Thursday, May 31, 2012

JJ Project - "Bounce"

It’s taken me time to write about JJ Project because I’ve been enamored with them for the past week and a half, which led me to just watch them in awe and spazz over them (that and I got sick earlier this week, so I was pretty much useless after I put out my Inki recap). Even with just three proper songs on their EP, there was so much to digest, and so much happening. In a good way, of course, but a lot nonetheless. I think you’ve all caught on to the fact that yes, I like JJ project, despite half their EP being rap-centric.

The reason why I like them so much is because they’re convincing, because there is as much effortlessness in their execution as there is conviction. See, this is what I mean when I say that execution matters just as much as good material. While good material will take you places, equally competent execution will drive the point home.

And that effortlessness is really what you need for material as fun and straightforward as the songs on “Bounce”, because what these two guys do is give the otherwise thin JYP material some spring. Save all that soul for Miss A or half of the Wonder Girls -- I like my boybands jumping through hoops and fire like there’s no tomorrow. Not that JJ Project is technically a boyband, but then again, you can say the same about DBSK post-JYJ. Anyway. “Bounce” is what I’ve been looking for in a boygroup for a long time now -- effortlessly fun material, complete with literal jumping around stage. But at the same time, whether you watch them or not, the material is still brilliant, which instantly adds points to their score.

And really, the production on this EP is glorious -- almost reminiscent of what JYP did to “Wonder World”, which was epic in every way imaginable, the only difference is that while the Wonder Girls were sophisticated and crisp, and JJ project gave the material just that much more grit and spunk.

Bounce”, the song, is all over the place. One minute you have rap verses, the next you have singing over a hip-hop loop, then out no nowhere this rock part comes up. In all honesty, if I wasn’t so used to the stunning “Rising Sun” and “O - Jung. Ban. Hap.”, I’d find it strange. And let's face it, it's not the world's most amazing and ground-breaking song either, However, two things make this song so right -- the fact that I have background in K-Pop, which eliminates all shock, and the fact that, again, the two of them carry the song so well, with the right amount of everything. And by everything, I really mean everything -- from intensity and conviction, all the way down to grace and effortlessness. Honestly, and I know you’ll all probably kill me for the corny pun, but the only way to accurately describe “Bounce” is that is has bounce. Literally. Good choice of title, JYP.

Bounce” and “Hooked” remind me so much of pre-DBSK boyband material brought to the present, where we have all these fancy new recording equipment. The basics are all there though -- the rapping, the singing, the song structure, and even the melodies and chord progressions themselves.

Hooked” is my favorite of the three, but I can honestly say that I love this entire EP as much as I love the songs individually, and this favoritism is more a personal preference than it is a technical one. The melody is gorgeous, the hook is catchy yet ridiculously subtle (did you even notice it?), and the rapping is so much more bearable than all the other acts I’ve heard over the years. It’s so 2005/2006 Rain/Se7en in the way it’s “Hip-Hop”. The song as a whole is slightly heavier than “Bounce”, but the effortlessness is different in “Hooked”. It’s like the difference between dark and milk chocolate -- while they’re both really good, dark chocolate is a lot heavier to the taste.

Honestly, if we were talking of just melodic parts, the ones on “Before This Song Ends” are my favorite. Backed by as epic as an instrumental as you can get from techno, the melodies are really flow-y and absolutely stunning, and Suzy sounded great as well. Although, what I didn’t like with the song is how even JJ Project’s execution couldn’t hold the song together. I mean, they did it with the same amount of conviction and effortlessness as the rest of the EP, and that part shows in the song, but the structure itself is very disjointed, even more than “Bounce”. Add that to the fact that the hook was deliberately made repetitive, and you have something that only really sounds good at a club or in large, open spaces, not at home, through your headphones. Although, may I say that it’s effective in being a clubby, and that’s basically the point of the song.

I know I said the Shinhwa album was the best release of the year so far, but I’m afraid they’ll have to relinquish that throne to JJ Project. JYP may have had a lot of blunders over the years, most of which I refuse to acknowledge anymore out of shame, but when he gets it right, he really gets it right. Because this, my friends, is how you handle a debut -- by going full steam ahead, carrying actual talent and bucketfuls of conviction.


Stone Axe - Captured Live at Roadburn

If you've been reading any of the stuff I drone on & on about here on Ripple then you know that I'm really, really into live albums. The first thing I ever submitted to the blog here was a review of Grand Funk's Live Album. I've written up rock classics like Tokyo Tapes by Scorpions, Motorhead's No Sleep Til Hammersmith and Iron Maiden's Maiden Japan. James Brown, Otis Redding and Booker T & The MG's concerts have also been drooled all over. So when it was announced that Stone Axe was putting out a live album recorded at last years Roadburn festival in Holland I told the Ripple bosses that I need to get first crack at reviewing it.

The cover of Captured Live! takes inspiration from Grand Funk's overlooked Caught In The Act double live album and the opening instrumental "Stonin'" brings to mind the footstompin music of Grand Funk at their pinnacle. Stone Axe makes great records, but guitarist Tony Reed usually plays most of the instruments. Live, bassist Mike DuPont and drummer Mykey Haslip blaze a full on heavy rock groove like few others can these days. Damn, these guys are tight! Tony's guitar sounds great and he's equally adept at cranking out killer riffs and blazing solos. Frontman Dru Brinkerhoff is in great voice and great spirits and gets the crowd rocking. Good singing', good playin' indeed.

In the 70's it was normal to put out a live album after 3 studio records, but to date Stone Axe has only released 2 full lengths. However, they've done enough singles and EP's that they're not breaking any major rules. The Captured Live! CD contains 14 songs and the vinyl has 9. The vinyl sounds especially great. Double vinyl would be my preference but I know how expensive that shit is to manufacture. The CD sounds killer, too, and will be a hell of a lot easier to play in your car. The all killer no filler set list includes crowd favorites like "On With The Show," "Black Widow" and "We Still Know It's Rock 'N' Roll." Stone Axe show no quarter on the incredible "Skylah Rae" and will have you fogging up your bedroom or van accordingly. There's a reason why most bands don't put out live albums anymore - because they're not that good live. Stone Axe aren't able to do extensive touring so do yourself a favor and pick this up and see what you've been missing.


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Laike - Långt Från Stadslivets Dån

It had been a long, slow decline.  When my writing career first took off I would sit down to write and the words would burst forth from my mind.  It was as if they were drawn from me by some benevolent literary force.  Thoughts and creative ideas came to me effortlessly and in great abundance.  At times my fingers could not type fast enough to efficiently put ink to digital paper.  Those were good times.  If only they would have lasted a little longer.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when the decline in my productivity began.  Wait, yes I can!  Everything took a turn for the worse the instant I moved from my small town to the big city.  At the time I believed that being part of a large metropolis would grant me access to a wider range of human emotion and experience.  My hope was that this exposure would broaden my creativity, taking my writing to places I couldn’t even fathom.  And for a brief while it did.  I was having a ball meeting people and visiting strange and exciting new places.  The big city was vast and bustling, and it never slept.

Unfortunately, city life very quickly overwhelmed me.  The first few times I missed a personal writing deadline I was able to explain the problem away using convincing excuses.  So what if I slipped past the deadline I set for myself?  The article/short story/chapter was always finished before the actual deadline set by my publisher or agent.  I just needed a new computer that could run the latest word processor, or a faster internet connection that would allow me to do research more quickly.  The problem was always superficial.

Time marched on and my productivity kept dropping further and further away from my previous heights.  Finally, I hit rock bottom.  I sat staring at my computer screen, hands on my keyboard, but the words would not come.  My mind had become so busy, so filled with nonsense, that I couldn’t write anything.  I tried to focus in on what I wanted to convey but my inability to concentrate doomed me to failure.  My thoughts derailed themselves at every possible junction.  City life and the noise produced within its borders had made me mentally soft.  There was only one thing to do.

The next morning I packed my bags, gassed up my car, and drove to the most remote, sparsely populated area I could find.  When I exited my car I was stunned.  The silence was deafening!  Having become used to the constant noise of the big city it took me a few days before I could even pick out pleasant sounds such as a birdcall or the wind rustling through the surrounding foliage.  For a moment I was afraid I had somehow contracted tinnitus because there was a constant buzzing in my ears.  When I had effectively emptied my brain of all the useless distractions I had picked up however, that ringing disappeared.  Essentially, I had gone back to nature and I felt pure in a way I hadn’t for some time.

Not wanting to push my luck, I chose to leave my computer unplugged.  I was all in on this new venture and that meant that instead of a keyboard I would use a pad of paper and a pen.  Every day, about nine or ten in the morning, I would take a seat on the front porch of my rented abode and write.  Miraculously I found that I could focus again!  My thoughts formed in a neat and orderly fashion inside my mind!  The act of writing, which in my city days had become more a chore than anything else, was fun again!  I was free to be myself once more!

Days turned into weeks.  Weeks turned into months.  I filled twenty notebooks with my writing.  I went through eleven pens and fifteen pencils.  The only reason I plugged my computer in was to transcribe my writings so they could be submitted to my agent.  I lost contact with almost every person whom I met in the big city.  Truth be told, I never should have moved there in the first place.

Well, well.  What do we have here?  What could it possibly be?  I’ll let you in on the secret waveriders.  I’ve just listened to a magnificent album that serves as irrefutable evidence in the fight against people who say ‘they don’t make ‘em like they used to’.  While that proclamation may indeed ring true when talking about the specifics of how an album is recorded or mixed, the spirit from every musical era remains.  All one has to do to test this is open their ears and listen.  Let’s take that aforementioned album, Långt Från Stadslivets Dån by the band Laike, and use it to illustrate what I’m talking about.

Do you like to listen to folk rock that originated in the 1970s?  Me too.  Is it safe for me to assume that you have not heard a new recording which reminded you of that folk rock in years?  I thought so.  One last question.  Can you think of a present day band that features flute?  No, Jethro Tull does not count.  Don’t worry.  I couldn’t produce an answer when I asked myself the same question.  Enter Laike.  This band is basically a one man project.  That man, whose name is Christofer Stahle, is a Swedish musician who has been actively playing music for more than a decade.  According to the information provided on his bandcamp page, the Laike project began about a year and a half ago with the intention of being an outlet for the songs Mr. Stahle was producing by himself with no timetable attached.  He composed all of the songs and then brought in whichever of his musician friends was required to complete his vision.

If these songs are a true indicator of what can be produced over time in a low stress environment, let me say that I think many other musicians should think long and hard about jumping on the bandwagon.  Wow!  This is one of those albums waveriders that immediately clicked for me.  I’ve held off on writing down my formal opinion simply because I wasn’t exactly sure how much gushing would be involved.  In the end, it’s going to be a lot of gushing.

The first song on Långt Från Stadslivets Dån, “Modeslavarnas Marsch”, will effortlessly whisk you away from your present day troubles and place you in an easygoing yet energetic 70s state of mind.  A quick point of order folks.  The vocals on this album are in Swedish.  If you demand your lyrical content to be in English, this is not the album for you.  Also, while I don’t speak Swedish I am reasonably sure that these lyrics will not translate into ‘Hail Satan’ or some other metal-like ‘Kill Everything’ statement.  Then again, that’s just a guess on my part.  Moving on.

While it is certainly true that all of the songs on this album fall into the folk-rock category in one fashion or another, there is a significant amount of variety on offer here.  The title track “Långt Från Stadslivets Dån” has a real joyous, infectious energy.  “Ensamhetens Borg” is a very pretty song with different effects used on the vocals and instrumentation that make it ethereal.  “Gladiatorkamp” is about as close to a folk-rock funk song as you can get.  The influence of the six months Mr. Stahle spent living in Shanghai is most evident during the last half of “Bygger Stegar Upp Till Himmelen”, where the song transforms into what to my ears sounds like a musical/spiritual meditation.  “Du är Mer än Vad Jag Ser” really increases the folksiness with some wonderful violin work all throughout the song.  I could go on, but I think by this point you all have wrapped your heads around what I’m trying to get across.

Christofer Stahle’s Laike is truly something for your ears to behold waveriders.  A sonic gem!  If you like folk-rock the way it sounded in the 1970s then you need to drop everything and obtain this album right now.  I guarantee that your mind will be blown away!  As for everyone else, maybe you need a break from all that metal/hard rock/hip hop/pop/country that you’re listening to at the moment?  Laike is just what the doctor ordered.  Just don’t blame me when you find yourself not wanting to go back to your usual listening haunts.


Listen And Buy Here-

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Ripple Field Trp - Origin & Decrepit Birth: May 12, 2012 Studio 7 Seattle

I attended this show on the eve of Mother’s Day, so I just want to take a moment to recognize what moms do for us.  Sure enough, at this show I saw a mom who had brought 3 boys, looked like early teens, and this poor lady was the definition of long suffering.  You could tell that she was not enjoying herself in any way, yet she was there for them, to make sure they were able to enjoy themselves.  I don’t know if she was mom to all 3, but I hope that which ever of them were her sons that they took care of her on Mother’s Day.

This was actually one of those shows that I rant against.  They happen a lot here in Seattle, and probably just about everywhere that metal shows take place.  My problem is with a show that starts at 4 in the afternoon because there are, like, 9 bands on the bill.  I love metal, and that is too much for me.  So show promoters, take note.  Three or four really good bands on a bill is much better than three or four good bands, but you have to wade through 4 or 5 shitty bands to get there, and maybe you don’t make it and you go home, but you remember who put that show on and you don’t go to any more shows from that promoter.

By the time Decrepit Birth took the stage, I was ready.  They were 3rd to last, so I had waited through some not so enjoyable music.  Decrepit Birth totally delivered.  I’m not going to pretend that I’m a massive fan and know their discography forward and backward.  But I do like these guys a lot and their performance just increased my liking of this band.  Very solid, very well performed, great at working the crowd and excellent at melting faces.  Heavy death metal band that completely brings it in a live setting.  If you haven’t seen these guys before, get out and see a show soon, especially if you love you some death metal.

Origin, the headliner, put together a very solid performance as well.  Again, don’t know every song inside and out so I can’t tell you exactly what the set list was, but that’s why God invented the interwebs anyway, silly.  I had seen Origin once before a few years ago at a tiny little club in Tacoma, and I have to say that they seem to be much more together now.  Origin are all about technical death metal, so there is a lot of music that goes by in a blur.  They play fast, they play loud, and they play well.  Totally dug their set and left the venue very satisfied.

If I had to choose, I’d give a slight nod to Decrepit Birth because they were really on and really got the crowd into it, but it was a great show all the way around.  And I must give a tip of the cap to the venue, Studio 7 in Seattle.  They have a great sound system and always have sound guys who are on their game, which can make all the difference in a smaller venue.


Monday, May 28, 2012

Kenny Olson Cartel - S/T

This one I shoulda seen coming.  

If I'd only read the credits before I popped the CD in, I wouldn't a been so surprised.  Right there, in the "Thanks" section were all the clues I needed that this, Kenny Olson dude, wasn't just some regular guy.  First name I saw was Billy Cox.  Former Hendrix player.  That's cool.  But it doesn't stop there.  The Hendrix Family.  Hmmm.  Not Jimi, as in "for inspiration" but a direct thanks to the Hendrix family.  Does this cat know them?   Eddie Kramer?  What   Who is this guy?

Turns out Kenny Olson does know those folks, and more, and more importantly, he's someone we should all know as well.  Just pop over to his website and you'll find glowing endorsements from Paul Rogers, Keith Richards, Santana, and James Hetfield.  He's the former lead guitarist for Kid Rock and played for the Hendrix family on the Experience Hendrix tours.  He's played on albums by Kid Rock, Billy Cox, Sheryl Crow, Hank Williams Jr, R.L. Burnside, Five Horse Johnson, Bif Naked. Even Run DMC. 

So what does all that mean for us? 

It means we got a killer album of fiery blues-fueled rock terrors with a bucketful of Motown soul and a heart as mean as the Motor City.  From flaming blues numbers like "Rebel with a Cause" to heavy-psych metal explosions like "Loaded" to steamy ZZ-Top-inspired barnburners like "Up All Night" all the way to heartfelt/heart-lost ballads like "Can't Feel,"  Kenny Olson Cartel is about as solid a debut as I'd heard in years.  Guests pop in and out, like Billy Cox on bass, and the sinister cool vocals of Tantric's Hugo Ferreira without ever overwhelming the show.  Nor does the steady rotation of lead vocalists steal from the consistency of the album. 

But I gotta say that Kenny taking the microphone himself for the heart-rendering, self-revelation song of "Phoenix Will Rise," steals the show for me.  Not that he's the strongest vocalist here, he's not.  But when you listen to the lyrics and realize the dude is pouring his heart out from the doorstep of his own demise, it's some powerful shit.  He prayed for an angel.  And she came, pulling him from the abyss. 

All the way through the band is tight as a bankers sphincter, and Kenny's guitar flies in multicolored and many-textured hues.  Heavy, bluesy, psychedelic and pure, out-and-out, unadulterated rock.  "Water" kicks in the killer deep textured vocals of Paris Delane to produce a flat-out rockin' new gospel standard.  "Sweet Rosie's" works as rock or blues with the singing of Brandon Calhoun, while "Left Sock" leans toward the funky and quasi-rap of his brother Kid Rock, for a jaunty, just-got-paid blast of fun.  "Heaven on Earth" is pure soul and blues, percolating with sex and slippery fluids.  "2B or Not 2B" takes the rap/rock/blues to the extreme with a terrorizer of bluesy metal with a speed vocal delivery.  "Psychedelic Lap Dance," is a five-minute plus instrumental guitar orgy with full-on slippery happy ending.   Jimi woulda been proud. 

Yep.  When the CD first arrived.  I'd never heard of Kenny Olson before.

You better believe I've heard of him now.


Corey Koehler - Never too Late

Another album that I've had forever that somehow has never been reviewed.  Well, not forever, but well over a year.  Must have listened to this album 15 times.  It's one of my go-to albums for certain moods.  Something rootsy, bluesy, singer-songwriter-y.  You know, something harder than my normal Cat Stevens, but not heavy rock.  Something earthy and powerful, yet acoustic-based.  Real authentic, country-tinged rock.

Yes, Corey Koehler is my go-to guy.

In truth, I don't know much about this cat, but I remember exactly how I got ahold of this little treasure.  I was scouting out websites/blogs to send our own Ripple releases to for review and press.  I don't recall which site Corey ran, but when I wrote him, he told me he was done with the site to concentrate on his music.  One thing led to another and the album was downloaded into my iPhone.

Where it's been ever since.

Let me re-emphasize that last sentence.  At the Ripple we get hundreds, sometimes thousands of submissions each month.  My iPhone is only a 16G.  That means I regulate the music on my phone like crazy.  Nothing stays on my phone (except Ripple bands) because I have to constantly be clearing space to download the next group of albums I need to review.

But Corey Koehler has been there for over a year.  And I plan on keeping him there.

First, is Corey's voice.  Thick and earthy, rough and textured, yet still smooth and killer emotive.  It's a voice that caught me right away.  And after listening to this album, I still haven't found a good comparison voice.  Sometimes I think Darius Rucker from Hootie and the Blowfish.  Don't let that turn you off.  Whether you liked Hootie or not, Darius had one helluva voice.  And so does Corey.

Next is the tone.  With that acoustic guitar strumming away, these songs rock to a good, steady beat.  Slide guitar tones fill the spaces perfectly, adding that electric flavor over the strum of the acoustic.  The slide gives each song a country grounding, but this isn't country.  It's just solid, earthy rock.  No boring, maudlin acoustic slow jams here.  Even the ballad, "Take this Ring" keeps me mesmerized with it's steady acoustic strum and heart-felt pleadings for a lifetime of love. 

Finally, we got the songs.  "Change the World" is a steady-rocking call for action.  A fight against apathy.  "You wanna change the world, you can't stand by/And just so you know man, it starts inside."  Corey's voice simply floats through this rebel wake-up call.  I've played this cut for lots of folks, including Pope, and it's captured each of us.  A should-be hit. 

"On My Way" follows next with the acoustic picking and slide intro.  Another call for action, a step away from the complacency of getting stuck in life.  This time, more personal focused on Corey's own feelings of resurrection.  Another killer melody, and sing-along perfect, which leads right into the already mentioned "Take this Ring."  A song so sincere in its emotion, you can almost hear Corey's voice choking back the tears.  "Minnesota Got Colder," is an ode to a lost brother.  "One Step at a Time," is a character sketch like Jim Croce used to write.  In fact, "One Step," boogies along with such an easy groove, I bet Jim would be proud.

"Perfect Ten" and "All the Girls" bring us to an end with a wry smile.  In "Perfect Ten" Corey chuckles as he realizes that his search for the perfect girl is just a fantasy while in "All the Girls" Corey gives one final middle finger to all the women who've broken his heart over the years.  Both songs perfectly are perfectly crafted and cook along over the beat of Corey's strummed acoustic.  Easily, I can hear these played live on a hot summer day, on a deck over looking a lake.  Cold beer in hand.

I don't really know where Corey stands with his career or goals, but damn if he hasn't put together one of those earworm records I can't stop listening to.  Check out his website if you want to hear it or track me down.  Ask me to pull out my iPhone.  Corey Koehler will be there.


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Arjen Anthony Lucassen - Lost In The New Real

A major player in the progressive scene for years now, it should come as no surprise that I found Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s Lost In The New Real to be a major event. Few can boast the creativity and open minded approach to song writing that Arjen takes with each one of his projects, whether it be Ayreon, Star One, Stream of Passion (for their debut), or Guilt Machine just to name a few. Following his return to Star One with 2010’s Victims of the Modern Age, and going even a bit further with the last Aryeon album 0101101 in 2008, one could sense it was time for a directional change. Another progressive metal album would surely have been eagerly accepted by his fans, but I believe it would have been a bit flat, considering how many times we have been down that road before. Fortunately Arjen seems to have felt the same, because what we have here is a metal album for only precious few moments at a time. Instead, as the awesome cover art and psychedelic album design suggests, this is a progressive rock album that pays direct homage (not just influenced by, I mean direct homage) to The Beatles. Many of the song structures found here sound as if they were taken from a forgotten Beatles warehouse somewhere and given a modern day production. Other moments draw inspiration from Pink Floyd and even Jethro Tull, but the overall effect is that of a Beatles album, and a fantastic one at that.

Normally Arjen is content to bring in various vocalists and allow them the spotlight while he hammers out his riffs and some backing vocals here and there, but not this time. This is the first of his albums that I can recall where Arjen has opted to be his own front man and handle the leads (a spot often reserved for Russell Allen and Damien Woodsen), and this is the perfect album to do so. Arjen’s vocals have a 60’s vibe to them (as displayed on Into the Electric Castle when he played The Hippie), with a softer tone that blends into harmonies perfectly, and Lost in the New Real displays this quality. There are some excellent backing vocals from Wilmer Waarbroek (a singer/songwriter), but nothing nearly as involved as what has been done on previous albums. The other notable contribution in the spoken department is the narration, handled by Dutch actor Rutger Hauer. I am generally not a fan of narrations or interludes on albums, as I feel they are often handled clumsily and detract rather than add to the overall product, however this is the exception. Rutger’s form of speech creates an absolutely perfect sense of detachment from reality, making it that much easier to slip into the story as it unfolds. Arjen also did the album a favor by creating each segment to be a part of its respective song, not an additional track, and also by making them worthwhile (not so long as to detract from the actual music, nor so short that it becomes a pointless waste of time).

The story of Lost in the New Real is that of a man who has opted for cryofreeze in order to survive a terminal illness, and his awakening in the future in a world that is now alien to him. By itself there is nothing new here with this story, but the success of this album is the way Arjen uses this concept as a starting point to delve into concepts that are much closer to reality than what we want to believe. Each song introduces a different aspect of this “New Real” that the man must face, and expertly inserts the moral ramifications that come with it. Perhaps better than any of Arjen’s works before it, with the exception of my personal favorite Universal Migrator Pt.1, The Dream Sequencer, Lost in the New Real presents a science fiction story that is easily identifiable and personable for the listener, and it is that strength that makes it one of his best works. Lurking within the whimsical and often tongue in cheek lyrics are moments and ideas that make you pause and reflect, and in my case fill me with trepidation at just how close we are to this reality.

I could spend pages discussing each song and the feelings they provoked, but doing so would eliminate a large part of the surprise factor and take away the joy of discovery. Instead I will try to go over the highlights of the album for me. Opener The New Real is perhaps the more traditional Ayreon track featured, with heavy use of effects to create tension and mystery. The use of flute gives it a Jethro Tull moment, though I also see some Pink Floyd influence in this one. Pink Beatles in a Purple Zeppelin is Beatles through and through, with a bouncy melody that belies the sad message of the lyrics involving the state of music and where we are heading on our current path. Parental Procreation Permit is a dark and brooding tune, suitable for the subject matter involving this realities answer for over population. E-Police was the first single, and therefore the first track I heard from the album, and honestly at the time it did not leave much of an impression. Fortunately, with album in hand and given the proper amount of time, I now feel it is one of the best tracks. A straight forward rocker, the lyrics convey a musician’s perspective on how digital media is removing the human element from music and reducing it to just another commodity, and personally I find this to be completely true. “I remember the old ways, sharing files on the Net, reducing this world to a dull and selfish place” is a sharp and stingingly true critique on our generation, not just in regards to music but to all of our desires as a whole. Dr. Slumber’s Eternity Home once again uses the classic Beatles style to contradict a scenario where retirement homes are places that employ the Dr. Kevorkian method of assisted suicide for population control. Where Pig’s Fly is a funny take on the idea of alternate realities, drawing from various pop culture figures with laugh out loud results. Finally, the closing title track brings everything full circle with a finale that takes all of these ideas and brings them to a head with the final question being answered in surprising fashion. Don’t Switch Me Off and Yellowstone Memorial Day are both enjoyable tracks as well, but to my ears are less interesting than their peers.

Arjen Anthony Lucassen has created more music than almost any other artist in the genre that you can name, but with Lost in the New Real I believe he has created his most organic and personable album yet. He wears his influences proudly on his sleeve, and is at his finest lyrical form. If I were to hand anyone new to his work an album, this would undoubtedly be the one I reached for and I have no doubt they would be hooked. Sure to make the majority of top 10 lists this year, Lost in the New Real is a success on virtually every level.

--Audio Renaissance

Originally written for

[May 27, 2012] SBS Inkigayo Highlights + Commentary

I've made it out alive! Another week of complete music core recaps -- congratulate me! :D I quite like the current line-up, it has the right mix of good, bad, and in-betweens, and a lot of them to boot! We wrap up a complete comeback week for G.NA and B1A4, as well as debut week for VIXX and JJ Project. All our regulars are also in attendance -- TaeTiSeo, EXO-K, SISTAR and Infinite, among others.

*Recaps for VIXX and Dalmatian will follow in the next few hours.

Video credit goes to shu35151229 and Thanh Nam.

VIXX - "Super Hero"
To follow...

JJ Project - "Bounce"
See -- a little enthusiasm goes a very, very long way. Though their Music Bank performance was still the most technically strong of all their debut stages, I still think that this is easily one of the best debuts I've seen since I got into K-Pop, simply because these two were made to be on stage. Breathlessness will always chase them, but apart from a few parts here and there, they're handling it very well -- and even rapping in mid-air! They carry the song extremely well, they move with both grace and firmness, and they show exactly how much they enjoy being on stage, and prove how much they deserve it. They have, single-handedly, reminded me of why I went into K-Pop in the first place.

Hello Venus - "Venus"
Another consistent performance today, and apart from the overpowering backing track which SBS is legendary for (in the bad way, obviously), everything else was in-check. Boring around the edges, but consistent, at least.

Before they started singing the verses, I was ready to say that maybe their way of showing their so-called "passion" was too concentrated on their facial expressions, so much so that it no longer looks effortless. But then when the first guy started singing, I stopped trying to make excuses for them. How many weeks have these guys been promoting? Why do they still look so uninterested and confused? Again, I make exceptions for debut stages because from experience, going from rehearsal rooms to broadcast stations with dozens of cameras in every possible direction is confusing, but after debut week they should be over all this confusion. I really don't get it, because everyone says that "oh they have so much passion, oh they're such good performers", but I don't see it, because they sure don't move like it.

B.A.P. - "Power"
I don't know if I just wasn't paying enough attention yesterday, but today's performance sounds a bit flat. Their presence is still there, but during their last few performances, their delivery of the song alone made me want to watch the rest of their performance -- that didn't happen today.

B1A4 - "Baby Good Night"
Not only is the chorus extremely anticlimactic, it's also ridiculously cheesy and weak, which is why even the so-so verses can't make up for it. What makes it even worse is that they sound horrible live, because they can neither sing the melody or the harmony properly. Another example of okay performers and so-so singers being ruined by bad A&R. I don't know about you, but it definitely won't be a good night if I heard this song before I slept.

Dalmatian - "E.R."
The sub-par SBS sound is of absolutely no help to Dalmatian's case. The belting at the chorus was stronger than I thought it would be, which is good, but apart from that the rest of the song is like a jumble of whispers to me, not singing. Their presence is okay, but nothing special, and they, as a whole, are very generic.

A Pink - "Hush"
Pretty strong vocals, considering that it's A Pink, but I'm afraid even that isn't enough to make me like the song even a bit. (A)Cube just keeps screwing up this year, and I'm beginning to lose my patience for them.

G.NA - "Summer Star" + "2Hot"
It pains me to think that while comeback week for G.NA is finally over, we still have a good three or four weeks of her degradation to watch. I don't know if I can take that much. She's starting to get the hang of the ballad (ever to slightly -- it's only painful 80% of the time now compared to the 100% last Friday), but that's a very minuscule improvement compared to what could have been. In case Cube hasn't gotten the picture yet, I meant that they should've given her a better song, because this really is a joke. Please tell me I'm dreaming.

Infinite - "The Chaser"
And this, my friends, is how you do class on a mid-line budget. Get a distinct song, use the best production you can, and deliver it well with style and fluidity. This is proof that you don't need to be high-budget to be classy, because at the end of the day, majority of the sophistication comes from the performers themselves. And Infinite has class.

SISTAR - "Alone"
Let this be a lesson to girl groups everywhere -- please, if you're going to be cheap, you might as well go all the way. Don't try to hide it behind a flimsy "sophisticated" facade, because you'll end up like SISTAR. They may have a few talented members here and there, but that all went down the drain when their cheap material and stage mannerisms ruined it.

SNSD (Taeyeon, Tiffany, Seohyun) - "Twinkle"(WINNER)
Seohyun just needs to work on her release. She's like an un-iced cake right now -- she has all the technique and she's pretty much good to go, but she could be a lot better. And, icing also allows the cake to adapt to whatever occasion it's for -- Seohyun doesn't have conviction in her flexibility as a singer like Taeyeon does. Otherwise, another strong performance

Be'lakor - Of Breath and Bone

BE’LAKOR is considered n. 1 melodic death metal band from Australia, despite the young age of its members. ‘Of Breath and Bone’ is BE’LAKOR‘s 3rd album, following the huge success of the previous ‘Stone’s Reach’, that led the band to play big international festivals like Summer Breeze 2010 in Germany (the band is re-confirmed for Summer Breeze 2012) and to tour Europe with single shows in Portugal and UK.

The track listing is as follows:

Absit Omen
To Stir the Sea
In Parting
The Dream and Waking
By Moon and Star

 The song "Abeyance" stirs one to immediately envision Vikings and cold, snow covered lands with blonde raiders in tattered beards. Then it brings you forth to the strains of a modern sound from the frozen lands of salmon and Ikea. A nice bit of Pro and Harmony with a dash of moody, odd tempo goodness to keep your head nodding until the next musical saga unfolds.

 "Remnants" opens up like a crisp winter chill and builds into a chaotic pre-dawn attack by apposing forces. Then comes the counter attack by the angered tribe. A casual walk through the battlefield, to gather the spoils of the attackers failed attempt, only to pursue them with anger and retribution in mind.

 "Fraught" starts of like a modern emo sounding ditty that then crashes into a driving delivery that leaves one nodding and enjoying the guitar play. The time changes and instrumental interplay will keep you very interested while the “Growling in earnest” vocals will satisfy the overlord within you all.

 "Absit Omen" opens a melancholy mood of a returning war party to the news of a fate befallen an entire village. The riffs and beat changes are well thought out and play well to the whole of the song and is refreshing to hear a well crafted song done, as this one is.

 "To Stir the Sea" begins tragically in context with acoustic guitars and synths building a song scape that hands you into the following song.

 "In Parting" picks up from To Stir the Sea and carries on with an almost somber note of an impending split from either the company of a loved one or, one’s own existence.
Around halfway through, the acoustic guitars return with the melancholy refrain and are scuttled with a rapid attack of drums and guitars, with a bass line tucked noticeably, but just under the mix to differ the direction of the focus of the intended result. A haunting piano joins the gathering to remind the listener that this is not a love song and by now, you are left glad the band did not go there.

 "The Dream and the Waking"takes one musically through a dream-like state, with all it’s twists, turns and surprises. This is a well crafted song that does not rush for the sake of a “Better part”, as it is a song that is construed as a better part in continuum.

  "By Moon and Star" invokes a scene of a sea bound armada, navigating it’s way to a battle of destiny on the Nordic seas.

 In summary, for a bunch of guys from Australia, they seem to be channeling their long lost Viking descendants and in a very fresh and creative way.
 This the bands’ third release is worth the purchase and many a play in whatever format you chose to buy it in.


--Big Dude

Saturday, May 26, 2012

[May 26, 2012] MBC Music Core Highlights + Commentary

I don't know what it is with Saturdays, but up until just now, I wasn't planning on writing a recap. But then I realized that if I didn't write one, I'd just bum around the house, complaining about how bored I am and how my laptop is overheating because it's so hot. So, here I am. Debut week continues for JJ Project and VIXX, as well as comeback week for G.NA. Quite a few absences today from She'z, A Pink and F.Cuz, but Girls' Day are on again.

Video credit goes to shu35151229.

VIXX - "Super Hero"
So I listened to their EP after yesterday's show, and material-wise, I'm actually starting to like these guys! It's very Infinite-esque without being a complete rip-off -- classy in the low-budget kind of way, but classy nevertheless. Their vocals are okay for a rookie group, nothing special, (and what the hell was that rap part and why was the guy's voice cracking left and right?) but if they can work on that and at the same time sustain their good material, that would be great. I'm keeping my eye on them for now.

JJ Project - "Bounce"
One of the best parts of my "job" is when I get to watch, and talk about, groups like JJ Project. Seriously, they're probably the only rookie group since I got into K-Pop, that has managed to make me smile within five seconds of stepping on stage. Their stage presence is really, really strong, and even if it's what the song requires, they genuinely look like they're enjoying themselves, and that turns into fluidity and sophistication. Today's performance was a lot shakier than yesterday's, but their foundations were still firm, which is what's important at this stage. JB looked really distracted during his solo parts, which I find strange. He has to fix that by tomorrow, because the more he does it, the more it will stick.

Hello Venus - "Venus"
This is the point where their performances start to bore me, not necessarily because of the group themselves because when I actually watched the performance they were pretty much all spot-on, but because the song itself was never really that good. It was okay, and considering the circumstances it was released in I had no qualms about it, but once all that wears off and you're left with just the song, and girls who aren't the world's best performers -- it gets boring.

I'm still really bothered by the fact that K is still so robotic when they perform. Like, fine, put it down to nerves when they first debuted, but it's been over a month already, the nerves should have settled long ago. Seriously, I stand by my statement that whether or not they really do enjoy the stage, they sure don't show it.

Dalmatian - "E.R."
Aaaand the whispering is back. Things were looking up for you, Dalmatian, why did you have to go in and ruin it? Today's performance was right in between "okay" and "painful", so one more performance like this and you guys are off my "to watch" list.

Girls' Day - "Oh! My God"
The best compliment I can give Girls' Day at this point is that I prepared a barf bag specially for their performance today, because seriously -- the combination of the girls and the song, and basically everything about this song, makes me want to puke.

G.NA - "Summer Star" + "2Hot"
"Summer Star" and "2Hot" are complete disasters, again. No surprise there, seeing as this entire promo cycle is a joke.

Infinite - "The Chaser"
Their performances just keep getting stronger and stronger every time. Stage presence, check, stable vocals, check, fluid movement, check, and group dynamic, check. It's such a joy to watch performances like this, because instead of complaining about every single detail I can just sit back and genuinely enjoy them.

SISTAR - "Alone"
A few seconds in, the YT video of this I was watching muted. Was that a sign that this performance was going to be boring anyway so why bother? I mean, I won't deny that I think it's a really good thing that people other than Hyorin are actually stable live singers now, but for a girl group for their stature, and considering everything they've won with this, I expect much, much more from them, and from the song. Such cheap performances, trying to pass for "sophistication".

SNSD (Taeyeon, Tiffany, Seohyun) - "Twinkle"
Did I just hear Seohyun put that much more power into her belting just before the first chorus? Did I? I think I did! Granted, it's not much, but there's a part of me that really wants her to do well. But anyway, today's performance made me realize that I actually have a hard time imagining SNSD as nine, or TaeTiSeo in SNSD, partially because my ears are having such an amazing time hearing three girls who can actually do more than just hold a short melody, even if the song is meh. I don't know if that's good or bad, but for now I say it's okay.

The 44s - Americana

Last year I reviewed Boogie Disease by The 44s,  a tight Southern California blues band  Read my review and you will see I was infected with the Boogie Disease and the illness is terminal. 

The 44s have followed up Boogie Disease with Americana, a thirteen track album produced by blues guitarist extraordinaire (who also appears on many of the tracks) Kid Ramos. The band also brought in musician Ron Dziubla to play horns. Dziubla is a music savant having played with everyone from Duane Eddy to Ok Go.

Without a doubt Americana builds upon and exceeds Boogie Disease.  Americana contains fantastic renditions of the legendary Willie Dixon’s You’ll Be Mine and bluesmaster Howlin’ Wolf’s Mr. Highway Man.  The 44s’ interpretations may, in fact, surpass the original recordings.  The remainder of the tracks were written by The 44s, except Hanging Tree and Pleading My Case which were written by The 44s and Kid Ramos.

Each track is raw, emotional, gritty and explosive.  The original blues songs of The 44s and Kid Ramos are as compelling as those of the blues legends. The band and its sound are exacting.  The torch of blues royalty burns in each phrase, verse, chorus and solo. A life of struggle and pain oozes from Johnny Main’s voice. 

Americana is a well chosen mix of West Coast and Chicago blues with just a touch of rockabilly.  On each track there is something down to earth and magical - Tex Nakamura knocking out a moving mouth harp solo, Kid Ramos shredding a slide guitar, Johnny Main’s pleading vocals. On the CD cover it says “A Stereophonic Collection Of Hits” and that’s not puffery.  If you love the blues, or have that boogie disease, your collection will not be complete without Americana. 

Okay, Johnny, Kid, Tex, Mike, J.R, and Ron, play it - I got the blues.

- Old School

Kid Ramos with The 44s

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The 44s Band at Doheny Blues Festival 2011

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Friday, May 25, 2012

[May 25, 2012] KBS Music Bank Highlights + Commentary

Lots of acts to cover on this week's recap, with comebacks and debuts to add to the already-packed line-up. I was really surprised at how long this recap turned out to be! New girl group She'z, boy band VIXX, and JYP's JJ Project make their Music Bank debuts, and we see the return of F.Cuz, B1A4 and G.NA, all armed with new material. No more 4Minute, so that means that SISTAR should start wrapping up promo for "Alone" as well. Also in attendance are now-regulars EXO-K, A Pink, B.A.P., TaeTiSeo, Hello Venus, and a host of others. Is it really a surprise who won today?

Video credit goes to shu35151229 and KoreanMusicTVLive.

VIXX - "Super Hero"
Yet another new group I've never heard about. I should really do my homework before writing these recaps, because I literally just added these guys in when they came on with JJ Project. From the performance alone they're pretty average, but being a new group I see potential. The song itself has a beautiful melody if they can sustain singing it right live, and individually, they move very naturally on stage. Group dynamics are a bit off for now, but it's good that none of them move like robots individually. I'm keeping my eye on them out of curiosity.

She'z - "My Way"
While major label girl groups seem to be at a standstill in terms of vocals, it looks like the lesser-labels are starting to understand the concept of a "singer", because these girls are all rather stable live singers. The voices remind me of some members from the ill-fated Black Pearl (who didn't really have a good debut either but yeah), which is an okay thing, but with the right songs these girls could really work. We need to work on the material and the choreography though, and get you girls more flattering costumes. But I'd rather that be the problem than a total lack of vocal ability.

JJ Project - "Bounce"
And that, my friends, is how you pull off a debut stage, complete with literal jumping and prancing around stage. It wasn't a perfect performance, but what makes them so much better as live performers is that the mistakes they made, and the problems I saw, aren't the type that needs continuous practice and drastic changes -- they're little problems that can be easily fixed by telling them where they went wrong, like slips with the words, not looking at the camera, the little details like that. I'm starting to really like JJ Project, with their old-school K-Pop sound and their apparent talent laced with a good group dynamic, which was what I was worried about the most. When I saw the video I couldn't really tell whether the two worked well as a duo, but after today's performance (and yesterday's M!Countdown one as well), I think it's safe to say that I worried for nothing.

Hello Venus - "Venus"
These girls are really growing on me. I hate the poofy skirts today, but everything else about the performance is on-point. Vocals are stable, presence is there but not overpowering, and they're starting to move more and more like a group. I just really hope they don't go down the Girls' Day route, because this is a dangerously few steps up.

This late in the game and they're still moving around like robots? I understand that it's partially the nature of the choreography, but EXO-M do it perfectly fine. It won't hurt to move with fluidity, and if anything, it'll make it much less of a chore to watch them perform if they show some semblance of delight or joy in their movements. Their vocals are doing a lot better, and they no longer sound like fighting pre-schoolers, which is a relief, but something has to be done about that scream at the beginning. If you can't reach that high, lower it!

B.A.P. - "Power"
Another strong performance from the five-piece today, and I really love how even if I'm not a big fan of the song, they literally peeled my eyes off my computer screen so I could watch the performance. I can't really comment on the rapping, but their vocals were stable today, and very gutsy. Not yet a convert, but I'm working on it.

A Pink - "Hush"
I love the outfits, but that's basically the only thing. Their vocals are getting much more stable, but it's of no help because this song was doomed from the very beginning. Just skipping along now.

Dalmatian - "E.R."
It's good that the whispering has been solved and I can actually hear actual, rather good, singing now, but E.R. is neither fresh, nor is it exceptionally gorgeous enough to catch my ear. And their stage presence isn't any stronger than groups of lesser stature, so they don't win me over with their performances either. Which is why Dalmatian is still meh for me.

B1A4 - "Good Night Good Night "
After last year's disaster of a single, it looks like B1A4 are starting to redeem themselves. "Baby I'm Sorry" was actually a pretty good song, and this new single isn't half bad either. It's a mess, but not as much as their previous releases. The chorus is... interesting, to say the least, anticlimactic if I were to be nice, and the rap middle 8 is a complete mess, but the verses are strong. Their performance is kind of understandable, and they've always had good stage deportment, so it was okay to watch. But that's all it is for now -- okay.

F.Cuz - "No. 1"
Oh wow, I haven't seen F.Cuz in what feels like ages. With one member moving on to musicals alongside my beloved Junsu, and whatever other drama they went though. I didn't particularly like them, but I kind of pity them because some of the other groups who debuted alongside them have already moved up the ladder, while they (and ZE:A) are still pretty nugu. Their vocals are nothing to write home about though, rather rough around the edges, and although this song is a massive step up from the stuff they put out in the past ("Jiggy", anyone?), it's still pretty generic. I'm putting them on probation for now. We'll see.

G.NA - "Summer Star" + "2Hot"
I pity G.NA so much, it's not even funny anymore. Because of all the crap Cube is giving her, she's basically regressed in terms of vocals. I mean she's never really had a stadium ballad-calibre voice, but old G.NA would've slayed "Summer Star", or even just pulled it off well. New G.NA did neither. Her vocals were thinner than usual, she let go at all the wrong places, and her belting wasn't even proper belting. And don't even get me started on "2Hot". The song itself is a disaster of a generic and cheap package (as usual), and it doesn't help that G.NA's vocals have deteriorated this much, so much that she has to sing like a 2 year-old to make up for it. Cheap song, cheap choreography, cheap everything. My only compliment would be that at least she's really cheap and pretentiously cheap like SISTAR.

Infinite - "The Chaser"
Brilliant performance today, and I love how they spiced up the entrance with the paper and all. Their vocals are getting better and better each week, and with the exception of some of the parts after the key change, everything was stable today. Infinite have come to the stage where they literally hold the audience in the palm of their hands, a stage I've been waiting a long time for, because it's a glorious, glorious time. They really move not only fluidly, but also as a group, and that makes it such a joy to watch them perform.

SISTAR - "Alone"
And I see SISTAR are no longer in the running for number one this week. Is this goodbye stage-week? Is it at least coming soon? Please? I mean, their vocals have become really stable and almost strong, and now one of the formerly-useless girls, Soyu I believe, is no longer as useless as she was before, which is one of the few good things to come out of this promo cycle, but "Alone" is just really boring now. Please, end my misery soon.

SNSD (Taeyeon, Tiffany, Seohyun) - "Twinkle"(WINNER)
Not much change from last week's performances, which were not much of a change either, but at least they've been stable since the beginning (when we talk about this song in particular, because the "Baby Steps" performance did the stunning song no justice), and it's a song that really matches majority of them. Seohyun's still lacking that one, valuable component. She has everything else really mastered, but she still lacks the power.

Birth of Joy - Life In Babalou

Life In Babalou
I sit here looking out my window.  From the 11 floor skyscraper in Toronto Canada. I  look  down on the streets, on this arctic air morning in April. I have my cans on. It’s first thing in the morning, as the sun comes up over the towers. The silver spot of the day.  No one has arrived to work yet, so I have the whole department to myself. No telephones. No whinny sales staff. Just me, the black bird flying high, and my headphones cranking Birth of Joy

Just when you thought that the world of rock music has fallen off the ledge to the depths of mordor, along comes Birth of Joy. These cats hail from the Netherlands. A three piece band. Full of gargantuan tone, riffs and Hammond. Yes... my brothers and sisters! That’s right! The Hammond tone! The cool thing about this band is,  there seems to be something very exclusive with way the Hammond gets treated on these recordings. I have one word that can describe it. Righteous!   One of the best mixed albums I’ve heard in awhile. You can really hear the naturally tone of the instruments. And the all important snare drum mix, jumps right out too. No shenanigans or hocus pokus special effects with this production.  (From what I can hear). A very true, prime and clean recording. The band describes their own music as “Supercharged” . The trio is a carpet ride back to the psych blues rock mirror window of 1967 – 1972.  A nice rarity in today’s world of plastic auto-tone vocals and pro-tool software driven production.

So folks, if your looking for some classic vibes with a whole new take on what’s already been covered in the world of rock, then check these cats out. Break out your 1972 headphones. Pour yourself a morning coffee. And then crank it before the world starts to spin around the sun. It just may raise the hairs on your arms. Just like the heavy days of the 70’s

--Wino Chris

Thursday, May 24, 2012

PHILM - Harmonic


This is gonna seriously piss of some Slayer fans. Dave Lombardo is without question the greatest drummer in metal today and has been for a few decades now. But he's also no stranger to playing outside of the metal realm, whether it's with Fantomas, John Zorn or bashing his way through Vivaldi's Four Seasons. His new trio PHILM not really like anything like he's done before. He's stripped down his massive kit to a small 4 piece (but thankfully has kept the gong) and plays a more restrained style in this psychedelic trio. Note I did not say power trio. At times the music gets rocking, but is nowhere near Cream, Blue Cheer, etc.

PHILM is rounded out by guitarist/vocalist Gerry Nestler and bassist Pancho Tomaselli (a long-time member of War). Their debut album Harmonic is a very groovy affair. Lots of improv and the guitar playing emphasizes atmosphere. The rhythm section is beyond tight and flexible. You know these guys have must have jammed out on "Low Rider" and "Slipping Into Darkness." I would love to hear that! The influence of Pink Floyd is pretty strong but there's a lot of Led Zeppelin in there, too. Lombardo is a well known pot head and some of this record sounds like they got really baked and watched The Song Remains The Same before heading to the jam room. The song "Way Down" uses a slowed down "Whole Lotta Love" riff for the verses before launching into a "No Quarter" jam.

Musically I have no complaints with this record. The jams on "Sex Amp," "Harmonic" and most of the other songs are cool. The only real drawback is in the vocal department. Nestler's voice is OK but doesn't have a lot of range. It can't be easy to put words to these songs but too often he falls into an almost spoken word delivery. When the songs heat up in intensity the vocals turn into a kind of predictable Tool-influenced type of thing. Not bad, but nothing to get too excited about either. On the other hand, vocals do help some of the songs from just being meandering jams. A frontman would probably be bored in a band like this. In a live situation I could easily see this being much more effective. Like I said before, people who only like metal will hate this but since Ripple attracts such a wide range of musical nut jobs, I know I'm not alone in appreciating this one.