Archive for December, 2011

14
Dec
11

Chevelle “Hats Off to the Bull”

It’s been a long time since Chevelle has been a radio presence. Their second album Wonder What’s Next went platinum thanks to tracks like “The Red” “Send the Pain Below” and “Closure.”

But that was 2002. What have they done since then? Well, the next album, released in 2004, was This Type of Thinking (Could Do Us In) It another success thanks to singles like “The Clincher” “Get Some” and “Vitamin R (Leading Us Along)”

Since then they’ve started to wane in popularity despite another solid album with Vena Sera and songs “I Get It” and “Well Enough Alone.” The 2009 album Sci-Fi Crimes did well on the Billboard charts, but received relatively little radio play and didn’t strike the same notes that their previous three albums did. With last week’s release of Hats Off they’re back to what they do best:

being gritty, melodic, and harmonious. Their sound is tough to replicate because they don’t have the typical hard rock formula of the band cutting away for the verse vocals. They keep playing straight through and leave it up to front-man Pete Loeffler to sing over it. The short guitar strokes and driving, deep bass keep songs dark and powerful. The drums don’t do anything more than what they have to: deliver a beat for the rest of the band to brood to.

Overall, tracks like “Face to the Floor” and “The Meddler” bring back the nostalgia and attitude of the previous Chevelle records that put them on the map. But there are a couple tracks that I would call “experimental” for them. “Piñata” and “Prima Donna” are cool for their uniqueness in sound. Great changes of pacing with both.

“Piñata” sounds like they borrowed the intro from “Flight of the Bumblebee” and slows into the verse. They sound like they took inspiration from the now defunct band System of a Down for this song. With Loeffler’s vocals resembling that of Serj Tankian. Much harder on the guitar solos and I like it. It fades in and out of chaotic arpeggios and the smoothness of the drum and bass locked into just a repetitive and cool beat.

The very next song “Envy” has this exceedingly slow build. Very dark and quiet. It builds for a very long time before it hits the chorus where the band returns to the type of music we’re used to hearing from them. It’s still a smidgen slower than what they normally play. It’s built on a silence and the quietness of the guitar, but still comes at you with a menacing bass line. This may be my favorite song on the album, it’s kind of the anti-ballad, while still being a ballad.

Strangely, I think the album’s title track may be one of the least likeable on the album. It just doesn’t seem to fit. It sound like they tried to incorporate some Rage Against the Machine into their own sound and it misses the mark for me. There’s nothing remotely resembling anything that they’ve done before. No bonus points earned here. Though they fire right back with the song “Revenge” two tracks later. This may be the next single off the album. They use a distortion pedal on bass and some hard echo/reverb for the guitar. It adds an element they haven’t had before, and with today’s progressive push towards electro music, it’ll fit well on today’s airwaves.

“Prima Donna” is an acoustic song that really surprises with how well it works considering it’s a venture that Chevelle hasn’t toyed with before. It’s taken me a few listens to even accept this sort of idea from them. But, like the rest of the album, they make it work and it grows on you the more you listen to it.

The album then immediately picks back up with the closing song “Clones” that really has movie soundtrack written all over it… which is appropriate considering they wrote a song for the movie Underworld 4.

Overall, this album is a return to the likeness of their two most successful albums. I can see another single or two coming off this album and becoming remotely successful in today’s digital landscape. I hope it brings them back into the spotlight and they get to tour with some acts that will be worth Ticketmaster’s raping prices (a story for another day!)

 

4/5

13
Dec
11

Mike Gordon show review: 12/11/11, Albany NY

Mike tunes up at the Egg

Isn’t it great when things turn out even more awesome than you ever expected? This is exactly what happened at the Egg in Albany on Sunday night, as Mike Gordon (best known as being the bass player for Phish) and his band blew the doors off the place with three hours of incredibly diverse music, long, intense jamming, and just plain fun. The theater was about 75% full of Phish heads (it might have been more had the show been on a Friday or Saturday), and the small venue provided an intimate setting for the final show of the band’s brief fall tour.

Gordon and guitarist Scott Murawski, Brooklyn drummer Todd Isler, keyboard player Tom Cleary, and percussionist Craig Myers started things off with Horizon Line, which turned into a long jam segment that featured a lot of tempo changes, dueling solos between Murawski and Cleary, and most unexpectedly, moments of dark, progressive sounds that blew me away. From what I’ve heard of Gordon’s solo work, it’s fairly mellow with a slant toward country/bluegrass, jazz and rock. This show explored vast soundscapes of varying textures and themes – it was far more than I ever expected. The Phish song Only a Dream followed, and the band once again jammed out the middle section, taking the song to new heights and arrangements that made the studio version of the song seem even more insignificant. I’m Deranged, The Way it Goes, Just a Rose, Voices, and River Niger kept the first set rolling, with most of the songs continuing the jamming and overall magic; some of the jams did lose momentum and probably went on a little longer than necessary, but that was far from the norm. The band then did a great version of Marvin Gaye’s Baby Don’t You Do It, keeping the soul of the original in tact but giving it a more intense, country rock feel, with Cleary passionately hammering out the vocals. Then they segued back into Horizon Line to bookend the set, which clocked in at about 90 minutes.

Scott Murawski and Tom Isler

After a brief intermission, the crowd roared back to life with the opening notes of Funky Bitch, a Son Seals song that Phish has played hundreds of times. Gordon’s band’s version was fairly close to Phish’s version, but different just enough that it didn’t feel like we were watching a Phish cover band. The Phishiness continued with Gordon’s tune Sugar Shack (from Phish’s Joy album), with Murawski easily handling the guitar melodies and jamming it out a bit. Then they played a cover that I never could have predicted (although if I knew Mike Gordon’s solo history better I might not have been as surprised) – Hand in My Pocket by Alanis Morissette. I’ve never been a big fan of Alanis, but I’ve never really disliked her either, and Hand in My Pocket is actually one of her songs that I do enjoy. The band rocked the hell out of it, with Murawski belting out the vocals with great passion and intensity. Dig Further Down, Crumblin’ Bones, Skin It Back, and Hap Nappy continued the terrific set, with all band members firing on all cylinders as the jams kept going. Gordon announced that the final song was dedicated to a longtime friend in the audience, a song they played together in high school – the Who’s Don’t Get Fooled Again. It was a good version, a fun way to end the set.

The Dude of Life!!!

For die-hard Phish fans, the encore was by far the highlight of the night. An additional microphone was brought to the stage, leading everyone to assume a guest vocalist would be joining the band. It turned out to be none other than Steve Pollack, a.k.a the Dude of Life. Pollack has been collaborating with Phish from the very beginning, and on Sunday he graced us with his presence for a song he wrote with Phish, Suzy Greenberg – the crowd was bouncing off the ceiling.

The whole show was a wonderful surprise for me. I expected a more laid back, moody and offbeat show, much like Gordon’s solo albums. But the jams went to crazy places I never imagined, and Murawski, who many know from the band Max Creek, is in fact a guitar god. He would go from dark riffs to lightning-fast solos with the utmost precision and clarity; his grooves were so impressive and crucial to the overall sound of the band. He was a genuine joy to hear – I’ll have to check out Max Creek now. I’m looking forward to seeing Phish in the near future, but when Gordon brings his act to town again, you can bet I’ll be there too.

Mike Gordon at the Egg gets 4.5 out of 5 stars!

05
Dec
11

Transformers Music: The Rise of Skrillex and “Bro-Step” in EDM

The dynamics have severely shifted in electronic dance music as indicated by the popularity of Skrillex a.k.a Sonny Moore in 2011. The bespeckled former frontman of screamo outfit From First to Last, established a house hold name for himself within America’s dance scene this summer after playing numerous headlining sets at festivals across the country. His rise to success undoubtedly coincided with the awakening of America’s new dance music trend among youth: dubstep.

Go to YouTube and type in a top 40 song, in fact any popular song and you will find a plethora of dubstep remixes and most of them are AWFUL. But according to the “dubstep” experts out there, the “dubstep” made in America is an inaccurate interpretation of what it actually represents. The genre became heavily bastardized from its London origins since gaining traction in the states this year, like most electronic music. Now it’s commonly referred to as “brostep,” a subcategory of dubstep described by its frequent use of obscenely loud distorted bass wobbles and glitchy electro sounds that makes fans go buckwild. Many people claim this sub-genre sounds like a cacophony of lazer farts or transformers fornicating. Hilarious, but I kid you not. A lot of folks do not enjoy dance music that feels as though their ears are being raped by harsh frequencies. I was never a huge fan of hardcore, but I can tolerate the loud, fast and angry style of playing so much more than Mr. Moore’s music.

Skrillex has become a figurehead of “brostep” and especially appeals to the rave curious high school and college demographic. While he displays a lot of “Brostep” elements in his productions such as obnoxious formulaic drops and hard metallic bass, his music is also categorized as “Fidget House,” which incorporates a mix of dubstep, electro and house styles.

In “Rock N Roll (Will Take You to the Mountains)” it starts off as said fidget house: a generic electro house beat, repetitive vocals, claps, glitchy laser synths which leads to more choppy samples, a build up and then the anticipated “Rude boy bass” drop: robot burps, video game samples, elephant trumpet calls and other distorted noise. This combination of schizophrenic, stutter noise defines Skrillex’s “signature style,” something that not only grinds my gears but sounds like gears grinding.

Then there’s his breakout hit “Scary Monsters N Nice Sprites,” the song used in a Go Pro action camera commercial and apparently a modern DJ’s wet dream. Sigh. Countless producers have remixed it and I’ve even heard it play at bars. Now it’s nominated for a Grammy (which lose more and more credibility each year). Okay, I get the intro synth is SORT of catchy but again, more elephant bellows and goblin robot bass. I’ll admit his use of the famous speed stacking girl’s “OH MY GOSH” is pretty funny, but is it really necessary to use in multiple other songs? Good grief, Sonny Moore. Mix it up, kid.

Now let’s talk about the happy, uplifting message of “Kill Everybody.” No wonder Korn collaborated with Skrillex on their latest nu-metal-dubstep album. Metal and Dubstep have combined forces to make music exponentially worse than the two separate genres! The introduction begins with ramblings by the malicious Megatron over a standard dance beat. Throw more wobbles, processed engine noise and an annoying chipmunk repeating, “I Want to Kill Everybody.” Ugh. The title explains how this song makes me feel. But again, one somewhat redeeming synth part and that’s it. More noise, Decepticon confessions and predictable use of samples that frequent EVERY Skrillex song. Basically, certain parts sound like Megatron ate a bad taco.

The 3 aforementioned tracks are on Skrillex’s unfathomably popular and recently Grammy nominated Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites, an EP produced entirely on his lap-top. It’s no wonder he’s often criticized as a “push play” performer. Yes, I unfortunately caught him very briefly at Camp Bisco this past summer and he does indeed, press play. Sure, he occasionally turns some knobs and adjusts some faders. But his classic “rock star” move? Triumphantly lifting his arms in the air to screaming, sweating frenzied bug eyed teens, all while chain smoking cigs. In fact, I wonder which thing Sonny would give up if he had to choose between cigs or his beloved use of the transformer rape and video game laser sound library.

After witnessing the mania of Skrillex’s set, my ear drums and I felt immediately violated from hearing the abrasive noise and bass overkill, never mind the teenage wasteland unfolding all around me. Hey, I’m all for a good time on the dance floor but when people are collapsing and convulsing around you, irresponsibility can only be tolerated for so long. Poor EMTS at Camp Bisco had their hands full this year. Anyways, I walked away knowing I was immune to the possibility of experiencing an epileptic seizure. The recent bass culture movement has become a new low (pun intended) at festivals; especially this year at Camp Bisco where I had to suffer through Borgore’s bro-tastic electro dubstep during an early evening main stage set that was 300 feet from my campsite. I just don’t…get the hype or gratification people feel from experiencing Skrillex or “brostep” productions, live or recorded. I must be getting old.

Speaking of inspiring performances, I don’t know which is more exciting to watch: Skrillex smoking cigs and raising his arms for every similar, predictable drop or house producer Steve Aoki running around, spitting and pouring champagne at the audience while his “music” magically plays in the background. I mean, I’m all about tomfoolery onstage, but are you actually mixing anything live at all? Obviously the audience doesn’t care because they’re too busy getting their faces melted with bass. Duh.

Worst of all, Skrillex collaborated with remaining members of the Doors for the “Re:Generation” music project which teams up modern producers and DJs with older, reputable musicians. The keyboard and guitar tracks sound synthetic and over-processed and of course, Skrillex adds his transformer effects and lazers. To me, it’s cheesy and brings nothing exciting or innovative to the table. It’s a 21st Century flop.

I don’t care how many people like him. The fact is my ears bleed and skin crawls when listening to Skrillex or “brostep.” Personally, I like music that’s pleasant to my ears and displays a range of high, mid and low end frequencies. One friend of mine summarized, “I listened to Skrillex once. Nearby electronic devices came alive and tried strangling me with their cords.” If the other songs haven’t convinced you of a truth to his experience, then listen to the drop in “First of the Year (Equinox)” and see if your electronics turn to the dark side…then call 911 NOW!

I guess to each his or her own, though it’s a shame we live in a world where most talented musicians and producers don’t get the credit or attention they deserve. I mean, have you seen 2011’s Grammy nominations? Oh wait, the Grammy’s have been a joke for years now. Anyways, as the bass culture wave expands and people continue to get their fix of filthy, grimy, dirty drops, maybe we’ll all be too distracted to notice actual evil robots taking over the airwaves so they can “kill everybody.”

Let’s hope they start by pushing Skrillex off a bridge. It’d be his best drop yet.

02
Dec
11

Free Phish Friday!

HiFi recently received an update on the companies iPhone that Phish will broadcast highlights of the legendary 1997 Hampston/Winston-Salem shows Thursday (yesterday), Friday, and Saturday at 2:00 via the LivePhish.com website radio.  There is no need to sign up; it simply requires a click of your mouse on the Listen link and viola!

I listen to the LivePhish.com radio station on a very regular basis and have found it easy to use and often updated with fresh live material.  This special stream they are offering at 2:00 should be a treat, check it out if you can!

01
Dec
11

Last.fm

In the digital age we live in music has excelled, not beyond anything we thought it might become, but in how it’s delivered to us. The past 20 years saw the decline of the cassette tape, compact disc, and physical formatting is now all but dead.

So as physical media phases out we turn to more convenient ways of obtaining music (not always done legally now is it?) from services such as Morpheus, Kazaa, Limewire, and most famously: Napster.

So we learned that the RIAA severely dislikes not making money on album sales… so we downloaded even more, torrenting sites becoming more and more popular, The Pirate Bay, for example.

Now I don’t know about you, but in my education I’ve found out that artists usually sign a contract and make most of their money up front. A label will give you, say, $2 million, to buy equipment, record, produce, create music videos, and finish an album. How much of that gets spent on production is usually at the band and manager’s discretion. They are then, most of the time, offered some ridiculously low royalty percentage that means even less after you divide it up between band members and management.

So artists generally don’t make that much off of album sales, but usually off of touring. Ever notice that’s why Bruce Springsteen doesn’t seem to give a rat’s ass about putting out new albums but will sell out stadiums on a yearly basis? Or that U2’s music has been in steep decline since the late 80s but still manage to have gigantic concerts where they rake in obscene amounts of fans a.k.a. money? (And they don’t even pay taxes to the Irish government!)

Before my tenure at Hi-Fi started I was dealt several cease and desist letters for uploading music just to my former blog’s domain just for personal use. Talk about touchy by the record companies!

So where’m I going with all of this? Well, today’s digital music playground is found through music streaming services such as Spotify, Grooveshark, iTunes, SHOUTcast, Pandora and the least famous… Napster.

I’ve tried using all of those, and iTunes, while on my home computer is fine, because I have my library there too, is not viable on the road. With the rest of these you can build and tag artists/genres you like, but c’mon, that’s a huge hassle for us to list all the bands we like and may have an itch to hear.

Last.fm takes care of that. They have a nifty piece of scrobbling software that will record what songs/artists you play the most, it even makes charts! But by far the best thing is, is that you can take your library with you wherever you go. For free. They offer your library streamed to you, they also offer your library with suggestions for similar artists. Which keeps the likes of Maroon 5 the hell out of my easy listening playlist and doesn’t turn me into a fit of rage.

So, if you’re going places, constantly on the move and let’s say maybe you’re trying to preserve some hard drive space, Last.fm is the way to go, take your own music with you and still gives you a taste of similar artists or you can just play a channel as you would on those other streaming sites.

It gives you everything… and what’s yours.