Helmet – Unsung

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Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

The summer of 1992 found me at an odd juncture – trying to find my place in this world as a disillusioned 15-year-old. Fortunately, 1992 was the summer of The Cure (Wish) and Helmet (In The Meantime). Two bands that were / are on the opposite ends of the spectrum – The Cure brooding and melancholy, Helmet reveling in pure metallic aggression. At the time, it all seemed to be labeled “Alternative”. The most notable single pulled from Helmet’s album was Unsung - an unusual song from the band due to the increased focus on melody during the verses. It features a memorable thrash based guitar riff, enveloped in staccato. Page Hamilton’s vocals provide the melodic contrast needed to make it one of the best singles of the 90’s. MTV played the video non stop throughout the 2nd half of 1992 and it never failed to keep me enthralled. I like quite a few records by Helmet, but honestly – this is the song I absolutely love. Everything works perfectly – from the menacing bass riff that opens to the military-like drum fills (I’ve already touched on guitar & vox). The song was recorded by Steve Albini and remixed by Andy Wallace, lending the song an odd mix of feeling raw AND polished. The track hit #29 on the Alternative charts and #32 on the Rock charts and proved to be a huge influence to the band Pantera. As for The Cure? Well, that is a story for another day. These words will get stuck in your head after listening to Unsung just once: “Your contribution left unnoticed some / Association with an image / Just credit time for showing up again / Attention wandered I’m left with it”

Weezer – Everything Will Be Alright In The End

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The post Nirvana music world left a wasteland of burned out one hit wonder alternative rockers. Weezer didn’t fit that mold, thankfully. Their 1994 debut album was an almost instant hit (over 3 million copies sold to date) that straddled the line between straight up Rock n Roll and what was called at the time Alternative Rock. It also launched an endless, tiresome debate that is now almost 2 decades old. Following 1996’s beloved Pinkerton (which some consider a landmark album in the Emo movement), Weezer seemingly turned their backs on confessional alternative rock and started delivering up less emotional power pop rock – a trend that has mostly continued to this day. What is mainstream music? What is hip? Weezer has been considered both at times, and has also had some silly hatred thrown their way over the years from the hip crowd who moan with each release “but…but…it isn’t Pinkerton!”. Honestly – every Weezer album has songs that I really like and songs that I skip (yes, those early records too). If the band has had a weakness in the past, it is the inclination to get as many songs out in lieu of a cohesive listening experience. So how does the new record, Everything Will Be Alright In The End, stack up? It is a glorious record – a perfect storm of strong material and smart editing choices.

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Queen – Another One Bites the Dust

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Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

Some childhood memories will stay with us forever – some fade away, gone with the passage of time. One memory that will always stay with me is that of my Dad playing Queen records on his dusty record player. As a kid, I had no idea that Queen had been around for a while or that their early 80’s records marked a departure from their 70’s signature hard rock sound. All I knew is that Another One Bites the Dust was one of the best songs I’d ever heard to that point and I could listen to it over and over. Actually, that still rings true 30 years later. Released in 1980, it found Queen embracing slight disco elements. An absolute killer bass line, it was directly inspired by the song Good Times by disco icons Chic. Queen bassist John Deacon wrote the song and collaborated with the other band members to get the song to the completed track that we know today. In the early 80’s Christian evangelists accused the song of having backward messages that promoted the use of marijuana, which the band has steadfastly denied. Michael Jackson (yes THAT Michael Jackson) suggested that Queen release the tune as a single, which proved to be sound advice – the song was a #1 smash success and the band’s highest selling single, at 7 million copies. Freddie Mercury’s vocal performance is one for the ages, while most of the instrumentation on the studio track was actually provided by John Deacon (though Brian May and Roger Taylor did assist). One of my favorite opening couplets in recorded history, it is hard not to sing along “Oh! Let’s go! / Steve walks warily down the street / With the brim pulled way down low / Ain’t no sound but the sound of his feet / Machine guns ready to go”

Hyena Motorcade – Hyena Motorcade

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The self titled album. What does it mean? Some bands use it to reset expectations, pointing forward to a new direction. Other bands use it to trim away the excess of the earlier releases, streamlining the sound for a mass audience. What I like about self titled releases from bands like The Beatles and Metallica is that they ended up becoming memorable with the band’s discography (yes, The Beatles before I was born). I’m not 100%  sure what to say about Weezer’s 3 self titled records, but Peter Gabriel’s 4 self titled records are all brilliant in their own unique way. How about if you are a new-ish band on the scene? If you are Hyena Motorcade out of Los Angeles, you offer up an EP that showcases the band’s many strengths.

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Chris Bell – I Am the Cosmos

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Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

The Big Star story is full of “what ifs”. What if the 1st record had proper distribution and had become an International hit? (1972’s modestly titled #1 Record). What if Chris Bell hadn’t left the band and had carried on his songwriting with Alex Chilton? Would the world be in awe of Big Star’s mythic 3rd record, Third / Sister Lovers? Would the world be blessed with the equally haunting solo LP from Chris Bell, I Am the Cosmos? That’s a lot of questioning, and sadly the story remains the same – Chris Bell left Big Star after the 1st record and faced personal problems and difficulties in getting his music heard (Alex Chilton & the rest of Big Star faced these issues concurrently, to be discussed another day). Sadly, Chris Bell’s story came to an end with a fatal automobile accident in late 1978. Earlier that year he had released his 1st officially released solo single I Am the Cosmos b/w You And Your Sister. Bell had a spiritual yearning and had an interest in Christianity – I Am the Cosmos alludes to a higher power, interjecting romantic insecurity along the way. Chris Bell’s voice conveys pain and hope in equal measures, whilst the melodic guitar refrain / solo running through the track might be the finest playing of Bell’s career. Truly, one of my favorite songs of all time. It wasn’t until 1992 that the single was compiled along with unreleased recordings to give the world a solo Chris Bell LP also titled I Am the Cosmos (reissued in 2009 with tons of more goodies). “Every night I tell myself  / “I am the cosmos, I am the wind”  / But that don’t get you back again”

Black Swan Lane – A Moment of Happiness

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About 15 or 16 months ago I wrote that Black Swan Lane would have a hard time topping then current effort, The Last Time In Your Light. A perfect distillation of the bands strengths, I wondered where they’d go from there. As it turns out – on to greater things. Just 16 months after the last record, Black Swan Lane have delivered their latest offering to the world. A Moment Of Happiness bears traces of its predecessors whilst looking inwardly in a way the band hasn’t yet explored.

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Dan Florio – Malleability

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The darkness set in around 7:45 last night – the Fall is relentless in its approach this time of year. Rather than lament the summer now gone, it is time to start thinking about bonfires, pumpkin beer, and flannels (I’m in the Seattle area, after all). The perfect complement to those mandatory Autumnal delights is music that revels in the spirit of the season. Some of my fondest memories involve sitting around a fire, listening to friends play songs by The Smiths, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and whatever other tunes are easy to sing along to. Each Fall brings some variation of this bit of nostalgic story telling, but what can I say? A good time was had by all. Records that evoke those feelings can be hard to come by – if an artist tries too hard, it can sound a little too earnest. Off the cuff recordings bring the opposite problem – it can sound a little ragged. Malleability is the new record from Connecticut based indie artist Dan Florio, and it delivers a strong set of tunes in an Autumnal spirit.

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The Cure – The Last Day of Summer

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Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

As August segues into September, I’m left with a feeling of disbelief; the summer – as in years past – has passed us by again. Officially, Autumn doesn’t begin for another few weeks, but each September 1st I can feel myself mourning the passage of time and resigning myself to all things related to the Fall (totally wired!). Back in 2000 The Cure released what many consider to be one of their best records, Bloodflowers. Band founder / leader Robert Smith called it the “third part of the trilogy”, which was confusing to me as 1980’s 17 Seconds, 1981’s Faith, and 1982’s Pornography had already been called a “trilogy” by Robert Smith in the 80’s (and thematically, that made more sense). No matter – the new “trilogy” was now Pornography, 1989’s Disintegration, and Bloodflowers. I’ll be honest with you – I’m not a huge fan of “back to basics” records by legacy artists. I like watching artists grow, develop, and push themselves to new sounds. Bloodflowers was heralded as a return to form – and I can see why people thought that. For me, it has taken a long, long time to warm up to the record (though the tour was brilliant). It’ll never be in my top 5 records by The Cure, but there are a few gems to be found. The Last Day of Summer succeeds wildly on every count. Originally released as a promo single in Poland, it slots in as the 6th track on most editions of Bloodflowers. Peter Hook of Joy Division and New Order gets well deserved credit for coming up with melodic bass lines, but Simon Gallup of The Cure deserves credit as well – he lays down another memorable bass line in this tune. Resignation bursts forth from Robert Smith’s vocals, complimented by melodic guitar strumming and well placed keyboard flourishes (something lacking with follow-up records – Roger O’Donnell was dismissed from the band following this album’s release). Summer slipping away, a broader statement on the passage of time – this is a song that rings true. “But the last day of summer / Never felt so cold / The last day of summer / Never felt so old”