HIM: And Love Said No vs XX – Two Decades of Love Metal

Release Year: 2004

Rating: 8/10

When HIM announced their return to music in 2012, they celebrated 20 years together by releasing an all new greatest hits compilation. The thing is they also released one back in 2004. Is one better than the other? Well, it really depends on what you’re looking for. And Love Said No: 1997-2004 has all their singles up until that point and even includes the new track “And Love Said No.” The latter release is more complete containing “all” of their singles from 1997-2010, meaning fans can find the best songs from later albums like Dark Light and Venus Doom. This one also features a new song, the lackluster and pretty dull “Strange World.”

Release Year: 2012

Rating: 8/10

Yes, the latter release is supposed to be more complete and in some ways it is, but it’s missing three songs previously found on the 2004 LP: the title track, “Close to the Flame,” and “Solitary Man” all of which were released as singles. You would think that if the goal was to have all of their singles on one release then these wouldn’t be missing. Aside from this and the addition of their later material, the albums are almost the same. All the popular songs from Love Metal and their previous albums are included on both, though XX only has the radio edits, which is a little annoying. An improvement to the latter release is the inclusion of the original versions of “Your Sweet 666” and “Wicked Game,” which are better than the re-recorded versions that were on the 2004 compilation.

So is one really better than the other? Personally, I don’t think so. They both have their strong and weak points. Of course if you’re a new HIM fan it’s best to begin with the newer compilation since it has most of their singles, but collectors will want to own both anyway. Since they’ve released yet another album, I’m sure this won’t be the last hit collection from HIM. Let’s just hope the next one is truly complete.

 

Rank the Videos: The Cure 1979-1985 (REDUX)

A while back I started ranking all of The Cure videos by year. I managed to finish half of their videos before life stepped in and prevented me from finishing it up. Now, I have the pleasure of seeing The Cure live and I’m so excited I started watching all their videos again. This gave me time to reflect on my original ranking and thoughts on these videos when I watched them the first time. Some of my feelings remained the same while my opinion changed on others. As a countdown to The Cure’s June shows, here’s an updated ranking of their videos from 1978 – 1985.

“Close to Me” (1985)

This is one of the finest Cure collaborations with Tim Pope yet and definitely not one for those who suffer from claustrophobia. The clip finds the band trapped in a wardrobe that falls off a cliff and lands in the ocean. The scenario is both funny and terrifying as the wardrobe begins to fill with water. My favorite part is when they use everyday items like a comb and a toy keyboard as make shift instruments. Also, the little dolls Robert Smith dances around with are pretty cool too. The video was so good when they re-released this single in the early 90’s, they did a continuation of it. It’s just such a unique concept for a video, especially during an era filled with arrogance and excess. It’s one of their most imaginative and unique videos to date.

“Inbetween Days” (1985)

This is one of those Cure videos that starts out pretty quirky and silly with cool camera angles and colorful neon socks flying around the screen. But as is standard with the band, it quickly grows creepy when the members sport neon colors on their face that makes it look like they’re a the glow-in-the-dark edition of the band. Smith looks giddy as he skips across the screen and swings the camera back and forth. The bright colors, weird make-up, and of course the socks is what makes this video stand out and gives it iconic status. It’s another whimsical and odd video from long time Cure collaborator Tim Pope.

“The Lovecats” (1983)

This is a silly video to go along with a silly song. This jazzy ode to cats features what else but cats (both live and stuffed). Smith and crew pull off their best cat impressions by sneaking around the set, clawing at the air, and laying around being lazy. The best part is when Smith is sitting on the staircase with a kitten when it twitches and nicks him on the finger. Also, you gotta love his awkward dance when he’s surrounded by a bunch of groovy kitty cats. It’s one of their weirder videos, but also a lot of fun. You can’t help but imitate Smith’s gestures while the clip is playing. Whether or not he was high while filming this we can’t tell, but the answer is most likely yes.

“The Walk” (1983)

This is another weird video from the band. What’s happening here? Who knows. This video is like dreams and nightmares smashed into three minutes. It has magic tricks, scary ass Japanese baby dolls flying through the air, Robert Smith sitting in a wading pool with what appears to be clown make up on, glitter showers, and an old woman signing a portion of the song. You know what, forget about the dream part, this is just a nightmare. Sorry, for the poor video quality.

“Let’s Go to Bed” (1982)

This video marks the beginning of The Cure’s relationship with video director Tim Pope. Like many of the later videos they would make with him, this one is odd, whimsical, and a bit funny. It features Smith and Lol Tolhurst romping around a make shift bedroom that has a broken bunk bed, a Christmas tree, eggs, and. blue apples, which Smith proceeds to break and eat. It also features Lol having what appears to be a seizure passed off as dancing. But Smith has time to break out his own robotic dance moves making him all the more charming. It doesn’t make any damn sense, but it sure is entertaining because it’s so weird and playful. It’s a nice change from the bleak, bland videos that marked the beginning of their career.

“The Caterpillar” (1984)

Really, there isn’t much going on in this video: it features two new members of the band who didn’t return after The Top was released, a dancing Chinese dragon at the beginning, a flickering effect that makes The Cure change their color of clothing, and Robert Smith trying his damnedest to avoid the camera. Seriously, he doesn’t look at the camera even once. I didn’t notice this the first time I saw it. Believe it or not Beavis and Butthead had to point it out to me. I’m surprised I actually learned something from that show. The clip also marks the return of guitarist Porl Thompson, who left the band in 1979. Otherwise, it’s just The Cure hanging out in The Great Conservatory of London with a couple of caterpillars to keep them company.

“The Hanging Garden” (1982)

Before this, Cure videos were boring and only featured a dull band badly miming their instruments, but for this song they decided to actually give a shit. The clip is interesting to say the least. The band performs in a park surrounded by odd statues that keep changing into animals. There’s even a point where Lol wears the skin of the tiger over himself for…reasons. The best part are the horrendous 80’s effects, especially when the stone armadillo “walks” across the screen. But again the band manages to make the video weird when they put on creepy red and white masks. It’s a odd clip that doesn’t make any sense, but it’s still an interesting video. Also, this is the start of Smith’s iconic hairstyle, so at least there’s that.

“10:15 Saturday Night” (1979)

This is The Cure’s first video, so it’s forgivable that it’s not very good. The video does show a fresh looking band just getting started. It’s basically just a performance and features no story whatsoever. Cure fans will appreciate the footage, especially since it features original Cure bassist Michael Dempsey. Plus, you gotta love how Smith is rocking the bowl cut.

“A Forest” (1980)

What saves this video from getting the bottom ranking, is the fact that there are images of what else but a forest in vivid colors in between shots of a bored looking Cure. Smith’s face never changes once during the entire clip. He mimes the song with this dead look in his eyes like he doesn’t want to be there. It also may come as a shock for newer Cure fans to see Smith without his iconic look. Rather than having his infamous back combed hair, he has a short haircut and no make up on. He’s almost unrecognizable. It’s not their greatest video, but the dark mood of the song paired with images of the forest gives this clip an air of mystery and eeriness that’s often found in the band’s songs.

“Other Voices” (1981)

This is another video where not much happens, but at it least finds the band trying their best. It’s also the first time Robert Smith dons his infamous make up look. It has this weird cloudy effect that looks like the entire crew were smoking a bunch of cigarettes five minutes before starting. The effect is really stupid since the video opens with the camera slowly zooming in on the band, yet it looks like its focusing on nothing. You can tell they were going for something creepy, but instead it looks like a fog rolled in. The song may be great the video is too disorienting.

“Charlotte Sometimes” (1981)

This has got to be the cheesiest Cure video ever. The “story” is awful, the shots are lame, and the effects are corny. After watching this it’s clear why most of their videos don’t have a plot. The protagonist runs around an abandoned boarding school having weird visions while members of the band lurk in the shadows. It’s just awful. When you see Smith hunched in the corner hoping no one sees him, you can’t help but laugh. Even Robert Smith hates the video saying when he first saw it he didn’t know whether “to laugh or cry.” It’s so bad it’s painful to watch. It’s just an example of a band trying way too hard to be dark and mysterious. Anyone whose a fan of The Cure’s early work knows they didn’t have to try that hard.

“Primary” (1981)

Again, this is a video where nothing happens. The band plays their instruments and sings the song. The only thing that makes it slightly entertaining are a few shots of little girls rummaging through a costume chest. Don’t ask me why they’re there because I don’t know, but it at least gives you something else besides Robert Smith and the crew to look at. And finally we start to see Smith play around with his image as he’s wearing makeup in this clip. Otherwise, the video is really bland.

“Play for Today” (1980)

This has got to be the lamest Cure video ever. Nothing happens. Smith isn’t even wearing make up, so you can’t even look at that. The band doesn’t look like they’re having fun while they’re playing. They make it look like being in band and making music videos are the worst things on the planet. What’s really annoying is how bassist Simon Gallup awkwardly stands near the amp and looks miserable while playing bass. And keyboardist Matthieu Hartley looks like a random guy wandered on set and doesn’t realize he’s in the shot. This is the type of video that someone would upload on Youtube hoping to make it big, only to end up being the butt of the jokes. Thank God Cure videos have progressed since then.

Where did your favorite Cure video end up? How would you rank these? Let me know in the comments! Stay tuned for part two coming next month.

Material – Blaqk Audio

Release Year: 2016

Rating: 8.5/10

Blaqk Audio is the synth and electronic based side project of AFI’s Davey Havok and Jade Puget. Moving away from punk rock, the duo explore lush beats, swirling rhythms, and hard hitting synth. They’re not doing anything completely unique with the genre, but they work with it well. Their debut album, Cexcells, was solid, but their follow up Bright Black Heaven seemed more or less the same. How does their long awaited third release hold up?

With this album Blaqk Audio doesn’t take any risks and sticks with their well worn formula of electronic and sythpop infused songs. This doesn’t necessarily make the album bad, but there’s very little about it that catches your attention the first time you listen to it. That’s because so much of the record sounds familiar or too similar to their past efforts. The dark nature of “Black at the Center” and the way Havok wails “I’m helpless/am I’m freezing” brings up similarities to “Ill-Lit Ships.” The rapid and catchy “First to Love” seems to continue the 80s, New Order vibe found on many of their other songs. And “I’m a Mess” uses the synth/piano format they seem to admire.

Despite this, there are some stand out tracks on the album. One of the best is “Curious Friends,” which starts with cold, futuristic music out of an 8-bit game. Havok sings in a robotic manner giving this feeling of isolation. The song amps up during the ear worm hook of “Does he tell that he loves you/like you do” and turns into more of a dance song. Everything about it is so satisfying it grabs your attention right away. The opening track “Waiting to Be Told” is another highlight. It continues the dark mood of the record with harsh, throbbing electronic beats opening the song. It’s one of the most intense on the album.

To Be Alone” has this great slow build up where the beat pluses and throbs while Havok softly sings. The track comes alive as things get more intense with eerie ambient noises sounding like other worldly moaning. Again, like other songs here it does sound like one of their previous tracks, but it still grabs your attention. “Material” is more of a forgettable song. The music and style is actually reminiscent of New Order’s “Blue Monday” and it’s not the first time their influence pops up on the record. It’s not a bad song, it’ll still get you moving. It’s just buried underneath the stronger tracks.

For some reason Blaqk Audio like having one super upbeat, poppy dance song on their albums and unfortunately, here is no different. Don’t be fooled by the name, “Graphic Violence” is the complete opposite of its brutal sounding title. The whole thing is really bright and sickeningly sugary sweet. It sounds like something that would play on a teen show on Nickelodeon. You picture pink splashes and lots of hearts when you hear it. It is slightly catchy, so it has potential to grow on you, but it sticks out on the album and doesn’t warrant itself for repeated listens.

The album hits a low point towards the end with generic sounding tracks “You Will Hate Me” and “Ceremonial.” On both songs, the mood shifts to upbeat dance music better suited for a Rihanna song. Rather than being stark, dark, and heavy hitting, the music is everything you currently hear on pop radio. Though they can be catchy at times, both of the songs are pretty bland and are filler more than anything. Luckily, the closing track “Anointed” ends the album on a high note. Though it doesn’t stray too far from what we’ve already heard on the album, it does add dirty guitars giving it more of a rock edge than the other tracks. There’s also an air of mystery and sensuality that makes it appealing. It manages to be another stand out track on the record.

With Blaqk Audio Puget and Havok show how versatile they are with music. They easily move out of their comfort zone to play around with something new. The problem is this album, just like their last one, sounds so similar to what they’ve already done. They even address the same themes of love, sex, and loneliness. You don’t expect them to do something so drastic it doesn’t even sound like them. Rather, you’d hope they’d find someway to make the album stand out from their others. Material is still another solid entry in their catalog with more irresistible songs. But since it’s so similar to their other stuff, it may take a few listens for the album to take. Still, it’s great to hear from Blaqk Audio again.

Alas Salvation – Yak

Release Year: 2016

Rating: 9/10

The UK always seems to be on the cusp of what’s hot in music and they’ve done it again with blazing new rock band Yak. The band, consisting of Oli Burslem, Andy Jones, and Elliot Rawson, have fans and critics salivating with their chaotic, unchained sound. And why is that? Yak is chaos incarnate. They grabbed listeners by the throat with the No EP and now they’re tightening their grip with their debut album Alas Salvation, a schizophrenic record full of unbridled noise and auditory destruction.

From the roaring opening track “Victorious (National Anthem)” it’s clear Yak likes life on the wild side. Listeners are greeted with grueling guitars that growl and scream, while Burslem sounds sloppy as he lazily chants “victorious” during the hook. Everything about the track is raw like a garage band jamming out on a Friday night. “Hungry Heart” keeps the blood pumping with a tidal wave of rocking guitars coming straight for listeners. With the chugging chorus, drunken vocals, and hypnotizing wails it’s sure to be a song that’ll unleash chaos in the mosh pit. Things take a psychedelic turn on the gritty “Use Somebody” where things get chaotic and energetic as the song rushes towards its end. Burslem plays with his vocals, which he does on several songs, to add a distinctive flair. It’s another tear-the-house-down track.

After the creepy, ghostly “interlude i” there’s a sonic shift on the album. Whereas the first three tracks had Yak pegged as a punk rock group, the next track shrugs off the label. “Roll Another” has eerie vocals from Burslem along with a sparse acoustic guitar sounding like a haunting folk tune. Lyrics like “Hold me tight/my body is broken” pushes the song in a darker direction. But things don’t stay soft and mellow for too long as more ethereal sounds and noise slowly sneaks into the track. By the end it’s just all these different sounds clashing with one another making a beautiful destruction.

What makes Yak so exciting is how they don’t hold back on any tracks. Even when they seem like they’re going in a mellow direction, like on “Take It” they’ll end in a mess of noise suggesting they can’t stay quiet for long. They also make it hard for listeners to predict what’s coming next. Will it be a swaying anthem slightly influenced by doo wop music? (“Doo Wah”) Will it be a short, yet satisfying Nirvana-like punk anthem? (“Alas Salvation”) Or will it be a raucous psychedelic ride that gets you moving where ever you are? (“Harbour the Feeling”).

For the last couple songs their sound changes again. They still have wild elements of psychedelic and rock, but they also play around with Western sounds. “Smile” is a desperado track out of a Spaghetti Western. Burslem sounds devious as he sings “I just want you to smile” while the guitars reverberate completing the desolate mood. It has a “House of Rising Sun” feel, but is not a rip off. The lengthy closing track “Please Don’t Wait For Me” switches between bouncy music and aggressive guitars. After the first verse, the music changes for a 60’s flowerchild vibe. Eventually, it sounds more like a folk Bob Dylan song, especially since it drones on for seven minutes pushing listener’s patience.

Whatever hype you’ve heard surrounding Yak is true, at least with this release. The album is a wild party that keeps listeners moshing even if no one else is around. The band remains unpredictable as they mix in elements of punk, psychedelic rock, folk, and grunge for an all out chaotic sound. You can hear how the band puts all their energy and passion in each track making you want to experience them live. If they’re recorded songs sound like they could tear a house down, just imagine what the band on stage can do. Alas Salvation could be one of the most exciting rock releases of the year simply because it doesn’t play it safe.

Originally Posted on Chicago Music

You’ll Pay for This – Bear Hands

Release Year: 2016

Rating: 8.5/10

I first heard of Bear Hands when I saw them open for Cage the Elephant in 2014. I really dug their revolving musical styles and upbeat songs, so I quickly became a fan. I was pumped to hear about their upcoming album, looking for more infectious synth and unique tunes. And I was not disappointed.

The band has a knack for mixing synth with indie rock and it’s no different on this album. It opens with the 80s tinged “I Won’t Pay,” which starts out soft and mellow with falsetto vocals by Dylan Rau until it amps up for a bigger sound. When the guitar takes over during the bridge, it gives the song a rock edge. It’s catchy, which is a running theme for most of the album. Next comes their current single “2AM.” Though it describes partying until the early morning, the music is surprisingly chill. The mood is very soft and kind of atmospheric as it explores trying to stay out even though you’re too old. Lyrics like “All I want is/to forget how old I am” and “I put my best dress on/crawl back in bed” brings up images of being stuck at a party feeling miserable. It’s not the most grabbing song on the record, but it grows on you after repeated listens.

The band continues exploring getting older on “Too Young,” which sounds like a lounge song from the 70s at times. It’s not the strongest song on the album, but it’s not horrible. It manages to be interesting with it’s subject of being too immature for a relationship. The song does boast the memorable line “Youth is overrated,” which goes against the grain of common thought. Things are tuned down for the dreamy “The Shallows.” It begins with soothing sounds of rain and continues the calming theme with falsetto vocals and light surf rock guitars. It’s not necessarily a high point on the album, but the relaxing nature of it allows listeners to catch their breath.

Similar to their previous release, most of the songs on the album are fun, memorable, and made to get you dancing. “Like me Like That” has a simple hook and is another song taken straight from the 80s and “Chin Ups” is a synth pop, energetic ride with a hint of rock. Bear Hands let’s their old school influences run wild on the catchy “I See You.” With even more raucous synth and spacey sound effects, it sounds like it was taken straight from their favorite era. It sticks with their established style, but it’s another upbeat hit for the band.

The mellow, tropical opening of “Boss” seems unfitting at first, but once the hook kicks in the song comes alive. The guitar has a Southern rock flavor giving the song a boost. The track gets stuck in your head from the memorable hook of “I’m the bitch and you’re the boss.” The 80s feel returns on the bouncy and infectious “Deja Vu.” As soon as the bright synth riff kicks in, it makes you feel good. This is mixed with Rau’s rapid rap-like flow to make an irresistible track. The mood gets even better when brassy horns come in towards the end and amps up the feel good mood.

The most forgettable track is the closer “Purpose Filled Life.” Even though it’s dreamy, atmospheric, and has heart behind it, it’s buried under the stronger songs. The music is innocent, sounding like something from a simple Casio keyboard. The song itself seems to deal with making sure your life has meaning to it, which is a universal feeling. It’s kind of a depressing way to end a thrilling album.

What makes Bear Hands’ music so appealing is how exciting, different, and fun it is. Fans will be happy to know there’s more of the same on this album. It doesn’t really stray away from their beloved electric, synthpop, rock vibe, but it cranks up everything they did on their last effort and makes it better. The theme of the album is at least different and will be relatable to fans in their late 20s and older. It seems the longer Bear Hands around, their output gets stronger.