Masterpiece

Unsung Masterpieces: Led Zeppelin- Presence

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Looking back at Led Zeppelin’s catalog there is an album that hardly ever gets its due. The first 6 albums are all acclaimed and highly regarded but, there is one in particular that really needs to be in the conversation as well, and that album is Presence. Released in 1976, Presence is an album that strips it down to the root of drums, bass, guitars and vocals. Presence was written and recorded after Robert Plant was recovering from a serious car accident. Jimmy Page and Robert Plant spent time in Malibu, California working on the ideas that Plant had written during his convalescent period. After some time Page and Plant joined up with John Bonham and John Paul Jones for rehearsals before they went to the studio. After 18 days in the studio, Presence was recorded and mixed.

The songs on the album are quite substantial and poignant. Starting off the album with “Achilles Last Stand” is a statement all on it’s own. This song is the epitome of what Zeppelin is. The 10 and a half minute epic that is “Achilles Last Stand” sets a standard on how to kick off an album. “For Your Life” oozes with blues and pain, as Robert was in a wheelchair while he recorded his vocals for the song. “Royal Orleans” has a funk vibe to it, allowing John Paul Jones to show off his seriously underrated bass skills. “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” is a classic Zeppelin blues jam. Jimmy Page really shines on this song. His guitar playing is astounding and beyond influential. “Candy Store Rock” is probably my least favorite song on the album. It seems like a filler song to an extent and doesn’t have the gusto that other songs on the album have. “Hots On For Nowhere” has an interesting history. The first making of the song goes back to Physical Graffiti as well as live renditions of when Zeppelin would play their extended version of “Dazed and Confused.” Ending the album is “Tea For One,” one of my all time favorite songs by the band. The slow mid tempo build that evolves into a blues epic, along with Robert Plant’s vocals and lyrics. “Tea For One” is also the perfect compliment ending to the album.

Presence is a rock n roll album to the fullest. The guitar tones on this record have been copied throughout the years. Not to mention the overall sound of the album. There is a purity about Presence that shines through and through. Perhaps it’s because of what Robert Plant was going through, or even the bands need to capture their roots again but, I will say this, Presence is a game changing album for any music lover. If you are a fan of rock music, then you need to listen to this album and feel all that it has to offer.

 

Led Zeppelin- Presence:

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Unsung Masterpieces: Bush- Razorblade Suitcase

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This November will be twenty years since Bush released their very underrated and unsung masterpiece Razorblade Suitcase. I can actually remember getting this album. My mom and dad had bought it for me. I came home from school and in my room was a copy of Razorblade Suitcase along with a note that said do your homework, but listen and enjoy the album. I remember putting the album on and letting it play from start to finish and thinking to myself that this is absolutely great. It was different from Sixteen Stone in a good way. There was so much more to this album in regards of depth and feeling. The album title itself, I thought was a really cool name, meant to Gavin Rossdale as a way to describe emotional baggage. What a crazy yet interesting way to describe it. Also during this time the band kept getting knocked in the press for supposedly being too much like Nirvana. This is something that I’ve never thought was true. Sure they had an album recorded by Steve Albini, and played a similar style of loud guitars and booming drums, but Gavin and Kurt were completely on the opposite sides of things.

The album is one of my favorites of all time. From the beginning growl of Gavin’s dog on “Personal Holloway,” to the dissonance of closing song “Distant Voices” and everything in between, Razorblade Suitcase was the perfect way to follow up Sixteen Stone. Lead single “Swallowed” was impactful and gritty yet full of sweet melody. Other wonderful songs like “Greedy Fly,” “Insect Kin,” “Cold Contagious,” “Bone Driven,” and “History” were absolute stand outs. Other tracks like “A Tendency To Start Fires,” “Synapse,” “Mouth,” and “Straight No Chaser,” offered something for every type of fan of the band. From the heavier tracks to the more delicate.

While Bush isn’t the most original band in the world, they are still part of the legacy of the 90’s that shouldn’t be ignored. Put the Nirvana comparisons aside and just listen and you’ll come away with an album that is deep and vulnerable. The playing and songwriting on this record is exceptional as well. Taking away the the polish of Sixteen Stone, Steve Albini put Bush in their natural element to really get at the true nature of the band. Gavin’s voice really shines on this album too. Razorblade Suitcase is often overlooked by many, but it’s not one that should be. Twenty years later this album still holds up if not better than when it first came out.

 

Bush- Razorblade Suitcase:

 

 

Music Videos:

Swallowed:

 

Greedy Fly:

 

Cold Contagious:

 

Bonedriven:

 

Personal Holloway:

 

 

 

 

Unsung Masterpieces: Stabbing Westward- Darkest Days

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Back in 1998 while I was waiting for a new Nine Inch Nails record, an album was released by Stabbing Westward that would hold my attention for years to come. Darkest Days is the album I’m talking about. Stabbing Westward took their industrial influences a few steps further on this album without sacrificing their knack for writing catchy melodic songs. Singer Chris Hall’s anguish, pain and suffering all show through in his vocal performance. Something I found interesting about the album is that it’s actually a concept record. It’s made up of 4 parts,  with each depicting  a different emotional phase after a break up. The Tracks 1-4 is about sabotaging the relationship. Tracks 5-9 is about lust, hope, and longing. Tracks 10-12 is about hitting rock bottom after it’s all over. The final part is about recovery and self-respect. When I found that out a few years back, the album made a lot more sense to me. I’m sure most of you will remember the song “Save Yourself,” as it was the first single released for the album. But there is way more to the album than just that song. Songs like ” Everything I Touch,” “Drugstore,” “You Complete Me,” “Haunting Me,” “When I’m Dead,” “Torn Apart,” and “On Your Way Down” are absolute standouts. That’s not to say that the other songs aren’t as good, these ones just always seemed to have a lasting effect on me.

Stabbing Westward called it quits in the early 2000’s. Chris Hall went on to start the band The Dreaming. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing them a few times over the years, and he is still one hell of a singer and frontman. During the early years of The Dreaming it wouldn’t be shocking to hear them play a couple Stabbing Westward songs live. It was announced recently that Stabbing Westward will be reuniting for a show to celebrate their 30th anniversary, but in Chicago. Let’s hope it goes well, so we can get a full on reunion tour!!!

 

Stabbing Westward- Darkest Days:

Unsung Masterpiece: Rage Against The Machine- The Battle Of Los Angeles

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The year is 1999, people are starting to get hysterical over Y2K and Rage Against The Machine are about to release their final album, the very underrated unsung masterpiece, The Battle Of Los Angeles. Debuting at number one on the billboard charts, the twelve songs on the album are armed with heavy influence from George Orwell’s 1984, making for some very eerie foreshadowing statements on what the future will bring us. Songs like “Testify,” Guerrilla Radio,” “Sleep Now In The Fire,” “Voice of the Voiceless,” and a few others have direct quotes from the book, and go on to mention more Orwellian terms. The album kicks off with 3 songs of explosive rage (pun intended haha) with “Testify,” “Guerrilla Radio,” and “Calm Like A Bomb.” Then the album shifts for a song with “Mic Check.” “Sleep Now In The Fire” takes the album back up a few notches with anger and fury, leading us into one of the best songs on the album “Born Of A Broken Man.” The next couple songs musically, tend to lean towards showing off Tom Morello’s talents with a whammy bar and a fuzz pedal. Lyrically though “Born As Ghosts” and “Maria” are strong and angry, showing off Zach De La Rocha’s venomous lyrics. “Voice Of The Voiceless” has strong connections to a favorite of the band in Mumia Abu Jamal, as well as 1984, as I mentioned above and has a bit of a funk vibe to the music. “New Millennium Homes” is a solid song, with a cool groove, that perfectly sets up my favorite Rage Against The Machine song appears on The Battle Of L.A., “Ashes In The Fall.” Lyrically and musically, Ashes brings something different to the table. This is along the same lines as how epic some songs on the first album were. The song also brings a brilliance to how tight and good Brad Wilk and Tim Commerford are together. Tom Morello’s guitar work especially in the bridge section and the ending highlight his talents even more. Closing out the album is “War Within A Breath” which picks up where Ashes leaves off, then finishes with a fury of signature Rage.

The Battle of Los Angeles to me is the second best album the band put out. In terms of songwriting and passion, this album soars above Evil Empire. Tom Morello, Brad Wilk, Tim Commerford and Zach De La Rocha were magical together. They were able to create awareness and invoke the youth to open their eyes and stand up. Something that is missing from music today. Battle is an album that upped the game a bit more for the band. Their albums stand the test of time. Keeping in mind that the band hasn’t released anything new since 1999, not much has changed in the world, making their albums more relatable than ever.

 

Rage Against The Machine- The Battle Of Los Angeles:

Amazing Albums: Massive Attack- Mezzanine

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I remember the day I bought Massive Attack’s Mezzanine very clearly. I was at Tower records and was browsing through the aisles and came across this very peculiar cover. It looked like one of the bugs from Starship Troopers. Needless to say, this made me curious as to what this could be. So I took it up to the counter and the guy working told me I made a wise choice. And what a choice I made. Mezzanine is an album that expands the dark undercurrents which had always been present in Massive Attack with textured and darker tones that features abstract and ambient sounds.Subtly drenched among the songs, lies deep influences of The Velvet Underground, The Cure and hints of John Bonham’s ferocious drumming. On an interesting note, and I think this helps to play into the darker vibe of the album, is that while making this album there was quite a lot of tension in the group causing one founding member to leave after the album was completed.

The album begins with a brilliant one, two, three, four, five punch of the songs “Angel,” “Risingson,” “Teardrop,” and “Inertia Creeps,” and “Exchange.” As the album moves on from that point it takes a step back into the darker corner. First with the dramatic “Dissolved Girl,” and then with “Man Next Door,” which features primitive beats, a catchy melody and soulful singing. As the album continues, the psychedelic atmospheric vibe continues to guide the songs through to the end.

There is something truly hypnotic about the way the album flows. Mezzanine is one of the best albums to come out in the last 20 years. It’s also an album that belongs in every music fans collection. So if it’s been a while or you’ve never heard Mezzanine, take the time to get acquainted with it, you’ll thank me later.

 

Massive Attack- Mezzanine:

 

 

Unsung Masterpieces: Audioslave- Revelations

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When Audioslave broke on to the music scene they were met with very high expectations. Their debut album was a really great album, full of great songs and a renewed sense of energy for each other the members. Their second album was hit and miss. There were some really good songs but as a whole it just didn’t come across as well. When Audioslave released their third album Revelations, they finally hit the mark and found their sound. This would be their final album sadly. Rather than working with Rick Rubin on this album the band chose Brendan O’Brien, with whom both Rage Against The Machine and Soundgarden have worked with in the past. Brendan was able to really capture the essence of what this band is and was. There are more influences on this album as well delving into funk and soul. This was also the first album which Chris Cornell was sober during the making of. Audioslave did not tour on this album, instead they broke up.

Revelations though as their swan song is brilliant. The first song “Revelations” really sets the tone for the album. It’s such a great song. The songs “Wide Awake” and “Shape of Things to Come” were prominently featured in Michael Mann’s horrible film adaption of Miami Vice. Both of these songs are tremendous. “Wide Awake,” evokes some political angst as well. The song is about Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath. “Until We Fall,” is another song that really shows the progression of Audioslave. The closing song “Moth” is a bit of foreshadowing for what was about to happen to the band. The song is powerful and one of the most inspiring songs on the album. Chris Cornell’s voice really shines on this song (along with “Wide Awake”).

The entire band was clicking on all cylinders one this album. It’s shame they couldn’t last longer. Thankfully there have been news reports as of late that both Tom Morello and Chris Cornell said they would be open to working together again. Let’s hope so. I would love to see Audioslave return.

Audioslave- Revelations:

Unsung Masterpieces: Dredg- Catch Without Arms

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There are quite a few bands that really work to create a piece of work that is special. They don’t compromise their artistic integrity just to sell their albums. Instead they grind it out in hope that people will listen and grasp just what they are doing. One of those bands is Dredg. Never one to follow a trend or sacrifice their art for a buck, the guys in Dredg stand by their vision and don’t disappoint. Their third album Catch Without Arms just passed the ten year mark, and it still rocks just as much as when it came out. Catch Without Arms was released on June 21, 2005. This album showed a change to a simpler, and more straightforward musical style for the band but still had a bit of the etherial tinge that El Cielo had. The album was produced by Terry Date (Deftones, Pantera, Soundgarden) and had some additional help from Queensryche guitarist Chris DeGarmo.

Catch Without Arms features great songs such as “Ode To The Sun,” “Bug Eyes,” “Not That Simple,” “The Tanbark Is Hot Lava,” “Sang Real,” and “Jamais Vu.” These songs show the forward movement of the band and it’s members ability to write individual songs. Catch Without Arms is a concept album about opposites, mainly focused on positives and negatives. Each member brings something different to the table. Singer/guitarist Gavin Hayes has a very intriguing voice that makes his lyrics come to life. Drummer Dino Campanella is one of the most underrated drummers in music. His ability is astounding, not to mention his ability to play drums and piano at the same time. This is truly something awesome to watch. Mark Engles has a guitar tone that is his own. It’s melodic and clean that fits perfectly with the nature of each song. Bassist Drew Roulette grooves right along with Dino’s drums, and his bass lines add another element to each song.

Dredg is one of the most underrated bands to come out since 2000. They really know themselves and what they are capable of. Their ability to push the boundaries of their art is uncompromising and satisfying. Give this album another listen and you’ll see why it is an unsung masterpiece

https://www.facebook.com/dredg

Dredg- Catch Without Arms:

By: Brian Lacy