There will never be another Van Halen. No player before or since will have the ingenuity and influence he did. From modifying his own guitars and amps to achieve the perfect “brown sound”, to brutalizing the strings with a drill, he was an innovator. He was the most important of all the guitar innovators. And he sheepishly grinned through the whole thing as if to say, “Who, me? I did that?”
The week Eddie passed, we did a tribute to him on the LeBrain Train. You can watch that tribute below, starting at the 20 minute mark.
As if that wasn’t enough, we followed that with another Van Halen show: VH deep cuts! One thing for sure, Eddie certainly inspired a lot of conversation on the LeBrain Train over the past year. You can watch the deep cuts below, starting again at 20 minutes.
Let’s all take a moment to reflect, and play some Van Halen tonight. Tonight, I’m going to go with “Dirty Movies” from Fair Warning to spotlight the greatest gee-tar picker of all time. What song or album will you play for Eddie tonight?
A hearty thank you to Kevin / Buried on Mars, Aaron / Keeps Me Alive, and Eric / Uncle Meat for appearing on this episode of the LeBrain Train! (Conceiving, in Kevin’s case.) And a salute to Derek Kortepeter for submitting a cool list as well. The subject was Van Halen deep cuts and we brought ’em to ya. Any that we forgot came up in viewer comments. And a great show was had by all!
At the start, Kevin and I killed some time looking at some new arrivals, and talking about the forthcoming new punk EP by Max the Axe. (I have a copy and it is killer.) If you want to skip that and go straight to the lists, then start at 0:20:25.
This is the first Just Listening post for an album I’ve already reviewed in full. I tackled David Lee Roth’s Skyscraper back in 2013, rating it 4/5 stars. However a recent conversation with singer/songwriter Derek Kortepeter led me to try to listen with new ears.
It started with Derek’s message to me. “Unpopular opinion: Skyscraper is better than Eat ‘Em and Smile,” he said. “Better songs, better guitar, tons of awesome synth…when you have tracks like ‘Perfect Timing’ and ‘Knucklebones’ how can you go wrong?” Derek says “Perfect Timing” might be his favourite song on the album.
Derek definitely has some good points. It’s easily arguable that Skyscraper has better guitars. Steve Vai was in the co-producer’s chair, and he layered his guitar parts as if he was building one of his own solo albums. They’re very dense, yet melodically intertwined. As for the synth, he has a valid observation with some songs like “Skyscraper”. That song verges on progressive rock; it’s got so much going on, including synth and layered Roth vocals. However I think the synth was overdone on tracks like “Stand Up“, which doesn’t even have Billy Sheehan on bass.
Skyscraper is an almost absurd album in some respects, with Dave pouring on that “charasma” to the nth degree. There are so many “woo’s” “wow’s” and “oh’s” that you could make an entire song of just that. Steve Vai was the star on Skyscraper, and as I said in my original review, how much you like Skyscraper will depend on how much you like Steve Vai. I like Steve; I think his music and playing is fascinating. Rock fans often don’t want “fascinating”, they just want the riffs and the choruses. Eat ‘Em and Smile was much more about the big guitars and choruses, but it’s also just a fabulous record. Skyscraper is colder sounding by comparison, and often drifts into experimental pop rock excursions. It also suffers for the lack of Billy Sheehan, who wasn’t given a lot of creative freedom. Where there should be bass, often you will hear synth.
Sorry Derek, you have made some really great points, and Skyscraper really is a great album. It’s brave and fun and experimental, but it’s also cold with little bit of filler (“Stand Up”). I’ll always rate it high…but not as high as Eat ‘Em and Smile.
What happens when an experimental avante-garde multi-instrumentalist goes punk? You get Amherst Drive. Derek Kortepeter is best known for his multi-genre solo music in which he plays all the instruments. Naturally with Amherst Drive, he also plays and sings everything himself.
Like all of Derek’s music, Amherst Drive is memorable but challenging. Punk rock? Sure, but “Breakdown”, the first track on his new single, has none of the traditional punk rock melody. Derek has taken his unusual stylings and amped them up. “Better Way” is a ballad, but not an easy pill to swallow. Neither of these songs are easy to digest. Derek may have simplified some things and punked them up, but he has still fucked things up just enough to keep them edgy. Unusual rhythms and melodies are mixed together in very un-punk-like fashion.
Good little debut punk single here from Amherst Drive. Hopefully Derek will assemble a band and give these tunes a stretch live and see where they can go.
We live in uncomfortable times, and Cataclysm is an uncomfortable album. In the liner notes, Derek explains that he wanted to do an album reflective of the current political and social climate. Far reaching issues like mass surveillance and personal trauma. The importance of the message, says Derek, necessitated vocals.
Derek’s an experimental artist that skips gleefully from genre to genre. The first track here “We Are a Lie” begins life as a spacey ambient synth piece, before abrasive layers of guitars assault the sense. Derek moans of painful things in what sounds like possibly the largest echo chamber in the state of California. No prisoners are taken. Derek doesn’t pander or make his music easy to listen to. You have to work for it.
The thought police are on the patrol on the ambient second track “They Tell Us”. Derek mentions Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails as two major influences, and you can hear that on “They Tell Us”, sort of a morph of the two bands. “The thought police tell us we’re safe,” but I don’t think Derek believes them. On “Outcome”, the drums are in the echo chamber too, but it’s stuttery tremolo guitar that I dig. That’s how you have to listen to this album. Find a hook to grab onto, and hang on!
The album is most successful in its ambient synth moments. These are truly beautiful, but I suppose it the contrast between this beauty and the harsh guitars that is part of Derek’s message. On “My Life” he says “I’m controversial, hypocritical.” Then there’s the powerful “Do Not Question”, a seriously emotional collage of historic sound bites. “Every nation has to be either with us, or against us” says Hillary Clinton. “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds” — Robert Oppenheimer. Heavy shit. This merges into “It’s All the Same” an angry rant with an industrial backing track. Continuing the contrasts, “For the Fall” reeks of punk rock with a hint of metal guitars.
Best track: “Respite” which is exactly that. It’s similar in style and function to “A Warm Place” from Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral. A similar track is the beautiful “Nuclear Winter”.
The album will be available via indiepush. If you want to support a daring young artist, this might be the album to buy. It’s sincere and the most direct album that Derek has made to date.
RECORD STORE TALES Mk II: Getting More Tale #333: Social Media
“Social media”, as they call it today, is nothing new. Before Twitter there was Facebook. Before Facebook there was MySpace. Before MySpace there was Friendster, and so on. What has changed is the degree to which we have included social media sites into our lives. They’re already integrated into our phones and software, making it easy to dive in. Some have shunned all social media, and who can blame them? It’s not for everybody to put your life out there, or to see these endless streams of useless info pouring in. If you only have “x” amount of online time a day, it’s easy enough to waste it all on Facebook.
Social media has its ups and downs. Obviously we can now see breaking news all over the world as it happens. We can also see false rumours start like fires, with “re-tweets” and “shares”. You know this and I know this, so I won’t spend too much time commenting on it. Social media can be a brain-killer. It can reduce our teens to near illiteracy, as they spout their “urs” and “lols”. (“Ur” drives me nuts. Is it so hard to type “your”?) Social media must be used wisely, if you choose to partake. To the ignorant, it can have devastating results.
I believe in using social media for myself, but wisely. Here are some positive things that have come from social media:
1. Direct contact with the stars.
The one time I received a message from Sebastian Bach (ex-Skid Row) regarding something I wrote on MySpace about Helix was pretty exciting to me. Now, you can tweet your own thoughts to your rock star heroes, and some of them actually read them! Our good friend Heavy Metal OverloRd received a direct response from David Coverdale of Whitesnake, to his suggestion for a future Whitesnake DVD release. I’ve been thanked or complimented for my reviews and stories by members of Helix, Killer Dwarfs, Harem Scarem and Judas Priest. Dave Bidini liked that my reviews are “different” from the mainstream, and that comment really made me feel great!
The kind of interaction we can have today with our rock heroes is unprecedented. I don’t mean the types who hire a social media guru to do all their online posts. I mean the kind who are hands-on with their accounts. I enjoy having the chance to say to somebody, “I really liked that song.” Music is about communication and it’s nice to have another avenue of feedback.
2. Creating your own social groups.
Here on WordPress, there is a strong, supportive community of writers. Some of us are pros, most of us are not. Quite organically, many of us have grouped together to read, support, and offer feedback. There’s no organization to it, it’s just a bunch of us here who have similar interests and comment regularly. There’s no exclusion. It’s just writers who read and enjoy each other’s work. It’s a great, positive atmosphere that I believe has made us all better writers. Very little negativity seems to happen here.
3. Surprise “follows”.
I’m fascinated by the people who follow me on Twitter. Even though I’d never contacted her, followed her, or reviewed any of her music, Serena Ryder follows me. I don’t know why, but I still think that’s pretty cool. Other surprise followers included Olivia Black of Pawn Stars fame. Leatherwolf followed me, and I’ve been a fan of theirs for a long time. Then, I was followed by local cosmetic surgeon Dr. Takhar. I assume she heard me on the radio, rather than thinking I need some work done…but I could be wrong!
Best for me though, a couple writers I really admire have read some of my stuff, and have left positive comments. That means more than any Pawn Star or plastic surgeon. I really looked up to those two guys when I was starting to write.
There have also been some drawbacks to social media.
1. Too much music.
For every band that I love who has followed me, such as the aforementioned Helix and Killer Dwarfs, there are plenty that I’ve never heard of. Some turned out to be pretty good! But each one would probably like if I had a chance to listen to their music and review it. I only wish I had the time! I have a home life, and I work full time. Mikeladano.com is something I do in my spare time, and it’s something I love doing. I love listening to and talking about music. I wish there were enough hours in the day to listen to everyone. I guess there is such a thing as “too much music”.
2. Haters gonna hate.
You’re going to encounter haters online. Geoff Tate fans, for example, have made a nuisance of themselves here in the past. Worst for me personally were the Record Store Tales haters. Social media meant it was inevitable that Record Store Tales would be read by people who didn’t like what I wrote, or that I wrote anything at all!
Regardless of the drawbacks, I don’t regret using social media to promote mikeladano.com. I’ve made readers out of people who only knew me as “LeBrain” on the radio, and that’s what I was going for in the first place.
If you don’t like social media, I get that. I support your decision to use it or not. Aside from a few bumps in the road, it’s worked well for me to get my stories and reviews out there. It’s part of the online landscape now, like it or not!
A short while ago, I reviewed the debut EPCompilation Vol. 1 by UCLA musician Derek Kortepeter. Since then Derek has put the finishing touches on his first full-length album Stochastic, an even more experimental collection.
Music like this is difficult for me to review as it’s pretty far out from the mainstream. Take the opening track, “Veritas”. The first 45 seconds are the sounds of guitar scrapes and echos, before the grand chords commence. As an opening track, this is both a welcome and a warning: It says, “If you find me intriguing, dive in! But if this is not much more than noise to you, farewell!” Not everybody is going to get music like this.
“Veritas” flows seamlessly into “Burning Embers” which uses backwards guitar as a melodic hook. Heavy, noisy guitars and drums soon flood the speakers. It’s difficult to grasp at the rhythm, but Derek does not make music that does not challenge him. Just listen. Allow the music to seep in, and you will begin to pick up on the melodies and rhythms within. It’s there in the contrasting guitars and keys. At this point I’ll mention that Derek plays all the instruments on Stochastic himself.
“Illusions” plays with odd drum rhythms and mixes guitars with synths into an atmospheric whole. I couldn’t tell you what effects he’s using on his guitar but it sounds cool to me. There’s lots of echo and bluesy playing on “Solitary”. I find that there is plenty to love here, you just have to really listen and let it happen. In particular, even though this isn’t a “guitar album”, I was drawn to that instrument.
“Fusion” is a favourite track of mine. This is a jazzy, upbeat mellow tune with a tropical feel. The piano is a key instrument here, while Derek noodles cool jazzy licks on his six string. Elsewhere (like on “Glitch”), I hear elements of Steve Vai’s fearlessness and playfulness. Steve Vai once said, “Sorry folks, I can’t help myself,” in regards to his experimentation. I think Derek can probably relate.
Another moment I really enjoyed is a multitracked cacophony of guitar and drums in “Solar Wind”. But it’s not just noise. It’s easy to see how somebody could hear it as noise, but there’s a lot going on here. (I can’t tell you exactly what is going on, but trust me, it’s happening. It’s very dense.) Then it goes sparse, with only one guitar, which throws you a bit (in a good way).
Finally I’ll quote Derek from his own website, because I think what he says hits the nail on the head:
“Many records, when they find their groove, bring the listener to a certain element of familiarity. This LP is quite the opposite of that. I want you to react, to think, to be moved, to be jarred, to be confused, and ultimately form an opinion on what it is that you are hearing. Whatever the “Stochastic” system determines for your mind, I can promise that it will be a unique result. This result will not be repeated in the consciousness of another human being listening to the same songs.”
Stochastic by Derek Kortepeter is available at CD Baby, iTunes, and beyond.
According to his WordPress page, Derek Kortepeter is a composer, multi-instrumentalist, and alumnus of the School of Ethnomusicology at UCLA. Already, I’n in way over my head. I already find it hard to talk about instrumental music, but I am not a composer, nor a multi-instrumentalist, and definitely not an alumnus of the School of Ethnomusic-anything. So as a knuckledragger off the street who really only has laymen’s terms at his disposal, here are my thoughts on Derek’s Compilation Vol. 1 EP.
So here we go! “Light Within” is the first song, a track written entirely by Derek featuring a whole lot of unfamiliar instruments. (oud, Chinese gongs, Tibetan bells, Tibetan singing bowls, kora, Andean panpipes, oh my!) Derek plays chunky guitar chords over this, which lends it a vibe similar to the guitar instrumentalists that I like. A Vai-ish guitar melody meanders through. There’s a lot going on here, particularly in terms of unexpected notes. Before the 2 minute mark there’s a blast of shredding, and you know that I do like shredding. There’s plenty of that on this track. So far so good.
“It Begins” consists of some traditional rock instrumentation: guitars, bass, drums, organ. There’s a slow groove, and some really nice bluesy guitars. But the guitars dart in and out of different styles, maintaining the feel. This is a 7 minute long bomber, but it maintains its appeal due to the always-interesting guitar. The third track is called “Omega” is an ambient guitar piece, backed with string-like keyboards. I’m immediately reminded of things like Joe Satriani’s first self-titled EP in terms of sound. Although this track is primarily atmosphere I like it a lot.
The final song is a “bonus track” called “Waves”, also an ambient piece. This one has a little bit more in terms of instrumentation, but the focus is still mainly on the spare guitar chords. About halfway through, there are a series of gongs and cymbals, before the echoey guitar is left alone.
So, in summation: I like this EP. Is it something I fully understand? Probably not. Is it catchy and memorable? Memorable yes, catchy no — you have to listen. Sometimes the guitar melody feels at odds with the backing music. Will I play it in the car? No, it’s not that kind of music for me. But I will play it this fall while going for those morning walks when things are quiet. That’s what this music feels like to me.