Alice in Chains “Rainier Fog”


(24 Aug 2018, BMG)

I purposely waited a while before tackling the review of this album. I kept hoping it would grow on me, but I’m still not a huge fan.

There are a few good tunes on the album. My favorite is “Maybe.” It starts off with those patented harmonized vocals and carries them all the way through the track. It’s weird because they don’t really give the song a heavy metal or hard rock feel, but more of a country vibe.

It seems so strange to put so much emphasis on one word, but I love the way they say “yeah,” in the chorus to that song. It reminds me of what Layne Staley did in “Grind.”

I also really like “Never Fade” which sounds unlike anything Alice have ever done. This probably has something to do with the influence of new(ish) singer William DuVall. This is his third album with the group but one of his first major songwriting contributions. And it’s about damn time! I really enjoyed the stuff from his previous band, Comes With The Fall, and have been waiting for him to contribute more to Alice in Chains.

“So Far Under” is great also for being unique. This one is solely written by DuVall, features his lead work and starts with the best riff on the album.

The title track is another standout that drives the album along. I think it should have been the opener. I’m guessing one of the things that killed enthusiasm about this record was the lead single “The One You Know.” It’s definitely not the track I would have picked to fill that role. I honestly think I would have liked it more if I’d gotten a vinyl copy and mistakenly started with side two.

“Fly” features some interesting guitar sounds unlike anything else in the Alice canon, but feels like too much of a departure for me. “Drone” is perhaps the best example of the term ‘Doom Metal’ on the album, which is both a positive and negative for the track.

In some ways, this is sad for me. This feels like the Alice in Chains album where they cement their status as the elder statesman and spend the rest of their career putting out mediocre albums with a few gems scattered here and there. Before this, I had to buy every album they put out, but the next one I might pass on.

Maybe that has something to do with the lack of enthusiasm surrounding it. I remember being pumped up when The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here came out because I was hearing songs on the radio and watching great videos on YouTube. There really wasn’t any of that with this one. I don’t even listen to rock radio much anymore. I tend to go for the mix station.

In some ways that makes me sad. I used to love modern rock, but it just doesn’t thrill me as much as it used to. It also makes me happy to know I’m still growing and exploring new things.

Just like Alice in Chains, hard rock will always be a part of my past, but will they be a part of my future?

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A Little Disappointing


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It’s really cool that we finally have the first real pictures of a black hole, but after watching that Soundgarden video it’s a little disappointing.

Static X “Wisconsin Death Trip”


(23 March 1999, Warner Bros.)

I was surprised to see that Static-X is touring this year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their debut, Wisconsin Death Trip. Mainly because their leader died a few years ago. I remember when it happened. It was a huge blow for the hair gel industry and fans of industrial metal.

Sure, they were lumped in with the nu metal of the late 90s/early aughts, but they seemed to have better staying power than most of their peers from that era. I still enjoy their third album, Shadow Zone, that was released long after Limp Bizkit became completely flaccid and I’d done my best to forget about Puya.

It’s somewhat strange to think of how industrial music apes the big craze of the moment and adds electronics to it. Ministry did it with thrash metal in the early 90s, NIN did it with grunge in the mid-90s and Static-X did it with nu-metal at the end of the decade.

I wasn’t sure if they would be fronted by Hologram Wayne Static or just his reanimated corpse. The truth is actually stranger than either of those scenarios.

I was going to make the argument that Static-X wasn’t really a nu metal band, but then I read the Wikipedia definition which said the genre is “heavily syncopated and based on guitar riffs”  and that’s pretty hard to argue with. They were grounded in start/stop guitar riffs and Wayne Static’s goofy growly vocals. Just because I enjoy their music doesn’t give me any right to make excuses and call them something other than what they are.

Which is somewhat horrible, but they were never nearly as bad as Crazy Town. That group is also touring, which is strange because I thought that the entire band was dead.

Children Behave


READER WARNING: THE SUBJECT OF THIS POST IS VERY CATCHY. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!

Do you want to hear about an earworm I’m really fond of? Tommy James and the Shondells’ “I Think We’re Alone Now.” I’m pretty sure the main reason I’m aware of it is that it’s been featured in film and television a few times recently, but I’m glad it has. It might be a song of questionable subject matter, as I’m pretty sure it’s about underage people exploring their sexuality or some other type of Flowers in the Attic-ness, but boy does it have a good beat. 

It even managed to make John Goodman shaking his ass stomachable in the trailer for 10 Cloverfield Lane.

 

And it’s such a great song that I even enjoy the mall-rock Tiffany cover version I just watched in The Umbrella Academy. Of course, that’s not really fair because you could put Ellen Page in a steaming dog turd and I’d probably love it.

 

So what do you think of this song? Do you love it? Or are you going to be cursing me for the next several days as it plays on repeat in your head?

A Hippy Band?


I went out with this girl last summer. I say ‘went out,’ but it was more like a friendly hang-out than a date. Unfortunately, it didn’t lead to anything. This could be because of any number of reasons, but somehow I got it stuck in my mind was that she’s a bit of a hippy.

Now, I’m not trying to hate on hippies, and that isn’t an automatic deal breaker for me. I’m sure some hippies are very fine people. I agree with hippies in some areas (environmentalism, nuclear disarmament, war is bad), but there are far more things I disagree with (tye-dye, non-violence, the Grateful Dead). I was a bit interested to discover how much of a hippie she was, but never really got the chance.

Anyway, the thing that really stuck out was what made me ask: “You’re a bit of a hippy aren’t you?”

She said she was a fan of Sublime.

It wasn’t until later that evening when I popped in a Sublime Greatest Hits disc that I realized how silly it is to classify Sublime as a “hippy band.” Sure, they had a lot of laid back, peaceful songs (“What I Got,” “Doin’ Time” and “Caress Me Down”), and they played that most-reggae influenced of all genres: Ska.

But there were also a lot of songs about definitely non-hippy things like participating in riots ( “April 29, 1992”), “Date Rape,” and child prostitution (“Wrong Way”). While I know many stoners love the anthem “Smoke Two Joints” I wonder if they realize Sublime covered SoCal hardcore bands Bad Religion and the Descendents on that same album.

So what do you guys think? Is Sublime a hippy band? After thinking about it I’m convinced they’re more of a crossover band designed to infiltrate the heads of well-meaning punks and get us to cross over to the dark, flowery-powery side.

 

Jerry Cantrell “Boggy Depot”


(7 April 1998, Columbia)

Boggy Depot is my favorite albums in the expanded Alice in Chains universe because it is the most unique. I really think this is the only album from AiC or Cantrell that doesn’t have Layne Staley on it anywhere.

I know what you’re thinking: “Staley died in 2002. He can’t be on any of the new Alice in Chains material, you fool!” but hear me out. See, Staley made a few appearances on Cantrell’s 2002 album as inspiration for the songs “Bargain Basement Howard Hughes,” “Pig Charmer” and “31/32.” Likewise, he appeared on the title track of the reunited AiC’s first album Black Gives Way To Blue. He’s not as noticeable on the more recent releases but I still hear him occasionally. It’s subtle. He appears in the harmonies and the phrasing. There are no more drug-addled demons being exorcized in the lyrics, but Staley still is and will always be a part of Alice in Chains. Much like Brian Johnson, Jason Newstead and Zakk Wylde no matter how great William DuVall proves to be he’s always going to have that shadow hanging over him.

The only song on Boggy Depot I could see working for Alice in Chains is “Jesus Hands.” It has the dark feel and guitar work that put them on the map. But even though it includes bassist Mike Inez and drummer Sean Kinney, I still can’t imagine how Staley would fit into the picture. Maybe he couldn’t either and that’s why it was skipped over during sessions for the Dog Album.

Much of the songs on that album are like that. “Dickeye” and “Cut You In” are both driving hard rockers. “Breaks My Back” is very similar to something AiC would do as a ballad. But the real treat is the songs that are unique to this particular album. “Between” has the most country feel. I’m not a huge fan of Country and Western music but I do enjoy Cantrell’s take on it in “Devil By His Side,” “Keep The Light On” and “Hurt A Long Time.” Sure, none of them are going to get him inducted into the Grand Ole Opry, but it’s always nice to hear someone do something different.

My favorites are the piano-driven songs. Something about that simple lick in “Settling Down” really gets me and “Cold Piece” is a great closer. I don’t think pianos make a whole lot of appearances on Alice in Chains material so it’s always nice when they pop up.

I would highly recommend this album as something everyone should listen to. If you’re a fan of Alice in Chains it’s a neat detour into another side of their primary songwriter. And if you’re not a fan of Alice in Chains this will give you a softer version of what you’re missing.

 

Workout Music Vol. 1


Are there any gym rats reading this blog? I know it’s about music, but I find music is a big part of the gym experience. The songs pulsing in the earbuds can make or break a great workout. You’re not going to get the same amount of reps or achieve a personal record if you’re not jamming to the right tunes.

I assume most people go for heavy music. Metallica. Slayer. Black Sabbath.

Not me. Aside from moving toward punk and away from metal over the past few years I’ve noticed that the type of music that gets me jacked up to build muscle and burn calories is:

 

That’s right. If you see me in the gym, and the sweat is pouring and I’m getting swole… I’m probably listening to Adele or Katy Perry’s MTV Unplugged or something extremely wimpy with soaring female vocals.

What about you? What gets you pumped?

AC/DC “Highway to Hell”


(27 July 1979, Atlantic)

I love how some songs make you think of loved ones who have passed away. What’s even better is when the song also appeals to my warped and depraved sense of humor. I wrote about the odd feeling I had when the Vandals’ “My Girlfriend’s Dead” stuck in my head and my thoughts on AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell.” aren’t really that different.

You always hear about siblings turning each other on to different bands and types of music. It’s a story as old as families that’s been happening ever since the first cave-older-brother brought home an 8-track by Dinosaur Jr. and turned his cave-little-brother onto it. It would be a heartwarming story if they hadn’t both been eaten by a sabretooth tiger the next day.

My story is a little different. I was never a huge fan of AC/DC, but I liked them a lot more before my little brother discovered them. We grew up in a modular home, one of those tin cans with paper thin walls. This meant that whenever he was jamming to Back in Black or Fly on the Wall everyone else in the trailer was also jamming to it. It was this more than their continuous play on modern rock radio that turned me off.

I’ve been meaning to do a review of Highway to Hell for his birthday for the past six years since he died, but I haven’t really known how to go about it. Looking back at what I’ve written I still don’t. Highway to Hell was the one album of his I kept. I still have several DVDs, Blu-Rays and video games, but his musical taste was just atrocious. I didn’t do a very good job as an older brother in that sense.

It seems silly to try to review an AC/DC album. You’ve already heard the title track, “Girls Got Rhythm,” “If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It)” and “Touch Too Much” more times than any of us can count. The other tracks are both instantly recognizable and immediately forgettable. AC/DC has done more with three-chords than others have done with jazz encyclopedias.

Anyway, I’ve always just wanted to put something like this up as a tribute for my brother. I wish I could put it more poetically or deeper, but considering I’m using a post about AC/DC as a way to pay tribute this probably makes the most sense.

Happy Birthday Michael Stipe


This may be the end of my “Happy Birthday” series as it is the end of my Left-Handed people calendar, but I don’t want to say anything definitively.

Mom’s Christmas presents always get here late so I may continue it next year…

Or maybe it will spur a new post series.

Stay tuned to find out. Enjoy some R.E.M. while you wait.