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Back in the Day…

I’ve been feeling nostalgic today. I love music’s magical ability to transport one back in time and trigger memories like audible photographs. I want to ask my fellow readers: what are some songs or artists that evoke nostalgia? What kind of memories do certain songs elicit?

Personally, hearing certain artists bring me back to a specific age or phase in life. When I hear The Beatles, I am 8 years old, jumping on my bed with an air guitar. When I hear Nirvana, I’m an awkward high school freshman with a horrible haircut.

Today, an Ozzy Osbourne song came on random as I was driving through Las Virgenes. Hearing the song brought back a pleasant memory of my dad driving me to school when I was 13, with the song playing on the car stereo. At the time, I had just discovered Randy Rhoads, Ozzy’s first guitarist after leaving Black Sabbath. I had just started to play guitar so my dad bought me Ozzy’s first solo record, Blizzard of Ozz. I’ll admit that a good deal of Ozzy’s music is badass, but the majority of Blizzard is really cheesy and embarrassingly 80’s. Despite it’s corny factor, my dad seemed to think Ozzy was cool, so I was excited about it. I like to keep all my old music on my iPod, even if I don’t usually listen to it anymore. I’m a music pack rat simply for nice flashbacks like this.

The power to conjure up old memories is yet another aspect of music that’s awesome. I’m curious to hear what kind of music brings you guys back in time.

Here are some nostalgic picks for the week:

Ozzy Osbourne- “Goodbye to Romance“, from Blizzard of Ozz. This is the song that played in my car today. I’m pretty sure this is Ozzy’s first attempt at a “power ballad.” It’s cheesy, but I like the nostalgia it brings. The guitar solo by Randy Rhoads is sick though.

The Decemberists- “The Engine Driver“- from Picaresque. This was from my “indie” phase during my senior year of high school. The band I was in at the time thought these guys were genius and we pretty much ripped off their indie-folk style. They have some really great songs though, mainly through their story-telling approach to their lyrics.

Weezer- “Tired of Sex“- from Pinkerton. Early Weezer defined my early teens. Cool jam, very rough. If anyone is considering purchasing a Weezer record, go with the old stuff.

Wavering Radiant

Heyyy readers, Whaaaat’s happeninggg?

It’s been a while since my last post. I apologize for the lack of music recommendations as as of late. I’ve actually been feeling rather uninspired by the music I’ve been listening to. I’m still cranking Pantera to 11, but for some reason I’m not franticly pumping my fists in the air. I’m also not quite as excited by Paul Gilbert’s lightning-fast guitar solos…

I need some new tunes! This week I decided to do an exercise. I do a ton of scale/finer exercises in guitar practice so I figure I should probably do some exercises with writing. Maybe this can get me out of my uninspired funk.

This week, I’m going to attempt to write a review for an album that I have never heard before by a band that I don’t know. I want to write an unbiased review based on the music alone without the context of the artist’s previous work. Music will speak for itself!

I just bought the album on iTunes through my Genius recommendation thingy. The band is called Isis and all I know is that they lie somewhere in the progressive metal realm. Here’s my stab at writing a review entirely based on close listening. Headphones on. Play.

Band: Isis

Album: Wavering Radiant

This album’s first track, “Hall of the Dead,” starts out with subtle, mono feedback and then shifts into stereo with the full band. The guitars are tuned fairly low, the drums are crisp and clear, and I can hear the BASS! Nice to hear some hard music with an audible full and warm bass. In come the growling vocals. DAMN, this guy can bark. The lyrics are indecipherable.

The production is quite good, and Isis are creating an ambience by the means heavily reverberated guitar tones, panned instruments, and a soft/loud dynamics. It’s quite the soundscape. Large reliance on reverb, chorus effects, and synth sounds. The dynamics of the following songs, “Ghost Key,” and “Hand of the Host,” continue the pattern of brutal distorted verses with growling vocals, seamlessly flowing into cleaner melodic choruses. There are breaks in the heaviness with long clean interludes of bass-driven melodies and soaring guitars that paint an array of tonal colors.

Overall, these songs are meandering. There is a lack of hook riffs that draw you into the songs and the minor keys create a melancholy aggression. The musicality isn’t anything mind blowing. Isis is obviously a tight band with talent, however it seems like they are striving for an overall impression of the record as a whole rather than a showcase of their musical abilities.

This is certainly a progressive metal album. The Tool influence is very apparent as Adam Jones from Tool appears on a couple of tracks. The atmospheric textures in between songs are reminiscent of early Pink Floyd. Thes transitions make me believe this is a concept album in some way, but lyrically, I have no idea what it’s supposed to be about. Wavering Radiant sounds a lot like Mastodon’s critically acclaimed record Crack The Skye, and to be honest, if any of you are interested in checking out this genre, go with Mastodon. They achieve the same effect as Wavering Radiant but their songwriting skills are much stronger and their musicality is far more interesting.

After this first listen, I’m pleased that I got the album. There is a lot going on on this record and perhaps it requires multiple listens to appreciate the intricacies. Atmospheric, dissonant, and powerful, Wavering Radiant by Isis will be appreciated on a rainy day.

And now, here are the songs of the week:

Isis- “20 Minutes/40 Years”– from 2009’s Wavering Radiant.

Mastodon- “Oblivion”– from 2009’s Crack the Skye. You can hear similar elements to Isis, but this song just RULES. And you can understand the lyrics.

And just to change the mood a little bit…

Sublime- “Santeria”– from Sublime. Who doesn’t love Sublime? I want you all to leave happy rather than depressed.

Band Without A Name

For this post, I’d love some help from my readers. My band needs a name. A good name. If you don’t listen to too many bands, your suggestions are very valuable. I’d love to hear some non-musically influenced suggestions to stretch the boundaries of what a band name can signify.

I have been in a bunch of bands over the years, and one aspect that seems to get the least thought is the decision on a band name. To give you an idea of the lack of creativity/dismal attempt to seem funny, tongue-in-cheek, or artistically profound, I’ll give you a list of some of band names I played under since I started playing guitar:

1) “The Mark”- my band name from 8th grade. Not good. Not terrible either. I think we just decided to name ourselves after our friend Mark… we weren’t that smart back then.

2) “Valhalla”- Believe it or not, my dad actually suggested this to me in 9th grade. I guess he thought it sounded like “Van Halen” but with a mythical Norse twist? I’ll give my dad a mulligan on that one.

3) “Caelum”- Junior year of high school, this band I was in thought being named after some sort of astronomical phenomenon would be profound. It wasn’t.

4) “The Carradines”- This one isn’t actually that bad. The coolest guy around after Kill Bill Vol. 1 came out was David Carradine, of course.

5) “The Bjardkur Gang”- It’s okay if you don’t know how one would annunciate this name. Nobody could. The way we explained it was if you combine The Golden Girls beloved actress, Bea Arthur, with Icelandic vocalist Bjork…thus “Icelandicizing” her name to Bjardkur.

Come to think of it, both Bea Arthur and David Carradine are now deceased…

I obviously do not name bands very well. I am currently in a metal band which is mainly for fun. We’d like to start playing some local shows but we need a name in order to do that. The problem is that although we play heavy metal music, there really isn’t anything “metal” about us. We do not paint our fingernails black, have long hair, and worship Satan.  Nothing about us that screams, “WE ARE METAL!!!” We live in Malibu for God’s sake.

I want our name to convey the music we play, while at the same time suggesting that we don’t take ourselves too seriously. It would be lame if we had a name like “Assault Machine” or something aggressive because it wouldn’t be honest and would seem forced.

Bottom line: looking for a name that reflects an energetic, heavy, rhythmic music with melodic vocals, and fast guitar solos, while implying the excitement of simply playing music. We’re not trying to conform to a specific scene. We just love our metal.

Anyway, if any of you guys have think of any interesting phrases or adjectives along this vein, please share. I’d love to hear suggestions for band names from non-musicians and musicians alike.

On that note, here’s some songs for the week from bands with AWESOME names:

Metallica: “Enter Sandman,” from their 1991 platinum album, Metallica. Metallica, originally a thrash metal band in the 80’s, became the most popular metal band of all time, creating palatable heavy music that even non-metalheads seem to enjoy.

Pink Floyd: “Time,” from their 1974 masterpiece Dark Side of the Moon. Dark Side is one of my favorite albums. If you ever feel compelled to get a great album that is perfect from start to finish, BUY THIS ALBUM!

Radiohead: “Karma Police,” from their 1997 album, Ok Computer. Great song. Great band. This is one of their more melodic, radio-friendly hits. They have gone very experimental over the past decade but this album had the perfect balance between their subsequent experimental direction and a conventional “Brit-rock” vibe.

Technical Difficulties

I just had a guitar lesson with Paul Gilbert. You probably haven’t heard of him. Here’s a glimpse of how SICK he is at guitar.

Technical Difficulties! (Is this at all impressive/enjoyable to anyone who has no idea what is going on technique-wise?)

Before Christmas break last semester, I was getting into a lot of YouTube videos featuring Paul Gilbert. His videos blew me away as I watched his alien-like fingers race across the fretboard in beautiful yet aggressively executed passages that injected a high dose of humility into my veins.

I saw on his official website that Paul was giving 3 VIP lessons in Anaheim in early January for a small number of students. Knowing I couldn’t afford the lesson, I gave up the idea until my dad said that he would pay for it as a Christmas gift. WHAT? PAUL GILBERT? YES! I applied, got a spot, and spent all Christmas break practicing constantly, knowing in a few weeks I would be jamming in the presence of a true guitar virtuoso.

There are a handful guitarists who are regarded as “virtuosos” who also manage to find mainstream success with bands or solo careers. Guitarists like Eddie Van Halen, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and Stevie Ray Vaughan all pioneered new ways to manipulate the sonic possibilities of the electric guitar. Their originality and innovations led them to become icons in the world of guitar and household names.

Paul Gilbert isn’t exactly a household name. Outside of the guitar community or groups of music buffs, Paul Gilbert is relatively unknown. Paul isn’t alone though, there are THOUSANDS of amazing guitarists out there who are unknown in the public eye but lead successful careers as studio musicians, teachers, or solo artists.

The problem with much of guitar-centered instrumental music is that many technical masters of the guitar lack a certain creativity when it comes to writing and recording music. To a non-musician, the brilliance of being able to play lightning-fast arpeggios in a D-Mixolydian mode in an odd time signature doesn’t really appeal. For instance, I can appreciate how good Yngwie Malmseen is because his talents are freaking unreal, but I have a hard time listening to him for pleasure. A lot of other guitar masters write really cheesy songs with bland lyrics.

Paul Gilbert is a little different though. His whole philosophy is to make music enjoyable. Sure he does the straight up shred-your-face-off metal at times to satisfy guitar-geeks like myself, but he also explores many genres of music and was part of the band Mr. Big. I’m sure everyone has heard this song at some point: To Be With You. For real, when I told my roommate that Paul Gilbert was in this band, he started playing this song nonstop for two weeks and the chorus melody WOULD NOT get out of my head. It’s too catchy. Yeah, Mr. Big are kind of a joke now because they were a part of that late ’80’s hair metal thing, but its a very decent pop song and Paul isn’t showing off at all here. Just chords. Its cool when guitarists can pull back from showing off when it’s not appropriate.

But anyway, my lesson with Mr. Gilbert went very well. Watching him play two feet in front of me was mind-blowing. I learned a great deal of useful concepts that will benefit my growth as a guitarist.

I also got him to sign my guitar. The signature is smudged now because my hand rubs it when I play, but it looks cool nonetheless.

For this week, here are a few tunes from some insanely talented guitarists:

Guthrie Govan- “Waves”– I am learning this song now. REALLY difficult. Guthrie may be one of the best guitarists out there today. It’s shred, but this song is really gorgeous. Great clean tones and phrasing.

Paul Gilbert- “To Be With You”– Here’s Paul putting an electric spin on his Mr. Big megahit. All in the name of fun.

Tommy Emmanuel- “Classical Gas”– Tommy is THE master of the steel-string acoustic guitar. He’s performing at Pepperdine in Smothers Theater this sometime this semester. Go see him.

Stop it Creed

Creed sucks. Creed sucked in 2000 and they continue to suck in 2010. I apologize to any passionate fans who worship the Scott Stapp clan, but Creed represents what is wrong with modern hard rock music today.

I’m not a huge purist that condemns any band that manages to be successful, but most of the radio-friendly “hard rock” music over the past 10 years has been a diluted concoction of uninspiring lyrics, formulaic song structures and over-polished music production. Bands like Creed, 3 Doors Down, and especially the joke of a band that is Nickelback pollute the airwaves and prevent quality music from being heard by the masses.

Alas, I’m ranting. This is just a reality that I have to live with. I realize that the complex instrumentation and experimental nature of the music I love isn’t for everyone. It just seems to me that for every popular band that gets mainstream success there is a plethora of less popular bands that have much better musicians, songwriters, and performers.

Record companies and media outlets tell us what to like, what is cool, what is fashionable. It’s their job to do that because they want to sell their products. Creed and Nickelback sell records. Good for them…I just find their music absent of anything creative. If you like them, thats cool. To each his own. I could go into exhausting opinionated detail about why certain bands suck and don’t deserve to be successful, but I don’t want to spread the hate. Music isn’t about hate.

My suggestion is for people to expand their musical tastes and explore other artists in the realm of the music they like. Pandora Radio is a great way to get into new music. It’s basically a huge database of music and you can create your own stations based on what your tastes are. Type in a genre or artist that you like and the website will create a station that plays songs based on similar musical aspects.

Recommended songs for the week:

Doves, “Winter Hill” from 2009 album Kingdom of Rust. Doves are a great Brit-rock band. Think of a mix between Radiohead and Coldplay.

Pantera- Walk” from 1992 album Vulgar Display of Power. Awesome groove, very tight band with unrelenting energy. Try working out to Pantera. Trust me.

Alice in Chains- “Man in the Box” from their 1990 album Facelift. Straight up gritty guitars and amazing singing from Layne Staley. THIS is hard rock.

Jeff Buckley- “So Real” from his 1994 album Grace. Jeff is awesome.


Won’t You Flyyy High, Free Conan

Dear Conan,

Man, I’m sorry about all this crap that’s been going around with NBC. They’re just interested in dollars and cents. It’s pretty badass that you’re not going to let them bump you back to 12:30 just to make their ratings better and their affiliates happy. Corporate d-bags. I’ve always preferred you over Leno.

I was thinking of a cool way to wrap up your show this Friday. It’s your final Tonight Show and you need to go out with a bang. I hear you have some really great guests and bits lined up but you still need a music act. You’ve always had amazing musical guests on the show, so with that standard in mind, here’s what I’m thinking…

Start out by having Neil Young play a song. Neil ROCKS his acoustic and harmonica. After Neil bangs out a tune, its time for a major jam session with an all-star musician lineup. Ok, imagine Will Ferrel dressed as a strung-out, aged hippie on lead-vocals, Max Weinberg on drums, Ben Harper on slide-guitar, Beck on rhythm guitar, Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top shredding blues solos, and you strapping on a beautiful Les Paul guitar and strumming away and jamming to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird”. Thats right, FREE BIRD!! What a perfect way to end your reign as The Tonight Show host.

Screw NBC and rock out in style! Thank you for making us laugh for years and staying true to who you are. That’s rock and roll man.

Cheers,

Zach Pino

Music Fan

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Conan O’Brien ripping a solo to “Free Bird” on his last show with these legendary musical icons is probably the most badass way of signing off air. My jaw literally dropped when I watched this.

Inspired by Conan’s finale, here are some songs I recommend for this week:

Neil Young, “Heart of Gold,” from his classic album, Harvest. James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt are on backing vocals. Amazing song.

Beck, “Gamma Ray,” from his latest release, Modern Guilt.

Ben Harper, “Forever,” from Welcome to the Cruel World. Really chill tune. For the ladies.

ZZ Top, “Sharp Dressed Man,” from Live in Texas. I want their beards.