Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Corey's July Music Round-Up

[Hey everyone, it's Corey. In what I think will be a great move for everyone, Alex and I have agreed to start hosting my monthly music round-ups here at Riff 'N Ralk Music Tock. You may be familiar with these from my Tumblr blog, and you can check out June's round-up here. Moving forward these will be hosted exclusively on Riff 'N Ralk. Though it is unnecessary to catch up on earlier months unless you want to see what I did and didn't enjoy in the first six months of this year, my ratings do bear some explanation. These will be explained in the key below. These, of course, are just my opinions, and I am wont to change my mind often even after submitting a rating for an album in a given month, so don't take this too seriously. This is mostly to spark discussion and debate, and to showcase highly rated albums you may not have heard of before.]

Wow. What a busy month. It really felt like this one would never end and I listened to a seemingly infinite amount of great singles and new albums of every stripe. July featured two albums which you may have already seen reviews for in my Best of 2013 so far round-up. If not, go check it out here. You also may have already seen my reviews for albums by The Tomas Doncker Band, Marla Mase, and Monks of Mellownah. This has definitely been an exciting summer for music fans, and judging by my list of upcoming albums, it only has more in store for us. Without boring you further though, here's the ratings!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Corey Deiterman's Best Albums of 2013 So Far

We're a little over halfway through the year (okay, more than halfway; when I started this it was the beginning of July) and so far 2013 is shaping up nicely. It's looking like it will be remembered as the year old bands made comeback records, which is fine by me because I've seen some of my favorite bands make their return in a fashion that didn't even embarrass their legacy!

We've also got a lot to look forward to, so this is hardly a definitive list. With so many albums yet to drop, it would be foolish to try to decide on the best of the year yet, so this is only the best so far. Which ones will make my end of the year list? I guess that remains to be seen. But up til now, these are the best candidates to make it.

And note that this is in no particular order. They're all great albums in very disparate genres; why try to compare them against each other? Music isn't a competition.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Review: Marla Mase – Speak Deluxe

Marla Mase is a New York City based activist, artist, and musician whose new album Speak Deluxe is a mass conceptual piece which features a live show with dances inspired by the songs and a whole lot of poetry. Amazingly enough, it isn't absolutely pretentious or repulsive. Mase deftly skirts the typical pitfalls artists with such high ambitions fall into and, with the help of guitarist Tomas Doncker, turns in an upbeat pop, funk, and rock infused album that is actually fun, despite its lofty conceptual bias.

You may remember Doncker from my review of his band's Howlin' Wolf covers EP. He's back again playing guitar and co-writing this record with Mase, which may be what lends its weighty expectations with the necessary amount of pop whimsy to keep it entertaining.

Not that Mase doesn't try to stray into big idea artist territory. “Lioness” is marred by poetry delivered in a tone that makes it sound like Mase thinks what she's saying is a much more clever metaphor than it really is. She does the same again on “New Cell Phone.”
Photo by Juan Carlos Hernandez

But where the album really excels is when the band plays a beat or a groove so funky or so catchy that Mase can't help but get into it. Check out when she lets loose with an actual, honest-to-God sensual falsetto performance over the rollicking bass and guitar workout on “She Hooked Him Up,” or her angry Alanis Morissette impression on the admittedly very Morissette like pop rock of “Queen of Imperfection."

Of course, sometimes the pop aspirations don't exactly work out. While Mase is a fine poet, she might not have been meant to write pop hooks, as the chorus to “Piece of Peace” is exactly as annoying as the title would have you guess. “AnnaRexia” is also a pretty poor pun, and the reggae imitation on it completely falls flat.

That pastiche is somewhat indicative of the record in general. Mase, and by extension Doncker, both clearly have a love of a lot of genres, so they run through experiment after experiment through the record. For instance, “Blog” is a slow, simmering ballad with a soaring, shredding guitar solo from Doncker that will truly blow you away. Immediately following it is “Dance the Tango,” which verges on the kind of country-western pastiche that Morrissey is fond of recording. It's a jarring transition, but it is nice to see Mase unafraid to do whatever she wants to. It's that kind of artistic freedom that Speak lives and dies by.

Photo by Juan Carlos Hernandez
Ultimately, Mase's willingness to be completely indulgent and unabashedly free with her art is impressive and it carries the recording through its many twists and turns with amazing agility. However, Mase's restlessness is also at fault for the records many flaws, allowing for weak author interest tracks to make the cut, like the aforementioned “AnnaRexia” and its subsequent remix by Bill Laswell which ends the record with a turgid six minute running time.
Maybe Mase would benefit from an editor, or at least she might better satisfy her pop aspirations with one. However, her music would be by leagues less interesting, so maybe it's better that we take the good with the bad. Either way, Speak succeeds in satisfying all of its creator's goals and makes for a definitively enjoyable, if uneven, record.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Episode 11: An Interview with Rainbow Records owner John Thominet

Ever wondered what kind of person opens a record store?  Look no further!  We were so happy to get this opportunity. John is a hilarious guy who has a serious passion for records and music.

Click here for the link!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Review: Monks of Mellownah – Ghost Stories EP

Monks of Mellownah's new EP, Ghost Stories, is the first part in a three part trilogy which will form the foundation of their first full-length record, Turn the People. It's a novel way to release an album, but it leaves one feeling unsatisfied at the end of the three songs since they weren't written to stand by themselves. Regardless, as a preview EP, it at least shows some strong potential for growth.

Ghost Stories gets off the ground with some nice John Frusciante influenced lead work from guitarist Joe de la Hoyde, but then moves into a fairly bland verse/chorus combo that suffers from the sort of generic catchiness that plagued the last few Red Hot Chili Peppers. To be sure, de la Hoyde provides some nice riffs, but they're too languid to satisfy even when the drums pick up the pace in the chorus.
Where the song shines is at the end, when de la Hoyde lets loose and and the band starts to jam out a wah-wah lead riff and a solo that carries them into the outro, but this burst of energy at the end is wasted because it's merely an outro, and not one worth listening to the rest of the song to get to.

A lot of this has to do with production. The songs are compressed far too much and have few dynamics. This is modern rock production 101 and it just sucks the life out of everything the Monks bring to the table. Where the riffs are supposed to be getting harder in the song, and you can even imagine the band really showing off and rocking out during these parts, they sound no louder or harder edged than the soft intro. They don't grab you because they have no dynamic range.

Photo by Billy Pasco
I do enjoy the Arctic Monkeys influenced riff that carries the second track, “Vanity,” but I must admit to being somewhat turned off by some of singer Vikram Kaushik's Anthony Kiedis-isms. In case you haven't noticed, this is a very Red Hot Chili Peppers influenced band, and Kaushik's enunciation evokes Kiedis at every turn throughout “Vanity” in particular. It's fine, but I've personally never dug Kiedis' voice. Your mileage may vary on that.
Still, “Vanity” is a good rock song, but the greatest moment of the EP comes toward the end of the last track, “Sailing Stones.” Whereas the song itself is mostly built on a fairly generic '90s rock template straight off the good old alternative radio, de la Hoyde comes out of nowhere toward the end of the song with a brilliant seemingly Middle Eastern inspired solo that reminds one of something Marty Friedman might have played in Megadeth's glory days. There's strings backing him up and it's completely ridiculously grandiose, but it works so well that it makes the whole song.

What that tells me is that there's some serious talent going into this thing, but these guys are also of a mind to reach an audience. They're all very capable, and they all showcase tremendous potential, but they wear their influences on their sleeves in trying to build the perfect beast. Ultimately, despite the good moments, the short Ghost Stories leaves me cold because I want more than this out of Monks of Mellownah. I know they can give it to me, but I'm not hearing it. Yet. Again, this EP is part of a three part cycle, so perhaps the rest of the Turn the People suite will really turn me. But for now, I need more proof, because I'm unconvinced by part one.

Review: The Tomas Doncker Band - Howlin' Wolf EP

Tomas Doncker stared his career in New York City in the midst of the no wave movement, playing guitar for bands like James Chance and the Contortions. No wave was all about deconstructing music; it was punk rock to the absolute logical extreme. Lydia Lunch, a prominent player in the scene, has admitted to never learning a single chord on guitar, yet she played guitar for her early band Teenage Jesus and the Jerks. She was also quick to point out they had nothing in common with punk. After all, punk still used chords and progressions, and no wave was a rejection of that.

So it's fascinating to me that here we are some thirty years in the future and Tomas Doncker not only ended up becoming a well regarded session player (still in the realm of experimental though: one prominent person he played sideman to was Yoko Ono) but is now applying his skills to a covers EP with his new self-titled band of Howlin' Wolf classics.

But it does make sense in its own way. If no wave was the most primal deconstruction of rock music, then the next step is the first foundation; the primordial ooze so to speak. Is that not the blues? This is just the next logical step in evolution for Doncker, albeit thirty years after he had moved to different styles (he describes the one he primarily plays now as “global soul”).

Photo by Phillip Jarrell
The real surprise then, though it shouldn't be if you noticed his contributions to studio sessions all these years since he gave up deconstruction, is the technical prowess and verve with which Doncker and his band approach the Howlin' Wolf songs on their new EP.
The production is bold and lush, and maybe you can attribute that to the time Doncker has spent in the studio with famous names. He clearly knows how to make a record sound good. It's even full of dynamics, a rarity in our extremely over-compressed world. It is not raw though, that's for sure. Rawness was not the goal. This isn't a punk take on the blues; it's a pro take on the blues.

For better or worse, Doncker's become a pro through the years. That means the playing on this EP is superb and they run through the songs with all the dirt and grit of a seasoned bar band. You see yourself sitting in a night club, hearing this live under blue lights while you're sipping on a stiff drink.

It lacks the rawness I often appreciate in my blues, though. It's not wild or chaotic. It is executed with precision, like it or not. That works for what they're doing though, especially on album highlight “Shook Down,” where Doncker and his band take a restrained, sensual approach to the song, bringing it low until the very calculated moment when they explode into a blaze of sexually charged blues rock.

It all works extremely well, but at the same time, you get the impression this is even more energetic and highly charged live. You feel like you're there, but you're not, and you want to be. One can only imagine hearing them run through these songs in the moment. To be sure, they're probably more spontaneous and fueled.

If you can't see them live though, the Tomas Doncker Band has provided an excellent documentation of their sound to give you the next best thing. There's nothing like the real thing, but it's damn close.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Adrian Belew Power Hour #3 Remain in Light

Like a good hit of a drug, Adrian Belew continued to be passed around throughout the late 70s.  After his stint with Zappa, he toured with Bowie.  Adrian retreated to Springfield Illinois to start a new band GaGa after his time with Bowie was over.  GaGa was offered to open for Robert Fripp's then group The League of Gentlemen.  Somewhere in that hubbub Adrian was offered the chance by Brian Eno to record some solos for what was then Talking Head's soon to be newest album Remain in Light.  After the sessions, Adrian was added to the expanded touring line-up and played along with the band.