Posts Tagged ‘rock music blog’

I have been thinking a lot about metal lately. And not just in the “OMG Tony Kakko is so hot (loud shriek followed by giggle)!” kind of way, but in a more academic way. Ask most musicologists or “serious” musicians and they will scoff at the thought of metal being important. My university, for example, has a huge music department. They teach instruments I have never heard of. They have classes in every minute subgenera known to man, but heavy metal is no where in sight. I am not sure what makes dancehall more significant in their minds than metal, but time and time again metal is marginalized by the serious music community.

I don’t care to get into a long discussion about why people’s excuses for writing-off metal suck. That is another discussion altogether and one that I am personally bored of. In actual fact I don’t really want to talk about metal in terms of music, but rather in terms of a cultural movement. That is not to say that the music itself is not significant. It is. On a personal level metal is the soundtrack to my life (with the occasional foray into other stuff, I mean nothing can replace Shakira when you want to get in some good hip shimmies). Plus the music is central to the Heavy Metal culture. Yet, music is just sound waves after all and its importance lies not so much in what we hear but what we get from it.

According to sociologist Deena Weinstein metal has persisted longer than most genres of rock music because of the growth of the metal community and its “subculture of alienation.” While I do agree that metal has bread a somewhat exclusive community, I would argue that of all musical fringe genres metal is probably the least exclusionary and it is for that reason that it has persisted longer than most genres of rock. metal-heads are defined by their interaction with the music and music scene. While fashion and specific personas have a roll in the metal community they are not as central as they are in the punk, hip-hop or goth communities. With metal as long as you show you are truly devoted to the music you are legit. The trends that come along with the music are ever-changing and honestly not that significant. Outsiders often associate specific characteristics with metal-heads but anyone who has ever been to a metal concert can vouch for the fact that these stereotypes are largely untrue. At every metal concert I have been to the typical wardrobe of the audience is jeans (and not ripped ones) and a T-shirt. Run into one of these people on the street and you would probably never guess what music was pulsating through their iPod earbuds. Waiting in line outside the concert venue people are laid back, friendly and happy to discuss the band’s newest single, upcoming concerts and other music news. It is only when the lights go down, the band comes out and the music starts playing that people’s inner metal-head surfaces.

Metal is an extremely energetic, empowering genre. Despite all the doom and gloom associated with it, it truly does make people happy. In talking about heavy metal in his book “Fargo Rock City” Chuck Klosterman says, “since the mood of the music tends to be more persuasive than the actual lyrics- and since the words to most rock songs are almost impossible to understand- kids are forced to interpret heavy metal any way they can.” Later on in the book he says, “what music “means” is almost completely dependent on the people who sell it and on the people who buy it, not on the people who make it.” While many people, the musicians especially, would call his theory crazy, I think it is completely true. In 1968 French literary critic Roland Barthes wrote an essay entitled “Death of the Author.” His argument is that literature (and this can be applied to all art) has many different layers and interpretations. The author’s interpretation is just one idea and it is no more correct than anyone else’s interpretation. Barthes ideas are by no means radical. The Yale School of deconstructionist critics have similar views towards literature. If this is so, and I believe it is, on a large scale metal is of no more or less importance than any other cultural form. To an individual though, metal can be the world. As they say, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.

At five feet tall, with blond hair and an insatiable appetite for accessorizing I look like the last person one would expect to be a Metalhead. Yet, when you look through my iPod it tells a very different story. People often see a disconnect between my musical preferences and me. The thing is, the disconnect does not lie between me and my 14.60 G of music, but rather between reality and perception.

People hear metal and they automatically think death and blackness and yelling and evil. Admittedly, that is what a lot of heavy metal is. Black metal bands prefer screaming to singing and death metal bands enjoy morbidly themed lyrics. Fortunately the reality is, a lot of metal is so much more.

Gothic metal and melodic death metal for example, tend to have soft, melodic vocals and hauntingly beautiful lyrics. Bands such as Within Temptation and Lunatica sing emotional ballads of enchantment, love and tragedy.

Power metal has clean vocals, fast guitar solos, brilliant keyboardists and is so much fun. Tony Kakko of Sonata Arctica gets audience members at his concerts to belt out various animal noises during his onstage renditions of “Old MacDonald had a Farm.” The band Battlelore’s songs have a single consistent theme: The Lord of the Rings. And when discussing power metal it is impossible to skip over Helloween and their wacky track “Heavy Metal Hamsters.”

Metal is also known for having some really obscure sub-genres. For a Genre of music so intent on not subscribing to labels, some bands sure know how to pigeonhole themselves. There is Viking metal, troll metal and folk metal. These odd categories can usually be fit into some of the more classic subgenres of metal, but when a band seems content to describe themselves as “True Scottish Pirate Metal,” why take that away from them?

Some of the greatest metal bands borrow sounds from completely unrelated genres. Nightwish’s original singer was a trained opera vocalist. Many fans thought the blend of opera and power metal where what defined the band. They were furious when Nightwish gave Tarja the axe. Finntroll mixes black metal with Finnish polka, called the humppa. And no, they don’t sing in Finnish. Apparently Swedish sounds more trollish… One of my new favorite bands, The Diablo Swing Orchestra mixes progressive metal with swing music. Israeli band Karma Noir blends gothic metal with opera, rap core, electronic and Oriental music.

What I am trying to say is, labels are for grocery stores, not for music. Metal is an extremely diverse genre, so diverse that some of my anti-metal friends have been known to admit to liking songs playing in my car without ever expecting to hear that those songs are actually metal. Before writing off this powerful and eclectic mix of artists, try listening to some of them. You may be surprised with the results.

The first thing I wondered when I got my hand on a copy of “Chinese Democracy”, the new album by Guns N Roses, seventeen years in the making was: Are there still any GNR fans left? Undoubtedly there are but come on, were people really counting each day of the last seventeen years in eager anticipation of the new album? More and more, the endless hype seems to be an invention of a media starved for the resurrection of GNR who are true Rock heroes. We see this happen more and more when a band who was well known, decides to put out an album after some time. Usually it is heralded as a great comeback. Look at AC/DC with “Black Ice” or a few years ago with Jane’s Addiction’s triumphant return with “Strays”. The funniest aspect of the comeback is when it comes after the band suffers a tumultuous breakup. What we learn from those reconciliations is that as much as the band hates one another there is one thing that they are willing to set their animosity aside for, money.
With “Chinese Democracy” Axel Rose presents the hopefully triumphant return of GNR. Considering the fact that Rose is the only founding member left, this is much more a one man show than its predecessor, 1991’s “Use Your Illusion I and II”. Something interesting to note; when those albums came out in 91, much of the music industries core demographic today were not even born. All they know about GNR they learned on VH1 and VH1 Classic. So the album was released to a world and industry that has largely passed GNR by.
What I always liked about the band back in their heyday was that they truly lived the Rock life of excess. They played with reckless abandon, and lived that way. Their career path was notoriously chaotic, full of drugs and sex. It got to the point where the band was being overshadowed by its own image which made the music irrelevant. The dual release of “Use Your Illusion I and II” showed that the band still had the skill but by that point it was pretty much all the Axel Rose show. All of the excess had been channeled into the music and it was a successful record, but one that ended up tearing the band apart.
Enter Axel Rose seventeen years later to give us the next installment in the saga of the band. On the first listen, the album is not bad. It lacks the energy and immediacy that previous releases had, but it shows Rose on the same path he set for himself all those years ago. There are no epics like “November Rain” here, but the production is top notch. I would hope that after seventeen years of tinkering, the album would be tight. It is and perhaps in some way that is the problem.
Though the album shows Axel’s age and sounds dated, it is kind of nice to hear some legitimate guitar solos in the music. The art of the solo is something that is lacking in the soulless age of Rock that we live in. It also has hints of orchestra hiding behind many of the songs, another aspect lost in an era where many bands employ DJs to provide a similar background.
What is perhaps the most interesting fact about the album is that while the reviews have been steady and largely positive, the album is not moving well. I did a quick search of several media outlets and found that the two worst reviews given to the album were from Pitchfork Media (an indie publication) and PopMatters (you can guess what their focus is). In other words, what we are seeing here is the party lines being drawn across the industry. Now more than ever softer music is king ala the Jonas Brothers, Katy Perry, and the eagerly anticipated (not by me of course) return of Britney Spears. This album is far too heavy for those people. On the other side of the spectrum the album is not heavy enough for true Metal Heads. Then there are the Punks, this album is far too bombastic for them. So what we have is a band trying to reestablish itself in an industry where all the rules have changed.
I realize that I have written very little about the music itself, but I find the social and cultural aspects of this release far more interesting. Let me put it this way. If you are already a fan of the band you will like it. If not, you won’t listen to it. I find it hard to believe that this album will find its way into a new audience rather than strengthen the love of the existing one.

I was 14 when Linkin Parks debut album Hybrid Theory was released. This was probably one of the biggest turning points in my musical listening career, from listening to Oasis, Pulp and Blur to this completely new sound of music. A whole generation was exposed to something different, it wasn’t Metal it wasn’t Punk and it definitely was not Rap. They were one of the first bands that I saw live, an obsession with nu-metal had begun. Although I was a little too young for Korn’s third album Follow the Leader which came out two years earlier it was in my CD collection soon enough.

This album by Korn is probably considered by many the album that began the nu-metal craze. The album topped the charts in the States, Canada and Australia. After its release however many considered Korn to have ‘sold out’ and that they had apparently ‘lost touch’ with there metal roots and abandoned everyone and thing that tried to help them get to where they were before.

A platform had been set, everyone was going at it trying combine a bit of hip hop with a bit of metal to see what they would get, putting backwards letters in the band name, replacing all s’s with zeds, baggy shorts and backwards baseball caps, whether anyone wanted it or not Nu Metal had arrived.

Through the beginning of the 2000’s, more bands broke out with hit albums like Papa Roach whose major label debut Infest became a platinum hit. Papa Roach, combining a heavy form of rock with spoken ‘rapped lyrics’ in the verses. Other bands, like P.O.D. who showed a slightly different side of nu-metal. Throwing bits of reggae into the mix had some form of mainstream success with their album ‘Satellite’, which included huge hits of the time such as ‘Alive’ and ‘Youth of a Nation’. By 2001 nu-metal reached its peak as record labels signed many nu-metal bands. Though new bands were breaking out, established bands that started the genre had massive successful hit albums like Staind’s Break the Cycle.

Being a nu-metal fan at its height was considered ‘cool’ by most, in the UK (I can’t speak for America or elsewhere as I wasn’t there) you could not go anywhere without seeing teenagers (and some adults) in Limp Bizkit hoodies or Linkin Park tour t-shirts, the small island of Britain had gone crazy for it. I will never forget the day at school (hand on heart) when one of my English teachers could be seen walking down the corridor in a Korn hoodie. What was going on?

One band that will never be forgotten is Slipknot, with there debut release in 1999 Slipknot. This album was hugely successful; it is still the bands best selling album to date. In a review of the album by Allmusic they said “You thought Limp Bizkit was hard? They’re The Osmonds. These guys are something else entirely. And it’s pretty impressive.” However, with all the praise of the album and its going platinum in both the UK and the States, it came with a staggering amount of controversy. The band fans were accused of all sorts of allegations against them, which were said to all boil down to the music that they were listening to.

Unfortunately most of the bands today now have a marred image, probably one of the most shocking things that could have happened to nu-metal was Woodstock ’99, with bands such as Korn and Limp Bizkit playing on the bill, violence began, or at least was blamed on these bands. Their image tarnished before the genre had a foot out the door.

With the majority of these late 90’s early 2000 bands moving away from the rap side of their music and using a more melodic style, is this end of nu metal as we know it, or is it the start of something that can take over the world again. As DJ Lethal from Limp Bizkit said “It’s just time [for a change]…….. Some bands out there — I’m not going to say who — they just milked the hip-hop-rock-beats-scratching thing. So it’s done. It’s time to move on.”

It was written somewhere (I have the piece but can’t remember where I found it) ”At the same time, the tremendous popularity of nu-metal acts like Korn and Limp Bizkit means kids are getting into heavier music again and thus might harbor a new interest in some of the longer-lived bands on the metal circuit.”, well it certainly did that for me and many of my friends, even though the genre didn’t live on it brought rock music to a whole new audience.

With a new album release out and due from Papa Roach, P.O.D, Slipknot and Saliva all we can do is wait and see what lies ahead for what was once nu metal
Rock On
-Oscar Russell

Oh no, not me. I have been here all along. Manning the decks of “Electronic Voyage” and bringing you the best in Electronic Music from across the decades. Who I want to welcome back is a band that has much to do with my early development as a Metalhead, and just reinstated themselves as an awesome force in music.
Of course I am speaking about Metallica. Before that however, let’s take a look back into the past of the music that made Heavy Metal popular, and then took it to new and unforeseen heights. Their debut in 1981, wow that seems so long ago, was a blistering (I think I am going to be using that word a lot) manic expression of force and naïve rage. Just listen to the opening riff from “Hit the Lights” the album tore open the seams of Rock, and left an entire era of bands trying to recapture the magic of that album while Metallica forged ahead one landmark album after another. What set the music apart from anything at the time is that while speedy and angry, the music was focused, the musicianship second to none, and the song structure unparalleled. Sometimes in the early Metallica recordings the best riffs come at the bridge of the second chorus, Look no further than the intricate noodling of “Whiplash,” and the deep crunch of “No Remorse.” What was perhaps so shocking about the debut is the maturities of the players, who were at the time, barely out of their teens.
Then everything changed. Well kind of. While the rest of the Heavy Metal community were trying to make their own “Kill Em All” Metallica transcended the form with “Ride the Lightning.” It was fast heavy and mean to be sure but there was something more. From the almost Baroque opening to “Fight Fire with Fire” here was a band transformed. On every track they seemed to try something new and succeed. Intertwined guitar solos, complex time signatures, and my favorite song of all the thudding greatness that is “For Whom the Bell Tolls” it was a second revolution for a band that was starting to sell out stadiums without Top 40 support. The question then became, could it be topped? The answer was yes.
“Master of Puppets” took everything the band learned about themselves and the world from the previous album and did not push the envelope so much as refine the idea. The album got noticed by critics outside of the scene and the album sold three million copies with no radio support at all. The songs were longer and more complex, but the aggression and speed remained constant. Here was a band amassing a stunning body of work, and rocketing to the top, doing things on their own terms and in their own way. The music moves up and down slowing at times and braking out at others. Not a note is misplaced, and the obsessive attention to every detail shows in the perfect way the songs are crafted, but this time they work even better as a cohesive unit.
Then everything changed. Cliff Burton, one of the greatest Heavy Metal bassists of all time, was killed when their bus flipped off the road in Sweden. The band grieved in the way they knew how, by falling into bottomless wells of alcohol. One binge drinking night ended with vocalist James Hetfield standing in the middle of the street screaming “Cliff…Cliff…Where are you?”
The band was not done. Not by a long shot. They regrouped, recruited Jason Newstead from Flotsam & Jetsam (an extremely underrated group) and went back into the studio. When they emerged, they had created “And Justice for All” the bleakest, most complex work of their catalogue. The only question mark on the record is the production. Jason Newstead’s bass is turned so far down as to be barely audible, and that makes the record sound tinny. I have always wondered how it would sound remastered. It still remains as my favorite of their albums.
Then they hit the mainstream. Producer Bob Rock helped them with “Metallica” their fifth album and one that has gone platinum ten times. He wanted the band to relax, loosen the reigns and start having fun. It worked. The record is great, but a much more downtempo affair then their previous releases. Then came “Load” and “Reload” and the band seemed to resemble little of the brilliant angsters of yore. Now they were a midtempo Hard Rock band at best. It was something that seemed destined to happen, because it often does with bands as they reach the downward spiral of their careers. I even think that “S&M” live with the San Fransisco Symphony was ill conceived. The music often existed in the same time but not the same dimension as each other. It was done with skill to be sure but it sounded forced and a little silly. “Garage Inc.” a collection of new and old covers was fun, but again it seemed like the band had run out of steam. For me what happened next proved that beyond a doubt.
Remember Napster? Remember Metallica taking them down? I don’t blame them because it is their right, it just seemed so corporate of a band that single handedly pulled themselves out of the underground by sheer force of will and talent. Watching Lars Ulrich testify before a Senate Grand Jury; look I love the band but I cannot help getting a little sick every time I hear him speak. Even now I am all pissy, and it is about to get worse.
Do not listen to anything you hear which trys to salvage “St. Anger.” It is garbage, pure and simple. Unfocused, and poorly produced it sounded like fifth graders in their garage. I know about the infighting, and the substance abuse. All of the drama. I know all the stories, they do not matter. What matters is that the album was a dismal representation of their skill and could very well have been the final step in the destruction of the band. Maybe in some respects it should have been. They could have taken a look at themselves and the inexcusable piece of …too much hate, I have to relax.
Because this is not a normal band. This is Metallica, and as soon as I heard Bob Rock was out and Rick Rubin was in as producer I was intrigued. Rick Rubin, was the guru of Trash in the 80s working for a long time with Slayer, and also creating Def Jam recordings with Russell Simmons. The guy knows his stuff, and his Metal. I was dare I say excited, but nervous, very nervous. Then Michael played me the first single off of the album. “The Day that Never comes” is ok, perfect for radio but just ok. It sounded a lot like Load or Reload, but I had definitely heard worse. The song was a little all over the place too. James Hetfield’s vocals border on Country, and the drums still had that damn tinnyness.
Then I got my hands on the album (never mind how) and listened. They are back. The heroes have done it again. The songs blister (yes that word again) at a rapid pace sounding like a nice Thrash throwback but with a definite feeling of the now, the moment at hand. The edge is back the crunch is back and while it cannot be “Master of Puppets” it is a refreshing return to form for a band that taught us how to rock then forgot how to do it themselves. The credit goes to the band yes, but also to Rick Rubin who showed the boys they still had it in them. “Death Magnetic” rocks plain and simple, and makes me happy to still be a fan of Metallica.

To truly be a Rockstar you have to live like one. Being a famous artist is a career that comes with among other things a lot of money, so the real rockers back up their lyrics by leading appropriately hedonistic lifestyles. Whether you buy and crash Ferarri’s like Leif Garrett, or snort your height in lines of coke ala Motley Crue, if you are a famous artist you are guilty of some hedonism and here is the proof: Paul McCartney has been quoted as saying “Somebody said to me,’ But the Beatles were anti-materialistic.’ That’s a huge myth. John and I literally used to sit down and say, ‘Now, let’s write a swimming pool.” If The Beatles did it, everyone has. Rockstars need to make people believe that they are gods performing on stage and creating an almost magical level of energy in the crowd, One of the best ways to do that is to spend money like crazy showing us normies just how pathetic our lives truly are.

It starts with possessions, the biggest of which is the house. I have seen most, if not all the episodes of Cribs and it always make me laugh at how no one on the show ever shows off their library. There is never a lack of ridiculous things that people put in their homes. The most amusing is the 52 room mansion in Connecticut owned by rapper 50 Cent. Aside from the movie theater and the recording studio (which for an artist is not such a bad idea) the house’s former owner was none other than, you guessed it, Mike Tyson. If there is a better crazy celebrity to take lessons on high-living from I would love to know. The house also has no less than 4 kitchens and a heli-pad. The really disappointing artists are celebrities like Sully Erna of Godsmack, and David Draiman of Disturbed. These two guys are the frontmen for two of the biggest bands in the world, and their homes do not reflect that. Sully’s Boston pad is nice, tastefully decorated save for the swords hung up all over the living room. The same is true of Draiman’s LA residence. The house itself is big but tame looking like a dark Martha Stewart decorated it. Where is the excess? These are just big houses. Brad and Angelina just threw down 70 million on an estate in France. Let’s go rockers pick up the pace.

Surely cars are a great way to cash in all that platinum album bonus money. 50 Cent once again sets the bar with his collection of rare Ferraris he never drives. You will argue with me that he is a Rapper not a Rocker. Fair enough, then let’s look at some rocker rides and see what they have. Sully Erna has a couple of Mercedes and motorcycles, and Travis Barker of Blink 182 is obsessed with Cadillacs. Sebastian Bach, of Skid Row has a couple of classic Camaros, and Robbie William’s has a Bentley. Whoop de do. Where are the insane customized cars you see at the houses of Ja Rule and Nelly? Where is the overindulgence that Rock music has come to symbolize?

There was a time when Rock music was the epitome of excess. Jim Morrison’s decadent drug fueled ways, Mick Jagger’s rumors of sexual experimentation with David Bowie. It almost seems like the last truly larger than life Rock band was Guns N Roses. Known for trashing hotels and rampant drug use, they truly embodied the lifestyle of the music they created. A famous story involving them took place in Montreal in 1991. The band had been on tour with Metallica and Faith no More in one of the biggest tours in history. The night of the Montreal show James Hetfield of Metallica was seriously burned in a pyrotechnics accident and the band was forced to cancel. G’N’R could have come on played a three hour set and been heroes. This is not their way. About forty minutes into the concert Axel Rose decided he had had enough and walked off stage taking the band with him. Then he sat backstage smoking and drinking champagne while complaining about how his throat was bothering him and he could not sing. While that was going on the angry crowd was rioting, overturning cop cars, and burning the city.

It is this attitude that is almost a necessity in Rock. The solid band Papa Roach, has a very charismatic frontman named Jacoby Shaddix, (great name I know) who off stage is known as one of the most engaging and friendly people around. I am not saying that Rockstars should be assholes, but part of their mystique is the attitude that by performing nightly in front of thousands of people they are somehow better than them. Especially now when we worship our celebrities like never before one would think that they would despise the people that put them on that pedestal.

Times have changed. In the past people used to camp out at Elvis Pressly’s Graceland ranch, hoping for a glimpse of their idol. Elvis usually obliged riding his horses down to chat with people, and even sending his cooks down with hot chocolate in the winter. These days that would not happen, but with the internet and the breakdown of the record label’s stranglehold over the consumer, artists are having to make themselves more available to grassroots marketing campaigns. This brings Rockers ever closer to the fans who not only put them up on the pedestal of fame, but are ever more responsible for that fame. For example, My Chemical Romance started out giving out free tracks on Myspace, and Pure Volume, the word of mouth and devotion won from those early fans guided them to a platinum record and a major label contract.

That they live larger than we can imagine is a given, but today’s artists are a new breed devoted to their art and to their fans. Sully Erna has a Godsmack quilt made by their fans as a gift when his daughter was born. Hollywood actors are on the screen, as far away from us as possible pretending to be other people. If we are taken on an emotional journey with them it is not a real connection because at the end of the day they are only acting. With our Rockers the connection is in person and shared on a communal emotional level. Even the most hardened dead to the world Rockstar feels that connection on stage, unless its Axel Rose, that dude hates everyone.

Studies show that our generation is losing its hearing at a rapid pace. In my parent’s day when you went to a concert you blew your ears out and took a few days off to rest up and get that wicked buzz out. Now with the proliferation of car stereos and mp3 players the only time we rest our ears is when we sleep. We listen to music on the way to the concerts, blast our ears while there, and listen to music all the way home. The constant drowning of our eardrums in a sea of loud music is killing our ears. It also does something else. By living in our own self-induced musical world, we shut ourselves off to the sounds of the world around us, and by that we close ourselves to a type of music that is constant and ever changing.
Avant-garde composer John Cage was fascinated by sound as music. He talked about how when he listened to music he heard people talking. The music spoke about relationships life and emotions. When he listened to the traffic outside his apartment on 6th Avenue in Manhattan, he did not have the feeling that people were talking, rather he felt as though sound was acting. Cage was fascinated by the activity of sound. Sounds in the City for example, got longer and shorter, softer and louder, higher and lower, all with the ebb and flow of a regular day. According to Cage our problem is that we look at music in terms of time instead of in terms of space. The experience of music to us is to take it internally and make it a part of our emotional experiences. Sound on the other hand is taken externally dismissed as nonsense. But take the complexities of listening to your favorite Pop record, and compare that to a few minutes standing at a bus stop and listening to your surroundings. The Pop music is structural and confined by the space it inhabits. The Bus Stop is the sound of structure. Busses people wind weather, and not confined by a simple three minute construction. Sound is alive, and if you will join me I will show how it breathes.
We will not pretend that what we hear is meant to be something else. For example, a glass shattering on concrete will be just that. The crack of a baseball bat will be just as we describe it. In our constant need to escape the toil and monotony of our daily lives, we forget just how beautiful and real life actually is. There is no substitute for the power and splendor of a thunderstorm. It is almost symphonic in movement. The distant rumbling starts miles away, as a gentle rain taps out a steady backbeat. The rumbling gets nearer and nearer growing louder and louder until it claps overhead booming echoes of sound across the horizon. Then as soon as we grow comfortable with its steady current, it fades almost imperceptibly at first blowing in whatever direction the wind takes it. The truth is that in the previous description I made an important mistake that illustrates Cage’s understanding of sound. By describing sounds in musical terms we remain confined by those conventions. The hardest part is to remove all those ideas from our description and take them in as they are.
Let us take another part of nature and see if we cannot experience its sounds for what they are not for what we project them to be. The sounds of a forest are both beautiful and haunting. A river flows gently through the scenery, while birds and insects chirp at random hidden from our eyes by the rich foliage. I remember being on a camping trip in the Allegheny Foothills, I woke up in the morning to the gentle sound of a breeze rustling through the trees. That was all it was, a soothing hiss as the leaves shifted and blew about. People talk about the wind whispering but they are missing the point. Whispering is talking, and we are trying to free ourselves from terms of communication.
To experience sound for what it is take off your headphones and listen. A breeze blows steadily creating a blowing whooshing sound. A man on a scooter buzzes by, I can hear the engine grow louder and fade as he passes. In the distance the steady drone of the highway mixes with children in a sandbox, their shrill laughter in direct opposition to the soothing rush of faraway cars. Somewhere a crane rattles as it lifts its load. I cannot see it. Another car passes and slows its brakes squeak slightly. Some sounds of the outside world are barely perceptible, and yet they undoubtedly add to the remarkable confluence of noise that is the sounds of our lives. A truck has pulled up to the fruit stand downstairs. I hear the electric hum of the loading platform descend, as men greet each other and prepare to unload the day’s delivery. This is not emotive, and it is not telling a story. It is a picture of being, an indelible link between life and the people who wish to experience it.
There is new technology making the experience of sound even more enriching. Holophonic Sound claims offers stunning 3d sounds without a mess of complicated machinery. It is produced by recording the wave pattern generated when the original recorded signal is combined with an inaudible digital reference signal. The sounds that come from that are so realistic it is almost scary. This technology however only works on a smaller scale i.e. headphones, because of the way the sound needs to reach the ear. Combining this technology with the sounds of life and the world around us it is almost possible to have an experience of walking on the beach from the comfort of your home. The problem is that if these sounds and this technology can replace the actual experience then we have missed the point completely.

Where could you go? What could you do if you were a musician trying to make Rock music in the late 70’s and early 80s? Punk’s strangle-hold on the business was so total that it seemed almost impossible to break from the current trends or even try to do something different. Ironic for a style of music that was initially created in order to return Rock into the hands of a less discerning more accepting crowd. If you were Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner, you changed your name to a verb present tense, united with Andy Summers and Stuart Copland and created something unique. Something New Wave. The term initially was interchangeable with Punk used by fans and artists alike. It was not until the 80s when Punk’s grip loosened did the term come to mean something more. In the Post- Punk, era there were two types of music. Post-Punk referred to bands like the Talking Heads and Joy Division, bands whose music was avant-garde and challenging but still informed by the ideals of Punk. On the other hand you had bands more interested in exploring Pop Music and there you have New Wave, the subject for this column.
Bursting onto the scene with the super smash Roxanne in 1978, The Police, were one of the first bands to add the title New Wave to their jittery, yet tight brand of Rock. By infusing the music with a heavy dose of Reggae, and some Jazzy tendencies, they were able to fill the simple rhythms of Punk music with a more accessible edge. It was this sound, polished, well written and a little nerdy, that defined the early movement. Another of the early giants of the form was Mr. Nerd himself, Elvis Costello. Hiding his intelligence behind his early Punk compositions, Costello was able to instill his music with a myriad of themes and ideas making his music as intelligent as his lyrics. It is told of his early career that he dumbed down his music in order to get a recording contract, because Punk Rockers were being handed record deals like Skittles. Once he secured that, he was free to expand his music. It is a similar case with The Police, who were far more talented musically than the average Punk.
After the break between New Wave’s modern take on Pop and the more arty Post-Punk, New Wave was adopted as the Genre du jour by the fledgling MTV, and its fortunes began to rise. The influence of music videos made the genre super popular. Some of the early creative standouts of music videos were Aha’s classic “Take on Me”, “Rio” by Duran Duran, and the epic “West End Girls” by the Pet Shop Boys. It was the right place for the new slick sound, and there was seemingly no end to the countless one hit wonders that were trotted out week after week, year after year. Let me give you a short run down. Flock of Seagulls Kajagoogoo When in Rome, these bands were hurled into the limelight one after another, each band catapulted to success by climbing on the backs of those that came before them. In that respect, it is the producers who perhaps deserve the credit for making the sounds so crisp and polished. That is what I love about the music. It is so perfectly formed, crisp, concise, without a note out of place.
The peak of the genre and its style came, on what is my favorite TV show of all time, Miami Vice. Helmed by Michael Mann, the show centered around two Vice cops in Miami. One of the show’s innovations was the obligatory musical interludes that came in each episode, the most famous of which was set to “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins. It took the music to new moody heights and found a mainstream way in which to bring the music to new fans. In addition, the pastel suits and sockless white shoes became staples of the New Wave style, not matter how cheesy they seem today.
By the middle of the 80s it wasn’t just new acts popping up all over the place that were trying to make their way in the style, older acts were launching big comebacks by coopting the approach in their own ways. Perhaps the most famous is the song “Dancing in the Dark” by Bruce Springsteen. Yes, it is off “Born in the USA” arguably one of the best Rock albums of all time, but the song’s synthesizer driven throb is more of a nod to New Wave than a throwback to The Boss’s early music. Another artist who fully adopted the style for a while was Rod Stewart, whose 1981 release “Tonight I’m yours “ was not only a full on New Wave affair, but one of Stewart’s last great recordings. It featured the amazing “Young Turks” that sort of sounds like Dire Straits on New Wave, although Stewarts voice is unmistakable. Even Fleetwood Mac got in on the fun with the dark, yet palatable “Little Lies” a dreamy track from their 1987 release “Tango in the Night.” Even Stevie Nick’s classic “Edge of Seventeen” has elements of New Wave in the driving guitar and keyboards.
New Wave music is awesome, and as a fan of Electronic music it was a vital step in the development of the form. Depeche Mode is the first Pop band made entirely with keyboards, and hints of Trance music can be found in the amazing album “Welcome to the Pleasuredome” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. These days with the way the craze for all things retro has possessed us, music from the 80s has roared back into vogue as though it was too cool for us to really enjoy back then. It is, within that framework, that artists are making music that sound as though it was plucked straight from the80s, although the technology used makes is sound vibrant and current. It was a watershed moment for a music industry recovering from Punk and looking towards the future.
What I am listening to:
Mackintosh Braun: The Sound – A lush album with dreamy sounds and stirring harmonies, this band hailing from Oregon wanted to create an album that was meant to be listened to all the way through. They have succeeded with style

I have been listening to Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s Score for “The Dark Knight” for about two days now, and I it has been blowing my mind on the same level as the movie. From the spare dark overtones of Batman’s themes, to the rich pastoral melody of Harvey Dent’s music, and on to the droning whine of the violins as the Joker enters, it is truly a wondrous composition. I have been a fan of soundtracks and scores for a long time but this is the first time in a while, well since Danny Elfman’s Spiderman score, that I have truly been moved. When I was a kid growing up in the suburbs of Cleveland Ohio, every Monday night at the dinner table we would listen to “Music of Science Fiction & Fantasy” with Mark on Cleveland state University’s radio station. He would and still does play the classics and modern themes from all across moviedom. Every week I would call in to request something by Danny Elfman, because at the time he was my favorite composer.
Before we delve into some of the best composers and scores we should discuss the genre. Soundtracks are the incidental music that keeps a movie moving along. It keeps pace with the narrative while adding important emotional shading to the story. It is because of that many scores and composers are lost, their compositions serving their purpose, without making a singular impact of its own. At the same time there are Soundtracks, so i ndividual in their appeal, they eclipse the movie itself. One that comes to mind is the soundtrack for the less than moving flick, “Last Action Hero”. Ok the score by Michael Kamen was competent, but the soundtrack was stellar. Featuring tracks by Alice in Chains Anthrax and Megadeth among others, it was a Grunge Rocker’s dream. In many cases the mix-tape Soundtrack becomes iconic in its own right. Like for the Gen X classic “Singles” whose soundtrack was a watershed moment for the Grunge era. I don’t want to focus on those types of soundtracks. Here is a great example. Toto’s (yes the guys that sang Africa) score for David Lynch’s 1984 film “Dune”, a big screen adaptation of the classic Frank Herbet novel. The band was able to wade through the hot mess that was the movie, and create something melodic and futuristic without overshadowing the material.
I tried to look up a list of some of the best soundtracks of all time to include here just for fun, but most of the ones I found were stupid with nary a mention of one of the greatest composers of our time, Vangelis. Born Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou (say that ten times fast) in Greece, his most known work is the score for “Chariots of Fire”. I think his gifts are fully realized was the score for Ridley Scott’s epic and my vote for the best movie EVER “Blade Runner”. In this score, Vangelis was able to add to the stark bleak atmosphere or Ridley Scott’s uncompromising view of the future. When he produced the album of the score twelve years later, snips of dialogue were looped in and the music became not only an important detail of a stunning movie, but an iconic piece of Electronic Music in its own right. One standout track is “Memories of Green”, a beautiful Ambient piece in the background of which we can hear the late night sounds of a futuristic city.
One of the greatest moments in the realm of Soundtracks and movies is a famous scene from “The Empire Strikes Back”. Darth Vader, standing on a catwalk on the bridge of his Star Destroyer, whirls around and walks off to the strains of John William’s classic “Imperial March.” The regally dark nature of the melody combined with the stature of Darth Vader is truly one of the great moments in film. The music swirls around in a sing able melody not stealing any of Vader’s power, but working with it. The opposite is true in another famous scene from Star Wars, this time “Episode IV: A New Hope”. Inside the Cantina at Mos Eisley Spaceport, the band plays another memorable melody. What is interesting about that is the fact that when you listen closely the music seems to be little more than a Jazz standard, yet the heavy reliance on the Steel Pan Drum makes it sound strange and alien. The problem is that the scene is so heavy handed musically and visually that for a moment we forget about the story and get lost.
Then there is Danny Elfman. Starting out working on “Back To School” he formed the band Oingo Boingo before going out on his own as a composer. His theme for Tim Burton’s 1989 film Batman is still one of the most recognizable melodies of our time, right up there with Koji Kondo’s theme for Super Mario Brothers. The important aspect of his work is how grand the style is while keeping the melodies tight and manic, sprawling out before us as Spiderman swings through the city. There is a strange quality in his work that lends itself well to the Superhero Movie genre. It is a telling statistic then that he has scored all but two of Tim Burton’s films.
The last composer I want to focus on is my favorite, the late Jerry Goldsmith. Known for his dark and chilling score for the horror film “The Omen” which won him an Oscar, Goldsmith resented having won for a horror movie. His work is soft and flowing preferring to pulse below the action rather than usurp it. His score for 1979’s “Alien”, (hmm another Ridley Scott Film?) is a barren atonal affair, that mimics the setting and feel of the movie perfectly. In my opinion his most inspiring work came from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, yes a pretty crummy movie, but with a few inspired moments. When Captain Kirk Mr. Spock and Bones the Doctor set out on foot to explore a planet inside of a black hole, Goldsmith’s “A Busy Man” brings us along with its lush themes and ethereal strings. It is a bright spot in an ultimately dismal movie.
Some of the best soundtracks come from video games. I am not talking about current games. I am talking about 8-bit Nintendo themes, that lull you into a relative trance as you sit there for hours playing. The inescapable fact that these themes have become part of our modern melodic lexicon is by the way they have been re-imagined. The Mario theme is the most obvious, but the theme from “The Legend of Zelda” is just as important. There are even bands like “The Minibosses” who play rock versions of Nintendo themes. I personally love the 8-bit sound because of the way that the composers were limited technologically. Despite that they were able to make music that has transcended the games becoming something much greater. It is not the purpose of Soundtracks to do this, but it is important to note when a Score is able to become greater than the sum of its parts. It gets problematic when that comes at the expense of the film or the game. “The Dark Knight” illustrates this perfectly in the way it complements the film, and stands alone as a beautiful piece of music.

With summer just beginning, and the prospect of lazy days stretching endlessly in front of us, we need a soundtrack that reflects this relaxed state. All the Rock is great, and as festival season wears on fans will have their fill of Heavy Metal and Rock N Roll. The summer is when everyone is on tour; when you find yourself worn out from mosh-pits and headbanging, I will provide some musical suggestions and guidelines to get you through some of the main summer events. I remember a few years ago going to the Warped Tour with my friends. I am not a big Punk fan, but I do appreciate bits and pieces here and there. I was going to see 311 only to find that they were not performing in Cleveland, which really upset me. Bad Religion and the Vandals were there though so that was cool. It was hot and water, as you can imagine, was grossly overpriced and people were just using sinks in the bathroom to fill whatever receptacles they had. One of the funniest moments of the day came when Pennywise finished their set. Rollins Band, a Hardcore Punk act fronted by the always entertaining Henry Rollins, was slated to go on next. All my friends wisely informed me that I needed to get out of the mosh pit because Rollins Band fans were a bunch of fatigue/army boot wearing lunatics. The band went up, the militia went wild and we watched from the stands, only to realize that our boy Josh was still in the fray. When we finally found him he had been stomped pretty bad, but was feeling good. It was on the ride home that we truly appreciated the come down from the day’s overwhelming Punk faire by listening to some good old Motown.
One of the main events in the summer schedule is the barbeque. Usually spent with family or friends the music serves more as a background to the conversations and general hanging out. This is not to say that music is not an essential piece of the barbeque atmosphere. It is a standard blend of Funk music and Classic Rock, that when mixed with a sprinkle of Bob Marley sets the tone perfectly. The main reason is that these tunes are familiar enough that people can just digest them with ease as the party wears on. If mixed well, however, your party can have an interesting dynamic. Sure everyone loves the Beatles (at least they should), but if you place “Twist and Shout” appropriately within the mix of songs people will get out of their seats and start grooving to the music. The barbeque is about familiarity and friendship, and so the music should create an atmosphere to reflect that.
Another of Summers’ pleasures is the trip to the beach, and the time spent alone with your headphones, reading or catching some rays. My favorite music for this time is anything with a lush dreamy sound. Certainly any music with a beautiful flow that mirrors the ebb and flow of the tide sets the mood. However, when on the beach there is time to enjoy an album to its fullest, and not rush through your music shuffling at will. One wonderful album is “Beach Samba” by Astrud Gilberto. A smooth-voiced Jazz singer from Brazil, Astrud’s sound is soft Bossa Nova that drifts almost to Pop. Bossa Nova is a Brazilian style of music that combines Latin beats with Jazz sounds, and was very popular in the 60s. The true gem of this recording is the lush relaxed music orchestrated artfully by Ron Carter (Bass for Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, among others) and Toots Thielemans (guitar and harmonica). Another band, Everything But the Girl, got their start as a Jazz/Pop act only to find success in the thin line between Pop and Techno. Their 1996 release “Walking Wounded” took the themes of Trip-Hop, and other styles of experimental Electronica, and placed them in a tight concise Pop framework. (Trip-Hop was a name given to a style of Electronic music that incorporates down-tempo beats with Soul and Funk sounds.) Though more than a decade old, the music still sounds fresh and bright, and the beats provide a perfect kick for the beach. For my final summer beach album, I recommend a lovely album by the British singer/songwriter Rachel Goswell. Her debut “Waves are Universal” is a laid back British Folk album that contains elements of Alternative and Country.
The final event we will be touching on is the ever present road trip. When driving with friends the similar rules as the barbeque apply, although the musical choice is the driver’s prerogative. Just don’t try to give a serious listen to anything with people in the car. It is when alone that the road trip takes on a personal quality that is perfect for a more challenging listen. I have made the solo trip from my hometown Cleveland (Ohio) to New York many times when I was in University. Each time I would stock up on music that would get me through the almost 8 hour drive. A classic album all around, “Ritual de lo Habitual” by Jane’s Addiction starts at a fevered pitch with “Stop!”. From there the album builds in energy until the ten minute epic “Three Days”, a sort of Alternative nod to Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter”. In following Hard Rock’s Heavy Metal conclusion, Iced Earth’s “The Dark Saga” is a concept album loosely based on Todd MacFarlaine’s famous comic book “Spawn.” The tempo is a bit slower than usual but the band is as heavy as ever, banging out amazing tracks like “The Hunter” and “I Died for You.” Finally, a stunning listen from start to finish and a perfect soundtrack for the road is “In Absentia” by The Porcupine Tree. Led by Steven Wilson, who is well known for his Blackfield project with Aviv Gefen, The Porcupine Tree is a Progressive Rock group from the U.K. The album is one of the most accessible of their career and still spans the musical gamut, from Heavy Metal, to Pop, to dreamy cuts that are almost indefinable. All around, this album keeps the listener interested with its wide range which makes it perfect for the often unchanging, steady drone of the U.S. Highway system.
Most people who know me know that I am a huge fan of Electronic Music in all its forms. There are many albums by myriad acts that fit excellently into these categories, but I try my best to keep column this as Rock oriented as I can. Michael once remarked that he thought it was funny how I always manage a few Electronic references each week. I cannot help but support that which I am passionate about, and as the summer heat bears down upon me my emotions begin to ignite. I hope that my musical choices can help you do the same.
What I am listening to: Aaliyah – Self Titled
Produced by Timbaland before his handiwork was seen on every production in the land, Aaliyah’s best album was also her swan song. It is a terrific blend of R&B and Soul that showed Aaliyah maturing into a more adult artist before her life was tragically cut short.