Sunday, September 30, 2012

Pop Reviews Now stands firmly against the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012

As you may have noticed, the blog's layout is now almost completely black. This is my way of protesting the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 which is currently being passed in my country. I was initially going to black out the entire blog, but decided otherwise, because continuing to write is my other way of protesting -- this bill will not stop me from writing. However, the comments below posts are blacked out, as a symbol of what is already happening as I write this. You can still read the comments though, by clicking "post a comment".

Pop Reviews Now will be fully-functional, and very much alive, until the end of this protest, or until it is affected/taken down by the said act (whichever comes first).

If there's something I've had since day one of this blog, it's my love for writing about music, for sharing what I write through this blog. As you know, no matter what I'm doing on the side, SOOMPI, OMGKPOP, The Kpop Nation, or even Popjustice now, my first priority is always, and will always be, Pop Reviews Now. I built this blog from the ground up, and you have seen me go through everything I could possibly go though, some of you even being the cause of those experiences. Without this blog I would've never gotten any of those big jobs, I would've never won the first award I ever won for something I love doing. But over and above that, majority of the lessons I've learned these past four years were learned here on this very blog.

This is where I began, and, until the time comes when I absolutely cannot blog anymore, this is where I will end. The problem is, the end may come sooner than I thought it would. Much, much sooner. And it won't be by choice.

My government has passed The Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, an act that can, at any time, take down not only Pop Reviews Now and four long years of blood, sweat and tears, but countless other blogs that have gone through the same, if not more. We will all just wake up one day, me included, to find this blog gone, for reasons even I might not know of.

“When a computer data is prima facie found to be in violation of the provisions of this Act, the DOJ shall issue an order to restrict or block access to such computer data.”

This was drafted by a senator who was a target of cyber bullying recently, and my response to him? That's not how you retaliate. I very well understand, and know from firsthand experience, how painful and traumatizing cyber bullying is, because I carry memories of it every single day, but this new act is going too far. I can just say "hi" on my blog, I can just retweet something I find amusing, and be put in jail because someone thinks it's libel.

It's scary. It's scary because I may be put in jail for speaking my mind, I may be put in jail for trying to chase my dreams despite poverty, and what's worse, I may lose all my work in the process.

I'm not forcing any of you to sign the petition below, because I believe in your right to an opinion, but I just want you to know that I may very well have lost my right to an opinion already. What you do with that information is up to you, but I want to give you the option to fight for the rights of everyone in the Philippines.

It Came From ReverbNation #12: Featuring Wooster, Pete Special, Maquina Mono (The Monkey Machine), Red Emery, Junior Toots, and Squeaker

 From April 4th to June 4th The Ripple Effect ran a campaign on the excellent online music website ReverbNation (  This campaign allowed any artist or band registered with ReverbNation to submit their music to The Ripple Effect for possible review on the site and airplay on The Ripple Effect radio shows.  When all was said and done we had received 4,799 submissions!  Incredible!  The purpose of this column is to highlight those artists and bands whose musical submissions I accepted as being worthy of consideration.  While these are not reviews per se, I’m going to provide a brief rundown of what to expect from each artist/band, a sample when available, and a link to check out more on their corresponding ReverbNation page.

Wooster – All right, all right.  This five piece band from Santa Cruz, CA caught my ear thanks to their slow simmering song submission.  The vocals are heavily influenced by reggae, and they sound perfect against this musical backdrop.  Another song I listened to is quite a bit faster and reminds me of a track by Maroon 5.  Similar artists include The Black Keys, Foster The People, and Mason Jennings.  If you’re looking for something mixing rock, reggae, funk, and blues this is your band.

Song Sample – Live In Sebastopol

Pete Special – Okay waveriders.  When I read that someone played with Levon Helm and “The Band” you have my attention.  This gentleman and his two musical cohorts out of Chicago, IL play some mean blues with prominent strains of classic R&B and Southern soul.  The first comparisons that jumped to mind vocally were Dr. John and Michael McDonald.  Very impressive!

Song Sample – “Mississippi”


Maquina Mono (The Monkey Machine) – Blasting out of New York, NY comes this seven member Latin rock group.  Their song submission is bursting with signature Latin rhythms, an active horn section, and exceedingly catchy vocals sung in Spanish.  “Music to listen to & dance all night” they say in their bio.  I couldn’t agree more.  Similar artists include Los Fabulosos Cadillacs and Mana.

Song Sample – “Dejame”

Red Emery – Question.  Who’s in the mood for a dirty, sleazy, down-tempo Portishead/Garbage sounding song?  Me too!  I listened to the incredibly refreshing submission sent in by this five member band out of Montreal, Canada multiple times.  Ultra groovy music, and the female vocals are downright sinful.  If you have any liking for trip hop and groups like Massive Attack this band is for you.

Song Sample – “Kept In A Cage (Sample)” 

Junior Toots – I’ve said it before waveriders.  Reggae is not a genre of music I can be considered knowledgeable about.  I do know what I like however.  Junior Toots, the son of Toots Hibbert of Toots & The Maytals, fronts this five piece band out of Berkeley, CA that takes the sonic blueprint of reggae and adds some ska, roots rock, and dancehall elements to the mix.  It sounds fantastic!  Hear for yourselves!

Song Sample – “Puss & Dog” 

Squeaker – Man, if this is what all pop rock sounds like in Adelaide, Australia then I need to hear more!  Considering what I’m used to this song submission would fall squarely into the heavy alternative rock category.  This female vocalist sounds superb, and I really like the electronic/industrial elements throughout the song.  Reminds me of Nine Inch Nails.  Along with NIN other similar artists listed on their bio page are Garbage, Pat Benetar, and Evanescence.  Click on the link waveriders.

Song Sample – “You’re A Star” 


Saturday, September 29, 2012

Single of the Week: SNSD/Girls' Generation - "ALL MY LOVE IS FOR YOU"

SNSD are back in Japan, and though the video for this was released ages ago, the actual recording only came out this week. Which is the reason why it's not only eligible for single of the week, but also why I even chose it in the first place.

It's very difficult to review a recording based solely on a music video track or a live performance, for the simple reason that it's not the original recording. These things differ from critic to critic, and it's more of a personal stand than it is a universally-accepted standard, because there are instances where the visual delivery is just as important as the auditory aspects (e.g., 2NE1, Big Bang). But my stand is perfectly highlighted in songs like "ALL MY LOVE IS FOR YOU"

Watching the video, the only part of the song that I really liked was the melody, but I thought it was brought down by a boring instrumental that lacked both kick and beauty. Hearing the recording, I realized that the only part of that sentence that I got right was the melody, because it really is beautiful. The verses are very laid back, but sound almost hopeful, and the chorus, which is actually partially a chorus (yay!), is ever so slightly epic, courtesy of well, the chorus. But it's the fragile kind of beautiful -- the producers have to make the right decisions in terms of accompaniment, vocal treatment, and over-all production. Everything will just disintegrate if they don't.

There are two things that a fragile melody like this needs -- the first is kick to give it some conviction, and the second is depth to make it less sharp on the ears, and to support the fragile melody. And I think it's safe to say that the arrangement literally pulled it together and delivered.

The piano line isn't extremely obvious because the mix favored the vocals over it, but it's understated in it's beauty, and it gives the song that subtle kick. The strings are similar because they do take as much center stage as they can, giving it a much needed kick, but unlike other string sections, this one is simple to start with. It's structured more like a drone or a bass line than it is an actual melody, so it really has no reason to hit you over the head. Which is perfect.

But my favorite part of the song has got to be the drum line. You probably all know that I love a good drum line because my dad is a drummer, but as far as K-Pop (or K-Pop in Japan) drum lines go (at least the ones that exist), the one on this track is probably one of my favorites this year. This is the part of the song that gives it half of the depth I was looking for, without compromising the crispness that a drum line needs. While the strings gave it the kick, which is more like citrus or mint, the drums give it depth, like milk or cream. Those drum rolls are gorgeous -- they're forceful and confident, but so, so graceful. My favorite kind of drum roll!

So where does the other half of the depth come from? From the production, which is gorgeous without being generic. It's neither overproduced, nor is it underproduced -- it's just right. The way everything was put together, the way each element sounds in relation to the other, literally makes the song glow. There's no other way to describe this song, really, because it really does glow. Hearing it not only puts a smile on your face, it goes that extra mile and makes you all nice a fuzzy inside.

I love a pretty song when I hear one, and I think a lot of you know that. "ALL MY LOVE IS FOR YOU" is probably as pretty as anyone can get. For now, at least.

Black Pistol Fire - Big Beat '59

Let me shoot from the hip on this one. 

It only took one play to know this Canadian duo, by way of Austin, Texas, is something special. Blues-based with a classic garage rock feel and a tinge of country, guitarist and lead vocalist Kevin McKeown teams with drummer Eric Owens to provide down and dirty slide guitar and cymbal infested raunch 'n roll.

Their debut album, Big Beat '59, came about because Producer Jim Diamond heard them live and saw their potential.  He was absolutely right.  Diamond has produced The White Stripes,  The Von Bondies and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.  He happened on Black Pistol Fire at a venue in Austin.  The result is a full length CD, an onslaught of eleven glorious band written tracks of frolicking distorted guitar, edgy processed vocals,  and drumming excess.

The first track, "Beezlebub",  is a Muddy Waters-ish blues rocker that is followed by "Stripes or Keys", a much heavier rock tune (somewhere between Deep Purple's "Strange Kind Of Woman" and Led Zeppelin's "When The Levee Breaks").  Then comes a bouncing slide guitar bonanza of harmonics and drums with "Crows Feet", a song that turns down and dirty before it becomes up and frantic.  The tune "Busted & Blue" is an absolute rocker.  Cymbals explode, guitars echo, repeat, slide and rumble.  It is electric swamp blues at its finest.

Black Pistol Fire 's idea of a slow down is the more country-tinged rock ballad "Hot Mess".  Yet it resonates or, should I say, McKeown's resonator resonates.  From "Hot Mess" the duo moves on to explore hard classic blues rock with "Drop The Needle" a driving ear burner of the highest caliber.  The song "Young Blood" is a lilting early rock-influenced ballad and, for me, the least enjoyable track on the album but YMMV.  The two more than make up for it with "Bombs & Bruises", the most radio ready alternative rock offering that McKeown and Owens provide on Big Beat '59.  It slips from alternative to country to rock to country to pop - it's the ultimate non-cross-over cross-over tune. 

When McKeown starts "Lay Low" you know you are in store for a ride.  He yells, implores and pounds out heavy riff after heavy riff as he cautions "You better lay low."  The trip doesn't stop with "Lay Low". The heavy, heavy blues rocker "Slow Burn" continues you on this sonic journey.  The album comes to an abrupt end as Owens’ syncopation skills get a work out on "Dead Love",  a song on which McKeown resorts to an acoustic guitar.  This final track comes off as an extraordinary Page and Bonham-esque modern sharp-edged "Misty Mountain Hop."   

Just like Black Pistol Fire, this album is smokin'.   You should definitely give it a shot.

- Old School

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Heavy Eyes - S/T EP

An onslaught is coming.  It rides a wave of massive, blood-hungry fuzz and a rhythm section that is dead set on force-feeding that bass and drums right down your gullet.  The Heavy Eyes ride an oceanic wave of distorted guitars through a current smack dab between chunky garage pop and thick stoner mania. 

Sure, there are lots of bands like this out there, but the Heavy Eyes do it all just a bit better than most.  For me, I don't care how heavy the riff or massive the fuzz, what keeps a good song together always comes down to melody and groove.  The Heavy Eyes, got both, in spades.  "Yoytek" brings on the groove right off the bat, that massive wall of fuzz locking right onto the late-60's garage groove tighter than a pitbull with lockjaw.  Timely breaks for vocal hooks, and a sultry, porntastic vibe make this song a feast for my ears. 

"5%" comes on all mutated, psychedelic distorto-guitars and crash, before losing itself in a miasma of swirling smoke and strobe lights.  Mid-tempo, we're truly lost in stoner heavy here.  I can see the lava lamps and smell the acrid smoke as things get dirty on a beanbag.  Lusty and wet.  This is as much sex as I've felt in a heavy psych in a long time.  "Pinwheels" ups the pace and the rock, with dual guitars of fuzz cutting the way for that drum sound to beat me senseless.  Still, a 60's garage vibe rules underneath the assault.  These guys just know how to write a song, that's all.  "In Need" wraps it up by sinking into a scummy sinkhole of doom-laden heaviness and blackness, from which I may never escape.  Dig the near freeform jamming that kicks this off and just pray it's available on vinyl.

Quality stuff all the way around.

And it's a free download.  Check it.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Ripple Library: Dee Snider - Shut Up and Give Me the Mic

Since record sales have been in the toilet for years now, more and more rock musicians are publishing memoirs. It makes sense. Their audience doesn't want to hear any new material from them and the musicians don't have to share any royalties with their bandmates. A lot of them are obviously ghost written and are often full of questionable details. In his forward to his autobiography Shut Up and Give Me the Mic, Dee Snider goes out of his way to let everyone know he wrote this book himself and that he was sober enough to remember it all. As he points out, junkie rock stars don't keep journals - "Have you ever known a junkie? They can't remember what they did thirty minutes ago, let alone thirty years ago." And "Real heroin addicts can't hold their own dicks; forget about a pen or pencil." One of the things I've always liked about Dee is that he's not afraid to say what he's thinking.

I wasn't sure what to expect from Dee's book. Most people know about Twisted Sister's huge popularity from their huge Stay Hungry album, but I'm a hardcore old-time SMF lover of the Under The Blade era. I figured that part of the story would get glossed over to get to the glory years. I was totally wrong. The first half of this 400 page book is a headbanger's delight. You get to learn all about Dee's childhood of dealing with being the oldest of six kids fighting for attention and battling with his angry father. It's no wonder that he was attracted to the original heavy bands. Dee refers to himself as an "original headbanger" and he certainly is. He bought the debut albums from Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Grand Funk Railroad as new releases. One of his high school bands only played Sabbath songs. The guy knows and loves his heavy metal. Something I never knew was that Dee was in a few bands with Don Mannello, who would later change his name to Don Fury and become a producer/engineer of Agnostic Front and many other hardcore bands.

There are so many great stories of the early days of Twisted Sister when they were a New York Dolls influenced glam rock band covering David Bowie, Mott The Hoople and Lou Reed in the bars of New Jersey, upstate New York and outer boroughs of New York City. A cover band like Twisted Sister never played cool clubs like CBGB or Max's Kansas City, but to underage drinkers in the suburbs. Eventually Dee starts to move the band in a heavier direction influenced by AC/DC, Judas Priest and Motorhead. This is when the band's real identity started to come together. Dee's wife Suzette started to dress the band in her homemade costumes. By the late 1970's Twisted Sister were a huge band on the local club scene but desperate for a record deal and international rock stardom. Rejected multiple times by every record label, the band continue to slog it out 4 or 5 nights a week in the clubs blasting out 3 sets a night. One of my favorite things in the book is when Dee talks about a club in Portchester, NY called Detroit. I always heard it referred to as "Detroits" and Dee gives an important NYC grammar lesson - "Hey, youse goin' tuh Detroits tuh see Twisted?"

Easily my favorite part of the book are the chapters on the years 1980 to 83, the peak era for metal freaks like me. Going to the UK to blow minds playing huge festivals with Motorhead, Iron Maiden and Michael Schenker Group will make you want to build a time machine. During this time Dee was writing all the rowdy headbanger anthems on the classic Under The Blade and You Can't Stop Rock N Roll albums. This was such a great time for metal. Things were getting heavier and faster all the time creating a new audience. Twisted Sister live was just as heavy as anything else out there but they also helped do cultivate a look that would become known as "hair metal." None of those other bands ever had the pedigree that Twisted Sister had. While all this is going on, Dee's completely sober, married and having kids. Not much in common with Vince Neil, here.

When the band finally does achieve massive success in 1984 with Stay Hungry, Dee goes into extreme detail about how they blew it in the following years. Over-exposure, musical mis-steps and massive financial mistakes. When it all ends with the abomination of the Love Is For Suckers album everyone in the band hates each other. Dee's attempts at a solo career are also failures and he digs himself so deep into debt that he's reduced to working for his brother at $5 an hour. The stories of his lean years should be required reading for any musician or actor who never thinks the bottom is going to drop out. Through it all, he manages to keep his family together and eventually switched gears into radio, acting and voiceover. I cringe a little whenever I see Dee on television but his great sense of humor usually wins me over. I cringed a lot when I heard he was putting out an album of show tunes, but luckily I have not had to hear any of it and don't plan on doing so. All I know is that this is a great rock book. You don't have to be a Twisted Sister fan to enjoy it. It's well written and very entertaining. Read it loud, mutha!


Buy from Amazon

Alunah - White Hoarhound

psycheDOOMelic has a gem on their hands here and they are doing the world a huge favour by releasing Alunah's second full-length album White Hoarhound. This quartet from the Midlands, England has a lot of weight on their shoulders playing doom and hailing from the same area that spawned the forefathers of doom, Black Sabbath.To my ears though they have no worries about this at all, instead they conjur some deft and highly original and magic-inducing heaviness. Already at the first note I am hooked and completely captivated.

Every time I listen to White Hoarhound a line from Masters Of Reality's song High Noon Amsterdam keeps popping up..Stuck my nose in a rose in a hole and it felt like a dream. For me that sentence is the essence of Alunah. Their music is lead-heavy, trippy, slow and riff-ladden and also very evocative, so all these ingredients are why the words of Masters Of Reality epitomizes what Alunah are and play. So light it up, toke, stick your nose in the hole and let Alunah take you on a headfuck of a space trip of unsurpassed magnitudes!

The music is of course a key factor in creating Alunah's spaced-out heaviness but let's not forget Soph Day. The vocalist/ guitarist's voice is so beautiful and entrancing that it elevates the band to dimensions beyond the sun. While she on the one hand sounds very delicate and almost frail, on the other hand she has immense power and this combination is absolutely fantastic. Her singing backed by the excellent band makes Alunah and White Hoarhound just about other-worldy.

Gaz Imber and Jake Mason are laying down the law on bass guitar and drums respectively. Whether the music is heavy or a bit softer, they keep it together perfectly allowing Dave Day and Soph to space-out, jam and riff without any restraints. And that's an awesome trait which unshackles their music. In all it's heaviness there is a beautiful flow thanks to Alunah's unrestrained musicality.

Another important ingredient for the band is their pagan leanings and their love for Mother Nature. The first song, Demeter's Grief, is a good example of this. However Mother Nature is a constant presence in whatever Alunah do. And the combination of the heavy music, Soph's awesome etheral yet powerful voice and the pagan/nature themes in their songs are what makes Alunah so great!

Surprises are nice when they bring something good. I consider myself a doomhead but I still hadn't really heard of Alunah until I was asked to check them out for a possible review. And what a surprise White Hoarhound is. Each listen gives a new nuance adding more to the band's greatness each time.
If you like excellent epic music White Hoarhound is a must. If you simply like great music period you're a fool if you don't add this album to your collection. Get a copy, listen and get mesmerized and then spread the gospel of Alunah to everyone you know!


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

It Came From ReverbNation #13: Featuring LB Collective, Sue Quigley, Faire D'Ophelia, Unsound, Blak Lyons, and Parlor Kids

From April 4th to June 4th The Ripple Effect ran a campaign on the excellent online music website ReverbNation (  This campaign allowed any artist or band registered with ReverbNation to submit their music to The Ripple Effect for possible review on the site and airplay on The Ripple Effect radio shows.  When all was said and done we had received 4,799 submissions!  Incredible!  The purpose of this column is to highlight those artists and bands whose musical submissions I accepted as being worthy of consideration.  While these are not reviews per se, I’m going to provide a brief rundown of what to expect from each artist/band, a sample when available, and a link to check out more on their corresponding ReverbNation page.

LB Collective – What’s this?  A pop rock duo from Atlanta, GA that’s what!  Their song submission made a big impression on me thanks to its unique lyrical content.  Seriously, I can’t come up with one other song dedicated to the disillusionment people feel concerning the declassification of Pluto as a planet.  Brilliant I say!  It also helps that I find Laura Benjamin’s voice fairly enchanting.  Similar artists include Sarah Bareilles and Joni Mitchell.

Sue Quigley – Now this waveriders is one talented singer songwriter.  She calls Seattle, WA home and her song submission really wowed me.  It rocked!  I dug everything from the earnest, honesty-exuding vocal performance to the grungy electric guitar work anchoring the song’s verses.  Another song I sampled sounded quite a bit sunnier but still maintained a rock edge.  Very nice!  Similar artists include Brandi Carlisle, Matt Kearney, and Cat Power.

Faire D’Ophelia – This one’s for all those folks out there yearning to hear some medieval Celtic music performed with a classic rock feel.  Of course this trio is from Australia.  Adelaide to be exact.  I found their submission to be rather powerful for a vocal/acoustic guitar driven affair.  Wonderful vocal performance!  Similar artists include Fleetwood Mac (unplucked), Celtic Women, and Blackmore’s Night.  Take a listen.

Song Sample – “Maiden Of The Night”


Unsound – Ah yes, metal.  Sweet, sweet metal.  This five piece band from Raleigh, NC comes out of the gate swinging for the fences.  Their song submission begins with some crunchy guitar riffing and proceeds to mash the accelerator pedal.  The vocals are mostly clean and melodic, but during the choruses a screamer is added and the pair sounds great.  If you are a fan of modern melodic metal give these guys a shot.

Song Sample – “Prodigy”  


Blak Lyons – Straight out of Buenos Aires, AR comes this alternative/indie rock quartet whose song submission completely caught my ear.  Said submission has a strong 1970s blues vibe at its core.  As the song progresses I’m able to hear a little post grunge influence creep into the mix as well.  Totally groovy stuff!  Two of their other songs sounded great too!  Similar artists include Kings Of Leon, Arctic Monkeys, The Strokes, and The Killers. 

Song Sample – “Pursuit”  

Parlor Kids – Goodness gracious does this young man’s song submission groove!  This Austin, TX based artist has a bio that labels his work rock/psychedelic.  Well whatever he chooses to call it the music harkens back to vintage rock and roll of yesteryear, and it sounds fantastic!  Simply undeniable groove.  Follow the link waveriders, but don’t blame me when listening to one song is not enough.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Samothrace – Reverence To Stone

The Riff is our master.  The Riff will guide and protect us.  All will be well if we but follow the Riff and allow its goodness to wash over us.  We must give ourselves over to the Riff, and life will be full, meaningful, and a blessing to our souls.

If you believe in the Riff, then you must hear this album, NOW.  I am biased, I love this band and I know one of the guys in the band.  I have waited 4 years since their debut release, “Life’s Trade”, came out to hear what new levels of incredible music these folks would put out.  And this doesn’t disappoint.

Samothrace give us 2 tracks that clock in around 35 minutes total on this new release.  They are slow and sludgy, and I’m pretty sure glaciers move faster than some of this.  But the key to me, the impressive part, is that this music is not dense.  It is full of intricacy, and there is always something very interesting going on if you just open your ears a little bit.  And all is not sludge here.  The songs do change tempo, but not in any jarring ways.  Everything done here seems to all belong exactly as it should.

I have often said that the music I love the most is music that moves me, and this album does that.  It might be hard to understand how music that moves so slowly can move me, but it does.  It actually does my favorite thing, it gets me to close my eyes and do the slow head bob.  It is music that you can feel and that makes you feel.  This is a band whose members have gone through some shit in the past few years, and you can feel that in the music.  You can do to the depths and stare into the abyss and know what that feels like.  And thankfully, you know what it feels like to come out the other side of that as well.  All is not doom, all is not despair.  There are passages here that sound downright joyful too.

The songs are well crafted, and if you think about it, you gotta know what you are doing to put a 20 plus minute song together.  It is easy to lose your way and to lose the purpose and the point of a track that long, but these guys nail it.  Again, it might seem strange to say that something slow and plodding can also be done with a certain precision, but here is your proof right here.  Just get to about the 8 minute mark of “A Horse Of Our Own” and you’ll have a great idea of what I am trying to say in this review.  It moves, if feels, it is precise and intricate and it fucking slays.  All of this at probably no more than 60 bpm.  This is the real deal, and another one of those albums that I am better for listening to.


Monday, September 24, 2012

A Ripple Roadtrip - The Way Back - Featuring Joey Ramone, the Bombay Royale, Corsair, White Light Cemetery, Jazzanova, and The Orb featurng Lee Scratch Perry

Not quite 30 hours after arrival - time spent taking Ripple inventory, eating burritos, doughnuts, and watching way too much bad sci-fi with my recuperating Ripple partner, the Pope -- and I found my self back on the road.  Early Sunday morning, up before the sun, desperately aiming to get through the quagmire of LA before . . .whatever.  LA just sucks.  Let me get through there as fast as possible. 

Which I did.  Man, I set a land speed record.  San Diego to downtown LA in 1 hour 15 minutes.  To the downside of the Grapevine in 2 1/2 hours and all the way home to SF Area in 6 1/2 hours.  Flying!

Not a lot of time for music, but the player was always going.  Here's what played.

Joey Ramone  - Ya Know?

Ok. We all know Joey Ramone.  A posthumous collection of songs can often be a dicey affair.  Were these quality songs left behind by a legend or crap demos rushed out by greedy record execs to capitalize on his still surging fame?   Fortunately, and undeniably, the former.  When Joey Ramone died from lymphoma in April of 2001 he left behind a cache of songs in various states of completion and fidelity. Some of them appeared on Don’t Worry About Me, released in early 2002.  Now a decade later comes another batch of Joey classics.   One cool thing is that the music itself was re-recorded by a handful of Ramone’s friends and collaborators over the years, including Joan Jett, the E Street Band’s Stevie Van Zandt and Plasmatics guitarist Richie Stotts.  Sure, they're a bit more produced than we'd expect from a Ramones release, but the quality of the songs deserves it and never do they suffocate under the production.

Instead, what we got are some slightly poppier than expected, but still full-on Ramones-esque cuts like, "Rock 'n Roll is the Answer, and "Going Nowhere Fast."  Joey's voice is perfect throughout.  That same voice we've known all these years, sounding strangely liberated, having fun, and more soulful at times than I'd expect.  All in all, songs that do the legacy of Joey proud and make us realize just how much we miss him.

The Bombay Royale - You Me Bullets Love 

As the Pacific Ocean began to fade away to my left side, and the sprawl of Orange County took over, Joey Ramone popped out of the player and this . . . this . . .  well, this way cool disc popped in.  The band name and album title kinda say it all.  Imagine if Peter Gunn took a rocketship to Bombay in the mid-60's.  James Bond in New Dehli.  Freaky cool spy-theme instrumentals mixed with Bollywood psychedelic cinemascopic dreams.   Trumpets, trombone, keys, sitars . . .it's all here.  Some violin, some almost flamenco sounding horn.  Even a beach guitar vibe.  It's just crazy cool.  A lost 60's spy-flick soundtrack in search of the perfect love-in groove-fest movie.  Put this on as the party starts and watch the eyebrows raise, the hips shake, and the lava lamps flow.  Groovy.

Corsair - S/T

Another band I know well making the perfect accompanyment to my drive as I blow through LA.  And in case you can't tell by now -- I just can't blow through LA fast enough.  It was a while back that Marie Landragin dropped their debut EP into my lap, and now they're following it up with a ful-length.  Yep, everything I loved about the debut is still their.  That fantastic dual lead harmony guitar work, the raw and roughened production, the faint NWOBHM DIY feeling, all the way down to the self-printed CD cover.  Perhaps this one leans even more into the Thin Lizzy camp, with a track like "Chaemera," sounding like it could've been a lost outtake or demo, with the harmony guitar leads and the very Phil Lynott-voiced phrasing.  In truth, I'd love to see them bust a bit more away from the Lizzy blueprint and explore some of their own territory, but if you're looking for an old school, guitar rock album, look no further.

White Light Cemetery - S/T EP

Ok.  LA is behind me.  Hell yes!  Open road ahead.  Time to rock.  In pops the new White Light Cemetery Ep and I'm groovin' just fine  Hands pounding the steering wheel in manical fits, head bopping dangerously away from watching the road, foot stomping on the gaspedal like a damn bass drum.  That's what WLC does to me.  A bit post-grunge, NOLA rough 'n ready rock.  Yeah, there's lots of COC in there and the songs aren't complicated, but who the hell says rock has to be?   This is balls out sludge-fest of gutty vocals  and pounding shit.  I know these guys.  I love these guys.  I put them on the Ripple Effect Presents: Volumen One, didn't I?  Now go listen to them.

Jazzanova - Funkhaus Studio Sessions

Getting closer to home.  Ears starting to bleed.  Need to calm things down a bit.   Jazzanova have been around for years and years.  I've got lots of their chill-out jazz/soul triphop stuff lying around and I've always dug them.  This album is no exception.  A bit more R&B at first than I expected, but good R&B.  Not overly produced. Soulful with dynamite vocals.  Playful and fun.  It's allowing my ears to rest as the album plays out through moods of gentle dance, downtempo, funk, jazz and always soul.  Always soul.  Definitely worth checking if you dig R&B and can't believe what the producers have wrecked upon that once proud genre.

The Orb - Featuring Lee Scratch Perry - The Observer in the Star House

Ok.  Home stretch.  Pulling off the 5 onto the 580 and close enough to home that I can smell my dogs waiting for me.  In pops the "scariest " CD of the batch.  What do I mean by that ? Well.  I know Lee Scratch Perry.  He's a well-deserved legend of dub and reggae.  And I know the Orb, and I've been less than impressed with their overly-synthed dance/trance stuff over the years.  So what happens when you combine a legendary producer/toaster with an electronic dance outfit that hits me like fingernails on a chalkboard?   Surprisingly, a damn fine dub record.   Fortunately, the album is all about Lee Perry.  His unique scratch of a voice, his tone, his phrasing.  In fact, it's not that different from the last Lee Perry album I reviewed.  But the Orb do make their presence felt, in very understated, wel-done effects, tones, and beats.   Swallowing the 20 billion beats per minute flavor of modern dance/trance, The Orb blend beautifully with the vibe of Perry's dub.  It all just flows and ebbs and does so seamlessly.  Diehard fans of the Orb's ambient house may hate this album.  But fans of experimental dub have nothing to fear.  A perfect ride to end my drive. 

That's all. . . until the next roadtrip.


DBSK/HoMin - "Catch Me"

Album number two from Twoshinki is here, and everyone's having a field day, me included. There's just so much to talk about, and so much brilliance to spread. Also, what an apt album for my "big comeback". (Best 18th birthday gift ever. EVER.)

There are so many reasons why DBSK is still my favorite group, and this is the part of the year when I'm reminded of all of them. Everything I complain about with other acts, everything I look for in a new group -- they're all patterned after what DBSK have, and what they've done.

The consensus among the people I've talked to, and read, ever since "Keep Your Head Down" came out, all the way up to just now when the album came out, is that Yunho and Changmin have carved their own sound, independent to the previous, five-piece, DBSK. Now whether people think that's a good thing or a bad thing, I have to partially disagree. On the outside, it may seem like that -- Yunho and Changmin have really traded the epic, tear-jerking, ballads, demanding SMP singles and a capella re-arrangements in favor of trendy beats, slick R&B-inspired jams, and quaint midtempos.

But is that really all DBSK was before the split? You cannot just pit "Catch Me" and "Mirotic" against each other, because not only have things changed within the group, the industry, and the standards have all changed. Every now and then we all have to remember that "Mirotic" was four years ago, and the distance between then and now is like the distance between "Mirotic" and "Hug" -- things, beyond our control, have happened.

A true identity is something that transcends -- transcends time, change, and everything in between. Moving forward means trying new things, yes, but it also means being sure of who you are and what you do. Beyond the international success, beyond the "Love In The Ice"'s and "Rising Sun"'s and the leap to "Keep Your Head Down"'s and "STILL"'s, DBSK was a group with talent that really did blow away all the competition. That's what DBSK were pushed as, and that's who they were. It was that kind of talent that made them such a versatile group, that sold them to a skeptical public, it was that talent that got them respect in Japan, and it still is that talent that keeps them right where they are, no matter how many they are.

That talent has never left, and "Catch Me", as a whole, is solid proof of that. I've been saying this a lot this year, but this is truly the formula done right -- DBSK are the epitome that statement, and they've always been. I can’t stress that point enough, which is why it will keep coming up throughout the review.

Conviction is another word I throw around a lot, and it's something Yunho and Changmin have bucketfuls of. There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance, but DBSK are right smack in the middle of it, with overflowing confidence, not overflowing arrogance. Delivery is so, so, important, especially in pop music where all the songs basically sound like each other -- it's the one thing that makes an act stand out. What Yunho and Changmin have isn't the normal kind of conviction though, what they have is raw passion. This isn't the kind that you see in how many hours they worked in the studio, how difficult or new their vocal techniques are, in how high they belted that high note, or in any of those behind-the-scenes aspects. This is the kind you see in the actual work, in the simplest of lines, the shortest of notes, this is the kind that screams "I deserve to be here, I deserve to be doing this, so I'm going to prove it to everyone, even if I'm just standing here and doing nothing." You don't find passion and conviction in what you do, you find it in how you do it. And it's that kind of conviction that gets them places.

"Catch Me", the song, really is one of the best songs on the album, and it stands for everything DBSK is, and has become. It has dynamics that go beyond a few explosions here and there and give the song texture. “Catch Me” literally jumps through hoops and fire, but it doesn’t do it alone -- it takes you with it.

The intro is beautiful -- that piano line is heavenly, and Yunho sounds amazing -- it gets you ready for the pending brilliance, which is balanced out by the dubstep just before the verse. Honestly, if we were talking about the dubstep alone I would’ve hated it, and actually I do hate it alone as a loop, but you have to look at “Catch Me” as a whole, and also go back to what DBSK is. They are the formula, this loop is the trend now, but they are also the formula done right, and they made the loop fit the song, they gave it contrast and they gave it depth.

I had the first of many heart attacks today, courtesy of the verses because let me tell you, I had many more after. The conviction in Yunho and Changmin’s vocals are through the roof, and the instrumental gives it urgency and a build-up without drowning out the melody. My favorite part about it though is how effortlessly but confidently it builds up to the chorus -- it’s not obvious until you actually get to the chorus and you’re left wondering how it happened. Listening casually, you still hear all the brilliance, but the more concentration you put into it, the more your actually appreciate what you hear. Again, the formula done right.

The chorus of “Catch Me” gave me my second heart attack of the day, and it was glorious in it’s epicness. There are so many things happening during this brilliance that is the chorus, but one thing’s for sure, the vocals and the melody are the most important parts of it. It’s catchy all right, however what makes it so DBSK is that the catchy doesn’t come from the autotune or the synth loop -- it comes from the vocals, from the belting with harmonies. Belting! With harmonies! In the first chorus! Who does that?! The instrumental is stunning, with that piano line from a while ago really taking as much of center stage that it can without yanking the spotlight away from the vocals.

We get dubstep again, but this time with a sort of post-chorus melody that the two share, whose brilliance (the melody, I mean) makes the dubstep so much more bearable. This is before we’re literally flung into a very, very urgent bridge that’s so glorious you’re still hung over by the time the chorus literally sneaks it’s way in again. And if you were thinking we’d get time to breathe after, sorry to burst your bubble but Changmin skips the hook all together and goes straight for the middle 8. Which reminds me a bit of the middle 8 of “Bonamana”, until Yunho comes in and then they make this brilliant harmony that’s so brilliant I’m just gonna keep calling it brilliant until I can’t. Call it brilliant. Brilliant. No DBSK song is complete without Changmin’s scream, albeit a short one, which transitions us into a dubstep verse reminiscent of “ANDROID”, complete with a proper dubstep dance break!

Despite everything that happens in between, and basically everything happening in the song, the last chorus is just as brilliant as it was when it first appeared, tying each and every one of the elements together.

As for the rest of the album, honestly I wouldn’t call this the album of the albums of the year just yet -- “Catch Me” as an album is outstanding, yes, but for me, as much as an album of the year has to be cohesive and unified, all the tracks also have to stand firmly on their own, and there are some tracks that can’t do that just yet. We’ll see.

Viva” is another song you have to look at as a whole and not as individual elements, because it’s such a dynamic, well-produced song when you do. The rapping at the beginning was a big iffy for me, and didn’t sound DBSK enough for me, and the first chorus was a little disjointed as well, but by the time the second chorus hit everything came together. It’s the kind of song that needs time to digest, because it’s very un-DBSK. The first time I heard this I pictured Big Bang doing the rap portions, but the more you think about it, the more you realized that they carried it the right way, and by the end of the song you’ll really want to replay it.

Destiny” is so “Keep Your Head Down” -- it would have no problem fitting right in beside “She” and all the other midtempos. In a sense, this is the other side of the new DBSK sound, the kind of songs you’d hear from more classy lounge singers, and by now they really have mastered it. Gorgeous melody, strong vocals, and truckloads of a mix between sexy and confident.

I don’t know about you guys, but despite the title, “Like a Soap” is one of my favorites on this album. It’s cashing in on that ever-present acoustic craze without becoming a snooze-fest, mostly because Yunho and Changmin’s voices have the intensity to make it interesting. I love the arrangement on this because it’s so high-budget Disney Channel series, with the sharp instrumentals and very predicable, but still gorgeous, transitions. The chorus is so quaint in it’s being pretty, courtesy of those gorgeous harmonies and that nice electric guitar running around in the background that gives it some dimension. And also, the middle 8 and the second to the last chorus -- beautiful. If this was the theme song of “To The Beautiful You”, the world would be a better place.

The Korean version of “I Don’t Know” was one of the tracks I was really excited for, because I still worship the Japanese version (and their performance of it at Tokyo Dome was MIND-BLOWING with the screens and the dancing and the WOW), and to a certain extent it delivered. We have a Korean version of an amazing song. I still like the Japanese version a lot better though, because I loved the contrast that the graceful Japanese lyrics gave the very gritty song. The Korean version is just all grit and spunk and no grace, especially because Yunho and Changmin’s voices are more stiff and less melodic.

Dream” sounds like a theme song for a Japanese drama. That has it’s appeal, usually when they do songs like this on tour, but this is the kind of song that even if Yunho and Changmin are really good at carrying songs, it’s been done so many times before and it’s starting to get boring. I mean I love my string sections and perky melodies, and I love “Like A Soap”, but this is all cliche and no DBSK whatsoever. Except maybe for the first chorus which is gorgeous because it’s basically just Changmin singing (very well) with minimal instruments.

This is the part of the album where it’s SM-ness begins to show, because “How Are You” is the second boring song in a row we get. I mean it’s and okay song, and it’s a lot better than all the other boring SM songs everyone else gets because of the delivery, but the standards are higher for a group with more talent, because more gets wasted if they get a boring song. It’s also obvious in their delivery that the two of them are kind of not in it, because they’re starting to sound bland. Maybe not bored yet, but one more bad song and I might have to go storm SM.

Getaway” is like what “Gulliver” should’ve been. You know, without the painful growling? I’m not the biggest fan of “Getaway”, but it’s pretty obvious that Yunho and Changmin approached this song with technique, and care for their voices. Growling is never a good thing, unless of course it’s done right. And I think anyone can recognize good growling from bad growling -- if your throat starts getting itchy and your ears start hurting, the person growling is probably in pain too. Fortunately for us, Yunho has technique, so the growling is half-singing, half-rapping, as it should be. I like the melodic parts, and I like how they really took advantage of the fact that this is Changmin’s forte. That middle 8 is brilliance.

Everyone has been freaking out over “I Swear” since it came out, because Changmin wrote it for Cassiopeia (awwwwww!), and it’s a very pretty song, yes, with a gorgeous and really good arrangement. Also, if Changmin was the one who put in that gorgeous drum line into the second verse -- you’ve been taught well. It’s very subtle in it’s being pretty, but for me it’s the subtlety that keeps it as just pretty and not beautiful or stunning. And that works for some people, plus the fact that it’s a nice break from the very intense, stand-out songs, a break that isn’t a snooze-fest. But then it kind of lost it when everything came in together at the end, because you have these very conflicting instruments like the drum kit and those cymbals which do not, for the life of them, sound good together. Changmin has the gist of it, but he needs more work in terms of the nitty gritty.

Gorgeous” sounds very album track -- it’s a good song that just blends into a bunch of more striking ones because even if it’s well-done, it’s very one-dimensional and lacks a wow factor that isn’t the singing.

As this album comes to a close, I realize that my stand-out favorites are the first and last track, because really guys, how can you not worship “Good Night”? It’s like the song you play after “Before You Go” because you’re still high from it but need something to ease you back into the real world. Slowly. Very slowly. Those verses are heavenly -- not just beautiful or stunning or brilliant -- heavenly. The sharpness of the chorus gives a really nice contrast to the instrumental, and those beautiful solo lines that follow. And I just died at “have a good, good night”, as well as those ad-libs that followed. The middle 8 is like the cherry on top -- I really did go to heaven and back. The attitude of “Good Night” is very nonchalant, but that’s what makes this song so good. Effortless beauty is always the perfect way to end an album.

The Best: Catch Me”, “Good Night
The Better: Like a Soap”, "Viva”, "Destiny
The Worst: "How Are You"
The Rating: 4.7/5, but 5/5 for the lead single!

NOTE: If you've noticed, my label for the current DBSK line-up has always been "DBSK/HoMin", and this review is no different. Things have changed since the last time I used this label for a major review -- majority know DBSK as Yunho and Changmin only, hence my usage of "DBSK". However, my stand on DBSK's situation, past and present, is that Yunho, Changmin, Jaejoong, Junsu and Yoochun make up DBSK as a group, so if Jaejoong, Yoochun and Junsu can't call themselves DBSK because the other two aren't present, then Yunho and Changmin have to be identified as the other fraction of DBSK. I recognize the fact that Yunho and Changmin are called DBSK because they are the other fraction of the original five-piece DBSK who remained under SM, but I also recognize the fact that there was a point when DBSK was not just the two of them.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

It Came From ReverbNation #11: featuring Attacca, The Stacy Jones Band, Cameron Toy, Chuck Hughes Band, Stone Circle, and Jerry Juden

From April 4th to June 4th The Ripple Effect ran a campaign on the excellent online music website ReverbNation (  This campaign allowed any artist or band registered with ReverbNation to submit their music to The Ripple Effect for possible review on the site and airplay on The Ripple Effect radio shows.  When all was said and done we had received 4,799 submissions!  Incredible!  The purpose of this column is to highlight those artists and bands whose musical submissions I accepted as being worthy of consideration.  While these are not reviews per se, I’m going to provide a brief rundown of what to expect from each artist/band, a sample when available, and a link to check out more on their corresponding ReverbNation page.

Attacca – Call me crazy, but I found the song submitted by this quartet from Blue Springs, MO to be very refreshing.  They label themselves as a rock/progressive rock band, but what I was listening to sounded like an evolved grunge band who decided to make things a bit funkier with more emphasis on the bass.  I could also hear a definite 1970s groove creep into the mix.  Earnest vocals too.  Take a listen!

Song Sample – “Pretty”

The Stacy Jones Band – Once again I made the mistake of assuming what the music would sound like based off of the band’s photo.  Dumb, dumb, dumb!  This quartet from Seattle, WA belts out some electrified blues rock like nobody’s business.  Stacy Jones’ voice is extraordinary and she can play a mean harmonica too!  If you miss vocalists like Janis Joplin then stop what you’re doing right now and follow the link.

Song Sample – “Heavy Water”  

Cameron Toy – Straight out of Los Angeles, CA comes this alternative/indie rock musician who’s looking to satisfy any fan of bands like Interpol and Death Cab For Cutie.  Yes, I know those bands sound very different from one another, but I believe this guy’s music can bridge the gap.  A second song I listened to had a groovy garage rock thing going on as well.  Check him out.

Song Sample – “Little Ghosts”  

Chuck Hughes Band– Oh yeah baby!  Anyone looking to swing the night away to that classic rockabilly sound need look no further than this trio from Denver, CO.  You know what I’m talking about waveriders.  Super clean guitar sound, slap happy upright bass, and hi hat heavy drumming.  It’s all here.  Similar artists include Reverend Horton Heat and Brian Setzer.

Song Sample – “Leavin’ Colorado”  


Stone Circle – What is it about bands from Australia?  This quartet from Perth, Western Australia barrels out of the chute with a superb modern alternative rock sound.  I’d go so far as to say that their overall sound is very radio friendly, but I’m not sure I can convince myself something this groovy would get airtime.  Their similar artists list is disparate to say the least; Van Halen, Rush, Pearl Jam, Bon Jovi, and Foo Fighters.  You’re telling me you’re not interested in finding out what this band is all about?

Song Sample – Live in Bogota, Colombia 

Jerry Juden – Wait, I’m confused.  This man’s music is labeled Americana first and foremost, and power pop second.  I suppose I can get behind the power pop angle, but Americana?  I don’t know about that.  His song submission is pretty funky for a pop song, and the vocals are Beatles-esque to my ears.  I suppose it really doesn’t matter what this California artist calls his music.  I’ll just call it good.  If you’re looking for something cheerful and pleasant, X marks the spot.

Song Sample – “Hello, Hello”