It’s been a year and a half since Grindstone first reported onto the scene with their eponymously entitled initial public offering. The passing months have found this hard-hitting grungemetal foursome working hard to carve for themselves their own sound. And, given the limitations imposed by the particular genre they are currently exploring, they seem to be succeeding rather well.
Guitarist Chris Hyde, bassist Tony Miller and drummer Travis Ludahl provide the sinewy accompaniment for Lamar Stilwell’s powerful vocal excursions. Stillwell, especially, should be commended for his efforts in finding his own voice in the mix. Coming from the Layne Staley/Scott Weiland school of ululation, Stillwell maintains a deep-throated vocal delivery, but with enough of his own style so as to no longer sound imitative in the least.
The first four tracks, “Faces Dead,” the title track, “Blind The Light,” and “Never,” would seem to be variations on a metal theme, juxtaposing similar riffs into different shapes and contours, without venturing very far from the stylistic path. “F.O.I” is something of a departure. Over a roiling guitar figure, Stillwell builds dramatic tension as the ensemble slowly gathers in instrumental vigor, exploding in the choruses before wending back to the original stripped down arrangement. Nice dynamic touches from Ludahl help to propel the tune.
Anomalous acoustic guitar provides the foundation on “Changes,” where a similar series of climaxes and denouements make of this cut a winning ballad. Hyde lends “Hunger” one of his more intriguing guitar motifs, a sullen, loping, hopscotch pattern that leads to the chunky chorus. “Wired” sounds like something Filter might produce: a tightly wrapped package with highly flammable contents.
Miller’s fat, sludgy bassline forms the fulcrum on “Freedom Your Soul,” a number that reflects more than others a definitive Alice In Chains influence, especially in the vocal harmonies. Another slippery set of riffs from Hyde provide the propulsion on “Brother Shame,” where more Staley-like vocal harmonies abound. “Step Back” veers nearer to Stone Temple Pilots turf.
Grindstone demonstrate impeccable ensemble-work. Their flawless execution of the material helps immeasurably to increase its sonic impact. The songs themselves seem to span the rainbow from black to gray, but apparently such attitudes, too, go with the musical territory. be that as it may, the band demonstrates chops aplenty and a dedication to improving their efficacy. This can only bode well for this dedicated unit.
Life Goes On
Crazy Bastard Records
Here are a witty and intelligent quartet who have modeled themselves sonically after Bad Religion and Green Day, although their lyrical bent often seems more closely aligned with that of They Might Be Giants. Energetic, buoyantly quirky songs played with élan and gusto. Some may balk at the They Might Be Giants reference, but hey, check out the narrative on the bombastic opening track, succinctly entitled “Frisbee.”
“Plastic floating on the breeze through the trees/It’s kind of like a UFO/It’s known as discology, set the frisbee free/It’s kind of like an art/I know, ’cause science can’t explain this thing/It’s quite amazing/And flying disc is so supreme/Go frisbee/Effect is deeper than the cause/Even in Oz the wizard throws his all the time/Now this probably makes no sense, but in the end frisbee is a state of mind/Yeah like I said flying disc is so supreme/It’s even better than your craziest wildest dreams in bed/I said in bed/Oh okay so I exaggerated a bit/But flying frisbee really is the shit//That’s it.”
The twelve songs contained on the album often show a similar gift for clever lyrics, though the subject matter is not always nearly so light-hearted. In fact, as is so often the case these days, many of the songs seem to deal with the subject of alcohol and alcoholism. The four members of The Secludes, Jeremy, Ammon, Adam and Jason provide neither last names, nor instrument assignment in their extensive liner documentation. So obviously this is a group effort. The lyrics appear to have been written by more than one individual. But musically the songs have an internal cohesion. The band plays well together, creating a tight sound comprised of two crunchy guitars and bass and drums, generally set at tempo hyperdrive.
“Lost In A Bottle” contains a fine, conscientious lyric stretched against a fusillade of fizzing powerchords. A brilliantly conceived bridge, with stuttering twin guitar figures and powerfully concise vocals, make of this a memorable song. “Corporate Pukes” is more to the point, with double time drums driving the beat, which takes an inventive nosedive in one particular spot. A sad song, with crying guitar lines, “Sick” is a depressingly well-constructed tale about terminal illness.
“Low B.A.C.” crackles with Green Dayish intensity, sprinting through a brief account of an alcoholics typical day. Coming in from a different, Adam Ant-ish angle, “This Guy” quickly evolves into a skittering jig, seemingly continuing the story of a particular alcoholic. Another tragically funny number, with offkilter musical interludes tossed in at random four-bar intervals. “Take This Away” is a thoughtful anti-racist harangue.
The Secludes provide smart, savvy punk-flavored metal tunes with a minimum of bullshit and a maximum of authority. The songs, while similarly constructed, mostly offer something new or different on every track— not an easy task, given this units’ musical preference. Still they succeed on nearly every attempt, offering the promise of a bright future.
Here’s yet another talented troupe of four versatile musicians: who espouse a highly stylized techno-fied funkmetal proficiency, along the lines, perhaps, of early Mercury Rev. and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
And, yet again, Blyss. members John Colgate, Patrick Hildreth, Brandon Callihan and Brian Powell refuse to divulge responsibility for instrumentation anywhere upon their rather ornate CD packaging, making a statement of some sort no doubt: maintaining a faceless anonymity in the glare of critical inspection. Whatever the case, it would be nice to be able to give credit where credit is due for some impressive musicianship, without having to join a cult or a secret society.
Utilizing a variety of effects, many from the collection of sounds interjected by DJ Chill, the band displays an array of stylistic strengths, careening from the funky pimpslap rap of “The Mack” and scratching hyper funk of “Seven Fly”,” to the acoustic guitar textures of “Saturday.” to the Peppery blast of “Sandbox,” to the jazzy polyrhythms of “Paradigm,” also reminiscent of the Chili Peppers.
“Sun Tunnel” is a melodic ballad that drones cheerfully beneath sparkling acoustic guitars, creating a peaceful mood. A nice change from the more agitated productions that preceded it. The two short instrumentals “La Migra Incedente” and “Castaway” demonstrate the bands’ propensity for soundtrack atmospherics.
“Dynamo” rides swampy groove, congas slapping against a wah-wah guitar riff and a soulflavored bassline, contrasted against a more strident turnaround. “Life After” soars on spiraling psychedelic guitar machinations, while a percolating bass guitar oscillates around an insistent drum beat; impassioned vocals vaporizing within the boiling cauldron.
A single dissonant broken chord on guitar initiates the finale “Epicak,” a stolid bassline soon defining the parameters of the intro, as congas and snappy snare-rim work are assimilated into the sound field. The vocalist, Peter Gabriel craggy, grittily whispers a thoughtful lyric.
Blyss. manifest a melange of complex pieces within the bakers’ dozen tracks they offer on this outing. With superlative musicianship and reflective production they arrive at a sound that is mostly original in execution, if perhaps somewhat derivative in context. However, there is no disputing the facility the band demonstrates at every turn. Great stuff.
This fine compilation was a bag-stuffer giveaway at last months North By NorthWest music conference, and as such is a spectacular sampling of our city’s richly divergent musical atmosphere. The theme here is that most of the seventeen recordings presented were mastered in Portland at NorthWestern Incorporated. A broader cross-section would be near impossible to assemble. The outstanding production quality of the individual tracks and Ryan Foster’s invaluable efforts in compiling, sequencing and mastering the finished product, lend the entire project a universally cohesive sparkle and sheen.
From the solid contributions of familiar names such as Carmina Piranha, State Flowers, Kaitlyn Ni Donovan, and Jesus Presley, to the promising entries of lesser known prospects such as Niven, The Viles, Harrison and The Daylights; from the obscure— Japan’s grunge poppers Orange Candy, to the ridiculous— the septuagenarian crooning codger Les Wilson; from Folk— Stephanie Schneiderman and Reclinerland’s Michael G. Johnson, to the expansive Electronica of Sound Secretion Dub, the earnest New Age informed outpourings of Colorfield, the ominous Goth gloom of Written In Ashes and Sumerland, to the thoughtful Hip Hop rhymes of rapper Maniac Lok: this record has a little something for everyone.
While many of the tracks have been reviewed previously in these pages, their new musical context adds to a new appeal. The set kicks off with “The Velvet,” a moody, atmospheric number extracted from Jesus Presley’s Baptism Of Love (TL 11/97); then Harrison’s rousing rendition of the Gloved One’s “Billy Jean” from his album Evolution (TL 10/98), followed by Kaitlyn Ni Donovan’s ethereal “Ceiling Tiles” from her recent release three days (TL 9/99).
From there, a series cuts from less familiar band’s ensues. While the band Niven may not be a household name, frontman Chris Tsefalas has spent the better part of two decades in this city plying his marvelous vibrant powers as a singer and songwriter, most notably in the mid-’80s with the very successful local band Crow. Here, along with a stalwart backup band, he creates a sound akin to that of Michael Penn, Jeff Buckley, Crowded House or E of the Eels: a pretty, well-sung melody over guitar and organ driven Pop setting. Tsefalas’ malleable tenor weaves through a gorgeously memorable chorus, where a haunting cello figure mournfully moans in the background. Very nice.
The Viles slither into the picture with the raucous S&M pæan “Slave Bomb Baby”— a jagged shard of twisted punk metal. The lead singer calls to mind the gritty audacious of the Plasmatics’ Wendy O. Williams, the ragged insouciance of Missing Persons’ Dale Bozzio and the pure white trashiness of Courtney Love. Right in the pocket. Meanwhile the band, comprised of a guitar or two, bass and drums, storms through some serious riffage along the lines of Everclear’s “Heroin Girl.” Ouch! Some badass voogum goin’ down here, uh-huh. Lookout.
Changing the mood, Colorfield move more toward dreamy, introspection with “Sweet Melissa” Vocalist Carla Kendall- Bray, backed with acoustic guitar, bass and drums and occasional violin interludes, resembles Sarah McLachlan somewhat. And as such, the song holds together pretty well. Solo songwriter Michael G.Johnson, who chooses to go by the name Reclinerland, waxes nostalgic with a breezy jaunt down memory lane, “1981.” A little Jimmy Page-like acoustic guitar riff (circa Led Zeppelin III) propels the tune, as Johnson recalls the events and epiphanies that constitute the fabric of his being. Rather charming.
Carmina Piranha submit for our approval “Ride Charlie Ride,” a previously unreleased track. It’s a sparse and subdued number: acoustic guitar, bass, occasional electric guitar accents, Wurlitzer-like keyboard pads over deftly brushed snare; a lead vocal with occasional backing harmonies. A palpable sense of repressed rage clutches at the throat of this song. Nicely turned.
As if to lift the spirits slightly, Orange Candy counter with “Ice Cream Man,” a mid-tempo churner, with indecipherable lyrics; but apparently the young woman vocalist has undergone a disappointment regarding her love-object. Stylistically, she very much resembles the Divinyls’ Christine Amphlett. She fronts a Nirvana-schooled four-piece band, that sounds as if it’s doing the Pretenders’ “Mystery Achievement” and Throwing Muses’ “Dizzy” simultaneously. The vocalist maintains an air of detachment through the verses, before brightening in the intoxicatingly incoherent choruses. This is an aptly named band, for they are quite the colorful confection.
Sound Secretion Dub mixes up an hypnotically percussive effort with
“Shifting Dub/Beat Trilogy.” Sinewy beats are enhanced by spacy synth tones and other electronic effects. Maniac Lok cuts to the quick with “Behind Tha Scenes.” Cleverly arranged instrumental accompaniment and scrupulous DJ-work create a stylish environment over which Lok conjures a forthright portrait of real life as it exists in his world. Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll baby.
The State Flowers furnish “Citizen’s Arrest” from their album Third Of July (TL 8/99). Sheryl Crow and Shawn Colvin come quickly to mind with Stephanie Schneiderman’s “New Skin Completed.” Over a bed of guitars, bass, drums and Hammond organ fills, Schneiderman lays an evocative vocal— meant to express her joy at finding a new love. A solid performance.
And what would such joy be without gloom and despair? Written In Ashes spell out the answer in “Corners,” a sinister little ditty that boils and bubbles balefully, as the vocalist darkly intones (reminiscent of Billy Idol) his deepest trepidations. Sustaining the apprehensive aura, Sumerland hover with “Circle Dance,” a densely wrought piece of philosophical gibberish that obviously means something to the singer, who alternately sounds like Bryan Ferry, David Bowie and Leonard Cohen— without so much to say.
The true gem of this sterling set is the Daylights’ “The Metro.” When last we heard from this enterprising quartet (TL 2/97), they displayed a keen sense of their place, which might best be described as lingering somewhere between the locations of Bad Religion and Green Day. In the past two and a half years, they have only tightened up their presentation all the more. Here they take a scorching guitar riff, add slashing rhythm guitars and heavily effected vocals for a rouslingly fast-paced ramble: heightened by great, memorable chorus. With all certainty, the Daylights are a band that need to be heard by a wider audience. They are ready.
If variety be the spice of life, Ramen Holiday is the whole meal, with extra sauce. The essentially high level of musicianship and craftsmanship exhibited throughout the entire sampler is a fine indication of the abundant pool of talent that wells persistent in our little corner of the world— a blessing for which we are fortunate far beyond our comprehension or appreciation