Top 30 albums of 2017: #’s 25 – 21

Who made the top 25?  Read on!

#25 – Dion Lunadon – self-titled

As the story goes, Dion Lunadon was restless during a break that his band, A Place to Bury Strangers, was taking in-between tour dates.  He focused that restless energy into this powerhouse of a record that mixes everything from noise-rock to psychobilly grooves.  Thank heavens for eager artists.

#24 – The Moonlandingz – Interplanetary Class Classics

A band that started out as a fictional joke between Sean Lennon and members of Fat White Family ended up putting out one of the wildest records of 2017.  It’s a great mix of psychedelia, electro, disco, and otherworldly chaos.

#23 – Jake Xerxes Fussell – What in the Natural World

Good heavens, this album is beautiful.  It’s somewhere between blues and outlaw country and is most Jake Fussell and his acoustic guitar singing heartbreaking songs about being broke, lost loves, and the bravery of river men in old times.  It will leave you wondering why you hadn’t heard of him before now.

#22 – Ron Gallo – Heavy Meta

Ron Gallo is working damn hard to remind you that rock and roll isn’t dead (We are, however, according to him.), so it would do you good to pay attention to his Stooges-inspired riffs, vocals, and attitude.  He’s already planning a release early next year, so get on this now and hear the buzz.

#21 – The Flaming Lips – Oczy Mlody

The Flaming Lips continue their journey through other dimensions and exploration of death, life, and love with this weird mix of psychedelia and shimmering power pop.  The addition of guest vocals by Miley Cyrus is a nice touch as well.

Next up, the top 20!  Come back soon!

Keep your mind open.

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Top live shows of 2017: #’s 30 – 26

I’ve arrived at the end of my live music year for 2017.  I saw over 60 performances this year, and the majority of them were a fun time.  There were some that might’ve had lame crowds or that just didn’t thrill me, of course, but 2017 was good for live music.  To save time (and my sanity and your patience), I’m counting the top 30 live shows I saw this year.  Here are the first five.

#30 – A Place to Bury Strangers – Thalia Hall – Chicago, IL May 11th.

I’ll see APTBS at any opportunity, and seeing this set where they opened for the Black Angels was a no-brainer for me.  It was also the first time they played Thalia Hall, and they sounded great in there.  I was lucky enough to chat with front man Oliver Ackermann before and after (along with the rest of the band – Dion Lunadon and Lia Braswell) the set, so that made the show extra special.

#29 – Joe Walsh – Scottrade Center – St. Louis, MO May 12th.

Joe Walsh had a fun time opening for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.  He joked with the sold-out crowd, played every hit you’d want to hear at one of his gigs, and had a huge, excellent backing band.  He also showed that he could still shred on guitar, and his performance of “Take It to the Limit” brought my wife to tears.

#28 – Bebel Gilberto – City Winery – Chicago, IL December 20th.

The last show I saw this year turned out to be a delightful night with bossa nova legend Bebel Gilberto.  It was a lovely set in an intimate venue.  Everyone needs to see Ms. Gilberto at least once, and hear her often.

#27 – Bleached – House of Blues – Chicago, IL April 23rd.

If you’re in a band, I wish you could’ve seen Bleached with me twice within six months because you’d have seen a perfect example of how to step up your game.  This show, which had them opening for the Damned, was the second time I’d seen them in that time period.  The first was at a gig in Cleveland in October 2016.  I thought they were good then, but this performance left me gobsmacked.  They’d become tighter and stronger in just half a year.  It had been at least a couple years since I saw so much improvement in one band.

#26 – Partner – Schuba’s – Chicago, IL January 22nd.

This was Partner‘s first gig in Chicago, and one of their first in the United States.  Shame on you if you missed it, because they are now indie rock darlings and their debut album, In Search of Lost Time, is one of the best of 2017.  This show was an absolute home run and wowed everyone there.

Stay tuned for #’s 25 – 21!

Keep your mind open.

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Dion Lunadon – self-titled

As the story goes, Dion Lunadon, known to many as the bass player and co-mastermind of A Place to Bury Strangers, was feeling restless during a break in APTBS’ tour schedule. So, he poured that restless energy into his first solo album and gave the world a frantic, wild piece of noise-punk that has some fun surprises in it.

The album’s opener is a raging piece against something we all have to deal with – “Insurance, Rent, and Taxes.” The song flattens you with squelching sound and Robi Gonzalez (who used to play for APTBS). Lundaon sings, “Much too young to get any older.” on the swinging “Reduction Agent.” Lunadon reveals his love of dirty juke joint blues in the track in both the rhythm and lyrics (“I’ve got the mark of death. It won’t leave me alone.”). The organ and bass on “Fire” burns as hot as its namesake, building to a crazy blender-like frenzy. “Com / Broke” is your new favorite song for trying to beat rush hour traffic. Just be careful, as Lunadon’s lyrics do involve car crashes, fires, and self-destruction.

“Hanging By a Thread” is a post-punk (and nearly instrumental) surprise with guitars that sound like industrial saws. The industrial grind continues on “Move,” and Lunadon’s vocals sounds like the Borg has assimilated him. The drums blast the doors off the song around the 1:30 mark and you’re holding on for dear life by that point.

“Eliminator” is fierce noise-punk, and “Howl” is about Lunadon’s joy in expressing himself in the spotlight. It’s like something Lou Reed blasted out of his speakers when getting ideas for Metal Machine Music.

Believe it or not, “Ripper” is a psychobilly cut and Lunadon and crew have a blast on it. I couldn’t help but grin through the whole track. “White Fence,” on the other hand, is more fine post-punk with weirdly angled guitars and desperate vocal stylings. The closer, “No Control,” brings Lunadon’s album back into weird psychedelia before a quick, distorted fade out leaves you gasping for breath.

This debut solo record is quite a statement. It’s powerful, brash, and even fun. More debuts need to be this self-assured.

Keep your mind open.

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Elephant Stone announces Europe and North America tour dates.

Elephant Stone have been on tour for seemingly all of 2017, and now they’ve added more tour dates throughout Europe and North America that go into the winter.  They’re playing gigs with the likes of the Black Angels, A Place to Bury Strangers, and the Dream Syndicate.  Any of these shows would be well worth your time and money.  Here are the dates:

8/11 Quebec City, QC @ Le Cercle TICKETS | FB EVENT

8/12 Gaspe, QC @ Festival du Musique au Bout du Monde TICKETS | FB EVENT
8/13 Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, QC @ Sea Shack TICKETS | FB EVENT
9/1 Rouyn Noranda, QC @ Petit Theatre de Rouyn Noranda TICKETS | FB EVENT ^
9/7 Berlin, DE @ Bassy TICKETS | FB EVENT *
9/8 Cologne, DE @ Gebäude 9 TICKETS | FB EVENT *
9/9 Hamburg, DE @ Molotow TICKETS | FB EVENT *
9/12 Malmo, SWE @ Plan B FB EVENT
9/13 Copenhagen, DK @ Pumpehuset TICKETS | FB EVENT #
9/16 Angers, FR @ Theatre le Quai TICKETS | FB EVENT ~
9/18 Le Havre, FR @ McDaid’s Live FB EVENT
9/19 Leiden, NL @ Gebroeders Nobel TICKETS
9/20 Amsterdam, NL @ Paradiso TICKETS | FB EVENT @
9/22 London, UK @ O2 Forum TICKETS | FB EVENT #
9/23 Liverpool, UK @ Baltic Triangle TICKETS | FB EVENT &
9/27 Theossaliniki, GR @ Rover Bar 
9/28 Arta, GR @ Miles Bar 
9/29 Athens, GR @ Death Disco FB EVENT
12/3 Columbus, OH @ Ace of Cups TICKETS  +
12/4 Chicago, IL @ Thalia Hall TICKETS  +
12/5 Minneapolis, MN @ Fine Line TICKETS  +
12/6 St Louis, MO @ Off Broadway TICKETS +
12/7 Nashville, TN @ High Watt TICKETS +
12/8 Atlanta, GA @ The Earl TICKETS  +
12/9 Raleigh, NC @ Stag’s Head Music Hall TICKETS +
12/10 Richmond VA @ Capital Ale House TICKETS  +
^ w/ A Place to Bury Strangers
# w/ The Black Angels and A Place to Bury Strangers
@ Indiestadt Festival w/ The Black Angels,A Place to Bury Strangers, Beach Fossils
& Liverpool Psych Fest with sets by Elephant Stone and Acid House Ragas
+ w/ The Dream Syndicate

Oliver Ackermann interview – May 11, 2017

L-R: Yours truly, Oliver Ackermann, Lia Braswell, Dion Lunadon

Oliver Ackermann, lead singer and guitarist of A Place to Bury Strangers, was kind enough to chat with me before the band’s performance at Chicago’s Thalia Hall on May 11th opening for the Black Angels.  We talked about the tour, the New York music scene, bassist Dion Lunadon’s upcoming album, shoegaze bands, and where to get good tamales.

7th Level Music: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me.  I’m really looking forward to the show.

Oliver Ackermann: Cool, man.  Thanks so much.  We’re psyched to be coming there.  We’ve been doing some crazy things at some of these shows.  Definitely with the energy of Chicago, I’m sure it’ll be crazy.

7LM: Have you ever played Thalia Hall?

OA: No, is that place cool?

7LM: It is very cool.  It’s a converted opera house, so the acoustics in there are great.

OA: That sounds so rad.

7LM: It is a very cool venue.  I’ve been told the restaurant there is amazing, but I’ve never eaten there.

OA: Oh, cool. Hopefully they give us a discount or something like that.

7LM: If not, I can recommend a place.  A short walk east is this really good tamale restaurant (Dia De Los Tamales – 939 West 18th Street).

OA: Really good tamales?  That sounds delicious.

7LM: If you get there early enough, I highly recommend that.

OA: Awesome.  Maybe we’ll hit that up.

7LM: The other day I was describing your music to somebody, and I said it’s kind of like a Zen master whacking you with a stick on the head.

OA (chuckling, as he’s clearly never heard that before): Okay.

7LM: The reason I came up with that analogy was because the last time I saw you guys was in Detroit when you played with Grooms and Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor.  Rick from the Sisters and I were at the back of the venue chatting, and you guys come on and as soon as your set started it literally knocked the sound out of our mouths.

OA (laughing): Awesome.

7LM: I got to thinking about it, and your music has that effect on people where it shakes people out of things.

OA: Sure.  That kind of makes some sense.  There are those shows that you go to and have your mind blown and we’re always trying to hark back upon those moments.

7LM: I remember the first time my wife and I saw you was at one of the Levitation shows.  You played at the Mohawk.  You completely floored us, and I had a similar experience.  By the end of it, I was standing there thinking, “I’ve never seen anything like this.”  It was great.

OA: That’s awesome.  Right on.

7LM: How influenced is your sound from living in New York and being from that area, if at all?

OA: I don’t know.  I wonder that, too.  Sometimes I feel like we have no influence from that.  I’m so busy in New York and we don’t always get to do things, and there’s so much crazy stuff going on, but I guess that must be an influence as well.  There are a lot of great creative people that can definitely drive you, but I feel so disconnected from the scene.

7LM: I was watching some of your videos, and I noticed this reoccurring theme in the videos, and some of the lyrics, about how technology separates us from each other.  Maybe I’m overreaching here, but it seems like you touch on those themes a lot.

OA: Sure.  Definitely.  That’s pretty funny you bring that up.  That’s definitely a theme of some of our music.  Sometimes you want to go a little old school, and you kind of miss some of those days of just being able to wander and go meet your friends if they were there, or having to go knock on their window.  I think it brings us together as well, so maybe that’s just part of it.

7LM: Is Lia (Braswell) still drumming with you guys?

OA: Lia is drumming with us, yeah.  That has been awesome.  That’s definitely been a big influence on where our sound is going.

7LM: How did you two meet Lia?

OA: (Bassist) Dion (Lunadon) had seen her play in a friend’s band, Baby Acid, and said she was a wicked drummer.  We were looking for different people to play with, so we invited her over to play drums, and she was amazing.

7LM: I saw her play with Lindsey Troy of Deap Vally and she killed it.

L-R: Lia Braswell, yours truly, Lindsey Troy

OA: Yeah, she’s incredible.

7LM: Did you and Dion meet when he came on with Exploding Head?

OA: We actually first met in Los Angeles.  I was out there doing some sort of job for a friend and I didn’t have a place to stay.  He was staying at this house with some friends of his.  I spent the night at the house because he offered a place to stay.  We met again back in New York when he moved there in 2007 or so.  He was in the D4 and a bunch of killer bands.

7LM: A friend of mine wanted me to ask you what your favorite shoegaze bands were, and I know the Jesus and Mary Chain is one.

OA: Yeah, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine, of course all those bands.  Ecstasy of Saint Theresa, Heaven Piano Company, Alcian Blue was really good, the Cocteau Twins, the Emerald Down, Mallory.  There’s a bunch of good shoegaze bands.

7LM: Have you heard the new Slowdive stuff?

OA: I’ve only heard a couple of the songs.  It sounded awesome, though.  I’m super-psyched to hear the whole thing.  What do you think of that record?

7LM: I like it.  I’ve heard the first two singles.  In some ways it’s like they just stepped right out of a time machine and in other ways it sounds like they’re moving in this cool new direction.

OA: Yeah, for sure.  I’m excited to hear the whole record and maybe if they make another record after this what comes out of it.

7LM: I have a few questions I always ask bands I interview.  One of them is, do you have any influences that you think would surprise some of your fans?

OA: Oh, for sure.  I like a lot of different music.  What do you think people would be surprised by?

7LM: Well, the reason I always ask bands this is because I once heard an interview with Rob Halford of Judas Priest and he was asked this question.  He said, “You’re never gonna believe this, but I’m a massive Hank Williams, Sr. fan.”  Ever since then I’ve been intrigued with hearing about what influences people have that others might not realize they have.

OA: I love Hank Williams, Sr.

7LM: Yeah, me too.

OA: Yeah, totally.  That stuff’s awesome. I don’t know, in this day and age is anyone going to be surprised by anything?

7LM: That’s a really good point.  Another question I always ask is, do you have any favorite misheard versions of your lyrics?

OA: I wish I could remember, because there sure are some funny ones out there.  It’s kind of cool because when you hear them a lot of times they kind of morph into what makes sense for the people.  I really like that.  It turns personal for them, which is kind of the point of our music.

7LM: That gets back to the thing I believe where your music changes people’s perceptions, especially live.

OA: Totally.  That’s the goal for a lot of our music.  It’s a state between life and fantasy and to be able to let go of some of your thoughts and troubles.

7LM: When I saw you in Detroit, you came out into the audience with your instruments and I loved how you made this cool moment where you brought this technology into the crowd, but instead of technology pushing people away it was this big communal thing.

OA: Yeah, that’s a great thing.  I think that’s pretty awesome.  Not everybody will do that to connect with the audience.  We always welcome anybody and everybody to jump up on stage or pull us down or whatever to connect and make it a communal event.

7LM: Do you write grooves first or lyrics first?  Or does it depend on the song?

OA: It depends on the song. We always try to reinvent writing songs all the time we do it.  It depends on what’s inspiring you.  Sometimes it starts with an idea and some lyrics, or sometimes the music brings out a whole story or a mood.  Even more recently, we’ve kind of been writing all of it at once.  It’s kind of a weird, wild thing.  I’ve always fantasized about having a band where you didn’t have any songs written before you played the shows, and you would play a whole bunch of songs at that moment.  You start to do this thing where you unconsciously tap into a really pure experience and it draws you in a different direction.  You’d dig deep and reveal some things maybe you wouldn’t be comfortable revealing in that moment.

7LM: If you ever do that, I hope I can get to one of those shows.

OA: Right on.

7LM: I’m one of those guys where if I go to a show and the band gets up and says, “We’re gonna play a bunch of stuff you’ve never heard before.”  I’m the guy in the back saying, “Fantastic!”

OA: Awesome.  I always like that, too.  At least to hear some sort of challenge.  It’s all about the excitement at that type of show.  I’m sure there’s band where I’d be disappointed in that, too.

7LM: Well, the opposite of that is that after we see you guys tonight, we’re driving down to St. Louis to see Tom Petty and Joe Walsh.

OA: Oh, wow, that sounds awesome.  That should be so cool.  I’ve never seen them.

7LM: Speaking of new stuff, Dion’s new album (self-titled) is out next month?

OA: Dion’s new album is out next month.  I’ve heard it.  It’s fucking awesome.

7LM: I’ve heard the two tracks that he’s released so far, and I thought, “Holy crap!  He’s gunning.”

OA: Oh yeah, it’s so powerful.

7LM: I’ve always thought that about him.  When I saw you guys in Austin the first time, it was two songs into your set and he body slammed his bass on the stage so damn hard and I thought, “Holy crap, we’re really in for something.”

OA: Yeah, he’s hit himself in the head a couple times, bled all over the place, climbed up on some things that everybody else would be scared to climb on.  I’ve seen him do some crazy things.

7LM: Are you your own guitar tech?  I’ve seen the way you handle that thing.

OA: Totally.  Yeah, we are all our own instrument techs.

7LM: That’s fantastic.  It reminds of when I was in a garage band in college, and our guitarist would cut holes in his guitar and take it apart to get different sounds out of it.  I see you getting the craziest sounds out of your guitar by mauling it.

OA: Yeah, you gotta play your instrument to the fullest.

7LM: Where are you off to after Chicago?

OA: We’re going to Minneapolis.  We’re playing First Avenue.  Purple Rain, Prince, it should be awesome.

7LM: Well thanks for all this.  Break a leg tonight.  Not literally, of course.

OA: For sure.  See you tonight.

APTBS at Chicago’s Thalia Hall May 11, 2017.

[Thanks again to Oliver Ackermann, Lia Braswell, Dion Lunadon, Burgers Rana, and Steven Matrick for being so groovy, arranging this interview and my press pass to the Thalia Hall show, and for the lighter.]

Keep your mind open.

Live – The Black Angels and A Place to Bury Strangers – Chicago, IL – May 11, 2017

I will see The Black Angels or A Place to Bury Strangers at any opportunity, so having them both on the same bill is a win-win and a must-see for me.  Seeing them in Chicago’s Thalia Hall was an added bonus because the acoustics there are outstanding and there isn’t a bad place to stand or sit in the joint.

A Place to Bury Strangers were prompt, starting the show at 9:00pm sharp (which seems to be a trend in Chicago venues as of late).  They came out as they always do – loud and heavy.  They opened with “We’ve Come So Far” from Transfixiation and it was off to the races.  The addition of Lia Braswell on drums is a great one, as she practically beat her kit into the floor.  Her backing vocals bring a new dimension to many APTBS tracks, and I hope this trend continues on some new material.  Guitarist and lead singer Oliver Ackermann was on fire for their whole set.

Every APTBS show looks like a scene from a John Carpenter film.

They ended their set with a wild sequencer / synth / bass / light show that I’d seen them do before in Detroit.  They moved into the crowd and were soon casting laser lights and weird, warping synths beats and Dion Lunadon’s growling bass licks throughout the whole hall.

APTBS blowing minds and retinas in Thalia Hall.

As if that weren’t trippy enough, the Black Angels started their set with this image.

Do I detect a nod to Devo here?

“Take your acid now,” said a friend of mine upon seeing this.  The Black Angels opened up with “Currency,” the first single off their new album – Death Song (review coming soon).  “Bad Vibrations” (always a favorite) followed, and it again wowed the crowd.

The Black Angels dropping “Currency” from their new album.

This was the sixth time I’ve seen the Black Angels (and the third I’ve seen APTBS), and this might’ve been the heaviest set I’ve seen by them.  My wife (who’s seen them five of the six times with me) noticed this, too.  The version of “You On the Run” they played was certainly the heaviest I’d heard.  It bordered on stoner metal.  Christian Bland’s guitar seemed cranked to 11 in terms of volume and distortion for the entire show.  Stephanie Bailey further cemented her prowess as one of the best rock drummers of our time.  I say this every time I see the Black Angels live: Stephanie Bailey is their secret weapon.  I later realized this was the first show I’d seen in a while in which both bands had powerful drummers.

The Black Angels getting heavy.

They played many tracks from the new record.  “Half Believing,” “Comanche Moon,” “I Dreamt,” “Medicine,” “Grab As Much As You Can,” and “Death March” all sounded great.  They closed with “Young Men Dead,” which made one man behind me so happy that he rushed ahead of me to head-bang and share his one-hitter with the strangers to his left and right.

The Black Angels performing “Young Men Dead” during their encore.

This made six good shows in a row from the Black Angels and three straight for APTBS in my experience.  This tour is selling out across the country, so you’d better get your tickets soon if you want to catch it.  I also must give a salute to the two men who make up the Mustachio Light Show.  They provided all the wild and stunning visuals during the Black Angels’ set.  It’s a great addition to this tour.

Thanks to Oliver Ackermann, Steven Matrick, and Burgers Rana for getting me a press pass to this show.  I’ll have an interview with Oliver Ackermann posted soon as well.

Keep your mind open.

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The Black Angels’ new album, Death Song, due April 21, 2017.

Austin, Texas’ psych-rock wizards The Black Angels are dropping their newest album, Death Song, on April 21st and have announced a spring tour starting in Nashville and ending in Austin.  The first single off the new album, “Currency,” is already out and a great listen.

You can find all the tour dates, album pre-sale bundles that include things like T-shirts and posters, and the lyric video for “Currency” here.

Oh yeah, they’re also touring with A Place to Bury Strangers, so don’t miss this tour.

Keep your mind open.

Rewind Review: A Place to Bury Strangers – Exploding Head (2009)


I’ve been meaning to pick up A Place to Bury Strangers’ 2009 album, Exploding Head, for years. I have no excuse other than it was never for sale on CD whenever I’d see them live. I love the band, so shame on me for taking seven years to pick up this fine record.

The opener, “It Is Nothing,” displays Oliver Ackermann’s (vocals and guitar) love of My Bloody Valentine. His guitar sounds like he’s playing it upside-down and backwards while his vocals seem to be coming from the bottom of an empty pool. “In Your Heart” is one of my favorite APTBS tracks. It has the stabbing guitar chords, chugging synth beats, lyrics about screwed-up relationships (“Don’t say you’ll be with me again. There’s nothing there, it’s dead.”), and David J-like bass I love from their songs, and it slays live.

Tribal drumming grounds “Lost Feeling” as Ackermann pleads with his girl to come back to him, but he knows he’s not even on her radar. It’s like a great lost Bauhaus track with even more blaring guitars. “Deadbeat” is nothing but, as it has some of the hardest, slickest beats and bass on the record. It’s an instant mosh pit creator, so be careful where you play it.

“Keep Slipping Away” is like early Cure but with more reverb, heavier amps, and not as much moping. “Ego Death” is heavy goth rock with a chorus that might knock you out of your boots. “Smile When You Smile” is equally heavy and a bit creepier.  “Everything Always Goes Wrong” could be the theme for every Three’s Company episode by the title, but the sound of it is better for a modern Euro-horror film.

You’d think the title track would be loud enough to make your head explode, but APTBS wisely flips it around to make it a catchy industrial track with almost a dance club bass line and vocals free of reverb. The closer is one of their hardest and loudest live tracks – “I Lived My Life to Stand in the Shadow of Your Heart.” As fast as it is on the record, it’s twice the speed live.

Don’t be like me and wait seven years to add this to your collection. It’s essential noise-psych.

Keep your mind open.

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