October 16, 2020

The Struts – Strange Days (Interscope)

I am in love with this record. 

Is it great? No, not really. 

Is it profound? Oh, good lord, no!

Is it Kiss with a frontman who can sing? YES!

The title track opens the album and features Robbie Williams’s unbelievable pipes, and is the least Kiss-like track on the entire presentation. From that point on, Strange Days is a non-stop festival of power chords, wailing vocals, songs with almost no substance, and a whole lot of volume. IT MUST BE PLAYED LOUD. It loses so much if it’s not just ripping through the speakers. 

And honestly, it’s just that kind of music. What kind of mole-person listens to Kiss softly? No one! 

Oh, the icing on the cake of this leather-vested glam-rock magnum opus? A cover of “Do You Love Me”, by…oh, you get it by now. 

There are plenty of other tracks to get your hair moving though. “All Dressed Up (With Nowhere To Go)” is reminiscent of “Hot Blooded”, “Wild Child” features Tom Morello, doing his thing, and “Cool” has elements of Jet and early Mooney Suzuki. There’s a whole lot of distortion to be had here, and none of the tracks are skip-worthy. Give yourself a party and jam this loud. 

FFO: The Darkness, KISS, Jet

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CordovasDestiny Hotel (ATO)

Rooted in early Americana, 60s rock, and feel-good bluegrass country and folk, Cordovas are a bucket of joy served over ice. Maybe with one of those happy little blue umbrellas. 

Each of these dudes exhales more talent than can be found in the whole of pop-country music combined. Mostly that’s due to an understanding of what music can do. Maybe you need to be reminded by barroom rag piano and sing-along style melodies that it is indeed a “Fine Life” you live. Maybe you’re wrestling with something personal and could use the psychedelic grooves of “Man In My Head”. Or maybe you just need to focus on that thing, place, or person in your life that gives you that “High Feeling”. 

Frontman, Joe Firstman, has made the rounds. He spent some time as the band leader on Last Call with Carson Daly, then writing and touring the country with heavy-hitters like Willie Nelson and Jewel. Cordovas has been low-key tearing it up for about a decade, earning small armies of devoted fans and the respect of anyone who has seen them live. Their energy, honesty, and sheer skill is undeniable. 

True, a few of the songs have been released on previous recordings. What is pretty cool about that is they’ve been reimagined to gel with the vibe of the new album. For example, “I’ma Be Me” was on their album Love Bravely from 2014 (now just listed as a Joe Firstman solo album). On that record it had a Tom Petty, bass guitar and harmonica feel. In its current incarnation, it incorporates fiddle and keys and emphasizes the joy of life’s cyclical nature. 

Cordovas knows how to make a bad day good and a good day better. 

FFO: The Hollies, Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real, Dire Straits

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Lost Symphony – Chapter II (XOFF)

Are you a shred-ready guitarist in a semi-famous or famous hard rock/metal outfit? Are you tired of competing for front stage with some *gulp* singer? Come to Benny and Brian Goodman’s house. They have a studio and know an absurd quantity of guitar virtuosos. 

Seriously, though.

Members of Megadeth, Nevermore, All That Remains, Starset, Guns N Roses, and a handful of others show up on Chapter II to show off their intrepid fingers. Blistering riffs soar and plunge, bathing the symphonic undergrowth in a neverending torrent of melted face. This is an otherworldly display of talent. It’s a show of ability that transcends what these artists regular bands allow them to do. 

It’s a…talent…show?

Yeah, actually that kind of hits the nail on the head. This is not a very composed, thematic record. It has movements and structure, flow and dynamics, but nothing in the way of heart or meaning. There is virtually no purpose beyond a glass show-window, featuring the prettiest, most well-groomed pets. 

The songs are nearly indistinguishable from each other, and that is a huge bummer. Imagine what this could have been if some thought and planning were applied. But sadly, the album is just wanking. Impressive wanking, to be sure. But wanking nonetheless. 

FFO: Nevermore, Neverwinter, Dragonforce

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beabadoobee – Fake It Flowers (Dirty Hit)

On Fake It Flowers, Filipino-born and British-raised beabadoobee presents a delightful summation of angst-driven alt rock from the 1990s.  Which is all the more amazing when you consider that she was born in the year 2000.

You may remember her most from lo-fi jam “death bed (coffee for your head) with Canadian artist Powfu.  The acoustic-dominated track is a far cry from most of Fake It Flowers, however.  The minimal guitar and percussion is replaced with something a bit heavier.  The soft, gentle lyrics are a bit meaner.  For instance, from “Dye It Red”:

“Kiss my ass, you don’t know jack/And if you say you understand, you don’t […] Fuck me only when I’m keen/Not according to your beer”

Yes!  Suck it all the way, other decades!  Especially you, 1940s.

Even within the motif, there is a lot of variance within the tracks.  “Worth It” is peak Tonic, hard enough to catch your ear while not so hard as to lead you away from the angsty (I mean that in a good way!) lyrics.  “Charlie Brown” is a bit harder – think Flyleaf with the dial turned down from 11 to 7.  “Sorry” starts off as beabadoobee’s “Glycerine” before the percussion comes in about 2/3rds of the way through.  “Emo Song” is, as you guessed, an emo song.  “Horen Sarrison” goes in a different direction, trading in the angst for a very lofty, Coldplay-esque sound, something that would be right at home on A Rush of Blood to the Head.

beabadoobee’s vocals are great for the sound.  They’re plenty edgy, attitude-y, but still pleasant.  She’s got some room to grow there, and that will only improve as she continues to mature as an artist.

Fake It Flowers is an unexpected trip down memory lane, while maintaining a very modern, updated feel.  If I had to guess, beabadoobee has jammed to her share of the good stuff from the era.  Either way, it’s a great homage to a great time in music history.

FFO: Garbage, Hole, Fiona Apple (a wide range of artists, to fit a wide range of tracks!)

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CXLOE – Heavy, pt. 1 (Sandlot)

Australia’s CXLOE shows a level of experience that ignores her 25 year old package. Her style could be described as a dark alt-pop with strong influence from indie-electronica. 

While there is not an abundance of substance (pun intended, will make sense later), her lyrics are easily understood and readily relatable. Like being addicted to a relationship (“12 Steps”) (*ahem, remember the pun? Huh?*), being a brat (“Swing”), or pining for something that you used to have (“One and Lonely”). 

She could easily fall into the same bargain-bin as Tove Lo or Kiiara, falling just shy short of the shelf that Halsey and Billie Eilish sit on. But not remotely close to the level of Ellie Goulding or Dua Lipa

Clearly, and by my own admission, this style isn’t something that I can just chill with, but if I need a steering wheel tapper, I wouldn’t turn if off.

Start with: “Creature”, “12 Steps”, “One and Lonely”

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Matt Berninger – Serpentine Prison (Concord Records)

I decided to put this together as a Quickie, instead of a long-form review – mainly because I knew I would write an entire novella if I didn’t.

Matt Berninger is amazing, both as a vocalist and as a lyricist.  He’s the frontman for the sublime band The National (not to be confused with the band Sublime, who were sublime in their own right).  He was one of the masterminds behind one-off track Walking on a String, along with Phoebe Bridgers, who I may also enjoy to an unnatural degree. (Fun fact: that song was written for Between Two Ferns: The Movie, which I highly recommend if you like absolutely delicious idiocy in its purest form.)

Look: I said I wasn’t gonna write for a year about this album, and I’m sticking to that!  It’s peak Berninger, with songs about love and lost love and found love and eyes being t-shirts (“My Eyes Are T-Shirts”, in case you thought I was joking there).  But I wanted to point out one thing: go listen to “Distant Axis”.  I’ll wait.

Yep: it’s “The Crane Wife 3”.  Unabashedly.  Unapologetically.  You expect to hear all about the boughs unbowed, but nope!  It’s Berninger.  It’s an unfortunate black eye on an otherwise pristine release, but it had to be pointed out.  I had to find something wrong with Serpentine Prison, after all.

FFO: The Decemberists (both for the biting of The Crane Wife 3 and the substance), Conor Oberst

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Gord Downie – Away Is Mine (Gordieland Inc.)

As a rabid hockey fan, Gord Downie’s name comes up a lot.  He tends to be a pretty revered music artist among the older hockey community, and many others as well – especially Canadians.  He is beloved both as the frontman of legendary Canadian soft rock band The Tragically Hip, and as a solo artist as well.  Gord sadly passed away in 2017, after a battle with brain cancer.  He recorded the tracks that ended up becoming Away Is Mine three months before his passing, and they were released for the world to enjoy this week.

Away Is Mine has something for everyone.  Each track has a regular version, and an acoustic version.  The regular variants are a bit more polished (like “River Don’t Care”), with the acoustics a bit more emotive (like “I Am Lost”).  The tracks are different enough that it grows a 10-track release into effectively 20.

Considering how important Gord, and The Tragically Hip, continues to be for our neighbors to the north, it’s worth taking a closer listen to older albums – which I will definitely be doing.  If they’re half as good as Away Is Mine was, then I’ll be thrilled.

FFO: Crowded House (for The Tragically Hip), Matthew Good (for Gord Downie’s solo work)

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