It May Be Obvious: But With the Exception of “Youth,” “Blender,” “Dosage” and Much of “Disciplined Breakdown” Collective Soul Have Never Released a Bad Album

It might be obvious, but Collective Soul used to release really good music. For the most part though, this came to an end around March of 1995… after that, the band’s releases became scattered (at best). I can still remember listening to the local rock radio station’s yearly wrap-up in 1997 and hearing “Precious Declaration” proclaimed as the finest of the hundred or so songs on the list. It was a good song, and I remember when first hearing it how different it sounded, how it seemed so fresh; but then again I was fourteen. Without entirely diminishing the effect of the band allow me to put the overall impact of Collective Soul into perspective: when I was that age I clearly remember an afternoon helping with some things at my dad’s office and we were listening to one of those gimmick “500 Best Rock Songs of All-Time” type countdowns on the radio. One of the other people asked me who I thought would be “it” as it was getting towards the end of the list, around the top top or so. My response? Lenny Kravitz. My ears were young, what can I say?

In 1994, however, my friends and I had started to move away from the only classic rock station in town (which appears to have become just like every other mainstream rock station given Daughtry, Saliva and Stone Sour are on its current ‘Top 8′) and were branching out slightly. Weezer was becoming popular and I remember that in one of my friends’ stacks of CDs, under said Blue Album was Hints, Allegations and Things Left Unsaid. As a grade schooler the cover seemed vulgar, but looking at it now, it’s actually one of the more interesting pieces of cover art that the decade may have produced.

That being said, it wasn’t until the band’s 1995 eponymous release that I began my appreciation for Collective Soul. At the time it seemed as though songs such as “Gel” were outrageous considering its contemporaries on the radio; all the while “The World I Know” acted to recapture whichever listeners were turned off by the band’s harder songs. It had an intangible quality that made it enjoyable to such a broad selection of fan, and by 1996 it helped lead the album to platinum status. Three times over. An act nearly unprecedented for a rock group in today’s musical landscape.

As with many albums in my youth I went backwards in the chain of release and I came to appreciate Hints… once I fell in love with Collective Soul. Unlike its successor Hints… was a friendlier album that helped me appreciate the band on a far greater level. Its “Pretty Donna” made sense on the “these guys are classier than me” level as it introduced two minutes of strings into the mix, something that would musically be revived only in bits and pieces (such as “The World I Know”) throughout the rest of the band’s career. And even now, when I hear “Shine” I’m OK with it. I don’t have regret or any such symptoms from putting so much stock into the band even though I was eventually let down; no matter how you look at it, it was a complete rock track.

On somewhat of a sidenote: while just recently listening to the album something absolutely fantastic came to mind when hearing the song “Wasting Time.” Sans the intro to the track it could have easily become just as “over-appreciated” as The Rembrandts‘ “I’ll Be There For You,” hand claps and all, while serving as the introduction for Friends. That being said it would have staged a wonderfully ironic act if used as such as it describes exactly what the show would become over the next decade: wasting time. “That’s all you’ll do if you’re waiting for me, wasting time, I don’t see what you think I see” (PS – Friends was horrible).

“Precious Declaration” was good, but the rest of Disciplined Breakdown was a little mediocre. Much of the album failed to ring with the same boldness of the band’s previous releases and in doing so the band made the turn towards the same horrible sound that every radio-friendly rock band boasted from about 2000 to 2001. We’re talking 3 Doors Down here. We’re talking Tantric. We’re talking Default. Yeah, Default. And if not actually having been Collective Soul, the last song I ever remotely liked by the band (2000’s “Why Part 2″) could have very well been any of the aforementioned. There was once a time when I considered bands that are considered ‘classic rock’ and what it must be like to have enjoyed the same band for some thirty years; figuring the possibility that Collective Soul may be a classic rock band come 2015. It was a decent thought at the time, but too bad it won’t pan out. At least we’ve still got “Gel.”

Will Farrell: USC Strength Coach Chuck Berry

On the heels of the recent internet phenomena that was The Landlord comes this set of clips staged at USC where strength coach Chuck Berry (Farrell) examines and prepares Ryan Kalil for the NFL draft. Speaking of football, personally, since the sport’s finest icon called it a career in May of 2006 I have been in somewhat of a football purgatory where the sport hasn’t been bad, but hasn’t exactly been meaningful. Though living in Minnesota would make me a Vikings fan be default, the team hasn’t exactly held itself in a the most respectable of light the past few seasons and in the process has pretty much ended any chance of me giving them serious props. With that being said, I’ve put some serious thought into this, and I think it’s time that Greg Olson replace one Doug Flutie as the number one athlete in the game and in my heart.

See, living in the Midwest is, as I’ve come to learn during the past five years, a very odd thing. One isn’t necessarily obligated to cheer, root or applaud one’s home team just because they represent the city on some sort of national level. While frowned upon, it’s still accepted for Minnesotans to claim either The Green Bay Packers or Chicago Bears as “their team” (especially given the circumstances surrounding yachts, strippers and pretty much anything Randy Moss ever did). So, looking at last season’s statistics (Green Bay: a mediocre 8-8/Chicago: a whirlwind of fury at 13-3) it appears as though Chicago is my new “team” and accordingly in a show of support I’m declaring the team’s first pick in today’s NFL Draft, Greg Olson, my new favorite player.

I’m not one to nitpick statistics, unless said statistics relate to the career of one Doug Flutie, who by the way holds the professional football record of 6,619 yards passing in a single season, but after skimming the report on Olson I’d say that my team has made the correct pick. 6′4″, weighs in at 252 lbs. and can bench 400lbs. Yeah, that’s right – I just said 400lbs. Starting to regret not picking up a certain under the radar superstar athlete, aren’t we Oakland…?

The Majestic Twelve “Break It and Breathe” Video

The latest Majestic Twelve video introduces spacemen, aliens and robots in conjunction with a new edit of the fantastic song “Break It and Breathe.” The track is hidden on last year’s Schizophrenology, but it holds one of my favorite lines from the entire album, “We rock our local bar, we’re far from famous man but everyone knows who we are.” It’s a casual way to describe the band, unknown to most, but almost preferring it remain that way. That being said the band released its album last year free via its web site and has since been downloaded over 30,000 times. I encourage you to join the party.

Twin Personas: Local Bloggers Greg Swan & Toby Cryns

As an outsider looking in on the local Twin Cities music scene one may be left with a simplistic look as to what it is that The Cities and their modern artists have to offer. But aside from conversations surrounding Hüsker Dü, The Replacements or even Tapes ‘n Tapes what does the rest of the nation honestly know about the music and the musicians of Minneapolis and St. Paul? As an outsider myself it is overwhelming when attempting to step into The Cities and figure out just where to being when attempting to find the best music that they have to offer. In this edition local bloggers Greg Swan and Toby Cryns attempt to identify what it is about living in the Twin Cities that gives music fans something consistently new and exciting to look forward to.

Have you always lived in Minnesota? If not - were you as closely interested in music as you are now before you lived in Minnesota?

Greg Swan: I grew up in Central Iowa in what I like to call “an area of musical desolation” overshadowed by Slipknot’s international success (yes, I went to high school with one of them – pretty much everybody did). In turn, the local music scene propagated scores of metal and modern rock garage bands, of which only a few are worth checking out (ONLY; On a Pale Horse).

Because none of my favorite bands gigged on their way through the Hawkeye State, a group of friends and I spent just about every college weekend roadtripping to see shows in Minneapolis, Chicago, Kansas City and Moline. Minneapolis was a favorite destination – not only because of the solid venues like First Avenue and Triple Rock, but it was also only a speedy three hour drive home at 1 a.m.

Toby Cryns: I grew up in Richmond, IL, the “Village of Antiques” - seriously. That was our town slogan, and it was an accurate description of what our town was about. Our whole economy - antiques. There are probably more antique stores per square foot than anyplace else in the world.

My oldest brother, Nate, was probably the catalyst for me getting into mainstream music. He used to force me to listen to Metallica before it was cool to listen to them. I hated them. My first concert was Metallica’s “…and Justice For All” tour back in 1988 or so - my dad took my brothers and me. I fell asleep on the grass during the show, and my dad took us all home early. Nate still hasn’t forgiven me for that.

Has living in and around the Twin Cities helped expand your musical taste?

Greg Swan: After graduating college, my wife and I moved to Minneapolis largely because of the vibrant music and arts scene here. Whether a fan of indie rock, singer/songwriter folk, industrial electronica or latin salsa, you’ll find a good portion of everything on a given weekend.

Toby Cryns: Prior to living in the Twin Cities, I lived in Los Angeles, which has a really weird scene, because all of the bands there are SUPER tight and polished and mostly pretty damn good. However, there is no scene in Los Angeles worth checking out. It’s weird, because you have all of this great talent there, yet nobody gives a damn, because it’s all business. Since moving to the Twin Cities, I have met a bunch of folks who are simply playing in bands because they love it. I could really give a damn if Cryns #3 ever sells another record, but I would be really sad if we couldn’t play shows anymore. It’s really something special to play a show and see my friends in the crowd cheering and singing and dancing along to my music. Sometimes I want to cry onstage, because I feel so blessed. I know that sounds cheesy and lame, but that’s how I feel sometimes.

To answer your question more directly, I think I have gained an appreciation for dirty and loose indie rock. I used to think that bands needed to be polished to be good, but now I have a great appreciation for the rough edges that come from caring about building musical relationships rather than polishing up songs for the radio.

What lead you to start your blog?

Greg Swan: I started writing music reviews for Des Moines’ alternative newspaper and then co-founded Art Scene, Iowa’s only statewide independent arts and music tabloid. I was meeting a lot of artists and musicians and started receiving advance albums from labels. After I left Art Scene, I needed an outlet for my relentless passion for listening to and expounding about new music. I was writing reviews over at (run by the guy who sold his soul on eBay), but I finally decided to take the plunge and start something I could control 100 percent.

Toby Cryns: Great question, Chris! Thanks for asking! I started Lunch of Champions in April of last year, shortly after we released our first record (”…if Howard Roark Could Dance”), in response to the lack of responses we were getting for our music. I was rather disappointed by the fact that almost none of the local press wrote about our album in a timely fashion (we only got 3 write-ups). So, I took action. I decided to start Lunch of Champions for all those little guys like us who didn’t grow up here and/or don’t have any powerful connections in the local scene. I hope that Lunch of Champions has provided some of the little guys with some quotes to share with their adoring fans.

Have any interesting opportunities arisen as a result of the work you’ve done with your sites?

Greg Swan: I’ve gotten to meet some of my favorite national and international bands – Sigur Ros was an all time honor. I just got back from SXSW where I didn’t buy a badge or wristband and could still get into shows (guestlists rock). However, I will say picking up 23 packages from the post office in one day can be a little intimidating for one dude who writes music reviews as a hobby.

Toby Cryns: One of the coolest things that came about as a result of starting Lunch of Champions is that I was able to commandeer a copy of Mason Jennings‘ Boneclouds album from his press agent a couple of weeks before it was released. I bragged about that for, well, two weeks. Additionally, the blog has given me an excuse to meet many local rockers that I might be too shy to talk with otherwise, not to mention the opportunity to meet you and other bloggers such as Greg at Perfect Porridge (probably the best local music blog next to Culture Bully). Seriously, I am amazed at what you two guys are able to do with your blogs. Mine is like small potatoes or something next to yours.

Through the website, which opportunities have most enriched your experience with local music?

Greg Swan: Up until about a year ago, I was hitting a show 4-5 times a week and knew exactly who was who in the local scene. But it’s amazing how much a newborn baby will nix your night life. Luckily, the site helps me keep in touch with local music and musicians, so even though I haven’t been present at as many shows, I still have a good handle on the up and coming artists.

Toby Cryns: The main thing Lunch of Champions does for me is provide me motivation to go and check out local music. I like being able to do my little part to help other guys and gals like me who play music and like seeing our names in lights.

What voice do you believe your sites cater to within the Twin Cities?

Greg Swan: I think Steve McPherson touched on it perfectly. We get so many new releases from across the country, we tend to lump in Minnesota bands with everyone else. That means the new Wannabe Hasbeens record will be reviewed next to the new Electric Soft Parade disc.

Toby Cryns: Lunch of Champions is the Rocky Balboa of Twin Cities blogs. We work and work and work and we still have trouble competing with the Apollo Creed’s of the world. At the end of the day, even if we lose, we rest easy knowing that we put our hearts into it. Speaking of Rocky, did you see the new Rocky movie? I took a date to see that movie, and needless to say, the girl wasn’t too impressed. But I LOVED it, and the girl earned major points with me.

Yeah - it was surprisingly not bad. Who knew that Rocky could still bring tears to a young boy’s heart at the ripe old age of 83? Getting back on track though - who are your favorite local music journalists?

Greg Swan: I don’t pay special attention to traditional local music journalists, although I do read Chris Riemenschneider and Ross Raihala’s blogs. The future is online media, baby. I particularly recommend the local writing at How Was The Show, Minneapolitan Music and More Cowbell. Neither of our local newspapers do a good job at consistently covering local music (of course, they are owned by giant corporations), our alternative newspaper tries hard, too. Pulse and Rift do a great job, but at the end of the day, the printed word is 24 hours old. That’s old news to me.

Toby Cryns: Besides the legendary Chris DeLine and the formidable Greg Swan, I love to read David Brusie’s articles for the Rift and Music for Robots as well as anything Mark Mallman writes up - he cracks me up! Ross Raihala over at the Pioneer Press writes some great stuff as well.

Greg, which are your three favorite local music blogs?

Greg Swan: How Was The Show is the essential music read for local music, including live reviews, a robust calendar and a music forum where the scenesters hang out. More Cowbell: Solace has heard every single album in the new release pipeline, and at a moment’s notice, can rattle off at least two reasons why each of them don’t measure up. The Rock N Roll Star: Steve (Engelmayer) has an infectious excitement about witnessing live music. I don’t know how this guy functions at work the next day after all of these shows. Plus, he winds up on stage and/or in photos with practically every band.

Who released your favorite Twin Cities album in 2006?

Greg Swan: You can’t ask for just one. STOOK!, of course. Gotta love STOOK! Lovelife from Thosquanta; A Vision of Stone from Tasha’s Laughter; Cougars from Huge Rat Attacks…and Avenpitch have this great song called “Jack the Idiot Dance” that I love telling people about.

Toby Cryns: My favorite record of 2006 (which was actually released in 2005, I am told by an angry comment on my blog) is Hockey Night’s Keep Guessin’. I also loved Tapes n’ Tapes‘ Loon, but I’d like to add a disclaimer that I liked them about two weeks before everyone else did (haha). I also really liked the Heise Brothers‘ new record, Arben Angstrom’s Planets by Bike, and the new Stook record.

Thus far this year which have most excited you amongst Twin Cities’ releases?

Greg Swan: Dragons Power Up!’s This Way to Gunshire was a fun surprise. And I wasn’t familiar with Charley Dush before I got his Breakdown Union disc. Definitely worth buying.

Toby Cryns: I have been a fan of Seymore Saves the World for a while and just received their new disc in the mail yesterday, which I am quite looking forward to hearing. Also local bluegrass addicts Pocahontas County released a fantastic record in March. As a side note, those guys in Pocahontas County put on the best live show I have seen in a while - raw energy.

Are there any upcoming local music releases that you are anticipating?

Greg Swan: David Krejci (Cleophone, Reverend Strychn Trio) has a new album coming out from his Lester project. Krejci grew up in the heyday of the Minneapolis scene, played around with RST and has been doing solo Cleophone stuff the past few years. Plus, he listens to some weird stuff. Throw the Fight should be releasing the first full-length in July, too.

Toby Cryns: I’m looking forward to hearing Jenny Dalton’s forthcoming release as well as David Brusie’s new record, Flyover State.

Which are your favorite local record shops?

Greg Swan: Although many of the local indie shops have closed, you just can’t beat Electric Fetus. The Twin Cities are so spoiled with that place. If you’re ever traveling through Des Moines, you must stop downtown (just off I-235) and check out ZZZ Records. That place always has one or two gems nobody else has.

Toby Cryns: Treehouse Records has a great vibe going on. I feel like I’m in the movie, High Fidelity, every time I step in there. Like John Cusack and Jack Black are going to get into an argument at any moment.

Do you believe that the coming year of local music will continue to shroud itself in indie rock or are there any other scenes or genres that you see on the rise?

Greg Swan: Indie rock will continue to be king this year. Minneapolis prides itself as a Shins-loving city. I don’t know if we should embrace that or be ashamed. We’re definitely not a Portland, Oregon, though. I think the national trend towards blues-based rock (White Stripes, Wolfmother, Earl Greyhound) will assuredly influence some of the younger Twin Cities bands. Little Man is doing a great job at putting their own stamp on an evolving sound.

TC: Indie rock will be the Twin Cities sound for some time coming, but there will continue to be great releases in other genres as well.Rhymesayers releases hordes of amazing material every year. In fact, Eyedea and Abilities are probably two of the most talented gents on the planet. And let’s not even get started with Atmosphere, who continues to make fab records. Much to my dismay, I’ve seen what seems to be a rise of straight-up radio rock (read my interview with Perfect Porridge for more on that topic…haha), and there’s not a critical mass of bluegrass folk to make that much of a viable scene right now.

Finally, who are your current favorite local acts?

Greg Swan: Avant-garde psychedelic jazz quartet Electropolis just got a grant to put on their performance of Electropolis Plays Metropolis – complete with dancers, installation sculpture/videography, and aerialists. I simply cannot wait.

Toby Cryns: The best band to see live right now is Dance Band. They will make even the most straight-laced business man drop his guard for a moment and bust a move. The guys in that band are so ridiculous that us dorky dancers don’t feel so scared about letting our guards drop. Mark Mallman is simply the best performer I have ever seen - period. Hockey Night puts on great shows, and Lazer Forever is making some of the best music around today.

Look Out David Caruso, There’s A New King of Miami

Alright, I know what you’re thinking…enough with the CSI: Miamireferences, already, am I right? But for serious, Dave Hill’s upcoming series for the Mojo Network entitled The King of Miami is going to change some lives and I just wanted to give a few kind hearted souls the heads up. The premise: Dave changes lives (in Miami). The result: your life is changed. Don’t think it’s worth taking the time to watch? Don’t have access to the Mojo network? (call your local cable provider and request it NOW!)…well, Dave has taken the time to film what might be the most complete television show promotional music video in the history of television show music videos in order to persuade you (not that you need it) to check out the show. And for those out there who are familiar with Hill’s mindblowingly popular Citizen’s Upright Brigade Theater-hosted Dave Hill Explosion you’ll recognize Phil…who’s generally pretty great at doing what he does.

Also, for those of you who aren’t entirely familiar with Dave and would like a to go box of fun for the road, check out his latest video for Super Deluxe entitled “The Sheriff of Prospect Park.” (note: you may recognize Dave from his presence in Super Deluxe’s commercials that run during the widely popular Adult Swim shows on television’s Cartoon Network…see: below)

If The Sky Drops Will You Listen?

So…would you? Cause it is, kind of. Last May I asked “whether or not stoner rock can flow seamlessly into a melodic pop-guitar crunch;” the answer which was obvious at the time was yes, indeed, and the perpetrators of this unusual output are none other than Delaware’s two-piece The Sky Drops. The band is kind of strange in terms of shoegaze, yet are entirely indicative of the sound. You’re going to hear fuzz, you’re going to hear distortion, you're going to hear layered vocals, and hopefully you’re going to like it. These new tracks coincide with the band’s upcoming tour.

VBS: True Norwegian Black Metal

Peter Beste, one of the brightest photographers in all of music, served as producer for this Vice production surrounding Norwegian black metal and in particular Gaahl of the band Gorgoroth. It is as beautifully shot a piece as it is frightening. Gaahl has served imprisonment on numerous occasions for assault and in this short series he likened the brutality of his crimes to the nature of art, “It’s like a painting you cant stop until its finished.” While Dimmu Borgir looks to become the country’s first black metal act to reach #1 on the charts with its upcoming album In Sorti Diabola, Gorgoroth still remains one of the most honestly feared acts in the nation and the genre.

College Humor’s Michael Showalter Showalter

If I had a nickel for every time College Humor helped make me laugh while I was in college, well…let’s just say I’d have a sack full of nickels, literally. Since then a while has passed and I suppose too so has my interest in the site. That being said there’s a set of short interviews starring Michael Showalter, of The Baxter fame. In each he addresses hard hitting questions with some of history’s most brilliant satirists including Michael Ian Black, Zach Galifianakis and David “Don’t Call Me Christopher” Cross. It’s been a while since a new episode was posted but The Michael Showalter Showalter finally gives us a reason to check College Humor out aside from tits, ass and funny links.

Dungen: “Tio Bitar”

In a little under a month it is expected that at least a few riots are to be started in Stockholm to commemorate the release of Dungen’s forthcoming Tio Bitar release. Why? Have you never seen a football game on television? The kids get crazy and flip cars over because of improper use of yellow cards; imagine what they’ll do when they hear wacked out, flustering psychedelia. Though maybe I’m speaking more of those in the Bloc countries, either way somethin’s gettin’ broke. The record will be released on April 25th (or mid-may if you’re not living in Sweden) and those wacky Swedes will most likely be touring in support of it (though no dates have been set).

El-P on Spinner’s The Interface

Anyone with any remote sense of what’s going on in hip hop knows that El-P’s March release I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead is one of the decade’s most innovative and essential releases within the genre. That being said Christian Hoard, one of the cheeky aficionado’s at Rolling Stone, concluded “If you’re into nodding your head and scratching your head at the same time, Dead is for you.” Though, how much weight can you put behind that statement seeing as though he gave Ys, one of last years most daring albums (not my style, but I respect its artistic dare), the following one sentence review, “Newsom is a classically trained harpist and singer who made a very good 2004 record, but this EP is hard to stomach: Five tracks, four of them more than nine minutes and one (”Only Skin”) sixteen-plus, with meandering strings-and-things accompaniment and indulgent vocal quirks that make Bjork sound like Kelly Clarkson.” Ipso facto: El-P is hot.

Charlotte Gainsbourg “Everything I Cannot See”

After receiving Charlotte Gainsbourg’s 5:55 from a friend back in January I sat on it for a while; much was going on, and exciting times meant that it became easy to overlook many substantial releases that the year was readying. Only casually listening to the album once or twice over the next two months little of it’s detail and character were able to grow on me; however, all of this changed with the release of Air’s most recent album Pocket Symphony.

Though not a substantial release in terms of its critical reception the album revived my interest in the French duo, and too my interest in Gainsbourg. After all, I thought, along with the written and vocal contributions from Jarvis Cocker and Neil Hannon as well as production from Nigel Godrich of Radiohead fame, Air was responsible for much of the music on 5:55. Also, I thought, could the 300,000 fans who had purchased the album in Gainsbourg’s native France all be wrong? Probably not.

Having enjoyed Pocket Symphony so much it only made sense to at least give it another try. Whether it be simple timing or cosmic interference, 5:55 finally began making sense. I believe it was while cooking (if boiling noodles can be considered cooking) where I discovered my love for the Cocker-penned “Everything I Cannot See,” a song hidden deep within the singer’s first album in some twenty years.

As a whole “Everything” is something similar to that of the album’s singles, “5:55″ and “The Songs That We Sing,” however it offers noticeable musical and lyrical differences that distance it from the rest of the album. “5:55″ has a sound far closer to that typically considered French-pop, something similar to that of her father’s musical legacy, a sound that, like her name, supersedes anything she might create. “The Songs That We Sing” is entirely different and in the given context sounds odd when surrounded by the rest of the album’s cast of songs. It’s acoustic guitar, drums and bells combined with her legacy-distancing English lyrics, while all kindhearted and stunning, seem lost and out of place. Not bad by any means, just different.

The song itself is entirely fantastic by its musical interface alone. Its rolling piano quickly surpasses its acoustic guitar introduction though slowing down shortly thereafter. Appearing to having gotten ahead of itself the piano meets the guitar half way, introducing one of the most contagious pieces of music I have heard all year (decade?). The slow beat that creeps in behind the pair adds substantial body to the song that isn’t necessarily focused on at first glance, but repeated listens prove it absolutely vital.

The song’s lyrics are entirely a twist, pulling one’s mind back and forth between the contradictions that accompany both love and lust. The progressive musical lead brilliantly focuses the listener on the chorus which is repeated time and time again just as one stays awake, echoing the same set of words over and over through their head when trapped in the world inevitable doubt and despair that forever accompanies love. The song - proof further proof of Jarvis Cocker’s brilliance, and its delivery - proof that, despite Gainsbourg’s acting contributions over the past two decades, we may have missed out on what could have been one of the most substantial careers in modern pop music.

Klaxons at 7th St. Entry (Minneapolis, MN)

It’s not often that a band plays its set exclusively for one particular person at a show. One person crammed in amongst the rest of an over-sold audience. One person amongst many in the humid, low-ceiling showcase of The Entry. That and it’s hard to honestly believe that the now mythical band from the UK, Klaxons, touted as rock’s missing link by its native media outlets, was playing song after song just for me. Seems strange and somewhat unbelievable, but believe it. I was there.

True. It could be said that as the band has essentially released a mere handful of EPs, much of which were included in the release of this year’s Myths of a Near Future, it would be rather likely to hear most every song on the night’s wish list. Those people would be wrong in this case, because in between planets aligning, tides rising and babies being born—the band played for me.

Shortly following the exhausting two-hour session from local hype machine DJ SovietPanda, the band tapped into the set that utilized much of one of this year’s most energetic releases.

And so it began, “Atlantis to Interzone,” “Totem on the Timeline,” “Golden Skans,” “Two Receivers,” “Gravitys Rainbow” and “It’s Not Over Yet” were all covered, amongst a selection of others. The songs that previously overwhelmed the band’s latest release, however, such as the new rave archetype “Atlantis,” failed to capture the entire crowd in the same fashion as some of the album’s non-singles. Further dividing thought as to what characterizes the band’s strengths was the performance of “It’s Not Over Yet,” with its synth-welding exterior, which seemed to overtake the crowd in a way that the band’s singles never did. Shutting down the set with “Four Horsemen of 2012,” the mighty Klaxons shed its swank exterior and broke a smile, uniting the sweaty 18-plus crowd that had knitted itself closely around the small stage throughout the course of the show.

Whether or not a band is actually playing for one person or a rolling meadow full of festival attendees is somewhat meaningless. Because while singing the memorized lyrics and mumbling the way through those only known phonetically, no one in the world can argue that the band is not playing for you. And for a band that has attracted such a vast audience of listeners across the Atlantic to play in front of some 200 fans, there can be no better show than the show they play exclusively for you. Or, in this case, me.

[This article first appeared on How Was The Show.]

Will Farrell: The Landlord

Bob Castrone over at BWE shared a Will Farrell clip yesterday which within a matter of minutes made me go from suicidal to miserable to sad to happy to really happy to wow-I-didn’t-know-I-could-be-this-happy…just to reiterate - it’s pretty funny. I’ve come to understand that most good things in life are associated with one of two things: Will Farrell or hilarity; this video has both - need I say more?

It May Be Obvious: But II Was A Better Album Than The Eponymous Debut by The Presidents of The United States of America

Call me crazy but II, the sophomore release by The Presidents of the United States of America, is arguably a better album than the group’s 1995 self-titled debut. Self, let’s argue:

Me2: Horse Apples! PUSA (which is what the band’s 1995 release will be called from hear on out) had a far better selection of singles including “Kitty,” “Lump” and “Peaches,” even tracks such as “Feather Pluckin’” and “Dune Buggy” stand out as better selections than anything on II.

Me1: Possibly, but check this out: “Lump” and “Peaches” were released synonymously with humorous music videos and it may be the memory of the videos alone that helps guide your judgment into believing that they were fantastic songs. In reality, however, which is where I live, the songs were sub par and could have easily been overlooked if not for the fact that the music videos were such a success.

Me2: You’re an idiot, and let me explain this slowly so you’ll understand. “Mach 5″ and “Volcano” were released as music videos in the same spirit as everything the band ever did. “Lump” is still a fantastic pop song, as is “Peaches,” you’re just overlooking the humorous quality that band had over the course of its entire career. The only reason you’re not associating humor with the videos for the songs off of II is because they were only played a handful of times on American television and you never had the chance to see them (Japanese television is a different story altogether…the band was and is huge there).

Me1: Well how about this, Mr. I-Like-Being-Gay, PUSA has to be disqualified for its inclusion of “Boll Weevil” on the Ace Ventura 2 Soundtrack…no?

Me2: Again, you’re wrong…had the band included one of its hits to help further the sales of a ridiculously unnecessary soundtrack then you could cry foul. However by including a track that clearly has little to no retail value on its own I think it’s fair to say that the band circumvented the possibility of disqualification in such a situation as this.

Me1: Yeah, but the album had Blues Traveler doing “Secret Agent Man”…

Me2: Point taken…

Me1: How about this – II was a harder-driving album. Tracks along the lines of “Toob Amplifier” and “Ladies and Gentlemen” create a far heavier sound than anything on PUSA, ultimately solidifying the album by giving it a sense of diversification.

Me2: That makes no sense whatever…wait, part 1 or part 2?

Me1: “Ladies and Gentlemen Part 2.”

Me2: Oh, sorry…yeah – good point.

Me1: Plus, how about “Bug City,” no way PUSA has a song that good.

Me2: Ever heard of a little thing called “Dune Buggy?”

Me1: Damn…but tell me this – can you brand anything on PUSA as experimental?

Me2: I’d ask you the same about II…

Me1: Well, they did reference Urge Overkill in “Puffy Little Shoes,” that’s gotta count for something, right?

Me2: True, Exit the Dragon was pretty bad ass.

Me1: I guess that settles it then, II might not have been any better musically than PUSA and it certainly didn’t sell near as many copies, but that being said, PUSA never explicitly referenced Urge Overkill, and II obviously did.

Me2: I concede.

There you have it, two out of two mes can’t be wrong: The Presidents of the United States’ 1996 release II is a better album than its 1995 debut. Deal with it.

Aesop Rock Interview

Aspiring MCs could prosper from modeling themselves after the likes of New York-based producer/MC Aesop Rock, though doing so would most definitely have negative effects on the global market for gold and platinum grillz. The Boston University graduate recently released the latest in Nike’s Original Run series, titled All Day, which follows last year's releases in the series by the Crystal Method and LCD Soundsystem. (These online exclusives focus purely on assisting runners in their daily training, all coming in at around forty five minutes each.) In maintaining his healthy work ethic, Aesop Rock is also finalizing his upcoming album entitled None Shall Pass, from which the title track was recently released as apart of the Def Jux/Adult Swim Definitive Swim compilation.

Much of hip hop’s modern releases seem very upfront and quick to the punch whereas All Day takes a few minutes before even properly introducing itself. How did you approach the Nike mix knowing that you’d have to dictate the pace so it could maintain consistency over the better part of an hour?

Aesop Rock: Thanks. The assignment was forty five minutes, and they gave me a very slim outline of how they wanted it to move: a seven to eight minute warm up, thirty minute run, seven to eight minute cool down. In my head, the thing just had to remain entertaining. I needed to make it change as and grow over time so that just as somebody became used to a certain element it would fade on to the next. It’s interesting to approach a song like this because usually you’re designing something that will get heard over a three to five minute period. Where on a four minute song you have a ten second intro, now you have a four to five minute song, your intro grows, your build up grows, it’s a whole different way of listening.

Whereas Nike had previously approached electronic-based artists like the Crystal Method and LCD Soundsystem for the series, do you feel that it was a logical move for the brand to shift towards hip hop and in particular an artist such as yourself?

Logical? I don’t know if choosing me is ever logical for anybody ever but I know they were looking to branch out from dance music into hip hop and rock. My name was thrown in the hat with a bunch of others and I guess the good people over there liked what I do. I think they eventually want to cover all genres, or many.

What was the idea behind your collaborations with guitarist Allyson Baker and DJ Big Wiz on All Day?

Allyson is three things: a badass guitar player, an avid runner, and my wife. I was going to her left and right with questions on how to approach this music for a “runner,” is this working, is it not, etc. She always had great input, which soon grew into her playing on the song. I was given so little time to do the whole project, so any riffs she could come up with or we could come up with together we’d lay it down and move along. As for Wiz, I told him “hey I got forty five minutes of music here, let’s get busy.” I basically wanted it to come off like he was just scratching in his room, like he just had free range to get open. Whereas I usually create these songs and we go through them to choreograph sections where scratching may be good, this time I just really wanted him to treat it like he was freestyling, just go with the beat. So we got together a bunch of sounds and one at a time recorded a ton of cuts.

What was the process for writing the material for the mix – did you write individual songs and just blend them together or did you approach All Day as one extended track?

I made about seven separate sections, maybe eight. The first and last were designed as the most chilled out parts, as to serve their functions as “warm up” and “cool down.” The middle sections were all about moving forward, driving, and slowly changing sounds, a soundscape (lame term) that kind of grows and evolves as you move forward.

There are a fair amount of solid instrumental pieces within All Day but how did you even begin to approach this piece lyrically?

I did all of the music first. I knew I would go back an add lyrics after, but I wanted it to be primarily instrumental. I used the vocal sections almost like one would use a horn or instrument that kind of meanders in and meanders out. They were there to wake up the listener, to be something that says “hey look where you are now, this scenery is different since last I spoke.” The actual lyrics would play off the vibe of the particular section they were on. I wanted things that tried to keep the visual aspect of the music alive, anything that pushed the music into a clear, painted image.

Continuing that subject – could you explain the lyrics behind the track “None Shall Pass,” your contribution to the recent Def Jux/Adult Swim mix?

“None Shall Pass” is a good track to lead into the album of the same name. Much of the album’s overall concept has to do with growing. Hitting a point in your life in which the people around you, your peers, view you as an adult, and you become way more responsible for your actions than you were as a child. You hit a point where “acting” dumb is no longer viewed as funny, you hit all these areas in which your contemporaries will look at you and judge you. The song is about being responsible for your actions, and recognizing that a day will come when your neighbor will decide whether or not you are an asshole.

What has been your favorite part of the sessions for the new album?

It has been a long process. I’m not sure what my favorite part is, I mean most of the stuff I do revolves around me and Blockhead. I guess just knowing that I am still walking through this adventure in the music industry with my best homie is always fun. These days I take more time to step back and acknowledge that. There were a couple times on this one where we actually kind of stopped and took time to say “hey man, damn we been doing this together for a bit now. That’s pretty cool.” I guess I don’t have a favorite moment, but recognizing things like that is always good and helps keep me grounded during some of the worse times.

Type O Negative at First Avenue (Minneapolis, MN)

Type O Negative is the type of band that people—often, young adults who were furiously trying to find an identity—listened to when they wanted a taste for a gothic lifestyle without necessarily giving it the old college try. The band is fairly accessible, its landmark 1993 release Bloody Kisses went platinum and its 1996 follow-up October Rust went gold, and since then, one has really never had to struggle to find anything new about the band or its music. Contrast that to the likes of even the most popular of underground gothic acts such as Christian Death or the somewhat obscure Sopor Aeternus, and it’s easy to see what has allowed Type O to reach the level of popularity that it has. The band plays a somewhat generic, toned down sound. A sound that is honestly easy for any hard-rock fan to enjoy. That being said, Type O Negative is one of my favorite bands and its ability to deliver heart stopping music with tongue firmly planted in cheek never ceases to amaze.

Rousing the crowd before a performance can have both positive and negative effects—either the audience is going to roll with the punches or get rowdy and pissed off. With that said, after three full loops of “The Chicken Dance” theme, even I was beginning to become a bit suspicious and impatient. After all, Celtic Frost had just wrapped up its set, one as deeply covered with satanic imagery as the band members in corpse paint were.

As fans grew increasingly impatient, the stage crew continued to test the “applause,” “you suck,” “booooooo” and “laughter” signs on the stage. It was like a twisted version of The Merv Griffin Show (much to the displeasure of one roadie who happened to take the brunt of the joke as every time he walked on stage the “boooooo” sign mysteriously lit up). At last, the lights dimmed… and… finally,… the parodic anthem “Kazakhstan” from the recent Borat film began to play, accompanying the floor lights which came back on.

Believe it or not, the band actually took the stage at some point during the night and played an excellent show. Its previous tour brought the act to town accompanying Cradle of Filth at the now defunct Quest and it came at a time when singer Peter Steele’s back was in terrible shape. Apparently no longer an issue, Steele and the rest of the band played a far more complete set this time around and the high energy of the crowd was a direct reflection of that—though some still weren’t over that whole “Chicken Dance” incident.

The band’s recent release, Dead Again, debuted on the Billboard Top 200 at #27, further proof of the band’s ongoing accessibility. Criticizing your idols is never an easy task, but if nothing worse can be said than “they’re too popular,” “too accessible” or “easy to enjoy” it might be time to stop looking for flaws and start enjoying the music again. Thankfully, on this night I was able to do just that.

[This article first appeared on How Was The Show.]

Clutch “From Beale Street to Oblivion” Review

Has it ever crossed your mind how bands like the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin released albums so frequently and so consistent that it absolutely crushes the modern three year turn around many bands consider safe? It seems that Clutch has put an album out every year since the mid 1990s (though while not entirely true, per se, it still seems like it, right?), and each time around it seems that the band gets better and better. In 2005 Robot Hive/Exodus was without a question one of my favorite albums – it had moments that were surprisingly hard, but much of it sounded characteristically Clutch. But even what’s been considered symbolic of the band in terms of its sound has changed drastically; groovy jam-metal, stoner rock and now bluesy metal could have all helped identify the band’s sound. But now it seems a solidification of ideals has occurred as the band now focuses almost exclusively on a sound well versed in blues, rock and the spirit of those same groups that put out those stellar pieces of work year after year in the 1960s and 1970s.

Diversification is something that often hinders such bands – for when, say Fu Manchu puts out album after album of hard driving hooks they are deemed repetitive and tired. So, when the band tried to switch up the pace of things with its 2004 album Start the Machine, adding a modern metal aspect to its sound – fans buried the band citing over-diversification as the major flaw. With this album Clutch may not be attempting to reinvent itself, but in doing so the band plays to its crowd of fans who have followed it wherever it has taken them. Despite starting off strong, with the most aggressive track on the album “You Can’t Stop the Progress” From Beale Street levels off and maintains a consistent volume and pace; something that has hindered previous efforts.

While the album’s single “Electric Worry” is a spectacular track, boasting a strong sound similar to that of “The Mob Goes Wild” from the band’s 2004 effort Blast Tyrant, what stands out as the best indication of where the group is musically is “White’s Ferry.” It starts out sounding like Black Sabbath – but not really, more like Pantera’s 1994 version of Sabbath’s “Planet Caravan.” Its slow, staggering introduction is put to rest as drummer Jean-Paul Gaster beats in what many would expect from the band: a rolling bass-driven lick-heavy production. But it’s not done so in haste, as the track unexpectedly reverts back to its origins. Singer Neil Fallon spouts off “Wizard of tickets is always glad to charge a pilgrim’s fare. Jubilee’s generally early. Let’s take the country air” in a way that somehow helps it make sense and the band again returns to the deep, soulful trenches of the home its made for itself within the field of rock music.

It’s a horrible thing to say, but it’s not overly intellectual rock – the album’s straight forward intentions won’t intrigue most casual listeners and From Beale Street can even be overlooked as one of the better Clutch records in recent memory. All that aside, if you do in fact know and enjoy the band going into the a listen of the album you will come out of it even more in love than ever.

Twin Personas: Stook & Martin Devaney

As an outsider looking in on the local Twin Cities music scene one may be left with a simplistic look as to what it is that The Cities and their modern artists have to offer. But aside from conversations surrounding Hüsker Dü, The Replacements or even Tapes ‘n Tapes what does the rest of the nation honestly know about the music and the musicians of Minneapolis and St. Paul? As an outsider myself it is overwhelming when attempting to step into The Cities and figure out just where to being when attempting to find the best music that they have to offer. In this edition local musicians Joshua Stuckey (Stook) and Martin Devaney discuss the opportunities that the city affords its talent, what separates the Twin Cities scene from the rest of the nation and their favorite local musicians.

What brought you to the Twin Cities or have you always lived and played here?

Stook: I am originally from Northeast Indiana, I moved here a few years ago. I moved here because of the music scene. At this point I don’t think I could live anywhere else. I originally was going to stalk Gary Louris but I got distracted.

Martin Devaney: St. Paul, born and raised.

How has living here allowed you to develop your music?

Stook: Probably more than anything else the opportunity to play original music, and the fact that there is a demand for that sort of thing.

MD: The Twin Cities music scene has always been extremely supportive of itself and it’s been easy to feel comfortable here.

Have you found any local talent which you feel compliments your style?

Stook: For sure. This town has been historically receptive to the rootsy singer songwriter thing. But as far as I know we are the only Tom Petty tribute band that makes up their own songs.

Martin Devaney: Well, that’s sort of why I started Eclectone Records - to be around the bands that I feel in tune with, though there are plenty more including Stook!

Who are your favorite local acts to play with?

Stook: We haven’t played a whole ton of shows, but there hasn’t been a band we played with that wasn’t a ton of fun. Martin Devaney is a real sweetheart and High on Stress rips. We had a lot of fun on a bill with (Chris) Koza and Alarmists and White Light Riot and The God Damn Doo Wop Band at The Entry for the Minnesota Music Awards.

Martin Devaney: I always enjoy Big Ditch Road, The Ashtray Hearts, Superhopper, if it’s more of a rock thing.

Has the Twin Cities’ scene been nurturing in the sense that it has helped you grow as a musician?

Stook: Yeah!

Martin Devaney: Definitely.

How would you compare the clubs around Minneapolis & St. Paul to those that you’ve played elsewhere around the nation?

Stook: People take it for granted, when we did our little tour in November. The one thing that really sticks out in my mind is the reaction from patrons, and sound guys, and bartenders. When I described the scene here in Minneapolis/St. Paul they were shocked at how good we got it.

Martin Devaney: Well, they’re all pretty alike, though I know for a fact that the people who run most of the clubs here have genuine care for the bands that play there. No one’s an asshole unless they have a reason, for the most part.

Which are your favorite local clubs to play at?

Stook: I like ‘em all! But the Mad Ripple Hootenanny takes the cake. Without question the premier “listening” event in the world in the last 100 years. HOOT! HOOT! P.S. if you’re going to go to the hoot don’t make any goddamn noise!

Martin Devaney: Turf Club, The Entry, 400 Bar, 331 Club for acoustic stuff…

Have you found anything intangible that sets the Twin Cities’ music scene apart from the rest of the nation?

Stook: This may sound obnoxious coming from a guy entrenched in the scene, but I really believe there is more talent in the sin twitties right now than in any place in the country. I also think that the thing that will eventually set this about to be historic scene apart from the rest of North American music history is that there is a common thread that weaves through all of the bands. And I think that the common thread is just insanely great songs (both lyrically and melodically) regardless of style. Everybody is just too good anymore. If I were to give someone advice about making it, I would tell them to move to New York or Nashville or Austin or L.A. on account of there is just way too much competition here.

Martin Devaney: I guess the fact that most of the fans are also in bands - very intertwined.

What local resources do you use to find out about new music?

Stook: How Was the Show is the only resource for local music, all others pale in comparison! Their calendar rocks too. Plus there is the added benefit of knowing some HWTS’er is basically at every show so you never have to drink alone.

Martin Devaney: The weeklies and the odd music website/blog.

Do you feel that local print and broadcast media attempt to stay current in terms of monitoring trends within the Cities?

Stook: Yeah probably - anyways I feel like if Martin Devaney is my twin persona than I am in trouble… could you find me a handsomer person to be twins with?

Martin Devaney: I do, but there are certain situations, as of late, that seem to be taking steps to stifle some of the better writers out there. I hope that stops.

Which are your favorite local musicians?

Stook: Said Method, The Cates, Jonathan Earl Band, Martin Devaney, High on Stress, The Cates, Little Man, Joanna James, Chris Koza (bad ass rec league power forward from hell), Alarmists, Charlie Dush, The Cates, Jeaneen Gauthier, Karmaglide, Dan Israel, The Cates, Heise Brothers, The Jayhawks, Tim O’Reagan, Brianna Lane (and) The Cates.

Martin Devaney: To name a few…there are many…so, I’ll just say Mike Gunther.

Social Distortion "Live at The Roxy"

The album that had the greatest influence on the way I listen to music is Social Distortion’s 1998 live album Live at The Roxy. It isn’t entirely important for its musical influence, as I'd already been a fan of the band for a number of years and was quite familiar with the songs before purchasing the disc, but rather because it drove home the importance of music’s context. Since first hearing the group and taking time to study its history, I've come to appreciate it as one of the greatest punk bands of all time. Not because of an edgy sound that spits acid in your eye all the while telling your mother where to get off, but because of that same question of context. The group did live poor, they struggled and slummed, and in the end came out as champions of a scene that many didn’t survive. Junkies, prostitution, violence—if a band and its music can survive a scene bearing these obstacles only to release a career-capping live record some twenty years later, proof is given to hope and the music carried within gains an unmatched power.

The album also has a storyline that laments on Social Distortion’s historical heartache, and with a packed house of people who lived it alongside them, who actually remembered “[w]hen that parking lot was a 7-11” and getting in fights with the local high school jocks, there's a feeling of history that one feels without ever experiencing a second of that life. This album changed the way I listen to music not in that it expanded my sense of what music could sound like, but rather in the sense of what music I hold dear to me. The songs that changed my life aren’t ideally artistic, nor are they musically superior to much of what passes through my ears; they are however honest and critical of the world around them and many of which you can find on Live at The Roxy.

[This article was first published by Nerd Litter.]