Posts Tagged ‘Record Reviews’

Transgender_Dysphoria_Blues_cover_artAlright, let’s address the elephant in the room. Yes, Transgender Dysphoria Blues is the first Against Me! album to feature vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Tom Gables performing as Laura Jane Grace. Yes, Tom is a chick now. Yes, Tom’s journey to become Laura Jane is explicitly addressed on this record (check opening two tracks and the closer). No, that is not why this record is a front-runner for my favorite rock record of 2014.

If “controversy” alone determined the value of rock-n-roll, Miley Cyrus’s Bangerz would be topping Lorde’s Pure Heroine, which would be topping the new Beyonce porn-package, which would be topping this new Against Me! But we’re adults here (sort of), so we should be enjoying the music for the music. And, in the Transgender case, I only needed one play through the snare-snappy, rolling-riffs, angry Tom Petty-esque opening title track – “You want them to notice / The ragged ends of your summer dress / You want them to see you / Like they see every other girl / They just see a faggot / Hold their breath not to catch the sick” – to lay my dollars down. I’ve had it in constant rotation since it’s late January release.

Controversy and autobiographical journeys aside, this is good rock-n-roll. This is roll the damn windows down and let this record spin three times to Austin on a fine day rock-n-roll. This is curious, questioning, angry, fist and stiletto hells rock-n-roll. And it’s solid cover to cover.

Confession: I’ve never been a die-hard Against Me! fan. I left all that sweaty band-sticker-on-my-dashboard love to my buddy Pepe. But this record took me back through Against Me!’s discography, through records that felt familiar but still relatively fresh, and the experience won me over fully.

Transgender is a culmination record, capturing several different sounds Against Me! has charted and, at times, perfected. You like the The Eternal Cowboy and In Search of a Former Clarity brass-knuckle, bar-room, steel-toed era, you’ve got tracks like “Drinking With The Jocks” and “Osama Bin Laden As The Crucified Christ” and “Unconditional Love”. You prefer the poppy, high-hat dance-ability of New Wave, you’ve got the title track and “True Trans Soul Rebel” and “Paralytic States”. You fancy the stripped down arena rock of White Crosses, you’ve got “FuckMyLife666” and “Dead Friend” and “Two Coffins.” Here’s a ten track retrospective album, picking up various licks and sounds from a fluctuating career.

But the clincher track here for me, the one that pulls the entire AM! canon together and simultaneously pushes it forward, capturing Laura Jane’s grittiest angst, is the closing “Black Me Out”. Opening with a simple strum, Laura Jane chimes in calmly before the entire track erupts – “I wanna piss on the walls of your house / I wanna chop those brass rings / Off your fat fucking fingers / As if you were a king-maker / As if, as if, as if black me out”.  The message here being that we haven’t heard the end or the even best from Laura Jane Grace, yet. There’s more clattering about in that shifting soul. Great. Bring it on. I’m already pining for the next Against Me! release.

Layout 1Reviewing art affords a unique form of meditation. To communicate a personal interaction with a text – be it a book or film or record – the reviewer must turn inward to inspect the new path coursed by the text. In fact, I rarely feel I’ve engaged a text until I’ve reviewed it somehow, using concrete language to exercise my abstract interaction, which surely will change after a few new interactions, and then change yet again. Still, you gotta start somewhere.

Such meditations are particularly helpful with an album like Guiltless (released April 2011 on Relapse Records) from Chicago doom-metal maestros Indian because, after several dozen listens, I still don’t know what the hell to think. I’m not even sure I like Guiltless as much as I feel oddly drawn to it, compelled to endure it again, even to shut down the lights and fall either into it or it into me – of which I’m convinced neither direction can be too healthy. Regardless, I can’t go more than a week without cranking Guiltless again.

Here’s one thing I do know: Guiltless scares the shit out of me. Even now I feel uneasy with the title track pouring through my earbuds into my body. (What else falls in alongside it?!) I’m the only one awake in my house. The doors downstairs are locked. And as the guitars dig like rusty trunk keys and the vocals pierce like broken pigs (beginning of track 4: “Guilty”), I can’t help feeling the urge to look over my shoulder into this (thankfully still) empty room. Guiltless is sinister, doom-metal murky-bottoms business. A musically maniacal Frank Zito on a lady-scalping spree, for sure.

But there’s something undeniably beautiful about this record, too. Maybe the honesty? The unencumbered anger? The sudden awareness of a distant light while trudging swampy clipped limbs away from an assailant’s slow muddy-booted pursuit? It’s there. Something is there that keeps calling me back despite my hesitations.

If it seems odd to review a 2011 record at this time, I do so to prepare my review of Indian’s newest record, From All Purity, next month. I realized after a few listens of From All Purity that I needed to back the truck up. Step in one stumpy toe at a time. And as I went backwards into Indian’s discography, I found myself stuck on (in?) Guiltless. It’s a demanding record that I do not recommend as much as urge you there with your happy reading face to experience. Take, for instance, the opening track, “No Grace”, which begins with teeth bruising brutality, then simmers into a sludgy vat of churning vocals and fuzzy blasts, before masterfully ascending into a buzzard swirl of black, calculated riffs. Such distinctly fluid movements in a mere six minutes offer assurance that you’ve found something special, something worth noting.

And right there, in those last few sentences, the review’s meditation took hold: yes, I like Indian’s Guiltless. And, it seems now, the gravity I feel to return here so often is an appreciation for someone else’s expression of a personal conviction. Who knew? Maybe I didn’t want to.

Half way through the year, and it’s time to take inventory of what’s stood out musically. I asked Myles to join me in a Top Five SO FAR Records of 2013 list. I’ll be interested to see what, if any, of these records make my end of year list. Also, these records are listed in chronological order of acquisition, and they may not have even been released in 2013. If you have a problem with that, make your own list. Here’s what I’ve jammed the hardest this year.

Also, my friend Angela Craig will barf on her own shoes when she sees this.

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1. Ke$ha – Warrior

It’s no secret that I shamelessly love pop music. And it’s also no secret that I do not believe in guilty pleasures. And I have zero intentions of apologizing or shirking my love of Ke$ha – and her entire canon – to make you feel cool. And just for the record: This. Record. Kicks. Ass. The wife surprised me with Ke$ha’s new release, Warrior, for Christmas, and it stayed in our car stereo until February. Super fun jams, party lyrics, a little bit o’ White-girl rap mixed with a whole lot of bar-romping sing-a-long, crotch-rocking attitude. Yeah, I realize there’s nothing I can say to talk you into giving Ke$ha a fair chance, and I’m sorry for you. As for me and my family, we rock the casbah out of any Ke$ha record.

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2. Best Coast – The Only Place

Absolutely one of my new favorite bands! After falling in love with this record, I immediately bought everything Best Coast had released to the public. For such a short lived band, they’ve had an amazing sound evolution. I’m not even sure which of their records I recommend more highly – the new cleanly produced The Only Place or their previous raw-garage rock Crazy For You debut. Best Coast also has a couple of EPs on iTunes that are super fuzzy and killer. I especially love their cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Storms”, which showcases angles to Bethany’s vocals not found in their other work. Good stuff. Just good stuff. I actually wrote a review of Best Coast’s The Only Place on my teacher-y blog. I’m rather proud of this review. My buddy Pepe thought it was a Rolling Stone or Paste review, which inflated the mess out of my head. You can go here to relish that glory :

http://www.blackhightops.blogspot.com/2012/11/best-coasts-only-place.html

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3. Duke Ellington and John Coltrane

The air wafting through my office door reeks of two things: stale coffee and big band music. I have both going nonstop all day long when I’m at work. Big band is my go to music when I want to write, when I need to work, when I do not need lyrics getting in the way of my own literary craft and intake. But this past year I decided to expand my territories and reach beyond big band into actual jazz. I did not know exactly where to start, except that I remember my friend Jesse owned Duke Ellington’s Four record when we lived together, and that record found regular rotation – right along with Tammy Wynette’s Run Woman Run – during our late night whiskey and backgammon sessions. So this past spring, when I wanted to study jazz, I started with Ellington. I’m still not sure how this duo between Ellington and Coltrane landed on my iTunes, but it’s divine. Absolutely magical. I’ve since found more from each artist that has stood the test of time and won new listeners – particularly Coltrane’s Blue Train and A Love Supreme records – but nothing so far has topped this duet recording as a flawlessly beautiful incantation of sheer artistry.

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4. In This Moment – Blood

I discovered In This Moment while searching metal bands with female leads.  Their previous record, Star Crossed Wasteland, rocked a cowboy vibe with strong metalcore influences. On their newest record, Blood, to which I’m completely addicted, In This Moment dropped their sound several octaves, slowed down the metalcore strumming and drumming, and – in the process – conjured a darker, somewhat sinister industrial grit. I’m not sure I always love In This Moment’s music. It’s a bit crunchy for me, probably leaning more towards some hip new crunchcore metal than good old fashion metal. But for all their musical failings, Maria Brink’s vocals redeem each track ten fold and ten fold. Brink is one of the greatest metal vocalists I’ve ever heard, nailing every level of her metal vocals – shrill screams, gross throaty growls, and pristinely emotive cleans – telling her story as much through her vocals as her lyrics. I’d sell a pinky toe to see Maria Brink perform on a tiny stage in a tiny room. She’s a beast. Like a boss.

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5. Lana Del Rey – Paradise

Alright. Here it is. The pinnacle of my 2013 auditory experience. Of everything else I’ve musically discovered or rediscovered or explored this year, nothing – absolutely nothing – has shaken me like Lana Del Rey’s Born To Die double-CD. Yes, yes, yes: I remember LDR’s botch SNL performance. It was so devastating I nearly fell into a life of narcotics and addiction-supportive prostitution just watching her bomb. And I don’t know what happened that night. Surely, such nights happen to more performers – LDR just happened to land her fall on national television. But I don’t hold it against her, especially after I listened to this double-album set twice through on a solo drive across the bottom of Arkansas into the top of Texas earlier this summer. I’ve had her spinning on loop ever since. I love her husky, bottom droned voice. I love her Kennedy-esque lyrical persona. I love her videos, all grainy and dizzily grappling at the last raw strands of youth and beauty. And I love her sense of humor, labeling her own musical style “Hollywood sadcore”. I’ve joked that if I ever finish this book, I’ll have to mention Lana Del Rey in the acknowledgements. Her voice has painted several scenes and drawn the interior of a major character. Here’s to redemption from a public fall.