Sunday, March 27, 2011


Here's the last two weeks' worth of content from

March 14: a review of the latest Orthodox CD, Ba'al
March 15: an interesting half-hour documentary on Milford Graves and David Murray from German TV
March 21: a review of Woodcuts, a 2010 duo CD by Peter Brötzmann and Paal Nilssen-Love
March 23: a review of Cursed, the latest CD by Finnish grindcore band Rotten Sound
March 25: an interview with "rockjazz" pianist Eric Lewis, aka ELEW


From Man-Child.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Yakuza vocalist/saxophonist Bruce Lamont released his first solo album, Feral Songs for the Epic Decline, on the At A Loss label in January. That's the cover art above. He did some killer performances to promote it at South by Southwest this past week, and Mike Williams of Eyehategod showed up to help out:

I wrote the liner notes to the CD. Here they are:

Those of you who’ve picked this album up because it’s the solo debut by the frontman for Chicago avant-rock band Yakuza should be aware that you are not holding a metal record in your hands. Of course, if you think Yakuza, Bruce Lamont’s primary creative outlet, is just a metal band, well, I don’t know what to tell you about that. Yakuza makes some of the most absorbing ultra-heavy psychedelic post-rock around, but calling it “metal” would be awfully reductive. You’ve got the Tibetan-style chants, the drone interludes, the saxophone…Yakuza’s got more in common with Hawkwind than High On Fire, is the point here. And apparently, Bruce Lamont is the kind of guy who finds even Yakuza’s expansive musical vision just a little bit constricting.

Most folks who know his work know Lamont has one foot in out-jazz (he’s performed and recorded with saxophonist Ken Vandermark, and stood up to the full hurricane force of upstate New York sax-sax-guitar trio Borbetomagus) and another in out-rock (in addition to Yakuza, he’s been an in-studio guest with fellow Chicago bands Nachtmystium and Minsk). But now they’re gonna get to know Bruce Lamont, singer-songwriter. He wrote all the songs on this disc, and played every instrument: guitar, saxophone, keyboards, percussion, all of it. And as recorded by Sanford Parker in Chicago’s Semaphore Studio, it’s got all the warmth and humanity of the best music to come from that city in recent years.

The first track, “One Who Stands On The Earth,” is also the longest by a good five minutes, and it’s like a buffet, laying out every sound you’re gonna hear for the rest of the album’s 43-minute running time. Acoustic guitar, saxophone, hypnotic tribal percussion, rhythm loops, bursts of static, and Lamont’s own trance-like vocal chants…imagine if Peter Gabriel had invited Michael Gira to collaborate on Passion, his soundtrack album for The Last Temptation Of Christ, and you’re getting there. There’s a strong desert vibe to tracks like “The Epic Decline” and “Disgruntled Employer.” Other pieces, like “The Book Of The Law” and “Deconstructing Self-Destruction,” blast from the speakers full of industrial/black metal fury, while the detuned guitar of “Year Without Summer” could be a nod to the Texas-based outsider-folk recluse Jandek. Feral Songs For The Epic Decline is multifaceted, is what I’m saying. Like its creator. Come in with open ears, and they will be filled in a very pleasing manner.

Buy Feral Songs for the Epic Decline from Amazon

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Click image to see at full size.


These are my latest album reviews for AP's website. Click the titles to buy them from Amazon.

Passive Me, Aggressive You (Universal Republic)

This New Zealand-based group mix glitchy, dreamy electronic pop and occasional outbursts of static-ridden noise with male-female duet vocals from Alisa Xayalith and Thom Powers that sound like Radiohead’s Thom Yorke whispering back and forth with Natasha Bedingfield. Many songs have a steady drum-machine thump to keep the listener’s attention focused, even as the low-key vocals nudge toward narcosis. The best of these is the album-closing “Girls Like You,” which manages to meld Hi-NRG synths, a dubby post-punk bassline, some guitar fuzz and murmurs from Powers that lead into anthemic howling, with oohs and aahs from Xayalith in the background.

On some tracks, like “Eyes” and “Young Blood,” the band up the emotional content a little in an attempt to get ’80s-style epic and modernize the weeping-androids sound the Human League perfected back then. They never quite make it, though, and just wind up sounding like some half-forgotten song from midway through the second side of the Breakfast Club soundtrack. A few others overstay their welcome, like the nearly six-minute “No Way,” which transitions from sub-Coldplay piano pounding to fuzzy acoustic guitar strumming, all with gently shimmery female vocals (part shoegaze, part Primal Scream circa 1991) on top. It’s nice, but would have been nicer at three minutes. But when the Naked And Famous get noisy, as on “Spank,” “Jilted Lovers” and “A Wolf In Geek’s Clothing,” they successfully meld the Ting Tings and Sleigh Bells.

Love & War (Hellcat)

The second Hellcat release from Civet is a raging dose of rockin’ punk that will appeal to Social Distortion and Joan Jett fans alike. Frontwoman Liza Graves roars like Jett with a migraine, and her three bandmates—guitarist Suzy Homewrecker, bassist Jacqui Valentine and drummer Roxie Darling—keep the music driving forward with plenty of pick slides, Bad Religion-esque backing vocals and occasional handclaps. “L.A. Nights” and “Sunset Strip” are paeans to their hometown; the former could be a theme song for L.A. Ink. Other tracks evoke a particularly streetwise version of sisterhood, gang fights, and romantic disillusionment. “It’s The Truth” and “Reap What You Sow” are too long at nearly five minutes each; the band’s strength lies in hard-charging tracks like the two-minute “Deadbeat.”

Saturday, March 12, 2011


From the Cleveland Scene:

Huge in Germany (and Here)
Manowar's U.S. tour is a short one, but we got lucky

The upstate New York metal band Manowar has led a strangely split existence for almost three decades. Though they perform before massive, adoring crowds in Europe, they've never been more than a cult act in their home country. The disconnect has gotten so extreme that bassist and bandleader Joey DeMaio said a couple of years ago that they may never play America again. But when they do play the States, they've shown a particular affection for Northeast Ohio.

The band performed exactly one U.S. show in support of 1992's The Triumph of Steel: at the defunct Flash's here in Cleveland. Four years later, following the release of 1996's Louder Than Hell, they played the Machine in Massillon and filmed a video for their song "Return of the Warlord" at the club.

Given all this, it's a bit surprising that Manowar are playing three U.S. shows this year. It's less surprising that two of them are in Cleveland. The band comes to the Agora this weekend for a two-night stand that will include a complete performance of their debut album, 1982's Battle Hymns, and a greatest-hits set.

And since Manowar have released a series of live DVDs over the years, it's totally possible that the two Agora shows will be filmed for release. (Though, for the record, DeMaio says he's "not sure at this point.")

Even within the metal scene, Manowar's music can be polarizing. Their best songs are pure metal, with anthemic power conveyed through thundering rhythms, screaming guitar leads, Eric Adams' powerful Halford/Plant-style vocals, and DeMaio's prominent and melodic bass lines.

They make no concessions to radio or trends, but if you grew up on classic metal by Dio and Judas Priest, there's plenty to love about Manowar albums like Sign of the Hammer, The Triumph of Steel, and especially Battle Hymns. (If you want a single starting point, their 2007 album Gods of War Live covers almost their entire career.)

On recent albums Warriors of the World and Gods of War, they've balanced headbanging anthems with symphonic interludes and some unexpected covers (check out their take on Elvis' patriotic "An American Trilogy" medley). But late last year, following the return of original drummer Donnie Hamzik, the group scrapped Hammer of the Gods, a concept album they had been working on with German fantasy novelist Wolfgang Hohlbein, and rerecorded their debut, releasing it as Battle Hymns MMXI.

"We didn't go into this thinking we were going to improve Battle Hymns," says DeMaio. "What we did want to do was take advantage of the technology that allows one to make a record today with a lot more power and dynamic range than we were able to back then."

Indeed, the new versions of these songs aren't radical departures from the originals — the mix is slightly different, with more space for DeMaio's virtuosic bass lines and a few '80s-style vocal effects omitted, which lets Adams display the power he's retained (and at times increased) over 30 years of concerts.

There are two major differences between the original and rerecorded versions of Battle Hymns. Orson Welles' original narration on "Dark Avenger" is replaced by a newly recorded one by Christopher Lee. And the title track gained three whole minutes, bringing its total running time to nine minutes on the new CD.

That's merely a result of playing the song onstage for so many years, says DeMaio. "One of the nice things about making a record and being able to perform live is that you have the chance to interpret and reinterpret the songs over the course of years," he says. "And the little things you do sometimes yield interesting and great results."

That may be the first time the words "little things" have been used when talking about Manowar's music. The live show will be as epic as anything in metal, even if they're playing in front of just a few thousand very patient U.S. fans, rather than the 50,000-plus they typically draw in Germany.

Friday, March 11, 2011


Here's what's been up the last couple of weeks:

• March 2: a review of saxophonist Ralph Bowen's Power Play
• March 7: a review of Warriors and Cast the First Stone by hard bop revival group The Cookers
• March 8: a link to an excellent post on being a working musician, by trumpeter Jason Parker
• March 9: a review of Wynton Marsalis's Black Codes (From the Underground)
• March 11: a review of the Flow Trio (saxophonist Louie Belogenis, bassist Joe Morris and drummer Charles Downs) CD Set Theory: Live at the Stone


I haven't done of these since the end of January, so brace yourself. Note the Amazon links after each review; if anything intrigues you, please click through and help keep this blog flying.

Abysmal Dawn, Leveling the Plane of Existence (Amazon link)
Årabrot, Revenge (Amazon link)
Battlelore, Doombound (Amazon link)
Blood Ceremony, Living With the Ancients (Amazon link)
The Bronx Casket Co., AntiHero (Amazon link)
Darkest Hour, The Human Romance (Amazon link)
Mike DiRubbo, Chronos (Amazon link)
Dying Fetus, Killing On Adrenaline (Amazon link)
Dying Fetus, Grotesque Impalement (Amazon link)
Falkenbach, Tiurida (Amazon link)
The Human Abstract, Digital Veil (Amazon link)
I See Stars, The End of the World Party (Amazon link)
Nicolas Jaar, Space Is Only Noise (Amazon link)
Lazarus A.D., Black Rivers Flow (Amazon link)
Macabre, Grim Scary Tales (Amazon link)
Manowar, Battle Hymns MMXI (Amazon link)
Maruta, Forward Into Regression (Amazon link)
Noisear, Subvert the Dominant Paradigm (Amazon link)
Ulcerate, The Destroyers of All (Amazon link)
Volture, Shocking Its Prey (Amazon link)