Archive for July, 2006

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Audioslave – Audioslave

July 6, 2006

In 2002, a supergroup called Audioslave surfaced with former members of Rage Against The Machine and former Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell. People were not quite sure what to make of the strange combo at the time. Considering over half the band was born under hip-hop and rap influence as well as classic rock, it would just seem like a bad idea to mix the burly thrash instrumentation with a grunge hero like Cornell. However, despite what critics may have said at the time of this albums release, it is a great record, and it is well worth the time of a fan of either Rage Against The Machine or Soundgarden. What is really special about the music here is that something completely different is born of two already familliar concepts. Tom Morello, Tim Commerford, and Brad Wilk have experience pumping out rock solid riffs and beats, and Chris Cornell already knows how to write melodic tunes while still screaming his lungs out. And there are examples of both of these qualities all over the place in the music, but at the same time, all of the members strive to make a new sound while still keeping their roots, and what do you know, it works.

The album opens up with probably the most popular track, the loud and powerful wall of fire Cochise. The first thing you will notice here is that the former Rage members haven’t changed much. You could easily hear Zack de la Rocha jump in with a killer rhyme right now, but he doesn’t, and instead we are treated to the voice of Chris Cornell. His voice isn’t quite what it used to be, which is most likely due to his smoking it out. Yes, at the moment he is no longer smoking, but when he was in his prime jumping around the stage, screaming at the top of his lungs, and drinking like a fish, he surely knocked back quite a few cigarettes a day. And he suffers for that now, but it’s a crime to say that his voice isn’t good. Because it still is, but he has said himself that he can’t quite get as excited on stage as he used to. But that’s cool, because as long as he can still throw out great lines and actually mix them with the rap-rock type riffs, like he does with “take it out on me,” no one is complaining.

Show Me How To Live is also a winner, and is another song you would likely crank out at midnight at a gas station, just because it mixes the attitude of thrash and hard rock very well with the principles of alternative and flat out pop. And actually, Gasoline works pretty well too. Putting the echo back on Cornells voice was a very good idea, and that kind of vast rugged feeling will come back again, rest assured. But Cornells vocals actually saved this tune, and if they didn’t, it would be another droll riff that has already been heard hundreds of times before. It’s just to common to go unattended. This exact same situation comes about on What You Are, but this time, the guitar and bass parts are much more mellow. But Brad Wilk will always be there on drums to stop you from falling asleep. That was never even an issue. It’s great that we do have Brad on drums, because he is very experienced in his field and still has the goods to break out a great rock beat.

And then instead of appealing more to the hard rock side of the band, more attension is paid to Cornells masterful hands of creation and a classic pop song is created, Like A Stone. This is exactly the kind of song you would expect to have been released in the nineties while Soundgarden was still a reality, and it holds just about as much power and emotion as the bands smash hit Black Hole Sun did. The pace keeps up very well, and Tim’s funky bass complements it well. And the spacey guitar is the epitomy of loneliness and perseverence. And of course, Chris Cornell makes it a knockout hit with his absolutely brilliant lyrics. Folks, it just doesn’t get much better than this when it comes to Rock. This is the kind of song the record needed, and it’s a relief that Cornell still has the songwriting ability to write songs like this.

And then it bounces back with Set It Off, another hard rocker in the vein of Cochise. And once again, a compromise is made and Cornell leans a little more towards the interests of the rest of the band and yells out some more rugged lyrics. It’s a great song, much better than the likes of gasoline and What You Are, and perhaps even Cochise. But it doesn’t prepare the listener for the next song, Shadow On The Sun. The listener might ask themself, can Tom Morello even do that? Like, put his guitar in the back and push the bass to the front like he does in the verses? Well he does, and it works great. And of course the chorus is still what you got from the earlier tracks, but this is where Chris Cornells psychedelic and melodic influences come in more to form a very nocturnal tune.

I Am The Highway is actually another keeper, and is another very quiet tune, a lot like Like A Stone. And this time, Tom Morello plays a pivitol role without being too loud. His lunar guitar playing is fantastic, when it is accoustic or not. The song just really flows, and it is something that none of the members of the band have really gotten to do before. Needless to say, Rage would never have done something like this, and Soundgarden could probably write something like this, but not play it without being more metallic and tough. So fans of both bands can be very proud of this new ground that is covered.

But I’ll be honest, the band makes a few flubs on the album, Exploder being one of them. The twist of Tom Morellos guitar should be good, but it just isn’t exciting or new enough to justify it being on here. It’s the same riff formula you are already used to, so it isn’t that essential. Like Hypnotize is. This is another priceless track, Driven forward by a rumbling bassline and tight dance beat. Of course we have a layer of Tom Morellos feedback to complement it all. And Chris Cornell gets his voice down very very low and lays on some very cool effects later. Or I should say, Rick Rubin lays down the effects, because he produced the album. Good decision to let him do that, by the way, because he’s a winning producer anyway. Then the guitars sort of do this short little shreds for a little while. Actually, his guitars are even more in the background than anywhere else in the album, save a few cool effects later on in the song. Of course the guitar is very key, but there is no riff so much as there is a set of chords that can be played over in different ways. I have no idea how they got the inspiration for this song, but I’m very curious.

Bring Em Back Alive kind of sucks too. When over half of the band comes from a background where throwing out riffs works extremely well, then why change? Well, the rap overtone works much better on this kind of song. It’s mediocre, and even if I like this album a lot, I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t have weak moments like this. Light My Way kind of does the same thing, and it is still kind of gimmicky because it also throws out the riff and trys to live off of it every minute or so, but it’s actually not too bad of a song. Very funky, very mystical, very nomadic. The entire album gives me the image of some kind of traveler wandering through all sorts of environments in different seasons, continents, and time periods. Like, one second, the traveler is in Egypt or Mongolia or something, and the next second they are in the Dominican Republic or Kenya or something, or some random grassy plain on a sunny day. And highways too, in urban America. That seems to be a reoccuring theme in this record. Theres a lot of talk of Highways and roads and freeways and stuff. As you can see, I sort of have these images for any given song or album from any band. I like the system. Anyway, in this song they even use a clever cell-phone jingle later on, so it keeps it’s individuality in some way pretty well.

Like I said before, each band member of Audioslave comes from an environment where they are used to pushing out in front. So the problem would of course arise where everyone is trying to push forward alone as opposed to letting eachother take turns. But Getaway Car is the perfect indication that the problem can be dealt with eventually. It’s just a generally pleasent little tune. There is no progressive shredding. The most the guitar gets is a pleasant little lonely guitar solo later on. It’s a great song, and should have been the ending tune instead of The Last Remaining Light, and while that song is kind of interesting, it isn’t anywhere even remotely close to comparable to Getaway Car.

Audioslave did not end up being a one shot deal like many superbands end up being. Early last year, Out of Exile was released and sort of showed the exact opposite viewpoint that this album showed in the form of a more bright, optimistic, and diverse set. In my opinion, it isn’t better, but it lets me look at the superior album as if it should be named “In Exile.” The band still isn’t finished either, and the follow up titled Revelations should be released on September 5th. I’m suprised that they could crank out an album at that pace, but hey, it sounds very interesting. I already think I have an image ready for this album too. A big city, with lots of fights, explosions, feelings, and political unrest. One thing that Audioslave has prooved through both of their albums to date is that even if all of the band membrs spend years cranking out tunes, they haven’t finished yet. And with this much room to grow, I’m expecting Revelations to be much better than this, which is a very tough feat.

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My Bloody Valentine – Loveless

July 1, 2006

Very seldom do I listen to an album and get as blown away as I did with this one. I’ve only really been floored by an album on the first listen once, and even then, I had heard at least one of the songs on that album once. A lot of my favorite albums were not completely new on my first full listen to them. By that point, I had most likely already heard most of it on the radio or at home from my parents, etc. But Loveless by My Bloody Valentine is just a very special album as it is very much the pinnacle of it’s genre. Very few genres even have any albums like this. Heck, very few subjects have pinnacles like this. Basketball has Michael Jordon. The art of guitar playing has Jimi Hendrix. And I guess shoegaze rock has Loveless. Hearing all the other shoegaze that I have listened to has almost disappointed me, because this album is just miles above it’s opposition. That said, you would be hard pressed to find a more detailed, lush, and immerseful album than this gem.

One thing you will always hear about this album is that you kind of need to hear it on headphones to really understand it. I’m not sure if that is completely true. It’s just that headphones seem to be the best and most convienient way to listen to it. The fact that the album can be played at all on the stereo function makes listening to this correctly a very frustrating experience. You need to play it loud, that much I will say. But to do so on a conventional stereo is sort of difficult. Not playing this on a high quality sound system is a shame, and even the most subtle of differences can make the listening experience a problem. For example, my stereo is at a very strange profile to where I actually sit and listen to music. With that said, I can’t quite get the full experience out of this album unless I literally sit in front of my stereo and absorb each speaker with equal space. So headphones are the best way to listen to this, and if you aren’t worried about damaging your ears and are worried about annoying the neighbors, that is the way to go.

Anyway, the reason you need to have such a perfect environment to listen to this album is because it is so detailed. Even at the very beginnint of Only Shallow, the albums first song, you will find that the opening sounds are so clumped up and swirling that you can’t really tell what is going on instrumentally. There might even be a fricking elephant in there, no joke. But when it smooths out, the vocals are unintelligible and the instrumentation is now smooth and dreamy. In case you were wondering, this album is notorious for costing about a half million dollars to make, and almost bankrupt it’s label. Of course, I’m sure it more than paid for itself, but it paid off in different ways anyway. The fact that this album is as gorgeous as it is should be a payoff enough, and you can just feel how layered every song is.

The very concepts of guitar, bass, drums, and vocals are completely turned around when you listen to this album. Guitar especially, because the amount of distortion is very suprising. Of course, in a good way. The main man Kevin Shields in addition to Bilinda Butcher both do a great job of layering the guitars here, but once again, this is not an album to actually be nitpicking about details so much as taking them in. The only organized part of the guitars would be the actual chords, not their exact timing, as everything melds together anyway. If that makes any sense. The bass often just adds to the layering like it does in any band, and only in a few tracks such as Soon does it really play a pivitol role. But if you listen closely, it does really do it’s job well. The drums are usually reserved and almost a little mechanical, but still very important. Obviously. But upon the first listen, the timing involved in this album can be very off putting, especially for Blown A Wish, and while it is a great tune, it is very confusing.

Another undeniable quality of this album is that it oozes sexuality. I remember some review somewhere, I think it was the official one on amazon.com, describing the album like a magma flow of sexuality, or something along those lines. That is totally true. Even the albums only little blurb of filler, Touched, works as a perfect interlude into the next song while demonstrating the ecstacy and skewed feelings involved with sex. Bilinda Butcher has perfect vocals for this job. If you have ever heard the bands previous endeavor, Isn’t Anything, you will realize how Kevin Shields voice sounds a tad annoying on it’s own. The change is welcome, and the feminine aspect of the vocals on this album is very pleasing. But the juxtaposition of Kevin’s and Belinda’s voices on certain tracks is also very well done.

The sheer ground that this album covers is amazing. Not all of the tracks are completely memorable, but all are atmospheric and have their own individual power nonetheless. Even the weakest track in my opinion, Loomer, is a very good song, and makes do with hushed intensity. To Here Knows When and Blown A Wish are both very much alike because Belinda’s vocals play such an important role. The hushed confidence of To Here Knows When is a very cool effect, as well as the noisier and more detailed and flowing Blown A Wish. And the wall of sound Come In Alone is not to be overlooked either. This is the song on the album that truly needs to be cranked to get it’s full potential. It is a warm comforting wall of sound that you need to let engulf your ears for a little while. This is great daydreaming music, and actually great dreaming music, very easy to drift off to because it is just so natural.

This album isn’t radio-friendly at all, because it does not focus on accessible hooks or anything. But the more accessible songs are actually the ones that are the best. Sometimes is a break from the fun and relaxation to say a few serious (yet not really understandable) lines about love and relationships. The flow of the song and the precision and skill involved in the music and progressions is very admirable. When You Sleep very well be the most popular song off the album, and that is for a very good reason. The…out in front thing (keyboards, flute, something.) is just brilliant and relieving. It’s cousin I Only Said sort of does the same thing by having a keyboard/flute/thing out in front that sets the example and progressions for the rest of the song to follow, and it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome and become annoying either. This is by far the most detailed track on the album, as far as the whispering, guitars, sound effects, etc go. The ending result is quite ambrosial, and not easily contested. This is the track that shows that more is better, or at least it is better when this band piles on the layers.

The last two tracks are probably the strongest. What You Want is the perfect drive of guitars and an optimistic outlook on life. This is the kind of track that makes you want to get off of your butt and do something, although it is also very conclusive. Conclusive tracks often annoy me, because I would like to think that something good won’t end anytime soon. I get annoyed because it is only a week before something good will happen sometimes. Like, I’m just that worried about not being able to appreciate something for what it is. The last song on the album, Soon, remedies this situation perfectly. It is probably the best song on the album, and what you would most likely expect to hear first. It has a driving dance beat and layers upon layers of good stuff, just like usual. The sleigh bells are the perfect touch and make the song very enjoyable. They actually remind me of Christmas, or at least winter, my favorite part of the year. But it doesn’t feel cold enough to really make that connection.

Anyway, this is the album that keeps on giving. The tangibility and detailing of the music is something that even I haven’t come to fully grasp, because whenever I hear the album, there is always some new part where I say to myself, “Oh, that’s cool. I didn’t notice that before.” The only sad thing about this album is that it was never followed up, which is very disappointing, considering it seems like Kevin Shields had very much to say. It seems a little late to hope, but either way, this album seems like it will never get old, and it is a lot of fun to listen to for how sophisticated it is.