Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Neurosis, Fires Within Fires, 2016

Album Review

by Ken Geiger

Melvins frontman Buzz Osbourne once said, "Change or die like the dinosaurs. I’m up for the challenge." While Osbourne has clearly taken on that mission statement (Do any two Melvins albums really sound the same?), are there many other groups around still that can say the same thing? Some of the biggest names in music have either collapsed under pressure and bickering (The Beatles) or simply have overstayed their welcome for far too long (The Rolling Stones cannot possibly think that anyone wants to hear new material from them.). Through it all, you have the bands that have endured the test of time and managed to evolve into something so much more than what was thought imaginable
If there is any group who has managed to showcase the results of Mr. Osbourne's statement perfectly, it would have to be Neurosis. For the better part of the past 30 years, the group has carried on as a five-piece messenger of sonic assault. They were quick to distance themselves from the hardcore roots of the mid-80s in which they formed in order to tap into the more profound sides of sonic and visual exploration. They may have lost many of the punks who adored them when keyboards and slideshows were incorporated into the band's sound and aesthetic; but what they stumbled upon was something far greater than anything that scene, or any type of music at the time for that matter, had to offer. Classic albums such as Through Silver in Blood, Times of Grace, and The Eye of Every Storm showed that Neurosis was so much more than just a band playing music. They were looking to find a deeper purpose, or as the band puts it, following a path of "Strength and Vision." Now in the year 2016, we are led down the next logical step of their path with Fires Within Fires, and signs of creative decline appear to be absolutely nowhere in sight.

On the band's earlier albums, such as Through Silver in Blood, the listener is taken down the path of destruction and breakdown. Each song feels like it could just fall off the rails at any given moment. Thematically, the band was looking to point out the absolute darkest flaws in mankind. On this album though, the song arrangements are more slow-burning; we are not immediately thrown into the fire (no pun intended). Mood-wise, darker and more bludgeoning moments are still in the band's repertoire, but only in short flashes. This album definitely invests more time into giving identity to its more emotionally uplifting parts, whether they be epic or somber. The payoff truly comes for listeners when a connection is formed between themselves and those parts. One cannot help but feel like they are in a trance-like state by that point, as if the music is a part of their own soul.

In that sense, Fires Within Fires cannot help but feel like a reflection of the path of life and search for self-identity everyone finds themselves down at some point. I have been saying for years now that Neurosis do not perform music like a regular band. No one member of their unit can do what they do alone. It is rare when a band can last for 30 years and still remain interesting. But it is a once in a lifetime occurrence when a band can last that long and turn from just five separate people jamming on a couple of tunes into one unique entity, using music as the life force to be a guide for those who wish to explore the path of “Strength and Vision.”
I have to say this is one of the best albums I have heard all year, which is saying a great deal in a year that has already offered us so much great music. The band is at a musical high point and longtime producer Steve Albini managed to capture that for us to hear. You can order the album on all formats over at the Neurot Recordings webstore. You can also hope, if you are a citizen of the east coast like I am, that Neurosis will bring their breathtaking live performance over for you to see. I bet you will find me there right at the front of the stage.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Beach Slang, A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings, 2016

Album Review

by Scotch LaRock

[CoolDad Note: I've been listening to Beach Slang's sophomore LP, A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings, for about two weeks straight. Everything that goes into a Beach Slang song is everything that CoolDad Music is about: the transformative power of rock music, continuing to see the world through melodramatic eyes, never ever outgrowing your teenage self.

Over guitars that thrum and pump like a beating heart, frontman James Alex sings "Play me something that might save my life" (on opener "Future Mixtape for the Art Kids") or "I was born at the bottom but I never belonged" (on "Spin the Dial") or "You taught me to talk and told me to shut up" (On single "Punks in a Disco Bar"). He's the rare 40-something father that's still wearing his teenage emotions on his sleeve.

My buddy Scotch LaRock introduced me to Beach Slang, and their latest drew him out from his world of small business and parenthood (rewarding in their own ways, of course) for a few words. I'll see him tomorrow at Rough Trade in Brooklyn for the release show, and for a couple of hours we'll be right there with James screaming like a couple of teenagers.]

I’ve had the feels for a little more than two years. I thought I could come out of the woodwork and write a something about the words that have come to mean so much. I’m glad James Alex found me.

It’s easy to talk about Beach Slang through references to The Replacements, Jawbreaker, and The Psychedelic Furs. I did it here once, too. It was the jumping off point. Here we are, some 30 odd songs deep including covers, and I still get the feels with every strum. What I’ve come to love during this time is that I have a complete connection. When I look around at a Beach Slang show I see the kids, the old dudes, and everyone in between; and it is always a ride. Never the same thing twice. The laughter, the mistakes, the false starts, the stories and the sing alongs. It’s all there.

“Play me something that will last… Play me something that might save my life…” I’ve said this before too. Isn’t that what we all want? We’re all looking for that someone, that something, that feeling that connects it all together. All your crazy is all my crazy. Are we brave enough to share it? We spend our time on a lifelong search growing, messing up, experiencing great love and unbelievable loss.

The words. I’ve found an advocate for what swirls around inside and is dying to get out.

“Stick your heart on your sleeve. If it breaks, stitch it onto me.”

“I can’t love you raw enough.”

“All this junk could’ve killed me. But I’m not dead. And you are why."

We don’t lose our teenage feelings. We grow up learning how to push them down. We turn into the grownups from the John Hughes movies, the ones you don’t see. So I’m gonna turn this up a little louder, scream a bit more and embrace it all.

Beach Slang you are my advocate for all that is dying to get out.

A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings is out now on Polyvinyl.

The Royal They, The Royal They, 2016

Album Review

I feel, lately, like I keep pointing out how this or that record is full of sonic contrasts. Usually it's something along the lines of, "there's a real sense of pop songwriting that shines through all the noise" or similar. Well, contrasts are what struck me about the self-titled debut from Brooklyn's The Royal They.

Vocalist (and Highland Park, NJ native) Michelle Hutt has an almost sweet, bubblegum pop-sounding voice. Album-opener "Truncheon" starts with some Modest Mouse-like guitars before Hutt hits us with, "It doesn't make you any less of an insufferable c*%t!" The music stops to let her deliver the key word with emphasis, and then things blast off into loud, 90s-inspired territory.

"Pinkeye Baby" is some straight-ahead post-punk grunge. Hutt's vocals are a little more manic, but they never quite break into a full-on scream. Drummer Rick Martinez is amazing on this one as he is throughout the record.

With the one-two punch of "Countenance" and "Laurels," The Royal They move into some heavy dream-pop or post rock territory. On the latter, Hutt (guitar), Martinez (drums), and Darrell Dumas (guitar) create a crescendo of noise while Hutt's high-register floats through the walls of sound.

Garage rocker "Kamikaze" features some snotty call and response vocals between Hutt and one of the guys. It's pretty straight-forward rock-- a change from some of the more "alternative" stuff that's preceded it and just a fun one to cut loose to. Similarly, "Lyric Machine" is hard rock power pop in the vein of something like Veruca Salt. And, in a pretty clever twist, The Royal They use "Lyric Machine" -- easily the poppiest song on the record -- to criticize the commodification of pop music: "Lyric machine, lyric machine, can't see any color other than green."

The album closes with the punk of "Full Metal Black" and "Shinburner." On both, Hutt delivers the verses in staccato almost spoken-word and Martinez is absolutely furious. Lots of involuntary head-bobbing and bouncing to these; and, rather than the easy let-down of an album-closing acoustic number or ballad, The Royal They send you off out of breath with your heart pounding.

The Royal They features a ton of contrasts: not only the one I mentioned above between Hutt's vocals and the heaviness of the band, but it also weaves among contrasting styles from grunge to post-rock to garage rock to power pop. Hutt shows herself to be a versatile front-person adapting ever so slightly to fit each style; and, as a band, The Royal They move seamlessly through their paces.

The Royal They is out now on King Pizza Records.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Interview & Review: Luke Winslow-King, I'm Glad Trouble Don't Last Always, 2016

Photo: Akasha Rabut

Surviving The Heartsick Blues

By Matt Chrystal

The story of Luke Winslow-King in short (very short) goes something like this… He grew up in Maryland, became an accomplished jazz scholar who decided to be a blues musician. He traveled with his band down to New Orleans. His equipment gets stolen and he winds up staying in the Big Easy, busking, performing and falling in love with the city. He finds success, makes records, and tours. Along the way, he finds a musical companion in songwriter, Esther Rose. They fall in love and marry in 2013. The couple divorce in October 2015. He then goes on to pen one of the most revealing, intimate and honest albums that any artist has ever laid out to the public.

He creates a document chronicling his journey through overwhelming distress in search of a silver lining.

"It’s a roadmap to surviving heartbreak…" is how Luke Winslow-King describes his latest album, I’m Glad Trouble Don’t Last Always.

Each track on the album takes the listener along on Winslow-King’s journey through various stages of emotion.  You can hear the despair in "Heartsick Blues," the questioning in his tone in "Change Your Mind," and the pleading in his voice throughout "Esther Please." His anger in "Watch Me Go and Act Like You Love Me" festers into moments of seeing red during "Louisiana Blues."

But the album is not all doom and gloom nor is it intended to be. The themes of resiliency and acceptance are revealed throughout the album. A sense of optimism finds its way up front in "On My Way," "No More Crying," and on the title track… and it can even be found subtly inserted in bleaker tracks like the aforementioned "Heartsick Blues."

I’m Glad Trouble Don’t Last Always is not only a journey of emotions, but it also serves as a vehicle for Winslow-King to showcase the vast array of styles that he has honed throughout the years. There are touches of country, roots, rock, jazz, gospel and blues. All genres seamlessly held together by Winslow-King’s soulful voice and gift for storytelling.

Luke Winslow-King’s sound is polished and smooth but the wounds are open and raw.

CoolMattyC: Is it safe to assume this album is an autobiographical document stemming from your recent divorce from your wife (and long time music partner), Ester Rose?

Luke Winslow-King: Yes. That is true.

CMC: Ok, so then can you describe what it was like for you to write an album’s worth of material that is so personal?

LWK:  It just happened pretty naturally. I did not have to search for inspiration. The songs kind of just fell into my lap and just poured off the end of my pen.

I feel like I wrote these songs out of survival. The theme of the album is that it’s a roadmap to surviving heartbreak. There were times that I felt that I could maybe write my way out of heartbreak. My hope is that somehow these songs can help others that are in a similar situation. I feel heartbreak is a fairly universal struggle that happens to all walks of life all across the planet.

I did not want to write an album complaining about getting screwed over or my heart getting broken.
I wanted to write something that people can relate to and hopefully something that will inspire others.

CMC: The album is not all gloom and doom, as many songs reveal a sense of optimism, as well as the themes of resiliency and acceptance... What is your outlook on life these days?

LWK: I’m still trying to carry on. I have definitely found some determination… and that is the silver lining in this all. I’m still struggling but I’m fighting for positivity. I’m trying to become a better person through all of this. And I feel that I am having some success at that.

I’m having sunny days and I’m enjoying myself, enjoying my friends, my band and my fans. I’m enjoying being out in nature and enjoying the places I'm traveling to. I’m feeling very fortunate about all of that.

Photo: Martina Monopoli

CMC: In addition to capturing this difficult time on an album, you are performing these intimate songs each night on the road and I’m sure being asked questions about your private life while you are promoting the record. Do you consider this a cathartic experience or do you sometimes feel as if you are opening old wounds?

LWK: I feel like every night it’s still fresh but I have become the wound. And I’m happy to share it.
I perform the songs different each night and the songs are constantly in flux.

I don’t mind. That is why I started playing blues music. That is why I became a writer. I don’t mind making myself vulnerable.

My favorite music is music that moves me. When an artist makes themselves vulnerable… that’s  usually what moves the audience. I am proud to do that. I feel like that’s what I am here to do.

CMC:  We talked about the album being a journey of emotions and it also seems to act as a vehicle to showcase your vast array of styles. There are touches of rock, country, jazz, gospel and blues. Who or what were some of your influences when making this album?

LWK: There’s a pretty wide swath of inspirations. I feel like this album is a little more modern than stuff we have done in the past. In the past, we sounded more like traditional New Orleans delta blues influences from the 1930s and 1940s. On this album, we moved toward inspirations from the 50s, 60s and 70s. Of course we also have some that traditional blues stuff up our sleeves. That's where we come from.

"Watch Me Go" was inspired by Aretha Fanklin’s "Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)."
"Change Your Mind" was inspired a little bit by Neil Young and Tom Petty. Ry Cooder is a huge influence across the board. He was a great slide guitar player that you can hear in my guitar playing on "On My Way."

R.L. Burnside and the Black Keys were influences on the title track, "…Trouble Don’t Last Always." Jimmy Rodgers was an influence on "Heartsick Blues." You can hear American world music on "No More Crying." Howlin’ Wolf’s "44 Blues" is a direct inspiration for "Louisiana Blues." There’s inspiration that is direct and indirect all throughout the album.

I think we moved into the future on this record. For awhile we were stuck in the 30s and 40s but now we made it into the 50s and 60s!

CMC: Speaking of journeys, you’re a Michigan native who made your bones in New Orleans, have since traveled all over, and are currently on a tour that crosses the United States before heading over to Europe… with all that said, is there something you look forward to when you come to the New York City area?

LWK:  Definitely. I lived in NYC in 2004 and 2005. I lived in Harlem and I lived in the Bronx. It was right around Hurricane Katrina that I moved to New York. I have a lot of friends there and a lot of memories there.  New York is where I started my musical career. I worked as a music teacher and a music therapist when I lived in NY and right after I left is when I started my career as a professional performer.

I love going back to my old haunts and seeing my old friends. It is such an exciting place to be. It is just a really great feeling to have to have a show in New York City.

CMC: We touched on your new album, your many influences and what you are looking forward to in NYC… and of course we touched on changes in your personal life which led to some changes within the band… so what can people look forward to when they come out to see a Luke Winslow-King show?

LWK:  Our style has changed. If you haven’t seen us in a year or two, you will really see that we are in a new place. We are getting out of the “where is Esther” phase. For a while, people came to our shows and where just like “hey, where is Esther?” We are getting out of that. We do not have a washboard anymore. But we do have electric guitars, electric bass, a drum set and we bring a lot more firepower to each show. I feel like these shows are more exciting and energetic and danceable. We have been getting a great response from our audience so far.

So, I think that if people come ready to have a good time, then they will be satisfied.

Luke Winslow-King will be performing at the Mercury Lounge in NYC on September 22nd, at the Brooklyn Americana Music Fest on September 24th, and on World CafĂ© Live in Philadelphia on September 25th.

The album, I’m Glad Trouble Don’t Last Always, will be released September 30th on Bloodshot Records.

For more info, visit www.lukewinslowking.com