Archive for the Album Reviews Category

Live – The Turn (Album review)

Posted in Album Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 26, 2014 by Traces of Waste


2u6jp8pIt has technically been 8 years since Live released an album (2006’s Songs from Black Mountain), but to many it has actually been 14 years. The last time Live wrote an album as a cohesive collaborative effort among all band members was 1999’s The Distance to Here. Since then they have released 3 albums each one with increasingly less input by Chad Taylor (guitars), Chad Gracey (drums) and Patrick Dahlheimer (bass). Former singer Ed Kowalczyk took over all song writing duties and changed the entire course of the band’s sound. It created a huge divide in the fan base – those who fell in love with the sound of the band writing as a unit in the 1990s, and those who preferred Kowalczyk’s solo writing of the 2000s. Among many creative differences and legal issues it lead to not only a steep decline in the quality of the music being produced, but a strain on the relationship between Kowalczyk and his band mates which resulted in Kowalczyk essentially being fired from the band.

Taylor, Gracey and Dahlheimer were starved of creative opportunities and felt such a strong desire to continue the band they started 30 years ago that they contacted former Unified Theory singer Chris Shinn to join them and front the band. That was back in 2011. Since then they debuted live on stage with Shinn in 2012 before buying an abandoned warehouse in their home town of York PA. They turned this into their own state of the art recording studio where they were free to record whenever and however they wanted. The Turn was a long time coming, painstakingly the band did it bit by bit which drove fans mad with anticipation, but the band would not be rushed. They allowed themselves time to gel with Shinn, to fit in family and business commitments, and most of all, time to develop new material. Familiar faces were brought in to help out, former Talking Heads member Jerry Harrison returned as producer; a sign Live truly was returning to their roots. Harrison produced Live’s previous albums; Mental Jewelry; Throwing Copper; The Distance to Here; as well The Gracious Few’s debut album (a super group comprised of Taylor, Gracey and Dahlheimer as well as Kevin Martin and Sean Hennesy from Candlebox).

So with the stage set back in their home town, with the old production team, the old values the band originally adhered too, it was clear Live were serious about erasing the past 14 years which took them further and further away from where they wanted to go. The biggest unknown was how a huge new element – a new singer, would mesh with the old.

My expectations for this album were pretty damn high. I highlighted in my previous post what Live means to me and a little bit of my history with the band without going into too many specifics. So it is safe to say that this release meant a lot to me. I tried my best to keep my expectations and emotions in check though when it came to this album – to not expect miracles and to be as fair and level headed as I could without either going too far one way or the other (ie. “This is what I have been waiting for, Live can do no wrong!” and “My expectations were so ridiculously high this could never live up to them”). As I’ve done with previous reviews I’ll try and break this down track by track. At present I have only had the album for little over 24 hours, so these are only initial observations, but we’ll see how we go!


Siren’s Call: I don’t think they could have picked a better song to come back with to open the album. This one debuted mid-year on tour and even through poor youtube recordings the anticipation for this was high. The album opens with this slow to mid-paced rocker. It is heavy, gritty, and loud. It is everything which the previous 3 Live albums were not. It reminds me a lot of the transition between Throwing Copper and Secret Samadhi. The biggest single from Throwing Copper was Lightning Crashes, it was so huge it catapulted the band into a place where they briefly occupied the status of “biggest band in the world”. So when they released their follow up album in 1997, many people were expecting them to capitalise on that sound of Lightning Crashes. Instead, what they got was the loud, crunching riffs of Lakini’s Juice which blew everything people expected from Live away. To me, that is what Siren’s Call does at the beginning of this album. It is a message that says “remember The River? Mystery? Heaven? Forget that, check this out!” The song was tracked live, very basic and the production is a bit rougher here than it is with most of the rest of the album (which I sort of wish the rest of the album followed). The live tracking gives the song a real sense of energy, there isn’t any studio trickery here with overdubs and an unnaturally sounding song pieced together bit by bit. There is just such power to this song, you want to turn the volume up to 11 and have it blast through you. Shinn immediately shows off his credentials with a powerful gritty chorus. My main complaint about this song is the effect given to Shinn’s vocals when he sings “Crack of the whip, taking the hit, I’m caught in your grip”, especially the line of “crack of the whip”. In the live version he really delivers this line with such power, his delivery of the word “crack” actually sounds like the cracking of a whip. On the album that is somewhat diminished by taking him lower in the mix through distortion. However, it is far from enough to ruin the song. Far from it, it sounds great, I just prefer the live delivery better. The song itself calls on the imagery of Greek Mythology and the Sirens in particular who would lure sailors to their death who could not resist following their song. Beautiful creatures to first glance at who turned to horrifying beasts upon closer inspection. Yep, there is definitely a metaphor being used there! I love Greek mythology, so the use of it here really works for me and gives the song a really dark and ominous vibe. Basically, this song alone is absolutely everything Live was not for the last 14 years. Fantastic opening song!

Don’t Run To Wait: The second part of an amazing opening one-two punch. Siren’s Call sets us up for the ride, it revs the engine and then Don’t Run To Wait slams us into full throttle. This track harnesses the drive and the frantic urgency and power contained on older tracks like Stage, Heropsychodreamer and Iris. It is the band in full flight, they’re really letting us know that they’re back and this is exactly what so many fans were craving for years. The guitars here are biting and frantic, they’re chunky and crunching working in tight unison with the bass. Gracey’s drums are driving the song just like he did with Iris. Shinn is almost totally indecipherable in the verses as he growls his way through the song like a revving motorbike. Yet to me, this is the first taste we get of Shinn understanding Live. Live weren’t always all fire, even in their heaviest moments they would often still show that pinch of sugar. The vocals over Lakini’s Juice for the most part are not as harsh and biting as the music. Waitress has a chipper whistling interlude. In the chorus here, Shinn’s gruffness gives way to just a hint of beautifully delivered softer melody as he sings “Don’t run to wait, don’t shy away” before upping the aggression once again with “Now that you need it, it’s all right in your face”. If I had one complaint it would be that the production could stand to be a bit rougher around the edges, but again, it isn’t enough to put a dampener on the song and after a couple of listens you sort of ‘accept’ that it is how it is and can’t really imagine it any other way. This one is pure adrenaline and testosterone. The song’s message is simple and inspirational – if you want something, go and get it. There is no point running somewhere just to pull back at the last second. One of the contenders for best song on the album for me. So far, Shinn is absolutely killing it.

Natural Born Killers: We take a step back here and slow the pace down. This is one of the tracks I struggle most with. It isn’t bad by any means, but I think it is just missing … something. The lyrics here are dark, but I don’t know if I particularly like them all that much. I think the concept is great, but not sure about the execution. We have a pop song, perhaps the ‘brightest’ sounding musical melody on the album, with perhaps the darkest lyrics. A concept I usually love (hell, my favourite band is The Smiths, after all). The song details an abusive relationship where the protagonist is watching on as a girl he loves is nothing more than a punching bag to her boyfriend, but the protagonist isn’t interested in having her escape or calling the police, he’s going to plan with the girl to kill the boyfriend. There are some interesting lyrics such as “I clocked his every movement, his collections all through town, honey leave the back door open, at 3 we’ll take him down”. But I sort of wish we could hear more of that, I wanted to hear more about how the killers operated in this story, instead I feel the rest of the lyrics are a bit bland, especially the chorus. It feels a little messy, he sings “See me tonight, you can stop your running, open your eyes, you should have seen it coming, see me tonight, we can put him down”. He’s obviously talking to the girl in the chorus, telling her to meet him tonight and she can let him take care of things. But if they’re natural born killers, he’s implying she hasn’t seen it coming, killers imply they do it together and if she doesn’t see it coming, that isn’t very natural. He surely isn’t referring to the abusive relationship as what she should have seen coming as that would almost come across as victim blaming. Likewise there are other lyrics like “I never hesitate to tell you just how it is, even if I think it might upset you” … it just feels a little convoluted and like wasted lines when they only have a finite amount of time to tell this great story and it could have been used to say something else. Of course, this is just my perception and taste. Music-wise, the verses are good … they’re softer and laid back and allow space for the story to be told. The chorus is powerful, but has too much of sense of inspirational-power-rock. It’s a fist in the air, lets burn our bras, nothing can hold us back, kind of sound, As I say, normally I like the mix of dark lyrics on a bright canvas, but this one just doesn’t work so much for me. What is interesting is that this is the first song on the album where a bit of a theme emerges for me where the music from the chorus sounds utterly different from the verses. I’m not sure if it is a conscious decision, but as we go on, I noticed that if you heard clips from song’s choruses and verses you’d swear they were from different songs. Sometimes it is pulled of amazingly, other times not so much. Its a trick in music I really like when done well and keeps the songs twisting and turning, but here, yeah, not so much.

6310 Rodgerton Dr.: We move straight on from one of the weakest to one of the strongest songs on the album. Another contender for best song on the album. This song is another beast with a huge crunching loud mid-paced riff intro. The volume of the verses turned right down with Shinn on acoustic guitar singing perhaps the most personal song on the album. Details sketchy, but the song outlines a personal story for Shinn from a time in his past when he was living in an old house once occupied by Humphrey Bogart which burnt down while Shinn lived there. Such an event is a huge personal life altering moment for Shinn who could have easily kept this song for part of his solo work but I think it shows a massive commitment to Live that he is willing to bring something really personal to him to the band and pour it into this song which Jerry Harrison helped him write. This is my favourite story on the album, and when you can tell a singer is singing something so personal to them it really stands out. The chorus is simple but catchy as hell with just a tiny country-tinge to it as Shinn sings “they don’t know it’s taking fire”. The way the second delivery of the chorus transitions back into opening riff is one of the best “fuck yeah!” moments on the album. But the real highlight is Shinn’s delivery of the middle verse where he screams his delivery in the most desperate way – “As the monster came alive, I count four not five, the news teams and the camera crews, I can’t hear myself scream as I’m calling for you, and the master tapes of the songs you’ll never hear, and the neighbours they just stand and stare, and the blisters on my hands and bleeding feet as I drag you out through the broken door”. It isn’t poetic, it isn’t pretty, its desperate and it captures the feeling of a man standing watching his house burn as he frantically realises someone is still inside … it’s emotive as hell. If anyone doubts Shinn’s commitment to Live, all they need to do is hear that one verse as he pours his heart and soul into it. I love the way it bounces around between everything he’s seeing, the news crew and then “oh shit, the master tapes!” and then that thought goes and you just get this insight into a distressed mind. Brilliantly delivered. I guess unlike other tracks where I had even just a minor criticism, I can’t find one here, so I guess that makes this my favourite so far!

By Design: Or maybe I spoke too soon, this could be my favourite on the album. By Design begins with pounding drums and one of the most unique guitar riffs Taylor has produced. It’s an odd sounding riff, it is up and down and quirky, yet dark and ominous. The verses really have a feel like something from Shinn’s Everything is Energy album. The verses really show something that has also been missing from Live since 1999 – the rhythm section, specifically Dahlheimer’s bass. For 3 albums, for God know’s whatever reason, the bass has been buried in the mix … why would you play a game and bench one of your star players?? Like the guitars, the bass is up and down and the drum beats are working perfectly in unison with the bass, but everything just feels a little left of center and wonderfully so. But the real treat in this song is the way that weird really not very radio friendly verse segues into probably the most melodic, pop-driven and catchy chorus on the whole album. This is another example of the chorus and verse sounding like they are from utterly different songs, except in this case it is one of the best uses of this technique I have ever heard. The chorus just makes you want to sing along and you find yourself doing so even on the first listen as Shinn sings “We leave behind, we leave behind all the you and I’s, we burn the fields for Rome to grow, it’s by design, we leave behind all the desperate you and I’s, we burn the bridges back to you, it’s by design.” And then we are straight back into a quirky beat again, or even a quirky guitar solo. Hell, even one of the verses has an almost dub-like feel with the reverb on the guitar. This track just has so much going on musically, it is one of the best pieces of music the and has ever created. The lyrics aren’t entirely clear cut in their meaning – something else which was a hallmark of Live in the 1990s and totally disappeared on the last 3 albums. Shinn’s vocal delivery matches the instrumentation on this song – it’s all over the place, in a good way. There will be the odd falsetto peak of a couple of words or a sinister, almost whisper of others … it’s genuinely a really interesting vocal delivery. The outro is one of my favourites they have ever done too, the fuzzy blended guitar solo and the band is just jamming and what started out as a quirky, dark, brooding song finishes as an upbeat almost feel-good track. Take a bow, guys!

The Way Around is Through: The first single from the album is wisely chosen as it is perhaps the most radio friendly song on the album, that doesn’t mean the best as radio-friendly generally isn’t what I like best, but a smart move. The intro is more than just a touch nostalgic as it uses the same (or at least extremely similar) sample as the intro to The Dam at Otter Creek; which is a really nice little nod to the old fans in a “we’re back!” message.The song itself is a little bland I find. It has grown on me a bit though given that it was the first song released ahead of the album. The extended intro is undoubtedly the best part, it just builds and builds and then rather than explode it transitions into a more cruisey tune you can bop your head to. The chorus again sounds nothing like the verses in a continuing theme for the album. This time, not done so well, in fact I think the choruses are the only thing letting this song down for me as the verses are really good with some great intensity displayed by Shinn on top of a grooving beat by the band. The chorus again is a little bit too “epic” or “fist in the air” for me. Strangely, there are live versions of the song on youtube where Shinn sings the chorus in just a slightly lower tone and that actually really improves it. Not that Shinn is a glaring problem with the chorus, its just that something doesn’t quite work for me, and suddenly in a slightly lower tone the whole thing sounds a lot better. But alas, that is not how it ended up on the album. Still, the song is probably the most accessible on the album and it is a good little pop-rock tune. I almost feel like if Live were to make that kind of music which Kowalczyk wanted them to make in the mid 2000s that this might have been the sort of music they would have wanted to at least put forward behind his vocals and lyrics. It is like a louder, rougher version of what some of those songs could have been, but instead we got a much much more watered down radio friendly version of the band back then. So it is a good reminder that anyone who thinks a song like this might be a bit too pop-rock for Live, you only need look back at their last few albums to see that even this, probably my second least favourite song on the album, is still better than 99% of what Live produced between 2000 and 2006.

Need Tonight: Interesting song this one, there is lead-in intro to this one like there has been with most of the album, it’s straight into it. The track itself is a slower paced song but not exactly a ballad, it has quite a bit of power to it. Shinn’s vocals are beautiful on this, his delivery of the very simple chorus of “if you believe in it” is really nice the way he is able to make very simple words repeated 3 times actually sound quite different and he manages to fend off boredom. What I mean is, that it could be very easy for the chorus here to be repetitive and boring but, it just somehow, isn’t. The song itself builds quite nicely, it starts off with Dahlheimer and Gracey working nicely in unison once again over a delicate guitar piece but it certainly does build. The pace doesn’t really increase, but the power certainly does. It doesn’t immediately grab me as a stand out track on the album, but at the same time it doesn’t strike me as a song that doesn’t quite work. It is a grower and I could easily see over time it shooting up the list of ranked songs on the album.

The Strength to Hold On: This one starts out very much like either a Shinn solo or Unified Theory song. Shinn’s influence is really being felt here. His vocals at the start are delicate, fragile almost. They sit lightly atop a lightly strumming guitar with just pinches of slide guitar effects swaying in and out of the mix, giving it just that slight country twang which also appears briefly on Shinn’s solo album, which isn’t surprising when you live in Nashville like he does, easy to be inspired by all the great music there. But it is by no means a country sounding song, these are just little cameos in the verse. The drums come in and suddenly kick the song up a couple of gears and we are in the midst of a semi-heavy song. The drums really drive this song, they dictate the pace like a traffic controller letting everyone know when to pick the tempo and volume up and when to lower it. There is a really odd effect though right at the 2:27 mark of this song which I am not really happy with. The song itself is really beautiful to listen to, however there is this moment where it is almost like someone jumps in the room and the needle on the record skips. It has to be intentional because something that big would just not slip by a veteran band and producer like Harrison. It is almost like just a semi-pause before the drums kick us back off. But there is just something off about its timing of when it cuts out. Either its not quite long enough of a pause, or more to the point, perhaps just a little too early and it feels like it is cut off. Whatever it is, I am sure there is a reason behind it, and while I am usually a fan of unusual things put into songs to give them a bit of spice or unique quality, I don’t think the execution worked quite as well as the idea here. And because of that, I feel I am temporarily jolted out of enjoying a really good song and it takes a couple of seconds to adjust and get back into it. It probably doesn’t bother a lot of people, some may quite like it, but doesn’t quite work for me. But, over time I may just get used to it, I hope I do because it’s really the only issue I can come up with for this track. It isn’t an absolute stand out, but it is just really solid track.

We Open the Door: Chad Taylor stated that after they wrote this song it was the first time he realised that they really have a Live record happening. I find it hard to disagree with him. This song is quintessentially Live. If the last track had the Shinn influence, this is definitely all classic Live. It is by far the grooviest bass line on the album which drives this song. Dahlheimer is such a great bass player and this one just makes you want to groove along to it. It is the driving instrument through the verses. The hint of flavour with the guitar in the intro is perfect. I’m not sure exactly what the influence is; indian, middle eastern… something. But it definitely taps into that slightly mystical/spiritual vibe that the band has been known for. It is what I love about Taylor’s guitar playing. He may not be the most prolific solo guy, but the way he just knows how to add these little touches here and there are just the right spots (another that comes to mind on this album is the outro to By Design). Lyrically the song has what must be considered hints to some of the band’s earliest work in there. You have references to “10,000 years of mistakes” and even a part about “seeing the black and the white” could evoke memories of Beauty of Grey. The opening line is probably one of my favourites of any Live song, it sounds like a metaphor for birth, but could also be about the return of the band as Shinn sings “We open the door, and as real as it seems, are we really, really here?” The downside to this track is perhaps the overuse of the word “now” in the chorus. I think I counted something like 26 of them throughout the whole song … just, too many. Although on continued listens you sort of get used to them and just find yourself singing along, I could see how it may be a bit off putting for people on their first couple of listens, however I would implore anyone to push through that as once you are used to it, like an acquired taste, you’ll hopefully really like it as I do. The song builds like a classic Live song as the intensity lifts and Shinn’s singing almost becomes totally indecipherable in the end. The outro is one of my favourites on the album. Again, Taylor’s guitar creates a gorgeous melody which Shinn hums along to and it just feels like a Live song. Somewhere in a weird mix between Throwing Copper and The Distance to Here with a touch of Mental Jewelry thrown in. It feels like it is definitely another “we’re back!” song, and in a really good way.

He Could Teach the Devil Tricks: The bass on the intro and verses to this just plodding along is really nice, it just has a steady rhythm, it is lulling you into a sense of false security that this will be a groovier song like the previous and that if it builds it will build in a slightly standard pop-rock kind of way. But really, this is probably the most aggressive and heavy song on the album. It isn’t in the same league as White, Discussion, but, it definitely has that end of album punch which White, Discussion had for Throwing Copper. This is where Gracey absolute explodes and becomes the beast that Live fans know him as. He is absolutely pounding the ever loving fuck out of the drums on this track, he is relentless the longer the song goes. Shinn’s vocals in the chorus of a simple “I never really saw it coming” is delivered with such ferocity, angst, anger and desperation that scratches that itch Live fans had for those old Throwing Copper vocal tones. He has a real energy to him, singing his guts out on this one. There are a couple of mini guitar solos at various parts of the song which just rock and I only wish the song had a longer outro where the band just jammed and jammed for a couple of minutes. There is a part towards the middle of the song where there is just this intense build up and explodes into the chorus again upon machine gun fire-like drumming from Gracey that is one of the best moments on the whole album. The song title, well, I think a lot of Live fans may think it could allude to Kowalczyk, maybe part of it does … “I never really saw it coming” being how the band never saw the way things turned out with him ahead of time when they started out as brothers. But it isn’t explicitly about Kowalczyk, as there is no hard unmistakable reference to anything specific, which I like because it keeps the interpretation open for others to apply it to themselves and their lives. In all, this song is just bad ass and a really powerful way to end the album. Well, almost because there is one more.

Till You Came Around: This is a really subdued way the end the album with a country tinged acoustic track which could easily come from Shinn’s solo album. It’s a gorgeous little come-down after such a high intensity album, and a beautiful love song to boot. The slide on the guitar is more prominent here than on Strength to Hold On, and it really works. Live always had the ability to do a little country as songs like Horse have shown, and even their cover of Supernatural at times had a country tinge in the vocals, so this isn’t unexplored territory for them, but they haven’t gone here often and I kind of wish they would a little more in the future because they do it really well. Not a lot can really be said about this one, it is a simple song but it is the way the album had to end I think. This song probably wouldn’t have fit in that well anywhere else but it is a perfect book end.


I love it. Is it perfect? Nope, but what is? It isn’t without its faults, but the highest highs far outweigh the lowest lows. Its lows are so far above the material produced between 2000 – 2006 that it isn’t even funny. Live poured their heart and soul into this album and it really shows. They aren’t looking to take over the world again, they are hardly even putting together a big tour for it (but they better come to Australia!), they’re just making music that they want to make for the band that they started as kids and have such love for, and I really respect that. It is so refreshing to hear powerful drums on a Live album again, and to hear groovey bass lines which aren’t buried in the mix, and loud biting guitar riffs. It isn’t like any other Live album, but then again, Throwing Copper wasn’t like Mental Jewelry, The Distance to Here wasn’t like Secret Samadhi. It doesn’t need to be like them. But the spirit and the vibe of those times is still there. The writing has matured and they’re happy experimenting with a few new sounds too. Shinn, I think has been a wonderful new addition to the band. No, he’s not Ed Kowalczyk from the 90s, but neither is 2014’s Ed Kowalczyk. And personal, I’ll take 2014 Shinn over 2014 Kowalczyk. Shinn really gives his everything into this album, after all, he has a lot to prove not only to win fans over but to himself I’m sure. It wouldn’t be easy or 100% comfortable walking into an established band of 30 years, it takes a hell of a lot of guts, but I think he’s handled himself exceptionally here. What I love about this album which has been missing from Live albums for years is the diversity in the tracks. Specifically, the subject matter of the songs. From Greek Mythology metaphors, to fictionalised murderers, the personal accounts of a distressing life event, to a sweet love song, to a message about standing up for what you want, to an angry romp … the albums jumps around a fair bit, but it still feels like a cohesive album. I am bored of albums which just become a game of how many times can you sing about love (or water, in Live’s latter days) and get away with it. I love that it has that old album feel, it isn’t a collection of songs they’ve just been working on. This took a long time to come together and it feels like a real complete set of songs which belong together. I think this album will surprise a lot of people. Many who jumped off the ship during the 2000s with the direction the band went in, and some who have misconceptions about what sort of band Live are. There is just a lot of seriously good music here that people should really give a chance.

So yeah, while it isn’t perfect, there are some songs I don’t quite gel with, it’s impossible to say they are bad songs, they just don’t quite work for me. But the ones that do, really do – Sirens, Don’t Run to Wait, Rodgerton, By Design, Strength, Need Tonight, Open the Door, Devil and Came Around … I can see myself listening to these songs for a very, very long time.

Overall, Live, take a bow. I have been a fan since I was 6 years old, through the best of times and the worst, and I’ve technically been waiting 14 years for the band to write together again as an actual unit and I can honestly say that I do not feel disappointed at all. I feel thoroughly satisfied and like it was worth the wait.  Welcome back!


Morrissey – World Peace Is None Of Your Business (Album Review)

Posted in Album Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 4, 2014 by Traces of Waste

wpinoyb_single  Morrissey – World Peace Is None Of Your Business.


It’s no secret that I am a massive Morrissey fan. He, above all others, has been the biggest influence on my love of music. I rate him as my favourite ever lyricist, he can conjure up lines from a word soup with few peers on his level (Nick Cave and Colin Meloy are up there). His ability to construct a vocal melody is second to none. It is important to note these things beginning this because it probably sets the stage for quite a bias review. Having said that though, on the whole, I have been a bit disappointed with his previous two albums. Both Ringleader of the Tormentors (2006) and Years of Refusal (2009) had some great highlights such as the epic Life is a Pigsty, the touching Dear God Please Help Me, the explosive Something is Squeezing my Skull, and the thunderous I’m OK By Myself. But ultimately, by his own lofty standards, I thought that these albums fell a bit short and contained their fair share of filler and lackluster tunes, looking specifically at the dire Children in Pieces, On the Streets I Ran, and Sorry Doesn’t Help.


So while Morrissey is my all time out and out favourite, I feel I have been aware that his last few efforts have been sketchy – perhaps the well had run dry. The music in particular has been very standard generic pop-rock and long time collaborators Boz Boorer and Jesse Tobias appeared to have run out of creative ideas. This had all lead to me, not exactly having low hopes for the new album, but just that the bar in terms of where Morrissey as an artist is at was lower. I expected a few great songs, but quite a bit of filler and most of all, tired song writing by Boorer and Tobias. I have been hugely looking forward to the album, and I know that I was going to really enjoy it, but I also knew I should not be expecting anything that would rival the heights of the early solo days which produced masterpieces such as Viva Hate (1988), Your Arsenal (1992) and Vauxhall and I (1994).


So when I got the album and loaded all the songs up (including the extra tracks on the deluxe version) and pressed the play button, I sat back with my best headphones on and proceeded to be absolutely blown away. This is the best album Morrissey has produced in at least 20 years. Previously, I thought his comeback album, You Are The Quarry (2004) was his best in years. But this album surpasses that and smashes past Maladjusted (1997) and Southpaw Grammar (1995). It butts heads with the highly lauded Vauxhall, and only the test of time will tell whether it has the legs to challenge that album.


My first impressions were on the production. Morrissey worked with a new producer on this album, Joe Chiccarelli (The Shins, The White Stripes among others), and his work is phenomenal. The production on this album is so rich, layered and textured. There is so much depth to the tracks. Musically, there is just so much going on, but it doesn’t overload the senses. It feels like a great movie you watched but you know you have to re-watch it as there was so much subtle symbolism going on that it would add a whole new level of appreciation upon further viewings. There are multiple samples inserted all over the place and the album would have to break a record for the largest number of different instruments used on a Morrissey album. Boorer and Tobias have really upped their song writing game and produced some absolute gems. For Boorer it is more a return to form, whereas for Tobias, who hasn’t been with Morrissey as long; it feels like growth. They’re both joined by a new songwriting partner, touring keyboardist and multi-in-studio-instrumentalist, Gustavo Manzur. Manzur hits the ground running and really shows off what he can do with song writing and with some sublime playing. With both he and Tobias having hispanic routes and with Morrissey’s long held love affair with Mexico, they combine to give many songs on the album a latin-tinge.


I’ll attempt a track by track breakdown of the album.


Track 1. World Peace is None of your Business.


The title track from the album kicks things off. We begin with an almost tribal sounding rhythmic drum. Ominous, thundering and loud … it sounds like a war drum and prepares you for quite a heavy song. Interestingly the drumming transitions quite suddenly into what turns out to be quite a dream-like, floaty, almost playful tune; most reminiscent of Quarry B-side, My Life is an Endless Succession of people saying Goodbye. The production value is evident straight away, the song sounds so rich and chunky. Lyrically, however, this is one of the poorest tracks on the album as Morrissey sings about the state of the world, or at least the way an anarchist may perceive it. He may have been hanging around Russell Brand for too long. “Police will stun you with their stun guns, or they’ll disable you with tasers”. It’s pretty dire. The song has been criticised for sounding like another celebrity sounding off with big ideas of  changing the world without really having thought through what they are saying; which on the surface is exactly what this song sounds like as Morrissey sings “Each time you vote, you support the process”. It is definitely a protest song. However, I have to believe that the song isn’t trying to offer up any solutions on how to make the world a better place (beyond actually making world peace you business). But instead, its dream-like nature is almost inviting you into a fantasy land where it dares you to dream of what a better world could be like. It isn’t trying to be a revolution, just a “imagine if…”.  You have to believe, knowing Morrissey, that a likely scenario that brought about the title was to do with his involvement with the Nobel Peace Prize last year where he was one of the guest singers at the event. I can just imagine someone telling Morrissey that he had no business being at the event and that “world peace is none of your business”, which Morrissey immediately took as a slight and extracted revenge by turning it into the title of his new album. The song ends with a returning to the drumming but with what sounds like someone singing a phrase over and over in an African language. All in all, it’s a stronger opening than either America is not the World (2004) or I Will See You in Far Off Places (2006), but doesn’t meet the explosive energy of Something is Squeezing my Skull (2009).


Track 2. Neal Cassady Drops Dead.


This is probably as close as Morrissey will get to heavy metal. The guitars are loud, biting and have chainsaw strength, and they hit you straight off the bat for this number. It is plodding, distorted and menacing. In the not too recent past this usually means when a Morrissey song is an all out rocker that it is usually pretty one dimensional; but early on in this song it is evident that this track is a little different. The song transitions into one of the most delightful light acoustic breakdowns which has a flamenco feel to it. That breakdown paves way to Morrissey crooning an Irish folk outro full of “Li dee di, dee di dow”’s. The mixture of styles works beautifully. In a single song, hard rock crashes into flamenco and irish folk; this is something that has been sourly missing from the song writing for some time – diversity. Lyrically, like much of the album I haven’t had a lot of time to process it’s meaning, but the title gives away that it brings to the fore, classic American Beat poet, Neal Cassady. A major counter-culture figure in the 1950s and inspiration for part of Jack Kerouac’s novel, On The Road. Allen Ginsberg, another American Beat poet also gets name checked quite a bit; “Neal Cassady drops dead, and Allen Ginsberg’s tears shampoo his beard”. I have to believe that part of this song is also Russell Brand inspired as Brand recently made a mini-documentary where he traveled the same journey across various American states as Kerouac and delved into the culture and history of American Beat poetry. After the politically charged opening song which also bears the album’s name, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this would be quite a politically themed album full of social commentary. Instead, this track is what starts us off on probably the true main theme of the album – death. The lyrics are quite menacing and gruesome; Morrissey sounds rather threatening as he sings about sick children: “Everyone has babies, babies full of rabies, rabies full of scabies, Scarlet has a fever,  poor little fella has got rubella // Nipper full of fungus, junior full of gangrene, minor’s melanoma, whippersnapper’s scurvy, urchin made of acne, get that thing away from me”. This track really grabs you by the throat from the beginning and forces your attention, personally, I think this would have made a better opener for the album.


Track 3. Istanbul.


A simply gorgeous track which starts with recorded street noise from Istanbul itself (which features throughout the song). Biting guitars with just the mildest middle eastern flavour thrown in. Morrissey sings a tale from the point of view of a failed father who’s son has fled home onto the streets of Istanbul. The song tracks the father’s journey to find his son. In the days of The Smiths, Morrissey was at his best when he was singing about his personal experiences. He was only barely out of living in his mother’s house in hard 1970s Manchester. Life was tough and what he sung about was relate-able to so many people. Now days, Morrissey lives a life of relative luxury and is long removed from those hard early days. While he of course still experiences loneliness and pain like we all do, he can’t realistically write about things that we all, as plebs, can relate to anymore. So a lot of his autobiographical lyrics can miss the mark. Where Morrissey is at his best now days is when he is telling stories; when he has characters and sings from other’s point of view. That is Istanbul’s strength, it tells a tale. The father tracks the son through the streets of Istanbul, worrying he has turned to prostitution or joined a gang. Morrissey’s voice is beautiful once again here as he delicately sings “Moonlight jumping through the trees, sunken eyes avoiding me, from dawn to dusk the hunt is on, the father searches for the son”. As you would come to expect with Morrissey, the song does end in tragedy – “Rolling breathless off the tongue, the vicious street gang slang, I lean into a box of pine, identify the kid as mine”.


Track 4. I Am Not A Man.


The longest track on the album clocking in at just shy of 8 minutes. The first minute and a half, however, is filled with ambient noise, a low hum… I’ve never really been a fan of when Morrissey, or anyone else for that matter does things like this. I listen to music for, you know, the music, so I’ll probably end up editing the song and cutting out that first section of useless noise. The noise eventually transitions into quite a beautiful track. If Neal Cassady Drops Dead was Morrissey’s Enter Sandman, then this track is his Mr Sandman. It feels like Morrissey is evoking the sound of crooners from the Sinatra era as he sings an ode to all negative aspects of what it is to be ‘manly’. The song builds and builds but never quite explodes. Every time it is about to burst into something extravagant, it calms itself again. The lyrics are almost just a list of aspects of manliness that Morrissey feels he does not fit into or are just horrible. Name checked are wife beaters, trigger happy soldiers, meat eaters (of course), prostate cancer and sports jocks. This song will require a few more listens as it doesn’t quite grab you immediately, but something about it tells you it may end up being one of your overall favourites.


Track 5. Earth Is The Loneliest Planet.


Our first out and out Latin influenced song. Years of Refusal had When Last I Spoke to Carol, but to me, this track is superior. It is a style of music you couldn’t even fathom Morrissey would get himself involved with back at the height of The Smiths, or even early solo days when he was heavily influenced by rockabilly. The music here is upbeat with beautiful spanish style acoustic guitar which eventually gives way to an epic wailing electric solo. The keyboards dazzle here as one of the central instruments, which really gives it a Mexican street party feel. Morrissey croons “Earth is the loneliest planet of all, live with a lowness that no one else knows, day after day you say, one day, one day // time after time you say next time, next time”. The song could be about the struggles of transgender folk and their difficulties fitting in and being accepted – “you failed as a woman and you lose as a man, and Earth is the cruelest place you will never understand.” The song itself does what many tracks on the album do – give space for the instruments to breathe. Morrissey steps back from the microphone often on these songs, he must have felt that the band were really on to something special with these tracks and this one is no different. It would even be wonderful as a pure instrumental.


Track 6. Staircase At The University.


For me this is an early contender for best track on the album. Like Istanbul, this track tells another story from a point of view that is obviously not autobiographical. Morrissey sings about a girl at university who is struggling to live up to her father’s lofty expectations and ends up throwing herself down the stairs and killing herself. Yep, sounds like a Morrissey story alright! “If you don’t get three A’s, her sweet Daddy said, you’re no child of mine, and as far as I’m concerned, you’re dead”. What Morrissey has successfully done ever since 1983 has been to combine dark, depressing, and morbid lyrics with increasingly upbeat, bright and joyful music to create a beautiful juxtaposition. The music here is sublime and is reminiscent of a university marching band. The song starts with a loud whistle being blown, there are celebratory marching trumpets and one of the best outros he has ever produced, worthy of a place alongside some of The Smiths greats. He rounds out the song cheerfully clapping and chanting what the Father must be telling his daughter:“Cramming, jamming, pack ’em in ramming, chock-a-block books, power study, polish up, and if it breaks your heart then don’t come running to me”. The trumpets lead the outro and are joined by clarinet and one of the most precious, delicate flamenco guitar solos which would do Rodrigo y Gabriela proud. Gustavo Manzur should take a bow for that one; brilliant song. It surely has to be a contender for one of the most upbeat tunes he has done.


Track 7. The Bullfighter Dies.


The shortest song on the album at barely 2 minutes long; it’s short on time but high on fun. We start out with a matador’s trumpet and burst into an accordion lead number which again has Latin influences. The music is as jangly-a-pop song as Johnny Marr ever wrote for The Smiths. I’d never have guessed Tobias was capable of writing such a sweet little song a few years ago. The lyrics don’t leave a lot to the imagination, various Spanish cities get name checked: “Mad in Madrid, ill in Seville, lonely in Barcelona”. In this song we learn that a bullfighter has died, and people cheer and nobody cries, because we all want the bull to survive! I wish that the accordion wasn’t quite so dominating as the fluttery, jangly guitar in the background is doing some really nice things when you listen closely and it would be nice if that were brought to the fore a little in the mix at the sacrifice of some of the accordion’s volume. But really, this is just a sweet song where Morrissey is getting his jabs in at the sport of bullfighting, and rightly so. People should be better than that in 2014.


Track 8. Kiss Me A Lot.


If Staircase at the University won the the most upbeat music award on the album, then Kiss Me A Lot surely wins the most upbeat lyrics award. In the past Morrissey has sung songs about love, but they are often still flirting with a sense of tongue in cheek and a twist in the tale to bring it back to dour Morrissey-land is never too far away. But this track is possibly one of his only true out-and-out pop songs about love going right. It once again carries a Latin flavour; something one could easily dance the Samba to. It has potential single material stamped all over it and you’ll have it stuck in your head for hours, it is utterly infectious. How can the man who has sung about so much pain and despair for so long switch effortlessly into a sun-soaked love song? “Bastille, Mausoleum, stockyard, churchyard, your Mammy’s backyard, I don’t care when or where, I just care that you’re there, and that you will kiss me a lot, kiss me a lot”. I love that the song title and even the chorus is simply a clumsy “kiss me a lot”. It does almost sound as if Morrissey is poking fun at himself. Someone who is well versed in feelings of love and passion may come up something a bit more, romantic? Morrissey simply dives clumsily straight in to a world he has no right being in and demands that the object of his desire simply kisses him a lot. The stunning wordsmith of the morose is suddenly struggling and sputtering for words when the mood turns bright and he is in unfamiliar territory. Utterly charming.


Track 9. Smiler With Knife.


The run of upbeat songs has come to an end with the appearance of the eerie Smiler with Knife. This is a slow acoustic track, almost soothing like a nursery rhyme with enigmatic lyrics. Morrissey sounds loud and clear, almost as if he is singing softly into your ear at 3am. It is a whisper that could flatten a mountain. The lyrics are chilling as we hear Morrissey will a would-be-murderer on to plunge the knife in as he is ready to go. It feels almost like it could be a sister song to something like Asleep, rather than just wishing to not wake up in the morning, this time someone visits him in bed and he beckons the end: “See in me the side of you that sometimes makes you jump with fright, smiler with knife it’s your big night, sinking bed all warm and clean, only sadness waits for me, smiler with knife you’re just in time, you’re just in time”.  The track itself could easily be by The Smiths, it is so wonderfully put together and carries such a heavy atmosphere in its simplicity.


Track 10. Kick The Bride Down The Aisle.


Church organs start us off as if they are about to play Here comes the bride, but stop short. You can imagine yourself sitting in the pews of an old church where Father Morrissey is about to give a sermon on the evils of marriage. This is a fun, slow paced, dark humoured pop song. The chorus is one of Morrissey’s most catchy vocal melodies in a long time. Even on your first listen you’ll find yourself singing the chorus word for word later in the song when the chorus refrain is played without vocals. Morrissey sings: “She just wants a slave, to break his back in pursuit of a living wage, so that she can laze and graze for the rest of her days”. You have to giggle when he so seriously follows up in the second verse with: “Kick the bride down the aisle, in a mud-slide of gloom, she’ll order you to tidy your room // Kick the bride down the aisle, look at that cow, in the field is knows more than your bride knows now”. Again for large portions of the song Morrissey steps back from the mic and lets the music breathe, and it is simply gorgeous as you have come to expect from the album at this point. The final verse is delivered with a delicate harp playing behind Morrissey’s vocals before a powerful musical outro comes crashing down. A catchy one you’ll be singing for days.


Track 11. Mountjoy.


This is the first track since the album’s opener to delve back into a more political sphere. The subject matter is Mountjoy prison in Dublin, Ireland’s largest prison and some would say home to many political prisoners over the years. It almost feels like this song could be a Dylan track, a simple acoustic, 60s protest song. The music is probably the most uninspiring on the album, which is a shame because the lyrics are some of the best: “A swagger hides the fear in here, by this rule we breathe, and there is no one on this earth who I’d feel sad to leave // We never say aloud the things that we say in our prayers, cause no one cares, many executed here by the awful lawfully good, but the only thing that makes me cry, is when I see the sky”. In some ways I wish the music was a little more interesting, but at the same time when you hear the song it really forces you to focus on Morrissey’s words and it gets the message across clearly.


Track 12. Oboe Concerto.


The closing track on the proper album begins with a sample from the 1950s Dame Comedian: “And he spoke with his voice, while he talked with his mouth”; very Morrissey-esque. This is Morrissey’s nod to fallen friends, more death and the circle of life as he sings: “The older generation has tried, sighed, and died, which pushes me to their place in the queue”. The song has a groovy, slow bass, and in itself isn’t too dissimilar in style to the classic Smiths song The Death of a Disco Dancer. Boz Boorer delivers a pretty little oboe solo as the track comes to an end, with Morrissey musing: “Round, round, the rhythm goes round, the rhythm of life goes round”. 


Track 13. Scandinavia.


The first of the bonus tracks on the deluxe edition of the album is one which is familiar to many fans as it was played live a number of times on tour before the album was recorded. Of all the songs which got regular set list airings in the years between Years of Refusal and now this is the most welcome to see appear on the album. Other songs such as People are the Same Everywhere, The Kid’s a Looker and Action is my Middle Name, were what many fans expected this album to be like and why there were such low spirits surrounding the album’s release as the songs were all quite poor and bland. Scandinavia was the pick of that bunch. It begins with ominous, threatening, dark drumming. Morrissey is spitting venom here at Scandinavia for … some reason: “I curse the heart and soul of Scandinavia; let the people burn, let their children cry and die in blind asylums” but then love is found: “But then you came along, and you held out your hand, and I fell in love with you, and Scandinavia”. It sounds like a hell of a love-hate relationship. The track has some great orchestral work going on in the background to give it an epic feel, the guitars are full of heavy reverb and that drumming looms heavy in the background. Very dark atmosphere here.


Track 14. One Of Our Own.


Begins with female vocals choir-like female vocals, as if the heavens have opened and someone is ascending. The keyboards take over and they drive the song at a mid-tempo pace; it’s synthy, but not overdone. Very smooth, and very easy to find yourself nodding your head along upon first listen. Morrissey sings from the point of view of someone who has had his life saved by “one of his own” who has taken taken a bullet for him: “Standing at the stone of one of our own, He died saving my life, he took the lead aimed for my head, such love shown I’d never known”. It conjures up images of soldiers, possibly standing around a gravestone of one of their fallen squad members who died for them, reflecting in pelting rain. The song plays on the idea of guilt, that he is guilty someone sacrificed their life when clearly he was meant to die. The chorus brings the music to a halt and Morrissey, sounding almost breathless mutters “give me the gun, I love you, a job half done isn’t done”. The song has a real 80s feel to it and it reminds me of a song that I just can not place.


Track 15. Drag The River.


The sounds of gentle waves crashing gently into the river banks coupled with very clean, crisp acoustic plucking gives this beginning of this track such a fresh, clean atmosphere. Something about this track sounds so very early solo era for Morrissey, it wouldn’t be out of place on Viva Hate. The song is another love song, but it sounds as if Morrissey is singing from the point of view of someone who has drowned in a river and he is singing to a girl who comes down to sit by the river banks, he beckons her to dive in and join him. The lyrics are nice: “On the coastal shore I’m sure you’d break down if you saw, and abhorrent torrent crashing as it pours the counter-current holds a secret at the rise of tides and it swells all alone for this heart born too high”. The song itself is slow-to mid-tempo, soft pop with a really bright sound. It is a track you can easily put on and get lost in, closing your eyes it feels as if it really could carry you away down the river, bobbing along lightly as the current takes you.


Track 16. Forgive Someone.


Very snythy opening, a quirky happy sounding little tune. It sounds like something that could easily come from the 80s which may be on purpose as there is lots of talk the song could be Johnny Marr inspired as Morrissey sings: “The black peat of the hills, when I was still ill, see this mess and forgive someone, and then recall if you ca,n how all this even began, forgive someone”. There have been numerous Marr inspired songs in Morrissey’s solo catalog, I’m not entirely convinced this is one, but it certainly is a possibility.


Track 17. Julie In The Weeds.


If the last track was the 80s, this is the 70s. Morrissey has long been a huge fan of Eurovision through the 70s and it shaped his taste in music heavily, so this song sounds like his submission; to be put in a time capsule and sent back to the 1970s where he could fulfill his dream of representing England. There has been such a soothing, pleasant melody to the last 4 tracks including this one. It is a great run of songs to just close your eyes and float away. Morrissey’s voice is so happy as he croons: “Julie lie down in the weeds and see something new, Julie from now on all the pain of youth will not trouble you // There are some people, who live in order to tell others what to do, as long as there remains steel in my veins, they will not trouble you”. You can just imagine Morrissey and Julie laying in the long grass next to each other watching the clouds drift by as he sings this track. Touching and really beautiful. If Kiss Me A Lot was Morrissey being super romantic but awkwardly expressing it, this is the version where he has sorted himself out and knows how to deliver on love without sounding like an awkward, shy 16 year old. Of course, what makes Kiss Me A Lot unique was that is was so entirely straight forward about love. Whereas this track, you could maybe, possibly interpret the fact that Julie is laying in weeds because she is dead; the obsessive desire of Morrissey, and of course nothing else will ever trouble her again because Morrissey has “protected” her from a hard life, by denying her one at all. It feels like the interpretation could go either way. If it is the latter, it would fit with the overall album theme, which by the way, if we are keeping count; the songs about death count is at 9.


Track 18. Art-Hounds.


The best is perhaps saved for very last. Currently, for me, this one is vying with Staircase as my favourite track. Like Scandinavia, this song was played live long before the album was made. However, it was only ever played once and then disappeared from the setlist forever. The only known recording of the live song is in pretty poor quality, but the song was easily the best of the new material played which could have ended up on this album. The early live version was heavy and at a brutal pace. It sounded like it could have fit easily on Years of Refusal. So, naturally, I was expecting this album to end with a loud rocker. The start of the song totally threw me – a jazz/swing intro. The song has been quite radically changed and matured. It went from what was sounding like a standard, but good rock song, into something much more polished. It still bubbles along at a fairly decent pace with a driving rhythm section, though. The big band-swing intro gives way into the more familiar tune. The chorus is one of the most epic of Morrissey’s entire career, he delivers absolutely stunning vocals as he effortlessly initiates a huge, dramatic falsetto: “My life is opera”. The song houses some of his most hilarious lyrics as he takes aim at “Art-Hounds” – people who are utterly talentless when it comes to any form of art, yet feel the need to pass on their jealous judgement at those who produce art. He sings: “Art-Hounds, in a restaurant, they bring along their loving Aunt, but when they can’t find a table for their fat Aunt Mable, they stamp their feet and cry”. But best of all: “Art-Hounds, very funny, very witty, but very lonely, and below the belt is shriveled and small, it functions only as a word // Art-Hounds, very funny, very witty, but very lonely, and below the belt is shriveled and small, it knows a thousand woes”. The song ends with Morrissey in vintage form as he takes up the mantle which has been bestowed upon him since 1983 when he exploded out of Manchester as the man who made the mundane heroic, he sings: “If you cannot stand this fake world, take my hand, if you cannot stand this fake world”. The ultimate gesture from Morrissey to his legions of die hard fans. He takes them out of the real world they live in and transports them elsewhere with his music and he is here swinging in swashbuckling style on a chandelier to do so once again.


The album isn’t perfect, it isn’t The Queen is Dead or Bona Drag, but it is a masterpiece in it’s own right. Unfortunately words don’t really do it justice, even the lyrics that sound a little iffy when written down are suddenly transformed into being more than acceptable when you hear them in the context of the songs. The songs are so packed full of depth, the band and producer have done such an amazing job making the songs sound interesting and complex … there is something going on everywhere. Like a really tight movie script where not a single line of dialog is wasted, it feels like a huge effort was made here to make sure that every second of the album had something to offer … with the exception of possibly the music to Mountjoy and the extended humming noise intro of I Am Not A Man. Yet, even those, were done on purpose as opposed to just a failure to deliver on creativity. What is even more astounding is how fast the album was put together. Morrissey amazingly signed a record contract early this year, recorded the album in 2 weeks in February and had it released by July. I realise that the songs had all been written prior to entering the studio. But with such a short in-studio turn-around time, I was expecting a rush job, but it is anything but. The biggest disappointment to this album is how it has been handled upon release – a tour full of canceled dates because Morrissey got sick (again) and next to no promotion at all. Not all the record label’s fault either. Morrissey could have at least done an interview or two, or just something. There were a few spoken word versions of the song in videos released, and 4 songs were released in consecutive weeks as digital singles. But they just sort of slipped out there, no real push for them. I really hope the album does well for him because it deserves it, and the reviews it has been getting have been really positive. Everyone involved should take a bow!

The Fire Tonight – How Could Anyone Do This?!

Posted in Album Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 9, 2014 by Traces of Waste

coverSo this will be a slightly different album to review since I simultaneously know nothing about the band, yet I know one of the guys in the band. The Fire Tonight hail from around that North East section of America somewhere; Washington, Virgina, Maryland, North Carolina? I don’t know, somewhere there, either way, it’s not Idaho; and How Could Anyone Do This?! is their second full length album. I got to know drummer Stephen Russ through the online community for the band Live, (who I plan on talking a little more about soon). I’d heard him talk here and there for a few years about Live in a more technical way. Speaking of their recording and production efforts, and especially giving some insight on the drumming; I knew this all stemmed from Stephen being in the industry and was basically talking shop; but I’d never actually heard any of his own stuff until now. Sometimes you get a little worried when someone you know says they’re in a band or making music because we’ve all been there where you finally get to hear what they’ve been talking about and are so proud of and often you have to say through gritted teeth “It’s …. good” before jumping out the window to your gruesome messy death, which is often preferable to listening to one more song. I can honestly say about How Could Anyone Do This?!, with teeth firmly apart – it’s great!

The album is a genre hopper, which can make or break an album. Too often when a band attempts an album which tries to cover multiple genres , it can feel disjointed and like certain songs don’t belong together; almost like the album is a mix tape as opposed to a complete set. The Fire Tonight completely avoid this and have managed to produce an extremely varied and interesting collection of songs which all feel like they belong exactly where they should be. There is a central theme though which the album cover gives away – classic video games. The album cover is fantastic, it makes you remember all those wonderful point-and-click games from the late 80s/early 90s such as Maniac Mansion, Monkey Island or Day of the Tentacle. The artwork which transforms the band’s principle 3 members (Collin Derrick, Stephen Russ and Jesse James) on the front cover into Cyborg video game versions of themselves is charming and unique. The album itself features many more than just these 3 gentlemen, however. The album is the product of a huge team effort with people being called in from all over the shop to add their expertise; including Brandon GilliArd, who plays bass for Janelle Monae. So you know if they’re getting world class musicians of that calibre in who want to work with them, then the band is worth it and an undiscovered gem.

How Could Anyone Do This?! begins with the slow builder, Grip. This song kind of suckers you in; at first there is a looping soundbite of someone talking about the band and some almost shoe gazing, chill guitar, and a little vocals, but 2 minutes go by and nothing really happens, it drags on for a little bit and you begin to wonder where it’s going. But then the drums begin and the build starts and you’re thinking “ok, this is going somewhere”, when at about 3 minutes in it’s almost as if the song has a seizure; it’s stop-start, a sprinkle of trumpet, disjointed guitar .. it sounds almost like a bunch of kids with instruments who have no idea what they’re doing, yet somehow what they’re doing sounds interesting. The final 2 minutes of the song rock out a little like early Mr Bungle , which to me hits all the right buttons, so we’re away! Freedom is probably my favourite track on the album; its beginning is pure 80s video game with synth keys and vocals. I’m instantly thinking of a 2d platformer as the song rolls through the first verse. The chorus is impressive with Derrick’s vocals dueling with female guest vocalist Darby Wilcox, who at times sounds somewhere like a cross between Florence + The Machine and Norah Jones. After the chorus there is another video game nod where it feels like the song gets a ‘power up’ coin and the drumming kick starts us into the second verse which brings gorgeous a piano-keyboard in and the song flows into a more organic/less synth sounding pop-rocker. The keyboard is just magnificent and GilliArd makes his bass speak, it has personality. The final 3rd of the song is where it really opens up, the drums are explosive and the backing vocals suddenly make it sound like something from The Black Keys. Brilliant pop song.

Crash Metal brings us down south, muffled vocals begin with the southern twang of a guitar and banjo; it’s moody and dark and what I love most of all is that like the previous 2 songs it evokes mental imagery. Sometimes music can just take you elsewhere and this album really achieves that. This one  is rocking chairs on front porches, dark skies as a summer storm rolls in; yet just when you think you’re in the deep south, at about the half way point of the song the music stops for some whistling to begin. The second half of the song is like you’ve packed up and moved from the deep south to way out west, as there is just a touch of Morricone’s spaghetti western to the track. The outro with impressive backing vocals is a little demonic, almost cult-like … it’s just pure atmosphere. The next track, Sugar, couldn’t sound more different from the previous track if it tried. Tova Rinah provides some lady-vocals and this is a glitchy hip hop sound which features some really impressive rapping by YabOy!G. This track really reminds me of something from Bran Van 3000, maybe off their album Glee – hip hop from Montreal. The fact these 2 songs can go back to back and not seem out of place next to each other really makes me think these guys have got something; it’s almost Ween-esque that a band could follow something like bluegrass with reggae and make it sound right.

Elsewhere on the album, Modal Jam is a pretty straight up rock track and feels a little more reminiscent of some of the bands early work from what I have gone back to listen to. Lover, is an all accapella track which sounds like it could be sung at a funeral in a church somewhere down in Alabama. Hide It is a great rock track featuring some beat boxing and some fancy guitar work, this is the best rocker on the album which really powers along and you just can’t help but get into as you listen.
Facepunch is a brilliant instrumental crazy jazz-rock song. The sax on this track is masterful, the drumming is tight as hell. Musically, this is probably the most impressive track on the album. The keyboards once again are just sublime and it really goes back to evoking those mental images. This is pure film noire. It’s black and white; LA Confidential, Dick Tracy, Sin City, or to keep with the video game or comic book theme, it’s Max Payne. I can easily picture myself waiting under the street light on the corner. I look at my watch, it’s 1:20am; Marv is 20 minutes late, but that’s nothing new, Marv has never been known for his punctuality; but as the seconds tick by, I’m sweating bullets. It’s dark, and cold, real cold; cold like the way your lover only speaks to you through a lawyer. I wish I didn’t have that second glass of gin before I left, but them’s the breaks, so I light up. As I scan the street, all I see are thugs, hoodlums, thieves, they took my life and drove it into this bottle. A siren passes down Broadway, I lean back and think about my school sweetheart, Thelma, I thought about her a lot these days … wait sorry, I got caught up there! But that is where this song takes me. It’s sleazy late night jazz with seriously impressive musicianship.

There are a couple of tracks I do struggle with a little on the album, In The Plan and Sunderland, I find both a little dull. Derrick doesn’t have the strongest or most dynamic voice in the world; I feel like he needs the strength of the band to really rally behind and it elevates him, and on these two tracks I guess I found them musically a little bit of a let down after having going through so much awesomeness beforehand. I find they sort of meander along a little even if the subject matter of the tracks is quite interesting; the minimalist music on In The Plan coupled with the vocals does make me want to press skip to find a track with more going on. It almost brings me back to the opening track, where just as you begin to wonder if the song is going somewhere it kicks into gear. However, unlike the opening tracks I find these songs don’t really have that pay-off at the end. But this is a small complaint in the overall. There is always a fly in the ointment and very little can be perfect.
Comfort/Chaos is the closing track and it instantly makes me forget about the previous two tracks which I didn’t dig so much. Derrick almost sounds a little bit like Muse’s Matt Bellamy here but without having to take a deep breath before every line like Bellamy does; which leaves Bellamy sounding like an asthmatic with poor vocal control. The whole track is almost as if The Beatles met Mr Bungle, its wonderfully kooky and there is a hint of doo-wop in the  backing vocals. It sounds like the song could have been recorded on the merry-go-round at a carnival. It’s repeated message of “comfort in the chaos” is actually a great motto for the album in a whole. The album is chaotic in it’s genre hopping, yet there is something comforting and homely about it, it doesn’t alienate the listener.

Overall, I’m extremely impressed with this release. There is so much going on in this album that repeated listens constantly bring something new. It is definitely a grower, I think it would be difficult to listen to the album as a whole at first and absolutely love it; it draws you in with sounding varied and interesting and you appreciate the musicianship, but it doesn’t instantly grab you or leave you feeling like you can’t get it out of your head after the first listen. However, like so many great albums – that is often a good thing if you don’t fall in love with it straight away. So many of my favourite albums took awhile to grow on me and I’d get into them song by song until I knew every single sound on the album off by heart. How Could Anyone Do This?! is a really mature and confident sounding record for a band that hasn’t been together all that long in the grand scheme of things. Their obvious creativity has me excited to see where they’ll take future releases because if this is anything to go by, then no genre is really out of the question and their musicianship is of such a high standard that I’d have confidence that they really could tackle any genre and make it sound like it’s what they have done their whole lives. They are a country bluegrass band, no, they are a hip hop-jazz-funk group, no, they are a rock-metal band. I’d love to hear them try and go a little offshore in the future – bring in some singers who sing in different languages and tackle their own take on more ethnic based tracks – get the sitar in, use the Irish tin whistle, break out the french accordion or zydeco washboard etc…

The album can be streamed and bought here –

Here is a clip of their track, Freedom.


Edit post script: I have been informed that Sunderland is actually one of, if not the most popular song on this album from the die hard fans. With that endorsement, I think it’s only fair that I give the track another shot! I must point out though that I don’t really think any track on this album is a ‘bad’ track, just a couple weaker than others. I actually think one of this album’s weaknesses is also it’s strength – it sets it’s own bar quite high really early on and challenges later songs to live up to that.

Top 10 albums of 2013

Posted in Album Reviews, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2014 by Traces of Waste

Much like the toy in your Christmas bonbon, this blog has gone painfully unloved for too long. I figure that since it is a new year I would make it a resolution to actually make an effort updating this waste of space. I feel horribly out of practice with my writing and so this is just a big slab or ramblings which I hope to hone over the next year and develop my writing a little more through using this blog again. So with 2013 in the history books I figured it might be a good time to look back on my favourite albums of the year.

10. Arctic Monkeys – AM (September)



For a long time I considered the Arctic Monkeys the ugly little brother of Franz Ferdinand and Kaiser Chiefs; nipping at their heels and always showing promise but never quite delivering. I’m not sure whether things have changed or if I was wrong all along because AM really took me by surprise. I must go back and listen to their older stuff again and see if my view on that has changed; but for now, to me at least, this is the Arctic Monkeys finally delivering on said promises. I feel like the band has matured; no longer just writing catchy tunes that stick with you for a week and then run their course (I’m looking at you, “I bet that you look good on the dance floor”, 2005); but instead this feels like a coming of age album from maturing artists. It is dirty rock, sleazy and somewhat dark; the songs feel like they pace themselves and aren’t trying to just be the catchiest single of the week, but have a little more depth to them and Alex Turner delivers a confident vocal performance; and it’s hard not to find that Sheffield accent charming. It feels as if the Arctic Monkeys are shaking off their youthful naivety and really ventured into another place entirely. Josh Homme (Queens of the Stoneage and Them Crooked Vultures) features on a couple of tracks and his influence is definitely felt throughout the album as inspiration. “Arabella” is the stand out track to me; killer bass and guitar with brilliant lyrical turn of phrase – “It’s an exploration she’s made of outer space, and her lips are like the galaxy’s edge, and her kiss the colour of a constellation falling into place.” No. 1 Party Anthem is almost this new era Arctic Monkey’s take on their first hit “I bet that you look good on the dance floor”, but where that track and much of their older work is made for nights out on the dance floor, this album is made for nights in being bitter at those who are spending nights out on the dance floor. It is made for after parties in seedy hotel rooms rather than charming nightclub antics. Opening track “Do I wanna know you?” has a touch of Black Sabbath’s Iron Man to it with the way is plods along; tempting the listener to foot stomp with it. It’s not all doom and gloom though, both “Snap out of it” and “Knee Socks” have that disco-rock feel with more of an up-tempo beat that is just infectious. All in all, while this is by far the best Arctic Monkeys album I have heard, it feels like it isn’t yet their peak; it’s a new era for the band and I’m really excited about where they can go next. It is their 5th studio album and the band are only in their late 20’s, the best is yet to come!


9. Motörhead – Aftershock (October)



After 38 years as a band there are no real surprises with Motörhead, they know who they are and what they do; but at the same time they are as tight as a duck’s arse. They know their music, their style and each other so well that they just do it effortlessly at this point. While Mikkey Dee and Phil Campbell are in their mid 50s, Lemmy is now 68 but showing absolutely no signs of slowing down. He’ll still come to your town and punch you in the face and sleep with your wife and you’ll shut up and like it. Still by far the loudest band I have ever heard live for a 3 piece; they are like the school bully – they have you cowering in the corner with your hands over your head while they pummel you. Aftershock is no exception; while it is “just another Motörhead  album”, it also feels like it has stuck with me a little more than the last few. It feels like it is a real back to basics album, as snarling and nasty as you like with absolutely no backwards step by the band. It captures Lemmy’s love of 50’s rock and rockabilly like a lot of their old stuff does. That may sound silly, but when it comes down to it, Motörhead aren’t strictly a metal or thrash metal band, they’re a rock’n’roll band and songs like “Do you believe?” and “Coup de grace” demonstrate that perfectly; just dirty foot stomping rock’n’roll in it’s purest form (albeit with the volume turned up to 11). Lemmy’s relentless thundering bass is still in just as fine form as it was with “Ace of Spades” on bass driven tracks like “Going to Mexico” and “Queen of the damned”, while “Silence when you speak to me” scratches that itch for a mix with metal. “Dust and glass” is about as close to a ballad as you’ll get from Motörhead and is quite touching in it’s own little way as a slower track. “Lost woman blues” is, well, a pretty great blues track. In the end, there really is nothing new you can write about a Motörhead album at this stage, you either love them or you hate them, but this was such a great album to just put on, turn up loud have your face melted off by this group of wily veterans.


8. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push the sky away (February)



The last 3 albums which Nick Cave was involved with (2008’s Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!, and 2 Grinderman albums) have all been pretty hard rock albums for the most part; so it didn’t come as much of a surprise that we were due for a more laid back affair. I’ll admit at first I was a little underwhelmed by Push the sky away; the album is definitely a grower. Inspired by Nick Cave googling things he was curious about and using wikipedia especially; it shows how song writing is definitely changing. Once upon a time there was the old image of the song writer who carries his notepad around everywhere he goes and when he sees or hears something interesting it gets jotted down for later use. Now, Cave has joined the digital age, and like the rest of us, he is sitting on his fat skinny arse googling shit and then noting down things he finds interesting. But true to his genius this hasn’t made Cave’s writing on Push the sky away any less incredible. Mermaids was the first song to really grab me; the opening line showing Cave’s crude and sick humour is still ever present: “She was a catch, we were a match, I was the match that would fire up her snatch”. The chorus of Mermaids is catchy and feels like it could take you away on a dream in it’s delicacy, delivering a beautiful melody. Jubilee Street is a 6 and a half minute builder; from what I can tell,  it tells the story of a prostitute who had her brothel or livelihood taken away from her and who then begins to blackmail the protagonist of the song who is both in love with her and hates her for what she is doing. The song builds and builds; starting with a repetitive guitar riff that makes the song feel as if it is going nowhere, it is trapped, mirroring the situation of the protagonist. Yet when we get to the final stanza of the song where the protagonist is now “transforming, vibrating and glowing”, that is exactly what the music does. You feel it break free. The image it gives me; completely unrelated to the subject matter, is of someone trapped underground, trying to dig their way out, and as the final stanza begins it’s like they finally see some daylight through the dirt; and so they keep digging and digging and finally they’re out and standing basking in the sun with arms stretched wide open; it’s a powerful song for sure. The Higgs Boson Blues is an example of a song that you really can imagine coming straight from wikipedia with Cave looking up the Higgs Boson (or ‘God particle’) and being totally fascinated by it; which isn’t surprising since it is pretty damn incredible. We no who U R  is classic Cave, it seems to comment on the fact that now days there is nowhere to run and hide, everything is online, all of our information is readily available, there is no more anonymity as Cave sings “We know who you are, we know where you live, and there is no need to forgive”. But of course with what sounds like a children’s choir singing backing vocals on that line gives it a much creepier and more sinister feel. The spelling of the title itself in text-speak is another nod to the digital age in the song, it is very “un-Nick Cave”, being the poet that he is, but at the same time like the great Stephen Fry says, the language we speak now would also be considered butchering the way we speak by those who came before us. We real cool is just eerie, only consisting of menacing bass, strings and keys and Cave’s threatening vocals. While this album doesn’t soar to the heights of 2004’s Abattoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus, it grows on you to have some incredible depth and earn its place among the many of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds‘ fantastic albums.


7. Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt (October)



I absolutely never thought I’d be including a Pear Jam album on any kind of ‘best of’ list; I can’t deny that Ten was a brilliant album, but after that I can’t really call myself even a fan of Pearl Jam. Besides the odd song here and there, I just never really got into them, but at the same time never really disliked them. They, like Nirvana, always felt like they were the sort of band I probably should like, but never really did. Then I happened to hear the track Getaway from this new album and it had me hooked straight away. I’m sure huge Pearl Jam fans will probably tell me that this album isn’t as good as the old stuff, or that it is mediocre by their standards and ranks somewhere in the middle, but for whatever reason I went and listened to the rest of the album and I really enjoyed it from start to finish. Unlike earlier with The Arctic Monkeys, where I just didn’t really pay much attention to anything they did after their first album, besides the odd listen here and there; Pearl Jam I always gave somewhat of a chance when a new album came out, because, as I say, they are the sort of band I normally would like. So I’m quite confident in saying it isn’t that I have been missing out on anything they have done in recent years, it’s just that this album has grabbed me for some reason. It is a lot more pop-rock than what I usually like, it’s clean, slick, a little over produced and pretty commercial; it goes against pretty much everything I like in rock music. Getaway was the first track to grab me, and is the album opener; first thing I noticed is that Eddie Vedder’s vocals are really quite good. That bleating sheep sound which can really get on your nerves is really toned quite down here; still present, but much more subtle. His voice is strong on the opening track and it is a catchy mid-tempo song which builds into a bit of a rock-out climax where Vedder sings about the importance of individuality.  The album is more anthem rock than what brought them to the dance with Ten back in 1991; and that’s a good thing because it shows they have grown and aren’t trying to constantly recreate that same sound over and over. Sleeping by myself was previously a Vedder solo song which has been reworked into something appropriate for the whole band; it’s slower paced mostly acoustic number featuring a little ukulele; totally charming and very catchy, again with Vedder’s voice sounding really strong. Pendulum is a strange track; not out of place in the overall catalog of Pearl Jam, as it would fit quite well somewhere in that 96-02 period of theirs; but out of place on this album at least, but that’s not a bad thing. It sounds like Pearl Jam covering a song written by a collaboration between Radiohead and Muse – a song about not knowing where to go, the up’s and down’s of depression or bipolar disorder perhaps. It definitely goes against the commercial pop-rockery of the rest of the album but really helps to break it up when it becomes a bit too much, with a slightly otherworldly sound. Infallible is catchy as an STD; but one you might actually want to get, kinda, – it is almost the bridge between Getaway and Pendulum; it wants to be both; slightly different and against the grain of the album, but at the same time have that radio friendly sensibility. Let the records play is Pearl Jam’s stab at a rockabilly track; it doesn’t quite work but I like that they tried something different. The music to it is actually quite good with that rockabilly guitar but the vocals and lyrics don’t quite work; an instrumental version here would sound much better. Sirens is the song that most people seem to be talking about, a Floyd/Who-esque type power ballad, but I think it’s probably the weakest song on the album; it feels like it doesn’t quite go anywhere. Mind Your Manners is one of the most aggressive punk-like tracks the band has attempted in years; it would fit in with 2006’s World Wide Suicide or Comatose. All in all, this is the most I have enjoyed a Pearl Jam album in a very long time, the good songs outweigh the bad and I find myself listening to them over and over, really pleasantly surprised with this one.


6. Janelle Monáe – The Electric Lady (September)



Time to inject a little bit of vibrant energy into the list with Janelle Monáe’s second album. It had a lot of work to do to live up to the brilliance of 2010’s ArchAndroid, and unfortunately it doesn’t quite meet those lofty standards; however, it is a damn good album. It isn’t quite as varied and eclectic as ArchAndroid was but it certainly does genre-hop. Monáe continues the Metropolis concept series (partly based on the 1927 movie of the same name). It is a prequel of sorts to ArchAndroid, still following the story of Cindi Mayweather – an android who falls in love with a human, which is highly forbidden by The Great Divide, who are a secret society which controls Metropolis. So really what it boils down to is that Monáe is a complete nerd; and that’s what makes her so awesome! She is hip-hop and RnB for those who don’t normally find themselves enjoying hip-hop and RnB. Her lyrics continue to shine on this album, probably even better than her previous album and EP. Monáe is like Gaga in many ways, only she isn’t as overtly in your face with the message of “be who you want to be”. Gaga holds rallies and is the poster girl for the LGBT, whereas Monáe prefers to let her music subtly do the talking. She is a unique individual, there is no doubt about that, and she is a champion for nerds, misfits and outcasts. The album itself features a cast of cameos, the best of which is definitely Prince on the track Givin’ em what they love; where he lends both his voice and a blistering guitar solo. His voice blends perfectly with Monáe’s and together they just bring such a funky sound which explodes with a big bombastic finish. The album’s first single, Q.U.E.E.N is one of her most radio friendly, and is instantly catchy. It has a thick chunky bassline and catchy chorus in which she explores vogue culture, femininity, identity and loving yourself; the song has a fantastic segue into soul jazz with Erykah’s cameo, and ends with a jackhammer-speed rap by Monáe. Dorothy Danridge Eyes evokes smooth late 70s lounge-jazz-funk which you instantly don’t feel cool enough to be listening to; while Sally Ride features Monáe’s most impressive vocals on the album , almost enough to rival ArchAndroid’s BaBopByeYa. The stand out track to me is Dance Apocalyptic; full of energy, it flirts with a 60s doo-wop sound such as The Supremes. It is playground chanting and ukulele and is utterly infectious; personally it would be up there for me as one of the track’s of the year. Ghetto Woman is a masterful tribute to Monáe’s Mother; a track with a massive message and again, is a real ear worm; if Stevie Wonder was a woman in 2013 he would have probably written this track. I absolutely can’t wait to see her live some time and to hear more from her in the future, she is a dead set genius.


5. Moistboyz – V (November)



In a number of songs during the course of the Moistboyz career, we are reminded that the Moistboyz will never retire; and true to their word, we now have the fifth album. Dickie Moist (Guy Hellar) and Mickey Moist (Mickey Melchiondo, aka Dean Ween) have changed things up a little on this latest album. This is the first Moistboyz album to be made as the priority musical project for Melchiondo; all the other albums have been made alongside his commitments to Ween, but now, with Ween disbanded, a lot more time and energy was able to be devoted to the new Moistboyz album. This is the most varied album they have done to date; while it still does contain the key Moistboyz ingredients of fast paced angry metal/punk; this time we get a little southern rock, some alternative balladry, some stoner rock and a touch of country. Hellar is not exactly known as the world’s greatest singer, but his vocals have improved on this album and the variance in the styles of music has allowed him to explore his range and melody a little more; all the while keeping his southern sneer. Either way, his voice fits in perfectly with the music that is being created; it is very much stream of consciousness/speaking your mind stuff – often verging on stereotypical far right red neck views, but with tongue planted far enough in cheek to find the humour in it. Melchiondo is really still the master here though; the man is a musical jack of all trades/master of all trades; besides being a world class guitarist, he lends his talents to bass, drums and production again for this album. The Moistboyz are a little less angry on this album than on previous records; the lead single Paperboy is just straight up hilarious; especially when combined with it’s amazing video clip which takes off the 1984 video game of the same name. It tells the story of a deadbeat paperboy who works for very little pay, wastes it all on drugs, and the horrible people on his paper round; simple but brilliant with the most drug inspired guitar solo from Melchiondo in years. Medusa is probably the most vintage Moistboyz track on the album, it is straight up in your face rock. The beginning of the music video sums up the Moistboyz/Medusa when it shows a sign on the studio door which reads “Recording session in process! Fuck off!” Chickendick is the band at their juvenile best, the track sounds like something Primus, or Ween themselves would make; an upbeat country number where you can just tell the immense fun Melchiondo is having on backing vocals where he gets to yell out “Chickendick!” Another southern rock/country inspired track, albeit at a slower pace, is Down on the farm; which features some really impressive southern guitar work and Hellar really finding some nice melody in his voice. My time to shine is a mostly acoustic alt ballad, which is actually quite a touching track and really unlike anything the band has done before and shows the song writing maturity the band has found now that it has had room to breathe out from under the Ween shadow. Crisis and vices is another track which really shows how the band has grown; it has some real music depth to it, a genuinely interesting song rooted in the stoner-rock genre. It sounds at times like it could be a Queens of the Stoneage track, which isn’t surprising given that Melchiondo has played guitar with QOTSA in the past. They won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but they just hit a spot for me somewhere between giving me a chuckle and giving me something to rock out to; what I love about the Moistboyz is that you can tell they are just doing whatever makes them happy, much like Ween really. They have absolutely no desire whatsoever for commercial success, they’re just a couple of guys who love making music and still do it the old school way, recording in a studio at home. Moistboyz are definitely here again and they never retire.




4. The National – Trouble Will Find Me (May)



I’m sensing a bit of a trend this year; as with the Arctic Monkeys and Pearl Jam;The National never previously really did much for me. That’s not to say I hadn’t given them a shot; I’ve listened to a lot of their previous work before but I just didn’t find it something I wanted to listen to much. In fact, I’ve had that happen quite a bit recently – only about a year ago I heard a song from The Decemberists which I fell in love with, and this was after absolutely hating Colin Meloy’s voice for years, but suddenly I just found myself loving their entire back catalog and would probably put them in my top 10 bands of all time now. So I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise to me anymore that a band I had previously written off in The National should suddenly grab me so much. As with most of those other bands too it all started with one song, and that song for this album is probably my song of the year – Pink Rabbits. This song just kills me, I love it so much; it is piano-lead, and beautifully so in such a somber way and the lyrics are divine (as are most on this album, really). “You didn’t see me, I was falling apart, I was a white girl in a crowd of white girls in the park/You didn’t see me, I was falling apart, I was television version of a person with a broken heart” – just gorgeous. The little nod to Morrissey’s “Bona Drag” album always scores points as well; but I have listened to this song over and over and over this year with absolutely no signs of slowing down. I need my girl is probably a close second, this song just has the most beautifully delicate guitar work which grabs you from the moment the song begins. What I am glad for with this album is that the drums have been pushed back in the mix. I know that is sacrilege to some hardcore National fans, but for tracks like I need my girl, I just don’t think it would work as well with the usual sound-defining drums the band is known for. But it’s the lyrics on this album I am just besotted with. The National’s lyrics are at their best when they near the “burnt tongue” technique used by author Amy Hempel and popularised by Chuck Palahniuk. What that means is twisting words in an awkward, unexpected, or otherwise wrong direction in a way that forces the reader or listener to pay attention and catch up. Some examples from Hempel: “I moved through the days like a severed head that finishes a sentence”, or “In my neighborhood there is a fellow who was a chemistry teacher until an explosion took his face and left what was left behind.” From The National this would translate into songs such as Demons: “Get the sudden sinking feeling, of a man about to fly”, or Humiliation: “I was teething on roses, I was in guns and noses”. Perhaps one of my favourite lyrics; a very Morrisseyesque lyric, also comes from Humiliation: “All the L.A women, fall asleep while swimmin; I got paid to fish em out, then one day I lost the job.”  A couple of the songs are a little generic though and remind me a little of what I remember the previous albums to be like; particularly the track Sea of love.  However, as with some of the previous bands, I really should go back and re-listen to their back catalog because I could be dead wrong about those albums too.


3. The DC3 – May Contain Traces of Nut (February)



The man formerly known as TISM’s Humphrey B. Flaubert – Damian Cowell, once described the DC3’s sound prior to this album as the sound of “an Oakleigh Districts footy mum throwing a stubbie at a Clayton player in the Under 16s Grand Final” If that is how the man himself describes the DC3 prior to this, it will be almost impossible to review this album in any way which would be accurate according to Cowell. The DC3 funded this album entirely through a kickstarter with help from their fan base. They raised enough money to be able to really improve on the recording process compared with their previous 2 albums. The kickstarter itself had some wonderful incentives to get fans to donate; not just the usual “donate $10 and receive a copy of the album when it is released”, but some of the higher end donations saw offers for the DC3 to personally come around and mow your lawn or cook you a dinner (however, they specified it would be a set menu of their choosing). The end result really does show, as the production quality on this album is top notch and they could afford to branch out a little and hire an actual drummer and some female backing singers. As far back as the early TISM albums, Cowell has always had the ability to make me laugh like no other person in music has; his wit is genius and this album is no different. What is different about this album is that Cowell has cleverly used humour to mask some real gripes he has about the music industry and life in general; yes he is a grumpy old man, and now you’re going to hear all about it. While their previous album, The Future Sound of Nostalgia, contained ridiculous tracks like Jesus Penis; this album tends to be a little more “serious”. Case in point, the track Stop, while it is pretty much about shutting the fuck up, it is presented in quite a beautiful way, all things considered With lyrics such as: “Whatever happened to subtlety, the complex beauty of things unsaid/ Whatever happened to thinking before you say the first thing that comes in your head/Of course I’m not talking about a lifetime Trappist vow, Just pause for some elegant resonant silence right now”; which all leads to the point that if we just shut the fuck up sometimes, that one day someone will say something, and it’ll mean something. But what really was a winning move on this album was the female backing vocalists who sing on a number of tracks. Sometimes even providing the choruses such as on Stop. It provides a fantastic way to let the listener hear some people who are trained singers. Which is a little unfair to Cowell; it isn’t that he can’t sing or has a bad voice, but it does afford him the perfect foil for his grumpy old half spoken-half sung whinges. The female backing vocalists appear again on Market Forces, where they allow Cowell to rant away while they sing the anthems of market forces in choruses, such as: “Come with us, empowering the oppressed with instant communication, and bringing down governments with freedom of information, we’re smashing the boundaries of darkness and subjugation”. Indistinguishable is the lead single from the album and is a hilarious stab at the current generation of indie hipster bands where “indie” is actually short for “indistinguishable”. It contains more really sharp writing: “Me and my free thinkin’ friends deep in Melbourne’s Paris end, composing rebellion’s libretto over an astringent ristretto/Me and my free thinkin’ friends, see us in the izakaya den/we watch you queue as we push through, cos we eschew what’s on the menu”. One of the cleverest songs I have heard in recent times is A Gathering, in which Cowell describes a party which is confined solely to the inside of his own head: “My demons are at the window lobbing cans, guilt is fussing round with a brush and pan, ambition is in the bathroom washing her hands, anxiety is spewing up in the pot plants, obsession is manning the turntable decks, indecision keeps making song requests, there’s a conga line of my failed conquests, playing drinkin’ games with my self respect” all concluding with the fact that he may indeed contain traces of nut. My favourite line comes towards the end of the song: “There goes my id sculling vodka martinis, there goes my conscience confiscating his car keys, there goes my future in fancy dress, it’s a sickle and a skull mask, let me guess” – genius. There is plenty of typical DC3 humour laced throughout the album, such as If only I was A, which documents all the things Cowell could get done if only he were a-sexual. But the album also contains some genuinely positive songs such as Something Good, which really has no jokes or twists to it at all; it’s purely a song about wishing good things to happen to people. The DC3 really nailed it with this album, catchy as hell, the music is superb and the writing is phenomenal.



2. Johnny Marr – The Messenger (February)



Johnny Fuckin‘ Marr is back; not much more needs to be said really! After The Smiths split in 1987, Johnny seemed to drift aimlessly from band to band; finding himself in The The, Electronic, Modest Mouse, The Cribs and Johnny Marr + The Healers among others. It was sad to see a guy with so much musical talent for song writing drift so far from what he did best. With The Smiths he wrote some of the greatest indie pop songs of all time with some of the most memorable, jangly, delicate and gorgeous guitar work ever created by a human being. Johnny’s strength wasn’t really in playing guitar, it was in song writing; once written, others could recreate his work, but they couldn’t come close to writing a song like he could. Unfortunately for over 20 years, neither could Johnny Marr. He seemed so desperate to distance himself from his natural style, almost in some kind of effort to prove he could do other stuff; like an actor not wanting to be type cast. When he was writing for other people there was nothing magical about it, he was a session musician for hire basically; although I did really enjoy his stint with Modest Mouse, but then again I liked Modest Mouse before Johnny joined, too. Even his true first solo album with The Healers was depressingly dull, it carried no trademark Marr stamp on it. I like to think that The Messenger is what The Smiths would sound like if they were still going in 2013. Johnny is finally back writing in that frame of mind and I can only hope that somewhere Morrissey sat listening to this album and thought “I should get this guy to play guitar for me…”. The great thing is though, that Johnny doesn’t need Morrissey, his vocals have improved ten fold from his days with The Healers, and his live renditions of Smiths tracks are fantastic. Lead single Upstarts is an anthem for youth, where Johnny’s guitar is as jangly as ever; a really upbeat, energetic track. Much of the album is about early life in Manchester, mostly before The Smiths; but it’s not hard to imagine the upstarts in this track being those 4 Mancunian lads who went on to change music history. New Town Velocity again feels like it could easily be about the beginnings of The Smiths as Johnny sings: “Left home a mystery, leave school for poetry, say goodbye to them and me, mission velocity”. The intro to this track is just fucking fantastic; as a long time Smiths fan who has gotten their fill of the vocal and lyrical side of The Smiths with Morrissey’s solo work; this is the first time in over 20 years we have had our fill of the musical side of The Smiths. New Town Velocity’s guitar intro could easily be something on The Queen is Dead; the first acoustic 30 seconds before the delicate electric licks are layered over the top are sublime. European Me is a slight disappointment, only because it was the track I was most looking forward to; it’s early live recordings and studio clips promised one of Johnny’s greatest riffs ever, let alone just in his solo career; and it is there, however, it is frustratingly buried quite deep in the mix and thus the song feels like such a missed opportunity. Generate! Generate! and The Crack Up are total ear worms that will play in your head for days after hearing them; both very upbeat – The Crack Up in particular feels like an amalgamation of different eras of British music, somehow a mixture of The Beatles, The Smiths and Oasis all at once. Generate! Generate! is just pure catchy indie pop-rock at it’s finest. I want the heartbeat is a fast paced rocker with Johnny showing off a little touch of falsetto when he sings the chorus. What blows my mind as I listen to that track is that somehow this is the same guy who sang on the plodding, boring, bereft of energy album that was Boomslang, with The Healers. It is so utterly different. A slightly odd move for me was consigning one of the best songs to a B-Side (but then again, that never stopped The Smiths). The it switch is easily good enough to be part of the album with a riff that gets stuck in your head for days; it is so simple, there is nothing complex about the song at all, yet that is the beauty of it; Johnny takes the simple and makes it sound incredible; much like Morrissey took the mundane and made it heroic with his words…if only they could form a band or something. I couldn’t be much more impressed with this album and am so glad that Johnny Marr finally “came home”, so to speak.



1. Franz Ferdinand – Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Actions (August)



Franz Ferdinand fired up the old “Franz Ferdinand catchy as fuck song making machine” and produced another album of tracks that burrow their way into your head and take up residence there for years. It isn’t any great departure from what they have done in the past, but it is a little more reminiscent of their first album than others. It is disco-rock, it is a funkier playful new wave, it’s early Talking Heads meets Sparks meets The Strokes. To me it feels like this album is their first album with with a further decade of experience to hone their style. Front man Alex Kapranos’ charming wit is in fine form right from the first track, Right Action, where he sings “sometimes I wish you were here, weather permitting”Right Action is a fine lead single for the album, but probably is the weakest track; it’s opening line is superb though: “come home, practically all is nearly forgiven”, which sounds like something one might find on a tongue in cheek post card to a run away. Evil Eye is a real contender for me for song of the year; from the first time you hear it you feel like you’ve heard it a million times yet it is still sounding fresh. It draws inspiration from The Telltale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe, and the accompanying video is done in D-grade horror film style and is hilariously lame. Bullet is a fast paced uptempo rocker that is one of the catchiest tracks this band has ever produced; and they know it. Which is saying something; the lyrics themselves hint that the band knows this: “I’ll never get your bullet out of my head now, baby”. The band experiment a little with the tracks too; The Universe Expanded features a brilliant extended intro in which the guitars have been reversed and play backwards which cleverly fits a song about a relationship being explored in reverse where Kapranos sings about taking the dog back to the RSPCA, posing before photographs are taken and laughing before jokes are told. Brief Encounters is a brilliant quirky little songs about swinging couples: “We are brief encounters, we all lose our keys, we all choose our partners, we all choose our keys, car keys, choose your keys”. The song reminds me of something the late period Beatles would write along with Sparks. The guitar-synth riff from glam rocker Love Illumination will get your foot tapping from the opening seconds; it just hooks you and once again feels instantly recognisable while remaining fresh. Franz Ferdinand have perfected the art of never having to make a song or album a grower; but at the same time remaining incredibly hard to get sick of the songs. Usually it is one or the other with this type of music, but they are in a league of their own here; I can’t skip a track on this album. The closing track Goodbye Lovers and Friends has the protagonist singing from beyond the grave reminding his funeral attendees not to make him into something in death which he wasn’t in life: “Don’t get inventory, don’t fake your memory, don’t give me virtues that I never had, don’t get sychophantal, we never were sentimental, I know that I took more than I ever gave”. The final lines of the album, “but this really is the end” is hopefully not a foreshadowing of future things for Franz Ferdinand. I believe that if the well were to run dry with this format then it would by now with their 4th album. Instead, we have probably their finest work to date in my opinion, and so here’s hoping to many more.





2013 was again an awesome year for music; unfortunately I didn’t see anywhere near as many live shows as I would have liked to or have done in previous years – being on a student budget doesn’t allow for that.

A few albums stiff to miss and a few that I thought may have made it but failed to live up to expectations. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard released 2 albums in 2013; the better of the two being Eyes Like The Sky, which is an awesome concept album which works as a spaghetti western audio-book. The band provide the music and a story is narrated by Broderick Smith (The Dingoes) which progresses with each track.
Regurgitator released Dirty Pop Fantasy which was quite hit and miss, the highlights being some of the best stuff I think they have done, but the lows being some of the most forgettable; I think this makes sense considering the fractured nature of the band with Quan living in Hong Kong and the rest of the band in Australia; that makes the writing and even the recording process pretty difficult to find fluidity. Simon Berkelman from Philadelphia Grand Jury released his first solo album under the name Feelings which may have made the list had I had more time to listen to it. The Philly Jays are a great band who have only just recently reformed; when they split a few years back and Berkelman released a few tracks as Feelings, I really wasn’t impressed. However, after seeing the reformed Philly Jay’s about a month ago in which they played some of the new Feelings songs, I thought they sounded quite good and so I checked the new album out and it’s actually a really pleasant surprise. Nothing like the original few tracks released under that name. Lorde seems to be the name on everyone’s lips this year; the girl who knocked Miley Cyrus off the top of the charts. I thought the single she did it with, Royals, was a really impressive track, unfortunately upon listening to the rest of her album it seemed like every song was pretty much the same. Not that they were bad, just no variation. Still, an impressive debut from the 17yr old Kiwi girl who offered the charts something just a little bit different. Lady Gaga’s third album was a big disappointment to me. I admit, I’m a Gaga fan, I think she is extremely talented (although often I think the talent is a bit misused), and her live show is still one of the most spectacular things I’ve seen; but this was the album I was hoping was just a little …different; but it felt like it was the poor outtakes from the previous albums. Besides a couple of songs, nothing really stuck with me as it did with the previous releases; I feel that while this was the album I hoped was a little different, her next album needs to be a little bit different in order for her to stay sounding fresh. Pixies released a new EP which I thought was mixed; 2 good songs, 2 not so good. What Goes Boom I absolutely love, just a fun rocker. Likewise, Colin Meloy released a new EP, which is the next installment in his “Colin Meloy sings…” series. After having covered Morrissey, Sam Cooke and Shirley Collins, this time he was tackling The Kinks; and I think it is his best EP yet, however I much prefer him with The Decemberists. 

2014 should be another awesome year for music, I’m hoping for it to be a year packed with some personal favourites and big returns. Live are putting the finishing touches on their new album as we speak which is due out sometime between March and June this year. I’m psyched about this, it is their first album with new singer Chris Shinn, their first album since the abysmal Songs From Black Mountain (2006); but more importantly, the first time the entire band has collaborated on songs on an album since 1999’s The Distance To Here; due to the departure of former lead singer Ed Kowalczyk who controlled all writing for the band from 2000 on-wards.  Morrissey is also rumored to be going into the studio soon to record the follow-up to 2009’s Years Of Refusal; And The Bombay Royale are currently recording their second album which should be out in the coming months also. Also hoping for a bigger year of gig-going once again; Bluesfest is not far away and if it is anything like the last 2 that I have been to then it should be a week of insane performances.

So, over 2014 I will be more disciplined with trying to get my thoughts down as releases and gigs actually happen; and hopefully also develop my writing a little more rather than just throwing rambling unstructured words at a page which it has been thus far. I figure the more I get writing again, the more I’ll continue to develop some kind of style which hopefully would be somewhat interesting to read. Until then, enjoy music!