Featured, Interviews

The Astronaut: An Interview with Lights & Motion

From the embers of a thousand stars comes the music of Lights & Motion; the musical project of Christoffer Franzen. A self-taught musician of introspection, his music is a dream-like journey into the stories of his imagination. Written through the clouds of insomnia, Franzen has painted the night sky with his latest album Save Your Heart. Released via noted indie label Deep Elm Records just months after his debut, Save Your Heart has received praise and accolades from countless sources, all citing Franzen’s ability to turn the greatest of human inspiration into music.

We sit down with Franzen to talk about his craft, his passion and where his journey will take his listeners.

Congrats on the release, how does it feel now that the album is out after all those months of work?

Thank you!

Well you know, it’s sort of a weird feeling, because I have been working so hard and so focused towards making this album a reality that I haven’t really stopped and taken a look around. I never took a break after releasing Reanimation, my first album, because once that was done I got this feeling that I kind of have right now, which is a feeling a completion in the sense that this has been the big goal all along, but also a bit of emptiness due to the fact that this is something thats been taking up most of my life for this past year. You go from working 40 hours a week non-stop on this thing and then all of the sudden it’s done, it’s out, and people hear it for the first time and it’s somewhat scary. It’s been yours alone for such a long time and then you get to share it with the world, and I think that this is something that all creative people experience, the gratitude of having your work being noticed and the fear of letting it go, and to say that this actually is the finished thing, and I’m not going to work on it anymore. It’s out of my hands. I feel proud

What about all the overwhelmingly positive feedback?

The feedback, as you said, has been overwhelmingly positive and that’s so humbling, I can’t tell you. Because you don’t really think about this things when you are in the middle of the process, or the eye of the storm as I like to call it, because then it seems so far away until a possible release, so you sort of just focus on the music and that lays before you. But to get this much appreciation is extremely fun and something I never count on because who knows what people are going to think. But for the most part, the thing that makes me really amazed is that people still take time of their day to actually sit down and listen to something that I’ve created. That still blows my mind, and to be able to share this music with people from all around the world, it gives me endless joy. The feeling is like you are alone in the creation, because I always work alone on these Lights & Motion albums, it’s just me in a dark studio all through the nights, but then you walk out the door when it’s all finished and suddenly I feel like I’m in a band of 30,000 people, it’s absolutely amazing. I really feel like I have a close bond with my fans, and maybe it has something to do with what I just mentioned before, being alone in the creative space, but I feel such a commitment to them, and it’s that personal interaction that makes me work that much harder in order to achieve my goals.

How did you get started with the “self-learning” of music?

That’s a good question. I first started playing guitar when I was 16, that was the time I got my first ever acoustic guitar for christmas, so I began pretty late. Then I practiced for probably 4-5 hours every day (my poor mom and dad) and then I got into bands and all these things that you do as a young musician.

After a few years of things not really taking off, I started to feel this itch to not having to depend on other people for creative purposes. I used to wish that I was a singer and not just a guitar-player because then I actually could steer the ship a bit more and not be forced to check the schedules of 4 other people with busy lives.

I managed to get access to a studio, a very simple set-up, and during a time of sleep depravation and insomnia I started to basically spend all my nights there by myself, just fiddling on different instruments and ideas. I used to record small pieces of music that sounded awful, but I loved it because it gave me such creative freedom.

I would go there on saturday nights while everyone was out partying, and I wanted to join them but I just couldn’t let go off the studio. Just 30 more minutes I would say when they called and I would be there until 5 am.

Eventually after battling with this thought that I wanted to do something by myself, I decided to buy a bass-guitar, some drumsticks, I started to play the piano, and even though I didn’t really know any theory, I could hear when it resonated and that was a big kick. So I would try all these different instruments and record myself over and over in layers so that I could make it sound huge and not just like one guy in a dark room. I just had such a need for control and I knew exactly what I wanted, so I ended up doing every single sing by myself. I learned all the instruments I needed for what I could hear in my head, I recorded and recorded and recorded until my ears bled, and slowly I got better at it

I now have two albums out, and still I have no formal training. I have been responsible for composing, playing, arranging, engineering, producing and even mixing. And that’s what I always wanted. To be able to go from the first fleeting idea to a finished product without breaking the chain of command, which in this case is just me.

I have never actually considered myself to be that musically gifted. I always just said that you just gotta put in the hours and practice. And a lot of that self doubt was blown away after I took the courage to record Reanimation. And that I owe everyone out there who has emailed me, written on Facebook or soundcloud about how they enjoyed the music and made it a part of their day. That was incredibly humbling for me, and for that I will always be grateful.

Save Your Heart comes less than a year after your debut, how did it come around so quickly- was it just natural inspiration to keep writing?

After Reanimation was out I felt that I had so much creativity left that I didn’t want to stop. I jumped right in and started recording ideas, the first of them being ”Heartbeats”, the opening track. Even though it was written probably 1 month after the first album was out, I already knew it was going to open my second album, whenever that was going to be or whatever it was going to sound like. Then of course I would sit on things for months, just listening back and forth and adding sprinkles of sonic fairy dust and try to really make it shine in it’s own right. I tend to work like that; very fast and effective when laying down the foundation, but then I spend an enormously long time finding the sound for things, getting into the arrangements and the production side of things. In the opening track there is probably 80-90 different tracks layered, and if you listen really carefully in good speakers I’m sure you would be able to make it a lot of details in the background, ambient movements and stuff that you might not think much about but if you were to take those sounds out, a lot of the magic of the song is lost.

How did you and Deep Elm come together? It seems like the perfect fit for both of you.

Deep Elm signed me back in 2012, after hearing one of my first tracks called ”Home”, which was released on my first album, but back then it was only a demo. I knew them through Dorena who I had met in the studio, and I thought that they would be a perfect fit for my vision of this project. Since then, John (who runs Deep Elm) and I have been working very close throughout this entire process. They give me complete trust and creative space, and I look to them for everything surrounding the releases to the day to day givings of me sending them tracks and asking for their opinion. Its’s been working really well I got to say, for the both of us. I’m just grateful we got the chance to meet because it was a series of small stuff that led us there.

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Listen to music from Save Your Heart:

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You talk about music similar to painting and how your songs have a certain hue to them, what are your favourite “colours” to paint with at the moment?

Yeah that’s right, and I understand that it might be a hard and abstract concept to grasp but I really do think of music in terms of colors. If something sounds earthbound and calm I immediately think of colors like yellow and brown, whilst sounds that have a big quality and a sort of distance to them are blue/violet to me, and blue/violet was exactly what I wanted to bring into this record, Save Your Heart. This is all very visible in the artwork as well, done by an amazing artist called Elias Klingen. I went to him and I pretty much said; “Look. I have all these colors in mind and I want to make em shine and blend together to represent the music I’m writing for this album. It’s called ‘Save Your Heart’, so maybe that could be a starting-point for you. I want the colors to feel alive and to illustrate the sonic identity of this record.” He did an amazing job, I couldn’t be happier with the results.

I wanted this album to venture higher up in the skies, towards the stratosphere, and then stay there. In comparison, Reanimation is more earthy for me, it takes place down here while Save Your Heart is up above the clouds in terms of the sonic identity.

What was your process for writing Save Your Heart, did you write a lot of the material at once, or was it more of a gradual process?

I never really took a break, but the process was different. Some stuff came right away and then I worked on it for months. Snow was an early one, and I probably did 3 different versions of the outro before settling on the one you hear now, and that’s also how I work. I search for that, in my mind, perfect thing.

Some of the tracks like “Save Your Heart” and “Atlas” came to life just 3-4 weeks before the mastering was scheduled to begin. Then we have tracks like “Sparks”, “Bright Eyes” and “We Are Ghosts”, who have in one way or another been sitting around on tapes for years. I tried to dust them off and I obviously changed a lot of things within them but It’s kind of funny to think that these demos I made back when I was just alone in a studio with no name or anything, would end up on this album all this time later. Very rewarding for me personally.

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Your songs have a very dream-like, stratospheric aura to them— would you say that Save Your Heart has a distinct “theme” or story to it?

I always try to think conceptually and visually while I write. Reanimation came from me not being able to sleep, and by chance discovering this amazing world which I would get lost in, and I never wanted to wake up. I would sit in my studio at winter, 4 in the morning, looking out the window and see everything being lit up and covered by snow, and I would feel like I was the only living person awake in the entire city. That was pretty magical sometimes. For Save Your Heart, I really wanted it to be an escapism as well, but the main thing for me with this one was that determination of having the courage to go with your passion, and not cave in even though it’s easy to do. This project takes up a huge amount of time and effort in my life, and sometimes it’s hard you know? You see friends and family doing “proper” jobs and giving in to the “conformity” of society. At times it’s a struggle not to let your passion go because it’s hard doing this. And that is really what Save Your Heart is for me. It’s an encouragement to stick with the things you love and see them through. If you find that thing, you owe it to yourself to keep it alive. I think that’s extremely important. For me it is.

Do you have a particular track on Save Your Heart you can say was the most satisfying to complete?

Well it’s hard because every song has different things related to it, but if I have to pick one I would say “Heartbeats”. Simply because that song turned out exactly as I had hoped, and it was the foundation on which I would then proceed on with the other songs of the album.

Will you be touring in support of the record?

I would love to tour, but right now it’s not planned at all. I spend so much time writing this music that once I’m done, I sort of step out into the world again from my studio and realize that it’s a much bigger place then I remembered, and so if I were to tour I would want to do it just as had envisioned it, like I did with my music.

It would take a lot of planning and ambition, and I have simply not had the time to do that properly yet with touring. But I’m thinking about it a lot now so who knows..

Now that you’ve conquered the stars so to speak, where do you go next with Lights & Motion music?

Haha, well I definitely want to keep writing. I might release some new music next year and in the meantime I want to keep writing film music which I have been doing a lot this part year in between the more traditional L&M songs, and these pieces of music has become quite popular on Soundcloud, so that’s a big ambition right now.

I would love to score a film someday. That’s a big dream of mine for sure. I am such a movie-goof and I probably check IMDB on my phone 5 times everyday for new trailers, so being able to score one one day would be so cool.

Who knows..

If listeners can take one thing away from your music, what would you like that one thing to be?

A sense of hope.

 

Lights & Motion’s new album, Save Your Heart, is available now via Deep Elm Records. You can read our review for it here.

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Featured, Music

Feeling Unlucky Punk

The following article originally ran on Sound the Sirens Magazine back in July of 2003. We are re-running the piece and have edited it to include what we didn’t have back then; YouTube clips of some of our favourite songs from some of our favourite artists long gone. Comments and additions made in 2013 are italicized and appended with (BH, 2013).

We could sit here all day and discuss the ethos behind the entire ‘punk’ mantra; in the end inspecting the spiralling consequences of the mainstream upsurge that ultimately peaked in 1994. Three years after the breakout year, dubbed by many as “the year punk broke” (1991), the resurgence of the punk subculture back into the mainstream scope was in significant contrast to the 70’s and early 80’s – there was now widespread acceptance. An extension of the earlier indie rock signing spree, 1994 was the pinnacle, underscored by two California bands that saw their popularity rocket into previously unfamiliar extremes. The thoughts behind the entire montage are far too great to tackle in mere paragraphs.

Alas, the ill-effects transform itself from one generation to another, encapsulated in the waves of popularity that crest during those times. We will instead section the years 1994 to 1996 as a small example of these fleeting transitions and circle a mere 6 records that the majors released; all of which were decent in many ways, but undoubtedly lacked the mega-sale attraction their financiers had hoped for.

06. Jawbox – Jawbox
(Atlantic, July 1996)

Possibly the result of the early 90’s indie surge rather than the punk explosion, they outlived many of their counterparts and managed to get through two records for Atlantic. Humble beginnings on Maximum Rock N’ Roll compilations and their distinctly crunchy, yet catchy musical leanings does them plenty to mention their final major label release among these few. The record received little support from their label, and the band was eventually dropped a year later. Jawbox officially wrapped it up in April 1997 after the departure of drummer Zach Barocas. Members of the band are the founders of indie label DeSoto, who went on the release records by Burning Airlines and The Dismemberment Plan.

Perhaps the most “un-90s punk” of the bunch, I picked Jawbox because to me they shared a similar genesis to that of Jawbreaker. Really great indie following, strong ability to make great sounding records that just didn’t translate to the mainstream conscience. (BH, 2013)

 

05. Hog – Nothing Sacred
(Geffen, March 1996)

Fueled by front man Kirk Miller’s monstrous anthemic handiwork and the band’s love for melody, Nothing Sacred was a comparatively fun, if not, overly simplistic record that relied far too heavily on its alternative rock influences. Miller’s raspy voice rang clear in “Shut Down” and “Walls”, providing guidance for the band’s heavily distorted appeal. Perhaps in an attempt to sustain a level of ingenuity, they combined honky-tonk fragments with aggressive punk riffage in “Don’t Know Why”; coming off as far too southern and hackneyed. There was no love from the public either, as stints on the Black Sheep soundtrack and limited air play did little to bolster the band’s success. Nothing Sacred was the band’s only offering.

I wore out my tape copy of Hog’s Nothing Sacred it was so good. The title track is fantastic in particular, but there are so many great songs on this album, like the aforementioned “Walls” and “Not Perfect”. If you ever come across this album somewhere in a record shop and you like loud guitars, melodic punk, and some attitude, don’t hesitate to spend the money for it. (BH, 2013)

 

04. Waterdog – Waterdog
(Atlantic, October 1995)

Atlantic’s pop punk flag carriers depended greatly on Green Day’s popularity to carry over. This self titled disc was surprisingly accessible (bolstered by radio ready tracks “Can’t Let Go” and “Jessica”) but ultimately lacked distinctive thump in their sociable song topics. At times feeling aimless, their awkward ambling into Built to Spill territory proved a little complicated for the recently converted masses. Unlike the Berkeley trio’s unabashed, juvenile visage, Waterdog relied on slightly more cultured lyrics and less simplistic chords. The effect today would be similar to an attempt at getting Andrew W.K fans to read; it’s just not going to happen. Members of the band are still active in the business today, some currently spend time in (ironically enough) Mike Dirnt’s project The Frustrators.

This album was not the best produced, but had some great songs- most notably the closer and the track below “Jessica”. I still like listening to this song today. Looking back, I’d probably take back my opinion about this album being “too complicated” for the recently converted masses. And I don’t think this album lacked thump, just came across on the low end of the production spectrum. But I do think Andrew W.K. fans are still stupid. (BH, 2013)

 

03. Samiam – Clumsy
(Atlantic, August 1994)

Amongst their respective discography, Samiam’s Clumsy can easily go unnoticed. Their foray into the majors did not end here but unlike some of their kind, Samiam lasted through all the troubles and in one form or another, are still around today. Their creative blend of chunky pop punk components with more rock oriented mechanisms resulted in their fiery guitar powered focus. Keen on quality vocal delivery and constantly trying to rework their musical progression, Samiam are front runners of pop punk/rock with definitive style and substance. Sergie Loobkoff of the band has also spent time in Knapsack and is currently making the rounds in Solea.

When I wrote this piece, Samiam had been dormant for a few years and it wasn’t certain they would release anything else. However, they’ve been fairly active since, releasing two albums Whatever’s Got You Down (2006) and Trips (2011). This album was the only one they ever did for Atlantic. I had a chat with Sergie Loobkoff about Solea around this time, may have to dig that article out and republish soon. (BH, 2013)

 

02. Jawbreaker – Dear You
(Geffen, September 1995)

Pulled from shelves just months after its release, Dear You is a painful reminder of the fickleness that saturates the major label landscape. Far more restrained than their previous work, Jawbreaker’s final release is as mysterious as it is admired; a defining example of bad things happening to good bands. Almost completely disappearing from North American retail stores (and most definitely from the Geffen catalogue), it has been the scourge of punk record collectors who have been unsuccessful at securing a copy. Featuring the classic Jawbreaker track “Jet Black”, Dear You is nearing its much anticipated re-release. Blake Schwarzenbach bides his time in Jets to Brazil.

Not such a lost commodity any more since its reissue. However, it’s still a fascinating example of how the majors reached deep into the underground to try and replicate Green Day’s success anyway they could. Dear You was a real step away from previous Jawbreaker material and the commercial results were unfortunate. Blake Schwarzenbach is currently in Forgetters(BH, 2013)

 

01. Klover – Feel Lucky Punk
(Mercury/Polygram, August 1995)

Featuring members of legendary Boston hardcore outfit Gang Green, Klover epitomized all that was the spirit of a misunderstood generation. Leering like the Buzzcocks, influential like the Jam and embodying the youthful enthusiasm of early Social Distortion, Feel Lucky Punk was an immensely competent release. Confidently portraying ideas of rebellion, social rejection and an underlying cause for unity, it was a record that exuded all that was great of the punk movement. Strengthened by the “Basket Case”-like “Our Way”, the choral “Beginning to End” and the truly wonderful cover of the Real Kids’ “All Kindsa Girls”, Feel Lucky Punk is a real gem that deserved far more than it received. Klover disbanded in early 1996.

If there was ever an album so commercially ready to be big, it was this one. Mercury Records didn’t do anything for the band, and the songs here were relegated to used bins in Tower Records all around the world. Too bad because there is so much good material on here. Their cover of “All Kindsa Girls” is still one of the best covers you’ll hear. However, it is the opening track “Our Way” that really sets the tone for the album and remains one of the best things not to have been huge. (BH, 2013)

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Featured, Film Reviews

Film Review: The Hangover Part III

If there was any doubt that Todd Phillips wanted his Hangover franchise to end with as much bang as it began, then the first 10 minutes of The Hangover 3 will swiftly put that to rest. Two deaths including the beheading of a giraffe and the final installment of the longest night in history is well on its way. And after suffering a dreadful case of what can be (poorly) put as a ‘cinematic hangover’, the finale is thankfully near as much fun as the first.

Alan (Zach Galifianakis) is sent to rehab to clean up his crazy behavior, but along the way, the Wolfpack; Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Doug (Justin Bartha), cross paths with Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong), who is back to ruin their night one last time. The adventure unravels quicker than a cheap sweater as Chow takes the Pack on a harrowing evening of Tijuana trouble, stolen bars of gold, prescription medicine, bullets and John Goodman’s best mobster impression. Along the way, there’s more then your fair share of Alan being Alan, snappy one-liners, and Stu’s often bewildering realization at just where he finds himself at the moment, proclaiming with immense frustration and sadness that, “I’m just a dentist”.

And Poor Doug. Few people can claim they’ve been kidnapped, harassed, and lost, more times than Doug. So why not one more time? This time held hostage by Goodman’s burly underworld figure as ransom for Chow’s past. Bartha is once again surplus material, like much of the surrounding cast (Jeffrey Tambor, Jamie Chung, Heather Graham), their parts serve only momentary breaks from the often cranked up comedy and behavior of the main cast. And good God there’s a lot of Chow. If Jeong’s hyper-stereotyped Asianness is a bother to you, then you’ll probably dislike 95% of the film, but there’s enough goodwill and heart in the end that you’ll almost forget being subjected to micro-penis again.

Unlike the second outing, the third is less ill-willed, and returns the more jovial, gross out freshness the original brought. While the second movie found itself trapped in the mires of sequel-dom; recycling much of the original plot and chain of events, the third is able to cut loose the strains of the sophomore slump and let the natural and unnatural characters drive the movie. Symmetrically, the film finds its finale on the streets of Vegas, completing the story arch’s cycle. The return to the locale reminds the audience just how well the backdrop set the scene.

The film strives to turkey slap you in the face for the majority of its duration, but the gentle underbelly is proof to you that there is a heart in there as well. Phillips’ direction and general vision of the third is less grating than its predecessor and is a great way for the story to end. The Hangover 3 is genuinely fun and yes, really funny. You don’t have to stay until the end of the credits, but stay for a few minutes after it starts rolling, and you’ll be reminded why The Hangover is still outrageous. Like it should be.

The Hangover Part III opens in the United States and Australia on May 23rd.

 

THE HANGOVER PART III
Directed by: Todd Phillips
Written by: Todd Phillips, Craig Mazin
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Bartha, Ken Jeong, John Goodman
Released by: Warner Bros.
Website: hangoverpart3.com

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Album Reviews, Featured, Music

Review: Brad Paisley – Wheelhouse

There is an unspoken idea that country music artists can’t be relevant or aware in music’s often self-indulgent meta-isms of today. That someone wearing cowboy boots or a stetson is somehow unqualified to talk about pop culture and the ‘in and now’ the way someone in shades and a designer leather jacket is. Somewhere along the line, our trust in understanding the world through music shifted from the endless plains to urban hooliganism and hipster clubs. While some country music can be hokey, the bad kind is not any less irrelevant than “musicians” who use computer programs instead of guitars.

Brad Paisley, now on his ninth studio album, is as relevant and eloquent as any musician who uses their music to express the world’s trials and tribulations through notes and lyrics. Wheelhouse, 17 tracks in all, is a lesson on how country music can be as smartly written and urgent as anything written from the underbelly of London or New York. While strongly rooted in Southern traditions, the album makes it a priority to stretch far past the borders of Nashville. The album’s first single “Southern Comfort Zone”, sets this tone early on, making the earnest concern that country stereotypes are just as poorly formed as any other. It waxes lyrical about how you don’t have to be country to be country, set to the backdrop of uptempo guitar-driven country rock and easy-to-digest lines; “Not everybody goes to church or watches every NASCAR race / Not everybody knows the words to “Ring Of Fire” or “Amazing Grace””. It’s perfect for the radio- any radio- replete with just the right amount of melodic resonance. The song’s message is something that permeates through the rest of the album too, that a good ol’ Southern country boy can be as worldly as just about anyone else.

In “Pressing On A Bruise”, Paisley shares the song with singer/songwriter Mat Kearney, resulting in the album’s most alterna-ready tune. Kearney’s vocal imposition and contrasting beat leaves the song somewhere between Paisley’s more traditional numbers and Third Eye Blind. The song’s accessible nature isn’t far from opening credit music for everything that was on the old WB channel (ie. Teen dramas and young adult shows).

The distinctly country-heavy tunes of the album, “Harvey Bodine” and “Outstanding in the Field”, bounce with enough country fervor but avoid the hokey Billy Ray Cyrus-ness trap. Interestingly, some of the album’s most memorable songs are when Paisley slows down the tempo- like the quietly somber “I Can’t Change The World”. In it, Paisley’s melancholic tone is a little defeatist, surrendering to the idea that we cannot affect change on a grand scale, but when it comes to the matters of the heart, we are in fact in control of that destiny; “I can’t change the world / maybe that’s for sure / but if you let me girl / I can change yours”.

He tightropes blasphemy (in the piano-clad “Those Crazy Christians”) with humor and aplomb, while doing the old-fashioned romance with style (“Beat This Summer”), but the one time Wheelhouse stumbles, is in the LL Cool J featuring “Accidental Racist”. It’s a well meaning song, about Paisley’s awareness of the sometimes ugly side of being Southern, but the LL rap verse/bridge come off as clunky. It’s not that LL can’t do his thing, it’s just that on here, he comes across as “rap for mainstream country folk” (LL actually uses the lines “I wish you understood what the world is like livin’ in the hood / just because my pants are saggin’ it doesn’t mean I’m up to no good”).

The album however, ends on a terrific note. The closer, “Officially Alive”, is everything great about Wheelhouse. Guitar soaked, upbeat and uptempo, it is a song about feeling alive while being aware that you’re alive- spreading the gospel of being happy, being in love, and being aware of impending mortality. It’s all parts Southern soul coated with the shine of radio friendly country rock and good time vibes.

It is unfortunate that country, great country especially, isn’t perceived to be as culturally relevant and/or powerful as something written by Jay-Z or Thom Yorke or whatever it is that is being pushed as the new wave of significance. The truth is, like his country contemporaries, Paisley is as in-tune with the world around him as he is the world in which he calls home. It just seems that the majority of country artists aren’t always concerned with reminding us constantly. Tastemakers are quick to push country aside, away from the lens of indie trends, flashy hip hop and schizophrenic dance music. It’s too bad because Wheelhouse is modern reflection with great conviction; clarity amongst the distortion and noise found in our current surrounds. (Arista Nashville)

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Review: Killswitch Engage – Disarm the Descent

For nearly a decade, Howard Jones proved that his talents as a vocalist were as immense as his presence on stage. He was the burly, bounding, jovial mouthpiece for a monster of a band. Jones’ departure from Killswitch Engage could have gone in one or two ways. The void could have been filled by many capable vocalists who ply their trade in the genre- All That Remains’ Phil LaBonte being perhaps the most capable of recent times. The replacement would have sufficed; the band’s discrimination would have been of reputable standards and Killswitch would have rolled along with a new singer and all would be well. Yet there was always an intangible factor lurking in the shadows- an entity for which this one role was always suited for. It was a lingering feeling out in the metal ether, a long lost piece of a puzzle that needed time to find its way back.

Howard Jones’ voice is meant to fill stadiums, Jesse Leach’s voice is meant to bring them down.

Like the phoenix descending, Leach’s return is the shadow filling the canyons once again- a beautiful darkness filling the caverns left behind. His return has not only rejuvenated the band as a whole, but the other members individually as well, with goofy personalities and silly on-stage behavior intact.

The fury they exhibited in Alive Or Just Breathing… has returned tenfold, and while the band always seem to be having a great time on stage or on video, the music’s tonality and substance comes from something much darker. From the opening sonic dissonance of “The Hell In Me” to the soaring heights of “In Due Time”, Disarm The Descent is the sound of a band finding cohesion and purpose in near perfect harmony.

Perhaps the most telling quality is the complete and lack of contrivance in the songs as one. Modern metal and metal of the “core” designation tend to exhibit a painfully forced quality- whether it be the chugga-chugga riffs, the blasé guitar shrieks, or most nauseating of them all, the gurgling, squealing, catastrophically awful vocals- severely diminishing its appeal. The thing about Disarm The Descent is that when Leach screams, it sounds and feels genuine. Perhaps owing a little to Leach’s personal beliefs, but there has always been a sense of spirituality in his voice, adding to it a piercing quality. Similarly, when he switches from screaming to singing, it’s a seamless transition- like in “All That We Have” and “The New Awakening”.

Musicianship has been key to Killswitch’s success- and while technical metal can be overbearing and obnoxious, much of Disarm The Descent’s more complicated measures come in bursts, but all in unison to the melodies and percussion work. The latter of which, proves that Justin Foley is simply one of the best in the business. The pedal work in the closing “Time Will Not Remain” is as good and punishing as you’ll ever hear.

There have been many heights to the band’s songwriting over the years, but an apex found is an achievement all bands strive for. From the earliest incarnations of Killswitch, songs like “My Last Serenade” and “Numbered Days” paved the groundwork to the mass appeal qualities of songs like “Rose Of Sharyn” and the chart conquering “The End Of Heartache”. In the song “The Call”, Killswitch may have found its crowning ode to aurally appealing, destructive metal. It is a song equal parts speed, guttural low-end and machine gun percussion with that soaring grace the band have cornered as their own. Killswitch’s left hand jab was “The End of Heartache” and its right hand knockout punch is “The Call”.

Produced as always by Adam Dutkiewicz, Disarm The Descent is sonically the best sounding album since The End Of Heartache. The biggest positive difference; Mike D’s bass work now sounds like the apocalypse. A compliment of the highest possible stature. But as a whole, it is a balance between the elements- something Dutkiewicz and the band couldn’t quite achieve in Killswitch Engage (2009) and for the most part, As Daylight Dies.

In “Always”, the band do what most metal bands not from the 80s have a tough time doing- balladeering. Melancholic in craft, the song is by sonic definition, the artwork for The End Of Heartache in its pained vocals, crushing mid-tempo metal and a sense of vulnerability; a song for the heart punctured by the stab of a thousand nails.

Leach’s return is as ever, a powerful reminder of the intangible qualities a group of musicians can be together. Disarm The Descent isn’t as big as The End of Heartache, but it’s better. It has a rhythmic cohesion the band managed to blanket with Howard Jones’ monstrous voice and personality for the last ten years. Now, we’ve gotten the album the band couldn’t write after Alive Or Just Breathing… It’s hard to say it’s perfect as perfection is boring, but Leach was never about perfect. He sounds pained and burdened at times, and his voice is his catharsis. There is a darkness in him that battles with the light, on and off the stage. Now darkness has fallen and Killswitch Engage are reborn. Some things are meant to be. (Roadrunner)

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Basketball, Featured, Sports

Never Be Like Mike

Perspective is the end argument when it comes to unresolvable sports questions. We live in an age where talk and discussion is paramount regardless of whether we will ever find the answers or not. It is the very nature of sports talk radio. This weekend marks the 50th birthday of Michael Jordan, and coincidentally, LeBron James has been playing historically unmatched basketball over the last few weeks (30 points a game, 60% shooting in 6 or more games in a row). It has been a golden opportunity for talk radio to once again highlight the oft-discussed topic of whether or not LeBron is as good, or better, than Michael Jordan.

The answer is simply: no. LeBron James will never be as good as Michael Jordan.

But the reasons behind the answer are more to do with perspective then it does with statistics. Numbers do play a big part, let’s not forget, 6 rings to 1, no final losses to 2. However, it’s a little more intangible than that.

I’m in my early 30s and during the height of Jordan’s powers I was a teen growing up in Indonesia. With feet firmly planted in Air Jordans and head soaring to the basket, there was a mystical element to Jordan. It was an aura of invincibility that made a scrawny Asian kid believe that while I would never make the NBA, the times I flew through the air in my backyard were just as great.

People talk a lot about intangibles and killer instinct. We know Jordan had it, and we know Kobe has it. The last few years have been about whether or not LeBron has it. We balked at this idea when he bailed on Cleveland, laughed when he no-showed in fourth quarters, and definitely believed he didn’t when the Heat came up short against Dallas. But last year, on their run to the championship, he showed something. And now, in their defence of the ring, he’s been playing like no other. Unstoppable, gazelle-like, men amongst the boys- LeBron is head and shoulders better than anyone else in the league.

Yet, LeBron is a victim of our time. Media oversaturation, promise, “The Chosen One”, everything rolled out on a red carpet since high school. Back in 2003, I wrote that the hype that followed LeBron would “devour everything in its path” and in a way, it devoured LeBron too. Every ounce of greatness he has achieved and will achieve will never match this generation’s ridiculous expectations.

IN A SEA OF TREES

Reggie Miller, Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Dominique Wilkins.

This is a list of Hall Of Famers who never won a ring because of Michael Jordan. This doesn’t include all of Reggie Miller’s teammates on those Pacer teams, Barkley’s, Ewing’s Knicks, Wilkins’ Hawks. And it doesn’t include Shawn Kemp. None of them won a ring because each year Michael Jordan and his Bulls stood in the way. The two years he went to play baseball were the only chance Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler had to win theirs; otherwise they’d be on this list too.

Jordan posterizes Ewing

Jordan posterizes Ewing

Jordan had to play amongst the trees in his prime. He had to literally dunk over Patrick Ewing to get his rings, the best centre LeBron has to play against? Brook Lopez? Tyson Chandler? Only Dwight Howard could hold the paint against Olajuwon, Ewing and Robinson (although the way Howard is playing this year, we should think about scratching him off that list too). The calibre of talent Jordan had to overcome for his rings were named Ewing, Robinson, Olajuwon, Malone, Miller, Wilkins, Barkley and Magic. LeBron didn’t even show up for the fourth quarter against Tyson Chandler.

Then there are those indelible Jordan moments. Over Ehlo, around Sam Perkins, over Ewing, all over Bird, one on one with Wilkins, from the free throw line, standing in the shadow of himself in Barcelona, the shoulder shrug, under the weather, off of Russell. It’s hard to quantify them because you couldn’t YouTube them 5 minutes after they happened- they were at times, mythical occurrences passed on by whispers and VHS videos, but they happened.

For LeBron, I will always remember the shot he hit against Orlando in the conference final as a watershed moment. And right now, I’ll remember how well he’s playing but for someone my age, LeBron’s memories will be The Decision, the Welcome Party and the time he dunked on poor old John Lucas.

This is because I didn’t grow up with LeBron. He’s not a basketball hero to me, just a commodity; a great ball of talent, energy and marketing. I figure this is how the older generation feel about Jordan and people like me when they talk about Bill Russell, Chamberlain, Kareem and Oscar. And I figure this is how LeBron’s fans will feel when in 20 years, whoever is top of the chain then, is compared to LeBron.

Maybe I just dislike LeBron and the NBA today. Or maybe we just know too much of LeBron, like we know too much of everyone these days.

We have tried in vain to find the next Jordan for more than a decade now. We’ve had a line of candidates who all fell short- Grant Hill, Kobe, Vince Carter- and most embarrassingly, Harold Miner- and now LeBron, who for all the talent in the world (which on a pure talent stand point, would probably surpass Jordan), falls short because he is the product of his generation.

But Jordan was Jordan; and for someone of my generation, a larger than life figure who at a given time was as famous as Muhammad Ali was in his prime, known to the citizens of America as he was known to a housewife somewhere in Southeast Asia. They invented The Jordan Rules to stop Michael, until this year, all you had to do was show up in the fourth quarter to stop LeBron.

Like LeBron, I am a product of my generation; pulled into the draw of the NBA when the Bad Boy Pistons had dethroned Magic’s Lakers. They were the villains of a sport in need of a hero. And through all the moments that transcended an entire generation, Number 23, who soared and graced the court like no one before or after, became that hero, the first and last Jordan. 

Bonus video:

This is an old VHS tape called ‘Michael Jordan’s Playground’ that I watched countless times marveling at the Jordan mystique. Most telling is Jordan describing the importance of determination and will in order to succeed and become the best.

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Featured, Music

Invincible: Rest In Peace Tony Sly

How does one find the right words? For someone who admired and respected Tony Sly from a distance, the day has been part coming to terms of what has happened and part sheer disbelief. Almost two decades since I first came across No Use For A Name, the music Sly and his bandmates wrote still resonate greatly, and a small part of myself just wanted to do what I’m sure he had done for so long; write down and express the many things that brewed beneath the surface.

Leche Con Carne and their spot on Survival Of The Fattest were my introduction to the band and I was immediately taken aback by songs like “Soulmate” and “Justified Black Eye”, music that could be both urgent and accessible. Their music was and is a perfect blend of aggression and unrelenting melody. It’s my kind of tune.

I can’t profess to know much about him, but from his music I know that he had a daughter, liked Irish music and that he made many friends on the tour circuit. The latter easy to see with so many of his contemporaries expressing their sadness today, and it’s a pretty definitive list of bands I grew up with, loved and listened: The Bouncing Souls, Less than Jake, Face to Face, Strung Out, Bad Religion, The Ataris.

I saw No Use For a Name live twice. Once back in 99/00 at Slim’s in San Francisco when they opened for NOFX, and the second at the Corner Hotel in Melbourne on their Keep Them Confused tour. Both shows were energized by Tony’s enthusiasm; no matter how long it seemed he’d been touring. And I for one, am happy I got to see some of my favorite songs performed from the best place possible; from the pit.

No one would ever call me a musician (one of the bands I was in back in the day covered “Straight From The Jacket” if that means anything) so I guess this is just from a fan. I never got to meet Tony, and I can’t imagine what his family and close friends are dealing with at the moment. But for someone who grew up on the other side of the planet, his music traveled across oceans and through borders and changed the life of some kid he never met. I don’t know why he died and I don’t really want to know, but I wanted to say thanks.

“Somebody get me off this lonely sad parade.
The differences a hundred miles, but a couple months away.
I’m saying hello just to say goodbye.”

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