Many years ago a friend gushed to me about pop star Lorde – telling me that she was the absolute best he’d heard in a bit. Now, most of the aging hipsters in my age range (mid 30’s to mid 40’s) DO seem like pop music – ironically or genuine, i have no idea. I filed his advice into the back of my head and forgot about it, hipster that I am. Now, I i don’t live under a rock – I’ve seen her name pop up over the years and really enjoyed the cover of Royals by Puddles Pity Party (the sad clown you’ve probably seen on YouTube or season 12 of America’s Got Talent). Anyway – my point is, though I new of her and knew she was talented, I’d never sat down and indulged myself in her particular brand of pop prowess. Until now.
It is a classic case of “what could have been”. Local Manchester, England band gets some buzz, records an EP, quickly gets signed to a label and the EP never comes out. But what if the EP had pointed to an alternate future? A future not dictated by the whims of record label executives following trends? Dog Toffee fit that scenario perfectly. Led by Gav Rourke & Sean Lyons and backed by a string of drummers (finally solidified w/ long time drummer Phil Nelson), the band tapped into punk, grunge, girl group sounds, and white noise inspired by The Fall. The band would go on to support legends in concert (Dwarves, Misfits, and Dee Dee Ramone to name just a few), headline shows, and record with Seattle legend Jack Endino. But until now, their debut recordings have never been released. 20 years later is as good as time as any.
In late 2015 I had the chance to see the recently reunited Ride play in Seattle at the Neptune Theater. Though they were / are beloved for their early shoegaze records, I have a soft spot for their brief flirtation with Britpop. Not sure what to expect, I went into the show eager to be blown away (and to catch Andy Bell up close so I could snap a photo for my Oasis loving brother). What I experienced was one of the best shows i’ve ever seen (as well as the loudest). A set heavy on 1990’s Nowhere and 1992’s Going Blank Again, I could feel the venue shaking as the white noise built and built. Unexpected, transcendent, euphoric. Well, what’ll you do for an encore?
About 16 or 17 years ago I came across a review of an obscure Swedish psychedelic band that was compelling. Pärson Sound conjured up visions of free form mind melting workouts, Sonic Youth inspired punk jams, and something fresh. The double disc anthology dd not disappoint. I eagerly hunted down later incarnations of the band – all under different names. International Harvester, Harvester, and finally, Träd Gräs och Stenar. Translation: Trees, Grass, and Stone. Throughout the various phases of the band a common theme can be seen. Communal spirit, restless experimentation, jams that flirt with punk, and the sense that there is nothing else like this in the world – past, present, or future. It is one of those bands that I eagerly tell people about – especially if they have an adventurous spirit. Sometime in the mid 70’s, the band splintered apart – some members devoted themselves to organic farming. Reuniting on occasion to jam, the band officially reunited in the late 90’s and released the albums Ajn Schvajn Draj in 2002 and Homeless Cats in 2009. Then, tragedy struck the band.
Ric Zweig is an unusual artist within the music industry, having put his music career on hold many years ago to pursue a career as a successful lawyer and circuit court judge in southern Florida. Now retired, Ric reignited his music career a little over a decade ago, receiving many accolades along the way. Deeply imbued with a sense of wisdom, nostalgia, and Epicurean philosophy, the music is at once memorable and familiar. Ric handles lead & harmony vocals along with guitar. His band goes by the name Fresh Air and consist of Alex Mallet on lead guitar, Ricky Risquez on bass, and Miguel Cruz on drums. Songwriting is primarily handled by Ric, though band members also contribute to lyrics & music. The latest album More Ric Zweig & Fresh Air features 10 songs that will bring to mind the feeling of having a cold beer on a warm summer day, life’s problems far from mind (if you’ve never experienced that, I highly recommend it). It also is one of the finest records released in 2017 thus far.
The morning of May 18th, 2017 is not one that I’ll forget in my lifetime. I woke up to a message from a close friend indicating that Chris Cornell had passed away at some point early in the morning. Puzzled, it took me a few times to understand what had happened. Out of the blue news about a musician who had long seemed to settle into his lifestyle, it shook me to the core. News and articles seemed light on details at first – at first I thought it had been a hoax – but reality soon sank in. Chris Cornell – Seattle’s son – had passed away at the age of 52 by his own hand.
Black Needle Noise is one of John Fryer’s many projects, with a focus on collaborating with different vocalists and embracing an “anything goes” philosophy. Fryer, of course, was 1/2 of This Mortal Coil – a band who employed a similar approach with regards to guest vocalists. As a producer, he has made his mark with Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode, Wire, Stabbing Westward, and many, many more. If there is a “John Fryer Sound” it’d have to mine both ethereal & angst, rage & beauty. His collaborator on A Shiver Of Want is Bill Leeb. An early member of Skinny Puppy who found worldwide success with Delerium and Front Line Assembly. Most of my readers have probably heard the Delerium song Silence featuring Lilith Fair founder Sarah McLachlan on vocals – a stunning slice of trance melancholy (in its original form). Which means that this Black Needle Noise / Bill Leeb collaboration should be a match made in heaven – and it is, I am pleased to say.
A Shiver of Want starts out with moody instrumentation shifting into a hymn like spoken verse. A slow build, if you will. Musically, it combines a menacing atmosphere with wholesale industrial aggression. Perfect, in other words. The chorus positively explodes, providing a catharsis of sorts. Lyrically, this is dark stuff. “you bring me down / you tear apart in me / the light you see / pours out of me”. The final 90 seconds or so of the song are perfectly sublime – a perfect meeting of angst, sadness, and hopelessness. “into the night / we fall away / our shadows becoming thin”. Unsettling. Masterful.
For Fans of: Nine Inch Nails, Delerium, This Mortal Coil, Cocteau Twins, Portishead, Wire, Lush