Tag Archive | CD Review

Recommended Listening: Mark Kostabi’s Kostabeat!

Kostabeat CD Cover

Some people have all the talent, it seems. It’s no secret that world famous pop artist Mark Kostabi is also a phenomenally gifted pianist and composer – and fortunately for us, he is not shy about sharing his music with a global audience. Mark Kostabi!

Kostabeat! is Mark’s new CD collaboration with Italian drummer, Tony Esposito. The album’s press release tells the fun story about how the two “met at one of Kostabi’s extravagant parties in Rome [where the artist lives for half the year. Nice]. Kostabi was on piano in the middle of a jam session when Esposito suddenly got on drums and Kostabi was blown away by Esposito’s commanding, percussive drive. They immediately agreed to collaborate on an album. Three years and 50 concerts later, Kostabeat! exists!

Of course, Mark and Tony gathered a group of top-shelf musicians to play on the album as well. Paul Kostabi (Mark’s brother, a musician of some repute who is also an artist), plays guitar on most of Kostabeat!’s songs, and he is joined by Italy’s most famous saxophonist, Stefano Di Battista; Lino Pariota providing his expertise on a variety of keyboards; and Antonio Nicola Bruno playing bass on all eleven tunes. Esposito produced the album in collaboration with Paul Kostabi.

As with 2011’s The Spectre of Modernism on which Kostabi collaborated with the legendary founder of Free Jazz: Ornette Coleman, drummer Jerry Marotta (Peter Gabriel) and Bass/Chapman Stick master Tony Levin, Kostabeat! achieves a multi-genre, crossover appeal and is notable for being Kostabi’s first not-entirely-instrumental album. Here, Mark’s Playful and provocative lyrics are sung by a team of female vocalists: Mollie Israel (daughter of film directors Amy Heckerling and Neal Israel) Elizabeth LoPiccolo, a very talented and fiery, emerging Brooklyn singer and Monica Marziota: a Cuban-Italian singer who also has careers in opera and Latin pop music. All technical proficiency aside, it sounds like everyone involved had a fantastic time making this record.

“Unexpected” is how you might sum up the variety of music you’ll hear on Kostabeat! The CD’s lively opening track, “New Muse” leads with Mark’s gorgeous classically-inspired piano, layered with hand percussion, before flowing into a staccato synth riff and distinctly world beat vibe highlighted by Marziota’s otherworldly vocals. “Oriental Scale” finds Di Battista toying with an arabesque motif on his sax over an insistent and undeniably groovy beat. The exultant “Eternity Now” seems a natural choice for a remix treatment by any one of the moment’s top DJ’s (and it would certainly pack the dance floor in any night club) but it’s sure to find that audience just as it sounds on the disc. Rave on!

Things get a little laid back with “Echoes of Twilight,” which begins with the delightfully seductive, spoken lyrics, “Thank you for a lovely invitation, but I already have plans for the evening.” The instrumental “Megatron Horizon” is a bit of genre-bender that will appeal to the electronic dance contingent, but things get sultry again with “Glide With Me.” Bruno’s funky bass lines anchor the song before LoPiccolo’s gorgeous vocal delivery has a chance to fully intoxicate you. Love this track!

Of course, we did not miss the significance of the title on “11:11” – which is number we seem to see very time we look at the clock. The lyrics, “Eleven Eleven, a sign from heaven” prove that Kostabi the lyricist is on the same page. We appreciate the uplifting lyrics on a non-rock song that truly rocks! “11:11” is also an example of the meticulous arrangements that feature on each song. Getting back to the CD’s lyrics for a moment, “Mine Tonight,” a song about, er, spending the night with a hooker, features a spoken word interlude that I’d guess was culled from Kostabi’s FaceBook feed, to wit: “just so you know, I feel very grateful for the times we shared together and I’m so glad that we are still friends. You’re a very special person and I hold you in high regard. I enjoy seeing your posts and watching her life evolve in positive ways.” So, who says FaceBook is a waste of time?

Last but not least, we would like to offer that “All The Way Jose” manages to mention both guacamole and margaritas and cheekily name-check Roger Daltrey while favorably recalling the very best of Steely Dan. Kostabeat! Is an ideal soundtrack for entertaining a group of any size or just lounging around by your bad self. Nice work, guys (and gals)! Kostabeat! is available via iTunes and on the historic Italian record label Azzurra Music at This Link!

GRADE: A

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Recommended Listening: Kurt Vile, Wakin’ On a Pretty Daze

Kurt Vile Wakin On A Pretty Daze CD Cover
Album Cover Art By Steve Powers!

When it comes to modern music, not much impresses me these days. If you look back over the past few years at any Top 10 Albums list I might have compiled – in those years where I was even able to cobble together such a list at all – you’ll see it’s comprised partly of comeback records by classic rockers, greatest hits packages or tribute albums that revisit the material of a legendary artist. That’s rather pathetic, I know, for a writer who once embraced the tagline ‘Rock Critic at Large,’ but it is what it is. I don’t apologize for being unable to shake the feeling that the best years for popular music are, for the most part, 30 – or even 40 – years behind us.

It if it weren’t for Australia’s Tame Impala, who’ve managed to harness a sound comparable to Led Zeppelin on downers, or Canada’s The Sheepdogs, who pay homage to the seventies better than most bands did back in the ‘70s, there probably wouldn’t be one new band I could name in the past few years whose records gave me any kind of a thrill at all. And then there’s an enigma like Kurt Vile; a singer/songwriter/guitarist whose Murmur-esque vocal delivery is coupled with an amazing finesse for musical arrangements and an ability to turn a phrase that rivals Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen. On Wakin’ On a Pretty Daze, his follow-up to 2011′s brilliant Smoke Ring for My Halo, Vile once again completely and totally blows my mind.

In search of a contemporary reference, I’d say that Kurt Vile keeps company with fellow singer/songwriter and innovator Joseph Arthur, who possesses an equal gift for infusing seductive aural melancholia with an exhilarating emotional transcendence. Like Arthur, Vile’s lyrics are wickedly introspective and his knack for finely tuned word economy is juxtaposed with jam-heavy arrangements that indicate Vile is in no hurry to get where he’s going. The nine-minute-plus title track launches the disc with Vile’s countrified acoustic strumming that carry his dreamlike musings about what might be in store for the next 18 or so waking hours, as circular guitar patterns draw the listener deeply into the artist’s head. In fact, “Head Music” is not an entirely inappropriate label for these eleven aural journeys that play out over the course of a full, blissful hour.

And just in case you drifted away, the comparatively strident opening chords of “KV Crimes” jolts you back to consciousness before the hand percussion-driven, traveling rhythm of “Was All Talk” swallows you whole with its limitless gorgeousness. Over five albums worth of material, I don’t know if Vile has written a better song than this. “There was a time in my life when they thought I was all talk,” is such an exquisitely personal fuck you to naysayers, while remaining ambiguous enough to allow the listener to adopt the song as his or her own anthem of self realization. And when he sings, “Making music is easy – watch me,” one could believe that this song effortlessly flowed right through Vile. Seriously, when it comes to amazing songwriting, “Was All Talk” is right up there with “All The Young Dudes” and “Shake Some Action.” The fact that Vile lets a song that could have been neatly wrapped up in three and a half minutes continue on for over seven makes it all the more bittersweet when it finally comes to an end.

What’s most amazing about Wakin On A Pretty Daze is that every song on the record is that good. Each track packs a jaw-dropping Oh Wow Factor that makes my head explode. “Girl Called Alex” mines the minor chord gloom in a way that recalls a meatier version of Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You” or Dylan’s “Knocking On Heaven’s Door.” Showcasing Vile’s flair for changing up arrangements, “Pure Pain” alternates between what I’d call a baroque stomp and a waltz. The remaining tracks could be summed up as follows: great, great, great, great, great. I recommend you pick up a copy of Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze and start developing your own relationship with a disc that I am just going to go ahead and call the Album of The Year.

Grade: A+

Recommended Listening: Palmyra Delran, You Are What You Absorb

You Are What You Absorb

Well known on the NYC rock scene as the guitarist and primary songwriter behind retro garage-pop quartet The Friggs, Palmyra Delran is a bit of a local music icon. While The Friggs never broke commercially, they opened for legendary bands such as The Ramones and Cheap Trick, earning a devote regional following as well as solid professional props for being an “all-girl” band that could rock as hard as any group of guys. In her second solo venture, Delran stays close to the layered pop sound she helped to hone in The Friggs, while continuing to demonstrate innovation with regard to arrangements and intriguing personal storytelling in songs that draw the listener into her very relatable world.

If Palmyra Delran isn’t the coolest chick on the block, I don’t know who is. Seamlessly blending the guitar rock grit of Joan Jett with the pop sensibilities and subtle humor of Blondie, You Are What You Absorb will feel instantly familiar to fans of the classic Girl Groups, Sixties Psychedelia, Surf Rock and the very best of the early eighties New Wave movement. There’s not a lot of timeless music being made today, but the twelve memorable tracks on You Are What You Absorb certainly qualify as such, being packed with lyrical hooks sharp enough to draw blood and retro musical flourishes, such as sitar and organ, that establish Palmyra’s reverential connection to the past while bringing her music into the present.

A favorite track among many is the single “Shy Boy” – an endearing love song to a reluctant wallflower that will melt the coldest heart. I also dig the way that the propulsive drumbeat and furious guitar outtro of “Lies For You” dig deep to fondly recall the Nick Lowe-penned Elvis Costello classic, “(What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love & Understanding.” Bringing other unexpected influences the forefront, Delran’s expert guitar playing on “Never to Be Back Again,” especially, recalls Jeff Beck’s distinctive riffage on The Yardbird’s “Heart Full of Soul,” and I don’t think there is much higher praise to give than that. Palmyra also shows her stylistic versatility on “The Turtle,” which successfully flirts with sixties lounge jazz.

Although it’s still pretty chilly on the East coast, as New York fights hard to break into spring, you need to grab a copy of You Are What You Absorb right away, so you can get ready to take it to the beach with you, add it to Party Mixes and slap it on the car stereo for long drives with the car top down as these songs become the soundtrack to your Best Summer Ever.

Palmyra Delran’s You Are What You Absorb is out now and available for purchase on iTunes, Amazon.com and wherever quality rock is procured.

Grade: A

View the acclaimed video for “You’re My Brian Jones” Below:

Recommended Listening: Johnny Marr, The Messenger

Johnny Marr The Messenger CD Cover

The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, starring comedian David Cross, ran for two seasons on the IFC cable channel. An absurdist dark comedy centering on the cringe-inducing adventures of the hapless title character – a criminally clueless American “businessman” living in London – Todd Margaret was portrayed as a blundering child-man, the consequences of whose utterly havoc-wreaking decisions progress from comic inconveniences to bringing about full-on global annihilation. It was a great show. One of the best parts of tuning in each week was getting to hear the Todd Margaret theme song, “Life Is Sweet,” written and performed by former Smiths’ guitarist Johnny Marr. Featuring cascading waves of Marr’s signature, chiming guitars and an adhesive refrain whose Morrissey-esque, fatalist lyrics promised “Things are gonna get worse,” the song is two minutes of pure aural bliss. For ninety-nine cents, “Life Is Sweet” is the most-valued purchase I made from iTunes last year.

Other than “Life is Sweet” and his brief, cameo appearance on the most recent season of Portlandia, I haven’t been paying much attention to what Johnny Marr has been up to, because Modest Mouse is not my thing. So, I am currently all over Marr’s new album, The Messenger, which is just insanely great. For those seeking comfort in the familiar, The Messenger sounds infinitely more akin to Marr’s definitive work in The Smiths than his previous solo outing, 2003’s Boomslang (with his band The Healers, whose rhythm section was comprised of Zak Starkey and Alonza Bevan). A brilliant collection of diverse tunes that came off like a Mancunian version of Sly & The Family Stone, Boomslang, puzzlingly, found itself on the receiving end of almost universal critical backlash, and fans didn’t seem to know what to do with it either. That said, if Marr’s guitar playing in The Smiths is what drew you in and hooked you, you won’t be able to stop listening to The Messenger.

Showcasing as much as it does Marr’s “Class of One” resonant guitar tone, this is not to suggest that the guitarist doesn’t adequately stretch on The Messenger. More here than on any previous recording I’ve heard, Marr sneakily incorporates some of his widely varied influences. The intro to the album’s lead track, “The Right Thing” sounds like it could have been lifted off The Who’s Quadrophenia before it shifts into an exuberant, sixities-esque call-and-response anthem. People are always saying that such and such a song is “like a drug,” but in the case of “The Right Thing,” it’s like an aural shot of your favorite upper. If you can’t find your groove to this song, you’re probably dead from the neck up.

The super-adrenalized “I Want the Heart Beat” dabbles in a minor chord, almost industrial feel without ever loosening its roots in pure ‘80s dance pop. “Upstarts,” the album’s first single, reminds me of those classic, early singles by The Undertones, which is probably not an accident, because those guys were sort of the Kings of Post Punk/New Wave Protest Songs, and I’m sure Marr was /is a fan. “Lockdown” is a rich, sonic blast of classic British rock, with Marr experimenting with a bit of a Big Country meets Def Leppard-esque chord progression – very nice!

Both “European Me” and the somewhat mournful, Bryan Ferry-tinged title track harkens back to the best of The Smiths (“William It Was Really Nothing,” “Panic”) with Marr’s vocals, as drenched as they likely are in reverb, as appealing and charismatic as Bono’s most earnest, pre-Messiah complex work with U2. Later on, the way Marr builds a creeping mood of foreboding on “Say Demesne” makes me think he should be (his contribution to Inception notwithstanding) writing soundtracks for James Bond films. Geesuz god, what a versatile player!

What I really love about The Messenger, as a complete work, is that it takes no initial “breaking in” period before each song claims its own identity. There are twelve tracks on the CD and each one is amazing in its own way. Unless Tame Impala release an album this year, I am pretty sure The Messenger will top my list of favorites for 2013. Johnny Marr FTW!

Grade: A+

Recommended Listening: The Sheepdogs

Sheepdogs Self Titled Album Cover

Back when I used to eek out a few bucks writing about music, one particularly hard ass editor accused me of being “not a real Rock Critic.” This was likely due to my unwillingness to indulge in the widespread practice of pondering the sociopolitical leanings of a band in the context of a record review rather than just basing my critique on how the music sounded to me. I never really got that approach. I’m not interested in reading paragraphs of turgid, impenetrable prose and rock-crit wankery. Just tell me how the music sounds so I know if I want to buy the record.

Along those lines, The Sheepdogs are a band that’s easy for me to write about, because their music sounds amazing. This Canadian Classic Rock quartet (who in 2011 won a contest making them the first unsigned act ever to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine) have three independent albums under their belts and an EP released on Atlantic last year, but this record is their major label debut (produced by Patrick Carney of The Black Keys), and it’s beyond impressive.

“Laid Back” and “Feeling Good,” the first two tracks on the disc set the tone for the entire album: This is an exceptionally great feeling album of groove heavy tunes performed by a band that embraces an extremely lyrical approach to their playing. Lead singer Ewan Currie (whose voice has been compared to The Guess Who’s Burton Cummings) delivers the kind of quietly confident, effortlessly powerful vocal performance that is the mark of true natural talent. Guitarist Leot Hansen is doing wildly innovative stuff on the guitar while paying homage to tone masters such as George Harrison (“Never Gonna Get My Love”), Duane Allman (“Javelina!”) and of course Jimmy Page (“Sharp Sounds”). He’s amazing. Drummer Sam Corbett varies his drum feels to serve the song and his rhythm section partner, bassist Ryan Gullen holds down the bottom end while layering in adhesive hooks. This means that The Sheepdogs are just as vibrant and tight live as they are on disc, and you can’t say that about many acts these days.

What’s most impressive about The Sheepdogs is the band’s ability to integrate their influences so seamlessly that the songs are instantly familiar without sounding derivative. “Is Your Dream Worth Dying For?” feels pleasantly infused with tiny reminiscences of Todd Rundgren’s “I Saw The Light”, “While We’re Young” comes off like a revamped version of “Shapes of Things” and “In My Mind” captures the same kind of transcendent, euphoric quality as a song like Cream’s “Badge” without sounding anything like that song. As an aside, at least half these tracks indicate that The Sheepdogs should have a ready-made fan base in anyone who ever cited The Grateful Dead as a favorite band.

In their review of The Sheepdogs, Rolling Stone wrote, “Listening to the Sheepdogs is like having good luck finding classic rock stations on a long road trip.” I agree with that sentiment, but to me it feels fresher than that: as if it were possible travel back in time and actually hear new songs from a ‘70s band. It’s a refreshing reminder that the most vital benchmark of what constitutes good music is (or should be) that the music just sounds good.

Grade: A

Recommended Listening: Tame Impala, Lonerism

Tame Impala Lonerism

A couple of years ago, Geoffrey called me up one morning to babble enthusiastically about one of the approximately 300 bands he sees per year that he had seen the previous evening, an act he said was called Tim and Paula. “Tim and Paula,” I asked, “are they a folk duo?” G got a good laugh out of that before correcting me, “No, not Tim and Paula, Tame Impala!” And so it came to be that Tame Impala, an amazing psychedelic rock quartet from Australia, are known between Geoffrey and me now and forever as Tim and Paula.

The album that turned me on to this group is called Innerspeaker, and it surely would have been among my favorite CDs of 2010 had I heard it in time for it to make that year’s list. Sadly, I was a little late to the party. Still, I’ll always be grateful to Geoffrey for hipping me to one of the best new bands I’ve heard since MGMT breathed new life into my record collection with the release of its first album. Because, seriously, the last time I heard any music that I could say even remotely reminded me of the genius of The Beatles was when I heard Radiohead’s “Karma Police.” And that was a long time ago.

Tame Impala just released its sophomore album, Lonerism, and I can assure you it is currently vying for the number one position on this year’s Top 10 CDs list. Produced by vocalist Kevin Parker and mixed by the gifted Dave Friddman (best known for his work with Mercury Rev), Lonerism serves up a swirling vortex of aural bliss. Aside from the opening track, “Be Above It” – which sounds like the well-intentioned result of Tame Impala being hired to write a self-empowering commercial jingle for a brand of sneakers, every track on Lonerism lives up to all the hype that’s been circulating for the two years since Innerspeaker fractured skulls across the globe with its brilliance.

There is so much to love about this CD that it is almost impossible to contain my squeals of ecstatic delight. “Endors Toi” sounds like “Magical Mystery Tour” with Keith Moon on drums and “Apocalypse Dreams” is the kind of song I wish they’d played at the local roller skating rink I frequented as a pre-teen. “Music to Walk Home By” – which deserves an award for its title alone – comes as close to approximating an aural representation of the physical effects of hallucinogenic drugs as the most psychedelic Pink Floyd song. Parker’s voice may owe a heavy debt to reverb and a few hits off a tank of nitrous, but he really knows how to work it. I mean, check out “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” and tell me that the influence of John Lennon’s “Number Nine Dream” didn’t work its way in there at least subconsciously. Holy cow, what a great album.

It’s sad to think that kids today (did I really just type “kids today”?) will never know the incomparable joy of discovering a band like The Who or Queen while that band is still making new records (a joy that I got to experience first hand, having been born a million years ago), but anyone discovering Tame Impala’s Lonerism can read that sentence above and understand that hearing this album in 2012 creates, for me, a transcendent-bordering-on-religious experience comparable to how it felt listening to “Won’t Get Fooled Again” for the first time, on vinyl, back in the stone age. Album of The Year!

GRADE: A+

Tame Impala’s Lonerism is available now on Modular Recordings wherever fine music is procured.

Tame Impala 2010 Press Shot by Maciek Pozoga
Tame Impala 2012 Press Shot by Maciek Pozoga

Razor & Tie Re-Issues 3-Disc Sets of ELP’s Debut Album and Tarkus

ELP and Tarkus Covers

It is no secret that I am pretty sweet on the music of Emerson, Lake & Palmer. I can’t really bring anything new to the party that wasn’t already said in the post hyperlinked above, so maybe go read that for some background on my obsession and them come back and rejoin us.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer are just a magical band to me. Even though I don’t revisit their music as often as I do, say, The Beatles or Led Zeppelin, I can’t find any fault with it. I understand that smell memory has the fullest power of transportation to the past, but when I listen to ELP I feel like I’m 12 years old, discovering their music for the first time on their three disc live album that had a tri-gatefold sleeve and a title much too long to type. There is nothing on earth quite like losing yourself in Keith Emerson’s Thor-meets-the Renaissance keyboard noodling, and when I hear Greg Lake sing songs about how “The Waters Rhine Taste of Wine” (“Stones of Years”) it makes my head explode. I have all their albums and several greatest hits packages and I cannot dispense with any of it. Because I am a huge Prog Rock Nerd.

Imagine, then, how hard I geeked out when I opened a package last week from Razor & Tie Records that contained three-disc reissues of ELP’s self-titled debut album and a reissue of the group’s sophomore album Tarkus — the one with the armadillo/tank hybrid on the cover. Wow, it was like Christmas in September! I got so excited, I immediately laid them out on my rug and took pictures of them for this post!

For other completist collector record geeks out there, here is what you’re getting with each of these deluxe editions, so you can make a judgement call on whether or not you need to own them:

  • Disc one is the original album with original track listing
  • Disc two contains alternate stereo mixes and unreleased bonus tracks
  • Disc three is a DVD Audio disc that contains new for 2012 5:1 Mixes and new Stereo Mixes, also previously unreleased

ELP and Tarkus Discs

Each set includes a color booklet with the track listings, lots of photos of the guys when they were young and hot, and lengthy historical liner notes by veteran British Rock Journalist Chris Welch. Three time Grammy-nominated producer and engineer Steven Wilson (of Porcupine Tree) worked from the original Greg Lake produced multi-track tapes to remix both albums, so you already know that they sound amazing.

The 3-Disc Deluxe Sets of Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Tarkus will be available wherever fine music is sold or downloaded on September 25th, 2012, but you can get pre-order information and find out to get all sorts of rare ELP swag by visiting This Link.

Complete Track Listings! 

 

Emerson, Lake & Palmer Deluxe Edition Track List:
Disc One: Original Album
1. The Barbarian
2. Take A Pebble
3. Knife-Edge
4. The Three Fates
i. Clotho ROYAL FESTIVAL
HALL ORGAN
ii. Lachesis PIANO SOLO
iii. Atropos PIANO SOLO
5. Tank
6. Lucky Man

Disc Two: Bonus Tracks (2012) THE ALTERNATE ELP NEW 2012 STEREO MIXES (Previously Unreleased)
1. The Barbarian
2. Take A Pebble
3. Knife Edge (with Extended Outro)
4. Promenade
5. The Three Fates: Atropos
6. Rave Up
7. Drum Solo
8. Lucky Man
Bonus Tracks:
9. Take A Pebble (Alternate Version)
10. Knife Edge (Alternate Version)
11. Lucky Man (First Greg Lake Solo Version)
12. Lucky Man (Alternate Version)

Disc Three: DVD Audio
NEW 2012 – 5.1 MIX (Previously Unreleased)

1. The Barbarian
2. Take A Pebble
3. Knife-Edge
4. The Three Fates: Atropos
5. Rave Up
6. Lucky Man

NEW HIGH RES 2012 STEREO MIXES (Previously Unreleased)
7. The Barbarian
8. Take A Pebble
9. Knife Edge (with Extended Outro)
10. Promenade
11. The Three Fates: Atropos
12. Rave Up
13. Drum Solo
14. Lucky Man
15. Take A Pebble (Alternate Version)
16. Knife Edge (Alternate Version)
17. Lucky Man (First Greg Lake Solo Version)
18. Lucky Man (Alternate Version)

Tarkus Deluxe Edition Track List: Disc One: Original Album
1. Tarkus
i. Eruption
ii. Stones Of Years
iii. Iconoclast
iv. Mass
v. Manticore
vi. The Battlefield
vii. Aquatarkus
2. Jeremy Bender
3. Bitches Crystal
4. The Only Way (Hymn)
5. Infinite Space (Conclusion)
6. A Time And A Place
7. Are You Ready Eddy?

Disc Two: The Alternate Tarkus 2012 Stereo Mixes
1. Tarkus
2. Eruption
3. Stones Of Years
4. Iconoclast
5. Mass
6. Manticore
7. The Battlefield
8. Aquatarkus
9. Jeremy Bender
10. Bitches Crystal
11. The Only Way (Hymn)
12. Infinite Space (Conclusion)
13. A Time And A Place
14. Are You Ready Eddy?
15. Oh, My Father
16. Unknown Ballad
17. Mass (Alternate Take)

Disc Three: DVD Audio

New 2012 5.1 Mixes
1. Tarkus
2. Eruption
3. Stones Of Years
4. Iconoclast
5. Mass
6. Manticore
7. The Battlefield
8. Aquatarkus
9. Jeremy Bender
10. Bitches Crystal
11. The Only Way (Hymn)
12. Infinite Space (Conclusion)
13. A Time And A Place
14. Are You Ready Eddy?
15. Oh My Father

2012 Stereo Mixes
16. Tarkus
17. Eruption
18. Stones Of Years
19. Iconoclast
20. Mass
21. Manticore
22. The Battlefield
23. Aquatarkus
24. Jeremy Bender
25. Bitches Crystal
26. The Only Way (Hymn)
27. Infinite Space (Conclusion)
28. A Time And A Place
29. Are You Ready Eddy?
30. Oh My Father
31. Unknown Ballad
32. Mass

Recommended Listening: Mike Viola, Acousto De Perfecto

Mike Viola Acousto De Perfecto CD Cover

If real musical talent – quality songwriting, musicianship, charisma – were still rewarded with popularity and financial success in the way they were back in the ‘70s, Mike Viola would be as revered as Elton John and sell out bigger concert tours than Lady Gaga. But we all know that we don’t live in that kind of world anymore, and that’s just a shame. I first fell in love with Viola’s amazing songcraft on The Candy Butcher’s 1999 release, Falling Into Place, which is as cherished by me as any Beatles album. Seriously, “Hills of LA” is what “Hotel California” might have sounded like if Lennon & McCartney had written it. What a fucking fantastic album. I think it sold a few hundred copies. There’s no accounting for taste, as the saying goes.

It’s heartening at least to know that Viola makes a good living writing, recording and producing songs for films (That Thing You Do, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Get Him to the Greek) and continuing to record original music for his core group of diehard fans, because a world without new Mike Viola music would be much less interesting to live in. Just released this past July, Viola’s latest, Acousto De Perfecto is a companion piece to 2011’s critically acclaimed Electro De Perfecto (three tracks from Electro are reworked for this collection). As the title suggests, these are acoustic arrangements that showcase Viola’s collaboration with L.A.-based violists (get it?) Eric Summer and Kate Reddish. Mike Viola proved he can rock out on many previous efforts, but these eleven songs fall into the Elvis Costello or Paul Simon School of Performing Songwriter, and I don’t think there is much higher praise than that. What makes Mike Viola such a gifted songwriter is the simple fact that, like all the greats, he writes about what he knows, yet manages to make his deeply personal lyrics universally accessible.

The album’s lead track, the lullaby “Secret Radio” is a direct love song to fans (“it’s people like you/I’ve been singing to all along”) and the upbeat, darkly humorous “Happy & Normal” reveals Viola’s predilection for thinly veiled autobiography, though all of his songs are distinctly personal. “Date Night” speaks of the enduring bond between him and his wife after many years of marriage, hinting that the spark and the commitment go hand in hand, while “Primary Care Giver” is a surprisingly laser-focused self-reflection on his approach to parenthood.

Despite the sparse instrumentation, the record sounds lush and pristine. Viola’s acoustic guitar playing is in top form here, both complimenting and anchoring the accompanying strings. The instrumental track, “Thing In C” mixes a classical feel with the essence of the string arrangements from “As Tears Go By” with compelling results. Curiously, one of the more lyrically direct tracks on the album “Closet Cutter,” (“I know just what to do with exacto blades”) also features one of the most easily extrapolated choruses (“Don’t blame your parents/ Blame the Beatles and the Rolling Stones”). Mike Viola obviously loves to surprise his audience by never doing the same thing twice, but Acousto De Perfecto continues to offer what fans have come to expect: thoughtful lyrical stories and beautiful music. Acousto De Perfecto is a must own for fans/completist collectors and also highly recommended for fans of any of the artists mentioned in this review.

Grade: A-

Recommended Listening: The Darkness, Hot Cakes

The Darkness Hot Cakes CD Cover Art
Serving It Up Hot!

Can you believe it’s been seven years (seven years!) since British glam rock revivalists The Darkness released a new album? I can’t, because that means it’s been more than seven years since I had a brief but truly memorable phone conversation with legendary producer/ engineer Roy Thomas Baker. Baker was in the studio with The Darkness at the time, producing what would become their sophomore CD, One Way Ticket to Hell…and Back. The nut of that conversation was Baker turning down my request for an interview with Modern Drummer magazine regarding his groundbreaking work with numerous influential drummers. Despite a presumed awareness that Modern Drummer was neither Tape Op nor Mix, but a magazine about drummers and drumming, Baker told me straight up that he “couldn’t imagine why” he would even consider doing an interview for any magazine that wouldn’t put him on the cover.

My point here is how unsurprising it was that The Darkness – who were their own worst enemies in many ways – would choose to work with an egomaniac like Roy Thomas Baker. Because, for as ‘pretty good’ and legitimately interest-piquing as the groups’ debut, Permission to Land, was – and despite the fairly transparent tongue-in-cheekiness on the part of the band’s central mouthpiece, Justin Hawkins – no matter how great or godlike or heaven sent a band may think it is talent-wise, unless you are John Lennon, you should probably avoid talking about how your band is More Popular Than Jesus (or words to that effect). In almost every case, it’s going to backfire (see: sales and critical reception of One Way Ticket to Hell…and Back). As a general rule, it’s advisable to just shut the fuck up about your own perceived greatness and let the music do the talking. That way, if the music is indeed as great as the band says it is, your audience will do the taking, you will build a loyal fan base, and sell enough records / concert tickets to make a living. Win win!

None of that matters anymore though, because The Darkness has a new CD out called Hot Cakes that is so excellent, it wipes the slate clean of all past transgressions, real or perceived. It is obvious from the consistently high quality of the songwriting and the top-shelf musicianship going on all over Hot Cakes that The Darkness has not spent the past seven years jerking off (figuratively or otherwise), because the growth curve here is off the charts. Like many bands that dabble in the resurrection of a much-beloved but long gone rock genre, The Darkness are one of the most polarizing bands currently working. When I first received an advance of Hot Cakes and posted on FaceBook about how much I was digging it, comments on that post ranged from “I love their first album so much but couldn’t stand the second” to “their first album totally sucked, but their second one was fantastic.” So, your mileage may vary. But here’s 1,000 words about what I think.

Hot Cakes features the original lineup of singer Justin Hawkins, guitarist Dan Hawkins, bassist Frankie Poullain and drummer Ed Graham and was produced by the band, along with Nick Brine, and mixed by Bob Ezrin. Bob Fucking Ezrin! Perhaps the highest compliment I can pay to Hot Cakes is to confess that listening to these songs made me realize how really impotent and mediocre anything else that you could call “current” sounds in comparison. Completely deserving of the label All Killer No Filler, I love every song on this CD. Better yet, each song sounds more amazing with each successive listen! When was the last time you could say that? Me: not recently.

The disc launches on a high note, and never lets up, with “Every Inch of You”Hawkin’s cheeky autobiographical anthem about his personal aspirations as they relate to the rise and fall and rise again of his band. “Every Inch of You” harnesses the best of The Darkness’s deep indebtedness to Queen and T Rex.

Just as Elton John released “I’m Still Standing” as a high-ground way of telling all his naysayers to get bent, The Darkness offer “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us,” an ecstatic anthem featuring the most adhesive, razor-sharp garage rock riffs since The Hellacopters were actively recording. “With a Woman” channels AC/DC and Motorhead as fronted by Freddie Mercury, and you will certainly notice other winks and nods to AC/DC around the CD. All good! “Keep Me Hangin’ On” moves along on a thunderous, galloping beat that will remind those who were raised on 70s radio of the time when rock music was fun, crazy and truly magical. Rock Passion is alive on Hot Cakes!

Further on, as each track segues seamlessly into the next, the ballad “Living Each Day Blind” conjures what Coldplay might sound like if they had any nads. The first single, “Everybody Have A Good Time” has one of the best lines of the many not- insignificantly-poignant lyrics on the record: “Take off your thinking cap / and listen to your heart.” At its core, this is a thoughtfully crafted song about living in the now rather than dwelling on the past or pining for the future. Good advice, Darkness! If you dug the sound of Permission to Land, you will be won over by this song on its own.

“Forbidden Love” makes excellent use of an intoxicating Latin motif but still rocks hard enough to crack a skull, and Hot Cakes also includes a cover of Radiohead’s “Street Spirit (Fade Out),” which manages to stay faithful to the original while sounding heavier than the heaviest Iron Maiden song. Run to the Hills! My favorite, though, is “She’s Just a Girl Eddie,” an enthusiastic romp on which a guy consoles a brokenhearted friend by advising him to forget his fresh heartache and gear up for all the good things (i.e. more women) to come. I give this same advice to any of my girlfriends when they get dumped. He’s just a guy! Why waste your precious time on someone who doesn’t get how awesome you are? Fuck that noise and move on! I love this album! Ladies and Gentlemen, The Darkness is back!

Grade: A+

Hot Cakes Is Released in the US on August 21st, 2012!

Recommended Listening: Matt Boroff, Filling In The Cracks EP

Matt Boroff Filling In The Cracks EP Cover

The phrase “Visual Music” is one that’s rarely applied to any new bands that cross my transom these days. The last time I hauled those words out of the Rock-Critic-Speak vault was maybe in a review of Mercury Rev or Barry Adamson (two artists well immersed in the domain of soundtrack composition), and that was years ago. But that elusive label fits very snugly on a recently released 4-song EP, Filling in the Cracks, from singer/songwriter/multi instrumentalist Matt Boroff – a recently-discovered-by-me artist who, while completely new to my ears, has evidently been making adventurous music for twenty freakin’ years! Wow, who knew? As I learned in a series of email exchanges with the artist this past weekend, even Boroff refers to himself as a “Gold Medalist in the Best Kept Secret Olympics.” I would like to help change that.

A critique of one of Matt’s past recordings, 2008’s Elevator Ride, makes reference to the music “conjuring images of Spaghetti Westerns and sweeping desert landscapes” – and that last sentence fragment on its own should sufficiently compel you to buy / download everything the guy has ever committed to recorded media. But what leapt immediately to my mind when I heard the EP’s title track was “David Lynch Movie”; probably because “Filling In The Cracks” sounds like an eloquent modern hybrid of Angelo Badalamenti’s “Theme From Twin Peaks” and some of that (pardon my French) mind-tweaking shit that Barry Adamson laid down for Lynch’s completely under-worshiped cinematic masterpiece, Lost Highway. Poetic lyrics are all well and good, but when it comes to effectively creating a soundtrack for the movies in your head, it’s all about the sound. With Matt Boroff, there are no compromises in this arena.

Tom Waits’ Swordfishtrombones, Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack to Once Upon a Time in the West, Leonard Cohen’s Songs of Love and Hate, and Portishead’s Live venture, Roseland, NYC are four albums that Matt listened to and was most influenced by while working on this EP, so you can see (and hear) that he has top shelf taste in music to begin with. And in the tradition of one-man band geniuses, he played all instruments on the CD including guitar, bass, organ, piano and hand percussion, with assistance on the drum kit from drummer Little Konzett, who played on all four tracks. (Just as an interesting aside, Konzett is also a well-reputed recording engineer based in Austria, where Boroff now lives). How has Matt Boroff flown under my radar for twenty years? I can’t figure it out.

When you have the songwriting chops that Boroff has, it’s not hard to get four great songs on a four-song EP, but these songs are really good. The anguished, affecting “Garbage Man” features guest vocals by Screaming Trees front man Mark Lanegan (the only other guest artist on the disc besides Konzett), whom Matt met and subsequently became friendly with when he opened for a 2011 gig by Mark and Isobel Campbell in Vienna. “After my set,” Matt offers, “Mark approached me backstage and said very complimentary things, which meant a lot to me, since I’ve been a longtime fan of his.” With their complimentary vocal styles, the collaboration between Boroff and Lanegan is perfectly matched. There’s also a rousing, pub sing-along, “All Going Down With The Ship,” that flaunts guitar work recalling Greg Lake’s acoustic fingering on “From The Beginning.” The EP wraps up with “In Our Loneliness,” which is sort of a reverse love song with amazing, wistful, haunting lyrics. This EP is the definition of “Listening Pleasure.”

But getting back to how it sounds: what ties these songs all together in a bundle of ecstatic transcendence is Boroff’s palette of resonant, brooding guitar tones. Matt explained that the guitar tones on the album engage directly with the space that surrounds them. “I’m more interested in using the guitar as a tool to evoke some kind of mood or atmosphere than I am with this or that particular amp,” he says. “That’s always the guiding principle for whatever the tone ends up being.” Matt used only two guitars throughout the recording; a Fender Cyclone and a Martin acoustic. “When it comes to getting the tones I want to hear,” he continues, “I’ll just keep changing the way I play the guitar until it sounds right to me.” Boroff will often try to mimic the sounds of other instruments by changing the picking position or pickups, and using them in different combinations to emulate sounds of instruments he doesn’t own, such as a dobro or a pedal steel guitar.” Resourceful!

Recommended if you like Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Mark Lanegan or any of the other artists mention in this review, Matt Boroff’s Filling in the Cracks EP is available now on disc via CD Baby (http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/mattboroff) for just $6.00 (what a bargain!), and for download at iTunes and Amazon.com. Like Matt’s FaceBook Fan Page and download one of his songs for free at This Link!

GRADE: A+