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Thursday, February 25, 2010

In this week's edition

Due to some small surgery on my right hand on Tuesday afternoon (mole removal that required a few stitches), I couldn't type for the past two days. Luckily, my most recent stuff for the Observer was turned in before then.

Check Out This Jam has been renamed Staff Trax, a title that I think is better, especially since I joked about saying "Check Out This Jam!" at the meeting where we decided to do the feature. So, here's this week's edition.

Also, Killswitch Engage comes town this weekend -- without Howard Jones -- and I have a preview in this week's print edition.

Monday, February 22, 2010

(Metal) Roots to Branches

Late last week, I was tagged in a few photos that showed me playing drums in my high school band. Rather than feeling a sense of embarrassment, I was quite happy to see these pictures. I'm not ashamed of playing with that band, and it was the beginning of the path that I'm still on.

One of the pictures was of us playing our final show. We didn't think it was our last show at the time, but that's what it became. After two years, people were drifting apart and about to move away for college. So a break-up was bound to happen.

I could sense at the show that my heart wasn't into playing this kind of music anymore. When we started, our style was very obviously grunge in the vein of Nirvana. But when the guitarist/singer got more into Korn, Coal Chamber, and Fear Factory, our sound became heavier and faster with a sense of groove as well.

Something I listened to over this past weekend brought back a very vivid memory I have just a few days before the final show. Hearing the Deftones and talking about their second album, Around the Fur, brought me back to when I sat in my bedroom listening to that record and trying to get pumped for the show. That record just didn't do it for me. That's one of the many times I thought my heart just wasn't into this band. Moreover, my heart wasn't into this kind of music anymore.

I don't think I've said I wasn't a metal fan, but there have definitely been times that I haven't listened to it that much. With all sorts of things going on in my life in the last five years, metal has been great to listen to. And what's been nice is that I don't have to be pissed off to enjoy the hell out of it.

I don't argue that metal is great to listen to when you're ticked about life in general, but I'm here to tell you that mood is not a requirement. Over the past two months I've been very, very happy in a relationship, and my metal appreciation has not waned. Hell, after one night out together, I felt very positive, but I blasted Converge's Axe to Fall on the way home. My mood didn't change one bit as I drove. That in itself was a test to see how strong the metal roots are. And I'm thankful that they are.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

When the Lights Are Out

This week's edition of Check Out This Jam is now online here. This post sheds a little more light on my Cheap Trick fandom.

Plus, my small feature on We Were Promised Jetpacks is also online here.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

You're on top of the world and you can't get any higher

I whipped up a nice little write-up on Cheap Trick for this week's edition of Check Out This Jam, and it should run tomorrow. The funny sidenote is, my fandom of the band was helped but also perplexed by asking for (and receiving) a box set a little too early in the stages. Knowing this can help explain my caution towards jumping in with Neil Young's Archives Vol. 1.

Being a kid of the 1980s who watched a lot of MTV in the last three years of that decade, I remember Cheap Trick quite well. Not only was there the "Flame" juggernaut, but there was also "Don't Be Cruel" and "Can't Stop Falling In Love." That was my introduction, no matter how many writers at Guitar World can cry about the tragedy of that.

When I started reading Guitar World in the mid-1990s, I heard a lot of praise of the band's first four studio albums, as well as the At Budokan live LP. By the time the Sex, America, Cheap Trick box set came out, I had heard the chorus to "Surrender" exactly once, but based what I had read and heard, I was quite sure I would be ready to jump into the band's life before "The Flame."

I gave many spins to the first two discs of the box set, and songs like "Surrender," "Dream Police," and "On Top of the World" immediately grabbed me and I loved those songs immensely. The deal was, surrounding all these great studio tracks were rarities like unreleased live songs, demos, and B-sides. This was a lot to wade through, and this was long before CD-Rs allowed me to make a sampling of a box set quick and easy.

I understand that box sets can either please the hardcore fans who want rarities and unreleased material (like Neil Young's Archives Vol. 1) or the completists (like the Jam's Direction, Creation, Reaction), but I can't seem to recall a set that pleased both extremes. In the case of the Cheap Trick set, it tried to please both, but I'm quite sure it didn't. I liked the inclusion of studio tracks while I'm sure there were people who wanted those tracks removed and replaced with more rarities. In my defense, this was the only place to hear any of the band's material remastered. The band's first four albums would not be reissued and remastered until almost ten years later.

Now that I have really dialed in with the band's last few studio albums, I can safely say I look forward to going back into the band's early material. It was just a long and twisty road to get to that point.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Snow day(s)

A funny thing happened just a few hours after I finished and sent off my Motion City Soundtrack show review: it started snowing. And not just the kind of snowing that evaporates when it hits the ground. There was almost an inch of snow on the ground at 4:20 am, and the snow kept coming until midnight.

It's not like I've never seen snow. I've seen it in bits and pieces over the years living in Houston, Fort Worth, and Dallas. But the most accumulation I saw was on top of a mountain in the middle of summer in Wyoming on family vacation.

One of the things that I always loved about Dallas when I was a kid was that it was colder than Houston and New Orleans. The chance of snow was greater, and I hoped to someday play in snow.

Turns out I got an early birthday gift last Thursday, and it was about ten inches of snow. I didn't sled or make a snowman, but I did throw a few snowballs on my fence, took a few pictures with two snowmen built in an empty lot in front of our house, and got to see Victory stand in snow that covered her legs. The snow didn't completely thaw out until today, so this was four whole days with snow. Usually when snow comes, it's gone by the following afternoon.

In all my years living in the DFW area, I've seen more ice than snow. On top of that, snow is very, very rare in Houston or New Orleans. (Hell, the year after we moved from New Orleans to Houston, it snowed. Oh the timing.) So if I sound like I'm five years old and think Elmo is my hero by saying all this, I must plead that I had never experienced something as big as this. And I'm glad I did.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Her Words Destroyed My Planet

I saw Motion City Soundtrack last night and it was quite a great show. This morning I woke up and there was snow on the ground. This is like an early birthday present.

Motion City Soundtrack, Set Your Goals, This Providence, The Swellers
Prophet Bar
February 10th, 2010

Better than: sitting at home worrying about the snow's possible effect on traffic Thursday and Friday morning.

Motion City Soundtrack played--as expected--to a packed crowd in the big room of the Prophet Bar last night--and they didn't disappoint, either.

Sure, lead vocalist/guitarist Justin Pierre might look like a whiz kid spawn of Dr. Emmett Brown, but he's an engaging frontman. And he acted like he was having fun with his four bandmates, rather than look puzzled as to why all these people in the room were singing along to his songs.


Read the rest here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Things to read elsewhere

A couple of things to read that I did for the Observer: this week's edition of Check Out This Jam and my review of Maleveller's debut EP.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

My Heart Can't Tell You No

As I took another listen to Rod Stewart's rendition of "Fooled Around and Fell In Love" today, I realized how many artists he's introduced to me by default. It's like he was an older brother watering down songs so that people like me could find out the original versions. Strange, but I find a lot of his choices for covers to be that way.

Back when I wasn't attuned to rock critic speak and the mindset behind it, I watched a lot of MTV without prejudice. Every once in a while, a Rod video would come on. Over the years, I'd hear plenty of his originals, like "Some Guys Have All The Luck" and "My Heart Can't Tell You No," but also "Downtown Train," "People Get Ready," and "This Old Heart of Mine." Many years would pass until I'd hear the respective originals by Tom Waits, the Impressions, and the Isley Brothers, but I think it was good to hear the cover versions before the original versions.

I guess that in my youth I would have passed off the Impressions or the Isley Brothers as sounding too "old." Now I listen to those versions and just marvel at how they sound and how they sound more sincere and real. But when I listen to Rod's version of "People Get Ready" now, it feels as outdated as me taking a class in 4th grade.

So the opposite effect has occurred, but I don't regret hearing all those covers back in those days. Now, the decision to hear Rod's version of "Tom Traubert's Blues" a few years after I heard the original by Tom Waits is a different story.

Monday, February 08, 2010

The Sound of Separation

As fun as Super Bowl parties are, I must admit that my love for combing through CD libraries got the best of me yesterday.

The bass player in my band, Mike, threw a housewarming/Super Bowl party at his loft. There was plenty of food to eat and a big TV to watch the game. I ate plenty and watched most of the game, but the appeal of borrowing CDs got the best of me during the game. I just couldn't help it.

Something that made this special was that this was an actual CD library. Mike used to write music reviews, so he has boxes upon boxes of promos. This was like my time back in college radio, where anything and everything was available in physical form. I was in proverbial promo heaven.

Why this was special was because I'm more and more aware of people consolidating their massive CD libraries to MP3s on hard drives to save space. I don't blame people who do this for the sake of space, but the thrill of going through racks of CDs is way more involved (and exciting) than just scrolling through a list in iTunes.

A lot of the stuff I've borrowed are things I've had, at best, a casual interest in. Stuff like later Machine Head and Thrice records, the most recent records by Underoath and Norma Jean, and even New Found Glory's Coming Home. No, this isn't a stack of former hipster accolades, but it's stuff I've had interest in hearing. Seeing them there, I figured, why the hell not?

Of course, now I'm next with Mike coming over to my house. And I don't mind. And I especially don't mind when people don't criticize me for having a lot of music.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Check Out This Jam

A new feature launched this week on DC9 that I am a major part of. Called "Check Out This Jam," this is a chance for Observer music writers to chime in on stuff that we're grooving to lately. And probably the best part is that the selections aren't always brand spankin' new songs from brand spankin' new albums. In my case, I plugged Richard Hawley's material. Even though he put out a record last year, I thought a song from a few years ago would be a nicer introduction.

My part in the feature is that I collect the write-ups from the writers, edit them, and then pass them to the editor. It's a pretty simple, but a fun little way of showing more sides of us writers.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

And they have a plan (Neil Young edition)

Well, after thinking about it for 48 hours, I have a gameplan with how to go about this Neil Young quandary.

I want to expand my library beyond the tracks on Decade by picking up his first four albums. Neil Young, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, After the Goldrush, and Harvest all boast nice remastering and inexpensive prices. So I'm going with that, not just for economic reasons, but for sanity reasons.

As much as I love the tracks I've heard already from Neil, I'm not somebody who grew up devouring his early albums. I never heard "Heart of Gold" on any radio station I listened to as a kid. Granted, I listened only to a soft rock station and the Top 40 station, and my parents didn't (and still don't) have any of his records. Hell, if it weren't the one-two of Harvest Moon and seeing him perform "Rocking in the Free World" with Pearl Jam on the MTV Music Video Awards, I would have never heard of him until years later.

Since I've never devoured all the textures and nuances of his first four albums, I couldn't say I could jump right into the Archives Vol. 1, even though many of the songs from that time are on it. I'm just not ready . . . yet.

Helping with collecting tracks from the Decade set is a recent borrowing of the Buffalo Springfield box set from a friend. Since the set is sadly out of print, I'm quite happy to pick and choose what I want. Ah, to hear "Expecting to Fly" and "Broken Arrow" in full audio glory.

I haven't marked off ever wanting to hear the stray tracks, live tracks, and unreleased tracks from Archives, but I think I should go through a more formal introduction first.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Lost alone

Something I've looked forward to for almost a year is watching the final season of LOST in the comforts of home. While it's nice to watch a new episode on a movie theater screen with a crowd, it can also suck to watch a new episode with a crowd. So I'm in luck that I can watch this without anyone I don't know bugging me.

Since I didn't have cable or decent reception for the previous season, I had to go elsewhere for my fix. I had heard of the local Angelika showing new episodes for free, so I decided to see almost every new episode of season five there. That was quite fun overall, but there were some severe drawbacks.

The thing I do not, absolutely, positively, enjoy in a theater is when people just spit out the first thing that comes in their minds while watching a movie or a TV show. Yes, the show is confusing. I get that. I've understood that for five years. But do we really have to be taken out of the moment and excitement in a new episode when something doesn't make sense right away?

Yes, I'm really picky and easily perturbed by this, but think of it this way: would you want to hear bold and dismissive comments made about the dinner you're eating while you eat it? Frankly, I'd prefer not to unless it was positive and didn't take me completely out of the moment.

Maybe this plays exactly into my lack of desire of ever wanting to read a live-blog of a live event. Be it the Grammys, the Oscars, or an episode of LOST, I think it's better to enjoy the moments, enjoy the whole thing, and then say something after it's over. We're prone to say things we regret when post the first thing that comes to our heads. Saying something like, "Heroes is the best show evverrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!" doesn't really age well if you posted that online or said it aloud in a theater four years ago.

So I bring on the hooting and hollering and I look forward to talking about the show tomorrow morning. I'm just glad that I can see it as is.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Broken Arrow

As I perused one of the finer local record stores on Saturday night, another internal debate brewed. This time, it was about the best way to dig deeper into the world that is Neil Young's music. Specifically, his first five albums. There are a few roads to take, but here's the road I'm currently on.

I have liked Neil's music since '92's Harvest Moon. Back when VH1 catered to the "I don't get Nirvana" crowd, videos from this fine album graced its airwaves. Even a fantastic solo concert got some airplay. And I loved his MTV Unplugged special. So much so that I got the CD version of it my freshman year of high school.

But years would pass before I got anything more from Neil. In college I got the phenomenal Decade compilation, but my ears knew the difference between what was remastered and what was not. I was let down that Decade didn't feature any remastering. No matter how much I love an album, I hate to crank up the volume ten times louder than a normal disc. That's just not fun to experience on a long car drive.

Thankfully, Decade has always sounded great on my den's stereo. I've spent many a quiet morning, afternoon, and evening taking things easy while "I am a Child," "Broken Arrow," and "Old Man" play. Recently having one of those experiences just reminded me of how I've always wanted to hear more.

The deal is, it was not until last year that a sizable amount of reissues came out. When the single-disc Greatest Hits came out, I got it as soon as possible. Featuring a dozen or so classics, I hoped to get more, but when the first few albums got reissued, around the same time as the much-craved Archives box set arrived, I was confused as to where to go next.

And frankly, I'm still confused.

I've read Noel's take on the Archives Vol. 1 set and there's plenty to consider. Should I just jump in the deep end and get the massive Blu-ray edition of Archives (with links to download all of the material online), the CD-only version, or just buy the remastered versions of albums like Harvest, After the Gold Rush, and Everybody Knows This is Nowhere? Seems to me that just sticking to the albums skips over some phenomenal stuff that Neil did with Buffalo Springfield and various different live renditions of his solo songs. But also going in with the box set is like getting a ten-course meal when all I really want is a fantastic three-course meal.

So that's where I'm at. As much as I love his work, I can't say the same for making the transition into deeper waters.