Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Cassette Review:
"you did it to yourself"
(Perfect Attendance Records)

$8 //  //

One of the things about music which always seems to bother me but I do it anyway is when you compare an artist with another artist.   It always happens, it feels inevitable, but in the case of Saline for example you can round up some of the regular suspects such as Speedy Ortiz and Great Grandpa.   What bothers me is if I wanted to listen to Speedy Ortiz, I'd put on their album.   Saline is one of those rare examples though where it's not about sounding like another artist but rather finding your own voice in a genre.  Granted, I'm not against bands who sound like Band A + Band B and create their own sound because this type of accomplishment of creating your own path through a genre does not happen often.

The music of Saline is heavy but there is a lighter side to it as well.  Some of the songs are slower, lighter in the sense of Cowboy Junkies, Mazzy Star or K's Choice but then others kick in heavier with that distortion like Hum or Weezer.   Now here is where it gets tricky: sometimes the slower songs can also be the heavier songs.    If you are confused as to how these two different sides of the coin can crossover with such ease then you simply need to hear these songs for further proof.

And that's where that special quality of Saline comes in.  It's not "Oh this sounds like Weezer in the heavier songs and That Dog on the slower ones".   It's more a matter of taking those elements and mixing them up in ways previously unheard of, which crafts not only a new sound but a new genre of sorts.    Even when I'm beginning to think that this has elements of Nirvana (because overall there are hints of grunge) I then am reminded of punk/new wave and it has this synth at the end that makes complete sense when you hear it but on paper would feel out of place.

While I enjoy comparing music with soundtracks I don't have a steady one for Saline to fit with- and that's a good thing.   I'd usually go for "10 Things I Hate About You", "Angus" or "Mallrats" even or maybe "Empire Records" or "Tank Girl".   See, that's where the trouble comes in.  It doesn't fit a soundtrack in that sense because it defies genre.   I never have a problem hearing a band in 2018 and thinking they'd fit in well with a soundtrack from twenty years ago, but Saline just doesn't fit that mold-- they break it.

Though this will take you on a musical adventure that might take you years to process (and we will only fully comprehend it in years to come when new artists emerge and we compare them with Saline) it cannot go without stating that I love the theme of this album as well, from the title to the lyrics.   How often do we get that "I fucked up, I'm sorry" bullshit from music?  Too many songs are too whiny and like Dead Bedrooms, Saline pulls no punches straight from the title.   All too often in our lives (and I am as guilty of this as the next) we are afraid or just incapable of taking responsibility for our own actions.   This is your life too. 

Lines like "This is not what I wanted" and "Hope it haunts you bad" stick out right away for me because on one hand I always feel like I get dealt a hand I didn't ask for and at the same time I hope others are haunted by their decisions the way that I feel like I am sometimes haunted by mine.   But did you know there are people out there in this world who really just don't care.   They just don't have that level of empathy and so they can do things without consequences in their mind.   I enjoy the aspect of this cassette perhaps the most that accountability is a theme for being human and if you feel it there isn't something wrong with you, if you don't however you should maybe listen to this one in a self-help way.

Cassette Review:
"passing places"
(moonside tapes)

£5 // //
🎧 //

The first time I listened to this cassette it was one of the first sunny, warm days of Spring.  I didn't have anywhere to be, but I decided to just go out for a walk and take this music with me.    I made this circle of sorts- up one road, then turned down another only to come back down a road which runs parallel with the one I started on.  It was definitely interesting listening to these sounds while so much went on around me, including people getting ice cream and a car nearly running me over.  I definitely suggest giving this at least one listen in the earbuds.

"Passing Places" begins with this sound of squeals and just background noise as if we are outside and about to walk around.  Some tones come through and it has an uplifting and relaxing type of sense to it.    Guitar strums really make it feel holistic.   Some screeches come through and yet it remains calm, ambient to an extent I would say.   It then begins to sound as if the record is slowed down, water is dropping and just some eerie type of whirrs.   Strums cut through in a loop and it has a rock feel to it.   This goes into an electronic back and forth but the strums persist.   It feels as if we are lost in space.

A more wavy, cutting synth comes through and then fades out.   Audio clips come in next about the climate.    It feels desolate and as if we are walking in a place where a lot used to be but no longer is (Which was somewhat true for me on my walk with this one)   These sort of howling whirrs come through and it just really makes me think of some place as well which used to be woods and where animals lived and then all the trees got cut down and they put up these buildings.  I asked my Dad once- because I used to live near such woods and they tore them down to build houses- where the animals go and I never got an actual answer.   And then people wonder why they see bears in their backyard.   You're in their backyard.

Magical trill takes me onto some fantastic journey now.    Someone is talking about that voice inside their head and this can get really trippy if you listen to it under the proper circumstances.    It sounds kind of like birds now as well... only not.   This has a distinct sound within earbuds and coming out of speakers- don't ever forget that.     We drift into an ambient cloud now.    Choppy again, coming through the smoke.    As this fades a word being spoken (I think it's a word) comes out in a loop and it sounds kind of disturbing, haunted.    This takes us into a sound of darker strings.   That ambient sound comes back only this time with some light screeches.     We're into an "X-Files" feel here as well. 

What's funny is, whenever I listen to this back now I try to remember where I was when I first heard certain parts of it.   I walked up the entire first street of my walk (Which is kind of a main road and busy) and then turned left onto a side street which intersected with my main two streets.  About halfway through my walk on that side street- the second street, which I actually used to live on for the record- was when Side A came to an end and I had to flip to Side B.  I was right near this apartment complex across from the high school and I'm pretty sure people saw me fidgeting with my Walkman like "What does that guy have?"  But it is also interesting that I was able to do half my walk on Side A, the other half on Side B though I got home before Side B ended (Which I say is because the way home was downhill) but it's still nice to know I can put this on to walk with because I like to have the longer albums you know, so I'm not coming back without music.

On the flip side are these ambient tones.    Different tones come through next with vocals which I am unsure of whether or not they are saying actual words.  Glass tones bring out singing now which sounds like it is coming from an old record player, though I cannot recognize it as being sampled from anything.   Tones remain in place with a little bit of static skipping.   Different vocals come out with whirrs and it's pretty trippy now.   Sounds of water- maybe rain- take us into this deep, dark place now which could be that sort of underground boiler room feel. 

Side B does come through in a more minimal way than Side A, but it just makes those haunted tones feel deeper, more vital.   A scraping of a pipe comes out next through a drone.   Vocals (or at least what sounds like them), tones and this steady rhythm make me feel as if this is some kind of transmission from the dead.  Electric laser shocks come through to try and jolt me back to life (or maybe it is part of the alien attack).   Singing which reminds me of an old hymn brings this one to an end and there is really more here to digest than I can explain without further review (And who knows, maybe I'll go back and write a different perspective of this one day) but you should be listening to this one as much as you can.

Cassette Review: Stronger Sex "Stronger Sex (Deluxe Edition)" (BLIGHT. Records)

Sold Out //

I've often wondered what the point of reviewing a sold out cassette was.  It's like saying "Hey, here's this great thing you can't have".   But when it comes to cassettes especially, if there is enough interest generated there can always be a second pressing (or third or fourth) so if nothing else there can always be that hope.   Plus, you know, you can still stream and download the music so it's not like you can't hear it completely.

When I first saw the name "Stronger Sex" I immediately thought of the word "sex" being in a sexual way, such as "If you want to last longer" or "have better sex".    Why did my mind go there?  I don't know.  But I feel like many people will take a similar course of meaning, no?  And that's kind of funny to me because here we are, civilized and all that yet still focused on animalistic instincts.   The name Stronger Sex actually refers to gender and I'm somewhat inclined to believe that women are the stronger sex because of childbirth and all that, but who knows, that's perhaps not something I'd like to debate right now.

There are two key elements which make up the music of Stronger Sex and while they both seem to have comparison points for me don't take this as such an easy equation.  On one hand, this music is very mechanical, industrial even and it can be electronic at times.    This reminds me of Linkin Park, which I am rather hesitant to name because I'm not their biggest fan but on some level it just works for Stronger Sex, or Stronger Sex makes it work.   There are melodies and it's somewhere between Radiohead and the softer side of Glassjaw while also bringing about some of that radio feel like The Killers. 

Aside from any comparisons, the music of Stronger Sex also has this dark feel to it.   In some ways, it is post apocalyptic even if the fifth song could serve as a dance number.    I just imagine something like a particular era of Nine Inch Nails (say "The Fragile") with someone like Frank Sinatra belting these songs out.   It's such a contrast- the music and vocals- but they work together somehow, like a sinking ship going down with dignity.   Sure, the lyrics do fit the mood where you could add this to "The Crow" soundtrack without most people knowing, but it's just something about that voice.

While something must be made in comparison otherwise, when I listen to Stronger Sex I hear the guy from Panic At The Disco.   Which is odd to me because I interviewed Panic At The Disco back when they had put their first album out, were a band and yeah I had a different name then too.  But now when you listen to PATD it's only the one guy and if you listen to the album "Death of a Bachelor" and particularly that titular track then you'll have an idea of how these vocals are just so powerful and captivating even with all that destruction surrounding them.

Music Review:
"Champion of Love EP"

When I first heard the song "Cowboy" I fell in love with the music of Nyssa.   I am going to say some things now that everyone might not like- and I'm going to break down that fourth wall to an extent- but I feel like they need to be said.  Ok?  Ok.  Here we go.   I was sent an email from Nyssa directly about the song/video and that made me want to listen to it.  Another email shortly thereafter promoting this EP and I had no doubt in my mind I would be writing about it. 

What was said exactly that made me want to listen to the music is something that I feel is personal to Nyssa- you can't fake that or replicate it in the sense that you can take what she wrote and write something similar in order to get me to review your music as well.  My point in all of this is that Nyssa sent this single to me, then this EP and none of it was done through a publicist, a label, etc.   I'm not saying all labels are bad (or publicists, but don't tell them I said that- love you Rachel!) what I'm saying is that it is possible for you to do this yourself.

"Champion of Love" has feelings of dark pop but the vocals are right on.   Nyssa has stated this is like Dolly Parton in some ways and I've honestly never listened to Dolly Parton so I feel like that'd be one of those "Ah! Country! I'm not listening to this!" red flags, but this is something beyond country, beyond genre really.  It's driving and electric.  You can dance to it but you don't have to.   It's a throwback in ways to when there was mall pop with Debbie Gibson and Tiffany (whom I both *still* love) but also Cyndi Lauper and more recent artists come out as well.

The titular track has a more modern sense to it and just pondering the idea that "There ain't no place for a cowboy in Hollywood" is going to be someone's college thesis.   Really though, whatever happened to guys like John Wayne, even Clint Eastwood?  There are no modern versions of them.   Hollywood doesn't care anymore and it's sad.    I can also hear some Queen in here, but it's like that song Queen did with David Bowie too and I can't decide if it's more Queen or Bowie.

One of the things I like to think about music is not just getting caught up in the moment and in the sense of "These songs are great" but the future of "And where do you go from here".    As this is an EP, I would love to see someone out there put out a full length for Nyssa, eventually, on cassette.  It would have that same type of artwork as a Debbie Gibson cassette mixed with Dolly Parton (Go ahead, google their cassettes and see the similarities)  But, of course, it would be totally Nyssa.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Music Review:
Dana Murray "Negro Manifesto"

With a name such as "Negro Manifesto" you would expect this to be a strong standing piece of music not only in the sense that the musical parts are being played exceptionally well (and they are) but also that there is this message to it that you don't always find in today's music but you could find from the likes of KRS-One and Rage Against the Machine.   This all does hold true, but some of this for me is more of a matter of already knowing these things while I forget it is targeted to the masses, some of whom probably think Harriet Tubman did that one hook on that Drake song.

This is a manifesto for those who post Bitmojis saying they're "#Woke" but haven't even ever read The Autobiography of Malcolm X.  (Don't worry, if you're missing the point there was an episode of "Fresh Prince" I'm sure can explain it to you better)  When everyone else in my class was being force-fed Animal Farm in high school, I was out reading Langston Hughes.    Perhaps the most important point of this entire album and I'm going to make it right now instead as my conclusion: while these words can apply specifically to black people, they also should be heard and taken to heart by everyone regardless of race.

Dana Murray is a drummer who has an ensemble cast on this album playing sax, singing and, well, the credits are on Bandcamp so you can see all of the instruments and names associated with them.   But first off, yes, I need to recognize that all of this being put together by a drummer is quite the achievement since no one ever wants to seem to play the drums and most drummers remind me of Ringo.    Through jazz, soul and beauty these songs convey a message which is long overdue.

"The System" is perhaps the most lyrically challenging song on "Negro Manifesto".   And also, if you have an issue with this being called "Negro Manifesto"- if that makes you uncomfortable because you're white, then good.   In a lot of ways I feel like this album was meant to take you out of your comfort zone.  White people don't want to play this one too loudly because what if a black person overhears it?  Then they might have some explaining to do.    But, yes, "The System" is about how we are all being held down and we need to somehow tear that down and start over. 

Perhaps my favorite line though is: "downtown full of rappers that refuse to give up even though their stuff sucks" though there is so much more to take from it, I suppose it is just the music writer in me (And how people say "Rap sucks" and I say "Yeah, cause you listen to the radio")   Audio clips are in here quite a bit, talking about various things and even the song "Comfortable Discomfort" is made up in that sense lyrically.    "Stand By Your Man" has a more traditional sound and then we dive into the three part "Suite Kaepernick Mvt", something I just feel too many people misunderstood, but again, in this country, sadly, ignorance often reigns supreme.

The words are spoken, almost rapped, in anger until everything fades and there is only the last line:

If MLK could run it back he’d keep a piece up in his suit
You want us to take the high road,
But that ain’t what you do 
I’ve been meaning to find meaning in these bad dreams,
Then I realize
It’s a machine

CJ Mills is on here quite a bit and has become one of my personal favorites.   What you have to understand most about "Negro Manifesto" is that it will appeal to those who enjoy jazz, yet it pushes the boundaries of what jazz is/could be.   Musically, this is one of the most powerful albums I have ever heard which is what initially drew me to it.   The content of it though is not just something which needs to be taken to heart in 2018, but something which needs to be held onto for a long while.  This is the type of knowledge I wish they taught in high school.  

Music Review:
Wait And Shackle
"Happy 26th Birthday"

"Happy 26th Birthday" opens with this old time piano in a western bar type of feel.   I'm not sure what I did for my 26th birthday.   I know I lived in Houston, I was married but didn't have a kid yet, and well that was longer ago than I'm willing to admit.   It's like this episode of "Growing Pains" I remember where Mike was pondering whether or not he'd just coast through his 30's the same way he did his 20's and I ask myself that question every single day.

At the heart of it all, Wait And Shackle could be best described as math rock.   Layered vocals provide a focus on the lyrics and sometimes they even seem to go in circles.   Somewhere between bands like I Kill Giants and The Canterbury Effect this can even have more music than words for the most part but even the final track is instrumental.    Musically, it is just something that you need to hear as it has a more aggressive handle on math rock and yet doesn't feel all that heavy at times and can even remind me of Pinback at times.

(Side Note: I met a woman on a dating site once who was in love with Pinback and then when she told me she wanted me to be her soulmate after only texting back and forth for a few weeks and I told her we should take it slower than all that she ghosted me) ((Side Side Note: It took me a while to remember the name Pinback))

"Caps 4 $ale (Eleven)" is really the song that should hook you.  When you listen to it, if you enjoy what you hear let the rest of the songs play and if not, well, I don't know what to tell you because I just find it to be delightful.   When the song is done quoting Coelho it seems to turn into a different song, which is one of the math rock aspects of this all (songs within songs, songs shifting into other songs but remaining the same song) and the lyrics seem to prove my math rock point:

I said my favorite number is eleven 
i said my favorite colour is eleven 
i said my favorite rhythm is eleven 
i said my favorite measure is irrelavant 

What is special about the number eleven?  It is a prime number, sure, but I'm far more fascinated by the number 9 and not just because of the movies it has had about it.   Still, I like math and I like numbers in general so all of this speculation about the number 11 makes me even more into this album because anything which leaves us thinking about such things is tops in my book.  

Music Review:
Zach Zinn
"Upon Arising At Dawn I Was Unaware"

While I have reviewed the music of Zach Zinn before, I feel like "Upon Arising At Dawn I Was Unaware" is a prime example of how long it can take sometimes to review something.    Sometimes life gets in the way and I get it- people are busy- and other times it's simply a matter of being overwhelmed with music (Take a number, get in line, etc. etc.) but with this particular release by Zach Zinn I listened to it in all of my standard fashions- headphones, no headphones, while out walking- and while I enjoyed it there was just not that part of "How do I write about it" clicking.   Sometimes music clicks right away, like, "This is good because..." and other times it does not.   I recognized this was good from the start but couldn't find the words to type this review for months.

"A Golden Thread" begins with this static but not in the typical way you might think with a windstorm that sort of static but more of a direct static.  I can't explain it without you hearing it (Which is often the best sounds) but if you can picture most of the static I write about as being like a cloud, that scattered sense of it, then this has more of a streamlined effect.   It skips in and out and there is an added sound which is either a clarinet or flute.    These tones take over by the end of the first song and it has a certain harmony to it.

The second track is simply called "..." and features this fog horn sound mixed with what sounds like clanking marbles together but could also be a percussion instrument- like some sort of finger cymbals- and other tones come through but this just feels nautical.   The third song takes on this role of beats which sound like footsteps coming through in a rhythm that almost makes me want to dance.  Whirrs mix in with this and then something rather electronic.   It evens feels a little like pinball glitch.   The length of the first three tracks combined is shorter than the total of the fourth-- just proving nothing needs to adhere to your ideas of normal.

"Simon Bar Sinister" begins with these quiet howls and for some reason I feel like it has this Native American/wolf feel to it, but then the sounds shift to this frequency that makes me think it is in space.  How would an old school Native American react to one day waking up in space?  Someone should write a book about that.   A buzzing/hum and organ tone join the melody now and it feels like we are on a mission.   Sounds like screams come in and this becomes haunted.    To be fair, this song is named after the villain in "Underdog" and as such, I feel like it could have a mad scientist feel to it as well.  (Now can someone pay homage to Tennessee Tuxedo and the Go-Go Gophers?)   Whirrs make it feel like we are caught in a raygun. 

Around the six minute mark it fades and comes back with some sort of strings.   Voices can be heard and though they sound like children there are no actual words being spoken that I can tell.   This trill comes in as well which reminds me of something you would use to detect radioactive matter.   True Fact: I only saw the CGI Underdog movie once and I barely remember it.   Frequency whirrs seemingly replace everything else now around nine minutes.    A sound like cranking somehow comes in with this.   A maniacal piano type sound comes through as well. 

A louder tone comes blaring out that really reminds me of a flute now.   It feels like this is a lot less quiet now and has become quite more rocking.    Lone organ type tones now bring out slight humming behind it (like a lightbulb) and then it fades into just that buzz.    The tones which were once up front seem to have faded into the back.    The song ends so calmly, so quietly.   "Simon Bar Sinister" is the type of song you could put on both sides of a cassette by itself and it'd be worth it.

"Murmurer" comes through in a louder, distorted guitar sounding way.   Static comes through in bursts next, somewhere in between a windstorm and a demon being caught inside technology.    A sound as if the horn on a barge is coming through now.    Static bursts feel like they could be cannons fired on those old pirate ships.    Whirrs come through in waves and static, a little bit like The Who now on the titular track.   Tones come through like a wild carousel ride.   A quieter ringing tone jingles through "Lunar Pill/Sonar Pill" like a morse code message.    This turns into these horns coming through which sound like a trucker horn is being manipulated.    It fades in and out and before the song ends there is a bit of percussion, some cymbal thrashing briefly.

Whirrs and beeps are part of the final song and there are even these other sounds like a harmonica.  They come out in a "Doctor Who" way at times but not overall so it's strange how sometimes the pacing can feel faster than it is and other times it feels like slow motion.    This also comes through wavy, like we're at sea and the ocean isn't quite still.    One of the most fascinating aspects of this album is that each song really needs to be taken in on its own and only then- once you experience each song fully and begin to understand it- can you see the whole picture and understand how brilliant this entire truly album is.