The Trouble With Angels – Filter

Filter is one of those bands that was easy to love after their first album. I have spoken before about how they will never be the same as the good old days but when they released Anthems For The Damned a few years ago I did kind of get into it. The problem with that album is not that it’s bad but it’s generic. The choruses are powerful and I like to listen to the songs but they all bleed together. If the music was playing at someone else’s house you would bob your head to it but there was a certain lack of character that kept the album from standing out. It also featured some of the worst parts of prior albums, namely annoying screaming that didn’t contribute to the songs, a dead space track that grated the ears, and soft songs without soul meant to cater to the radio listening crowds. But overall, still, Anthems For The Damned showed a glimmer of promise.


Enter The Trouble With Angels, and the promise is fulfilled. All the strongest traits of Filter Nouveau are set to 11 and much of the hindrances are left behind (well, Absentee Father has a couple of eye-rolling screams). The hard songs go HARD without reprieve. Real effort has been put into giving songs individual characteristics that provide identity. The album is cohesive and flows through a few different styles without all sounding derivative of each other. The choruses are even more catchy. There is nothing ground-breaking here at all- it is just solid rock. It’s strange because the album doesn’t immediately impress itself on you but after listening to a couple tracks it is difficult not to succumb to the energy and mood of it all.

No Re-Entry
No Re-Entry

Unfortunately, much like the last album, none of the songs truly force themselves to be considered all time favorites individually. Filter is still only a fragment of the band it was since the creative duo broke apart after the first album and it’s unlikely that we’ll see their music ever top the charts again. But if you find yourself willing to accept that change happens, not always for the better, and you listen to The Trouble With Angels with open ears and an open mind, you just may find yourself subconsciously rocking out. In the end, that’s what a solid rock album is supposed to do. And that’s not such a bad thing.

M83 – Midnight City

I don’t usually jump onto the flavor of the month bandwagons but I recently heard this track by M83 and it is solid. Listening through their back catalog didn’t excite me too much however – maybe if you’re into that sort of thing. But I will keep an ear out for this new album just in case there’s more like this. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear the signature hook in remixes at clubs eventually, but what’s really cool is that M83 pulled off a sax solo. When was the last time you heard that?

Check out Midnight City

3 Young Bands to Get Into

Everyone’s heard of these bands – they aren’t brand new or unknown or the music scene’s best kept secrets. What they are is solid, full of talent, and plenty able to continue giving us good music for a while. If you’ve only had a passing familiarity of these groups so far you should catch up – it’s time to get into these guys.

Silversun Pickups
What can I say about Silversun that can really capture my excitement about having them around? They are a new indie band on a field chock-full of old dogs but ironically feel like the blast from the past that we’ve been missing lately. And they stepped into the ring so confidently and quickly as if they had always been here. Not an instant success because they started with an EP (Pikul) that wasn’t too strongly received (and probably came from lesser means), the Silversun Pickups still managed to grab hold of an individual style while everyone else was too busy trying to sound like the Killers or Phoenix. The band gets their name from the corner of Silverlake Blvd and Sunset Drive- there is a Silversun liquor store that the band would often go to on pickups of booze while they were practicing. Their cool attitude and genuine love of music make them a joy to be a fan of and when Carnavas, their first full length album, came out it was no surprise that it had a few big hits on it. If the music wasn’t exactly up your alley then an argument could be made that watching them live could still win you over. They have an energy when they play that keeps the crowd involved. And these guys still play smaller LA shows every once in a while to show the love to their hometown. Following up all the praise was their 3rd album Swoon and, while perhaps not as good as the prior for some, it continues the tradition of distorted guitar and some really good songs. I’d say the album perhaps puts too much of an emphasis on distortion in the mix rather than, say, the clarity of the vocals, but it is still a very strong showing. I would only expect their future albums to get stronger.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Fresh, Brash, and Attitude – all coming out of New York. With that recipe the Yeah Yeah Yeahs almost seemed destined for success. The self titled EP was in your face and Fever To Tell had mostly fast songs next to the single Maps. It was clear at the time that the vocalist Karen O had style and that they were the flavor of the month but some of the songs admittedly sounded like high school rock. In a way, that was their charm, but there was more potential ahead. Show Your Bones was a bit softer and polished and it had many people worried, although I thought most of the songs were solid if not a bit more tame. Drawing personal comparisons to Siouxie and the Banshees isn’t a bad thing in my mind. So how do you prove to the naysayers that you didn’t sell out? Release Is Is, an EP that is gritty and does its best to rub convention the wrong way. Follow that up with It’s Blitz! and you now have a dancy and at times folksy collection, and you realize it is really hard to typecast the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. It’s not that their style always changes or that they have no identity, rather it’s a testament to their range as musicians.

She Wants Revenge
Filling a void in the market, She Wants Revenge is like a modern industrial act. While certainly influenced by 80s synth, the music doesn’t have the derivative industrial sound. This is something new and bold and unforgettable. There is no middle ground – you will either love it or hate it. Then to everyone who thought their first self titled album was a fluke or a gimmick, out came the sophmore effort, This Is Forever. The musicians base a lot of their work on old movie soundtracks from the 80s, if that sounds odd, and I definitely feel like I am listening to a Michael Mann movie at times. I would go as far as to say that the second album is better than the first, and has more of a driving, constant force behind it. They followed it up with an amazing Save Your Soul EP, and at this point the band seems unstoppable. Maybe that is a bit risky to say since a new album is hitting store shelves as we speak and my initial impressions are that there is a small style change in the vocals. How far could they really get without increasing the range of Justin Warfield’s singing, anyway? It’s a risk, but then all the great bands take them.

Tween Pop

By now youtubers everywhere have heard of Rebecca Black. The general consensus is that the video for the song Friday is the worst thing ever. It is pretty bad and of course my initial reaction was the same way. However, getting too upset about this sort of thing is like making fun of the spaghetti and meatballs song. This is a song for kids.

Just because the lyrics of one line are, “Fun, fun, fun, fun,” doesn’t mean that this music is an atrocity. If Rebecca Black is 13 then her fans are probably going to be 7 or 8 and think she’s the coolest thing ever. It’s even hard to criticize the autotuning when the majority of adult pop stars overuse it.

So I’m not saying this song isn’t awful but it’s probably a decent influence on some kids and gives them something to dance to that the parents approve of (like the Jeans song). Granted, if there are jr. high kids listening to this they’d have to be partially braindead. When I was 13 I was listening to Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and The Doors and I would have loudly disapproved of any of my classmates listening to garbage like this. But I tend to believe that the audience of these songs are elementary students who don’t know any better and want to be in with the cool middle school crowd.

Her parents let this thing go out to the public so the backlash is on them- I’m not really defending the girl. And we even get to enjoy funny memes like Death Metal Friday. So in the end it’s not that bad. A terrible song? Yes. An outrage? Not so much. Plus, here’s hoping that this video is the last nail in the coffin for ye olde autotuner.

The 3 Best Comeback Albums of the Decade

You love a band, you love their music, but a disagreement or death forces the collaboration to halt. And I’m not talking about a 3 year “retirement” hiatus Jay-Z style. No, this is a true parting of ways, a genuine end of an era. You’ve long given up hope of ever hearing new tunes from this group again but out of nowhere the impossible returns. Call it a comeback. But coming back is not the same as *being* back. Which artists have successfully been able to return to critical prominence? On this blog that means which music do I like most? Here’s the 3 best comeback albums of the last 10 years.

Chinese Democracy, Guns ‘n’ Roses
Admittedly the loosest definition of comeback on this list as many would just as likely label this a solo project, Axl created a legend more famous for the process than the final product. Chinese Democracy took over 10 years to make, involved a huge turnover of musicians, and was rumored to be the most expensive album ever to produce. How was it possible that these songs could live up to expectations? The album got mixed reviews and I do agree that there are some bad songs on it. What was worse was that some of the better songs were released or leaked early, taking away some of the luster upon release. But a great thing happened. Instead of the expected round of bashing, a contingent of fans emerged who still loved Axl’s voice and who appreciated some of the songwriting. A lot of the change ups in the music are original and scored critical points. It turns out that most of the bad public opinion were old guys complaining about, “these damn new electric drums.” While the album does have an overproduced sound and some of the weaker songs confuse noise with being hardcore, overall there is a very emotional layered elegance to the work. And when a process as easy to poke fun of results in a product that many critics begrudgingly respect, I call that a win.

Strays, Jane’s Addiction
Here’s an album that flies under the radar but deserves every bit of respect I am about to give it. Releasing 10 years after Jane’s Addiction’s last album and break up, this was a reunion that defied the odds. Why would a band whose members hated each other and had individual success after splitting up reunite? I have no idea but I am glad they did. All but a couple of the songs appearing on Strays are easily 4 or 5 star material. Track after track delivers variety and well conceived and executed harmony. What’s more, the ability of the band to generate the ‘same old sound’ without coming off as dated was nothing short of amazing. There is no single good reason that old fans of the band would dislike this material unless they didn’t give it a fair listen. But alas, it turns out the band members still couldn’t stand each other and a second breakup occurred. Is it possible Jane’s Addiction could reprise this award in the next decade?

Black Gives Way to Blue, Alice in Chains
Last but not least is the least likely of comebacks. For years Alice in Chains had limped through drug problems and Layne Staley’s death seemed to put the final nail in the coffin. The band was stuck on life support and fans were treated to countless dvds, compilations, and live albums instead of getting their fix for new music. Finally after almost 15 years a followup studio album was made possible with a replacement lead singer- and black dude sounds *exactly* like Layne Staley. Jerry Cantrell wisely steps back from the lead vocals and focuses on the guitar work and tempo that has brought the band fame. Black Gives Way to Blue laments Layne’s death but refuses to be defeated by it. Instead of hiding from the past the first track, All Secrets Known, unapologetically tackles the elephant in the room head on. “Hope, a new beginning. Time, time to start living, like just before we died.” And indeed, instead of being paralyzed by the tragedy Alice in Chains finally regains their strength. Similar sounds from past successes like Dirt and onward appear but are infused with a new boldness of heavy guitar that is almost lost in this day. This album is refreshing because it fights conformity and non-conformity at the same time and instead simply attempts to be true to itself. And what results is an album so good that it surpasses the self titled effort of 1995. The past is over and that’s ok. Turn the volume up and appreciate this one.

3 Bands that will Never be the Same

I collect music much differently than most people I know. I find a sound that means something to me and I follow it through. I still listen to NIN just as much as I did when I was in high school (although I probably etch the logo into desks less often). Instead of having DMX in the heavy rotation one year and listening to bluegrass the next (sorry Dan), I slowly but surely build up the soundtrack of my life. This is why it pains me so when bands go in unexpected directions with their music. While it can sometimes be an amazing surprise we all have to admit that many times these changes don’t work out for the best. Whether still good or not, these are 3 bands that will never be the same.

Filter – The first record was rough and original- part Nine Inch Nails and part garage band. Richard Patrick and Brian Liesegang proved to be a creative force that infused simplicity with a temper. Hard, powerful songs made up the brunt of the album and were complemented with a couple softer, driving masterpieces. Everything looked roses for the group’s future but it wasn’t meant to last. Patrick thought Liesegang was too experimental and kicked him out of the group. Filter would never be the same again. The subsequent albums have been more focused on live music and less filtered effects, essentially forsaking the roots that led to the original’s success. There are plenty of good tracks among the rest of Filter’s collection, to be sure, but none have managed to capture the bold ideals of Short Bus.

Finger Eleven – Never have I seen a higher percentage of great (not just good) songs on a band’s first two albums. Finger Eleven was pure rock that hit you out of nowhere and didn’t take a break until the last track was done. At a time in the industry that was short on talent and full of copycats, this band proved that you didn’t need a gimmick to make a strong sound. Unfortunately, they didn’t prove that they could be commercially successful without one. Their 3rd album debuted with a foreign sound that was a makeover of their previous identity. New voice effects, new guitar style- Finger Eleven crumbled under the pressure and joined the throng of one-hit wannabes. Inauspiciously, they gained some popularity with One Thing and never looked back. In truth, the slow ballads aren’t horrible and there is a lot to like about the heavier outings but it is hard not to be wistful about the days when this band was uncompromising.

Pearl Jam – Extremely outdated to the point of being an afterthought, this band makes the list purely because it is the king of bands that will never be the same. Ten was not merely a great debut album- it was a cultural movement. The explosive vocals and sloppy guitar ignited a new era of rock and a new generation of listeners. I identified with this music, man. I remember not going back to class because I was busy listening to my Animal cassette. Even Vitalogy was a strong showing, but there were chinks in the armor. Eddie Vedder was growing to hate his success more and more and began taking it out on the fans with crap like Hey Crazy Mophandle Mama. Unlike the two bands above, Pearl Jam’s decline happened slowly and painfully. Every album would have less worth than the one before it until the point where I could not bring myself to listen any longer. I seriously can’t even think of another band whose music I don’t buy anymore- it’s that drastic.

So next time you are drinking a cold one and feeling a bit sentimental make sure to pour out a bit for your dead homies. We can always remember their past.

How To Destroy Angels

It’s about time I talk about the new Trent Reznor side project with his wife. Teased on Pitchfork a couple months before its June 1st release, How To Destroy Angels promised to have a more melodic, trip hoppy sound. With the multitude of releases by Nine Inch Nails in the recent years, how does this one stand out?

The first song, The Space in Between, comes with a macabre video showing Trent and his wife laying dead after some horrific murder, eventually catching on fire. In other words, it is really cool. Mariqueen Maandig’s drugged out vocals work perfectly with the slow rhythmic song. A very promising start.

Parasite has some dirty guitar reminiscent of Broken. Not bad, but it is immediately noticeable that the trip hop vibe is suddenly gone. Fur Lined sounds like a With Teeth B side- a decent song, but more NIN sounding than I expected from this album. BBB, or Big Black Boots, is a lackluster song that sounds very Year Zeroish, aside from having a subject that might have been cool 20 years ago but feels forced now. The Believers likewise has a distinctly NIN sound, this time a pretty good semi-instrumental with its roots in The Fragile.

Listening to the entire album I can only think about two things. I love Nine Inch Nails, but if I listen to a side project I really want it to stand on its own and have a different feel. Also, Mariqueen is truthfully not the best vocalist. She does the down tempo thing well but lacks the depth to stray much further. The resulting product is pretty good – I listen to the album often- but it is nowhere near reaching its full potential.

A perfect example of what could have been is the last song, A Drowning. Finally, another slow, constant beat with Trent masterfully playing the piano. Without a doubt this is the best song on the album and what How To Destroy Angels should have been all along. It’s hard to argue with the price – you can pick up the album for free at It’s a good listen- just don’t expect a legendary new sound. I have no doubt that for HTDA to be relevant in the future they will stay in their sweet spot and give us a modern twist on trip hop.

Chinese Democracy

Chinese DemocracyLet me take a time out from focusing on the negatives of things and instead focus on the positives of something deemed negative. Axl Rose is the only original remaining Guns N’ Roses member and because of that most people would prefer the band go away. Instead we have the release of Chinese Democracy after 14 years of production. Trashing the album began way before it was ever on store shelves. I have friends who still rag on it despite never having listened to most of the songs. For whatever reason there is no radioplay push for it. And any proper pitchfork media reading music snob is practically required to hate this album on principle alone. But if you are open to judging Chinese Democracy less on its circumstances and more on, well, its music, you might have a new album in the heavy rotation.

Nostalgia is a funny thing and people don’t want their memories ruined. More to the point, people don’t want their impossible standards brought down to reality. No matter how good an album is, the perfect memory of Guns N’ Roses people have in their head can not be matched.

I’ve heard a litany of complaints. The album is overproduced. Have you not heard Use Your Illusion? While Appetite may have been edgy and raw, the double album that most people love had a huge production value. It took 14 years to make. That is a long time and even I never thought it would come out but I enjoy the final product regardless. The songs are not epic enough. Really? 7 minute songs are back in full force. It sounds like a techno album. Shut up you old man. I just imagine some old out of shape biker dude with long hair complaining about how ‘good old fashioned’ GNR has been poisoned by electronic influences. Nevermind the fact that the drum beats aren’t overdone or used excessively. Axl’s voice still sounds great but… Ya, his voice does still sound great! So what’s the problem?

You want some Guns N’ Roses? I can’t think of any modern musicians who still place so much emphasis on guitar solos and pull it off. Muse and Audioslave come to mind but the guitar in their songs is usually a catchy hook or unique pattern (still good, to be sure). With Chinese Democracy you get full fledged verses of classic strings in what can only be described as the return of the guitar solo.

Fans needs to get past the bad blood between Axl and Slash and just accept where the original members are now. It might be cool for the music media to hold a grudge against Axl – they never had a civilized friendship to begin with. You and me? Let’s forget the politics and just focus on the music. Give Chinese Democracy a try.