Chris Cornell – Euphoria Mourning RIP Dude

I didn’t get around to posting this in time but I still think it’s worth an “edit” rather than a “trash.” Maybe…

I’ve never been the biggest Soundgarden fan, really. And I always found Audioslave’s combination of styles too weird to get into; Rage Against the Machine’s stripped down rap-rock meets Chris Cornell’s larger-than-life, wailing-crooner crescendos. But I do love Cornell’s first solo album, Euphoria Morning. I listened to it non-stop for months when it came out. My wife (then girlfriend) loves it too. It means something special to us.

I saw Chris Cornell live once, in South Africa, and I saw Soundgarden at Hyde Park. And man, the dude could sing! I still can’t believe the news. Such a bright, iconic, world-conquering light snuffed out in such a sad, lonely, quiet seeming blink of an eye. The “voice of a generation” indeed.

PS, this Rock am Ring 2017 Prophets of Rage Chris Cornell tribute, featuring Serj Tankian on vocals, is pretty special as well. Nothing but love. Nothing but respect.

Rancid – Telegraph Avenue (New Album Trouble Maker Out June 9)

It’s Friday and East Bay punk rock legends Rancid have just dropped another second single, “Telegraph Avenue,” from their June-to-be-released new album Trouble Maker.

Again, it’s a glorified lyric video, really, featuring Rancid jamming in the same garage they rocked for previous single “Ghost of A Chance” – there must have been a two-for-one deal.

And again, frontman Tim Armstrong’s unkempt Castaway beard and black nail polish vibe creates such a strange visual contrast with guitarist Lars Frederiksen’s current smart-dressed American oi! look.

The song sounds great, though. Just like a Friday should. Trouble Maker is out June 9, and I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be a good one. Another comeback. Perhaps, of Indestructible proportions.

The National – The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness (New Album Sleep Well Beast Out September 8)

And then, late one night, it finally happened… I read the news on Instagram first. Dark, broody, articulate groove merchants, The National, are gearing up for total world domination. And it’s a slick operation; cream for North America, yellow for the U.K. and Europe, and an interchangeable barn/house/recording studio logo to match the NEW ALBUM cover. Oh yeah.

The extensive touring, of course, is to promote The National’s new album Sleep Well Beast, which is due out this September 8 on 4AD. And, like any well planned album marketing campaign worth its sponsored post salt, the website’s been overhauled – along with Facebook and Twitter – and there’s already a new single, “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness,” up on Spotify, YouTube, Deezer and everywhere else.

There’s a lot going on with the song itself. From the smooth female vocals that kick things off, to the rib-buttering piano builds and the schizophrenic guitar lick that resurfaces all the way through. And then, finally, the mesmeric drums of Mr. Bryan Devendorf.

I’m not sure exactly what to make of the song – and the guitar solo. I’ve listened to it about ten times, but it’s still sinking in. Like any album by The National, “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” needs a context. A flow. A dark surrounding sea of contrasting emotions to tether it to. And I can’t wait to hear how it fits into the rest of the Sleep Well Beast puzzle. Exciting times indeed…

Die Antwoord – Love Drug (From Dangerous to Dawson’s Creek, With Emojis)

What the fuck happened to Die Antwoord? Those guys used to sound so special, like they were riding the cusp of something dangerous, beautiful and bat-shit crazy, all at the same time. Last week, the South African rap-rave duo announced their fifth and “final” album The Book of Zef, and based on boring-as-fuck first single “Love Drug,” it’s clearly time for Ninja and Yolandi to call it a night and move on.

The song starts with a pretty interestingly sung and catchy Ninja whine, but quickly degenerates into a mess of forgettable, lame raps and wannabe Aphex Twin beats that sound more like someone bouncing a flat basketball than anything bucephalus. And the techno wave finale the song rides out on just sounds like something Die Antwoord had lying around on the cutting room floor, leftover from their disappointing third album, 2016’s Mount Ninji and da Nice Time Kid.

I can’t see any mention that Die Antwoord collaborated with Aphex Twin on the track – it would be funny if it is actually him – but like I say, it doesn’t sound like the real deal. I just hope the rest of the album’s better than this weak, Dawson’s Creek, Emoji take on Die Antwoord.

Rancid’s Ghost Breath Tastes Like Fire – New Album Trouble Maker Out June 9

East Bay punk legends Rancid have just announced that their new album, Trouble Maker, is due out this June 9. And there’s a new single to boot.

The song’s called “Ghost of A chance,” and to be honest, it sounds like a breath of fresh air after the previous two Rancid albums. Unlike 2014’s …Honor Is All We Know, it sounds less like two-dimensional, studded-jacket, raise-your-fist punk, and more like the wistful, heart-on-sleeve poetry frontman Tim Armstrong and his gang of aging tattooed brothers carve up so well.

Even the title’s cooler. More original. More special. And the music, itself, is a forceful throwback to classic, garage-jam Rancid, with the kind of enlightened, bearded wisdom that only comes with age. “You never grow too old to dream.”

Interestingly, it looks like they’re releasing Trouble Maker themselves, under “exclusive license to Epitaph Records.” Only complaint: the album cover…

Can’t Handcuff the Wind – Mindhorn and Julian Barratt, Comin’ At Ya This Friday

One thing the world definitely needs more of is Julian Barratt. And luckily for us, the former pioneering Mighty Boosh jazz maverick’s back, in hilarious-looking new big-screen comedy caper Mindhorn.

Barratt plays washed up actor Richard Thorncroft, who ruled the ’80s as ass-kicking, moustachioed TV detective Bruce Mindhorn. But fast forward 25 years and Thorncroft’s balding, overweight and all but forgotten. That is, until a deranged serial killer refuses to speak to anyone but Mindhorn, who he believes is totally real.

On top of that, Barratt has gone full Howard Moon and dropped a magically cheesy ’80s power ballad as Richard Thorncroft, titled “You Can’t Handcuff the Wind.” Oh yeah. Mindhorn is out this Friday, May 5. Just check out the trailer…

Frenzal Rhomb – Cunt Act (New Album Out May 26)

Too-tough-to-die Aussie punks Frenzal Rhomb have ridden out their latest scare – drummer Gordy Forman snapping his arm in two teaching a fan how to stage dive correctly – and recorded a new album. Finally.

As usual, Frenzal turned to mighty Fort Collins, Colorado studio The Blasting Room, and legendary Descendents drummer Bill Stevenson. And as usual, the production’s beefier than a vegan after a slow-cooked bean curry and a tray of dairy free bran muffins.

Hi-Vis High Tea is due out May 26 on Fat Wreck, and “Cunt Act” is a typically cartoon-crude, smart-punks-playing-dumb taste of what’s to come. Can’t wait…

Cloud Nothings – Life Without Sound


Cloud Nothings – Life Without Sound
Carpark/Wichita (2017)

I’ve got to admit, initially, I wasn’t sure what to make of Cloud Nothings’ new album Life Without Sound. I’d even go so far as to say my first impression was anxious disappointment. “It’s so clean,” I thought. Smoother. Slower. More subdued. And lacking the same threat of imminent rhythmic violence pulsing through the angsty Cleveland, Ohio indie rockers’ 2014 album Here and Nowhere Else.

I wasn’t begrudging Cloud Nothings their success. They worked their arses off touring Here and Nowhere Else. And naturally, this time around, they were always going to sound bigger, bolder and more expensive. But frontman Dylan Baldi’s voice sounds unfamiliar early on, lacking the same desperate rasp and emotional hints of madness I’d come to expect. For lack of a better word, Cloud Nothings sound more… “mature.” Contemplative, that’s it.

But track four, “Darkened Rings,” brings the roof down on that theory. Baldi’s voice sounds raw again. Deeper. Less Ben Gibbard, more Kurt Cobain. And drummer Jayson Gerycz slips back into the busy fills and frantic, aggressive rhythms he brought to Life Without Sounds’ predecessor. It’s a stark, sudden reminder.

After that, things mellow out again, but the melodies and hooks gain momentum and personality. “Modern Act” is an instant classic. A quirky, thoughtful indie rock jam with a bleeding punk rock heart and a chorus that’s catchier than nursery rhymes. Baldi’s voice sounds more natural. You can almost feel his breath in your headphones again, yet the hooks are still poppy enough to infiltrate your brain. “This is more like it,” I thought, as broody, emotional banger “Sight Unseen” builds to its explosive conclusion.

Then penultimate song “Strange Year” heads out in a slower, grungier, more kicking-and-screaming direction that sounds a million miles away from the first three tracks. Before album closer “Realize My Fate” comes on like a funeral procession, as Baldi tackles his own mortality with chugging rhythms, dark melodies, death-marching toms and a mantra that gives way to desperate screams in the dark. It’s an intense, abrupt and final way to bring things to an end.

Life Without Sound definitely peaks towards the middle, where it blends the sweet pop sound of the first few songs and the gutsy, angst-ridden malaise of Here and Nowhere Else perfectly. But there’s enough going on to get into your head, get into your blood and make you feel what they’re feeling.

Shock/Horror – Blink 182 Turn California Into A Double Album

Damn, the deluxe version of Blink 182’s 2016 album California, due out May 19, does look pretty badass. Better than the original, even. But 11 new songs?!!? Come on. I thought the original had four or five songs too many already. At least!

Then again, stoke-building teaser single “Parking Lot” does sound like it should have/could have made the first draft. Let’s say I’m curious, in a guilty pleasure, “I guess this is growing up” kind of way. Still, I strongly suspect cutting both versions down to the strongest 10 or 12 songs would have made for one hell of a solid comeback album.

Sum 41 Live At The Kingston Hippodrome – Oh to Be Young Again…

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I love away trips to Kingston. The place has got such a small town, outsider feel. Like a cool version of Pietermaritzburg, back in South Africa. This is especially evident when tonight’s crowd sings along wildly to System of A Down’s “Toxicity” and Papa Roach’s perennial hit, “Last Resort.” I haven’t seen dudes undo their ponytails and headbang like that since Maritzburg. But tonight, we’re here to celebrate the nostalgic rebirth of Canadian punk rockers Sum 41. Unless you’re one of the 14 year olds posting Instagram Stories. Then you’re just a giddy, contemporary music fan.

Over the course of the past two decades, Sum 41 have gone from small town, Ajax, Ontario pop-punk heroes to world-dominating stadium rockers. So tonight’s show, at the comparatively tiny Kingston Hippodrome, is something special. When I breeze in and almost bump into the stage, I can’t believe quite how small it is. I spot a balcony just above me, climb the staircase and secure an awesome vantage point to drink it all in.

Gut-wrenching St. Albans pop punkers Trash Boat are halfway through their blistering opening set. The pace is full-throttle, but the band still saves time for classically brooding, late ’90s/early 2000s emo sentiment – like reading “letters… kept safe,” and “bleeding on this page.” Does anyone, other than my mum, still write letters? Drummer Oakley Moffatt is especially impressive, as is singer Tobi Duncan’s scream/sing mic control. But Trash Boat’s half hour of power is up. It’s time for the main course.

I still remember Sum 41’s classic MTV Cribs episode, filmed on location at former drummer Stevo32’s parent’s house. Now, listen up kids. This was before YouTube and online streaming, so I had to tape it on VHS to show it to friends. Obviously, the band’s come a long way since then, taking in singer Deryck Whibley’s notorious boozing problems and near-death experience, as well as various member changes. Tonight, though, they’re almost back to that original lineup, plus third guitarist Tom Thacker and newish drummer Frank Zummmo. But it wouldn’t have been the same without original guitarist Dave “Brownsound” Baksh. So glad he’s back.

Sum 41 breeze on stage at 9:00pm sharp, to AC/DC’s “TNT,” and I have to say, I’m a little starstruck. Especially when they launch into “The Hell Song” – I think I downloaded the music video from Punk Rock Vids and watched it a hundred times. Straight afterwards, the set’s contemporised by new single “Fake My Own Death.” Zummo is immense behind Sum 41’s signature two bass drums. A proper athlete, backed up by his marathon-runner’s energy drink and Zummo-branded drummer’s vest.

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Tonight’s definitely special and sum 41 feel it too. Turns out they were meant to have the day off, before their big headlining show at Brixton Academy tomorrow night. But somehow, as they do, Banquet Records talked them into playing this one-off special intimate show for the fans. And to celebrate, Sum 41 have loaded their set with hits from the vault.

“This feels like when we started the band, in ’97 or ’98, in East Toronto,” says Whibley, introing “What I Believe.” “This song’s off Half Hour of Power, and I don’t think we’ve played it since Half Hour of Power.”

After the song, the spiky-haired frontman takes some time out to talk Trump, rebranding “Sick of Everyone” as “Sick of Trump.” The song’s from the band’s Brownsound-less, My Chemical Romance-ish, Screaming Bloody Murder phase, and as such, not one I’m familiar with. But it’s followed by “Fat Lip,” which gets the biggest cheer of the night.

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The crowd’s literally throbbing. Bouncing in unison to the 16-year-old song that sounds as fresh as the day it was written. I spot Banquet Records’ Jon Tolley up front, catching crowd surfers and escorting them to safety. Earlier I’d seen him carrying barriers and even a mixing desk. The guy works hard, and Banquet Records truly lives its “more than your local record store” mantra.

To most people, Sum 41’s a pop punk band mentioned alongside Blink 182, New Found Glory and Good Charlotte. But if you know them, and look beyond their breakout singles, they’re full-blown shredders. Brownsound’s solos are NUTS! The very definition of face-melting. And finally, I get Rancid guitarist Lars Frederiksen’s expression “knuckle tight.”

Sum 41 end their set with “In Too Deep,” followed by the most predictable encore in the history of rock ‘n roll. And finally, after a quick blast through “Over My Head (Better Off Dead),” they’re done. What a night. I’m still tingling as step outside, into the welcome embrace of the cold winter air and head for the station.