Sunday, March 26, 2017

Music Review #117:
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs
Feed the Rats
Rocket Records

Not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, but seven different pigs.

What Pigs (x7) are in a nutshell is a louder-than-life stoner rock band, in a very similar vein to Motorpsycho, Wolfmother, or maybe even Black Mountain. This is evident from the short track listing, composed of three long amalgams of frenzied panic and mental decomposition in song form. It should be noted though that this Motorpsycho comparison is more directed towards the 90's form of the band, such as Lobotomizer or even Trust Us, as Pigs (x7) doesn't carry the baggage of prog-rock subtleties (or perhaps in this case unsubtleties) of MS's more recent material, instead opts for the more amateurish, noise aspects of what composed much of Motorpsycho's earlier sound.

Don't get the wrong idea though, because I believe Pigs (x7) and their debut Feed the Rats are able to stand out from their influencers, no matter how many various lines can be drawn between them. As mentioned before there is a short track list, unsurprisingly of three songs, two of which are 15 minute (or more) behemoths of drugged-up strength. Even though they are different in run-times, they still revolve around a similar formula -- to assault you with a fuzzy clout on your eardrums. Pigs (x7), like many heavy stoner rock shit-bands, have a sole objective to hit you with as much sound as possible until it knocks you dead, no matter how long it may take. I do believe this was achieved, at least at certain points. 'Icon' in particular had several extremely enjoyable moments, but unfortunately due to it's length I doubt I'd find myself casually listening to it. That doesn't mean that I wouldn't find myself taking a sit-down like I do with many other even longer stoner albums. The double-guitar cacophony of Sam Grant and Adam Ian Sykes becomes almost enchanting in their monotonous crunching, aided by the pained howls of Matt Baty (who's voice is uncannily akin to Steve Brooks of Floor).

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs is an oddly-named but very enjoyable unit whose expression of their craft is very sonically enticing. A no-holds-barred band with a raucous attitude awaits within the embrace of the painted pastor.

2017 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Have a nice day! 
Music Review #116:
Epic Records

Any person with half a semi-rational head between their shoulders should be able to tell you in good conscience that alternative hard rock was the king of the 90's. In both sales and popularity, bands like Nickelback, Creed, and a plethora of others quite literally became millionaires in the span of only a few years. A large criticism of these groups was their indistinguishability from one another, as they all seemed to play the same brand of commercially friendly riffage and golf-ball-in-the-throat croons. Looking back, these criticisms were certainly well-justified, but it's also easier to tell apart the higher quality hard rock bands from others.

I believe that Tennessee-based Fuel is one of these higher quality groups. Their history stretches back to 1994 when they emerged as a post-grunge band under the name Small the Joy. After a name change that year, the band would go onto release a variety of DIY EPs. One EP in particular, titled Porcelain, featured the band's first breakout single 'Shimmer' (which remains the band's most popular song today), which more or less got the EP an unprecedented 5,000 copies sold. Record labels were quick to notice a potential profit, particularly Epic Records who swooped up a record deal with them as soon as possible. Two years and one more EP later the band would find themselves presented with a major-label debut, one they called Sunburn.

Aside from being enormously popular, going platinum in only two years, Sunburn is still the crowning achievement of the band. Showcasing some of Fuel's most fun-loving endeavors, the overall quality of the album remains still enjoyable even after almost two decades. This is less due to really the skill of the band members and more to the fact that the songs they play are catchy as all hell. This factor can be a bit obtuse if you're extremely critically minded, and I'd hate to employ a "turn your brain off" methodology to enjoy this album, but I believe to a certain extent it is required. It should be a given though that that makes this album isn't exactly formidable or even sophisticated, but I don't believe that really was Fuel's intention. If it's a mission to rock, then I can't really fault them because they do numerous times. In particular, 'Ozone', grooves with the ferocity of a swagger-filled city slicker, as well as 'Jesus or a Gun' being more along the grunge of the Foo Fighters. The tracks, while being crunching, fast-paced and aggressive, don't exactly stick out too much from one another, other than the aforementioned two, but it really adds to the easy-on-the-ears experience if you're planning on listening to the album in one go.

If you're a stiff-lipped music critic who has no intention of letting loose with some undeniably low-brow music, let me be clear that Fuel's work or at least this one is not for you. Even I'm still sort of on the fence about it, even after all these years. All in all though if you are looking for a flash-fire of enjoyment, then Fuel's Sunburn delivers it like a one-two-punch.

2017 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Originally written for Metal Music Archives on 2/18/2017.
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Friday, March 24, 2017

Music Review #115:
Ragadi Music

The Indonesian underground music scene is one that has gained quite the momentum over the last few decades. Of course what is played isn't restricted to a certain genre, but it should be noted that progressive music was heavily emphasized. Groups like Imanissimo and Discus emerged in the early 2000's, but one group came even earlier, one under the moniker simakDialog, in 1993. Of course Indonesia had experimented with progressive music much earlier such as with the diversity of Guruh Gipsy back in 1977, and I'm sure there's other examples that I can't name off the top of my head, but simakDialog was perhaps the first moderately-popular jazz/fusion act to arise from the country. Jakarta, Indonesia specifically was were they came from, a place which was and still is a potent breeding ground for aspiring artists, and simakDialog were a bright bunch even amongst their peers. Like any obscure band their history is hard to uncover, but from the looks of it simak began their studio ventures in 1995 with Lukisan, but started to gain more traction in 1999 with their sophomore album Baur. Now, those albums are all well and good, but what I believe to be the crowning achievement of the early days of simakDialog is their 2002 effort, cleverly titled Trance/Mission.

I'd hate to be that guy, but I just gotta do it -- if the band's mission was to put me in a trance, it worked (I am so, so sorry). Trance/Mission is less traditional jazz fusion as you might expect, less in the vein of Return to Forever or Santana, and closer to a more traditionalist viewpoint of what exactly the genre entails in South-Asia. Elements of new age, prog-electronic, ambiance, latin-jazz, and progressive rock are all present, and collapse in on one another in an almost surrealistically well-put-together mess. The long, sprawling run-times of the more adventurous tracks like 'All In A Day' and 'Throwing Words' are testaments to true eclecticism, often divulging into numerous different pathways which never fail to lose their sense of intrigue. Now, with all these observations you might expect that this particular album is likely hard-to-swallow, or just too avant-garde for one's tastes. Funnily enough though, that's not the case. simakDialog's way of doing things may sound exuberant to say the least, but the way the band presents it is almost sophisticated in it's laidback approach. If I were to give a visual summary of what this album represents, it would be of a beach-house, front-window view of the sunset, albeit a sunset that lasts almost an hour and ten minutes. The instruments do more than just interact, they collide off of each-other and split off, not exactly in a zany way per-say, but they do tend to make their own marks separately. This could be kind of overwhelming, such as on the last track 'Sampan' where a bit too much can be happening at once and tonal shifts can be thrust in at off-kilter places, but more often than not it is very effective.

The independence is not only where the album thrives, as cohesion is the yin of the yin-yang that it invariably is. The aforementioned 'All In a Day' is likely where I found myself at my most comfortable, not only with the fantastic guitar-solo-work by Tohpati Hutomo, but also by the soft amateurish keyboard of Riza Arshad and of course the wonderful and colorful percussion section led by Endang Ramdan, Erlan Swardana, and Jalu Patidina. On that note, it would be good to mention how fantastic the percussion section really is, as it isn't exactly similar to many other bands. Instead of relying on a single classic rock / jazz drum-set, simakDialog uses a smattering of kendangs (a Southeast Asian two-headed drum), as well as a few other native instruments like the kethuk (a Javanese mini metal-gong). Fear not though, you of conservative-natures (such as myself, honestly), because there is often use of the jazzist's pride and joy, the hi-hat, which makes several appearances in faster sections. If this diverse cacophony of instruments appeals to you in any way, then this is exactly what you're looking for.
I've always maintained that some of the best albums are those that are shrouded in obscurity, and simakDialog further reinforces that. Indonesia has produced one of the most fun-loving bands of the last 20 years. Check it out.

 2017 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Have a nice day! 
Single Review #5:
Loanin' / Figbender
Dirge Records

Floor started their career in the year 1993, releasing their debut single 'Loanin'' to the local Miami music scene. What this particular song and it's B-side 'Figbender' presented was an unprecedented brand of heaviness, one that I believe remains unparalleled today. While not nearly as professionally mixed as their 2002 debut, a factor that greatly contributed to the massive sound and really allowed them to tune it down farther, what this particular single still shows a prototype of what Floor would come to be acclaimed for. Shrieking, dying-animal like screams (granted which got much more clean in the future),spine-crushingly heavy riffs, and the occasional tortured whine of guitar feedback. If this is what you got and you weren't expecting it, I just don't know what to tell you. A one Clint Sutton appears as the gargantuan skin-slammer on this record, but he was replaced with Jeff Sousa a year or two after this release. Either way, Floor shows that it still acted as an extremely cohesive unit even in their earliest days.

 2017 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 

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Saturday, March 18, 2017

Single Review #4:
Nimble Bastard

It was kind of prevalent on If Not Now, When? back in 2011 that Incubus was moving farther and farther away from their eclectic leanings that they had so well-developed in the 90's and early 00's. A more alternative, softer-centric sound began dominating almost every song they put out, and this was no clearer than on the Trust Fall EP in 2015, whose title-track sounds uncannily like their newest single 'Nimble Bastard' from the to-be-released 8.

Nimble Bastard, like Trust Fall, is a song that loves (a bit too heartily) it's simplicity. A simple hook, simple catchy, emo-style vocals from Brandon Boyd, and dumbed-down alternative-punk smatterings. Simple simple simple. Nimble Bastard works almost like an unintended throwback, except the pop-punk leanings and faux-aggressive lyrics date themselves more than when they were "wicky-wicky"ing on their turntables back in '97. It really is a disappointingly mediocre supposed showcase of what's to come, but perhaps Nimble Bastard is just another example of a debut single being the worst song on the album it's previewing. I for one hope so.

2017 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Originally written for Metal Music Archives on 3/17/2017.
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Friday, March 17, 2017

Music Review #114:
Jan Hammer Group
Oh, Yeah?
Nemperor Records

Mahavishnu Orchestra's first (and arguably most prolific) incarnation came to a painful end in 1973, as a sudden rise in popularity and a series of calamitous recording failures suddenly turned the great Mahavishnu into less of what they originally were into more or less the John McLaughlin Group. The band's original lineup, however, was so bursting-at-the-seams with talent and skill that it's members couldn't help but go on to form formidable solo careers -- Billy Cobham would traverse the jazz fusion path himself with Spectrum in 1973, and Jan Hammer, after collaborating with fellow musician Jerry Goodman, debuted his own solo material with The First Seven Days in 1975.

The album was well-received, and showcased the excellent skill Hammer obviously had. He continued on with the jazz-fusion shtick until the 80's, where he found himself composing film and television scores for such programs as Miami Vice. For the time being however Hammer really got in the swing of things and, not but a year later, delivered the facetiously titled Oh, Yeah? in 1976.

It's common for musicians to take an album or two to really get going, and get going Hammer did. Oh, Yeah? is a romp through some of the most thought-provoking and challenging sides of the jazz rock genre, whether it be the thumping bass/timbale combination of 'Bambu Forest', the eclectic and insane callbacks to Mahavishnu on 'Twenty One', or the driving openers and closers, 'Magical Dog' and 'Red and Orange', respectively. Almost every single song has something different to say in their own right, such as the throwing in of drummer Tony Smith's soulful vocals on 'One To One'. Jan Hammer and his band utilize an almost proto-80s synth culture to design Oh, Yeah? to be a sort of generational bridge that sits on neither side of the waters. A culture clash it may be, but it's a good one. Jan Hammer himself is the main pioneer in this regard, and with his effective use of a gamut of different synthesizing and keyboard effects it's easy to see why his more progressive electronic leanings make a greater impact than the likes of new age artists like Jean Michel Jarre did.

Towering and powerful, Oh, Yeah? is a can't-miss album, not only of the jazz fusion genre but of 70's music in general. It is the definition of a passion-project and is justly the penultimate release of Hammer's career.

 2017 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Have a nice day! 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Music Review #113:
Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Island Records

The snag.

"Jumping the shark" is a common phrase that references when a television show, in danger of losing it's audience to the ever-decreasing quality of the program, does something ridiculous to rekindle interest. Named after a moment in an episode of Happy Days in 1977 where Fonzie, clad impractically in his signature leather jacket, takes a water- ski jump over a lake-area in which swims a shark. In the long-run the show didn't have much to worry about because it took seven more years to kill the damn thing, nonetheless the term stuck around and was subsequently applied to pieces of entertainment which acted similarly.

However even before Happy Days and the Fonz, new shining stars of the progressive rock scene Emerson, Lake & Palmer decided to jump the proverbial shark with Tarkus in 1971. For many progressive rock bands, jumping the shark was a common thing to the eighties. Exhausting their creative muscle in the 70s, many bands got burnt out and fell back upon the 80s pop-rock music scene instead, and as many saw it went inadvertently into retirement from the business. However this wasn't the 80's -- as mentioned before Tarkus was in 1971, a period where albums like Meddle by Pink Floyd and Nursery Cryme by Genesis continued to emerge with gusto. Appearing less than seven months after their debut and following a European tour, Tarkus came to a young and craving fan-base happy with almost anything the band produced at the time. For all intents and purposes the album could not have been timed better, but timing is a factor that rarely has bearing on quality. In quality-terms however, Tarkus is vastly inferior to it's predecessor.

One glaring and inadmissible trait the album has is it's VERY obvious pompous nature. ELP went from a mild release with a bit of grandstanding to a overblown and ultimately ridiculous concept album in one fell swoop. Tarkus, and by that I mean the 20 minute title-track suite, follows the adventure of a sentient armadillo tank as he battles his way through a universe filled with ludicrous characters, spotlit ones including a manticore and an aquamarine version of Tarkus himself, so cleverly referred to as "Aquatarkus", the latter to which he ultimately loses against. This concept sounding ridiculous on paper is unsurprising, but what really matters is how the band adapts this concept to sound good. And if you were envisioning something tough, explosive, and chivalrous to depict such a surrealist battleground, you'll be disappointed. On the other hand however if you yearned for an overbearing collection of synthesizer, constant and sometimes heavy guitar noodling and lackluster vocals, then consider yourself acquainted with Tarkus. In simple terms, 'Tarkus' is an out-and-out mess. The song, while mostly being a fast-paced journey riddled with inconsistent progressive ramblings with Carl Palmer rattling around much more flamboyantly than necessary, does have it's odd enjoyable moments. For instance in the latter half there is a short-lived space rock section, but it's quickly pushed aside in order for misplaced quirky keyboard. A dichotomy I mentioned in my review for ELP's self-titled was where each band member seemed like they were trying to out-do each-other with their respective medium. If that was prominent on the first album, then it is even more so on Tarkus. Each member practically trips over eachother, almost like their playing different songs at the same time. It creates an unpleasant mishmash of half-baked ideas that becomes a drag after listening to the same inconsistency for 20 whole minutes.

What's this? A second side? It almost seems strange that there even exists a second side, but even after Tarkus seemed to have gone through each checkbox, ELP continued the album anyway. Unsurprisingly, the second side is just as if not more monotonous than the title-track. Not much is different, other than that Emerson uses some sort of Barrelhouse-esque piano on a few of the early songs, which sounds absolutely horrendous because of a tendency of ELP to turn the keyboard up higher than the rest of the instruments until it becomes overpowering. There is one exception to the second side, however. 'A Time and a Place' is a bit of a throwback to the self-titled, along the lines of the 'The Barbarian' or 'Knife-Edge'. Heavy and atmospheric, this track is so powerful that I've listened to it multiple times with continued interest. Greg Lake's vocals are at their best on this track, his blistering screams channeling Burton Cummings of the Guess Who with their raw intensity. It is truly a memorable piece of music, but unfortunately remains solitary on the second side as the only one noteworthy.

Tarkus is not only a big disappointment, but is also an excuse for ELP to continue to become more and more vapid and self-aggrandizing than they already are with it's widespread success. Some hope still remains, however. The next album may be able to rectify the problems created with this one. Right?

 2017 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Have a nice day! 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Music Review #112:
Bust A Nut
Geffen Records

Have you ever experienced music that is the epitome of harmless art? I have. Many times these albums are neither good nor bad, rather they walk the fine line that separates truly spectacular music and campy drivel. If you ever ask me for an example I could pull up numerous ones, first of which would likely be Bust A Nut by Tesla.

Decorated with a comically unsubtle double entendre as it's title, this album by Sacremento mid-weights Tesla is quite the piece of history. I mean this not necessarily in the sense that it shows the middle school student-like nature of humor of many bands in the 80s and 90s even though the music they presented was intended to be serious -- relatively I mean this more in the way that Bust A Nut is a perfect example of something many 80s rock bands had to go through as grunge began rapidly becoming the subject of interest. Tesla, while not being exactly extremely early to the 80s hard rock / metal scene, still had their debut Mechanical Resonance released in 1986, a year where alternative music hadn't quite yet burst forth as bombastically as it did a year or so later, but it wasn't far off. The band was already in a way established as a radio-friendly crowd-pleaser, so their uniqueness saving them from being drowned by supposedly more creative music seemed practically out of the question. However Tesla was able to persevere, funnily enough scoring their biggest hits in the 1990s. This was owed in part to their staying power -- not only did they feed off the still-existing glam arena rock sound, they managed to be inoffensive enough to be perfect for casual listening.

This is where we come to Bust A Nut, no pun intended. Released in 1994 subsequent to 1991's Psychotic Supper, a blues-infused Aerosmith-esque release, Bust A Nut returns to the more cleanly produced sound of the band's highly acclaimed The Great Radio Controversy from 1989. Some consider it not to be, but I believe Psychotic Supper was a bit of a misstep between The Great Radio Controversy and this album, as it lacked quite the punch of the semi-serious songwriting, no-holds-barred spectacles, and unique spices to break the monotony of the arena rock scene. That would make this album an undoubted improvement. While the AC/DC - Aerosmith fusion can get stale pretty quickly, that's not to say the album does not have many very well-done moments. Two great examples are the two first tracks, which act as perfect hooks with their crunching bluesy rumble and raw intensity. The album hits a few dated snags here and there like 'Try So Hard' with it's crying acoustic and vocal melodies. There are some clear Aerosmith coattail-riders like 'Mama's Fool', only differentiating themselves not with Jeff Keith's voice but with slightly heavier guitars than their predecessors. The guitar from Tommy Skeoch and Frank Hannon are what make the album pop like it does, and I believe without these Bust a Nut would be reduced to a simple by-the-numbers album. But with them, Tesla makes it clear they are still the tough guys even if they are playing on an album named after male ejaculation.

The enjoyment of a release such as this comes from really whether or not you like slightly-heavy-handed simplicity, because that's exactly what it is. Perhaps it's not the greatest product of the 1990s or hell, maybe even 1994, but Bust A Nut's saccharine and innocuous nature can be enjoyable if you're willing to embrace it.

 2016 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
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