Sunday, March 29, 2009

NINJA 2009 Tour Sampler

It may be a labeled a “sampler” but attention must be paid as an immediate sign of the times to come. The NINJA 2009 Tour Sampler, recently released March 20 on-line, is a taste of what is to be a juggernaut of a tour this summer across North America by the triumvirate of Jane’s Addiction, Nine Inch Nails, and the newly formed Street Sweeper. No the world didn't time warped back to 1991’s Lollapalooza when Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine was a tiny little dot on the radar of the few. When Ritual de lo Habitual hoisted Jane’s Addiction to the forefront of the alternative nation while proving to be the original line up’s swan song. Or when an unknown band called Rage Against the Machine was just starting to make noise in Los Angeles. There is a form of poetic irony then that in 2009 a tour featuring members of these three bands will appear on the same card while Trent Reznor contemplates stepping away from Nine Inch Nails, a reformed original Jane’s Addiction is recording (with Reznor producing), in addition to being supported by Street Sweeper, a new collaboration featuring Rage’s Tom Morello and Boots Riley of The Coup.

The sampler features two unreleased tracks from each band but is stylistically universal in its aggression, attitude, and angst. The funk and groove of Street Sweeper’s “Clap for the Killers” and “The Oath” features Morello’s guitar licks slashing in a voodoo child like waves against the confident and righteous vocals of Boots Riley. The break-neck wail of processed guitars and thumping bass driven romp of “Not So Pretty Now” and the heavy crunge of “Non-Entity” (Both B-sides from With Teeth) showcase Nine Inch Nails with a diversity of vehement, fatalistic, and delicate tones (reminiscent of 1999’s The Fragile) that could be extremely powerful (and effectively playable) live.

Most interesting, however, is the presence two “new” studio tracks from Jane’s Addiction, originally released on their 1987 live album debut Jane’s Addiction (widely referred to for years as “The Triple X Album” or “Live at the Roxy”). It’s a bold risk to attempt to make new two non-single tracks that fans have coveted for over twenty years (George Lucas, anyone?) Amazingly, the gamble is validated. The thundering rampages of toms that launch “Chip Away” are guttural, sharp, and fierce. Perry Farrell’s voice soars into a rave as the primal sound swarms under the nuanced hand of Reznor. The weight of Eric Avery’s thumping intro to “Whores” primes a burst of swagger from a band which hasn’t conveyed that essential grit and attack of sound in a recording since Avery left the group in 1991. Which leads the listener to curiously ask: Is it the connection to the classic material or is it the reconciled energy between the four original players that have provided the spark on these tracks?

Considering the energy, musicianship, and mutual admiration of the artists in these prolific bands, it leads one to wonder if any collaboration will occur on any given night on stage. Dave Navarro played on NIN’s Piggy (Nothing Can Stop Me Now) on 1995’s Further Down the Spiral and NIN’s 1989’s Pretty Hate Machine’sRingfinger” lifts a sample from Jane’s Addiction’s “Had A Dad.” Perhaps fans could see a rendition of Jane’s “Pigs in Zen” featuring Reznor on vocals and Morello on lead guitar?

Looking ahead to the future, after the show is over, fans can look to hold on to the night by looking for Street Sweeper’s debut this year featuring the currently released first single "Fight! Smash! Win!" as well as a retrospective box-set from Jane’s Addiction titled A Cabinet of Curiosities is to be released April 21, 2009. As prolific as Trent Reznor has been over the last few years, it is hard to determine if Nine Inch Nails will release more material or are to go gracefully into the void.

Aaron Simms

Friday, March 13, 2009

Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes

Every once in a great while the voice of an artist cancels out the noise of world and willingly you stop to give them your full attention. The self titled full length by the Fleet Foxes is a fresh ode of a vintage melodic pop record. It is a welcome anomaly in a contemporary landscape filled with pop music dominated by Broadway want-a-be “Idol” worshiping, break-beat R & B, and the endless succession of imitable Brooklyn hipster bands. Given the band's individuality, it is ironic to discover this Seattle based five piece is signed to the same label (SUB POP) that served as home to the Grunge founders of the early 1990’s. Yet it’s somehow appropriate that another band from the Northwest is breaking new ground in old ways. By fusing popular forms that have similarities to the Brian Wilson influenced pop of the 60’s and the catchy country rock side of Bob Dylan, Fleet Foxes transfuse them into a poetic, contemporary sound of their own.

What’s most refreshing about Fleet Foxes is that they embrace arranging their songs collectively as a band. Each track feels seamlessly built in cohesion; none more evident than witnessed on the meticulous and haunting “Heard Them Stirring.” Through collaboration they are able to transpose the writing strength of lead vocalist Robin Pecknold into soaring structured harmonies. Which are the hall mark of the album and are used delicately to build each song through enforced repetition; evident in the bellowing strength of the stand out “White Winter Hymnal.” Pecknold’s lyrics reflect ponderous storytelling styles that range from early country crooning timber of Neil Young to the more disjointed tenor laden Animal Collective. Despite the intimacy and temporal feel of the album, the lead vocal chorus effect on Fleet Foxes tends to come across a bit over layered. However they use that layering well in mixing somber traces of melancholy with the hopefulness in spirit, derived from leaned nostalgic lessons. Fleet Foxes exemplify a warmth and simplicity, which is as tried and contemporary as any thing that has come before or available now.

Aaron Simms

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Jim White – Transnormal Skiperoo

The music of Jim White has, in some way, illustrated a peak into the quirky, spiritual, and the none-too-familiar parts of Americana in the rural south. On Transnormal Skiperoo he has put together an album of delta blues, roots rock, and (not quite) alt. country that is eclectic as the individual stories hatched from each song. White’s calling card of honest observations of life as it was, or could be, offer insight and amusement that serve as moral time capsules as he marries acerbic wit to classic narratives about faith and normal folk (“Seems like the more that you lose/the more you ache to find…” on “A Town Called Amen”).

Surrounded by a series of collaborators, he’s found the best blend of a band since 1997’s Wrong Eyed Jesus! Through programming, wispy percussion, and pedal steel there is a delicacy and uplifting sparseness that plants the listener right down in the Mississippi Valley. Yet, his “spiritual gurudom” extends far past the rail way tracks; much like David Byrne, who has hosted White on his Luaka Bop label since his debut.

Most of the tracks have a calm musical drawl that allows White’s acid lyrics to calmly resonate; evident on the sobering “Jailbird” and the lamentable pipe dreams of “Plywood Superman.” However there are a few tunes that’ll keep your toe tapping. Specifically the stand out “Crash into the Sun,” accentuated with horns and hand claps, as well as the simple and straightforward “Turquoise House.” Above all, the most surprising thing about Transnormal Skiperoo may be how abnormally normal it seems. Jim White may be bridging the more esoteric jabs of reason that made his earlier works so vivid and interesting, but after a listen you’ll come to find he still just makes enough sense for you to want to play it again.

Aaron Simms