Sunday, November 12, 2017

Teksti_TV_666--- From Finland, With Love & Guitars

Has anyone checked on Finland lately? Something terrible has happened! Maybe something wonderful! The land that once gave us such artists Tasavallen Presidentti and Jukka Tolonen is once again exploding musical myths, such as how many guitars you need in a band and how much coffee is too much. How many guitars do you need? One? Two? Three? How about five, like the infamous Blue Oyster Cult who prided themselves on at least one song which had five guitar playing ducks lined up on stage? Well, in a fit of Finnish pride, Teksti_TV_666 sometimes lines up six. And when they do, it has to be like one of those tuba playing fests where 100 or so tubas blanket the town square for Christmas carols or marching band music. Oompa's all around, eh?

These guys prefer to storm the stage with guitars and amps, sawmilling their way through outlandish pieces of surf tunes, buzzsawing their way through bits of metal, thrashing their way through a plethora of proto-punk (don't ask me what that is, I just read it somewhere), post-punk, modern post-punk, and punkety-punk-punk, for all I know. The sound is dense, the music intense and the feel ranges from rocking to uplifting to downright oppressive.

It has taken me awhile to absorb what they are doing, probably due to the way it was recorded. At first, I thought they might have blown the session all to hell, the sound dense enough to drown a person on a foggy day, the vocals subjugated and guitars on overdrive, but multiple listens have me realizing that they meant to do it. They wanted a wall of sound. They wanted to bowl people over. They wanted people to dance and go crazy and immerse themselves in the moment. It is their thing... their charm, even if it is Maxell man crazy. And at moments it truly is, five guitars wailing, a couple sounding like screeching cats in an odd avant-garde way. But it is cool. There is a pulse and it gets beneath your skin. Sometimes you feel like shaking and sometimes you feel like dancing and sometimes you just want to line up and bang your head. Yes. It is way cool.

Makes me wonder what else Finland has to offer. Gary Heffern was born there and is presently on the frozen tundra. He talks about the cold a lot. Maybe headbanging is a way to stay alive. Maybe the lengthy days and beyond-freezing nights make you a little crazy. To listen to Teksti, you might well think so. Think of it. Minus-degree temperatures at night, a Quonset hut and a hundred of your best friends and enemies awaiting the coming onslaught. You know those shots of bands and dancing crowd in a steamy environment you see all the time? You don't need dry ice or smoke machines to get that effect in Finland. Just plop Teksti in there and let the crowd go. It will get plenty steamy in no time.

And, in case you're interested, their latest album is titled 1,2,3.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Sam Marine--- Rockin' the Big Dark City

You need more than five songs to dent ears when you're playing mainstream rock but five is all Sam Marine had and for most it will be enough. The approach was a simple as it gets--- guitars, bass, drums and organ--- “just about as meat and potatoes as it gets,” according to Marine. A lot of guitar, one played by Marine and the other by Brian Whelan, who also tossed in some organ here and there.

While Whelan has had recent success as both an artist and producer, he is smart enough to get out of Marine's way to let him do his thing. His thing is crunch and hook, not unlike artists such as Springsteen, Bon Jovi and the like--- not formula but familiar. You want to rock, Marine will give it to you, pulling out the acoustic to break the monotony (as on “I'll Soon Be Gone, where the guitar finds a loping groove to ride--- with extremely tasteful slide work by Whelan).

There may be only five, but they are a solid five. “Big Dark City” sets the pace with midtempo guitar crunch, “Dawn Come and Gone” powers up the beat, “Freeze em Out” rides the thin line between Springsteen and the Hi-Fi period of ex-Pavlov's Dog David Surkamp before giving way to the tasty acousticity of “I'll Soon Be Gone.” Marine saved a special song to end the EP, a tribute to a friend known as “Mike Lee,” who I would have loved to have known. “He died of an overdose,” Marine said on his one-sheet, “but it's not about that. This song is about what a good guy he was and how he always had your back. He was who I would like to be, the lyrics embracing the man (“If you get along with him, you'll get along with me--- and if you got time for one, we got time for three--- now to the other side of town, with the solitude you found, and all the way back again, Mike Lee”).

In a world in which you might think mainstream rock has all been done, Sam Marine makes it that much better by playing it simple, honest and true. Maybe five songs is enough. Maybe I'm just wishing for more. Five will do for now. Let's hope it is long enough for music fans to adjust their ears. You can hardly find a song out there these days without a fiddle, banjo or mandolin. This is good enough, though, that it might just break through.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Chris Milam--- Kids These Days

Sometimes you just know.  It didn't take more than one listen to Kids These Days to convince me. Chris Milam's voice rides the edge of John Denver's, the very slight tremelo embellishing a song which could easily have been a hit in any of the decades since Denver dominated radio and TV in the seventies. And, sure, it is somewhat of an anomaly, but Milam is not one to cop another person's sound or aura. It just so happened that the voice (and song) has that sound, nothing more. I mean, others might be happy to sound like everyone else---God knows there are enough in the tribute and vocal competition game who are trying to do that--- but Milam has the music in him and he takes it wherever it happens to go.

He is more upbeat than Denver which turns out to be a good thing. After Kids he bounces from one to another of his originals, each written and performed to semi-perfection, or so I think. (Semi- only because perfection is unattainable) There is magic in the grooves here--- All Of Our Ghosts a mid-tempo ballad of sorts, helped along with what sounds like string ensemble; Autumn a slow-rocking tour de force of emotion and voice; Tell Me Something I Don't Know a march-tempo rocker; and an album-ender of which John Denver would have been proud--- At the End of the Day--- a soaring and all-too-short piece (1:23) which wraps up a very impressive collection of songs.

It is not just the voice, though Milam has one of the better voices I've heard in some time. It is the heart. You don't write music like this without one and judging from the quality of the songs his is a good one. Love, life, heartbreak, wonder are all topics he touches upon and very well indeed.

Look, I debated whether to even mention Denver. So many of us old fogies are so staid in our ways that we hardly even notice him these days except for the most hardcore fans. But Denver was a good guy and talented as hell, whether you like his music or not. Only time will tell whether Milam meets the requirement for sainthood, but he sure does when it comes to talent.

The album is titled Kids These Days, after the song. I recommend it wholeheartedly if you like mainstream pop/folk/songwriters. Hell, I even recommend it if you don't.

Added bonus--- this is one beautifully produced album. Worth it for that alone. Seriously.  

Quicksilver Daydream--- A Study in Psych

This would be easier to write if everyone had lived my life, for music was a large part of it. I grew up in the Fifties and Sixties and have since seen the ups and downs of musical trends most of you cannot imagine because while the oldest amongst us loved music, theirs was filtered through jukeboxes and radio stations and a few friends who had the desire to hear more and share. So while everyone shared the Beatles experience (we could not get away from it, in fact), the overall effect missed on a massive scale. We remember the hits but few remember the scene except as described above. Most never experienced the listening parties or the hanging out at record stores or the afternoons and nights of the lesser and unknowns played through headphones, the world inside all that mattered. That is what music was to the few and, like scientists immersed in science, we learned. We learned music and its many different paths but mostly we learned how to listen.

And I have been listening to Quicksilver Daydream's Echoing Halls for some time now. What started out as a simple folk/psych album has turned into a full blown experience. Each listen has peeled back a layer and the sounds, as many as there are, are beginning to make sense. Allow me to list what I have heard--- early Jefferson Airplane, The Soundcarriers, The Kingston Trio as heard through the experience of a monk's abbey, Anthony Newley, music fit for Broadway, a sixties junior high rock band, theme music for cinema, Sage Run, John Stewart, and Godley & Creme. And I'm not done yet.

Confusing? I should hope so. Those references came out of ten+ listens and in sometimes short bursts, the sound coming together sometimes for a measure, sometimes for a chorus, but there nonetheless. Don't confuse what I heard for influences. Chances are that The Daydream, who is actually none other than Adam Lytle, has heard only a few of the artists and did not set out to insert something akin to a theme for a hobbit-like or spaghetti western movie. These things just happen. Sometimes organically, and I am assuming that that is the case here, Lytle entering the studio with nothing more than an idea of the sound he wanted on some of the songs, the others solid in his head and creative heart.

In the end, what it all boils down to is psyche, the sound dense and lo-fi, thanks to extreme use of organ, mellotron, reverb and echo, and the sometimes monk-like choruses. Expect nothing flashy. The sound is the key and it is a good sound for those who dream in quicksilver, the mind loose and free.

Bottom line: I like this. I like this a lot. There are surprises throughout and I am enjoying every single one of them. There are caveats here though. Don't expect The Moody Blues or Pink Floyd. Expect the music to change on each track and even within certain tracks. Listen with an open mind, no expectations. Follow those guidelines and you might find Quicksilver Daydream much to your liking.

You can stream the album here. And don't be a needle-dropper (a person who listens to five seconds of a few songs before throwing an album on the trash heap). Give it a chance. Give yourself a chance. This could be one of those albums you might never have heard but for your adventurousness. One of those which shows you that music is only as dead as the person who listens.  

Friday, March 24, 2017

Bravo Max--- Milking the Seventies (and Beyond)

Satin Whale. It took me a while but that's what the opening track of Bullfighter Blues brought to mind the first time I heard it. Never heard of them? Think the jazzy side of Krautrock back the the early seventies. Satin Whale was one of the Brain Trust--- the many German bands which became import classics on the Brain label: Grobschnitt, Thirsty Moon, Neu!, Cluster, and Guru Guru. Some damn fine stuff came out of the Hamburg-based label and Bravo Max, had they stayed with the sound of “Prelude to Clean Slate” could have passed as Brainy, but they didn't. And couldn't. They have music to make.

The music they make, at least on this latest release, is hardly that narrow, the trio reaching out to a string of seventies bands, either knowingly or otherwise. I loved the late-sixties and early-seventies for the wide-open attitude toward music. And not just the hits. I loved the deep, deep tracks by the lesser- and unknowns, the bands few remember but about which there seems to be new interest. If there wasn't, there would not be a Brain box set on the horizon.

Bravo Max is not the only band out there playing loose with the sounds of the past. Hell, I'm pretty sure most don't even know the sounds are of the past, but I can point to Cinci's Mad Anthony as fellow envelope pushers. I'm sure there are others but just none which come to mind at the moment. I love what they're doing, though, and couldn't be more thrilled with Bullfighter Blues.

I hear bits and pieces of May Blitz, Sir Lord Baltimore, The Groundhogs, Jukin' Bone, Damnation, Dust, and others. The thing about these bands is that there was no perfection in their music. They played with abandon, either not having the deep pockets to perfect or preferring to not. Their vocals are hardly perfect but somehow perfectly fitting. Their bedrock grooves allow the guitar room to move, and move it does. They play everything from the jazzy (“Prelude to Clean Slate”) to the punchy (“MI-5's Alive”) to the semi-psychedelic (“Shake Loose Paranoia”) to latent R&B/Soul (“Clean Slate?) and do it with a flair you seldom hear anymore.

I guess you could also call the entire album prog, too, if you want to. They certainly do not live off of major chords most of the time and they change time signatures on certain songs like newborns change diapers. Neither quickly nor smoothly (what the biz sometimes calls “tight”) but openly and honestly. They give the music, warts and all.

Favorite tracks: “Prelude to Clean Slate,” though it certainly could be longer (it clocks in at a mere 1:32); “Clean Slate,” thanks to its R&B groove and horns; “Raise a Toast,” a cross between real seventies rock and what the major labels would have preferred; and “Black Sugar,” for the rhythm and chorus. Good, good stuff.

There is an awful lot of good music thus far this year but this one is special. I can see myself playing this as a palate cleanser, an album to clear the standard out of my ears, to clear the head. It might very well take one of the top spots the course of this year, it being just far enough outside the envelope to make a real dent.

And to think I almost passed this one by. Man, am I happy I didn't!  

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Highlight Bomb--- Acing Their Finals!

(Originally written in 2012, the year the album Finals was released.  Which doesn't make it less viable.  The album, in fact, is one of those which stands the test of time very well.  This reprint courtesy of a brand new release by the band--- Slobberknockers, which I will review as soon as I take care of this...)

Ladies and Gentlemen, from Seattle--- Highlight Bomb!

I mean well. I started meaning well on the Net by bookmarking things. There was never enough time, I thought, so I would bookmark pages in the hopes of getting back to them later. Soon, I had hundreds of bookmarks (and still do). My sister, when checking her email on my computer one day, asked me why. At that time, I could not think of one good reason. In the back of my mind, I always hoped to get to some of them.

Last week, I clicked on a page for a band calling themselves Highlight Bomb. I have no idea where I found the link, whether it was passed along by a friend or just popped up one day on one of my many searches and I, always interested in things Seattle, saved it. After listening to a few of the songs, I regretted not getting to them right after bookmarking. These guys are not only good, but diversified, musically. They crank and boogie and metal out extremely well indeed, with the occasional pop tune thrown in for good measure. To make up for losing them in the mountainous pile of projects I wish I could get to but somehow seem to not, here are a couple of videos and thumbnail reviews of songs left behind but now getting ample listening time. I’m impressed.

Okay, they’re really from Tacoma, but seriously, would any of you looked had I said Tacoma? Fewer, I will bet. Maybe a lot fewer. Such is the power of a music scene. While Seattle and Tacoma have always shared a scene, mention Tacoma and you get a blank stare. Except from Sonics and Wailers fans. The thing is, these guys are good! And the sense of humor doesn’t hurt. Allow me to give you a blow-by-blow description in case you’re strapped for time (or are just an idiot who whines about music being a thing of the past but who won’t take a couple of minutes to click and listen to something new and good):

No Empire— Is this grunge? Truth be told, I stopped listening as soon as people started calling it grunge. All of those bands you loved to listen to like Mudhoney and Alice In Chains and Pearl Jam and Nirvana were just rockers to me. Maybe a little more angst-ridden, but just rock. This is a guitar-driven song reminding me a bit of a toned down Ticktockman or a King’s X. A little more basic with more standard hooks. I dig it.

Fall Classic— leans more toward the power pop side of the street. Fountains of Wayne with less production. Great track. Good hook.

I Don’t Mind— Wait! Acoustic? Yep. These guys do it all. Outstanding acoustic pop, in fact. Normally, I would complain because I am not a huge fan of acoustic— it has been overdone a bit—- but I dig all music when it is done well and these guys do it well. I like this a lot. Even with the strings (or is it only cello).

Devolver— Now we’re talking! A step into Freedom Hawk territory. Crankin’ hard rock. In fact, this song sounds a lot like the Hawk, a band I’ve been following for some time now. Crunching rhythm guitar, heavy beat. Just to compare:

Wow Culture Lovers— This starts off like a speed metal prelude, but settles down to a solid hard rocker. Whoever writes their lyrics has a nice touch. It comes through on all the songs, but I especially like the lyrics on this one.

Chalk It Up As a Good Memory— Chunky rhythm guitar and power pop. Great combination if you ask me. This one is upbeat and powerful. As with all of HB‘s songs, they are recorded loud to be played loud, as the old LP stickers used to say. And I love me a little guitar feedback now and then.

The Storm— These guys love their hard rock. This one, Toto, is right now my favorite. Heavy rhythm guitar with seventies hair band vocals and a slower beat. Had Cinderella played this at the one concert I saw them play, I wouldn’t have blinked an eye. But I like these guys more than I ever liked them.

Coal Rush— What the hell? Speed Americana? It’s like speed metal with a banjo or something. Dig the chorus, but think it will take a bit of time to adjust. Interesting, to say the least. And is that a female voice I hear? Damn! This is really good!

Bury You— Of all the song titles on this page, I would have thought this the hardest of them all with the exception of The Storm. This is mainstream rock and nothing like the other tracks there. I’m impressed! I think I’m ready for that ode to pretentious bands of the late seventies now. Except this isn’t pretentious at all. I would take this over most of the inane bands I’ve heard over the years anytime. Good track, but a surprise!

1-800-FIGHTUS— I knew they would get there. Screaming punk. I can see the saliva dribbling down the singer’s chin now. Very cool.

Seriously, if you have an adventurous bone in your body and like power pop/metal, these guys could be the sleeper of your collection. The more I hear them, the more I’m liking them. Bombs, and whoever sent me the link to this page, my apologies for not paying attention. You have earned your slot in my rockin’ hall of fame (small letters intentional— can’t be getting sued by those wankers in Cleveland now, can I? Now with my bank account).

These songs are not on the Finals album but they will give you a good idea of who Highlight Bomb are:

Frank O. Gutch Jr.