Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Evanescence - "Synthesis"

Evanescence - Synthesis
2017, BMG

1. Overture
2. Never Go Back
3. Hi-Lo
4. My Heart is Broken
5. Lacrymosa
6. The End of the Dream
7. Bring Me To Life (Synthesis)
8. Unraveling [Interlude]
9. Imaginary
10. Secret Door
11. Lithium
12. Lost in Paradise
13. Your Star
14. My Immortal
15. The In-Between (Piano Solo)
16. Imperfection

When I heard Evanescence was going to put out an album full of old songs redone with orchestra and what not, I was pretty ambivalent about it. Add to that the fact that the You Tube concert my wife and I watched wasn't mixed very well. I had no idea about how I was going to feel about this album when I bought it. I must say, though, I am quite surprised - I really enjoyed this. It stands as a display of just how good Evanescence's songs are and how good Amy Lee's voice is. Sometimes I think people don't take them seriously because they're perceived as sort of faux-goth. Make no mistake, these are good songs and good arrangements. It's impressive that none of the passion or power of these tracks has been lost. Even without the crushing, heavy guitars they still have the power to reach me. It actually reminded me a little bit of Origin with the more industrial elements. There are two new songs on here as well, "Hi-Lo" and "Imperfection." The latter of which was kind of a grower, honestly. Hopefully we don't have to wait another six or so years for a new album.

Useless Fact: For some reason the CD case doesn't list tracks 8-11. It just goes right from 7 to 12. Weird.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Sons of Apollo - "Psychotic Symphony"

Sons of Apollo - Psychotic Symphony
2017, Inside Out

1. God of the Sun
2. Coming Home
3. Signs of the Time
4. Labyrinth
5. Alive
6. Lost in Oblivion
7. Figaro's Whore
8. Divine Addiction
9. Opus Maximus

I'm not one of those people that claimed that Mike Portnoy was really the brains behind Dream Theater. However, Dream Theater's Pornoy-less albums have been.... ugh. Not great. I found myself wondering whether Portnoy was really the brains after all. I also don't want to have to say of Sons of Apollo's debut something like "Wow... this is kind of what I've wanted from Dream Theater."


Wow... this is kind of what I've wanted from Dream Theater. While Portnoy is maybe the most recognizable name in this group (at least to me) it's filled with experienced and talented players. Jeff Scott Soto on vocals, ex-Dream Theater Derek Sherinian, Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal, and Billy Sheehan. Quite a list there. So what do I mean when I say "this is kind of what I wanted from Dream Theater?" Well with all of that progressive virtuosity on display in songs like "God of the Sun," "Labyrinth," and "Opus Maximus" (an instrumental track), there are some serious monster hooks on this thing. "Coming Home" and "Alive" come to mind - but every song has something to keep you coming back. Everyone gets a chance to shine and Jeff Scott Soto's vocals are on point. He's got such a smooth delivery but it matches the music perfectly. It's got that perfect meld of progressiveness with pop/metal hooks. I also like the nice, thick guitar tone as it just makes the album sound stinkin' heavy.
Now, to be fair, I don't know if the boys here are breaking any new ground or anything. Fans of this genre will be pretty comfortable here with little in the way of genuine surprises. However, for me, the songs are great and while it might not be too innovative, it's an absolute blast to listen to.

Useless Fact: "Figaro's Whore" is marked as "explicit." "Figaro's Whore" is an instrumental. Let that sink in for a minute.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Mega Christmas Playlist!

A friend on Twitter posted his Christmas playlist. I thought it might be fun to share my own. This list has been honed and tweaked over years and years. I'll still tweak it here and there but this is the list in its current form. What I'm looking for in my mixes is variety and uniqueness. I think I've achieved that here, for the most part. After each track I'll add a little note describing why I picked it...unless I just don't have anything to say about it!

1. “Christmastime is Here” – Sixpence None the Richer
People have said this song sounds dour and dirge-like. I always found it charming and laid-back. 

2. “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” – Weezer
I suppose one could argue this one should be first. But I have my reasons as you shall see. I'm not wild about this song as it is, but Weezer makes it palatable.

3. “Christmas Wrapping” – The Waitresses
I've always loved this song. It's cute and catchy. And it has a happy ending.

4. “Good King Wenceslas” – Loreena McKennitt
I feel like this song is one you hear a lot of in movies and shows, but no one ever records it or sings it. I've always liked it... so here it is with some Celtic flair.

5. “This Christmas” – Green, CeeLo
I've just recently really started liking this song. I'm actually considering swapping this version out for the Pentatonix version.

6. “Just For Now” – Imogen Heap
For a while I didn't even know this was a holiday song. I just thought it was cool. Apparently it's a holiday song - it's pretty obvious and I don't know how I missed it. Except that it really doesn't sound like a Christmas song.

7. “Babe in the Straw” – The Choir
The Choir is one of my favorite bands of all time. So... yeah...

8. “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight)” – The Ramones
Hadn't heard of this one until recently, but when I did I fell in love and it quickly earned a spot on the list.

9. “Winter Wonderland” – Eurythmics
This remains my favorite version. Especially the creepy intro. I suppose it's supposed to sound mystical and magical but to me it sounds like Castlevania.

10. “Linus and Lucy” – Guaraldi, Vince

11. “O Little Town of Bethlehem” – Cole, Nat King
I figured this was a good spot on the list for something very traditional.

12. “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” – Sixpence None the Richer
There are several good covers and the original is great too. I use this one because it's the best one I have access too.

13. “In the Bleak Midwinter” – The Choir
Another good traditional song that you don't hear a lot of. Done by one of my favorite bands for a stretch goal for one of their Kickstarted albums. 

14. “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24” – Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Yeah... gotta have this one. Remember, the title is "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24" not "Metal Carol of the Bells." It was originally a Savatage tune. Also... kind of disappointed that I saw it on a Kia commercial.

15. “Snoopy’s Christmas” – The Royal Guardsman
When I was a kid I had an old vinyl record with this song on it. Loved it then, love it now. 

16. “Run, Rudolph, Run” – Adams, Bryan
Aside from the original, I think this version is the best. And even though the one with Lemmy Kilmister from Motorhead singing is funny, this version is actually good. 

17. “Christmas Tree” – Lady Gaga
One of the dirtiest Christmas songs I've ever heard. Definitely from The Fame period. I do reconsider this one every year. Then I remember no one actually listens to this mix except me so I leave it in.

18. “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” – Viva Voce
Who'da thunk shoegaze and Christmas would go together so well. One of my top favorite versions of this song (along with Loreena McKennitt's version).

19. “Green Christmas” – Barenaked Ladies
This is one of those originals that totally and completely works. As a bonus... you don't hear it all the time.

20. “The First Noel” – Bing Crosby
This is my favorite version of this song. I especially like the little voice over in the beginning. I put it about midway through the mix because I kind of look at it as my own Christmas special. It's a little break that reminds you to have fun and enjoy yourself and I love the song too.

21. “Peace, Love, and Light” – The Choir
Another original from The Choir's Christmas album.

22. “Gabriel’s Message” – Sting
This is one of those unique songs that has a very cool vibe to it. One of my favorites.

23. “O Come All Ye Faithful” – Flight 180
Hey... why not have a ska version of this song? I kind of debate this one every year because there are better versions out there but... I guess I just like having a bit of ska on here.

24. “Christmas Day” – MxPx
Pop-punk and Christmas. A fun song. Though I really need to put something a bit lighter between these two songs...or maybe it's fine the way it is... I don't know...

25. “The Christmas Waltz” – Connick, Jr., Harry
This is my favorite version of this song.

26. “All I Need is Love” – Green, CeeLo
Includes the Muppets. That's all I really need to say.

27. “White Christmas” – Crosby, Bing
Now that I live in the South, the chances of us having a white Christmas are pretty much nill. 

28. “All I Want For Christmas Is You” – Carey, Mariah
A lot of people hate this song. That's okay. I still like it. 

29. “Wonderful Christmastime” – McCartney, Paul
Another one people tend to hate. I don't understand why though. I like it!

30. “Redneck Days of Christmas” – Foxworthy, Jeff
After almost ten years of having this song on the mix I still find it amusing. 

31. “I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas” – Pevee, Gayla
Apparently this was written as a fundraiser for a zoo. I adore it. I wish Paramore would cover it though, it needs some updating.

32. “Mary, Did You Know?” – Green, CeeLo
I had a manager that would always request Kenny Rogers' version of this song. I always told her CeeLo or Pentatonix was the best I could do. Fun Fact: the song was written by Christian comedian/singer Mark Lowry.

33. “(It Must’ve Been Ol’) Santa Claus” – Connick, Jr., Harry
Love this one. Not much else more to say...

34. “Coventry Carol” – McKennitt, Loreena
Another traditional song that you don't hear too much of. I mean... the subject matter is kind of a bummer, but I'm a sucker for these types of songs.

35. “Christmas Collage” – Mattea, Kathy
This originally appeared on the first Now That's What I Call Christmas! It has this kind of comfortable wintery dark feel. Like this is the song you listen to by the light of the fireplace cuddled under a blanket.

36. “I Saw Three Ships” – The Choir
Like I said... they are one of my favorite bands. Also another song you don't hear as much.

37. “Caroling, Caroling” – Cole, Nat King

38. “Merry Christmas Darling” – The Carpenters
If you can't appreciate Karen Carpenter's voice - you have problems. Please see a doctor.

39. “Lollipop Parade (On Christmas Day)” – Joy Electric
Totally different from anything else on this list. I'm not really into Joy Electric's regular stuff but I do love this tune.

40. “O Holy Night” – Weezer
Because we love the show Raising Hope and this version was on their first Christmas episode.

41. “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” – Mellencamp, John
My favorite version of this song by far.

42. “Anti-Santa Is Coming To Town” – Einstein Savage
Another original about an evil Santa. It's in rockabilly style which is also cool.

43. “Joy to the World” – Cole, Nat King

44. “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” – Lost Dogs
Another one I debate having on here because of the extended ending where the robo-members joke amongst themselves. I think it's funny, but other people might not. Then I remember I'm the only one that listens to this and I get over it.

45. “Frosty the Snowman” – Connick, Jr., Harry

46. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” – U2

47. “Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy” – Crosby, Bing & Bowie, David
Another song I absolutely adore. So good... I've always loved David Bowie's vocals and I love Bing Crosby so...yeah... I really have to get to exploring Bowie's discography someday.

48. “Christmastime Is Here (Instrumental)” – Guaraldi, Vince
...and here we bookend nicely with a reprise of the first song. I mean this is the original, of course, but I thought it would be cool to end with the instrumental original as sort of a coda to the previous song. I like that the final words on the mix are about peace on earth. This song is kind of like the "end credits" for the whole mix.

Well... there you have it! Maybe I'll update this in a few years to see how different it is. I hope I've been able to introduce you to a song or a version of a song you haven't heard of that you might like. Also... MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Scandroid - "Monochrome"

Scandroid - Monochrome
2017, Fixt

1. 2518
2. Afterglow
3. Rendezvous
4. Thriller
5. Oblivia
6. Monochrome
7. The Force Theme
8. Future Bloodline
9. A Thousand Years
10. On The Face Of The Deep
11. The Veil
12. Searching For a Lost Horizon
13. Thriller (PYLOT Remix)

Scandroid's debut made my top picks list of 2016 last year. It was such a surprise - something I didn't even know I wanted until I really listened to it. I'm happy that Scandroid is not just a one-off project for Klayton. Speaking of which - he has been a busy little bee. Barely a year after the first Scandroid platter comes, Monochrome. Not much has changed in a year. Klayton still delivers genuine 80's synth aesthetics combined with catchy melodies and hooks. It's one of those rare instances when saying "it's more of the same" is actually a good thing. Make no mistake, Monochrome doesn't throw the listener any curve balls or surprises, but that is totally okay. Well... maybe one curve ball with "The Force Theme" which is a Star Wars cover. There's also a infectious cover of "Thriller." I love it (my whole family loves it), but I'm not gonna lie - no one can match Vincent Price for the voice over. Other than that... it's more Scandroid. And who wouldn't want more Scandroid? Everyone. Everyone should want more Scandroid.  In fact, if Klayton wanted to do yearly installments of Scandroid I would not mind a bit.

Useless Fact: I guess there is a story that ties the two Scandroid albums together about an android and his girlfriendroid. I think. I'm not really sure about the specifics.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Consecrator - "Image of Deception"

Consecrator - "Image of Deception"
2017, Roxx Productions/No Life Til Metal

1. Submission
2. Image of Deception
3. Mindlessly Betrayed
4. Vision Ignored
5. Sayings of the Wise
6. Free From Death
7. Meaningless (2005 Recording)
8. Make Me Laugh (Demo)
9. Satan Lies (Demo)
10. Saving Song (Demo)
11. Messiah Calls (Demo)
12. Troubled Years (Demo)
13. Cast Out (Demo)

Consecrator is remembered, if they are remembered at all, for the stellar track "Free From Death" which appeared on the REX compilation, Demolition. It was a bright spot on that comp for sure (though come to think of it, that whole comp was made up of bright spots!). Years ago I saw that Consecrator had released their demo material and I was elated...then sad because I couldn't get it. It had been long out of print by the time I discovered its existence. Thankfully Roxx and No Life Til Metal have reissued it. If you liked "Free From Death" then... yeah... you'll dig Image of Deception. The sound is sort of a combination of Extraction-era Believer and Testimony-era Sacrament. It's new but still has a really familiar vibe - nostalgic in the best way possible. It takes me back to heydays of Christian thrash and borrowing rare demos from friends and This Prophecy magazine. Good stuff. It's a real shame they never got that contract because I think had the potential to be heavy hitters. I'm really hoping this reissue is successful. Maybe it can springboard into something new...

Useless Fact: Conscrator was originally known as Sacrament but had to change their name because... well... Sacrament.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Dynamic Twins - "40 Days In The Wilderness"

Dynamic Twins - 40 Days In The Wilderness
1995, Brainstorm

1. Forget About Your Troubles
2. Who R U
3. It's About Time
4. Reap What You Sow
5. Global
6. The Story
7. Get On Down
8. Will You Still?
9. Back To The Garden
10. Ready
11. Overcomer
12. Are You With Me?

So let's get this out of the way first, "Forget About Your Troubles" reminded me a lot of Coolio's "Fantastic Voyage." A Lot. From the beats to the chorus. I was a little wary at first that they guys would just chase trends for the entire album. Thankfully, while 40 Days definitely sounds like mid-90's hip-hop, it still manages to be fun and entertaining. Some fans say this is the group's best album but I think I probably prefer the first two over this one. Though, again, this one is no slouch. I like some of the shorter tracks the best ("Reap What You Sow," for example). There are some skits sprinkled in here and there two about the Twins being "lost in the wilderness" for real. I'm surprised the skits weren't given their own track numbers. Not much else to say, really. If you like D2, you'll like this no question.

Useless Fact: LPG provides some raps on here. He also performed on S.F.C.'s Illumination. I wonder if he ever got to do his own solo record? Oh well... too lazy to Google it today.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Living Colour - "Shade"

Living Colour - Shade
2017, Megaforce

1. Freedom of Expression (F.O.X.)
2. Preachin' Blues
3. Come On
4. Program
5. Who Shot Ya?
6. Always Wrong
7. Blak Out
8. Pattern In Time
9. Who's That?
10. Glass Teeth
11. Invisible
12. Inner City Blues
13. Two Sides

I mostly remember Living Colour from their stint in the 80's that began with the single "Cult of Personality." I loved that song. Still do. I also remember my dad watching the music video with me. He thought they were saying "culture personality" and then had to give me a lecture about why the band was a bunch of degenerates and blah, blah, blah. That was my dad for you. Anyway, recently Facebook was like, "Hey Old Man, remember Living Colour? Well... they have a new album out. And it's really good!" And lo and behold - Facebook was right on both counts. Shade really is good. It's heavier than I remember Vivid being (but that was years ago). What I like is the variety. This is one of those albums that has a lot of influences but is still very cohesive. So you'll have some blues numbers ("Preachin' Blues," "Who's That"), some funk ("Blak Out"), some hip-hop ("Who Shot Ya?" - which is a cover, I think), and some plain old rock/metal ("Pattern In Time," "Glass Teeth"). There's also a cool rock cover of "Inner City Blues." All this variety is tied together by solid instrumentation (it's mostly hard rock, venturing into metal sometimes) with good hooks. Vernon Reid is a guitar hero in every sense of the word and Corey Glover's vocals are still on point after all these years. Doug Wimbash (bass) and Will Calhoun (drums) carry the rhythm with style and finesse. This album was a delightful surprise that I wasn't expecting and worth checking out - especially if you forgot about them after "Cult of Personality."

Useless Fact: The video for "Who Shot Ya?" features photos of people who have died from gun violence from recently headliners like Trayvon Martin to people like JFK and Martin Luther King, Jr.