Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 in numbers

It's exactly 11:50 PM in the Philippines, and while I'm busy counting down the new year with my family, why not take a look back at 2010, with the help of a few numbers?

I'd like to thank every single person who has read any one of my posts this year - you're one of the major reasons why I'm still here, 2 years on. To my loyal readers (I hope you exist!), thank you so much for sticking with me this year - it's been quite a ride, hasn't it?

33 Single Reviews
17 Album Reviews
32 Music Show Recaps
12 Perfect Reviews

1 inactive month (SORRY!)

195 Facebook Likes

Most-commented posts have 19 comments - JYJ's "The Beginning" and Super Junior's "Bonamana"

Most-viewed post from May to December was viewed 7,373 times with 17 comments - SHINee's "Lucifer"

34 consecutive posts from July 4 to November 8 all have comments

Google has referred readers to the blog 25,130 times from May to December

At least 40 Top Google search results, including terms like "SHINee lucifer review", "super Junior bonamana review", "SNSD review", "2NE1 vocals", "DBSK vocals", "simon curtis 8bit heart review", and the list goes on

9 out of the top 10 sites that refer readers to PRN are Google domains

Since May, 121 people have viewed PRN on a PlayStation 3 console

59,508 Pageviews from the US and 11,715 from the Philippines (starting May)

Over 650 comments from at least 200 different readers

182 Posts From January 1 to December 31, including this one

A total of 229,314 Pageviews

Exactly 999 days since my first post on April 6, 2008

Well that's it for me this year. HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE! Thank you for a wonderful 2010, and here's to an even better 2011!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Ripple Top Albums of 2010

Pope's Top 10

The basis for making my Top 10 list is on how much I wanted to listen to the music, how much I thought about the music when listening to other music or when doing mundane day to day tasks. This list has nothing to do with which album has the greatest impact on its individual or specific genre, but purely on how much love I gave the particular recording. Let it be noted that there is very little separating this year’s top three choices. All three albums have spent extended periods of time on the turntable since making their initial impact on my ears.

1)    Stone Axe – II
2)    Les Discrets - Septembre Et Ses Dernières Pensées
3)    Hypnos 69 - Legacy
4)    Dark Age – Acedia
5)    Lair of the Minotaur – Evil Power
6)    Opeth – In Live Concert at the Royal Albert Hall
7)    Charles The Osprey - Consider
8)    Shadowgarden – Ashen
9)    Necronomicon – The Return of the Witch
10)   Downslave – Cost of Freedom

Racer's Top 10

I agree with everything that Pope wrote, I'm just too lazy to write all that.

1)   Stone Axe - II
2)   Fen - Trails Out of Gloom
3)   Ape Machine - This House has Been Condemned
4)   Black Bone Child - Take You Blind
5)   Jet Black Berries - Postmodern Ghosts
6)   Rob Blaine - Big Otis Blues
7)   At the Soundawn - Shifting
8)   Darklight Corporation - S/T
9)   The Beautiful Mothers - Chikara
10) The Egocentrics: - Love Fear Choices and Astronauts

Woody's Top 10 (in alphabetical order)

The Brought Low – Third Record
The Budos Band – III
Electric Wizard – Black Masses
Josiah – Procession
Poobah – Let Me In
Otis Redding - Live on the Sunset Strip
Stone Axe – II
The Stooges – Have Some Fun: Live At Ungano’s
The Sword – Warp Riders
Ufomammut – Eve

Horn's Top 10

10) Roareth - Acts I- VI
9)   haarp - The Filth
8)   Dawnbringer - Nucleus
7)   Centurion's Ghost - Blessed and Cursed in Equal Measure
6)   Nefarium - Ad Discipulum
5)   Conan - Horseback Battle Hammer
4)   Cough - Ritual Abuse
3)   Howl - Full of Hell
2)   Salome - Terminal
1)   Sloath - Sloath

Penfold's Top Ten

1.    Mudocks – Distortionist
2.    Megaran and K-Murdock – Forever Famicom
3.    Freak Kitchen – Land of the Freaks
4.    DEVO – Something for Everybody
5.    B.O.B. – The Adventures of Bobby Ray
6.    Greenhouse Effect – Electric Purgatory Vol. 1 and 2
7.    Look What I Did – Atlus Drugged
8.    The Rakehells – Please Yourself or the Devil in the Flesh
9.    MC Frontalot – Zero Day
10.    Cee Lo Green – The Ladykiller

Mr. Brownstone's Top 10

10) Local Natives- Gorilla Manor
9)   Bruno Mars- Doo-Woops & Hooligans
8)   MGMT- Congratulations
7)   LCD Soundsystem- This Is Happening
6)   Neon Trees- Habits
5)   Titus Andronicus- The Monitor
4)   Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse- Dark Night of the Soul
3)   Gaslight Anthem- American Slang
2)   The New Pornographers- Together
1)   The Black Keys- Brothers

Honorable Mentions
Watain – Lawless Darkness
Exemption – Public Cemetary Party
Hank III – Rebel Within
Janelle Monae – The Archandroid

Don't forget to check out these sites and their Top 10 list of 2009
All Metal Resource
Bring Back Glam
Hair Metal Mansion
Hard Rock Hideout
Heavy Metal Addiction —
Heavy Metal Time Machine
Imagine Echoes
Metal Excess
Metal Odyssey
The Ripple Effect
Hard Rock Nights
Layla’s Classic Rock
The Metal Minute

Top Ten Lists Of Top Ten List Lists - by Old School

I simply despise top ten and “best of” lists.  They are never enlightening, and even less informative, especially those that discuss music. 

Is  “Taylor Swift” by Taylor Swift a “better” recording than  Guns N’ Roses’ “Greatest Hits” merely because of the number of weeks the CDs spent on the Billboard Music Charts? I hardly think so.  Staying power on the charts is a product of (sales + publicity + fanbase) which is always related to gross sales.  It doesn’t even reflect how financially successful a recording might be.  To determine that you have subtract all the costs associated with producing the product,  Even then, financial success does not mean one recording is better than another recording.

Ahh!  But you say,

I like lists.  In fact, I love them.  Sure, you can’t compare the artistry of Taylor Swift to that of Guns N’ Roses in financial terms - it has to be in “artistic terms.”  We have to narrow the field a bit. We can make categories of lists and compile them.  Taylor Swift is a better Pop singer so we can compile a top ten list of 2010 Pop Music and we can compile a list of the 2010 Metal and Gun N’ Roses would be on that one.  We could choose ten categories say, Pop, Blues, Punk, Alternative, Metal, Classic Rock, Country, Jazz, Soundtrack and World Music.  You could then compile the number 1’s of each list and there you have a fair ultimate 2010 music top ten list.  

Dude! You’re missing the point!  There are thousands of great bands out there that lack either sales, proper publicity or a great big fan base.  There are even some that rather ply their art in semi-obscurity, semi-retired, known to only a few, or just popular in a city, region, circuit or on the web. Consequently, it is inherently unfair and disingenuous to say that one recording is the “Best” or better than another.  I can assure you that you haven’t heard all of them; that, if you did, you could never make up your mind; and, if you did, you should really get your hearing checked.

Every top ten music list ever compiled fails in another respect.  It is totally subjective and why should I, as a music listener, really care about your opinion?  I know what I like.  Don’t you listen to your music and not give a damn what others think - you might even sing Barry Manilow songs in the shower, who knows or cares? It is your music and you are the only judge of “Best” that matters to you.

Look, Old School,

I understand what you’re saying, but, don’t you think that as music consumers we ought to know what we are buying?  I mean, doesn’t sales + publicity + fan base measure popularity? So that means, as a consumer, I’ll know what most people are listening to by referring to a traditional top ten list.  Doesn’t that have significant value to me as a consumer?

So, if lots of people were jumping off a high bridge you would too? Even manure attracts a lot of flies. 

Don’t give me this whole consumer service thing.  Today almost every artist has a healthy web presence and offers at least a free taste or two.  You are better off spending your time searching the internet for the music you like than being a lemming to 2010 Music Top Ten Lists of Top Ten Lists.

Yes, Old School, I understand. But, couldn’t you compile a top ten list of just the music you heard this year and it could be your own personal 2010 Music Top Ten List? You could use it to explain to people your own musical tastes.

That argument lacks foundation.  Do you really think other people care about what music you like - other than the artists who are trying to sell it to you?  Look, I write 50 or so music reviews a year.  I listen to thousands of new artists and releases and point out just a few.  I get a half-dozen comments a year from readers in response to my reviews.  I write because I’m vain and love to share my love of music, even if no one cares or listens.  I’m in no position to tell you to favor Lynwood Slim and the Igor Prado Band over Brian Setzer, Modern Day Moonshine over The Doobie Brothers  or Heavy Glow over Steve Vai, or any other artist or recording over any other.  I wouldn’t dare say to you that James Cotton’s 2010 return - “Giant” is better than any other Blues harmonica album in the past decade.  You have to find out for yourself. 

- Old School

Electric Wizard – Black Masses

There are many (too many, in fact) doom metal bands out there but I will always make time for Electric Wizard. Black Masses is the Dorset, England band’s 7th album and is pretty much business as usual but there are a few different audio elements to keep things from getting too redundant. The Black Sabbath/Pentagram foundation remains as well as NWOBHM creeps like Venom and Witchfinder General but there’s a stronger psychedelic feel than on some of their previous records. It also sounds a bit like the influence of fuzz-guitar maestro Davie Allan is in the mix, too. Not surprising since Electric Wizard love all the violent 60’s biker movies that Allan did music for just as much as the horror/cult films they sometimes sample.

The twin axe attack of singer Justin Oborn and wife Elizabeth Buckingham is very thick, fuzzed out and layered with trippy effects. Justin’s vocals pop in and out of the mix to bleat his bleak views and call upon Satan to help him navigate this wicked world. Shaun Rutter’s drums plod and thud accordingly in a most Master Of Reality way and blend well with new “necrobassist” Tas Danazoglou. It’s worth noting that Tas has some really intimidating facial tattoos.

For a band so heavy and negative, the songs are surprisingly catchy. “Black Mass” will have everyone yelling “hear me Lucifer” loud and strong at the live show. “Venus In Furs” is not a cover of the Velvet Underground classic (although I’d like to hear them tackle it) but does share the S&M subject matter. Clocking in at 8 minutes, my favorite song might be “The Nightchild” just because of the strong Witchfinder General feel.

The entire album is solid and flows together really well. The tempos are never too fast, and they really excel at the real snail crawlers like “Satyr IX.” There’s even an instrumental dirge called “Crypt Of Drugula” with some very cool atmospherics that’s cooler than anything Eno’s ever done. This is a great one to play late at night in a car full of people you don’t know very well. They’d really freak! Unless they’re already freaks, then they’d love it.

-- Woody

Buy here: Black Masses
Buy vinyl: Black Masses

Buy from All that is Heavy here

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

#1: JYJ - Long Way

I liked a lot of songs this year, and so choosing the best was literally like picking a specific needle out of a pile of needles that look exactly the same - nearly impossible. There was too much good music and too little time to take it all in. Question me all you want, call me biased or whatever, but I've made my decision and this is final.

When I was in the process of choosing songs for this year's list, I was debating between putting this in, or W. So why did I choose Long Way instead? Because while W made me bawl my eyes out (I kid you not), Long Way made me smile, cry, and feel all tingly inside at the same time - the only thing I was sure of was that this song is gorgeous. I don't get tingles down my spine very often, mind you, it's usually just goosebumps or the hairs on the back of my neck standing.

The first time I heard it I didn't know whether to laugh, cry or jump around the room - never mind that I couldn't and still don't understand the lyrics. That's truly what music should do to you, to be honest - it should make you feel something you never thought was possible. In this case, a combination of feelings you never knew existed.

I'm not saying all these because I like DBSK or Jaejoong or whoever, I'm saying this because this song deserves the praise, and that's that. If someone else released it and did just as good a job as the three, I'd still name this the best song of the year, because it's beautiful, epic, sad, happy, outstanding and every other positive adjective I can think of, rolled into one song.

I say this and that about songs, that they lack conviction, that the arrangements suck and the execution was sloppy and I say that because they lack what I think are qualities that will really give depth to a song, like what they've done for Long Way. Music is an art, and because it's an art it should be respected - with depth comes beauty and with beauty comes respect. At least that's how it goes for me.

In simpler terms, Long Way is epic and beautiful in every way. The light but sure drum rolls throughout the song, the strong arrangement that leads the song to places and doesn't just stay still, the sweet melody that's full of emotion, and the three gorgeous voices singing it just leave me speechless every single time.

But most of all, it is everything I stand for thrown together in one song, perfected and put together in all the right ways.

This song proves that there's more to good singers than ballads - the true measure of a technically and musically outstanding singer is flexibility and ability to sing more than just ballads. It's not how many notes you can hit in a minute and how high they are, it's how you hit those notes.

Long Way isn't a ballad, nor is it an uptempo - it's a nice, sweet midtempo that really makes you think.

I'm literally getting the shivers as I begin to write this.

The melody, oh dear the melody, it has enough variety to not bore us for 4 minutes, but it has enough repetitions to allow the boys the freedom to adlib and change things up a bit - showing their ingenuity and creativity. And mind you, these three know how to put fantastic and mind-blowing, yet appropriate and well-executed, adlibs together. It was treated in such a way that there's a balance to the sanitary-ness of Japanese production and the intensity of the three's vocals - need I say more?

In songs, I always look for an arrangement that explodes, or doesn't explode, in the right way. This is it. Everything starts out with a nice, sweet piano line and then a percussion part comes in and the song develops into a pretty package. Little by little it's like everything comes to life, and it explodes without you even knowing it, but very much feeling it. By the end of the song you have organized chaos - things are happening all over the place but there is a clear direction to the arrangement, as expected from the Japanese. But more so, the way everything was resolved at the end was done with finesse - it was neither a sudden stop nor a dragging, element-by-element drift.

Everything about this song matters - from the instruments to the vocals to the production. I was listening to the instrumental and while it's gorgeous and you really get to hear the instrumentation in it's purest form, it has no intensity, no life - until you put in the vocals.

That said, Long Way, as a whole, soars - there's no other way to put it, really. While it has the intensity, enough build-up, to make you stand up and listen to it every time another dimension is added, the way each element is executed then put together in relationship to the entire song is so effortless that the whole song just makes sense. You don't want to question why or how anymore - everything just makes sense.

Each element was so meticulously thought about and executed, every note painstakingly put into place, the entire package perfected over and over and over again, and yet listening to Long Way is more than a pleasure - it's such a joy. For me, that's what music is, and should be - pure and utter joy. More than a way to express yourself, more than a business, a profession, a commodity or a hobby - music is something that is to be enjoyed, savored.

There's nothing more I could ask for, really. As a writer, putting this together was just as effortless as listening to the song - it was like all the ideas, and the right words to express them, just poured out of my head and I didn't have to force any of them out like I had to for some songs on the list. It's because of songs like this that I write, it's because gorgeous, effortlessly stunning, songs exist, and continue to.

For all these simple, yet very meaningful, reasons, Long Way is the best song of 2010.

The Meads of Asphodel - The Murder of Jesus the Jew

Admittedly, I love a challenge every once in a while.  If you don’t set a seemingly lofty goal for yourself on occasion, you never push yourself and will end up wallowing in misery.  Well, what I had just set out to do certainly falls into the category of major challenge.  After listening to the newest album from the band The Meads of Asphodel entitled The Murder of Jesus the Jew, I was inspired to help broaden their audience.  My idea was simple enough.  Get the band to play a single concert that would be written about in the annals of music history as the stuff of legend.

It turned out that this was easier said than done.  First of all, the band was notorious for never playing a live show.  Ever!  I took this in stride however as in my research I heard the group’s vocalist, Metatron, explain in an interview that the band would consider performing if all the right conditions existed.  That was fine.  It would be up to me to make the stars align.  The second problem was finding the right time and place for the band to show themselves off.  My personal requirements for the concert were as follows: 1. The show had to occur in the United States (being a British band, playing a show in the States would help add to the mystique), 2. There must be a great number of people there to see the band (the more witnesses, the better the promotional opportunities afterward), and 3. The venue had to be unique (no matter how great the act, it’s hard to get casual observers pumped up about a band playing the same old stadiums, clubs, theaters, etc.).  Fortunately, I had an epiphany.

What would complement the musical and visual aspects of this band perfectly?  I know!  They can play at a Renaissance Fair!  It’s perfect!  A little research online came up with a list of all major Renaissance Fairs and Festivals around the US, along with how many people on average show up every year to each event.  It turns out that the biggest festival of all, The Texas Renaissance Festival, is held in Plantersville, Texas on Saturdays and Sundays beginning October 9th and running through November 28th.  The festival is held on a ‘900 acre open air theme park’ and entertains around 400,000 people every year.  All my requirements would be met if I could somehow finagle the directors of this festival into allowing a band they most likely had never heard of before to perform.  It was time to get in touch with these folks and do the Penfold name proud.

At this point, I feel the need to assure you waveriders that I did not actually lie when I made my proposal to the fair directors.  I answered every one of their questions truthfully.  Yes, the band is actually from England.  Yes, the name is an allusion.  It refers to fields of flowers in certain mythologies.  Yes, their music (especially lyrically) deals with medieval times.  Yes, they have received high praise for their music from several print and online publications.  Yes, those publicity photos in fact show three of the band members dressed in armor.  Yes, they would most likely perform wearing assorted pieces of armor.  Yes, this would be their very first live performance for the public.  Yes, they would need electricity for their instruments, but I know that you have the capability to provide the energy needed since there are ATMs and other electrical devices scattered around your premises.  Surprisingly, after just a few more questions they agreed to allow the band to perform on Halloween Sunday, October 31st.   Oh my, this was going to be good.

The Meads of Asphodel is an English black metal band.  Okay, now that the gross understatement of the year is out of the way let’s be serious.  Strictly labeling this band as a black metal outfit should qualify as a felony offense!  This is some of the most adventurous music I have heard in my life.  Is it bizarre?  Yes, it most certainly is bizarre.  It is bizarrely awesome!  I absolutely love the fact that from the very first minute of this album the listener fully comprehends that this band is a unique entity that for all intents and purposes will not be playing by the rules.  In fact, they relish writing down all the genre rules and conventions in a book, and then incinerating that book in extreme heat so as not to produce smoke or ash.  The rules simply cease to exist.

The Murder of Jesus the Jew is the fourth full length album from The Meads.  Not surprisingly, the lyrics revolve around the last days of Jesus and the people around him.  The vocals are suitably gruff and grisly but unlike many other black metal frontmen, Metatron never allows his voice to become screechy (at least on this album).  For the most part, and thanks in large part to the somewhat conversational vocal delivery, I like to imagine an old, bitter, gravelly-voiced storyteller working himself into a fury.  Also, it is important to note that Metatron cares very deeply about his lyrics.  Anyone who wishes can read a 60,000 word explanation of the concept for the entire album or the meaning of lyrics from each individual song.  All I can say is wow!

Trying to explain the sonic variety on offer here is a daunting task.  The album of course offers up black metal tunes with hyper drumming, mighty riffs, and foreboding atmospheres to spare.  Check out the tunes “My Psychotic Sand Deity” and “Jew Killer”.  What is more interesting to me however are the songs that either branch out to incorporate elements from other genres into the strong black metal backbone, or simply break the mold entirely to add more flavor to the proceedings.  “Man From Kerioth” adds some serious hardcore punk elements.  “Genesis of Death” could easily be sequenced on any modern progressive metal album if clean vocals were substituted and a few slower moments of the song were removed.  The clean-toned guitar solo that begins shortly after the sixth minute of this song is phenomenally epic.  Listening to “Of Tempests” I believe I am listening to a group of traveling minstrels performing for me in front of their parked wagons.  The acoustic guitar strumming and female background vocals are intoxicating and make me want to dance a jig.  Look I could go on and on, so I’m going to stop before I get too excited.

The bottom line here is that you need to investigate this band and get a hold of this superior album.  Do you like black metal?  Check out this album.  Do you like adventurous music that will take you places you likely have not been to before?  Buy this album.  Do you like music that will challenge your preconceived notions about modern metal music?  Buy two copies of this album and give the second to a friend.  Trust me, they will thank you.  If this album had come out in the US before the end of the year, it would have challenged for a very high ranking on my top ten list.  That being said, thanks to its January 2011 release I already have an early favorite for next year’s list.  Now back to the Fair performance.

Local news, both television and print, had a lot to report on Monday morning after The Meads played their concert.  Spectators fell into one of three camps.  There were the people who thoroughly enjoyed the performance, had their faces melted off, and left with the biggest smiles anyone had ever seen.  Then there were the folks who could only express absolute horror at the overwhelming display before them.  It should be noted that these people were nonetheless transfixed, and remained for the entire performance.  Lastly, there was a small portion of patrons that simply scattered.  In effect, they ran for the hills.  People from this last group formed the majority of interviewees after the fact, and they certainly added to the mystique I wished to generate.  No one knew where the band had come from, or where they had disappeared to after the concert.  Metalheads spoke in reverence about The Meads and their triumph.  Even casual music fans had now heard of the English band that played the Renaissance Fair.  With a solid foothold in the musical consciousness of the American people, my work was done.

-- Penfold

Buy here: Murder of Jesus the Jew

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

#2: SHINee - Lucifer

Several people have guessed that this would be my #1 song, but I'm afraid it isn't - keep guessing! Although that most definitely does not mean that it's not any good. It's more than good actually, it's fantastic.

When I first got into kpop last year, I was concentrated on learning the history and grasping the sound throughout the years. This year, because I had already practically mastered the history and was writing about what would become history, I was concentrating on looking at current k-pop, sound-wise. And the result of that? My current opinion on Lucifer.

I and a whole swarm of bloggers adore the song to bits, obviously, and practically the entire blogosphere, fans included, went wild with the release of this. When I brought out my review I was focused on the song itself, and there's obviously nothing wrong with that, because all anyone had at that point was the song. The technicalities of the song were spot-on - the production brilliant, the arrangement very tight and the delivery fantastic.

Question my taste level all you want, I still think that Lucifer is one of the, if not the, most solid and representative pop songs South Korea has brought out this year. Lucifer is another one of those "this is where kpop is" songs, but unlike the others that I just accept, I adore Lucifer. In a sense, it's because of songs like this that I'm still writing about kpop.

Lucifer is a feast to the ears and an absolute pleasure to listen to, whether recorded or live, and you don't have to say that "oh, I like it better live" or "oh, the recording's a gazillion times better" because the song allows for both mediums to sound fantastic in their own ways.

Which brings me to a point that I heard my dad raise earlier this year - a recording is different from a live performance. OK, of course it is, but if you think about it, there are times when I, and a lot of other people, compare the two then deem one inferior. But you can't do that. OK, you can, but logically speaking you can't. You've all heard of hi-fi, right? High Fidelity, it means that you somewhat "strive" for what's called a "real" sound, a recording that's closest to the actual sound of instruments, whether they be voice, drums or whatever. I only found out what it really meant when my dad raised that point.

So everyone goes on and on and on about hi-fi, speakers are advertised with it and equipment guaranteed to provide hi-fi, but with all this recording technology nowadays, it's hard to differentiate real from not? The vocals, like any other pop song this year, have been put through processing - whether obvious or not. The instrumental is 75% computerized at the very least and all the instruments have also gone through computer processing. Can you call these real? WHAT IS REAL?

But anyway. In simpler terms, the point I'm trying to make is that critique-ing live performances and recordings can no longer go hand-in-hand - you cannot compare them anymore, because the recording studio and the performance studio are two different environments, and their technologies have gone in two different directions.

So what does this have to do with Lucifer? Well, it has proven that point. SHINee are fantastic live singers and performers - they know exactly how to sell a song, and they do it extremely well. Other bands of their stature are still struggling with vocals (ahem2PMahem), but these guys just sing like it's second nature, and it's supposed to be. But no matter how good they are live, the trends dictate that their vocals be processed, obvious or not. There is a difference between their live performances and their recordings. They sound good on both, of course, but good in different ways.

I do have one tiny little problem with the song though, that has ultimately prevented it from being fiercer competition with my top song of the year. I got a physical copy of the Korean release of Lucifer for Christmas a few days ago (along with Rising Sun! My cousin just came back from Korea), and I noticed something very interesting about it - I listened to the album on my dad's nice speakers and I noticed that Lucifer has no depth. I listened to Rising Sun (the single, let's be specific) before that, and I heard things I had never heard on the MP3s - the CD quality version of Lucifer was essentially the same sound, except for the fact that everything was crisper. It's not that big a problem if you look at it, but for me it makes all the difference - I value the little details in a song, it's what separates CD from digital for now, and what makes CD much more superior.

Saltwater Gypsy - 190 Proof

Manitoba. 110,000 lakes, 250,900 square miles of prairie. A little over 1.2 million people, half of which live in the capitol, Winnipeg.  The province is a leading producer of potatoes for Wendy’s and McDonald’s, sunflower seeds and dry beans.

Nova Scotia.  An eastern Canadian maritime province of  21,300 square miles with less than a million people mostly of Scottish ancestry.  An economy based on fishing, lumber and mining.  It has one of the lowest per capita incomes in Canada .

These don’t sound like hot beds of rock ‘n’ roll talent, do they?  Yet, Manitoba is the birthplace of Randy Bachman, Neil Young and the Crash Test Dummies. Sarah McLachlan, Anne Murray, April Wine and LL Cool J hail from Nova Scotia.  When you realize that the January average high temperature in Manitoba  is 9 degrees F (-13 degrees C) and the average low temperature is -4 degrees F (-20 degrees C), and the Nova Scotia winter ranges from average highs of 41 degrees F (5 degrees C) to average lows of -4 degrees F (-20 degrees C), you begin to understand how they can produce such musical talent.  It’s so effin’ cold that they stay indoors, write music, practice their craft through the long icy winter.

When I received a six track EP CD called 190 Proof (sounds like a Canadian prairie winter hobby) from a Calgary-based band called Saltwater Gypsy, that billed itself as “Canadian Roots Rock Music,” I was intrigued.  The founding members Kevin Schmitke and Justin Spearing list their influences on the band’s Facebook page as:

"Growing up without a toilet or running water in Manitoba or a hard knocks mining town on Cape Breton Island. Moonshine shin-digs on the homestead. Kitchen parties. Raising a child on your own. Moving across the country. Good friends and good times. Good music with good groove."

Schmitke is from Winnipeg, Manitoba.  Spearing was born in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia..

Saltwater Gypsy is, in the founders’ own words, “a studio project based out of Calgary Alberta Canada[.]”  Ah, Alberta, Canada. 255,500 square miles of prairie and mountains with a little over 3.3 million people, 80% of which live somewhere between Calgary and the capitol, Edmonton. Calgary’s January average high temperature is a toasty 27 degrees F (-3 degrees C) and the average low temperature is a balmy 5 degrees F (-15 degrees C).  It sure beats Manitoba without indoor plumbing and a mining camp on a rock in the North Atlantic . Calgary also provides greater rock ‘n’ roll  opportunities with its hoppin’ live music club scene. Still, it is not the first place I think of as a bastion of cutting edge blues, pop and folk-based rock ‘n’ roll.  But now, after l listened to 190 Proof, I have come to believe that Canadian winters provide the perfect combination of hardship and loneliness to produce stellar rock for this unique musical duo.

All of the tracks on 190 Proof are “radio-length,” ranging from about 3 to 4 minutes.  This “studio project” moves the band in a commercial direction (to the “big city” and into the mainstream.) Here are my takes on the cuts:

“New Horizon” - a folk-rock country-esque amalgam of acoustic guitar and banjo with driving drums and bass.  The vocals are sung partially harmonized for emphasis.  The overall effect is one of a folksy wall of sound.

“Everything Heals” has a harder edge than “New Horizon.”.  Electric guitar is interwoven with acoustic guitar. Drums and a heavy bass line punctuate unexpected vocal harmonies and counter melodies.  It features a bit of a Carbon Leaf feel that crosses over into Dave Matthews territory.

“Help A Man” has much of the same feeling that is found in “Everything Heals” but has a heaver emphasis on the drums and reverb.  The electric guitar interlude comes across like bag pipes providing an obvious Nova Scotian touch.

“Crazy Lady” moves into the genre of hard rock blues. It combines heavy bass, distorted electric guitar and processed lead guitar in a slow drag of a song.  The track brings to mind the sound pioneered by Bad Company on the song “Live For The Music” only without the speaker to speaker stereo play and with a much slower tempo.

“Remember The Ride” features rhythm guitar and drums. It made me think that this is how the North Mississippi Allstars would sound if they only played acoustic guitars. A distorted droning electrical guitar enters halfway through the track to add background texture. 

The final cut, “Little Jack’s Corner,” returns to the rock blues style of “Crazy Lady.”  With intermittent ethereal and clipped vocal accompaniment the tune evokes the strutting esprit de corps of mid-1970’s rock ‘n’ roll.  The lyrics are just what you think - fairy tales and nursery rhyme take-offs.  It worked for Stevie Ray Vaughan with “Mary Had A Little Lamb” and it works for Saltwater Gypsy.

Schmitke and Spearing have found a warmer climate in Calgary with Saltwater Gypsy.  I suspect it won’t be long until they are on the move again in the search for something hot.

- Old School

Could not find video but the songs are available for purchase and streaming on their Facebook page

Monday, December 27, 2010

#3: The Saturdays - Higher

This getting on my list this year could mean a few things - my standards aren't the same as they were before, I haven't listened to an awful lot of Western songs in comparison to K-pop, and I adore a good pop song when I hear it. I'll go with the last one, thank you very much.

As much as I adore Girls Aloud and Xenomania and whatnot, there is a part of me that adores the fun and effortlessness in The Sats. Girls Aloud are very serious, and the songs they put out are really WHOA, but The Saturdays are light and fun, and girl groups should be fun, don't you agree? The technical side is important, don't get me wrong, but so is how those technical aspects are executed. Basically what I'm trying to say here is that GA and The Sats are two completely different girl groups - they both have their strengths and I adore them both for those. It's just that we were without an epic GA album this year. D:

On a side note, I love the video for this - I really do. Nevermind that they shot it in an LA studio when it's supposed to look like NY, I love everything about it, ESPECIALLY the walking on the first chorus. I took film back in sophomore year, I think I've said a few times before, and I love the cinematography on this - it's very, warm. A nice contrast to the in-your-face-fun-ness of the song.

The chorus is epicly fun in all the right ways - I love how it explodes into this extravaganza of synths and beats and a gorgeous chorus, with enough repetitiveness to make you hum the song even after it ends. I love the synths throughout the song - they're crisp, and classy, but very playful. Throw in strong vocals from all of them, and you have a masterpiece worthy of praise.

The Single Life – 7” of Fun featuring Lou Siffer and the Howling Demons, Space Probe Taurus, White Wires, and the Pack of Gurus

Lou Siffer and the Howling Demons – The Mosher  b/w Bitch De Luxe

I mean really.  What do you need in this world besides fast cars and heavy rock and roll?  Ok, there’s beer, sure.  Some Knob Creek Whiskey, ok.  Toss in some cold pizza and 99% of the world’s male population just reached mental orgasm.  Lou Siffer and his howling band of demons ain’t gonna supply the beer, whiskey, or pizza, and you’d be damn foolish to be caught standing anywhere near one of their cars.  But the crew will supply the rock and roll, heavy, loud, fast, coated in diesel, amped up on bennies, Red Bull, and nitrous.  This is high octane, V8 powered, four-on-the-floor rampage rock perfectly suited for late night drag races and gang fights. 

Forget that this music comes from Sweden, this is a Detroit-fueled, mega-tons of muscle car, head-on collision to the face of brutal punk-infested garage stomp.  Exhaust blows out of the bands nostrils like some devil-spawned hot rod revving at the green line.  Hide your daughters, your girlfriends, your neighbors . . . crap, hide your whole town.  When Lou Siffer and the Howling Demons come to town nothing but carnage and skid marks will remain.  And beautiful carnage at that.

Space Probe Taurus – Insect City b/w Mescaline/Dirt Cult ‘72

Keeping the Swedish hell-stomp fired up and spewing, oil-stained venom, we got this delicious platter from long-time Ripple favorites Space Probe Taurus.  Released in 2000, I dropped a dime to snag this baby off ebay and couldn’t wait to let the needle drop onto three distorted blasts of fuzzed out, grease-stained, acid biker rock frenzies.   Musically, SPT are Siamese twins separated at birth by some demented doctor with our friends Lou Siffer and the Howling Demons. But whereas Lou Siffer gravitated towards Detroit muscle, Space Probe Taurus jumped onto a fuzzed out, hellbound Harley and joined the ranks of some smoke-billowing biker gang from the river Styx.

Each song squeals and winces in the pain caused by it’s own massively fuzzed out assault.  Ola’s vocals and guitars never sounded better while the band chips in with brass knuckle bass and lead chain drums.  Acidfied guitar punk madness at its best.  See if you can’t find this one, it’s just wickedly bad!

Mean Jeans/White Wires – RU Mental b/w Please Write

Speaking of punk rock (we were, weren’t we?), next up is this frenetic 2-song split dalliance of hyper guitar, and staccato drum driven agit-rock from Mean Jeans and White Wires.  This is raw and ragged rawk, just waiting for you to come by and sink your teeth into.   And I mean that in the best possible way.  Energetic, refreshing, vibrant, and deliciously raw.

We got two songs here that show off different aspects of the bands, with Mean Jeans' “RU Mental” sniffing glue over a Ramones-frenzy, and “Please Write” revealing a softer, more sensitive side to White Wires' Midwest-flavored garage wailing.  Toss a funnel-full of quirk rock a la the Replacements, some angular arrangement surprises, and a pocketful of infectious hooks and this kinetic burst might just grab ya. 

Pack of Gurus – Bolero b/w Mystery Date

Every music lover has at least one.  Your holy grail.  That one record that you just can’t find, but damn, you need to have it.  Toss over the nation’s bedsheets, dig through the cyber-garage sales, lose yourself in spiderwebbed nooks and crannies, you’ll look every where to find a copy.  In some cases, it may take years of looking just to find another human being who even knows what band you’re talking about.

That’s the way I was with this 7” 45 by Upland, California’s Pack of Gurus.  Way back in the day as a disc jockey at KSPC FM in LA, I played the crap outta this definitively tasty mash-up of garage, new wave, and surf organ spy rock.  I couldn’t get enough of it’s seemingly random, oddball collection of influences somehow mashed together into two highly addictive agit-songs.  But after leaving the station, damned if I’d ever be able to find it again.  Years of searching passed, then decades.  The internet was no help.  The only online store I ever found Pack of Gurus listed must’ve gone out of business years ago because they failed to respond to any of my 2247 emails.  At $35, I considered it a bargain.  But alas, no luck.

Then ebay came to the rescue and for a mere $9.99 I nearly salivated myself to death as I opened up the package and beheld my very-own, moderately worse-for-wear copy of Pack of Gurus.  25 years in the searching!

So after all that build up, how did it sound?  Was it nearly as good as my fading memory had built it up to be?   Was it really the lost classic, holy grail of post-punk, LA rock that'd I'd imagined?

No. It wasn’t.  It was better.

"Bolereo", with its unforgettable spy-film, organ riff, was like a droplet of wine from heaven.  Totally synth/organ driven with a percolating bass line and those oh-so-angstful vocals and perfect harmonies, Bolero is a gold-plated nugget of D.I.Y. LA-spawned new wave pop.  Totally engrossing to my ears.  And the flip side “Mystery Date,” rang even truer than I remembered with it’s menacing bass, near Bauhaus-like feedback guitar intro morphining into a driving, distorto-guitar riff and singable melody.  Excellent period stuff.

Of course, after decades of searching, I’ve now found three other copies popping up here and there on ebay.  I think I’ll buy them all. Give me a back up copy for after the flood. And a back up for that back up.

Worth checking out if you’re so inclined. 


Sunday, December 26, 2010

#4: Kylie Minogue - Get Outta My Way

Essentially, this is the kind of pop I grew up listening to - fun and fresh, yet musically proficient in more ways than one. So essentially, this Kylie song in particular would have no problem climbing up my list this year.

If anything, this was the song that ultimately pulled me through several big, and difficult, events this year, and that would've been enough to put the song high on the list, but the fact that it's so damn brilliant puts it comfortably at 4th place - it's more than worthy in my opinion. (LOL but I made the list, so everything's worthy in my eyes)

THIS is how things are, and should be, done in pop - even with all this brilliance happening throughout the song, it's very light to the ears. The production is very clear, but also very dynamic and somehow, the instruments all together, no matter how loud they may be, end up sounding very floaty. For some strange reason when I talk about how the song's light, the first thing that comes to my mind is jell-o - it sounds like jell-o, it's very tasty but it's rather light for food. OK that came out strange, I hope you got my point.

Everything about Get Outta My Way is brilliant. But I think I've already said that a gazillion times. The synth and piano lines are gorgeous, the percussion, although obviously computerized, matches the song very well, and the way everything was arranged - from the explosions to the settling to the fade at the and - makes the entire package sound so effortlessly fun. To the point where this could be the music for one of those commercials where there's this boring office and boring corporate stuff then this comes on and someone starts dancing like a madwoman and everyone around her glares at her before they join in and then somehow, magically, they get transported to some random island where they have this huge party.

Do you get me? I hope you do. I'm sorry, I must be really desperate to get something written down right now for me to talk about jell-o and commercials. Just watch the video and prepare to be blown away.

Ripple Music: 2011 Releases - Great Stuff in the Works

Ripple Music: 2011 Releases

In light of the success that we’ve seen here at Ripple Music over the last year, we wanted to look into our crystal balls and take a stab at what we see for the coming year, and then pass these findings on to you . . . the ever vigilant fan of heavy music! 2010 saw the label release seven titles, and 2011 is promising an even greater growth. Since the first release in June, Ripple Music has welcomed two additional acts to the family and has plotted out these follow up releases:

Scheduled for release in early April, we’re looking at a deluxe CD re-issue of the Stone Axe debut album with bonus live material, and a companion DVD featuring promotional videos and tons of live footage highlighting the bands epic performances. This re-issue will be released in conjunction with the bands trek across the Atlantic to tour the UK and parts of Europe that will culminate with their appearance at 2011’s Roadburn Festival in Holland.

While we’re on the topic of Stone Axe, word has come down from Tony Reed that the band is hammering away at material for a new album. No date has been set on the release, though initial discussions have us looking at a late summer street date.

Also featuring Stone Axe, we’ll be releasing the Heavy Ripples compilation double 7”, which will include the return of Brooklyn-based stoner-fied punks Mighty High, the introduction of blues-based retro rockers from the UK, Grifter, and on loan from the incomparable Small Stone Records, Sun Gods In Exile. The 7” will be packaged in a double gatefold jacket featuring the glorious artistic touch of Wayne Braino Bjerke. Expect to see this monstrous beast of sonic debauchery in April.

Speaking of Grifter, the band is partnering up with Ripple Music to release their upcoming album! The band is currently putting the wraps on the recording of new material and both parties are shooting to have the CD (vinyl?) released in May. A UK tour and potential U.S. tour are in the works in support of the as of yet unnamed album, though odds are, it will probably be self-titled.

Being that we talk with Tony Reed on a near daily basis, we have some information pertaining to another Reed project that has us rejoicing in our sleep. We’re looking at re-releasing the first Mos Generator album as a deluxe 10 year anniversary edition. The details are still being worked out in regards to time frame and content, but much like the deluxe Stone Axe CD, expect there to be some great bonus material to be included in this package.

On the doom metal front, is arm locked with Venomin James to re-issue their debut album, Left Hand Man, on vinyl! The album will be specifically mastered for the vinyl format and will include unreleased/live bonus material. Left Hand Man will be available in the first half of the year.

Poobah will be returning in 2011 with a brand new studio album entitled Peace Farmers. Originally self released by Jim Gustafson to a limited run of less than 500 copies, Peace Farmers acts as a great follow up to the re-issue of Let Me In and features a couple of updated renditions of some Poobah classics. Initially, Peace Farmers will be released on CD only, but as the case always seems to be, the door is open to press limited runs of vinyl to accompany the CD edition.

Santa Barbara’s melodic hard rockers Tripdavon are currently working on additional bonus tracks for the deluxe re-release of their latest album Sketches From Silence. As with many of the releases for the year, the time table isn’t set in stone, though we suspect that the album will be ready for mass consumption towards the end of summer.

Finally, Ripple Music will release the latest offering from Scotland’s Iron Claw. The as of yet titled full length album is comprised of all brand new material and includes the vocal talents of new member Gordon Brown. This will initially be a CD only release, but much like the Poobah release, there’s a great chance that it will also see a vinyl edition. Tony Reed is scheduled to master the album once it’s complete and should be available sometime mid-year.

That’s it for all of the major releases for the time being, though as things go around here, that could all change in a moment’s notice and the releases may double in quantity. Also, keep in mind, this doesn’t take into consideration any of the 7” single projects that are in the works, and possibly some big news for Ogre fans . . . so keep an ear out for that news as it becomes available.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

#5: BoA - BUMP BUMP! feat.VERBAL(m-flo)

OK, BUMP BUMP! wasn't the biggest hit ever and it didn't stay on the charts for a gazillion weeks, but who cares? This was one of the songs I had the most fun listening to this year, and even after playing it almost every day in the car (to my dad's approval, thank you very much), it's still one of the best.

I like this song because it's musical. I say that there are good and bad musicians everywhere, and that's entirely true, but there have been quite a few songs that have proved to me that Japanese musicians are generally more musical. They have more experience, the industry has been around for longer, it's harder to survive as a musician in Japan, and generally everything about the industry pushes them to become more musical. But that's just an opinion.

The song has dynamics, it has direction, but it also has enough repetition to appeal to the mainstream audience. Add in a pinch of sophistication in every single part of the song, and you're made. The gorgeous melody placed on top of the spot-on, brilliant, instrumentation is a joy to listen to - it's so effortless, yet it's so fun. Hey, it's made me want to get up and dance at one point. I don't dance.

And, for one of the few instances, BoA's voice is bearable! (for me) I mean it's far from bad, but there are times when I just get annoyed. I wasn't this time around. That much. The gorgeous song most probably made up for it.

Fitz and The Tantrums- Pickin' Up The Pieces

Retro music has never seemed so good. From the moment I first heard them I immediately fell in love with their sound and felt transported back in time. Fitz and the Tantrums is a fresh, familiar retro band that is inspired by 1960s music. Composed of six soulful individuals, Fitz and the Tantrums is an infectious band that knows how to rock.

Led by Fitz on lead vocals, accompanied by co-vocalist Noelle Scaggs, drummer John Wicks, James King on saxophone and flute, bassist Ethan Phillips and keyboardist Jeremy Ruzumna, the 1960s music scene comes alive once again with their irresistible songs and their elegant attire. Looking at them and hearing their sound you could easily mistake the year and think it’s 1965. They sound like early 1960s radio and Motown.

Their vintage sound is immensely invigorating and that’s largely due in part to King’s saxophone defining their soulful sound accompanying Fitz and Scaggs’ vocals. Fused with tons of energy, listeners will be mesmerized by the pop songs and start dancing away on the dance floor. Good pop songs should make you want to get up and dance. Fitz and the Tantrums’ music is distinct.

The chemistry between Fitz and Scaggs is like that of Tina and Ike Turner. They got each other’s back musically; they complement one another on vocals and it shows. Their love and affection transcends the music into delivering mesmerizing musical performances and one hell of an album.

Fitz sounds like Neil Diamond and Daryl Hall (from Hall & Oates) creating a timeless sound for this brilliant band. Pickin’ Up The Pieces is an amazing album filled with ten tenacious tracks that will lighten up your day. It starts off with heavy keyboarding and tambourine on “Breakin’ The Chains of Love.” It’s like Ray Manzarek is playing the keys in a sweet sounding R & B song with Neil Diamond singing lead vocals and Tina Turner on backing vocals.

Following up, “Mr. President” is a political, piano heavy song that is a call to action you want to clap along with. The Temptations never seemed so good…I mean Fitz and the Tantrums are awesome on “Pickin’ Up The Pieces.” Literally, if the band was transported back in time they would fit in perfectly. Some individuals have described their sound as cliché, but their heart and soul is poured out in a wide variety of emotions. They are the epitome of what is meant by a band having soul.

Everything might appear formulaic, but everything from the hooks, the lyrics, and energy are genuine. Thanks in large part to Fitz and Scaggs’ chemistry. This is abundantly obvious on songs like “Pickin’ Up The Pieces” and “Money Grabber.” The heartbreak of gold diggers and directness of some songs is sheer brilliance.

An organ intro isn’t supposed to be moving, but somehow it works with “L.O.V.” The groovy sound makes the listener embark and be engaged with this funky, fresh “love” song. This powerful, passionate pop song has a catchy chorus that you can’t resist clapping along with the entire time.

Nothing is more malicious than “Don’t Gotta Work It Out” and is great way to handle a breakup from the male perspective. The album concludes with “Tighter” and to be perfectly honest I thought it was Elton John singing the entire time. It wasn’t until I double checked my iTunes that I realized it was still Fitz and the Tantrums. All the singles feel like classics and are full of compassion. It’s a testament that this group is destined for great things. The Silver-Lake based sextet is even more majestic live than the album and worth checking out if you have the chance.

-- Mr. Brownstone

Buy here: Pickin' Up The Pieces
Buy here mp3: Pickin' Up The Pieces [+digital booklet]
Buy here vinyl: Pickin' Up the Pieces

Friday, December 24, 2010

#6: DBSK/Tohoshinki - BREAK OUT!

BREAK OUT! really marked the beginning of the end for DBSK as five, at least for the next few years. They could've very well given us a ballad parade (which I wouldn't really have a problem with as long as they're gorgeous), but they didn't, and I'm glad this song actually got the chance to be released, because it's brilliant.

I still have a hard time writing about songs by my current favorite boyband, so even if I'm head-over-heels for this song, I apologize if the review gets a little.. whacked out? Anyway.

This is a lesson to all new idol groups that you don't really need to autotune the hell out of songs. A bit is fine, like what they did on the song, because it gives the sound another dimension, but autotune, like anything, should be in moderation, especially around already-gorgeous vocals.

BREAK OUT! was a growth from their The Secret Code-era sound - you could hear traces of Survivor, but they ventured into the realm of autotune for one of the few times. The instrumental was all dark and serious, the arrangement strongly complementing it, the melody floating, and the vocals well-executed.

Even if the song's gorgeous, my biggest regret is that we never got to see them perform this live. I mean it's a fantastic song and a more than worthy recording of it, but knowing that DBSK earned the privilege of performing with a live band on tour in 2008, I can't help but imagine how this would sound like with a live band, and all five of them singing. Let's just say that it's my life's mission to hear all my favorite songs sung with a live band. It's different, and I've talked about why it is.

#7: Robyn - Dancing On My Own

Before we get on with the review, MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE! *hands out virtual gifts to everyone* I'm most likely asleep, tired from last night's festivities, when this is published and I'll most probably be out the entire day. But I really do want to wish you all a merry Christmas with lots of presents and food and people you love. ;D

There are times when I don't want to write about a song, for fear that I won't be able to put it into words properly and do it justice - I'd rather have the song speak for itself. This is one of those times. But I promise to try my best to somewhat put this epic song to words. Somewhat.

Strangely enough, the first thing that comes to mind when I hear Dancing On My Own is cram school. Last summer I was in the Philippine equivalent of "cram school", reviewing for the series of university entrance exams I was to take come the start of senior year - this what what I was listening to during my marathon late-night study sessions with my books and chocolate as best friends. So apart from the fact that it's a brilliant song (we'll get to that in a while), it holds very vivid memories.

It's such a pleasure to listen to the song, even if there are a gazillion things all happening at the same time. The song has a very clear direction, and I think that's one of the biggest factors - yes, you have synth lines and whatnot floating above Robyn's very full, yet ever so slightly thin, vocals but when you listen closely they all complement one another.

The melody's a big factor in me adoring the song - it's slightly disjointed during the verses, but as the chorus nears it slowly gets slightly more flow-y. The gaps in the melody allow for the amazing instrumental to be heard more, and who wouldn't want that? It works on Dancing On My Own because the instrumental is actually something that's worthy of being heard on it's own.

Put everything together, and you have an epic song, worthy of it's place in this list. But then again all the songs are worthy. But you get the point, right? I hope you do.

Howl - Full of Hell

Full disclosure: yes, there are forgettable songs. Yes, they stay in D flat too long. Yes, this album rocks so hard those previous yes's don't matter.

Full of Hell showed up so high on my year-end "best of" list that I owed my soul to review it. (Satanic legalese semantics. You understand.)

First off, I practically sucked the metaphoric phallus off of their first EP, Howl.

Second, I pre-ordered Full of Hell (I never do that) from the Jonsing for its sludgy grooves... and all to absolutely no disappointment here, daddy-o.

Third, I have bought not one, but two tickets to see Howl live, and failed to make both engagements. These are the only times I've not made it to a gig I pre-paid for. Both times for strange reasons I won't go into here. I don't know what the metal deities are trying to tell me, frankly.

And I don't care. I refuse to listen, Buddha/ Jahovah/ Moses/ Allah/ Ganesh/ Satan! Howl's power over me is too strong! Now back off and heed my four areas of Howl's awesomeness!

Ahem. *Adjusts tie.*

Area A: Riffs

The record is as close to my riff Nirvana/ Valhalla as I've gotten thus far in my journeys on this plane: in my metal nerd fantasy world, I imagine the greatest sludge album to be composed entirely of riffs as good as Black Sabbath's Into the Void: snakey, sessy riffs in minor and diminished chords, detuned and played lento. All the songs on this record are riffs constructed to work together. If that sounds oversimplified, it really isn't: think about it, most sludge/ doom records aren't all riffs-- they're a riff here and there, linked by open (i.e., BONNNNNG!) chords.

Not that that doesn't sound good, but it's not memorable at all. Very nearly anyone in the world can pick up a guitar or bass and sound the open note. Fewer can write actual riffs that flow together. Howl do, baby.

Area B: production/ engineering/ mixing

Think ...And Justice For All. Dry. Very dry.

At first I didn't like it: the Howl ep sounded very different, more saturated, warm. After many listens, the nearly bone-dry production grew on me, and it made me respect the record even more, as it emphasized the songwriting-- there's no so-amped-up-it-clips production to mask a lack of skill in the songs' construction.

Track highlights: Asherah, Jezebel, Heavenless, The Scorpion's Last Sting, and The Day of Rest.

Area C: Drums...?!

99% of drums are never noticed: that's pretty much the function of that timekeeping device, to keep everything together, animate it-- invisibly. There's only two reasons to notice a drummer: because they suck, or because they're awesome. Howl's Timmy St. Amour is delicate, tasteful, fast, graceful yet still heavy. He's the perfect foil for the simple thick riffs. He, Behemoth's Zbigniew Robert Promiński, aka Inferno, and Intronaut's Danny Walker are three of the most perfects skinsmen I've heard in the last few years.

Area D: album cover

Well, just look up there at that motherfucker. I put in high-res for a reason.


Buy here: Full of Hell
Buy mp3: Full of Hell

Thursday, December 23, 2010

#8: SM The Ballad - Hot Times

We break into the top 10 today, right on schedule! Once we reach the top five, the posts will come once a day only - to add an element of suspense, perhaps? The countdown is scheduled to end on the 30th with my #1 song of the year. On the 31st I have something planned, but that's all under wraps for now. On to the review. Sorry.

When I first heard of SM The Ballad, I wasn't really so excited, partially because no one from DBSK, or HoMin, is in it, and partially because I didn't really like the idea of Jonghyun murdering more ballads than he usually does. And who the hell was that Jino guy? However, the day I heard the teaser for Hot Times, all my doubts and frustrations disappeared. The day I heard the full version of Hot Times, in HQ (not that crappy MuCore leak), I nearly cried - THIS. SONG. IS. GORGEOUS.

Up until a few days ago, there was a part of me that had already gotten sick of the song - I really didn't want to listen to it because I felt like I was gonna throw up (I'm serious.), but listening to it again, I'm still in love with it. It's a good thing, I don't have the freedom to move this down the list if I stopped liking it!

I believe I said this last Sunday during the Inki year-end recap, but SM really did pick the right combination of the right people. You have Kyuhyun, who sounds fantastic anywhere you put him and is very consistent when he sings, you have that guy from TRAX, who has probably the most gorgeous voice in SM now that JYJ are gone and who knows how to flaunt it, you have Jonghyun, who, when restrained, can sing ballads like no other in SHINee now that Key's voice has gone down the drain, and you have the new guy, Jino, who, although a bit inexperienced, is clearly trying his best and is practically on the same level as the 3 - that's hard to do.

I think that had they put Yesung in instead of Kyuhyun, the vocals would've exploded - it would've been too much. Had they put Ryeowook, well, I would've gone after them with more than a torch, telling them to repent for their sins. I'm thankful that Onew clearly didn't make the cut and SM finally got the message that HE IS NOT A BALLAD SINGER GODDAMNIT, and Key was snubbed too, because yes he was my favorite ballad singer in SHINee before, but that was then and this is now.

So they work together brilliantly, I think you all get the picture, and now that SM has four of it's best vocalists together for promo, obviously you need a song worthy of both their ability and their "chemistry". In comes Hot Times. After all the sins SM has committed this year AHEMSuperJuniorSNSDf(x)BoAAHEM, the release of Hot Times has made me consider forgiving them for several of those mistakes.

The melody of this is WIN, one hundred percent WIN. From the verses to the chorus to the drop-dead gorgeous middle 8 I just wanna replay over and over and over again, this is not only a Yoo Young Jin creation, this is an A-grade YYJ masterpiece - I can hear the guy singing this in my dreams for heaven's sake! The high note parade can get a little too much at times, especially when Jonghyun does it live, but I think without it the song would've lost one dimension, so it's fine as it is.

The chorus, oh my heavens the chorus - when 4 voices of their calibre sing it with that kind of intensity and urgency but with so much finesse, I feel like crying - IT'S STUNNING, GORGEOUS, AMAZING, OUTSTANDING, BEAUTIFUL and every other positive adjective I can think of.

That, coupled with a simple yet stunningly apt instrumental and a cool arrangement, make for a song that is just waiting to blow my mind. The live performances are fine, but the recording gets me every single time.

#9: 2NE1 - Clap Your Hands

I have a love-hate relationship with 2NE1, as you all may know. There are times when I think they're fantastic, but there are also times when the autotune goes overboard and my ears start registering them as a bunch of annoying chipmunks. However there are also times when I start out hating the song, but end up adoring the heck out of it after seeing them perform it, or even just see the video for it.

2NE1 is basically a performance band in my eyes - you have to see them for the material to make sense, and obviously they don't perform their entire album when they promote. I was less than impressed with To Anyone this year, mainly because the tracks were never given the chance to make sense. However, they did perform Clap Your Hands, and did more than make sense.

I'm not one for rapping, nor am I for autotuned Sandara-fests, but like I said, Clap Your Hands makes all the sense in the world. It's your standard 2NE1 song - the rapping, the autotune, the jam-packed instrumental with YG production at it's finest, and the stick-in-your-head-like-glue hook. What sets it apart from the other two singles they promoted? Everything is bearable - everything was done in moderation, with our ears in mind. That, and it's not trying too hard to be stylish or whatever Go Away was trying to be - what you hear, and see, is basically what you get.

For 2NE1 standards, the hook is pretty laid-back actually, but it's in-your-face and repetitive enough to stick. The chorus as a whole is pretty, actually, without all the computerized sounds running all over the place. The elements flow well, and the song actually progresses, and it's resolved neatly.

The Budos Band - III

Staten Island’s finest instrumental Afrobeat band went into the studio for their new album with the intention, according to their bio, of making a psychedelic, doom-rock record but admit that it came out sounding like a Budos record. That’s not a bad thing at all considering that The Budos Band are one of the best musical units around regardless of category. The creatively titled III is their third album and picks up where the first two left off, but do contain some darker grooves.

Album opener “Rite of the Ancients” is The Budos doing business as usual – upbeat, funky and tighter than hell. Excellent horn charts, powerhouse grooves and hypnotic guitar lines weave in and out of the overall sound. “Black Venom” is up next and is indeed named in tribute of Black Sabbath and Venom. It’s a darker groove than standard Afrobeat and the organ is way up front and mysterious sounding. Unfortunately, there are no musical references to any of Venom or Sabbath’s classic material but here’s hoping they cover “Angel Dust” and/or “Supernaught” soon.

For a bunch of guys from Staten Island, NY they can get downright exotic sounding on jams like “Mark Of The Unnamed” and “Raja Haje.” And I thought the most exotic thing you could get on SI are some decent rice balls. The album is paced very nicely with faster ones like “Unbroken, Unshaven” mixed up with slower ones like “Nature’s Wrath.” 11 songs in 38 minutes is just the right amount of time for a band like this. It leaves you wanting more and will have you reaching for their other two albums since no one else really sounds like The Budos Band. The only dud on the album for me is the Beatles cover “Reppirt Yad” (read it backwards). On previous albums they’ve done creative remakes of Sly’s “Sing A Simple Song” and the Temptations’ “My Girl” but this one kinda bores me. It doesn’t help that I’m not really a Beatles fan and don’t ever need to hear that song ever again but, hey, it’s the last song on the album and easy enough to skip over. It will probably help sell them a few copies, so more power to them.

The Budos are an outstanding band that should appeal to anyone with a pair of ears. Some of the guys pull double duty with the incredible Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings and record for the consistently funky Daptone Records. As good as the records are, the live show is even better and a lot of fun. Let’s hope the next one is a double live album (recorded in Brooklyn at Southpaw, naturally).


Buy here: The Budos Band III
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