Thursday, August 30, 2012

Uncle Bob

Uncle Bob is back with a forthcoming album (Tempest, available Sept 11) and a new single, Duquesne Whistle, the latter of which is the best thing he’s put on record in ten years. The intro and guitar-driven counter melody is worth the entire song, but Dylan himself sings with more conviction than I’ve heard since ¾ of the way through Love & Theft. It makes me hopeful for the new album, promising a refreshing lift from the Zzz-fest that was Modern Times and Together Through Life.

Check out the equally entertaining video here.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Boys are Back in Town

So far 2012 has been a pretty big year for new music on my end, which is certainly a great thing. A couple of months ago (eek, I’ve really been slacking here lately) I gave my thoughts on three recent releases by some gal-fronted artists. Now I’m going to ramble about three new ones from some of the boys in my life.

Yeah, that sounded a little weird, but that’s ok.

Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten – In a lot of ways these guys are a godsend. They’re young fresh fellows who, instead of cashing in on what the other kiddies have been up to for a quick flash of success, are kicking the dirt up on bare bones rock n roll and adding a little alt-retro twist just to keep it interesting. They’ll be the first to admit that what they’re doing isn’t the most original sound in the world, but when you’ve got a great set of songs, that really doesn’t matter. As I’ve mentioned here before, their 2008 sophomore release, The ’59 Sound, was one of my faves of the year and remains on regular rotation today. Their 2010 follow up, American Slang, though I sorta panned it initially, has certainly been a grower that shows these Jersey boys’ maturing ambitions really beginning to blossom. Now we’ve got the highly anticipated Handwritten, another collection of heartfelt and heart driven anthems that slide as easily into the ears as they do from the lips as you sing along with belief and excitement. It’s a good blend of the immediacy found on ’59 Sound and the more cerebral sweet spots of American Slang, proving these guys can still write a catchy tune, but also want to flesh out the possibilities of their sound. There’s something about these songs that makes you want to get up and dance, while a deeper listen reveals an introspective soul that more often than not cuts to the quick, painting pictures of every day love and life not just as Brian Fallon sees them, but as anyone can.

Smashing Pumpkins – Oceania – Man, leave it to Billy Corgan to come up with the concept of an album within an album, as the songs comprising Oceania are part of the ongoing Teargarden by Kaleidyscope album. After the mostly maligned Zeitgeist (which is wrongfully so, ‘cos that album has many great moments), Billy seems more determined than ever to prove his vision is as vibrant and intact as it ever was, and with Oceania he succeeds in spades. There is a bit of a familiarity, that classic early 90s Pumpkins sound on opener Quasar, but there’s an equal amount of newer territory, with Billy further exploring the classic rock roots he first touched on with some of the initial releases for TbK in 2009. In addition, there is a fair dabbling of retro New Wave keyboards and electronic noodling, some quasi-folky balladry and about halfway through the title track he basically reinvents Kraut rock. All of these styles and sounds are (seemingly) effortlessly fused together by Billy’s furiously precise guitar playing, heart stopping melodies, airtight production and an overwhelming cohesiveness within the band as a whole that it feels like rock is being forged, not synthesized. Time will tell for sure, but (for this listener) at this point Oceania takes a solid third place below the impossible to re-harness or duplicate brilliance of Gish and Siamese Dream, which begs the question if Billy lost it and found it again or we simply lost Billy and are just now catching up.

The Tallest Man on Earth – There’s No Leaving Now – Dear Kristian, I love you… I’ve gushed plenty about this Swedish Dylan-esque folk artist, and his latest offering does nothing to diminish those adulations. Sure, there were sighs of disbelief and skeptic remarks overheard when he revealed that there would be drums and bass on a few tracks (oh, it’s 1965 all over again!), but I wasn’t worried even for a minute. And while Matsson may be following in his main mentor’s footsteps with a knowing wink, these additions are about as intrusive as the drums and bass found on Dylan’s Corrina, Corrina way back in 1963. As always, the main draw is Mattson’s haunting melodies, gorgeous finger picking, cryptic imagery and the way he presents it all in an emotively cohesive fashion that Dylan found again on Time Out of Mind and lost again after Love & Theft (yes, I said it, fools). Lead single 1904 is a wistful, perky number that’s repeat-listen-good as it both taps your foot and makes you a little sad all at the same time. And this is Matsson’s magic, to conjure both feelings of elation and melancholy within the same three minutes, and often at the exact same moment. As I’ve said before, he’s an inspiration to music, both those who make it and simply listen, and There’s No Leaving Now, from start to finish, affirms this statement track for track.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Nevermind: 20 Years On

Last week I was in a cab on Long Island headed to the airport to fly home from a business trip. I was tired and cranky and didn’t want to talk to the cabbie, so he turned up the tunes and we enjoyed the ride. New York radio stations are nuts because they will play classic 80s Squeeze back to back with throwaway 90s Green Day and abysmal 00s Creed, with the thought that it’s all rock n roll more or less. Sure it is.


Lithium, by Nirvana, came on (I didn’t even have to say “by Nirvana,” right?) and I enjoyed it as I always do/have. For those of you who have known me for most of the past 20 years – that is since Nirvana’s landmark, genre smashing, odds defying album, Nevermind, came out – you know that I’ve had a beef with Nirvana and Nevermind almost from the very beginning. And I’m not going to rehash that tired old rant because really, who ever cared? But even after I stopped really caring, I still dismissed Nirvana as “important” and certainly a massive part of my youth (culture), but ultimately whatever.

But honestly, if you strip away all the pretense and bitterness and “I’m too cool for that” angst and just put on the album and let it play…well, 18, 25 and 32 year old William, you’ve got yourself a stinkin’ great album and you know it’s true.

Yes, and today I’m admitting it.

When I was in that cab on Long Island, somewhere around Montauk, I decided I was going to break down and buy this album, and I knew just where to get it. And so yesterday when Karla and I were at Target getting a few items, I went straight for the (grossly depleted) CD section and snagged a copy on sale for $10.00. When I put it in the cart I said, “This is happening, but I’m not even going to be in the building when it does.”

I have to retain some semblance of self worth, right?

Now it’s not like I shunned Nevermind back in the day like I did Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer. I’ve heard this album a gazillion times, especially my senior year in high school, mainly listening to my then girlfriend’s recorded copy on side A of a 90 minute cassette tape (with side B containing Mudhoney’s Super Fuzz Big Muff). And through college I heard it plenty because, you know, Kurt died and it was this big deal and there were “vigils” where folks would play it full blast in a dark room full of candles…I’m shaking my head even as I write this, but that really happened. Even after college I heard certain songs here and there, and they would evoke a feeling sometimes akin to annoyance and, as time progressed, sometimes nostalgia and then, when I truly began to get over myself, good old fashioned enjoyment.

So at this point, 20 odd years later, I figure what the hey, ya know? 

And giving this album a good and loud listen, on purpose, for the first time since my teens, the first thing I’m struck by is how frickin’ hard Dave Grohl is hitting those drums. I mean turn them down in the mix if you want to, Butch, but there’s no denying that he’s beating the foo out of the skins. And really, that’s what takes a batch of simple but cleverly written angst pop songs and propels them over the edge from something that is a worthy release within a certain strata to an uber juggernaut that is movement making and unites folks on a common level that rarely happens in popular culture. I mean seriously, who wasn’t “alternative” between 1992 and 1994? My mom, exactly.

Also, I had forgotten how good of a bassist Kirst Novoselic is. Sure, he keeps it “do-do-do” simple when it’s necessary, which is brilliant, but he can sway and groove when he needs to and it’s pretty dang great. Just check out Breed for proof positive of that.

And then of course there’s St. Kurt. Sigh… JT and I have often discussed where he/they would be had he not decided to join the 27 Club. Doubtlessly his death sealed Nirvana's longevity in the annals of rock history, and certainly launched Grohl into a career of head banging mediocrity, but would Nirvana still be around today? Would they be icons? Would they be respected has beens? No telling. But their three albums were essentially Kurt’s babies, his words and music, the despair of his life and what he saw in the world around him. He approached these emotions with humor and delivered them with savagery, and yet you could legitimately rock to it, could gleefully sing along to it and even though it was never intended to change the world, it’s easy to see how these 12 songs here on Nevermind were the key ingredient to spark a revolution in the early 90s…two years earlier, three years later, the impact probably wouldn’t have been much of anything, and perhaps another artist would have made the splash and perhaps hair metal and bad R&B would have dominated for a few years more. But there is no denying that with artists like Nickelback and Foo Figthers still pestering the airwaves, the post-grunge wave continues to be a tuff gnarl that's going to be there even though you’re trying to ignore it.

But at the end of the day, regardless of the aftermath, Nevermind is still just a great rock n roll album. From the opening chords of Smells Like Teen Spirit it’s an instant success, a thrilling listen and a statement to unexpected possibilities. And now I own it too. 

P.S. I'm not apologizing to either Jon(athan) Moore or John Goodfred for taking the piss out of Nirvana back in the day. So there.