Fester’s Lucky 13: 2015 Year-End Summary

Fast 'n' Bulbous Best of 2015

Top 100 Albums of 2015 |  Spotify Mix | 2015 Breakdown: Genre Lists | Shows, Videos | Movies, Television, Books & Comics

In years past, I often got outraged about albums that got critical conensus while other great ones were ignored. I’m passionate about the music I love and try to spread the word on, and can get a bit worked up. I’m feeling a bit more accepting this holiday season. While the diversity of what I cover has diminished somewhat in recent years, it’s also harder to piss me off about the stuff I care about getting ignored for Sufjan Stevens, Kendrick Lamar, Courtney Barnett and Father John Misty. Continue reading

Fester’s Lucky 13: Post-Punk

As I finalize my year-end summary, here’s a teaser for one of my favorite genres. The recent trend of metal musicians getting involved in post-punk projects is a promising sign that the genre is done with suffering the indignities of going in and out of fashion. It simply is. While there were energetic supporters of all their albums, I was not taken with this year’s offerings from the older legends – Public Image Ltd., The Pop Group, The Monochrome Set, Wire, The Fall and The Names. And while Killing Joke’s latest got plenty of acclaim, I felt that many (42, in fact) younger bands made better albums this year. While nothing got the critical acclaim the way Savages did two years ago, it was a great year for post-punk.

01. Algiers – Algiers (Matador)

Algiers - Algiers (Matador, 2015)While Algiers have post-punk elements like early Bad Seeds, they also dip into 70s psychedelic soul of The Temptations, The Isley Brothers, and further back into gospel, but laced with electronic drums that reference both 80s electro and 90s industrial. While early TV On The Radio took a somewhat similar approach with doo-wop and Massive Attack with dub and soul, Algiers sound completely original. On top of that, they have smart, confrontational, political lyrics and seem like a real passionate powerhouse live band, lately augmented by Bloc Party’s drummer, Matt Tong. The songwriting could be developed more, but their potential is massive. Part of the issue might be the fact that the band developed their music remotely online with singer Franklin James Fisher, originally from Atlanta, now located in New York and guitarist Lee Tesche and bassist Ryan Mahan living in London. The best songs are clustered in the middle, including the savage “Blood,” accented with gutteral grunts and rattling chains. “Old Girl” is like stumbling upon a gospel revival, only to find dancing demons within the church. “Irony.Utility.Pretext,” augmented by a situationist style video, full of New Order beats, Art Of Noise effects, and Miami Vice era production, while still somehow sounding new. “Games” is a more restrained hymnal, and extremely effective. With a tour or two under their belts, I’d love to hear what they come up with next. I predict righteous greatness. Continue reading

Who Had the Best Six Album Run?

On the next episode of Sound Opinions this Friday, they’ll discuss who had the best four album runs, “the best grand slams in pop history.” In 2015, there are no shortage of bands who now have catalogs of ten, twenty, even thirty albums. It doesn’t seem hard to think of a lot of bands who had four consecutive great albums. Unless you’re a punk fan, then you’d be kind of hard pressed, as most broke up before releasing four albums, let alone four great ones (The Sex Pistols, X-Ray Spex, Buzzcocks, Wire, The Ruts). Those that didn’t, often have their run broken up by a dud, like The Damned with Music For Pleasure (1977).

Inevitably, classic rock becomes the default in these discussions, which could get boring. In a popular poll, no one would likely touch The Beatles, with Dylan, the Stones and perhaps Led Zeppelin fighting it out for second. Of course I can’t resist weighing in. I was born for this task, seeing as I’ve kept up a list of all my favorite albums since I was about eight! Back then, it was a no-brainer, as Electric Light Orchestra and Queen were the only bands I owned four or more of their records. The Beatles would factor in if I counted my mom’s albums. ELO is still in my top 40, but someone has managed to beat out the Beatles, as far as I’m concerned. Ozzy Osbourne, a huge Beatles fan, would probably be horrified by this assertion, but I’m not saying Black Sabbath were a better band than the Beatles. Just that they had a slightly greater consecutive run of classic albums that I continue to enjoy and listen to more, which also influenced a ton of other music that I love.

Dylan and the Stones do follow closely after Sabbath and the Beatles. How could they not? While The Clash would be a top punk choice for many, mine is The Birthday Party at #14, unless you count The Jam as punk, then them at #12. However the fifth spot is taken up by a metal band. No, not Metallica. Iron Maiden! Followed by The Velvet Underground, Captain Beefheart, Led Zeppelin, Talking Heads and Thin Lizzy. My highest ranked recent band would be the Yeah Yeah Yeahs at #13, TV On The Radio at 15 and Witchcraft at 16. Graveyard could be close, however they only just released their fourth album a couple weeks ago so it’s too soon to judge.

6albumrun-sabbath

Continue reading

The Birth Of Metal

The Birth Of Metal (From Black Sabbath Born Again back patch, 1983)

Was heavy metal invented by a single band? Was it dreamed up by a journalist? Was it born on a particular album, perhaps premature and deformed, denied by its parents and returned to live in an orphanage until it was adopted years later by a DJ, a journalist, a bunch of younger bands and some headbangers? Continue reading

No Whining in Rock ‘n’ Roll: Don’t Feel Guilty About Not Spending More Money on Music

Columbia House’s recent bankruptcy filing triggered all kinds of stories, ranging from fond reminiscing about early experiences with record clubs, to surprised reactions that they even still exist as a corporate entity, and a whole slew of whining about how they were killed by streaming services.

Their filing says that Netflix, Amazon, Spotify and Apple crowded it out of the market, preventing Columbia House from getting licensing agreements when it tried to offer streaming services for videos and movies last year. Yes, the more established competitors had an advantage over the new kid on the block. The young, clueless Columbia House, which has been in business since 1955.

Capitol Record Club Ad from 1972

Columbia House pioneered the record club business model, getting millions of consumers on board with the then still new 12″ vinyl LP format, introduced in 1949.  Their first year they had 125,175 members who had purchased 700,000 records (for $1.174 million net). By the next year, they had 687,652 members and had sold 7 million records ($14.888 million net), and by 1963, it commanded 10% of the recorded music retail market. By the mid-1960s, they had competition from other clubs, including EMI, Capitol and RCA. At that point, Columbia House was able to stay several steps ahead of the competition when the father of direct marketing, Les Wunderman took over the account. Along with direct marketing, Wunderman introduced innovations such as the database, the 1-800 number, the magazine subscription card, and the credit-card customer rewards program. For Columbia House he created the 12-albums for a penny postage-paid insert card, the Gold Box buried treasure Easter eggs that people could find in the advertising and redeem for free albums, in what he called “interactive” sales in a 1967 speech at M.I.T., decades before the Internet took off. It’s too bad they didn’t keep Wunderman on at least as a consultant to advise them. He’s still around, they should give him a call. Continue reading

Psychedelic Psummer: Tame Impala’s Synths Vs. All the Guitars

psychedelic-psummer-2015

After listening to psych noir non-stop for over two months while working on Kaleidoscopes & Grimoires: Psych Noir, it’s time to switch it up. Life sometimes necessitates that you exhume yourself from the empty bags and bottles, turn off the Hammer horror movie, put on your shades and go out in the sun. Fortunately there’s great psychedelic music for all occasions.

It’s fitting that one of the most commercially successful psych bands released their third album on July 17, basically the peak of summer. Blueberries are abundant, fireflies are mating, and fortunately fewer people are wearing flip-flops. I consider that the greatest birthday gift of all (mine was on the 16th). One of the several times I’ve seen Tame Impala was in the scorching midday heat at Lollapalooza. That night I would see Black Sabbath, but right then, Tame Impala were the perfect band for the moment, Kevin Parker joking that his pedals were melting under the blazing sun. It’s easy to see why his music has exploded in popularity while other bands that seem on the surface quite similar, languish in underground obscurity. Parker’s key influences may be 60s psychedelia — Pink Floyd, Hendrix, more Bee Gees than Beatles and more Supertramp than Love — but he mixes in elements of shoegaze in his guitar sound with My Bloody Vaentine’s dreamy melancholy, The Flaming Lips’ cosmic explody-ness, and always a subtle undertone of sugary modern pop. Their sound continues to evolve, with debut Innerspeaker (2010) the most traditionally fuzzed out and rockin’, and adding more melody and electronic experimentation on  Lonerism (2012).

Tame Impala - Currents (Interscope, 2015)Currents features more electro pop than ever, citing Prince’s mid-80s funk with a more relaxed, languid feel.  The result has very much a 90s feel along the lines of Stereolab, The High Llamas and Super Furry Animals. The bubbling electronic flourishes evoke the whir of fans, the hum of air conditioners, ice cubes in cold drinks and lapping waves. Great summer music. I won’t lie, I would never choose electronica over intoxicating guitar playing with well executed reverb and fuzz, and points are docked on this album for putting that on the backburner. It’s as if he’s self-conscious about being perceived as pushing forward. But the synths don’t really do anything to change the basic creativity and structure of the songs, only the texture. And really dude, synths go back just as far as guitar distortion and effects pedals. They are no more modern. The one positive change in the production is they have finally escaped the clutches of Dave Fridmann’s overblown blown-out mixing work that has messed many a band up. Continue reading

Kaleidoscopes & Grimoires: Psych Noir

psych-noir

With hindsight it seems even long before rock music existed, it was destiny for the occult, mysticism, and mythological underworlds from the dark side of human nature and imagination, to become closely tied with particular types of music. Certainly not just any type of music. Orpheus’ journey to Hades would not be served well by a soundtrack of bubbly Calypso or synth pop. But music by Jex Thoth, The Devil’s Blood, Blood Ceremony, Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats, Dead Skeletons, Jess and the Ancient Ones, Ghost, Mansion, Lola Colt and Lucifer? Yes, that would work nicely.

What’s surprising is that it took so long for a significant collection of artists to focus on consistently dark subject matter.  It wasn’t until the past eight years that what I consider psych noir really took off. While occult rock is the most commonly used descriptor, I feel it is inadequate, because the majority of the bands are not serious practitioners of the occult, mysticism, black magick or Satanism. The occult is simply one of many themes in their lyrics that match up with the dark, psychedelic atmospherics of their music, just like doom is only a minor element of only some of the bands. While I don’t know if anyone else is ever going to use it, I think psych noir is the perfect descriptor, if not genre name. Just like how there is disagreement among scholars whether “film noir” is a legitimate genre, or a “style,” or just a “cycle,” “phenomenon,” “mood” or “series.” Either way, it’s a useful way to address a diverse body of work that shares a disposition and group of elements without having to share every element. Just as not every film noir movie has a femme fatale or a hard boiled detective, not every psych noir band references the occult, witchcraft or hails Satan.

noir-lonely-sabbath-devil

Often the domain of the edges of pop culture in pulp fiction and comics, film most consistently covered this throughout the 20th century, from German Expressionist cinema to London’s Hammer Film Productions starting in 1935, cult B-movies, and eventually mainstream Hollywood with Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968). The Wicker Man (1973) starring Christopher Lee was one of the more evocative representations of mystical horror and dread. Music, however, lagged behind, with only a handful of artists sporadically dabbling in the dark side. Jim Morrison’s poetic flights into Dionysian bacchanalia and lizard king self-mythologizing with The Doors seem pretty bubblegum tame today, but in 1966-67, it really freaked people out. While it seemed any subject matter could be explored in movies, people took music more personally, and many took rockers’ exploration of frightening subjects seriously and often literally. Many truly believe that The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy With The Devil” truly brought on the tragic events at Altamont in 1969. The acid-crazed dark psychedelia of The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown (1968) was at the time all about showmanship, with masks and flaming heads. But fans took the lyrics so seriously that they sought Arthur Brown out for spiritual guidance. He ended up taking more serious interests in occult spirituality and explored it with his band Kingdom Come.

Meanwhile, a flip side of San Francisco’s largely peace and love oriented psychedelic scene was the stark, black and white negative imagery of The Velvet Underground, addressing drug addiction, S&M, death and murder with Lou Reed’s somewhat dispassionate thousand-yard lizard gaze. While they would not have considered themselves psychedelic, moments in their first two albums certainly were, and would become essential DNA for a musical foundation supporting many bands in the future. Continue reading

Roadrunner & Other Drivin’ Tunes

Roadrunner & Other Drivin' Tunes (Front)

An old acquaintance just asked for road trip music recommendations, and I thought I had posted this when I made the mix for a CD mix club I participated in 7-8 years ago. I guess I didn’t, so here it is! Some of the MP3s are included with PDF cover art and liner notes if you click on the first image. Or you can stream it all on Spotify below. Enjoy! Continue reading

Doom Goes Boom in June

I would normally associate doom metal with later in the year, like November, when everything is dying. But with summer festivals and early summer release schedules, the time to doom out really gets going in June. Last year, of course, Black Sabbath made history when their Rick Rubin-produced reunion album 13 made history by souring to #1 on both the British and U.S. Billboard album charts, a first for doom. This got me cautiously excited about the prospect that mainstream would go crazy for doom (see Doom Goes Pop), or at least recognize it as a thing. You know, a genre of music worth noting and seeking out as the logical conclusion of the blues. But no. Most see Black Sabbath as just plain metal, or worse, Ozzy’s backing band. Saint Vitus or Trouble won’t be haunting the Billboard charts anytime soon.

But on a smaller scale, doom does seem healthier than ever. Doom bands are getting top billing in at least a dozen festivals in Europe between April and October. Tours in the U.S. are still sporadic, and sadly the great Days Of The Doomed IV was the last one, but the Scion Fest in Pomona, CA shows there’s still a growing audience. Bands like 40 Watt Sun and Pallbearer have gotten a good amount of attention in the music press beyond the usual doom and metal blogs. Wo Fat - The Conjuring (Small Stone, 2014)And bigger names like Down and Corrosion Of Conformity continue to pay homage to doom. And there’s a killer batch of doom albums that were released in June. Probably the most impressive release of the month was Wo Fat, The Conjuring (Small Stone) on June 17. The Dallas, TX band’s fifth album is the best example of their unique voodoo blues-doom-boogie fusion. Read the full review here.

Serpent Venom - Of Things Seen & Unseen (The Church Within, 2014)Serpent Venom – Of Things Seen & Unseen (The Church Within)
This band has been steadily growing on me since they released their debut Carnal Altar on the German label The Church Within in 2011. It’s an addictive mix of traditional Sabbath worship, blown-out Electric Wizard distortion, and lyrics that delve into occult pop culture and horror. The second album, produced by Chris Fielding, who produced fellow Brits Electric Wizard and Conan, refines the formula only slightly, holding on to that gloriously heavy, fuzzed out sound. While five of the seven songs on the debut stretch beyond 8 minutes, the new one is more concise with just two of eight going to epic length. The playing seems both looser and more fluid, reflecting the years spent gigging and rehearsing. Gary “Gaz” Ricketts’ vocals have become stronger and unique too. Continue reading