ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): RYAN ADAMS – “PRISONER” | 1st March, MMXVII

If you follow this blog with a certain regularity – and I assume it’s almost none of you reading right now – you might have noticed that 42-year old North Carolina-native Ryan Adams is somewhat of a big deal for who’s writing this. The singer-songwriter’s self-titled album, released in late 2014 to moderate success, has had an overwhelming impact on me that only few others have over my whole life and, surely in some ways because of that, I have come to thoroughly enjoy everything he has put out ever since (not mentioning revisiting his impressively huge and prolific past catalogue). Plus, carved in the history of this blog there is also a commentary slash review of Adams’s stunning live performance at London’s Hammersmith Apollo back two years ago, as well as a rather loose take on his largely talked about 1989 cover album revisiting in his own signature style one-by-one all the songs contained in Taylor Swift’s best-selling release from 2015. Furthermore, in an attempt at celebrating and highlighting Adams’s multi-artistic talent, another blogpost entry was dedicated to one of his free verse poems off of his debut collection titled Infinity Blues and published through Akashic Books in 2009. To sum it up in other words, as you can easily judge by yourself Ryan Adams is a pretty badass talented artist.

It is with this spirit in mind and with great enthusiasm that yours celebrated the release of Prisoner, Ryan Adams’s 16th (!) studio album of his career, which came out officially a little less than two weeks ago on Friday 17th February. Prisoner is Adams’s latest release under his own LA-based label PaxAmericana Recordings and it spans 12 tracks across 43 minutes. The record was previewed by a series of singles (“Do You Still Love Me?”, “To Be Without You” and “Doomsday”) and multiple promotional trips/talk show appearances which often saw the Grammy-nominated musician performing exclusive acoustic cuts off of the record. Furthermore, as part of the album cycle, the not-so-secret metalhead and cat lover started off his own radio show called The Midnight Wave on Apple’s Beats 1 and came up with glorious deluxe packages for every fan’s delight. Obviously, Prisoner’s release is also to be accompanied by a massive worldwide live tour that will keep him busy for the remainder of 2017. This is to say, is really does look like to Adams this record means something special, something that possibly wasn’t there in with previous ones or that perhaps he himself wasn’t able to experience and embody as much, as confirmed in a recent Facebook Live Q&A.

Enough for background and scene setting, let’s jump into the actual craftsmanship of this new album without any further ado. As briefly mentioned above, the first taste of Prisoner came through its lead single “Do You Still Love Me?”, made available late last year (7th December) and very much in line with Adams’ self-titled album from 2014, both sonically and thematically with respect to the overall record. The track is one of the “rockiest” ones with huge, arena-like guitars sitting on a bed of mellow and all-encompassing keyboards. Think of Tom Petty having a go at AC/DC in an ’86 London recording studio. Lyrically, the track finds Ryan questioning (his) love longing for answers but only to find more question marks along the way (“I been thinking about you, baby / Been on my mind / Why can’t I feel your love? / Heart must be blind”). Such a sappiness and inner melancholia is in fact a key reading lens for the overall record, further confirmed by the thin, acoustic second single “To Be Without You”. The track, most than any others on Prisoner, takes the listener back to the early, folky-alt-country songwriting era of Adams with trademark heartbreaking and touches of liberation and carelessness here and there. Definitely an interesting choice for a second single as, looking back, the track is pretty much left on its own in the tracklist, i.e. not being truly representative of the overall sound (yet this might as well have been a very thought-trough choice by weirdo Adams). Wrapping up with singles, the third one revealed through YouTube, “Doomsday”, is by contrast a unique musical pearl culminating from the songwriters’ latest sonic directions including, but not limited to: 80s Bruce Springsteen, The Smiths, Bruce Hornsby and Neil Young. This song at number three on the setlist combines wonderful lyrics (“My love, we can do better than this / My love, how can you complicate a kiss? / My love, you said you’d love me now ’til doomsday comes / ‘Til doomsday comes”) with musical finesse, mixing perfectly harmonica and guitars. In pole position to becoming a Ryan Adams classic for years to come.

Just preceding “Doomsday” on the record’s tracklist is title track “Prisoner”, which unfortunately, even after prolonged and insistent listenings, might funnily enough be one of the dullest and tasteless tracks on the whole effort. Albeit being a doubtless uplifter mood-wise, especially when considered within the context of this overall moody record, the track results a bit too incomplete and frankly too naked to be a final album version, but probably too confused and at the same time elaborated to be considered as a demo or B-side. However, the title track probably remains the only lower moment on Prisoner, which indeed sees a number of incredibly subtle and powerful cuts, such as the perfect modern-day acoustic number “Haunted House” at number four, or the minimalistic, heart-wrenching, and chilling “Shiver and Shake”, both carrying exclusive signature Adams’ sound and harmonies as developed and nurtured over the past five years. These two tracks, still very much in line with an irresistible – and at times cheesy – Springsteenian 80s echoy, chorusy, and reverberate sound, with the aforementioned “To Be Without You”, come to complete side A of the LP. And yet many would say that the best is yet to come.

Track number seven is “Anything I Say to You Now”, a fiery, 5-minute long classic rock cut with numerous walls of guitar sounds that dial in direct digits to The Smiths and some lateish Police vibes, just to name a few of the influences very explicitly worn on Adams’ sleeves. No doubt the rockiest moment on the whole album alongside the lead single “Do You Still Love Me?”. Immediately after that we find the superb guitar work of “Breakdown”, possibly among the most electrifying and proud tracks Adams has released in years, with the addition of an high catchiness alert. Following the energy of “Breakdown” it’s time for yours truly’s favourite bit on the whole record (and potentially of the whole Ryan Adams catalogue, although “Shadows” and “Dear Chicago” remain hard to beat), called “Outbound Train”, which if one were not to look carefully could easily be mistaken for a song off of Bruce Springsteen’s 1986 Tunnel of Love (“Two Faces” anyone?). The track perfectly encapsulates anger, emotion, love and much more in a very uncompromising climax of sounds and lyrics (“The cars don’t move in the middle of the night / Lost inside the void of the fading tail lights / I swear I wasn’t lonely when I met you, girl”). Tempo, structure, and rhythm all take each other by the hand and carry the listener in a phantasmagoric four and a half minute journey marking intimacy, honesty, and rawness on Adams’ behalf.

Moving on, the last trio of songs on Prisoner begins with the mellow and rather hopeless “Broken Anyway”, which finds regularly captivating and dreamy electric guitar strums accompanying a rather simple acoustic lead with pleasant vocal melody. Also, this very song, alongside the following one “Tightrope”, bear heavy influences and remnants of Adams’ Taylor Swift interpretation and recording sessions for 1989, as both tracks just simply possess that vibe and overall feel which are impossible to negate. Prisoner calls its curtains with the properly titled “We Disappear”, which showcases what might be the best guitar sound that’s been heard out there in the electrical pantheon in a very long while and turns very quickly, very weird, perfectly matching the personal mission that Adams himself has been advocating for long (read his Twitter bio).

It’s no secret by now, being two weeks into its release, that Prisoner has found enormous success and praise by both critics and charts, demonstrating once more how amazingly the singer-songwriter is still able to not only reinvent and re-craft his musical outputs but also becoming an artist on his own, disregarding for the most part trends, genres, and commercial reasonings. The overwhelmingly positive reception the record has gotten around the world does nothing else other than confirming that we, the people, needed a record like this in present times of disorder, dismay and loss of connections. That is, by figuratively stripping himself completely naked and putting his most inner emotions out there telling stories of his failed marriage and connected despair, Ryan Adams showed us all that there is nothing to fear in being open and transparent about oneself and, most importantly, that honesty and truth will eventually unite us all in appreciation. Because at heart, we really shouldn’t be capable of nothing else.

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

RYAN ADAMS

“PRISONER”

2017, PaxAmericana Recording Company

http://paxamrecords.com

prisoner_ra

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): THE MENZINGERS – “AFTER THE PARTY” | 4th February, MMXVII

Yet another saturated and exciting musical phase (after what honestly was a pretty dull and modest first month of the new year) approaching yours truly, with new releases planned and expected soon from the likes of Ryan Fu**ing Adams – kind of a big deal because of thisthis and even this – and indie rock kings Cold War Kids, as well as brand new music already announced for later on down the year by mighty Blink-182, 30 Seconds to Mars and Linkin Park. It is with such an uplifting and reinvigorated spirit in mind that I’m immensely excited to introduce you all to today’s artist, featured in 2017’s first ARM instalment: meet Pennsylvanian punk-rock minstrels The Menzingers.

After the Party is The Menzingers’ fifth studio album and comes after almost four years of restless touring in promotion of the moderately successful Rented World, released in 2014. This new effort is out on influential and devoted punk-rock Hollywood-based indie label Epitaph Records, founded by legendary Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz more than 30 years ago and that over its history has released major productions by seminal, genre-defining bands such as Pennywise, Social Distortion, Descendents, and, obviously, Bad Religion. It is precisely within such a sonic framework that one should broadly position The Menzingers, as more or less explicit influences of the outfits above and a handful more are easily to be found along the band’s catalogue so far. After the Party, which at time of writing came out officially yesterday, 3rd February, overall delivers a solid, 13-track release cutting at just under 45 minutes of unstriated and uncompromising melodic punk-rock which is overwhelmingly driven by loads, loads of guitars. Personally, it’s been quite some time I hadn’t revisited such a genre – which for me in the past had been taken care by folks like Rancid, The Gaslight Anthem and potentially a bit of Against Me! – and if anything it really felt good immersing myself in such waters again. Yet, even after repetitive listens, the album sort of leaves you a bit dry and longing for something more that was missing once closing track, albeit singularly convincing, “Livin’ Ain’t Easy” calls the curtains.

In fact, I guess the biggest problem of this record is its first half, with unfortunately really only presents  the wonderfully composed and melodically rich “House of Fire” at number six for future talks. This is despite side A of the album having included two of the three major singles releases off of After the Party, namely the pretty predictable and over-heard “Thick as Thieves” (number two on the tracklist) and the following, rather dark cut “Lookers”, which despite an interesting and touching intro kind of loses itself one minute into the song and at its best results too self-referential. Furthermore, album-opener “Tellin’ Lies” might even be ok for opening live shows and festival slots but in all frankness is not far from the exact reason why this kind of punk-rock simply got too boring at one point in history. “Midwestern States”, at number four, is certainly a pretty good song on average, though definitely not something to be remembered and quite possibly not one of the songs that will stuck with the listener after the album is over. The following “Charlie’s Army”, instead, is likely to be the worst track on the whole entire record, with not only a slim vocal lead but also heavy, at times disturbing disynchronization between all instruments included. Definitely one that could have been left off the final track listing.

Fortunately, things start to get much better with the album’s middle song “Black Mass”, a sweet semi-acoustic ballad that entails great vocal emotion and superior lyrics (“We used to want to take the back roadsBut now we found a distance shorterYou used to call me darlingNow you prefer more formal“). Moreover, at number nine on the tracklist we find “Bad Catholics“, which was released as lead single late last year, arguably a right decision. The track is among the catchiest and radio-friendliest on After the Party and despite a wonderful and tempting main guitar riff doesn’t overstay its welcome and ends up at 2:52, making it the second-shortest song on the whole album. What follows is “Your Wild Years”, which alongside the aforementioned “Black Mass” contains some of the best words on the record highlighting and romanticising multi-ethnical backgrounds in form of an unusual love declaration, possibly more needed now than ever given present political times in the USA. Yet the very best of After the Party is without doubt found in its last two, closing songs “After the Party” and “Livin’ Ain’t Easy”. The former and title-track almost completely reaches songwriting and execution perfection mixing up raw emotion, fuelled guitars and drops of Taking Back Sunday, Bruce Springsteen and Foo Fighters here and there, which made me connect to it in a very intense fashion. Also, the intro guitar riff might be among the best in a good while within the recent punk-rock pantheon. Speaking of guitars, album closer “Livin Ain’t Easy” also decides to deliver chills down the listener’s spine via electric six strings, with its leading guitar lick wrapped up in beautiful reverb and chorus effects probably very reminiscent of last year’s Moose Blood’s Blush. Extremely well done and appropriate closing track.

There’s a lot of regret in me after listening to After the Party as a whole, precisely because of the last two tracks’ beauty and effectiveness. What I mean by that is that if it weren’t for the handful of boring and rather dull songs included in the LP (“Tellin’ Lies”, “Charlie’s Army” and “The Bars” leading the group), this album could’ve been really, really good and (already!) landed straight to this year’s list of best releases. Yes, because there are indeed songs that are truly exceptional (“Black Mass”, “Bad Catholics”, “After the Party” and “Livin’ Ain’t Easy”), and this Menzingers’ effort could have become a classic if, for example, released as an EP with its best of. However, in my opinion there are too many flaws to be acknowledged as such and sadly After the Party really can’t be labelled as more than an average, solid record. Yet, my love for certain, selected tunes might as well be catalysed precisely by those other poorer moments on the record, allowing them shine and emerge in contrast to the remaining ones and with regard to an overall perspective. And I guess this is exactly the splendour and magic of music: hard to explain and different for everyone. So please go on and come persuade me that this album is a masterpiece if you truly believe so, I’d be all ears.

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

THE MENZINGERS

“AFTER THE PARTY”

2017, Epitaph Records

http://themenzingers.com

menzingers_atp

SAPPY NEW YEAR | 5th January, MMXVII

Well hello there esteemed readers, welcome back to a fresh and shiny new solar year, called 2017!

I really do hope everyone has had a chance to spend happy and healthy holidays with their loved ones, whichever festivities one may adhere to. I had some fantastic time off at home and skiing on the Swiss Alps. I also got the best Christmas present I’ve ever received in form of a kickass necklace with two splendid pendants that represent two of my biggest passions in life and for that matter the whole single reason why I started this site in the first place (read this if you’d like to know more about it, + pic of said best Christmas present below). Before we go any further, I’d also like to take the occasion to wish every single one of you a wonderful and passionate new year from the whole team at Everything Must Swing, which in all true honesty it’s just me, no one else really. Nonetheless, I would like for everyone’s onboarding on the new collection of 365 days into a single unity to be as passionate and inspiring as possible, and therefore I thought I’d come up with scattered bits and pieces listing some of the things that are getting me excited during the first days of 2017.

First of all, do yourself a favour and give a listen to the whole Frank Ocean‘s discography. It’s not immense, it starts with his debut mixtape nostalgia,ULTRA. (retrievable almost anywhere on the web with free download) and ends up with his latest, long-awaited LP Blonde that came out in August last year. In between these there’s the critically acclaimed first sensation studio album Channel ORANGE (released in 2012) as well as the totally unexpected, music-industry Trojan horse of a visual album Endless which came out a day before Blonde last Summer, however still only available through Apple Music. I’m suggesting to take a deep dive into his art because Frank Ocean is a pretty big deal. He used to be (or still is?) one of the most creative and daring members of the highly influential L.A. hip hop collective Odd Future and over time has received more praises and accolades in and out the music industry than almost anyone else in the past five to ten years. However, more than anything he’s a true R&B, soul sonic experimenter who has not been afraid to speak out on gender and sexuality issues as well as brilliantly setting up an elegant and refined strategy to screw a major record label – Def Jam Recordings/Universal, to be specific – through his double close-up release of Endless and Blonde. My personal take is that his music not only transcends genres and formats, but also possesses an extremely intense staying power, growing immensely on the listener at every new play. Try out for yourselves.

Secondly, in case you’re looking for some prompts and cues in terms of movies and television, I couldn’t recommend enough Dan Gilroy-directed thriller Nightcrawler, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and taking place in a dark and gloomy L.A. whenever one would like it to take place time-wise. Wikipedia says that the movie portrays “a thief who starts shooting live footage of accidents and crimes in Los Angeles, selling the content to a local news channel as a stringer while secretly sabotaging both crime scenes and other news reporters” and to be fair I think it’s a good description of what it is about. Yet beyond its plot I truly believe that the movie has some of the best on screen dialogues and cinematography around, and while it was released quite some time ago already, appears to remain more relevant than ever theme-wise hinting at modern society’s perverse and twisted relationship with breaking news as well as a long lasting crisis of contemporary journalism. Also, it’s no surprise given the excellence of the script and some of the exchanges in the movie that the producers even decided to release the movie script in full on the Interweb. Definitely worth a watch/read if you too like me enjoy dope convos, double meanings, and lightened lines while at the same time not sacrificing an engaging and suspenseful plot.

Third, this time moving to the literary dimension, I currently find myself deep in the reading of American author James Franco’s Actors Anonymous novel, published in 2013 and tracing parallel (mostly very weird) stories about different (mostly very troubled) actors in California. The semi-autobiographical book deploys heavy name-dropping and I believe borrows most of the storylines from James Franco’s own acting career, notably having starred in movies such as the first Spider-Man trilogy, Pineapple Express, Milk, 127 Hours and many more as well as having been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in 2011. The novel’s tale is inspired by Alcoholics Anonymous’ famous 12 steps and 12 traditions by adapting them to the acting world and the Hollywoodian high entertainment industry as a whole, converting the book into a dark, genre-bending ensemble that – as stated before – shamelessly mixes personal memoir and quintessential fiction, not least scrutinising all sins and excesses of those involved in the maintaining of said industry. Extremely funny at times, the novel represent a true and profound insight into Franco’s take on what it really means to be acting and which higher purpose the whole activity oughta serve. Though above all the book might as well be considered a first-account collection of anecdotes, trivia and little behind-the-scenes stories about the world of global celebrities and world-famous actors that might otherwise have gone unheard, mostly because of the extent of shame and mercilessness involved. Or, as Franco puts it himself in the book’s frontispiece: “Hollywood has always been a private club. I open the gates. I say welcome. I say, look inside”. Give the book a read if you’ve ever wondered what happens to big entertainment stars in between movies and projects.

Well I guess that’s about it for now, as you can see I’ve touched upon three fundamental artistic formats (music, film and book) so as to try to not overrepresent the Queen of them all – the sonic one – as it is usually the case with this site. To be fair, there could be other entertaining-escapist suggestions I could potentially be giving you for this rather downish period of the working year, such as a couple of other movies or TV shows I’ve been glimpsing at here and there, however I don’t want to feel like telling you too much what to do and see but I’d much rather give out some initial, core inspirations such as the above ones, from which then everyone goes on their individual journey to find what really enriches them perhaps ending up at a much different place than the starting one. Actually, looking back at my three artistic cues above I only now realise that there is indeed a deep, underlying theme that somehow connects them all: Los Angeles. That is, it turns out that the Californian city of Angels – unbeknownst to me – is the lowest common denominator to all Frank Ocean, Nightcrawler and Actors Anonymous, for many different reasons. Yet, the narration of how and what this comes to be might be as well be outside of the scope of this very blogpost, thus let’s just say that I’ll leave that to me alone by considering it my own personal artistic journey that has taken off out of those initial three ingredients. Now it’s your turn to make yours a reality. Enjoy (not so) responsibly.

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

ems_newyear

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): BAD RABBITS – “AMERICAN NIGHTMARE” | 18th December, MMXVI

An exceptionally interesting year is nearing its end and at this point it’s probably safe to say the best thing that could happen to us is a full reboot and restart from scratch in 2017. I will presumably devote a dedicated blogpost fairly soon trying to sum up some of 2016’s personally most interesting artistic bits and pieces (watch this space…), but before that I couldn’t bid farewell to this kaleidoscopic and eclectic year without one last instalment of the award-winning ARM column, so very much appreciated by yours truly’s esteemed readers. Also, I have a sense that the title of the record I will be reviewing in this very blogpost – Bad Rabbits’ American Nightmare – kind of already hints at a pretty faithful depiction of one of the most relevant developments that took place over the last twelve months and beyond. Yet, as the nature of ARM chapters calls for, there will be no room for other than pure, condensed and distilled musical critique within the walls of this very webpage’s frame. First things first. Set priorities straight. Enjoy.

Bad Rabbits are a Boston, MA, based funk-soul-rock quintet that’s been around for quite some time now, namely forming back in 2007 but in reality active for much more than ten years considering early line-ups and name changes. They might not be as well-known in Europe as they appear to be in the USA, and I personally might not had stumbled upon them either had it not been for Taking Back Sunday taking them as opening act on a long tour a couple of years ago. And boy am I glad they did, as these guys really do kick asses and their live performances are a true spectacle in their own right. So far the band has published five different records (3 EPs and 2 LPs). Their latest 12-track release is indeed titled American Nightmare (see artwork below) and was made available for free (!) – but after all, come on, it’s 2016… – via their website and all other blah blah digital stores on 21st November. Fun fact, despite its gratuity the album is also for sale on iTunes Store so I decided to actually purchase it after having dowloaded it for free just because it’s me and I like to be awesome most of the times. All joking aside, make sure to support original great music with every means you have at disposal. If you really don’t want to buy records and just like to stream tracks for free, at least inject yourself with ODs of live shows and merch and and and. Remembers, a cup of coffee at Starbucks costs around £4.

The album is an impressively solid rock & roll release closing at about 46 minutes, proving that Bad Rabbits didn’t try to hold back so much and gave out as much as it made sense for them. In this regard, as the band itself later revealed over a tweet, the writing and recording process for American Nightmare took place in a much smaller, more intimate and modest context that however was able to bring inspiration and emotion back to the Boston group. Overall, the record swings between ambient/space rock atmospheres – always led by beautiful guitars and arrangements – and stripped down, raw rapping crossing funk, R&B and hard rock all in between. It’s by far one of the most intrinsically varied and articulated albums I’ve listened to this year, but in fact what strikes me as even more surprising is Bad Rabbits ability and skilfulness to create extremely catchy melodies throughout the tracklist. Take for example lead single “Original” and its angry, dirty, and in-your-face emotion, or for instance the landscape-y “Too Late”, or again the mid-album ballad “Flames”: all those choruses and recurring refrains just simply stick to you from almost the first listen and result very well placed. Try and see for yourself.

Yet the record doesn’t simply prove songwriting maturity in its overall melodic extent and accessibility but possibly more prominently through its themes and lyrics, ranging from acute self-awareness and exploration to recent socio-political frames. For instance, the chilling and breathtaking “Wwyd” at number eight on the tracklist heavily deals with street and police gun violence alongside bigger conversations about race and discrimination via a powerful, minimalistic rapping chant. Similarly delicate topics lead tracks such as the explicit and at times exaggerated opener “Stalker”, the hectic and frantic “Save Yourself” as well as curtain call self-motivational anthem “Push”, which by the way features the only guest spot on the album with brilliant rap bars Spnda. American Nightmare is clearly loaded with socio-political statements and pieces of protest, and whilst to some it might look like just another anti-establishment rock album at first glance, there is an undeniable depth to the final output which openly places the record alongside other massive mass awakening and system-rejector releases such as letlive.’s If I’m the Devil…

Another noteworthy attribute of this album is its ability to let tracks grown onto the listener and almost catapult them to each one’s personal favourite bucket off of it. That is, songs such as the legitimately weirdly synths-loaded “Game of Chess” or the rather hysterical and messy “The Wire” seem to possess this rare capability of shaping themselves into radically enjoyable sonic frames completely revolting initial impressions, at least as far as I was concerned. In fact, this dynamic affected me to the extent that I currently consider “The Wire” the best cut off the whole record (I know this is subject to change and always a dangerous statement, yet true to this moment in time). The above is not to say that American Nightmare doesn’t have its weaknesses too, not at all. Songs like the too obvious “The Cloud” at number three or the slow, stripped down semi-acoustic  (and semi-boring…) number “My Song” do in fact represent the lowest points on this album, however legitimately acceptable and by no means affecting the overall positive and enthusiastic judgement of this record.

All in all, Bad Rabbits have put out an extremely relevant, thought-through and melodically beautiful record that in so many ways could aim at representing a lot of that’s happened during this ever-changing and ever-surprising year. This is true also for the lessons that should be learned and the main takeaways after listening to it: above all it’s a record distilling virtues of hope, sacrifice and self-growth. Or, as Bad Rabbits put it themselves in closing track “Push”: “Just push yourself, no matter if you go through hell“. What better phrasing to wrap up 2016?

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

AV

BAD RABBITS

“AMERICAN NIGHTMARE”

2016, Bad Records

http://www.badrabbits.com/

badrabbits_an

FALL 2016 MIX (OR, A MOST MISCELLANEOUS POST) | 20th November, MMXVI

Yes hi all I’m back. For the first time since I started Everything Must Swing I couldn’t make up my own mind on what to write about in a single blogpost, which felt kind of irritating and strange at first but somehow got ok after a while and I have since been able to come to terms with it. Therefore, this one is to be understood more as a collection of scattered, not necessarily-related topics that have contributed to filling my thoughts during the initial period of this fall (or autumn, for those reading from the UK). On top of this, the past few have literally been some sort of crazy weeks to experience, for (more or less) obvious reasons. Really interesting times to be in folks, oh boy they are.

Partly because of the latter point I’d like to start this post by raising awareness and the reader’s attention to an online initiative called 30 Days, 30 Songs. The project is essentially an independent website turned protest movement that had been releasing one song per day from October 10 until US Election Day. At heart, the initiative gathers different artists united in their desire “to speak out against the ignorant, divisive, and hateful campaign of Donald Trump”. Or, as they like to put it themselves:

“We will not be duped by Mr. Trump’s rhetorical contortions, by his pandering and lies and false promises. He has shown the content of his character time and time again, and the very fact of his candidacy is a blight on the nation. His words incite hatred and celebrate inequity. Most troubling of all, over the past year, the country has become inured to the towering vileness of his rhetoric and deeds, his attacks on women, Mexican-Americans, Muslims, and those with disabilities. But we have to remember these acts, and act against them. In the words of Cornell West, we cannot become ‘well-adjusted to injustice’.”

Out of the wealthy catalogue of artists who contributed to the compilation – which incidentally and possibly out of recent developments expanded itself becoming 30 Days, 50 Songs – there’s one particular song that stood out to me, namely “Locker Room Talk” by Long Beach-based indie rock band Cold War Kids. While my previous knowledge of the band’s music certainly helped cementing this connection, I’m not entirely sure what exactly struck me so much in this song, hence I’d rather let the song speak for itself and let the readers decide whether they’d like to agree with me or not:

[Verse 1]
Locker room talk
I can’t believe
You think you’re gonna get around it
Dirt in your mouth
Mic on the sleeve
We all heard how it sounded

[Pre-Chorus]
So many lies
Ya think that it’s true
Try walking on water
With a brick in your shoes
You’re gonna end up drowning
So many lies
Ya think that it’s true
Try walking on water
With a brick in your shoes
You’re gonna end up drowning

[Chorus]
It took a long time to break these walls
And he wanna build ’em up
It takes a long time
To earn my trust
I’m gonna give it to the girl I love

[Verse 2]
Ya conquer the small
To live like a king
From way up in your tower
Show us your hand
We know you’re just bluffing
You got no real power
Keeping your word
Don’t mean a thing
All your friends turn in to enemies
How could you be grounded?

[Bridge]
The hate in your heart
Everybody can see
Your head is hollow, man
You ain’t fit to lead
Let’s stand up and be counted

[Outro]
The girl I love
Give it to the girl I love

Moreover, the last two weeks have been characterised by the release of two of the most highly anticipated albums of this year, that is Policeman Sting’s 57th & 9th and the just unearthed tenth studio album by mighty Metallica called Hardwired… to Self-Destruct. While I’m definitely not in a position now to express myself on said records in form of a proper ARM writing (which might as well never see the light of the Interweb as far as I’m concerned), initial reception and surrogated feelings are very positive and encouraging, especially with regard to Sting’s output. I don’t know if it is because of the contemporary harsher socio-political times or maybe even a need for revisiting older sounds, but both records totally seem to borrow heavily from both artists’ harder and more direct past influences than ever before in recent times. As said, extremely uplifting signs suggesting that – unlike other artistic and societal domains – true, real music is still to be trusted and sought after.

Speaking of real music, another interesting thing I stumbled upon just recently is a NME’s news story item claiming that a Kanye West fan named Dorian_Ye on Reddit massively reworked on the Chicago rapper’s latest album The Life of Pablo by remixing the whole tracklist as well as adding in some early demo leaks, tracks that never made it onto the record and songs that West samples on the LP. I think the result is pretty spectacular and some cuts off the remixed collection such as “Famous”, “Highlights”, “30 Hours” and “No More Parties in LA” sound even stronger and meatier than Kanye’s OG version itself. Regardless of taste, what this guy did is incredibly intricate and I think he definitely deserves a shout out and some RTs online. By the way, here’s how he defines his approach to the whole project, very much in harmonic spirit with Kanye’s original creative vision:

“My criteria for editing the songs was based off of what I felt were the best elements of the final Pablo tracks, the earlier Pablo tracks and the original samples, and how I could blend them together in the most efficient manner. Please keep in mind that a lot of the earlier versions and demos of Pablo songs were not of the highest sound quality (as well as one or two samples on here that were impossible to find HQ rips for). I tried re-mixing the additional elements in these tracks along with adding bass and treble to help them blend in better, but not all of it is 100% perfect. Also, moving this record up 3 weeks from its original December release means that I didn’t have time to get the mixing down quite as perfect as I wanted to (though I still think it sounds pretty solid overall), but much like TLOP I intend for this to be a “living document” and hopefully before the end of the year I’ll have an updated version out with some minor mixing tweaks.”

Let me then switch from the audio to the video artistic realm for the last part of this post by spending a few words on a couple of TV shows that got me excited lately. My choice might indeed surprise you, not least because of the mainstream and social media buzz series like Black Mirror, Narcos or Westworld are currently getting. No, the series I’d like to highlight at this point in time are political drama show Designated Survivor and comedy The Ranch, both available on a website for watching TV shows called Netflix. I believe that my fondness of the two shows comes from two very different places. Designated Survivor relies on my enjoyment of the not-so-remotely-related show House of Cards – come on, in the end it’s all about the President of the United States of America – by adding an extremely addictive catchiness to its high-paced plot making it one of my most binge-watched series of all time. Sadly, there’s only one 10-episode season available as of now though judging by public reception and its ratings we shouldn’t be waiting too long for further seasons. The Ranch, instead, is a gritty, punchy and very, very funny short-form sitcom starring mass tech investor Ashton Kutcher that takes place at a fictional ranch in Colorado narrating the life of the Bennett family, nothing else than a truly dysfunctional group of relatives consisting of two drunken brothers, their angsty rancher father and his separated wife, who also happens to be the local bar owner. Simply great television, not much else to add.

Lastly, just in case you’re asking yourself, yes, I’m still wondering where the hell that promised Ryan Adams record is too. I haven’t forgotten either. Checking his Twitter feed on a daily basis. He can’t be fooling us around for too long. Can’t he?

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

P.s.: Happy Thanksgiving USA!

http://www.30days30songs.com

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ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): TAKING BACK SUNDAY – “TIDAL WAVE” | 17th October, MMXVI

Alright folks, here we are. The time has finally come. After having hyped about it for months hinting at it through this Summer’s most anticipated releases list and scrupulously analysed one of its single’s music video, my very own and utterly personal take on Taking Back Sunday’s 7th LP Tidal Wave is here. The 12-track, 48-minute long record dropped almost exactly a month ago (16th September) and was released on independent Californian label Hopeless Records, as it was the case for their previous effort Happiness Is. The album was recoded and produced in North Carolina by Tell All Your Friend-magician and Taking Back Sunday’s longtime friend Mike Sapone, who again worked on their 6th LP too. In fact, if you’re keen on learning more about the whole album-making process and behind-the-scenes insights from the Sioux Sioux studio in Charlotte (NC) where everything took place – which to me is as equally fascinating as the finished product itself – the label recently put out a nice making-of video reportage of the whole recording process.

Actually, because of the existence of said footage and so as to preserve some of its exclusive value, I’m going to spare you the majority of the details as well as the background of what led the actual album to be recorded alongside some of the main creative narratives behind it, trying to get straight to what in the end represents the essence of it with no further ado: the music itself. However, there is one thing I’d like to mention indeed, namely the fact that this record represents the first time in the band’s history that the same line-up has released three records in a row. That is, up until this point the NY outfit always changed at least some parts of its formation before completing a third consecutive album with the same one (they got close after 2004’s Where You Want to Be and Louder Now two years after, only to be disrupted by shaky departures of bass player Matt Rubano and lead guitarist Fred Mascherino before 2009’s New Again [!] was put out). Moreover, the realisation that this very personal and to be fair not very impressive accomplishment is to be obtained with the OG line up that started it all in the first place, I think speaks for something that makes the gestation of Tidal Wave a little more special.

For this record the band abandoned the not very fortuned choice of a “preface”-like instrumental opener to dances (see Happiness Is), but rather come straight to the point with “Death Wolf”. And boy, oh boy, do they get straight to the point with a fast, edgy, and punky rollercoaster that in some ways is set to deceive the listener after its first ambient-y overture minute. This track is right to be placed at number one for many reasons, and even after a solid good month of repetitive listens to the whole effort to me it’s the one that stays with you long after you’ve pressed stop. It’s got everything I like about this band: it’s raw, emotional, groovy, unpredictable and its lyrics are quintessential Adam Lazzara and John Nolan (the band’s lead lyricists). Moreover, the song’s hilarious, juxtapositional and at times genius “music video” makes for an even better listening experience. Plus, how cool is it to have a song called “Death Wolf”?! Just dope. The record continues with a duo of tracks, “Tidal Wave” and “You Can’t Look Back”, that were the ones already known to the large public being the first and second lead singles off the record. The title track at number two is an unapologetic tribute to some of the band’s main influences (The Ramones, The Clash, pure punk-rock more in general) and might as well be one of the catchiest songs Taking Back Sunday has ever written. To me a wonderful choice for both a title tracked-song and a first leading single. Fun fact is that, apparently, if it weren’t for drummer Mark O’Connell insisting on developing the song’s first raw ideas coming from John Nolan, the track might as well never have made the cut into the record. As for the following, third track, I’d spare you any more commentary and simply refer to a recent piece where I take a look at its music video (warning: it’s highly interpretable!).

The record then carries on to what might arguably be its most sophisticated and sonically mature part, showcasing the triade of songs “Fences”, “All Excess”, and “I Felt it Too”. At the same time, these tracks also represent some of the biggest departures in the band’s previous sounds, proposing solid and cohesive modern-day rock songs that encompass elaborated guitar sounds and unexpected electric/acoustic switches (“Fences”), incredible melodic feel entangled with signature emotional rawness (“All Excess”) as well as cradling, stripped down, and somehow hypnotic soundscapes that just don’t make you leave until the last note (“I Felt It Too”). From there, the album gets picked up by “Call Come Running”, a song that might have easily competed for first single from the start and that sees the band wearing their 80s influences pretty unapologetically offering another big, harmonic chorus similarly to what has long characterised one of Taking Back Sunday’s most widely appreciate traits. Next on the tracklist is “Holy Water”, and I have no shame in explicitly saying that, alongside “Death Wolf” and “Fences”, it is up there for the contender of personal favourite of the whole record. The track delivers emotionality from all its components and does a fantastic job in mixing songwriting, structure, and sound effects in a sustainable way that just works. In many ways it’s one of Taking Back Sunday’s best songs ever, in that I feel it enables each member to shine justifying their contribution in a way that actually enhances the creative constellation of the musical outcome without falling into risky self-referential schemes. “In the Middle of It All”, next one on the list, changes the landscape yet again pulling a lot of the band’s past sounds but reverting them back into a rocky production that has rarely been left so “dirty” and “gainy” ever before. Also, take a closer listen to Mark O’Connell’s drumming on this one, really going the extra mile delivering one of his best performances.

Tidal Wave, the artwork of which is as usual reported below and as a good friend of mine made me aware, has too many (more or less subtle) references to Nirvana’s Nevermind to go unnoticed, approaches its end with a trio of acoustic-led tracks, which from an overall musical standpoint could even make sense but unfortunately doesn’t really convince. My feeling is that one among the three tracks could’ve been left out (“We Don’t Go In There”?), a decision which by the way would’ve landed the record on to eleven tracks, which has always been the case for all previous Taking Back Sunday albums. While both “Homecoming” and “I’ll Find a Way to Make It What You Want” definitely have great ideas and display some interestingly looking-forward folk/americana influences, I just can’t abandon the sensation that the three tracks presented like this in a subsequent row are hard to sustain. Shame, because as just hinted at it would’ve been enough to simply drop one tune and it would’ve made for an even more brilliant record, overall. In other words, this kind of track listing ending has sometimes found me quitting the album listening experience at its peak, i.e. just after “In the Middle of It All”, not so much for lack of excitement to carry on but rather for impending fear of bringing this record “back to normality”, where it definitely shouldn’t be.

With that said, Tidal Wave is no doubt up there in the pantheon of Taking Back Sunday’s best work, representing a perfect snapshot of where the band is at right now both personally and artistically. There’s a lot of maturity, sound development, and lyrical refinement to be found among the twelve album tracks. In this regard, one of the things that work best here to me are song transitions, as they’re never hard placed or in any way forced, making for an extremely seamless and streamlined listening experience and giving even more legitimacy to the concept of “album” as a whole. The overall feeling is that with this release the band is at its most transparent and honest it has ever been, while one can totally tell that something special was started again by the original line up when they reunited with their 2011’s self titled record. The musical and lyrical narrative of the current incarnation 2.0 is there to be grasped with full force and in a much more tangible way than ever before, and this is successfully accompanied by innate compositional talent too. All in all, to keep this progress going, it simply looks like the NY alternative rock veterans have no other choice other than to ride this (tidal) wave for many, many other years to come.

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

TAKING BACK SUNDAY

“TIDAL WAVE”

2016, Hopeless Records

http://www.takingbacksunday.com

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RAIN ON AMERICA | 25th September, MMXVI

The past couple weeks have been extremely intense music-wise for me. On 16th September my all time favourite band Taking Back Sunday released their seventh studio album Tidal Wave, which has doubtlessly been on a loopy repeat ever since, whereas two days ago – on Friday 23rd September – Buffalo, NY, hardcore natives Every Time I Die dropped their highly anticipated and already acclaimed new LP Low Teens. Both made (and are still making…) for a very dense musical listening period which will likely fruit in some form of review on this frequencies sooner or later. I wouldn’t want to give away too much at this stage yet but I’ve got to say both of them offer, in very different ways, loads of interesting talking points and somehow represent new sonic frontiers for both outfits. More on this soon(-ish).

I just really wanted to touch base and highlight a little piece of art by alt-folk singer songwriter Ryan Adams that caught my attention during the past days. Interestingly enough, this time round I’m not talking about a song or album, but rather a free poem called Rain on America he released within his collection “Infinity Blues”, published back in 2009 and followed by a second instalment titled “HelloSunshine” during the same year. To be fair there could indeed be some room for musical excerpts, considering that the 41-year-old North Carolina minstrel recently announced the release of yet another LP in his already incredibly prolific career (18 studio albums and 11 EPs recorded in about 20 years!), provisionally called “Prisoner” and which Rolling Stone rightfully listed among its 35 must-hear albums of this fall. Yet I’d rather leave said musings to after it comes out, due in November, and let Ryan’s pungent and at times thorny verses do the talking for this one instead.

There’s not much to say really to introduce the following poem other than it truly resonates and emerges as relevant as ever to the current socio-political landscape, not only in the USA but other major Western countries too, even though it was most likely written about a decade ago. Enjoy it responsibly:

so dirty
so dirty and so mean
is a rainbow
is a letter-stained
is a blowhole sewer
that’s right
just a touch of little america
in a small town
wishing you were gay
or allergic
to something
anything
symmetrical lines ripe with train machines
like arms
branches of trees stuck to this rock
out-stretching
blowing up fast
through
shadow mole-holes
and
rain
rain rain rain


so dirty
so dirty and mean
hands like a battling machine
like a failed robotic attempt
like an interruption at the movies
like texting your former lover
or future
because he will not stop your nevers
not here
with a little touch of america
at your service door
flags in the yard
dogs in the house
his name above
loose and no growl
little ones go teary and cross
while the plate gets heavy with
cigarettes and lip gloss
and gin-scum breath
and cigarette-tray stains
and a hand gets bit by an animal
but nobody screams
or says anything
the mall dies
so eventually
store by store
the zombies outside they aren’t scary anymore
before the movies went cold before before
and the film backed up on the shilling and trade post
and chicken meat got hormonal and plain


so dirty
so dirty and so mean
little and loud
angry
and effortlessly proud
of nothing
and plain
just a little touch of america
rain
rain rain rain.

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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