Sunday, January 31, 2010

Top 20

YES, it's back. Probably bigger and probably better - which songs made the cut this week? Note that this is NOT a continuation of last year's chart thus no NE/RE tags apply. Also, new rule - ONE ENTRY PER ARTIST. Gah. I had too many DBSK entries at one point last year and I'm pretty sure you guys are too sick of them. lol.

20. Cheryl Cole - Parachute
19. Hyun A - Change
18. Rainbow - Kiss
17. Katharine McPhee - How
16. B2ST - Ready Go
15. Lemar - The Way It Goes
14. Alesha Dixon - To Love Again
13. Hwayobi - 장미
12. SHINee - Ring Ding Dong
11. U-Kiss - Without You
10. Davichi - 8282
9. Big Bang - 멍청한 사랑 (Foolish Love)
8. SNSD - Oh!
7. Shontelle - Impossible
6. 4Minute - Dreams Come True
5. 2AM - 죽어도 못 보내
4. Hwanhee - 심장을 놓쳐서
3. Alicia Keys - Wait 'Till You See My Smile
2. After School - Because Of You

A Sunday Conversation with Big Neck Records

Continuing on with our journey into the darkened places that are the minds of independent record label chiefs.  Today we voyage into the punk and rocking world of one of our favorite underground labels, Big Neck Records.

How did you get started running an independent record label ?

I used to own a couple nightclubs in Buffalo, NY. Both of my bars had live music, from rock n roll to punk rock to heavy metal and even to hardcore, My club Sanctuary was completely a punk rock, heavy metal bar where a bunch of band members (friends of mine) actually worked for me. I’m a little fuzzy on the details due to the inebriated state I was in, but Aaron Aducci from the Blowtops, Jimmy Hollywood from the Baseball Furies, and Sean Garreau from the Jack Jimmy Hoodlums and I were out hitting bars around Buffalo and they kept starting this conversation that I should help them out by putting out their first records. Aaron kept screaming, “I’ve got the perfect name for the label, Big Neck Records, because of your big freaking neck!”

Next I knew I was out hundreds of dollars but held The Blowtops first single in my hands.

What motivated you? Did you tap into a particular local scene or were you aiming to capture a sound?

It started out as a way to bring recognition to the local music scene and of course to help the bands get to that next level. Punk rock was pretty unheard of in Buffalo at that time. When I was in college it was the Goo Goo Dolls and The Wrench playing everywhere, but the Wrench broke up and the Goo Goo Dolls went to make millions on sweet love songs. Thus, at the time the punk rock scene had taken a nose dive. I was hoping my bars would create a crowd and a scene to go with the bands, but it was a struggle. We got there, but a little national recognition wouldn’t hurt thus, Big Neck was born. The first few records and first couple of years I went with a sound, but then as time went on it just came down to what I wanted to release and what I wanted to listen to.

Which was your first release?

Blowtops – Voodoo Alley 7”

Who's been your biggest selling artist to date?

The Lost Sounds, Jay Reatard is going gangbusters over there at Matador.

There's so much to learn about running a label, share with us some of the lessons you've learned along the way.

Keep it on the cheap, do your taxes, and don’t ever go in debt for the label.

What's been your label's high point? Low point?

The highpoint was probably this Big Neck festival in Buffalo, the Baseball Furies new record, a great lineup, and the Furies came in and did the most amazing punk rock show I have ever seen. I mean at that point I was like, “thank God I know these guys.” Label recognition high point was probably a couple years ago, I had a job that allowed me to put a lot of time into the label, but lately with my new job, not much time for Big Neck. But, I am trying.

The low point was a bit ago, when I decided to try and release records that I knew would sell. It worked, but I didn't enjoy the bands or the label too much at that time. So, I decided to return to my old credo of releasing bands that I liked and to heck with everyone else.

Who would you like to work with, but haven't yet?

I think I have worked with everyone I have ever wanted. Of course there are bands out there that you are like, “damn if they were on my label, I could afford to quit my job”, but then it wouldn’t be the same label with its current integrity. Did I just say that? Integrity?

What changes do you see ahead for the music industry?

As we move to the future more and more music is going to be self published online. There is really going to be very little use for a record label except for marketing. Currently it’s so easy to press your own records and distribute them online no need for a label. I think we will see the major labels taking a bigger and bigger chunk of merchandising and capital from tours. I think it's funny when label owners get mad at free download sites like Soulseek. I think they are great. I tell everyone to download Big Neck's songs online. Most people who love music will buy the record anyway. If nothing else at least the band's will have people at their shows. Truthfully, that is why I am in this anyway. Help the bands out.

What are you doing to stay on top of new and emerging technology?

Currently, I am including download cards in with my vinyl. So, easy and so cheap. I actually get annoyed when I buy a record and there isn’t a download card. Boot up soulseek. When I have more time you will see digital versions of everything online everywhere. When I have more time.

What's the biggest challenge facing you today as an independent label?

Getting the distributors to pay you, most of them are very good, but some just take forever or never pay you. Other than that the U.S. Postal service is killing us with their rate hikes, especially overseas.

How is most of your product sold? Mail order? Web-based? At shows ? Is this changing?

Most of my product is sold via mail order. I have an eBay store and a store on Big Neck’s website. The distributors make up a rather large chunk, but my label wouldn’t survive without my online sales. When I was younger I would go to shows and sell records, but now I don’t get to hit as many shows, thus I just push the records on the bands to sell when they are touring.

Seems that the sound of the bands you sign keeps evolving. What do you look for in your bands?

What do I look for in bands? I look for music that I enjoy. Mostly anything with some great hooks. Look at HOLLYWOOD their demo stuck in my head for 2 weeks. I couldn’t stop singing “Girl”. Otherwise, I do have to say I am lucky as hell that everyone in every band on my label consists of great people. I mean, seriously I have met some real jerks in other bands, but everyone on my label is cool.

How do you find your artists?

When I lived in Buffalo, it was mainly Buffalo bands. Now a days, I find most of my artists by word of mouth from other bands on my label, but a good percentage from demo’s mailed to me. I love finding that unheard of band that has just a great sound. Great referrals were, The Mistreaters. The Blowtops just got back from a small tour when Aaron Aducci threw a tape at me and said, “we played we these guys in Wisconsin and we were really surprised that they didn’t suck.” Jimmy Hollywood was talking to Jay Reatard one day when Jay was telling him about this new band, The Lost Sounds, on the spot Jimmy said, “we (Big Neck) will press the whole thing.” Great examples of demos being sent in, Sweet J.A.P. Heard it once, sent a copy to Jimmy Hollywood and we both agreed, so I called up Hideo and said, “we will do whatever you want, it’s amazing!” HOLLYWOOD sent me a demo that I just couldn’t get any of the songs out of my head for weeks, so I finally had to release it. Tractor Sex Fatality’s demo was ridiculous, I think I listened to it for a month straight and then I remembered that I forgot to call the band and get them to do a record with Big Neck, luckily I think they scared everyone else away.

Are you a club rat, constantly searching live venues for cool acts?

No, in fact I never used this approach. My judgment is usually skewed by beer. I do try and see most of my bands live before I press their record to make sure they are as great as I hope they would be.

Are you involved in all the creative decisions?

80% I would say. I leave most of the artwork up to the bands and I rely on a system of people who aid in my decision making, Aaron Aducci from Fatal Figures (ex-Blowtops, Suck, Backstabbers), Jimmy Hollywood (AV Murder, ex-Baseball Furies, Tyrades, White Savage), and a few other friends local to where I live.

What would you like to see happen for the future of the music industry and your label in particular?

Future of the music industry? No idea, but I would love to make enough money off my label to live on. In that manner I could do what I like for a living.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Untitled Rant.

This rant is due to a Tweet being sent to me saying that I'm wrong for mentioning what I think about G-Dragon. I went into hysterics and it's made me want to write down my thoughts even more. Here goes.

I like pop music, I live for acts like DBSK, Girls Aloud, SHINee and heaps of others but I am fully aware of it's flaws and how most of it just sucks. And that brings me to my first point.

I HATE IT when fans of a certain artist think that artist is perfect and can do no wrong, absolutely no wrong. I hate it because it's stupid, naive and false - NO ONE ON THIS FREAKIN' EARTH IS PERFECT, NO MATTER HOW 'TALENTED', HOT OR ATTRACTIVE HE/SHE IS. I'm a fangirl myself and I do the required screaming, freaking out over new pictures/releases BUT I am aware that my beloved DBSK have their flaws - Yunho can't sing, Junsu looked horrid during their Tri-Angle days, Changmin's screaming can get way too much at times, especially at the beginning when he didn't know how to sing yet and the list goes on. DBSK aren't perfect, they never will be, but it's the mix of their strong points and their imperfections that makes me love them so much.

When I see fans who say "oh I like this band so much bla bla bla" and I hate the band in question, I don't mind it - these people are entitled to their own opinions. If someone says something bad about DBSK, I don't mind it either. I may be a fan, I may worship the ground they walk on (figuratively. duh) and I may scream at the sight of their names but what business do I have with other people's opinions? ABSOLUTELY NONE. I don't care because I have no right to and I've always been like that.

It's because of these that I constantly get attacked, ridiculed and pissed off by fans who come along and read negative reviews I write. I was raised to have my own opinions and my school taught me to be very open about things I feel strongly about - I'm not afraid to say I don't like someone. I'm not afraid because I shouldn't have to be. People are supposed to respect my opinion and thought some may disagree with me, they shouldn't start attacking me.

Take Ken (@thebeatreview) for example. He likes Lady GaGa, I don't. I constantly declare my hate for her, he constantly swoons. But why the hell would I care if he liked her or not? It's his opinion, it's his preference, I deal with it. And so does he. It works. We have our similarities in musical taste but we also have our differences.

And AA-Chan. He's like the biggest GD fan EVER. Again, I constantly declare my hate for the guy. But he doesn't say anything and neither do I when he starts talking about GD.

Now, speaking of GD, the second part of my rant is about him. Well it's not REALLY about him but he's my example and the basis for this 'masterpiece'. It was because of my idea to write this rant below that someone attacked me on Twitter and so I wrote the one on top. LOL.

In late 2009 I discovered/realized exactly why G-Dragon's Heartbreaker was such a big hit and to a certain extent I wasn't surprised. On the surface the songs sound like rap on top of European-ish/Eurocrap loops topped with processed vocals and catchy hooks. That's what it is to the untrained/uninterested ear.

However the more I heard the songs and the more they got stuck in my head, the more I hummed them. It was then that I realized that GD sells because his singles sound like novelty songs. Glorified novelty songs, to be exact.

Right now, off the top of your head I want you to hum the melody of the chorus of Breathe. Just hum it, don't listen to it or look up the video on YT. Hum it. Sounds familiar? It sounds like something off a TV commercial. And it's not even those tasteful ones or stuff for expensive products, it's like the stuff for detergent or something like that.

It sounds like that because those are the types of songs that sell. They appeal to the masses, the masses are the majority and what the crap do they know about music? I'm not saying they don't know anything, I'm just saying that unless you want to learn or you're born into a family of musicians, you won't know things like how you arrange a song, what goes on when you record an album, how harmonies work, scales and all those other things. Because they only briefly teach that in school.

Therefore, the masses will take anything you give at them. But if it sticks in their head, that's a plus. Hit pop songs today have hooks and repetitive elements, that's to make the songs stick in people's heads before they buy them. The songs that stick the most are novelty songs - if you live in the Philippines you know what I'm talking about. These songs are like the stuff straight off some cheap variety show or commercial with your favorite comedian/cheap wannabe endorsing it. They stick in people's heads because one, they're catchy, two, they're repetitive, and three, they're simple melodies, easy to remember.

But if you like these types of songs, who cares? I don't like them, but it doesn't mean that I don't like you anymore if you like them.

Now here comes the argument about those 'meaningful, passionate' lyrics everyone always tries to defend. Before I state my actual opinion on this, let me just say that I love literature - I express myself the best with words and I understand how much effort and feeling goes into writing poems, stories and essays because I myself put so much emotion into what I'm doing.

Ever since I was a kid, I was told that music, painting, literature and even architecture are all forms of art. That sometimes they cross but they each have their own place in art and they each have their own obligation. It's because of that ideal that I have this opinion on lyrics.

I DON'T CARE ONE DAMN BIT ABOUT LYRICS. I don't care because I shouldn't. Music is music, lyrics are lyrics. I've said this time and time again, yes, but this is a MUSIC industry and although I do acknowledge the fact that lyrics are part of a song, they can be done without. You can strip off the lyrics and still have a song that makes sense - because lyrics are merely embellishments.

Yes, there are times when the lyrics make a difference and there are times when they're influential in making a hit because of their probable repetitive nature but my kpop addiction justifies the fact that you can have songs without lyrics.

When I first got addicted to kpop, I couldn't understand a single thing. I didn't watch subbed music videos and I didn't look for English translations because frankly, I didn't care. I liked the songs, I liked the melodies, the arrangements, they way they were put together - end of story. So what if I don't understand the lyrics, music is supposed to be universal and it is. The notes show the feeling, the passion and the meaning of the song just as good as words because that's the way it's supposed to be.

Like I always say, if you like an artist JUST for the lyrics and don't care one bit about the music itself, READ POETRY FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE. You're treating musicians like poets when they're poets of notes, not words.

OK. END of long rant. Sorry, I just HAD to let that out.

Ripple News - Kiss Guitarist Bruce Kulick Releases New Album with Nick Simmons

Earlier this month, Legendary Kiss axeman Bruce Kulick released "Hand of the King," the first single from his 3rd solo LP, BK3, due on February 2nd.

The album features appearances by some of Bruce’s closest friends, including: KISS icon Gene Simmons and up-and-coming son Nick, longtime friend John Corabi (Mötley Crüe, Kulick’s own Union), Knack frontman Doug Fieger, Toto guitarist Steve Lukather, Edguy power metal stalwart Tobias Sammet and even current KISS drummer Eric Singer.

Hand of the King [streaming link]:


Friday, January 29, 2010

Friday Night Post. Yes, another one.

Expect this every week from now on, as well as the resumption of MY WEEKLY TOP 20. Yes, after a lull last December that lasted until January, my top 20 will resume next week, February 1. HAHAH. But let's get to business now.

The second part of the soundtrack for the Korean soap opera/drama God Of Study was recently released (gah, I sound like I'm writing news) and with the line up of idol groups like Secret, f(x), B2ST, 4Minute and FT Triple (who're headed here sometime in the first quarter of the year) I could resist giving it a try. Apart from the stereotypical OST ballads that I either hate of have had way too much off, there were two songs in particular that REALLY got stuck in my head. They're not the most musically proficient things since anything and they're not anything new but they have enough power to get me listening to them non-stop for days. They're happy, upbeat and though at times they sound really cheap, they're worth the listen. Both songs are by sibling groups B2ST and 4Minute under Cube Entertainment (aka the 'we don't think you'll be extremely successful as a JYP artist so we're dumping you here' company). The 4Minute song is a cover of Canon in D. Although not obvious, the chords are the same. It's not plagiarism, if any of you crazy anti fans start crawling out of nowhere.

(click the read more function for the rest of the post. Yes, there's more.)

I think I should formally write about this on the blog before it actually comes. I GOT AN INTERVIEW WITH SHONTELLE. Yes, SHONTELLE. Her new single Impossible is actually pretty good - it's epic and the melody's gorgeous. Love the piano loop and I love how you'd think it'd build up by the second verse but it doesn't as much as I expected it. Hahah.

I'm headed to the 4Minute promo tour next month - they're hitting Manila! Hahah. So expect pictures and a review of the event. And just to let you know, 4Muzik is being promoted like crazy over here - in one record store alone it's in THREE DIFFERENT PLACES. Make that 4. But Mel will be pleased to know that Muzik is growing on me. Hot Issue is a little too out for me but Muzik is pretty catchy now that I'm not hearing it all over the kpop sites.

To be honest with you I was expecting a lot from the new SNSD album before Oh! was released and although my expectations were lowered when I actually heard Oh!, I don't think the album is as good as I hoped it would be. It's confused - one minute they're cutesy and the next they're trying to be French or wannabe Bossa Nova (*throws up*) with the vibe. Of course they're not copying French pop (I know a thing or two about that courtesy of Priscilla) but the 'vibe' is like stereotypical French. Gah. But anyway, there are however 2 songs worth listening to for me - the gorgeous, gorgeous ballad Forever, one of the few songs that actually show off whatever semblance of voices most of them have, and Boys and Girls, their 'duet' with SHINee's Key which is attitude in the right way without losing whatever 'signature style' they've come to have.

Now Adam Tyler recently caught my ear. I haven't delved too much into his music but I got a megamix a few days back and mini-raided his YT channel, he's pretty good. Processing like there's no tomorrow but I dunno, it sounds tasteful. That's what this guy is - catchy, tasteful autotune. Will get more in-depth when I interview him. Watch out for it.

Now for the rest of the stuff. Just very quickly.

There's a relatively new remix of After School's hit Because of You and although the song is brilliant in every way, some of the epic-ness got lost in the re-arrangement. Produced by the same team, The Brave Brothers, U-Kiss have a new digital single out - Without You. It's like a less epic, more generic Brave Brothers version of Because of You, for people who can sing. But there's no doubt that Because of You is the big hit and it sounds like one.

I got my copy of DBSK's Mirotic Version C today *dances around room* and in line with sales and all that, Break Out! sold over 180,000 copies in it's first day last Wednesday, according to Oricon. First day sales surpassed their highest total single sales, Jaejoong and Yoochun's Colors, which only managed to sell around 100,000+ copies.

There are rumors that JLS are planning a US career. Once again, you guys over need a boyband. It would be nice if it was American but as long as it's a boyband, I'm fine with that.

Them Crooked Vultures - S/T

Them Crooked VulturesBlood red and black the front cover on the CD would make an even better album cover: one to stare at over and over as you flip the vinyl getting stoned after school and engraving the head of the vulture into your Pee Chee notebook.  Put on the headphones and step into their world. Its Homme, Grohl and, yes, John Paul Jones deciding to kick out some jams for you to listen to.

It doesn’t try to blow you out of the water from the first track, which is what you might think of from a power trio comprised of those three, but this is a trio that doesn’t need to smash you upside the head from the word go. "Nobody Loves Me and Neither Do I" opens with Grohl’s powerful backbeat and the underproduced sound of the band in the room. Drums front and center, JPJ on the left, and Homme on the right, the band sounds like they’ve just walked into the practice studio to knock a few out. Odd metered riff and Homme singing about a some hot sex. We’re all good until 2:44 in and they take the fucking gloves off. Grohl starts to hit them like he’s finally in John Bonham’s seat and JPJ brings the bottom end of the Hammer of the Gods.

i know how to burn with passion
hold nothing back for future ration
give all you are, do not make haste
savor every single taste
you get...cut

i know how beat control
do opposites of what you're told
quick to react, to break the box
turn on queue, as your cell door locks
behind you

Without the virtuoso guitar hero, Homme plays the rhythm and the textures and riffs, but doesn’t fill the space the way that Jimmy Page did , although his sloppy fills to start "Mind Eraser, No Chaser" bring to mind Pagey’s playing with Zeppelin live.  Gifted with one of the best choruses on the record is the classic line: Gimme a reason why a mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Mindful of the history of power trio supergroups? Usually they tend to devoid of irony or any sense of history, but the Vultures are a little better than that. Here is one where you think that you died and wandered into classic rock heaven or a classic rock car crash. Homme nails the Cream falsetto and Clapton chord changes, Grohl absolutely kills with his Ginger Baker drumming, and JPJ tramples it all underfoot with the funkiest white boy keyboard playing since getting physical with his graffiti. Four minutes and 27 seconds that you won’t be able to turn off.

There are echoes of Cream and the Zeppelin as well on "Reptiles," the coked up tempo and quick sonic changes to the guitars and vocals duplicating the urgency of needing a quick fix. Is that a little Ziggy Stardust mixed it? Grohl’s powerhouse drumming allows JPJ to lock in with him the same way that he did with Bonham: both can keep the train a rollin’ while adding textures and fills that elevate the rhythm way above ordinary. It couldn’t tell you a damn bit of what "Reptiles" is about  and I could care less. Just that at high volume the song leaves you exhausted. "Elephant" offers some of the same sensibility, and bashing riff fest that pounds you a mere two minutes into the song. You weren’t coming here for power ballads were you? You knew that, right? (The break in "Elephants" sounds like Homme has been at the Alice in Chains collection by the way)

There is almost no concession to pop sensibility here. The band is ready to rock and rock their way, fuck the rest of you. Homme, the least decorated of the three is also in the drivers seat as the voice and guitar of the group, but its clear in the song structures and playing that Grohl and JPJ have their say. The powerhouse drumming/ bass guitar lock in on Reptiles and the breakdown/bridge section of "New Fang" both have elements of classic Nirvana and Zeppelin that its obvious to hear.

One thing that these musicians know is tension, and "Dead End Friends" carries a foreboding and menace that is missing from so many songs. Homme’s delivery is perfect, his guitar panned both far right and far left and for the first time there are both elements of the Seattle minor chord structure mixing with the 70’s classic rock. Grohl is playing all over his kit by the end and it sounds like old skool Nirvana without Kurt losing it up front.

Gunman funks up their guitar line, but to what effect? You have the loudest and one of the heaviest rhythm sections playing behind you and its like standing in front of a sonic locomotive. The guitar plays a distant second here, while its spacey vocals carry the melody line and a fuzzy narrative. The chorus is practically a moment with a stoned Keith Relf from the late period Yardbirds. Do I see lava lamps on stage? Oh yes I do.

There are at least two tracks, "Warsaw" and "Interlude with Ludes" that could and would have been left out had this been committed to vinyl, and neither add anything new. The closing track, "Spinning In Daffodils," topping 7 minutes lays bare their past and their present: from the gentle guitar to open the song, to a powerful driving middle that takes less prisoners that early Iron Maiden to a breakdown at then end that turns the band into minstrels passing through the studio, it is a study in exhausting every ounce of energy out of both the listener and the musician alike. Even as the guitar fades out towards the end, JPJ gets of two quick bass fills that would be beyond most ordinary mortals, much less 6:45 into the song.

These Vultures mean business, and whether it’s a one off or there will be other Vultures albums, makes no difference here. They rock hard, do it on their own terms and leave few entrails in their wake. Pick it up, spin it, see them live if you can. Its quite a merging of past, present and future.

- the stunned rock iguana

Buy here: Them Crooked Vultures


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Ripple Theater - Featuring Thin Lizzy and ZZ Top

Thin Lizzy - Are You Ready?: Live At RockpalastClassic rock fans everywhere are rejoicing over the release of these 2 DVD’s. Who doesn’t want to see more Thin Lizzy and ZZ Top concerts? Especially when they’re from eras of the band that haven’t been documented to death already.

Thin Lizzy’s Are You Ready?: Live At Rockpalast DVD captures a concert filmed for the German music program on the 1981 tour. This is an interesting period of the band because it features Snowy White on guitar alongside Scott Gorham. Snowy was an unusual choice, his previous gig had been on Pink Floyd’s The Wall tour. His style is much less fiery than Gary Moore or Brian Robertson but his playing is very bluesy and fits in well with Scott. Darren Wharton on keyboards had also joined the band full time to help recreate some of the parts on the Chinatown album. Brian Downey is the drummer and, of course, Phil Lynott is front and center as bassist and vocalist.

The first thing everyone wants to know is how this compares with the Live & Dangerous DVD that catches the classic line up on the 1977 tour. Are You Ready is nowhere near as good as that performance but is still worth picking up. For one thing, the 1981 set list is very different. They play great versions of all the old classics like “Suicide,” “Emerald,” “Jailbreak” and “The Boys Are Back In Town” but it’s great to be able to watch them crank out “Chinatown,” “Black Rose” and "Hollywood (Down on Your Luck)" when they were still relatively new songs. The version of “Got To Give It Up” is very emotional since Phil and Scott were pretty bad junkies at this point. The first encore is a song called “Disaster” that was later retitled “Angel Of Death” with different lyrics for the Renegade album. Another interesting aspect of this show is the way they look. The satin pants and frilly shirts of the 1970’s have been replaced with leather, spikes and spandex. Phil, especially, looks like he borrowed his wardrobe from Judas Priest after the British Steel tour. Snowy White, as usual, dresses like a poor man’s Eric Clapton in sensible attire.

The sound quality of the DVD is a bit muffled at times and occasionally the video gets a bit wavy, but it looks better than the crappy bootleg VHS tapes that have been floating around for years. And at a list price of $11.98 you have no excuse not to pick it up.

Double Down LiveZZ Top also filmed a concert for Rockpalast in 1980 at a festival where they went on at 4 in the morning. You certainly can’t tell from the band’s kick ass performance and the crowd’s rowdy response. This show is the big selling point for the 2DVD set Double Down Live. ZZ Top was on tour supporting their 1979 album Degüello after taking a few years off from the road and the studio. This is the beginning of the giant beard era that has continued to this day.

Disc 1 is titled “Definitely Then” and the band blasts through 22 songs in about 95 minutes and the energy level never drops. ZZ Top’s pre-Eliminator albums are revered by musicians, producers and engineers for their incredible sound but live the band sounds even better. These guys like to play loud, but the sound is clear and they blast one song after another barely pausing for breath. They play most of the Degüello album including “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide,” “Cheap Sunglasses” and the Frank Zappa influenced “Manic Mechanic.” The rest of the set contains all the usual barn stormers – “Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers,” “Heard It On The X,” “Tush,” “Just Got Paid,” “La Grange,” etc. Killer show from start to finish with great sound and visuals.

Disc 2 is called “Almost Now” and catches the band 28 years later and still sounding good. The show is a little shorter, there’s less jumping around, the voices are a little deeper but the boogie remains strong. Last year the band released the Live in Texas DVD documenting the 2007 tour and there’s very little duplication between that show and this one. The only problem with the “Almost Now” disc is that it was filmed with only 1 camera and there’s a lot of herky jerky editing between different performances. Maybe the director wanted it to look like a youtube bootleg or something. The quality is good but all the jump cuts wear thin after a few songs. There are also some interviews and backstage footage in between ever song. Personally I’d rather watch the entire show uninterrupted.  Still, it’s hard to argue with great performances like “Blue Jean Blues” and a great cover of “Hey Joe.”

If you have any interest in either of these bands do yourself a favor and get these. Invite your buddies over, get sloppy drunk and rock out!


Buy here: Thin Lizzy - Are You Ready?: Live At Rockpalast
Buy here: Double Down Live

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Field Report: Metal As Art Tour

This tour started a few weeks back on the East Coast of these great United States, January 6th at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn, New York to be exact. And after weaving and winding across damn near every state between here and there, facing the typical road woes like inclement weather and broken down vehicles, the Metal As Art Tour, made up of Hypno5e, Revocation, and The Binary Code, made its way across the state line of California, where these road warriors were hoping to see some of the typical weather that makes California the envy of the rest of the country. Alas, our heroes weathered out a blizzard in New Mexico to wind up in the worst rain storm that California had seen in easily a century. Flooding, mud slides, freeway closures, hail storms . . . yeah; none of this was what these minstrels of destruction had in mind when they set out from the underground clubs of the East Coast. But to ask these guys, they don’t really care either. It’s all about setting foot on the stage and regaling the masses with their musical prowess. These musicians get up every morning; shake out the cobwebs from the previous night’s throw down, and move on to the next town just to do it all over again. It’s a lifestyle folks, a lifestyle not one for the weak and far from the glamorous one that so many people think that traveling musicians have. The road can suck, but these guys wouldn’t have it any other way because they realize that the magic is purely in the music . . . in the composition of the music, in the recording of the music, and in the performance of the music. The bands that make up the Metal As Art Tour encompass this ideal like none other and their camaraderie and support for one another stirs some nostalgic emotion.

As I watched the rain pour down for the fifth straight day, truthfully, I was hesitant on removing myself from the comfy confines of my warm house and ever so soft couch (I swear, this couch will suck every ounce of motivation from the body). But I also recognized that it’s this same mental attitude and laziness that has proven to be such a detriment to the hardworking musicians. These guys needed my support, so by gum, I donned my warmest sweatshirt, my most weather retardant boots, and some headgear to keep the locks from frizzing out of control, and made my way up and down the dark and winding mountain trail to the Ramona Mainstage. Let me start out by saying that this club, which was completely new to me, stood out in contrast to the sleepy one horse town of Ramona. The neon façade of the old town theater was lit up like a Christmas tree and a small group of kids clad in their best black duds were milling about the front of the place. The interior of the theater was surprisingly clean and has a modern air to it. The sound was great, it has a pretty good sized stage, nice lighting, and booths on either wall to maximize the comfort (or recovery) of the clubs patrons. But, maybe most importantly, the staff was accommodating, courteous, and polite (beer prices weren’t outrageous like some of the bigger clubs), so I’m definitely more rearin’ to head out to this place when bands like Sprung Monkey (Feb. 5th) and DRI (sometime in fall) drop in on this place.

I was excited about seeing The Binary Code ever since I saw video clips of them on the Metal Sucks web site, and let me tell you, seeing video footage does the band no justice. The live performance from the New Jersey progressive post-something or other metallic outfit was like watching an aerial trapeze without a net. I held my breath as the band powered through a good five or six tunes of frenzied music that made me think, these guys have more in common with free form jazz musicians than your typical metal musicians. As I sat back, doing my best to bob in time with the off time rhythms and disjointed breaks, I found myself mesmerized by the fret fingers dancing all over the necks of the guitars, in particular, those of bassist Brett Bamberger. I first fell in love with this guys talents when I stumbled on East of the Wall and to watch this guy hammer away on the instrument was the musical equivalent of watching the Grand Canyon being formed (ever see that thing? So much more than just a colorful hole in the ground!) That’s not to take anything away from the rest of the band. To combine the blistering fast beats with the odd time riffs, and then the exceptional stage presence was something to witness. Hell, I can barely walk and chew gum at the same time and here these guys are running all over the damn place playing some of the most technically intense music in the world. The Binary Code, as a unit, is one of the most musically precise, yet sonically brutal bands that I’ve had the pleasure in watching.

After a short break down of gear, the Relapse Records artist Revocation hopped up on stage and sheered my face off. Up to this point, I had only heard short snippets from the band and gotta’ say, I was overwhelmed with joy. Upon hearing their opening song, I was converted to all that is Revocation. This band was an absolute thrill ride. Much like The Binary Code executed riffs with equal parts precision and brutality, Revocation did the same thing but with a little more groove and melody. This was definitely the most surprising element of the show, and in a lot of ways, the most pleasing. The two guitarists and bassist all shared in some of the vocal duties, which were very guttural. I honestly had no idea what any of the names of the songs were, I have no ideas what the subject matter of the songs is about, and I couldn’t have cared less. The music was filled with so much damn energy! I suddenly felt like I was fifteen years younger. By the time their set was complete, my cheeks were sore from the frozen smile on my face, and I knew that my next music purchase was going to be their album, Existence is Futile.

To wrap up the night, the band that I had been waiting almost a year to see, Hypno5e made their mysterious way onto the stage. Enshrouded in a constant cloud of smoke, the four members of this French outfit performed a metallic epic of a show. I was instantly captivated by the imagery of the silhouettes, like haunting specters, weaving in and out of the hazy arena, and how absolute their execution was of the songs from their last album, Des Deux L’une Est L’autre. The band, didn’t bother interacting with the crowd, there was no in between song banter, there were no song introductions. Hypno5e didn’t so much put on a rock show as they did a visual performance set to some of the most intricate and precise extreme music on the planet. And, though I’ve listened to their album about a million times, I had forgotten how heavy they really are. This performance seemed to highlight just how heavy the band can be despite the softer and more delicate musical interludes. I’m not certain on the total amount of songs that they played, possibly only four, but when one takes into consideration that each song is around eight or nine minutes in length, it’s instantly apparent that time constraints can become an issue. The performance of “Daybreak at Slaughter-House” was enough to make me shake my head and think, that’s all I needed. Such an amazing song in composition, to actually watch the band play it . . . shit, I was in heaven.

Metal fans, music fans . . . get out there and see all three of these bands do their thing. You won’t be sorry. You’ll probably pick up a few ideas as you watch a group of the genres best musicians re-invent metal. Hell, I watched a few kids this night standing on the fringes with their mouths wide open in awe, then exchange looks with their friends and mouth that they needed to play music like that. Warming moment? Yes, because you could see the effect of these musicians efforts being taken to heart by fellow musicians, and hopefully further running with these musical ideas and creating a whole new music. Art is meant to express the artist’s emotions and, in doing so, it inspires others to create in their own way, in their own medium, and with their own voice. Music has done that for The Ripple Effect over the years, and watching these three bands throw their emotions all over the inside of the Ramona Mainstage on this cold and dreary night, I would have to think that they’ve inspired others to express themselves as well. What these musicians are doing is a beautiful thing. Do yourself a favor and check them out. - Pope JTE

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Craig David - One More Lie (Standing In the Shadows)

Craig David you are a genius.

But I'm sure you guys already knew that.

I say time and time again that I hate generic eurocrap loops - I really do. I hate them because one, they sound cheap and two, they sound cheap because they're not done right. You guys know where I'm going with this.

Craig David did it right. He always does.

Although Insomnia was a little to 'mainstream'/Chris Brown rip-off for me, I couldn't deny the fact that Craig David knows how to make music. There have been mistakes direction-wise but execution-wise the guy knows exactly what to do and HE DOES IT SO DAMN WELL. Add a gorgeous voice and gah, I can just faint. Seeing him live last year made my impression of him even better - this guy not only knows how to make music, he knows how to perform it. I don't think you need anything else.

One More Lie is a pleasure to listen to - I adore everything about it. I've missed well-done singles and after all the crap that's being put out now, it's nice to hear some real music. But that might be because I'm a fan.

The hook at the beginning is very Eurocrap-y but it doesn't sound cheap, one of the few songs that're like that. The verses are standard Craig David - I swear if he ever stops doing what he does I'm going to throw a fit. Then go back to adoring him. LOL. Clean vocals, processed, but at least the guy can pull it off live (I know he can.), unlike a lot of people who process their vocals.

The thing with this guy is that he's not just a singer, he's a musician. Being a musician gives him all these opportunities to do so much with his music - thank heavens people like it because if they didn't, I'd throw a fit. Again. I'm a little disoriented right now because of all this brilliance. Just listen to the damn song, will you? But before the video, time for some 'spazzing' from me.


5/5 You guys saw it coming.

Ripple News - Hope For Haiti Now an Unabashed Success - Download now on iTunes and Amazon

Don't know how many of you waveriders saw it live, but Hope for Haiti Now was a moving, respectfully done benefit show, that for the most part (more on that later) beautifully put the cause before the music, while still delivering some stunning musical performances.

Not being big fans of these sorts of shows, where artists get all "touchy and concerned" while in reality looking to do little more than boost their own careers, Hope For Haiti Now was a pleasant surprise.  From the somber, reverential format of the performances, devoid of any applause or showboating, to the seamless production of orchestrating multiple performances from many different cities, interlaced with truly moving actor monologues on the suffering and devastation in the country, Hope For Haiti Now was a clear step above the normal Hollywood benefit drivel.  By all measures it was a beautiful, heart-felt, somber success.

As a music site, we're more concerned with the actual musical performances than the names of the stars performing, but almost to a "T" the stars didn't let us down.  Justin Timberlake and Charlie Sexton's breathless performance of "Hallelujah" was without a doubt one of the show's most heartwrenching, stellar moments, as were Coldplay's "Message 2010," and the very ragged Bruce Springsteen "We Shall Overcome."  Mary J. Blige gave an inspired performance of  "Hard Times Come Again No More," and Stevie Wonder's version of  "Bridge Over Troubled Water," was immaculate, as was Beyonce's stripped down "Halo."   Sheryl Crow with Kid Rock and Keith Urban doing "Lean On Me," was near perfect, and Taylor Swift demonstrated why she's a rising star with "Breathless," showing class and maturity way beyond her years.

In fact, the entire show was one of amazing, dignified class, with only one glaring exception.  Rihanna clearly never got the memo that the show was about shinning a light on a suffering nation, as she proceeded to do everything she could to draw the world's attention to herself; from her glaring, way-too-short-and-totally-inappropriate dress to her massive gold hoop earings and horrible stage posturing.  Even Bono clearly felt uncomfortable with her next to him, often trying desperately to reach out and find a moment's humanity inside her, to no success.  Fortunately, this embarrassment will be lost with the download of the song, as there will be no video.

It is a sign of what the new form of music distribution can do that the performances from Friday night's Hope For Haiti Now concert could be purchased on line the next day.  The digital-only album has all 19 performances from the benefit along with a studio version of  "Stranded."   The entire show can be purchased on iTunes or Amazon for the amazingly low price of $7.99, with proceeds going to the Haiti relief charities.  As a charitable act, it's almost impossible to justify not buying this album, but as a music lover, you'll find much here to love and treasure, reflect upon and cherish.

Track List:

    * Send Me An Angel - Alicia Keys
    * A Message 2010 - Coldplay
    * We Shall Overcome - Bruce Springsteen
    * Time to Love/Bridge Over Troubled Water - Stevie Wonder
    * I'll Stand By You - Shakira with the Roots
    * Motherless Child - John Legend
    * Hard Times Come Again No More - Mary J. Blige with the Roots
    * Breathless - Taylor Swift
    * Lift Me Up - Christina Aguilera
    * Driven to Tears - Sting
    * Halo - Beyonce with Chris Martin on piano
    * Lean on Me - Keith Urban, Sheryl Crow & Kid Rock
    * Like a Prayer - Madonna
    * Hallelujah - Justin Timberlake with Charlie Sexton
    * Let it Be - Jennifer Hudson with the Roots
    * Many Rivers to Cross - Emeline Michael
    * Stranded (Haiti Mon Amour) - Jay-Z, Rihanna, Bono, the Edge
    * Alone and Forsaken - Neil Young and Dave Mathews
    * Rivers of Babylon/Yele - Wyclef Jean
    * Stranded (Haiti Mon Amour) - Jay-Z, Rihanna, Bono, the Edge (Studio Version)

Buy Here: Hope For Haiti Now

Monday, January 25, 2010

Melodic Rock Update - Featuring Bridge of Sighs, Believe, and Ivory Tower Project

Writing about one of my favorite bands of the late -70's, Axe, whet my appetite to see what was happening today in the world of melodic rock.  Now, like some waveriders, that whole concept of "melodic rock," makes my skin crawl, conjuring up ear-wincing images of Europe or Bad English.  But that's just one end of the spectrum.  Melodic Rock, when done well, can be powerful and dynamic, emotive and moving, while at the same time, pop smart and smooth.

As with any genre, there are tons of talented musicians, creating and performing music that's passionate and intense, full of their life's energy and passion.  So today, we're gonna turn the spotlight on three of these like-minded bands.

Angry CloudsBridge of Sighs - Angry Clouds

What began as a Robin Trower revival band, took on a life of its own when the power trio of bassist/vocalist Trent Stroh, drummer Mike Taylor, and electric-fingered guitarist Tom Neely left the Trower fold to create their own music.  And man, I for one am glad they did!  Bridge of Sighs is that rarest of bands, one that sets itself so firmly in its own day and space that it turns a completely blind eye to the musical world around it, allowing this dynamite power-trio to explore their heavy rocking muse in total freedom.

Now to say they turned a blind eye to the world of Trower is a massive misstatement.  Trower still lives and breathes in this album, in every searing, intensely sustained guitar note.  I hear tons of Bridge of Sighs to In City Dreams-era Trower, with open, expansive compositions, all given plenty of room to breathe and to rock.  And believe me, that comment isn't a criticism.  It's a handy compliment.  Very few bands are making music like this any more, breathy and airy, yet completely sizzling hard rock.  Trent Stroh is a damn fine vocalist, his tenor stunningly expressive, weighted with enough passion to carry the weight of the album while Neely simply looses his mind on guitar.  Notes bend and soar, snake and slither, fire and flare across the album, all with perfect intent.  There's no mindless noodling here, no proggy-guitarabation, just purely focused, soulful, definitely Trower-esque guitar, and it's a thing of beauty.

"Sweet Thing," encapsulates everything that awaits you with this disc in just the first few moments.  The opening guitar is so sultry it positively sweats.  From that moment, the beat breaks down leading us into Stroh's perfect voice while the guitar twists and wails subtlety in and out of the melody.   Taylor doesn't overplay the drums, adding enough touch and finesse to move the song along, power when it needs it, and restraint when it serves the song best.  There's also a serious melody here, a big seventies rock melody that should've been belted out of every coliseum rock festival to a happily stoned crowd.

And in no way is "Sweet Thing," the only strong cut on the album.  In fact, I can't find a weak one.  "Crucified," ups the metallic intensity with it's piledriving bass and riff madness.  "Freedom's Stain," brings some gentle acoustics into the mix, without ever losing its power or drive or metallic menace all the way to its big, lighter-waving, crowd-pleaser of a chorus.   "Angry Clouds," jaunts along with a vague "western from hell" vibe, riding over a twisted Outlaws-minded riff through its freaking infectious melody.  "Mojito" tosses some impeccable Spanish flair into the mix, rocking out like an outtake from a Jeff Beck gets lost in Mexico recoding session, and the big kahuna himself, Trower, makes his presence felt in the excellent cover of the simply rocking "Day of the Eagle."

In truth, this disc took me by surprise, becoming more addicting with each listen.  Fans of Trower don't want to miss this. Or fans of fine 70's-inspired rock, for that matter.  Or simply fans of good music.

 buy here: Angry Clouds

This Bread Is Mine (Ltd. Digipak)Believe - This Bread is Mine

A bitterly cold wind whips down a darkened and desolate street, shimmering reflections in the near-frozen puddles in the concrete.  Chilled to the bone, a lone man flips the collar of his raincoat up against his neck, trying to block out the wind.  His breath escapes in frosty plumes as he digs his hands deeper into his pockets, shrugs his shoulders against the cold and walks on.

Not being familiar with Believe's prior two albums, I carry none of the resistance that some reviewers seem to feel over the arrival of new vocalist Karol Wroblewski, nor do I have any comparisons to make to the harder edge of Believe's earlier work.  Instead, what I'm left with is a profoundly evocative, deeply melancholic, densely atmospheric unfolding of songs of loss and emptiness.  Rich in melody, and deep in texture and tone, This Bread is Mine finds a comfortable place in the developing world of neo-prog, falling into place alongside the work of their Polish countrymen, Riverside or the mellower moments of Porcupine Tree.  Karol's voice is understated, cooly impassioned, nearly whispered even as it breaks into an emotive register.  Adding to the overall density of the album, the guitars are muted, seemingly hushed, as if playing them too loud would disrupt the solitude of that wind-blown street.

The opening track, "The Years," sets the tone with its flickering acoustic guitars, atmospheric keys, and Karol's whispered lyrics.  Contrary to what many might think, you don't have to yell or scream to convey emotion, and the emptiness and isolation in Karol's delivery make this abundantly clear.  Despondency reigns in the depth of his baritone.  Pain resides in the space of his whisper.  "Tales from Under the Tree," takes that pain and ramps it up another degree, adding in an intro of distant echoing guitar before the rock rains down.  "Mirek Gil brings on some of his more fierce guitar work, driving the song forward on an initial frenzy while Karol wails in the background, providing his most impassioned singing on the album.    This song also marks the first true appearance of Satomi's violin, used to profound effect in creating mood and texture.  "Mother" is simply a song of intense melodic beauty, while "And All the Roads," manages to be breathy and dense at the same moment.  Dynamics reign through these songs, through the time changes, the impeccable playing and the gorgeously dark melody.

This Bread is Mine, is an album of understated beauty and ambiance.  A weighty album of soaring guitars and melodies, yet burdened with the pain of a devastated heart and a life devoid of hope.  An album that manages to find the beauty in the darkest of times, the lightness in the heaviest of hearts.   An intensely evocative album, deep in atmosphere.  An album that completely brings to mind a certain place, and time.

And still, that cold wind blows . . . 

Buy here: This Bread Is Mine (Ltd. Digipak)

Ivory Tower Project - Red Hot

Like stepping back in the professor's Way Back Machine, the Ivory Tower Project bring a love for all that was big and poppy from the eighties rock world to their debut disc, Red Hot.  Listening to this album immediately brings to mind such classic melodic rock bands as Journey, gobs of Survivor, and yes, even a little bit of Axe.  If the mention of those bands gets your salivary glands to start working then read on, because what Ivory Tower Project does with their influences places this disc handsomely right next door.  Clearly infused with a love of classic, immaculately produced and performed rock, Ivory Tower Project bring a passion to their craft of big, glossy hooks, soaring vocals, and massive, massive melodies.

The name Ivory Tower Projects refers to a safe place where one is mentally withdrawn from reality, and that seems to capture these guys mindset perfectly.  Forget the tsunami ravaging the music industry, rock is a place where these cats go to escape from the doldrums of their everyday world.  And in the Ivory Tower universe, that escape means jumping on the mothership Jefferson Starship to the planet Toto and rocking out to their fullest intent.  While this disc may not appeal to all hard rockers out there, the boys sell it rather effortlessly with stellar performances of oceans of synths, pulsating bass lines, and Mark Regula's effortless vocals.  "My Name," is the number one standout track here and encapsulates everything the cats represent.  Churning keys bring us in gently in a Supertramp-like surrey.  Percolating bass punctuates the action while Regula takes over with his soaring, Marty Balin-esqe tenor.  Cool melodies and a driving beat make this one a winner.

"Burning" brings on the Survivor in every sense of the word, rocking out as if the nineties had never happened with it's layered guitars, shimmery bright production and huge, soaring chorus.   Actually, I never cared for Survivor much, but find this song to be a melodic rock gem.  "Gotcha," loses itself in an ever-expanding universe of synths, reminding me of such '80's bands as Real Life, before "Way To Late," stampedes out next, sounding like the designated theme song to some Rocky movie not yet made.  Again, a passionate vocal and crisp production make this song vibrate with energy.

The second half of the album slows down a bit in my view, dropping in a few too many ballads to keep the energy free flowing, and mixing up styles more than the boys should, but nevertheless, Ivory Tower Project have created a nice debut that any fans of Frontier Records or addicts of classic, melodic rock should suck down like water after a trip through the desert.

Buy here: Red Hot

Believe - This Bread is Mine

SNSD - Oh!

SNSD are back, all 9 of them, and it is once again new single season. Has the song passed or failed my standards? Gah.

When I first heard Oh! I thought it was a fail, but then again the first time I heard it the song was in LQ. When I heard it in HQ it was only a straight pass (pasang-awa in Filipino) but then it grew on me the more I listened to it. There are quite a number of issues (good and possibly bad) that accompany the sound of this song.

Is the autotune generation FINALLY moving on?

And by 'autotune generation' I mean both the bands who've excessively used processing in their material AND SNSD/Girls' Generation. This applies only in Korea.

Yeah sure some of the first releases of 2010 have been laden with processing and autotune and bells and whistles all around BUT, you do realize that change anywhere comes from the top. One of the first big, established bands to release new material this year is SNSD - apart from them all the new releases have been by new, rookie bands who either don't have enough label/talent company backing to actually make a decent, original song or are just following the trends, hoping to cash in on the success of bigger bands who've successfully marketed the specific sound.

SNSD, I believe, are at the stage in their career where they can choose to do anything they want and their millions/thousands of fans would stand by them. They've had their 'adhering to trends to get famous' singles and SM has made a sufficient amount of money out of their image to be able to now set new trends.

Gee was cutesy, Genie was well-produced and slightly cutesy - what's Oh!? That may take some time to explain.

Oh! does NOT use the type of processing that was so so very popular in 2009 - THANK HEAVENS FOR THAT. The verses seriously sound like something deliberately aimed at the CHINESE MARKET (ala SuJu M's Confession or Only U) but then the chorus/hook sounds like something straight out of a Swedish production house like Maratone or one of Steve Mac's masterpieces if it was the late 90's. By that I mean the vocals during the chorus aren't mixed like they are today where it's monotonous and there is one distinct voice on top - the vocals on this track are mixed in such a way that they actually sound like 9 girls singing at the same time. OK maybe less but you get the point.

Oh! I think will set the standard for girl groups this year for a few reasons. SNSD are superstars in their own right - two massive hits last year are enough to immortalize them in Kpop so whatever they do this year will set the standard. The second reason is slightly more musical - they'll set the standard because now that they have the power to influence, either they themselves or SM and his slave songwriter Yoo Young Jin are planning to cause a slow but sure shift in the over-all sound of Kpop.

It only took a short time to get everyone hooked on autotune and processing, it'll probably take a similar amount of time to get everyone out of it. Personally I like where they're moving towards - the circa Play/Swedish bubblegum pop-type production. I like it because the well-done part of Swedish music is my taste but it's a bit bad for the industry because they're moving backwards not forward.

However I do think that anywhere is fine, as long as it's away from processing.

EDIT: There are now claims going around that Oh! is a rip-off of Rihanna's Shut Up and Drive. Look. Unless the song has the exact same chords and melody as Shut Up and Drive, you can't call that plagiarism anymore. Why? Because pop music today sounds so similar that if something sounds like something else and that's what constitutes plagiarism, then I could say that Chris Brown is an Usher rip-off or Jada's American Cowboy is a Poker Face copy. There is very little originality in pop today so UNLESS the melody and the chords of the song are the exactly same, that isn't plagiarism - anymore. I'm not biased towards SNSD, I'm just stating something that I think is right. If this was any other act I would've done the same because people fail to realize that these days, every single song sounds the same.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Sunday Conversation with The Atlas Moth

Catapulting itself into the number 2 spot on Pope’s year end best of list, the Candlelight Records debut from The Atlas Moth, A Glorified Piece of Blue Sky, became so revered that two copies of the blue vinyl disc have made their way into the Ripple collection. But the real question becomes, why is it so revered? Is it really that good? The short answer is yes. For more details, we lured Stavros (guitarist/vocalist) to spend a few minutes on the red leather interview couch. Sit back and find out what The Atlas Moth tick.

The music on A Glorified Piece of Blue Sky is equally brutal as it is beautiful, as song writers, how did you know where to incorporate more brutality or to add a line of melody to create such elegant texture? Is it just a feeling, or is there a loose formulaic structure that you use?

Our writing process is very organic. Usually one of us has a riff and brings it into rehearsal and we just jam from there. Very little is predetermined, and we all pretty much write all our own parts, that is just what happens when all of us get into a room and play.

When you write a piece of music, do you consciously write from the mind set of being different than what's out there now?

We don't ever set out to sound like anything. Like I said, everything is very organic and felt out through repetition during rehearsals. There is not much thought put into what we are going to sound like although, there is a lot of scrutiny over an end product. We tear apart songs and start over and rewrite sometimes until we are happy with them but there isn't a constant thought of trying to be different, this is just what we sound like.

When I reviewed A Glorified Piece of Blue Sky, I described your music as the best horror movie that I’ve ever listened to. Was I supposed to be scared or was simply jumping at shadows? What is you musical intention? What are you trying to express or get your audience to feel?

We want the listener to feel something. We would rather have someone absolutely hate us than not feel anything when listening to us. Andrew was the guy who did all the interludes and locked himself in the studio during mixing and brought all of that to life for us. This record encapsulates a period of time for each of us personally and as well as a band and I think that comes across and what you're feeling is just what we were going through making that record. How each of us was feeling throughout.

Where do you look for continuing inspiration? New ideas, new motivation?

At the risk of sounding cheesy, life in general. I get inspired but reading a book, watching a movie, hearing something doesn't matter.

What piece of your music are you particularly proud of?

"...Leads To A Lifetime on Mercury." That was the last song written and is by far my favorite. I feel that song currently sums up what The Atlas Moth is.

The business of music can be brutal. Changes in technology have made it easier than ever for bands to get their music out, but harder than ever to make a living? What are your plans to move the band forward? How do you stay motivated in this brutal business?

Well we are still sorta in a transition stage as a band. I have been touring for so long, even before this band, that being broke and on the road isn't really anything new. We are just gonna keep doing what we have always done. We have a pretty busy 2010 touring schedule planned and we're gonna keep busy writing a new record. We love playing in this band and we are all such close friends. As long as this is fun, it’s really easy to remain motivated regardless of people downloading your music. I download music but I also buy stuff that strikes a particular chord and that's what I hope we do for people.

Who are some of the more obscure artists that may have influenced your sound?

I don't really know how to judge obscure as there are a lot of bands I think everyone knows about but I then find out it's not the case. I will say Envy and The Angelic Process.

Anyone who has spent more than a couple of minutes in the music business has had a Spinal Tap moment or two. What’s one of your great Spinal Tap, rock and roll moments?

We were given an address of a punk house on tour that we could crash at. These, although appreciated and awfully convenient, are usually some of the nastiest places on earth to crash but it’s always welcomed. We pull up to the address, see a dude that was at the show outside and decide to park. Andrew, Tony, our tour manager Joe, and myself walk into this house and it’s not gross at all. Totally shocked, we all started getting comfortable, people are using washrooms and looking through fridges. I go as far as to get ready to pass out on the couch. At this point, Andrew felt as though he should go out to the bonfire in the back and let the people who supposedly live there know we are crashing in the living room. Next thing I know, Andrew is busting through the front door yelling "WRONG HOUSE! LET'S GO!" Apparently the address we had was a number off and we were supposed to be staying in the rat infested shit hole next door. Duh.

Vinyl, CD, or digital? What's your format of choice?

Vinyl hands down. I dig actively listening to music.

We, at The Ripple Effect, are constantly looking for new music. When we come to your town, what's the best record store to visit?

Well as far as metal goes, Metal Haven is the way to go. Vinyl, CDs, Shirts...they have every obscure metal band you have never heard of. As far as everything else goes, Reckless Records has a few different locations that are all excellent.

Any words of wisdom for the Waveriders (our readers?)

"If your bitch is in my shit, then its your bitch you check" - Dr. Dre....Words to live by, friends.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

2NE1's Vocal Prowess

2NE1's commentary was very easy to write actually, mainly because even if they pretty much only have one mini-album and two singles off that as a group, they have a ton of solo stuff, a ton of collaborations and a ton of re-arranged performances that show me how versatile they are as a band.

Vocally, 2NE1 are very, VERY strong, if not for one girl - Sandara. I don't care if all you andara fans start crawling out of nowhere and attacking me but even since she was here (in the Philippines), I hated her guts. But we'll get to that later.

Back to my point. If my standards are Idol group standards, aka as long as you can hold a melody it's fine, then they're way ahead of everyone else. But you see, according to everyone, they're not just any old idol group - they're 2NE1. And because they're not like everyone else, I won't treat them like everyone else.

You cannot deny that no matter how popular 2NE1 get and no matter how much I hate hearing their songs everywhere.I.go, they know how to perform. The recorded arrangements of their singles may be as boring as hell (I'm talking to you, I Don't Care) but the minute they have a big awards show or music festival to attend, the re-arrangement or remix will just blow you away. Fans eagerly await the next re-working of their favorite hits and they get the 'critical acclaim' (if there is such a thing in kpop) from musicians and everyone's happy. YG knows how to one, make a hit, and two, make a musically outstanding performance arrangement of said hit. Even if I'm not the biggest fan of rap, I gotta commend YG and 2NE1 for their performances. Gah. Now how I wish DBSK were as creative with their live performances.

2NE1 are more than just singers, they're performers. Performing is beyond singing - a performer not only knows how to sing, but knows how to make people listen. To be able to be performers at this early in their career just makes me want to worship them. lol. I swear, every time I hear a new re-arrangement it makes me love these girls even more.

But wait. Let's get the terms straight first. There are people who can't sing but are performers - you have to watch them to appreciate them as artists. There are people who can sing their head off but don't necessarily know how to put on a show - you don't have to watch them to know they're good, you can just listen. Then there are people who can sing AND put on a show - that's 2NE1.

All these constant re-workings show their versatility as singers and as a band, which is probably one of the most important things to possess if you're a pop singer - people expect you to be able to sing your head off in every possible way and 2NE1 can do that.

I don't have to talk about how good they work as a group anymore because they're beyond just being able to work as a group - they're at a point where all they have to do now is develop the voices they already have *ahem* and do some more decent a capella work *ahem*.

EDIT: I didn't think I had to say this anymore but with the influx of comments here and on Twitter, I guess I have to. 2NE1 are a vocal group, they sing and make MUSIC - that's their job. I'm evaluating them as singers and not members - I don't care one bit if they're funny or they're nice in person, if they can't sing they don't deserve to be in the band for the sole reason that 2NE1 is a MUSICAL group. If a member doesn't have a voice he/she should just go into acting or modeling or something - not singing. I hope that clarifies things.




Now, this 10-minute performance at the controversial MAMAs late last year pretty much sums everything up - YG knows how to put on a show, 2NE1 knows how to sing, etc. Hahah.


Gah. Let's get her out of the way already. I don't like Sandara, never have, never will - she's the token pretty face in the band that doesn't really contribute anything outstanding musically. I hated her guts when she was here in the Philippines (not because she's Korean, I'm not a racist. lol.) because one, she was annoying, two ABS-CBN (that's a TV channel) was giving her so much publicity she clearly didn't deserve and three, she couldn't sing or act. There you have it. Although I do think she's improved since then, I still don't think her vocal abilities are up to par with the rest of the group. Her voice is weak, it's shrill, it's too thin in the bad way and she can't push. I don't necessarily like it when you push your voice to much but in this case she just can't. And I think it's all a matter of personal taste - I don't like her voice. If Sandara was in an 'OK if can hold a melody' band, then she'd be pretty good, actually. But 2NE1 aren't one of those bands, they're supposed to have outstanding talent. To a certain extent I've seen/heard worse but compared to her band mates, Sandara fails miserably.

Park Bom

Park Bom is supposedly 'the voice' of 2NE1 - she's the one with the big vocals and she's the one who gets most of the prominent melodic parts on songs. I do think she has a gorgeous, gorgeous voice but the more you think about it, the plain-er her voice gets. Every single girl group that has come and gone has 'the big voice', people think it's so special to have a voice like that but it's not, anymore. Don't get me wrong, I think Park Bom's voice is gorgeous, it's just that I don't think she should be getting more publicity for her voice than Minzy or CL. But the girl does know how to sing her head of properly - I gotta hand it to her.


Minzy's the youngest - SHE'S MY AGE. And so for her to be able to sing like that, all my dreams of ever being a pop star (no matter how small they are) have been thrown away. Minzy was actually the first voice in 2NE1 that really caught my ear - I like smooth vocals, Minzy has smooth vocals. It just works. The thing with Minzy is that her voice may be thin but she has this nice, deep timbre - something you don't usually hear in a smooth voice. I love Minzy's vocals, I really do - I just have one tiny little problem with them. Nothing big though. There are times when she doesn't deliver. It's not that she can't sing or she doesn't have a voice, she does, it's pretty damn good, it's just that she's not that consistent yet. Take her age into consideration - once again, SHE IS MY AGE. I can't sing and dance at the same time like that. She can. She just needs more practice and her voice needs to grow. Once that's done gah, she'll be even more brilliant than she already is.

(she's the one with short hair.)


The girl I was most surprised with was CL. During their Fire days CL was being pushed as the rapper and the leader but then I Don't Care came around and she sang. Shet. This girl can sing. I was sucked in. Not only can she sing, she can sing pretty damn good. And no matter how much I think Park Bom's voice is perfect for singing your head off, CL's got something that's made me like her more than Bom. But we'll get to that later.

CL's voice is like Minzy + Bom - she has the power and deep timbre that Bom has but she also has a smoothness to her vocals. That's like the perfect combination. Gah.

It took time for me to choose my favorite voice in 2NE1 and it too time for all the right reasons - Bom, Minzy and CL all have their own styles, their own niches and they have different voices. Ranking them would be really hard. But there was one thing that CL does better than all the others - perform.

CL knows how to sell a song, no matter how crap or good or boring, CL knows how to sell it. She raps, she sings, she prances around stage and it all seems so natural to her. That's the whole point of being a singer and having a voice in pop music - you have to be able to sell whatever song your record label gives you, bad or good. CL does it the best and she does it with so much conviction you'd think she wrote the songs they perform. No matter how crazy her wardrobe gets (at times) or how annoying Fire was (for me), CL sold it because that's what you do when you're a singer.

(She's the one in pig tails.)

Now, there's something I have to do. *goes and hides under a rock for what she said about Sandara*