Tag Archives: 3 Stars (of 5)

Christian Mistress – Possession

Christian MistressPossession (Relapse)

If memory serves, Girlschool was the only band of The New Wave of British Heavy Metal that featured women in the line-up.

I bring this up because you cannot get away from the fact that Olympia, Washington’s Christian Mistress conjures up the exact kind of feel that is reserved for those NWOBHM imports circa 1981 and they feature one member of the opposite sex in a role that’s typically reserved for some homely piece of sausage.

Christine Davis is the lead singer of Christian Mistress, and from now until the moment the band breaks up, you’ll be reminded of the fact that she’s a woman in every single media mention. Those comments will usually be followed up with some passive-aggressive response on how gender doesn’t matter in genres like this.

The fact is, it does kind of matter. It’s a distraction to the band because all of that focus on Ms. Davis undermines how shit hot the band really is. The musicianship taking place behind this woman should be satisfactory enough because they’re awfully good and they staunchly adhere to the NWOBHM school of awesomeness.

Guitarists Oscar Sparbel and Ryan McClain channel the dueling guitar masters of the late 70s/early 80s (think Glen and KK or Adrian and Dave) with such fluidity that you’ll be looking for a Christian Mistress patch to put on your faded jean jacket, provided it still fits.

And now that I’ve already succumbed to the cheap tactic of pointing out the lack of a penis on Christine Davis, let’s be completely honest by admitting that she’s probably the weakest part of Christian Mistress’ sophomore release, Possession.

Her voice is gruff, smoky, and it offers a certain degree of novelty to the proceedings. But beyond that, her chops are pretty limited in range, becoming a bit samey after a few spins and offering little in terms of emotion. And that’s kind of important when you’re dealing with matters of possession, pentagrams and all things dark.

The production is straight-up documentary style, hinting that the members have spent a few hours in the woodshed, carving out their craft and making sure the performances are presented with legitimacy.

The lyrics provide a bit of a challenge as they try to match wits with the darkness the rest of the band’s creative fuel. Stray from the music and you’ll stumble on lines like “Eternity is a long time…but it’s all in your mind” and wonder how Christian Mistress can get away with such nonsense.

It’s the interplay between McClain and Sparbel that manages to lift Possession from the dead-weight of its own ridiculousness, providing the record with its true emotional content, its historical accuracy and ultimately, the record’s real voice.

Video: Christian Mistress – “Pentagram and Crucifix”

CHRISTIAN MISTRESS - "Pentagram and Crucifix" (Official Music Video)

Full album stream: Christian Mistress – Possession

Ethan Daniel Davidson – Silvertooth

Ethan Daniel DavidsonSilvertooth (Seedsman Company)

If what you read on the internets is true, then we’re raising our musically-inclined youth on a culture of immediate gratification without a hint of what it really takes to barely make a dent in today’s music industry. A quick litmus test may be to introduce every sing-for-your-supper contestant on The Voice or American Idol to Ethan Daniel Davidson, a journeyman whose last tour touched over 900 shows and yet you still have no idea who he is.

So the choice to pause and make roots and babies is not surprising, just as is the decision after years of normalcy to return to the studio out of the basic need to create again. You can take the guitar away from an artist, but they’ll eventually end up in a pawn shop eyeballing those cheap Korean models under the pretense that it’ll just be confined to “around the house.”

Davidson may be returning to the long grind of unadorned and under-appreciated touring again with Silvertooth–his first record in seven years–but the songs within it reflect that he hasn’t forgotten the draw of traditional music during that time, picking up on the dustbowl vibe like he just got off the road yesterday. “I’ve measured so many miles between who I am and who I might have been,” he sings on “Your Old Key,” but it sure feels like he’s a work-in-progress while understanding full well that his passion often builds a wide gulf between the relationships that we should be fostering.

Silvertooth puts Davidson’s voice and acoustic guitar unadorned in a very analog way, leaving producer Warren DeFever with a clean palate to color in with atmospheric tones, N’awlins dirge horns and a bed of reverb to lay down in when it gets dark enough. It’s a haunting approach at times, but nothing that listeners haven’t heard before. I was reminded of Grant Lee Buffalo’s Mighty Joe Moon after my initial listen.

And that was enough to warrant a second helping for me.

Throughout the effort, Davidson sweetens the mix with memorable lines like “You always feel the gavel/But you never see the judge” (Ain’t The Man I Used To Be) giving the illusion of his influences at nearly every turn. Unfortunately, the limits of his own voice prevent at least a distinction of putting Davidson into a category all of his own, which means that he’s probably looking at another never-ending schedule where his material will be given away more than it’s actually heard.

The more things change, as they say, but Silvertooth is unquestionably good enough to wish Ethan Daniel Davidson safe travels while he brings his own life lessons to a plywood stage near you.

Audio: Ethan Daniel Davidson – “The Dogs Howl, The Caravan Moves On”

Accept – Stalingrad

AcceptStalingrad (Nuclear Blast)

To admit to liking the German heavy metal band Accept requires an understanding that you’ll always end up defending the ridiculous video for the band’s biggest stateside song, 1983’s “Balls To The Wall.” If the image of a short, chubby vocalist with short-cropped blonde hair and a penchant for camouflage isn’t enough to put your infatuation through easy ridicule, then the image of a dummy version of Udo Dirkschneider actually riding a wrecking ball as it slams into a fake wall of bricks should surely do the trick.

I make no effort to defend that video, only offering that the riff on “Balls To The Wall” is so awesome that most guitarists would gladly give their left testicle to come up with a guitar part as spectacular. I’d also add that Sebastian Bach was spot on when he declared “Udo Dirkschneider” as the most metal name in rock music.

Accept circa 2012 is not the same band as it was thirty years ago during the heyday when they could afford things like Styrofoam bricks, stuffed Udos and videos recorded in bullet time. Hell, Udo isn’t even in the band anymore and only two of the band’s original line up remains active: guitarist Wolf Hoffman and bassist Peter Baltes.

To put it bluntly, why should you even give a shit about Accept circa 2012? For most of you, you probably shouldn’t, but for anyone else who can appreciate the beauty of metal’s adhesion to the riff itself and admire the sheer power of a male chorus chanting in an ominous Wagnerian manner such phrases as “Hellfire!” “Hung, Drawn and Quartered!” and “Stalingrad!” then Accept’s 13th offering is worth considering.

Stalingrad is the second record featuring former TT Quick vocalist Mark Tornillo as frontman. Tornillo possesses a larynx scraping vocal style that resembles Dirkschneider, but certain performances also demonstrate a greater range that’s similar to legendary British vocalist Graham Bonnet.

That’s fine for when the band makes a go of all the Accept songs that most fans will end up wanting during the subsequent tour, but it does nothing for the sake of the band’s relevance, seemingly two decades beyond their welcome.

Remarkably, guitarist Wolf Hoffman has put together a line-up and a set of songs that defy the perception of Accept beating a dead horse, making Stalingrad a legitimate contender in the metal community and a source of inspiration to anyone who isn’t quite ready to let their dreams die.

Hoffman unleashes 11 tracks of uncompromising Flying V action, and he does it with such ferocity that it sounds too good to be a second wind. He also catches everyone off guard with an entire concept album about the battle of Stalingrad that’s as heavy as the subject matter.

Utilizing the same epic approach found in many Power Metal bands, Accept is distinctively European even with Tornillo’s New Jersey heritage as the voice of their recent insurgence.

Much of the Stalingrad’s success comes at the hands of producer Andy Sneap, who presents each member with stunning clarity. He lent the same skills to Testament’s The Formation of Damnation and Megadeth’s recent releases, proving that he’s clearly adept at bringing old metal bands into the sonic landscape of the twenty-first century while retaining certain highlights of their catalog.

With Stalingrad, he’s helped renew Accept’s good fortunes, streamlining all of their talents into one tight package that suggests the band’s metal heart transplant is an overwhelming success.

Video: 15-second German TV ad

ACCEPT - "Stalingrad" - TV spot - Germany 2012

Audio: Accept – “Stalingrad”

ACCEPT - Stalingrad (OFFICIAL SONG)

King Tuff – King Tuff

King TuffKing Tuff (Sub Pop)

Surely, after Witch, Happy Birthday, and now King Tuff, one of Kyle Thomas’ projects will take hold and turn him into Sub Pop’s latest hot commodity. Lord knows they seem to release every single fart that this guy lets go of and they leave it to me to pin the tail on the moniker.

King Tuff may be the first Kyle Thomas project that actually contributes to his billing as a scuzz rock royalty, as his self-titled sophomore effort seems to suggest. Suddenly, all of the concerns of his white underbelly schtick get overlooked under a barrage of memorable power chords and the occasional Bolan Boogie.

He’s hinted at all of this before, but King Tuff actually overcomes all of the complaints that I had with Thomas’ Happy Birthday and with his catalog in general. With King Tuff, Thomas seems like he’s put in long hours working on nearly every aspect of the songs. From those aforementioned guitar highlights, to the intriguing lyrical perspective, and down to the scrapped together mix job which turned an abandoned school into what sounds like an inviting sonic Pepperland.

“Someone told me long ago/Baby, just break the rules” he declares on “Baby Just Break,” and the press release for King Tuff likes to refer to that freak flag quite often. But King Tuff shows us that Thomas cleans up nicely, making the story of how he’s been living out of his shoes a bit more palatable and, more importantly, believable. This record sounds as though he’s putting forth a greater effort in getting out of his squatter motif, heading to a point where his music actually may provide enough bread to devote all of his energy into making more songs as memorable as he has here.

“Hangin’ with my crew/At Loser’s Wall” tells the story of the social outcast’s turf, eerily mirroring my own reality growing up in a small Iowa river town.

Cruising Main Street was the norm on Saturday night, but there was a spot called “The Wall” where the carless, the rideless, and sometimes the friendless would congregate. It was a cement wall in front of a shuttered Buick dealership where the weekend crew would sit, and the outcasts would endure the shouts of passersby, safe in their Daddy’s cars with some of the more cruel passengers armed with water balloons for added emphasis.

Occasionally, a car would stop a pick someone up from the Wall, and they would suddenly be transformed from “losers” to people actually in motion.

King Tuff is where Thomas catches a lift, but it’s good enough that he actually steers the vehicle somewhere beyond the endless asphalt circle. He drags us down to the “Swamp of Love,” deeper to the “Unusual World” and even past the old drive-in where the creature-feature infection of “Bad Thing” blasts like a bit of transistor garage rock.

Ultimately, all of King Tuff represents some kind of sound from our past, but it maintains the optimism that most of us tend to lose by our early twenties. It is nice to be reminded of that forgotten optimism, and King Tuff provides it within its forty minutes, without irony, and without a hint of regret.

None of it may be life-changing, but it’s certainly life-affirming, prompting King Tuff to be the first itchy chigger bite of this summer that you’ll want to keep scratching all season long.

Video: King Tuff – “Bad Thing”

MP3: King Tuff – “Bad Thing”

MP3: King Tuff – “Keep On Movin'”

Full Album Stream: King Tuff – King Tuff

Tennis – Young And Old

TennisYoung & Old (Fat Possum)

Teaming up with the Black Keys’ Patrick Riley in a real Nashville studio, Tennis returns with a sophomore release that retains Cape Dory’s time machine rust while opening up the fidelity a bit to give the band — now a three piece with the inclusion of drummer James Barone — more depth, warmth, and a better window on Alaina Moore’s impressive vocals.

But what’s even more impressive is how the band, in less than a year’s time, has managed to deliver another 10 track record of consistently good dream pop, hinting that the debut was far from a fluke.

Moore alternates from Northern Soul to good ol’ Brill Building charm in such an underhanded way that it’s easy to overlook how uniquely good her talents are. Producer Riley wisely un-clutters her performance by scaling back on the reverb while leaving plenty of old-school vocal distortion, harking back to a time when the power of the human voice could still manage to show the inadequacies of the engineering staff.

Anyone looking for revelation within Young & Old is missing the point. It presents itself as a pop record as learned through transistor radios, forgoing the nautical themes of Cape Dory for an unpretentious attempt at making a straight-forward gem built from our everyday surroundings.

That means lots of introspection from a husband and wife duo that are starting to notice that the honeymoon is over, and that romance has been replaced by a harsh reality that their combined efforts are now a career endeavor.

There are moments of confounding lyrics, but then again, what pop record isn’t littered with freshman poetry or, even worse, middle school texting. Personally, I find a lot more things relatable to this married couple and respond a lot quicker when their life is packaged in this spontaneous and charming dream pop bundle.

Young & Old is the perfect pop record for suburban adults who want to recall the days of their downtown lofts.

MP3: Tennis – “Origins” (via KCRW)

Magazine – No Thyself

MagazineNo Thyself (Wire-Sound Records)

“I don’t give a fuck about you too,” deadpans Howard Devoto on “Final Analysis Waltz” from the first new Magazine album in something like forever. The reality is that no one retires a band after four records only to reprise it over three decades later. And I don’t care how ambivalent Devoto claims to be; there has to some need to create with his old band members and some desire to connect with those longstanding fans for one last hurrah.

So yeah, I’m betting that Devoto does give a fuck.

Good luck trying to find any hint of appreciation from Magazine’s frontman as they weren’t very good at throwing a party, choosing instead to turn Devoto’s brief hints of bullocks during his time with the Buzzcocks into brooding passages of post-punk pathos by the time they were all said and done.

The concern then is that Devoto clearly found a certain amount of positive energy during these past thirty years to make Magazine’s silence somewhat explainable, but I’ll be good goddamned if No Thyself is just as clinically depressed as their first run.

There are some names missing from the latest lineup: original guitarist John McGeoch passed away in 2004 and bassist Barry Adamson left after the initial reunion shows in 2009. Those that remained and those that were added have still managed to turn No Thyself into a nice bit of modern bent while adding nicely to Magazine’s brief yet respectable output.

I’m hesitant to mention a troubling bit of lyrics–the likes of which my Swedish grandmother would say “Ish”–for fear that it officially qualifies me as turning a bit prudish as I grow older. But here goes: There’s a part in the song “Other Thematic Material” where Devoto gets quiet graphic concerning male ejaculate–which, given Howard’s quirky and unstable vocals–become quite uncomfortable as he continues to expound on that x-rated topic.

But that same creepiness works wonders on tracks like “Hello Mr. Curtis (With Apologies),” where Devoto addresses the early parting of Ian Curtis and Kurt Cobain by declaring “I’ve made my decision to die like a king…like Elvis…on some godforsaken toilet.”

No Thyself is a refreshing reminder that Devoto still isn’t willing to compromise Magazine’s worthy nameplate with safe topics and timid approaches, no matter how inappropriate they may be. Its unique blend of Devoto spread finger jazz piano chords and guitarist Noko’s tremendously angular guitar work, and it’s all worth a new cover shot.

Boris – New Album

Boris

New Album

(Sargent House)

The title is a joke since this is Boris’ third release in 2011 and since some of the songs have already been previously featured in one of those releases. But New Album may be the most recognizable record out of the bunch as it completely changes direction and will be the toughest one to swallow by fans of the power trio’s heavier material.

Truth be told: even I wasn’t prepared for the blatant J-Pop sheen of New Album, looking up the Japanese word for “disappointment” right around track 2. But looking at the way Boris completely jumps into the world of pop rock gloss with complete disregard for its namesake is somewhat admirable.

And before too long, you start to cozy up to the record’s bipolar bliss, letting its infectious blend of that aforementioned accessibility snuggle right up to the occasional nods to shoegaze and metal. When it works well (“Tu, La La,” “Luna,” “Looprider”) it’s some of the best music you’ll hear all year.

When it doesn’t, it sounds tired. Like an attempt just to be different instead of trying to achieve the best possible version of the song so far.

Worst of the offenders is the diluted take of “Les Paul Custom ’86,” which gets completely neutered from the original Attention Please version, to the point where you question why Boris would shame the song title with a version that completely ignores its namesake.

To dismiss such missteps though, would also risk the band from not trying to go for the throat like they do on  “Spoon,” which features an uber-heavy riff that’s so awesome that I want to put the track on every single mix tape for the next month.

As good as it is, it also illustrates that New Album may be the best of the lot in Boris’ three 2011 offerings, it could have been one of the best in their catalog had they placed their full attention on making just one epic release this year.

Jane’s Addiction – The Great Escape Artist

Jane’s Addiction

The Great Escape Artist

(Capitol)

“You never really change like they say” Perry Farrell says on “End To The Lies” from  Jane’s Addiction’s latest The Great Escape Artist, “You only become more like yourself” like some sage realist speaking from the years of toil his band has endured in the past two decades. 

What he doesn’t tell you is how Jane’s Addiction hasn’t really toiled that much in the past twenty years.

 In fact, let’s remind everyone that for 15 of the band’s 25 year-existence, Jane’s Addiction has been little more than a brand of their former life, a credible and-let’s be honest-critically important band in rock and roll’s underground.

 What began as a stand-up gesture (breaking up) has now turned into a bunch of compilations and a few reunion gigs that sounded more like money grabs than a reprise of a creative rebirth.

Same goes for Strays, the first return that they tried to sell me as album number four.

 However, The Great Escape Artist certainly doesn’t sound like they’re trying to “become more like yourself,” in fact, it kind of sounds like they’re trying to become Interpol. I’m sure a lot of this is from the band of Dave Sitek, on loan from TV On The Radio, who took over bass duties while shoving his nose into both the songwriting and recording process and certain points.

 His entry came after the departure of Duff McKagan, the former GnR bassist who pulled out because he was worried about the amount of electronics the band was implementing for their new direction.

 For me, this event signaled trouble-regardless of how regarded Sitek is, I was sure that Mc Kagan’s concerns were valid, because Jane’s Addiction was primarily a rock band underneath all that pretention and Jewish dreadlocks. To put ‘em all in front of electronic gadgets would surly cause a creative overdose.

 Surprisingly, all Sitek has done is remind the band of their darker overtones, thanks to an armful of Joy Division records and a messenger bag full of studio gadgets that guitarist Dave Navarro and drummer Steven Perkins can build riffs upon.  His role, it seems, is that of the band’s program director. And while original bassist Eric Avery is noticeably missing on the low-end duties, Sitek has done an admirable job of piecing together a collage of sounds that Jane’s Addiction would have aspired to without actually being able to with their original line-up.

 “We’ve become big business…God is a merger” Farrell declares on “Irresistible Force,” speaking to our societal perceptions while sounding completely blind to the fact that it also speaks volumes about Jane’s Addiction.

And you know what? When you begin to look at it from that perspective-that the band is at least aware that they’ve become more of a brand image than a real threat, then The Great Escape Artist became surprisingly easier to listen to.

 This is a record where it’s obvious that they’re not following the conventional wisdom of considering a direction that would be more favorable to their retirement package. Instead, it’s a record of trying to squeeze as much muse into the project as they can, even if that means letting an outsider pull it all together in a manner completely different to what they’re accustomed to.

 It’s going to be a tough pill to swallow for old fans, particularly the ones who enjoy Avery’s role as band unifier or Navarro’s shirtless power chord posturing. They’ll have to come to terms with the reality that Jane’s Addiction is ignoring to the very tools that made them successful in those early days of  the “alternative” overthrow.

The Great Escape Artist makes the band seem like they’re making a sincere attempt at trying to add to their cannon and while it doesn’t reach the heights of their earlier work, at least it’s working to get there again.

 

Duran Duran – All You Need Is Now

Duran Duran - All You Need Is NowDuran DuranAll You Need Is Now (Tapemodern)

The first record review I ever wrote was for Duran Duran’s Rio. It was for an English class in high school where the assignment was to write a phony article that offered our opinion on something.

Our town didn’t have MTV at that point, so Duran Duran was not a household name. I felt it was my duty to inform my English teacher of the upcoming onslaught of “The Fab Five.” We had a brief acknowledgement of my critical worth after delivering a dubbed copy of Lou Reed’s Transformer, so occasionally the teacher would actually listen to a recommendation.

Rio had such an impact on me that I praised them as the second coming of Roxy Music and the fully realized package of the Thin White Duke with better teeth and no Ziggy baggage.

In short, I came off as a real double-D nutswinger.

Continue reading Duran Duran – All You Need Is Now

Ghostface Killah – Apollo Kids

Ghostface Killah - Apollo KidsGhostface KillahApollo Kids (Island Def Jam)

After making what was essentially an R&B album in 2009’s Ghostdini, Ghostface Killah returns to form with his latest, Apollo Kids. Wu-Tang Clan is well represented here – Capadonna, GZA, Method Man, Raekwon, and U-God all make appearances. Production by RZA is noticeably absent, but the production work still gives that Wu-Tang flavor, even if it’s more focused on the 70s soul part than the Eastern vibe part.

Continue reading Ghostface Killah – Apollo Kids