Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Great Underrated Albums by Famous Artists

[Ed. Note: This is something I wrote a long time ago for use on this blog, but never really finished or ever published. I found it on my computer while organizing some files and decided to put it up here today.]

Temple of the Dog - Temple of the Dog

When this album came out, nobody noticed or cared. Then Soundgarden and Pearl Jam both exploded and suddenly a collaboration between Soundgarden's Chris Cornell and all of Pearl Jam was a profitable prospect. It quickly spawned some radio hits that still get airplay today and it's a pretty well regarded album. So saying it's underrated doesn't really apply at any time since 1992 or thereabouts, but I say it is underrated for this reason: I believe that it is the best thing anybody involved has ever done. I find Soundgarden's work pretty inconsistent. They were good, but I can't really listen to any of their albums the whole way through. For Cornell, the only thing he's ever done that comes close is his first solo album, Euphoria Morning. An argument could be made for that album being better than Temple of the Dog, but I still give the edge to Temple of the Dog because Cornell was in better vocal shape (being eight years younger) and the album just being made up of stronger songs. On the Pearl Jam side, their debut, Ten, is pretty much equal to it as well, but Eddie Vedder isn't quite the singer that Chris Cornell is, meaning Ten doesn't have the same amazing vocal moments, and at no point does the band stretch out like on the epic length track "Reach Down." For those reasons, I'd still give it to Temple of the Dog. Really, I'm just trying to make a point as it's hard to find flaws with Euphoria Morning or Ten. Those albums are basically equals to this one. But the point is, I think Temple of the Dog often falls by the wayside as just something really great that those guys did, few really recognize just how good it was and realize that it is pretty much one of the best things anybody involved ever did.

Black Sabbath - Born Again

Collaboration time again. In the grunge era, Temple of the Dog was a fan's wet dream. In the metal era, this one was too, it just didn't have quite the same commercial viability by 1983 that it would have had in the mid-1970's. On Born Again, Black Sabbath found themselves once again without a singer so they picked up former Deep Purple frontman Ian Gillan and put out a sort of bizarre combination of both bands' sounds but really something completely different in a way as well. The production was shit, but given the time period that's almost a comfort, considering the slick 80's hair metal veneer every album following would experience. The dirty rawness of it all is charming in its way, sort of like punk around that time. As for the music itself, it's classic. Gillan is in amazing vocal shape, belting out screams like he never even did in Deep Purple, "Child in Time" notwithstanding. Iommi cuts some of his greatest solos. Butler and Ward are just as great a rhythm section as ever. These days everything with Sabbath's name that doesn't have Ozzy or Dio singing on it is pretty much forgotten, but honestly Born Again stands, to me, as one of the great Sabbath albums, along with the first six Ozzy albums and the first three Dio albums.

David Bowie - Buddha of Suburbia

I know I talk of this album a lot, but it really is one of the greats in Bowie's discography. When it was released it was completely ignored because it was the soundtrack for a shitty TV movie. It took forever for the soundtrack to even make it to the US and it was just quietly forgotten. But among hardcore Bowie fans, we realize that he was really onto some brilliant stuff around this time. It combines the instrumental experimentation of the following album, Outside, that itself harkens back to his experimentation with Brian Eno back in the 70's Berlin trilogy, with the upbeat 90's dance pop of the preceding Black Tie White Noise and ends up being a vastly superior album to either of those. To this day, no one but real Bowie fans really know this exists, which is a true shame. Bowie himself has described it as one of his favorites that he's ever made and there's good reason for that.

GZA/Genius - Legend of the Liquid Sword

When this one hit the scene in 2002, it wasn't really "cool" anymore (at the time) to like Wu-Tang. This was after the disappointment a lot of people felt over The W and Iron Flag and it just wasn't really a good time for the group. But in reality, this was nowhere near as bad as everybody thought. Actually, it's a really good album. GZA is in fine form lyrically and it has some of the better beats of his solo career. Wu members Ghostface, RZA, Inspectah Deck, and frequent Wu collaborator Streetlife show up for strong guest verses and it even features a very early appearance from someone then known as "Santi White" now universally known and famous as Santogold. If the lyrics are to be believed, part of the reason this album was a failure was just the record label dropping the ball (as usual). Sure, it's nowhere near as good as Liquid Swords, but what is? It's still a worthwhile entry in the Wu-Tang legacy and probably the best thing not called Liquid Swords in GZA's own discography.

The Mars Volta - Amputechture

This album was pretty successful, all things considered, but when it came out it was pretty much universally loathed by fans of the band. As At the Drive-In fans felt betrayed when that band broke up and the Mars Volta first appeared, fans of the first two albums the Mars Volta released felt betrayed by the new turn of Amputechture. It's gone so far that Cedric and Omar have even called this their "autistic child." Nowadays, it seems more and more fans are catching up and warming to the album, but it still stands out like a sore thumb in their discography as that one album that left everyone pretty much scratching their head when it came out. Not to mention, the band itself was a mess around that time. They barely toured, the few shows they played were made up of 40 minute free form jams, Cedric had surgery, they went through several drummers, and their follow-up, the Bedlam in Goliath, had some severe birth pains that led to it being labeled a cursed album. With all the negativity surrounding it, Amputechture is a black sheep but actually listen to it and you'll realize that it's easily just as good as the first two Mars Volta albums.

Prince - Come

Come was a casualty of the woes Prince had around the time of its release with Warner Bros. You know, the shit that eventually led to him giving up his name and calling himself an unpronouncable symbol. With all that going on, people were far less interested in Prince's music and more in his personal drama. That meant that despite the success he had in the early 90's with his hip hop experiments, Come was largely ignored when it was released. Prince climbed back on the charts shortly after with the Gold Experience, but what of Come? It's an odd little album, representing a brief transitional period of smooth R&B that was featured in few and far between instances of the preceding and following albums, but it's personally one of my favorites of his. It has a wide range of styles in the context of that R&B, catchy should've-been-hits, and some experimentation that proved Prince wasn't slipping into any sort of rut.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Interview with The Memorials

(Video for "Westcoast")

In October of 2009, drummer Thomas Pridgen exited Grammy Award winning band the Mars Volta. With nowhere else to go, he turned to two friends from his days at Berklee College of Music, guitarist Nick Brewer and vocalist Viveca Hawkins. By December, Thomas had his new band formed, calling themselves the Memorials. I recently got to conduct an interview with them about their upcoming self-titled record, their creative process, side-projects, and future touring plans.

1. Hi, how is everyone doing? I'd like to start off by saying that the songs you have up are great so far and they show a lot of varied influences. I wanted to ask what you've all been listening to lately and how that affects the writing process? Where are you all drawing inspiration from for the Memorials?

Nick - I've recently been listening to some David Bowie (Changes, Ziggy). I just love his writing. It's all very dramatic. I guess I like to write from the same perspective whereas the music is exciting with hills and valleys. I tend to gravitate towards music that sounds like a soundtrack. It enhances my everyday experiences.

Viveca - I listened to a lot of Lamb of God, Marylin Manson, Led Zeppelin, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Funkadelic, Jimi Hendrix, Betty Davis, the Foo Fighters, Foxy Shazam, etc. I drew mostly from within. I tried my best to stay as original as possible.

Thomas - I’ve been listening to afro beat music like Fela Kuti, people like the Venetian Snares and Squarepusher, but I also listen to lots of funk stuff and some early prog rock stuff, metal stuff. I kinda listen to anything good anything with live music right now, not much rap in my iPod at this point.

We honestly drew inspiration from all the things that we affect us at the time of making this record. I just parted ways with The Mars Volta, it was totally a fucked up situation. I also had a girl that I was with for three years leave me in the middle of making this record. I was pissed, happy, sad, drunk, excited, confused, crying at times, tired, stressed, bummed about being owed money... I was a wreck. A musician that we all loved also died while making this record so it was a total crazy time for us. I would've lost it if I didn't make this record.

2. What do you suppose each member brings to the creative process and how is it different than working with other bands, specifically for Thomas coming from the sort of dictatorship of The Mars Volta?

Nick - Well I believe each of us brings a totally different influence. Thomas brings a lot of raw energy, heart, and rhythm. Viveca brings soul and a lot of blues to each song, and I bring a chordal balance and visuals to the sound. We work collectively on the music so that the finished product is pretty much all of our influences, feel, and thoughts.

Viveca - Working for someone else is always work. I have worked with a lot of different artists over the years and finally having my own thing makes me feel really free and strong willed at the same time. Thomas is an amazing producer and never having worked with him or Nick before made it like one surprise after another. They made such a beautiful palate for me to paint with. Nick once told me, "I sing the notes he wants to hear." And he absolutely plays the notes I want to hear! Thomas is the only drummer I ever really wanted to play with. He told me he would play for me before Keyshia [Cole] and The Mars Volta... so I waited. I’m so glad I did. I am the voice. I am the face. I am the heart. They are the brains.

Thomas - Well, I was the dictator this time. I totally learned a lot from The Mars Volta. Nick came in open to my wild ideas which was great. He had a ton of stuff that was also super wild that he threw at me. Also we really work in a seamless type of way where we're almost as one in the studio. And Viv, I just enjoyed watching her open up. She's never sung this type of stuff much less over beats that are odd time signatures. I thought it was great seeing her write about things that I threw at her and watching her yell. It was kinda cool. I felt like she threw herself into a sound and a vibe that's totally unique and honest. We're watching each other grow daily.

3. Speaking of the Volta, Thomas, could you elaborate a little bit on your exit from that band? It seems that the full story has never quite come out as to what happened on the actual day you left the band before the show in Raleigh, North Carolina. What happened on that day?

Thomas - My dad's from North Carolina and he was coming to the show. I totally wanted to play that day, my drums were set up and everything. I'm honestly not trying to speak on those dudes, but Omar's cool. I still talk to him, I got a lot of love for that dude, he showed me a lot and he's not responsible for the actions of his partner Cedric. He knows where I'm from and who my homies are. He knows he owes me a shit load of bread so he filed a restraining order on me instead of just paying me and giving me the credits that I deserve. It's fucking sad. I thought The Mars Volta was a family, but I guess when the smoke cleared it was a two member duo... I chalked it up though. I treated that band like money didn't matter so I'm sticking to that and just doing my own thing. They can't stop me at all.

4. Back to the Memorials, the first song to come out was a cover of Black Hole Sun by Soundgarden, followed by a cover of 1979 by the Smashing Pumpkins. Those are somewhat odd choices of songs to cover, but I think you do them very well. When did you decide to do those covers and why those songs specifically?

(Video for "Black Hole Sun")

Nick - I'm a huge Soundgarden fan. I've always wanted to be Kim Thayill so it was natural to me to cover Black Hole Sun. Haven't heard anyone try to do it before, and sonically and lyrically that song captures the excitement I have for music. 1979 was one of the first riffs I learned on the guitar so it was fun to play it with Thomas and Viv.

Viveca - Thomas picked Black Hole Sun. He said it would be cool. I didn’t even know the tune actually... and Nick always wanted to play 1979! He was born that year.

Thomas - We did those because I knew that people really wanted to hear the album and we didn't yet know how we were releasing the record, so those covers were more to hold over the fans and people who knew I was working on something. I've been very meticulous about how I've done things concerning this band. Videos, songs, release dates.

5. Nick and Thomas, you've worked together before on a band called Sabai. Could you both tell me a little bit about that band and what it was like then versus now?

Nick - Sabai was a lot of fun writing and recording. Only thing is we never played a show. The guy who fronted for the band didn't want to play a show. Whatever. I got to write some cool jams with Thomas, and we immediately developed a chemistry writing and hanging out. Which is pretty much the same for The Memorials now, except we murder live!

Thomas - Sabai was an all black metal band Nick and I had with a couple guys, BJ [Edwards] and Rory [Jackson]. We recorded a bunch, but never did a show and after a while I just left Boston, so we never really made anything of it. Now I'm super serious about this, Nick is too. I guess we got older and we know what we have together. I'mma marry you, Nick. (laughing)

6. Thomas, you've done a lot of work with a lot of bands. Could you elaborate on working with them, especially Christian Scott and Elixir On Mute? I'd also like to ask, are you still planning on touring with Elixir On Mute?

Thomas - Yeah, we're trying to plan some stuff. It's real hard because I'm so focused on the Memorials project. Everyone sees it and kinda just lets me do my thing.

Now Christian, that's my boy. We talked about putting together a crazy all-star band so you'll totally see us working together again. I'd still be on the road with him if I could, I totally enjoyed playing with him.

7. Thomas, I also heard a rumor that you are working with Thomas Erak from The Fall of Troy. Any truth to that?

Thomas - Me and Erak are boys. We may do something in the future. He also has a new project, we might just go on tour together as bands. We've totally been talking about it, going out guerilla style.

8. Nick, I really admire the funky, somewhat vintage 1970's but still modern style of guitar you bring to the band. How did you come to develop that sound?

Nick - Thank you. The beginning of my love for music started with the 60's and 70's guitar players. I love Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, and Mahavishnu Orchestra. Physical Graffiti, Electric Lady, and Inner Mounting Flame changed my life. However Dean Deleo, Stef Carpenter, Kim Thayil, Ryan Primack, and Adam Dutkiewicz also destroyed my face. Ha. I also have a huge love of jazz. I pull a lot from theory and harmony. I guess those influences together with a drive to create meaningful art and chaos mixed with a little whiskey, or a lot of whiskey, creates a basis for my sound.

9. Viveca, your voice is a beautiful addition to the band and I think what will hook a lot of people on the Memorials. How do you approach the Memorials vocally? It's a bit of a different sound than lot of bands and it seems like it might be hard to find ways to fit in so perfectly as you do.

Viveca - Thanks, Corey. Vocally it was a bit challenging having come from a mostly R&B/ soul background. I had to really step out. Stretch out mentally and try and forget about my fears of singing too hard. A voice teacher of mine once told me, "think less, sing more." So that was my approach. As far as me fitting into this equation, I feel like it was my destiny. I didn’t have to try really. I just wrote down and sang the songs like I heard them in my head with an occasional push from TP. "Come harder here, be darker with this, etc." Having recorded numerous songs with heavy background vocals in the past, he asked that I keep it to a minimum, but I may have gotten a little carried away at times. (laughing) I love vocal harmony. I love hearing my voice in layers. Thank God, or whoever the nerd is that made pro tools!

10. Finally, since this is for a Houston based website, I have to ask, will the Memorials be making it out to Texas any time soon?

Nick - Houston, Dallas, Austin, Fort Worth, El Paso can't wait to be on the hang with yall! Love the dirty! Thanks Corey.

Viveca - We have high hopes for a trip to Texas in the near future! Hopefully this article will help! Thanks for your time. Bless.

Thomas - Fuck yeah, I love Tejas. If I ever move from the Bay, I'm moving to Austin. Print that! I love the people out there and the bars. (laughing) Houston, Dallas, El Paso, San Antonio, Corpus... I'm trying to hit everywhere this next year so be on the look out.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

My Top "I-Was-There" Moments (Pt. 2)

Ok, I didn't post this "tomorrow" like I said, but here it is. The second part of my collection of my favorite concert moments.

Nine Inch Nails - "Wish" and "I Do Not Want This" (May 12, 2009)

This was the second time I saw Nine Inch Nails and this time it was in Austin on their apparent last tour ever. For this show, they busted out some deep cuts like "The Fragile" and, my personal favorite, "I Do Not Want This," a song that I feel pretty privileged to have experienced live.

Animal Collective - "Fireworks" and "What Would I Want? Sky" (June 4, 2009)

This was in Dallas and I post it mainly for "Fireworks" even though it's only the ending and doesn't capture the part of why I'm posting this. The part in question is unfortunately not on YouTube. "Fireworks" was performed at epic length and in the middle Panda Bear got on drums. Animal Collective then proceeded to perform one of the most mind-blowing jams I've ever had the pleasure to witness. Truly amazing.

The Mars Volta - "Eunuch Provocateur" (September 17, 2009)

For this tour, the Mars Volta dug deep in their catalog and pulled out one of my favorite songs of theirs (and one of the oldest), "Eunuch Provocateur." They also brought back "Inertiatic ESP" for this tour and that was stunning too. A big treat for their biggest fans.

Brand New - "The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows" (October 31, 2009)

Brand New is one of my favorite bands and this was a special show since it was on Halloween. This is my favorite song by them and it was rewarding because I had been waiting for so long to see them.

Say Anything - "Admit It!!!" (November 16, 2009)

I love Say Anything, especially their album ...Is a Real Boy. They closed out their set with the last song off of that album, "Admit It!!!" and they went all out with it.

Cursive - "21st Century Schizoid Man" (November 30, 2009)

Cursive did this badass King Crimson cover when they played Walter's On Washington last year. It was a fantastic set because they were headlining and got to play all of my favorite songs. Yes, I recorded this, apologies for the shitty sound.

Girls - "Lust for Life" (January 31, 2010)

Album by Girls was one of my favorites last year and this was the big hit from it. They had an awesome show here. I ditched my girlfriend to go to it, so essentially I ditched my girlfriend to see Girls, which is amusing to me. I'm so lame.

Ted Leo - "A Bottle of Buckie" (March 31, 2010)

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists - "Timorous Me" (March 31, 2010)

On March 31st, I finally got to see Ted Leo after waiting forever. Not only that, but I got to see him twice in one day. First, playing an acoustic set by himself at End of an Ear, a record store in Austin, then second, playing with the Pharmacists at Emo's. Ted is one of my favorite musicians so this was a dream come true for me. I also got to meet him at the record store and got an awesome picture with him. You can also see me in the front row with the plaid shirt in the video at Emo's.

Buxton - "Down in the Valley" (April 17, 2010)

Buxton are personal friends of mine and this was an awesome performance. I took this video and it actually turned out pretty decent.

Alexisonfire - "No Transitory" (May 3, 2010)

Alexisonfire playing my favorite song by them. They did more of their new album than I'd prefer, but they still busted out classics like this.

Converge - "Hanging Moon" and "No Heroes" (May 21, 2010)

"Hanging Moon" is my favorite Converge song, besides "Jane Doe" which they sadly didn't play at this show. Still, it was pretty awesome that they played "Hanging Moon" considering it's not one of their more popular songs.

The Flaming Lips - "The Fear" and "Worm Mountain" (June 5, 2010)

I never thought I would see the day that the Flaming Lips would play in Houston, nor did I ever think I'd meet Wayne Coyne. This was easily one of the highlights of my life. It's the biggest festival I've ever seen held in Houston and the Lips played an amazing set.

Janelle Monae - "Cold War" (June 13, 2010)

I'm a big fan of Janelle Monae but I couldn't afford to see her open up for Erykah Badu. Luckily for me, she held a free instore at the best record store in Houston, Cactus Music. It was a short acoustic set, but it was mind-blowing and it showcased how truly breathtaking her voice is.

The Dillinger Escape Plan - "Panasonic Youth" (July 2, 2010)

This one was fucking crazy. Dillinger is ridiculous live. Greg Puciato is maybe the greatest screamer I've ever seen live.

Omar Rodriguez-Lopez Group - "Miel del Ojo"

Pretty much the best thing I've ever done was flying to New York City and seeing Omar's solo group perform. It was the greatest moment of my life. This is one of the pro-shot videos from it, apparently it's going to be on a DVD. You can see me in the front row in certain shots, bobbing my head to the jam.