screams, whispers and songs from planet earth

Category: Reviews Page 2 of 15

The Airborne Toxic Event: Such Hot Blood ~ Out Tuesday!

Such Hot Blood

(Island Def Jam)
Produced by Jacquire King

Release Date: Tuesday, April 30


There are so many ghosts. Whether it’s the lingering scent of a departed lover or the voices of departed family members, the feeling of loss is profound, and dealing with loss over and over again can disfigure you. But despite that, there is also strength to be gathered from all those memories and the ceaseless voices. Since The Airborne Toxic Event’s first album in 2008, loss has been a central theme. It’s been a yin and yang of heartbreak and hope, mournful melancholy and ecstatic release, untempered passion and raw emotions. What has changed is that now the band has a richer, more varied palette at their disposal with which to tell their stories. There has been a progression from their debut to All At Once to this new album in terms of the narrator’s viewpoint. It began with the immediate gut reaction to pain and hurt, told from within. The second time around, it was an assessment from the road, with the miles of separation lending objectivity to the storytelling. That’s even more pronounced now, as the view pulls out wider. It’s the sort of perspective that comes naturally with the passage of time.

The band took a bit of a risk here with Such Hot Blood. With its deeply personal narrative and chock full of sentimental, romantic ballads, it’s not going to be what everyone wants to hear. This is not an album you can dance to, unless perhaps it’s a dramatic waltz. On All At Once, they wanted to show the world what they could do, and prove that they weren’t fixed to any one genre. For this third album, there was less pressure to “prove themselves,” leaving them free to explore where each individual song took them.

This beautiful album requires complete immersion with a good pair of headphones to realize how closely bound the song arrangements are with Mikel’s introspective mini novellas. Anna, Daren, Noah and Steven each add their trademark flourishes—a pinch of piano notes here, a dash of viola melody there, a vibrant guitar burst, a percolating bass, a dramatic drum roll… There are also cameo appearances of everything else imaginable, from horns to mandolin, glockenspiel to a touch of tambourine, synthesizer to string section, and even a wistful bit of whistling. Barely a measure goes by that the instrumentation doesn’t change—something goes away, something else dances in. Melodies ebb and flow throughout each song in a complex weave, with poetic lines and repeated phrases that cast light on key issues, the repetitions themselves a metaphor for getting “stuck” in repeating life patterns. What results is a rich soundtrack that tells the story in Greek chorus fashion.

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The Next Day: David Bowie’s State of the World Address

[an abridged version is up on Ryan’s Smashing Life]

What is most compelling about David Bowie’s first studio album in a decade, The Next Day, is not the brilliance of this album, but the brilliance of the timing of this album. A key part of Bowie’s genius, from his earliest incarnations to the present day, is his uncanny ability to be at the right place at the right time—with the right musical statement. He has always been the man of the hour, whatever the hour happens to be.

For the past 10 years, our Chief Observer who was always there, holding up a mirror to our hopes and dreams, our fears and insecurities, our pop culture and sacred cows, had covered that mirror with a dark shroud and walked away from public life. He went off to live his life, and left us to live ours, unobserved and unrecorded. But it’s 2013, and Bowie’s back. Why now? Maybe it’s because we need him, or because he needs us. Or it’s that all this clutter and confusion, the growing chasm of human experience and sense of alienation feels too important to be just sitting and watching from the sidelines. Perhaps he feels the need to weigh in and shine his light upon this time in our collective history. Maybe it’s less a concern about legacy, and simply an eagerness to join in on the conversation.

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Introducing… Hayden

Ok, so actually this isn’t an introduction for Canadians, as Toronto-based Paul Hayden Desser a.k.a. Hayden has been performing and quietly releasing albums since 1994. However, he’s known as being something of a reclusive, so don’t be alarmed if you’ve never heard of him and didn’t know that he’s just put out his seventh album, Us Alone. The first six albums were on his own (obscure) Hardwood Records label, but this time, he’s signed with Arts & Crafts, realizing that it might be a good idea career-wise to actually let some people know when you’ve put out new music. It’s possible that what led to this foray into public life was that he was erroneously listed as “deceased” on on his Wikipedia page. Fortunately, the error was brought to his attention by a fan. As he himself said, “I was dead six months before anyone noticed.” Humor is so essential in this business.

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Night 2 of The Airborne Toxic Event @ Webster Hall, NYC

If night #1 was the formal unveiling of the new songs (with Island Records folks in attendance), the first show of 2013 and official “kick off” for the new album and tour, then night #2 of The Airborne Toxic Event in New York City was a goofy get-together with your buddies hanging out in an exceptionally large living room.

After Mikel made the mistake of announcing that this was “the good night,” the technical snafus began and kept coming, making for some off-the-cuff hilarity and loads of great fun. I’ll never stop loving the quirky personality of this band and the sheer joy they have in performing, to the point that even when something screwy happens that might throw someone else off their game, they seem to delight in those unexpected moments. Mikel, ever the showman, especially thrives in those situations. As he says, that’s what rock ‘n’ roll is all about; never really knowing what’s going to happen, where everything can completely go off the rails at any moment. That’s what makes the evening exciting and special. And it most certainly was.

The set list for tonight (more or less) was: All I Ever Wanted, The Secret, Numb, Changing, What’s In A Name, Gasoline, Does This Mean You’re Moving On?, Papillon, Wishing Well, Timeless, This Losing, Welcome To Your Wedding Day, Sometime Around Midnight, Innocence, All At Once // Happiness Is Overrated, Missy.

After a two-night high like that, I’m crashing pretty hard now, but there’s already been the promise of more tour dates being announced next week. Bring it on!

Thanks again to my friend citybug for the great videos.

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A Magical Evening with The Airborne Toxic Event in New York City


It was an incredibly powerful evening with old friends. I’m at a complete loss for words, so don’t expect this to be eloquent, but after a performance like that, I had to stay up and post something.

It’s been over a year since The Airborne Toxic Event played in New York, and from the emotional outpouring of all their fans, it was obvious they had been deeply missed. We witnessed a dramatic unveiling of four new songs from the upcoming album, Such Hot Blood, and there were massive chanting sing-a-longs of beloved favorites (that would be everything else). They opened with “All At Once,” then moved in to “Wishing Well,” and from there, it was a breathtaking, dizzying smorgasbord of the following, in no particular order (apologies if I missed anything): new songs – The Secret, Timeless, The Storm, What’s In A Name. And also… Half Of Something Else, The Graveyard Near The House, The Book Of Love, All I Ever Wanted (with the original lyrics), Gasoline, Sometime Around Midnight, Does This Mean You’re Moving On?, Happiness Is Overrated, Welcome To Your Wedding Day, Numb, Changing, and Missy bedecked in dazzling new clothes, with snippets of Johnny Cash’s “Ring Of Fire,” Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” and a long cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In The USA.” Mind-blowing.

I will speak about the new songs when the album comes out and I do a proper review. Too much to process and absorb, and that takes some time. For now, let’s just say absolutely stunning, and there’s no doubt it’s going to be a HUGE year for them.

Here’s “Timeless,” filmed by my friend Charles (a.k.a. citybug). See his other videos on YouTube. Thanks for handling the filming duties, buddy!





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MojoSlim rocks out at Polcari’s in Saugus – Dec. 14, 2012

Who would have guessed there was a hot nightclub scene in Saugus? Hell, who would have guessed there was any sort of scene in Saugus. But when I skeptically ventured out and into Polcari’s on Route 1 to see R&B cover band extraordinaire MojoSlim, I stepped unwittingly into some kind of cosmic time warp back to a swinger lounge of the 1970s, with the vibe of a North Shore, Boston edition of Jersey Shore.

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Seeing Out The Year That Was: My 12 Favorite Shows of 2012

A last minute addition: The Magnetic Fields at Symphony Hall for First Night (last night)

A last minute addition: The Magnetic Fields at Symphony Hall for First Night (last night)

It’s a good thing I held off posting this, because I’ve just made it an even dozen in honor of the year that just flew by, 2012. The last one? A band I had the immense pleasure of seeing for the first time, on First Night just last night at the majestic Symphony Hall. [Why do they call it “First Night”? Shouldn’t it be “Last Night”?]

I saw a total of 24 shows this year. Not a whole lot for a music blogger, but I’ll tell you—nearly all of them were spectacular. That’s damn good odds. I’ve heard some people say that 2012 was an awful year. What I’ll say, from my personal perspective, is this: 2012 was a year of massive challenges and difficulties, but the rewards, if you were prepared to step up, and I mean step up in a major way, were equally impressive. It was most definitely not a year for lightweights. But it’s all moving forward, and it’s moving forward quickly. Hold on to something sturdy, because I have a feeling 2013 is going to be just as intense. Remember, with challenge comes opportunity. Happy New Year, everyone.

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The Drowning Men’s Stellar Set at T.T.’s

Nato Bardeen and Todd Eisenkerch of The Drowning Men

Nato Bardeen and Todd Eisenkerch of The Drowning Men

I had seen The Drowning Men on several occasions as support for The Airborne Toxic Event, mostly in larger venues. I had become so accustomed to seeing/hearing them take over the room and captive big crowds in a big space, that nothing quite prepared me for the sonic onslaught of that huge sound of theirs in the small confines of T.T. the Bear’s Place. This is a happy problem to have—being too good for a small venue. As Nato himself said, when headlining, they’re still a “small band,” though they sure as hell don’t sound like one.

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Tinariwen (and Atlas Soul) at the Paradise Rock Club 10/13/2012

photo by Gerhard Eichler

photo by Gerhard Eichler

I’ve been completely remiss in covering this amazing show. Even at this late date, I must say a few words about the Malian Tuareg-Berber musicians, Tinariwen, who performed at the Paradise Rock Club a few weeks ago. I had first become interested in Tinariwen after hearing about the recent conflict in Mali. I read a little about their history and the strong musical heritage in that region of the world. Through the struggle and perseverance of a people trying to preserve their roots, it is a culture that has inspired musicians such as Ali Farka Touré and Amadou & Mariam. Tinariwen was formed in Libyan refugee camps after the members had fled their war-torn homeland of Mali. Their sound, while strongly influenced by the guitar-based rock of Western artists such as Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana, has deep roots in Malian traditional music.

photo by Gerhard Eichler

photo by Gerhard Eichler

At the Paradise, performing in their traditional dress of the Sahara Desert area of Mali and singing in the Tamashek language of the region, Tinariwen very quickly brought the audience under their spell. The instrumentation was simple—acoustic and electric guitars, bass, a single African drum and occasional flute. But the intricate weaving of music and vocals was deeply emotional and absolutely hypnotic. From the truly phenomenal guitar playing to the trance inducing drumming and audience clapping, and then the chant-like vocals, this was a religious experience of epic proportions. The singing is poignant in their native language, particularly if you’re aware of the heartfelt lyrics that are being sung. What struck me especially, knowing of their origins in refugee and military training camps in Libya and Algeria, is how incredibly soulful and, well, loving these guys were. They are so humble, so deeply appreciative of their audience, and put across such a feeling of peacefulness and warmth, that I was completely blown away. They had a deeply spiritual vibe and went off on such astonishing ‘space jams,’ it was like The Grateful Dead took a long trip through the Sahara Desert. Totally captivating. You do not miss these guys when they (hopefully) come around again.

photo by Gerhard Eichler

photo by Gerhard Eichler

The Boston-based Atlas Soul, with their North African funk/jazz/rock/hip-hop, singing in multiple languages, were the perfect support for Tinariwen. They were also wonderful.

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SLEeVES’ New EP, Arcadia

There’s some very beautiful, adventurous new music from Boston’s experimental folk purveyors, SLEeVES. Gathered into a 7-track EP by the name of Arcadia, it’s a gauzy, hypnotic daydream. Sometimes it takes the form of smooth aural silk that slides over you. At other times, it’s a like a series of half-heard conversations looped over each other, merging and colliding, cresting and receding like ocean waves. ‘Arcadia’ speaks of “a natural paradise; a forgotten utopia.”

Arcadia is the follow-up to their lovely Sky Ghost I album, released back in March. It is available for a ‘pay-what-you-want’ price, and they’ve collaborated with multimedia artist Neon Glittery to create 20 limited edition t-shirts based on the EP’s imagery. Have a listen to “1994,” “a song about the uncertainty of the future and a dullness occasionally associated with the present.”

They’re currently planning a North American tour. Stay tuned!

1994 by SLEEVES by Analog Candle

web-bandcamp | facebook | soundcloud | analog candle

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