Medicine :: Home Everywhere

medicine-home-everywhereI’ve been listening to Medicine’s new album Home Everywhere for three days straight and I’m still finding new nuggets of aural beauty every time I hit play. Brad Laner, Beth Thompson, and Jim Goodall don’t make cut and dry kind of albums. They make albums that beg for repeated listens. Much like the films of Bergman, Goddard, and Kurosawa, their records have layers that must be peeled back with repeated listens. You find meaning each time you sit down and hit play. Back when Medicine first began making records in the early 90s it was more just coarse, jagged noise with pop melodies hidden underneath. There was very little subtlety in the sound. The melodies and catchy hooks were there, but you got bruised and battered on the way to that pop bliss. Last year Laner, Thompson, and Goodall returned as Medicine after nearly two decades of quiet and gave us the excellent To The Happy Few. It was the sound they had always made, but honed in and more rapturous. Brad Laner had become quite proficient behind the mixing console and his ear for sonic layers and labyrinthine soundscapes came out wonderfully on that 2013 return to form. Now with Home Everywhere, Medicine make a record that’s as challenging and abrasive as it is inviting and beautiful.

“The Reclaimed Girls” starts off in a flurry of noise and static before exploding into a jangly pop gem, complete with what sounds like harpsichord halfway through. The contrast between the harsh noise bomb at the beginning and during the chorus works to accentuate the great pop hook feel in the verses. Goodall, as always, comes across as a proficient and solid drummer. Like another incredible drummer, Spoon’s Jim Eno, he doesn’t use flash and odd time signatures to impress. He uses rock-solid beats and powerful drumming to move the song along, which allows Laner and Thompson to do that magic that they do. “Turning” has an almost robotic, disco vibe to it. In an alternate universe this would be playing on mainstream radio and kids would be playing it at their freshman prom. As it stands, that alternate universe has yet to be found so I’m resigned to put this song on as many mixes for friends as I can. “Move Along – Down The Road”, if you’ve never listened to Medicine’s first two albums, is a great way to get acquainted with their younger, hungry sound. It takes that visceral, ear-splitting screech they perfected on Shot Forth Self Living and The Buried Life and puts it through Laner’s current prodigious studio finesse and gives us something quite wonderful. The minor key bend in the chorus is quite lovely, too. “Don’t Be Slow” ebbs and flows with a drugged-out dance groove with intermittent blasts of chaos thrown in for good measure. “Cold Life” is beautiful pop seen through the looking glass. It has the sound of a Smile Sessions b-side. The harmonies underneath Medicine’s sonic blanket bring to mind Brian Wilson at his absolute best, just before the indoor sandboxes and internal shouting matches with Murray Wilson. “They Will Not Die” is yet another blissful pop stunner, at times musically reminiscent of Out of the Cradle-era Lindsey Buckingham(an artist that in my mind seems like musical brethren to Brad Laner.) “It’s All About You” showcases Beth Thompson’s great voice without all the layers of sonic grime. “The People” has some great jungle rhythms and psychedelic panning that with the proper headphones will make you think you’re floating away in bliss. The epic closer “Home Everywhere” is over 11 minutes of beauty and chaos. It’s almost mantra-like in it’s breezy beginnings; then morphs into something cosmic and inner light-like. Very few are doing what Medicine is doing, folks. Very few indeed.

Home Everywhere is Medicine re-vitalized and busting at their musical seams with ideas and life. It’s an album that’s lush, dense, extreme, and simply stunning.

9 out of 10

 

Nightmares and Dreamscapes : The Dark, Musical World of The Night Terrors

terrors-red-swmfOnce in a while you come across some musical treasure that not only shakes you up a bit, but it evokes serious emotion. It lulls you into a trance and simultaneously curdles the blood running through your veins. Deep in the cold, desolate Midwest winter of 2014 I was introduced to the musical world of The Night Terrors. “The Dream Eater” seeped through my headphones and with it’s mournful, synth and theremin-driven melody I knew there was no way I wasn’t going to become a huge fan of this Australian band. I immediately located a copy of their Back To Zero album online and patiently waited for its arrival. Upon receiving the LP I was completely floored by their sci-fi-meets-horror sound. It was equal parts space odyssey and a romp through the rue morgue, all done eloquently with a prog-rock flair. Synth and theremin genius Miles Brown leads the band through expansive songs filled with atmosphere and a knack for the dramatic. Their music comes off like a score to some lost sci-fi epic. Brown can emote with a theremin like no other. His playing has the feel of a specter singing a melody from beyond. Where a lot of theremin playing is used for effect or may come off as novelty, Miles Brown has made the theremin a central player in the sound of The Night Terrors.

Back To Zero was followed by the early 2014 release of the excellent Spiral Vortex, an even more precise, intense journey into the far reaches of space and beyond. And now, they have yet another release out called Pavor Nocturnus, a dark, macabre, and intense record that the band recorded live with the help of the southern hemisphere’s largest pipe organ. On October 31st the band will be performing the album live at the Melbourne Town Hall on said gigantic pipe organ. Miles Brown took some time to discuss the band, their sound, and the new album with me.

J. Hubner: Before we get into the music, I was wondering if you’d tell me a little about the band. How did the Night Terrors come about?

Miles Brown: We started the band back in the year 2000, myself and two other friends from Tasmania, Tim Picone and Ianto Kelly. We had all moved to Melbourne and had played shows together over the years in Tasmania in separate bands and were fans of each other as players. The idea for the band was to just get together and see what came out. Tim was a really fantastic synth player and Ianto had an amazing urgent hyperactive drumming style I’d always loved. So we had a jam and two songs just popped straight out, and we knew we had good chemistry. From the start it was dark and synthy and atmospheric. I was playing mostly bass and a little theremin (I was pretty bad at it at the start). I think it was people who saw us in the first few years that made comparisons to soundtrack music and showed us Goblin, Popol Vuh etc – we’d never heard of them but could see the similarity. After a few years Tim left the band to concentrate on his label Unstable Ape Records, Ianto went to live in Paris and the band stopped for a while. I had a few weird alternate versions of the band happening over the next few years and soon it developed into a bit of a revolving door lineup situation. So I started focusing on writing for theremin in a band context and that was how the band’s sound started to solidify – moving away from jamming and more towards proper composition with the format in mind.

J. Hubner: This question is more to you Miles. When did you start playing the theremin? You seem rather prodigious on it.

Miles Brown: I got into theremin when I was about 17. I was talking to my Dad about synthesisers and he said “Synths are cool but I have the plans to build an instrument that predates the synthesiser – and you play it without touching!”. I was pretty intrigued by this idea so he and I built a theremin from plans he had in a 70s science magazine. That was my first theremin and it was really just a fun sound effect machine – not really calibrated for melodic playing – but I was hooked on the instrument and tried anyway. I started to research thereminists online and discovered Clara Rockmore and Lydia Kavina. I was chiefly an electric bass player at that point, but very interested in exploring the theremin further. Then I managed to injure my left hand in an accident and found I couldn’t play bass like I used to – so I decided to focus on theremin instead. I gathered together all the instructional materials I could and taught myself how to play. The problem with this was that I had some pretty basic technical things kind of wrong, so my playing didn’t progress very far. I saw on Lydia Kavina’s website that she occasionally gave workshops in Europe. I emailed her to try and find out when the next one might be, and included a link to some music I was working on. I was super excited when she wrote back and suggested I come over to the UK to do a mentorship with her. So I went over for two months and studied with her, and then travelled with her to Lippstadt in Germany to play at the Without Touch theremin festival where I met around 30 fellow thereminists. That really set me off on the right path!

J. Hubner: Watching you play the theremin in the video for “Megafauna”(off the new album Pavor Nocturnus) I get the feeling that it’s just as much a theatrical performance as it is a musical one. I was wondering how do you approach your performances? 

Miles Brown: The theremin is a funny thing in that in order to play it well you have to be able to drop into an almost meditative state, in order to remain still and focused enough to control your bodily movements with precision. I’ve always thought perhaps this would be a bit boring to watch but after seeing other thereminists play I now understand what the visual appeal is – the level of concentration necessary is what sells the performance. I’ve grown up as a thereminist playing onstage for rock audiences, so there’s always been as much of an imperative to entertain as to play well (in the early years my playing wasn’t so great so the performance may have served to cover that up a little!). In terms of approaching performances, in The Night Terrors I’m frequently switching between bass, synth and theremin, so the challenge is to balance the energy levels with each instrument so as to have the requisite bodily control as well as be able to put on a visually entertaining show. The trick is to practise being able to drop into the meditative state quite quickly, and then snap out of it to play other instruments. I think I’m getting better at this!

J. Hubner: How does a Night Terrors song come into fruition? Do you, Sarah, and Damien get together and just create on the spot? Or are the songs more fully arranged before you three get together in the studio?

Miles Brown: For the last two albums I’ve composed the music beforehand and then brought the tracks pretty much completed to the band. But we also do more arranging and make adjustments to ensure that the records have everyone’s personalities in the playing. Damian and Sarah are awesome musicians and we’re really having fun playing together especially at the moment, so we’re talking about the next record moving in a direction that pulls more of this chemistry into the songwriting process.

J. Hubner: I’d love to know what The Night Terrors are influenced by. I’m a huge fan of Italian composers like Walter Rizzati and Fabio Frizzi, as well as John Carpenter’s scores. Were you guys influenced at all by those synth-driven horror soundtracks? Btw, my first exposure to TNT was the song “The Dream Eater”. That song brought me back to being a kid and watching those old Argento, Fulci, and Romero movies at 1am. I knew I had to find your albums at that point.

Miles Brown: I’ve always been driven by the example of Clara Rockmore and Lydia Kavina’s lyrical theremin playing, and I suppose my concept for the band was to make a rock act with a theremin as a lead instrument. One of the first pieces I heard in this format was Howard Shore’s main title theme for Tim Burton’s film Ed Wood. Lydia is playing theremin on that, and I was immediately excited by the format and the feeling that a theremin could evoke as a lead instrument over a dark rock ensemble. Also my influences outside of theremin land were always acts with dark and melancholic leanings, bands such as Curve, Swervedriver, Ministry and Sea Scouts. I think I was keen to try to set up those atmospheres within a quite limited instrumentation – theremin, bass, synth and drums. No guitars, no vocals, and see if it was possible to do something coherent that way. It took a while for a working model to happen. Actually, we were a bit amorphous in terms of songwriting for the first few years. For me as a bass player I found it hard to really steer things in an interesting direction. What ended up happening was as synth players left the band over the years I found myself writing more of the synth parts, and in doing so found that I could transfer my ideas much more effectively that way. “The Dream Eater” is a good example of this – I was given a tiny Casio VL-Tone calculator synth which I would have on my desk at work and play with in breaks. It’s just a tiny mono synth with tiny little keys, and you can only really play simple melodies on it. The main riff for “The Dream Eater” just popped out on my coffee break one day and I recorded it on my phone, and just kinda knew that it was something special, and started writing more music that way. Suddenly the sound of the band started to become clearer.

In terms of synth music, I really love classic Italo disco, and as part of that yes I do love Goblin and Simonetti’s other electronic work like Crazy Gang. I also love analogue synth acts such as Add N To (X), Chateau Marmont, Ali Renault, and I think exploring the more traditional uses of our instruments really informed the stuff we wrote for Spiral Vortex. Travelling around Europe on tour and meeting a lot of like-minded people who showed us a much bigger world of dark electronica (that we hadn’t realised we were already a part of) was a big influence. As the horror soundtrack resurgence has grown it’s been awesome to discover a lot more like-minded acts around the world. But I do feel that for Pavor Nocturnus it’s been more a case of going back to a more primal sphere of influence; just sitting down and playing the pipe organ and seeing what that instrument itself coaxed out of the brain. That was really fun, and reminded me of the first pieces of music I ever wrote playing my grandparents’ Lowrey organ as a child – just finding cool sounds and progressions and letting them develop on their own, without a lot of stylistic precedent hanging around.
J. Hubner: Speaking of Pavor Nocturnus, let’s talk about that. Tell me how this project came about? You were commisioned by the city of Melbourne to write a piece based on the southern hemisphere’s largest pipe organ? How does that happen? And how loud is the southern hemisphere’s largest pipe organ?
Miles Brown: The Melbourne Town Hall Grand Organ is three stories high and super gnarly and awesome. It’s very very loud and has over 9000 pipes. It’s one of those hidden treasures you wouldn’t know is smack back in the middle of your town unless someone shows you. The way we made the connection was quite weird – I played a solo theremin set at the Melbourne Museum for some quite boring local council event, and a really nice guy called Ariel came up to me after I had played and told me he was the Curator of Instruments for the City of Melbourne and that he’d really enjoyed my set and wondered if I might be keen on doing something with the pipe organ in the Town Hall. I explained to him that I had a band and so he took us in to have a look at the organ, and we were totally blown away. The thing is so huge and gothic and incredible. He suggested we have a play with it over summer to see if we could come up with any material for a concert, so we jammed with it for a few weeks and then played what we’d written for a small group of people from the City of Melbourne, who liked it and said they wanted to include it in the Melbourne Music Week festival. One of them had heard that we had just returned from supporting Goblin in Berlin and the idea was floated that bringing a band of that stature to Melbourne might be a good way to fill up the Town Hall for our show (it’s bloody enormous too) . Next thing we knew they had booked Goblin for their first ever Australian show and paid for them to come out, so we ended up playing this amazing sold out show with them. The show was supposed to be recorded live but something went wrong and we didn’t end up with a decent recording. Flash forward to 2014 and Ariel contacted us again and asked if we would be keen on making a proper recording of our set, as it hadn’t worked out the first time. We had only just put out Spiral Vortex and were planning a tour but the opportunity was so awesome that we put those plans on hold to make the pipe organ record. Half the material was from the 2012 show and we wrote the other half and made the album in a five week period over May-June this year. We called it Pavor Nocturnus because it’s the latin name for Night Terrors, but also because we mostly only had access to the Town Hall between the hours of 10pm and 6am, as the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra was rehearsing and performing there in the daytime. So I was going in there like a weird Phantom of the Opera guy and playing this huge scary instrument in the middle of the night for weeks on end. It was super fun.
J. Hubner: Watching the video for “Megafauna” there’s a real macabre vibe to it which I love. The visuals bring to mind Dario Argento’s ‘Suspiria’. Is that a theme with this album as it’s a “Halloween” record of sorts? 
Miles Brown: Luke Fraser has done the art and design for all our records, so he came down when we shot the clip and art directed. He had a very clear idea of how to make those visual Argento references via the use of block colour lighting and saturation, which he also used in the album art. Agostino Soldati directed the clip and totally understood the concept – he did an amazing job collaborating with Luke to turn what was originally just a performance video into something way creepier. As the record was being made we all started to realise that the project was definitely veering off into this macabre and horror-influenced direction – a lot more than anything else we had done. To be honest I had always resisted taking the band too far in that direction to an extent because it seemed too obvious with the name and everything, but once we heard what the organ could do it seemed silly to fight the tide and a lot more fun to go with it and see what would happen. The fact that it was recorded on Friday the 13th and launched on Halloween was actually totally coincidental – the City Of Melbourne offered us those dates because they were some of the only ones free as the Town Hall is always in use. So for all those reasons it seemed quite obvious to indulge ourselves in this direction and have fun with it all.
J. Hubner:  Will there only be the Halloween show for this album? Any chance it will be recorded for a DVD release?
Miles Brown: Right now there is only the one show planned, but we are talking to people about touring the show to other towns with pipe organs – turns out almost every town has one! So we’re hoping we can do some kind of left-of-centre tour where we go and interfere with huge pipe organs around the world. We also have the Spiral Vortex record to tour so perhaps some kind of hybrid multi-show tour is on the cards. Stay tuned!
J. Hubner: What’s next after ‘Pavor Nocturnus’? Any plans for a release in 2015?
Miles Brown: We definitely want to tour in 2015, get back to Europe and the UK, and yes we are very keen to play the States as well. There’s already talk of a new album for 2015. We have a few fun projects on the go and I have a solo album coming out next year as well. So 2015 should be quite busy.
J. Hubner: Seeing The Night Terrors in the US would be amazing! You guys would kill at something like Beyond Fest.
Miles Brown: Beyond Fest would be a dream. We love Death Waltz and all those guys have been super supportive of our music in the last year. So yes, hopefully the US is in the cards in the near future!
If you happen to be in Melbourne, Australia on Friday, October 31st you’d be an idiot not to head to the Melbourne Town Hall and check out Pavor Nocturnus live. If I were there that’s where I’d be. We could carpool.
Check The Night Terrors out here and here.

The Return of Halloween

DSC03907So here we are again. We’re nearing the end of October, which means it’s nearly time to dress up and go door to door and ask for candy. Yep, Halloween is only two days away. My kids look forward to it every year(why wouldn’t they?), and I look forward to it as well. I didn’t always look forward to it. I can remember one year in order to get out of taking them trick or treating I put on a mask and hid behind doors in the house and they trick or treated in the hallway, kitchen, living room, and bathrooms. Yes, I was pathetic. But things have changed. I’m not that pathetic goob that made his kids trick or treat in their house anymore. Two years ago we drove the kids from house to house. Not only was it cold and rainy, but my daughter had a cold so we wanted to make sure she wouldn’t end up with pneumonia as well. Last year was the most fun I’ve had taking the kids door to door in a long time. Probably since I was a kid myself asking for candy from strangers. There’s a new-ish neighborhood that’s adjacent from our neighborhood, so I took the kids over there to get candy. We didn’t have to worry about traffic, the streets were nice and big, and there were plenty of houses to hit up. It was a little brisk, and the wind kept blowing my then 10 year-old’s witch hat off her head, but besides that we had a great time. My oldest was 13 last year and I didn’t think she was going to go with us. She decided at the last minute her desire for candy beat out any sort of teenage pride she might’ve been carrying around, so she put some random clothes on and joined us. My wife at that point had been working evenings for the past 7 years so it was just me taking the kids out and about. We had a great time and the kids scored huge. Three Musketeers, M&Ms, Hershey Bars, Peanut Butter Cups, and mounds of Dum Dum Suckers as far as the eye could see donned the kitchen table. The kids sat around the table, counted their loot, and bartered like crooks divvying up the big score. It was quite entertaining, especially after a couple Leinenkugel Snowdrift Vanilla Porters.

What I thought was going to be just me and my 9 and 11 year-old hitting the pavement this Friday has turned into a caravan of sorts. Not only are my two youngest going, but my 14 year-old and two, possibly three, of her friends are going as well. I thought last year was the last time for my oldest to hit the streets in search of cavity-causing sweets but I’m lucky in that I have one more year with her going with us. I’m pretty thrilled actually. Plus, my wife will be joining us as well. She now has a job that gives her back her evenings and she’s excited(I think) to be going with us.

As a kid, I loved trick or treating. But I can remember going it alone more than going with others. My older brother was 6 years ahead of me, so by the time I was ghouling it up in the Pines and around the surrounding lakes in search of poisoned candy and razor-laced caramel apples my bro was counting baseball cards and listening to Motley Crue. So my mom would take me out, which honestly I didn’t care. I wanted the goods, not a pal to walk around with.

As far as costumes, they ran the gamut as far as what I went as. When I was really little they used to sell an “all-in-one” kind of deal. I small box that had a cheap little plastic mask and a vinyl suit that you tied onto your person. I was a Star Wars nerd so I can remember going as C3PO, Darth Vader, and a Stormtrooper. There was one year where we didn’t buy a costume so I wore a ski mask, and old coat, and carried a toy M-16 machine gun. I guess nowadays that would probably be frowned upon-folks thinking Isis had invaded US borders and were coming for their Fun Size Milky Ways-but in 1982 it was no big deal. Then as I got older the latex masks that cover your whole head came into play. Vampires, zombies, Frankenstein,…the whole Hammer horror superstars were used in the coming years to help me get candy on Halloween.

The last Halloween I went trick or treating was October 31st, 1986. I was 12 going on 13 and my best friend and I headed out for one last hoorah. We already had discovered girls and rock ‘n roll, so we were taking a chance at losing some cool points by going out for some tricking and treating(okay, we were already in the negative numbers as far as cool points were concerned, but we were 12 and in denial.) So we each donned some disgusting Halloween mask and headed out for the final jaunt through the pine trees and adjoining neighborhoods. We made it through unscathed, except for a few thistles stuck in the hair on our masks from jumping into a bush to hide from some oncoming cars. We came home, ate our candy, listened to Ratt, and watched The Stepfather on VHS. The masks were put away for good. Goodbye trick or treating… hello teenage years, awkward glances, and heartbreak.

So I guess why I love Halloween so much nowadays is because I want my kids to enjoy being kids as long as they can. Eventually they’ll put their masks away as well. They’ll look at going door-to-door for candy as childish and immature. The fact that my 14 year-old and her friends are excited to go gives me hope that maybe kids are holding onto their imagination, silly hearts, and belly laughs just a little longer. I know as I get older I’m starting to find those things all over again and I quite like it.

Happy Halloween.DSC03890

The Flaming Lips :: With A Little Help From My Fwends

lips

 

What would you think, if I sang out of tune, Would you stand up and walk out on me?

Famous words sang in a famous song, sung by a famous drummer. No Ringo, we’d never walk out on you. Never. Not even if there’s a fire. But the same can no longer be said of the Flaming Lips and their extremely old and stale shenanigans. I think I’m honestly one of the remaining few that have held on up to this point. I championed The Terror, that Peace Sword S/T, and that 7 Skies H3 album they released last RSD(I honestly thing 7 Skies H3 is some of the best stuff they’ve done since Embryonic.) Man, I’ve taken every bitter pill they’ve sent my way and I’ve loved every weird trip they’ve taken me on. But this cover album of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band? Nah, I just can’t do it anymore. I’m through. There needs to be some sort of intervention for Mr. Coyne. Shut down his Instagram. Take away his gummy molding machine, and all of his plastic doo dads he covers himself in on stage. He needs to seriously get his head out of whatever fumes he’s been inhaling and breathe in some untainted oxygen. The jig is up, you fearless freak.

Let me first say that I’m not some Beatles extremist. When I first heard the Lips were covering Sgt Pepper I was thrilled. I was and still am a huge fan of their take on The Dark Side of the Moon. I felt that in their own way The Flaming Lips stayed true to that album without compromising any of their weirdness. If they were to do that with Sgt Pepper, then we were going to be in for a real treat. I mean, Sgt Pepper was a massive statement. A milestone, and an album that in many eyes can never be replicated or matched. The Lips created that for me in 1999 when they put out The Soft Bulletin. That album was pure, child-like honesty put to otherworldly and ethereal music. It encapsulated the wonder and fear of life and death, all brought together by Wayne Coyne’s wavering and breaking voice. I was 24 years old when that album came out and it affected me much like Sgt Pepper affected so many folks 32 years before. How could Wayne Coyne and company screw this up? I don’t know, but they did.

This album really comes off as a big, noisy mess. It’s as if Coyne and company weren’t even there. They let special guests(and there were quite a few) in the studio, locked them in, and proceeded to pump in nitrous oxide through the vents to see what would happen. It’s a real shame, too, as underneath it all there’s some great performances by The Autumn Defense, Dr. Dog, Phantogram, and My Morning Jacket. Those performances are covered in clumps of audio fuzz, grime, and over blown excess. Yes, I’m aware I’m talking about the Flaming Lips when I’m complaining about “excess”. Here’s the thing: the Lips have always excelled at excess. They do excess beautifully. But here the excess is excessive. A beautiful vocal performance by the Autumn Defense in “With A Little Help From My Friends” is completely stunted by pairing them with Black Pus. “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band” is shat upon by a overzealous guitar solo by the wonderful J Mascis at the end. “Getting Better”, featuring Dr. Dog, seems like a completely incredible combination until you throw Chuck Inglish in there as well and it just kinda falls flat on it’s face. I would’ve loved to have heard Dr. Dog’s full access on this track, with the Lips noodling on the knobs and faders a bit. Instead we get this detached Chuck Inglish vocal over top Dr. Dog with some pretty great stereo drums. It’s so close to perfection. “A Day In The Life”, while not bad, seems to just fall a little flat. This should’ve been monstrous, explosive, and beautiful. Instead, we get the most restraint we’ve seen on this covers album where it should’ve been the biggest statement possible.

A lot of people have bitched and moaned about Miley Cyrus’ connection to the Lips and Coyne, and especially her inclusion on this album. Well I’m here to say she is not to blame for the issues here. She does fine, really. She is featured on “A Day In The Life”, as well as one of the album highlights, “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”. They go big for “Lucy” and it works beautifully. Electric Wurms’ cover of “Fixing A Hole” is also a nice surprise. They pretty much stick to script here, with some nice, dreamy effects. Sorta like Yes covering the Beatles and it works. “She’s Leaving Home” is quite melancholy with Phantogram, Julianna Barwick, and Spaceface. It has an 80s electro vibe with all of the original track’s mournful feel. “Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite!” with Maynard James Keenan is a perfect fit, actually. It has a “carnival of souls” aura and Keenan makes the track his own. “Within You Without You” with Birdflower and Morgan Delt keeps the mystical vibe of Harrison’s original, with some modern touches that aren’t too overbearing. Most of the rest? Kinda just there, really.

The strangest thing is that you wouldn’t even know this was a project curated by The Flaming Lips if it weren’t for the production. You “hear” them in like two tracks. Other than that, who knows? Even with something like Heady Fwends you got the feeling Wayne, Steve, and Michael were in the room with their “fwends”. Not so much here.

I look at classic albums like Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, Pet Sounds, and Odyssey and Oracle and I compare them to classical pieces by Mozart, Beethoven, and Debussy. They fall under the canon of timeless pieces of music and should be interpreted and endeared by future musicians and artists. We’ve done this for hundreds of years and it is a practice that should continue for hundreds of years to come. The Flaming Lips, I felt, were a band to do such a thing with The Beatles. They did right by Pink Floyd. They’ll do right by The Beatles, right? Even for Coyne, Drozd, and Ivins this is pretty far out there. They’ve taken themselves and a bunch of great artists and covered their “covers” of Lennon/McCartney compositions in so much noise it’s hard to discern anyone’s original intent.

This certainly isn’t a phoned-in tribute. It’s ambitious, ballsy, and grand for sure. But even Pollack knew when enough was enough. Wayne, sometimes less is more. I still love you, but I’m gonna have to walk away on this one.

5.6 out of 10

Thurston Moore :: The Best Day

Thurston-Moore-The-Best-DaySo if we were keeping score(which I am), then Kim Gordon was whipping Thurston Moore in regards to the quality of post-breakup records. Her Body/Head album from last year was miles ahead of Moore’s mediocre Chelsea Light Moving album that came out last year as well. She made an album that was just as much a performance art piece as it was serious artistic statement. The faux swagger of Chelsea Light Moving only made Thurston Moore look like the old dude trying to be a young dude; not the aging-with-grace sonic pioneer showing that he still had it in him to make cool, crazy noise. Well Moore switched gears and has released an album under his own name, put together a new band that includes Sonic Youth drum basher Steve Shelley, My Bloody Valentine bassist Debbie Googe, and guitarist James Sedwards of UK math-punk trio Nought. The Best Day is light years above Chelsea Light Moving and is a solid 50 minutes of post-2000s Sonic Youth noise.

Post-2000s Sonic Youth. I’m referring to the albums Murray Street, Sonic Nurse, and Rather Ripped. In the Sonic Youth canon these records were lighter in sound and texture, but more rambling and expansive. The band found a streak of epic lollygagging that tickled my fancy just fine. These albums felt layered and deep; not jagged, painful, and angry like the Sonic Youth of the 80s and early 90s. The Best Day lingers in the mid-2000s for inspiration and an overall sonic palate. “Speak to the Wild” sounds like a re-imagined “Disconnection Notice”, with Moore and Sedwards filling the cracks with jangly riffs and Googe adding a nice low end depth to the sound. “Forevermore” is dark, post-punk cloaked in a krautrock beat. It’s 11 minutes of tension and release. It’s also the best thing Thurston Moore has done in a long time. “Tape” is an intricate acoustic track that brings to mind both Nels Cline great work on his Coward album, as well as Moore’s own work on his Trees Outside The Academy album from a few years ago. “The Best Day” is about as straightforward rock ‘n roll as Moore gets. It’s a fun rocker with an honest-to-God pentatonic blues scales guitar solo. It’s good stuff, with some interesting eastern guitar runs thrown in there for good measure as well. “Detonation” has a punk rock burn with Moore almost sounding like an early 80s Michael Stipe. It’s R.E.M., hungover and out-of-tune. It’s old school Sonic Youth done by new school Thurston Moore. “Grace Lake” starts out quiet and pretty before slowly folding in onto itself and unfurling into aural fire and smoke. “Germs Burn” closes the record on a lighter note; whiffs of Sonic Youth past mingle with the possible future of this great new collaborative band.

Thurston Moore has caught up, artistically speaking, with his ex. If he can keep this band together I gladly look forward to what they have in store for us next.

7.8 out of 10

 

Thematic :: The Endless Light

endless lightThere’s a lot to be said for progressive metal. It’s not like you can record a progressive metal album over the weekend in the garage with nothing more than a 4-track and some secondhand guitars. There’s precision, ebb and flow, highs and lows, and a narrative involved in a proper progressive rock album that needs to be taken into account. Without it, it’s just another metal album. Fort Wayne’s Thematic have unleashed their relenting album debut with The Endless Light, a mix of Dream Theater precision, Tool heaviness, and a good amount of classic speed metal to get all the hardcore metal heads excited.

I can’t say for sure if The Endless Light is a concept album, but it has the flow and timing of one. “Precipice” opens the album quietly with some Tangerine Dream-like ambient vibes before “Epoch” comes roaring in to tear your face off. It has the vibe of those classic Metal Blade Records albums from the 80s. Fates Warning comes to mind on this track especially. It’s heavy in the verses and soars in the chorus. “Tempest” has the sound of a beefier Incubus with some King Crimson thrown in for good measure, “Evoke” brings back many a 80s metal memories. If you’re at all familiar with those classic Shrapnel Records releases in the 80s you’ll love the guitar in this track. Vinnie Moore would be proud.

The album continues on a path of both relentless heaviness and quiet interludes, all of which was expertly composed, arranged, engineered and produced by the band themselves. Intricate, metronome-like drum precision that blasts double kick madness, standing up to drum titans with names like Dave Lombardo and Charlie Benante; not to mention Neal Peart and Mike Portnoy. Guitars shoot effortless speed runs out of the speakers with ease, and vocals that both growl and soar. “RE:M” is a break in the metal and gives us a quiet moment of piano balladry, something Savatage did very well back in the day. “Obsidian” sports some monster riffage and tons of angst, while “The Beating Heart” is an acoustic-led track with some great drumming backing it up. “Deep Field” ends the album on a quiet note, with some ambient guitar tones.

Thematic do their progressive forefathers right by making a great debut album. Metal and progressive fans alike can find something to love on The Endless Light.

7.5 out of 10

The Lurking Corpses :: Workin For The Devil

the-lurking-corpses-working-for-the-devil-album-coverThe Lurking Corpses have been causing musical havoc for years in the Fort and beyond. They stalk stages like the damned looking for another soul to steal, all the while creating a vile, cursed noise that’s equal parts The Misfits, Iron Maiden, and late night creature features. Their newest evil creation, the demonically righteous Workin For The Devil, doesn’t disappoint.

The Lurking Corpses are just as much a theatrical delight as they are a musical one. Monsters stalking stages and countrysides, but not with axes and chainsaws. Instead their weapons of choice are pointy guitars. “Workin For The Devil” opens this Godforsaken horror metal atrocity with equal parts metal fervor and punk rock anarchy. Something like a cross between Hammer Fillms, Clive Barker, and early Venom. “The Gate” gurgles and spits occult vitriol and howls otherworldly screams that would make King Diamond cower in fear. “The Leech and the Worm” sports some killer(no pun intended) riffing and creepy sound clips. It’s like Glen Danzig fronting Diamond Head. “Tonight” could pass for a single, if Satan’s henchmen could write such a thing. It’s an upbeat song that could even fool the pure at heart to tap their feet to it.

Elsewhere, “Blind Dead Rise”, “She’s Alone Again”, and “Dead F**k” eviscerate earholes and minds with some blistering speed metal and ritualistic damning. “Lady Frankenstein” sounds like The Ramones reanimated for the sake of destroying the world. “You’re Dead” sounds, well, how you’d think it would. “In Hell(I Wait For You)” is almost a love song for the damned, complete with “Palisades Park” organ and some clean guitar in the verses. Of course, this is a love song created by a bunch of monsters who happen to be Satan’s henchmen. It’s a blood-spattered love song. There’s even a “hidden” track in the form of a cover of Slayer’s “Tormentor”. A fitting tribute to Jeff Hanneman.

Workin For The Devil is bloody mayhem and demonic aural delights. It’s Creature Feature for your ears. It’s a ghoulish, putrid good time. Grab a copy before All Hallows Eve.

7.4 out of 10