Station to Station – David Bowie

Classic Rock/Funk-Rock

Station to Station is commonly regarded as a rock n’ roll masterpiece. This album is not only one of Bowie’s most unique and adventurous albums but also one of his most fabled. Recorded in 1975, released in 1976 and incredibly fun to listen to in 2017 Station to Station is a product of Bowie during one his most turbulent eras. Station is a consistently shifting, electrifying, and provocative performance fueled by sensational creativity and lots and lots of cocaine. This record transcends generations and is a must own for any rock n’ roll enthusiast.

Station to Station was recorded in Los Angeles during what has been described as a drug fueled psychotic episode. The Thin White Duke was apparently involved in all kinds of weird shit during this time and has little recollection of any of it. I even remember reading that Bowie had absolutely no memory of recording this album. Los Angeles seemed to evoke the most extreme in Bowie and after he left to return to Europe he was quoted as saying that the city should be wiped off the face of the earth. It is both strange and intriguing that such a magnificent piece of music resulted from such chaos.

In musical terms Station to Station is engaging. Racking in at 6 tracks, 38 minutes the album is fairly short with no wasted space. The album constantly changes shape through funky, serenading, and rockin’ refrains. Those who like Bowie at his funkiest will have a lot to enjoy here.

Bowie was really experimental with the recording of Station to Station. This record was produced during the era where Bowie was testing differing electronic elements and instrumental manipulations. Station is heavily synthesized in a way that helped evolve Bowie’s craft at the time and helped usher in a new era for him. Unlike many albums from that time Station to Station in no way sounds archaic. To this day I hear contemporary and ground-breaking music when I listen to Station and I feel that I always will.

The album starts off with the 10 minute title track Station to Station; a segmented track that evolves from experimental noise into funkier and funkier portions. Accompanying Bowie’s outstanding singing are ripping guitar solos, piano glissandos, and grooving basslines. By the end of the song you will most defiantly be playing air drums, guitar or bass so make sure you are aware of your surroundings and try not to hurt anyone.

Track two on the record is a Bowie familiar: Golden Years. What more can I say about Golden Years that has not already been said? It is a song seemingly about focusing on the actual and enjoying the best years of life; who can’t relate to that? Golden Years is yet another soulful jam (full of plenty of whops) and is undoubtedly the biggest hit off this album.

One of my personal favorites off Station is TVC15; a track loaded with swing piano and Elvis-esque vocals. The song was apparently influenced by Iggy Pop’s drug fueled hallucination where he believed that a TV set was attempting to eat his girlfriend. Bowie created the antagonist TCV15 for the track… or I guess you can say that Iggy did technically. Regardless, this track is really fun and I like to think of it as the centerpiece of the album.

Station to Station is a must own for any Bowie enthusiast. This is almost not even worth saying because surely all Bowie enthusiasts already own this record. If you do not, now is a good time to run over to your local record shop and pick one up on vinyl. With Station not only do we get to experience Bowie during one of his craziest time periods but we get a lively and inspired record that will cause you to reflect and dance at the same time; I guess Bowie had a habit of doing that.

See you next week.

Cornell 5/8/77 – Grateful Dead

Jam Band/Classic Rock

The Grateful Dead played thousands of shows over their decade’s long tenure on tour; many of which were recorded. It is almost hard to believe that with such a massive library of recordings one show could stand out so blatantly above the rest. Yet there is one show that is regarded as legendary among deadheads all over the world. One show described as the pentacle performance by those lucky enough to be there and as nothing less than a pristine recording for those who were not. This show was Cornell 5/8/77.

It was this very week 40 years ago that this concert was played in Barton Hall at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. I could almost imagine the crowd funneling into Barton Hall that night; cool and breezy, temperatures in the low 50s; blissfully unaware that they were about to see the very show that deadheads would not stop talking about for the next 40+ years. So what makes this show so special you might ask? Why all the fantasizing about hippies in Ithaca anyway? Well, from where I stand, it was a combination of multiple factors that night; a Grateful Dead perfect storm of sorts.

See, I was not actually there. Nor was I even alive… But I am here to talk about the record and that is something that I am more than happy to do. As an avid fan of the Grateful Dead and their many live recordings I can tell you that this record is not just hype. I could tell how special this performance was during my very first listen. In fact, this recording was so special that it has even been included in the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.

The overall sound quality of this recording is a cut above the rest. With the varying level of quality that exists among the many live recordings this one really stands out. The instruments sound clear and distinguished, the vocals are well balanced and blend properly, and the whole thing sounds so professionally mixed you would think this was a planned official release recording. Indeed it was not. This show became famous just as many other Dead shows did; through hand-to-hand circulation; recorded off the soundboard.

What is even more important than the quality of the recording is the Dead’s energy that night. You can hear it in the music. Not only are some of the songs more up-tempo than I am used to hearing but they are played with such conviction. The Grateful Dead was switched on that night. It is almost hard to explain but you can very well hear it in the music. Here you have the Grateful Dead in pure form.

The setlist for this show was a recipe for success. The first set skipped the extended jams for the most part instead favoring a long list of classic Dead songs. The set started with New Mingelwood Blues and included songs the likes of Loser, Jack Straw, Deal, Brown Eyed Women, Mama Tried and the eleven minute finale Row Jimmy. Most of the songs on set one are some of the best respective versions that I have personally heard.

Set two starts off with one hell of a bang with the sixteen and a half minute Dancing in the Streets. This song features such an electric jam that it is easily one of my favorites of the whole show. I have heard Dancing in the Streets on other GD recordings but never quite like this. Set two continues with Scarlet Begonias, Fire on the Mountain, and Estimated Prophet. Need I say more?

Set three is the grand finale and graces us with spectacular versions of St. Stephen, Not Fade Away, Moring Dew, and One More Saturday Night as the closer. I have to say that the St. Stephen and Morning Dew really stand out as key pieces on this recording. Set three would not be the same without them.

Well folks there you have it; my short blurb on the legendary 5/8/77 show. If you really want to sponge up the lore and mysticism behind this show go type it in google. You will have plenty of reading to do. I am always grateful for the plethora of Dead recordings that exist out there (yes, I just did that…). I love listening in for the variations, perfections, and imperfections from show to show. Each era of the Dead has a different story to tell through these recordings. Just go ask someone who was there; they will be happy to tell you all about it. Until then be sure to check out the 5/8 recording. You won’t be sorry.

See you next week.

Time Fades Away – Neil Young

Classic Rock

In Neil Young’s entire massive library of music there may be no album with more history and significance behind it than 1973’s Time Fades Away; an album that many people, including some of Young’s fans, may have never even heard of. What we have here is a sometimes dark, always sincere album recorded during a time of great turmoil for Neil Young. It is an album that is hard to even analyze sometimes given the disparity of feelings about the record between Neil and his audience. Do you want to talk about an obscure piece of rock n’ roll history? Let’s talk Time Fades Away.

Time Fades Away was Neil Young’s first ever live album that was recorded during his massive 1973 tour that included somewhere in excess of 60 shows over three months.  The Stray Gators served as his backup during this tour in place of Crazy Horse. The album is one of the three albums that are included in Neil’s “ditch trilogy” which also includes Tonight’s The Night and On The Beach and is considered, in addition to the other two, one of the most significant Neil Young albums ever made.

While the album was originally released in 1973 it was never reissued onto CD due to Neil’s feelings towards in and probably more importantly towards the unpleasant experience of that 1973 tour. This was the very same tour that followed the death of Crazy Horse guitarist and Neil’s friend Danny Whitten. He ended up overdosing on valium the very night after Neil fired him from the tour due to his instability. God only knows how deeply that affected Neil on this incredibly stressful tour.

In addition to the passing of Danny there was turmoil among the band members during the tour that resulted from money disputes and many other various disagreements and incidents. The result of this overwhelming negative experience for Neil was the shunning of Time Fades Away; I believe he even went as far as to call it his worst album ever at some point. In contrast to Neil’s feelings towards the album I can tell you that the critics and more importantly his die-hard fans cherish it as one of the best and most overlooked Neil Young albums of all time.

Time Fades Away is a truly classic rock n’ roll album. Through the eight songs on the album we get a little of every style of Neil Young. From the upbeat rockabilly swing of Time Fades Away to the classic hard rock sound of Last Dance this is an awesome showcase of original Neil Young live tracks. Love In Mind is a highlight here and features Neil solo on piano. The song is short, intimate and you can just picture Neil sitting up on the stage playing piano under the spotlight. Don’t Be Denied is a steel guitar laced country rock jam that tells a short story of Neil’s youth to his success as a musician and the business of it all. “Well, all that glitters isn’t gold, I know you’ve heard that story told, and I’m a pauper in a naked disguise, a millionaire through a business man’s eyes, oh friend of mine, don’t be denied.”

There may be only eight songs on this album but there is no bullshit here. Each and every song is a gem. There exists way too much history and lore behind this album to talk about in a few short paragraphs but I encourage all who are interested to go read about it and more importantly to listen to it! The good news for all of us is that while this album may have fallen into the abyss for a period of time it has since been released in digital format for all to enjoy. Time Fades Away is a highly regarded anomaly among Neil Young fans and critics. While Neil himself may have mixed feelings about the album and tour I hope that he can find solace in the fact that Time Fades Away is still, to this day, bringing a lot of joy and entertainment to his fans all over the world.

See you next week.

Pure Comedy – Father John Misty

Indie Folk

Last week Father John Misty released his newest LP entitled Pure Comedy. Father John Misty fans (including most of my friends and I) have been eagerly waiting for this release since 2015’s I Love You, Honeybear. It should be noted that while I am eager to write about this album this week I have only listened to it a few times at this point. While the album is still settling in for me I have to say that I really like it so far. FJM continues to produce great work.

My initial impression is that this album as a whole is very much a continuation of the style we saw in the song Bored in the USA (track 9 of I Love You, Honeybear) almost as if that song was a primer for this album. We see a continuation of the slower pace ballads accompanied by piano, guitar, Tillman’s outstanding vocals and cynical and satirical personality. It’s this persona that FJM fans have watched develop over the past years that sets his music apart. It may sound drab but honestly it’s entertaining as hell.

This is FJM’s biggest project yet racking in at 13 songs and 1hr and 14min. The pace of this album is quite a bit slower than his past releases and, as my cousin pointed out, some of the songs tend to blend together upon first listen. This being said, don’t leave with the impression that the songs are not varied or unique, it’s just that there is an overall tempo to this album that holds firm. The one exception to this would be the track Total Entertainment Forever which is more upbeat.

The album opens with the self-titled Pure Comedy and this song is a great intro to the album. The song exemplifies FJM’s persona perfectly by delivering a twisted view of humanity over piano and drums. Total Entertainment Forever is next and is the very song that was the subject of scrutiny after FJM’s appearance on SNL. The song opens with the controversial lyrics “bedding Taylor Swift every night inside the Oculus Rift, after mister and the missus finish dinner and the dishes” of course referring to having virtual sex with Taylor Swift using the virtual reality platform Oculus Rift. This song is upbeat, features great instrumentals including saxophone and is currently my favorite song off the album.

One song that I did not hear until release was A Bigger Paper Bag. This song has been growing on me and is creeping towards the top of the ranks for my favorite songs off the album. Ballad of a Dying Man is maybe the most interesting song here. This song tells the story of an old dying man that remains analytical and critical of people up until his very last breath. We also have Leaving LA which is a mammoth thirteen minute and twelve second song that critiques “LA hipsters and their bullshit bands” (lyrics changed from Pitchfork bands on the album release for some reason) among many other entertaining points.

I feel that this FJM album was worth the wait. Sure the album is a bit different than his prior releases (mainly in the consistent downtempo pace and critical tone) but I really feel that through his lyrics and music Tillman is giving us his most honest FJM yet. How do I think this album stacks up against his other releases? Ask me in a few months and I’ll tell you. Is this album worth your time? Yes it is.

See you next week.

Hot Thoughts – Spoon

Indie Rock

This week I would like to switch things up a little bit and focus on a new release. The week before last Spoon welcomed the newest addition to their catalog with the release of Hot Thoughts. At this point most spoon fans would not expect the band to deviate much from their well-established formula that has been so successful for them to date. Spoon is one of those bands that has their comfort zone and succeeds very well when staying close to it. This being said, Hot Thoughts deviates from the formula just enough to keep things interesting without risking turning off their longtime fans.

With Hot Thoughts Britt Daniel and the boys experiment a bit more with electronic elements and diverse instrumentals to keep things interesting while maintaining their signature sound. Don’t worry, this is not a deviation similar to The Black Keys with the release of Fever, it’s more proportionate. As a spoon fan I really dig what they did here.

Through most of the album you will hear Britt Daniel’s as-good-as-ever vocals over fun and interesting rhythms that sound both familiar and new. In between you will also find some breaks in the upbeat tempo with songs like Pink Up and the eerie finale Us.  Just when you think that you are in familiar territory the Austin outfit mixes things up with something original. You can hear this in songs like Can I Sit Next to You which starts out with a recognizable Spoon beat and transforms into an alluring Arabian melody. The song is funky, enticing, and just a lot of fun overall.

Other noteworthy songs on Hot Thoughts include the self-titled Hot Thoughts, I Ain’t the One, the danceable track First Caress, and one of my new favorite Spoon tracks Tear it Down. Again, like most albums you will see me post here, this is a great album to listen to from front to back. Do I have to talk you in to it?

See you next week.

Man It Feels Like Space Again – Pond

Psychedelic Rock

If there is one thing I know about the Australian music scene is that there is no shortage of quality psychedelic rock acts emerging from the country. With notable groups such as Tame Impala, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, and newbies The Walking Who there are plenty of psychedelic gems to enjoy from down under. Pond is no exception.

Pond, formed in 2008, features a rotating lineup including many members of Tame Impala itself including Jay Watson and Nick Allbrook. Those who enjoy the music of Tame Impala will easily be able to hear the bands influence on Pond’s 2015 release Man It Feels Like Space Again. I have to say this is one of my favorite releases to come out of the Australian psychedelic music scene to date.

Pond is a fun band. They seem to take themselves less seriously than their counterpart Tame Impala and have a bit more fun in the process. This is apparent when watching their music videos including the Jim Henson on blotter video for my favorite song off the album, Man It Feels Like Space Again and the hotdog belt tapping video for Zond (don’t ask, just watch). Even the album cover is fun!

Most importantly, the music is great. Most songs have multiple segments and progressively evolve as you listen in true psychedelic form. Additionally, the songs are multi-layered with great instrumentals. This makes for a great listening experience overall. I have found that this is a great album to listen to on high quality speakers.

I won’t do a song by song rundown here but I encourage you to listen to the whole album because there is quite a bit to enjoy. I will say that some of my favorites off Man It Feels Like Space Again include the self-titled Man It Feels Like Space Again, the opener Waiting Around for Grace, and the funky Outside is The Right Side where the Tame Impala influence can be heard loud and clear.

Pond’s Man It Feels Like Space Again is not only a great edition to the Australian psychedelic rock catalog but also an amusing album to listen to. Watch the ridiculous YouTube music videos, listen to the album in the car after a long day’s work, or throw it on with some friends over. Regardless, one thing that I can tell you is that if you enjoy this type of music, this one will grow on you.

See you next week.