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Monday, December 22, 2014

Top 10 Albums of 2014

It's that time of year again.  The time in which I reflect on all the glorious music that has graced my ears for the past 12 months.  Like in previous years, I have discovered so many bands, some new and plenty old.  A whopping four of the albums on my top 10 list were released by bands I had never listened to until this year.  Without further ado, my favorite albums of 2014:

10) Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings - Give the People What They Want

Sharon Jones is nothing if not consistent.  Every couple of years she churns out another little gem and her latest is no exception.  She doesn't break any new ground here, but if you like your soul music when it's funkified (or your funk music when it's soulful?), then you will have a blast with this album.

Key tracks: "Retreat", "Get Up and Get Out" and "Making Up and Breaking Up (And Making Up and Breaking Up Over Again)"
Spotify link: Give the People What They Want

9) Wo Fat - The Conjuring

This is a beefy, sludgy, pummeling, stoner rock album that's sure to satisfy fans of Kyuss.  The riffs come at you hard from all different directions.  With only five tracks comprising the album, song lengths range from a modest six and a half minutes to a beastly 17 minutes.  This is headphone music to get lost in.

Key tracks: "Dreamwalker", "The Conjuring" and "Beggar's Bargain"
Spotify link: The Conjuring

8) Antemasque - Antemasque

When The Mars Volta called it quits a couple years ago, I was a little bummed out.  I wasn't a fan of their last album but knowing I would never see them live again was a bummer.  Fortunately, guitarist Omar Rodriguez Lopez and singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala formed a new band, Antemasque.  More in line with the post-hardcore/punk sound of their old outfit, At the Drive-in, and less like their prog/jam/psychedelic band, The Mars Volta, Antemasque's self-titled debut album sees Omar & Cedric rocking out and having a good time as if they were jamming in their garage.  And their live show is packed with plenty of energy.

Key tracks: "Providence", "4AM" and "In the Lurch"
Spotify link: Antemasque

7) Mastodon - Once More 'Round the Sun

These modern metal veterans have found a very nice sound on their latest after experimenting with various sounds over their past few albums.  Their 2009 release, Crack the Sky, saw them trying out a more progressive metal sound.  Their 2011 album, The Hunter, had a more straight-forward metal.  With Once More 'Round the Sun, they've expanded upon their straight-forward sound and have put together perhaps their most melodic collection of songs to date.  That's not to say they've gone soft, because this album is as hard as previous albums, but they have tightened up their songwriting and put a strong emphasis on melodies.

Key tracks: "The Motherload", "Ember City" and "Chimes at Midnight"
Spotify link: Once More 'Round the Sun

6) Opeth - Pale Communion

Returning three years after the extremely polarizing album, Heritage, Opeth continue with, not surprisingly, another non-metal album.  The difference between Pale Communion and Heritage though, is Pale Communion is a lot more focused and cohesive than Heritage.  Whereas Heritage felt like a lot of good ideas jumbled together to form mostly directionless songs, Pale Communion takes all those good ideas, mixes them with some of the trademark Opeth sounds that we all know and love, and creates a really solid eight song set.  All of Opeth's classic elements are here: jazzy guitar solos, proggy keyboards, beautiful clean vocals, and an ominous mood.  So there are no death metal growls.  So what?  When the songs are this good, you won't miss them.

Key tracks: "River", "Faith in Others" and "Eternal Rains Will Come"
Spotify link: Pale Communion

5) St. Vincent - St. Vincent

The Queen of Weird, St. Vincent, is a bit of an acquired taste.  It wasn't until I saw her perform with David Byrne a few years ago that I started to "get it".  I'm not familiar with her entire back catalog so I may be off base with this comment, but I feel this is her most accessible album.  The melodies are infectious, her voice is powerful as ever, and the mood conveyed throughout is so different from anything else out there that this demands repeated listens.  Oh, and she's a hell of a guitar player.  This album is a bizarre journey but one that should be taken by all.

Key tracks: "Birth in Reverse", "Severed Crossed Fingers" and "Rattlesnake"
Spotify link: St. Vincent

4) Anathema - Distant Satellites

I figured that after hearing about Anathema for the past 12 years or so, 2014 was as good a time as any to finally give them a listen.  I'm thrilled I did because their catalog is vast and it is damn good.  They are certainly "mood band", but luckily I seem to be in the Anathema mood quite often.  This album, like their previous few, is drop dead gorgeous.  The interplay between lead male vocalist, Vincent Cavanagh, and lead female vocalist, Lee Douglas, is too beautiful for words.  Lee's vocals are the best I've heard from her yet and they elevate the band's sound to a new level.  I also love some of the electronic elements they've introduced on this album.  The title track sounds like a lost song from Radiohead's Kid A.  I highly recommend listening with a good pair of headphones, while lying down on a grass field, with your eyes closed.

Key tracks: "Distant Satellites", "The Lost Song Pt. 1 & 2" and "Ariel"
Spotify link: Distant Satellites

3) The Afghan Whigs - Do to the Beast

Most comeback albums are sad attempts to get back into the limelight, to recapture prior glory, to make an irrelevant act relevant once again.  The beauty of flying under the radar, like the Afghan Whigs have somehow done throughout their brilliant career, is there is no glory to recapture.  It's all about the music.  It may have taken 16 years, but frontman, Greg Dulli, finally felt it was time to release a new Whigs album.  It's a hell of an effort and it's great to have them back.  I implore everyone to see them live, as they are truly one of the best live acts around.  I wrote a longer semi-review for this album back in May and you can read it here: What Have You Been Listening To?

Key tracks: "Algiers", "The Lottery" and "These Sticks"
Spotify link: Do to the Beast

2) Evergrey - Hymns for the Broken

This is a personal comeback album for me.  In Search of Truth, Recreation Day, and The Inner Circle is as good of a three album string as you can get.  And then Evergrey followed that up with Monday Morning Apocalypse, Torn, and Glorious Collision which was a rather average string of releases.  There were a handful of great songs from those latter three albums, but none of them came close to matching the greatness of the previous three, especially their masterpiece, In Search of Truth.  I'm happy to report that Hymns for the Broken is the best Evergrey album since The Inner Circle.  The band sounds fresh and rejuvenated, the songs are punchy and memorable, and Tom Englund's powerful and emotional voice is at the top of its game.  He sings with such passion in every song and doesn't waste a note.  This is dark, melodic metal done right.

Key tracks: "The Aftermath", "A New Dawn" and "Hymns for the Broken"
Spotify link: Hymns for the Broken

1) Ne Obliviscaris - Citadel

This is the defining album of 2014 for me.  Since it's release last month, I have listened to little else.  I'm not sure how to describe this Australian metal band's sound, as they seem to transcend all genre labels.  They mix elements of death metal, black metal, jazz, folk, classical - I'll just settle on progressive metal.  Their debut album, Portal of I, blew me away.  They introduced a key element I'd never heard before in this type of metal: violin.  The song "Forget Not" was one of the most original, beautiful, and amazingly epic songs I had heard in a long time when I first discovered them earlier this year (you can read my full song review here: Forget Not).  I truly didn't think that song would ever be topped by them, and if they did top it one day, I didn't think it would be on their very next album!  Well, they topped it with the first song on their sophomore album, a sprawling 3-track, 23 minute epic entitled "Painters of the Tempest".  This song is the culmination of everything from their first album but done even better.  Brutal death metal growls, gorgeous clean vocals, acoustic passages, violin solos, masterful basslines.  It truly has it all.  The remaining tracks are nothing short of remarkable as well.  What excites me most about this band is not the fact that they already have two legitimate masterpieces under their belt to begin their career, but it's knowing that they still have plenty of tricks up their sleeves and they have a long career ahead of them.  I cannot wait to see what these guys come up with next.

Key tracks: There are only three songs on the album, split into six tracks.  Every part of every song must be heard
Spotify link: Citadel

I hope you found something new by reading this and perhaps found a new favorite album of the year as well!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Temple of the Dog - "Say Hello 2 Heaven"

Temple of the Dog is the greatest grunge collaboration on the planet. Consisting of Soundgarden members, Chris Cornell and Matt Cameron, and Pearl Jam members, Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, and Mike McCready, Temple of the Dog was a one shot record in the memory of Andy Wood, who was the lead singer of Mother Love Bone and Chris Cornell's roommate. After Andy's passing, Cornell decided to record this album in his honor.

"Say Hello 2 Heaven" is the only song on the album that is dedicated specifically to Andy. It is a gorgeous ballad about the afterlife awaiting Andy. I don't feel that it is going out on a limb to say that this is the most beautiful grunge song ever written. Even though this song was written for Andy it has a compelling message for anyone who has lost a loved one. It speaks of the sadness we encounter as the survivors, but talks of the new road ahead that we all must travel and how love can heal all wounds.

Life ends too short sometimes, but as long as the memories of that person remains in your thoughts and hearts they will surely never be gone.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Top 5 Scariest Songs of All Time

Halloween is quickly approaching. It is the time of year where ghouls, ghosts, and goblins come out to play and where scaring the living daylights out of yourself is the norm. Scares can come in all different ways. A scary movie, forgetting where you placed something valuable, that floating ball of light that keeps following you around, closing the bathroom medicine cabinet mirror and expecting an axe wielding murderer to appear behind you ready to pounce, well that last one not so much. Clearly I've been watching to many horror films. Nobody ever thinks of music as scary, however music plays with our emotions as well as any other entertainment. We are here today to give you 5 of what we believe to be the scariest songs we have ever listened to. Some of these songs may not seem scary upon first listen, but when you delve down into their message you will get creeped out, while at least 2 songs on list will give you an unnerving feeling. Anyways onto the list.

5. The Doors - "The End"

This song is an ebb and flow of creepy. It starts off with an Eastern European Riff with a tambourine keeping the beat with Jim Morrison singing about the end. The end in this case is not about death, but about a relationship ending. The song starts to get creepy after about six minutes into the song. Jim starts going into spoken word about the Oedipus complex and ends with Morrison screaming and going into a tirade of fucks and screams as the song spirals out of control.

4. Black Sabbath - "Black Sabbath"

Not only is this song creepy, but the cover work of the album is amongst the creepiest of all time. "Black Sabbath" is a song about a real life experience, Geezer Butler claims to have had. Geezer was into witchcraft and awoke one morning to see a figure in black floating around his apartment with glowing eyes. This song tells the story of that figure speaking to Butler and telling him he has been chosen by Satan.

3. Tool - "Die Eier Von Satan"

This song is very industrial. It keeps an unnerving beat through out the entire song and Maynard James Keenan speaks in what appears to be German. This is a very short song but will definitely play on your emotions.

2. Pearl Jam - "Hey Foxymophandlemama, That's Me"


Many consider this not to be a song. We however view it as a very experimental  song, but a song nonetheless. This song scares this shit out of 99/100 people who listen to it for the first time. Pearl Jam being our favorite band, we have listened to this song multiple times throughout the years and it is still as uncomfortable listening to it as the first time we did. The spoken words of this song are taken from a children's mental hospital recording session where the patient describes about how she feels love. The recording it self is creepy, but it is the random drumming and guitar feedback really adds a whole new level of creepiness to the song.

1. Suicide - "Frankie Teardrop"

I love this song for a multitude of reasons. It is by far the scariest song I have ever listened to and it inspired one of my favorite albums of all time, Bruce Springsteen's "Nebraska". Everything about this song is scary. From the beat to the lyrics, it is a nonstop ride on your emotions as you become more uncomfortable as the song goes on. "Frankie Teardrop" talks about the a factory worked named Frankie Teardrop, who can no longer afford to feed his wife and child so he decides to commit murder suicide. After Frankie kills himself he descends into hell where the song goes into full on freak out mode with lots of unnerving screams. If you can make it through this song you have some balls of steel.

Enjoy these scary songs and let me know if you have any other scary songs you recommend.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Iron Maiden - "Powerslave"

If you came here thinking this was a write up of the song "Powerslave", I have to say you are out of luck. However, this is a write up of the entire album "Powerslave", so maybe your luck is changing.

This masterpiece of an album turns 30 years old today. For 30 years the songs from "Powerslave" have been staples at Iron Maiden shows all across the world. For 30 years this album had made many throw up the horns and head bang. I could take 30 paragraphs to describe how amazing this album truly is. However, that won't be the case.

"Powerslave" is easily a top 3 Maiden album and as I stated before it has been a staple in Maiden shows since 1984. The two staples are the first two songs of the album, "Aces High" and "2 Minutes to Midnight". Right away this album grabs you by your thrash balls and starts rocking. If you have ever seen Maiden live, and we here at atozappa highly recommend you do, chances are you have seen both these songs. The next song on the album is "Losfer Words" which is funny because it is an instrumental. "Losfer Words" is your quintessential  Maiden song. It gallops, it solos, and it kicks dick. The next two songs are both songs eluding to Bruce Dickinson's hobby of fencing. "Flash of the Blade" and "The Duellists"are song about sword fighting and honestly how awesome Dickinson is.

Side 2 of the album starts with "Back In The Village" which comes roaring in with an in your face rift that does not slow down throughout the entire song. The song ominously ends with a howl and a sinister laugh that leads into the title track "Powerslave". "Powerslave" is song about an Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh who thinks he is a God amongst man. However, he is only a slave to the power of death as the song ends with our Pharaoh being mummified. This leads us to the last track on the album. "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" stands over every other Iron Maiden song as it is their longest song ever written. Coming in at 13 minutes and 34 seconds "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" is a direct reference to the poem of the same name. "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" is an absolute masterpiece of a song and one that needs to be listened to in its entirety to appreciate.

This album is a true 10/10 in my opinion with every song ringing true as a Maiden classic. I hope this album and Iron Maiden continue to rock on for many many more years to come. It has been a great 30 years since this album came out and there should be many more great years to come. Above is the song "2 Minutes to Midnight" I hope you enjoy it as much as I do every time i hear it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Parlor Mob - "Tide of Tears"

Once upon a time Jack White met up with Andrew Stockdale in Red Bank, NJ and they made sweet sweet love to each other. Then Andrew became pregnant, and gave birth to The Parlor Mob*. On that fateful day, The Parlor Mob burst onto the rock scene with their first album And You Were a Crow. This album consists of guitar hook after guitar hook with catchy vocals to go with it.
"Tide of Tears" may not be the most poppy or contain the most hooks but it doesn't matter because this song stands out amongst its brethren. At 8:34 this is the longest song on the album. It has a slow catchy guitar riff with a slow bass keeping the pace of the song. The song builds ups into two solos. After each solo the song slows back into the melodic groove that consists throughout the entire song. This song just kicks too much ass to go unnoticed.

*Note - The origin story can neither be confirmed or denied due to the inability to  reach Jack White or Andrew Stockdale

Friday, June 20, 2014

Megadeth - "Good Mourning/Black Friday"

This song is just pure evil. How evil you may ask? It is so evil that born-again Christian, Dave Mustaine, will no longer play it live. Like most things evil, this song starts off with a soothing, inviting melody. This captures the listener's attention and brings them floating along. This instrumental intro is called "Good Mourning". Now it's time to tell you what this song is about. 

"Good Mourning/Black Friday" is about a homicidal killer's descent into a blood-thirsty killing spree. This violent turn of events takes place around the one minute mark as the killer wakes up and goes into a violent fit. This is also where Megadeth shines. Dave's thrash metal is at an all time great, not only on this song, but the entire album. The song continues on a violent thrash as the killer ramps up his kill count.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Presidents of the United States of America - "Kitty"

As a kid I only owned a few albums that I listened to over and over. Sixteen Stone by Bush, Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morissette, the Dangerous Minds soundtrack, and the self-titled debut by The Presidents of the United States of America. The Presidents are an interesting group. They are a trio who write pop songs about animals and cars. The song being highlighted today epitomizes their songwriting style. 

"Kitty" is a song about, well, you guessed it, a cat. It's a stray cat who's looking for a place to stay and for someone to give it some loving. Unfortunately, like most cats, it becomes unsatisfied and attacks the hand that pets it.

This song stirs up some wonderful childhood memories because it reminds me of a great dog: my friend Ben's dog, Jenny. This song opens up with the group meowing. Every single time we would listen to this song, Jenny would think a real cat was in the room and start barking at the speakers. Here's to you, Jenny.  I hope you're out there somewhere enjoying this song.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

"The Night Santa Went Crazy" - Weird Al Yankovich

Weird Al is the quintessential parody artist. A career spanning over 30 years, longer than most of the artists he has parodied, Weird Al has achieved notoriety out of an accordion and the ability to hilariously parody any genre, as well as write his own original songs. When trying to pick a song from his vast catalog, I had to think long and hard. The easy choice would have been "Amish Paradise", which was his biggest hit, but I strayed from his hits to go with my personal favorite song, "The Night Santa Went Crazy".

"The Night Santa Went Crazy" is a parody of "Black Gold" by Soul Asylum with a touch of "Mama, I'm Coming Home" by Ozzy Osbourne. It tells the tale of Santa snapping and going on a murdering spree. Weird Al states that after all these years Santa realizes he has gotten the raw deal and can no longer withstand Christmas. He goes on to murder elves and reindeer and is eventually captured by the FBI and imprisoned for 700 years.

I have always loved this song ever since I was a little kid and to this very day I still get a great big smile on my face when it comes on. So, what is your favorite Weird Al song?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

"Fear of the Dark" by Iron Maiden

Ever since I was a little child I have had a fear of the dark. Fear of the dark is one of the most common fears to present itself to mankind. It is easy to understand why people have this fear. Darkness causes mankind to no longer be able to see. Even rooms and places in which we have been thousands of times in our life lose their sense once the darkness comes. Our eyes play tricks on us and we envision creatures that go bump in the night.

This song is about that phobia. Bruce Dickinson, the lead singer of Iron Maiden, tells a tale of a man who walks by himself as the lights start to dim and darkness closes in all around him. As the world gets dark he start to see horror movie figures and folklore characters in the flickering shadows.

"Fear of the Dark" is one of Iron Maiden's longer songs and is constantly switching up pace and heaviness. It is a fan favorite and an absolute favorite of mine.

Friday, May 2, 2014

"What have you been listening to?"

I always felt that this was a strange question. To people who know me, I'm The Music Guy. In an effort to spark conversation, people often ask me what I've been listening to. Well, I go through music phases like I imagine everyone else does, but not all that often. I like switch it up so I don't get bored. There's nothing worse than overplaying a song, album, band, to the point where you lose sight of what drew you to them in the first place. So when I'm asked what I've been listening to, I'm usually stumped. I feel like I failed a classic interview question (What are your strengths? How would you help this company grow? Why you?). How do I answer this question without fabricating a playlist that I probably haven't been exclusively listening to?

I panic, I stutter, I spit out the first band name that comes to mind. The Afghan Whigs. They recently released their first studio album in 16 years, entitled Do to the Beast, and it is quite an effort. They have had the benefit of skipping the worst decade of music in the modern era, otherwise known as the '00s, and were able to pick up right where they left off with their unique brand of '90s rock. They have somehow managed to create an extremely '90s sounding record in the year 2014 without sounding the least bit dated. It's somewhat of an anomaly in the sense that it actually works. I will go as far as saying it's actually necessary. Many bands reunite just for the sake of reuniting and for an easy paycheck. Not the Whigs though. No, they reunited because frontman Greg Dulli still had more to say. He still had a sound he wanted to project, and the Whigs are the necessary outfit for him to do so. While this album may not live up to the high standards they have set for themselves with prior masterpieces such as Gentlemen and Black Love, it certainly sets its own precedent for reunion albums. The first single, "Algiers", is easily towards the top of my "Best Songs of 2014 Thus Far, Even Though There Haven't Been That Many Great Songs Released in 2014 Thus Far" list, "The Lottery" recalls the intro to "John the Baptist" but soon becomes its own song and rocks hard, and "These Sticks" closes out the album in the traditional Afghan Whigs album-closer style, starting out slow and constantly building until it reaches a hard hitting climax.

If you asked me four years ago what I've been listening to, I might have said The Stone Roses. When I first started listening to their self-titled classic, I had to listen to it at least twice a month or else I'd have gone insane. It's what I craved. If you asked me two years ago what I've been listening to, I might have said Clockwork Angels by Rush. It came out in 2012 and turned out to be their best album since 1982 (Signals). I went through a phase where I listened to nothing on my iPod but that one album for roughly a month straight. And if you asked me at any point over the past six months what I've been listening to, my answer would have been (and will continue to be for the foreseeable future), aside from The Afghan Whigs, which was a panic answer, Seventh Wonder. Since discovering them, I've listened to them more than any other band. They have yet to grow stale on me. I finish one album and immediately start another one of theirs. I finish that one and I immediately start the third one. I finish that and go right back to the first! It's becoming a bit of a sickness and I need to get back to the point where when someone starts conversation with me ("Hey Steve! What's up? Great weather, huh? So what have you been listening to lately?") I immediately tell them "Hey, yeah, not really sure what I've been listening to. I'm kind of just listening to everything - Funkadelic, Pavement, The Velvet Underground, Dylan - ya know, a mixture of everything I like." Variety is the spice of life. Cliche or not (it is), it's true, especially for music.

So, what have you been listening to?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

"The Boy Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn" by The Broken Circle Breakdown Bluegrass Band

If you want to have your heart ripped out, stepped on, and broken to pieces, I highly recommend watching the Oscar-nominated Belgium film, The Broken Circle Breakdown.  It's a heartbreaking tale of love, loss, and bluegrass music.  Not unlike the 2006 film, Once, the music plays a central role in progressing the plot.  Music brings the two main characters together, music keeps them together, and music brings everything to a heart-wrenching conclusion.

If you would rather vie for a less messy experience in which you do not have to wipe tears off your face or pick your heart up off the floor, I highly recommend listening to the fantastic soundtrack.  All of the music is performed by The Broken Circle Breakdown Bluegrass Band whose members include the two leads in the film, Johan Heldenbergh and Veerle Baetens.  The standout track for me is the song in which the two characters duet on in the beginning on the movie, "The Boy Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn", an old traditional song.  I watched the movie just two nights ago and I've listened to this track no less than eight times since watching.  It helps set the stage for the film but also works incredibly well as a standalone track, much like the rest of the soundtrack.

Watch the movie, listen to the soundtrack, but you've been warned - this is not an easy movie to watch.

Monday, March 31, 2014

"Stereo" by Pavement

Pavement are the epitome of '90s indie/alternative rock.  Granted, I didn't know who they were until the mid-2000s and it took me even longer to finally get into them, but once everything finally clicked I couldn't get enough of them.  And even though Pavement are no longer a band (despite their brief reunion in 2010, in which I was fortunate enough to catch one of their live shows), frontman Stephen Malkmus has been releasing rock solid solo albums since 2001 (his latest, Wig Out at Jagbags, was released earlier this year).

"Stereo" is the first track off Brighten The Corners, an album that is rightfully overshadowed by its superior predecessors, but still an excellent album in its own right.  The song begins with a quirky-as-hell bass line and some fuzzed out guitar notes.  Enter Malkmus's trademark I'm-too-cool-to-sound-like-I'm-trying vocals and we're off.  The almost off-key vocal melody clashes with the idiosyncratic bass line in such an unconventional way that it creates a dissonant bliss that shouldn't work, but leave it to Pavement to figure out how to make it work.  And then we have my all time favorite Malkmus lyric, "What about the voice of Geddy Lee?/How did it get so high?/I wonder if he speaks like an ordinary guy?/I know him, and he does!".  Perhaps it's my favorite due to my overwhelming love for Rush and the fact that I "get it", or maybe it's just that this lyric perfectly encompasses the sarcastic humor found throughout Pavement's and Malkmus's entire discographies.

Everything I love about Pavement is contained within this three-minute rocker.  It's peculiar, it's hard rockin', and it's damn funny.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Concert Review - Dream Theater at Hammerstein Ballroom 3/28/14

Dream Theater.  The undisputed kings of progressive metal.  The band that every other progressive metal band is inevitably compared to.  And for good reason too.  Say what you want, but they deserve to be the band that draws all the comparisons.  They have been releasing some of the very best albums of the genre since 1989.  Many would cite them as the band that started the entire genre.  For me personally, they were the band that introduced me to an entire world of music I previously didn't know existed.  I listened to the song "6:00" from their dark masterpiece, Awake, and I never returned.  Scenes From A Memory was the first album I purchased by them and I immediately had a new favorite album of all time.  I owe a large percentage of my music collection to these guys.

The amazing thing about them is that they are as good live as they are in the studio.  For music this complex, one would expect them to lose some of their mastery when taking the stage, but somehow that's not the case.  James LaBrie seems to defy nature and sound better with age.  At age 50, his voice sounds better than ever, and I don't say this with any sense of hyperbole.  I've seen Dream Theater eight or nine times and his performance at last night's show ranks up there as the very best I've ever seen.  Not to mention, his performances on recent studio albums, Dream Theater and A Dramatic Turn of Events, have been full of energy and passion; a sort of return to form to his glory days of the '90s.

It's rare to attend a show billed as "An Evening With..." but last night's Dream Theater show was one of the few I've had the pleasure of seeing in my concert-going life (I've seen perhaps three or four shows like this, and this was the second time I've seen Dream Theater perform such show).  They took the stage at 8:00 and opened with the hard-hitting single, "The Enemy Inside" from their latest, self-titled album.  Despite the insanely perfect performance, the sound at the venue was a bit off, and that would unfortunately continue for much of the first set.  A few more songs from recent albums followed, which were all enjoyable, but no classics.  Right as the sound started to improve, they busted into one of my all time favorite epics from their 1997 "pop" album, Falling Into Infinity - "Trial of Tears".  I'm talkin' 13-minutes epic.  Full of sweeping keyboard bits, emotional guitar solos, soaring vocals, and all other aspects that make a prog-rock epic an epic!  It was such a treat hearing a fairly underrated song from such an underrated album in the DT discography.

They followed that wonderful song with their latest instrumental, "Enigma Machine", from their self-titled album.  I'm not crazy about this song.  As far as instrumental songs go, I feel this ranks towards the bottom of their catalog.  However, the band has been known to incorporate hilarious animated videos into their live show (proving that Rush have inspired them in more ways than just the music) and the "Spy vs. Spy" spoof entitled "DT vs. DT" that played during this song turned it into a very enjoyable live song.  Not to mention, Mike Mangini, the dude who replaced the legendary Mike Portnoy, showed off his masterful drumming skills with an insane drum solo in the middle.  The first set carried along with another song from their latest album and finished with my favorite song from their previous album, "Breaking All Illusions".

After a 15-minute intermission, the band returned for a second set.  I nearly had a heart attack when I found out during the first set that the band was celebrating both their 15-year and 20-year anniversaries of Scenes From a Memory and Awake respectively.  Those two albums just happen to be my two favorite Dream Theater albums!  They opened the second set with "The Mirror", the crushing track from their 1994 classic, Awake.  No matter how much longer this band continues making music, this will always be the heaviest song they've ever written.  They'll never top this one in terms of heaviness.  And they haven't lost a step since writing this song 20 years ago.  They sounded just as fresh last night as they did on the recorded version.  As I anticipated, this song led right into the next track on the album, "Lie", which is almost as heavy and equally satisfying.  They followed that up with one of their most beautiful ballads, "Lifting Shadows Off a Dream", at which point I realized they would likely be playing the last five songs on the album in succession.  To my sheer happiness, they did indeed continue on with the 11-minute epic, "Scarred", as well as the emotional "Space-Dye Vest".  Now, let me just say, in all my years of seeing Dream Theater live, "Space-Dye Vest" was probably at the very top of my list of songs I thought I'd never see them play live.  Written by their original keyboardist, Kevin Moore, I assumed this song vacated the band's live repertoire upon Moore's departure.  Thankfully, I was wrong, as seeing it performed last night was such an incredible surprise.  As if this second set alone wasn't already better than most shows I've seen in the past year, they ended it with a bang by playing the 22-minute closing track on their new self-titled album entitled "Illumination Theory".  Their performance was simply flawless, complete with beautiful videos accompanying the too-pretty-for-words orchestrated middle section.

After a very brief break, the prog masters returned for a glorious encore comprised of songs from my personal favorite album of theirs, Scenes From A Memory - a concept album that tells a twisted tale of love, murder, and reincarnation.  "Overture 1928", the blazing instrumental that sets the stage for the album, set the stage for the four-song encore.  The crowd ate up every note as it seamlessly transitioned into "Strange Deja Vu", a song that lays the foundation for the complicated story that lies ahead.  The complex instrumental, "The Dance of Eternity", was up next which led into the grand finale, "Finally Free", which gave way to a crowd sing-a-long of the "One Last Time" reprise contained within the middle of the song.  Labrie's final lyrics, "We'll meet again my friend someday soon" was directed towards all the happy fans who just experienced a perfect display of music mastery.  I hope to see you again someday soon.

The full setlist can be viewed here:

Saturday, March 22, 2014

"Lighthouse" by Sieges Even...or When Is It Too Soon To Call An Album A Masterpiece?

Discovering music in the 21st century is much different than it was in the 20th century.  Instead of having to sit by the radio waiting for the DJ to announce the name of the song you just heard, you can discover anything you want at the click of a button on your computer.  This is both a wonderful advancement in modern technology for those who want everything and they want it now as well as a detriment to those who are too lazy to search the virtual library of literally everything that was ever created.  But, with the benefit of having literally everything at our fingertips, it has been made possible to listen to as many albums as time permits.  The only restriction is our willingness to search (well, and time).  With that, we are often quick to deem an album a masterpiece, often times before the album has even been released in a physical format!

Ok, so fine, in the 21st century we get ahead of ourselves and get overexcited when something great comes along.  It's not often that a true masterpiece graces our presence.  To be fair, only time can truly dictate whether or not something is a masterpiece.  Expectations play a large role in our initial opinions, and what may seem wonderful at first may wear thin after a week, a month, a year.  When is it acceptable to declare an album a masterpiece?  A classic?  An album that will stand the test of time, even though we don't want to wait for the test of time to actually run its course?

Well, perhaps I shouldn't be the one answering this obviously rhetorical question.  I've been known to hyperbolize from time to time.

Having said that, The Art Of Navigating By The Stars by the German outfit, Sieges Even, is a fucking masterpiece.  Sure, I've only just discovered this album a month ago and only listened to it four or five times, but I just know it, it's a fucking masterpiece.  Within the first two minutes of my first listen I knew I was in for something special.  The utter beauty hit me right away and every song somehow managed to be more gorgeous than the last.  And then I listened again.  And again.  And now I find the chorus of the second track, "The Weight", stuck in my head at all times.  I crave this album.  I can't pinpoint exactly what it is I love most about it but I just know that when I'm listening to something else, I get mad at myself and wonder why I'm not listening to it.  Perhaps it's the smooth, chill vocal approach from Arno Menses.  Or perhaps it's the subtle, yet brilliant guitar work from Markus Steffen.  Or maybe it's the coherent themes that connect each song, with everything coming full circle in the final track, "Styx", with a reprise of the chorus from "The Weight".  Whatever it may be, there is some overwhelming power this album holds over me that is drawing me back for more listens.

It's difficult to pick one song from the album to highlight, but the song that hit me harder than the rest on my most recent listen was "Lighthouse".  This song perfectly captures the mood of the entire album.  It contains some fantastic vocal and guitar melodies, but the real highlight here is the guitar part that begins at the 3:45 mark.  Call me a sucker for acoustic guitar solos (which I most certainly am), but I just lose my shit anytime I hear something like this.  I don't need technicality or flashiness - I just need a few beautiful notes and I'm set.  The brief acoustic guitar part leads into a 15 second heavenly flute bit which then leads back into one of the main guitar riffs (which is also beautiful!).  Every part flows into the next so perfectly, which can be said for every song on the album.  Come to think of it, the one aspect that draws me to this album more than anything is the flawless songwriting.

This song is brilliant.  This album is brilliant.  Is it crazy of me to declare this album a masterpiece after only several listens?  Perhaps, but I don't care.  Right now, this is greatness to me.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

"No No No" by Deep Purple

Somehow, I always feel as if Deep Purple is underrated. Perhaps it's because their peak only lasted a few years and about four albums. Perhaps it's because bands like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Who and The Rolling Stones were just so good they overshadowed the brilliance of Deep Purple. But, I don't think they get enough credit for being truly awesome. Ritchie Blackmore is a fantastic guitar player - up there with Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page as one of the best of his era - and yet, I feel as if he's not as well-known as those four. 

"No No No" is a punchy, midtempo tune that deviates a bit from their usual style -  in the bridges, they slow it down more than they usually do. The main verses are awesome, featuring a great bassline from Roger Glover and Ian Paice's typical jazz-blues drumming style. Jon Lord proves he's one of the best keyboard players of his era in the second half of the song. And Blackmore's solo kills me every time I hear this song. It starts off with some dissonant sounds and morphs into a rocking blues solo with perfect note selection.

Monday, March 10, 2014

"Forget Not" by Ne Obliviscaris

One of my favorite contradictions in music is calling a brutal death metal song "beautiful".  To someone unfamiliar with metal, one listen to a death metal growl may scar them for life, leaving them with no hope for the state of the genre.  But if you are willing to dig a little deeper, perhaps look past the harsh vocals, then you may find some beauty blended in with the brutal vocal approach.

That brings me to one of my latest metal discoveries, Ne Obliviscaris, a little progressive black/death metal band hailing from Australia.  They approach the "beauty & the beast" vocal style like no other band I have ever heard, often overlapping the clean vocals with the black metal shrieks and death metal growls.  They also have another element that I have never heard in the genre before - electric violin.  And we're not talking a few strokes of the violin here and there.  I mean some serious violin playing by Tim Charles (who also provides the clean vocals on the album).  And therein lies the overwhelming beauty found throughout the entire album.

"Forget Not" is the first song I heard by these guys and I was immediately sold on them.  The song opens with a 6+ minute instrumental section filled with beautiful violin playing, epic guitar sounds, and bombastic drumming.  We are then graced with Tim's gentle, yet powerful vocals.  Xenoyr eventually comes in with his manic vocals, overlapping the clean vocals.  The whole way through, you get filled with this feeling that the song is literally exploding until it finally comes to a sudden halt after 12 incredibly epic minutes.  This song is sheer, ethereal beauty.

If you, like myself, find light in darkness and beauty in the extreme, give this song a spin.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

"With Age" by Karate

I can still remember my friend sending me this song in college - indie jazz? I was riveted on first listen and still am to this day. What a great song - it's not even about the two ridiculously soulful, perfectly placed guitar solos (well, it is.) It's also about the way they perfectly blend multiple styles - it's a jazz sound in an indie rock song structure. Farina's guitar tone is just perfect and the rhythm section complements it perfectly. His voice isn't anything special, and in fact he might have the most limited range of any singer ever - but in that little range he can sing, he constructs an overall sound that makes my ears rejoice. This song also features the best lyrics Geoff Farina has ever written. Singing about a chance meeting with an ex-lover at a bar, it has some of my favorite lines: "They tried to cut us off/They even turned out the lights/But they can't turn off the grace/With which she listens to every word/Clear among the din of glass and laughter, unheard./With an attention and respect that I could hardly return/ In such a crowded place."

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

"Impossible Germany" by Wilco

"Do you still love rock and roll?" This was a question once posed by Wilco. Well, you are not misunderstood, we still love rock and roll. Music has a way of putting a spell on people and causing a stir of emotions that normally wouldn't show themselves. There are a few songs that could bring me to tears with such joyous emotion. "Impossible Germany" is one of them. The notes played by Nels Cline are some of the most gorgeous sounds ever strung together on guitar. The song may start slow for those listening for the first time, but at the 2:35 mark Nels's guitar takes over. Every note is played with gusto and the sounds speak a beautiful language that can change anyone's mood into a happy mood. So do yourself a favor and listen with an open mind because this song will turn any sky into a sky blue sky.

Monday, March 3, 2014

"Go" by The Apples in Stereo

Are you currently feeling tired?  Depressed?  Irritable?  Don't worry, you're just suffering from a case of the Mondays.  But don't fret, I have the antidote right here!  Opening with a boppin' horn section, you'll be dancing in your seat in no time.  And when you hear the lyrics in the first verse, "When you go into the place/that you work you have no face/You know you wanna go/the moment that you get there", you'll want to dance right out of your office.  But stay put!  We can get through this together!  A simple, yet exciting chorus follows, leading into that jolly horn section again.  We then come upon a nice little instrumental section filled with keys, more horns (!), and a guitar solo, before returning to happyland with a final trio of verse/chorus/horn section.  "Go" is a perfect slab of (extremely) upbeat pop rock that's perfect for curing the Monday Morning Blues.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

"Reach Down" - Temple of the Dog

I do not even know where to begin with this song. From a musical standpoint I am not sure how much better it can get than having Pearl Jam being the backing band for Chris Cornell. We are talking about the Mecca of grunge here. Not only do we have two great bands joining together on this, but this song is also one of the longest songs in the entire grunge catalog, clocking in just north of 11 minutes. As with most songs, the lead singer gets a lot of the credit for how a song sounds. However, this song is one of the few exceptions. While Cornell sounds like vintage Cornell with his tremendous vocal range, it is actually Mike McCready who steals the show. A good six minutes of the song is McCready soloing. He has always been known for his solos and his unique take on playing lead guitar, but he really brings it to a whole new level on this song. Everything is extremely tight, which is a little surprising because this was recorded before Pearl Jam's debut album and the band had not been playing together for that long, and a person can get lost in the music just from their first listen.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Elton John - "All the Girls Love Alice"

Recently discovering Elton John's brilliant double album "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," I knew I wanted to highlight one of the lesser known tunes from this great disc. Everybody knows "Candle in the Wind," "Bennie and the Jets" and "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," but this album is great top to bottom. I decided upon this gem because it shows the rocking, upbeat side of Elton so well. Blasting off with a badass guitar/piano riff, this song alternates between this upbeat section and a perfectly integrated slower section. It ends with a rousing finale featuring some cool guitar work with trippy effects added to the mix. Great song, great album. Can't wait to see what he does at Bonnaroo - he's a perfect fit for that festival. Unfortunately, I could only find this live version of the song, although it's pretty awesome.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

"Beautiful War" by Kings of Leon

The Kings of Leon took the music scene by storm with their fourth album, Only By The Night, and more specifically with their songs "Use Somebody" and "Sex on Fire". Then they released a great album called Come Around Sundown.  Shortly after, Caleb Followill suffered a breakdown and they were forgotten for a few years. Last year, they released their sixth album, Mechanical Bull, after a three year hiatus. This album sounds very much like the Kings of Leon sound we have come to expect over the years. The album is very solid for a band who hasn't put out an album in a few years. There are a bunch of gems on there, including one of my favorites, "Beautiful War".  

This song is absolutely beautiful and reminiscent of Kings of Leon's slower songs ("Arizona" and "The Runner" to name a few). The song is roughly the same all the way through - same drum beat, same guitar, and same singing rhythm - which may sound repetitive, but it does not feel that way at all because everything just flows. This song shows a more mature side to Kings of Leon and shows a great promise of things to come.

Monday, February 17, 2014

"Never Tell" by The Violent Femmes

The Violent Femmes will always be known for their classic song about masturbation, "Blister in the Sun", but their first two albums were so much more than that.  Their second album in particular, Hallowed Ground, is a masterpiece of dark rock.  It is also home to their finest song, "Never Tell".  It's a seven minute romp through the human psyche.

The lyrics are fairly cryptic and I'm not entirely sure what it all means, but the subject matter is very dark, disturbing and uncomfortable.  References to "sister" and "father" can be interpreted in the familial sense or in the religious sense.  Constant repetition of certain lines and words helps the listener connect to the narrator's voyage into darkness.  Musically, the instrumentation wavers between calm and quiet to frantic and frenetic, with the bass being the driving force.

As if to mimic a person's descent into psychosis, the song begins slowly but constantly builds.  Things start to quiet down in the middle, but that makes it all the more unsettling.  Just vocals & bass.  It's a sort of calm before the storm.  A brief explosion follows but then leads right back into another quiet section before finally heading into the grand freak-out finale for the final minute of the song.  The bass squiggles out of control and screeches along until it eventually lets up and the listener can finally breathe a sigh of relief.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

This is rock 'n' roll

This.  This right here is rock 'n' roll.  Because you know what?  I'm tired.  I'm tired of this "new age" (VU reference, unintentional pun, I promise...) era of rock and roll.  I'm tired of electronic music.  I'm tired of pop music.  I'm tired of hip hop.  I'm tired of music without meaning.  Give me something with meaning.  Give me something with value.  Give me something worth listening to!

Damn, I mean, there's a plethora of never-ending (literally) music discoveries with the click of a mouse on the Internet, but will any of it ever get popular?  Will radio stations be playing all of it a year from now?  Will future generations be listening to any of it in 30 years?  I am 100% confident that today's studio manufactured pop music that is delivered in a beautiful gold box will be recycled and thus re-engineered for the next 5...10...15....shit, 50 years, until it's lost all meaning (who am I kidding?...we already established it has no meaning as it is)...I want something real.  Which is why I'm jamming out to the Velvet Underground.

But really though, I want something real for everyone.  I believe in sharing (my parents raised me right), and I want something real for everyone.  Not just me - because I want to share it with everyone.  I want the next "big thing" to knock everyone on their ass.  And I mean everyone.  When you think of bands that have united the entire nation, who can you think of?  I'm talking the entire U S of A.  U2?  Pffft, not even close.  Nirvana?  Come on.  Michael Jackson?  Definitely not everyone.  Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Yes?  Fantastic artists, but no.  We have to go back to the Beatles.  Which was 50 (!!) years ago!  It has been 50 (!!) years since a single band has united the entire country.  Unfortunately, I didn't have the pleasure of living through the 60's (even though my parents repeatedly tell me I was born 30 years too late), but I feel like I did.  Because I appreciate art.  I appreciate music.  I appreciate what's real.  I appreciate real art.  And if I have to look back 50 years to find the last rock band that truly inspired and brought together a nation, then something is wrong with the state of music today.  Or is something wrong with the state of the nation today?  Because, let me tell you, I am finding plenty of talented, worthwhile musicians around today.  You just have to look harder.  Work harder.  Spend more time trying to discover what you love.  If you truly love something, then isn't a little extra work in order to attain it worth it?  Anything this good is always worth the extra push.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

"Cholula" by Time Lapse Consortium

Dear Mike Einziger,

Please make music like this again. A blend of funk/jazz featuring all current members of Incubus, Neal Evans of Soulive and an orchestra? Why are you writing songs with Avicii?

I always loved your work with Incubus (until your latest travesty.) Your solos were always explosive (Priceless, Sick Sad Little World, Pendulous Threads, Deep Inside all being masterpieces) and your riffs always kicked ass. I viewed you as one of the most underrated guitarists out there and still do.

I know you only put out one live album with this outfit, with  in 2003's "Live at the Roxy," but it's an excellent album. I chose "Cholula" because it features some of your best guitar work. It has a nice little chill groove to it and I love the touches you add to the song. Solos are sprinkled in throughout, but they fit perfectly with the song and groove. Other songs are funkier and dancier, but this one has your best solos - and I do love your solos, Mike.

So, please - do me a favor. Get these guys back together and play me a funk show, Mikey!

Your dear fan,


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

"Maybe in an Alternate Dimension" by Ozma

I would first like to congratulate Ozma on their upcoming 5th studio album which is being released today to those who helped fund it via Ozma is the product of five musicians from California who were inspired by nerd rock. What is nerd rock you might ask? Well, we would have to time travel back to May 10, 1994 with the release of the Blue Album by Weezer. This was the beginning of a new age of rock and roll, a time when being a nerd was cool and catchy tunes were all the rage. Flash forward seven years later to 2001 with the release of "Rock and Roll Part Three" by Ozma and it is clear to the listener that this band was full of talent and catchy tunes.  
This brings me to "Maybe in an Alternate Dimension," which embraces everything nerd rock is all about. This song reeks of nerdiness. It describes an alternate universe where you can hide away in a land of imagination. Link, the Zelda Warrior, guards the gates to your paradise and Zack the Lego Maniac is there to build Lego's with. The song is full of smooth riffs and catchy tunes that represent Ozma's musical catalog very well. I am looking forward to their newest album and will have a review once it is released.