Goodbye Lou Reed

Unfortunately there are many great artists I am yet to fully listen to and appreciate. Lou Reed is one of them. Sadly he passed away on Sunday morning (it had to be*) and even though I have never really given his music much time, I know most the bands I listen to today, would certainly not sound the way they do, without his decades of influence seeping into their work.

The Velvet Underground was where it all began for multi-instrumentalist Lou Reed after meeting fellow musician John Cale and recruiting in Sterling Morrison on guitar and Maureen Tucker on drums. At the time their sound was unique; mixing avant-garde and experimental aspects to the traditional rock ‘n’ roll sound. This eccentricity caught the attention of artist Andy Warhol, who soon became the bands manager.

‘The Velvet Underground & Nico’, their almost-eponymous debut album, which featured German pop singer Nico, (a decision made by Warhol against the preference of Reed) was their most successful album; only charting in the US, with a peak position of 171. At the time The Velvet Underground where just that; confined to the musical underground. Due to a combination of poor promotion, banning due to drug and sex references, a negative association with Warhol and a musical vision that grated so prominently against the norm, The Velvet Underground never really entered the mainstream.

The reason their influence is so wide spread today, is credited, albeit dubiously, to a famous Brian Eno quote (the merit of which is questionable) which claimed that “The first Velvet Underground record sold 30,000 copies in the first five years. I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.”

Despite their failure to receive the media attention they deserved, they continued (without Warhol or Nico), producing another four records; John Cale leaving after their second effort ‘White Light/White Heat’ and Loud Reed leaving between completing and releasing their fourth album ‘Loaded’. An almost entirely new lineup went on to release a fifth effort, entitled ‘Squeeze’, before disbanding.

Lou Reed then re-emerged with his solo act two years later in 1972. His solo career also didn’t bring immediate results; the highly-anticipated eponymous debut album disappointed, but he went on nevertheless to have a catalog spanning nearly forty years, producing twenty solo albums, half as many live albums and several collaborations.

With this blog post I didn’t just want to write his obituary or biography, but I wanted to use it as an introduction to his work. One of the reasons this blog is a day late, is because I have spent a long time listening to as much of his music as possible, so I could present to you five of my new found favourite Lou Reed tracks.

‘Venus In Furs’ from ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico’: Starting at the beginning, this track comes from The Velvet Underground’s debut album and features a hypnotising motif onto which Lou Reed’s monotonous voice attaches to. As the song mutates, it produces strange sounds, some harsh, some beautiful, all of which keep you interested throughout.

‘Candy Says’ from ‘The Velvet Underground’: ‘Candy Says’ is a polar opposite to the song above. It is melodic, sombre and quiet,  driven by a light drum beat and a delicate guitar passage.

‘Berlin’ from ‘Berlin’: The album itself is a sprawling rock opera, which makes use of orchestration, about a couple falling apart through themes of drugs, suicide and violence to name a few. As an overall album, it is severely depressing, but one of the best rock opera’s ever recorded. The track serves as a melancholic introduction to the concept, played solely on piano and is a taster of what’s to come.

‘Walk On The Wild Side’ from ‘Transformer’: A Lou Reed list wouldn’t be complete without a song from his classic second solo album ‘Transformer’. My personal favourite from the album, which spawned the songs ‘Perfect Day’, ‘Vicious’ and ‘Satellite Of Love’ is the simple, bass-driven ‘Walk On The Wild Side’. It’s a classic and deservedly so.

‘Heroin’ from ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico’: The Velvet Underground’s debut album is probably my favourite work that I’ve heard from Lou Reed. ‘Heroin’ is a musical and lyrical journey, utilising elements of drone and noise, and coming to a close with a cacophony of harsh screeches.

R.I.P Lou Reed.

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*’Sunday Morning’ is the opening track on The Velvet Undergound’s debut album.


Is the new Stone Temple Pilots EP any good?

A singer change often spells the end for a band, as it’s possibly the hardest position to replace. A guitar tone or drumming style can be replicated or tweaked quite easily, however a voice is a very distinct thing. There have been many great vocalist changes, including Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden), Brian Johnson (AC/DC) and Ronnie James Dio (Black Sabbath), but there have been so many that have destroyed the band, or simply sent them to plod along in a purgatory of musical blandness. The most recent big-name vocalist change came out when Chester Bennington (of Linkin Park fame) joined Stone Temple Pilots, replacing the fired Scott Weiland in February of this year.

‘High Rise’ EP is the new lineup’s first release and sees the band tentatively stepping out of Weiland’s shadow. There are moments where Bennington tries to impersonate the grunge-tendencies of previous efforts (like on openers ‘Out of Time’ and ‘Black Heart’) and other times where he lets loose with his own vocal style. The whole EP follows this indecision, remembering their traditional post-grunge sound on ‘Black Heart’, but seemingly forgetting it again for ‘Same on the Inside’ and ‘Tomorrow’.

In fact ‘Same on the Inside’ could easily be a bonus track from Bennington’s lesser known project Dead by Sunrise; with the guitars leaning themselves towards the lighter end of the rock spectrum and the chorus exploding into an array of soaring melodies. The only thing that differentiates the two bands on this track and ‘Tomorrow’, are guitarist Dean DeLeo’s small solo sections.

Aside from Bennigton’s delivery, Dean DeLeo provides the best moments from the album, with some excellent hard rock riffs and small tasters of just what he can do on the guitar, especially in the memorable ‘Black Heart’ solo. Unfortunately neither Eric Kretz’s drumming or Robert DeLeo’s bass lines stand out, the former being almost forgettable, doing the bare minimum to keep the song going and producing drumming that has been heard hundreds of times before.

Whilst the EP contains some excellent songs, notably ‘Black Heart’ and ‘Out of Time’, the effort is confused and not very cohesive. Until Stone Temple Pilot’s chose which direction to take, it seems they won’t excel in either style and will be left to fight it out with the rest of the bands that inhabit the musical purgatory.

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Live: Circles + Special Guests

Last night (14th October) I was fortunate enough to witness Australian progressive metal band Circles kick-off their five-date, UK leg of their European tour, with an intimate album launch gig at Avondale House in Southampton. Circles began in 2010 as part of the recent wave of ‘djent’ bands to emerge and soon became one of the frontrunners, due to a constant output of high quality progressive songs, which mix a signature djent guitar attack with electronic elements and excellent melodies.

Local Southampton band Fraktions started the night off with their hectic brand of metalcore and djent, sailing effortlessly through a five song set, including ‘The Dreamer’s Curse’, ‘Secrets Of A Postmodern Art Dealer’ and ‘Parachutes Are Overrated’. Vocalist Joel Pinder was on top form; his high octane performance making up for the odd missed note. The rest of the band were solid too; guitarists Will Jones and Dominic Kotlarzewski seamlessly interchanged between angular riffs and clean tones, keeping up with a powerful rhythm section made up of drummer Eliot Curtis and bassist Will Kitchener.

Bournemouth-based Macarga took to the stage next, taking heavy influence from the early sludge metal of Mastodon and mixing in elements of doom, death and djent in equal measures. After their frantic opener managed to break vocalist Eddy B’s microphone, they too provided an extremely tight performance. On tracks like ‘Expansion LTD’, Macarga sound closest to French djent band Gojira, barely coming up for air as complex rhythms roll beneath Eddy B’s screamed vocals.

The third band on the bill were the Isle of Wight progressive metallers Becoming The Leviathan. With a fearsome guitar line up, consisting of three eight string guitars and a five string bass, their sound was similar to fellow Brits Tesseract; utilising a combination of dreamy soundscapes, winding arpeggios and brutal riffs. Becoming the Leviathan showed great maturity, not only in their songwriting, but in the way they handled Tabner’s bass breakage half way through their set; managing to keep the song going via a small jam interlude, whilst the issue was fixed.

After a quick sound check, it was Circles turn to take the stage and steal the show. Immediately evident was the energy that guitarist Ted Furuhashi and bassist Drew Patton injected into their set, the latter constantly running from side to side like a yo-yo. Vocalist Perry Kakridas was incredible and as diverse as always, providing both excellent cleans (which are often compared to the unique vocals of Mike Patton) and screams. Circles played a mixture of new songs, including ‘Erased’, ‘Another Me’ and ‘Ground Shift’ from their debut album ‘Infinitas’ released on the night and old songs from their previous EPs, rounding off their set with the formidable pair of ‘Clouds Are Gathering’ and ‘The Frontline’ from ‘The Compass’ EP.

Circles very energetic and intimate performance

Circles’ very energetic and intimate performance, stopping at one point to ask the audience to come even closer than they already were.

Recommended Circles:

  1. ‘The Frontline’ from ‘The Compass’
  2. ‘Clouds Are Gathering’ from ‘The Compass’
  3. ‘Eye Embedded’ from ‘The Compass’
  4. ‘Ground Shift’ from ‘Infinitas’
  5. ‘Erased’ from ‘Infinitas’

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The (Long-Awaited) Return of the Jedi

In the song ‘Return of the Jedi’ by Reuben, vocalist Jamie Lenman wallows “I won’t bother to make my music and I won’t bother to sing my songs,” referring to the financial pressures an underground band faces. In 2008 his words became reality when Reuben decided to go on an indefinite hiatus and haven’t reconvened since.

The good news is that Jamie Lenman is back with his new solo project simply titled Jamie Lenman. He has announced a double album called Muscle Memory due for release on November 4th. The first disc is entitled ‘Muscle’ and features an aggressive hardcore/metal sound, whilst the second side ‘Memory’ will be themed around acoustic, jazz and folk.

Reuben’s third (and last) album ‘In Nothing We Trust’ saw the band expand their post-hardcore sound, to include more acoustic work and keys, as well as almost reaching prog on tracks ‘Suffocation of the Soul’ and ‘Three Hail Marys’. ‘Muscle Memory’ is perhaps a natural progression then, allowing Lenman to explore both sides of his songwriting, similar to Opeth’s double album of the dark and heavy Deliverance juxtaposed with the clean, 70s prog-inspired Damnation.

So far one track from each half of the album has been released. ‘Fizzy Blood’ is a fierce spike of metal coming in at only 1.45 and reminds of The Dillinger Escape Plan, with hectic rhythm sections colliding with screamed vocals and dissonant chords. ‘Pretty Please’ is the complete opposite, taking influences from the worlds of folk and jazz to produce an oddly addictive, foot tapping number, leaving the chorus of “validate me oh pretty please” circulating around your head for days.

It takes a very good songwriter to not only write in several genres, but to produce excellent pieces of music that both captures the genre perfectly, but also adds something new to it. Lenman has always been a great songwriter, whether it’s the pop-punk ‘Deadly Lethal Ninja Assassin’, the acoustic ‘Good Luck’ or the laid-back rocker ‘Best Enemies’ (Although I am slightly biased, since Reuben hail from where I grew up).

Listen to both new songs here:

Recommended Reuben:

  1. ‘Return Of The Jedi’ from ‘Very Fast Very Dangerous’
  2. ‘Eating Only Apples’ from ‘Racecar Is Racecar Backwards’
  3. ‘Three Hail Marys’ from ‘In Nothing We Trust’
  4. ‘Keep It To Yourself’ from ‘Very Fast Very Dangerous’
  5. ‘A Short History Of Nearly Everything’ from ‘In Nothing We Trust’

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