Monday, October 29, 2012

review: The Mark Lanegan Band - "Blues Funeral" (4AD records 2012)

The Mark Lanegan Band
Blues Funeral
4AD records 2012

since the mid-1980's, Mark Lanegan has been one of the most powerful voices in american music. his deep baritone voice shows a set of vocal chords coated with a perfect patina that can only be reached with decades of heavy drug, alcohol, and nicotine use. the wisdom in his words verifies this lifestyle, and the fact that, thirty years later, he is still walking on this planet, creating music, and performing onstage proves that he was blessed with the rock n roll genetics needed to survive it all. he's an american classic, our generations' johnny cash, but he still resides in relative obscurity. he is best known for his work with the psychedelic classic rock seattle scene pioneers The Screaming Trees and for an impressive string of gothic americana-themed solo albums. he has been a full time member of Queens of the Stone Age, has dueted with the british chanteuse Isobel Campbell on a handful of smoky records, and has collaborated with the trip hop duo Soulsavers. He has partnered with The Afghan Whig's Greg Dulli under the banner of The Gutter Twins and has worked with... well, you get the picture. he has been a major force on the music scene for years and years, and he refuses to fit neatly into any mold of expectations.

even still, i was surprised how far his sonic palette had expanded for his most recent release, The Mark Lanegan Band's "Blues Funeral." credit is due to the hugely talented multi-instrumentalist/producer/mixer Alain Johannes (QOTSA, Chris Cornell, Eleven) who accurately performs and translates the sounds and atmosphere in Lanegan's head, and human metronome Jack Irons (pearl jam, red hot chilli peppers) is rock solid on the drums as always. "Blues Funeral" is easily one of the years' finest albums and boldly stands out amongst the massive and wide ranging catalog of Lanegan's career.

the almost industrial sounding grind of the opening track, "Gravedigger's Song," gets things moving immediately, hammering like a haunted prison chain gang. Lanegan's opening lyric, "With piranha teeth/i've been thinking of you...," sets the dark and ominous tone. (super creepy video by director Alistair Legrand)

"Bleeding Muddy Water" feels like an old slave spiritual sung under the full moonlight. over sparse instrumentation, Lanegan's haunted voice carries almost the entire weight of the song. the melody is entirely his and he's positively crooning in the chorus: "ooohhh baby, don't it feel so bad?" so fucking good.

"Grey Goes Black" veers off into different territory and is the first example throughout the album of an early 80's new wave feel, with an icy cold mopey dancefloor beat and a guitar solo that sounds like something from U2's the Edge circa 1983.

"Riot in My House"... jack irons' trademarked bedrock-deep grooves with Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme bringing his hot shit licks to sexy things up. yes please. and check that tight as fuck groove at the 1:55 mark. damn that's hot stuff

the new order-style synth dance beat of "Ode to Sad Disco," in the context of Lanegan's career, comes from far out of left field and signals a dramatic shift in the albums' tone. a thread of trance-y, spaced-out electronica runs through most of side two. Lanegan sounds fucking fantastic gruffly pleading "Gloria/I get down on my knees" over a throbbing 80's dance beat. who knew?

"Phantasmagoria Blues" is an absolutely gorgeous song. once again the melody is entirely Lanegan's, beautifully sung over a plaintive sheet of sound and skittish electronic drums. the first of a series of masterpieces that dominate the last half of the album.

Lanegan is in full on new wave mode... the chorus sounds ripped straight off of an early Cars record

"Harborview Hospital," named after a rehab clinic in seattle, is the second masterpiece on the album. beautifully radiating and full of melancholic reflection.. like the clouds parting on a sad grey day and everything, for a few moments, is just perfect. the music has a shimmering liquidness to it, a subtle bass pulse is provided by ex-Porno for Pyros bassist Martyn LeNoble, and Lanegan sings "the devil's ascending/upon some crystal wings/in the citadel/lightning/splits a cloud of butterflies and fiends/and with a vacant stare/i'll leave a flower there." stunning stuff and easily one of Lanegan's best works.

the serpentine "Leviathan" slithers up the listeners spine, building to a swirling web of layered voices as Lanegan duets with Masters of Reality's Chris Goss. "everyday a prayer for what i never knew, this is one i said for you."

"Deep Black Vanishing Train" is the lone call back to the raspy, dusty folk of Lanegan's past solo work. plaintive and haunting.

"Tiny Grain of Truth," the triumphant, glowing finale, is the albums' third masterpiece... a mesmerizing drone of guitar noise washed over a steady synth drum beat, with Lanegan, the grizzled veteran, declaring "what's done is done is done now." it's a staggeringly beautiful track.

and with the end of that song, the final shovel load has been thrown on Lanegan's "Blues Funeral," and he rides off into the sunset full of unlimited possibilities and potential and ignores anything that has ever appeared in his rearview mirror... as always.

10 of 10 and a "top five album of 2012" finalist.

~reviewed by Kojak

here's a non-album track from the Blues Funeral sessions, "Burning Jacobs' Ladder." 

and a fantastic set from the 4AD Sessions at Pull Studios, NYC

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Egypt - "become the sun" album art

kojak, head pharmacist at HEAD MEDICINE, recently completed the artwork for "Become the Sun," the new album from Fargo, ND stonerrock gods Egypt. check it.

more kojak art can be found HERE @ The Art of Kojak and the not-so-daily Kojak Daily Dose

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Queens of the Stone Age - Live at Bob's Garage (1999)

a blisteringly classic four song performance from the Self Titled era.  Josh Homme - guitar/vocals, Nick Oliveri - bass/backing vocals, Dave Catching - guitar, Alfredo Hernandez - drums.

Friday, October 19, 2012

modern classics: Dan Auerbach's "Keep it Hid"

Dan Auerbach
Keep it Hid
2009 Nonesuch Records

it is easy to overlook the fact that, amid the decade-long unbroken streak of classic albums released by the akron ohio duo The Black Keys,  Dan Auerbach (the Key's singer/guitarist) released a solo album in 2009, "Keep it Hid," that just might very well be his finest work to date.

Two years prior to that on "Attack and Release," the black keys began broadening their stripped down-to-the-bone blues rawk sound by incorporating additional instrumentation (bass (!), keyboards, and percussion among others), but it was on "keep it hid,"  that auerbach fully emerged as a finely tuned songwriter capable of a wider range of emotions, textures, and sounds, proving himself more than just a scruffy dude with an awesome beard banging out supremely badass blues riffs. there is more depth here, the songwriting and instrumentation are more developed, and there is more air for the music to move through. auerbach performed the majority of the musical parts himself on a wide variety of instruments, with most of the drumming being handled by bob cesare, whose beats are as strong as anything by black keys drummer Patrick Carney.

"Keep it Hid" starts off with the creaky front porch folk of "Trouble Weighs a Ton," featuring harmony vocals with Dan and his uncle, guitarist John Quine.  the table is immediately set for a different musical experience from the cranked up Black Keys sounds we have grown accustomed to.  the song is stripped to its' emotional core;  hushed acoustic guitar, weary lyrics and two guys singing without any ornamentation at all.

the second track, "I Want Some More," stomps in with a sludgy swamp rock groove built on thick-as-mollasses fuzz bass, a mellotron vamping in the background, and Bob Cesare's mallets pounding on the floor toms.  Cesare separates himself immediately from any comparisons to Black Keys' drummer patrick carney by consistently forming the center of the groove and allowing everything to swirl around him rather than frantically trying to lead the charge.  this aspect to Cesare's drumming is a defining trait to "Keep it Hid."

the swampiness continues through "Heartbroken, in Disrepair," an Auerbach classic.  the "How Soon is Now"-ish phased guitar riff is fucking unforgettable.  Auerbach's songwriting is completely tuned in here, and it would take the Black Keys a few more years to catch up to this song.  again, Cesare is at the eye of the storm, forming the songs' core with a subtle drum march.  he continuously gives the album a tasteful, classic Creedence Clearwater Revival sound.

"Because I Should" is an unusual musical interlude.  an almost industrial sounding piece of musique concrete, it seems to be a collage of found sounds with backward masked wind chimes.  the tracks' purpose and intent is a mystery.  it may be to provide a bit of a wind down from "heartbroken" into the quieter tracks that follow,  to reset the listener's perspective for a stylistic shift, or possibly to act as a chapter break for the album.  occasionally, throughout the record, the quiet rustle of the wind and the gentle vibrations of the chimes come in again, so these sounds provide a mysterious thread from the beginning of the album to its end.

"Whispered Words" ushers in a quieter section of the album, and branches out into a classic R&B sound while "Real Desire" is a piece of cheek-to-cheek slow-dancing soul.  Organ and bass are the lead instruments on "Real Desire," with guitar woven almost into the background, and the drum machine intro leads to Auerbach's own live drumming.  this song is Auerbach's one-man-band moment.

the ethereal "When the Night Comes" might be Auerbach's finest creation to date.  Co-written by Auerbach's father, Charles, the song has a hazy, luminescent glow... beautiful and touching lyrics sung over soothing acoustic guitar, an almost invisible bass drum resonating in the ether, and ghostly harmony vocals by Jessica Lea Mayfield on the chorus.  it's undoubtably Auerbach's most personal and sincere work.   Recorded, engineered, and mixed by Mark Neill at the start of these experimental sessions, "When the Night Comes" was a large leap forward for Auerbach and signaled a massive creative shift for him as an artist, setting the tone for the wide-open approach to the recordings that would follow.  the wind chimes fade in at the end  and lead the listener into the album's next chapter.

"Mean Monsoon" is a steamy, sexy tango and cranks the albums' heat up once again with dueling hot shit guitar licks by Auerbach and Quine, the upright bass of Rob "Thorney" Thorsen, and Cesare's thumping drums.  the mood continues into "The Prowl," with a horny fuzz bass line and a cool drum shuffle from Cesare and bleeds over into the sinister title track, "Keep it Hid."  once again, Auerbach and Cesare are locked into a no frills, classic CCR swamp rock sound and it sounds absolutely magical.

the menacing clouds break open for the sunny 60's garage rock of "my last mistake" until the ominous, creepy paranoia of "When i Left the Room" snakes backs in.  the track is covered with a heavy atmosphere of serpentine guitars, banjo pickin',  backwards guitar soloing, and what sounds like a goddamn sitar strummed  over a layer of Cesare's now patented floor tom drum rolls. the recording is a dense web of sound, masterfully produced, performed, and assembled in the final mix. it is an album highlight for sure.  "Street Walkin'" is the last slab of hefty guitar meat on the album, and the framework for all of the great Black Keys tunes that would later show up on "Brothers" and it's follow-up, "El Camino" is formed.  the wind chimes at the songs' end signals one last chapter break.

Auerbach and Cesare close the album out with the twin guitar strums of "Goin' Home," echoing the records' stripped down opening notes of "Trouble Weighs a Ton," and brings the entire piece around full circle.  Auerbach's lyrics seem wiser and less weary now, the guitars brighter and more optimistic.  the chimes once again fade out and brings the album to a close.

"keep it hid" almost destroyed the black keys. at the time, patrick carney was distracted by a brutal divorce and felt betrayed by auerbach's solo venture, which he knew nothing about until the album was being released. but when the dust settled and carney and auerbach kissed and made up, the black keys were reenergized and opened new creative doors, expanding their sound dramatically with their massively successful albums "Brothers" and "El Camino," doors that were first pried open by auerbach on "keep it hid." a bit less self conscious than any black keys album, "keep it hid" is more wide open and uninhibited, and might turn out to be auerbach's defining artistic statement when it's all said and done. a classic from one of rock music's modern greats.