Archive for November, 2011

29
Nov
11

Opeth – Swedish metal fun!

Recently during the wee hours of the morning when I was having trouble sleeping I decided to check out my list on Tivo of shows that I randomly decided to record and check out later; one was another installment of the 2011 Sonisphere concert.  I had seen the past installments with Slayer, Anthrax, Metallica, and Megadeth but not some of the lesser known acts.  For example, this particular artists featured this included Sum 41, Cavalera Conspiracy, Diamond Head, In Flames, and Opeth.  To be fair, these are not household names around the halls of HiFi Central, but perhaps they are in your abode.  Clearly they are “popular” to someone otherwise they would have never made the bill for Sonisphere in the first place. 

Out of the fore-mentioned bands I found myself listening to the Sum 41 set, which was more nostalgic than eye opening, the guys are good and still popular perhaps, say in Indonesia these days. Sadly, Sum 41 is not involved in the main music scene in the US these days; an underground fanbase I would assume keeps them alive here.  Sum 41 has not put out any radio worthy music in years; and in some ways reminded me of a goofy Green Day wanna be band on Sonisphere.  I’m sure the shoppers at Zumiez or Hot Topic may think they still are incredible, but here at HiFi Central we use their poster as a dart board and cd’s as drink coasters.

Cavelera Conspiracy had my attention for about 25 seconds and then I quickly found them utterly boring, especially when the lead singer Max Cavelera opened his mouth.  It wasn’t until I realized why I knew the name Cavelera and then zingo – Sepultura!  I always liked Sepultura’s instrumentals but never liked the vocals, hmmm, guess what?  Still don’t! After listening to the reincarnation with Cavelera Conspiracy, it was like trying liver again at 40 – I still think it sucks, sorry.

Diamond Head was merely a special reunion for a 1970’s metal band that some of todays bands merit (Megadeth and Metallica) with being highly influential.  Ok I guess, personally for me it was a bunch of old geezers having a good time and if they played my town I would disregard them as a decent garage band, the music was nothing worth really noting and I pressed fast forward (thank the Lord for TIVO!!!) 

After watching this chapter of Sonisphere 2010 the only bands that stood out for me were Swedish metal bands In Flames and Opeth.  I was familiar with In Flames since they recently had a show locally and I am kicking myself for missing the show; they are REALLY good!   Opeth was a complete mystery to me and I was amazed how good they were.

In Flames and Opeth are equally talented bands and exemplify some of the best Death / Progressive metal coming out of Sweden.  I found myself entranced with both bands sound and vocals;  these bands are accomplished masters of the metal sound and have discovered the ability to make quality music.  In Flames, although very good, is somewhat one-dimensional when compared to talents of Opeth. Opeth is clearly more of  a mix of conceptual progressive rock, death metal, and classic rock.  To make it a bit more precise, it would be fair to say that Opeth is a culmination of Dream Theater, early Rush, and Lamb of God mixed all together to create a tasty goop of hard driving riffs, strong choral arrangments, constant time changes, acoustic breaks, and the occasional growling vocals added at the right times. 

What I think appeals to me most about this band is the variety of music they have created over the past decade, albums range from mellow acoustic arrangments echoing with haunting vocals exemplified by the concept albums My Arms, Your Hearse (1998) and Still Life (1999).  Both albums remind me of an early Rush concept album like Hemispheres, not in the vocals but the story line.  In Still Life a character returns to his town after years of banishment due to his faith, a faith that contrasted with the majority and he comes back years later to find his true love. As the album moves forward it introduces those who originally banished him and the bad things that follow. 

Concept albums can be fun; especially when artists use the songs exemplify the chapters and progression of the character and development of a story as a whole; I think Opeth does a good job in these two albums.  As a sidenote, and clearly coincidental, the album My Arms,  Your Hearse offers three instrumental songs, one is named “Madrigal” (as found on Rush’s Farewell to Kings (1977)) luckily it’s not a cover.  Regardless, I still found this humorous; and “Rush-like” quality can be found on the first song off of Still Life called “The Moor”; very Cygnus-X1-like with a journey of soft haunting guitars setting the tone for a deep story full of twists and turns.

Opeth has been smart not to rely on the same recipe for their albums; they keep to a constant style, yet manipulate the arrangments very smartly.  This constant shift from acoustic to metal can be reflected in more recent albums where a much more hard driving non-stop Death metal style of growling vocals and blistering guitars is introduced sparingly.  I liken their albums to a “metal roller coaster ride”, albums may start off with a soft haunting vocal and guitar backdrop and then transition into fast paced dark anger and fury, then back to mellow.  Much of this style can be highlighted on an album such as Blackwater Park (2001); at the same time you can find a mix of both acoustic melodies and metal offered Watershed (2008).  So far I have found that Opeth put out very solid albums that keep the listener enthralled and not yearning to advance to the next song.  It’s actually more anticipation to see what’s next and I like that.

As much as I want to continue writing an indepth analysis about the the body of Opeth’s work, there is simply too many albums and not enough time for me to fairly be overly critical  (positive or negative); however, I can say with great conviction that from what I have heard so far, I am very impressed!

 This band is clearly on to something and I can’t wait to see if they ever have a show in HiFi Central’s hometown of Albany, NY.  If you are interested in learning more about Opeth see if you can snag their Still Life album as a starter; Still Life is one of my current favorites.   If you have seen Opeth or like their music please drop us a comment, we’d love to hear what you think.  If you have not heard them before and decided to check them out via this blog, please let us know if we made a good suggestion or whether we suck at making suggestions.

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22
Nov
11

Manchester Orchestra “Simple Math”

Manchester Orchestra is an indie band from Atlanta.

Simple Math

This is their third album. The first two I’m Like A Virgin Losing A Child and Mean Everything to Nothing both saw significant playtime to get them into my top 20. They’re simple.

That’s the best compliment I can give to a band in a day and age where overdubbing, vocoders, and vox tuning are prevalent. Not the case. What you see hear is what you get.

This album came out in May and hasn’t been met with much fanfare. Which is disappointing considering the almost cultist following bands like DMB, The Black Keys and The White Stripes have.

Their sound is one of a kind and their creativity is like a sunrise on a cold morning.

The album starts off with a bang with “Deer.” Then 2 tracks later with “Pensacola” it really gives you the perspective that these guys are genuinely having fun making these albums and have room for improvisation in the studio. Improvisation in music is almost always a good thing as it leads to creativity and collaboration.
The album gets suddenly somber with “Virgin” which is remarkably reminiscent of just about anything off of I’m Like A Virgin Losing A Child and really sets you up for the title track “Simple Math.”

As you can see and hear, these guys know what they’re doing. “Simple Math” was nominated for MTV and UK video awards and the technical aspects of the video are just mind blowing. You usually don’t see that type of production work put into a music video.

They’ve impressed me from day one and I’ve found a place in playlists for whatever mood I’m in.

4/5

17
Nov
11

Nickelback “Here and Now”

Dear Hi-Fi readers…

Look at what I do for you. I subject myself to substandard music shit to bring you better awareness on what an abomination the band Nickelback is… the worst part to all of this? We’ll all be witness to their shittiness one week from today: Thanksgiving Day during halftime of the Lions/Packers game. I already know what I’m thankful for: the Mute button.

Just bear with me for this thought process. Some executive somewhere thought it was a good idea to have a CANADIAN band (I use the term ‘band’ loosely here) perform for AMERICAN Thanksgiving?!?!?!? Then pitched it to the NFL… and they approved it. I mean I’m not for the death penalty… but this rides the line folks.
I mean, the game is in Detroit!!! The home of mo-town!!! The home of Eminem and Kid Rock! Bob Seger! Alice Cooper! Jack White!! THE MOTOR CITY MADMAN: TED NUGENT!!!!!!!!!!! Jesus get me some blues or jazz!! Give me Adele! Aretha Franklin! Alicia Keys! Singing Empire State of Mind would be less out of place. Hell I’d take Lady Gaga and Katy Perry over these chumps.

Just goes to show, America still like imports better than domestic.

Ok so now that I got that out of the way, we can get to the real lashings; that is, what this album just did to my ears. Jerry Sandusky couldn’t even help me wash my shame away…

The problem with Nickelback isn’t the music. Rather, if you listen to some of the songs that don’t make radio release, some of them do have driving guitar and bass riffs, like the opening track “This Means War.” Drums don’t get in the way and then… it happens… Chad Kroeger starts singing and it all goes to shit.

I’ve never heard more unoriginal lyrics in my life. Made evident by the song “Bottom’s Up.” Just, classic rock is classic for a reason. Songs like Hendrix’s “Purple Haze,” Skynyrd’s “That Smell,” or even Peter Paul & Mary’s “Puff the Magic Dragon” are creative and use euphemisms for drinking and drug use. I have no respect for bands that can’t think of a way to properly use a metaphor to make you think of what you’re listening to (I’m staring at you Buckcherry.)

Just, I’m 5 songs in and 4 of them have sounded exactly the same. This band has no 3rd gear. It’s either rock to a steady beat or a ballad. The problem is, every single one sounds the same. They’ve never bothered to change what they do. Which isn’t a bad thing if you’re a revered and creative band, Nickelback, however, is not. They’re a mediocre rock band who refuse to take any risks in any direction. They’re the G.O.P. of rock bands. No wonder people hate them so much.

They’re rich, successful, and somehow manage to keep drawing fans/getting votes. But dear god are the lyrics to these songs bad BAD TERRIBLE CRAP SHIT. Just listening to the lyrics of “Gotta Get Me Some” makes me feel sorry that nobody really listens to what’s being said. It’s a guy going after his best friend’s ex… right in front of him. Talk about breaking bro-code. To make a song about it though? Major foul dude.

Oh great, now we get the ballad of the album “Lullaby” and again, not going to lie, it starts out FINE. Piano and a well timed drum/bass entrance. Nice and slow… then jesus crippled christ on a cross… the lyrics are BAD. I don’t understand why Nickelback has to be so self aware:

So just give it one more try
With a lullaby
And turn this up on the radio
If you can hear me now
I’m reaching out
To let you know that you’re not alone
And if you can’t tell
And you scare yourself
Cause I can’t get you on the telephone
So just close your eyes
Honey here comes a lullaby
Buried a lullaby

Really? Is this you bragging that you get your songs on the radio? Ok fine. You think I’m nitpicking? How about that these lyrics directly follow that song about wanting to bang his friend’s ex? Or that it’s followed up by “Kiss it Goodbye” where he blantantly sings about disliking people doing drugs and seeing through people’s “bullshit.” Talk about schizophrenic. I feel like this album was written by a drunk frat boy who can’t control his hormones and ends up dry humping a staircase before he passes out.

Oh good, a semi-ballad with “Trying Not to Love You” … where he writes a lyric about not being able to find a pill that can help him how to forget “god knows I hasn’t found it yet.” How is this music? Nothing of these lyrics are moving. It’s annoying really.

Again, drunk frat boy lyrics for “Holding On to Heaven.” Just so uncreative, 9 songs in, not one lyric has stood out as deep or showing any sort of empathy or story telling. It’s literally drunk desperate guy looking for anything to cling to… which continues with “Everything I Wanna Do.”

Aren’t these guys in their 30s? Shouldn’t they be a little more mature than this? I mean, hell, at least Scott Stapp wrote a song for the birth of his son (“Arms Wide Open” for those of you who’ve been spared.)

I know there’s another song left… but I’m done. It can’t bring this album back to life. It’s just lame. Maybe if you dub out all the lyrics I’d appreciate the music. But the fact that this is what, the 6th album that’s been the same damned thing is just too much to take.

2/5 … Ok last song is playing… 1.5/5 this is such crap.

15
Nov
11

Peter Gabriel: “New Blood”

Peter Gabriel (eye)

For my first blog ever, how about a new album by Peter Gabriel? Now, before you write this off, allow me to offer my two cents as to why I love his music so much, and why you should give him a shot:

5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Write-Off PG…

  1. How can you write-off an artist who’s been listed as a major influence in an enormous and varied list of acts, including: PHISH, IRON MAIDEN, RUSH, THE KILLERS, RADIOHEAD, SARAH McLACHLAN, and QUEEN.
  2. Ever hear of a band called Genesis? Peter Gabriel started the band in 1967 and led it until he left to pursue a solo career.
  3. Although he’s 61 years old, he can still perform anything from his catalog, and well.
  4. He’s done so much for charity and for world music, including founding WOMAD.
  5. As with so many great artists, what you’ve heard on the radio is NOT even a decent representation of his catalog.

Why I Personally Enjoy PG…

  1. His song lyrics actually have meaning. Gabriel is a true artist, and his songs reach across the human experience of emotions, from jubilant to depressed, from anger to love, from helplessness to hope, from inquisitive to pompous, and everything in between. On top of emotional, Peter’s lyrics are also quite intellectual. This is music to think to, with lyrical meanings not always instantly presenting themselves.
  2. Musically, Peter Gabriel is anything but fluff. The production quality of a PG album can only be described as meticulous. Gabriel’s painstaking attention to details always shines through.
  3. The craft with which Peter Gabriel layers multiple instruments and tracks provides an aural feast. If you want proof, check out the album “So” – a masterpiece of production by PG and Daniel Lanois (U2, etc)
  4. As a musician and a music teacher myself, I greatly enjoy his harmonic and melodic creativity, not to mention the rhythmic complexity. If you enjoy good musical writing, you will find it tough to get bored with a Peter Gabriel playlist.
  5. He’s an artist in the truest sense. With seemingly no care for what the mainstream might prefer, PG has released songs and albums that play more like works of art than manufactured packages for the masses. To appreciate Peter Gabriel’s music is to appreciate art.

New Album: “New Blood”

New Blood album cover

Ok, so on to the new album, “New Blood” released a few weeks ago. I recently heard an interview with James Wolcott on NPR, speaking of his new book and his column in Vanity Fair. James said the most important characteristic of any critic is to be true to the original reaction to what you’re critiquing. So, I’ll start there…

My First Reaction: I was enraptured. But, I must admit to you the circumstance within which this “rapture” took place: as an album of Peter Gabriel songs put to orchestral arrangement, it was serendipitous that I was listening to high school band arrangements at the time I purchased the album. The colors and harmonies being performed by the New Blood Orchestra on this album seemed, at the time, an incredible tapestry compared to the limits of high school band music. Combine that with the fact that I already love Peter Gabriel, and the fact that I saw this tour live in Saratoga this past summer, and Voilà!’ – rapture. To be fair, any true Gabriel fan will enjoy this album. He goes deep enough into his catalog to rejuvenate some deep cuts, while avoiding radio-play regulars like “Sledgehammer.” And those odd balls like me – classically trained AND already a Gabriel fan – will instantly fall in love with this, just because of the characteristically emotional performances by Gabriel coupled with the professional orchestral performers and high-quality arrangements.

For the PG Noob: This part’s for you: the passer-by, the ones who know this guy via “Sledgehammer”, “Shock The Monkey”, and “Big Time.” Not only will you likely tire of the relative drum set-less texture (only 3 out of 16 tracks have any membranophones at all), the relatively unknown track list (save “Solsbury Hill” and “In Your Eyes”), and the poor order in which the tracks were arranged. If, however, you are up to the challenge of braving these “elements” and mining this work for its gems, I have a few suggestions:

First, know that this is an orchestral album; so turn up the volume on your stereo. Otherwise, you’ll miss some key ingredients to the texture (something those of us who listen to art [aka “classical”] music are already used to). Once you’ve turned it up to ’11’, start with “Intruder.” Not only is it the best track on the album, it’s got a lot of energy – something a lot of these tracks intentionally lack. Next, I’d follow it up with these: In Your Eyes, San Jacinto, The Rhythm of the Heat, Red Rain, The Nest That Sailed The Sky, and then Signal To Noise. I’m not sure it’s a good introduction to Peter Gabriel, but this is a good sampling of what’s being offered whilst avoiding some striking potholes on this particular album. OK, noobs can cease reading now. 🙂

The Full Review: It’s one thing to put your music to orchestral arrangement – something we’ve seen done (often badly) many times before. But what Gabriel’s done here is taken his songs and given them a true, unsurprisingly detailed treatment with co-arranger John Metcalf.

The Good: On New Blood, Peter has expanded his “pallet”, if you will: a full orchestra of instruments, as compared with his usual electronic sounds, guitars, and drums. Remember that an orchestra can get louder, softer, higher, and lower than a regular rock band. On some tracks, this actually works to uncoil the original intent of the song, sadly. On others, it heightens it to amazing new levels. This happens on “San Jacinto”, “Intruder”, and “Signal To Noise” to a point where I am removing the original tracks from my playlist and replacing them with the New Blood versions, which sound like how the song should have originally been set. “San Jacinto” reaches new levels of contemplation, “Signal” new levels of intensity, and “Intruder” new levels of scariness. Thankfully, “Wallflower” finally gets the treatment it always deserved; a song about tortured victims of human rights, the “Security” album version – with its low volume and seemingly uncharacteristic hurried production quality – never did the song justice.

One thing that is so very cool on this album: a track called “A Quiet Moment.” A simple recording of gentle wind blowing through the breeze coupled with unobtrusive birds, “Quiet” is a wonderful pallet-clearing track that relaxes the senses and allows the listener a break from the powerful and extreme texture of a full orchestra (something most rock fans are not used to). It’s a clever move by a clever artist.

The Bad: “In Your Eyes”, “Solsbury Hill”, and “Mercy Street” arrangements are both kind of take-it-or-leave-it quality. There are better versions of each already in the PG catalog. They were probably thrown on the album for nostalgic purposes.

The Ugly: There are some real losers on this album: “Don’t Give Up”, “Downside Up”, “Darkness”, and “Digging In The Dirt” are all tastelessly done, in my opinion (a shocking thing for me to even admit). Right when this album’s version of “”Don’t Give Up is ready to become a classic arrangement, enter Ane Brun’s awful vocals. She sounds like a grandmother trying to find pitches. Just hideous, she ruins the track. “Downside” is completely unneeded, as the live version on Hit is eponymous. Plus, it ends before the “kick-in” section, which totally disappoints. “Darkness” has contrasts that are so violent they literally hurt the ears (a seemingly sophomoric use of the orchestra’s dynamics, tastelessly out of character from the rest of the album). Finally, there are very cool harmonic, rhythmic, and even melodic changes that work to actually augment the original versions. But I just can’t stomach the melodic change to the vocals in the chorus of “Digging”- it lessens the emotional effect of this otherwise striking song.

In The End: Although the average Joe will probably not stomach this album, this AverageJoe enjoyed it thoroughly. The Gabriel fan will find a few gems, but likely struggle without the usual guitars and drums.  3.5/5 stars

11
Nov
11

A Soundtrack for Sunsets: Tycho–Dive (Ghostly International, 2011)

It’s no surprise Scott Hansen is a native Californian. He’s known by two aliases: Tycho for music and ISO50 for graphic design. The faded warm colors and sixties inspired aesthetics of his visual works undoubtedly correspond to the sun inspired arrangements of his music. Hansen owns a large collection of vintage analog synthesizers including a Minimoog and Korg Mono/Poly, which explains his music’s frequent use of rich timbres and ethereal layers, an integral characteristic established in his debut LP Sunrise Projector (later released as Past is Prologue) and a continued theme in Dive

With shimmery tones floating over celestial pads and down-tempo beats of opening track “A Walk,” my memory immediately revisits a time spent in Santa Monica where I watched the sun slowly sink below the Pacific Ocean’s horizon. Later in the song, an acoustic guitar breaks up the relaxed vibe and switches the tempo, adding claps, more drum fills and swells, almost like going from a calm, pleasant walk to a fast, exhilarating run.

In “Daydream” the title speaks for itself. A simple guitar melody fades in and subtly dwells throughout the majority of the song, underlying the dreamy flowing instrumentation of ambient synth inflections, definitely making it a relaxing, mesmerizing tune. Following the sonic surreality is title track “Dive,” the eight minute atmospheric voyage which in my opinion is the climactic point of the album. Brief, incomprehensible female coos introduce the eighties pop beat and heavily reverberated poly-synths. It sounds like it could be a theme song for an aquatic journey.

Dive is a buoyant, sunny adventure filled with ambient lullabies like “Epigram” and soothing harmonies heard in “Coastal Brake”, a musical interpretation of the experience and need to “brake” when witnessing the beauty while driving on the Pacific Coast Highway. Tycho’s repeated combination of similar synth textures and basic guitar riffs with mellow rhythms is what defines his familiar yet distinct brand of sound.

For me, listening to Tycho is analogous to spending a day at the beach—the tranquil ambience of closing your eyes while basking in sunlight or watching reflections in the waves continuously crashing. It evokes a very meditative and spiritual feeling and is great complementary music for a positive, pensive and peaceful state of mind.

4/5
10
Nov
11

11/11/11 – Nigel Tufnel Day!

Don’t forget that although November 11th is primarily observed in the United States as Veteran’s Day, it will also be the one-time only celebration of Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel Day.

The next time to see this rare happening (like a comet) will be in 2111!

Please take the time tomorrow to reaquaint yourself with the cult classic and pay homage to the only true metal rock god who’s equipment (custom made of course!), goes to “11”.

If you are not aware of what I am talking about please click here for the classic scene.

09
Nov
11

The Foo Fighters “Wasting Light”


Everything Dave Grohl touches seems to turn gold: Nirvana, Foo Fighters, and he’s even had a hand in Tenacious D, Queens of the Stone Age, and Them Crooked Vultures.

The Foo Fighters have put out some legendary albums: The Colour and the Shape (1997), There Is Nothing Left to Lose (1999), One by One (2002), In Your Honor (2005). Having great success with smash hits and some brilliantly funny music videos.

There lies the problem, they have a lot to live up to with every new album that they put out. And this is where I think their last album Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace (2007) fell short. It had a couple of singles and the rest of the album was fodder. Don’t get me wrong, fodder for Dave Grohl is still better than anything Chad Kroeger could write, but we hold our beloved Fighters of Foo to a higher standard.

Do they meet this standard with Wasted Light?

I think they do. I think it’s a solid album, but it doesn’t blow me away. You can hear what songs are made for radio and what songs aren’t. To put it another way, if this were almost anyone else this would be a really good album. For them, it’s just good.

Their first single “Rope” is classic Foo, fast, fun and Grohl knows the formula for making these songs better than almost anyone. No doubt a perk of his time spent with Nirvana and one of the simplification kings in Kurt Cobain. He knows how to hit only the notes that are needed to make the song sound good. There’s no guitar solos, no drum solos, there’s just what needs to be there to make the song work. Most songs are slow to start, quiet during the verse (you mean we can actually understand what you’re singing?!?!?) and then explode into a chorus and usually abruptly bellyflops back to the silence of the verse. It’s their formula for getting songs on the radio:

* does not apply to every song they release

They really dig into the ’90s vibe with songs like “Back & Forth,” “Miss the Misery,” and they close the album on a great note with the alternative feel (and 2nd single) of “Walk.” Even better, the ballad on the album “I Should Have Known” really hits home. It’s pretty: driving bass lines, simple drums and slow guitar and a more harmonic singing approach that still captures Grohl’s scratchiness and style. Until it builds up. Then we hit full on Foo Fighters goodness that explodes in the last minute and a half. A really great song, choosing to bury it second to last kind of hurts, but the change of pace was certainly welcomed. Besides the already released singles “Rope” and now “Walk” the other song that seems radio friendly is “Arlandria.”

Overall, this album has enough bright spots to impress, but there’s just a few songs that are unimpressive. I severely disliked “White Limo.” But will give them credit for trying something a little harder on the ears… they just missed the mark with this one. I feel like “A Matter of Time” is redundant and we’ve heard this song from them before in “I’ll Stick Around” from Foo Fighters.

I like the album. I’m glad they tried to go in a couple of new directions, but they missed on a couple songs and a couple of them don’t add anything but the status quo to the album.

3.5/5