Posted by: drew | March 9, 2008

Music You Should Check Out

I’ve been meaning to do a little write up on the albums I’ve recently picked up, and I’ve waited and waited, so here’s a handful that I highly recommend:

Strung Out – Blackhawks Over Los Angeles
Strung Out have been around since 1990, so I’m shocked that I haven’t heard of them until 2008. This album is just plain old good punk rock with some heavy metal thrown in.

Like some of my other favorite punk bands, Bad Religion and NOFX, Strung Out isn’t light on social commentary, and the past 8 years have provided a bevy of material for disgruntled punk and rock musicians.
From IGN:

That seventh release, Blackhawks over Los Angeles, is the band’s best release to date, both musically and lyrically. As an example, the title track has a searing guitar “battle” that is eerily reminiscent of classic Maiden. Singing over that guitar attack, lead singer Jason Cruz wails, “Curfew tonight in Hollywood as the insurgents drawing near; Helicopters and ecstasy and the shot heard round the world. The camera shines for channel zero as the cool kids running scared. The armies got a brand new toy and they’re just waiting for the word.”

The tenor of the album stays remarkably focused as the band ratchets up the social commentary on tracks like “A War Called Home” and “A Letter Home”. The latter is written from the perspective of a young soldier who is obviously not buying the propaganda his government is selling.

Nine Inch Nails – Year Zero
Trent Reznor is back in a big way with this concept album describing the year 2022, where things are just going from bad to worse as a result of the policies of the last 8 years.

I happen to be a big, big fan of Concept albums, where the entire album strings together a story, and for me, the darker the story the better.

Wikipedia describes the theme:

Nine Inch Nails’ 2006 tour merchandise designs featured overt references to the United States military, which Trent Reznor said “reflect[ed] future directions”. Reznor later stated that Year Zero was a concept album, and that he “wrote the soundtrack to a movie that doesn’t exist”. It criticizes the American government’s policies, and how it “could be about the end of the world”. Previously, Reznor had called the 2004 US election date “one step closer to the end of the world”.

Even though the fictional story begins in January 2007, the timeline of the album and alternate reality game mentions historical events, such as September 11 attacks and the Iraq War. From there, fictional events lead to worldwide chaos, including bioterrorism attacks, the United States engaging in nuclear war with Iran, and the elimination of American civil liberties at the hands of the fictional government agency The Bureau of Morality. Regardless of being fictional, a columnist of The Hartford Courant commented, “What’s scary is that this doesn’t seem as far-fetched as it should, given recent revelations about the FBI’s abuse of the Patriot Act and the dissent-equals-disloyalty double-speak coming out of Washington in recent years.” The “recent revelations” he referred to was the Justice Department’s inspector general revealing abuses of the Act by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

This isn’t a hook-laden album and has moments where Reznor spirals out into the sonic ether, but as a whole, this album is an enjoyable piece of art. I’ll be interested to see if the movie or television provides this soundtrack with visuals in the future.

Foo Fighters – Echoes, Silence, Patience, and Grace
It’s been a while since I picked up a Foo Fighters album. No particular reason, I just haven’t. I loved their first couple albums, but then my entire CD collection got stolen when someone broke into my truck in Atlanta, and I just never replaced my Foo Fighters CDs.

This has been on my “to buy” list for a while, but on the recommendation of Rik, I finally picked it up…well, downloaded it from iTunes…
This is a very, very good album. Dave Grohl has got to be one of the most talented musicians going these days. The album has a nice mix of hard hitting rock, and slow, quiet, reflective moments sung and played beautifully by Grohl and friends.

Johnny Cash – American IV – The Man Comes Around
I cannot believe that I’m just discovering the American Recordings from the Man in Black. Wow. Here’s how it happened:

I was watching the season finale of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles on Fox, and the final battle at the end, where Federal troops were storming the hotel room of the creepy as hell robot who’s hunting John Connor, has “The Man Comes Around” playing as the bot lays waste to the intruders.

The song, with it’s apocalyptic theme, is simply awesome in this scene, as we wonder about the future of mankind when technology becomes self-aware and resolves to destroy us.

I went straight to iTunes and found American IV, and I LOVE it. This album, along with American III, was recorded when Cash was facing his own mortality, and his wife, June died in 2003. Cash himself died four months later, and American V was later release posthumously in 2006 to much acclaim. The raw message of death and redemption, along with some other lighter tunes, that Cash’s gravelly voice conveys is simply haunting.

He sings a bunch of covers, as well as some of his own songs, but the stark style of the recordings, just Cash, a guitar, a piano, and some famous guest vocals, really evokes the reality of death and hope in a way that I can’t easily describe.

I cannot wait to pick up the entire American Recording series eventually, but III and V are on my immediate radar.

Porcupine Tree – Stupid Dream
Steven Wilson’s prog-rock band originally released Stupid Dream back in 1999, which I didn’t realize until after I’d already bought it. No matter, it’s more PT, and more is better.

Like every PT album I’ve gotten, this is very good. PT is much more accessible than other modern prod-rock bands, like Dream Theater, so I’m a bit surprised that Wilson hasn’t broken it big in the US yet.

Some of their tunes are actually pretty radio friendly, but hey, we all know commercial radio is dead, so I’m not surprised. Pick this up, as well as PT’s last few albums. They’re all great.

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Responses

  1. Hey Drew,
    I just read this post and was hoping to email you regarding the film Walk The Line, but I could not find your email address posted on your page. If you could email me back that would be great!

    Thanks!

  2. “Walk The Line” was a great film, and from my understanding it was true to life. Great cast! Great life story!!


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