Sunday, July 26, 2015

What I'm Listening To [Summer 2015]

It's been a while, so I thought I'd make a post with a sampling of some tunes I've been jamming to lately.

 First some housekeeping though, I went through all the old posts and replaced playlists that I could remember from different services with Spotify playlists. I figured this probably is better since most people are using Spotify nowadays, and listens actually support the artists, even if it is a minuscule amount.

 Anyways here's the playlist and a little blurb about each artist/track:

Jen Wood - Fell In Love
Found this singer/songwriter on Bandcamp sort of randomly. I liked it, so I bought it. Just some nice simple piano based pop with some electronic backing. She kind of reminds me of Vanessa Carlton little bit. Plus some of the electronic bits on her album are played by using Game Boy Chiptunes!

Modern Baseball - Your Graduation
Discovered this band through some other artists I like. Very different sound, but still kind of pop-punk-ish. It's a little strange at first, but the chorus is so catchy it gets a lot better with every listen. Modern Baseball actually split vocal duties between their guitar players, but this song features their drummer in the second verse. These guys are part of the resurgent DIY scene and really starting to gain some traction.

Carly Rae Jepsen - Run Away With Me
I've been known to like a pop song or two, my wife shared this song with me and I instantly fell in love love it. I actually like all of the new Carly Rae Jepsen out. Much like this song, it's very 80's inspired with the electronic bits. Oh yeah, and it's catchy. I'm interested to hear the whole album because the four tracks release so far have been awesome.

The Wonder Years - Cardinals
I've probably got three or four posts in mind for this this band alone since I really dug into them earlier this year. The Wonder Years wrote some really emotionally charge pop-punk, often with very personal and sometimes brutally honest lyrics. This song is no-exception with the chorus "So if you call me back or let me in, I swear I'll never let you down again". It's kind of heavy in that regard. Gives me all the feels. This is from their upcoming album No Closer To Heaven coming out in September.

Queen - Scandal
I've been reading the "Queen Chronology" which is sort of a year by year look at Queen was doing as a band. Since I just finished the 80's I went back and listened to 1989's The Miracle given that Queen recorded a lot of material for this album in 1987 and 1988. I think Scandal is one of the more overlooked tracks on the album and definitely a great deep cut. It's pretty representative of what was going on in the band at the time. What with the rumors about Freddie's illness and Brain and Roger's marital problems, I think this is one of the more personal songs for the entire band as a whole that they've ever written.

Allison Weiss - Nothing Left
One of my new favorite artists,Allison Weiss, is coming to town in few weeks, so I went back through her discography to get myself psyched. This is one of my favorite tracks of hers. It's so catchy and it kind of gets you by surprise. By the time I get to "stand closer, get nervous" I'm hooked. The outro is so great too, just building and build and riding out the tune to it's full effect. great stuff.

Friday, January 2, 2015


In November Queen released a new compilation Forever which included three “new” songs (more on why I used quotations later). This marked the first time since 1995’s Made in Heaven that Queen had released new material containing original vocals from Freddie Mercury. It also marked the release of one the legendary tracks featuring Michael Jackson. I will dissect the compilation in a later post, but I first would like to express some thoughts on the three new tracks on Forever. You can listen to any of these tracks with the Spotify link at the bottom of this post.

Let Me In Your Heart Again
                This song, featuring all four original members (including John Deacon who no longer tours or records with the band) apparently already existed in the archives in the form we hear it in here. Brian calls it “a real moment between the four of us in the studio” which makes me think it might have been a later live take. The song definitely has a bit of a jam vibe, it’s a little less polished and the backing track, although not sloppy by any means, sounds a lot looser overall. Freddie’s vocal performance is pretty stellar and loose, which is what I think really makes this the treat that it is. This song would've definitely fit on 1984’s The Works, for which it was originally recorded, I’m guessing that It’s A Hard Life made the cut instead.
                Brian May did re-record this track with his wife Anita Dobson on vocals, which led people to complain that this wasn't really “new” song. Personally I have not heard that version and I do not care to. This was brand new to my ears, and I think that it’s the strongest of the three new tracks on the Forever compilation.

Love Kills (The Ballad)
Here’s where the term “new” becomes subjective for me. Love Kills was originally released as a Freddie Mercury solo track for Giorgio Moroder’s 1984 Metropolis soundtrack in which Moroder used contemporary music to score the classic silent film. Now to be fair, this did begin life as a Queen track, once again the sessions for 1984's The Works. It’s pretty much understood that this being Freddie’s first solo effort, he actually had the band help record the backing track as he fleshed out the song, even though none of their work made it through to the final produced version.
                From what I could gather from the liner notes and a few other sources, this is essentially Freddie’s vocal, with a brand new re-worked backing track, that also includes “Additional Electric Guitar” by John Deacon, presumably from the original backing track used when Mercury was fleshing out the song with the band. Get all that? As confusing as it sounds, I do appreciate that John Deacon is still present on this song, therefore retaining its authenticity as an original Queen track.
                Anyway, this song has been remixed and reworked several times over from its original disco/dance sound. This version does retain some of those elements in the breakdown, but it’s mostly an acoustic re-working. That being said, it takes a few listens to get used to, and to vocal performance isn't really suited to the ballad arrangement. I still prefer the original, but it does make an enjoyable listen, and the song and vocal performance itself is strong enough that the backing track doesn't detract from the original spirit of the song.

There Must Be More to Life than This (featuring Michael Jackson) (William Orbit Mix)
                  Here we have another track that was eventually released as a Freddie Mercury solo track on his 1985 Mr. Bad Guy solo album. Once again this started life as a Queen track during the sessions for 1982’s Hot Space and was later revisited during the sessions’ for The Works, when, who else, but Michael Jackson dropped by the studio.  There are three or four tracks that he lent some vocals to; a quick Google can yield bootlegs recording of the others. Keeping with the theme, this track again features all four original members providing backing track.
                I know Brian said that he was impressed with how modern software like ProTools was able to take bits and pieces of the limited vocals they had from Michael Jackson and Freddie to construct a full song over the backing track. I don’t know if I completely agree. I’m not so disappointed that they released another version  of a song I've already heard, I think I’m more disappointed that it sounds exactly like what it is: pieced together. Freddie’s vocal performance is much better on his solo version and Michael Jackson’s vocals don’t sound “complete”. It’s also very, very over-produced, so much so that it’s distracting. I feel like this might have been an intentional misdirect to account for the lack of source material. Don’t get me wrong it’s an interesting listen, but I think a “demo” version would've made a much more proper and satisfying release, rather than trying to polish up a bits and pieces.   

Overall I feel the release of these three songs was a little anti-climactic. According to Brian, these were the only tracks within the archives that were far enough along to warrant proper release. Let Me in Your Heart Again was amazing, but given what the end product was on There Must Be More to Life than This, that news is rather disheartening. I’m not sure I’d like future generations to see Queen, a band that strived for perfection so much that it’s amazing they finished anything, like that. I’m still glad these songs saw release, unlike most people I don’t think they were necessarily “following the money” (they have plenty of that), I think they just wanted a vehicle to showcase something that fans could call new and keep the Queen name alive. Maybe it’s better we just remain happy with what we do have rather than yearning for what we can’t.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Artist Snapshot: Allison Weiss

Over the summer I had the pleasure of acquainting myself with the music of Allison Weiss, thanks again to another Sound Supply Drop.

I was blown away. Weiss is an artist who could write hook-laden courses, catchy melodies and memorable lyrics and while pouring her emotions out through song. As I listened, I was frequently reminded of Saves The Day, The Starting Line, and The New Amsterdams. Just some serious hooks and excellent songwriting ability.

Her music and lyrics have infected my brain. She's about to crack my top 20 on, to take her place among artists I've been listening to for years. I'd only heard of Weiss before, and I am so glad I finally actually listened to her music. My life is better for it, and her discography became my official soundtrack of the summer.

I could go on and on about what I love about her music, but I think her music speaks for itself.  I put together a little playlist of some of my current favorites. These picks lean on the side of more instrumentation, but her stripped down acoustic tunes are pretty excellent as well. If you like what you hear,  buy her music at her Bandcamp page or at her Official Site. Now LISTEN!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Queen - Live At the Rainbow '74 [Blu-ray]

Last Tuesday the prayers of many long-time Queen fans were answered. Queen’s show from the Rainbow in November 1974 was finally released on video in its entirety in high definition.

So what’s the Big Fucking Deal? Well until now, the earliest officially released Queen concert was from The Game tour in 1981 – “Queen Rock Montreal.” The 1974 Rainbow show is one of the first times Queen was filmed, and still playing deep cuts from Queen I and Queen II.

This was one of those legendary shows known to live in the official Archives.  Hardcore fans were convinced that it was being held from them for no reason other than to spite them. Before I get too off track though, the Queen Archives are a real thing. There’s actually a guy who’s full time job it is to obtain, catalog, and safeguard every single piece of audio and video the band has ever produced.

So does it live up to the hype? Well I think so, but it’s complicated. Rainbow ’74 was the final show on the 1974 Sheer Heart Attack Tour. The set list is unique in that it bridges the material Queen was playing in 1973 and early 1974 which consisted of material from the first two albums, with newer songs from Sheer Heart Attack which would become staples of their live show the remainder of the decade. I think things were moving fast for the band when this show was captured. Killer Queen had just become a hit in the UK, and what we see is a band still doing a few familiar things while experimenting with what they could do with this huge captive audience they had gained.

The band takes a couple songs to get in their groove going. The first two songs, “Now I’m Here” and “Ogre Battle,” while certainly not bad renditions, kind of fell flat for me. However, by the third song, things really get going with a fantastic and energetic rendition of “Father to Son” followed by another great performance of “White Queen. “ “Flick of The Wrist” follows, introduced by Brian as “…the side you haven’t been hearing on the Radio,” as it was actually released as a double-A side with Killer Queen.

Here’s where I have an issue with the track listing,  Although they are listed as separate tracks, what comes next is a medley of “In The Lap Of The Gods,”  “Killer Queen,” “The March Of The Black Queen,” and  “Bring Back That Leroy Brown”. It’s a true medley with only small bits of each song played. Although it’s not surprising in the least, Queen did these medleys often, I wish the release would've actually been listed on the track listing as a Medley and not each individual song. What strikes me as ballsy about this medley is that the band played a shortened version of Killer Queen, their hit single that was getting so much radio play. This I think is even more of an indication that the band saw they had a larger audience and wanted to experiment and showcase more material.

The next section of the set contains a solid performance of “Son and Daughter” which includes the familiar “Brighton Rock “Guitar Solo.  This choice was rather surprising to me, as Son and Daughter would soon just be replaced in later set lists with Brighton Rock.  Here the band is still sticking to what they were familiar with. “Keep Yourself Alive” comes next and includes a Drum Solo. The Drum Solo was more of an interlude than a solo. The drum solo clocks in at under a minute, so I was kind of surprised it was listed as such.

For the next batch of songs, the band then goes all out playing highly energetic versions of “Seven Seas of Rhye,” ”Stone Cold Crazy”, and “Liar”. “Liar” in particular is very well executed here. I always thought the song sounded better live. It has some natural jam-like sections that lend themselves more to the energy of a live show that I feel couldn't really be captured adequately on the recording itself. This was probably my favorite track of the show. “In Lap of the Gods (Revisited…)”  closes out the main set quite brilliantly

The Encore kicks off with a cover of “Big Spender,” a staple of the early Queen live shows, and then right into the blistering loud and fast “Modern Times Rock and Roll” which was always one of my favorites, and here it shines, even louder and faster than the album version. The final song is a cover of “Jailhouse Rock,” and it really showcases what the band was trying to do and would eventually accomplish with audience participation at the climax of the show.

I do have a few complaints about the editing and direction. The cuts are initially awkward and not timed very well. There are also a lot of fades and that last way too long. Fades must have been a big deal at the time because they are used liberally to the point of distraction. For example, at one point we see Freddie playing at the Piano, with the entire shot overlaid with a close up shot of Brian’s Red Special. This lasts so long your brain can’t really decide which one to focus on. Also the first half of the show the cameras are mainly centered on Brian and Freddie. This does get better, but it’s very noticeable that John is not really present and Roger rarely featured for the first half of the show.

Overall, I think it’s awesome that this show saw the light of day and got an official release. The video and audio quality is probably the best you can get out of sources that are 40 years old, and originally only meant for TV broadcast at that.  We get to see the band really just starting to come into their own, playing with a large captive audience for a full headlining set. Although the transitional nature of the set itself seemed odd and a little bit awkward, it’s a real treat to see Queen start to evolve into the live powerhouse they eventually would become.

Artist: Queen
Album: Live At The Rainbow '74 (Blu-ray) [Video]
Year Released: 2014
Label: Hollywood Records

[Audio Counterpart - Includes March & November show]
Artist: Queen
Album: Live At The Rainbow '74
Year Released: 2014
Label: Hollywood Records

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Rainer Maria - Long Knives Drawn

Some of the greatest albums in my opinion are the ones that tell a story. I'm not talking about concept albums, but rather albums that seem to have a start and and end emotionally and take you on a journey. It sets a tone that traces through each track. It makes the individual songs enhance the others by putting their content into context. Rainer Maria's Long Knives Drawn is, to me, an album that does this perfectly.

Rainer Maria were a trio who began playing music together in Wisconsin in 1995. Main vocal duties were split between Bassist Caithlin De Marrais and Guitarist Kyle Fischer, with William Kuehn playing drums. In 1999 the band moved to Brooklyn, New York, which marked a turning point for their sound and perspective. That's where we find Rainer Maria on 2003's Long Knives Drawn, a band and people who've matured and become much more complex.

De Marrais is the primary vocalist on this album. She belts out the lyrics almost in defiance of their originating emotions, but still manages to wrangle in her voice in enough to still sound vulnerable when she needs to. The vulnerability and honesty end up being the focal point of this album. De Marrais makes powerful declarations of  "this is who I am" and  "we're not in love anymore" while at the same time contradicting herself with admissions of "I don't know who I am," and " I miss the love we used to have."  This dichotomy of emotions is a concept explored almost every single track. On the opening track De Marrias even sings "Because Mystery and Misery can sometimes be a call to action, it can be source of passion."

The songs are set against a romantic New York back drop, making references to the traffic on Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in summer, to waking up with a new fling on the Lower East Side. This only enhances the album's theme of personal struggle to find a definition of self and meaningful relationships in the big city. Each song tells a small part of something larger which whether intentionally or not, ends up adding up to a disheartening drama encapsulated in nine short songs.

From the first track "Mystery and Misery", which is all about about new attraction, to the second to last track "CT Catholic", a song full of hope for someone who's found who they want to be with. You are taken through the awkward sometimes brutally honest journey of finding new love in the wake of having loved and lost. Just when you feel like things have turned around though the album ends with the bittersweet "Situation: Relation" and the line "And if indeed this was like a first marriage, then you and I together can be like divorcees."

The end of the album is beautiful but somber, the roller coaster of emotions ends abruptly, almost unexpectedly. But, the last track, the denouement, sums it up perfectly, that moments in life are often more about the journey, not the destination.

Artist: Rainer Maria
Album: Long Knives Drawn
Year Released: 2003
Label: Polyvinyl

Friday, January 17, 2014

Moonlit Sailor - Colors In Stereo

Among of all of the holiday craziness and the busiest shopping weekend of the year, I happened upon the lovely and inspiring album by Moonlit Sailor, 2011's Colors In Stereo. 

Thanksgiving weekend I found an email from Deep Elm Records about their own "drop" on Sound Supply, a site where every week they offer 15 digital albums, in high-quality FLAC or MP3 for $10. Really cool concept. Deep Elm has a good track record, and I've picked up some good stuff from them in the past, so I took a listen to clips from the 15 albums being offered on the drop to see if it was worth picking up.

There were a lot of cool artists, it was a great mix of different sounds, Deep Elm has an excellent and diverse catalog, so I was feeling pretty convinced. But there was one track that stood out to me, the one from Colors In Stereo.  I bought the drop, and couldn't wait for it to finish downloading so I could listen to this

Moonlit Sailor play instrumental rock, but that label alone doesn't seem to do them justice. If I were to compare them to one of the more popular acts in this genre, Explosions In The Sky, which are great in their own right, I'd say the songs on Colors In Stereo sound more urgent, moving, and instrumentally more narrative, as if they traversing several emotions in one song. There's a lot of comparisons I could make, but I the closest I can describe using other bands, would probably be Explosions In The Sky meets Mineral meets The Gaslight Anthem.

A lot of instrumental rock is more "instrumental" than "rock," a lot of swoony twinkling guitars and swirling of sounds building to a crescendo and then falling back down. This is not a bad thing, but sometimes you just wanna roll the windows down and tap your foot to a good beat. Moonlit Sailor delivers on this front. The songs sound like they just want to burst out of your headphones, yes the twinkly guitars are there, but they are accompanied by a powerful in your face and driving rhythm section that fuels the engine of their music.The songs feature beautiful breakdowns, build ups and change-ups that make you pay attention to them rather than letting them fade into the background.

More than once I found myself getting choked up and on the verge of tears when listening to these songs, for no particular reason other than that they spurred that involuntarily reaction in me. Now that may sound cheesy, and don't get me wrong, I do LOVE music, like a lot, but that doesn't happen that often, let alone with instrumental music, let alone on more than one occasion with the same song. This album soars and explodes, but calms and soothes when it needs to, it hits all the right notes at the right times and  builds to uplifting and spectacular vistas of the human soul, taking you along for the ride. This is the album you have that nice pair of headphones or the nice sound system in your car for, it's meant to be played loud, and experienced. It's the type of album that reminds us why we fell in love with music in the first place.

Artist: Moonlit Sailor
Album: Colors In Stereo
Year Released: 2011
Label: Deep Elm

More Links:

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Book Review: Rat-a-Tat-Tat Birds: Photographs by Jeff Winterberg, 1991-2003

Rat-a-Tat-Tat Birds: Photographs by Jeff Winterberg, 1991-2003 by

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'd highly recommend this book to anyone who has been part of a underground music scene. Winterberg does a very sincere and coherent job of presenting stunning freeze frames, alongside some other more personal moments from his time playing in bands and watching them live. Every page includes some text (usually with dates) about the subject and sometimes a small anecdote. Winterberg effortlessly and earnestly captures the intensity, friendliness and sometimes weirdness of a live performance experience through his imagery and recollections. Truly a real treat for any underground music fan.