Saturday, February 27, 2010

Music Review: Slayer - World Painted Blood

When a band have been around for nearly 30 years, and have virtually defined a genre, how much can one really expect from a new record? In the case of Slayer, the answer is simple. Everything.

With their latest release, World Painted Blood, Slayer are back with a vengeance. Gone are the ridiculous nu-metal affectations of Diabolus in Musica (1998), and Hot Topic exclusives. Their latest, World Painted Blood is arguably their best since Seasons In The Abyss (1990).

Following the exhilarating speed of Reign In Blood (1986), Slayer figured the only possible next move would be to slow things down. But just a bit. With South Of Heaven (1988), they managed to bridge the gap between many of the various factions in metal, and enjoyed their biggest success to date.

South Of Heaven is where I came in, after hearing so many raves about Reign. And I thoroughly enjoyed Seasons In The Abyss. World Painted Blood seems like the next chapter in that story, more than anything that came in between.

It is there in the opening martial beats of the title track. This is classic mid-period Slayer, with brutally propulsive drums, a monster double guitar attack, and a killer riff to hold the whole thing together. The great thing is that the pace never lets up. “Unit 731” follows, and immediately reaffirms Slayer’s place as the inventors of thrash. The fact that they actually have something meaningful to say in the midst of the tornado is just a bonus.

There really isn’t a bad track among the 11 here, but for mad guitar solos check out “Snuff,” “Hate Worldwide,” and “Public Display Of Dismemberment.” The latter song is a prime example of the incredible amount of controversy Slayer inspires. Songs about Nazis, Satanism, and serial killers are guaranteed to push buttons. They also tend to sell millions of records.

Kerry King brought the guitar that Dimebag Darrell gave him into the studio while recording World Painted Blood. He never used it. But it served a purpose as a tribute to his fallen friend. It also indirectly contributed to the overall excellence of the record. “I paid more attention to my leads while recording this album. I wanted to make them more memorable, in memory of Dime,” says King.

Although World Painted Blood came out at the tail end of 2009, many in the online metal community called it album of the year. I’m not sure if I am prepared to go that far, but it is one hell of a record. Definitely Slayer’s best in a very long time.

Music Review: Buzzcocks - Love Bites (Special Edition)

1978 was an enormously productive year for the Buzzcocks. It not only saw the release of their exemplary debut album, Another Music In A Different Kitchen, but also their second, Love Bites. In addition, they issued five non-LP singles. An unbelievable pace, and one no band in their right mind would have attempted. But in the first flush of British punk, it seemed like there was no tomorrow, everything had to be done right now.

Love Bites (Special Edition) is Mute Records’ second offering in their stellar Buzzcocks reissue program. One of the great aspects of this series is the opportunity it affords us to reevaluate the albums in context of the times. Besides the original 11 songs, the set includes the two contemporary singles, “Love You More” and “Promises.” Additionally, there are seven tracks from the legendary John Peel Sessions, 13 demos, and a ten-song set recorded live at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall in July of ‘78.

Love Bites has been unfairly viewed as the least of the original trio of albums. I must confess that I once held this opinion as well. Listening to it freshly though, and with the attendant singles, I feel that Love Bites is a classic in its own right. The fact that the band had progressed markedly from Another Music may be a reason it has been dismissed. But any record that includes a single as perfect as “Ever Fallen In Love” deserves a second look.

Love Bites opens with some brilliant guitar work on “Real World.” The pure-pop brilliance of “Ever Fallen In Love” follows, and then the band’s more aggressive side is showcased. “Operators Manual” and “Just Lust” are prime examples of the Buzzcock’s patented punk hybrid — there was no other group around at the time who could have penned these tunes.

Side two of the original LP was nearly flawless. “Walking Distance,” “Nothing Left,” and “ESP” are simply amazing songs. For the closer, the group looked back at the way they ended Another Music, with “Moving Away From The Pulsebeat.” It was unlike anything that had preceded it, and Love Bites’ “Late For The Train” is a similar concoction. The nearly six-minute instrumental is credited to the entire group, and is intoxicating.

The seven John Peel Sessions recordings are excellent, with the band live in the studio playing songs from the album. But it is the live Free Trade Hall material (all of it previously unreleased) that should get Buzzcocks fans most excited. There was something about playing in front of an audience that got this group fired up. They certainly were at a peak that night, and the crowd definitely got their money’s worth.

In hindsight, Love Bites is the most underrated album in the Buzzcocks' canon. It stands as a truly brilliant record. And there was more to come. Another classic would follow, just a few months later, called A Different Kind Of Tension.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Music Review: Waterloo - First Battle

One of the rarest early progressive rock records came out in Belgium back in 1970. It was titled First Battle and was recorded by a band who called themselves Waterloo. Original copies of their one and only album now sell for over $2,000 on some auction sites. So it comes as no surprise that someone has reissued the set on CD all these years later. What is often the case in these types of situations though is that the actual music does not live up to the hype surrounding it.

Fortunately, this is not the case with Waterloo. This five-piece band had obviously been playing together for a while before the album was recorded. There are a variety of styles on display here, suggesting that the ten songs that make up First Battle were written over the course of a few years.

Take “Meet Again,” the opening track. This organ-heavy slice of psychedelia feels like vintage 1968, and could have slotted in nicely on the Small Faces’ Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake. Waterloo then immediately dive into the bombastic territory of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” on the very next cut, “Why May I Not Know.”

From there the band cruise into some of the more laid-back, flute-driven sounds of psych-folkies like the Incredible String Band, with “Tumblin’ Jack.” Diversity is definitely a quality this group embraced, and the rest of the record continues in this disparate vein.

The original LP version of First Battle closed with the ten minute “Diary Of An Old Man,” which is a big departure. This is clearly the “love it or hate it,” song in their repertoire. It is a basic blues, with lengthy guitar, organ, and flute solos dominating.

The reissue of First Battle by the Spanish Guerssen label (who specialize in obscure prog), is filled out with six bonus tracks, all of which are highly recommended. My personal favorite is “The Youngest Day,” which is about as weirdly proggy as it gets. A close second is “Bobo’s Dream,” another wonderfully addled flight of fancy that could only have come out in the seventies.

Fans of the aforementioned bands, plus contemporaries such as Jethro Tull, Uriah Heep, and Genesis should enjoy Waterloo. And with the CD reissue, you'll save yourself a couple grand as well.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Music Review: Buzzcocks - Another Music In A Different Kitchen (Special Edition)

It is unfortunate that the Buzzcocks never achieved the level of respect they deserved in the US. Back in the heady days of 1977, they were billed just behind The Sex Pistols and The Clash in the UK. In the US, though, it was a different story. Their classic first three LPs were only available as pricey imports, and there was no Pistols or even Clash level of hype to drum up Stateside interest.

It took the release of the near-perfect compilation, Singles Going Steady, in 1979 for most of us Yanks to hear them, and by then things were almost over. To say that the Buzzcocks were influential is an understatement. They almost single-handedly kick-started the Manchester scene, and even those who claim to have never heard the band have heard elements of their sound in countless others.

Mute Records have just reissued the classic first three records by the Buzzcocks in definitive packages. Another Music In A Different Kitchen (1978), Love Bites (1978) and A Different Kind Of Tension (1979) are now available as two-disc sets, featuring the original albums plus contemporary singles, live versions, demos, and John Peel Sessions. For longtime fans and the merely curious, each of these is well worth investigating.

Another Music In A Different Kitchen was their first full-length effort, and remains a classic of punk power-pop. The inclusion of the early singles is ideal here, as they put everything that followed into context. While the seminal independent Spiral Scratch EP is only represented with live versions of “Boredom” and “Time’s Up,” Another Music does contain the song many consider to be the ultimate Buzzcocks’ single, “Orgasm Addict.”

Listening to the staccato music and outrageous lyrics of “Orgasm Addict” even all these years later is still a revelation. Naturally the Beeb would not play it, but the record sold well anyway, and established the band nationally. After their second single on the UA label, “What Do I Get” (backed with the classic “Oh Shit") the band recorded their debut LP.

Another Music In A Different Kitchen opens up with the fierce punk blast of “Fast Cars.” The pace never lets up, with songs such as “No Reply,” “Sixteen,” and “Autonomy” acting as a virtual course in Punk 101. But the pop song-craft of Pete Shelley and former Buzzcock Howard Devoto (who went on to form Magazine) is never more evident than on “Love Battery.” Presidents Of The United States Of America mainman Jason Finn got his start in the early nineties pop-grunge band called Love Battery, named in tribute to the song. In a perfect world, “Love Battery” would have been a hit single; still it remains one of the Buzzcocks finest offerings.

Closing out this excellent 11 song collection is one of the band’s biggest departures, “Moving Away From The Pulsebeat.” Unlike most of the album, “Pulsebeat” is an almost pure studio concoction, with excellent guitar and drum interaction, and a near psychedelic flavor.

The majority of the bonus material has never been previously released, including all of a great nine-song live set from 1977 at the Electric Circus. The John Peel Sessions are also from ‘77, and like most in the series, present the band storming the boards in the studio. There are also 14 demo versions of various tunes.

Whether all of the extras are important to you or not, one thing is certain: Another Music In A Different Kitchen is an essential document of the first flash of British punk, and should be heard by anyone interested in those heady days.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Music Review: Gene Harris Quartet - Another Night In London

The late Gene Harris’s soulful piano playing was highly accessible, and obviously influenced by the great Oscar Peterson, among others. In 1956, Harris formed the popular trio the Three Sounds, with bassist Andy Simpkins and drummer Bill Dowdy. They recorded for the Blue Note and Verve labels into the 1970s, up until Harris’ retirement in 1977. Harris made a comeback in the eighties, and was especially popular in Europe.

Resonance Records has just released Another Night In London, a companion piece to Live In London (2008), and it is just as stirring as its predecessor. Both sets were recorded at London’s Pizza Express in May 1996, and featured his “European Quartet,” which featured bassist Andy Cleyndert, drummer Martin Drew, and guitarist Jim Mullen.

The disc kicks off with a rousing rendition of the classic “Sweet Georgia Brown,” a real showcase for Harris’ busy style of playing. Right from the start, the London crowd are way into it, enthusiastically applauding the riveting solos of Harris and Mullen.

The quartet then reach back to the great Antonio Carlos Jobim’s debut album, and the song “Meditation.” Jim Mullen’s lengthy guitar solo recalls the style of Les Paul at times here, and drummer Martin Drew gets a chance to shine as well.

For me, the highlight of the six performances contained on Another Night In London is “This Masquerade.” While the Leon Russell song is most closely associated with George Benson, the quartet make it their own here. After a tasty opening section featuring Mullen‘s guitar, Harris comes in and turns the song into a rollicking blues workout.

The big finale is an extended version of “Georgia On My Mind.” This standard has been recorded by hundreds of artists over the years, but Gene Harris brings a unique flavor to the tune. This is a big piano song, and showcases every facet of Harris’ playing style, from blues to soul and even a little boogie-woogie, the man was a master.

Another Night In London stands as an excellent testament to an amazing jazz pianist.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Music Review: Roedelius - Wenn Der Südwind Weht

German electronic music pioneer Hans-Joachim Roedelius has been nothing if not prolific over the course of his 40 year career. His first recorded appearance was with Kluster on their 1970 debut Klopfzeichen. The trio’s early work defined German avant-garde at the time. Roedelius’ then became involved with Harmonia, who proved to be a cornerstone of the Krautrock movement. Their later collaborations with Brian Eno (Harmonia '76) added a third dimension, becoming massively influential on the burgeoning ambient genre.

Rodelius’ solo career began in 1978 with Durch Die Wüste. The ambient textures he had been exploring dominated this recording. In 1981, Roedelius was already up to his seventh solo album, Wenn Der Südwind Weht (When The South Wind Is Blowing). This productive three year period saw some very creative efforts, especially the Selbstportrait series, but Südwind was clearly intended as something of a Wüste - Volume II.

From the cover art, to the intricate solo improvisations, Südwind travels a remarkably similar terrain to Roedelius’ first solo album. The style and sounds of this disc have proven to be remarkably fertile territory, and have actually been present throughout his career.

The title track, “Wenn Der Südwind Weht,” opens the record up with a wide vista of possibilities. There is a gentle, and subtly repetitive quality to the minimal keyboard figures he plays, and the accent remains bright. The effect is similar to that of a shimmering sun reflected from placid ripples on a lazy stream.

This “sunny” approach is present on a number of tracks, including “Vellchenwurzein,” “Sonnengerflecht,” and “Goldregen.” I detect a nod to fellow travelers Krafterwerk with “Mein Freund Farouk.” While I have no idea who Hans-Joachim’s friend Farouk is, this song bears more than a passing resemblance to “Morgenspaziergang,” (Morning Walk) from Kraftwerk’s Autobahn LP.

Running counter to all of the evocations of vivid German landscapes is “Saumpfad.” This is a very dark, and spacy piece, which is given ample room to fully express itself at eight and a half minutes. The song eventually finds resolution in a distant drone, and is an excellent reminder of the deeply experimental origins of the composer.

The album concludes with “Felix Austria,” which almost sounds as if it were emanating from a church cathedral. Leave it to Hans-Joachim Roedelius to confound all expectations again. Wenn Der Südwind Weht has just been reissued by Bureau B, after being out of print for several years. It is definitely a highlight of his long and storied career.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Concert Review: Anvil, Studio Seven, Seattle, WA 2/12/10

When Anvil drummer Robb Reiner mounted the stage, the crowd at Seattle’s Studio Seven club erupted. One fan yelled, “You made it!” The band surveyed the nearly sold-out audience and beamed back 1,000-watt smiles. Just one year ago, this gig would have been unthinkable. But here they are, on top of the world, 30 years after their debut.

The catalyst for all of this has been the excellent documentary, Anvil: The Story Of Anvil. You just can’t help but root for these guys after seeing it. Because even though their time has clearly passed, they still believe. It really is the ultimate underdog story.

Heartwarming or not, though, we also showed up for some good old-fashioned metal, and Anvil delivered. They opened up with a fairly intricate instrumental, which showcased Steve “Lips” Kudlow’s Flying V guitar skills in no uncertain terms. This bled into “666,” the first of four songs from their second LP, Metal On Metal (1982).

Bassist Glen Five got his chance to shine fairly early on, during “Winged Assassin.” Lips introduced him as “The new guy,” having only been with the band for 14 years.

Midway through the set, they pulled out the big guns for “Mothra.” Their performance of this enduring classic has to be seen to be believed. Lips goes absolutely batshit on guitar, even utilizing a big shiny metal dildo at one point for the ultimate slide effect.

True to their old-school heritage, Anvil included a drum solo. Not one of those wimpy 30-second ones either—this was a total Rush-style extravaganza, and was not to be missed. It also served to highlight one thing about Anvil that seems to get lost in their story: These three musicians are really good, tight as hell, and can seriously play.

Lips could have a second career as a stand-up comedian, introducing each song with an hilarious story to which I found myself laughing out loud every time. Whether it was about Geezer Butler calling him a “fucking colonial Canadian,” or his dog’s “pink crayon,” the guy cracked me up.

The set ended with “the national anthem of metal,” as Lips called it, “Metal On Metal.” They encored with “Jackhammer,” but the night was not over yet. Lips announced that they would be back in 10 minutes to sign autographs and take pictures with anyone who wanted to stick around. Quite a few fans took him up on it, including yours truly. Anvil are as genuine as they come in the rock and roll world, and it was a privilege to see them.

The tour started out last summer as The Anvil Experience with a completely different setup. Anvil: The Anvil Story would be screened at the venue, followed by the band coming out and playing their set. It was brilliant marketing, and worked so well that practically everybody has seen the movie now. So these days, they are asking local bands to open for them.

In Seattle, the warm-up acts were H.M.P. and Kill Or Be Conquered. Both were young, energetic, thrashy, and got the crowd well primed. H.M.P., which stands for Heavy Metal Poetry, should have been called the “Fuck Yeah’s” because that was pretty much all the singer had to say. They were powerful in a Slayer kind of way.

Kill Or Be Conquered impressed me on a few counts. Their three-guitar attack was pretty mind-blowing for music like this in the first place. Didn’t the three-guitar approach sort of go out with The Outlaws back in 1978? They made it work though, incredibly enough. Their bassist played a pretty cool five-string model, and their drummer kicked solid ass. I liked these guys a lot.

The all-ages setup at Studio Seven was perfect for this show. Besides a healthy number of headbangers just shy of 21 (and unable to get into the upstairs bar) there were a lot of parent/teen combos. I was one of them, and was able to introduce my son to the band afterward. The Anvil Experience may not be Pat Robertson's idea of family fun, but we sure had a good time.

And I can’t wait to see Anvil again.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Music Review: Dead Can Dance - Dead Can Dance

It seems like an alternate universe now, but back in the early eighties finding adventurous music was almost a full-time job, especially if you did not live in a major city. I probably would have been listening to nothing but Quarterflash and Billy Squire had it not been for a Tower Records store near the local mall. They carried cool magazines like Trouser Press and ZigZag, and had import bins filled with the albums those mags were reviewing.

I made many discoveries this way, because there was no way any radio station within 500 miles of me would be playing any of this stuff. This is how I came upon 4 AD Records, and their largest selling act over the years, Dead Can Dance.

In 1984, I bought their instant-classic Goth debut, Dead Can Dance and have been a fan ever since. Thanks to the burgeoning vinyl renaissance, I now own the LP in a vastly improved pressing over the original. Additionally, this great package includes the four-song Garden Of Arcane Delights EP, which was also released in 1984.

The “new generation” of vinyl features long-players pressed on 180 gram slabs of plastic, with deep grooves. There is a huge improvement in the sound quality of these meticulously re-mastered beauties over what had come before.

In the end though, it comes down to the music. Some later DCD fans dismiss the first album as “too Goth.” Not me. If anything, I want more like it. Although I never adopted “the look,” I was a huge fan of bands like Siouxsie And The Banshees, Bauhaus, and The Chameleons in 1984. Dead Can Dance fit in perfectly.

From the opening instrumental “The Fatal Impact,” through the atmospheric closer, “Musica Eterna,” this was a record that resonated deeply with me. Listening to it all these years later is a reminder of the vital role that sequencing made on an album back then. Side one ends dramatically with the haunting “Ocean.” Flip the LP over and you are onto a different journey, beginning with the bouncy (for DCD) “ East Of Eden.”

t seems appropriate for 4 AD to include the Garden Of Arcane Delights EP with Dead Can Dance, as they had previously incorporated it into the CD reissue. Having said that though, the Garden songs never really fit with those of Dead Can Dance. Much of the Goth-ness of the debut has been stripped away on these later tunes. There is no way they could be mistaken for music written and recorded at the same time. Garden does point the way to the very different band DCD would become however, especially the songs “Carnival Of Light,” and “Flowers Of The Sea.”

I never noticed it before, but it seems that Chris Martin’s parents were playing Garden’s “In Power We Entrust The Love Advocated,” to him each morning before grammar school. It seems to have provided him with quite the rush of blood to the head.

As always with 4 AD, the packaging is immaculate. Even though I am reviewing the magnificent vinyl reissue here, I have to say that this music is worth hearing on any format. Their debut in particular is grossly underrated, and is an album I highly recommend.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Music Review: Pylon - Chomp

Pylon were one of the great lost bands of the early eighties. More people have probably heard of them, than have actually heard them. In 1987, when Rolling Stone named R.E.M. “America’s Best Band,” Bill Berry offered his opinion: “Pylon are the best band in America.” Unfortunately, Pylon had broken up four years prior to this.

What they left behind was a scant two LPs, plus a few singles, all on the independent DB label. This was music you really had to dig for to find, at least until very recently. Their 1980 debut, Gyrate was issued on CD by DFA in 2007, as Gyrate Plus, and featured bonus tracks recorded around that time. Pylon’s excellent follow-up Chomp (1982), is also now available from DFA, as Chomp More, with four additional tracks.

Pylon emerged from the Athens, GA scene of the late seventies, and were contemporaries of R.E.M. and The B-52s. While there is some stylistic overlap between the bands, the music of Pylon was the most adventurous of the lot. That is surely one of the reasons they never really broke out of the college rock ghetto. It is also one of the reasons Chomp More still sounds as fresh as ever, 28 years after its initial release.

The record opens up with one of the more unlikely subjects for a song, an ode to a tough Scrabble letter, “K.” It really does not matter what the song is about though, with the angular, Gang Of Four-inspired guitar of Randall Bewley slashing across the funky bass of Michael Lachowski, this is one cool way to kick off an album.

“M-Train” is a good example of what Pylon were doing that was so different than what most US bands were up to at the time. In fact, with it’s prominent bass, the song has much more in common with obscure Brits such as Crispy Ambulance and In Camera than anything R.E.M. were playing.

Singer Vanessa Briscoe was another University of Georgia student, brought in after an apparently riveting audition. She was a great choice, with a continually surprising vocal range. On songs such as “No Clocks,” and “Beep,” Briscoe goes from a whisper to a scream when you least expect it.

The original 12 songs that made up Chomp all have something to recommend them, this really is an album without a bad cut. The four bonus tracks added to Chomp More are for diehards. While there is nothing inherently “bad” in the original recording of “Crazy” or the “Pylon Mixes” of “Yo-Yo,” and “Gyrate,” there is nothing particularly compelling about them either. “Four Minutes” is just weird. It is a half-speed version of “Beep,” previously only available as a 12-inch single B-side. I remember those experimental days of the 12-inch all too well. Can’t say I miss them much.

But those extras are just that, extras. Chomp remains one of the great, lost recordings of the early eighties, and I for one am overjoyed that it is now readily available. Pylon are one of those rare bands who actually live up to the kudos they have received over the years. Chomp More is worth looking into for anyone who enjoyed that particular era of music.