Category Archives: Music Reviews

The Kimberly Trip

The Kimberly Trip is an Alternative Power-Pop band out of Sacramento, California. The founding members Jeffry Wynne Prince (guitarist) and Dave “Bractune” Meyer (drums) have been in bands together since the early-1980s before creating one of Sacramento’s finest Rock bands in 2001. With the addition of Jeffry Wynne’s wife, the lovely Kimberly (Kimberlina), The Kimberly Trip was born.

They have consistently released fantastic Power-Pop albums since 2002s Not Compatible With my System, and have recently released their latest album, Unicorns, Glitter, and Heartache. Their songs thrive on a sense of irony and humor, and their videos are creative masterpieces.

I have yet to listen to the newest album, but I’ll have to remedy that very soon. It promises to be a “lo-fi, epic album”, and I can’t wait. It has been too long since their last release.

They act nerdy, but they are Gods in Sacramento!

They act nerdy, but they are Gods in Sacramento!

Their newest bass player, Michaelandrew, seems to be a perfect fit for the band. Let’s hope so! Their bass players seem to die tragically a la Spinal Tap’s drummers. Their previous bassist was not a good fit, and the band seemed to suffer a mild setback because of it.

Either way, I recommend that you all check out some of their work. Certainly buy their newest album, but also check out their old classics as well. There are at least a dozen crowd favorites from their catalog that they play at every show, lest they incite a riot from their fans.

And with that said, do go see them in concert. Their shows are an experience, even if they seem like an insiders-only kind of party. You will feel like you have missed-out on some very vital memo if you do go to see them and do not know the proper way to “cha-cha” to each of their songs, but you will have fun anyway.

I believe that Jeffry Wynne and Bractune are the main songwriters for TKT, although everybody seems to add their two-cents. They write very playful, fun pop–the kind of song that I always wished I could write. I respect and envy their skills!

Skills include wardrobe coordination.

Skills include wardrobe coordination.

Full disclosure: Jeffry Wynne Prince was the first friend I made when my family moved from South Sacramento to Fair Oaks in 4th-grade. I have also known Dave Meyer since the 7th-grade. However, this does not create a bias in my review since the band is so great, anyway.

Here are a few videos of some of my favorite songs. Give them a whirl, and go check them out live. They will be in the Pacific Northwest this weekend, and then back in the NorCal area later this month. I believe we can expect more tour dates coming up for the Summer, as well. Go to their website for more video and audio clips, bio, pics, and more info… http://kimberlytrip.com/.

I wanted to embed some individual videos, but I can only link to the entire playlist. This annoys me! However, you can go watch a bunch of their videos at your leisure. I recommend, “Just What I Wanted”, “Trouble Again”, and “Give Up.”

And here is a good clip of them live…

Leave a comment

Filed under Music Reviews

Jane’s Addiction

Jane’s Addiction is one of those bands that have stayed with me from the first time I heard them some 25 years ago.  Some time in 1988, a friend of mine gave me a cassette copy of their first album, “Jane’s Addiction”, and I was hooked from the first listen.  It was a live release (with some overdubs), and showed them at their most vital form.  There was a pure desperation in the music and lyrics that made me think that I was listening to real street urchins playing a set only to make enough money to score something filthy.

Jane’s Addiction 2

Both the lyrics and the music had an edge to them that you could not find anywhere else.  Other bands like Ratt and Cinderella tried to pull it off, but looked like posers in the end compared to Jane’s Addiction.  Even notorious raunch-peddlers Motley Crue looked tame compared to Jane’s Addiction.  Only Guns-n-Roses came close to the look and sound of homeless, junkie whores with screeching guitars that Jane’s Addiction pulled off.  They were the real deal.  Real junkies–real desperate.

And I am not sure that was the look and sound that they were going for.  I think they wanted to be the next Led Zeppelin, but with a touch of The Cure, and they incorporated the glam look of the 1980s LA scene as best as they could, but they just looked like wasted surfer-prostitutes.

Jane’s Addiction 1

And it worked for them.  They never made it big, but they were Undergound darlings that consistently packed large clubs and small theatres.  They never got mainstream radio play; in fact, they were a huge part of the College Radio scene of the 1980s, which eventually led to the Alternative/Grunge breakout in 1991.  Jane’s Addiction never broke through the mainstream in any significant level until right before they parted ways in 1991.

Being a bass player in my former life, I always loved how Jane’s Addiction’s songs were often bass-led.  Eric Avery is an underrated bass guitar hero who most people do not recognize.  I was crushed when he quit the band, and even more so when he refused to rejoin in their reunions.  When he finally did rejoin, it was so far after the fact that they really only toured as a nostalgia act, and it did not last long.

He never could afford a shirt.

He never could afford a shirt.

I never got to see Jane’s Addiction in concert.  Like Nirvana, I always believed there would be another tour, and so when I was not able to get to one of their shows, I did not sweat it.  Unfortunately, also like Nirvana, Jane’s Addiction were not meant to last very long.  They were fast, loud, and powerful, and no one can sustain that kind of energy for very long—especially when it is honest and true!

But I still listen to their albums fairly consistently.  I have touched on the emotional factor of music on several occasions, and I truly love any music that can break through the icy fortress around my crusty old heart.  Jane’s Addiction does that for me.  Every.  Time.

Jane’s Addiction 3

From the album, Nothing’s Shocking, check out “Ocean Size”, and you will know what I mean.  That scream toward the end—you know the one; in which it sounds as if Perry Farrell is hanging on for dear life—grips me to this day.

And then there’s Ritual de lo Habitual—their undisputed masterpiece—with the epic “Three Days”.  I still can hear that song 5 times a day every day and never tire of it.  It is that amazing.

I recently had the privilege of introducing Jane’s Addiction to my son.  I wanted him to hear the bass playing (my son plays guitar and bass, but seems to play more bass these days), and especially recognize the songwriting that stems from the bass riffs.  In a short time, Liam has already learned about half of the catalog.  I am so proud.  He also shares my enthusiasm for “Three Days”, so I am doubly proud.

Jane’s Addiction’s last two albums, 2003s Strays, and last year’s The Great Escape Artist, are pretty good records, but they pale in comparison to the first three.  Perhaps I am being a bit unfair, but hey; I am partial.  What can I say?

As sad as I am that Eric Avery is no longer part of the band, I am glad that they still exist.  Dave Navarro is still one of my favorite guitarists, and Stephen Perkins is a fun drummer.  They are still a great band, regardless of whoever plays the bass.

Dave Navarro, before Botox and steroids.

Dave Navarro, before Botox and steroids.

Or, perhaps I just hate letting go of important pieces of my past.  In an era when I was a stoned Deadhead who resisted most hard rock, Jane’s Addiction touched my soul, and I have never been the same since.  It was unique and strange, and I loved it.  Still do!

10 Comments

Filed under Music Reviews

Grateful Dead

“G” is for Grateful Dead—always has been.  Or at least since 1985, when I first discovered them.  From the time I first saw them in concert in Oakland, California back in November 1985, no other music in the world has touched me like the Grateful Dead.  They will forever be my favorite band.

I understand that many other people in the world simply do not “get” the Dead, and I get that.  There is a lot of music in the world that I simply do not appreciate.  It happens.  I’m already over it.

But I have been successful in getting a few friends and a couple girlfriends to open up to their music.  This is probably due only to my overly enthusiastic play-by-play that I give when listening to a particular show or album, but they went along with it anyway.  However, even as I tried to get them to appreciate their music, no one has fully understood why I saw them in concert 70 times.

Yes—seventy times.

PRZ-001009

Ahhh, just one more…please!

And that is such a low number compared to many friends that I know, but between 1985 and 1994, I saw them as often as I possibly could.  I had a really cool job that let me disappear for a week or two, as long as I had my shifts covered, and as long as I worked 60-80 hour weeks when I returned.  I stopped seeing them a year before Jerry Garcia died, but not because they were a freakin’ train wreck by that time (and they were), but because I met the girl who would become my future ex-wife, and my priorities changed.  I had always meant to get back to see them again, but it never happened.  If Jerry Garcia were still alive today, and if the Dead were still doing their thing, you better believe that I would still have been seeing them all these years!

I remember when I was introduced to them.  I knew a few of their songs from the radio, but did not pay much attention to them until my best friend at the time, Dan, played me some of their records one summer afternoon.  He had a really groovy sister who owned a few of their albums, and we would listen to the records up in his room with the windows open and the music cranked to 11.  I liked them, but I was still not hooked.

I was a huge fan of the Rolling Stones at that time, and Led Zeppelin, and various Progressive Rock bands, and the Dead intrigued me, but I hadn’t grasped the magic of their music until I finally saw them live.

Dan had won tickets to a show in Oakland from an Indie radio station, and asked me if I wanted to go.  This was on a school night during our Senior year of high school, but my parents were uncharacteristically cool about that.  After driving to the wrong venue in Oakland, we finally got to the show and went to Will Call to pick up the tickets.  They gave us little red raffle tickets instead of proper Ticketmaster tickets, and we weren’t sure that we would get into the show.  It all started to feel like a cruel prank.  Fortunately, no one even looked at our tickets. We were allowed in just as the lights went down for the first set.

Grateful Dead 12

I only knew three songs of all that was played that night.  In fact, I remember being playfully mocked by a random Deadhead when I stated to Dan that they did not play “Truckin’” or “Casey Jones.”  She said, “Well, they did play ‘Sugar Magnolia’”, to which I gave some sort of enthusiastic puppy dog response.

What a newb!

Anyway, they grabbed me that night.  I did not drink any literal Kool-Aid that night, but I was entranced by the melodies and noises coming from the stage that night.  Jerry Garcia was in particularly poor shape during this show (this was after his big bust and before his coma), but I just figured that he had a cold, or something.  Something in that frail, gravelly voice touched me, and I needed more and more.

Lookin' good, Jer!

Lookin’ good, Jer!

And that is what I try to convey to people: Garcia’s voice, especially as he aged, had such an emotional quality to it.  He could trigger a response with just a simple inflection, or even a squeaky crack in his voice.  No one else in the world could do for me what Garcia could do with his voice.

A lot of people complain that the Dead sound unrehearsed and sloppy, and at times, that is so true.  Each individual musician had their own unique way of playing, and each one had enough ego to take the foreground at any given moment.  Garcia played guitar like a banjo; Bob Weir played the guitar as if he were trying to do the opposite of actually playing the guitar; Phil Lesh played the bass like a solo cellist in a symphony; the two drummers were complete opposites of each other, and often sounded like rocks in a dryer; and each keyboardist just tried to keep up with the madness.  They were not an ordinary band!

Yeah, I said it: "Rocks in a dryer."

Yeah, I said it: “Rocks in a dryer.”

But they had the capacity to create magic every single night.  There were nights that I could not even begin to explain.

Wait.  Full disclosure:  I did a lot of drugs in my late teens, but by 1989, I stopped altogether.  You cannot say that I only appreciated their music because of the drugs, because I saw far more shows sober than high.

Anyway, there were nights that I could not even begin to explain; moments of magic that seemed impossible, and yet we all felt as if we were waiting for that exact thing to happen.  You can read about at least five examples of this from an earlier blog entry of mine.

There were also moments when we should have rioted and demanded our money back.  However, that’s what you get when you follow the Dead:  Some nights are magic, and some nights…not so much.

I swear this is the exact angle that I saw my second show.

I swear this is the exact angle that I saw my second show.

It would be impossible for me to give a list of introductory songs for newcomers to check out; the Dead are a personal experience, and each person has to find their own way around the maze.  However, I will list a handful of my favorites.  Brown-Eyed Women, Terrapin Station, Crazy Fingers, Help on the Way, Jack Straw, Lazy Lightning, Black Peter, Althea, Scarlet Begonias, and Box of Rain.

Anyway, I am doing a poor job of describing the indescribable.  Let me just end this with a song I wrote back in 1998.  This was about 2 ½ years after Jerry died, and I was still feeling the loss.  I was also feeling the loss of community, identity, and that indescribable moment.

The lyrics to this song are just as vague as the feeling of actually being at a Dead show.  Still, I think they capture it pretty well.  At least in my mind.

Anyway, here it is:  “Hit the Sky.”

Hit the Sky

By: Joel C. Marckx

1998/03/19

There was a fever from off the streets

And all I know, I’ll never hold it anymore

 

A thunderous tune sings, time-struck with wonder

Familiar journey with urgency

Madmen are shouting roaring gospels

Soothing psalms, and galaxies

And all I know, I’ll never hold it anymore

 

            The great foundation, fleeting landscapes

            There are no words for memories

 

Our navigator, a face in red smoke

Lighting fuses in hot pursuit

After surrender, respect is silence

Intoxicated, and scarred for life

And all I know, I’ll never hold it anymore

 

            Discerning pathways near infinity

            Floating in and around the sea

 

I still remember, but I can’t describe it

I sure would love to be there again

Now I just put on my favorite Dark Star

And hit the sky…hit the sky…

10 Comments

Filed under Deep Thoughts, man..., Lyrics, Music Reviews

Five Fantastically Fabulous Frank Zappa Albums

Okay, you know the guy.  Certainly, you have heard the name, even if you think that you have not heard his music.  Frank Zappa has become synonymous with bizarre, unlistenable music, and possibly even obscene-laden lyrical content.  He testified before Congress against censorship in the arts (particularly music), and you can say that Rap and Hip Hop exists because of his efforts.

He has had a few hits that many people would recognize, but mostly, his prolific body of work has gone unnoticed by all but a few music aficionados.  In his lifetime, Zappa released 64 albums between 1966-1993; some rock-and-roll, some jazz, some classical, and some otherworldly.  There is no real concrete way to describe Zappa’s music, nor can one explain his seemingly tireless work ethic.  Zappa did not simply write music; he composed it, writing out score sheets for each instrument.  And he did this while releasing 2 or 3 albums each year and touring constantly.  In 1979 alone, he released a staggering 5 albums, and two of those were double LPs.  Amazing.

He expected the best from the best musicians that he could find.  His auditions were notoriously brutal, and Zappa has even said that he, himself, could not pass one of his auditions.

All of this means that he was never really in the mainstream.  Even his “hits” were outliers that were musical miracles.  Yet, he had a solid following of fans that continue to praise his musicality to this day.

I first discovered Zappa in my early teens, sometime in the early 1980s.  I’m sure that the first song of his that I heard was “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow”, and I remember seeing videos for “Valley Girl” and “You Are What You Is.”  If I heard anything else, I was not aware.

Fast-forward to 1986, and my newest friends Jerry and Kevin turned me on to a whole new world.  I remember one drunk or stoned night that Jerry was especially passionate about me hearing the album, “Lumpy Gravy.”  I was not engaged, but we moved on to other things I did not get, like “Billy the Mountain” and “Willie the Pimp.”

Eventually, I got it.  Jerry had played the non-politically correct and horribly offensive and vulgar, “Broken Hearts Are for Assholes”, and it all clicked.  I was 18 years old, and the vulgarity spoke to me.  I wanted to hear more.  I started with his more commercially known albums first, and then dove into the weird stuff.

To this day, I am a fairly hardcore fan.  I listen to large chunks of his discography at a time at least once a year, and I was revving up to delve into his catalog again when the idea hit me to do a Top-5 list for the blog.   It is “F” day on the A to Z Challenge, after all.

So, here it is:  My personal top 5 Frank Zappa albums.

5)

Hot_Rats

Released in October, 1969, Hot Rats was Zappa’s first album after dissolving the original Mothers of Invention.  The only remaining “Mother”, Ian Underwood, performed the majority of the tracks on the album, including multiple tracks of keyboards, clarinets, saxophones, and flutes.

One of my all-time favorite Zappa songs is “Peaches en Regalia.”  It is such a masterful composition, and at 3:38, is a fine example of Zappa controlling his urge to create a longer piece of music.  He fits a variety of themes into this short piece, and it does not feel lacking or rushed.  In fact, I think it is perfect!

Also, this album features Captain Beefheart (one of Zappa’s old high school friends, and maniac savant) singing on the great blues jam, “Willie the Pimp.  “Son of Mr. Green Genes” and “The Camel Variations” are classic examples of Zappa’s compositional stylings of this early era.

4)

Sheik_Yerbouti

Recorded mostly live with some studio overdubs, Sheik Yerbouti is possibly one of his more obscene albums, but it has a lot of great songs on it.  Released in March of 1979, Sheik Yerbouti was two-LP set of a variety of different themes and styles.  Side one of the LP (it was a double album) is one of my favorite sides of all-time.  The opening “I Have Been in You” is classic Zappa humor and double-entendre.  The following “Flakes” has a brilliant section with a Bob Dylan impersonation.  And then we get the aforementioned, “Broken Hearts Are for Assholes.”  Zappa is pushing the envelope for what will be tolerated by the record companies, and by society.  I am not sure if Zappa was homophobic, insensitive, or ironic, but the same theme pops up again on Side two with “Bobby Brown.”  Remember, this was 1979, and not everyone was enlightened yet.  Call me a dick, but I think it’s funny!

Other honorable mentions for this album go to “Baby Snakes”, “Dancin’ Fool”, and the lengthy “Yo Mama.”

3)

Frank-Zappa-Overnite-Sensation-1973-cover Apostrophe_(')

Okay, I’m totally cheating here.  Back in the early 1990s, the label Rykodisc released many Zappa CDs with two albums on them.  Overnight Sensation and Apostrophe were released as one CD, and I will forever associate the two as one whole album.

Overnite Sensation was released in October of 1973, and marked the beginning of Zappa’s “commercial” phase, if you want to call it that.  I call it “commercial”, because Zappa wrote some of his most accessible music during this period.  Instead of complex and dense compositions, or subversive nattering, Zappa was writing songs that a larger group of people actually liked.  “Camarillo Brillo” starts the album off, and it is an instant crowd-pleaser with a catchy hook.  The album also contains the Zappa classic, “Dinah-Moe Humm”, which is a raunchy porno-funk fest featuring Tina Turner as Dinah-Moe, herself.  This album also contains crowd pleasers, such as “I am the Slime”, “Dirty Love”, and “Montana.”

Apostrophe was released a mere 5 months later in March of 1974.  Most people would recognize the “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow” suite instantly, but this album also contains the classics, “Cosmik Debris” and “Stinkfoot.”  All of the above mentioned songs were played somewhat regularly in concert throughout his career.

2)

Zappa_Bongo_Fury

It would be so easy for me to list Bongo Fury as my all-time favorite Zappa album, if it weren’t for the final entry.  I love this album so much.  Before I got the CD, I had a tape of it that I wore down to nothing.  It was unlistenable by the time I got the CD, and I have every second–every note— of this album memorized!  When Liam was about two years old, he had “Debra Kadabra” memorized, much to his mother’s chagrin!

So, why do I love this album so much? Well, like the next entry, the band lineup that Zappa had at this time was phenomenal.  Not only did he have Captain Beefheart on “vocals, harmonica, saxophone, and madness”, this album also featured George Duke on keyboards, Chester Thompson on drums (studio tracks only), and Terry Bozzio on drums (live tracks), among others.  It also contains some of my favorite songs.

Released in October, 1975, and officially released as a Zappa/Beefheart/Mothers album, the live tracks come from recordings off of the One Size Fits All tour in the Spring of 1975.  Bongo Fury opens with the aforementioned “Debra Kadabra”, featuring Beefheart on vocals, and then moves straight into “Carolina Hardcore Ecstasy.”  The former being an odd bit of poetry and jazzy improv, and the latter being one of Zappa’s classic bawdy songs.  You can also find the brilliant “Advanced Romance”, featuring the perfect opening line, “No more credit at the liquor store.”  Finally, the album closes out with the hilarious classic, “Muffin Man.”  You just need to hear it.

1)

Zappa_One_Size_Fits_All

Finally, my favorite of all-time is One Size Fits All.  Released in June of 1975, One Size Fits All continues the streak of commercially acceptable music that Zappa wrote between 1973-1976.  This trend would end with Zoot Allures in 1976, and Zappa would go back to his “serious” composing for the next couple years.

This album is the best-of-the-best of Zappa’s albums.  It contains my other favorite song, “Inca Roads”, which is probably his most complex jazz fusion tune.  Other classics from this album include, “Po-Jama People”, “Sofa” (#1 & #2), “Florentine Pogen”, and “San Ber’dino.”  OSFA is a glut of Zappa riches, and I recommend it to even the most casual Zappa listeners and newbies everywhere.

So, there you have it.  Those are my top-5.  Do you love Zappa?  What albums would you have listed that I skipped?  My friend Jerry says I should have included Lumpy Gravy and We’re Only in it For the Money”, but he can make his own list.

So hop to it!  Give these albums a listen, and tell me what you think.  If you have been afraid to try Zappa, you may be surprised with these albums.

One final note:  Gail Zappa, if you are reading this, I apologize in advance for using Frank’s music in a post without checking with the estate first.  I assure you, I am profiting in no way from this post.  Please do not sue me!

7 Comments

Filed under Music Reviews

Canadian Indie, pt. 2

Well, after yesterday’s post about the saddest songs I know, I felt that I should brighten things up today.  I originally wanted to do some “serious” writing for today’s post, but I guess that I will do another music post.  These aren’t the “happiest” songs I know, but they are quite lovely and should pick up the mood for this Monday.  God knows I need it!

My last entry regarding the Canadian Indie revolution of the mid-2000s felt so incomplete to me that I knew I would have to write another one to cover the bases that I missed.  I discovered the majority of those songs in 2007; and I still follow those bands today, and so I would like to share other artists from the Canadian Indie genre that most U.S. radio stations ignore.  Most of today’s entries still come from the 2007-2008 period, but there are a few newer songs that I will include, as well.  Really, I am trying to capture a moment in time when I first heard these bands and fell in love with them, but a few songs came later that I like better than their 2007 counterparts.

1) Plants and Animals – Lola, Who?

Really, I cannot believe I left this off of my original list.  This is one of the first songs that I heard on XM Radio’s “The Verge” back in 2007.  It is so different and weird, yet beautiful and haunting, and it even throws in a bit of a comedic ending.  I was convinced that these Montreal natives were odd dudes after hearing this song and seeing them for the first time, but they seem to have “normalized” in the last few years.


2) Wintersleep – Archaeologists

This is another one that I cannot believe I did not include in the first list.  Archaeologists ends too quickly for me.  I want it to last at least 10 minutes.  The rhythm is driving, and its hook is alluring.  I love it.  This was the song that hooked me, and I have since become quite a big fan of theirs since.  I still haven’t gotten around to listening to their latest album, Hello Hum, but their 2010 release, New Inheritors is one of my favorites.

3) Arcade Fire – (Antichrist Television Blues)

Okay, so most everyone has heard of Arcade Fire. They are a pretty big deal these days, but back in 2007, they were still an Indie band.  I came late to the Arcade Fire party, and only discovered them after their 2007 release, Neon Bible, which I still swear is their best album.  (Antichrist Television Blues) got the most airplay back then, so I am pretty sure that this is the first song that I heard from them, even though I like Black Mirror better.

4) Elliott Brood – Fingers and Tongues

The first song that I heard from Elliott Brood was Oh, Alberta from their 2004 EP, Tin Type.  I thought they were a quaint acoustic band consisting only of a guitarist, and banjo player, and a drummer.  They had some fun and meaningful songs, and I liked it.  Then 2008’s Mountain Meadows came out, and the very powerful song, Fingers and Tongues hit the airwaves.  It blew me away.  I had no idea that Elliott Brood had it in them to get so loud and emotional.  Also, check out Without Again.  It is a more traditional loping acoustic piece, and probably my favorite from the album.

 

5)  Metric – Satellite Mind

I mentioned Metric in my last post, but I’m going Metric again.  I love these guys enough that I could probably do an entire post on them alone.  Their 2009 album, Fantasies, is their best work yet.  I like last year’s Synthetica, but Fantasies is a perfect album, in my opinion.  There are so many songs from Fantasies that I could pick, but my favorite song from the album is Satellite Mind.  It rocks, and it has a pretty girl saying, “fuck”, and that always turns me on!

6)  Stars – We Don’t Want Your Body

I am not a huge fan of Stars, but they have some great songs.  I prefer the songs that Amy Millan sings over Torquil Campbell, and We Don’t Want Your Body is probably my favorite.  It comes from their 2010 release, The Five Ghosts, which is a sort of concept album that I do not really want to explain right now.  The important thing is the song is fantastic!

7) Broken Social Scene (featuring Kevin Drew) – Lucky Ones

I talked about Broken Social Scene in my last post.  They were an odd collective of Toronto-area musicians that weaved in and out of the band.  The band centered on two members; Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning, and the line-ups changed from album to album. Emily Haines and James Shaw of Metric were members of BSS, as was Amy Milan.  You may recognize Feist from her own successful work, and she was a member of BSS.  Many of my favorite Canadian Indie Bands had members who filtered in and out of BSS at one point in their careers.

In BSS, there are two different kinds of songs: Kevin Drew’s odd ramblings, and Brendan Canning’s bass guitar-driven rockers and grooves.  Other members have offered their own flavors to the mix, but once you hear enough of their music, it is clear who wrote which songs.

In 2007, Kevin Drew released a “solo” album, using members of BSS, but focusing solely on his own material, which I find odd since most BSS material was his anyway.  The result was Broken Social Scene presents Kevin Drew, Spirit If… The first single from the album is Lucky Ones, and it got a lot of radio play in 2007-08.  The crazy thing about Kevin Drew is that he mumbles like a drunk man when he sings, and it is hard to understand his lyrics.  I often wonder if he even wrote any lyrics, or just freeform mumbled into the microphone.  Great song, though!

8) Broken Social Scene (featuring Brendan Canning) – Hit the Wall

The next in the series of Broken Social Scene presents is Brendan Canning’s Something for All of Us.  Even though Canning sang less in BSS than Kevin Drew did, I think he may have been the prominent songwriter.  This album sounds like a lot of older BSS stuff.  Hit the Wall was the first single released from the album, and it is a great song.  I could have gone with Possible Grenade or Take Care, Look Up, but Hit the Wall is a nice driving rocker.

Sadly, BSS is now defunct.

9) The Acorn – Crooked Legs

Ah, The Acorn–one of my all-time favorite of the Canadian Indie bands.  It was tough for me to choose only one song from them, and if I had to pick only one favorite, this would be it.  The Acorn are another laid-back acoustic band with beautiful melodies and lyrics.  Some may compare them to the more commercially acceptable Avett Brothers or Mumford and Sons, but I think The Acorn came first, but have yet to be discovered by the mainstream.  I recommend any of their albums, but this song comes from 2007’s Glory Hope Mountain, which I still consider my favorite.  Their 2010 album, No Ghost, is a very close second!

10) Jason Collett – Too Much

Jason Collett is another Broken Social Scene alum, and he has had a modestly successful career in his own right in Canada.  He is a fantastic songwriter who can craft simple pop melodies, and more complex songs.  Too Much is a personal favorite, not only because it is the first song of his that I heard, but also because it reminds me of something that I would write.  Too Much comes from his 2007 EP, Prodigals, and I also highly recommend that you check out 2005’s Idols of Exile, and 2008’s Here’s to Being Here.  There is no video for Too Much, so here is a MySpace link to the song…

http://www.myspace.com/jasoncollett/music/songs/too-much-43328289

Aw, fuck it!  Here are a couple more songs from The Acorn…

The Acorn – Cobbled from Dust

The Acorn – Restoration


The Acorn – Flood pt. 1

Okay, I’m done now.  Have a wonderful Monday!

3 Comments

Filed under Music Reviews

The Saddest Songs I Know

Happy Sunday!  Please allow me to bum you out.  I get to thinking about the weirdest things sometimes, and today, it’s all about sad songs.  Well, let me preface that by explaining that I wrote a bit of flash fiction a few weeks ago based on a song I wrote called Plastic Smiles.  A friend of mine emailed me soon after that post and said it was the saddest song he had ever read (I have never played it for him).  I then explained that I could think of several songs that were far sadder than Plastic Smiles, and I have been thinking about it ever since.

I compiled a list of roughly 13 songs that hit me personally every time I hear them.  Some are old, some are new, and some are very old.  Since it is Sunday and I don’t want you all moping about on the last day of the weekend (even if I am working all day), I will narrow it down to only five.

These five are songs that make me well up with tears, or make me feel like I’ve been beaten up, every time I hear them.  They also happen to be five of the most beautiful songs I know.  There is something to be said about the connection between sadness and beautiful melodies.  I guess Elton John was right: Sad songs do say so much.

I have intentionally left out a few of the more commercially known songs like REM’s Everybody Hurts, Nirvana’s All Apologies, and Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt.  Well, that last one was hard for me to explain, since Johnny Cash’s version is so much more painful than the original.  I didn’t want to deal with that, so I am skipping it.

Anyway here we go:

5)  Soundgarden – Blow Up the Outside World

Well, this was a pretty big hit for Soundgarden in 1996, and it still gets radio play.  It is a heart-breaker, plain and simple.  The poor guy just wants a peaceful existence with the one he loves, but she turns him away, and he becomes sullen and tries to talk her into staying, even though he knows that she wont.

I’ve given everything I need, I’d give you everything I own

I’d give in if it could at least be ours alone

I’ve given everything I could, to blow it to hell and gone

Burrow down in and blow up the outside  world

When he sings “I’d give in if it could at least be ours alone”, my heart just shatters.

4) Pink Floyd – Your Possible Pasts

Most people do not know this one due to it being on the largely forgotten album, The Final Cut.  It was the last album with Roger Waters, and it still gets mixed reviews from the fans.  Your Possible Pasts is about a man who has gone to war, and returns to a wife who has lost all love for him.  He is still carrying the war around with him, and is now lost without his love.

Do you remember me? How we used to be?
Do you think we should be closer?

That chorus just kills me, and the pain in Roger Waters’ voice fills my own heart with a deep sorrow.

3) Grateful Dead – China Doll

It is hard for me to associate the Grateful Dead with anything but pure joy, but the truth is that this song is terribly sad.  Immediately after a person commits suicide, he or she holds a conversation with God.

Yesterday I begged you before I hit the ground

All I leave behind me is only what I found

In the end, the person tries to convince God to take him or her in anyway.  The soul is not permanently damaged, only “fractured” and “nervous”.

“Take up your china doll
it’s only fractured – just a little nervous from the fall”

Pretty heavy stuff for a bunch of hippies.

2) The Cure – Bare

This one always tears me up.  On the surface, it seems to be another break-up song for which The Cure are so famous, but it has always made me think that Robert Smith was speaking to his fans, rather than a lover.  He seems to be saying that The Cure will finally hang it up after this album and tour, and that he is terribly sad about finally saying goodbye, (he is notorious for threatening to quit after each album, and they are still touring to this day).  He may even be singing to a band member (Simon?).  Whomever he is singing to, it always breaks my heart, and I always feel punched in the gut when I hear it.  As gorgeous as this song is, I rarely listen to it because it stirs so much inside of me.

We should let it all go
It never stays the same
So why does it hurt me like this
When you say that I’ve changed?
When you say that I’ve aged?
Say I’m afraid

And then…

So if you’ve got nothing left to say
Just say goodbye
Turn your face away
And say goodbye
You know we’ve reached the end
You just don’t know why
And you know we can’t pretend
After all this time

Maybe I am only projecting my own emotional baggage to this one song.  I do have some personal history with this particular album.
1) Elliott Smith – Strung Out Again
And finally, my beloved Elliott Smith, because, of course!
Seriously though, this is the saddest song I know.  The self-deprecation and awareness of someone losing control of his drug habit is too heart-wrenching to not break my heart.
I know my place, hate my face
Holy crap!  He hates his own face.  How can it get any sadder than that?
I have written about this song before in my review of his posthumous album, From a Basement on the Hill, but I have to mention it again in the context of the saddest songs I know.  Sure some may find other songs that they feel is sadder than this, but I’m not buying it.
Waving at my lost reflection again
But the tide’s coming in
And I’m strung out again
Breaks my heart to think that anyone could ever go through that.
So, there you go.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll post my five happiest songs ever.  Happy Sunday!

8 Comments

Filed under Music Reviews

Alice in Chains – Dirt (A Review)

Even if you were actively engaged in the Grunge era of 1991-1994, you may not remember much about this album.  Sure, it contains the mega-hits, “Rooster” and “Would”, and it also charted well after its release.  Some even consider this to be one of the best Grunge albums of all time, and I would have to think hard before arguing with that claim.

However, twenty years later, it hasn’t aged well due to the extremely graphic nature of most of its songs.  This album is a shocking masterpiece; the musical version of movies like Se7en and Requiem for a Dream, in that you probably only want to watch them once, and then never again due to their deeply disturbing nature.  Dirt is not a fun, party album; in fact, it is a horror show, vividly depicting the Hell an addict lives through every day.  You would have to be able to appreciate beauty in dark places to appreciate this album.  Like Se7en and Requiem for a Dream, Dirt is easy to love, but you probably will not revisit it until after a few years of emotional recovery.

Most of the songs from Dirt deal with singer Layne Staley’s drug addiction.  It is graphic and honest, suggesting that his deepening descent into addiction was so obvious that there was nothing else to write about.  However, not all of the songs are about drugs.  The album starts with two angry, but drug-free, powerhouses.  Of the twelve songs on the album, guitarist Jerry Cantrell wrote five of the lyrics and Staley wrote the rest.  However, even some of Cantrell’s lyrics seem to deal with Staley’s worsening problem with addiction.

Musically, it is a masterpiece.  It is a heavy Grunge album, with saturated tones and the dark-sounding drop-D tuning, and every song is masterfully crafted.  One of the finest features of Alice in Chains is the vocal harmonies of Staley and Cantrell.  The two sing together so well that it is no wonder that Staley rarely sings solo.  Cantrell’s smooth, high harmony blends perfectly with Staley’s gritty baritone, and the two voices add so much character to the songs.

The first single, “Would?”, is the last song on the album, and is classic Alice in Chains.  Whereas most bands have the lead vocalist sing the verses solo and bring harmonies in at the chorus, Alice in Chains does just the opposite.  The song is haunting and brooding, almost a whisper during the verse before kicking the chorus into overdrive.

Cantrell wrote the lyrics to “Would?”, reportedly in response to the accidental overdose and death of friend and Mother Love Bone singer, Andrew Wood, (Wood, Would?—get it?).  However, since it closes out an album filled with Staley’s drug-addled moans, you can imagine that they were aimed at Staley; whether in support, or in an accusatory tone, I am not sure.  With lyrics like…

Know me broken by my master

…and…

So I made a big mistake, tried to see things once my way

…it is not hard to see the connection.  Perhaps Cantrell is trying to tell Staley something.  Either way, the song closes out the album, and seems to confirm every statement made in the previous songs.

The album begins with “Them Bones”, a driving, dirty, grungy pulse in 7/4 time featuring screams from Staley that are just as coarse as the guitars.  Due to the subject matter of later songs on this album, it is easy to assume that the lyrics are about drugs and death.  However, I interpret it differently; I think it is about the rising stature of the Seattle music scene and that posers and second-rate knockoffs will soon overtake the natives. Perhaps Cantrell is saying that in the end, we will all become a “big old pile of them bones”, but I do not think it is due to addiction.  For example…

Dust rise right on over my time, Empty fossil of the new scene

…seems to speak to the growing popularity of the so-called Seattle scene.  The nightclubs and bars had more record executives than music patrons at this time, and bands were changing their sound to fit the new fad.  By late 1992, most of Seattle’s Grunge heroes were already denouncing the name “Grunge” and anything related to a Seattle scene.  Their private world had been encroached upon, and they did not appreciate it.  Kid of like the original San Francisco scene during the Summer of love, except grungier.

The next song, “Dam That River”, is reportedly about a fight between Cantrell and drummer Sean Kinney.  The lyrics are angry and violent, with “So you couldn’t dam that river” a metaphor for holding back your trash talk.

The third song, “Rain When I Die”, is the first of the drug songs, and the first of Staley’s lyrics on the album.  It is an oblique statement about trying to get clean and failing.  In the lyrics, Staley speaks of a woman, and it seems as though they are trying hard to get clean.  When she tries, Staley slips and she eventually walks away from him.  His heart is broken, but at least he has his drugs to soothe him.

The fourth song, “Down in a Hole”, is possibly the most ambiguous song on the album.  One can easily interpret it to mean drug addiction, with lyrics like…

I’ve eaten the sun so my tongue has been burned of the taste

            …and…

I’d like to fly, by my wings have been so denied

It is easy to imagine that he has overindulged in his habits to the point that he can no longer break free from this life he has created.

However, since Cantrell wrote the lyrics, I imagine the song is more about losing love and feeling as though one could never love again.  He writes…

Bury me softly in this womb, I give this part of me to you

…I interpret it as someone who has given everything they had to a relationship feeling lost and alone when it ends.  Beautiful song, however sad it may be.

The next song, “Sickman”, is quite obviously about Staley’s addiction.  I can see no other way to interpret it.  It is a song filled with self-loathing and desperation.  He knows that he is fucked, and may have already resigned himself to death.

I can feel the wheel, but I can’t steer

When thoughts become my biggest fear

What’s the difference, I’ll die

In this sick world of mine

Track number six, “Rooster” is probably the best known Alice in Chains song.  It is probably also the best song on the album.  It is the odd man out; not being about drugs or death specifically, rather, it is a tribute to Cantrell’s dad, who fought in the Vietnam War, and was nicknamed ‘The Rooster.”

The next five songs are all Staley lyrics, with the last two being written entirely by him—words and music.  These are the most gruesome of the batch, and are the reason that it is so hard to listen to the album on a regular basis.  I mean, they are dark!

“Junkhead” is about as in-your-face as a song can get.  No hidden meanings here–no ambiguity.  Staley almost seems to glorify his lifestyle, but it is more of an honest depiction of the daily life of a junkie.

Nothing better than a dealer who’s high, Be high, convince them to buy

What’s my drug of choice?  Well, what have you got?

I don’t go broke, and I do it a lot

Next is the title track “Dirt.”  This is the most horrifying of all.  The song takes the point of view of someone so smacked-out that they no longer care about life or their friends and family.  The song is about wanting to commit suicide out of revenge for how he got to this place.  He clearly blames someone; an ex-lover, a family member, a friend, and he wants them to feel as badly as he does now.  It’s pretty sick, and I will admit that I always pass this one over when I listen to the album, which is too bad, because the music is quite awesome!

Next is “God Smack”, which on the surface is a clear ode to heroin. Staley takes it a little deeper, though, and makes heroin his God.  In the lyrics, he knows that heroin will kill him, and he even admonishes himself for trying it in the first place.

What in God’s name have you done?

Stick your arm out for some real fun

So your sickness weighs a ton

And God’s name is Smack for some

Staley knows what he has done, and now he knows that he is powerless to change it at all.

“Hate to Feel” continues the theme, but goes even deeper into Staley’s addiction.  This is the first of two songs that Staley wrote entirely.  Here, he takes his self-loathing to new highs.  The song is about not wanting to feel anything.  It is unclear if he started doing drugs to blot out some old pain, or if the drugs have made him numb and now he hates to feel anything (meaning the drugs have worn off and he needs a new hit).

Used to be curious, now the shit’s sustenance

Horrifying!

The last of the autobiographical songs by Staley is “Angry Chair.”  In this song, Staley seems to vent his anger at anything that crosses his path.  He hates his addiction, but it is now all that he wants to do.

Little boy made a mistake, Pink cloud has now turned to grey

All that I want is to play, Get on your knees, time to pray

He refers to the record company waiting for the album to finish, and that he freely admits to imbibing on the job anyway.

Corporate prison we stay, I’m a dull boy, work all day

So I’m strung out anyway

He now realizes that no one can relate to what he is going through.

Loneliness is not a phase, field of pain is where I graze

Serenity is far away

This song is not about the drug itself, but the mind of the person who lives with addiction.  It is about personal struggles, and the realization of what he has become.

Dirt is not exactly a concept album, but the drug songs follow a pattern from trying to clean up (Rain When I Die), to the gradual descent toward accepting one’s fate (Sickman, Angry Chair), to the eventual death of the constant user (Would?).  The non-drug songs fit perfectly with the drug songs due to the tone of the music, and the aforementioned gorgeous vocal interplay between Staley and Cantrell.

I will freely admit that I only listen to a few of the songs from this album on a semi-regular basis.  There are clear classics, like Would?, Rooster, Them Bones, Rain When I Die, Down in a Hole, and Angry Chair, but the darkness of the lyrical matter is too much for me these days.  Back in the day, I listened to this album all the time, but I guess I like to be happier when I listen to music nowadays.

However, I will not dispute that this is a brilliant masterpiece of an album.  Just don’t listen to it when you are already depressed!

4 Comments

Filed under Music Reviews