It’s More Human Than Usual.

muse-something-human

Muse, A band known for their epic, dystopian sound have taken a step into the intimate unknown. Coming off the back of their mammoth ‘Drones’ world tour they have released a new single called ‘Something Human’ with an accompanying video that could be mistaken as a trailer for a video game (Link below.)

Taking a step away from the dystopian currents that have always run through their music, ‘Something Human’ shows us a more vulnerable side to the band. It’s known by now that extensive touring can take a lot out of musicians and Muse are no exception. It’s a song filled with the exhaustion that can only come after spending months on the road and performing night after night. In that exhaustion is a sense of calm that comes from knowing that soon you’ll be able to rest. “My circuits are blown” says Matt Bellamy matter-of-factly as a gentle pop riff flows around him with the soft strains of a guitar gliding gently on top.

Sounding like a down-played homage to The Police’s ‘Every Breath You Take,’ the song is set on the last stretch back home as the band accepts their “self-imposed” exhaustion while travelling the “ten thousand miles left on the road.” The last ten thousand miles before they can be back with their loved ones. Matt Bellamy and co. manage to create a sonic landscape that perfectly describes the feeling behind the song. Delicacy runs throughout, even in the second verse where the energy picks up it’s still expertly handled before calming down as the song enters the last leg of its journey. A weight gets lifted and replaced by serenity. The long journey is almost over.

Muse took a chance by moving away from their usual landscape and it paid off. What we have here is something that’s honest and affective. It’s not the best song in the world but it achieved what it set out to do. It let us look into a very vulnerable side of the performing world that few people ever really get to see.

Watch the video here.

 

 

 

 

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The Dark Prince brought his good word to the people of Istanbul.

Cave

It was a hot Tuesday night in the city of Istanbul and most people were going about their business completely unaware of the chaos-bomb that was about to go off in this already chaotic city. The godfather of gothic rock, the messiah of darkness, the protector of all that is broken and grotesque Nick Cave, with the support of his supernaturally talented band The Bad Seeds, brought his brand of hedonism to the Istanbul Jazz Festival. 

It was a night that will be forgotten by few, if any, as the band serenaded and bombarded the audience with songs old and new. It started with a moving rendition of ‘Jesus Alone’ in which Cave invited a lucky man from Iran on to stage and serenaded him for a bit before sending him back into the congregation. Three songs in and the party began. Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds delivered a powerful rendition of ‘Do You Love Me?’ which blew ears and battered hearts in a way that no recording ever could.

This was the general feeling for the next few songs as they plowed through ‘From Her To Eternity’ and ‘Red Right Hand’ before toning it down with probably the most anticipated song of the night. Cave told the gathered masses that it was time to sing along and immediately the anticipation rose. Whispers started fluttering through the park as people tentatively believed that it would be ‘Into My Arms.’ As those iconic opening chords rang out into the Istanbul sky a brief cheer broke out before a calm settled among Cave’s disciples. The soft whispers of a mumbled first verse eased its way between bodies before those whispers turned into a full voiced cry of adoration in the chorus. Tears streamed down faces as the voices of many became the voice of one like the purest choir before a Sunday mass.

A few songs later and the ballads, the tears, and the romantic heart-ache came to an end thanks to a raucous rendition of ‘Tupelo’ which included much kicking, both of invisible entities and helpless objects on stage, from Cave as he whipped the crowd into a frenzy like a crazed puppet-master. Spontaneity is ever the name of the game at a Nick Cave concert and he didn’t disappoint as he disappeared down into the sea of his worshipers before appearing on the golden circle enclosure. Hands reached up and his reached down as he preached his song to which to weep, a Messiah delivering the good-word to those who need it.

A fitting pre-goodbye came two songs later when, with the help of some followers who had been allowed on stage during ‘Stagger Lee’, Cave brought everything to a soothing halt with ‘Push The Sky Away.’ Hands pulsated in the night sky, almost of their own accord, as the congregation did their best to follow the commands bestowed on them by their lord and saviour. After much begging and pleading the band came on for an encore that started with ‘City of Refuge’ before being hung from the ‘Rings of Saturn’ as they said goodbye one final time.

On the 10th of July 2018 a moment of magic was experienced by a select few in Istanbul. Mic stands were kicked off stage, sheets of music were sent flying, mics were thrown, and exorcisms were performed. It was a night that will live on in the memories of Cave’s disciples for many years to come.

Don’t be a dick.

don't be a dick

A while back I was posed a rather difficult question. Not so much because I had to break my brain to get to the answer, but more because it confused (and saddened) me quite a bit. The question was whether I like The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. After a millisecond of thought I said that I liked them both, an opinion declared to be incorrect by the purveyor of the question. Of course I had to disagree with him because, believe it or not, it’s possible to like both of them but he wasn’t having any of it. When asked why it had to be one or the other he couldn’t offer any supporting statements except that that’s the way it has to be. He was so adamant that I started to wonder what evils I was inviting into the world by liking both bands.

I didn’t give him much time or thought because he was clearly still caught in the marketing trap that put these two bands on opposite ends of the sixties rock and roll spectrum. But every now and then I find myself thinking about that question, one that was asked in the inebriated early hours of a day long forgotten and probably inconsequential to the universe. The more I find myself thinking about it, and the more I look at what other members of the music community are saying the more I notice a sense of elitism and tribalism. It’s either The Beatles or The Rolling StonesNirvana or The Smashing Pumpkins, Led Zeppelin or… well no one because it’s Led Zeppelin.

Not only is it completely ridiculous, in my opinion, but it’s also destructive. The world of rock and roll is one that’s being forced back underground, in many ways. It doesn’t dominate the charts the way it did in the twentieth century and it’s a rare occurrence to hear an offering from bands like The Pretty Reckless or Placebo on mainstream radio. Of course there are bands that put themselves under the banner of rock and roll who do fairly well in the current musical zeitgeist, but they’re still in the minority. What’s started to happen is that the world of rock has become divided. Everyone’s in camps, sometimes by choice and sometimes not, waving the flags of their favourite bands and hurling cutting insults at anyone who disagrees with their completely-objectively-correct opinions.

And Heaven help you if you appear to have an opinion that differs from every other person in your camp. You’ll be lucky to get out of there with even a little scrap of self-confidence left. Your opinions will be beaten down until you begin to wonder why you bothered having any in the first place. Anyone that has been in that position, and I’m sure most people have, will understand the feeling of doubting why they listen to the bands they do. It’s a breeding ground for insecurity.

The thing is that music is an art form, and all art forms are viewed through a subjective gaze. Sure, there are technical aspects that can be scrutinised and criticised but at the end of the day you like what you like because it sends ripples through every life-event that has made you who you are. There is no right or wrong. There is only taste and there is no steadfast rule dictating what good taste is.

So basically, if you’re a music elitist maybe it’s time to step back and let others have a say, and if you’re someone who finds themselves on the receiving end of opinionated attacks, take solace and draw confidence from the fact that everyone is merely spewing their opinions and probably has no more authority than you do.

P.S. Be nice to Nickelback fans. They’re people too.

A Good Chance Of A Good Time

Meds EP

 

It’s a rainy Thursday night and the cold, drenched denizens of Cape Town have started filtering into The Shack in search of warmth and a drink. It doesn’t take me long to find Greg Allen, the frontman of The Medicine Dolls and my interviewee for the night. After walking through the labyrinthine bar with a draught in one hand and a cigarette in the other for a few minutes we find a spot that’s quiet enough for us to speak about their new EP, ‘A Good Chance of Bad Weather’, among other things.

 

“Sonically it’s more and it’s less at the same time than the last ep.”

 

After a bit of banter, just to check that my recording devices are working, we get to talking about their new material, set to be launched on the 6th of July. A band known for their unique sound filled with hedonism and heartbreak, their latest offering promises to unleash more of that. Having been in the works since their last tour, which took them through the heart of the country and then down the east coast, there is the promise of a subtle shift in the sound. The Medicine Dolls have expanded their sound and started experimenting with more instrumentation, a sonic continuation from their last offering, ‘Lost Love Lullaby’, which introduced some melodious, haunting piano lines.

 

“I can’t be arsed to like, sing the same fucking words or play the same riff.”

LLL

With a bigger focus on recording and the production of the EP they’ve started expanding the sound of their studio material with Greg saying that “Sonically it’s more and it’s less at the same time than the last EP.” For the moment, however, their live shows will continue to be the same bare-boned sweat fests that we’ve come to know and love. The first tangent of the night comes with a discussion about their approach to live shows. As far as they’re concerned live shows and albums are two different art forms and live shows should contain some kind of spontaneity. “I can’t be arsed to like, sing the same fucking words or play the same riff” Greg says with a hint of laughter dancing in his voice. He feels that it’s unfair to the paying audience for the band to deliver a performance that sounds exactly like the recorded version.

 

“All the good shit, and all the bad and all the stuff that makes us human.”

Greg

But that’s enough digression for now. In the course of their last three EPs the band has gone from singing almost exclusively about the dark, hedonistic side of life that exists in the shadows of people’s lives to adding a few love songs to their repertoire. ‘A Good Chance of Bad Weather’ is going to be a combination of those two elements. For Greg the song-writing process is very much influenced by the people around him. Often the things they go through resonate with him and he finds a song somewhere within that resonance. He’s not the sit-down-and-write kind of writer. His process is much more organic and involves him just ‘bonding with a guitar and a piece of paper’ as he writes down whatever phrases pop into his head, no matter how little sense they make. Through improvisation, experimentation, and scrapbook plundering a song will be born. He never settles for anything less than what gives him goosebumps.

As for a full length album, we’ll have to wait a while. There’s the chance of a release at the beginning of next year but they’ll only do it if they can do it properly in a studio. For now, though, it seems that they’re happy putting out EPs every few months. It’s a way for them to stay relevant in a scene that’s relatively small and very competitive, but that’s not the only motive. They’re not a band that likes to sit on songs once they’ve been written. If they have a handful of songs that are ready then they must be released lest they become stale.

 

“There’s cooler boxes and camper chairs.”

 

I saw this interview as the perfect opportunity to ask about what was arguably the biggest gig of the band’s career so far. On the 30th of April The Medicine Dolls opened for South African rock and roll institution The Springbok Nude Girls at Hillcrest Quarry. Considered an honour and perhaps even a surprise, they put on their game-faces and opened up for a band that has at least two generations of fans. They are in no way a safe band and there was the risk that some members of the audience may have found them a bit… edgy. After all, it’s the kind of concert where there were “cooler boxes and camper chairs.” The band feels like it usually takes one song to show people what they’re about, and once they had played that first song the audience, for the most part, got into the spirit of things and had a party. By all accounts the gig was a success and went down like an absolute dream.

Sitting

In other news, The Medicine Dolls are heading on tour again with their first stop being the Grahamstown Festival on the 29th of June. The student town is one of their favourite spots and they head there every time they go on a tour of that part of the country. The fact that they’re performing on the opening night of the National Arts Festival gives them an opportunity to play to an audience that may be a little different to what they normally attract. The tour is short and jam-packed as they hit Grahamstown, Jeffrey’s Bay, and Knysna in one weekend.

A band that constantly leaves its mark on the local and national music scene, The Medicine Dolls are ready to blast new material into the ears of their ever-growing fan-base with their fourth EP so if you’re in Cape Town on the 6th of July head over to Mercury Live for what promises to be a legendary party.

 

 

The sun rises on the new Smashing Pumpkins

Solara

Photo credit: The Smashing Pumpkins Youtube channel

The Smashing Pumpkins are back with their classic line-up. Well, almost. There’s still the small issue of the ongoing feud with ex-bassist D’arcy Wretzky. Regardless of that the band have released a brand new track called ‘Solara’ ahead of a tour which begins next month. They have also said that there are seven more tracks which have been recorded and will be released at some during the next year. Whether they are released together or separately remains to be seen. If ‘Solara’ is anything to go by then we are in for a treat.

The song starts with a driving kick-drum beat that lays the platform for a riff that brings images of a post-apocalyptic standoff between rival surviving tribes to mind. There’s tension in the air and it could explode at any moment if there’s no one to regulate it. Billy Corgan comes in with the opening verse like a slightly psychotic general. There’s menace in the opening lines as he orders his legion to ‘burn down the sun.’ The opening guitar riff finds aid in a second guitar that plays the same thing but with more volume and power. The tension rises. A snare drum is added and the tension eases a little bit all before it opens into a sea of power chords peppered with barely restrained drum fills that sound super-human.

This is the way the rest of the song goes as it moves in and out of the apocalypse with acid rain pouring down in some sections. Anger pulsates throughout as it motors to the conclusion. It sounds like something that’s been locked away for way too long and now that it’s free it wants answers. Billy Corgan is on top vocal form as he tries to fight through the fog of unease and pressure-induced entrapment. His voice even holds out as he yells self-affirming mantras at himself near the end of the song. The end chorus feels like it’s even bigger than it was earlier in the song as it revels in the freedom that this reunion has allowed it before ending abruptly. It’s in control and it doesn’t care what you think.

If this is what they sound like as a group of people that hasn’t played a note together in eighteen years then I think we need to hold on to our seats because they may just be warming up to deliver something other-worldly.

Two Letos To Mars: Tomo out.

Twelve hours ago Thirty Seconds To Mars guitarist Tomo Miličević announced on Twitter that he has left the band. After successfully auditioning for the band fifteen years ago he joined them on a roller-coaster journey that included one glorious album, three divisive albums, and a $30 Million dollar lawsuit from their record label. No explanation has been given as yet and the band hasn’t given any statement or even hinted at any acknowledgement of Tomo’s departure. See Tomo’s statement below:

At this point we can only speculate as to why he left. In March the band announced that Tomo would be taking a break from their Monolith tour due to personal reasons and then released some photos of the Leto brothers and a promo video for their latest album that barely contains any trace of Tomo. This led to rumours starting to circulate among fans of the band that he had left. Considering his background in heavy metal it’s possible that he became fed up with the direction that the band is going in and with his ever growing redundancy as their guitarist.

Leto

Promotional Image

All evidence seems to point at a rift between the Leto brothers and Tomo, who seemed to be filling the role of a session guitarist in later years. So now the question remains, where will the Leto show go from here?

Time To Grow Up

actual pain

Photo credit: Good Charlotte official Facebook page

Breaking news. Good Charlotte still exists, apparently, and have proven this to the skeptics by releasing a new single: Actual Pain. Released on the 25th of May the single is from their upcoming album Generation Rx which is due to be released on the 18th of September. It’s an album which is going to deal with themes of opioid addiction as well as depression etc. It’s a noble move on the band’s part as these issues are too serious to gloss over. However, the first taste of the album does not do that nobility justice.

Actual Pain feels like it was written by an early 2000s pop-punk band who never quite realised that the times have changed and in order to stay relevant they need to change as well. The song opens with an intro that sounds like it would be more at home on Linkin Park’s Living Things (2012) and provides a shaky base for some pretty weak lyrics. ‘You’re tearing me apart deep inside my heart’ says Joel Madden with a voice that’s been made to sound like it’s being muffled or coming from the void. One can already tell that this is going to be an emo nostalgia trip that would have made us bawl in our bedrooms thirteen years ago.

The first verse comes around with a sense of familiarity as Madden’s voice finds its way out of whatever was stifling it before and finds its true self again. The first few lines are supported by a drum beat that sounds like it was lifted straight from anything Thirty Seconds To Mars wrote after 2009. Let’s give credit where credit is due. The music in the first verse is not bad. There’s enough happening to keep it interesting and keeps a certain amount of tension going but honestly, the lyrics sound like they were written by a fifteen year old who’s just discovered emotions and thinks that the world’s out to get them. The lyrics don’t improve as the song goes on.

The chorus drags around with a pretty tired sounding Joel Madden half-heartedly opening up about the pain he feels in his heart. It sounds as if they recorded him mickey-mousing through the chorus and decided to use that instead of something passionate which is what one would expect. The second verse and the second chorus don’t provide anything worth noting leaving the responsibility of legitimising the song on the shoulders of the bridge.

Which does an okay job. It’s nothing to write home about but it has some moments and provides a different landscape to the rest of the song. It’s quiet and atmospheric, if a little typical of pop-punk bands unsuccessfully trying to keep up with the trends. The bridge ends with a Thirty-Seconds-To-Mars-esque woah-oh-oh-oh which provides the basis for a guitar solo straight out of a beginner’s repertoire.

All in all Actual Pain is a weak attempt at trying to stay relevant and is years behind anything that’s happening now. The kids that made Good Charlotte successful have grown up and moved on and the kids that decide what’s popular now are not falling for emo love songs anymore.