October arrives. We’re in the last quarter of the endless bizzaro year 2020. Fall is coming in to full bloom. By now Halloween fun is usually ramping up, but this year has been Halloween all year. Trick or trick. Anyway, let’s take a listen to some more new music to pass the time. Stylistically, I don’t know that there is a real specific theme here. Although, despite differences in style, there sounds like a bit of darkness lurking in each of theses tunes. I think I usually feel some internal darkness around this time of year. Days are shorter, weather in our area tends to become a bit more dismal and overcast. But no matter the weather or date, 2020 has been a year that darkness rules. Let’s let the music save us!
First Up: Iress – ‘Shallow’
Let’s begin with some dark drone. The song builds slowly. It starts out with feedback and reverb heavy guitar to create atmosphere. This original background atmosphere continues through out the song, allowing different elements to be built on top. First to come in is a simple guitar arpeggio. The next addition is a pounding drum. Sort of like someone whacking you in the head with a mallet (sometimes a good shot to the head is useful). Vocals finally enter the fray after the first minute. One of the things I like best in this song is the use and treatment of the vocals. There are multiple vocal tracks, effects and harmonies blended together so the vocals do double duty as a background instrument. The song continues to build with guitar chord distortion, crashes added to the drum sound and wordless vocals to blend in with the background sounds in what would probably be considered the chorus. This theme repeats through the song. They open up the guitar and drum parts for the song outro. Put on your headphones, turn off the lights, fire up a candle and incense and breathe in the mood.
Next Up: Death Valley Girls – ‘Under The Spell Of Joy’
We start out with a great vocal chorus. The mix of voices, including a children’s choir, was a great choice. The vocals establish the melody line that is reflected by the guitar when it comes in. When the drums come in they also reflect the cadence that has been established by the vocals and guitar. The final piece to come in is saxophone. The sax work here takes me back to the early days of post punk. Two of my favorite bands from that era, The Psychedelic Furs and Medium Medium made great use of this style of sax playing in their songs. It takes the place of where you would usually put a lead guitar. The sonic textures you can add using sax puts you somewhere between a guitar sound and a vocal. The drums and guitar continue to hold down the original riff while the top alters between vocals and sax. A moment of scratchy silence hits before the slamming freak out at the end. An interesting thing to listen to is the difference between this ending buzz and the rest of the song. You can make the song sound as if it speeds up without changing the beats per minute by doubling the drum and/or guitar notes from, say, quarter notes to eighth notes. Always nice to end with a good old feedback burst.
Finally: Osees – ‘Dreary Nonsense’
I thought we’d end with an all out assault on your ears. Short, fast and brutal would be a good description of this Osees song. And I mean that in the most complimentary way. I guess you could classify this as ‘punk’ although that term has been so overused in our current musical era as to be almost meaningless. Some interesting things to listen to here. First, let’s talk about the recording and mix of the drums. Using drum tuning and EQ, there isn’t much difference between the sound of the kick drum and the snare. That’s intentional (just guessing – I wasn’t actually there). Using this as the drum mix propels the beat along at a constant frenetic pace. The EQ on the guitar keeps this top end sonic assault. When the guitar is playing the siren like two note riff I can feel it in the fillings in my teeth (better than a sonic toothbrush). The vocals fall somewhere between speaking and singing. The cadence of the vocal adds to the song’s beat propulsion. Even the bass guitar has a lot of top end to it. In a minute and a half, it’s over. Did anyone get the licence number of that car that ran me over?
Retro: Frank Zappa – ‘Montana’
You could right an entire book trying to describe the music of Frank Zappa. There are certainly a few books out there that try. He used a wide variety of instruments to create an orchestral, sometimes jazz version of rock music along with more ‘standard’ rock style songs. I was first introduced to Zappa’s music by my guitar teacher when I was in 5th or 6th grade. Talk about a WTF moment. But once you get past the overall strangeness, you can listen to how deliberately the instruments are placed and arranged in the composition. Some works read more like a symphony than a rock song. Besides your usual rock instruments you’ll hear horns, woodwinds, strings, xylophone and a wide variety of percussion instruments. I also got to see Zappa live in a small college venue when I was in high school. Another WTF moment – strange little skits happened between songs and Zappa spent most of his playing time sitting in a chair. I chose ‘Montana’ because it is probably one of Zappa’s more ‘rock’ songs and one some people might have actually heard. I also chose it because it has one of Zappa’s amazing, blazing guitar solos in it. If you didn’t know that he was probably one of rock’s best guitar players, feast your ears on this.
We are officially in Fall of 2020 and things are still so ______ __ (fill in the blanks). My wife and I took ten days to hike in the White Mountains in New Hampshire to clear our heads. There’s hundreds of miles of trails so you can pick trails where you can pretty much avoid all people. Which we did. Great weather and a great vacation. Nothing like crawling up a mountain with a beautiful summit view to give you some positive perspective. Unfortunately, you have to come back. So let’s listen to some music that might help take our minds off being back in the unreal world.
First Up: Brendan Benson – ‘Richest Man’
If you don’t know Benson as a solo artist you might recognize him for his work with The Raconteurs. This song is from his newest album ‘Dear Life’. Some times a song can just make you feel better. This song did that for me. Musically it’s a great little guitar driven pop/rock tune. All the instruments are clear and well placed in the mix. In a song like this it’s good to keep everything crisp. A few well placed horns fit the mood. What you really want to do is highlight the vocals and lyrics. They’re the bread and butter for this type of song. There’s some lead guitar work mixed in towards the end part of the song, but it’s placed where it should be – supporting the vocal, not overpowering it. Sending this out to my wonderful wife who keeps me sane during the insanity. It was also great to get home to see our two four legged furry kids, who are always ecstatic when we return. Can’t ask for much more.
Next Up: Skylar Gudasz – ‘Femme Fatale’
Creating mood is what music is about. Our first song was upbeat and happy. This tune takes us in the opposite direction. Again, the music sets the mood to highlight the vocals and lyrics. Slower tempo, simple drums that rise and falls in the mix to keep time. Synths fill in as strings beneath the vocals. The instrumentation starts out very spare and grows as the song advances. That technique draws you in to the song’s feel and lyrics. There’s a perfectly set up guitar solo in the middle of the song. Just enough fuzz and dirt on the guitar sound to sustain the notes, it’s simple and melodic to match the mood of the rest of the song. It’s the little things like the guitar arrangement that can make or break a song. A lot of times people judge a song on the complexity of the individual instruments but in the long run it’s the arrangement that makes everything work. It all supports her vocals. Wonderful phrasing and very expressive, it pushes forward the story in the lyrics and makes you feel all the sadness or pain.
Finally: Parsonsfield – ‘Paper Floor’
Parsonsfield has been known as more of a folk/Americana band on their earlier albums. Here they throw in electronic drums and a fluctuating, buzzy synth and build the rest of the song on top of that. Really keep it simple with a clock like bass and some acoustic guitar mixed in. This is another song where the simplicity of the arrangement allows the vocals to be highlighted. It has enough beat to keep your toes tapping, but overkill on the beat would be more in line with head banging and that wouldn’t fit the mood of the song. I think the theme for this month could be ‘keep it simple stupid’. Less is more. Mood makes the song.
Retro: Cheap Trick – ‘Downed’
I’ve been a fan of Cheap Trick from their earliest days. This song is from their second album, ‘In Color’ which was released in 1977. One of the greatest ‘power pop’ albums of all time (my opinion anyway). I can’t count how many times I’ve plugged in my electric guitar and played along to this album at high volume from start to finish. Still do on occasion. I picked this song because of the lyrics. The feeling of wanting to escape the craziness has been life long for me. Maybe now more than ever. Some of the lyric lines always resonated with me, the idea of escaping the grind.
I’m gonna live on a mountain
Way down under in Australia
It’s either that or suicide
It’s such a strange strain on you
Oh, i got a mind
Over you it’s not the first time
Oh, i got a mind
Too many people want to save the world
Another problem is it a boy or girl
Some say the weekend is the only world
It’s such a strange strain on you
Some days when the 9 to 5 crawl got the best of me I used to swear that ‘the weekend is the only world’. Stay sane out there.
Summer is in full swing. Consoling myself for having to cancel our September National Parks trip (very depressing; once again, thanks Covid) by trying to delve deeper in to some different music. We’re re-watching Ken Burns great country music documentary. If you’re in to music and haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. You may not think you’re in to ‘country’ music, but if you watch the doc you’ll find so many influences for every type of music that has followed. It also shows the progression of how music recording developed. Early recording was live, raw, and, to me, the most emotional and ‘real’. Like all other genres, the recording lost me a little when all the edges were smoothed out and became more ‘corporate product’. But the ‘good stuff’ was always lurking in the background and all you have to do to find it is look a little deeper. This concept can really be applied to most genres of music. Let’s look a little deeper in to our lineup for this month.
First Up: Tall Tall Trees – ‘A Wave Of Golden Things’
As discussed in previous Grapevines, there’s many ways a song can touch you. The first thing that hits me in this song is the mood. The song strikes me emotionally before I even start to listen to the various instruments and production. I’m a sucker for melancholy. And melancholy does not necessarily mean ‘sad’. It’s a combination of lyrics, melody, music and delivery. If you’re a song writer, you find that’s not easy to do. Some beautiful lyric lines – “cuz you could warm the darkest hue the sun it came and knelt for you”. Then you have to hit the right melody notes. The music perfectly compliments the vocals. Sparse percussion topped with piano and keyboard. The bass line (sometimes played on the piano) anchors the song and provides a deep bottom end. Some nice background effects and vocals add mood. The cherry on top is a beautiful video which plays perfectly with the song. Watching the video helps you travel the path the song lays out, starting dark and lonely and ending up with a feeling of hope, even happiness.
Next Up: Lettuce – ‘House Of Lett’
So let’s take a listen to something completely different from our first tune. Lettuce is a funk band that originally formed in 1992. They started playing together after meeting while at the Berklee College of Music. Musically you can really hear their influences – 60’s, 70’s and 80’s funk/jazz bands. I’ve always had a love for this genre of music and it lead to me taking up bass guitar in the 80’s. There’s nothing better than finding the pocket playing bass on a good funk groove. If you break the song down and listen to all the separate instruments you can tell how technically accomplished all the members of this band are. To start try to hone in on just the drums and bass. This is the foundation of the song and allows the other musicians to break out individually on top of their groove. Great bass tone – very easy to pick out but not too ‘poppy’ or overpowering. The horns carry most of the melodic feel of the song. As with most good funk tunes, the song will break down to it’s simplest parts and build back up again. As with most good funk bands, Lettuce knows the importance of changes in dynamics during a song. I may be adding this album to my ‘bass play along’ collection.
Finally: The Heavy Eyes – ‘Late Night’
Let’s make one more hard turn for our final song. A little bit of sludge/stoner rock to complete our trio. There’s a number of things I like about ‘Late Night’. The mix is really well done to accentuate the different instruments. It starts with simple background percussion and a fuzzy, fuzzy guitar part. The interesting part of the mix is that they place this first fuzz guitar strictly in the left channel. Crisp drums are placed in the center with a second fuzz guitar coming in and out of the mix at different parts in the right channel. Another part of the mix I like is that the vocals are clear and out front where many bands recording this style of music will bury the vocals in the mix and drown them in reverb. Something that separates this song from others in the genre is the amount of open space they allow in the mix. I think the feel of open space makes each part more powerful when it enters the mix. This concept of dynamics is something they have in common with the funk of Lettuce. It shows how important some open space in both the writing of a song and in the recording.
Retro: R.E.M. – ‘Pilgrimage’
This song is from R.E.M.’s first album ‘Murmur’. I’ve listened to this album a few times recently and I’m always amazed at the depth of song writing for a band’s first album. There’s not a bad cut on it and there are a number of songs that are absolutely stunning. The album had the great first single ‘Radio Free Europe’. ‘Pilgrimage’ was the second cut and just blew me away. The song structure and mix are remarkable, especially for a band just starting out. It starts with the quiet background intro in to a kick drum driven guitar and bass riff. The build to the chorus and the vocal harmonies in the chorus are amazing. The chorus contains background ‘ahhhs’ as well the call and response harmonies. Dynamics play a big part in this song too. Change in dynamics may well be the theme for this month. The build to the chorus brings chills. Not many bands pull this off. R.E.M. is one of the few bands that lived up to the promise of their first album and maintained this quality of song writing throughout their career.
So we’re rolling in to the second half of the year. Other than being hotter, hard to tell one month from the other this year. Same shit different month. After this could you imagine the idea of surviving in your basement for years if ‘the bomb’ dropped (Pretty bad when you reminisce fondly about the Cold War – the good old days when we were all in it together). So what does this have to do with this month’s selections? Nothing. Except that ‘quarantining’ gives me a lot of time to listen to new music. Yes, yes, I’m straining to find a silver lining……
First Up: Stephen Malkmus – ‘Xian Man’
Stephen Malkmus has been around a while. Originally known for the band Pavement (if you haven’t heard their ‘Slanted And Enchanted’ album, you should give it a listen) then for solo work and Stephen Malkmus And The Jicks. He’s covered a lot of ground. I always liked the ‘garage’ looseness of many of the songs. This song has that type of feel. Most of the foundation is acoustic and that part of the arrangement holds down the flow and feel of the song. There’s a great psychedelic guitar rambling through the whole song as well as slide guitar. The guitar solo in the middle of the song uses these multiple guitars to good effect for a loose jam feel. Even the vocals carry the psychedelic, loose feel. Also hits my favorite mixing style – everything is audible but has it’s own place in the overall mix. Great ‘creates a mood’ song.
Next Up: Public Practice – ‘Cities’
A lot of things connected with me as I listened to this song. Let’s start with the recording. Great snare sound: crisp, snappy and it really cuts through the mix. You can pick out the actual snares in the sound. The hi hat also has a big presence. The bass sound has plenty of top end – if you listen to it in the beginning of the song you can hear the great tone they get. The guitars then drop in. If you listen through headphones you can hear the different guitar parts split in to the right and left side of the stereo field. The tight, top end capture of the recording provides a lot of separation for all of the instruments including the vocals. Definitely captures the post punk funk feel. I’ve been listening to a lot of Talking Heads recently and this tune has that type of feel. There’s several ways you can go with vocals in a song. You can bury them a bit in the mix to use them more as an instrument and make them more ‘mysterious’. Or you can make them tight and out front so you can really understand the lyrics. This song uses the latter. Finally, the little synth and vocal background additions add variety to keep the interest up.
Finally: Mayflower Madame – ‘Vultures’
So let’s go a little darker for the finale this month. If you wanted to categorize, could be under ‘Goth’ (a term I might use to describe a wide variety of styles) maybe an off-shoot of ‘Industrial Dance’. Could fit under ‘Post Punk’ eighties style. I like the dynamics of this recording. The instruments in the song don’t sound computer generated. If you listen and pull it apart you can listen to the guitar line, hear the bass line as a separate piece etc. And for me, they sound like people actually playing instruments. A real clear place to hear this is at 1:59 where the song breaks down and is built up piece by piece. You’ll hear each instrument come in. In a style that’s usually deep in programming, that’s a nice change. And it all gets dunked in a deep vat of reverb and delay. I admittedly like that sound, but it could turn a song in to mush if not handled correctly. An example here is the kick drum. They got the tuning, mics and EQ set up to really capture the top end ‘slap’ so the kick cuts through all the reverb and drives the song along. The video continues that feel. And……….would it go on the dance CD for ‘Blacklight Nite’? Absolutely.
Retro: Blind Faith – ‘Can’t Find My Way Home’
No need to over analyze this song. I imagine most people have heard it. In certain emotional moods I go back to classics that have always touched me. There are a lot of great songs out there and they’re great for different reasons. This song has so much emotion and it’s created by the vocal melody. That’s one of the rarest feats to pull off in song writing. And it gets multiplied by Steve Winwood’s amazing vocals and lyrics. There’s many ways to interpret the lyrics, literal and spiritual. For me it touches the despair and sadness I feel about what’s happening now. Life is too short for anger, hatred and the people who promote it. The older you get, the more you realize it.
But I’m near the end and I just ain’t got the time
And I’m wasted and I can’t find my way home.
June has arrived. We’re in to the middle of the year 2020. And everything is still weird. I guess we’re all just trying to make the best of what is turning out to be one of the strangest years I can remember. Part of me just wants it to be over. Fast forward to January 2021. But there’s no way to tell if things will be any better by then. And I’m too old to be willing to give up six months of my time. So thank goodness we still have access to music and art. I miss the energy of seeing bands live, but I still have the ability to search out and find new (and sometimes old) music that can lift the spirits or make you think. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what’s cooking this month.
First Up: Six Organs Of Admittance – ‘The 101’
One of the main thoughts constantly going through my head right now is “I wish I was……..”. I wish I was hiking the edge of a cliff, going to view a glacier. I wish I was on a deep forest trail. This song is ‘I wish I were on a two lane road, cruising up the California coast’. Route 101 runs up the west coast from Los Angeles, California to northern Washington. The song captures that windows down, cruising feel. Nice mix of acoustic and electric sounds. The acoustic repeating riffs create that trance like repetition with bursts of electric jam noise rolling in and out of the mix. The vocals are buried in the mix and maintain the trance inducing effect, like singing words to a song when you don’t really know the lyrics (yup – do that all the time). I also like the video. The idea of hauling my guitar rig in to deserted woods and jamming away (yeah, I know, no electricity – remember, this is ‘I wish’). Great shots of the strange and beautiful sights you see on that road. Roll down your windows and smoke ’em if ya got ’em.
Next Up: Fire In The Radio – ‘Tulare’
Tulare is a great example of classic indie rock. The mix is exactly what I would want in a song. Instruments and vocals all hold their own clearly audible place in the mix. The guitars have a nice buzz but are crisp and sharp. Perfect snap on the snare drum, high enough in the mix to drive everything forward without over powering it. Changes in dynamics pull you in to the song. The band said they were trying to create a feel of nostalgia with the song and video and I think they absolutely achieved their goal. The video mix of band performance and old video scenes are a perfect background for the song, enhancing the feel of nostalgia the song is trying to deliver. There are many ways to enjoy a song. The movement and sound of each instrument, the sonic kick of a well placed chord or a change in dynamics. But one of the best is the emotion a song can make you feel. ‘Tulare’ certainly delivers that emotion.
Finally: Smoke Fairies – ‘Disconnect’
We’ll finish up with Smoke Fairies ‘Disconnect’ from their album ‘Darkness Brings The Wonders Home’. It seems that I’ve put in three songs this month that all carry some emotional weight. In this song the emotion really comes to the front in the vocals and lyrics. They are put out in front of the musical elements of the song. The main vocal has a sad minor key feel and is presented in a lower register. The harmonies drift behind the main vocal. The music is carried by a guitar riff in the verses that turns to a more distorted chord pattern in the chorus. The drum sound in the back is pretty dry without a lot of reverb that would usually make the snare sound bigger. The main vocals are also relatively dry, which puts them more ‘in your face’. It was a good choice for this song. Little mixing choices like that are really important in making a song ‘feel’ a certain way. I think they made all the right choices in ‘Disconnect’.
Retro: X – ‘The Have Nots’
X has to be one the most underappreciated bands to come out of the punk era. They put out a string of consistently amazing albums beginning with their debut album ‘Los Angeles’ (note – X just released a new album with the original line up). They mixed punk with rockabilly, indie rock, Americana and variety of other genres to create an amazing sound. On top was the always strange and interesting vocal mix of Exene and John Doe, with lyrics that ran more towards beat poetry than punk screaming. I’ve always felt that Billy Zoom’s guitar playing was far above what you would hear in most rock bands, especially for bands that were put in to the ‘punk’ category. If you’ve ever worked at a job that was just a ‘job’ and remember surviving the day so you could meet your friends at the local dive, this song was written for you. Truth in lyrics = “Dawn comes soon enough for the working class. It keeps getting sooner or later. This is the game that moves as you play”.
Welcome back to another Grapevine recent listening post. Like most cautious people we’ve been hunkered down in our houses as much as possible trying to ride out the storm. And like most people that cuts us off from some things we’d like to do. We have a number of new ‘Messin’ songs and other videos and tunes that are almost completed and we’d like to finish. But our families come first and we’re taking no chances so we do what we can through the internet and the rest will be completed when the time is right. For all our readers please stay safe.
So let’s see what we have for this month. I got to listen to a number of bands I haven’t heard before (along with some I have) and these are the ones that stuck with me the most.
First Up: The Haden Triplets – ‘Memories Of Will Rogers’
This song is from their recent album The Family Songbook. This is another instance where I would recommend listening to the whole album. The sister’s musical background is really interesting. Their father is well known jazz bass player Charlie Haden who played with Ornette Coleman and others. Their grandfather was Carl Haden whose Haden Family Band played with The Carter Family and other ‘backwoods’ country bands of the time. Quite a legacy to live up to. This album covers songs from that older era, many of them with spare instrumentation and beautiful three part harmony. I selected ‘Memories Of Will Rogers’ for it’s fuller band sound and the fact that it brings back memories of late 60’s, early 70’s country rock. Listen for the vocals flowing behind the slide guitar on the break.
Next Up: Sonny Landreth – ‘Mule’
The first reason I selected this tune is simply the absolutely awesome slide guitar. Landreth is one of the best and has some unique techniques like fretting chords and notes with his other left hand fingers behind the slide and really crisp right hand finger playing work, sometimes tapping and often using a thumb pick. So smooth. Landreth is from Louisiana and this song brings a New Orleans zydeco feel to the mix. The vocals are a great match for the song. If you listen there are some other cool instrumental parts in the mix like the organ after the lead break and a great accordion part at the end. Couldn’t stop tapping my feet.
Finally: Mush – ‘Alternative Facts’
This song would have been right at home during the mid to late 80s post punk era. Think in terms of bands like Wire, Television and Pavement. Crisp, stinging guitar share the spotlight with the spoken/sung vocals. Some twisted, gnarly guitar runs come in and out as the song progresses. Several times the guitars feel like they’re about to fall apart towards a song ending. Nope. Everything just cranks back up again. The song even has a nice dynamic change where the guitars drop out and the vocals are centered. At the 7:00 minute mark everything stops. But they’re just kidding – there’s more slamming guitar to be had.
Retro: Blue Oyster Cult – ‘I’m On The Lamb But I Ain’t No Sheep’
Here’s this month’s look in the rear view mirror. I’ve always loved Blue Oyster Cult. Never could figure out why they weren’t a bigger band than they were. This song is from their first album which I still play along to when I want some guitar finger exercise. Of course there’s the sterling guitar work of Buck Dharma. But everyone in this band could bring it. Check out the drum work. Not just straight with fills but intricate work through out the song that doesn’t stomp all over the song itself. The song title is classic. And lyrics about the Canadian Mounties? Gotta have some fun. The band was from Long Island NY and even mixed in with the punk crowd – Patti Smith wrote lyrics for several of their songs. Finally, listen to the riff and tempo change at the end of the song. The band actually took this riff and reworked it more up tempo on their second album and called it ‘The Red And The Black’. Awesome.
April is the month most people see as the start of spring. You know “April showers bring May flowers”. As has become the weather ‘custom’ in our area, April is just, well, weird. It’s 70 on Monday, it’s 45 on Tuesday, possible tornadoes on Wednesday, out cutting the grass on Thursday. And we’re still staying in. There’s a million things I want to do yet with my life, so no chances are being taken. Fortunately our access to music while stuck at home is almost limitless. On the internet you can start with one song, then decide how far down the rabbit hole you want to go. Here’s a few different entry points you may want to try.
First Up: Ghost Funk Orchestra – ‘Seven Eight’
So what musical ‘category’ does Ghost Funk Orchestra fall in to? The fact that you can ask that question is one of the reasons I like this band. The way all the separate instruments have their own little riffs that weave in and out of the song makes analyzing how this song was put together really interesting. I chose the live video version of this song because you can actually see all the players and instruments and what each of them is doing. It’s also pretty cool how all of them are crammed in that little room and still keep all the pieces tight yet separated. That many different instruments could easily turn a song in to a big ball of mush, but GFO pulls off something that is both snappy and smooth without missing a beat.
Next Up: Old Crow Medicine Show – ‘Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer – Live At The Ryman’
Old Crow Medicine Show has been around for quite a while, since the late 1990’s. They have some well known songs (Wagon Wheel) and have been at the forefront of the Americana movement for quite a while. Their music is a great combination of ‘old time’ sounds mixed with the raw edginess of more modern Americana, Folk and Country. The song is a few years old, but the band just released a ‘Live At The Ryman’ album so I wanted to put this version in. Why? Live. At. The. Ryman. I’d love to be dancing in the aisles during this show.
Finally: Psychedelic Porn Crumpets – ‘Cornflake’
So we’ll veer off in to different territory for the third song. How to catch someone’s attention as they’re reading through album reviews? Name your band Psychedelic Porn Crumpets. How could I see that and not pull up some songs? The song builds from fuzzy space guitar hooks to quieter interludes. Also has cool reverb swimming vocals, a nice change from some songs in this genre that rely on shouted vocals. I also liked the video. It fits in perfectly with the music: strange, colorful and mesmerizing visuals. It’s always good to go from floating in space to banging your head in one song.
Retro: Supersuckers – ‘The Evil Powers Of Rock N’ Roll’
So I think it’s a great idea when cooped up indoors to end with a bang. Straight forward, high energy, butt kicking rock n’ roll. This album and song came out in 1999. I’d often play it while driving, although it would give me a tendency to drive a bit too fast and a strong desire to throw the bird at anyone that got in my way. So much fun to play jamming along with the record, or better yet play live with a band. It has the guitar sound I like – crispy crunch. And it ends with a strange slowed down death metal type sound. Classic.
Welcome back to the Grapevine. This has been one of the strangest (or most frightening) months I’ve experienced in a long time. People hoarding toilet paper? Seriously bizarre. Since it’s best to stay in and avoid contact with people – OK, I do that a bit anyway – it’s a good time to sit back and catch some music. I’ve been listening to a lot of bands that are totally new to me. Here’s some songs that I’ve really enjoyed. A tip for discovering on your own: if you hear one of these you like, check out the other videos picked up by the algorithm. I’ve come across some great stuff that way.
First Up: House And Land – ‘Across The Field’
Talk about breaking a song down to it’s basics. This song starts with guitar and vocals (not even fretting with the left hand in the beginning). A violin carries what is basically another vocal line in the background. The drummer is working soft rhythms with felt mallets. Doesn’t seem like much. But the feeling from their version of Appalachian folk music is strong. Towards the middle of the song the guitar chords expand and the violin takes over the melody line. Changes in tempo (imagine that! – no quantizing) really add to the mood. Also love the recording in the kitchen video. If you want to really feel this, take a walk through a dark pine forest by yourself with this in your earbuds. You’ll hear the ghosts.
Next Up: Blackwater Holylight – ‘Lullabye’
While you’re walking through that dark pine forest, add this song to your list. Maybe our theme for this month is ‘spooky’. Quite appropriate. Vocals are at an instrumental level here. They blend in to the overall shoegaze feel. The sound builds as it progresses. Vocals are added over the wash of fuzzed out guitar. The drums add to this build, increasing as the song goes along. Great layering and mixing on the vocal harmonies. The sound is almost visual. Lean back against one of those pine trees and watch the ghosts float by.
Finally: Seratones – ”Gotta Get To know Ya’
Wouldn’t be a ‘Grapevine’ without a change of pace (can’t stay spooky forever). Give me a tight drum rhythm and funky bassline – I’m in heaven. I really enjoyed strapping on a bass and jamming along to this. With a rhythm this funky you could probably read a chocolate cake recipe (mmmmmm…..chocolate) over the groove and it would still make you want to dance. But Seratones put an ass-kicking vocal on top just to add to the bang. They were even nice enough to put a wonderful fuzzy lead guitar line in at about a minute and a half. If I could change this song in any way? Make it longer please!
Retro: Budgie – ‘Breaking All The House Rules’
….and coming in from left field – Budgie with ‘Breaking All The House Rules’. Budgie is one of the lesser known and much under appreciated lights of 1970’s British metal. A three piece band with a bass playing vocalist singing in the high end range. Sound familiar Rush fans? Sort of like Rush heading in to blues garage rock instead of prog. This song starts and builds on one of my all time favorite guitar riffs. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve cranked this up and played along. This song contains one of Budgie’s specialties – a great extended middle section before heading back to the first riff. Why weren’t they more well known? Hard to say. Could be because a lot of their songs hit the six or seven minute mark – not really radio friendly. Who needs radio anyway. Punch up the volume and bang along!
There’s so many Rolling Stones songs I’d love to tackle and mess with. We decided to start with ‘Dead Flowers’ from the Sticky Fingers album. The song checked off a couple of boxes for us. People have heard it, but it’s not one of their real famous commercially played songs. It was also one of their ventures in to ‘country’ or ‘country rock’ music. Since we’re doing a lot of acoustic work on the ‘Messin’ songs, that actually made it a bit more of a challenge to change. Although it was recorded with electric rock instrumentation, the country sound gave it a bit of an acoustic feel. And our point in doing these recordings is to do something a little different, not a straight on cover version.
So here’s what we did for our version of the song. We actually picked up the tempo to help enhance the changes. For this song the instruments are single tracked except for the vocals. The instrumentation is 12 string guitar, 6 string guitar, banjo and mandolin. Some of the instruments are playing repeating riffs and some are more straight forward chords. We didn’t add any direct percussion instruments to it, so to fill in the bottom end a fretless bass was added with multiple effects on it. It almost sounds like a keyboard or didgeridoo rolling underneath the other instruments. A second mandolin and banjo part were added in the third verse where the guitar solo was in the original. Where the instruments were panned in the stereo mix was real important. You might see an In The Studio video on stereo field in the near future.
Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs play The Rolling Stones ‘Dead Flowers’
Even though it’s winter there are still lots of items growing on the Grapevine. As always, you have to keep searching, keep your ears open and you never know what you may find. There’s no real theme for this month’s music, just a variety of nuggets found on the winter ground. So let’s get going….(it’s much warmer if you keep moving and don’t stand still).
First Up: Money For Rope – ‘Actually’
This band from Melbourne, Australia, plays a beautiful swampy form of garage rock. Nice crisp drum sounds and enough space between the instruments where you can hear all of them. Great guitar sound, a bit ‘surf guitar’, love the reverb and tremolo that it’s bathed in. Sharp, simple bass has a prominent place in the mix. There’s a spooky keyboard lurking in the background for atmosphere. The vocals sit on top of the song, a little bit distorted and sometimes stacked for a graveyard effect. Listen for the guitar going totally fuzzed out at the end of the song.
Next Up: The Jackets – ‘Wasting My Time’
Well, maybe there is a thread in this month’s songs. International garage rock? The Jackets are from Switzerland. This has the elements I love in garage rock – simple, straight forward, in your face. Again, nice tremolo on some of the guitar parts. You listen to it and say ‘hey, I’d love to get up there and play that’. Simplicity. For me that’s meant as a compliment, not a put down. This band reminds me of The Hives (if you don’t remember them look up ‘Hate To Say I Told You So’). And I love the video. It’s like an fun-house mirror version of the Beatles ‘Help’. Matching outfits, running around fields with no purpose. Performance parts are a hoot. This is an older video, but they did put out a new album in 2019. For another great, fun video check out ‘Losers Lullaby’.
Finally: Sylvia Black – ‘Walking With Fire’
This is the slow down change of pace song. I’m a fan of David Lynch movies. And this tune is definitely being played in the Lynch Lounge. It’s the music you would hear in some underground black and red lounge bar at 3:00 in the morning. The music underneath is just the set up for the flaming vocals on top. It feels like the vocals could blow up at any time, but are kept totally under control, adding to the tension. The Lydia Lunch spoken word in the middle of the song is just bizarre – oh, how I love bizarre. Mood music for life’s strange trip.
Retro: Gang Of Four – ‘To Hell With Poverty’
Gang Of Four are one of my favorite bands from the post-punk time of the 80’s. We unfortunately lost GOF guitar player Andy Gill on February 1st at age 64. This band had a tremendous influence on the style of music I was writing at the time. Especially Dave Allen’s bass playing. The bass and drums lock in to this amazing funk groove. Then screeching, jagged guitar is dropped on top. The vocals are pretty jagged too, with a lot of fist in the air political content. Gang Of Four showed me that if the rhythm section is grooving, there’s a lot you can drop on top. GOF was the type of band that probably had more effect on other musicians than on the general public. Sure miss those shows. And – ‘to hell with poverty!’.