the very best from independent music podcasting

3/20/2005

TSR #5 - combatwoundedveteran

combatwoundedveteranIf Jackson Pollock's seemingly random and violent paint splashes across a canvas can be art, why can't combatwoundedveteran's seemingly random and violent noise be music?

If you listened to just the first few minutes of episode #16 of The Tragically Nameless Podcast and then, as host Deniz Rudin suggested you might, turned it off, then the following message is for you:

Go back and listen again.

I realize that it can be hard to make your way through the pained screams, wailing guitar, and random drumbeats, but only if you try to listen to it the way you would listen to what most of us think of as a "song"...something with a regular beat and a melody. You can no more listen to cwv's music with that mindset than you can look at Pollock's paintings the same way you would look at the Mona Lisa. Look at Pollock's Convergence and tell me what the white splotch top center means. Now listen to a cwv track and tell me what the lyrics mean.

cwv's music is meant to be experienced (note that I did not say "enjoyed") on a much more primal level than you are probably used to. Their music is meant to induce entirely visceral responses (including confusion, pain, and nausea) rather than tickling the same part of your auditory cortex that Yanni does. They extend the visceral experience beyond their music to their album and tracks names. "Rocks in a Blender" and "Disembowelment at Room Temperature" aren't really meant to describe the music; they evoke odd and disorienting visual images that prepare your brain for the oncoming aural assault. Added to this is the unmistakably ghoulish album art provided by Steak Mtn. Illustration and Design. If cwv wants to complete the experience, they should include some sort of horrifying scratch-n-sniff with their next album.

Although the Pollock comparisons work for the way in which you have to experience cwv's sounds, the response is probably much more like seeing Damien Hirst's suspended and dissected animal cadavers for the first time. We're disturbed. We look away. We take another peek. We're still disturbed but we start feeling a growing fascination. The more we look, the more sickened we are, but the harder it is to look away. Any artist producing a work called "A Thousand Years: Two Adjoining Vitrines Containing a Severed Cow's Head and a Colony of Maggots and Flies Breeding and Dying by an Insect-O-Cutor" probably understands what cwv is trying to do with their music.

Not all of it is total noise. Some tracks, like "15 Minutes on a Forklift" from their 2002 album Duck Down for the Torso, have an undercutting bass line that pulls you through the song as you are assaulted by frontman Ponch's vocals. Listening to this track, I felt like I was doing one of those dream-sequence slow-motion runs away from the vocals, and the drums and bass were my soundtrack. "It's got essentially random pounding and screaming, but a bassline going keeping it connected and timely, hacking into my rhythm sense," Deniz explained to me patiently, "so I have a beat to move to along with the chaos." Leave it to an articulate teenager who truly loves and understands hardcore to explain it far better than I could.

Here's the good news: It's okay to listen to this music and decide you never want to hear it again. But yes, if you fancy yourself a music lover, you have to listen once. Good luck.

Note to readers: You can download episode 16 of The Tragically Nameless Podcast directly by clicking here.

3/14/2005

TSR #4 - Ten Ways From Sunday

Ten Ways From SundayOld school rock makes me happy. That would explain the smile that sprung onto my face as I listened to Insomnia Radio show #21 the other night.

Replacing the horrified expression I must have had at being forced to listen to The Thought Criminals’ Suicide Bomber for a second time, the smile came as I was treated to some excellent old school-style rock in the form of Gotta Get It by Vancouver band Ten Ways From Sunday. This track has the two major elements I look for in a rock track…strong vocals on top of a well-balanced bass and guitar combo. In fact, so impressed was I with the near-perfect interplay between guitar and bass in this track that I went to the band’s website looking to see how long the two had been playing together. I was guessing they’d had at least 3 or 4 years of being around each other to play off each other so intuitively, but the real explanation was even better. Dave (guitar) and Mike (bass) Young are brothers. The clean but un-wimpy drumming of Travis Robson sure doesn’t hurt the formula either.

Listening to the other tracks from the band’s newly-released and self-titled EP (available on their website) did not disappoint. A variety of styles are to be found, my personal favorites being hard-hitting tracks Gotta Get It and Nobody’s Business and, at the opposite end of the spectrum, rock ballads Without and Feel Awake.

Have you figured out by now that I like bands who can explore a variety of sounds while managing to keep their identity? This band impresses me not only by doing it, but by understanding how this has been a recipe for success in rock for more than a generation. “I think we like the fact that with this genre of music we aren’t constrained to a typical song structure and we’re free to experiment with whatever feels right,” says frontman Matt Layzell. “The appeal is in the flexibilty - you listen to a band like Led Zeppelin and they’ve got blues in one song, straight ahead rock in another, and jazz in the next.” Normally, any band comparing themselves to Zeppelin, even indirectly, would really piss me off. In their case, I’m making an exception.

In my opinion, any collection of indie rock is incomplete without these guys. While you’re waiting for their CD to arrive in the mail, at least you have their track on Insomnia Radio to listen to. If that isn’t enough, go buy a used copy of the NHL 2004 video game by EA Sports which features the song You’ve Been Around off their 2003 What I Wanted EP.

Mea maxima culpa

Sorry about the slightly prolonged absence, folks. I've been working on a number of projects, only some of them related to the Reader. Sometimes the house and the job that pays the mortgage for the house win the competition for time and attention.

Anyway, new editions of the Reader are on their way. I fully expect to have issue #4 out tonight (looking at a band from this week's Insomnia Radio) and will follow it up with issue #5 later this week, with an inside look at music you've heard on The Tragically Nameless Podcast.

3/07/2005

EXPANSION!!!!!

Due to popular demand, The Sleepless Reader is expanding! From now on, the Reader will feature stories about bands you hear not only on Insomnia Radio, but also In Over Your Head Radio (thanks Julien!) and The Tragically Nameless Podcast (thanks Deniz!).

Okay, I lied. It has nothing to do with popular demand. I just really love these podcasts and am thrilled at the chance to write about the wide variety of music they offer. Either way, you win. Shut up and read.

BUT BEFORE YOU DO...

Please support my three amigos by voting for them at Podcast Alley. You can vote simply by going to each of the links below and clicking on Vote Now!
Insomnia Radio
In Over Your Head Radio
The Tragically Nameless Podcast

3/02/2005

TSR #3 - Spiraling

Spiraling - Challenging Stage
These guys remind me of someone. Don’t they?

Squeeze is right below them in my iTunes artist list. Let me listen. Yeah, there are similarities. Kind of. Maybe not.

So who am I thinking of when I listen to them? Progresssive rock. Lots of energy. Loads of synthesizer. The Alan Parsons Project? Yes? ELO? Maybe all of those, a little. In fact, the influence of Yes is to be expected, considering that the band's keyboardist, Tom Brislin, toured with Yes in 2001. But still, there's another influence that I can't quite put my finger on. Could it be...

80’s arcade supergame Galaga?

THAT’S IT!!!

If you are a classic video game junkie like me, you'll recognize sounds from the game Galaga in "(I don't want to) Grow Up", from Spiraling's debut CD Transmitter. All of a sudden, the title of their EP, Challenging Stages, makes sense. There couldn't be a better parallel. For those of you who aren't Galaga-literate, the challenging stage is your chance to feel like top dog. It's all about you. Move around. Find the rhythm. Shoot everything in sight. Perfect score. You've never felt so good.

So that's it. Galaga and Spiraling tickle the same spot in my brain. No wonder I am hooked.

Much has already been written about this band, and most every article you happen across will draw parallels to other bands, including the ones I listed above. I have to say I prefer comparing Spiraling to Galaga, because none of the band comparisons really do these guys credit. Their sound is all their own, unique and fun, with great songwriting and very talented instrumental work. This is particularly true of drummer Paul Wells. I have seen at least two reviews likening him to Keith Moon of The Who. Frankly, I don't think it's a fair comparison. Wells is definitely the better of the two.

You can download some of Spiraling's tracks and purchase their CDs on the band's website. The Challenging Stage EP can also be obtained from the iTunes Music Store.

Spiraling can also be heard performing on Substitution Mass Confusion, a tribute to The Cars available on indie label Not Lame Records. Every day I hold my breath as the postman approaches, waiting for my copy to arrive. So far, no luck. Expect a review when this CD hits my stereo.

Afterword: Substitution Mass Confusion will be featured on Underground Radio this Saturday, March 5, at 10:06 pm. Central Floridians like me will be listening to UGR on Melbourne-based station AM 920 WMEL. Everyone else can catch their web simulcast. If you aren't already an Underground Radio listener, you will be after this show.

2/27/2005

Insomnia Radio - Spiraling out of control

SpiralingWell, my good friend Jason E. has outdone himself with today's release of a magnum, two-part, 110-minute-long, merlot-soaked Insomnia Radio bonanza. It was great to hear him having such a good time again. As always, the music was fantastic top to bottom. And how about that pork chop story? Riveting, huh? You simply cannot get that kind of entertainment on mainstream radio.

Seriously, best show ever, Jason. It's hard to believe you're not being paid for this stuff.

Luckily for me, Insomnia Radio #20 begins and ends with tracks by a band I have been wanting to write about for a while, and now I have a good reason to. Edition #3 of The Sleepless Reader will be devoted to Spiraling. Coming at you sometime between now and Wednesday, March 2. (For those of you placing bets, my money is on Wednesday.)

In the meantime, click on the graphic above to check out the band's website, where you can download a few of their tracks and purhase their CDs. You can also buy their Challenging Stage EP on the iTunes Music Store.

2/25/2005

A call for feedback

The Reader has been up and running for a few weeks now, and I would really like to know if anyone is reading it and, if you are, what comments or suggestions you have. I particularly want to hear your opinions about format, article length, and frequency of publication, but please don't feel you have to limit your comments to those topics. It doesn't matter if you agree or disagree with me, have praise or criticism for the Reader, whatever...I want to hear from you.

Please leave any comments you have by clicking on the comment link at the end of this post, or you can send me an email or contact me using Skype or AIM using the links in the sidebar. You can also go back and leave comments on the reviews of Lorenzo's Music and Gidgets Ga-Ga.

Jason is taking a well-deserved break, so there was no Insomnia Radio podcast last night. One way or another, though, there will be a new edition of the Sleepless Reader here on Tuesday. Stay tuned for more details!

2/22/2005

TSR #2 - Gidgets Ga-Ga

Gidgets Ga-Ga - Don't Boris
A quick note to music critic Katherine Raz…
HUH?

In her review of Gidgets Ga-Ga’s 2003 album Don’t Boris on chicagogigs.com, Raz makes this band out to be another pop cliché, a hackneyed failure of “stale and flat” riffs “echo[ing] the eternal jangle of another alternapoop commercial stuck somewhere in the FM frequencies between 94.7 and 101.1.”

Not surprisingly, she supports her statements using the most hackneyed, stale cliché of cultural criticism. It's easy...you try it. First, draw parallels between individual elements of the music/film/art you're reviewing to other popular (and by that implication, less respectable) music, films, or art. Then, proceed to use these parallels (which are, of course, a product of the critic’s mind and not the work itself) as reason to pan the work wholesale and ignore its intrinsic merits.

This isn’t to say that I want you to ignore Raz’s review. On the contrary, I respect much of what she has written about other bands, so I want you to read every word. Then I want you to listen to Gidgets Ga-Ga and see just how wrong she is about this band’s infectious brand of alternative pop.

There isn’t any question that Gidgets Ga-Ga’s sound shows definite, although hard to qualify, changes between their 2000 self-titled EP and Don’t Boris (both are available on the iTunes Music Store and from other sources listed on the band’s webpage). The overall tone of Don’t Boris is maybe a little brighter. The edge maybe a little softer. But whereas Raz considers this to be evidence of an impending sell-out, I hear it as a natural part of the band’s evolution. A baby step away from the British Invasion pop feel that permeated the Gidgets Ga-Ga EP hardly worries me that they’re trying to conduct a Hootie-and-the-Blowfish makeover. The songwriting is still good, the vocals and instrumentals are still fresh, and the production is still quality.

What someone might be left feeling, however, is the familiar sensation that change sucks, regardless of whether it is objectively for the better or for the worse. In a way, it is probably a little unfortunate that the band cut what I consider far and away to be their best track, Belmont, so early on. The quality of this song appears to be the one thing that Raz and I agree on, and it’s not hard to understand why someone might get nervous at any suggestion of a move away from this winning style.

Still, I know better than to want a band to stay in one place musically. It is that characteristic stasis of many "successful" bands that has driven me away from commercial radio and (thankfully) into the world of independently produced music. I want Gidgets Ga-Ga to continue exploring new ideas, new sounds, new songs.

Of course, Ms. Raz would agree with me that anything less would be the true sell-out. Wouldn't she?