ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): KINGS OF LEON – WHEN YOU SEE YOURSELF | 2021-03-06

Nashville, TN-natives Kings of Leon are the type of modern day alt/arena rock band that one would figure receives abundant questionable coverage from dime-a-dozen mainstream rock music blogs, and then some. Be it their envied stratospheric popularity, their early-to-mid noughties universal critical acclaim, or the clickbait-y inside family job they’ve got going for themselves—there is no such thing as scarcity of press icebreakers as far as the 1999-formed quartet. It’s therefore all the more surprising how this here unfolding before your very eyes gets filed as the first official album review by this site of anything lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Caleb, bassist Jared, lead guitarist Matthew, and stickman and BV-journeyer Nathan Followill have put out over more than two decades. Yet, as another reviewing taboo was demystified last summer, the time has come to entertain a virtual watercooler-blabbering conversation about Kings of Leon’s eight studio full length When You See Yourself, out worldwide just this past 5th of March Friday on the mighty RCA Records.

Whether one likes to admit it or not, Kings of Leon are one of only a handful residual overhyped, gentrified, and focus grouped bands to have come out alive the other side of the early 00s garage-rock revival mania. While it can be argued that at least some of their MO employed to withstand such ruthless and repellant industry plant cycle can attributed to, well, selling out, as well as shamelessly embracing the role of poster-children record business mercenaries (whatever that means in the current post-selfie, TikTok-era), there is quite a lot in the way of originality, refinement, and quality as part of their Southern rock-informed familial affair. One does certainly not need to be reminded of the radio-friendly and commercially-appealing ubiquity of their multi-platinum selling 2008 project Only By the Night, or the fact that the three brothers and one cousin stand hitherto nominated for as many as twelve Grammy Awards in their career—snatching four of them including Record of the Year and Best Rock Song for “Use Somebody” in 2010—to realise how warranted, highly-anticipated, and of ‘public interest matter’ any coverage of the issue of their first LP in five years oughta be.

This latest release of the collection of eleven new records on When You See Yourself represents the culmination of the longest gap in-between studio projects to date for the rock band, who chose once more to enlist British producer Markus Dravs after his work on the their preceding full length WALLS in 2016. What’s more, said limbo was reportedly slated to be less significant than the full five years it turned out to be, for main songwriter and lyricist Caleb allegedly began to mess around with first rough draft ideas of songs that would eventually land on KoL’s latest album as early as January from two years back. Unsurprisingly, had it not been for the largest public health cataclysm in a century, the record would have most likely seen the light of day at some point last year. Evidently though, that did not materialise, translating into an unsolicited epiphany affording the four Followill relatives a long and enduring de-briefing phase that helped them digest, marinate, and perfect the final batch of tracks that ended up being sequenced on this thing, making up for a robust 51 minutes of runtime by the way—almost a length colossus in the streaming age.

It is not just an unusual and business-allergic, if not externally-imposed, self-reflection that envelops some type of idiosyncrasy to this record, but perhaps even more un-analogue and old-school is the group’s unorthodox and avant-garde decision to employ distributed ledger technologies—also known as blockchain—to beef up the promotional cycle surrounding When You See Yourself. Partnering with US technology company YellowHeart, through a promo campaign wittily dubbed NFT YOURSELF Kings of Leon became the first band to offer an album as a so-called non-fungible token (NFT), a cryptocurrency-like artefact set to unlock unique perks for its holders such as limited-edition vinyl, multimedia artwork pieces, and front row seats coupled with premiere concierge treatment to all future concerts. So the band’s creative director Casey McGrath on the futuristic stunt: “We approached the release […] in such an analog way, from the band’s approach in the studio to shooting everything on film and went as far as literally pulling out the scotch tape and glue sticks, and dry transfer lettering. To approach NFT YOURSELF with a digital art mindset sent electricity through the work. For those in the space that understand, they’ll appreciate the techniques of audio-generated imaging, pose detection, and pixel morphing that we used to create this collectible art. For those that don’t, we hope they’ll appreciate the undeniable power and emotion that results from the collision of analog and digital.”

Now how does one follow that one up? Arguably only by delving head-first into the music lied to wax on this album. It was first premiered earlier in January this year by two lead singles “The Bandit“—a gritty and rough-around-the-edges trip down sonic KoL memory lane with Far West saloon-ish lyricism such as “Chiseled their names in stone / Heavy the load you tow / And the red horse is always close / And the fire don’t burn below“—as well as “100,000 People“, a clearer and more linear successor to some of the most subdued and contemplative work off WALLS, stretching over almost six minutes of dejected and defeated romantic balladry, with an appeal perhaps stronger for motion picture synchronisation than radio spins. Speaking of which during an informative and riveting chat with Apple Music’s Zane Lowe, airplay potential and easy rotation were endgoals the four American purposefully tried to deliberately not chase during the studio and writing sessions for their latest outing. It is not hard to believe them in hindsight, with a finished body of work sporting just two cuts under four minutes of playtime, and as many as three fiercely running for longer than five minutes without ever overstaying their welcome. The latter crop of tracks include the nocturnal, hypnotic, and emotionally draining opener “When You See Yourself, Are You Far Away” as well as the tastefully dour “A Wave“, which according to KoL’s frontman Caleb “has to stand out as one of the proudest moments in our career”.

Truth be told, the four Tennesseeans packed in reasons to be proud in spades on their latest studio effort. Look no further than the groovy, gorgeously self-aware and blue-eyed funk rock swagger of “Stormy Weather” at number four, or even the pernickety and luscious layered six-string work of the Come Around Sundown-sounding “Golden Restless Age” opening the LP’s C side. Having said that, the record’s back-end does suffer from a mild case of complacency and phoning-it-in-ness, found particularly severely on the symptomatically tired and underwhelming authoring underpinning the core of “Supermarket” as well as the bland, second-hand, overheated riff soup of the otherwise lyrically inspired “Echoing” sequenced on the album’s penultimate slot. Luckily for fans and the Leon royals themselves though, Caleb and bros. appear to outdo themselves compositionally on the extraordinarily exquisite curtain closing ballad “Fairytale“. The four minute arrangement comes in the form of a boneless and skeleton-free experimental number that sounds as if an algorithm synthetised the utmost worthy elements of their Only By the Night standout “Closer” and soaked them in the energy, vibes, and instrumental configuration of their most hardcore WALLS-era imprint. It thus becomes clear that whether in form of PR antics, or just bona fide songwriting, creative hybridity seems to be the only way Kings of Leon appear to push forward nowadays, particularly when they see themselves.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

KINGS OF LEON

WHEN YOU SEE YOURSELF

2021, RCA Records

https://kingsofleon.com

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): FOO FIGHTERS – MEDICINE AT MIDNIGHT | 2021-02-06

It’s Foos season all over again—after skipping a whole year and seeing their original roll out plans affected by the public health crisis bought upon by COVID-19 alongside the rest of the entertainment industries, the beloved, accomplished, and marquee alternative rock group saw fit to pick February’s first eligible new music Friday to unveil their tenth studio LP Medicine at Midnight. Following up on 2017’s slept-on and widely ignored Concrete & Gold, the post-grunge sextet currently composed of frontman and principal songwriter Dave Grohl, drummer and background vocalist Taylor Hawkins, bassist Nate Mendel, lead and rhythm guitarists Chris Shiflett and Pat Smear, as well as keys wizard Rami Jaffee reportedly chose to go into a fully groovy, dancey, and rhythmic power pop direction on their latest offering. Premiered in early November last year by something fairly faithful to said instruction coming in (the colour and) the shape of “Shame, Shame“, the record is out on RCA Records and sees the renewed inclusion of mainstream hit pop producer Greg Kurstin on production duties, after his work on Concrete & Gold four years ago.

With the exception made of 2014’s ambitious and only ever so slightly pretentious HBO-earmarked Sonic Highways project, which from a tracklist-length perspective sports a mere eight tracks on its sequencing, Medicine’s similarly scant nine cuts make for the Foo Fighters’ shortest studio album to date, with just 35 minutes and change of runtime. For as weird and zany as it sounds, Dave Grohl and band attribute the concise and efficient recording sessions, as well as their meagre output, to spooky ghosts and paranormal activity experienced in the Californian house-turned-studio they recorded the album in. The former Nirvana stickman is widely known as the earnest nicest man in rock n roll, so there should be no reason for one to doubt this—but one’s gotta hand it to them, if that is not entirely true, at least it’s a pretty darn good promo stunt. The aforementioned first lead single “Shame, Shame” had enough percussive intricacies and instrumental experimentation to have listeners both attentive and salivating over more teasers. Too bad these would be misguided shortly thereafter by second single “No Son of Mine“, a subsequent abrasive red herring dropped on New Year’s Day 2021, packing a by-the-numbers Lemmy and Motörhead worship, going as far as retooling and reverse-engineering his iconic and seminal hit “Ace of Spades“.

Whilst “No Son of Mine” is this album’s “White Limo“—therefore a trademark and formulaic MO project inclusion for the outfit at this point—third and final single in anticipation to the full length “Waiting on a War“, released in mid January just weeks prior to the official street date, is instead a true blue encapsulation of Dave Grohl’s elemental songbook down to a T: relatable universality in its lyrics, lush and climactic six-string arrangements culminating in fan-favourite, stadiums-ready sing-along choruses topped with epic outros, as well as that old familiar dash of conscientious je ne sais quoi typical of Dave’s best work hitherto. It’s predictive, run-of-the-mill, and terribly safe territory for Foo Fighters, but it’s amongst the best tunes on this thing: “Every day waiting for the sky to fall / Big crash on a world that’s so small / Just a boy with nowhere left to go / Fell in love with a voice on the radio“. Furthermore, the song is indicative of a counterintuitive pattern emerging inherent to Medicine at Midnight, where its most tasteful and effective moments might just be found in slower ballads and their acoustic compositional manifestation. Take penultimate cut “Chasing Birds” for instance, a gorgeously orchestrated Bowie-esque chanson with unplugged guitar ornaments to die for. A record that somehow manages to transcend this album’s dance floor flair and rise to a whole other life of its own above the clouds of rock and roll pantheon.

Incidentally, the latter would have made for a much more memorable and compelling closing chapter than the manic and jovial “Love Dies Young” sequenced at number nine, which despite its glossy reverb and chorus-soaked guitars set against the greasy palm muted distortion sounds just like “No Son of Mine”s illegitimate sister song, as if it were gestated from the same writing session, but after two more drinks and a puff of marijuana for all intents and purposes (the BVs on the refrain are irresistibly angelic and ethereal though). It is not a bad song and there is nothing inherently wrong in ending a consciously sought after dance rock record with the uplifting and cinematic sound design of “Love Dies Young”s back-end, though perhaps morphing this tune with its ancillary Lemmy-obituary hymn could have made for less lukewarm fillers overall. Speaking of fillers—a word that should ideally not come up in a nine-track album review—”Holding Poison” at number seven on the tracklist has got to be amongst the most underwhelming, subpar, and one-dimensional material the Seattle group has issued in years. What was probably intended to be a premiere arena rock fist-bumper and foot-stomper joint in Dave’s mind and intent, actually comes off sounding like the 101 of a hard rock tune one would teach a group of pimple-adorned pre-teens as they’re learning their analogue instruments coalesced in a world tainted by DJs and TikTok (and it’s the longest tune on the album, no less).

Need not worry too much dear readers, as there are musical reasons to rejoice aplenty to be found on the Foo Fighters’ tenth body of work. Start by hitting play on album opener “Making a Fire“; if one can make it past the cringeworthy and gentrified “na na na nas” cheaply leading up to each of the verses, the tune goes on to reveal both enthralling compositional prowess and topical meritocracy: “But if this is our last time / Make up your mind / I’ve waited a lifetime to live / It’s time to ignite, I’m making a fire“. Track number three “Cloudspotter“, with its greasy and fat guitar riffs shredding, rhythmic swagger, and catchiness in spades, is potentially the best representation of what the band set out to do from the jump when it affirmed that it went into production aiming to capture its “love of rock bands that make these upbeat, up-tempo, almost danceable records”. A similar flavoursome balance is to be experienced on the title track here, where sampled drum machines effortlessly complement slick basses and lush choral arrangements, all the while being enveloped in sticky refrains and bouncy grooves. Truth be told, such a somewhat successful creative heist at this point in the band’s career should at least be getting an ‘A for effort’. However, whether Dave Grohl likes it or not, the songs we’ll be remembering most fondly from Medicine at Midnight years down the line will still be those pulled from his diamond-in-the-rough punk rock lore—something that no matter how hard he tries to tame or shoehorn away into a focus group-ed thematic north star, still tips the scale in his favour.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

FOO FIGHTERS

MEDICINE AT MIDNIGHT

2021, RCA Records

https://www.foofighters.com

HERE COME(S) THE G.I.R.L | 2017-09-16

EMS started with absolutely no pre-conceived notion of editorial structure or journalistic discipline in mind, and to be fair if you’ve made it thus fair into its lifecycle I’m pretty much assuming you were able to realize this for yourself pretty quickly. Throughout about two years and a half the site has touched upon a wide variety of themes and topics, ranging from the more obvious and critically acclaimed “Alex Reviews Music”-column, to scattered and rather isolated notes and commentary on TV series, books, and even fashion brands. I guess the reason why I’m beginning this one with such a disclaimer is to try to legitimise my current inability to choose a single key topic to write about this time round, conflicting in conjunction with my lack of time and resources to split a list of different themes across multiple blogpost, as well as my very immediate need to bookmark what and why I want to say to this very specific timestamp. In fact, feel free to scratch the first excuse – as one can and ought to always find the time for the life domains he/she loves –, it’s really all about the necessity to make y’all aware of a couple things, so please be cautious that said awareness construction will materialise itself in form of a miscellaneous patchwork post.

Without too much further ado, in this writing I’d like to bring your esteemed attention to Los Angeles-based – yet universally addressing – independent lifestyle brand Gentlemen in Real Life, that has just recently released its second major run of products to the general public and boy, it’s simply wonderfully crafted. Brilliantly abbreviated in the catchy acronym GIRL to highlight its gender-neutral and boundary-less fashion approach, the alternative apparel and grooming brand was founded by former letlive. vocalist and principal gentleman Jason Butler back in early 2015, and likes to present itself to the world with the following:

“We believe the traditional definition of ‘gentleman’ is outdated. To us, it’s more than a refined look, or dapper presentation. It’s a lifestyle that transcends. Being a Gentleman is about taking the extra step to do what’s right. And we offer everyone a chance to be part of it.”

“We’re a small group of creatives and artists that make things we want to see made. And we’re committed to the fine details that we know they deserve.”

“The only way to truly endorse something is to create it yourself. That’s why we’ve made sure all of our products are designed, sourced, and manufactured in the USA.”

There’s really nothing else that should be added in my opinion to either spark or increase interest and concern for such valuable and especially honourable endeavour, which not only fully adopts and embodies the ethically/socially conscious values listed in the descriptions above, but also creates an organic and sustainable network of collaborations around their hometown of Los Angeles, CA, as documented on their extremely visually appealing Instagram page. Said manufacturing, productive, and marketing collaborators-ecosystem includes, for instance, the gorgeous graphic design brand Hate Street (H8ST) – which took care of the majority of the designs and visuals for GIRL’s latest drop – and the group of talented audiovisual producers that go by the name of Standard Issue Films, which enabled a series of promotional clips that were employed by Jason and GIRL when approaching their recent launch date on 1st September.

I hope it’s needless to say that I’m obviously not getting paid or in any shape or form compensated for writing this, for this enriching appreciation I feel for the brand truly stems from my complete alignment with both the mission and the cause of GIRL, besides clearly finding tons of delight and inspiration through the actual manufactured goods themselves. Thus, I’d simply suggest you all take even a quick look at what Jason and what he calls his family are doing with their company, as I fully believe it’s the minimum one could do when confronted with such praiseworthy and universally binding values as the ones brought forwards by GIRL.

As far as I’m concerned, at the time I got to learn about the overall GIRL project, it was an immediate no brainer for me to seek out means and ways to support what Jason and his crew were crafting, and for the record I have been doing so since the company launched their first online collection back in January last year. Furthermore, it should also be said that to me all things related to GIRL got significantly amplified by Jason’s artistic and especially musical undertakings that were going on at the same time (enter primarily letlive.), which I certainly strongly felt connected to and was able to rely on multiple levels on. Speaking of which, recent warmer months have brought back loads of excitement after letlive. tragically announced their break up earlier this April. Said excitement comes in form of The Fever 333, i.e. Jason’s brand new incendiary musical project kickstarted with the help of former The Chariot guitarist Stephen Harrison and impressive Night Verses drummer/digital percussionist Aric Improta.

The alternative-punk trio presented itself to the wider world via a memorable and unique unauthorised pop-up event in the parking lot of legendary drive-through landmark Randy’s Donuts on the last 4th July in Inglewood, Los Angeles. The band documented their incredible performance in a dedicated videoclip recalling the experience and explaining that the impromptu live performance was first and foremost:

“[…] an effort to demonstrate the power of assembly and protest. This particular event was in opposition to the displacement of citizens due to their race, choice of identity, or economic standing to remind ourselves that we are the largest piece of any community. Not politicians, not corporations, not the authorities, but US – the citizens. The people are what make communities successful. Before the release of any music we released specific pieces of information containing a location, a date, and then a message. In that message we called to those who wanted to see change and a reminder that it starts locally. On this day over 150 people showed up in a parking lot in Inglewood in support of an idea. That idea was to empower the people that serve as the heartbeat of their community.”

The Fever 333 has so far released two radically angry and raging standalone tracks (“We’re Coming In” and “The Hunting Season”), and have officially blossomed at their first “authorized” hometown live show that took place at The Roxy Theatre in Hollywood on 31st August, with prestigious guest appearance/endorsement of blink-182 drumming God Travis Barker as well as A-list punk producer John Feldmann, whom the band has so far worked with for the release of its first two songs. It’s still unclear what’s next for the politically-charged protest punk outfit, although judging by the way they hinted and released both information and actual material in the past, it all seems to be predominantly short-noticed and revolving around the 333-digits hook, presumably originating in their underlying credo “B3 FR33. STAND UP. RESIST.”. Watch their space as they don’t stop repeating it: There’s a fever coming…

Before pulling the curtains on this multi-dimensionally inspired, Interweb-hosted essay, yours truly would like to consume a little more of this digitised ink to address the recent release of mighty Foo Fighters‘ new LP Concrete and Gold, out just one day before this writing on 15th September. I’m fully aware that in a recent (and upcoming) sea of hugely highly-anticipated releases, with new records out (either now or fairly soon) by the likes of Queens of the Stone Age, The War on Drugs, The Killers, J. Roddy Walston & The Business, Stereophonics, and many more, there’s no way I could truly pay respect to any of those if not through a dedicated ARM-instalment (although nor am I promising this will actually materialise). Yet, very similarly to the aforementioned The Fever 333, I do like to break the rules and therefore allow myself the freedom of a couple paragraphs discussing the Foos’ recent massive album, trying to frame this discussing from a slightly different standpoint than regular ARMs so as to maintain a cautionary “apples-to-oranges” comparison basis.

The context surrounding the release of Foo Fighters’ ninth studio album contains in itself a number of fascinating insights, from the rather unconventional record producer’s choice (the bird and the bee‘s Greg Kurstin), passing through the addition of a sixth permanent group member in long-time touring keyboardist Rami Jaffee, to the juicy line-up of stellar fellow musicians who guest on the album, including Paul McCartney, Justin Timberlake, and Boyz II Men member Shawn Stockman. There is of course a fundamental, and arguably more important, musical layer to the whole aspect as well, with almost 50 minutes of brand new recorded running time spread across 11 different songs. Furthermore, one could also have noticed an hilarious and deeply informative radio interview touching upon a wide variety of topics with frontman Dave Grohl hosted by none other than Metallica’s iconic drummer Lars Ulrich on his Beats 1’s show It’s Electric!.

Yet, in spite (or precisely because of) all of the above highly intriguing and valid starting points for a genuine conversation on the Foos’ new album, what I’d like to stress out is an unbelievably fun, diverse, and effective promotional stunt utilized by the band. What I’m referring to is a promo video published in conjunction to the album release that tells the story of how Concrete and Gold was made in all its nuances, with more than worthy behind-the-scenes anecdotes and fun facts. By packaging a great amount of information relating to a process that lasted over multiple years in form of a 6-minute cartoonish, brilliantly animated clip, the Foo Fighters not only produced a promotional item that is quite unique and characteristic (especially for a mainstream act), but by processing the highest consumed format of digital consumption (video) they also managed to squeeze a great deal of valuable insights regarding the making-of the album that I’m sure would otherwise have been done through multiple separated elements that may even have not fit that well together. Hat’s off to the Foos thus, who to be fair have always flirted with the more comical and funny end of the spectrum when creating music videos for their songs. Pick any of theirs on YouTube to prove this point. Speaking of points, this was the last one for now, I promise. But remember to always B3 FR33.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

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