Volbeat Deserving Of “Next Big Thing” Status; Amaranthe Presents Unique Sound

One of the things I enjoy in my well-rounded life is some great music. There are things that I come across that I simply cannot stand (such as Taylor Swift’s caterwauling…seriously, can someone give the girl a gift certificate to buy a voice?), but when I come across something I find great, I like to tell people about it. As my general preference is for harder edged rock, it will often go in that direction (but not always…).

Of late, there are several bands that I am very high on. Previously I told you about Halestorm and, if you want to get on that train, they should have a new album out towards the end of the year (meanwhile, jump on their ReAniMate 3.0 covers album). Here’s two more that you should be considering: one is a major opener for one of the biggest tours of the summer and the other presenting a different sound, if you will, in the hard rock genre. As always, I don’t claim to be on the band first, but I do think they’ve got some legs to them for the future!

Volbeat

Volbeat is a band out of Denmark that has been a 16-year “overnight success.” Despite having great success in Europe with their mixture of rockabilly, hard rock, and punk – surprisingly, the band rarely embraces a hard-core metal or thrash sound – Volbeat was unable to penetrate the U. S. market to any great extent. That changed with their latest release, Seal the Deal and Let’s Boogie, which debuted in the Billboard Magazine‘s Top Five Albums the week of its release last year. As we speak, Volbeat is joined by Avenged Sevenfold (on some stops) as the warmup acts for the massive Metallica “WorldWired” tour that is hitting stadiums in the U. S. and worldwide.

That they all are considered hard rock acts (Metallica delves into thrash metal and A7X crushes their more metalcore sound) demonstrates the diversity of the hard rock arena. Volbeat, as stated before, aren’t your typical metalheads, incorporating sounds from across the spectrum into their particular brew. On earlier efforts, Volbeat’s sound was more inspired by country music such as Johnny Cash (their effort previous to this, Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies, had a theme to it that gave you impressions of a Clint Eastwood spaghetti Western). With Seal the Deal, however, Volbeat has a sound more reminiscent of The Offspring than anything else.

The first song on the album, “The Devil’s Bleeding Crown,” was a very strong effort that just didn’t seem to click with U. S. audiences when it was released as a single. It wasn’t until the eponymous title track was released that some success occurred for singer Michael Poulsen, guitarist Rob Caggiano and bassist Kaspar Boye Larsen. “Seal the Deal” was a powerful piece of music that rumbled from the speakers, with the guitars provided by Caggiano being particularly notable. Since then, hard rock radio has been all over “Black Rose,” which may outdo “Seal the Deal” in popularity.

Surprisingly, Volbeat can sound almost melodic with the music they create. Do not be fooled, however, they do have an edginess to their lyrics that can be surprising and, in some songs, imagery of Hell and the Devil are implied. There are tunes about darkness, redemption and “selling the soul” that some might not like. That would be their misfortune, because most of the songs have a finish where, if the protagonist doesn’t emerge on top, they are at least fighting towards the future.

Along with the songs mentioned above, there are a couple other efforts that are noteworthy on Seal the Deal and Let’s Boogie. “The Gates of Babylon” is a very good track from the album, but it is a cover song on the album that is even more surprising because of its quality. Taken from the Georgia Satellites (an 80s outfit that is highly underrated), “Battleship Chains” demonstrates that Volbeat takes their inspiration from a wide assortment of musical genres. The future is going to be fantastic for this band and, with the next couple of years, I can easily see them becoming a huge part of the music scene in the U. S.

Another great foreign act that has been chipping away at the walls in the U. S. (the metaphorical ones, not the ones some idiot wants to put up) is Sweden’s Amaranthe. Another one of those multi-year “overnight sensations,” the band actually started in 2008 and has been pretty much non-stop touring and recording since then. They had a bit of success in 2013 with the song “Drop Dead Cynical” from their Massive Addictive album, but they have found their stride with their latest release, Maximalism.

Pinning Amaranthe down to a “sound” is roughly like trying to give a cougar a bubble bath in a thimble. First off, the band encompasses some elements of EDM but loves to roll out a metal guitar assault to go over the hypnotic background. They can sometimes veer into the realm of “pop” music, which may offend some of those who are more hardcore, but they always seem to be able to bring it back to a more “hard rock” sound when necessary. That may be because of the triumvirate of vocalists that Amaranthe employs.

Amaranthe

That’s right…three vocalists. First there is Elize Ryd, who gives an ethereal quality to some songs when she’s not rocking out with an unbelievable voice. Ryd gives credibility to the Amaranthe sound whether they are in their more experimental modes or they are driving the guitars down your throat. A nice meshing with Ryd WAS Joacim “Jake E.” Lundberg, who had a voice that harmonized nicely with Ryd as they performed the “clean” vocals (Lundberg, after the release of Maximalism, left the band and was replaced by Nils Molin).

There’s a reason I say “clean” vocals. The third vocal effort on the album is Henrik Englund, who provides the “death growl (a guttural vocal styling where it sounds like the beasts from Hell are emerging from your speakers)” or the “unclean” vocals on the record. While it may sound like it is a complete mess, Amaranthe has been able to put together songs that perfectly accentuate the stylings of each of their singers and, likewise, the other members of the band (Olof Morck on guitars and keyboards, Johan Andreassen on bass and Morten Lowe on drums).

Of particular excellence is “Boomerang,” an effort that would have been perfect on pop radio had it not been for the crushing guitars and Englund’s growling of his lyrics. A song about how someone tries to put another person down – but the person keeps coming back “like a boomerang” – it is an outstanding tune that epitomizes Amaranthe very well. Two other songs, “That Song” and “21” are also excellent, but most surprising is a ballad that demonstrates the abilities of the band quite well.

Supersonic” is a tune that Englund takes a break from and let’s Ryd and Lundberg exercise their vocal abilities on. Yes, it is a ballad – and everyone usually HATES a metal ballad – but it works for Amaranthe because of the dual vocals (not a duet – each vocalist has a lyrical segment written for them). Using some orchestral instrumentation along with the band’s musicians, it may give some a comparison to Amy Lee and Evanescence, but “Supersonic” soars in its own right and serves as an excellent “palate cleanser” for an outstanding record.

You may not have heard of them yet, but they’ve got the potential – especially with Ryd’s photogenic qualities and the power of the band – to be a breakout act, possibly even on the pop charts (bands always appreciate crossover success, not to mention their record companies). They’ll have to get control of some of their personnel issues – not only from Lundberg’s departure last year, but Englund replaced original “unclean” vocalist Andreas Solveström in 2013 – to fully realize their potential, but if they can record more albums like Maximalism, it will push Amaranthe into the stratosphere of the hard rock/metal world.

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So There’s No Good Music Anymore? You’re Not Looking Hard Enough

I’ve heard the argument since I worked in the radio business (a career that spanned three decades and various formats, I have to add). In discussion with fans of particular genres of music – whether it was rock, country, metal, etc. – the refrain was often “They don’t make music like they used to.” I often thought about that statement and came up with some reasons why people make that statement and/or believe what they’re saying.

For many, there is no better era for music than when they grew up. For Baby Boomers, the 1960s and its wide variety of genres (seriously, on the radio back then you could hear almost ANYTHING and often on one station) and the 1970s is what they look at as the epitome of the history of music. For Generation X (born in the early 1960s), the sounds from the 1980s and some of the 1990s is what captures their ears. For the Millennials, the late 90s/early Aughts is where music was cooking. What Generation Z – those that are currently in grade school – will be listening to is a huge guess. And if you want to reach back further than 50-60 years ago, there are those that consider the “Big Band” Era the shit and so on.

Failing that, people will often look towards their wild and crazy “single years” as THE time when music was great. Whether you were dancing in a disco, moshing in the pit or line dancing at a honkytonk, people will often equate music with when they were having their most enjoyable times. Ask any person and they will probably be able to put a soundtrack together that would tell the story of their lives better than any book or documentary could ever hope to achieve and a predominance of the music is probably from their young adult days.

Finally, there IS some credence that has to be given that music isn’t as good anymore, but it is more about the talent of the performers rather than what music they are presenting. For some of the greatest music in the history of mankind, one person sat down and put together EVERYTHING. They served as the writer, producer, performer and, if you really want to go back in time, seller of the music (you think Beethoven did his music for free?). Nowadays, the list of co-writers on a song can be as many as 10 different people and producers can reach nearly the same number. Then there’s the fact that performers don’t exactly “perform” live anymore…

BeethovenvsBieber

With this said, there’s plenty of music that is out there nowadays, people just aren’t looking hard enough for such gems. Normally people will not pay as much attention to music as they get older because the “acts of life” (working, taking care of the bills, children, etc.) become more significant rather than the “frivolity” of listening to music. Unless you actually are working in the music business, then it becomes more background noise than something that you actually are tremendously invested…but that can change.

I personally try to keep up on the new music out there and, as I’ve previously stated, there’s some good stuff out in the stores and on the airwaves (or the internet). I’ve spoken plenty of times about how good Florence + The Machine are and Bruno Mars is an outstanding performer, one that I’d definitely pay to see. If you don’t think there’s any good music out there, here’s some choices that run the gamut from pleasant and quiet to hard, heavy and raucous that you’re missing.

Halestorm

Halestorm

There’s just something about a loud, thundering guitar and crushing bass notes that gets the blood pumping. I’ve personally always enjoyed hard rock/heavy metal (what some people consider “metal” is far from it, to be honest) and still do to this day. Halestorm, led by Lzzy Hale, is a band that you’re missing on big time if you haven’t checked them out.

Hale seems to firmly embrace the “rock and roll attitude,” but she’s also got the vocal and musical chops to stand on her own in front of the band. “I Like It Heavy” simply comes out and slugs you in the mouth, catching your attention from the start. At the very end, Hale’s almost church-choir sounding coda (of the studio version of the song) simply surprises you with its impact. Finally, anyone that can cover Pat Benatar’s “Hell is for Children” and pretty much equal Benatar’s voice is worth the price of admission.

(And, for a bonus, here’s Lzzy Hale wiping the stage with Eric Church at the CMT Music Awards.)

Leah Flanagan

LeahFlanagan

Flanagan is an Australian artist that received a great deal of support (re:  playing her music) on SiriusXM Radio Margaritaville (quite honestly, SiriusXM is a great spot to find new music that isn’t getting played on terrestrial radio) for her album Nirvana Nights and the tune “September Song.” Flanagan’s music is quite an eclectic mix of genres, all pulled together by her voice and lyrics. To my knowledge, she’s never has toured in the United States, a pity to be honest; she would bring a different style to the U. S. music scene.

Kacey Musgraves

KaseyMusgraves

She may not be an artist that is hidden from the world, but Musgraves is one of the best country artists – hell, let’s go for it, overall artists – out there today (and that comes from someone who isn’t necessarily a country fan). A two-time Grammy winner, it just seems that nobody wants to give Musgraves the proper attention that someone of her talent deserves. Her album Same Trailer Different Park ran the gamut of musical stylings (my personal favorite, “Blowin’ Smoke,” had a definitive blues styling to it), which might keep her from being pigeonholed into the country genre.

Beyond that, Musgraves isn’t afraid to touch some sensitive issues with her music, something that country music isn’t known for. Questioning religion, acceptance and tolerance of gays and lesbians and drug usage are all subjects she’s touched on, rare in today’s music industry that prefers its artists to be sanitized (like the waste of space known as Taylor Swift) so little Suzie doesn’t get any wild ideas.

Blackberry Smoke

BlackberrySmoke

If you prefer your rock n’ roll with a bit of a Southern flair, then this is the band for you. They do harken back to those 70s powerhouses like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet and Blackfoot and they will get you tapping your foot. My personal favorite is the song, “Leave a Scar,” but also noteworthy are “Wish in One Hand” and “Six Ways to Sunday.”

Trombone Shorty

TromboneShorty

For those of you who like your music instrumental, Trombone Shorty is someone to check out. From the melting pot that is New Orleans, Trombone Shorty combines musical styles like a delicious gumbo and the only thing that might stop your listening pleasure is getting too full of the funkiness. His biggest commercial success to this mark in his career is the song “Hurricane Season,” but there is plenty of other work that make him worth a listen. Like Musgraves, he’s young – only 30 (Musgraves is 27) – so we should be hearing from him for some time.

Rodrigo y Gabriela

RodrigoyGabriela

Acoustic guitar never sounded as good as when this Mexican duo pick them up. While Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero did stay pretty close to their Mexican roots with their breakthrough hit “The Soundmaker,” they will stretch out and incorporate other musical styles into their music. Of late, they have also been expanding to a full band outside of just their own guitars, so the future could be bright for this duo.

Gary Clark, Jr.

GaryClarkJr

Finally, if you have the desire to hear someone simply shred a guitar, Austin, TX’s Gary Clark, Jr., is the man. Long a mainstay of one of the most competitive music scenes in the world (Austin is PACKED with people that are or could easily have been the best in their respective fields of music), Clark broke through with his album Blak and Blu and the song “Ain’t Messin’ ‘Round” that demonstrated the screaming power and skill of his guitar work. He also is an accomplished blues player, as recognized by his Grammy win in 2014 for Best Traditional R&B Performance.

Will these performers be recognized 25 years from now? Will they be forever ensconced in the hallowed halls of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland? Hell, nobody knows and that’s part of the fun. It is a thrill to simply enjoy the music and the ride and see where it takes us. So the next time you think that there’s “no good music” anymore, either take a listen to these artists or get out there and look for some on your own…the journey is definitely worth it!

Why Do Women Put Up with Us?

I’ve thought about it before but, over the past couple of weeks, I’ve really begun to wonder in depth how the female part of the species homo sapiens puts up with the male gender. Let’s get beyond the usual stuff – leaving the toilet seat up, “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” generalities – and get down to the brass tacks. In a couple of instances of late from the news, things would be much different if there was a female mind in charge.

ErinAndrews

Earlier this week, Fox Sports sportscaster Erin Andrews was awarded by a Tennessee jury $55 million in damages stemming from a 2008 incident with a “fan.” In that situation, the pervert reversed the peephole in Andrews’ hotel room door in Nashville, TN, and videotaped (with his cellphone) Andrews in the nude as she prepared for her broadcasting duties with her then employer ESPN. The only way the videos were ever found out about was because the asshole decided to try to sell them to TMZ, that great bastion of journalism.

Of course the perv was found and convicted, spending 27 months in jail (far too short if you ask me), but the damage was done. Andrews spent a great deal of time and money in trying to remove them from the internet – something that is virtually impossible – and eventually filed a civil lawsuit against the criminal and the hotel for their negligence (it was alleged that the hotel gave the man extensive information as to Andrews’ whereabouts in the hotel, even putting him in a nearby room to hers). After two weeks of testimony – which included a tearful Andrews recounting, over two days of testimony, how the situation still affects her today in taunts when she is on college campuses and one of the executives of the hotel actually WATCHING THE VIDEO DURING A DINNER MEETING during the trial (for which the executive vehemently apologized – afterwards) – Andrews was awarded $55 million, although she’ll probably never see a nickel of the money (and it probably wasn’t about that, at least for Andrews).

Kesha

While there is a bit of “good” (hey, there’s still a nude video of Andrews out there if you really want to find it) news in that case, another case that has come up isn’t as pleasant. The pop star Kesha’s battle against record producer Dr. Luke was resolved (temporarily) of late, with the courts barring Kesha from doing any recording without it coming from work between her and the producer, whom she claims signed her to a contract at an extremely young age under the influence of drugs. Kesha has also alleged that Dr. Luke raped her and, throughout their working relationship, continually berated her verbally, emotionally and continued the sexual abuse.

The music industry has divided itself along the natural lines, the industry bigwigs on the side of Luke and the performers on the side of Kesha. Taylor Swift (whom I normally wouldn’t give the time of day) stepped up with $250,000 to help support Kesha during a “trying time,” and other artists such as multi-Grammy Award winner Adele, Demi Lovato, Snoop Dogg, Kelly Clarkson (who stated her former management “blackmailed” her into working with Luke) and actor Mariska Hargitay (Law & Order:  SVU), herself a longtime anti-rape and domestic violence advocate, have voiced support. Lady Gaga has firmly announced her support, recounting her story of her early days in the recording industry and how she, like Kesha, was attacked by a male who was supposed to be helping her career rather than relieving one of his “tensions.”

LadyGagaKesha

These are but two of the more visible cases of where men continue to subject women to degrading situations. I am positive that it happens literally millions of times per day across the United States and around the world, whether it is something as seemingly innocent as a “darlin’” when a subordinate performs a task to literally and physically raping a woman while they work with or for a male superior. It shouldn’t happen and it has to be asked why women allow it to continue?

There are, for lack of a better term, the “fantasies” of women taking over in culture and changing it through the utilization of their own powers. There is a classic Greek play called Lysistrata by the Greek playwright Aristophanes in which women, upset with the ongoing fighting in the Peloponnesian War, withhold carnal pleasures from their husbands until the fighting is stopped. It is arguable, however, that the Church put a quick kibosh on that and, over the next 2000-3000 years, women went into the shadows.

IcelandWomenStrike1975

In 1975, however, women finally took a stand, at least in one nation. In Iceland, women went on strike – that’s right, every woman, whether a traffic cop, housewife, bank clerk or mother – walking off their jobs and out of their homes. The resulting 25,000-plus women (astonishing considering the island nation’s population was only about 200,000 at that time) shut down the country and were able to win concessions from the government. The next year, equal pay laws were passed in Iceland and, in 1980, Vigdis Finnbogadottir was the world’s first elected female president and won reelection in 1988.

Here in the United States, women either do not understand the power they wield or do not want to “rock the boat” on the situation. If the female of our species were to achieve something along the lines of what the Icelandic women did, the impact on the United States – not only economically but politically, culturally and socially – would be seismic.

Instead of only a handful of women being in elected seats of power in Washington, D. C., it is extremely possible that MORE women would be elected to those positions, maybe even a majority of the positions. Businesses would be led by strong, smart ladies who would be led by doing the right thing rather than JUST what the bottom line says. And perhaps we would show more consideration for our fellow persons, as it really does seem that the males of this species don’t really give a fuck beyond their own skin casing as to what others do.

But is it impossible for U. S. women to pull off what the Icelandic ladies did? U. S. women are a diverse lot – more so than the homogenous nation of Iceland – and perhaps they would have the same troubles that men have in this country of deciding a course of action. I would have hope, though, that they would have a better nature than the male gender does and would be able to work through situations rather than compare dick sizes.

WonderWomanHome

Trust me, I’m not advocating for a Diana Prince/Wonder Woman-like home of Themicyra here. We all have to work together on this traveling roadshow called Planet Earth. But a little more equality between the two genders – achieved through a Ladies’ Strike – would be able to bring us a bit closer to refining the country into the best version it can be – and isn’t that what we’re looking for the United States to be?

So here’s my challenge…Ladies! Time to stop what you’re doing! Moms, put the kids down! Make Dad take care of them for a day. Teachers, cops, mayors, professors, physicians, psychiatrists, astronomers to zoologists…plan one day for the “U. S. Women’s March and Strike,” bring the country to a standstill, march on your state’s capitals and bring about the change that is necessary for the country. Women have and have always had the power…it is time that power is demonstrated, much like your sisters did in Iceland more than 40 years ago. It’s time for women to truly step to the fore!

2016 Grammys: Who Will Win? Who Should Win?

Grammys

By now, most of you might have learned something about my background. If not, for 20-odd years of my life I worked in the radio industry as a music director and DJ. I worked in pretty much every format that you could imagine and reached what was, at that time, one of the Top 75 markets in the United States in North Carolina, a pretty nice achievement. I was also reaching that age that, if you weren’t working as the program director, in other areas of station management or on the morning or afternoon drive teams, you weren’t going to be sticking around the industry for much longer. Thus came one day when I woke up and decided to move on rather than have the door hit me in the ass somewhere down the road.

The love affair that I’ve had with the Grammys dates back prior to my days in radio, back to my love for music overall (something else that I’ve written about here) in my youth. As I grew up, the artists that I saw on television or heard on the radio became the things that I looked for in the record stores and tried to learn about through other media. In doing this, I also learned to find out about new music and artists and try to figure out what would be the “next big thing” in music. When it became a career in radio, that love of music made it seem more fun than actually having a job could ever be.

Time has gone on and, even though I don’t have a radio job that requires that I know every intimate detail about an artist as I used to have to know, I still love the music industry. I’d go back on the radio – even satellite radio (a gig on Radio Margaritaville or some of the other channels on SiriusXM Radio would be nirvana) – in a heartbeat if someone offered me a gig. Thus, when Grammys Weekend rolls around, you know where I will be come Monday evening and the awards show.

The artists that are nominated this year aren’t necessarily my favorites – and one, Taylor Swift, I would rather listen to two cats fighting in a box made of chalkboards and filled with aluminum foil than listen to – but even now I am still knowledgeable about their work. Therefore, I’ve scanned the Crystal Ball to see who will win the Grammys for the biggest prizes of the night and I will also offer up who I believe should have won the Grammy. To be honest, sometimes the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) is completely off base, either going too artistic or not really honoring the best work from the year…more often, it’s not honoring the best work of the year!

Lamar

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

Sound & Color, Alabama Shakes
To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar
1989, Taylor Swift
Traveller, Chris Stapleton
Beauty Behind the Madness, The Weeknd

Who Should Win:  While I am partial to Alabama Shakes and Brittany Howard’s bluesy guitar and howling-wolf vocals, Lamar would be the best artistic choice out of this mix. Lamar’s album dominated the R&B charts for the year and “Alright” was an excellent tune. I could also go for Stapleton or The Weeknd…anyone but who will probably get it.

Who Will Win:  Swift was basically shut out of the Grammys last year as “Shake it Off” won her exactly ZERO awards. The problem here is that Alabama Shakes and Singleton are basically going to cut up one side of the vote – the “rocker” vote – and Lamar and The Weeknd are going to divvy up the R&B side of the equation. That leaves the lane wide open for Swift to slip through the cracks (and she can do that easy – I’ve seen more curves on a 2X4) and steal this award. It would also shut up her fan base that says the Grammys don’t “respect” her as an artist (there’s a reason for that…Swift ISN’T one!).

RECORD OF THE YEAR

“Really Love,” D’Angelo and the Vanguard
“Uptown Funk!” Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars
“Thinking Out Loud,” Ed Sheeran
“Blank Space,” Taylor Swift
“Can’t Feel My Face,” The Weeknd

Who Should Win:  I said it when it came out that “Uptown Funk!” was one of the catchiest pieces of music that I’ve ever heard; for the Grammy voters not to recognize Ronson and Mars for their work here would be unforgiveable.

Who Will Win:  I think the Grammy voters will agree with me here. The only problem is that the song may have been too far back in memory for some to recall how good it was. I could see The Weeknd possibly taking this or, in a real surprise, Sheeran for his ballad (the Grammy voters do like themselves a ballad to vote for).

SONG OF THE YEAR

“See You Again,” Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth
“Alright,” Kendrick Lamar
“Girl Crush,” Little Big Town
“Blank Space,” Taylor Swift
“Thinking Out Loud,” Ed Sheeran

Who Should Win:  The song that got me this year was the Khalifa/Puth duet from the movie Furious 7. The song’s usage, coupled with the death of actor Paul Walker, made it a tremendously poignant song and one that had an impact on many people. It was such a heart-wrencher that, during the People’s Choice Awards, actor Vin Diesel broke into song – and tears – singing this song to honor Walker as he accepted the award for Best Film.

Who Will Win:  If he is overlooked on the Album of the Year race, this is where Grammy voters will try to make it up to Lamar. It is also possible that this could be said to Sheeran, too, should he not win Record of the Year.

BEST NEW ARTIST

Courtney Barnett
James Bay
Sam Hunt
Tori Kelly
Meghan Trainor

Who Should Win:  Tori Kelly has perhaps the richest voice that I’ve heard in quite some time. She’s probably going to be the artist that has the best career out of this bunch, but that doesn’t mean anything right now. This is a category that once honored A Taste of Honey over Elvis Costello and The Cars, remember that.

Who Will Win:  It’s Trainor’s award to lose. She’s by far had the most commercial success with “All About That Bass” and her debut album and she does bring that “doo wop meets hip hop” sound that Grammy voters think is so unique (sorry, my sarcasm monster escaped). There’s sometimes you shouldn’t combine musical genres and this is one of them.

BEST POP VOCAL ALBUM

Piece by Piece, Kelly Clarkson
How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, Florence + The Machine
Uptown Special, Mark Ronson
1989, Taylor Swift
Before This World, James Taylor

Who Should Win:  Readers will know that I have a tremendous admiration for Florence +The Machine and they should win this award hands down. How Big…, from start to finish, was the most complete work that the band has ever done and should be recognized (also wonder why it isn’t nominated in the Alternative category, but I digress). I’ve also enjoyed Clarkson for years, but this last album wasn’t her best work.

Who Will Win: Once again, if Swift doesn’t get any of the “big” awards, this would fall to her as a consolation prize. I could also see the Grammy voters pulling a fast one here, though.

James Taylor getting nominated in this category would be prime for one of those idiotic moments in Grammy history when someone is honored WAY past their prime (don’t get me wrong, this isn’t to say Taylor’s latest album isn’t any good, it just isn’t his best work) for their career. Other examples of this would be Steely Dan’s 2001 Grammy win for Album of the Year for Two Against One (over more deserving subjects as Eminem, Paul Simon, Radiohead and Beck) and the inaugural Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental Grammy in 1989, which went to Jethro Tull over Metallica (still one of the greatest tragedies in Grammy voting).

BEST ROCK ALBUM

Chaos and the Calm, James Bay
Kintsugi, Death Cab for Cutie
Mister Asylum, Highly Suspect
Drones, Muse
.5:  The Gray Chapter, Slipknot

Who Should Win:  One of the breakout bands of 2016, Highly Suspect should be the ones who walk on the stage on Monday night to pick up this award. Other than Best New Artist, however, Grammy voters are wont to giving out accolades to newcomers (unless said newcomer just blows everyone out of the water); they are more apt to vote for those that have paid their dues in the business. Hence…

Who Will Win:  This is an easy one for Muse to take home. Although Drones is quite a distance from their best work (I’ve always been partial to The Resistance myself), Muse has put the required time in and it is their time to be rewarded. With only one Grammy win, Slipknot (2006 for Best Metal Performance for “Before I Forget”) might also be in the mix.

BEST ALTERNATIVE MUSIC ALBUM

Sound & Color, Alabama Shakes
Vulnicura, Bjork
The Waterfall, My Morning Jacket
Currents, Tame Impala
Star Wars, Wilco

Who Should Win:  I have to admit, I haven’t given this band much of a listen, but many in the industry say that Tame Impala is one of the big up and comers in the Alternative scene. Perhaps when I see them come up on Sirius XM I’ll give them a stronger listen because, at this point, they really have failed to grasp my attention – but, then again, I might not be the audience that they are targeting!

Who Will Win:  Once again, we come back to one of those “if you don’t…/then you will…” situations. If Alabama Shakes doesn’t garner Album of the Year, this is going to be their consolation prize.

KaseyMusgraves

BEST COUNTRY ALBUM

Montevallo, Sam Hunt
Pain Killer, Little Big Town
The Blade, Ashley Monroe
Pageant Material, Kacey Musgraves
Traveller, Chris Stapleton

Who Should Win:  In her sophomore effort, Musgraves has shown she is going to be a force to be reckoned with on the country music scene (and one of the few country artists that I like). She could have stuck close to what won her the Best Country Album Grammy in 2013 (for Same Trailer Different Park) but Musgraves instead chose to challenge herself by moving in a more artistic direction both lyrically and musically. In a genre that likes its artists to stay in their lanes, Musgraves is pretty refreshing.

Who Will Win:  Unfortunately for Musgraves, Stapleton is kind of unseating her in the “individuality” streak. A longtime bluegrass and country musician and writer who backed up such diverse artists as Adele and Brad Paisley and written songs with Peter Frampton, Sheryl Crow and Vince Gill, Stapleton finally decided to step out from the shadows and show himself. The resulting effort was Traveller which, if it doesn’t garner any big awards, should see the country side of the aisle recognize his efforts at the minimum.

ChrisStapleton

So what do you see as the big awards for the Grammys come Monday night? Or will you even be watching? Who knows, we may see Lady Gaga, during her tribute to late, legendary David Bowie, actually come out dressed as the Thin White Duke himself!

It’s Time for the VMAs, But Who Really Cares?

On Sunday evening, something that used to be a “calendar” event in the music industry will take to the Microsoft Theater (formerly the Nokia Theater) stage in Los Angeles, CA. For the 32nd consecutive year, the MTV Video Music Awards will take place, honoring the best video work in the recording industry and the performers who have given us their best (?). In reality, however, the MTV “VMAs” and their “Moonman” award have become a gauche award because nobody really cares about them anymore.

When MTV hit the airwaves in 1981 (in fact, on August 1 the station celebrated its 34th anniversary), it was a brazen broadside against the staid, stoic music industry and the radio industry and stations that would “make or break” careers in a heartbeat. The first video aired on MTV, The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star,” seemed like a four-minute manifesto of what was the intent of the new channel. Record companies and their artists for years had put together promotional videos that, for the most part, were only seen by a handful of people at the record companies and in the radio industry. When MTV came along, that suddenly changed.

Bringing together these hundreds of videos (literally…pretty much anything on MTV in the early days was seen quite often due to the lack of material), MTV slowly built an audience and, at the same time, became the place where new artists made their breakthroughs. Such artists as Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Men at Work, Bow Wow Wow, Duran Duran and the Human League were getting their attention not through traditional radio play but from the constant airing of their music videos on MTV. The biggest move by MTV in its early years may have been the exposure it gave to black artists. Eddy Grant, Musical Youth and a young man embarking on a solo career by the name of Michael Jackson (among others) benefitted greatly from the exposure that MTV provided.

It also had a way of destroying careers. The 1981 Grammy Awards were dominated by a Texas newcomer named Christopher Cross, who earned the top four awards (Record of the Year for his eponymous LP, Album of the Year, Song of the Year for “Sailing” and Best New Artist) and seemed poised for a long career in the music industry. Due to his pedestrian features and roly-poly physique, however, Cross wasn’t the typical “MTV artist” and he quickly disappeared from the scene following his sweep.

A couple of years into their existence, however, the honchos at MTV were faced with with the dilemma of continuing to grow the channel and coming up blank. In 1984, the powers that be at MTV came up with what they thought would be the cure (no, not the band). Producing their first ever MTV Video Music Awards, the channel looked to give the same gravitas to music videos that the Grammys bestow on music or the Oscars give to cinema. Over the years, the show has provided MTV with some of its most outlandish moments while also being its most watched event.

Who doesn’t remember Madonna’s rendition of “Like a Virgin” at the very first VMAs? Or Madonna’s girl-girl smooch with the randy Britney Spears in 2003? How about Kanye West barging in on Taylor Swift’s “Moonman” acceptance speech in 2009 (one of the few times I actually felt sorry for Swift)? The clothes, the music and sometimes even the videos made the MTV Video Music Awards a spectacle for the youth of the era. Over the past few years, though, the futility of the VMAs has been mentioned and whether it is the iconic “happening” that it was in its earlier incarnation.

Part of the reason for that is in the maturation of MTV itself. About 15 years ago, MTV decided that it wanted to be more of a lifestyle channel for the young and hip rather than concentrate on music alone. To achieve this goal, MTV began to put on its airwaves things that weren’t the “traditional” fare for the channel. A host of reality and game shows were the start, followed by fashion and “home” shows (anyone remember “Cribs”?).

The reality trend that took over in the 21st century allowed MTV to pretty much switch over to just the reality shows, including the vapid Jersey Shore and other scripted programming (none worth mentioning). Lost in the mix? Music videos, the thing that borne the channel (part of that was in the fact that the record companies, looking to tap another potential revenue stream, wanted to start charging MTV for showing the previously “promotional” videos). Hence, here you have a channel which was formerly the “groundbreaking” arena for exposing new artists through their music videos – in fact, naming their station AFTER MUSIC TELEVISION – not even showing them anymore.

Videos themselves also seem to have disappeared for the most part. Back in 1982, Duran Duran released Rio, their second album. Using the new MTV format, the group was sent by their record company, EMI, to Sri Lanka and Antigua to film an unheard of 11 videos for the record. Those videos not only served to be a major part of the programming for MTV in its early years, it also established Duran Duran as megastars in the music industry and provided the group with a career that still exists today.

Today, videos are seldom done and, if they are, it isn’t for promotional purposes. More often than not, they are done by popular artists that have no need to garner additional airplay for their efforts (think of why Swift, who has somehow crafted a career in music, continues to put out videos that no one has ever seen) or as a “vanity project.” There isn’t a purpose anymore for the music video because there isn’t an outlet for it to air on (sorry, YouTube doesn’t count).

Which brings us back to this year’s VMAs. Of the nominees that are on the list, I’ve seen exactly two of the videos – Mark Ronson’s collaboration with Bruno Mars on “Uptown Funk” (outstanding song, great video and it probably won’t win shit on Sunday) and Florence and the Machine’s “Ship to Wreck” (a band I can’t get enough of that also won’t sniff a “Moonman”). The rest could be cartoons for all I know because there isn’t an outlet to show them anymore. The untalented Swift is nominated for nine awards while Ed Sheeran has six, with a smattering between Nicki Minaj, Kendrick Lamar and Beyonce and the “Video Vanguard Award” (think Lifetime Achievement Award) being handed to West.  Without an outlet, however, why hand out awards for something that will basically become a popularity contest?

Imagine, if you will, Hollywood continuing to crank out movies and television shows but every theater on Earth not showing them and no television networks to put the shows on? (This one could become reality with the advent of Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and Hulu starting to film their own projects.) Would there still be a slew of awards shows for basically something that doesn’t exist anymore?

As a former DJ and music aficionado, I used to sit with bated breath each year for the VMAs (and the Grammys, for that matter), not only to know who won what but for the outstanding musical performances that it brought to its stage (never enough rock, always too much pop). Nowadays the videos are all things that I haven’t seen and the “musicians” (and that term is a stretch in many cases) and their music are so over-produced they cannot perform their music live. Thus, you have to wonder if anyone even cares about the MTV VMAs anymore.

Sure, there will be some prepubescent teenagers who will watch as Miley Cyrus, this year’s host, tries to show how “adult” she is through some pseudo-sexual act she’ll perform onstage; Swift will still constantly look like a deer in headlights as she facetiously mouths “Me? Me?” after winning her umpteenth award and there will probably be some spat – usually between warring rap parties – that blows up backstage into a story. It’s time for MTV’s Video Music Awards for 2015, but does anybody really care anymore?

Mr. Robot a Unique Trip; Florence and the Machine’s Latest Rocks

The most fun thing about entertainment – be it movies, television, music, books, video games or whatever – is that individual tastes are accentuated. Because of this enhancement, there is virtually anything out there that people can digest and, perhaps, things that particular people avoid like the plague. Two things recently have raised my metaphorical radar in that they are excellently done and intriguing, at least to me.

Lately, television has been a bit of a wasteland for me. The last show that I REALLY got into was Leverage (as you already know) and it has been a trial to find something else to garner my attention. There’s only so many athletic events, historical shows (think Henry Rollins’ 10 Things You Don’t Know About…) and movies (VERY few) that you can watch before you would like to see something weekly that you feel invested in. On my DVR right now is the USA Network’s Dig (just waiting until the right moment – as in the announcement of a second season – to burn those off), but it will have to wait until the conclusion of USA’s Mr. Robot.

Mr. Robot is the story of a computer security drone named Elliot who shuffles through his humdrum life by day working for an omnipotent company called E Corporation (or “Evil Corp” to Elliot and his fellow employees – on a side note, the logo for Evil Corp is quite reminiscent of the Enron logo) and, by night, becomes a hacker vigilante who tries to right the wrongs in society. In the very first episode, Elliot finds out a local restauranteur is a pedophile and, rather than bribing the man with the information for a financial profit, turns him into the authorities.

It’s not enough for Elliot, however. He has a massive addiction to morphine, grinding up pills to snort them directly into his system, and counters it by taking anti-addiction medication to maintain a sense of stability. Elliot also is extremely antisocial, even around his childhood friend (and maybe a feeling of more from him) Angela, a manager at the security company that both work for.

Through their company’s work in providing computer security for Evil Corp, Angela and Elliot detect a hack during a DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack that requires Elliot to fly with the head of the company to access Evil Corp’s massive computer database and eradicate a file before said attack ravages the Evil Corp systems. Elliot finds the particular bug file and, strangely, the file is directly addressed to whomever finds it. The file requests Elliot to leave it in the system, which Elliot does (with a few changes that put him in control of said file) and, from there, Elliot is off on a ride that he (and the audience) have no control over.

Elliot learns that the hack came from a group called “fsociety” (a clean version of “Fuck Society”) and its leader, a mysterious and legendary hacker by the name of Mr. Robot. Mr. Robot has a vision of leveling the playing field for all of mankind against the corporations and governments that “shackle” them through eradicating all records of debt that people have accumulated in their lives. Elliot, by the end of the first program, isn’t sure which side he wants to be playing for.

Not to give away too much about the program (it is currently up to its seventh week on the USA Network), but it is as trippy as it is intriguing. Add in a Chinese hacker team known as the “Dark Army,” a Russian couple, with the husband being a high-ranking member of Evil Corp (and both with some sinister plot as well as slightly twisted minds) and a member of “the 1% of the 1%,” as Elliot learns, gangbanging drug dealers (remember, Elliot’s an addict) and various other twists and you might find your head spinning.

Part of the reason I like the program is those twists that you don’t see coming. It has a darkness to it that is realistic and, along with that point, the characters speak as a normal person would (you’re going to hear “shit,” “dickhead,” and other assorted vulgarities, including bleeps for where “fuck” has been uttered). But it is done naturally and in the flow of show so, to me at least, it is unnoticeable. There are some plot holes and reality checks during the proceedings, but the science behind the hacking and how complex computer and internet are – or how lacking they may be – is solid.

They couldn’t have cast anyone better than Rami Malek to play Elliot. He delivers on the character with some excellent acting in the role and his appearance – some of it HAS to be his own – give you the impression of someone who is dealing with an opiate addiction. I also really enjoy Christian Slater as Mr. Robot; he is able to play psychotic, caring, nurturing, demanding and rebellious, sometimes all within the same scene.

If you’ve got On Demand with your cable system, you might want to catch up with Mr. Robot as it is well worth the time spent (the first six episodes should be there). Once you’ve caught up, Mr. Robot airs on the USA Network on Wednesdays at 10PM Eastern Time.

On the musical front, I often despair. 2015 has been dominated by the post-teenage Disney chicks such as Ariana Grande, Demi Lovato and others that I just can’t get into fully. I can enjoy Jason Derulo and Bruno Mars, but other male vocalists just don’t capture my attention.  Nicki Minaj and Iggy Azalea aren’t exactly my taste and don’t even get me started on Taylor Swift. Never has someone done so much with so little talent, except maybe for a Kardashian. And she’s supposed to be what many consider a “fashion plate”; in my eyes, the clothes looked better on the hangar than on Swift (I’ve seen 2×4’s with more curves).

As such, I normally go to alternative music, although my penchants favor the hard rock/metal scene (and most of that, honestly, even bores me nowadays). Recently Florence Welch and her band, Florence and the Machine, released their third album called How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. Many of you might not have heard of the band since their debut back in 2009, when the song “Dog Days Are Over” was a big hit on radio. But Florence and her gang aren’t easy to put into one of the nice little cubbyholes that music likes to use, hence the band’s difficulties over the past six years.

Their debut album Lungs was a treasure trove of different musical stylings that demonstrated the power of Florence and the Machine’s music and, in particular, Welch’s voice. Along with “Dog Days Are Over,” the song “Kiss with a Fist” and “Hurricane Drunk” were the outstanding tracks that showed the promise of the band. They were rewarded with being nominated in 2011 for Best New Artist at the Grammys, an award that went to Esperanza Spaulding (who?) over the group, the rapper Drake, the folk band Mumford and Sons and even Justin Bieber.

The follow-up to Lungs, 2011’s Ceremonials, was an even bigger hit for Florence and the Machine, allowing for the group to really take their time before stepping into the studios for their next effort (that and the closure of their record company, Universal Republic Records, helped to give that time). Going back to the studio last year following the breakup of Welch’s then-relationship, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful was recorded and released in June 2015, with the band touring the major music festivals, including last weekend’s Lollapalooza show in Chicago.

The musical stylings of How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, run the gamut. On the first single, “Ship to Wreck,” Florence and the Machine echo Morrissey, albeit with a few more guitars and a lot more power. “What Kind of Man” is a rocker that sounds as if the Tower of Power horn section was imported for backup, while “Caught” and “Delilah” capture the attention of the listener. Along the way, Welch’s powerful and emotional vocals rule the roost, evoking memories of a more-rock oriented Kate Bush or, for a more contemporary comparison, Adele. In fact, a sing-off between Welch and Adele would probably lead to a stalemate as both blow speakers out with their vocal talent.

All three of the albums are well worth owning, but How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful is the way to go for a complete look at the power and potential of Florence and the Machine. Be sure to get the extended version as it contains “Make up Your Mind” (another outstanding song) and the demo version of the title track, showing the development of the song from incarnation to finished product. You can’t miss out on what should prove to be the album that takes Florence and the Machine further into the consciousness of music audiences.