Calpurnia – Scout

calpurnia_greenvinyl

It’s a rite of passage in many suburban homes throughout North America and beyond, teens and tweens banding together in garages and basements across the nation setting up amplifiers, drum kits, microphones and guitars, plugging in and rocking out. Heck, there’s an entire genre of music dedicated to this very tradition. According to the Oxford Dictionary, garage is defined as: “a style of unpolished, energetic rock music associated with suburban amateur bands.” Oh coarse, not every suburban garage band has one of the world’s biggest teenage heartthrob television stars as its lead singer which Vancouver’s Calpurnia most definitely has in 15-year-old teen actor Finn Wolfhard, better known as Mike Wheeler of the hit Netflix series “Stranger Things”.

Coincidentally, all four Calpurnia bandmates, Wolfhard (lead vocals/guitar), Ayla Tesler-Mabe (lead guitar), Jack Anderson (bass) and Malcolm Craig (drums) grew up within walking distance of one another in the same suburban sprawl however it would not be until a chance meeting on a film set that the band would begin its embryonic journey. Craig and Wolfhard first met in 2014 during the “Guilt Trip” music video shoot by Toronto punk band PUP when Wolfhard was just 12 years old. Shortly thereafter the pair met up with Tesler-Mabe while attending summer music camp. Tesler-Mabe, herself a bit of a viral YouTube sensation with close to 10 million views of her guitar shredding music channel, later added friend and bassist Jack Anderson to finalize the lineup.

Like most aspiring garage acts, the quartet initially focused on covers, honing their craft learning how to play other people’s songs, sporadically performing live gigs whenever possible. By mid-2107, at the height of Wolfhard’s newfound fame as the rising young star of the smash hit show “Stranger Things”, Calpurnia uploaded a video of their version of “Wanted You” by Twin Peaks to YouTube and shortly thereafter were invited to play a glitzy star studded celebrity charity event in L.A. Finding themselves in need of some new original material it was decided around this time that the band needed to begin focusing their energies on writing their own stuff.

A longtime fan of American indie rock band Twin Peaks, Wolfhard ingratiated himself with lead singer Cadien Lake James eventually approaching him to produce their first recordings. The resulting 6 song EP Scout, released on Royal Mountain Records with the assistance of a Government of Canada FACTOR grant, was recorded over a period of 10 days in November 2017 at Twin Peaks home studio in Chicago, Illinois with Lake James serving as executive producer. Calpurnia’s 15-year-old lead singer Finn Wolfhard (born December 23, 2002) was just 14 years old at the time.

The result is a pleasantly fresh and effervescent batch of punchy upbeat underground garage pop constructed solidly around the strengths and talents of both Tesler-Mabe and Wolfhard respectively. Throughout, Tesler-Mabe displays real versatility, instinct and maturity with her tasty well placed guitar licks while Wolfhard holds down the lead singing clearly and legibly with confidence, style and charisma belying his actual age. Lake James has done a superb job arranging the young quartet’s material to play to their strengths, whipping up a cohesive set of bass, drum, guitar numbers augmented by pleasing harmonies (Louie, Wasting Time, City Boy) and evocative keyboard flourishes (Greyhound, Blame, Waves). All in all, a scintillating debut leaving no doubt the future can be theirs, if they want it. To be continued…

Rating: 8/10

Star Rating: 3.5/5

2018 Song Of The Day Club Album Review 29/52

 

Advertisements

Parquet Courts – Wide Awake!

Parquet_Courts_Wide_Awake!

Who are Parquet Courts and why haven’t you heard of them? In the years following their initial release, the 2011 limited edition American Specialties cassette, subsequent albums by Parquet Courts have had the enviable distinction of not only charting successfully in both the Top 30 (UK) and Top 20 (Scotland) but also cracking the Top 10 too (New Zealand). Earlier this year NME music journalist Ben Homewood called them “one of the most important bands in the world right now.” So why is it that North America is lagging so far behind in awareness and appreciation of this wonderfully fresh and fully energized back-to-basics no frills bass/guitar/drums Brooklyn based New York City quartet?

For anyone just hearing about Parquet Courts you are not too late to the party, their 6th and most recent album Wide Awake! may be their finest moment yet. Recorded at Electric Lady in hometown NYC as well as Sonic Ranch in Tornillo, Texas, the boys of Parquet Courts (brothers Andrew & Max Savage, Austin Brown and Sean Yeaton) enlisted 19 time Grammy nominated record producer Danger Mouse (Gorillaz, Sparklehorse, The Black Keys, Norah Jones, U2, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beck) as the definitive knock down one-two punch for this 38 minute 13 track collection of classic kick. Often regarded as punk (or rather punk revival in the original mid 70’s sense of the genre) Parquet Courts may very well have procured the talents of Mr. Mouse (Brian Burton) in order to push themselves just far enough outside the narrow confines of their punk rock comfort zone into a cloudless environment of endless sonic possibilities.

The resulting Wide Awake! album is a vast expanse of high powered late 70’s UK New Wave grooves (“NYC Observation”), sweet 60’s pop (“Death Will Bring Change”), Gil Scott-Heron inspired spoken (or in this case shouted) word soul/funk social consciousness (“Violence”), swirling melodic 60’s psychedelia (“Mardi Gras Beads”), gritty Television influenced mid 70’s angular underground pre-punk art rock (“Normalization”) Specials era Brit Ska (“Back To Earth”) and the climactic George Clintonesque funk anthem (“Wide Awake!”) this little gem of an album was named after. Thankfully, Burton spent as much if not more time on Wide Awake! staying out of the way of the raw energy and musical integrity in the room as he did focusing this eclectic mix into the cohesive and shining triumph it is.

Wide Awake! is knee deep in Punk Rock’s slightly younger sibling, owing much of its energy and feel to the late 70’s New Wave musings of such notable acts as The Jam, Elvis Costello & the Attractions, Joe Jackson, XTC, The Jim Carroll Band, Patti Smith, Blondie, The B-52s, Devo and the Talking Heads to name a few. For anyone set on buying one and only one single 2018 album by a new and previously-unknown-to-them artist, make it Wide Awake! by Parquet Courts, in all likelihood you will be purchasing the finest album of the year. For reals.

Rating: 9.5/10

Star Rating: 4.5/5

2018 Song Of The Day Club Album Review 28/52

 

 

Jimi Hendrix – Both Sides Of The Sky

hendrix

In an all too brief period of just 18 months between May 1967 and October 1968 Jimi Hendrix released the only three studio albums that would be issued during his lifetime, the explosive stunning debut Are You Experienced, the equally brilliant sophomore effort Axis: Bold As Love and his final masterstroke, the psychedelic opus Electric Ladyland double LP. The years following the Seattle born guitarist’s tragic and untimely death in 1970 at the age of 27 have seen an astonishing number of posthumous albums released in his name, 64 to be exact. Both Sides Of The Sky is the latest.

Since gaining control of his catalogue over 20 years ago the Hendrix family has been meticulous in their attempts at protecting the legitimacy of Jimi Hendrix’s legacy beginning with the album that gave him the most difficulty. The early months of 1970 saw Hendrix busying himself in preparation for his 4th studio album. Capturing the essence of a proper follow up to Electric Ladyland was proving to be a difficult endeavor for Hendrix, an earlier stab at it one year prior in 1969 had already been abandoned. Ultimately, a completed 4th album would permanently elude Hendrix by the time of his passing on the European leg of the Cry Of Love tour in the dying days of summer 1970.

Within six months of his death the very first posthumous Hendrix album appeared. At the time Cry Of Love (1971) was the record company’s knee jerk response to losing their star meal ticket, an attempt at weaving disparate bits and pieces of unfinished recording sessions together to serve as the inevitable follow up to the Electric Ladyland LP. Two and a half decades later the family run Experience Hendrix group revisited this tricky issue of the ever elusive 4th Hendrix album with their exhaustive First Rays Of The New Rising Sun album in 1997. Later that same year the Hendrix family fleshed out the remaining tracks from this same period for the release of the South Saturn Delta album in October 1997. Two additional Experience Hendrix studio albums were to follow, Valleys Of Neptune (2010) and People Hell And Angels (2013) both focusing mostly on Hendrix’s initial attempts throughout 1969 at completing the Electric Ladyland follow up album.

Like the four before it, Both Sides Of The Sky, the 5th and most recent Experience Hendrix studio album, was produced by Hendrix’s sister Janie Hendrix, John McDermott and Eddie Kramer, the esteemed recording engineer who worked on every Hendrix album made during the artist’s lifetime. According to Hendrix’s sister Janie, “We have a growing commitment to preserve the legacy of Jimi. Jimi and I once made a promise to each other. He said he would take care of me and I told him I would take care of him. Through his music and our preservation of his work, my brother and I honor one another. We are now in our third decade of watching over Jimi’s creative works and our resolve to maintain the integrity of what he left us has only grown stronger with time.”

Over the years, the good folks at Experience Hendrix have proven time and time again their enduring commitment to authenticity and craftsmanship when it comes to all things Hendrix. Both Sides Of The Sky is no exception. The absolute joy, playfulness and wild abandon Hendrix exuded every time he suited up, guitar in hand, with the red “recording in process” light on is present on each of its 13 tracks. According to Hendrix’s original recording engineer Eddie Kramer, “Jimi’s true home was the studio, that’s where the music and the magic happened. He loved everything about recording and it’s been my distinct pleasure and an honor to play a part in that process both then and now.” Like Jimi once said, “Not necessarily stoned but, beautiful.”

Rating: 9/10

Star Rating: 4/5

2018 Song Of The Day Club Album Review 27/52

Parliament – Medicaid Fraud Dogg

Parliament_Medicaid_Fraud_Dogg

George Clinton, the Godfather of Funk, is back, back after a 38-year-old break between Parliament albums and, damn, it’s been worth the wait. With Prince’s tragic and untimely passing having left an irreplaceable gap in Afrofuturism’s all too narrow field of Psychedelic-R&B-Soul-Rock-Space-Funk, the torch has been passed back up as it were, back to the man who started it all well over 60 years ago as a teenager in the backroom of his Plainfield, New Jersey barbershop singing with doo-wop quintet The Parliaments in the late 50s. A decade later would see the release the first three P-Funk albums (Clinton’s Parliament/Funkadelic music collective) Funkadelic (February 1970) Free Your Mind And Your Ass Will Follow (July 1970) and the first Parliament album Osmium (September 1970) and the rest, as they say, is history.

With his legendary 1,200-pound Mothership now part of the Smithsonian Institute’s permanent collection, Clinton, 77, admits he is headed towards retirement saying recently, “I thought I had vertigo but it was my body saying, ‘You go. You go sit your ass down’. A valve, not in my heart itself, the electrical wires, I had shook them loose. I was funkin’ too hard.” He is on record as saying that Medicaid Fraud Dogg will not only be his final album but also his final tour and that he himself will be passing the torch down to the more youthful members of the P-Funk collective who he wants to continue on well after he has gone. Clinton has already prepared for the inevitable by shooting live performance footage of himself in action so that future generations will have the opportunity to enjoy the experience of Clinton “live” with P-Funk via hologram.

As the title suggests Medicaid Fraud Dogg, Parliament’s 10th album in 48 years, is preoccupied with health care (“Medicated Creep”, “Psychotropic”, “I’m Gon Make U Sick O’ Me”, “Pain Management”, “Medicaid Fraud Dogg”, “Insurance Man”) giving us perhaps the world’s first ever septuagenarian funk opus for the elderly. Clocking in at 1 hour and 46 minutes this double album of 23 tracks is the absolute full meal deal providing the listener with both food for thought and funk for daze. A fitting farewell for a man nearing his 80s who has served and continues to serve, shedding light on ageism as well as helping remove the stigma of age related illness and physical decline by having the courage and strength to talk about it openly with class and dignity. And, as always, with the funk!

Rating: 8.5/10

Star Rating: 4/5

 

2018 Song Of The Day Club Album Review 26/52

Gorillaz – The Now Now

gorillaz_now_now

The mid-tempo melodic melancholy of Gorillaz’s 6th album in 17 years (The Now Now) is more akin to the last Blur album (Magic Whip) than last summer’s blockbuster Humanz LP. A wonderfully cohesive addition to Damon Alban’s resume as well as a perfectly respectable way to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Gorillaz’s formation in 1998.

Rating: 7/10

Star Rating: 3/5

 

2018 Song Of The Day Club Album Review 25/52

The Beach Boys – With The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Beach-Boys-With-The-Royal-Philharmonic-Orchestra

This ain’t your Great Granddaddy’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra rising out of the ashes of 1946 war torn England with Sir Thomas Beecham at the helm. Nor is it your Granddaddy’s Brian Wilson era California sun drenched Beach Boys basking in the glow of their early to mid 60’s success some twenty years later. Not even close. Since the unexpected overwhelming success of the RPO’s take on Elvis Presley in 2015 with If I Can Dream (#1 in the UK) and once again the following year with The Wonder Of You, the production team of Nick Patrick and Don Reedman has been responsible for three other similarly themed orchestral records. Roy Orbison’s A Love So Beautiful, the seasonal Christmas With Elvis And The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and last year’s A Brand New Me by Aretha Franklin all were to follow. Their latest The Beach Boys With The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is the most blatant cash grab yet.

Initially the concept of mashing isolated Brian Wilson produced Beach Boys vocal arrangements over a full orchestral treatment sounds tantalizing enough, unfortunately a criminally uninspired execution leaves The Beach Boys With The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra album dead in the water. The original arrangements, what publicist Derek Taylor once called Brain Wilson’s “pocket symphonies” have more orchestral scope and symphonic range than any one of the 17 newly recorded pieces here. At worst, this record is sheer caricature, a vulgar imitation. At best, it reduces the mad genius of twentysomething enfant terrible Brian Wilson to mere muzak, Easy Listening adult contemporary schlock. What is particularly abhorrent are the non-orchestral rhythm tracks Patrick and Reedman opted to re-record over the originals. Practically every track on The Beach Boys With The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra “features” newly recorded drum, bass and piano tracks (sadly even guitar on “Fun Fun Fun”). The ghastly re-recording of Wilson’s once perfectly sublime intro to “God Only Know” is particularly unforgivable. Sequencing is also a problem, bookending lightweight “Kokomo” between the brilliance of “In My Room” and “The Warmth Of The Sun”. That said, this travesty of an album is not completely without merit. After all these years it’s nice to see the studio musicians on many of the original sessions finally get credit here, notably Carol Kaye (bass) Hal Blaine (drums/percussion) Leon Russell (piano) and Glen Campbell (guitar) to name but a few. Regrettably, the initial promise of the exquisite but all too short opening track “California Suite” is ultimately unfulfilled, “Disney Girls” and “Heroes And Villains” notwithstanding. Fortunately, the Wilson brothers Brian, Carl and Dennis along with Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and Mike Love have left behind a diverse catalogue of 29 studio albums spanning 50 years between 1962 and 2012, any one of them far more deserving than this artless cash driven debacle.

Rating: 5/10

Star Rating: 2/5

2018 Song Of The Day Club Album Review 24/52

John Coltrane – Both Directions At Once

Both-Directions-1530279428-640x640

55 years ago on March 6th, 1963, 36-year-old American jazz composer and saxophonist John Coltrane entered his favorite vaulted, wood-and-masonry-block recording studio at 445 Sylvan Avenue, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey for a five-hour long recording session with engineer Rudy Van Gelder. Session producer Bob Thiele had originally scheduled Coltrane (tenor/soprano saxophone) and his quartet McCoy Tyner (piano), Jimmy Garrison (bass) and Elvin Jones (drums) from 2:00pm in the afternoon until 7:00pm at night. That same evening, they were booked to play the last night of a two-week residency at Birdland on 1678 Broadway, just north of West 52nd Street in Manhattan. Having shared the previous week’s bill with Thelonius Monk, Coltrane was closing out the final week of the engagement with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. Travel time from Van Gelder’s New Jersey recording studio to the Manhattan jazz club was thought to be anywhere between 45 minutes to an hour depending on traffic so it was decided to bump the five-hour recording session back from 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon to an earlier 1pm timeslot in order for the group to get to their New York gig on time. In the two weeks prior, with the recording date quickly approaching, Coltrane and his quartet used the time afforded them by the extended engagement at Birdland to explore a myriad of infinite possible directions for the new material they were scheduled to record March 6th. The day after the recording session that ultimately yielded Both Directions At Once Coltrane returned to Van Gelder’s New Jersey recording studio to record his next album with vocalist Johnny Hartman. At the time Coltrane was on top of his game, cresting a wave of popularity at the height of his creative powers. He had been signed to Impulse Records just two years earlier following the breakthrough success of his top selling 1961 Atlantic Records My Favorite Things album. Earlier in 1963 Coltrane had released a collaboration with the legendary Duke Ellington quickly followed by an album of ballads. It was at this juncture of his career in the glow of these three classic Impulse albums that Coltrane recorded what has become known as Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album, the title referring to a conversation Coltrane had once had about music with fellow sax player Wayne Shorter, talking about “starting a sentence in the middle, and then going to the beginning and the end of it at the same time…both directions at once.” The reason why the historic recording session that resulted in Both Directions At Once was not released as a proper album at the time will most likely never be known. What is unmistakable and not open to debate is the fact that, unbelievably, 51 years after John Coltrane’s tragic and untimely death at the age of 40, an album of NEW MUSIC by this genius giant of jazz is fresh out and on the streets, what Sonny Rollins described as “like finding a new room in the great pyramid”. Miraculous! An absolute joy! Cause for celebration, and Lord knows, we need that now.

Rating: 9.9/10

Star Rating: 5/5

2018 Song Of The Day Club Album Review 23/52