Category Archives: Music

New Music from Danko Jones

It’s coming tomorrow.  The new album from Danko Jones, “Wild Cat.”   Danko’s music can only be compared to the moment after the coolest dude in a grungy bar looks you square in the eye and says, “let’s do this” with a vibe on his face that’s 50% dangerous and 50% mysterious.

What is “this”?  Is “this” good?   That’s all you’re thinking.

I don’t know, man.  Maybe?  But that’s not the point.  The point is the feeling.  Every second of a  Danko Jones songs make me anxious for the next second.   JC’s bassline slinks like a stalker on “Lovercall”.  The drum intro mixed with the bassline on “Caramel City” is enough to raise the hair on the back of your…everything. Every song drips with anticipation.

And that’s not to mention the lyrics.  

Put yourself back in that grungy bar from the first paragraph.  The 50/50 dangerous/mysterious dude says to you (not your friend, not the guy standing next to you…YOU), “I’m into never stopping, I’m making no sense.  But I can never sit still I keep on riding.”  What do you think next?

  1. Oh, shit!  Call security!  This guy is mental!
  2. Cool!  I need to form a GANG with this dude!
  3. Is that the lyrics to “We Sweat Blood” by Danko Jones?

I know the answer is #3….but #2 is a much more accurate feeling to describe how those lyrics make me feel.

I’m blocking off my afternoon to listen to the new record, then I’m headed out on the town with a “let’s form a gang” mentality.

April 27-Modern Rock Radio Picks

These 10 songs (in no particular order) are poised to explode at Modern Rock Radio in Canada before mid-May.  My research indicates these tracks are on the rise and could demand regular-rotation spins soon.

  1. JR JR – Gone
  2. Finish Ticket – Color
  3. Struts – Kiss This
  4. Kaleo – Way Down We Go
  5. Bear Hands – 2 am
  6. Cage the Elephant – Trouble
  7. Struts – Kiss This  (so nice, I named it twice)
  8. Disturbed – The sound of Silence (this is not a typo)
  9. Catfish and the Bottlemen – Soundcheck
  10. Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness – High Dive

Straight Outta Compton’s Pre-Parody: CB4

A Parody, by definition, is a satirical imitation of a serious piece of literature. You’ve seen them before at the movies.  But have you ever seen a parody in advance of the original film’s success?  Sounds like the sort of exercise that requires a time machine.  But not in this case.  Follow me here…

In 1996, “Scream” was a slasher box office sensation.  In 2000, Hollywood parodied it with “Scary Movie”.  “Spaceballs” did the same for the original Star Wars trilogy 4 years after the fact.  Even Porn is into the act.  “Shaving Ryan’s Privates” is an entire film based on Porn’s parody successes (a friend told me).

Making a funny version of something super-nova-successful in order to resell it to a rabid fan base is not a new concept.  Keep in mind: Spaceballs and Scary Movie wouldn’t have made a dime if audiences didn’t already have a frame of reference on the content.  Dark Helmet is only comedy genius because we know who Darth Vader is.  This is where it gets interesting.

In 1993, comedian Chris Rock starred in CB4.  A parody, in large part, about the story of NWA.  Yes.  Straight Outta Compton, the #1 movie in North America during the month of August in 2015, had it’s successful parody released 22 years in advance.  Rock plays MC Gusto (a spin off of Eazy-E) and Allan Payne is “Dead Mike” (an Ice Cube riff).

Even the music was so well done Weird Al would have been impressed.  Straight Outta Locash is as good a goof on Straight Outta Compton as anything you’ll find.

The 22 year difference speaks volumes.  Here was a story so powerful and culturally significant that the parody came first: perhaps because North American audiences weren’t ready for the real thing in 1993.

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Letting a band “Go”

Getting old is incredibly inconvenient.  Physically, your back hurts for no reason.  Mentally, you find yourself responsible for your parents (not the other way around: what a trip!), and eventually you need to decide if you’re going to age with your favourite bands or if you’re going to “let them go.”

Aging with a band requires the discipline of a Drill Sargent,   You continue to go to the shows, buy the albums and follow on social media.  Your worship of them never waivers.  You live in the musical past (for the most part) because the future is too complex.  Too uncertain.  Too hard.  This group gets busy with the challenges of life and eventually squeezes new music out of it.  As we age, we gradually find new ways to see ourselves in the world.  We no longer need new music to see our reflection.  We have children, careers and emerging interests to do it instead.

Embracing the ideology of “letting a band go” means being prepared to stop liking them.  Being prepared to stop defending them: and not holding it against them.  Songwriters age (like the rest of us) and inevitably change their writing style, content and performance tactics as a result of a morphing world-view.   Unless you’re changing on the same trajectory (or one close to it), it can be hard to truly identify with your favourite band as a 21-year-old, on the same level, in your mid-30’s.  This is no ones fault.

I have to let the Foo Fighters “go”.  They’re officially a “Dad Rock” band to me.  The evidence was all over the sold out concert in Edmonton last night.  The lead singer pulled a mega-dad move and played the show in a leg cast (my dad would  never miss a day of work either).  The band pulled John Doe out of the crowd to join them on stage to sing a cover song.  That cover song was by the ultimate “dad rock” band: Rush.  I understand there were local children on stage at some point for some reason or another.  These are all incredibly gracious acts by the Foo Fighters.   A band know as much for their genuineness as their record sales.

Some music lovers age with all their favourite bands.  Some “let go” of them all and integrate a new roster every few years.  Maybe you’re on one end of the spectrum or somewhere in the middle.  There is no right answer.

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the smalls will play SONiC BOOM 2014

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My dad renovated our family’s basement when I was a teenager.  This meant my older brother and I got our own bathroom.  We felt like royalty.  Every young man should have his own space to shower and apply liberal amounts of Calvin Klein “Obsession”.  Our new “puberty chamber” was also another space my engineering brother could engineer in some music.

Upstairs, my parents controlled the CD player and Radio tuner.  (CD players; remember those?)  My Mom loved Patsy Cline and Stevie Nicks.  My Dad was into Jethro Tull and ZZ Top, and we got one radio station.  Let me be clear:  I consider myself fortunate to have had parents who were into good music during my young years.  But it still wasn’t “our” music.  Before an abundance of radio stations, mp3’s and on-demand music a kid had to WORK to hear his or her own music.  Thankfully my resourceful brother found a way to rig some small external speakers via his stereo onto the bathroom shelves  by dropping them through the ceiling tiles.  This was some next level stuff as far as I was concerned.

We listened to a lot of different music getting ready for school.  Pearl Jam’s “Ten” was a favourite as was Collective Soul’s “Hints Allegations and Things Left Unsaid.”  Then it happened.  At some point, my brother dropped in the smalls self titled debut.  The tape (Tapes; remember those?) was probably a dub, of a dub, of a dub.  Neither my brother or I were old enough to get into a bar to see the smalls and actually buy a tape.  I was impressed.  I was even more impressed when somebody told me that the smalls were a band from Edmonton.  WHAT?  You can DO that?!  I assumed that only bands with actual recordings were all rich rock stars who lived in Hollywood.

I can remember, like it was yesterday, those little speakers blasting out Dan-Diddle-A-Na.  I’d be pulling on a t-shirt, snugging on my Atlanta Braves ball-cap, and adding an extra dash of Obsession while my brother honked from his Honda CRX in the driveway.  I had to respect his timeline, he was my ride and he owned a leather jacked.

I can safely say that it was the smalls, not the Clash, The Ramones or The Sex Pistols that introduced me to “punk”.  It was Edmonton’s own the smalls.  Now for the first time in over a decade, the band is back together to play SONiC BOOM 2014.  I hope to see you at the show, and if you can’t find me, follow the strong scent of citrus notes with a musky undertone.

Explaining the RHCP Super Bowl Fake

The Red Hot Chili Peppers admitted to not performing live Sunday at the Super Bowl in New Jersey.  Anthony Kiedis WAS singing (to a backing track of his own voice) but the band admitted to miming along to a track they had recorded specifically for the big half time show.  People are outraged.  Fans of the band are blaming the Super Bowl brass for “stripping” the band of their artistic right to perform live.  Others are using this as an opportunity to attack the band on the grounds that they couldn’t have performed well enough to entertain the masses in the stadium and at home live anyway.  Everybody is pointing a finger at everybody else like some sort of perverse Mexican Standoff.  All the while -in the shadows- the entity responsible for the controversy goes unnoticed, unchecked and unchallenged: The Media.

The Media have trained the average music consumer into accepting a performance myth.  The myth that a live performance should/can sound as sharp, pitch-perfect and as spot-on as the recorded performance they hear on the radio.  Consumers have been told to demand their cake (recorded songs that are well written and performed) and eat it too (be able to enjoy them in an unreasonable live setting; like at a Super Bowl).

If the band were actually allowed to plug-in and play live, the performance you would have seen and heard on the couch in your living room Sunday would have very different; and it certainly wouldn’t have been the same spectacle.  How much of Flea’s bass would have been drowned out by the sound of fireworks, explosions and general thrashing around?  And how entertaining would have it been -really- to watch Kiedis tone it down a little in order to focus on hitting as many of the notes in “Give it Away” as possible?  I say: not very.

The Media have done a masterful job over the last four or five decades training consumers to believe the unbelievable, and now that the curtain can no longer stay closed (thanks Internet!) John and Jane Doe don’t want to believe the truth.

My Top 10 of 2013 and a thought experiment

Here are my Top 10 albums of 2013 (in no particular order) complete with a key track from said album, and a lyric that goes with the song.  After putting the list together and spending some time reflecting on it, I began to wonder why I like specific songs at all.  Think about THAT for a second:  WHY do you like songs?

*mind blown*

What are the specific reasons?   Have you ever sat down and answered that question in an intelligent fashion for yourself?

I learned that I like to live vicariously through the character presenting the lyrics.  When a specific lyric resonates strongly with me: I tend to like the song.  Every key lyric listed below is presented in the first person, so I figure I subconsciously imagine myself as the character in the song.  I also discovered that strong musical arrangements during a songs bridge tend to catch my ear.

It’s a fun exercise to sit down and list your favourite albums/songs of the year: it’s even more revealing to think about why you like the records you like.  The best part is: there’s no wrong answer! Think about and verbalize the answer.  You might surprise yourself.

1.Arctic Monkeys – AM

Key track: One for the Road – “We all go back to yours and you sit and talk to me on the floor.  There’s no need to show me around, Baby. I feel like I’ve been here before.”

2.Capital Cities – In a Tidal Wave of Mystery

Key track: Kangaroo Court – The Saxophone Solo on this track is an instant party.

3.Half Moon Run – Dark Eyes

Key track: Nerve – “I just don’t know what you’re doing wrong.  Man, you got a lot of nerve.”

4.Kings of Leon – Mechanical Bull

Key track: Wait For Me – The bridge.  Talk about a power piece of music.  Says so much by saying literally nothing.

5.Lorde – Pure Heroine

 Key Track: Team – “I’m kinda over gettin’ told to throw my hands up in the air: so there”

6.Chvrches – The Bones Of What You Believe

Key Track: Gun – “I’ll be a gun and it’s you I’ll come for”

7. The Neighbourhood – I Love You

Key Track: Sweater Weather  – “I don’t mind if there’s not much to say.  Sometimes the silence guides our minds.”

8. Queens of The Stone Age – …Like Clockwork

Key Track: I Sat By The Ocean – “I sat by the ocean and drank a potion, baby to erase you.”

9. Kanye – Yeezuz

Key track: Bound 2 – “I mean damn, what would Jaromey Romey Romey Rome think?”

10. Tegan and Sara – Heartthrob

Key Track: Now I’m All Messed Up – “Go, Go, Go if you want I can’t stop you.”

Jane’s Addiction – The Great Escape Artists: a Track by Track Review

The new Jane’s Addiction album is out Tuesday, October 18th.  This is their 4th studio album.  That should be repeated:  FOURTH studio album.  Britney Spears has seven.  For Jane’s, less is more.

Random Notes:

-The album is 10 tracks and only 39 minutes.  Before you think you’re getting cheated at the till, hear this:  there isn’t a wasted track or a single underdeveloped idea on the record.  It’s complete and potent in it’s current state.

1.   Underground – After a 5 second drone…Perry’s sings one sentence before the band explodes behind him.  BOOM!  The cyclical and rhythmic guitar drives the 3 minute track that sets the table nicely for what’s to come.  Cool Lyric:  “I try and get some love from up high/there just ain’t enough to go around.”

2.     End to The lies – It starts by slinking into your ear, unassuming with a hint of sinister.  Then when it’s too late; uh-ho.  Structurally it’s progressive, challenging the listener to pay attention.  At the 1:11 mark Dave’s guitar thunders into the spotlight but doesn’t steal the show  – and it’s amost too bad – because it’s a brilliant Navarro lick that could drive the song.  Cool Lyric:  “You talk about me so much that I think that you’re in love with me/Yeah you do it’s true man you’re busted.”

3.   Curiosity Kills – The piano and drum parts on this track almost tango with each other.  The two different sounds have moments of complexity and simplicity that subtly steal the show.

4.   Irresistible Force – This song IS Jane’s Addiction.  The structure, sound, attitude and delivery are what “alternative music” built on.  They’ve found a way to develop and grow as a band after nearly 25 years.  This song is “Exhibit A” in my defence that Jane’s Addiction are still a relevant, powerful, alternative rock band.

5.   I’ll Hit You Back – It’s tough being the better man.  This song is about giving in to your dark desire to abandon the high-road for some old fashioned voilence.

6.   Twisted Tales – This could be the best song on the album.  The chorus is beautifully simple and sweet. It’s the “less is more” idea lived out musically.

7.   Ultimate Reason – Is one “D.Mckagan” gets a writing credit on this song.  The same Duff Mckagan of Guns n Roses and Velvet Revolver fame.  He was in the band for about six months before he and Jane’s Addiction parted ways based on musical differences.  While it doesn’t sound much different from the rest of the record, Ultimate Reason (and a the other Mckagan tunes) do have a different flavour.

8.   Splash a Little Water On It – This is as close to a ballad as the band gets.  Slower and more delicate than the rest, the lyrics tackle the rock and roll lifestyle that rock and rollers can handle, but their loved ones cannot.  Cool Lyric:  “I didn’t want to wake you up, you looked so peaceful, I left some water in the cup by the stand, I’ll call you later.”

9.   Broken People – Starting slow and building towards a sonic explosion that never happens, Broken People never quite realizes its potential.  Another of the Mckagan co-writes that, to me, lacks the same precision and purpose of the rest of the songs on the album.

10.  Words Right Out Of My Mouth – Instead of ending on a mediocre , mid-tempo jam, Jane’s caps the Great Escape Artist with a pounding ass-kicker.  The song’s intro features a dialogue between Perry Farrell and D. Joe Adams.  I’m not sure if Joe Adams is a “Dr. Pepper” kind of doctor or a real doctor, but the short recording could be part of a therapy session.  It’s a creepy and honest sounding exchange.

Ryan Adams – Ashes & Fire

Ryan’s new album is out on Tuesday.  Admittedly, I’m gaga for the guy.  He could put four cats and a set of pots and pans in a pillowcase, recorded it as it tumbles down a set of stairs, play it in reverse with some guitar fuzz laid over top and I’d still love it.

The entire album is acoustic, with Ryan’s voice up-front…but still shrouded in some mystery (like he does).  Lyrically, he’s never been more powerful.  Many songs feature progressively written verses or choruses .  That is, the first line in verse A will start with “last night” and verse B will start with “two nights ago”.  I like that.

Here is a track by track review of the album.

1.   Dirty Rain – Starts slow…ends with passion.  Love the dusting of piano.  A fitting way to set the table for the rest of the album.

2.   Ashes & Fire – This one is a little “jangly”, with a bar-room sounding piano.  Almost vaudeville-like.  Cool lyric, “here eyes were indigo, the cats were all calico.”

3.   Come Home – Slow.  Delicate.  Cool Lyric:  “nobody has to cry to make it seem real, nobody has to hide the way that they feel.”  Come Home is such a powerful statement…it means so much, in such different ways.  The steel guitar is “there” just enough…so pretty.

4.   Rocks – The strings come in about halfway through.  The “shaker” is introduced about two-thirds the way in.  It builds musically so beautifully as Ryan sings about vulnurability.

5.   PERSONAL FAVOURITE ALERT!!! Can I Wait – This is the best song I’ve heard in a long time.  Ryan’s voice is forceful, yet reserved over-top a simple guitar and snare-led percussion.  The lyrics are so simple…I could have written them…but only Ryan could.  Highlight:  ‘Do I wait here forever for you?  Would you ask me to ?’  If I were getting married, this would be the first, second, third and fourth dance.  Anybody who didn’t like it, could eff off.  The Guitar solo (yes, SOLO) cuts to your heart, and the twist of the knife is the organ…ouch, tear.

6.   Chains of Love – Another rare “up-tempo” track.  It’s short and sweet.  One of the tracks I’d rank in the bottom third on the record.

7.  Invisible Riverside – Producer Glyn Johns gets a nod here.  The way he delicately introduces the players to carry Ryan to a charming crescendo is not nearly as easy as he makes it sound.  It has hints of Ryan’s track “Into the Ocean.”

8.   Save Me –  A slow building (very slow building) track that I haven’t spent enough time with yet.

9.  Kindness – Lyrically, one of the best tracks on the album.  A song that challenges the listener to question their beliefs and motivations.  “if you’re so kind, can you let down your hand?”

10. Lucky Now – This track has one of those progressive structures I was talking about.  The verses have the same cadence and rhyming scheme…but diffident words that suggest progression.  Example: “the lights will draw you in, and the dark will bring you down, and the night will break your heart, only if you’re Lucky now.”  Later in the song, this chorus turns into this: “if the lights draw you in, and the dark can take you down, and love can mend your heart, but only if your luck now.”  The second this line ends, a guitar part begins that drives home the point with such precision, it’s like the notes are speaking a universal language about hope and fear.  The track leaves you wondering, wanting more.  It’s THAT good.

11.  I Love You But I Don’t Know What To Say – This song reminds me of an old Eagles song (Desperado, maybe?)  Not the music, or the lyrics, or the notes…but the pace, the cadence and the delivery.  It’s hard to explain…but it’s true.  Lyrically, I *think* it’s a love song.  A REAL love song… because it presents more questions than answers.  In the tender moments between two people, the truths and discoveries are the most powerful.

It’s out Tuesday…and unless I’m crazy…will be nominated for a few Grammys.

It’s on.

I’m seeing Ryan Adams.  Monday, October 17th.  Santa Cruz, California.  Rio Theater.

The plan at this point is to fly to Oakland, rent a car (a convertible, obviously) then make the 2 hour drive down the coast to Santa Cruz.  Or, if it’s cheaper, fly to San Fransisco and drive about an hour to Santa Cruz.

The show is 6 days after the release of his new album “Ashes & Fire”, which I plan to listen to “turned to 11” while making the drive south.

Now all I have to do is find a nice hotel (read: cheap) and convince my boss I need a few days off so I can see the recording artist I love the most.

A good fried of mine, who also loves Ryan Adams, said something to me one day I will never forget.  It went something like:  sometimes I feel like Ryan is singing to me when I listen to his music.  Sometimes, I feel the same way.