Friday, July 2, 2010

Tom Petty - 'Mojo' (29/6/2010)

You can call it ‘classic rock’ if you want, but its done by Tom Petty and its released in 2010. That’s right, on June 29 Tom Petty released his umpteenth studio album, ‘Mojo.’ Approaching the album with caution is understandable, after all, there are few mainstream musicians who are still making enjoyable music after they have reached the 30 year mark. Unlike the Black Sabbaths and the Deep Purples, but similar to peers of his like The Boss and Dylan, its satisfying to hear Petty making music that’s relevant to where he is in his career.

For the most part, ‘Mojo,’ is a pretty lazy album. Two types of lazy, in fact. The first is lazy like the back porch/rocking chair combo. The second is lazy like bad swagger. The rhythmic rocking will fall on beat with the slower half of ‘Mojo’ and the faster songs are delivered with a slick and sly maturity, one that will turn on sunglasses-mode on cloudy day. You can whittle wood during ‘First Flash of Freedom,’ and take a break during ‘Takin’ My Time’ to push some more dip between your gums.

Overall Petty has kept the record light and fairly simple. His guitar tone his sweet, slightly reminiscent of Back Door Slam or John Mayer. And as these comparisons suggest, ‘Mojo’ is pretty bluesy. There’s nothing ground breaking here, but is that what you’ve come to expect from the man who has mastered turning middle of the road rock songs into cool ditty’s?

In case its still unclear how an album featuring two types of lazy can remain interesting, let us take a look at some of the stand outs. ‘Candy’ has in its back seat a bouncy guitar riff accentuated by a meandering solo throughout, while upfront the no frills drumming is doing a fine job speeding down the highway. Lead off single, ‘I Should Have Known It’ sounds like a sleazy Led Zeppelin, and ‘U.S. 41’ starts out as a Delta Blues song. ‘Runnin’ Man’s Bible’ is reminiscent of ‘Runnin’ Down A Dream’ in not only title but also vibe and the album’s closer sounds like it was resurrected from the 70’s, particularly because of the slight similarity to Pink Floyd’s ‘Echoes.’ Sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it?

In case it wasn’t obvious, the album is really good. Pretty standard, but really good. If you like the blues, singer-songwriters, the 70’s, and lazy Sunday afternoons on a Monday night, then go ahead and check out the album. If you don’t like the above, come back soon for the upcoming Danko Jones review.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang (15/6/2010)

Everyone and their grandmother knows that The Gaslight Anthem’s singer, Brian Fallon, has a love for The Boss. Fallon rewrites The Boss’s lyrics to make them his own, shamelessly, and pulls it off pretty well. When 2008’s ‘The 59 Sound’ came out, I knew I was going to like GLA when I heard Fallon sing ‘and at night i wake up with the sheets soaking wet/that’s a pretty good song, baby, you know the rest.’ Tack on the guest appearance of none other than Dicky Barrett (Mighty Mighty Bosstones) for some woo-oo-oh’s in ‘The Patient Ferris Wheel’ and you knew the album was going to be great.

And now in the spring of 2010, GLA deliver 10 new cuts collectively known as ‘American Slang.’ In essence, the album is chock full of catchy guitars without too much overdrive, good control over dynamics in not only each individual song but also as an album as a whole, and lyrics that are borderline emo by incorporating vague imagery and inane song titles, but are delivered with an honest conviction that Fallon receives a passing grade none the less. But what’s new? Nothing.

There’s no ‘new direction’ to talk about. There’s no opportunity to discuss ‘the production’ because we exhausted that subject on the forerunner, and because Fallon is still sprinkling his lyrics with references to The Boss (and others), there’s nothing new there, either. But one of the greatest things about rock n’ roll is that ‘the same’ is sometimes all you need. I spent two years listening to ‘The 59 Sound’ on a daily basis, and while I didn’t consider GLA to be a favorite of mine, that album certainly was. It was only recently that I felt that I had listened to the album to death and could get very little out of it any more. Luckily, this particular moment in time happened to be around the same time that GLA released ‘American Slang.’

As you might have noticed, I have spent very little time discussing ‘American Slang.’ Instead, I have only used words to compare this release to its last one. Take that to mean what you want it to mean. I’m pleased with it because I have a new album that I’m pretty sure I’ll fall in love with, even if it is filled with the same old stories I’ve heard before.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Black Keys - 'Brothers' (18/5/2010)

Last week I received an advance copy of The Black Keys’s upcoming release, ‘Brothers,’ which not only confirmed how much of a trend setter my blog is but it also confirmed that this would be the only album spinning on my turn table for the next little while until The Sadies release their new outing.

‘Brothers’ primarily showcases The Black Keys’s ability to write a really really sad song. So much so that when the album is playing the background the sadness weighs so heavily on the task at hand that it can send you into a nose dive that will land you on your couch. This is what happened to me, at least. But once I glued myself to the couch and pulled out my headphones I took the time to learn the album. Despite its sadness and length, its very good!

‘Brothers’ starts painfully slow with ‘Everlasting Light.’ Luckily it doesn’t take long for The Keys to shift gears and deliver the strongest trifecta of 2010 – ‘Next Girl,’ ‘Tighten Up,’ and ‘Howlin for You.’

A little while later The Keys dip into extreme retro mode and conjure up the instrumental offering ‘Black Mud,’ reminiscent of CCR. Its after this song that the album begins to wallow in sadness. Main Key Dan Auerbach not only wears his heart on his sleeve but he wipes the tears off of his face with it and then passes it around to the audience, making his sadness a tangible reality for those listening in.

By far the the saddest song is ‘Too Afraid to Love You.’ Auerbach whines and moans woah-s and woo-s while dipping in and out of lyrics like ‘I just don’t know what to do, I’m too afraid to love you’ and ‘I wish loneliness would leave me but I think its here to stay.’ The harpsichord that’s driving the song paints the picture of a dishevelled man wearing bell bottoms who is wrestling with the inconceivable notion of closing out the decade by going to a new year’s party without a date.

Before the album starts it denouement, the band delivers a great song that would have fit in nicely with the songs at the beginning of the album, ‘Sinister Kid.’ Then the album then fades away with songs that get progressively uneventful and by the time the James Butler cover ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ comes knocking, the listener has probably lost interest. After all, ‘Brothers’ clocks in at just under an hour of sadness, which might be a lot to take in at one sitting.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Roadburn Festival - April 17, 2010

Saturday morning was a rough one. I had celebrated my birthday the night before and therefore woke up slightly disconnected; disconnected enough to get my gear together and head down to Tilburg for the third and final day of the Roadburn Festival 2010. I had originally decided not to attend the festival this year due to the sky high ticket prices and less than impressive line-up, but I had been to the festival’s 10th anniversary so I saw it more than fitting to take a peak at the 15th anniversary.

After wrestling with indecisiveness I finally got on the horn with a friend of mine who was selling his ticket for a third of the price. I figured it was a fair price, seeing as I’d only be going to one third of the festival. The news came in at about 14.30 that the ticket was waiting for me at Tilburg’s monumental 013 venue, and if I wanted to catch Astra at 16.00, I had better get in the car. I tanked up, rolled up, and drove off heading south on the A2 with the sun beating down on me through my sunroof and my black shirt did a fantastic job absorbing every degree of heat it could. I made it past the ring around Utrecht at which point I realized that the amount of places that you could hide a body grow exponentially in this part of Holland. In order to get to those places, though, you’d need to cross a perimeter of birch trees, which slightly resembled cacti because they were not yet in bloom. So there I was, cooking, baking, and gazing out on a landscape that I could only imagine is at least slightly comparable to the deserts that our stoner heroes, Kyuss, sang about. Talk about being in the zone!

Minutes before Astra took the stage, I pulled into a parking spot and moseyed my way down to the venue. Tilburg is a beautiful city with a rich rock n’ roll scene – especially when Roadburn comes a’knockin. I joined a fleet of bearded men in black shirts heading the same way but felt a strange vibe radiating off of them. As they slowly marched down the street, hardly saying a word to one another, it began to feel as though I had joined a funeral procession. I tried to crack a joke about a band named Master Musicians of Bukkake but was met with blank faces and what I assume was an attempt to tell me that these folks I had found myself with were from Italy and spoke very little English. Around this time I was able to break free and meet up with my buddy Bart who was holding the golden ticket. I strapped on a wrist band which marked me as a member of this spaced-out community and we headed to the Midi-Theater for the Astra show. Unfortunately, the theater had reached its capacity, so we headed back to the Main Stage to watch the other opening band of the day, Death Row.

You see, one of the main reasons I didn’t spring on tickets when the pre-sale went up was because most of the bands billed for the festival had outrageous names and even stranger music. Witchfynde, Altar of Plagues, Church of Misery, Trinacria, Valborg, and the list goes on and on. When I had previously attended Roadburn, the bands booked had strange names, but at least they didn’t insinuate cannibalism, death, or Satan. Bands like Brant Bjork and the Bros, Astrosoniq, Colour Haze, Leafhound, and Litmus, to me, are what made the festival so special. Super psychadelic wanderings, be it musically or finding yourself drifting from one stage to another.

That said, Death Row was kind of cool. Being an up-tempo rock band in a three piece formation of course made it a dead giveaway that they were trying to be Blue Cheer, and because of that I was only able to drift in and out of interest. Bart and I left the set early to check out The Machine, who I thought was a band that did Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd covers, but I was mistaken. The Machine sounded like a watered down Colour Haze and needing to watch them in an over-crowded Bat Cave (the small stage) just wasn’t worth the music. Meanwhile, Sons of Otis were about to take the stage over at the Midi Theater, and since I’m a sucker for most bands on the Small Stone Records imprint, I felt compelled to check them out.
Sons of Otis are also a three-piece, playing in front of a backdrop painted with cascading amplifiers and speakers not unlike the ones the band was actually using. The backdrop was probably there to give the impression that Sons of Otis played huge, heavy riffs with relentless force, which wasn’t really the case. The music was good – very psychedelic and tuneful – but the singer/guitar player needs to learn to use his pipes better. Whenever he stepped up to the microphone to sing, I cringed. But it seems to be working for them because they’ve been doing this for years.

After the set we went outside to bake in the sun a little bit and get some air. Brant Bjork was up next and I needed to recharge my batteries before heading back in. Brant Bjork and his bros took the stage 20 minutes late and first proceeded to tune their instruments. This seems to be a running gag on this tour, because they did pretty much the same thing back in March when I saw the band in Rotterdam. Of course the set opened with a jammed out version of ‘Freaks of Nature.’ When the song came to a close, Brant said a few words about how special Roadburn was and then they continued to plow through a set featuring songs from ‘Jalamanta,’ ‘Somera Sol,’ and the latest ‘Gods and Goddesses.’ After an hour and a half of wild guitar solos, heavy rhythms, and the sly and sleazy vocal delivery of Brant himself, the band left the stage on a high note (having played ‘Too Many Chiefs...Not Enough Indians’ with Mario Lalli on guitar) and beat out any other band we had seen so far. Up next was not so much a band as an ego trip, Garcia plays Kyuss. After such a respectable rock show as Brant’s, Garcia needed to bring his A-game.

Unfortunately, the entire Kyuss set fell flat on its face. Why? Well, John Garcia was the singer in the eponymous stoner-rock band by the name of Kyuss with buddies Scott Reeder (bass, now with Fu Manchu), Josh Homme (guitar, now with Them Crooked Vultures), and the aforementioned Brant Bjork on drums. What Garcia did, however, was round up a bunch of no-name Dutch guys to play the songs exactly like they’re played on record while he took center stage. There was very little movement on stage and even less communication within the band. It seemed like the band was told to tone down their stage presence to be able to shine the light on Garcia, who did nothing more than grind his mic stand or drink drink liters of water with his back turned to the audience while the band explored the instrumental territory of the music. At one point, Garcia invited Ben Ward, the singer from Orange Goblin on stage to sing a song – an attempt that also fell flat on its face because Ward only sung three words with Garcia every time the chorus came around. In short, if I wanted to stand while listening to Kyuss, I can do that at home and not feel as though I’m wasting my time seeing great music being torn apart by a sub-par show.

Once the Garcia set ended I tried to head to the Bat Cave to watch Ahkmed, but they were unfortunately not exciting enough to bring back the vibe the John Garcia had stripped me of. Up next were the two big closers – Los Natas and Enslaved. Los Natas I had seen open for Brant Bjork back in 2008 and was unimpressed. Enslaved is not at all my cup of tea. I actually ended up leaving early. What a shame.

Yes, I enjoyed myself. I was with good company and erratically ran into another few people I knew. The vibe was good, the sun was shining, and music festivals usually have a fitting vibe. But after spending seven hours at the 013 I realized that the only highlights were Sons of Otis and Brant Bjork. Until Roadburn goes back to their roots booking more bands like this, I think this will be my last visit to the festival.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones - 'Pin Points and Gin Joints' (8/12/09)

Listen to the majority of ‘Pin Points and Gin Joints’ here.

I was going to post a review of Titus Andronicus’s new album, but because the tag-line for this blog is what I like about rock n’ roll, I decided to ditch it. Instead, I came across the new(ish) Mighty Mighty Bosstones album, ‘Pin Points and Gin Joints.’ Here’s a brief history of the band:

They’ve been around for the better part of the last 20 years, mostly as an underground sensation creditted to piloting the ska-core movement. In the mid 90’s they acheived international success when their song ‘The Impression That I Get’ was featured in some Hollywood blockbuster. The succeeding albums were more or less absent from the mainstream but The Bosstones never lost their cult following. ‘Pin Points and Gin Joints’ is the Bosstones’s return to the scene after a seven year absence but the fresh sound of these 14 songs would make you think we’re about to be let out for summer vacation ‘95.

Similar to Fu Manchu and AC/DC, The Bosstones can write the same thing over and over and over again and it’ll always sound fresh. For those unfamiliar with ska music their songs could fall victim to the ‘they all sound the same’ cry, but take a moment to absorb the unique characterists of the Bosstones. A few things will rise to the surface - Dicky Barrett’s delivery of sing-along choruses (and verses) are much more infectious than one would expect by someone with a voice that sounds like gravel is lining the throat. Katz’s guitar work is nothing special, but its enough to warrant uninhibited behavior during a show. In the back somewhere, blasting horns that rival those of Reel Big Fish can be heard and the rhythm section is spot on.

‘Pin Points and Gin Joints’ is full of highlights. ‘Graffitti Worth Reading,’ ‘You Left Right?’ ‘I Wrote It,’ ‘Death Valley Vipers’ and ‘A Pretty Sad Excuse’ are great songs for pogoing, drinking, and skanking. The rest of the album holds a solid groove, hardly ever slowing down so you can catch your breath.

Back in 1993, these Boston natives released an EP titled ‘Ska-Core, The Devil, and More.’ This title could be applied to any one their albums, and if that title appeals to you, Barrett and his boys sure will as well.


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Brant Bjork - 'Gods and Goddesses' (26/3/10)

Listen along:

I just rolled myself a fatty (whatever that may be). About half a year ago I told myself that I wasn’t going to do this anymore, but this is a Brant Bjork record so how could I not? Another thing that a Brant Bjork record entitles us to is a special review. Rather than making vague subjective statements with a splash of name-dropping, I’m going to walk you through these eight songs one by one:

Dirty Bird: Great opener. Brant’s walking that blues lick over a jazzy drum beat that’s so solid you could build a city above it. What’s Brant talking about? Beats me. But Brant’s sing-talk delivery of lyrics like:

‘Dont want no goose laying golden eggs

Dont want no lapdog yapping when he begs

What you’re hearing is exactly what was heard

Aint it nice flying high with the dirty bird’

hardly need a meaning behind them. They just sound cool. Passion before perfection, y’know?

Future Rock (We Got It): Boom! The album gets loud here. At this point its appropriate to mention that Brant is backed by a whole new band on this outing – a band that probably drinks more than they smoke. This song praises both the underground rock n’ roll movement and ‘what lies between the thighs of a woman,’ as he so eloquently remarks. The guitar solo here is off the hook!

Radio Mecca: So far so good! This one is a little more mellow and the spacey echo on Brant’s voice is showing you what should be taking charge. A solid groove, a wah-wah solo, laid back licks. Man, if this song were any more laid back it would be horizontal!

Little World: This song will close out side 1 for those lucky enough to have this album on vinyl. Brant fans will love this track as it hints at elements that made his solo debut ‘Jalamanta’ so special while it shares some ideas with 2008’s ‘Born to Rock.’ It starts off slow and builds into crashing symbals and wild guitar solos flying from one speaker to the other. And if that bass line isn’t Brant convincing us that a bass line should be louder than anything else in the mix, then you must not like bass.

Blowin’ Up Shop: Flip the record and let’s see what side 2 has in store for us. An interesting intro that eventually moves to a choppy guitar riff. This song sounds like it would fit well on his album ‘Keep Your Cool.’ And similar to that album, this song is good but there’s much better.

Good Time Bonnie: Yeah, man! This is some rock n’ roll! That punk rock guilt he was talking about in 2008 is back in full force on this cut. The thing that I am absolutely head over heels with this one is the conversation the guitars and vocals have.

Porto: I love this song, too. Big surprise, right? It’s another typical Brant Bjork song driven by a catchy bassline, not much unlike ‘Cheap Wine.’ The twin guitars harmonizing with each other screams Thin Lizzy, and the structure is also priceless. Another wild guitar solo that might just convince you that this new band Brant’s got is actually pretty damn good.

Somewhere (Some Woman):

‘Somewhere in the world right now

Some woman is loving you

What you gonna do right now’

These are the only lyrics in in this cut, one that flirts with the six-minute mark. Needless to say, this song sounds like much more of a jam than a song. But that’s all right, because Brant’s albums are only the foundation for what he’s going to do live.

Speaking of seeing him live, I had the pleasure of catching his show this past weekend in de Baroeg. After seeing the same band almost a dozen times, its hard to imagine what the band could do to make the show any better. Which brings me to the best part about Brant Bjork – whatever he does defines ‘cool.’

I give ‘Gods and Goddesses’ a 10/10. It may not be the perfect record, but last year Pitchfork gave Animal Collective a 9.6/10, and this album is much better than that one.