Category Archives: Bret’s Rambling

Bret’s top albums of 2014

Here are the bands I listened to endlessly throughout the year.  The music that stirred my soul, got my blood racing and made me drive fast on the freeway.

Cheatahs

Cheatahs

CHEATAHS BY CHEATAHS (WITCHITA RECORDINGS)

Cheatahs‘ S/T first album amazed me with their take on gloriously noisy shoegaze. I bought up their first EP’s and eagerly await their The Sunne EP in February. They’ve have already released lead track Controller on Soundcloud.  The feelings these Brits evoke are blissed out and energetic with a heady mix of melody and distortion.  Listening to  Cheatahs all these months later I’m still blown away by the immediacy of their performances.

[Cheatahs] hit all the notes that turn me on with heavily distorted guitars and quiet vocals as counterpoint to the noise.  With all the effects and volume you’ll also find a sense of pop melody throughout, with some exceptional instrumentation.

Further Deeper

Further/Deeper

FURTHER/DEEPER BY THE CHURCH (UNORTHODOX)

The Church return with Further/Deeper, their first without founding member Marty Wilson-Piper and their first with new guitarist Ian Haug.  Every song is lush, with a subdued beauty and menace. The mostly mid-tempo songs possess an energy that is undeniably captivating.  They’ll be on tour in the States in  February and the Highwire Daze boys will be at the El Rey Theater show singing along.

cynic_album__cover__kindly_bent_to_free_us

KINDLY BENT TO FREE US BY CYNIC (SEASON OF MIST)

I somehow missed the release of Cynic‘s Kindly Bent To Free Us after reviewing their three previous releases.  How these two guys combine metal, jazz, electronica and clean vocals with progressive arrangements is simply magical.  The new album is another example of emotional and rocking music performed by intelligent and talented musicians.  On Youtube you can watch their evolution from Florida death metallers through to the amazing genre-defying band they are today.

Engineers

Engineers

ALWAYS RETURNING BY ENGINEERS (KSCOPE)
Mark Peters and his Engineers band  come back after several years with Always Returning.  Peters recorded the songs in analog for a warm organic feel.  He’s also done two albums with electronic producer and Engineers member Ulrich Schnauss that are worth seeking out if you appreciate the meeting of these two talented and thoughtful musicians.

Always Returning is full of pretty songs that would float off in the clouds if it weren’t for the talents behind their making.  There’s a sense of sadness and longing permeating the album giving many songs a compelling emotional weight.”

exodus cover

BLOOD IN, BLOOD OUT BY EXODUS (NUCLEAR BLAST)

Exodus kicked my ass this year with Blood In, Blood Out, a return to focused form by the Bay Area thrashers.  With founding singer Steve “Zetro” Souza back in the fold, the band are at the top of their game.

Food For The Worms is how you’ll feel after being battered and bruised by the last song on Blood In, Blood Out, a go-for-broke song that alternates between stupid-fast beats and heavyosity that still remains accessible.

 

Fairweather

Fairweather

FAIRWEATHER BY FAIRWEATHER (EQUAL VISION)

DC’s post-hardcore darlings Fairweather dropped out of  sight for a decade only to rise like a phoenix fully formed, as if they’d never left.  Though the members may be older and wiser, the songs on their Self-Titled return still contain the fire and passion the band instilled in their sound from their beginnings.

[On the song No Flags Fly] “The band surprise with a soulfullness in their instrumental interplay as well as a bare-it-all vocal performance by [Jay] Littleton.

The Glitch Mob unmasked

The Glitch Mob unmasked

LOVE DEATH IMMORTALITY BY THE GLITCH MOB (GLASS AIR)

The evil beat scientists that are The Glitch Mob crafted Love Death Immortality in their dark basements, feeding off the Big Beat spirits of their ancestors to make one of the funkiest albums of 2014 with some excellent vocal contributions from Metal Mother, Aja Volkman, Yaarohs and Sister Crayon.

“…[T]he trio of ediT, Boreta and Ooah have punched up the more visceral elements of their past efforts, bringing to mind The Prodigy, Chemical Brothers and The Crystal Method.  If you hear the young punk vitality of Liam Howlett, then the trio are doing something right.”

Photo credit: Wil Foster / rockcandyphoto.com

Information Society Photo by: Wil Foster / rockcandyphoto.com

_HELLO WORLD BY INFORMATION SOCIETY (HAKATAK International / MVD

_hello world is the fun(ky) return of Information Society, less interested in hairstyles and splashy music videos and more focused on moving booties.  Even if you didn’t care for their 80’s pop  hits, if you’re a fan of synth pop, Information Society show the youngsters how it’s done right. Not with auto-tune and computers cutting and pasting preset sounds but by actual drive, heart and talent.

There’s a techno dance party you might want to go to, and if Arnold Schwarzenegger tells you to ‘Get your ass to Mars’ you should listen.  The Prize is all pumping beats, buzzing synths and popping bass, with Kurt Harland singing ‘I’m coming up from the ground with my eyes on the prize’ like he’s trying to overcome some herculean challenge.  If the challenge is to get the listener to dance, then he’s succeeded.

J.D. and Jessica Wilkes of the Dirt Daubers Photo by Bret Miller

J.D. and Jessica Wilkes of the Dirt Daubers Photo by Bret Miller

WILD MOON BY J.D. WILKES AND THE DIRT DAUBERS (PLOWBOY RECORDS)

J.D. Wilkes and the Dirt Daubers started out the year right with their jumping rhythm and blues album Wild Moon. Wilkes also heads Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers but this is his new baby.  Joined by wife and bassist / vocalist Jessica, drummer Preston Corn and guitarist Rod Hamdallah (also of the Shack Shakers) , Wilkes sings, plays guitar, bass and harmonica on a collection of riveting and rocking songs about good love gone bad, bad love gone worse and all the things that make life worth living with an understated aw shucks delivery that is inviting and enjoyable for even people that aren’t normally fans of the sound he’s keeping alive. And Jessica’s sass and sway is a wonder to hear, and pleasantly surprised at this new voice in roots rock.

Here’s what Wilkes had to say in an interview we did at the beginning of the year when asked who he was thinking about when writing and recording Wild Moon:  “I guess Little Walter, Ray Charles, a little Creedence, a 60′s rock and blues and R&B thing.  There’s something intangible, there’s something like a Ouija board: you never know what you’re going to get out of it.  All these personalities coming together in the middle.  There’s something odd and cool about this record when you listen to it.  Its a weird, dark feeling you get in the end, you can’t put your finger on it.  I get that over and over, even though I took a trip back after recording it because I was sick of hearing it.  Then I went back and listened to it and it gave me a weird, cool feeling, its kind of dark and strange and dreamlike.  I’m glad that still comes through, even after hearing it to death.

Days of the Fallen Stars

Days of the Fallen Stars

DAYS OF THE FALLEN STARS BY JUNIUS (PROSTHETIC)

On Days of the Fallen Stars, Junius inspired my to write a short story instead of a standard album review.  Their uplifting yet dark rock sound is epic in scope and in a live setting absolutely thrilling.  Play their music loudly and revel in the soaring vocals and muscular performances of Junius.

He breathed in deeply the smells of freshly cooked meals, of perfume and musk, felt a pleasant chill as the trees and plants exhaled their life-giving oxygen.  Then the trumpet announced the arrival of the night and the audience got to their activities with a crash of cymbals.

Lightfoils Photo by Shawn Brackbill

HIERARCHY BY LIGHTFOILS (SAINT MARIE RECORDS)

On Hierarchy Lightfoils wrapped me in a warm blanket of lush melodies and female vocals.   Lightfoils excel at blissed out vocals and guitars set to punky and punchy bass and drums, the band manage to bring something new to the shoegaze genre.

Here’s what drummer John Rungger said in our interview:  “The basic tracks for the album were recorded with us all in the same room, playing the songs. Something that doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should nowadays. I think it gives it an organic base that translates through to the rest of the music.

Machine Fucking Head 2014

Machine Fucking Head 2014

BLOODSTONE AND DIAMONDS BY MACHINE HEAD (NUCLEAR BLAST)

Machine Head continue to amaze with Bloodstone and Diamonds, their first on Nuclear Blast and with new bassist  Jared MacEachern.  It’s also their highest charting album to date.  Epic doesn’t even begin to describe the songs on the album.  Progressive in the best sense, Robb Flynn and band leads the listener on a journey through hate and hope, with heavy yet fast instrumentation and intelligent lyrics and impassioned vocals.  Bloodstone and Diamonds reveals new facets every time you listen.  

Photo Credit: Shawn Brackbill

Nothing Photo by: Shawn Brackbill

GUILTY OF EVERYTHING BY NOTHING (RELAPSE RECORDS)

Coming out of the hardcore scene, Nothing‘s Dominic Palerno wanted something different for his new life after his time in prison.  Inspired by the shoegaze bands of the 90’s he began Nothing.  With the release of Guilty of Everything music fans the world over are sure Palerno is on the right musical track with his beautifully noisy new songs.  They’re touring constantly so be sure to be on the look out for this amazing new band.

B&E begins in a pleasant mid-tempo, their wall of sound getting knocked down to an anxiously mellow segment reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s Animals album before tearing into their instruments for a heart-wrenching finale that will leave you gasping for breath.

seasurfer band

Seasurfer

DIVE IN BY SEASURFER (SAINT MARIE RECORDS)

Since learning of Saint Marie Records this year I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every album I’ve bought and reviewed (see Lightfoils, SPC ECO).  Their Static Waves compilations are a treasure-trove of excellence, now there’s three editions to delve into, the third physical release including a third disc of Slowdive covers.  German trio Seasurfer’s Dive In was my first purchase and I immediately fell in love with their drama and flair and dynamic arrangements. Singer Dorian E.  has range and control of her voice and her delivery is confident and sassy, the perfect foil for band leader Dirk Knight’s textured guitars and Mikel Wegener’s chunky bass.

Rose Berlin Garcia of SPC ECO

Rose Berlin Garcia of SPC ECO

SIRENS & SATELLITES BY SPC ECO (SAINT MARIE RECORDS)

In a year of amazing music SPC ECO has been busy. They released Sirens & Satellites, The Art of Pop, The Art of  Pop Remixes+ and the Nocturnal EP and 2+2=5 free downloads plus many singles.  The duo of  Dean Garcia, formerly of Curve, and artist daughter Rose Berlin juxtapose ice and fire throughout the songs on Sirens.

Make Me Say is brutal and bloody guitar slashes and crunchy rhythm loops, Rose purring and cooing like a mantis before taking off your head.”

Terrestrials

Terrestrials

TERRESTRIALS BY ULVER AND SUNN 0))) (SOUTHERN LORD RECORDS)

Terrestrials is an EP credited to Ulver and Sunn 0))) featuring contributions from multi-instrumentalist Daniel O’Sullivan, who performed with Sunn 0)))’s Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley for the band’s 200th show in Oslo, Norway in 2008.  The band jammed at Ulver’s studio and Ulver’s Krystoffer Rygg pieced together the performances with bassist Anderson, O’Sullivan adding trumpet and keyboards and Rygg contributing vocals along the way.  O’Sullivan has since joined Ulver. The end result is an  atmospheric, ominous and involving journey through the psychedelic reaches of space.

Eternal Return puts some of Ulver’s atmospheric dark beauty into the alloy with O’Sullivan’s languid keys softening  O’Malley’s sharp guitar strums and drones.  As the music surges, violins and trumpet float in.  At about the halfway mark the arrangement segues to a looping and vibrant synthesizer and Rygg’s velvety voice.  The finale drifts in with sawed violins, percussive guitars and menacing atmospheres.  Quivering strings fade out at the end.”

Eddie Spaghetti Photo by Bret Miller

Eddie Spaghetti Photo by Bret Miller

GET THE HELL BY SUPERSUCKERS (ACETATE RECORDS)

The Greatest Rock’n’Roll Band in the World, The Supersuckers, are back with their most rocking album in years, Get The Hell.  Their first without founding guitarist Rontrose Heathman, and first album with current drummer Christopher Von Streichan and new guitarist Marty Chandler.  Singer/bassist Eddie Sphaghetti and Dan “Thunder” Bolton lead the charge and wail on the future classics Something About You and Pushin’ Thru.

Supersuckers’ Get the Hell is focused on boot kicking, middle finger raising and sing-along anthems sure to please the most jaded of music fans.

Family photo by Cassandra-Bialek

Walking Bicycles family photo by Cassandra-Bialek

TO HIM THAT WILLS THE WAY BY WALKING BICYCLES (HIGHWHEEL RECORDS)

The Chicago quartet Walking Bicycles are back with their most focused, angry and cathartic album to date in To Him That Wills The Way.  Noisy, catchy, danceable music, Walking Bicycles sound like no one else.

Here’s what guitarist and founder Julius Moriarty said in our interview about Walking Bicycles’ balance of noise and pop: “We have always tried to walk the line between weird and catchy.  If both exist within a track then there can’t be too much of either.”

Loco and "Weird" Al Yankovic

“Weird” Al Yankovic

MANDATORY FUN BY “WEIRD” AL YANKOVIC (RCA RECORDS)

There are a few constants in pop culture: talentless “artists” appear daily with a flick of an auto-tune machine and synthesizer preset to sell clothes and fast food, and one “Weird” Al Yankovic will make fun of the pop songs that these supposed singers and bands churn out.  He’ll also write some funny “homage” songs played in the style of someone, on 14th studio album Mandatory Fun Al tips his hat to Southern Culture on the Skids and Foo Fighters, as well as hoary oldies Crosby, Stills and Nash and Cat Stevens.  My favorite though, is First World Problems done in the style of The Pixies.  When Al rants about how the barista forgot to make a design on his banana latte you just have to laugh.  One of the best lyrics Yankovic has ever written is to Blurred Lines, here called Word Crimes, a song that is both hilarious AND educational.  Sample lyric: “You should never/ Write words using numbers/ Unless you’re seven/ Or your name is Prince”.  “Weird” Al Yankovic makes pop music palatable for those with intelligence, humor and self-awareness.

Photo by Jeff Elstone

Zola Jesus photo by Jeff Elstone

TAIGA BY ZOLA JESUS (MUTE RECORDS)

One of the most stunning albums of the year came from 25 year old Nika Rosa Danilova, aka Zola Jesus.  Her most accomplished album to date, Taiga references the coniferous ancient forests that cover 1/5th of the world and over northern Russia and Siberia.  The album is filled with soulful and textured electronic and live instrumentation and Danilova’s bold and emotional vocals.

Dangerous Days is catchy and often light, yet has a delicious and dark under current of churning and scraping synths that bring solidity to the song.  Danilova sings sultry and soaring, drawing you in to her world.”

diothisisyour1_375x164

This Is Your Life expanded album cover

RONNIE JAMES DIO – THIS IS YOUR LIFE BY VARIOUS ARTISTS (RHINO RECORDS)

Anyone that calls themselves a metal head or fan of rock’n’roll should know the name Dio.  Ronnie James Dio passed on to the great stage in the sky but his legacy lives on in the lives and spirits of musicians the world over.  This Is Your Life is a tribute to the great man and a thrilling listening experience.  The album is also a great introduction to bands in the heavy metal arena as they all do a fantastic job of channeling the soul and positive energies of Dio.

I confess to knowing nothing of Adrenaline Mob but their take on Black Sabbath’s Mob Rules is killer.  I mean, this song wails, kicks ass, all those metal clichés.  The song was Sabbath’s attempt to remain relavent in the punk era is clear in the fast pace and raw power and the suitably named band distill all the fury of the original and spit out flames. Amazing guitars at the end too.”

(by Bret Miller)

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“Put aside the alienation/ Get on with the fascination”

With The Stellar Corpses

With The Stellar Corpses

BRET’S RAMBLINGS

A few days ago I was reminded of what it’s like to meet your idols. I was chatting on a thread about the definition of shoegaze and Jeremy True mentioned how some bands make sad music to be sad to.  I came back with American Music Club and their beautifully sad music.  Here’s what Jeremy related to me:

“Bret, one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen was when I worked at this cafe, and Mark Kozelek used to come in and get tea. One winter it was really mellow, the place was empty and I was listening to American Music Club. Mark said hi and sat down at a table. so he’s sitting in this cafe all by himself, so he starts singing along to the music. I don’t know if I can hear the song Last Harbor without hearing Mark in my head singing harmony parts along to it.  And when he left he stopped back at the counter and said ‘”f****** great album, man…”‘

This got me to thinking about all the musicians I’ve talked to either face-to-face or on the phone or by email and how they’ve influenced my life.  Whether they understood the significance or not.  In the overall scope of my life meeting and communicating with these musicians, whose output I’ve enjoyed and whose escapades I’ve followed in the press, whose live shows I’ve paid to see or reviewed for free or just went to as a fan after conducting an interview, have inspired my life in ways I haven’t even considered.

To first be a fan of music, then in the early 90’s to become a writer about these bands and in the 00’s to be a music publicist for a short time has made me a better person, though I’m not sure how.  But I’ve been lucky enough to speak with in person, on the phone or in writing with some exceptional and amazing  people.  These people create.  They travel.  They make the effort to get out of their comfort zones and perform on stages all over the world and they share their lives to thousands and millions of people on a regular basis.

rush at gibson time machine

Geddy Lee of Rush at the Gibson Amphitheater for the Time Machine tour

Neil Peart is a bookish private person that also happens to play drums for Rush, one of the best and best-selling bands in the world.  Yet he’s an introvert, someone that is uncomfortable around strangers, who doesn’t seek out large groups of people.  The lyrics for Limelight speak to me, in that once the band had reached a level of stardom, people wanted a piece of him.  In the song he wrote,  Geddy Lee sings:

“Limelight”

Living on a lighted stage
Approaches the unreal
For those who think and feel
In touch with some reality
Beyond the gilded cageCast in this unlikely role
Ill-equipped to act
With insufficient tact
One must put up barriers
To keep oneself intact[Chorus:]
Living in the limelight
The universal dream
For those who wish to seem
Those who wish to be
Must put aside the alienation
Get on with the fascination
The real relation
The underlying theme

Living in a fish eye lens
Caught in the camera eye
I have no heart to lie
I can’t pretend a stranger
Is a long-awaited friend

All the world’s indeed a stage
And we are merely players
Performers and portrayers
Each another’s audience
Outside the gilded cage

Now imagine the person that wrote these words playing drums for millions of people around the world since 1975.

I’ve been reading a little about what it means to be an introvert and I realize it’s true that I am the sole source for all the energy I put out towards the world.  The lines ring true: “I can’t pretend a stranger/ Is a long-awaited friend.”  I happen to work in public selling items for a particular food company and that puts me in the position to be near strangers constantly.  Yet when certain people see me they remember me.  Or I see people I’ve seen many times before and am comfortable around them.  Peart has written in his books about situations where he’s been so uncomfortable he’s left the room. I don’t have that choice and there is often a toll.  I’m exhausted and keep to myself more often than not.  This doesn’t mean I don’t like going out, it does mean I have few friends and prefer to do things with them I’m comfortable doing, usually dinner, concerts and movies.

After Peart’s daughter and wife passed away in the late 90’s he took a break from the band and even after they reconvened he left Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson to conduct the interviews in fear of the journalists bringing up his personal life.  I’m glad he’s since returned to doing interviews.  I remember seeing Lee and Lifeson getting some award or other during a convention and they were feet away from me, as I was in the front row of the room of writers and fans.  I only wish I had those pictures, but I do remember how normal they looked and how surreal it was for me to be that close to them without them being up on a stage performing.  During one of their tours afterwards I again was only a few feet from them and I was a thirteen year-old kid again getting Exit Stage Left for Christmas and then a few years later seeing them live for the first time for their Power Windows tour in 1985.

Dave Mustaine of Megadeth

Dave Mustaine of Megadeth

Another band I’ve been following since a teen is Megadeth.  I got to talk with then guitarist Marty Friedman a few times and then sat down with Dave Mustaine at a hotel restaurant table while the rest of the band had a meeting with label or business types.  He was such a gentleman and considered all of his answers kindly towards me.  I must have been so nervous!  We talked for subsequent albums over the phone and he was always friendly and personable.

I had a few years where I didn’t work a traditional job and during that time I worked and interned as a music publicist.  I started Myspace pages for Swervedriver and Supersuckers.  These two bands couldn’t be more different other than they both rocked and I loved their music.

Swervedriver live

Swervedriver live

While running Swervedriver‘s page I got to interact with singer Adam Franklin as he guided me a little towards what he wanted out in the public.  I got to meet via the page many interesting and passionate people, many of them talented musicians in their own right and got to write about their bands as well.  I got to spread the word about Swervedriver’s 2008 reunion tour and give away tickets to their Los Angeles and San Diego shows.  I’d already been a fan of the band since Raise and had conducted several interviews in person and not over the years and seen them live on their tours.  I’d also got to see Franklin on his many solo ventures through the area and wrote and interviewed him for his albums.  I’ve met and chatted with several of the other members as well and they’re all lovely.  Swervedriver have a new album coming in 2015 and you know I’ll be spreading the word!

my shirt

my shirt

Supersuckers I’ve been following since the turn of the century and had heard them even before.  They started their own label Lo-Fi Records and had hired another publicist who I was working for.  So to sit across the table with singer-bassist Eddie Spaghetti was a real treat as was talking with him and the band on many more occasions.  I was often in contact with their then label-runner and we shared our passion of the band and music.

These are just some of my experiences in the past two and more decades that have enriched my life.  I thank my good friend and Highwire Daze editor Ken Morton for the opportunity to continue to write about music and meet these incredible musicians.  Here’s to many more memories to come!

(by Bret Miller)

LINKS:
www.markkozelek.com
www.americanmusicclub.com
www.swervedriver.com
www.adamfranklin.com
www.supersuckers.com
www.rush.com
www.megadeth.com
www.facebook.com/groups/shoegaze.dreampop
www.facebook.com/bretrmiller

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Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen

ministrylost_274x400Ministry: The Lost Gospels of Al Jourgensen by Al Jourgensen with Jon Weiderhorn (De Capo Books)

Unapologetic, no one’s hero, just as surprised as everyone else that he’s still alive, Ministry mastermind Al Jourgensen relates in mostly chronological order his upbringing, years of drug use, debauchery and time in a recording and touring band.

With little in the way of introspection, we learn Alain was born to a Cuban family that moved to Miami when he was a baby, then followed his grandfather up to the Mid West where he lived with his grandmother for his early years.  His mother remarried and Al took the name Jourgensen.  During his childhood Al stole cars for joyrides, including his stepfather’s, took drugs, became surprisingly good at baseball and eventually found himself (literally and figuratively) in a hospital for drug addicts where he lived for a year as a teen.  He did the expected things like go to college but instead of studying he sold drugs and fucked around, met a girl, did stupid shit and generally made his own life miserable thanks to poor decisions and drug use.

Yet amazingly, Al ended up in the music program of the University of Illinois-Chicago where they had recently acquired electronic music equipment that would help shape Ministryl and industrial music in general.  For a few years Al played in bands and developed his style, working with Wax Trax! Records and recording at Wax Trax Studios (no relation).

Somehow Al has created music as Ministry, Lard, Revolting Cocks, and more while at the mercy of a drug habit that would kill most everyone else years sooner.  Somehow he has performed on stage to millions of people while under the influence.

Throughout Al’s Lost Gospels, the reader will be constantly amazed at the magnitude of loathing the man had for himself, such low self-worth, such a poor sense of his own good qualities.  While living in Texas he lived in a haunted house, one formerly used by rich men and their mistresses.  “I had a bunch of visitors, and that’s a bad idea when you’re a heavily armed drug addict.  It’s especially stupid when you’re friends are people like Gibby Haynes, Phildo and Jello Biafra.  One time  I almost pulled a William Burroughs and shot Jello.  He was being all anal and trying to tidy up the place, and he pissed me off, so I got really drunk and then got my .22 and started shooting at Jello’s feet, making him dance like in the John Wayne movies.  He ran up to his room, locked the door, and put furniture up against the door.  He stayed there for three days and wouldn’t come out until Curly, who was the estate manager of the place, convinced him that I had thrown all  my guns in the pool.”

He put a lot of money into the places he lived in Texas.  “There’s a whole wing of the courthouse that I paid for with fines and penalties.” “I accumulated so many speeding tickets that I basically bought off a small Texas town and gave them a $12,000 donation to clear my record so I didn’t have to go to court anymore.”

He lived with Timothy Leary for two years.  While there, Al was a guinea pig for Leary’s drug concoctions.  “Some people have asked me why I’m not angry at Tim for using me as a human guinea pig.  Man, I could never be angry at Tim.  I was a willing subject, and he was a good friend — a father figure, actually.  I was this rock junkie, but he didn’t treat me like a degenerate.  he was patient and understanding.  We had long talks about everything: quantum mechanics, esoterics, philosophy, psychology, the occult, psychedelic science and the opening of the third eye, even pop culture.”

Between chapters of Al’s looking back, there are interviews by Jon Weiderhorn with Luc Van Acker (ex-Front 242) who sang on Revolting Cocks’ debut, Jello Biafra, Phildo Owens of Skatenigs and RevCo and Gibby Haynes who variously recall the often shared debauchery, musical creation and touring with Al, seeing past the self-induced misery to a loyal, humorous and hard-working man and good friend.  His stepfather kindly sees Al’s childhood as more idyllic than it might have been, and can at least show pride for what his stepson has done and fought for: a (near) sober life.  His soul brother Mikey Scaccia, longtime guitarist for Ministry was lucky enough to finally kick his own habits about the same time as Al, and the two worked together sober in the making of Relapse, Buck Satan’s & The 666 Shooters’ Bikers Welcome, Ladies Drink Free and the most recent Ministry album From Beer to Eternity.  That he passed away playing on stage with his old band Rigor Mortis, in a good place in his life, was devastating to Jourgensen yet is bittersweet proof that fate is fickle.

Jourgensen’s savior is Angelina, who helped him clean up and now runs 13th Planet Records and manages Al’s endeavors.  They’ve been happily married 11 years.  It is no coincidence that her name means “Little Angel” for all the effort she has put towards healing her husband and supporting him over the years.

While at first a seemingly odd choice for an interview subject, one-time European tour manager Holger Brandes shows simple decency as he talks about being Al’s handler during the European leg of the C U LaTour.  While dealing with moving the band to a better hotel than initially planned while in Germany, Brandes took offense at the hotel staff’s disrespectful view of Jourgensen.  “This made me very angry, and after I got Al and Angie to their rook I had some serious words with the hotel manager. When I left the hotel and recalled the past twenty minutes, I realized why these hotel people made me so angry: this tour might have been stressful here and there.  Al might be an unusual guy to deal with.  He might look weird, he might be an alcoholic, he might polarize people, but for me he became a real friend, and his intelligence and humor and his warmth for the people around him deserved respect and appreciation.”

It is good to know that after all he’s been through and all he’s put himself through, Al’s got his own studio, record label and home, a stable life, good people around him and while still loathing the music industry as much as he loves making music, he’s still going strong.  Al Jourgensen’s story is a testament to the strangeness and beauty of the universe as well as an example of the human condition.  Al’s life is in no way a cautionary tale: he wishes this kind of life on no one.  Al Jourgensen is as close as he’ll ever be to accepting himself in a positive way with Angie at his side doing what he does best.

(Review by Bret Miller)

Ministry on Facebook

13th PlanetRecords

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Killing Joke on Tour Spring of 2013 in Support of The Singles Collection

Killing Joke's Jaz Coleman. Photo by Bret Miller

Killing Joke’s Jaz Coleman. Photo by Bret Miller

The Mighty Killing Joke, the purveyors of end times, see that the end did not, indeed come on December 21, 2012.  To celebrate the continuation of the world, they will be invading the States to tour in support of their upcoming Singles Collection. The Super Deluxe version of The Singles Collection: 1979-2012 will be 33 of Killing Joke’s singles, packaged in sleeves and spanning their 30+ year career plus rarities, a book and posters.  There will be a limited edition Three CD collection including the 33 singles and a third disc containing remixes and b-sides, reverting to the two CDs of singles.

Killing Joke has made their own path, through genres and record labels and band members.  In the past several years the original lineup of Jaz Coleman, Geordie Walker, Youth and Big Paul Ferguson have crafted two of their finest albums in Absolute Dissent and MMXII, toured twice in the States and now bring you many more intense nights of Killing Joke music spanning their entire career.

Jaz Coleman and Big Paul Ferguson of Killing Joke. Photo by Bret Miller

Jaz Coleman and Big Paul Ferguson of Killing Joke. Photo by Bret Miller

Killing Joke has always contained catharsis in their sound, mixing in reggae dub, heavy metal, dance rhythms, synthesizers, Walker’s textured and angular guitars and Coleman’s sometimes raspy, sometimes soothing, always personality-filled vocals in what can only be described as the Killing Joke sound.

They’re one of the those bands that has inspired people to become musicians for years, with fans including Dave Grohl, Justin Broadrick/Godflesh, Helmet, Metallica, Fear Factory, Primus and Trent Reznor, many who have covered Killing Joke songs.

ON TOUR

March 
Fri 15th UK Hammerfest, Wales
Sat 16th UK Forum, London
Mon 18th Belgium Trix, Antwerp
Wed 20th France Bataclan, Paris

April 
Fri 19th US Irving Plaza, New York NY
Sat 20th US Paradise, Boston
Sun 21st US Union Transfer, Philadelphia
Tue 23rd Can Cafe Campus, Montreal PQ
Wed 24th Can Lee’s Palace, Toronto ONT
Fri 26th US Empty Bottle, Chicago IL
Sat 27th US Empty Bottle, Chicago IL
Tue 30th US Neumos, Seattle WA

May
Wed 1st US Rickshaw Theatre, Vancouver, BC
Fri 3rd US Fillmore, San Francisco, CA
Sat 4th US Brick By Brick , San Diego, CA
Sun 5th US Henry Fonda Los Angeles CA

LINKS

Killing Joke’s official site

Killing Joke on Facebook

Pre-order The Singles Collection HERE

Order the Super Deluxe Version HERE

Order Jaz Coleman’s Letters to Cythera book and music HERE

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Bret’s Top Albums of 2012

R.E.M. – It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

That’s great, it starts with an earthquake, birds and snakes,
an aeroplane – Lenny Bruce is not afraid.
Eye of a hurricane, listen to yourself churn,
world serves its own needs, dummy serve your own needs.
Feed it off an aux speak,, grunt, no, strength,
The ladder starts to clatter with fear fight down height.
Wire in a fire, representing seven games, a government for hire and a combat site.
Left of west and coming in a hurry with the furies breathing down your neck.
Team by team reporters baffled, trumped, tethered cropped.
Look at that low playing!
Fine, then.
Uh oh, overflow, population, common food, but it’ll do.
Save yourself, serve yourself. World serves its own needs, listen to your heart bleed dummy with the rapture and the revered and the right – right.
You vitriolic, patriotic, slam, fight, bright light, feeling pretty psyched.

It’s the end of the world as we know it.
It’s the end of the world as we know it.
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.

Six o’clock – TV hour. Don’t get caught in foreign towers.
Slash and burn, return, listen to yourself churn.
Locking in, uniforming, book burning, blood letting.
Every motive escalate. Automotive incinerate.
Light a candle, light a votive. Step down, step down.
Watch your heel crush, crushed. Uh-oh, this means no fear cavalier.
Renegade steer clear! A tournament, a tournament, a tournament of lies.
Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives and I decline.

It’s the end of the world as we know it.
It’s the end of the world as we know it. (It’s time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it (It’s time I had some time alone) and I feel fine.
(I feel fine)

It’s the end of the world as we know it. (It’s time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it. (It’s time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it (It’s time I had some time alone) and I feel fine.

The other night I dreamt of knives, continental drift divide. Mountains sit in a line
Leonard Bernstein. Leonid Brezhnev. Lenny Bruce and Lester Bangs.
Birthday party, cheesecake, jelly bean, boom!
You symbiotic, patriotic, slam book neck, right? Right.

It’s the end of the world as we know it. (It’s time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it. (It’s time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it (It’s time I had some time alone) and I feel fine.

It’s the end of the world as we know it.
It’s the end of the world as we know it.
It’s the end of the world as we know it (It’s time I had some time alone) and I feel fine.

It’s the end of the world as we know it. (It’s time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it. (It’s time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it (It’s time I had some time alone) and I feel fine.

It’s the end of the world as we know it. (It’s time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it. (It’s time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it (It’s time I had some time alone) and I feel fine…

 

Listen to these songs to feel fine as the world comes crashing down around you

Scroll over the listings for CD reviews, interviews and photos of the artists. 

(In alphabetical order)

Airiel: Kid Games

Beach House: Bloom

Australasia: Sin4tr4

Buck Satan And The 666 Shooters: Bikers Welcome, Ladies Drink Free

El Ten Eleven: Transitions

Fantasmes: Redness Moon

The Hague: Black Rabbit

Josh Rouse And The Long Vacations: S/T

Junkie XL: Synthesis

Killing Joke: MMXII

Little People: We Are All But Hunks Of Wood

Maniac: Maniac Records Radio Sampler

Meshuggah: Koloss

Ministry: Relapse

My Bloody Valentine: Loveless Two Disc Remaster/Reissue

The Orb: The ORBserver In The Star House

Orbital: Wonky

Parallels: XII

Pelican: Ataraxia/Taraxis

Pet Shop Boys: Format Limited Edition

Porcupine: Octane Twisted (Live)

Public Image Limited: This Is PiL

Royal Baths: Better Luck Next Life

Rush: Clockwork Angels

School Of Seven Bells: Ghostory

Sea Above, Sky Below: Enchanted

Sea Dweller: Signs Of A Perfect Disaster

Sigur Ros: Valtari

Simian Mobile Disco: Unpatterns and A Form Of Change EP

Steve Hogarth and Richard Barbieri: Not The Weapon But The Hand

Toadies: Play.Rock.Music

Ulver: Childhood’s End

Underworld: A Collection and 1992-2012 (The Anthology)

Van Halen: A Different Kind Of Truth

Violens: True

(List Compiled by Bret Miller)

 

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Bret’s Ramblings – November, 2012

With Halloween past and the weather getting dreary, its nice to know that music will always be there to boost your spirits, warm your blood and be with you when you just want to stay in bed all day and say fuck it to the world.

Eis brings us black metal from Germany in the form of Wetterkreuz.  Each track begins with the sounds of wind in high places, relating to the themes of the album.  There is a majestic quality to the combination of guttural vocals, slow keyboards and sweeping guitar chords. There are slower breaks in the songs where vocalist Alboin takes to spoken word and the rhythm changes are also quite progressive in nature adding to the dramatic arrangements. For the most part though Eis will cause you to headbang like a man possessed.

Australasia are an Italian duo that use black metal as their musical base (for the most part) and on Sin4tr4 they go places previously unheard in any genre.  On seven instrumentals the duo mesh metal, electronica, jazz and lush ambience into a sound that is thrilling and invigorating.  Antenna starts out slow with beautiful liquid guitars, adds pounding drums and a trilling guitar workout before coming down to a calmer mood with vibes and layered guitar strumming.  Spine opens with a darker feel as the duo break into a metal segment, then a slower part, lulling you into a thoughtful melodic section before taking you to the heights of fast-fingered guitars and pummelling drums. After all these highs and lows Spine fades out with chugging guitars, synths echoing and a fuzzy bass sound.  Apnea utilizes a woman wordlessly vocalizing to lovely effect as the drums crunch and electronic effects take you to a cloudy headspace.  Satellite reaches even higher for a spacey yet mellow mood piece with vibes, echoing and decaying guitar and keyboards treatments.  Retina gives the impression that Australasia are two parts of a metal band searching for a whole, they also prove they can make compelling metal all on their own.  In three minutes Gian and Rico take us on a journey through dynamic chord progressions and building drum tempos to hardcore time changes and trilling guitar melodies. Sin4tr4 closes with Fragile, a singular track of vibes, sampled sound effects and chilling keyboards.  The guitars and drums take center stage to introduce a layered guitar arrangement that will stick in your head for days and months to come.  As the guitars and keyboards swell and sink back into the ocean of sounds you’ll be lulled into a place you’ve never been before.  Australasia is for fans of Pelican, Isis, Cynic and those searching for cathartic and experimental new sounds.

Transitions is the latest from Southern California instrumental duo El Ten Eleven.  Kristian Dunn plays the doubleneck guitar/bass and Tim Fogarty lays down the acoustic and electronic drums.  Dunn uses multiple looping pedals to create intricate, layered sounds on his guitar/bass making El Ten sound like the work of a full band.  While the whole of Transitions is captivating, many of the themes on the album reflect the duo’s love of New Wave music including Dunn’s Peter Hook-meets-the-Cure-style deep bass  leads as heard on Thanks Bill.  Tiger Tiger is a reworked version of a Duran Duran instrumental that sounds like seagulls squacking over a jazz fusion lounge party in the sun.  While Fogarty has fun with playing twenty different drum patterns and tempos per song and experimenting with hip-hop and dance beats to enjoyable effect, Dunn exhibits a deep understanding of micro tones and the interplay of chords and melody much like the neo-classical compositions of Steve Reich (Different Trains, Music for 18 Musicians).  The songs display a joy of life, a mesmerizing interplay of played sounds, a thrill of finding so many voices in the strings and skins that you won’t be able to stop smiling, dancing and thinking good thoughts when hearing El Ten Eleven’s Transitions.

On A Form of Change, Simian Mobile Disco craft textured and intelligent electronic music that is equally satisfying on the dance floor or grooving to with headphones. Taken from the Unpatterns sessions, This EP opens with the title track, bringing to mind some of the same multi-layered mesmerism of early Seefeel without so much of the bass-heavy dub elements. Yet once the percussion kicks in you’ll be transported to a blissful psychedelic world of acid synth warps and snapping beats that rise and rise some more until you’re high on sound.  Unfixed is centered on a 4 by 4 beat (pretty standard MO) yet the duo of James Ford and Jas Shaw drop in enough twinkling and chirping loops to keep your ears interested.  Breaking Time builds on a solid synth bass melody and shuffling percussion, raising the tempo and your heart rate with multiple keyboards repeating and evolving the central motif.  Everyday is a a soulfully grooving number evoking subdued yet richly colored lights, people dancing as the air gains humidity and the moon gives the sky over to the sun.  Simian Mobile Disco is taking their tunes into a live setting, so check their site for info on where you too can dance the night away to their progressive house music.

(by Bret Miller)

LINKS:

Simian Mobile Disco’s Website

Simian Mobile Disco on Soundcloud

Simian Mobile Disco on Facebook

Eis’ Website

Eis’ Facebook page

El Ten Eleven’s Website

El Ten Eleven’s Facebook page

El Ten Eleven’s Cyriak-directed video for Yellow Bridges

Australasia’s video for Fragile

Australasia on Facebook

Australasia’s Official website

Australasia’s label Golden Morning Sounds

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Bret’s Ramblings presents Marty Friedman Reissues

Loudspeaker, Future Addict and Bad D.N.A. Reissues by Marty Friedman (Prosthetic Records)

Guitarist and vocalist Marty Friedman was a member of Megadeth from 1990 to 2000 performing on the albums Rust In Peace, Countdown to Extinction, Youthanasia, Cryptic Writings and Risk.  During his tenure the band received Grammy Awards, were at the top of the charts and they toured the world many times over. Yet even during that busy time Friedman released four solo albums.  Friedman started out in such bands as Duece and Hawaii, leaving Cacophony in 1989 to join Megadeth.

Prosthetic Records is releasing three of Marty Friedman’s solo works in the United States, two for the first time.

Loudspeaker was originally released by Shrapnel Records in the United States in 2007.  Elixir opens the album, attacking your eardrums from the start with it’s heavy metal sound.  Featuring the bass talents of Billy Sheehan, the song veers towards a few more melodic parts with two crunchy breakdowns but is otherwise an instrumental metal masterpiece.  Street Demon follows, with a Ramones feel here, a hard rock solo there, melodic riffs thrown around until your nodding along vigorously.  On Black Orchid Dream Theater’s John Petrucci joins in on guitar for a punk/thrash song with killer hooks and intense six-string interplay. Glycerine Flesh has an almost country feel, light acoustic guitar and high, clean electric leads.  Obvious hero and influence Steve Vai wails all over Viper, leading the listener to just soak in the glorious genius of Vai and Friedman as they play off of each other and synch up in a dance of glorious colors and cries.

All in all, Loudspeaker is an exciting ride through metal and hard rock, showcasing Friedman and friends’ talents, and is a fun listen.

Future Addict, is an introduction to Friedman’s work up until that time, including three new songs.  After a weird little introduction called Barbie rocks out in earnest with new song Simple Mystery, blending emo-pop, screamo and metal grind with Friedman’s varied vocal approaches and wailing guitar solos tying all the threads together.  After that pop-metal fireworks show the next song sounds somewhat familiar.  Its rather driving, chugging, silver-metallic, Friedman singing in a tightly clenched vocal… Tornado of Souls (!) damn, this is rocking!  Yes, a Megadeth song, but here Friedman ably transforms the song into his own, sings like he means it and plays the guitar parts, drawing blood and fire on every part.  After that stunning cover, Friedman doesn’t let up, following with pounding tom drums and a chugging guitar assault on Burn The Ground.  There’s plenty going on in this song: downtuned chugs, massive drums, screaming vocals, melodic and dramatic solos, solos and more guitars and chants of “let it burn, burn, burn! Burn to the ground!”  Where My Fortune Lies is a solid and catchy number that shows Friedman still has his ear for radio-friendly arrangements and you begin to get the impression that without him Megadeth might not have reached quite as high as they did in the 90’s.  Another Mega song gets redone to exciting effect in Breadline.  Friedman takes the essential melody of the much slower original and reworks the whole thing into what sounds like Cheap Trick on steroids, making his version a whole lot more fun.

The latest album from Marty Friedman is Bad D.N.A. from 2010.  From the opening techno thump of Specimen you might wish you’d saved your dollars.  But give the tunes a chance and Marty might surprise you.  Just focus on the guitars, let them wind you up and soon you’ll almost forget about the computerized drums and backing on the album.  The title track has some fine synchronized guitar solos but keeps coming up with a melodic theme that should be played at the start of  some over-caffienated cartoon show.  Weapons of Ecstasy sounds like something Lords of Acid or KMDM would have done over a decade ago, but is still kinda rocking and fun.  Hatejoke has some of the most mind-bending and finger-shredding guitars on the album, but is otherwise tough to listen to.  Glorious Accident is the most headbanging song of the bunch, with crunching and distorted guitars and pounding drums,  making the listener wish for more.  Random Star satisfies as epic heavy metal, showcasing Friedman’s skills in intricate detail as well as in swelling strings and melodies.  Exorcism Parade is the diamond of Bad D.N.A.: the song opens with a subdued circle before a juggernaut chugging riff jumps in and tackles you.  Guitars wail and pile on top of each other, fighting for supremacy, reaching for the sky before getting knocked down by the next intense riff and the next and so on until you’re just dazed.

Thanks to Prosthetic Records for bring to the States these three albums from Marty Friedman.  He shows his talents and that he can still bend strings with the best of them.

(Review by Bret Miller)

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Blackwater Park (Legacy Edition); Deliverance, Damnation and Lamentations DVD/CD Re-issues

BRET’S RAMBLINGS presents OPETH!!!

Blackwater Park - Legacy Edition

Blackwater Park (Legacy Edition); Deliverance, Damnation and Lamentations DVD/CD by Opeth (The End Records)

 At the beginning of this century Stockholm, Sweden’s Opeth crafted albums that would set them on the path to the Progressive Rock album Heritage.  It seems a fitting time to bring to the world these albums to re-examine how they began to incorporate folk, jazz and softer elements into their metal leanings.

Opeth have always possessed a delicate touch to their songs, but singer/guitarist Mikael Akerfeldt seemed determined to subvert, if not simply expand the band’s death metal sound by adding thematic textures and dramatic spaces. Porcupine Tree main man Steven Wilson was brought in to produce the clean vocals and guitars on Blackwater Park and it is the Legacy Edition with the book-like packaging and extra making of DVD that is re-released.  Perhaps it was Wilson’s lighter sound that gave Akerfeldt the courage to stretch the limits of Opeth’s extreme metal template.  This creative partnership has also led to a tour with Porcupine Tree, further production and mixing credits through the years with Opeth as well as the Porcupine Tree’s evolution into a much heavier band in the past decade.  This friendship has culminated in the Storm Corrosion album, their first effort as a duo, out this spring on Roadrunner Records.

Deliverance - Reissue

Blackwater Park contains so many awe inspiring moments throughout, and their progressive tendencies make certain the longer tracks never drag, with movements that go from galloping metal to acoustic guitar-adorned touches all completed by Akerfeldt’s melodic clean vocals and deathly growls.

On the album the listener is taken on a journey through violent landscapes bursting with angry guitars and double bass drums yet always reaches a place of uplift if not pure beauty.  No track feels calculated in the ways light and dark elements are presented, more as if an organic whole.  The Drapery Falls, long a live favorite, begins with an introduction of soaring guitars and epic feel, then the percussion drops out and subdued acoustic strums and electric guitar wails enter the mix, Akerfeldt’s strong vocals adding mystery.  For the middle part the band plays heavier, Akerfeldt growls and then the band returns to the soaring guitar tones of the beginning, taking us full circle.  Dirge For November‘s second half is an echo adorned solo guitar piece tha proves the talent of the group is not dependant on volume, these guys can truly write some soulful music. One of the most balls-out tracks on Blackwater Park is The Funeral Portrait with multiple guitar solos, a groove that prevails against the various tempo breaks and a chorus of clean vocals followed by dueling guitar solos to close out the song.  The title track introduces not one but four guitar lines during the song’s quietly intense second part nestled between two bruising metal passages.  And on The Leper Affinity, the live version opens up the mix so that you can better appreciate Martin Mendez’s jazzy bass as well as Akerfeldt and Peter Lindgren’s guitars.

The next year Opeth released Deliverance, a six song mostly metal album.  The band continued to explore dichotomies of light and dark, ugly and pretty, soft and hard.  Jumping out of the gate with Wreath, 11 minutes of progressive metal, Akerfeldt lowering his voice to a drawn out deathbed gurgle, the movements withing the song almost like scenes in a movie, little instrumental interludes between the scenes.  Lindgren’s guitars on this opening track are simply stunning.  The title track works up a head of steam with Martin Lopez’s double bass thumps and the guitarists trading minor chord riffs.  Showing their lighter side, the band switch back and forth in the song from clean vocals and quiet backdrop to angry, pummeling metal like silk wrapped around a jagged blade.  Fair Judgement contains soulful and bluesy guitars amidst its brutally cold surroundings.  Absent Friends is a short instrumental of jazzy melancholy guitars that will pique your interest into what artists are in the band’s record collections.  Master’s Apprentice has a chill-inducing sense of wonder, expertly mixed by Andy Sneap so every cymbal crash, every high note from Akerfeldt, each guitar note is crisp and clear.

Damnation - Reissue

In 2003 Opeth released their non-metal album Damnation, likely the album that pissed off the moshers and brought in new fans at the same time, those not so interested in head-banging and Cookie Monster vocals.  Opeth’s musicianship was never doubted, so on these slower, mellower songs Akerfeldt and company truly get their chance to loosen up and shine.  Its the atmosphere and overall mood of the songs that make Damnation a satisfying listen from start to finish.  Window Pane has rightly been a live staple to this day, a rainy day song of regret and introspection, lightened by warm electric guitars and Martin Lopez’s limber percussion.  Akerfeldt’s halting opening vocals segue into mesmeric melodies augmented by Steven Wilson’s wispy keyboards and supported by Mendez’s gentle bass progressions.  On Death Whispered A Lullaby the band craft a song of mystery with tight percussion and strummed acoustic guitar with an electric guitar solo in the middle of the track to heighten the tension and a frighteningly good scrawl at the end.  Closure is the most rocking song on the album, hard percussion and a grooving rhythm section, a repeated electric guitar line is joined by soaring keyboards into a dervish of swirling vitality.  If Hope Leaves didn’t have such a paranoiac air about it, the song might have been heard on soft rock stations around the world, containing another wonderfully emotional turn from Akerfeldt.  Damnation closes with Weakness, Wilson’s mellotron bringing to mind Led Zeppelin’s No Quarter with the keyboard’s echoing quality, Akerfeldt quietly sings “Gave away your one and only heart/ A gift to tear apart” as if he’s barely holding back tears of sadness.

Lamentations DVD Reissue

The year I first learned of Opeth was in 2003 where the band toured with Porcupine Tree, they started with harder songs with full band then Akerfeldt took a stool and accompanied himself with acoustic guitar for songs from Damnation.  On Lamentations, a live document of a performance at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in September of 2003, now available in the 2006 re-release featuring two CD’s of the entire set.  Damnation is performed with Blackwater Park‘s Harvest snuck in before Weakness followed by songs from Deliverance and a few earlier songs.  In the live setting the songs truly breath, each member stretching out with little flourishes and tunings that bring different shades to the songs.  Between songs the viewer is treated to Akerfeldt’s self-deprecating humor about the band being filmed and hoping not to fuck up too much and for the audience to cheer loudly to make the band look good.

Ghost Reveries and Watershed followed, furthering evolving Opeth’s blending of harsh and soothing, tough and delicate before dropping most of the distortion and double bass drums for a straight-up progressive rock album in Heritage, with songs that are more British Prog than Death Metal.  The 2003 tour proved once and for all that Opeth would no longer be known as only a metal band, but one that gleefully hopped the fences between progressive rock, folk, jazz and other genres to suit the song and satiate Akerfeldt’s muse.  The world has been entertained and enlightened by Opeth’s journey and will eagerly continue to follow them to the next stage in their career.

(Review by Bret Miller)

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Swervedriver Give Back to the Fans in 2012

Photo by: Gaz Fail

BRET’S RAMBLINGS

Why does Swervedriver have such faithful fans?  People who are willing to travel to all four corners of the country to see the band on their reunion tour in 2008?  Why do these people still adore a band that hasn’t released a new album since 1998, a band that only released four studio albums?  There is just something about the music and the hard work of the band members to keep the music available to the public, that they remastered and rereleased their first three albums with b-sides and new artwork, on vinyl,  CD and digital download and have undertaken two short tours on their own dime and will be doing it again this spring. Singer/guitarist Adam Franklin continues to create atmospheric, emotional and rocking music with his Bolts of Melody band, and has in recent years worked with Interpol drummer Sam Fogarino as Magnetic Morning.  Franklin, along with Franklin, guitarist Jimmy Hartridge and bassist Steve George will be back with an undisclosed drummer.  Jez Hindmarsh made it out here in 2008 and Bolts of Melody drummer Mikey Jones performed with the band last time out with original drummer Graham Bonnar behind the kit in the rest of the world.

I asked some Swervedriver fans about how they first learned of the band, what makes them so special and why they still follow the band over two decades later.

I first learned of the band, as did Jim Birbeck (more from him later), from MTV’s Sunday night show “120 Minutes”.  The videos for “Son of Mustang Ford” and “Rave Down” expressed an energy that grabbed ahold of those seeking something new.  Somehow Swervedriver were exotic, with Adam’s dreads, the shadowed representations of the band, at least in their earliest videos, and the sense of mystery with the layered guitars and epic arrangements.  I was hooked and immediately headed out to the Tower Records on Sunset. I played Raise over and over digesting the dense production and cryptic lyrics. I’ve seen them many times since, caught them at their past two local shows and I even started their MySpace page in honor of Adam and the band.

“Rave Down”, the song that started it all:

Whitney first learned of Swervedriver when her then husband Bob, a member of Poster Children, brought a copied tape of Raise home.  “These guys were SO good, I was really in love with their music after the first 3 songs of “Raise”. I kept thinking ‘damn, I hope the next song doesn’t suck’ and it didn’t!! I was amazed that every song was so consistently good! I sat right on the floor of the dining room in front of the boom box and listened to the entire 1st side without moving.

Then, that night, I saw them play at The Metro, the best rock venue at that time in Chicago IMHO… both Poster Children & Swervedriver were amazing. I think Graham was still drumming for them at that show, but not sure. And, I think Swervedriver pushed Poster Children (and Bob) to up their game and really “drive” the music harder, faster, louder, beyond. Both bands really put it all out there on the stage. I’ve seen a lot of shows in my life, but that entire Poster Children/Swervedriver show is burned in my memory… it was the kind of show where you’re riveted to the stage and don’t care about socializing, drinking, dancing, only watching a great show.”

“V” of promotional collective Ambient Airwaves, followed British New Wave bands and the Chicago Indie scene, seeing Smashing Pumpkins when they were an opening band.  He says that Swervedriver combined  the elements of bands from the past that he loved, “that [had an] atmospheric quality to it–like psychedelic parts of Led Zep. …When I first heard “Sci-Flyer” on CD when it came out, I was floored, that whole CD–because now we have a band that rocks and gazes!”

Veronica is a late-comer to Swervedriver, introduced by a friend some years back.  “Since that time on, I was enchanted with their songs and I think they always deliver with such an intensity that they capture the crowd making us addicted to their music. I definitely want to keep going to their shows.

Why fans love Swervedriver is precisely why a wider audience never got them. Jim Birbeck explains: “What I love about Swervedriver is that they couldn’t be easily defined.  They were too fast and rock and roll for my friends who were into classic rock and pop music.  But they were too psychedelic for my friends who were into hard core, metal and punk music.”  Whitney further describes the band’s strong points thus: “It has a chaos that strangely becomes organized.  It is not accidental; it is intended that way, orchestrated that way.  Just like an orchestrated piece of music, you can listen to Swervedriver again and again and hear something new you didn’t notice before.”

When Swervedriver returned in 2008 with drummer Jez Hindmarsh on drums, the fans were pushed up close to the foot of the stage, all the better to see Jimmy and Adam’s pedal array, all the better to feel the wash of power from their amplifiers.  Their guitar lines created a wash of beautiful noise that brought visions of motion, of moving cars, of gunfights and car crashes and other cinematic thoughts.

The second video for “Duel”, from MTV’s 120 Minutes:

Brad Sears, who runs www.swervedriver.com expressed why he hasn’t missed a local show in twenty years: “After seeing them in Detroit on their Raise tour I became a fanatic and stay so today.  The sound is both powerful and delicate.  Adam and Jimmy’s guitar parts weave into something you must experience live.  They create melodic shapes that interlock and fuse.  Even after so many shows and 20 years I still stand there looking like I am watching tennis as I follow my favourite parts. I’ll have the biggest smile and the loudest cheers at at their show in New York.”

Jack Rabid, editor and publisher of The Big Takeover Magazine is a huge supportor of Swervedriver and had this to say about his favorite band: “I first heard of the band from reading the Brit weeklies, Sounds, NME and Melody Maker — they got a good many mentions in with the new scene i was falling for in the wake of my longstanding love of Cocteau Twins, House of Love, and Stone Roses, and much of Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine, so anyone who was getting lumped in with Ride and Lush and Pale Saints and Moose and Boo Radleys and Catherine Wheel and Chapterhouse was totally up my alley. When I heard “Son of Mustang Ford,” I knew that Guy Chadwick of House of Love had raved about it because he also mentioned them to me when I interviewed them, and he told me Alan McGee was also really into the song. so it was a no brainer to buy it on import, and I was immediately hooked. I bought everything I could find from there, and considered each release a special event. Unlike Ride, they never put out a weak album despite steadily evolving. It was like the Stooges meeting the Wipers at time, with bits of the Who! Wow! I still love them, and I never miss their tours. I have seen every one they’ve done here since CBGB on the first go round. They are an awesome live band for sure.”

Set ending song “Duress” live in Toronto, 2011:

Jim Birbeck says he’s outgrown the bands he heard in his teens except for Swervedriver: “There is something timeless about Swervedriver, even now there is something contemporary about them.  I tattoo for a living and I’m always playing music and a lot of the time I’ll be playing Swervedriver.  Some of these kids who weren’t even born when Raise came out will be rocking in the chair and ask ‘Man, who is this?’ And I’ll tell them ‘It’s the best band you’ve never heard of.  They’re called Swervedriver. Check ‘em out.”

Tickets are on sale for all their upcoming dates.  Find out for yourself why Swervedriver have such faithful and passionate fans when they come to the States this spring.

Swervedriver Dates:

Mar 28 Philadelphia, Union Transfer

Mar 29 Boston, Brighton Music Hall

Mar 30 Washington DC, Rock and Roll Hotel

Mar 31 New York City, Bowery Ballroom

Apr 2   Cleveland, Grog Shop

Apr 3   Chicago, Bottom Lounge

Apr 4   Seattle, Neumo’s

Apr 5   Portland, Doug Fir Lounge

Apr 6   San Francisco, Slim’s

Apr 7   Los Angeles, Key Club

Special Thanks to Whitney, Jim, Brad, Jack, V and Veronica for help in putting together this article.

www.swervedriver.com

www.facebook.com/swervedriver

www.myspace.com/swervedriver

www.secondmotionrecords.com

www.hispeedsoul.com

www.youtube.com/user/AmbientAirwaves

www.thebigtakeover.com

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Bret’s Top Picks of 2011

BRET’S RAMBLINGS

Bret Miller’s Favorite Albums of 2011

Great year for bands made up of  one or a few guys and a bunch of keyboards from the likes of M83, Amtrac, Warm Ghost and The Bird Day.

Also, much progressive noise coming from the likes of Opeth and 3, Machine Head getting better and better,  wonderful music made by electronic acts like Daft Punk and The Chemical Brothers, retro New Wave on the Drive OST.

Big guitars from Shade, Moonbell and Dead Twins, Gang of Four still sounding angry and angular, Cynic, the biggest surprise of the year with their melodic and spacey compositions.

Then there’s Megadeth’s first album in a decade with founding bassist David Ellefson, sounding grounded and strong, Rush documenting their Time Machine Tour with a performance of Moving Pictures in its entirety, the first time I and thousands of others have heard songs like “Camera Eye” and “Vital Signs” played live.

See these bands live, buy their albums, support new music, spread the word!

OK, I can’t stop at ten albums. This is what has rocked my world for the past 12 months:

(In no particular order)

3 “The Ghost You Gave Me”

Opeth “Heritage”

Rush “Time Machine Live”

Machine Head “Unto The Locust”

Warm Ghost “Narrows”

Dead Twins “Polarized”

Various Artists “Drive OST”

Cynic “Carbon-Based Anatomy”

M83 “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming”

Junius “Reports From The Threshold of Death”

The Bird Day “Fed Off”

Moonbell “Figurine EP”

Robert Miles “Thirteen”

Elbow “Build a Rocket Boys”

“Chemical Brothers “Hanna OST”

Seefeel “Seefeel”

Ulver “War of the Roses”

Psychic Babble “My Brother’s Ears/My Sister’s Eyes”

Megadeth “Th1rt3en”

Miguel Migs “Outside the Skyline”

Royksopp “Senior”

Gang of Four “Content”

oHGr “unDeveloped”

Zombi “Escape Velocity”

Shade “Latonka”

El Ten Eleven “It’s Still Like a Secret”

(Compiled by Bret Miller)

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