Category Archives: music

In Music, Only Credentials Matter

I wasn’t sure I wanted to blog about this topic as it was sparked by Gene Simmons’ latest stunt to trademark the devil horn gesture, as I feel my response somehow dignifies his actions.  At the same time I feel his actions, intentional or not, are something of a reflection of the current state of music.  We saw this with the burning of millions of dollars worth of punk memorabilia with much of the same response from me.  The publicity stunts provoke some thoughts as whether we’re placing our value in the right aspects of music.

While the case of the punk memorabilia was mostly about the commercialization of a counter culture that ironically stands against such ideas metal has veered more towards one of the other issues, namely with social stratification.  Where in punk there’s need to be more punk than everyone else in metal there’s a need to be more metal than others.  The ordinary metalhead manifests this with various elitism, but it ultimately boils down to being the first one to do it.  Whether it’s the first to become a Children of Bodom fan or the first to hate Dragonforce being a “true” metalhead is about setting the trend or being part of the right trend.  These comments aren’t new and can be found in any culture.

So what does this have to do with trademarking the devil horn gesture?  One of the toughest things about art is making it relevant.  When the art can’t be relevant I’ve noticed an artist will try to be relevant in other ways.  The best ways to do this are through shock value or appealing to nostalgia.  Gene Simmons is notorious for trying to be “the first” of things, and in this aspect tries to appeal to nostalgia.  I suspect in this way he wants to ensure his music was / is relevant.  Trying to trademark something closely tied to a community not only appeals to the shock value aspect but also to the sense of nostalgia by trying to cement his place in metal history.

While Gene Simmons did withdraw his trademark application (like we knew he would) the implications will live on.  I’d say it has damaged his career, but this stunt will be forgotten until the next one occurs.  The stunts will keep happening as long as the focus will be more on the image of music and less about creating music that meaningfully contributes.  How to determine what is meaningful to a community, however, is another matter.

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So You’re Stuck in the Mosh Pit: a Survival Guide

If you’re like me you try to get as close to the stage as possible at concerts.  If you’re also like me you know you have to toe that line between being able to watch the show and getting sucked into the mosh pit that is always around the stage.  Sadly I have failed in maintaining that line more times than I care to admit.  I’ve also learned a few tricks on how to not get completely bruised while retreating and planning my harrowing escape.  Want to know how I do it?  I act on these strategies.

Know the mosher archetypes.  Just as there are the types of people everyone meets at a concert there are different types of moshers.  The more you understand if you’re dealing with a guy who thinks he knows karate or the guy who had too much the better you’ll manage.

Expect strange liquids.  Sometimes when threatened, especially folks like overly enthusiastic mosher, moshers will go into a frenzy and knock the drink out of someone’s hand.  Sometimes the guy who had too much decides that chucking his pisswater at the stage is the equivalent of throwing confetti.  Sometimes ignorance as to what is soaking you is the best.  Regardless of how you got wet…

Don’t leave your mouth open too long.  There’s more liquid in store.  If that’s your thing I won’t judge you too much, though.

Don’t fight against the moshers.  If you want to join the moshing, join the moshing.  Since you’re probably reading this to eventually get out of your situation you probably don’t want to try that.  If they get too close and the group is small enough just nudge offenders back into the hoard. I promise you they won’t notice.  If it’s a wall of death you may want to pray to Jesus and join the moshing.  There is no escape once you’re caught in that.

Know the moshers will eventually thin out. The guy who wants to practice karate will either get tired or folks will get tired of him.  The guy who had too much will eventually have to pee and pass out in the stall.  Some folks will leave because they only wanted to see certain bands.  Whatever the reason the crowd will get thinner and you can make your escape.

Even if these tips don’t help yu as you’re being smashed around at the concert you can take comfort in knowing that you probably aren’t alone in trying to survive the situation.  Who knows, maybe you’ll run into them and survive through solidarity.  Or you’ll get knocked around into someone who will know your pain.

Opeth Builds a World of Nostalgia and Trance

Opeth has made waves in recent albums as longtime fans noted a change in theircreative direction.  Any time Opeth is mentioned it provokes the debate of whether or not it’s for the best.  Regardless Opeth still knows how to synthesize a visually appealing aesethetic and a set list bound to appease even the most stringent fan.

I won’t deny that there is a major difference between Opeth’s older music and their newer stuff.  It’s obvious.  Their newer stuff has more pronounced jazz and rock elements and subdued more modern aspects of metal.  I feel like much of it is a nod to music from the ’70s.  Given I really enjoy music from that era I see it as a boon.  What did make it feel like a ’70s throwback were the psychedelic visuals and emphasis on red and yellow lighting.  It certainly harkens to a different period, and I question the meticulous attention to detail.  There seems to be a clear purpose in going this direction but I can’t figure out if it’s for artistic or personal preference. 

 As for their older content it stands strong in its own merit.  Ot was amazing to watch the audience dynamic go from a subtle rocking out (at least compared to the rest of the night) to the same frenzy found with the other acts.  When the older songs were played the frenzy came out.  It even led to a few hilarious moments where Mikael Åkerfeldt demonstrated just how well he can handle hecklers.  That is the first time I saw anyone handle hecklers with deft and poise.

Opeth was able to handle more than just hecklers and visuals. The set list itself was created in such a way where the audience truly gets lost in the musical experience.  It may be the answer to my earlier ramblings about why the meticulous recreation of ’70s aspects.  I’ll be honest it was just as easy for me to get lost in the moment there as it is for me to get lost in ’70s music.  It may just be about creating an experience rather than any particular aesethetic.

Whatever the reason Opeth provides powerful music tempered by melodic tones.  In doing so it provides the audience an experience that permits not only getting lost in the music but a sense of nostalgia and, for me, lots of enjoyment.

Technique- 4

Presentation-3

Audience Interaction-3

Brownie Points-0

Total-10

The Devin Townsend Project Brings a Tour de Force of Social Awkwardness 

This isn’t my first time reviewing The Devin Townsend project, but I will start it off probably the same way.  My bias in favor of them still stands.

Musically The Devin Townsend Project offers a plethora of styles, all of which deliver with tenacity and artistry only matched by a frontman who pokes fun at his own idiosyncrocies.  The powerhouse vocals tied together earth shaking drums and rolling bass lines deliver the poetics found in prog metal with the gritiness found in extreme metal.  This isn’t easy to pull off, and sometimes the timing was off due to excessive banter or missing the high notes.  Despite overdoing it to the point of hindrance that over the top embellishment added to the songs and brought something to folks already familiar with the work. 
 Not only was it more engaging, it was obvious the years of experience brought a clear command of audience interaction.  Whenever it seemed like he was losing the audience Townsend found a way to rile them up again, be it singing along, counting down to “March of the Poozers”, or cracking jokes about being out of place and a dad possibly out of his element.  Any mishap was handled by distracting the audience so well I didn’t even catch it (I only know it happened because he admitted to it, so kudos for getting one past me).  Even the sound quality was a far cry better than last time, which I would expect from a decent venue and incredible sound engineers.  

There was something that I felt was a little off about this area: the set list.  I honestly expected more from the “Transcendence” album, though I welcomed hearing music from “Z2” and older albums.  I also didn’t expect to hear songs like “Deadhead” so soon in the set list (that song was fourth if I recall).  I surmise that it had to do with the flow of the energy, which this set kept constant.  Regardless everyone had a good time, myself included.  

Technique- 3.65

Presentation-3

Audience Interaction-3

Brownie Points-0.25

Total-9.9

Cassettes and Vinyl: Who Benefits?

It’s Record Store Day, and like others I feel a need to share my thoughts on one particular matter. I will probably repeat what others have said on the topic, but I don’t really express my opinion on these issues. I think we’re all aware of the intention of the day: to support local record stores and the last bastions of purchasing physical copies of music. I don’t think anyone will deny the good intentions behind this. For some indie and local musicians this one of few ways to get their music out there. In an effort to continue to support music stores it feels noble, but I also feel it’s somewhat misguided, namely in supporting local artists by purchasing outmoded forms of music.

One of the arguments I hear is how something like vinyl has overall a better sound quality when compared to something like an mp4 format. I don’t understand the demonizing of newer formats when the evidence is not strong for the comparison. What’s more is these same people will buy an album that was recorded digitally for people to buy as mp4’s. I feel like the chances of the album being of the sound quality those blessed with golden ears ramble about is compromised by the recording process. I also love to point out that when they purchase a re-release of an older album it was most likely digitally restored to bring back that crisp sound they love to describe. Moreover record formats, even for retro formats, isn’t the best way to listen to music. It only beat out hard plastic cylinders –a format which is equal and possible superior to record sound quality –due to better marketing and storage capabilities. I don’t think I’ll see a revival in hard plastic cylinders anytime soon, though, even if it would benefit possibly digitally archiving music from the earlier part of the 20th century.

Then again, the revival of older formats has surprised me and demonstrated how it’s not about the actual sound quality, but the perceived quality. I’m talking about the revival of cassette tapes. When I was younger I did prefer them over CD’s. Now that I’m older and had the pleasure of experiencing different formats I understand why its obsolescence was imminent since its inception. Like wax cylinders it was difficult to store without compromising the quality of the sound, it was easily destroyed, you could record over it without too much difficulty, the listening experience was limited to the quality of the player and quality of the musical product itself. Anyone who dealt with trying to listen to a cassette with a damaged tape knows what I mean. Nonetheless indie artists are selling cassettes of their music. Even some of my former bandmates sell their music on cassette. The fact it’s seeing a revival indicates it’s met with some welcome reception.

In some ways having a hard copy of an independent artist’s work is still helping. For some it’s still a viable way of getting their music out to world and fund their tour or future work. I often see out of town musicians selling CD’s and the occasional cassette. People do buy them at the shows. They’re selling, even if I don’t know to what extent. It’s supporting indie artists in some way.

I believe this is the pivotal issue of stuff like Record Store Day. When I started off in the mid 00’s reviewing music there was a revival in vinyl records. At the time it was hard to find a record player, especially one that worked and was affordable. Folks still purchased the albums with the same dubious arguments of sound quality were made. Those who purchased were supporting indie artists. As the revival continued mainstream labels re-released albums previously on vinyl or they converted previously CD-only formats to vinyl. There was a resurgence is producing record players, but I saw where folks were purchasing more vinyl by mainstream artists than indie ones. Now I’m more likely to see vinyl albums by mainstream artists than indie ones. I’m sure there are other reasons, especially with the cost of producing a hard copy of an album involved. I think, though, if we are buying records to support local record stores we need to also consider buying vinyl of local and indie music. If we’re so willing to support a physical format to create a day for it, we need to also remember the artists who support them.

A bit of an epilogue: in case anyone was wondering I now own a record player. It also has a cassette deck and an 8-track player. You know, just in case.

CS Luxem Shines Their Light (And It Didn’t Help My Migraine)

CS Luxem broke the monotony of ambient music in the night with their combination of music and social awkwardness. While it seemed odd it came together for an interesting show that provided the only fresh air that was in The Replay Lounge by that part of the night.

Luxem provided a nice break from all the ambient music with their combination of doo-wop paired with a strong bass line. Adding off-key vocals and some synth elements to the mix does max it interesting, though at times it felt a little hokey. I felt like at times there was too much in the mix that it was a bit of overkill, such as too strong of a bass line or too much reverb that seemed to serve no purpose. On a more positive note they remind me of a grittier 10 CC.

As I’ve said with other bands that night I’m giving some leeway about their performance as I couldn’t see the stage thanks to a tight crowd. I’m going to give them even more leeway because I started to feel ill and left in the middle of their set. I feel because of that they didn’t get a fair review without it, especially when I left it seems they really started to play their finer songs. What I did get to note was while sometimes over the top musically CS Luxem also delivered equally goofy stage antics. At times it came off a part of the act, but it also felt a little contrived as if trying to mask something.

The audience enjoyed the antics, though, and showed it with lots of cheering. Sadly this section is pretty sparse, which adds to why I’m giving them leeway. It’s not their fault, but at least the audience got to enjoy them.

As I’ve said CS Luxem combines doo-wop and synth with goofiness. What little I did review shows that while a bit rough around the edges can provide something unique and a bit reminiscent of 70’s and 80’s music. I hope to give them a more complete review in the future.

 

Technique- 2

Presentation- 1.5

Audience Interaction- 1

Brownie Points- 0.75

Total- 5.25

 

Tycho Alba: Similar but Not Quite Like Tycho

Coming all the way from Colorado to grace The Replay Lounge is Tycho Alba. I’ll admit I couldn’t help but make a horrible wordplay on the artist Tycho in the title of this article. In reality the only similarities they share are something with Tycho in their names and tend to create ambient music.

Tycho Alba captures ambient music vibes and mixes it with atonal vocals (though I suspect at times the singer just missed the pitch) and synth elements reminiscent of 80’s electronic music. At times they varied on this by pulling from disco or jazz (and in one song power chords) in order to create a sound that I can only really describe as both playing into ambient music and a new wave revival. They also go as far as to create dissonance within their music while not compromising the tranquility of the music. One song in particular featured a very staccato rhythm with the smooth, connecting elements of ambient melodies. However, one of the pitfalls of ambient music is its monotony, and Tycho Alba can’t escape it. There were times where the songs sounded too much alike where, had they been played consecutively, I would have figured was a long song. However I think this band’s aware of this pitfall and at least came prepared to keep the audience’s attention.

As I’ve said in other reviews I find it hard to review an ambient performance. The point of the music is to be relaxing and trance-like. Playing at a venue that tends to be lively proves challenging, especially for music that provides a relaxing atmosphere. It can put a show at odds with the surroundings. These guys were able, from what I could see without a crowd, show some enthusiasm with their music They also joked a bit with audience and engaged further with special effects. At least, I think fog machines fall under special effects. Either way they used it, and boy did it release a lot of fog! The audience didn’t seem to mind, though.

The audience, in fact, seemed somewhat engaged. As I noted they gathered closely around the stage so I had a hard time watching the performance. There was a bit of cheering and applauding throughout, and it seemed fairly consistent with the exception of one or two songs. As I said, playing ambient music live can be tough, especially at a lively venue.

Overall Tycho Alba are able to add to ambient music by incorporating at times very dichotomous elements. Even though they still fall into the trappings of performing ambient music at times they still manage to captivate the audience as much as the genre is capable of doing.

 

Technique- 2.5

Presentation-1.5

Audience Interaction–1.5

Brownie Points-0.5

Total-6.0