kitchener

REVIEW: Max the Axe – “Randy” Live at the Boathouse – VinylArt.co custom picture disc

There are plenty of services online for cutting your own music to vinyl these days.  The one that caught my eye was VinylArt.co, based out of Wales.  This company will cut picture discs with your chosen artwork and (legal) music to four sizes:  5″, 7″, 10″ and 12″.  How well does it work?  Read on to find out.

MAX THE AXE – “Randy” (Live at the Boathouse) (VinylArt.co custom picture disc)

“How many times can you say Randy?”

The first thing I need to note is that I didn’t choose a song to put on vinyl for its fidelity.  The prime factor behind me spending my money wasn’t to test the product for review, it was to make something that I wanted for myself.  It had to be something that you can’t get physically — I wanted to create my own physical product for something that only exists digitally.  In 2018, I recorded a song by Max the Axe when they played the Boathouse, and a few people commented that they liked the video.  I think the live version of “Randy” they played that night was outstanding.  It had bite and presence.  Singer Eric “Uncle Meat” Litwiller really gives his all in this version, particularly on the chorus.  I decided to turn that version, recorded on my phone, into an “official bootleg” live record.  Sound quality wasn’t even a concern in that regard.

VinyArt.co seem to market these records as keepsakes more than a way to play music.  For example, you have two packaging options:  a coloured paper sleeve, or a frame.  You don’t buy frames for records you plan on playing.  I planned on playing my Max the Axe “Randy” bootleg.  I wanted it to sound decent.  Does it?

Actually yeah.  It sounds OK for a picture disc.  There is surface noise that you can hear during the fades.  As you can see from the waveform image below, you also lose volume with a picture disc.  By nature it is not going to sound as clean as the original mp3 file that it was made from.  However VinylArt “master” the track as part of the process, and it does sound full and beefy enough for my needs.

Unaltered vinyl at top, original mp3 at bottom

It’s a very easy process.  All you have to do is upload a photo, and a track that you own (or one from their library).  Then you choose the record size.   The smaller the cheaper, but also the less music that will fit.  A 5″ record can only handle up to four minutes, so I had to go with the standard 7″ single.  The records are one-sided with a smooth white finish on the B-side.  With shipping to Canada, the whole thing cost me $55 CAD and took just over a week.  They track the whole process for you, from photo printing to audio mastering to record cutting.

Keep in mind picture discs do not typically offer the same quality as pure black vinyl, but this is something I wanted for myself as a keepsake.  The bass is nice and fat and the vocals clear as a bell.  Except for the fade-in and fade-out, which are noisy, it sounds like a vinyl record should.  About what I expected.

Now Max the Axe can boast that he has been bootlegged to vinyl, and a decent one at that.  I can claim to own the only copy in existence, a limited edition of one!  The rarest record in my collection.

VinylArt.co aren’t going to make your music sound better than the source material, but it will sound like vinyl.  Your music, on a playable picture disc!  I plan on ordering something from them again, so if repeating a sale is a way to judge a company, then VinylArt gets the passing grade.  And so does Max the Axe!

4/5 stars

VIDEO: Max the Axe – “Hard Drive” / Traffic jam on Highway 401

It was a drizzly drive home, with an accident right in the “Sweet Spot” of Highway 401 heading into Kitchener.  Perfect for another Max the Axe video.  The track is called “Hard Drive” (see what I did there?) and it’s from his 1995 debut cassette Bodies of Water.  It’s a killer epic featuring flute, saxophone, and the works.

In this video you’ll notice I’m a patient driver; I don’t change lanes to go faster.  I get in the lane I’m supposed to be in and I stay there.  I only change lanes a couple times in the whole video.

Pay attention and you’ll see the anti-abortion protesters across from Freeport hospital.  You’ll also notice landmarks such as Tim Horton’s (see how many you can spot) and the striking Grand River bridge.  Mostly you’ll be annoyed at the tail lights and other drivers.  Get a coffee.  (This video has been sped up 2.5 times to match the length of the song.)  Enjoy the drive!

 

REVIEW: Helix – Eat Sleep Rock (2020)

HELIX – Eat Sleep Rock (2020 Perris)

If there’s one thing you can count on, even in 2020, it’s that Helix keep on keeping on. 46 years running, and a new compilation CD on the shelves called Eat Sleep Rock.  Sounds a bit like Brian Vollmer’s life story!  Helix have given us two new songs and nine previously released numbers.  As has been the case recently, the cover art is by former guitarist Brent “The Doctor” Doerner.

We love Helix, but opening with “The Story of Helix” is a bit of a misfire.  I get that it would be a great opener for Helix’s acoustic gigs (it even has band member intros), but it’s a sluggish start to an album.  On this track, Brian Vollmer takes us through Helix history, with the odd musical segues through “Billy Oxygen”, “She Loves You”, “Heavy Metal Love”, and “Lick It Up” among others as the story progresses.  Even “Teen Spirit” in the 90s, “when everything went to shit”.  But what didn’t kill them made Helix stronger and they’ve certainly made great albums since.  Some of their best in fact.  Eat Sleep Rock contains shining gems aplenty of post-grunge-era Helix rawk.  But “The Story of Helix” should have been left for the last track on the album.

The good news is that Vollmer proudly proclaims he will “NEVER” retire!  And if the second song, “Eat – Sleep – Rock” is any indication, that’s a good thing.  This is a HEAVY Helix.  Produced by Daryl Gray, with guitars aided and abetted by Sean Kelly, this one smokes.  There ain’t no rest for the wicked, as “Eat – Sleep – Rock” resoundingly demonstrates.  Long-time Helix fans are going to love this newbie that recalls the fire and fury of 1984 all over again.

As mentioned in “The Story of Helix”, the 90s were not kind to Kitchener’s favourite band.  That said, they still put out three excellent albums in that decade, the last of which was 1998’s half-ALIVE.  It was the first Helix release in five years and included some new material to go with the live side.  “Shock City Psycho Rock” and “Wrecking Ball” (both heavy hitters) are two of the best.  “Shock City” is an upbeat boogie, and “Wrecking Ball” just slams.  Giving these two songs fresh attention is a good thing.

Brian Vollmer’s solo album When Pigs Fly (1999) is a Helix album in all but name, so “I’m A Live Frankenstein” is a valid addition.  This grinder has a hint of industrial rock and Helix alumnus Brian Doerner on drums.  It sounds a little out of place, but as Vollmer alluded, the 90s were a weird time.

“Even Jesus (Wasn’t Loved In His Hometown)” is a scorcher originally from the excellent Bastard of the Blues (2014).  That album is criminally forgotten, and it’s actually under-represented here.  The guitar hook and chorus melody will gnaw away at you until it’s right in your brain.  “Cyber Space Girl” (from 2007’s The Power of Rock and Roll) hasn’t been on a compilation before.  It’s another great tune from a tragically forgotten album.  The Power of Rock and Roll was loaded with heavy melodic tunes, and “Cyber Space Girl” definitely deserves a revisit.  Even better though is “When the Bitters Get the Better of You” from the superb Vagabond Bones (2009).  That was the first Helix album to feature Daryl Gray, Greg “Fritz” Hinz, and Doctor Doerner since the 90s.  They loaded it with top-notch songs and “Bitters” is just one of many.  It’s another boogie, so get down!

Later, in 2017, Helix issued a bitchin’ 12″ single for “The Devil is Having a Party Tonight” and “The Tequila Song”.  Both those songs resurface here.  I’ve said it before, but Helix have written a better song about tequila than Sammy Hagar ever has or will.  As for the classic metal sounds of “Devil”, it has a positively beastly bass groove.  These are both great tunes.  Now you can get them affordably on CD.  And of course, “(Gene Simmons Says) Rock Is Dead” (from 2016’s Rock-It Science) still stands up.  It ran the risk of being a novelty, but holds up in the present.  Gene did proclaim rock to be dead, many times.  I’m glad he was wrong.  If he wasn’t, then Brian Vollmer couldn’t still Eat Sleep Rock today!  But he can, and so the Helix band keep putting out worthwhile new material.

The track listing for this CD was well chosen as there is minimal overlap with other compilations (with three in common with Rock-It Science).  It spotlights songs that haven’t have their rightful day in the sun.  The only thing I’d do is move “The Story of Helix” to the end.  Minor quibble aside, if you haven’t bought a new Helix album in a while then now’s the time.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Sexdwarf – Has Disappeared Into the Mystic Dawn (2013)

The Meat Challenge:  Listen to an album we’ve never heard before, and write about it while listening for the first time on headphones.  I was given Sexdwarf by Meat.

SEXDWARF – Has Disappeared Into the Mystic Dawn (2013 Busted Flat)

No background, no story, straight into the songs.  The only disclosure I owe you is that Meat and I both know the lead singer of Sexdwarf, Chris Boyne.  I briefly worked with him at the Record Store, but I am putting that completely out of my mind for the sake of the purity of this first listen.  Let’s go.

“Thomasina” – A slinky, 70s jazzy piano starts us off but then a solid beat gets the feet moving.  This kicks.  I could dance to this.  Great lead vocal, Killers-like with slight distortion.  I keep coming back to that catchy piano bit.  It’s disco and it’s rock and it’s brilliant.

“Love is a Boner” – Ah, I’ve been waiting a long time to hear a song with “boner” in the title.  I am not disappointed.  I didn’t expect a Beatles-like psychedelic rock gem.  If the Beatles did a 14th studio album, I hope “Love is a Boner” would have been on it.  There is even a dual lead vocal, perfect for Lennon and McCartney.  Paul would sing the higher part.

“Spazzy” – Not as “spazzy” sounding as I expected.  Great guitar tones here.  This is the kind of stuff July Talk is doing now.  It’s frantic but well-constructed.

“Tear It Out” – “I think I’m gonna break your fuckin’ heart again,” goes the opening line on a song that reminds me a little bit of Jellyfish.  This one seems to be about one of that asshole manipulative boyfriends that everybody hates.  It has one of my favourite guitar solos on the album.

“Young Girls” – Acoustic guitars now, and a fun little keyboard riff.  Excellent, summery tune you could party to.  I hear the quirk of the Kinks.

“People in Trees” – The first…ballad?  Sparse, quiet, atmospheric, bird-like guitars.  And there’s people in trees, apparently and they live to be free.  Hold on — well, that picked up.  Drums, guitars, all fuzzed out.  Everything is fuzzy and it’s beautiful in the headphones.  The ending is like listening to a moon landing.

“Paid Me for Sex” – See, this is more the kind of song title I’m expecting from Sexdwarf.  Back to a vintage bopping pop rock sound.  I prefer this kind of stuff.  The whole album so far is covered in this fuzzy vintage amp kind of sound that makes it easy to imagine it was recorded in 1971.

“I Don’t Think About People” – A surprisingly warm song about a cold antisocial character.  “I don’t think about people, they’re assholes.”  Brilliantly melodic and simple.

“Gold Rush” – Echoey acoustics and then crashing electrics.  Slow and mournful, with a nice noisy Neil Young guitar solo.  Not as outstanding as some of the previous songs but it could be a grower.

“Centre of it All” – A nice grand chorus, lots of crashing drums…sure, I like it.  The vocal arrangement in the chorus is quite excellent.

“Magnolia” – Jazzy piano and bass again, and then the guitars kick in.  It’s another good song in the Sexdwarf vein — which I am hopefully describing to you well enough.  Jangly guitars give way to an awesome solo bit that is the highlight of the song.

“Therapists” – Loud bangy drums.  A strange combination of sounds from the 60s, 70s and 90s.  A ballad by the Ronettes on acid?  Who knows.  It’s Sexdwarf.  It’s its own thing.

“Mystic Dawn” – Finally we arrive at the end after a frankly trippy 50 minutes of quirky music.  Meat insisted we had to use headphones to write these reviews and this time it’s perfect because there’s a bit where the mix bounces back and forth from right to left.  This finale has everything from Black Sabbath chords to trippy Yellow Submarine passages, and then straight into a racing Deep Purple instrumental section.  This, people, is how you end an album!

Sexdwarf, where you have been all this time?  Why have you not been in my life?  Well now you will be — forever and ever.

4.5/5 stars

VIDEO: A Drive Around Kitchener / Max the Axe – “Scales of Justice”

Just looking for ways to get some local bands heard.  Seems a drive around Kitchener-Waterloo is a good video background for a band from Kitchener-Waterloo called Max the Axe.

From their sixth record Status Electric comes “Scales of Justice” written by Mike Koutis and Eric Litwiller.  The lyrics tell a truthful tale of why only a fool owns a deadly snake let alone two.

This video is sped up 10x and was filmed on Saturday 9/5/2020 in the afternoon.

#833: Flag Boy (Part Two of the 1986 Saga)

STOPARRETPotentially triggering material ahead.

 

 

GETTING MORE TALE #833: Flag Boy

Part Two of the 1986 Saga

One of the many recurring themes here has been the awful experiences of being a metalhead in Catholic school.  A story that has somehow escaped being told until now is the one where those bastard kids gave me the name “Fag Boy” for a whole school year.

Grade 8, the 1985-86 year, had to be the worst.  It was kicked off by a huge fight with the school bully Steve Hartman, a total piece of shit, but at least I won.  Not that it helped.  I was teased relentlessly all year for my love of Kiss and Judas Priest.  Then I had mono.  Incidentally, Catholic school bullies are the worst and the teachers didn’t give a fuck.  When one kid, Ian Johnson, got into a fight with another bully, the teachers made them walk around the schoolyard together hand in hand.  What was that supposed to do?

The only thing that made life easier that year was beating Hartman in September of ’85.  That kept him off my back for the school year, although there were other bullies waiting in the wings.  Jeff Brooks, who stuffed snow down my jacket every Thursday after shop class.  Kevin Kirby, who copied my homework.  Towards the end even Hartman was campaigning for a “rematch”.

My sister used to call that school the “Hell Hole”.  She would sing Spinal Tap’s “Hell Hole” when we drove by.  This is a little kid in grade 4 calling her school that name.

At the start of the eighth grade, to learn social responsibility, we all had to volunteer for something.  There were a limited selection of slots for each role we were offered.  I cannot remember all of the duties that were set out on our menu of options.  Volunteering at the church was definitely among them, but I volunteered for the one I thought would be the most interesting:  security!  On a regular basis, we were to walk around the school when it was closed to make sure all was well.  Keep an eye out for anything wrong, like vandalism.  It was perfect because I was always biking around that direction anyway.  It was really the most appealing of all the options to me.

I’m sure you have already guessed they didn’t give me the security assignment.  No, I was given something that was supposed to be better, but was actually far worse.  It was such a dubious honour.  I was Flag Boy.

I wasn’t athletic, I was a skinny kid who openly listened to Judas Priest.  No way were they putting me on security.  They gave the two open positions to a couple of the athletic kids.  I don’t think either of them did any security that year.

As Flag Boy, I was responsible for putting out and bringing in the Maple Leaf at the start and end of every day for the year. It was worst at the start of the day.  When announcements were about to commence, I had to get out of my seat and leave the class, which always seemed to amuse them.  Then I had to walk down the hallway past the other grade 8 classroom, who always mocked and laughed and pointed at me as I went.  They called me “Fag Boy” from day one.  What made it even worse were my boots.  My dad gave them to me.  I thought they were so cool.  They didn’t have laces, they had dual zippers.  The boots only made me more a “Fag Boy”.

When the first pair of boots wore out, my dad gave me his second identical backup pair.  Ironically those boots would be considered so retro and stylish today.

The abuse that year was pretty bad and I faked sick a lot.  I faked sick mostly on Thursdays, which was shop class.  They bussed us to another school, St. Joseph, which had a woodworking shop.  The supervision was minimal and the bus rides were all but intolerable.  At one point or another I just decided I couldn’t take it anymore and faked sick as many Thursdays as I could.  By the time I got sick with mono for real, I had several incomplete projects in woodworking.  I was home for the rest of the term, and I never had to worry about those Thursday bus trips again.

Having mono sucked a lot, but Thursdays on the bus were far worse.  I considered it more than a fair trade.

While sick at home for real, I absorbed as many Pepsi Power Hours as I could.  I heard Hear N’ Aid for the first time.  I became addicted to “Rough Boy” by ZZ Top because of that damn music video.  (I guess I learned from an early age that I’m really a leg man.)  My heavy metal credentials grew by leaps and bounds and I listened to more and more songs:  “Metal on Metal”, “Never Surrender”, “Turbo Lover”, “Rock and Roll Children”.  To this day, I associate those songs with my sick time in 1986.  Especially Dio’s “Rock and Roll Children”.  The surreal music video suited the way I felt physically.  It didn’t look like the real world and I didn’t feel like myself.

My association of heavy metal music with relief from the outside world was cemented that year.  I had always come home to the comfort of a few Kiss tapes.  In 1986, sick with mono, I was safe from the school and surrounded not by bullies but by Ronnie James Dio, Ozzy Osbourne, Rob Halford, and Bruce Dickinson.  They didn’t call me “Fag Boy”, in fact their lyrics encouraged me to dig for strength.  Recovering from my illness, I had built this wall of metal around me.  It would be my armour for life.

I don’t know if those kids remember calling me “Fag Boy”, or if they would admit it.  I know I wouldn’t recognize Hartman if I saw him today.  They used to talk about forgiveness a lot in Catholic school.  You can forgive, but you never forget.

 

Sunday Chuckle: The Guy in the Silver Mercedes

There has been this shady guy driving a silver Mercedes up and down our street.  He’s definitely up to something.  He always parks in the cul-de-sac at the end where he is out of sight.  We used to assume he was dealing drugs but we found some evidence last week that suggests he’s up to something else.

Sunday Chuckle: That time Laura dedicated a Bieber song to me

March 27 2020Laura Geddes from 105.3 Virgin Radio asked for listeners to submit messages to our friends and family listening.  So I submitted a clip — little did I know Laura was going to dedicate a Justin Bieber song to me as well!  First time for everything.

Incidentally that’s the first time my voice has been on Virgin, now making it three local stations that have been LeBraaaained!

Thanks Laura!

Sunday Chuckle: Weston’s Bread

Press play!

 

#797: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For It!

GETTING MORE TALE #797: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For It!

In the early 90s, we got our first Costco store in Kitchener.  My parents raved about how much I’d love it.  In those early years, I enjoyed going with them.  I’d throw a 20 pack of Hot Rods into the cart and see if they’d notice (they always did).  They didn’t have much of a music selection, but what they did have was priced to go.  So I picked up a few current releases:

The Guns was a nice score.  The full Tokyo show, split onto two VHS tapes (sold separately).  At Costco prices they were affordable.  The show later made up a large portion of their album Live Era.  Costco was great for buying new releases, junk food in bulk, and the occasional electronics.  We enjoyed getting free food samples and checking out the latest in TVs and videos games.  I stocked up on blank tapes.  But there was one thing Costco didn’t have.

To be clear, it wasn’t that I was looking to buy this.  I was just being a shit.  I have a juvenile sense of humour, and always have.  Costco should have known that if they were going to leave pads of paper for “suggestions” at the end of every aisle, someone was going to write silly things on it.

Most people wrote sensible suggestions.  “Too much packaging on products” was a good one.  It’s true, Costco would use far too much cardboard and plastic to package together three things of deodorant.  But I noticed they didn’t carry something; something important that could easily be sold in bulk.  My mom gave me shit for it, but I always wrote “CONDOMS” on the suggestion pads.

I didn’t need condoms, believe me.  Definitely not in bulk.  But something about the idea tickled my funnybone, and so every time, I wrote it down.

“MICHAEL!” my mother would scold.  I’d grin and laugh.  It went on and on like this, visit after visit.

But you know something?  It was a good idea.  So good that a few years later, they were stocked.  I couldn’t believe it.

“Kathryn!” I shouted at my sister.  “Get over here, you won’t believe this.”  I proudly pointed at the condoms.  “Do you think that’s because of me?”  I mean, I wrote it down enough times.

I think I had something to do with it.  At least, that’s the way I tell the story, and I’ll be damned if I’m changing it now.  Costco carries condoms because of me.

There was one guy I knew back in the day who would have appreciated it.  He was a friend of a friend.  We were at an age when you’d be expected to be “embarrassed” to be buying condoms.  Not this guy.  He went up to the counter at the drug store and said, “See that?  That’s a five pack.  That means I’m getting it five times.”  Then when the transaction was done, he’d conclude by saying “See you tomorrow!”  No embarrassment for that guy.  I like to think that I got Costco to carry condoms in bulk, and I did it for that guy.  You’re welcome!