Greetings readers, it has been a while since I have laid my golden pen to paper and I attribute my post New Year’s slump to a run of bad luck. Though things ain’t exactly looking up, I realized the only thing that pleases me more than the sound of my own voice is the sight of my own words. To that end, all I needed was a good record to draw me out of the doldrums, get my creative juices flowing and the short circuited synapses firing. Last week I received the requisite inspirational gem that offered some classic songs for my listening pleasure.
Next month, a documentary commemorating the 40 year anniversary of the passing of Nat King Cole will be aired across the globe; and Capitol/EMI is releasing a companion CD titled The World of Nat King Cole with 28 fully re-mastered songs that should please old fans and damn sure make some new ones. This comprehensive retrospective features material that was recorded during Cole’s 20-year career with Capitol Records that began during the mid 1940’s and was cut short by a three pack-a-day cigarette habit resulting in his untimely demise. Forty years is a long time and I for one was just a wee lad when Cole gave up the proverbial ghost. He began his career as a jazz piano player and a great one at that but ended up as one of the premier American vocalists. This forty year mark is the perfect time to revisit his music and remember just how brilliant his talent was.
Surprisingly enough, I only own one Cole record and it is his Christmas Album; you know, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” So it has come as somewhat of a refreshing surprise to comprehend just how many wonderful tracks this silky voiced songster recorded. Yes, I may be getting older but that doesn’t mean this music belongs only to my parent’s generation, does it? This new collection begins with the cool jazz vibes of Bobby Troup’s classic “Route 66,” which was recorded by the Nat King Cole Trio and features a groovy little guitar and piano solo in the middle section. “Straighten Up and Fly Right” exemplifies the jazz vocal sound of the mid 1940’s and has some silly lyrics about buzzards and monkeys. The trio sound is lean, clean and swings like the Rat Pack on steroids.
In 1948, Cole recorded the stunningly beautiful “Nature Boy,” where his simpler approach was traded in favor of the richer sound of neo classical piano supported by lush string arrangements. This formula gave him a smash hit and set the standard for popular ballads of the post World War II period. This orchestrated method also became a signature style for the artist and “Mona Lisa,” a song that won an Academy Award, was featured in a now obscure film called Captain Carey, USA. However, the track remains a melodic masterpiece.
Another ballad that makes me want to weep in my supermarket fresh, German Pilsner is “When I Fall in Love,” which was recorded by Cole in 1952 and struck gold again in the United Kingdom in 1978, becoming a number one single on the pop charts. Sure, the lyrics are a bit sappy but the combination of violins, cellos and harp, along with a perfect vocal performance are simply exquisite. For you “Unforgettable” fans, you are treated to both Nat’s original version recorded with the late, great Nelson Riddle and the more recent duet with daughter Natalie that rendered a Grammy award winning, posthumous smash hit for her father and mega record sales for her. This song is a testimony to the enduring appeal of a timeless talent and the birth right a daughter who had precious little time to know her famous parent.
I believe it was French poet Rimbaud who said something to the effect of “there are shooting stars that blaze across the night sky.” Perhaps this is a metaphor for brilliant and talented people that we have on this earth for but a short time. Depending on your tastes, it could be Charlie Christian, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Hank Williams, Charlie Parker or Kurt Cobain. With the exception of Charlie Parker, none of these innovative musicians ever saw their 30th birthday. Nat King Cole also had a relatively short life, leaving us just before his 46th birthday. Yet he made an indelible mark on the history of American music and his legacy is a remarkable body of work that can be enjoyed on this new compilation of music. It is small reminder of how the light from his star was spectacular, luminescent and burned far too briefly.
Void of Vision – Hyperdaze
An adventurous exploration of sound that takes the listener on a dark and powerful journey
Void Of Vision, from Melbourne Australia, have been on the fringe of breaking out in the Australian heavy scene for as long as I have been listening to music. While they have clearly got a massive audience, it has always been a question of why aren’t they bigger? It has seemed like they have struggled to find their place within the churning machine that is the Aussie scene, and in the lead up to this release it felt like, as a fan, it was make or break for them. And now, sitting here after having Hyperdaze on repeat ever since I received it, I am happy to say they have found themselves, and they are about to take off.
Hyperdaze features an adventurous exploration of sound that takes the listener on a dark and powerful journey through the entity that is Void Of Vision. Making it immediately evident that they are taking a spookier approach to their sound with this album, Hyperdaze with the ominous and atmospheric intro track, “Overture”. The slow build of this leads perfectly into the opening hits of “Year Of The Rat”. Immediately punching you in the face with a mix of growling guitars and massive drums, this headbang inducing rhythm alone is enough to set the nightmarish tone for the rest of the album. An atmosphere filled with intensity reigns through the verses, and is released only for a mesmerising sung chorus, that while is nothing ground-breaking, will stick in your head for hours.
“Babylon” opens with a maniacal fast paced intro, leading up to a dreamlike swaying verse. Heavy and hard, it maintains this high level of pressure all the way through to the demonic breakdown that makes up almost half the song. Only 2 minutes long, “Babylon” is short yet sharp. Transitioning fluently into “If Only”, this extra fast paced track implements extra usage of the added dark synth that they’ve merely flirted with thus far. The verses feel like they are throwing you back and forth, as the frantic tempo adds a maniacal edge to the track before it flows into the chorus. One issue that I personally have had with Void over the years, is their sung choruses can sometimes have jarring effects, and can seem like they interrupt and resultingly dissolve any momentum that they had previously built up in the verses. I’m happy to say that through Hyperdaze they have found the balance, and every chorus flows perfectly throughout each song that is relevant. As well as a gorgeous chorus and strong verses, “If Only” features a rare but welcome guitar solo that is a tonne of fun.
“Slave To The Name” closely follows, and is a slower but more mechanical take on the darkness. Injecting a healthy dose of panicky guitars, screeching vocals, and gut-wrenching drums straight into our veins, it leads us perfectly into the absolute fucking vibe that is “Adrenaline”. Clocking in at 1 minute and 31 seconds, this synth-heavy dance track is a wild time from start to finish. Grooving and moving their way into the electronic and house scene, Void of Visionhave now raised the question, “Could Void Sell Out Revs?” Instrumental and well out of left field, “Adrenaline” is the most eyebrow raising and most fun song off the entire album.
Lead single “Hole In Me” is the one that got everyone especially excited for this release, and for good reason. Unrelenting in tone, it was the first sign that Void were about to take the next step up. Bouncy and frantic and featuring some of the snappier snare hits you will find, “Hole In Me” remains to be one of the strongest song releases of the year. “Kerosene Dream” shows the band getting extra inventive with their guitars, and while it is chock full of fun riffs, what predominately draws the listeners ears to it will undoubtedly be the ridiculously tough blast beats, and the ridiculously tough breakdowns.
Psychedelic and cybertronic-baby vocal effects reign through the verses of “Decay” and maintain that the freshness of this sound doesn’t stale towards the end of the album. “Splinter” is opened up with the return of the, to put it in professional terms, “fucking sick” blastbeats that have popped their heads up a few times so far. They lead into ridiculously tight and fast verses and ensure that “Splinter” is one of the heaviest tracks off the whole album. The drums are the MVP of this track, and it is impossible to ignore how integral they are here. Setting the pace and taking control of the entire song, it is the added intensity of drums that gives “Splinter” the added edge it needed.
And thus we have hit the closing/title track, “Hyperdaze”, which ends the album with an added sense of dread. While all the way through it is just another fun heavy song that fits with the tone of the album, the way it ends, with intense nightmarish samples and effects, adds the haunting tone that it felt like the ending of this album deserved.
Blink-182 – Nine
It’s been an odd few years for Blink-182. The band, now crystallized with the addition of Alkaline Trio frontman Matt Skiba, seems to have fallen into the steadfast routine of existing to remain relevant by doing everything by the book. Nine, the band’s eighth studio album, and now the second without Tom DeLonge, is a natural progression from 2016’s California, but it’s so determined to remain current while checking off every single pop music trope of today that it does everything except have a personality. It’s 15 songs of music that fit anywhere in-between pop songs by Ariana Grande or Post-Malone. The album is just as easy to digest next to Lil Wayne as it is next to Maroon 5, and like all these aforementioned artists, Blink are now so safe, so saccharine, so inoffensive that it becomes such a chore to sit through this latest iteration of their music.
The problem with Nine is that so many of the songs are lacking any sense of urgency and commit the ultimate crime of just being songs that fill a tracklist. From the singles “Blame It On My Youth”, “Happy Days”, and the confounding “I Really Wish I Hated You”- they all come packing the same bouncy, pop-laden hooks, Travis Barker’s skitterish drum work, and singy-songy choruses that have dominated the charts the last decade and are bereft of a willingness or desire to grab the listener by the ears and demand attention. Songs like “Hungover You” sound like half-songs with its whispered, scatter-gun verses that explode into mid-tempo choruses. “Remember To Forget Me” is “Stay Together For The Kids” lite, except that it doesn’t have the impact of the latter’s substance while “Generational Divide” gives off “my first punk song” vibes. Skiba sounds bored half the time, which is a shame really. Even when the album does its best Alkaline Trio impersonation (“Black Rain”) it sounds like a song Skiba left off the last Trio record.
Nine finally hits a spot of excitement in “Ransom” with its uptempo percussion work and (finally) the urge to push the limits. But dumbfoundingly, the song is only a minute and a half long, and while I’m all for brevity, the song ends just as it is about to pick up some momentum. Bizarre.
So who is Nine for exactly? Well, it’s definitely not for old-school Blink fans who first discovered the band with Buddha, Cheshire Cat, or Dude Ranch. But I’m probably just a crotchety old-school listener who has been puzzled ever since 2003’s self-titled album. Nine is really for the average listener who “likes all kinds of music” and loves that so much of popular music today is inoffensive, safe, diverse, and caters to listeners of all genres and backgrounds. For you, the album is fine and will sit happily in your Spotify playlist next to whatever tepid song is currently topping the charts. But for anyone who longs for Blink with a little bit of personality and juvenile attitude, you’ll find none of that here. It doesn’t even have anything to do with the album’s lack of DeLonge either because by the time he did Neighborhoods, his head was already in the stars chasing aliens.
Perhaps it is too much to ask for another song about jerking off in a tree, but this band used to be fun. Now they’re just pedestrian at best. Imagine an average Alkaline Trio hooking up with +44 on the dance floor of some terrible night club and you’ve got Nine. It’s a shame really. Growing up doesn’t always have to suck, but it really shouldn’t be this bland either.