No holds barred music reviews and the musings of a rock 'n' roll fanatic. If you have a song or an album you'd like me to review pop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the songs/album and some background info.
We’ve all been there. It’s something-o’clock in the morning and the end credits roll on the final episode of your Netflix binge. You look around with bleary eyes, unsure of what’s real and what’s not, unsure of how you ended up on the couch in the first place. It’s this dark moment in the cycle of escapism that is perfectly captured by self-proclaimed Capetonian bedroom musician Bonbonvillon in his darkly ethereal debut single ‘Television’s on but There’s Nobody Home.’
Bonbonvillon’s effect-laden voice oozes out, calm and strangely reassuring, like a mad preacher comforting a congregation of heart-broken, sleep-deprived souls as the melodies dance around each other, always flirting with the edge of insanity but never taking the plunge. Notes that appear seemingly out of nowhere and unexpected breaks only add to the underlying sense of madness and keep stagnation at bay in this ode to insomnia.
Bonbonvillon’s first offering is unique in its soundscape and excellent in its delivery, turning a sensation experienced by so many into a comforting sonic journey.
The Grammy Awards ceremony has always had its fair share of controversy, from the best rap artist category being introduced but not televised in 1989, to Recording Academy president Neil Portnow telling female artists they need to “step up” if they want to be recognised. This year’s ceremony was set for its own share of drama as the spotlight was on the Recording Academy’s rocky relationship with hip-hop and rap.
In the lead up to the ceremony Childish Gambino, who ended up winning Song of the Year for ‘This is America,’ Kendrick Lamar, and Drake all threatened to stay away from the event. Drake, however, did show up and while accepting the Best Rap Song award for ‘God’s Plan’ inadvertently, or perhaps deliberately, became the centre of the night’s drama. In his speech, that will be remembered for many years to come, the rapper said that winning a Grammy wasn’t the epitome of success in the industry and in the process had his mic switched off as the broadcast cut to a commercial.
That wasn’t the only talking point, though. After Portnow’s tasteless comments at last year’s ceremony there was a definite focus on women at the ceremony. Alicia Keys hosted this year’s event which included a surprise appearance from Michelle Obama as well as an all-star tribute to Dolly Parton. When all was said and done, out of the 17 performances that filled up the ceremony, only four of them were male. Women also featured heavily in the awards count with Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, and St. Vincent among others taking homethe golden gramophone.
In a moment of tenderness that would have brought tears to even the hardest of souls, the late Chris Cornell’s children Christopher and Toni accepted the award for Best Rock Performance for ‘When Bad Does Good,’ a posthumous release off ‘Chris Cornell’ which was compiled and released by the grunge icon’s wife Vicky Cornell. It was a beautiful moment that would surely have brought a smile to the face of one of the best vocalists the rock world has ever seen.
Lastly, the South African flag was flown high as the Soweto Gospel Choir won the Best World Music Album for the third time. They received the award for ‘Freedom,’ a collection of struggle songs they released last year as part of their 100 Years of Mandela Celebrations.
Friday night was a night of debauchery, head-banging, and mosh-pits as the die-hard rock ‘n’ roll community united to celebrate the launch of The Medicine Dolls’ latest offering in their ever-growing catalogue of EPs, ‘A Compulsion to Ruin.’ Naturally they weren’t the only the only band lighting up the stage as The Dodgy Odds, Elle E, and Julia Robert were on hand to turn the night into a party while DJ Swamp Girl kept the good times going between sets.
The sex-funk rock ‘n’ roll of The Dodgy Odds got the ever-growing crowd in the mood with the opening set of the night. As their epic bass-lines and impossible-to-ignore rhythms spread through the air so the energy levels lifted until everyone was dancing, no matter how many left feet they had. By the time Elle E took to the stage with her sultry garage-rock wizardry the fuse had been lit and her electric performance made it burn harder and faster, bringing it close to detonation before Julia Robert got to have their bit of fun.
Resplendent in white and perfect in synchronicity Julia Robert calmly and confidently navigated their way through their set without compromising on intensity as they held the crowd’s undivided attention from beginning to end and set the perfect platform for The Medicine Dolls to blow the roof off the place.
And that’s exactly what they did. As they blitzed their way through songs old and new, each as brilliantly executed as the next, the dance-floor became a sea of indiscernible bodies as people head-banged and moshed as though their lives depended on it. By the time they left the stage there wasn’t a single body free of sweat and smiles as everyone tried to catch their breath enough to order yet another drink from the bar.
Greta Van Fleet, a band comprising three brothers and a drummer, hailing from Frankenmuth, Michigan, named after a Frankenmuthian woman, and with a combined age of 21 became rock ‘n’ roll’s hottest commodity before their debut album ‘Anthem of the Peaceful Army’ was even released.
Their Led Zeppelin-esque sound has proven to be as divisive as anything Billy Corgan blurts out with supporters passionately defending them and nay-sayers ridiculing them for their “old-fashioned” sensibilities. Whichever side you fall on, you can’t deny that Greta Van Fleet is the most gripping thing to happen to the rock world since My Chemical Romance broke millions of young hearts almost six years ago.
At a time where bands are either going commercial or settling for being on pop-culture’s back-burner Greta Van Fleet proudly fly their freak-flags high which begs the question: Just how did four kids from a previously unknown town with a sound straight out of yester-year become the most talked about act at last year’s installment of Coachella?
It probably has something to do with the timing of their break-out. We’re at a point where people who were around at the height of guitar-rock’s dominance share the world with generations that have heard of Led Zeppelin and Rush only as faint whispers of a time gone by. Their sound is old enough to attract the ears of older generations and they’re young enough to draw the gaze of the social media generation.
Then there are the people in the middle. The newly fledged adults whose parents were smart enough to pass the glory of their youth on. A generation that largely suffers from nostalgia for a time of acid-fueled parties, peace and idealism, lofty ideals and the belief that maybe we could all love one another, a nostalgia-trip with guitar rock as its soundtrack. Greta Van Fleet are simultaneously familiar and exotic, a warm embrace from the past and an epic discovery from the present.
All of this is, of course, ignoring the sheer class of the band and the beauty of their music. Guitar rock was the last bold step that “pure” rock ‘n’ roll took before technology became the new fascination. Perhaps there’s something hidden in the genetic code of rock ‘n’ roll fans that knows it wasn’t done with us yet.
Whether you love them or hate them, no one can deny that Greta Van Fleet is the answer to that tired old gripe, “They don’t make ’em like they used to,” and maybe they’re the trigger rock ‘n’ roll needs to take its place at the top of the musical hierarchy.
I was a Raconteurs virgin before ‘Sunday Driver’ and ‘Now That You’re Gone’ came out, and to be honest I didn’t think much of them after the first listen, but I figured I should listen to their older stuff for some context. Listening to them again I realised that maybe I had been a bit harsh first time around. Maybe there’s some subliminal hypnosis at work?
‘Sunday Driver’ is riff-heavy and chugs along with that unmistakable energy that comes from anything Jack White related. As you can tell from the title it has something to do with the open road and escaping and blah blah blah, but as with all good cliches it’s given an original spin, mind the pun. Just when you think you have a grasp of the song a Beatles-esque bridge comes and goes so smoothly you barely notice how out of place it is, like a motel on Route 66 that fits in so well you think it’s been there since the dawn of time.
‘Now That You’re Gone’ has a more romantic feel to it. Once again it relies on a thematic cliche – a lost love – and once again, Jack White and co. give it its own identity. The contrast between gentle chorus and punchy verse is striking without being obnoxious and there’s a flow between sections that keeps it alive and interesting.
‘Sunday Driver’ and ‘Now That You’re Gone’ give us a little glimmer of hope that what’s to come from The Raconteurs might be able to hold a candle up to what’s come before.
The Medicine Dolls have released the fourth EP in their ever-growing discography. ‘A Good Chance Of Bad Weather’ signifies a step in a somewhat new direction for a band known for their edgy, post-punk sound.
This small step into the new is evident from the jump as the title-track comes to life with an single note from an electronic organ that marches on through the opening bars, soon being joined by Greg Allan’s voice. A surprise for seasoned fans will be the increased use of the bass. As it forays into unexplored territory it brings a new dimension into the band’s sonic universe. It becomes evident that this EP is going to fall on the more romantic section of their spectrum as Allan says “I want to love you darling creature, I want to kiss your fucking soul.”
The organ finds more footing in ‘Careful Affection’ creating an eerie, carnival-for-the-disturbed feeling. The mood of the song is heightened by tempo named lethargy and a voice fighting to remain calm in the midst of turmoil. The song sounds like the beginning of the fourth stage of grief. There’s a sense of pain and restraint that’s brought across well by the aural landscape. The final track brings us back to the familiar ground that fans have come to love and know.
It’s the familiar with just a hint of experimentation. As if it went on holiday and came back with a new perspective on things. ‘Sick Little Cynics’ has the same old, born-from- experience cynicism that their previous offerings introduced. The energy, driving rhythms, moody guitar, and the dynamics that keep it interesting and alive are there. The only down-side is that you can almost hear a few of their older songs in it, but it’s still the strongest track on offer.
‘A Good Chance Of Bad Weather’ has an experimental feel as The Medicine Dolls try to find new dynamics to add to their arsenal. For the most part it strays from the sound that made them a name on the Cape Town scene but it was a calculated risk that paid off.
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.