Saturday, December 30, 2006

21 Tandem Repeats—Never Wanted to be Anyone (Canada Lynx)
In his efforts to promote the band, I think Super Robertson used to get frustrated trying to nail down a tidy description for 21 Tandem Repeats. What genre did they fit into? His old band, Roadbed, used to mix jazz with indie rock; now with a revamped band that includes Roadbed drummer Two Sticks Hobbs, Willingdon Black, and Alvaro Rojas, he’s injected a little folk into the mix. But is it folky enough for folkies; does it rock hard enough for rockers? In the end, he found the perfect outlet for the band: 7:30 to 8:30 every Wednesday night at the Railway Club, with the occasional “away” gig to mix things up and get in front of a new crowd. It’s good early-evening music—easy on the ears and good for any soul battered by the working day. If I had to call their music anything, I’d arm myself with a huge grain of very salty salt and suggest “tree planter rock”—amiable, groove-focused, head-bobbin’ stuff. I can hear it on a song like “Wishing Machine”—just a couple chords and a groove and a line that goes, “I’m here to get down.” Sounds like not much, I know, but Super’s scattershot sense of lyrical phrasing and the guitar touches of his latest foil, Willingdon Black, make it more than a blissed-out 4:20 jam band nodfest.

Never Wanted to be Anyone is a little slow out of the gate, with a mellow half dozen tracks highlighted by “Jupiter,” a lovely song in a novel 6/4 groove, written by Dave Hind, one of Robertson’s musical mentors. The next song, “Fuse Lit Bombs,” originally appeared in more ethereal form on 21 TR’s debut home job release the ocean is life. This version is far more “produced,” with abrupt changes in drum beats that actually make it less folky than the original. It’s still a strong number, although it’s nothing like the version you’ll hear on the previous release or at the Railway Club. “Blue Skies” is dedicated to Super’s daughter and, as befits its “hope for the future” sentiments, incorporates the sweet stylings of guest vocalist Land of Deborah.

The second half of the album is definitely more exuberant, starting with the deliberate & driving title track, on which WB asserts his presence via a lead guitar duel with himself during the song’s lengthy run-out. “Failure” really takes things into rockland, where SR’s self-deprecating lyrics butt against WB’s feisty lead guitar. Everything works here—this is how the band sounds live—as it does on “Dish Pig,” another Dave Hind song with lyrics by the late Steve Waller (to whom tribute is paid in the superbly presented liner notes). The album bows out with “Maiden,” a mold-breaking number that abandons the usual groove formula in favour of stringing together some cool parts. Top it off with vocals by Sim Special of SuperSimian fame, and it almost sounds like a different band. It’s a welcome deviation in the songwriting approach and a strong number to go out on. This album lives up to its title. 21 Tandem Repeats don’t want to be anyone (other than themselves). They’re tight, smart, and completely free of attitude or pretension. They’re through being cool. I wonder what they’re doing in the music business.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas, everybody.
I hope your 2007 is filled with music and mirth. Enjoy! I got a hot mug o' Baileys and coffee going; now it's time to check out that present (plus some others that Santa dropped off last night).

Monday, December 18, 2006

Burn to Black—Mach 666 (Urgent Music)
Toronto’s Burn To Black are here to celebrate the fact that metal is awesome. It's awesome when vocalist Rob Ouellette yells lines like “See the fuckin' violence!” or when he urges us and his bandmates along with "Let's rock! Come on!" on “The Vanishing.” Drummer Evan Johnston has the taste and judgment to know that laying it down four-on-the-floor like Phil Rudd on crack is just as awesome as your requisite death metal blasts and double kicks. Guitarists Paul Harrington and Mike Krestel have done an awesome job of honing their tone to a hyper-saturated state of serrated savagery. And bassist Sam Dunn is so convinced of metal’s awesomeness that he made a damn feature film about it. Burn to Black play a most pestilent, caustic form of thrash, with toxic traces of Swedish death, tight and speedy at times like At the Gates. As befits such enthusiastic connoisseurs of the art, their style is pure, free from niceties like keyboards and vocals that do anything but rasp and snarl in the nastiest of ways. I don't hear too much leeway in their sound, nor much to choose between the 11 tracks (plus one awesome Celtic Frost cover), but they do throw up some strong songs, like the superbly titled "Winter Rancid Skies," opener "Hellspell," and album closer "Microcosmic/Broken Lands," which delivers one of the best choruses on the album. I wouldn't mind hearing more variety in the material, with different musical shades within songs and between songs—it's not until the last half of "Microcosmic/Broken Lands" that we're granted relief from the hack & slash ripride of the previous 10 songs—but I can appreciate the excitement of a band intent on making their initial recorded statement as ferocious as humanly possible. With massive production and precise performances, the whole thing adds up to an awesome statement of “more metal than thou.” Even the title, Mach666, throws you a wink before unleashing exactly what it promises—Satan beyond the speed of sound, thrashing anything within range of the shock waves. Burn to Black have released a beer-fueled master-class in metal...and a pretty awesome debut album.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Considah yourself one of the family!
A Christmas card arrives from fancy's aunt and uncle in Ontario. The salutation reads, "Jennifer, Cypress, ??"

Oh well. I appreciate the glad tidings, if not the fact-checking.

The Mule entertains at a family gathering in Fulton

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Steve Tyler, eat your heart out.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Neurosis, November 25 at El Corazon (Seattle)
I've been willfully ignorant of Seattle concerts during my lifetime. While other Vancouverites head down there regularly for shows, I try to not to notice the fact that, say, Porcupine Tree might be playing there in a couple weeks. Friends of mine have their stories of going down to see King Diamond or Black Sabbath or Dream Theater, while I take in whatever shows I can see here and feel grateful that I don't live in Flin Flon (which, admittedly, is the City Built on Rock). But now that I have a passport burning a hole in my pocket and a belting travelling companion in fancylady, the idea of going to a gig in Seattle seemed not so risky and far-fetched. The news that Neurosis would be playing on a Saturday night in November put everything in motion. Conditions were perfect. We were going south.

Neurosis used to tour regularly. Smash and I saw them twice up here on the Through Silver in Blood and Times of Grace tours. Shortly after that, they semi-retired from touring to concentrate on their day jobs and raising their kids. In the meantime the band we went to see on a whim at the Town Pump (only to have our heads caved in) became one of the most influential bands in heavy music. As fearless pioneers who steered crusty hardcore towards territory claimed by Slint and Pink Floyd, they showed the way for dozens of bands fighting it out there today, from the majestic Isis to heavy-hitters like Mastodon.

Despite the decreased roadwork, the albums kept coming—A Sun That Never Sets (2001) and The Eye of Every Storm (2004) were both mammoth statements of slow-burning intensity. Clearly their retreat from the full-time rock life hadn't watered down their approach at all. The thought of them performing material from those two great albums was another powerful lure for me.

On this tour, they'd be playing just two shows in the Northwest (Seattle and Portland) before heading into the studio to record the next album. Neurot labelmates Grails opened for them at El Corazon with a set of instrumentals that used a lot of interesting Middle-Eastern sounding intervals and a good dose of twang. In fact, some of their material sounded like a rocked-up take on Earth's deathly & dessicated C&W style from their Hex... album. They also swapped instruments throughout their set; something I get a kick out of seeing. Good stuff, and they went over well.

When Neurosis play it's not so much a rock concert as a high-minded, gut-level cathartic ritual. Their songs have so much gravity; you can imagine them sweating over every nuance during their conception. Their live approach has the same ultra-premeditated feel. Every second is accounted for, and assigned a sound or visual for maximum impact. When songs end, prerecorded segues fill the space while the band retune. The projections behind the band show footage of wolf packs running in slow motion, time-lapse flowers blooming then rotting, or dead animals decaying. Gone are the days when their visuals guy used to set up his custom scaffold for the slide and film projectors and do everything "live"—now the images are all on DVD. "The Tide" opened the set, a song that nicely sums up the Neurosis aesthetic over the last decade with its sparse opening and slow buildup to the inevitable explosion of relentless riffage. "The Doorway" (from Times of Grace) followed immediately, upping the levels of chaos and unleashing one of the heaviest riffs in their catalogue—if you've heard the song you know the one. Pure devastation. The set included a couple new songs that fit right in with the likes of "Crawl Back In," "Left to Wander" and "From Where the Roots Run." As fancy noted, the club was way overcrowded (oversold?) and hot. This added to the intensity of the show, though. The band—by all accounts very nice guys—were utterly rabid. Scott Kelly, a man given to punctuating his vocals by headbutting the mike, was bleeding from the forehead by the end. There was no encore. The whole idea of Neurosis coming back onstage to perform some crowd-pleasing "hit" is laughable. That's the kind of ritual you get at any other show.