Saturday, June 27, 2009

Rock of Ages: Pink Floyd - "Time" (1973)

Pink Floyd's career changed from psych pop freaks to the epitome of prog rock in seven years. Piper At the Gates of Dawn was released in 1967 and Dark Side of the Moon was released in 1973 and changed everything for them musically. A daunting studio task, Dark Side is absolutely flawless. Easily the best album that is necessary to listen to from start to finish, Dark Side is chock full of great music, but sometimes its hard to take a song out of its context and it still work. The only song that works this way is the albums most poignant and beautifully awesome rock track "Time." Lyrically about how the moments of the day are slowly going by us whether we are trying to keep up with things, not miss integral moments or just not realizing how dull life can be as time passes by. Musically, "Time" is the bands crowning achievement in atmosphere and power. David Gilmour never sounded so serenely powerful then on the guitar solo. It's slow but beautiful and moving, so much so that I get teary eyed every time I hear it. David Gilmour also kills the song vocally in one of his career defining moments behind the microphone.

The rest of the band are no slouches either. Roger Waters' lyrics are poignant and beautiful, Nick Mason's percussion after the famous chiming clocks intro is fantastic and Rick Wright's organ embellishments and harmonies are beautiful. As much as the band was tearing a part at the seams starting around this era, the band was at it's apex of songwriting on Dark Side of the Moon. "Time" isn't the only beautiful track. "Us and Them" as well as "Breathe" are notoriously fantastic tracks. Sadly, with the loss of Rick Wright, a full on Pink Floyd reunion tour is sadly never going to happen, but luckily we got a small glimpse of that during the Live 8 shows in 2005. Roger Waters said it best during the recording of this seminole album: "In the finished article, the only thing that is important is whether it moves you or not. There is nothing else that is important at all."

Up Next: Roxy Music needs to score

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Breif Aside: 2009 Mid Year Review

As I had stated on Twitter and other social media, 2009, where are you! I have yet to listen to much beyond a handful of albums, but luckily that handful has been quite good. So instead of 10 albums halfway through, here are the five best of the first half.

5. Pink Mountaintops - Outside Love - Every year there is a ringer of a record that comes out of left field, lands in my lap and pleases my ears with some great tunes. This year is Black Mountain's frontman Stephen McBean's other craggy project, Pink Mountaintops. No longer a solo effort like the self titled and Axis of Evol records that were more experimental with moments of clarity, Outside Love is a beautiful collective work with many elements from other Canadian indie rockers. The result is a sumptuous feast of slow ballads and swirling reverb. Unlike the druggy and drudgy Black Mountain, Pink Mountaintops is hazy and dreamy. "Axis: Thrones of Love" is a buzzing, hazy opener with swooping vocals and fuzzy guitars. This music is somewhere between shoegaze and stoner rock, which makes it a melodic masterpiece. "Execution" follows suit with the harmonized singing and classic drum beat reminiscent of The Raveonettes last effort, Lust Lust Lust. "Vampire" is a gorgeous love ballad ready for usage on True Blood and "Holiday" sounds like a campfire sing-a-long. All in all, Pink Mountaintops have soared passed their first few efforts to make beautiful, fuzzy psych rock.

Best Track - "Vampire"

4. Graham Coxon - The Spinning Top - To be truly honest with you, everything I've heard of Graham Coxon's solo stuff I was a bit on the meh side with. I will probably have to go back to some of it, but from what I gather, The Spinning Top is definitely his most coherent work and it is a superb work of folk rock goodness with a twinge of psych here and there. His influnces are obvious, but that doesn't make the songs any less beautiful in their own way. Opener "Look Into The Light" is a beautiful, woozy track that sets the tone for the most part. Although a long track at over 8 minutes, "In The Morning" has many shifts in sound that keep it going and keep the listener intrigued. The last three tracks of the album is where we see the true brilliance of sound. "Far From Everything", stellar standout "Tripping Over" and "November" sum up the record in a somber and dark way. Graham Coxon has hit a homer here.

Best Track: "Tripping Over"

3. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amedeus Phoenix - A delightful surprise, Phoenix, who before this album I only knew from the Lost in Translation Soundtrack has released easily one of the best pop music albums of the past few years. Call them the French Shins or just the old backing band for Air, Phoenix creates lush dancey pop not overly synthetic. Enough jangly guitars and interesting ryhthms embellished with sweet synts. Album opener "Lisztomania" has elicited a youtube video mashup of the Brat Packers dancing. It's definitely an 80's feel-goody track with plenty of toe tappingly good riffs. "1901" and "Fences" quickly follow suit before we get to the tonal shift in the two part brilliant "Love Like a Sunset." Part 1 is an instrumental build and shift reminiscent of last years M83 track "Couleurs." Part 2 is a minute and a hald long with vocals and an acoustic guitar shift in sound. It's utterly beautiful. The rest of the album is more like the first half, but songs like "Rome" or "Girlfriend" are just as catchy as the rest. Be sure to check these guys out as I am sure they are the next big thing.

Best Track: "Love Like a Sunset Part 1 & 2"

2. Antony & The Johnsons - The Crying Light - Antony Hagerty is the polar opposite of the next bands. His music is sublime and melancholy. Beautiful chamber music laden with themes of loss and mercy that explode with brilliant musical orchestration that is never overbearing. Although some may find Antony's voice a bit too muddled in affectation, but his voice is the main instrument on the album. From the first words of the album on chilling opener "Her Eyes are Underneath the Ground" to the last notes of "Everglade", the record soars to heights of fancy with beautifully melancholoy lyrics and somber, orchestral movements. "Epilepsy is Dancing" sits as a track showing the bodies restrictions as beautiful art. "One Dove" has so much emotion poured into it that it's hard not to tear up upon listening to it. "Aeon" is a flowing and layered anthem that has some of Antony's most intense vocalizations. The Crying Light is an experience and one that demands its full attention. Every facet of the recording is bathed in beauty.

Best Track - "One Dove"

1. Mastodon - Crack the Skye - As monolithic as it gets, Mastodon's latest effort blows all subsequent brilliance out of the water. Although the brutality of the band's first three records are a bit less evident, Crack the Skye stands as a brilliant piece of fantastic metal music. Mixing everything from David Gilmouresque guitar solos to old fashioned heavy chugging, the album spans many different movements. One striking difference is the amount of singing done on the record. Past albums have been mostly heavy and harsh vocals, but three different members show they can be melodic and it works to the bands advantage. The record kicks off with the space traveling "Oblivion" and shows many of the sides and turns the album will take. "Diviniations" is a fantastic metal song that really has a vibe all its own. "The Czar" blasts forth with prog metal beauty in its epic 10 minutes, but the real epic is the riff explosion of "The Last Baron." Non-stop riffing for over 13 minutes with tons of different breakdowns and changes, this song is as intensely beautiful as it gets and is one of the greatest closers to a record ever. You won't hear much better this year when it comes to hard rock. Mastodon has done it yet again with a record that may be better than Leviathan, if that is even possible.

Best Track - "The Last Baron"

A few other albums have landed in my lap and a few others are coming out. What to look forward to:
Dinosaur Jr. - Farm
Wilco the Album
The Flaming Lips - Embryonic (not sure when it's being released.)
Sonic Youth - The Eternal
The Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca
Bat For Lashes - Twin Suns
St. Vincent - Actor
And hopefully many many more!

Any good suggestions for albums to check out from 2009? Send them my way!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Rock of Ages: The Who - "Love Reign O'er Me" (1973)

To boast a song is the greatest rock song ever written is obviously a bold statement but it's one everyone has to do at some point. You can't not go through life without having a song that defines everything great in music. For me, it comes from my personal favorite band The Who and lies as the closer of the album Quadrophenia. When it comes to raw energy and emotion in a song, "Love Reign O'er Me" is rocks finest anthem of angst and pain and woe. Every last bit of this song, from Roger Daltry's vocal performance to the musical elements is dripping with emotion and beautiful honesty. Pete Townshend is one of rocks greatest and most underrated songwriters. Lyrically the song can be taken off of the concept album and work just as fine as a stand alone track. Musically, this is The Who at their best. John Entwistle's bass playing is stoic and strong, yet complex. Keith Moon packs in as much sound and fury into the five and a half minutes as possible. His drumming is strong and exubrant as ever, but never takes you away from the rest of the track. Pete Townshend builds a pulsating synth line drizzled with guitar soloing that is less about showmanship and more about the honesty behind the track itself.

Quadrophenia is an amazing album and each song has elements of "Love Reign O'er Me." It's The Who at the pinnacle of their serious rocking. After this record, The Who lost some steam, although weres till able to churn out powerful rockers like "Who Are You" and "Dreaming From The Waist" that are filled with just as much sounda nd fury as this. The Who is easily the best rock band that has a definitive studio sound and a brilliant live act. Seeing this song live even years after it's release is still amazing. The Who consistently rocked my life with Tommy and Quadrophenia being the cream of the crop. They are a rock band who can be fun or be serious. And when they are either of those spectrums of their catalog, they infuse the music with so much rocking that it really can't be denied.

Up Next: Pink Floyd's opus to moments lost

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Rock of Ages: John Cale - "Paris 1919" (1973)

The other mastermind behind The Velvet Underground, John Cale moved onto a rather excellent solo career that got overshadowed by the giant Lou Reed. His music is much more baroque at times, yet he can still lash out a crunchy rocker here and there (see his track "Gun" form Fear.) The more revered record of Cale's catalog is Paris 1919, a collection of intriguing tracks that range from baroque pop to fast boogies. The titular track in question is a very beautiful and dainty track, but one that fills the listener with joy and wonderment. "Paris 1919" takes a less melancholy turn from its predecessor, "Eleanor Rigby" by The Beatles. The comparison lies in the composition itself and that's about it. Entirely composed of strings and some embellishment from French horns, the song has an air of elegance to it.

Although the song is comprised of grandiose instrumentation, it is sparse all at once. Strings and horns only fill the air, but John Cale seems to command it with a lightness that lets the notes soar on their own. "Paris 1919" is a perfect pop song that takes the unconventional route of using baroque instruments rather than rock instruments. John Cale's career is one of mystery. His time in the Velvets and his solo career output some of the best art rock and straight up best pop music I have ever heard, but beyond inspiring bands like Yo La Tengo, his name is oft forgotten or overshadowed by his other Velvets half, Lou Reed. They both created some of the best art rock of the 1970's and "Paris 1919" may be one of the best pop songs of that era.

Up Next: The Greatest Rock Song Of All Time

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Rock of Ages: Mott the Hoople - "Foxy, Foxy" (1974)

Mott the Hoople is best known as Bowie's favorite band, which he produced their biggest album, All The Young Dudes as well as wrote the titular track for said album. It seems like Mott the Hoople was never able to get out from under Bowie's monolithic shadow and will forever be remembered for only one great track. In my phase of researching other great glam artists beyond T.Rex and Bowie, I dipped into the albums of Mott the Hoople, which range from Dylanesque to straight up party glam, I found a track that stuck out as being superior to their most famous song. "Foxy, Foxy", which is a single released around the same era as their underrated and fantastic record The Hoople, is a song reminiscent of Phil Spector's era of wall of sound goodness infused with glam rock power and libido.

The opening drum beat is taken from "Be My Baby" and is laden with piano and a great back beat. Ian Hunter's singing is at it's all time best and the band projects a bravado and swagger that is soaked in beautiful orchestration. This song has less of the guitars that Mott the Hoople and is heavier on their horn section and piano. It has lush sounds and is as theatrical as any other glam rock anthem should be. Mott the Hoople gets overlooked in the grand scheme of classic rock and roll and a forgotten single like "Foxy, Foxy" deserves its due.

Up Next: John Cale harkens back to "Eleanor Rigby"

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Rock of Ages: Big Star - "Thirteen" (1972)

In the wake of the Beatles shattering in 1970, much of popular music took many different turns. Glam rock, heavy metal, arena & prog were huge at this time and long standing acts started shifting in style, dying off or just plain breaking up. The pop sound of that era was redefined by many groups in the decade to follow, but none quite like Big Star. They had a distinct feel of their own that was a great way to reignite the love of great pop rock and roll music. Their influence can be seen in the likes of Jeff Buckley, Beck and Elliot Smith, all of which have covered Big Star in their career. Their first album, #1 Record, is a masterwork of power pop goodness. Filled with excellent rock tracks from start to finish, the highlight of the record comes in the form of a beautiful acoustic track entitled "Thirteen." The songcraft is simple, yet dripping with gorgeous melodies that harken back to the glory days of Lennon and McCartney.

The track is very straightforward lyrically, with a theme of young love. "Thirteen" shines in it's harmonies and melodies and it's inviting sound. Although lyrically it may sound simple, one romantic line has always stood out to me:

"Won't you tell me what you're thinking of
Would you be an outlaw for my love
If it's so, well, let me know
If it's "no", well, I can go
I won't make you"

It's that notion inside all of us who has fallen in love wondering if this person has the same feelings for you. It's pretty straightforward but it gets me every time. Big Star never made it big, but their influence and importance is evident in todays music. Big Star is slowly making a resurgance and a box set of their recordings is coming sometime this year. It's a band worth checking out if you are a fan of solid rock and roll.

Up Next: Mott the Hoople harkens back to "Be My Baby"