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.