With the year coming to a close, it’s that time again to take a look back at some of the best that the music world had to offer in 2017. First up on the “Best of” docket is my annual “Best Album Covers” list. Throughout the year, I kept a list of album covers that I found strange, beautiful, and provocative. This list is a compilation of my favorites from this yearlong collection. Anyone who loves the album as an art form knows the importance of a powerful LP image, and the following 20 covers elevate their corresponding albums.
In this month’s episode we check out new music from Thunder Dreamer, This is the Kit, Rozwell Kids, Sleaford Mods, MIKE, Afghan Whigs, Avey Tare, and Nine Inch Nails. We also continue our track by track look back at Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are a-Changin’.
Check it out HERE, or better yet, subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or GooglePlay (search: BDWPS).
In the final episode of “Year of the Bowie”, we take a look at David’s experimental explorations in the 90s and some of his more unexpected ventures in the 2000s. We also take a look at his death and the legacy he left behind.
Check it out HERE, or better yet, subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or Stitcher (just search: Year of the Bowie).
It rarely works out when an artist quits one project in order to try a new one. On one hand it’s an opportunity to show a new side to your music; on the other hand you are setting yourself up for being compared to your prior work. Unfortunately, the latter is more likely.
Two of my favorites from my youth, Nine Inch Nails and Pennywise, have recently had members emerge with new projects, and both have failed to live up to what has come before.
How To Destroy Angels“S/T”[The Null Corporation, 2010]
When I first heard about Trent Reznor’s side project with his wife How To Destroy Angels, I had high hopes. Since the 1999 release “The Fragile”, Nine Inch Nails have been floating pointlessly from one mediocre album to the next. While “With Teeth”, “Year Zero”, and “Things Fall Apart” have their moments, none of the albums captured the definitive works of art found in “The Downward Spiral” and “The Fragile”. Instead, they were simply a collection of songs, some good, some not so good. On the last album Trent almost sounded like an imitation of himself – a Nine Inch Nails cover band.
My dreams of a Trent Reznor resurrection of course died upon first listen to How To Destroy Angels first self-titled EP. In a nutshell: it’s a slowed down version of Nine Inch Nails with a female singer. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s all very ho-hum, yawn-inspiring stuff, and at this point, I’ve had enough with this bumbling Reznor. I wanted to hear him stretch his sound, to step outside his confined boundaries, to try something out of his realm. I wanted to hear the Reznor who once blew my mind one song at a time, a machine gun style massacre, blow after blow of incredible compositions attacking my senses. Instead, Trent toes the line with a series of six songs that could easily be B-sides from “With Teeth” and “Year Zero” (or possibly C-sides, if there is such a thing).
I liked this song better when it was called “The Wretched”:
I don’t know how to diagnose Reznor’s issues. Is he so accustomed to his ways of approaching music that he’s no longer capable of traveling into uncharted waters (old dog new tricks theory)? Or is he so crippled by what has made him successful that he fears the thought of rocking the boat (row boat theory)? Or maybe the problem is that my expectations are too high for Trent, that my allegiance to his 90s work has left me with a sour taste in my mouth, wishing he could recapture what I felt while listening to “The Fragile” endlessly in college. Whatever the case, How To Destroy Angels doesn’t destroy any preconceptions of Trent Reznor; it only destroys my hopes for a new day for an aging has-been.
The Black Pacific“S/T”[Side One Dummy, 2010]
The opening track to the Black Pacific’s debut self-titled album “The System” is the perfect example of the double-sided affair that is the “follow-up project”. While it is easily the best song on the album, it is also sounds the most like singer Jim Lindberg’s work with Pennywise. It features the same break-neck speed and anti-government sentiment that became a Pennywise staple over the past two decades.
I enjoy this Pennywise rip-off, although I swear the back-up vocals are run through an auto-tuner…you decide:
The following two-tracks continue this Pennywise imitation, which at first annoyed me due to the fact that Lindberg decided to quit Pennywise and now he’s basically playing Pennywise songs with different dudes. Lame. But then of course I heard the rest of the album, and I decided I’d take mock-Pennywise any day over songs like “Kill Your Idols” “Put Down Your Weapons”, and “Defamer”. The second half of the album featueres predictable tunes that conjure up comparisons to Blink 182, Sum 41, and Green Day. As much as I’d love to hear a new take on Jim Lindberg’s approach to punk, I doubt anyone was out there hoping to hear a poppy, overtly processed escapade through shit-town.
Just a toilet paper sampling of this shit:
I don’t know the details of why Jim left, but from what I’ve read, Pennywise plans to continue on without him. After listening to Jim Lindberg’s metaphoric pissing upon everything that is sacred in the creed of Pennywise, I have faith that the boys can start anew with a sound that is far-and-away from anything that can be labeled “pop” (or auto-tuned for that matter).
In the past decade, jazz has been sitting in neutral. There are still talented artists thriving, whether it be in elevators or on The Weather Channel, but the journey within the genre has become sedentary. You can’t blame the musicians. It seems that all avenues have been explored, ranging from bebop, hard bop, blues, big band, free jazz, latin jazz, modal jazz, swing, afrobeat, jazz fusion, and acid jazz. There’s a reason why Ken Burn’s documentary “Jazz” is over 18 hours long. The free-flowing form has come a long way. When “jass music” was conceived in the cultural jambalaya of New Orleans, it was considered to be “the music of the devil” due to its popularity in the black night clubs and whore houses (the self-proclaimed creator of “jass”, Jelly Roll Martin, got his start playing in brothels, improvising based on the action in the bed next to his piano).
These days, jazz is the furthest thing from “music of the devil”. That title would have to go to metal, another music form that has evolved and branched out over the years (heavy metal, death metal, doom metal, black metal, speed metal, gothic metal, thrash metal, glam metal, post-metal, power metal, industrial metal, prog-metal, rap metal, stoner metal, and so on). Although young in comparison to jazz, metal seems in need of a fresh new take on the genre. Step in Shining, the experimental metal band from Norway who got their start as an acoustic jazz band.
On their latest release, “Blackjazz”, the doom-heads decided to try combining the two devilish music forms from the past 100 years, resulting in a black metal album of hellacious proportions. Upon first listen, “Blackjazz” seems to be simply a polished black metal album, but beyond the familiar machine gun drums and crunching guitar riffs, this is more than simply black metal. Shining rely heavily on the synth, but instead of providing simply an ominous cloak, the keyboard is twinkled sporadically like a possessed Duke Ellington, venturing through scales and chord progressions more familiar to jazz night clubs than church burnings. At times the album doesn’t even resemble music, rather a Jackson Pollock of sound, splattering up and down the malicious jazz scale in search of melody.
The jazz meanderings are more obvious when Jørgen Munkeb picks up the saxophone and honks out notes like a line of tumbling dominos, notes rising and falling at will as the horn meshes with the chaos surrounding it. On “Fish Eye”, not only does Jørgen’s sax give the black metal venture fresh blood, but the synths vaguely resemble the four trumpeters of the apocalypse, blaring in the arrival of the Black Masque of Death. Although the sax can only be found on a few tracks, the spirit of the fiery horn section remains a constant within the wall of noise.
“Fish Eye” live from Norwegian TV:
The technical aptitude of these former jazz musicians is audible throughout the album, but it is most evident on “Healter Skelter.” Somehow they are able to provide the chaotic free jazz style of Ornette Coleman while still successfully scaring the shit out of you. It flows between the two musical forms naturally like a tornado in the sky, gaining speed and fury as it moves along.
Much more “Healter Skelter” than anything The Beatles came up with:
Shining also move away from typical lo-fi black metal production, relying on producer Sean Beavan who’s worked with Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson. Beavan’s sleek production at times makes “Blackjazz” sound more like “IndustrialJazz”, but he also provides stability to the disorder. Singer Jørgen Munkeby’s howls often resemble that of a young Trent Reznor, screaming over the uproar of synth and drum machines. “The Madness and the Damage Done” could easily be mistaken as a b-side on any of Reznor’s multitude of “Halo” albums:
To simply categorize this as a “black jazz” album due simply to the title would be foolish. Shining are as much influenced by free jazz and black metal as they are by industrial metal and progressive rock (the band covers King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” to close the album). Whatever you want to call it, there is no doubt that these Norwegians have exorcised the true, dark spirit of jazz and unleashed itback into the world to wreak havoc. Watch out Weather Channel, there’s an apocalyptic storm on the horizon.