Friday, January 25, 2008

Bullet For My Valentine :: Scream Aim Fire

Artist :: Bullet For My Valentine
Album :: Scream Aim Fire
Label :: Jive

In a word :: Powerful.

Play this cut first :: Take It Out On Me

Rewind to the early '90s, considered by most to be the pinnacle of metal, with the heavyweights like Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax, Pantera, Testament, and Sepultura all putting out career-defining CDs one after another. It was ridiculous. Just when you thought no one could ever equal one band's release another would come along and do it.

There is a new batch of metal bands that have emerged during the last few years who are maturing nicely and putting out their best releases to date. After stoopid-good albums from Atreyu and Avenged Sevenfold, Bullet For My Valentine steps up to the plate with their sophomore effort Scream Aim Fire, and they hit it out of the park. Hell, they damn near hit it out of the stadium.

Yes, 2008 is shaping up to be The Year of The Bullet. With a main stage slot on the Taste of Chaos tour (as part of the best TOC lineup ever), their own comic books, a huge fan base, and some major label support, I'm guessing that you'll be hearing a lot of Bullet For My Valentine this year. And that, friends, is a good thing.

Actually, it's a great thing.

On Scream Aim Fire, Bullet For My Valentine makes a huge leap from 2006's The Poison. It's a leap that is reminiscent of the leap Metallica made between Kill 'Em All and Ride The Lightening. Matt Tuck's voice even sounds like a young James Hetfield's. Often, when bands say they have matured, it usually means they have slowed down. In this case, however, Bullet For My Valentine has matured in all directions. The riffs are harder. The harmonies are smarter. The solos are more blazing. The vocal melodies are more memorable.

The common element across all of the songs on Scream Aim Fire, however, is a sense of urgency. It's that urgency of drumsticks pounding drum skins, instead of just hitting them. It's the sound of guitar picks digging into strings, instead of just plucking them. It's the growl in a vocal that lets you know every word that is sung is the most important word in the world at that moment. It's the ability to find the heart of the song and put it right in your face. And it's this sense of urgency that separates the great from the good.

On cuts like "Scream Aim Fire" and "Eye of the Storm", it's made very clear that Bullet For My Valentine's first priority for this record is to establish that, when it comes to metal, they are the sonic equivalent of a nail bomb, both explosive and razor sharp. The same spirit is reinforced across the majority of the album in cuts like "Waking the Demon" and "End of Days".

The next goal for Scream Aim Fire seems to be establishing a true musical range, by slowing things down to ballad-like levels at times. Indeed, "Say Goodnight" seems to fit nicely with some of the more notable metal ballads of all time like Metallica's "Fade to Black" or Testament's "Return to Serenity".

The effect of convincingly achieving these goals is the building of a set list that is primed for arenas. In fact, "Take It Out On Me" covers so much sonic territory that, in a live show, it'll have fans banging their heads, clapping their hands, singing along, and banging their heads again. For that song alone, this CD is worth the investment.

In a musical landscape where major labels and iPods force emphasis on singles, it is becoming more and more rare to find an album that shines from top to bottom. Scream Aim Fire does that--so much so that when the last song finishes, your first instinct is to start it over from the beginning. When's that last time a CD made you do that?

Yeah, it's like that.

The Bottom Line :: Get ready to start pumping your fist again. Get ready to headbang in traffic. And get ready to sing along at the top of your lungs. The release of Scream Aim Fire rings in The Year of the Bullet. And it looks like it's going to be a one hell of a year for the band.

Best Cuts :: Take it out on Me, Scream Aim Fire, Waking the Demon, Say Goodnight

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Word of a Ministry Cover Up

"We don't just bitch about Bush and global oligarchies. We're still a rock band and Cover Up is THE Ministry party album," said Ministry's Al Jourgensen about Cover Up, recorded by Ministry & Co-Conspirators and set for an April Fools Day (April 1) release.

Cover Up sees Jourgensen and Co-Conspirators paying tribute to some of the most memorable PAR-TEE rock songs, mostly from the 8-track era, and to those artists who first laid them down - Deep Purple, T-Rex, ZZ Top, The Doors, Mountain, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones and more.

Playing on the Cover Up title, Jourgensen has injected himself into various conspiracy theory photographs throughout the release's artwork.

In addition to fellow Ministry guitarist Sin Quirin (Revolting Cocks), Jourgensen enlisted an impressive group of Co-Conspirators for Cover Up - Fear Factory front man Burton C. Bell (also Ascension of The Watchers) sings on the Rolling Stones' "Under My Thumb," Revolting Cocks' Josh Bradford provides vocals for Golden Earring's "Radar Love," and Prong vocalist Thomas Victor lends his pipes to Deep Purple's "Space Truckin'" and Ran Jam's "Black Betty," which also features the Hell Paso Mosh Choir. Additional Co-Conspirators include the late Paul Raven (Ministry/Killing Joke), Tony Campos and Wayne Static (Static X), Edu Mussi (Echoes and Shadows) and Plastilina Mosh.

Cover Up will also include Ministry's cover of The Doors' "Roadhouse Blues" (the version can also be found on Ministry's September 2007 release, The Last Sucker), and Deep Purple's "Space Truckin," all tracks culminating in Jourgensen's personal punk rock rendition of Louis Armstrong's "Wonderful World."

"'Under My Thumb,' like The Doors' cover 'Roadhouse Blues,' was about my not understanding the dichotomies involved," says Jourgensen. "If you listen to the lyrics to 'Under My Thumb,' it's the most misogynistic song ever made. I never understood that dichotomy so I always wanted to tackle it. Same with 'Roadhouse,' it's a blues-based song, yet the lyrics are about driving your car into a wall at full speed, drunk, and not giving a fuck. It's so much an Anarchist anthem, it should've been a Sex Pistols song. So, I wanted to approach both tracks with the spirit of the original lyrical intent."

The April Fools Day release of Cover Up coincides with the launch of Ministry's final world tour - C U LaTouR - which kicks off March 25 in Spokane, WA. The 36-plus market limited engagement C U LaTouR features Special Guests Meshuggah and opening act Hemlock, ending the North American leg mid-May with multiple-nights in Ministry front man Al Jourgensen's home town of Chicago. Ministry then heads off to play the principal European festivals as well as choice club dates, kicking off in London at the end of May, stretching through to July to end the tour in Dublin, Ireland - that itinerary will be announced shortly.

The "C U LaTouR" touring line-up features Ministry's founder Al Jourgensen (vocals, guitars) being joined onstage by guitarists Tommy Victor (Prong) and Sin Quirin (Revolting Cocks), keyboardist John Bechdel (Fear Factory, False Icons), and drummer AAron Rossi (Prong/John 5). Static X's Tony Campos has recently stepped in to fulfill bass on behalf of the recently departed Ministry/Killing Joke bassist Paul Raven. Joining the Ministry clan as Special Featured Artist will be Fear Factory/Ascension of The Watchers vocalist Burton C. Bell.

After 10 albums and 28 years (including a 2006 Grammy nomination for "Lieslieslies" from the Rio Grande Blood album), and a Grammy nod in 2005 for "The Great Satan," from Rantology, Jourgensen has decided that the Ministry garage is ready to close its doors, but the revolving 13th Planet Studio doors remain open for Jourgensen's collaborations and also for upcoming 2008 releases on his 13th Planet imprint, including Ascension of The Watchers, False Icons, The Revolting Cocks, and the Wicked Lake soundtrack, as well as remixes of Ministry's The Last Sucker and Prong's Power of The Damager.

For its two-and-a-half-hour "C U LaTouR" set, Ministry will perform tracks from their provocative 28-year musical history. Archival Ministry videos plus other visual elements of alchemy, Christianity, politics and other topics aligned with Ministry will be incorporated into a special video presentation, produced by "Wicked Lake" director Zach Passero (with whom Jourgensen is collaborating on the soundtrack for the feature film) that will change night to night. And, as is expected from a Ministry show, you just never know what surprise guests will jump on stage for a song or two.

"A Ministry tour is a traveling circus," states Jourgensen. "When we roll into town, everyone hides their daughters, but the freaks roll out the red carpet and a friend or two pops up on stage to add some spice and mayhem to the show. We never know who's gonna walk through the dressing room door at sound check. We rehearse a bunch of 'extra' songs just in case so-and-so shows up..."

Catch Ministry on Tour.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Streetlight Manifesto :: Somewhere in the Between

Streetlight Manifesto - Somewhere in the Between coverArtist :: Streetlight Manifesto
Album :: Somewhere in the Between
Label :: Victory

In a word :: un-genre-bound

Play this cut first :: One Foot on the Gas, One Foot in the Grave

Man, it's so hard for me to review ska. I mean, it's not that I have anything against it, in general; it just seems to be like the equivalent of genre fiction - you know, so caught up in the things that make it its own genre that it loses sight of the big picture.

So it is with my impression of ska, so caught up with horn lines and upstrokes on upbeats, that it loses sight of the song. One wonderfully notable exception in ska history is Catch 22's Keasbey Nights. That's one album that come s about as close to seminal as a ska record can get. Tomas Kalnoky, mastermind behind that album, has been putting out solid album as the founding member of Streetlight Manifesto, but this time, he hit the mark again on the remarkable Somewhere in the Between.

Kalnoky is cementing his reputation as the Elvis Costello of the genre. A master songwriter whose compositions could easily be played alone on an acoustic guitar and retain the same power.
Streetlight Manifesto - Band PhotoAlongside great arrangements are lyrics that remind one of dorm-room chatter as a bunch of on-their-own young adults get together and collectively figure out life. The conversations are brilliant in their simplicity. Listening to cuts like "Somewhere in the Between" and "The Receiving End of it All" are like reaching personal resolve. The news may not be new, baby, but it's always late-breaking.

The other truly spectacular element of Somewhere in the Between is the performance of the band. Recorded in different places at different times, there is so much energy that it seems impossible that they weren't all in the same room together. To muster that level of performance says as much about the performers as it does the material.

It's bands like Streetlight Manifesto that genres like ska, which don't get time in the spotlight but once every couple of decades or so, owe a great debt to. They keep the spirit alive by turning out great discs when (seemingly) no one is listening. Somewhere in the Between gives people a reason to listen.

Now Playing :: Down, Down, Down To Mephisto's Cafe

The Bottom Line :: Somewhere in the Between is the rare disc that shines in small doses of a few songs at a time or in a straight-through listen. And quite simply, it's the ska album that people who don't listen to ska will love, because greatness is never bound by genres.

Best Cuts :: We Will Fall Together; One Foot on the Gas, One Foot in the Grave; Down, Down, Down to Mephisto's Cafe; Somewhere in the Between, Forty Days

Remembering John and Dime

It's December 8th again. On this date in history both John Lennon and Dimebag Darrell Abbot were slain by gunmen. As they are two of the most identifiable and influential musicians in rock history, we at BRB are making a little space here on December 8th to honor their memories with this simple tribute.

If being an egomaniac means I believe in what I do and in my art or music, then in that respect you can call me that... I believe in what I do, and I'll say it.
- John Lennon

When I tried to play something and screwed up, I'd hear some other note that would come into play. Then I started trying different things to find the beauty in it.
-Dimebag Darrell

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Journey Uses YouTube to Find New Singer

In news that sounds like something out of the movie "Rockstar", classic rock band, Journey finds their new singer on YouTube!

The new Journey frontman is Arnel Pineda (“pin-eh-da”). He replaces Jeff Scott Soto, who parted ways with the band earlier this year after stepping in for Steve Augeri, who had to leave the band in 2006 for medical reasons.

Arnel is from Quezon City in the Philippines and has been singing Journey songs--in addition to original material--with his band, The Zoo, for the past couple of years in clubs all over his homeland.

When it was time for Journey to look for a new lead singer, they turned to the internet. Guitarist Neal Schon wanted someone new to the music business, so he went to YouTube.

“I was frustrated about not having a singer,” explains guitarist Schon, “so I went on YouTube for a couple of days and just sat on it for hours. I was starting to think I was never going to find anybody. But then I found The Zoo and I watched a bunch of different video clips that they had posted. After watching the videos over and over again, I had to walk away from the computer and let what I heard sink in because it sounded too good to be true. I thought, ‘He can’t be that good.’ But he is that good, he’s the real deal and so tremendously talented. Arnel doesn’t sound synthetic and he’s not emulating anyone. I tried to get a hold of him through YouTube and I finally heard from him that night, but it took some convincing to get him to believe that it really was me and not an imposter.”

“It’s so exciting to sing with one of the best bands in the world," says Pineda. "It’ll be a lot of hard work on my part and I’m actually looking forward to the scrutiny I’ll get from the hardcore Journey fans. I know they’ll expect me to sound exactly like ‘the voice’ (Steve Perry), but that will never happen. I know there's only one Steve Perry in this world.”

Journey is currently working on a new album with legendary producer Kevin Shirley, with a drop date for spring/summer 2008. Details will be announced early next year.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Hawthorne Heights Guitarist Found Dead

Hawthorne Heights Guitarist, Casey Calvert, 26, was found dead on Saturday, November 24. Rather than say too much more, we're going to repost the message from the remaining members of Hawthorne Heights regarding this most unfortunate occurrence.

Today is probably the worst day ever. Its with our deepest regrets that we have to write this. Casey Calvert passed away in his sleep last night. We found out this afternoon before sound-check. We've spent the entire day trying to come to grips with this and figure out as much as possible. At this time we're not sure what exactly happened. Just last night he was joking around with everyone before he went to bed. We can say with absolute certainty that he was not doing anything illegal. Please, out of respect to Casey and his family, don't contribute or succumb to any gossip you may hear. We don't want his memory to be tainted in the least. Casey was our best friend. He was quirky and awesome and there will truly be no others like him! His loss is unexplainable. As soon as we know more we will let you know.


Hawthorne Heights JT, Micah, Eron and Matt

Thursday, November 15, 2007

DJ Kenneth A :: The Enemy Within

DJ Kenneth A :: The Enemy WithinArtist :: DJ Kenneth A
Album :: The Enemy Within
Label :: DIY

Play This Cut First :: The Destroyer

In a Word :: Inspiring

When we started Blog Rockin' Beat, one of the main things we wanted to do was give indie artists without label support some attention. Album's like DJ Kenneth A's The Enemy Within are why. Musicians who are not facing label pressure for new records or vigorous touring schedules have more time for the creative process. And when that happens, you can hear the music mature from release to release. From his previous effort, Saint Elmo and the Osprey, to his latest offering, The Enemy Within, the progress is almost staggering.

One of the most noticeable aspects of Saint Elmo and the Osprey was the eclecticism and range shown. The Enemy Within is not as eclectic. Instead, DJ Kenneth has taken some of the most captivating elements from his previous efforts and developed them even further, such as: lush string arrangement, haunting piano melodies, and production values that sound crystal clear in a small set of earbuds or pumping through a 1000-watt system.

DJ Kenneth AAdding to the strings and keys that sound remarkably like VNV Nation at times - check out the opening cut,"From Here to There Without Looking Back" for the best orchestration VNV Nation never wrote - DJ Kenneth A has brought new percussive techniques into the mix, such as breakbeats and elements of glitch in the beats, pads, and lead lines. The results fits comfortably in the realm of BT, Hybrid, and The Orb. What you are hearing is the genre of symphonic breaks starting.

Another pleasant surprise is the use of vocals. On The Enemy Within, DJ Kenneth A gives us vocals from other indie artists: Jason McGovern (on "Damage Control playing below", Chad Wys (on a remix of Chad's "Dust in My Eyes"), and his own voice on "Like and Ocean". The last is particularly daring as most DJs would ever put their own voice on a track.

The thing that makes The Enemy Within a must have, however, is the overwhelming sense of honesty and genuineness. By reducing the spectrum of sounds and styles, this disc has a depth that his other's have hinted at, but not have fully achieved. He nails it this time, though. And it doesn't matter if it is the slow and ethereal "Like and Ocean", or the the glitchy drive of "The Destroyer", or the Eastern-vibe hip-hop of "Silence Part 6", every cut on The Enemy Within develops patiently, captivating your attention and delivering its spirit right into your heart...where the best music gets a new life in the listener.

Best cuts on the album :: Damage Control, The Destroyer, Silence Part 6.

The bottom line :: On The Enemy Within you are hearing the sound of one of contemporary music's best kept secrets. You are hearing what happens when musical integrity maintains focus for an entire album. You are hearing music the way it should be. You are hearing DJ Kenneth A.

Ministry Says "C U LaTouR"

On the heels of their final studio release, "The Last Sucker," released September 18, 2007, MINISTRY announces their final world tour, "C U LaTouR," with Special Guests Meshuggah and opening act Hemlock. Ministry kicks off the North American leg of "C U LaTouR" in Vancouver on March 28, 2008, stopping in a limited engagement 33 major market cities through mid-May, ending the U.S. leg in Ministry frontman Al Jourgensen's home town of Chicago. Ministry then heads off to play the principal European festivals as well as choice club dates beginning late May stretching through to July.

Exclusive pre-sale tickets for the North American "C U LaTouR," offered by Music Today, go on sale this Thursday, November 15 and can be purchased here as of Thursday. Exclusive Special Limited Access VIP tickets will also be available for purchase via the pre-sale, offering advance doors, seating, meet & greets and souvenir 13th Planet gift bags.

The "C U LaTouR" touring line-up features Ministry's founder Al Jourgensen being joined onstage by guitarists Tommy Victor (Prong) and Sin Quirin (Revolting Cocks), keyboardist John Bechdel (Prong, AoTW, False Icons), and drummer Jimmy DeGrasso (ex-Megadeth, Suicidal Tendencies, Alice Cooper). Static X's Tony Campos has recently stepped in to fulfill bass on behalf of the recently departed Ministry/Killing Joke bassist Paul Raven. Joining the Ministry clan as Special Featured Artist will be Fear Factory/Ascension of The Watchers vocalist Burton C. Bell. Main support is Swedish experimental metal Meshuggah and opening act is the U.S.-based Hemlock.

To coincide with "C U LaTouR," Jourgensen's indie imprint is scheduled to release Ministry & Co-Conspirators "Cover Up," a 12-track covers release featuring artists from the 13th Planet Records family, as well as other special guests. "Cover Up" is scheduled for a late March/early April 2008 release.

For its spectacular two-and-a-half-hour "C U LaTouR" set, Ministry will perform tracks from "The Last Sucker" as well as songs that revisit the band's rich and provocative 30-year musical history. Archival Ministry videos plus other visual elements of alchemy, Christianity, politics and other topics aligned with Ministry will be incorporated into a special video presentation, produced by "Wicked Lake" director Zach Passero (with whom Jourgensen is collaborating on the soundtrack for the feature film) that will change night to night. And, as is expected from a Ministry show, you just never know what surprise guests will jump on stage for a song or two.

"A Ministry tour is a traveling circus," states Jourgensen. "When we roll into town, everyone hides their daughters, but the freaks roll out the red carpet and a friend or two pops up on stage to add some spice and mayhem to the show. We never know who's gonna walk through the dressing room door at sound check. We rehearse a bunch of 'extra' songs just in case so-and-so shows up..."

With more dates to be added, confirmed dates for Ministry's 2008 "C U LaTouR" are as follows:

28 Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, BC CANADA
29 Showbox SoDo, Seattle, WA
30 Roseland Theatre, Portland, OR

1 Fillmore, San Francisco, CA
2 Fillmore, San Francisco, CA
5 House of Blues, Los Angeles, CA
6 House of Blues, Los Angeles, CA
7 House of Blues, San Diego, CA
8 Marquee Theatre, Tempe, AZ
9 House of Blues, Las Vegas, NV
11 The Great Salt Air, Salt Lake City, UT
12 Ogden Theatre, Denver, CO
15 La Zona Rosa, Austin, TX
17 Palladium, Dallas, TX
18 Verizon Wireless Theatre, Houston, TX
19 House of Blues, New Orleans, LA
22 Jannus Landing, St. Petersburg, FL
23 House of Blues, Orlando, FL
24 Tremont Music Hall, Charlotte, NC
25 Masquerade, Atlanta, GA
26 Rams Head Live, Baltimore, MD
27 Palladium, Worcester, MA
29 Fillmore at the TLA, Philadelphia, PA

1 Irving Plaza, New York, NY
2 Irving Plaza, New York, NY
3 Metropolis, Montreal, QC CANADA
4 Koolhaus, Toronto, ON CANADA
6 Agora Theatre, Cleveland, OH
7 Emerald Theatre, Detroit, MI
8 House of Blues, Chicago, IL

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Mark Farina :: Live in Tokyo

Mark Farina :: Live in TokyoArtist :: Mark Farina
Album :: Live in Tokyo
Label :: Om Records

In a word :: Momentous

There are some names that are synonymous with the genre they've helped to build. I say Juan Atkins; you say Techno. I say Aphex Twin; you say IDM. I say Mark Farina; and you damn well better be saying house.

From his Warehouse days in Chi-town alongside his brother-from-another-mother, Derrick Carter, to his migration to San Francisco and his work with Om Records, Mark Farina is a staple of house music. From minimal, to deep, to mid-tempo, there's nothing he can't (or won't) spin a set around. And he is a DJ who spins a lot.

The normal progression in DJ culture if for artists to cut their teeth spinning vinyl and building a name that way. After awhile, when enough people know him, said DJ will cut a record of original material and go that route. Some even go so far as to abandon the DJ set altogether to make their own tracks. Mark Farina is not your normal DJ. And he never has been.

Mark FarinaWhile he has some of his own tracks out, Mark Farina is a DJ first. He enjoys international fame for spinning records, because he does it better than most anybody else. Could he put out albums of his own material? Sure he could. He'd probably sell a respectable amount, too. But that is not his game. He doesn't transcend into that realm. Rather, he is a Bodhisattva of the beat, bringing other artists into the spotlight where they can get noticed. And for a house artist, being in a Mark Farina mix that gets released is like being on Oprah. He takes talented artists and puts them in the spotlight.

He makes the magic happen. He is the DJ.

But why? Why is he so good? What is it about Mark Farina, out of the thousands of DJs in the world, that makes him stand out? I'll give you a clue, the answer is closer than you think. It's because he's a lot like you and me. Before he is a DJ, he is a music fanatic.

You know what it's like when you have friends over, and you've got this disc you want them to listen to because it is so good and you know they haven't heard it before, and they absolutely have to hear it! But before that song is done, you are already excited because you just thought of something they else they have to hear! And the kicker is that you know they aren't enjoying it as much as you are, because they just don't get it. They are not music fans, like Mark Farina. It's that familiarity in a Mark Farina mix. He gives you stuff you've never heard before and does it at a time when you need nothing more in the world than that track.

And he does it mix after mix, never the same mix twice.

That's the magic. That's the DJ at work.

On Live in Tokyo, Mark Farina delivers again. This time he does it like you haven't heard him on a release before. In the past, I've enjoyed his work as it slowly builds, wave upon wave, peaking then rescinding. This time, however, it's different. Taking a mid-tempo groove and weaving it through different house genres like glitch house and soul house, the whole disc slowly builds until about 3/4 of the way through when cuts like Ken ECB's "I Heart Bougie (Toka Project Mix)" and Daniel Cummings's "Deep Heat" are pumping, you feel the crescendo of the mix building. No tempo changes. No key changes. Just a steady increase of intensity that is the DJ making his magic in time.

It's rare that a mix CD really seems to capture the energy of the live show. Then again, Mark Farina is a rare DJ. And Live in Tokyo rare is mix.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Portugal. The Man :: Church Mouth

Artist :: Portugal. The Man
Album :: Church Mouth
Label :: Fearless

In a word :: Infectious

Play this cut first :: Bellies are Full

There has been much buzz swirling around Portugal. The Man lately. And rightly so. They are the rare breed of band that, like a hive, creates its own buzz. The type of band that, as you listen to the CD, you think, "I bet these guys kick all kinds of ass on stage."

PTM draws comparisons to Led Zepplin, but not for the same reasons every other Zep clone does. Nope, you are not going to find the thunderous Bonzoid beats. No pulling Pages from Jimmy's big book of riffs. Instead, PTM accentuates those other elements: the momentum in John Paul Jones bassline and the legato melodic tendencies of Robert Plant.

Further, there is the same disregard for traditional song structures. At times, these cuts meander like a sonic explorer pushing further into the lo-fi wash to pull out flashes of melody and the occasional boot-stomping, beer swilling, Delta-blues groove. Just when you think the whole show is becoming a lesson in improvisation, the sweet balance of blues-flavored familiarity returns.

For all of this, they still draw comparisons to The White Stripes. Sure, they may share similar influences, and PTM frontman, John Baldwin Gourley, has a similar charismatic quality to Jack White. That, however, is where the similarities rightfully end. PTM's rhythm section has a fluidity that Meg White's ham-fisted drumming can't even approach, nor will it likely ever.

This elevated level of musicianship offers PTM a palette of options. In all honesty, the only other band that really operates on this level at the moment is The Mars Volta.

Now Playing :: Bellies are Full

And for all that is unpredictable about Church Mouth, the CD as a whole has a collective sense of movement, solidifying into a throbbing, breathing mass about three quarters of the way through. By the time we hit cuts like "Bellies Are Full" and "Children", the sound congeals, almost like entropy before fading into the final serene sounds of "Sun Brother (excerpt)".

The Bottom Line :: Church Mouth s built upon the willingness to take chances; to let tape roll; to be imperfect if it means being interesting. It's the album where the musician meets the performer. And it's an extension of the rock bands that made the genre credible and jazz musicians who cared just as much about pushing boundaries as giving you hooks you could hum for years.

Best Cuts :: Bellies Are Full, The Bottom, Church Mouth, Sugar Cinnamon

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

St. Clair :: EP

Artist :: St. Clair
Album :: EP
Label :: DIY

Play This Cut First :: So Long

In a word :: Retrogressive

It's amazing how an EP that clocks in at just about 17 minutes can make you think so much. St. Clair pulls it off, however. That alone should be a testament to the power of good songwriting.

Musically, EP follows a path that seems to have been all but abandoned near the end of the 1990s. As the melodic-pop-post-hardcore sounds of bands like Yellowcard rose to the surface, a booming alt-rock movement that blended lo-fi dream pop production with shoegazer songwriting quickly decayed.

When you listen to EP, however, you get the sense that, had that path continued to be worn, that it would lead to St. Clair. The lo-fi sensibilities and beautiful lush reverbs that accent reverse guitar lines and deep pads are the stuff that production values were built upon. Couple that with dynamic vocal approach of vocalist, Jeff Geady, and you get an inspiring piece of alt-rock that seems to occupy a lone place in time.

When I say dynamic vocal approach, I'm talking about styles. Some cuts, like the raw Angels of Downtown showcase melodic vocal harmonies reminiscent of Sunny Day Real Estate, while cuts like Stars Over Toronto and Nordheimer Ravine feature a softer, almost whispering delivery that fans of Iron and Wine will gravitate toward.

Now Playing :: Nordheimer Ravine

Thematically, all of the songs are based on events that actually happened in St. Clair's hometown of Toronto. The city itself comes across as a character in these pieces, much like the city of Dublin effervesces in the works of James Joyce. And echo-drenched harmonica work gives each cut a sense of openness...of stars. In a some respects, it has mirrors shoegazing rock, but with an underlying feeling of peace fostered by solid songwriting and creative production values.

The Bottom Line :: Don't let the relatively short length of EP fool you. While it might be short in duration, it's long on impact. So much so that you'll likely listen to it two are three times at a setting. And for the seven bones it goes for, you can't beat that.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

scarecrow :: This House Has No Light

Artist :: scarecrow
Album :: This House Has No Light
Label :: DIY

Guest review provided by A. Gene Punckbowee.

This House Has No Light is a very moving album. It's one of those albums that you must play from start to finish straight through to get the full effect. It gives you the feeling that someone is looking back on their life. Not with rose colored glasses, or feelings of happiness, but with a cold hard look at the harsh realities of life.

It tells this story without words, only the feelings you get from the music. Loneliness, fear, regret, sadness, isolation and despair. The things you should've said, but didn't. The places you should've gone, but decided not to. Things you should've tried, but were too afraid to. The friends you made, but never see anymore. The love you had, but somehow lost. It tells this story without being melodramatic.

This House Has No Light is very impressive. It has a grandeur, a kind of cinematic feel like a Hollywood blockbuster soundtrack. Scarecrow does an excellent job of bringing the listener into the music - personalizing it in a way the listeners reflect on their own lives while they're listening. When an artist has made that kind of connection with the listener, then the music has done what music was meant to do.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Throwdown :: Venom and Tears

Artist :: Throwdown

Album :: Venom & Tears
Label :: Trustkill

In a Word :: Driven

Play This Cut First :: Venom and Tears

This could be the shortest review I've ever written.

On Venom & Tears, Throwdown follows the Pantera riff-writing bluebook to a T. No mind-melting Dimebag solos. But, if you didn't know better, you'd swear you were listening to Pantera. Phil Anselmo could even sue Throwdown vocalist, Dave Peter, for stylistic infringement.

Because Venom & Tears sounds so much like a Pantera album, Throwdown is sure to get bagged on for it. Not here, though. I loved Pantera. As a guitar player myself, Dimebag Darrell was a hero to me. That someone is willing to so unabashedly come in and pick up the pieces of what Pantera left behind is way cool with me.

If we can't have Pantera back, them I'll willingly embrace Throwdown, and what they've become, with open arms.

Now Playing :: Holy Roller

Best Cuts on the Album :: Venom & Tears, SCUM, and Holy Roller

The Bottom Line :: Horns up on this one.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Adema :: Kill The Headlights

Artist :: Adema
Album :: Kill the Headlights
Label :: Immortal

Play this cut first :: Brand New Thing (featured below)

Ah, nu metal: the music industry's whipping boy. Sure, it's predictable that the pioneers like Korn and Deftones would still be thriving, selling good numbers, pulling good-size crowds. Most first-tier bands do. (Pearl Jam, anyone?). It's those second-generation bands that have their work cut out for them. And, to be honest, the music graveyard is full of more than its share of second-tier nu-metal bands.

Enter Adema. Originally breaking onto the scene in 2001, they were initially known for their vocalist, Mark Chavez, being Jonathan Davis's younger half-brother. Now, in 2007, Kill the Headlights is their fourth album...with a third singer: Bobby Reeves.

And this time, I think they've got it right.

Bobby Reeves's voice isn't going to make him the next American Idol, (and I don't think he minds). Sure, he can carry a tune. It's the other things that he does, however, that make him the perfect vocalist for Adema. Bobby has a knack for writing great vocal melodies. I'm talking about those melodies that aren't predictable at all, but are still very memorable. Lyrically, he pulls his weight as well. Sings become stories (e.g., "Open Til Midnight"). And for a band like Adema that has always been cautious to write material that is song-oriented, rather than just a collection of riffs strung together, Reeves style works perfectly.

That's not to say they've given up on those big crunchy detuned riffs that nu-metal is known for. The first single, "Cold and Jaded", as well as the title track, "Kill the Headlights" are loaded with them. We're talking big fierce ones, too. But there is a greater sense of balance across the board. They show tremendous range and growth on Kill the Headlights. It has taken them four albums, but they show they can really use every trick in the playbook. Some might say their the captains of a sunken ship, but this is a great album nonetheless.

Basically, Kill the Headlights is a great collection of songs. Will they win a Grammy? Probably not. But they should sell more copies of this record than they likely will. And that's a shame. In age when the industry is built on the "get a hit or get out" mentality, it is rare that some bands really get the opportunity to grow into their potential. Adema is doing that. And I hope there is still enough audience left to appreciate this solid rock album.

Best cuts on the album :: Brand New Thing, Kill the Headlights, Cold and Jaded, Open Til Midnight

The Bottom Line :: This could be the sleeper rock album of 2007. With great songs that get the blood flowing, yet you can still sing along to, there's no reason not to listen to it over and over again.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Between the Buried and Me :: Colors

Between the Buried and Me: ColorsArtist :: Between the Buried and Me
Album :: Colors
Label :: Victory Records

In a word :: Landmark

Play this Cut first :: Ants of the Sky

Before we get started, I want you to go to your calendar, find September 18th, and make two notes:

1. Pick up Between the Buried and Me's new CD, Colors.
2. Bring a clothes pin.

The reasons for the first should become very clear. The second is because, on September 18th, when this album drops, there will be a definite odor in the air. It will be the unmistakable scent of pants being shat from coast to coast. Because that's what this album is going to do to people.

Lets go back about 20 years. Bands like Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, Slayer, Exodus, and Testament were pushing the limits of rock, creating a genre that later became known as thrash metal. In 1986, Metallica dropped Master of Puppets and clearly defined themselves as the trendsetter in the genre. Years later, between 1990 and 1992 a barrage of brilliant albums came from the genre, including Metallica, Rust in Peace, The Sound of White Noise, Seasons in the Abyss, The Ritual, Vulgar Display of Power, and more. I believe, however, that it was Master of Puppets that set those wheels in motion.

Between the Buried and Me: Band PhotoOkay, here we are in 2007. For several years a number of bands such as Shadows Fall and Lamb of God (to name a couple) have been working to build an extreme metal scene that relies on musicianship, harmonies, melodies, and arrangements for power, just as much as it relies on bombastic speed and grindcore riffs.

Between the Buried and Me has certainly been a major player in the scene since their debut in 2003. Colors, however, clearly serves as the landmark album in the genre thus far. I mean, it's not even close.

The depth and range of talent on Colors is staggering. From the Queen-esque intro of "Foam Born (a ) The Backtrack" to the immediate power grindage that follows in "(b ) The Decade of the Statues". It's a tremendous shift in gears that almost gets lost in the wash of rapid fire snare pounding and cymbal wash. It's almost a baptism by fire that purifies the listener and opens the soul for the musical genius that follows.

Yes, I said genius.

Albums like this don't happen by accident. They are coolly planned and arranged. They are the product of a vision to breaks down the barriers of a genre and bring to fruition the potential that has been shown by all of the bands who have built in on their backs.

Colors is a Dark Side of the Moon. It is a Master of Puppets.

At times, Between the Buried and Me sound like Dream Theater. At times, they sound like Coldplay. And at times they sound like Cannibal Corpse. The challenge naturally, then, is to blend all of those elements together in a way that doesn't sound forced, and retains their own sense of identity. For good measure, songs transition into jazz jams, polka breaks, Latin boogies, and more. Not only has this not been tried before, but the coherence of the effort carries established themes through these transitions much the way a classical composer might. All the while we are never more than couple steps away from pure extreme metal aggression that is the staple of the genre.

And for all it accomplishes, Colors doesn't sound so much like an album that was designed to one up other powerhouses of field. It sounds like the product of five immensely talented musicians who pushed each other and demanded the best from each other. And to borrow a phrase from the sports world, they didn't leave anything on the court.

When I listen to Colors I think, "How can they, or anybody else ever top this?" And that is a great thought. It's the same thought that took the brilliance of Master of Puppets and used it as a catalyst to bring about the true golden years of thrash. I get chills thinking (or maybe just hoping) that this album could be the beginning of something much, much bigger.

If nothing else, Colors brings a new level of respect to a genre that hasn't ever really gotten much of that. And it does it in a way that doesn't sell out the hardcore supporters who have been extolling the legitimate merits of extreme metal for years.

Best Cuts on the Album :: Ants of the Sky, White Walls, Sun of Nothing

The Bottom Line :: Make sure your stereo gear is working and you have a good clothes pin (maybe even a spare), because on September 18th, extreme metal as you know it will change forever.

Friday, September 7, 2007

The Warriors :: A Genuine Sense of Outrage

Artist :: The Warriors
Album :: Genuine Sense of Outrage
Label :: Victory

Play this cut first :: Price of Punishment

In a word :: Pure Rock Fury

Back it up a few decades to Motorhead. They were the first band that really unified the rock crowd, appealing to rockers, metalheads, punkers, and the hardcore crowd alike. How did they do it? By combining great riffs, power chord mashing, ugly vocals, and upbeat tempos. And they did all of it right in your fukking face. It was that epitome of angst with a mass appeal. The measure of their of success never came in platinum records; it came in the recognition that every loud rock band on the planet owes a debt to Motorhead.

Moving forward.

In 1995 when I first fell hard for Victory Records, it was because of the combination of brute force and brilliance from one of their flagship bands: Earth Crisis. For me, they will always be the true hardcore heart of "the Victory sound". Over the years there have been a few bands I feel could carry that torch again (i.e., Scars of Tomorrow, Between the Buried and Me, and Waterdown).

Now there's another: The Warriors.

There is a reason I started this review with Motorhead. The Warriors have a lot in common with Motorhead. That healthy aggression. That honesty in their angst. That Genuine Sense of Outrage. There is a passion in this music that blows down the doors of rock subgenres and appeals to all of them. And the stamp of approval doesn't just come from me, no. It comes from none other than Mr. Motorhead himself, Lemmy Kilmister, as he provides guest vocals on "the Price of Punishment".

With, Genuine Sense of Outrage, their third studio album (and first for Victory), they give Victory Records another band to hang their hat on - a band the brings the heartfelt passion to every riff. Indeed, The Warriors are the type of band you go see when you want to get it all out: screaming along, slamming in the pit, jumping off the stage. At the end of the night, all the stress of the world is left in the puddles of sweat the line venue floors from coast to coast.

Now Playing :: Destroying Cenodoxus

A Genuine Sense Sense of Outrage is more than just album. It is a snapshot of rock in time. It is an album that could only be built on the shoulders of giants such as Motorhead, Earth Crisis, and Sick of it All. It is the progression of rock that cuts through bullshit and hits you right in the fukkin' mouth. And you love it, because its been too long since someone came along and woke you up like this.

Best cuts on the album :: "The Price of Punishment", "Genuine Sense of Outrage", and "Destroying Cenodoxus"

The bottom line :: This usually the part where I give a final thumbs up or thumbs down. you should already know that by now. It don't matter if your favorite bans is Six Feet Under or Three Days Grace, The Warriors bring you A Genuine Sense of Outrage - an album so honest and so raw that you have no choice but to love it.

Monday, September 3, 2007

A. Gene Punckbowee :: Radio Magnolia

Artist :: A. Gene Punckbowee
Album :: Radio Magnolia
Label :: Great Uncle Punk Tunes

Play This Cut First :: No Release

In a Word :: Laboratory-tested

Before we get to the music, there is something important you need to know about this CD.

During the last 20 years, concert promoters have been pulling superstar acts together for any number of great causes: feeding starving children in Africa; helping farmers get through tough years; creating a greater awareness of global warming; and so on. All of those causes are noble, but they primarily work because of the popular artists involved. Would they be playing for charity if they weren't asked to? Would they take the initiative to do it just because it is the right thing to do?

A. Gene Punckbowee does.

You may have never have heard his name before. He doesn't care. You may never have heard one of his songs before. He doesn't care about that either. What he does care about is using his abilities as a musician to, among other things, help raise money for the St. Hope Foundation's AIDS Food Pantry in Conroe, Texas.

Says, Punckbowee, himself living with HIV, "Medicine for treatment isn't cheap. For some people, they get stuck with a choice of buying medicine or buying food. That's not a choice anyone should ever have to make."

Why should you care? Because long after Kanye West and The Killers are no longer celebrities, you, me, and people like A. Gene Punckbowee are going to keep on using our talents and dollars to help people who need help, because it's always the right thing to do.

So what does it sound like? Sorta like Johnny Cash meets Iggy Pop at a Kraftwerk concert.

Intrigued? You should be.

Picture electronic beats quirping and bubbling under guitars dripping in phaser and flange effects. Knobs being twiddled, switched being thrown. And Punckbowee's deep voice with a hint of Texas drawl coming in reverb-drenches layers over the top.

Production, you say? Gloriously lo-fi like the underground is supposed to be. You can hear tape compression and sweet hiss on some of these tracks. It used to be that record crackle was the sound of authenticity. In the lo-fi rockscape Punckbowee puts down, it's about wonderfully processed sounds that unsettle your bearings and take you for a ride (tied up in the trunk with duct tape across your mouth sometimes).

The truth is that while bands like The White Stripes get applauded for their spit-shined "garage" sound, cats like A. Gene Punckbowee are the real deal, cutting real albums in real garages. Cuts like "Refuse To Go" with its vertigo-inducing rotopuker synth bass, or the electro-influenced "You Leave Me Cold" don't just bend preconceived notion about genres; they smash them to friggin' pieces. And when you are done, you'll want to thank him for it.

And all for a good cause.

Who you knew something so good for your spirit could be so good for you ears as well?

Best Cuts on the Album :: Radio Magnolia, No Release, Refuse To Go, and You Leave Me Cold

The Bottom Line :: For $10 you can get a copy of Radio Magnolia. All $10 of every disc goes right to the St. Hope Foundation's AIDS Food Pantry - none of this after recouping the expenses of the album stuff. A. Gene Punckbowee put in months of writing and recording to help. All you need to do is whip out your plastic, buy a copy, help a good cause, and spend an hour or so in the underground. Everybody wins.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Samatha James :: Rise

Artist :: Samantha James
Album :: Rise
Label :: Om Records

Play this cut first :: Living Without You

In a word :: Captivating

Okay, it's been a long time since an artist came along with a sound so pure and direct that it cannot be overlooked. Om Records' artist, Samantha James, shows on her debut album, Rise, that she could very well be the voice of electronic music for years to come. Quite frankly, this album is so good it's stunning.

Initial comparisons to Sade are obvious. She has that same smoke in her voice. I'm trying hard not to call it sexy; so I'll call it sultry. Fans of Aya and Lisa Shaw should also find Samantha James to be to their liking.

Sade is certainly an influence. I would say that Morcheeba and Massive Attack even get in there sometimes. As a result, it's not a run-of-the-mill vocal house album by any means. Rise runs the gamut from dancefloor fillers, to think pieces, to bedroom music. It's not something that is easy to do. And frankly, I don't think I've heard it done this well since Madonna hit the scene. Does that mean Samantha James will be the next Madonna? Probably not; the music industry landscape is a very different place these days. If this were 1983, however, well ... maybe.

Standout tracks include "Rise", which is featured below. What is most striking is the simplicity of the arrangement. It puts all of the focus on the vocals, where it belongs. And Samantha James carries it. "Living Without You" has a decidedly electro feel that is clearly aimed at the dance floor. "Send It Out To The Universe" is another traditional house cut that brings out the soul flavor that put house on the map before acid house emerged.

Along the way, however, are interesting bossa nova tinted tracks like "Enchanted Life" and "I Found You". While these tracks aren't my favorite on the album, they serve a purpose in showing the amazing range of Samantha James. In fact, these are the cuts the allow her to avoid being pigeon-holed as just another house singer. When you hear these cuts, you wonder what the next album will bring.

What I'm having a hard time getting to is this: you'll find a lot of hardcore aggressive music on this blog. I consider myself a rocker first. Sometimes, however, an artist comes along whose music is so powerful that it cannot be denied. I adore Bjork, Peter Gabriel, Beethoven, and Stevie Ray Vaughan because there is something in their work that completely transcends genres. It is the power of music that knows no boundaries. It is the power of musicians to be in touch with some sort if eternal and universal musical element that goes beyond cognition and completely penetrates the human soul, filling it with the spirit of music - that spirit that made us fans of music in the first place. Samantha James's Rise is that type of album.

Best cuts on the album :: Rise, Living Without You, Send It Out To The Universe, Right Now

The bottom line :: This is an album of life. It is an album of endless summer nights dancing on balconies with the buzz of a few drinks spinning in your head. It is an album of cruising the coast with the top down. It is the aural equivalent of the northern lights painting the sky wonderful shades of magnificence. It is an album that touches the core of the human soul and makes you wish that this moment, this very moment, would never end. Yeah, it's that kind of album. And it doesn't come around very often.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Devin Townsend :: Ziltoid The Omniscient

Ziltoid The OmniscientArtist :: Devin Townsend
Album :: Ziltoid the Omniscient
Label :: InsideOut Music

Play this cut first :: By Your Command

In a word :: Brilliant

I was first introduced to Devin Townsend when he did the vocals in Steve Vai's Sex & Religion CD. It was evident from the point that he had something different going in upstairs. I mean, Steve Vai is sort of known as an alien among musicians. That he chose Devin should've been a sign. Since then, Devin's band Strapping Young Lad has had a very devout following in the underground for bringing together powerful riffs that will, turn on your lightbulb and smash it all at the same.

But with Ziltoid the Omniscient he really outdoes himself.

This album is like The Muppets meet Paradise Lost at a Carcass concert. Before we get to the comedic storyline, it is worth saying that this album would be a metal masterpiece of musicianship without the gimmicky, yet effective story line that goes with it. Yet, this is why we love Devin Townsend, because he can be wonderfully creative, yet technically fierce as a musician.

Okay, the story line.

(Lifted from Wikipedia)

The story begins with Ziltoid arriving at Planet Earth and demanding the ultimate cup of coffee (ZTO). When he is disappointed by the cup they give him, he attacks Earth with his army and his secret weapon - his guitar playing. Ziltoid wishes to impress the humans enough to hand over their finest coffee so he can go back in time and present himself throughout the Universe as the ultimate guitar player. (By Your Command and Ziltoidia Attaxx!!!). Captain Spectacular of the humans devises a plan to escape by exposing Ziltoid as a nerd and then jumping into hyperdrive towards Nebulowenine (Solar Winds and Hyperdrive). Devin Townsend

Ziltoid follows and is presented a beautiful vision and is momentarily stunned, baffled and has a 'Ziltoidian epiphany'. He snaps out of the haze and becomes angry, retreating to Flagggdathgraths Universal Arcade, where one can pay to destroy a virtual planet. He summons the 6th dimensional Planet Smasher to help him destroy his chosen planet. (N9 and Planet Smasher).

Herman the 6th dimensional Planet Smasher rejects Ziltoid so he visits the Omnidimensional Creator to find out the true nature of his reality (Omnidimensional Creator), and he sees his whole life before him. Finally he is told that he is only a mere puppet in a show (Color Your World and The Greys). The album ends on the bombshell that this is all a daydream being had by someone working in a coffee shop who is awoken by his boss and given the customers' orders including a Tall Latte (Tall Latte).

While major record labels are decrying the Internet as the devil and calling their customers thieves, artists like Devin Townsend are embracing the medium, creating Ziltoid videos (like the one above) to reach out to the online crowd, mix it up a little, and hope they buy the disc. And, really, you TOTALLY should. This is the stuff that keeps music evolving while Britney Spears is breaking down for Barbra Walters.

Best cuts on the album :: By your Command, Planet Smasher, Solar Winds

The Bottom Line :: Bizarre? Sure. But that weirdness is splendidly wrapped in a rock opera that moves as a rock opera should, with dynamic ups and down, and even narration. It's not like The Wall, nor does it aim to be - something we're all a little better off because of. Nonetheless. It's brilliant. If you are in a listening rut, or really appreciate genius in the bizarre, you must own Ziltoid the Omniscient.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Get An Electronica Education

So much of electronica is oversaturated by the likes of DJ Sammy melodic trance. Instead, if you are new to electronica, check out the following site. It is a good way to come up to speed with great sound clips.

Ishkur's Guide to Electronic Music.

Fantastic resource. You'll want to bookmark this.