Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Indestructible Noise Command: Still Angry After All These Years

The year was 1985 and MTV was still just a baby. They were actually showing videos 24/7 back then, unlike today. Duran Duran, Cyndi Lauper, Wham and similar acts dominated the airwaves, but what were the youth of that time to do if that wasn’t their cup of tea? Well, for Dennis Gergely and Erik Barath, they took channeled their disgust of fluffy pop stars into a style of music that was almost unheard of at the time. It was aggressive and angry and even a bit intimidating for some. A new artistic form of expression was upon on and thrash metal had a new voice. This was the birth of Indestructible Noise Command.

The band recorded a demo in 1986 and started to catch the attention of many in the industry. They shared the stage with bands such as Megadeth and King Diamond and were really shaking things up. Five angst driven guys, who had just graduated from high school 6 short months earlier, were being signed to Giant Records. Things were looking really good for the boys.

1987 saw the release of their debut album Razorback and the follow-up The Visitor was released in 1988. People were showing up in the masses to see them live and they were gaining the respect of many of their peers. They even had Pantera opening up for them back in the day! Well, the label started to falter and the band decided to take a timeout rather than let a label do a mediocre job with their futures. I.N.C. was going to do this on their own terms.

Fast forward to 2010 and we see the band back together and releasing an EP entitled Bleed the Line and creating the same type of buzz that they created in 1986. This brings us up to speed as they are about to unleash their first full length album in over twenty years entitled Heaven Sent, Hellbound. The band, comprised of Dennis Gergely on vocals, Erik Barath on guitar, Anthony Fabrizi on guitar, Samuel Roon on bass and Dennis Leeflang on drums are back to show why they were so ahead of their time.

Producer Frederik Nordstrom has managed to capture what propelled these guys to the forefront of the trash metal genre 25 years ago. The album opens with the instrumental “Jackboot Thugbots” which is an apocalyptic sounding sound that sounds as if the masses are marching to go into battle. You have to love that title too!

The guys then press the pedal to the floor with “It’s Coming” and set the tone for the rest of the album. “Murder’s just a state of mind until a life is taken….tick tock, tick tock, this is it.” Dennis’ vocals are amazing and still harbor that rough, aggressive edge. Erik and Anthony lay down some blistering riffs that hook you in immediately. “If I Were President” starts off with a Pantera-ish start to it, but the middle of the song lunges forward at a speed sure to get the pit moshing.

“Fueled by Regret” is another assault on the senses. Dennis is a beast on the double kick drum on this song. Mid way through the song, the double guitar assault is so intense that it sounds like a swarm of bees on the warpath. “Fist of Fascista”, my early on favorite song on here, is one that I really hope the boys bring to their live show.

“God Loves Violence”, the first video released, is classic I.N.C., yet with a certain maturity that comes with 25 years of life under their belts. There are actually two versions of this video. The first one is pretty violent with intense imagery. The second is a tamer performance piece from the guys. “The Good Bones Stay Down” combines intense lyrics that bring about fierce imagery of a love gone bad. We all have experienced a love like this. “Poison slowly choking the soul, love turned hate, I’ve lost all control.” The song churns along at a great pace that would translate very well into their live show.

This new album is a triumphant return for the guys who have never truly gotten the credit that they deserve for being pioneers in this genre. It’s a very solid recording from beginning to end and I highly recommend it to thrash fans and to just about any metal head out there who can appreciate the intensity that Indestructible Noise Command bring, both musically and lyrically. The only fault that I have to it is that I had to wait 23 years to crank this!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Erick Baker: Poetry Set To Music

It is amazing how sometimes in the darkest of moments; a person truly discovers who they are and what they are made of. Heartbreak is an emotion that almost all of us have experienced, but each of us deals with it in our own personal way. For Erick Baker, heartache was a key that unlocked a gift that he has been harvesting inside of him, untapped and waiting to express itself.

After graduating from college with a degree in Public Relations, Erick turned to his proud parents and told them that this was not what he wanted to do with his life. “I was lost; I didn’t know what to do. I felt like a blank canvas,” stated Baker. “I decided to do some travel and I also decided to teach myself to play the guitar, it was something that I had always wanted to do.”

Enter the girl who unleashed the artist. Erick had dated her for several years and was in love with her. Then, out of nowhere……she broke his heart. “I had never been in love. I don’t throw that word around lightly,” stated Erick. “My heartache led me to start writing my own songs. Suddenly, the stars started to realign and I started to feel better.” He started back to doing open mic nights and even went back to school to get his masters in English so that he could teach.

One night while performing at one of those open mic nights, a promoter from Nashville was watching. He approached Baker after his set and asked him if he wanted to open for John Legend. “I was really surprised. At that time, which was around May of 2007, I had nothing recorded yet,” said Erick. “Suddenly, I went from playing for 15 people to an audience of 1500.”

The date was finally upon him and Erick performed a 45 minute set for the crowd. Now, Erick’s voice had developed from him performing in bars and trying to sing over talking people. This crowd was a bit different. “They sat there and listened intently to what I had to say,” said Erick. “They got it and at the end of my show, they gave me a huge ovation. At that precise moment, I thought to myself I can do this.” That was a night that changed Erick’s life forever.

In February of 2008, his EP It’s Getting Too Late to Say It’s Early was released. A release party was announced and Erick sold out the venue and turned people away. Three days later, he opened up for James Blunt. The crowd was blown away by his passionate and emotional lyrics and gave him a standing ovation. He also sold every copy of his EP that night.

Erick’s shows continued to draw big crowds. 2010 proved to be a busy year for Erick as he released his full length CD entitled Holding the Pieces in Place as well as a CD/DVD entitled Live at the Bijou Theatre. In the summer of 2010, he was asked to open one show for the legendary band Heart and he impressed the Wilson sisters so much that they asked him to finish out the tour with them. “That was really special for me. They allowed me to bring my family out on tour on their bus. That meant so much to me because my daughter Annabelle was just a baby and I don’t like being away from her or my wife,” said Erick.

Erick’s latest release is a DVD entitled Stay Awhile. It is a small, intimate acoustic performance in which he explains the meaningful stories behind his songs. “With this DVD, I wanted a visual aid to validate and clarify what I am doing and to help the audience get it. My live shows allow me to reach another emotional level of rawness and passion. Songwriting for me is different every time. Lyrics and melody are the key ingredients with minimalistic music,” says Erick. “The depth is in the lyrics themselves. What I write is influenced by my family. The birth of my daughter Annabelle has given me even more purpose and has fueled me. When I am up on stage, I am fighting and singing for my family.”

Erick’s live shows are what he lives for and he truly delivers in those shows. On stage: A man, standing alone, naked in front of a crowd of strangers with only an acoustic guitar by his side. This leaves him vulnerable and exposed for all to see and he loses himself in his performance. That blank canvas is suddenly a collage of feelings and emotions as raw as you have ever heard or felt. “People have told me that I need to pull back a little, that I allow people to see too much. I grew up in a small town in Tennessee and everyone knew each other by their first name. I am not a guarded person and I want to stay that way. I always want to be that guy. I don’t want to be a huge star that you always see on TMZ or in the Inquirer.”

One of the most beautiful and powerful songs that he has recorded is called “Plastic Flowers” and I asked him for some insight on that song. “When I was growing up, my parents owned their own flower business and I delivered flowers to cemeteries. After I married my wife, I started thinking about spending a lifetime with her and the thought of losing her scared me,” said Erick. “My parents have been married for 40 years and I don’t understand that kind of love yet, but I want to. So, I sat down to write a song, from a man’s perspective yet trying to keep it universal, about a guy who lost his wife. He takes her fresh cut flowers everyday and he knows his life is coming to an end. On that last day, he takes her plastic flowers because he knows they will always be there. I have to detach myself when I song it live or I will cry, it’s very overwhelming.”

So, what does the future hold for Erick Baker? “I want to get to the level that Tom Petty is at right now. To just go out there and be able to do whatever you want to do. He is so real and so true. If I can be at least a minor fraction of him, that would be great. I also want to be the best husband and dad that I can be. I want the man that my fans fall in love with to be the same man that my wife fell in love with also.” Erick also went in the studio this past January and recorded his new CD that he hopes to have out very soon.

My best friend and I were lucky enough to see Erick perform last summer with Heart. Neither of us had ever heard of him, but we were quickly captivated by this guy on stage with his acoustic guitar and a voice full of conviction. We waited in line to meet him and bought his latest CD. On the ride back that night, we listened to it and his words moved us to tears. That warm summer night captured one of those musical experiences that forever changed my life.

Erick Baker is a man who turned heartbreak into a pivotal life changing experience, in a positive way. He’s a man who sings from his heart and just lays it all on the line. The amount of passion and emotion in his lyrics and voice is almost beyond comprehension. His live performances truly do help to transcend his songs to another level. Erick Baker: a man whose gift of poetry to music will strike a chord in you like never before.

Thomas Dolby: Still Blinding Us With His Brillance

The man who “blinded you with science” is back on the music scene after a long absence. Thomas Dolby, who up and left the music biz back in the early ‘90s, is back with a brilliant, new EP entitled Oceanea. Be warned: those who may be expecting “Science Part 2” will be a bit disappointed. This new release shows Dolby in a more mature, serious state of music making.

The EP is a follow up to another EP released in 2010 called Amerikana. These are both precursors to his first full length studio album in almost twenty years entitled A Map of the Floating City which will be released later this year.

The budget priced three song EP opens with the title track ”Oceanea”, which is a smooth, soothing song ones journey of returning home. His words on this song are beautiful and poetic and a far cry from his electronic heydays. A nice added touch is the addition of the gentle vocals by Eddi Reader.

“Simone” is more of a jazzy little number complete with saxophone. This song also weaves a tale in its lyrics of a love gone bad, but one party not wanting to give up so easily. Closing out the EP is “To the Lifeboats” which references Caroline, a name familiar to all fans of The Golden Age of Wireless, Dolby’s first release way back in 1984. This song does have a little bit more of Dolby’s trademark synthesizer work.

I was very pleased with this EP and it was enough of a tease to make me even hungrier for the full length CD to come out later. Dolby’s songwriting weaves a tale of storytelling that has matured through the years. I found this to be refreshing compared to the humor that was evident in his early work. His work may be a bit more serious this time around, but Dolby will still “blind you” with his lyrical poetry.

The Braids Native Speaker Intrigues The Senses

One listen to the debut CD by the band Braids is just not going to do it. This is one of those kinds of CDs where it should have a sticker on the front requiring a “two listen minimum upon opening”. It is entitled Native Speaker and it is one of the most unique releases that I have heard in a long time.

Braids, who hail from Calgary, came together as four best friends in high school and began their musical collaboration shortly after. Their debut EP, Set Pieces, was released in 2008. This new release has only been out a short time, but it has garnered rave reviews from everyone including Rolling Stone, The New York Times and Spin.

How exactly can I describe what I heard in written form? The sound is both complex and simplistic at the same time. There is a great deal of experimentation and layering of sounds that is very refreshing. It is the ultimate “let the top down on a sunny day and drive with nowhere in mind” soundtrack.

Lead singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston has a style that is unique in today’s market, yet it has already started to draw comparisons to the Bjork from her early Sugarcubes days and Kate Bush. She has a sense of innocence to her styling, but when listening closely to her lyrics you can tell that those devil horns pop out every now and then.

The songs are somewhat “epic” in length given most standards that the industry is use to seeing. The average song length is six minutes long and none clock in under four minutes. “Glass Deers”, almost eight minutes in length, is a slow song that builds and builds with endless layers of synth arrangements. “Lemonade” is a more upbeat and somewhat catchy song that just keeps drawing you into it deeper and deeper. It’s almost like subliminal mind control to where you can’t turn it off. Wait; don’t let that scare any of you off.

I can see why this has caught the ears of an industry full of “flavors of the week” and all the rave reviews are warranted. Again, it is entitled “Native Speaker” by The Braids. It’s the band that many of you haven’t heard of before, but you soon will. They may be young, but what they bring to the table is wise and seasoned well beyond their years. Check them out before they blow up huge so that you can tell all your friends “I told you so”!

Monday, April 11, 2011

LIVAN's Post Punk Revival

I love when I run across new music that makes me take a step back and go “Whoa!” This was the case upon my first listen to the new CD by LIVAN. Greek born, UK musician LIVAN (pronounced Lie-van) is a throwback to the late eighties and early nineties punk movement. I felt transported back to a club in England during that era when I listened to this CD.

His new CD is entitled Off the Grid and for good reason. “I called the release Off the Grid because of the digital recording revolution, so many people are making records in their bedroom with ProTools. They lay everything on the ‘grid’, but it’s soulless. It fails to grab the onstage vibe of musical interaction that inherent in a live band,” explained LIVAN. The band took an old-school approach to recording this one and it does have that raw, real feel to it.

The opening cords of the leadoff track “Happy Returns” grabs your attention with its crunching guitars and nasty bassline. This just sets the tone for the rest of the CD in a big way. It’s very infectious and you can’t help but want to get up and jam. “King of the World” is along that same vein with its catchy riffs and chorus. LIVAN reminds me of an early David Bowie or Billy Idol when they were young and hungry. You can hear that attitude that they had in his voice. The CD is not all upbeat and dance worthy.

Tracks such as “Meet Me on the Other Side”, “No Man’s Land” and “Where I Bleed” show a different side of LIVAN. The music slows down and the lyrics turn a bit darker on these selections, thus showing us a more emotional side to this performer. There are many layers to LIVAN and one shouldn’t be so easily fooled by the upbeat selections. This is a person who has his own dark side that we are allowed to take momentary peeks into. His vocal styling, in my opinion, on these brooding songs was eerily similar to Peter Garrett of Midnight Oil.

This CD has barely seen the light of day since I received it because it has become one with my CD player. The songs are catchy and energetic, the vocals are unique, the lyrical content is worthy of interpretation and the musicianship is top notch. Are you in need a post-punk fix? Are you wanting to hear something to make you think? Are you just plain sick and tired of premanufactured, mindless music on the radio? Then check out LIVAN and see what the buzz is all about.