alternative rock

REVIEW: I Mother Earth – Scenery and Fish (1996)

I MOTHER EARTH – Scenery and Fish (1996 EMI)

Some albums that mean everything to some, can mean nothing to others.  Take a look at Scenery and Fish.

I Mother Earth’s second album gets a slew of 4 and 5 star ratings on the Canadian Amazon.  Yet I don’t get it and never have.  I was on the I Mother Earth train very early, before their first album came out.  I loved the modern heaviness of the band.  With the tribal and funk influences seeping through, I Mother Earth put out a seriously impressive debut album:  a Canadian classic.  As any band should, they mixed it up a bit on the second album.

In early 1996 I received a promo CD for the first single from the second album, “One More Astronaut”, with the album version and a 4:35 edit.  It didn’t seem too different, maybe just a bit more concise than some of the first album’s longer jams.  This isn’t indicative of the album in general, which is a wild ride of different styles.

The exotic percussion (by Luis Conte and Daniel Mansilla) is still intact, melded with the funk bass, but the overall sound is very different.  Paul Northfield’s production is cleaner and slicker than Mike Clink’s on the first LP.  He still enables to band to exercise their instruments unfettered, but perhaps with a more radio friendly backing.

Although I’ve tried over and over again through the past two decades to let Scenery and Fish “click”, it just won’t.  Other fans certainly have their favourite tracks:  “Like a Girl”, “Raspberry”, “Used to be Alright”, “Another Sunday”.  These are indeed some of the best tracks on the album, yet I struggled to remember how they go.  “Another Sunday”, for example has an incredible blast of hooks for a chorus, but no memorable verses.  Maybe this album is too thick with musical ideas and passages for the average mortal.

But that’s just me.  You might think I’m nuts.  There are those who think I Mother Earth can do no wrong, but fans in general love Scenery and Fish, while I simply don’t get it.  I’ll always enjoy “One More Astronaut” and “Like a Girl”, which by the way features a friend of theirs named Alex from some band called Rush.

2/5 stars

 

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REVIEW: Foo Fighters – The Colour and the Shape (remastered)

FOO FIGHTERS – The Colour and the Shape (Originally 1997, 2007 Sony Legacy edition)

Sometimes, an album is just perfect.  Nothing needs to be added or taken away.  It is simply right the first time.

The Foo Fighters got it right the first time when they released The Colour and the Shape in 1997  At 47 minutes, it was already a bit longer than the average album, but what a towering 47 minutes they are!  There is a reason that The Colour and the Shape is consistently the album that all others are compared to.  It’s that one magical, flawless album that can never be equalled no matter what Dave Grohl & Co. come up with next.

The Colour and the Shape was a product of its time and all the things Grohl was going through.  The drummer (William Goldsmith) was fired mid-way and Dave re-recorded all the drums himself, bar two ballads.  Maybe that’s one reason that the album is so special.  When Dave plays the drums, the energy level goes through the roof and comes out the speakers.  That’s what happens on “Monkey Wrench”, “My Hero”, “Everlong”, “New Way Home” and “Hey, Johnny Park!”, five of the most exciting tracks.  The energy simply cannot contained.  The Law of Conservation of Energy dictates that it all comes out of your body as you rock to this album!

Of one were to give a negative critique to any of this album, it might be Grohl’s screaming on “My Poor Brain” and “Enough Space” among others.  It is true:  Grohl chips the paint with his voice from time to time.  This works though, as an appropriate contrast to the soft melodies of “Walking After You” and “February Stars”.  The album is well rounded.  It joyfully careens from those heavy blasts, to quiet acoustic bits of pop glory.

The Colour and the Shape has the songs, it has the riffs, and mindblowing drums.  It has the vibe, and it reeks of passion.  Whatever Grohl was going through at this time, it ended up in the music.  The production by Gil Norton is a bright contrast to the lo-fi of the debut album Foo Fighters.  It simply cannot be improved upon.  Even the lyrics go full circle.  Listen to “Doll” and “New Way Home” and see if you catch it.

When Sony Legacy added seven bonus tracks, it beefed the album up to well over an hour.  If you listen to the CD as a whole, it completely changes the listening experience, and not in a good way.  It’s Coke vs. New Coke.  Adding essentially a third side of B-sides doesn’t make it better.  It would be advised to collect the original Foo Fighters singles from which these tracks were taken.  And if you do, you’ll get more songs that weren’t included on the Sony Legacy, such as live and acoustic versions.  Of the bonus tracks, the Gary Numan cover “Down in the Park” is particularly exceptional.  The new liner notes by bassist Nate Mendel are quite cool.

The Colour and the Shape is one of the best albums of 1997, if not the very best of that year.  It’s tough to beat and adding bonus tracks didn’t do the trick.  Therefore, The Colour and the Shape gets two ratings:

Original 1997 CD:  5/5 stars

Sony Legacy 2007 CD:  4/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Faith No More – Introduce Yourself (1987)

FAITH NO MORE – Introduce Yourself (1987 Slash)

Faith No More’s second LP (and major label debut) is their only so far not to have received a deluxe or expanded edition.  The bizarre thing about that is that Introduce Yourself is one of their best, totally deserving the honour.  Faith No More have several 5/5 star albums in their catalogue, and Introduce Yourself is [spoiler] one of them [end spoiler].

Chuck Mosley was the singer, a bizarre frontman with a totally unique style and a penchant for putting stuff in his dreadlocks.  One of his lyrics says it best.  On the first Faith No More album, he wrote “They say that when I’m supposed to be singing, all I’m really doing is yelling, oh well…”  Mosley’s stuffy-nose stylings are an acquired taste, especially if you have only heard Mike Patton.  In Faith No More, it worked and set up what Mike Patton was able to do later on.  Mosley is melodic in a bizarre, off key way.

“Faster Disco” isn’t that at all.  It’s mid-tempo Faith No More, in the style they created and mastered.  There is a chunky guitar riff (or two).  There is an underscore of keyboards holding down the melodic foundation.  There is a solid beat, and a strangely catchy multi-tracked vocal.

Faith No More are also known for funky Billy Gould bass beats, and that’s “Anne’s Song”.  Chuck has a conversational vocal, sorta-rapped, sorta-spoken.  It too is strangely memorable, and it was one of two singles.

The title track “Introduce Yourself” is fast and fun, and also lives up to its name!  Chuck introduces the band in the lyrics, but the song is so incredibly fast that it’s over in 1:30.  Too bad, because it’s awesome.  Another style Faith No More are known for is the “dark and ominous” song.  “Chinese Arithmetic” is one of those, a weighty track with keyboards providing glimmers of light.  One of the strangest tracks is the staggering “Death March”, which is also hilarious.  “How much for a transfer, man?  95 cents?  Fuck you, I’ll skate to the beach!  And look better getting there!”

The most famed track is “We Care a Lot”, the most well known single from this album and also the title track from the prior album.  The lyrics were updated and the music re-recorded.  This version is the best one, what with that line about “We care a lot / about Transformers, cuz there’s more than meets the eye!”

“R n’ R” is caffeinated Faith No More, blowing down the doors with hard rapping and riffing.  Then is “The Crab Song”, which Mike Patton once described as a “sad song”.  It has that, and it also has the split personality thing going on.  Halfway in, it abruptly changes into a riffy, bass-slappy stomp.  At almost six minutes long, it’s one of the earliest examples of Faith No More creating mini-epics by assembling seemingly mismatched components.

Introduce Yourself concludes with a pair of fast, impacting song.  “Blood” is carried by a lofty keyboard part, and hammered forth by a relentless Chuck Mosley.  Then “Spirit” is the finishing touch, a heavy-as-fuck Jim Martin guitar riff.   In the back, drummer Mike Bordin is physically assaulting his kit.  Mosley puts his throat to full intensity as the band rips all the way to the end.

Introduce Yourself is brilliant, and it’s easy to overlook it because Mike Patton has since become a dominant presence.  Introduce Yourself is every bit as challenging, intense, unorthodox, melodic and heavy as any of their later albums.  Do not dismiss it; instead make it a priority.

5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Faith No More – Angel Dust (deluxe edition)

Previously on mikeladano.com….

Faith No More’s deluxe edition reissue program began in 2015.  Two years prior to that, we reviewed two editions of Angel Dust:  An Australian 2 CD set with a bonus EP called Free Concert in the Park, and the 2 LP version with a “MidLife Crisis” remix.  For this Angel Dust deluxe edition review, we will be incorporating old text from that review into this new one.  We also reviewed the 2 CD single for “Everything’s Ruined”.  Those tracks are also on this deluxe, and we will borrow text from that review as well.

scan_20170205FAITH NO MORE – Angel Dust (originally 1992, 2015 Slash deluxe edition)

Incredibly anticipated, and massively misunderstood:  Angel Dust separated the fans from the wannabes.  Reviews were mixed.  M.E.A.T Magazine’s Drew Masters awarded it 2/5 M’s and failed to grasp the genius that is the chaos within.  It certainly is an ugly duckling and will take more than a listen to reel in anyone.  Faith No More wearied of the “funk metal” tag and sought to distance themselves from it.  Importantly, Mike Patton dropped the nasal tone he utilized on The Real Thing.  Instead he unleashed his full voice in all its extremes.  With enviable range and power, Patton pushed his capabilities to their furthest limits.  Meanwhile, guitarist Jim Martin and the band were butting heads, and most of the songs were written without him.  Mike Bordin, Roddy Bottom and Billy Gould would send him virtually complete songs, which he then “grafted” guitar parts onto.  In a guitar magazine interview, Martin stated that he thought some of the songs were better before he added his own parts.

Angel Dust commenced with double shot of weirdness:  “Land of Sunshine” and “Caffeine”.  Patton pieced together the lyrics to “Land of Sunshine” from a collection of fortune cookies.  Musically it is dramatic, keyboard heavy and foreboding.  “Caffeine” is dark and aggressive, but is Patton’s first bonafide knockout vocal on the album.  From the ominous, gravelly lows to off the wall screams, Patton delivers it.  His voice knew no limits on Angel Dust.  A year prior, he released the debut album by Mr. Bungle.  There is little question that this must have demolished any vocal inhibitions he had with Faith No More.

The first single “MidLife Crisis” was about as close as it got to a commercial track.  You can certainly hear every nu-metal band in the world (Korn! I’m looking at you Jonathan Davis!) ripping off Patton’s gutteral vocal stylings.  But he lets it soar in the choruses.  The bizarre pseudo-rapped  verses, the samples, and the anthemic, layered choruses all pointed to new directions for Faith No More.  The ingredients had never really combined like “MidLife Crisis” before, although 1991’s “The Perfect Crime” hinted at some of these elements.

Perhaps the most bizarre song (there are many more coming) is “R.V.”  The lullaby-like piano backs a grizzly soliloquy from Patton, via Tom Waits, playing a trailer park trash character.  “Somebody taps me on the shoulder every five minutes.  Nobody speaks English anymore!  Would anybody tell me if I was gettin’…stupider?”  Once the novelty value wears off, it’s still a memorable tune due to the powerful choruses.  Patton nails another awesome lead vocal.  “Smaller and Smaller” returns somewhat to more conventional song arrangements.  A repetitive piano hook backs a hypnotic Patton vocal.  The choruses are a bit on the insane side, and then the song deviates into a sample-laden section of challenging rhythms.  Yet somehow the song remains memorable and catchy.  This is followed by the single “Everything’s Ruined”.  It must have been chosen because it is a solid mix of aggressive rapping with a memorable soul-influenced chorus.  While it doesn’t sound like it would have been on The Real Thing, it’s about as close as Angel Dust gets.

“Malpractice” is one of the most delightfully messed-up tunes on the album, a mixture of disjointed sections, noisy guitars, smooth keyboards, feedback, all simmered to perfection.  By the time Patton’s screaming, “Applause, applause, applause, APPLAAAAAUUUUUUSSSSE!” we’re already clapping.  This song was a Patton baby, which explains it.  Certainly, the lullaby after the two minute mark is designed to lull you in before they hammer you with more guitars, samples and screams.  This closed side one.

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“Kindergarten” introduced side two with the sound of Patton barking thoughts about the ol’ schoolyard.  There’s no guitar solo, but Mike Patton muttering musically into a megaphone fills the void where the solo would go.  This is followed by Billy Gould throwing down a bass solo, and into the final verse.  The weak-willed will shudder before “Be Aggressive”, a graphic series of metaphors about swallowing.  This discourse is accompanied by a cheerleader chorus.  Jim Martin turns in a sloppy, Pagey guitar solo, the only one on the album.

After assaulting the listener with a song like that, “A Small Victory” is a welcome respite.  Its simple but bountiful melodies are perfect to soothe the ear canal.  This is also to prepare you for “Crack Hitler”, another bizarre sensory overload.  Funky bass meets distorted rapping, until it swerves into this weird, evil march.  Patton’s vocals run the gamut from light, to dark and monstrous. Even so, Jim Martin’s contribution “Jizzlobber” is the most extreme song of them all.  It has those creepy Friday the 13th keyboards, heavy guitar riffs and pounding drums, and Patton’s most aggressive lead vocal yet.  You don’t know what the hell he’s singing without the lyric sheet, so just be enveloped.  It’s just a pummeling assault, and unprepared listeners may find themselves overwhelmed and perhaps turned off from the album by this point.

The standard album ended with “Midnight Cowboy” supposedly because of some obsession that Billy Gould had with its storyline.  It’s a perfectly appropriate ending given the rollercoaster ride that preceded it.  It’s you, wandering off into the sunset, too wasted to really know if you’re headed in the right direction.  Just keep walking.  Some editions of the album (including this deluxe) added the cover of The Commodores’ “Easy” as the final track.  There are a couple different mixes of “Easy” out there, and this is one is from The Very Best Definitive Ultimate Greatest Hits Collection.  The horns are missing, the drums have more echo added, and Mike Patton speaks at the beginning.  The song is rendered remarkably straight, and it’s a performance like this that truly demonstrates Mike Patton’s vocal mastery.  The original version (the “Cooler Version”) with horns opens disc two, the bonus tracks.  It can also be found domestically on the EP Songs To Make Love To.

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Also from that EP is the bizarre German-language speed-polka “Das Schutzenfest”.  This is a novelty track, shits n’ giggles, nothing more.  A good laugh but unimportant.  The Dead Kennedys’ “Let’s Lynch the Landlord” was also released on the Songs To Make Love To, but it was originally on a compilation called Virus 100.  Jim Martin wasn’t there and the song is performed as a quartet.  An underwhelming acoustic performance, it sounds a little like the Faith No More of the future as Patton adopts a lower singing style.

The real treasure on disc two and rarest of the all is “As the Worm Turns”, a Japanese bonus track for that long out of print edition of Angel Dust.  “As the Worm Turns” was one of the most stunning songs on Faith No More’s debut We Care A Lot, with Chuck Mosely on lead vocals.  A full-throated Mike Patton re-recorded it for this bonus track.  Sacrilege?  It is the superior version now.

A couple included remixes are only a sampling of what is actually available on singles. The “Scream Mix” of “MidLife Crisis” is the extended, bass-heavier mix from the 2 LP edition of the album.  The “Revolution 23 (Full Moon) Mix” of “A Small Victory” is only one of four versions from a remix EP they released.  Then it is on to the live material, and there are some treasures there.  The live EP Free Concert in the Park, (recorded in Munich) is expanded from four to six tracks.  Mike Patton dedicates “Easy” to “everyone with hemorrhoids this evening!”  The guitar solo spot in “Easy” remains a Jim Martin favourite.  Even heavier and more chaotic versions of “Be Aggressive” and “Kindergarten” follow, replete with surprises.  The early obscurity “Mark Bowen” is another Mosely song given the Patton treatment live, adding his own spin and abilities.  Two tracks are added to the proceedings:  “A Small Victory” and “We Care a Lot” from the same show.  These live versions really hit the spot, as they are really cranked up, and “We Care a Lot” contains a segue into “Jump Around” by House of Pain.  It’s a shame the live recording is so tinny.   These tracks were also released on CD singles for “Easy” in Europe.

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Up next are the four live songs taken from the double “Everything’s Ruined” single, all recorded in September 1992.   “MidLife Crisis” is growly and impressive, and “Land of Sunshine” is amped.  “Edge of the World” is the point when the audience is asked to sing along, with Patton yelling “Fuck me harder!”  The trailer-trash-talk of “R.V.” sounds a little laid back live; something’s missing.  It would be much better with the full visuals of a Mike Patton performance.

The deluxe edition concludes with an outtake finally restored to the album it was written with:  “The World is Yours”.  It was originally made available on Who Cares A Lot? The Greatest Hits in 1998.  Like Angel Dust itself, it is sample heavy.  Marching soldiers and trumpeting elephants join Roddy Bottom’s ominous keyboards in a symphony of WTF.  It is a fully formed recording, with effects-laden vocals fully mixed and finished.  It would have fit the more experimental and anti-commercial direction of the album perfectly, but not without making the album overlong.

Angel Dust, unlike the more successful The Real Thing, has a timeless sound.  It is a once in a lifetime album, a perfect meeting of disparate elements.  Jim Martin was ejected after this, and never again would his heavy metal guitars be grafted onto the sonic experiments of Faith No More.  A pity, but they have since moved on even more expansive sounds.  Angel Dust in some respects can be considered the real debut of Mike Patton in Faith No More.  A triumphant one it is.

5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Faith No More – The Real Thing (deluxe edition)

scan_20170128FAITH NO MORE – The Real Thing (originally 1989, 2015 Slash records deluxe edition)

Fans of discerning taste cried tears of joy when Faith No More, one of the most underappreciated bands of recent times, finally received the deluxe edition treatment.  Faith No More may have paved the way for more popular acts like as Korn, System of a Down and Incubus, but they seemed forgotten by new young rock fans.  These deluxe editions have put their classic albums back on the racks.

Though The Real Thing is the album that launched them onto MTV and contains their best known hit (“Epic”), it’s the only Faith No More album that sounds like this.  Mike Patton affected a nasal tone to his singing that he dropped by the next album.  (Producer Mike Wallace suggests that Patton sang this way on The Real Thing partially to separate Faith No More from Mr. Bungle, who he still had massive loyalties to.)  It’s the most mainstream and most “metal” of their albums, with much of their other material being more abstract, artsy and bizarre.  Though they loathed the term, you can hear how Faith No More were considered “funk metal” from 1989-92.

Opener “From Out of Nowhere” is a living embodiment of its own title.  A keyboard and guitar riff, simple and catchy, pummel the speakers as Mike Patton makes his debut.  Original singer Chuck Mosely was gone and Patton emerged, fresh from the aforementioned Mr. Bungle.  Nobody had ever heard anything like Mike Patton before.  His range and power were enviable, but he clearly liked taking the piss too.  “From Out of Nowhere” was the first single and a brilliant choice for trying to sway the uninitiated.

Of course “Epic” was the big one.  Its timely combination of rap and metal was on the cutting edge.  The lyrics were nonsense* and Patton’s goofy personality shone through.  It was close to the edge of novelty.  Jim Martin’s power chords and harmony leads kept things from falling off.  On the rhythm, Mike “Puffy” Bordin is one hard-hitting drummer, keeping things anchored solidly.  You can really hear the funk on “Falling to Pieces”.  It’s there in Billy Gould’s bass and Patton’s soulful (nasal) voice.  This too was a single, following the smash hit of “Epic”.

Faith No More also crossed over to the thrash crowd with “Surprise! You’re Dead!”.  An aggressive banger like this was custom made for Anthrax fans.  Most importantly, Mike Patton got to show off some of what he is capable of.  The guttural howls, painful shrieks, and insane laughs burrow into your ears.  They are hooks themselves, though certainly not in the traditional sense!  This is a contrast to “Zombie Eaters”, with quiet acoustic sections and intricate picking by Martin.  “Zombie Eaters” does not stay that way, and soon transitions into a rumbling, earthquake riff.  Roddy Bottum’s keyboards add tension, and Mike Patton piles anguish on top of that.  An even more powerful song follows:  “The Real Thing”, 8:01 of light/shade and dramatic performances.

Pop and funk collide on “Underwater Love”, the most accessible song on the album.  It evolved live into something very different, as you will hear on disc two.  Patton did it with more of his own style once they got it out on stage.  “The Morning After” has a haunting vibe, moving into a heavier chorus.  Jim Martin’s guitars are clearly in the metal domain, like the odd man out, but still essential.

The album begins to drift to a close with “Woodpecker From Mars”, the only instrumental.  Roddy has his keyboard set to the “violin” tone, and is the lead melodic focus of this punishing track.  Everything else is a blur of guitars, drums and bass.  Their unique cover of “War Pigs” is next, though pretty straight-laced compared to the live version on disc 2.  Finally “Edge of the World” closes the album with a slow piano waltz completely unlike anything else on the album.

The second disc has a wealth of treasure, though not all the B-sides and rarities out there.  “Sweet Emotion” was released a few years back on The Very Best Definitive Ultimate Greatest Hits Collection, but its original source is a flexi-disc from Kerrang! magazine.  It is not an Aerosmith cover; rather it is an early version of “The Perfect Crime” from the Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey soundtrack.  Two more bonus tracks, “Cowboy Song” and “The Grade” (an instrumental) are also available on the album Live at the Brixton Academy.  Both good songs; “The Grade” really shows off some very sweet Jim Martin steel guitar.  “Cowboy Song” (nothing to do with Thin Lizzy) is good enough that it could have been a single: catchy, melodic and punchy.

Remixes of “Epic” and “Falling to Pieces” are taken from an old two-song CD single, although this remix of “Falling to Pieces” is longer by 11 seconds compared to the single.  They add a bit more echo and other effects as well as some edits.  An extended remix of “From Out of Nowhere” lengthens the song by a minute, by adding more instrumental sections.  Five live songs round out the B-sides and rarities, including two that were chopped from the CD release of Brixton Academy.  (Speaking of which, that’s a deluxe edition we’d like to see.)  “As the Worm Turns” is one of these Brixton tracks, an old essential Chuck Mosely song given the Patton treatment.  Patton’s gurgling during “War Pigs” is a career highlight!   Live BBC recordings of “Epic” and “Woodpecker From Mars” are missing from this deluxe edition, but available on an old 7″ single (“From Out of Nowhere”).

The Real Thing is an essential album.  Its deluxe edition was long overdue, and fortunately most of Faith No More’s catalogue has been similarly beefed up.  It is not perfect, but few deluxes are.  There will always be more to collect.  This deluxe however will scratch quite a few tracks off your lists.

4.5/5 stars

*I recall writing “What is it?  It’s it.” on my English final exam for no particular reason.

REVIEW: I Mother Earth – Dig (1993)

THREE REVIEWS FOR THE PRICE OF NONE!
For Aaron’s review click here.
For Boppin’s review, click here!

I MOTHER EARTH – Dig (1993 Capitol)

Toronto rock fans were ecstatic when local heroes I Mother Earth signed with Capitol and went to record a debut album with Mike Clink (Guns N’ Roses).  The goal was to take I Mother Earth’s long and meandering jams and turn them into recordable songs, and this was a success.  With an intense mixture of metal, alternative, funk, world music and everything else, the debut album Dig was a head-turner.  Loads of exotic percussion mixed with funky bass turned it into slow-burning hit.  Eventually the record buying public pushed the album gold, with comparisons to Blind Melon and Jane’s Addiction.

The opening music, “The Mothers”, introduces a psychedelic bent that continues through the album.  “Listen! To the Mothers!” yells lead howler Edwin, with echoey 60’s guitar behind him.  This is all a fake-out:  “Feel heavy!” are the first words of the next song, “Levitate”, heavy as plutonium plated bullets.  The intense grinding riff and groove of “Levitate” are the perfect example of early I Mother Earth:  heavy, rhythmic and intense.  Edwin’s voice at the time was compared to Perry Farrell, but the two artists are easily distinguished.

The debut single “Rain Will Fall”, not that dissimilar from “Levitate”, focused on the intense heavy rock side of the band.  The complex beats and out-there lyrics are still there, but there is no denying the forward momentum of “Rain Will Fall”.  Either stay out of its way or get swept away; it’s your choice.  Edwin whispers the lyrics until the full-lunged chorus.  They really liked writing about themselves: “Four brothers make the Mothers, four brothers form the one!”  (Drummer Christian Tanna was responsible for all lyrics.)  But check out that funky wah-wah guitar, bass and percussion!  It’s worth noting that guitarist Jagori Tanna played all the bass on the album at the time.  Original bassist Franz had left and been replaced by Bruce Gordon, but that’s Jag playing all the funky shit on this CD.  “Rain Will Fall” has a long open jam section that shows off this incredible playing.

Time to get trippy.  “So Gently We Go” sounds like a 60’s Carlos Santana slow jam.  It was one of four successful singles from the album, in edited form, since the album track is seven minutes.  It’s a delightful journey of joyous vocals, psychedelic flower dancing and hippie jams.  Things turn intense on “Not Quite Sonic”, the most accessible of the album’s tracks.  Choppy guitars and percussion set the groove, then the bass drops in the low end.  “The sights are embryonic, say what you want, I’m not quite sonic.”  No idea what Christian is writing about, but Edwin sings it like he means it.  You can understand how this became a bit of a hit when it was released as a single.  It was great to hear music on the charts that really celebrated skilled playing and composition.

Super-fast paced funky guitar that sounds like Flea playing bass (jumping around joyfully naked) opens up “Production”, the most challenging of the songs. The sheer speed would knock most people for a loop, but I didn’t see that beat-poetry section coming! “Lost My America” is easier to swallow:  Big and grand Cult-like choruses, backed by laid back dusky verses.

The centerpiece of the album is the epic and heavy as fuck “No One”.  More than any, this one song combines all the band’s elements for maximum effectiveness.  The groove will initiate spontaneous leg-stomping, impossible to stop once started.  Edwin is on full intensity with his vocals.  I had this song on an early preview sampler cassette, and I played it relentlessly during the summer of ’93, treating locals to it quite loudly through the car speakers.  “No one leaves the caravan,” sings Edwin, but who would want to leave?  By the time the song has expired seven minutes later, if you are not dripping with sweat, then you haven’t been listening properly.

The album begins to wind down from “No One” to the end.  There are no more mindblowing songs, though plenty of jaw-dropping playing.  “Undone” is the quietest song on the album, stripped down and punctuated by congas and Edwin’s raspy singing.  Then “Basketball” is the funkiest of them all, blazingly fast, and hard to hold on to.  The final two songs, “And the Experience”, and “The Universe in You” blend together in my mind.  Is Dig perhaps overly long?  Ear fatigue sets in.   Your senses have been assaulted with a lot of notes and words to absorb and by this point, it’s overwhelming.  (And there were two more songs dropped from the album, “Subterranean Wonderland” and “Love from Revolution”, the former of which later turned up on a compilation CD called Earth, Sky and Everything in Between.)  “The Universe in You” ends the album on a bluesy Sabbath note, very epic indeed.

Dig is a mighty debut album indeed, but at well over an hour in length, perhaps they should have hung onto some of these tracks for B-sides.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: Sons of Freedom – Sons of Freedom (1988)


 

SONS OF FREEDOM – Sons of Freedom (1988 Slash records)

 

“Never retract, never retreat, never apologise…get the thing done and let them howl.”Nellie McClung 1873-1951

 

Once considered the saviours of Canadian rock, Vancouver’s Sons of Freedom powered their way onto the national scene in 1988 with “The Criminal”, one of the straight-up rockingest tracks to ever emerge from the tundra.  They maintained momentum long enough to beat Nirvana in the college radio charts in 1991 (#1 debut vs a #2 for Nirvana), but Sons of Freedom didn’t fit into a nice “grunge” pigeonhole.  They were too different, too weird, too Canadian.  By 1995 and a mere three albums, they called it a day, but were not forgotten.

What a track “The Criminal” was, certainly sounding very little like 1988.  The bleak music video didn’t look much like the competition.  Crammed into a tiny rehearsal space, the three clean-shaven, short-haired musicians (all named Don for real!) and one long-hair with a British accent (named Jim Newton at first, but he changed his name on every single album!) didn’t look like other bands on the rock scene.  They hooked up with Slash Records, and Faith No More’s producer Matt Wallace, and made a starkly heavy record.  They may have appealed to the same audience as The Cult, a superficial comparison, but Ian Astbury was considered an “honorary Canadian” by many rock fans (he lived in the Great White North for six years in the 1970’s and Cult bassist Jamie Stewart later made his home on the Toronto scene).  But in 1988, the Cult had never recorded anything as relentless as “The Criminal”.

We got love, we got love, we got justice from above.

If any band in Canadian rock history defined the phrase “ahead of their time”, it had to be Sons of Freedom.  “The Criminal”, with its emphasis on that singular groove and strangely hypnotic vocals, could have lead the charge in the 1990’s.  There are solos, but they are clang-and-bang, not shred.  They even had a quote by a Canadian female rights activist on the cover!  Why didn’t they catch?  Maybe it was the fact that they didn’t stand still and repeat themselves.  Maybe it was the singer changing his name to James Jerome Kingston.  Whatever it was, Sons of Freedom didn’t make the impact they rightfully could have.  They even had a song called “Fuck the System”!

The three Dons (Binns, Short and Harrison) lay down massive and strange bass-heavy grooves all over this debut album.  They sound more like industrial machinery than musicians on some tracks.   “Super Cool Wagon” has the concrete foundation needed to flatten all comers, but also boasted a weird “Ah-ooh-ah-ooh-ah-ay” vocal with no words!  That’s the album opener — nearly four solid minutes of heavy rock with nothing but ah’s and ooh’s for lyrics!  Amazing tracks like “Mona Lisa”, “This is Tao” and “Shoot Shoot” are based on the same template.  Smashing monolithic grooves, expertly recorded by Wallace, are topped by the unusual and melodic vocals of James Newton.  The vocals allow you to grasp onto the song, while the undercurrent of the groove carries you away.  I blame Don Binns for the sheer inertia of the grooves, since his bass work sounds to be the driving force of them.

Other tracks explore different directions.  “Dead Dog on the Highway” slows it down but adds a strangely funky Don Harrison guitar lick on top.  “The Holy Rollers” drones on slower than slow, the Smiths on Quaaludes, but again you are dragged along with it.  Pay attention to what is going on beneath the groove, as dischord rules with a balanced fist.  “Judy Come Home” is almost radio-friendly, but “Is It Love” has a stuttery groove that could have been hit material in the right climate.  “Fuck the System” is hard-hitting good-time punk and one of the only songs to have a rocky riff.  The final track “Alice Henderson” is the Sons’ version of an epic as it chugs without rest, leaving nothing but wreckage and waste behind.

Ultimately, I suppose nothing bonds bandmates like a good first name.  The three Dons emerged a few years after Sons of Freedom split, backing Lee Aaron (then simply “Karen”) in a new band called 2preciious and a later industrial project called Jakalope!

3.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Royal Blood – Royal Blood (2014 Japanese version)

ROYAL BLOOD – Royal Blood (2014 Warner Music Japan, three bonus tracks)

Bass and drum duos are all the rage, but it’s all about the songs.  You can do a lot with just those two instruments as it turns out.  Royal Blood’s palette of sound is also of the bass and drum duo persuasion, and they have the songs too.  Their 32 minute (43 minute on the Japanese with bonus tracks) debut album has enough good tunes that you won’t notice there are only two guys playing.  The tunes are all short, tight and to the point.

Mike Kerr (bass, vocals) and Ben Thacker (drums) have been praised by luminaries such as Jimmy Page for this fine debut album.  When someone like Jimmy Page excitedly declares he’s a fan, I don’t care who you are — you gotta check them out.  Royal Blood composed a series of tightly arranged riffy songs, with some serious heft.    Riffs such as the one on “Come on Over” sound nothing at all like bass.  Kerr squeals high notes out of his bass like it’s nothing, all while pouring it all into his singing simultaneously. The dude possesses the pipes necessary to infect his songs full of angst.

Check out the tense “Figure it Out”, their best single so far. Thacker keeps himself busy on the drums, working with the song not against it. Everything these guy do serves the song. “Figure it Out” had to be one of the best rock singles of 2014, expertly crafted for maximum rigidity and plutonium hooks. Every song delivers sturdy riffs, understated vocal melodies, and plenty of taut rock action.

The songs are on such a level that only a few stand out above the others. “Figure it Out” is the obvious one, but a few others impress as highlights. “Little Monster” (also a single) isn’t forgettable, and “Ten Tonne Skeleton” immediately reminded me of Them Crooked Vultures. “Loose Change” shakes things up by going slightly funky with some electronic drum effects. These guys don’t waste their time farting around. They slam you with the riffage, bang bang bang, and they’re done. Of course with a band of this configuration, the songs are composed with plenty of space between the instruments, and that adds to the heft of it all.

When the CD ends after “Better Strangers” we are treated to three Japanese bonus tracks. “Hole” is from the first Royal Blood EP Out of the Black. Its slow Soundgarden-Nirvana grunge is notably less crisp sounding than the album at large, but holy cow — this is heavy shit! Right out of 1992. “You Want Me” was lifted from the single for “Come on Over”. This is upbeat hard rocking fun. The final track “Love and Leave it Alone” is from the “Figure it Out” single, and it may be one of the best songs here. It’s interesting that the bonus tracks offer more variety than the album itself, which is a good enough reason to own them. Each of these tracks is different and deliciously good.

Get some Royal Blood in ya.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: sandbox. – a murder in the glee club (1997)

sandbox. – a murder in the glee club (1997 EMI)

This is a fascinating album.  Sandbox (parsed as “sandbox.” on the album) had come out with a successful enough debut, but what we didn’t know then was how much ambition they had.  For their second CD, they did what most bands usually wait to do, much later on: the dreaded concept album! It is such a gamble to go for a concept album at all, let alone on your second record.

Setting the scene is the title track, “A Murder in the Glee Club”; but is all what it appears to be?  The liner notes state:

“Recorded as in introduction to a play in 1932 by Freddie Corn and the Ohioans, the song has sat dormant on a shelf for the past 65 years.  Shortly after it was recorded, the production was cancelled and the song was never released or published.  The version you hear on this record is the original recording, sonically enhanced and embellished using mordern technology.”

Hmmm.

An online search for “Freddie Corn and the Ohioans” reveals only one hit: an old interview with Mike Smith from the University of Western Ontario, which is only quoting the liner notes.

I always wondered if Sandbox were trying to pull the wool over our eyes a little bit with those liner notes.  You can draw your own conclusions but “A Murder in the Glee Club” does lull you in to the concept of the album:  Altered states of consciousness and mental illness eventually lead to murder.  Then, the murderer becomes haunted by the crimes he has committed.  That “1932 recording” really sets the mood right.

“…to red” is the first proper song on the album, and this is lyrically connected to the final track on Sandbox’s first album, Bionic.  It’s immediately obvious that the production, this time by Don Fleming, is far superior.  “…to red” is a vast improvement sound-wise over anything on the first album.  Performance-wise too; the band no longer sound stiff.  Singer Paul Murray seems less shy, and willing to stretch out his voice.  “…to red” is a fantastic up-beat start, with enough twangy-crunchy guitars to compensate for the pure pop that is the melody.  “I woke up with a different life, I was wondering where I’d been,” and the disoriented lead character is introduced.  This track was written by the uber-talented Mike Smith.  “Spin”, by Jason Archibald continues the story.  “I can’t believe you ran, I can’t believe you wanted out.”  When the character sings, “The Devil was my name,” then I get a bad feeling.  The music is darker, but driving.   The excellent guitar chops of Sandbox really make it enticing.  They leave a lot of space between the instruments so you can really hear what is going on.

“Spin” fades softly into “The Garden Song”, and it is clear that something bad has happened.  “They found you in the garden, arranged smile stained your face.”  While the lyrics are poetic it’s difficult to pay attention to them, because of the imagery they evoke.  The music is absolutely lovely, almost uplifting at times, but this has to be the darkest moment in the story.  “The Spectre”, faster and loaded with tasty backwards guitar, begins to deal with the haunted thoughts of the killer.  This is a duet with Mike Smith on second vocals.  You can picture this guy wandering through some a cold field somewhere, arguing with himself.  It’s an electrifying song, leading into the blitzkrieg of “Melt”.  This is the heaviest song Sandbox have ever done, blasting with a heavy chunk-tastic riff.  “Better stories, a better plan, this guy thinks he’s Superman, I think I’d like to smash his face with Kryptonite.”  I love that line.  There’s an intense feeling of anger.

Forwarding the story, “If I Tell” reveals regret, and delusions.  The killer now wishes he could bring his victim back, but he certainly isn’t willing to confess.  He justifies this by saying that he’s just protecting those whose lives would be impacted by his confession, perhaps family or friends.  Jason Archibald plays what sounds like electric sitar recorded backwards.  Then, “Self-Contained”, the best track on the album steps forth with a powerful, catchy riff.  This was the first song to really jump out on first listen.  “I hate the way I’m self-contained,” sings Paul Murray, wishing he could escape the insanity.  But the really crazy thing is, even though we know what’s gone on before, taken individually anybody can relate to the lyrics.  “I wanna feel the rush, of an electric song, I wanna be in love, it turns me on.”  On first listen, you’re not going to follow the concept of the album completely.  This song jumped out at me, and I always loved the lyrics, even though I hadn’t pieced it together with the rest of the album yet.

“Carry” was a the lead single/video, and an upbeat pop rocker it is.  Guitar jangle and steady beats provide what you need for a hit, only it wasn’t.  (For shame.)  Perhaps it just wasn’t edgy enough for rock fans in 1997, I don’t know and I don’t understand why Sandbox were not absolutely huge.  Jason Archibald’s “Missed the Day” is a beautiful, softer ballad.  The guitar and vocal melodies are ace, but I also like listening to the drums of Troy Shanks.  Brilliant song with its own hit potential, untapped and wasted.

I remember visiting the Calgary Zoo when I was younger.  The most haunting image in my mind was a polar bear named Snowball who paced back and forth, back and forth, back and forth…endlessly.  (Read more here.)  When Snowball finally died, I am sure I was not the only Canadian who believed that he was probably better off.  Watching that bear, having long ago gone insane in that tiny enclosure, pacing back and forth was one of the most difficult lessons Young Me had to learn about our relationship with nature.  “Bear Bear” was not inspired by Snowball, but by a similar bear at the Metro Toronto Zoo.  It fits into the concept of the album only metaphorically.  Musically, it’s quite jagged and drony, in a strangely catchy way.  This is a powerful song!

According to the liner notes, “How I Feel” was written by Mike Smith, and was lyrically inspired by seeing the Spice Girls on Saturday Night Live one night.  He pulls no punches:  “I’ve been watching all the sheeple of the world, Masses flocking to the mindless shit they’ve heard.”  Musically, it’s brilliant and very 1960’s in vibe.  The electric piano brings me back a few decades.  On this song, the lead character simply cannot connect with people — he is baffled by their behaviour, their words and beliefs.  And he resents them.  “Will you even notice when I go?  I’ll be leaving here when I say so.”

The final track for this dark concept album is “A Question of Faith”, with sparse echoey guitars and a plaintive melody.  What you hear and what someone else hears may be two different endings altogether.  You decide what it all means.  The song is brilliant, and emotionally heavy.  Yet it also feels like release.  A great weight lifting.  “A Question of Faith” is as well crafted as everything else on A Murder in the Glee Club.

I have said in the past, that if I had only bought this album in the year 1997, it would have made my top albums list (published in our store newsletter) that year.  Alas, I did not get it until early in the new year.  If I had got the CD in time, it definitely would have been on that list.  It’s truly a shame, but this second CD proved to be Sandbox’s last album.  Mike Smith had no problem finding fame elsewhere, as his career as Bubbles from Trailer Park Boys has certainly skyrocketed!

5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: sandbox. – Bionic (1995)

Part one of a Sandbox two-fer!

sandbox. – Bionic (1995 EMI)

Because it was the 1990’s, and you had to do stuff like this, Sandbox referred to themselves as “sandbox.” with the period at the end.  This being 2015, in this review we’re just going to call them Sandbox.  Sandbox were very, very 1990’s with some melancholy music and an abstract album cover of an apple with nails in it.  There is no reason for this that I can tell.  It may well have just been, “Hey, let’s make this apple look like the guy from Hellraiser.”

Sandbox were from Nova Scotia, and have two really interesting connections.  One, the lead singer Paul Murray is the nephew of Anne Murray, who made “Snowbird” a national treasure back in the 70’s.  Two, the lead guitar player was a talented fellow named Mike Smith.  Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 10 years, then you know Mike Smith as his Trailer Park Boys alter-ego, Bubbles.  I saw these guys opening for the Barenaked Ladies back in 1996 and was impressed by the six tunes they played.

The big hit was “Curious” and it’s still fantastic once you get past the trendy 90’s-isms.  (By that I’m referring to the watery, distorted vocals, lack of a solo, and simple construction.)  But damn, what a song.  All the right parts are there.  The guitar riff works its way into your brain effortlessly, and the band provide all the necessary backing.  Paul Murray is not a singer of remarkable range or power, but his voice works with the music to create a a wave that washes over you.  Mike Smith and the band are more than capable of providing melodic backing vocals.

The problem with the Bionic album was that it had a couple really strong, powerful songs and a lot that didn’t have the same impact.  “Collide” is a good song, but it plods along without enough excitement.  It doesn’t get you moving.   I think a few of these tunes worked better live.  The studio can be a stifling environment, and it took Sandbox an album to really grow in the studio.  “For You” boasts a strong chorus hook, but again not enough spark.

“Decisions”, dark quiet and slow, boasts a great chorus and impassioned lead vocals.  It is augmented by a nice cello part, which works so well for dark tracks such as this.  “Decisions” is a standout on the album, with a big part of that being due to the cello.  More songs on Bionic would have done well with some augmentation like that.  “Grief” is similarly dark, but edgy.  I dig the backwards guitar solo, a touch I have always loved in rock music.  “Three Balloons and a Trapdoor” is the kind of song title I find annoying, but the cello is back.  It’s a sparse little acoustic song without much else going on with it besides the cello.  It sounds like a side closer, and that’s the exact position it occupies on the CD running order.  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.

“Here and There” is the first song that rocks in a while, and it’s very welcome.  It could have used more hooks, but it gets the job done well enough.  It takes advantage of the jangling guitar chords of Mike Smith and Jason Archibald.  Then, “Live” is a fantastic song.  Where sometimes, Sandbox’s songs seem to lack sufficient passion and memorable melody, “Live” completely delivers.  I feel the sadness, and I can swim in the melodic vocals like a river.  “Flux” and “Weatherman” are both OK. “Flux” has a nice hard beat and a chorus I can get into.  “Weatherman” is sparse, acoustic and intimate.

The last amazing tune, on a par with “Curious”, is the incredible “Lustre”.  A simple guitar lick coupled with another killer chorus is all it takes.  A classy acoustic guitar solo just makes it all so perfect.  It’s hard to describe just what makes the song click, but it has clicked with me for almost 20 years, so there must be something good going on here.

The final track is the slow and dull “And the Mood Changes…”, followed by silence and then a strange distorted spoken word bit that always struck me as another 90’s gimmick.  I was wrong, it is actually the first part of the second Sandbox album, which was a concept album called a murder in the glee club.  This spoken word bit is meant to lead directly into the beginning of that album, a story of a killer who is tormented by what he has done.  And speaking of that second album, what an album it was!  Sandbox obviously benefited from the studio experience on Bionic, because what they achieved on a murder in the glee club was something quite special and fantastic.  But that’s another review.

3/5 stars