French culture has been a gift to the world for many centuries now, and I would need a whole new post to speak about my literary, philosophic, musical and cinematographic heroes either hailing from France or French speaking. However, I wonder if contemporary and modern music is not perhaps an area where they fall a bit shorter than in the others; this might just be my personal ignorance, maybe I'm just a guy grabbing a trunk and calling it an elephant, but when it comes to rock-metal-punk music, with some notable exceptions (love me some Burning Heads, for example), the French bands I've come across often fall in the trap of emulating US models without making them theirs, when not turning them into a bit of a "pop caricature", or copycatting to extents that can be servile.
That's why I've been doubly pleased to find Powder, a French band that is not "good for a French band", but plain fucking good, a honest attempt at creating something new, a genuine and original voice.
We who listen to punk are more often than not misadapted people, rejects, sore thumbs, people who feel the world is not right. Otherwise we would probably be listening to lady fucking gaga. This genre is good at (in fact it was born as a means for) channeling the rage, that angst and despair that is impossible to avoid for any human who wants to live, not just sleepwalk, his life through the 20th and now 21st century. I'm sure many musicians we admire, had they not been gifted with talent to express themselves through a guitar, would have resorted to a machine gun, as in so many of those sad cases we read out there.
What I find in Powder is a new way of channeling that rage, of giving it a shape. Their style is not so much confrontational (not so much in-yer-face fuck you), as an introverted kind of sadness that still gets very violent at times, with a lot of raw hardcore energy. Like I say, a new kind of deal, a peculiar mixture of the components, a voice of their own.
In certain phrasings I hear a bit of Fugazi (term that means "fucked up", a useful reminder here), also a bit of math rock (for example in the beautiful, desolate riff of "Death and lies")... There is also a great feel for melodies, which are used like broken pieces of a puzzle, here and there, as if they appeared only to relief the tension for a while. The instrumental parts have a feeling of "scenery" of "landscape", they feel organic, full of ambience...
One of my favorite songs is "My sorrows", with its mechanic, ruthless riff that has a "medieval" kind of feel to it. The lyrics can be interpreted as an introvert meditation, a lament of separation, but there is this verse that for some reason always makes me think of the recent random killings France and my country (and other countries) have been suffering lately: "I'm sorry for what I did/that makes you so desperate"...
All this emotional charge is backed by great musicianship through and through. The ups and downs, the expression... A note of impeccable taste is that they prefer to err on the side of caution and all the songs are very short, in occasions perhaps too much, as it leaves you a bit like "what just happened" after so much intensity. But I belong to the same school, I prefer falling short rather than going too far, maybe it's something they do by design to slap you in the face, and in any case this is a "measure" that will just become better as they explore their creativity in future albums.
My other but would perhaps be that the level of intensity and chagrin throughout the whole album is so high that maybe the songs as a whole feel a bit too similar, although in a good sense, in the same way four shots of mescal feel similar. It's always a tricky trade-off, because on one hand you want cohesion and on the other variety, and the album does propose a coherent trip from beginning to end, so... just a tiny remark about a great record from a band I hope to hear more of in the future.
This review ends (just in time!) my collection of what my musical year felt like. From this point I'll go back to "habitual programming" of one weekly post minimum. Happy 2018 to everybody!
Not much to say about this album except that I listened to it and enjoyed it a lot in 2017. Good 'ole metal (trash I guess) that you can listen to from beginning to end and have a good ride. My favorite song is "Lotka" but the whole album is great, there are no fillers. They are a Polish band and my knowledge of Polish is let's say rudimentary (like: 0 words), so all I can do is expecting that they are not insulting me and my family in the lyrics.
One year in the making, I hope the author(s) recover soon and can bring us new stuff this upcoming year (and not that I know anything about long painstaking recording processes, lol...)
Another one I discovered via Dying Scene, I like this album's arrangements and production, so dirty and distorted you could take it for something recorded in the 70s... but I mean really, not as in "we're doing vintage here".
The Bandcamp notes document extensively the band's influences, to which I would add some that I detect perhaps only due to my own listener story. For example, I hear a pinch of the first L7, Babes in Toyland and Hole albums in the singer's voice. The guitar sonority has an incredible personality a la Dick Dale/ Man or Astroman?, half surf half Tex Mex; again not something that comes across as an exercise of style, but as something very authentic that emanates from the songs, from music made one's own, lived from within. My favorite track is perhaps "Hiawatha", with a mysterious riff that would do well in say a Tarantino road movie. The rawness of the whole thing also makes me think of The Stooges sometimes.
So there's a rich soup of influences here, and you probably will find your own when you listen to it. Same as I said with Fare Game, the album shows a surprising maturity for a first effort. The songs are like sonic passages, well arranged and connected, with perhaps a bit less of emphasis on structures and closure, but which propose a good "trip" from beginning to end. Lindsay DeGroot's vocals, continuously ranging from tender to aggressive, and all the gamut between, give the record a nice dynamism and variety.
The album also includes a very personal, almost unrecognizable cover of Britney Spear's pop hymn "Toxic", here turned into a gloomy, almost masochist declaration of vulnerability (the way she phrases that "Baby can't you see...")
Another favorite of mine is "Girl Hater": "I don't get it baby/Why do you hate us ladies?". The band is labelled in the DS review as "feminist", and yet, lyrics like that seem to point to a new path, an attempt at trying something new. If we switch 5,000 years of male domination for other 5,000 of female domination we haven't advanced much, have we? The stance of this song comes to me as something like "Please be clear, we women can kick ass harder than men if need be. But is it really necessary? Let's be friends!"
On that note, there's the only big "but" I can put to this band: one of its members is male, and I'm sure the only reason he's been chosen is as a sexual object. It makes me sick the oversexualization of males in modern music nowadays...
I didn't pay much attention to these guys at the beginning. I have to admit that the singer's style at first seemed to me a bit of a gimmick or a simple "whim", more than real substance. Something like "OK, let's see, what can we do different to stand out from the rest of black metal bands?"
However, as I've listened to them more, I've found there is an appropriate combination of elements in what these guys do, something that feels very authentic (and creepy) to me. In some songs like "Magnificent glorification of Lucifer" or "Ominous doctrines of the perpetual mystical macrocosm" (it's not the kind of band you play at your nephew's party), the drumming has a quality of "stubborn machine" that makes you think of some sick and incredibly perverted AC/DC or Prong; add to that the despair of the raspy guitars, put on top the monotone, ugly voice, and it sounds like music for slaves, with a mummified Torquemada taken out of the grave just for a while so he can sing; the son of a bitch still can move his putrid lips, but barely.
I'm far from being an expert in this band or style (I'm not even sure they are people I would like to hang out with), but listening to this kind of music now and then works for me like an acid bath that helps me make peace with my dark side. Ideology is no issue in my case (unless I know something about the musicians that makes them personally repugnant to me), I can also listen to a Christian singer if he is good, or I can listen to Viking metal and not being expected to worship at the altar of Odin...
(My) 2017's new and noteworthy: 1) Mr Bitterness and the Guilty Pleasures, "Songs From the Surveillance Age"
I always say that I have my house in rock-metal-punk, that's where I feel comfortable, where it always feels good to be back, but in addition to that, I also do a lot of trekking.
In those long walks, I sometimes like to pay visit to let's call it "electronic pop with an edge" (a la Nine Inch Nails, Moby, Massive Attack, Tricky... my strokes here have to be broader as I'm only a tourist). And this year, when I've felt like doing so, this record, in fact this artist, has always been a safe bet.
Not that it is important, but this album cuts it for the 2017 review, as it was published in January. It's well rounded electronic music, easy to listen to, but not "easy" in the bad sense; you can always feel the presence of an author with an intention, a real creator, something that for me is important if a piece of music is going to be worthy of my time.
Something that annoys me often about electronic music is that the genre makes easy to fall into lazy copy-paste traps; "here, two clicks and we have two more minutes of music". Yeah, sure; for your elevator, maybe. This is no issue in Mr Bitterness' case, as both in this album an his previous "The good fight", you can see an admirable care for the structure. The cuts have been treated as songs, not just "audio products".
And they are full of textures, ambiences and surprises, with moments that go from piano to fortissimo... And -unlike some of the illustrious predecessors mentioned above-, there is also a great instinct for melodies, present both in riffs and in the singing.
It doesn't hurt either that the lyrics present an intelligent message, the sensitivity and views of a human well grounded in (and concerned with) this age of our sins, beyond the "ooh baby/ shake your titties/ ooh aah/baby baby" that is also acceptable in these latitudes (I mean: punk has a reputation for being stupid, but it's a genre where it never gets that crappy).
Regarding the production, I have to say the first time I listened to it I found it a bit too dry and perhaps too "in the box". But first, regarding audio issues please distrust anything I say, and second, after the first listening, the album is just the way it is; with me it always works that way.
(A bit of a tangent here; as an extreme example of how this process works in me, I remember when I first listened to Trapper Robbin's "Boat goes down". If I'm not wrong, the way he uses voice is with sidechaining; that audio effect used in radio where, whenever the voice comes in, the rest of the music goes down. First time I listened to it I was like "you have to be kidding me", but I kept coming back to the album because I liked the songs so much, and now the album is just that way, and I wouldn't want it any other).
So Mr Bitterness is a new welcome for my collection in this year, and hopefully many more to come. I have to say that, despite the presumed "bitterness", the fact that the album is called songs FROM the age of surveillance suggests that there is hope, that at some point someone in the future will be able to say "oh, that age... interesting..." (Or maybe the album is something that alien cultures will find beneath our remains? Let's cross fingers...)
I'd also like to note the great work done by the BlocSonic netlabel, on whose site I discovered this album. I wish other sites took good notes in terms of being respectful towards the artist and his vision, clarity of layout disposition, and general elegance... (Sadly most of the other albums are hiphop, a genre that you won't catch me listening any day of the week, but there are also some honorable exceptions like this one).
This album has been another one on repeat in my player this year, although I have to say I have mixed feelings about it.
On one side, the album is great. It's one of those records that, so to speak, "is full of music"; I mean one of those albums that you take a long time to get the "knack" of. This is the kind of music I prefer; the one where you can go back to time after time and get lost inside and discover new stuff every time.
And good stuff, too. Any person who has been in my surroundings last year might have listened at times yellings of random things like "Pistolerooww", "Un-dead, un-dead, un-dead, un-dead...", "You're fucking broke, man..." The album is full of great moments, and all the players are superb. I'm still not familiar with the other works of the guitar and bass player, but the later, Justin Pearson, has my instant sympathy from the moment I heard him in an interview defending that liking Britney Spears was nothing to be ashamed of :).
However... I have a pet peeve with how "superbands" are formed in our current day and age.
My problem could be summarized by one joke by the Argentinean comedians Les Luthiers: "Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce the band; Jorge, this is Marcos. Marcos, this is Jorge..."
No matter how incredibly gifted of a musician you are, you cannot form a band like a piece of Ikea furniture, and think that it is not going to show in the results in some way.
This practice, however, seems to be quite common currently: Mike Portnoy with Winery Dogs+Sons of Apollo+Metal Allegiance, George Lynch with KXM and then Sweet & Lynch... Glenn Hughes with Black Country Communion... (I disagree with his opinion that "IV" is one of his best works -not regarding his voice, which is fucking amazing, but composition wise, and I wouldn't brag so much about having recorded it in a week-).
I'm not sure if this "instant band" phenomenon is due to lack of direction, promotional perks, an attempt to "diversify the product", creative explorations, or a mixture of all of the above, but to me it generally does not benefit the final result. Very frequently, in the interviews you get comments from the musicians not about how this or that song came across, but about how difficult it was to combine schedules, etc... Very bad sign. Songs grow bigger and better by revisiting, through the dynamics of musicians getting to know each other; you're making art, not a piece of machinery to be assembled as fast as possible.
And in the case of Dead Cross, this factor gets magnified even more by including among its ranks the one and only Mike Patton, who besides a very original artist, a unique singer, and owner of his craft like no other, has always had this "touch and go" tendency when it comes to musical projects. He is like the "Rodolfo Valentino" of rock and roll; always game for a night of novelty and frolic, but commitment is out of the question.
Each artist finds their balance in their own way and that's what makes them worthwhile and unique, but in the case of Patton, I find a big drawback in this policy of his. The fact that he seems to be always a bit "detached" from every project he faces ends up making him like a "fixed amount". In whatever project he undertakes, he functions like a constant, he "does his thing"... (I imagine him disembarking in a new studio like a mad scientist, with all his crazy voice altering devices...); you either like it or not, but there's no further range of modification caused by the circumstances. It's like mashed potatoes. "Do you want Patton with your project? Yes? No? Say when..."
I happen to find find Patton's mashed potatoes exquisite, but I'd like to see him sticking more to one single "base camp" project; I think it would help mature the project and the music more... as it is proven by his albums with Faith no More, if I'm not mistaken the band Patton has stuck with longer... Dead Cross could be a great candidate for that one project, but I'm afraid Patton might not be willing to the task, with his "who knows" philosophy, always heading for the next shiny thing...
I wonder if Dave Lombardo gave proper consideration to this factor when he decided to "Pattonify" Dead Cross, as in his case the band does seem to be his main interest at the moment. Perhaps he did; he seems a very steady kind of guy; during last summer's tour all the members but him had accidents (Crain and Pearson with the police, Patton with a skateboard). I divide drummer styles in Mountain, Bull and Octopus, and Lombardo scores high in mountain (although he scores big in everything, the bastard; the drumming he does in "Seizure and desist" is nothing short of incredible to me).
Anyways, together or on their own, I hope all these outstanding musicians keep giving their fruits in the way they feel more comfortable. I on my side impose on myself the (sweet) task for the upcoming year of getting more familiar with Crain and Pearson's other works; I'm sure I'll be glad I did.
Link to the album (via Dying Scene).
And if Neil Young's album sums up my summer, this other one has been my go-to recording for the best part of autumn-winter. Don't ask me why, but something in me connects a lot with this EP, the debut from LA's band Fare game.
The genre is defined as "skate punk", something I don't know much about (the simple sight of a skate board causes me a concussion); to me this is simply great music, with great melodies, good vibe and energy, and a well chosen collection of songs; one of those albums where "one thing takes to another" nicely from one extreme to the other.
I love the singer's voice, energetic and cocky at times, and yet with a certain "pensiveness" to the way that she sings that I really dig, and I like the timbre of the voice too.
Usually, with beginner bands, you get one of two types; first type is an undecided first attempt, maybe full of promise but still hesitating at moments (notable examples: Slayer's "Show no mercy", Ministry -Al Jourgensen started doing new wave, with fake English accent and all, look it if you don't believe me!-).
In other cases, however, there are bands that seem to come to life already "full fledged", with a very mature first album that shows clearly a direction (Boom, Led Zeppelin. Boom, The Doors. Boom, Queen. Boom, Jimmy Hendrix... Hello everybody, let's go...)
This later case is what I find in this EP, which shows a lot of elaboration, gusto, and sense of unity in the selection of songs. For example, the first one, "Jealous bitch", opens with a guitar riff played in the low range, then the second time the riff comes, it adds a second guitar with a subtle "response" played in the high range. There are also exquisitely well arranged keyboards here and there, and the guitar work all through is in my view a demonstration of good taste and atmosphere, giving to each of the well crafted songs a particular "personality"; for example, in "30 sec song" they show that they can shred their butt off if need be... but they never overdo it - everything is at the service of the song.
Historically, the explanation for this kind of so well developed first efforts was that the band had been touring for a while before recording, therefore having time to try stuff out and flesh out the songs a lot (this factor it usually followed, if the band is not careful, by the feared "second album syndrome"). The Dying Scene review says that the band has only been active for a few months, but that they have been pretty active months, so maybe that's why the songs sound so mature.
There is only one thing that is for me a bit of a "weird point" in the album flow -and here, this is strictly this one particular human being very subjective-. I love the song "Band of brothers", an invitation to artistic creation ("Grab a pen/Write it down..."), in the vein for example of The Who's "Your guitar and your pen". The strange thing with this song for me is that I love both the verse and the chorus, but I find them like belonging to two different worlds... the verse is more "sinister" and in-yer-face, while the chorus is melodic and easy going... It's like having a pet that has a duck head and rhino feet; still it's your pet, but it's weird... :)
The EP closes with the song that's called like the band, and if I had to pick only one it would perhaps be my favorite (because I'm a sentimental). Also, I'm more of a moon than a sun kind of guy, and the "shoot the moon" in the chorus, with the rhythm going down for a moment, is for me one of those perfect moments you get in music sometimes, a bit like a lullaby, but at the same time very energetic, but at the same time full of hope... (you can only get to a certain point when you try to describe music with words...)
I hope this band perseveres in the upcoming years and gives us more great music like this EP. I wish them all the success they deserve and, according to the review, are already reaping.
They've been around for a while but I just discovered them and I'm in a stage of full addiction right now. They're one of those bands that it beats that they aren't like 50x or 100x more famous by now (is it perhaps that they don't want to?)
People underestimate the therapeutic importance of laughter, even with mummy science confirming its virtues every day of the week. I don't, and when I find a band that makes me laugh + rocks hard, well, that's a good day for me.
If you're only going to listen to one clip today, make it this 30 seconds version of "Silent night" (or the next video, a longer Xmas "medley" -or should I say meltdown- that also includes it).
And their videoclips. Man. Who sold these loonies a green screen. Here's "So. Heavy.", one of my favorites, and the song that introduced me to their universe (with the customary "the fuck is this...")
Here's another pearl, "Caffeine", a song in which, in my opinion, form and message intertwine particularly well:
And yet another favorite of mine:
I could add more and more titles (like "Rhino the president", or "Micing shit up", the video to end all recording advice videos, or "The root of all evils")... but just check their stuff and you'll soon have your own favorites... These guys cure solitude and they are the instant remedy for any shitty day.
I have to add a word of caution however; maybe no big deal to many, but the rose has one thorn that I would like to mention, just to spare it to viewers who might be in a similar wavelength to mine: in the video for the song "Awesome" they take things a bit too far for my taste with a torture scene. Please reach me that soapbox for a moment so I can explain my stance regarding violence and entertainment. Here it goes, ahem:
For me, scenes like someone squashing a zombie's brain, triturating a vampire's intestines with a lawnmower, etc... all compute as good fun and entertainment; human violence channeled against humanoid creatures is a cathartic exercise that puts aggressiveness in the open in a healthy way, and expressions of this kind have deep anthropological roots (e.g. there are many popular festivities in the world where people beat the crap out of a dummy, etc...)
I also accept (and welcome) scenes of humans hurting other humans as long as the tone set is clearly fantastic, sarcastic or extravagant in some way (e.g. "Reanimator", "Scanners", "Society"... that kind of stuff). But the crude, realistic depiction of a human being inflicting pain on other, in the way it is shown in that video, can never qualify for me as "fun". Empathy blocks the way; I find nothing funny or entertaining about it and to be honest it puzzles me that other people do, in my case it just turns my stomach and nothing makes me reach out for the skip button quicker. Sadly, I've seen this resource, that might perhaps be called "cruelty humor" by those who do find it humorous, in other entertainment products, and not only belonging to the "extreme music/movies" community, culture or however you want to call it. To each their own, I know the line can be blurry and that's where I draw mine, I just wanted to give a fair warning and with that I step out of the soapbox.
Just one isolated eew moment that gets more than lost in the avalanche of pure fun and irreverent joy that these guys provide; I really think if they got more attention from the masses we would all be living in a happier (and heavier) world... How many kittens should we add?
It also helps that, out of what I've seen, we share some common loves: Pantera, Leslie Nielsen, the Doom videogame... and make no mistake, because comedy is serious business: they are solid musicians too; the singer's expressiveness is great, I'd also like to be able to yell like him, and no one who listens to the drum breaks in "So. Heavy." or the crazy riff randomness in the middle of "Caffeine" can deny that these guys have tremendous chops. Just remember not to watch their videos while you're at work, because either your loud laughter or your energetic headbanging are going to betray you quickly... :)
This just in... I interrupt my xmas series to present a new song from this promising new band, Black Sheep Riot, of which I'm the main... well, everything (it would only get more DIY if I had chopped the wood for my guitar myself).
Those who have followed my adventures in this blog are by now excruciatingly informed about the song, so I won't flog on the dead horse. With one thing and the other, this little sucker has taken 5 months to complete, and what 5 months they have been... This will show me not to write songs with 3 tempos, then move to a new computer, then change a couple of times of DAW, and then use a new program for drumming. I've been warned...
What I like most about the song right now is that, to me, it has the "fist"; sometimes when I listen to it it leaves me really "hot and bothered"; must be the broken chord at the end. Of course I'm the least objective person in the world right now... Hope some of you enjoy it too.
Now that the end of the year is approaching, I first thought I'd write a Top of some kind, but I find tops' competitiveness a bit silly, unfair, and ultimately pointless, especially when you're mixing elements that are so scattered; I listen to a lot of music, which comes from a lot of sources, as I really don't care much about technical aspects as long as there's something alive pumping there. So a mixture of that kind is going to be necessarily uneven, apples and oranges, and well, all of the people in this list are "number one" in some aspect, in my view.
Also, considering how much the album launching cycle and the music exploitation systems have changed, I soon thought it made no sense either to limit myself to stuff released in 2017. So these reviews are going to be "my" 2017, the music that "made my year", be it published in 2017, or simply discovered and frequented by me in the latest 12 months. In the spirit of these holidays, I offer this as a table full of delicacies, some of which you may prefer to others; so make your pick freely and please, get loaded :P
Here's my first comment, on Neil Young's "Peace Trail".
Although published in December 2016, for me this album will forever be the soundtrack of my 2017 summer.
I have been Young's fan for a long time. I think the secret to his longevity and actuality is that, unlike many other musicians who at some point start to "pimp their past self", he always dwells in the present, in the "here and now", and this album is not an exception. For example, the title track, a song of a unique, pristine beauty, encapsulates in its lyrics a contemporary feeling that I completely share: "I see the same old signs/But something new is growing". Humanity is at a crossroads right now, in a situation never before experienced. On one hand, we're on the brink of collapse at so many fronts at the same time, that it's amazing that anybody can get out of bed in the morning. On the other hand, things are also incredible on so many fronts so, the learning, the changing of ideas and relationships, everything happens so fast, so many masks are falling...
Another example is the beautiful "Show me", where Neil, with that voice of him that sounds like a hurt child, simply wonders, like many of us do, "when will my species learn to take care of each other? Is it really that much to ask?"
Another favorite of mine is "Indian givers". The song is built upon a very unconventional usage of the boogie-woogie progression, which made me think of "The needle and the damage done", which also takes a guitar motif out of context to do something new. The lyrics are based on a recent situation of human beings standing against injustice (protesting the construction of the Dakota pipeline). And it's impossible not to feel a huge "me too" with lyrics like "bring back the days when good was good / Lose these imposters in our neighborhood".
This concept of "neighborhood" appears in several places in the album; I interpret it as Neil's peaceful conception of what the human community should aspire to be; people helping each other, like neighbors do. Here's a wonderful human being, making his "pledge" to whoever judge is judging: "Now I don't see all the colors/And I might miss some of their beauty/But I do see what I see/And I want to do my duty").
One of the lyrics also mentions amazon.com. I always find hard to add that kind of references in my songs without sounding a bit forced... there's a lot to learn here.
I'm sure that by now Neil will already be familiar with the bittersweet pleasures of home recording, and I hope that he releases a lot of albums like this one or "Le Noise". I think I share with him (and perhaps that's why I follow him so eagerly) being a "jist" kind of guy as a musician: if I can get to the point with simple arrangements, say voice plus guitar as he does in "Le Noise" or "A letter home", I do it and just move on. Once the song exists, others can take it if they please an give it more arrangements, treatments... But I prefer to move on and do the next, fresh one. This album, starting from the simple manuscript cover, fully belongs to that kind of raw, cut-to-the-chase mentality, which is also a sign of sympathy towards punk and its DIY spirit.
I have a guitar and I'm gonna use it