The release of Janelle Monae's sophomore album, The Electric Lady is one of those rare cultural occasions that demand my undivided attention. I've written before about why that is. However, it doesn't feel apposite to write a review of lengthy prose. Apart from anything else, you can find people who are much better at that than me, such as Emily J. Lordi and Trudy from Gradient Lair.
Instead, I'm going to go through the album track by track, and see if it justifies the warm critical reception that it's received:
SPOILER ALERT: This isn't going to be a negative review. (more…)
I imagine that the instant reaction from some of you, who have noted the name 'Janelle Monae' on the header of this post, will respond by thinking to yourself, "Janelle who?"
I first heard of Monae when she guested on the Outkast song, "Call the Law", from their most recent (and probably final) album, Idlewild. It was a track that I enjoyed, and put Monae in that radar of pop-culture trivia knowledge that might one day come in useful at a pub quiz - or maybe even as a question for these guys. (more…)
This is seriously my new favorite gadget. It’s not because I was sent it for free to review. I get offered gadgets to review all the time, but most are not of interest to me, so I pass on them. When I saw this new handheld synthesizer, I knew I had to test this thing out. The Korg Kaossilator 2 is about the size of a chunky Blackberry but packs the music making capabilities of what used to be a studio filled with equipment. Your handheld arsenal includes 150 different sounds, from tons of different drum and percussion kits, to instruments, to crazy electronic sounds, all of which can be looped and overdubbed to your heart’s content on two banks. The X-Y pad can be set for different keys and scales to make your own melodies to add to your loops or play live over what you’ve already got running. What’s really great is that it’s got a built-in speaker and mic input, which my kids go nuts for. Nothing is funnier to them than hearing their voices played back with music over and over again. My 7 year old will not give this up in the car, because the combinations of beats and sounds and samples you can create with zero practical music knowledge is almost endless. (more…)
Album: Brian Jonestown Massacre, Thank God For Mental Illness
The Brian Jonestown Massacre walks a tightrope between homage and musical parody—the band name alone is an example of this balancing act. Anton Newcombe may actually intend his songs to be jokes, but if so they're, thankfully, just a little too deadpan to be funny.
Still, Thank God For Mental Illness could have been used as the soundtrack to a mockumentary about a late '60s folk rock band. Something like Spinal Tap meets A Mighty Wind. A case could probably be made that Dig!, the documentary about Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols, was that film.
I suppose it must go without saying that I really enjoy putting together my Pollyanna Cowgirl Records Podcast. Obviously there is a selection process. Some artists are totally unknown to me, and some artists I absolutely trust. Thus, the first thought that came to mind when I listened to the new album from The Daylight Titans, Everybody Loves Music and Snacks! was, “I could have just grabbed the first song (“Ten”) without hearing it and trusted it was good enough for the show!” I could have grabbed any song from any where on the CD, as a matter of fact.
Everybody Loves Music and Snacks! is straightforward rock-n-roll. So much of indie music these days is filled with acts trying to be too clever for their own good. The Daylight Titans embodies the old school approach, the very human act of jamming together, of someone shouting “1, 2, 3, 4!“ and the band is off on another rocking adventure. The nine songs on Everybody Loves Music and Snacks! vary in length from 2:55 to 3:56. The Daylight Titans get in, make their statement, and then they leave. There is no fluff in their sound nor in their approach.
This week on the Pollyanna Cowgirl Records Podcast, I discuss Everybody Loves Music and Snacks! with The Daylight Titans guitarist and vocalist, Andy Smith.
[amazon_link id="B005WQ7IDO" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]THE DAYLIGHT TITANS - Everybody Loves Music and Snacks![/amazon_link]
Album: Witch, Paralyzed
It sort of heretical to say, but the only two J. Mascis records I love (much less own) are by Witch. This is entirely because the indie-rock guitar god doesn't play guitar on them. Or sing.
Try as I might, for two decades I've been unable to swallow the blue pill and truly enjoy Dinosaur, Jr. Which is a little odd since they sounded a lot like my favourite '80s indie bands (Husker Du, Sonic Youth) and inspired most of the stuff I was listening to in the '90s. Which is why I've always been able to appreciate Mascis's weedy vocals and unmistakable guitar style even if it never really gelled for me. To borrow another sci-fi idiom, Yoda would say do or do not, there is no try. I did not.
The nerdy allusions in the above paragraph are apt since Witch is nothing if not an homage to vintage Dungeons and Dragons metal acts.
Or perhaps that's not exactly accurate. "Homage" suggests a too-conscious aping of Sabbath, Zeppelin, Maiden, Motorhead and Priest. Though the 2008 record sounds like it could have been recorded in 1978, it's not classic-metal-by-numbers. You can unmistakably hear love for the cited bands in Witch's music but, unlike many contemporary bands exhuming this type of rock, Witch have sewn the cadavers of the past into their own unique sound.
One thing that makes their sound so unique, even among the original metal bands they're following, is the raw, punkish intensity of their playing. There isn't a punk or hardcore riff within miles of the album, but they play sophisticated metal riffs like they're three-chord punk thrashers. Something that was always missing the first time around with this kind of thing.
Even from the start Black Sabbath was too polished, too warm and fuzzy (pun intended). Motorhead always had the grit but not the musical chops. Maiden were too precise to ever feel truly dangerous, etc
Witch manage to play with the ramshackle recklessness of a garage band like Mudhoney but with the musical sophistication of their too-sterile Seattle brethren, Soundgarden. For fans of metal, grunge, psychedelic rock, or just plain old rock'n'roll, this is having your cake and eating it too.
One of the few benefits of growing older is that certain albums become reminders of a particular time in one’s life, and The 27 Various’ Up is exactly that for me; I used to be young and obsessed with music, now I’m a shade older and still obsessed with music! This 1991 release from one of the icons of the Minneapolis music scene, Ed Ackerson, is a collection of intelligent, rocking and cool songs. From the very first, as Ed sings, “Word gets around…” on the opening track, “Happening/Sometime”, you know you’re in for a treat!
I first heard of The 27 Various as a college radio DJ at KRPR, the Rochester Community College radio station in Rochester, Minnesota. I used to play songs like “Principal Percival” and “Like the Poison” every time I had a shift; it was a good thing I wasn’t graded on the variety of my play lists! Later I would get to meet Ed as he ran sound on “new band night” at The 7th Street Entry, part of First Avenue, up in Minneapolis. I still fondly recall this mod guy leaning against the wall in the sound booth, saying we (my old band, Crome Yellow) were “pretty cool”, and feeling like I’d entered a new world. Most bizarre of all, 27 Various used to come down and play in Rochester (a conservative town NOT known for its music scene), and I’d always attend. (more…)
One of the “secret” places where I look for mp3s for the Pollyanna Cowgirl Records Podcast is on record company websites; forward-thinking companies put whole mp3s online. And this approach works, certainly in my case, because I will give anything and everything an honest listen when checking out new music, and if I fall in love with a song, I will go and buy the whole album. One such company is PROJEKT RECORDS, and through them I found Autumn’s Grey Solace. Talk about a band that has an immediately identifiable sound!
On Autumn’s Grey Solace’s 2006 CD, Shades of Grey, Scott Ferrell puts down layers of sweet yet menacing guitar tracks, chiming and growling, this is a man who creates and ventures through some ethereal, darkly luminescent landscapes, and I am thrilled I get to visit. Erin Welton completes the sound with her charming soprano voice. So many words come to mind when I hear her sing: inviting, distant, innocent, wary, warm, and yes, cold. It seems, I suddenly realize as I write this, that there is a dichotomy about Autumn’s Grey Solace, and perhaps this is what makes their music perfect for any occasion. (more…)
If you are about my age and you grew up in southeast Minnesota, then Gear Daddies are living legends. Originally from Austin, Minnesota, this band could please everybody with their alt/folk/rock sound. In 1988, Gear Daddies released Let’s Go Scare Al. In listening to this album again to write this little review, I realize just how much these songs have soaked into my being, not just on a mythical sub-conscious level, but into my bones. This music is foundational to me.
Beyond the music, there are a few memories of Gear Daddies that stick out. Their drummer, Billy Dankert, actually went to school with the drummer of my old band (Crome Yellow), Jim Martin. Jim had Gear Daddies guitarist Randy Broughten as a substitute teacher in high school. Eventually Crome Yellow got to open a couple of times for Gear Daddies when they played here in Rochester. At one gig, lead singer/guitarist Martin Zellar and I were talking about guitar mishaps, and lo-and-behold, at the end of our opening set, I bumped my 1978 Gibson SG on the mic stand, the guitar strap came loose, and the my guitar fell headstock first to the floor! The neck broke into two pieces, and I thankfully was able to do a rush glue job on it, as we had another gig in two days time. But the irony of our conversation caused Marty to autograph the back of the guitar with, “Tony, sorry to have been the bearer of a bad omen! Marty”. (more…)
Steve Kilbey of The Church, along with his brother John, for many years had their own record label in Australia called Karmic Hit. As an outrageously huge fan of The Church, I started buying and collecting any bit of music related to the band, even it if was an independent-minded band from Perth called Halogen who just wanted to be on a label that allowed them total artistic freedom.
My trust in the Karmic Hit catalog was well-placed. Halogen features many great sounds, swirling and rocking guitars, fantastic melodies and soundscapes, and most lovely, the vocals of the transplanted New Zealander, Jasmine Yee. Throughout Halogen’s 2003 release, Save the Ones You Love, the band grooves and dances through music so beautiful that the end result is a great big grin on my face. This is good stuff! (more…)