The Adventures of Jesus Bros : Chapter 420

So I had this incredibly weird dream last night. I dreamt that when Jesus was born he had a twin brother. The twin brother died so that Jesus could live, and then the twin brother became a time traveler at the moment of his death. He could only travel forward through time until he locates a scroll from an ancient Chinese alchemist who created a serum from the black lotus. This allows him to travel back in time. He can see the past through his ancestor’s eyes, but his enemies can kill him if they kill the ancestors he’s currently inhabiting. It’s basically a sci-fi biblical version of Quantum Leap.

I woke from the fever dream thinking that I might have been touched by some cosmic hand from the ether and shown an existential truth that no one else knew about. But then I realized that the dream was just an after buzz from listening to High On Fire’s excellent 2012 album De Vermis Mysteriis(translated from Latin it means “The Mysteries Of The Worm”.) I’m guessing that worm can be found at the bottom of a tequila bottle, as the album is completely bat shit crazy and also near genius.

Matt Pike comes across as this philosopher hesher that crawled from a dirty sleeping bag lying in a watery ditch you pass nearly every day to work. Inside that sleeping bag is a portal to some THC-powered alternate reality where there’s not much difference between an IQ of 40 and 180. Pike is this heavy metal warrior that is constantly sweating and wheezy, espousing stoned philosophy and warning of conspiracy theories pertaining to alien abductions, government experiments, and hash laced with galactic dust which allows ones mind to expand and see the true meaning of it all. Though if you’re not open-minded enough you’re liable to go completely insane. Pike and High On Fire take Pike’s other band Sleep’s slow churn doom and crank it up to 14. HoF rumble through stacks of Orange and Marshall amplifiers at breakneck speed that would make fans of Slayer and Black Sabbath equally happy. Pike writes songs that are part Philip K. Dick and H.P. Lovecraft tales, while musically its as if Reign In Blood was equally influenced by Loose Nut and Master Of Reality.

I got into High On Fire after a few late night beer fests with an old friend. He left several of their albums on my hard drive for me to peruse. It took a couple years but I finally got around to listening to Blessed Black Wings and Death Is The Communion. I can say without a doubt that High On Fire single handedly got me back into metal. I’d moved away from the darker, heavier fare years before thinking I’d “outgrown” that stuff. Of course the real reason was that I’d simply lost my way in the ways of the dark metal arts. High On Fire scorched a path for me back to classic speed and thrash metal I used to love in my younger days. They also led me to Pike’s other epic band Sleep. But this isn’t about Sleep, or any other band. This is about Matt Pike and High On Fire and, in my opinion, their masterpiece De Vermis Mysteriis.

How do you think the meeting went between Matt Pike and the record executives when he came to them with the concept for De Vermis Mysteriis? “Well, it’s a concept record about Jesus’ twin brother who dies at birth so Jesus can live out his destiny, and in turn this dead twin becomes a time traveler. What do you think?” I’m sure there never was a meeting like that because by 2012 Matt Pike had made his musical intentions very much known. Scream about demons, wizards, warriors, battles, and make the music as hard and heavy as possible. Who gives a shit what Pike is screaming about, just as long as the skin on my skull begins to rip from the bone by the time we reach the first chorus. Actually, I do care about what he’s singing about because that’s an important part of the High On Fire trip. He may be a dirty hesher, but Matt Pike is a hell of a story spinner(as well as a shredding fiend.)

When you have a song like “Madness Of An Architect” you’re pretty much set for sensory annihilation. This song is like a sludgy trip through 40 years of doom, death, and blues all in the course of 7 minutes. This is a slow ride as far as High On Fire go. Usually things are at a breakneck pace, goosing the tempo just short of South Of Heaven territory. But on this track this metal three-piece take their time. Things even get downright melodic on the excellent “Interlude”, a song that has the bass sound of Cliff Burton and even the vibe of something like Metallica’s “Orion”. It leads right into “Spiritual Rights”, which is like dropping acid at an amusement park and you peak just at the top of a 200′ high rollercoaster. Pike gargles blood and Jameson as this truly power trio pummels minds like Thor tenderizing his steak with Mjölnir. I can’t help but think of the late great Lemmy Kilmister when I hear Matt Pike on this track. I feel there’s a thru line from Lemmy to Matt Pike. Both made extreme music and lived extreme lives, yet you talk to anyone close to either and they’d tell you they were the nicest guys. Down to earth guys that took everything in their lives to extremes(R.I.P. Lemmy.)

There’s a lot of melodic moments on this album, which I think was a precursor to 2015s Luminiferous. But there’s also plenty of blood-boiling and gnashing of teeth here as well. Album opener “Serums Of Liao” charges through the speakers with the dexterity of a baby xenomorph bursting through John Hurt’s chest. Not graceful; forceful, violent, and with deadly precision. As metal as these guys are there’s still plenty of progressive rock oomph here, too. High On Fire are the epitome of “power trio”. Pike is one of the premier metal guitarists working today, but the rhythm section of bassist Jeff Matz and drummer Des Kensel are a force to be reckoned with. Kensel gives Dave Lombardo a run for his money while Matz lays down some thick, barb-wired bass lines that fill whatever spots Pike might not with his massive guitar tone. “Bloody Knuckles” sounds like Slayer on steroids, man. Seriously, if Pepper Keenan-led Corrosion somehow devoured the violence of Slayer it might sound like this song. Then there’s “Fertile Green”. It’s like the battle hymn of the stoned republic. This is how 21st century metal is supposed to sound. Those kids in River’s Edge would’ve totally gotten drunk and stoned to this track. I could see my brother at 18 driving in his Cutlass with this bashing through his Pioneer Super Tuner whilst wearing my dad’s army trench coat covered in rock patches and the faint odor of prime “Tijuana Magic” stinging the nostrils. Hell, I bet my brother would’ve hung with Matt Pike if time and happenstance would’ve allowed.

Elsewhere, “King Of Days” hints at more introspective work that would be put out on Luminiferous, while “De Vermis Mysteriis” sounds like a thousand demons howling from a near empty bottle of absinthe. “Romulus and Remus” is slow-churning dread that’s part desert biker knife fight and part end-of-days blood orgy. “Warhorn” sounds like Black Sabbath on mescaline. Pike brings things down for the album closer, his vocals gurgle tales of battlefields and muskets blowing fire.

It’s a hell of a period at the end of one blood-soaked, sweat-drenched sentence.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Mr. Matt Pike and High On Fire for bringing me back to the true ways of metal. I think High On Fire are keeping metal dark, mysterious, and something your parents might be wary of. That was always a good thing for me. But also, High On Fire place musicianship very high on their albums. They can bash with the best of ’em, but they bash like the best jazz musicians bash. There’s conviction in those brutal riffs and speed demon drumming. De Vermis Mysteriis is a batshit record, but it’s also a near perfect metal album.

In the immortal words of David St. Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel, “It’s such a fine line between stupid and…clever.” Indeed.

Working Class Gyro

Yesterday was the 37th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder, and today is the 37th anniversary of when I found out about John Lennon’s murder. I was 7 years old and in the kitchen of my mom and dad’s house. We had a tiny black and white TV that sat on top of the refrigerator for those mornings and nights when we wanted to watch Good Morning America and M.A.S.H. reruns while we fed our faces. On that morning I remember seeing Paul McCartney being interviewed by the GMA crew and seeing the face of a man that usually looked kind of sad anyways seem both sad and completely at a loss for words. I was young, but I was well aware of John Lennon. I had been given the gift of parents with good taste in music, so since I could remember I was hearing John Lennon sing “A Day In The Life”, “Dear Prudence”, “Happiness Is A Warm Gun”, “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”, “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite”, and “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me and My Monkey”.

Of course, those were off Beatles albums.

I loved Lennon and McCartney, but I always gravitated more to John Lennon. He seemed to have the more biting humor, seemed to have more fun, and he reminded me more of people that I would’ve known in my life than Paul McCartney. Plus, I just loved his voice. Like a good old tube amp, when he pushed his voice it got gritty and harsh while still having plenty of soul. As I grew up I fixated on Lennon. His solo albums were a big influence on me. I felt like as he got older he became a guy looking for answers to the psychological trauma inflicted on him when he was a kid. Dad left him, mom left him, mom came back into his life only to be taken away again by being hit by a bus. How do you not get screwed up by that? There was just a lot of real heartache and emotional fuckery that bled into his solo work, and early on unfortunately into his relationship with his first wife and his relationship with his son Julian. It’s been well documented how much of an asshole Lennon was to his first wife, and that he all but ignored his first son. In the early days of the Lennon/Ono relationship there was a lot of self-involvement and publicity stunting that may have had good intentions at its core but just ended up being more like performance art gone awry. As a dad, I see how he treated Julian and it’s infuriating to me. It seems to be this period of acting out on Lennon’s part. It’s not an excuse for his behavior. I’m just stating my opinion. John Lennon was a complex, damaged man that whether he liked it or not affected more lives than he ever could’ve imagined.

But this isn’t an indictment on the man. This is about something completely different. It’s about gyros. And George Clinton.

In 1995 I was living in an apartment with my girlfriend. We’d made the plunge into the world of apartment renting and were digging it. She was working 2nd shift while I was on days. One week night while she was working my friend Chad asked me if I wanted to head to the mall and grab a bite to eat. I said sure because I was bored and my laundry was caught up. We hit up the National Record Mart, which was a chain record store at Glenbrook Mall and I picked up Working Class Hero : A Tribute To John Lennon. I was still very much a fan of Lennon and this tribute seemed to have quite a few bands I was into at the time so I took a chance on it. Before we left Fort Wayne my friend Chad suggested eating at King Gyro before we headed home. I’d never eaten at King Gyro before, but as to not disappoint my pal I said sure. I found the gyro decent enough and the conversation on the way back home pleasant. I got home and put the CD in the stereo and proceeded to listen to old timers and up and comers alike pay tribute to John Lennon. I was enjoying it, but there was a feeling that something wasn’t right as bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Toad The Wet Sprocket, Collective Soul, and Sponge did their best interpretations of Lennon classics. About halfway thru the disc I shut if off as I couldn’t concentrate with the loud, abrupt growls and whines coming from my gut. A sickly sweat formed on my forehead as the rest of my body went to a pasty, clammy texture that was like sweating warm cooking oil out of my pores.

King Gyros revenge.

I was sick for the next 12 hours. The initial few hours were the worst with gyro exiting my body from both ends. My girlfriend got home and gave me a wet rag to drape over my green forehead. Small offerings, such as ice chips, stale saltines, and empty prayers were appreciated but did little to qualm the typhoon of stomach acid that ripped and roared in my innards. By morning I’d been emptied out and tossed to the side like an empty tube of Crest, twisted and squeezed for every last drop.

It took nearly three days to fully recover from that Greek tragedy, and I’ve only eaten at one other King Gyros since that day(it was in a post-Cure concert hangover stupor…this was also not a good choice.) Besides my bowels and my tattered and violated soul, the other big victim here was Working Class Hero: A Tribute To John Lennon. Due to the circumstances surrounding the initial listen of that album, I just couldn’t get myself to go back to that CD and listen to it again. Every time I thought of George Clinton doing “Mind Games” or Collective Soul covering “Jealous Guy” I could feel the sweat begin to form above my upper lip and I could hear the ghostly sounds of my abdomen as it screamed “Eeeeeaahhhhh!” and “Reeeeeeaaauuuhhhh!” on that pained evening in 1995. That tribute CD sat in my CD tower for the next 22 years, waiting for me to make my way back to it(with Tums in hand.)

So yesterday with the anniversary of John Lennon’s death on my mind I made my way downstairs and pulled out that tribute disc, despite the gastro-intestinal PTSD involved with it. Most of the morning I sat at my desk and listened to this album that paid tribute to a guy that changed and rewired so many hearts and minds in less than a 20 year span. For the most part, it’s still a solid spin.

The highlights first:

Candlebox covers “Steel and Glass” to great effect. I was never a fan of them when they were the alternative rock flavor of the month back in the early 90s, but here they show they’re capable of taking on John Lennon’s Walls and Bridges sleeper.

Screaming Trees’ taking on “Working Class Hero” seems like the most perfect coming together since chocolate and peanut butter, or chicken tenders and honey mustard. Mark Lanegan seething out the line “You’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see” is your moment of zen today.

Scott Weiland’s Magnificent Bastards do justice to “How Do You Sleep”. Here’s a spot where Weiland was very much on his game and he delivers the venomous lyrics with vigor.

The Flaming Lips’ “Nobody Told Me” is near perfect. It’s ramshackle, noisy, and has the feeling of being pasted together with spit and mildew, but that’s the beauty of it. Coyne and company doing what they do best.

Cheap Trick hadn’t sounded this good in years when they tackled Lennon’s “Cold Turkey”. They sound like a bunch of young punks fresh out of the Midwest with something to prove.

A band I dug in the mid-90s was Super 8. They were pretty much here and gone, but they left a couple good records and this amazing cover of “Well Well Well”.

I don’t know why, but Collective Soul’s cover of “Jealous Guy” is just about perfect. They didn’t try to “make it their own” as much as just do it justice. It’s a simple and earnest rendition and I love it.

Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Grow Old With Me” is just a plain beautiful cover. She makes the song her own while still allowing Lennon’s spirit to live on.

The not-so highlights:

Pretty much everything else. Either the rest tried too hard to make it their own, or kept it so close to the original that it was kind of like “what’s the point?”, or it just kind of sucked(I’m looking at your RHCP.)

I think there were more cheers than jeers, which makes this compilation well worth checking out(Gyros be damned.)

Even after 22 years and with half the artists on this tribute not existing anymore or gone from the public eye for two decades, it’s a great collection of covers. It is interesting looking at this playlist and seeing that so many of these bands are truly “of the times.” Super 8, Candlebox, Toad The Wet Sprocket, Collective Soul, Mad Season, Sponge and Blues Traveler were all these big bands from like 1993 to 1996 then they disappeared into the ether of alternative rock limbo. Here’s a testament to their love of John Lennon, and to the fact that they did indeed exist I guess. Though I think any local fair would be a testament to that, as I bet a few of them are playing fairs pretty regularly nowadays.

A working class gyro is something to be.


Much thanks to Bruce over at Vinyl Connection for inviting me to participate in his tribute to the Various Artists collections we’ve all indulged in over the years. Without them, where would K-Tel Records be today?

 

Sick…Again?

There are a few bands that are part of my DNA thanks to my parents. At a very young age I can remember hearing on the Zenith console stereo in the basement Aerosmith, The Doors, and Led Zeppelin on a very routine basis. My mom and dad had the first house out of all of my mom’s siblings, so the basement in my parents’ house was the go-to spot for pool, beer, smoking, and rock and roll shenanigans. There were plenty of records spun on those hazy nights, but those three bands I remember hearing a lot of. Of those bands, Led Zeppelin stuck. I was limited to my Zep love by the records my parents owned. Led Zeppelin II, III, and IV were the albums I came up on. “Black Dog”, “What Is And What Should Never Be”, “Going To California”, “Misty Mountain Hop”, “Friends”, “Immigrant Song”, and “Out On The Tiles” were songs that stuck in my brain and never left. They were in my head so much that I recall getting in trouble in kindergarten for humming “Black Dog”, out loud, while the teacher was talking. In my defense I thought the humming was happening inside my head and not outside of it.

I mainly stuck with those three albums until I hit high school and I bought that 4-CD Led Zeppelin boxset that was released right around 1990 and I started hearing songs from Houses of the Holy and Physical Graffiti. It was like a whole new musical world opened up. You mean there was more to life than “Whole Lotta Love”, “Stairway To Heaven”, and “You Shook Me”?

The answer is undoubtedly yes.

Of the post-“numeral” albums, I think Physical Graffiti was the album that hit me the most. For a long time Houses of the Holy ranked at the top thanks to “Dancing Days”, “The Rain Song”, “The Crunge”, “The Song Remains The Same”, and of course “No Quarter”. Houses of the Holy was the post-high school Zeppelin album for sure. First beer buzzes, first long road trips, and first philosophical conversations about nothing in general were gathered around that 1973 record. But at some point, those bright and shiny tracks started to fade a bit. I’d found a vinyl copy of Physical Graffiti that my brother had bought in the late-80s. He’d found it at one of the last music stores in town where they still sold vinyl and bought it on a whim. I began spinning it on my parents Pioneer turntable and I was honestly floored. “In My Time Of Dying”, “Ten Years Gone”, and “Kashmir” were already pretty familiar to me(“Kashmir” thanks to Fast Times At Ridgemont High), but there were so many other songs on that record that I hadn’t gotten deep into that were honestly blowing me away.

Physical Graffiti was Zeppelin’s dark horse record.

Physical Graffiti began life way back in 1973 when Page, Plant, Jones, and Bonham entered the studio to write but quickly halted the sessions because John Paul Jones was ill. But it was later revealed that Jones was thinking about quitting the band to take a job as the choirmaster at Winchester Cathedral. After a few weeks of being away he decided to stick it out with his Zeppelin mates and they reconvened in the studio and knocked out 8 “belters”, according to Plant.

And boy, he wasn’t kidding.

Up to this point Jimmy Page and Zeppelin made it a point to make these pristine rock records. Sonically rich and engineered to the nines. But as soon as album opener “Custard Pie” hits you things seem very different. There’s a rough edge in this track that makes it almost seem vulgar. Jones’ clavinet pushes Zeppelin into a funk territory they’d only mildly explored to this point. Even Plant’s voice sounds dirtied and broken. He can still hit those high notes, but he sounds like he just rolled out of bed after an all-nighter. Then “The Rover” comes rolling in like a derelict after a night of monkey business at the local pub. Page’s guitar is all spaced-out thanks to some groovy phaser and Plant lays on the ethereal whining beautifully. “I’ve been to London, seen seven wonders/ I know to trip is just to fall/ I used to rock it, sometimes I’d roll it/ I always knew what it was for” Plant sings over a rock and roll strut that is equal parts street trash and rock royalty. This is the point when Zeppelin  truly take their music into modern times. They leave the blues rehashing at the studio door. “Houses of the Holy”, a leftover from the last record fits in quite nicely here in this set. Zeppelin always had a knack for heavy music, but making it something that you and your dad could enjoy together. This is generational metal.

Nowadays I find myself hitting fast forward for “In My Time Of Dying”. When I was younger I was enamored by this song. Dirge-y, slide guitar blues epics are what I lived for at 20 years old. At 43, it just gets a little old. I like hearing Zeppelin making something unique with their influences and inspirations. I don’t think “In My Time Of Dying” is that necessarily. It’s not bad, it’s just an 11 minute song that’s about 7 minutes too long. But “Trampled Under Foot”? Oh yes, most definitely. John Paul Jones truly shines on this album. With Presence and In Through The Out Door those records wouldn’t have existed without him. Between Page’s drug problems and Plant losing his daugther, Jones stepped in to keep things afloat. With Physical Graffiti he lets his musicianship and studio prowess shine. That clavinet, man. It sounds like Stevie Wonder jamming with the British rock titans. It’s not little Stevie, it’s just John Paul Jones blowing everyone out of the water.

I’ve heard “progressive” used to describe Zeppelin, and there have been a few moments on earlier records where I could hear that. “Dazed and Confused”, “No Quarter”, and “The Song Remains The Same” all sort of expand in your brain as you soak in their slightly psychedelic, slightly forward-thinking tones, but “In The Light” off Graffiti is about as progressive rock as they come. This could be my favorite Led Zeppelin song. There’s something about its eastern vibes mixed with an almost hippy-dippy uplift in the chorus that puts this track in a category all on its own. Once again, Jones takes Led Zeppelin into a Yogi-Maharishi-meets-Philip-K-Dick-in-an-opium-den vibe with those ethereal keyboard tones while Bonham reels his drums into a very controlled groove. I absolutely love Robert Plant’s vocals here, too. It’s part mysticism and part sweet crooning. Of course Page lays waste with his guitar. This track is simply transcendent.

Elsewhere, “Down By The Seaside” still gets me after all these years. Like Queen’s “You’re My Best Friend”, this song floats along on a cloud of wurlitizer electric piano as Jimmy Page does some magical thing with lapsteel run thru a Leslie speaker. This song dazzled me at 19 years old and it still dazzles me now. That middle section that pumps up the rock and roll only goes to turn this track into more of a legendary jam. And do I even need to mention “Ten Years Gone”? Do I? Okay, then holy shit what a song! It sits by itself as a musical entity completely of itself. I can remember my cousin learning this song when we were much younger men and I was completely floored. Those chords even run through a mini-Marshall stack and a slightly out of tune SG still gave me chills. Page was and still is one of the best rock and roll composers. His chordings and song structures remain untouched by most.

So I mentioned that gritty, raunchy vibe with this album earlier. “Night Flight”, “The Wanton Song”, and “Sick Again” absolutely ring my bell. There’s a gutter groove vibe going on. I love that a band like Led Zeppelin can step away from the maestro rock songs and put out stuff as gut punch-y as “Sick Again”, “Trampled Under Foot”, “Custard Pie”, and “The Rover”. These songs are like middle fingers in the form of rock songs. There’s just a feeling of four guys in a room turning it up to 11 and letting loose.

Physical Graffiti is the Led Zeppelin record you come to later on and realize there’s all this greatness buried deep inside of it. Diamonds in the rough like “Down By The Seaside”, “Ten Years Gone” and “Kashmir” block your view of the dirty, gritty rock numbers buried in there. I’ve read that this album is one of the band’s favorites because it sort of encapsulates everything they’d done up to this point, like a pop-up book of their musical tricks and idiosyncrasies. I would have to agree with that statement. Once we close this chapter things just aren’t the same for our Tolkien and Norse-loving Brits.

Physical Graffiti, as far as I’m concerned, is their rock and roll Valhalla.

Favorite Albums Of The Year(So Far) : Oneohtrix Point Never’s ‘Good Time’ S/T

I came to Oneohtrix Point Never around 3 years ago. I think I’d avoided them because Pitchfork was telling me that I should love them. Of course I’m going to go against that urge to listen and absolutely NOT take advice from a bunch of pretentious music critics catering to the “what’s happening now” crowd. This mindset is dangerous, ignorant, and just plain wrong, especially when I suppose I’m somewhat of an amateur music critic myself. I mean, I could never write for a ‘zine of any kind. I write in a much more personal way than any respectable magazine could tolerate.

Anyways, I’m getting off point here(yes, there’s a point.)

So back to OPN…I finally jumped into Daniel Lopatin’s world in the fall of 2014. Since Boards of Canada were now on Warp Records and Lopatin was on Warp Records I thought I should at least give him a shot. I bought R Plus Seven and immediately felt my mind warp in a significantly unnatural way. Oneohtrix Point Never’s music, to my ears, felt like stepping inside someone’s skull and walking thru their thoughts and secrets. Songs were more like impressionistic paintings relating hopes, fears, daydreams, and nightmares in these aural tapestries. I hadn’t been that excited about a band since Boards of Canada’s Music Has The Right To Children cracked open my head and rewired my brain. This electronic music wasn’t purposed for the dancefloor. It was made to help you connect with the universe and engage with the world around you. R Plus Seven was catnip for this Midwestern curmudgeon introvert.

Of course I fell right into a OPN wormhole. I began grabbing as many records as I could. Betrayed In The Octagon, Drawn and Quartered, Russian Mind, Returnal, and Replica were all immediately snagged up. All were these same but different musical worlds. Earlier records were more fractured new age and psychedelic ambient than the later stuff, which delved into more modern and percussive sounds.

This same year was the year I discovered the wonderful world of panic attacks and anxiety. Discovering Oneohtrix Point Never this year seemed to be sort of a blessing in disguise as I found real solace in these albums. Amidst the noise, chaos, and manic sonic explosions I found a center where I could calm down. My wife had started a new job earlier in 2014 and she’d begun traveling, which left me at home making sure all three kids were getting up for school, getting homework done, my oldest was getting to band camp and work on time and all the while working 8 hours and hoping the children were doing what they were supposed to be doing at home when they were off for summer vacation.

Oneohtrix Point Never provided a sonic place I could escape to and realign my head.

Suffice it to say, I will always have a soft spot for Daniel Lopatin and OPN. 2015s Garden Of Delete was one of my favorite records that year and felt like a total reimagining of Lopatin as a composer and electronic musician. It was hard to imagine where he could even go from there. Turns out film scoring was where he was going, and it was a brilliant step.

I still have yet to see The Safdie Brothers’ Good Time, but if Lopatin’s score is any indication it’s an absolute adrenaline-fueled psychedelic trip through New York City. I haven’t seen any of The Safdie Brothers’ previous films, and if I’m being honest I had no idea who they were before I’d read Oneohtrix Point Never was scoring their movie. I figure if Daniel Lopatin is good with them then so am I.

The soundtrack. If I didn’t know it was a soundtrack to a film I would’ve easily believed this to be just a new OPN album. It comes together beautifully as a sonic journey. There’s a few moments of dialogue, but that doesn’t feel that out of place for OPN. It has moments of tension and noisy chaos that comes with the territory, but there’s also moments of musical beauty. Something like “The Acid Hits” proposes to the listener pyramid-like sounds stacked upon each other, while “Leaving The Park” harkens back to earlier OPN musical adventures. It flutters and bounces like music to some ancient video game.

Even with all the impressive sounds and musical moods on this album, my standout track is the final one. “The Pure And The Damned” stands completely on its own as this fractured and beautiful pop song. It’s a piano-driven song sung by Iggy Pop. “The pure always act for love/The damned always act from love” Pop sings as he talks about going to a place where “we can pet the crocodiles”. It’s a bizarre and tender track. I can only imagine after seeing the film that it will mean that much more. I honestly love this song.

I don’t know if this would be a great place for the uninitiated to start or not, but once you have been initiated you must find your way to this record. It’s essential OPN.

 

For Whom The Blue Bell Knolls

It wasn’t always easy being able to admit my love for Cocteau Twins. Now that I’m in my 40s, middle-aged with an odd-shaped balding head it doesn’t really matter what I admit freely. No one is listening, nor do they care even if they’re in earshot of my incessant Midwest groaning. But being a metal head in Yuckety Yuk, Indiana in the late 80s/early 90s was a balancing act of testosterone ragin’ while keeping your sensitive side neatly tucked away. Maybe you’d keep that soft side of you in some old shoe box under your bed with a pair of your baby shoes, or buried in the backyard with a signed head shot of Soleil Moon Frye and a Popeye t-shirt your mom bought you when you were 8. You couldn’t show weakness in front of other sweaty, over-nourished metalheads or you were likely to be shunned from the group. You’d be sent to the woods to be eaten by wolves. Or worse, Pentecostals.

Point is, a band like Cocteau Twins was about as alien in my adolescent stomping grounds as ,well, aliens. You know, like Hanger 18 aliens. But there was something about Elizabeth Fraser’s voice that dug right into my freakish, greasy teen soul. It was haunting, ghostly, and ethereal like some divine whisper from the universe itself. Of course at 16-years old I would’ve said something more like “What the fuck? This is weird…but good weird like Brazil or potato chips on my bologna sandwich.” I can distinctly remember sitting over at my best friend Jason’s house on a Saturday night re-watching the previous week’s episode of 120 Minutes. We’d dig into Concrete Blonde, My Bloody Valentine, and whatever other 4AD band was the “it” alternative flavor of the week. Then Cocteau Twins’ “Heaven Or Las Vegas” came on and I sort of felt stunned. Like, what was happening? Is this what it feels like to be touched by an angel? Or groped by a ghost? As Jason started to fast forward the video I say to him “Hey man. Let’s just let this one play, you know for shits and giggles? We could just sit here silently and make fun of it in our minds without words. Or something.” Fortunately, Jason was thinking those same thoughts I was thinking about these Scottish dream poppers. We couldn’t put it into words, but we both knew there was something special going on. Of course we immediately threw on some Suicidal Tendencies or Faith No More and pretended we didn’t just have a moment.

I moved on, 120 Minutes was cancelled, Matt Pinfield got a new job, and I sort of forgot about Cocteau Twins for a couple years until The Crow came out and that soundtrack ruled my brain for most of 1994. One song in-particular got my attention. Medicine’s “Time Baby III”. It was a really cool song, but what really stuck out was the guest vocals of Elizabeth Fraser. It was a voice I hadn’t heard in a long time and it reminded me that I needed to go back to Cocteau Twins and investigate further.

Then about 20 years went by.

Back in 2014 I started up on Cocteau Twins. Having gone “full vinyl”, I knew I had to find some of their albums on the big, black circle. The first album I bought was Heaven Or Las Vegas. It had to be that. That was the album that broke through my big dumb brain in the first place. “Cherry-Coloured Funk” and “Heaven Or Las Vegas” were in my DNA. But the the second one I bought was Blue Bell Knoll. On a streaming binge I happened across the album and was pretty much floored by the whole thing. “Carolyn’s Fingers” felt like a chill going down my spine. Once I heard that I was done.

There are better albums by Cocteau Twins than Blue Bell Knoll. I’m a big fan of Garlands. I love the post-punk vibe and that I can hear where The Cure got their sound from on a song like “Wax and Wane”. Treasure was the first album that saw that truly mesmerizingly beautiful tone they would go on to perfect on Heaven Or Las Vegas. So where does that leave an album like Blue Bell Knoll? Well, to my ears, it’s the last Cocteau Twins album where they still sounded like a small band with very big ideas.

“Blue Bell Knoll” starts out with some of those dark, ominous tones of the early records but quickly adds some synth flourishes and stacks Fraser’s beautiful vocals on top to give the song a much welcomed dreaminess. “Athol-brose” is just absolute brilliance. It’s the moment Dorothy steps from her black and white farmhouse to soak in the technicolor beauty of Oz. It’s dizzying and an overload of the senses. No band sounds like this. Just Cocteau Twins. That’s it. “For Phoebe Still A Baby” feels like some alien lullaby. The bass puts me in mind of mid-80s Cure. I think there’s a thru-line between the two bands. It’s like they both drank from the same Gothic well and somehow worked through whatever demons they were struggling with. This track sounds like contentment with an overcast day.

I have to admit that for years I thought Cocteau Twins were Swedish or French or Finnish. There was something in Fraser’s vocals that made me think what she was singing was not English. I thought it was a very foreign language that was being sung. I was wrong. Cocteau Twins are a Scottish band, but I still think there’s a very alien lean to the words sung by Elizabeth Fraser. She sings beautifully, but it sounds like a language made up by Fraser. The magic in Cocteau Twins, besides the dream-like clouds of flangered bass, guitar, and walls of synth created by Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymonde, was that voice. It got me every time I heard it. Elizabeth Fraser had a voice like no other. For my money no one has yet to top it.

Every song on Blue Bell Knoll carried some sort of strange magic. “Cico Buff”, “Spooning Good Singing Gum”, “A Kissed Out Red Floatboat”, and “Ella Megalast Burls Forever” all contain some bit of melancholy genius. There’s absolute pop perfection contained on every track here. If it was a fair and just world, Cocteau Twins would’ve been played on pop radio stations worldwide instead of Debbie Gibson, Taylor Dayne, and NKOTB. Of course the population at large couldn’t take this kind of beauty on their commute to work or bus ride to school. There would’ve been massive existential crisis, love-ins in every county courthouse, and the world as we know it would’ve changed exponentially for the better. We couldn’t have that.

Come to think of it, this actually might be their best album.

I guess it’s better this way. A band like Cocteau Twins will live on forever, allowing future generations to discover their timeless dream pop. Their ghostly songs can fill earbuds in the future and maybe shine a little ethereal light on whatever shit show we may be enduring in 10, 20, or 30 years. And hopefully by then, no matter a metal head in the Midwest or a goat herder in Afghanistan, the Cocteau Twins can be enjoyed openly, freely, and without shame.

I love you Soleil Moon Frye. I always have.

 

 

Favorite Albums Of 2017(so far) : Quaeschning & Schnauss’ ‘Synthwaves’

When Edgar Froese passed away back in early 2015 it seemed that it might be an end to one of the most prolific heavy synth bands to ever step out from the German Krautrock scene of the late 60s. Despite numerous line up changes in their nearly 50 year career, Froese was always a constant. Tangerine Dream was more than a band. They were a fucking institution of heady, intellectual tones. Deep space flights of existential musical fancy. With Froese breaking through to the other side it was hard to say what would become of Tangerine Dream. Fortunately for us and generations to come Edgar Froese had some incredibly solid musicians in TD at the time of his passing. Thorsten Quaeschning, Ulrich Schnauss, and Hoshiko Yamane had all been in Tangerine since 2005, 2014, and 2011 respectively and had become a tight knit musical unit. They recently released the excellent Quantum Gate as Tangerine Dream and it keeps the spirit of the Komische king alive and well.

So while they weren’t working on Tangerine Dream material, Thorsten and Ulrich got together and began writing music. Quaeschning had plenty of studio experience prior to Tangerine Dream, producing and working in other musical projects. He was also pretty adept at synths, drums, keyboards, and knew his way around a mixing board. Schnauss has had a pretty prolific career as a solo artist putting out some of my favorite electronic albums in the last 15 years. The idea that these two would come together for some heady analog goodness was something I was pretty excited about. Back in the summer these synth jam sessions came to fruition in the form of the album Synthwaves, released by one of my new favorite record labels Azure Vista Records. The record was everything I’d hoped it would be and so much more.

This record hit my ears back in the heat of late June and early July. The album was a soundtrack to solar meditation in the wooded hills of Brown County. As I sat on the porch of a rented cabin I let “Main Theme” overtake my psyche. There was a mix of melancholic nostalgia and new age sublimity as this opening synth salvo filled my head. Even right now it’s hard for me to describe the emotional heaviness of this track to me. Imagine jumping in a time machine and watching points of your childhood float by you. This track is a time machine for me. The 70s and 80s collide into a very bizarre 2017. “Main Theme” offers a contemplative moment to take it all in.

“Slow Life” pulls you from the drama of the day and into a bubble of serenity. The trickling of analog blips and beeps like synthetic rain drop into your ears to take away all the noise and buzz. This one really reminded me of 80s TD, btw. Very much in the vein of Three O’Clock High and Risky Business.

“Cats & Dogs” has a dreamy vibe to it. Well, most of these tracks have a dreamy quality about them but this one is extra dreamy. Like a dream within a dream kind of dream. Am I awake or am I still dreaming? I don’t know, but this music good. If I am still dreaming I don’t want to wake up.

Listening to Synthwaves I can’t help but imagine how incredible those two weeks in Berlin were. Quaeschning and Schnauss holed up in a Berlin recording studio with nothing but vintage analog gear and many pots of coffee. Exploring sonic worlds with circuits, wires, and their imagination. I guess I’m just one that romanticizes the creative process. I love the idea of a space of total creativity sparked by the bouncing of musical ideas, caffeine, nicotine, and maybe even mind-expanding ingredients like a great burrito or smoked cheese tray(what can I say, food inspires me.) You get the feeling from listening to this record that these two were wholly inspired to make great art. And they did.

There really are no skipping points on this album. “Thirst” feels like traveling through some space/time void to the next dimension, while “Flare” is all dark moods and mysterious contemplation. It sounds like a Berlin School version of The X-Files theme music. “Prism” feels like a proper end to an album. It’s big and epic but refrains from laying on too much chutzpah.

Synthwaves is the gold standard when it comes to making a vintage-sounding, classic heavy synth record. This album feels aged and well worn in, but it doesn’t come across as a derivative of something else. It sits as a unique piece of musical art. It’s something you can put on in the background while chopping carrots and scallions for a stew, or you can put on some Koss cans, plop down on the couch with a high ABV stout, and get completely lost in Quaeschning and Schnauss’ Synthwaves. If you’re a fan of Tangerine Dream or solo Schnauss you should already have this and you should be spinning it often. Very often, like me.

If you don’t have it, what are you waiting for?

Favorite Albums of 2017(so far) : Maine’s ‘V’

There’s been a gradual shift in my brain over the last few years to music that doesn’t necessarily tell a story through words more than through mood. Listen, I grew up devouring the Beatles, Rush, the Kinks, Flaming Lips, Radiohead, Wilco, and the list goes on. I was a song guy. I was moved by stories and words and grand musical statements in the classic songwriting tradition. I still love the songwriting tradition and even do it myself when time allows, but over the last three to four years I’ve found myself drawn to instrumental music. In-particular, heavy synth music. There’s something about synth music that feels ingrained into my DNA that I hadn’t known was there till about four years ago when I bought Walter Rizatti’s score for House By The Cemetery. The last time I’d heard that music was when I was probably 14 years old when I first watched Fulci’s trashy classic. Hearing it again at the ripe middle age of 39 I felt there was something that I’d unlocked in my head that had been stuck up there since that balmy summer night all those years ago. That music instantly connected with me. There was no warming up period. It just instantly hit me.

From that point on I began grabbing as many of those Italian horror scores as I could, and expanded into newer artists that had a kinship with the synth and all things eerie and Gothic. I’m always looking for someone who can move me with a turn of a melody, hypnotic repetition, and who can create a sonic world where I’m quite comfortable spending time in. One person new on my musical radar that can do all of those in spades is Michel Dupay, aka MAINE. While a lot of synth music is a synthetic creation, built on circuits, wires, tubes, and buzzing waves of noise, Dupay takes a much  more organic approach to his heavy synth sound. According to his Bandcamp page, MAINE’s music is “Fiercely analogue, pre-midi musique from Montmartre, Paris.” A lot of electronic music uses midi to help create and build songs. It’s a process by which an artist can connect and sync several pieces of electronic tools and gadgets allowing a pristine connection of different musical pieces. Dupay is creating music the old fashioned way, by performing these songs as a band without the safety net of midi and syncing.

“He makes music the old fashioned way. He performs it.” – John Houseman.

I’d seen Burning Witches Records talking MAINE’s new album V up quite a bit over the summer. A couple months ago I finally got around to checking it out and I was absolutely blown away by the record. It hits every dark, melancholy tone just right. It’s a slow burn LP, too. It allows you to work your way into the album gradually as to savor the bits and pieces without overindulging. You find new things to love each time you drop the needle. There’s something very European about the sound. It’s quietly alluring and subtly dance floor-ready. Something like the vinyl-only “Black Cloud” feels like a slow cloud rolling in over the Parisian sun. “La Pluie” evokes visions of cobblestone streets, centuries-old villages, and seaside walks. “Cadence” has a very early-80s vibe. Something that might have accompanied the opening credits to a “Satanic Panic” occult film. “Below The Landslide(featuring Nina)” is an exquisite piece of synth music. With the addition of vocals it becomes something far more emotional and engaging. “The World Without” is pure desolate beauty, like a slow crawl through some dystopian landscape. “I Never Wanted to Write These Words down for You” gives you the feeling of waking from some long, ancient rest. Tremolo-effected electric piano gives the track an almost pop sensibility. It’s like the moment when the clouds break and there’s shards of light hitting the earth once again.

This record is so sonically rich. It has the production value of an early 70s Alan Parsons production. There’s an aged refinement that permeates the record I can’t get enough of. It’s dark, but there’s a warmth in the songs. Like early OMD obsessed with Vangelis. The production and engineering is almost like another instrument altogether.

V is an hypnotic listening experience. There are not overwrought explosions of sound. It’s all very cool and calculated. Some tracks feel as if they feed right into the next, giving you the experience of one long, musical piece rather than individual shots of songs. The album’s organic nature only adds to the feeling that these songs sprung up from the earth. Dupay masterfully weaves these songs together like a Gothic tapestry for us to wrap ourselves in and embrace whatever journey they’re going to take us on. I cannot recommend V enough. It’s a masterpiece of restraint and storied beauty.

Buy the album right here.