Thursday, September 2, 2010

Little Bits of Musical Discovery

I'll be the first person to rail against the notion put forth that the more obscure bands you know about/listen to, the cooler you are. That's kinda stupid. There's a reason why some bands reach super-stardom and legendary status that has nothing to do with album sales or being sellouts.

Think about it, will anyone on this planet dis the Beatles as being sellouts? Please... The Who? Zeppelin? The Stones? You can not like them, but you have to acknowledge that there's a reason they're pillars of modern music. So saying "John Lennon sucks" is just kinda silly. It's like saying DaVinci sucks. Yoko Ono on the other hand... I think we all have our dirty musical secrets, but I think we need to respect each others' tastes, unless they're complete crap (Nickelback fans, I am looking at YOU!) . Hell, I enjoy all of Coldplay's albums (he said as Mastodon's Crack the Skye is blessing his eardrums) and if you don't like that, too bad! P.S.: I'm not gay either.

But all that to say that music, like all art, is about what touches you, not what's most cutting edge. My friend, we'll ID him through twitter as @boogiehowser, argues with me ALL the time about music and the main reason I go along is because he's passionate about his hate, and he's hilarious. So, I'm not saying you're wrong to argue about music. Spirited debate makes us all wiser people. But rather, we'd all benefit from keeping an open mind for both the well-known and the obscure. Who cares how cool it makes you?

So with that in mind, I'm going to offer up a few lesser known (maybe?) musical gems that I've come across over the course of my life that make me happy and tell you a bit about them. And yes, there will be plugging of friends' endeavours.

September 8 2010

Where to begin? Well, start strong I say...

1 - Mastodon

I first heard of Mastodon through my friend and ex-colleague JP (who'll come up later). I grew up with the old school gods of Metal (Metallica, Anthrax, Motorhead, etc.) thanks to my brother Dave. But as time wore on and none of my friends kept their interest, I lost touch with what was new and interesting in Metal.

Enter JP. Drummer, headbanger, and, at the time, music critic. I have no idea how we got started on what we liked in the Realm of Heavy, but when I asked him in late 2006 what I should try on for size, he gleefully recommended I pick up anything by Mastodon. I was skeptical, but how bad could it be? So, Blood Mountain had just been released and I figured "Why not?"

As the opening drum solo ripped my ears a new one, I was impressed; jumping-up-and-down-like-a-school-kid impressed! It was brilliance and a kind of Heavy that I'd rarely heard before. There's a reason these guys are considered the new faces of the genre. So, I made sure I picked up the previous album Leviathan to have that kick my arse as well. But it wasn't till 2009 when I was truly AWED by one of their albums. Crack the Skye is the Dark Side of the Moon of Heavy Metal.

All of Mastodon's albums have been concept albums, but this one was truly evoking an old-school rock opera/grand epic vibe. Think Rush's 2112, Floyd's Animals (as well as Dark Side...), The Who's Tommy. You get the point...

To make it more succinct how much I love this album, let me tell you of the first time God's existence was proven to me: I was shooting down a black diamond run at Sunshine Village in Banff, stoned off my ass, an avalanche partly chasing me, and listening to this album.

I've rarely been more ecstatic. The experience literally cured me of a bout of depression

It was easily one the BEST moments of my life, and Crack the Skye is part of that. Even if you aren't huge into Metal, you owe your ears a listen to this album, if you can take it.

2 - Orgasmatron - Motorhead

Continuing on the Metal train...

Motorhead's been around for 35 years, they are immortal and unstoppable. Now, with that many years under their belts, they're something of a household name. Now, when anyone mentions Motorhead or sees me in their t-shirt, they always start singing Ace of Spades. And I admit it's one hell of a song and album.

But, there's a better Motorhead album out there that maybe isn't as well known by the masses. That is 1986's Orgasmatron. Get it, listen to the opening track, Deaf Forever, and regardless of how stupid you personally might think Heavy Metal is, you'll understand why so many of us like to flail around and actively seek musical whiplash.

To bookend this monument to ruptured ear drums, there's the closing title track, Orgasmatron. This is my favourite song lyrically (I think Baba O'Reilly still wins overall, a title it's held since 1987). It's a song about the evils of the world, plain and simple, and is far more poignant in my opinion than any folk or protest song. Probably because it's so goddamn visceral! What do you think?

I am the one, Orgasmatron, the outstretched grasping hand
My image is of agony, my servants rape the land
Obsequious and arrogant, clandestine and vain
Two thousand years of misery, of torture in my name
Hypocrisy made paramount, paranoia the law
My name is called religion, sadistic, sacred whore.

I twist the truth, I rule the world, my crown is called deceit
I am the emperor of lies, you grovel at my feet
I rob you and I slaughter you, your downfall is my gain
And still you play the sycophant and revel in your pain
And all my promises are lies, all my love is hate
I am the politician, and I decide your fate

I march before a martyred world, an army for the fight
I speak of great heroic days, of victory and might
I hold a banner drenched in blood, I urge you to be brave
I lead you to your destiny, I lead you to your grave
Your bones will build my palaces, your eyes will stud my crown
For I am Mars, the god of war, and I will cut you down.

Now, this is being growled by Lemmy Kilmister (AKA Lord God Almighty!) over a (mostly) single chord riff. It ain't exactly Beethoven, but that's kind of the point.

Also, I got to sing this a cappella at Blue Skies this year. It was a dream come true!

4 - Conquistador - 13 Engines

Now, switching gears, we go back to the mid-90s and 13 Engines' second 'big-time' album. Their first, Perpetual Motion Machine, produced the fairly memorable post-Grunge hit Smoke & Ashes. Conquistador is a better album musically. You may remember the one hit: Beneath My Hand.

Those of you old enough to remember the musical boom of the early 90s may look back nostalgically to that era of awesomeness. Or, you might be one of those people that see the current 'indie' rock trend as the pinnacle of music. Fair enough, that's your opinion. I have to disagree based on the fact that most 'indie' rock sounds a lot like one track or another off Conquistador! Best track on the album: Tailpipe Blues, a kind of rock-twang hybrid that is a nearly perfect song.

5 - Tokyo Sex Whale, Muffler Crunch, The Banditas, 90 Lbs. of Ugly

Alright, maybe grouping all the bands that my friends are in into one category is a bit of a half-assed shoutout, but I don't want to go into too much detail, more like pique your curiosity. All are worth a listen.

Tokyo Sex Whale is a trio made up of the aforementioned JP Sadek on drums and yelling, Ottawa music scene stalwart Paul 'Yogi' Granger on guitar and vocals, and Montreal import Julia Loan on bass and vocals. They're described as Stoner Rock, as good a label as any, I guess... But labels suck, so I'll say they're joyously loud. They were voted best punk/metal/hard rock band of 2009 by the readers of the Ottawa Xpress, but I have no idea if that actually means anything important...

Muffler Crunch is the duo of Luc Lavigne (he plays Ol' Sparky, which is a tricked-out, duct-taped old acoustic guitar that has been Frankensteined into a Distortion Monolith) and Angie 'Barbarian' Neatby (she plays drums like they owed her money and sings like a pissed off Valkyrie). THEY were voted best punk/metal/hard rock band of 2008 in the Ottawa Xpress poll. I guess I know good Metal bands in Ottawa, I guess... Maybe it helps that they and TSW are on the same label... The label that keeps coming up when describing their sound is "sludge", which I guess means a slower, heavier, more deliberate kind of Metal.

90 Lbs. of Ugly is comprised of Patsy Clash (Liz) on vocals, Lefty McRighty (Greg) on guitar and vocals, Stand-up Steve on bass and Ernie Legend on drums. They play a fun kind of rockabilly/country fusion that's always a riot live. The song Batshit Crazy For You Baby always outs a smile on my face. Also, their first album, Richmond Hotel Room #3 won best Country album of 2009 in the Ottawa Xpress poll.

The Banditas, consisting of Liz McDermott on guitars and vocals, Scott Terry on guitar and vocals and Colin (I forgot his last name) on drums. They haven't won anything in any polls recently, maybe because they play one show a year (on average) and released their album 5 years ago? But I think they're my favourite on this list. Probably because Liz is married to one of my oldest, dearest friends and is one of the coolest people I know. They play really loud punk-tinged rock. Liz yells a lot. It's fun!

8 - Fishbone

Now, I'm pretty sure all of you out there have heard of Fishbone, while perhaps not necessarily having heard their music. Fishbone started as a Ska band in the early 80s (remember Party at Ground Zero?), but in 1988 they released Truth and Soul, where they combined layers of funk, punk, ska, Metal, soul and even folk to create one of the best all-time albums. It's simply magnificent.

It was around '89-'90 when my brother Mike introduced me to Fishbone and I was pretty hooked from the get-go. But it was in 1996 that I went from admiring fan to hardcore Fishbone Soldier. Two things happened that year: they put out their first album on an 'indie' label: Chim-Chim's Badass Revenge, and I saw them in concert. It was early September 1996 and they played 2.5 hours at Barrymore's in Ottawa. 2 and a half hours non-stop asskickery! BEST. CONCERT. EVER!!!!!!!!

Highlight: Over the bar on the ground level, a series of paper signs had been put up reading "Please no stage diving or crowd surfing". So, during a long jam segment from Fight for Nuttmeg, Angelo Moore, the impish lead singer/sax player, proceeded to crowd surf his way to the bar, climb up on it, and remove those signs before surfing his way back to finish the song.

The crowd lost their shit.

Suddenly everyone was hitting the air to crowd surf. Security lost control trying to get people down. The best part was watching Eugene Haslam, owner at the time and a tiny man, trying to help security out. You go, Eugene! I still smile thinking of that show.

9 - Fiftymen

Another local bastion of awesome from Ottawa, the Fiftymen are a bunch of ex-punk rockers who reinvented themselves in an Alt-Country vein and are simply a terrific band consisting of J.J. Hardill (vocals), Mark Michaud (guitar), Todd Gibbon (guitar), Jake Bryce (drums), Keith Snider (banjo and fiddle), and Michael Houston Hanlan (bass).

They've got two albums, After Darkfall and Balances & Sums. I can't really say which I like better... See them, now!

Well, that's about it. There are a few more recommendations out there, but I'll save them for another day.


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