Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year (and some reflections on 2007)

While I've had this site for a few years, I've only been really dedicated to it for the last eight months and that time has certainly been interesting. Prior to May of this year, I would write periodically about a record I bought or a show I saw, but it was never consistent and I never even considered the idea of getting on promo lists for bands, labels and publicists. With the encouragement of a couple friends, I decided to get a little more serious about this site and my writing. Don't get me wrong though, this is still a hobby. I have no illusions about it being a professional endeavor nor do I want it to be. However, the road of promos down which I began to walk was a road paved with more obligations than music had ever held for me and that has been a mixed blessing.

It has certainly been a lot of fun. There were a lot of packages at my door this year (so many that my wife suggested I do something really nice for a mail carrier) and each one was like getting gift that I had to open with my ears as much as my hands. When a new album arrived, who knew if it was good, bad, mediocre, crazy, safe. It was always an adventure and there were so many surprises, both good and bad, that it has been anything but dull. One friend suggested that I was opening Pandora's Box and that I would find myself getting more junk than I'd know what to do with. With that in mind, I learned early to be a little bit selective when offered something for review and the result has defied my friend's prediction. I really did get the opportunity to hear a lot of good music this year that I would have missed otherwise. It's simply amazing how much good music out there goes unnoticed by most of us.

While writing about live music was nothing new, I had opportunities to photograph shows for the first time. I've been dabbling in photography since I was a little kid. Still, taking pictures at shows was a greater challenge than I expected. I got some good shots, but it's certainly something for me to improve on in the coming year.

Another new experience has been interviews. I've done a few this year and they've turned out pretty good. Coming up with a set of questions is a lot harder than throwing a few questions to a friend to ask in an interview he's doing. Email interviews are obviously easier to turn around, but I've tried a few over the phone also and that's been fun. I have to thank Ray for sharing some pointers from his experience. I think my questions benefited quite a bit from his insight.

Having dealt with labels and publicists for the first time, I got a little bit of insight into the business end of things and that hasn't always been so great. But for every person who seemed all about the business end of things, there was at least one who still really cared about the music. There were a few people, most notably at Smithsonian Folkways, Beartrap PR and XO Publicity, that I've met that are really into the music of the bands they work with. It was always refreshing to get a package from them, because I knew it would be good stuff and I also knew they were excited to get the word out for these artists. That always made me feel like I was participating in something that works the way I think music should.

I tried to keep bands posted when I ran a review of their material and I've gotten a variety of response ranging from sincere appreciation to silence. The thank yous were nice, but there were a few times where someone wrote back and I felt like they really got what I was saying. I'm sure that feels the same way for a band when they read a review that seems to really understand what they tried to accomplish.

Interestingly enough, the two best responses I got all year though were from bands that got less than glowing reviews. I did a myspace review of a New Jersey band called Bong Hits for Jesus at the request of one of their friends. I emailed her when it was complete and she passed it on to the band members. One of them in turn posted a link to the review on a local forum before even reading it. Now that's honesty. He was willing to take whatever came, no hard feelings, no excuses. After he read it, he quoted me in his signature line on that forum, saying, "They're not a bad band." That spontaneous, devil-may-care approach is both strength of character as well as a strength of the band.

The second really good response came from the Frantic. I gave their Audio and Murder album a mere 5/10 and basically called it derivative. When they read the review, the response wasn't anger, outrage or petty attacks. Instead, they invited me to catch their live show so they can prove me wrong. You can bet I'll do my best to be there when they come to town. I'd love to eat my words, because I really respect this reaction. They're a young band and they have the right attitude, a mix of confidence and humility, that may just help them grow into an outstanding band.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, I got the following from a band I covered live:
"thanks for coming out... i feel the review was a weak one, but its easier to knock down a band than support one...but im sure people would rather read a negative review for entertainment purposes. Other than that, we always have too good of a time, especially being on tour with the [band they opened for]. The pictures are good, but the writing of the review is less than mediocre, if not poor. I guess anyone can 'write' nowadays."
Now, I gave the local opening act a good review and the headliner a good review, so why would I pick on this band if I was just out to write a negative review? Always interested in a growth opportunity, I responded asking what he found so poor about my writing other than the fact that he disagreed about the show. Guess what he said? Nothing. No response. Nada. So it turns out that I must have struck a nerve and rather than ask himself what might have gone wrong with the show, he tries to dismiss my writing as poor. Now, I might be a poor writer, but that clearly wasn't his point. His feelings were hurt. Too bad for him. If he didn't want a bad review, he should have put on a better show.

Of course, I also had that goofy experience with the White Noise Supremacists a few months ago. It was funny, but in retrospect, I probably shouldn't have published the response. I didn't really amuse anyone as much as I'd hoped and clearly just exacerbated the ugliness. Oh well, live and learn.

So, at this point, I'm now facing a new challenge: burnout. Every time I finish a review and go back to my pile of CDs awaiting a listen, I realize that there's a lot of work involved in this. Have I bit off more than I can chew? Am I giving everything a fair shot? Am I being too easy or too hard on things? I've largely taken the last week or so off to try to figure out where things stand. That has me a little bit further behind, but I think my head is a little bit clearer, so hopefully I'll be a little bit better prepared for the rigors of playing rock journalist in 2008. I really do want to stick with this, but only as long as it remains fun overall and only as long as I feel like I'm doing some real good for the music I love.

Thanks to everyone who's read my meandering nonsense throughout the year. Whether you just stopped by, left a comment or contacted me, I appreciate it. Also, thanks to all the bands for making music. Whether it was amazing or mediocre, it's important and I appreciate what you've shared. Thanks as well to all the writers who've turned me on to new music. It's been a great way to find bands I may have missed otherwise. I can only hope that I've done the same for someone else.

I also want to thank Chuck for submitting a few reviews to Rock and Roll and Meandering Nonsense. He's a really good writer and it was great to get his point of view (as well as his definition of a Queensrÿche). I hope that he'll contribute some other reviews and articles in 2008 despite being busy with his own writing. I would also welcome anyone else who might be interested in having something published on Rock and Roll and Meandering Nonsense to let me know and we'll see if we can work together. I don't see this site as necessarily being mine, so I really do welcome input.

Another thing I tried out this year was Whole Lotta Album Covers with Chuck, Metal Mark and Ray of the Metal Minute. The site focused on the artwork rather than the music. It was fun to work together on this, but I think we all lost focus as our own sites picked up and we realized we had been outclassed.

Thanks again for stopping by. I hope you've found something cool here during your visit(s). Have a great new year full of good music. Pray for peace.


Friday, December 28, 2007

Top 20 (or so) of 2007

I have to say that 2007 was a good year for my ears. I didn't spend a lot of time scouring the pop charts, but there's so much out there that one doesn't have to look very hard to find some good stuff just beneath the surface in just about any genre. (I didn't really stick to 20, because I'd basically be flipping a coin to see who made the list at the bottom. Why should split hairs like that to meet some arbitrary number?)
  1. Frontier Folk Nebraska - The Devil's Tree: Of everything I heard this year, this is the album I came back to the most. "Kentucky Girl" is one of the most touching songs I've ever heard.

  2. Bedouin Soundclash - Street Gospels: There was nothing wrong with Bedouin Soundclash's previous release, but this is a huge step forward. It's the subtleties that took them from good to great. Not only are the songs catchy, but they have a lot of heart that backs them up.

  3. Chuck Ragan - The Blueprint Sessions: The only problem with the album is that it was such a limited release. It seems unfair to keep something this good from the rest of the world.

  4. Various Artists - Down Home Saturday Night: Smithsonian Folkways has an uncanny ability to recognize that the connection between a group of songs is much more than stylistic. This one is an album of old school party music, but unlike today, even the party music had teeth.

  5. De Novo Dahl - Shout: This record could make you get up and celebrate life even if you'd just lost your dog.

  6. Tia Carerra - Heaven/Hell EP and You Are the War 7": Heavy and trippy. No current band is doing fuzzed out psyche better than Tia Carerra. (This is two records, but in their initial release, they came as a package.)

  7. Titan - A Raining Sun of Light and Love for You and You and You: Titan puts the rock in progressive rock, correcting the errors of their predecessors.

  8. Long Distance Calling - Satellite Bay: Whether you like the term post-metal or not, these guys are one of the subgenre's most adventurous bands.

  9. Building the State - Faces in the Architecture: It's as smart as math rock without being too smart for its own good.

  10. Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles - Diamonds in the Dark: Sarah Borges recognizes that the road to the roots of rock n roll isn't the express train back to Hank Williams.

  11. Pomegranates - Two Eyes: This off-kilter indie pop EP is both gentle and jarring at the same time.

  12. Thrice - The Alchemy Index Vols. I & II: Fire & Water: Concept albums can be scary, but Thrice not only nails the concept, but stretches out musically and fulfills their early potential.

  13. Avett Brothers - Emotionalism: The Avett Brothers get lumped in with a thousand other Americana bands, but it's their eclecticism that makes them stands out.

  14. Hanoi Rocks - Street Poetry: After watching the genre they pioneered implode on itself and then make a mockery of anything that was good in its heart, Hanoi Rocks return to show not only that they were one of the few great glam bands from the 80s, but that they can actually play in that decimated genre with heart.

  15. The New Dress - Where Our Failures Are: Billy Bragg is clearly an influence on their music, but also on their hearts.

  16. Papermoons - 7" EP: This is a short one, but the songs were so perfect and moving.

  17. Awake and Alert - Devil in a Lambskin Suit: Maya Peart's voice is amazing and behind it is music that's every bit as good.

  18. Papertrigger - Riot Lovers: Papertrigger make their dark, seedy cabaret tunes rock in the truest sense of the word.

  19. Towers of Hanoi - Paranoia for the New Year: They're as challenging as the best post-hardcore, yet as accessible as a hard rock band.

  20. 31 Knots - The Days and Nights of Everything Anywhere: Despite being almost completely devoid of hooks, this album walks the fine line between pop and insanity.

  21. White Stripes - Icky Thump: What amazes me about the White Stripes is that they keep finding things that work and then push on to something new. They're never satisfied and yet they never fail to please.

  22. Paschall Brothers - On the Right Road Now: This Gospel album isn't just R&B that sees the Light, it's a conversion experience.

There were many other releases that also deserve mention. Grayceon's self-titled album created prog that was oddly full of emotion. Magnet School's Tonight We Drink... expanded U2's "Bullet the Blue Sky" into a whole album without seeming like some music geek experiment. The Chesterfield Kings' Psychedelic Sunrise and Len Price 3's Rentacrowd both revived the 60s garage sound without being stuck in nostalgia. A self-titled 7" from Street Smart Cyclist picked up where the Minutemen left off. Picastro created a friend for the sad times with Whore Luck. The beautiful dissonance of Thrushes' Sun Come Undone was a strong contender as well. Even the Gypsy Pistoleros, a band working in the long played out glam genre, made quite a splash with their Latin-flavored sleaze rock. All in all, I'd say it was a fine year for anyone willing to look beneath the surface and find the other stuff that's out there.

Check out some other Best of 2007 lists:
Bring Back Glam
Hard Rock Hideout
Heavy Metal Addiction
Heavy Metal Time Machine
Imagine Echoes
Layla’s Classic Rock Faves
Metal Minute
Raise your Fists
Rock of Ages

This one's a little different, because it's not made up of albums that came out this year, just ones Chuck reviewed this year:
Pratt Songs


Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Worst of 2007

While I heard a lot of really good music in 2007, the year wasn't without its clunkers. Let's get them out of the way today and be free to enjoy the best 2007 had to offer tomorrow.

5. Mountain - Masters of War:
Why does Leslie West think Bob Dylan needs Mountain to prove his relevance? After this disaster of an album, one thing is completely clear: Mountin is NOT relevant.
4. Bryan Ferry - Dylanesque:
It was a bad year to do Dylan covers. Bryan Ferry commits an altogether different set of crimes against Mr Zimmerman and the results are even worse.
3. Superdude - Pothead Punk:
Spending time on the periphery of Andy Warhol's crowd 40 years ago doesn't necessarily translate to good music. In Superdude's case, it translates to crap.
2. Supagroup - Fire for Hire:
Isn't it bad enough that AC/DC is stupid and boring? Not in Supagroup's mind. They thought it was necessary to regurgitate Angus and company, only duller and dumber. This is perhaps the most moronic record I've ever heard. Maybe it would have been better if they'd spent more time writing and less time fantasizing about underage girls. Probably not.
1. Queensrÿche - Take Cover:
I really struggled with the number one spot. How could anything be worse than Supagroup after all? I think what put Queensrÿche over the top though is that they should have known better. Supagroup is a bunch of dummies, but Queensrÿche, despite years and years of soulless music, should have known better. Even for them, these covers are amazingly heartless and show no real understanding of the songs.
(Dis)Honorable Mention. Sebastian Bach - Angel Down:
While this isn't quite among the dregs of 2007, it was perhaps the year's most disappointing. I had read several good reviews and was expecting it to be decent. Instead, it was just s thin shell of an album and failed to live up to even my limited expectations. It seemed okay on first listen, but when I tried to really dig into it, there was nothing inside.

So, there you have it. The year's worst. Stop by tomorrow for a more positive list that better suits my sunny disposition!


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Video: Bing Crosby and David Bowie - Little Drummer Boy

It might be a little corny, but they sound really good together. Merry Christmas and God bless!


Monday, December 24, 2007

Video: Run DMC - Christmas in Hollis

Here's a fun one for Christmas Eve. It's Christmastime in Hollis, Queens...


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Chuck Ragan will be playing a few solo gigs between HWM shows!

From SideOneDummy:

Los Angeles, December 20, 2007. Hot Water Music is back together for a few select shows in Florida, Jersey and Chicago. In between those shows co-lead singer of HWM and SideOne solo artist Chuck Ragan will play some acoustic solo gigs. Ben Nichols of Lucero and Joshua English of 6 Going On 7 will be supporting.

Here are the dates:

1/20 Jacksonville, FL - Jack Rabbits
1/21 Atlanta, GA - Vinyl
1/22 Wilmington, NC - The Soapbox
1/23 Washington, DC - The Blackcat
1/24 Hoboken, NJ - Maxwells
1/27 Cambridge, MA - Middle East
1/28 Pittsburgh, PA - Garfield Artworks
1/29 Cleveland, OH - Grog Shop
1/30 Detroit, MI - Magic Stick
1/31 Chicago, IL - Schubas

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DVD: Kiss - Kissology Vol 3 1992-2000

Label: VH1 Classic Records

Released: December 18, 2007

Frankly, I expected the third volume of the Kissology to be the least essential. While the Revenge tour material was likely to be decent and the Unplugged reunion with Ace and Peter shouldn't be missed, the rest followed them through their years of touring with the make-up back on and the stage show back in all its supposed splendor in what can only be explained as an attempt to milk both their first generation fans for another go around as well as a new brood of mesmerized adolescents. I mean didn't they bring back Eric Singer at one point and have him put on the cat costume?

So, my hopes were low, but I had forgotten how exciting the Unplugged performance was and how that electricity extended into the initial reunion tour in 1996. Whether it was a money-grubbing scheme or not, they did bring their best and those performances show it, particularly the MTV VMA awards show under the Brooklyn Bridge. Disc three shows them at their worst (at least since the Elder) as everyone but Paul seems to be going through more of an ordeal than a good time. To Paul's credit, despite Kiss' numerous blatant money-making ploys, he seems to have always tried to adhere to the old Motown model of making a fortune by making the best product possible. However, his audience had become nostalgic middle-aged guys, evidenced by the crowd shots (did you see that goofball with his one sleeve rolled up to show off his the Kiss Army tattoo?) and that almost never produces good rock n roll.

Disc four was a nice surprise. It's Kiss' earliest filmed performance from December 1973. Why wasn't it included on Vol. 1? In typical Kiss fashion, they're more concerned with presentation than anything else and it was felt that the footage was too raw to kick the project off. It ended up being a good decision. Kiss, love them or hate them, had a long, successful run and it would be sad to see it end with a farewell tour where their hearts weren't entirely in it (once again with the exception of Paul). After the waning energy of the Farewell Tour show from 2000 which shows them as innocuous as apple pie (though not nearly as good), it's nice to be blown away by how shocking they must've been 27 years earlier. Can you imagine having been there?

None can compete with the first volume which finds Kiss first hungry to succeed and then at their peek where they still believed that the best way to make money was to produce a quality product, but Vol. 3 really does have some essential moments, even for the cursory fan.

Rating: 7/10

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DVD: Kiss - Kissology Vol 2 1978-1991

Label: VH1 Classic Records

Released: August 14, 2007

I'd be surprised if anyone expected the Kissology installments to get better as they progressed just because the band clearly peaked during the period covered by Vol 1. I didn't find it odd that Vol 2 didn't have the thrill of the first one, but I was surprised at what a step down they took in the 80s. I really don't remember it being quite that bad. Where they were once innovators (as performers, not musicians), they were followers during this second period and while they brought in several more skilled players during this time, they became a great example of why the best technical skills aren't always what gets the job done.

While they may not have been able to survive with Ace and Peter any longer, Eric Carr, Vinnie Vincent and Bruce Kulick all exemplify why some bands are better off with less technically proficient players. There is no doubt that Carr and Kulick and even Vincent were better technicians, but the resulting cleaner sound was generally as dull as the new hair metal glory they were chasing.

After the Creatures of the Night material, there is little here that needs to be seen by anyone not blinded by a mindless love of Kiss. Nostalgia did make me want to see Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park again, but good sense made me turn it off and leave it in the memories of my Kiss-obsessed childhood. The unmasking on MTV may seem like a big moment in rock history, but it doesn't have any heart like the reunion did in the next decade even if both were strictly about maximizing their profits.

The make-up may have run its course, but once Kiss took it off, they also became followers, walking through the hair metal door that they may have opened, but that they had previously avoided walking through by being uniquely Kiss. Their music never broke down any barriers like their performances did, but through most of this volume, even their performances weren't over the top.

Like the other volumes, it is a nice package for the money (probably due to their marketing teams cost benefit analysis), but it isn't essential for anyone except die-hard fans.

Rating: 5/10

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Review: The Wildbirds - Golden Daze

Label: PRC

Released: August 14, 2007

The Wildbirds draw on a variety of late 60s and early 70s influences on Golden Daze. At times they turn it into their own sound, but at other times, they filter it through more recent regurgitations, most prominently the Strokes.

The first few tracks on Golden Daze get old quickly. The driving rhythms of 70s hard rock mix well with the ringing guitars, but the whole package, particularly the vocals, gets there via the Strokes rather than the Wildbirds' own path. However, "It's Alright Now" marks a change in the album. It's low fluid bass line, airy vocals and fuzzy riffs tap directly into the trippiness of 60s psyche. From that point forward, the band finds a sound that filters the retro sound through themselves rather than some band that taps into the same vein. That isn't to say that we hear no more of the Strokes on the album, because they're still prominent, but even their influence passes through the Wildbirds' own creative spin and a healthy dose of chaos to keep the album from feeling too settled.

The Wildbirds' trouble isn't their choice of influences. From the Velvet Underground to the MC5 even to 70s arena rock and even to the Strokes, they bring it all together in a cohesive package. The real difficulty is when they wear those influences on their sleeve. When they inject enough of themselves into the sound, the result is a top-notch modern take on a bit of the past.

Rating: 6/10



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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Review: Love and a .45 - Too Blonde For You

Label: Cheapshock Records

Released: November 5, 2007

Here's a short list of some of the bands I can hear in Love and a .45's music: Bad Religion, Rancid, Hole, Avail, Face to Face, a bit of the Replacements, even. The thing they all have in common is that they're American. What's odd is that Love and a .45 isn't. They're British. That's not a bad thing in its own, but it is indicative of the band's biggest problem: they can't really find their own voice.

That being said though, Love and a .45 does do some good things. First, they have a very good sense of hooks, making them a solid pop punk band. While most pop punk today seems to err on the side of emo, with whiney singers and cry-baby Sally songs, Love and a .45 stay clearly on the punk side of the line. They tend to be a bit too clean a bit too often, but even then, they certainly aren't sappy. When they're looser and grittier, they're able to dig into the song more and the result is some very good punk rock.

The sound definitely benefits from Kate Moritz's voice. She maintains a sense of melody, but keeps the rough edges that play into the album's high energy level. On occasion, she also shows that she can take the edge off, but never overuses the smoother side of her voice. At the opposite end of her spectrum, she proves to be a very good screamer, an art form all its own. She also uses this upper limit of her vocal power at only the right times.

Too Blond For You is not going to break any new punk rock ground, but it does avoid blurring the line between pop punk and emo. It would be nice if it had a better defined identity, but it thankfully hits all the hooks, showing that the price of pop isn't always the music's edge and energy.

Rating: 6/10


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Monday, December 17, 2007

Video: The Pogues - Fairytale of New York

Another of my favorite Christmas tunes. This is sad one, but Christmas isn't happy for everyone and it might be good to remember that in the midst of all the festivities. The words are incredible.

Does anyone recognize the cop arresting Shane MacGowan at the beginning?

The video:

A live clip:


Friday, December 14, 2007

Review: Thrice - The Alchemy Index Vols I & II: Fire & Water

Label: Vagrant Records

Released: October 16, 2007

Some bands seem to have potential, but early on, it's unclear whether they'll fulfill that. When I first heard Thrice open for Hot Water Music at the 9:30 Club back in 2002, that's exactly the way I felt about them. The live show was dynamic and energetic, but the two studio albums were trying too hard and the result was disjointed and messy. They certainly had the potential and the big ideas for their own sound, they just hadn't brought everything together yet.

Five years later, Thrice has shown that those weren't just random ramblings on their early releases. They were in fact up to something big and that something begins to really pan out on these first two volumes of The Alchemy Index. The first two of the four EPs that make up their concept album about the medieval elements focus on Fire and Water.

There may not be a better explanation of the success of these volumes than the one-word descriptions that easily came to mind with each. Fire simmers, burns, explodes and ignites. It is the heavier of the albums and its churning rhythms and chunky riffs scorch the ground between hardcore and hard rock. Fire finds the band excelling at what they've been doing for years, turning up the heat enough to make it standout from its post-hardcore peers for both the standalone music as well as its ability to nail the concept.

Water is new ground (or sea) for Thrice. It's very fluid and moves in waves. It's much more low-key, but like water itself, probably more than fire. It is easy to become enveloped in the ebb and flow of its soundscapes which will carry you, pull you under, let you up. It's a cold sea, with ambient electronics and quiet echoes and the very distinct sense of the lapping waves on the surface. Sometimes the waves are big and heavy and others they are calm and gentle, but they are always present. Water's musical pictures are painted with a palette that includes Pink Floyd and King Crimson, but also colors that are distinctly Thrice.

On both EPs, the song titles hide nothing about their theme and in that sense, they may border on telling rather than showing their purpose. The music is never so blunt, yet leaves no more doubt about what it has to say. Concept albums are always a tricky game that can lead even good bands astray. Thrice, however, may have found their true calling with an album that is brilliant, challenging and listenable, a trifecta seldom achieved.

As if making a great record wasn't enough, Thrice is donating a portion of their proceeds to Blood:Water Mission which partners with local villages to build sustainable wells for the thousands of Africans without access to clean water. As little as one dollar can provide water for one person for one year. You can't beat that, so check out their site.

The band will follow this release up with a companion double EP in 2008. Obviously, it will address the elements of air and earth.

Rating: 9/10



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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Side One Dummy's 2nd Annual Charity Concert

"Rock To Roll 2007" raises over $35,000 for UCP Wheels For Humanity

Los Angeles, December 13, 2007. On Tuesday December 11 over 1,200 people attended the second annual ROCK TO ROLL charity concert at The Avalon in Hollywood, CA. Flogging Molly, The Bouncing Souls, Dead To Me, and Punk Rock Karaoke (featuring a guest list of singers including Jim Lindberg, Joey LaRocca, Jon Pebsworth, Nathan Maxwell, Jesse Malin, Johnette Napolitano, Angelo Moore, Mike McColgan and Matt Skiba) all performed. Between tickets sales, raffles and donations at the event, over $35,000 was raised for UCP Wheels For Humanity.

In 2006 the event featured Against Me, The Bronx, Chuck Ragan and The Riverboat Gamblers and raised over $21,000 for UCP Wheels for Humanity

The UCP Wheels for Humanity mission is to provide increased self sufficiency and mobility to people with disabilities throughout the world, without regard to political affiliation, religious belief or ethnic identity. UCP WFH began in 1996 and is a non-profit organization. Since its inception UPC WFH has helped over 30,000 people with disabilities in over 58 countries gain increased mobility and dignity. UCP WFH is located in North Hollywood where a small professional staff and a large volunteer workforce collect, refurbish and ship donated wheelchairs.
For more information on UCP Wheels For Humanity please visit


As if we needed more proof that Rolling Stone was a corporate monster...

We, the undersigned independent record labels, wish to share our indignation regarding Rolling Stone’s November 15th pull out editorial, which featured the names of our artists in conjunction with an ad for Camel cigarettes. This editorial cartoon gives every impression of being part and parcel of the advertisement wrapped around it.

The use of an artist’s name to promote a brand or product should be done only with the artist’s explicit consent, something that was neither solicited nor obtained from the labels or bands.

When questioned, Rolling Stone has referred to the “Indie Rock Universe” pull out section as an “editorial”, but it hardly seems accidental that this editorial content is wrapped in a giant ad from R.J. Reynolds announcing their support for independent artists and labels. The idea that this was a coincidence in any way seems dubious at best. There are two other pull out sections in this same issue of Rolling Stone. Both are wrapped in advertising, but neither of these ads could be construed as part of the editorial content within.

Many of the bands named, and the labels that represent them, are very unhappy with the implication that they have any involvement with R.J. Reynolds and Camel cigarettes. We ask that Rolling Stone apologize for blurring the line between editorial and advertisement, and in doing so, implying that the bands named support the product being advertised.

Sincerely, Kill Rock Stars, Touch and Go, Skin Graft, Lovepump United, Lucky Madison, 5RC, Audio Dregs, and Fryk Beat.

Maggie Vail
Kill Rock Stars


Review: Pomegranates - Two Eyes

Label: self-releassed

Released: 2007

Pomegranates have crafted an EP that knocks on the doors of Casiotone indie pop, pop punk and everything in between. The first few bars of "The Children's Progress" sound an awful lot like Postal Service, but before you can get settled into that, it takes a turn down a crooked post-punk street. They follow that with the core of their indie pop sound. There are more layers than it's worth counting, because the place they meet is so satisfying it doesn't matter how they got there. Just when the sweet melodies lull the album into complacency, ringing guitars and quirky rhythms keep everything from falling into that misplaced comfort.

Two Eyes is the kind of record that shakes you, but gently. As it meanders from happy to dark, from melodic to noisy, it avoids typical pop conventions to invent its own direction. Such endeavors often spell disaster, but not here. Pomegranates have found a way to make the gentle every bit as wild a ride as many more jarring albums. Even after multiple listens, I'm still not quite sure how they managed that.

They've already recorded their full-length debut, due out in Spring 2008 on Lujo Records.

Rating: 8/10


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Review: Sound Neighbors

Label: Smithsonian Folkways

Released: October 23, 2007

When listening to a Smithsonian Folkways release, it's important to keep in mind that their mission is far different from a strictly commercial label. Their eyes aren't on Billboard, but on culture. There is always a clear educational goal on their albums that is incidental at best when it exists elsewhere. Still, they must straddle the often not insignificant gap between education and entertainment and they do it with far more success than could possibly be expected.

Considering the difficulty of their task, Sound Neighbors, Smithsonian Folkways' collection of contemporary music from Northern Ireland, is successful, but is also a bit of a mixed bag. It is a bit misleading that it claims to be "contemporary" music in Northern Ireland when in fact it is largely traditional music performed by contemporary artists. I had the expectation that it might tap into more than just the folk scene in Northern Ireland and give a broader picture than a single genre, even as integral as folk is for the Irish. Because of the narrow focus, it lacks the broad appeal that might make it more palatable to those of us who aren't passionate about Irish folk.

The collection's strength lies in it's ability to capture current groups making authentic traditional music. The recordings are warm and they take you to the pub or the fireside; they bring both the joy and the melancholy of the country; they are very much alive, much like the culture of Northern Ireland that has survived so much adversity. While some tracks are more accessible than others, there are no miscues and each contributes to the album's snapshot of a increasingly hopeful though still sometimes somber people. Tommy Sands' "There Were Roses" is a standout. In a song about sectarian violence that cost two families a loved one each, Sands recognizes the common human experience of beauty. It comes as no surprise that Sands has worked with Pete Seeger, because his protest is a very human one which sees that people have been divided against each other, against love and against even their own best interests. It is this recognition that brings hope and it is this hope that makes this music, which is a vital part of American music history as well, even more important today.

With Northern Ireland in a position to puts its violent past behind it, this compilation shows why we feel such a close connection to this peace versus other potential accords throughout the world. The Irish musical tradition is ultimately our own, whether we are Irish or not, and at least subconsciously we all have an affinity for these people and a particular interest in an end to their plight. While you may not care for Irish folk music in its purest form, Sound Neighbors provides a good education about the musical roots of something you do like, no matter what that something is.

Rating: 8/10

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

DVD: Paul McCartney - The McCartney Years

Label: Rhino

Released: November 13, 2007

Like Paul McCartney's post-Beatles career, this collection is erratic. Some of it is amazing, some is trite, some is timeless and some is dated. The first disc is by far the least interesting. While some of the very early classics are on there, the videos generally show Paul's escape to a pastoral life that may have been very refreshing for him, but makes for dull music videos. The second disc picks up with the shallow visual interpretation of "Pipes of Peace," but also contains a lot of McCartney's best solo work, from the Flowers in the Dirt singles on. Plus, there's a really interesting tour of Abbey Road studios from Paul as a bonus.

The real gem is disc three, the live shows. It includes 1976's Rockshow, excerpts from his amazing Unplugged appearance, his Super Bowl show and "Let It Be" at Live Aid. While it would have been nice to see the whole Unplugged show, the commentary on that set as well as Live Aid went a long way to make up for it. The real gem on this disc though is his headlining gig at Glastonbury in 2004. Thirty-five years and so many sappy silly love songs later, he shows that he's still quite relevant, particularly with a version of "Helter Skelter" that he may just steal back from Charles Manson.

Because McCartney's solo career is imperfect, this DVD too is imperfect. However, the highs are high enough to carry it and the live performances show that McCartney isn't the lightweight that he's often accused of being. In addition to being very comprehensive, the restored original films look fantastic and the menu gives you the opportunity to view the videos chronologically or in McCartney's hand-picked order. Obviously, it's a must-have for McCartney fans, but the collection also has a lot of value for anyone who appreciates McCartney's career.

Rating: 8/10

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Video: The Kinks - Father Christmas

This is one of my favorite Christmas songs, period. It has everything: It's funny, it's serious, it has a message. Oh yeah, and it rocks!


Monday, December 10, 2007

Review: Grayceon

Label: Vendlus Records

Released: February 14, 2007

Prog rock's faults aren't usually related to technical skill at any stage of the process, from writing to playing to producing. In fact, the genre's greatest difficulty stems from its artists being too good, too musical. Prog bands have a tendency to lose the emotional connection with their audience that is essential in rock n roll. Sure, some bands were successful in incorporating pop elements and others just dummied everything down to nothing more than a grandiose version of pop, but so many of them still had that problem with emotion.

Grayceon is not purely a prog band, but their music, a successful amalgamation of metal, punk, classical and folk (particularly of the Eastern European variety), is complex enough to at least overlap significantly with prog. What Grayceon does that so often eluded even the top bands in rock's most complex genre is to simply connect with listeners. While prog plays at its audience, Grayceon plays too them. Their music, despite being the work of a trio, is every bit as complex, but it remains in a raw, emotive form than envelops rather than alienates the listener. Cello might not be a standard rock instrument, but it never feels like a novelty on this album. It's smooth lines are often juxtaposed with heavy, plodding guitar and wild percussion. Instead of taking those elements and streamlining them into a neat package, Grayceon allows them to remain loose and raw, giving the music both a chaos and freedom that feels more like a reflection of life than an esoteric musical exercise.

Grayceon's appeal is two-fold. First, their musicianship is so strong that their possibilities have few boundaries and second, they still play music that is very human and easy to take to heart. If that's not enough, this four track album has songs of 12 1/2 and 20 minutes in length and neither gets tedious even for a second. Few bands can say that whether they dabble in prog rock or not.

Rating: 8/10



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Friday, December 07, 2007

Review: Brian Dewan - Words of Wisdom

Label: Eschatone Records

Released: November 13, 2007

Clearly, some novelty records are just silly and others are, at least on some level, actually quite serious. Words of Wisdom is certainly of the more serious variety. That's not to say that it isn't light-hearted, just that it has a real purpose.

Brian Dewan apparently found these songs in old schoolbooks, garage sales, attics and basements and some date back 200 years. While the songs themselves seem rather traditional, the performances with their odd instrumentation (autoharp, electric zither, organ and accordian) and Dewan's quirky delivery, are anything but. Dewan sings these peculiar little lost pieces as if he's singing to children and perhaps it is with a child's innocence that they are best approached. Still, the topics are at times dark like a Grimm fairy tale. In a sense, Dewan plays this like Berl Ives with a dark side.

Words of Wisdom is not for everyone. It's certainly not slick or pop-oriented and makes no effort to fit into any mold. Even for those who will find his folk oddities interesting, it won't be in constant rotation. Nonetheless, it's an healthy diversion into some unknown folk music that Dewan is able to justify with his silly, yet somewhat compelling recordings.

Rating: 6/10


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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Review: The Mystix - Blue Morning


Released: October 9, 2007

While the resumes of some members the Mystix may look impressive (Jerry Lee Lewis, Ben E King, Peter Wolf, even studio work at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals), don't be fooled. This is a group of session players, not a real band. They do play well together as session players often do, but there is little originality or real heart in the music.

Sure, Jo Lily's voice is perfect for their light blues and it's hard to find any technical fault in the guitar parts or the rhythm section. The trouble is, the blues shouldn't be perfect. That's its beauty and the Mystix rob it of that. A few tracks do come off better than others. "Change in Jane," for instance, is more of a ballad than it is straight blues, but they drop a bit of emotion on it and it's believable. Then they follow it up with "New Orleans," a song so chock full of cliches that I suspect they've only been there as tourists. That really illustrates their biggest problem: They do what's expected of them. There are no surprises on Blue Morning. Even though everyone in the band plays at a level where they could take off at any time, they choose instead to play it safe.

For those that have some fondness for bluesy pop and don't want any challenges, the Mystix are for you. They're the Fabulous Thunderbirds without the heart or the charm. They're George Thoroughgood without a sense of humor or a real appreciation for the emotive nature of the blues. I'm sure this album is for someone, but not me.

Rating: 4/10


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New Dartz! video from Deep Elm Records

Check out the video for "Once Twice Again" here.


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Review: Dartz! - This is My Ship

Label: Deep Elm Records

Released: November 13, 2007

Dartz! mix agitated math rock with a punk edge and British quirkiness (or is it quirky Britishness?). They produce songs whose layers are the many moving parts of an efficient machine. The parts feel loose and rambling when they're really quite tight if you concentrate. But that's not the point. They're meant to be a ride. At some points the music is closer to something that may be sung in a bar and that belies the care that was surely taken in constructing it. Even the angular guitars, bass and drums have a certain pop appeal that adds to their accessibility. The whole thing barrels along, but not at a single breakneck pace. The time changes keep the whole thing slightly off-balance.

While there is a certain post-punk/new wave influence on This Is My Ship, this isn't simply the common hipster new wave revival that flies off the shelves. It has all the pop quality of the big sellers, but mixes it with more challenging fare on another level. Depending on which level you choose, this can be easy or difficult, but either way it's rewarding.

Rating: 8/10



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DVD: Rat Skates - Born in the Basement

Label: Kundrat Productions

Released: December 11, 2007

Born in the Basement is original Overkill drummer Rat Skates' documentary about the early days of thrash metal, from its punk rock and New Wave of British Heavy Metal roots to the days of its major label success. While there is some mention of other thrash bands like Metallica and Slayer, Skates focuses his attention on his own scene in NYC. And that focus is narrowed even further, because the documentary is really just an extended interview with Skates himself interspersed with video and stills. That limits the film's breadth, but also allows it dig deep into its limited subject matter and touch on details and bands that are likely unknown to anyone who wasn't there.

Because the film only shows the perspective of one man, albeit one who was as thoroughly involved in the birth of thrash as anyone could probably be, its total truth comes into question. At times, Skates almost seems to imply that his hard work and go-for-it approach were the primary factor in Overkill's and thrash's success. It's difficult to tell if he's trying to overstate his role or if this is simply the result of the same personality that drove his success the first time around. The production is amateur, but it would likely seem disingenuous to make a slick film about the DIY ethic.

Despite a few obvious weaknesses, Born in the Basement has plenty of real value. It provides a view into just how much effort was involved in making the music that many of us felt so close to at the time by making us privy to everything that happened behind the scenes. These guys worked like crazy for something they loved, regardless of whether it would ever pay off. It also shows how things have changed. Gone are the days of the Xerox machine. They've been replaced by the advent of iTunes and Myspace. While there are still bands that put their own album art together and screen print their own shirts, they do so by choice. Skates and his peers did it out of necessity.

Rating: 7/10



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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Review: Sebastian Bach - Angel Down

Label: Get Off My Bach/MRV/Caroline/EMI

Released: November 20, 2007

In light of the number of 80s hair metal has-beens trying to cash in on a sadly nostalgic public, I didn't have tremendously high hopes for Sebastian Bach's latest, his first album in eight years. The upside of this record is that Bach didn't entirely bow to the past. From the opening track, it's pretty clear that Angel Down isn't just a cash-in on the sound of the first and most successful Skid Row album. It's a pretty heavy affair that taps more into his Slave to the Grind-era work along with some of the churning crunch of metal's more recent practices.

The downside is that while the songwriting and playing is soild, it's also largely uneventful. There were five tracks that Bach didn't contribute to as a writer and he wrote the rest...with help. Unfortunately, that help streamlined everything into a very generic hard rock format. What do you expect when the producer co-wrote four tracks and another one got "help" from Desmond Child who wouldn't know innovation if it hit him over the head. Even the songs written by band members don't show any desire to establish their own sound rather than just rely on Bach's voice and waning starpower. As I got further into the album, I became hopeful that he may have forgone the ballad. You can imagine my disappointment when "By Your Side" began. On top of the writing, the band is tight, but not all that enthusiastic. Technical skill is seldom a substitute for actually feeling the music and the difference between those two becomes more and more evident over the course of the album. The over-hyped presence of Axl Rose on three tracks was completely forgettable.

None of this made the album outright unlistenable, but it did keep it from reaching the level of a few other hard rock/heavy metal blasts from the past that came out this year. The one thing that really did the most to point out what's wrong with Bach's work is his cover of Aerosmith's "Back in the Saddle." If you're going to take the swing out of an Aerosmith song, you better have something good in its place. Bach and company have nothing. They play it entirely safe, straightening the shuffle right out and robbing it of its swagger. This really sums up the album well. On the songs that don't have to measure up to Aerosmith's prime, Bach's conservatism isn't as clear, but the cover lays it all out in the open.

Rating: 5/10



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Review: Crashdïet - The Unattractive Revolution

Label: Universal Music AB

Released: October 3, 2007

Even as an undercurrent to mainstream rock, a glam revival was one of the last things I expected to see. But this year has proved that a genre that was crumbling under its own bloated self twenty years ago might still have a little bit to offer. Sure, it's full of "reunions" where one original member is trying to cash in on past success that they often never deserved in the first place. The big glam event of the year, Rocklahoma, was a nostalgia fest at best despite its commercial success, because it focused on the has-beens. What it ignored was that some things going on in the glam scene have more to offer than just the past. The latest Hanoi Rocks is a change in tone, yet one of their best albums, the Gypsy Pistoleros have infused old sleazy hard rock with a Latin flair and now Crashdïet has shown that a little youthful energy goes a long way even when rehashing the stupidity of a shallow genre.

Silly stage names and umlauts didn't bode well for Crashdïet and while there's nothing musically new about The Unattractive Revolution, it's clear from the opening track that they have enthusiasm for what they're doing. Granted the revolution is a fake and the lyrics, while pretty literate by hair metal standards, are an inane treatise on hedonism, but that does little to interfere with their high-energy rock experience. At their best, they mix the heaviness of metal with the swagger of sleaze, walking a line that most of their predecessors never attempted in lieu of the slick soulless formula. They do get off track at times, sounding a little too much like Motley Crue here (minor flaw) and drawing a little too much from Bon Jovi there (major flaw), but these moments are the exception rather than the rule. It may be of note to some that Mick Mars helped out on two tracks, but his skills being what they are, it isn't really noticeable.

While I don't think you can trade intoxication for salvation as Crashdïet would propose, you can trade passion, even somewhat misplaced, for a new least sometimes. For whatever reason, Crashdïet gets away with it on The Unattractive Revolution. If you like to spend a lot of time in the superficial world of glam, Crashdïet is a much better alternative than the Bang Tangos and Faster Pussycats of the world who stake their claim to the past on one original (often old and tired) member.

Rating: 6/10



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Monday, December 03, 2007

Review: Tia Carrera - You Are the War 7"

Label: Arclight Records

Released: 2007

Over the course of rock history, "Louie Louie" has been covered countless times. Its simplicity and infectious hook make it an easy task for even the most pedestrian bands. On the other hand, to my knowledge, only one band has covered Lungfish's "You Are the War." There's a few reasons: Lungfish is fairly far outside of the mainstream, "You Are the War" is far from a pop song, and most importantly, how would one go about it? The song is a great example of Lungfish's seething, yet oddly subdued psychedelic art punk. Where to go with a song that already pushes the edges of sanity?

Enter Tia Carrera, a band who's captured the trippy energy of Hendrix and the musical insanity of instrumental Black Flag on other outings. Even for them, "You Are the War" had to be such a challenge. Where could they take it? Well, first, they take the three minute original and expand it to a twelve minute epic (splitting the song over both sides of the 7 inch). Then they take the psychedelic power that churns under the surface to the forefront, rounding off its angular punk edges with waves of fuzzed out guitar and organ. The extended interplay between these two over the thunder of the rhythm section is one of the best excuses not to do drugs. Who needs anything else with a freak-out like this? This is what true psychedelic music should be. This is the trip. And it just keeps going...and going...and going. Even having to flip the record won't break the spell they cast.

If I had any doubts remaining after hearing November Sessions and Heaven/Hell that Tia Carrera was the best heavy psyche act going, this EP, this one song, a cover even, dispels them. Tia Carrera take an almost uncoverable song, shake it free of its moorings and fly off on a new trip.

Rating: 10/10



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Review: Magnet School - Tonight...We Drink

Label: Arclight Records

Released: November 13, 2007

Some bands cover songs, others rename songs, but Magnet School has made an album out of a song. At no point do they play or even directly lift anything from "Bullet the Blue Sky," but its presence is profound throughout. Magnet School captures the blues, rock, psychedelia and even the passion of U2's classic and stretch it to album length. That they do so successfully is a tribute to both the song that seems to play in their heart as well as Magnet School themselves. Sure, other influences can be heard, most prominently the Foo Fighters, but none supersedes the one song they must love the most.

One of the best things about Magnet School is how they act as a unit instead of individual players. While it means that no one stands out, it also means that no one stands in the way of the total picture. Throbbing rhythms, ringing guitar and airy vocals work together in a single vision that runs from pop to cacophony.

While the point about "Bullet the Blue Sky" may seem to indicate that Magnet School are either creatively limited or senselessly experimental, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Tonight...We Drink, for all its boldness, is still an amazingly easy listen.

Rating: 8/10



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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Promos and piracy

I've gotten a few promos that have special anti-piracy warnings for advance copies. I can understand the interest in keeping things from public ears before release (even though I think it's comical that a geek with a blog isn't the public). Most of them contain fairly strong words about reserving the right to take legal action, etc, etc. For the most part, it rubs me the wrong way regardless of whether or not file sharing is right or wrong, because I see the industry (at least as far as the majors go) protecting themselves, not the artists and certainly not the fans who they screw over every chance they get.

All that aside though, I recently received a promo with one of the more stringent warnings and I thought it was funny enough to share. It came sealed with a sticker that read, "If this seal is broken you must contact the person who sent it to you immediately." I must? Immediately? What are they sharing? Sensitive national defense information? Government secrets? Evidence on the Kennedy assassination? I thought it was just a rock album. The next thing you know, I'll need a security clearance to listen to a promo! I hope I don't lose the CD, because the FBI might have to get involved. C'mon, I understand that you don't want the thing to get leaked and it might require strong words to deter some people, but this one was just silly. I love music and I understand that the business is a necessary evil, but don't ask me to like it and don't expect me not to laugh when it takes itself too seriously.