Chris Bell “I Am The Cosmos” Deluxe Edition album review

Chris Bell “I Am The Cosmos” Deluxe Edition album review

 

 

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Foo Fighters’ Concrete and Gold is Celestial Smash

Foo Fighters 2017 (credit Brantley Gutierrez)

Foo Fighters 2017 (credit Brantley Gutierrez)

Foo Fighters
Concrete and Gold
(Roswell Records/ RCA Records)
Release date: 9/15/17

How does a stadium-filling rock band follow up its most ambitious album ever? In the case of the Foo Fighters, the answer is by achieving rebellion through an embrace of normalcy.

Whereas the recording of 2014’s Sonic Highways took place in eight different studios across eight different cities nationwide, the recording of the Foo’s ninth studio album took place in just a single location, EastWest Studios, in California. Inside the same walls that witnessed the creation of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, Dave Grohl and company committed to making their first record inside a commercial studio since 2002, a choice that appears almost pedestrian when compared to the previous road-tripping project.

However, to keep matters somewhat unpredictable, the band joined forces with new producer, Greg Kurstin, this time around, instead of bringing back trusted hand Butch Vig, who helmed the Foo’s previous two albums. Kurstin, known for his work with Adele, Sia and other more pop-leaning artists, first came across Grohl’s radar because of his membership in indie pop duo The Bird and the Bee, whose other member, Inara George, contributed vocals to Concrete and Gold.

Together, Kurstin and the Foos decided to craft, “Motorhead’s version of Sgt. Pepper…or something like that,” according to Grohl. And for those imagining a universe of noise mashed with patches of psychedelia, the ensuing result is not far removed from such a statement.

Opening track, “T-Shirt” doesn’t wait long to announce itself. Beginning with Grohl singing a soft plea over simple acoustic guitar, the song explodes out of the speakers at the 30 second mark. A giant chorus of layered vocals provides the backdrop for hammering drums and what sounds like a wall of guitars before a return is made to the quieter intro for the closing seconds.

A similar pattern emerges on the album’s next number and first single “Run.” Familiar picked notes underscore Grohl’s gentle urge for listener’s to “wake up” and “run for your life with me.” Then the drums come in, pounding an insistent beat as Grohl’s singing grows more stressed. This, of course, is before all hell breaks loose. Suddenly the song’s speed shifts into overdrive and Groh’s feral hardcore screaming rides atop a churning metal-like frenzy. Just as suddenly a return is made to the slower rhythm, and one can easily picture the track’s back and forth nature playing out before a live audience – all mayhem and head banging interspersed with moments of appreciative swaying as revelers catch their breath.

After such a pummeling, the ‘70s rock-inspired “Make It Right” seems downright tame by comparison. Garage guitars crunch out a repeating riff as lyrics about a “train to nowhere” share time with declarations of not needing another martyr. Pop superstar Justin Timberlake adds backing vocals, apparently as a result of Grohl’s chance meeting with the singer at the studio, but you’d have to check out the liner notes to confirm such a fact as his contribution is just one piece of a stacked mix.

A heavy mix of layered vocals, harmonies and arrangements, throughout multiple tracks, appears to resemble what Grohl’s vision for this record was inside his head all along. The partnership with Kurstin allows for many of these touches to be fleshed out, so too does the inclusion of guests like Timberlake, as well as singer Shawn Stockman of Boyz II Men fame, who lends his vocals to Concrete and Gold’s title number.

Perhaps no guest looms larger though than Paul McCartney, who unexpectedly mans the skins for the Taylor Hawkins vocal turn “Sunday Rain.” The story goes that Macca wanted to borrow Kurstin for some work in the middle of the Foo’s recording sessions, so Grohl pulled the former Beatle into the studio. Hawkins’ raspy singing provides a nice change up from Grohl’s throatier howling, and suits the song’s shaggy jam-like feel. With a running time of six-plus minutes there’s plenty of time for the tune to wander off and find itself again. As for the inclusion of some random piano noodling at the end of the track, the explanation is anyone’s guess.

Foo Fighters - Concrete and Gold cover art

Foo Fighters – Concrete and Gold cover art

No explanations are required for two other Concrete and Gold highlights. Second single “The Sky Is a Neighborhood” marries a plodding beat to sighing backing vocals and a rhythm reminiscent of a forgotten nursery rhyme. Every chorus of “banging on the ceiling” brings to mind the classic image of a parent wishing their child would just “keep it down” upstairs, but the song manages enough odes to heaven above to perhaps strive for something more constellation-inspired, an idea explored more fully by its Grohl-directed video starring his two daughters Violet and Harper.

“The Line” finds the Foo Fighters in full-on anthem mode. The song is already popping up as the soundtrack for major league baseball promos on television, and seems ready-made for future stadium sing-alongs. “Are you there?” Grohl sings over driving power chords and shimmering single notes. “Everything is on the line this time.” A likely candidate as any if the band decides to release a third single, the song is melodic without relying on variations in speed and tone and doesn’t overstay its welcome, possessing the second shortest running time on the album.

Every great record needs a fitting finale, and Concrete and Gold’s title cut suffices in spades. Starting with a menacing opening crawl, the song lurches from the gate with distorted guitars and restrained drums before artfully deploying Stockman’s aforementioned vocals as dramatic mountains of noise. Time is made for an interlude featuring sounds that wouldn’t be out of place on a broadcast to distant planets, but the track’s status as a budding epic is sealed by its echoed guitar strums and rising harmonies. Harkening back to Grohl’s claim that this is his take on “Motorhead’s version of Sgt. Pepper,” the song even ends on a sudden sustained blast that fades out over the final minute, leaving just one mystery – who’s Darrell*, and what did he do to merit the “Fuck you” hurled his way in the album’s closing seconds?

For more information on the Foo Fighters please visit www.foofighters.com.

Read more by Michael Cimaomo at www.michaelcimaomo.wordpress.com.

* A likely candidate is Darrell Thorp, who mixed and helped master the record.

Mick Wall “Foo Fighters: Learning to Fly” book review

Mick Wall “Foo Fighters: Learning to Fly” book review

LuxDeluxe Delivers with New Album “Let’s Do Lunch”

LuxDeluxe
Let’s Do Lunch
(Spirithouse)
Release date: 5/5/17

The latest release from these Northampton rockers is a pretty straightforward affair. In fact, the album’s opening track, “Intro,” even welcomes listeners and lists each band member’s name in succession.

Ned King, Jacob Rosazza, Gabriel Bernini, Caleb Rosazza and Jake Edwards, have seen their collective profile rise over the past few years playing sold out shows, earning the song of the year (“So Far Away”) title on WRSI, and opening for none other than Bernie Sanders at a rally held at the Mullins Center in Amherst. But it’s the group’s continued refinement of a classic sound that still garners the most notice.

That sound, once described by former Advocate writer James Heflin as, “solidly delivered, exuberant pop music that draws from the sounds of several decades ago,” is on fine display throughout “Let’s Do Lunch.” Album single “Keep Your Distance” rides some bubbling bass over its sub-two minute run time, while “I’m Goin’ Fishin’” features a tasty, extended guitar solo. “Baby Whatcha Feelin’” conjures the same vibe John Fogerty and company once dredged up from the bayou, and “Hey Girl” resembles a take on some lo-fi indie rock with just vocals and a couple of guitars making up the mix.

The mere existence of such a variety of tunes on one record is a testament to LuxDeluxe’s craftsmanship, especially given that the tracks were recorded live by the band on a Tascam Portastudio four track cassette recorder, which was set up in the group’s rehearsal space. Outtakes from the recording sessions are even included on “Let’s Do Lunch” via “Interludes,” a song-length medley of music snippets, studio chatter and unfinished ideas, some of which beg to be expanded upon. But if all this creativity and experimentation doesn’t sound the least bit straightforward, hear me out.

The members of LuxDeluxe know exactly what they’re doing. By marching from start to finish to a steady, rhythmic lockstep groove “Let’s Do Lunch” is a complete album experience. The record begins with “Intro,” and ends with “Goodnight” – a clear beginning and a logical end. In between are songs that push and pull at different emotions without overshadowing one another or feeling out of place. There’s time for nods to classic sounds. There’s time to expand, fly free, and try new tricks. There’s even a section (“Interludes”) acting as an outlet for this overflow of ideas. But the proceedings work best as a cohesive whole.

In a recent interview, Bernini said, “We wanted the record to represent our influences and the music that we’re most comfortable with. It’s definitely a return to form for us. It’s the music we grew up on and still listen to and it’s what we do best as a band.”

Enjoy the ride. Just don’t forget to start at the top.

LuxDeluxe album release show with co-headliner Madaila, April 8, 9 p.m., $10-13, Pearl Street Nightclub, 10 Pearl Street, Northampton, (413) 584-7771, http://www.iheg.com/pearl_street_main.asp

For more information on LuxDeluxe please visit https://www.luxdeluxemusic.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/luxdeluxemusic.

Read more by Michael Cimaomo at www.michaelcimaomo.wordpress.com.

Say Yes to Expanded Elliott Smith “Either/ Or” Reissue

Elliott Smith
Either/ Or: Expanded Edition
(Kill Rock Stars)
Release date: 3/10/17

Either you are an Elliott Smith fan, or you are not.

For some, Smith is the singer and songwriter who contributed a handful of heart-rending songs to the soundtrack of the film “Good Will Hunting,” including the Oscar-nominated number “Miss Misery.” For others, he remains a cult-figure, known equally for his delicate artistry and his sudden death in 2003. Smith lived his whole life between such dichotomies.

Now to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his best-selling album, Kill Rock Stars is again shining the spotlight on the work of such a tortured and talented figure. “Either/ Or,” Smith’s third solo release, has been repackaged by the label into a new expanded edition featuring a collection of previously unreleased rarities and live tracks, as well as a remastered version of the original album.

For fans, this news is a welcome reinvigoration and reason to revisit Smith’s work all over again. But newcomers to the artist’s discography should rejoice too. For whether you’ve listened to “Either/ Or” a million times or not even once, the release is worth a closer look.

The original version of “Either/ Or” was released at a pivotal time in Smith’s career. Recorded while he was still a member of the alternative rock band Heatmiser, the record would also be Smith’s last release before being signed to the Dreamworks label. Thus, the sound captured on “Either/ Or” could best be encapsulated as resembling a bridge between his earlier lo-fi acoustic recordings and the more ornate orchestrations of his later releases.

Tasked with remastering a work that straddles two different worlds, recording engineer and Smith friend Larry Crane, who also helped produce the posthumous Smith compilation “New Moon” in 2007, appears to have chosen the path of least resistance. Instead of radically altering the mix, Crane goes for a more cleaned-up take. Both Smith’s voice and guitar now sound more distinct, and the same goes for all other instrumentation present.

This approach works well on songs like “Angeles” with every finger-picked note coming through loud and clear atop an almost spectral drone. And on “Ballad of Big Nothing,” the drums provide a solid foundation for Smith’s vocals and acoustic strumming. In fact, the sparser the arrangement the better Crane’s scrub down of the original material sounds. “Say Yes,” one of Smith’s most optimistic songs, inspired by his relationship with musician Joanna Bolme, remains a tender ballad that now sounds like the listener is in the studio with Smith while he’s recording instead of hearing the singer whisper the tune through a set of headphones.

Still, the biggest motivation for anyone to buy a reissued version of an existing album is the inclusion of additional material. The first five songs on the expanded edition’s second disc are live cuts from Smith’s appearance at the Yo Yo A Go Go Festival in Olympia, Wash. in 1997. The singer and guitarist shines in a stripped-down fashion playing three songs from “Either/ Or” as well as the country-inflected “My New Freedom” and b-side “Some Song.” Smith seems relaxed and confident on stage, taking the time to playfully call out to his sister in the audience after completing a performance of “Pictures of Me,” and laughing frequently while asking the crowd if it wants, “to hear a fast song or a slow song.”

The jovial version of Smith also crops up on “I Figured You Out,” a demo of a song recorded for indie folk musician and frequent Smith touring partner Mary Lou Lord, who later recorded a version for her “Martian Saints!” EP. Though filled with lyrics about heartbreak and being ignored, the tune is full of melody and feels unabashedly pop, a juxtaposition any longtime listener of Smith might describe as par for the course.

There are indeed two sides to everything. Either you are an Elliott Smith fan, or you are not. Smith himself often expressed his own duality inside the same song by masking his melancholy words with elegant music. Now, 20 years later with an expanded edition of one of his career highlights, music fans get the opportunity to parse both sides of such a work all over again.

For more information on Elliott Smith please visit http://www.killrockstars.com/artists/elliott-smith.

Read more by Michael Cimaomo at www.michaelcimaomo.wordpress.com.

Northeast Underground Turns Six

ne-underground-6-year-picAnother year, another milestone. As of today, this blog is six years old. But what is there to make of this anniversary?

Benchmarks of five years or 10 feel more momentous than just another notch added to the belt during the intervening period. And make no mistake this blog has slowed down some over the long haul. For proof, look no further than last year’s birthday post. Longtime readers will even note that last year Northeast Underground didn’t post a Best Of albums of the year feature to close out 2016. The reason for that absence, as well as a diminished number of articles in general, is simple – laziness. Well, laziness, and that old chestnut called time.

John Lennon once sang, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” So, yes, life has happened, and a lot of it too over six years. But there still may be a place for this blog moving forward.

If 2016 taught us anything, it was a few, short powerful lessons. First, how to say goodbye. The list of last year’s dearly departed is too long to list without fear of accidently forgetting someone. Second, how not to be afraid of trying new things, while simultaneously being butt-clenchingly scared of potential new things and changes looming on the horizon. And lastly, how to make peace with it all and push ahead anyway.

From humble beginnings, to the highs of being tweeted about and shared by notable artists and musicians, Northeast Underground is still standing after six long years, and it would be too easy to joke that hopefully America will still be standing six years from now (or even four). Yet, another year and another milestone can actually add up to quite a lot.

If you’ve hung in there this long, keep hanging. If you’re new here, welcome. Just remember to keep digging (and not just out from under a pile of snow). You never know what might turn up when you venture a little underground.

Don’t forget to follow Northeast Underground on YouTube and Twitter for even more content!

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Indian Oven Cooks Up Full-Length Album Full of Surprises

Tenderness album coverIndian Oven
Tenderness
(Self-release/ DIY)
Release date: 8/12/16

In a 2013 interview, the members of the Western Massachusetts indie rock band Indian Oven – Sam Carpenter (vocals, guitar, bass) and Griffin Bazzeghin (drums, percussion, harmonica, backup vocals) – mentioned exciting plans of starting work on a full-length album. Now, three years later, the duo has emerged with the finished product.

With a name like Tenderness, listeners might expect the record to be chock full of sappy love songs or gut-wrenching odes to past relationships. However, it doesn’t take long to observe that Indian Oven may have had a secondary definition of tenderness in mind when it came time to title the album – sensitivity to pain.

Opening track “Oh, His Body” cuts right to the point. Over some tuba (courtesy of Pioneer Valley musician J Witbeck) and melancholy strings (from cellist Eric Remschneider of Siamese Dream fame), a tale is told of a thin, lonely man who amidst flashes of lightning and a wounded heart is pursued by a persistent memory. It’s an intriguing character study built off images to ruminate over, and the mood is accented by churning, dirge-like music that marches almost grudgingly forward.

It gets even better on perhaps Tenderness’ best song, “Mystery Novel.” Featuring banjo and a wordless intro filled with “oohs,” the track unfolds around a repeating guitar riff in almost short story fashion. Characters include the reader of the aforementioned novel, a lost father and a mystery woman who’s “nowhere to be found.” Plus, it’s catchy to boot.

Fittingly, a host of characters contributed to the recording of Tenderness itself. Though Indian Oven’s membership consists of just Carpenter and Bazzeghin, Valley residents like Witbeck, Jamie Kent (group vocals), Alex Drenga (banjo) and Emma Cohen (vocals) amongst others, also crop up on the record.

The addition of so many players to the group’s sound lends a wider scope to the proceedings. While many songs focus on intimate subjects, the songwriting structures used consistently ebb and flow. Rhythms shift from number to number, and different musical styles meet, mutate and merge into new creations. For examples, look to the burbling country rock of “Mama Don’t Buy Me Marbles,” as well as the indie rock sing-along “Harder.”

But in the end, everything boils down to the melodies. As far as Indian Oven stretches stylistically, the band still shows a knack for hanging its songs on a particular melody or hook. To wit, one of the group’s most hummable tunes “Warm Gin” even gets a reprise as a stripped down and unlisted bonus track.

Starting today digital downloads of Tenderness are available to purchase online via iTunes and CD Baby, and physical copies of the release can be found at Turn It Up! in Northampton.

For more information on Indian Oven please visit www.facebook.com/IndianOvenMusic.

Read more by Michael Cimaomo at www.valleyadvocate.com/category/blogs/northeast-underground/