Growing Old With Rock and Roll

Growing Old With Rock and Roll

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Black Note Graffiti - Volume 2: Without Nothing I'm You

Written by William Elgin, posted by blog admin

Black Note Graffiti’s second release Volume 2: Without Nothing I’m You illustrates the band’s natural evolution better than anyone could possibly explain it. The band, initially a four piece centering on the vocals of Ricardo Ortiz, has recently added female vocalist Gabrielle Bryant as a fifth member. Her talents, however, are not featured on Volume 2, although listening to the eleven songs on this release provides listeners with a unintentionally fun parlor game in imagining how her voice might further transform or elevate these tunes. Ortiz and the other three originals, however, turn in a barnstormer of a collection and the casual and hardcore music fan alike will be swept away by this Ann Arbor, Michigan based band’s unique confluence of meaty metal riffing and alt rock theatrics and emotion. They’ve discovered a viable vehicle for expressing themselves in a way that sounds fresh in 2017 and sparkles with deceptive originality.

The low-cut, guitar-centric attack of the album’s opener “No Love Lost” is a memorable way to begin the release, but this song sports a power-packed chorus as well that the band plays just right. Ortiz’s vocal balances itself exceptionally well between outright lung muscle and emotional, full-throated phrasing unusual for the genre. Bringing that added dose of technique to a singing style not particularly renowned for finesse makes this a much more invigorating listening experience. There’s a steady, bass-anchored plod bringing “Such is Art” to life and when the song launches in earnest, Black Note Graffiti unveils one of the album’s best numbers. Adam Nine’s bass playing is especially effective. “Castles” clocks in a little less than three minutes and has a grinding, stop start arrangement beginning the song that soon segues into some of the band’s customary staccato riffing. Kris Keller’s blistering lead work adds a fiery exclamation point to the performance. This is another outstanding vocal from Ortiz, as well, that relies much more on art than muscle.

The distorted melancholy beginning “Bars from the Cages” is much more in an alt rock band than the largely metal leanings of the album’s first quarter. Naturally, this means Black Note Graffiti makes more use of their melodic potential and the inclusion of backing vocals is another highlight of the song. “Shadows” is four and a half minutes of the band exploring textures in a particularly exciting way. The song’s first half is artful in a way nothing before it on the album is, but they soon unleash some of their best hard rock fireworks and the mix proves effective. The bass playing, once again, plays an important role with scene setting on the track “Relapse” and Ortiz’s vocals are uniquely tuned into the song’s unique requirements – moving from beguiling work in the first quarter of the track and into some of his best rock singing during the remainder. “Natural” is a much shorter tune than the previous two tracks and the mid-tempo guitar workout rocks with complete conviction and whips up a raucous sound that will likely be an infectiously enjoyable live number. The same guitar-laden moodiness we heard on the earlier “Bars from the Cages” returns on the song “Wicked Ways”. It’s a song with an unique lyrical perspective, a hard as nails yet inventive musical approach, and some surprisingly effective harmony vocals light up much of the song. Volume 2: Without Nothing I’m You charts Black Note Graffiti’s development with a forceful, urgent collection sparked with genuine inspiration.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

YYY - A Tribute to the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds (2017)

Written by William Elgin, posted by blog admin

Pet Sounds is one of those albums. There are classics and then there are albums occupying a place in the art’s pantheon akin to the Presidential faces chiseled out of rock on the side of America’s Mount Rushmore. Their positions are unassailable by fickle fluctuations in public taste or the vagaries of history. The Beach Boys’ seminal 1960’s release Pet Sounds remains the yardstick, in many respects, of pop songwriting and harmony vocals at its finest and still ambitious fifty years on since its recording. The clarion call to re-imagine this work for a young, confident musician and performer is undoubtedly alluring. Minneapolis’ Austin Carson’s loving and ambitious stab at recreating the album for a modern audience, A Tribute to The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, is a talent laden affair sporting a cast of characters culled from the Minneapolis music scene and Carson’s own enormous talents, working here under the moniker YYY, that comes together quite successfully.

It’s easy to take albums like Pet Sounds for granted because its such an ingrained part of our musical lexicon with its influence touching many styles and genres. YYY, clearly, has never taken the album for granted and its evident from his recording of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” alone. He peels away a lot of the production layers listeners will be familiar with in the original while matching much of the same vocal excellence. His leaner, more modern reshaping of the song won’t be a jarring experience for new and older fans alike. The rich vocals on “You Still Believe In Me”, featuring City Counselor, makes for one of the more satisfying musical experiences on this tribute coupled with YYY’s outstanding rethink of the arrangement. Electronic instruments are definitely dominant in his musical vision, but countless tracks on the album prove he’s far from exclusively reliant on them for a song’s success or failure. There’s a much more pronounced modern approach evident on the track “I’m Waiting for the Day” that’s likely the result of YYY using guest stars LOTT and Zinnia to maximum advantage. It’s a good judgment call to make.

“Sloop John B” cops much of the original’s sensitive edge while framing it in a different musical context and proves to be one of YYY’s best adaptations of the source stuff. Lydia Liza and Cool Moon are excellent additions to the passionate and sometimes chaotic performance of “Hang On to Your Ego” while Devata Daun and C.Kostra are welcome forces working to make the late album performance of “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” all the more meaningful. The big closing number is certainly another mountain for YYY to scale – there’s arguably no song on Pet Sounds more popularized and highly regarded than “Good Vibrations” and there’s a certain amount of careful attentiveness in YYY’s performance that suggests he hears it the same way. Al Church’s guitar contributions are especially pivotal here. YYY has done much more than recorded a first class tribute album – he’s released something that could be referred to further illustrate the excellence of Pet Sounds while revealing him to be a mammoth talent of his own who is clearly destined for great things.