Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Review: Muse - Black Holes and Revelations

Muse's fourth album continues their tradition of somewhat over the top grandiose prog rock. But hey, that's why we like them! These guys are the antithesis to the stripped down garage band sound of the strokes, the nouveaux punk of the artic monkeys, and the 80s retro of the killers. If you like layered keyboards, driving complex base lines and lyrics that seem, well, contrived, then Muse is your band.

I saw them a when they were supporting their last album and they are spectacular (and loud). The material on the new album is pretty much pure Muse.

Starlight the second track is a pretty simple song with an almost dance like beat and cascading keyboard arppegios. A steady overdriven guitar riff powers through the chorus. If anything, the verse is too sweet?

Supermassive black hole has Prince style vocals which are then backed up by harmony - Purple rain meets Bohemian Rhapsody. Not the greatest track.

Map of the problematique. Despite the somewhat goofy title, this song is pretty good. A simple three note piano theme recurs throughout, and an urgent chord progression creates tension. Again, the dance beat crops up, although the drum spasms (middle eight and at the end) would probably clear the dance floor.

Soldier's poem. Hey, lets get a snare drum, play a scale on the piano and find a xylophone. Oh yeah, and lets copy the beach boys. On the other hand lets not. Ooops too late - we already did it.....

Invincible. You have to wait over three minutes for this one to get going and for a while it has hope. But the anthemic vocals start to grate after a while.

Assassin. By now I am craving some paint stripping, riff driven, drum pounding rock. Something that runs at a 200 bpm. Finally I get some. This one's pretty good.

Exo-politics. Standard Muse. Pretty good guitar rock.

City of Delusion. Time for some strings (violin flavour). Actually they add a pretty good tension to the song. The sweeping orchestral parts overlayed with the staccato and dry distorted guitar riff provide a nice contrast. Towards the end the trumpet line that recalls a spaghetti western seems rather out of place. To say that Muse attempts to cover all the musical bases would be somewhat of an understatement.

Hoodoo starts off with a taste of 50s surf guitar moves through a phantom of the opera phase... well you get the idea.

Knights of Cydonia. Does have horse sounds at the beginning and simulated hoofs. Once it gets going though it is pretty good. Queen like vocals keep cropping up, but this one is overall pretty good.

So the final conclusion. Well although you tend to expect that Muse will be all over the map, this time I think they went a little too far. This album is so unfocussed and some of the songs are almost bizarre in how many different themes they tried to cram in that I give it 6/10.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Eric Johnson (Cats Cradle, Aug 29, 2006)

Eric Johnson is a techinically brilliant guitarist - there is no doubt, but during parts of his show, I was beginning to wish he wasn't quite so good. Things came to a head at about 11pm when he played a 7 minute intro to Cliffs of Dover. Intro is probably a generous description, a better one might be to say that he basically played every scale pattern known to man, 30 times over. It was tedious. Boring and frankly annoying.

Up until that point, he was great - playing a range of new material - which sounded pretty good, a little hendrix (angel) and some country style jam. SRV was the highlight for me.

I have read other reviews that said he played a long encore which included Wind Cries Mary, but after the 7 minute display of scale patterns, I left and went home.

Next time - more music, less mindless arpeggios please.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Cracker - Greenland review

June 6th marked the release of Cracker's first studio album since Countrysides and Forever. For most fans this was a heavily anticipated release - the band had been through a lot of ups and downs since Forever. How these events would be reflected in the album was uncertain.

So here goes my review...
The starting song "Something that you ain't got" was a song I heard live when they played their acoustic set. Its a beautiful song, although not written by Cracker, it is all Cracker. A nice opener to the album.

"Maggie" - a sort of love song, starts out with an overdriven chord riff and moves into a very "Forever" sounding groove. Great stuff, but again, Cracker all over.

Things then move into higher gear a little.
"Where have those good days gone" is a driving road trip song that re-tells a journey up the coast and encounters along the way.

"Fluffy lucy" slows the pace down and at first I really didn't care for the song I thought it was just too, well, fluffy. The first two verses are kind of cute, but it kills the momentum of the record. The chorus is cute, but its not until the bridge kicks in with a little more urgency that the full power of the song is revealed, and the tone moves to a more minor feel.

So far, solid Cracker, but no great surprises.

Next comes "Riverside".
Starts off with acoustic strumming, builds with a bass drum and then some dirty electric chords. But you know that mayhem is about to be unleashed. After about 1 minute in your suspicion is realized. This song feels a lot like "I ride my bike" - its a relentless, powerful tune. Almost stoner rock. The production is awesome, while the track is chaotic, the acoustic guitar, bass, keyboards and electric guitar are always very clear. At the end of the track you feel exhausted, but there is no respite....

..."Gimme one more chance" flows straight in with the dirtiest guitar riff on the record. This song feels like part 2 of Riverside. It has a strong jam band feel with the guitar riff, piano riff exactly the mimicing the chorus line. The squealing pinch harmonics are something you don't hear on Cracker records much, but they emphasize the urgency of the song.

After that you need a rest, and this is brought to you by "I'm so glad she ain't never coming back" which takes us back to the hapless character the crops up throughout Cracker records.

Back to the serious stuff.
If you haven't listened to the album using headphones, put them on now! "Sidi Ifni" features some awesome guitar work in the intro which uses a perfectly timed stereo delay.
The song is a masterpiece. Truly. This single song must make the album. Talking about the life of some Brits living in the last days of the British empire in Morroco. At the end of the song, I was left speechless.

Lighter fare:
"I need better friends" Recounts more lost love and road trips along the coast. An easy going song which frankly made me think of Tom Petty.

"Minotaur" falls into the same group as Riverside and Gimme one more chance - driving atmospheric rock.

At track 11, "Night Falls" - reinforces the pattern of the album - hard - soft - hard. This song must have been in a close contender for the last song of the record. With its soaring strings, and simple piano chords, its a great song. If anything, its a little long.

"Better times are coming are way" is a unique song with its reggae beat, reverb laden guitar and sound effects. I might be wrong, but is the song recounting a meeting with record execs?

"Everybody gets one for free" - I heard this one live as well, its the life story of the band over the past few years. But now they're back on the block with their freedom rock. The song covers all the bases including a small political jab "I've got a new American entry to the freedom hater's dance"

Finally we end on "darling we're out of time". A sad goodbye song, that rounds out the record beautifully.

So I'm a totally biased, but I give this record 9.5/10. It reveals a band that is pushing limits, not just recycling. Its a band that writes song with emotion that reflect real emotion. This isn't corporate rock. Great work.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Cracker -Greenland

I plan on writing a review of the Greenland record soon, but in the meantime here is a nice interview with David Lowery.
There is also a review of the record posted on the site.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Cracker - new stuff

So its only a few days until June 6 and the release of the new Cracker record "Greenland". Here is a link to the bands podcast and teaser of the new record and tour. Unfortunately it doesn't look like there are dates in NC. http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=crackerrocks . Actually, this is a link to the band's youtube postings.

While were serving up video links, here is a nice one of Camper Van Beethoven playing for Spin magazine. According to the blurb, they were a little out of it, although it sounds pretty good.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The White Stripes - Get behind me satan

I'm a big fan of the Stripes. Saw them at Disco Rodeo and they were fantastic. Unfortunately this album is a dud. A really big dud. While the raw garage band sound is the trademark of the band, you would think that at least some time and effort would be put into writing the songs. Or at least the songs would sound like they weren't made up 5 minutes before somewhat hit the record button in the studio. The album sounds like a collection of weak ideas for songs, songs that have lyrics but really need some work on the tunes. Jack White also expands his musical tool box from his trusty airline guitar to a marimba and some other goofy instruments - but why? The whole record is uninteresting, unpolished and frankly dull. I'd give it a miss. But I already heard it so I give it 2/10.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Cracker - Greatest Hits Redux

Among hardcore fans, the story has been retold many times, but here goes... Cracker were dropped from Virgin around the release of Countrysides, a country album which recounted their tour under the name "Ironic Mullet". Virgin hadn't really promoted the band's previous album, the excellent "Forever", and so perhaps the handwriting was on the wall. Cracker was planning on releasing a new record this spring on their own label, but Virgin went and released a greatest hits record at the same time. Realizing that it would be better to delay the release of the new record until the summer, Cracker went ahead and released their own version of a greatest hits record on the same day as the Virgin disk - with a difference. They re-recorded all the songs in updated versions and added a new track from the forthcoming album "Greenland".
Just to make a point to Virgin, they released their "Greatest Hits - Redux" on the same day as the Virgin release and included the utterly brilliant record company kiss off song "Virgin Records - it ain't gonna suck itself" on the disk.

This is an excellent record, even though all but one of the songs are on other records. The new versions are fresh, bright, clear and frankly revitalized versions of the originals. Well worth it for fans, and a must for someone who perhaps like Cracker years ago and wants to renew the relationship. (8/10).

Bloc Party - Silent Alarm

Bloc Party herald from London, and are a percussion heavy brit-pop sounding band. Catching guitar riffing, driving bass lines and some of the wildest and intense drumming of any band pretty much makes up their sound. Some parts of the album have distinct a "Cure" sound - other parts clearly draw on an 80s sound. But this band is not just a recycled 80s ripoff. The songs have great urgency and intensity driven by the frenetic and staccato drumming.
Highlights of the album are "Positive Tension" and "Little Thoughts" although there are few weak spots on this outstanding album. 9/10


Wednesday, April 12, 2006

New albums on the horizon....

Muse has a new album scheduled for release in early july according to their website www.muse.mu.

Cracker's new disc "Greenland" is scheduled for release in June.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Other gigs...2003 - 2005

Just thought I would list other gigs I have seen recently, and some links to online reviews.

Queens of the Stone Age (Disco Rodeo, 3/23/2003)
A great gig, although mind crushingly loud.

The White Stripes (Disco Rodeo, 6/16/2003)
Fantastic, minimalist rock. They played quite a few non-album songs, and generally mixed it up a lot.

Jeff Beck (Cary Ampitheatre, 9/7/2003)
Jeff Beck was on a double bill with BB King. He had a drummer with the largest kit I have ever seen, plus a keyboardist. The gig was too short, but the hour or so he played was fantastic. After seeing him it is hard not to consider him one of the greatest living guitarists. As for BB. Well, BB is more of a show man, you feel that he really should just get a regular gig at some casino and entertain the tourists. I think the thrill has gone. Sorry BB.

Sleater Kinney and Pearl Jam (Alltell Pavillion, 2003)
We were probably the only people there who actually were more interested in S-K the PJ. S-K are a remarkable band. By combining a detuned guitar instead of a bass they are able to turn out a fantastic sound. PJ didn't dissapoint - they played the usual greats.

Interpol (Disco Rodeo, 2/27/2005)

Cracker (Downtown Athletic Club - Benefit gig, 4/9/2005)
This was the first time I saw Cracker. The event was a Tsunami benefit put on by bandtogethernc. Because a fair amount of the evening was spent on long winded speeches, the band only got about 50 minutes of time. Most people there didn't seem to interested except for a few core fans who crowded around the stage. They played a good mix of songs.

Muse (Disco Rodeo, 4/13/2005)
Its hard to know how seriously you should take Muse. On one hand the threesome are fantastic musicians and write great songs, yet from time to time they descend into somewhat ridiculous prog-rock mode. This was another loud concert, and was especially bad during the piano pieces. Overall, a very intense and tight band and well worth seeing.

British Sea Power (Cats Cradle, 5/11/2005)
If I had to pick an all time fave gig, this would probably be it. BSP came on in their usual famous five/world war one get up. The stage was bedecked with foliage, presumably grabbed from the trees outside. There was virtually no talking from the band, they just played a good range of their songs of both albums (I have the set list posted). Surprisingly few people there, but the band has not received much attention in the US, particularly after MTV banned their "it ended on an oily stage" song. I have yet to figure out why (OK, I know the reason given, but it seems pretty lame.)

Pixies (Disco Rodeo, 6/12/2005)

Doves (Cats Cradle, 9/19/2005)

Set lists from 2005

I had posted these set lists on my website, but I think I'll move them over here.
2005 was a good year for concerts, I caught quite a few acts. Here is a summary...

Muse (Disco Rodeo, 4/13/2005)
Great gig, but loud...

Dracula Mountain*
The Small Print
New D (Easy Tiger)*
New Born
Ruled by Secrecy
Butterflies & Hurricanes
The Other New One*
Time is Running Out
Plug-in Baby
Bliss (long version)
Apocalypse Please
Stockholm Syndrome
* New Song

British Sea Power (Cats Cradle, 5/11/2005)
Not a very large crowd, but one of the best gigs I have ever been to. BSP played a great set, the sound was great, and I was able to get pretty close up to the stage. I'll write a review of their records sometime.

It Ended On An Oily Stage
Remember Me
Please Stand Up
North Hanging Rock
Be Gone
Apologies To Insect Life
The Spirit Of St. Louis
Fear Of Drowning
Childhood Memories
Favours In The Beetroot Fields
How Will I Ever Find My Way Home?
Oh Larsen B
Rock In A

Pixies (Disco Rodeo, 6/12/2005)
A classic concert, although pretty crowded - I think it sold out. The whole concert is available on CD through the bands website.

Bone Machine


Wave of Mutilation (UK Surf)

Monkey Gone to Heaven


Stormy Weather

Something Against You

River Euphrates


Gouge Away



Broken Face



No. 13 Baby


Planet of Sound

Alec Eiffel

In Heaven (Lady in the Radiator Song)

Wave of Mutilation

Where Is My Mind?

Holiday Song

Here Comes Your Man


Into the White

La La Love You

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Cracker - Acoustic 4/4/2006, Catscradle.

Johnny Hickman and David Lowery had originally scheduled this acoustic gig for December, but it got postponed due to illness. So by the time April 4 rolled around I was pretty excited about the concert. First of all it was at the Cats Cradle in Carrboro which is my favorite venue. Its just the right size and is now smoke free - only in Carrboro! The line up was Hickman on electric guitar (his lucky number 7 customized Gibson LP, with the Kahler trem), Lowery on a parlor size nylon string acoustic and Kenny Margolis on keyboards and accordian. They came on at 10 and played basically non-stop to 12:20! Fantastic. I can't remember the complete set list but here are the ones I did.
Duty Free
Might makes right
Wedding day
Guarded by Monkeys
all her favorite fruit
dr bernice
eurotrash girl
Mr wrong
One fine day
Another song about the rain

There wasn't a huge crowd so we stood near the stage - it was a great show. Both Lowery and Hickman played hard and seemed intent on giving the audience a great evening. There was little chit chat apart from some talk about the greatest hits album. The sound was clear and not too loud. To check out some of their live performances see the link to the internet music archive.

Cracker has a greatest hits album out - Greatest Hits Redux - in which they re-recorded a bunch of classics. Its a really great record. They released the album on the same day that Virgin records released its own greatest hits cracker album. Virgin dropped Cracker from the label a couple of years back and didn't promote the Forever album. The timing of the Virgin record was bad because Cracker was getting ready to release their latest album "Greenland". Greenland has been delayed until June.

Franz Ferdinand and Death Cab for Cutie, 4/7/2006, Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke U

I bought tickets to this gig ages ago as I was pretty pumped about seeing FF. I like their first album a lot, although the follow-on album has a rather hurried feel to it. I didn't know anything about DCFC. The concert was at Cameron indoor stadium which is the home of the Duke basketball team. The building was built in the 1930s or so, and is pretty small for a major college sports arena.
We arrived at about 7, parked the car and trecked a couple of miles to the venue. We then stood in line for about 45 minutes waiting to get it. The Duke event staff were wholly unprepared for the crowds and just couldn't handle the number of people in an orderly manner. By the time we got in FF were 15 minutes into their set.
Things didn't get any better once we were inside. FF have a very crisp clean guitar sound which was completely muffled by the terrible acoustics of cameron. I know their songs well, but there were some cases where I couldn't even figure out what they were playing. It was terrible. We decided not to stay for DCFC, as I think they are rather overrated - and frankly a little dull.
I did email the "chair of major events" for Duke, here is the email...

I felt I had to email you to tell you just how bad the FF/DCFC concert was. First of all your crowd management was hopeless. The line was ridiculous. What made it worse was event staff constantly coming along and saying "move more quickly" as if we were deliberately taking our time. Then one of the staff said "well doors did open at 5:30". OK lets be realistic - I am supposed to arrive at 5:30 and sit around for 2 1/2 hours until the concert begins. I have never had to do that for any other concert, why should I do it at Duke?

Once inside, things didn't get any better. The sound quality was terrible. It was very muffled and distorted. I am sure that both acts have quality sound equipment, so I must conclude that the acoustics of Cameron are the problem. This venue is clearly unsuited to large concerts.

Anyhow, this was my first and last concert that I will attend at Duke, we didn't even stay for DCFC, we had had all we could take. You guys would do well to stay out of the concert business until you figure out how to do it professionally.

FF played mostly stuff off the first album with a few off the new record, but to be honest it was so hard to get into any of the songs, I really can't remember much about it. It was that bad.

Anyhow, I think I'll stick with smaller venues from now on.

So I got an email response. To summarize: it was my fault for not getting there on time, and the events folks at Duke admit that the sound sucked, and they won't be using Cameron again...So do I get my $70 back?