Thursday, March 09, 2006

Music Review: Top Five Review - "Rock"

I know, a lot of you are saying "But rock is metal, and metal is rock! What the hell is wrong with you, you beige-wearing retard?" Well, I'll tell you why... they're not the same. They're the same thing in the same way that orange is red. You can start with red, but you need to add other ingredients, and make fundamental changes to the structure, to get orange from red... and get metal from rock.

Rock is roots, and as such, it encompasses a much larger oevre of possibilities... thus, you're gonna see some wierd choices here. My advice to you: shut up, and let me do my thing here, ok? Ok. :)

Top Five Rock Albums

Not having many real "rock" albums myself growing up, these are fairly narrow choices. Most of you will be mad to not see Big Sugar on here, but the fact is, I didn't like any SINGLE album of theirs enough to pick just one. I like their entire CATALOGUE... spread out accross all their albums there is a ranbow of genius, but one color of a rainbow just isn't as impressive as the whole thing. So, lets begin!

Number Five --> The Presidents Of The United States Of America - Self Titled

That's right, all you metal-banging spike-wearers! PUSA! Chris Ballew, Mike Dederer, and Jason Finn... the peculiar trio with the two-string guitar, three-string bass, and a Junior Mini drum kit... put out my number five rock album of all time. With ten gallons of inspiration in a five gallon talent hat, this album attracted a cult following with a sound never really heard anywhere before. With some blues riffs, some heavy-metal riffs at the end, and the catchy, simple, but brilliant interplay between the bass and guitar, the music itself would be worthy of this award, but the true insane genius lies in the songs. Love songs about strippers, songs about dead frogs, car-enthusiast bugs, fruit, cats, nudity, candy, and geriatrics make this just about the most diverse, ludicrous, and satisfying records I've ever heard.

Number Four --> Clutch - Blast Tyrant

"Nuh uh, Mighty! Clutch is METAL!" Clutch is NOT! Clutch is ROCK! Some Clutch SONGS on some CLutch ALBUMS are metal, but these boys are rock... hard rock, grindy rock, stoner rock, but still rock, and this album, one of their more recent, is probably the best SINGLE album of theirs I have. Robot Hive / Exodus didn't really seem like Clutch to me... maybe Clutch Lite. Elephant Riders was a CLOSE second for this, followed by Transnational Speedway League... but Blast Tyrant takes it home. With their first two songs using acoustic guitar (heavy acoustic), as well as some randomly layered tracks with some guy speaking Polish, this was by far their most experimental album to date. Using a pipe organ to highlight some songs, Clutch lead Neil Fallon described this album as "a soundtrack to a movie that exists in my head". Indeed, the songs do seem to loosely follow some story about pirates, witches, death, life, and travelling wierdos... but who cares! With a huge, cohesive sound, I never get sick of this album, or any track on it.

Number Three --> Live - Throwing Copper

When the Great Scorer comes to write his definitive list of top albums of all time, this will be on there, guaranteed. One of the best things to come out of the entire alternative rock scene, Live's second album departed from the moody but upbeat theme of Mental Jewellery to create something totally different. Brilliant bass, a guitar permanently stuck in minor and flat chords, and songs ranging from dead bodies found in a creek to stalker-ish feelings of love and devotion, to death and birth, and other wonderfully depressing concepts. With amazing use of silence and noise, whispering and screaming, the whole album moves in waves from black to white, happy to sad, and drags the listener along with it. Loud enough to count as hard rock in places, but soft enough to still be alt, Live created this singular high point of the 90's.

Number Two --> Barenaked Ladies - Gordon

"Mighty, what the hell is WRONG with you? GORDON??" That's right, bitches... Gordon! BNL's debut album, which I got for Christmas when I was a kid, and listened to almost enough to wear out the tape before New Years. Seriously, on the 16 hour train-ride home, I listened to it the ENTIRE time, using up six batteries in my walkman, just flipping the tape over and over and over... Introducing me to lighter rock, as well as blues, jazz, and lyrics that weren't serious, BNL was the first real album to totally open me up to the world of music. With love songs that confused my 11-year-old hormones, funny songs that I didn't understand, and serious songs that sounded funny, it challenged me to develop and mature my musical aesthetic. All seriously talented musicians, singers, and songwriters, it was also the first album to make me think about drumming, and bass, and harmony... it was the first for a lot of things, and it's EARNED the number two spot. Which brings us to:

Number One --> Mayfield Four - Fallout

The number one rock album in my whole Universe by a huge long shot. I first heard this album when I was at college for the first time. I was playing Samurai Showdown IV, and I was doing pretty good, when Jon snuck up behind me and put headphones over my ears and ordered me to listen to this new album he'd just bought. Sure enough, the very first track had me completely hooked. I hade it through four songs, and the entire game, in a haze of heartfelt singing, lap steel, rock guitars and wizardly drumming. I had to wait a whole day to hear any more of it, but I listened to the album probably four times through, just laying on my bed with the speakers up, lost in a haze of genius. To this day, one of my biggest regrets is missing their show at UCC... Jon went, and sat at the bar with them after they were done their set. Myles, the lead singer, went on to form Alter Bridge with Creed after they kicked Scott "I'm Jesus" Stapp out, and thank God they did... Myles phenomenal natural singing talent blends very well with Creeds metal soul, but he'll always be the lead singer for the best god-damn band I've ever heard... Mayfield Four.

Well, now we're down to the songs... place your bets now!

Number Five --> Spacehog - In The Meantime

I don't remember where or how I heard this song first, but it's always stuck with me... the driving bass, the lilting guitar intro, the soaring voice singing heartfelt lyrics about something I still don't understand... I'm never sure what I feel about this song, or what it's about, or why it sounds like it was recorded through a wall of styrofoam, but it moves me to this day no matter how often I hear it. I have every Spacehog album, and although uniformly awesome, this song rises WAY above any other track... that rare stroke of godly awesome that strikes some bands struck them hard, and I'm glad it did.

Number Four --> Big Sugar - Dear Mr Fantasy

Sure, it's a cover song, but I didn't know that until a few months ago, so lick me. Gordie at his guitar-playing and emotionally-singing best. A wonderful blues song played on hard-rocking double-necked Gibsons, with the fluid bass, omnipresent harmonica / saxophone solos, this is music the way Canada intended it to be... toe-tapping, head-nodding, and all-around better than everyone elses. There's not much I can say about this song, really... it's awesome. Just awesome. Really awesome. I miss Gordie. :(

Number Three --> The Smalls - There's No Question

"Why do you like this song? It's not like the others on the CD..." My wife said this after I fell in love with this tract, the final track on To Each A Zone, and she was right. The Smalls were without a doubt the hardest thing to come out of Taber, ALberta since the mine closed, but I just didn't love all their stuff. Corby's hypnotic bass, playing lead as was intended by nature, completely makes this song. Starting off mournful with a bare minimum of drumming, and the meandering bass tune, you really, REALLY hear what the Smalls singer can do when he puts his mind to it. Always clear, sometimes not an asset for a hard-rocker, he totally does his best work on this song. Singing about how one can't give in to depression and despair, the song takes off near the end when the guitar comes in with a vengeance. For no single reason, this song makes it to my Number Three very easily, and it gives me hope that somewhere, someday, bass might be respected as an instrument by more than just hard-core annoying afficionados such as myself.

Number Two --> Tin Star - Head

Yup, this is unique. Making it all the way to number two, I first heard this song... on a television ad for the bands album. They only played about thirty seconds of the track, and most of it was muted to the announcer could babble on about them, but it gripped me. It was six years before I had the means to download this song, but SOMEHOW, the name of the song, the band, and that thirty-second tune stayed with me, and the first time I listened to it, in the computer lab at college with my headphones on, just sort of made everything else melt away. Progressive experimental electronica-rock, the guitars were so distorted as to almost sound like some sort of synchroniser. The drum beats were a mix of drum-machine and real-life, but the bass and guitar were all real people. Superb singing, strange lyrics about insanity and studying, this song was used in 'The Sixth Sense', and a few other movies, as well as a couple car commercials. Tin Star's biggest claim to fame was this song, and boy, they deserve it for this track. Although the rest of their stuff is a little too esoteric and experimental for my tastes, this song totally bridges the gap between electronica and rock for me. Kudos.

To anyone who knows me, or has a good sense of premonition from my list of albums, the number one song will not be a surprise.

Number One --> Mayfield Four - Overflow

A huge song, with three distinctly different parts, this track near the end of the album knocked me on my ASS the first time I heard it. Myles' voice soars to amazing heights with lyrics that still make me a little misty-eyed. With imaginative and deceptively simple guitar licks, and a surprisingly complex bass line, it starts off with Myles singing as deep and breathy as he can (the guy's got just inhuman singing range). At seven minutes, it's their longest song, and they just poured everything they had into it. I was told that this song got two full minutes of standing, screaming ovation at the live show... bastards. I must have listened to it a thousand times, and it was the first song I ever heard to inspire me to write... I still remember the exact scene from the exact story, and exactly how it goes, everytime I hear this track, when I'm not moved to reflection about how the song used to make me feel. I had to take it out of my mix-tapes, though, because it tended to make me absent-minded and overly-emotional when I was driving. Godly in all respects, this song shall likely remain my favorite song of all time, second to none, and possibly ever.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Music Review: Top Five Review - "Metal"

This is my double-top-five review of Metal... Top Five Albums, and Top Five Songs. This might take me a bit, given the very, very, VERY large collection I have, but I figure this would give me something a bit out of the ordinary to post about. (Also, HOLY CRAP, two weeks since my cover song review? Wow!) Let's start this puppy off with...

Top Five Metal Albums

Starting with number five, I'll work my way down to number one in the traditional fashion.

Number Five --> Monster Magnet - Dopes To Infinity

I've reviewed this album before, in a previous post. I'll try to expand upon my review here, but start off by saying that Dopes to Infinity was packed to the absolute brim with thundering, rocking, well-layed guitars, marching-beat drum-lines, and the scream-tacular voice of Dave Wyndorf. That trademark cat-screech can still come accross as the definiton of hardcore nearly a decade later. Huge songs, most of them nothing more than guitar solos linked together with peculiar lyrics, make up half the album, paying far more attention to the rhythm section than most other metal bands. One gets the feeling of actually being submerged in guitars, rather than simply being surrounded. I have since discovered that this album's genre is actually "stoner metal", but these are just frivolous labels to me. It's all metal, and it's all good.

Number Four --> Metallica - S&M

Ok, this is a bit of a cheater cop-out, but the fact is I didn't like any single Metallica album ENOUGH to include it, whereas this album brings together the best versions of their best songs, so... bite me. I couldn't, in good conscience, do a heavy metal review and leave out Metallica... it just wasn't going to happen. S&M combined Metallica with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra in what had to be possibly the greatest Metallica concert since the Moscow Airport show. Many of Metallica's songs lend themselves extremely well to orchestration, particularly off of Load and The Black Album. Bleeding Me and The Outlaw Town, and perhaps One, benefitted the most from this treatment, and have enriched the lives of all true metal fans everywhere by lending credibility to the art. Now, if we could only get Hetfield to stop making albums...

Number Three --> Motorhead - Everything Louder Than Everyone Else

For a band with 23 studio albums, this was a hard pick... but the definitive double-live album will have to do. After all the struggle, the fame, the drugs, the egos, the quitting, this album brings everyone and everything back together, and shows us why no-one but Motorhead can claim to have been anywhere near the beginning of heavy metal. One is reminded of the poingant riddle posited in "Empire Records":

"Who would win in a fight, Lemmy or God?"
"Uh... Lemmy?"
"No, I mean God!"
"Trick question, asshole! Lemmy IS God!"

The brilliant guitar, one of the greatest rock drummers in history, and Lemmy's inimicable voice and poingant, angry, dirty, and surprisingly deep lyrics... it's Motorhead. The only reason they didn't make it to Number One is a personal choice... call me a phillistine, but the contemporaries have just edged them out.

Number Two --> Deftones - White Pony

This hurt, since I had all three major-label Deftones albums on my short-list, including Around The Fur and Detones (Self-titled). I also wanted to put the B-Sides & Rarities album on here, but since it's not original music (or at least co-written), I didn't feel it was really a Deftones effort. Even so, White Pony just edged out the others to make it to our Number Two spot. Regarded by many to be their most polished and mature album, 2000's White Pony made it to #3 on the billboard charts, the first good nu-metal band to get that high since Korn (although both bands eschew the title of 'nu-metal'). With several songs from my short-list of favorite tracks, White Pony is probably the pinnacle of the entire new metal movement... with the possible exception of individual albums, the entire metal scene has been descending into mankiness ever since then... but we'll always have this album, with guest vocals on two tracks by progressive metal prophet Maynard Keenan.

This now brings us to the number one spot. I've spent the past hour messing around with my song collection, wracking my brain, trying to think of the metal album I like best... which is difficult, since everytime I think I settle on one, I feel bad for not picking another. There's all these voices in my head saying "But Clutch isn't METAL, are they? Hey, you can't put the Deftones on there twice... dude, you don't like Seether THAT much..." It wasn't easy... it was painful... I think I'm bleeding from more than three orifices... but here we go. My number one, the one album that has had more influence on me than any other:

Number One --> The Crow - Official Soundtrack

I hear booing, don't I? The fact is, this one album introduced me to just about every sort of music I like now. It had Nine Inch Nails, mixing Trenty's computer wizardry with metal guitars... it had Pantera doing a little speed-thrash... it had Rollins Band belting out a song about a homocidal superhero... a dozen bands with a dozen styles, all of them loud (and two quiet tracks by Violent Femmes and Jane Sibbery, the Femmes "Color Me Once" among my favorites on this album). I listened to this one album for probably a year straight with everything I did. To this day, I HAVE to play X-Com to this album, just because it was the album I had on EVERY time I played. It introduced me to "goth" music, to "stoner rock", to "speed metal", and just about everything that I love today, as well as an appreciation for the eperimental side of heavy metal. My Number One Favorite Movie Of All Time brought me my Number One Favorite Metal Album Of All Time... I don't know what that says about me, but if you don't agree, then go write your OWN blog and stop whining. *smack*

Top Five Metal Songs

This might be a little bit harder for me to do, since whereas I have dozens of favorite albums, I have HUNDREDS of favorite songs. HUNDREDS!! Gyyahhh!!! Even so, I've got my short-list... so it's time to get out the chainsaw and start carving this down. Don't like at me like that... you can carve with a chainsaw...

Number Five --> Filter - Hey Man, Nice Shot

First heard on the all-station late-night program "Overnight", this song dogged me for MONTHS! Eventually I found myself staying up until three AM with my sister's tape-recorder stereo just to get this song onto a tape so I could listen to it whenever I wanted. This was pre-Crow, this was pre-Soundgarden... hell, this was pre-Metallica, for me. This was my first taste of metal... and I LIKED it! With his amazingly expressive screaming and grinding guitars, this was like nothing I had heard on daytime radio, or "Pussy FM", as I like to call it. By a long shot the best song Filter has ever put out, this made it to the top of the metal-pile just through virtue of longevity and influence. Over a decade later, and this is still one of my favorite hard songs.

Number Four --> Clutch - Guild of Mute Assassins

By any and all regards this was most definitely NOT a hit song, but by any and all regards it was wierd, even by Clutch standards. A peculiar bit of distorted storytelling, this song has a straightforward but pervasive marching-drum beat, and perhaps one of the greatest seven-minute guitar leads ever. Although distorted almost beyond recognition, the real power and tune comes through if you can get this song onto speakers powerful enough to handle it. The song's obvious premise is a secretive group of assassins who forfeit their humanity to belong, and to kill... kill anyone. The chorus is powerful enough to lift your heart, with Neil's growly voice at it's best, despite the material he has to work with being hardly the type of thing to bring a smile to your lips. For not trying to make a hit song, and just trying to make a GREAT song, this one, a Clutch rarity, makes it all the way to number four.

Number Three --> Metallica - The Outlaw Torn

Another unpopular Metallica track, this song capped the much-maligned Load album. At 9:58 in length, it's the longest Metallica song ever (although with the long fade-in and fade-out, it's arguable). Song length has never equated greatness, though... which is why we must move on to the middle of the song. With a haunting bass & guitar tune, both very understated, and a tricky but memorable drum line, the song relies on mood, and Hetfield's voice, to carry the message of loss, love, and loneliness. The lyrical poetry gets very moody, almost emo, far more than most other heavy metal bands would dare to go, but Hetfield, the Cowboy from Hell, can pull it off. With two long, rambling, and powerful guitar interludes, the incredible length of this song is needed to fully convey the feelings expressed. The last great Metallica song, it didn't need power, or distortion, or speed, or crashing drums... it just needed skill and talent, and it proved that the band still had it.

Number Two --> Deftones - Be Quiet And Drive

It was so hard to pick ONE Deftones song again, since I have their entire catalogue... but I had to go with this one. I think it was the first Deftones song I ever heard, and it's stuck with me. Never relying on easy or conventional chord construction, this heavily-distorted guitar-driven symphony has almost imperceptible note changes, seeming to flow back and forth between melody, verse, and chorus in an entirely new, organic way. With a bare minimum of lyrics (54 words, not counting individual lines being repeated), you'd think that this song wouldn't have the emotional punch to make it to the penultimate position, but Chino, as always, conveys what he needs with a combination of minimalist and saturation... in this case, minimalist words and a saturation of layered, symphonic guitar work. It's hard to say exactly what he's saying with this song, but the fundamental message is loud and clear: getting away. Getting out of town, getting out of a relationship, and just driving, being free... the freedom message that metal has championed since the beginning.

And now we're at my Number One Metal Song Of All Time. Just like above, I'm having some problems narrowing it down to ONE... I mean, I've got about 1100 heavy metal songs on my machine. And I gotta pick ONE! ONE!!! Ack! But here goes....

Number One --> American Head Charge - To Be Me

You weren't expecting that, were you? This song caught me out of left field, too... I heard AHC on Tundra Trash one day, and I thought it was pretty good. I got their music, and I thought some of it was pretty awesome, and some of it was quite mediocre. This song, though, just floored me... it was PERFECT! It was a strange, almost celestian convergence of skill, talent, inspiration, and opportinuty that this song made it onto their album. The lyrics are almost perfect for heavy metal, the guitar is a roaring, raging demon of sound, and the quiet, almost childish piano tune that leads the song in and out is the perfect complement. The bass is almost drowned out, but it plays its part backing up the guitar, and the drumming, as with all AHC songs, is way above average. While not a brilliant song, sometimes brilliance can simply be superceded with truth, which elevates this song to my own personal #1 spot.

There. I'm done. My hands are tired...