Archive for September, 2011

30
Sep
11

Paul Basic “The Mirror”

Producer Paul Basic released his debut EP “The Mirror” on Tuesday off the budding Pretty Lights Music label. Hailing from Colorado, one of today’s popular electronic music scenes (where PLM is headquartered), Basic’s first effort focuses on high energy electro hip-hop instrumentals sprinkled with manipulated samples. Packed with dynamic beats, gritty bass lines, sequenced synths and arpeggios, this 8 song, 27-minute album will keep your head bobbing and foot tapping. The first sample I recognized was in “Daydream.” Basic takes the chorus and violins (title too) from Belgian band Wallace Collection, a track also sampled by Lupe Fiasco. While this tune isn’t necessary dub-step by definition, it utilizes the standard wobbly, metallic bass lines frequented in the genre today.

The song “Cops” seems like an electronic take on Pink Floyd’s “Welcome to the Machine.” Hearing the familiar atmospheric pads, strummed guitar chords and harmonizing synth parts highlighted the feeling of drifting away to a faraway place, fueled by heavy bass and hip-hop rhythms.

One of my favorite tracks, “Jaded,” cohesively meshes high and lo-end layers with a nice touch of filter and added build ups. It’s an up-tempo tune suitable for a party or night time driving. Another strong composition from the EP is “Daylit”, showcasing Basic’s classic influences. This bright, mellow track is riddled with piano and guitar snippets sampled over a crunchy synthesizer and simple hip-hop beat.

Overall Basic’s drumming roots, production skills and early rock influences shine through on “The Mirror.” Although it’s an EP, it flows seamlessly like a mix-tape and is free for download off the Pretty Lights Music Label’s website. In addition to Basic’s debut, other talented up and coming producers such as Paper Diamond (Alex B, former bassist of Pnuma Trio) and Break Science (drummer Adam Deitch’s new project) are available for free as well. The PLM label was created by Derek Smith, the mastermind behind national touring sensation Pretty Lights, a festival favorite who gained popularity by giving music lovers his material for free. He continues to follow this free promotion model that worked for him in order to expose the newly signed artists of Pretty Lights Music. Keep on eye out for these guys as they embark on a PLM showcase tour this fall.

Rating: 3/5

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29
Sep
11

Show Review: Primus in Albany 9-27-11

The Palace Theater in Albany took a trip back to the 60’s last Tuesday night, as Primus brought their psychedelic stage show and unique set list to New York’s capital city. Many knew that the San Francisco-based band was going to perform two sets of music, but no one could have predicted how bizarre, trippy, and ultimately amazing their show would be.

Greeting the audience’s eyes upon entering the theater were two giant inflatable astronauts on either side of the stage; it was a harbinger of the zaniness to come. Primus hit the stage to thunderous applause, and bolted right into one of their oldest songs, “Groundhog’s Day.” Bassist Les Claypool, guitarist Larry LaLonde and drummer Jay Lane sounded absolutely precise and sharp. And as I had hoped, the band was not content to just play the studio version of the song (or any songs in the first set for that matter) – they fell into a funkified jam that stretched the song out to a good ten minutes or so before the hard-rocking finale. Talk about setting the mood – Primus had the crowd bouncing all over the place and the show had just started. The rest of the 55-minute set (a little too short in my book, but I can’t complain) featured some great older tunes, including three off their lesser-known “Brown Album”: “Duchess and the Proverbial Mind Spread,” “Golden Boy,” and “Over the Falls.” All three tunes featured ridiculously intricate bass playing from Claypool, and while none of the songs are real hard-rockers, they fit into the show’s psychedelic theme perfectly.

During the entire show, multi-colored lights drew abstract, ever-changing shapes and illuminations around the stage and into the theater. Coupled with the creepy old man’s face that graced the front of those astronauts’ helmets and the insane video clips playing behind the band, Primus truly created a wormhole back to the acid houses of the 60’s – if you’ve seen clips of Pink Floyd during the Syd Barrett years, Primus’ show takes that and modernizes it into today’s technology. During many of the instrumental portions of the songs, Claypool would spend a lot of time watching the video screen and eyeing the trippy light patterns splashed throughout the art-deco theater’s interior.

Other tunes from the first set included the impassioned “Pressman,” the dark childhood tale of “Mrs. Blaileen,” and the popular, high-energy “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver.” The set closed with one of Primus’ absolute best songs “Over the Electric Grapevine.” This song really played into the psychedelic nature of the show, and it was a joy to hear.

Continuing with the insanity, the intermission featured several old Popeye cartoons playing on the video screen. These were the Max Fleischer cartoons from the 30’s – so very strange, yet clever and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny; it was a great way to kill the time waiting for Primus to return.

And return they did. They proceeded to do something that I don’t think has been done very much at all in recent history, apart from a few instances: they played their brand new album, “Green Naugahyde,” in its entirety. The only times I can recall a band doing this would be when Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” came out, and Queensryche’s “Operation: Mindcrime.” Bands have covered albums plenty of times, but unless I’m mistaken, it’s extremely rare for a band to play their new album in full. I reviewed “Green Naugahyde” last week, and in said review I hoped/predicted that playing those new songs live would breathe new life into them, as the album is ok, but seemed constricted and average. Luckily I was correct, and while the band didn’t necessarily “jam out” a lot of the songs as with their first set, playing the album live gave me a new appreciation for it (though some of the songs still rank as mediocre in Primus’ anthology). Claypool brought out the stand-up bass for several of the songs, playing it with a bow as he drew crazy sounds from the effects box the bass was routed through. The highlights of the set were “Last Salmon Man,” which allowed Claypool to really showcase his immense talent as he wailed on the bass for an extended period; “Jilly’s on Smack” features a great little riff from LaLonde over Claypool’s very dark bass groove, with Lane tapping away at his kit. The bouncy “Lee Van Cleef” featured video clips of, well, Lee Van Cleef from his classic western films; for “Green Ranger,” Claypool donned his creepy pig mask as he filled the room with trippy bass grooves. “Extinction Burst,” my favorite from the album, did not disappoint as the band created a sonic convergence of Primus’ old and new sounds. The other notable occurrence was during “Eyes of the Squirrel” – the video kept repeating psychedelic images of squirrels, which were so scary that, had I been more under the influence, would have made me piss myself.

The trio closed the show with two marvelous songs, “Southbound Pachyderm” and “Winona’s Big Brown Beaver.” The former dove into a dark, trippy jam punctuated by the surreal image of an elephant bouncing on a trampoline; they pushed the song out to a good 8 or 9 minutes. And the latter sent the audience home with a spring in their step, so to speak, rocking out the funky tune with tons of energy.

Primus has always been unique, left of center, skewed – people either “get” them or they just think they’re weird and silly (which they are, but so was Frank Zappa). I have been a fan for over 20 years, and seeing them in concert now is so different than seeing them in 1991 or 1994, or even 2004. Claypool has really embraced the impact a show can have – the focus is always on the music, but the entire experience is enhanced by everything else going on around it. Primus fans are avid and overflowing with enthusiasm, and the band is more than happy to reciprocate.

Primus at the Palace gets 4.5 out of 5 stars!

28
Sep
11

Yonder Mountain String Band – Northern Lights 10/28/2011!

Thought that it was worth informing the masses that Yonder Mountain String Band will grace the venue Northern Lights (Clifton Park, NY) on Friday, October 28th.  The band has been around for a while and their shows often sell out in advance.  This is not the normal venue for this group; often they are playing in classic vaudeville theatres; this venue will be far more up front and personal.

Iv’e seen them play once before in Boston and was really impressed with their show; they are a mix of say Alison Krauss meets REM; active and happy music with a great beat and constant tempo. 

Check these guys out at their website http://www.yondermountain.com/ and click on the Media link to either download a few tracks or simply listen to their streaming radio station; good stuff either way.

Tickets are a mere $17.50 in advance and $20 day of the show; a bargain!  You can learn more about this upcoming show by clicking here.

27
Sep
11

Thrice “Major/Minor”

Thrice, the Irvine, California band has come a long way from where they started. Originally thriving in a niche community of thrash and scream fans, they’ve matured and transformed into a band for the ages.

Thrice

Comprised of Dustin Kensrue (vocals/guitar), Teppei Teranishi (guitar), and brothers Riley (drums) and Eddie (bass) Breckenridge.

Their 2007 concept album The Alchemy Index is nothing short of genius: There are four EPs, two on each disc, Fire & Water as well as Wind & Earth. The final song for each element is written in the form of a sonnet, depicting the relationship of man with each of the particular elements. Each of these songs is in iambic pentameter, with a concluding rhyming couplet. These final couplets also contain the same vocal melody and chord progression as each other, although they are in different keys.

This is the sort of band that isn’t afraid to evolve and test new depths of creativity and to this date, they haven’t whiffed on any of these attempts.

Major/Minor starts off in a fashion that you’d expect it to with “Yellow Belly”

Raw and driving it harkens back to a lot of the early work that thrust Thrice into the spotlight.

Songs like “Cataracts” and “Treading Paper” aren’t songs built for mainstream success, but you can tell that the passion that went into writing the songs and playing them is abundant with all the band members. Each instrument and the vocals are meaningful to the song’s progression and quirkiness.

The first change-up on the album is “Call It In The Air” and truly is a catch-your-breath moment but, just like the rest of the songs on the album, makes you feel a little uneasy. It’s not the brilliance and calmness of tracks like “Red Sky” or “Atlantic” off of “Vheissu.” This album is full of sinister undertones.

But for me, the song that really takes me back to the beginning of when I started listening to Thrice (“Identity Crisis”) is the song “Blur.” It’s fast, it’s hard, it’s relentless, and unforgiving. Then it just stops, it’s calm and just when you least expect it, it picks back up.

Perhaps this album saves the best for last though with the songs “Anthology” and “Disarmed.” The rhythm and percussion is so well done on “Anthology” that you can tell the drummer and bass player are brothers. It’s so tight, so perfect, and just flat out fun to listen to. It feels like it brings you up to date with where they were, what they used to play and where they are now. It feels like it borrows something from a song off of every album up until now. It’s their greatest hits rolled into one song. It’s a “thanks for listening” for the fans who’ve been there for a decade now.

Then “Disarmed” comes at you in the same way “Red Sky” did on “Vheissu.” It’s melodious and charming. It finishes off a great record the right way. Leaving you calm and relaxed and contemplative of what you just listened to. They somehow keep evolving, without ever really changing anything, and this is what makes album after album critically and commercially successful.

To me, this album is a question of faith. The calmness and the darkness wrapped up in chaos and energy. There’s a certain pain to this album that most of us who have endured it can see and relate to.

4.5/5

23
Sep
11

M83 “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming”

French musician Anthony Gonzalez, the mastermind behind the band Messier 83, known commercially as M83, 6th studio album drops on October 18th.

Anthony Gonzalez

The band is rounded out with Yann Gonzalez, Morgan Kibby, Loic Maurin, and Pierre-Marie Maulini.

The album starts off with a bang going into their mainstream hit “Midnight City” which is a personal favorite:

The album begins very subdued and electronic heavy; but they flash their jazzier roots with tracks like “Train to Pluton” and “Claudia Lewis,” letting loose with some funky bass lines and other instruments you wouldn’t expect from a band centered on its synth sound. Exemplified by the sax solo at the end of “Midnight City” elevating the song to another level.

“Soon, My Friend” rounds out the first CD in the 2 disc edition, the guitar sounding vaguely similar to seventies Pink Floyd. It has a soundtrack quality to it where you’d imagine you’re standing near Stonehenge at sunrise.

The second disc takes off beautifully with “My Tears Are Becoming A Sea” literally forming goosebumps on my arms, as it’s one of the more cinematic arrangements on the album. It then slides them even closer to pop/rock as they incorporate a much stronger feel of rhythm and drums while maintaining that layer of synth, but it takes a backseat to what the rest of the band is really doing. It’s a refreshing change of pace, because let’s face it, if you release a double disc album you better have quite a bit to break up the monotony of the same sounds, a trap that most bands have yet to realize puts most listeners in a daze.

But this album certainly has no problems with that as one can specifically recognize the different sounds on multiple tracks, like the 80s retro pop stylings of “OK Pal” to the piano driven ballad “Splendor” and back to the upbeat rock track “Year One, One UFO.”

Overall this album is eclectic and powerful, but has enough flare and variety to keep you interested in all 22 tracks to see what comes next from M83.

4/5

22
Sep
11

R.E.M. – Closing shop after 30 years

 I guess I’m really behind the latest breaking music news; I just stumbled upon the announcment that REM has officially decided to disband and retire after 30 amazing years of making music!  It’s bummer in so many ways; for me personally, it’s a day of mourning and having to admit that the years have passed so quickly since attending high school in the 1980’s.  I recall one of my first real independent purchases was a CD: REM’s “Life’s Rich Pagaent” in 1986.  I purchased it at a store long gone called Record Town, and at that time 80%of the store was actual records and cassettes and 20% the “new” technology called the Compact Disc, yikes!  I’m so old that floppy discs were actually…well…”floppy”!

At that time I was a sophomore in high school trying to figure out quality music in the plethora of one-hit wonders and trashy glam rock bands.  Looking back now, there is just so much of my life, places I had been, and people I use to know; it all comes rushing back when I hear songs by REM.

Naturally I’ve always been partial to their earlier work rather than their later material in the late 90’s and 2000’s.  I think the last album I bought was “Automatic For The People” in 1992; and then fell out following them for nearly two decades!  I guess I felt that the band headed in a direction at that time where I simply wasn’t feeling what they were putting out on a consistent basis; like to friends with interests no longer in common it was time to move on.  As fate would have it though, it wasn’t until last year that I became reaquainted with REM through my fellow HiFi reviewer ericstraus; he was kind enough to hook me up with the bands entire discography and I’m eternally grateful.  It was a nice to reunite with their past albums and discover some of their newer material. Their later music has been an evolution up peaks and valley’s, never seeming to recapture their early sound and that is ok.  Clearly, whether you like their later material or not, they  development as a band and headed in a direction that they felt was right for them.  I can only imagine playing the same songs for 30 years and waining for a change in style or direction at some point, clearly REM took every random moment of inspiration and followed it wherever it took them. 

The best thing about getting re-aquainted with REM has been listening to them in the car with my 4-year old son Jacob.  He has a thing for their “Green” album and specifically their big hit “Orange Crush”; me too.  My personal favorite on that album is “Remember California”, just such rich tones and smart lyrics and again, just so classic REM.  It’s a sad day for music but clearly a well deserved retirement for a band that has contributed so much to the genre, and perhaps more profound: peoples lives. 

There is a nice article in The Washington Post about their decision to retire, read more by clicking here.

We look forward to the reunion concert already!

22
Sep
11

Album Review: Primus – Green Naugahyde

This is not your father’s Primus. Your father’s Primus was an oddball funk-metal band with head-banging riffs and rump-shaking grooves. Today’s Primus is a bit mellower, more skewed toward a zany jazz-fusion sound, but still retains their musical complexity and irreverence. After an 11-year hiatus from studio recordings, the San Francisco Bay-area band has just released Green Naugahyde, with Larry LaLonde on guitar as always, Jay Lane – the original Primus drummer – back in the band, and the band’s leader and arguably the best bass player around, Les Claypool.
Claypool definitely leads the charge on this new album, writing all the lyrics and his voice doing more “talk-singing” than actual singing, with the vocals often sent through a sound effects box of some sort. The bass grooves are undeniably Claypool – he uses a lot of effects for that as well, but his funk-jazz sound is unmistakable. The album starts off with a little prelude that segues into “Hennepin Crawler,” a funky rock tune that lets you know that Primus is back. While Claypool has taken his signature sound and applied it to his other projects (Flying Frog Brigade, Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains, solo albums, Oysterhead), there is no mistaking the sound of this trio. LaLonde’s guitar sound is instantly recognizable, though he doesn’t get a lot of chances to really wail away on this album. “Last Salmon Man” continues Claypool’s tome of fishing-themed songs, this one commenting on the diverting of water from northern California to other parts of the state. Claypool’s lyrics, while often silly and bizarre, can sometimes be politically poignant, as in “Eternal Consumption Engine,” a weird Willy Wonka-esque tune about our society’s never-ending thirst for more and more stuff. Primus’ rock sound returns in “Tragedy’s a’ Comin’,” with Claypool slapping his bass with funk ferocity. The other album highlights include the jaunty little ditty “Lee Van Cleef,” referencing the actor from old westerns like “High Noon” and “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”; “Moron TV” is a fairly benign attack on the current state of television programming – Claypool really wasn’t going out on a limb here. “HOINFODAMAN” showcases Claypool’s affection for Frank Zappa, both musically and politically. Claypool has always shied away from mainstream pop culture trappings, and the evil corporate music machine, much like Zappa. “HOINFODAMAN” is an indictment of artists who sell out for fame and fortune – Frank would approve. The band saved the best for last on the album with a tune called “Extinction Burst.” This song more than any of the others has more layers and explores some longer grooves.
Overall, I was a bit disappointed with Green Naugahyde. Following Primus’ last release, an EP entitled “Animals Should Not Try to Act like People,” and the subsequent tour, it seemed that the band was incorporating a more “jam band” style, in that they would stretch out their funky grooves and wailing guitar work, rather than keeping the songs nice and short. But this new album seems very constrictive – it almost feels like the band is playing inside a tiny box and has no room to really break out into some great song space. Their sound has always been completely unique, creative, and truly “alternative.” But this album pales in comparison to most of their other recordings; I did not expect the metal-driven sound of the “Frizzle Fry” album, or the hardcore funk of “Tales from the Punchbowl,” but taken as a whole, the album is pretty mundane for Primus. LaLonde rarely gets a chance to really let loose and shred some solos, and Lane’s drumming, while extremely well-suited for the album’s sound, seems tempered and delicate, with none of the explosiveness from the band’s earlier efforts.
I’m still looking forward to their upcoming live show, as I’m sure they will take that opportunity to breathe some new life into these songs, along with playing a lot of the old stuff (they’re doing two full sets of music). Perhaps, like most jam bands, Primus is becoming a band where the studio albums are of minimal importance, and the emphasis will be on touring and putting on a stellar live show. We shall see.
As I mentioned, the sound of Green Naugahyde is unmistakably Primus, and that’s still a good thing.
Green Naugahyde gets 3 out of 5 stars!