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

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