Sunday, April 22, 2018

Music Review:
Dana Murray "Negro Manifesto"

With a name such as "Negro Manifesto" you would expect this to be a strong standing piece of music not only in the sense that the musical parts are being played exceptionally well (and they are) but also that there is this message to it that you don't always find in today's music but you could find from the likes of KRS-One and Rage Against the Machine.   This all does hold true, but some of this for me is more of a matter of already knowing these things while I forget it is targeted to the masses, some of whom probably think Harriet Tubman did that one hook on that Drake song.

This is a manifesto for those who post Bitmojis saying they're "#Woke" but haven't even ever read The Autobiography of Malcolm X.  (Don't worry, if you're missing the point there was an episode of "Fresh Prince" I'm sure can explain it to you better)  When everyone else in my class was being force-fed Animal Farm in high school, I was out reading Langston Hughes.    Perhaps the most important point of this entire album and I'm going to make it right now instead as my conclusion: while these words can apply specifically to black people, they also should be heard and taken to heart by everyone regardless of race.

Dana Murray is a drummer who has an ensemble cast on this album playing sax, singing and, well, the credits are on Bandcamp so you can see all of the instruments and names associated with them.   But first off, yes, I need to recognize that all of this being put together by a drummer is quite the achievement since no one ever wants to seem to play the drums and most drummers remind me of Ringo.    Through jazz, soul and beauty these songs convey a message which is long overdue.

"The System" is perhaps the most lyrically challenging song on "Negro Manifesto".   And also, if you have an issue with this being called "Negro Manifesto"- if that makes you uncomfortable because you're white, then good.   In a lot of ways I feel like this album was meant to take you out of your comfort zone.  White people don't want to play this one too loudly because what if a black person overhears it?  Then they might have some explaining to do.    But, yes, "The System" is about how we are all being held down and we need to somehow tear that down and start over. 

Perhaps my favorite line though is: "downtown full of rappers that refuse to give up even though their stuff sucks" though there is so much more to take from it, I suppose it is just the music writer in me (And how people say "Rap sucks" and I say "Yeah, cause you listen to the radio")   Audio clips are in here quite a bit, talking about various things and even the song "Comfortable Discomfort" is made up in that sense lyrically.    "Stand By Your Man" has a more traditional sound and then we dive into the three part "Suite Kaepernick Mvt", something I just feel too many people misunderstood, but again, in this country, sadly, ignorance often reigns supreme.

The words are spoken, almost rapped, in anger until everything fades and there is only the last line:

If MLK could run it back he’d keep a piece up in his suit
You want us to take the high road,
But that ain’t what you do 
I’ve been meaning to find meaning in these bad dreams,
Then I realize
It’s a machine

CJ Mills is on here quite a bit and has become one of my personal favorites.   What you have to understand most about "Negro Manifesto" is that it will appeal to those who enjoy jazz, yet it pushes the boundaries of what jazz is/could be.   Musically, this is one of the most powerful albums I have ever heard which is what initially drew me to it.   The content of it though is not just something which needs to be taken to heart in 2018, but something which needs to be held onto for a long while.  This is the type of knowledge I wish they taught in high school.  

Music Review:
Wait And Shackle
"Happy 26th Birthday"

"Happy 26th Birthday" opens with this old time piano in a western bar type of feel.   I'm not sure what I did for my 26th birthday.   I know I lived in Houston, I was married but didn't have a kid yet, and well that was longer ago than I'm willing to admit.   It's like this episode of "Growing Pains" I remember where Mike was pondering whether or not he'd just coast through his 30's the same way he did his 20's and I ask myself that question every single day.

At the heart of it all, Wait And Shackle could be best described as math rock.   Layered vocals provide a focus on the lyrics and sometimes they even seem to go in circles.   Somewhere between bands like I Kill Giants and The Canterbury Effect this can even have more music than words for the most part but even the final track is instrumental.    Musically, it is just something that you need to hear as it has a more aggressive handle on math rock and yet doesn't feel all that heavy at times and can even remind me of Pinback at times.

(Side Note: I met a woman on a dating site once who was in love with Pinback and then when she told me she wanted me to be her soulmate after only texting back and forth for a few weeks and I told her we should take it slower than all that she ghosted me) ((Side Side Note: It took me a while to remember the name Pinback))

"Caps 4 $ale (Eleven)" is really the song that should hook you.  When you listen to it, if you enjoy what you hear let the rest of the songs play and if not, well, I don't know what to tell you because I just find it to be delightful.   When the song is done quoting Coelho it seems to turn into a different song, which is one of the math rock aspects of this all (songs within songs, songs shifting into other songs but remaining the same song) and the lyrics seem to prove my math rock point:

I said my favorite number is eleven 
i said my favorite colour is eleven 
i said my favorite rhythm is eleven 
i said my favorite measure is irrelavant 

What is special about the number eleven?  It is a prime number, sure, but I'm far more fascinated by the number 9 and not just because of the movies it has had about it.   Still, I like math and I like numbers in general so all of this speculation about the number 11 makes me even more into this album because anything which leaves us thinking about such things is tops in my book.  

Music Review:
Zach Zinn
"Upon Arising At Dawn I Was Unaware"

While I have reviewed the music of Zach Zinn before, I feel like "Upon Arising At Dawn I Was Unaware" is a prime example of how long it can take sometimes to review something.    Sometimes life gets in the way and I get it- people are busy- and other times it's simply a matter of being overwhelmed with music (Take a number, get in line, etc. etc.) but with this particular release by Zach Zinn I listened to it in all of my standard fashions- headphones, no headphones, while out walking- and while I enjoyed it there was just not that part of "How do I write about it" clicking.   Sometimes music clicks right away, like, "This is good because..." and other times it does not.   I recognized this was good from the start but couldn't find the words to type this review for months.

"A Golden Thread" begins with this static but not in the typical way you might think with a windstorm that sort of static but more of a direct static.  I can't explain it without you hearing it (Which is often the best sounds) but if you can picture most of the static I write about as being like a cloud, that scattered sense of it, then this has more of a streamlined effect.   It skips in and out and there is an added sound which is either a clarinet or flute.    These tones take over by the end of the first song and it has a certain harmony to it.

The second track is simply called "..." and features this fog horn sound mixed with what sounds like clanking marbles together but could also be a percussion instrument- like some sort of finger cymbals- and other tones come through but this just feels nautical.   The third song takes on this role of beats which sound like footsteps coming through in a rhythm that almost makes me want to dance.  Whirrs mix in with this and then something rather electronic.   It evens feels a little like pinball glitch.   The length of the first three tracks combined is shorter than the total of the fourth-- just proving nothing needs to adhere to your ideas of normal.

"Simon Bar Sinister" begins with these quiet howls and for some reason I feel like it has this Native American/wolf feel to it, but then the sounds shift to this frequency that makes me think it is in space.  How would an old school Native American react to one day waking up in space?  Someone should write a book about that.   A buzzing/hum and organ tone join the melody now and it feels like we are on a mission.   Sounds like screams come in and this becomes haunted.    To be fair, this song is named after the villain in "Underdog" and as such, I feel like it could have a mad scientist feel to it as well.  (Now can someone pay homage to Tennessee Tuxedo and the Go-Go Gophers?)   Whirrs make it feel like we are caught in a raygun. 

Around the six minute mark it fades and comes back with some sort of strings.   Voices can be heard and though they sound like children there are no actual words being spoken that I can tell.   This trill comes in as well which reminds me of something you would use to detect radioactive matter.   True Fact: I only saw the CGI Underdog movie once and I barely remember it.   Frequency whirrs seemingly replace everything else now around nine minutes.    A sound like cranking somehow comes in with this.   A maniacal piano type sound comes through as well. 

A louder tone comes blaring out that really reminds me of a flute now.   It feels like this is a lot less quiet now and has become quite more rocking.    Lone organ type tones now bring out slight humming behind it (like a lightbulb) and then it fades into just that buzz.    The tones which were once up front seem to have faded into the back.    The song ends so calmly, so quietly.   "Simon Bar Sinister" is the type of song you could put on both sides of a cassette by itself and it'd be worth it.

"Murmurer" comes through in a louder, distorted guitar sounding way.   Static comes through in bursts next, somewhere in between a windstorm and a demon being caught inside technology.    A sound as if the horn on a barge is coming through now.    Static bursts feel like they could be cannons fired on those old pirate ships.    Whirrs come through in waves and static, a little bit like The Who now on the titular track.   Tones come through like a wild carousel ride.   A quieter ringing tone jingles through "Lunar Pill/Sonar Pill" like a morse code message.    This turns into these horns coming through which sound like a trucker horn is being manipulated.    It fades in and out and before the song ends there is a bit of percussion, some cymbal thrashing briefly.

Whirrs and beeps are part of the final song and there are even these other sounds like a harmonica.  They come out in a "Doctor Who" way at times but not overall so it's strange how sometimes the pacing can feel faster than it is and other times it feels like slow motion.    This also comes through wavy, like we're at sea and the ocean isn't quite still.    One of the most fascinating aspects of this album is that each song really needs to be taken in on its own and only then- once you experience each song fully and begin to understand it- can you see the whole picture and understand how brilliant this entire truly album is.  

Friday, April 20, 2018

Cassette Review:
"Your Math, My Magic"
(Medium Sound)

$5 //
Edition of 50 // //

There is this certain magic to be found in music.   I don't mean all music of course.  I've heard songs and thought "There is no magic here", which is sometimes okay and other times makes me never want to listen to an artist again.   When I was younger- and not to date myself, but when Napster was a free thing that scared the drummer from Metallica, I had this old Mac PC and I listened to this band through its speakers a lot.   Years and years later, I'd listen to that same band, those same songs, on the laptop I had before this one and think "What are these songs?"  They were somewhat unrecognizable as they had bass.

Now that is an example of advances in technology.   That old Mac PC I had didn't come with the best quality speakers and made this band I was listening to seem all tinny, full of treble.   When technology updated (or at least when *mine* did) I came to the shocking conclusion the band had a bassist and it put a whole new spin on their songs.   Imagine if someone could have a similar effect on music but not using the means of outdated technology as being the game changer.

On "Your Math, My Magic" Ossa takes us on an adventure of electronic looping, beeping and an overall chillwave sound of video games.   Even though I feel it to be mostly computer generated, it seems to keep an upbeat tone to it as well.   There are sounds like computers and for some reason it reminds me of screensavers.   Drum machines offer up video game fun mixes and this can have that Pong or pinball machine type of feel to it, but also NES or an arcade game with alien tones and sonic distortion blasts just the same.

I heard all of these ideas the first time I listened to this cassette all the way through, which so happened to be out of the speakers of my stereo.    Organ tone drone and deep bass tones bring about these sharp tones which seemingly cut off and throughout the entire time it does remain chill.   Though it has that distinct video game feel to it (choose your own game to match it up with) I am also picturing this as the soundtrack to an otherwise silent episode of "Adventure Time".

On subsequent listens to this cassette I used earbuds.    This brought out a different sound about it somehow.   It kept that overall video game vibe, but it just grew more bass in it and also the idea of it sounding like Pong felt more like it would glitch somehow.   Perhaps the ball (which was actually a square) was hit and then couldn't be defended because it just exploded.   It's not a 100% completely different cassette with earbuds in but there are enough of these little subtleties that this is not worth listening to over and over again on various occasions but also you need to contain this one to your ears and also let the sound fill an entire room (or larger) to fully appreciate its magic.

Cassette Review:
Rich Girls
"Love is the Dealer"

$5 //
Edition of 150 // //

       "Love is the dealer 
Love is the drug
Love is the needle
Love is the loaded gun"

Throughout the history of music and art in general, there has been one and only one creative force which has fueled it all: love.   In my youth, when I was more interested in such things, I remember reading this interview with Chuck Palahniuk (or maybe it was the forward to the book) where he said "Fight Club" had been called many things by many people but it was rarely referred to as a love story, which he saw it as being.    Everything really does come back to love somehow.   It's crazy but even the heaviest of bands who seem just pissed off at the world only do so out of love (They wouldn't be so mad if they didn't care so much)

Reviewing music is an act of love.   For those who are not me and actually write about artists they do not like, they still love them somehow deep inside.   That's why it always struck me as funny for those who wrote negative reviews.   Type four paragraphs, pull out lyrics you don't like, take eight pictures, post it to social media... It takes time and effort.   Why go through all of that just to essentially say "Hey, don't listen to this album because I don't like it and here's why".   Why I like something doesn't matter.   I'm not about trying to convince you to dislike the same music as me.  I'm trying to sway you into enjoying the same music as I do, even if not for the same reasons.

Rich Girls are a perfect example of an artist who should be on cassette.  Somewhere between those modern sounds of Metric and the older days sounds of Blondie and Concrete Blonde, these are songs I would have felt were ahead of their time had I found them on cassette back in 1986 and yet I still feel like they are ahead of their time in 2018.   They are mellow in their delivery, you know that fast paced rock but it feels like it's moving in slow motion but the art doesn't suffer for it because it still doesn't drag on and make you feel like it's taking forever to listen to one song.  How can something be fast and slow at the same time?  How can you love what you hate?

For some reason I've seen a lot of tweets lately about Fleetwood Mac.   First they were part of this dance routine (their song was) and then a band member left and, well, someone retweeted someone else saying "[name omitted] is the best band ever" and when I listened to them on Bandcamp I thought "Haven't you ever heard of Fleetwood Mac before?"  But Fleetwood Mac and even Blondie, Heart, 10,000 Maniacs they all had this power to make fast paced music feel like it's slowing down time.   One of the first songs that comes to mind when I think of that idea is the Smashing Pumpkins' "1979".   Rich Girls doesn't just master this concept, they seem to have perfected it.

The only thing which I can think compares to the idea of love in this world is music.  It's one of the only other things which can either tie a people together or divide them.   Music is something you don't ever tend to feel indifferent about- at least not most people.   You either like something or you don't.   If you don't like Rich Girls that's fine, you probably have your reasons.   If you're unsure about them though I think it's because you just don't quite understand them yet.   Because to know the music of Rich Girls, to understand it, is to love it.

Cassette Review:
Catalan Coast
(Midnight Circles)

€5 // //
🎧 //

Ominous synths come through like waves with intergalactic electronics arriving in intervals.    After some silence a synth drone begins growing.   This maintains a soundscape for some time and it goes on uninterrupted.   This feels like it could either be set in space or underwater and there is a fine line between the two.    Sounds like shuffling or some kind of field recording idea come through as that ominous tone vanishes and reappears.     This is very minimal so far, desolate like an abandoned wasteland.    This is the sound of the sun rising and also the sun setting. 

"Bayou" paints pictures with less sound than other artists could hope to do with much more.  But as that old saying goes, sometimes less is more.   Sounds as if a car is shooting around a racetrack come out next.   I know it's not the sound of the Grand Prix as it feels more singular than an actual race but it has this feeling also to it where it could be looked upon as lightsabers to some extent- some sort of laser fight.    While this sound continues for a bit, it does end back with that quieter vibe as if we are floating once again.

Tones sort of like guitars or pianos come through a lot of static.  I'm not sure how much of this static exists digitally and how much is due to the hiss of the cassette, but it's still the appropriate amount.    It feels like a field recording with the wind blowing but there are also these notes coming through somehow, like the outside is capturing some sort of magic.   This takes us into a darker sort of boiler room place now.    It descends into there until it is completely gone.

Quieter tones wave their way back to the surface now.    Waves of distortion feel lost, tired and weak.    Slowly this grows and grows, but never too loudly and never too much.    It's atmospheric.    As it fades out you will either feel as if you have been stranded on some distant planet, left to die out at sea or simply you will find a calm understanding and peace.   Which one of those you choose though entirely relies on you and your grasp of this music.   However, it is very possible that you will listen to this once and think about it as being lost and the next time you hear it you might feel found which is the true testament to its beauty and grace.

Music Review: Ashley Monroe "Sparrow" (Warner Music Nashville)

As someone who writes about music to a point where I receive press releases about it, I must admit that I am not one to want to listen to music based on a press release.  Ever.   Here is some free advice for everyone who has ever sent a press release to a writer.  Ready?  As writers, we are naturally curious.  At least I know that I am.   So if something hits us the right way, we're going to press play on it.  If it doesn't make us want to press play, no amount of words can help that.   Also, the idea of "This band sounds like this other band you love" is played out.   Stop trying to sell me music that sounds like Nirvana.   If I want to listen to Nirvana, I'll throw on "In Utero".   Tell me why your artist is unique and special.

Now I feel the need to point out that none of what I just typed has to specifically do with the publicist for Ashley Monroe, though it may seem that way to some.   In fact, it is quite the opposite.   Ashley Monroe has all of the red flags in a press release that make me *not* want to listen to her music.   Warner Music Nashville.   Lots of stuff about the CMAs.   It's clearly written out for me: this is going to be country and 99.9% of the time I don't like country (But I still listen once in a while, hoping to find that next Johnny Cash)

What made me want to listen to "Sparrow" was actually a quote by Ashley Monroe that happened to catch my eye.   As I scrolled down through the email, I found this:

"Country music is a wide genre, and that's OK. I don't even know what genre this record is, but I know it's me."

This struck a chord with me for two reasons.   First off, I'm not a fan of country (as I keep saying) so I never really thought of it as a "wide genre" before.  I always just thought of it as being all mostly terrible.  But this is a good point.  Just like any genre, there are little subgenres of country- the more radio friendly stuff, the drunker stuff I suppose... I don't know what else.  Groups and solo artists.   Anyway, the second reason it really hit me is because she says she doesn't know what genre this record is but she knows it's her.

Something about not wanting to define your music by genre is respectable, especially when you're trying to be defined in your genre by those around you (see: the CMAs).   This statement alone made me interested enough to wonder what exactly this album sounds like, which is odd because, again, I rarely listen to music based on what the press releases say.   I will admit I somewhat expected to press play and hear this typical country album, the type which annoys me, and just laugh off the statement like, "Yeah, you're country.  Stop trying to pass it off as something else" but of course if that was the case I wouldn't be typing all of this now would I.

Right away there is a certain calm to this music but I don't know if I'd say it's country.   The first song is called "Orphan" and it pulls me in as it has that gypsy feeling of nowhere seeming like home.    The second song has underlying hints of "Barricuda" and lines like "I wish I was still half drunk" do make me think it's a little bit country.   Then "Hands On You" comes in with this soulful vibe and all of those ideas get thrown out the window.     While there are some songs on here like "Mother's Daughter" which could pull this album closer to the country side, overall it is just about the melodies and songwriting and as Ashley Monroe herself implied, not about genres.  

The song structure is interesting because they remind me of these old time crooners.   For the most part, the titles are sung as the first line of the song or at least come up in the chorus enough that there isn't ever really any doubt as to what a song is called.   In that way, it has this pop feel to it.  I want to say it is a certain level of simplicity but that makes it feel like less than it actually is.    If anything, the way the songs are structured just make them more easy to relate to as they are blunt in their delivery- to the point and not trying to sugar-coat or hide anything.   

With strings on a lot of the songs, "This Heaven" is a nice ballad and by the last track- "Keys To The Kingdom"- there is also this definitive gospel vibe.  Which also might be because the last song mentions both Elvis and Jesus.   But that is another thing about this album which stands out to me: the lyrics as a whole.   A song like "Paying Attention" has the lines: "It's snowing in April / The winters are long / I remembered your birthday / Now that you're gone".   The strangest part of that is I listened to this song for the first time on April 6, 2018 and it was the first time it has snowed this month (and hopefully it won't snow again in April) but how magical is that?  It's not that it's April and it was snowing the other day.   It was literally snowing for the first time in April '18 on the day I first heard this song.

A song like "Wild Love" is an obvious single while other songs have rollerdisco feels to them and sometimes even pianos by the end.    I might not be qualified to compare this with other artists because most reviews will likely pull out country names like Reba and Dolly.   But, in many ways this reminds me of Anna Nalick (whom I still adore) and at the same time, it really makes me want to listen to June Carter-Cash even though I don't feel like it's as country as all that.  (I get that "We got married in Texas" duet with Johnny Cash song stuck in my head when listening to this)

From the start I said one of the only reasons why I listen to country music is to perhaps find that next Johnny Cash and I don't mean someone who sounds like Johnny Cash because as I also said if I want to hear Johnny Cash I'll listen to Johnny Cash.   But the more I think about it, the more Ashley Monroe reminds me of Johnny Cash.  Denouncing her genre in a sense and living up to be something more than just words (herself).   You know, Johnny Cash defied genres and even though so many people credit Elvis Presley with rock n roll he defied genre as well.   And most importantly these are songs that could appeal to anyone, to everyone.    The modern day Johnny Cash indeed.