Friday, November 30, 2012

Nostalgic for the 00's

I have vivid memories of a dark period in music. In my mind, it was the late 90's into early 2000, a time when rap metal was an actual thing and when teen pop was everywhere. It was around then when I began to look back and dive into some classic alternative, post-punk, and indie rock. Mostly I was catching up and completing my Echo & The Bunnymen and New Order collections. Thankfully, around 2001 new music got cool again. I remember seeing the video to "Last Nite" by The Strokes and being completely intrigued. I began to feel hopeful that there was a chance that I'd finally find new music worth obsessing over. Then it suddenly happened. An explosion of cool new sounds whether it was fleeting (remember electroclash?) or long-standing (The White Stripes.) But for every band that had lasting power like Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand, or Yeah Yeah Yeahs, there would be those whose fifteen minutes of fame actually felt like fifteen minutes. This mixtape is a tribute to those bands. The ones who only needed one album or one unforgettable song to be carved into our memories. Some of these artists have moved on, while others have kept going, and some have reunited to try to recapture that one awesome moment. Their crowning achievements may have yet to come, but for now, this is how they're remembered. And to be honest, it's not such a bad fate.


1. Secret Machines, "Sad And Lonely": Liking the Secret Machines always felt like being in on the world's best kept secret. Now Here Is Nowhere still stands as one of my favorite albums of the last decade. They had a huge sound that had hints of classic rock but mixed it with the hazy psychedelia of late-period Flaming Lips. Nowadays, original guitarist, Benjamin Curtis is in one of my current favorite bands, School Of Seven Bells, while brother, Brandon Curtis recently toured as a member of Interpol.

2. The Stills, "Still In Love Song": 2003 was a great year in music. The Postal Service released Give Up and Cursive put out their last good album, The Ugly Organ. Oh and it was also the year that Elephant from The White Stripes came out. But to me, the sleeper hit was The Stills' full-length debut, Logic Will Break Your Heart. "Still In Love Song" has held up very well in the years since its release. It's as catchy and as dreamy as it was the first time I heard it.

3. stellastarr*, "My Coco": A band that got tagged as fashionable art pop, stellastarr* actually managed to get better with time. It's just a shame that time hasn't been on their side as even bands that they took out as their openers surpassed them. Proof of this is that I actually went and saw stellastarr* at the Middle East Downstairs around 2003 and the band that opened for them was The Killers. "My Coco" may not ever amount to be as big as "Somebody Told Me," but its gawky quirks still have a resounding charm about it.

4.  The Von Bondies, "C'mon, C'mon": It's too bad that The Von Bondies will forever be linked to Jack White. And not in a good way, either, since lead Bondie, Jason Stollsteimer is infamously known as the guy who got the crap kicked out him by White in a Detroit club. The bright side is that "C'mon, C'mon" would become the theme song to the TV show Rescue Me. They'd eventually release the criminally underrated 2009 album, Love, Hate And Then There's You which saw the band make a turn towards Cheap Trick-indebted power pop.

5. Radio 4, "Dance To The Underground": I really thought Radio 4 was going to be huge. To this day, I think they are very underrated. Hell, I'd take them over The Rapture any day. Gotham still gets pretty consistent play on BriPod. "Dance To The Underground" could have easily been as big of a dance-punk anthem as "The House Of Jealous Lovers."

6. Hot Hot Heat, "Talk To Me, Dance With Me": Make Up The Breakdown is a damn near perfect album. Yeah, I said it and I mean it. I actually dated a girl who insisted I borrow her CD because she thought I'd like it and she was right. I soon went out and bought my own copy. "Talk To Me, Dance With Me" was the album's highlight. I might be partial to it because of all that cowbell.

7. VHS Or Beta, "Night On Fire": Yet another band that I thought had the potential to be huge. VHS Or Beta's timing couldn't have been better, easily fitting that whole "dance-punk" thing that was happening around 2003 and 2004. I didn't even think those two words could co-exist but I'm glad they did because all those dance-punk practitioners (Radio 4, The Rapture, LCD Soundsystem, !!!) made it ok to let loose and dance. "Night On Fire" is easily one of my favorite songs of that era and hearing it now makes me want to dance like no one is watching.

8. Death From Above 1979, "Romantic Rights": Recently reunited Canadians, Death From Above 1979 is another one of those bands who put out their career defining album in 2004 with You're A Woman, I'm A Machine. In spite of their questionable facial hair, they did manage to make metal-tinged indie rock with plenty of swagger with only bass and drums. They might be working on new material so one can hope it would live up to the quality of "Romantic Rights."

So there you go. Turn it up and party like it's the early 2000's.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Essentially Industrial

Everyone remembers their first love fondly. As much as I'd like to say that my first love was my high school girlfriend, the truth is my first love is industrial music. I was always a big fan of music for as long as I can remember. But there was no such thing as "kids music" to me; Raffi never meant anything to me because I had The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, and yes, even Gary Numan (I still have the "Cars" 45 that my older sister bought for me at the mall.)

It was high school when I first discovered industrial music. I was pretty much a recovering metalhead when I was exposed to Ministry for the first time. It was "Jesus Built My Hotrod" that was getting some pretty regualr airplay on MTV's Headbanger's Ball (the good incarnation of the show that was hosted by Riki Rachtman), but really it was when I saw the video to "Wish" from Nine Inch Nails that really intrigued me. It was the craziest, darkest, thing I had ever seen like Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome but with a kickass soundtrack. Not too long after that, I picked up Broken and from that moment on I was hooked to Trent Reznor's music. But it took a friend of mine to point me in the direction of industrial music. He brought over a stack of CDs he thought I'd be into. Stuff like Sister Machine Gun, Front 242, and Psychic TV. About a year later, NIN released The Downward Spiral which was the catalyst for my soon-to-become obsession with all things industrial. Back in 1994 - 1995, it was easy to find music magazines running huge cover pieces on industrial music tracing its long history. Next thing I know, I'm buying anything on Wax Trax! Records, as well as other industrial compilations left and right; all in the name of absorbing everything this genre had to offer. It's no surprise that I'd end up hosting my own industrial radio show which still airs to this day.

Industrial music led to me wanting to become a DJ and for that, it will always be my one true love. With that said, today's mixtape is just a small sampling of what I consider to be essential industrial music. Songs that I don't hesitate to call "classic"  for both personal and historical reasons. So strap on your stomping boots, dim the lights, and dance.


Industrial Music For The Masses
1. Skinny Puppy, "Smothered Hope": One of the reasons I was so attracted to industrial music in the first place was that the music itself had such cool names in its infancy. Back before it was lumped under the "Industrial" umbrella, people described Skinny Puppy's music as "death disco." Dark, evil, and strangely danceable, Skinny Puppy was like horror movies set to dance music. Trent Reznor, himself, admits to using "Dig It" as a template for his own, "Down In It." And in the mid to late '90s, Skinny Puppy's entire sound right down to the scathing, distorted vocals, was practically the blueprint to the entire genre (see: early Haujobb, :wumpscut:, X-Marks The Pedwalk, Evils Toy, et al.)

2. Front 242, "Headhunter": I remember reading the words Electronic Body Music (EBM) and thinking how cool and sexy that sounded. And every time I read about Front 242 the term "EBM" would inevitably be used to describe their music. "Headhunter" and "Tragedy For You" was the first taste of EBM for me and I've never looked back since. Also, remember when Front 242 was part of the third Lollapalooza tour?

3. Covenant, "Theremin (Club Edit)": My radio show, The Industrial Factory, started back in 1997. Before my first show (which aired on 2/17/97) I remember rummaging through a bunch of CDs that got sent to the station and stumbled across the Theremin EP from Covenant. I had no idea who they were but saw they were on the 21st Circuitry label which I recognized as an industrial label thanks to one of the many industrial compilations I had picked up. Upon my first listen to "Theremin," I was blown away. It was the perfect mixture of EBM, synthpop, and goth between those pulsing synths and Eskil Simonsson's deep vocals. I still get blown away every time I listen to this song.

4. Nitzer Ebb, "Join In The Chant": Along with Front 242, Nitzer Ebb was the act I saw most often associated with the term, EBM. It took me a while to get into it but once I did I couldn't get enough. Unlike 242 or Skinny Puppy, Nitzer Ebb had a simplicity about them almost stripping things down to its most basic elements of throbbing synths, primal beats and shouted vocals. Just as late 90's industrial music was almost a throwback to Skinny Puppy, there's now a current wave of stompy EBM that owes a huge debt to Nitzer Ebb.

5. Bigod 20, "Like A Prayer": Producer/DJ Talla 2XLC may be more well-known in the trance/techno circles, but for me, I always associated him with Bigod 20. It's hard to believe that back in the late 80's to late 90's, it was commonplace to find some industrial acts on major labels, but it's even harder to believe that this cover of "Like A Prayer" got released on the same label that was also home to Madonna. Needless to say, I prefer this version in all its German-accented glory.

6. Cyber-Tec Project, "Let Your Body Die (Catatonic Dance Mix by B6)": For an all-too-brief time in the late 90's, I really thought industrial music had a chance at becoming big. In my mind there wasn't too much separating what was "electronica" (a term I never liked, by the way) and EBM. But alas, ska went and ruined everything...this is the reason that I have a very long-term hatred for No Doubt. "Let Your Body Die" was a club hit back then. It was one of those songs I'd always hear at Man Ray and it would get instantly get stuck in my head. And with the vocal talents of Jean-Luc DeMeyer (making his second appearance on this mixtape following Front 242's "Headhunter") it cemented his voice as one of industrial music's most distinctive sounds.

7. Apoptygma Berzerk, "Non-Stop Violence - CNN Version": I read about Apoptygma Berzerk in an issue of Industrial Nation. The album, 7, was reviewed and, according to the write-up, "Non-Stop Violence" was the album's highlight. What attracted me to it was that the song was described as a mixture of Front 242 and Depeche Mode. That alone made me go out and blindly order the album and honestly, I was not disappointed.

8. Spahn Ranch, "Heretic's Fork": I first heard Spahn Ranch on the Industrial Revolution - Second Edition compilation. But it wasn't until I heard "Heretic's Fork" that I became a fanboy. Clean, well-sung vocals that predated VNV Nation and the whole future-pop movement that made early 00's industrial music sound like retro 80's synthpop. This song and band has extra significance for me because lead singer, Athan Maroulis, was my first live on-air interview for my radio show. It wasn't nearly as disastrous as it could have been.

9. KMFDM, "Juke-Joint Jezebel": Around 1993 was the tipping point for me and my burgeoning love of industrial music. KMFDM had just put out Angst and WSOU (Seton Hall's all metal radio station) had been playing "A Drug Against War" which was just a mindblowing song. Nihil came out a few years later and upon hearing "Juke-Joint Jezebel" for the first time, I was convinced that it was a damn near perfect industrial song. Soon after, I saw KMFDM live for the very first time and they were so loud my left ear was ringing for well over a week. They're the reason I started wearing earplugs to shows.

10. My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult, "Kooler Than Jesus": The Thrill Kill Kult injected some sleaze and sex into industrial music. I'll be totally honest, I don't love everything they put out but the stuff of theirs I do like (Confessions Of A Knife, in particular) I rate pretty high. "Kooler Than Jesus" is easily my favorite song of theirs.

11. Chemlab, "Codeine, Glue, And You": I had a friend during my freshman year in college who was almost as big of a Nine Inch Nails fan as I was. She had a mixtape of all this industrial music I had never heard and I remember gravitating towards this song based solely on its name. To me, this is what I remember as being "coldwave," back when that term was used to describe guitar-driven industrial music. One of the coolest things I ever got to do was interview Chemlab backstage in 1997 back when they were touring with GWAR. Also, I got to see a couple of members of GWAR not in costume. It was like finding out that the Easter Bunny wasn't real.

12. PTP, "Rubber Glove Seduction": This mixtape could have easily become a Wax Trax! rehash. Or it could have also easily become an Al Jourgensen lovefest, so sticking to just two songs from his many bands is quite the achievement. Acid Horse's "No Name, No Slogan" almost became the name of my radio show, however "Rubber Glove Seduction" is the more fun song to play. It's also way more catchy.

13. Ministry, "Flashback": Me and my friends in high school used to debate over what the best song on The Land Of Rape And Honey was. I always voted for "Golden Dawn." These days I go back and forth between the album's title track and "Flashback."

So there you go: My essential industrial songs. Coincidentally the song count is at the (un)lucky 13. Fitting. As always, listen loud and become immersed.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

October Backtracks

It's that time of year where the days turn darker earlier and when the air has a bit more bite to it. Fittingly this installment of our Monthly Backtracks Mixtape also takes that dramatic turn. Sure, there are still some moments where a little light seeps in and songs have room to sparkle (on selections from Diamond Rings and Yan Wagner) but for the most part this October Backtracks Mixtape serves as a soundtrack for dressing up in black and making sure your cool jacket is zipped up all the way because from here on out things get a bit colder.


October 2012 Mixtape
1. Bat For Lashes, "A Wall": When it comes to female British pop singers, I definitely lean more towards Marina & The Diamonds over Florence & The Machine. But really, my bigger preference is for the more femme fatale end of the spectrum. Singers like Charli XCX who have a seductive streak and a certain level of mysteriousness about them. Which leads me to Natasha Khan a.k.a. Bat For Lashes. Her third album, The Haunted Man is another great collection of mystical songs that bridge the gap between electro-pop and campfire balladry. "A Wall" is one of its uplifting moments as airy synths build up to a widescreen chorus as Khan sings "Where you see a wall, I see a door."

2. Telepathe, "Destroyer (Trent Reznor / Alessandro Cortini / Atticus Ross remix)": Where Natasha Khan's Bat For Lashes radiates warmth through her songs and her soaring voice, Brooklyn duo, Telepathe is almost the complete polar opposite. Their latest single, "Destroyer" is dark, cold and deliberate. Still, when Trent Reznor, along with former NIN touring member, Alessandro Cortini, and longtime collaborator and current How to destroy angels_ cohort, Atticus Ross get their hands on "Destroyer," they manage to slow the tempo, making the verses feel like short, nervous breaths while adding tense piano dirges to the chorus. It's like claustrophobia set to music. 

3. The Soft Moon, "Crush": For me, this band is a case of "better late than never." I'm still not sure why it took me this long to fall for The Soft Moon since Luis Vasquez (TSM's mastermind) plays up to pretty much everything I love in music. Dark, post-punk with a healthy dose of goth and even a touch of industrial thrown in. It should go without saying that their latest album, Zeros, is an obsession these days. Echoes of The Cure and Joy Division basslines are abound as distant vocals appear and just as quickly disappear into the shadows. Tough to pick a favorite off of Zeros, but this week it's the slow burn and euphoric release of "Crush."

4. Cold Showers, "New Dawn": I'm on a constant, never-ending search for new music and reading about LA's Cold Showers was enough to draw me in. Mainly because the words that appeared in nearly every write-up were "shoegaze" and "goth." And while their latest album, Love And Regret, may not be shrouded in endless layers of distortion and feedback, there are some hints of dreampop touchstones like Kitchens Of Distinction or Mighty Lemon Drops. But it's on "New Dawn" when they embrace their post-punk and goth side that their music truly shines.

5. IO Echo, "Ministry Of Love": Another LA band that dabbles in that space between shoegaze and goth. IO Echo walks that tightrope so convincingly that "Shanghai Girls," the lead track off their latest EP, can  pass for an homage to Siouxsie & The Banshees' "Hong Kong Garden." On "Ministry Of Love," they aim big thanks to the bombastic drums, shimmering guitars, and the soaring vocals of the alluring, Ionna Gika.

6. Black Marble, "A Different Arrangement": Following up their excellent debut EP, Weight Against The Door, Brooklyn's Black Marble put out A Different Arrangement, their equally excellent full-length album. It straddles the line between coldwave and darkwave, synthpop and post-punk, goth and pop while being all those things at once. The album's title track is a good starting point but really, the entire thing is so engaging and inviting that repeated listens are warranted.

7. Yan Wagner, "Forty Eight Hours": One of my favorite ways to discover new artists is from DJ'ing with others. On one particular night, I had the privilege of spinning alongside of DJ Chris Ewen, a legend here in Boston, and he played this very song. Yan Wagner is a French-Amercian artist that blends disco and electro-pop so effortlessly that he makes it sound fresh and exciting. "Forty Eight Hours" is the title track to his addictive debut album and if its percolating synths aren't enough to win you over then his deep vocals will. Full disclosure: I usually split my time between listening to Forty Eight Hours and Zeros by The Soft Moon; safe to say those two albums are my current obsessions.

8. Diamond Rings, "I'm Just Me": John O'Regan, better known as Diamond Rings, always had a flare for the flashy. Even on Diamond Rings' lo-fi synthpop debut, 2010's Special Affections, O'Regan seemed destined for something bigger. Free Dimensional is the realization of those aspirations. Shiny dance-pop tailor made for disco ball-lit dancefloors. "I'm Just Me" is Free Dimensional's crown jewel, sparkly, empowering, and blessed with a great chorus that can almost serve as a stunt double for Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" through the eyes of a boy flamboyant and confident enough to rock some glitter.

9. Cold Cave, "A Little Death To Laugh": Cold Cave is probably the band that's least surprising for me to like. That's not a knock on Wesley Eisold, by any stretch of the imagination. It's just that Eisold takes influence from post-punk, goth, industrial, and adds a bit of a dark New Wave touch to it -- again, all things I love in music. And while we patiently await his band's follow-up to last year's awesome, Cherish The Light Years, Cold Cave drops this single, "A Little Death To Laugh" a droning synthpop gem that still has some roughness around its edges. As if we'd want anything less from them.

10. Metz, "Wasted": Not much to say about Canada's Metz. Just some loud, blaring guitars that reside somewhere on the corner of punk and post-hardcore. "Wasted" may not be out to reinvent the wheel but at the right volume, it can destroy it.

So there you have it. As always, listen loud and become immersed. Until the mixtape!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Wednesday Night Clouds Of Sound: School of Seven Bells "Put Your Sad Down" + Carousels "POP EP"

As we near the close of 2012 I'll openly admit that I've already started thinking about compiling my year-end best-of lists. It's going to be fairly tough narrowing it down mainly because it was such a great year for music. But alas, it's only November and there's still new stuff coming out. Which brings us to this week's album streams...

School Of Seven Bells - Put Your Sad Down EP (Vagrant)
If I had to choose one of my favorite bands this year, it would have to be School Of Seven Bells. Not only did they put out an album that was in constant rotation (Ghostory) but they're a band that I've gone to see pretty much every time they've come to Boston and each time I've become more enamored by them. So after releasing a 7" of their great cover of Siouxsie & The Banshees' "Kiss Them For Me"  as part of Record Store Day, they follow it up with Put Your Sad Down, another step in SVIIB's musical evolution continuing their move towards dreamy electro-pop. It's a sound that fits them well whether they're keeping things a bit dark ("Secret Days") or diving right into a lush dance-pop groove ("Faded Heart.")

Carousels - POP EP (Deadly People)
I came across the UK's Carousels randomly last year while on one of my endless searches for new music on various blogs. At that time, I found two songs ("Here To Me" and "Carousel") both of which were like blissful waves of shimmering dreampop. On the POP EP, the band turns up the volume and cranks the guitars finding the middle ground of Siamese Dream-era Smashing Pumpkins and Jawbox. It's just the right balance between 90's alt-rock nostalgia and feedback-soaked shoegaze.

As always, listen loud and become immersed. Oh and expect more mixtapes soon. After all, it's the middle of the month and it's almost time for an October Backtracks Mixtape. It's going to happen.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Thursday Afternoon Album Stream: How to destroy angels_ "An Omen_EP"

Sharing this stream shouldn't come as a shock to anyone seeing as  I'm a big fan of Trent Reznor's work. So hot on the heels of the news that Reznor is working on new Nine Inch Nails material (!!!!) comes this stream of An Omen_EP by How to destroy angels_. Compared to their 2010 self-titled EP, the band-- which includes Reznor's wife, Mariqueen Maandig, and long-time collaborators, Atticus Ross and Rob Sheffield-- takes some unexpected musical twists particularly on the delicate and bare-boned "Ice Age." The track "The loop closes," is already a favorite as a wide array of sounds slowly uncoil building tension to what seems like a cathartic release with Reznor's vocals finally breaking in only to disappear into the ether just as the music retreats. It's an engrossing listen showing plenty of subtlety and texture. A nice change of pace from what many have become accustomed to with NIN.

An Omen_EP is due out on November 13th on Columbia. Listen loud.

Many thanks to The Hype Machine.