Saturday, January 18, 2020

WORDS FOR NEIL

NEIL PEART
SEPTEMBER 12, 1952-JANUARY 7, 2020

Exit the warrior...

It was on the evening of  Friday, January 10, 2020 when I saw the news, immediately after returning home from some lengthy duties in preparation for the forecasted "snowpacalypse" that ultimately (and yes, thankfully) turned out to be nothing but. The news arrived through two private Facebook messages from friends, one of whom a new friend residing in England, the other, a life long friend flowing as far back as our teen years. Both messages contained the same and extremely painful news...Neil Peart, drummer and lyricist for Rush, had passed away from brain cancer after a three and a half year battle in private.

He was only 67 years old.

Yes, I know. I am only getting older, which of course means that the people who influenced me, especially those within the arts, are all growing older themselves, all of us with less time in front of us compared to the lengthier spaces behind us. And still, it remains a shock and filled with such powerful and sometimes debilitating sadness. I felt it with David Bowie four years ago and seismically with Prince, who passed away in the same year and then all over again with Tom Petty one year after them. Neil Peart is yet another figure, who to me, was superhuman due to his unquestionable and unparalleled gifts, skills and talents and once again, it was proven to me, just as it has been proven to all of us, that he was mere mortal...just like me and you.

And still, even now...as I listen and re-listen and hear him play, I am unable to relinquish my belief that Neil Peart was one of the very best musicians upon the planet Earth and contrary to the truth of the matter, it remains difficult for me to really think of an Earth without him in it. I guess it is as if the sun and sky vanished. But he is indeed gone, at least physically. As of now, I am compelled to share my feeling and offer my own tribute to a figure who forever altered my consciousness for precisely 40 years and will continue to do so forever more. To paraphrase the title of one of his albums with Rush, it is time to sadly and graciously bid farewell to a King.
RUSH
(Geddy Lee, Neil Peart, Alex Lifeson)

My introduction to the music of Rush, and therefore Neil Peart, arrived at an extremely pivotal point in my upbringing. It was 1980, I was 11 years old, I was a few years into taking drum lessons and by the age of 13, I would be the drummer in a school rock band named Ground Zero. It was also the year during which I discovered and graduated to Chicago FM radio with its (then) plethora of album oriented rock stations. And my memory informs me strongly that the very first song I ever heard upon the FM dial was Rush's swirling, mesmerizing, captivating, awe inspiring "The Spirit Of Radio."

Never could I have ever wished for a better introduction into a wider musical universe than Rush's song. It was a piece of music that was completely foreign and yet spoke so directly to my soul that I loved it upon first listen and even after all of these years later, and countless re-listenings to that song, I still feel goose pimples upon my skin and the those glorious chills running through my body. It was searing, shocking white lightning put to music and performed by the only three people on the planet who could harness it. With endless gratitude delivered towards the now defunct Chicago radio stations WLUP (forever known as "The Loop"), WMET, WLS-FM and WCKG plus the still on-going WXRT, I received a peerless musical education of which Rush became a steady and life altering influence.

By the time I was 13 years old, Rush was a rock steady element in my musical favorites as "Permanent Waves" (released January 14, 1980), "Moving Pictures" (released February 12, 1981) and "Signals" (released September 9, 1982), were experienced constantly and also became topics of feverish, amazed conversation between myself and friends at school. Every subsequent album to be released during my high school years was an event. Every new single to hit the Chicago radio airwaves was one to be intensely poured over to be fully digested. And every previous album was anxiously waiting to be discovered.

While listening, it always felt to be so impossible. The sheer agility on display conceptually and musically, so much so it always felt as if the band was shifting the fabric of time at will with their seemingly impossible performances within those kaleidoscopic time signatures. And of course, there were the lyrics which were never innocuous, never focused upon teenage romance but dove head first into exceedingly broader territories and deftly crossed the barriers from science fiction suites to more Earthly pursuits, concerns, musings and tribulations from historical periods to the here and now, miraculously exploring the philosophical and existential arguments about the nature of life itself.

Yet, it was also completely accessible, warmly inviting and all so embracing. It felt to be a wonderment as well as a wonderland and remember, this was during the days before MTV. Aside from the photos inside of the albums, there was very little visual footage to be seen of the band at that time. Yet, when I did see the band in action, as in the video footage for the track "Vital Signs," I was just stunned that this sound (just as with my other rock trio obsessions at the time with Genesis and The Police), this voluminous sound, was being created and performed by a mere three people!!

And there, behind this astonishing drum set, and adorned with a baseball cap, sat Neil Peart, a study of intense concentration and precision, playing the drums in a way I had not yet experienced them.
I do not remember how or when the name of Neil Peart riveted itself into my consciousness but the sound of his drums and how he played them became an exceedingly high bar that I deeply wanted to reach. I think deep down I always knew that I wasn't and would not ever be a drummer of his virtuosity but that being said, Neil Peart always inspired and never discouraged.

I find it impossible to find enough words to fully express how Neil Peart arrived at the absolutely perfect time for me. For it was the exact period during which I was learning the drums, learning about the wider arena of rock music, and therefore music itself, and realizing that a personal, identifying signature could be placed upon inanimate objects so you forever knew, just by sound, precisely WHO was playing.

Again like his contemporaries with Genesis' Phil Collins and The Police's Stewart Copeland or his inspirations like The Who's Keith Moon and Led Zeppelin's John Bonham, when Neil Peart played, you ALWAYS knew it was his hands holding the sticks. With no disrespect whatsoever to the aforementioned players as heroes they all are to me, there was just something extra to Neil Peart that excelled beyond anyone else.

Neil Peart was the drummer's drummer, the one known as "The Professor," the one who inspired other world class drummers as well as the novices within us all, exquisitely composing and playing these mystic rhythms that spoke to the soul and the body unlike any other. His drum fills were pop hooks unto themselves. In fact, I woud argue that if you were to isolate his drum tracks, they would ALL sound like full, complete songs unto themselves as well.

I was truly blessed to have witnessed saw Rush in concert only once in my life. It was the 1987 "Hold Your Fire" tourstop in Milwaukee, WI.  What an experience that show was!!! And honestly, what a sight is was to witness a sea of people in the auditorium playing "air drums" in unison to Neil Peart's now iconic drum fills in "Tom Sawyer." That was a sight the likes of which I have never seen before or since, which perfectly signifies the inexplicable connection Peart had with generations of listeners that was so singular, complicated, intricate, primal and so much in a universe of its own making.

Slightly before this time, I remember my parents actually waking me up so that I could regard Buddy Rich's jaw dropping drum solos on "The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson." Yes, I watched in awe (how could I not for he was astonishing) but Buddy Rich was not quite for me, as he represented previous generations. But Neil Peart, he was for me, he was my discovery, he was of my time and I embraced him tremendously.
Rush, while not to everyone's tastes or preferences, was a  band that was certainly uncompromising in their artistic vision. But, that said, they were open and inclusive for all who wished to enter. As a young drummer, listening to Neil Peart's playing was as dizzying as it was joyous and in doing so, he not only inspired me, he helped me to begin to believe in myself.

To believe that I could learn just as he had learned. To believe that I could reach further just as he was reaching. To believe that I could try harder just as he was trying harder. And through the effort, the discipline and the love of the instrument, I could find personal success. That I, mere teenaged mortal, could maybe, possibly be...A DRUMMER...just like Neil Peart. Or perhaps, if I couldn't be Neil Peart, then what if I could be the "Neil Peart" of my school?

For someone like myself, who always questioned himself, doubted himself, and never felt terribly highly of himself, Neil Peart was a figure who began to instill in me a sense of courage...the courage to believe that I could actually be good at something, like playing the drums. The more I listened, the more I learned and the more I grew in awe of what I was hearing, for Neil Peart's sense of invention and imagination were, and remain forever, wholly inspiring.

For me, "Permanent Waves," "Moving Pictures" and "Signals" comprised a musical trilogy, my rock and roll Lord Of The Rings. From that point, every prior album was a source of discovery and every new album release a full event--as always evidenced by the chatter in the high school hallways whenever a new song premiered on Chicago rock radio stations or when gobsmacked whispers of "Have you heard 'YYZ'?????" echoed from one person to another.

Through those years, as I played my drums to the best of my abilities in Ground Zero and other opportunities, I walked the school hallways with my drum sticks in my pocket and tried to cultivate a reputation because I loved playing so much. I loved having that focus and drive to play. I wanted to impress people as well as myself. I wanted to prove to myself that I could really do something. And there was Neil Peart, like a Jedi Master, at the forefront in my mind as I tried, tried and tried to reach for the bar that he was setting over and again.

I know that for some, it may have felt as if Neil Peart was soloing over every song, grossly over-compensating through his monolithic drum set. But for me, he was always like my #1 favorite drummer Ringo Starr in the sense that Peart was a brilliant listener, delivering, with surgical precision, exactly what every Rush song needed, no more or less.

Neil Peart's tracks were fully orchestrated pieces--drum kits augmented with glorious percussion miraculously performed as if he possessed eight arms!! We heard rock in his playing certainly but we also heard jazz, we heard symphonic, we heard Latin, we unquestionably heard African and it was all magic in sound and motion every single time. It was a blissful amalgamation of force and fluidity, strength and dexterity, diligence and determination, and at all times, with grace and tastefulness.

Most importantly of all, Neil Peart never presented himself as a musical artist who knew all that he ever needed to know, which was a crucial aspect to his artistry. In the terrific documentary "Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage (2010) from Directors Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn, I was deeply enlightened and humbled by a section in the film entitled "The Yoda Of Drums," during which Peart, feeling that his own playing was static from years of working with sequencers and developing his sense of precision, worked with jazz drummer Freddie Gruber to deconstruct his own playing and to re-build it with a newfound sense of purpose and fluidity.

For Neil Peart, practice, reflection and self-discovery were the only means to improvement. There was always something to learn, a quality that ex tended far beyond his prowess as a drummer but marked Peart's entire life as a human being. That lesson has been invaluable, especially now as I reflect upon him and what he has meant to me.
Along with Phil Collins and Stewart Copeland, Neil Peart fully expanded, and therefore re-invented, the notion of what a drummer could actually be by being the band's lyricist, which to me was mind blowing.

While it was not unimaginable for a drummer to write a song, Neil Peart, existing as the conceptual mouthpiece for Rush, to provide every single written word that Geddy Lee sang within the 40+ year tenure of this particular triumvirate, I just could not believe it. It was the thing that drummers simply didn't do and frankly, were not supposed to do. By contrast to the norm, Neil Peart forged ahead, song after song, album after album with a lyrical verve and skill that was literary, so literary that I would often, as a teenager, just read the lyrics without even playing the records (no disrespect whatsoever to his bandmates).

Neil Peart's lyrics ranged from expansive science fiction concepts and later voyaged into works that were philosophical, psychological, ethereal, intellectual, evocative, sensational in their creativity, profundity, and poignancy which overflowed with empathy and universality. Despite his status as an atheist, his lyrics were deeply spiritual and soulful and he always championed individualism and integrity in a world that never seems to hold those qualities as the highest in currency.

This specific quality only grew in its scope and depth after Peart's well documented personal tragedy when he lost his first daughter due to a car accident and his first wife due to cancer within the span of less than one year between 1997-1998, which then led to a five year sabbatical from the band. During that period as he mourned, healed and traveled in solitude on his motorcycle, Peart continued to emerge as an author, chronicling his journeys within seven books, including the widely celebrated Ghost Rider: Travels On The Healing Road (published 2002), which details his grief and recovery process after the deaths of his first wife and daughter.

Yet, becoming the lyricist for Rush, at least the way the story is told by his bandmates, makes the entire journey of Neil Pearts' writing seem arbitrary. Geddy Lee has dryly stated that after Peart joined the band in 1974, replacing Rush's original drummer John Rutsey, he and Alex Lifeson, taking notice of Peart's consistent reading, wondered if he would write the band's lyrics. To think, Neil Peart became a writer and developed as a writer by being a reader!!

Neil Peart's love of literature, and ultimately language itself, was superbly evident within his lyrics, from the phrasings to his vast usages of metaphors to even his vocabulary, compelling me to educate myself and expand my own language when writing and speaking. Like his contemporaries with Roger Waters and Sting, Peart never dumbed down his language, concepts or storytelling, which ranged from full narratives, character studies to even more esoteric works that explored aspects of the human experience.
I am remembering a time during high school when my English class was reading William Golding's Lord Of The Flies (published 1954), actually one of the few books during those years that I absolutely loved and still cherish to this day. The gripping, dark emotional territory of that novel somehow made my brain travel to three Rush songs during that era, all of which were devoted to the concept of fear in a variety of its forms, in this case "Witch Hunt (part III of 'Fear')" from "Moving Pictures," "The Weapon (part II of 'Fear')" from "Signals" and "The Enemy Within (part I of 'Fear')" from "Grace Under Pressure" (released April 12, 1984).

One day, while sitting in class, all three songs swirled around my head, richly forming connective tissue between themselves and Golding's novel until they became somewhat inseparable or at least, it felt obvious to see how they could each play off of each other. I returned home, opened my typewriter and typed up the lyrics while also making a cassette tape of the three songs, and the next day, I brought them all to school to show to my teacher.

For whatever reason, my teacher took my excitement seriously enough to read all of the lyrics in class and then play "The Enemy Within." Of course, I wished for all of my classmates to see the same connections that I saw and felt. And of course, I was subtly ridiculed by a classmate immediately afterwards ("I didn't think we were here to listen to songs."). But what was important to me was that I felt that I was doing what was really being asked of me--to take thematic content presented in literature and discover connections, comparisons and contrasts with other art forms, not solely literature.

Neil Peart's writing inspired me in ways that so many pieces of the required high school English class canon simply did not and I am forever grateful. What's more is the over-arching messages of his writings that I feel have informed my life profoundly. To have and hold fiercely onto one's integrity and individualism was a constant theme and one that spoke directly to me in my formative years and holds even greater meaning as I age.
I followed Rush religiously up until the late 1980's and I did begin to lose track of the band as my musical horizons expanded even wider. Even during the period when I was not actively listening t them anymore, my heart was full just knowing they were still somewhere out there creating and performing this majestic music that was so uniquely their own.
 
I was stunned when Rush returned from their self-imposed hiatus five years after the familial tragedies in Neil Peart's live with a vengeance that I had not quite experienced from them. "Vapor Trails" (released May 14, 2002), "Snakes And Arrows" (released May 1, 2007) and the band's final album "Clockwork Angels" (released June 12, 2012), were all especially titanic and even combative works, with music and subject matter that challenged even greater than before with often wrenching material that addressed aging, mortality, and raging vitality even when fighting the reality and inevitability of time itself. 

By the time the band completed its 40th anniversary tour in 2015, primarily due to Peart's increasing tendinitis and arthritis, I honestly felt a sense of peace and not sadness at the finality of this band for they gave every piece of themselves and they owed us nothing. They truly had earned whatever sense of retirement they wished to have for themselves, especially Neil Peart, who had already lost so very much despite everything he had gained from his rock star status over four decades. 

Exit the warrior...it all felt to be so fitting...until right now.
Since the announcement of Neil Peart's passing, I read somewhere that Rush was a band for introverts, and to that I would demonstrably agree. They were not a band for everyone but for all of us, spanning generations and walks of life who did love them, they meant absolutely everything because, I think, the sound they made together felt to be exactly like what was happening internally for people like myself. And perhaps that even includes all of the musicians who have written tributes as a means to pay their respects.

Certainly game recognizes game but even so,  I was amazed to see the outpouring of words and messages from musicians that stretched far beyond the realm of their contemporaries. To see messages from the rock musicians they clearly inspired (including Dave Grohl and definitely, The Smashing Pumpkins' Jimmy Chamberlin, obviously the greatest drummer of his generation) to funk and hip-hop musicians as well (imagining Public Enemy's Chuck D. and Neil Peart sharing a moment together after their respective inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame is something I would've loved to have seen) beautifully illustrated the wide variety of their influence and reach.

If the three members of Rush never knew or felt the magnitude of what they had achieved as they were in the middle of the cyclone of  their creation, I sincerely hope and wish they had the time and opportunity to take stock once they concluded...especially for Peart during what would be his final years on Earth.

The irony of Neil Peart dying from brain cancer is deeply palpable as the music he created with Rush was indeed music that made you think as well as feel. There was so much to digest musically and lyrically as Peart's love of literature and just the act of reading was evident and paramount to the overall artistic vision that was created over his entire tenure with the band.

The other irony about the life and artistic legacy of Neil Peart is precisely how unknowable he was when in fact, he was revealing his life to all of us for the entirety of his career. Peart famously eschewed the...ahem...limelight. He was an notoriously private figure who enjoyed his solitude, shied away from fan worship, rarely gave interviews and definitely in his later years preferred to travel alone by motorcycle while the band toured, meeting everyone else at stops along the way.

And yet, within the documentary films made about the band and interviews in which I have seen him, Neil Peart presented himself as being quite the loquacious storyteller and conversationalist, fully opening up heartedly. In the tributes that I have read from his friends, this also seemed to be true to him in the real world. He possessed a difficult barrier to puncture but once accomplished, a kind and gracious man was revealed.

And still, for us, he was quite a mystery and yet was he? For what do we have but a lifetime's worth of lyrics as well as his books where he lays his life, mind, heart and spirit bare to speak directly to us about the ideas he held for himself as a young man and how they all evolved and changed throughout his life as he aged, especially when facing personal tragedies that could have upended any one of us-including himself. Yet, Neil Peart soldiered onwards, placing one foot in front of the other, embracing the wonders and terrors of the human experience and sharing how absolutely all of it continued to inform, and therefore, shape his existential relationship with the world.

Now, as I and all of us mourn him, let us remember that all of his words remain directly alongside his musical gifts for us to re-discover for the remainder of our days.

I realize that I will be writing more of these tributes these days as the musicians I have revered are all aging and will ultimately meet the inevitable. As I think of him there are two sets of lyrics that immediately come to mind. The first arrives in "Time Stand Still," a truly timeless song that has the ability to mean different things to people at different stages of life.

"Freeze this moment
A little bit longer
Make each sensation 
A little bit stronger..."   

The second arrives from "Headlong Flight" from "Clockwork Angels," a song, despite its science fiction themed album concept, felt like Peart eulogizing himself, also despite the fact that his diagnosis was yet to happen in real life.

"All the journeys of this great adventure
It didn't always feel that way
I wouldn't trade them because I made them
The best I could, and that's enough to say

Some days were dark
I wish I could live it all again
Some nights were bright
I wish that I could live it all again..."  

To Neil Peart, thank you for the life you did live, the commitment to your art and your life, providing lessons from which I can pull from every time I hear or read your words. My life would never have been the same without your massive influence and I an grateful, even though we never met, to have had you right alongside me all of the way. 
NEIL PEART
REST IN POWER

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

SYNESTHESIA'S SESSION NOTES JANUARY 2020

FROM THE DJ'S STUDIO DESK:
Welcome to 2020, a new year, a new decade, a new era of music to be introduced to and explore and I am already anxious to hear as much of it as I am able!

But before I can plunge ahead, I do need to keep to the past for a little while as I do really wish for Synesthesia to have more activity and content than last year. I do have my hopes and dreams for this site and I will tell you that I do wish to continue compiling my favorite music of 2019 for you.

Then, I really wish to take on the enormous task of figuring out what my favorite albums of the decade between 2010-2019 actually are. Truth be told, I already know what my number #1 pick is, and so, I have to work backwards from there!

And then, I keep wishing to focus on the local Madison music scene when I am able to do so as I have not yet written full postings about 2019 albums from both Kainalu and Pollinators.

Of course, I will keep posting the albums of the month that I have been listening to plus my Savage Radio playlists which will begin again tonight on WVMO after three weeks away due to illness and the holidays.

But above all else, I am thankful and grateful to be here, for myself and to be with you because this site is a virtual home where we are bonded through music and sometimes, it feels as if there is no purer form of connection from one to another.

On this New Year's Day, let us all find our favorite music to welcome in this new period in our shared existence...and as always, PLAY LOUD!!!!!!!!!!!! 

Saturday, December 28, 2019

SAVAGE RADIO PLAYLISTS DECEMBER 2019: WVMO 98.7 FM-THE VOICE OF MONONA

SAVAGE RADIO EPISODE #200
DECEMBER 4, 2019

1. "Sing Me Spanish Techno" performed by The New Pornographers
2. "Need Your Loving Tonight" performed by Queen
3. "Back To The Shack" performed by Weezer
4. "Armagideon Time" performed by The Clash
5. "High" performed by Slow Pulp
6. "Human For" performed by Sunflower Bean
7. "Sound Of Silver" performed by LCD Soundsystem
8. "Calhoun Square" performed by Prince
9. "Control" performed by Garbage
10."Parallel" performed by Disq
11."Miss The Misery" performed by Foo Fighters

SAVAGE RADIO EPISODE #201
"FOR MY DAD...ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY TRIBUTE"
DECEMBER 11, 2019

1. "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)" performed by The Delfonics
2. "Tutu" performed by Miles Davis
3. "Miles Beyond" performed by Mahavishnu Orchestra
4. "Bambu Forest" performed by Jan Hammer
5. "It's All In The Game" performed by Tommy Edwards
6. "Something" performed by The Beatles
7. "Space Oddity" performed by David Bowie
8. "I Can't Tell You Why" performed by Eagles
9. "Bonzo's Montreaux" performed by Led Zeppelin
10."Everything's Coming Our Way" performed by Santana
11."It Never Entered My Mind" performed by Miles Davis

NOW PLAYING IN THE SAVAGE JUKEBOX DECEMBER 2019

"NEXTERDAY"
RIC OCASEK
Released September 27, 2005
"THE WALL"
PINK FLOYD
Released November 30, 1979
"THE WHO SELL OUT"
THE WHO
Released December 15, 1967
"TWENTYTWO IN BLUE"
SUNFLOWER BEAN
Released March 23, 2018
"MYSTERY WHITE BOY"
JEFF BUCKLEY
Released May 9, 2000
"IS THIS THE LIFE WE REALLY WANT?"
ROGER WATERS
Released June 2, 2017
"WENDY AND LISA"
WENDY AND LISA
Released August 24, 1987
"CASABLANCA"
 POST SOCIAL
Released July 30, 2016
"MAJOR CONGRATS"
POST SOCIAL
Released June 29, 2018
"KING ANIMAL"
SOUNDGARDEN
Released November 13, 2012

SYNESTHESIA'S YEAR IN MUSIC: FAVORITE ALBUMS/EPS/SINGLES OF 2019 PART 1

And here we are, right at the end of 2019, which of course means it is time for me to compile a listing of the best music I experienced throughout the year.

First things first, I have to confess that for this year, I do not have a "Number #1-Album Of The Year" choice as I really feel that I did not hear that singular release that announces itself as being heads and shoulders above the rest. That being said, I heard a tremendous amount of music that represented musical artists working at the peak of their powers, all releasing music that demanded the fullest of my attention and affection and I am so, so happy to reveal those titles here for you with this series which will extend itself into 2020 and will then further extend itself into my favorite releases from the decade of 2010-2019.

But, let's not get ahead of myself. It's time to go back to the start of 2019...

"NO GUIDELINES"/"DESERT EAGLE (IN THE SKY)" (single)
POST SOCIAL
Released December 29, 2018
-Technically a bit of a cheat but since the band released this single just on the edge of 2018 turning into 2019, I kind of like to think of this selection as being akin to The Clash's classic "London Calling" (released December 14, 1979), a double album which has often been listed as being one of the best albums of the 1980's although differing from its actual release date. Also, like The Clash, Post Social's epilogue to their raucous 4th album entitled "Major Congrats" (released June 29, 2018), extends from that album's more post punk rock leanings making for what is unquestionably their angriest release to date.

Working in collaboration with their Madison, WI musical compatriot Isaac De Broux-Sloane of Disq as their Producer (a Post Social rarity as the band typically is solitary in their recordings), the quartet of Shannon Connor (guitar, vocals), Mitch Deitz (guitar, vocals), Sam Galligan (bass guitar) and Brendan Manley (drums) are worlds away from the lush innocence of their previous albums as they are in the throes of confrontation in a confrontational world. Where Deitz's "No Guidelines" is literally one minute of impressionistic whirlwind fury fueled by a call-to-action, Connor's "Desert Eagle (In The Sky)" is a rightfully angst filled howl of paranoid filled rage at our epidemic of gun violence.

As of this point in time, Post Social is on an extended hiatus due to new life responsibilities and commitments by the lifelong friends and bandmates. But, I have been assured that the band is nowhere near finished, and new material is being composed. Until the day a new full length musical statement arrives, Post Social's double sided single is a powder keg!
"COMMUNICATION/PARALLEL" (single)
DISQ
Released January 25, 2019
-On the heels of seeing this band deliver their downright scorching performance live in my fair city, I am more anxious than ever to hear what may arrive in 2020. Yet, at the beginning of 2019, we had our first taste of new music from Disq in three years with their debut release on the Saddle Creek label and it proved to be even more seasoned and sensational than I could have hoped for.

With these two tracks, the propulsive "Communication," and the expansive, brood to explosive psychedelic finale wail that is "Parallel," Bassist Raina Bock and Singer/Multi-Instrumentalist Isaac De Broux-Slone have more than proven that they are serious young musicians who can craft stellar, superb material that is tailor made to be blasted fully from any and all open windows and demand repeated listenings as their songcraft is first rate. With a band lineup now expanded to five members,  more touring including some stops in England and with increased attention from the independent music press, the ascension of Disq and the arrival of the year 2020 feel to be of a potentially perfect match. Clearly, these two songs are the combustible spark to the musical flames to come!
"KING OF THE DUDES" (EP)
SUNFLOWER BEAN
Released January 25, 2019
-WSUM FM's DJ Nightway led me here!! I did not hear of this EP until near the end of 2019 and even so, that first listen was right on time! This trio is not one that necessarily re-invents any wheel sin rock and roll but you know, they do not have to when the songwriting, singing and performances are this top flight. I cannot place my finger upon it but the band sounds very reminiscent of the power pop of the 1970's/early 1980's that filled my adolescent heart so long ago while also existing strongly as music of this moment in time as it represents the stunning melodicism and songwriting skill of the current class of indie rock bands. More please!
"STUFFED AND READY"
CHERRY GLAZERR
Released February 1, 2019
-Filled with Zeppelin-esque riffs and the feminist punk rock swagger and bite of L7 and Hole, Cherry Glazerr returned this year with a roar of an album that again presents Singer/Songwriter/Guitarist Clementine Creevy as an inimitable force to be reckoned with and then some. Trust me, do not let Creevy's breathy vocals fool you for a minute as she unleashes a full, feral manifesto of melodically rich and beautifully loud songs that explore and detail roles and perceptions of women within the music industry and throughout everyday life with a rapaciousness that can slash your speakers ("Wasted Nun" is one of the rock standouts of 2019)...and you keep turning that volume up!
"RITUAL" (single)
ANNA WANG
Released February 10, 2019
-Madison, WI's Anna Wang has once again showcased why she is truly one of our music community's most compelling artists as her first class songwriting, innovative production and captivating, siren song vocals is consistently riveting to experience. For her one and only music release of the year, Wang unquestionably demonstrates that everything is about quality over quantity as evidenced by the 2 minutes and 44 seconds of her club banger "Ritual."

As how the members of the Madison music community have demonstrated over and again, the song is the star and for Ms. Wang, who is indeed a visually captivating performer, her devotion to the possibilities and eventual mastery of songcraft is paramount and therefore, more than obvious within her latest single. Not one second is wasted. Not one moment is superfluous. And her ability with conjuring the "hook," and within a seemingly myriad of elements (vocals, melodies, drum tracks, sound effects), ensure that her song will burrow deeply into your synapses while inspiring your bodies to leave all emotional baggage out there on the dance floor.

Please don't wait too long to make a return!
"THIS LAND"
GARY CLARK JR.
Released February 22, 2019
-Gary Clark Jr. returned this year with his most ambitious release to date and to my ears, it is just this close to being his first masterpiece. As with "Blak & Blu" (released October 22, 2012), "This Land" is an expansive, sprawling, wildly diverse album yet one with an increased, intense focus upon race and racism in 21st century America under Trump, living "paranoid and pissed off" while Black. While the blues and Clark Jr's flamethrowing guitar heroics are the bedrock, it is via the vast musical reach, the forays into R&B, hip-hop, punk rock, funk and even some Latin tinged soul that further reconfirms that this is a formidable, fully rounded artist and not just one more guitar gunslinger.
"HEAR ME OUT"
REIGNWOLF
Released March 1, 2019
-Along with Gary Clark Jr, Reignwolf, the musical brainchild of singer, song writer, multi-instrumentalist and guitarist Jordan Cook proves that the death of the guitar as a musical force of nature is news that has been greatly exaggerated. In fact, if guitar based rock is dead, then as far as I am concerned, Reignwolf made a deal with the Devil to resurrect it as "Hear Me Out," the band's debut album, is a 29 minute flow of pummeling, downright lusty molten lava that would clearly make the likes of Jack White look over his own shoulder. This album was a dynamite calling card.
"LOVE REMAINS"
TAL WILKENFELD
Released March 15, 2019
-Tal Wilkenfeld, phenom Bassist who has worked with figures none other than Jeff Beck, Herbie Hancock, Todd Rundgren, Ryan Adams and others, released her debut album as a singer/songwriter and for me, it has remained as one of the strongest albums I heard in 2019. Flowing effortlessly between Robert Plant howls, Joni Mitchell elegance and all in between and beyond, Wilkenfeld, through her voice and instrumentation, firmly established herself as a furiously forward thinking musical artist whose work demands to be full experienced in all of its crystalline, tornado whirling adventurousness.
"IT'S REAL"
EX HEX
Released March 22, 2019
-Much like Sunflower Bean, the rock trio of Mary Timony, Betsy Wright and Laura Harris, collectively known as Ex Hex, is not doing anything that necessarily re-invents the rock and roll wheel. But again and just like Sunflower Bean, when the songwriting, singing and performances are this first rate (often making me think of a harder edged Bangles), what more does one need when listening to an album that is instantly infectious and demands repeated listenings immediately?
"DIAMONDS & DYNAMITE"
DONNA GRANTIS
Released March 22, 2019
-A true surprise. My knowledge of Donna Grantis was when she was one third of 3RDEYEGIRL, one of Prince's final backing bands, an all female power trio of which Grantis served as an extraordinary guitarist (and a great counterpoint to Prince's own sky scorching heroics).

On her debut album, there is very little that would ever suggest of her time with Prince and decidedly much more of her apparent devotion to the 1970's fusion era of Miles Davis, most notably that sweet spot that exists somewhere between "Bitches Brew" (released April 1970), "Jack Johnson" (released February 24, 1971) and "On The Corner" (released October 11, 1972) "Diamonds & Dynamite" is an entirely instrumental album fueled by deep funk bass, swirling tablas, propulsive rhythms and the stunning guitar vortex of Donna Grantis who truly takes the listener upon an enveloping sonic journey that not only makes you thirsty to hear it all over again but anxious for whatever she devises in the future. 
"ON THE LINE"
JENNY LEWIS
Released March 22, 2019
-The former member of Rilo Kiley returns with her finest solo release to date as well as one of 2019's highest achievements.

On this latest chronicle of confessionals and peerless storytelling, Lewis establishes an even grander sonic palate to accentuate her lyrical gifts by embracing the BOOM of hip-hop production techniques with the ace musicianship of her collaborators which range from drummers Ringo Starr and Jim Keltner, plus Jason Falkner, Don Was, Benmont Tench, Beck (who produces a few songs here) and yes, even Ryan Adams (who plays guitar throughout and produces--and despite his troubles and controversy this year, I refuse to pretend that he doesn't exist and did not participate in the making of this album).

Despite all of the famous guest stars, the album is firmly Jenny Lewis' artistic vision as her songwriting voice is powerfully sound and filled copiously with grief, mourning, confusion, strength, resolution, revelation and a new found autonomy as a woman, artist and human being. 

Sunday, December 8, 2019

SLOW PULP with INTERLAY and DISQ LIVE AT HIGH NOON SALOON DECEMBER 6, 2019

SLOW PULP
with INTERLAY and DISQ
LIVE
HIGH NOON SALOON
DECEMBER 6, 2019

What a homecoming!!!

My how things have evolved in nearly four years. On January 21, 2016, I was so proud and excited to have been able to attend the final performance of the Madison, WI indie pop band Modern Mod at the High Noon Saloon. That evening, which also featured support from three opening bands including Trophy Dad, Surgeons In Heat and my beloved Post Social was a stellar night of local music made by the new generation of hopefuls and upstarts, all working tremendously with Modern Mod in particular delivering what the band members have expressed to me was possibly the very best they had ever performed.

Even though I arrived to the experience of Modern Mod very late in the game, I was enraptured by what I saw and heard: a collective of serious young artists working and playing in harmonious collaboration, without any sense of ego, all ensuring that the songs they wrote were the stars of the night. In doing so, they became stars themselves.

Since that night, Modern Mod has disbanded. Both Post Social and Trophy Dad are on extended hiatuses due to the nature of the life and times of being young, as some have graduated from college or have left Madison entirely to pursue new projects and opportunities. And in several cases, new bands and collectives have been formed, including Slow Pulp, which is the quartet made up of former Modern Mod lead singer Emily Massey and her union with the band formerly known as Barbara Hans, which featured Bassist Alex Julian Leeds, Drummer Teddy Matthews and Guitarist/Keyboardist/Vocalist Henry Stoehr.

Transplanting themselves from Madison, Slow Pulp now makes Chicago, IL its home base. Since their move, the band has slowly but very steadily been enhancing their songwriting, recording, performances and as a result their overall profile, culminating with their four song EP entitled "Big Day" (released May 15, 2019), which has quickly become one of my favorite releases of 2019. But don't just take my word for it. The publication Stereogum has also listed "Big Day" as one of the best EP releases of 2019 as well, yet another cherry on top in a year filled with them, from a celebrated appearance at the SXSW Festival plus consistent touring and exposure.
Now with 2019 reaching its end, the band has made what could be considered their victory lap as on the night of December 6th, Slow Pulp conducted their first headlining performance right back at home in Madison with a SOLD OUT show, alongside the local bands Interlay and also on the rise Disq in tow. Without question, for me, the evening represented a newfound peak as the bands scaled greater heights to an often jaw dropping effect.
INTERLAY:
Nathan Hahn: Bass Guitar
Alex Kaiser: Drums
Alexandria Ortgiesen-Vocals, Guitar
Indigo Smith-Oles: Guitar

The night began with the cavernous wallop of Interlay, the one band of the evening that was unfamiliar to me but I will now try my best to keep some tabs upon. I thoroughly enjoyed the sheer amount of juxtapositions I saw and heard as the band barreled their way though a collection of material that bridged gaps between shoegaze, drone, post-punk, and simmering art rock.
With the sinister banshee wails of Alexandria Ortgiesen hovering over the proceedings, her bandmates supplied an enormity of sound that washed over the audience as if caught in a relentless tide. The menacing growl of Bassist Nathan Hahn (who arrived with his own cheering section) combined with the penetrating pounds of Drummer Alex Kaiser's percussives hit you like a gut punch while Guitarist Indigo Smith-Oles' sliced through the sonic wall with glacial fretwork, supplying the sole sparks of light in the encroaching darkness.
Visually, I really found myself caught up in the whiplash physicality of both Hahn and Kaiser compared with the stoic, static stage presence of Ortgiesen and Smith-Oles and it was that very push-pull aesthetic contained within the music and the theatrics that created a palpable tension that was intensely captivating, making for a strong start to the evening.

photo by Anita Sattel
DISQ:
Raina Bock: Bass Guitar, Vocals
Shannon Conner: Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals
Isaac De Broux-Slone: Vocals, Guitar
Brendan Manley: Drums
Logan Severson: Guitar, Vocals

When I first discovered the music of Disq back in 2017 upon hearing and becoming instantly enraptured with their outstanding debut album entitled "Disq 1" (released July 11, 2016), the consistent statements I heard among members of the Madison music community is that the band's two members, Bassist Raina Bock and Vocalist/Multi-instrumentalist Isaac De Broux Slone, were "prodigies" and "geniuses." I heard it over and over again as one musician after another would exude some gasp induced exclamation as to the supremacy of Disq's music prowess and through listening to their album, created and released when the twosome were still high school students at that, I remained thunderstruck at the towering level of their artistry which was undeniably and firmly schooled with classic songwriting, home studio wizardry, and musical performances that felt to be seasoned far beyond their years.

Since that album, Disq has joined forces with the Saddle Creek label and released a towering single in "Communication" b/w "Parallel" (released January 25, 2019), expanded their ranks to five members, including Madison musicians Shannon Connor (Post Social), Brendan Manley (Post Social/Dash Hounds/Squarewave) and Logan Severson (Lameena) and have also steadily increased their profile and recognition in the indie music press through their exceptionally well received performance at the SXSW Festival, and consistent touring during the year in both the US and England!!

Armed with new material, Disq charged the High Noon Saloon stage like a gang and stormed through their ferocious set as if it were street fight with the stage being their turf to protect. Frankly, and in the very best and only way to properly express it, the quintet did not arrive to mess around. They came to conquer.
Opening with an instrumental and roaring through a collection of entirely new and absolutely terrific material, including both a raucous "Communication" and pulverizing "Parallel," as well as new material from both Shannon Connor and Logan Severson, Disq far exceeded any possibly expectations that I ever could have held for them. It was a seamless, frightening performance that constantly left me in amazement as their level of confidence, energy, agility and pure, muscular force was staggering to behold.

Isaac De Broux-Slone made for the rather bemused yet stoic figure in the eye of the Disq cyclone, with only his stellar singing voice and sparkling guitar heroics providing the flash. Raina Bock joyously supplied a superlative bottom end with her elastic, melodic bass work, creating and swirling around the rhythms. To watch these two lifelong friends and bandmates blissfully within their element and, I would imagine, dreams realizing before their eyes, was so enriching to regard from my vantage point at the lip of the stage.
photo by Anita Sattel

Shannon Connor and Brendan Manley, both of whom I have seen perform many times over these last few years, surprised me with their evolution, as the typically quieter Connor was the most assured I have ever seen him on stage and to that end, Manley pummeled his drum kit harder and faster than I have previously seen. Logan Severson was a man possessed, herking, jerking and gyrating his body and guitar as if caught in the throes of a fever dream.

Through the entire set, all five members of Disq were in ferocious, feral lockstep, building in power with a glorious momentum inspiring the audience into a slam dance fury (even bashing me against the stage--something I am clearly too old for now) and leaving the stage in ashes. Complete with a blistering triple guitar attack, a thunderous rhythm section, tight four part vocal harmonies and shining star songwriting, Disq performed as if they were the evening's headliners, almost daring any other band to follow in their wake

...which Slow Pulp absolutely had to.

SLOW PULP:
Alex Julian Leeds: Bass Guitar
Teddy Matthews: Drums
Emily Massey: Vocals, Guitar
Henry Stoehr: Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals

I have to admit that I was indeed a little scared for Slow Pulp after Disq exited the High Noon Saloon stage. In fact, the members of Slow Pulp were a tad trepidacious themselves as Guitarist/Vocalist Emily Massey expressed from the stage during and both Bassist Alex Julian Leeds and Guitarist Henry Stoehr admitted to me afterwards.

But the band proved that they had nothing to worry about whatsoever as Slow Pulp solidly and soundly commanded the High Noon Saloon with a multi-layered, voluminous performance that showcased precisely why they have more than deservedly been receiving the increased attention. Who knows what the future will ultimately hold, but trust me, dear readers and listeners, you really want to keep your eyes and ears open for this wholly unique and singular band who, also like Disq, unquestionably sound like no one else other than themselves, .

While the band's overall vibe was completely different than Disq's, what Slow Pulp achieved this evening was markedly similar. The band's set was seamless! The flow and segue of the songs from one into another were glistening as they established a visual presence that darkly conjured their stage persona. Yet, to extend themselves further from both Interlay and Disq as this evening's headliners, Slow Pulp not only had to cement their identity but to also encapsulate the night, tying the musical aesthetics of all three bands together, which they accomplished with a rich, evocative beauty.
photo by Anita Sattel

Over the course of their set, during which the band performed the entirety of "Big Day" plus their previously released singles, new material and even a surprising Coldplay cover, Slow Pulp weaved an atmospheric spell, something akin to being lost in a dream. In many ways, the band's expertly conceived and executed set made me think of something akin to an elongated Pink Floyd soundscape, a series of songs that ebbed and flowed in movements of sounds, moods and emotions.
Visually, the band shrouded themselves in a hazy darkness with the stage smoke eerily filtering the colored stage lighting providing melancholic shadings to augment the introspective music. The slinky "Preoccupied" elicited sultry, meditative romance, where the aching lament of "Die Alone" provided a pulsating heartache juxtaposed with the angular art rock stylings of Stoehr's crystalline guitar solos.

Where the whisper to a howl of "High" let the emotional floodgates open in a fury (again inspiring the crowd to slam dance, bashing me into the stage back and forth), "New Media" and "Steel Birds" unfurl in gloriously textured and soothing sonic waves which somehow never sacrificed their punch and force, supplied brilliantly by the supple rhythm section of Leeds and Matthews.
Emily Massey is a frontwoman of undisputed skill and magnetism. As a singer, her warm vocals envelop blissfully while as a rhythm guitarist, she can slash like a petulant punk rocker making for a combination that has formulated into a new stage persona that is worlds away from her time as a power pop diva in Modern Mod. In fact, the completeness of her maturation and evolution as an artist has felt like a shedding of a skin, so to speak, a musical line in the sand of "before" and "after," evoking a quality that is impossibly Bowie-esque. 

Whatever it takes to house that specific artistic ability, I do not know. But for Massey, she has IT as fully presented during Slow Pulp's gorgeous, anthemic "Young World," which was performed for the first time as a piano driven ballad to rapturous effect.
 
With her Slow Pulp compatriots in Leeds, Matthews and Stoehr, we have a indie rock dream team that displays a level of comfort and warmth among each other that fully translates to the music they have conceived and perform together which then deeply ingratiates itself into the audience who were in the palms of their collective musical hands without question.
It is strange to think that the final Modern Mod occurred almost four years ago. It really doesn't feel that far away but when I think of how all of these musicians have grown, changed and continued to pursue their art, the time of Modern Mod, as previously stated, feels like a lifetime ago. As good as they were then (and they were very good), they have all only improved and advanced themselves wonderfully as they have committed themselves further and deeper, emerging even more seasoned than before and yet, just as pure, wide-eyed and open-hearted as when they all wrote their very first songs. 

That joy of creation and collaboration remains paramount as I watch them, their performances all existing without a shred of ego or preciousness or possessiveness. And despite the increased attention and rise in their respective profiles, they remain humble, grounded, gracious and kind as they continue to inspire and support each other while also taking the time to extend gratitude to those who have supported them (Massey even thanked all of their parents from the stage). Their earnestness is matched only by their artistic fearlessness, making all of these bands ones to truly root for.

This night was a special night of a homecoming indeed and what a privilege it was to be there to experience it.
all photos by Scott Collins except where indicated