Album Review: Brad Couture – Lower Tones

Brad Couture Lower Tones
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Lower Tones is the first full length album from New Hampshire-based composer Brad Couture (his sixth release if you count his earlier works under the name Sleevenotes).

Couture’s serene cinematic tunes are perfect for relaxing to. I’ve played it often in the evenings lately, and find Lower Tones helps me to unwind brilliantly at the end of a busy day. It’s the soundtrack to sitting curled up in a warm blanket with a steaming mug clasped between your hands.

Well, it could be the soundtrack to whatever you choose really. Herein lies the appeal of instrumental music – the interpretation sits with the listener. Couture has licensed music to clients including The History Channel, ESPN, and Monster Energy, so his abilities clearly transcend mere playing around for a hobby.

Like all the solo instrumentalists who submit their work to me, Couture possesses an unfair amount of talent. Mastering one instrument is hard enough. Being able to play a variety of instruments, arrange them in a compelling way, and record them in a home studio is just showing off.

The music is predominantly soft and subtle, as one would expect from an ambient cinematic project. Couture relies heavily on piano and synths to weave an aural tapestry, before employing other instruments to enhance the music.

Cello offers a rich bass sound that synth or bass guitar cannot replicate the same way. Acoustic and electric guitars also help to colour the music, with the distant scorching guitar solo featuring in “Driving Through The Golden Hour” taking the cake for one of the finer moments of the album.

“Restland” is my album highlight, purely due to how evocative I find it. A deep warm hum sounds replicates a conch shell. Violin sets a solemn scene, with light pads and percussion adding gravitas before making space for sparse piano notes. I can picture viking warships setting out on a voyage to distant lands far across the ocean.

If well crafted ambient music for relaxation sounds like you then look no further than Brad Couture. He has done a stellar job with this release and you owe it to yourself to unwind to his music.


Brad Couture links:

Bandcamp: https://bradcouture.bandcamp.com/

Website: http://www.bcouturemusic.com/

Facebook: facebook.com/bcouturemusic

Twitter: twitter.com/bcouturemusic

 

Joseph James

Album Review: Rise Against – Wolves

Rise Against Wolves
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The classification of punk music is totally subjective. What do The Ramones, The Clash and The Sex Pistols share in common? Who’s more punk out of Blink 182 or the Rage Against The Machine? To me, the two essential elements of good punk music are speed and political content.

Rise Against have both. Since discovering them in my early teens, they have long been one of my favourite bands. I’ve seen them more than any other international act (Powerstation 2009, Big Day Out 2010, Logan Campbell Centre 2011, and opening for Foo Fighters 2015), and they also take up the most space in my record collection (alongside Biffy Clyro).

But to be honest, I wasn’t so keen on their latest album. I won’t go so far as to say they sold-out, but Appeal To Reason signaled a tipping point for the band once they had signed to a major label, and since then their sound became steadily more accessible. This culminated in their last release, The Black Market, lacking the edge that the band once had.

Thankfully, album number eight, Wolves, feels more raw than the polished radio-rock that the band had churned out over the past few releases. I doubt we will ever hear a true return to their hardcore roots, but the pop sheen on this record is thankfully less noticeable. I didn’t have high hopes on first listen, having not thought much of their previous record, but thankfully Wolves proved instantly likable.

It’s the same familiar Rise Against. They’ve transcended their underground roots to create a melodic-hardcore-come-arena-rock style that has boosted them to prominence. And I do not begrudge them for their success. But I do feel that a special connection to the band has been lost since they started gaining more dominance on the airwaves.

I stated before that I think political content is a vital aspect of good punk music. Rise Against have always toed the line well in this regard – writing lyrics that allude to their personal and political values without being overt enough to ostracize their increasingly mainstream fan base. Just a handful of topics they’ve touched on in the past include treatment of animals (many of the band members are vegan), people (refugees, the LGBT community) and the fallout of war (including the impacts on both soldiers and civilians involved).

In his typical fashion, on Wolves singer Tim McIlrath cries out against injustice with a fervent fire. One could attribute inspiration to a certain orange-tinted world leader, but in reality corruption and oppression will always exist, regardless of who runs the government. Wolves features a theme of rallying the people to stand as one against ambiguous powers-that-be. Both relevant and vague enough for most people to relate to. And how can one not be drawn to that call to humanity that all of us possess?

Plus they have lots of “whoas”. “Whoas” are freaking awesome, and the perfect invitation from a band to have you sing along. Just ask The Casualties.

I find it hard to define my overall verdict. Wolves is actually great. I love Rise Against, and will always hold them dear as an important building block in my musical education. But I’m not sure that I needed another album from them. I like Wolves, but chances are high that  if I’m hoping for my Rise Against fix I will overlook it and reach for one of their older records.

 

Joseph James

Photo Gallery: Skinny Hobos at Valhalla, Wellington

Gallery

Skinny Hobos

w/ Brendon Thomas & The Vibes, Nation

Friday 2 June 2017

Valhalla, Wellington

Last night was wild haze. I went to the show at Valhalla … which was awesome… and I woke up feeling quite lost and unwell in a van in Marton … which was not so awesome. I’ll leave the rest up to your imagination.

I spent the rest of today hitching and busing back to Wellington. Here are some snaps I took at the gig.

Brendon Thomas & The Vibes

Brendon Thomas & The Vibes Valhalla Wellington Brendon Thomas & The Vibes Valhalla Wellington

Skinny Hobos

Skinny Hobos Valhalla Wellington

Words and photos by Joseph James

Ten Years On: Discovering Biffy Clyro’s breakthrough album Puzzle

Biffy Clyro Puzzle Cover Art
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Ten Years On: Biffy Clyro – Puzzle

Isolated on the other end of the planet

The internet existed ten years ago, but it was a completely different animal.  My family still had a dial-up connection, so good luck trying to load a video. Not that there were many music videos on YouTube anyway. A few of my slightly older mates tell me about how they left the computer running all night just trying to load a new four-minute Blink 182 video when it was released.

Can you remember the ghastly screeching sound that the computer made when making a connection on dial-up? I can certainly remember my dad shouting at me to disconnect when he wanted to make a phone call. And to think that today we use our phones to connect to the internet!

Biffy Clyro Luke Gilford

Biffy Clyro. Image: Luke Gilford

Youtube was a fledgling, Spotify and other such streaming sites were the speculative talk of some sci-fi future. Facebook existed, but didn’t become popular within my peer group until around 2009. We were all on Bebo [remember that???], with some of the more alty scene kids also having a Myspace account. Nobody really bothered with Facebook messenger anyway, because everyone used MSN.

Which gives you some rough context to why I was my best friend’s house trying to listen to a song called “Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies” using a program called Limewire. I’d read about this Scottish band called Biffy Clyro who had just released an album called Puzzle. They were on the front cover of Rock Sound magazine and they sounded interesting, so I was trying to find some of their music to listen to.

Like I said, my family had a dial-up connection, so no point trying to find anything online at home. Streaming sites didn’t exist and sites like Youtube offered little music content. The record stores in my small hometown of Nelson weren’t going to import music by an unheard of [ha!] band like Biffy Clyro unless I was willing to shell out at least $40 – almost as much as I earned in a week working part-time at a supermarket. So I decided to use Tom’s computer to try to listen to this band.

Limewire was notoriously bad for containing poor quality content. Viruses were abundant and most tracks were mislabeled and poorly spelled. So when I started listening to this song that I’d tried to download – “Living Is A Problem…” – it was of little surprise that the track sounded corrupted. I listened to the jarring, stabbing sounds at random intervals for about a minute before I stopped listening and gave up. There’s no way that this file was the single I had read about!

[This video clip cuts roughly 90 seconds off the album version of the song]

Hearing more material

It was a few months later that I bought a Kerrang! Magazine which featured a best of 2007 sampler. That CD featured a Biffy song called “A Whole Child Ago”.  It had a crazy riff that sounded like a polyphonic ringtone [yes, this was 2007 remember!], weird drumming that had a looping pattern [or did it?] and nonsensical lyrics. And I loved it!

This track – along with “Get Fucked Stud”, from the Rock Sound sampler that I’d got when I first read about Biffy – made me want to track down this elusive Puzzle album again.

Tom pulled through for me. A true best friend, he had heard me go on and on about wanting to listen to that album so somehow managed to buy a copy of Puzzle on CD for my birthday.

I remember being so excited. I finally had it! I put it into my crappy discman that was hooked up to criminally bad speakers [so tinny they should have come with a gram of bud!] and sat down to listen to the album. It had a bright orange sticker on the cover with a quote from NME: “This album will change your life!” Yeah… right… I doubted the claim, but still had high expectations.

The first track was “Living Is A Problem…”. Wait… What the hell? The same stabbing sounds for almost two minutes! So that file from Limewire wasn’t corrupted? And this was a single???

Upon closer listen, I figured that the song showcased some incredible musicianship. Certainly not easy to listen to, but bloody impressive that the three musicians could play something with such odd timing and play as a tight unit. The song got really aggressive, but oddly enough had choral sections and string arrangements juxtaposed again the heavy rocking.

Listening through the rest of the album was an interesting ride. It was weird, that’s for sure. Clearly they were on drugs when they came up with most of the lyrics. And there are so many quirky elements and odd time signatures, which were actually tame compared to their previous three albums – not that I knew it at the time.

I think it is impossible to listen to the infuriatingly catchy “Who’s Got A Match?” and stay still. The triplet groove compels the listener to nod their head, tap their foot… something!

In fact, Biffy may well lay claim to my first exposure to math elements in rock. It’s either them or Tool. They took my listening experiences beyond the standard 4/4 or 6/8 time signatures that most songs we listen to are written in. “Now I’m Everyone” contains a 5/4 passage that used to annoy me so much, but I now love it.

I wasn’t sure what to make of the lyrics for most of this album. Plenty are simply nonsense. However, there is a coherent theme of mourning throughout. Simon’s mother had passed away shortly before the album was written, and glimpses into his grieving can be found throughout. I couldn’t tell you why a man is on the corner selling dozens of bones, but when Simon cries “Eleanor, I would do anything for another minute with you” the message to his late mother is clear.

And, just like that, I became a Biffy Clyro fanatic. I started trying to push it on all my mates, spreading the good word of the Biff. It became a bit of a running joke among my mates – “yeah, yeah, Joseph. We know – another weird rock band. Stop going on about it would ya?” Took a photo of the Puzzle album cover with my phone to use as the phone wallpaper, but after a while switched it for something else after a few too many people had asked me why I had the photo of a naked man on my phone.

I did manage to convert a few mates. I was in a band with my best friend Tom [who had gifted me the CD] and another friend Harry, and we chose to add “A Whole Child Ago” to our repertoire, alongside other obligatory teenage covers band numbers: Nirvana, Muse, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters, System Of A Down, Incubus, Rage Against The Machine etc… I actually sat down to try to drum along to the track a few days ago and realised that I never did figure out how to play it properly, and just managed to come up with something similar that seemed to work. It’s a tricky linear beat that swaps between the hi-hat, snare and kick, and changes ever so slightly every few bars. I think I was more suited to playing something more simple and aggressive like Nirvana’s “Breed”.

It’s crazy that no-one had heard of Biffy in New Zealand. At the time, the band was busy headlining major festivals and touring with the biggest rock bands over in the UK. I guess that shows how important radio play was for entering the public consciousness, back in the days before music was so easy to find online.

I’ve since dug through the band’s catalogue, and own all of their albums and on CD or vinyl (I have most in both formats, because I’m a loser fanboy) as well as a few b-sides collections. I saw Biffy the one time they played in New Zealand and it was everything that I’d hoped for and more. I used that review to launch this music blog (and probably got a meagre 10 views – whoo!).

I guess what I’m trying to say is that NME was right. On that little orange sticker, stuck to the front on the album near the parent advisory box, they told me that the album would change my life.

It did.

Mon the Biff!

Joseph James

Head Like A Hole at Valhalla – 25th Anniversary Tour

Head Like A Hole Valhalla Wellington Poster 25th Anniversary Tour
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Head Like A Hole playing the album 13

w/ Hiboux

Saturday 20 May 2017

Valhalla, Wellington

A friend of mine has a story from when his band opened for Head Like A Hole many years ago. During HLAH’s set a naked man run onstage and stage dived off. He got consumed by the mosh pit, only to emerge from the midst of it right and the end of the night when the crowd had dispersed.

Imagine being part of that mosh pit. It’s hot. You’re enjoying the music and bouncing between other sweaty bodies. Suddenly, out of nowhere, an undressed man with flailing penis appears out of nowhere, blocking out the light and landing square on top of you.

My friend is now a priest, and although it isn’t very priestly to condone tales of rock n roll like this, he loves sharing it. He grins from ear to ear as he tells his story, giggling about wild times.

Of course Head Like A Hole have been known to perform naked and caked with mud in the past as well. Tonight was my first time seeing the band, and they were performing their début album 13 (released in 1992 – the year I was born!). All bets were off, and I braced myself for some madness.

Hiboux opening for Head Like A Hole at ValhallaHiboux

I’ve been following the Instagram account of local post-rock lads Hiboux, and it is clear that they’ve worked hard recently. With a début album now under their belts, the band have filmed videos, written more music, and are planning an upcoming trans-Tasman tour. They sounded great when I saw them open for Alcest last month, and tonight was just as great.

The lighting guy was having fun trying to destroy my photos, employing far too much red light and working the for machine overtime – two ingredients that serve to foil my camera’s ability. I had fun though, climbing up on the side of a speaker rig to find interesting angles.

If you haven’t heard Hiboux yet, I recommend checking them out. Their hypnotic instrumental tunes cast a spell over Valhalla. It was perhaps a bit sedate at first considering that they were opening for legendary wild men, but later on the set the distortion pedals came to the foray and the headbanging material unleashed. Although their music is well-crafted and exact, fantastic energy brims beneath, making the explosive sections of the songs all the more dynamic.

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Head Like A Hole Valhalla WellingtonHead Like A Hole

Head Like A Hole disbanded when I was eight, meaning that although I’m know of them, they have never been at the forefront of music I listen to. They’ve had their share of play on The Rock radio station, and one of Dad’s friends used to bring HLAH CDs to our family BBQs [related story], so I am familiar with a few hits, but couldn’t say I know any of their albums well. Knowing that they had planned on playing début album 13 on this tour, I’ve listened to it leading up to the show.

13 is snotty punk music: fast, aggressive and fun. It captures the band at the start of their career – slightly naïve, yet with obvious potential. The recordings sound dated –  funky alt-rock Faith No More worship with bright popping drums and wiry guitars – but despite this the album remains a fan favourite.

By comparison, tonight when the band played the 25 year-old songs they sounded full and punchy. Not only did they sound great, but they had brilliant presence. We didn’t see the naked mud men of yesteryear, but the wildness was still evident.

Head Like A Hole Valhalla Wellington

Like their contemporaries Shihad, they’ve taken rock music, added an alternative edge, and perfected the delivery. Frontman Booga Beezley – dressed in black leather and hair dripping with sweat – swung his mic stand around and told self-deprecating stories.

“This song [Penut] was written after a night of dangerous drinking.” He revealed, half proud of himself, half cautioning us. “I woke up at Nigel’s mum’s house, having shit myself. Shit was everywhere: on the walls, on the toilet. There was shit on me. Nights like that define who you are as a person, which is how we manage to write such great songs.”

Crowd Surfing at Head Like A Hole

Crowd Surfing at Head Like A Hole

Valhalla was as full as I’ve seen it in a year or two, sold out and filled with aging rock fans wanting that taste of their teenage years. The pit up the front was in full swing and a handful of punters tried their hands at stage diving throughout the night – with varying degrees of success.

“We’ve come to that point in the night where we are going to play some radio friendly pop hits”Head Like A Hole Wellington Set List Beezly laughed when the band approached the second half of the set, “who wants to hear some Ed Sheeran?”

Despite never having listened to Head Like A Hole much, I was pleased to learn that I actually knew many of the songs from the second half of the set. “A Crying Shame” was great fun, with a signature trumpet hook played by the woman who had given me my wristband at the start of the night. “Hootenanny” earned cries of excitement, with everyone chanting along to the chorus. A cover of Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” brought the mood down, before the band switched it up a gear to turn it into a rowdy frenzy.

The band members live distributed throughout the North Island these days, but a Wellington show will always be a homecoming gig. I’m glad that I finally managed to see Head Like A Hole live, but I bet that the old fans were even happier than me.

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All words and photos by Joseph James

Live Review and Gallery: Living Colour at the Auckland Powerstation

Living Colour Powerstation Auckland
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Living Colour 30th Anniversary Tour

w/ Heavy Metal Ninjas

Powerstation, Auckland

Thursday 11 May 2017

 Living Colour Powerstation Auckland

Money or music?

I faced a difficult decision a few years ago

I was a year into my university studies and hadn’t been able to find much work over the Summer break. I was in the process of opening up a student account at the bank for when I’d need the interest-free overdraft for the upcoming year. I had to take 11 weeks off work that year to do the teacher placements as part of my studies and I couldn’t see any way that I could afford to do that.

So of course AJ Maddah announced the lineup for that years Soundwave festival.

It wasn’t the big names that drew me in. Sure, I’d like to see them, but I didn’t see them as major drawcards. It was some of the lesser known bands that I reeeallly wanted to see. You know, the bands written in tiny writing at the bottom of the poster that you have to squint to read. Like my favourite band: Scottish trio Biffy Clyro. Or Arizona act Jimmy Eat World. Or funk rock titans Living Colour.

There was no way I could afford to attend Soundwave, but there were a few sideshows that could have been viable options.I had friends I could stay with in Melbourne. Biffy Clyro played at The Corner Hotel, where I’d seen hardcore legends Terror play a few years beforehand. Living Colour were to open for Alter Bridge at The Forum. Dipping into the $1000 course related costs I was entitled to became veeeeery tempting.

Financial reason won in the end. Sad face emoji. No trip to Melbourne, no seeing awesome bands.

Buuuuut, I have been fortunate enough to see those three bands since. All at the Auckland Powerstation. And tonight, Living Colour proved that they were worth the wait.


Heavy Metal Ninjas opening for Living Colour

Heavy Metal Ninjas

Local quartet Heavy Metal Ninjas came onstage dressed very much like Kora, which isn’t too surprising seeing as the two bands share members. As well as rocking the samurai garb, the two guitarists and bass player all had half face masks that gave off a Kylo Ren vibe. Maybe the drummer didn’t get the memo regarding dress code, choosing to opt for a bogan Jesus look instead.

Their music was sharp technical metal, full of double kick drums, guitar noodling and djenty riffs. They took Steve Vai worship to the next level. I counted 22 strings between the three masked men. As for the drums… well you can never really have enough cymbals can you?

The hard-hitting sci-fi take on instrumental metal delivered blow after pummeling blow, strengthened by the regular inclusion of strong sub bass that made me want to vomit. I’ll give them points for making an impact, and the crowd lapped it up.

Living Colour Powerstation Auckland

Living Colour

Living Colour last visited our shores in 1993. A few people in the audience were rocking t shirts from that tour tonight. I, however, was merely an infant at the time, being born in 1992.

Not that this made a difference. Being one of the younger people in attendance made me feel as if I was in on a special secret.

The band weren’t scared to add a handful of covers to their set; they both opened and closed with a cover, as well as interspersing them throughout the night. Their influences range far and wide: Robert Johnson, Notorious BIG, Junior Murvin, Elvis, The Clash. Both familiar yet new, the songs all worked seamlessly into the set.

Living Colour are well seasoned pros. Their abilities are phenomenal. I don’t say this lightly. They. Can. Play.

Living Colour Powerstation Auckland

The way Corey Glover sung, you wouldn’t know that he has worked those vocal cords hard for over 30 years. Not only is his singing great, but he has such range. He can bark during the thrash numbers. He can scream – you know, rock star style – like in “Hey Jude”. He has speed. I swear that even though I was watching his lips move, my brain couldn’t keep up with how fast he was spitting out words in some songs. And of course, he can do sexy soulful. He wore a paint splattered denim suit with gingham shirt, tie and a feathered hat.

Doug Wimbish was the centre of attention, playing up for the cameras. He may be the newbie in the band, but you’d never pick it. His bass solo was one of the highlights of the night. He played a tune – great in its own right. Then using a looping pedal, he added upon the tune, jamming with himself. His joy was openly visible as he expanded the sound during his solo. He employed various pedals to change his tone – deep, rich bass, higher guitar tones, alien sounds. And if the music wasn’t enough, he started playing with his mouth too. It was a wonder to listen to as he masterfully played his instrument.

Living Colour Powerstation Auckland

Drummer Will Calhoun was just as mesmerising. His two kick drums sported Australian art. The first with a picture of Ayers Rock and a kangaroo, and the second depicting the Aboriginal flag (which looked like a pokéball when cropped into a circle). Situated around him were his many signature drums, cymbals, electronic pads and a large corrugated Hammerax sheet cymbal.

The way he approaches his playing is so outside-the-square that I doubt I’ll ever see another drum solo quite like his. First of all, he’s lightning fast. Living Colour have their thrash metal moments, but I didn’t realise how frenetic a lot of the rest of their works are. And then there’s his experimental side. He discussed it with me when I interviewed him a few weeks back. He takes electric drums and messes with the sound just as a guitarist uses pedals and effects to affect their tone. And on top of all this talent and creativity, he is highly educated in the ways of drumming from cultures worldwide. For me, his drum solo was worth the price of admission alone.

Living Colour Powerstation AucklandWhich leaves Vernon on guitar. The unsung hero. He played the joker, cracking funnies to wind up Corey. He bore the blame when the band made a few mistakes. He referred to himself as the nerd in a band of sexy people. But he is the man responsible for forming Living Colour. And his guitar work is damn amazing. Humbleness is a virtue, but Vernon Reid is more than deserving of an ego.

When you consider the talent, the showmanship, the vibrancy of each of these four men, and realise that Living Colour is more than the sum of its parts, you come to understand that this show is one of those truly amazing nights that surpassed even the wildest expectations. After 30 years, you’d expect them to know how to own a stage. Which they did. The jokes and banter was funny. The music was immersive and compelling. The musicians were genuine. And just to prove it, they all came and met with the fans to take photos and sign merch after the show.

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Living Colour links:

Website: http://www.livingcolour.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LivingColour/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LivingColour

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBp5wftf7WswgIko42GUfWQ

 

All words and photos by Joseph James