed quality of the shaker/cymbal effect actually grinds against the beat, resulting in a disjointed rhythm that disrupts the sense of flow. Compared to the visionary production of MF Doom, for instance, this feels thoroughly pedestrian.

The English language quote at the beginning of track 8 (Hall om din Partner) seems to indicate that it is conscious hip hop. My utter lack of fluency in the Swedish language renders the lyrical content a moot point. Good luck researching this group online; the only websites I could find were in Swedish. If anyone finds anything in English, I’d be interested in looking into it.

The fact that this group is from Sweden is very cool. That fact by itself imbues them with a sense of novelty. The thing I don’t understand is why these guys decided to utilize has-been American production values. Listening to the rhythm of the lyrical flow indicates that they are incredibly proficient; I certainly couldn’t write anything with this degree of rhythmic competence. Maybe they need time to develop their own sound. Swedish hip hop should be just that- Swedish, not trying so hard to ape rehashed American production.

Patti Smith – Banga album review

It looks like the Godmother of punk is at it again. Banga, her newest record, is awash in imagistic lyrics and that interesting sense of jazz-inspired artistic open-endedness that has marked her work right from the release of Horses, the beginning of her recorded output. The music produced will definitely appeal to a particular audience, of which I am not a member. But, for those that dig this type of Impressionistic story telling and the artsy yearnings, there is something to be found.

It’s not that it’s a bad record. There are things about this album that I appreciate, but the whole is not greater than the sum of its’ parts, at least not for me. Coupled with that is the subdued and introspective nature of some of the tracks; the slow tempos combine with the impressionistic nature of the lyrics to produce an effect of melancholy brooding. Engaging and thought provoking, but not necessarily enjoyable in purely musical terms.

The title track is the highlight of the record. This one has a little bit of snarl to it, and Patti brings tons of attitude and presence right from the beginning. Unlike a good portion of the rest of the album, this track has a fair amount of energy, and actually rocks out. The fact that it’s basically two parts spun out for almost three minutes imparts a higher degree of urgency.

Constantine’s Dream, track 10, you might find to be either compelling or not, depending on your disposition. The religious imagery and brief dialogue in another language renders the aesthetic a little too heavey and bludgeoning. On top of that, it’s over ten minutes long.

In between these two extremes sits the rest of the album. To her credit, Patti Smith is not afraid of experimenting with different genres. That one thing helps things along to a considerable degree.

If you’re looking for hazy, impressionistic musings on religion and existence set to music that is at times a little too atmospheric but still played with competence and a solid rhythm section, this may be for you. Everyone else might not have the patience.

Tu Fawning – A Monument album review

Tu Fawning has presented me with one of those interestingly ambiguous musical experiences. When I first listened, I was intrigued but not entirely moved. Each successive run through the track listing has opened my hearing a little bit more. While it’s not something I would play on a regular basis, this is primarily due to aesthetic differences. This entity creates a sophisticated musical atmosphere by means of a specific aural personality passed through varied instrumentation and what seems to be some technique in the matter of composition; how much of the songwriting ability comes from formal study and how much from simple immersion in the act of music making is difficult to determine.

‘When does a genre become pointless?’ is the question posed by the band on their website. What results could be possibly be taken as an attempt to answer this question. The band’s self-description is ‘Antique-Dance / Tribal-Gospel’. This is about as good an attempt as I can think of. There are sections that remind me of a punk-rock Dead Can Dance. At other times, there is a very theatrical cabaret-rock feel present. And, a fairly ethereal quality at times, as well.

There are a few moments on this album that will reach out and grab you, one of which comes in the form of the third track, ‘Wager’. The choice of tone colors in the guitar coupled with the preponderance of toms at the beginning of the track is incredibly effective in staying within a relatively confined space. When the song breaks open at roughly 1:22 via that angular, timbrally brittle guitar line, the sudden burst of energy is really enlivening. There are other points in time on this album that transpire in an similarly exciting manner; listening with casual focus will reveal them.

The end result of all of this is a band possessed of a fair amount of sophistication, which comes off as a little mannered and self-conscious at times. Overall, they seem intent on following their own vision; referencing their back catalog reveals a continuity balanced by growth, with enough musically revelatory moments that subtly implore you to stay invested to the end.

Paul McCartney – Ram album review

Paul McCartney re-released  Ram this past week. This is a different experience in review terms, because this album is far from being some aural experience presented by some hungry up and coming musical act. This is one of the first albums Paul created after the Beatles split. It is definitely of the era in which it was produced, in terms of songwriting and production, and in general it would appear that it has aged well. Vilified by most of the Beatles and a chunk of the musical press at the time of its release, it has persisted for the last thirty-something years; digging into the music presented reveals the McCartney trademarks along with very interesting experiments in producing and arranging.

The McCartney trademarks- hooks, very hummable vocal lines, and a quaintly ‘old-fashioned’ approach to tunesmithing -were always present in the Beatles; it wasn’t until McCartney got out on his own that his abilities come into their own. John Lennon’s own personality plus the mystique of the Beatles demanded equal attention. All the same, his debt to the blues is apparent in many places, such as on ‘Smile Away’. Coming after ‘Uncle Albert/ Admiral Halsey’ joins with the former to encapsulate Paul McCartney’s entire career in summary.

In discussing this album with some friends, there were those whose opinion of Linda McCartney was not so flattering. It was felt that her presence on the album is distracting. For me personally, her presence on this recording is so slight as to be practically non-existent. It would seem that people let their perception of history influence their perception of this music. Having some sense of history is important, of course, but in the end, all of that information only amounts to a collection of facts related through circumstance.

While the songwriting is generally good, and the album generally engaging, there are moments that test patience levels to a degree. The vocals on ‘Monkberry Moon Delight’ fall into that category. While it sounds like the desire was to evoke a mood of sarcasm, the end result is a little amateurish; the tune itself isn’t the most profound, so the sense of loss is minimal.

Trampled by Turtles – Stars and Satellites album review

Combining instrumental precision with songcraft and tons of feel, Trampled by Turtles creates modern folk music that cuts right to the heart of the American musical experience. Formed in Minnesota in 2003, the group has maintained a high musical profile throughout their nearly ten year long career.

Stars and Satellites, the groups sixth release, continues this, presenting music that is respectful of it’s idiom and tradition while also presenting a unique contribution. This is music that is lush and beautiful, presented by a group that has vocal and instrumental gifts in ample abundance.

The instrumentation is fairly straightforward, consisting of banjo, upright bass, fiddle, and guitar. The lack of any timekeeper forces a different response to the demands of temporal organization; listen to ‘Risk’ and the track right after it, ‘Widower’s Heart’, for an example of the rhythmic versatility of the band. The fragile melancholy of ‘Widower’s Heart’ stands in stark contrast to the high-voltage virtuoso display of ‘Risk’. ‘Widower’s Heart’ is also a good example of the interplay between the band and vocalist/guitarist Dave Simmonet; the mood evoked truly resonates with the imagery of the words. Another key element is The vocalizing; Mr. Simmonet has a solid melodic sense and a clearly articulated, soulful delivery. His voice is simply another instrument in the band; the background harmonies, when present, achieve a similar ‘instrumental’ quality.

Bluegrass has long felt like some second cousin of jazz, despite the lack of drums; the instrumentals further confirm that impression. Chord progressions built on standard bass lines acting as vehicles for displays of technique. Bluegrass also seems to share something similar to Eastern European folk music. Check out the accompaniment to the main melodic line on ‘Don’t Look Down’. Those chordal hits on the & of every beat for those few bars feels so right out of a Russian folk tune. The way the rest of the music unwinds serves to impress again.

Tightly picked passages unfold tightly against a rock solid rhythm section. All in all, an assemblage of beautiful music presented by a tight group. Not to be missed.

Apollo Ghosts – Landmark album review

This album is fairly overwhelming in terms of sheer song-writing output; the irony lies in the fact of how short it is. In this, one finds and incredible strength. In this, one finds a certain weakness. The brevity of each track combined with the sheer amount of music presented causes the whole thing to blur together. That said, it’s completely enjoyable, and when time and attention are given to the task of engaging in passively focused reception, every track has something to offer.

Some albums, such as In Utero, grab your attention from the get-go and each track draws you unto itself. ‘Landmark’ doesn’t have the same magnetic pull, but the musicality of the effort shows through when the listener consciously opens up to the experience.

Taken as a whole, my own favorite moment is the progression from ‘So Much Better When You’re Gone‘ through ‘Landmark‘, the title track. It feels like a structural shift catalyzed by emotional evolution, and the title track rockets forth from the sweet solemnity of ‘So Much Better‘ with a retro intensity. The buildup to it is worth the investment of time, because each of the first five tracks are engaging in their own right.

An interesting feature of this album is the harmonic aspect of the songwriting. The group seems less focused on utilizing chord progressions and cyclical harmonies and have become much more focused on riff-writing. This is reflected in the stylization, which seems to draw from sources as differing as Smog and post-punk/new wave. There would also appear to be essence of Velvet Underground in the mix.

It would seem to stand to reason that this apparent grasp of the mechanics of chord progression and harmonic flow are the keys to understanding the melodic sensibility of this group. This impression becomes ever-more pronounced when there are harmonies backing the melodic line. Check out the last track, ‘Will You Forget Me‘ with it’s folkey, arpeggiated opening followed by a sing-along that fades out on itself. You might find yourself gazing out the window after the track finishes, still singing the refrain.

The Beautiful Ones – Birth of Desire EP review

The newest release by Arizona band The Beautiful Ones is an example of how a genre evolves from its roots; though labeling themselves a hardcore band, there are elements of alternative rock and metalcore to be found. While the songwriting is fairly interesting, it isn’t necessarily the most original. Riffage of the past couple of decades is prevalent, along with a love of half time vs. four-on-the-floor hardcore feel stylization.

A perfect example is the first track, ‘Can’t Stand the Sight of Me’, which fades in on a half-time riff. After this, the tempo picks up when the vocalist begins, only to come right back to the opening riff during the chorus.

The second track veers into midtempo territory, sounding almost like a modified version of Cro-Mags at the very beginning, but the clean vocals in the chorus, in which the vocal hook is actually sung, turn it into something else entirely.

The third track is also a fade-in, this one showcasing reverb-enhanced drums, before settling into another mid-tempo bit of riffage that plays with the halftime/four on the floor rhythmic plan; there is a very metalcore transition leading to a grungey break, before the riffage breaks in again; then, motion into and out of halftime feel.

‘The Birth of Desire’, I thought was the next section of the preceding song. The transition between the two tracks is truly inventive and interesting; there is no aural line of separation as is the norm on a recording. As track four unfolds, it plays out as a tune of lament expressed in a very earnest way. This seems intended to serve as a counterbalance to all of the foregoing angst, and to show that the band has a sensitive side, as well.

The last track, ‘Cut Me Out’, winds up the foregoing by fading out on moshy riffage after reveling in halftime angst. While it develops the possibility presented by the demo, the impression is that while there are many interesting moments, this band is still finding its voice.