Taken from a purely tradition-based point of view, Glendale, West Virginia native Brad Paisley is a renaissance man. Out of all the popular music genres in the modern day, country is the one that seems to be the most inherently unfriendly to the infringing effects of chronic hybridizing. The last decade has been awash with cheap amalgamations, the quality of which has ranged from mildly compelling or amusing to downright certifiable. Pop-jazz, rap-rock (aka nu-metal), punk-pop, pop-hop, the list goes on and changes from one day to the next. One would hope that country could evade the scourge, but alas, jamming square pegs into round holes seems to be a popular activity in Nashville these days. Let us summarize:
Big & Rich are laying waste to all former concepts of “old-school” country music, pillaging every imaginable genre and tossing it against the wall to see what sticks. Faith Hill and Shania Twain have gone from country to pop and back again so many times that even those in the know have lost count. Toby Keith, for as much as he keeps close tabs with country tradition, has made more of a name for himself in rubbing people the wrong way. Gretchen Wilson and her chest-thumping cabal are trumping the benefits of how cool and trendy it is to embrace our collective uncool and untrendy, in no uncertain or cunning terms. While that might be a sage notion to a certain extent, chances are that those who are most prone to her thematic inclinations have already heeded them … since they probably already owned the Big & Rich album. Besides, a good part of America, whether they be on the coasts or somewhere in the middle, needs little or no advisement when it comes to the benefits of being trashed, pugnacious, egotistically over inflated, or any combination of the three.
Amidst all of the discord, however, Brad Paisley has found a golden middle ground. His brand of country adheres to even the sternest of traditionalist qualities, while retaining a distinctly modern sensibility that’s splashed with a warm, sophisticated sense of humor. He has a keen sense for the people and world around him, observant and self-effacing rather than base and sophomoric. In this day in age, that’s downright audacious for a commercially successful artist. As the saying goes, if you can’t laugh at yourself, someone else is going to do it for you, and you’re not going to enjoy it nearly as much.
Though he proves himself to be a guitar slinger at heart, Paisley’s solo passages fit the fabric of the songs very snugly rather than pureeing them into a rockabilly mush. One can catch an air of his appreciation for classic rock and roll guitar in any one of his solos, as much as he stays well within the confines of countrydom. The arrangements on Time Well Wasted are considerably less effusive than the “pop with a twang” formula that has become a country standard of late, even as the production is still a clean and crisp major label job.
In the past, Paisley has been known as a well-humored chap (sometimes too well-humored for some folks), but Time Well Wasted finds him tempering his inner wisecracker with a handful of genuinely affecting tunes to go with his dependable comic touch. There’s even an evident sense of resigned spirituality, a rational mortality that grounds the album and adds a rare third dimension, as the Dolly Parton duet “When I Get Where I’m Going” and songlet “The Uncloudy Day” prove.
“Alcohol” is the bona fide lead single, an easygoing, first-person account of firewater’s curiously paradoxical effects that is destined to become a karaoke standard if it hasn’t already. It’s a non-traditional bar anthem in the sense that it pokes fun at its effects while acknowledging its common, widespread appeal. Somehow I doubt that most of the half-sloshed patrons slurring it off-key and slobbering into the microphone will take note of that, but after so many botchings of “Margaritaville,” that’s fine by me. (I actually think there’s a federal law that forbids singing “Margaritaville” sober.) The Alan Jackson duet “Out In the Parkin’ Lot” keeps up his neo-trad cred, and the poignant “Waitin’ On a Woman” documents the poetic waxings of a long-suffering married man, both while dropping the “g” and embracing the always-edgy apostrophe. “Flowers” boasts the album’s funniest lyrical moment while lamenting the stubbornness of a recalcitrant woman: “Stop the senseless killing / Can’t you hear the roses cry / Baby, how many flowers have to die.” “I’ll Take You Back” and “You Need a Man Around Here” also pack a very humorous punch. Paisley even finds time to hot dog it on “Time Warp,” an instrumental that tosses musical caution to the wind.
Brad Paisley isn’t one to waste the chance for a memorable couplet, and the consistent quality of Time Well Wasted pays testament to that. His lyrical touch never flags, and that makes for an engaging listen even when the proceedings turn introspective. There isn’t a wasted lyric on the album. I’ve been an admitted skeptic when it comes to late-era country and its skewing towards pop, but Brad Paisley’s adherence to both a classic standard and a modern vitality, in addition to his delightful sense of humor and keen humanity, is more than enough to keep this skeptic at bay; at least for a while.
The Ritualists – Painted People
The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music
After listening to Painted People by The Ritualists, I was very surprised to learn that this is their debut album. This band shows a maturity in their music that I would not expect from a first album and provides inspirational sounding tracks with ‘reach for the stars’ type of guitar riffs. I hear a modern version of U2 in The Ritualists, along with an influence of Radiohead. Their songs are full, wholehearted post-punk hooks with a lead singer that has a sizeable range.
“Rattles” opens the album, and it’s the type of song that shows their audience that they are here to stay. It has a great build-up of excitement and intensity. The band explains that this song is “A combination of dark, deep-pocketed verses juxtaposed with big, flashy choruses is a key element to tracks”.
“Ice Flower” and “Worthiest One” welcomes an electronic wave to the album and showcases just how impressive lead singer Christian Dryden’s range is. His ability to hit those high notes with such conviction puts my falsetto abilities to shame. “Worthiest One” brings this sort of nostalgic feeling- it’s a rock ballad with a floaty guitar riff.
“She’s The Sun” is a great follow-on from “Worthiest One” as it transfers the mood upwards and directs the music into more of a hypnotic vision, which conveys “the band’s inner Sixties Love Child”. “I’m With The Painted People” has a really relatable background to the song. Dryden felt a larger than life inspiration from people like David Bowie and Simon Le Bon, these artists felt like soulmates, which can be lonely at times. It wasn’t until he ventured out into the clubs of the lower east side of New York which helped him feel comfortable to express his creative vision freely. The song is all about finding like-minded people.
There are hooks galore and catchy choruses in pretty much every song. “With this record, I’ve specifically tried to be anthemic,” admits Dryden. “I’ve always loved going to shows, where immediately after the performance, and even on the ensuing days after, you just can’t help but remember and sing the songs you’ve just heard. It’s almost like a higher form of communication.” The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music and Painted People shows hints of variations with different genres explored throughout. They sound motivated and in return have produced motivating music for their listeners.
The Decline – Flash Gordon Ramsay Street
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk
It’s possible that since punk broke through to the mainstream in the mid to late ’90s, listeners outside of Australia think Frenzal Rhomb are the only band to have come from the lucky country. It’s true that during the rise of that Epitaph and Fat Wreck sound, Frenzal Rhomb became the namesake of the genre from Australia. However, Australian punks know that their history stretches long before the release of Survival of the Fattest. From the legendary sounds of The Saints to the rock n’ roll infused punk of Radio Birdman, Australia’s punk rock history is not only rich but very much precedes the genre’s mainstream explosion.
Frenzal Rhomb were another chapter in punk down under and for many, they opened a lot of doors. If not at the very least, proved that there were fertile grounds for new bands to emerge across the vast land. Western Australia’s The Decline formed in 2005 and quickly showed their talent for writing up-tempo melodicore that shred as much as it soared. From their 2010 debut, I’m Not Gonna Lie To You, it was clear that the band were equal parts snotty, urgent, funny, and melodic. Like the Frenzal Rhomb formula, they’ve got all of it in spades with a mean streak of Australianness that is both endearing and extremely relatable. Their latest album is no different.
From the title alone you can tell you’re in for a shedload of fun, and while it’s easy to think that Flash Gordon Ramsay Street is just goofy humor, it’s actually got a lot of pointed commentary too. From the animal-supportin’, veggie-lovin’, attack on meatlovers and meatheads (“Brovine”), to the real-estate market questioning “Smashed Avo”, there’s plenty of current talking points that The Decline run through. Sure, you also get vegan buffalo wing recipes (surprisingly, not the song titled “Bullet With Buffalo Wings”) and a love for The Legend of Zelda, but who says you can’t sing about Marxist theories while talking about your love for Nintendo?
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk; taking plenty of cues from the best of the NOFX / No Fun At All up-tempo, hardcore-derived brand of punk. The hooks on Flash Gordon Ramsey Street are as infectious as horny teens on spring break, highlighted by the endless harmonies on songs like the terrific “It Was Always You” and the call and response male-female vocal attack of “Verge Collection”. Brevity is also key, as the majority of the songs here never overstay their welcome with the longest clocking in at just 3:15 (the wistful closing of “Josh”).
Flash Gordon Ramsey Street is concise, to-the-point, and a furious medley of skate punk urgency that is relevant to young adult life as punks in Australia. Great production values to boot mean you can’t go wrong here.