Category Archives: Reviews

NIN, [With_Teeth]

Though I’m sure I have promised to bring forth other albums in the past post, it seems that through the avenues of school that I have re-walked for the first time in ten years, the process of (continuously) finding work, and of teaching music and learning to become a better person, I had forgotten my promises. Well…that’s just too bad for you and so today we will dive into the mind of a man that has a lot to say in a multitude of ways: Trent Reznor.

I was never a huge Nine Inch Nails fan. I was a younger lad when I saw his first couple of videos on MTV and remember being a little weirded out and kind of scared. I might have peed a little. But, as with most things, age brings a different view and sense of what was into a little bit better or at least not as terrifying a perspective. Thusly, I ventured into the realm of NIN and came up with this album. Particularly because one of the singles that actually had some substantial airplay in 2005 was The Hand that Feeds, and it was reeeeeallly good. So, I left my childish leanings of fear and dove head first into a gritty, honest (brutally), cold, mechanic and large sounding album. This album sounds GIGANTIC!

NIN’s 5th studio album and Reznor’s first original studio album since 1999, With Teeth starts out honestly enough with All the Love in the World. Innocently it starts with a three chord progression held down by solid 8th note bass and some sparse electronic percussion. Upon reaching the chorus a stark and dissonant sounding piano line comes in and there is a longing in Reznor’s vocals that sounds like he’s struggling with something. Comprehension, detox, something that sounds like its constricting his vocal chords and creating this tension. A tension that sees release as the song builds into a four-on-the-floor kick drum beat that then drives the song from longing, soulful ballad to dance floor euphoria, with those gritty Trent vocals reaching a sensationally screaming climax.

To think that this song sets the them for the rest of the album is to be completely dismembered by the very next track. A blitzkrieg of percussion that seems to throw meter right out of the window, it’s a barrage of kick-snare syncopations that rally into a half time chorus of “Don’t you fucking know what you are?!”. Its the perfect set up. Part of listening to music and albums in particular, for me, is to hear a progression, a thought or and idea that occurs, reoccurs, exemplifies an album’s mood. Often times I will use DCFC’s Transatlanticism as a seminal example of this. At first listen I wasn’t sure if With Teeth had anything other than pure cold steel running through its veins. Even the album cover art work leaves you feeling isolated and alone in the Norwegian wilderness in the middle of January. As I continued to listen and read the history of the album it started to make sense. In between the first studio album and this album Reznor had been recovering from alcohol and substance abuse. The ups and downs of the album, the in your face aggression and the thoughtful remorse, the incoherence of meter and the spacial relationships of sound and energy. All of these began to stand out as I trekked on through the songs on this album over and over again.

On a lyrical note, the songs all seem very introspective and that’s where the honesty begins to seep through the dark and brooding machinery of the music. Even the song titles and the order of the songs starts to reflect this arduous task of being split in half during detoxification. Par example – The Hand That Feeds moves into Love is Not Enough,

“Will you bite the hand that feeds/will you stay down on your knees” into

“Hey, the closer we think we are/Well it only got us so far/Now you got anything left to show/No no I didn’t think so”,

the hand being the drug and do you destroy or attack the thing, the substance that is giving you life and stay a servant to it, into staying a servant to it and feeling the unloved shame and remorse of submitting once again.

Another chart topping single from the album is Every Day is Exactly the Same. This song sums up the over album thematically:

“I believe I can see the future/Cause I repeat the same routine/I think I used to have a purpose/But then again/That might have been a dream

I think I used to have a voice/Now I never make a sound/I just do what I’ve been told/I really don’t want them to come around/Oh, no

Every day is exactly the same/Every day is exactly the same/There is no love here and there is no pain/Every day is exactly the same”

This album is brilliant. Be warned, it is heavy. Listening to it more than once or twice a day will start to feel like you’re dragging sand bags behind you. Wet sand bags. It is an opus of creativity and engineering and one of Reznor’s and NIN’s finest work. The alliterations, metaphors and pure skin and bones that are attached to this album make it worth having in your library and not just sampling on iTunes or jacking via LimeWire. Pay tribute to the artist, please.

You may also like: Queens of the Stone Age, Korn, Marilyn Manson, Deftones

Coldplay – Viva La Vida (or Death And All His Friends)

I wouldn’t really call Coldplay’s 2008 Viva La Vida a concept album in the strictest sense of the word. Not concept like Talking Heads or Frank Zappa concept. They’re not that type of band. But what I mean by concept is that Coldplay created an album that conceptualizes them as a band. Viva La Vida is Coldplay. It defines Coldplay as a creative entity, a stand-alone, a force in music and the creation of it.

Discrepancies with Joe Satriani aside, this album puts the group into the affectors of music and not just the affectees. What I mean is that Viva La Vida is the album that will inspire musicians to create. It is free from influence. It is typically epic which has been a staple of the Coldplay diet since A Rush of Blood to the Head, but it provides twists and turns and while at a mere 46 minutes, packs 10 songs with mature thoughts, lyrics, hooks, composition, arrangements and heart to make you wish it were just 10 – 15 minutes longer. The tracks themselves are concepts in miniature and tend to lean towards being in and of themselves ideas that could be albums all their own. From the ominous Cemeteries of London questioning the ability of the ears to hear a God walking in the back yard or the conclusive Death And All His Friends with it’s soaring bridge and ending that wraps up where the album started off, every song could contain 9 – 10 other songs like it on 9 – 10 other albums. This disc is that involved and involving from the first note. The album could have been 14 songs if you listen to it carefully. A number of songs contain songs within themselves, which again proves that the concept behind this album is that Coldplay is not going anywhere anytime soon and has been maturing and marinating for the last 9 years that they’ve been making albums.In the maturing process, something of note has taken place with Viva La Vida: While political sidings and alliances still linger within the tone and lyrics of some of the songs, something much more personal has emerged. Rather than an attempt to align itself with a particular set of ideals or beliefs, Coldplay has sought to infer a sense of moral conviction about life and the quality of it.

There’s a seeking and searching spirit behind many of these songs. Reveling in love, dancing through the streets as the sun rises, common hearts and minds, and a movement away from what death and his followers have offered in the past. This album reveals itself as a concept album in that Chris Martin and crew have a new urgency to communicate with the world; Life is Beautiful and should be absorbed through every pore, but change must happen in our hearts in order for this to happen. Though my favorite track is Lovers in Japan/Reign of Love something resonates within me in the chorus of the finale Death And All His Friends – ‘I don’t want to battle from begnning to end / I don’t want to cycle or re-cycle revenge / I don’t want to follow death and all of his friends‘. And that’s the height to which Viva La Vida takes its listeners – Personal responsibility to a new quality of life amongst the ugliness and hatred that perpetrates us as people. I like that.  X & Y carried with it hints of New Order and Echo and the Bunnymen, Rush moved through the darker realms of life and love, Parachutes brought the strains of U2, and Travis from Johnny Buckland’s guitars and relied on Martin’s falsetto to carry much of the album into the hearts of adoring fans. But Viva La Vida stands alone, on its own as a coming of age for a group that is destined to keep the edges of music sharp. Very sharp indeed.

Highly Recommended
Also Check Out: Parachutes

John Mayer – Where the Light Is: Live in Los Angeles

Since John Mayer came on the scene as the pre-coital soundtrack to the sorority and fraternity life in 2001, he’s progressed from purely bubblegum radio pop to thick bluesy mojo to bluesy mojo radio pop. A not-so-subtle transition for some who have claimed him as their ‘wonderland’ or have wanted to lay beside him in bed whilst “Daughters” plays in the background and he ‘completes’ them. The issue with being a serious artist after having found a niche in the hearts of the collegiate femine is that it’s hard to be taken seriously when what you’re really passionate about as a musician begins to move you into a new musical direction. But he seems to have suffered no fan loss for his movement towards the bluesy side of things, which is some thing to be grateful for when we’re on the verge of losing one of the greatest expressions of music on earth.Hints of Mayer’s love of the blues seeps through in live albums like Any Given Thursday released back in 2003. While not overtly heavy in the blues arena his inclinations and leanings musically towards this genre come through in his live improvisational arrangements of his more popular and less radioed tunes, like “Neon”.Mayer’s growth as a producer, arranger and songwriter was evident in 2006’s Continuum. The highly Motown and R & B influenced tracks are a foot-tapping accomaniment to his romantic and deeply personal lyrics with the occasional politcal footnote (listen to the head-bobbing, yet slightly passive “Waiting on the World to Change”. But where Mayer has always shined as a musician, performer, songwriter, guitarist and arranger is in his live performances.

With 3 previous live endeavors under his belt, two of which boast two discs each, Mayer has proven that the library of music he has to pull from, both as an artist and from the public domain, has thrust him into the category of “Consument Performer”. Highly entertaining both in banter and it artistry, Mayer’s live shows are what they should be, entertaining. I haven’t yet been able to experience a live show, but I enjoy listening almost as much as if I were there and he personalizes each song to the point of being able to ‘see’ what he means musically without having to be there. Where the Light Is: Live in Los Angeles is no exception.
Thoughtful and reminiscent of his more poppy days the first half of the first disc has a VH1 ‘Storytellers’ vibe to it, without any storytelling. Not overly flashy in the playing deptarment it’s a nice introduction to the evening that progresses both sonically and in the number of musicians involved. I do however find the cover of Petty’s “Free Fallin'” to be a little contrived and it feels like he was practicing it before he went on stage and decided to throw it in for the hell of it.
The second half of Disc 1 is the “John Mayer Trio” made up of Berklee College buddies’ of Mayer, Pino Palladino and Steve Jordan. Jordan also helped with the production of Continuum. Mayer’s Trio released a live album back in ’05 and while a vast majority of that album made it onto this live performance some tracks lack the conviction and tightness that Try! conveyed. Live in LA boasts some tasteful forays into the Band of Gypsys camp of 69/70 Hendrix. Particularly at the end of “Who Did You Think I Was” when they rip into “Power of Love”. The ‘Trio’ portion of the album is energetic with some musical risks that, whether planned or not, take away from the prescence that the band has and the sound that they have the ability to produce. Purchase Try! if you’d like to hear them at their sonic best. Take particular note of “Vultures”, “Out of My Mind”, “Come When I Call”, and Hendrix’s epic ballad “Bold as Love” on Live in LA.

Disc 2 really shows off Mayer’s prowess as a guitarist. With a full R & B band + more vocalists and another guitarist, Mayer is free to explore musical regions of the map that the previous two sets limit. Of particular note are the solo sections on two of his more prominent ballads “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room” and the epically beautiful “Gravity”, reworked with a more blues saavy ending than on the Trio’s Try! album. It is really exquisite. This sort of electric ballad was touched on in 03’s Heavier Things with the track “Come Back to Bed”.

Tonally the second disc lends itself to Mayer’s understanding of the guitar as an amplified instrument moreso than the previous Trio set. Use of octave pedals, delay and univbe/leslie cab simulators add a depth to the music that is enhanced by the sound of a full band. Musically this set is a lot tighter as well. A good example of this is “I Don’t Need No Doctor” where after the double-time solo section there’s a nifty unison guitar hook that both Mayer and the rhythm guitarist, with Mayer occupying the higher octave.

John Mayer has brought a revival to the Blues, regardless of what your personal opinions of him are, and that alone has won me over as a fan and a musician. Thanks are due him, oh ye faithful.

Also Check Out:
Try! Live, The John Mayer Trio

A Quick Note: Alex Lifeson

Still working on getting Jamiroquai’s Synkronized notes all sorted out, so in the mean time, here’s a quick note on the super great, highly underrated guitarist of the band Rush: Alex Lifeson.

Often overshadowed by Peart’s world-wide renown and lyrical contributions and Lee’s multifaceted roll as lead vocalist, keyboaridst and bassist, Lifeson is left with a subtle and substantial space to fill as an instrumentalist. Without many backing vocal arrangements and with Lee covering so many bases the guitar elements of Rush have had a significant part to play as a compliment to Lee’s lead bass lines and rich bass tones.

Standing out from the progressive elements of the band are the classically influenced lead lines and unique chordal structures that Lifeson chooses to underscore and move Rush’s compositions rhythmically. Tonally monstrous and dynamic, Lifeson couldn’t be more perfect as a single instrument with multiple voices in a band that has influenced hundreds of other bands, performers, and instrumentalists to strive for a creativity that changes the boundaries of musical exploration.

Rush may be a particular taste for some people. Lee’s high-pitched timbre is hard to pallet for some. The often busy live drum solos tend to leave some bored, unless seen live in a venue with a great view. But something that is of consistent joy is the tastefulness of Lifeson’s guitar work. Rarely is there a negative comment about the guitarist’s rhythm choices and lead notes.

Lifeson is a cathartic balance for a band that could easily wander into a realm of progressive rock that verges on jam-band meanderings that wouldn’t quite have the long-lasting strangeness of Frank Zappa, but would stay on the edge of awkward laziness like the rest of the Grateful Dead.