STILL (INDIE) ROCKIN’
PRIMUS — Primus and the Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble
THE GOOD: American indie rock trio Primus does the unimaginable on their eighth.
THE BAD: Is Chocolate Factory wickedly brilliant or an indulgent experiment?
THE NITTY GRITTY: Frontman, bassist and Primus mastermind Les Claypool and his crew takes every song from the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and gives them the royal Prawn Song treatment. I guess if any band HAD to do this, Primus is that band; these guys always walking a fine line between high intelligence and the somewhat low-brow.
Now they’re taking warm and fuzzy pieces of your childhood like “Pure Imagination,” “Golden Ticket” and all four “Oompa Loompa” chants and turning them into “Pork Soda” and “John the Fisherman.” And the end results aren’t awkward like one might expect. Strange? Creepy? Disturbing? Yes, but never embarrassing. Still, it’s tough to look at this collection as anything but a cool little novelty.
BUY IT?: Your call. Chocolate Factory is sweet but it’s hardly Primus’ finest hour.
TV ON THE RADIO — Seeds
THE GOOD: Brooklyn-based indie rockers TVOTR regroup, survive and give us a glorious fifth.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: After losing bassist Gerard Smith to lung cancer in 2011, the tightly-knit band did some soul searching, switched record labels and changed focus. Seeds is the end result of all that strife and change.
First, it’s their most personal work to date; politics dialed way down within the lyrics while relationships and life matters take over. Second, it could be TVOTR’s most accessible record yet. Adventurous? Yes, but you don’t have to work so hard this time. Yet the guys still play it far from safe.
Seeds retains that unique mix of indie, the electronic and soul we’ve come to expect. And there’s always an underlying sense of doom around the next bend. “Quartz” buzzes and screeches. “Happy Idiot” is catchy yet jittery. The title cut is more soothing but hails from a seemingly dark place.
BUY IT?: Surely.
SMASHING PUMPKINS — Monuments to an Elegy
THE GOOD: Smashing Pumpkins return with their ninth album, supposedly the second in the Teargarden trilogy.
THE BAD: You either think Billy Corgan is a genius or a bit loopy; no middle ground there. Elegy is good, but it won’t win over past detractors.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Corgan IS Smashing Pumpkins these days; the band comprised of whoever feels like playing with him (or vice versa) at any given moment. On Elegy, that would include guitarist Jeff Schroeder (who has managed to stick around since 2007) and Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee playing ALL drum parts.
Elegy’s biggest strength is its brevity. Clocking in at just over 32 minutes, there’s no fat. Corgan has never made a Pumpkins record so devoid of prog rock tendencies or heavy concepts. We get nine melodic succinct guitar-driven rock songs. Tunes like “Tiberius” and “Run2Me” are powerful without being angry, accomplished without being pretentious. Corgan hasn’t written anything this unassuming since the one-off Zwan record back in 2003.
BUY IT?: Actually … why not?
Assorted Declarations from Editor Tom Graham
Concerts: Church, Horror Metal and The Dead
• Country crooner Eric Church brings “The Outsiders World Tour” to Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre on Friday, March 13. Tickets go on sale this Friday, Jan. 23 at 10 a.m. at the box office at Mohegan Sun Arena and ticketmaster.com. Drive-By Truckers are slated to open the show.
Church’s current album, The Outsiders, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums Chart and the Billboard Country Albums Chart earlier this year, featuring his No. 1 hit “Give Me Back My Hometown” and his current single “Talladega.” The Outsiders is the follow-up to Church’s Platinum-certified album Chief, (named the 2012 Album of the Year by both CMA and ACM, and GRAMMY-nominated for Best Country Album).
To learn more about Eric Church, visit ericchurch.com and facebook.com/ericchurch.
• Slipknot announced its “Prepare for Hell” world tour, featuring special guests Hatebreed, which features a stop at The Pavilion at Montage Mountain in Scranton on Wednesday, May 13 at 8 p.m.
Tickets go on sale this Friday, Jan. 23 at 10 a.m., while presales are available now via slipknot1.com.
Slipknot will headline several major festivals this year, including Florida’s Fort Rock, Welcome to Rockville, Carolina Rebellion, Northern Invasion and Rock on the Range.
The “Prepare for Hell” tour follows last year’s release of .5: The Gray Chapter, Slipknot’s fifth studio album and first since 2008’s RIAA platinum certified chart-topper “All Hope Is Gone.” The album made a stunning chart debut upon its October arrival, entering the SoundScan/Billboard 200 chart at No. 1
The album was No. 1 on both Revolver’s “20 Best Albums of 2014” and Guitar World’s “50 Best Albums of 2014” rankings, while also earning inclusion on Rolling Stone and Loudwire’s “20 Best Metal Albums of 2014” rankings.
• To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Grateful Dead, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, Phil Lesh and Bob Weir will reunite at Chicago’s Soldier Field, nearly 20 years to the day of the last-ever Grateful Dead concert, which took place at the same venue. “Fare Thee Well: Celebrating 50 Years of Grateful Dead” takes place over three nights — July 3, 4 and 5, 2015 — and marks the original members’ last-ever performance together. The band will be joined by Trey Anastasio (Guitar), Jeff Chimenti (Keyboards) and Bruce Hornsby (Piano) and will perform two sets of music each night.
In the tradition of the original Grateful Dead Ticketing Service (gdtstoo.com), tickets are now available via a mail order system, followed by an online pre-sale through Dead Online Ticketing Feb. 12 and will be available online to the general public on Feb. 14 via Ticketmaster.
There will be a general admission pit directly in front of the stage ($99.50). Reserved tickets range from $59.50-$199.50.
The Grateful Dead are considered one of the most important bands of the psychedelic era and among the most groundbreaking acts in rock and roll history.
The 1995 death of band leader Jerry Garcia abruptly put an end to the Grateful Dead, though various members subsequently regrouped as the Other Ones, The Dead and Furthur.
Here’s what’s in my headphones this week: Ben Howard I Forget Where We Were (Republic) 2014.
Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane
I’ve discussed my complicated relationship with Belgian brews before. Many beer people put them at the top of the alcoholic pyramid. While I do not in any way dislike them, I think they are largely overrated. The yeasts used generally impart certain characteristics on them that, while unique and tasty, are not particularly better than those you’d find in an IPA or Lager. Its a good style, but it is far from the only quality style out there.
There is also this kind of trend in the past few years to “Belgianize” a brew. I’ve seen a good few breweries do it. They take one of their regular beers but use a Belgian yeast and a few other additives to change its flavor profile. IPAs are a popular style to experiment with in this fashion. This has resulted in mixed results for me. Some I’ve tried are unique expressions of a style, full of subtleties and flavors not found in either of their parents. Others are gimmicky and different solely for the sake of being different. They are new and different in the way that a child pouring all the sodas in a soda fountain into a single cup is new and different. There is no main idea, no coherency. There is just a bunch of stuff in a bottle.
With this in mind, this week I grabbed a bottle of Victory Brewing’s Wild Devil. Its based off one of their more popular brews, Hop Devil, which is known for its blend of malt, spice, and lots and lots of hops. Wild Devil promised much the same, but with the added tang and funk of Belgian style brews. Victory has certainly churned out some great Belgians in the past (Golden Monkey, I’m looking at you). Could they do it with one of their hoppiest brews? There was only one way to find out.
The pour was absolutely beautiful. The beer was a gorgeous amber golden color topped with two fingers worth of creamy head that left all sorts of lacing down the side of the glass. Just looking at it made me quite excited. The scent was rather pleasing as well. It was sweet and malty with notes of citrus and spice. It was like ripe bananas and biscuits, imbued with a slight tang and sourness. By all outward appearances, this was going to be a great beer.
With such a great introduction, it was that much worse when the taste didn’t match up to expectations. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t bad. It just was nowhere near as good as it looked or smelled. It seemed conflicted, like it didn’t know quite what it wanted to be. Up front was some malty sweetness and funk. It was quickly washed away in the bitter hop bite at the end. There were numerous subtle nuances in the beer, such as its slight grassy taste and citrus flavors, but none were allowed to shine for too long before being punched in the gut by its salty hops.
Wild Devil left me wanting a sweet, biscuity malty backbone that was strong enough to stand up to its bitter end whilst simultaneously carrying all those subtle undercurrents I previously mentioned. It did not have that. All in all, it was an okay beer, though it had the possibility of being great. Some more caramel malt to even it out, and I feel that it would have been outstanding. I still have nothing but love for Victory Brewing and all the great things they do. This just wasn’t their best offering.
Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane
Not all beers should be cellared. Most of our delicious brews should be drank within six months before quality starts to suffer. If you’re thinking about putting a sixer of Miller Lite in the basement for a special occasion, stop. Just drink it now. It’s not going to get any better.
There are some definite exceptions to this rule. Find yourself a big brew with some heavy flavors and a high alcohol? Buy yourself two: one for now and one for the future. Aging these beers mellow out some of the harsher flavors. The alcoholic burn softens a little. More subtleties, previously masked by the larger tastes, rise to the surface and allow you to taste more of the beer than you had before. Take notes on the first brew and compare it to the one you drink a year or more down the line. You’ll notice a difference.
I have a few I’ve been letting sit in a dark spot for a special occasion. Some are from Stone’s Vertical Epic line, which were brewed specifically to be cellared. Others have been gifts from friends that I’ve been holding onto for a special time, each one promising big, bold and boozy flavor. Others I just haven’t gotten around to yet, which is where I find myself tonight. After holding onto this beer for somewhere around two years, I decided to pop the top and share it with a friend.
The beer in question is Avery Brewing’s Samael’s, an English style strong ale aged with oak chips. Its a bit like barrel aging except the wood goes into the beer instead of vice versa. Though I had it for around two years, the bottle listed a bottling date of March 2010. I’d worried that perhaps I let it stay too long. Its pretty near the five-year mark. I’ve never knowingly drank a beer that old before.
Cautiously, I opened it. There was no explosion of foam or shrieking demons flying from its open mouth. The pour was thick and syrupy, topped with a rather thin white head. I’ve read in many places that no deadly pathogens can exist in alcohol, but I was still a bit guarded when I gave it a sniff. The scent was everything I could have wanted it to be, however.
Sweetness, caramel and wood. These scents floated off the brew in abundance. Surprisingly, I could still smell ample amounts of alcohol, though at a 15.82 percent, I perhaps should have expected this. It smelled downright antiseptic. I didn’t have to worry about anything foreign living in there.
The first swallow was like smoking a cigar full of cherries and wood chips. It was sweet and full of oak. Each swallow left the wafting feel of burning alcohol rising through my nasal passage. Even after five years, its still full of big flavor. I could only imagine what this one was like right out of the vat. It was a bit sweet and cloying, making it a poor choice to drink in any sort of quantity as I feel I’d tire of it during the second glass. With such a big kick, however, a second glass is not needed.
Samael’s was an excellent big and smokey brew. Next time I get the opportunity, I’ll pick up a few and drink at least one of them right away. Its tasty enough that I suggest you do the same. It has some real staying power.
2014’S MOST INTIMIDATING 10.
Hey gang! We continue our look back at the 20 best albums of 2014. This week — THE BETTER TEN!
10. LYKKE LI — I Never Learn (May)
The singer/songwriter moved from her native Sweden to Los Angeles after a bitter breakup and proved that awesome albums sometimes come from great strife and emotional turmoil. Wallowing in someone else’s misery can indeed be sweet.
09. MARISSA NADLER — July (February)
Boston native Marissa Nadler remains one of the most criminally underrated singer/songwriters of our time. Combining elements of modern folk, alt-country and even a splash of the gothic, her albums are truly haunting and unique. July was simply her latest stirring unsung triumph.
08. TENNIS — Ritual in Repeat (September)
The Colorado husband-and-wife indie pop duo seems to redefine themselves (ever so slightly) on each album. Yet the core formula remains the same. That is, breezy (okay, a little less breezy this time) catchy tunes with just the right amount of sardonic wit.
07. OLD 97’S — Most Messed Up (April)
It’s rare that a band will release some of their finest work twenty years into a career, but that’s precisely what Texas’ ultimate roadhouse rockers did. Messed Up was a low down dirty collection of road tunes and blue-collar affairs dripping with authenticity.
06. LATERNS ON THE LAKE — Until the Colours Run (January)
Another great record stemming from much inner turmoil, Colours found the struggling band almost breaking up over financial difficulties and an uncertain future. But those conditions must have forced Hazel Wilde and her boys to focus because they made an exquisite British indie pop collection.
05. ALLO DARLIN’ — We Come from the Same Place (October)
Place was the finest twee pop 2014 had to offer; a cozy yet melancholy record brimming with precious melodies and Elizabeth Morris’ playful yet sincere girl-next-door cooing. Throw in some retro jangle pop along with the right amount of heartbreak and this emotional rush is complete.
04. NEW PORNOGRAPHERS — Brill Bruisers (August)
A.C. Newman, Neko Case and the entire NP crew NEVER let you down. They always come through with the bold melodies and full-bodied arrangements. Bruisers is easily the most jubilant and “new wave” record in the catalog thus far. So a pleasant time is guaranteed for all!
03. BECK — Morning Phase (February)
Just like the aforementioned Old 97’s, Beck is another artist releasing some of his finest music two decades into a career. Phase didn’t deliver the expected big beats and funky breaks, but it didn’t have to. It reminded us that Beck is multi-dimensional and capable of the gorgeous low-key stuff as well.
02. FIRST AID KIT — Stay Gold (June)
We might as well call Stay Gold the best country album of 2014 while we’re here. The Swedish Soderberg sisters delivered their third modern folk collection of bright harmonies and tear-stained melodies and blew every mainstream Nashville act right off the map when it came to authenticity.
01. ST. VINCENT — St. Vincent (February)
American singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Annie Clark’s fourth album is a brave unique mix of indie rock, electronic and (in some instances) punk and soul; a wildly unpredictable affair that never falters and an album that strikes you differently every time you play it.
Assorted declarations from Editor Tom Graham
Lonely Songs re-released
An Autumn Sunrise is musical project of local musician Bryan Brophy. To date, Brophy has released three albums under the moniker — When Words Speak Louder Than Actions, Songs for a Lonely Night (acoustic) and Look Toward Tomorrow.
Brophy is reissuing his acoustic album, Songs For A Lonely Night, on Jan. 20 with the addition of bonus material and brand new cover art. He is currently taking pre-orders for the album on An Autumn Sunrise’s Bandcamp Site.
Brophy, a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, provides all of the guitars, keyboards, piano, percussion and vocals on Songs, as well as on all of his other albums. All of the music was recorded in Bryan’s home studio in his parent’s basement in 2009 (except for the live tracks). Several tracks were engineered, mixed and mastered by Brophy, while several other tracks were mixed and mastered by Chris Hludzik. Several tracks were also mastered by Tom Borthwick from SI Studios in Old Forge.
An intimate acoustic show will be announced soon to celebrate the album’s release. Plans are also in the works for the release of a brand new full length album sometime next year.
To find out more about An Autumn Sunrise, visit anautumnsunrise.bandcamp.com.
If you pre-order Songs for a Lonely Night, you will be able to instantly download four tracks from the album.
Festival Season is coming
Coachella 2015 — held in Indio, California in April — just announced it’s lineup. The unofficial start to the summer festival season boasts performances by AC/DC, Tame Impala, Interpol, Steely Dan, Alesso, Alabama Shakes, Jack White, Alt-J, Belle and Sebastian, Ratatat, Hozier, Flosstradamus, Bad Religion, Father John Misty, Drake, Florence + the Machine, Ryan Adams, St. Vincent and much more.
Hopefully, this means we will be getting the festival lineups for local festivals like Peach Music Festival, The Susquehanna Breakdown and the ever-popular Vans Warped Tour very soon.
Here’s what’s in my headphones this week: Josh Rouse The Best of the Rykodisc Years
Assorted declarations from Editor Tom Graham
Docs that Roc
I’ll be looking at some much-needed downtime in January. Although my days will be peppered with dog walks and guitar cleaning, I recently re-upped my Netflix account for one reason and one reason only: music documentaries. As a devout fan of music docs, here are some of my favorites — some of which you can still stream on Netflix. To see some others, you may have to do some searching.
The Devil and Daniel Johnston
The film tells the story of Daniel Johnston, a mentally ill singer/songwriter whose music has been recorded by Beck, Wilco, Nirvana, Sonic Youth and Pearl Jam. Diagnosed with manic depression complicated by delusions of grandeur, Daniel battles the illness for decades — all while achieving great musical success and trying to stay out of mental hospitals. The film weaves his remarkable story through home movies, interviews, archived music tapes and live performance footage.
I Think We’re Alone Now
I Think We’re Alone Now is a documentary that focuses on two individuals, Jeff Turner and Kelly McCormick, who claim they adore ’80s pop singer Tiffany.
Turner, a 50-year-old man with Asperger’s syndrome, lives his life as Tiffany’s greatest fan, while 35-year-old McCormick claims to have been friends with Tiffany as a teenager. She credits Tiffany as “the shining star who has motivated her to do everything in her life.” Both are considered stalkers by the media and other Tiffany fans. The doc takes a look into the strange lives of these two somewhat lost souls.
The History of the Eagles
Featuring rare archival material, concert footage and unseen home movies explore the rise, fall and return of one of America’s favorite bands.
The documentary features in-depth interviews with Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Bernie Leadon, Randy Meisner, Don Felder, Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit.
Shut Up and Play the Hits
Shut Up and Play the Hits is a 2012 documentary film that follows LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy over a 48-hour period, from the day of the band’s final gig at Madison Square Garden to the morning after the show. Live performances feature Reggie Watts and Arcade Fire (the film’s title is a reference to the moment Win Butler of Arcade Fire shouts “shut up and play the hits” as Murphy introduces the song).
A complete audio recording of this concert was released in April, entitled The Long Goodbye: LCD Soundsystem Live at Madison Square Garden.
Beware of Mr. Baker
Best known for his work with Eric Clapton in Cream and Blind Faith, Ginger Baker has seen a bunch. The doc tells the story of Baker’s pattern of divorces, self-destruction and music. Chain smoking and on morphine, the 73-year-old reflects back on his life as we watch. In his own words, “God is punishing me for my past wickedness by keeping me alive and in as much pain as he can. I wasn’t planning on living this long!”
Use Your Van – Mason Jennings
Independent musician Mason Jennings brings cameras into the studio and onto the stage following the singer’s 11-month journey to bring his music to his fans. Concert performance footage features over a dozen songs including “Butterfly,” “Lonely Computer Screen,” “Fourteen Pictures” and “Killer’s Creek.”
Last Days Here
Bobby Liebling has spent more than 36 years as the lead singer of the band Pentagram. Broke and living for decades in his parents’ basement, Liebling is finally discovered by the heavy metal underground. With the help of Sean ‘Pellet’ Pelletier, his friend and manager, Bobby struggles to overcome his demons.
Glenn Tilbrook – One for the Road
This film follows a 2001 solo American tour by Glenn Tilbrook, lead singer of British new wave group Squeeze. One for the Road shows Tilbrook attempting a month-long US tour using an old mobile home instead of a tour bus and hotels. The film focuses on Tilbrook’s fantastic personality as he wows crowds and battles vehicle breakdowns. The film features Tilbrook performing “Tempted,” “Hourglass,” “Take Me I’m Yours,” “Up the Junction,” “Goodbye Girl” and “By The Light of the Cash Machine.”
Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)?
The doc follows Harry Nilsson from childhood to death, chronicling the highs and lows along with him, from Grammy wins through divorce and substance abuse.
The film features original interviews Micky Dolenz, Eric Idle, Randy Newman, Yoko Ono, Paul Williams, Robin Williams, Brian Wilson and The Smothers Brothers. Also included are interviews with Nilsson’s family, including his wives and children.
Here’s what’s in my headphones this week: Elbow The Seldom Seen Kid (Geffen Records) 2008.
THE BEST OF 2014
Before stepping into the New Year, we take one last look at the absolute best of 2014 — the 20 albums that mattered most. Sorry, but unlike most of my fellow critics, I didn’t hop on the Taylor Swift bandwagon and (oops!) One Direction didn’t quite make the cut yet again.
20. DROWNERS — Drowners (February)
Matthew Hitt moved from his native Wales to New York City in order to pursue a modeling career. The guy must have had a lot of down time because he formed a band, wrote some songs and churned out one of the year’s most infectious indie rock (with just a hint of glam) records.
19. BLONDFIRE — Young Heart (February)
This brother-and-sister duo from Los Angeles took about six years to churn out their second album, but the electronic-leaning stirring pop collection was well worth the wait. Hopefully, the two will make another one before 2020.
18. LUST FOR YOUTH — International (June)
This year’s first entry from Sweden, Lust for Youth is now a proper electronic outfit as opposed to just brains-behind-the-operation Hannes Norrvide in disguise. International was a gloriously retro throwback to the golden age of synthpop. 30 years too late? Hardly.
17. LAST INTERNATIONALE — We Will Reign (August)
Rock power trios still have their place, even the semi-political ones. Especially if they’re fronted by a tough-as-nails girl while the ex-drummer of Rage Against the Machine is laying down the tight foundation. Reign was super-fierce and (in 2014) super welcome.
16. ELBOW — The Take Off and Landing of Everything (March)
Perhaps the first semi-legendary act on the list, Britain’s Elbow continues to make intelligent guitar rock that’s firmly grounded in the long-standing traditions of Britpop, even though this record was mostly inspired by frontman Guy Garvey’s extended stay in NYC.
15. THE MUFFS — Whoop Dee Doo (July)
We thought they were done a decade ago. However, California pop/punk outfit the Muffs came back with a vengeance and a furious slab of pure ear candy. Singer/songwriter/guitarist Kim Shattuck is 50 on this record, but she can still hold her own against any young hungry rocker chick out there.
14. BISHOP ALLEN — Lights Out (August)
Brooklyn indie rockers Bishop Allen finally came back with another subdued set big on huge melodies and a carefree vibe, but with just enough melancholy to keep the proceedings grounded. This one remains stuck in our collective grey matter.
13. THE PAINS OF BEING PURE AT HEART — Days of Abandon (May)
The New York outfit put another “retro” entry on the list. But when they’re clearly lifting elements form ’80s jangle pop and the finer points of New Order’s catalog, who are we to complain? Just embrace it and love it.
12. PAINTED PALMS — Forever (January)
It took awhile for this neo-psychedelic San Francisco outfit to do a proper full-length album. After teasing us with some superior EPs, the band made the slightly more sprawling multi-colored effort we always somehow knew was there.
11. REIGNING SOUND — Shattered (July)
Lead vocalist/guitarist Greg Cartwright’s been kicking around in various outfits and flirting with different genres for more than two decades now; RS has been an entity since the turn of the century. Shattered saw all past elements really come together; an unforgettable indie pop triumph.
Whoa! Out of room! We’ll regroup here next week for the TOP TEN.
THE BIG RAP STOCKING STUFFERS
WU-TANG CLAN — A Better Tomorrow
THE GOOD: After overcoming many obstacles, the Wu-Tang Clan regroups for a slick sixth effort.
THE BAD: The word “slick” should NEVER describe a Wu-Tang album.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Longtime member Raekwon criticized Wu mastermind the RZA for the direction this new album might take and longtime fans may end up agreeing with the former. The Wu was always known for its gritty production style; scratchy samples, sped-up backing vocals, chunky drum loops dripping with noxious noise and chopped up beyond recognition.
Better Tomorrow features some live instrumentation and jubilant R&B and, while there’s nothing wrong with either of those things, they simply don’t gel with the eerie foreboding inner city vibe that’s permeated all past albums. Maybe we’re supposed to accept these new directives as a logical progression, but they feel so awkward … and dull.
Thankfully, the grit and goofy kung-fu movie samples come back at enough points to warrant a listen, but Tomorrow should have been so much more satisfying.
BUY IT?: Your call.
GHOSTFACE KILLAH — 36 Seasons
THE GOOD: Wu-Tang member Ghostface Killah releases his eleventh solo outing.
THE BAD: Ever since 2006’s Fishscale and More Fish (his final two GREAT albums thus far), GK’s catalog has been one of diminishing returns.
THE NITTY GRITTY: GK seems stuck on making concept albums, entire records that tell a cohesive story. Therefore, the individual parts suffer when taken out of context and we get a set far too ambitious for its own good.
Seasons finds GK continuing the saga of Tony Starks (the Iron Man character the rapper embraced on his first solo album, 12 years before Robert Downey Jr. brought the man to the big screen). Both versions of the character are similar in name only. I won’t go into the narrative here; read the comic strip in the CD booklet and you’ll get the entire gist.
Just realize Seasons is filled with uninspired backing tracks, half-baked ideas and a star whose absent on a third of the cuts.
BUY IT?: 36 Seasons is for Ghostface completists only.
EMINEM (and others) — Shady XV
THE GOOD: Eminem celebrates the fifteenth anniversary of Shady Records with something old and something new.
THE BAD: Shady XV is a wildly uneven compilation.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The first disc features new music from Eminem (about half) and a host of other artists on the Shady roster. We get new jams from Slaughterhouse, Bad Meets Evil, Yelawolf, D12 and Mr. Mathers himself. There’s nothing fresh here from Obie Trice or 50 Cent, but they show up on the second “greatest hits” disc.
Some tracks are funky and furious; others are flat. But there’s little here that doesn’t feel like B-side or leftover material. The title cut is fun with its blatant looping of Billy Squier’s “My Kinda Lover.” “Twisted” is spooky and surreal. “Detroit vs. Everybody” rounds out the new stuff with a banging all-star passing of the mic. Yet Shady XV still comes off like a cash grab released just in time for your holiday gift giving convenience.
BUY IT?: Your choice.
Jam in the Burg
Electronica jam band Dopapod is celebrating the arrival of a new record with a show at The Sherman Theater, 524 Main St. Stroudsburg, on Tuesday, Dec. 30. Local act Rogue Chimp opens the show along with Native Maze. Tickets to the all ages show are $10 in advance, $13 at the door.
The band’s sound is as varied and diverse as the many influences the band attributes. The band’s fourth album, Never Odd or Even is the quartet’s most fully realized work to date. The new songs attempt to embody the energy and cohesion the members of Dopapod have developed from playing live as well as an increasing comfort and familiarity while in the studio.
“The Never Odd or Even sessions cultivated a serious growth in the band’s creativity,” explains guitarist Rob Compa. “Each person stepped up to the plate and put out great creativity and passionate playing, while inspiring everybody else involved in the project to do the same.”
Dopapod has appeared at larger-scale music festivals such as Bonnaroo, Burning Man, Camp Bisco, Mountain Jam, Gathering Of the Vibes, Catskill Chill, Bear Creek, The Big Up, Rootwire and more. Dopapod is Eli Winderman (keyboards), Rob Compa (guitar), Chuck Jones (bass) and Scotty Zwang (drums).
For more information, visit dopapod.com.
2015 is looking to be yet anther exciting year for new music. Whether you’re streaming new release, downloading or purchasing hard copies, here’s a few releases I’m looking forward to in January 2015.
No Cities To Love
They’re back with the band’s first album in 10 years. Carrie Brownstein has been busy with the recent success of Portlandia and Janet Weiss formed Wild Flag, a rocking act in its own regard. Throw Corin Tucker into the mix and we have Sleater-Kinney once again. They’ll be touring in 2015 as well.
Belle & Sebastian
Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance
It’s been five years since a new album from B&S, but the band is back with record No. nine. According to the band’s record label Matador, “the band — who have been listening to things like vintage Detroit techno and Giorgio Moroder — have brought a dance-party element (and a disco song about Sylvia Plath) into their gorgeous tales of sensitive souls navigating a world gone awry.” Sign me up.
The Pale Emperor
2015 needs more shock-rock, right? Manson releases The Pale Emperor, his ninth studio album, after a successful run on the final season of FX’s Sons of Anarchy.
Justin Townes Earle
This record might be the one I’m looking forward to the most. Earle returns with more songs about god ol’ heartbreak and struggle with everyday life. What more can you ask for?
Panda Bear Panda
Bear Meets The Grim Reaper
The eagerly-anticipated follow-up to 2011’s Tomboy is one of the first to drop in the new year. Not much is know about the new record, but in a recent interview, the word “sci-fi” was dropped more than a few times.
What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World
What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World serves as The Decemberists’ seventh studio album and the follow-up to 2011’s The King Is Dead. The record features lead single “Make You Better.” With lyrics like But we’re not so starry-eyed anymore /Like the perfect paramour you were in your letters / And won’t it all just come around to make you / Let it all unbreak you to the day you met her, I already pre-ordered this gem.
Here’s what’s in my headphones this week: Possessed by Paul James There Will Be Nights When I’m Lonely (Hillgrass Bluebilly Records) 2013.
Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane
The shopping is done. God help me, I don’t know how, but it’s finished. I braved the stores and the savage hordes of barbarians surging down aisles for last minute gift shopping. I joined them as they picked over the carcasses of barren displays, hoping for something more than lumps of generic cured meat and cologne. There was blood. There were tears. Most of it was mine.
Merry Christmas indeed.
I’m home now, the weight of responsibility during this holiday season securely behind me. A certain amount of peace is settling in as I can now wholeheartedly anticipate the day itself. I look forward to being surrounded by people I love and making more merry than anyone has a right too. There will be presents and food. There will be songs and — perhaps most importantly — there will be drink. Oh, so much drink.
I don’t have to wait for that part, however. As I write these words, it is the solstice, known commonly as the darkest day of the year. I’m fairly certain the sun has been up for a total of 17 minutes today. Though I may be mistaken, I swear I could almost hear it whimper with the exertion of accomplishing even that menial task. I’ve made the same noise when getting out of bed some mornings. I get it.
To pass the time until the light starts to return, I’ve poured myself a nice thick cup of joy. In particular, this joy is called DuClaw’s Brimstone Rye Wine. The name refers to its advertised smokey and sizzling nature. It didn’t seem altogether sizzling during the pour, however.
I poured two glasses, one for myself and one for a friend. For the first one, I let the liquid slide gently down the side of the glass. Nothing happened. No head or anything. The second, I sloshed into its glass, letting it splash as much as it wanted. It produced only a slight head that quickly dissipated. The liquid inside was a thick dark amber. It smelled of sweet caramel and spicy hops. The scent was quite warm and inviting, if not altogether complex.
The first swallow was hot, sizzling rye. I don’t necessarily mean spicy. It is a type of hot I can’t really explain. Once the tongue acclimated, I could pick out various flavors. The rye was strongly backed by bitter hops that played oh so nicely into their heat. They were preceded by sweet and smoky roasted malt. There was hints of dark fruit, like prunes or figs. It inspires thoughts of the type of sweetness inherent in brown sugar and molasses.
The brew was nice and hearty. I almost felt I could chew on it. It had very little in the way of carbonation, leaving it to be slightly syrupy, but it wasn’t too much of a turn off. The ABV clocks in at 9.5 percent making it sufficiently boozey to bring about the holiday cheer. This infernal rye is nicely warming, providing a needed contrast to the dark days and cold nights. Somewhere in this bottle is some righteous holiday spirit, and I feel as if I’m close to finding it. Brimstone is a great way to get festive. I hope you are all feeling the spirit too.
Soaking up the Suds with James Crane
Sometimes you want a beer that’s big and isn’t going to beat around the bush — something that has a high enough ABV that it just jumps right in and starts doing its job. The flavors are deep and bold and the body is thick enough that you feel like you should chew just a little. There is nothing subtle about it. It came to kick ass and chew gum (and it’s all out of gum).
Russian Imperial Stouts tend to fill that role quite well. They’ve had a place in my heart for a while now. Sure, a certain part of that is because of their charming backstory. I’ve probably bored you enough with it by this point that it may not be worth repeating. They are so much more than their origins, however. Any fan of dark beers will be drawn to their blacker than black color. They are also by their nature quite boozey. Its not the type of thing you’ll drink all night long, but you don’t have too.
This week, I’m drinking Sly Fox Beer’s Nihilist Russian Imperial Stout. The name pays homage to the Russian nihilism movement which brought us such things as the assassination of Tsar Alexander II and Siberian exile. The basic tenet of Nihilism is the rejection of basic tenets. This perhaps can be better summed up by one of the Nihilist characters in The Big Lebowski who so proudly proclaimed “We believe in nothing, Lebowski. Nothing. And tomorrow we come back and we cut off your chonson.”
It’s a few sentences that speak volumes. Drink enough Imperial Stout and you very well might not believe in anything either. Sly Fox’s Nihilist weighs in at a hearty 9 percent ABV, enough to wash away your very thoughts and dreams. If you thought that last line was dark, you should see the beer.
No light passes through the Nihilist. The brew is nice and dark. The pour, which was noticeably thick, topped the brew with a beautiful and luscious tan head that lasted an adequate amount of time. It left some lacing down the side of the glass, but the brew was just too thick for it to linger long.
Creamy roasted booze — that is how I would describe the scent. There was also the smell of smoky wood, like a charred barrel or a campfire. These scents were backed by a wall of caramel, promising a little burnt sugar sweetness. It was bold, like strong coffee brewing.
The first thing that came across in the swallow was a mountain of roast and malt. After it sat on the tongue for a moment, that caramel in the nose came through, imparting just enough sweetness to round out the savory. This blended in with the flavor of wood smoke to provide something tongue crushingly heavy in the best way. There was even a bit of a tobacco like flavor, like the smell of a good cigar. For as bold as it was, there was a lot going on.
Nihilist is a quality brew. Its every bit of as big and strong as it should be. It leaves the breath smokey and the body warm. Though it may have inspired more of a warm gentle apathy than Nihilism, I’d say give it a go. Its as dark as December nights, but a good deal warmer. This Nihilist will leave you feeling alright.
GIRLS AND BOYS DANCE TOGETHER
LITTLE DAYLIGHT — Hello Memory
THE GOOD: Brooklyn-based indie pop trio Little Daylight offers up a decent self-produced debut.
THE BAD: Memory is pleasing but predictable.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Little Daylight falls in with a lot of other current female-fronted electronic-leaning outfits. They’re an Americanized Chvrches, a heavier Echosmith and a more spaced-out Colourist.
Front woman Nikki Taylor and her boys have managed to carve out their own little niche within the genre while not exactly overflowing with innovation. Thankfully though, Memory isn’t short on solid tracks. No unforgettable anthems, but no duds either. Cuts such as the instantly fetching “Overdose” and “Mona Lisa” are big on thick backbeats and kicking choruses.
And the band really shines when they bring in some dreamy ambient (“Be Long”) or seamlessly danceable (“Runaround”) elements. The entire collection is varied enough to avoid falling into a repetitious rut while still retaining a consistent agreeable vibe. Memory ends up being nothing more than very good rhythmic pop … and sometimes I guess that’s enough.
BUY IT?: Why not?
THE ASTEROIDS GALAXY TOUR — Bring Us Together
THE GOOD: Danish indie pop duo Asteroids Galaxy Tour (vocalist Mette Lindberg and songwriter/producer Lars Iversen) are back with a stupendous interstellar third.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The pair brings back their heady psychedelic (and very danceable) mix of retro rock and the electronic. Truly a wild seamless set. Disco gets sprinkled atop certain cuts (“Navigator”) while vintage soul permeates others (“My Club”). “Choke It” and “Rock the Ride” are funky party anthems. “I Am The Mountain” and “X” are darker and more serious. Yet even these possess an undeniable spirit both giddy and intoxicating.
Just like AGT’s first two outings, Together is an album designed for pure pleasure, but it’s not a “guilty” pleasure. No, this is quality stuff, extremely well conceived and executed (sometimes even sophisticated). The band’s entire catalog also displays no signs of diminishing quality. So of course, once again, the pair leaves us craving more.
BUY IT?: Definitely.
BROODS — Evergreen
THE GOOD: New Zealand electronic pop duo Broods (brother and sister Caleb and Georgia Nott) give us their full-length debut.
THE BAD: Evergreen is a slick enough set but it brings absolutely nothing new to the table.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Broods is yet another outfit blurring the lines between indie pop, electronic music and modern R&B, with a female vocalist purring and wailing over rhythmic mechanized backdrops. If you think the record sounds an awful lot like Lorde’s debut album Pure Heroine, that’s probably because Evergreen was produced and co-written by Joel Little, the same guy behind Lorde’s entire musical output (so far).
Still, tracks like “Bridges” and “Mother and Father” are not without their strengths — fetching melodies and buzzing humming keyboards carried by liquid beats. Georgia also possesses the right voice for the material. But we’ve been here before and very recently. And since pop music is cyclical, we’ll probably be here again more than a few times in 2015.
BUY IT?: Your choice.
A STEADY PULSE
ERASURE — The Violet Flame
THE GOOD: British synth-pop duo Erasure (producer/instrumentalist Vince Clarke and vocalist Andy Bell) are still going strong after almost 30 years and 15 albums.
THE BAD: Flame is a record from a group past their creative prime.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Like their synth-pop counterparts Depeche Mode (a band Clarke co-founded well over three decades ago), Erasure is falling into that comfortable rut of releasing a decent album every few years. It’s nothing that would overshadow past triumphs, but good enough to prove the guys are still relevant.
Flame picks up where other releases since the turn of our century (Nightbird, Light at the End of the World, etc.) left off. That is, we get ten songs riding liquid beats while Bell’s soaring falsetto belts out more of Clarke’s precious melodies. Tracks like “Elevation” and “Reason” joyfully bounce around the room while more subdued pieces such as “Be the One” add a touch of blue-eyed soul to the mostly electronic proceedings. Earth shattering? Hardly. Enjoyable? Tremendously.
BUY IT?: Why not?
ELECTRIC YOUTH – Innerworld
THE GOOD: Canadian synth-pop duo Electric Youth (instrumentalist Austin Garrick and vocalist Bronwyn Griffin) gives us a sparkling debut.
THE BAD: Don’t expect perfection. However, Innerworld is a damn fine launching point.
THE NITTY GRITTY: No, the two didn’t take their name from the old Debbie Gibson album (“Lost In Your Eyes” anyone?), but EY do often find themselves drifting through the more synthetic sounds of the 80s. Innerworld is a slightly retro album celebrating all things digital and somewhat gentle, harkening back to the feel of Yazoo, OMD and Xymox.
The two first made a splash a couple of years ago when their dreamy “A Real Hero” (included here) popped up on the Drive movie soundtrack (awesome flick, BTW). Innerworld is now more of the same, breezy hypnotic pop gems riding steady, yet subtle, beats. Tracks like “We Are the Youth” and “Without You” pull us in with Griffin’s delicate vocals guiding quaint melodies. The pulsating backdrops then keep us locked in place.
BUY IT?: Yep.
ALT-J — This Is All Yours
THE GOOD: British indie rock outfit Alt-J release a low-key second effort.
THE BAD: Yours suffers from not necessarily a sophomore slump, but rather a slump in general.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Most listeners can’t help but call Alt-J a “new Radiohead.” However, in this case, that’s not really a term of endearment, more like “this is what the band is aspiring to, but it’s just not happening.” For Yours does possess the muted vocals, low burning guitars and heavy atmosphere. But this record is sorely lacking in a reason to come back for a second listen. The melodies are flat and the entire affair drags after a few cuts.
There are times when Yours almost takes off. “Choice Kingdom” is hauntingly pretty. “Hunger of the Pine” is quirky, built around an unexpected Miley Cyrus sample. “The Gospel of John Hurt” almost latches onto a subdued groove … not quite. There are glimmers of hope, yet they all feel like lost opportunities.
BUY IT?: Your decision.
THANKS FOR THE MELODIES
THE RAVEONETTES — Pe’ahi
THE GOOD: Danish indie rock duo Raveonettes release a noisy (as usual) melodic (of course) seventh.
THE BAD: No complaints, but prepare for a change in focus.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Named after a Hawaiian surfing spot and partly inspired by the death of guitarist/vocalist Sune Rose Wagner’s father, Pe’ahi explores the usual dark territories of any Raveonettes album. However, there’s a little less sarcasm and humor this time and a bit more instrumental experimentation with the band moving beyond the usual rudimentary beats and Jesus and Mary Chain guitar fuzz.
Though most of its melodies are strong, the album’s distinct and abrasive beauty can be found within the backing tracks. Underneath all the harmonies and Sharin Foo’s haunting wispy solo turns, there’s an array of funky (sometimes recognizable) drum loops, pretty little countermelodies and even the occasional delicate harp or choir arrangement. Longtime fans shouldn’t panic. There are still mounds of buzzing six-strings. However, this album hails from a more “somber” place than past records.
BUY IT?: Surely.
NEW PORNOGRAPHERS — Brill Bruisers
THE GOOD: Canadian indie supergroup New Pornographers are back together after a four-year hiatus.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Led by power pop and melodic mastermind A.C. Newman, the band finds themselves getting over some trying times personally and looking ahead to a future that’s so bright they gotta wear shades. There’s an undeniable exuberance to Bruisers, easily the most multi-colored and “new wave” of all the bands albums.
Swirling synths never dominate the guitars, but make their presence known more than ever before, recalling that delicate balance found by The Cars decades ago. Destroyer’s Dan Bejar and alt-country goddess Neko Case both return and take on some lead vocal duties — Bejar also composing his usual small handful of songs. And even these crew members sound livelier than ever.
Little gems like “War on the East Coast,” “Marching Orders” and the title cut are sharp and infectious while the album’s momentum never trails off, even during the softer bits. Stability has been achieved.
BUY IT?: Yep.
THE VASELINES — V for Vaselines
THE GOOD: Scottish indie rockers The Vaselines return with their third.
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: After forming almost 30 years ago, The Vaselines released a couple of EP’s and one full-length album before unceremoniously imploding around 1990. But the band’s core (the boy-girl duo of Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee) wrote enough catchy post-punk tunes to become a major influence on Nirvana and a host of other 90s acts, thereby securing a place in rock history.
2010 saw the pair reform to give us Sex with an X, an infectious gritty collection that picked up right where the band left off 20 years prior. Now V for Vaselines is yet another dose of that formula so tasty, you wouldn’t dare ask them to change it. Tracks like “High Tide Low Tide” and “One Lost Year” are big on bold melodies, slick harmonies, shaking tambourines and plenty of “Ba Ba Ba Bas” — joyous noises that leave you hungry for more.
BUY IT?: Yes.