Monday, 15 October 2018

October Album Reviews: Tom Morello, 'The Atlas Underground'

Oh expectation, you are a fickle thing...

Please don't waste your time listening to this album. It's awful. It is a sad and desperate attempt to hit up a younger demographic by pandering to their supposed interests in a form of EDM that even young people don't enjoy anymore (sorry Skrillex, your style is dated already) and through a host of milennial-friendly "artists" of dubious quality and character. Sure, there are songs of protest here (even Tom Morello can't change that much) and predictably Bib Boi and Killer Mike are phenomenal on "Rabbit's Revenge" but the copious talents of Gary Clark, Jr who is one of the finest blues guitarists on the planet, and the slightly more questionable talents of Marcus Mumford, who sold his soul for fame a while ago, are entirely wasted. And what about the guitar you ask? Surely Tom Morello, guitar pioneer, would at least put out an album that ... nope, stop there or the disappointment will build to almost unbearable proportions. The less we talk about the "guitars", the better. 

Go back to playing guitar Tom - you're great at it and you channel through it so much of the force for change that we need. This album is the opposite of that - disposable and lifeless. 

Overall Rating: 37%
Only Good Song: "Rabbit's Revenge"
Release Date: 12 October, 2018


October Album Review: Gregory Alan Isakov, 'Evening Machines'

There is something very old and natural that Gregory Alan Isakov is able to tap into each time he goes to the well of inspiration for his music; instantly, the listener is able to ease into Isakov’s work, made to feel comfortable and at home amidst the folk and country infused guitar, the warm vocals, and the age-old practice of making beautiful songs out of simple means. Isakov is himself a Colorado-based farmer by trade and a musician by interest perhaps, which, considering the pastoral feel to much of his early work, is fitting.

With 'Evening Machines', as with 2016’s live album recorded with accompaniment by the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, it is clear that Isakov is willing to break from his mould at least a little bit. There are still moments of tenderness and warmth, gently strummed guitars and sparse soundscapes, but there is also a desire to experiment with layers of sound, be it vocal reverb, choral effects, or use of strings. The result is an album that feels as experimental as folk/Americana can get (I abhor genre labels), swinging from the tender simplicity of “San Luis”, a song that would fit comfortably anywhere in Isakov’s back catalogue to the swirl and scale of “Caves”, a song in which Isakov has clearly become unafraid of strings and production to add a certain grandness to his work.

'Evening Machines', if nothing else, is a testament to an artist with an incredible ear for song structure and simplicity, as well as atmosphere and emotion and for that, the listener will find themselves rewarded with each new song. On a grander scale, 'Evening Machines' may also be a bold half-step in a new direction that only adds size and scale to an already powerful performer.

Overall Rating: 82%
Best Song: "Southern Star"
Release Date: 5 October, 2018
Label: Dualtone


Tuesday, 9 October 2018

September Album Review: All Them Witches, 'ATW'

There is no question that Nashville-based quartet All Them Witches are capable of producing music for the genre that they are frequently pigeon-holed into – psychedelic/stoner rock – but it does them no service to do so. Given the raw, gritty, dirty rock aesthetic that they created with 2017’s standout release 'Before the War', it is obvious that such genre labels are the product of the industry much more than it is the band itself. Unfortunately it would seem that with 'ATW', the band’s most recent album release, the foursome have taken a big step backwards in producing music of unquestioned quality or atmosphere, let alone that which defies genre labels.

The biggest drawback of 'ATW'  lies in its penchant for repetition. Not only are the lyrics exceedingly simple and often-repeated, but entire musical phrases seem to be almost cut and pasted over and over; the best example of this worrying trend is “1st v. 2nd”, a song that seems to only use one repeated lyrical line and a guitar & organ riff so painfully re-played that it’s hard to get through the song’s first two minutes, let alone it’s nearly six minute run-time. The bizarrely named and equally bizarrely structured opener “Fishbelly 86 Onions” features lead-singer Michael Parks Jr count to twenty, a moment that goes on far too cringingly long, while “Diamond” sounds like a different band altogether. Second track “Workhorse” is the one rare nod to the quality that the band are capable of, and as such it is also the song most reminiscent of 2017 album 'Before the War'.

Maybe this is bit a blip of an album from a band that is capable of better, or maybe it is a collection of oddities that was pushed out too soon; no matter how you slice it, this is neither the band’s best work nor a good entry point for any listener looking to learn more about a band with a lot more to offer.

Overall Rating: 55%
Best Song: "Workhorse"
Release Date: 28 September, 2018
Label: New West Records


Monday, 8 October 2018

Concert Review: Car Seat Headrest @ Danforth (17 Sept)

Image result for car seat headrest live

For their 2018 tour in support of this year’s album release, Twin Fantasy, Car Seat Headrest are being supported by “the best band in the world” according to their frontman Will Toledo – Naked Giants. Filled with youthful enthusiasm and clearly enamoured with the big rock sound of the early 1990s, Naked Giants are a bit of a jam band fan’s dream in that they are light on lyrics and filled to over-flowing with guitar solos and energetic stage dancing by all three members. The drumming is phenomenal but the lead guitar work does border on self-indulgent at times, seeming to be a fan of the ‘look how fast I can play’ school of instrumentation when perhaps simplicity would have served better. That said, they make for an incredibly entertaining watch, especially the dance moves of bassist Gianni Aiello, and the whole of the band returns on stage to play the entire set with Car Seat Headrest as part of their now 7-person live line-up. 

The difference between the jam band feel of Naked Giants and Car Seat Headrest was immediately apparent in the polish that the latter brought to the stage right from the word go. Within seconds the band had created a convincing Pink Floyd feel as they put their own spin on Lou Reed’s “Waves of Fear” before launching into their own material with “Bodys”. Clearly not content to rest on their laurels, not least with the new line-up which allows for frontman Toledo to focus solely on singing, the whole set featured re-imagined versions of many of their songs, some having their tempo slowed, others almost feeling like country ballads, and especially in the case of “Fill In the Blank”, some given new licks and intros. The overall result was impressive and seemed to keep listeners on their toes. The evolution of “Sober to Death” into a cover of Neil Young’s “Powderfinger” as sung by lead guitarist Ethan Ives, was a standout moment as well. 

If there were negative aspects to the night’s performance, it was a combination of the nauseating light show that too often shone directly into the eyes and the fact that although the 7-piece line-up allowed for a lot of density and depth of sound, it sometimes washed out the finer textures to the songs. 

Overall, Car Seat Headrest are clearly a band that is in the process of evolving and refining their identity from being the product of Will Toledo’s mad genius to the now full and re-imagined sound of a band looking for the upper reaches of their potential. This is a band that is bound to explore a lot of new ground and a lot of new sounds in the coming years.

September Album Review: Bob Moses, 'Battle Lines'

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Almost three years ago to the day, Canadian electronic duo Bob Moses released their debut 'Days Gone By' to great acclaim. Fusing together electronic beats and layering with hooky guitar licks and soft vocals, the duo showed a very obvious knack for writing catchy tunes that explored some of the shadowy elements of both themselves and their genre. With 'Battle Lines', there seems to be a move towards using the same formula to make even more radio-friendly, danceable tracks; the album title, musically at least, is then a bit misleading as many of the songs come off sounding particularly tame in comparison to past efforts.

Though instrumentally there is a constantly successful establishment of ambience and atmosphere in each and every song, many of the tracks make a shift towards safety in terms of vocal delivery and melody. Though those melodies are, as ever, catchy and even at times beautiful, there is still a feeling that on 'Battle Lines', Bob Moses have gone the route of putting first their desire to grow their fan base as opposed to make the music that seems to be their strength, that which explores mood with more depth. The most glaring example of this comes in the first half of the album, especially fourth track “Eye for an Eye”, which really sounds like it could have been made by anyone. Towards the end of the album, the quality grows, especially from track seven, “Enough to Believe” onwards to the record’s finale “Fallen From Your Arms”.

Image result for bob moses

Though many of the band’s hallmarks remain on 'Battle Lines', some of the urgency is lacking in favour of something more friendly to the ears of bigger audiences and broader markets. I cannot fault the band for wanting to stretch out, but the overall musical impact is less as a result, even if there is still a lot to like.

Overall Rating: 68%
Best Song: "Enough to Believe"
Release Date: 14 September, 2018
Label: Domino