Their Time Is Coming Soon.

August 12, 2008 at 5:59 pm (cool band alert, new releases, rock and roll)

In 2005 the Montreal band The High Dials released a pretty great album called War Of The Wakening Phantoms. It was a disc that opened strong with two great songs (“Holy Ground” and “Strandhill Sands”) and sealed the deal with a song that defies easy description, a 5-minute epic called “Our Time Is Coming Soon”.

I’ve written about “Our Time Is Coming Soon” here a few times over the years, but screw it, I’m gonna do it again. “Our Time Is Coming Soon” is absolutely, hands-down my favorite song of the 2000’s so far. The opening two chord riff sets the stage, like gale force winds presaging a hurricane. They go unconventional after the first chorus and head straight to a bridge before the second verse, and Rishi Dhir plays one of the most kick-ass sitar solos of all time there (I actually kind of hate the sitar; to my taste it sorta is Asia’s answer to Scotland’s bagpipes as far as “instruments that make me want to run away” go…so saying a sitar solo is “kick ass” is no faint praise.) By the time they get to the final vocal bridge the song is in full blazing glory, and you wonder how they’re going to end this cyclone–almost always when a song gets as epic as “Our Time Is Coming Soon” gets, the creative juice runs out on the conclusion and things go out perfunctorily at best, if you’re lucky. Not so on here, though: “Our Time Is Coming Soon” ends like a supernova; the snare fill that starts martial and ends up galloping just as a descending guitar figure drops in gets your pulse racing, and then the drums turn into Keith Moon and the sound goes maelstrom and when they finally take their feet off the gas and let the song end, you realize The High Dials have managed a song unlike almost anything else anyone has even attempted in the post-Nirvana rock years.

“Our Time Is Coming Soon” mp3

The High Dials got a lot of deserved good press for War Of The Wakening Phantoms, but I’m not sure that translated into moving units. After what seemed like a hectic and gruelling year of touring in the States and through Europe, the Dials seemed rather emotionally spent. They lost their secret weapon when Rishi Dhir decided to opt out of the group. 2006 and 2007 went by without hearing much from the group. Their website went dark. Rainbow Quartz, their US label, has updated their site about twice since last October. Reading tour diaries/blogs from guitarist/singer/songwriter Trevor Anderson–who seems a great guy, but also seemed mentally exhausted by the time Dhir had left the group–I figured I’d heard the last from this once-promising band.

Not so! Back in May, the Dials promised to start posting songs from a new album on their Myspace page. The new record–which will be a double album–is called Moon Country. They’ve got 6 songs up at Myspace, and hoo-boy…if these six songs are representative of what’s to come on the full album, we may have us a contender for album of the year here. The High Dials seemed to respond to losing a musical element like Dhir by opening up their sound and letting their talent run wild. The band’s debut album, A New Devotion is pretty nifty, but it has an almost claustrophobic retro psychedelic sound that induces a little too much listener fatigue if taken in large doses. Phantoms, the second album, shows them opening things up a bit, with nods to more modern dreampop sounds like Kitchens Of Distinction or Ride.

Moon Country, at least based on the evidence of these six songs, takes that hinted-at direction of Phantoms and runs with it. “Do The Memory Lapse” could be vintage For Against or less blippy New Order. “These Days Mean Nothing To Me” manages to be both psychedelic and still manage a Kitchens influence while walking a fine line between light and darkness (the airy harmony on the chorus that gives way to the angry guitar chug right after is wonderful!) “Cartoon Breakup” opens with wheezy Melon Collie synths and then manages to give you four glorious minutes of spectacular, timeless loveliness. “Open Up The Gates” is a nod to their lysergic side, but far more interesting than you’d ever expect a song that could be described as a psychedelic pop song to be.

The real stunner here though is a song called “Killer Of Dragons”, which sounds like nothing else The High Dials have ever done. It is a gorgeous, beautiful track that delivers on every promise and all the potential this band has ever shown. If there were any justice in the world, “Killer Of Dragons” would become the massive top ten hit it richly deserves to be, but probably won’t because it won’t get the push to radio and retail it deserves. Ah well.

In any event, Moon Country I think is still slated for a September release, at least in Canada. I can’t wait to hear the whole thing, either. Over their past two records, when people talk about The High Dials, they talk about who they sound like; on these new songs, the greatest accomplishment on display is that the Dials sound like no one else but themselves. Keep a sharp eye out for this’n.

The High Dials Myspace Page, where you can bliss out on these six slabs of rock greatness…

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Reason Eighty Gajillion to be an Emusic Subscriber…

August 8, 2008 at 6:03 am (fave raves of yesteryear, rock and roll)

Things are a tad slow this time of year waiting on new releases; in addition to me being stoked for some stuff mentioned elsewhere on this page, it seems as if Cobra Verde is set to come out of hibernation this year with a new disc; Petkovich promises some tracks from it to hit their myspace page soon.

At any rate, the slowness of the new releases hasn’t kept me from hitting up Emusic once or twice a week to listen to a bunch of really, really, mediocre-to-godawful music, searching out a diamond in the rough, usually in vain. Tonight when I got home from work, though, I notice that they’ve got Pulp’s final album, We Love Life newly available.

Life came out in 2001 in the UK, 2002 in the States. Chances are fairly good you missed it, and that’s a damned shame because you missed out on a brilliant final statement from an absolutely essential band. In fact, I’d say the final three songs on the album (and, one supposes, the final three Pulp songs ever) are as incredible a three song album closer as anyone’s come up with in a while. “Bad Cover Version” is a soaring, string-draped nod to Pulp’s earlier days, but then comes “Roadkill”, which is a quietly disturbing little bit of wonder….and then the whole thing goes rocketing straight to the heart of ol’ Sol on “Sunrise”.

On that last track, I should mention that anytime I listen to We Love Life all the way through, the final guitar raveup on “Sunrise” always gives me goosebumps and chills, and I wondered if that was just me being a dork. Apparently not:

I mean, can I get an “Amen”??? Oh yeah, in that clip that is indeed ‘Narc fave rave Richard Hawley on acoustic guitar. We Love Life, another reason why Emusic is still worth your fifteen bucks a month…

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Sonic Youth Wins Again.

May 9, 2008 at 5:22 am (rock and roll, videos)

Over at his excellent blog Dubious Quality, Bill Harris is talking about bands that sort of become “brands”, so that they just sort of keep on keepin’ on, even when original members are retired or dead. Find a guy who sings like Brad Delp and you get more Boston albums; find a guy who can screech like Steve Perry (who himself made a career of doing a spectacularly bad Sam Cooke imitation) and you get Journey on the State Fair Festival circuit.

Bill notes, though, that bands who age into their fifties tend to be done making artistic statements. That’s an astute observation, because usually rockers still being relevant at fifty are solo artists, not actual bands. If you like the new REM (and I like it without loving it), they’re an example I suppose. Anyway, apparently Bill’s readers have suggested Rush and King Crimson as the two best examples of bands in their fifties who are still artistically relevant.

Yech. Rush is…well, Rush. I love “Tom Sawyer” too…but they’re Rush. Fans pack their shows to hear “Fly By Night” and “Spirit Of Radio”, not so much to hear the new stuff (yes I know, you Rush internet fanatics LOVE the new Rush material. You’re oddballs. We were trying to keep it from you.)

King Crimson is laughable, since I think the roster of “people who played in King Crimson” is now approaching 200. Crimson was Robert Fripp in 1968, and remains Robert Fripp now. They’re as much a “band” as “Bob Dylan” is.

Obviously there are some bands out there still getting it done at 50. Mission Of Burma sounds as fresh as ever….but then you remember they were on hiatus for 20 years. If Ira and Georgia would spill it on their ages, Yo La Tengo would certainly count, too.

But for my money, the band out there that remains the most relevant and impressive into 50 is Sonic Youth (Lee Ranaldo is 52, Kim Gordon is 55, and Thurston hits the big 5-0 in July of this year). The Sonic Youth career arc is a wonder to behold: arty experimentalists at the beginning, noise pop auteurs in the middle, math-rock noodlers through the ’90’s….and now for their last three or four albums, they’ve been cranking out some of the best rock and roll on the planet.

Don’t take my word for it though. Here’s the evidence from 2006’s brilliant Rather Ripped album:



“Turqoise Boy”

Thing is, none of those amazing songs are old standards; those are all new songs from a band that continues to be an artistic powerhouse.

There’s my answer for you Bill!

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There’s A Reason George Martin Was The 5th Beatle

May 1, 2008 at 6:02 am (new releases, reviews, rock and roll)

As we head into Derby Week (bummer of a post position, Brownie), tonight’s blog post has me recalling something the ever-astute Marc Attenberg told me years ago about handicapping horse races: the worst guys to ask for ‘capping wisdom are the trainers and jockeys. Why? I could speculate a few reasons, but to me the main one is easy to pick out. I think trainers and jocks are lousy at sizing up a race because perhaps they’re too close to the subject to form objective theses on the subject at hand.

Which brings us to what I want to yammer on about tonight: earlier this month UNI/Polydor re-issued the seminal and only record (to date) released by Liverpool’s legendary The La’s. It arrives as a double-cd package with the original as-released album remastered, and then a variety of different mixes with different producers of the songs on that original album. Of special interest is the inclusion of the “Mike Hedges Album”, allegedly the version of the debut album that La’s frontman and creative force Lee Mavers was happiest with.

Before going forward, I suppose there might be someone out there unfamiliar with the turbulent history of The La’s and their only album. As the story goes, Mavers had a precise and certain La’s “sound” in his head. Signed to the ultra-hip Go! Discs, the label forked out a lot of money to hook the band up with in-demand producer Steve Lillywhite. Mavers was upset with the production and would later claim the band deliberately played poorly in the recording sessions, in hopes that the material would never be released in that state. The La’s subsequently went through a series of producers (including John Leckie) re-recording the album before a frustrated record label had Lillywhite piece together as coherent a record as he could for release from the initial sessions. Mavers was livid with the label and refused to release another album until the debut could be recorded properly with the songs sounding on record the way they did in his head.

Yeah, good luck with that Lee. Allegedly of all the producers who took a stab at The La’s back in the day, the guy who came closest to capturing the sound that Mavers wanted was Mike Hedges (who’d later work with U2 and Radiohead, among others). The inclusion of the Hedges version of the debut on The La’s Deluxe Edition, then, would seem to be a pretty important occurrence for fans of the band…

…and yet, having listened and re-listened to the Hedges versions of the songs…not so much. There are discoveries to be made on this double-disc set to be sure, but the most major of these is that Steve Lillywhite is one hell of a great producer. Lillywhite’s versions of these songs just seem far, far, FAR superior to anyone else’s. Obviously, the bias of having heard only those versions for the last 18 years is part of it. But even trying empirically and objectively to find brilliant bits of the songs as recorded by Hedges, Leckie, or Gary Crowley, it seems clear that Lillywhite was head and shoulders beyond his peers here. The other versions plod with a sort of deliberateness and hesitancy that make the songs sound positively dull. The myriad versions of the hit “There She Goes” are really jarring; the signature guitar riff on the song sounds fluid and loose in the original, but the differnt versions on the re-issue sound like first-year guitar students picking out the riff by sight-reading a tablature chart. Lillywhite’s versions practically leap out of the speakers by comparison; taken side-by-side in this format it ends up being like watching the “Wizard Of Oz”, where everyone else is black and white and the original version is glorious technicolor.

As such, I’m going to express a bit of pop music blasphemy: Lee Mavers was wrong, wrong, wrong. If the Hedges version of his songs were the one closest to what he wanted, then Mavers was a talent lacking in perspective. Which brings us back to the horse racing analogy at the beginning of this post (yeah, I’d almost forgotten it too). When you’re in a band, I think that like horse trainers and races, you’re too close to the subject sometimes to be able to think critically and have accurate notions of what works and what doesn’t. Hey, the guys in Nirvana were sick and tired of playing “that stupid riff” that became “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Eric Clapton fled The Yardbirds partly because he couldn’t stand playing the four-chord strum of “For Your Love”, which sounded boring to him. Hell, take a look at the post-1969 solo careers of The Beatles; on their own it became clear that John, Paul, and George sure seemed to need the critical and editorial ear of George Martin to help them tell the difference between what worked and what didn’t.

Sadly then if over the years you’ve built in your mind a sort of altar to someone really getting The La’s sound “right” in the studio and laid hopes on hearing the same, I’ve got news for you. Seems as if Steve Lillywhite had it right all along, and had a better feel for The La’s sound than the band themselves. Unless you’re a completist or contrarian, there’s no reason to throw over your old La’s CD for this new version.

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Viva Peru!

April 28, 2008 at 4:51 pm (cool band alert, rock and roll, videos)

Run down Myspace all you like, because everything bad that can be said about it is absolutely true. Forever and ever though, for me, Myspace will have a special place in my heart, because without it I’d have never discovered one of the silliest, most wonderful, exciting rock and roll things on the planet.

First test for you before I get to that: think of the coolest band name–real or imagined–that there ever could possibly be. Take some time. Bookmark this page. “The Rolling Stones” is a great name. “The Who” is a great name. “The Flashing Lights” is a great name. “The Grifters” is a great name.

Ok. Now I’ll connect the dots of coolest band name ever to Myspace. I suppose because I “friended” (worst…verb…ever…) Murcia’s wonderful Ross (see blog post elswhere here) a few weeks ago, I ended up getting a friend request on Myspace over the weekend from a rock band from Peru. Yes, *that* Peru. When I saw the band name, my breath caught. It was the funniest, hippest, most outrageous band name I’d seen in a long while. I hoped and prayed that the music was able to even remotely live up to the moniker. The band is called (drumroll) “Los Fuckin Sombreros”.

Thanks to the info on their English language myspace page, I read that LFS are pretty big in Peru (and before you scoff at the Incan rock scene, there’s actually a surprisingly rich tradition of great music from that country; check the Nuggets II box and hit up youtube for videos from We All Together, who sound like a latino Emitt Rhodes or Zombies…). They played a series of 2007 “adios” concerts before going on a bit of a hiatus, though. Some North American labels came knocking, and it seems as if their latest (and best?) album Sha La La is going to get proper US release soon, and the band is talking about a US tour.

A very good thing, that, because Los Fuckin Sombreros are more than just a cool name. What I love about these guys is that no one has explained to them that trying to embrace influences like The Creation, Oasis, The Stooges, late-seventies Def Leppard, and AC/DC shouldn’t work. Screw it! It’s rock and roll! Hell yes it works, and looks like it’d be a total damn blast to be a part of! Crazy thing is, I’m listening to their songs on Myspace and totally getting into them, and thinking “I really, really like these guys…I wonder if they have any vids on Youtube.”

Lord do they. In fact, the videos that are posted there have cemented the relationship for me; LFS isn’t just a good band, they’re a GREAT band. Check out this video here, cheese:

Yeah, right? Worth noting here is that Los Fuckin Sombreros have a LOT of female fans. They seem to outnumber the guys…and said female fans are extremely hot. Ever go to a Vines or Hives show? Yeah, sausage-fest. Check the unselfconsciousness of the goings-on there too. NONE of any of that should work, but try telling that to the crowd who is shout/singing along at ear-shattering volume. I go to way too many shows where people just stand there, arms crossed as if they’re in a museum and studying some neo-cubist painting. Hell with that. I watch this video and I want to be in the middle of that shrieking, crazy-ass sweaty crowd going nuts with everyone else (and not because of all the chicks, who are, again, incredibly easy on the eyes). Any band performing at Pitchforkfest (or whatever they call it), CMJ, SxSW, or any other bitchy hipster rock festival should be required to watch Los Fuckin Sombreros get it done. Anyone going to see a band at said ‘fests should watch those videos too; rock and roll nowadays needs more abandoned, drunken, dance-y fun like this.

Or like this:

Or like this: (HEY! When did 25-year-old Peter Buck join LFS???)

Their English-language Myspace page is here.

Their official homepage is here.

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Another Reason The Music Industry Sucks.

April 20, 2008 at 5:30 am (cool band alert, rock and roll, videos)

It was last September that sort-of Chicago rock band The Living Blue (nee The Blackouts) announced that they’d finished their new record. If you’re really, really looking forward to this disc, that was nearly 7 full months ago. Not that anyone’s counting. Ok, I am counting. And waiting. Impatiently.

My “Best of” list of records from 2005 is utterly screwed up because I didn’t actually discover The Living Blue’s incredible debut disc Fire, Blood, Water until about May of 2006–four months after I’d finished that list. Although the record and band get lumped into the garage-rock genre (and certainly their roots are there), there’s very little “retro” appeal here, despite guitartist Joe Prokop’s Rickenbacker and Brian Jones haircut. “Tell Me Leza” sounds like Franz Ferdinand without the cliches and with more inspiration; “State Of Affairs” and “Murderous Youth” roar along with a fire and verve that you simply don’t get with bands doing the revivalist thing. In fact, let’s us take a little break here and provide evidence to The Living Blue’s (and Fire, Blood, Water‘s) greatness:

(“Tell Me Leza”)

(“Serrated Friend”)

(“State Of Affairs”)

Ok then. If that was your first exposure to The Living Blue, we should probably clarify a few things:

1. Yes, I know; those are killer songs.
2. Yes, I know; guitarist Joe Prokop is the great unknown guitar hero on the planet, and yes, he does shred, and yes it is inexcusable that he isn’t mentioned when people talk about the most gifted rock and roll guitarists in the world.
3. Yes, I know; singer/guitarist Steve Ucherek does indeed sound a little like a teenaged Bono singing as if he was terrified and desperate and angry and strung out on caffeine.

Fire, Blood, Water came out on indie-pop label Minty Fresh, but it seems the band and Minty have parted company. So, despite having a completed followup album called Walk, Talk, Rhythm, Roam ready for release, I gather that the band is still at the point of seeking out someone to release it…which is insane. The tracks I’ve heard at the band’s website and myspace page are absolutely killer. There are nods to their garage-rock roots on tunes like “Numb” and “Without You”, but songs like the amazing title track (which might be in the running for song of the year), “Something You Do”, and the stunning “Venus Fly Trap” are a quantum leap ahead of even the brilliance of their debut, and “Nightwind” would be a massive hit if there was any justice in the world. That the band seems to be having trouble finding a taker for this either means they know how good it is and are asking a dear price for a label lucky enough to put it out, or is further evidence that the music industry is in a deserved death spiral.

Between the band’s website and myspace pages, you can hear 6 or 7 songs from the 12 on the completed record. Hopefully very, very soon you’ll be able to hear the rest. The Living Blue are one of the most exciting rock and roll bands on the planet and are fully deserving of better treatment than this.

The Living Blue myspace page, where you can hear “Nightwind”, “Walk, Talk, Rhythm, Roam”, “Something You Do”, and “Venus Fly Trap”.

The Living Blue’s under-construction website where “Numb”, “Nightwind”, “Without You” …and one other song which may or may not be “Refugee” can be heard.

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I Know How To Ask For More Lemons…

April 9, 2008 at 6:55 am (cool band alert, new releases, reviews, rock and roll)

…and “mas papas fritas, por favor” I can do in two different accents, but beyond that my restaurant-learned Spanish is pretty awful. Not that I’m at all good with foreign languages. I struggle enough with my mother tongue; people who are effortlessly bilingual fascinate me.

But I’m digressing. I have a sudden interest in non-restaurant Spanish all of a sudden.

Here’s the deal: it will surprise few of you reading this that I’m a pop knob at heart. I unabashedly heart the Fab Four, prefer the Buzzcocks and Undertones to The Clash, and think “Box Elder” is far and away the best song on Westing By Sextant and Musket. The flip side of that, though, is that for the last 20 years I’ve been acutely aware of just how much utter shite there is out there masquerading as melodic rock and roll. Honestly, I can take about 30 seconds of most “power pop” stuff before my teeth ache from the cotton candy-ness of it all. That’s why bands like The Blakes or Novillero (message to Winnipeg: please tell me Novillero hasn’t broken up?) rock me so hard–they get that hooks are good, but by themselves they’re like whipped cream without the pumpkin pie. They’re chili and cheese without the dog.

I also learned while playing a college radio show and working at Euclid Records that playing one favorite song of mine after another bored me to tears inside of 15 minutes. My favorite radio shows (and music discoveries) were when I busted myself out of my comfort zone. That’s how I discovered and/or learned to love stuff like Sparklehorse or People Under The Stairs or The Grifters or Silkworm.

And so for the last month or so, I’ve been listening to a ton of music that falls way outside my usual interests. Underground hiphop and electronica. Metal. Lots of metal. Indie rock with no discernible music structure to it. Experimental guitar stuff and even some found sound noodling that didn’t have me lunging for the eject button.

I have eaten my musical vegetables, in other words.

And so now we get back to my interest in Espanol. I just stumbled across a double CD retrospective by a band called Ross. I know zilch about them, except for on first listen I immediately figured the singer had a non-American accent and, thanks to a cover of Teenage Fanclub’s sublime “Verisimilitude” pegged them as Scots or Geordies from the North of England. Nope. Finally tracked down their Myspace page (try finding out info on a band called “Ross”; if they’d called themselves “Jack” I’d have had an easier time of it) and it turns out they’re from Murcia, Spain. Which means that while their songs are all in English, all web infos about ’em are in Spanish. Since none of the information or bio on the band involves lemons, fish, potatoes, or the words “hot” and “cold”, I’ve got nothing really to tell you about them, other than it seems as if Ross’s career ran from 1992 to 2002, and after a long hibernation they seem to be doing live shows and stuff.

Nowlemmetellyawhat: Ross is one of the sweetest, most wonderful music discoveries I’ve made in a long, long time. This double CD retrospective contains 44 songs and clocks in at well over 2 hours of tuneage. It has all the easy stuff for poppish, Beatle-influenced bands to do: chiming guitars played through AC30 amps, sweet Lennonish vocals and gorgeous (but not overdone) harmonies. Thing is, there are thousands of bands able to muster that start, but most of these bands are utterly terrible. These Spanish fellows don’t fall into that trap. In fact, they manage to take that start and take it to some wonderfully unexpected places.

I’ve now spun through the two discs in this collection, and I’m utterly stunned at the fact that these guys managed to come up with 44 gorgeous pop songs that never induce listener fatigue (I got to the end last night and punched up disc one again immediately). They manage that with some incredible songwriting craftsmanship–the melodies here twist and turn and go in all sorts of unexpected places with a seeming effortlessness. Thanks to the mixed recording heritage of these tracks, there are moments of lo-fi majesty, and plenty of Teenage Symphonies To God, as they say.

The disc is called “A Collection For Enemies & Friends, 1992-2002”. You’ll have to hunt for an online shop to import it if you don’t have a buddy stationed at a military base in Europe to pick you up a copy. This is a double CD worth jumping through some hoops for, though.

Let me play you a couple of reasons why:

“Starships-Supersonic Spacewalk”

Here’s their Myspace site, if you speak the language.

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