Voivod: Post Society


It’s fitting that the always-futuristic Voivod is featured as my first 2016 review. This is the band’s umpteenth lineup, though, notably, they’ve got their original singer (“Snake”) back in the band, and they’ve always had the same drummer.

I kind of quit on Voivod, ironically, after my favorite album of theirs, Negatron, from 1995. I think what happened at that point was that they became my favorite band, which meant I had to go buy their entire discography. I started with their debut, War And Pain, found it not to my liking, and just walked away, thinking I’d come back at some point, though not 21 years later. Somehow I even missed the entire Jason Newsted era.

Anyway, unsurprisingly, this lineup sounds most similar to the Angel Rat and The Outer Limits entries in my collection. The prominent features are crazy, jazzy chords and harmonies, odd, shifting rhythms, and mid- to up-tempo songs. Actually, it might make more sense to instead contrast this to the parts of their catalog that this doesn’t mesh with as cleanly. It’s not the thrash of War And Pain and it’s not the bombastic uber-metal (I just made up that genre right now) of Negatron.

Two of the tracks here, “Post Society” and “We Are Connected,” were part of a recent split seven-inch. A third, “Silver Machine,” is a Hawkwind cover. In its original incarnation it was sung by Lemmy, and I can’t help but wonder if its inclusion here, two months after his death, is a tribute. Which leaves two new original songs to round out the album, and I think those, “Forever Mountain” and “Fall,” might be the two best, though I waver on that.

This is not guitarist Chewy’s first release with the band, but it’s worth noting that he carries on the legacy of original guitarist Piggy admirably. Voivod couldn’t possibly hire a slouch in that position, but his solos here are well within the vein of earlier releases, as I mentioned, but they also continue to be inventive.

This is a strong release. The chorus of “Fall” gets too whiny and repetitive, and the three other Voivod-penned tracks have exactly one section each that could be trimmed. But at least with a Voivod song if you don’t like one section there are several others to potentially enjoy. Revisiting these guys now makes me realize what a huge mistake it was to, in 1995, jettison them due to their 1984 release. I can’t wait to refamiliarize myself with the many albums of theirs I’ve missed.

Really Like: “Forever Mountain”
“Post Society,” “Fall,” “We Are Connected,” “Silver Machine”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading


The Screaming Jets: All For One


The Screaming Jets are an Australian band that, whatever their current line up, was a quintet in 1991. Despite thoroughly enjoying this album, I haven’t followed the band closely since then, though it seems they’re still at least somewhat active. In 1991 the music industry knew something was going crazy with guitar-driven bands, so they threw everything at the wall. As a result it’s become kind of a golden age of everything that was even halfway good at the time.

This is much better than halfway good, but it also wasn’t what was about to be everything. It’s very straightforward, melodic hard rock. The closest approximation from that time that springs to mind is The Black Crowes, but this isn’t as bluesy. So even though they seem to have had a continued presence in Australia, it’s no surprise that their stateside representation lost interest pretty quickly after this didn’t blow up right away. I’ve heard that Australian bands are more insulated from the fickle whims and trends that devour entire genres overnight in the US and UK, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they’re still very much the same band.

The most notable deficiency of the album is that it ends with what are pretty much its two weakest songs. No matter, the rest of the album more than makes up for it. The best track, by far, is “Blue Sashes,” which, with its first-person tale of the Vietnam war (“lay Charlie clean/…/we’re gonna get those commies and mow ’em all down”) brings out all the ugly jingoism I never knew I had in an incredible burst of exuberance. It’s hard for me to believe that was the intended effect…maybe it’s like a “Born In The U.S.A.” thing where I’m completely misreading it. Regardless, the song rocks, as does pretty much all of this album.

Mix: “Blue Sashes”
Really Like:
“Better,” “No Point,” “Sister Tease”
“C’mon,” “Needle,” “Shine On,” “Starting Out,” “Stop The World,” “The Only One”
Meh: “Got It”
Filed Between: Probably The Screaming Jets’ “F.R.C.” cassette single and Screaming Trees’ Invisible Lantern
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Ten Commandos: Ten Commandos


Wouldn’t it be awesome if Alain Johannes got together with Ben Shepherd and Matt Cameron of Soundgarden? You don’t have to wonder, because it happened and, yes, it is awesome. Dmitri Coats is the second guitarist, and Mark Lanegan joins the group for the first track, because that’s what Mark Lanegan does.

This is basically an Alain Johannes album but with the best drummer he’s ever had. Even guest vocalist Nikki Costa on “Come” sounds an awful lot like Johannes’ late wife and bandmate from Eleven, Natasha Schneider. The songs are moody, in minor keys, and have great, occassionally soaring melodies over interesting harmonies and tricky rhythms.

Honestly, I’m not sure what more there is to say. This is Alain Johannes’ aesthetic through and through. He’s not breaking any new ground for him (save, notably, for the wacky guitar antics by Peter Frampton on “Sketch 9”), but he’s still waiting for the rest of the world to catch up to the new ground he was treading over 20 years ago. It’s heavy, it’s sweet, it’s beautiful. If you ever wished there was another Eleven album, you should definitely check this out.

Mix: “War On The Peace”
Really Like: “You Might Forget,” “Sporthalle,” “Four On The Floor”
“Staring Down The Dust,” “Outermost Sky,” “Come,” “Sketch 9” “Aware,” “Invisibility”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Blind Mr. Jones: Tatooine


Now this is what I think of when I think of “shoegaze.” That’s a term that gets applied to some really noisy bands, like My Bloody Valentine, but I always felt it applied better to bands like this with a mumbly, low-key singer, you know, just standing there staring at his shoes.

There’s some Britpop in here, too (“Disney World”) and plenty of resemblance to Belle & Sebastian (also “Disney World”) (though it’s worth noting that their first album came out two years after this album).

[Okay, I can’t mention Belle & Sebastian, who I love, without thinking of this clip.]

Anyway, back to Blind Mr. Jones, who would end their career with this, their second album. Consider the ratings of these 10 tracks: seven Likes and three Mehs. That pretty much says it all. Well, it pretty much says it all if you also include my first couple of paragraphs. It’s shoegaze-y and solidly listenable from start to finish. Very enjoyable but rarely transcendent. Which seems appropriate for shoegaze.

Like: “Hey,” “Disney World,” “Viva Fisher,” “Drop For Days,” “Surfer Baby,” “Please Me,” “Mesa”
Meh: “See You Again,” “Big Plane,” “What’s Going On”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Hardcore Crayons: Zozzled


Well this has got to be one of 2015’s most under-appreciated albums. Minneapolis trio Hardcore Crayons released it on January 1st, and it simultaneously seems like something that would go nowhere but is also super accessible.

The band describes themselves as “math/post rock infused intertwined w/ elements of jazz & dub,” but I basically just hear avant-garde jazz and plenty of rock. My guess is they put the other stuff in there to try to get more critics to listen to them. Which is fine…I mean, heck, I’m in favor of these guys just kidnapping people, handcuffing them to a chair, and forcing them to listen to this album.

The first thing you notice when you pop in the disc (I actually have the disc) is the delicious, warm sound. The recording and mixing is done perfectly, and the bass tone (some of it provided by keys, I’m pretty sure) is inviting, fuzzy in a puppy’s fur kind of way, and mesmerizing. With hardly any vocals (and none in the traditional sense…there are some distant shouts and murmurs here and there), the band warms you up well for their really wacky stuff with some odd meters but in a really accessible bouncy groove.

By the time you get to the noodly part of the second track (which then goes on to dominate the third, fourth, and fifth tracks), you’re already sold and willing to go with them on their journey. And the fact that you’re pre-registered ends up being a good thing because the freer, wackier stuff here is a little half-baked in my opinion. I kind of wish much of it had been cut or re-sequenced, but like I said, you’re here to just go along for the ride.

And if you do follow their lead, this ends up being incredibly listenable. It rewards close listening, but some of the noodly parts are almost better as background. You can get lost in this easily with delight, and by the time the band really brings it home with their strongest stuff for “More Sugar” and “Wgyw” it gives you a nice adrenaline push through to the end.

If they can sound as good live as they do on disc, and if they can keep their shows moving along enough that you don’t need to be stoned to enjoy it, then all y’all Minnesotans should make sure you check these guys out.

Mix: “Wgyw”
Really Like:
“Zozzled, “Completely Relevant: Part I,” “Daddy Issues,” “More Sugar”
Meh: “Kid Is Goat,” “Fuzzy Origins,” “Completely Relevant: Part II,” “Was That Cool?”
Filed Between: I don’t know my CD’s aren’t unpacked yet
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Helmet: Strap It On


Helmet’s debut album has always confounded me. It still does. I never want to listen to it. I only listen to it because I think I should, because it’s Helmet and because some weirdos think it’s their best album. And then I listen to it and I’m like, “Yeah, this is rough and not that good.” But if I keep listening to it I have moments of, “Wow, this is really inspired and well performed.”

This is Helmet’s most punky, least metal effort, which I think goes a long way towards explaining why some weirdos think it’s their best…when some people hear any metal elements they automatically turn off…some people do the same for country. Anyway, this is also, I think, a really clear look into Page Hamilton’s aesthetic before he cleaned things up sonically. The songs have a bit of a same-key, same-tempo thing going on, and, despite being quite good, almost feel like containers for their unconventional but wonderfully noisy, squawky guitar solos.

One aspect that makes it really tough to get into is the sound quality. Unless you’re listening to it extremely loudly, it’s hard to appreciate what’s going on, especially in Hamilton’s guitar playing. Some songs sound better (“Blacktop”) than others (“Repetition,” which they inexplicably chose as the album’s first track), so much so that I expected to see two different producers, engineers, and/or studios listed in the credits. That’s not the case, so I can only assume that the differences are from being recorded on different days during a period where engineer Wharton Tiers was working his way through the Arts Institute.

So the muffled sound obscures what is otherwise a very good album. And even after I’ve listened to it a bunch of times and have a positive sentiment going towards it, firing up that first track still requires some effort and bracing myself. So the album has that prominent flaw, but otherwise is fantastic. Helmet wouldn’t make another album like this, which is a good thing in that we got their follow-up output, but also makes this one a little special hardcore/punk/metal treasure for those who like odd time signatures and massive distortion in their guitar solos.

Mix: “FBLA,” “Blacktop,” “Make Room”
Really Like: “Rude,” “Sinatra,” “Distracted,” “Murder”
“Repetition,” “Bad Mood”
Filed Between: I still haven’t unpacked my CDs and Helmet’s Meantime
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Josh Ritter: Sermon On The Rocks


Another Josh Ritter album, another home run. I’m wondering if this guy has the ability to put out crap.

He’s less Dylan and more Springsteen here, which I feel like I’ve said about one of his previous records, but without reviewing those, this feels the most Springsteenian. I count four songs where I’ve got Springsteen mentioned in my notes. “Young Moses,” “Henrietta, Indiana” (with a very strong “State Trooper” vibe), “Cumberland” (which has a hootenanny/kitchen/hollering thing going on reminiscent of Springsteen’s We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions album), and “A Big Enough Sky.”

The best song, and almost the Best Song Ever, is “Getting Ready To Get Down,” with a bit of a Footloose theme where the parents and pastor of a beautiful little girl do their best to keep her under wraps and on the Christian (read: abstinent) path, but, natch, are foiled by her effervescent “f you Ima dance and f some boys” attitude. But the music, god, it’s one of those infectious numbers whose rhythm keeps driving forward, making you dance lest you get run over by this hot, small town girl who’s tearing up the town sleeping with whoever she wants to and good god I haven’t been this gobsmacked by a woman’s sexuality since “Son Of A Preacher Man,” but this is almost better because it doesn’t involve a boy/man teaching her anything.

In fact, sex is a pretty common lyrical theme throughout the album. “Where The Night Goes” and “Homecoming” are two not-so-coded examples, and I feel like the titles of “Birds Of The Meadow” and “Lighthouse Fire” are pretty evocative, too. It’s this kind of youthful subject matter and concomitant energy that makes this a very different release from the last of his that I reviewed. That album was 2010’s So Runs The World Away, and I came away from that album loving it, but more in a reverential awe than anything, whereas my love for Sermon On The Rocks is in more of a jump up and down in the sun and hug life kind of way. Maybe appropriate given I had a newborn and lived in Seattle then and have an (almost) six-year-old and a four-year-old in my new home of San Diego.

It’s getting to the point with Josh Ritter that I kind of have to put the guy in my upper echelon of loved musicians. Which is kind of a scary prospect, given how severely so many of those have disappointed me over the years, even moreso given how much this make me think of The Boss. But hell, this guy just blows me away with every release, and in new and fun ways, too, so I think he’s pretty much earned it.

Mix: “Getting Ready To Get Down”
Really Like: “Henrietta, Indiana,” “Where The Night Goes”
“Birds Of The Meadow,” “Young Moses,” “Homecoming,” “The Stone,” “A Big Enough Sky,” “Lighthouse Fire”
Meh: “Seeing Me Round,” “Cumberland,” “My Man On A Horse (Is Here)”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading