Monday, October 18, 2010

Young, moderately loud, and not so snotty: high school albums

The Deciblog recently published Laura Pleasants of Kylesa’s list of five albums that remind her of high school, and asked, via their Twitter feed, people to submit lists of their own. I heeded the call, then thought that a fleshed-out version might make a decent post. So, here we are.

I wish I could say that I had a better time in high school—cutting class, sticking it to the man, barfing O’Keefe’s Extra Old Stock while leaning out of a speeding Datsun 510. None of those things happened. I was really crappy at being a teenager. I was never high in high school. I’m pretty much the same person I was when I was 14, except that the peach fuzz ‘stache is gone, and I can talk to girls now.

Oh, and music was almost all crap when I went to high school. When I started grade eight, Keith Moon, Bon Scott, and John Bonham all died in quick succession. Foreigner were big. Michael Jackson and music videos happened. When I graduated, Duran Duran were huge. If I could sum up high school with one phrase, it would be “a state of constant discouragement.”

In no particular order, these were some of the records that kept me going.

“In the high school halls, in the shopping malls...” Signals isn’t my favourite Rush album of the period (Permanent Waves came out just as I turned 14, followed by the untouchable classic Moving Pictures), but I remember it being more ubiquitous than most. My first day of senior high at Burnaby Central, I heard Signals drifting out of someone’s car in the parking lot. Rush were growing up, for better or worse. The songs focus on late adolescent concerns. "Subdivisions," of course, lent some sympathy to bored suburbanites, “New World Man” was like a social studies class in song form, “Digital Man” was in sync with budding comp sci majors, and “Losing It” was a sobering dose of reality for those of us enjoying the best years of our lives. Signals was a senior high wake-up call. Time to put away childish things and get serious.

AC/DC—Back In Black
Talk about ubiquitous. This was the Nevermind of its day; the album on which a former cult band exploded into the mainstream. This record got so much play that I’ve never actually owned it. We got into AC/DC with Highway to Hell, and its soon-to-be death-tinged mystique, but Brian Johnson and the band’s thunderous intent took things over the top. We played most of these songs in our band, with Willingdon Black gritting his teeth at my attempts to “improve” on Phil Rudd’s beats (I was a deluded little bugger). Back in Black was more than just a party record—we studied it and learned from its lean, mean songcraft. WB and I have since been in many bands together and separately, but when we’re collaborating on songs, we speak the same Back In Black-derived language. I wish more bands today would learn from it as well.

Iron Maiden—Number of the Beast
Like Back In Black, this album was an event, albeit of a more cultish variety. “Wrathchild” got some airplay and I thought it was a damn cool song, so when CFOX premiered the new Iron Maiden album in its entirety, I was there, rolling tape and getting blown away from “Invaders” onwards. (Although I despise file-sharing and the havoc it’s wreaked on 21st Century music consumption, I never bought into the “home taping is killing music” argument back then. Just one of the many hypocrisies I live with daily.) As with AC/DC, a new singer helped bring new popularity to Iron Maiden, along with an album that was obviously an instant classic. I saw them at the Coliseum sandwiched between Girlschool and Scorpions later that summer, so suck on that. On second thought, things kinda ruled when I was in high school!

Marillion—Script for a Jester’s Tear
I realized that I’d be a progressive rock fan for life when a copy of Close to the Edge made the rounds between my friends, and I was the only one who could stomach it. My enthusiasm for Yes and ELP in high school was tainted by the knowledge that they’d both peaked a decade ago. There was nothing fresh and new to get excited about. I tried really hard with 90125, which was a quality pop album, but not really Yes. Genesis had no mystique either; they were all “No Reply At All” or “Illegal Alien.” Marillion came along in the nick of time (i.e. before I had to buy another Saga album). Script... had intrigue, especially because the North American edition didn’t come with a lyric sheet. I dove right in, puzzling over every sonic detail, trying to figure out what the concept was, man. They were my favourite band for five years.

Pink Floyd—The Final Cut
Although it didn’t take long to suss out that this wasn’t really Pink Floyd, we bought into this album wholeheartedly. I was a bit too young/naive to get fully into The Wall when it came out, so The Final Cut was it—it was new, it was ours. We loved the cover (not by Hipgnosis, I now realize), we loved the “holophonics by zuccarelli labs ltd.”, the swearing on “Not Now John,” and Roger Waters’ Falklands-inspired bitterness. Hey, I was bitter too—Thatcher and Reagan seemed callous and out of control, and nuclear annihilation surely awaited us all. Along with The Day After and If You Love This Planet, The Final Cut fuelled the fear and secret hope that I’d get to see two suns in the sunset and high school would suddenly become the least of my worries.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Zevious—After the Air Raid (Cuneiform)

Zevious are “way out” and “too much.” The trio slips me a mickey on “Where’s the Captain?,” opening the album with a skittering bit of electric jazz. Just as I’m settling back for a John McLaughlin Extrapolation-style outing, they shut her down and burst into some powerful, angular King Crimson/Voivod damage. Then the madness escalates as the song breaks into detailed micro-skronk sections that remind me of Dysrhythmia or Behold...The Arctopus. Looking at the personnel involved, all this makes sense—Dysrhythmia’s Jeff Eber plays drums (joined by brother Mike on guitar), and the album was recorded by Colin Marston of Dysrhythmia, Arctopus, and Krallice. Zevious represents a jazzier take on the tech/math/prog thing. They’re tight, but the tones they employ are occasionally mellow. Bassist Johnny DeBlase plays both electric and upright, and Mike Eber operates in a slightly distorted middle ground, only cranking it up when absolutely necessary. He offers the strongest contrasts on “The Children and the Rats,” shifting between gentle picking and sudden, atonal squalls. Amongst all the riffs and motion-sickness rhythms they make space for lots of guitar solos and a couple drum spotlights on “iNCITING” and “Glass Tables.” The guitar solos are when Zevious loosens up and takes off—it’s great to hear the rhythm section churning away while the guitar clears a path of its own. I’ll admit to feeling worn down by the second half of this album, such is the jazz battering they dish out. But the more I listen to After the Air Raid, the easier it gets to absorb it a single pass. McLaughlin, Williams and Pastorius may have tried it first, but Zevious are a trio of doom for today.