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The Shills: OurStage Artist Of The Week

the shillsIf you’re looking for it, it’s actually not too hard to find a new band you really dig. Most often, those artists are doing something that resonates with you because of your established tastes. It sounds familiar, it feels comfortable, and maybe there’s even an aspect of the music that’s unique. Much more rare, though, is to come across an act doing something completely different than what you might otherwise find in your music collection and still be affected by it. Such is the case with The Shills, a band that seems to blend so many varied influences as to produce music that cannot be so easily pigeonholed. Fresh off a second win in our Indie Pop channel, they are our latest Artist of the Week.
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Sound & Vision: Can Muse Become the Biggest Band in the World?

Move over, Coldplay. And tell U2 the news. Muse is gunning for the latter bands’ longtime job, the one for which the former might be considered naturally next in line: biggest rock band on the planet.

Bono, for one, may have seen this coming. When Muse opened for U2 on U.S. dates of the iconic Irish band’s 360° Tour in September and October of 2009, U2 frontman Bono touted the young English trio as one to watch ” and listen to ” the next biggest thing. Muse deserved the distinction: What other rock & roll band can claim responsibility for inspiring the Twilight saga?

And, finally, thank you to the talented musicians who inspire me, particularly the band Muse ” there are emotions, scenes, and plot threads in this novel that were born from Muse songs and would not exist without their genius.

” Twilight author Stephenie Meyer

But being the muse of a best-selling author and earning plum spots on the soundtracks to the blockbuster films based on her blockbuster book series do not ruling rock Gods make. Muse, though, is about to give it a shot with their upcoming sixth album, The 2nd Law (due October 2), which is receiving perhaps the biggest pre-release marketing push since Lady Gaga‘s Born This Way. (more…)

Kind Of A Drag

Today is kind of a slow news day. And so, today, you get¦ rock stars in drag: the superlatives.

Most natural: Bowie

Most disturbing: Queen

Most frequent: Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones

Best homage: Blur (as Blondie)

Most dudes: Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention

Best pout: Ozzy Osbourne

Most confusing to high school jocks in 1994: Kurt Cobain

Most committed: New York Dolls

Best looking: Bono

Sound and Vision: Wanted: An Out and Proud Gay Or Lesbian Chart Phenomenon!

Gays and lesbians have come a long way in entertainment since the days when George Michael had to have faith and pretend to want a woman in the “Father Figure” video to sell millions of albums. Although there’s no telling whether Queen would have been as successful in the ’70s and early ’80s had Freddie Mercury definitively outed himself as a lower-case queen, for the most part, today’s closeted male superstars don’t have to wait until they are about to succumb to an AIDS-related illness to publicly acknowledge their sexuality (like Rock Hudson did)”or not (like Liberace and, well, Mercury).

That doesn’t mean coming out of the closet still won’t have a negative effect on the bankability of gay music stars. This is why most of them still choose to wait until they don’t have too much to lose. Elton John, Ricky Martin, Clay Aiken, Savage Garden’s Darren Hayes and Michael all did it after their blockbuster days were over.

Though Hayes continues to release solo records that earn critical raves, it’s been years since he was A-list on the charts. John is a superstar for life, but his most notable post-coming out success (the 33 million-selling worldwide No. 1 single “Candle in the Wind ’97”) was with a song he sang to a dearly departed princess. How gay! Rufus Wainwright, despite critical plaudits, has never had gold album in the US.

Then there is Adam Lambert, the perfect example of how to be an out and gay pop star. He has a vociferous fan base, but his commercial performance isn’t commensurate with his level of fan devotion. He should be selling as many singles as Justin Bieber, but his last one, “Better Than I Know Myself,” was a chart dud (No. 76 on Billboard’s Hot 100), resulting in Trespassing, his sophomore album, being pushed back from March to a May 15 release date. Do we blame it on a weak single, or a pop constituency that’s still skittish about fully embracing a proudly out singer? (more…)

Friday, May 11th, 2012

Kid Vicious

Vicious Corleone

Before he became Vicious Corleone, Terance Williams was just a kid with a thing for Atlanta rap, who happened to have a dad with a thing for Queen, The Eagles and Journey. You can hear the convergence of those two schools in the rapper’s self-described Southern rebel music. Vicious mixes ˜90s hip hop with up-tempo, bass-heavy hooks and rock riffs”an intentional departure from both the dance hits and trap music that rule the Atlanta rap scene. On Shots Fired (Reload) snippets of sirens and 8-bit audio come in lashes, whipping up the audience. M.P.B. (that’s Music, Party, Bullshit) combines scraps of different beats, over which Vicious delivers his manifesto: We don’t want to be doctors or lawyers / We ain’t Huxtables. But don’t think that the rapper doesn’t have ambition. In 100 Miles and Running he sets his sights high, saying, I’d settle for Kelly Rowland / Ms. Knowles is taken. Atta boy.

Riffs, Rants and Rumors: Is fun. Having Fun Yet?

First things first”while the official spelling of the band’s name is fun., with a lowercase “f” and a period at the end, the New York trio can not be held entirely accountable for the highly stylized nature of their moniker. According to multi-instrumentalist Andrew Dost, it was a decision born of pragmatism, not petulance. “We thought of the name ‘Ice Cream,’ but we all hated it,” he says of the name’s origin. “However, we liked what it made us think of, which was ‘fun.’ The period was added after another band called ‘fun’ asked us to distinguish ourselves from them in some way.”

But their name isn’t the only thing that might lead to misconceptions about fun.”there’s also their label, Fueled By Ramen, which is best known for bringing the world an avalanche of emo, with a roster encompassing Panic! at the Disco, Fall Out Boy, Paramore, Yellowcard, et al. But aside from a predilection for wearing their hearts on their sleeves, fun. possesses few of the musical traits one commonly associates with the emosphere. In fact, the group seems to stand apart from most of the pack when it comes to the current crop of high-profile indie-pop acts in general. (more…)

Friday, March 30th, 2012

Riffs, Rants & Rumors: Rock Doc Roundup

What do true rock & roll obsessive do in the extremely unlikely event that they get tired of listening to their favorite albums? Watch documentaries about them, of course! And even though 2012 is still young, the must-see DVDs for rock geeks are already starting to pile up, so before the stack starts to grow too unwieldy, let’s skim the top by taking a look at a few of the most memorable new rock-doc releases on video. Each of our flicks of choice for this week takes a different approach to framing music history, but they all manage to offer fresh insights and fascinating glimpses into some classic works.

Taking the straight-up band-biography approach, Days of Our Lives aims to be the definitive documentary on Queen, and succeeds through careful attention to the details of the band’s story, in-depth interviews with the primary parties and a wealth of fascinating footage. It was originally created as a two-part documentary for the BBC, aired in 2011 to commemorate Queen’s fortieth anniversary, and the DVD and Blu-Ray versions add extra material to sweeten the deal even further. We get a long view of Queen’s climb, digging into the details of guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor‘s pre-Queen band, Smile, and chronicling Zanzibar-born art student Farrokh Bulsara’s evolution into flamboyant frontman Freddie Mercury. We get a worm’s-eye view of the group’s ascent to superstardom, via candid conversations with May and Taylor, as the story moves through each era of the band’s development, from the hard-edged art rock of the early albums to the unabashed eclecticism and commercial breakthrough of A Night at the Opera, to the incorporation of dance-music influences in the early ’80s with The Game and Hot Space. The most emotional moments, of course, come towards the end, as we watch Mercury slowly succumb to AIDS and hear the intimate recollection of his friends and bandmates about the final chapter in the singer’s life. Among the extras on the DVD, a wealth of British TV performances will be particularly tasty treats for hardcore Queen aficionados.

Mr. Mojo Risin': The Story of L.A. Woman takes on the legacy of a band just as iconic as Queen, but instead of trying to document The Doors‘ entire career it takes a tight focus on the final album by the original lineup (history has kindly forgotten the two albums the surviving members made without Jim Morrison in the early ’70s). Like the Queen documentary, this too was made to mark a fortieth anniversary”that of the  aforementioned album, L.A. Woman. Stories of notorious rock & roll enfant terrible Morrison’s antics are legend, but while this documentary doesn’t shy away from the singer’s talent for troublemaking, it only incorporates that aspect of the story as it pertains to the topic at hand”the music itself. Following 1969’s Soft Parade album, which was considered by many to be overreaching and overproduced, L.A. Woman brought the group back to basics”playing together in a room, with the blues as a musical foundation and Morrison’s evocative lyrics taking things further out. Today “Riders on the Storm” and the title track are ingrained in the collective consciousness as classic-rock radio staples, but in 1971, these dark, dreamy pieces combined the urban and the ethereal in an unprecedented way. For those who are intimately familiar with the album, it’s especially intriguing to hear, for instance, keyboardist Ray Manzarek reveal that his solo on “Hyacinth House” quotes a classical piece, and explain how “Riders” evolved from jamming on classic cowboy song “Ghost Riders in the Sky.” But for anyone with even a passing interest in the band, Mr. Mojo Risin’ helps illuminate exactly what made them special.

Of course, The Doors weren’t the only Southern Californians pushing the musical envelope in the early ’70s. From Straight to Bizarre stands apart from the Queen and Doors docs in that it shines a light on a little-heralded corner of rock history, but the story nevertheless involves some legendary figures, including Frank Zappa, Alice Cooper and Captain Beefheart. At the end of the ’60s, Zappa was bedeviled by label conflicts to the degree that he decided to start his own imprints, Straight and Bizarre. The latter would mainly release Zappa’s own work, while Straight would feature recordings by other artists. Bizarre boasted some of Zappa’s finest albums with and without The Mothers, including Hot Rats, Chunga’s Revenge and Just Another Band From L.A., but the focus of this film is in fact the dazzling array of artists and albums on Straight. Zappa’s intention was to provide an outlet for left-field music that might otherwise have gone unheard, and the Straight discography ultimately included such eccentric masterpieces as Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica and Lick My Decals Off, Baby and Tim Buckley’s Blue Afternoon and highly experimental Starsailor, as well as the first two”arguably freakiest”albums by Alice Cooper. You simply can’t half-ass a documentary about this kind of thing, and Straight to Bizarre goes all the way in, interviewing many of the principals and taking a comprehensive look at everything Zappa’s labels accomplished in the late ’60s and early ’70s. It’s the sort of thing that gives music geekery a good name.

So whether you want to delve deeper into one of rock’s most revered albums, chart the development of an iconic band or peer into into an intriguing, esoteric corner of the musical universe, there’s a new DVD”or Blu-Ray if you’re so inclined”that will do the job for you. And by the time you read this, it’s likely that at least twice as many more new music flicks will be floating around out there for your edification, so we may have to reconvene for another roundup somewhere down the line.

Adam Lambert To Perform With Queen

After much speculation and Twitter chatter, it can now officially be confirmed that Adam Lambert will be performing with Queen at the U.K. Sonisphere festival this upcoming summer. The performance is a one-off at Knebworth park, the setting for Queen’s final performance with the late Freddie Mercury.

A tweet from Lambert yesterday afternoon confirmed the rumor: “As many suspected, I can finally confirm: I have been invited by Queen to sing one very special concert! Sonisphere at Knebworth July 7th!”

Lambert made a name for himself on American Idol with his Bohemeian Rhapsody audition, and subsequent performance with Queen later in the season. He also gave a well received performance at the MTV Europe Music Awards in 2011. Lambert, like Freddie, is known for his over-the-top performance tactics and immense vocal range. Good luck, Adam, you’ve got big shoes to fill!

Check out some videos of Adam and Queen after the break.

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