2012: AUDIO CONSIDERED

December 30, 2012

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It’s been a pretty great year for music in 2012, lots of excellent stuff came out. In fact it was probably the best for years judging by the quality of some independent records these days. Below is just a brief overview of things that caught my attention.

For me the first two standouts were SKELETON KEY’s ‘Gravity is the Enemy’ and ‘Robots Fucking’ by RETISONIC. Both really well crafted & original sounding albums from bro’s now in their 40′s who are arguably making their best music. Either band could give the most jaded listener a reason to hear that innovation in rock is not dead. Later in the year the same label (Arctic Rodeo) issued the two BURNING AIRLINES records on vinyl for the first time. The additional bonus covers were a welcomed move indeed. In keeping with another DeSoto band who never had their masterstroke on vinyl until now is SHINER with‘The Egg’. Also remastered and still sounding just as great after 20 years are the repackaged SUGAR ‘Copper Blue + Beaster’ albums. It is nice to see these records have weathered well and continue to get a rebirth.

On the noisier side of rock we have UNSANE ‘Wreck’ and bassist Dave Curran’s new band PIGS ‘You Ruin Everything’ album. The same label (Solar Flare) did a recent vinyl issue of last years album by AMERICAN HERITAGE ‘Sedentary’. Possibly the best kept secret was a repress of the SHORTY ‘Thumb Days’ full length from 1993. Armin isn’t lying when he says it is ‘one of the BEST Noise Rock albums EVER!’. I’ve no real idea who are the popular bands in hardcore these days but the new BAADER BRAINS record and JOHN HENRY WEST reissue certainly beat the hell out any passing fad. It was also perfect to see MOSS ICON finally get a well deserved retrospective this year, easily one of the original ‘emo’ bands most shrouded in mystery. One issue I have with the package though is a definitive written discography timeline. A band that when mentioned seems to be quite devisive is TRAGEDY, I realised they’d passed me by since ‘Vengeance’ nearly ten years ago now! Still releasing records through their own Tragedy records, ‘Darker Days Ahead’ has a gloomier, doom laden sound than previous. The songwriting is first class and the mid paced tempos allow tracks much more room to breathe. A hardcore ‘supergroup’ of sorts OLD MAN GLOOM come off from years of hiatus with ‘NO’ this year which I also found very enjoyable.

Dischord have been making lots of their back catalogue available again since they split with Southern a few years back. There are so many good records that went out of print it’s awesome to see them back remastered and expanded upon. They’ve slowly been repressing the Lungfish discography but this year we got something new in the form of LUNGFISH ‘A.C.R. 1999′. These tracks are studio demos of songs that would next appear on ‘Necrophones’. They also released the RITES OF SPRING 6 song demo on 10″, and something new in the form of a 7″ by ALARMS AND CONTROLS (members of Crownhate Ruin, Circus Lupus). Always good to know everything is always at a consistently high standard with this label.

Anyone missing Shiner, Chavez, Swervedriver take a heads up and check out the second album by PORCUPINE ‘The sensation of being somebody’. After the death of inhuman powerhouse drummer Jerry Fuchs the band TURING MACHINE finally released their swansong, while BARONESS had a narrow escape with disaster shortly after releasing their ‘Yellow & Green’ epic. On the subject of mortality the ALARIC/ATRIARCH split on 20 Buck Spin redefines ‘deathrock’ for the post 00′s with it’s invigorated twisting and turning. On a lighter note TORCHE filled out to a 4 piece again with second guitarist Andrew Elstner (former Riddle of Steel frontman). The resulting ‘Harmonicraft’ is a collection of very finely tuned heavy blasts with massive pop hooks.

I always look forward to any new RUSH album and ‘Clockwork Angels’ is a beast created by a group who can still run rings around guys half their age. Same can be said for the bands who’ve been treading their path for 20+ years such as MESHUGGAH with 7th album  ‘Koloss’ and VOIVOD with the ‘Live at Roadburn 2011′ which fills a gap until ‘Target Earth’ hits early 2013. There were three significant boundary pushing progressive metal releases in 2012: the first recording with Weasel Walter on drums by BEHOLD… THE ARCTOPUS and their ‘Horrorscension’, Colin Marston also showing up again on ‘Test of Submission’ by DYSRHYTHMIA (and Krallice) + finally the resurfacing of LOINCLOTH to deliver their first full length via ‘Iron balls of steel’. This more technical, mind bending approach to riffs could be seen in the ‘black metal’ groups DODECAHEDRON and DEATHSPELL OMEGA’s ‘Drought’.

The last few bits and pieces that came to my attention late in the month were James Plotkin’s JODIS project, Danish instrumental band TOWN PORTAL & HOLLY HUNT featuring an ex FLOOR drummer getting back down to business. Not heard it yet but there was the live UNWOUND record too… Here’s to 2013 bringing us even more of the same!

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A first for this blog via the form of an interview. I first came into contact with Casey when he emailed me regarding this aMinature post. It’s seldom to hear new bands I really like but I was impressed by his band PORCUPINE & their first album ‘The trouble with you’. They basically mix together lots of elements I appreciate and throw them back out in a big rock juggernaut. The Midwest always seems to produce original guitar music and has done for decades. If, like me,  you can’t get enough Shiner, Swervedriver, QOTSA, Chavez and their ilk then you will not be disappointed by this band. It’s not like you’re ever going to see PORCUPINE getting repped on Pitchfork or hyped by some hip music forum but bands like this deserve their dues. I sent guitar/vocalist Casey Virock a few quick questions…

1- What does doing this band means to you and why you still want to create music?

It’s really about having a vehicle to be creative. I personally have always liked writing songs. And being in this band is great in that I can play loud, raucous guitar with a lot of feedback and yet still have the melodies come through. I like sitting with an acoustic as well but there is something about the guitar, bass, and drums all going full on that is therapeutic…haha!

2- ‘There are approximately seven million indie bands operating on planet Earth as of yesterday…..we are one of them’. What would you say makes Porcupine unique in comparison to the average indie band?

If we are different or unique it may because some of our influences come from 70′s classic rock and 60′s British psychedelic music. Some examples would be Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett and T-Rex. We are inspired by them and we try to use those influences, but still create a sound that is truly our own.

3- What initially led you down this musical path to the point you’re at now? what was your first exposure to music and how did this develop into wanting to create it?

I think the point where I thought about writing my own music came about after seeing Love and Rockets w/ the Pixies in 1989. That show was incredible and really inspired me to want to create. I formed different bands and played around town which was then a bit funny because “hair metal” was popular in the area. After Nirvana came out it in 1991, it became a bit easier to get gigs booked doing our own material.
Dave and I played together in a group called SpaceBike which formed in 1994 and broke up in “99?”..after which we didn’t see each other for about 4-5 yrs. This group basically became Porcupine (named after my favorite Echo and the Bunnymen record) after trying out about 4 different bass players and then finally tricking Dave to come and record some “demos” …wink wink.

4- The new album was essentially recorded and released (digitally/CD) entirely independently on all levels. Within the current musical landscape how do you view this process as opposed to the distribution of music during the 90s?

I think we find it liberating to be able to put out records without the label b.s. We are able to record and distribute our music on our own. The internet has changed the game for sure. There was a time in a past band when we were concerned with our music being something a label might like and “sign us” …etc. At this point we are pretty cynical about the music industry…and it’s really just about making music we enjoy playing. If it’s something people like and want to buy, that’s great also.

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5- What is your process for writing the material in Porcupine?

Most of the time I will come in with a chord progression and a melody, play it for the guys and see if it’s something that they like. They haven’t shot me down yet…but we also know as a group if something isn’t going to work pretty quickly. In that situation we just record it as an idea for some later release. An example on the last record was a song called “Floppish” which we all liked but felt it wasn’t ready to be recorded yet.

 6- The lyrics are not printed on any of your releases, what is the subject matter/nature of your words?

I think most of the lyrics for Porcupine material comes from personal experience; relationship situations and stories filtered through this and that. I have never been a fan of literal, story telling kind of song writing. I like sarcasm and I prefer lyrics that are somewhat abstract. I want the lyrics to mean different things to different people. They are somewhat open to interpretation. I do feel that the lyrics and tone of the music have to have a relationship or it doesn’t work.

7- Your music sounds essentially like it could only come from America yet I sense a definite ‘British’ feel to it. In what areas would you say that you draw from UK bands?

We are all fans of The Beatles, The Who, Bowie and I still love the 90′s wave of British bands like Swervedriver, Teenage FanClub and My Bloody Valentine. Those bands to me always had a more artistic way about them. The album artwork, the song craft, the guitar sounds..etc. It’s just my opinion but I feel they seemed to push their music a bit more outside the box. I think the way that I sing, perhaps some of the inflections that I use, would maybe give the listener a sense of the British influence? The American slant for us would be Husker Du, The Pixies, Meat Puppets and Queens of the Stone Age.

8- The type of groups you often play with (Meat Puppets, Mission of Burma etc.) are not young bands, how do you balance the increased responsibility (family/work) against Porcupine?

We have been fortunate with Porcupine to play with bands that were musical heroes to us growing up i.e. Meat Puppets, 18th Dye, Mission of Burma. All of us now have families and so our priorities have changed for sure. We try to keep busy and productive with Porcupine. Whether it’s gigs or making records, we keep in mind that we need to re-charge the batteries a little more than we used to…a.k.a. sleep. And our families are our first priority so we recognize how important it is to make time for them. We don’t play out as much as we would have 15 years ago. We play maybe 2-3 times a month and so it seems to be a fairly good balance of work/family/band time.

9- Porcupine sounds very focused and direct, do you think this type of directness can only come from age/experience?

I think that my only answer for that would be just doing what we do without too much concern with what people think. That may come from being in our 40′s now and having played for awhile. And also just about having a better sense of the way things work in this business. We are confident about how we operate and we have found a method that works well for us. Dave and I being in SpaceBike before and having some success, have some common ground to draw on in regards to recording, album art, shirt design, etc. So yes, I would say that some of the focus definitely comes from being older and just knowing what it is that we want to accomplish.

10- You’d mentioned Adam Franklin borrowed your Jazzmaster for the last SWD reunion shows. What was in the ‘thank you’ package that he sent you?

Adam sent me a Swervedriver Mezcal head T-shirt, two vinyl 7″ inch records of his Bolts of Melody material and a Swervedriver DVD of a performance that was live in Australia. He is an amazingly talented songwriter and I wish Swervedriver would make another record. That would make me very happy.

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Adam Franklin, Casey & Jimmy Hartridge

The new PORCUPINE album ‘The sensation of being somebody’ is out now and available on CD/LP/Digital via their Bandcamp page

TORCHE – Demo

July 27, 2012

I’ve been digging through old audio folders lately to see what stuff turned up. I had to check the file index of when I got ahold of these demo tracks and it was February 2005. From what I can work out these 3 tracks are the openers from their first album with the first pass at a ‘mix’… I recall hearing rumblings of an ‘ex Floor’ band in maybe Summer 2004? Anyway this is the original TORCHE lineup with Juan Montoya on second guitar. Their sound is unmistakable from the get-go, Steve Brooks’ vocals set them apart from all the shouting and screaming that is the norm for ‘heavy’ music.

BARONESS – 2003 Demo

July 26, 2012

The new Baroness album ‘Yellow & Green’ was released last week to a mixed reception. I’ve not really heard it yet so can’t comment but I wasn’t too keen on the cleaner vocals. For anyone wanting to hear more of the older sound here is their 2 song demo recorded late 2003.

Wow, so it was my plan to make this post 2 years ago… time flies. I’ve been interested in Dysrhythmia since ‘Pretest’, they then got Colin Marston (Behold… the Arctopus, Krallice etc.) in to play bass mid decade and finally came over to Europe in 2010. This set is them playing most of their ‘Psychic Maps’ album & there’s a new song in there if I recall rightly. They have a new album out very soon so that jam should be on there. This was definitely a gig to look back on as a very cerebral experience, while also bordering on the psychedelic. The ideas of progressive instrumental music are taken to new levels for sure. Click image

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