I purchased Jane’s Addiction’s first two studio albums sometime during the 2014-2015 winter break. I fell in love with 1988's Nothing’s Shocking rather quickly. I enjoyed 1990's Ritual de lo Habitual, but it took more time to fully appreciate. I concluded Nothing’s Shocking was more consistent, sonically and thematically. The first half of Ritual sounds like a rehash of songs that would have fit better on the Nothing’s Shocking tracklist. They might have been better served on a B-side release.
Over time, I’ve come to appreciate the album’s vibe. All the key elements of JA’s sound are there: Perry Farrell’s high-pitched vocals, Stephen Perkins’ spidery drums, Eric Avery’s acrobatic bass, and Dave Navarro’s layered guitars. The first three songs come out with emphasis on fast, funky, and melodic breaks. The next two tracks “Obvious” and “Been Caught Stealing” introduce slower tempos and tone down the aggression just enough for almost danceable tracks.
The next four tracks change the mood of the record from goofy to somber. These songs focus more on death, life, and renewal. Farrell wrote these in tribute to Xiola Blue, one of Farrell’s friend who died of substance abuse. These tracks feature more progressive song structures. Some clock in over six minutes.
On the lyrical side of things, I tend to classify JA’s lyrics into two camps: goofy and serious. A good example of a goofy song is “Ted…Just Admit It.” The lines “Sex is violent!” and “show me, everybody, naked and disfigured.” It’s goofy, it hardly makes any sense, but it serves the song in a cool way. With “Jane Says” the lyrics are more direct and more wistful. In Nothing’s Shocking, the weird provocative lyrics are dominant. Ritual provides a balance between the goofy and serious.
Jane’s Addiction is an utter enigma. They’ve inspired countless bands that sound nothing like them. What is it about them that continues to inspire these groups? I guess what these bands took away from Jane’s Addiction was small aspects of their sound. Maybe seeing them live back in the day sent all of those bands back to the drawing board. In this case, I think that they sought to create music that inspired.
To me, Ritual says, “This is how it’s done,” both with crafting great songs and crafting great albums. Nothing’s Shocking comes very close. I highly recommend them paired together, but I can’t imagine finding another album as provocative, elegiac, and original.
I’m from New York, and I say with a matter-of-fact tone. Despite being a big place for showbiz and an incubator for hipsters, this town has had only a few vibrant and original scenes (jazz, punk, and hip-hop) that were truly impactful in music; no matter where you are in New York (sans Staten Island), jazz inhabits every one of its corners and alleyways. Inevitably I got exposed to jazz, but like most 21st century kids, I never appreciated jazz until I exhausted myself from a series of trends. I went through my father’s record collection and listened as carefully as possible. It wasn’t long before I found this record. Turned out, I had been listening to this record for years.
Despite being the most celebrated body of work in jazz, Davis resented Kind of Blue it for years. He felt that it hurt his artistic vision, as opposed to his commercial performance at the time, and that the music was very passive. To non-jazz aficionados, jazz is only tolerable in passive listening anyways. So, what makes this record special in my collection?
What drew me in was the approach to the compositions that Davis created. Jazz generally takes the rhythms and swung notes prevalent in traditional African American music (spirituals, gospel, soul and blues) and melds them with the structures and technicality of European Baroque and Classical music. Each part was written out, detailed by what notes to play or a chord change. Davis decided to take an untraveled path by a simpler approach. Instead of all these complex chord changes, the songs were composed by a few chord changes or a simple line repeated a favorable number of times. The details were then left to other performers on the record to build and improvise. This break came to be known as modal jazz. The first few minutes of the first song “So What” takes a few minutes to get set before really getting into the main phrasing. “Freddie Freeloader” follows that lead and serves as part two to “So What.” “All Blues” makes a more distinct melody towards the end.
The tone of the record seems relaxed, but only on the surface level. Really there is no emotion that would squarely fit the album as a whole or to the songs individually. On the parts where Miles brings out his trumpet, if you listen carefully, soon enough you wonder if he’s sad, alleviated, or seething with acidic anger. This record is important to me because brings me back to New York again. New York has a certain rhythm that is jazz, no matter what season or time of day it is. Whenever I play “Blue in Green,” I can picture myself in an apartment during the springtime, making breakfast and getting ready for work. I could be getting out of school in mid-October, at the park in the summer at high noon, or walking in the snow at 7:30 PM.
Jazz snobs will say this record is overrated, and it probably is. But that’s not the point. It resonates with me for nostalgic reasons and for the compositional approach. Davis went on to make more compelling work later on in his career, but this one makes the best impression on me.
Trial and Error: FGCU’s Love-Hate Relationship With Environmental Sustainability
Wetland preserves within FGCU’s main campus. (Photo by Daniel Terrero)
(from April 2017)
The Need for a University
According to the 1990 US Census report, Florida ranked fourth most populous state in America and one of the fastest-growing states in the country. Largely ignored for much of the state’s history, Southwest Florida saw more urban development to accommodate a rapidly growing population. Generally placed south of Tampa Bay, the area generally includes Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, Lee, Collier, Glades and Hendry counties.
J. Keith Arnold, who represented the region in the state legislature from 1982 to 1998, foresaw the area’s needs in terms of growth. Years before a “tenth university” had been approved by the state of Florida, Arnold spent his time in Tallahassee advocating for one in the area. Jim Beever, a geobiologist for the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council, said that he assisted Arnold and the SWFRPC.
Beever wasn’t part of the Regional Planning Council at the time, but he remembers that locals wanted a university because there wasn’t one nearby. The closest public universities families could send their kids to would either be in Miami or Tampa.
After the Florida Board of Regents approved the creation of the tenth state university in May of 1991, there was the task of finding an appropriate site to build the campus. As Beever recalls, 22 sites up and down Interstate 75 were offered and taken into consideration. Some of the rejected site locations included the Forum in Fort Myers and the Miranda beside the Orange River in Lee County. Many of them were later developed for residential or business use.
The land on which the university is built on was donated to the state by citrus magnate Ben Hill Griffin Jr. of the Alico Corporation. According to Beever, Griffin had previously proposed a major city near the current campus site is today. Alico Road, Corkscrew Road, US 41, and Interstate 75 would serve as the city’s boundaries. The Regional Planning Council recommended denial and Alico withdrew its application. After changing the land review processes, the state gave the university approval to build on the Alico property in February of 1992.
Better sites were available; only two were considered worse. The best arguments in favor of the Alico site were as follows: its low cost (of free), its centralized location in the region, and easy access to Interstate 75.
“The two worse sites had become public land because of the conservation value,” Beever said. “This site here where FGCU is today was an area identified for preservation and land acquisition.”
During siting process was going on, the local community had concerns about the consequences of building the university. The university would help grow the local economy; however, Southwest Florida already suffers heavily from urban sprawl, as does much of the state. Locals feared that establishing a university would bring the same traffic problems that plague cities such as Miami and West Palm Beach.
A 1995 pre-construction aerial view of the FGCU site. The current university site is located north of Corkscrew Road along Ben Hill Griffin Parkway, which also did not exist at the time.
“They [locals] just felt that there would be a huge amount of development spinoff, which has occurred,” said Dan Trescott, who worked for the Regional Planning Council at the time. “When the state came up with this comp [comprehensive] plan for the university, they came up with this university overlay in Lee County which had a bunch of policies to deal with.”
Because the area had not seen much urban growth until recently, much of Southwest Florida is still considered to be a part of the environmentally sensitive Everglades. At the time, Beever had professional concerns over the FGCU site.
“It was going to negatively affect the hydrology of the headwaters of the Estero River,” Beever said. “It was going to result in a lot of wetland fill. It was going to need a lot of secondary impacts. You had to build a road through wetlands and habitat and interrupt hydrology to get there. You had the impact of put in utilities, water lines, and power lines.”
Opposition from the environmental community also came out of concern for the Florida panther. The International Union of Conservation for Nature lists the Florida panther as an endangered species. Florida is the only place east of the Mississippi River where the panther has not been completely extirpated. The initial concern stemmed from a May 1989 finding, when the now-defunct Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission tracked a panther going into the FGCU site. Concerns grew in 1992 when a panther was injured on Alico Road just north of the site. In 1993, another panther was found dead nearby on Daniels Road. By 1994, the state game commission determined that the FGCU site was indeed panther habitat.
That was a pill Griffin and the university’s promoters simply couldn’t swallow.
“The panther ain’t been there, ain’t coming back,” Griffin said in a Fort Myers News-Press article from October of 1994. Denying that his company’s property was panther habitat, he added: “You look close enough you may find a dinosaur track out there, but I don’t think the dinosaur is coming back.”
A 1994 Fort Myers News-Press article covering some of the environmental concerns over the Alico site.
Beever pointed out that the Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission had tracked the panther with a radio collar and at least one other panther had been sighted on campus since then. The university went ahead with construction and development on the Alico site anyway.
“The basic argument was the human need exceeded the environmental impact,” Beever said.
Lawsuit and Settlement
In February of 1995, the Responsible Growth Management Coalition of Southwest Florida and other concerned citizen groups filed a class-action lawsuit against the State of Florida for not sticking with the original comprehensive plan by moving ahead with establishing a university on environmentally sensitive lands.
“Repetitively, the response was ‘we shouldn’t object to the university because it’s going to be an environmental university,‘” Beever said. “Many promises were broken. We were constantly told by people that we should not object because it’s for the children. That’s immaterial. There are laws, there are rules, there are protections, and if you’re going to have an educational institution that’s supposed to be environmental, you should be doing it right.”
The parties settled later in April 1995. As a part of the settlement, the Arnold Committee and the Estero Bay Agency of Bay Management were created to help the university developers in check and keeping the university accountable. Beever said the environmental community had mixed feelings over the settlement. On one hand, systems were put in place to keep university developers in check. On the other hand, Beever said it was time to move on.
“After that, I had other areas that I had to review and protect and I worked on land acquisition projects successfully in other areas,” Beever said. “I had other things I did, but every development that came in there, Miromar Lakes, the mall, other associated developments around there, that was the next thing we had to deal with. We don’t have time to dwell on past losses. It was a fait accompli. It was done.
Trescott believes that the fears of sprawl and ecological impact had come true to some degree, but he also believes that there hasn’t been much pressure to develop beyond what the comprehensive plan allowed.
A 1998 aerial shot of the university and the surrounding area.
“Everybody realized the benefit and you could hardly object to the need to have it here. It’s proven that it’s very good for the region,” Trescott said.
The settlement agreement also birthed the University Colloquium, a required course for students that is unique to FGCU. The course was designed to educate students on the university’s development history and to encourage students to be more environmentally aware both in the local and the global sense.
University Today and Looking Ahead
From the air, the campus resembles an amoeba. It’s by design that FGCU’s campus lacks the typical structure and planning. Built primarily on uplands and protecting wetland areas, many of the buildings on campus use newer energy-efficient technologies soon as they are available. Tom Mayo, who has served as director of Planning and Facilities at FGCU since 2011, maintains that much the tension that existed between concerned citizens and FGCU early on has subsided.
“As a campus overall, we’re trying to grow sustainably or trying to minimize our impact on the environment by working within the developable areas on campus that we negotiated back when the campus was created,” Mayo said.
Campus growth rates went down over the last ten years. Before the economic downturn in 2008, Mayo says the campus development growth rates were between 5 and 8 percent per year. The funding to continue development simply hasn’t been available since the downturn. Still, the concerns over urban growth and environmental impact did not end with the settlement agreement in 1995. Beever added that only more concerns arose over time concerning the administration’s attitudes over developments.
“The best thing we did was to continue to catch them every time that they violated, which they did,” Beever said, listing dewatering violations, major changes to the university’s plan, and intrusion on preserves as some of FGCU’s past sins. If the regulating agencies continue to grant FGCU permission to develop, Beever said that FGCU would keep developing more land.
A 2016 aerial view of the FGCU campus.
Mayo admits that FGCU has not always faithfully practiced environmental sustainability, but he made a key point that it is not the only purpose the university serves.“You can make a commitment to 'off the grid,’ and we could do that, but cost-wise, we have to be good stewards of our taxpayer’s money,” Mayo said. Beever lauded FGCU’s biology and environmental sciences programs, which help give credibility to the school, but is disappointed in FGCU’s desire to be pro-development and environmental at the same time.
“If the goal of FGCU was to be the environmental university,” Beever said, “you really needed to have brought in leadership that was going to concentrate on that instead of the same-old standard infrastructure, endowed chair, ‘cater-to-the-rich-people-to-build-my-university’ attitude that you see everywhere else.”
Beever and the Regional Planning Council continue to defend the land on which FGCU sits on as newer developments such as the University Village south of Miromar Lakes and other potential developments east of I-75 may cause even greater environmental impacts.“The long-term plans with what we’re seeing and reviewing, these people envision solid development all the way to the Collier County line,” Beever said referring to the plan to extend Collier County Road 951 into Lee County.
“Any land that we haven’t purchased to put in the CREW or already in private ownership, the Corkscrew Swamp will be developed.”
Trescott said that despite the contentious history and environmental concerns, Lee County and the state of Florida have done well overall in managing FGCU’s primary and secondary development. He even went on to praise the University Colloquium course in trying to expose students to the ideas of sustainability. However, his concerns about FGCU’s role in possible excess development echo those of Beever’s.
“More development is inevitable if it’s not bought and kept in public ownership, if it’s not managed properly, or if you’ve got no solid comprehensive plans, policies, and regulations for controlled growth in urban areas and suburban areas.”
The great Romantic-era poet John Keats described the human being’s ability to transcend his or her circumstances and change revise their context in they were in. He called it “negative capability”. Though its validity is widely disputed, history has given numerous examples of people who have exhibited this sort of power. That’s been the major overarching theme with the southwest Florida spoken-word artist Taylor Davis and his recent projects, including his upcoming work, Portraits of the Others.
Though he is a salesman by trade, Davis started rapping at age 16, mainly remixing popular hip-hop songs on his laptop. Tepid responses prompted him to be more ambitious and nuanced in his craft. Last October, Davis put out his concept album Greetings from the West Egg, which takes inspiration from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Accented by sounds clips from mobster movies and moody jazz grooves, Greetings paints a cinematic snapshot of what living in and around the West Egg would be like.
Portraitsfollows in the familiar themes of struggling to succeed fairly in an unjust society. However, his goals for Portraits are clearly different than for Greetings. The first is to distance himself from the immediate influence of the New York and Fitzgerald; the second is to engage in more narratives not only concerning dysfunction in society but also dysfunction in personal relationships.
“I wanted to personalize the album a lot more than the last one and go away from the NYC theme,” Davis says. “Less wide-open cinematic concepts and more personal stories and narrative pieces.”
The third major goal is to change the mood and tone. While Greetings is tense, moody and nihilistic, Davis says that Portraits is looking up to be more optimistic than its predecessor. In the first promotional track from the album, “House on the Hill”, you can hear Davis sounding more relaxed than his previous work, but not complacent. It’s strident, but not cocky; aloof, but inviting and engaged with the listener.
Though his work is undeniably indebted to the New York flavors of A Tribe Called Quest, Nas, and the Guru, his lyrics showcase more influences from folk and heartland rock. Nearly all the songs on Greetings are littered with nods to his first true musical inspiration and influence, Bruce Springsteen.
“The music of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band has inspired me to pick up my guitars more and more and hone in on my records,” Davis says.
“The use of live instrumentation on the records and makes them more ‘now’ sounding.”
In terms of storytelling and lyricism, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, and Woody Guthrie have made an immediate and long-lasting impression on Davis.
“Attempting to tell those type of stories on the music we make is something we don’t see done,” Davis says, “and that’s where we find our niche lyrically.”
Plagued with setbacks due to various personal issues, Greetings took over two years to make. By contrast, Portraits is already in the post-production with a set release date for April 17, to coincide with Davis’ 23rd birthday. Portraitshas proven to be a relaxed and relatively brisk process, only taking up a fraction of the time spent on Greetings. On production, Davis recruited longtime collaborators Steve Flowers and Evan Chase.
Flowers says that both he and Davis were “more settled and started talking up this album and instantly knew that we were both going to be on board for the entire album only a short time after we started laying down the demo tracks.”
Chase and Davis knew each other from JV basketball, but it was only after high school that the two teamed up to make music. An affinity for video game soundtracks led Chase to attend Full Sail University, where he is majoring in audio production. The skills he’s learned there helped translate into the goal of making the most articulate sound possible.
“Our workflow is always really well and we walk away with a lot done in a short amount of time,” Chase says. “More so than anything else I’ve worked before is the fact we stick with our decisions and move on. No turning back to revise or think over again.”
Davis’ vision to move away from the New York style is reflected in his curation of musicians. Flowers, who is also a multi-instrumentalist on the album, says his musical palette ranges from hip-hop to grindcore to candy pop. Flowers used this process as an opportunity to grow as a musician and a producer.
“As a musician/artist on this album, I feel some of the root sounds that really started my interest in music are being sprinkled into some of these tracks,” Flowers says. “It’s a fusion of what we love in true hip-hop and rock and roll. This album will be different. The songwriting process is always different.”
On guitar is Davis’ cousin Trevor Davis. Currently fronting the Washington, D.C. indie group Lost Keys, this well-seasoned musician says that this is his first foray into hip-hop.
“As a purist, I play my acoustic guitar on the record to accompany the rhythm and play a little melody on the intro and outro on the track ‘Long Way From Home’,” Trevor says. “Taylor kind of gave me [the] free range to do whatever I wanted with whichever track I felt fit. As soon as I heard ‘Long Way Home’ I knew I wanted to work on it. I felt the jazz chords, along with Taylor’s gritty, yet mellifluous style was well suited for me.”
Other featured instrumentalists include guitarist Paul Huffer, Flowers’ comrade from the Bonita Springs punk scene, and 18-year-old guitarist Austin Heisler, who is also from Bonita Springs. Chase holds that the most satisfying part of the process comes from deep roots in personal friendship. Maybe that’s why the process has been quick.
“Just knowing that at the end of the day, we’re really just friends. That’s what it all started as,” Chase says. “If you take away all this music, we’d still have a friendship. It’s not like most times between engineers and artists where it’s strictly about business.”
if the concepts weren’t lofty enough, Davis also plans to release a photo book to accompany Portraits. The idea came up when he and his girlfriend Katy DeMarco were just toying around with a camera and the scenery of downtown Tampa.
“We saw these photos starting to add up and I thought it would be a great idea to document the whole process of the album and let the listeners see what goes into creating a product from just an idea,“ Davis says.
DeMarco serves as a part of Davis’ support system, to whom Davis relies on for judgment. According to DeMarco, the city’s unique character and artistic culture vibe played an important influence and inspiration.
“Tampa was a huge step in Taylor’s way of thinking for this project. Besides the scenery, just being in a big city was inspirational for both of us,” DeMarco says. “Walking through the city and browsing through bookstores, just kind of has a certain feeling to it.”
Davis says the photos are meant to help tell the stories to the listener by putting faces to the characters.
“It’s also something we wanted to be visually appealing so people could go through the book while listening to the record and get a good feel for the characters in the stories, through myself and the people in my own story.”
The game plan for compiling the photos Davis and DeMarco is to take as many as they can and sort through the best 60 photos in their collection. On taking and selecting photos, DeMarco added, “sometimes the moments you don’t think would work for a picture are usually the ones that end up the best.”
The photos will feature several of Davis’ friends and random people with Miami, Tampa, Atlanta, and several cities in between the three as the backdrop.
“The biggest thing for us was to let people see that we are living the artist’s life and we are in this thing for the long haul,” Davis says. “One day we want to be able to look back at this book and this album and know where we were in our lives, not only musically, but as humans. This photo book is supposed to do that.”
Axis: Bold as Love was recorded and released through Track Records in 1967, the same year that the groundbreaking debut album Are You Experienced. Even if it was recorded to fulfill contract obligations, the Jimi Hendrix Experience leaves much more than just Experienced B-sides and filler.
There’s never been a Hendrix album that wasn’t diverse or adventurous, but Axis is dynamic in the sense that you truly get both, not one or the other. Axis bounces from the avant-garde in the album opener “EXP” and “If 6 Was 9”, to calm, gentle melodies of "Up From the Skies”, fueled by Hendrix’ first uses of a wah-wah pedal. The upbeat hard rockers “Ain’t No Telling” and “Spanish Castle Magic” collide gracefully with the funky, R&B/soul-flavored pop tunes such as “Little Miss Lover”, “Wait Until Tomorrow", and “Got Me Floating” and the balladry by way of the live staple “Little Wing” and album closer “Bold as Love”.
Hendrix doesn’t skimp out on fuzzed-out guitar sounds and flashy playing, but they are balanced out with crisp, overdriven guitar sounds and more nuanced guitar playing. These songs showcase what people generally miss about Hendrix’ playing: rhythm, phrasing, and subtle pauses between guitar strums. Even the swirling sounds of the wah-wah pedal and Uni-Vibe only serve to accentuate what Jimi’s playing. It’s funny to think that these units that guitar players feverishly covet in order to sound like Hendrix only wind up sounding LESS like Hendrix.
The lyrics are vivid and descript but giving me just enough colors for my imagination to paint with. They leave more room to think the more you listen. I never thought of Jimi as a great singer, but here the delivery is smoother and more controlled than anything else before or since.
Most people would skip over this record and even dismiss it because it doesn’t fit their expectations of what Jimi Hendrix was all about. It is his best record that he completed in his lifetime because it shows both the range and depth in his musical abilities. Experienced was really only a sampler of what he could do. Electric Ladyland only showed the breadth of his musical interests and where he peaked as a musician. Not many people know this, but Axis is the first Jimi Hendrix LP with all original music. Axis is his first true recording in that all his true colors begin to show in songwriting and in his singing, not just thrilling guitar theatrics.
A good amount of press has gone to the so-called “emo revival” the last two or three years. Instead of going straight to common emo references like Weezer or Mineral, I will cover an overlooked touchstone for the genre: Texas is the Reason’s album, Do You Know Who You Are?.
Texas is the Reason was a rock band from New York City comprising of drummer Chris Daly, bassist Scott Winegard, guitarist Norman Brannon (formerly known as Norm Arenas), and guitarist and vocalist Garret Klahn. Their history was brief like most influential emo groups at the time, forming in 1994, recording a handful of EPs and split singles, releasing Do You Know Who You Are? in 1996, and disbanding the following year. Although Texas held reunions in 2006 and later from 2012-2013, they have not recorded another long-player since. Around the time of the second reunion, their record label Revelation Records reissued and expanded their LP into a complete collection of their back catalog under the same name. In this review, I will only be focusing on the tracklist from the original release.
Do You Know Who You Are? opens with the track “Johnny On the Spot”. It’s kind of an odd song to open with. The song has the opening riff, sung verse, repeat opening riff without vocals. The first third of the song just continues with the same thing sung around with more awkward vocal pauses. The song slows down in tempo, chords just become a few spars notes within the same key, and drums and lots of space between the vocals. While staying in the same tempo, Daly hits the drums harder and Brannon and Klahn’s guitars get louder, and Klahn’s vocals grow more passionate and desperate.
From then on the record carries a healthy balance of melancholy (“There’s No Way”, “The Day’s Refrain”) and catharsis (“Magic Bullet Theory”). Some have more of one thing than another, but each one has a good mix and they each line up perfectly with each other in the tracklist. There’s even an almost power-pop feel to “Something To Forget”. Much like the band name, some of the songs hint to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (“Nickel Wound”, “Back and to the Left”, “Magic Bullet Theory”), but none of them are politically motivated in any way.
What makes Texas is the Reason stand out from all the rest is an incredible sense of balance. No other group with that tag sounds like them. In a three-act bill you could have a standard hardcore act, Texas in the middle, and a wimpy indie rock group last and it would work out. The album features a very well-rounded batch of songs and styles that would encompass the world of you-know-what that is only surpassed in diversity by another record. That could apply to a multitude of other bands, but Texas was demonstrably more than a Sunny Day Real Estate or a Rites of Spring copycat.
You can hear the influence of Dischord bands (Minor Threat, Fugazi, and Jawbox) like many of their contemporaries at the time. They also brought in some more influences from NYC hardcore bands like Gorilla Biscuits, Quicksand, and Helmet in utilizing the Drop-D tuning. Some of the chord changes can be heard over in post-hardcore and emo over and over. For instance the F power chord, root on the A string, 8th fret,. The bottom D string is played on the 8th fret as well. The bottom D and the A string are then played open while playing that same F power chord inverted just two strings above it.
Of note are the tracks “Do You Know Who You Are?” and “A Jack with One Eye”. “Do You Know” is just a proto-American Football instrumental that sort of encompasses a balance of emotion or lack thereof. It really only has two parts to it: a melodic piece that repeats itself throughout and harmonic feedback that just comes and goes. “A Jack With One Eye” is one of the best examples of the loud-quiet-loud dynamic. It builds slowly and quietly until the end of the verse. Guitars and drums suddenly burst out during the chorus. The process cycles until the end where the last loud segment churns out, then gracefully goes out, thus ending the record.
One of the more interesting things about the band was lead Garret Klahn’s vocal style. Klan matched his rough, but melodic style with word-phrasing that mimicked those found in Britpop music (the Smiths, Pulp, Blur, Oasis).
A lot of the lyrics are less self-reflexive, using “you” more than “I” or “me”, singing more to the listener than to themselves. There isn’t a whole lot of wordplay like you would find in a Braid or Promise Ring song. They aren’t lofty or poetic like Sunny Day Real Estate, or as glum and teenaged as Mineral. Still, they give some insight into the normal things that may plague a person from adolescence onward such as substance abuse, management of time, insecurity in one’s self, and contention in loving relationships. Sometimes what’s expressed speaks volumes more than their peers or their followers.
Another notable highlight of this album is the production work masterfully done by none other than J. Robbins of Jawbox fame. Despite production being warm and dry, the music is stripped-down enough to make feel like there is enough space for the songs to breathe. It’s like a piece of art that has one of the painted figures reaching its hand almost out the canvas in front of you.
Even when you’ve dissected Do You Know Who You Are? it’s still kind of hard to see where their influence lies immediately. It just doesn’t go into extremes, be it rough, heavy, poppy, delicate, brainy or bitter. Instead, it just takes a bit of each and melds them into something emo should have aimed for 10 years ago.
San Diego post-hardcore outfit Drive Like Jehu only had two albums in its short tenure, but their influence reached far beyond its lifespan. Sophomore effort Yank Crime bears the distinction of bringing them to that point, mainly because it makes the best argument for the band. Not easy when it’s 1994 and you’ve just moved to a major label like Interscope, but this actually helped the band get penetration in the nascent rock climate.
Their sound, though rooted in hardcore, reached out to dissonant guitar noise, grounded with a rubber ball bass and an odd hard-hit drum set, interlocking beneath the shrieks of lead vocalist. The abrasive songwriting, in turn, is filtered to a simple, but clear production for every detail in part and in whole.
One notable aspect is Rick Froberg and John Reis interlocking their guitar parts in a manner that is reminiscent of Fugazi, on which glides through some very unique melodies. The end result is far more daunting and horrifically brilliant.
his LP kicks off with an unrelenting “Here Come the Rome Plows” which is more than enough to make you stop the record at the first few plays, and reasonably so; it’s over nine minutes long and it can stand alone. “Do You Compute” by comparison is like a breath in respite before plunging back into the rush with “Golden Brown” with all the ferocity of “Here Come” in less time.
“Luau,” which happens to be my favorite track takes the nine-minute route but slows down and tones down just enough to demonstrate not only the DLJ’s energy, but their technical interlocking patterns that guide the melodies, and intelligence. The is set from the perspective of a Hawaiian planning a luau centered around “wiping out every last haole.” I have no problem comparing it to Television’s “Marquee Moon”. It is as elegant as it is raw. Jammy, rhythmic, poetic, clearly another strong point.
The tune “New Math” comes in business as usual with a very dissonant lead, going one way only to have the drums show the way. Nasal as ever, John Reis’ vocals move from smooth to raspy with no effort.
“Super Unison” follows the unstructured song form, building from sloppy and grafting to consonant and melodic, cycling between the two contrasts. The harmonies sung are somewhat reminiscent of Alice in Chains, or maybe even the Beach Boys. The tempo picks back up with the melodious “Bullet Train” and “Human Interest”.
The LP ends with a tired drawn out “Sinews” but at this point, you might be passed the point of fatigue. This record is not easy on the ears. It’s not supposed to be. This record requires focus, patience, and adventurousness. You’ll be exhausted just by how dense it is. I like the fact that makes you want to quit before the halfway mark. Not only are the songs well-crafted, but they also made it look easy when it isn’t. The satisfaction is getting through it as one single body of work.
Around this time 10 years ago Tampa-based band Underoath released Define The Great Line. While they probably thought nothing of it in terms of commercial success, it turned out to be the most important record of the band’s career.
Forming in 1997, the band started out as a mix of black metal and hardcore. Their style would evolve and change along with their lineup over time. In 2003, founding members vocalist Dallas Taylor, guitarist Octavio Fernandez, and bassist Billy Notke made their departure from the band. Vocalist Spencer Chamberlain, bassist Grant Brandell, and guitarist James Smith would replace them. That lineup would go on to make three records. The new lineup’s first release, They’re Only Chasing Safety, moved away from the black metal influences and took on the en vogue post-hardcore/emo style exemplified by Hopesfall, Alexisonfire, and Thursday. That record catapulted the band to modest popularity, though the pop structures melodies it did alienate some older fans. This presented the band with an opportunity to see commercial success by making Chasing Safety II. Instead, Underoath opted for a more thoughtful, nuanced, and stylistically eclectic album that combined the best aspects of the band’s back catalog.
While it is hailed as a landmark album in metalcore, it avoids the overused thrash breakdown gimmick seen in the genre. The guitars have a clear, natural distortion sound, unlike most modern metal that overdoes it with the gain. Guitarists Tim McTague and James Smith work off of each other in a way that is seemingly analogous but are contrasting in some areas. Both make use of dissonant chords and feedback, as well as looping swells and E-bowing on slower ethereal passages.
Here, Chris Dudley no longer serves as the token keyboardist. Since Chasing Safety, Dudley had shown a knack for using electronics in interesting ways that complement the band’s dominant guitar-style. On Define, he’s not only crafted parts that complement the songs but he’s built the foundation for the songs such as “Casting Such A Thin Shadow,” "You’re Ever So Inviting,” and “To Whom It May Concern’. Dudley’s prowess with electronics would follow Dudley and the band to the very end of their career.
As a drummer, Aaron Gillespie at times seems like he’s not playing in time but rather around it. In the context of the song, Aaron’s drumming is very musical in such a way that it follows more of the rhythms of the guitar rather than the tempo of the song.
Having both a screaming vocalist and a conventional vocalist isn’t a novel concept within the context of post-hardcore, but Chamberlain and Gillespie play it off very well. Chamberlain clearly gets more singing time but he doesn’t overpower Gillespie throughout the record. Compared to the last release, Chamberlain’s overall singing has improved sounding more guttural than whiny as he begins to sound more like himself and less like Dallas Taylor.
If the lyrics sound personal, it’s because they are. As the title states, the overarching theme of the record is to define the line that separates who we are and who we want to be. The lyrics stem from Chamberlain’s newfound Christian faith and his past struggles with substance abuse. The band does address God several times throughout the album, it’s not preachy or condescending. The album addresses the feeling of abandonment and hopelessness, the feeling of shame in being honest about one’s faults, the struggle to feel whole, and struggling between keeping up with appearances and make real progress. That kind of lyrical weight and depth would never be seen again on future Underoath releases.
Upon listening to it 10 years later, it doesn’t feel as dated as it should. Maybe it’s still too early to tell, but I think it’s held up, much better their contemporaries or what followed in the wake of their success. Underoath managed to outlast the confines of the scene fads of the late aughts and became more than the sum of their influences. At the time I thought I was just following some fad, but this record was one of my first formal introductions to artistically-driven music. Their future releases saw major improvement and experimentation with their sound, but Define The Great Line still serves more as an inspiration for me with each listen, both thematically and musically.
By the start of 2005, John Mayer was fed up. Catapulted into the mainstream in 2001 with his best-selling debut Room for Squares, Mayer at the time was something of an anomaly. Whether he deliberately portrayed himself this way, marketed this way by his label, or the public projected the image onto him, Mayer was a clean-cut, sensitive-guy acoustic pop swimming against a tide of post-grunge, nu-metal, and emo.
Eager to show that he was so much more, Mayer tried to shake off the tag with his follow up with 2003’s Heavier Things. The album blended more nuanced songwriting with Mayer’s desire for more liberal use of the electric guitar. However, the record spawned the single “Daughters” earned him a Grammy and pretty much cemented the “sensitive songwriter guy” image and sound. Unhappy with this development, he was plotting his next move which would ultimately alter the trajectory of his career.
In early 2005, Mayer committed to a televised benefit concert special for the victims of the 2004 tsunami. To accompany him were studio ace drummer Steve Jordan and bass wizard Willie Weeks. Weeks backed out as the date approached. Under the suggestion of Jordan, Mayer recruited another bass wizard, Pino Palladino. When they realized there was soulful chemistry between them, Mayer got the green light for his change into becoming a blues guitarist. The John Mayer Trio consumed the majority of Mayer’s 2005. The live album Try! was birthed from this.
The record starts out strong with “Who Did You Think I Was?” which is not so tongue-in-cheek jab to his somewhat contrived public image. “Good Love Is on the Way” manages to keep spirits up, but the crowd response seems tepid. The Trio then wows the crowd with an electrifying twist on Jimi Hendrix’s “Wait Until Tomorrow.”
The second part of the album sets a different pace and mood with “Gravity” which follows through “Vultures.” The mood changes slightly with “Out of My Mind” which is an intense form of grandfather’s blues. It starts out slow and the tension builds with each snare hit from Jordan and Palladino patient basslines. Before you know it, the band is blazing. “Another Kind of Green” is a breezy original tune that doesn’t rush but doesn’t slow anything else down either.
The third act incorporates an up-tempo rendition of Ray Charles’ “I’ve Got a Woman” which the crowd has quite a bit of fun with. Then something interesting happens. Mayer plays “Something’s Missing,” and “Daughters”. Mayer slips back into the thing cemented him as “sensitive songwriter guy,” but he incorporates it into the Trio so well and so confidently that quietly the crowd is wondering about the other guy they thought they knew.
The live set ends with the title track “Try!” which is a funky, upbeat tune that heavily involves each band member. By the end of the record, I think the trio has won most of the crowd over.
No one really knew what to make of Mayer’s career move. At this time, he also grew his hair out, started clubbing more, and started smoking weed. If he had such a comfortable niche and public image that he could coast on, why change?
The fact of the matter is he nursed his musical instincts on blues and 80’s pop music and generally sought to marry the best aspects of both. The first phase of his career was almost exclusively a pop one. The pendulum had to swing far to the blues side for real change and growth to happen. The move would inform the rest of his career.
Mayer stated that Trio intended to write a full-length album, but came up short, but two of the songs written from the Trio sessions made it onto his third solo album, Continuum. Here you here the songs are on the cusp of ripening. In his live concert album Where the Light Is, Mayer summons the JM3 to revisit some of these songs again, but somehow they don’t create the same effect for the listener.