The Best (Or Worst) Description of a Band Ever


Life of AgonyAs a writer I’m interested in the written word. I’ve been an avid reader since I was young. I read Stephen King’s The Stand while I was still in grammar school. I remember wanting to be an archaeologist at one point, but that dream fell by the wayside pretty quickly and I started writing. I’ve been writing most of my life, whether in a journal, a short story or this blog. Even if I never make any money from it, I’m not lying when I say I’m a writer.

I’m hypersensitive to the way words go together as well as punctuation. One of my biggest pet peeves is using punctuation correctly. If you use an exclamation point in a text with me I assume you’re excited. If you end the message with an ellipsis I assume you have more to say. I don’t mean to be a Grammar Nazi, but I feel it’s essential to use the tools you have to communicate effectively, especially when using a medium where you cannot use voice inflection and body language. So that’s why IT’S VERY important to CORRectly Use punctuation and GRAMMAR to convey intentions!!!!

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard is “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” So whenever I come upon a really great way of describing something it gives me the greatest feeling in the world. I’ve noticed a few people like the “Smoke on the Water Principle (SWP).” I’m sure I wasn’t the first person to notice that, but I managed to give it a simple, clever name that’s memorable (much like the main riff to “Smoke on the Water”).

I’ve also coined terms that haven’t really stuck like “Mask Metal” (the sub-genre of heavy metal where the masks are more important than the music (Slipknot, Mushroomhead, Lordi)). I was also really proud of the term “slut pop,” but I managed to piss at least one person off with that. That describes music like Britney Spears or Miley Cyrus where a girl’s figure and risque behavior is more important than the music. I can’t remember if I didn’t consider that the term would be offensive or if I considered it and just didn’t care.

Type O NegativeIt’s always fun to try to perfectly describe a band’s sound. It’s a challenge I engage in on a near weekly basis. I remember a long time ago I was having a few beers and listening to some tunes with a friend and we put on Life of Agony. Have you ever listened to Life of Agony? Wikipedia describes them as an alternative metal band. I’ve also heard them described as New York hardcore, but neither of these descriptions really hits the nail on the head.

We were trying to come up with a great description for Life of Agony. I wanted to compare them to Soundgarden. This probably has something to do with the video for “This Time” and the singer’s haircut. Yes, both bands were popular in the early-to-mid nineties, but the similarities end there. LoA has more of a stripped down punk vibe while Soundgarden were a Zepplinesque riff machine.

We kept brainstorming, but nothing was quite right. Then we got it. I can’t remember which one of us said it, but we found the perfect sentence to describe this band.

“Life of Agony sounds like Type O Negative would if they didn’t suck.”

That sent both of us into laughing fits and hysterics. Not only does it perfectly sum up the sound of the band, but it’s also hilarious. It’s important to note that both of us are fans of Type O Negative. I really enjoy Type O Negative. But lets face it they are a little goofy. However, if you take away the goth, the keyboards, the enormous penis, the song about hair dye and insert the original drummer: you get Life of Agony.

 

Damn the Years!


bargain_binI’m not the only person who tends to browse through CD bargain bins at gas stations and dollar stores, right? Even if I go in for a 12 pack of pop and a few rolls of toilet paper I still usually end up in front of a rack of CDs for the low, low price of $6 a piece.

It’s kind of a silly thing to do when you think about it. It’s not like I’m going to find some lost gem lurking among Joe Walsh’s But Seriously, Folks… or the Best of Linda Ronstadt. It’s just something I’ve always done. I don’t think I’ve ever bought anything from any of them aside from maybe a Bob Marley cassette. That was years and years ago. You can tell from the fact that I bought a Bob Marley cassette.

But a few months ago I was in a Dollar General and I noticed something really strange. Sure, there was still Fleetwood Mac, Black Sabbath Vol. 4 and numerous unofficial greatest hits releases, but there was also Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger, Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine and Stone Temple Pilots’ Tiny Music… 

That just didn’t make sense to me. These bins are for the music of old people. Poison, BTO and Neil Diamond. Young people music doesn’t belong in these bins. When did they change that rule? Wait… did they change that rule? I’ve been denying this for years as I heard Nirvana and Weezer in Walmart and Pearl Jam started playing on the muzak at the gas station, but I think I listen to old people music now.

Soon they’ll start calling it classic rock and I’ll have to start browsing a different section at the record store. Damn. You live long enough and just more and more bad stuff starts happening.

I always hoped I’d die before I got old…

Soundgarden “Down On The Upside”


Soundgarden-DownOnTheUpside21 May 1996, A&M Records

It’s amazing how great my memory is regarding some of these albums I’ve had for 20 years. I can still remember buying it at the Blockbuster in Massillon, OH. Dad always took us to the video store at the beginning of our weekend visit and let us pick out one or two movies to keep us busy. I hadn’t even known Soundgarden had a new album out when I saw it. I don’t think I got a video that night, but I got a new CD.

I can still remember telling my friends about it and I can remember when they played on Saturday Night Live. But I can’t remember why I took the disc out of its original cardboard case and put it into a regular jewel case. I’m guessing it didn’t fit into my CD tower or something. Maybe I just wanted uniformity. I saw a new copy cheap at FYE a few weeks ago and thought about replacing mine, but I’m not sure I want to do that. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a really good album, but compared to Badmotorfinger or Superunknown it’s just OK.

I find it hard to find fault with any of the singles. Opener “Pretty Noose” is a stock Soundgarden jam with a freaky wah-drenched intro and solo, huge open-tuned guitar sounds and Chris Cornell’s screams. The only thing I didn’t like was that the American version of the video kinda sucked and that was before YouTube so I couldn’t just go online and watch the international version. “Burden In My Hand” makes use of the odd tunings but in a much different way. It’s more of a strange singer/songwriter ballad with a monster backing band. “Blow Up The Outside World” was always one of my favorites. I think that track captures the whisper-soft verse/ big-scream chorus dynamic better than any other song. Plus, Kim Thayil shows off some pretty awesome leads.

 

I think “Ty Cobb” is my favorite song on the album. I’m not used to Soundgarden doing breakneck punk songs, but they managed to sound right at home on this one by throwing mandolins and mandolas on the track. And the chorus of “Hard headed fuck you all” was just what my 13-year-old mind needed.

Other than that not a whole lot really sticks out. I like a lot of the the slower, brooding tracks. “Zero Chance,” “Tighter & Tighter” and “Overfloater” all have great melodies and lyrics. I’m not that into some of the other faster tracks. “Never The Machine Forever” is saved by one of Thayil’s great guitar solos. He’s the only guitarist that can play leads that are so fast they get sloppy but still have them sound good. “No Attention” is saved by the time shift for the last verse and chorus.

And a few of the songs I actually don’t really care for. It’s almost frustrating that I can’t put my finger on what’s wrong with this album. Honestly, I don’t think that there is anything wrong with the album. It’s a great collection of well written and well played songs. I would bet money that my biggest problem with it is that it’s not Superunknown. It’s not quite as dark and not really edgy. By 1996 grunge had gone from being a sub genre to being mainstream rock and I’ve always felt that mainstream rock isn’t nearly as cool as underground music.

Or maybe what I’m hearing is the tension that would break Soundgarden up less than a year after this album was released. Maybe they just needed a break. Cornell said that “Boot Camp” was about his childhood, but with the benefit of hindsight the last words on the album seem very prophetic, “There must be something else, there must be something good, far away.”

Helluva way to end an album.

soundgarden-conan

 

The Best Band?


supergroups!

Now that I’ve completed my “Best Drummers/Bassists/Guitarists/Singers” project let me tell you why I dislike the “pick 4 musicians to form your dream super group” game.

If I take the top spots from all of the lists I’ve come up with over the past month what you’d have is a band with Dave Grohl on drums, No bass player, Dave Gilmore on Guitar and Leonard Cohen singing.

The point I wanted to make there is that just because a musician is great in a certain band doesn’t mean they will be great in any band.

I gave Grohl props for being versatile and playing with many different groups, but could you imagine him jamming with Dave Gilmore? I’m not sure that heavy punk hitting would mesh well with the classic rock stylings of Pink Floyd. And then to throw Cohen in there… well now we’re just talking about a disaster. (Although I do have to admit it sounds interesting).

diamond Dave and Sammy HagarIt’s strange the how different bands can sound with the inclusion/exclusion of just one member. Would Nevermind have been such a hit if Nirvana hadn’t replaced Chad Channing with Dave Grohl? Van Halen and Van Hagar are literally two completely different bands despite being 3/4 the same. So are Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave.

And what the hell happened to Korn? They were a pretty rocking heavy metal group and then they lost their guitarist and drummer and all of the sudden they’re like a techno thing.

While most musicians do pretty well in most groups it’s still pretty interesting to think of how they’d interact. the question isn’t “which 4 musicians would be the best,” so much as it’s “what would these 4 musician sound like together?”

I wish there was an antonym for the term supergroup. I know it’s meant to convey anytime a few musicians who are already successful get together, but there should be a term that we use when they get together and it’s really awful. Like chickenfootgroup.

 

More Stupid Lists:

The Best Singers

The Best Guitarists

The Best Bassists

The Best Drummers

The Best Singers


live-sound-microphone

I really enjoy “Best of…” lists. And I never shy away from the chance to do one for my blog.

My “Best Guitarist’s” post from last week managed to stir the pot and spark a bit of conversation. I’m hoping this post will do the same.

Of course, the problem with a “Best Singers” list is similar the problem with a “Best Guitarists” list: What am I judging them on? Do they get points for creativity? Lyrics? Emotion? I try to weigh several factors and think I came out with a list that should have something for everyone.

But I’m sure I missed a few

 

Mike Patton (Faith No More, Mr Bungle, Tomahawk, Fantomas, About 12 billion others) – I like Mike Patton. He’s a phenomenal singer with a very impressive range. He should be higher on this list but I hate is that he has the same effect on grown men as the Jonas Brother’s have on 13-year-old girls.

GG Allin covered in his own shit and still singing.

GG Allin covered in his own shit and still singing.

GG Allin – To this day he’s the only man I’ve ever seen take a shit on stage and not miss a note. Not that that’s a good thing, but it is really impressive.

Simon & Garfunkel – These two were way more than the sum of their parts. Paul Simon always wrote great songs, but they never shined as bright without him harmonizing with Art Garfunkel.

Tom Waits – Anyone who can have such a long and prolific career while sounding like they’re gargling gravel and broken glass is OK in my book.

Layne Staley (Alice in Chains, Mad Season, Class of ’99) – The thing that always impressed me most about Staley was how he could take songs like “Rooster” and “Would?” that were written by Jerry Cantrell and pump so much emotion into them.

Meat Loaf – I’ve heard a few people say that they don’t enjoy the way Meat Load mixes opera singing with hard rock. That usually ends the conversation for me.

Adele – I love that deep, smoky, soulful voice. She sings like a black girl. Which makes me think I must be racist because I didn’t put Tina Turner or Gladys Knight on here.

Elton John – I want to make a gay joke here, but I’m not that crude. So I’ll just let Tenacious D do it.

 

Chris Cornell (Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, Audioslave, Solo) – Not only does he have the most impressive set of pipes this side of 1988, he also writes some of the craziest lyrics this side of Dax Riggs.

Leonard Cohen – In ‘Tower of Song’ he sings: “I was born like this I had no choice, I was born with the gift of a golden voice.” But I’ve heard some of his older stuff and I don’t think he really started to shine until the mid-Eighties.

 

For more of these lists check out:

The Best Bassists

The Best Drummers

 

Book Review- Alice in Chains: The Untold Story by David de Sola


Alice in Chains: The Untold StoryWhen I was 15 I took a vacation to stay with my Uncle and his family. They lived about 30 minutes south of Seattle. Because I didn’t know my uncle, aunt or cousin very well (and because I’m a rather bookish fellow anyway) I spent most of the first in their vast library getting to know John Steinbeck. I remember that very well because Of Mice and Men is still the only book to ever bring tears to my eyes.

That’s not to say David de Sola’s biography of Alice in Chains didn’t come really damn close.

I’m not sure what I was expecting from this book. I knew it would probably be a downer. It’s like the movie Titanic, you know how it’s going to end. It’s not like I thought it would be a laugh-a-minute page turner like Paul Beatty’s The Sellout or a thought provoking satire a la Chuck Pahalniuk, but sometimes you’re just not prepared. Hats off to Mr. de Sola, somebody had to write this book and I’m glad it wasn’t me. I guess I was hoping more of that joyful humor that characterized their interviews and TV appearances would be at the forefront. It’s definitely present, but not enough to offset the darkness.

I don’t think calling it “The Untold Story” is accurate. It is the story that everyone knows, only it goes a little deeper and features credible sources. I was really interested in reading about time spent in the studio and what they did to get their sound. It’s amazing that “Angry Chair” has something like 19 different vocal tracks. I was also surprised to read that Layne didn’t start heroin until after Facelift. I always assumed “Real Thing” was about trying to kick that habit.

I did find it surprising that Mike Starr and Mike Inez usually wrote their own bass lines. I always assumed Jerry Cantrell had a big hand in that because of the similarities between “Rooster” and “No Excuses.” I was also surprised to read that Jerry and Sean Kinney claim to have never taken heroin. I always thought they were guilty by association. The book does talk about Kinney’s alcoholism and Cantrell’s addictions, though it never mentions a drug of choice for him.

Demri Parrott and Layne Staley

Demri Parrott and Layne Staley

My biggest bitch with the book is that it’s more of a biography of Layne Staley than of AIC. I suppose this makes sense because he was the face of the band and the one who put the whole thing together, but I would have liked to learn more about Jerry, Sean and the Mikes. There was a lot more detail on Layne’s longtime girlfriend Demri Parrott (pronounced Pear-o) and Mad Season bassist John Baker Saunders than of his AIC band mates. I understand that the deaths of these people affected Staley in a profound way, and thus affected AIC in a profound way, but I would have liked more info about what the band was doing.

I’m sure this is a must-read for any die hard Alice in Chains fans. And it is worth the time and money as it is greatly researched and nicely written. Casual fans may enjoy it too, but you might want to get a library copy.

#top15onthe15th


I love a great list post. They’re easy to do and usually get a respectable number of views. So when I read about the Top 15 for September 2015 over at 1001albumsin10years I was ready to go. I immediately began compiling the list of my favorite albums of all time (at this particular moment). This was a massive undertaking that took me about the same amount of time as any other post.

And don’t try to argue with me about the order and/or inclusion/exclusion of any particular album. I used the highly scientific method of my own personal preferences so you can’t argue with me! The only condition I set was that I wouldn’t include two albums by the same band. Looking back, I wish I’d set a limit on years (It’s almost exclusively 1994 and 1996).

But enough preface – Let’s Go!

 

the offspring smash cover15 The Offspring Smash (1994) The crown jewel in the early 90’s punk revival.

14 Acid Bath Paegan Terrorism Tactics (1996) The crown jewel in southern-sludge-doom metal.

13 Pink Floyd The Wall  (1979) This was one of my favorite albums in high school. Does everyone go through a time in their lives when this album describes everything you feel about the world? It sure seems to touch on some pretty universal themes.

12 Queens of the Stone Age Songs For The Deaf (2002) Oddly enough, I’ve never been able to get into any QOTSA albums aside from this one. It’s just so great that all of their other work pales in comparison. It’s definitely one of those ‘lightning in a bottle’ albums.

11 Pantera The Great Southern Trendkill (1996) You know the big 4 of 80’s thrash metal? Fuck ’em. Pantera could chew them all up and spit them out. Trendkill makes this list because I find it to be the most cohesive of their albums and it contains Dimebag’s best solo, “Floods.”

 

10 Soundgarden Superunknown (1994)

9 Pearl Jam Ten (1991) – I can still remember the first time I heard this album. I’d already heard a lot of hullabaloo about Pearl Jam and after listening I just though ‘So that’s what all the fuss is about.’

8 Weezer S/T (The Blue Album) (1994)

Electric Larryland7 The Butthole Surfers Electric Larryland (1996) This album is the greatest mixture of noise rock and pop punk ever recorded. I did have Nirvana in this slot, but I think I like the Butthole Surfers better.

6 The Beatles S/T (The White Album) (1968) The Beatles should appear on every best of list. The trouble is that it’s extremely difficult to pick just one Beatles album to put on a best of list. I cheated by choosing the double album.

5 Elton John Tumbleweed Connection (1970) I find it extremely difficult to choose between this, Madman Across the Water and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. I could have easily put them all on this list, but I didn’t want it to just be a list of my favorite Elton John albums. This one wins because there are no songs on it that I don’t love. I don’t love “Indian Sunset” or “Gray Seal.”

4 Nine Inch Nails The Downward Spiral (1994) I was a really depressed teenager. This album helped me to make it through those dark years by letting me know I wasn’t alone in feeling the way I did.

Ramones_-_Ramones_cover3 The Ramones S/T (1976) The prototype for the greatest American rock and roll band… and for the thousands who would imitate them.

2 Alice in Chains Jar of Flies (1994) This album makes it onto this list for the same reason as The Downward Spiral, but appealed to a different part of depression.

 

1 Temple of the Dog S/T (1991) May not be the #1 album ever, but it’s definitely the best album from the 90’s. And probably the 80’s too.

 

So there’s my list. What do you think? I love this event and I’d be down to doing it every few years. Mainly just to see how these lists change. And the best part is that now I have a pretty cool list of albums to review in the near future.

Make sure you stop by Lebrain’s site as he did the heavy lifting and linked to all the sites of people participating in this event.