Tea Leaf Dancers and the Bonus Beat

Flying Lotus, aka Steve Ellison, has been somewhat of an obsession of mine for the past couple of years. His beats are like these liquid-y flows that carry psychedelic melodies through the ether. His music is transformative. There seems to be a constant state of movement and reforming. It’s hip hop-based, for sure. But as his albums have progressed there’s a sense of jazz free form composing going on. It’s electronic music, but it sounds organic. Even the weirder stuff seems like if you threw it into the earth it would act as compost and come back as something newer, greener, and heartier. I also think that for a lot of folks only about 25% of what Ellison makes is something you’d want to hit repeat on. Maybe 20%. Me? I went all in with Flying Lotus after I bought You’re Dead! back in 2014. It was so out there at times, yet the underlying rhythms kept me going back. It’s like Ellison is the Zappa or Beefheart of the electronic/hip hop/breakbeat world. J Dilla kept it mostly with beats and groove, where Flying Lotus took it one(or two or three) steps further by adding this alien personality in it.

I’m sure I’ve said all this before in previous rants, so sorry.

This time I’m here to say that if you were ever on the fence with Flying Lotus or you prefer him in smaller doses, then the Reset EP is for you. I saw this one sitting at my local record store for the longest time and wondered if I should pick it up. I hadn’t done much research on it and wasn’t sure if it was an EP or single. Turned out it was Ellison’s debut with Warp Records and it came out a few months before his excellent Los Angeles(another album I think the “on the fence” crowd would really dig as a whole.) So a couple months back I grabbed Reset EP and am glad I did.

There’s not much to it, really. It’s 6 tracks and they’re spread over two sides of a 12″. What it lacks in songs, it makes up for in quality songs. “Tea Leaf Dancers” is a sultry, groove-heavy track complete with soulful vocals by Andreya Triana. Strangely enough I could hear a certain Thom Yorke singing this one, too. It snakes along at its own pace. This one really shows the genius in Ellison’s approach to building a beat and committing with some serious melody. “Vegas Collie” is just an absolute killer beat. It’s seems to be unraveling and reforming before your very ears. Wonky sounds and video game noises come in and out of the mix. It’s one of those tracks you see some slow motion kung fu fighting happening as this blasts your ear holes. “Massage Situation” is more languid grooves and expertly placed vocal samples. “Spicy Sammich” sounds like a galactic jungle rhythm Miles Davis might’ve dreamt up in a fever dream. It’s very moody and dark before the snare kicks in and things get very street level. “Bonus Beat” has a video game quality to it, like something Ellison would’ve come up with for his Cartoon Network music montages. “Dance Floor Stalker” sounds like its name. You can almost picture some weirdo heading out on the dance floor looking for some unsuspecting victim to gyrate next to. It’s a quirky 808 beat with wonky noises laid out throughout. Perfect way to end a debut.

Like I said, within months of this EP Flying Lotus released his second Warp Records release, the excellent Los Angeles. Reset EP is very much in the vein of that album. Ellison had yet to truly fly his freak flag on this one. Here he’s honing his beatmaking skills to the nth degree. It’s a swift shot of liquid beats and organic clicks and clacks with some serious street grit and groove.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a spicy sammich with my name on it waiting for me.

 

 

Not Enough Room In My Head

Sometimes it takes awhile for an album to find it’s rightful spot in my brain. It’s not necessarily a “grower” kind of album, as it may immediately be catchy and enjoyable, but sometimes there’s just not enough room in my head for those songs to live and breathe. Or maybe I may not be in the right emotional spot to really dig what’s coming at me at that moment. Or maybe five albums hit in one week and I didn’t really have enough table time with a record so it gets shelved prematurely. The latter is sadly usually the case. That’s the case for Craft Spells’ Nausea, anyways.

I first got into Craft Spells back in 2012 when I heard their Captured Tracks debut Idle Labor. That year I found myself in the throes of a pretty heavy shoegaze/dream pop/post-punk bender and Captured Tracks were putting out all the fixes I needed for that musical addiction. Idle Labor seemed to be this mix of early 80s sounds; stuff you would’ve heard on early Depeche Mode, New Order, IRS, and 4AD releases that your big brother tried hiding from you. Craft Spells, aka Justin Vallesteros, was mining some pretty heavy hitters in order to create his own version of those essential records that came out prior to Reagan’s second term. For me, there was this air of upbeatedness(I trademarked this word last week, btw) that I loved. Vallesteros played all the instruments and his voice was a smooth tenor that delivered these pop-centric tunes with an air of maturity. You felt like you had found some lost album from the neon era, as opposed to some young turk that rummaged through his parents old college records and made his own version.

Fast forward to 2014 and the release of Craft Spells Nausea. 2014 was a crazy year for me. Not like bad crazy or anything, but just crazy. The wife got a new job where she was traveling quite a bit, so I was home with the kids in the summer a lot while mom was down in North Carolina and Kentucky. I’d discovered Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast, which took up many of my afternoons of working out and mowing the lawn, and it was generally a pretty great year for music in my world. The War On Drugs, Real Estate, The Night Terrors, Jakob Skott, Jonas Munk, and a bevy of other heavy hitters put out some of my favorite albums of that year. I preordered the Captured Tracks limited edition version of Nausea when I saw it come up for sale, since I’m weak-kneed when it comes to phrases like “limited edition”, “special edition”, “preorder”, and “limited quantities”. The album arrived and I listened to it a couple times, enjoying it, but then it just sort of got pushed to the side as more goodness showed up in the mail. It eventually made its way into the vault where it sat for nearly three years…until now.

At work on a whim I found Nausea on one of those streaming music sites the kids are always talking about and listened to it whilst doing work things. With the whole job situation getting increasingly stressful I needed something to pull me out of it all. Opening track “Nausea” is this easy, breezy, and calming track that feels like a cross between Alan Parsons Project and OMD on tranquilizers. It has a slow motion quality to it that pulls you into its world. Vallesteros’ voice is really quite perfect for this kind of musical trip. He has an Eric Woolfson thing going on, but without all the melancholy. This track never hit me quite like it has lately. “Komorebi” keeps that vibe going to stunning effect. One of the biggest changes from Idle Labor to Nausea is that Vallesteros has replaced his “guy recording by himself” M.O. with a full band scenario in the studio and it suits him perfectly. There’s a real 70s quality to this album. “Komorebi” is this lush, dreamy track that has the sonic heft of Steely Dan with the wistful vibes of something I can’t quite put my finger on. “Dwindle” sounds like The Smiths in their latter years, before it all came to an end. Vallesteros isn’t quite the drama queen that Morrissey is, but he creates plenty of mood to go on. “Twirl” is a fun little number that grooves and shakes like Tigermilk-era Belle and Sebasitian. It’s a perfect summer day kind of song. “Breaking the Angle Against the Tide” has a bit of that old, dream pop vibe that Craft Spells lived in on Idle Labor, but with a lusher, fuller sound. It’s a great mixture of the musical worlds Justin Vallesteros loves to create in. “Still Fields(October 10, 1987)” is the piano-driven closer. For me, this hints at what Vallesteros could do in the future, which would be film scoring. It has such a cinematic feel to it. It’s quiet, emotive, and full of feeling. I could see this playing over the beginning or ending of a film. Perfect outro music, really.

I’m glad music works on us the way it does. We can’t force it to fit our emotional needs when it’s convenient for us. Sometimes it takes awhile to sink in. Craft Spells’ Nausea wasn’t meant to move me back in 2014. It was meant to move me in 2017. It’s a lush and beautiful album that’s subtle in its impact. It’s my go-to record in the mornings at work now. It silences the noise of frustration and lets me get to it.

So let’s get to it, shall we?

 

 

South of Heaven…North of Kentucky

I can remember in those formative years of mine it was taboo to listen to Slayer. It was bad enough getting caught listening to something like Megadeth’s “Good Mourning, Black Friday” or Metallica’s “The Four Horsemen” by yourself in your bedroom with the lights off, your comforter draped over you like a cape while praying over a bucket of chicken blood. I mean, the rules were ALWAYS never take a bucket of chicken blood in your bedroom. You could stain the carpet. Anyways, for me listening to Slayer was like a filthy little secret. It was tantamount to keeping Playboys under the mattress or worn copies of Faces of Death 1, 2, and 3 hidden under puzzle boxes and Hot Wheels in your closet. Those California thrashers were just so dark. You got the feeling there was very little laughter going on behind the scenes. I could be wrong, but the band that wrote songs titled “Crypts of Eternity”, “Aggressive Perfector”, and “Dead Skin Mask” surely wasn’t getting stoned on the tour bus and laughing at Tex Avery cartoons and singing along to “Penny Lane”.

I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am.

You see, Tom Araya, Jeff Hanneman, Kerry King, and Dave Lombardo looked like dudes you did not cross. I imagined someone mouthing off at one of their shows and Araya pulling out a trident and forking them in front of the entire Palladium crowd. Maybe there were moments of levity in-between cases of Heineken and devouring the souls of virgins from town to town. But I’m sure those only lasted until the bloodlust returned and the band had to feed once again on the blood of the young. Okay, okay, so these guys weren’t monsters, but for the 16-year old me they scared the hell out of me. They were the musical version of those video nasties I always heard about. I knew a girl named Karrie in 10th grade. She was in my geometry class. She’d moved to our Republican stronghold of a town in 1990 from the east coast. I’m not sure exactly from where but I think I think maybe Massachusetts as she had a bit of a Bostonian accent. I may have had a bit of a crush on her as she dug metal and had teased bangs that were at least 8 inches long. She even sold me her VHS copy of Pink Floyd’s Delicate Sound of Thunder. How could I not be smitten? I was putty in her hands. Anyways, Karrie had told me a story about how she and a girlfriend had partied with Slayer and that her girlfriend slept with Tom Araya. Back then I was a little jealous, but now that I’m an adult and a dad with daughters I’m horrified at that story. I mean, she was 16. Ugh.

Point I’m trying to make is that Slayer were an infamous band in my mind. My junior year in high school I became a fan with Seasons In The Abyss, but my first true exposure to Slayer was actually the Beastie Boys. Both “Fight For Your Right” and “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” had Hanneman playing his famous squealing, all over the place guitar solo. I believe he was in the “No Sleep” video as well. I thought, “Hey, if the Beasties dig Slayer maybe I should too?” Of course that didn’t happen, but two years later my brother was inviting me into his bedroom so he could show me what he procured from Butterfly Records that afternoon. It was Slayer’s South Of Heaven. He put it into his console stereo and I was feeling like I did the first time I watched Henry : Portrait of a Serial Killer, which means I felt a little queasy.

South Of Heaven felt like this overwhelming of the senses. It was this perfect melding of their hardcore roots and what would become speed metal. But they weren’t singing about Stephen King books, drug addiction, or covering the Sex Pistols. Slayer seemed to be summoning Satan himself in their breakneck rhythms, speed-picked solos, and Araya’s manimal vocals. Songs about serial killers, devil worship, the horrors of war, and general depravity felt more like hearing a psychotic’s journal being read over death marches than four drunk California punks having a good time. You took these guys at their word when they sang lines like “Bastard sons beget your cunting daughters/Promiscuous mothers with your incestuous fathers.” Songs like “South Of Heaven”, “Live Undead”, and “Mandatory Suicide” were relentless. They seemed to push the boundaries of musical dexterity and human decency. But still, there was something about them that kept me wanting to hear a bit more. There was this lawlessness to their music that was appealing. I sort of looked past the lyrics about necrophilia, masks made of human skin, and wartime atrocities in order to appreciate what was going on musically.

All these years later and I feel like I’m having a bit of a speed metal renaissance. Last year I got a little overzealous on Discogs and located some first pressings of Hell Awaits, Reign In Blood, and South Of Heaven. Out of those I’d have to say that South Of Heaven is my favorite. It’s still that perfect mix of youthful aggression and disgruntled middle age, bashing each other into a bloody pulp. Lyrically they go for the jugular, but it’s more about shock value than actually summoning demons from Hell. I think Tom Araya had one of the best metal vocals in the 80s. It was this spitfire delivery. It was strong, upfront, and not to be stifled with. Rick Rubin’s production was near perfect. No overused effects or studio trickery. The songs were raw and in your face. Hanneman and King weren’t intricate players, but they’d built up their speed and could speed riff better than anyone. Their solos sounded like wounded animals or howling damned souls, which seemed to suit the songs well. And Dave Lombardo? Man, the best drummer of the era period. That guy’s double kick drumming was unlike anyone else. There was power and finesse, but he could also kick it old school and knock out some serious hardcore beats. Lombaro was Slayer’s secret weapon, and once he left for good they just weren’t the same for me.

I’ve learned to not fear Slayer, but embrace them. And I’ve learned that first pressings can be a little expensive. More expensive than a VHS copy of Pink Floyd’s Delicate Sound of Thunder? Hell yes. Worth every penny? Oh hell yes.

 

 

Follow Me Or Die

When I go back to those classic thrash albums of my painful and awkward teens I always have to bring up my older brother. If it weren’t for him I would’ve been stuck in the cycle of hair metal and 12 bar blues far longer than I should’ve been. His 6 years on me gave him the foresight to acknowledge the pure genius of “the big four”: Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax. You really don’t even have to venture out of those four if you don’t want to. No need when you have albums like Master Of Puppets, Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying, Reign In Blood, and of course Among The Living in your collection. Those four records are a microcosm of misspent youth, societal paranoia, middle finger to authority, horror film admiration, and everything else that appealed to 14-year olds that wore “I Am The Law” t-shirts and attempted to grow their hair long and mingled in Midwestern basements plotting to take over the world.

Of the big four, Anthrax always seemed to be the guys you could hang out with the easiest. There was a hell of a lot of brooding going on in the Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer camps back in the 80s. A lot of self-serious 20-somethings getting drunk, strung out, and generally going for the nihilistic approach to proper rock living. Maybe it was growing up on the east coast, but Anthrax were just these fun dudes that loved comic books, horror movies, skating, and Stephen King novels(they probably loved music, too.) They never seemed to take themselves too seriously, which I think appealed to me. I loved heavy, dark music. But I also liked fart jokes, MAD magazine, Monty Python, and cartoons. I think the greater majority of Anthrax did as well. But besides being the dudes you could peruse the comic book store with, they could also play like mothereffers. You didn’t have to be really serious in your demeanor in order to tear faces off with your musical speed and dexterity. Among The Living was proof of that.

What can I say about this album that hasn’t already been said a million times before? It is THE ultimate thrash/speed metal album. The band’s hardcore roots show through, as do their progressive tendencies that will bloom on their other classic Persistence Of Time. There’s also plenty of nods to the band’s love of horror, comics, and pretty much whatever else they were into at the time. “Among The Living” was based of Stephen King’s The Stand, and in-particular the main antagonist Randall Flagg. “Disease! Disease! Spreading the disease. With some help from Captain Trips, He’ll bring the world down to his knees“, Joey Belladonna sings over a rapid fire drum part from the great Charlie Benante. Scott Ian and Dan Spitz chug out riffs like pros while Frank Bello lays down some serious low end. It’s, for me, one of the best openings on any speed metal album(“War Ensemble” on Slayer’s Seasons In The Abyss a close second.) Then you are thrown into the mosh pit with “Caught In A Mosh”. My daughter came home from school yesterday and said some kids said they were going to start a mosh pit after school. The cops showed up for this supposed event. I asked her if she knew what a mosh pit was. She said kids getting in a fight in a circle. I told her no, it’s guys(and gals) showing each other their mutual appreciation for aggressive music by running around in a circle and pushing and kicking each other. It’s like bonding, for the leather-clad and disgruntled crowd. She said “oh”. I asked her if there was going to be music involved for this supposed event and she said no. Pfft…amateurs.

“I Am The Law” is their ode to Judge Dredd, and not that horribe Sly Stallone version. The hardcore one from the comics(the 2012 film was much better with Karl Urban.) I have to say, before this song I had no idea who Judge Dredd was. I hadn’t gotten into comics back then. I was just a coddled teen getting his kicks from late night tv and Fangoria Magazine. “Efilnikufesin(N.F.L.)” is a nice snarky battering ram of hardcore tendencies that give a middle finger to the mindless droves doing nothing with their lives. It’s a skate punk staple. Another nod to Stephen King is the excellent “A Skeleton In The Closet”, which is based on the novella “Apt Pupil”. I can remember reading “Apt Pupil” from my dad’s worn and weathered copy of King’s Different Seasons after I’d heard the song and being kind of blown away by how accurately these New York City thrashers captured the story. “Indians” is one of the best songs on Among The Living, and a live staple in their set. It really shows the depth Anthrax’ writing can get to. “Medley: A.D.I./Horror Of It All”, or “Arabic Douche Intro” starts out with a short acoustic piece(like many songs of this metal era did), then it rolls into some serious chugging guitar for a nearly 8-minute metal riff-o-rama. “Imitation of Life” is a remake of the old S.O.D. song “Aren’t You Hungry?” It’s a closing salvo that will get even the most sedentary up and starting a mosh pit in the living room. For those wanting a little fun thrown into their thrash, you should check out S.O.D.’s Speak English Or Die. It’s big, loud, and dumb fun. It’s also a side band with Scott Ian, Charlie Benante, and their original Anthrax bassist Dan Lilker. It’s silly hardcore fun.

So there you have it. One of THE greatest thrash/speed metal albums ever from one of THE greatest thrash/speed metal bands to walk the face of the earth. Among The Living and Anthrax. Anthrax earned that ranking by not elevating themselves above the guys and gals that bought their albums and proudly bloodied themselves up in the mosh pits at their shows. For the most part, Anthrax were just like you and me. They loved KISS, Motorhead, Black Sabbath, and Judas Priest when they were teens. They idolized those bands and got lost in their records late at night in their bedrooms growing up. They wrote about what they loved, and most of what they loved I loved, too. They wrote serious metal, but they also loved hip hop and even made a hip hop song of their own(“I’m The Man”.) They loved horror movies. Joey Belladonna was even in one back in the late 80s(1990s Pledge Night.) They loved comics and Stephen King and used both as inspiration for their songs, and Among The Living contains all the good stuff. The great stuff.

Nothing else to say, except mublanikufesin!

 

 

Sounds In The Ether : Science Fiction and Johann Johannsson’s ‘Arrival’ Score

One of the best science fiction movies I’ve seen in awhile is Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival. It’s one of those films that after you watch it you sit and ponder it on and off for days. The implications it possesses, the scope of its reach, and the overall emotional heft it lays on your head and heart. It’s not a perfect film by any means(a recent comparison to Robert Zemeckis’ Contact by a friend had me second guessing Arrival‘s overall approach…for just a second), but some of the best films aren’t perfect. They create the environment and give us the ideas to mull over and think about obsessively for days, weeks, that allow us to decide whether they’re perfect in their own imperfect way. Science fiction allows each of us experiencing it to decide just how perfect or imperfect it is. I’ve never been a fan of hard science fiction. I don’t necessarily need a story to be based in some sort of factual reality. I mean, isn’t the appeal of sci fi the escapism aspect of it? I don’t even need a well written story to be honest. As long as there’s a definitive mood, look, sound, and feel that pull me out of the moment for a bit then I’m good(see Beyond The Black Rainbow.)

Another friend had told me he wasn’t a fan of Christopher Nolan’s hard science fiction approach, both in his Batman films and especially Interstellar. I can understand that. I watched his Batman films prior to reading the Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale Dark Knight stories so I appreciated the films on a cinematic level. After reading those excellent books the films seem to have a certain detached brilliance to them. The fantastical ideas behind some of those great villains seems too grounded in our real world reality now. I still love the movies on a filmmaking level, but they seem slightly “colder” than before.

When it comes to Interstellar I have to disagree with my friend(who knows quite a bit more about sci fi then I do, honestly.) While the film is certainly steeped in a heady dose of real science and actual time travel theory, I feel the human aspect of the story trumps the hard science fiction approach Nolan uses to tell the tale. At the base of the story is a father wanting to save his daughter, and he’ll sacrifice his own life for hers. It’s pretty simple. If that means traveling to the far reaches(literally) of the universe to do so then so be it. I felt there was a perfect balance of emotion and intellect in that film. There’s lots of black hole theories, space/time paradigms, and general poindexter jargon to satisfy the Stephen Hawking in all of us, as well as plenty of emotional heft to satisfy the person looking for a deeply heavy film.

So Arrival. Well for those that are reading this that haven’t seen the movie I won’t talk about any of the heavy details. It’s best to discover things naturally as you’re watching. In a nutshell, the film is about a handful of oblong UFOs that land at various points around the world. The US military bring in a nationally renowned linguist and a physicist to try and figure out how to communicate with the creatures that live inside these objects that seem to float above the ground like skyscraper-sized cocoons. You’re given hints of some tragedy that occurred in the life of one of these experts, which the lifeforms in these ships seem to be connected to. Are they trying to bond with the human? Or manipulate? As the late Chuck Berry once sang, “you never can tell.”

The film has a dreamy quality to it. In Villeneuve’s direction, Bradford Young’s cinematography and the acting of Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, there’s a truly impressionistic approach to storytelling. There’s nothing bombastic here. It’s all very quiet, with muted colors and quiet conversations. The film feels very meditative. For those that like their science fiction with Will Smith and Luc Besson, you may not get the proper thrills out of this. But for fans of Blade Runner, Under The Skin, Ex_Machina, Beyond The Black Rainbow, and even A.I., I think you’ll love this film.

Johann Johannsson’s score to Arrival is just as big a character as Adams, Renner, or the Heptapods. He creates both quiet beauty and shaded dread. He uses both traditional orchestration, as well as vocalization, electronic manipulation and loops to create this musical world. But his approach is anything but “traditional”. You feel like you’re in another world listening to his beautiful music. Opening piece “Arrival” drones along and is accompanied by what sounds like whales communicating(strangely, the alien objects look a bit like whales floating vertically above the ground.) “Heptapod B” brings Steve Reich to mind, especially in the looping aspect of the piece. This piece feels like a hallmark of Johannsson’s score, which in turn makes the overall sound seem like something new and exciting. Johannsson turns the traditional film score on its head. It runs the gamut from incidental to emotionally crushing.

I recently picked up this score on vinyl via Deutsche Grammophon and its a beautiful piece of vinyl. The sound is pristine, with Johannsson’s work coming through exquisitely. And the last song is the beautiful Max Richter piece “On the Nature of Daylight” which the film dons both at the beginning and end(unfortunately, because of the inclusion of Richter’s piece Johannsson was ineligible for an Academy Award nomination.)

I guess it doesn’t really matter how you take your science fiction, just as long as you take it. It’s important to open your mind a bit and delve into some critical thinking once in a while. Even if you don’t understand it right off the bat, give it a shot. Ponder it, re-watch it, read Dune again, buy The Criterion Collection edition of  Solaris and put that in your skull. Go to your locally owned used book shop and buy a stack of Philip K. Dick paperbacks, hit a coffee shop, and jump into his world. Let Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson tickle your frontal lobe, then jump into some classic Terry Gilliam fare. Just step out of the intellectual meat grinder known as modern entertainment for a bit and go somewhere in your head. Somewhere strange, hard to grasp, and uncomfortable.

Stretch your brain a bit. Your heart will follow.

 

 

Scoring Horror : Steve Moore’s ‘The Mind’s Eye’

I find myself listening to more soundtracks than I do watching the movies they score. Is that a bad thing? I’m sure the film directors and writers and producers might think so. It’s not that I have anything against watching movies, it’s just that a lot of the time I have easier access to the scores, and the soundtracks are usually better than the film. That’s just a cold hard fact of life, people. I give the filmmakers credit, though. They’re smart enough to hire top notch musicians to score their films. And I’m not saying all those films are bad or anything. I’m just saying the soundtracks usually grab me right away.

There are a crew of great people making some amazing music for indie and low budget films that are really classing up these flicks. Jeff Grace, Wojciech Golczewski, Disasterpeace, David Wingo, and Steve Moore.

Not familiar with Steve Moore? Well he’s one half of the heavy synth/progressive rock duo Zombi. Not familiar with Zombi? Really? Just, well see yourself out the door, okay? Close the door, too. Okay, they’re gone. So anyways, Moore has been making some pretty incredible noise in Zombi for years now, and a few years ago he started scoring films. The first that I saw was The Guest, which was both a great film and an incredible score. Cub was another one he scored, and again he hit it out of the park with that score. Last year he scored the low budget horror film The Mind’s Eye.

So as I stated earlier, I don’t see a lot of these films I pick up soundtracks of. The Mind’s Eye is on my list of films to see, for sure. But I was more interested in hearing Steve Moore doing what he does best, and this soundtrack does just that. It’s got all of those great early 80s synth sounds Moore is known for. The moody, rhythmic arpeggios…the swaths of dissonance…the new age-y interludes…they’re all there. He tends to stick to certain motifs. I can hear repeated sounds and expressions in each of the soundtracks I’ve heard of his, but I think that’s true for a lot of film scores. Certain build ups during scenes, creating tension for a scene, yadda yadda. It’s sort of like a hallmark of a Steve Moore film score.

To get an idea of what Steve Moore does, you should hit up albums like Zombi’s Surface To Air, Escape Velocity, and Shape Shift. For my money, those three records really show his compositional skills(along with drummer AJ Paterra.) Then once you’re fully committed to this synth wizard’s chi(sorry, been watching Iron Fist on Netflix), I’d suggest you find his score for The Guest and put that in your ears. I think that’s the ultimate power punch in regards to his scoring prowess. It’s got it all, really. Want more? Then The Mind’s Eye should be your next stop. This thing is a massive chunk of synth-heavy goodness. It’s a double LP, so there’s plenty to enjoy here. 85 minutes of music, to be exact. It’s an epic collection of heady sounds.

The film itself? Here’s the trailer:

Like I said I haven’t seen it, but it seems to do a lot with a little. Low budget horror can be a tricky thing, but done in the right hands it can do what major studios do with millions more bucks and far better. This one sort of puts me in my of Cronenberg’s Scanners, just from the trailer. That was a classic of the genre, and a low budget flick to boot. If Joe Begos does just half of what Cronenberg did then The Mind’s Eye will be pretty damn good.

Well I’ve rambled enough. I think I got off point a bit, but that’s typical on a Saturday morning. Steve Moore. The Mind’s Eye. Film Composers. Indie horror. GO!

 

 

Just Got Lucky

Oh, the 80s. When men were men in tights and poofy hair. The guitar’s smooth lines turned jagged and their colors went from sunbursts and cherry red to hot pink and black with skull and crossbones. Some see these as dark times for hard rock and heavy metal. While it’s not a decade I revisit often in regards to my musical fixes, there are some musical treasures that call their home the Reagan years.

By the mid-80s I was well into elementary school and deep into a nasty Star Wars habit that was slowly turning into a Transformers and GI Joe addiction. To complicate matters I was also starting to dabble in collecting music. Cassettes, folks. This was before CDs were prominent and affordable and just when LPs had begun to lose their desirability to the convenience and compact size of the cassette tape. My brother had been buying cassettes and LPs for some time and he’d begun dubbing some of the cassettes for me to enjoy on my General Electric single deck “boombox”. The first W.A.S.P. album, Nazareth’s Hair of the Dog, Judas Priest’s Defenders of the Faith, and The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour were a few he put on some Maxell 90 minute tapes and threw my way. The first cassette I bought for myself was when I was 10 and in the 5th grade. It was Ratt’s Out of the Cellar. After seeing their video for “Round and Round” on Friday Night Videos I was completely in awe of these LA glam rockers. Twisted Sister’s Stay Hungry followed shortly after, along with Quiet Riot’s Condition Critical and Van Halen’s 1984. I was officially hooked. Music had become as important as the new Kenner or Hasbro toy. Once the toy thing would die out I would then make music my main focus. It felt pretty natural, really. My parents groomed my brother and I at an early age to be music fans. There were ample LPs in the house growing up, so music was always around.

dokkenoneAfter that initial hard rock christening in 1984, 1985 introduced me to what I considered a next-level hard rock band. My older brother had a dubbed copy of an album called Tooth and Nail in his bedroom. It was by Dokken. I had come across the name in a copy of Metal Edge, but never heard them before. While my brother was working one night I took the cassette and brought it into my bedroom and popped it in the GE tape deck. What I heard wasn’t like anything I’d heard before. The music seemed darker to me, and faster. The guitar was much more prominent than in anything else I’d heard. It was faster, too. “Without Warning” opens the album on a ominous instrumental note, with synthesizer as George Lynch lays on some seriously heavy guitar playing. This wasn’t Eddie Van Halen stuff, man. This was seriously hard and heavy. It jumps right into title track “Tooth and Nail” which is a blitzkrieg of speed metal drums, Don Dokken’s banshee howl and of course George Lynch’s pyrotechnic guitar playing. My 11 year old ears had not heard anything like this before. How could my brother have hid this musical gem from me? Listening to this I imagined some great space battle, flying through the darkness of space firing laser cannons at my enemy’s ship(I was still a kid. That’s the kind of stuff that went through my head.) Then you’re thrown into the pop metal of “Just Got Lucky”, which will turn into the proto-typical Dokken style on Under Lock and Key and Back For The Attack. It’s that song that brings the chicks in. What girl doesn’t want to hear a song about a girl tearing some guy down a few notches? “Heartless Heart” has a cool riff, but for the record it’s pretty much filler. “Don’t Close Your Eyes” has some of that great George Lynch “chug-a-chug” riffing and some impressive rhythm section backbone by Jeff Pilson and Mick Brown. “When Heaven Comes Down” is a doom-laden rocker. It reminds me of some of the later Lynch Mob stuff. “Into The Fire” is a catchy-as-hell 80s rocker. It’s yet another example that Dokken were a few steps above the haze of White Rain that hung over the Sunset Strip in the 80s. “Bullets To Spare” is pretty schlocky “tough guy” metal that feels about as fake as the hair color these guys were sporting in 1984. But then we get to the shining example of 80s metal ballads. “Alone Again” played in many a car cassette decks(I know it played in my brother’s Jensen deck) while mulleted dudes drove around with one hand on the wheel and one dangerously high on his girl’s leg. I feel that Great White heard this song and went “Hey! Here’s our career right here!” “Turn On The Action” borrows some of that early years Van Halen boogie rhythms and adds some neo-classical guitar posturing. Of course Van Halen did the boogie metal better than anyone, but Roth never sounded as good as Don Dokken. Just a fact, folks.

So to say that Tooth and Nail made an impression on my still forming mind is an understatement. By 7th grade and turning into a full-fledged teenager George Lynch was a guitar hero of mine, Under Lock And Key was one of my favorite albums of 1986-87, and Back For The Attack the next year felt like this massive chunk of incredible riffs and pop-oriented metal. Also by that time Dokken had stolen the collective hearts of millions of horror fans by writing and recording the theme song to Nightmare On Elm Street 3 : The Dream Warriors. That movie was the “it” movie of 1987, and that song was everywhere. It put Dokken firmly front and center in the metal scene. Of course, Back For The Attack was the last studio album they would record before breaking up and going their separate ways(they did get back together in the 90s, but why?) They put out an excellent live album called Beast From The East in 1988, which had one studio song called “Walk Away”, a swan song of sorts that was a rather pretty ballad. The video was shot at some beautiful resort that looked as if it was atop some magical mountain. It was a nice way to say “It’s been real. Here’s something to remember us by.”

A couple of years ago I started going back and finding some of those 80s metal treasures on vinyl. Most of them are under $10, so I figured I’m not really losing out if it turns out they’re complete crap fests nowadays. I started out with Van Halen mostly, then on a trip to Ignition Music last year I found a NM copy of Dokken’s Beast from the East and felt instantly 14 years old again. It was only $5, too. One crisp $5 bill and I owned a double live LP. Seemed like a no-brainer. That followed with Under Lock And Key, then Back For The Attack. Last week I found a NM copy of Tooth and Nail from my local haunt for $7 and couldn’t pass it up. I’ve been spinning it for the better part of this week and it holds up, mostly. I’m not gonna be spinning Dokken on the norm or anything, but for a nostalgia trip it’s quite nice. Tom Werman’s production holds up pretty well. So many of those 80s metal albums are tainted with the dreaded gated reverb effect and a tinny aftertaste that makes them rather unbearable to listen to(at least to my ears.) Dokken always had a nice mix on their records and a decent amount of low end, so their production holds up over the years.

I’ve grown into someone that appreciates a production that doesn’t date the music. A transparent production that helps bring each piece into focus, but doesn’t over saturate the ears with any one thing. No over use of effects. Something as natural as possible. The 80s were a coked-out time when certain producers were too messed up to hear just how bad their mixes were. It even spilt over into the those early CD reissues and remasterings of older albums(check out that first ZZ Top’s Greatest Hits collection and listen to just how horrible those drums on “Lagrange” and “Tush” sound with the 80s reverb schlepped all over ’em.)

For a decade of overindulgence the messy production is a stark reality. At least some of it still holds up. Tooth And Nail is one of ’em that does.