"Family Jewels" & Wedding Rings: Gene Simmons Gets Married
Published on October 6, 2011 by guest author: J.K. Eisen

When people learn that I’ve been a Kiss fan for nearly 30 years and have seen the band in concert 13 times, there’s a question that is inevitably asked.

“I bet you watch Gene Simmons Family Jewels, don’t you?”

Actually, no.

Given that I’ve never been a big fan of reality shows and see the show as something separate from the band – this isn’t The Kiss Family Jewels – it’s not appointment television for me. Nevertheless, even a Kiss fan not into the reality show knows that the most recent episodes have chronicled the rocky path leading Kiss bassist and vocalist Gene Simmons to pop the question to Shannon Tweed, his girlfriend of 28 years and the mother of his two adult children.

Gene has played up the bad boy rock star image for a long time. He’s bragged about the thousands of groupies he’s “encountered,” has proudly proclaimed he’s been “happily unmarried” to Shannon for years and has been eager to instruct men on the financial dangers of marriage – or, should I say, divorce?

As a longtime Kiss fan, I'm now being asked another question.

“What do you think about Gene marrying Shannon?”


New Phantogram Single
Published on October 6, 2011 by Sara Foss

I'm a big fan of the Saratoga Springs-based band Phantogram, so I was excited to learn that they have a new single out called "Don't Move." Here's a video of them performing the song at the Seattle musical festival Bumbershoot.

Primus at the Palace
Published on October 3, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review Primus' concert at the Palace Theatre in Albany last week.

Here's an excerpt:

Primus, I’m happy to report, puts on an excellent show. You don’t need to be familiar with their entire catalog (i.e., the non-hits) to appreciate what they can do on stage — they are a tight, musically adventurous yet disciplined band, with a sense of humor and weirdness that makes their stage show more memorable than most. A pair of giant astronauts with bland, creepy expressions stood onstage throughout the show, and every song was accompanied by an array of odd and eye-catching videos (my favorite: the elephant on the trampoline); at intermission, the audience was treated to several vintage Popeye cartoons. To those familiar with Primus, the band’s unrelenting strangeness won’t come as a surprise at all: The band rose to promise during the alternative music boom of the early 1990s, but instead of emerging from Seattle or Chicago or any other recognizable place, appeared to come from its own planet.

Primus played two sets: the first featured the band’s classic songs, such as 'Jerry was a Racecar Driver,' while the second showcased their new album, 'Green Naugahyde.' The songs often blended together, with the trio of musicians turning the show into an extended jam session. For the most part, I can’t stand jam bands, which made me wonder why I enjoyed Primus’ sonic detours and exploration so much. 'I like a band that pummels me,' my friend Bruce observed at one point, and perhaps this was the key difference: Jam-bands often seem self-indulgent and aimless, the members (mostly dudes) seemingly more interested in noodling around on their instruments than playing good, well-constructed music. Primus, on the other hand, was aggressive and focused; they jammed, but you never got the sense that they were showing off, or that they were so enamored with their instruments that they had forgotten about the audience, or their purpose on the stage."

Lucky Jukebox Brigade
Published on October 3, 2011 by Sara Foss

The band I saw tonight.

Albany's answer to DeVotchKa and the Gogol Bordello?

Dad Rock is OK
Published on October 2, 2011 by Sara Foss

Wilco is currently one of the greatest rock bands in the world, but detractors like to describe the band's music as "dad rock." I have no idea what this means, but it sounds bad - uncool, lame, timid. In an interview with Men's Journal, Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy defends dad rock (it doesn't really sound like he understands what this term means, either), and also discusses running, Kanye and rehab.

Click here for more.

Lou Reed + Metallica = ???
Published on September 30, 2011 by Sara Foss

One of the weirder musical collaborations in history will be released to the wider world at the end of October, when the Lou Reed/Metallica album, titled "Lulu," comes out. The Metallica fans I know seem kind of horrified at the whole idea (I have no idea what the Lou Reed fans think), but if you're dying for a sample, click here.


Music Review: Opeth "Heritage"
Published on September 29, 2011 by guest author: J.K. Eisen

After Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt recorded two demos for the Swedish band’s latest album, he came to a realization. Though the songs were good, even mining the same musical vein as 2008’s “Watershed,” something wasn’t quite right.

His heart just wasn’t into making another “metal” Opeth album. The singer/guitarist would later recall in an interview for FaceCulture that he had taken that style as far as he could take it. So Akerfeldt deleted the songs from his computer’s hard drive, literally wiping the slate clean before taking the band in a new direction for their 10th album.

The result is “Heritage,” an album showcasing a band that has reached a milestone in its evolution. While Opeth has never been afraid to push musical boundaries, most notably in 2003 when they eschewed death metal growls and distorted guitars to create the haunting songs on “Damnation,” “Heritage” doesn’t have the feel of a momentary musical departure for the band, but a long-standing goal that has been achieved. Akerfeldt has even said it feels like an album he’s been destined to make since he was 19.

“Heritage” features lush, progressive arrangements. There are no death metal growls. And the guitars don’t so much hammer and pummel in a metallic style as swirl, crash and cut through a musical landscape where Mellotrons and acoustic guitars create an otherworldly atmosphere and Akerfeldt’s voice floats and weaves through the arrangements.  The album has even garnered the attention of National Public Radio, which gave “Heritage” a positive review and made the entire album available for streaming online.

The 70’s progressive rock references will be abundant as people try to describe “Heritage.” King Crimson and Yes will be evoked as will Jethro Tull thanks to the use of a flute. But make no mistake, the band is never lost within its influences. It has made a compelling musical statement that is distinctly Opeth.


First Impressions
Published on September 27, 2011 by guest author: Eric J.Perkins

Generally, I'm a big proponent of listening to an album at least 2 or 3 times before deciding whether I really like it or not. Some albums are just not designed to be absorbed and appreciated immediately. But for many artistic mediums, you have to rely on first impressions. I wouldn't read a book 2 or 3 times before reviewing it; I wouldn't see a play multiple times before deciding whether I liked it or not. First impressions are not necessarily as important in music, but they're a jumping off point.

I usually think about first impressions when a Big Release Date rolls around. On any given Tuesday of the year, there are often at least one or two albums coming out that I want to hear. A few weeks ago, there were 7 albums that I wanted to hear. If an album comes out on a day like that, it has to do a little more to prove itself. I'll eventually listen to these albums multiple times, but for the first week or so after I get them, it's pretty stiff competition for play time. It is very, very rare for me to listen to an album for the first time and really like the whole thing. Of the many hundreds of albums I've listened to over the years, that has happened maybe 4 times.

What's more likely to happen on a first listen is that a few tracks will jump out as singles. Sometimes they're the "real" singles, sometimes I like them for my own personal reasons. If it's an artist with whom I'm familiar (and I'm familiar with all the artists below to some extent), then I might mentally rank the album relative to the discography. That's pretty much what you'll find below. My opinion of these albums will likely fluctuate after more listens, but these are my thoughts after the first hand shake.

Blind PilotWe Are The Tide

Of the many albums released on 9/13, Blind Pilot’s sophomore effort was the only one I pre-ordered. I loved 2009’s 3 Rounds and a Sound, so I was looking forward to the follow-up. What I forgot about their debut album was that though I grew to love it, it was a bit of a slow burn. More importantly, I didn’t really fall for this band until I saw them live. None of the tracks off We Are The Tide jumped out at me after the first listen, but I suspect that if I manage to see them on tour, the better songs would begin to resolve themselves. The album is pretty mellow rock, and frontman Israel Nebeker’s voice is soft and soothing…almost too soothing at times. Blind Pilot is starting to remind me of the New England-based band Guster. Guster always put on great live shows, but they were rarely able to capture that energy in the studio. Blind Pilot definitely has some song-writing chops, but there’s a big enough gap between their live show and their studio work that casual listeners might miss their potential.

Mason JenningsMinnesota

There’s a reasonably good chance that I will check out Mason Jennings albums indefinitely based solely on how much I enjoyed 2004’s Use Your Voice. That was a rare album in which I liked nearly every song. Albums released since then have been a little spottier, but I always like at least a few of the songs. Based on the first listen of Minnesota, this album will be no different. Jennings’ music has grown increasingly darker over the past few years—some of the songs on 2009’s Blood of Man were downright scary. With the opening track of Minnesota titled “Bitter Heart," you know you’re not about to pay a visit to Happy Land. That said, two songs did jump out at me after the first listen that could end up on my own personal Mason Jennings Greatest Hits list. “Wake Up” is a poignant look at alcoholism, devastating but very much worth a listen or ten. That song is weirdly followed by the brightest song on the album, “Well of Love.” With a catchy chorus, a broad range of instruments (including horns!), and better production than any other track on the album, “Well of Love” sticks out like a sore thumb from the other songs presented here. Or maybe all the other songs are sore fingers, and this track is the thumb that actually feels good.

St. VincentStrange Mercy

The music of Annie Clark--the voice, writer, and pretty much everything behind St. Vincent--is difficult to classify. It’s beautiful and jarring at the same time. A song can drift along for a few minutes and sound almost ambient in its quietness, then a wall of sound comes crashing down and Clark’s voice goes from sweet to borderline harsh in an instant. It’s not for everybody, and with the possible exception of the single “Cruel," there’s certainly nothing particularly radio friendly on Strange Mercy.


That said, I enjoyed my first listen a lot. Some songs feel a little over-produced, making Clark’s voice a bit fuzzy, and I occasionally found myself distracted by wondering what sounds were being made by real instruments and what were purely electronic. But I think once I get past that distraction, this album will only get better. It might not be quite as good as 2007’s Marry Me, but it’s an improvement over 2009’s Actor. After a single listen, I’m already debating whether I should go see her live this fall. I’d really like to see how she pulls these songs off in front of an audience.


Nirvana Rembrances
Published on September 25, 2011 by Sara Foss

Nirvana is getting a lot of ink lately, as this year marks the 20th anniversary of the group's classic, game-changing album, "Nevermind." During the summer, I blogged about Nirvana over at the DG, but many others have also offered their thoughts and remembrances on the band.

At the Daily Beast, Amanda Marcotte makes the case for Nirvana's feminist credentials.

Here's an excerpt:

"Nirvana’s opening salvo in its assault on mainstream rock, 'Smells Like Teen Spirit,' did more than just wash away any musical relevance of bands like Poison and Winger, but it also laid waste to the sexism that fueled so much hair metal and other dude-centric hard rock. The first human faces you see in the video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” belong not to the band members, but to a group of heavily tattooed women dressed like anarchist cheerleaders, a swift but brutal rebuttal to all the images of acceptable femininity that your average suburban teenager lived with at the time. Forget the hair metal groupies or the bubbly beauty queen cheerleaders. For girls watching this video, it was a revelation: You could instead choose to be a badass."

At Racialicious, Latoya Peterson offers some interesting Nirvana anecdotes and commentary.

Over at The Daily, David Hudson provides some links and thoughts in a piece that takes a broader look at grunge, punk and other seminal musical of the early 1990s. In addition to Nirvana, Pearl Jam, R.E.M., and Gus Van Sant's "My Own Private Idaho" all get mentions.

R.E.M. Calls It Quits
Published on September 22, 2011 by Sara Foss

Some links:

- Rolling Stone's Rob Sheffield on how R.E.M. basically invented indie rock as we know it.

Here's an excerpt from Sheffield's piece:

"At a time when the term 'indie rock' didn't exist, R.E.M. basically invented it as we know it, more or less overnight. I can't even count how many of my favorite bands I first heard about from R.E.M.. I tracked down Exile on Main Street because Peter Buck couldn't shut up about it, back when it was as impossible to find as those out-of-print Velvet Underground records. They invented whole new ways of being a music fan. They also invented 'girls who like R.E.M.,' who became my crush genre for the rest of my life.

People love to complain that R.E.M. should have broken up when Bill Berry quit in 1997, to preserve their legacy in a pristine state. Except this misses the fundamental point of R.E.M., which is that rock and roll is something you do, something that's part of your real sloppy life, rather than a fleeting phase. They decided not to be a 'go out in a blaze of glory' band like the Smiths or Husker Du, and they also decided not to be a 'blaze gloriously and then kinda fade out so everybody assumes you broke up even though maybe you officially didn't' kind of band, like Echo and the Bunnymen or the Jesus and Mary Chain. They decided to be a 'run it into the ground' band, plowing ahead whether they had the wind at their backs or not.

And they ran it into the ground. That's an essential part of their greatness."

- The A.V. Club staff says farewell to R.E.M.

- At Salon, indie luminaries such as Bob Mould and Rhett Miller talk about R.E.M.

- At Slate, Bill Wyman discusses R.E.M.'s impact on music

Also, here's R.E.M. performing the song that got my vote for class song. Unfortunately, "These Are Days" by 10,000 Maniacs won.

The Hold Steady does Huey Lewis
Published on September 20, 2011 by Sara Foss

What a strange idea. But oddly compelling.

A Little Bit of Electronica
Published on September 19, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review last week's performance at EMPAC by Jon Hopkins and Four Tet. Electronic music is a fairly new genre for me, so the review is full of first impressions.

Here's an excerpt:

"Overall, I liked the show. The sets had some similarities, but also some differences: Hopkins seemed to enjoy slowing things down from time to time, creating sonic spaces for the audience to lose itself in, while Four Tet was a bit more conventional, seemingly more interested in getting the audience to dance. My friend Anna described Hopkins as unpredictable, which seems like a good word for him; I got the sense that he could have created some really incredible dance music, if he felt like it, but that he preferred defying expectations and taking his songs into more unusual and unexpected territory. His music was layered and dense, easy to bob your head to, but also quite beautiful. He spent most of the set turning knobs and occasionally flashing a grin to the audience, although he did sit and play the piano a couple times. I, for one, wish that he had done even more with the piano, because I loved the way Hopkins’ precise and elegant piano-playing contrasted with the electronic pulses and blips coming from the equipment on stage.

Four Tet’s set wasn’t as bold or experimental as Hopkins, but that was OK with me — after Hopkins’ somewhat contemplative set, I was ready for something a little bit more danceable and unabashedly fun. Four Tet provided this, and although he probably isn’t as creative a musician as Hopkins, he had a crowd-pleasing sensibility that I appreciated. My friend Bruce wondered why Hopkins and Four Tet didn’t do more with lights and video; both men used some video and lights, but Bruce wanted more. He also complained that the concert didn’t really move him to want to dance, which was what he expected. This caused me to propose that electronic music is different from dance music, and that sometimes the two overlap, but not always. In fact, both musicians, Hopkins especially, seemed more interested in providing a complete emotional experience than a dance party."

And here's a video of Jon Hopkins at The ICA in London:

Fall Concerts
Published on September 14, 2011 by Sara Foss

Today at the DG, I compiled my list of fall concerts to look forward to. The list includes Primus, Josh Ritter and John Wesley Harding and TV on the Radio.

Wild Flag
Published on September 14, 2011 by Sara Foss

The new band Wild Flag, which features two former members of Sleater-Kinney, Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss, the Minders' Rebecca Cole and Mary Timony of Helium, Autoclave and the Mary Timony Band, has been getting a lot of attention.

The band's debut album comes out next week, and has been getting rave reviews. Click here to read an interview with Timony on Slate, and here to read a review of the album in Slant magazine. And here's a video of the band performing their song "Future Crimes."


"The Sound of Silence" at Ground Zero
Published on September 12, 2011 by Sara Foss

I have not felt compelled to write a single word about the tenth anniversary of 9/11. I don't feel like I have anything to add to the conversation. Or anything I want to add to the conversation. What happened that day still fills me with an immense sadness, and I still find it a little painful to talk about. But I thought I'd share this video of Paul Simon singing a haunting version of the "Sound of Silence" at the 9/11 memorial on Sunday.

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