Derek Kortepeter

GUEST REVIEW: Van Halen – Balance (Derek Kortepeter vs. LeBrain)

VAN HALEN – Balance (1995 Warner)

By Derek Kortepeter

I was perusing Mike’s blog like I sometimes do (what can I say, I’m a fan). I stumbled upon his review for a Van Halen record that means a lot to me, and frankly, is the one I love the most among all of the Hagar years AND Roth years. I was really surprised with just how harsh Mike was on what I’ve always regarded as the pinnacle of Van Halen’s creativity and musicality.

After discussing it with Mike, I decided to write somewhat of a rebuttal to his 3.75/5 review.  I plan to try to explain why this record means so much to me as a Van Halen fan and professional composer/musician. I will quote from the original review to make this sort of sound like a discussion rather than me just being a dick and touting my opinion as better. If anything, I just want detractors of this record to give it another view and possibly a second chance.

Ready? Let’s go!


Balance takes Van Halen into a highly polished, commercial direction. This is “balanced” with heavier grooves and a couple more “serious” lyrics.   The result turned out to be one of Van Halen’s most pop outings.

Right off the bat I will disagree with you Mike. I argue that this is Van Halen’s most EXPERIMENTAL outing since Fair Warning. The melodic phrasing and song structures on some of these songs are incredibly progressive, and additionally, I believe that there are enough instrumental pieces that push what people’s perception of the band could be.

As for the polish, that isn’t a negative, the band has never sounded better. The way Alex tuned his drums is brilliant and crisp, Eddie’s tone never sounded more varied (at least until Van Halen III), and the band sounded incredibly tight and focused (Mike’s bass in particular is fucking blistering). The record being heavy is 100 percent a positive as well, as this applies not only to the slamming instrumental but also the lyrical content.

This is hard rock, metal, and avant-garde with pop overtones. Not pop.

This is “The Seventh Seal”, and Sammy’s voice is in top form. Michael Anthony’s bass rolls and hits the notes at just the right moments. This is truly a great song, completely different from Van Halen of old, but surely a triumph.

No argument from me here. The Buddhist monks chanting in their low vocal register leading into Sammy’s fever dream about the End Times as described in the book of Revelation is a beckoning call to fans that Van Halen is in its most mature incarnation. Balance is established right off the bat as a theme involving spirituality, but that isn’t the only type of Balance pursued in the record. I see many of these songs as mirrors of one another, focusing in on a true sense of balance. I will extrapolate on this as I go on.

“Can’t Stop Loving You”, is an embarrassing foray into pop. While Van Halen wrote pop stuff before (“Love Walks In”), this song lacks cojones of any kind. The guitar is really thin, Alex Van Halen cha-cha’s his way through the drum fills, while Sammy sings a lyric that David Lee Roth would have used to wipe his ass.

Hoo boy. As I have already stated, I think the production on Balance is brilliant so we won’t retread that issue here. I always found this song to be sad, to me it is about the kind of longsuffering love that only couples who have been together for decades will understand. It shows an evolution in Van Halen’s views on love, which before were often juvenile in the sense that it was more about the start of the relationship before things get hard. The theme of commitment never really factored into the equation until this track, just the hormones in your body exploding when love is raw and new to you. David Lee Roth could never have come up with something like this, ever.

“Don’t Tell Me (What Love Can Do)” is anything but a love song. Sammy tackles drugs, faith, youth in crisis, and the 1990’s. Hagar has never sounded more foreboding, or mature for that matter. Eddie’s riff is simple, but dark and rhythmic. Michael locks onto the riff, creating this unstoppable wall of groove.

We agree here, this song is fucking genius in its execution and is the closest to metal Van Halen get until they write “Humans Being” a little later. Also here is where we begin to see the theme of Balance, which I argue permeates the record, take shape. The prior track is about a fulfilling love, this track is about the absence of love and how the dejected react in situations of pure despair. Pay attention, pretty much every song on the record has a directly opposing relationship to the song that it follows.

There is nothing wrong with this mid-tempo rocker (“Amsterdam”) with spare Eddie riff, except the lyrics.

Look the lyrics are in a party song, which as I recall, are not required to be Shakespeare. Do you really think that any DLR era gems known for partying like “Take Your Whiskey Home” are any more profound? Lyrics aside, this song is setting up another element of Balance by exploring sins of the flesh and addictive behaviors that can be found in so many cities. It is about losing control and giving into your desires, especially in this case with regards to alcohol and drugs. This is one part of the Balance equation, as the next track deals with sins of a different kind. Greed.

I’ll give VH a C for trying, but “Big Fat Money” is a C+ at best.

“Big Fat Money” is a raucous psychobilly freakout of a song. Every member of the band loses their fucking mind by giving all their energy into this burner of a track. Sammy shreds his vocal chords as he rapid-fires phrases, Eddie brings up-tempo blues and ragtime sounds to the forefront, Alex plays double-time almost punk rock beats, and Michael Anthony just slays you with his furious basslines. Furthermore, the element of Balance in relation to the prior track is the other most focused-upon sin in society (Greed). The song shows the destructive nature in a way, however, as you feel like the lyrics hint at somebody losing their mind to their desires that began in Amsterdam and continued to spiral downwards into pure insanity. The balance is the lure of desire and then the destructive after-effects of such desire.

“Strung Out” is a jokey opener to the ballad “Not Enough”.

I look at this track as an example of “chance music.” Much like the music of John Cage and other contemporaries of his, the aleatoric nature of “Strung Out” is based on numerous factors. It is essentially Eddie fucking around with piano strings, but it isn’t a joke in my opinion. If anything, it shows Van Halen willing to ask their listeners what music is, and more importantly, what they should define Van Halen as. It is in every way an experimental, not pop, foray into a new direction.

That fades into “Not Enough”, another ballad… Tunes like this made Van Halen seem completely out of touch with what was happening in the 1990s. Within months of its release, Shannon Hoon would overdose, Layne Staley locked into a dance of death with smack, and Richey Edwards of the Manic Street Preachers went missing (presumed dead) after suffering long bouts of depression.

OK, a lot to unpack here. “Not Enough” isn’t a conventional ballad at all. It is about love and, more importantly, the loss of love. It doesn’t show a band out of touch at all, if anything, it shows that they are more in tune than ever. “Not Enough” is about the heart wrenching aspect of loss of someone you love. Period. The music video is somber and yet it also gives you hope. Eddie’s chorus-washed solo is a work of genius and as a whole the song remains the most mature expression of love and loss that I can possibly find in their catalogue.

As for the mentions of Layne Staley and Richey Edwards, I feel that I must interject that Alice In Chains and Manic Street Preachers are two incredibly important bands in my life. Layne spoke to my pain as a longtime sufferer of mental disorders and Richey looked at the world in the same cynical way that I do (plus as a Welsh-American, the Manics are a part of my culture and thus very important on another level to me). This is frankly a low-blow to the album that is unwarranted and patently false.

 “Aftershock” is another hard rocker, nothing embarrassing here, good riff, good melody, good song. 

As a drummer this is one of my all-time favorite songs to jam to. The entire song just blows the roof off of everything in its vicinity and remains a testament to just how hard Van Halen can rock. It also, however, brings in that same element of Balance that I speak of. “Not Enough” is about the raw and compassionate feelings of loss, namely in a relationship, but Aftershock is about the rage and bitterness that is likely to follow in the grieving process of a relationship. Both essential. Both a part of Balance.

A pair of instrumentals follow, an interesting touch seeing as Van Halen didn’t do too many instrumentals post-Dave. “Doin’ Time” is Alex messing around on the drums, which segues straight into “Baluchitherium”. 

These two songs are another part of me arguing about the experimental nature of this record. To devote so much time to instrumentals, especially the way they are structured here, is to push the band out of the Billboard 100 arena and into the “thinking” arena. The band is showing they are incredibly versatile and willing to take risks. Furthermore, guitar and drums are naturally instruments needed in order to balance out the equation of a rock band. Taken a step further, the instruments are played by brothers who are in many ways needed in their personal and professional lives to achieve balance.

Nothing on this record is haphazardly added.

“Take Me Back (Deja Vu)” is a pop song that I don’t mind at all, accented with acoustic guitar. 

It’s a brilliant song with brilliant instrumentation and vocals from Sammy. Also, it fits into the balance equation as it is about longing for better times. The reminiscing for the good times is here because the next track is all about the ugly of the present times.

“Feelin’” is a morose song but with an epic, powerful chorus. It is very different from anything the band had done prior.

The song is a masterpiece. Sammy is singing of a world on fire in every aspect of society as we know it. The song twists and turns with dazzling instrumentals and lyrics that are screamed at the heavens. It is the band completing its evolution into the mature incarnation of the band once known for wanting to “Dance the Night Away”. This would be the last song on the record unless you got it in Japan (more on that in a second), and it brings everything to a close. It is the end of the record, and unfortunately, the beginning of the End for the Hagar years.

If you’re lucky enough to be in Japan, there was one bonus track: this is the groove laden, oddball “Crossing Over”.  It’s a song about the afterlife and lyrically it’s probably the best tune of the bunch.

I am often called an experimental composer, so I suppose it is no surprise that I love this song and was so disappointed that it took me years after purchasing Balance to find it. I believe that this track completes the cycle started in “The Seventh Seal”. Notice how I talked about every song on the record being related in a balanced symmetry? I believe that “Crossing Over” is the mirror to “The Seventh Seal”. The album opens with nightmares of spiritual chaos, and this track is the completion of such chaos.


So, what do I have to say in closing? This record shows Van Halen at its highest possible output of creativity, and most importantly, its ability to show a deep philosophical approach to its writing never seen before or since. Balance is the culmination of everything that Van Halen was destined to be, and for that reason, it is the best record they ever wrote. Even if you disagree 100 percent with me, or just really hate Sammy Hagar, give this one another chance.

You might be surprised what you find.

5/5 stars

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Just Listening to…David Lee Roth – Skyscraper

Just Listening to…David Lee Roth – Skyscraper

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.

#693: GUEST SHOT! Rock and Religion by Derek Kortepeter

A follow up to #657: Operation: Van Halen and #533: Spirituality as a Heavy Metal Fan

 

GETTING MORE TALE #693: Rock and Religion
Guest post by musician and songwriter Derek Kortepeter

Rock N’ Roll and Religion. These things, the two capital R’s if you will, were a constant presence growing up. Sometimes I think back on my growing and think how I developed into the person I am now, certainly rock and religion played a part in that. Being raised Christian by a really awesome single mom who also loved classic rock was truly the best of both worlds. She encouraged me to seek out spiritual and musical power in equal measure. She was laid-back and let me just be who I am as I figured life out.

When I became too self-righteous in my religious fervor she’d pull me back and give me a reality check that being a person of faith means being kind and not a judgmental dickhead (which I certainly could be at times). Even as I now am a rather irreligious (i.e. not super orthodox) 27-year-old, I still think the philosophical and theological basis for my life was positive at least in respect to my mother’s teachings.

It also led to some…interesting, shall we say, experiences with two subcultures that tend to clash. While I grew up after the heyday of Tipper Gore and her merry band of fuckwits (the PMRC) persecuting metal musicians, I still felt the aftershocks in the 90s. Couple that with having more hardcore fundamentalist evangelical extended family and friends, and you can bet I have some stories to tell.

I first started to notice the conflict as a 10-year-old when I got into Black Sabbath and some family members suggested I burn the CDs promptly. I’m pretty sure had I agreed they would have built a bonfire in their backyard and eliminated the demonic disc in a flash of fire (as we all know, Satan lives in poorly made CD-Rs burned on a shitty Dell PC). Not sure if the pen fake tattoo of “OZZY” on my knuckles would have also been burned off in the process…but we can’t rule anything out.

Knowing so many religious folks as friends since I went to a Christian high school after leaving public school due to bullying led to some pretty hilarious confrontations. Being a huge Van Halen fan I would get confronted with different accusations. These would range from me being a practitioner of idolatry (must’ve thought I had a shrine to Eddie Van Halen where I burn sage and chant the lyrics to “I’m The One”), to full-blown accusations of Van Halen being satanic (HAIL DAVID LEE ROTH AND HIS MINIONS OF SATAN).

These sorts of conflicts arose with all of the bands I listened to, from AC/DC and Judas Priest, to Iron Maiden and Metallica. I was constantly having to justify my faith and my love of music that involved pounding drums and wailing guitars. The more I became a bit more liberal in my faith I was able to eventually stop caring, but it was an eye-opening experience for me.

Some suggested I listen to more Christian rock bands, which is an odd label; I mean being a musician is a job, do you make sure your plumber is a Christian plumber (on second thought, maybe you do…bless thy toilet and its holy water)? The problem was, while I found some great bands like Pillar and P.O.D. (also U2 writes constantly about God), they were basically shitty imitations of the real thing. I mean if you want Coke, are you really going to drink store-brand cola and think it tastes just as good?

I imagine that this experience is pretty common for kids in certain religious circles and I wonder if they are scared away from either belief or music because of a false dualism being presented. I ain’t a preacher, and I’m definitely no role model, but rock n’ roll in all its forms has been nothing but a positive in my life. Simultaneously, while I eventually walked away from the church and orthodoxy of my faith for personal reasons, at the time, I also benefited from the comfort I could find in the belief of a supernatural being.

I’m reminded of Malcolm Young’s response when asked if AC/DC were Satanists, he humorously stated “me mum would kill me if we were.” The less boundaries we draw for ourselves in these little subgroups the better. I’m not saying we all have to hold hands and sing “We Are The World” (that song is overrated as hell), but you’d be surprised how much you’d have in common with people that seem to run counter to your own worldview. Rock and religion shouldn’t be enemies, and maybe someday they won’t be.

For now, I’ll start on that Church of the Holy Lars Ulrich shrine for human sacrifices and hope for the best.

Derek Kortepeter

 

#657: GUEST SHOT! Operation: Van Halen (Derek’s Story)

GETTING MORE TALE #657: Operation: Van Halen (Derek’s Story)
Guest post by guitarist and songwriter Derek Kortepeter

Alright, so I’m pretty sure all of us can relay some embarrassing moments from our teenage years. I dunno if it’s the changing hormones or what, but we tend to be pretty damn stupid in these formative years. I have been thinking about my teen years a lot recently, most likely since my high school 10 year reunion is coming up in 2019.

I don’t if it’s nostalgia or what, but I have suddenly been reliving a lot of moments from this time. Here’s something you have to know to know about me first before I start my story. I spent most of my education in public schools in Southern California, namely elementary school and college (two years at a Pasadena City College and then three at UCLA as a transfer student). I switched to a small Christian K-12 school for middle and high school because of bullying (cops got involved, nasty stuff). While I was a working class kid of a single mom, this small school had scholarships and financial aid that made it possible for me to attend.

It is at this small school in “SoCal” that my story takes place. This story involves a CD; well, two CDs to be exact. You see, music has been my obsession my entire life (it eventually became what I studied in college). I had a far ranging interest in all kinds of music from around the world but as a teenager rock, namely punk and metal, amped me up the most.

Above all bands was Van Halen.

Pretty much every person that knew me also knew how obsessed I was with the band. It didn’t matter what incarnation of the band, I owned every damn CD and cut my teeth as a guitarist on all those records.

So while I was a teenage metalhead and punk, what went along with that was that I was a bit of…let’s say, a social anomaly. I didn’t really fit into any clique, but most knew me as a decent guy who was just a tad obsessed with Eddie Van Halen. To go along with this, I was horrifically shy around girls I found attractive.

Awkward doesn’t even really cover it, but holy shit did this come to a head in a hilariously embarrassing way with a girl I liked from age 14 to age 15 (this story ranges from late middle school to early high school). Let’s call this girl “S” so that this never makes it back to people I know. Remember how I mentioned that I was a bit of a social misfit? This girl S wasn’t. In fact, she was popular.

Very. Popular.

My dumb ass had the bright idea to get a crush on a (future) cheerleader who hung around (future) jocks that hated my guts (incidentally I did play starting right tackle on the high school football team) and boy was I about to make my mark. Remember how I mentioned that I was shy around girls? Yeah, that meant I couldn’t hold a conversation without my voice cracking from nerves.

So I had a plan to say something without too many words. I was going to go old school and make a mix tape for her since my conversations were very limited. “Oh man S, is going to so dig this! She’ll love that I shared this amazing band with her,” I thought to myself. The thing is, it was my 8th grade year in the early 2000s so cassettes weren’t the thing anymore. As such, I made her a mix CD.

Not just any mix CD though. A VAN HALEN mix CD.

All the classic Roth and Hagar love songs were there man, it didn’t matter that S was more of a Mariah Carey fan, I figured NOBODY could deny the mighty VH.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA BOY WAS I WRONG.

Once I made the CD I approached her locker shaking like my apartment during an earthquake and the conversation went something like this.

Me: Hey… uh… hi S!

S: Oh hi Derek.

Me: So uhhhh…I really like Van Halen…and I…uh…(reaching into my backpack) made this CD for you.

S: Ok?

Me: Yeah…soooo…let me know what you think…k bye!

A day passed and I approached her again towards the end of the day. I figured “OK dude, this is it, you’re gonna find out how much she dug it!” Cue scene:

Me: So… how did you like Van Halen?

S: (nods slightly, forces a polite smile) Yeah… it was… pretty good.

Me: Cool! I, um, yeah cool see ya!

Later on I found out that she didn’t even listen to the damn thing. Friends of mine standing near the “popular group” heard that she didn’t even want the CD and tried to hand it over to guys in the group that liked metal. Major bummer.

But I wasn’t finished embarrassing myself hooooooooo boy I was just getting started.

The 8th grade year ended and I continued to make awkward conversation with S and left a couple of really geeky messages on her home answering machine (FUN FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY). On the last day of the end of the year I was risking my neck by wearing a Van Halen t-shirt (band shirts were banned by the fascists at my school). I wore it in rebellion of the fact that we were going to have to wear uniforms starting my freshman year of high school. That day I got her to sign my yearbook and she wrote, I’m paraphrasing more or less, “you’re awesome, never change <3 –S”

DUDE SHE PUT A HEART OMG.

You see I didn’t realize at the time that girls just do that sort of thing, so I figured I still had a chance. Anyways, I got made fun of quite a bit by the jocks for the whole Van Halen thing, but still liked S. Come freshman year I was a starter on the football team (still not a jock…just was a great lineman), and S had recently had her birthday.

Operation Van Halen part 2 was on.

This time I made a pastel artwork for her (I was a decent artist back then) and… also made another fucking mix CD. This time it was mixed with some more recent bands popular at the time, but still had Van Halen and also some solo Roth and Hagar as well.

Conversation follows here:

Me: So… I have something for you, wait here (I run into the athletic locker room and get the gift).

Me: (hands the artwork and CD over) Happy birthday S.

S: (stares blankly) Oh… you didn’t have to do that (gives awkward hug).

Me: (freaking out that she hugged me) Yeah…uh happy birthday, bye!

In the year that followed this solidified my place in the pantheon of stupidity as the hostility of the jocks increased since I continued to try to pursue a chick outside of my social standing. Eventually I gave up and moved on with my life. Van Halen became a running joke among the popular crowd (one jock grabbed my yearbook and wrote VAN HALEN SUCKS just for “lolz”).

Joke was on them though, I eventually became a really great guitarist (I’m sure Mike can testify to this) and performed frequently in front of the school. My senior year the leader of the worship band asked me to play this Steve Vai piece; I won 2nd place in the talent show for (most people thought I was robbed of 1st). Incidentally, I was placed right in front of S and her pals for the performance.

I wonder if she remembered those stupid CDs I made.

REVIEW: Amherst Drive – “Breakdown” / “Better Way” (single)

AMHERST DRIVE –  “Breakdown” / “Better Way” (2017 single)

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.

3.5/5 stars

Bandcamp:  amherstdrive.bandcamp.com/track/better-way

REVIEW: Derek Kortepeter – Cataclysm (2016)

For Aaron’s review at the KMA, click here!

cataclysm-coverDEREK KORTEPETER – Cataclysm (2016)

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.

4/5 stars

But it at bandcamp:  https://derekkortepeter.bandcamp.com/releases

 

#333: Social Media

LEBRAIN FACEBOOK

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:

IMG_20141028_1715151. 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.

SERENA RYDER FOLLOWS ME


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!

REVIEW: Derek Kortepeter – Stochastic (2014)

stochasticDEREK KORTEPETER – Stochastic (2014)

A short while ago, I reviewed the debut EP Compilation 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.

4/5 stars

derekkortepeter

REVIEW: Derek Kortepeter – Compilation Vol. 1 (2014)

DEREKK

DEREK KORTEPETER – Compilation Vol. 1 (2014 independent)

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.

3.5/5 stars

Buy it:  Amazon!