The late ˜70s and early ˜80s were a boom time for bands blending New Wave’s urgency and energy with the Jamaican rhythms of ska and reggae. The biggest-selling exponents of that musical merger were The Police and Men At Work, but a whole ska-rock subculture developed in England around a handful of bands working under the Two Tone banner. Two Tone was first and foremost a label, with a roster that at one time or another included The Beat, Bad Manners, The Bodysnatchers, Madness, The Selecter, and The Specials, among others, but it also evolved into a genre tag, partly due to the label’s black-and-white logo and iconography, and partly because of the groups’ commitment to actively opposing the racism that was prevalent in England at the time, through songs, benefits, and activism. The Beat (who became known in the U.S. as The English Beat due to another band’s claim on the name) were Two Tone’s poster boys, as much for their unity-boosting lyrics as for their integrated lineup, and they eventually had the biggest impact in America of any Two Tone act. (more…)
It only took Francis Ford Coppola two years to follow The Godfather with Godfather II. Even less time separated Charles Dickens’ last serialized installment of David Copperfield and his first for Bleak House. Sometimes artists are able to pick up where they left off pretty quickly, even if their previous project was one of the key works of their career. Other times, however, one has to wait a while for the follow-up to come around. The original lineup of The dB’s definitely fall into the latter camp. It’s taken thirty years for frontmen Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple”along with bassist Gene Holder and drummer Will Rigby”to finally concoct a successor to Repercussion, their second record together, but now that Falling Off The Sky is set to arrive at last, the faithful are breathing heavy sighs of relief.
All four dB’s were North Carolina boys who grew up playing together in various bands throughout the ’70s before deciding to search for the brass ring in New York in 1978. Heavily influenced by Big Star”Stamey had briefly worked with that band’s mastermind, Alex Chilton, and Holsapple had recorded with Big Star sideman Richard Rosebrough”The dB’s already had a distinct power-pop orientation when they arrived on New York’s nascent new wave scene. So were The dB’s a new wave band? “I guess so, yeah,” allows Holsapple in retrospect, “for lack of a better word. I mean, we’d been making records [in other incarnations] before there was a new wave, back when new wave was a French cinema term, so I guess we sort of fell into that. We certainly weren’t new romantics. For years we sort of rejected the power-pop moniker, just because it seems very limiting, but realistically I guess you would have to say that’s exactly what we were. At this point you can call it anything, I mainly just want people to enjoy it and hear it for what it is.”
“For me it’s the machine that works best,” says Gary Numan of the synthesizer, the instrument whose use in rock he helped to revolutionize back in the late ’70s. It’s an axe that has certainly served him well over the decades, from the synth-punk experiments of his early recordings to the sleekly designed electronic speedway of his blockbuster breakthrough, “Cars,” all the way up to his latest album, Dead Son Rising.
But Numan didn’t start out as a synthesizer whiz at all. “Originally I was a guitar player,” he recalls, “and when I was signed to Beggars Banquet we (Tubeway Army) were a guitar, bass and drums three-piece, a punk band, really. I had never played a keyboard before.” As fate would have it, a synth was laying around the studio during the recording of Numan’s first album, and he couldn’t help trying it out. “Soon after that, my parents bought an old upright [piano],” he says. “I started pretty much writing songs on piano from then on. I’ve written two songs on bass guitar in my life,” he adds. “One of those was ‘Cars.'”
But while Numan made new wave history at the end of the ’70s and the onset of the ’80s, his tenure at the top of the heap was fleeting. He confesses that his career “started to suffer somewhat in the early ’80s,” and by the ’90s his star had sputtered out. “I couldn’t give away albums, even in the UK,” he admits. “I couldn’t give away tickets to gigs. I was really, really in trouble, I had massive money problems, all sorts of personal problems at home, it was just a grim time, really…my situation was so poor that I didn’t have a record contract either. I just decided that I was really finished, and I didn’t know if I’d ever make any more albums again. So I went back to what I did before I’d ever done it for a living, and that was to write songs for the fun of it. It went back to being a hobby. And because I wasn’t thinking about career, or trying to please A&R departments, I just went back to writing songs for me, it was immediately different. I hadn’t realized it, but I think for several years before that, everything I’d been writing was desperate attempts to save the career and to try and get back on radio¦listening to advice and trying to keep people happy. That’s when I sold out, I think.”
The holiday season is supposed to appeal to all of our finer instincts as sentient earthlings ”at least that’s the idea that’s been inculcated in us practically since birth. So why is its annual arrival commonly greeted with the kind of dull-eyed existential dread otherwise reserved for tax audits, traffic court and other such frivolities? Maybe it’s because of the stress that comes along with finding just the right gifts for all the loved ones on our lists. After all, some folks are a snap”another Xbox game, Scotch bottle or sweater, and they’re set”but everyone’s holiday shopping list always contains at least one or two of the type we’ll term “The Difficult Ones.” Their tastes are micro-specific, and they usually seem to want nothing, already have everything or both. With that in mind, in the interest of sucking some of the stress out of the season, here are a few humble holiday gift suggestions for “The Difficult Ones” in your own life, conveniently organized by personality type.
The Classic Rockers
Jimi Hendrix – Winterland
Do you have a dude in your life”and in this context, “dude” couldn’t be a more appropriate designation”whose idea of extreme sports is playing air guitar to Bachman-Turner Overdrive while pedaling his exercise bike? Someone whose TV remote has somehow been programmed to never depart from the VH1 Classic channel? He may already have every classic-rock reissue, remaster and repackaging you could conceive of, but he hasn’t gotten around to this one yet”five live discs featuring Jimi Hendrix in his prime at the legendary Winterland Ballroom. Iit’ll send any card-carrying Classic Rocker into a state of six-string ecstasy.
Rock and roll has had a profound impact on the culturally history of the United States. Beginning in the 1950s with artists like Elvis Presley, rock music has always been a symbol for youthful rebellion. From the psychedelic rock of the ’60s, to glam rock in the ’70s, to hair metal in the ’80s, to grunge in the ’90s, each new generation of kids latches on to a new variation that represents their time and experiences. And while all the various sub-genres of rock have their differences, they all share a few basic similarities: loud guitars, powerful drum beats, booming bass and in-your-face riffs. While it may seem like rock has taken a backseat in the music mainstream to pop and country, there are still successful bands out there keeping the rock and roll tradition alive. One of those bands is Cage the Elephant, who also happen to be one of OurStage’s biggest success stories. This week’s edition of Vs. matches them up against another great up-and-coming rock band on OurStage that you may not know about yet, The Bolts.
What makes the Bolts similar to Cage the Elephant is that they both write hard rock songs with a pop sensibility. Like Cage the Elephant, The Bolts have a penchant for writing hard yet melodic riffs that are extremely catchy. One listen to their song “Walk Away” makes this perfectly obvious. The song opens with a hard biting guitar riff that blasts you in the face on your first listen, but by the end of the song you’ll be humming it back to yourself. It really is that catchy. The Bolts trade off vocal duties between four out of the five members of the band, which allows for versatility as well as great vocal harmonizations, which you can hear on the chorus of “Walk Away.” While Cage the Elephant’s lead singer is known for his distinct, nasally voice, the singers in the Bolts have smoother voices with greater range. They also show off their instrumental skill with a roaring guitar solo about halfway through the song.
In this week’s edition of Vs. we’ll be taking a look at Triggers and putting them up agains indie poppers The Hush Sound. Triggers hail from Pittsburgh, but have recently relocated to Los Angeles and have been causing a buzz with big shows at the Viper Room and the Hard Rock Cafe. Like The Hush Sound, Triggers make catchy and melodic pop music with an indie rock flavor. Triggers use crunchy, distorted guitars and soulful piano lines to create a driving and upbeat sound that is just simply fun to listen to. Their track “18 FPS” is a perfect example of their fun and catchy brand of indie pop. Piano chords and lead electric guitar lines propel the song forward, while Adam Rousseau’s smooth voice provides a vocal melody that will be stuck in your head for days.
“18 FPS” also shows another aspect of what sets Triggers apart from The Hush Sound; horn arrangements. The use of trumpets, trombones, and saxophones adds a whole different dimension to the band’s sound. On “18 FPS,” the horns echo the vocal melody as well as provide harmonizations during the chorus and part of the verses. The results make the song sound almost like swing, and it’s sure to get feet moving on the dance floor. In “She Had Me At Takeoff,” the horns are utilized perfectly for the chorus of the song. Using accented off beats, the horns create the perfect countermelody to the on-the-beat vocal melody.
This track also shows how Triggers use elements of new wave and post-punk in their music. “She Had Me At Takeoff” features a strong and distorted electric guitar melody, with a mixture of normal and falsetto vocals. The sound has definite ties to bands like The Cars and XTC, but with a much more modern pop edge. The new wave influence continues on “Ready Or Not,” but they mix it up by using an electric keyboard instead of a piano, and the keyboard gets the spotlight in this song. The fast keyboard melody and frantic drumming keep the song going at a quick pace during the intro, but the song slows down for the verse and the vocalists take the spotlight. Adam Rousseau and Brett Zoric trade lines during the verse, which leads to the climactic chorus. It really cannot be said enough how catchy these songs are. One or two listens and you will have every hook and melody already memorized. Triggers blend the modern and vintage to create a sound all their own.
Check out Triggers’ debut album Smoke Show, out now on Anomaly Records!