Monday, May 30, 2011

Homeless Heroes Play Flutes

Jethro Tull
1971, Island Records
produced by Ian Anderson and Terry Ellis

Ian Anderson - flute, vocals, acoustic guitar
Martin Barre - electric guitar
John Evan - piano, organ
Jeffrey Hammond - bass guitar, vocals
Clive Bunker - drums

Singles -

  • Hymn 43
  • Life is a Long Song EP
Most would agree this album is a hugely successful, very well written, hard rock album.  A classic worth a listen by every fan of rock music.  Locomotive Breath, Aqualung, Hymn 43 are all hard rocking hit songs, punctuated with fun bouncy acoustic intermissions.  The album is split into two parts and deal with themes of extreme, low class, dirty personalities and religion.  Ian Anderson proved the flute can be rocked out, but it is decidedly not metal.  However, in 1989 Tull won the first Metal Grammy for their album Crest of a Knave.  Apparently there is room in the metal universe for flutes and mandolins.  The only good reason I can see for agreeing with this decision is the huge influence Jethro Tull and, specifically, Aqualung, has had on metal bands like Iron Maiden.

My favorite track is the last, Wind Up.  This song, aimed at how ludicrously hypocritcal organized religion seems to be, has a quiet urgency about it that makes it rock hard despite it's lack of actual volume.  There is a line from the Death Cab for Cutie song I will Follow you into the Dark that instantly reminded me of this song.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Why is that Guy Diving Through the Wedding Cake?

Guns n' Roses.  
Use Your Illusion I and II
1991, Geffen.  
produced by Mike Clink

Axl Rose - vocals, piano, guitars
Izzy Stradlin - guitars, vocals
Slash - guitars, banjo
Duff McKagen - bass, vocals
Matt Sorem - drums
Dizzy Reed - piano, organ, keyboards, vocals

  • You Could be Mine/ Civil War
  • Dont Cry
  • Live and Let Die
  • November Rain/ Sweet Child of Mine
  • Yesterdays/ November Rain
  • Civil War/ Garden of Eden/ Dead Horse
  • Estranged/ The Garden
These are marketed and sold as two separate albums. One could make the case that this, in the early '90s, was a good marketing idea, but they would have been just as successful as one large double album, which is why I feature them here together. These albums showcase many songs left off of the more famous debut album, Appetite for Destruction, and also feature three songs made into monster music videos that boosted the albums sales, and the band's popularity. I definitely remember watching the Estranged video in elementary school, the best part being when Axl dives into the ocean, and Slash comes up with his guitar and top hat, completely dry. Apparently, November Rain, Don't Cry and Estranged were three parts of the same story. I didn't know Axl was that clever.  

Guns N' Roses were unable to keep themselves from imploding following Use Your Illusion. Not only does it mark Izzy Stradlin's departure, but once again, Gn'R is never able to recapture the sound they had.

Guns n' Roses could be classified as a hair metal '80s band, and you would be right going on looks alone. However, the sound they had was harder, edgier and more musical than other 80's contemporaries such as Ratt, Motley Crue, Poison, and White Snake. Stradlin quit in 1991, and this would mark the beginning of the exit of other members. By 1997, only Axl Rose and his keyboard player buddy Dizzy Reed remained. It's hard to keep a distinct sound without all the unique, original members. Bucket Head is not Slash.  

Axl Rose tried his hardest to complete a musical masterpiece, following the failure of the Spaghetti Incident. In fact Chinese Democracy (the proposed title for his next project) became a rock and roll joke, the jackalope of rock projects. Finally released in 2008, the album didn't live up to expectations. Apparently, Rose has failed to realize that the Use Your Illusion albums are already a masterpiece, and his quest for perfection has just aided in his mental instability.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

He can Finally Sleep: a two for one

Warren Zevon
Excitable Boy
1977, Asylum Records
produced by Jackson Browne and Waddy Wachtel

Warren Zevon - organ, bass, guitar, keyboards, piano, vocals
Jorge Calderon - vocals
Danny Kootch Kortchmar - guitar, percussion
Russ Kunkel - drums

  • Werewolves of London
Quite possibly one of the best musicians to ever be forgotten, Warren Zevon had something of a renaissance (at least I hope so) when Kid Rock sampled the single off this album recently. Werewolves of London is Warren Zevon's biggest hit and most recognizable song. This album though, has many other great tracks and shows Zevon's strong song writing skills. Mostly a piano player, his songs are diverse and beautifully crafted, he is able to rock it out hard, and then bring it back soft and gentle. There seems to always be a darkly humorous edge to each song. There is a sense of danger about Warren Zevon. If he was a movie, he'd be the Unforgiven meets Fear in Loathing in Las Vegas. 

Warren Zevon
The Wind
2003, Artemis Records.  
produced by Jorge Calderon and Noah Scot Snyder

  • Knockin on Heavens Door
This album was his last. Diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2002, instead of seeking treatment, Warren Zevon went into the studio for the last time.

This album has moments of beauty, moments of despair, glimmers of the classic Zevon, a storm of emotion, and graveyard humor that has the ability to break your heart. Also, the Knocking on Heaven's Door cover is amazing.

Guest appearances by his closest friends include Billy Bob Thornton, Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Tom Petty, Don Henley, and Joe Walsh. If you're already a Warren Zevon fan, this album is a must have. If you have yet to hear his music, I suggest Excitable Boy and Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School first, just to give you a foundation. This is more than just a rebound gimmick album to try and kickstart an ailing career. This is a goodbye album, a farewell for friends, fans, and family, and the result is one last final beautiful album.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Funny Guys in Spaaaaaaaace!

They Might Be Giants
Apollo 18
1992, Elektra.  
Produced by They Might Be Giants

John Flansburgh - guitar, bass, trumpet
John Linnell - accordion, keyboards, saxophone, clarinet

  • Statue got me High/ Which Describes how You're Feeling/ I'm Def
  • Statue got me High/ She's Actual Size
  • I Palindrome I/ Cabbagetown/ Siftin'/ Larger Than Life
  • The Guitar EP

This is a musical duo famous for the mostly educational song about Turkish geography, Instanbul (not Constantinople). John Linnell and John Flansburgh play a variety of instruments including piano and accordion. This puts John Linnel in the larger category of cool accordion players which includes Danny Elfman, Weird Al, Garth Hudson, and the Turisas. They have a fun live show, and I'd be shocked to meet anyone who went to college between 1995 and 2005 that didn't see them play at least once.

This album is fantastic, definitely one of the best. Their sound is unique, a bouncy polka-esque romp through classic oldies tunes. The music is very good, the lyrics add a clever, comedic, silly, weirdness that is often a little morbid. And if this weren't enough, the seventeenth track, called Fingertips, is a collage of short song pieces strung together, one would assume they are the leftover parts of songs that never make it alone, much like the backend of the Beatles Abbey Road.

The Guitar is the highlight of the album, a homage to the classic Evening Birds song The Lion Sleeps Tonight. The Lion sleeps tonight, plays guitar, and also flies in spaaaaace.

This album is fun, quick, silly and sure to make you laugh, dance, and sing along. Also, the cover art is pretty cool. Space squid and their natural enemy, the giant flying sperm whales, clearly don't get as much exposure as they should.  

Remakes are Sometimes Ninjas

Yesterday I saw a movie. Priest, directed by Scott Charles Stuart, starred Paul Bettany, Cam Gigandet, and Maggie Q. This film promised to be based on a graphic novel and deal somehow with an order of warrior monks and a reimagining of vampires. Lately, vampire movie translates into middle school chick flick, but the trailers proved this may actually be cool.

Let me start by saying the graphic novel and the film seem to share a name only. That being said, the world created in the film is actually pretty interesting. Two species always at war with each other (vampires and humans) vampires seem to have all the advantages save two: the sun, and the warrior priests. What impressed me the most about the story was the way in which the vampires are portrayed.

These are not your Transylvanian creepy aristocratic vampires, or your sparkly emo teenager vampires. These are hive-minded gollum-looking things with no eyes that move around like wild predators. The only thing truly explained in detail over time in the film is the vampire. I found the similarities to insects like bees and ants, and the links to popular vampire mythos fascinating. They have no eyes, they secrete stuff that helps build the hive, they sleep in crypts, they have a queen that lays egg sacs, sunlight kills them, they can turn victims into slaves. Very cool stuff. Much better than Edward, that fucking pansy.

This movie, while having some originality, really just blended a whole bunch of other original ideas together. The biggest influence, and the central plotline, was straight out of The Searchers with John Wayne. Elements of 1984, and the Unforgiven pop up also. They even borrow the "your father isn't who you think he is" bit from Star Wars and Golden Compass, but it's basically a Searchers remake, covered up and repackaged with vampires.

Which got me thinking, and then got me a little angry, especially after watching a trailer for the new Straw Dogs remake (even the movie posters are nearly identical), are there not any new movies to be made? Adapting films from books or comics doesn't bother me so much. Remaking a film that already was made, one that was already a classic and should stand forever as a good film on its own merit, that bothers me. Was Sam Peckinpaw's Straw Dogs not good enough?  It was already an adaptation of The Seige of Trenchers Farm (by Gordon Williams).

Why couldn't Priest be a film actually based on the comic's true plotline? Why use the name as a vehicle for a Searchers remake? Why try and hide the fact that it is a Searchers remake in the first place? It would have been a good starting place for an entire new franchise of films, but instead it's a Western/ScienceFiction/Monster movie mashup that failed at the box office. So, now this cool reimagining of what a vampire could be, is going to be buried.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Best... Album... Ever...

Neutral Milk Hotel
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.  
1998, Merge  
produced by Robert Schneider

Jeff Magnum - guitars, organ, vocals
Jeremy Barnes - drums, organ
Julian Koster - organ, banjo, accordion, saw,
Scott Spillane - horns

Many have declared this album to be the best album ever heard. Win Butler of Arcade Fire cites it as a major influence and the reason the band signed to Merge records. Mark Richardson of Pitchfork gave the album a 10.0 rating and stated:

"A guy in a rock band saying he was emotionally devastated by a book everyone else in America read for a middle-school assignment? I felt embarrassed for him at first, but then, the more I thought about it and the more I heard the record, I was awed. Mangum's honesty on this point, translated directly to his music, turned out to be a source of great power." 

Richardson is referring to Mangum's reading of Anne Frank's diary and the influence that had on him while writing In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. When listening to this album its apparent that this is not a conventional rock album. It defies genre to begin with, and when actually trying to categorize this is often placed within the section of "indie alternative" much like Radiohead, Pavement, Blur, even Jeff Buckley. I suppose this is a good classification, as the other bands defy genres, sometimes from album to album. There is nothing like In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, and then again... everything is like In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.  

I wrote a paper once about William Carlos Williams. For those of you who have no perception of actual American culture, Williams is a poet famous for creating masterpieces from the everyday mundane. One of his most well known poems is as follows: 

So much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white

Williams has been criticized for writing simple poetry that anyone could write. This is true. A wheel barrow in the rain and white chickens have been seen before, however, Williams makes one see these things in a new way and it becomes art.

Henry Sayre helps to give credence to the thought that “anyone can do this” by posing this phrase a different way. It is not that anyone can write how Williams writes, its more that he writes about what anyone else could write about. Sayre states, “Williams places his material in an equally strange environment--the poem--and the wheelbarrow's accidental but very material presence in this new context invests it with a new dignity. It is crucial that Williams's material is banal, trivial: by placing this material in the poem, Williams underscores the distance the material has traveled, and the poem defines a radical split between the world of art and the world of barnyards, between a world which crystallizes the imagination and a world which is a mere exposition of the facts”.

And for all of you who are wondering what my point is, this can also be said of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. Mangum read a book that most American middle school students read, and yet saw and felt something that not everyone bothers to confront. Perhaps there are emotions that 12 year old students can not grasp, that a more mature person can not walk away from. Perhaps it takes a musical genius to show the beauty behind something everyone is familiar with. Whatever the reason, Mangum was able to do what Williams already perfected, dreams, adolescence, love, life, everyday comedy and tragedy spun into a beautiful work of art. Its the human experience, plain and simple. Its chickens in the rain, and letters about plums, and red wheel barrows, and the rooms of your house, and that weird specimen in your high school science class.

In conclusion, this album is beautiful, unlike anything I've heard, and yet like everything I've ever heard. It is able to grab onto and hold emotion, and speak to what it means to be human in simple ways while being complex musically and lyrically. Humanity once again creates something powerful.

Monday, May 2, 2011

They Want to Beat Whom?

Flogging Molly
Drunken Lullabies 
2002, Sideonedummy 
produced by Ted Hutt

  • Drunken Lullabies
  • Rebels of the Scared Heart (warped 2001 comp)
  • What's Left of the Flag (warped 2002 comp)
I bumped into this in college while listening to college radio. The band played the Warped Tour a few times, and while they cultivated a fan base from the punk rock/ skater scene that the Warped Tour markets to, Flogging Molly does not fit into the same genre niche as Sum 41, Blink 182, Rancid, Pennywise, the Bouncing Souls, NoFX, Bad Religion, and other Warped Tour mainstays. In fact the only discernible thing they do have in common is raw energy and stage presence, and possibly fashion. The musicianship is way out of league of other punk, pop punk, and ska contemporaries. The use of guitar, mandolin, and violin is more suited to bluegrass and folk than the aforementioned genres, and I would agree that Flogging Molly more closely resembles these genres than even rock and roll.  

If no other album was ever produced by this band, this record would still deserve to be talked about forever as a great production and the band's sound would still be the most unique and hard rocking expression of contemporary Irish folk, without sharing the street punk sounds of bands like the Dropkick Murphys, Murphys Law, The Ducky Boys, and the Welsh Boys. Even my father, who is a bit of an old man music snob, fell in love with this group, despite his initial knee-jerk reaction to the group's name.