Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Music Reviews: Rush - "Clockwork Angels"

Canadian power trio Rush have been on the music scene for close to 40 years releasing albums ranging from classic Zeppelin inspired rock (self titled debut), to prog rock ("2112"), to arena rock (Moving Pictures) to 80's synth rock (Power Windows), to even dabbling in grunge (Counterparts). But now the band is back with their first ever full length concept album entitled Clockwork Angels. Not only is it a return to form, but it very well may be the bands best album in years. Maybe even their best EVER!

The album is 12 songs telling the story of a young man's journey through his life and the people, places and things he encounters along the way. From the "Caravan" that takes him from his home to start his journey to working with the "Carnies" until his final days in "The Garden", this is the Rush album die hard fans have been waiting for all these years. When the band released the Caravan/BU2B single back in 2010 as a teaser to coincide with a world tour, it was easy for fans of all generations to get excited about the possibility of a full conceptual piece. We wondered if the band could pull it off after many years of steering away from long intricate pieces of music in favor of shorter more concise songs. But after listening to CA it's easy to see the band hasn't lost it's touch as far as story telling. And the playing is top notch as well. This is Rush playing at their all time best.

"Clockwork Angels" is such a wonderful piece of ear candy from it's powerful vocal approach that singer/bassist Geddy Lee brings to the mix to the way guitarist Alex Lifeson bounces back and forth between big power chords to gentle notes to drummer/lyricist Neil Peart's thunderous back beat and rolling drum fills. It really gives you chills to hear them playing at this level after so many years. Alex has a really cool and back to basics guitar solo here as well. It brings back memories of older albums from years past where the sky was the limit as far as playing ability goes. The boy's are spot on here.

"Carnies" is another track that bounces back and forth musically. Some folks may find this annoying at times. But I find it invigorating and original in it's fusion of melody and crunch where neither form outweighs the other. It's an equal balance that also never takes away from the storyline. Neil's lyrics can really hit home at times. He has a way of bringing you into the fold as a part of the story. Not just as a listener. "How I prayed just to get away, to carry me anywhere. Sometimes the angels punish us by answering our prayers." No truer lines have even been sung in a Rush song before. It speaks volumes of how this amazing band has grown as musicians and as story tellers.

"The Wreckers" is Rush playing the most melodic and poppy I think I have ever heard them play. And it's pretty damn awesome! It's modern but yet it would fit snug between any 2 tracks on Power Windows (one of my personal favorite 80's Rush albums). This is a band taking chances and coming out on top. This song very well could be my favorite here. I love the lyrics, the way Geddy sings them, the way the guy's play and even the strings! The strings bring it all home for me. It's the icing on the cake to a truly beautiful song.

The albums brightest rocking moments are in the tunes "Headlong Flight" with it's ode to "Bastille Day" to it's lyrics about looking back on the past with no regrets. It's a real barn burner. "Wish Them Well" is the other straight up rocker. Simple it it's approach but still powerful and imaginative at the same time. You can tell the band is having fun here. And when I hear them having this much fun, it brings a smile to my face. This is a band nearly 40 years in, and they can still enjoy what they do. And it really comes through in the music.

"The Garden" closes out this set with soft acoustic guitars and strings mixed with Geddy's beautiful singing. It tugs at the heartstrings with lyrics like "The treasure of a life is a measure of love and respect. The way you live, the gifts that you give in the fullness of time. It's the only return that you expect." True beauty in the form of song. Clockwork Angels is a modern day masterpiece by these gifted musicians. I'm glad I'm here to enjoy the band and their gift of music. "The future disappears into memory with only a moment between. Forever dwells in that moment. Hope is what remains to be seen" Amen.

5 / 5 stars

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Music Reviews: Tyrannosaurus Grace - "Much More Than A Story"

One of the perks of having your this blog is that people get in touch with you asking for me to check out their band. And some times I find a great band in the process. And Tyrannosaurus Grace is at the top of this list. I'm glad they got in touch with me, or I never would have heard their latest album, "Much More Than A Story".

TGrace are not a punk band, a metal band or even a Top 40 pop band. They are a ROCK band who play a powerful blend of power pop and hard edged rock. If record companies and radio cared about real rock music, this band would have been signed by now. One listen to "Trust Me" and you'll hear why I say that. The band has a definite Sugar era
Bob Mould feel to em. Lots of catchy guitar noodling intertwined with vocalist/guitarist Tim Held's Mould like vocals make this an easy listen and an even easier liking.

The 11 songs on this release range from instrumental ("Overature"), to hard driving rock ("Pie") and even duet style rockers ("Ashamed"). This album has it all. "Crutch" could have easily been snuggled between any 2 tracks on Sugar's "Copper Blue" album. But even with the Bob Mould sound on certain tracks this is a band with their own flavor and style. The hooks and big choruses run rampant all over this album. And the hard driving beat is undeniable. This is a band that's serious about playing and writing music to the best of their ability. And this is packed with some great music. The production is top notch as well. The sound is layered perfectly is not muddy or lacking in the clarity department. Damn near perfect, actually.

The band, Held, guitarist/keyboardist Justin Foss, vocalist/
guitarist/keyboardist Lakyn Bury, Bassist Jeff Gerrer and drummer David Hoffman are a tight group with great chemistry. The band has only been around since 2009, but they play well together. Each member is obviously competent in the way they approach their instrument. And it really shows. Held is a powerful singer who brings emotion and sincerity into his songs. And Bury is a wonderful counterpart when she either duets with Held or sings lead on "Monster". She a gifted singer as well as a guitarist in her own right. This band just gels together and brings out the very best in each other.

This is one of the great power pop albums that have come out in recent years. Front to back, it's got a little something for everyone who loves good music. I hope TGrace make their way to Chicago at some point in the near future so I can see them in action. Show some love and check out "Much More Than A Story" and hear for yourself what the buzz is all about.

4 ½ / 5 stars

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Music Reviews: Idleminds - "Brand New Day EP"

Idleminds are a great band from Waldorf, MD who play skate punk rock in the style of Pennywise, Bad Religion and a slew of other Cali punk bands. You can hear the influence on the bands latest release, the "Brand New Day EP." (out now on Human Remains Records). It's 4 songs and 10 and a half minutes of great music well worth checking out. And you can download it for FREE on Bandcamp. So what are you waiting for?

The EP kicks off with "Annihilation". It's a four chord monster of a tune. If late 90's/early 2000 punk is your deal, you'll dig this song. It's screams "About Time" era Pennywise with it's fierce guitar attack and harmonies. This really is another prime example of starting off an album on the right foot. All you bands who think you know how to do things, take notes. "Today" is a tune that could have been recorded in 1996, but it still sounds fresh and exciting. They just don't write em like this anymore people.

The songs are written and played with an intense passion. This band likes old school punk rock and it's evident all over this release. The album, production wise, is a little rough around the edges. But like I've said in the past, this is punk rock, not U2. You can't have power and passion with a top notch overpaid producer at the helm. But the band really work well with what they have available to them. And when you have great songs and competent players like this, that's all you really need. The music speaks volumes all by itself.

"Brand New Day" ends this release with a great opening bass riff that's so sorely missed in most punk rock tunes this generation. I'm a sucker for opening bass riffs. That's what I loved about bands like Rancid. They weren't afraid to pull out something like this and just run with it. Idleminds have the right idea and they bring it on this EP. It has the riffs, sing along harmonies and power that made punk rock exciting in the first place. Bring it back home boys. This is the boot up the ass we need right now.

4 / 5 stars.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Music Reviews: Seized Up - "Seized Up" EP

From the "I Should Have Heard This Before" files comes the self titled debut EP from Seized Up. I recently discovered this amazing Detroit band when they did a split with Chicago's own About The Mess. I was blown away at how great this band was, and they were kind enough to send me their debut that came out in 2011. Now, I wouldn't normally review an album over 6 months old. But THIS is an exception to the rules.

"It's Not Alright" kicks things off with lots of harmonies and a sing along chorus. It's a great way to start of this release. "Saturday Night" is an ode to insomnia and drinking. What a great combination to write about. When singer/guitarist Kyle Green sings "lost in the bottle again" you truly believe him. Vee's way of singing the lyrics bring the listener INTO the song. He's not just singing words...he's sitting you down and telling you his story. Pulling you in and making you feel what he's saying. Great tune!

The band, Green, singer/guitarist Jimmy Vee, singer/bassist PunchKnife Fruin and drummer Dan Stover are really tight and each member brings something special to the fold, never overshadowing the other members. It's just such  a win win. Between the major riffage, harmonies and lyrics I can't say enough good about this band. They have it all. I love Vee's voice and the bands playing is top notch. It's hard to believe this band is only 2 years old. But that's the mark of great competent players. They can come together and in a short time sound like they've been playing together for years. 

The EP closes with "Exactly What It Was" another slice of pop punk greatness and leaves this listener wanting more...MUCH more. But between this and the ATM split, I think that Seized Up have a bright future ahead of them. And I'll be waiting for the next release, and hope that it's a full length. But in the meantime I'll have this to hold me over. And if you're in the Chicagoland area I highly suggest you check out the band live when they play the Cobra Lounge tomorrow night (June 9) with About the Mess, The Wanton Looks and Bottle Kids as part of the Whoa! Records Summer Release Party. It's sure to be a great show!

½ / 5 stars

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Music Reviews: Direct Hit/Hold Tight split

Hardcore music, for me, can be either a hit or a miss. Sometimes it can be original in it's approach as far as lyrical content. Sometimes it can be repetitious and boring. Maybe it's a mood you have to be in in order to really appreciate it. And sometimes it can be the same old same old but still have something that pulls you in and makes you like it. The latter is definitely the case in the new split by Direct Hit and Hold Tight.

Direct Hit start this album off with angry G.G. Allin sounding vocals on "Oregon Entrails" a nice little song about mass murder. C'mon, who doesn't like a song about strangulation? Direct Hit make the soundtrack to a killing spree. From songs titles like "Decapitation" and "53 Bodies" it's hard no to think that if these guys didn't form a band they would be on a 12 state murder rampage. The lyrics are vicious and sick at times. But the music really fires you up and makes you wanna tear through the pit with elbows and knuckles flying freely. It's mood music for sure...but if that mood calls for killing your boss, save the dirty work for someone else and just pop in this album. You'll feel better once it's over.

Hold Tight on the other hand are more of a screamo style hardcore band vocally. The songs are super short blasts lasting only seconds. But they are effective blasts of energy and excitement. I like the singing better on the Hold Tight songs than Direct Hit's. But both bands are equally as intense. "Stay Alive" is my favorite track on this release. It reminds me of the first Suicidal album from '83. I can only think that these guys are fans of that album. "Stagger I" and "Stagger II" are to this album what both parts of "Damaged" were to Black Flag. Epic in it's approach and style, these are strong points on this release.

Like I said earlier, hardcore can be a hit or a miss. But this album, if you're in the mood for it, is a direct hit! Get your anger and frustration out with this album. It's better than getting arrested for assault...or worse. Chalk this one up as another win for I Hate Punk Rock Records. Well done!

4 / 5 stars.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Interview with John Pazdan and John Ivan from Off Broadway USA

Critical Mass: Thanks for taking the time to talk with Critical Mass guys. I know you have a lot going on so we'll get right to it. Off Broadway are celebrating 35 years of rocking the Midwest, and the world. Can you give us some insight as to how the band formed initially?

John Pazdan: Back in the summer of 1977 I was playing with guitarist Dan Santercola and drummer Paul McDermott in a band put together by saxophonist Tom Webb called “The TS Henry Webb Group”. After a short while the band dissolved, but Dan, Paul and I stuck together and added keyboardist Paul Darrow to play what we called “instrumental mayhem”.  We did a bunch of shows at a dive in Chicago called There Is No Name and started to really work out what the band would evidently become, and began to look for a singer that would fit. The girl I was dating, Deborah McManus, wanted to promote the band and suggested I talk to Cliff because D’Thumbs had just broken up and he was living near me in Oak Park.  He started coming to rehearsals and after a few sessions we asked him to join. Deborah is actually the one who came up with the name “Off Broadway”- we were sitting around one night talking about our “anti-rock star” formula for the band and trying to come up with a name that made sense, and she said “you know, it sounds like if you were in the theater, you'd be Off Broadway.” Then Paul Darrow came up with the idea of the five bare bulbs on a piece of cord (one over each member of the band) as our big “light show”, we decided on simple bowling shirts with our names on ‘em for stage wear and we were all set.

CM: In 1979 the bands debut album, the now legendary set "On" was released on Atlantic Records. And you guys got a ton of airplay here in Chicago with "Stay In Time". What was it like to actually hear your music on the radio for the first time?

JP: Anti-climatic. ;)

John Ivan: We were so busy working and touring it didn’t really register.  We were always first and foremost a live band, that’s where the power came from- the album was a very L.A. studio polished version of what we actually did, and in my opinion didn’t really capture the essence of the band.  When the songs were enjoying heavy radio saturation on the Loop and other stations here in the Midwest we were out traipsing around the country with everybody from The Babys to UFO and didn’t really have time to sit back and let it sink in.
CM: After the albums release you guys hit the road to promote the album. Are there any stories, good or bad, of being on the road for the first time that you wanna share?

JP:  The first time we played in New York City we were opening for UFO.  The people that came out to see UFO had zero interest in Off Broadway, and we were literally booed off the stage.  To top it off, the elevator at the venue was broken (or maybe the guys just shut it off because they hated us that much), and we had to climb three flights of stairs to get to our dressing rooms.  So we make this long haul up there after being rejected by the audience, and there’s this big sign that says ATLANTIC RECORDS WELCOMES OFF BROADWAY TO NEW YORK CITY…

CM: The bands second album "Quick Turns" was released in 1980 and it wasn't the big follow up you guys were expecting. It was, in my opinion, just as good as "On". But it just didn't hit at that time. And the band split up. John and John, what were you guys up to musically when the band split up? Did you guys play with anyone else or record any music?

JP: When I left the band, I lived between LA and Chicago for a few years. In LA I auditioned for Warner Brothers act Code Blue… didn't get that… also Arista act Elton Duck (great band, but I decided not to join).  On returning to Chicago in 1983, I co-founded The Insiders with Jeff Thomas, John Siegle and Gary Yerkins (Jeff and I left before they signed to Epic). After that I took a gig as house bassist at The Kingston Mines/Chicago where I played every Friday and Saturday for a year, backing up people like Hubert Sumlin, Val Wellington, Sugar Blue, etc, etc, ect. Next up was Chicago's first alt country group Big Guitars from Memphis with John Ivan- we toured Europe, the US, had a good run. After that I produced singer/songwriter Steve Laxton who was to be signed to Capitol by Bruce Lundvall, but the deal fell through. Then I played a gig with Chuck Berry, and after that I worked playing with MCA artist Suzanne Palmer for a bit. I then concentrated on writing and producing music for soundtracks, websites, documentaries, etc (which I still do). In 2006 I reformed Pezband with Demitrios Betninis and Mike Ruane, we recorded, went to the UK, but in the end it didn't work out.  In the fall of 2011 we re-started OBusa, and I am also now working with Delmark recording artist Dave Specter… so I guess I kinda did a few things?  Also add countless sessions, including working with David Sanborn and Fareed Haque to the resume and it’s been a pretty full few decades...

JI: I worked with a ton of artists including Josie Aiello (That Thing You Do, South Park) and John Hammond (Bruce Springstein, Streisand, etc.) and played on a lot of recordings, produced a few bands (Club of Rome) and then formed Big Guitars in 1988, which continues and will be celebrating it’s 25th anniversary next year.
CM: There was a third Off Broadway album that was recorded, I believe with Rick Nielsen producing, that was never released. But it has been bootlegged over the years. Will this album ever see the light of day?

JI:  Never was finished- the few songs floating around are demos.  We are actually re-working some of those tunes now for the 35th Anniversary concerts and possibly for release.  You’ll have to keep checking our Facebook page and website, and come out to the shows to find out exactly what we’re up to!

CM: In the 90's the band got back together with Cliff Johnson and Rob Harding as the sole original members from the "On" era, with Ken Harck playing occasionally. And the band played locally in places like Fitzgerald's in Berwyn. Then that version of the band called it a day a few years ago. Now Off Broadway is back with founding members John Ivan and John Pazdan back in their rightful places. How does the current version of the band compare to the original line-up?

JP:  Gee, let’s see- we’re on “Off Broadway USA Mach 9” at this point, right?  Comparing this line-up to the preceding 8 line-ups, I’d be confident in saying it’s as good as any and definitely better than more than a few of ‘em.

CM: I've heard Brian sing those old tunes, and it sounds like Cliff so much it's almost scary!

JP: Though he can easily cop the tone and flavor of the recordings, Brian has a much bigger and more diverse range as you’ll see in the coming months as we explore “new territory” both in the studio and on stage.

CM: The current line-up with Brian, Scott Licina and Sal Monaco is a pretty solid and tight outfit. The new guys really do the old tunes justice. Can we expect any new material in the near future?

JP:  Brian, Scott and Sal are phenomenal musicians and consummate professionals, and do more than just “do justice” to the old music.  Come out to a concert and see for yourself.

JI: Yes.  Like I said earlier, we’re going back to our roots and re-working some of the older unreleased material (ala the new Van Halen album), and also crafting some new tunes as well.
CM: Will the band be hitting the road in 2012, or will you guys be sticking around the Chicagoland area first?

JI: Midwest, first and foremost.  Again, watch our online presences for news and updates.

CM: Is there a website you guys wanna plug where we can get up to date news on possible new releases, shows and merch?

JP: You can “like” us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/stayintime, follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/offbroadwayusa and go to the official website at www.therealoffbroadwayusa.com for news, merch and F-U-N!

CM: Gentlemen, I can't thank you enough for talking with me and Critical Mass. I've been a fan for more years than I can remember. I hope to see you guys live real soon. All the best to you in 2012 and beyond! Thanks again guys.

John & John: Thank you!  Hope to see you all at a show soon!

And don't forget to see Off broadway USA when they play at Tailgaters in Bollingbrook on June 16th! You can get all the info HERE! Critical Mass will be there, and you should too!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Interview with Noko Ohno from All New Episode

Critical Mass: Thanks for taking the time  to talk with Critical Mass. For those new to All New Episode can you give us a little history on the band and how you guys got started?

Noko: No problem, it's our pleasure! The band was founded by myself and Sean who have worked together in multiple projects for years, but we're looking for a new set of members.  Fortunately Gary and John we're found relatively easily through facebook and mutual friends, the chemistry was a fit, the music sounded great...so the rest is history...well a year and a half of history! 

M: The bands debut EP "Huge Mistake" came out about a year ago, and is really good. Any plans for a new album or EP in 2012?

Noko: We are releasing a new single "Heart of Gold" soon so watch our facebook (www.facebook.com/allnewepisode) for more information on that, we are looking to shoot a video for it as well.  We are also planning to record another EP after the summer, most likely a Winter 2013 release.

: Musically I hear a lot of different influences. In your own words who are some of your musical influences? And how do you feel those influences come through in your songs?

Noko: With 4 members, we come from so many different musical backgrounds that I believe it's what creates our sound. To be brief, as a group we listen to :Punk, pop punk, ska, rock, reggae, metal, hard rock, rap, classical...I feel like the diversity of our own musical favorites really shapes our sound from "generic punk" into a more eclectic sound that fans of any genre can find an interest in.

M: When it comes to songwriting, is it a band effort? Or is there one major songwriter in the band?

Noko: The songs from the EP "Huge Mistake!" are primarily written by myself and Sean, however every member puts their own heart into each song we play. Our newest track "Heart of Gold" will be a great example of where the band is moving over 2012 and beyond.

I know the band hails for Bellmore, NY and has played around the Long Island area a lot. Are there any plans on taking the show on the road in the near future?

Noko: We do primarily play NY because we are such a new project, but we have a lot of plans to start playing the New England area and as much of the U.S. as we can. We are more than able and looking to tour, so we are definitely pushing for it. This summer, we also will be playing SixFlags in NJ! (so awesome!)

M: I can't help but think the bands sound is very reminiscent of bands the late 90's punk movement. Has any labels showed any interest in singing the band? Or at this time are your plans to stay indie?

Noko: Definitely!! I am a huge Epitaph/Hell Cat Records fan, I'm glad you pick that up from the music. I think we have put a modern twist on it though. We took that "melodic punk rock" style from the late 90's/early 2000's music but added elements they didn't use, like Tosh's metal style foot work on the drums. Also I think the vocal patterns pull the sound away from the label. We are currently looking to stay independent, but hey Epitaph you can definitely call me

M: The bands name is quite original. How did you come up with the name All New Episode?

Noko: Hahahahah! Great story actually. I was convinced that we needed to name our "new" band anything that started with an "A" because so many things are listed alphabetically and I figured that with an "A" as the start, we would always be on top...if not because of our music, it would be because of the name, lol. So between wanting an "A" and then the band being "New" we put our heads together, spit out a lot of horrible names, and then found "All New Episode! Definitely a keeper as soon as I spit it out! 

M: Is there a website you wanna plug where we can get up to date news on releases, gigs and merch?

Noko: Of course !!!


: Thanks again for talking with Critical Mass. I greatly appreciate it. All the best to you and I hope we can get you guys out to Chicago at some point for some shows. Thanks again. 

Noko: Thank you!!! We would love to come to Chicago if you know anyone that could help us out there (or if you can of course) please email us directly and allnewepisode@live.com or me personally at nokoANE@gmail.com, we appreciate your time !

Friday, June 1, 2012

Music Reviews: Jetty Boys / Boys Club split

About a month ago I reviewed the Jetty Boys split with Dan Vapid And The Cheats. And I said how I liked what the Jetty Boys were doing, but I wanted to hear a little less Green Day influence and more of THEM in the songs. Well, they're almost there.

The bands latest split with Boys Club has the Jetty's doing 2 tracks of super catchy pop punk. Mad riffs abound and sing along lyrics all over this release. Side A kicks into high gear with "No Good". It's straight up Ramones style punk rock. It's a short blast of fun that really makes me wanna hear more and more from this Sheyboygan, WI trio. I really like this song and hope they stay on this path of greatness. Next up is "12 Steps". It starts out really good with a catchy little riff in the vein of Screeching Weasel's "One Step Beyond", except faster. But then the first verse sounds like GD again. But not to fear, it's only the first verse. Then it morphs into it's own again. The Jetty Boys are quickly starting to grow on me. The more I hear, the more I'm really starting to like this band. I think they have a lot of potential. Keep the good tunes coming gentlemen.

Now onto side B. Up til this point I thought the Boys Club was a place for kids to hang out and stay pout of trouble. It should have stayed that way. Boys Club first song, "Half Hallowed Heart", sounds like a acoustic version of Blink 182 if they wrote sappy songs about breaking up. It a real snoozer for me. Sorry guys. I just can't handle this style of mellow punk. Next up is a cover of the Warren Zevon classic "Excitable Boy". It's not a bad cover. It has the deadpan vocal approach that made Zevon's tune about rape and mayhem such a gem back in the 70's. If all Boys Club songs are as good as this one, I'll consider HHH a fluke and be done with it. But I haven't heard enough from this band yet.

For the 4 songs on this split I would say it's a 3/4 win. Take off the snoozer and this wouldn't too bad. Jetty Boys, you're impressing me! That's not an easy feat. Boys Club, take some pointers from the Jetty's and lets see what you guys got! I'll be waiting to hear your next release.

½ / 5 stars