First Impressions: Symphony X, Underworld

July 31, 2015

So first off, for a little background: I first discovered Symphony X with 2011’s Iconoclast and 2007’s Paradise Lost and really enjoyed the heavier sounds of those albums. Last year I picked up 2002’s The Odyssey and really enjoyed it as well, though it was more on the melodic side with a lot more cleaner vocals from Russell Allen. To be honest I did like it, though not quite as much as I did the albums after it. If I remember correctly, it was guitarist Michael Romeo who said the band was going back toward the earlier sounds with the new album (which was released last Friday), and I was pretty curious as to how it’d sound. I really liked the first song that was released from it, “Nevermore,” but as you all know, one song is never really indicative of the full quality of an album…

Holy hell, did they ever hit the sweet spot between those two styles. Just as a few examples, the title track and “Kiss Of Fire” may well be the heaviest songs the band has ever recorded, with Allen roaring like a pissed-off demon on both, and the latter even has blast beats! Killer, just absolutely KILLER. And toward the other end of the spectrum, the closing track “Legend” is a thing of utter beauty, as the guys channel the relatively softer tones of songs like “When All Is Lost” and the title track of Paradise Lost, albeit at a faster tempo, about the speed of Iconoclast’s “Bastards of the Machine.” And “Charon” sounds like it would have probably fit right in on The Odyssey. (Side note: There are precious few things that bring out the inner music snob like listening to a song based on Greek mythology.) And the intricate guitars and synthesizers are present throughout, as are the ethereal choral sounds. I could probably write a freaking book on this album, but here’s what it all boils down to:

Classic modern metal, classic Symphony X, quite possibly a desert-island album.

Oh, this is delicious.

July 20, 2015

From Dwight Silverman’s TechBlog:

If you’re a man or woman intent on cheating on your spouse, you might have signed up for an account at AshleyMadison.com, a dating website designed for people looking to have an affair. As with other dating sites that charge a fee for access, your public profile doesn’t reveal precisely who you are, but the credit card and other personal information you must enter on the back end tells all.

What could possibly go wrong?

How about this: Hackers have gained access to AshleyMadison’s database and are threatening to release its members’ personal information, according to Brian Krebs at KrebsOnSecurity.

Yeah, I know. It’s a crime. And the people who are responsible ought to be prosecuted.

But come on. Schadenfreude ist die schönste freude, as the old saying goes. Just like Steve McNair, those idiots on that site don’t have anyone to blame but themselves. As one of my Facebook friends put it:

So…Ashley Madison trusted another organization to uphold commitments and obligations – no matter how hard or personally inconvenient that might be. That trust was disregarded and abused behind AM’s back…

Huh.

The dancing chicken speaks!

July 10, 2015

…or, Luke Bryan channels his inner Blake Shelton/Jason Aldean, and it’s an ugly, ugly thing, indeed:

I think that people who want Merle, Willie and Waylon just need to buy Merle, Willie and Waylon. I’ve never been a “Those were the good old days” kind of guy. I’m not big on looking back on the past. I’m not an outlaw country singer. I don’t do cocaine and run around. So I’m not going to sing outlaw country. I like to hunt, fish, ride around on my farm, build a big bonfire and drink some beers—and that’s what I sing about. It’s what I know. I don’t know about laying in the gutter, strung out on drugs. I don’t really want to do that.

Honestly, what does one even begin to say to that? Yet again with the straw man that everyone who doesn’t like him just wants the old stuff and doesn’t want the music to, well…evolve. That’s not true and has been shown not to be true on numerous occasions.

About the whole “laying in the gutter, strung out on drugs” bit…I suppose one could say the old guys did know about that, and that it did affect their music to a great extent. But it still strikes me here that Luke Bryan is insinuating that the drug use was the overwhelming thing defining the Outlaw movement, and it’s just so disgustingly self-serving and disingenuous. I really couldn’t put it any better than Trigger did at Saving Country Music:

Being an Outlaw was about being yourself, insisting on having creative control of your music, and moving country music forward while still respecting the roots of the genre and all the greats that came before—all virtues Luke Bryan and many others could learn from.

And sure, maybe Luke Bryan’s being himself, but even that and the second thing…well, those are both questionable at best, considering (at least what I heard from) his first album was so radically different than what came after it. And as far as “moving the genre forward”…well, I’ve asked the question before and will ask it again: Why is it that every time these new hacks talk about how country music has to evolve, it is always, without exception, in the context of the music sounding dumber and, well, less country?

And then there’s this:

I like to hunt, fish, ride around on my farm, build a big bonfire and drink some beers—and that’s what I sing about. It’s what I know.

Now, if you’ll think about it, that line of reasoning has some pretty ugly implications of its own, namely that, among other things…

• Steve Earle was a fraud as an artist because he didn’t do “two tours of duty ina place called Vietnam.”

• George Strait wasn’t being, well, straight with his audience when he sang of being “14 and drunk by 10 AM.”

• Charlie Robison was full of crap because he isn’t doing LWOP in Huntsville for killing an old rich woman and stealing her diamond ring.

I could go on, but you get the point by now. As another commenter put it at SCM:

If all he knows is bonfires and drinkin’ beer at 40 years old, that’s not much experience to draw from. You’d think he’d have picked up some more experiences by now, especially with touring all over the world and whatnot. 

When I hear “I write what I know” I respond with “you must not be very imaginative or creative, then.” Or maybe it makes (his) head hurt to read and learn stuff. Thank God the great songwriters of yore didn’t only write what they experienced. Paul Simon may have never written “The Boxer”. Springsteen wouldn’t have written hardly anything. Melvin never fought a whale, so what’s he doing writing about such?

Good question. And if you read that whole interview, you’ll see that the interviewer didn’t even ask him about any kind of controversy regarding the bro-country sound or any of that. He just went right into that whole ugly tirade. Which makes one wonder, why is he so defensive?…

How far does this go?

July 4, 2015

I have a few questions upon reading this, in order:

If we’re going to call The Dukes of Hazzard racist solely because of the name and imagery of the iconic Dodge Charger driven by the Duke boys in the series — even though said imagery and name had little if anything to do with the show’s theme — how far do we go with this? And why to that point and not before or after?

Was the cast racist for their very participation?

Was Waylon Jennings a racist for writing and singing the show’s theme song and for narrating the show?

Were the advertisers racist for buying time during the show?

Was the audience racist for watching?

I think we deserve clear, logical answers to this. It might be pedantic of me, but if racism is going to be acknowledged, it does need to be defined, at least to an extent. Why? Because with the definition of racism continuing to be so nebulous, then people will continue to be unjustly accused of racism when they’re not the slightest bit racist, and what’s that going to do? It’s just going to make people pay even less attention to actual racism.

(Speaking of actual racism, how about George Takei’s comments on Clarence Thomas? Clown in blackface? Well, all righty then. And Takei later doubled down on his bigotry by claiming that “blackface (was) a lesser-known theatrical term”? Really? Freaking everybody and their dog knows what “blackface” refers to! It’s like, “Hey, George, why didn’t you just call Justice Thomas the Supreme Court’s ‘house slave’ and be done with it? We all knew what that’s you were getting at!” But I digress…)

Now, if we want to talk about the soft racism of Hollywood making a show that was mostly white that was set in a region that had a sizable black population, then by all means let us do that. But if we’re going to do that, we need to talk about not just The Dukes of Hazzard, but everything that’s come out of Hollywood since that time. Otherwise this entire flap is exactly what so many people claim it is — yet another opportunity to dump on Southerners and Southern culture.

Random Tuesday musings, 24.6.15

June 24, 2015

The adage of “never read the comments” is proven once again in spades here. I swear, some people…

“My name is Ozymandias, Taco Cabana Hater of All Taco Cabana Haters! Look upon my hate, ye non-hipsters, and despair!”

It sucks that TC’s raising prices on all their egg dishes, but I still don’t get the hate. Is there better Tex-Mex? I suppose so, but for what it is and even on its own merits Taco Cabana is damn good.

You see the same hate toward Whataburger in the comments, and I don’t get that either. People act like all fast-food joints are equally bad, and they’re not.

(Speaking of which, if you like Whataburger and haven’t tried the avocado bacon burger yet, you are missing out. It’s gotten to be my favorite non-breakfast Whataburger thing.)

===

I really get tired of this line of “reasoning” for country not sounding like, well, country:

I suppose if the current country artists only ever listened to Waylon and George and Tammy and Loretta, then their music would sound similar, but like me, they grew up listening to everything so it’s all influenced their music.

I don’t see that as a valid excuse. You longtime readers know I listen to a lot of heavy metal anymore, Judas Priest, Ozzy, Maiden, that sort of thing, right along with the classic and Texas country. But if I was going to call myself a country singer I would leave the metal on the bus and bring the country music on the record.

Yes, that sort of thing can be done. Consider this, from Aaron Watson:

If you look at the chart right now, you see me, and then you see a guy like Sam Hunt. Now a lot of people would assume that a traditionalist like me would not like Sam Hunt. But I’m going to surprise you. I have his record, it has some really cool moments, there’s some really good songwriting in that record. It’s also the most un-country record I’ve ever heard—I’ll be honest about that.

So Aaron Watson has Sam Hunt’s album and likes it, but he sounds nothing like Sam Hunt. And then there was the Dixie Chicks’ response via Natalie Maines when they were asked to remix “Landslide” for pop radio:

“We listen to those other stations, and we’re fans of that other music…but we’re trying to bring country back to country.”

I don’t see why that’s not how it should be done….

Thursday music musings, 11.6.15

June 11, 2015

What do you want to bet Brad Paisley doesn’t even know what he said here?

And during a recording session, in country music, that [having a bar in the studio] doesn’t detract from anything. That just helps the experience, I think. It’s not like we’re doing intense, complicated jazz. You don’t need to be completely 100 percent present. It’s just country music, folks.

Just country music. You don’t need to be…present. It was pretty subtle, but that Brad Paisley quote suggests to me that he’s more or less just phoning it in anymore. Of course, it was more obvious actually listening to the music, but I was pretty shocked to see him come right out and admit as much. It may be true that you “don’t need to be completely 100 percent present,” but if you’re not, then why the hell aren’t you doing something else that you can be bothered to be wholly present for?

Granted, maybe he wasn’t completely wrong. I am given to believe that George Jones recorded at least a few of biggest hits blasted out of his gourd, and surely he wasn’t the only one. But of course, there are myriad differences between the likes of George Jones and a hack like Brad Paisley, not the least of which was that George Jones — to the best of my knowledge, at least — was never dumb enough to actually come out and admit that he was intentionally running on autopilot.

===

I really don’t understand what Billy Currington has against sad songs. Hell, anyone with any knowledge of country music knows that’s part of the genre’s entire foundation. It’s just such a load of unmitigated bullshit. I remember Aaron Watson told Saving Country Music not long ago, “I want my music to be a positive influence on people, that helps people get through some tough times.”

And with that, he still sings songs like “Bluebonnets.” Because he knows there are more of us who like to hear those kinds of songs than Billy Currington and his simplistic-minded ilk like to think. I guess it’s Currington’s voice to waste on songs like “Pretty Good at Drinkin’ Beer,” but it’d be nice if he’d lend it to, shall we say, more challenging material.

===

Lots of consternation about Keith Urban’s new single, with the title “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16.” And granted, it’s bad — even worse than the title might imply, in fact. It’s quite possibly the most cliche-packed song ever written — even more so than Aaron Watson’s “Hey Y’all.” But unlike the Watson song, this one was apparently written with the writers being entirely serious, with not a bit of satire intended.

But I could have told you years ago that this was where Keith Urban was going to end up. He has never once shown any fidelity to country music beyond the extent he could make money characterizing his flavorless mush of music as such. And he has constantly defended the direction in which country music is going by using the same tired arguments about evolution that everyone else is using. Sure, he can play guitar, but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:

“Country music has no shortage of talented instrumentalists — Jerry Reed, Steve Wariner, Ricky Skaggs, Marty Stuart, Keith Whitley, and the list goes on.

“And none of them ever had to have their place in country music justified by their instrumental talents. There’s a reason for that.”

And you have to wonder if any of the people involved here had any idea how Mellencamp hated the John Cougar moniker. After all, he did get rid of it at his earliest opportunity….

Monday music musings, 1.6.15

June 1, 2015

Via Country California, Brad Paisley says something stupid. Again.

It’d be fun to see Steven Tyler have success in this town. You know, how much fun would that be to hand him a CMA award for something?

What does one even say to that? Maybe it would be fun, but, y’know, only if he recorded actual country music. And based on what I’ve heard so far, I’m not hearing it. The only thing I’ve heard is just more of the weaksauce that so much of mainstream country has turned into. Not that I would have expected something on the level of, say, Jason Boland and the Stragglers or the Turnpike Troubadours, but it’s like Tyler’s not even trying. Sure, it wasn’t as bad as what Bret Michaels served up, but like I’ve said elsewhere, if that’s gonna be the bar for quality we might as well just nuke the Grand Ole Opry and be done with it. I’ve said before that every time Paisley opens his mouth I lose a little bit of respect for him, but at this point I really don’t have any left to lose, between all the dumb things like this that he’s said and the shit fit he threw right after his latest album came out. One of the commenters at Country California described Paisley as “the ultimate company man who will blindly support whatever the system pumps out,” and from that Taste of Country interview shows such a description to be painfully accurate.

Also, it makes me sad that no one mentions Dan Seals in these lists of people from other genres going country. He ended up having a more legitimate country music career and leaving a better mark on the genre than, say, Bon Jovi or Julio Iglesias….

===

Oh, good grief, not this line of crap again…

Grunge, Nu Metal, and Post-Grunge may be acquired tastes, but they were so necessary when one considers how shitty 80s rock was, when showing off was more important than writing great riffs and hooks.

No offense, but I’ve always had a very big problem with this opinion, best summarized by this comment I saw at Engine 145 a few years ago that I blogged about here:

…A ton of great music was released in the years ’87-’91-ish, but all anybody remembers are the cheesy video like “Cherry Pie” or “Seventeen.”

What great music? Well, off the top of my head…

  • Guns ‘n’ Roses, Appetite for Destruction (1987)
  • The Cult, Electric (1987)
  • Metallica, …And Justice For All (1988)
  • Queensrÿche, Operation: Mindcrime (1988)
  • The Cult, Sonic Temple (1989)
  • Pantera, Cowboys from Hell (1990)
  • Judas Priest, Painkiller (1990)
  • Queensrÿche, Empire (1990)
  • Megadeth, Rust in Peace (1990)
  • Metallica, Metallica (1991)
  • Guns’n’Roses, Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II (1991)
  • Ozzy Osbourne, No More Tears (1991)

And all that (with the exception of the Metallica self-titled album) is just from my iTunes library. I’m sure there are at least that many more. And, of course, we haven’t even gotten into all the great stuff that came out from, say, 1983 to 1987 from the likes of most of the above plus, say, Dio and Iron Maiden. Every era has its share of crap, but the fact that all the good music from this era has seemingly been forgotten (or at the least glossed over) by everyone but hard rock/metal aficionados is a real shame. Maybe grunge did need to happen, but it certainly would have been nice if it hadn’t made people discount the good stuff that came out during the 1980s. I really don’t know what was worse about the grunge movement, all of the above or the fact that mainstream rock as a mass-appeal genre and radio format never really progressed beyond it.

On second thought, I suppose in the big scheme of things the latter such isn’t really a big deal anymore, as — just like with country music — there’s still good stuff to be found, just not on the radio. It’d be nice if you could still hear it on the radio, though…

It’s a symptom, not the disease.

May 28, 2015

Wow, country radio consultant Keith Hill actually said this:

“If you want to make ratings in country radio, take females out…The reason is mainstream country radio generates more quarter hours from female listeners at the rate of 70 to 75%, and women like male artists….Trust me, I play great female records and we’ve got some right now; they’re just not the lettuce in our salad. The lettuce is Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton, Keith Urban and artists like that. The tomatoes of the salad are the females.”

Where does one even go with that? I really don’t know. The willful gender imbalance is disheartening for sure, and it’s been ongoing for a while now as the mainstream component of the genre has gotten to be all about the songs about partying in the woods with the moonshine and hawt gurrrrl and whatnot. Worse yet, though, is the contention that the women in the country radio (you’ll note I didn’t say country music) audience who are driving that gender imbalance. The implications of such are absolutely staggering. I really do shudder to think that women are, shall we say, enabling their objectification, especially in this day and age. Of course, talking about that takes us down a different path pretty quick, namely, if the modern woman wants to enable her objectification, then who are we to say she’s wrong to want to do so? Not that I agree with that, but it would make for an interesting discussion elsewhere.

But here’s the deal:

While what Keith Hill said was rather offensive, I’m having a rather difficult time getting as worked up about it as everyone else is. Does it suck that more females aren’t on country radio? In a way you could say that, but ask yourself this:

Do we really want more of the likes of Kelsea Ballerini, RaeLynn, and Haley Georgia on the radio? And more songs like “Somethin’ Bad” and “Little Red Wagon”?

Because in practice, that’s what more females on the radio would mean. Call it trading one pile of shit for another. I mean, sure, we could all think of great music that deserves airplay from the likes of Kacey Musgraves, Brandy Clark, and so on, but if they were going to play that they’d also play Sturgill Simpson, Aaron Watson, and William Clark Green. Put another way, the lack of a female viewpoint is a symptom. The dearth of meaningful country-sounding music from both genders is the disease. I do see what people are getting at when it comes to this — that everyone should get an equal playing field — but I don’t think making that the primary goal based on gender would necessarily be the thing to do. I get why people are talking about it, but I still think that if we got back to what country music was once upon a time, that issue would take care of itself.

But maybe that’s just me…

Something to remember today.

May 25, 2015

Back in 2009, I remember going to the big Memorial Day celebration in Orange. The Patriot Guard Riders didn’t get to make their grand entrance as planned because of the torrential rains, but they still came. I remember that I just about lost it  when Beaumont PGR chapter president Sandra Womack told everyone why they still came. She said of the fallen soldiers, “They didn’t get an opportunity to choose the weather they fought in, or to choose whether or not to go.”

We should remember that, today and every day.

Wednesday music musings, 20.5.15

May 20, 2015

With apologies to Natalie Maines, I am ashamed that Haley Georgia is from Texas.

In all seriousness, as I am wont to do anymore, I listened to that song just to, y’know, give it a fair shake. Just to see if it’s as bad as it sounds…

…yeah. That’s three minutes of my life that I’ll never get back. The whole thing can perhaps best be described as pasty white suburban girl affecting a valley girl accent as she raps over a drum machine and a token banjo, but even that doesn’t fully convey just how pathetic it is. I went and listened to George Strait covering Webb Pierce’s “There Stands the Glass” to heal my poor ears. Haley Georgia said in Billboard that genres weren’t really a thing for her generation. Which is all fine and good, but then why even bother categorizing this as “country”? I mean, you can’t have it both ways. Or at least you shouldn’t be able to.

As for country music needing a Ke$ha…in a way you could call that astoundingly ignorant, because if what I’ve read is right, the real Ke$ha has at least some modicum of respect for country music and ostensibly would never take such a steaming shit on it as Haley Georgia has with this…this…thing.

Now, I could be wrong. I mean, once upon a time (some years ago) I thought Bret Michaels might have at least a good country song in him — yes, I know, how naive of me — but my reaction upon hearing “Girls On Bars” was pretty similar to Trigger’s. But there’s got to be a bottom to this hole somewhere. At this point I shudder to think of where it might be, though.

===

Oh, Clay Walker

I don’t think the fan base has changed at all. When I was growing up in the late ’80s and early ’90s everyone loved hip-hop. That’s not new. There’s no secret there. But I do blame our format a little bit for feeling like we needed to add that element to our format….I can’t stand to see outdated rock-and-rollers coming in to play country music. That really pissed me off…We have great singers, great country musicians. There’s no reason we have to dilute it by letting people in the format that don’t have any business being in the format.

Huh. NOW he has a problem? Wasn’t that long ago that Clay Walker was singing an entirely different tune:

I think it’s the perfect evolution and it’s the way it should be. It’s time. It’s time for that change. And, albeit rough at the moment, it’s a beautiful rough.

Now, the title of that Taste of Country interview just might hold the key to his change of tune: “Man With a View: Clay Walker on Why He’s in a Great Place to Have a Big Year in 2014.”

Big year, eh? The cynic in me says he’s just bitter because that “big year” he was supposed to have fizzled like a firecracker in the rain, partly because of that evolution in the genre that he was touting. Most of it was probably because of him being 45 years old, but Walker was a B-lister at best even back in his heyday. I don’t know what he thought he was going to do to get himself back to the top of the heap, but I can only hope that it wasn’t as embarrassing as Tracy Lawrence’s last gasp at relevance. Whatever the case may be, I find it a little off-putting that he’s changed his opinion now given the fact that nothing of significance has changed in the genre between then and now; the whole thing just reeks of sour grapes to me.


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