New Music 4/20/18: A Perfect Circle, Neil Young

Hot off the presses: new music!  Better said, new music that is worth your time.

A Perfect Circle – Eat the Elephant – 12 songs / 57 minutes

After nearly 15 years away, this super-group returns with a brilliant album that may be their finest yet.

 

Safe to say, the current state of affairs in America does not please Maynard James Keenan.  This is something that is a theme throughout this marvelous album, one that is understated and dark, but not in the same way as their previous efforts.  This time, the melodies are more keyboard driven, and there are few moments of straight ahead guitar rock.  Rather, these are powerful and brooding jams that invite the listener to come along for the ride.

Over a very tasty and dark drum beat and keyboard riff the title track (and album opener) invites us to “take the stab, take the swing, take the bite, just go on in”.  Clocking in at over five minutes, it never really reaches a climax but at the same time never comes close to boring.  Which, frankly, sums up this piece of work quite well.

“TalkTalk” refers to our government’s inaction over repeated mass shootings, telling Congressmen (and women) that while they are “waiting on miracles, we’re bleeding out; thoughts and prayers are adorable, like cake in crisis; while you deliberate, bodies accumulate”.  He accuses them of “talk like Jesus, try walking like Jesus… talk talk talk talk, get the fuck out of my way”.  The lack of guitar on most of the album only makes this sound even louder.

It wouldn’t be an APC album without some xylophone, which we get in the opening bars of “The Contrarian”, another excellent piece of music accompanied with contemporary lyrics of dissent against a certain someone who shall not be named on this blog.  “Delicious” is another classic Maynard holier-than-thou track a la Tool’s “Eulogy”, with Maynard celebrating an enemy’s downfall.  Although this is typically ugly behavior, he can pull it off – and the music doesn’t hurt either.

On “The Doomed”, Maynard tells of a new Christ whose word is death, with an attitude that screams “Good luck, you’re on your own!”  He asks rhetorically “what will become of the pious, the pure of heart, the meek, the mourning, and the merciful; what of the righteous, what of the charitable, what of the truthful, the dutiful, the decent”?  The answer can be found in the song’s title, of course.

While the album does sputter out with two weaker tracks at the close, this is well worth repeated listens for anyone that considers themselves a Maynard fan.  He is pushing boundaries, challenging his audience, and has just hit another one out of the park.

Key Tracks: “The Doomed”, “Eat the Elephant”, “TalkTalk”

 

Neil Young – Roxy: Tonight’s the Night Live – 10 songs / 53 minutes

The master in his heyday, having a ball playing new music that would later become his classic record Tonight’s the Night (plus “Walk On”, which appeared on another classic record, On the Beach).

 

The first thing one notices about this recording is that Neil is having as much fun as the crowd is.  He and his band (Ben Keith, Nils Lofgren, Billy Talbot, and Ralph Molina) are opening the brand new Roxy Theatre in L.A. in September 1973, and Neil is on top of the world at the ripe old age of 27.  Before they even play a note, he welcomes the crowd to Miami Beach (which is 3,000 miles away), thanks his “managers” for introducing him, and informs the crowd that the “first topless girl” will receive a prize from onstage.

From the opening notes of “Tonight’s the Night”, the band sounds like they have been playing these songs forever.  In fact, they had been playing and recording them for only a matter of weeks, over tequila and weed fueled nights at a nearby studio.  These shows were just meant to let the band perform them live and take them for a walk.  Luckily, they were recorded in high quality and now 45 years later we get to listen in on material that was shelved for two years before finally being released in 1975.

There are few revelations here for those familiar with the studio album, but a couple of songs stand out: “Mellow My Mind” and “Speakin’ Out”.  On the former, Mr. Young sounds so young and powerful, with a tremendous control of his voice and top-notch harmonica shredding.  On the latter, the band plays the guitar and drum portion of the verse intros slightly differently than on the later recording of the proper album.  This slight change really changes the song and makes it sound more blues-y, and was a highlight for me.  And as always the piano/guitar solos are just beyond words.

I could write pages and pages about these dark (depressing?) and lovely songs that have been a big part of the soundtrack of my life for the past decade or two, but I will digress… For anyone who is a fan of the man or this album in particular, this is a must-listen.  Truly some genius happening right before that lucky audience’s ears (if they were sober enough to enjoy it).

Key Tracks: “Speakin’ Out”, “Tonight’s the Night”, “Tired Eyes”

 

Also heard:

Old Crow Medicine Show – Volunteer – Another solid effort from these bluegrass legends which includes a nice mix of raging foot-stompers and ballads.

Lord Huron – Vide Noir – Mixed bag from this band that always makes me feel like I am out camping in some bizarre forest.  A bit disappointing overall, especially after their previous album, which was quite a triumph.

Del the Funky Homosapien – Gate 13 – Leadoff track “Wheel of Fortune” starts strong, but this album from one of my favorites disappointed overall.

Drinks – Hippo Lite – Cate Le Bon and Tim Presley go out of their way to make music so off the wall that it borders on unlistenable.  Do yourself a favor and go check out a Cate Le Bon record instead.

Black Stone Cherry – Family Tree – Fairly bland Southern-rock album that does feature Warren Haynes on the standout track “Dancin’ in the Rain”.

Josh Hedley – Mr. Jukebox – Singer-songwriters new album – released by Jack White’s Third Man Records – has a strong start but is lacking overall.

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