Report: Tower of Power – Direct

In which foolishness turns into a blog post. Never let it be said I don’t follow jokes to the bitter end.

So a text conversation I had yesterday  went something like this:

[General chit chat about the holidays, games, the vomiting bug, El Sistema Scotland, and then:]
Me: I just got a CD there in a second hand shop – tower of power direct, an audiophile recording from the seventies from a label set up specifically to make high quality live studio recordings of bands.
Peter: Holy crap. I want a full report on my desk in the morning.

And so we have:

Report: Tower of Power Direct

Background: Seminal funk band Tower of Power recorded this album for the Sheffield Lab record label, a company specialising in live studio recordings, recorded directly to disc without post-production or editing. Sheffield Lab’s aim was to provide high-quality audiophile standard recordings that captured the feel of live performance with the quality of studio sessions. Continue reading


My Taste in Terrible Music #6: Malena Ernman

I’m an acknowledged fan of musical fusions, and everyone with any sense knows that mixing the two best musical genres (pop and opera) can only result in good things.

Malena Ernman appears to be a fine singer; I’m by no means an expert judge of these things, but she has sung several operatic roles (she even started before she was thirty!), has an active concert life, and seems to be managing a healthy mix of the operatic and popular music careers. She of course decided to represent her native Sweden in the battle for music’s highest accolade, the Eurovision:

Continue reading

Kirk Hammet VS Lil Wayne video.

I am baffled as to why this is a thing. I’m not a fan of Hammett, but this comparison makes no sense on any level.

If you watched it, you’ll realize it’s not a thing. There is no reason to compare the lead guitarist of a metal band with a rapper who happens sometimes play notes on a guitar. Both are tolerable at their main occupation. The video is also clearly biased – the annotations criticize Wayne while pointing out Hammett’s technical abilities, and the Lil Wayne clips are of terrible audio quality. Why does this exist?

Oh internet, you ARE a strange place.


Gig Report: Lamb of God and Sylosis, Jun 13th, The Academy

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this gig; I hadn’t listened to Lamb of God in about five years, though I liked them back then. I had no idea who the support act were; the first time I ever heard of Sylosis was when I saw their t-shirts in the merch booth.

For a warm-up act, Sylosis were extremely well-received. A four-piece British band delivering technically impressive, engaging and entertaining melodic death metal. Definitely a band I intend to check out in the future. The six-song set was a little shorter than I would have liked, but otherwise my only criticism is how the singer kept urging the audience to start a circle pit. People start pits because they’re getting into the music, you shouldn’t have to tell them, and besides, circle pits are stupid. Unfortunately when I went down to get a Sylosis t-shirt after their set, the only available sizes were in XL and XS – hopefully a sign that they had a good reception at the previous night’s gig opening for Lamb of God in Belfast.

If Sylosis were well-received, Lamb of God were welcomed to the stage with near-rapturous applause. Continue reading

Overdue Album Reviews #1 – The Hunter

I make no real effort to stay on top of what’s current in music – I rarely listen to the radio, and I don’t know what bands are hot. This isn’t me parading my hipness by “not listening to overproduced corporate pop, man“; I’m equally ignorant of indie hipster bands and up-and-coming pop singers. And it’s not that I don’t like popular music either. I just find it takes too much damn effort to keep abreast of what’s happening in all of the scenes, far more effort than it’s worth expending to find music I really enjoy.

Unfortunately, this weak excuse doesn’t even apply when it comes to today’s blog post. Mastodon has been one of my favourite bands for years now, ever since 2004’s astonishing second album Leviathan. I’ve seen them two or three times, and one of them was one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to. So the fact that I’m using this post to review their most recent album, The Hunter, four whole months after its release, cannot be excused by my lack of hip. There are several other albums by equally cherished groups that have been out for months now. Expect further entries in the “Overdue Album Reviews” series – I doubt this is a problem I’ll ever get on top of, so as long as bands I love keep releasing albums, expect me to keep getting them months after everyone else has gotten over it already.

Onwards to the review!

The Hunter comes in a pretty box – though I miss the art style of the previous albums (all by the same artist), the front cover features a quite disturbing depiction of a mythical, multi-jawed beast. Something about it makes me think of Picasso’s Guernica. This album is also a departure from their previous albums because it doesn’t correspond to one of the classical elements.  Each of their earlier records is in some way inspired by or based upon fire, water, earth, or ether. They have yet to release an album that represents air, and it’s a little disappointing to the completionist in me that The Hunter doesn’t finish off the cycle; of course, this doesn’t take away from the quality of the music itself and Mastodon have to be allowed to write the album they want to write.

So what of the music? As I write this, I’ve listened through the album fully once, and I’m about halfway through my second listen. I’ve always found Mastodon’s albums require a bit of getting used to; it took me a while to warm to Leviathan, and their last release Crack the Skye was considered by many to be a difficult listen and a huge departure from their typical sound. Not so with The Hunter.  The opening track, “Black Tongue”, is if anything a more traditional heavy metal track than Mastodon tend to release. Solid riff, good vocals, and from the middle of the song onwards we have some classic heavy metal guitar harmonies. “Curl of the Burl” is a bit closer to  the familiar Mastodon sound. “Blasteroid”, Stargasm” and “Octopus Has No Friends” are interesting; some the riffs have a jolly, almost folksy, new flavour.

It’s around this point on my first listen that I look at the liner notes and see the album was produced bt Mike Elizondo, a name previously familiar to me as the session bassist on Dr. Dre’s album 2001, probably my favourite rap album. Mind somewhat blown!

From “All the Heavy Lifting” on, the album gets more proggy. Ethereal guitars soar over riffs and Brann Dailor’s typically virtuoso drumming. These songs have a little bit more of the 70’s influence, but don’t compromise on the heaviness. The mood changes surprisingly with the tenth track, “Creature Lives.” After a creepy intro of demonic laughter and swelling synths, this is practically a pop song; its melody and harmonies could nearly come right out of the charts, but with a prog twist. The following track “Spectrelight” resets the heaviness meter, and how! This track calls right back to the ferocity and energy of Leviathan; Iron Tusk in particular comes to mind. I am astonished that Spectrelight hasn’t been taken as a band name!

The final two tracks on the album continue in much the same fashion – Mastodon flirt with that typical prog-metal sound that so many bands have nowadays (to the point of it becoming a cliché, surely antithetical to progressive music, but that’s a topic for another blog post) but always do it tastefully and with enough individuality to pull it off.

In short, this is a very accessible album. Where Crack the Skye was impenetrable but ultimately rewarding, The Hunter is easy to listen to but complex enough to keep you interested. Anyone seeking genuinely interesting prog metal that doesn’t hold back when brutality is required should definitely try out this album. But of course, you probably bought it four months ago.

Playing the Bass

For Christmas last year, I got a bass guitar, a lovely sunburst finishVintage model. What with a busy college schedule, and needing to get cables and other equipment before I could really start playing, I only really got my teeth into this summer, and have practiced a lot over the last few weeks particularly. It’s been an interesting experience – I already to play two other instruments, both of which I’ve played for a long time. Though I’m by no means at professional level on either of them, I’ve been competent and proficient with them both for many years. Starting the whole process of learning my way around a new instrument has been at times frustrating, and at other times rewarding. It’s difficult to pick up the instrument, look at the sheet music for a piece you know well, and be completely unable to find the notes. On the other hand, I’ve long believed that learning an instrument gives you a unique way of thinking about music – and with each new instrument you learn, you add a new dimension to your capacity for musical thought. This has certainly been the case for learning the bass – I’ve developed a new method of thinking my way around the notes. Spending time with the lower register of songs has also been beneficial to me compositionally, as I find I’m writing more interesting parts in the bass registers my own music.

The primary reason I took up bass is that I really wanted to be able to play more pop and rock music. While I play keyboards already, some of the styles of music I wanted to pursue weren’t particularly suited to keyboards, and I knew plenty of guitarists but not very many bassists. Though I don’t agree with the common notion that the bass is an inferior guitar – it’s a distinct instrument with a very distinct style of playing – it’s probably true that a lot of bass repertoire is more accessible than guitar repertoire. This way, I’d be able to start playing music with people faster. I also have had a great love for the instrument for a long while – from the first time I really listened to Flea I’ve had an appreciation for the bass as a distinct and important part of rock music. Continue reading