Tool Lives Up to the 13 Year Hype!

Tool is back, and it was well worth the wait.

Tool is an alt-rock/prog-metal four piece who rose to popularity in the early 1990’s thanks to their unique sound, bizarre live performances, and their fantastic 1992 demo EP  Opiate. At this time, their sound was heavy, often droning, and far more melodic than the majority of the underground metal in the early nineties. As they progressed, there were extended delays between releases as 2006’s 10,000 Days was the last studio project from the metal legends before one of the longest hiatuses in music history. Throughout the 13 year gap, the infamous “new Tool album,” became almost mythic and when Fear Inoculum was finally announced, fans worried that no band could live up to 13 years of hype. Luckily Tool can and did.

The record opens with the title track and lead single. The song’s original drop about a month ago was the final gas on the fire needed to raise the album’s hype to a fever pitch, and for good reason. This song is, undeniably and essentially, Tool. With the long, spacey intro, the track seems to descend onto the listener with Maynards calm, melodic vocal as the cherry on top. But as the cut progresses, new layers of guitar and bass riffs are slowly unraveled, presenting a complex midsection which finally shifts into a brutal finish with all four members bringing their all. From the beginning, it’s clear. Tool is back.

“Pneuma,” follows and seemed to draw some of the most attention from critics with early access to the record. The attention is very much deserved as this is easily one of the most daring efforts in the tracklist. The clean guitars in the intro are a surprising touch, but it doesn’t last long as Adam Jones’ signature, distorted tone rips into the track’s first real groove. Justin Chancellor’s bass really shines here as well with a thumping groove driving large chunks of the early sections. “Pneuma”’s highlight, for me, comes near the end of it’s 12 minute runtime as the band breaks into a punishing breakdown featuring all four members performing as well as we’ve ever heard them and leading toward an awe-inspiring crescendo. This is yet another full throated proclamation of Tool’s return, and it’s a blast to hear.

“Invincible,” falls third on the album and readers of my most recent Tool Concert Review may remember that this song absolutely blew me away at their live show in Saint Louis. It’s no less effective here, I can assure you. This is another instrumental powerhouse with some of the best bass work on the entire album and one of the most brutal breakdowns yet. With every listen, though, I find myself more and more moved by Maynard’s performance and lyricism as the track follows an older warrior coming to terms with his aging body and giving up the chase of youth. This is of course, and analog for the band itself and for any long time fan, it’s a bit of an emotional listen. It reads like Maynard preparing to write and perform one last Tool album, and god am I glad he did!

“Descending,” is another track which had been played live before the official release, but this one seems to have grown quite a bit since it’s appearance on tour. Once again, the band utilizes long, atmospheric builds in its first few minutes and goes through sections of rise and fall, each more complex and creative than the last. Every element really works together here with Maynard’s performance being one of his best on the record, Adam and Justin’s interplay flowing fantastically, and Danny Carey playing drums with a skill and speed that genuinely seems like it shouldn’t be impossible.

The record continues with “Culling Voices,” and a large portion of this track is surprisingly calm. The opening minutes are a fun listen as the clean guitars and simple chords under Maynard’s tight vocal runs feel almost like a calm in the storm, but this doesn’t last forever, of course. When the track finally crescendoes into its big finish, it’s one of the best on the record. Adam’s central guitar riff is simply fantastic and the thunderous drum and bass combo near the close brings the song to yet another overwhelming wave of music.

“Chocolate Chip Trip,” is an interesting inclusion on the record. The track itself is simply a Danny Carey drum solo which seems to have been workshopped across several tours as the first part of the band’s encore and, while we will of course discuss the drum work, it’s worth pointing out that the backing track, composed of a buzzing, sci-fi groove is the perfect backdrop for Carey’s style. The drumming itself is, as expected, remarkable. On first listen, the flashy fills and inconceivably fast rolls will catch the ear of most listeners, but after revisiting, it’s Danny’s creative timings and unconventional beat placement that will have me coming back again and again.

Finally, there is “7empest.” The 15 minute odyssey closes the album and it becomes clear quite early that this is what we’ve waited for. There isn’t a moment of down time here. Maynard’s vocals harken back to the Aenima era as he angrily growls the confrontational lyrics, Justin’s bass is rattles away with intensity, and Danny Carey’s drumming is, once again, jawdropping, but we simply must talk about Adam Jones on this track. “7empest,” is, without a doubt, the masterwork of Adam’s career as his guitar drives every second of the track with biting leads which layer over each other for a cacophonous tidal wave of sound. There isn’t a second of this track which isn’t filled by Jones’ fantastic lead guitar and it makes the perfect finale to a perfect LP.

Is it possible for an album to live up to 13 years of hype? I’m not sure. This album has meant something different to many people and everyone will experience the record differently. That being said, as far as I’m concerned, this is everything I could’ve hoped for. As a dedicated Tool fan for the majority of my life, I couldn’t ask for much better. The long track lengths could easily have been filled with wasted space, but instead, every track is an event in of itself with long builds, breathtaking climaxes, and perfectly paced movements and each of the four members sound as fantastic as we’ve ever heard them.

Tool is back, and it was well worth the wait.

10/10

AMAZON LINK: https://amzn.to/2UbiiiB

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Clinic Returns to Form With Entrancing Eighth LP

Wheeltappers and Shunters is a perfectly crafted piece of psychedelic punk with a surprise waiting around every corner.

Clinic is a psychedelic post-punk band from Liverpool, England. They began under the moniker of Pure Morning, releasing Two Inch Helium Buddah in 1996 before debuting as Clinic with 2000’s Internal Wrangler. The record found some underground success and netted the band a spot as an opener on tour with Radiohead. They remained prolific throughout the 2000’s with seven full albums and two EPs in 12 years which led to a multitude of festival performances as well as another supporting tour, this time alongside indie darlings, Arcade Fire. After 2012’s Free Reign however, the band announced a sabbatical which wouldn’t end until they returned to the stage four years later with John Cale at a tribute show for The Velvet Underground. Now, seven years after their last release, Clinic is finally back with Wheeltappers and Shunters.

Instrumentally, the album is just as impressive as ever. Brian Campbell’s bass guitar sounds fantastic holding down the rhythms of cuts like the opener, “Laughing Cavalier,” or the closer, “New Equations.” His tone is thick and the melodic lines which he discovers function perfectly as the foundation for the unique and head-spinning sound which Clinic is able to achieve.

On top of this, Ade Blackburn does great work as a frontman, bringing each song to life with a set of spellbinding performances which vary greatly from track to track. On “Ferryboat of the Mind,” he’s cold, distant, and almost omnipresent. In “D.I.S.C.I.P.L.E,” on the other hand, Blackburn brings an unnerving energy and excitement which feels almost alien when filtered through his strange sound. He’s incredibly dynamic, and his work is a large part of the album’s success.

Of course, the performance is made all the better by the jarring, poetic lyricism on nearly every cut. “Mirage,” uses repetition and leans heavily into the band’s more punk roots while “Flying Fish,” takes advantage of a relatively simple rhyme scheme to achieve a more singable feel. Different still, “Congratulations,” strings together a multitude of evocative but borderline meaningless phrases to inspire an attitude more so than tell a story. The lyrics, while often difficult to grasp in a literal sense, go a long way toward crafting the alienated aesthetic that makes this record stand out.

All of this is helmed by near perfect production. All of the producing work was done by the band themselves and that entangling of the creating and polishing process bleeds through every second. From the swirling whispers of “Complex,” to the raucous cacophony of “Rubber Bullets,” this LP consistently builds bewildering waves of sound which are then split in half by striking melodies.

The clear highlight of the album, however, is the absolutely engulfing atmosphere which is created by a combination of all these elements. The most obvious example of this is certainly the bizarre and unpredictable interlude, “Tigers,” but it’s also present in tracks like “Rejoice,” and my favorite cut on the album, “Be Yourself/Year of the Sadist.” The music creates a visual almost instantly, and it makes the album as a whole into a unique experience.

All in all, this record is fantastic. Nearly every aspect, from the songwriting to the performances and through the production, is perfectly executed, resulting in a record that warrants multiple listens. Beyond this, a wide instrumental pallet, strong lead guitar work, and perfect pacing makes the LP just that much more listenable.

Wheeltappers and Shunters is a perfectly crafted piece of psychedelic punk with a surprise waiting around every corner.

8/10

AMAZON LINK: https://amzn.to/2UbiiiB

Cage The Elephant Strikes Again With Excellent Fifth LP

Social Cues is yet another well executed and perfectly paced set of jams from one of the most consistent acts in the rock genre.

Cage the Elephant is a garage rock band from Bowling Green, Kentucky. Oddly, their first taste of success came in the UK when their 2008 self-titled debut peaked at number 38 on the UK charts thanks to the popularity of their first single, “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked.” The album went on to achieve platinum certification in the US and their follow up, Thank You, Happy Birthday was able to reach number two on American charts. Perhaps their best known release came with 2013’s Melophobia which allowed the band to showcase their massive range and penchant for ear worm melodies. After the relatively warm reception of Tell Me I’m Pretty, which including a Grammy win Best Rock Album,  for best in 2015, and a few high profile festival performances, fans were clamoring for a fifth release and they got it in Social Cues.

The biggest growth we see on the album comes in Daniel Tichenor’s bass guitar lines. From the opener and best track, “Broken Boy,” to later cuts like “Dance Dance,” the bass is given quite a bit of leeway and brought to the front of the mix in much of the album. Allowing the bass to drive the arrangement in this way gives the record an extremely unique sound in addition to freeing up the guitars to be a bit more creative.

Matt Shultz takes that freedom and runs with it on lead guitar. On a song like “Night Running,” where most bands would come off as hackish for the inclusion of reggae elements, the lead guitar saves transforms the cut into a rather enjoyable piece of the album. “House of Glass,” on the other hand, is an extremely straightforward blues-rock track which benefits immeasurably from bold and creative guitar work across its runtime.

Even more impressive than his work as lead guitarist, however, is Shultz work as the album’s lead vocalist. Songs like the title track or the later “Ready to Let Go,” were absolutely lodged in my mind after the first listen thanks to good performance and even better writing. This is hardly surprising as Cage has written some of the catchiest rock tunes of the last decade, but it can’t be overstated what a difference this makes in the overall project.

The guitar, as well as the rest of the deceptively wide instrumental pallet, is made much better by the production work of John Hill. Hill’s somewhat limited discography is quite impressive and he’s especially notable for his ability to mix catchy pop tunes with abrasive and experimental rock elements. This album is no exception as tracks like “Black Madonna,” and “Skin and Bones,” while catchy, incorporate a fairly gritty soundscape.

On the other hand, Social Cues also features a few unique forays into a more psychedelic influences. Tracks like “Love’s the Only Way,” and “What I’m Becoming,” feature entirely different instrumental pallets and are built on slower tempos than the rest of the album. For the most part, these experiments work well, but they suffer for being so wholly separate from the rest of the album. I would’ve liked to see these elements better integrated into other songs.

The record, however, does have a few missteps. Perhaps its worst sin is poor lyricism, embodied by the later cut, “The War is Over,” those it’s certainly not the only track to suffer from this. Most of the lyrics, while not noticeably bad, just don’t say anything and when they do, they’re filled with vague and boring platitudes about love or peace. Of course, most don’t listen to a garage rock record for the lyrical brilliance, but it is a missed opportunity to add to the already impressive sound.

Social Cues’ best quality, however, is best heard in its final two tracks, “Tokyo Smoke,” and “Goodbye.” Though these tracks don’t do anything out of the ordinary from the rest of the album, I found myself amazed by the fact that I was still intently listening by the time I reached these final cut. The excellent pacing across the 13 track, 40 minute runtime makes this an extremely enjoyable listen, and there’s not a skippable track in the bunch. It may not be perfect, but it keeps you listening and entertained throughout, which is all you can ask for.

Social Cues is yet another well executed and perfectly paced set of jams from one of the most consistent acts in the rock genre.

7/10

AMAZON LINK: https://amzn.to/2UbiiiB

Pink Sweat$ Brings a Minimalist Take to R&B

Pink Sweats’ second EP, Volume 2, is intimate, well performed, and hopeful just a taste of excellent work to come.

Pink Sweats is a soul/R&B artist from Philadelphia. He debuted last year with his Volume 1 EP released on Human Re Sources Records. The project came from nowhere and caught fire after the smash success of the single, “Honestly,” which peaked at number 10 on Spotify. Sweats brings a unique brand of minimalistic, guitar driven R&B which is a refreshingly intimate flavor of the growing and fantastic scene, which tends toward the more luscious mixes. Now, just a few months later, he’s followed up with Volume 2.

The EP opens with “I Know,” which begins with an excellent, almost guitar riff ripped straight from the pages of the outlaw country songbook. When Pink’s vocals drop in, it’s a bit of a jarring change, but the groove of the track is immediately disarming. With a fantastic vocal performance, great guitar work, and very well used trap drums, this is easily the strongest cut on the list.

“Coke & Henny Pt. 1,” follows and it’s nearly as impressive. The percussion mixes in well placed vocal hisses and snaps that slice the mix in half. The acoustic guitar is perhaps the highlight as it never stops working, carrying the melody across the entire track. Overall, when listening to this track, I was most impressed by the wide array of influences as elements of artists like Kanye and Michael Jackson were extremely apparent.

Naturally, “Coke & Henny Pt. 2,” is next and this cut runs much more along the lines of a more by the numbers modern R&B track. This isn’t a bad thing in all respects. The vocal melody is excellent with a fantastic hook in the chorus, the dreamy production is a nice change up from Pt. 1, and the guitar work is, again, great. However, on a track like this, the minimalist style fails to capture much of what Pink Sweats is going for, and a more luscious pallet would be much appreciated from this point forward.

“Your Side,” while not the strongest track on the list, is an absolute blast. The many layers of delay and ambitious stereo image on the vocals makes Sweats feel almost larger than life and the staccato, acoustic guitar makes a great anchor. The lyrics leave a bit to be desired, but the upbeat groove and energetic lead vocals make up for this in spades. It certainly functions as a return to form from the preceding track as the minimalism is utilized quite well and makes for yet another enjoyable song.

“Body Ain’t Me,” closes this project out and it’s one of my favorites. As usual, the guitar sounds great and the production is tight. The record pops in the background are a bit frustrating, but I find them fairly easy to ignore. The real highlight of the cut is Pink Sweats’ vocals. He seems to sing with something to prove and whatever it was, he proved it. He’s tender and relatable on the verses, almost sleepy in a few low parts, and packs a surprisingly powerful punch in the chorus. Ultimately, it’s a great closer to yet another great EP.

All in all, Volume 2 is a success by virtually any measure. I don’t know that there’s a hit on the level of “Honesty,” but instead, we’re treated to five strong tracks, one after another, each unique and each building on the successes of its predecessor. The record leaves me content with another strong outing and most of all, it leaves me excited for a full length release.

Pink Sweats’ second EP, Volume 2, is intimate, well performed, and hopeful just a taste of excellent work to come.

4/5

AMAZON LINK: https://amzn.to/2UbiiiB

Hozier Is Back With a Perfect Sophomore Album

Wasteland, Baby! Is an infectious passion project from one of the brightest minds in music today which slowly sucks you in further and further in with each listen.

Hozier is an indie/blues rock artist from Bray, Ireland. He debuted in 2013 with the Take Me to Church EP, the title track of which is still his most successful song to date, certified eight times platinum in the US alone. After the massive success, he went on to drop the From Eden EP, which was equally well received and left expectations sky high for an upcoming LP. His 2014 self-titled album debut certainly didn’t disappoint, featuring represses of much of the previous two releases while adding a few fantastic new cuts. The album went double platinum in the US and six times platinum in his home country of Ireland, spawning a large tour and and netting multiple awards. Fans were left clamoring for more but were largely met with silence until the release of the Nina Cried Power EP in late 2018. Now, just a few months later, we finally have a sophomore effort from the indie rock troubadour and it absolutely does not disappoint.

Wasteland, Baby! May be a bit jarring to fans of the debut, as was the preceding EP, as Hozier has returned with a wide array of new styles and effects, and a renewed focus on the instrumental side of his music which just didn’t exist before. This is made obvious in the baselines of the very opening track, “Nina Cried Power,” in addition to “No Plan,” a few cuts later. The bass guitar works extremely hard across this record, constantly moving with purpose and played with skill.

This is also extremely noticeable in the massive instrumental pallet of this album. The violins on “As It Was” lend a gravitas to an already fantastic, folk-inspired song, while the organ  work on “Be,” and across the majority of the latter half of the record is a wonderful touch. While the first album seemed a bit more consistent in terms of tone, I much prefer the expansive pallet and exciting nature of Wasteland, Baby!

Without a doubt, however, the most noticeable change is a massive focus on percussion on nearly every track. While a song like “Movement,” or “Sunlight,” is perhaps a bit more noticeable, it’s clear that Hozier put serious time and effort into each piece of the percussion on this album and it absolutely pays off. Never once do we hear a nondescript rock beat but in stead a minimalistic but effective collections of dynamic sounds keeping the rhythm.

All this being said, the best qualities of the album are still, by far, the elements we’ve come to expect and appreciate from Hozier’s work. The guitar work is wonderful. From the rolling, picked acoustic of “To Noise Making,” to the earworm riffs of tracks like “Talk,” and “Dinner & Diatribes.” His guitar is at the center of nearly every track and that’s never a bad thing.

The lyrics on this album are nothing short of poetry. “Almost,” is a wonderfully fun tribute to love and music using several lyrics from timeless the jazz standards of acts like Sinatra and Jelly Roll Morton. “Shrike,” on the other hand is breathtaking ode to a love lost using nature as a perfect metaphor. It’s also the best track on the album and one of the best tracks I’ve heard in a very long time. The closer and title track uses powerful apocalyptic imagery to describe the act of falling in love in yet another stroke of brilliance. Genuinely every track on this album stems from a wonderful lyrical idea and executed nearly perfectly.

The absolute, undeniable highlight on this album, however, comes in Hozier’s vocals. Whether it’s the Motown and soul inspired sound of a track like “Nobody,” or the booming, blues rock of “Would That I,” or any of the other 12 cuts on this album, Hozier’s voice is a constant presence. It’s soft and contemplative when it needs to be, and smoothly powerful at the perfect moments, and it is, overall, an absolute Iron Man effort from an incredible talent.

As this album wraps up, I’m struck by what a fantastic experience it was. The pacing is near perfect, never leaving me bored over a nearly hour long runtime, every song feels essential and unique, and every risk taken on the album pays off in full. Even the singles I didn’t love in the lead up have found a comfortable home on this record and have become some of my favorite cuts. The massive accomplishment that is this LP becomes even more incredible when you realize that each and every track is written, largely performed, and produced by Hozier himself.

Wasteland, Baby! Is an infectious passion project from one of the brightest minds in music today which slowly sucks you in further and further in with each listen. It’s an instant classic and it’s the second album in Brendon’s Beats history to receive a perfect score.

10/10

AMAZON LINK:https://amzn.to/2UbiiiB

The George Washing Machines Drop Brutal and Daring EP

Overall, FUNERAL CRACK BINGE is one of the more daring and brutal projects I’ve heard this year, and while it’s certainly not for everyone, it’s a must hear if who wish to explore the fringes of underground music.
**TW: Bad Language**

The George Washing Machines is the experiment grindcore/doom metal alter ego of Jack Simpson. Created in 2012 in Washington, D.C., with the explicit goal of creating “the worst band of all time,” the outfit dropped a large collection of about 22 singles before falling off the map as Simpson shifted toward EDM music. Six years later, after the death of a close personal friend, Jack reignited GWM as an outlet to deal with depression while dabbling in experimental writing styles like taking quotes from a former crack addict or directly reciting a breakup letter written to an ex-girlfriend. Now much more mature and with a wide array of fascinating influences, the George Washing Machines has dropped FUNERAL CRACK BINGE.

The record opens with the hilariously titled “ANTHONY FANTANO WOULD PROBABLY GIVE THIS RECORD LIKE A 6.3,” which, itself, begins with a long and angry statement claiming that this is “not music.” The track that follows is a hellish, doom metal-inspired cut that is one of the better openers I’ve heard all year. This is the first of many points on the EP in which the drumming is excellent, but the brutally distorted guitars are actually the highlight for me here, aided by the periodically disorienting feedbacks.

It’s followed by “BITCH GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY HOUSE,” which is a real freight train of a song. There’s a much heavier thrash and grindcore element as the fuzzy guitars chug along at a much faster tempo and the drums are driving and explosive. The vocals are quite impressive here, despite having no lyrics aside from repeating the title, bringing a gravelly quality that really adds to the track. The highlight, without a doubt, is the bizarre and abrasive breakdown that leads into the final chorus. While the electronic elements are fairly scarce across the EP, they add quite a bit to this song.

The best of the six tracks, “A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND,” comes next, and it’s here where Simpson finds a sound that this fairly unique to him. With heavy influences from post-punk and hardcore, this track turns out to be certainly the most accessible on the project, though that isn’t saying much. The drums are excellent on this cut, as are the vocals, and the balance struck between crushing instrumentation and singable melody is truly something to be proud of.

We seem to take a left turn to hell immediately after, however, with the title track, “FUNERAL CRACK BINGE.” This is one of the more brutal and caustic songs I’ve heard in quite some time, from the screeching loops to the pummeling screams and the almost reptilian effects of the outro. It’s a lush hellscape that should satisfy fans of the group’s earlier sound.

The post-punk returns, however, on “ANNA, PLEASE DON’T MOVE TO PORTLAND WITH JAKE.” The quick switches from heavy but accessible verses to genuinely horrifying choruses are jarring in the best way possible. There’s a desperation conveyed very well in the lead vocals and the guitars are gut wrenching on the choruses. Once again, the drums shine as being extremely well played and arranged, and it makes for yet another fantastic track.

We close out with “I MEAN I GUESS WE CAN FUCK IF YOU WANT TO…” and it’s here where I will find my first substantive complaint as the more electronic, industrial style of this track makes it feel quite out of place in the lineup. That being said, it is a great song. The loops are extremely well utilized, the rapping from Young Socrates is phenomenal and jam packed with emotional delivery, and the ending may be the best on the record. Though it does feel a bit out of place here, it does give hope that future releases could tend toward more electronic, Death Grips inspired tone.

While my complaints are minor, I do have a few, most of them stemming from the production side. First and foremost, the drums. While they’re perfectly performed, they seem to have been left almost bare in terms of EQ and could do with a bit of touching up. Additionally, the there is a pervasive static across the record, which likely comes from the several higher pitched cymbals and the near constant overdrive on guitars and vocals. Having a constant amount of noise is, of course, not a bad thing on a noise rock record, but much of this seems to come from nowhere, and could likely be fixed with a bit tighter EQ on the instruments. All of this, however, is fairly forgivable, considering the EP’s DIY style.

Overall, FUNERAL CRACK BINGE is one of the more daring and brutal projects I’ve heard this year, and while it’s certainly not for everyone, it’s a must hear if who wish to explore the fringes of underground music.

4/5