Archive for February, 2010

h1

the rock i dig the most ’09: Visqueen

February 28, 2010

Within the first seconds of Visqueen’s Message To Garcia, on first track, “Hand Me Down,” the band announces its return with a classic, cranked up, Ramones-y riff that quickly gives way to pure distortion pedal driven pop rock. Its a sound welcoming and familiar to those of us acquainted with their excellent two previous records, 2004’s Sunset On Dateland and 2002’s King Me. The band had been MIA the past few years. Shortly after touring for Sunset On Dateland, singer/guitarist/songwriter/frontwoman Rachel Flotard decided to put Visqueen on hiatus to care for her terminally ill father. Her father unfortunately passed after a long battle with cancer in early 2008.  Message To Garcia, inspired by and in tribute to Flotard’s father George, is a heartfelt, pogo-inducing, life-affirming record about love that rocks.

Before jump starting Visqueen, Rachel joined up with friend Neko Case to serve up backing vocals in Neko’s touring band.  Neko returns the favor here, supplying backup vocals to a number of tracks on Message To Garcia.  Other members of Case’s backing band turn up here as well, providing an expansion to the band’s guitar/bass/drums sound, including a fantastic pedal steel guitar solo from multi-instrumentalist Jon Rauhouse on “Beautiful Amnesia.”

The too catchy for their own good songs on Message To Garcia are still guided by Rachel’s chainsawing guitar chords, just as they were on those previous, excellent, two albums. This time around though the songs are accented by an extra layer or two of backing vocals, horns, cellos, a pounding piano, squealing organ, hand claps, the previously mentioned pedal steel solo and more. While the punchy aggression displayed on King Me and Sunset On Dateland is slightly dialed down on Message To Garcia, the songs are actually better for it. Rachel’s crystal clear, sweet megaphone of a voice is given more room to breathe and soar over the instrumentation rather than trading punches with the bash and pop of the guitars and drums. The punky riffed power pop takes one short breather altogether at the album’s half time for a bona fide ballad. “So Long” is Flotard’s poignant and direct sad goodbye and thank you of a love song to her father and even that finds a way to summon strength from the tears.

The second half of the album kicks off with the bouncy “Ward” with Rachel cheering on “Baby c’mon, c’mon, c’mon and turn it around.” This is the spirit of the record boiled down to one line of a chorus and not surprisingly is what could be expected from the songs of a woman who in her spare time has taught music to kids and gone to Laos on aid missions, building schools, handing out medicine and food to those less privileged than herself. Like seemingly everything else she appears to do, Visqueen is a force of good.

And for all it’s greatness, soul bearing sadness, sunshine, strength and rock ‘n’ roll, this is a record that couldn’t find a label to release it.  Seriously? Seriously. This is telling of the world we live in and the state of the record industry in general. While the top ten is consistently littered with celebrity clones singing meaningless auto-tuned, pro-tooled product for profit, a record full of musicians rocking out catchy tunes with beautiful voices singing lyrics penned from the heart of the human condition struggles to be heard.  Motherfuckers just don’t get it. Records like this are what it’s supposed to be all about.

Carrying on though is the point. Like any good fighters would, the band, now a four-piece, including Tom Cummings (guitar) and Cristina Bautista (bass) joining Rachel and drummer Ben Hooker, formed their own label and put it out themselves. Buying Message To Garcia, and I do mean BUYING it, listening to it, rocking the fuck out and enjoying it, even when it makes you tear up, feels like supporting all that is right in the world. Message To Garcia is one of my favorite records of the past year for all of the right reasons.

h1

getting stoned.

February 25, 2010

The official announcement from Stone Brewing regarding their arrival in Chicago! Looks like I’ll be needing to take a vacation day or two during the first week of April…

Stone is coming to Chicago on April 1st, no fooling!
Stone Brewing Co. will kick off distribution in the 8 county Chicago metropolitan area with 7 straight days of events! “Stone Beer Week in Chicago” will be an epic celebration of all things Stone, featuring a slew of events at Chicago bars worthy of Stone beers. Dozens of our beers, including rarities from the darkest depths of our archives, will grace tap handles around the Windy City. Along with our beers, we’ll be sending Greg, Mitch, and Steve to meet fledgling Stone fans and introduce our beers! So don’t miss your chance to meet the guys behind Stone Brewing Co. while celebrating the arrival of BeerAdvocate’s “All-Time Top Brewery On Planet Earth.”

h1

reset button #1: guns, guns, guns, shania.

February 24, 2010

While driving this morning, I was behind a Nissan Xterra at a red light that had a National Rifle Association license plate holder, a large NRA seal sticker, a bumper sticker that said “Sportsmen For McCain-Palin” and another bumper sticker that said “Hey Dumb Ass! It’s lack of parenting, not guns!”   There was one other sticker on the car too… a picture of Shania Twain that simply said, “Shania Twain.”

It’s one thing to choose to live your life as the cookie-cutter stereotype of an SUV driving, republican voting, gun owning, animal killing, bad country music listening moron. But it is something else entirely to seek out, purchase and adhere a bunch of messages to your gas guzzling vehicle to advertise your collective poor choices, insecurities and bad taste, while at the same time already antagonizing anyone that might notice and disagree with whatever it was you are pretending we are debating by calling them a “dumb ass.” This is just weak-minded, defensive, narcissistic and arrogant.

You wanted me to notice. Congratulations, I did. You are stupid, weak and pathetic. You also have bad taste in music. You are the worst type of asshole. The world would be a better place without you in it.

All of this before I even got to work today. Just another mid-week morning commute in middle America.

h1

the rock i dig the most ’09: Baroness

February 18, 2010

There are at least two dozen different moments on Baroness’ Blue Record that  remind me of Queen’s 1985 Flash Gordon soundtrack. I mean this in only the most respectable way. As in, there are guitar lines so striking that they make me want to shout “Hawkmen, Dive!” at the top of my lungs. Good Metal should make you want to do shit like that. Now, Blue Record isn’t full of campy dialogue drops and dated synth, but it sounds majestic like that Flash Gordon record sounded. In fact, the guitar leads on Blue Record’s “The Sweetest Curse” sound like the kind of leads Brian May might have laid down if he had done time in Thin Lizzy. It has that completely over-the-top feeling of that Flash Gordon record. It is heavy and bombastic but has its transitional moments of beautiful, though disconcerting, calm.

Most of all, it actually sounds like a soundtrack. The songs are more like the individual movements that make up a larger piece, flowing into each other flawlessly. Even when you know Blue Record by heart, it’s hard to pick out where one song ends and another begins. Except that the movie for Blue Record only exists in your head. Well, they did make a video, but sadly, if you’ve seen this horrible, horrible video for this great, great song, you have no fucking idea what that movie might be about and likely wouldn’t want to see it. Blue Record’s visuals are probably better served by the stunning cover art created by lead singer/guitarist John D. Baizley.

Adding to the visual confusion presented by the video I linked above are the lyrics. I’ve listened to Blue Record no less than a hundred times and I’ll be damned if I know what these songs are truly about. The lyrics read like scripture and sound like a series of poems barked out by a madman. When the shouting temporarily subsides, the vocals trip into a psychedelic and atmospheric harmony floating over sparse acoustic guitar and piano, as on “Steel That Steeps The Eye.”  Thematically, I’m picking up that God doesn’t like war and that there is something about a horse and some fish, bullhead catfish specifically. Metaphorical, sure; biblically symbolic, maybe; no idea, most definitely, and that’s about as far as I’ve gotten. It’s tough being a fan of what some would call Stoner Metal and not actually getting stoned. Bands like Baroness and Mastodon make me want to own a bong and know a guy.

Of course, though, it’s the music that ultimately matters and when really smart guys get into mastering Metal and marijuana, generally, really great things happen. It happened here and with guttural vocals blasting through the chugging crush of riffs, Baroness delivered a killer Metal record in every respect. Though it’s the layers of guitar work from Baizley and Peter Adams that make Blue Record more than just another killer Metal record. There’s the aforementioned Brian May in Thin Lizzy quality of the leads, the Zeppelin III-era Jimmy Page acoustic flavoring of the minute long interlude, “Blackpowder Orchard,” (which then lays another Brian May Flash Gordon lead over it). Yeah, back to those Flash Gordon comparisons again. The instrumental “Ogeechee Hymnal” straight up sounds like some lost demo track for that record.

What Baroness achieves on Blue Record is grandiose and wild, headbanging and head scratching, gorgeous and severe. Baroness proves that melody doesn’t have to be sacrificed for heaviness and that psychedelic doesn’t have to mean slow and spacey. They fall into none of the trappings of  Metal’s various and never ending subgenres while staying true to the traditions those subgenres define. On only their second full length album Baroness has carved out their own distinct niche.

h1

mayor daley not the only arrogant bastard in chicago?

February 16, 2010

Is solid info surfacing on San Diego’s excellent Stone Brewing Co. finally making their beers available in Illinois? The last time these rumors floated in Chicago it was 2008 and nothing really came of it.  Though, I was lucky enough to visit the Hopleaf a year or so ago when they mysteriously had a keg of Stone Ruination Imperial IPA on tap. Turned out to be a one-time thing as a few of the brewers from Stone were in town for a conference and had brought a little gift with them.  This time around though, the rumor is picking up steam. I hit the site of my favorite neighborhood pub the other day and it said this:

…Stone is comming, stone is comming, stone is comming.
um. thats it…

A little googling then turned this up from the brewery’s twitter:

Awesome! Details soon. RT @LimestoneBrew: @stonebrewingco When are you coming into the Chicago Market? We want to carry your great beers! 6:51 PM Jan 29th from TweetDeck

So while no official announcement exists as of yet (that I could find anyway), we’ve got a good Chicago craft beer bar and the brewery’s twitter hinting that it’s a done deal. Someone on Chicago’s best dining board is also saying Stone brews will be in the Chicago area within the next month or so, for whatever that’s worth.

Illinois is cursed with some of the lamest alcohol distribution laws on the books. Old money and the Chicago way are, not surprisingly, still hard at work in this town. Some ridiculous bureaucratic hammer could drop and squash this fantastic news at any time (see the reasons that Bell’s left the Chicago market altogether for nearly two years back in ’06), but given the sources I’m seeing online so far I’m feeling pretty good about  the long-awaited arrival of Stone in Chicago. It’s been long overdue as they are among the last of the “big boys” of American craft brewing to distribute here. Who knows, if Stone can finally make it into Illinois after Port Brewing did it in 2009, maybe that other California brewery, Russian River, the maker of the world’s new #1 beer, can make it happen as well. Dare to dream…and drink.

h1

the rock i dig the most ’09: Mastodon

February 11, 2010

My most played album of 2009 is nothing short of an epic Heavy Metal mindfuck. An epic Heavy Metal mindfuck so unavoidably good that it even landed on the radar of someone that actually got paid to write about records for Time magazine. Though, their lame so-called review finds reason to apologize for it, as if admitting that it is good should be beneath you because well, it’s a Metal record by a Metal band. Who the hell reads Time magazine these days anyway, let alone for their music reviews? Still, I find it interesting that a record this downright heavy and “out there” is able to cross-over to audiences outside of the Metal world. Not a bad thing.

And heavy and “out there” it is. The limitations of the human body, astral projection, time travel(?), Rasputin, bodily possession, the limitless nature  of space…I don’t know that I’ll ever quite get my head completely around all of the themes and ideas presented on this record, but that is part of its depth. Crack The Skye is like one of those cool “pick-a-path” books I used to read in sixth grade where you turn to page 78 to fight the dragon on your own, or turn to page 112 to fall back and gather your wizard, barbarian and dwarf.  Aspects of the story this record tells can mean one thing to me on one listen and on the next listen, something completely different jumps out at me and in a completely different way. On one listen the story is a literal narrative, on another, purely metaphorical.

The fact that I am yet again blasting Mastodon’s Crack The Skye into my head via my headphones (and this is a true headphones record) as I write this and am still finding new details to geek out about is a testament to its greatness. There is just so much here to digest. Musically, Crack The Skye is a shape shifter of a record.  From traditional thrash Metal riffage to bursts of heavy prog to beautiful melodic stretches to atmospheric spacey interludes, Crack The Skye feels like the music itself is traveling and exploring. An aspect emphasized all the more when you listen to the alternate instrumental “score” version of it. The vocals, though, lend themselves to this vibe. With 3 of the band’s 4 members handling lead vocals at any given time plus guest Scott Kelly of Neurosis showing up on the title track, this multi-faceted recording benefits from its multi-faceted and distinctly different voices.

I’m now three paragraphs into talking about this record and I haven’t even brought up the guitar work or the guitar solos yet. For all its adventurous complexity, Crack The Skye is a Heavy Metal record after all, and Mastodon is downright fucking brutal (a compliment). The twin-guitar attack (that’s never not fun to write) of Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher creates a bizarre symphonic tornado of sound so killer that it lands them on the covers of every guitar geek mag still in print. Don’t take my word for it. Check out “Divinations” stripped of drums, bass and vocals:

So not only do you have killer guitar work, Mastodon’s Brann Dailor is by far the best drummer in Metal right now. Which, if you’re the best drummer in Metal, that pretty much makes you the best drummer in all of Rock. Dailor’s work is constantly busy and always tasteful. Fills roll on top of fills on top of fills, all while pounding and spiraling through time signatures that are more at home in jazz and prog than in thrash. It’s as if Neil Peart and Dave Lombardo had a hyperactive, more artistic baby.

Troy Sanders’ bass lines seemingly hold all the cacophony of Mastodon together, sort of guiding the songs through their elaborate mazes. The centerpiece of Crack The Skye, the four-part, nearly eleven minute “The Czar” is a prime example of this. Plus, he’s the most versatile singer in the band, armed with a voice clean enough to be clearly understood (something not to be taken for granted in modern Metal) and able to, at times, lend a more melodic leaning to the vocals and yet rough enough to push the more aggressive moments over the edge…and he has a really cool beard.

Mastodon’s Crack The Skye is simply a band in their prime hitting on all cylinders. There are no weak links and the chemistry of the band’s four musicians is in perfect balance. This is Metal executed as a form of art. Not just one of the best albums of the year, and not just the best Metal album of the year, but one of the best albums of all time. Not even a full year since it’s release, Crack The Skye is already a classic.

h1

super bowl pick: the guy with the birthmark on his face.

February 7, 2010

“Watching the Indianapolis Colts play football is like listening to a slick, over-produced album.”
– My wife.

When my wife said the above statement, she was explaining to me why she couldn’t get excited to watch the Colts vs. Ravens playoff game a few weeks ago. I argued that the Colts are totally worthy of watching because we are seeing what is arguably the greatest quarterback to ever play the game in his prime. What I said was true and she didn’t dispute it, but she was still right and I knew exactly what she meant.  In fact, Peyton Manning being the future greatest quarterback of all-time is the main reason why I understood exactly what she meant.

It’s no surprise that the Indianapolis Colts are in the Super Bowl. You watch them on offense, it is somehow 3rd and 8 (likely due to some running plays that didn’t work out), and what happens? Oh look, it’s another perfect pass play. Fourteen yard gain, first down.  Variations on this scenario occur a dozen or so times per game during this era of Colts football we are currently watching. Peyton Manning is the smartest guy on the field. His pass rush, coverage and blitz reads are always correct. His audibles at the line are always the right thing to do. His accuracy is pinpoint. His arm, a cannon. Peyton Manning is in total control of both his team’s offense and his opponent’s defense. He barely ever gets hit and he sees things before they happen. Colts receivers, be they first round draft pick perennial pro bowlers (Reggie Wayne) or guys you’ve never even heard of until this year (Pierre Garcon), seemingly never drop his passes, be they 4-yard dumps or 70-yard bombs. The Colts don’t have big plays called back on stupid penalties. Even when Manning throws the ball away, he does it perfectly, and only when it is the absolute right thing to do at the time. Peyton Manning is the best player in football and when you are watching the Indianapolis Colts play, you are watching the game being played at it’s very best. So why is it that we can’t get excited to watch the Colts?

Unless you are from Indiana, or are an old-school Baltimore Colts fan that decided to stick with the club, you shouldn’t be a Colts fan. If you are a Colts fan and you don’t fall into the two categories I just mentioned, you are likely one of those annoying bandwagon-jumping asshats that started liking the Colts right around the time they started winning a whole hell of a lot of games. That means you really don’t know anything about football and should probably be a Steelers or a Cowboys fan. You’ll fit right in. And unless you’re a Titans, Texans or Jaguars fan that watches your team get picked apart by the Colts twice a year, you probably don’t really have a bunch of reasons to hate the Colts. Most of us watching them play all of those prime time and nationally televised games are indifferent. We expect that the Peyton Manning-led team is going to win and then they do. Their awesome 70-yard pass plays aren’t exciting because we totally thought that was going to happen anyway.

It’s with a sense of malaise that we watch this great team perform. We respect Peyton Manning, but we really don’t root for him. But we don’t hate him the way we do that overrated cookie-cutter frathouse poster boy Tony Romo or that GQ-coverboy, actress/model fucking Tom Brady. Manning and the Colts give us nothing but perfect football. Well, beyond rooting for the underdog by nature, I’ve decided that I need some reasons to hate Manning and the Colts. It makes this game that I don’t really have a personal stake in a little more fun to drink beers along with tomorrow. I am going to hate Peyton Manning for having no flaws and no soul…just like that overproduced rock record my wife was talking about. Because no one with any taste whatsoever likes over-produced rock records. If the Colts were a rock band, they’d be Daughtry. Not even Nickelback, but Daughtry. The Saints ain’t exactly punk rock. I mean, Reggie Bush dates Kim Kardashian, and Jeremy Shockey went to the University of Miami and has some of the dumbest tough guy jock-asshole tattoos ever, but they would probably at least be that singer guy from Slipknot’s hard-rock side project or something like that.

The NFL loves to break out that super 8 home movie footage of Peyton, Eli and Cooper (why do I know his name?) Manning throwing the pigskin around in the backyard as children. I’m sure we’ll probably see it again during tomorrow’s endless broadcast. Even as kids they’re wearing replica NFL uniforms and helmets. The sons of Archie and Olivia (why the hell do I know her name?) were born to excel at pro football. There is something creepily ‘Stepford Wives’ about the Manning family and I don’t want to see any more of those robots hoisting shiny new trophies while wearing badly designed Super Bowl champ baseball caps as a rain of confetti falls upon them.

More reasons to see things my way:

  • Peyton Manning has a legendary NFL quarterback for a father and has another NFL quarterback for a brother.
  • Drew Brees has had more mother issues than he has had passing yards. Google Drew Brees + Mother for details.
  • Peyton Manning is on every other television commercial you see. He endorses Sony HDTVS, Oreo cookies, Wheaties breakfast cereal, Gatorade, Mastercard, DirecTV, Sprint, Reebok, and probably a dozen more I can’t think of.
  • Drew Brees was featured in an NFL United Way ad. That’s the only one I seem to remember. Maybe it’s because Drew Brees has bad hair and a weird birthmark on his face that, for whatever reason, he has never gotten removed.
  • The Colts and Peyton Manning already have a Lombardi trophy.
  • The Saints have never been there in their 43 year history and their fans have suffered through decades of horrible teams.
  • The entire state of Indiana is dry on Sunday. Meaning, you can’t even buy beers at the grocery store on a Sunday because that black hole of a state still keeps ridiculous laws that draw on the asinine religious beliefs of a few on the books.
  • New Orleans is…well, New Orleans. Partying by any means necessary is their culture.

I don’t know about you, but I’m rooting for the underdog, the team that needs it more, the team that deserves it more, the team with some flaws and the guy with the birthmark on his face.

More importantly, my fridge is stocked for Super Bowl Sunday with Three Floyds Alpha King, Green Flash Hop Head Red, Victory Yakima Twilight Ale, New Belgium Ranger IPA and Dogfish Head/Sierra Nevada Life & Limb. Even if the Saints lose, I win. Who dat?