Hard Rock

Saying Goodbye to HIM

HIM announced they’re done. No more albums or new music. I guess it’s a breakup but I hate thinking about it that way. “Breakup” is such a negative term. There’s no bad blood here. Rather, they felt it’s time to move on. Part of me is sad, but I’m also happy for the band. Music is overwrought with bands who probably should’ve called it quits a long time ago *cough* Queen *cough.* In our minds we never want our favorite musicians to stop making music, but there’s a point where it gets sad. New material doesn’t hit you the same way or they keep writing the same songs. Suddenly, their tour stops are a greatest hits package. It reeks of desperation. HIM could’ve kept going for another 10 years if they wanted. Instead, they’re going out on their own terms. And I respect that.

When I heard the news, I was nowhere near tears like I was when The White Stripes broke up. But it still hit me hard. HIM has been with me for a long time. They don’t mean as much to me as The Cure or Green Day, but I still love them. They’ve brought me so much happiness with their music. They’re a band I would often forget how much I liked. I wouldn’t listen to them for months and when I finally did, I’d go on a binge trying to soak up every melancholy thought and note.

What I loved about their music is how they made melancholy and darkness seem okay. Frontman Ville Valo even made it sexy with his sultry vocals. Many of their songs talk about love and death, but it never made you sad or depressed. Instead, it was comforting. They showed that it’s okay to embrace these feelings sometimes.

I also liked their songs for their poetic nature. Sure, some of them are a bit over dramatic, but a good number of them are thought provoking and beautiful. Songs like “The Sacrament,” “Funeral of Hearts,” “For You,” and “When Love and Death Embrace” are downright gorgeous. They still impress me to this day. Songs like these helped me push myself as a writer. Their lyrics often influenced my writing, which I started getting serious about when I discovered them.

Like most fans, I was initially attracted to the band for Valo. No doubt about it, the man is sexy. Something about him is mysterious, which made him more attractive. He’s like the stereotypical new guy in town that’s brooding and spends a lot of time in coffee shops. Over time, I came to appreciate him as a singer. He’s got an impressive range; he sounds sweet and beautiful with the high notes and downright diabolic with his flourishing baritone. I’ve always liked his singing, but I really fell in love with it when I saw HIM live. They’re not the most energetic performers; they don’t dance around or anything like that. Yet, there’s such a fire and passion behind their live shows. They play as if it might be the last concert they’ll ever do. And Valo often has no trouble pulling off his vocal acrobatics in front of a crowd. Most importantly, their shows are fun. Hopefully, I can jam with them one more time before they leave.

The end of HIM is saying goodbye to an old friend. There are times we didn’t speak for a long while, but when we reconnected we picked up where we left off. They’re familiar and comforting, always there when I needed them. I’ll miss them, but at least I can visit them again with all the wonderful music they’ve given us in the span of 26 years. And I’ll never forget how I actually got to speak with Valo for an interview. He was every bit as charming and sweet. It was an honor to speak with someone I’d been following so long. I never thought I’d get the chance to speak with an artist I like so much. So, thank you, HIM, for letting me explore darkness with you and all the memories and fangirl crushes you gave me. I’m happy my friend convinced me to give you a listen 13 years ago.

XX

Not the Actual Events EP – Nine Inch Nails

Release Year: 2016

Rating: 7/10

When Trent Reznor announced last year that we would indeed get new Nine Inch Nails music, I was ecstatic. Throughout the year, Reznor shot down any rumors of new NIN material. After months of speculation, he finally gave us new music. It’s not a new album, but it’s a taste of what’s to come. But rather than being a release that displays his best work, it’s more like something to shut up NIN fans and let Reznor work in peace.

Though trying not to make comparisons, the opening track “Branches/Bones” sounds like a leftover from Hesitation Marks. It’s brief, but the upbeat rock oriented music is similar to material from Reznor’s previous album. It kicks off the EP with a rush of energy thanks to the non-stop guitar riff that plows through the song. The music is loud and jarring sounding like it’s being played through blown out speakers. The track is decent at best, but it’s not that notable. At least it’s decent at kicking off the EP.

All the songs are solid, but very few of them stay with you afterward. “She’s Gone Away” and “The Idea of You” are good, but don’t grab you by the throat and pummel you like other NIN tracks. The only song that stands out is the eerie “Dear World.” Whether it’s the synth groove or the creepy opening vocals with Reznor singing “Yes, everyone seems to be asleep” this was the only song I actually remembered from the EP. The song has dark undertones as if something horrible is about to happen. Reznor’s monotone manner and the cold, robotic music makes it seem like something from an 80s dystopian film. There’s also a hypnotic air to it. The way Reznor speaks quietly seems like he’s trying to put you under a spell. It’s one of the coolest and unnerving tracks on the EP.

One thing the EP excels at is creating this dark, claustrophobic feeling. Songs like “She’s Gone Away” and “The Idea of You” have gritty music that puts you on edge. The former has a slow droning drumbeat as if ushering in some unforeseeable doom. And the way Reznor’s wails after the chorus gives it a haunting atmosphere. Everything in the song sounds so foreboding. The latter song has quiet vocals as if Reznor’s on the verge of breaking. Then chaos unleashes during the chorus when everything clashes together for a destructive mood.

The closing track “Burning Bright (Field on Fire)” continues the musical trend of impending doom. With the booming, fuzzy music it sounds like the end of days is coming. Just like with the rest of the EP, the music is the high point of the song. It instantly draws you in. The singing and the lyrics are where things get weird. The chorus of “break through the surface and” is fine on its own, but for the verses, Reznor does this weird spoken word style. Instead of being smooth, it sounds like a random rant. His flow goes against the music making it disjointed and off-putting. Near the end, the music and singing clash together creating a jarring wall of noise. It’s another solid song but doesn’t really hit that sweet spot for NIN fans.

Reznor’s always been a master of electronic music and it’s no different on this release. Each track has gripping music and is a mix of cool grooves with cold, metallic sounding electronic soundscapes. It’s the highlight of the EP. The same can’t be said for the lyrics which are forgettable. In his time, Reznor has crafted some of the most anguished filled, aching, and heartbreaking songs. Little of that is on display here. The lyrics seem meaningless and difficult to pinpoint what he’s trying to get across. Lines like “Still can make out pieces with the opening sewed shut/Yeah, parts of me are slowing down, time is speeding up/Spiders crawling everywhere, infected Japanese” (“Branches/Bones”) come off as forced. As if he’s trying too hard to be poignant and unnerving. They’re not as engaging or thoughtful as they are on past NIN releases. Hell, even the lyrics on Hesitation Marks are better. This makes it seem like Reznor rushed out this release to stop fans from asking about new NIN music.

The EP is solid, but does it really jump out at you? No. The songs don’t punch you in the gut like we expect from NIN. If anything, they’re fairly decent rock songs with some electronic elements. The EP isn’t terrible, but it’s far from Reznor’s best. There are bits and pieces of past NIN releases in the song, like elements of The Fragile, but few of them leave an impression. You’ll find yourself struggling to remember most of the songs after listening to it a few times. Very little about it is notable and there’s little to say about it. The strongest point is the music, but the lyrics fail to be engaging. For fans longing for a NIN release, this isn’t going to satisfy them for long. Still, it does make me excited for what NIN has in store for us. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait too long for more new music.

Notable Releases of 2016

2016 may not have been music’s finest year, but there were a lot of good albums I played on repeat. While not all of them were notable or amazing, there were plenty that stood out for different reasons. So here are my picks for other notable releases for 2016.

Album that Caught me Off Guard:

Electric Warlock Acid Witch – Rob Zombie

When I heard Rob Zombie was dropping a new album, I reacted with a “meh.” Seeing as I didn’t care for his last few albums, I had low expectations for this one. Educated Horses was a big disappointment, Hellbilly Deluxe 2 is bearable, yet forgettable, and Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor is hardly worth remembering. My disdain for the new album grew when I saw the lengthy album title and tracklist featuring songs like “Everybody’s Fucking in a UFO.” But when listening to it a revelation dawned on me: this is fucking great! This album is Rob Zombie getting back to basics: weird songs, tons of samples, and rocking the fuck out. There are some misses on the record, like the sludgy “WURDALAK,” but it’s a rousing ride from start to finish. Zombie keeps it short and simple as he pumps out bangers like “Get High,” “Get Your Boots On,” and “Teenage Rock God.” Some of the songs are reminiscent of his past stuff, but it still gets your heart racing and head banging. Even the songs that are just okay are still gripping instead of boring filler like on his last records. Listening to it again I couldn’t help throwing devil horns in the air even though I was by myself on the couch. It’s loud, aggressive, weird, freaky, groovy, and kick ass, everything a Rob Zombie album should be. It’s a proper return to his aggressive roots, which he seemed to move away from in later years. And best of all, the album is fun as hell. It reignited my faith that Rob Zombie can still make killer music. Can’t say the same about his movies, though.

Underrated Album of 2016:

Alas Salvation – Yak

Once I heard Yak’s brand of chaotic, psychedelic rock on their 2016 debut, I knew it would be one of my favorite albums of the year. They almost went under my radar, but I barely caught them thanks to an assignment for another music site. What instantly grabbed me was their energetic, destructive vibe. Listening to songs like “Victorious” and “Harbor the Feeling” makes you picture them breaking everything in the room while they’re playing. It felt like I was hearing chaos incarnate when listening to the album. Half the time it’s unbridled noise and audio insanity, but I loved every minute. To keep the album from getting repetitive or dull, Yak plays with different sounds, like the psychedelic tinged “Use Somebody” or the Spaghetti Western isolation of “Smile.” Tracks like these made for an unpredictable, exciting ride. If there was one album that got me the most excited and left the biggest impression on me, this was it. I can’t wait to hear what else the band has in store for us in the future.

Album I Tried to Like But Couldn’t:

I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are so Beautiful yet So Unaware of It – The 1975

Get out the pitchforks right now. Yes, for some reason, I couldn’t get into this album. I was intrigued by The 1975 when I saw them perform “The Sound” on The Tonight Show. Since they’ve received mass praise from practically every outlet, I decided to check them out. While I liked songs like “Love Me” and “A Change of Heart,” the rest did nothing for me. It seems I like the 80’s, danceable side to the band, not the slow, drawn out, ballads that permeated the second half of the record. I listened to it several times, but came away with the same feeling; it’s long and too slow for my tastes. It just didn’t grab me like I hoped it would. This doesn’t mean I think The 1975 are a bad band or that the album sucks. It just wasn’t for me and I still don’t get what all the hype’s about.

Album of the Year Runner Up:

The Dream is Over – PUP

It was really hard picking album of the year and it came down to PUP’s second album and what I ultimately picked. PUP’s self-titled debut kicked ass. It showed off their punk nature and chaotic drive, but also showed the band can do more than just scream and be loud. They pushed that to the breaking point with their sophomore effort. With such praise heaped on their first album, it would’ve been easy for them to cave under pressure and release something that was tolerable. For this album, they somehow managed to top themselves. Everything about felt rawer, fiercer, and even more emotional in some places. I love how songs like “DVP” and “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You (I Will)” are pure destruction and aggression. Yet, songs like “Pine Point” and “Sleep in the Heat” both haunting and gut wrenching. It’s easy for a punk band to be loud and brash, but few of them can get out of their comfort zone and make emotional songs that still kick major ass. So much passion, drive, and heartache comes out of this album, it’s hard to take in all at once. It’s an excellent follow-up proving the band didn’t get lucky the first time around.

Well, 2016 is finally over. Let’s hope more awesome music in 2017. What albums are you looking forward to? Let me know in the comments!

Above – Mad Season

Release Year: 1995

Rating: 8.5/10

Sometimes an artist gets the urge to do something different that doesn’t necessarily fit in with their established work. This is where side bands come in. Some are amazing. Others are questionable. Layne Staley and members of Pearl Jam and Screaming Trees felt the urge and formed the supergroup Mad Season in 1994. Supergroups pose their own problems, like sounding too much like their main bands. Mad Season ensured this wasn’t an issue with their stellar, diverse debut album Above.

What makes this album remarkable during an era where grunge infiltrated everything is its diversity. Some results are better than others, but this project allowed everyone involved to play with different genres. We hear this right from the beginning with “Wake Up.” It starts with a low, muted bass like its rumbling in your stomach. The rest of the music slowly builds up with a jazzy vibe. As the song gets more intense, the guitar grows bluesy, especially the solo that adds fire to the song. Layne’s vocals are outstanding here. He switches between a haunting croon to intense screaming. Surprisingly, the result is beautiful.

River of Deceit” has a country/folk sound with the prominent acoustic guitar taking over the track. The song is mellow with Layne singing sweetly, but it has some dark connotations. One of the heaviest lines is “My pain is self chosen,” which can be linked to his struggle with drugs. The song is inspired by his personal life and The Prophet by Khalil Graban. It shows how fragile Layne could be at times. “Long Gone Day” is one of the odder moments on the album. The opening bongos, twinkling music, and occasional saxophone makes it sound like a lounge song from the 70s. As the song goes on, the band continues to mix different genres and sounds making it hard to pinpoint. It’s unexpected, even on this album, but it stands out from the other tracks for an unexpected, great song.

The band may play around with sound on the album, but there are more straightforward rock tracks as well. Several of the songs stem from psychedelic rock, like the smug “I’m Above.” Everything here is louder, heavier, and more intense than the previous songs. The most notable element is the thick guitar riff reminiscent of Black Sabbath. “Lifeless Dead” has a similar mood with dirty fuzzy guitars blasting throughout the song. Again, it has that 70’s rock vibe; everything is bigger and better. The dizzying “I Don’t Know Anything” follows a similar vibe as the aforementioned tracks. What makes this song different from the others are Layne’s trance-like vocals and the mechanical pounding near the end. All of these songs are heavy and aggressive enough to fit in on an Alice in Chains record. It serves as a break from the experimentation on the record. It also lets listeners know there were no plans for abandoning their roots.

The last two songs, “November Hotel” and “All Alone,” are atmospheric experiences. The former is completely instrumental. It has soft, mellow music with thumping percussion adding a rumbling beat. This is broken up with ambient noises that sound like a cold wind blowing. Midway through everything explodes and turns into a psychedelic jam session. It constantly shifts moods and sounds before coming back to its mellow music. It’s a strange musical roller coaster. “All Alone” has very few vocals and what sounds like a pulsing organ. The light, ethereal structure of the song and Layne crooning “We’re all alone” makes it sound like an otherworldly hymn. It’s a fitting, yet somber way to end the album.

Above is a great record because of its diversity. These are all musicians known for their work in grunge music. This band gave them the opportunity to go outside of their comfort zone and do something else. And it showed they could do more than play fuzzy guitars and scream. The integration of blues, jazz, and psychedelic rock make for an album that’s exciting, but mellow. There are times when they let aggression through, but for the most part, it’s a slower, emotional record. Staley also shows immense talent both as a songwriter and a vocalist. Though his work has seen more appreciation over the years, he still seems to be overshadowed by a certain grunge artist. The album is a gem from the 90s you should check out, especially if you’re an Alice in Chains fan.

Top 10 Songs About Other Musicians

Even though musicians are famous, have tons of fans, and perform across the world it doesn’t mean they can’t fan out from time to time. Musicians aren’t afraid to address each other in song. Sometimes it comes from a place of love or an homage to someone they admire. Other times, it can be kind of ugly, a snarky tune dedicated to someone they don’t care for. The songs can be obvious and other times the dedication is well hidden. There are too many songs about other musicians to name, so here are ten of the most notable songs about other musicians.

10. “Obsessed” – Mariah Carey

Ever since his third album, The Marshall Mathers LP, Eminem claimed that he and Mariah Carey were once an item. But aside from dropping her name in a few songs, neither one have commented further on the supposed relationship. When her name appeared again on “Bagpipes from Baghdad” with the rapper calling out her then-husband, Nick Cannon,Carey decided she had enough. She wrote this song in responsive to the rapper’s claims calling them false, saying he’s obsessed with her, and that he’s delusional. And to make things even clearer, Carey plays an unnamed rapper in the video chasing after…herself. Of course, Eminem didn’t take this lightly and released his own response titled “The Warning.” What’s even more strange than the situation is thought of Eminem and Mariah Carey dating in the first place.

9. “Michael, You’ve Got a Lot to Answer For” – Duran Duran

The Michael in question here is INXS’ Michael Hutchence. The song kinds sound of somber, especially with the singer’s death, but it didn’t start out that way. The song is actually about Simon LeBon’s friendship with Hutchence. In an interview with Q Magazine, LeBon says the song is about Hutchence being “a naughty boy” in France and London. He apparently did so many substances LeBon couldn’t keep up. The song was released a month before Hutchence died on November 22, 1997. It’s sad that an ode to friendship took on a sad meaning not shortly after it was released.

8. “Tunic (A Song for Karen)” – Sonic Youth

Karen Carpenter, singer, and drummer for The Carpenters, tragically died in 1983 due to complications from anorexia nervosa. Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon wrote this song years later trying to put herself in the late singer’s shoes. The frenetic guitars and the memorable hook of “You are never going anywhere” don’t exactly mask the dark connotations of this song. There are references to Karen’s eating disorder and lines about losing who you are. There’s even a verse where Gordon imagines the singer up in heaven, happy, and playing drums again. When asked about the song 20 years later, Gordon said “I was trying to put myself into Karen’s body. It was like she had so little control over her life, like a teenager – they have so little control over what’s happening to them that one way they can get it is through what they eat or don’t. Also, I think she lost her identity, it got smaller and smaller. And there have been times when I feel I’ve lost mine.” It’s a tribute to the singer that catches you off guard since it’s not sappy or sad.

7. “Dude Looks Like a Lady” – Aerosmith

Probably best remembered for its use in Mrs. Doubtfire, this song talks about an androgynous guy who is mistaken for a woman. Looking at the lyrics it doesn’t seem Steven Tyler minds all that much saying “you may be wrong/but you know it’s alright” and he even does a little cross-dressing of his own in the video. The origin story for the song changes depending on the source: Tyler says the song came from hearing Motley Crue saying “Dude!” all the time. Vince Neil says the song was inspired by a New York bar where the waiters dress in women’s clothing. But Nikki Sixx says the song is actually about Tyler mistaking Vince Neil for a woman in a bar. It’s wasn’t hard to do; did you see the way he dressed in the 80’s? It doesn’t really matter how the song came about because it’s an Aerosmith classic. Though I prefer to believe it’s about Vince Neil; it’s funnier that way.

6. “Tearjerker” – Red Hot Chili Peppers

Many songs were written about Kurt Cobain after his shocking death. The Chili Peppers added their contribution with this track from their sixth album One Hot Minute. It’s a ballad where Anthony Kiedis sings about his reaction to Kurt’s death and what he liked so much about the singer. With lines like “I liked your whiskers/I liked the dimple in your chin/your pale blue eyes” and “you never knew this/but I wanted badly for you to/requite my love” it’s more like a love song to Cobain. Though the two worked together on an MTV special, they weren’t all that close. But Kiedis explains Kurt was someone everyone felt close to. “I don’t know why everyone on earth felt so close to that guy; he was beloved and endearing and inoffensive in some weird way. For all of his screaming and all of his darkness, he was just lovable.” It’s a sweet song that’ll make Nirvana fans smile.

5. “Cry Me a River” – Justin Timberlake

Though Timberlake has denied it since the song’s release, we all know this song is about his ex-Britney Spears. The basis of the song is a bad break up and pretty much not giving a shit about the person. It also makes several references to infidelity, which is what apparently ended the pair’s relationship. And to top things off, Timberlake’s lover in the video looks like Spears. Anyone who saw the video pretty much knew who he was talking about. The singer finally admitted in 2011 that he wrote the song after the two had an argument. So even if the song isn’t a direct attack on Britney Spears, she was still an inspiration. The break up was nasty, but maybe now he can thank her since it gave him one of his biggest songs to date.

4. “Suicide Blonde” – INXS

INXS frontman Michael Hutchence was known as a playboy in the 80s, but his most infamous relationship was with Kylie Minogue, you know the one responsible for that song. Rumor has it the Aussie singer inspired Hutchence to write the song since she dyed her hair blonde for a role in the film The Delinquents. Neither one ever confirmed the song’s origin, but with lyrics about a red hot lover who has men landing at her feet, it makes a lot of sense. Only Hutchence knows the true significance. Either way, it ended up being an INXS classic and has that sexy flair only Michael Hutchence could pull off so flawlessly.

3. “I’ll Stick Around” – Foo Fighters

Though Dave Grohl wrote a beautiful and touching song about Kurt Cobain called “Friend of a Friend” that deserves to be mentioned, his song attacking Cobain’s widow Courtney Love, gets him on the list. It’s a fan favorite and many picked up that Grohl was attacking someone. With lines like “I don’t owe you anything” there was speculation it was about Cobain. Grohl finally admitted in 2009 it was actually about Courtney Love, which you can see in lines like “how could it be/I’m the only one who sees/your rehearsed insanity.” He sings about how he regrets letting her and Cobain hook up and that he can see through her deceptiveness. It’s a hate filled song of the best kind, but it seems Grohl has forgiven Love in later years. The two made amends at the 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Grohl wouldn’t be the only artist to blast Love on a track; Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” is about the Hole singer as well.

2. “Ms. Jackson” – Outkast

“Ms. Jackson” is the best song by Outkast with sick flows and a memorable hook you’re still singing to this day. The duo sings about “Ms. Jackson” who doesn’t approve of her daughter’s relationship with a guy and when they end up having a baby, it only makes things worse. Turns out, the song is based on true events. Andre 3000 dated Erykah Badu and the two ended up having a child out of wedlock to the disapproval of her mother. 3000 said he felt he never got to explain his side of the story and didn’t like being kept out of his kid’s life on purpose. As a way of reaching out to her mother, he wrote this song to apologize and say how much he wanted to be a part of his kid’s life. Badu’s mother loved it and hopefully it patched up their relationship. Hearing so much truth put into this song makes it even more appealing and it’s still a hit 16 years after its release. Wait, really? Now I feel old.

1. “Say Hello 2 Heaven” – Temple of the Dog

In March 1990, Andrew Wood, frontman of Mulfunkshun and Mother Love Bone, died of a drug overdose. Chris Cornell, Wood’s friend, and roommate took the news hard. Soundgarden were touring Europe at the time of his death and feeling like he had no one to talk to, wrote two songs: “Reach Down” and “Say Hello 2 Heaven.” Instead of putting it on a Soundgarden album, Cornell teamed up with most of Pearl Jam and formed Temple of the Dog in his honor. “Say Hello 2 Heaven” is a tribute to Wood where Cornell deals with his grief and even makes a reference to not knowing the demons his friend was dealing with. It’s a powerful song where Cornell let’s his insane vocal range fly near the song’s end. Wood’s death didn’t only affect Cornell. It also had an effect on Alice in Chains, who wrote the song “Would?” about him along with others in the grunge scene that tragically passed. It’s sad to think Layne Staley would meet a similar fate 10 years later.

Honorable Mention:

“Starfuckers Inc.” – Nine Inch Nails

Trent Reznor hates celebrities and pop culture. He makes this clear in this single from The Fragile. Being one of Reznor’s heaviest and aggressive songs, it takes the piss out the vanity and shallow commercialization of fame. It even makes a reference to Carly Simon’s famous song “You’re So Vain.” But rumor has it the song is actually about Marilyn Manson. Reznor had a falling out with Manson twice, though Manson does appear in the song’s video. Others say it’s about Courtney Love. Reznor hasn’t confirmed or denied the rumors, so the track ends up getting an honorable mention. It’s just too biting and sassy to leave off.

There are more than ten songs about musicians, so which ones did I miss? Which ones are your favorites? Let me know in the comments!