Saturday, April 30, 2016

What I'm Listening to: April 2016

Album of the Month: PJ Harvey-The Hope Six Demolition Project

If there’s one person who is pretty much making unparalleled with anyone at the moment, it’s PJ Harvey. Dating back to her 1992 debut album Dry, Harvey has been making albums with such consistency and care as she is someone that continuously pushes her own boundaries and never makes the same record twice. Her ninth (eleventh if you count her work with John Parish) studio release is no different as it is her most socially-conscious record to date as many of the lyrics relate to people who are disenfranchised in places as Washington D.C. Kosovo, and Afghanistan. Musically, Harvey harkens back to earlier ideas while delving into other ideas such as psychedelia, blues and folk as cuts like A Line in the Sand and The Wheel are prime examples of a woman who has no equal. While other female artists like Beyonce and Taylor Swift maybe selling more records and be seen as icons. Neither of those bitches hold a candle to what Polly Jean Harvey is doing.

Song/Single of the Month: Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions-Isn’t It True/She’s in the Wall

Whenever Hope Sandoval is coming out with something new whether it’s in Mazzy Star or in her project the Warm Inventions with My Bloody Valentine drummer Colm O’Ciosoig. It’s always exciting to hear as the leading single from their upcoming third album showcases that amazing voice with some amazing instrumentation. The first single is just upbeat thanks in part to O’Ciosoig’s drumming while the B-side is just this simple folk-ballad as Sandoval’s dreamy and nocturnal vocals are just seductive. There are really no vocalists like her and hearing her again is a joy.

Video of the Month: D’Angelo w/ Princess (Maya Rudolph & Gretchen Lieberbaum)-Sometimes It Snows in April

Every tribute towards Prince has of late has everyone doing the song Purple Rain which is fine and all but Prince fans know there’s so much more to the man. On The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, D’Angelo decided to do something else and what better song to pay tribute to Prince than one of his most beloved ballads with the aid of Maya Rudolph and Gretchen Lieberbaum on backing vocals. It’s just a simple piano ballad that is really one of his most touching songs. Yet, when D’Angelo says Prince’s name is where for anyone that is a fan. Yes, the tears will start flowing as this is just the best tribute to Prince himself from my point of view.

Monthly Mini-Reviews


Though they’re unfortunately lumped into that sub-genre of late 90s/early 2000 metal known as nu-metal, what Korn, Linkin Park, and Limp Bizkit lack isn’t just consistency but also the will to push themselves musically. The band’s eighth studio release isn’t just an album that is very heavy musically and sonically but also has the band just doing so much more while taking risks as they’re pretty much at a point where they don’t need to coast on their past glories. It’s not just the single Prayer/Triangles that is a key example but also cuts like Doomed User, Hearts/Wires, and the title track that show that they can still be heavy but also have a sense of melody as Deftones have now affirmed themselves as one of the premier metal bands like those that had done so much to the genre like Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and Metallica.

Autolux-Pussy’s Dead

For all of the praise that is lavished on mediocre acts like Maroon 5 and Coldplay, it is clear that the one band the public really need to hear is Autolux as their third album Pussy’s Dead is just incredible. With its mixtures of blues, art-rock, and jazz, the album showcases a sense of musicianship that isn’t heard a lot through the playing of its bassist Eugene Goreshter, guitarist Ken Andrews (from the band Failure), and drummer Carla Azar as they all sing. Songs like the single Soft Scene, Listen to the Order, Junk for Code, and Brainwasher showcase music that is dangerous yet exciting as this is a band more people really should discover.

The Joy Formidable-Hitch

One of the newer and more exciting bands to emerge in the past five years, the Joy Formidable have brought a sound that is a mixture of straight-ahead rock with elements of shoe gaze that made their 2011 debut album The Big Roar one of the year’s finest. While their sophomore release two years later in Wolf’s Law was a good album, it didn’t have the immediacy or strength of the first. The band’s third release doesn’t just mark a newfound maturity in the band musically but also in terms of its production where the band produced the record themselves at the home of vocalist/guitarist Ritzy Bryan outside of Molds in Wales. It’s not just that sound of the band is fuller but also with a sense of confidence in songs like the single The Last Thing on My Mind as well as cuts like Liana, The Brook, and The Gift where it’s not just the band displaying a musicianship in the more rock-based songs. They also dabble with folk and traditional musical genres as it shows a band not just coming into their own but a band that has what it takes to be something important.

King Crimson-Live in Toronto 2015

King Crimson is pretty much one of the definitive bands in the world of progressive rock as there isn’t really thing bad to say about them. In another series of live recordings the band is releasing in their DGM label is from a live show the band in Toronto in 2015. Led by the band’s founder in guitarist Robert Fripp, the line-up includes regular collaborators in bassist Tony Levin, drummer Pat Mastelotto, and saxophonist/flautist Mel Collins along with new members in drummers Gavin Harrison and Bill Rieflin and guitarist/vocalist Jakko Jakszyk. The material features an array of songs and instrumentals from many of the band’s near 50-year history as it very exciting as well as loud while it is really a live record fans of the band need to have.

Pet Shop Boys-Super

Pet Shop Boys are one of those acts from the 80s that should never be considered a nostalgic act as they’ve continued to put out music that is very vital and creative. The band’s thirteenth studio release does have the band not only flirt with current dance trends in the single The Pop Kids. Yet, it is in the middle of the album where tracks like The Dictator Decides, Pazzo!, Inner Sanctum, and Undertow showcase the duo of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe at their strongest. Not only in terms of its production but also in how heavy it sounds. Though it’s a somewhat uneven album, it is one of the group’s worthwhile recording in a 30-year history that shows them still going strong.

Animal Collective-Painting With

Animal Collective are probably one of the great acts of the 2000s in terms of being out there and experimental. Yet, their tenth studio album is kind of a let down considering that there’s not a lot of material that stand out nor does it really have them do anything new. While the single FloriDada is a killer opening track, the rest of the album doesn’t hold up as it’s kind of a dud considering that there’s too much experimentation and not enough work in turning these ideas into songs.

Yeasayer-Amen & Goodbye

The band’s fourth release is once again a very adventurous and weird album as it’s a band creating something that is surreal and enthralling. Though it doesn’t have a lot consistency and can sometimes be weird for its own good. The album does at least have some songs that do stand out like Dead Seas Scroll, Gerson’s Whistle, and I Am Chemistry. Especially as there’s also album cuts that manage to help out with rest of the album despite some of the issues in its sequencing.

© thevoid99 2016

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Prince (1958-2016)

Prince Rogers Nelson aka Prince aka the Artist Formerly Known as Prince. What is there to say about him? The man was a genius. Not just as a songwriter, a producer, a performer, and a musician. He was a lot of things and more. The man was essentially it. In a decade that was defined by superstars and icons, it can be debated on who was the bigger star yet Prince was undoubtedly a man in his own world in terms of his showmanship and the fact that he could play like a motherfucker. Some said he was a bit like James Brown in terms of being a performer. Some said he was like Stevie Wonder for the fact that he could play so many instruments and be so gifted. Some said he was like Little Richard in terms of flamboyance and showmanship. Some said that he was a bit like Jimi Hendrix in terms of his skills as a guitarist. Yet, he’s all of those things but he is Prince.

For anyone born in the 1980s such as myself as there was always one or maybe more that people loved. Though for me as a kid, it depended on who I was into at the time in the age of MTV. Whether it was David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Van Halen, Talking Heads, the Clash, Bruce Springsteen, and the Cars. Prince was also part of that circle as songs like When Doves Cry, Let’s Go Crazy, Little Red Corvette, 1999, and Raspberry Beret were part of that soundtrack of songs I was listening to at age of three to five. Once I would grow up as so many things were happening and I was in elementary school, Prince was still around though the kids were more into hip-hop and hair metal but I still thought Prince was cool. Once I became a teenager and the music I was listening to and would become part of the soundtrack of my life were Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails, Pearl Jam, Metallica, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers but Prince was still around as he had songs I liked at the time like 7 and Cream.

I think once I got into my 20s where it was around the time where I had fully immersed myself into the music of Bowie and other older acts like the Beatles, Pink Floyd, New Order/Joy Division, the Clash, and several other acts along with NIN and Radiohead. Prince was someone I was also starting to re-discover but also go into deep into his work as I believe his work from Dirty Mind in 1980 to the original bootleg release of The Black Album in 1987 are his most defining work and a must for any fan of music. Though much of his output after that would have some great moments, they were also moments that were spotty as it’s hard to say if any of the albums he made after that were as good as classics like Dirty Mind, 1999, Purple Rain, and Sign “O” the Times. Albums like Controversy, Around the World in a Day, Parade, and The Black Album had other things to offer as it showed that Prince, like Bowie, wouldn’t be confined to one genre.

While it is obvious that Prince and Bowie are similar and probably were admirers to each other, for anyone that know that a couple of Prince’s songs like Cream and Peach are based on the work of Marc Bolan as it seems like Prince is more of a Bolan fan than of Bowie’s. This is just one of the aspects of Prince that is unique where he can do straight-up 70s glam but also do soul in a song like Money Don’t Matter 2 Night. There was no boundaries in the man while the persona he created was probably more eccentric than Bowie’s from his first appearance on American Bandstand where he didn’t say a word during his interview with Dick Clark to the time he opened for the Rolling Stones during their 1981 U.S. tour where he was wear black underwear, stiletto boots, ass-less chaps, and all sorts of crazy shit during the tour for Dirty Mind where he withstood the boos and catcalls he received.

During that time where I was learning more about him, I realized how way ahead of his time he was while also being very dangerous which is lacking severely in pop music. The line “am I black or white?/Am I straight or gay?” in the title track to Controversy was quite racy for its time while a song as catchy as Little Red Corvette was just as shocking with that line “she’s got a pocket full of Trojans, some of them used”. As a kid, I thought the song was about a car but once I grew up into my 20s and realized what it was about. I was like “Oh!” as I couldn’t believe that got played on the radio and MTV. Once the years went by where Prince’s eccentricities tended to sort of overwhelm the music. I had become a casual admirer of his work while accepting his eccentricities since geniuses are allowed to be eccentric. Still, that didn’t deter me from enjoying his music or his performances such as the one he gave at the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2004 where he basically gave one of the best guitar solos on the Beatles' While My Guitar Gently Weeps where he performed the song with Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne in celebration of George Harrison.

Then in February of 2007, he gave what I think is the definitive Super Bowl halftime show performance as he pretty much took every performer before and since to school. There’s great shows but Prince just goes all out in not just doing the hits but also a medley of covers and did something that can be defined as Godlike. Very few can do that. Freddie Mercury did that in Live Aid back in 1985. Prince did that in February 2007. There will never be the likes of that ever. Plus, for someone as serious as Prince is as it comes to his music. There was a man who also had a sense of humor.

One of my favorite thing that related to Prince is a skit from In Living Color which was an add for Prince’s butt-out jeans where Jamie Foxx is Prince and said some of the funniest shit that I have ever heard. It’s a skit that I constantly watch and it never gets old. Then of course, there’s the legendary Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Story on Prince on the Chappelle Show in which Dave Chappelle played Prince. It is a must-see as it all revolves around a basketball game between Charlie Murphy’s boys vs. Prince and his boys where it was shirts vs. blouses.

There’s a lot of songs of Prince that I’m sure many love aside from the hits. My favorite album is Sign “O” the Times as it is just nuts in terms of what he was able to do musically in different genres where it also had so much to say. It’s an album that belongs in that list of great double-albums such as The White Album, Exile on Main St., Quadrophenia, The Wall, London Calling, and The Fragile. It’s not just the songs on the album that are so special but the way it flows and talks about elements of spirituality, social issues, love, and other things that can be serious as well as humorous. The fact that he no longer exists nor will be doing any shows or make any albums is unthinkable. Especially as it just adds more sadness to a year that isn’t very good at all. I guess the only thing to say to Prince is thank you for the music and the memories.

R.I.P. Prince Rogers Nelson

© thevoid99 2016

Friday, April 8, 2016

Favorite Albums Friday #3: Rising

Favorite Albums Friday is a series of mini-essays weekly or bi-weekly that explores classic albums that made an impact on the world of popular music whether are albums famous to the public or albums that the world needs to hear.

Throughout the history of heavy metal, many often wonder when the genre had gone into its periods of decline as some said it was in the mid-1990s because of the emergence of grunge, alternative music, and hip-hop while the most popular consensus of the genre’s first decline was in the late 70s due to the emergence of punk rock in Britain while disco and corporate rock were considered contributing factors to the genre’s decline in America. Yet, there were still some important albums that came out of that period as one of the bands who would still continue to carry the flag of metal was Rainbow as their 1976 sophomore release Rising would be an album that showcased a more symphonic side to the genre.

While it’s a band that always had a constant line-up change for the bulk of its nine-year period from 1975 to 1984 with a reformation from 1993 to 1997. The one constant of that group was its founder and leader in guitarist Ritchie Blackmore. While he is largely famous for his work in the seminal hard rock band Deep Purple, Rainbow was formed just after Blackmore left the group over creative differences as he wanted to go into something more classical-based. Instead, the band in its Mach III line-up of Blackmore, keyboardist Jon Lord, drummer Ian Paice, and then-new members in bassist/vocalist Glenn Hughes, and vocalist David Coverdale were venturing into a more groove-based sound for the album Stormbringer. With Blackmore out of Deep Purple, he decided to form a new project with a band he had encounter earlier called Elf that featured a vocalist who would later become an icon in heavy metal in Ronnie James Dio.

The band’s first release entitled Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow wouldn’t just feature interpretations of songs by Steve Hammond and songs based on classical material. It would also feature elements of medieval fantasy courtesy of Dio as the band’s lyricist at the time yet the line-up for the band’s first album was brief as it would the first of many things that would happen for the band as the group’s first tour would consist of bassist Jimmy Bain, keyboardist Tony Carey, and drummer Cozy Powell. Powell was already famous for his work as a session drummer as well as playing with Jeff Beck in the early 70s as he would be the catalyst for what Blackmore wanted musically. Though the first album did modestly well in the U.S. and U.K. because of Blackmore’s name, it was a major hit throughout the rest of Europe where the idea of classical music fused with heavy metal was more accepted than in Britain and America.

The band’s acceptance in Europe would allow them to record their second album in Munich, West Germany at the Musicland studios with Martin Birch who had co-produced the band‘s first album with Blackmore and Dio. With their sophomore album, the band wouldn’t just create something that would push the boundaries of metal and hard rock to new heights but also provide something was also very challenging musically. At the same time, the production would be heavier and broader to capture the scope of the music while Dio’s lyrical approach would contain a sense of imagery filled with ideas of fantasy that relates more to medieval times as the six songs on the album contain a lot of that. Notably the ferocious opener Tarot Woman as it is this song full of power in terms of its blistering rhythm section led by pummeling fills from Cozy Powell’s drums, Jimmy Bain’s heavy bass, and Blackmore’s fierce guitar work. The track opens softly with Tony Carey’s swooning Moog synthesizer before it becomes this menacing song where Dio really shines vocally with his operatic growl.

For someone as small as Dio, the fact that can bring such a massive voice just adds a lot to his legendary status as he would also provide a lot of range in a mid-tempo song like Run with the Wolf that features these raunchy riffs from Blackmore’s guitar that includes a blues-based sliding solo that is supported by a bopping rhythm that include these amazing fills by Powell who is probably one of rock’s most underrated drummers outside of the world of metal. The upbeat cuts like Starstruck and Do You Close Your Eyes definitely plays into that world of fantasy in terms of what Dio is saying lyrically. The former is a blues-based song while the latter is more based in hard rock as both tracks feature amazing performances from Blackmore and Powell in their respective instruments. Another upbeat track in the album closer A Light in the Black definitely has the energy of punk but it’s more based on bits of blues-riffs and pummeling beats. Yet, it would also feature elements of classical in Blackmore’s guitar solo that do display a sense of virtuosity which was something punk wasn’t about at all.

The album’s centerpiece and often considered the band’s crowning achievement is the song Stargazer. Nearly eight-and-a-half minutes long, the song is not just a true definition of an epic song but it has so much to grasp on. Opening with these pummeling and blistering drum fills for a solo by Cozy Powell, it just adds to the musicianship of the song as Bain’s bass and Blackmore’s guitar hits with the latter coming up with these ferocious riffs that go wow, wow-wow-wow, wow, wow-wow-wow, wow, wow-wow-wow, wow, wow-wow. Dio’s vocals is the voice of an angel of metal where it has these ranges that can be calm to operatic as the lyrics he sings are cosmic in their imagery as they’re accompanied by Carey’s swooning synthesizers that sound very symphonic. That sense of orchestration and need to be symphonic would come into Blackmore’s solo that is probably his best solo as it sounds like a violin from outer space.

The album in its initial release on May 17, 1976 was quite daring considering that it was coming at a time when the music scene in Britain was about to change with the emergence of punk as many say the summer of 1976 was the Summer of Punk. Albums like Rising was considered a big no in Britain despite doing well in the U.K. album charts peaking at 6 while doing modestly well in the U.S. peaking at 48. While the band would focus largely with their growing audience in Europe, the line-up of Dio, Blackmore, Bain, Carey, and Powell wouldn’t last as Carey was fired as Blackmore felt his playing was too complicated while Bain was also fired for being seen as substandard in Blackmore’s view. The two would eventually be replaced by David Stone on keyboards and Bob Daisley on bass where they would help complete parts for the band’s third album Long Live Rock n’ Roll. Dio would leave the band after its tour where Blackmore wanted to go into a more commercial, AOR-oriented style.

In the years since the album’s release, it is often considered the band’s best work despite the many changes in line-up and musical styles the band would do. The 2011 deluxe edition of the album would feature not just the album in two different mixes in the mixing stages set in different studios in New York and Los Angeles but also a rough mix as its second disc that featured expanded versions of Stargazer. Unless one is an audiophile, the New York and LA mixes do sound the same but some of the songs have different time lengths while the rough mixes showcase what the band was trying to go for before the final mixes. Yet, the standout in that deluxe edition are the rough versions of Stargazer as one featured an extended keyboard intro by Tony Carey and another version is from a rehearsal as it is very rough but does maintain that sense of power in the song.

It’s been nearly 40 years since the album has been released as it’s also bittersweet as three of the members in the band have currently passed on as bassist Jimmy Bain just passed away in late January to lung cancer while vocalist Ronnie James Dio also succumbed to cancer in May of 2010 and drummer Cozy Powell died in April of 1998 in a car accident. Despite their passing, their contributions to music will live on as Rising still holds up in terms of its ambition and power while also being an album that rocks. It’s also the kind of album that gives hard rock and metal fans something more as some believe this album provides a template of sorts of the metal sub-genre power metal which is very popular in Europe. In the end, Rising is an album that is metal at its finest as it proves to be operatic, loud, and provide some escape thanks to the band that created it in Rainbow.

© thevoid99 2016