Rewind Review: Zola Jesus – Taiga (2014)

Zola Jesus’ music is difficult to classify. It’s not quite electro, not quite shoegaze, not quite diva, and not quite goth. Yet it is somehow all of these things. Zola Jesus, has one of the most haunting voices in music, and her album, Taiga, and is a fine addition to her already impressive catalogue.

The title track opener is a spooky electro song with drum and bass beats that dissolve into frightening horns. “Dangerous Days” could be a dance club hit if she wanted. It could also be your favorite new song about relationships. “Dust” sounds like a long-lost Yaz track with its tick-tock electric beats and her lovely voice creeping through it like fog rolling along a beach. Ms. Jesus, in case you’re reading this, I’ll sign a petition to hear you cover Yaz’s “Situation.”

“Hunger” is a hot song about hot sex that I’m sure tore up dance clubs in various remixes in 2014. “Go (Blank Sea)” is a swirling wave of sound that hits you over and over again (in a good way) with Zola Jesus’ powerful vocals, which are sometimes laced with reverb to make them even bigger, industrial beats, and angelic synths. It’s one of the best cuts on the record. “Ego” and “Lawless” highlight her vocals well, especially “Lawless,” which mixes epic synths with hip-hop beats and a bit of a tough girl attitude behind her vocals.

“Nail” has the gloomy yet beautiful feel that many Zola Jesus fans love in her work. “Long Way Down” has probably the biggest electro beats on the record (and the most reverb), and I’m sure is another excellent remixed dance track. “Hollow” is another solid entry, and the closer is the cheekily named “It’s Not Over.” It’s a big-voiced track about big love with a slow build and a glorious ending.

The main attraction to any Zola Jesus record is her phenomenal voice. The electro beats and goth touches help, but her voice can be soothing and haunting at the same time. She needs to sing the theme to the next Bond film, and the next ten Bond films if you ask me. If you enjoy a lovely female voice, you need to hear her.

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Rewind Review: Ty Segall – Live in San Francisco (2015)

Ty Segall is so prolific that I’m surprised it took him until 2015 to release a live album. He seems to put out a new record every month, so it feels like he should have three live albums by now.

The psych-fuzz whiz kid opens his live set with, oddly enough, “Wave Goodbye.” It starts out with low bass and then kicks into squealing high gear that has the small crowd cheering in joy. It sounds like something Tom Petty wishes he could release on his new record, but fears it would alienate his long-time fans. “Slaughterhouse” (from the album of the same name) is pure freak-out punk rock with a little Nirvana vocals sprinkled on top for good measure. “Death” mixes stoner rock with punk so fast it might give your ears friction burns. It’s one of the best cuts on the record.

“I Bought My Eyes” is one of Segall’s biggest hits, and he lets it rip on this live album. The guitars seem to come at you from all sides while Segall’s vocals are somehow gentle in the din. “Feel” borders on arena rock territory at first, but the sleeveless denim jacket riffs cut it off at the front door (which is a good thing).

“The Hill” follows the band’s friend, Julie, telling a joke, and next up is “Thank God for the Sinners,” which sounds like something Buzzcocks cooked up at their second jam session. Segall claims “Standing at the Station” “is about the cow trade.” I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that it’s a swaggering, wild blues-influenced tidal wave coming out of your speakers.

The album ends with another of Segall’s hits – “What’s Inside Your Heart.” I’m sure the fans at this gig told him how their hearts were full of palpitations from being shaken by so much rock. It’s a strong ending to a strong record.

I know this entire review has essentially been me saying this record is non-stop blaring madness, but that’s the best way I describe it. You’ll understand once you hear it. Ty Segall is making crazy records, and we should all be grateful to him for doing it. The world needs more live records, and live performers, like this.

Keep your mind open.

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Rewind Review: TV on the Radio – Seeds (2014)

TV on the Radio returned in 2014 after taking time to mourn the loss of their bass player, Gerard Smith, who lost his battle with lung cancer in 2011. The album they released, Seeds, is a bright affair that not only pays tribute to Smith, but also embraces life and love after loss.

The first four lines of the opener, “Quartz,” are “How much do I love you? I’ll tell you no lie. How deep is the ocean? How high the sky?” It is a beautiful track with wicked beats that get your feet tapping within seconds.

“Careful You” (a play on “care for you”) is the most direct tribute to Smith barely hidden within a love song. The opening verse, “Oui, je t’aime, oui je ta’ime, a demain, ala prochaine (Yes, I love you, yes, I love you, tomorrow, and the next), I know it’s best to say goodbye, but I can’t seem to move away.” is both heartbreaking and tender. The throbbing synths drive the song through any fog that may be surrounding your head and bring you to out of your reality, at least momentarily.

“Could You,” with its big brass horns, has lead singer Tunde Adebimpe pleading for love (“Could you love somebody? Could you strip the ego bare and let love take flight? Could you open up your heart?”). The first single, “Happy Idiot,” is a sizzler with hot drums and lyrics about a man preferring ignorance and losing his mind to thinking of a life without his former lover. “Test Pilot” is another song about lost love and heartbreak, although by the end it seems the lovers involved may be willing to work through the rough skies and come in for a safe landing after all.

“Love Stained” is an epic song with lovely lyrics about a man terrified by his feelings and seemingly the world at large, but whose lover is always there for him (“In the middle of the night, when fear comes calling singing it all dies, always scared, alone, I’m looking into your eyes to feel the call, pretty thing that catches me so strong when I fall.”). The synths in this rise and fall like waves and eventually drift out like the tide. It’s almost as haunting as opening to the follow-up track, “Ride,” in which the piano and violins sound like a funeral dirge until the drums kick in and the song bursts open to become an affirmation of moving beyond grief and embracing the future. It’s a telling statement from the band considering the loss of Smith.

“Right Now” is another song of renewal and embracing of life. It is a directive from TVOTR to live in this moment and the leave behind the “imaginary need for the silly little things.” “Winter” has blaring guitars that sound designed to reach the back of the concert hall; and, yes, it’s another love song. It has the sauciest lyrics on the album – “Can’t think of nothing better than a union in the afterglow. Let it go, all the thinking and the reason. Here we go, to the lovin’ and the pleasin’.” Meow.

If all the synths are too much for you and you’re whining about the album not having a “real” TVOTR song, don’t worry. “Lazerray” sounds like something the band might’ve put on Return to Cookie Mountain. It’s is the most straight-up rocker on the record and a strong message about the impermanence of everything (“Chop down your master plan in nanoseconds, man. I hope you understand that nothing living lasts forever.”). “Trouble” seems to be a song about a man realizing his lover’s going to break up with him and there’s nothing he can do about it, but I can’t help but think it’s also about the impending death of Smith, especially when the song ends with “Everything’s gonna be okay” repeated over and over. The title track closes out the record, bringing back the thick synths and TVOTR’s great layered vocals. It’s another beautiful love song about a man planting the seeds to build a relationship with a woman who’s been stung in the past.

Seeds might be the best collection of love songs released in 2014. It was a great return for a great band.

Keep your mind open.

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Rewind Review: Blue Cheer – Vincebus Eruptum (1968)

I’d heard and read that Blue Cheer (Dick Peterson – bass and vocals, Leigh Stephens – guitar, Paul Whaley – drums) were among the loudest bands of all time. Eric Clapton mentioned this in an interview I read once when he was talking about the psychedelic / stoner rock scene in late 1960’s. Other musicians seemed to whisper about Blue Cheer like speaking too loudly of them might unleash a sonic boom at any moment. So, I figured I should buy their debut album Vincebus Eruptum (which is Latin for “blue cheer,” by the way).

The album opens with what is widely considered to be the first heavy metal song ever released – their cover of “Summertime Blues.” It immediately pours on the distortion and drumming that sounds an army of Orcs is playing it. My favorite part of the cover is how they don’t bother singing the parts when the boss or the congressman in the song speak. They just play a quick bass, drum, or guitar solo instead. “Rock Me Baby” is a blues standard, showing that Blue Cheer could groove as well as blow out your eardrums.

“Doctor Please” is the first track on the album written by Peterson, and it’s almost eight minutes of howling vocals backed by wailing guitar, heavy drums, and angry dog-growl bass. “Out of Focus” almost starts that way with its funky, weird bass groove, but soon Whaley’s drum licks bring everything into a (somewhat fuzzy) focus.

“Parchment Farm” has guitar work that you can hear influenced bands like Earthless, Sleep, Kadavar, and Wolfmother. Stephens melted the first faces in 1968, and some people still haven’t recovered. Listening to “Second Time Around” is like hearing the first cries of Baby Stoner Rock. It’s a wild, bluesy, psychedelic trip with a crazy drum solo from Whaley. The band is allegedly named for a type of LSD, after all.

As wild as it is to hear Vincebus Eruptum now, it must’ve been mind-blowing in 1968. No one had done anything like this before, and many are still trying to do it now. From now on when people ask me, “What should I listen to if I want to get into stoner rock?” I’ll tell them to start with this.

Keep your mind open.

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Rewind Review: The Black Keys – Magic Potion (2006)

Every now and then (okay, more than that), an album slips through the cracks and years go by before I pick it up and wonder, “What took me so long?” Such an album is Magic Potion by the Black Keys (Dan Auerbach – guitar and vocals, Patrick Carney -drums). I’m a big fan of their work (especially the first half of their discography), and Magic Potion has been on my “must buy” list for a long time.

The opening chords of “Just Got to Be” exemplify what I love about the band – chugging guitar, rock drumming that borders on being sloppy, and sweaty blues-style vocals. “Your Touch” is one of their biggest hits thanks to its slick groove and sexy subject matter. “You’re the One” is a bit psychedelic as Auerbach sings a sweet song about his mother teaching him about love and how he later carried those lessons to his girlfriend.

“Just a Little Heat” reveals the band’s love for Led Zeppelin, who also loved the blues. Just listen to the opening licks and tell me they don’t remind you of Zeppelin’s “Heartbreaker.” “Give Your Heart Away” is a great “So long, baby” type of blues song about Auerbach walking away from a woman who treated him like a doormat. “Strange Desire” again brings in some psychedelic guitar work before it becomes a catchy song about dangerous love. “I don’t wanna go to hell, but if I do it’ll be because of you,” Auerbach sings, pulling no punches in the process. “Modern Times” only amplifies the dirty, floor-stomping feel of the record.

“The Flame” has some of Auerbach’s best guitar work on the record as it moves from blues to psych-rock to some Marc Bolan-like riffs. “The times are changin’, and the people need rearrangin’,” Auerbach sings on “Goodbye Babylon” in a sweaty, loud ode to the world of 2006. “Black Door” could be the follow-up to the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black,” with Auerbach and Carney painting all of Keith Richards and Charlie Watts’ red doors, as Auerbach unleashes a ton of skronky, reverbed guitar that Richards would enjoy and Carney puts down a wicked beat behind him that Watts would love. The album ends with “Elevator,” a song that has Auerbach getting freaky with several different women in one building. The guitar goes from smooth groove in the verses to wall-flattening in the choruses. It must be deafening live.

Don’t wait a long time to pick up this record. It’s solid from beginning to end. This Magic Potion is probably just what you need right now.

Keep your mind open.

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Rewind Review: The Black Angels – Clear Lake Forest (2014)

The Black Angels‘ 2014 EP, Clear Lake Forest, is a fine dose of psychedelia and was a great way to get your summer freak on when it was released that year (and still is).

“Sunday Evening” hits you right away with reverb and the lyric “What if I told you that everything you know isn’t even really true?” Christian Bland’s guitar work on it ranges from skronky to trippy, and the song has probably the hottest tambourine work you’ve heard in a long while.

“Tired Eyes” opens with Stephanie Bailey’s always-dependable thunderous drumming and soon spins into a wild track with lead singer Alex Maas and Christian Bland sharing the vocals about someone who seems tired of living in illusion. I may be wrong. The song is so groovy that it seems to pour incense smoke from your speakers, so I may be hallucinating any meaning I’ve assigned to it.

“Diamond Eyes” is downright lovely. Maas’ reverberated vocals, Bland’s spaghetti western guitar, Jake Garcia’s soothing rhythm guitar, Kyle Hunt’s soaring synths, and Bailey’s military-precision beats all gel to become one of the Black Angels’ best tracks.

“The Flop” was the first single off Clear Lake Forest, and it’s easy to understand why. Hunt’s keyboards sound like he’s streaming them from the Doors’ “Soul Kitchen” outtakes. Bailey’s drums hit so hard they may take your lunch money. The bridge plunges you straight down the rabbit hole and doesn’t let you out. “An Occurrence at 4507 South Third Street” is the Black Angels’ second “address” song (the first being “Haunting at 1300 McKinley” from Phosphene Dream). It has a bit of a honky-tonk feel to it (thanks to the snappy beat) and I can’t help but wonder if it’s about another haunting or a murder or suicide that led to the haunting. “The Executioner” is certainly about death (a common theme on Black Angels records). Maas’ lyrics are the clearest on this track (before the freak-out of a bridge, at least). It’s an interesting twist. Maas wants you to know that sin may feel good, but death waits so you’d better get things straight before you meet it.

The closer, “Linda’s Gone,” follows the life of a woman who wants and seeks something beyond her boring life and even the boredom of the illusion around her (and all of us, really). It has all the stuff you like from the Black Angels: tribal drumming, metaphysical lyrics, trance-inducing synths, spacey vocals, and guitar licks that seem to fold in on themselves and then back out into different shapes.

Clear Lake Forest was a solid EP and a great follow-up to their full-length album, Indigo Meadow. Treat yourself to it.

Keep your mind open.

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Rewind Review: Big Audio Dynamite – Megatop Phoenix (1989)

Big Audio Dynamite (Dan Donovan – keyboards and vocals, Mick Jones – guitar and vocals, Don Letts – effects and vocals, Greg Roberts – drums and vocals, Leo “E-Zee Kill” Williams – bass and vocals) were a big part of my high school years, and their final album, Megatop Phoenix, was a great way to go out on top. I had it on a mix tape for years, so it was high time I bought a proper copy of it. Recorded not long after Mick Jones nearly died of pneumonia (special thanks are given to his doctors and nurses in the album’s liner notes), the album is a reflection on the band’s history and a look to the future.

“Rewind” is a battle cry to all of us to stay strong in the face of adversity and to never count out the underdog. The kick-in of Williams’ bass after the first verse still gives me chills. It’s a great blend of their raga / post-punk / new wave / electro mix that made them so innovative. “Union, Jack” is Jones, Letts, and Williams’ call to British people to get back up on their feet in the Reagan / Thatcher years that were grinding them down into complacency. It opens with a sample of the British national anthem and then kicks in some of the slickest beats by Roberts. Lyrics like “Now in the classroom I was told about the Empire, how you were bold. A pint of beer, life passes by, your spirit’s squashed just like a fly.” continue to resonate today.

“Contact” is a song about Jones’ inner struggle to express himself to perhaps a lovely lady or even his own band mates. This was B.A.D.’s last album, after all. His guitar has nice heaviness to it when it comes in during the chorus. “Dragon Town” has Jones expressing the band’s wonder at being lost in a Chinatown while looking for an exotic woman.

“Baby, Don’t Apologize” is, on its surface, about Jones telling a lover not to be sorry things didn’t work out because he can’t or won’t change. It’s probably a veiled reference to the end of the band, however. Jones had a life-changing experience with his pneumonia, Don Letts was becoming a producer and DJ, and the other band members were also involved in other projects. Jones was worried about how he might be perceived (“My head is in the stock. It rains refuse, some shout abuse, and others throwing rocks.”), but as he puts it, “What I am is loud and clear for all to see, for all to hear.”

“Around the Girl in 80 Ways” is a straight-up love song from Jones and Letts as they teach how to woo the lady of your choice. They suggest everything from “a bunch of flowers” to playing it cool. “James Brown” was written after the Godfather of Soul was involved in a domestic violence case and a police pursuit that landed him in jail. Jones and Letts tell the story from Brown’s perspective, paying tribute to him and calling him out on his bad behavior at the same time. The beats are wicked, as is the verbal takedown of American celebrity culture (which is just as bad in Britain nowadays).

“Everybody Needs a Holiday” sounds better than ever in this world that has only gotten smaller, busier, and less personal since 1989. “House Arrest” is a tale of partying on Saturday night until six in the morning when the cops show up. It’s a floor-bumper with heavy bass and kick ass drum licks. Letts gets to take lead vocals on it as he sings about “bouncers, bimbos, lager louts” and “cops and dogs in transit vans.”

“The Green Lady” is a clever and slightly bittersweet song (with great guitar work by Jones) about a man who falls in love with a Chinese woman in a mass-produced photograph hanging in his flat. “London Bridge” is about the Americanization of London, but Jones professes his love for his town with catchy hooks. “Stalag 123” is about Jones and crew being stuck in the studio working on a record while the building’s basement is flooded and they have to deal with “no windows, no air, and secondhand gear.”

B.A.D. didn’t sound like anything that came before them, and no one has really matched their mix of genres since. They had a successful reunion tour a few years ago, and we can always hope for another. If not, there’s always their excellent catalog and this fine end to it.

Keep your mind open.

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Rewind Review: Suuns and Jerusalem in My Heart (2015)

Two Montreal psychedelic powerhouses, four-piece Suuns and producer Radwan Gahzi Mounmeh (otherwise known as Jerusalem in My Heart), teamed up in 2012 (but didn’t release the collaboration until three years later) to create a new project that mixes Suuns’ rock aesthetic with Mounmeh’s tripped-out Middle Eastern sounds. It’s mind and tongue twisting.

What do I mean? Well, the first track is titled “2amoutu I7tirakan.” The numbers are used to reflect Arabic sounds that have no good western written translation. The track sounds like a forgotten relic from Vangelis’ Blade Runner score. “Metal” is a great cut that shows how western rock and Middle Eastern beats can work so well together. “Self” blends Middle Eastern chanting with weird electro-blip percussion. “In Touch,” with its almost subliminal bass and building beats, is perfectly suited for playing in the glass elevator you’re taking to the upper floors of the casino hotel to meet your lover / the contract killer you’ve hired.

“Gazelles in Flight” begins with what sounds like a film reel flapping after it’s made its run through a projector. It builds into weird insect-like sounds and then into something that sounds like a Claudio Simonetti giallo film score track from the 1980’s. It’s wonderfully weird. The album closes with “3attam Babey,” an eight-minute track of desert mirages and a mix of touches from the likes of Bauhaus, Joy Division, and early Pink Floyd.

One of the most incredible things about this mind warp of a record is that it was recorded in one week back in 2012. One week! A longer team-up between them may produce something that can transport us to the astral plane. I hope they do this soon. I’d love to check out that place.

Keep your mind open.

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Rewind Review: The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers (2014)

The New Pornographers returned in 2014 after a far too long absence to bring us another masterfully crafted album of power pop. The Canadian supergroup’s Brill Bruisers sounds like a long-lost ELO record and is a fine piece of work desperately needed in this world of pop divas, TV show idols, bro’ rock, country-rap, and booty call music.

The opener (and title track) starts with blaring guitars, powerful drums, vocals that swirl with great melodies, and a touch of psychedelic synths. Vocalist / guitarist A.C. Newman and his crew seem to channel the stadium-filling power of early ELO records on it. “Champions of Red Wine” doesn’t refer to my wife and one of her best friends, but is rather a fun song from outer space (judging by the poppy space lounge keyboards) sung by the always mesmerizing Neko Case. The band knocks this one out of the park.

“Fantasy Fools” will have you jumping and dancing, as it’s nothing but joyful. The keyboards on it are the hidden key to the song’s power. Those same keyboards are front and center during “War on the East Coast,” in which Dan Bejar worries more about potentially botching a relationship than about world chaos and bad news. “Backstairs” brings back the ELO influence and is big, booming, and wonderful. I can’t wait to hear this one live. It swirls into mind trip material and is all the better for it. “Marching Orders” is peppy with happy keyboards and Neko Case’s happy vocals. You can visualize her dancing in the recording booth as she sings. I love the way “Born with a Sound” dabbles in electro. The New Pornographers have the luxury of being able to do whatever the hell they want, so an electro-rock cut doesn’t jar the flow of the album at all (and Kathryn Calder’s backing vocals on it are excellent).

If you’re worried the New Pornographers are turning into an electro band, have no fear. “Dancehall Domine” sounds like something off The Electric Version with its big guitars, great Newman and Case vocal trades, and straight-up rock drums, and “Spidyr” sounds like it could’ve been a track from Mass Romantic. “Hi-Rise” and the closer, “You Tell Me Where,” dive back into the synth-heavy sounds, but it all works. “You Tell Me Where” is a nice grand finale and I’m sure is a big set-ender at their live shows.

We needed this record. It’s refreshing and lovely – the best kind of porn, really.

Keep your mind open.

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Rewind Review: Goat – Commune (2014)

I’m not surprised that Goat’s Commune opens with a track called “Talk to God,” because a Goat album (let alone a live performance) feels like a direct transmission from another plane where beings beyond our understanding dwell and bless us with insight and wisdom.

Goat, the mysterious Swedish voodoo rock band, had another solid record that went straight into my “Best of 2014” list with Commune. “Talk to God” hypnotizes you out of the gate with its Arabic / African guitar licks, humming bass, and those sultry, mysterious female vocals (sexily singing “Call my name when you talk to God.”).

“Words,” with droning guitar that sounds like something Giorgio Moroder composed, furthers Goat’s theme of communing with things beyond our ken. The weird, high-pitched chants on “The Light Within” definitely sound like something from beyond this reality, and the guitar solo may well send you there.

“To Travel the Path Unknown” could be the theme of listening to any Goat album. You never know where it will lead you and it may change each time. The opening lyric claims, “There is only one true meaning of life, and that is to be a positive force in the constant creation of evolution.” Heavy stuff, but a Goat album is not for the weak. Don’t play one unless you are ready to face the consequences of an expanded mind.

“Goatchild” continues the band’s theme of using their name in at least one song title per record. It’s also the first song on their first two albums to feature male vocals, which contrast nicely with the duo female vocals throughout most of the tracks as the lyrics take us beyond the moon and sun.

“The spirit world is everything,” Goat claims on “Goatslaves.” They’re right, of course. This world here, in which I am typing a review that cannot truly encapsulate this record, is illusion. We are slaves to it because we fear what lies beyond the veil we keep over our eyes. The beats on this are so good they’re almost terrifying, which is just how Goat likes it. A bit of fear keeps you honest, and liars never do well in the spirit world.

“Hide from the Sun” is a magnificent song to take with you across the desert during your pilgrimage to a holy temple, an oasis full of sweet water and fruits and beautiful naked people, or the treadmill. Just don’t be surprised if you abandon that run on the treadmill for a good sweat in the sauna while listening to this track, because it may make you seek sweat lodge visions.

“Bondye” is a fantastic instrumental with swirling, mesmerizing beats that build to a frenzy best suited for whirling dervishes. Let it wash over you. It’s hard to write this even as I hear it. It tends to overwhelm everything else in your immediate sphere.

The album ends with a “Gathering of Ancient Tribes” (Notice the initials?). The vocals are powerful (chanting “Into the fire!” at one point), and the band behind them seems to be playing from a mountain temple for all in the valley below to hear.   The guitar solo drops from Mount Olympus, gathering cacophony in its wake, until it hits you like an avalanche.

This is one of the most powerful, mind-altering records I’ve heard since, well, Goat’s first album. You aren’t the same after hearing a Goat album. It will bend your brain. Proceed with caution, but by all means – proceed.

Keep your mind open.

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