Time For a Change

Hey guys. It’s been a while since I’ve actually stopped and talk to you and thank everyone for stopping by. Whether you’re a follower or just checked out one of my reviews, thanks for visiting the blog. I wouldn’t keep doing this without you.

But the reason for this post is to announce a change in upload schedule. Over the past year or so, I’ve been doing my best to keep a consistent schedule of two posts per week. But as I’ve gotten more writing work and taken up a part time job, it’s been harder to keep the schedule going. Lately, it’s hard to find the time to sit down, listen to music, and analyze it the way I want to. I don’t want to just listen to anything just for the sake of content. I always want to make sure whatever I’m covering is what I’m genuinely interested in at the time.

I thought about it for a long time and I didn’t want to do it, but I decided it’s best to change when I upload reviews. Instead of uploading two pieces per week, I’ll be uploading one roughly every two weeks. It sucks, but I think this will work better with my more hectic schedule. I want to make sure the blog stays fun for everyone. I don’t want it to turn into a chore, which is where it’s been heading over the past few months. When I started the blog, I had the ability to dedicate all my time to it. Now I realize I don’t anymore, but I don’t want to stop blogging. Hopefully, this change will allow me to work on more awesome content for the blog without stressing out so much about.

Thanks for being understanding and thanks for following the site. Here’s to more great content in the future!

Venus Doom – HIM

 

Release Year: 2007

Rating: 6/10

Everyone has that one album they tried to like – this is that album for me. I gave this record so many chances thinking it might have been me; maybe I was too quick to dismiss it. Maybe it’s one of those albums that gets better with age. I could be completely wrong about the LP, like I was about Scream, Aim, Fire. But after revisiting it once again, my feelings have not change. I still think this is the band’s worst album despite their good intentions.

The album seems to start off on a good note with opening tracks “Venus Doom” and “Love in Cold Blood.” Hearing the heavy crunchy guitars, energetic beat, and familiar themes of love and death, I thought maybe I was wrong about the LP. But then the big issue kicked in with both tracks: changing gears midway through. On “Venus Doom” after the standard guitar solo, the music slows down to a light lullaby while Ville Valo puts on his deep throat vocals to sound menacing. The whole thing just doesn’t work and feels corny. On the latter track, right when it should end the band picks up the pace and rock out, which doesn’t add anything to the song aside from making it longer. Unfortunately, this issue pops up constantly throughout the album.

So many of the songs like “Passion’s Killing Floor” and even the strong “The Kiss of Dawn” suffer from musical changes. For some reason, the band decides to shift gears and switch up their playing. The problem is it rarely does this smoothly. It often comes off as abrupt making the song as a whole disjointed. “The Kiss of Dawn” is actually one of the better songs from the album, but unless you’re listening to the radio edit, a light muted melody is tacked on at the end. It doesn’t fit in with the song and just makes it longer than it needs to be. It’s such a disappointment because you’ll be rocking out to the song and suddenly it’s like another track is playing when it’s still the same one. It ruins the flow of the music and makes the song dull.

Then there’s “Sleepwalking Past Hope,” which is ten unbearable minutes of slow, soft music, lilting vocals, and lots of melancholy. Like so many of the other tracks, it starts off well with a somber, haunting piano riff that lures you in. But before you can get into the song distorted guitars replace this music making you wonder why it even started with the somber riff at all? It continues with the heavy guitars for about five minutes before it switches tempo and slows down again. After that, a wild solo pops up out of nowhere trying to wake you up and make you remember you’re listening to the song. The entire thing is so entirely drawn out. Did it need to be ten minutes? No fucking way. There is no justifiable reason why the song needed to be so long. All it does it does is bore you before the thing ends. Some bands know how to make lengthy songs that are exciting; HIM is not one of those bands. This album also has their shortest song “Song or Suicide,” which is so short it just feels pointless.

There are a few times when the band gets it right, like on the catchy “Bleed Well.” This is standard HIM all the way: heavy guitars, light melody, and images of love and death. It’s just so satisfying to hear, especially after all the other poor tracks. There’s a memorable guitar riff that opens the song, followed by Valo coyly singing “You had demons to kill,” which will melt you if you used to (or still) crush on him. Another good track is “Dead Lover’s Lane,” which sounds like a leftover from their previous effort Dark Light. It’s another one that sounds like classic HIM and even has a shift in sound during the bridge, but this time, it’s actually good. It flows really well instead of sounding like two different songs.

I really tried to like this album, but no matter how many times I listen to it my feelings are the same. Even if the band didn’t suddenly change tempo in the middle of the songs, it would still be a weak album. Most of the songs are okay at best, otherwise, they’re a little too familiar. And anyone who’s been following the band before this will most likely miss the keyboards, which they swapped out for more guitars. Sure, maybe it is their heaviest album in terms of some of the music, but it doesn’t keep listeners from losing interest. It also has some of their cheesiest lyrics that sounds like they’re taken from a bad goth poem. It’s time to face the truth; I just don’t like this album.

Paradise – Con Brio

 

Release Year: 2016

Rating: 8.5/10

I learned about this funky band when I went to Lollapalooza this year and caught their set. I’ve been singing their praises ever since. Based out of California, Con Brio, which means “with spirit” in Spanish, is a funk/R&B/soul band that are all about loving life and having a good time. They channel this feeling into their funky debut album Paradise. From start to finish the album keeps you going and leaves you with a big smile on your face. After hearing the record, you’ll be convinced Con Brio is the next great band in music.

The album is a funky jam from start to finish. Each song is filled with brassy horns, groovy bass, and hot guitar licks. “Paradise” kicks things off on a slow note. The guitar riff rips into the track inviting listeners on this musical journey. The horns come in one by one to beef up the sound completing the bluesy vibe. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any hotter, Ziek McCarter’s passionate vocals hit you. After one verse you’re ready to fly with him to what he calls paradise. From there, everything is a party. “Liftoff” is the epitome of funky. As soon as the opening note plays, it gets you grooving. It’s so upbeat and energetic, you’re ready to party like it’s a Friday night. And you can’t help but smile as McCarter here sings “Because nothing here can hold our spirits down.”

Even though most of the songs are funky, “You Think This is a Game?” is a bit different. It still has that funky groove and bluesy mood, but McCarter has a spoken word style. The way he raps over the music makes it seem like he’s at a slam poetry contest. It’s a bit jarring, especially when all the music clashes at the end, but it’s an interesting sonic experiment. Aside from getting down and grooving to the beat, Con Brio’s music is uplifting. Many of their songs spout positive messages about loving yourself and loving each other, something that’s easy to forget during these times.

Free & Brave” offers a comment on society and the Black Lives Matter movement. The opening verse references the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Martin Luther King, making you think it’s going to be a negative outlook on the world. Instead, Con Brio uses the song to say people have to keep going despite these tragic events. The message of the entire song is though the world gets shitty, we’re still free and in control of our destiny. We still have to believe that things will get better. The band gets harder and heavier on “Hard Times.” This fusion of rock and funk has a message of sticking together and reaching out to one another to get through hard times. It’s a great reminder that we still need each other even when everything looks bleak. It’s a reminder that we don’t have to go through this alone.

Another song with an optimistic message and my personal favorite is “Money.” Not only is it upbeat, funky, and made for dancing, it’s about not letting money rule you. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in work and focusing on making money to live. With this song McCarter reminds us it’s not all about work; we need play time too. He also sings “When you’re stretched out, all stressed out/Knowin somethin ain’t right, and you’re left out/Can’t let that 9-5, put a seatbelt on my mind.” It’s a great message to those who aren’t satisfied with working any old job and want to follow their dreams for the career they really want. Money is necessary, but we don’t have to let it take us over as Con Brio reminds us.

When they’re not grooving or spouting good life messages, Con Brio are romancing listeners with their sexy slow jams. “My Love” is a soulful gem made for romantic nights. Though it’s a little too slow for my tastes, it’s a good song and doesn’t hold back on the funky music. The same goes for the mid-tempo “No Limits,” which is slinky and slick. Both songs do a great job showing off McCarter’s vocals. There’s no doubt he’ll bring up comparisons to Michael Jackson, but his voice is still powerful enough to give you chills. And when he busts out the falsetto, it’s enough to make you swoon. He has one of those voices where when he’s feeling a song, he goes all the way making you screaming “Sing it, baby!” “Honey” is another soft, mid-tempo jam where McCarter spreads the love. The acoustic guitar and McCarter’s gentles vocals make the song relaxing and soothing. Some lyrics like “You can be such a busy bee, but save a little honey for me/I can be such a busy bee, but I’ll save my honey for thee/We can both be the busy bee and save a lil honey while we,” are kind of cheesy, but they’re forgivable. It’s still a sweet, sentimental track.

If you need an album to kick up your feet and unwind to, then this is it. Every one of Con Brio’s songs are filled with positive messages about loving life, yourself, and not letting the small stuff get you down. The entire album is full of optimistic messages, which we all need every now and then. The music is fun, upbeat, and will keep you dancing. Something about their music is so infectious even if you’re not the biggest fan of funk and soul. With their passionate playing and Ziek McCarter’s seductive, soaring vocals the band stand out as one of a kind. Put on Paradise when you need a pick me up or just want to dance. Let the music wash over you and let Con Brio’s songs take you to your own version of paradise.

Playlist: Rock Duets

Sometimes a duet is the best thing in the world. Other times, it’s a disaster. But it always leaves memorable stories. There’s something about two huge musicians getting together to create music that’s thrilling and exciting. Pop music is full of countless duets, but they don’t seem as popular for rock music. They certainly exist; they’re just not as abundant as they are in pop music. So let’s look at some of the most notable and popular duets in rock music. For the purpose of this playlist, a duet is a song where both artists have an equal amount of time on the track.

“Close My Eyes Forever” – Lita Ford and Ozzy Osbourne

This is probably the most famous rock duet. The song, which apparently came about as an accident according to Sharon Osbourne, was the third single for Lita Ford’s self-titled debut album. With sappy lyrics and a blazing guitar solo, it’s no different from the many power ballads of the era. Ozzy’s haunting vocals do add an eerie touch to the song, but it’s still pretty cheesy. Though I love Osbourne, I never liked this song. It’s too slow for my tastes and is just corny. Then again, I’d be hard press to find one power ballad from the 80s I actually like. Still, this single stands out as one of the most notable duets in rock music.

“Love Interruption” – Jack White and Ruby Amanfu

The music world went a little nuts when Jack White announced a solo album only a year after the White Stripes ended. The debut single “Love Interruption” wasn’t what people expected. There were no roaring riffs and White screaming over screeching guitars. Instead, the song is mellow, subdued, and a bit cynical. Though White could’ve easily carried the song himself, the addition of Amanfu’s smoky vocals adds an understated sensuality to the song. Something about her voice adds a raspy, soulful nature that would’ve been missing otherwise. I actually think it’s one of the strongest tracks from Blunderbuss and serves as a reminder love isn’t always pretty.

“Dancing in the Street” – Mick Jagger and David Bowie

Two of music’s iconic artists, what could go wrong? To be fair, the cover itself isn’t that bad. There’s nothing particularly special about it, but it’s fun at least. Yet, the music video will go down in infamy. It’s unbelievably bad. Jagger exaggerates everything from his facial expressions to his seizure inducing dance moves. Bowie remains cool though it looked like he left the house in some wild pajamas. And don’t forget the scene where Jagger chugs down a soda while Bowie sings. It’s probably one of the worst videos of the 80s. Hell, even Family Guy said it was the gayest music video in history. Thinking about it, there are moments where the two singers get a little too close for comfort.

“State of Shock” – Michael Jackson and Mick Jagger

Mick Jagger shows up again for a better collaboration with Michael Jackson. Recorded for The Jackson’s album Victory, the song is a raucous and kind of spastic team up with the rocker. The song was originally meant to be a duet with Freddie Mercury for the Thriller album, but scheduling conflicts kept the two from working together. Jagger was called instead and it ended up being his biggest hit away from The Rolling Stones. It’s one of those unexpected hits from Jackson’s catalog, but it’s one of the finest examples of pop and rock colliding. Later on, Jackson said he Jagger sang off key, while Jagger called Jackson “lightweight.” Anyone else think the Freddie Mercury version would’ve been epic?

“Good Times” – INXS and Jimmy Barnes

When two talented vocalists come together, they often try to outshine each other. That’s not the case here. For their contribution to The Lost Boys soundtrack, INXS teamed up with singer/songwriter Jimmy Barnes on this cover of The Easybeats song. Michael Hutchences’ smoldering vocals pair exceptionally well with Barnes’ bluesy, rock-tinged voice. They actually work together to give listeners a thrilling experience. The two sharing vocal duties along with the high energy music supporting them, it’s everything you want a good rock rolling song to be. It has a similar good time vibe as Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll.” Listening to Barnes’ vocals, you have to admit it’s reminiscent of rockers, like Robert Plant.

“Hunger Strike” – Temple of the Dog

Temple of the Dog started as a way for Chris Cornell and members of Pearl Jam to deal with the death of Mother Love Bone frontman Andrew Wood. Their debut album did exceptionally well with this song being their biggest hit single. The track features Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder on vocal duties. When two of grunge’s most notable and talented vocalists get together for a song, you know it’s going to be good. And that’s exactly what you get with this powerful, emotionally driven tune. Both artists get time to share their unique vocal styles, Vedder being gruff and raspy and Cornell’s higher range. It results in a song that’s beautiful and haunting.

“Stand by Your Man” – Wendy O. Williams and Lemmy Kilmister

Ever wonder what it would sound like if two punks ripped apart the Tammy Wynette classic “Stand By your Man?” That’s what Wendy O. Williams and Lemmy Kilmister for a single in 1982. The song is almost unrecognizable with gritty, blazing guitars making a ruckus while the two scream out the lyrics over the noise. Oddly enough, it works. It’s one of those weird covers you would never expect two rock legends to even consider. They breathe new sinister life into the country classic that makes you want to head bang. O. Williams and Kilmister teamed up again for “Jailbait,” which appeared on the Plasmatics album Kommander of Kaos. Listening to these two, it’s clear they were truly one of a kind.

“I Ain’t No Nice Guy” – Motorhead and Ozzy Osbourne

When two of hard rock’s most iconic and legendary figures team up, you expect something epic beyond belief. That’s not the result of this duet featuring Lemmy Kilmister and the Prince of Darkness. Rather than getting together for a kickass track that would melt your face off, the two sing a ballad instead. It’s a slow, somber song made for radio airplay. It actually became a huge hit for Motorhead’s tenth album March or Die. It’s a decent song and features a slow burning solo from guitar hero Slash, but it won’t hit that sweet spot for most metalheads. It’s just so unexpected for the rockers. What’s even more surprising is seeing Ozzy with a five o’clock shadow in the video. Yikes.

“A Tout Le Monde” – Megadeth and Christina Scabbia

This song originally appeared on Megadeth’s sixth album Youthanasia and quickly became a staple for the band. At the time of its release, it garnered controversy for its music video. MTV banned it claiming it promoted suicide, which Dave Mustaine was quick to dismiss. The band re-recorded the song in 2007 for the album United Abominations with Christina Scabbia of Lacuna Coil. Aside from some slight alterations, like a faster pace, there;s not much difference aside from Scabbia singing an entire verse showing off her vocal chops. The song keeps its sentimentality intact along with its hard hitting sound and slightly aggressive mood. Many may prefer the original, but this re-recording is a great blend of old school and new school.

“Walk This Way” – Run DMC and Aerosmith

These days the world of rock and rap often combine for both awesome and questionable results. But back in the 80s, the two were seen as exclusive genres that should never cross paths. Run DMC and Aerosmith broke that barrier with this duet. When it was released in 1986 it blew everyone’s collective minds. Not only did Run DMC cover this classic rock track, they even got Steven Tyler and Joe Perry to join them. The song is still amazing to this day and remains one of the best mash-ups ever. It, of course, would go on to inspire other rock/rap collabs, such as Jay-z and Linkin Park (remember when that was a thing?)

“The One You Love to Hate” – Rob Halford and Bruce Dickinson

Two heavy metal giants, both who are considered the best vocalists in the genre, team up for this roaring track. Recorded for Halford’s debut album Ressurection, the song features Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson on vocals. You’d expect to be beyond amazing and the most bad ass thing you’ve ever heard. In reality, it’s okay. It feels more like a Dickinson track since his voice overpowers everything and Halford is stuck on back up duty. It’s a pretty standard metal song with soaring vocals, blazing guitars and a lot of aggression. It’s not bad; just not very remarkable.

“Don’t Fear the Reaper” – HIM and Sanna-June Hyde

On HIM’s debut album, the band provided a haunting rendition of the Blue Oyster Cult classic. This version brings out all the darkness and grim view that’s implied in the lyrics. And frontman Ville Valo’s baritone vocals provide are a perfect match. Adding some brightness to the track is Finnish actor Sanna-June Hyde. She provided guest vocals for this track and “For You” early in her career. She’s not necessarily the best singer but her voice surprisingly well with Valo’s. There’s also something eerie about their voices. Still one of the best covers of this song.

“Under Pressure” – Queen and David Bowie

The thought of Queen and David Bowie doing a song together sounds like a dream. This amazing collaboration resulted in one of the best songs of the 80s. It’s an undeniable classic; pairing Bowie’s mellow vocals with Freddie Mercury’s dramatic bravado leads to a beautiful sonic experience. And try not to get chills during the bridge when Mercury pleads “Why can’t we give love/give love/give love?” The song became a huge hit for both artists and remains their most notable. Of course, the riff would be stolen by Vanilla Ice in the 90s, who claimed it wasn’t the same song.

Which is your favorite rock duet? Which ones did I miss? Let me know in the comments!

Songs of Faith and Devotion – Depeche Mode

Release Year: 1993

Rating: 8/10

If you’ve been following the blog long enough, you know I’ve had a bad relationship with this album. Although it was a critically acclaimed follow up to Violator, I could never get into it. After repeated listens I thought it was boring, save for a handful of songs. While looking through my albums, I came across this one and thought maybe I was being too harsh. Maybe I wasn’t ready for it at the time. It did take me years to fully appreciate albums like The Cure’s Pornography. So I decided to give it one more and shot. Turns out I was wrong about this record.

What initially turned me off to this album was how it didn’t sound like the Depeche Mode I was used to. Where was the thrilling synth? Where were the danceable, yet sexy songs? They don’t completely abandon their electronic side, but they favor a rock oriented sound here. This is best heard on the opening track “I Feel You.” It’s the most straightforward rock song in their catalog. It has this great, sexy bluesy riff that wails while Dave Gahan coos “I feeeeeeeeel you/your sun it shines.” The music keeps building getting more intricate as the song goes on. Even though it’s pretty sensual, it still shows a harsher direction not previously found in their music.

I liked “Walking In my Shoes,” which starts with a jangly piano leading to hushed electronic sounding beats. Similar to the previous song, the music here sets up a darker landscape for the album. That says a lot for a band whose music is peppered with grim themes. This song also starts the numerous religious references on the album, which return on the next track “Condemnation.” I’m still not crazy about this song. I can appreciate it, especially since it sounds more like a gospel track, which was unique for the band at the time. It also boasts a great vocal performance from Gahan who sounds anguished and near tears while singing. There’s a lot of heartache and emotion behind it, which can be said for all the songs here. While I like the idea, I just don’t like the style.

What I found most interesting about the album is how morose and hopeless it sounds. Depeche Mode has never been shy with exploring dark feelings, but there’s usually some upbeat song to break up the mood. “Rush” is the closest it gets to something upbeat and danceable on this record. The rest of the tracks seem mired in misery. Even when addressing topics like love and needing someone else it sounds desperate, such as on “One Caress,” an excellent solo moment from Martin Gore. When listening to this album, you feel this sense of impending doom.

This morose mood continues on tracks “Higher Love” and “Mercy In You” where Gahan sounds like a vampire wanting to feed on the mercy in someone. Another stand out track, “In Your Room” is pretty sensual thanks to the intricate, lush music, but it still has dark connotations with references to slaves and being held captive by a lover. Though it’s more rock oriented, like most of the songs here, the sexy mood, intricate music, and Gahan’s powerful vocals make this a classic Depeche Mode track. It’s one I’ve always enjoyed from the album.

Judas” is notable for beginning with bagpipes to set a heavenly atmosphere. Gore’s on vocals here, so as usual, he has a way of making things sound creepy even if it’s not intentional. But for some reason, the song doesn’t hit the sweet spot like other Gore tracks. “One Caress,” which features his on vocals is actually the better of the two ballads. It begins with a riff that sounds like the opening of “Never Tear Us Apart.” This song stands out for the string composition. It adds this stark, dramatic vibe to the music. Though the song is about how good the touch of a loved one is, it still sounds unsettling with the music growing more and more intense. He’s sounds so desperate for it, it’s like he’s on edge and he’ll do anything to get that one caress. It’s a similar eerie vibe that worked for “I Want You Now.”

Unlike most of their past releases, this one is really slow, cathartic, and dark. Their music has always been moody and gloomy, but this one is downright heartbreaking. Considering the inner turmoil of the band and Gahan’s heroin problem, it makes sense why so many of the songs are gut wrenching. Some of the songs seem like they’re about Gahan. “Get Right With Me” starts out dark and creepy, but throws listeners for a loop with a random record scratch. It’s kind of off putting since it doesn’t fit the song, but it doesn’t last very long. The lyrics seem to talk about someone laying down what it’s going to take to get back in someone’s good graces: “Friends, if you’ve lost your way/ you will find it again.” This could be a reference to Gahan losing his way via drugs and Gore remaining hopeful he’ll get clean.It was a tough album to make according to the band and it shows in these songs.

So, do I still hate this album? No, now I realize I wrong about it. It’s not boring and dull. While it’s still not my favorite, I realize it’s a solid, introspective entry in their catalog. The songs may be different with their rock oriented sound and heavier vibe, but they remain gripping, thoughtful, and well-crafted like their previous efforts. Even if all the songs didn’t catch my attention the overall depressing mood of the record did make me reflect on what the band was going through at the time. With the sonic shifts and darker themes, it’s one of those albums that needs time for some to fully appreciate it. And I’m glad I can view the album differently. I don’t think I can say the same for Venus Doom.