Wednesday, November 29, 2023

CD Odyssey Disc 1693: John Moreland

I’m not on a great run right now, and this next record represents the fourth album out of the last five that will not survive to return to my collection, post-review.

In more positive news, I spent the earlier part of my evening watching a documentary on Ronnie James Dio, and was overwhelmed with my love for him. So while this next review may not inspire you, I encourage you to explore some of the work of the great Ronnie James Dio. Whether as part of Rainbow, Black Sabbath or under his own moniker, Dio was one of the all-time greats.

OK, on to the present reality…

Disc 1692 is…Birds in the Ceiling

Artist: John Moreland

Year of Release: 2022

What’s up with the Cover?  According to the liner notes “art and design” is also by John Moreland which means we all know who to blame for whatever this is.

A collage of collared strips may strictly speaking be an art and design project, John, but that don’t make it good. Next time just put a picture or a drawing of oh, I don’t know, some birds in the ceiling, maybe? Everyone likes birds…

How I Came To Know It: I saw this in the stacks at the local record store earlier this year and immediately thought, “hey, a John Moreland album I somehow missed!” I love my other John Moreland albums, so I was pretty excited. So excited I bought this one without having heard a single song.

How It Stacks Up: I have five John Moreland albums, and this is #5. Distantly.

Rating: 2 stars

“Birds in the Ceiling” should instead be called “John Moreland discovers the mellotron.” That would be a better title, and a much more useful warning than anything Tipper Gore could have come up with, even at her censorious worst.

With that ominous lede in mind, let us turn our minds to what would make a seasoned devourer of music like myself scurry home with an unknown and unheard record so filled with hope.

Previous Moreland records inspired me and made my heart swell with poetic longing. His gravelly and hurt-locker vocals, and the layered, understated beauty of his acoustic guitar is the stuff of pure heartache. Anything resembling that experience was sure to land well, I reasoned.

Unfortunately, Moreland not only discovered the mellotron, he fell for it hard and without apology. He pairs that space organ sound with what the liner notes refer to as “sampling/sequencing” as though this were an instrument on par alongside that guitar mastery I mentioned earlier. Reader, it is not.

Remember that Leonard Cohen album he recorded while squirreled away at a monastery? It was called “Ten New Songs” and featured a whole lot of synthesizer as well. It isn’t one of my favourite Cohen records, but I still loved it (three stars back at Disc 1094 if you are interested). The thing about that record is despite some of the awkward and inorganic production, Cohen’s songwriting shines through.

Nothing can shine through the sequencing experimentation of songs like “Cheap Idols Dressed in Expensive Garbage”. It has the empty thump of a dance floor banger, without the bang, and Moreland’s guitar lick is sterile and lifeless, something I never thought I would write about a Moreland guitar lick. Also, the title’s image (and the song’s chief refrain) isn’t even a terribly interesting idea.

Or think about Springsteen’s “Tunnel of Love” (Disc 761). This record has some questionable production, but the incredible selection of songs shines through that muck like a white-hot beacon of truth and glory. On “Birds…” the closest Moreland comes to this feat is “Generational Dust.” The song has good bones, and although Moreland’s vocals are souped-out in the production, the hurt is still lurking there, if you know what to look for. It works to a point, but “Brilliant Disguise” it is not.

Near the end of the record, Moreland’s natural earthy talents begin to win through some of the arrangements and production. “Neon Middle June” has a lot of the same challenges of the rest of the record, but Moreland’s vocals here are some of the best on the album. And while lines like

“And what if who I am, is who I used to be
Darling, you know that’s the thought that paralyzes me”

…don’t hold the magic of some of his earlier records, they do capture some of the plain-language wisdom that makes his music so imminent and cathartic to listen to.

“Truth Be Told” is the tune where he lets that brilliant guitar of his rebirth itself, again near the end of the record. This song is the best at abandoning the bad ‘oomp oomp oomp’ sound of the organ/sequencer stuff. It is still there, but maybe Moreland’s fingers are getting tired by this point. Sadly, not tired enough, but the song has its moments and like Springsteen and Cohen, you can see past the Vaseline on the lens to the craggy beauty underneath. It is too little, too late, but it’s something.

I don’t expect my favourite artists to sit staid and happy in the sound I like them making best. I’m all for them exploring new styles and musical approaches. But at the end of the day, it is up to me whether I like where the journey takes them – as the listener I’m the other half of the experience. And much as I want it to be otherwise, this record made me want to go listen to earlier John Moreland records instead. So I’ll pass this one along to a happier home and do just that.

Best tracks: Neon Middle June, Truth Be Told

Thursday, November 23, 2023

CD Odyssey Disc 1692: Scimitar

Not having the greatest week. I took my first sick day from work in as long as I can remember (I don’t get sick often). Worst of all, I am now on holidays and will likely be sick for at least half of it. Argh.

Did you read that last sentence as ‘argh’ or ‘arrr!’? because if it was the latter, this next review may be for you.

Disc 1692 is…Black Waters

Artist: Scimitar

Year of Release: 2010

What’s up with the Cover?  A ghostly pirate ship soars through night sky. This pirate ship needs a bit more sail deployed, but I guess it is propelled by fell and unearthly magicks.

This cover always throws me because of that white dot on the centre left. It is the moon, but to me it always looks like one of those “not for resale” hole punches. Maybe a reminder that this ghostly pirate ship was not sold and returned to the manufacturer. This should make it wrong to resell it, but can you think of a more fitting thing to bootleg than a pirate ship?

How I Came To Know It: I saw Scimitar as the opening act for Alestorm back in November of 2019, aka the “before” times. To read a review of how they did, scroll down on the Alestorm review at Disc 1317. I don’t believe I purchased their album from the merch table, so probably bought a copy at the local record store in the days that followed.

How It Stacks Up: This is my only Scimitar record so it can’t stack up.

Rating: 2 stars

For those of you concerned that Alestorm has cornered the market on mixing pirate songs with heavy metal, I bring you good news in the form of “Scimitar”. Heavier, with a bit more black metal thump than Alestorm, this quartet of Victoria metalheads also loves the mix of high seas reaving and power chords.

What the specific songs are about I had a harder time with, but only because I didn’t put in the requisite number of headphones listens. I have a tough time with the gravelly death metal voice, even though I often like the sound of it. I caught phrases in songs that were very piratical, but not enough to know what was happening other than it was full of derring-do, and not a small amount of danger and violence.

Also with song titles like “Brethren of the Coast”, “Buried at Sea” and “Fireship” you get a good impression of what’s going on.

Ironically, my favourite tune was “Forest of Wolves” which is likely not about piracy or Vikings, although given they are sometimes called “wolves of the sea” maybe it is. Another tune, “Habeus Corpus” is likely not the legal concept of presenting a person who has been arrested but since I didn’t listen closely, how would I know? I kind of hope it IS about the legal concept and not just the ho hum notions of finding, you know, a body.

Topics aside, to play this style of music and have it not come out sounding like mud requires skill and precision, and Scimitar are up to the task. The tunes are fully imagined from both an arrangement and production perspective and the guitar work is precise and carries the right level of righteous urgency the style requires.

Stylistically, this is a record early in Scimitar’s career and they wear influences of many genres happily upon their puffy sleeves. I heard the melodic black metal of Amon Amarth, and on “Buried at Sea” a creepy ghostly voice that reminded me of some of my favourite Opeth songs.

Like both those bands, Scimitar has no misgivings about songs that play a little longer. “Black Waters” consists of only six songs, and five of them are well over six minutes in length. The sixth, “Mariner’s Lament” serves more as in intro piece to set mood than a fully realized song.

This does not trouble me (as an ignorer of the radio generally, the idea that songs should be a ‘manageable’ length is ludicrous to me). However, if you are going to have very long songs AND I’m not going to be able to clearly make out any advanced plot lines, then the tunes better hold my attention. In these songs there isn’t a lot of complexity going on, and while the riffs have a steady crunch to them, they repeat too often, and don’t evolve into something greater. The guitar bits don’t go anywhere after the initially establish themselves. The combined effect was that I got a bit bored, and when pirate music and high seas adventure feels boring, that’s a bad sign.

I’m tempted to keep this record just because these guys are from my home town, and I like to support local artists. But since I already bought the record and the concert ticket, I’ve done my part. I’ll pass this record along to someone who will enjoy it and play it more than I will.

Best tracks: Forest of Wolves, Habeus Corpus

Sunday, November 19, 2023

CD Odyssey Disc 1691: Tyler Childers

I slept in quite a bit yesterday and then I slept in a bunch more last evening – so much I slept right through an engagement. This morning I almost slept through the start of the Dolphins game. We recently got a new bed for the first time in twenty years and it makes for a much nicer (and sometimes longer) sleep. But that is a bit ridiculous.

Disc 1691 is…Rustin’ in the Rain

Artist: Tyler Childers

Year of Release: 2023

What’s up with the Cover?  Tyler Childers with what I presume is a Percheron Mule. There is a light and smoke show happening behind Tyler, perhaps the headlights from a multicar accident, a wildfire or maybe an alien landing. Or maybe all three simultaneously, which I expect will take half the night for various emergency responders to sort out. Likely need fire, police and an ambulance for that one.

As for Tyler, he’s got the mule, so there’s that.

How I Came To Know It: I already knew the artist from previous releases and while I find him hit and miss, this record was getting some critical love so I decided to give it a go.

How It Stacks Up: I have two Tyler Childers albums. I like them both, but this one comes in second.

Rating: 3 stars but almost 4

You never know what you’re going to get with a Tyler Childers record. It could be straight up country, it could be a weird twist on western music or it could be some kind of weird psychedelic rock. Six albums into his career he’s managed to capture my positive attention only twice, but “Rustin’ in the Rain” is one of those times.

This time around, he’s done it with early seventies torch and twang. “Rustin’…” is a record that is heavily influenced by the work of Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. It is very old school, at times almost the point of caricature. If you’re looking to find the line where a sound balances between imitation and appreciation, this record will show it to you.

The most obvious example of this on the album is “Phone Calls and Emails” where even the title is a mix of the old and new. A title like that evokes a traditional “you won’t call me back” tune, and indeed it is exactly that. In fact it had me thinking strongly of the Flying Burrito Brothers’ 1969 tune “Sin City”. It isn’t the same, but it has the same feel, the same build and flow, and undercurrent of sadness.

But what’s this, he’s also “emailing” his unresponsive lover. Brilliant and modern, although in 2023 e-mail is also very much old school. He should be having his texts ignored, but not a mention of this. Childers is cleverly showcasing an old form, with a “new” old school form of communication. No letters or telegraphs. Phone calls and e-mails calling up something that never goes out of style in a song; unrequited love.

While most of the tunes are original compositions, Childers undertakes a remake of Kris Kristofferson’s classic, “Help Me Make It Through the Night”. It is a solid rendition, but having heard the original a thousand times, I had a difficult time accepting the small liberties Childers takes with the melody. It isn’t wrong, but the end of many lines go up where they ought to go down.  Still equally vulnerable and romantic, but differently so.

It’s like a guy who house sits for you and rearranges your Hummel figurines. He doesn’t break them, just rearranges them. No harm done, but who does that? Also, why do you have a bunch of Hummel figurines? But I digress…

“Rustin’ in the Rain” walks another line as well, which is just where an album is so short that ceases to be a full album and becomes an EP. At seven songs and 27 minutes, once again we find ourselves on a line. It’s a minor quibble of course, and the quality of those 27 minutes means all is forgiven.

The record’s penultimate tune “In Your Love,” which sees Childers taking off the trappings of old school. Here he fully commits to blending the old and the modern the result is very much all new, and all him. Childers does pay homage to some of the record’s earlier more traditional tunes. With the line “like a team of mules pulling hell off of its hinges” he cleverly references back to an earlier old timey tune “Percheron Mules” nestling the tune nicely into the rest of the record.

This record received a bunch of Grammy nominations, which naturally makes me want to hate it, but I couldn’t do it. It is just too damned lovely.

Best tracks: Rustin’ in the Rain, Phone Calls and Emails, In Your Love

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

CD Odyssey Disc 1690: Wild Rivers

Welcome back to the CD Odyssey. I’ve been on a not great streak of late and I’m afraid it is going to continue. They can’t all be winners.

Disc 1690 is…Sidelines

Artist: Wild Rivers

Year of Release: 2022

What’s up with the Cover?  Chillin’ in the convertible. Or on the convertible. And, I suppose, beside the convertible. Various aspects of convertibling.

How I Came To Know It: I don’t remember. I know it wasn’t a music review, which usually means it was some encounter I had with someone recommending it. If that was you, and you read this review, it isn’t personal. It is a good record, just not a good record for m.

How It Stacks Up: This is my only album by this band so it can’t stack up.

Rating: 2 stars

Wild Rivers’ “Sidelines” is beautiful music for people that I assume must be much more normal than me. I know I like beautiful music, so my subpar reaction to hearing this can only be ascribed to abnormality. I am simply not normal enough to grok this record in its fullness. Just a desire to grok something has probably put me out of the running.

Before I get into why this record didn’t grab me, I will begin by stating it should be no challenge to like this record. It has a lot going for it. Chill, hangin’at-the-beach grooves, melodies that are easy to pick up, and lyrics that you can sing along to after only two or three listens. This record is like a Corona. A perfectly acceptable beer on a hot summer day that goes down smooth and forgettable.

However, like that Corona, don’t expect this music to surprise you. This stuff is a softball pitch lobbed across centre plate, just daring you to ding it out of the park. And you will, and then you will saunter around the bases for that easy run, an easy skip in your step (these tunes have a lovely slow gallop to them) and a radiant smile at no one in particular. Wanting a baffling exchange with the team mascot as you round third? A chance encounter with a pigeon divebombing from the stadium rafters? If so, this record is not for you.

If you want affable and uncomplicated though, you’ve come to the right place. Helping this affable mood are the performances of vocalists Devan Glover and Khalid Yassein. These two have tone for days. On “Bedrock” Yassein shines, his voice bright and full and perfectly paced. Devan Glover is no slouch either and her solo bits at the front half of “Long Time” almost singlehandedly made my change my outlook on this record. Rich, with a big range, when Glover climbs up into her head voice it feels like your feet are going to leave the floor.

The first person the band thanks in the liner notes is their producer, Peter Katis, and again, it is easy to see why. This production is smooth as hell. At first this is welcome, but after a few songs it started feeling too smooth and perfect. The guitar and piano are so rounded out it is hard to separate them. It isn’t that things get muddy or indistinct – it is an artful separation of sound – but it was my admiration for the technical mastery at work rather than inspiration.

In the end, it was this lack of emotional pull that held me back on “Sidelines”. I didn’t feel emotionally engaged. For some, there is a calming “put it in neutral” effect of this music that could appeal after a hard day. But for me, no matter how tired and worn out I get, I always want to be challenged by what I’m listening to. This is good music for watching the scenery go by while your brain is elsewhere, but I want my music to be imminent, and meaningful in whatever moment I’m sharing it in. I don’t need background music to my life, I need theme music.

I have very little bad to say about this record, and the exceptionally talented writers, musicians and producers that created it. I just wasn’t feeling it. And so, I’ll reluctantly pass this one along to a better home where it’ll get the listens it won’t get in mine.

Best tracks: Bedrock, Long Time

Saturday, November 11, 2023

CD Odyssey Disc 1689: Alex Lahey

Normally these blog entries are one of the few things I don’t write while wearing a suit, but today is different. Today is Remembrance Day, and when I’m done here, I’m heading down to the service.

The splendid ideals of democracy are worth defending, but they are not secure unless we are willing to stand up for them. No one has paid a higher price for the freedom we enjoy than our veterans – both the living who came home and the war dead who did not. Today is their day. Please take some time in quiet contemplation to honour their sacrifice.

Disc 1689 is…The Best of Luck Club

Artist: Alex Lahey

Year of Release: 2019

What’s up with the Cover?  Alex Lahey waits outside what looks like an interdimensional portal to a place called the “Best of Luck Club”. I’d like this club to be a nifty after-hours club, where they play big band jazz and drink clandestine cocktails. However, this waiting room reminds me more of a dentist’s office. If Alex is lucky, there may be some existential detectives on the other side of the door, ready to help her through why life is meaningless. If she’s unlucky, it’ll just be some grim faced dude with an eyepatch, rolling a die and deciding her fate with the outcome. How do I know this? The crow's a hint.

Anyway, that was weighty. Let’s get on with the music, shall we?

How I Came To Know It: Earlier this year I checked out Alex Lahey’s 2023 release, “The Answer Is Always Yes”. I liked it and set about trying to find it on CD, but so far I’ve had no luck. Along the way I dug into her back catalogue and liked that as well, buying two albums that I was able to locate. This is one of them.

How It Stacks Up: If you’re reading along with care you now know I own two of the three Alex Lahey albums I’d like to have. Since I don’t stack up albums that are absentee, I’ll rank “The Best of Luck Club” out of two where it comes in at…#2.

Rating: 2 stars but almost 3

Alt rock singer Alex Lahey is not terribly innovative, and while I enjoyed “The Best of Luck Club” I kept wanting it to wow me, and it kept just plugging along down the centre of the road, oblivious to my wishes. There are plenty of good tunes and rock hooks here, just don’t expect to hear something you haven’t heard before.

I Don’t Get Invited to Parties Anymore” gets the album started right, sounding a lot like a nineties throwback party tune. Lahey’s cleverness here is that this is a song that sounds like it is ready to party, even while the lyrics explore how partying is just not where her head is at.

The record has a lot of angst, and in that way reminded me of grunge, but with crisp pop production to let you know it is OK to have fun and tap your foot (it was never alright to tap your foot to grunge – being morose was the price of admission back then).

The production on the record is solid, if a bit “wall of sound” for my tastes. Most of the quieter moments are just that pop trick of stripping stuff down so the chorus is more of a thumper.

Lyrically, I felt let down often. Lahey has great phrasing, and the lines fit just right within the structure of the tune that makes it easy to sing along. That part is fun, but I was not left with a sense of narrative or character, and while she plays around with specific imagery it is light on metaphor. People who are sad, cry. People who are busy, are working. Not a lot of flowers representing a garden representing the state of the narrator’s heart.

I enjoyed most of the arrangements, but there is some uncalled-for saxophone on “Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself” that I must specifically call out. Is your name Clarence Clemons? If not, don’t do that.

My favourite tune on the record is “Unspoken History” which isn’t surprising, as I’m often a sucker for a record’s ballad. “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn”? Classic. Change nothing. Anyway, “Unspoken History” is light, slow and romantic in a syrup-adjacent kind of way, but I didn’t mind. Lahey’s high head voice in the chorus will melt your heart and make you think fondly of whoever it is you love.

That said, I did a lot of “sure” and “OK I guess” while listening to most of the tracks, and at this stage, facing space challenges throughout the living room, dining room and most recently down the hallway, I would like more out of my record collection than just OK.

There is nothing objectively wrong with this record; it is solid rock and roll that I hope gets played on local Australian radio stations. It just didn’t inspire me. After the Odyssey is done with it, when and how often will I put this record on? Not very often, I suspect.

And so, I wish Alex Lahey the best of luck with “the Best of Luck Club” and will pass this one along to a happier home.

Best tracks: I Don’t Get Invited to Parties Anymore, Interior Demeanour, Unspoken History

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

CD Odyssey Disc 1688: The Outfield

Eighties music is a tricky business. This weekend I brought home a copy of REO Speedwagon’s “Hi Infidelity” which was a childhood favourite of mine. Knowing Sheila has a soft spot for eighties pop, I played it later that night as a surprise expecting all manner of kudos.

Turns out Sheila is not a fan of REO Speedwagon. Who knew? She does like this next record though, which proves you can’t win ‘em all, but you can win some of ‘em if you just keep swingin’ the bat. And on that metaphorical note…

Disc 1688 is…Play Deep

Artist: The Outfield

Year of Release: 1985

What’s up with the Cover?  This is the kind of eighties art that usually lands flat for me, but not this time. Not only is this bit of art also a Giant Head Cover (and therefore immediately beloved) it has some lovely colours. Frankly, just show me the palette the guy composed this off of and I’ll stare at that.

Also, note the excitement of new disc technology. Analog recording! Digitally mastered! It’s not a bug, it’s a feature!

How I Came To Know It: I grew up hearing the hits off this record on the radio, but since it was eighties pop in an era that I was an avowed metal head, it never stuck.

Then I was at my friend Chris’ place having a summer drink on his deck and he put on a copy on vinyl. I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. Sheila was even more impressed, so I bought her a copy as a birthday present shortly thereafter.

How It Stacks Up: Surprisingly, the Outfield has released nine albums. I’ve only got this one, so it can’t stack up.

Rating: 2 stars but almost 3

Early and mid-eighties pop is not my thing. I have tried in recent years to make it my thing, principally by curating (with the help of friendly recommendations) a collection of the good stuff out of an era and genre that produced a lot of very bad stuff (I am thinking of you, Duran Duran).

The Outfield definitely qualify as a mid-eighties gem. Probably a semi-precious gem more than a ruby or an emerald or anything, but still nice. Maybe a turquoise. These tunes have an anthemic, celebratory sound and singer Tony Lewis has a high and airy head voice that was very much the style of the time. It reminded me a bit of Prism’s Ron Tabak. Lewis has more power, but I prefer Tabak’s tone. You can’t have it all.

The band is British but their sound is kind of transatlantic, with a big Americana expansiveness mixed with a guitar sound with a lot of pedal effects that had me thinking of U2. The guitar on “I Don’t Need Her” sounds a lot like the Edge, although more in a contemporary “I’m also messing with the new tech” kind of way, as opposed to a rip off.

The best tune on the record is “Your Love” which has an iconic eighties guitar riff and a vocal performance from Lewis that is an instant classic. You can play this song a hundred times and it will sound fresh and fun every single one of them.

The guitar solos leave something to be desired. When they happen (which is far too often) they feel perfunctory and inclined to blindly follow along the tune’s melody. At that point, just sing another verse already.

My biggest issue is as much a feature as a bug. When I first put the record on it sounded distant and detached and I kept turning it up expecting at some point for my car’s (excellent) stereo to pick up some low end. I had turned it up pretty loud before I realized there wasn’t any low end. The production is  like wanting to tread water at the shallow end of the pool, but your feet keep hitting the bottom. It doesn’t hurt, but it sure don’t feel like floating either.

On the other hand, that high treble production gives the whole thing a sunny and carefree quality. This record traipses around like an elf jumping from branch to branch. It is a objectively a bit silly, but it’s graceful too.

While the record outside of the hits is merely OK, it delivers one amazing deep cut right at the end. “Nervous Alibi” is a vocal masterpiece, and I love the way it meanders its way slowly to that heartbreaking chorus. This is ‘lighter over a thousand heads’ level shit, and a welcome treat right at the end of a record that left me laid back and content.

Best tracks: Your Love, Every Time You Cry, Nervous Alibi

Saturday, November 4, 2023

CD Odyssey Disc 1687: Miya Folick

Happy Saturday! After a long week of work, I am glad to have a day off where I managed to sneak in a quick visit to the local record store. I bought four albums which I will tell you all about…when I randomly roll them. When will this happen? How long, dear readers, must you wait? There is no way to know. That’s how random works.

And on that note, here’s today’s selection.

Disc 1687 is…ROACH

Artist: Miya Folick

Year of Release: 2023

What’s up with the Cover?  Some sort of candid shot of Miya in an outfit that feels like it might be athleisure or maybe a very comfy clubbing outfit.

How I Came To Know It: I was already a fan because of Folick’s 2018 release, “Premonitions” (reviewed back at Disc 1608). This was me checking out her new release. Also, I already knew six of these songs from her 2022 EP, “2007”.

I admit to some annoyance on that front. Putting out half the album a year early as an EP resulted in me having to buy half those songs twice. This is becoming a lot more common these days. It isn’t as bad as the early oughts, when artists would put a new song on their Greatest Hits package to make you buy it, but it is a close second. Please stop this.

How It Stacks Up: I have two full-length Folick albums (I’m dumping the EP since all the tunes appear again here. Argh). Of the two, it is very hard to choose as they are both great, but I’m going to give the edge to “ROACH”.

Rating: 4 stars

Why some pop artists achieve radio fame and others toil in obscurity is a mystery that routinely irks me. It is particularly irksome when I hear a record as consistently good as “ROACH”. Not just because it is a good record, but also because it is catchy. The kids would love this stuff, if only they knew it exists.

The music is a mix of traditional guitar/bass/drum action and synthesizer electronica with Folick’s vocals being the bridge between the different approaches. Both work equally well with her singing. She has a big range, and can evoke girlish, dance-club fun equally well as longing and emotional depth. Sometimes it is both these things at once.

Unlike a lot of vacuous pop music that dominates the airwaves, Folick has something to say. These songs are a window into the life of a woman in her early thirties, coming to terms with a complicated world. Young enough to still remember the breathless wonder of immortality, old enough to finally understand that you no longer are. Worse, that you never were.

“ROACH” explores this world from a lot of facets. Reflections on family and the traits we inherit (“Mommy”), dating a jackass who preys on the growing insecurities of aging (“Nothing to See”) and more than a few outright references to drug and alcohol abuse to salve the various shitty things that the world’s going to throw in your path.

This is a record reflecting on unhealthy levels of self-harm, and the way damaged people tend to pass that damage along.

On, “Nothing to See” the narrator is full of self-loathing as she tries to be what her partner expects her to be, instead of being happy. The imagery is simple but possesses an undercurrent of darkness:

“I know you've been talking to girls on the internet
She's only nineteen and I can't compete with that
I've been trying to change the way I look so you like what you see
I've been losing weight so I can wear these Dolls Kill jeans”

Set against a chorus refrain of “why did I do that?” Folick tries to parse out why you can know behaviour is harmful, and yet do it anyway.

Throughout all this darkness, you see a young woman grappling with how to be a better person, to both herself and others. On “2007” she admits fears and doubt, but for the most part the song is a self-motivational anthem, slow and moody but with an undercurrent of hope:

“I don't wanna be afraid of aging or gaining weight
I want to take up space
I wanna get up real early and stay up late
I wanna smile real big
I wanna fucking live”

And on “Drugs or People” she warns away anyone that might see her descend again into bad habits:

“You think you can handle me
But baby you can't
You think you won't lose your mind
You've already lost half
Don't make me prove it to you
I'm trying not to use
Drugs or people”

I like that this song shows the narrator is not just pushing this new person away because she's concerned about her own propensity to relapse into bad decisions, but because she doesn't want to risk hurting others in the process.

For all the hard conversations and grim battles with life’s challenges, “ROACH” is ultimately a hopeful record. A safe place to be damaged, confident that tomorrow you are going to wake up a little less so.

Folick wraps all these hard ideas in some wonderful and cleverly composed pop songs. You are going to sing along, bob your head, and smile, and within that safe space the music provides, get a little philosophical. It’s a mix of fun, cathartic and intellectually stimulating, and one of the best records 2023.

Best tracks: Oh God, Bad Thing, Nothing to See, Drugs or People, 2007, Ordinary

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

CD Odyssey Disc 1686: Dehd

Happy Hallowe’en! Hallowe’en is my all time favourite holiday. Technically it isn’t a holiday, but it should be. I’ve always been an avowed fan of horror, and Hallowe’en is Christmas for us creeps.

Given tonight is the night that spirits walk the earth again with the living, it is appropriate (although still totally random) that tonight’s band being reviewed is called “Dehd”.

Disc 1686 is…Flower of Devotion

Artist: Dehd

Year of Release: 2020

What’s up with the Cover?  The black and white drama of drama masks! This cover does not capture the excitement of the theatre. Maybe local theatre.

How I Came To Know It: I read a couple reviews of this record, both of them favourable. Not that the favourable part matters to me. I’m more interested in what the review says about what I can expect stylistically than whether the critic likes it. I’ll decide that for myself. I encourage you to do the same after you read this review. But only after. I will not be ignored!

How It Stacks Up: I have two Dehd albums and of the two “Flower of Devotion” is best so that makes it…#1. Math!

Rating: 4 stars

Dehd is what would have happened if the eighties died but then came back from the grave with an unearthly energy about them. Like maybe meteor dust reanimated them or something.

The music has all the underpinnings of eighties pop like Echo & the Bunnymen or the Cure. The echoing guitar and the haunting mood pieces that make you think of cold city streets slick with rain, where young people pine about stuff and things.

Infused into this gloom is a strange pervasive energy (presumably the meteor dust) that gives this music a newfound vibrance. There is a restless jump in the arrangements that is part Ally Sheedy, part Molly Ringwald. Let’s call it “Goth princess” or maybe “all night diner club”.

Whatever it is, these tunes cast a spell on you from the opening notes. There is a rolling repetition to the guitar licks that make you feel like you are falling and never landing. The songs only last three or four minutes, but while they’re on time seems to slow and blur. When they end there is no abrupt cessation, but nor is there a cheap fade out. They just kind of complete right when they are supposed to. Before you can figure out how it happened, you are being lifted into the next track.

There is an overly moody feeling to “Flower of Devotion” that in lesser hands would come off as false and maudlin. Dehd dances around their anxiety and despair in a way that makes you feel like you’re at a late-night Goth party, and it is the best time ever. It isn’t all danceable, but it is all sway-able, and sometimes all we need is a good sway.

The record’s best tune is “Loner” principally because of Emily Kempf’s vocal gymnastics which are part angel, part yelping dog, but full of rich and ranging emotion. The guitar on this tune has a big eighties style echo that feels like you’re underwater, or maybe made of smoke. Hopefully not both. That would just be bubbles. Awesome bubbles of sound, but still bubbles. But I digress…

On tunes like “Apart” it made me wonder if this is what it would sound like if Goth kids took up surfing. At night, obviously, but there is a slow chill element that doesn’t stray into sad so much as into deep contemplation.

Lyrically, there isn’t much that approaches the inspirational. The lyrics are basic and feel like fleeting phrases of discarded poems more than fully formed narratives. That’s OK, since it perfectly matches the music. This record is about tone, mood and depth of feeling, not about telling a particular story. The closest I came was on “No Time” a relatively up-tempo number which admonishes, “you only want me when you’re sad.” This isn’t a revelation worth noting but is probably someone you’ve met at some point in your life. Hopefully you did not move in with them but if you did, these things happen. Here’s a song for when you break up.

“Flower of Devotion” is one of my favourite albums of 2020. It didn’t make my top ten list, but it fell just outside of it in the 11-15 range and on any given day could crack the main lineup. I loved every moment of my short time listening, and am sad to be moving on so soon, but I know I’ll have pulled it off my shelf for another listen soon, and for many years to come.

Best tracks: Desire, Loner, Haha, Drip Drop, Month, Letter, No Time, Apart

Saturday, October 28, 2023

CD Odyssey Disc 1685: Skye Wallace

Another busy week led to another delay in getting this review to you, dear readers. But I’m back now, and ready to fill you with marvel and delight through a single picture and around 800 words strung together in a particular order.

Disc 1685 is…Terribly Good

Artist: Skye Wallace

Year of Release: 2022

What’s up with the Cover?  Skye Wallace displays a perfectly executed slouch. This slouch looks like it is taking place in the hallway of a cheap apartment complex. Then again, the wall behind her looks unscuffed, so maybe it is the interior of one of the apartments.

This would make sense, given the unzipped boot situation, implying she’s just getting home, or just getting ready to go out. And I know some of you may be thinking with respect to that latter scenario – she’s going out in public in those pants?

Well, dear reader, I happen to like those pants. I’d wear them myself, except that I prefer a slim fit.

OK, on with the music review…

How I Came To Know It: This summer there was an outdoor festival in Victoria (the Phillip’s Backyarder). I was going mostly to see Lord Huron but as a matter of course I always check out all the other bands ahead of time to see if I would like to see them as well.

Skye Wallace impressed me. Unfortunately, she was on first and the Phillip’s Backyarder does not allow in/out privileges. Not wanting to be there the full six hours or more, I made a judgment call to NOT see her live, which is a bummer because I later heard she was a good show.

However, while I was there, knowing I liked her music (I’d listened to her whole discography in the week leading up) I bought both a t-shirt and this CD. So…here we are.

How It Stacks Up: I am on the lookout for four other Skye Wallace albums, but they have not been easy to find (her CDs are all sold out on Bandcamp), For now, there is no stacking up.

Rating: 4 stars

Sometimes you just want some old-time rock and roll, straight no chaser. For those times, I suggest a shot of what Skye Wallace has to offer will serve you right.

“Terribly Good” is straightforward Canadiana pop/rock. It does not break any new ground, nor should you demand that it do so. Relax, enjoy some 4/4 time and sink into the groove. It will be easy to do all these things, because “Terribly Good” lives up to its name.

This is Wallace’s fifth record and she has perfected her sound. The songs are catchy, and her vocals are confident but not overwrought. Wallace knows she’s got a set of pipes on her, and therefore doesn’t have to do a bunch of American Idol style warbles.

Stylistically she reminded me a lot of the Beaches, which isn’t surprising given both acts got their start in Toronto about ten years ago. That would’ve been a killer double-bill at some seedy club, but sadly I came to both parties late. Wallace also has a bit of a Pat Benatar vibe going on, with that belting raunchy roughness with a youthful pop vibe mixed in, like a sugar coating to help everything go down easier. It’s mostly grit, but you’ll get little yips and squeals (the best of these are on “Phantom Limb”) that remind you that you’re here to have fun.

The production and arrangement on this record are perfect. The sound is rich, separated, and distinct. The arrangements let the guitar riffs and drum beats shine individually, before connecting into a larger sound greater than the sum of its parts. Does Wallace do all those obvious tricks like breaking things down again – isolating little guitar parts and generally try to catch your attention in a new way every few bars? Yes she does, but you will like it.

Standouts on the record show that within this “inside the lines” approach to rock and roll, Wallace still displays a good range. “Phantom Limb” has a good thump and Wallace’s voice peals out as cymbals crash in the background. Immediately following we get “Keeper”, a single echoing guitar and Wallace singing with sweet heartache in her voice. Whether it is “all the stuff” with “Phantom Limb” or just her and a guitar on “Keeper”, the choices are well made.

This record is very short – 8 songs and well under 30 minutes, and over too soon.  Fortunately it has good re-listenability and I didn’t tire of it despite many rounds in the car. You shouldn’t expect this record to challenge you musically – it won’t – just enjoy it on its own terms. You may want to tap your toe, or maybe turn the volume up. These are good instincts. Go with them.

Best tracks: Tooth and Nail, Phantom Limb, Keeper, Tear a Piece (Bite Me)

Sunday, October 22, 2023

CD Odyssey Disc 1684: In This Moment

Apologies for my lengthy absence, gentle readers. Much of last week I was travelling for work, and this slowed down my creative output considerably.

I’m back now and here’s the record that’s been kicking around in my head since last we connected.

Disc 1684 is…Blood

Artist: In This Moment

Year of Release: 2012

What’s up with the Cover?  The picture above is not the picture on my album. While mine is also a special edition (re-issue and bonus tracks included) it has the original album cover, which is far racier. That cover features lead singer Maria Brink, crowned and sitting on a throne surrounded by eight naked women wearing expressionless white porcelain masks. A murder of crows flies in the background.

If you are thinking “whoa – that sounds incredible” you’d be right, but it is also a bit racy, so for those of you who aren’t comfortable with a whole lot of nudity in your art, I’ve instead posted this alternative cover.

This alternative cover is also pretty dope, featuring just a single crow perched on the same crown, minus Queen Maria and all the nude women. If you decide you want to see the original (having been forewarned), here’s the Wiki page.

How I Came To Know It: My coworker was asking me for music recommendations for his niece. I said I’d be glad to help but to make sure I was in the ballpark, could he tell me what she currently listens to. The answer was “In this Moment”.  In checking them out I realized, “hey, this niece is on to something!

I can’t remember what I recommended in return. I think probably Creepshow and Poppy’s 2020 album, “I Disagree”.

How It Stacks Up: I have my eye out for one or two more In This Moment albums, but as of now “Blood” lives alone in my collection, and thus cannot stack up.

Rating: 3 stars

“In This Moment” is not for everyone. There is a visceral quality to their industrial metal sound that is invigorating, but they also sing about edgy topics, and that “industrial” moniker routinely steps over the line into “nu metal” territory. So, as with the cover, consider yourself warned before you investigate further.

The first thing you’ll note about “Blood” is that lead singer Maria Brink feels her feelings very deeply. When you are singing about this “tear your insides out” kind of stuff, it is important to be believable and Brink sounds every bit emotionally disturbed as the subject matter requires. She is equal parts vulnerable and dangerous best summed up with a warning of “careful, she bites”. If that sounds a bit animalistic well, so do a lot of the songs.

The album had three singles released, which also happen to be the best the record has to offer. The title track features a chorus that will want you to mosh until you throw your neck out. As my neck was already out this week, I refrained but it wasn’t easy. “Blood” is like a lot of In This Moment songs, feels triumphant and energetic, but a deeper dive into the lyrics reveals a dysfunctional relationship. Maybe a father, maybe a boyfriend, but definitely a jerk.

Whore” is the album’s best song, challenging society’s judgment on dangerous girls with hearty sexual appetites. How the narrator conducts herself is her own business, and is under no obligation to explain herself, although the song’s refrain does a fine job of twisting the knife, with:

“But let me tell you something baby
You love me for everything you hate me for”

Musically this song has a great structure as well, slowly building behind the dull but insistent drum thud, the song crunch’s out loud and proud, raw with feeling. Some will find the tune a bit overblown, but I would counter that this is entirely the point. Like I noted in the lede, it’s not for everyone.

That is not to say there are not moments where In This Moment crosses the line into annoying screaming. It does. “You’re Gonna Listen To Me” doubles down on the overwrought singing and crunchy “loud” production in the hopes it can hide the boring melody and grating arrangement. It does not succeed.

Adrenalize” is cool, but mostly because I think equating desire with someone getting chest-stabbed with an adrenaline needle is, er…novel? The production here is a bit busy, but the metaphor is edgy.

Near the end of the record we are treated to the album’s third standout. “Comanche” is an anthem that will have you fist pumping in the air. If you are a fan of In This Moment, “Comanche” is your call to arms, half affirmation of the music, and half rejection of the haters. I imagine this is a favourite at live shows.

Unfortunately, there are also a lot of forgettable tunes on “Blood”. I’d talk about them but I’m having a hard time remembering them. The high points are easily worth the journey, but an honest assessment of the overall record is it is good, but not great.

Best tracks: Blood, Whore, Comanche