As I have mentioned before, I love listening to loads of new music across a variety of genres, and have very much appreciated how many folks have shared new music with me since I have started writing music reviews for Gear Diary. I started off with full, large song-by-song reviews (whole notes), and then started to also do somewhat shorter reviews that don’t pick apart each song (half-notes). Then I started a series where I would have a shorter review for a number of albums that also targets a favored song and target audience (quarter note), but have found that process to be too intense and time-consuming for me to continue – so I tried paring it back even further but on a single album basis (eighth note).
But I was missing the group reviews that looked across a number of releases in a genre – so I created Music Diary Semi-Quavers late last year! A semi-quaver is a sixteenth note, and like that brief moment in musical time, I will give each new recording a simple paragraph summary with a bit of context and a bit of opinion and a link to either Amazon or iTunes. If the album is very good I might highlight a song, but if not I will quickly dismiss the entire thing. I have done a couple and been very happy with the results and the feedback, so here is another focused on pop and rock releases!
- Lacuna Coil – Dark Adrenaline(2012, ‘Gothic Metal’): My first exposure to Lacuna Coil was the song ‘Swamped’ from the Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines soundtrack. It has been more than seven years and it is STILL on my iPod along with choice other songs from the game. I haven’t tracked the group, but when I saw this was coming out I previewed some tracks and then grabbed it. The first easy comparison is to Evanescence as my wife was a fan when they had their hit album a few years ago. But while that band has had more off-stage drama and less satisfying music, Lacuna Coil actually pre-dates Evanescence … and has put out a stream of solid recordings. For fans I chat with, Dark Adrenaline might be their best yet, and certainly the best since 2002’s Comalies – which isn’t faint praise as they have had a number of solid releases.The dual vocalists trading off, strong pounding rhythm section, and shredding guitar work all bring a hard-rock feel with goth sensibilities. I’m not someone who really cares about the words being sung (thus my lifelong preference for instrumental music) but I appreciate the use of the voice as musical instrument. Here we see both vocalist delivering raw emotion and intense feelings of all sorts throughout the album, and it is a very effective combination. The only down-side for me is the REM cover ‘Losing My Religion’ – It is a weak version of a classic song that really doesn’t belong. But don’t let that distract you – this album of a dozen songs has one clunker and two or three songs that could be called ‘filler’, leaving 8-9 solid tracks … an easy recommendation for fans of the goth-metal genre.My favorite song is ‘Intoxicated’, as it showcases vocalist Cristina Scabbia at her very best – raw intensity, great melodic sense and rhythm, all floating over some of the tightest and most intense playing on the album.
- Skrillex – Bangarang EP (2012, Electronica / Dance): When Dubstep gains mainstream popularity, does that mean that the ‘pied piper of dubstep’ will switch to mainstream pop? Not really, but this EP is clearly a step in that direction. While Skrillex has always been more song-oriented than Deadmau5 or Daft Punk, here he leans more heavily than usual on guests to build out his songs – with mixed results. He works with Wolfgang Gartner on a rather rough track, The Doors on an overly polished track, Ellie Goulding on the most beautiful song on the EP, tour-partner 12th Planet, and more. The most consistent partner is Sirah, who joins Skrillex on two songs, including the title. There is plenty of pure dubstep, but also a solid mix of electro, house, rave and more pop-centric dance music. Nonetheless it is a satisfying an outing with enough content that it is easy to forget it is an EP.My favorite song is ‘Bangarang’, just because it is an awesome song. The video is also well worth checking out.
- Chickenfoot – Chickenfoot III (2011, Rock): While Van Halen is out with a new recording featuring original vocalist David Lee Roth, the other half of the band for the last twenty years – Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony – joined up with master guitarist Joe Satriani and drummer Chad Smith in 2009 for the well-received Chickenfoot. Late last year they released the sequel, ironically called ‘Chickenfoot III’. It is another set of guitar-centric rock songs with rather pedestrian compositions and too much filler. But the execution is very well done – Michael Anthony and Chad Smith are tight and solid and provide an energetic pulse to the proceedings. Sammy Hagar remains vibrant and rock-steady, and while Joe Satriani doesn’t reach the heights of his early work he pours much more energy and conviction into these proceedings than his recent solo efforts.My favorite song is ‘Up Next’, on the strength of Joe Satriani’s guitar work. This record is tailor-made for those looking for arena rock with a great lead guitarist, but is an uneven effort with too much filler. It is better than the new Van Halen, but I was constantly left wishing that with so much talent assembled the results had been better.
- Van Halen – A Different Kind of Truth (2012, Rock): Reunited with David Lee Roth at last, Van Halen features a clean Eddie and a near family affair with brother Alex and son Wolfgang (replacing Michael Anthony, though Eddie reportedly played many of the on-album bass parts). And the results aren’t bad … but neither are they good. If it sounds harsh to say it sounds like a bunch of over-the-hill rockers trying to reclaim past glory, it is also true. Being a jazz fan who just reviewed Gary Husband’s album that is full of musicians as old or older than Van Halen, I can clearly point to HUNDREDS of recordings by older groups that are vital, vibrant and relevant. This sounds like a tired old cover band.My favorite song is ‘Big River’, another old demo from the 80s, simply because it is Eddie’s strongest guitar work on the album. If you are a big Van Halen fan you already own this, if not … don’t bother – go get their earlier much stronger work.
That is all for this time – next time I will be looking at recent jazz releases, and once again there are some solid releases and some underachievers. Until then, let me know what you think about these and other recordings!