Friday, December 20, 2013

2013 End of the Year Lists

Top 10 Albums

All in all a fairly weak year in music I would say, and not just because the foremost voice in music (this blog) went silent for awhile.  Awesome to see Carcass come back in such dominant form, and a great relief that Amon Amarth's new record was good after Surtur Rising basically sucked.  Additionally, In Solitude signaled that they have something non-derivative up their sleeve, and Inquisition proved again that derivative metal is ok as long as you are awesome at it (in their case, being more Immortal than Immortal).  But, unfortunately, there wasn't too much to celebrate in metal beyond that.  I will admit to not having heard some of the records that others have really been pushing this year, Gorguts and Subrosa primary among them, so maybe I'm being a bit harsh.  But I would say a definite step down from the last few years, and an aggravating year for me because of the proliferation of music critics pretending they know anything about metal or, what sludge and black metal even are, just so they could join the Kylesa and Deafheaven hype. Ugh.

Non-metal wise, 2013 also disappointed due to 2 of my favorite bands putting out subpar efforts.  The live shows of Pearl Jam and Nine Inch Nails definitely suggest they still have something new to offer, but the records were uneven at best and downright embarrassing at times (Satellite and Everything on Hesitation Marks?  Jesus Christ).  Clutch delivered big time though, and any year with MSI putting out a song called "Fuck Machine" can't be all bad.

1.  Carcass--Surgical Steel
2.  Queens of the Stone Age--Like Clockwork
3.  Mindless Self Indulgence--How I Learned to Stop Giving a Shit and Love Mindless Self Indulgence
4.  Amon Amarth--Deceiver of the Gods
5.  Clutch--Earth Rocker
6.  Kylesa--Ultraviolet
7.  In Solitude--Sister
8.  Inquisition--Obscure Verses for the Multiverse
9.  Kvelertak--Meir
10.  Argus--Beyond the Martyr

Honorable Mention:  
Black Sabbath--13 (for real!  Listen to The Loner, it's awesome)

Biggest Disappointments:
Pearl Jam--Lightning Bolt
Nine Inch Nails--Hesitation Marks
Watain--The Wild Hunt

Top 10 Movies

This is the End is funny as shit.  That is all anyone needs to know about 2013 movies.  Also, apparently I love Matthew McConaughey.

1.  This is the End
2.  12 Years a Slave
3.  Mud
4.  You're Next
5.  Disconnect
6.  Stoker
7.  In a World...
8.  Dallas Buyer's Club
9.  Nebraska
10.  Gravity

Honorable Mention:
The To-Do List
Drinking Buddies
The Place Beyond the Pines

Those are my lists.  If anyone is still out there and has an opinion, let's see it.  And we hope to be much more active next year, so come back as well.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Pearl Jam Tour Reviews

1.  Pittsburgh

This was the first show of the tour, and being a Ten Club member finally paid off, as I managed to score fucking pit tickets! First time I'd ever had halfway decent PJ seats, let alone the best possible.  And joining me that evening was the proprietor of this here blog, Mr. Neil Orbin, so it was bound to be an epic night.

Got into the Burgh to pick up the tickets about 4 hours before the show, and managed to hear a little of soundcheck, which was pretty cool (though the song I heard, Brain of J, was sadly left off the setlist that night). There was already a sizable fanclub line and huge merchandise line, and the area around the stadium was already buzzing.  Now all that is around this area of Pittsburgh is the shitty-but-awesomely-named Souper Bowl, so thankfully Neil's buddies knew of a joint a little further down towards the city.  We went to the bar and proceeded to get loose. In my stupor, I was still able to observe the growing throng of PJ fans in the general area, and what struck me most was the passion everyone had for the band.  From my conversations with everyone with PJ shit on, it was clear that many people were willing to travel long distances to see them, and had done so in the past as well as for tonight's show.  Some people in our crew were even going up to Buffalo the next day (at which I got kind of jealous, if only because that just never even occurred to me!)  It was awesome to see that the band still has such a following, and has affected so many other people lives in the same way they have mine.

About an hour before showtime, we headed to the hotel adjoining Consol to drop off tickets for my mom.  I honestly shudder to think how lame my music taste might be without her; she turned me on to Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and The Who at an early age, and when I bought Ten as my first record in 1992, it was ostensibly as her birthday present (and she still hasn't forgiven me for hijacking our copy when I went to college).  She was going with some people in her law firm, but as always was the coolest person in the joint.  We then headed into the show,  and, surreally, WENT DOWN TO THE PIT AREA of Consol.  Walking up to the stage and looking at it, it felt like the 100s of other shows I'd been to in the past; like Clutch or Amon Amarth was about to play.  It didn't really register that Eddie Vedder and Mike McCready would be as far from me as the people singing karaoke on Wednesday night. I hope every real Pearl Jam fan gets to experience this at some point.

The show itself was energetic, with the band in good spirits because it was the first show of the tour.  The highlight for me was Animal, which I hadn't heard in years (and was one of songs that I keyed on as a young kid just wanting something that rocks, unaware that metal existed yet).  I also felt fortunate that we got Faithfull, in light of the fact that it would be the only time I saw the song in the 4 shows I saw on this tour. And of course, Why Go, which (even above Porch and Alive) should be the Ten PJ staple. I defy anyone to name a better live rendition of a Ten song than Why Go.  It's just too much fun.  I was also excited to hear Unthought Known.  It is easily the best song they've written since Yield (and I am actually a big fan of all of those records, outside of Riot Act), and the song structure just plays so well live.  Every night, guys.

One of the slight bummers that I noticed on this tour was the death of the killer first PJ encore.  Go back and look at your PJ bootlegs from the late 90s to early/mid 2000s.  The first encore was where they just killed it most of the time, but anymore they come acoustic for the first 1/2 to 2/3, and even then its pretty standard stuff, Do the Evolution, Porch, and the like.  Pittsburgh was a bit different for two big reasons. First, they played Footsteps, which has become Neil's favorite song of theirs.  It made me really happy that he got to see it.  Second, Eddie, being the giant baseball fan that he is, brought out Jason Grilli and played Whipping, his entrance song.  Grilli proceeded to jam his incredibly drunken balls off on stage.  And before leaving, Grilli got some mic time, where he proceeded to say "Fuck" and "Yeah" enough times to confirm that he is in fact the best dude ever.

Second encore gave us Black, which is always a McCready work out, and the obligatory Rockin in the Free World/Yellow Ledbetter close out.  And you know what?  The last few shows I saw did NOT feature that ending, so I was happy to have it.  There's nothing quite like a whole stadium, Pearl Jammed to their cores, exhausted, singing nonsensical words while Eddie makes up whatever tonight's Yellow Ledbetter lyrics will consist of.  It's a PJ right of passage, and I was happy to have it back.

All in all, nothing crazy with the set, but enough standouts + incredibly good seats made it one of the most memorable PJ shows of my life.  Stay tuned for the next 3 installments..

Sunday, June 23, 2013

EarthRocker Review

As noted I was extremely excited for the release of Clutch’s new album (and just as pumped about the ensuing tour).  Before we dive in I just want to put it out there that this might be the best album they have released since Robot Hive/Exodus in 2005.  The arch of this band from their earlier heavier work to their jam/blues rock influenced work over 20 years and 10 albums hit what I thought was their sweet spot in the early 2000s.  In the transition into the jam/blues band they toned down their intensity and became a stoner rock band with an edge.  My favorite albums, Blast Tyrant and Robot Hives, both came during this phase.  The past 10 years they have lived in the jam/blues rock realm which has produced some good material, but nothing ever lived up to their work of the early 2000s. 

EarthRocker is Clutch’s step back into their Stoner Rock phase and I absolutely love it.  Its fast and in your face but it keeps the same qualities (like the unique lyrics and the blues influences) that defines them.  There are a few standouts on the album, my personal favorites being Crucial Velocity, DC Sound Attack and The Wolf Man Kindly Requests. However the entire album is good.  Don’t be selective and just listen to the whole fuckin thing.

One of the most interesting songs is actually the my least favorite, the title track EarthRocker.  When I try to describe Clutch as a band my go to is always that they are better live than recorded.  Their music is made with passion  and to be played loud, live and with a ton of energy behind it.  EarthRocker verbalizes this mentality:

 “If your gonna do it, do it live on stage,
Or don’t do it at all
If your gonna do it you better take it to the stage
Or don’t do it at all “
I Don’t need your sticky laminate,
I don’t need your VIP,
I don’t need you Validation,
because I wear mine on my sleeve”

This became abundantly clear to me at their last show in Pittsburgh.  EarthRocker seemed so out of place on an album packed with great songs but I realized that EarthRocker the song is like an anthem for the band.  It symbolizes the lets play music, rock out, have fun, drink, smoke, party mentality they bring along with their passion for what they do and their musical influences. 

Regardless of your past experience with this band or this music genre if you are feeling in the mood to rock out you can’t go wrong with EarthRocker.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Playlist of the Week - 4/8

Sorry friends for the lack of posts.  /real, life events have occupied a large amount of my time recently.  Pretending to be a grown up is lame sometimes. Anyways, here is the playlist for this week.  Enjoy!!

Turning on the Screw - Queens of the Stone Age
3s & 7s - Queens of the Stone Age
D.C. Sound Attach - Clutch
The Wolf Man Kindly Requests... - Clutch
Book, Saddle, and Go - Clutch
Grenades - Torche
Across the Shields - Torche
976 Evil - Deftones
Gone Cold - Clutch

P.S. - Don't buy The Strokes new album....I will have much more to say on this but just take my word for it for now.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Concert Journal Part 1

I need to start doing these immediately following the shows, but for now, here's the most remarkable show I've seen this year:

Enslaved/Pallbearer/Royal Thunder--Underground Arts, January 30, 2013

I was excited for this show because (as I've said a couple of times now) Enslaved is without question one of the best bands going in metal today.  I picked them up around Isa, which I believe is generally considered to be the start of their recent direction into more progressive metal (after an initial black metal period and middle section of experimental stuff).  I only have Maudram and Beneath the Lights from the mid section and none of the early records (I know, I know), and I'll get them at some point.  But I'm not as concerned with filling in all the Enslaved gaps as I typically am when I pick up a new band because I know that the older stuff does not sound like the prog stuff, and the prog stuff is fucking incredible.  I'd pick Vertebrae as the highlight of these records, but take your pick from Isa--Ruun--Vertebrae--Axioma and last year's RIITIIR--they are all amazing.  Truly transcendant stuff, with the ability to completely command your attention and make you wonder why all other bands can't sound like this.  I'd seen them once before, but they were opening for fucking Dimmu Borgir, who are shit and have been shit for years now, but somehow still headline.  Them and Cradle of Filth, somebody explain it to me.  Anyways, that night Enslaved only played 8 songs, and I did what I do every time Dimmu is headlining and bailed after the openers.

Another reason I was pysched for this one was that Royal Thunder and Pallbearer had both been getting great pub for their 2012 efforts (CVI and Sorrow & Extinction respectively), but I had yet to hear anything form either band.  I knew Royal Thunder had a female vocalist (something else I've touched on here), so that might have also played into the trepidation on checking them out.  But in any event, I'd get to see both of them live and make a real, informed opinion, so, you know, awesome. 

The show started mad early because there were 6 fucking bands on the bill (I guess Philly's A Life Once Lost forced their way onto the show or something).  I had to get there around 8 to be sure I caught Royal Thunder.  Lucky I did too, because they were setting up just as I walked in.  Underground Arts is pretty cool--you literally go Underground (kind of like the Church) after you walk in the door, and it just feels like a giant basement with surprisingly good acoustics and good, rotating beers on draft.  There was a second stage that night to accomodate ALOL and the other openers.  The area had a very small pit because the stands were weirdly close to the "stage" that had been set-up.  But the amount of space the venue has in general was stunning to me, and I think in the future this should be taken advantage of--something like the Summer Slaughter tour should go here instead of TLA, and other festival-type all day events could be had there.  Get it done!

I had heard that Royal Thunder (though formed with 3 members) had recorded this most recent record with a second guitar player, so I was surprised to see them setting up in traditional power trio formation.  It didn't matter the minute Mlny Parsonz opened her mouth--any hesitancy I had in embracing the band vanished immediately.  Maybe not vanished--how about "was fucking vaporized?"  What I thought to be hyperbole in what I had read about her turned out to be understatement.  Holy shit.  They only played 4 songs, but it was plenty for me to know I had to pick that shit up immediately.  The highlights were songs that I would later learn are called "Parsonz' Curse" and "Shake and Shift."  Parsonz catches your attention immediately, but it doesn't take long to realize that the guitar player is great at both riff-writing and solos, and the band has tremendous, unpredictable chemistry.  The songs weave into unexpected areas but always feel like the same composition, and there is never anything but 100% honesty, urgency and power coming from Ms. Parsonz.  If you haven't heard them yet, do it now.  At some point during "Curse," she went down to her knees and raised her bass up as if overcome by the force of the song.  I think the feeling was mutual with much of the crowd.  I'll say it again.  Holy shit.

Pallbearer had a tough act to follow, in particular because their brand of doom is not one that is going to immediately grab you.  It takes awhile for a song to build and find its initial groove (if it ever does, as Pallbearer has a Yob-like tendency to meander at times that some fans of doom love, but isn't my favorite).  So after the smack in the face of Royal Thunder, it took me a little while to warm to Pallbearer.  But it wasn't too long, maybe halfway through the set, when they won me over.  One of my favorite things about metal is that the way I experience more amibitious records is something like a mental journey.  The best bands can lift you out of whatever silly, bullshit, advertising-tv-advertising-internet-led thoughts you might be having minute to minute, and take you to a place in your mind where actual thinking and experiencing can happen.  Often I won't even know that it's happened until the album/song ends.  All of a sudden I return to my bullshit thoughts, and realize "hey, wait a minute, this is bullshit, what happened to the fucking tunes?"  Pallbearer was a band that on the night lifted me out and put me into the right headspace, and have done so subsequently on record as well.  So to the 0 people who can identify with what I just wrote, I recommend the band to you.  Oh, and they are heavy as shit, in case that makes more sense.

Finally, fucking Enslaved.  And, somehow of course, it was the set I lenjoyed least.  Not because they didn't play well (though the first song was mired with technical glitches), or even because they only played one song a piece basically from every album (To the Coast would have killed you?  Fuck), but because of that thing that happens at some shows where you can never find a good spot to enjoy the show and you are left fucking dealing with fucking people when you are fucking trying to have a fucking transcendental fucking experience because this is FUCKING ENSLAVED.  Is that enough fucks to get my point across?  Let's go into specifics:

1.  First song--I am way outside the pit, and some asshole decides the half-viewing-area-long pit isn't big enough, so he slams himself into the back of it, knocking three rows of people backwards, the third of which features a person who knocks my beer all over me.  Sweet.

2.  Second song is The Watcher.  I was privy to the one-song-per-album thing going in, and this is my least favorite song on Vertebrae, and of course its the one they play. Shitballs.

3.  Seventh song--I get to a decent spot, pretty close, pit ain't fucking me up, and I settle in for awhile.  This is what I was looking for.  Until, during A SONG BREAK, some rando taps me on the shoulder and says, "Can you please move over?  I'm trying to see this."  Now I will admit that I act retardedly at shows, but that's kind of the point, no?  And this wasn't during a song.  And I wasn't bothering this girl at all.  I didn't whip my hair in her face or spill a beer on her or anything.  No, it's during the FUCKING SONG BREAK, where I am just standing there, that now I am annoying her because she can't see the band tune their instruments and drink water.  I am incensed at this point, so I bail to the bar.  I need a drink anyways.  Then...

4.  Eighth song--I order a beer and lean back out of the bar area to watch the band start the next song.  I see the bartender place my beer down, but I don't reach for it immediately because, well, fucking Enslaved is playing, and this is a metal show where people are actually cool, so no one is just gonna swipe this, right?  Wrong.  But even worse.  I see a dude fucking swoop in and SWITCH HIS HALF-DRUNK BEER WITH MINE, and then fucking slide out the other side of the bar, never to be seen again.  Clearly, he had practiced this particular move, and was just waiting for a time to strike.  I was too stunned to fucking grab the dude and yell at him.  I mean, what the fuck? 

These are all bullshit reasons not to enjoy a show, I know, but I was drunk and probably had too high expectations, so these minor issues had a heightend likelihood to piss me off.  Thankfully, I got back to a decent vantage point and Enslaved closed the show by playing a killer cover of Immigrant Song (with the famous solo from Comfortably Numb as the outro) and the title track from Isa. 

I didn't achieve transcendance, as Enslaved encourage so convincingly on their recent output, and I had to learn that two more assholes exist in the world.  But I did discover Royal Thunder, and got to see Enslaved play a full headlining show, so all in all not a bad night.  And I learned to always keep your beer in hand and never partially block someone's view during a song break--invaluable lessons both. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

New National Holiday?

On the morning of the release of Clutch's last studio album, Strange Cousins from the West in 2009, I had the following exchange with Frank (from memory only):

Frank:  Do you know what today is?
Me:  Um, Clutch album day?
Frank:  Fuckin a!
Frank:  New Clutch album release day should be a national holiday.

Well, the national holiday thing didn't happen for this new album release but I share the enthusiasm.  Regardless, I am pretty excited for the March 19th release of Earth Rocker.  Clutch is one of those bands that if you into them you are all in.  It's rare to find the casual Clutch fan. 

So if you are ready to over indulge yourself you have about 10 studio albums, 5 live albums, 4 EPs and 3 compilation albums of music excellence to dive into....starting with Earth Rocker this week!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Playlist of the Week - Slapped in the Face by New Music

Nothing new that really excited me came out in the month of January or February so I thought it would be a slow month of music.  And then music decided to wake me out of my negative state with some incredible albums.  Here is my album playlist of the week":

Clutch - Live In Flint Michigan
In an effort to not be repetitive (I was heavy handed with Clutch when cooking up my last playlist) I will not go to far past saying this is the best live album I own.  I my mind Clutch has always been better live than in their studio recordings.  This double set album only cements that belief as

The Sword - Apocryphon
Fantastic album.  Frank has raved about this band for awhile and it was a massive fail on my part to wait this long.  I had a two week addition where all I did was eat, sleep and breathe this album.  The sound is almost like a modern day Black Sabbath.  Really killer stuff.

John the Conqueror (Self Titled)
Was hanging out in a bar in Philly when I heard these guys perform.  Great blues rock combination that reminds me a lot of the Black Keys.  So far this is one of the most unexpected, great music surprises of the new year.

Champagne Champagne - Swine? My Brother
In a prior post I spoke vary highly of their Private Party album and this one lived up to the same standard.  Interesting enough Pearl Dragon defers the lead unlike the prior album where he has more verses. 

Karma to Burn - Almost Heathen & The Mystick Krewe of Clearlight
Two phenomenal instrumental albums.  One is slightly heavier than the other but both are excellent to the point where I can't comprehend where one song ends and another begins anymore.  No matter which I put on it feels like one constantly amazing jam session.

And there has to be a floor:
Wiz Khalifa - O.N.I.F.C
 - Yep, I should have know better.  All I can say is, it is exactly what you would think it would be.