Thursday, February 6, 2020


The Grand Trine -Color You

Image result for color you-- the grand trineColor You, an alt-rock unit residing in the sparky interiors of Los Angeles , awards its new album the heady appellation The Grand TrineStepping beyond the title’s intent to perplex and bewilder, we learn through a swift Google search that the phrase indicates “ …a planetary pattern composed of three or more planets in a chart located at the vertices of an imaginary equilateral triangle. Usually all three planets are in the same element (fire, earth, air or water)…”
 The attraction to the phrase and the concept it allusively describes is understandable, as it’s been an unwritten rule since rock and roll became abbreviated to the more serious brevity of “rock” in the Sixties and young bands , taking after the cowpoke existentialism of Dylan and the elegant gentrification of the Beatles’ music and lyric approaches, need to conceptualize on a more ambitious scale: esoteric thematics, abstruse lyrics, bits of incidental noise and anything else that saves the 4/4 from being mere dance music decorated with moon/June cliches. As with most bands trying to get across something more between-the-lines than curb-side specific, the Color You’s idea to suggest something metaphysical is afoot separate from what’s happening in the street is a tad pretentious , and the band’s decision to include what sounds like spoken word snippets to bookend the start and finish of this album underscores the impulse to seem profound .

It’s an empty gesture, and unneeded, but we’re fortunate that as alt-rockers fashioning themselves after power chord savants like the Pixies, Nirvana or Modest Mouse at their most engaged, Color You has the flair,the panache, the raining megaton guitar grit to move the reluctant listener quickly past their objections and land them in a hook-heavy stream of fine, riffing teenage angst, confusion, ire and irony. 

There are no bold innovations in the form here, no musical adventures geared to dismantle and reconstruct rock and roll as we know, and that is an aspect that is the band’s strength. Members Ben Ross (vocals/guitar), Brian Han (bass/vocals), Drew Stutz (drums) and Theo Eckhardt (guitar/vocals), above all else, put together first-rate rockers, propulsive guitar riffage that propels, sweeps along and drapes over the material , major , minor and diminished keys highlighted as the materials’ simple but effective demand, with a solid thump and push of bass and busy drums making this wall of sound tilt, swerve and rock in turns of emphasis that are unexpected and wonderful. Superb lead vocals from Ben Ross make the difference as well, the array of approaches being convincingly servile, nervous, raging, or crooning romantic as need be, often times in the same song.

Ross’s singing provides a focal point through this album's sweetly distorted chord variations, apply a tangibly human expression to the constant grind of a hard rock tirelessly replicating the dynamics of a world that will not stop because you’re confused, angry, hurt, or even in love to the bone. Ross is the voice of a young man making sense of his life through whatever paces daily life can put him through. Down to it, Color You is credible mainstream rock, unpretentious, riveting, varied, packing a wallop. I am hoping their penchant to package themselves as deep thinkers pass. For rock and roll, whatever the pedigree, it’s best to keep it real than to make it profound.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Banking on The Beatles

Banking on The Beatles

The marketing of the Beatles continues with undelayed urgency, with the advent of Beatles Rock Band video game, and now the remastering of many Fab Four recordings in a flashy, bulky, expensive package. I cannot see myself having my history sold to me yet again; my memories ought not be what breaks the bank account.I was born in 1952 and was , more or less, a perfect wwitness to the Beatle phenomenon as it happened. From here , I'll the dulling recollection of what they meant to me and my generation and will not wax on their dually over rated and under appreciated qualities--few popular bands have ever been subject to the kind of exaggerated elevations and damnations than these guys have--and instead cut to the quick; the subject of the Beatles bores me stiff. We gone through an endless series of repackagings of their music since their 1970, none of which has made their great tunes sound any greater, nor made their slightest songs gain any more credibility. I refuse to live up to Tommy Lee Jones' groaning admission in Men In Black ; I will not buy the White Album songs again, no matter how crisp and clear the new versions are promised to be. I'm fine with my copies of Yesterday and Today, Revolver, The White Album and Abbey Road ; this was their finest string of albums, brimming with new melodies, wonderfully elliptical lyrics and wholesale genius in the vocals. To get these albums again would make me a mere fetishists, not a fan. But a fan I remain, and in the time since the rise of the Beatles and my tour of duty as a working music critic for several Southern California publications, my tastes have changed. Not "matured", not "improved" or "gotten more sophisticated", just changed. I remain a rock and roll fan, a Beatle fan, an encourager of loud guitars and passion, but the point of being interested in arts , as the cliche goes, is to broaden one's world, not to continually spend cash money on refurbished tunes in an attempt to relive what is past. I don't want to shut the door on the past, of course. I'm just annoyed that someone my age is expected to go out and buy again the music that I already own.

Exile on Main Street


“Happy", included on the Rolling Stones’ album Exile on Main Street is one of their great songs, and Keith Richards does a superb job singing. Richards, in fact, is very much the credible singer, having a hoarse, whispering croak of a voice that marries his blues and country influences. There is a measure of palpable emotion as the guitarist’s haggard voice stretches for a note that might not be his to have something like the battered working stiff who finds new reserves of inspiration when inspiration makes him forget the weight of his day and declare what there is in his life that’s worth standing up for. This is a singer whose talents would have blended to excellent effect with the rustic tones of the Bands' Levon Helm and Richard Manual. I've been listening to Exile on Main Street lately, and it's amazing how this albums just seems to deepen with the years: it's one of those great releases whose basic roots-music emphasis places it in the considerable company such the early Band records or Moby Grape

It's a tough call because both Exile and The White Album have strengths that are unique. Preference, though, falls with The Beatles, since it's an unusually strong double disc of songs, featuring Lennon, McCartney and Harrison at their zenith. The variety and quality clenches it. Exile has the appeal of mood, atmosphere, the ennui that the bands’ world-weariness had caught up with them, to which the response is an inspired re-investigation of their roots in American southern music. I believe that this as honest a music Jagger and Richards have ever made together (or as honest as Jagger has ever been), but whether the two discs are real emotion or skilled posing, the tone and mood of the album can't be denied. It is their last great album. I'd say Electric Ladyland needs to be in the top five best double-albums ever released (rock/pop division) for the consistent genius in all areas, start to finish: Hendrix was hitting what might have been a long stride as a major songwriter, his guitar work had never been more inventive and searing than it was here, and the production is near-flawless, with the guitars and such adding something of a grand religiosity to the proceedings

The point , though compressed, isn't mysterious, nor coded in arcane jargon: after the wide ranging and successful experimentation with sundry styles that reached a slick , professional peak with Sticky Fingers, Exile was a re-examination of some of the forms that were the basis of their own music, namely rhythm and blues, straight up blues, gospel, country. It's all there, I do believe. The mix was muddy, not clear, creating what one perceptive writer called an air of "audio noir", and the band sounded tired but fully invigorated by some spark of energy, some keen sense of mission that made their grooves and beats sound fateful. The additional layer on Exiles' re-imagining of the foundations of the bands' sounds was the experience and cogency they applied to the subject matter, the splintery, inane and unchanging truths that fairly inform the lyrics.

Beggar’s Banquet, the album which was their best expression of how drugs and other excesses might lead to worldly wisdom (or at least an artful cynicism) was l in line with the general hedonism that was the hallmark of the hippie-movement, wherein one trusted the resilience of youth to bring them back from the edge they danced very close to: gross consumption and gratification of ones' senses was the by-word, and Banquet handily defined the period, albeit its dark, mean-humored side. Exile had the sound of a band whose high-living had caught up with them. This feeling, this sound, is a large part of what distinguishes this album from the albums that came before it. You might try actually listening to the album.” Torn and Frayed", "Stop Breaking Down", "Sweet Virginia", "Ventilator Blues", "Shine a Light", "Soul Survivor", even the bouncy and rocking "Happy" all, in their own manner, reflect a sense of pausing, getting a breath, contemplating the ache at the end of long cycle of over-extension. These are not the same kinds of songs as earlier ones, ala "Satisfaction”,” Get off My Cloud", "Play With Fire", "Stupid Girl" or "Street Fighting' Man", potent rock and roll numbers that match a younger, more impatient and more arrogant psychology: the songs on Exile work so well precisely because the mood of the band was more somber, reflective, wizened with wear. Jagger and Richards were at the peak of their craft on this set, and the songs have a tangible moodiness, a real set of expressions that add up to a more cautious, and increasingly wised-up world view that tacitly, and explicitly comprehends the fleeting quality of mortal life.

It’s not far to suggest that this album is the best album regarding the extended effect of decadence on a bohemian community , along with Lou Reed’s blisteringly and cluster phobic Berlin. The production of Berlin fits the ideas: the characters are decadent, the city and the period were decadent over all, and the production is, I think, suitable for the terrain Reed covers here. A big, thick wall-of-sound, Phil Spector filtered through Bertolt Brecht. Reed was writing about his own popular culture indirectly in the way he wrote of his fictional wastrels on Berlin, but the music and lyrics are etched from what he's done and witnessed. The production works, and this album is an underrated masterpiece from the Seventies.

being depressed is not art

The title of Vince Grant’s recent EP pretty much gives the game away as to what the album contains, the story of an earnest singer-songwriter trying not merely to make his self-admitted malady the basis of a transcendent art, but also, more crucially, critically, desperately, to actually deal with a condition that continues to bedevil him. The depression-as-subject matter is a slippery slope in any event, an easily romanticized condition that the less awareness among readers, listeners, and lovers of theater and film consider a prerequisite to being an artist worth considering.This is an idiotic presumption to start with, but it’s one that’s filtered through our culture for centuries, even in the critical discussions that are ostensibly intended to uncover, though, close readings, how a poem, a novel, a play works as art; the thinking, however, has largely focused on what issues the poet has, on the depth of his or her depression, and how the perennial melancholy inspired reams of beautiful downcast poems and lyrics. It was for the longest while that one couldn’t read a biography or critical essay on the works of confessional poets along the lines of Sylvia Plath, John Berryman, or Robert Lowell without the obsession with their depression outweighing the merits of the works as writing: while one couldn’t rightly exclude a mental disorder in regards to discussing what informed a writer’s tone and worldview, the consensus seemed to be that such an artist, confessing details of a life that is slipping increasingly into grey areas that are harder to emerge from as time goes by, achieves success only if they perish, commit suicide, due to the increasing isolation depression places them in. 

This is morbid thinking and a form of self-fulfilling the prophecy that sees the artist less as someone creating art than as a victim vainly thrashing about with words and motion as a means to cure themselves of that which curses them daily.Vince Grant, a seasoned singer-songwriter who has long contended with depression, doesn’t entertain the notion that he will eventually conquer, transcend or “cure” himself of his depression with his music. In his publicity materials for My Depression is Always Trying to Kill Me, he’s quoted as saying “…I write songs to cope. I’d like to say I write songs to heal, but that may be asking too much.” Any alcoholic and addict who’s down a “fearless and thorough inventory” of themselves with the aim of finding a means to deal with a damning condition they’re powerless over, Grant, in his music, understands not just the bedrock permanence of depression the emotionally crushing, seldom relenting feeling of feeling that an invisible but none the less impenetrable wall surrounds him, separating him from the world, but that dealing with it is something the sufferer does one day at a time.The album is a story of sensations, the cold gloom at the bottom of the dark hole he finds himself, the recalling of dreams, lovers, friends, opportunities taken from him from him by his depression and his attempts at self-medicating with booze and drugs, the attempt to rise from the mire and move toward the sunlight, to re-enter the world of sound and motion, to become part of the great parade of in the life he has, to be a citizen, just for today. 

It’s one step forward, another step, forward, a step back, a stumble, arising after the fall, a step forward, another step, one day at a time.One can be cynical about the simplicity of a philosophy that is likely culled from twelve-step programs, but what we have with Grant’s songs is a pervasive honesty that doesn’t add the element of “the Hollywood Ending” that assures the listener that hope wins overall; that would be dishonest to Grant’s truth. He does not deny the pain his condition creates for him, he remembers vividly that what he copes with is still present and can take him out if he grows lax in his efforts to keep himself about the waves that threaten to overcome him.The paradox of this review is that Grant’s honesty and unpretentious testimonial about his struggles and small victories is an effort that impresses and inspires me to a great degree; I cannot say, though, that I enjoyed the songs as much I wanted to. Coached in the anthemic style of U2, REM, and Manic Street Preachers and Counting Crows, Grant’s material, musically, is more a collection of borrowed gestures, lacking a distinguishing sound of his. For songcraft, he repeats the worst habit of early U2, which was to dispense with ingenious hooks and the niceties of beginnings, middles, and ends and instead rely on layering three or four chord guitar strums with little discernible movement ; acoustic guitar, a persistent bass figure, the addition of a brash electric guitar, additional percussion, the music in volume, diminishing in volume, the volume rising again, a chorus repeated until the whole arrangement, such as it is, fades. Grant’s earnestness comes through, his ragged vocals convey the humanity of his struggle against the darkness that follows him, but that is not enough to make up for the feeling of things borrowed without that crucial spark of reinventing the riffs that have influenced him.

Miles Davis casts a spell

Image result for sorcerer miles davis
Sorcerer --Miles Davis (Sony)
Sorcerer, the 1967 album from Miles Davis, has been in my CD player the last couple of days and, to pun badly, I've been more than a little entranced by how amazingly well these improvisers,all of whom are distinct and potentially dominating in ensemble efforts, work so cohesively as a group.There's a perfect kind of modal combustion here, with Miles Davis contrasting his spare and fairly angular sense of improvisation with the formidable resourcefulness of this album's principal  ensemble, Wayne Shorter (saxophone), Herbie Hancock (piano), Ron Carter (double bass) and Tony Williams (drums). The music is a unusual  combination of  the unforced and the aggressive, resisting the temptation to either go slack in their pace or stray toward the harsh vicissitudes of anguished, strident experimentation,  a pulsing course of off-accented rhythms, musical swaths of varying tones and colors, and ingenious interlacing between primary soloist Davis, Shorter and Hancock. Ensemble exploration at its peak, it seems, as the three of them actively listen to and anticipate each other's ideas during the respective solo spots. This is what the great Davis groups did, find unexamined nuance and moods in the musical tones. 

 Davis and Shorter in particular offer up a few exquisite moments of dialogue as they answer, query, interrogate and respond to musical propositions put forth by the other. As great as the previous occupant in the saxophone chair had been, the redoubtable and effusively  brilliant John Coltrane, Shorter was a better fit for Davis' ideas for the ensemble at the time,  1967, when this disc was recorded His solos are less galvanic than Coltrane's were, more composed, filled with lithe and delicate phrases , wonderfully respondent to the rhythms and pulse Williams and Carter provided and the full range of ideas underscores and textures the sound with.Davis is at his best, lyrical, on the edge of atonal, bracing when needed, the tone of his notes isolated and longing.