On October 26 Brother Ali graced Santa Cruz with his presence downtown at The Catalyst. Homeboy Sandman opened, freestylin’ up a storm and bringing some serious energy to the room with his conscious lyrics. Brother Ali in my opinion is a true artist, making his music for the poeple and about the people, not the money. As he took the stage, everyone fell silent. His first words were a message, encouraging people to appreciate life, love who and where they are, and enjoy every second they can. Then the beat dropped and the live band began to play, complete with trombone, trumpet, drummer, guitarist and more. Every time a beat began you could feel the floor tremble as if an earthquake approached. His words served as a sermon to all who attended, telling stories of life, regret, hope and love. This was no show…it was a religious experience. Brother Ali is still on tour for his new album Mourning In America And Dreaming In Color, check out upcoming tour dates at www.rhymesayers.com/brotherali!
When it comes to going back to school, nothing is better than new music that keeps your walk to class up-beat and motivated. Tilly And The Wall’s new album Heavy Mood is filled with stomps and claps, making it the perfect anthem to pump up your stroll to class, as well as tug at your heart strings. Since their debut album Wild Like Children, they have evolved to encompass much more in their style. The heavy-folk-electronic sounds are accompanied by honest, genuine lyrics that emphasize love, friendship, and a power to the people attitude.
Although the entire album is phenomenal, some tracks from the album you definitely want to check out are:
Love Riot, Heavy Mood, Thicker Than Thieves (best BFF song ever), and Youth.
When Between the Buried and Me came to San Francisco for Summer Slaughter, I had the great fortune to sit down with Dan Briggs and Dustie Waring. Of course, one of the main things we discussed in detail was their newest addition to their diverse discography, The Parallax II: Future Sequence. We talked extensively about the new record, but one thing Dustie told me really stuck out to me; he seemed to genuinely think that it was their best musical venture they had ever created. Unfortunately, I very highly disagree with that statement.
1. Goodbye To Everything
2. Astral Body
3. Lay Your Ghosts To Rest
5. Extremophile Elite
7. The Black Box
10. Melting City
11. Silent Fight Parliament
12. Goodbye To Everything (Reprise)
Both musically and conceptually, TPII begins right where The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues left off. The only problem is that it’s start is a little too awkward and jerky. After the intro, “Goodbye to Everything”, we get a little build up that leads into “Astral Body”, but it never really feels or conveys like we’re going onto this awesome musical journey into space where we’ll proceed to have our brains made sweet sweet love to. Ultimately, “Astral Body” seems very out of place as the beginning track. Fortunately, it leads very smoothly right into the next track, “Lay Your Ghosts to Rest”, which is in itself a very solid song. It almost feels as if this should have been the beginning track. This is further perpetuated by the lyrics present towards the last minute or so of the track: “The end, starts now.” In fact, a good chunk of the album sounds like it shouldn’t be there at all. “Autumn” is just a filler track before the meaty “Extremophile Elite”, and “Parallax” doesn’t fundamentally serve a purpose besides some basic storytelling.
Of course, there are more than enough redeeming factors to make this a worthwhile listen. They’ve seemed to realize that their musical endeavors can get bogged down by their penchant for unnecessary wankery, which they have undertaken to fix this time around, with moderate success. While addressing those complaints, they haven’t forgotten what’s made them one of the biggest progressive metal acts around. There is still a ton of weirdness and craziness present in the album, such as the very “sitary” reference to last year’s EP, and the utterly soul crushing breakdown in “Telos”. “Bloom” is also an incredibly fun listen, if a little out of place.
While the first 45 minutes are a sensory overload (for better or worse), the last 30 minutes of the record display some mind boggling and questionable songwriting decisions. There is the occasional segment of exorbitant showoffiness mixed with some seemingly random riffage, but the big difference between TPII‘s examples of etravagance and their previous efforts is the lack of an ultimate climax (stop your snickering). Once I had finally traversed through the drudgery of their instrument work and reached the end of my journey throughout Colors and The Great Misdirect, I felt like I could put the record away, that there was a satisfying conclusion to the melodious struggle that I had just experienced. This was what defined my time with BTBAM: the breathtaking and exciting climaxes that I felt throughout each and every one of their albums. However, with TPII, I experienced no such climactic feeling. I still had a sense of moving forward even though I had conclusively reached the end of the groundwork that BTBAM had orchestrated for me. It all adds up to a very anticlimactic finish from what is an otherwise pleasant aural eargasm.
Overall, TPII is a solid outing from BTBAM, though one can’t help but get the feeling that more could have been accomplished here. BTBAM tried to do too much and not enough at the same time, and while their newest release indicates that they are indeed moving forward, it also suggests that they’ve lost a step or two in their songwriting prowess along the way. Still, it’s hard not to be hopeful for the future. If BTBAM can execute more or less what they’ve done in TPII without the occasional clumsiness and stumble, it’ll be incredibly difficult for any band to top what they can deliver.
FINAL SUPER ULTIMATE RATING:
(3.5 Brutalisks out of 5)
Tampa, Florida’s Merchandise don’t reinvent the wheel on this year’s Children of Desire. The wheel they’ve got is damn fine, though. Combining the synthetic beats of New Wave and krautrock with soaring guitars and vocals, they create something that feels both modern and familiar. Their songs make you feel nostalgic for memories you’ve never had. All this from a group of hardcore kids in the sunshine state.
The record opens with the brief “Thin Air”, a synth-filled ballad which creeps along, fading into the upbeat, song of the year-worthy “Time” (which you can listen to below). The lyrics cover classic themes of loneliness and getting older. “Time, you’ve bested me again/I keep trying but I can’t win/Tell me father where you’ve been/I’m alone but used to it,” vocalist Carson Cox croons over an infectious drum machine beat, while a mountaintop guitar riff swoops around the beat (in this metaphor, the guitar riff is a bird). Despite its repetitive structure, the song never wears out its welcome. In fact, its all-too-brief five minutes leaves you wanting more, and that more is brought by the following 11-minute opus “Become What You Are”. The first half of the song chugs along in a similar manner to “Time” – all big guitars and sparkling synths – but cuts out halfway through into a solitary guitar riff, which is followed by a fast-paced jam, complete with whooping synth noises and some big Kraftwerk vibes. It seems at this point, much like Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock before them, Merchandise can’t slow down, ramping up the speed yet again on the fourth track, aptly-titled “In Nightmare Room”. The melodies are darker and the beat more industrial, oozing reverb and skittering hi-hat. This frantic moment comes to a sudden close with the following track, a piano ballad titled, “Satellite”. Cox plays a sparse set of chords, joined slowly by (most likely synthetic) strings and horns, as well as echoing backing vocals. The record culminates in the eleven-minute slow jam “Roser Park”. A midtempo journey through mind of a man wearing a technicolor windbreaker, it sounds a bit like a Prince record slowed to a third of the speed and recorded underwater. It closes off the record in fitting fashion, a triumphant excursion into the 1980s of the future. It’s an incredible record from a band that keeps getting better.
You can get the album from Katorga Works (They have it up as a FREE DOWNLOAD, so no excuses) and you can listen to standout track “Time” below:
“Sure, sure…fersherrsure,” the boys of North Pacific String Band mumbled enthusiastically when asked to play some more tunes on my show, Pickin on the Porch with Auntie Em, a few weeks back.
The five-piece string band consists of Steven Stubblefield on mandolin and vocals, Jeff Wilson on banjo, Alex Bice on upright bass and vocals, Evan Penza on guitar and vocals, and Jan Purat on fiddle and vocals. All these boys live locally within Santa Cruz County and have played many houseshows, on-campus shows at the UC, and gigs at local music venues. This summer, they packed up and headed out to tour throughout Northern California and Oregon. When they came back to release their debut album “Steak & Eggs” on August 22, I asked them to come hang out on KZSC’s own bluegrass show.
In the times between being gratefully serenaded by the band in the studio, I asked a few questions about the recording & production process and the tour.
All thirteen original tracks were recorded live with two microphones in the Corralitos Grange Hall. This specific place was acceptable to bassist Alex after clapping his hands a bit and recognizing its “sweet wood tones.” And the central coast of California in general provides as North Pacific’s key source of inspiration–what they like to call “central coast ramblin’” with all its trees and ocean and big blue skies.
When I asked about their favorite show played while on tour, I remembered that the best gigs aren’t always planned. They all agreed on a scenic overlook at a truck stop near Manzanita, Oregon. The crowd’s energy was on cue; everyone was feeling NPSB’s impromptu busking. After seeing these boys play more than a few times, I can attest that a spontaneous, outdoor setting that revolves around nature’s beauty is precisely where they flourish most.
Of course, North Pacific String Band did not forget to mention the lasting relationships made and incredible musicianship witnessed at the Northwest String Summit festival put on by Yonder Mountain String Band in Oregon. One can only imagine the plethora of amazing stringy sounds heard that weekend in August. And get this–NPSB played music on top of the Further tour bus. Cool?! I’d say these boys have their priorities set straight.
Back in the air-room at KZSC, North Pacific played a few songs they worked on while on the road called “Goin’ to the West” and “Big South Skies.” Then they got down to their song “Murphy” (track 2 on “Steak & Eggs”) with more elongated notes and gritty, bluesy chops. They slowed it down to the point where it sounded like their instruments were talking to each other (which I’ve noticed these boys do a lot–they work together beautifully). They built up the tension little by little then picked it up again with some groovin’ guitar slaps, sweet harmonic fiddle/banjo duo, delicate mando chopping, and finished it off with Alex’s heavy bass punctuation.
Stevee, Jeff, Alex, Jan, and Evan have been playing together for a while, have had time to experience lasting memories, and are individually pretty damn funny characters themselves. North Pacific String Band incorporates a “prograssive” sound to their bluegrass–and sometimes jazzy–roots, making sure to give each member solo time to shine, while keeping a youthful humor that the audience utilizes in its own stomp and clap. Their sound is coherent, tight, and undeniably heartfelt; you can really hear the feeling in the melodies and accompanying harmonies.
Check out North Pacific String Band for more information, merch, and show dates at northpacificcompany.org!
Any Aesop Rock fans will be happy to hear that he has recently dropped a new album, Skelethon. This is the San Francisco-based rapper and producer’s sixth studio album and first self-produced project. Skelethon contains a multitude of playful and dark horror film-like beats that are accompanied by classic Aesop lyrics. Although the entire album is fantastic, there are a few dope tracks that stand out from the rest: Zero Dark Thirty, Tetra, Racing Stripes and don’t forget ZZZ Top. Random Fun Fact: Aesop Rock is also really into his cats. Grrrreat!