Week 42 (Just A Band 2)

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin III (1970)

Led_Zeppelin_-_Led_Zeppelin_III

Bottom Line Up Front: This is a 5.0 out of 5 stars album. This quote sums up the awesomeness of this album perfectly:

“Hey, I believe in God, man. I’ve seen him, I’ve felt his power. He plays drums for Led Zeppelin and his name is John Bonham, baby!” -Nick Andopolis, Freaks and Geeks, Pilot Episode

Well, maybe it doesn’t, but I’ve been waiting over a year to review a Led Zeppelin album so I could use that quote. So we’re just going to roll with it. You might have noticed Freaks and Geeks references in past reviews because the show is just filled to the brim with awesome music. If you are a music enthusiast and haven’t seen the show, you are really missing out. Alright, enough about the show. Let’s get back to Zeppelin. It is a review about them after all.

Artist BackgroundWell, here we go again. I try to summarize an incredible band in a very limited amount of space. I swear I’m going to just start copy and pasting a link to the Wikipedia page. This is our second, and equally important, UK group for the Just a Band series. Zeppelin formed in London in 1968. The band was formed out of the ashes of The Yardbirds, as The New Yardbirds, to finish up some concert commitments the band had leftover. The name was axed quickly, as the Yardbirds moniker was only agreed upon by the former members, to use for those last couple concerts. After changing their name to Led Zeppelin, they quickly scored a contract with Atlantic sight unseen, which is pretty impressive. The band consists of Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham. All four of these guys were incredibly influential on the rock genre for their respective roles in the band. “Among the greatest ever” is a term that gets thrown around often with these guys and with good reason. All members, except Bonham, are still alive. Unfortunately, John Bonham died in 1980 of a pulmonary edema caused by alcohol-related asphyxia. I really don’t like that description of it. It sounds like it came from a medical textbook. Led Zeppelin did not live some kind of Harvard textbook lifestyle. They lived (some say invented) the rock & roll lifestyle. They were famous for trashing hotel rooms. No, I’m sorry, trashing entire floors of the hotels they stayed at while on tour. A better fitting description of his death is he choked on his vomit after passing out from drinking 40 units of vodka. That’s how he went out. I don’t know what issues he was dealing with at the time that would cause him to drink so much, but it was an incredibly tragic lost. Zeppelin broke up after his death, but, before that time, they managed to be one of the most important rock bands ever. They are the second best selling band in the US with 111 million sales, and every album they put out reached the Billboard Top 10. Finally, every episode in season 5 of That 70’s Show is named after one of their songs. If that doesn’t show how important they were, I don’t know what does.

Album Background: First off, I just want to say people who grew up in the late 60’s/early 70’s are spoiled rotten when it comes to album releases. I touched on this earlier with the Grateful Dead releasing two incredible albums in such a short time period as being mind blowing to me. Led Zeppelin I through IV came in the very short span of 1969 to 1971. Houses of the Holy ****ing ****! We’re you people in your bedroom just swimming in a pile of amazing records ala Scrooge McDuck?

Led Zeppelin III is, obviously, their third album. It was released in 1970 and has a runtime of 43 minutes. Much of the album was composed in Wales where Plant and Page were taking a break from the strenuous touring schedule. The cottage they stayed in is named Bron-Yr-Aur, which means “golden hill” in Welsh. It’s pretty evident that the location had a great deal of influence on the band since it was included as part of the name for two of their songs. It’s no coincidence that spending a couple months in a cottage with no electricity or running water lead to an abundance of acoustic material. This drastic change in style confused both critics and the public alike, but it also earned them newfound progressive rock fans. Despite the initial mixed response, people eventually realized just how amazing and important this album was for the band and to music in general.

I just want to quickly mention the album sleeve because, at first glance, it’s a bunch of random flight-themed images on a white background. However, upon closer inspection, there exists a small disc of similar images behind it. By rotating it, you can change the layout of the front. This type of art, known as volvelle, was included in the album design by Jimmy Page and Zacron, an artist who had been working with rotating graphics for several years prior. I was actually unaware of this fact until I bought the 2014 Deluxe Remastered CD specifically for this review and turned it myself. It’s very freaking cool and definitely some of the most interesting album art I own. Here’s what the rotatable disc looks like so you don’t have to tear apart your own:

Led_Zeppelin_III_volvelle_

Favorite Track: There really is so freaking much to love on this album. This is a difficult decision. I will go on the record as saying that Since I’ve Been Loving You is the most impressive song on the album by far. I’ll touch on it under the What Works section of this review. It will probably be referenced multiple times given how amazing it is. However, my favorite track has to be Gallows Pole. If there was one song that routinely stuck out over the week, it was this song. It starts out soft with a simple acoustic riff and Plant singing the opening lyrics. Then, Plant turns it up a notch belting out the ever memorable, “Hangman! Hangman!” just as the mandolin kicks in. That caught my attention every single time when I was in the car. The gradual build up in this song is just amazing as the electric bass is added in shortly after.  Finally, they introduce the banjo and drums right as things just start getting crazy. Although, it’s crazy in a great way because of the gradual introduction of each part of the song. Imagine if the song started the way it sounds at about the 3:30 mark. It would be completely overwhelming. Yet, with how Zeppelin did it, it’s pure genius.

What’s interesting about this song is it’s actually based off a famous folk song, The Maid Freed from the Gallows, that is hundreds of years old and has been sung in the many regions of Europe with countless variations. Led Zeppelin wasn’t the only ones to record the song in modern times either. Most notably, Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter recorded it as The Gallis Pole in the 1930s, and Bob Dylan recorded it in 1963 as Seven Curses. There are a lot of variations, even between these three versions. Regardless, the basic story is a person, often female but not always, begging for someone to buy their freedom from execution by bribing an official of the courts. Not only do circumstances change between versions, but so does the perspective from which the tale is told. Sometimes the bribe works and sometimes, like in Gallows Pole, it sadly does not. Despite the choice to go with the more sad ending, it’s still an incredible song.

What Works: 

  • Plant I am in awe of Robert Plant’s singing on this album. Obviously, his very famous wailing is a key part of that, but there is so much more. I especially love how playful he is with his phrasing of the lyrics. The way he approaches the verses, which does not quite match up with the obvious way of doing it, results in a very distinct style. I also love the dynamics in his singing. He’s not afraid to switch up between loud and soft, even within a single line of a lyric. Finally, I love his use of repetition. He masterfully knows exactly when and where to repeat a small phrase or even a single word. On Since I’ve Been Loving You, Plant starts repeating words and phrases very heavily towards the end. Most notably for me the “seven, seven, seven” which contrasts to the opening line of the song in which seven is only said once. This resulted in an image of a slot machine popping into my head. Could it be a reference to getting lucky with the woman? It probably was not his intention, but it resulted in an interesting allusion nonetheless. What it does do, and I’m sure this was the intention, is dramatically increase the emotional intensity of the lyrics.
  • Page There is no Zeppelin without Page. In reality, that applies to all the members, but that doesn’t make him any less critical. In Since I’ve Been Loving You, Page delivers this incredibly badass guitar solo that is critical to amping up the intensity of the song as it progresses. Besides solos, Page delivers so many now famous guitar riffs throughout the tracks on this album. He is one of the greatest guitarists to ever live, after all.
  • Accidents One of the best accidents to ever happen in a studio occured on this album. The beginning of Celebration Day was actually supposed to start with a Bonham drum solo, but an engineer accidentally deleted that portion. Instead, they seamlessly connected Friends with Celebration Day, with the Moog synthesizer, using the drone found at the distinctly sounding end of Friends. It sounds brilliant. I was amazed it was a “fix” for a studio screw up.
  • Darkness By the end of my final listen, I was completely surrounded in darkness. As the album progressed, I gradually began removing light sources from the room. First, I shut off the light. Then, I began turning off monitors. Finally, I held my hand over my eyes to remove the last little bit. Why? Was the light distracting? Actually, it was. If you ever really want to listen to an album, and I mean REALLY listen to an album, grab a pair of good headphones and go sit in a dark room by yourself. By cutting off all of your other senses, you can focus on the music with laser precision. I swear to you, your music will never sound better than it sounds in your sensory deprivation zone. Zeppelin III is so beautifully crafted and complex that, yes, the light was getting in the way of my growing need to fully appreciate everything they did with this album. The acoustic songs on this album, like That’s The Way, are incredibly beautiful and beg for your ear’s full attention.

What Doesn’t:

  • Lyrics I am not saying the lyrics are bad. The lyrics are freaking amazing. Well, they are freaking amazing when they don’t get lost in the music. Zeppelin lyrics tend to fade into the background incredibly easy for me in their mid/uptempo songs. I don’t know if it’s because there is just so much awesomeness going on at once or maybe it’s the way Plant enunciated on those faster songs, but I tend to miss out on a lot of good stuff. Immigrant Song, for example, has some seriously kick-ass lyrics that are historically important to the genre of heavy metal since the song started the viking/heavy metal connection. “Hammer of the gods” is an incredibly famous line from the song. I totally missed that line all these years until I read about it. This also explains why I tend to heavily favor their slower acoustic songs from their discography, where their lyrics do not have such tough competition for my attention. Maybe this is more a personal problem than Led Zeppelin’s fault. I would be interested to know if anybody else experiences this dilemma with their music.

In Conclusion: I would have to say if you are going to listen to the album, then sit down and listen to it. There are so many amazing things happening on this album. You might not notice that Since I’ve Been Loving You is the shortest seven and a half minute song ever recorded. The time passes so incredibly fast because it can keep your attention the entire time. I had no idea the song was that long until I looked at the playlist. You also might miss out on the craziness of the wah wah vocals for Hats Off to (Roy) Harper. Or you could completely miss that they basically restart the song over again toward the end of Bron-Y-Aur Stomp. Maybe you’ll miss any one of the numerous false endings or wonderfully syncopated rhythms found throughout the album. Why purposely deny yourself all of this awesomeness because you decided to multitask and passively listen to it instead? Led Zeppelin deserves better than that. You deserve better than that.

Music Video Links:
I couldn’t find any official music videos for the original release. You can find some live stuff recorded later if you look on YouTube.

Streaming/Purchase Links:
Xbox Music

Spotify
Google Play Music
Amazon Music
iTunes

Information Links:
Wikipedia Artist
W
ikipedia Album
Facebook
Twitter
Official Site

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Just A Band Screw Up #1

Just to be clear here: I screwed up. Yes, only the second week into this and I already messed everything up. I got overly excited about the idea of reviewing the companion album to Sgt. Pepper, namely, Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys. Nothing would be cooler than reviewing them back to back. Well guess what? That’s not the right order. While I’ve been listening to Pet Sounds all this week, I should have been listening to Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin III.

Obviously I can’t switch over to LZIII on Thursday and squeeze an entire week of listening into two days. Also, reviewing them out of order is not an option for me since it goes against what I said I was going to do. So my plan is to spend another week with Pet Sounds after reviewing LZIII next week. I have no qualms with listening to Pet Sounds for two weeks and it’s only going to improve the review as it gives me more time to prepare. And, honestly, I’m not as familiar with the Beach Boys as I probably should be. The history of this band and their music is quite complex. It’ll be nice to have more time to soak that in.

Week 41 (Just A Band 1)

The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)

Sgt._Pepper's_Lonely_Hearts_Club_Band

Bottom Line Up Front: This is a 5.0 out of 5 stars album. Were you expecting anything else? This album is usually placed in the top two of all-time greatest albums. Not top ten. Not top five. Top two. Let that sink in for a moment. But is it really deserving all of the praise it’s received over the past nearly 50 years? Let’s find out.

Artist BackgroundCan I really properly describe the best selling musicians in the history of the world with a couple paragraphs? Probably not. I’m just going to cover the basics of the early years for people who aren’t completely familiar with the Beatles so they have a starting point to learn more. The Beatles were formed in 1960 in Liverpool, England. The band consists of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. The band was together from 1960 to 1970. They started playing in clubs in the UK and Germany, but ultimately caught the eye of their future manager, Brian Epstein. Brian was eventually able to get them a deal with Parlophone. Through Epstein, the Beatles started working with future producer and long time collaborator, George Martin. Martin is often called the fifth Beatle because of his heavy involvement with their albums. He’s also considered by many to be the greatest producer of all-time. From 1963 to 1970, they released 12 major albums in the UK. If you look at all the internal variations, that number skyrockets to 27 albums. Though Beatlemania started in the UK, it quickly came to the US where the arrival at JFK airport and their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show became a part of music history. One in three American households watched the Beatles that night. Beatlemania was definitely in full effect. Obviously, there’s a lot more to this incredibly intriguing story, but I need to stop somewhere.

Album Background: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band started out as a concept album as evident by the opening tracks and second to last track featuring the fictional band. It ended up covering many genres including, pop, rock, art rock, psychedelic, and even Indian classical music. It lasts about 40 minutes over 13 tracks. It was an instant commercial and critical success. It was influential in more ways than I can possibly count. It’s been described as a pinnacle moment for western culture. Plain and simple, this is the most important album I can possibly review. Honestly, I can’t think of an album that has spawned more conspiracy theories than this one, which included the death, and look-a-like replacement, of Paul McCartney. It’s worth researching the conspiracies and alleged drug references, if you have the time. It’s a very interesting read.

A big reason why this album is so different is because it was born out of the Beatles frustration with touring. This irritation was obviously showing as the polite and restrained Japanese audiences allowed them to hear, first hand, how terrible their lives shows had become. Normally, the screaming audience masked the poor quality of their performance. The Beatles were hitting a breaking point with their relentless international schedule. Once they quit touring, in addition to the reducing a significant source of stress in their lives, they gained an incredible amount of freedom without having to worry about recreating the music during a live show. They could experiment with music in ways they would have never considered before. Another reason for this album’s significance is due to all of the experimentation the Beatles and George Martin were willing to do in terms of audio engineering. They used techniques nobody ever did before when they recorded Sgt. Pepper. I’m barely scratching the surface here, but I need to move on to the rest of the review.

Favorite Track: I contemplated devising a method that would allow one of my cats to pick my favorite track. That seemed liked a better idea than forcing myself to actually pick one track over another in this timeless album as my favorite. Unfortunately, I couldn’t come up with a good, automated, feline-based favorite track chooser. If I ever do, I’m Kickstarting it and in three or four years after my initial delivery date, reviewers around the world will be able to enjoy having their cats pick their favorite track with little to no effort on their part. Crowdsourcing at it’s finest. Until then, I guess I have to pick it myself. My favorite track… on… Sgt. Pepper’s… Lonely Hearts… Club Band… is… Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite. I’ve listened to this album many times before I started listening to it for Project. Lt. Morning so I’m going with weirdness on this pick. It’s just a really interesting song. Let’s start with the inspiration for the song. It’s based on a circus poster from the mid-1800s. Being based on an actual poster, Mr. Kite is a real person. The lyrics of the songs are not a word-for-word transcription of the poster. Rather the words/names on the poster were included in the lyrics. A significant change is that the horse’s name was changed, but who is going to try to make Zanthus work in a song? Henry is a much better name and, of course, it spawned yet another drug controversy. The song was written by Lennon and McCartney, but Lennon was the one who owned the poster.

The audio engineering that went into this song is also interesting as Lennon really wanted a carnival atmosphere to be heard on the song. This lead to Martin trying many different approaches, but ultimately ended up with samples being cut into pieces, then being randomly reassembled after being tossed into the air for the famous carousel music parts found throughout the song. Besides the odd lyrics, I love the contrast created by Lennon’s very straight delivery of the lyrics and the numerous sets of rolling notes created by the randomly spliced tape. They complement each other so perfectly. Lennon’s voice also lends itself very well to the unique lyrics.

What Works: 

  • Yin/Yang One of the most wonderful aspects of this album is how well John Lennon and Paul McCartney complement each other. Though, the duo doesn’t just complement each other on the album level with individual tracks, but also on the song level with individual lyrics. Nowhere is this more evident than in the song, Getting Better. Paul’s bubbling over optimism is wonderfully balanced out with Lennon’s cynicism. As Paul sings out “I’ve got to admit, it’s getting better, a little better all the time”, Lennon counters this so beautifully with “It couldn’t go no worse.” I freaking love it. Another example of where their powers combined make for some of the best music on the planet is A Day in the Life. This song sounds like two songs smashed together because that’s exactly what it is. It is a Lennon song smashed together with a McCartney song, and the resulting piece is far superior then what either one of those songs would have been by themselves. Even after all these years, it still sounds amazing and fresh.
  • Sing-Along With a Little Help From My Friends is one of the greatest sing-along songs ever penned. Does it get any better than “Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends, Mmm, I get high with a little help from my friends, Oh, I’m gonna try with a little help from my friends” for a sing-along chorus? I’m not so sure it does. And we all know Oasis’s Champagne Supernova (my generation’s de facto sing-along song) would not exist without the groundwork laid down by the Beatles. Hell, Oasis wouldn’t even exist without the Beatles, for that matter. Let alone that one song.
  • Weirdness The end of Good Morning Good Morning ends with a bunch of random animal sounds. Why? I have no idea. However, I do know it’s awesome.
  • Quality I listened to the 2009 stereo remastered version of this album for my review. Even if I had an original 1st edition UK pressing on 180 gram vinyl, I can’t really walk around with that in my pocket, now can I? Regardless, I freaking love the sound quality of this album. Every instrument and voice is so distinct. I could pretty much focus on any part of a song and easily tune out the rest of it if I wanted to. The mono version probably sounds better for a traditional hifi setup in your house, but I simply adored the stereo version on my headphones eight days a week.

What Doesn’t:

  • Domestic Violence The line “I used to be cruel to my woman I beat her, And kept her apart from the things that she loved” bothered me every time I heard it. I don’t care if it was written in a different time or whatever. That line is fucked. The actual reality of that situation is one of the most despicable things you can possibly do to another human being. It’s never going to be okay with me. Never. My mind just cannot put that at the same level as not liking your school. Feel free to disagree with me.

In Conclusion: As long as this review is, I’ve barely scratched the surface with the Beatles or Sgt. Pepper. There is so much more to write. This is such a good album on so many levels for so many reasons. If for some crazy reason, you haven’t listened to it yet, I urge you to listen to the delightfully weird album that changed everything for modern music. On top of that, you should really peruse their discography. It’s so much fun being able to recognize when the Beatles influences pop up in today’s music. And trust me, they are still popping up.

Music Video Links:
When I’m Sixty-Four (Sort of Official Music Video)
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (Sort of Official Music Video)
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Sort of Official Music Video)

Streaming/Purchase Links:
Amazon Music
iTunes

Information Links:
Wikipedia Artist
W
ikipedia Album
Facebook
Twitter
Official Site

My History with Hip Hop + Big Announcement

The Beginning: Every great love affair has an equally great beginning. Unfortunately, my affair starts with a lot of hate. During the early 1990’s, I straight up hated that crap. I hated the very albums I adore and praise today when they were first released. My siblings and their friends would play it obsessively on the large speakers we had in the front room. Bass was everything. I don’t remember if they ever actually blew out any speakers while doing this, but I know it drove my mom crazy. I know she didn’t want her speakers broken. So I wanted nothing to do with hip hop. It was the genre that broke stuff and caused pain. Nothing that was worth my time.

The Walls Come Down: By the late 1990’s, I had gotten over my initial hate. I had too many friends that liked it and it’s such a silly reason to discount an entire genre. DMX, Master P, 2Pac, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Dr. Dre, Eminem, etc. were now in my life to an extent. I didn’t really seek out hip hop music in high school, but I was okay if it found me. It was a genre on equal footing with the others out there like jazz, pop and rock. By the time college started, hip hop was a regular in my music rotation. My freshman year, I very much enjoyed playing Dr. Dre’s The Chronic 2001 as loud as I could while living in the dorms. Regardless, I still wasn’t anywhere close to where I am now. So where does the story really begin? When did everything change?

The Real Beginning: The end of college is when it all happened. Nothing was ever the same after that night. It the night that Randy K (not his real name) handed me a silver CD-R with the name Oliver Hart, scribbled in black Sharpie, across the top of it. He had been playing it in the car that night, though it was kind of hard to hear since it wasn’t that loud. The point of that winter night was hanging out and talking and not listening to music. So I knew it sounded different and it had potential to be an album that I could like. I was actually much more taken with The Faint album I heard that night, which I also received a copy of. If you haven’t heard their song, Glass Danse, you are seriously missing out. My editor and I played that song a freaking bunch. It’s so infectious. So Oliver Hart kind of fell to the wayside until summer.

How Eye One the Write Too Think: So it turns out that Oliver Hart is actually a Minnesota-based rapper named Eyedea. Hart was just a pseudonym. Eyedea was my baptism into Underground Hip Hop. It lasted a little longer than your average one: three months. While slaving away at my co-op job in a cold research lab, I spent the entire summer listening to The Many Faces of Oliver Hart or How Eye One the Write Too Think on repeat with two other albums. While the two other albums were good, they really ended up serving as filler so I wouldn’t burn myself out on Eyedea’s album. When I wasn’t listening to it, I was waiting for it to come back up on my CD MP3 player.

Going Underground: Eyedea opened up a whole new world for me that, up until that point, I didn’t know was possible in music. His album is more of a philosophical discussion than music. In Step By Step, Eyedea explores the afterlife with two angels: one of them always lies and one of them always tells the truth. He could choose to go with only one of them. Choosing the right one would lead him to heaven and the other would drag him to hell. I’m sure, at this point, everyone is thinking of a certain scene from Labyrinth. Both the movie and the song cover the classic Knights and Knaves logic problem. But Eyedea’s solution to the problem was meant to make you think about it from yet another perspective. The fact that someone could rap a story about a logic problem blew my mind into a million tiny pieces. Bottle Dreams had an equally forceful impact on my views of what could be done with music. The song discusses the story of a young female violin prodigy who spent her life being molested by her father. It’s an incredibly sad song and there was no happy ending for her. Again, I couldn’t believe somebody could rap about such a topic. As unbelievable as the album was, I knew I couldn’t stop there. I needed more.

The Neverending Story: Flash forward over twelve years later and my love of hip hop has only grown stronger. I’ve revisited what was happening in the early 1990’s and I am absolutely grateful that I was alive to witness (even if I wasn’t paying attention as much as I should have been) what was going on in hip hop and the dramatic changes that were happening. Even today, I am astounded by what is going on in hip hop. If you’re still musically stuck in your teenage years and say there is no good music anymore, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you’re just being a lazy f**k. If you want the good s**t, you’re going to have to put some effort into seeking it out. If you do, you end up with hip hop music like dan le sac Vs Scroobius Pip‘s first single, Thou Shalt Always Kill in your life. It’s such a fantastic song. Dan le Sac’s beats are mesmerizing, and Pip’s lyrics are thought-provoking on so many levels. The video itself is incredibly playful visually. Why am I mentioning and focusing on this song? Because it is the reason for what’s going to be happening with Project Lt. Morning for the next 4 months.

The Big Announcement: One of the early decisions about this blog is that nobody would know what album was being reviewed until I published the review. The blog is more about the experience of going through my MP3 player and listening to all of the music than the music itself. This is why posts are titled things like Week 15 instead of the name of the album and why sometimes I end up reviewing horrible albums. However, for the next 15 reviews, I will be listening to some of the greatest albums ever recorded and each one makes an appearance in Thou Shalt Always Kill. In fact, I’m reviewing the albums in order of appearance so everyone can know what I’m reviewing long before I publish it. This is a pretty significant change for me, but like everything with this blog: let’s give it a try and see how it goes.

So without further ado may I present my next experiment for Project Lt. Morning: Just a Band.

PS I’m considering doing a tournament of the 15 albums plus Angles (the album the song, Thou Shalt Always Kill, is from) once all the review are done. Just a simple playoff bracket to figure out which album is the best. I have a feeling there are going to be a lot of 5 star reviews so I wanted to do something to differentiate them. There can be only one.

Week 40 Review

The Ataris – Anywhere But Here (1997)

Bottom Line Up Front: This is a 4.0 out of 5 stars album. I know. I know. Another pop punk band crying about relationships. Enough already. But The Ataris do a really good job of mixing things up and Kris Roe has a keen musical sense that makes him smarter than your average pop punker. It’s worth your time.

Artist BackgroundFor all intent and purposes, The Ataris is Kris Roe. He’s the only constant member of the band for it’s entire history since it started in Anderson, Indiana in 1995. The first album (this one) didn’t happen until their demo tape made it’s way to the owner of Kung Fu Records by way of Bogart’s (Cincinnati, Ohio). There’s been 20 members since 1995, so saying they have had some lineup changes is a bit of an understatement. Regardless, Kris has stuck through it all, even when he had no money, was living out of his van in California, and everyone had quit the band. Yet, he still kept pressing on. His commitment paid off as subsequent albums grew in popularity to the point where it peaked with 2003’s So Long, Astoria, which was certified gold. They are currently performing on the Blue Skies, Broken Hearts tour with the line up from the So Long, Astoria era.

Album Background: Anywhere But Here is very traditional punk album in terms of timing as it blows through 20 tracks in a little over 32 minutes. Most of these pop punk tracks last well under 2 minutes. The Wikipedia entry says Kris did everything but the drums, which was handled by Derrick Plourde, for this album. I have no idea how accurate this is, as Jasin Thomason didn’t leave the band until after ABH was released. Also, the credits refer to a member that didn’t join until after the album was released. So I’m not sure what to believe. It really needs to be pointed out that I am talking about the 1997 original release of this album. Kung Fu Records decided to re-release the album in 2002, which happens all the time with early albums when a band gains significant popularity. I’m not certain if it was an effort to make the album sound similar to their current albums or what, but I know that I absolutely hate the 2002 version with every fiber of my being. They changed the track listing completely, added horrible reverb to every track, and created a wall of sound by destroying the original dynamics. I very much appreciate the more raw sound of the 1997 release, and the track order makes more sense to me with the nearly all instrumental track, 1-2-3-4, being the opener.

My anger only intensified with how I discovered this hellish creation. I wanted a higher bit-rate version of the album than the one in my collection. Being the impatient person I am, I bought and downloaded the MP3 album from Amazon without double checking anything. “What the fudge is this?” was the only question that ran through my head as I started up the album on my way to work. I wish it had been a CD so I could have tossed it out of the car window onto the side of the highway like an old bag of McDonald’s*.

*=Not really. I hate when people litter. They’re a bunch of littering jackasses. Please don’t litter.

Favorite Track: This pick should be the incredibly infectious Hey, Kid! but it isn’t. Despite Hey, Kid! being proclaimed by many (most notably and recently by my editor) to be my official theme song with the eerily close to reality chorus of “Bitch, bitch, bitch. That’s all you ever do,” I’m actually choosing a different song. Instead I am going with the 19th track, Boxcar, which is a cover of a Jawbreaker song that was originally released in 1994 on the album, 24 Hour Revenge Therapy. While Kris didn’t write the song it speaks very highly of his sensibilities to include a cover of one of my favorite punk songs of all-time. The Ataris version is dialed back a bit compared to the original version, but I think the song is better off for it. Boxcar, from what I can tell, is a swipe at those who like to say who is punk and who is not. The whole idea of having to strictly adhere to a code of conduct to be punk seems ridiculous because mindlessly regurgitating the punk ideals and principles of others leaves you back at where you started before you entered into the punk subculture. This idea is best expressed in the line of the chorus “I was passing out when you were passing out your rules.” It’s worth listening to for sure.

What Works: 

  • Intro I love the opening track of this album. It start’s with a quick count off then goes full throttle on the guitars and drums for the remaining 40 or so seconds. To me, it’s an iconic moment for punk music. To other listeners, it’s might be that annoying 40 seconds before the album really begins. Maybe that’s why Kung Fu Records pushed it back to end of the record for the re-release. Huge mistake, but it’s just one of many by Kung Fu when they redid everything.
  • 1950s Much of the time, I felt like I was listening to a pop punk Buddy Holly album. Kris has such a keen sense of what makes a good classic pop song. You can clearly hear the influence of early rock and roll acts throughout the album. Speaking of which, I think Buddy Holly was one of the earliest punks in music as he was one of the first musicians to start writing their own material instead of relying on others. Even the standard punk band setup of a vocalist, two guitarists and a drummer was first popularized by Mr. Holly.  Listening to this album also reminded me of the reviews of punk songs by Chuck Berry. He basically asks what’s the big deal with punk because he’s been playing this kind of music for years. And he’s absolutely right.
  • Maturity I think Kris’s level of writing was incredibly mature for a first release. I make my case with the song Take Me Back which is a wonderful satirical take on breakup songs. On this song, the boy begs his girlfriend to take him back while listing all of the wrongs he committed against her in the previous relationship. The song takes it to an absurd level by including things such as cheating 15 times, standing her up on their wedding day, giving her an STD, telling everyone they had sex while on TV and last, but not least, blowing up her car. In a world overflowing with whiny pop punk guys wishing their exes would take them back, this song is incredibly refreshing. He knew exactly what he was doing when he wrote it.

What Doesn’t:

  • Too Many or Too Little Towards the last third of the album, things start blending together. I think a lot of this has to do with how quickly they are blowing through songs. You don’t always have enough time to appreciate the song before the next one starts up. While I was taking notes, some of the songs didn’t have any notes because I didn’t have enough time to think of anything to write. If I don’t have enough time to write anything at all, does the listener have time to get anything out of the song? I know very short songs are a staple of pop punk, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any negatives to this approach. Would a 40 minute album with some of the songs extended out a little longer have been better? Maybe. But unlike Kung Fu Records, I don’t think there is any reason to screw with an album to make it “better” than what it was.

In Conclusion: I really like this album. It’s a solid pop punk effort. If you are going to listen to it, I implore you to hunt down a copy of the 1997 release. The easiest way to find the original CD is probably eBay, where you can get a better description of what you are specifically buying from the seller. It’s also great because you can see pictures of the album art in the jewel case since the 2002 version also uses different album art. So it should be really easy to pick out.

Music Video Links:
I couldn’t find any official music videos. Sorry.

Streaming/Purchase Links:
Amazon Music (2002 Version!)
Google Play (2002 Version!)
iTunes (2002 Version!)
XBOX Music (2002 Version!)
Spotify (2002 Version!)

Information Links:
Wikipedia Artist
W
ikipedia Album
Facebook
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Official Site

Week 39 Review

Rufio – Anybody Out There (2010)

Bottom Line Up Front: This is a 50% out of 5 stars album. I have incredibly mixed feelings on this album. In fact, they are so mixed I’m going to completely contradict myself in this review. Is it a cop out to not take a firm stand? Probably. But life is rarely black and white. More often than not there are more than 14 shades of grey.

Artist BackgroundUnfortunately, we are starting with the end of Rufio instead of the beginning. Why does that matter? Much like Our Lady Peace and countless other bands, losing one band member changed everything. In Rufio’s case, it was their founding member and bassist, Jon Berry. His bass playing had such a huge impact on the sound of the band. But what’s done is done. Rufio is a pop punk band founded in 2000 by four guys in Rancho Cucamonga, California. They’ve put out 4 albums then they broke up. Afterwards, one of the other founding members, Scott Sellers, did some work with the Dutch pop punk band, The Lost Boys Club. Highly appropriate given the origins of Rufio’s band name.

Album Background: Anybody Out There is a pop punk album released in 2010 with a runtime of about 36 minutes. I find it has some serious emo/pop rock leanings myself. Wikipedia, however, lists it as strictly pop punk. The album was their first since they went on hiatus after releasing their original trilogy from 2001 to 2005. This is the first and only album to not include Berry. I actually bought this after wondering what happened to those Rufio dudes. I was kind of surprised to see they had released another album. I was even more surprised after I started it up. Why? Normally, I can easily identify their albums within moments of it starting as they all had a distinct Rufio-esque sound to them. But with this new album, that sound is completely gone along with ex-bassist, Jon Berry. I find it sort of funny I made a statement to a friend about 12 years ago that my main problem with Rufio was that they sounded so generic. Distinctly generic? That can’t be a thing. I told you this review was going to be filled with contradictions.

Favorite Track: Nothing really stood out for me for this album in all honesty. But that’s a common theme for Rufio albums. It’s usually more about the listening experience of the album instead of any individual tracks. Consequently, I’m going to use my highly objective quantitative sing-along metric to bail me out of this situation. Essentially, it is which song did I catch myself singing aloud to the most times during the past week. And the winner is This I Swear. This song, in particular, feels more pop rock than pop punk, but at least it’s pretty catchy overall. Reminds me of Oleander’s I Walk Alone for some reason. Maybe it’s the introspective nature of both songs, which I tend to be a fan of. I don’t think they sound alike. It just reminds me of the Oleander song.

What Works: 

  • Lyrics The lyrics writing approach is interesting. As far as I can tell, they take simple ideas and try to shift/manipulate them just enough so they aren’t so straight forward or cliche. Some artists can bring an extraordinary amount of beauty in simple lyrics but that’s also very difficult to pull off. I’m glad Rufio at least recognizes this and tries to give you something to ponder while you’re listening.
  • Intros Rufio tends to be pretty damn good with riffs. Accordingly, I liked many of the intros on this album. I especially enjoyed the aggressive ones like those from Deep End and Little World. People often speak of the importance of the making a good first impression when you meet somebody new. You only have one chance, as the saying goes. I think it’s equally as important with songs. Give them something good and you’re already ahead of the game with the listener.
  • Topics I blasted certain other bands for covering the same topic ad nauseam over the course of an album, so I commend Rufio for what they did on this album. I liken their approach to a painter doing a series of oil on canvas paintings where you have a consistent topic that you try to explore with different approaches. In this case, Rufio is exploring the topic of relationships. (I know! I am as surprised as you are! That’s hardly ever covered in the pop punk genre. </sarcasm>) They really do cover many different states of a relationship. This includes pursuing a relationship with a new person, not wanting to be in a relationship, being in the beginning of a relationship when there is all this optimism and positive energy, being in a bad relationship and wanting to keep going, being in a bad relationship and wanting to end it, being the one ending the relationship and having the other person ending the relationship, and so on. The breadth of it is pretty impressive for a single album. And even some of the way they covered common topics such as breaking up with someone is done well. There were numerous religious references found throughout the song Little World. The purpose was to evoke the notion that faith is often required to end a relationship when you don’t really know if it is the right thing to do.

What Doesn’t:

  • Lyrics While I like their approach of making simple lyrics more complex, they did it to the point where it became distracting. I spent an unusually high percentage of my time studying the lyrics of this album. As a result I don’t think I could appreciate the other aspects of the album as much as I would have liked. And it was incredibly frustrating when my attempts to come up with the meaning of a given verse proved futile because I’m certain it’s something simple. Maybe they should have went for a more weird approach so it would be more like an abstract thought exercise. Let’s bring it back to Our Lady Peace again for an example. Their song, Carnival, talks about yoga classes for cats in one verse. Hypothesizing why that line was included is fun even though I will never figure it out.
  • Intros The intros are good for the most part, but as I was going through this I decided to start the song then quickly jump to the very end of the song. What I discovered was that the ending is basically the intro but they let the last note slowly fade out. They actually did this for the first five songs. That came off as lazy writing to me. And five straight songs is a pretty big deal on a twelve track album.
  • Topics Is there a problem with covering so many aspects of relationships on a single album? I would argue it can also be a bad approach. It can come off as a scatter shot method in which an artist is attempting to try to reach as many people as possible in hopes to selling to a wider audience, thus making more money. Starting a new relationship? We got you covered. Breaking up with somebody? We got you covered. Somebody break up with you? We got you covered. Just trying to concentrate on yourself? We got you covered for that too. It’s like being the Walmart of relationship songs.

In Conclusion: This album is very much a mixed bag. And not just in the simplistic sense of half the songs are good and the other half are bad. Instead, the underlying qualities of the songs are individually mixed with no real bulletproof conclusion of “Is this album is good or bad?” If you’re still interested in Rufio after reading this, I would encourage you to start out with their first three albums. You will be a lot happier with those. The guys involved provided a very solid effort here as I wouldn’t question the musical abilities of any of them, but it just didn’t quite click for me.

On a final note, like some other bands I covered, even though the band is no longer together, they are doing one last show together. For Rufio it will be on June 18th, 2015 at the Montebello Rockfest. I took a look at the lineup for the Canadian rock festival and it’s deee-cent. If you’re looking for an excuse to go to Canada this summer, Rockfest is a pretty good one.

Music Video Links:
I couldn’t find any official music videos unfortunately.

Streaming/Purchase Links:
Amazon Music
Google Play
iTunes
XBOX Music
Spotify

Information Links:
Wikipedia Artist
W
ikipedia Album
Facebook
Twitter

My Thoughts on Music Relativity (Part 1)

Introduction

The frequency of a middle C on a properly tuned piano vibrates at 261.63 Hz. Consequently, the wavelength of that note is 131.87 cm at room temperature. If you double the frequency, then you go up exactly one octave. We tune instruments using a frequency of 440 Hz, aka concert A, aka the A above middle C, within half a hertz as dictated by ISO 1975:16. These are a few of the things about music that are constant regardless of the observer’s state or sound generator. I’m going to focus on the aspects of music that are constantly shifting because they’re relative to the listener. This is the more fun and interesting aspect of music for me. I’m not a composer. I’m not a neuroscientist. I’m not a professional critic. I’m not a music historian teaching at your local university. I don’t have the background to explain how the brain actually processes music nor can I explain the finer points of 18th century French classical music. Then why bother reading this? My hope is that this compilation of observations about the relativity of music, as approached from the perspective of the average music enthusiast, is easily accessible, interesting and more importantly enjoyable. This is going to be a series of posts spread out over a long period of time. The plan is to write one when I’m unable to do a review for a given week.

Music Source Relativity

Before we get into the relativity with respect to the listener, I want to address music source relativity. Basically, how the generator of the music and the surrounding environments change it, and the resulting impact on the listener. I’m going to skip over live music completely for this part because I’m trying to stay around my 1250 word limit. For now, let’s focus on a recorded music such as digital music files like MP3 or FLAC. Assume that if you play the music twice in a row under the same conditions, you generate identical sound waves in the air. I really don’t to go any deeper than that with the physics of sound. Maybe a guest writer could explain the joy of acoustics to your average person. With this assumption out of the way of a repeatable music source (for science!), time for the good stuff. How you listen to music is just as important to the experience as what you are listening to. I’m going to illustrate why the how is so important through a series of hopefully straight forward examples.

Response Frequency Expectations

My brother’s favorite earbuds break and he needs to replace them. Money is kind of tight now so he can’t buy the same pair he had before unfortunately. He orders a new pair after extensive research and picking out the best possible pair he could find off of Amazon based on his budget. Two days later, he opens the package and puts them on. He puts on his favorite track that he’s listened to thousands of times and the look of utter disappointment appears on his face. It’s the same song he’s listened to since 1997. It’s the same MP3 player he’s been using for the past two years. The experience of the music changed significantly though. What happened? The most likely culprit is the bass response of the earbuds didn’t match his expectations. My brother loves bass. More specifically he loves earbuds with a lot of bass. However, the buds were all about that treble; no bass. Is the lack of bass really the problem though? I don’t think so. Expectations played the biggest factor. Expectations can be even more important than the frequency response itself when it comes to enjoying music. Let’s take the same song and throw it on a small Bluetooth speaker. Small speakers are incapable of generating low frequencies. Even with complex fancy designs, there are still going to be limitations. My brother knows this so he happily listens to his song on the small speaker despite the lack of bass. His expectations of how he was listening to the music had a direct effect on the enjoyment of his experience. This why also so many miniature speaker reviews say the speaker is good or not good with the qualifier for a small speaker. Nobody expects them to sound like a home theater so we can keep enjoying our time using them despite their limitations.

Expectation Killer #1: Ear Fatigue

But when do expectations become less relevant or even irrelevant? I think when our ears become fatigued, expectations no longer matter. An older co-worker brought in his fancy new Bose table top system to an office party. He thought it was greatest thing since sliced bread. I felt like I was getting a pencil jammed into my ear. My co-worker experienced loss of sensitivity to higher frequencies as he aged. This is incredibly common. I don’t think you can avoid it. To make the music sound good to him, he turned the treble all the way up. Or at least I hope he did. I’d hate to think that is the default setting. Being in my early twenties at the time, I had awesome sensitivity at that range. And I wasn’t the only one. It looked like most of the people around my age were in physical pain at that party. Regardless of my expectations of how I thought those Bose should sound, fatigued ears trumped them. It’s not just high treble that can cause fatigue either. I’ve had subwoofers cause physical pain as well. A dual 8” Sony subwoofer I owned for a short amount of time before I took it back gave me headaches after listening for even brief periods. That particular subwoofer generated some seriously powerful low frequencies. It was an engineering marvel. I could very clearly feel the sound even though I was unable to hear it if I played a subwoofer test file. You would think that would be awesome but it wasn’t. Not with a continually growing headache anyways. So regardless of my expectations of what a subwoofer should sound like and how well it met them, it went back from whence it came.

Expectation Killer #2: External Interference

The other time I think when expectations are no longer relevant to your music experience is when the external interference overpowers the music to the point where you cannot clearly hear it. I have two examples that I think illustrate this. The first happens when I listen to music in the car. Specifically, when I listen to music with a wide dynamic range, which means there are both extremely quiet and loud parts in a song. Wide dynamic range is becoming a rarity in today’s popular music. If you really want to see what I’m talking about, go listen to some Beethoven. It’ll knock your socks off. I understand there is going to be significant background noise while driving on the highway. I have an expectation that the noise will make the quiet parts difficult to hear. Despite my realistic expectations, listening to that kind of music in my car is frustrating. I tend to avoid it at all costs to limit my frustration. And those in the music industry know this. They know you want music that sounds good in the car which is a primary listening environment so they purposely make music with limited dynamic range. I could go off on a tangent about the wall of sound, but I will save that for another post. The next example comes from my experience with trying to listen to music using headphones while doing yard work and housework. When your music has a loud noise source to compete with such as a lawnmower or vacuum, you’re usually setting yourself up for failure. There are two common outcomes: you’re either going to barely be able to hear the music and thus be frustrated with the experience or you’re going to turn the music up to a point where you can completely drown out the competing noise. Making the music louder is a very natural response given how frustrating it is to not hear it clearly but you are putting yourself at a very real risk for hearing damage.

Wrap Up

Alright. I’m going to stop here. I’m barely scratching the surface of what I want to talk about, but I have to start somewhere. Much like the idea of listening to an album on repeat for a week and writing a review has been an experiment, so is this attempt at writing short essays on the relativity of music. I’m hoping this will get more entertaining as I continue these kinds of posts. And I’m always open to suggestions and feedback so I can improve my writing. If something really didn’t work for you, let me know.