Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Sunday Conversation with Nakatomi Plaza

Well, in typical Ripple fashion, it seems that our passionate piece about the demise of the punk band Nakatomi Plaza touched off a mini-firestorm of controversy.  Picked up by, we were literally inundated with people sending in their thoughts, most agreeing, some arguing with our comments on the band's breakup and the general state of the music industry.  With that much controversy created, you better believe we couldn't wait to get lead Nakatomi Plaza man, Oscar Albis Rodriguez, into our Ripple office and on to our red leather interview couch, and give him an opportunity to set the record state.

When I was a kid, growing up in a house with Cat Stevens, Neil Diamond, and Simon and Garfunkle, the first time I ever heard Kiss's "Detroit Rock City," it was a moment of musical epiphany. It was just so vicious, aggressive and mean. It changed the way I listened to music. I've had a few minor epiphany's since then, when you come across a band that just brings something new and revolutionary to your ears.

What have been your musical epiphany moments?

There was never a time when I didn't love music but I think my first epiphany like yours was when I got The Beatles Rock N Roll Music Vol. 1 when I was 9.  I was familiar with the Beatles already in a general sense but there was something about that record that was so exciting.  You can really hear the four of them rocking out and having fun.  I wanted a guitar immediately after listening to those songs. 

And then seeing Robert Plant and Jimmy Page perform Led Zeppelin songs together on TV at Knebworth (Silver Clef Awards Concert).  Again, you could tell they were having fun.  I thought Jimmy Page was the most amazing guitarist I had seen and that got me into Led Zeppelin.

And hearing Nirvana's Nevermind.  That voice and those songs blew me away.  I started writing songs after that, and then got deep into punk rock and hardcore.

Talk to us about the song-writing process for you. What comes first, the idea? A riff? The lyrics? How does it all fall into place?

It changes from song to song.  Sometimes I'll find a guitar riff by accident.  Or I'll hear a melody in my head.  Sometimes it just starts with a drum feel, and other times it's a bass line.  Lately it's been starting with lyrics, which is new for me.  Once I have one or two of those ideas happening I'll sketch out a general song form and then it's kind of like filling in the blanks.  Though sometimes the writing happens more linearly and it doesn't fit into a traditional song form at all.  But that's what I love about song-writing;  you can do whatever you want.

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

I'm usually pretty excited after seeing a band play live, so I try to do that when I can.  I don't read as many books as I used to but when I do those certainly influence me lyrically, sometimes musically.  I'm also an avid record (mp3?) collector and I'm constantly trying to learn from other people's music. 

In songwriting, how do you bring the song together? What do you look for in terms of complexity? Simplicity? Time changes?

I have a pretty awesome home recording set up and also one at my rehearsal studio so I tend to demo songs and ideas fairly often.  There's no real science to it;  I just keep at it until it sounds right to me.  In Nakatomi Plaza we would try out new ideas at rehearsal and we'd just loop song ideas and try to slightly vary each repetition to see what we'd get. 

In terms of complexity, I used to try to make everything as complex and as clever as possible.  But right now I'm on a simplicity kick.  I'm trying to figure out how to boil it all down to its most pure form - so the messages and the melodies really come through.  There's a way to bring the complexity and the simplicity together and I'll figure out what that is at some point. 

Re:  time changes, I think they're awesome and I have some of that in my music.  At the moment I'm trying to do those only when necessary, and hopefully, tastefully.  If you can dance through it then I did it right. 

Let's talk about Nakatomi Plaza for a bit. What was your musical intention with Nakatomi Plaza? What were you trying to express or get your audience to feel?

That certainly changed a lot over the years.  I think when we started the band I was doing it more for me than the audience;  I had stuff I needed to get off my chest and those songs were the way to do it.  By the time we got to Private Property my outlook had changed a little given what was happening around that time and everything became more focused on 'community.'  I think the songwriters in NP had a bad habit of feeling alone at times but we also recognized that others might feel that way too, so I think we tried to tell those people in particular that we could relate.  With Unsettled everything got a little cerebral plus we started flexing our musical muscles a little more.  We were just really inspired by complexities in music, everyday life, etc.  On this last record, we're definitely expressing some frustration and dissatisfaction.  I might have turned more inward on this record, and yet, a few people have told me that they get it, which is awesome. 

Considering that I'd never heard of Nakatomi Plaza before you excellent last CD, Ghosts, I was surprised by the amount of anger I had when I read in the liner notes about the band's breaking up.  It inspired my review so much that I cranked it out that same night.  In that review, I railed against the music industry and the punk underground that felt it was fine to steal your music, but not support the band.  In truth, the demise of Nakatomi Plaza was a more complex issue than I wrote about.  Can you tell us more?

I could, but I won't say it any better than Al just did here:

Seriously, check it out.

The only thing I'd like to add (or reiterate) is that the reason I wrote about our experiences with the music industry is because it's hard not to talk about it when talking about NP since it was so important to the band at one time.  It was difficult, and it certainly changed how I feel about the industry in general, but it didn't break us up. (as Al said, we stopped trying to make a living as a band 5 years ago).  I'm 30 years old, and I started writing NP songs when I was 19.  That's more than a third of my life.  It was just time to move on. 

Talk to us about your experiences with the music industry, and the whole dance you guys went through.  I bet it's not a story for the timid.

We self-released our first record and did some regional touring (all while we were still in college) and we had certain cities where we had a decent following.  We then made the Private Property EP and released that on Gunboat Records (Nip, the owner, saw us in Gloucester, MA which was one of the towns where we did well) and went on a full US / Canada tour.  We sent copies of Private Property to about 20 or so labels and Immigrant Sun got back to us and said they wanted to re-release it as a full-length.  All the while we kept playing shows and touring - and while we were having a blast, there was also a real sense of upward momentum.  There was never any talk of becoming rock stars, but we started wondering if we could do this for a living.  And then there were a couple tours where we actually came home with more money than we left with.  While we were writing Unsettled, we subconsciously made the decision to make a go for it.  We saved up money and self-financed the production of Unsettled.  Looking back I can say that things definitely got more stressful around then.  Once the record was finished, we sent the record out to about 80 labels and hit the ground running and toured as much as we could.  There was one week where the phone calls and emailings were just coming in one right after the other from labels big and small;  the whole thing was super overwhelming but the attention was great and the record was well-received.  And that's when things started slowly falling apart.  Everyone (I guess including us) seemed to be non-commital;  both sides seemed to be "waiting it out" to see what would happen.  More meetings, more phone calls, more showcases, tons of emails, more touring.  And it just dragged on and on.  All of a sudden we had a 2 year old record and we had to reevaluate our situation.  Red Leader Records was the only label that seemed to be interested helping us develop as a band without tying our hands behind our back so to speak, and so Unsettled was officially released through them.  But by that point, tensions within the group were high and we slimmed down to a trio.  We kept on touring, but by then some of us were totally broke (and the rest of us were just barely getting by) since we had invested so much of our own money into that record and into the touring.  Our merch sales also took a nosedive at this point (everyone who came to see us seemed to already have a copy of our record) so every night we only had (a little) door money coming in.  We started to tour less and then realized it made sense in the long run to stick close to home and fly to special events we might normally take 2 or 3 weeks off work to tour to, like The Fest in Gainesville or SXSW.  It's not that we'd make money on those plane trips, but we wouldn't lose money from not working. 

All the while we were working on the songs that would appear on GHOSTS.  Red Leader approached us about making another record and of course we started talking about all the tour plans that would follow.  Even though I'd say that the three of us are - really - good at DIY touring I started getting nervous about doing another round and what that might do to us financially and mentally.  We were never really able to get booking agents to help us and when I booked our previous tours it was like having a 2nd full-time job.  Booking was fun at first years ago, but I was dreading it this time.  And then I realized it was truly time for us to at least begin thinking about calling it. 

I told Al and Lou in August of 2008 that we should break up.  It was horrible but I knew it was the right thing to do.  We took the next couple of months to let it all sink in and to figure out our plans and we decided that we would record those last songs for Red Leader and then do some number of final shows.  Then the industry reared its ugly head again...

In early 2009, when we were beginning the production of GHOSTS, Lumberjack Distribution went under.  All their labels, including Red Leader, suddenly had their money tied up. We finished the record in the Spring but had to wait a few months to see what was going to happen.  We found out Red Leader wouldn't be able to release our record until 2010 or so.  No one wanted to wait that long to do the final tour and the final shows, so we decided to self-release the record.  In a way it was fitting, since our first record was self-released and we had been a DIY band from the start.  (And folks, you're still DIY even if you get help from others.  It's about attitude and ethics.)

The end was sad, but also very satisfying.  Our last tour felt like a victory lap.  The shows were all amazing, we got to play with many of our friends' bands one last time, and so many people came out to the shows.  We left our record up online for free/donation for a week before we left for the tour and so many people donated generously.  We organized a 2 day, 14 band festival called Buddy Fest at Shea Stadium in Brooklyn for our last 2 shows and it was possibly the best weekend of my life.  I'm bitter about the music industry but I'm not - and never will be - bitter about Nakatomi Plaza

My article on Nakatomi Plaza's breakup spurred a massive debate over at, with 50% supporting my ascertation that fans need to support the bands they love, the other 50% arguing that music should be free and "real" musicians don't care whether they ever make a living at music or not.  Your thoughts?

There's no punk rock fairy that comes around and just blesses us with thousands of dollars at a time to make a record or go on tour.  All of this costs a ton of money.  All I was saying in the liner notes was that you should support artists you like.  Go see them play.  Buy their records.  Buy their merch.  They need money to do what they do, and if what they do makes you happy, then please give them a little support.  They'll appreciate it, believe me.  

Yes, I write my own songs.  I play music in DIY bands.  But I'm also professional musician.  I play in wedding bands.  I back singer-songwriters.  I'm a session musician.  I have a jazz degree from NYU.  I teach guitar and piano.  This is how I make my living.  Are you going to tell me I'm not a real musician?  I'm the very definition!

What are your thoughts on illegal downloading?  Does it help a band, spread their name, or hurt them?

I'm not blind to the music industry and what's happened over the last 13 years.  There's an entire generation of music fans that have never bought a physical record.  And that's fine.  Yes, illegal downloading doesn't put money into musician's pockets directly, but hopefully through the exposure that money will find them in another form (concert tickets, merch, etc). 

Personally, I will continue to buy records because I want to support bands.  I know what it's like and I want to do what I can to help out. 

By the same token, I think musicians need to "band" together and figure out how to continue doing what we do if people aren't going to pay for our records anymore.  Some of my artist friends are now taking subscriptions, others are trying TV licensing, etc.  It's time to be creative in a business-sense and hopefully we can share that info with each other. 

Nakatomi Plaza may be gone, but each of the band members is still creating.  What other projects are the band working on?
Lou is playing drums in a band called Sherpas.  Al and I are in a hardcore band called Panther Modern with Rachel from Bridge and Tunnel and Will from Straylight Run.  I've been playing bass with Ludlow Lions, and I have a solo project called Ghost Robot Ninja Bear.  The first GRNB single should be out next month.   I'm also working on my friend Paul Schneider's new record (our 3rd together).  I co-engineered and played guitar and some bass on my friend Jody Shelton's record that should be out soon.  Last year also saw the release of the Fires Of Rome record "You Kingdom You" on which I played guitar and keyboards and which also features drummer Gunnar Olsen from The Exit / De La Hoya.  And speaking of my old punk/hardcore band De La Hoya, it looks like our discography is finally going to see the light of day towards the end of this year.  It features our official releases (the demo tape, 2 EPs, 1 full-length), 4 brand new songs recorded with Al from NP and Gunnar, some unreleased acoustic demos and live tracks, and a huge digital zine of photos and essays.  The whole thing is pretty rad.  There may be a reunion show or two as well. 

I gotta ask.  After 10 years I know the goodbyes must have been heartbreaking.  Any chance of reuniting for one-off shows or another album or such?

I'm sure we'll reunite for a one-off at some point.  And I'm sure I'll write music again with with most of the members of Nakatomi Plaza in some form or another.  Al and I are engaged, and I love giving her my wordless songs to see what she can come up with.  And Liam (our first drummer) and I are best friends and we play music together every chance we get.  And Lou and I have such similar tastes in music that it would be a shame if we didn't play together again at some point. 

Nakatomi Plaza had to end.  10 years is a long time.  I don't mean this flippantly, but for some of us there needed to be a change of scenery.  And there's so much baggage that comes along with NP (how can there not be after 10 years?) and it's nice to be free of that now.  But we're all still good friends and we all still support each other. 

Did you feel that Ghosts was your best albmum?  What piece of your music are particularly proud of?

I do.  Others may (and do) disagree, but I really think we hit it right on the head this time.  I feel like all the fat's been stripped away and what's left is truly meaningful.

It's hard to pick one piece of music on the record that I'm proud of.  I'm really proud of the lyrics.  I think the vocal performances on Words are really good.  I'm really proud of what Al did with Pigs Will Pay;  I went through so many versions of the lyrics/melody for that song and finally just gave up and she absolutely nailed it.  I think the solo on 4017 is pretty rad.  And I love all of Lou's drum parts.  He really worked those through over the course of a year and achieved the balance between complexity and simplicity.

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

Haha, digital.  Less clutter in the apartment!  Sonically, vinyl.  CDs make great coasters. 

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

Academy Records on North 6th St. in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  Huge vinyl selection, decent used CD section.  If you want to check out new stuff then go to Sound Fix.  I think ultimately though my favorite record store in NYC is still Other Music.

Any final comments or thoughts you'd like to share with our readers, the waveriders?

1.  Support artists. 
2.  Respect yourselves and each other. 
3.  Thanks for taking an interest in Nakatomi Plaza.  We'll see you all soon!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

B2ST - Shock Of The New Era

So the album is out. I wasn't expecting it to be out until maybe tomorrow, but it is and I've heard it.

B2ST are under Cube Entertainment, a subsidiary of JYP, but what puzzled me the most was that last year, Cube signed a deal with Universal Music - this EP could either been done with American producers or with America in mind. After all, their sister group 4Minute was already featured on an Amerie remix.

There are a few very fine and small but recognizable clues on this that it could just be for the US in the near future - there's a lot more English in it than the group's first release and the production has just gone from mediocre to FANTASTIC. I don't just mean they got new producers, I mean they got DAMN good ones.

The basic material can still be improved and most of the album sounds like R&B staples but then again everything sounds the same in Korea - what's drawing me in is the production. Like, this is better produced than all the other crap that's out right now.

I was really, REALLY let down to find out that the song on the teaser ISN'T the lead single/track - it's sort of an intro. The song I was digging yesterday is actually called Just Before Shock, 2 minutes long. Regardless, it's one of the first kpop songs that have genuinely made me smile. Heck, I don't think I've ever smiled listening to a kpop song. Damn. It's as American and as R&B-ish as it can get but considering their previous sound, it's an upgrade - the production on this song is just WHOA. This is tied with Genie for one of the best-produced Korean songs I've heard. It's epic, it's got a gorgeous piano line and when it explodes it's like WHOA. Now I wish I had damn good earphones to listen to this. I wish this was the lead single - seriously.

So now what does the lead single sound? Like a B2ST single. To a certain extent I'm glad they grew and didn't completely change but a part of me absolutely ADORES the previous track. But back to the fact that I'm happy - goes to show there is some semblance of musical growth in kpop after all, thankfully. B2ST are really growing on me, and this new single has just made me appreciate them even more. It's catchy, it sounds like something from Cube Ent and it's well-sung, the vocals are strong. If there's one compliment I can give this band, it's that they're probably a lot better in the vocal department than a lot of other boybands. I'm not saying they're the best, there are better bands, but considering that their main competition is MBLAQ, these boys have nothing to worry about. The single is a lot less pop-y and a little more mainstream, although I don't think they can crack the US with this - their best shot is with Just Before Shock.

To be completely honest with you, Special sounds like something for the US. B2ST are surprising me more and more with a well-produced album - I never knew Koreans had it in them. The vocals are a little too throaty for my taste (I can feel my throat cracking just listening to them) but the production is pretty darn good. The eurocrap loops can get a little too annoying for my taste as well but most of the time the song is bearable. I just can't stand the vocals though.

In comes one of my favorite tracks on the album, 내 여자친구를 부탁해 (My Girlfriend? Or something like that.) - it's like a continuation of Just Before Shock in terms of style. I like the chorus, I like the epicness of the entire thing and surprisingly, this is one of the few songs with rap parts that don't annoy the heck out of me. And here we go again with the 'are they breaking the US?' thing - the hook is in English. A girl can dream, right?

And to close off the album, Easy. I'm not gushing about this track as much as I am the others, but the verses are TO DIE FOR. lol. Gorgeous, gorgeous melodies. The hook isn't my type but the rest of the song is cool - reminds me of one of the tracks off their first EP.

This EP is well-produced, well-sung and well-made - it shows B2ST's growth and who they are as musicians. It PROVES that they're worth my time and they're worth listening to more than just a few times. They have a long, LONG way to go in terms of musicality (with the linear instrumentals and all) but they're one of my only hopes of having REAL musicians in Kpop.

No sum-up, since this is an EP. lol.


The new B2ST teaser BRILLIANT. Or so I think it'll be.

Last year I crowned them victorious over fellow rookie boyband MBLAQ but my consensus what that they didn't have striking material yet. They had material that sold them and they had decent vocals but nothing out of the ordinary.

When news of their comeback first broke, they said they'd be coming back with a 'heavy metal' sound. I was skeptical but I said I would wait before denouncing them - I was right in not believing a Kpop boyband would even attempt to do heavy metal. Like, even if they tried, I don't think it'll sell.

All I have is a teaser, but the teaser is enough for now. I hope.

From the one-minute clip, the song is less pop/R&B and more in the realm of a Big Bang release - sounds like something YG would mastermind. It also sounds very American, like something they'd push in the US (MEL! lol.) which I don't find surprising since Cube signed a deal with Universal last year and the whole Korean wave thingy's trying desperately to open the floodgates in the US.
SO, the album is out next week, we hear the song next week as well. And from what I hear, their comeback is next week as well (any B2uties around to clarify?) so YAY. Full review to come when I hear the song.

Ripple News - New Falling Down Compilation Nears Completion

You like good music?

Of course you do, you're a waverider after all.  So, if you're always on the hunt for new, good and fresh tunes, you may want to check this out.

Coming from France, a new installment in the Falling Down Compilation Series is coming, and if it's anything like the first one, you will want to sit up and take notice.  The first volume, released last year on 3CD, featured bands like Kylesa, Knut, Amenra, Year of No Light, Dirge, Cortez, who participated with unreleased tracks. Other bands in the scene "post-metal" also participated (Pelican, Callisto, Overmars, Rosetta)

Now, coming in March 2010, a new volume will hit the stands.  This will be a 2CD compilation with unreleased songs from White Hills, Ufomammut, Gnaw Their Tongues, The Ocean, Across Tundras, Jucifer, Omega Massif, Farflung, The Poisoned Glass and more!

You can learn more at the compilations Myspace page (


ACROSS TUNDRAS - Final Breath Over Venom Falls (Unpublished version)
ICOS [now MONACHUS] - Februari (Unpublished)
WHITE HILLS - Heads on Fire (Unpublished)
OCOAI - La Main Electrique (Unpublished)
FARFLUNG - R-Complex (Unpublished)
IMPURE WILHELMINA - Cold Fever (Unpublished)
TIME TO BURN - Elena Djinn (Unpublished)
GNAW THEIR TONGUES - We Breath Hate and Spit Fire from our Mouths (Unpublished)
THE POISONED GLASS - Silent Vigil (Unpublished)
[with Stuart Dahlquist (Asva, Sunn O))), Burning Witch) & Edgy59 (Burning Witch)]
KALVRIA - .N (Unpublished)
U.S.CHRISTMAS - Lazarus (Live)
KINGDOM - Ruina.Where men go to die (Unpublished)
KALKH-IN(JOY) ERODE - Xwck (Unpublished)

.CD 2 

KONGH - Thunders Collide (Unpublished, 2006)
TESA - Untitled (Unpublished)
OMEGA MASSIF – Am Abgrund (Unpublished)
KODIAK – By the Sea (Unpublished)
WHEN ICARUS FALLS - Nyx (Unpublished)
THE OCEAN - Asslickers Incorporated (Unpublished)
JUCIFER - Marianas (Unpublished)
UFOMAMMUT - Astrodronaut (Unpublished version)
GOD IS AN ASTRONAUT - Shining Trough
??????? - Mirage (Unpublished)
TAINT - Black Rain (Live)
MUMAKIL – Dawn of Slugs (Unpublished)

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Single Life - 7" of Fun - Featuring The Vinyl Stitches, Chrome Spiders, The Cold Beat, and Movers & Shakers

The Vinyl Stitches - Beautiful Mistake, Panther Sex b/w I Said Alright, Runaway Baby

Coming from Death Pop Records, those fine purveyors of maximally fuzzed out garage trash, comes this absolute gem of a 4-song 7".  And without a doubt, this is the finest piece of underground garage fuzz that I've ever heard coming from the Deathpopsters.  Absolutely soaked in the oil-stained concrete garage floors of the Stooges, 13th Floor Elevators, The Velvet Underground and any one else you want to throw into the mix, this is an absolute bliss of primitive surf nirvana.  These songs don't just rock, they positively percolate, rummaging across a thunderously heavy bottom end layered with a heady dose of screaming fuzz psychedelia.  Fun, fun, fun.  I defy anybody who claims to be a fan of garage rock to not get their groove on to any one of these cuts.  Rightfully, the Stitches declared the 7" to be an A side and a double A side, cause their ain't no B cut songs on this baby.

Take every garage band you've ever loved, throw in a dozen lava lamps, some mod haircuts, and a wall of sliced-to-stitches amps, toss it all into a blender, put it on puree, and the sound that comes out is The Vinyl Stitches.  And the sound is good.  Oh, so good.

Chrome Spiders - Black Butterfly b/w TheWhip Hand

While we're on the topic of garage trash . . . let's take that theme and weld to it some truly classic rock riffmeistering, and a nasty bit of psychosis and what you get is the Chrome Spiders. Calling their sound Primal Sophistication, the Chrome Spiders were formed when Detroit ex-pat Thomas Jackson Potter (Bantam Rooster, Dirtbombs, Detroit City Council, Seger Liberation Army) moved to the lovely lakeside resort of Muskegon, MI. Unable to stand musical retirement for long, he hooked up with Kalamazoo native Sean Barney (Menthols, The Breaks, Deconstruction) Marc Savage (The Bitters) and Michael Sheneman (The Bitters) and launched themselves down the road to almost certain destruction.  With the band raging with a mania that verges on psychosis, Chrome Spiders are more addictive than a mainline of narcs right in the brain.  I haven't been this caught up in a raunchy, scratchy groove since the first time I heard the Angels.  And that's what "Black Butterfly" sounds like, Doc Neeson and his band of cretins, dirtied up, roughed up and raging on after an all nighter.  Huge riffs, manic vocals, undying beat.  Great stuff.  "The Whip Hand" dirties up the garage with a face wash of The Cramps eerie intensity.  Perfectly done.  Don't miss it.

The Cold Beat/Movers & Shakers - split 7"

Keeping the garage rock intensity but adding in their own touches, flips, and twists, we got us a tasty split 7" featuring two Boston bands definitely worth keeping an eye on.

Starting off on the Cold Beat side, we get the passion of garage indy rock married to the darker textures of post-punk bands that followed in the old Echo and Joy Division vibe.  Not that these cats sound like that, but they do favor the same huge, looping bass and angular guitar runs, fusing that darkness to a roughened post-Replacements ragged glory of mid-America indie rock.  And let me tell you, this is my kinda gig, and I knew that right off the bat.  Give me some vocals that bleed with intensity, while that massive bass rocks my ass in the background.  Add in some Andy Gil-esque guitar flares with touches of a hefty crunch, and put that package together with some serious songwriting chops and I'm hooked.  

Movers & Shakers comes next adding a touch of Elvis Costello to their Paul Westerberg-inspired roots garage.  Featuring some dynamite finger picking guitar and some nicely weathered vocals, Movers & Shakers cut a wide swath through the homespun, rustic world of indy americana.   Still raw enough to encompass that gritty garage vibe, there's some serious songcraft going on here, from the more complex song structures to the drill-it-into-my-head infectious choruses.  This is kinda what we all wanted The Gin Blossoms to sound like, once upon a time.  Thank God, it's here at last.

Toss in the fact that this split 7" comes on a gorgeous platter of light blue marbled vinyl and it's a treasure find for any serious indy rock fan.  Gobble this one up.  They only printed 500, I really don't expect it to last for long.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Dissecting Kara, DBSK and The Sugababes.

It's been a while, hasn't it? I guess you could call it a lack of inspiration but even if I had the ideas and theories, I couldn't write anything. Now I can - I AM BACK! hahah. Take note that I'm considering doing a review of the Ellie Goulding album, just to remind everyone that I haven't been completely converted to kpop!

So to get me back full-swing, 3 songs from 3 different territories - Korea, Japan and Britain. Go easy on me, OK?

Kara - Lupin/루팡

It's been a few weeks/days since the release of the song, but Lupin still sounds the same - mediocre, boring and nothing special.

Kara's back catalogue is pretty solid proof to me that one, there is no musical growth in Kpop and two, you don't have to be able to sing to be a singer. Stupid, I know.

There is no musical growth in Korea - just change. Growth is taking what you have, who you are, learning from your mistakes and altering who you are to make your material better. Change is like randomly picking a song from a hat. Lupin is serious, it's 'dark' (for kpop) and if their vocals were a gazillion notches higher, it would've sold the concept. What did they used to do? This:
See what I mean? This applies to most kpop artists, even DBSK. Not all, but most.

Lupin is catchy and I like the back beat but the entire song is just bleh, there's nothing about it that makes it stand out from all the other crap that's out these days. Yeah, sure you have this 'thief in the night' concept and to a certain extent it mirrors in the music but I'm not convinced.


The Sugababes - Wear My Kiss

Oh how I miss writing artists and song titles in straight English. lol.

I hated Get Sexy, About A Girl bored me to death and so I wasn't expecting a lot from Wear My Kiss.

I have one thing to say - it took a kpop addiction for me to appreciate how British pop is really at a different level in terms of production and musicality. The two fields are different and their creativity varies but in terms of being MUSICIANS in the pop industry, I still personally think that Britain is waaaay ahead. Hahah. I haven't lost it yet!

Wear My Kiss is one of those songs I would've loved a year and a half ago and to a certain extent I like the hook. The chorus is solid, the vocals are WAY better than most of the stuff I get in Korea (sorry, but it's true.) and the production is more my taste - rich, but crisp.


DBSK/TVXQ/Tohoshinki - With All My Heart

Before I start the review, I just have to boast about a few things. First, DBSK's Break Out! became the best-selling single by a foreign artist in Japan, selling over 350,000 copies. As if that wasn't enough, their GH package sold 300,000 copies in A DAY and reached more or less 400,000 copies in a week - making it the best-selling album by a foreign artist, breaking Bon Jovi's 14+-year record.

LSM has left SME. *rejoices*

And last but not the least, I'VE SUCCESSFULLY CONVERTED MEL ( TO ALMOST TOTAL DBSK FANGIRL-ISM. *dances around room*

ANYWAY. Let's get on with the review.

The first time I heard this song, I didn't hear the whole thing - all I had was a clip of the last 2 minutes - but that didn't stop me from completely FREAKING THE HELL OUT. I was spazzing all over Twitter, freaking out at anyone with ears, and I fell in love with those 2 minutes.

So then the whole song came out. If I was freaking out over the 2 minutes, I almost died (REALLY CLOSE TO DYING). Those strings, that melody, THOSE VOCALS.

The best part of the song is around 3:42 when Junsu SENDS ME INTO HYSTERICS OVER THOSE VOCALS and the whole song just explodes - string section, screaming and exploding drum lines. Then the song mellows down before just exploding and OH MY GOSH I'M SPAZZING JUST IMAGINING IT.

I might die before I finish this review so obviously it's a 5/5 and just listen to the damn song:

Johnny Cash - American VI: Ain't No Grave

Are you prepared to die? Are your affairs in order? Have you made out a will? Does your family know where all of your important documents are? Have you decided on what type of service and burial you want to help ease the burden on your loved ones? These are morbid questions but are important ones to ponder before The Big Inevitable. But all of these thoughts are pure joy compared to listening to the final recordings of Johnny Cash.

This is the 6th and final installment of the recordings that our beloved national treasure made for Rick Rubin’s American label. Like the past few, these are not a lot of fun to listen to. The voice that was once so deep and comforting is frail and faded. He may not be boastful or full of swagger but the confidence, pride and heart shine through on these ten songs. It’s a fairly short album, but I don’t know too many people that could handle more of this.

Spiritual songs like “Ain't No Grave,” “Redemption Day,” and “I Corinthians 15:55” are delivered so sincerely that even staunch non-believers may have to pause and reconsider their convictions. You might think that a song called “For The Good Times” might be somewhat upbeat but the opening line is “don’t look so sad, I know it’s over.” It’s reassuring to hear Johnny sing that life goes on and the importance of staying true to loved ones. The old gunfighter ballad “Cool Water” is delivered in a pure desert parched voice that will make you appreciate modern plumbing like never before.

But probably the saddest song on the entire album is “Aloha Oe.” Most people probably associate this song with Don Ho, ukuleles and closing time at the hotel tiki bar  but have never paid attention to the words. Listening to Johnny Cash sing it is pure heartbreak. Did anyone really want to say Aloha (farewell to the) to The Man In Black?

Under no circumstances should you listen to this album while intoxicated or have access to firearms. Seriously.


To add to the tone of Johnny's music, Feb 26th is Johnny Cash's 78th birthday.  To celebrate his life, The Cash Family, Rick Rubin and Lost Highway Records have asked everyone, worldwide, to wear black for Johnny's birthday.  We, at the Ripple, will be.

buy here: American VI: Ain't No Grave

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Truth Corroded - Upon the Warlords Crawl

At the time of this writing, Truth Corroded is a big fish in a little pond . . . the pond being Australia. Therefore, Truth Corroded is a small fish in a very large pond, swimming around with some seriously big fish and millions of similar sized and smaller fish. Let me tell you right now, this won’t be the case for very long.  Having already toured in support of metal heavyweights such as Behemoth, Sepultura, Dark Tranquility, and God Forbid (just to name a few) these guys are poised to steal the metal spotlight in a grand way. Upon the Warlords Crawl is as superb a heavy music offering as they come, rumbling with youthful rage, composed with the care for the craft, and thrashing in your face with the immediacy for a new world order. Though the music isn’t really breaking any new ground in the way of extreme metal, Truth Corroded accomplish the aural beat down with the combination of musical proficiency and skin deep emotional turmoil that can only draw comparisons with the most honest of artists. These guys bring it with infectious passion.

Go back in time to a land where Testament, Exodus, Sepultura, and Dark Angel roamed the earth and remember when their take on heavy metal was a thrashing new view on banging the head that wouldn’t bang. Now, take those same ideals, those same fiery volleys of sound, those same extreme approaches to creating music and fast forward them twenty years, and you should be getting an idea of what Truth Corroded bring to the table. Like I said, it’s not a new form of music, but the execution of the music is stellar. But make no mistake, their music isn’t a retro sound of thrash. It’s much more immediate than that. Take “Salute the Horrors”, for instance . . . heavy and pounding in aggressiveness, but littered with fantastic displays of musicianship and nifty production. Check out the weird break about a minute fifteen in. This is the kind of stuff that fires me up because it’s a subtle effect that’s thrown into the mix, and only makes the subsequent pummeling that much more heavy and bruising. It’s a great song, but here’s a little secret . . . it’s far from being my favorite.

"Decimate" comes out sounding like pieces of Chaos AD-era Sepultura, heavy and uncompromising, but with serious elements of grove. Massive flurries of double bass drum with galloping guitar riffs, and vocals that are reminiscent of some of the great punk and hardcore of the late 80’s. Toss in a most excellent guitar solo, brimming with technical wizardry as well as sheer emotion, and I’m quickly sliding this album up the ranks of the best albums I’ve heard in the past year. However, it’s the next song that delivers the most punishing beat down of them all. “Buried Alive By Demons” is a brutal and grooving assault on the senses. This song is like a mechanized creature rising from the bowels of a dark laboratory, obliterating everything that stands in its path, created for one sole purpose . . . destruction. Destruction of everything around it and, ultimately, itself. This is the kind of song that epitomizes heavy metal. Yeah, it’s fucking heavy and its aggressive, but it’s got texture to it in the way of virtuosic guitar work and subtle ambient moments. It’s the kind of song that makes you want to yell and break shit and fight and fuck . . . not necessarily in that order.

And what metal band worth its weight doesn’t cast a few stones towards religion? “When God is Murder” is incendiary; vocals spitting venom, heavy rhythms acting as wrecking balls on the walls of a wood clad church. As much as Truth Corroded show off their impeccable musical talents, they deliver the goods in such a raw manner that it’s hard not to feel the blood rush to the head, to feel the heart pumping faster and faster, to feel a little manic and angry. Just listen to the opening riff and you’ll know where I’m coming from. “When God is Murder” is the type of song that gets a room of stiff legged metalheads moving as one elbow flailing being, and the tune never seems to let up. The rage that’s being conveyed is exhausting.

As if the band saved the best for last, Upon the Warlords Crawl is wrapped up with “Despair Your Black Earth.” Though the vocals seem a little unsure in the buildup of the song, the intention of the tune more than makes up for any other inconsistencies and the song is simply devastating. Slower than most of the rest of the album, “Black Earth” shows the band pushing the envelope on their previous compositions and confidently stepping into unknown territories. One might call this track the “epic” of the album because it has the most dynamic shifts in tempo and tone. The explosive bursts of sound are made so much more powerful by the slower portions. One doesn’t have to close their eyes too tight or use too much imagination to visualize an apocalyptic scorched wasteland while listening to the chugging riffage or the tortured howl of the vocals. Truth Corroded created a masterful piece of music with this eight minute quasi-epic song.

I love the emotion that the band displays on this record. It comes across as honest and passionate, never once did I feel that anything I was listening was forced. I hear a band that ingested a lifetimes worth of old school thrash metal and vomited out a modern version of this metallic style. I mentioned that it’s not the most unique music I’ve heard, but God damn! Truth Corroded do it as well as any band I’ve ever heard. Maybe even better. The musicianship is top notch, the production is ear splitting, the compositions are strong, to the point, and get the message across. If you’re a metal fan and you’ve been living on a steady diet of Lamb of God or God Forbid, vary up your diet with Truth Corroded, pick up a copy of Upon the Warlords Crawl, then fly, swim, or drive to Australia to see these guys tear the shit out of every living creature with a sound so damn heavy and devastating that you’ll think that you’ve entered a nuclear war armed only with a switchblade. 
--  Pope JTE

buy here: Upon the Warlords Crawl

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Dark Dark Dark – Bright Bright Bright

Long before Charles Darwin tried to categorize all things animal and vegetable, before chemists catalogued periodic tables, we, as humans, seem to have been pushed to classify everything.  Whether as a matter of memory or utility it seems we want to pigeonhole the entirety of the universe. We even sort art.

Some things, however, are not classifiable. An unexpected kiss from your valentine. The sun on your face on a clear winter afternoon. The emotive crescendo of a swelling string section.   

I was compelled to try to categorize Dark Dark Dark and its six song EP Bright Bright Brigh” which is scheduled to be released on March 9, 2010 by Supply & Demand Music. Is it chamber music?  Well it has some elements of chamber music.  There is clarinet, cello, piano and bass, but there is also vocals, banjo, accordion, trumpet, drums and percussion. Is it choir music? Well a choir is present on some of the tracks, but there is also an interesting mixture of male and female lead vocals.  Is it folk music? Not in a traditional sense.  The banjo is not used as a country banjo, the accordion has more in common with klezmer music and the piano is quite classical. So what is Bright Bright Bright by Dark Dark Dark?

The band is composed of Nona Marie Invie on vocals, piano and accordion; Marshall LaCount  on vocals, banjo, piano and clarinet; Jonathan Kaiser on cello and in the choir; Walter McClements on piano, trumpet, accordion and in the choir; Brett Bullion on drums and percussion and Todd Chandler on bass. Marshall LaCount says that on Bright Bright Bright.  The songs are often about a character finding a place in the world, and the strange interactions that happen along the way."

There is texture and nuance in the rhythms and instrumentation.  The words speak of loss, heartache, loneliness and hope and the music sets the scene – it evokes human emotion - coldness, confusion, desire, longing, regret and sorrow. I find myself listening over and over, each time finding, and feeling, something different. I cannot pigeonhole Bright Bright Bright. It is closer to a personal experience than a genre of music.

Dark Dark Dark will tour this year almost exclusively east of the Rockies.  However, they are scheduled to play at SXSW.  Now, if I could only get free room, board and a ticket. 

-- Old School

Monday, February 22, 2010

Chillin' with the Rip - Featuring Alex Cuba, Me'Shell Ndegeocello, Brookville, and Puracane

Sometimes you just want to turn off the noise.  Find something with a gentler vibe, more soothing, less harsh.  With that in mind, we present another in our occasional columns of Ripple recommendations for music to Chill to.

Agua del PozoAlex Cuba - Agua Del Pozo

Quite some time ago, my wife and I ditched society and decided to spend the night out on my father's sailboat.  Not to go sailing, mind you, just to use it as a floating hotel.  We'd been working too hard, felt stressed and just wanted to get away.  The boat was the perfect place.  Just sleeping in a different place, out on the water, was rejuvenating.  The next morning as we awoke we heard the most amazing music; gentle, floating harmonies, lilting voices, angelic acoustic guitars.  That music brought us into the morning as the sun was rising.  Grabbing a cup of coffee, I asked the guy in the boat next door who that fantastic singer was.  Alex Cuba was his reply.

Alex Cuba is truly the new face of Latin soul.  Cuban by birth, but living in Canada, Alex Cuba's music is about as jovial and transcendent as you can imagine.  Alex's voice is smooth as the water was that early morning.  His music exudes a spiritual sense of harmony and purpose, and the melodies . . . ah, the melodies.

It doesn't matter where you drop the needle on this baby, you're going to find some simply moving Latin acoustic guitar dancing in and around a mellow Latin beat.  This isn't get up and dance, shake your "vida loca" music, Alex's music is deeply reflective, nearly sublime.  Sure it's all in Spanish, but it doesn't take a translator to express the sentiment of loss in "Lamento," or the reaching to the sky optimism of "Amor Infinito."   Emotion is emotion, truth is truth, and Alex Cuba is an artist very capable of finding that truth.  A simply gorgeous album.

buy here: Agua del Pozo

Devil's HaloMe'shell Ndegeocello - Devil's Halo

There are only a small handful of artists who's music I'll buy completely unheard.  Nothing more than a mention that there's a new album out and I'll get it.  Not only that, but I'll find all the extended mixes, buy the singles, and pray for a live bootleg to make it's way somewhere within my arm's reach.  Me'shell Ndegeocello is one such artist.  Ever since her stunning debut of roustabout feminist groove funk, Plantation Lullabies, I've been under Me'shell's spell, and never once has she failed to deliver.

Now, what does that last sentence really mean?  Have I loved unabashedly everything she's ever done? No, not really.  But I've never failed to respect it.  Meshell's not an artist willing to ever sit still.  After carving out two dynamite urban funk albums, she changed gears completely with the mellow somberness of Bitter, then launched herself into freeform jazz territory, always bringing her amazing, looping bass with her.  With this, her latest album, Me'shell once again refuses to be pigeonholed.

Mixing in tones of rock, ambient and even noise rock with her under belly of funk and soul, Me'shell has produced a devastating album of love lost and vulnerability.  Never before has she worn her heart so openly on her sleeve and so clearly bruised and bleeding.  Songs like "Mass Transit," bounce with a familiar Ndegeocello funk (you gotta dig her bass line and vocal phrasing) but even there, the song is sparser, more bare, nearly raw.  On other songs like "Slaughter," and "Lola" the pain is so thick it hangs like a funeral tapestry.  With lyrics like "Don't say you love me/I'll run away/my love will lead you to slaughter/if you see me coming, I'd run the other way," you know we're in for something intense.

And intense it is.  Through the ambient tones of "Tie One On," through the addiction spiral of "Lola" all the way to the ending "Crying in Your Beer," Me'shell has produced a captivating album that drips with the rawness of emotion.  And through it all, Me'shell's voice has never sounded better, smoother, more refined.  At times, her tone almost sounds like Sade, and that's meant as a high compliment, not an insult, as her tone works perfectly here.

Once again, Me'shell has mystified me.  Once again I'm captivated.

Buy here: Devil's Halo

Broken LightsBrookville - Broken Lights

This album took me entirely by surprise.  Don't know what I expected.  Maybe something bluesy, maybe something country-ish?  Not here.  Brookville play a mesmerizing blend of slow-to-mid-tempo, neo-jazzy modern rock.  Immediately names like Prefab Sprout popped into my mind (particularly on the male and female vocal interplay of "Break My Heart.").   Then came other names like The Blue Nile, Level 42, Aztec Camera, and Ripple favorites, The Philosopher Kings.  All great purveyors of mood and nuance.

And that's what we have here.  A beautiful album of mood and nuance.  Crystal clear guitars highlight the gentle tone, leaving tons of room for some of the lushest melodies you'll ever hear. "Happy" is anything but, a song dripping with the pain of deception and lies.  But you wouldn't know that from the melody.  It simply soars and floats, instantly catchy, instantly addictive.  "Great Mistake," follows suit with just a hint of more buoyancy in the lilting tempo, while the lyrics reach into the deepest realm of juxtaposition.  "If you really love me,  you would let me make the great mistake of leaving you."  One listen to the hypnotic melancholy of "Dreaming On," and I was hooked for life.

Andy Chase, the lead man in Brookville, has crafted an album more of tone than actual beat.  The darkness of a somber sky hangs over this album like a field of crushed and empty dreams.  But rather than being a downer, the pure melodicsm of Andy's writing keeps the album from ever becoming cliche, or melodramatic, or even a downer.  It's strange when an album of ambivalent love can come across so pleasant, but there you have it.  Not one to miss.

Buy here: Broken Lights

I've Been Here The LongestPuracane - I've Been Here the Longest

Chill out music is supposed to fill that late night gap after the clubs have closed but before the day has broken into full intensity.  When I think of chill out, or trip hop, I tend to think of bands like Massive Attack or Portishead.  And now I'll add Puracane to that list.

Essentially a duo, Puracane is a collaborative effort between composer/producer Juan Massotta and singer/lyricist Ali Rogers, and also combines the talents of Chris Lee on bass, Emilio Teubal on keyboards and Antonio"Uka" Gameiro on drums. Coming purely from the world of British trip-hop (Rogers has worked with Tricky among others), Puracane still manage to sound unlike any of their predecessors by incorporating some strong songwriting craft, actual singable melodies and some gentle R&B groove. Throughout the album, the rhythms have a steady consistency, which perfectly fits the songs' come-down-from-a-rough-night feeling.

From the first moment of undulating bass, to the very second that Ali adds her heavenly vocals, I can already feel the tension of my day melting away.  This isn't ambient, background music.  The bass, the melodies, the beat demand your attention, but in a groovy way.  Not a scream, just an insistence based on that groove.  That always present groove.  Fans of the above bands shouldn't miss this one.

Buy here: I've Been Here The Longest


Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Sunday Conversation with Dusted Angel

Inspired by a love of all things heavy, Woody takes the helm today, bring you a Sunday Conversation with Dusted Angel

First off, I love the name Dusted Angel. Who came up with it and what was the inspiration?

I came up with the name, but it took a while to stick. We named a song "Dusted Angel", and playing it kind of cinched the deal. Looking back in retrospect, I think the inspiration came from some crappy PCP experiences I had in Jr. High in the 70s.

Give us a little background on how Dusted Angel came together. How long has the band been together, who’s in it, what’s your home base, etc.

We live in Santa Cruz, California. Bill Torgorsen (BL'AST!), Scotty Stevens, Eliot Young, and Eric Feiber  started jamming, and a mutual friend, Keith Meek, hooked us up. I nearly soiled my trousers when I first heard them play. We have been together for one year. We recorded the 7" a month after we formed.

How would you describe the Dusted Angel sound? What bands have inspired your music?

Pure senior citizen aggression. A bunch of old dudes getting together and playing a Satanic "hodge-podge" of all the music we've ever loved, with a hearty dose of BL’AST! thrown in for bad measure!

Your debut 7” is out now on Corruption Records (2 songs on vinyl, 3 from iTunes). How did you hook up with that label?

Jason got hold of us, and wanted to do something, so we decided to start with a 7" (we've only been together for a year). It's been rad working with him, and we hope to do more.

What’s the response been to the record so far?

Pretty damn good!

Had you worked with Billy Anderson before? Were you a fan of the bands he’s worked with before (Sleep, High On Fire, Melvins, Mr. Bungle among many others)?

Billy recorded all the Spaceboy and Gargantula --I owe him my life. We are friends with, and fans of, most of the bands he's worked with, so it's just a natural, and logical place for us to be. The dude, kind of, kicks a little bit of ass!

How many songs does the band have? When can we expect a full length Dusted Angel album and on what formats (CD/LP/cassette)?

We have about 12 songs, and we are recording 3/8--3/18 with Phil Spector..., I mean Billy Anderson in Oakland and SF. Format wise, we're looking at limited 8-track, until we're able to throw it onto picture disc.

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

I don't own a record player, but I've always thought punk, and all heavy music sounds best on vinyl.

Dusted Angel has played with some really great bands and just played with Saint Vitus (1/29/10) in San Francisco. How was that show? What did you think of Saint Vitus now as opposed to 20+ years ago?

We've been fortunate in that department, for sure, but the "Vitus" thing kind of took the proverbial cake, so to speak! The last time I saw them was about 25 years ago, when BL’AST! played with them at the Anti Club. If this monumental event happens to take place in your neighborhood do not miss it....They are better than ever! It will give you the chills and blow your mind.

What’s the crowd like at your shows? Here in the NYC area I’ve noticed that there are a lot of under 21 and over 40 people into this style of music but not so much mid-20’s to 30’s.

I don't know...I need to shave my head. I've got to much hair, and I can't see a fuckin' thing.

What inspired you to originally get involved in making music?

The world as a whole.

How’s your hearing these days?

It's a little fucked up, but our drummer, Bill, was born too late, ... I mean deaf in one ear, and has to wear protective head -phones to protect what he's got left.

Who are some of your biggest musical inspirations? Favorite albums?

 Whatever band I'm standing in front of, that's blowing my mind, at any given time.

I’m a big BL’AST! fan but am completely ignorant of your other bands Gargantula and Spaceboy. Can you get me up to speed on them?

I'll send you some shit to check out. The unreleased Gargantula record is going to be released on Corruption/Relapse this summer.

Do you think Greg Ginn will ever re-issue and remaster the BL’AST! albums? Or any of the SST back catalog?

I don't know what the fuck they're doing, but they better send us a fucking statement!!

BL’AST! were a really heavy duty band in its time. Did you ever get resistance from the hardcore crowd for being too metal? Did the metal crowd think you were too punk?

 BL’AST! was pure resistance from the get go...we were to hyper-advanced for our own good. The more misunderstood our music was, the more it inspired us to fuck shit up.

What’s the most insane thing you ever witnessed from the stage at a BL’AST! show?

About 800 or so people fighting while we were playing at Fenders ball (brawl?) room in Long Beach. We never stopped playing when people fought, we don't let meatheads cut into our set time.

Did West coast promoters Goldenvoice ever try to pay you in marijuana after a show rather than cash?

No, but Gary Tovar put on the best shows in punk/metal history, as did Paul Rat in SF.

Were you surprised when bands like Fu Manchu started citing you as an influence?

No, we've been good friends with Scott since the Virulence days. Everyone influences everyone, that's just how the cookie of progression crumbles.

When did you notice bands starting to merge a hardcore punk attitude with more of a classic rock sound?

Speak of the Devil! I would have to say Fu Manchu and Kyuss were the first and most timeless and original examples.

What’s next for Dusted Angel?

A long nap.

Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Anything you’d like to add?


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Ripple News - Guitar not Guns to auction off Gibson Les Paul signed by Deborah Harry and Blondie

Guitars not Guns, the admirable charity that seeks to keep kids off the streets and in the practice and recording stuidos where they belong, have got a great auction going that should appeal to all fans of the charity, music, and especially Blondie.

GNG have set up an Ebay auction that will begin March 4, with all proceeds going to benefit the Contra Costa chapter of this great charity.A GIBSON LES PAUL STUDIO LITE  owned, played, toured, and donated by Blondie Guitarist Paul Carbonara AUTOGRAPHED BY DEBORAH HARRY AND the band BLONDIE!

Check out the link below and spread the word. Bid now and bid often! You get a great guitar, a great collectors piece, and a worthwhile charity gets a few bucks they could really use.

Check it out! -

$99 Opening Bid and No Reserve!
Ebay Charity Benefit Auction Saturday, March 13, 2010

Bidding opens Thursday,  March 4, 2010

Help support this wonderful charity and get a great guitar to boot!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Dark Age - Acedia

Now, I don’t want to come out and say that the melodic death metal of bands such as Dark Tranquility, Soil Work, or In Flames has been done the death, but there really have been few compelling moments over the past five years or so from this sub-genre to make my pulse rise above my resting heart rate. So, when a melodic death metal band’s album finds its way to the top of my desk, I generally give it a sideways glance, sigh a little bit, and begrudgingly insert the shiny little disc into the player expecting some tolerable, though unexciting music to drone away in the background for about an hour. The music is typically detuned and heavy, distorted, filled with abrasive vocals, but plodding and comprised with less than desirable dynamics to make me all that excited to be listening to it. However, this feeling suddenly changed as I gave Germany’s Dark Age a listen.

Acedia is a melodic death metal album that I found not only intriguing, but something that tickled my imagination to the point that I couldn’t stop listening to it, consistently immersing myself in the sounds as they swirled in a chaotic cloud through my head. Fusing those sounds that one might find from the whole Gothenburg movement, but adding heavier doses of goth-metal, and a few compelling chunks of dark wave, Dark Age have achieved the sound that I so desperately wanted to hear from the aforementioned masters of the genre. Acedia has become my own personal getaway vehicle, a means for me to slip into a semi-comatose state and vanish from my own reality and into a darkened fantastic world of pain, mental torture, and self sacrifice for the betterment of my own existence. Actually, that’s not really that far off from reality, but I think you get the point.

The album starts off well enough with a discordant musical intro that explodes into a shimmering display of incendiary debris. “Kingdom Nevercome” was the exact song that I needed at the absolute perfect time. Heavy in all that is metal, but laced with a delicate fiber that gives the song, and pretty much the entire album, the diversity and dynamics necessary to make it a gripping thrill ride. The vocals start off with a gruff and guttural quality, very reminiscent of the extreme metal of the day. However, once the song works its way to the chorus, that voice dramatically shifts to a beautifully clean texture, packed with melody . . . and the phrasing! Shit . . . it’s breath taking, addictive, and so damn endearing that I’ve woken every morning this week humming the song. On top of this song touching me in a musical sense, I’ve found the lyrics to be well conveyed, brimming with emotion, on the subject of working for naught . . . slaving away for someone else’s benefit at the sacrifice of one’s own ideals. Quite simply put, it’s a subject that I know all too well about and it feels pretty damn good to know that these guys have been there and walk the path so many of us do.

“Devote Yourself To Nothing” briskly follows the lead track with a bristling and heavy tune. As this song opens, I get a sense that I’ve heard a similar sound before, but not from the places one might think. Though the track is heavy as all get out, there’s a certain quality to it, a darkened melody that reminds me more bands like Depeche Mode or The Cure . . . but really fucking heavy! Again, the band finds themselves questioning all that they’ve believed in and ultimately deciding that the devotion to emptiness will save them from further pain and suffering. The music perfectly reflects the desolate view, though leaving the ever so slight crack in the door for the rays of light to shine through. Dark Age does a great job of combining an infectious melody with a brutally heavy groove, and with the addition of the poignant lyrical content, creates a moving song that plays wonders with the imagination.

For a different kind of wrinkle in the musical tapestry laid before us, Dark Age drops the hammer with “Neon Gardens.” Bursting out of the speakers with calculated metal power, this song adds a little bit of a twist the sonic delights that have assailed us for the first eight and a half minutes or so. The vocals, in particular, have a creepy nuance as they vibrate over the pulsing death riff of muted guitars, palpitating bass lines, and textural synths. Somewhat distorted in the mix, the vocals work to perfect through their mechanical delivery. Then, as the song opens up, the vocals explode with a violent characteristic quite similar to the delivery of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington. Say what you will about Linkin Park (I happen to love what they do), when they want to peel your face off, they do a fantastic job, and the same can be said with Dark Age. Mellow and melodic for just the right amount of time before showing the listener that these guys chew on rivets for breakfast.

Incorporating techno/electronica elements with huge metal movements on songs such as “Zeitgeist – Ghost in a Machine” and “10 Steps to Nausea” show that Dark Age are far from your typical melodic death metal outfit. What’s more impressive about these attempts is that these guys do it so damn well that the amalgamation of the various genres feels very natural. But don’t thinking that Acedia is suddenly about some morbidly accessible dance mix. Dark Age wraps up the album with what is possibly the heaviest song on the album while still fusing in huge doses of catchy choruses. And even while you’ll more than likely be singing along with these choruses, note that the lyrics, though not self deprecating, are somewhat defeatist and show that despite our best efforts, we’re doomed to spend our eternities buried in so much dirt.

As much as I love the escapism of this album, I love that the album rings with a chime of truth. Acedia is emotions worn on the shirtsleeves of Dark Age and, for once, the darkness and despair feel like emotions and states of mind being conveyed with honesty. Today is bleak, but tomorrow is going to be worse. Sure, it’s all a matter of perspective and how we approach our day to day lives. But doesn’t it feel good to revel in your own depression for a little while? Doesn’t it feel good to be a miserable cantankerous despot just for the hell of it? I think so. Though, I also know when enough is enough and realize that I won’t get anything done, no matter how futile such an endeavor might be, if I don’t buck up and be a happy camper. So, with that being said, Acedia is an escapist album for me, and one that I find enjoyable to no end. 

--  Pope JTE

buy here: Acedia