The Red-Sided Garter Snakes – Blue Lake

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Less than 18 months after the debut album Endless Sea from The Red-Sided Garter Snakes comes the follow-up Blue Lake. What began as John Lever’s project designed as a catharsis in the wake of his split from Chameleonsvox has become something special in its own right – something reigniting the magic found on those 4 studio albums from The Chameleons. Anger is an energy as Johnny Rotten once said – but what you do with that energy is what counts to me. The Red-Sided Garter Snakes use that energy wisely. Musically, we are drawn into post-punk, shoegaze, britpop, and psychedelic worlds. Lyrically, the songs are imbued with a sense of poetic mysticism. It’d be easy for me to say that it is a group worth exploring just because John Lever was the drummer for the legendary Manchester band The Chameleons – but the truth is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts (to quote the original hipster, Aristotle).

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My Favorite Albums of 2016

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Another year gone by, another year filled with musical delights. We lost quite a few musical legends starting in December of 2015 – Scott Weiland, Lemmy Kilmister, David Bowie, Prince, Sharon Jones, Leonard Cohen, and George Michael to name just a few (and let’s not mention an overall list of artists who have left us in 2016). I lost my Aunt unexpectedly back in February the morning after attending a Black Sabbath show. The year was filled with unexpected highs and unexpected lows for me. As with anything in life, sometimes you have to feel bad to feel good (and vice versa). I made some friends, lost some friends, and reconnected with some old friends. Throughout it all, I had music playing. Here are my top albums of 2016:

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Nirvana – Negative Creep

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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.

Like many people in high school in the early 90’s, I first heard about Nirvana through their world-changing 2nd album, Nevermind. Simultaneously killing the hair metal scene and bringing attention to the Seattle scene, it was an event that is unlikely to be repeated in my lifetime (I hope I’m wrong though). I did what any music obsessed 14-year-old would do – I took my paper route money to the local music store and asked the owner for anything relating to Nirvana and bands from Seattle. Bleach was the band’s 1st album, released in 1989. Dave Grohl is nowhere to be found (though he is on the live version embedded below). The sound is the rawest Nirvana would ever be (and for my ears, the best they ever would be). This is the sound of Aberdeen, WA. Where the bay leads to the sea. Gray mornings, rainy days. Negative Creep is quite possibly the most aggressive song Nirvana ever cut. An unholy blend of Sabbath riffs, Melvins sludge, and Mudhoney-ish lyrics. This one’s made for the mosh pit. The chorus positively kills “I’m a negative creep and I’m stoned!” Some of the other lyrics seem to pay homage to Mudhoney – can there be any doubt that “Daddy’s little girl ain’t a girl no more” owes a debt to Mudhoney’s “Sweet young thing ain’t sweet no more”? Only a positive in my book. Notable cover versions include Velvet Revolver’s and Machine Head’s. A deep album cut by Nirvana that deserves more attention.

Paul Draper – EP Two

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EP Two continues the return of Paul Draper, formerly the lead singer for Britpop outsiders, Mansun. As with EP One, the quality offerings continue, whetting the appetite for Draper’s upcoming full length, Spooky Action. Many years ago I saw Mansun open for The Seahorses in a fairly small club in Philadelphia. Truth be told, Mansun were so good that my friend and I left before The Seahorses took the stage (apologies to John Squire + company). I’d love to have the opportunity to see Paul Draper solo, perhaps in 2017. EP Two feels like a continuation of EP One – 3 unique songs along with an acoustic version of lead off track Friends Make The Worst Enemies. The proper version kicks off the EP in stunning fashion. Has a better song title existed or truer words been spoken? A mid tempo slice of melancholy, it wouldn’t sound out-of-place on a Mansun album. Vocally, it is superb – dare I say it, Paul’s voice seems to have grown in stature after all these years. Co-written w/ Catherine AD (The Anchoress) it features cutting lyrics with an air of despair. “Get people on your side / the effective use of lies is how to work”. Indeed. Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid is my favorite song of 2016 from Mr. Draper. An acoustic lament for the 1st 90 seconds with the refrain “wish I had told you” on repeat, it segues into some of the finest orchestration I’ve heard in ages for the last minute or so. It hits the emotional core. Regret, longing, sadness. Perfection. Don’t You Wait It Might Never Come is a classic rocker that could be an A side in its own right. Glam, Britpop, Mansun like. Might be the most Mansun like track of Paul’s solo career to date. The EP closes with an acoustic version of the lead off track. Stunning in delivery, it is a hell of a way to close an EP. The full length can’t get here soon enough.

You can follow Paul on The Social Network here. You can catch the latest news at his official website, pauldraperofficial.com. The EP is available now on all digital outlets w/ physical copies & special packages also available through the store section of Paul’s website.

Verdict: Winning Streak Continues

For Fans of: Mansun, Strangelove, Blur, The Twilight Sad, The Anchoress, The Cure

José González – Stay Alive

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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.

In late 2013 I saw two very different films in the theaters – The Wolf of Wall Street starring Leonardo DiCaprio and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty starring Ben Stiller. Wolf was an assault on the senses – every form of depravity in all its glory (and pitfalls) in my face for 2 hours plus. I loved every second (as did the critics). Walter Mitty was the follow-up film for me, and I also loved every second for very different reasons. Critics seemed divided, but I think is because there isn’t any sarcasm to be found. It’s just a feel good movie that leaves you feeling inspired at the end. Wolf doesn’t make my top 10 films of all time, while Mitty is entrenched in the 2nd spot (The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou will never budge from #1). Swedish artist José González was tasked with composing music for the film – star Ben Stiller had been a fan of his music and specifically requested his input. Stay Alive was the single from the soundtrack and was a collaboration between González, Ryan Adams, and Teddy Shapiro. I have had it on constant repeat ever since it was released. Plaintive vocals, lyrics that convey doubt & hopefulness – it is imbued with a sense of the Walter Mitty character that Ben Stiller brought to life so wonderfully. The orchestration is lush while the music is a perfectly constructed indie pop song. Lyrically, it is simply perfect. “Sometimes there’s things a man cannot know / Gears won’t turn and the leaves won’t grow”…We’ll do whatever just to stay alive / Well the way I feel is the way I write / It isn’t like the thoughts of the man who lies / There is a truth and it’s on our side”.

The Lovely Intangibles – Air & Numbers

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Seems like just a year ago I was listening to the debut album by The Lovely Intangibles. Actually, it has been just over a year since the band’s debut Tomorrow Is Never was released to great acclaim (including by yours truly). The band features 3/5 members of The Lost Patrol, Jon Camp of Renaissance fame, and Mary Ognibene of Dotsun Moon. The chemistry is natural and the tunes are magnificent. The sophomore album was mixed and mastered by Brian Kehew – known for his work with The Moog Cookbook, Air, Fiona Apple, and The Who (among others). Air & Numbers takes the sounds of the debut to the next level – the shimmering intersection of post-punk and shoegaze.

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Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker

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Strange as it may sound I didn’t full investigate the rich musical discography of Leonard Cohen until I heard Waiting For a Miracle on 2000’s Wonder Boys soundtrack album. Taken from 1992’s The Future it entranced me with its musical mysteries and Cohen’s deep, deep vocal delivery. Little did I know that it would begin a 16 year (and ongoing) odyssey into the world of Mr. Cohen. Lyrically, I find Leonard Cohen to be unparalleled. Words or phrases that would seem simple on their own become complex thoughts when tied into other trains of thought. Others – as in Hallelujah – become an ode or lament to carnal desires. Sometimes, within the same song. Hell, sometimes within the same verse. Jeff Buckley may have delivered the definitive version vocally, but the words are Leonard’s. To be misunderstood for eternity it seems. Late 60’s to late 70’s Cohen had a higher vocal registry and was keyboard free. From the 80’s on Leonard Cohen could be found experimenting with keyboards and delivering modern hits such as First We Take Manhattan and Everybody Knows. After a decade away, Cohen returned in 2001 with 10 New Songs – a stunning statement of intent. You Want It Darker is Cohen’s 5th studio album since his return and his 3rd since 2012. It may also be his finest.

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Evan Dando – All My Life

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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.

By the late 90’s The Lemonheads had mostly disappeared from the music world. 1996’s Car Button Cloth hinted at Evan Dando’s despair and drug fueled adventures, serving as a (temporary) epitaph and harbinger of things yet to pass. In 2002 a live album and EP was released under Evan Dando’s own name followed by 2003’s full studio album Baby I’m Bored. Years lost to partying parlayed into an engaging album full of self-reflection. Curiously, the song that I love the most was written by Ben Lee – though written from Dando’s perspective. All My Life deserves a place in the Great American Songbook. The weight of living a wild life is clear in every word sung by Dando – reminding more than a bit of the sole album by Dennis Wilson. Folk pop with a strong chorus, lyrically it is heartbreaking – though like the best songs it lets some sunshine in. You get the sense of sadness as he thinks about his days of drinking, drugging, and womanizing but also know that it is a thing of the past. “And I’m so impatient / For a new sensation / All my life / I thought I needed all the things I didn’t need at all”.