What’s popping in the world of music lately, kids? It’s the holidays, so music news is slow, but here’s what I’ve got.
Let’s get to it.
RIP to the late, great Roy Clark. I remember watching a whole lot of him on Hee-Haw as a kid. Definitely a loss for country music.
Kacey Musgraves won Album of The Year at the CMA’s, which is fucking amazing. I know Chris Stapleton released a banger, but Kacey deserved every inch of that win. She’s not playing the CMA game and has continually done her own thing with a refusal to be a Nashville commodity. So big ups to Texas’ best.
If there was an award for burnout, I think I’d be at least in strong contention to win Burner of The Year. I’ve been writing a lot of stuff lately, and there’s no end in sight.
I typically work on the weekends, playing catch up on writing I owe, but this weekend, I’m seeing Joshua Hedley AND Lucero. I will likely need an IV by Sunday. (No one sees Lucero sober.)
Pray for me.
This past weekend was the Texas Book Fair, and in my adventures visiting my friends @ Clash Books, I stumbled on Why The Ramones Matter, and I’m psyched on this book. It’s a collection of stories, anecdotes, and observations on why our world is still impacted by these four guys from Queens who were all taken way too soon.
Todd Burge, singer-songwriter dude from West Virginia has two records dropping at the same time, with each being recorded 32 years apart. The earlier of the two is straight up garage rock in the style of the Stooges, while the newer record is stripped down Americana ballads. I’m a first record kinda guy, but both are easily able to stoke a fire for plenty of Y'all.
Slipknot has a new song called “All Out Life” which sounds A LOT like their first record.
High on Fire canceled their US tour because Matt Pike lost his big toe. Is it me or does this make him way more metal?
The Red Hot Chili Peppers played a few tunes at Chad Smith’s kid’s high school on Halloween, but it prompts me to ask a more significant, more depressing question: do these kids even know who the Chili Peppers are?
Kids today like music that sounds like Pepsi commercials made by shitheads with face tattoos. I’m no Chili Peppers fan, but I wonder if they primarily played for all of the middle-aged teachers like me vs. the demographic who buys those $40 tee shirts.
When a band releases a record that defines their career, it’s Sisyphean task to follow it up. Very few bands can write a Sgt. Peppers and come back swinging with the White Album as the Beatles did. The same goes with the Stones, who managed to write five classic records in a row, starting with Beggars Banquet and ending with Goats Head Soup.
Bands like At The Drive In, Glassjaw, Refused, and At The Gates, all have classic records people obsess over and study to an almost scary degree. Genres and styles of play have evolved around the seminal The Shape of Punk To Come and Slaughter of The Soul. Over twenty years later, kids are discovering those records and trying their best to copy the magic caught on tape.
When Sleep released its droning, doom-defining monolith Dopesmoker, it was met with a resounding thud thanks to the band's label refusing to release it in its original form. A secondary tracked down edition titled Jerusalem finally was released, but it was always Dopesmoker that found its way into tape trading circles and bootlegs pressings. But, the fervor for Dopesmoker bubbled up from the tar pits and over the years, has become canon for all things stoner.
In the wake of Dopesmoker’s release and subsequent troubles, Sleep broke up, but remained brothers in smoke. Al Cisneros formed his otherworldly OM while guitar hero Matt Pike challenged Lemmy for the baddest man in rock and roll with High on Fire. Drummer Chris Hakius played in OM for a few years but ultimately hung up his sticks to focus on being a family man.
And then in 2009, Sleep reformed out of nowhere. Capitalizing on the growing doom and stoner scene in mainstream metal circles, Sleep went from playing ½ filled bars in cowboy towns to packing bodies into rooms holding a few thousand across the globe. For almost a decade, the band toured sporadically, hitting the Blue Chip festivals or doing a nationwide run for month or two, raking in the cash.
Stoner metal fans devoured the chance to see their heroes live, for the chance to be taken to the church of all things Weedian.
In these past years, Cisneros, Pike, along with new drummer Jason Roeder of Neurosis fame pummeled their way through Sleep’s greatest hits and no one was one bit mad about it. They still got the cherry festival payday, while red-eyed fans gobbled up the band's merch with no fear. For the band, the promoters and the fans, this worked, and it was easy for one simple reason: writing new music could taint the legacy for the world’s greatest doom band that’s not Black Sabbath.
Music, especially metal fans can be fickle. People care about legacy in heavy metal. Bands can go from hallowed legends to “they wrote The Ugly Organ, but the new stuff sucks” real quick. Once the band falls down the ladder a few rungs, people stop showing up to the shows, and the hype dies down.
Sleep continually teased new music, but only released one track, “The Clarity”. Everyone figured they’d write a new record, someday, but till then, fans would enjoy hearing “Dragonaut” or “Holy Mountain” at shows, knowing they’d never be bumped out of the set list.
But then on 4/20 Sleep surprised the world with their first record in two decades, The Sciences through Jack White’s Third Man Records. The Weedians had awoken, and they brought forth new tunes for the stoned masses, but the question that was on everyone’s mind: would Sleep cheapen their legacy or affirm it?
The band did neither. Instead, The Sciences is one of the year’s best records and moves beyond, “good follow up to Dopesmoker,” and places Sleep as the undisputed heirs to the throne of Black Sabbath. The Sciences is not only a neck breaking, sludgy love song to the universe, it’s a poem to the mysteries of faith, but it’s also a masterpiece.
Al Cisneros taps into the wild, unearthly drones of his OM project and interjects them seamlessly into the 2018 edition of Sleep. The band capitalizes on tight, circular driving grooves that feel familiar, but not tired or a rehash of what they’d already achieved.
The Sciences offers a narrative on what’s it’s like inside Sleep’s world of churning riffs that demand the listener join them on a quest into the deep recesses of the mind.
Instead of mindless wandering, which many of their burned out contemporaries are guilty, tracks like “The Botanist” and “Marijaunauts Theme” are soulful explorations of what stoner metal, doom, or whatever you want to call it are capable of thanks to Sleep challenging not only themselves, but where the genre can go sonically.
The record takes the classic riff exploration of the Sleep blueprint, but showcases the intensity of Matt Pike’s furious playing, should anyone forget he’s more than the shirtless guy with the beer gut, but a metal icon that happens to be relentless guitar hitman.
The Sciences transcends because of two primary reasons: one being Jason Roeder utterly and undeniably changed the DNA of the band for the better with his brilliant handwork along with his in the pocket, dynamic drumming that’s more John Bonham or Bill Ward than he lets on with Neurosis.
The second major plot point regarding the success of The Sciences is easy to spot: the band are students of the game. Cisneros, Pike and Roeder are still stoners playing metal in bands who tour most of the year. They’re involved in the evolution of the scene with Sleep, but also High on Fire, Neurosis, and OM. These dudes never lost touch with their mission but evolved as musicians, and people in the process of the band’s successes.
The songs on the record are playful and on the nose with their love of all things Black Sabbath and the dank kush. The vocals are less hooky sing-alongs to capture an ear, but instead on “Giza Butler” or “Sonic Titan,” they’re droning absolutions to a realm we probably cannot fathom.
Instead of a lousy cash grab, we’re lucky enough to see this trio of brilliant stoners evolve before our eyes. Who knows how long a record after this one will take to craft, it doesn’t matter, anyhow. These six new tracks on The Sciences are good enough to hold us over for a long while, or at least till the pipe needs repacking.
The Sciences is available everywhere you enjoy music.
If there’s anything you can count on when seeing Sleep plow through their songs live, it’s that you’re going to get stoned even if you aren’t the one pulling off the joint and the wall of amplifiers will be so loud it’ll rattle the skeleton inside your meat suit.
At Sleep’s recent stop at Austin’s Moody Theater, best known as the location of Austin City Limits, the doom masters didn’t disappoint with almost two solid hours of riffing and off the cuff jamming. Wandering through classics like "Dragonaut" and "The Druid," Sleep maintained zero communication with the crowd and let their riffs do the talking.
If there was any shining star in the constant chugging Twilight Zone, it was Jason Roeder’s precision, almost mechanical drumming that sounded more like a box factory than a heavy metal drummer. Bassist Al Cisneros and everyone’s favorite Lemmy stand-in, Matt Pike ripped through off the cuff renditions off their much-lauded records Holy Mountain and Dopesmoker.
It’s easy to dismiss Sleep as the premier stoner rock band or Black Sabbath tribute act, but once seeing Sleep, it’s apparent that the group are much more groove reliant than any Sabbath tune. While Black Sabbath ventures off into the weeds, sometimes crafting riffs from the middle of nowhere, Matt Pike instead hovers around three or four sonic ideas and explores them endlessly. While a spaceman might traipse around the stage, giving the already enchanted crowd a nod to the otherworldly experience, the presence of the music relies on the ever-building sense of wholeness and the slow, muddy groove that is unrelenting.
Experimenting on moments, ideas, feelings, Sleep might have stuck to the setlist as a means to have guidelines, but once in the music, they never relied on track length or what was expected, but instead traveled down sonic back alleys, looking for new ways to stake out territory in their universe. For a setlist comprised of eight songs, it took two hours for Sleep to find their way through them. There’s more to Sleep than meets the eye and certainly more musically going on than many give them credit for. There’s a little Black Flag and Motorhead in there, despite what sludgy slowness might bubble up from the murk.
As the packed room gave every inch of themselves over to the masters of the riff, there’s one hot take that’s unavoidable: Sleep is a jam band for dudes who like Motorhead.
Not from the same show, but it'll give you a sampling of Sleep.
I'm sure everyone has at least one favorite "obscure" album, whether it's a little known effort by a well-known artist or the masterpiece album of their favorite underground band. Here are five relatively unknown albums that should be in your collection, in no particular order.
1) Billy Joe Shaver - Tramp On Your Street
Billy Joe's songwriting is in fine form here with versions of Georgia On a Fast Train & Live Forever included along with When The Fallen Angels Fly, a hauntingly personal heartbreaking story with a seed of hope included, and the autobiographical title track. What really makes this album the crown jewel of Shaver's discography is the blazing guitar work of his son, Eddy Shaver. Eddy Shaver was one of the great guitar players of his generation, who tragically died much too young. If you want to hear him at the height of his powers take a listen to this one.
2) Corb Lund & The Hurtin' Albertans - Hair In My Eyes Like A Highland Steer
Chris LeDoux's strong western sensibilities and sense of humor meet strong musicianship and perfectly suited vocals to the subject matter. Highlights are Ian Tyson's turn on The Rodeo's Over, and the raucous romp of Good Copenhagen.
3) High On Fire - Surrounded By Thieves
Sludge Metal masters churn out 8 of their heaviest tunes in front of a live crowd (given the title maybe they should have recorded in a prison). The energy of the live performance surpasses their studio efforts, in my opinion. Standout tracks are Hung, Drawn and Quartered along with The Yeti but this is as album that needs to be listened to straight through.
4) Black Lab - Passion Leaves A Trace
90s rock fans may recall Black Lab hitting the charts in the late 90s with Wash It Away & Time Ago from their standout album Your Body Above Me. What you may not realize is that they are still around and making good music. They may have been mislabeled in the 90s post-grunge movement, thus they weren't the easiest band to market, making them another casualty of the downturn of the music business. Regardless, Passion Leaves A Trace features strong lyrics over mostly shimmery Bowie influenced arrangements. Essential tracks are Ghost In Your Mind & Pictures of People.
5) Reckless Kelly - Bulletproof
This may be the most well known album on this list, but it's also such a great album that I felt I HAD to include it. There are a few albums that come out each year (if we're lucky at least) that are so good, regardless of genre, that it should be mandatory that anyone who claims to love good music own them. This is such an album. Again, it should be listened to as a whole, but if you're so broke you can only buy a few songs pick up Ragged As The Road, American Blood, How Was California, Mirage, and Godforsaken Town. If Godforsaken Town doesn't tug at your heartstrings you are not human.
Hopefully you haven't heard of at least one of these albums and you'll find something in here to enjoy. Until next time.