Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Album Review: Michael Grant & The Assassins - Always A Villain

I walk into this album confused. I understand a 'star' branding his music as "____ & ____", separating himself from his backing band. I also understand artists who are talented and controlling enough to want to play every instrument on what is truly a 'solo record'. What I don't understand is Michael Grant, who has combined both of these things. "Always The Villain" is a solo record where he plays every instrument, yet it is credited to a band. It leaves me asking questions. Is there actually a band called The Assassins he has locked up somewhere? Is he such an egotist he considers himself as important as an entire band? Is he just afraid of putting this out under his own name, in case it fails, so he can blame the non-existent band when he reinvents himself yet again? I'm scratching my head.

Considering that Grant spent several years as a guitarist in LA Guns, that should tell you what this record is going to sound like. I've listened to that band's recent releases, which were some of the worst rock music of these last couple years. LA Guns plays stripped-down rock without any hooks or melodies, and their ear for production is completely shot, so the records also sound dreadful from a production standpoint. Most of that is also true of this record, though not quite as bad.

The record is a bit muddy, with the guitars sounding especially brittle. There's no brightness or sharpness to the sound, and it doesn't sound particularly heavy either. That's not a great starting point, but then the songs give us little more to enjoy. Grant's vocals drone on over some generic sleaze guitars, where none of these songs have anything approaching a hook. I don't want to sound harsh, but they sound like the songs written by a guitar player. Trust me, there's an insult in there.

Even the better material on the record is merely adequate. It's a record that doesn't reach very deep into Grant's artistic soul, and it sounds like it could have used someone else's ears to push him towards something more than this. It's not terrible by any means, but it's all faceless rock you can hear in any bar in any small town. Other than his connection to LA Guns, I don't hear what about this record would deserve any attention. Being better at this than LA Guns isn't anything to hang your hat on. That bar is pretty damn low.

Really, there isn't much else to say about this record. It's incredibly generic rock that doesn't try to do anything new, or even anything great. It's happy being decidedly average, so if that's what you want, go ahead and listen to it. Myself, I have better things to do.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Album Review: Shining Black - Shining Black

Despite having been around for a long time, my only real exposure to Mark Boals as a singer comes from the album he made with Magnus Karlsson under the name of The Codex. That album was good, and Boals was a more than capable singer, but for whatever reason I never felt the need to seek out any of his other work to see what I was missing. So when I saw his name pop up as being in this new project, I figured the time was right to give him another shot. For this album, he is joined by Olaf Thorsen of Labyrinth and Vision Divine as his songwriting partner. Let's see what that means for the record.

The music of Shining Black sits on the balance of hard rock and metal, where I can hear elements of both sides coming into play. Honestly, I wish they would have picked one or the other, because some of the hard rock instrumentation doesn't mesh so well with the power metal vocal melodies. "My Life" was chosen as a single, but it doesn't work for me. The music getting through the verses is fine, but that chorus doesn't have the bounce or flair a rock song needs. It's a power metal hook, but without enough instrumental 'oomph' to propel the melody.

"A Sad Song" and the title track (Can we say that naming a song, album, and band the same thing is lazy?) are far better, where Boals' melodies have movement and bite to them. Those are the songs that are most focused as rock songs, and that approach works out for the best. When they rely on Boals stretching his voice, which also stretches the notes in the melody, the songs aren't as appealing. They aren't bad, but they sound like everything else, and aren't so well done they stand out from the pack.

Several of the songs feature hooks that are very similar, and completely standard. Power metal isn't known for innovation, and the more of that sound finding its way into these songs, the more they grow stale because of it. Boals sounds great, and the record is more than competently played and put together, but it's never exciting. Even when it's done to perfection, there are so many albums that follow this exact blueprint I can't say it would ever be exciting. This isn't that album, though.

Shining Black is yet another one of these project bands that has a few good songs, but not enough of an identity to make me believe they have a future ahead of them. They sound like a dozen other of these groups, and frankly, their songs aren't enough to set them apart. This is a record that is fine, enjoyable enough, but ultimately forgettable.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Album Review: Maryann Cotton - Hallelujah

I don't know if I've ever gotten the opportunity to comment on the topic, but with Maryann Cotton being billed as the "prince of shock rock", I can say a couple of things regarding that. Shock rock was always a terrible way to brand your music, because it removed any of the quality in favor of being titillating or offensive. Yes, Alice Cooper is famous to this day because of his stage antics, but how many of his songs have remained in the public consciousness? KISS has a string of them, but shock rock doesn't. Plus, after so many years, is anything actually shocking anymore? It's become such a misnomer that I have to groan at it. They are describing a sound that once existed that is not completely divorced from the meanings of the words involved. But enough about my issues with language.

There's another issue regarding shock rock that comes up pretty quickly; not only is the music not shocking, it doesn't really rock either. This is a rather soft album that relies as much on the cheap synth accompaniments as it does on the old-school riffing. When you see the imagery and the description, this is not the sound you expect to hear. There's a very real cognitive dissonance going on at first.

That being said, Maryann Cotton does have a way with a song. Though they might not be what you expect, the songs have a soft rock appeal with plenty of charm. The vocals have a lot of Alice Cooper in them, but the melodies are written smartly enough to work around those limitations, and enhance the best qualities. When they lean into their softer side, the songs really work. The title track and "I'm Your Saint" are both lovely tracks that use the extra sounds and the vocal harmonies to build a bigger track. There's even some power-pop to them, which only enhances the experience. Compared to the very straight-forward "Night In California", there's no comparison which direction is the best way for them to go.

In a way, this sort of reminds me of Lordi. You have a gruff voice singing rock with a heavy influence of pop melodies. The difference is that Lordi has seemed to become ashamed of what made them famous, which has only made them a worse band as time goes on and they try everything under the sun to avoid doing what they're best at. Maryann Cotton is, right now, happy to exist in a place where 'cheese' isn't a dirty word. It isn't overwhelming, but you know there's some tongue-in-cheek attitude in all of this. Not that it's a bad thing.

Despite being a short album, it does feel longer than its running time. Especially when "Those Things To Come" comes along, where it spends four minutes with little energy and almost spoken vocals, there isn't enough energy to keep things rolling. And that song, like "Night In California", doesn't boast much of a melody when they do try to kick things up a bit. The best songs are the ones that go in the more dramatic, 'orchestrated' direction. That's when everything comes alive, and unfortunately they don't carry that through the entire record. An entire album of songs like "Hallelujah" and "Eternal Love Forever" would be a wonderful blast of retro fun, but that's not quite what we get.

So yes, "Hallelujah" is a flawed record. There are some really good things about it, and a few that bring things down. I think things tilt enough toward the good side to still say it's a record I enjoyed listening to, but the blemishes do mean it's not a record I can get overly excited about. It's a nice way to spend some time, which might be enough.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

The Best/Worst Albums Of 2020, So Far

After what has seemed like an eternity, time has lurched from its standstill, and we have reached the halfway point in the calendar. It's been a trying time to be a music fan, as the worldwide pandemic has led to numerous albums being delayed for a future we all hope is going to be better than today. That may or may not be, but it does mean several albums that many of us would have otherwise been talking about at this point didn't come out yet. Does that mean the roster of releases to mention today are less than they would have otherwise been? I won't say that, both because I have no way of knowing which would live up to my expectations, and because there has been enough good new music to (mostly) carry me through. There have been more than enough bad albums, but that's the other side of the ledger.

With that being said, let's tackle the extremes, starting with:

The Best Albums So Far (even though all of them have a glaring flaw):

Allen/Olzon - Worlds Apart

A wonderful melodic metal album featuring two remarkable vocalists. There aren't any surprises, but the usual formula is done better on this record. It's a big, lush, gloriously hook-laden record that delivers expertly crafted songs. The flaw? The two only blend their voices on half the songs, when a true duets album could have been even more magical.

Harem Scarem - Change The World

Coming off their best record ever, Harem Scarem keep the hot streak going. This is melodic rock of the highest order, with sticky songs that don't leave your head. These veterans have never been better, and this record is a neck-and-neck competitor to "United", which earned #2 on my year end list in 2017. The flaw? It's nearly a carbon copy.

Illumishade - Eclyptic: Wake Of Shadows

This concept album features stunning vocals from Fabienne Erni, and some of the most beautiful metal songs of the year. Her melodies are enchanting, the band powerful, and her voice angelic. When Illumishade is on, they are remarkable. The flaw? Minus the segues/intros, there's only 28 minutes of songs, which isn't enough.

One Way North - To Light

Finding this album was a matter of luck; good luck, that is. Immediately upon hearing it, the songs struck me for being the kind of muscular modern rock that the mainstream tries and fails to give us. It's heavy, yes, but filled with great melodies and hooks, all without the worst qualities that make the mainstream so hard to listen to sometimes. This album takes what Mark Tremonti does in his solo work, and if you ask me, does it even better. The flaw? I could do without the pop song cover, even though it's well done, and it will go unappreciated while far lesser works get all the attention.

Serenity - The Last Knight

I've always liked Serenity, but never been able to fully embrace any of their albums. That changes here, as they have delivered their most consistently excellent release yet. Every song boasts a massive hook, with a couple of contenders for song of the year included. They've upped their game, finally, and hit their potential. The flaw? I can't really connect to songs about knights in battle.

We Sell The Dead - Black Sleep

After a dull first album that was paired with amateurish videos, We Sell The Dead strips things back and moves far forward by doing so. This record is slightly doom-influenced hard rock that wouldn't be out of place in the Dio-era Rainbow canon. It's engaging, memorable, and sung by the fantastic voice of Apollo Papathanasio, who hasn't had this good a platform since Firewind. The flaw? Apollo doesn't get the chance to sing the entire album.

And to balance things out...

The Worst Albums So Far:

Candlemass - The Pendulum [EP]

This release doesn't justify its own existence. We get three short interlude tracks that waste time on an already short release, two mediocre songs, and one song that was already released in superior form on Avatarium's last album. All Candlemass does with this release is show there's a reason why bands don't release every scrap of music they create.

Green Day - Father Of All...

This album is allegedly only to fulfill their contract, and it sounds like it. The half-assed songs are illustrated nicely by the vomiting unicorn on the cover. This is a lazy record that makes four of the band's last five that didn't have any real effort put into them. That's an insult to the fans, but it doesn't seem to be hurting business. What a terrible example it sets.

Lordi - Killection

Every album, Lordi gives us two or three good songs, and a bunch of cringe-worthy filler. With this one, the band tries to take on the guise of various sounds throughout the history of rock. Lordi has never mastered being Lordi, so it's no surprise them trying to be other bands is a disaster. And frankly, Mr Lordi's sexual predator schtick is getting more uncomfortable every year. I'm not sure how to justify it anymore.

Poppy - I Disagree

Sometimes you can put two random things together and find they work. Sometimes you do that and find yourself wanting to damage your own ear drums. That's what this record is, with a blend of modern metal and infantile pop that doesn't work whatsoever. It's supposed to be 'art', but it's the equivalent of the urinal installation on a gallery wall. Just because you call something art doesn't mean it isn't still something to piss on.

Witchcraft - Black Metal

This record honestly made me angry, not because it's a horrible collection of barely written 'songs' with not a single interesting thing about them, but because it's being promoted as an 'acoustic album'. They are trying to explain this record through the instrumentation, when the acoustic guitar doesn't have a damn thing to do with how awful it is. Playing acoustically doesn't mean you have to write such dull, depressing, vapid, worthless, unlistenable music. As a guitarist who plays primarily acoustic, I felt insulted having this record placing the blame on the instrument, and not the piss-poor effort that went into writing it.

Monday, June 29, 2020

The Conversation: 2020, So Far

Chris C: Every year, I start this conversation out with some sort of philosophical musing about the nature of time, aging, and whatnot. That doesn't feel like the right thing to do this year, given the state of the world. This has been, by far, the weirdest year of our lifetime. Never before has life been so disrupted, challenged, and the very idea of what a society is at so much risk. For so much of this year, music has felt completely secondary to reality, far more than usual.

Before we get too deep into any of those societal issues, I'll say this; initially, I thought music was going to be a great salvation during this ordeal. Music would be there to serve as a distraction, to give us something else to think about. It did, at least for a while. What I've found is that at least for myself, the numbness created by the news has carried over to the world of music as well. There are records I was excited about and loved at the time they came out, and while I wouldn't say that has necessarily changed, I feel less than I did then. That's made it a bit difficult to keep sorting through the records that are coming out (the ones that aren't is a topic I'm sure we'll get to very shortly), since I'm struggling to figure out if my malaise is due to the albums, or me.

But as weird as this year has been for me, I'm sure it's been even stranger for you, as you are the concert-goer among us. Having such an integral part of your identity and self-expression taken away from you, and without any clear indication when it will be back, must be a bit like a boat coming unmoored. I'm curious what your perspective on this is, and whether you have been able to replace it with music of your own, as I have been doing.

Now that the preamble is there, I'll let you sink your teeth into the weighty stuff.

D.M:  If I may, I'll address the meat of the societal issue at large as briefly but poignantly as I can.  Every generation is defined by a few transcendent moments, either great or terrible.  For my parents, it was Sputnik being launched, the looming specter of the Cold War, man walking on the Moon, the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam Conflict, and Woodstock (and my dad would add - the Jets winning the Super Bowl.)  For my older brother, it was the Berlin Wall falling, the Challenger explosion and grunge music.  For us (children of the '80s,) it was the OJ Simpson trial, the Columbine High School shooting, the terror attacks of September 11th, the mapping of the human genome (this is underrated, by the way,) and music file sharing.  I don't presume to speak for the generation that follows us, but I'm certain they will have their moments, too.

I bring all that up because the pandemic strikes a different chord - this colors the life experience of all living generations.  The disruption of our daily routines has been so total, that from the youngest child going to daycare to the most elderly citizen who takes a daily afternoon walk, literally everyone has had to adjust their expectation in some lasting way.  The pandemic has not and will not discriminate.  My wife is one of the frontline workers, and while the situation at her hospital has stabilized somewhat, the sacrifices and dedication her and her teammates have had to take on makes my largely working from home pale in comparison.  The experience has, they all admit, given them a sort of scar that they'll carry for the duration of their professional careers.

In the face of that, I, too, turned to music as an interlude.  Whether I was playing it or listening to it or writing about it, it has passed and will pass many hours for me. 

I find I have not become jaded with it yet, although I recognize what you're talking about with the constant beatdown of the headlines becoming an overbearing weight upon your enjoyment.  If I may offer a suggestion, I have found that my sanity is largely saved by checking the news once, in the morning, to try and encapsulate everything that happened the day before, and then I'm detached from it the rest of the day (though I admit to checking my stock holdings twice a day, but that's strictly a numerical transaction,)

The only part of the musical process I've become frustrated with or mellowed on at all, and you and I discussed this off-line a couple of weeks ago, is the number of bands who have pushed off releasing their new material to a later date.  I won't speak for you, but I think we're in general agreement that this seems counter-intuitive.  Wouldn't you, as an artist, want to release music now, when you have a captive audience?  Secondarily, if you can't tour until a later date in support of your new music, doesn't that offer you two bites at the apple?  You could gain an entire second wave of interest if you were to tour six or seven months from now.  There has to be a logic here, and listen, if artists just feel like now is not the time from a moral perspective, that's their prerogative, and I won't criticize them for that.  If, by contrast, this is a financial or marketing decision, even with the unemployment rate being what it is (and is projected to be,) it seems awfully strange to me.

As for the concert going experience, I haven't felt that pain too acutely yet.  Frankly, with working from home and filling my hours with personal and home projects, time is passing much more rapidly than I had anticipated, so I haven't noticed the drought so much as I would have during my younger years when I simply had less on my plate.  My last show was in the middle of February, so three months is an uncommon drought for me, but not unheard of.  As I look back in my notebook, at the end of 2017, I went from the beginning of November to the middle of the February without a show, and then at the end of 2018, went from the end of December to the middle of March.  So I'm still in charted waters, but I'm also trying to consciously ignore how long it will be until I see another show.  No less than six things I had planned to attend have either been re-scheduled or outright cancelled, which means my dance card is already filling up for next year, but it also means that events I have tickets for in the later summer are very much in jeopardy.  That long a drought would be unique in my concert going history.  I will miss the energy and the catharsis, frankly.

Anyway, you seem like you were leading into some thoughts on the music we have gotten this year, and I have a fair number as well, so I'm all ears - take us there.

CHRIS C: Starting with society, I've been thinking about the ways in which our generation has been screwed in a way no other ever has. We were just old enough feel the effects of Columbine, which made us feel unsafe at school (around that time, my school was notorious for getting bomb threats - we probably had at least ten one year). Then we went through 9/11, which made us feel unsafe in a more ambiguous way. Then we saw The Great Recession right after we got out of college and started building our lives, which made us feel unsafe financially. And now we're going through this as many of us have or are starting young families, which makes us feel unsafe everywhere and everyhow. No music is going to get us over all of that.

I do understand what artists are thinking by delaying their albums, but I can't say it makes much sense to me. As I told you before, there are a couple of reasons why; 1)It could anger the fans, 2)It isn't necessary for their future touring plans, and 3)It might all be for naught. Let's take them in order.

1)As we are all starved for diversions right now, I think it's safe to say we're all appreciative of anyone who gives us one. While there is a world of older releases, it's something else to get a new and novel piece or entertainment to sink your teeth into. It takes a different function of brain power to process and assess a new record than it does to put on an old favorite for the hundredth time. Many of the bands that are delayed releases are depriving us of that opportunity, when we might give them far more credit if they were there for us when we needed them most. A little good will can go a long way.

2)We all have seen how the touring industry has been divorced from the album cycle. Bands can easily go out whenever they want, whether they have a new record to promote or not, and there is hardly any difference to their drawing power. Tool spent over a decade playing sold-out shows without releasing a record. Iron Maiden sells out whether they're playing new material or the old hits. The days of syncing everything up are gone. Waiting to release your record when you think you'll be back out on the road, or closer to that point, isn't necessary. The people who aren't afraid of going to a show are going to have such pent-up demand for live music it won't matter when the record came out. The experience will be all that matters.

3)There is no telling when a better time to release your music is going to be. We have some releases that got bumped for a month. Right now, does it really look at if June is going to be a better month for a release than May? There is talk of no sizeable concerts taking place in large American cities until next year, so what difference does it make whether you release your album in one month you can't play live shows or another? But it's more than that. Among the things we don't know is whether there will be a second spike in cases. If there is a setback, and we have to tighten the reigns on society again, it's likely to happen in Fall and Winter, which is when some of these records are getting pushed back to, and when bands think they might start touring again. They might have just put all their hopes and expectations on the one period in time where the rug could get pulled out from under them. Steven Wilson delayed his album for seven months until January. What happens if there's still no touring then? They are putting faith in a future that isn't certain, and when there is going to be a giant glut of records and tours they may not be able to stand our from and get their requisite attention. The head start from releasing a record now might come in handy down the road.

As for this year's music, the themes seem to be the continued rise in the septic pool, as well as the stuff I like being fundamentally flawed. Combined, that is why I've been questioning if my mindset is the cause of my feelings. Let me explain; There are still a good number of records I really like so far, but not a single one of them is without a flaw I can't overlook. There's the melodic metal duets album where only half of the album features the two singing together. There's the doomy hard rock record where the great singer is replaced by a far lesser voice for two tracks. There's the melodic rock album that is almost a clone of its also great predecessor. And there's the concept album that only has 28 minutes of real songs, with the rest being padded out by transitions and set-up pieces. I have a reputation for being overly critical, and maybe it's all the philosophy classes I took where I was trained to find the flaws in arguments, but I can't look past these issues when I hear them. If I know an album easily could have been made better, my enthusiasm for what greatness is there is obviously not as strong as it could have been.

Last year, I noted that there were more terrible albums than ever before. Sadly, that seems to have continued. I have a solid list of truly horrible records that made me angry, as a musician. Records that so blatantly show a lack of care and/or effort that I'm not sure how to put it into perspective. We have Green Day giving us a 'fuck you' album to fulfill their contract with whatever crap they had left, we have Poppy throwing random noise into a blender, we have Witchcraft using 'acoustic' as an excuse for not even writing songs, and we have Richie Kotzen putting out a record of FIFTY songs he never thought were good enough for anything before. And there's still more records I outright hate. Both as a fan and a musician, I don't know what to make of a system that doesn't require more of a good faith effort from artists. It's depressing. And that's without addressing the "Danzig Sings Elvis" album that I have managed to reward myself by not listening to.

Those are my early thoughts. What has music given unto you so far?

D.M:  While I agree that our generation has seen our fair share of major events, I would caution against putting us on top of the anguish heap - if you were born at the right moment, you could have been born into World War I, gritted your teeth through the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, and then been asked to serve in World War II.  I know the whole "Greatest Generation" thing has become a bit of a cliche, but there is validity there.  I would also caution that this entire part of our conversation is entirely American-centric, and largely from the view of two white guys.  I mean, not to overstate it, but there are multiple generations of people who have been born in Eastern Europe, Central Africa, Southeast Asia, or a dozen other places who have known nothing but disease, famine, civil war, persecution and other kinds of strife.  That doesn't diminish the impact on our particular age group of the things we've been asked to endure, but it does put us in a proper perspective.

Anyway, the part that's become most interesting in the touring world, to both tie into our discussion of why bands are moving their release dates and your query about the sudden halt of all things concerts, is that most of the tours that have been rescheduled have been rescheduled for approximately the same dates next year.  Which is easy from a logistical standpoint, but it does seem to cast the idea that 2021 will essentially be a 'do-over.'  Which isn't a problem, it just feels....strange.  I keep a running concert calendar of all the things that I might conceivably be interested in, and I overhauled the whole thing yesterday to reflect the new state of affairs - for the first time in memory, I have concerts planned out as much as 15 months in advance. 

Which begs the larger question - will the smaller venues be able to hold out that long?  The pandemic brings with it a million little unforeseen twists and details, and one of the ones worth watching in the musical landscape will be to see if these places can be kept afloat.  One hopes they've been available to apply for the aid that's been offered at the federal level, but that does come with some strings attached and more importantly, is not indefinite.  Depending on how long this all takes, we could see a world where only Livenation-sponsored venues and their ilk would continue to exist.  Now don't get me wrong, some of those are great venues, but the death of a place like St. Vitus in Brooklyn would be a real loss to the community.

Boy, I appear to be disagreeable today, because I am also forced to disagree with you about the state of music in 2020.  I have been having a great year; we've just past the halfway point, and there are six or seven albums I already feel strongly about, including two that I think have already cemented their place at least in the top five when the end of year accolades roll around.  This comes as a minor shock to me, since the trend had been going the other way in recent years, and also because my personal theory about the twenty year cycles of music (which parenthetically, has long since been shot to hell, I don't know why I keep referencing it,) would dictate that we're coming into a dry period - the early 2000's didn't offer a lot of all-time great works for me personally.

I think the theme that I'm taking away from this year so far, and we've been coming to this conclusion over the last several years, is that rock bands are coming to a greater understanding of what electronic music can do for them.  This likely comes as no surprise from the European artists, where that genre has been a strong resident for many years now, but the trend seems to be circling the globe, and is resulting in more confident and all-encompassing releases from artists from every corner.  Perhaps, referencing my preceding paragraph, this is what we're taking from twenty years ago (the last vestiges of my theory may have a burning ember among them yet,) that we're seeing a resurgence of industrial metal, which was in its infancy during the halcyon days of Rob Zombie, Powerman 5000 and Disturbed. 

Plus!  After roughly 7,302 years of waiting, Blackguard got to release "Storm," so that's a huge win.

The other trend I see, and it's too soon to know if it's good or bad, but it does bring some cause for concern, is that everyone seems to want to be a doom band now.  It feels like fifty percent of the releases I get have a band that wants to be some combination of slow, noisy, fuzzy or doomy.  Every band seems to want to write an album about not the apocalypse, but the post-apocalypse, with all its deserted landscapes and haunting overtones.  That in and of itself is fine, I guess, and perhaps it's a reflection of the times we live in (more on this in a moment,) but it's long been secretly true that doom only offers so many outlets as a genre, and it's also pretty easy to be extraordinarily lazy and call yourself a doom band.  Write some three chord rock, drop it into D tuning and play it at half speed, and you're just about there.  Have you noticed the same?

You know what?  That's enough for now - I'll let you digest that before I expand on the point I want to expand on.

CHRIS C: I don't think there's a way to fully delve into what I was trying to say that wouldn't come across entirely controversial, so I'll skip that and instead agree that we're clearly talking from our position of privilege, which probably isn't the best thing to be doing, so I'll move on.

There will be an element of do-over to 2021, but it's going to be a weird mix of the past and present colliding. We're going to have all of the big moments of 2020 bleeding over, whether it's The Olympics or the Motley Crue lie-fest tour, but we're also going to have everything fresh fighting for our attention. Somehow, the business is going to expect everything that was supposed to happen in 2020 to slide into 2021, while everything that is planned for next year still goes on as scheduled. I know there's going to be pent-up demand for entertainment and events, but I can't see how it will sustain two years worth of stuff all at once. The most likely option I see is the same thing you were talking about with venues; the big will survive and the small will suffer.

The Olympics will still be a big deal when they happen next year. Motley Crue's tour will also still be a sell-out by virtue of its rarity. But for your fringe band that draws 500 people to a club? They might very well be out of luck, since everyone is going to have twice the big 'event' tours to attend. I heard Lzzy Hale mention that a lot of bands we know aren't going to make it out of this. She's right. Even when things were good, a lot of bands we assume are successful were barely getting by on their touring income. Without that, they will become hobby bands making the occasional song and playing the occasional show, while the members do other things to live.

And that ties back into your query. There are certainly going to be venues that have to close down. I've already heard some people talk about places in their areas that aren't coming back. Right now they have no income, and if they are allowed to open at some percentage of capacity, that's not going to be nearly enough money to keep the doors open. Not to wade too far into politics here, but our country happened upon the least efficient way of trying to keep the economy going of anyone. These nebulous loans so many will never be able to get aren't enough. It would have been far simpler, and more effective, to either give everyone a set amount of money each week/month, or subsidize employment for a period of time. The way it is now, these venues aren't going to be able to take in the money they need to survive until we get back to nearly full capacity. The margins on service businesses aren't great, so even if we have half capacity shows in the fall, that can't possibly pay everyone's salaries as they were. Something will have to give.

The flaw in your twenty year cycle theory has nothing to do with the theory, and everything to do with society. When we were talking last year about the end of the decade, I mentioned how this past decade had no identity of its own. It's as if culture stopped and stagnated. With that being the case, it's no wonder that we have deviated from the cycle. I can't exactly explain why it happened, but if I had to hazard a guess, I would think it has something to do with the fragmentation we have often talked about, and how it's hard for a society to evolve if only a few members are going along for the ride. We no longer have the shared experience of even something like TRL to drive all of us in a certain direction of understanding, and so we are now more of a blob oozing in every direction than we are a ball rolling downhill. That being said, Puddle Of Mudd are trying to make a comeback, and there's a tour of forgettable schlubs including Trapt that was scheduled, so maybe the cycle isn't entirely broken after all.

I haven't noticed a preponderance of doom, but I have noticed that noise is becoming more of a factor. My inbox has seen a lot of bands that are either psychedelic, stoner, or death-influenced rock/metal where everything is coated with a layer of annoying noise. I have never understood the appeal of such productions, but I've also never been high, so some of it is naturally lost on me. Like doom, however, it does sometimes seem like taking the easy way out. Anytime you're masking your playing and singing, you reduce the work you need to put in with regard to songwriting. Can it still be good? Sure it can, but I have a hard enough time sorting the wheat from the chaff in the genres I'm more fond of. I've lost a lot of patience for areas where the rate of success is going to be so low.

I think that's one place where being a musician myself is a detriment. There are many aspects to music and the process of making it I would never consider that I almost hold it against those that do. Case in point, the review I wrote for the recent Witchcraft album, which I found to be an insult to the very instrument I play most often. But I'm starting to get off on a rant, so I'll let you make the point you wanted to.

D.M: I suppose there's some natural inclination to assume that if next year is do-over, then everyone must be saving their concert pennies to double up in the following session.  I know I'm certainly saving a fair amount of money right now by not really doing...well....anything, and so I've started a couple slush funds to put my liquid assets in that I'll be able to disgorge on an orgy of live experiences next year, from concerts to sports to exotic European vacations (destination TBD.)  BUT!  The obvious fallacy here is that this idea assumes people are going to be able to save their money, which only works if people are actually getting paid.  Which a whole lot of folks aren't.  I have zero data to back this up, but as we've noted before in this space, the metal community, my home base, so to speak, is largely populated by the middle and lower-middle class, and there's a damn good chance that while I've been extraordinarily lucky to be able to work from home, many of my contemporaries probably haven't.  I am torn - there is certainly the concept that people are going to be clawing to get out of the house by January, which lends me to believe that crowds at shows will be massive in the beginning part of the year.  I also suspect however, that by March or April, the concept of what this is all costing will curtail that trend, and the size of the crowds may actually regress.

For all that though, I disagree with Lzzy's statement.  (There I go being disagreeable again.)  I get what she's saying, I really do, and there's a lot of logic in her words.  And please let me preface my argument by saying that my heart goes out to the musicians for whom her statement applies - the level of disruption we've all had to endure is particularly unfair to those in the service industry, as you mentioned, and I would argue that artists of all stripes are in that business to some degree.  My counter though, is that most if not all bands have lived through that state of affairs before.  Virtually nobody comes out of the chute as bankable stars (maybe Silverchair?  Weren't they a bunch of rich kids?) and thus we get all the great stories of dudes sweating it out at day jobs and then having to race home to change clothes and get to the gig on time.  This trend doesn't extend to just the bargain basement or those new to the game either - I don't want to call anybody out, but I interviewed a lot of headline artists who had day jobs, and I know this because they had to sneak out of their day jobs to do the interview.  Security guards, landscapers, bricklayers, contractors, firefighters, bartenders, small business owners, and of course, parents, all within the realm of artists I chatted with.  So the concept of these guys having to find regular jobs to balance against their music career isn't a foreign idea, or at worst, might be a reversion to a previous lifestyle until some capital starts to come back in.  I would venture that to be in Lzzy's position, where 'musician' is your sole job title is the stark minority of cases.  Now, whether those guys and gals can find employment, either permanent or temporary, is a larger and more concerning questions.

And while we're at it, let's make sure to direct some vitriol at Ticketmaster, who generally deserves it, but in this case is the target of my ire because I am quite sure that they are not going to reduce or suspend any of their fees as concert goers, sports fans and theater enthusiasts try and return to their favored patronage.

I saw the Trapt tour!  I couldn't freakin' believe it!  (Tantric is the other name band on that bill.)  I know we're coming up on the twenty year anniversary of a lot of these bands' debut albums, but come one, Trapt?  Far be it from me to criticize, but man, you weren't that big a deal the first time.  On the other hand, let me confess openly that I was somewhat interested in Disturbed's proposed tour this summer, because they were celebrating the twenty year anniversary of "The Sickness," which 1) I am an apologist for, and 2) I was supposed to see Disturbed in 2000 open for Black Sabbath, before Sabbath decided to can their headline tour and concentrate on Ozzfest.  I haven't really wanted to see Disturbed since then, so the chance to see more of their one good album was too much to pass up. 

Anyway, let me get to my larger point as it relates to the noise, fuzz and desolation of the current musical flavor.  If you recall, at the end of our conversation in December, I was curious why we haven't seen a greater surge in what I will refer to under the large umbrella of protest music.  I don't think we've caught up to that lofty goal from a lyrical standpoint, but now the puzzle pieces start to fit a little; are we seeing music become more artistically bleak as an intentional response to the general state of affairs?  is this the form that protest music will take now?  Certainly, without the lyrics to back it there's a piece missing, but must like artists from the '60s-'80s felt it intrinsically necessary to lash out against the Cold War backdrop they'd had to put up with, are musicians now consciously channeling their disaffection into the sounds they're composing?  It sounds a little pretentious even as I say it, but it would account for the preponderance of artists who want to aurally show us what happens both at the end of the world, and particularly after it.

If that is the case (and I could be way off base,) that might be a first, where the very character of protest music takes on the nature of the protest, as opposed to just the words within it.  I can't think of another example off the top of my head.

Now, a larger question that I am not equipped to answer is, why hasn't rap music hopped back on the protest bandwagon?  Outside of some releases by Killer Mike, there just aren't many hip hop artists making those kind of statements anymore, which strikes as odd for a genre that so long has prided itself on its counter-cultural and polemic appeal.

I'll let you respond to that, and then, what the hell, let's get happy.  What have you liked this year?

CHRIS C: Ok, I'm going to go on a bit of a tangent here. While a lack of money has never seemed to stop people from splurging on the things they really want, there is certainly going to be a large swath of people who will be hurting financially for a long time. That's what bothers me. For as smart as humanity can be, and for all the miraculous invention we have done to create this world out of the dirt, we're also complete morons. Money is an abstract concept. The only reason it's worth anything is because we believe it is. So if it's a construct of our minds, why do we tell ourselves there can only be so much for a few people to have the lives we all want? There is literally nothing stopping us from creating enough money to make sure everyone is comfortable, other than our own indifference. It wouldn't devalue money and create an inflationary death spiral, unless we want it to. Markets don't actually exist. A stock that goes up isn't any more valuable than it was the day before, it's just that some people are willing to spend a little more to buy shares. Likewise, if we print more money and all agree that it's worth the same amount, it would be. It's funny how wealth can be magically created on paper, but money can't.

Now that I've gotten that out of my system, let's get back to the point. I think what Lzzy was getting at was more that there are going to be bands where the expense of being musicians won't be tenable anymore. Yes, lots of artists currently do have jobs other than being musicians, and every time they want to go make a record or go play some shows, it involves some degree of personal sacrifice. Coming out of this situation, more of them might decide it isn't worth losing time they could be making steady money, or time they could be spending with their families, to travel around trying to break even. I do think she overstated the amount of bands it will apply to, but chasing the dream when it involves risking your health for so little reward isn't an attractive bargain.

That could be solved if streaming payments could ever improve to make up some of the difference (believe me, I get why they're so low - not saying it's fair, but it makes mathematical sense). Want to open a can of worms? Bands are getting pennies for thousands and thousands of streams, but Spotify just paid a boatload of money for the cro-magnon Joe Rogan Experience to become exclusive to their platform. Artists should be more pissed than ever. Their music built the entire streaming model, and they aren't the ones getting the payouts.

Another quick question; favorite circa 2000 nu-metalish 'hit' song? I was actually reminded recently of just how big Trapt's "Headstrong" was (a legit top twenty single - not just on the rock charts), and had completely forgotten that scene was truly big at the time. Far bigger than rock is now in the mainstream. I'll save space so we don't have to revisit this more than once and say my pick is probably Taproot's "Poem". It was the first that came to mind.

What you mention is something I had assumed would have happened. With politics being what it is, I was certainly expecting there to be a wave of political songs and albums tearing into this current administration, but it hasn't happened. There have been the occasional mention here and there, but we haven't seen music galvanized in the same way we did during the Iraq war. I firmly believed many bands would be trying to write this generation's "American Idiot", and I don't know why they didn't. Maybe we're all just so tired and numb we're looking more for distractions than righteous anger. I'm not buying that the actual music we're being presented is a form of protest. Pop music started getting depressingly cold before the last election, as did the whoe 'blackgaze' thing that has helped make noise more accepted outside the extremes of metal. We were already heading down these paths. Perhaps it was foreshadowing, perhaps it was dumb luck, but it was happening. I think it's more a reflection of the disconnect social media and our current society have created between people than anything else.

I'll have to take your word that rap hasn't been as political as expected. If there was going to be any genre to stand up to the power, you would think it would be rap. No other community has more to be angry about, to be hurt about, to be aggrieved about. And yet the biggest act in those circles is Drake, who from what I gather writes a lot of songs about how hard it is to be rich. Society is falling down on the job everywhere. Music isn't giving voice to the voiceless, nor is the news media. It might be as simple as this; when you have to work like hell to get the truth out to an audience, but one powerful person's lie can dwarf it with no thought or effort, why try?

As for what I liked so far this year, at or near the top of the list would be Russell Allen and Anette Olzon's album, despite my gripe over the structure. It's everything that melodic metal should be, and it continues to justify my distaste for Nightwish. The fact that the 'genius' who runs that band couldn't figure out how to write for and utilize Anette, when she sounds this good, is all the proof I need that he misses the point entirely. So yeah, that album is great. Serenity finally released an album I can enjoy in full. You've liked them in the past, but this is the first time I'm fully sold on one of their records. Harem Scarem have put out another fantastic melodic rock record, which is interesting since their two best albums have come more than twenty years into their career. I even found a punk(ish) album I like from The Bombpops, who are the good kind of pop-punk. That's rather different for me, since the only other punk I've ever really bonded with is The Offspring and the one Bad Religion album that is more classic rock than punk ("The Dissent Of Man", which is bloody awesome).

I've also liked that the tenth anniversary of Dio's passing gave me reason to go back to many of his records. I'll say a couple things about him; 1)The Dio band is easily my least favorite of his three main bands, and 2)Rainbow's "Long Live Rock N Roll" is better than "Rising". Yup. I'm that guy.

So what gems have you found?

D.M: So long as we're going on tangents and getting some things off our rant list, can I have a turn?  I was on a conference call for work, partaking in a departmental meeting meant to disseminate some new information about the status of our work and when most people might return to the office proper.  As representatives from security, facilities and human resources are taking us through all the measures that are in place for workers who are already at the office (like me,) those that will return in the near future, and those who are working from home indefinitely, someone in my department, I don't know who (though I'd like to,) entered an anonymous (because of course it was,) question in the Q&A section of the video conference call:

"Is there a plan to reimburse employees for the extra electricity and HVAC they're using running computers at home?"

Are you fucking kidding me?  There's more than a hundred thousand people dead in this country alone, and this is where your priority is?  And listen, I work for a pretty large company, and no one in my department is a low-wage worker.  We're not suffering.  Also, how about the fact that you haven't had to start your car in two fucking months?  Any savings there?  The computers you're talking about are company-provided laptops, so they're not that heavy duty.  And, for God's sake, don't sell me that HVAC bullshit like you're running a server farm.  So you have your central air on.  You were gonna do that anyway.  I was beside myself.  And the anonymity of the question made it even worse - if you're gonna ask some shit like that, have the fortitude to put your name on it.  The fact that it was anonymous means whoever it was knew it was a shitball question.  That absolutely ruined my day.  Get the fuck out of here with that bullshit.

Okay, I'm better now.

Can I ask a larger question?  Why is Joe Rogan popular?  I mean, say what you will about Ryan Seacrest, but that guy works really hard.  I don't know Joe Rogan personally, I only know him as a personality, and he always seems to come off as a marginally more eloquent version of every fraternity stereotype you can imagine.  I can't picture him in my mind for more than twenty seconds without imagining him smashing a beer can against some extremity or another.

Oh man, favorite nu-metalish hit?  A few come to mind.  And I know the definitions here vary greatly, but I presume you're making me stick to the mainstream hits, so that's where I'll try to stay.  Man, I feel bad admitting some of this stuff in public, but here goes - Drowning Pool's "Bodies" is always going to be a guilty pleasure.  I am a legitimate defender of Union Underground's entire "...An Education in Rebellion" album.  Static-X's "Push It" is a classic.  Saliva's "Ladies and Gentlemen" is a masterclass in writing stupid, simple, amazing, neck-breaking rock.  Those are the ones that come to mind.  And I don't consider them nu-metal, but because some do, let me add that I love some old school Powerman 5000.

Let me ask another larger question - how long can rap and hip-hop's dominance over the popular music scene continue?  It's not a complaint - all things in their turn, merely an objective and empirical query.  Rap has been at the absolute peak of public consciousness (having pushed rock out,) for roughly fifteen years now.  And I'm not counting pop music, which has always come and gone, nothing there has really changed, though pop in the Top 40 sense has always infringed on whatever the primary movement is.  I suppose rock had a long run - not counting the brief disruption by disco, rock in one form or another pretty much ruled the roost from the '50s until the early aughts.  So we'll see.

You mentioned how hard it is to get truth out to the masses.  Without wading too far into the waters, I will add only this - twenty years or so from now, one of the more academically interesting aspects of our legacy that we're going to have to explain (or attempt to.) to our next of kin is the war concerning what 'truth' is.  It used to be that people presented their case based on friendly interpretations of raw data.  Now, if you disagree with someone or something, you can cast them as off by simply saying they're not telling the truth.   And then make up whatever shit suits you.  That seems untenable.

You brought up the Allen/Olzon album, so let me ask a genuine question, since you've always been more in tune with power metal than me.  Why does it seem like all of pwoer metal is composed and performed by a circle of like, ten dudes and ladies?  And why do they all seem to put out seven albums a year?  Like, the whole genre seems like one inbred circle just propagating more material.  We've talked before about the genre is somewhat at a dead end because it all sounds so similar, but this is a separate issue.  Is power metal closed off?  Why does it seem like there's no one 'new?'

What have I enjoyed this year?  Lots, in short.  Some of my favorites are "Love Like Machines" from the Heavy Eyes, because as we discussed with fuzz rock, it's real easy to slow it down and get carried away in seven minute dirges, but that band only has one cut over four minutes on their record.  And they're the only band in recent memory who can make a two and a half minute song feel like a four minute one, in a good way.  I like Master Boot Record's "Floppy Disk Overdrive" a lot, because I think the masses are finally ready for a purely electronic metal experience.  It would be one thing to write a bunch of video game music, but MBR actually crafted something with body and depth that provides a little but of a journey.  (Even if, in parts, it still reminds me of a rich man's version of Final Fantasy V's "Clash on the Big Bridge," which is one of the best video game music pieces ever written.) 

Despite everything I said above, there's always a decent power metal album that pokes through, and I'm enjoying the new Dynazty album somewhat.  I actually kinda like the new Black Dahlia Murder record, which is a first for me, and I'm a fan of the new Alestorm album, who I've never been against, but never called myself a fan, either.  They, for lack of a better term, calmed down a little on this one.  (And if you can't enjoy "Shit Boat," what are you even doing?)

More than anything else, I've appreciated the number of artists who have gone for it and stretched themselves with either new sounds or personal projects, even if I didn't like the execution so much.  Good for Nergal to give it another go with "Me and That Man," which branches him out from Behemoth.  Good for Kool Keith and Thetan to step outside their comfort zones and get together.  Also, points to BPMD - just good to see those dudes working, and to This Will Destroy You, who released a soundtrack for a restaurant.  Udo Dirkschneider, that loveable shrimp, put out an album with the German military's official concert orchestra, or something.  It wasn't that great, but it new and different and fun!

We need more of that.  Especially while we're all home with nothing to do.  We need more artists just going for it with weird dalliances and fun side projects.  It breaks up the monotony, even if it doesn't always work.

We got six months to go - what are you looking forward to?

CHRIS C: There's the old saying about crisis revealing character. We're getting a very good illustration of that right now. From the top on down, there are so many people who have concern only for themselves. I knew there were narcissists out there, but I don't think I realized how many, or quite how ugly a mentality it can turn into. Look, I am the furthest thing from an empath, but even I have no trouble feeling a responsibility not to be a dick to people who are in places harder hit than where I am. 'Don't be a dick' is always a good rule, but especially now.

I've never listened to a Joe Rogan podcast, so I'm assuming he's popular because he was one of the first 'celebrities' to have a podcast. Once Hollywood realized he wasn't talented ("Newsradio" is perhaps my favorite sitcom ever, and Joe Rogan sucks on it. His character isn't funny, and he constantly breaks on camera. Fun fact; that part was supposed to be played by Ray Romano. How different history would be....), he started talking to himself, and he was one of the few to listen to. But now he's more popular by being the only long-time face of organized bloodletting still legal. (Another aside; knowing what we know about CTE, how is boxing still legal? A sport where the idea is to cause your opponent so much brain damage they're rendered unconscious would be unfathomable if it wasn't already a tradition.)

I hesitate to answer such questions, but my belief is that we're likely to see rap and hip-hop continue to dominate for many, many more years. I reserve the right to change my mind if some new genre pops up to replace it, but rock isn't going to do that. Rock fans don't really listen to the radio much, and we still tilt further toward buying in the buy/stream equation that support won't show through in the charts, which is the main way history measures success and influence. Even if mainstream rock wasn't filled with lousy, generic bands, where the fans are means it isn't going to be climbing the charts again anytime soon. Even the 'big names' in rock can't really chart on the Hot 100 anymore. Now, I don't for a second believe the charts are able to properly pull data from all segments of the audience, but that's the world we live in. It's similar to how I don't believe the Nielsen ratings that say only 2% of the country is watching 'hit' programs on tv. I believe the measurements as relative barometers, but not absolute ones.

Maybe we didn't realize it at the time, but one of the truly defining cultural moments of our time was the debut of "The Colbert Report". In that first episode, when he defined 'truthiness' as what he feels is true rather than what is actually true, it set the stage for everything that has happened since. Even the Confederacy apologists who scream about slavery not being the cause of The Civil War don't go so far as to say the practice didn't exist. But today, there is no limit to how far the truth can be stretched. Somehow, and not just on this issue, shame has been eliminated from public life. No one seems to feel any remorse about anything untoward they do or say. I can't explain why that is, but it's one of the questions of our lives.

Power metal seems that way because it is. Or I should say that a large amount of what one certain record label sends us is. There is a roster of people who are employed to crank out records for different singers to put their names and voices on. Songwriting is hard, and when they find someone who can crank out good material, they get put on the conveyor belt, since it's easier than finding five more bands that can create the same quality. Let's take that Allen/Olzon album as an example. Magnus Karlsson wrote it, and he's written a lot of great stuff, but he's played out. He also has a solo album that will be out by the time this is posted, and he will have songs on Primal Fear's upcoming album. That's three albums this year, and that's not even all the projects he works on. It all comes down to the fact that this kind of metal doesn't make nearly enough money for artists, so they need to constantly have irons in the fire to keep up a steady stream of income. If you have three bands, you can have a record every year, or rotate when touring to keep things fresh. It gets excessive, no doubt.

Weird side-projects can be fun, but we don't want artists to think every idea they have is worthwhile. For instance, Richie Kotzen got it in his head to celebrate his fiftieth birthday by putting out an album of FIFTY songs. Let's put aside that most of them were songs he never thought were good enough to put on any of his dozens of albums, but there were bloody FIFTY of them. How does anyone expect listeners to sit through three hours of their music? It was overload, and really annoyed me. I would have been happy to listen to and review a new album, but there was no chance in hell I was investing that much time in any record. I'm already tired by records that are an hour long.

The next six months? One of the things about the world we're currently in is that it's hard to know what to expect. The one thing I know for sure (at least right now) is that Creeper's new album is due to come out in July. It's been delayed once, but they're running out of singles to push it back again. That could be anything from a masterpiece to a bizarre patchwork, but it's going to be interesting. I can't wait to hear that one. Other than that, I'm not even sure what's due to come out. I'm thinking it's going to be another bleak summer, and hopefully a mad rush at the end of the year to save things.

Do you know of anything exciting?

D.M: See, I happen to think it's the inverse.  I agree that there's very little shame, but I think it's a product of their being no accountability.  If nobody is capable of calling anybody to the carpet to explain themselves or be redressed, then what's to stop people from dropping the pretense of social decorum?  Hell, we can't even hold a baseball team properly to account when they admit they cheated to win a World Series.  And that, in the grand scheme, doesn't ultimately matter, but it's a reflection of the lack of a will toward accountability.  Never mind the myriad examples of occasions with actual consequence where punishment hardly matched the severity of the offense.

No easy transition off that, but here goes - But Chris, I love weird side projects!  Sure, a lot of them fall horribly flat, but without oddball side projects, we'd never have gotten Them Crooked Vultures, or Bobby Blitz with The Cursed, or Mr. Bungle, or just about everything Buzz Osborne's ever done, and where would we be without Wes Borland's Big Dumb Face?  (Okay, maybe that's a bad example.)  I mean sure, Night Flight Orchestra swings and misses sometimes, but it's still cool that they're giving it a shot.  I still pine for the fulfillment of one of the internet's great rumors of several years ago - that Max Cavalera and Eugene Hutz wanted to do an album together.  See, this is where I'm a defender of "Lulu."  Sure, it was doggedly awful.  Pure crap.  But!  It was a passion project for those involved (at least for Metallica, I can't speak for Lou Reed,) and why not?  They're well within their right to try.  That doesn't mean we all had to hear their bizarre jam session, but you're already there, and the recording equipment is set up, so give it a spin.  Besides, this was clearly something Metallica needed to get out of their system.  If one album that's easy to ignore results in them staying on track in their main line, and not going down the "Load/Re-Load/St. Anger" road again, then do it!  I can't think of anybody who's career was destroyed by a bad side project.  Briefly ridiculed, sure (The Damned Things comes to mind,) but not destroyed.

What am I looking forward to?  In some cases, the obvious.  A conclusion to the NBA season.  Baseball (speaking of a player's union with no shame and a league with no accountability.)  Over and above that, the Mets, because I've come to realize that I don't just miss the Mets, I miss complaining about the Mets.  The NHL playoffs, which even at a mind-numbingly bizarre twenty-two teams might still be the best playoffs going.

While I admit I am somewhat in the same boat as you in that in all the confusion I've lost track of what's being released when, but there are albums coming from Torrefy and Tetrarch that I'm interested in.  I'm sure more than that will darken my doorway, and I look forward to all of it.

Dovetailing to an earlier point, as much as I've maintained a sense of zen about the cancellation of the summer tour season, I am greatly looking forward to whatever my next concert may be.  I do miss the scenes.  And the venues, and the bands and the sound.  Not to mention my fellow weirdos.  I get the impression that there will be an unusual amount of smiling whenever we all see each other again.

That's it for me.  You said it correctly at the top of your last missive - don't be a dick.  That goes for everyone.

CHRIS C: Accountability. Yup, it is sorely lacking. A baseball team admits cheating, and now that the pandemic threatens the season, the perpetrators could serve zero games suspended. A president gets impeached, and continues to this day to say everything he did was 'perfect'. Hell, ESPN just gave Lance Armstrong four hours of primetime television to try to explain himself. What lesson does it tell people that you can be a cheater, try to ruin the lives of the people who knew what you were doing, and still be a famous celebrity who gets network time that could be going to people who actually deserve it? If it was four hours of people raking Lance over the coals, fine. But to give a lying, cheating bastard a platform is ridiculous and inexcusable. That goes for the news as well. We are only 'music journalists', but even those limited credentials would have me embarrassed and ashamed to publish things I know aren't true without making it damn clear they aren't.

I'm not against weird projects, but I do think all artists should ask themselves; "Is this a good idea?" Like you mentioned, "Lulu" is one of the worst albums I've ever heard, but the basic idea of collaborating with a legendary musician you respect is just fine. There's a difference between a project that doesn't work and one that could never work. "Lulu" didn't work, Kotzens's fifty song-er couldn't work. Likewise, I don't think almost any of the rock bands jumping on the electronic pop bandwagon have done it well, but I know it can be done, so I'm not mad at them for trying. Ok, sometimes I am, but that's me being selfish.

That being said, it wouldn't be the worst idea to have a bit more quality control oversight.

I was thinking musically, but I am intensely curious to see what The Masters will be like in November. I at least have that to look forward to, and hopefully conditions will allow me to see at least one person I'm supposed to have by now. Steps must be taken!

Unless you have something to add, I think we might have reached the end of this conversation. I have no idea what the rest of 2020 is going to give us, but I'm sure it's going to be an adventure. We'll be here to catalogue it, and we'll regroup in December to make sense of it all.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Dilana Invites Us Back "InsideOut"

In our current on-demand world, we have gotten used to having every piece of art ever created at our fingertips at all time. Nothing we could think of is more than a click away, or at least that's what we have grown to assume. Like almost all rules, that one is not universal either. There are still songs and records that are harder to hear, that still require us to do some work to get the reward. Some music drifts out of sight, not just denying us the ability to easily listen to it, but denying the artists the opportunity for new fans to fall in love the same way we did.

Thankfully, that reality is being put to rest for Dilana's "InsideOut", which is returning to the digital space on June 26th. It is a record that still resonates, that still showcases Dilana's genius, and that still calls out for us to hear it. As I wrote last year, commemorating it's ten year anniversary:

"InsideOut" is not a perfect album, and that's what makes it so great. It is the story of Dilana stretching herself in all directions, finding her voice as an artist. It is far different from "Wonderfool", an album I didn't yet know existed, and is yet more different from "Beautiful Monster", the record that would show Dilana's artistic soul fully developed. "InsideOut" is the metamorphosis, wherein Dilana emerged a tattooed butterfly, her songs a dazzling rainbow like the multi-colored ink adorning her skin. It is also the metamorphoses wherein I went from being a fan of her voice, to a devoted follower of an artist.

I have written before about my love for "Falling Apart", which is my favorite song of all time, so I won't rehash that story yet again. Suffice it to say, I get the same tingle down my spine listening to Dilana's power rising atop the crunchy guitars and roaring organ that I did when I first saw a video of her playing it live, in terrible quality, when finding live footage on YouTube was still a big deal.

If nothing else, "InsideOut" is a diverse record. Across the dozen songs, Dilana gives us her versions of pop, gritty rock, Zeppelin-esque epics, and soul-bearing ballads. The only common theme is her voice, and how she uses it to paint her masterpieces in vivid color.

I  am not someone who feels things deeply, let alone from art, but I don't know how to listen to "Dirty Little Secret" without feeling every ounce of pain Dilana puts into her performance. When I say that a singer's job is to convey the song's meaning, this is what I mean. Even if I have never been in that position, and I can't relate on a human level to the situation she's singing about, her soul flows through her voice in a way no vocal coach could teach. Meat Loaf often said he viewed his role as that of an actor bringing the characters in the songs to life. Dilana is the complete opposite, using her every breath to give the songs life, her life.

Dilana amazes in other ways. When we reach the ends of "Solid Gold" and "Still Wanting", she reached into the deep and belts out notes hard to believe, such is the power and ease with which she sings. And unlike most singers, even when she sings loud enough to consume the space the entire band would occupy, her tone is pure. She is a mystery to this day.

Now, thanks to the digital re-release of "InsideOut", we can all experience the record again like it's the first time, even if we've spent the last ten years listening to it all along. Again, as I said last year:

If my finding Dilana was an inexplicable moment in time, "InsideOut" is the hourglass on a humid summer day, the sands glued together and refusing to let another second pass. I am still in that moment, all these years later, and that is never going to change.

Now, we can all live in that moment. Don't miss out on the opportunity to hear one of the great records that had been difficult to find. There is so much detail in every note Dilana sings, the way it pours through the speakers as if she is wrapping her voice around your soul. And to top it all off, there's even an extra bonus song we didn't get before. You can't go wrong. Go listen to it. Now. Do it.

The Spider Accomplice Learn To "Crawl"

There are so many ways for bands to release music, and to strategize how they do that, it can be hard to know what the right path is. I'm old-fashioned in the sense that I still prefer albums above all else, but I have started to come around on EPs. Bands that release only singles are still a bit harder for me to wrap my head around, but that's for a specific reason I'm about to use as a jumping off point.

The Spider Accomplice started 2020 with a new mission statement, and a new strategy to go along with it. They have already given us "Enough", and now kick off the second half of the year with this latest song. The reason I find singles harder to get into is because many of the bands I've encountered who use this tactic still take enormous amounts of time off between songs. The Spider Accomplice is trying to make sure they stay a constant presence in our minds and hearts, and that's what makes them special.

With this song, the band sheds expectations yet again by dipping into the rock opera ethos of the early 2000s. The way the drums punch through the mix, and the strings swell in the background is bigger than just a simple little rock song. This is the sort of song that is as much at home being sung on a theater stage as in a club pit. That's another way of saying it sounds and feels like art, and not just music. The Spider Accomplice has been expanding their reach with each step they take, and with this song their wings span from horizon to horizon.

As the imagery points out, this is a song I hear as being about personal growth and development, gaining an understanding of yourself great enough that you must shed your skin to become the person you really are. It's an uplifting message for those of us who have questions along those lines, and who often feel constrained by the skin society wraps us in. Some of us wait for it to slough and dissolve in the truth of the sun, while some of us take ink and draw our truths upon ourselves as we wait. Either way, you can't stop being who you are, and sometimes we need to be reminded to crawl out of our shells and embrace that.

VK and Arno have once again delivered a song that shows The Spider Accomplice spinning webs that refract a rainbow as we look upon them from different perspectives. "Crawl" is the band mixing the drama of "End My Life" with their best interpretation of stadium rock. They have never sounded bigger, and maybe the song just hit me on the right day, but they haven't sounded better either. "Crawl" more than stands strong all by itself.

"Crawl" will be available everywhere July 3rd. Make sure you give it a listen.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Album Review: Grey Daze - Amends

It's difficult to talk about posthumous releases. For one thing, anything critical you say can be taken as insensitivity towards those who are no longer here. "Don't speak ill of the dead," they say, as if lying is a better option. For another thing, the idea of criticism loses a lot of its impact, since anything we may or may not say can't be taken under advisement as a way to improve. What we have is all we'll ever have. So with all of that said, I'm not entirely sure what I'm supposed to say about this album from Grey Daze, the early recordings of Chester Bennington.

I'm also the wrong person to be talking about this album as a historical piece, since other than hearing the early singles when they were everywhere, I was never a Linkin Lark fan either. The story of how this record led him to that band, and perhaps influenced what would come later, is not one I can tell. All I can do is tell you whether or not I think this is enjoyable music.

The idea of this record was to take songs from the band's 90s records and give them a modern, 'proper' vehicle. That is admirable, but also something that didn't exactly come to pass in the wake of Chester's death. The remaining members of the band re-recorded the music to these songs to update them, but they still sound rougher than the intention surely was. There's a layer of polish that Linkin Park has accustomed us to that is missing here. The guitars are grainier than modern rock should be today, and the arrangements lack some nuance.

But maybe all of that is fitting, since the vocals are Chester's takes from twenty years ago, and they are what you would expect from old, archived material. Perhaps polishing the music more than this would have made for a more confusing experience. In that case, though, I wonder if they couldn't have just cleaned up the original recordings, rather than make this hybrid.

And this is where my earlier concerns creep up. It feels insensitive to say that a record these guys care enough about to bring to life, that Chester himself wanted to revisit, isn't all that good. Most artists take time to grow into their identities, needing to write and record a lot of songs before they master their craft. These songs sound like the works of a band that was still in the process of developing their skills. There are some moments where Chester's angst is palpable, and there are some powerful expressions, but the songs don't have the bite that's needed to be truly memorable.

I know this record was made as a personal expression of grief and friendship, and I appreciate that they wanted to do something to honor their past, and their history. Good intentions, however, don't necessarily make for good music. I'm trying not to be harsh, but the truth of the matter is that this isn't all that good a record, and if it wasn't for the circumstances, I probably would never have given it enough thought to write about it. It's an interesting historical remnant, but that's about it.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Album Review: Nick D'Virgilio - Invisible

Nick D'Virgilio has had an interesting career, going from being the drummer in Spock's Beard to their lead singer, then heading off to Cirque Du Solei, before finding himself behind the drums for Big Big Train. Some of the moves were major steps forward, and others saw him being pushed back in the process of being an artist, which might explain why the time is right now for him to make a solo record. Once you become a creative artist, it can be hard to turn that part of yourself off and just play a smaller role again. And so we find ourselves with "Invisible", an album telling the story of an unhappy character who goes through life unnoticed. Is the better joke that he's telling the story of a drummer's life, or a bassist's?

The album gets off to a slow start, with both a two minute orchestral prelude, and a four minute sleepy ballad trying to set up the story and the themes. Exposition is one thing, but spending the first six minutes of a record with no energy is not a way of pulling the listener in. And with the album lasting over an hour, the prospect of sixty more minutes after that beginning is not all that appealing. It's an unforced error that definitely has an effect.

Things get a lot better once "Turn Your Life Around" starts. The riff plays in a syncopated manner I assume is an odd time signature, which establishes an interesting groove. The hits of strings add both drama and flair, and Nick's singing is strong and melodic. It's a solid modern prog rock song that wouldn't be out of place from his old band leader Neal Morse (it actually has some passing similarity to "The Truth Will Set You Free" by him).

Nick doesn't stay in that lane, though. "I'm Gone" tries out funk, which doesn't work out all so well, and then "Money (That's What I Want)" drags though five minutes of slow blues. It becomes clear at that point that Nick's goal for this record does not mesh with making the record entertaining for us. He wants to sketch out a character and his story, using the musical backdrops to set moods and paint pictures. That's fine, but he does so at the expense of the songs, which are weak all-around. There are many melodies that stick, or musical passages that hit home. It's a very subdued, morose album for long stretches. Practically none of these songs, taken out of the context of the record, would be enjoyable songs. They only exist as chapters of a story that isn't all that interesting.

Asking the audience to sit through 69 minutes of music that lacks energy is a tall order. My attention flagged well before reashing the end of the record. Conceptual pieces have to still work as regular albums, and this one doesn't do that. There might be one or two songs worth hearing again, but the majority of this album is simply forgettable material that overstays its welcome and doesn't bring a gift. And that's without getting into the philosophical question of why a concept album features long instrumental passages and copious solos. Those don't tell a story, so they seem superfluous, but it's not worth thinking about here.

"Invisible" will end up being just that. It's not interesting enough to remember.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Bloody Good News: Live Nation Screwing Bands, Again

Our Top Story: As the music business continues to be at a near standstill, the fighting over what money there will be in the future has taken an ugly turn. Musicians today make the majority of their money on the road, selling merchandise, and they already lose a substantial cut of that to the promoters and venues. Given their size and clout, the majority of that money goes to Live Nation, the largest promoter and ticket seller in the country. You would think that would be enough for them to feel comfortable, but with the future of live performances in question still, you would be wrong.

Live Nation, with no warning to or input from artists, changed their financial rules, putting more of the risk on artists, and absolving themselves of as much liability as possible. The new rules do the following:

- Decrease guarantees to artists by 20%
- If Live Nation cancels a show, artists get 25% of the guarantee, down from 100%
- If an artist cancels a show, they must pay Live Nation DOUBLE the guarantee

Let's consider these new changes. As it stands right now, Live Nation estimates how much money a show is going to bring in, and gives the artists a guaranteed amount of money to play. That could be even more if the show does better than expected. So for the right to be the only company selling tickets to these shows, they pay the band a negotiated amount of money, and get to pocket a sizeable portion of revenue above that number. Live Nation is the promoter, so that profit is their payment for promoting the show. It's a fair deal.

Under these new rules, Live Nation is in some ways refusing to do their job. As a promoter, it is Live Nation's job to fill the seats, bring in the crowds, and generate revenue. The band's job is to play, which they will still be doing. So under these new proposals, the people working just as hard will be taking a pay cut, while Live Nation will be making more money for having less responsibility.

But let's take the bullet points one by one.

- Decreasing the guarantees to artists is actually a reasonable proposal. Since there is no way to know how many people are going to feel comfortable going out to shows in the near future, there is every reason to believe that less tickets are going to be sold, meaning there will be less money for everyone to share. Cutting the guarantees does not discount the possibility of everyone still making what they used to, but it is a shared risk for both parties. That is fair.

- Cutting the payout to an artist for a show you cancel is pathetic. It is shady business at best for Live Nation to book a show, reserve that day on a band's calendar where they could have been doing something else to make money, and then turn around and give them very little to compensate them when Live Nation can't do their job. Most cancellations are a result of poor ticket sales, which is Live Nation's responsibility. They now want to penalize the bands for them not being able to sell tickets. So long as the bands are willing and able to fulfill the date, it's not their fault Live Nation will take a loss on the show. Live Nation doesn't want any responsibility for their own inaction. That is expected, but horrible.

- The worst of these is the new conditions for when an artist has to cancel a show. I cannot see any scenario where it is morally acceptable to force a band to pay money out of their pockets to a promoter because a member is too ill to perform, let alone doubling the fee. In a time of a global pandemic, Live Nation is now putting in place a policy that would incentivize bands to stay on the road and play shows even while someone might be sick with a deadly and contagious virus, because they can't afford the cost of canceling a show. That is unconscionable.

Live Nation is setting up a system where bands get less money if they play shows, and lose everything if they can't. It's a lose-lose for the artists, and a stunning example of corporate greed. The only upside to this story is there are fears Live Nation might not be able to stay in business if the current climate holds for too long. While we don't want that to happen, for the sake of the bands who would be hurt, it would be a blessing to remove one predatory layer of the business from the equation.

Live Nation are just that; predators. They prey on bands who don't have the ability to make their own way, or fight for better terms. Live Nation is a cancer on music, and with these new rules, they aren't even trying to hide how sick they are.