rock

Love Stuff – Elle King

Release Year: 2015

Rating: 7/10

With so many websites, playlists, and music videos, sometimes it’s hard to find good new music. But every once in a while you get lucky while watching late night TV. I first heard of Elle King when watching an episode of the Tonight Show. I thought her voice was interesting and the song was kind of catchy, so I decided to check out her debut and though it’s not flawless, I was not disappointed.

King’s style should appeal to any Jack White fans. Her music is a mix of rock, pop, soul, blues, and country, which make for some gritty tunes. The opening track “Where the Devil Don’t Go” introduces listeners to King’s old school blues/country sound. The song seems right in line with traditional blues tunes since it deals with the topic of devils and sinners. She has a distinct voice that’s kind of rough and edgy, with a hint of a southern accent. The catchy “Ex’s & Oh’s” is a tongue in cheek track about all the men King has lured and how they can’t leave her alone. She sounds coy as she sings “One, two, three/they’re gonna run back to me/they always wanna come, but they never wanna leave.” It’s an upbeat song with a bit of a rock n roll edge, especially when the guitar solo comes in. It’s definitely a highlight of the LP.

Under the Influence” pulls back on the country vibe and amps up the pop and soul mood. What’s weird about is every time I hear it, it reminds me of something Adele would do. A lot of it has to do with the subdued, slow tempo of the song. It also has this slinky vibe that keeps the song from the dragging on. King isn’t shy about being rough around the edges, as she shows on “Last Damn Night.” Here, she talks about living life to the fullest and partying like there’s no tomorrow. It’s definitely southern rock in nature and just try not to think about Jack White when you hear the dirty licks and jangly pianos.

King dedicates the middle of the LP to her country roots. The tragic tale of “Kocaine Karolina” sounds like an old school country song with just her gritty vocals and a banjo while “Song of Sorrow” is more of an upbeat bluegrass jam complete with banjo and fiddle. “America’s Sweetheart” delves more into country pop with fast twanging guitars ready for a duel and a honky tonk feel. During the pre-chorus when she sings “kick out the jams/kick up the soul” you can picture people stomping their feet and clapping their hands like they’re in a hoedown. These songs aren’t bad, but they may not appeal to those who aren’t fans of country music.

One thing that makes King notable is how she flips the script on so called gender roles. She’s never afraid to talk about how she’s looking for anything but love. This is best found on “I Told You I Was Mean.” With a soulful opening complete with “hmmms” of a gospel, she remains blunt as she tells a lover how she doesn’t want them anymore. Rather than being the one hung up after a fling, she’s the one looking for a no strings attached relationship, while the guy is left wanting something more. She even addresses her demons on the somber “Ain’t Gonna Drown.” With the depressing mood mixed with background sounds of grunting and clanging, it actually sounds like on old hymn. It’s a haunting and chilling look at the singer’s vulnerable side.

Some of King’s subject matter isn’t all that original, like when she does decide to talk about love (“Make You Smile”) or begging a lover to stay one more night (“See You Again”), but at least she comes off as honest. Some of her songs are tongue in cheek and there are even some clever lyrics about how King isn’t your typical skinny, sweet girl who’s content with staying quiet. Her mix of blues, soul, country, and pop is ear catching and will be sure to attract even naysayers of country music. If you want the sound of Jack White without the elitism and ego issues, then check out Elle King. I know I can’t wait to hear more from her.

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Around the Fur – Deftones

Release Year: 1997

Rating: 7.5/10

Though Deftones released their debut in 1995, it wasn’t until their second album they started to gain recognition. This record has some of their biggest hits and is often hailed as one of the best of the 90s. I always heard it was really good, so I wanted to check it out. With a gritty sound, aggressive riffs, and intense vocals, the album is more brutal than you think. It shows the Deftones are way heavier than you might expect. Though there are some hiccups, most of the tracks are aggressive and somewhat violent enough to lose your mind too.

Of course things start off with their most well known song “My Own Summer (Shove It).” This is still one of my favorites by them. The dirty, gritty riff pulls you in with its hypnotizing loop, while singer Chino Moreno lures you into a safe space with soft, soothing vocals. It’s not until the chorus that this feeling is shattered. All hell breaks loose as Moreno screams at the top of his lungs and the music grows more aggressive. Everything explodes punching you in the gut. This intense mood keeps going on “Lhabia,” which sounds sinister and evil. The gritty, grungy music makes a return, but it’s the whispering vocals that get under your skin. It’s another heavy track that’s also a highlight of the record. Things get unnerving on “Dai the Flu.” While it’s full of harsh guitars and a brutal assault on the music, it’s the menacing, lowkey aspect of the vocals that makes it so creepy. Moreno sounds broken and unstable as he sings “dislocated at the joint timing is everything in the bed/’cause you’ll sleep for hours to keep away/then sink the teeth and bat your eyes.” You can barely make out what he’s saying, which makes the whole thing a bit unsettling.

Most of the songs follow the same format: “Mascara,” “Around the Fur,” and “Lotion” all are intense and aggressive with their sound. They all also find Moreno using the quiet/loud/quiet dynamic when it comes to singing. While none of the songs are bad, the heavy music gets a bit repetitive after a while. The fuzzy guitars, thudding drums, and all the screams start to make all the songs meld together. The band rarely switches things up and when they do, it’s not often enough. One of the tracks that finds them changing up the sound is “Be Quiet And Drive (Far Away).” Rather than being in your face and aggressive, the music here is a bit faster and lighter than before. It’s as if the listener is finally getting a break from the previous musical assault. “Headup” finds another sonic change as the music has an underlying groove mixed in with the heavy, gritty sound. Moreno also switches up the vocal style as it sounds like he’s rapping. These tracks show what else Deftones are capable of, something they take advantage on their later releases.

If there’s anything you can say about the album is it shows how Moreno is an underappreciated vocalist. People often talk about Corey Taylor‘s ability to sound sweet and tortured in the same song. Moreno does the same thing. On tracks like “Rickets” and “MX” he plays with that dynamic. His singing is often soft and mellow, but out of nowhere he can strain his vocals to let out painful screams, shrieks, and wails. He has an impressive range that I don’t see many talk about. He manages to sound violent, harsh, and fucking mental when he yells at the top of his lungs , but just as fast as it came on, it’s suddenly lowkey, sometimes barely above a whisper. He’s a talented vocalist that doesn’t get enough recognition.

Overall, the album gets 7.5/10. The album is heavy as hell, which both works for and against it. Many of the songs are aggressive, intense, and even a bit disturbing. But since the band doesn’t switch up the sound enough, many of the songs end up sounding the same dulling the record a bit. While there are a couple of tracks where they explore different genres, it doesn’t come up nearly enough. Still, the album shows why Deftones are a great alternative rock band.

Kings & Queens of the Underground – Billy Idol

Kings_queens_coverRelease Year: 2014

Rating: 6.5/10

Billy Idol ruled the ‘80s with his good looks, charm, and hit songs. When the ’90s came around things got a little questionable as he tried his hand at acting and decided to trade in his spikey locks for dreads. He made a return in the mid-2000s, but has been pretty quiet ever since then (I’m not counting that Christmas album). He’s finally back ready to sink his teeth into music once again. While there are some cuts here to please Idol’s oldest fans, the LP never finds footing leaving you feeling “ehhh” when you finish it.

The album deals a lot with Idol’s past from the highs of his career to his past relationships. It’s not surprising, since he released a memoir recently, but it almost feels like the record is a soundtrack for the book. This comes through the most on the title track. While the idea of it is good, the execution misses the mark. While sappy music swells with some airy, unfitting flute fluttering about, Idol talks about the start of his career and even makes references to his past hits like “Eyes Without a Face” and “Hot in the City,” but he comes off too sentimental. It ends up sounding like a cheesy ballad that borders on melodramatic. It also feels like he’s trying to cram all this information in a five minute song, when fans can easily pick up the book. “Ghosts in My Guitar” is another song that suffers from sentimentality issues and references Idol’s past relationships. It’s clear he means well on the tracks, but they don’t grab your attention for very long.

There are some stand out songs here and of course, they remind you of the singer’s past work. “Can’t Break me Down” is so upbeat and filled with fun, bouncing music you’re ready to pump your fists in the air. The chorus may sound a little cheesy, but it’s hard to deny it’s catchy as Idol sings “Your gun went/bang bang bang/you shot me to the ground/but you can’t break me down.” Also, the way he sings “Whoa oh whoa oh oh oh” throughout hooks you instantly. “One Breath Away” starts out with a musical departure as it begins with a weird, pseudo Jazz vibe leading into the hard rock edge. It throws you off at first, but Idol sounds best here, proving he hasn’t lost his haunting voice. “Postcards from the Past” is an instant crowd pleaser because it sounds exactly like “Rebel Yell.” It’s energetic, fast paced, and is a return to his punk rock roots. There’s even a break in the music where the guitar sounds like the riff from his hit single. Even though he’s been-there-done-that with this song, it’s a fun listen and has a wicked guitar solo thanks to Steve Stevens. These the best songs of his career, but they’re still worth a listen. From here on the album starts to weaken.

The issue with the rest of the record is the songs aren’t memorable or notable. Though “Eyes Wide Shut” starts off interesting enough with creepy howling and moaning, it turns into another dull ballad and by the time you reach “Love and Glory” you don’t care about the songs anymore. If they’re not boring then the tracks are mediocre and suffer from generic music, like the opener “Bitter Pill” or the synth heavy “Nothing to Fear.” None of the songs are outright terrible, but after one listen you’re pretty much done; you don’t have a desire to hear them on a regular basis. That excitement Idol brought to the previous tracks is missing from these making them easy to tune out.

Overall, the album gets 6.5/10. It’s not the fiery comeback Idol was hoping for, but there are some great tracks to please all fans. Even though the best tracks here are reminiscent of his past work, they’re still a lot of fun to rock out too. Unfortunately, the rest of the album is filled with dull, uninteresting, and somewhat mediocre tracks that dwell a lot on his past. While we don’t expect Idol to relive his ’80s days, you would think the LP would fare better than it did. Still, you can get some enjoyment out of it, something you can’t say for most new albums.

Cage the Elephant: So Good I Needed it Twice

20140803_011438Cage the Elephant at the Vic August 2, 2014

While most music fans were enjoying the rain and mud that waited for them at Lollapalooza, I waited in line outside the Vic Saturday night for a sold out Cage the Elephant show. I already saw them in May, but when this show was announced I knew I had to go. They’re such an amazing live band I never want to miss them when they come to their favorite city. And as I expected, they delivered even harder this time around.

The first time Cage the Elephant came to Chicago this year, The Foals opened for them. I did enjoy them quite a bit, but I liked Bear Hands even more. Their songs were fun, energetic, and entertaining. I was really impressed by how each member could play every instrument on stage. It was great to see the drummer banging away on his kit to then play keyboard on the next track. Also, their songs were pretty short, which was my biggest issue with The Foals. I liked their songs a lot, but I was so eager to see Cage the Elephant I just wanted them off the stage. It also didn’t help that their songs felt ten minutes long.

Because I had such a great spot I could see the band in all their glory. They all came out one by one with guitarist Nick Bockrath showing off his Bulls jersey, number 23 of course. Brad Shultz stepped up to the mic and said “Two years ago we stood on this stage and had the best show of our lives.” When Matt Shultz sauntered out, the place exploded and hearts were broken. Looking suave in a black button up shirt and white pants, he wiggled and clapped along to “Spiderhead.” Even though they put on a great show at the Aragon it was even better at the Vic. They sounded amazing and Matt gave his all when it came to signing. Plus, it’s hard not to be infected by his Elaine-like writhing dance moves.

I was a little disappointed with the setlist because it was exactly what they played earlier in the year. Since this was a 17 and older show and an aftershow for Lollapalooza, I thought they would either have a longer setlist or toss in some different songs. Though this didn’t happen, I still enjoyed their performance. They put so much energy, passion, and insanity into their show I didn’t mind hearing the songs again. It also helps that the setlist is pretty good in the first place. Also, it’s impossible to not fall in love with Matt. Every time I see him hop, bounce, and shake on stage I only like him more. He even brought up some new moves like sitting on his brother’s back while he plays guitar. It was really cool to see and made the crowd go nuts.

Some of the biggest highlights included a massive sing along during “Come a Little Closer,” “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked,” and “Shake Me Down,” which found the singer stopping several times to let the audience take over. A funny moment happened when a bra was tossed on stage. Matt picked it up and said “Thanks. Is this some sort of chin strap?” As you would expect there was a lot of stage diving. This time Brad and Nick joined Matt on the action. As Matt waded through the crowd, he was handed a Sox hat, which he put on. He then motioned to someone else and was handed a Cubs hat. Rather than choosing favorites, he rocked them both and made sure to return the hats to their rightful owners. There was also a bit where cigarettes were tossed on stage. Matt picked it up and started ranting about how much he hated menthol cigarettes. It was random, weird, and slightly adorable.

All throughout, each member made sure the crowd knew how much they loved them and the city. Some blew kisses, some waved, but Brad said it best with “We fucking love you! Everyone in this room!” It’s an unwritten rule that every band on tour has to “love”every place they visit, but what makes Cage the Elephant so genuine is the amount of times they performed in the city in one year. They’ve already played four different shows here and will come back with the Black Keys this fall. That’s gotta be love. I know I already said it many times, but I’m gonna say it again: Cage the Elephant kick ass live. No matter how many of their shows you attend, they’re all memorable and epic.

Complete Setlist:

Spiderhead

In One Ear

Aberdeen

Take It or Leave It

Cigarette Daydreams

Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked

Halo

Telescope

Back Against the Wall

Black Widow

It’s Just Forever

Teeth

Come a Little Closer

Encore:

Shake Me Down

Sabertooth Tiger

What the fuck happened to Priestess?

priestess-band

Back in the mid-2000s, I remember searching for new bands to get into by researching some of my favorite magazines. I wasn’t having much luck, but I decided to check out one more up and coming band before giving up. I looked up their single “Lay Down” and was blown away. That’s how I discovered Priestess. At the time they were notable for their classic rock/psychedelic sound reminiscent of Led Zeppelin, The Who, and other great bands from the ’60s. Their debut Hello Master was amazing and I could already pick out my favorite songs. What I liked in particular about the band was vocalist Mikey Heppener. His voice had that classic rock n roll sneer with a hint of soul. It really made them stand out.

In 2009 they finally released their second LP Prior to the Fire after fighting with their record label. While I didn’t love it as much as their first effort, it was still pretty awesome with the music and songwriting being more unique and intricate than before. Then they just disappeared. No more albums, no more new songs, no more tours. They had some shows scheduled in 2011 that were canceled and in 2012 they even teased an upcoming performance that was to be their first in a year. That was also suddenly canceled for reason unknown. Their current record label Tee Pee Records has no new updates on them (I even contacted them for updates and they didn’t know what was going on). Oddly enough, the band’s last post on their Facebook is from last year, but it’s only to convince fans to buy their shirts and their last album. They haven’t provided so much as a clue if they band is still active even though many fans have left comments asking what’s going on as recent as last month. Some have assumed it’s over since the members have gone on to other projects. Heppener has his own band called UBT, while Vince Nudo is currently the drummer for Kurt Ville’s backing band.

The question remains: Where the fuck is Priestess?! It’s fine if the band have called it quits or are on an “hiatus,” but they need to come forward and set the record straight for the number of fans asking about their status. It’s not fair to leave fans wondering what’s going on when they could easily make a post saying the band has ended. Until then we are left wondering.