Monday, January 28, 2013

Elixir On Mute - End of Sky (2010) ALBUM REVIEW

In the pantheon of prog metal guitar prodigies, Jordan Ferreira, the frontman and leader of Elixir On Mute, certainly has his place. Ferreira has the chops by far and he proves that almost to excess on his band's debut album End of Sky. He halts himself just enough for his virtuosity not be obnoxiously overbearing and instead it is rather impressive.

His guitar acrobatics have to carry a lot of weight on End of Sky, considering that the shortest track on the entire album runs almost six minutes, with the longest running over fifteen minutes. That's a lot of airtime to fill up and Ferreira's vocal prowess, while decent enough and just the taste his target audience will enjoy (see Periphery for a reference), doesn't leave a lasting enough impression to satisfy.

That means it's up to the instrumentals to satiate the listener. For fans of the guitar as something to master, rather than a means to an end to express an emotion (i.e. punk guitar), these will do the trick nicely. They're dutifully interesting and enough of a ride to keep you paying attention. Only once, in the aforementioned fifteen minute track “The Weapon,” do they drag, as Ferreira plays with effects for much of the outro with little ground gained.

Meanwhile, behind the kit on this record is another virtuoso, former Mars Volta drummer Thomas Pridgen. Pridgen here is clearly a session guy, but he more than adequately fills out the space in Ferreira's songs. At times, knowing what the man is capable of from his work with the Mars Volta, it may seem like he's restraining himself a bit too much, such as in the simple to the max beat he plays in the album's cheesiest but most immediately satisfying track “Helium Trains.” Still, when he does let himself go in the way he did on Volta's Bedlam in Goliath record, the result is the clash of two masters of their instruments creating a beautiful chaos.

Regardless though, this is the Jordan Ferreira show. He's singing and there's nary a moment where his guitar isn't making some very interesting noise. Without having seen him live, I don't know what level he's at as a frontman. But in a record where he stands dominant over the music, he makes his presence felt with all the power of someone who's been at this for a decade or more. For a debut album, End of Sky is remarkably fleshed out and well developed, especially in Ferreira's case.

Ultimately, your mileage may vary on this music depending on your appreciation of the guitar and progressive metal. End of Sky contains all the tropes common to the genre and makes no effort to differentiate or distance itself. It is what it is and it accepts and relishes in that. For fans, that's a blessing. For those looking for someone beating the hell out of a guitar and screaming, they won't find it here. But an album with its feet on the ground that understand what it wants to be is usually a very solid one and End of Sky is no different.

Either way however, the album is commendable for being so damned solid, confident, and determined for a debut. This is not an album that occurred overnight. It took true talent and direction from its orchestrator and for that Ferreira must be commended by any right. And for those that truly enjoy the directions Ferreira has chosen to pool his talent in, they may find a brand new favorite band in the promising upstart that is Elixir On Mute.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Best Songs of 2012

All the killer cuts and tracks, selected by the esteemed Corey Deiterman.

The Mars Volta - "Zed and Two Naughts" (Noctourniquet)

Why? - "Thirst" (Mumps, Etc.)

Yeasayer - "Longevity" (Fragrant World)

Psy - "Gangnam Style" (Psy6)

Carly Rae Jepsen - "Call Me Maybe" (Curiosity)

Kanye West, Pusha T, and Ghostface Killah - "New God Flow" (Cruel Summer)

Animal Collective - "Today's Supernatural" (Centipede Hz)

El-P - "Works Every Time" (Cancer 4 Cure)

Converge - "All We Love We Leave Behind" (All We Love We Leave Behind)

Fiona Apple - "Valentine" (The Idler Wheel is wiser than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords will serve you more than Ropes will ever do.)

Frank Ocean - "Pyramids" (Channel Orange)

John Frusciante - "Uprane" (PBX Funicular Intaglio Zone)

Sinead O'Connor - "Take Off Your Shoes" (How About I Be Me (and You Be You?))

Cloud Nothings - "Wasted Days" (Attack on Memory)

The Menzingers - "Sun Hotel" (On the Impossible Past)

Leonard Cohen - "Come Healing" (Old Ideas)

Veil of Maya - "Punisher" (Eclipse)

Say Anything - "Burn a Miracle" (Anarchy My Dear)

Lana Del Rey - "Born to Die" (Born to Die)

Soundgarden - "Been Away Too Long" (King Animal)

Gallows - "Everybody Loves You (When You're Dead)" (Gallows)

Rush - "Headlong Flight" (Clockwork Angels)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Glorious Return of At the Drive-In in Austin, Texas (Red 7, April 9th, 2012)

It only took 11 years, but it finally happened Monday night at Red 7 in Austin. At the Drive-In, the seminal post-hardcore band from El Paso, made their return to the stage. The obvious question is: was it good?

The answer is a resounding yes, of course. The energy and emotion packed into that hour and a half of music played before an audience of five hundred hardcore fans (who bought out the tickets in 11 minutes and got in even through some serious anti-scalping measures) was the kind of unparalleled atmosphere I personally had only read about. For fans of the genre, for people who have followed this band for so many years, dreaming of this day, it was like the Beatles got back together despite that whole half of them being dead problem.

At the Drive-In brought every bit of themselves back from the dead at this show in a way no one has seen since the band originally existed. In that way, for many, it was probably the greatest experience of their life. It certainly was for me. That's not to say I can't take an objective standpoint on some things though.

While frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala was certainly on his game, his age obviously showed. We all knew this going in. While he could no longer scream like he once did, he poured every bit of himself into his performance anyway. Halfway through the show he addressed the crowd inbetween songs and could barely croak out words. He also obviously lacked the crazy crackhead energy he had when the band was in their first life, yet he did all he could to give us a facsimile of it, the highlight of which was when he climbed the rafters like monkey bars (see the picture below). His dancing has improved a great deal as well, no longer jagged but actually informed on real performance. In that way, his moves may have been superior. He could at least keep his breath about him long enough to sing this way, something he often failed to do in the old days, and that is much more important.

Bigger than that though, Bixler-Zavala commanded the crowd with experience and authority. No longer a young punk, his more refined performance ruled the capacity audience, leaving them breathlessly screaming every word along with him and reaching out desperately to lay hands upon him as he stood upon the tiny stage in direct proximity of the closest fans. In those moments where he was still before them, singing his heart out, this was church and the messiah himself was standing before the fans.

On the other hand, we knew that guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez would not deliver on the same energy he had originally, but his performance was disappointing. Being the main reason the band broke up in the first place, he certainly did not seem excited to be standing on the stage with his old friends again. Nary a smile was to be seen from Rodriguez-Lopez, who could be spotted lazily leaning upon his amp in what seemed to be sheer boredom and even seemingly pouting at times like he really just wanted to get this over with as quickly as possible. Some have mentioned the passing of his mother recently and while that may be a contributing factor, one has to wonder how much he really wanted to do this reunion, always being the most forward-looking of the group. Even as recently as 2009, he squashed rumors of a reunion and maintained that it would be a miserable prospect. If nothing else though, he played his parts dutifully, if not happily, and made sure the band ran like a well-oiled machine.

“The other half,” so to speak, all brought their enthusiasm however. Guitarist Jim Ward, bassist Paul Hinojos, and drummer Tony Hajjar all looked like kids again, gray hairs and bald spots aside, throwing everything they had into their performance, bringing the fans all they could to give a stellar reunion show. In a way, the success of this show can be more attributed to them than the band's more famous duo. Though Bixler-Zavala handed in a magnificent performance, all would have been for naught if his band had been lacking and thankfully they met him with an equal measure of power.

Any negativity, from Rodriguez-Lopez or otherwise, was completely eliminated by one moment that made the entire show. During “Enfilade” from Relationship of Command, the most famous album from the group, Bixler-Zavala motioned to Ward to join him on the chorus together on one mic. They almost met heads, screaming into that same mic together, and the looks on their faces belied how elated they were to be back there together. It was an emotional moment that brought the house down and showed why this reunion happened in the first place. Sure, it was for the fans and for the money and for the sake of doing it. But more than anything, it was for old friends reuniting and putting aside past differences to once again enjoy each other's presence on stage. That's the take away from the At the Drive-In reunion story for me: seeing friends together again and happy about it.

Pattern Against User
Sleepwalk Capsules
Napoleon Solo
Metronome Arthritis
Non-Zero Possibility
One-Armed Scissor

[First photo courtesy of Brittany Bartos. All other photos courtesy of Brooklyn Vegan Austin, a wonderful blog about events and music in Austin. Please check out their website, especially if you live in the Austin area.]

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Greatest Songs of 2011

You can watch the music videos to and listen to all these songs in a neat video playlist at the link below:


Atmosphere - "Just For Show"

Atmosphere's new one was a stinker for the most part, but this track still goes hard and shows that Slug still has what it takes as an MC. Ant needs to step it up on the beats for the majority of the album, but this rich, driving Mexican inspired beat is what really ties the song together, recalling classic hip-hop beats like Timbaland's beat for Jay-Z's "Hola Hovito." This is the one song on the album that brings all the best elements of Atmosphere together to show they can still do what they do with the best of them. If only they tried this hard consistently, although the irony is that this song almost feels tossed off and maybe that's the key. They keep it simple and run with a nice idea that makes for an amazing head-bobbing beat.

Corinne Bailey Rae - "Low Red Moon"

I've long been a fan of the work of Corinne Bailey Rae and every song she chose to cover on her latest release, The Love EP, is a great interpretation of a classic song, especially her version of Prince's "I Wanna Be Your Lover." The reason I chose "Low Red Moon" is for this list though is that it's the song that is the furthest out of Bailey Rae's comfort zone. "Low Red Moon" is a song originally recorded by semi-obscure alt rock/dream pop band Belly. Bailey Rae's version is mostly faithful to the original, but her vocals are beautiful as always and I remain impressed that she could pull something like this off so well.

Bjork - "Hollow"

I probably could have chosen any song off the new Bjork album Biophilia for this list as the album is consistently impressive and features some of Bjork's more enticing instrumentals in recent years. The reason I choose "Hollow" however is for the emotion it evokes. It's sparse as ever in its instrumentation, but something about it is downright creepy. It begins sort of meandering and ponderous, as though Bjork has entered a dark forest and knows not where she is. It has a sort of mystical quality, as we journey forward. But slowly the lights begin to dim and the pixie dust and Snow White anf the Seven Dwarves quality of the early part of the song is replaced by a descending bass and an electronic beat. The situation grows dire. For the last minute or so of the song, horror movie key stabs become frantic and overtake the beat while Bjork's voice becomes more urgent. Then it ends. It leaves us on a cliffhanger, wondering what the hell happened to Bjork. It's this cinematic quality that makes this song an album highlight and also makes the album so damn enjoyable. I hear Bjork creating a world, something few people know how to do in music these days.

The Black Keys - "Lonely Boy"

This one is just balls to the wall rocking. I'm not gonna get in depth here for the simple reason that there's nothing to get in depth about. If you understand what makes classic rock songs so enjoyable, you'll love this one. It has sparse lyrics centered around a hook that is ultimately meaningless but catchy and oh so much fun to sing along to. "I've got a love that keeps me waiting, I'm a lonely boy." That simple line holds the whole thing together. Good luck getting this one out of your head for a good long while. As far as I'm concerned, we're in good shape as long as songs like this are being created and hitting the charts. It's just intellectual enough in its instrumentation to skirt any accusations of being a total classic rock rip-off (for that, see Jet), while remaining just dumb and rocking enough for everyone to just get down to it. In the absence of the White Stripes making radio hits, these guys are our next best hope for pure rock. So get the fuck up and dance already!

Bon Iver - "Beth/Rest"

This song has been garnering major comparisons to guys like Bruce Hornsby. You know, it has that total 80's sound, with the cheesy piano and inspirational vocals, not to mention the sax. I'm not going to argue with the comparisons, because they're completely valid, but hell, why not? The 80's are back and I couldn't be happier. I grew up on the 80's and getting to hear adult contemporary that's actually cool is fine by me. So I celebrate this song, while admitting how ridiculous and cheesy it is. That's what makes it good after all. There's nothing wrong with ridiculous and cheesy if you do it with a knowing smirk on your face and I'm pretty sure Bon Iver has one.

City and Colour - "Sorrowing Man"

Much of City and Colour's work is dark, sad, and tortured, focusing specifically on tales of lost love and failed lives told in Dallas Green's rich, smooth singing voice. What sets a song like "Sorrowing Man" apart is the instrumentation. Rather than being a simple acoustic affair like usual with City and Colour, he steps it up by producing a pained classic blues track, with an echoing electric guitar and a crying organ to accompany his soaring and perfectly hurt voice. It may be somewhat slick and calculated, a by the book reading of this type of music, but that's why it works so well. Nobody follows this formula quite so precisely and accurate anymore. Green here latches onto some sounds few exploit in their favor anymore, at least since the 70's, and it gives it a nice throwback feel.

Cymbals Eat Guitars - "Plainclothes"

This was one of my favorite songs by this group when I first heard them do it on WOXY (RIP) in 2009. It's been two whole years since then, but the song has finally seen an official release. Frankly, I like the live version much better. Something about the production on Lenses Alien drains this song of its liveliness. But regardless, since it's seen an official release, it's going on the list. Lenses Alien as a whole was a let-down but this older track still holds up, production qualms aside. It's all about catch and release with this one. It hooks you, it builds up, it breaks down, it plods along, slowly coming back, then it explodes, then it slows it down again, then it brings it all back. That build-up, that contrast, it takes you for a ride and never lets you go completely until the song is over. It's brilliant and shows why this is still, lackluster album aside, one of my favorite bands in the current indie rock landscape.

The Decemberists - "Down By the Water"

Ok, we all know why I like this one so much and I'll get it out of the way right now. I am a massive R.E.M. devotee. I was crushed when they called it quits this year. And so, of course, this song hooked me instantly with Peter Buck's jangly guitar that reminded us all of "The One I Love" so much. It basically is an update on "The One I Love" with a heavier Americana influence, but that's alright. Like I said when I reviewed this album early this year, I feel like it explores an overlooked part of R.E.M.'s history while progressing the Decemberists forward as well. It's that untold story that happened between Automatic for the People, perhaps the culmination of R.E.M.'s pop and americana phase, and their return to rock on Monster. It bridges the gap between those two sounds, even as it is performed by a successor band who are highly influenced by the original. More than any other Decemberists release, The King is Dead pays tribute to one of their greatest influences, while still doing something unexplored and uncharted. That's why this one resonated with me so much, aside from the obvious.

Dream Theater - "On the Backs of Angels"

I hate Dream Theater. Well, that's not true, I hate what they've become. They were so good on their breakthrough album Images and Words before they became crushed and suffocated under the weight of their own admittedly amazing technical proficiency. Not that I want to sit here and argue that being a virtuoso is a bad thing, but at times their music has seemed technical for the sake of being technical. Not to mention the softening of singer James LaBrie's voice even as the music has become heavier (and blander). But the departure of longtime drummer Mike Portnoy, who was also a central songwriter, gave me some renewed hope for the band. Anyone whose heard him playing with Avenged Sevenfold or his dreadful new band Adrenaline Mob knows that Portnoy has a serious and bizarre interest in mediocre radio rock and metal. So I hoped Dream Theater would be purged of that when he left the band. Thankfully, it has. Unfortunately, they still can't write a fucking song to save their collective lives. Their new album, A Dramatic Turn of Events, is a piece of shit. There's a few songs that might be alright, if LaBrie could sing with any balls anymore, but he lost that to illness in the 90's and it's never coming back. The one song where it actually works out for them though is the first track and the single, "On the Backs of Angels." It's a copy of their Images and Words style, perhaps consciously, but that's alright too. All I've ever wanted from Dream Theater was for them to scale back some and get back to what made them good on that album. For a brief shining moment, they do that. They lose it immediately afterward, but I have to give them some serious props for producing their best song in over a decade. It's an admirable step forward (or back, depending on how you look at it) at the very least. So I will give them credit where credit is due. They deserve to make this list on the basis of this one song. If only the whole album was this good. Also this sparse. The best part of this song is that it actually has room to breathe for once. They need to learn to harness that. But still, criticism aside, good on them for producing one of the better songs I've heard this year. Beware though, they're always going to be masters of cheese. If you're scared of cheesy prog, stay away.

Emmure - "Last Words to Rose"

Emmure has always teetered on being a serious force to be reckoned with in the world of metal, a bunch of whiny pussies, and a comical Limp Bizkit tribute band. It's hard to tell which they want to be on their first three albums. But on Speaker of the Dead, they seem to have made a choice. They're not fucking around anymore. On their second album, The Respect Issue, they had a song called "Tales from the Burg" where frontman Frankie Palmeri screamed the pained words "I'm not over it, I'm never over it" immediately contradicting his previous statement in the same song that he was "so over it, so fucking over it." Well, despite his claim that he would never be over "it," he seems to finally be over "it" for Speaker of the Dead, which is the first album where we can say without a doubt that the band is dead serious about what they're doing. There's still a few exaggerated hard ass moments, recalling their third album Felony, but for the most part Speaker of the Dead is just heavy, crushing metal with few traces of irony or Palmeri's usual whininess and heartbreak. But the album's most intense and emotional moment comes with this track, "Last Words to Rose." It's emotional without being whiny, something of a rarity in Emmure's catalogue, and it shows them coming into their own as musicians. It's the album's high point, recalling intellectual metalcore bands such as Misery Signals and the Devin Townsend Project. It's still crushing and pounding metal, but it features more atmospheric guitar leads that show a maturity and depth that Emmure has never had before. It's the sound of a band finding their definite strengths and combining them all into one track. Emmure has always been entertaining and enjoyable, but now they're no longer ironic or embarrassing. They're just a good band and this one proves it.

The Flaming Lips and Lightning Bolt - "I'm Working at NASA on Acid"

Leave it to the Flaming Lips and Lightning Bolt to produce a song together that sounds nothing like either of them. "I'm Working at NASA on Acid" does sound a lot like what its title makes you think it would sound like though. It sounds like an acid trip in space, opening up with the sounds of astronauts speaking to mission control, followed by a dark acoustic guitar strum and psychedelic vocals, layered over each other multiple times and echoing out through the eery atmosphere created by the backing keyboards. Suddenly the whole thing billows out around the three minute mark and becomes something else entirely: a spastic psych rock jam far more in the vein of what the Flaming Lips and Lightning Bolt should sound like together. Then we return to the original theme three minutes later at the sound of an acid-washed synthesizer committing suicide. In its entirety, it's an eight minute track that drags you through the ringer. But for some reason, as unappealing as all this should be, it's strangely enticing. Like anything these guys do, it's something that should sound horrible but works so well together to sound like a true work of genius. And that's what it is: pure fucking genius, laced with copious amounts of hallucinogens. Eat it up.

The Get Up Kids - "Tithe"

The Get Up Kids have been gone for a long time and the pop landscape has changed dramatically. When they left, their brand of emo pop punk was tailor made for the radio and it worked to make them a big deal. That won't work anymore though. Few bands know what to do with themselves when their scene disappears out from under them. The Get Up Kids don't really know what to do with themselves either, as evidenced by their comeback album There Are Rules. But they sure sound convincing on the opener and best song "Tithe" that they totally know what they're doing. It's a hard rocking song, erasing any evidence of their pussy past. It's slightly experimental, with lots of weird sounds going on, especially towards the middle, but for the most part it's just driving, hard hitting punk rock. If they could have kept this pace, they would have been on to something. But hey, at least they made one of the catchier and better rock out songs this year.

The Human Abstract - "Digital Veil"

Perhaps not the best song on this list, but maybe the most fun, Black Keys aside. This pounds and pounds away with a ridiculous and comical hook containing the lyrics "pull me from the gallows of this fiberoptic nation." That statement is ultimately pretty meaningless, but it carries on through the song, all the while featuring guitars sweeping in the background. Even for technical death metal, the whole thing is a bit garish, but that's what makes it stand out from a lot of other songs in this genre released this year. Even if you're not into this sort of thing (I know I'm not, for the most part), it will keep going and going with that awful hook in your head until you learn to love it. That's why it makes the list. It's a deceptive earworm that becomes pretty damned enjoyable after you let it in.

iwrestledabearonce - "Next Visible Delicious"

Who's up for some pure fucking weirdness? iwrestledabearonce's main gimmick is that they have a female screamer who doubles as a singer, but for me that's the least interesting thing about them. The most interesting is probably the prominent Mr. Bungle influence they exhibit, best showcased in the opening track from their latest LP, Ruining It for Everybody. There are strong Disco Volante overtones throughout, especially early in the song. Other aspects simply recall more recent metalcore, but they can't hide their bizarre ambitions, with the jazz rock breakdowns and scat-sung clean vocals. It's rare to hear a band carry the torch for this many conflicting influences in a song, but it all comes together to produce some of the most inspiring and intellectually stimulating metal out there right now.

Jay-Z and Kanye West - "Why I Love You (feat. Mr. Hudson)"

Watch the Throne has to be one of my absolute favorite albums of 2011. I'm a massive fan of Jay-Z and Kanye West and I believe their collaboration is a brilliant combination of their individual strengths. My favorite song on the album though has to be the closer, "Why I Love You." It's a stadium-sized blend of indie pop rock (think Coldplay) with hip-hop, featuring a soaring chorus from Mr. Hudson. It's catchy, but the lyrics have a pretty strong meaning of loyalty and betrayal, something Jay-Z is intimately familiar with considering his large amount of friends and foes. It's mostly a Jay-Z track with some interjects especially towards the end from Kanye, but that's fine because Jay-Z kills it with some of his best rapping in a long time. Watch the Throne is a testament to their greatness throughout and Jay-Z puts more effort in his rhymes and flows than he has perhaps since his retirement. Kanye always seems to bring out that great side of him. The hungry side, despite his riches. That's here in full force. The whole thing just carries so much weight and catchiness. It makes you want to dance and clap and sing along. It's a tailor made live jam. That's why I chose it, but it's really just one of a number of incredible stand-out tracks on the album. If it's not this one, it's the combination of classic rock, children's choirs, and serious subject matter on "Murder to Excellence." I can't choose just one!

La Dispute - "King Park"

La Dispute has always specialized in extremely emotional stories told by singer and principal poet Jordan Dreyer, with the music simply serving as a soundtrack to his tales. This has always been their hook and their strength. But, indeed, with their third full length release, Dreyer has found his official voice. While he used to sing with a whiny bitch sort of emotional tinge, he now knows properly how to convey his words with true emotions. He varies his pitch and his style to match the words perfectly. When the story takes an intense turn, he gets more intense. But he understands how to sound subdued or contented or worried or anxious or angry or depressed or suicidal. He's a voice actor with a band now. Nowhere is this more clear than on album highlight "King Park." This one is getting the majority of the attention centered around their latest record, Wildlife, and for good reason. At nearly seven minutes, it's the longest track on the album and it conveys the most intense and powerful story of the album. While Dreyer has previously told stories of heartbreak, he moves away from that tired subject to tell a story with some actual depth on this one. The story is that of Dreyer floating around as a ghost, watching the events of the day happening. A gang member performs a drive-by shooting, but he misses his target and kills a small child. He ends up holed up in a hotel room, surrounded by police, holding himself and a friend hostage and threatening his own life. I'm not doing the story any justice with this summary, it has to be heard to be believed, so I won't spoil the climax. Suffice it to say it will shock and move you and it stands as one of the greatest songwriting achievements of this year, bringing La Dispute to a new a level in my book as songwriters. It's just beautifully done, with Dreyer's perfectly emotional lyrics and the music matching his intensity tit for tat. Few bands can pull something like this off with such grace and eloquence.

David Lynch - "Pinky's Dream (feat. Karen O)"

One might initially be skeptical of David Lynch, the legendary director, making music. He's done so before in soundtracks for his films, but very rarely as an entity that exists on its own. This is his debut album created separately from a film. The results, however, should dispel most fears. It may not be the greatest album, but it should live up to the weird expectations of Lynch fans. The stand-out track though is the opener featuring the wonderful Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Most of the album features instrumentals or Lynch delivering vocals himself, through effects or not. This one doesn't just stand out for Karen O's admittedly superior vocal skills to Lynch's amateurish though still competent ones. It stands out for the bizarre lyrical content she is delivering. It stands out because it tells a haunting and cinematic story similar to Lynch's films. Details are scarce and one will have trouble truly understanding what is happening in the story, just like one of Lynch's films, but it also evokes strong emotions and will leave you affected. Whether you realize what is happening or not, you know it isn't good. There's no resolution to it and it leaves one wondering about Pinky and her seemingly horrible fate. The music works brilliantly establishing a landscape for O's story and it captures the perfect blend of visual storytelling in music, similar to the Bjork track on this list.

The Mars Volta - "Trinkets Pale of Moon"

This one may not count as it has only been performed live up to this moment, but any live performance is worth getting your hands on. This is sure to be the highlight of The Mars Volta's upcoming sixth album. It shows off the best of the band's slower styles, featuring some of frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala's greatest vocals of his career on the intensely gratifying chorus and especially in the post-song jam. The song started off around four minutes long, with a simple outro. But it eventually grew to be up to twenty minutes long, the remaining sixteen minutes consisting of the outro jam wherein Cedric wails and wails with so much soul it will rend your heart asunder. This one is all about him and his magnificent vocals, as well as the sparse but incredibly talented groove being laid down by new Mars Volta drummer Deantoni Parks. You may not like this one as much if you're in it just for axeman Omar Rodriguez-Lopez's acid rock noodling, but for once he takes a backseat and lets the percussion and the vocals dominate, which shows commendable restraint and just how talented the rest of the band is. The Mars Volta is known for being bombastic, but it's these moments that set them apart and show they can do more.

Megadeth - "13"

Aside from the bizarre fact that I can't stop listening to "Wrecker," one of the most idiotic songs Dave Mustaine has ever written, Thirteen, Megadeth's thirteenth album (get it?) is a piece of utter steaming garbage. The lyrics suck, the production sucks, the solos are completely forgettable, there's five songs that were already available before this album was released and the re-recordings here just made them worse, most songs feature recycled riffs, and Dave's voice has never been worse. But for one moment on the very last song, they pull it together to produce one of the better songs Megadeth has created in the last decade. The lyrics are a decent story of Mustaine's own life, the solos are actually pretty cool, the instrumentation is dynamic, and there's a cool part where they change the tempo on the chorus at the end that spices things up quite nicely. I actually quite enjoy this one and if Megadeth could do stuff like this more, I'd probably appreciate their current direction a bit more. Fans of their 90's era will probably appreciate this one more than most, but the 90's were Megadeth's best era in my opinion, so I'm quite satisfied with how this track turned out. Avoid the rest, but download this one for your collection.

Frank Ocean - "American Wedding"

Most of Frank Ocean's debut release is some great modern R&B, but he takes a detour to sample the entire song of the Eagles' "Hotel California," transposing his own lyrics and vocals over it to create the song "American Wedding." Why is it the stand-out song on the album? Well aside from the fact that "Hotel California" is a great song in and of itself, no matter how overplayed, Ocean spices it up with more meaningful lyrics than the Eagles wrote for it, giving us insight into the sorry state of marriage in America today and the heartache that it brings. It's a generic topic and one Ocean likely has little to no experience in, but he makes you believe his story with his strangely specific story and emotional and powerful vocals. Speaking of the vocals, it's probably the greatest example on the album of Ocean's pure vocal ability, the vocal ability which is making waves in the hip-hop community and earning him spots singing hooks for the likes of Jay-Z and Kanye West. The combination of a great song with those vocals and lyrics is what propels this one to be one of the best songs this year when it could have simply been a trashy and lazy rip of the original. Considering what Ocean does with this song, it matters little that he didn't write the backing track. He makes it his own.

Portugal. The Man - "Got It All (This Can't Be Living Now)"

Could this be the happiest, catchiest song Portugal. The Man has ever written? I certainly think so. There's something about frontman John Gourley's soaring, excitable falsetto that fills one with a sense of childlike joy. Where most music these days wallows and broods, Portugal. The Man takes the opposite route and decides to return to an innocent sort of joyfulness that we probably haven't heard in the world of pop rock since the Beatles. Even the biggest Beatles tribute band of all time, Oasis, chose to focus their attention on the sentimental balladry of the Beatles for the most part. But Portugal. The Man harnesses that potentially drug-induced happiness of the 60's that so few know how to do properly anymore. When they say they've got it all, you tend to believe them. While the lyrics are bit obscure, it seems to tell a story of not being able to believe that everything you ever wanted has come true. Maybe that's how they've been feeling lately since they got signed to a major label. In any case, it's a sound they've been pursuing for a couple albums now, but the formula is truly perfected on this song. It's one of those rare songs that can make a bad day good when you hear the opening guitar riff. You know it's just going to brighten things up a little bit.

Radiohead - "Lotus Flower"

Radiohead scaled things back dramatically on The King of Limbs, to create a far simpler effort than they have in many years. For some, Radiohead just being Radiohead without being groundbreaking isn't quite enough; for me, it's plenty. "Lotus Flower" brings out everything I love about Radiohead of old while still sounding very fresh. With the beautiful and haunting vocal melodies, the hilarious and bizarre music video, and the sparse electronic instrumentation which somehow feels warmer and more inviting than anything they've done in the past decade, the song builds up into a truly intellectual and yet completely pretty tune with a fair amount of danceability. Perhaps one won't want to indulge in the spastic movements that Thom Yorke employs in the video, one might hurt themselves attempting that, but it's still easy to get down to this piece, or to just contemplate it as moving and thoughtful meaningful music. It's that dichotomy that makes "Lotus Flower" essential Radiohead and an essential song of 2011.

Lou Reed and Metallica - "Cheat On Me"

Surprised to see this here? Fuck you. There's so much hate going around about this album that no one seems to see it for what it is: a brilliant piece of performance art. It showcases Metallica at their most musically open and experimental in their entire career while showing off Lou Reed's fucked up and insightful poetry. For my money, no song on the album showcases both better than "Cheat On Me." It's a song where the combination really gels, although I feel like "The View" is the only track where the combination is truly all that awkward. For the most part though, the whole album stands as an expanding of both artists sounds. You can hear Reed and Metallica challenging each other as artists and they bring out the best of each other's more avant garde tendencies to create one of the best poetic spoken word albums in years. I view the hate as something spawning from closed minded metal fans who just want Master of Puppets. But that's not what this is. Metallica play backing band to the maestro Lou Reed here and fans of the Velvet Underground should find plenty to love, especially in the longer jams like this track.

R.E.M. - "Oh My Heart"

A strong ballad, this was one of the songs from R.E.M.'s final album Collapse Into Now to make it to their career spanning compilation Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982-2011 for a pretty good reason. It's straight out of Out of Time, an americana inflected ballad with powerfully moving vocals from Michael Stipe and some interesting instrumentation, centered around piano, mandolin, and accordion. It features a nice callback to the line "if the storm doesn't kill me, the government will" in "Houston" from their previous album, 2008's Accelerate, in the lyric "the storm didn't kill me, the government changed," giving us a little hope for Michael on his way out. Maybe we'll survive without R.E.M. as well, no matter how unfortunate it is that they're done now. Regardless, we can still look fondly even on their final effort, where "Oh My Heart" stands out as likely the highest point. A toast to R.E.M. and their fine career.

St. Vincent - "Cruel"

The bouncy programmed drums and distorted guitar of "Cruel" are what people will remember about this track, but the hook that really draws you in is St. Vincent mastermind Annie Clark's lilting vocal delivery, especially the sinking showcases of her range in the opening and between the choruses and the verses that evoke a dream like state. It adds an aura of beauty and elegance to the track that one wouldn't expect from a song featuring a masterfully performed but completely fucked up guitar solo in the middle of it. From a logical standpoint, none of this should work so well together. But Clark is a Berklee alumnus and is in complete control of the organized chaos the entire time, perfectly crafting an arty pop song that works its way into your head as much as anything on the radio but then gives you plenty of food for thought about the instrumentation and dynamics involved. It is the perfect evolution of Clark's St. Vincent sound and, combined with the wonderful music video, should serve as her breakthrough hit by all rights.

Thursday - "A Gun in the First Act"

Much of Thursday's latest and apparently last album, No Devolucion, focuses on a stripping down of their sound back to the days of Full Collapse and War All the Time. It rocks harder and incorporates a little less of their post rock and art rock tendencies than previous releases such as A City by the Light Divided did. But one song that is more relentless with their experimental tendencies and my favorite on the album is "A Gun in the First Act." It's heavy and intense, it features broad instrumentation, and it catches you and reels you in without mercy. It builds and grows and Geoff Rickley's wailing vocals tear at you until suddenly it gives way to the tension and strips things back down in the middle. Just for a second to make you want more though, then it explodes back with full force. Then make way for one of the most unforgiving and catchy riffs of the year along with Rickley's tastefully used screaming voice. It all serves to make this the high point of the album and shows off what makes Thursday special among all those aging post-hardcore guys from the early 2000's. Unfortunately, I guess this is their swan song and that just makes the whole thing that much more meaningful.

Touche Amore - "~"

The opening track to Touche Amore's latest collection, Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me, acts as not only a perfect set-up to the album but a perfect set-up for their new sound and outlook. It's brighter, it's happier, it's still heavy, and it still conveys just as much emotion as ever. Touche Amore has made it, as much as a band of their style can make it, and they're celebrating, despite all the bullshit. So when vocalist Jeremy Bolm opens the song with the title of the album, it's so much more than a title. It's a life motto. It's a statement on where they are as a band. And that is a better place than they've ever been. It lets you know there is life after depression and misery and it's a brilliant way to introduce this album, which essentially flows as one long track in itself.

Tyler, the Creator - "Yonkers"

Really a number of songs from Tyler, the Creator's huge release Goblin deserve to be on a list like this. "Transylvania," "Her," "Window," "Goblin," "Golden," etc. But how could I pick any song other than the massive single, "Yonkers?" It's got that awesome music video that's so evocative and the lyrics serve as an introduction to everything that Tyler is about as a rapper. It's one of the greatest introductions to the mainstream audiences of all time. Some people have tried to turn on Tyler, Goblin, and this song because of their dramatic popularity, but that's bullshit. Tyler and his music are an accomplishment that deserve acclaim. Just because it's not your pet to trot out as "real hip-hop" as the antithesis of the "evil" mainstream doesn't mean it's not still brilliant. If one single track represents 2011 as a whole, it is "Yonkers" and this is the one we're going to be hearing about for a long time. Get used to it now.

Vivian Girls - "Light in Your Eyes"

Starting out with a rumbling bassline and static drum beat, one knows this is about to explode all over the place. Thankfully, "Light in Your Eyes" more than delivers on that promise, quickly turning into a raucous six-minute lo-fi punk jam with some of the best riffage written this year. There's little else to say about it, it just rocks really hard and makes you want to bang your head. It's energetic, it's powerful, and it plays to all of Vivian Girls' strengths as musicians. For years before their latest release, Share the Joy, I had seen Vivian Girls as having a great deal of potential but never quite reaching it. But now they've finally figured out what they do best and they do it mercilessly throughout the album. There is no greater example than "Light in Your Eyes," which serves as a closer to the album and a culmination of their efforts as a band. It's a perfection on what they do as an epic outro to their best album yet.

Wild Flag - "Romance"

It should have been obvious that I would rep for my girls at some point in this thing. I'm a sucker for all things Sleater-Kinney related and Wild Flag is the most obvious continuation of Sleater-Kinney to show up on the radar since their final album, The Woods, in 2005 and their announcement of an indefinite hiatus. Erstwhile singer and guitarist Corin Tucker's solo project was a nice detour last year featuring a sincerely interesting album, but it possessed little of the post-punk rocking of Sleater-Kinney and focused on more reflective music. Her bandmates, Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss, have come back together in Wild Flag for a more legitimate continuation of Sleater-Kinney's legacy. It's a step back from the more experimental jam sound of The Woods, back to a simpler time in S-K's history. Think Dig Me Out. But it's a necessary step back while still looking forward and experimenting with new sounds. Their debut album explodes out of the gate and hooks me immediately with a signature Brownstein guitar riff recalling "Rollercoaster" from The Woods and then the instantly satisfying chorus. It sets the stage for an album of pure indie punk goodness that almost just about makes me able to live with that "indefinite hiatus" continuing on and on and on.

Saul Williams - "Explain My Heart"

Saul Williams is a thought-provoking and soulful poet and a wonderful musician. However, he tends more towards pop and dance music on his latest album, Volcanic Sunlight, and drops the ball completely. Saul has never been one to be tamed though, so it's unsurprising that his latest album would have nothing in common with his previous work (as none of his albums have been musically or thematically connected very much) and would challenge his fans with a radically different approach. Personally, I do not feel it works. But the best track on the album, "Explain My Heart," works brilliantly and shows how good this project could have been. It remains dance-oriented while still being challenging and intellectual. It has a fat bassline one can get down to, but there's a persistent synthesizer riff, vocal chanting in the background, and tribal percussion that drives the song into a rock direction. While making this album, Saul Williams claimed he wanted to create something similar to The Mars Volta's seminal debut album Deloused in the Comatorium. "Explain My Heart" strongly succeeds. The influence is clear, but the song is different than anything The Mars Volta has done. It's distinctly Saul Williams while still bearing the effects of The Mars Volta on his music. As always, the lyrics are brilliant and also showcase Saul's talent of making his voice work for his music, in the forms of spoken-word and singing. He may not be a classically trained or talented singer, but he uses his voice in an interesting way that draws one in. All things simply seem to come together here in a way that they do not for the rest of the album. Therefore, while the album is a disappointment, this is one of Saul's greatest achievements as a solitary song and one of the best in 2011.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

My Favorite TV Performances

This is just a quick compilation of some of my favorite live performances on TV by my favorite bands.

Alexisonfire - Pulmonary Archery

Tyler, the Creator and Hodgy Beats - "Sandwitches"

The Mars Volta - "Wax Simulacra"

At the Drive-In - "One Armed Scissor"

The Blood Brothers - "Set Fire to the Face on Fire"

What are some of your favorites? Post them in the comments!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Fifty Great Albums Released in 2010 (Part Five)

Spoon - Transference

Best Tracks: "Written in Reverse," "I Saw the Light," "Got Nuffin"

A surprisingly underrated new album from Spoon. This one really flew under the radar for whatever reason, which is strange because it's just as good as any previous Spoon albums. It's a bit more stripped down and less ambitious than their previous album, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, but it's still a good listen. (Original Grade: B+)

The Tallest Man on Earth - The Wild Hunt

Best Tracks: "The Drying of the Lawns," "Kids on the Run"

The Dylan-esque Tallest Man on Earth's sophomore release isn't quite as good as his first one; maybe the striking resemblance is wearing off. That being said, he's still one of the few folk musicians today doing anything interesting or new. Well relatively new. He does sound like old school Dylan a lot, but he's at least writing interesting new songs that sound like what Dylan of old would be doing today if he was transported through time. He may be forever plagued by that comparison, but there's a greater emotional depth and songwriting skill that just puts these songs above the trend of lazy folk songs released by contemporaries these days. The Tallest Man on Earth is at least the tallest man in folk, figuratively speaking. The Wild Hunt shows that again. (Original Grade: B)

Titus Andronicus - The Monitor

Best Tracks: "A Pot in Which to Piss," "To Old Friends and New"

Titus Andronicus is a superbly talented indie rock band that blends raw power with unparalleled ambition. On The Monitor, they almost get this formula down perfect, but there's one crucial flaw: the songs all run on far longer than they should. Granted, they're good songs, but some editing down would help them so much. They can write such great hooks that go unnoticed in such excessive running times. Call it overambition. Still, they're well on their way to being one of the important indie rock bands over the next decade. (Original Grade: not reviewed)

Touche Amore / La Dispute - Searching for a Pulse / The Worth of the World

Best Tracks: "I'll Get My Just Deserve," "How I Feel"

Two of the greatest post-hardcore/screamo bands around today collaborating on four tracks for a split release was a big enough deal to begin with. But when you actually listen to it, you realize just how talented these two bands are as they come together and gel perfectly, putting out a set of their four best songs yet. Easily the split release of the year. (Original Grade: A+)

Touche Amore / Make Do and Mend - Smoke Signals and Hideaways / Hand Me Downs and Cobwebs

Best Tracks: "Hideaways," "Hand Me Downs"

Another great split from the Touche Amore camp, this time with post-hardcore band Make Do and Mend. Make Do and Mend plays a less heavy, more 90's post-hardcore by way of Fugazi style than Touche Amore, but the tracks flow essentially seamlessly here, with Touche Amore going hard and heavy as they usually do and Make Do and Mend upping the ante on their part to fit in. Touche Amore's half is great, but Make Do and Mend blows the listener away with their absolute best song yet, "Hand Me Downs." (Original Grade: B)

The Corin Tucker Band - 1,000 Years

Best Tracks: "1,000 Years," "Half a World Away," "Doubt"

Corin Tucker doesn't belt out her screams or rock as hard as she used to. She described this album as "mom rock" herself. Still, it's always an enjoyable thing to hear her making music and the album itself is pretty good. It might not be as hard as Sleater-Kinney, but the songwriting is there and it's fun. We're just glad to have her back making music again. (Original Grade: B)

Warpaint - The Fool

Best Tracks: "Undertow," "Shadows," "Composure"

What style Warpaint actually plays could be debated for a while, they play a unique blend of dream pop esque music that sets them apart from other bands right now. That's probably why they're gaining so much widespread notice. They're forging their own path and writing great songs while they're at it. They've been touring hard this year and gaining a widespread following. I'm pretty happy to see that happening as I've followed them for a while, since seeing them perform live. The album, in truth, doesn't match up to their exquisite live performances, but their songwriting is strong and well worth hearing. If you have the chance though, see them. They're amazing. (Original Grade: not reviewed)

Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Best Tracks: "Dark Fantasy, "Gorgeous (Featuring Kid Cudi and Raekwon)," "Power," "Monster (Featuring Rick Ross, Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj, and Bon Iver)," "Runaway (Featuring Pusha T)," "Blame Game (Featuring John Legend)," "Lost in the World (Featuring Bon Iver)"

While I decided against rankings this year and I want all the albums on this list to be viewed somewhat equally, in that you should listen to each and every one of them, there is one album that stands head and shoulders above the rest. Kanye West's Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a masterpiece of pop music and is by far the greatest album to come out in 2010. This is not meant as a slight to any of the other amazing albums on this list, but this one is just the absolute best. Kanye stepped up his game once again and somehow managed to top himself where I didn't think he could. The most talented songwriter in mainstream music today. (Original Grade: A+)

Yeasayer - Odd Blood

Best Tracks: "Ambling Alp," "Madder Red," "O.N.E.," "Love Me Girl"

Yeasayer always had pop hooks, but they dealt in more psychedelic and indie territory on their first album, All Hour Cymbals. On Odd Blood, they fully embrace their art pop leanings, recalling weirdo 80's pop stars like Peter Gabriel. It works for the most part, with songs like "Ambling Alp" and "Madder Red" being some of the greatest of the year. There is a fair amount of filler or songs that are stuck in their old style a bit that don't catch on as much. Those songs are slightly disappointing, but the album holds together well enough to be a successful turn. (Original Grade: A-)

Neil Young - Le Noise

Best Tracks: "Love and War," "Hitchhiker," "Peaceful Valley Boulevard"

Neil Young makes a slight comeback after his slightly bad Fork in the Road in 2009. We know Neil can still produce great music and he does just that here, writing a set of stripped down guitar tracks that suit him very well. The production is raw and vintage and fits him perfectly. The only downside really is that he fucks up some of the songs with an awful echo effect on his voice. He doesn't need it, his voice still sounds beautiful. It just tends to get annoying. Other than that, it's Neil playing guitar and singing, what more can you ask for? (Original Grade: A)

[Ed. Note: So that should be it right? Well it was for most of the day, until I realized a glaring omission. Though this brings the list to fity-ONE great albums, I would be remiss in not mentioning it as it was definitely one of the best last year. How I managed to overlook it when compiling the top fifty, I don't know, but it's quite embarrassing and must be corrected.]

Wolf Parade - Expo 86

Best Tracks: "What Did My Lover Say? (It Always Had to Go This Way)," "Pobody's Nerfect"

The Canadian indie rock band's third album and their best in my opinion. It took them ages to get around to doing it with their numerous side projects and it got majorly overlooked, even by me apparently, but it stood as the most rocking album they had done yet and the best tribute to their influences and themselves. The band has seemingly broken up now, but they at least leave behind a wonderful discography. (Original Grade: A)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Fifty Great Albums Released in 2010 (Part Four)

OFF! - First Four EPs

Best Tracks: "Poison City," "Now I'm Pissed," "Rat Trap"

Punk is dead, except for those few people that choose to keep it alive. OFF! is a supergroup of a bunch of old school punk guys that just want to make the music they love and they do it with complete style. This could have come out in 1980, but it came out in 2010 instead. Total retro album and for fans of this sort of thing, a true delight. (Original Grade: B)

Omar Rodriguez-Lopez - Sepulcros de Miel

Best Tracks: "Part II," "Part III," "Part IV," "Part VIII"

Essentially a thirty minute jam, Sepulcros de Miel covers a range of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez's usual styles. It's an effective encompassing of what he does and it's a hell of a listen. On this one, Omar is accompanied by his brother, drummer Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez, bassist Juan Alderete, and former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist and frequent collaborator John Frusciante. A group of supremely talented musicians, it's amazing that they can simply jam for that long and still keep you entertained without any consistent musical themes throughout except for the synth loop that begins and ends the album. (Original Grade: B)

Omar Rodriguez-Lopez - Cizaña de los Amores

Best Tracks: "No Hay Más Respuestas," "Victimas del Cielo," "Infiel Hasta la Muerte"

Like its spiritual predecessors, Xenophanes and Solar Gambling, Cizaña de los Amores focuses on concise, pop-structured songwriting less than jamming like Omar's usual fare. It's the kind of album that his fans had often wanted him to make and it turns out almost as well as the first two of its type. It lacks in the bombast of Xenophanes and the songs just aren't quite as good as Solar Gambling, but it's another fantastic release of this style. (Original Grade: B+)

The Saddest Landscape - You Will Not Survive

Best Tracks: "Eternity is Lost on the Dying," "Imperfect But Ours," "So Lightly Thrown"

The Saddest Landscape made their return after five years of hiatus this year and came back roaring with their first new material in that time, You Will Not Survive. Despite being a short album, it packs a massive punch to the gut, with seven explosive tracks. The Saddest Landscape is just getting started on their comeback with this album. (Original Grade: not reviewed)

Sed Non Satiata - Sed Non Satiata

Best Tracks: "Les colonnes de soie," "Calle Jaen 23... ou l'antre de la bête"

The French screamo band's new self-titled release is a force to be reckoned with. While some songs run on a little bit long, they're all primo tracks. "Calle Jaen 23... ou l'antre de la bête" in particular is an instrumental with wailing, tortured guitars that reminds one of Pink Floyd's David Gilmour at times. (Original Grade: not reviewed)

Screaming Females - Castle Talk

Best Tracks: "A New Kid," "Fall Asleep," "Ghost Solo"

Screaming Females frontwoman Marissa Paternoster proves once again that she's the queen of the epic riff on Castle Talk, their latest album. The more upbeat songs are fun punk rock to get down to while the slower songs remind one of Sleater-Kinney's indie riot grrrl days. (Original Grade: not reviewed)

Gil Scott-Heron - I'm New Here

Best Tracks: "Your Soul and Mine," "I'll Take Care of You," "Where Did the Night Go," "Running"

Gil Scott-Heron's battles with drug addiction and illness come through his gravelly voice on I'm New Here, a dark blues album that casts the civil rights activist in a new light. It's a deeply personal album, but it shows no bitterness. I'm New Here makes it clear that Scott-Heron isn't going down without a fight. (Original Grade: A)

She & Him - Volume Two

Best Tracks: "Ridin' in My Car," "Gonna Get Along Without You Now," "I'm Gonna Make It Better," "Over It Over Again," "Brand New Shoes"

Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward's project together returns with a new album of old school style folk and country songs. It's a classicist approach to those genres and it seems like they would have been a good fit to play on The Porter Wagoner Show back in the day. In 2010, it's a nice listen for relaxation. (Original Grade: B)

sIngs - Hells

Best Tracks: "Panic Pig," "House," "You're"

sIngs makes heavily distorted, shoegaze sort of music that might remind one of My Bloody Valentine. They don't have very much upbeat material though, focusing mainly on depressing and pensive music, especially on songs like "House" which is mostly an acoustic song. This is their debut EP and it promises amazing things to come. They're already my favorite band in Houston. (Original Grade: A)

Snowing - I Could Do Whatever I Wanted If I Wanted

Best Tracks: "So I Shotgunned a Beer and Went Back to Bed," "Could Be Better Forever"

Snowing uses the classic 90's template of emo and runs with it. They're a truly classic leaning band, uninterested in following trends of today. That makes them somewhat unique in the current landscape and extremely enjoyable. (Original Grade: not reviewed)