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.

Dream Theater :: Systematic Chaos

Artist :: Dream Theater
Album :: Systematic Chaos
Label :: Roadrunner Records

Play this cut first :: Constant Motion (video below)

In a word :: Edgier

I'll admit it, I'm a bit biased. As a guitar player, and one with a music theory degree, the orchestrated brand of progressive metal that Dream Theater delivers has been a favorite of mine for more than 15 years. And while much of their stuff has been almost a like a rehashing of the previous album, Systematic Chaos is certainly different.

For starters, these cuts tend to be heavier across the board. While they've had a penchant for dropping in these little acoustic bits with bad sax solos in the past, they skip that for the most part. The only real exception is the 15-minute snoozer "The Ministry of Lost Souls". But that's what skip buttons are for.

This time, they get heavier and put more focus on traditional song structures, but in a way that is so much better than they tried on Falling Into Infinity. It's almost as if they decided to try writing more conventional songs than having someone else suggest they do it. There's a little more heart in it this time around. A cut like "Forsaken" could easily get some radio spins and not seem like a sellout at all.

Don't get me wrong, though, there is a ton of powerhouse riffage and musical pyrotechnics. I mean, come on, it's Dream Theater. A cut like "Constant Motion" (video included) is pretty representative of the overall aggression levels on Systematic Chaos.

I'm not sure if the move to Roadrunner Records, a metal powerhouse label, was a bit of a kick in the ass, but these guys seemed like they were out to prove something for the first time since, well probably the first time ever.

One good move was keep singer James Labrie in check. The guy can sing, sure. But his range is in a register that drives a lot of people crazy and is usually more of an obstacle to those who have never heard Dream Theater before than the complex song arrangements are. With this added level of aggression, holding him back a little is one of those instances when less is more. In some cases, they put his voice through a lot of distortion, which also helps.

They also experiment in a few places. For instance, "Repentance" harkens back to "This Dying Soul" from the Train of Thought album. It is another song in this sort of unspoken Alcoholics Anonymous suite that has been weaving itself through albums since Awake. They do some interesting things with guitar processing and extended chord progressions, much like Pink Floyd, with spoken word voice-overs. And the way the final track "In the Presence of Enemies Part II" blows up does my heart good.

It's actually pretty cool to hear them stretch out a little and push the(ir) envelope in a way that just doesn't involve playing faster.

Best cuts on the album :: Constant Motion, The Dark Eternal Night, In the Presence of Enemies Part I.

The bottom line :: With the level of musicianship in this band, they could've gone in any direction and probably pulled it off. Going heavier, however, play to a strength. Their albums have always had some great heavy moments, but putting this album in that realm as a whole was a brilliant move. It doesn't sound forced at all. And this might be the album that wins them some new fans without alienating the old ones.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Nodes of Ranvier Interview

VictoryRecords artists, Nodes of Ranvier, have stellar new disc out called Defined by Struggle. Guitarist, Jon Parker, took a few minutes to talk with BRB about the album, dream tours, digital music, and more. Enjoy.

And if you haven't picked up Defined By Struggle yet, I can't encourage it enough.

BRB: Defined by Struggle shows a pretty significant degree of maturity versus past efforts. How much of that is the natural evolution of the band, and how much was a conscious decision to stretch out on this album?

NOR: A lot of what you are hearing as maturity may be coming from the fact that three of the members have changed since the last album. We wrote this album from a completely musical standpoint without regard for vocals. It was a very step-by-step process, and I think that laid way to a much more concise sound this time around. We may not have as much diversity of sound as we have in the past but the songs are much more technical in their speed and material. We set out to write a weighty record and something that we felt had a common feel from song to song, without becoming monotonous. We are very happy with what we came up with especially under the weight of time constraints and member changes.

If you could put yourself on tour with three other bands of your choice, who would you pick?

NOR: The Black Dahlia Murder, Burnt by the Sun, MASTODON.

BRB: Who are some of your non-rock-based favorite artists? What is it about those artists that gets them on your favorites list?

NOR: First off would be Atmosphere. For not being the biggest fan of hip hop, I must say there is something inspiring about Slug’s material. I’ve been able to see the group once in my hometown and it was pretty much the most fun I could have had around a bunch of frat boys and ICP fans. Haha!

Secondly would be Sigur Ros. I guess some would consider them a rock-based band, but because I cant find a way to classify them I'm adding them to the list. Their music does something to my spine that I cannot explain, and it literally gives me a hopeful feeling just in listening. This band is a gift.

Thirdly, I'm a big DJ Shadow fan. The Private Press is a record that I can listen to in almost any mood and especially when I need my mind to be doing two or more things at once. I appreciate the blending of elements that I myself would never have thought to put together.

BRB: Do you have any themes or sources that consistently provide lyrical inspiration?

NOR: The ins and outs of life have always played a particularly large part in the lyrical content of this band. A lot of songs are stories about problems we’ve faced and struggles we’ve bore. We want to put a positive spin on a sometimes grim world. It’s something that gives us reason and purpose to do what we do and play music that moves us personally. In a way, we live through the things that this band has brought about for us. It’s bigger than its members. It’s a message and a way of life.

BRB: How have social media sites like MySpace or PureVolume benefited Nodes of Ranvier?

NOR: Free access to press is always a good thing. Many people would have never heard of us if it wasn’t for these sites. Now, more than ever, it seems that the world of music is more about listening than buying. With so much to choose from, bands need all the help they can get to stay alive. We have appreciated the ability to run these sites by ourselves and stay in better contact with the people who would consider themselves fans. It’s a great tool for us to keep our music in the listeners' ears.

BRB: Do you think the increasing popularity of iPods and digital downloads will eventually render CDs obsolete? How do you think this will affect a band like yours?

NOR: It’s hard to say. Books are very prevalent. I'm still buying vinyl. While I'm sure the digital world will continue to decrease hard copy record sales, I think that the music industry will never die. It may not be pretty, but something will have to take place to make some order out of all this. The attention that iPods have brought to the individual enjoyment of music has given people the ability to branch out their own musical tastes. For an off color band like ourselves, I’m sure this has been helpful.

There you have it, folks. Big thanks to Jon for taking the time to go into such depth and detail. The album, again, is called Defined By Struggle and it's in stores now.