Hot off the presses: new music! Better said, new music that is worth your time.
T. Hardy Morris – Dude, the Obscure – 11 songs / 46 minutes
The former Dead Confederate visionary’s third solo album is officially on the short list for album of the year consideration and is probably his best yet, even if it is another departure from the sound of his fantastic and classic debut.
When T. Hardy Morris released his solo debut, Audition Tapes, it rocked my world. In all of its pedal steel-influenced awkward bluesy glory, it was mellow and more than a little morose – but it still rocked. With such an incredible starting point, this was an artist to watch, although a sophomore slump was inevitable. With his second release (with backing band The Hardknocks, where have they gone?), Mr. Morris channeled a more angsty rock vibe and pretty blatantly channeled his inner Kurt. On Dude, the Obscure we hear him really finding a groove with a more diverse musical palette and improved songwriting. These eleven tracks uncover an older and wiser T. Hardy – although there are still plenty of references to druggie nights, predictions of being lit by midnight, and other blissful ignorance.
Leadoff track “Be” features a terrific drumbeat that is in the forefront throughout, and the simple hook here is magnificent and a total earworm. Next up is a personal favorite both lyrically and musically, the aptly titled “Homemade Bliss”. One of the more straight ahead rockers on the album, THM is wondering just what it was that won his lover over and made her swoon to begin with. He has one last request: no loneliness up ahead (don’t we all). But on this track, he is a happy man, and whatever feeling he has found, he likes it: “call it content, call it ignorance; I call it homemade bliss, and I love you”.
“The Night Everything Changed” recalls a night when a missed flight in Denver led to a happenstance meeting, one of those classic small-world coincidence tales that most of us can relate to at one point or another. I mean, who hasn’t had a life-altering experience in Denver, anyway? The man’s voice is absolute perfection here, with its haunting and vulnerable aspects on full display. Between the vocals and the faint steel guitar notes, this track reminds me of much of Audition Tapes, and folks, that is a fucking compliment. Seriously, again, go listen to that record.
A desire to truly live and also to maintain his independence and integrity is found throughout this album, most overtly on “Stage Names”, where he says it is “staring me right in the face, contradiction holding sway; no one is buying, I’m not selling, anyway”. Regrettably, the lead single “When the Record Skips” is one of the weakest songs on this release and probably is the only song many people heard on this wonderful record.
The final two tracks close the album out on a hushed and heavy note. “4 Days of Rain” is basically why I don’t live in Seattle (that and the GD traffic). This is SAD (that is Seasonal Affective Disorder, folks) written into a song. Over a beautiful acoustic guitar riff he delivers melancholy lyrics about being overwhelmed by gray weather. “My world gets weak, and my poetry is so bleak; my thoughts get strange, after four days of rain”. With repeated mentions of “the world” and “how it is all too much”, is the wet and gray weather a metaphor for the torrential downpour of bad news that seems to be modern America? Or is that just me? His pained wails that come before the last chorus tell me it’s not just me. “Purple House Blues” gives us the gift that is more melancholy and pedal steel – rejoice and be sad (and groovy)!!!
Key Tracks: “The Night Everything Changed”, “4 Days of Rain”, “Homemade Bliss”
Nine Inch Nails – Bad Witch – 6 songs / 30 minutes
On yet another EP, Trent Reznor continues to challenge and reward his fans with heavy, mostly instrumental electro-metal; this time with some singing. Yes, really: actual singing.
After two throwaway tracks (“Shit Mirror” and “Ahead of Ourselves”), things settle in and get interesting on this six-song EP. “Play the Goddamned Part” is a 5-minute instrumental that could fit in rather smoothly on a turn of the century Radiohead record, complete with copious horns and drum machine. “God Break Down the Door” begins in a very similar style until Trent’s vocals come in at the 0:45 mark – and folks, he is crooning. Like, actually singing lines. It is bizarre to hear, after years of growling, sneering, sulking, or screaming, but it works on this music. The tempo and noise factor grows drastically on the last half of the song, and Trent just keeps on crooning.
“I’m Not from This World” sounds a bit like the score of a horror flick set in an abandoned factory, with possessed machines running amok and danger all too near. Trent’s skillful ability to craft songs that pulsate between loud and quiet and build on themselves is exemplified wonderfully here. Rarely is nearly seven minutes of noise so compelling.
Album closer “Over and Out” starts out with a simple sound that is a less intense version of the last two songs – but then the keyboard comes in. Over the span of eight minutes this thing starts to lull you to sleep before Trent croons that “time is running out, I don’t know what I’m running from; time is running out, I don’t know what I am running from”. He will not be mistaken for Frank Sinatra anytime soon, but the sheer surprise of him singing adds to the effect. This is layered with his more trademark spoken-word mumble to create an interesting Reznor wall of sound.
Key Tracks: “I’m Not from This World”, “Play the Goddamned Part”, “God Break Down the Door”
Dawes – Passwords
Dawes is one of those bands that I have been torn on for years. For whatever reason, while I don’t dislike them, I never seem to enjoy more than a couple songs here and there. The trend continues with Passwords.
Leadoff track “Living in the Future” truly rocks both musically and lyrically. There is angst against our current tech-crazed culture and even some pointed protest against the reactions of the NFL player protests: “It’s the battle of the passwords, it’s the trumpets on the hill; it’s that constant paranoia, it’s the final fire drill; and if you won’t sing the anthem, they’ll find someone else who will; they’re crackin’ down”.
“Stay Down”” is also an enjoyable tale of the ease in staying home and avoiding people, plans, and the world in general. Beyond that, I grew weary of the long ballads that make up the rest of the record.