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Home > Reviews > What We're Watching, Listening To, & Reading > November — December 2011

 
             
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Angels & Airwaves — Love
Angels & Airwaves - Love
Genre:
Alternative Rock
Bottom
Line:

An atmospheric album assured to amuse angry alligators.

Musicianship: 3.0
Songwriting: 3.0
Production & Engineering: 4.0
Vibe: 4.0
Overall Rating: 3.5 Stars3.5

Angels and Airwaves has been Tom DeLong’s outlet for introspective expression and multimedia art projects for the last five years now. With captivating soundscapes that are comparable to U2 and a spacey rock n’ roll backbone akin to Pink Floyd, the band has been able to construct a sound of their own that is unique and easily recognizable. Their newest release, Love, a double-disk concept album with an accompanying movie (also called Love), is a solid addition to the group’s discography.

The band released disc One a year ago as a free download, a clever way to draw people into the release, and with the completion of disc Two and the associated film, they packaged it all together and released it commercially.

The concept of this album is the exploration of human consciousness, daily interactions, and how changing one’s perception of the world could change the world itself. This is quite the ambitious goal for a guy who was singing about fucking grandmothers just a few years ago, and the lyrics represent that to a certain extent.

There is undoubtedly a genuine message and vibe in Love that should be commended, but there are some lyrics that can transport you out of the gripping crescendos and think, “Really, Tom?” Some examples: “Please don’t look at life, look at me so sadly. Life shouldn’t hurt, doesn’t hurt so badly,” and “The ice is really cold, the streetlights really old” won’t be winning any literary awards. It’s difficult to overlook such lyrical simplicity when Tom said that the accompanying movie “had to be meditative, philosophical and cerebral.”

However, beyond the occasional lackluster lyric, the album is wonderfully written and produced. Songs such as “Epic Holiday,” “The Moon-Atomic (…Fragments and Fictions),” and “Saturday Love” entice the listener with engulfing theatrical synths and atmospheric blends of textural pads. Also, the drum work of Atom Willard (formerly of The Offspring and Social Distortion) is exceptional. His fills are great and never excessive, paving the way for smooth transitions.

When considering the guitar work on the album, it’s really impossible not to think of The Edge from U2, but hey, that’s not a terrible association by any means given that U2 has sold over 140 million records and have won 22 Grammys. The guitar tones are easily recognizable for their syncopated delay lines and chorus/flanger modulation sounds. The combinations of effects, Gibson semi-hollow guitars, and Mesa/Boogie Triple Rectifiers yield a very smooth and ambient tone that combine with the soaring synths like peanut butter and jelly. There aren’t any technically mind-blowing riffs, but that has never been what Angels and Airwaves are about. They’re about the atmosphere and vibe, which is spacey and cool with a touch of rock goodness, well achieved on this album.

Overall, Love is a solid addition to the bands discography. It’s difficult to release a 22-song double-disc album that stays intriguing the whole way through, but this comes close. The only setback is that the band never abandons their sound for any kind of sonic shift, which starts to get old after an hour.

As for the movie, which features the music of the album and was produced by the band, it was generally well received by critics and earned comparisons to Inception and Moon. The DVD of the movie is available on the band’s website.

— DM
 
Alice Cooper — Welcome 2 My Nightmare
Alice Cooper - Welcome 2 My Nightmare
Genre:
Hard Rock, Hair Band
Bottom
Line:

This nightmare is a dream-come-true.

Musicianship: 4.0
Songwriting: 4.0
Production & Engineering: 3.0
Vibe: 4.0
Overall Rating: 4 Stars 3.75

I will be the first to admit that while I call myself a lifelong Alice Cooper fan, I tuned out right after the 1980 release Flush the Fashion and didn’t tune back in until now! So how can I call this album Alice’s best release since the ‘70s? Well that’s simple — to the best of my knowledge, it is! If you are a fan of Alice’s ‘70s era concept albums like the original Welcome to My Nightmare or Go to Hell, this new release is nothing short of manna from heaven (or the other place!).

Bob Ezrin, who produced the original multi-platinum Welcome To My Nightmare in 1975 is back, as are former Alice Cooper sidemen Dennis Dunaway, Michael Bruce and Neal Smith. But wait, there’s more! Co-writers on various songs include the aforementioned Bob Ezrin, Dunaway, Bruce and Smith, Ke$ha, Buckcherry's Keith Nelson, Desmond Child, longtime collaborator Dick Wagner, current touring band member Chuck Garric, and film composer Jeremy Rubolino – phew!

It’s easy to go into the initial listening experience with a degree of skepticism for the simple fact that too many times the word “sequel” is synonymous with “epic failure.” And to be honest, I feared the latter to be true when I heard the dreaded (and deliberate) Auto-Tune effect on the opening track, “I Am Made of You!” But as it turns out, the song is quite good (if not a little odd for an album opener).

Things get cooking with the next track, “Caffeine,” which is classic Alice at his sneering best. Fans of old-school ballads such as “I Never Cry” or “Only Women Bleed” will absolutely love the album’s only true ballad, “Something To Remember Me By,” a song that Cooper himself has called the “prettiest song they have ever written.” But things don’t stay pretty for long, especially with songs the likes of “Disco Bloodbath Boogie Fever,” “I’ll Bite Your Face Off,” or “When Hell Comes Home,” the latter about an abusive father that gets his “come-uppance!” Daddy gets a “big surprise” indeed.

One of the biggest and most pleasant surprises the album has to offer is the Pop-Rock duet with Ke$ha. It’s pleasantly surprising because I don’t think very highly of her as a singer, but her style works exceptionally well here, and Alice doesn’t sound one bit out of place in a contemporary environment. In fact, one must give props to Cooper’s vocal delivery throughout the album. The man sounds just as good as he did back in the days of polyester pants and pork chop sideburns!

The amusing and twisted new Nightmare ends pleasantly and appropriately with the final track, “The Underture,” which is an orchestral piece that reprises themes and songs from both Nightmare albums.

So, no “Epic Failure” here. Alice has managed to bring back the old characters in the context of a brand new story, as well as remind us in his own sick, twisted and campy way, why we love him.

— JQ
 
Summer Believers Arctic Dreamers
Summer Believers Arctic Dreamers
Genre:
Alternative Rock, Indie Rock
Bottom
Line:

Dreamy alternative indie rock delivers on all fronts.

Musicianship: 3.5
Songwriting: 4.0
Production & Engineering: 3.5
Vibe: 4.0
Overall Rating: 4 Stars 3.75

Summer Believers Arctic Dreamers’ self-titled debut album offers a vast world of engulfing atmospheric soundscapes and soaring melodies that are sure to captivate first time listeners. The five-piece, New York based ambient indie outfit deliver an album that is undeniably addictive and will most likely remain in your CD player for weeks.

Upon opening the Summer Believers Arctic Dreamers sharply packaged CD, you will see the word “FEEL” spanning the width of CD booklet. This is exactly what the well-designed intention of the band was, and they deliver. Throughout the album’s twelve tracks you will indulge in emotionally compelling and sonically complex songwriting that is immediately reminiscent of the textural stylings of indie giant, Radiohead, and the naturalistic and melodic qualities that are akin to the folk band, Fleet Foxes, known for their lofty vocal harmonies that can send chills down your spine. Throw in a touch of ‘90s alternative rockers, Toad the Wet Sprocket — particularly the acoustic guitar playing, and you get a good idea of the sonic tapestry at work.

The album presents an impressive combination of dynamics and balance that are the results of thoughtful songwriting. Never at any point is there an overwhelming or unnecessary flood of any instrument or element. The guitar work of both Jeffery Hines, who is also the lead singer, and Harry Glennon, provide the instrumental driving force. Their creative and moving melodies, such as in the song, “All The Street Lights,” is sure to be stuck in your head for the rest of the day. The addition of subtle distortion towards the end of the song is a brilliant textural technique to provide just the right amount of contrasts with the elegant acoustic guitars, spacey keyboards, and Hines’ dreamy falsetto. “Empty Box” is another great example that features a solid gritty guitar solo in the bridge.

The musicianship on the album is very strong and consistent throughout, as appropriate as the dynamic qualities that make this such a joy to listen to. The musicianship paves the path for Hines’ vocals to take center stage and compliment each other wonderfully. This leads to the unique vibe of Summer Believers Arctic Dreamers that I believe will lead them to earn much recognition in the indie world.

I strongly urge that this album be listened to with eyes closed so that you can allow yourself to melt into their sonic world to gain a full perspective on their blend of instruments. Chris Hines, the keyboardist and backup vocalist, does a fantastic job of laying the atmospheric foundations that are the essence of the CD’s overall vibe.

The production and recording quality of the album is solid as well — nothing indie about it. Kudos to band member Chris Hines, who was also responsible for the engineering, mixing, and mastering. The generation of DUI musicians has produced some great music, and Summer Believers Arctic Dreamers are the latest installment.

Do yourself a favor and pick up this album to hear them convey their “dream of the moment when we can live with our eyes open.” Each album also includes a personalized card from the band. Our read, “Songs are memories that get a second chance to stimulate us and other.” I was indeed stimulated by this album, and you will be too.

— DM

[Editor's Note: This band features MusicPlayers.com drums reviewer, Chris Golinski! In a sneaky move on our part, our new intern, Daniel, was unaware of Chris's association with us when handed the CD for review. The rest of our editorial team like it, too, though it's a bit on the mellow side for some of our shred-minded staffers.]

 

 
Evanescence — Evanescence
Evanescence
Genre:
Symphonic Metal, Hard Rock
Bottom
Line:

Something to satisfy the patient Evanescence fan.

Musicianship: 2.5
Songwriting: 2.0
Production & Engineering: 4.0
Vibe: 3.0
Overall Rating: 3 Stars2.86

Evanescence has existed in this world of pummeling beauty since their first Grammy Award-winning album, Fallen, in 2003, and although the band has parted ways with guitarist and songwriter Ben Moody, who was largely responsible for that album’s success, they’re still delivering the Evanescence essentials fans have come to expect.

Singer Amy Lee’s angelic, soaring vocals carry this 12-song, self-tilted album through growling guitars and delicate piano that is sure to appeal to Evanescence’s already established fan base.  Songs such as “What You Want,” “My Heart is Broken,” and “The Other Side” highlight the band’s recognizable format that is on display to the point of being insistently repetitive.

The band breaks out of its comfort zone on the last track of the album, “Swimming Home,” which is a serene piano ballad with faint electronic drums that is an appealing setting for Lee’s voice to roam. It gives the album some dynamic aspect, but it’s just too little too late.

There is no question that Lee’s amazing voice is the driving force of Evanescence. It always has been and always will be. However, this album feels as if it has trapped her range within a predictable box of gothic pop rock. The album feels a bit too overproduced and strikes us like the band was trying harder to re-excite old fans than it was trying to gain new ones. The musicianship is familiar and typical — tight rhythms with heavy distortion and slightly dropped tuning, and doesn’t present anything that will leave listeners in awe. The lone guitar solo on “Made Of Stone” is great actually, but just when you think it’s building into an epic run the song cuts back into the chorus.

Evanescence will satisfy dedicated fans that have been patiently waiting the five years for a new release. It has all of the Evanescence trademarks in its dark atmosphere created by cinematic strings, heavy guitars, and Lee’s powerful vocals. If only it just wasn’t so damn formulaic.

— DM

 
 

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Transatlantic — More is Never Enough
Transatlantic - More is Never Enough
Genre:
Progressive Rock
Bottom
Line:

Three hours of concert footage wasn’t nearly enough, so they did it again!

Musicianship: 4.0
Songwriting: 3.5
Production & Engineering: 3.0
Vibe: 3.5
Overall Rating: 3.5 Stars3.5

Mike Portnoy may no longer be a member of the band Dream Theater, but if the video gods have their way, he’ll be in your face quite a lot this holiday season, and not just because of a Dream Theater concert DVD being reissued on Blu Ray.

Portnoy also happens to be a member of the prog rock supergroup Transatlantic, along with vocalist/keyboardist Neal Morse (ex-Spock’s Beard), bassist Pete Trewavas (Marillion), and guitarist/vocalist Roine Stolt (Flower Kings).

At the end of 2010, the band released the fantastic concert DVD, Whirlwind Tour 2010 — Live From Shepherd’s Bush (DVD review here), which featured over three hours of concert footage plus a ton of behind-the-scenes documentary stuff. Now one year later, the band has released a second concert DVD from the Whirlwind tour, and in case you didn’t get enough of them on the last DVD, More is Never Enough delivers yet another three-hour concert performance, this time shot in Tilburg, The Netherlands.

If you’re a fan of the band — as any true prog fan should be, this two-DVD set won’t disappoint. The musical performance is truly outstanding, and you’d be hard pressed to tell this live band apart from a studio recording, live adlibs and occasionally relaxed backing vocal harmonies not withstanding. The video work is just the stuff you want, with multi-camera angles that give you a great view into every band member’s performance.

The extra content is worth a good laugh. For everyone who ever wondered if virtuosos ever mess up, there is some truly horrible jamming going on in the bonus footage, and watching Mike Portnoy stage dive is almost as horrifying. Personally, I would have just put the extra video content up on YouTube, because the first concert DVD set is already outstanding. Regardless, this is great stuff that you’ll enjoy whether you’re an old fan or are just discovering this amazing group, though the 2010 DVD released is the slightly more polished performance of the two.

— SK

 
Neal Morse — Testimony 2: Live in Los Angeles
Neal Morse - Testimony 2: Live in Los Angeles
Genre:
Progressive Rock, Christian Rock
Bottom
Line:

Another monstrous output from the talented Mr. Morse.

Musicianship: 4.0
Songwriting: 3.5
Production & Engineering: 3.0
Vibe: 3.5
Overall Rating: 3.5 Stars3.5

Hello again, Mr. Portnoy! For those of you who haven’t been following the amazing prog rock output from Neal Morse in his solo, post-Spock’s Beard years (not to mention his role in the prog supergroup,Transatlantic), all you need to know is this: the Christian lyrical content might bother you, but the songwriting and musicianship is on that virtuoso plane some of us aspire to reach but know we fall a bit short. The other thing prog fans should know is that Mike Portnoy has been the drummer on virtually all of Neal’s recent recordings and live performances.

This past year saw Morse embark on a tour in support of Testimony 2 (CD review here), the completion of an autobiographical story he began years earlier on the first Testimony CD.

On the road accompanying Morse was an incredible eight-person band featuring players from his previous solo releases as well as a few newcomers to the lineup: drummer Mike Portnoy, bassist Randy George, and numerous multi-instrumentalists including Eric brenton, Rick Altizer, Mark Leniger, Nathan Girard, and Nathan Brenton.

Once again, we find Morse delivering a three-hour concert that is nothing short of fabulous, and it features music from both Testimony albums (the second one in its entirety), songs from our favorite of his solo releases, Lifeline, and the entire Sola Scriptura CD.

The band is truly outstanding, and we’ve often commented around our offices that Mike Portnoy drums at his best on Neal Morse and Transatlantic releases because his off-the-charts technique is applied in a more melodic and musical setting here. The guitar work among multiple players in Morse’s band is fantastic stuff, and his keyboard chops are of course remarkable.

Fun bonus footage includes Morse’s Spock’s Beard reunion at the High Voltage festival as well as plenty of documentary footage of the band preparing for and embarking on this incredible tour.

— SK

 
What We're
Watching & Reading
Stanton Moore — Groove Alchemy Book/DVD
Stanton Moore - Groove Alchemy
Subject:
Drumming Instruction
Bottom
Line:

An in-depth look into the past that lays the foundation for a musical future.

Overall Rating: 3.5 Stars

The focus of Groove Alchemy is funk/groove drumming, and Stanton feels that there are no better teachers to these areas of study than Clyde Stubblefield, John “Jabo” Starks (both from The James Brown Band), and Zigaboo Modeliste (The Meters). His enthusiasm for these heroes of his comes right off the screen. However, the intention of the program is not to merely demonstrate and discuss their famed grooves, but instead to attempt an examination of these drummers’ creative processes.

Doing so requires a look into the history of the James Brown drummers, which includes names like Nat Kendrick, Clayton Fillyau, Melvin Parker and James Brown himself. It is the amalgamation of these drummers’ styles that facilitated those of Clyde and Jabo. An equal amount of attention is paid to Zigaboo and the influence that Stanley Ratcliff had on him. All of these connections are made via juxtaposed demonstrations of grooves from particular songs and albums, all of which are provided with cover art on the screen. We found this to be fantastic, as it would appear that Stanton does not want to rob the viewer of first-hand experience to the original recordings.

With all of the discussions of ghost and grace notes, displaced backbeats, re-orchestrations, hi-hat openings and variations, dynamic approaches and the mixing of drumming styles, there are many conceptual areas that can be drawn from in this material. However, Stanton doesn’t stop there. Also included in the package are analyses of some of his other heroes including John Bonham, David Garabaldi, Mike Clark, Elvin Jones and Stewart Copeland. The really fascinating aspect of this is how Moore discusses and demonstrates that the inclusion of the aforementioned players is not arbitrary. For example, he argues that there are similarities in the playing approaches of Zigaboo and Bonham through the examination of either drummer’s first and second recordings (this was a real treat for us, being big John Bonham fans).

Two very notable demonstrations for us during the creativity sections were a double bass groove that floored us with its uniqueness and another section with seemingly endless reinterpretations of what was originally referred to as “The King Kong Beat.” During a demonstration of what Stanton refers to as “Power Clyde Grooves,” he begins to incorporate upbeat sixteenth notes on a twenty-six inch bass drum controlled by a remote bass drum pedal. He states that this is very much in the style of John Bonham. However, to further incorporate other influences to this groove, he adds his left foot to another remote bass drum pedal connected to his main twenty inch bass drum and then straddles that foot with the hi-hat pedal to mimic the bass drum patterns played by the Mardi Gras Indians. Coupling this with a funk-based hand pattern and we were introduced to a three pedal double bass drum groove we had never heard or seen before.

“The King Kong Beat,” a particular sticking pattern which found popularity with David Garabaldi, was later demoed to have had so many variations played throughout drumming history by drummers like Mike Clark, Steve Gadd, Joe Porcaro, Mel Lewis, Idris Muhammad, and with links to musical cultures from New Orleans and Haiti, that it was truly incredible to witness.

Though the Groove Alchemy package is split into two separate products (the book/mp3 disc and the DVD), the two work seamlessly together. On the one hand, the book comes with much more written material than could possibly be included on the DVD (more than six hundred examples to be exact). Also included are “minus” drum tracks and charts for the tunes included on the DVD. However, the DVD includes full performances of these songs, which incorporate groove concepts discussed specifically in the DVD. The cool part about this is that the video is put together in such a way that these musical examples are shown right after the respective idea, which keeps things organized and flowing.

Overall, one of, if not the, best features of this product is the casual, conversational attitude that Stanton conveys with each and every passing moment. He discusses how many of these ideas are things that he still works on to this day and that these are not easy things to execute. His nurturing encouragement is coupled with suggestions that practicing an instrument like the drum set is a cumulative process and that valuable ideas such as the ones discussed are things that must be internalized slowly and revisited over and over again. Like the city of New Orleans, Moore charismatically invites his viewers to indulge themselves in his experiences so as to educate them about the past and provide them with something from which they can draw a future voice in their playing.
 
— CG

 
 
   
             
             
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