Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Their Time Has Arrived...Prepare to Take Orders From


It’s a shame that the written word does not come with volume controls, else I’d ask that you adjust the output to the maximum and keep this review on loop. This album is meant to be heard loud and proud. Never mind what the neighbors might say; tell that old man that you don’t care ‘cause this is rock ‘n roll and you’re Already Young!
Mission Control is not a good follow up to Fat Lip; it’s something much more than that. It marks a solid advancement for the band in technique, delivery, earnestness, direction and craftsmanship. In other words, it flat out rocks without hesitation. The Whigs personify the American Dream of rockers. They’re the college band you liked and knew had ample potential but likely would fizzle out after graduation. Instead The Whigs are forging on, piling in the van, and becoming road warriors in the truest since. I’m sure it wasn’t all a dream come true, but it did do wonders to hone their skills and drive them towards pop-rock perfectionists…with strained emphasis on rock.
I have been streaming some of these tracks for months now and caught a few of them live as well, some hit me right away and I thought the new album was going to be good. What I did not realize was that I was doing the band and myself a grave disservice by playing their music over computer speakers…that was just rude of me. Not to say that this band doesn’t pack a wallop on their own, but it’s rewarding to the utmost to hear them with the production quality they deserve. The Whigs have officially found themselves and they sound fantastic. (Can’t wait until they get a budget that allows them to take a horn section on the road with them).
When buzz of the new album first hit, Like a Vibration became the early lead off song. It’s a solid song, a perfect first track and staple to their live show. But it doesn’t define The Whigs new sound. That hits when Production City blows away any preconceived notions that this band’s sound may lack in musical evolution. With a jaunty, Clash-like bass line this song is a refreshing jolt and in many ways the most rewarding song on the album. It fully demonstrates the band’s range and willingness to strip down their sound and attack every song as though it was the first they’d ever written. As a fan I’d like to think that bodes well for things to come. From there they ramble along through sharp, passionate, well-versed tracks, such as my new favorite, Right Hand on My Heart. The trouble with a band that only has three members is that it can be difficult to create a gelled sound, especially when your drummer makes Keith Moon look like a sissy and your lead man belts out scratchy vocals that could make Eddie Vedder wish he were back in a high school punk outfit. Not the case here. This album highlights the abilities of all three members and presents it in a balanced, well-executed explosion to the eardrums.
There’s no fluff here to mention of. Hot Bed, Need You Need You…these are tight, dirty tracks that ooze southern gravy onto your shirt leaving you a sloppy mess but salivating for a second helping of the goodness. Sleep Sunshine visits the stammer and diction of Radiohead's Wolf at the Door. Already Young rips through your speakers opening like an early forgotten Soundgarden riff and then flows into that signature sound of highs and lows that bleed together with heavy reverb and rolling drum work that screams The Whigs.
If I have one qualm with this album it is that it makes Fat Lip sound like some low budget release that some guys that were in college with you made in an empty fraternity house…I mean this in the best possible way.
Can’t wait to see these guys when they come to the Queen City in a few. For those of you who have the fortune of being at the Atlanta show with Wax Fang…I hate you.

It’s two scrambled eggs swimming in grease, hash all the way dripping off an unwashed plate, buttered and peppered grits, two slices of burnt toast and a replenishing supply of tap water. Fast, friendly service and no waiting around for the check at the end of the meal, the perfect cure to a hangover worthy of the night before.
Check out the new site: The Whigs

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The cool of the uncool, a study of sm(art) rock chp. iii

The Lunatic is in his head…

Sm(art) rock dines with beyond the norm psychedelic rock and gets a little taste of improv jazz. Soon the world’s mind would be swallowed whole.
Enter Pink Floyd.

Championing the rise of new sounds, edge and instrumental directions, Pink Floyd took rock forward into unknown territory with its heavily influenced jam sessions, building upon epic songs with massive symbolism. There was so much ambition in PF that they should have collapsed under their own lofty aspirations…that is of course if they weren’t so damn talented, as well as bizarre. Exit the mind.

LSD and guitars. America had stolen the spotlight of rock and was brazen in its rite of passage are the flag bearers of ‘next.’ PF never wanted to be the biggest band in the world, it just happened and to their credit they did just about everything known to stay away from such a title. It also just so happens that that’s exactly what the world was waiting for. Floyd entered the studio as veterans of live performance and they took this swagger to mend a beautiful and under appreciated style of music for its time. Hard at work for weeks on end Floyd crafted and perfected their sound and caught the attention of another little british band working down the hall…they were recording a record titled St. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band…cue the next evolution in music. Enter the distortion!

Drugs were not just a part of the culture or an aspect of the scene, they were an overbearing demon that clawed fearlessly at some of the most important musicians of the era. By the time Floyd had mastered its epic Interstellar Overdrive, they were deep in the echos of exploratory rock and opening for a Gypsy with a sweet tooth for the candy as well, Mr. Hendrix. The road, the rise, the music, the mind…soon the iconoclastic lead man would be asked to step aside as Floyd would make Gilmour an official member and hand the leading saber to Waters. The dabbling in white noise, feedback, layered keys, sound loops and alternate percussion are now a mastered art for Floyd and Waters allowed the sprawling sounds to direct his own mind in new ways. Collaborations with an orchestra (Atom Heart Mother) and the power-laden echoes of Meddle solidified Floyd as one of the most important bands of its time.

Capitalizing on it's aura, Floyd took the obscure into a new realm, recording an entire concert before no crowd…in the ruins of Pompeii. Releasing an opus of songs that would haunt the band for years Floyd huddled into the Obscurity of Clouds and delve deeper in the dark of the mind. Waters and Gilmour set about to take the band in a new light and in so doing led us to the Dark Side of the Moon.

The massive opus that tortured the band for answers had find its place and the stories of societal alienation and its ability to dictate the mundane existence of humanity struck a nerve and rang true to millions. In exploring something new, Floyd created an album surpassed on by Thriller as the top-grossing album of all-time!

Now at the top of their craft, the reflection and fame wore heavy on the band which began to pay more and more homage to their lost peer creating Wish You Were Here, containing the next piece to Floyd’s ever growing epic soundstory, Shine on You Crazy Diamond I, II. Enter the spirit of Syd Barrett.

Floyd would continue their brilliant run of redefining music by taking on society once again, bringing George Orwell’s influential novel Animal Farm to fruition with one of my all time adored albums, Animals; where aristocracy and communism are piled on the heaping mass of the mindless/aimless sheep by the fat pigs and manipulative dogs.

Pink Floyd now found themselves at a breaking point. The world pressed heavy on them to produce, produce! They needed an escape, they needed answers, they needed to keep you out…they needed to build a WALL.

Next: What the era of Sm(art) rock brought us and how it lives still today.

You’re talking a lot, but your not saying anything. Say something once, why say it again?

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The cool of the uncool, a study of sm(art) rock chp.ii

You Gotta Hang Onto Yourself...Bowie meets Lou

Across the pond there were a slew of artists trying to gain an edge, make a statement that would set them apart. In the line of bold experimentation with quality songwriting of the likes of Donovan came a young man that didn’t quit fit a mold. Well versed in the American roots rock and tapped into the British Pop of the era a young Bowie was poised to knock the socks of us all. His first single, Space Oddity set him into orbit, but left him miles away from ground control of the mainstream. Bowie pushed on with his singer songwriter ambitions and gained notoriety enough to venture to the states where he wound up at a little expose conducted by Andy Warhol. Here Bowie would meet Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground and he was forever changed.
Prior to the arrival of Bowie, The Velvet Underground had become the most important underground success story in modern music. They were the critic’s poster child and every musician who heard their sound was stunned and in some way inspired. Some say that the Velvet’s success wasn’t in the number of albums sold, which at the time was struggling by, but rather how the people who bought the albums were altered. They spawned more attempts to duplicate the sound than is really safe for any genre. But again, it would be the artistic approach to rock that stirred up the ruckus. Their live shows became notorious as the forum of the new. Mixed media of lights, film, costume, lyrics and of course music took on new dimensions, mainstream rock was beginning to perk up its ears. Managers were scrambling to find the next art rocker…lucky for us he found them.

Bowie took what he learned from the Velvet’s, hopped back home, ditched his acoustic guitar, hired Mike Ronson and decided his days as an off kilter experimental singer would take years too flourish, so he skipped to the chase. Bowie invented Ziggy Stardust, the personification of all that was rock ‘n roll. He was a star already, according to Bowie and the world needed to catch up before he faded out. Launched by the single Starman and the smashing success of the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Ziggy became of the single most iconoclastic rock figures of all time. The songs, the music, the performance, the persona and yes the getup displayed a superstar rock god on his way out, too far fallen into the glam and wham bam, the drugs, the haphazard lifestyle had taken hold. Ziggy was a falling god, but a bright glorious one at that and he brought Bowie to heights most never dreamed.

Bowie however did not begin his transformation simply by presenting himself as Ziggy, it took a few years to work out the Kinks (reference indented). The metamorphosis finds its origins in Bowie’s ability to take the songs of the Velvet’s and make them his own, soon discovering a sound far more boisterous and suiting of big timing Rockstars. No longer was Bowie Waiting for the Man…he had become Ziggy.

Ziggy found the glam and art showcase of the Velvet’s to be powerful force but what a little manager from Cambridge took away from Lou was a need to answer with a British experimental sm(art) act of his own. His answer: a demented minds exploration. Syd Barrett brought the scene full circle with his outfit Pink Floyd.

The Brits follow a new lead as the Piper guides us to the Gates of Dawn.

The Meddling of Pink Floyd.

Friday, January 4, 2008

The cool of the uncool, a study of sm(art) rock

One is known simply as the supreme art-hipster band to redefine true rock; one the androgynous self-reinventor with a knack to make the outsider freaks the norm and the third was defined by a madman’s ambitions that drove them to construct a Wall of their own performance and sound.
These three brilliant collectives unquestionably seared an indelible mark in music, art, expressionism and the ability to sell to ‘cool’?

It’s not just music, man, it’s a scene!

A look at The Velvet Underground, David Bowie and Pink Floyd.

And Tonite’s Opening Act, The Velvet Underground

Lou Reed is one dark shades wearing cool character. All the ways that the masses might have seen him as offbeat is that which drew the small minority to make him the king of the new beat. Lou is a man with foresight. He has charisma, and even more importantly he understands the understated. A poet of the people with slanted use of imagery and words, rock music was on the brink of a literary education and Lou would be the professor with tenure.
It was the crowning pinnacle of acid washed guitars and longhaired gods, but Lou is already one step ahead, and one to the left. Lou’s subtle ways rubbed elbows with another kindred spirit and student classicist who just so happened to be a muse of the drone, John Cale. The two gain an immediate admiration and appreciation for each other and their vibe was contagious to those in the ‘know.’ Small sessions with a makeshift cast of assorted musicians broke into a new tempo when Mr. New York art scene, Andy Warhol caught glimpse of the poetic, from the streets lead singer and the guitar man who refused to play what everyone else was doing. Warhol takes the lads under his expansive wings of the right time/right place for art and soon The Velvet Underground are solidified as the band of New York.
Warhol garners much credit in the efforts to make The Velvets a household name, but his efforts would have been for naught if it were not for the groundbreaking creations by the band themselves. Their songs were dirty, driven by the Harlem Renaissance / Beatnik word revolution, all with that signature dark echo of a guitar. As innovative as the Velvets are in their own right they needed Warhol’s name to place their name on the lips of the kids and with that came the obligation to allow Nico to share the stage. All issues aside The Velvet Underground and Nico is about as perfect of a first album can be, never mind that it was also the first album of an entire new direction for the future of rock ‘n roll.
It’s a lack of fear, a confidence in the unknown and an appreciation in presentation. As most do tell a story of sorts, Lou’s songs weren’t just something most could find a way to relate to or enjoy, they were the harsh reality of the world we already knew. The back alley dealers, the streets that we all cross, the relationships we all endure and sense of despair that comes from a busy, lonely existence. Lou speaks New York. Lou is New York.
The band’s songs are without regard to those that came before and at the same time the true essence of the pure and realness of its origins. As it comes and goes with art, rarely do does one invent, simply re-invent. Lou and Cale are not one’s to bolster a sense of ownership for their music, instead they paid homage in all they did…you just need to be hip enough to pick up on it.
Throughout their run the Velvets grew from private circles to underground heroes, but never reaching much further beyond. It is only fitting. The mainstream was not ready and it took the artists of the next generation re-inventing their mastery to bring the Velvets importance to the collective conscience.
But it isn’t just bold songs, it is an image, reflection, a way. The Velvet Underground is noted as much for their wardrobe as they are for their act. Their act is legend in itself however. They, as no one had ever, brought art to music. Casting projected images onto, behind and beyond the band. The swirls of the acid bands gives way to Warhol images of Americana and the songs drive home.

The Velvets find a friend…friend finds a sound…sound finds an identity.

The Rise and Fall of David Bowie and glam rockers from Mars