Prince "LotusFlow3r" Review

In describing First Avenue to someone from outside of the Twin Cites, it’s easiest to just explain it as “that club” in Purple Rain; Prince returned to “that club” for the first time in two decades as one of three shows he played in Minneapolis on July 7, 2007. Following an in-store at Macy’s and his arena show at the Target Center, the First Avenue crowd waited in anticipation for the musician, knowing that it would be a once-in-a-lifetime event. And they waited. Prince eventually took the stage at 2:45 a.m. (legally the club could only stay open until 3:00) and played until the police shut down the show some 15 songs later. The whole thing was outrageous and had it been any other artist trying to pull such a stunt, it wouldn’t have ever worked (nor do I think people would’ve cared). The same can be said about LotusFlow3r. The album comes as one of three releases, and is an elaborate recording that is as much a showcase for Prince’s extravagance as it is his talent. For anyone else, such a feat might not be possible.

Over the course of his 24 previous albums, Prince has shown that his range is slightly more dynamic than most, however it’s still easy to get lost in the transitions between the LotusFlow3r’s tracks. From the first note the record begins to drift in an unpredictable sway, with “From the Lotus…” introducing LotusFlow3rwith a gentle guitar-based instrumental. Later, “Love Like Jazz” plants itself firmly in the tacky soft rock of the Doobie Brothers or Steely Dan, adding a twist of faux-Tropicalia to the mix for a bit of flavor. Not to say the songs are bad though, they’re just so unique and separate from each other that it’s hard to form any lasting cohesion.

Similarly, the production and effects used on various songs act to distance each track rather than bring them together. “The Morning After” sounds like a shallow Flower Power throwback from the Empire Records soundtrack. Even looking beyond its lyrics (“How many times you look for happy and you never see the rich folks there… What difference does it make who got the most bank, it’s just ink & chlorophyll”—this coming from an artist who just charged fans $77 for an advanced listen to his new music from a web site that wasn’t working), “$” has a Revolution-sound funk that sounds hurried compared to the following song, “Dreamer.” “Dreamer,” which is one of the best on the album, still fails to capture the explosiveness of the live version of the song (as seen on Prince’s Tonight Show performance), with production akin to Bad Brains in the late-1980s.

But “Dreamer” still stands out as it’s a fantastic exhibition of Prince the guitarist, rather than Prince the frontman. And it’s the guitar-work that holds the album together: “Boom” lands with a crunching blow, “Colonized Mind” offers a scorching guitar solo, and “Wall of Berlin” teases a bit of raggedy blues before Prince overtakes the entire song with a blistering solo. If it weren’t for the duality of LotusFlow3r the album would be either semi-alluring elevator-rock or a firmly planted rock album grounded in hazy solos. Either way, those have both been done, and despite the irregularity between the songs, the contrast is what gives the album its flair for originality.

Often, it’s the Prince that plays until the Police shut him down that people have come to know. That’s the version of Prince that we hear about in the media. The Prince that made news for controversial statements on gay marriage last year—that’s the Prince that unfortunately gets all the attention. But LotusFlow3r is unique in that is expels any thought of Prince’s public persona and allows the music to flow unaltered by general bias (personal bias… as we well know is another story altogether). No matter how much of that static gets in the way, LotusFlow3r is a dynamic reminder of how skilled a musician Prince is.

DJ Reno/Justice “A Cross the Universe of Mash-Up”

Where A Cross the Universe, last year’s live release from Justice, was “a reflection of what we know the duo is capable of, but not necessarily a recording that gives any indication of what is to come,” DJ Reno’s A Cross the Universe of Mash-Up is an album that stretches Justice’s music beyond the lengths of sensibility while reflecting on what makes the duo so great.

Mashuptown attempted to explain the album, detailing its source, “One of their (Justice) homeland brethern [sic] paid tribute to them recently with a set of almost all Justice mashups, played at a Bootie Paris gig. The “brether” in question is the notable DJ Reno who uses a bunch of his own mashups, as well as others from Party Ben, Sebwax, Divide & Kreate, and others.” But that only goes to further complicate matters as it would seem that with Reno’s offering the DJ-sphere has cannibalized itself to a point of lunacy… DJs performing live, spinning mashups by other bootleggers, that mash songs by other DJs. (In Reno’s defense: “100% Mash-ups and 100% Live, to do it, I used a mac with ableton live, a roland groovebox mc 303 and a UC 33e to control ableton.” So don’t think that he’s just pressing play and kicking back for the night… at least the entire night.)

And the whole thing would be too much if only the album weren’t so damned fantastic (at least the Justice-spliced tracks which make up the majority of the collection). As a devout fan of the oft-laughable genre it’d be hard for me to say that even the most ridiculous mashups make me blush, but after hearing Justice mashed with the Hives, Blur, Timberlake and the rest of the cast, there is honestly little reason for embarrassment. As strictly electronic or dance tracks, these songs are tightly-wound and completely solid… and as mashups, the mix is one of the best I’ve heard in quite some time.

The Evening Rig

Listening to the Evening Rig is a bit like going back home and eating one of grandma's hearty, home-cooked meals—especially if your grandma is a heavy drinker who has an odd preoccupation with Reckless-era Bryan Adams. You're likely to hear yourself in the music as it fills you up, and chances are that you'll hear the influence of a few decades in Minnesota music as well.

"In my previous bands it was always the 'Dillinger Four Minneapolis Sound'" explains drummer Becky Hanten. "People want to associate [bands] with places, especially now that everyone's sick of globalization and they want to get back to local identity." And without fail, it appears as though the Evening Rig may never escape comparisons to the Twin Cities' musical patriarchs; Hanten and her bandmates are now frequently measured against bands like the Replacements and Soul Asylum.

Following the Evening Rig's first set ever in spring of 2006, Lucero frontman Ben Nichols, who was headlining the show, stepped up to the stage and said, "That boy [singer/guitarist Jason Miller] sure can sing like Paul Westerberg, can't he?" When asked about the stigmatizing comparison, Miller jokingly replied "Oh, we go again." And the implication is right—the comparison is an easy one to make, but there's so much more to the band than a handful of recurring likenesses.

The seed for the Evening Rig was planted early in 2000, when Hanten first moved to Minneapolis. Having already quit his first punk band, the short-lived Peeping Eddie, Miller met Hanten through some mutual friends. The two played a number of shows together, with Miller a member of the Crush and Hanten with Cadillac Blindside and, later, Cardinal Sin.

By late 2005, Hanten and Miller had formed a friendship and started kicking around the idea of starting their own band. "Everyone in the Cardinal Sin was getting tired of it in some way or another," Hanten says. "I felt like we were winding down. When I heard that Jason wanted to start playing music again, I called him." Shortly after agreeing that they were on the same page, they were joined by bassist Jake Jarpey, formerly of the April Epidemic, and guitarist Josh Lynch.

By the fall of 2007 the band had recorded and released its debut album, Never Been'er, through Heart of a Champion, the local label co-owned by Miller's childhood friend Dan Cote.

Hanten says the new band gave her a chance to reassess her style and technique. "I really wanted to minimize the way I was playing. Everyone always says knowing when not to play is even more important than knowing what to play." And if there's any genre noted for its simple approach, it's that "Dillinger Four Minneapolis Sound" Haten mentioned.

"Play what you'd like to listen to," chimes in Lynch.

Such a philosophy carries over to the band's sound to this day. Their latest release, Is Doin' Stuff, is more streamlined than the band's first album. "We were more motivated and better prepared for this one," notes Hanten. "Never Been'er took almost a year to record, and Is Doin' Stuff took two weeks."

Though the lineup had solidified well before the Evening Rig released their debut, Is Doin' Stuff is the band's first real group effort. "When [Josh Lynch] joined the band, most of the songs on Never Been'er had already been written and he added his parts to it," Miller explains. "This time he played a big role in shaping the songs' instrumentation."

Evidence of the band's cohesion sprawls across the new material, as each new song effortlessly bleeds into the next. "The Steve McQueens" opens the album with Miller's raspy wails and broad-shouldered rhythms, and then seamlessly melts into the second track, "Half Asleep." Between the barroom hymns and belly full of songs leaning heavily on rock and country heroes of yore, it becomes clear that the band is far more than the sum of a few local influences.

"In Spite of All That Happened" has a wavy bottleneck that lurks below gentle drums and guitars, commanding a sound similar to that of the Drive-By Trucker's latest album, Brighter Than Creation's Dark. "I haven't given their new one a good listen myself. But certainly the DBT have an immediate influence on how I play music," notes Lynch.

Is Doin' Stuff goes out on a high note with "We Got Tonight." The song leaves an image of the band on stage, hammering out a liquor-fueled encore, kicking holes in their amps and punishing their instruments. "We're by no means trying to reinvent the wheel," Miller says, continuing, "but rather reinterpret rock 'n' roll the way that works for us. And yeah, I would agree that my influences bleed through in certain ways, but let's be honest, you could say that about any band."

Maybe the Evening Rig does ooze Minnesota—it should. The band welcomes the comparisons, acknowledging the similarities between the sound they've built and that of their predecessors. But Is Doin' Stuff is different—it's filling, almost too thick to listen to multiple times in succession. It could be that the band is just too much, they sound too much like every other Minnesota band to ever plug in, led by a boy who can sing like Paul Westerberg. But probably not.

"I think he sounds way more like Bryan Adams," Lynch suggests. "You gotta hear our cover of 'One Night Love Affair.'"

[This article was first published by City Pages.]

NOFX “Backstage Passport” Review

Punk fans without a television, cable, and specifically the Fuse channel (who also haven’t heard of torrents) have reason to rejoice as Fat Wreck Chords has now released the entire series of NOFX’s Backstage Passport on DVD. For those unfamiliar with the show, it’s a documentary capturing the band’s world tour—the catch being that the band only played locations slightly off the grid. Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, South Africa, South Korea, Peru, Israel… you get the idea.

Aside from the majestic scenery, the most appealing aspect of the series is the insight into the personal lives of the band, something that, from a fan’s perspective, is cool to see since it really hasn’t been detailed in such a way before. Accounts of Erik “Smelly” Sandin’s heroin addiction, “Fat” Mike Burkett’s separation anxiety from his young daughter, Aaron “El Hefe” Abeyta’s love for Hostess treats; you know, personal stuff.

The DVD is packaged with a bonus disc that includes a few cool moments cast amongst an excessive number of clips showing Kent, the band’s tour manager, getting drunk. One such story surrounds El Hefe’s introduction to the band, recalling his decision to jump ship from the Mark Curry Band prior to the group’s major label deal (subsequently touring with the likes of Lenny Kravitz and the Rolling Stones). That leads into a story of how then-guitarist Steve Kidwiller left the band to pursue a career with a metal group because “that’s where the money was.” They group joked about it, adding that “a few months later Nevermind was released”… and we know how things went from there.

One of the group’s attributes is the glowing character that each of the band members has. They could easily carry this as an ongoing series, even if it only captured day to day events and shenanigans at the Fat Wreck Chords’ headquarters. I’d watch it… if I had a TV… and cable… and Fuse.

Dan Israel “See The Morning Light” Interview

In 2007 Dan Israel worked with a number of friends and musicians in releasing his most critically acclaimed album to date, Turning. Noting of the release in his sparkling review, Luke Torn wrote in the the U.K.’s Uncut Magazine, “The world-weariest songs on Turning continue to prick at the emotions and insecurities of the strive-a-day life with a graceful, eloquent brand of everyman’s poetry.” But following its release, the album would prove to be a somewhat of a curse as accompanying Israel’s deteriorating health and worsening depression would be something creatively and artistically shattering.

In the same review Torn alluded to Israel’s 2000 release, Dan Who?, reflecting on it as “A withering examination of the troubadour’s life in a hollow age.” At an age where indie-cred is almost universally moot and artists are routinely passed over in favor of their youthful contemporaries, Israel found that just quickly as Turning had been received with open arms, it was forgotten. Perhaps you could call it a dark symptom of a society that has an accelerated need to dispose of what-is in favor of what’s-next (who would know more about that than someone with a music blog, right?)… but whatever the cause, it nearly drove him mad.

Having released nine albums in 10 years Israel was tired, burnt out, and at his wit’s end over what to do next. His songs had never been flashy, nor geared toward shifting trends, and his lifestyle had never offered lavish stories or provoked scandal—the end result was a man who, for all his efforts, was passed over. Not that Israel is alone in that sentiment, nor is he lacking in artistic support or begging for sympathy, but instead, channeling such negative emotion and finding positivity in that emptiness. Emerging from the despair that he had been submersed in, Israel returned to his roots and recorded an acoustic album primarily by himself and on his own. This is See The Morning Light:

#1) “Think I Know”

I think the song reflects how easy it is to get lost amongst thoughts of what is unimportant in life. You begin to focus solely on those things, and become lost within yourself. It’s something I think everyone has done, but in your case you conclude that your daughter helped bring you back to life. I think that’s a great statement about how it’s easy to become selfish in one’s thinking, likewise, how truly important family is.

Dan Israel: Yep. What’s strange is that I wrote the song about a year ago and didn’t add the verse about my baby daughter until after she was born. One might say it was “tacked on” but it didn’t feel that way. It just felt like the song would have been incomplete without it. The song, in another sense, is about doubt. I’m kind of describing all of these things that I feel relatively certain about, but then… I’m not so sure. The only certainty comes in the form of the love you feel for your child. In that, there is something that transcends doubt and insecurity.

#2) “The Only Way”

The ideas of aging and surviving are apparent here, but I think that the song has more to do with becoming more comfortable with the idea of self. You can’t control other people, how they think, what they do, or they way they perceive the world, so you’ve got to just keep yourself on the level.

Dan Israel: Uh huh. I’m talking about letting go—especially letting go of bitterness. There’s a lot of frustration at the outset of this song—artistic frustration, career frustration… but then I guess I reach a sort of acceptance and latch onto that classic rallying cry of hope in baseball: wait until next year! I was watching a documentary on the old Brooklyn Dodgers and it turns out that that particular sports cliche really does originate from the long-suffering fans of the Dodgers, who would get their hopes up every year, only to see them dashed at the end by the always-hated Yankees (or some other team, but usually the Yankees). The expression carries a whiff of pathos—because, so often, next year is no better than this year. But there’s always that hope, and that’s what a lot of this album was about.

#3) “Another Day”

“Another day wakes up the world.” This line stands out but could easily mean different things to different people. To me, I hear that and I think that it’s a statement of hope, rather than reality… like I hope that by the time tomorrow comes around, the world will be a different place.

Dan Israel: For sure. I’m kind of fascinated with dawn. That time of day. It’s in the album title and it’s in a lot of the songs. Back in some of my young adult years, my most intense times, emotionally, would be when I would stay up all night (often under, the, um, influence of one thing or another) and watch the sun come up (the Big Star song “Watch the Sunrise” comes to mind). There’s an intersection of sadness and joy and liberation and some kind of enlightenment that happens at that time of day, and I guess I keep coming back to it when I write lyrics. These days I’m up before the dawn often, but it’s because a baby or a three-year-old wakes me up! Still, it’s a sublimely beautiful time of day when all is (relatively) quiet and the truth is easier to see, somehow.

#4) “Hard Times Falling”

It’s a funny word to use, but “Hard Times Falling” is an anthem—it’s an anthem for seasonal depression. It’s already easy to let depression take you over when the winter is in full swing and the sun rarely shines, but toss into the mix a bunch of disingenuous “season’s greetings” and things can easily being to spiral. Wow, that sounds negative.

Dan Israel: Well, negative is necessary too, I think. Seasonal depression is definitely part of this song, as are life events that take you over and find you staring into the abyss and wondering what the fucking point of it all is sometimes. Then, strangely, the song took on a new meaning with the hard times that have fallen over all of us in the least year or so, economically speaking. This song is strange in that I wrote it, recorded it, and essentially forgot about it—and then kind of rediscovered it while going through the songs I had on my 16-track recorder. I don’t even really remember recording it, but obviously I did. But there it was, and it certainly seemed to fit the album, so there you go.

#5) “Demon”

“Demon” feels like a turning point for the album. Thoughts bottom out… but in asking how to change things, or how to beat your problems, you’re showing that you want out and you’re not going to let things get the best of you. Part of beating those demons is confronting them, right?

Dan Israel: Yeah. But in this song, I don’t sound all that confident about my chances of beating them, do I? That’s OK, not every song has to resolve every conflict, internal or external. We’ve all got demons, to be sure—I just seem to have a real battle with them quite often. All kinds of them. The song may not conclude that I’ll be declared the victor, but at least by writing a song about them, I shine a light on them and bring them out into the open a bit. That oughta show those demons, huh?

#6) “Believe I’ll Be Ready”

That turning point with “Demon” kicks into full-swing with this song, with it comes a renewed sense of hope. It’s interesting to hear a story play out over the course of more than a song…

Dan Israel: Those songs are really a pair. You nailed it there. “Believe I’ll Be Ready” is essentially a sequel to “Demon” (Demon II - The Dan Strikes Back). After concluding that I don’t know what it’ll take to kill the demon (wow, so violent!), I declare that, come what may, I’m ready for whatever happens, personally or in the world at large. I do think this song in particular has a rather apocalyptic tone to it, and I definitely wrote it with some very intractable problems in the world raging on in the background. I hope for my sake and my family’s sake that the worst-case scenarios never come to pass, but I think it helps to have a mental and emotional “first-aid kit” ready as well as a physical one, just in case.

#7) “All You Did”

This is probably as close to a love song as you might come on the album, though the lyrics easily translate to something other than a romantic “love.” Your words here are very warm and embracing, are they aimed at someone in particular?

Dan Israel: It was actually written for the woman who was my next-door neighbor growing up, Shirley Baker, who was like an aunt to me. She was taken before her time, and it all felt very unfair, in a cosmic sense. As the song illustrates, she was someone who put all others before herself—all she did was give of her soul, as the chorus goes. I wanted to pay tribute to her in a song, so there you go. I loved her very much.

#8) “Right Here”

We all have our little sayings that we hold on to, and one that’s stuck with me for a while is “It is what it is.” “Right Here” has a connection with “Think I Know” in that it deals with self and disallowing other people to influence how you think or feel.

Dan Israel: Believe it or not, that phrase was on the bumper sticker of a co-worker! Weird how it worked its way into the song—and I haven’t even told the co-worker. Yes, I think you nailed it with this song… definitely about not looking elsewhere for gratification and contentment, but instead looking inward and to your own inner circle, to the people you most love and trust and care about. In this case, that’s my family, but not everybody is so lucky to have a family like I do, and believe me, I don’t take it for granted. This one also ends up being a little bit of an anthem for the down times we are in right now, though I don’t think I intended for it to be so. I can cope, I can see hope… kind of a mantra for getting through the “New Depression,” perhaps.

#9) “Daybreak” 

The instrumental feels a little strange, though not out of place, amongst the other tracks considering the ongoing themes that are battled with. What was the thought behind including it?

Dan Israel: It’s a little riff I’ve had for a while and it felt like a breath of fresh air—optimism and beauty without annoying strings (or lyrics) attached. Plus, it’s real short—really just a little interlude.

#10) “I Howled Out Your Name” (feat. Molly Maher)

Is Molly the only guest you have on the album? Did you write the lyrics for the song? It follows “Daybreak” in that it’s a tangent from the rest of the album, was that intentional?

Dan Israel: Yes, she and Steve Murray, who played bass on this song. Molly wrote the whole song, lyrics and all. All I did was play lead guitar on it (and record it). This is the “oddball” section of the album, really—I thought, why not break it up and throw a few curve-balls in on what is otherwise a straightforward “Dan Israel solo acoustic album.” “All You Did” is a bit off the path, too, because it has a lead guitar and piano and bass, whereas the other tunes have some accompaniment. Trying to keep it interesting.

Well, this is really more than just an “oddball” song—I included it on the album because, in addition to being a bit of a “breather” from me singing my own songs, it feels like it truly belongs on this album. There is real pain in the lyrics, and even though in some sense it feels “lighter” somehow, it also provides a sort of counterpoint (in terms of feel) to the other songs, and the bluesiness of it feels totally “in place” on this record. I also love that it’s like turning the radio dial for an interlude back in time. It sounds “old-timey” and it’s recorded with one mic in a room with three people playing at once—old school. I think I was at least attempting to channel Dave Ray (of Koerner, Ray and Glover) or one of my current Minnesota favorites, Charlie Parr, with my guitar playing—not quite reaching those heights, but that’s what I was aiming for. Another bluesy reference point for me, subconsciously, was probably George Harrison—yeah, for real—in this case, I think I kind of had “For You Blue” off of “Let it Be” in mind a little bit, or something.

#11) “All That Lasts”

Was there one event in particular that influenced the line “love’s all that lasts”? So often is the complete opposite at the heart of music, it’s kind of refreshing to hear such an optimistic take on the subject. (sidenote: For what it’s worth, the pattern of the lyrics reminds me of an episode of the Fresh Prince [4:54 in the video].)

Dan Israel: It’s actually a song that comes out of some pain and desperation—those “demons” again. My life can often seem more than just “hectic,”- it can seem like plain old “madness.” All of the crazy things can come to a head and make me lose sight of what’s important. This song sounds like a person frantically searching for a salve, a way to make himself feel better, and finding a great hole of emptiness and loneliness and in all of those things that purportedly can accomplish that aim. Fleeting relief is just that—fleeting. Love’s all that lasts, baby. That’s it.

#12) “While It Was”

The sentiments echoed in this song seem to end things on a bit of a downer… almost like you're reminiscing on what could have been or what was. Is that what’s at the heart of this song Dan? Why did you end the album with “While it Was” rather than an “upper” like “All That Lasts”?

Dan Israel: This song was really written to my son, Isaac. It’s my statement of “I try, and I try, but sometimes, no matter what I do, I’m just a human being and can’t always live up to what I want to be for you.” I know I’m a good dad, but I’m not perfect, and this song really goes to the heart of what a painful realization that can be. I actually think this song is uplifting, in some sense, because it asserts the value of the things that didgo right—”we’ll hold onto the memories, forever long.” No matter what.

Fever Ray "Fever Ray" Review

It took over half a decade of creating music together as the Knife before the brother-sister duo of Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer performed in public. Their attempts at removing focus on the individual are as notorious as they are futile. They decided to wear masks when promoting and performing their music, which simply added to the mystique. They boycotted award shows because of gender inequality, and that just attracted attention for being selfless. Combine such acts with an unending creative brilliance and you can see the dilemma; how does one maintain artistic direction when attempting to avoid the unintentional and undesirable effect of celebrity or fame?

Apparently the answer for the Dreijers was to take a few years off, re-brand themselves through personal projects and hope that the hyperbole and acclaim would start to take a back seat to the music. While Olaf’s electronic opera is still a ways off, Karen’s album under the Fever Ray guise reflects a slight evolution from the Knife: it is an immensely satisfying, comparatively accessible album that isn’t far from the Knife in that it uniquely (and successfully, mind you) straddles genres and sounds honest in doing so.

Unlike the album that garnered the Knife six Grammi awards (the Swedish equivalent of the Grammys), and countless “best album” honors, Fever Ray sounds less sharp. Not necessarily smooth, just not as angular as Silent Shout. With Fever Ray, Dreijer continues to electronically extend a gothic sound beyond its comfort zone, offering the cold, empty genre a sense of humanity and care. And in doing so, she maintains the androgynous, often ghostly vocals that characterize the Knife; but Dreijer seems less anonymous in doing so, offering a refreshing tone that reclaims a bit of humanity from the mechanical-sounding lyrics.

Fever Ray is ridden with icy, hollow beats that distinguish its songs from such modern electronic acts as Justice, Diplo, or MSTRKRFT. The album is at times cold and remote — probably as close to honest goth as music might get in today’s transparent mallternative culture. Rather than digging deep for belly-moans, Dreijer accompanies the music with tones both entirely familiar and hauntingly alien. Her range seems less restricted throughout, sounding shrill with “I’m Not Done,” emotional with “Triangle Walks,” seductive with “Now’s The Only Time I Know,” and demonic with “Dry & Dusty.” Despite the shifting tones and techniques, it’s often the words behind them that suggest a different focus within Dreijer’s music.

“When I grow up I want to live near the sea/Crab claws and bottles of rum, that’s what I’ll have/Staring at a seashell, waiting for it to embrace me,” groans Dreijer in the album’s second single, “When I Grow Up.” Such personal emotion throughout the album is reflected within the tone of the vocals; that’s where Fever Ray sounds less rigid than the Knife. “If I had a heart I could love you/If I had a voice I would sing” bellows Dreijer through a foreign, robot-like voice typical to the vocal stylings of the Knife, but the heart beneath the song struggles through, and instead of coming off as a monster breathing through a human, with Fever Ray she sounds like a human trapped within a monster’s body.

Despite being built on the Knife’s minimalist foundation, Fever Ray is as complete and unquestionably heavier than anything the duo has created up to this point. Whereas Dreijer was once a faceless mechanism in a creative machine that produced some of the past decade’s most breathtaking music, her songs now embody a feeling of humanity despite sounding, at times, anything but human. “I think it’s very important to separate the person behind the word from the music,” Dreijer reflected recently. But the polarizing ideology is no longer black and white, and if there is to be another album from the Knife it will likely reflect something closer to Fever Ray; music that is almost entirely unique, but music warped by a billowing sense of humanity and graciousness that is no longer being suppressed below its surface.

Jane’s Addiction “Whores”

The last thing that the world needs right now is another Jane’s Addiction album. On the strength of “Just Because” alone, fans were given hope that Jane’s Addiction could return to some sort of prominence. While it was a commercial success (achieving Platinum status State-side) 2003’s Strays was essentially a dud… leaving us fans to consider why we had thought the impossible to be possible.

With the impending Nine Inch Nails/Jane’s tour in the works, the re-reunited band took to the studio to get in the spirit of things and re-recorded a few tracks with the aid of Trent Reznor. And once again, on the strength of just a small taste, we’re left to consider the plausibility of a remotely good release from the band in the future. This time, however, the taste comes in the form of a Reznor-mixed version of a song that’s been around for decades; “Whores,” having appeared on both the band’s 1987 self titled debut release and 1997’s live/rarities album Kettle Whistle.

“Whores” essentially opens with the bass line from the crushing “Mountain Song,” but with Reznor manning the dials, the new version has a heavy kick to it that wasn’t previously audible on the earlier releases. It’s not enough to leave me considering whether or not the band has it in them to record another great album… but maybe in place of the band’s forthcoming box set they should just work with Reznor (since he’s going to have some free time on his hands, and all) to re-record a bunch of songs from back when they still had a shred of credibility. Either way, at least the last memory of the band’s recorded work won’t be “True Nature.”

Green Day “21st Century Breakdown” (single)

Somewhere between “Walking Contradiction” and “American Idiot,” Green Day went from being a group of pseudo-squatters to a stadium-sized band writing rock operas. And, despite the generally underwhelming American Idiot, I can’t criticize the band for anything other than making its fourth consecutive hit or miss album. Other people liked it, and as it’s widely accepted as their “comeback” album, and has sold damn near 10 million copies worldwide, I’d be absolutely dense if I thought that my opinion echoed that of anything but a minuscule minority. But that aside, what’s there to do after recording such a well-accepted politically-leaning rock-opera? Record another as its successor.

A few days ago, when Spin was given an exclu-clu-clusive listening session of a few tracks from Green Day’s forthcoming 21st Century Breakdown, the immediate reaction posted on their site read, “In the six songs, Green Day keep their punk urgency and lyrical angst, but expand their ambition. They use dramatic musical shifts reminiscent of Queen, and Who-like classic rock guitars.” The article continued by focusing on the title track, “Green Day’s most epic song yet. With the quiet-verse, loud-chorus dynamics of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ this five-minute cut builds from harpsichord and Edge-like guitar fills to assaultive drums and arena-filling barre chords. Armstrong’s lyrics about his peers are as urgent as the music: ‘My generation is zero / I never made it as a working class hero. Dream America, dream / Scream America, scream.’”

While their repetitive assessment has some truth to it, I’d argue that the Edge comparison doesn’t have a leg to stand on and that there’s just as much Cheap Trick in the song as there is the Who. The Queen influence is dominant though—actually, for the last minute or so, if you hear anything but Queen, I’d argue that you’ve never really heard Queen. “21st Century Breakdown” is a daunting track that sounds just as suitable for play on your local classic rock radio station as last year’s AC/DC album, and with the exception of a brief drum homage to “Longview” half way through there’s little in the song that remains of the Green Day of old. The shift towards becoming a band big enough to fit the shoes that Dookie afforded them has taken well over a decade, but they’ve finally done it. Whether or not their music is any better for it, well, there are probably another 10 million people out there who would argue against me on that as well.

Wale feat. Lady Gaga “Chillin’”

After breaking out with last year’s Seinfeld-themed Mixtape About Nothing, Wale continued to stomp on the scene with the undeniably tight single “Nike Boots.”* Coming back this year with the glossy sounds of his first full length studio release, Attention Deficit, Wale is primed to bridge the gap between mainstream and backpack rap. Aside from “Boots,” the Cool & Dre produced “Chillin’” comes as the first taste from the new album, and quite the taste it is. On the surface a Lady Gaga collaboration seems like an odd pairing for the MC, but her “Macarena”-meets-M.I.A. groove mixed with a thumping beat goes a long way in enhancing the song (no matter how ridiculous the description might sound). Toss in a sample of Steam’s “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” for good measure and “Chillin’” might very well be the best single of the year from a song built on a shaky premise.

His Mischief "The Perfect Lover" Review

The perfect lover. For each individual those words are likely to conjure a variety images. One might dream of Burt Reynolds tastefully covered in Vaseline, wearing nothing but a Speedo and cowboy boots; another, Jamie Lee Curtis erotically knocking back single serving after single serving of Activia Yogurt. And while we may never know what those words mean to each member of St. Paul's His Mischief (the smart money's on the yogurt), The Perfect Lover encapsulates a dozen tracks that are highly unpredictable and uniquely inconsistent.

Opening with "Freaks Up Front," the band immediately takes a firm grip on a tight guitar lick. Lead singer Sheridan Fox dives in moments later, wailing like a Scandinavian Britt Daniels, slightly slurring the lyrics and tossing in "Oh! Oh! Oh!"s as necessary—it worked for "Howlin'" Pete Almquist of the Hives and it works here, too. The following songs distort any clear direction however, Fox's voice fails to rest on any clear sound, and the bassist Jeff Quinn and drummer Jeff Brown follow suit. Crossing between the overcrowded sound of "Don't Bother" to the deliberate guitar of "All That for a Limp Handshake" creates an immediate divide between the two songs, a pattern that is continued throughout. After "Towering Filth," the album's token grunge track, the band again changes directions as it does its best Ben Folds with "Roman Holiday." And though the song sounds out of place in context, the chorus to "Holiday" is a curious earworm that stands out as one of the album's highlights.

While it's not a deal-breaker, the problem that arises from having no fluidity among the album's tracks is that they tend to chop each other off at the knees. Just as it looks to build some momentum with "Veins," the song's energy disappears with the following "Trust or Love." The Perfect Lover is frustrating at times, but its songs refrain from bleeding into one bland sound, instead creating a distinct contrast with one another. It's unpredictable and inconsistent, but at no point does it fail to sound good. And that's probably what His Mischief had in mind when dreaming of the perfect lover; if you went the route of a greased-up mustache-wrangler, more power to you.

[This article was first published by City Pages.]

Black Lips at Turf Club (St. Paul, MN)

Video of the Black Lips‘ March 16, 2009 set at the Turf Club in St. Paul, MN, featuring performances of “Sea of Blasphemy,” “Everybody’s Doin’ It,” “Time of the Scab,” “Bad Kids,” “Cold Hands,” “O Katrina,” and “Dirty Hands.”

Propagandhi Interview

For over two decades Propagandhi has offered a blunt alternative to the transparent punk that the genre has come to represent. Within the vessel of the Winnipeg-based band’s blistering music are lyrics grounded in a foundation of compassion and humanity that reflect well-considered ideals rather than superficial presumptions. Speaking to Jord Samolesky via email, the band's co-founder discussed animal liberation, eco-terrorism, and war before the discussion eventually shifted to a subject at the heart of all Canadians everywhere: hockey.

As a preview of the album you guys offered a pair of tracks through a “Donate to Download” program. I haven’t heard of any other bands doing anything like this — where did the inspiration behind the idea come from?

Jord Samolesky: Actually, the folks at Smallman Records came up with the idea initially, and encouraged us to figure out a few organizations that were set up well enough to get in touch with their respective memberships to promote the idea. In addition to this, we’ve invited all three organizations to do info-tables at our shows on our current tour of the U.S. east coast (Sea Shepard Society came out to most of our shows in Australia recently as well, in addition to a variety of animal rights/liberation groups).

When I have time outside of the band, I do some awareness raising activities with some local folks at home called the Winnipeg-Haiti Solidarity Group, which operates under the national banner of the Canada-Haiti Action Network… for info please see: Canada Haiti Action or Haiti Action for a U.S. based account of relations with Haiti.

Through this involvement, I became aware of the work of Paul Farmer and of the people who Partners in Health, and have tremendous respect for what they do in Haiti, and in other countries. Far from being a charitable organization, they link poverty and disease to exploitation and the unjust relationship between the first world and the third world. Excessive greed and wealth here, creates abject poverty elsewhere. This is what needs to fundamentally change, not simply a few of us in affluent nations throwing some pocket change and feeling good (or less guilty) about ourselves.

We also back the efforts of Peta2 and Sea Shepard Society immensely. I remember seeing Captain Paul Watson speak in Winnipeg when I was 19… Jesus crap, that was almost 20 years ago!

I’d like to get some more insight from you on Peta. There has been a lot of discussion as to the contradictions within the company, claims against Peta ranging from gross sensationalism to actually having ties with and connection to extreme activists such as Rob Coranado (who was also connected to Sea Shepherd). I’m wondering if there’s a line that can be drawn between saying that you’re animal friendly and promoting “total animal liberation” at what some might say, comes at the cost of others.

Jord Samolesky: Well, let’s just say that I respect Rob Coronado more than I do some of the cheddar cheese generating goofy celebrities that Peta has on board to raise the profile of animal rights issues (ie: Tommy Lee, etc…).

I want to be clear that if people have a sense that they can simply buy their way into a guilt-free lifestyle by consuming green and animal friendly products (although these alternatives are important and preferable to cruelty laden products), that won’t resolve much. I place the animal rights/liberation in an overall struggle against the global capitalist system, which reduces the globe and everything on it to a bunch of numbers in constant need of manipulation. In terms of extremism, or the attention that so called “eco-terrorism” gets in the post 9/11 legal reality, that needs to be contrasted with the state terror and macro level mega destruction that continues with impunity, and is supported actively by our tax dollars. Factory farming and the U.S. military represent true devastation and terror, however banal and normalized they are represented in mass media culture.

With the exception of “Human(e) Meat (The Flensing of Sandor Katz)” how have these ideals driven the themes behind Supporting Caste?

Jord Samolesky: In my humble half-baked drummer’s opinion, the quest to demystify and expose the established Orwellian-style mythology that the first world rests on (ie: peace via war, civilization via genocide, progress via ruthless exploitation, etc, etc… ad infinite, ad nauseum) is a fundamental theme to the idea of the Supporting Caste. The asses at the top generate history and reality to those lower down the ladder. Where do you fit into this? What are your obligations as an actor unwillingly incorporated to regenerate the “supporting caste” system? What can we do to get out of this nightmare??

Included in the liner notes is a drawing of the band sitting at a table, drinking wine and dining on corpse. I think the S.N.F.U. ”Cannibal Cafe” (which is probably my favorite song of theirs) reference is funny — is that what’s behind the picture?

Jord Samolesky: Think a visual aid to the song “Human(e) Meat”… also, we’re huge SNFU fans. I remember seeing them when I was 15 years old, blew me away. Jesus crappy, that was 23 years ago… what the fuck?!

For those outside of Canada, who is Ron MacLean and what is “Dear Coach’s Corner” about?

Jord Samolesky: Ron MacLean, the sometimes critical hype man for Don Cherry, who is a reactionary fool, many times combining the idea of the “good Canadian” with imperial warfare and taking orders from the US military in Afghanistan. They have a segment on national Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts on public television (CBC), that tends to regularly co-opt the simplicity of a child’s game, ice hockey, into becoming a platform for jingoistic, male chauvinistic, war propaganda.

Think a (classic Canadian) low production value replication of the insanely ignorant pro-war garbage being hyped at every NFL game in the USA.

What do you think of Hockey Night in Canada changing its theme song last year?

Jord Samolesky: The new song reeks, while the person who wrote the HNiC theme, now on TSN, is probably laughing while she bathes in cash.

With the dwindling interest and finances of teams in Phoenix, Nashville, and Florida, do you think Winnipeg should get another crack at having a team in the NHL?

Jord Samolesky: Being raised on hockey, it is in the back of my mind. I always root against the south US teams, good to see the curse of the Jets is plaguing Phoenix and Wayne McGretzky. If it came down to choosing between a hospital and an NHL franchise, think I would have to choose NHL franchise… whoops! I mean HOSPITAL!

Medeski Martin & Wood “Amber Gris”

Regarding Medeski Martin & Wood’s interpretation of “Free Go Lily” from last year’s Radiolarians I, Chris Wood told us last November that they had been influenced by a series of field recordings when writing and recording the album. “Lily” has a grimy funk to it, transposing a stereotypical jazz piece with the addition of organ grooves and a thuddish beat. The following two volumes of the Radiolarians series were written and recorded in chunks last year, each recording session followed by a series of shows that exclusively featured the band’s latest songs. The first part was recorded in February, the second in July, and the third shortly after Wood spoke to Culture Bully in November.

Contrasting nicely with “Lily” is “Amber Gris” from the forthcoming Radiolarians II. Combining a classical jazz aesthetic and low-lying beat before plunging into an array layered organ and bass, the song is held together from start to finish by John Medeski’s keys. The song divides Radiolarians II, coming half way through the set, and if it’s any indication of the music that surrounds it, II looks to permeate “fusion” and lay the groundwork for the series’ third volume. Radiolarians II is scheduled for a mid-April release.

The Dead Weather: New Music from Jack White

Roughly 150 people recently attended the grand re-opening of Third Man Records in Nashville, and roughly 150 people were treated with a gift like no other. The gift? The crowd that night was party to the first ever public performance from the Dead Weather. The catch? The Dead Weather are a band comprised of Jack White (The White Stripes/Raconteurs), Alison Mosshart (The Kills), Dean Fertita (Queens of the Stone Age) and Jack Lawrence (Raconteurs/Greenhornes). Not a bad gift if I do say so myself.

Completely flipping the script on those who thought White was in need of some much-needed rest after his tired performance on Conan O’Brien’s final Late Show (myself included), White sounds anything but in the band’s first two songs. The group’s lead single, “Hang You From The Heavens,” rolls by with a harder, snarling guitar, and a grind that offers up the perfect soundtrack for a two-day tequila binge. The song’s b-side is an oddball compared to “Heavens,” for it’s a churning cover of Gary Numan’s “Are Friends Electric?” that is plastered in reverb and sounds a bit like the Raconteurs—had the band been around in the mid-1960s. A full length release is expected for June.

Cloud Cult Interview

The Cloud Cult documentary No One Said It Would Be Easy will be released on April 21, and with it comes another credit for a band who for the past decade has been tireless in creating their art. Lead singer Craig Minowa and the film’s director and editor John Paul Burgess took some time to discuss the film and the process behind it; the idea behind its inception, the documenting process and what we can expect. Also touching on the band’s upcoming dates with Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s, Minowa ends with expressing the band’s excitement in anticipation of their forthcoming Coachella debut.

Who originally came up with the concept for No One Said It Was Easy?

John Paul Burgess: I stepped into the project somewhat unknowingly. After agreeing to come along to film a two week tour, there was talk of a “Cloud Cult DVD” that had been talked about for a year or so. The original idea, as I understood it, was to make a “behind-the-scenes” DVD about touring, the band members and then provide concert footage. Using that as a starting place, I returned from that two week tour (in September of 2007) and began crafting a workable outline and narrative arc that expanded upon the original idea and grew to encompass a snap shot of the current band, as well as a look back at the entire 10+ year history of Cloud Cult.

The film title—No One Said It Would Be Easy—was derived from a Cloud Cult song of the same name, in reference to the emotional storyline behind the music, as well as the simple fact that Cloud Cult has worked incredibly hard to get where they currently reside as a band with a stable, growing following (after literally playing shows with no one in attendance).

What period of time does the film cover?

John Paul Burgess: The film covers it all. Beginning at present, the film provides viewers with a glimpse at the current state of the band, including what touring is like, what shows look and sound like as well as the philosophical underpinnings behind the songwriting (of which there are many). Following the look at present, the film literally “rewinds” itself and offers an annotated history behind each one of Cloud Cult’s albums, beginning with 1998’s The Shade Project though 2008’s Feel Good Ghosts. Band members discuss the stories and emotions behind each album and period of time in which they were released.

How involved was the band in the direction and production of the film?

John Paul Burgess: The band, surprisingly, was not directly involved with the film, outside of sitting down for interviews and responding to requests for shoots, etc. After I was initially invited along on a tour (this after putting together some concert footage for the band previously), the band kind of just let me run and trusted me with the film. The band didn’t even see rough cuts of the film until about a month before its completion (this after it had been in post-production for over a year). It was, however, established from the beginning that Scott West and I would collaborate on the film, as Scott, one of the driving forces behind all of Cloud Cult’s visuals, was initially charged with the responsibility of putting together the DVD. Naturally, we were able to collaborate on the visual dynamic of the film. Scott created the original art for various sections of the film, and I took them and animated them. Scott, too, did some animating of his art for the film.

In its trailer, there is a reference made to the band’s focus on inspiring creativity amongst its audience. Have you ever received any letters or emails from someone who wanted to express how Cloud Cult had positively influenced them?

Craig Minowa: We receive emails from fans all the time. Many of them tell of how our music has helped them deal with loss in their lives. We’ve also received many letters from artists who paint to cloud cult. Our music was also used as the backdrop for a play in NYC. It was Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

One of the most revealing characteristics of the band’s own lust for creativity is its general output—seven studio albums having been already released this decade. Why not sit back and release a new album every few years with an EP tossed in here and there for good measure?

Craig Minowa: The reason we’re in this business is because of an inherent passion and need to create. For that reason, cranking out albums isn’t a hassle, it’s just something we enjoy doing.

Do you find out something new about yourself with each new release?

Craig Minowa: The albums are very introspective, so the writing process is also a very therapeutic “self-help” process. It feels like each new song brings fresh insights into how to live better in this world.

How much of an enjoyment is the recording process for you… between playing shows and recording it seems like the band members hardly have any time apart. Does “personal space/time” ever become an issue?

Craig Minowa: We’re a very tight community. Everyone in the band gets along really well, so when we’re touring, we enjoy each other’s company. Also, the recording process is a little different for us, in that it’s not done with the whole band together. Most of the recording is done by me up in the studio on the farm.

Since the band has the reputation of being environmentally conscious, was there any sort of like-mindedness that influenced a decision to co-headline a tour with Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s?

Craig Minowa: This kind of just happened out of mutual admiration for the music that we/they create. We are also looking at it as a challenge to try to get eight people on and off of stage twice each night. They also have eight people on stage with them each night.

On a scale from Ben Stein to David Lee Roth, how excited are you to play this year’s Coachella festival?

Craig Minowa: David Lee Roth. We’re all looking forward to so many of the artists that are performing. Especially Beirut! None of us have seen them live before.