Hot off the presses: new music! Better said, new music that is worth your time.
Alice In Chains – Rainier Fog – 10 songs / 53 minutes
The best and most inspired effort to date for the new Alice In Chains lineup is an absolute must listen for anyone who enjoys straight up rock and roll, and is a worthy starting point for those unfamiliar with this legendary band.
Disclaimer: I love Alice In Chains and I love Jerry Fucking Cantrell. Pardon me as I provide a brief historical recap of this amazing “grunge” band, and just how unlikely it is that they are releasing relevant music in 2018…
From 1989-1996, few bands were better. Although they only released three proper studio albums (and two EPs as well as two live albums, one of which was their epic MTV unplugged album), they left an indelible mark on the 90s rock scene. Their music is ubiquitous with the sound of that era, with sludgy minor-key riffs abound and gloomy, sad songwriting that was far more metal – and far more slick – than their counterparts of the scene. After they stopped making music in 1996, there was always hope that they would reunite. That hope ended with the passing of lead singer Layne Staley in 2002 after a long battle with depression and heroin use.
After a few years off, in which Jerry Cantrell released two solo albums, Jerry and bandmates Sean Kinney and Mike Inez (who had replaced Mike Starr on bass in 1993) decided to revive the group. They recruited William DuVall, formerly the frontman for the Georgia band Comes With The Fall, who just so happens to have an uncanny vocal resemblance to the late Mr. Staley. Touring ensued, with William and Jerry harmonizing together and sounding remarkably like the old duo. In 2009, the first of the new group’s records was released. Black Gives Way to Blue was an instant success, and about 3 seconds into lead single “Check My Brain” it is clear that the old sound is still very much alive. The guitar riff on that song is beautifully ugly, and ranks as one of my favorites of all time. The album also has its softer and reflective moments, including the standout title track and the possibly Layne-inspired “Your Decision”.
The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here followed in 2013 to mixed reviews, but it also featured a few songs that sounded like vintage AIC, my favorites being “Hollow” and “Low Ceiling”. I had the pleasure of seeing them live in 2015 and their performance blew me away.
All of this brings us to 2018 and the excellent Rainier Fog, which is easily one of the finest hard-rock albums I have heard so far this year. The first album of the new incarnation to be recorded in the northwest, it is also far and away the best of the new lineup’s records. The album title and standout track of the same name is an homage to Mount Rainier and Seattle’s music scene. One of Chris Cornell’s acoustic guitars was used in the recording sessions, something that Jerry has spoken very happily about, calling it “a religious experience”. These songs are all epics, with Jerry and William sharing singing and songwriting duties. The music still has their trademark metal edge but the lyrics and melodies are a touch softer than on previous efforts.
The record opens with the Cantrell-penned lead single “The One You Know”, and it immediately feels like Jerry is back where he belongs. Sludgy distorted yet lovely guitar riff? Check. A straight-up earworm of a hook? Check. Lyrics that are singalong worthy, while still being “rock”? Check. The good news is that this thing is by no means top heavy; there are several classics here, including the aforementioned homage to Seattle “Rainier Fog”, the guitar noodling and start-stop riffage of “Drone”, and the seven minute album closer “All I Am”.
Two tracks worth paying special attention to are the highlight for Mr. DuVall, “So Far Under”, which features his vocals and songwriting and also his only guitar solo on the album. This is a heartfelt and grimy song about being an underdog and facing unbeatable odds, and while it isn’t overtly political there is no question the state of America today had a hand in the writing process. Although it is the most accessible track on the record, almost to a fault, “Never Fade” is sheer genius and the clearest example of true collaboration between the two men: Jerry wrote the music and lyrics to the chorus, but needed help getting it to a proper song structure. William wrote and sings the verses, inspired by the recent death of his grandmother and the haunting presence of Layne Staley that will hang over everything these guys ever do.
For better or worse, that is their cross to bear as they continue on with the name and mission that late great tortured soul with the golden voice started – this time they not only make him proud but they make one of the year’s best albums and one that truly stands up to the band’s original work in every way. I cannot wait to see these guys play these new songs this weekend at the Aftershock Festival, where they open for System of A Down’s first U.S. show in five years. Rawk on!
Key Tracks: “Never Fade”, “Rainier Fog”, “The One You Know”
Interpol – Marauder – 13 songs / 44 minutes
A healthy dose of the band’s trademark sound; which is a good thing. However, there is not much diversity of experimenting here.
If you disregard the two throwaway interlude tracks, this thing is eleven songs of pure Interpol. If you are not a fan of this band, that probably means you haven’t heard them. And if that is the case, well, this is what they sound like. They have other records that spread their wings a little more than this one, but this is essentially what they do. Tight guitar work, reasonably placed drums, and the haunting and unique vocals of Paul Banks.
Case in point: my brother, who somehow has never heard these guys before, was over at my apartment the other day and I was listening to this record. He asked who it was and said he loved it and wanted to know more about the band. He is now an Interpol fan, and luckily for him, he will discover the parts of their catalogue that are even better than this; like El Pintor, Antics, or their eponymous album.
Leadoff track “If You Really Love Nothing” is just terrific, an instant classic, and represents this band at their best. If you really don’t love this song, feel free to turn the rest of the record off – and get your ears examined. “The Rover” follows – serving as the lead single for the record, it has the fastest tempo and gets the juices flowing. “Stay in Touch” offers a beautiful and intense chorus with Paul yelling “Leave my head to spin…RUSH!” Like a lot of his songs, it is not readily clear what he is trying to say, but you want to sing along anyway.
Finally, album closer and sorrowful look back at a failed relationship “It Probably Matters” is as powerful as it is melancholy and finds Paul lamenting that “I didn’t have the grace, or the brains; and it probably matters”. When you hear the song, you’ll see just how much of an impact those words have. Although this is not their best work, it is yet another solid album in what is a surprisingly big pile of them for this band. Check it out.
Keys: “The Rover”, “If You Really Love Nothing”, “It Probably Matters”
The Lumineers – Live Tracks – 2 songs / 11 minutes
An EP with two tracks is worthwhile? Yes, yes it is.
Each of these two songs – hopefully a mere excerpt for a future live album – is important and worth noting not only because they sound great performed live but because of the spoken introductions before them. Wesley Schultz gives personal and emotional insights into each of these classic tracks that help give even more weight to songs that were already strong enough to stand the test of time.
On “Long Way from Home” we are treated to a different version of the song with a couple of additional verses that were not released on the Cleopatra album. He explains the impetus for the song, which I won’t spoil here, but suffice it to say it was a death of someone close to him. Go listen to it!
“Charlie Boy” (from the eponymous debut) is revealed to be about Wesley’s uncle that he never got to meet. He was a high school kid who got inspired to go to war by JFK, so he volunteered to go, and didn’t make it back. He tells the crowd that because of this he truly believes that the words of our leaders matter, and greatly. Again, do yourself a favor and give this a listen.
Third Eye Blind – Thanks for Everything (EP)
White Denim – Performance
Mark Lanegan – With Animals
The Devil Makes Three – Chains Are Broken
Ohmme – Parts