All posts by Andy Frisk

Review: Silversun Pickups’ Better Nature

The Silversun Pickups are a long way from Swoon’s “Panic Switch,” which translates to about 6 years (or one bachelor and master’s degrees’ year’s worth of study). Better Nature definitely has a more restrained and thoughtful sound and feel about it, as one might expect of an older, more thoughtful and educated in the ways of the world and human nature, group of musicians. The only problem is that all that thoughtfulness, which leads to airy musical atmospherics as opposed to grungy grounding, has caused Silversun Pickups’ sound to regress instead of progress. Better Nature is thoughtful sonically and lyrically, but to the detriment of the intensity and unique supersonic, yet grounded, sound of their early albums-a sound that made Silversun Pickups something truly inspiring musically and emotionally.

Most bands don’t want to write the same songs over and over, even if some bands (Metallica, U2, and Pearl Jam) encounter great success doing so. Bands like Pearl Jam deviate very slightly, if at all, from what makes their songs and sound so powerful, yet manage to feel fresh and unique with every album released. Silversun Pickups were well on their way to the same type of unique and powerful sonic status with Carnavas and Swoon. Then came Neck of the Woods. The more straightforward 90s alt-guitar rock which swayed from shoegaze to an individualistic take on Billy Corgan’s “grunge in furs” fuzz buzz obviously owed much to artists like Corgan, but Silversun Pickups’ Brian Aubert made the sound all his own with his unique vocals while drummer Christopher Guanlao’s staccato smacks distanced the band from Smashing Pumpkins-like rhythms nicely. Then came Neck of the Woods

…and now we have Better Nature, for better or worse. There is much that made Silversun Pickups what they were on Carnavas and Swoon present on Better Nature, but it’s now lost in a swirl of synth-pop atmospherics and techno beeps and boops. The Silversun Pickups of Better Nature have more in common with Eurythmics and Depeche Mode (once they discovered the guitar) than Smashing Pumpkins or My Bloody Valentine-hence the sonic regression. There was a good bit of this type of sound on Neck of the Woods-hence the disappointment with this album as alluded to above-but there at least the darkness of the overall musical atmosphere lent itself to a certain weight that kept the album grounded. On Better Nature, too often the synths send the songs spinning out of control and off into a glitter spangled twilight that is just a little poppy and colorful for a band that once had such a natural world grounding (a la grungy) sound.

One of the better moments on Better Nature is “Connection” with its sly social commentary on our society’s social media additions and its interesting guitar work that is reminiscent of early Silversun Pickups. The dance backbeat makes “Connection” a pop rather than rock song though-for better or worse. “Circadian Rhythm (Last Dance)” is the album’s best moment. A steady beat, contributed vocals from the wonderfully talented Silversun Pickups bassist Nikki Monninger, plenty of acoustic and electric guitar lines that interweave nicely, and just enough restraint to create the proper tension necessary to cause the listener to crave the release the band hints at in the song’s final movement all come together to recreate and, more importantly, advance (by building upon the band’s greatest musical momennts: “Lazy Eye,” “The Royal We,” “Panic Switch,” “Little Lover’s So Polite”). Sadly, it’s only one of a handful of these moments. Better Nature would have benefited from more.

AlternativeNation.net’s Review of Lesser Key’s Debut EP

Yes, Lesser Key, the new musical project from ex-Tool bassist Paul D’Amour, sounds alot like his former band mates’ albums, but Lesser Key is not Tool.

D’Amour left Tool after the release of Undertow, and while many of Tool’s defining songs came after Undertow, D’Amour will forever be linked to Tool’s sound because of his intro bass line to “Sober.” Here, D’Amour demonstrates that he still has the bass playing chops to come up with a dark, yet catchy, bass line while surrounding himself with talented musicians in order to create a powerfully complete sound. The opening of “Intercession” can’t help but remind the listener of “Sober”’s opening moments, and vocalist Andrew Zamudio’s voice wavers between Maynard-like ambience and Chino Moreno-like crossiness. Bret Fanger’s guitars are lighter than Adam Jones’ though. They cast more of a hazy atmosphere than a slicing clang. In short, Lesser Key is simply not as good as Tool (and who really is?), at least not yet, but is a band that Tool fans (including this one) has high hopes for.

The greatest thing about Lesser Key is that they are just getting started. Tool’s sound changed pretty dramatically from from Opiate to Undertow to AEnima. It remained hard and thick throughout, but became more atmospheric and clear as the albums went along while never losing it’s metallic core. Lesser Key starts out atmospherically and a bit more proggishly than Tool did, so as they develop and expand their sound perhaps the heaviness will come to the fore.

This isn’t to say that Lesser Key AREN’T a heavy band. On “Folding Stairs,” one of the EP’s standout tracks, Fanger lays down some pretty heavy guitar chords intermixed with some interesting repetitive soloing that doesn’t sound like anything on modern rock radio right now. “Parallels,” which is reminiscent of Tool’s “Parabola,” in its sound and it’s lyrical thematics, is another heavy riff laden track. “In Passing Through” unfolds not unlike Lateralus’ “The Patient” and takes the listener on a trip through a sonic landscape that is spiritually related to many of the tracks off Lateralus.

It really isn’t fair to continuously compare Lesser Key to Tool, but the comparisons are so myriad that it’s almost impossible. Lesser Key is in no way a Tool rip off though. They are a group of talented musicians who have created a sound that is all their own, even if their bass player helped to define the sound of one of the most popular and enigmatic bands of the late 20th Century. Simply put, if you like Tool, then you’ll like Lesser Key, but Lesser Key’s best work is yet ahead of them, as it should be.

Overall score: 7.5 out of 10
Plenty for long suffering Tool fans to sink their teeth into, and admire as Lesser Key are just beginning and already have a sound that echos ex-Tool bassist Paul D’Amour’s former band without aping it.

AlternativeNation.net’s Album Review of Supersuckers “Get the Hell”

The self proclaimed “Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band in The World” is back after five long years with their new album Get the Hell. Returning to their hard/punk rock roots, the Supersuckers blast out twelve hard rockin’ tracks sure to remind listeners of the days before they lived up to their name and really super sucked. The guys haven’t sounded this good since The Smoke of Hell (1992). Guess there’s something about Supersucker albums with the word “Hell” in their title.

Seriously though, Get the Hell is their best collection of hard/punk rock tracks since their Sub Pop debut album. While the albums released by Supersuckers between 1992 and 2014 had their moments, the blazing silliness of tracks like “I Say Fuck” and the hard punk of “Coattail Rider” really haven’t been matched until now. Some bands can experiment and get away with it (a la U2), and some bands are meant to pound out power chords and alternatingly silly and serious lyrics. Supersuckers are definitely in the latter category of bands. Kudos are due to the Supersuckers cranking out what can arguably be considered one of, if not the first, alternative country album with 1997’s Must Have Been High, which really wasn’t that bad of an album, but it was country album…ya’ know? (Even if “Juicy Pureballs” is a great song.)

Silly experimentation laced with brilliance aside, Supersuckers are at their best when they are rockin’ out. Get the Hell is full of rockin’ tracks like title track “Get the Hell,” which powerfully announces that the hard/punk rock is back, and back in a big way. “High Tonight” is the type of pure pop-punk that would make Green Day proud, but with more elaborate soloing. With “Pushin’ Thru,” Eddie Spaghetti and the boys channel not only Mike Ness’s vocal stylings, but Ness’ riffs as well. It’s almost like the “Pushin’ Thru” is heartfelt Social D tribute track, and it’s one of the album’s stand out tracks because of it. The band’s covers of Depeche Mode’s (yes, Depeche Mode’s) “Never Let Me Down Again” and Gary Glitter’s “Rock On” are surprisingly solid interpretations. Supersuckers covering Depeche Mode…whoda’ thunk it?

So while the “Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band in The World” might not always put out the greatest rock ‘n’ roll records in the world, they get pretty darn close to doing so with their latest release. Hopefully, the return to their tried and true roots will stick this time and we’ll get more rock and less country from the guys in the future. Again though, where would alt-pop star Darius Rucker be if Supersuckers didn’t blaze that “rock to country” trail…

Overall score: 9 out of 10

AlternativeNation.net’s Review of Reignwolf’s “In The Dark”

Canadian/Seattle based grungy blues/rock artist Reignwolf’s (AKA Jordan Cook’s) new single “In The Dark,” which according to the artist (via Rolling Stone) is based upon a 13th Century Romanian novel, is the latest offering from the interesting (relatively) new artist, and if it’s an example of what we can expect from Reignwolf on his upcoming LP then it’s sure to be worth a listen.

Keeping in tune with his previous single “Are You Satisfied?,” “In The Dark” delivers more of what the concert festival buzz of the last year (generated though Reignwolf’s inspired live sets) promised: stripped down, grungy/bluesy hard rock, filtered through very little studio production (although I do hear some overdubs-but as Butch Vig told Cobain “even Lennon did it.”).

Reignwolf’s guitar playing, which also sounds a bit like a heavier, bluesier Neil Young at times, is reminiscent of Jack White’s playing, but where White has opted to to indulge in the use of many instruments, Reignwolf keeps it simple, to the advantage of the music. No one note organs needed, thank you.

Being a sort of one man band, Reignwolf does indulge in the the solo kick bass drum here and there. Mostly the tool of hipster bands like The Lumineers and Mumford and Sons, Reignwolf rescues the practice and makes it cool for hard rocking bluesmen again. Honestly though, if “In The Dark” is, again, an example of what is to come from Reignwolf’s forthcoming LP, then he’ll be rescuing the type of grungy blues that we used to hear from The Black Keys (but alas no longer) FROM The Black Keys. I, for one, say amen to that.

Overall score: 9.5 out of 10

AlternativeNation.net’s Review of Bruce Springsteen (feat. Tom Morello) “High Hopes”

Bruce Springsteen has a few things going for him that keep his music fresh and relevant: his common man message and his ability to work with different producers and artists that often revitalize his and the E Street Band’s sound. Unfortunately no longer working with long time Pearl Jam producer Brenden O’Brien (under whose production Springsteen wrote, recorded and released some of his best albums), Springsteen has fortunately teamed up with another icon of the grunge era in Tom Morello. Morello provided the heft that Springsteen’s last album Wrecking Ball desperately needed, and it seems that the musical relationship between the two (that began with their collaborative performance at the 25th Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Anniversary Concert) hasn’t come to an end yet.

Springsteen’s new found populist and inclusive sound (a marked departure from the Brenden O’Brien years) hasn’t been as compelling, at times, as his O’Brien years albums’ sound was, but Morello’s contribution really helps Springsteen keep the new material fresh. “High Hopes,” the lead single off of Springsteen and The E Street Band’s upcoming album High Hopes is a prime example of this. The E Street band’s shambling beat mixes well with Morello’s electric guitar screams as the track opens, demonstrating that we’re in sonic territory similar to Wrecking Ball‘s. Morello really cuts loose and hits some notes highly reminiscent of his work with Rage Against the Machine, but mixes in some soloing that shows just how much his guitar sound expanded during his time with Audioslave. At first it seems a little jarring to hear Morello’s signature guitar buffeting up against “High Hopes” horns, but the overall affect is akin to hearing something familiar yet new at the same time. Again, just what we’ve come to expect from someone of Springsteen’s rock n’ stature at this point.

Overall score: 8 out of 10

The Impact of 1991: An Editorial

The following is an editorial. The views expressed therein are those of Andy’s only, not necessarily those of AlternativeNation.net. Please feel free to bash or debate Andy’s assertions in the comments section. Everyone’s opinion is valid though, so be adult-like and respectful to each others’ comments. Thanks!

Most Gen X alt-rock purists, if we were still as young and anti-establishment as some of us were in 1991, would now call 1991 the year that alt-rock sold out, our personal favorite bands became too mainstream, and our peers across the country and world were simply jumping on the cool bandwagon that we established with our Sub Pop Singles Club memberships, flannel shirts, goatees, piercings, and penchant for dark sounding yet often times lyrically uplifting music. Most Gen X alt-rock purists, all grown up now and approaching or already into middle age, now call 1991 the year that we forever left our musical mark on the landscape and ushered in the last “new rock/cultural revolution” that we will, as a species, most likely ever see. It is just too improbable that one musical movement, or one cultural mindset (one fixated on change and individuality) will ever spread and change the collective unconscious as the music and events of 1991 did. Now, with the incredibly splintering power of the internet, a mass cultural movement like the one inspired by the music and Cultural Revolution of 1991 is highly unlikely. It really doesn’t seem possible that a meme based on a specific musical style and the look inspired by its most culturally recognized region will ever have as much mass appeal and affect as the grunge/alt rock movement did.

1991 - Nevermind

The possibility still exists for there to be mass cultural trends, or a mass popular song appeal, but now anything that anyone might take a particular interest in exists in its own little corner of the world wide web, ready-made to accept new members into its cult or tribe, often times stumbled upon by an individual who thinks that he or she is the only living progenitor of. A mass cultural shift in a way of thinking, stoked by a musical and cultural movement is quite unlikely to take root and spread from one (or several few) locations and dominate the airwaves, personal listening devices, and overall cultural consciousness as the music and spirit of 1991 did. In fact, everything that we now call “culture,” be it pop culture, music culture, intellectual culture, geek culture, etc. owes a huge debt to 1991, including the splintering of “the tribes,” as I call them, is a result of 1991 and the Generation X mindset. In short, the world would be a much different place now if we didn’t have Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and in a greater cultural context The First Gulf War, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and Bill Clinton’s declaration of his intentions to seek the White House. While the latter events listed above do not necessarily have a direct correlation to the eruption of the “new rock revolution” of 1991, they are events that were influenced by Generation X and the mindset that we were taking hold of, which was often reflected in our music. They are also the events that would forever forbid there being another mass cultural movement like that experienced in 1991.

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Very soon mass culture would be fragmenting much like the former Soviet Union did in 1991-92. The rise of the internet and its chat rooms, band sites, social networks, and the like would allow anyone with any interest or talent to find an individual outlet for it. The First Gulf War, which lead directly to the War in Iraq (I think it’s safe to say that 9/11 just gave Bush II the excuse needed to get to it), would lead to a fragmenting of politics as well. Today, twenty three years removed from 1991, the best way to describe pop, political, and social culture, along with the collective unconscious is as significantly fragmented. There is nothing wrong with diversity. In fact, the fragmenting of society into pop culture tribes is a fascinating, and potentially enlightening, phenomena. There has never been an easier way to celebrate diversity. One only has to peruse the multitude of Meet Up Groups and Facebook pages to learn an incredibly amount of real time knowledge on what someone who is quite different from you feels, thinks, and believes. Unfortunately though, the current inability of one movement to culturally affect a wide audience is a double edged sword. Only great tragedies, such as the events of 9/11 serve as unifiers of the like that lead to events such as the America: Tribute to Heroes televised concert/telethon, where a pretty diverse range of talent assembled. Lollapalooza still limps on as a one stop show, but doesn’t travel anymore. Gone are the pop cultural movements, with overall and underlying positive messages, that catch on and spread throughout youth culture that aren’t birthed or granted inception without a marketing team behind it. The “grunge” movement was truly the last organic movement. It was a movement that had some seriously positive messages (acceptance and camaraderie) mixed with its unintended lessons (hard drugs are bad for you). It was the last movement will ever see born out of a shared sense of community that allowed for an all-inclusiveness, instead of one birthed by a record company or market firm.

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Twenty years on though, we see all around us the lasting effects of 1991. It might have been the last organically developed movement, but it was the most powerful ever experienced. The openness of Gen X, and their music, lead to some serious cultural change. Being an outsider became less of a stigma since most of the heroes of the musical movement were outsiders themselves. They were punks who liked metal. They were skaters who were intelligent (which flew in the face of stereotypes). They didn’t care what they wore on stage. They had no image to live up to, except to what was their own truth. Yes, the likes of Kurt Cobain, Eddie Vedder, Stone Gossard, Mark Arm, Kim Thayil and the rest of the Seattle crew sound like they might have all been demigods of understanding and progression. They weren’t. What they were was a group of individuals who reflected the progressive mindset of their generation in revolt against the yuppie culture of the Baby Boomer generation. Excess and success were often hollow pursuits. Honesty, reality, and acceptance were more important to the rising generation. Gay, straight, metal, punk, poser, and all other categorizing stigmas were now null and void. One can still see the progressiveness that gained a widespread attention in 1991 as still progressing, even though it has hit a bit of a wall in the form of the Neo-Con movement. Once progress happens though, there is no stopping. For the past twenty years we’ve been subjects of, and benefited from, the movement that erupted in 1991. The music was but one aspect of it, but It was an incredibly important aspect.

AlternativeNation.net’s Review Of Ed Kowalczyk’s “The Flood and The Mercy”

“I’m going to stand right here/Scream like a baby/Call me crazy” sings Ex-Live lead singer Ed Kowalczyk in “Seven,” one of the standout tracks off his second solo album The Flood and The Mercy. Depending on how you feel about Kowalczyk, his music, and his former band Live, the lines either speak volumes on Kowalczyk’s personality or are unabashedly heartfelt and totally devoid of satire or irony (like much of Live’s music was in the 1990s in stark contrast to the spirit of the time-I mean even U2 were knee deep in sarcasm and irony at the time). Like U2’s lead singer Bono though, Kowalczyk often plays the role of polarizer. Most people either love or hate him-or love to hate him. Regardless of how you feel about him though, Kowalczyk has one of the best rock singing voices of his era, and can (even still) write one heck of an arena rock song. He proves this once again in nearly every song on The Flood and The Mercy.

Kowalczyk’s solo songs don’t rock as hard as some of Live’s did though. The opening riff to “Lakini’s Juice” (from Secret Samahdi-one of Live’s best albums) still stands as one of the best (or at least memorable) hard rock/grunge riffs of the 1990s, but one listen through The Flood and The Mercy demonstrates how much of Live’s transcendent sound and uplifting feel came from Kowalczyk and managed to balance out Chad Taylor’s riffs. The dynamic between Taylor (Live’s lead guitarist-and resident hard rocker) and Kowalczyk is what made that band so great. That balance is gone here though, sadly. Instead it’s all arena rock in the the spiritual vein of pre-Actung Baby U2. No where is this more evident on the aforementioned “Seven.” Kowalczyk’s spiritualistic rapture (sans hard rock licks) is felt in full force on “Supernatural Fire,” another of the album’s standout tracks. This track rocks a little harder than the rest though, almost like a later day R.E.M. song did (perhaps that’s more guest artist Peter Buck’s fault than Kowalczyk’s though). When Kowalczyk lets his guest guitarists cut loose a little, like on “The Watchmen’s Lament,” the songs on The Flood and The Mercy really soar. When the songs are composed of rather stock riffs and Kowalczyk’s, at times heavy handed, lyrics they have the tendency to slog instead of soar.

The album’s opening track, “The One,” suffers from this slogginess. Rather uninspired guitar work barely buoys Kowalczyk’s almost palpable enthusiasm and earnestness. The song sounds like it would have been more at home on Live’s rather uninspiring album V. It’s a shame that “The One” is the track to open the album. It might turn the casual listener off and cause them to miss out on deeper tracks like “Take Me Back” with it’s excellent guitar work and vocals. It’s perhaps the most complete track on all of The Flood and The Mercy. The U2-ish shambling of “Bottle of Anything” is another deeper track that should not be overlooked. Like “Take Me Back” it manages to capture everything that is great about Kowalczyk’s songwriting abilities without repeating itself or drowning the listener in blandness.

Like many of the best leaders of the 1990s best rock groups (i.e. Bono, Billy Corgan, etc) Kowalczyk remains a polarizing figure. Also like many of the best leaders of the 1990s best rock groups though, Kowalczyk remains one of his generations best front men/song writers. The Flood and The Mercy is filled with moments that remind us of this fact.

Overall score: 8.5 out of 10

 

AlternativeNation.net’s Review Of Cults’ “Static”

With their sophomore album Static, Cults (comprised of former romantic couple Brian Oblivion and Madeline Follin) demonstrates that they have much more in common with classic alternative rock acts like Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine than with their contemporary peers Youth Lagoon and The Antlers. This time out, Cults turn up the fuzz, channel a little bit of The Raveonettes’ sonic shoegaze, and attempt to rise to the level of the aforementioned classic acts, and they actually get pretty close to do doing so.

Much ado has been made over the break up of Oblivion and Follin before the recording of this album and how much of an impact it had on the atmosphere and lyrics. No doubt, making an album with your former love has got to have its own unique challenges, but here those challenges (whatever they were for those two) worked towards the benefit of the listener. Static is drenched in high school break up melancholy that we all feel a resurgence of anytime we go through such an event. The difference here is that that high school melancholy is tinged with an adult snarkiness that only a seasoned heart breaker (or spurned lover) can conjure.

This snark seeps through to the surface on songs like “So Far,” one of the album’s standout tracks. “And I wonder how you sleep at night/Your static is so far from me” Follin sings over Oblivion’s shimmering and enveloping guitar. High school prom slow dancer “Always Forever” is tinged with the same sarcasm, even when it isn’t apparent. How many high school prom dates are still together 10 years later, after all?

The album’s strongest track (which also appears on the Carrie remake soundtrack-speaking of proms gone bad), “I Can Hardly Make You Mine” brings the type of alt rock greatness that will guarantee Cults’ a junior album. It’s stomping beat, coupled with its driving guitar and bass support Follin’s lyrical exploration of love as crush or compulsion.

What really makes Cults’ sound so interesting and compelling a listen on Static though is their unabashed embracement of 60s Motown rhythms which are creepily skewed by Oblivion’s haunting David-Lynch-atmosphere-like guitar work and Follin’s super-innocence-laced-with-Hope-Sandoval-like-sexiness voice. There aren’t many bands that can pull off these kind of strange dichotomies, but Cults do it effortlessly. If these two can stick it out and keep making music together, there’s plenty more to look forward to from this band, regardless of the statuses of their love lives.

Overall score: 9.5 out of 10

AlternativeNation.net Review of Mazzy Star’s “Seasons of Your Day”

Paisley Underground darlings Mazzy Star peaked commercially with So Tonight That I Might See (1993) and that album’s semi-hit “Fade Into You.” Fortunately, Hope Sandoval (vocals) and David Roback (guitar) continued to have enough of a cult following to keep making music, at least for a little while longer. Sandoval and Roback haven’t released a Mazzy Star album in 17 years, with Among My Swan (1996) being their last proper full album release. Sandoval continued to make music under the moniker of Hope Sandoval and The Warm Inventions, and Mazzy Star seemed all but put to rest. With Seasons of Your Day though, the slow psychedelica and folksy reinterpretations of Zepplin-esque blues, Doorsian atmospherics, and Floyd-ish psychedelics  that made Mazzy Star unique are back (Yes, Gutter, there was music made BEFORE 1989).

Mazzy Star doesn’t stray one bit from that unique sound here on Seasons of Your Day. Hope Sandoval’s smoothly hushed vocals and Roback’s beautiful acoustic and electric guitar playing are just as solid as they’ve always been. The years have done nothing to diminish them. Unfortunately, if you were looking for Mazzy Star to get experimental or expansive with their sound then you will be disappointed. That isn’t the point of Mazzy Star though. With Sandoval and Roback, less is more, and both are so good at their craft that Sandoval’s voice and Roback’s stripped down playing are all you really need from a Mazzy Star record.

Season’s of Your Day‘s lead single, “California” is a quiet Zepplin-esque acoustic trip that plays to Roback and Sandoval’s strengths. “I’ve Gotta Stop” thrives on Roback’s bluesy and Floyd-ish slide guitar. “Does Someone Have Your Baby Now?” reignites the quiet Zepplin-esque feel that permeates the album. “Lay Myself Down,” with it’s slight country/western swagger is the album’s most upbeat track. “Spoon,” one of the album’s standout tracks, is filled with some wonderfully jangling and sliding acoustic guitar playing that is simply beautiful. “Flying Low” showcases Sandoval singing as loudly as she does on the whole album over top of some of Roback’s best grungy delta blues electric guitar playing.  It’s the album’s strongest track.

Mazzy Star never was, and thankfully never will be, the band that you cranked up and moshed to. They are the band that you put on during those rainy afternoons of quiet contemplation and continuously admired for Roback’s solid musicianship and Sandoval’s velvet voice. They still are all that, and much more.

Overall score:

Stream the entire album at NPR.org here.

AlternativeNation.net’s Review Of Gemini Syndrome’s “Lux”

It can be a bad thing when a band’s major label debut draws comparisons to the alternative rock/metal bands that have come before them and blazed new territory with their sound. In Gemini Syndrome’s case though, the obvious comparisons to A Perfect Circle, Tool, and lesser known acts like TesseracT are a good thing since Gemini Syndrome demonstrates with Lux, their Warner Bros Records debut album, they are already poised to take their place in the pantheon of alt rock/metal that bands like APC and Tool inhabit. Lux is no Lateralus or Mer De Norms, but definitely has the depth and breadth of Undertow. With such a strong debut, the pressure is certainly on Gemini Syndrome to come up with a Lateralus or Mer De Norms one day, but the potential for such greatness is in them. Yes, that’s how good Lux is…for a debut album.

Gemini Syndrome thrives on the vocal ability of their lead singer Aaron Nordstrom. His range is reminiscent of Maynard James Keenan’s. Nordstrom easily moves between highly aggressive vocals and soaring harmony, sometimes within the same song. The perfect example of Nordstrom’s range is his vocal performance on “Mourning Star,” one of the album’s many stand out tracks. “Mourning Star” is Gemini Syndrome’s nascent attempt at the grandeur that Tool captured in tracks like “Lateralus” and that Deftones finally found with “Tempest” off of Koi No Yokan. “Pleasure and Pain,” the album’s opening track, sets the stage for the album by introducing listeners to Nordstrom’s range and the band’s heavy yet cosmically expansive guitar sound. Heavy themes about the unity of all experience, and a stomping beat buoy the wall of sound that Nordstrom’s vocals and Rich Juzwick and Mike Salerno’s guitars form. “Resurrection” really brings the heaviness with its crushing riffs and harsh vocals. “”Basement” is a straightforward hard rocker with a great bridge in the middle. “Stardust” is a rollicking driver of a track that puts together all the collective best elements of the band’s sound. “Left of Me” is the track that draws the strongest comparisons between Gemini Syndrome and APC and Tool. The comparison is made in praise of Gemini Syndrome’s sound though. “Left of Me” might bring to mind Keenan’s other bands’ sound, but doesn’t copy it or rip it off.

Again, Gemini Syndrome is not quite there yet though. “Babylon” is a solid rocker, but there’s nothing that really makes it stand out or is innovative about it’s composition. It’s a great song, just more suited to the background and not the forefront of the album’s listening experience. The same can be said of “Syndrome.” The opening lines don’t quite announce the song as being as intellectually or intuitively enlightening either. “I take a deep breath/The smell might get me high.” The song’s message ends up vaguely interpretative as being about kicking a bad habit, but it feels a little forced.

Overall though, Lux is an incredible debut album from a band that is already showing enough talent to transcend their current station and really end up being something special. Gemini Syndrome, based on the strength of Lux, is definitely a band to watch.

Overall score: 8 out of 10

Gemini Syndrome will touring with and opening for Five Finger Death Punch starting Sept 17th of this year. The album Lux will be available for purchase on Sept 10th.

 

 

 

 

 

AlternativeNation.net Review Of Ben Shepherd’s “In Deep Owl”

Soundgarden bassist Ben Shepherd’s solo album debut In Deep Owl is an astonishingly good debut album. Even more surprising is the fact after listening to this album one is made aware of just how much of Soundgarden’s sound might actually be attributed to Shepherd’s sound.  There’s no blazing Kim Thayil solos here, nor is there anything near the wail of Cornell, but the solid, methodically plodding, and more often than not dreary atmospherics that saturate In Deep Owl, and rear their head in Shepherd composed Soundgarden tracks like “Head Down,” are instantly recognizable to any long time Soundgarden fan. Thick sludgy bass, rhythmically picked electric and acoustic guitar, and plodding beats (staple Soundgarden sounds) are here slowed down and instead of accompanying Shepherd’s Mark Lanegan-esque vocals, actually buoy them. Images of cloudy desert-scapes and rainy Northwest afternoons are conjured, but with more haunting beauty than hard driving angst.

“Stone Pale” opens the album on a slightly old western vibe with its slow acoustic guitar work and Shepherd’s lyrics about “whistling hangmen.”  “Koda” boasts a beat dangerously akin to the aforementioned “Head Down,” but veers into new territory with some intricate drumming, and, of course, Shepherd’s down tuned vocals. “Collide” plays along like a cool twilight drive through the desert southwest evoked by Shepherd’s lyrics about leaving the lights off while his passenger sleeps the last few miles of their journey. “Loose Ends,” one of the album’s standout tracks, tells the story of friendship lost, and not easily regained. It’s one of the more upbeat sounding tracks on the album (despite its sorrowful theme). “Neverone Blues” plods along almost too slowly and really doesn’t evoke the blues as much as its title might suggest, but Shepherd’s vocals channel Maynard James Keenan’s at their most deep and distorted.  “Veritas” contains some of the albums most intricate and over layered guitar work, and is one of the album’s longest tracks at 4 minutes and 58 seconds. It also has some of the most interesting lyrics: “Kings, gods, and virgins, will be forgotten.” “Baron Robber” is the album’s rocker. It actually would have been a great fit on any Soundgarden album. It’s the album’s strongest, and loudest, track. On “From the Blue Book,” Shepherd indulges in his love of odd time signatures. It’s the albums most interesting track from a composition standpoint. “Keystone” is a great mid-tempo rocker that’s beautifully strummed. “The Great Syrup Accident” is another mid-tempo rocker, but much less inspiring than “Keystone.” There’s surely a great story behind the song’s title though. “The Train You Can’t Win” closes out the album and is an acoustic ballad that would make Neil Young himself proud.

In Deep Owl is the type of solo album debut that would make any musician proud. Ben Shepherd’s solo career has begun, and already he’s left us wanting more.

Overall score: 9 out of 10

PEARL JAM ‘SEATTLE, WA 17-JANUARY-1992’ ALBUM REVIEW

It’s a bootleg that’s been around for a little while now, but is finally widely available and even though we’ve seen the video for “Even Flow,” (which was filmed during this show) many, many times, there are several Pearl Jam fans, both old and new, who haven’t heard the other concert tracks, some of which are definitive live recordings of Pearl Jam’s staples.

This recording of the January 17, 1992 show, which occurred at Seattle’s legendary Moore Theatre, and oft referred to as VAULT #1, captures Pearl Jam at their most visceral, and in some ways at their early peak. Soon the band would dissolve into squabbles and Eddie and the gang would rarely appear anywhere live over the next several years. Eventually, everything would come together, and Pearl Jam would not only go on to play thousands of sold out shows over the course of several world tours (one of which is just about to begin once again this fall), but release multiple recordings of their subsequent live shows. Somehow though, this recording from early 1992 still manages to capture the band’s energy and emotion better than all of the many, many live recordings to come.

Playing nearly all of Ten (noticeably leaving “Garden” out), “Leash” (which would appear on Vs.), and “State of Love and Trust” and “Breath,” Pearl Jam Seattle WA 17 January 1992 captures just why Pearl Jam would win over many of their converts through their live shows.  While Ten was a great headphones album, it didn’t quite convey the power of the songs that the band’s live performances of them would. Stripped of their high production values and raw and exposed, songs like “Deep” take on a sublimity that is not only awe inspiring, it’s almost frightening. The lyrics to “Alive” (finally fully distinguishable here in the live setting to many) are even more dually heart wrenching and inspiring at the same time. The extended jam that is “Porch” is equally moving. “Jeremy,” a song that can still personally break me out in chills is also masterfully played by the band here…chill inducing effects included.

One of the most interesting aspects of Pearl Jam Seattle WA January 17, 1992 is Eddie Vedder’s commentary between tracks. He slyly disses on the mega hype machine that was Singles while putting his all into “State of Love and Trust” (a hit off the soundtrack), declares for the record that “We love Nirvana” (they were supposedly feuding at the time), and tells the story of a young college student who interviewed him and Jeff Ament for their college paper and was killed in a car crash just recently-using the anecdote as a launching pad for “Alive.” It’s a portrait of a young and impassioned, as well as new on the scene, rocker with a conscience. Something that Eddie would at turns be lauded and deplored for over the years.

Pearl Jam Seattle, WA January 17, 1992 still holds up as one of Pearl Jam’s greatest concert recordings ever, even 21 years later. Pearl Jam fans who are young enough to not have heard this recording or seen the band live in those early days owe it to themselves to track down and savor this recording. Pearl Jam fans that have been following the band for the last two decades (like myself) still cannot get enough of it. It truly is the definitive Pearl Jam concert album.

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