Self Portrait

As the year comes to a close, it’s a time for a reflection. Deaths, loss, hardship were abundant. It seems as I get older this happens often. That’s life. Everyone struggles in their own way to get through this existence. We all find ways to enjoy ourselves. Some healthy, some unhealthy, but I do my best to make myself and the people around me happy. You can’t change people, but you can be a positive experience when they are around you. I’m going to attempt to write some blips and blurbs about stuff I enjoyed this year. They made my life a little better, and maybe they can do the same for you.

Podcasts:

Anxious and Angry – Ryan Young from Off With Their Heads plays good tunes and talks to other musicians about life and how to make sense of it. It often gets heavy and philosophical, but Ryan is someone everyone can relate to so nothing is over your head.

Campaign – A Star Wars Roleplaying Adventure. One of the most entertaining podcasts I listen to. You don’t need to know anything about Table Top games or Star Wars to enjoy. If you like comedy and a good story this is for you.

Last Podcast on the Left – Every been curious about serial killers and the paranormal, but felt weird doing your own research? This podcast is for you. The humorous angle that the guys come at the topics with is what keeps me coming back to this one and not others that cover similar topics.

Modern Vinyl Podcast – If you like music and are in yours 20s, this one’s for you. You don’t really have to appreciate vinyl to like this podcast, but I’m a collector myself so hearing about pressings of records makes me all giddy.

Monday Morning Podcast – Bill Burr is a funny guy with years under his belt in the comedy world. He’s unapologetic about his views on what’s happening in the world, and as I get older his cynicism makes sense.

Overnight Drive – Two guys shooting the shit. It’s pretty simple, but their long friendship creates a dynamic that you can’t fake. They don’t update as frequently as they used to (neither do I with this blog), but life happens. I’m always excited when a new episode does pop up on my feed.

Roundtable of Gentleman – A group of improv comedians talk about weird stories of the week. I never stop laughing when listening to an episode.

Start the Beat with Sikes – I recently wrote a blog gushing about Sikes, so I’ll keep this short. He’s a genuine guy that has conversations with people from all walks of life. His down to earth nature brings the best out of his guests.

Music:

Allison Weiss “New Love” – The best 80s pop album of 2015.
Blacklisted “When People Grow, People Go” Heavy hardcore with just enough melody
California X “Nights in the Dark” Fuzzy, classic rock for a new generation
Ceremony – “The L-Shaped Man” A Joy Division influenced album that doesn’t suck
Chrome Over Brass “Chrome Over Brass” An instrumental post-punk masterpiece
Cradle of Filth “Hammer of Witches” Shock value has worn off, good songs remain
Defeater “Abandoned” Melodic hardcore I can’t help but love
Desparecidos “Payola” Reunion albums never live up to hype, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t great
Ghost Bath “Moonlover” Intense black metal music
Leftover Crack “Constructs of the State” A solid punk album that I expected not to like
Leon Bridges “Coming Home” The second coming of Sam Cooke
Loma Prieta “Self Portrait” A hardcore album for people who like variety in their life
Murder By Death “Big Dark Love” This band cannot put out a bad album if they tried
Nathan Gray “NTHN GRY” This album hit me really hard emotionally…like really hard
Night Birds “Mutiny at Muscle Beach” I’m so happy bands still make punk music like this
Pruirient “Frozen Niagara Falls” The most jarring album I’ve ever heard. The layers of noise here is something incredible. I’ve never heard anything like it.
Roger Harvey “Twelve Houses” I waited a long time to hear this album. It was worth the wait. Probably my favorite album of the year.
Royal Psalms “I Could Have Been Anything” A formulaic rock EP, but it’s done so well
Self Defense Family “Heaven Is Earth” I still can’t stand Pat’s voice, but they make good music so I keep listening. I definitely don’t understand the fanboy-ism that comes with this band though
Sikes and the New Violence “I’ve Seen Better” Rap, rock, punk, electronic music mashed together to make something that sounds new and unique. It’s refreshing.
Timeshares “Already Dead” The best Fest-band  that no one talks about
Tony Molina “Dissed and Dismissed” 12 minutes of the best songs Weezer forgot to write
Turnover “Peripheral Vision” Dreamy rock songs to vibe out to
Waxahatchee “Ivy Tripp” Possibly my most listened to album this year. Pop music without all that extra sugar.
White Reaper “Does It Again” Garage rock done right. Listen to this band.

Those are the albums I listened to the most this year. Of course, there were more I liked that I didn’t list, but I figured 25 is enough. Hopefully, you find something new that you might like. I’ve already found a few new things browsing other people’s list.

Enjoy whatever holidays you choose to celebrate. If none of them suit you, go ahead and celebrate yourself. Life’s all about making the best out of your life and those around around you who you care about. You don’t need a religion to tell you that.

 

Moonlover

If you can appreciate extreme music for what it is then I have an album for you. It’s sometimes, loud, noisy, and filled with violent screaming. At other times it’s quiet and atmospheric with melodic guitars. Sometimes it’s a combination of the two. It’s all over the place, and it’s great that it doesn’t follow any rules of what heavy music should sound like.

I’m not a huge fan of metal. The classics are tolerable if someone else is playing them, but I never really find myself reaching to listen to Metallica, Slayer, Judas Priest, and the like. Sure, Slayer can riff like nobody’s businesses, but I get bored. That’s why I got into punk in the first place because I didn’t have the attention span for guitar solos. I’ve grown to appreciate more music as I’ve gotten older but traditional metal still doesn’t really do anything for me.

I’ve gravitated towards black metal over the years. There’s so many different styles and nuisances that you can appreciate once you peel back the stereotype that is black metal as a whole. I don’t know if “Moonlover” by Ghost Bath counts as a black metal album, but labels suck anyway. It’s more of a general specification than a restriction tag in my book.

I’ll tell you right now, if there are lyrics on this album then I have no idea what they are. I don’t think that matters so much as the music is so intense, your emotions will fill in the void. Maybe they’re not decipherable for a reason? It feels weird saying that, yet wanting to recommend this album so much. It doesn’t sound like anything I’ve ever heard. It sounds like the best aspects of all the different styles black metal. There’s beautiful piano interludes, soaring guitars, brutal blast beats, and hauntingly screamed vocals. There’s no pentagrams, no corpse paint, no bullshit. Just extreme music that makes it’s own atmosphere and experience for the listener.

The diversity of the album is what gives it the replay ability that other albums don’t have. There’s always something that I didn’t hear the previous time making it almost a new experience each time I put it on. I’ll leave you with the link to go listen to it. It’s not for everyone, but to those who are into the types of stuff I’ve talked about give it a try.

https://ghostbath.bandcamp.com/

 

New Love

I’m currently leaving for vacation in the Siesta Keys, and the soundtrack to the freeing myself of responsibility this week is Allison Weiss’ new record, “New Love”. The record speaks of the pain we go through in life and how it makes us who we are. It sounds depressing, but this is possibly the most uplifting record I’ve listened to all year. Which is why I’ve been playing incessantly since it was released at the beginning of October.

With all of it’s 80s pop and dance sensibilities I think it would be a perfect summer album. Alas it came out now for us to enjoy. I’m going to the beach so it’s basically extended summer for me anyway so maybe that’s why it sounds so good. The album opens up with the intro song of “The Sound”.

“I’m a sucker for an aching heart
Gotta suffer for the sake of art
And I want you cause you make it hard
I want you cause you make it hard
It’s a pattern I’ve always found
I get messed up, I write it down
I like the hurt cause I like the sound
I like the sound

I am taken with the bitter end
And the breaking, the way we mend
And I want you, I just can’t pretend
I want you, we could just pretend
This spiral I’m headed around won’t mess me up, won’t get me down
And I like the hurt cause I like the sound
I like the sound”
– “The Sound”

Sounds a lot more poetic than Three Days Grace, “I’d rather feel pain than nothing at all”, right?

Allision’s voice is a little bit lower than most female vocalists. She’s got that rock singer type voice as opposed to someone softer like Katie Crutchfield of Waxahatchee. Both unique singers but suited for different types of music. This is not a rock album though. This is an 80s pop album written in 2015.

The album kicks into full gear at track four, “Golden Coast”. The first three tracks just teasing you at what’s to come. “Golden Coast” opens with an in your face synthesizer lead before pulling back for the verses. Waiting til the chorus to bring back the synthesizer to the chorus makes it that much more powerful. There’s a warmth to the song and excitement that makes you want to hop in your car and take off and find what you’re looking for out of life. The songs speaks of heading home. I believe home is wherever you feel most comfortable. Your little spot in the world that’s yours filled with what makes you happy. Whether it’s stuff or people. This can be anywhere, but everyone needs a figurative home.

“Back To Me” is the best Blondie song Debbie Harry never wrote. By now, you’re halfway through the album and there’s no way you’re not finishing the album. You’ve got a smile on your face and goosebumps on your arms. Maybe that’s just me, but whenever there’s something special about an album I randomly will get goosebumps on my arms. It’s happened with albums of all genres, but it’s a physical indication that I’m connecting with the album in some way. I believe music is so much more than something to fill dead air. It means as much or as little as you want it to, but what great movie didn’t have great music that helped you connect to the film?

I think my two favorite songs are the combination of track nine and ten. “Motorbike” is a straight forward almost Ramones-esque song that is more akin to her earlier work, but strangely still fits on this album. Allison really shines on songs like this when she just can belt out the lines. It’s a simple song, but it’s a showcase of how great a singer she is. “Motorbike” previously was about getting away from someone who’s been bumming you out and clearing your head. “New Love” finds Allison hearing her ex talk about finding their new love.

“I heard you fell in love again for the first time
And I heard you can’t remember when it felt so right

And you say you can’t believe you found it finally
And you whisper soft and sweet
The same old way you whispered it to me

I heard the stars shine brighter now than they used to
And I heard the pieces fit so well like they’re supposed to

And you say you can’t deny the planets all aligned
And you’re holding all you need
The same old way you held on tight to me

There’s no love like new love
You’re moving on and all I want is you, love”
– “New Love”

This could have easily ended the album. It sounds like a finale, but old Allision decides to throw one more song at us. It’s an acoustic song that finds Allison coming to some realizations that kind of sum up the album as a whole.

“Is anybody never really over anyone?
Is anybody lying when they say they’re having fun?
Does anybody feel like checking out and going home?
I can’t be alone

Does anybody feel like kissing strangers when they’re sad?
Does anybody wonder how it ever got this bad?
Does anybody wish that they could change the way they are?
It can’t be that hard

I’m not lonely like I used to be
I get older and I notice things
We all got feelings that we can’t explain
We’re all a little bit the same

Is anybody sleeping? Is it just me wide awake?
Is anybody dreaming of the changes they would make?
Has anybody felt like they can’t take it on their own
I can’t be alone”
– “The Same”

I think even though this album has only been out about three weeks, this is one of the best albums of the year. You can show your friends who like Taylor Swift and they’ll be into it. You can show your dad who plays “air keyboard” more than air guitar (maybe that’s just mine) and they’ll get something out of it. Those hardcore kids will secretly listen to it when their girlfriend isn’t around.

I believe it’s the perfect mix of modern pop, 80s influenced rock music, and current indie music. Listen to it for yourself:

Hate Mail

I still remember the first time I received an angry comment on an article I wrote years ago. I don’t remember the specific of which article it was though. I’m sure I could look back and find it, but it’s not important.

The comment said something along the lines of, “Stop writing this stupid shit. Nobody gives a fuck about what kind of music you like.”

Harsh words. Maybe a troll attempt, but in this town, they were most likely speaking the truth as I can’t seem to find people with any kind of common interest when it comes to music. With the exception of the guy who ran my now defunct local record shop who was into some decent post-punk and garage stuff. I was surprised to see a few hours later some other people coming to my defense saying how, “Maybe some people like alternative music that’s different than you other. So shut up”. There was some banter back and forth about whether or not I wrote about anything worthwhile. Maybe they’re right.

I grew up at a weird age when the internet was just becoming a thing. It was there but you couldn’t do most of the things you do today. Streaming anything was out of the question, purchasing something was scary, and there were only a ways to connect to other people. The thing I found fascinating about the internet was all of the information readily available. I got all my information from magazines and newspapers, and now there was more knowledge and opinions scattered all over this vast utopia called the internet.

I read a lot about music and books. Those were the things I was most interested in at the time, and to this day probably still rings true. I read reviews. I read interviews with musicians and authors. I read music website printing information. It was all fascinating to see people having conversations that I found interesting. I found people whose opinion I could rely on and followed their recommendations. Most of the time I was pleased to find something new, sometimes it just wasn’t for me.

This was how I found out about music. Not through concerts coming to town, not through local shops, not through word of mouth. I already know what the people around me think and we’re friends, but sometimes I want someone else’s opinion on something. We don’t always agree, but the exchanging of information is what makes people better. People who know and experience more things are people I want to associate with. It helps give perspective to the world. We still might not agree, but we can see each other’s point of view.

I don’t really write reviews. At least I don’t think I do. I write about how the music made me feel or think. I relate music to most experiences in my life. I can tell you when I heard every album I’ve listened to and/or how it made me think about something. I think this is more helpful than whether or not the syncopation of the drums on this track really detracted from the guitar melody. Or that the production used on the microphones could have been better. Music is art. Let it be what it is. It will never be perfect, but art is subjective. I can tell you whether or not I enjoyed an album and why, but that doesn’t mean you will or won’t like it.

That’s why I write. To let that guy or girl in some small town find something new and interesting. It’s my way of giving back to those who wrote for years that I never spoke to. Whatever reason they wrote, it made a difference, so keep doing what you love.

 

Soul Man

I was raised on 50s/60s rock and roll. The Everly Brothers, Fats Domino, Sam Cooke, Chubby Checker, The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, etc. They are considered classics for a reason. It’s because they are great musicians, not simply because they are old. It’s that nostalgia thing. When those songs come on I can’t help but be in a good mood. I listened to so much Sam Cooke this past winter. The snow here in Western New York gets pretty nasty sometimes, but old Sam Cooke is just feel good relaxing music that eases the nerves the weather can cause.

This takes me to a new artist who released his first record in June of 2015. Leon Bridges is the second coming of Sam Cooke. That’s not flattery. He’s got that soul in his voice you can’t teach. While he’s not on the same level, he’s clearly on the same path, and those are footsteps worth following. Leon’s album “Coming Home” is an homage to all that is 50s/60s music. He performs in vintage clothing as well to truly immerse the audience in his performance of a sound that is all but lost in today’s musicians.

If it’s a shtick, then it’s a damn good one. A lot of his songs seem to blend together. There’s not a lot of stand outs, but when you write a bunch of good songs that’s a problem you’re going to have. Upbeat tracks like “Better Man”, “Smooth Sailin'”, and “Flowers” mingle nicely with slower songs like “Coming Home”, “Brown Skin Girl”, and “River”. It’s a solid album that takes you back in time, and don’t we all wish we could hit rewind sometimes?

 

What Will the Neighbors Think

With all my trips to Buffalo as of late, I’ve been visiting Record Theater more and more lately. On a recent adventure, I found Volume 1 & 2 by Reagan Youth on LP. They are easily the best-least talked about 80s hardcore band. Like most bands of the era, their time was short lived. While this was largely due to their specific agenda, bands come and go, but the songs live on.

Volume One is by far my favorite of the two. Classics like “Reagan Youth”, “New Aryans” and “I Hate Hate”. Volume Two is where the band started to experiment with more metal tendencies (like a lot of bands in in the 80s). It’s not bad, but Volume One is the album I’m going to play if I don’t have time to play both. The youthful energy keeps this record driving forward no matter the genre they decide to play. They had some good ideas, but they also were just a bunch of kids looking to make some noise.

I love the artwork they used. Incorporating Nazi and KKK imagery to not only shock but show how evil wears all different kinds of colors. I also appreciate people who are willing to push the envelope. It gets people talking about things which is the only way things change. I admirable people who stand for something. That unbridled passion for something you stand for can be used for good or for evil. Choose wisely.

Now rock out to some of the best 80s hardcore you’ve never heard of. Maybe it will make you think, maybe it won’t, but it will make you bang your head.

Sikes and the New Violence

I don’t like to write about things I don’t know about. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time I don’t think at any point  I mention rap or hip hop music. (Hey! Stop moving that mouse near that X) I wouldn’t be attempting to write about an album if I didn’t think it was that good and worth spreading the word about it. There’s so much music out there, a negative review doesn’t help anyone. Let’s share things that are worth talking about, rather than those that we don’t like in the first place.

I started listening to the Start the Beat Podcast when Chris Stowe posted that he was interviewed for it. I don’t know how Chris keeps popping up in this blog (Chris, if I ever see a dime from this, I’ll toss it to ya). The interview was good, but I was more interested in the man doing the interview. Brian Howe aka, Sikes, is a Pittsburgh native. He also seems to be a jack of all trades. He sings, raps, draws, interviews. The man does it all. I started listening to his podcast from episode one after listening to the one with Chris. I always try to start things at the beginning. You can’t really understand something or someone until you find about their roots. Turns out we share a lot of common interests and feelings on things. I’m twenty something episodes into his podcast, and eventually will catch up to present day. I’ve got a couple hour flight next week so that’ll help.

Sikes recently released an album titled, “I’ve Seen Better”. I’m not familiar with his other work, nor indie hip hop as a whole, but figured out why not? My experience with hip hop is the same way I view art. I don’t know what I like, but I know it when I see/hear it. Because of this I don’t invest a lot of time into searching out more of it because I don’t know where to start. Sikes backs up on his love of all different kinds of music on this album. The word fresh keeps coming to me when I try and describe this album. It sounds new. So many artists try to sound like someone else. Whether it’s paying homage, straight ripping off, or honestly wearing your influences on your sleeve. It’s refreshing to hear something that stands all on it’s own.

From my understanding this is his first album with a full backing band. I think this is what makes the album stand apart from his counterparts. There’s so much he’s able to do with the combination of live instruments and electronic manipulation. There’s so many nuisances and sounds happening that keep it interesting.

His lyrics speak about being in your 20s and generally unhappy when observing the things around you. Yeah…I can relate to that.

” watching all my grown friends go and get their lives right
fucking married having babies with some steady 9 to 5
while i’m still on my check to check – barely making rent
because before i get paid you know that shit’s already spent
always biting off way more than i can chew
no worries wash it down with a couple of brews
yeah, i used to not drink but now i kinda do
it’s been a couple years now – that shit’s old news
so will i ever grow up? i’m thinking not ever
spend all my money on pizza and vinyl – whats better
this downward spiral ain’t really that bad
cuz if i didn’t have problems tell me what would i have? ”
– “Low Expectations”

Maybe it’s because I can relate to most of these songs that I enjoy it so much. But I think it’s the delivery of these ideas that keeps me coming back. Most of the hip hop I’ve listened to either I can’t relate to or I find musically uninteresting. Just a personal preference. There’s some good beats, quirky electronic bits, punk attitude, and a good honest dude behind the mic telling it how it is.

I think the fact that Sikes does pretty much everything on his own when it comes to his work is honorable. It’s that respect that makes me want to support him. This may be out of your wheelhouse, but I thought it was out of mine too. Give it a listen.

https://sikes.bandcamp.com/

Favorite tracks: Low Expectations, Solitaire, Just Swim

If the music’s not your thing, his podcast, Start the Beat, is a good listen. He interviews musicians and friends from in and around Pittsburgh. While it does get kind of niche at some spots, I don’t think you need to be from the area to enjoy it. I have not known any of the guests on it and still enjoyed each episode simply based on the conversation.