Star Man Fades to Black: David Bowie’s Brilliant Final Album

bowie-blackstar-viceAmid the frantic beats, atmospherics, and saxophones playing tug of war on the title track that opens the new David Bowie album Blackstar, about halfway through the 10-minute track most of the sound clears and Bowie sings “Something happened on the day he died, spirit rose a meter and stepped aside; Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried.”

Released on his birthday and just two days before his death, Blackstar is dizzying and exciting and strange and oddly cool and I thought all those things even before he died. But now it’s a little more difficult to hear him wailing “good-byyyyyyye” as the reverb increases and the star man sounds like he’s floating back into space or heaven or wherever he was just visiting from.

Secrets are hard kept in the modern age, and yet somehow Bowie could spend months working on a new album with a small group of people and the rumors never leaked. He stunned the world in 2013 when he suddenly had a brand new (and quite rocking) album, The Next Day. It seemed amazing, even a few years ago, that a major artist could be at work and finished with an album without the world hearing any rumors or news about it (let alone a leaked copy of the actual album). It didn’t hurt that it was a well-received return to form, a rare feat a full 10 years after his previous album.

He came close to pulling it off again, but in 2015 it looks like he chose to give the world a few months’ notice that he’d employed a New York City jazz band to back him on a very diverse record to be released January 8, on his 69th birthday.

And just as we were in the midst of unpacking this complex and interesting new album, Bowie was gone.

The world mourns online and it is one of the bittersweet and ironic advantages of the internet: we can all be together when we’re all alone and sad about the passing of a true artist. And among the inevitable retweets of clueless teenagers asking “who tf was david bowie?” there were countless tributes and notes of sadness, as well as attempts at joy (like this, from Dean Podestá @jesuisdean: “If you’re sad today, just remember the world is over 4 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie.”) Others commented that Bowie left such a huge void, as if an entire color was now gone from the universe. (Here’s a great collection of newspaper/magazine covers mourning the loss.)

I wasn’t a huge Bowie fanatic; I liked pretty much all his hits, knew some of his albums, saw him in concert once, and I understood his significance and influence in rock music and popular culture. And I’m probably one of the people that loved his first Tin Machine album. But even beyond the music, Bowie made being “weird” or just being yourself (and shattering such labels as “weird”) something to aspire to. Funny that there was a time when a kid could get beat up for liking David Bowie. But we don’t live in a world like that anymore, thanks in part to David Bowie. It’s okay to be yourself. It’s okay to be different.

He didn’t just predict the future, he helped us get here. Continue reading →

Top 10 Albums (That We Reviewed) From 2011

It’s always so tough to pick only 10 records.

Let’s start our look back on a great year in new music with a list of the Top 10 Albums of 2011 that we actually wrote reviews for here on Bums Logic. This crop of reviews represents some of the core material published as we launched this new site in 2011 and we thank you all for listening and reading along.

Next week we’ll add another dozen or so favorites from this year that we didn’t write about…. and then maybe think of an excuse to add others, or combine them into one master list and rank them in order. Or not.

So here’s our Top 10 Albums (That We Reviewed) From 2011, in no particular order, and all with links to our original reviews:

Tom Waits – Bad As Me

Drive-By Truckers – Go-Go Boots

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Here We Rest

Wilco – The Whole Love

Mastodon – The Hunter

Stephen Marley – Revelation Pt.1: Root of Life

Bon Iver – Bon Iver

Beastie Boys – Hot Sauce Committee Pt.2

G. Love – Fixin’ To Die

Sonic Youth – Simon Werner a Disparu

Hey the Chili Peppers Released Another Chili Peppers Album!

You’d think after selling around 65 million records that they might buy a couple of shirts.

Flea and Anthony Kiedis have been doing their freaky styley funk game dance on us for a quarter century. And we’ve all been on to them in varying degrees since they laid that one hot egg the first time guitarist John Frusciante left the group. After their wild early days, highlighted by 1989’s Mother’s Milk, they broke through with both a mainstream hit and a bona fide classic in 1991 with Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Then they signed mismatched free agent guitarist Dave Navarro from Jane’s Addiction for One Hot Minute in 1995 and set the controls for autopilot.

Will Farrell stars as drummer Chad Smith (right) as Flea and Anthony Kiedis make Another Chili Peppers Album.

Californication, a good but probably overrated record was a nice hit album in 1999, proving that the Red Hot Chili Peppers on autopilot were still good enough to rule at the turn of the century. Three years later, By The Way worked the same formula like a speedbag, californicating itself into yet. Another. Chili Peppers Album.

And so it went, all-world bassist and general maniac Flea fired up the furious funk and Anthony Kiedis jumped around with different hairstyles and they never fucking wore shirts and it was all good. The underrated Chad Smith is an effortless badass of a drummer whose talents sometimes sound wasted in the tight album-version arrangements. They dropped a bloated double album five years ago that even their fans admitted was too long as they talked themselves into liking it.

But all the people who don’t love the Red Hot Chili Peppers pretty much hate them. And we all know it’s cuz Anthony Kiedis is annoying and while I’m sure he’s a great guy and he’s an essential element to their sound and “he is what he is” as they say… he still sucks. And that’s a shitty thing to say and I should delete it but fuck it, let’s leave it there.

Don’t take my word for it. Listen to their new album, I’m With You. It’s got it’s moments, but it sounds like yet another bland reincarnation of that same album they’ve been making starting with Californication. A shell of a shell of a former band. And yet Flea still rips it, and even though they sorely miss the once-again departed Frusciante, new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer provides plenty of interesting moments (and space for Flea’s musicality).

Continue reading →

Jason Isbell Hits Home

Sometimes records come along and they just creep in and grow on you. But even the ones that grow on you can still be familiar upon first meeting, like that person you meet who you just connect with on some level like you knew them before, or whatever it is that some folks refer to as a good vibe. Or like a creaky floor that’s just always sounded that way and for some reason it’s a subconscious comfort of sorts.

Jason IsbellAnd then in walks Jason Isbell’s latest album Here We Rest. It’s instantly likeable and the kind of record that sounds as good on Sunday morning as it did on Saturday night. It’s dense with real life, not unlike a film. There’s a perfect mix of heartbreak and promise; of love and pain, of dreams and regrets.

The sound of Isbell and his fine band, the 400 Unit, is also perfectly mixed. There’s a clarity and separation that allows each guitar and organ part to seep out without calling too much attention to itself. The different sounds used (acoustic and electric guitars, fiddles, slide guitar, pianos and organs) are tasteful and always right on, and there’s “layers” without having 17 overdubs of extra guitars needlessly doubling parts.

Isbell’s coffee-stained vocal delivery is warm and sweet; a southern drawl meets blue-eyed soul that he honed when first winning us over as a member of the Drive-By Truckers. On some of DBT’s finest albums, Isbell’s songs (especially “Outfit,” “Decoration Day,” “Danko/Manuel,” “Goddamn Lonely Love”) were among the highlights, if not the centerpieces. No surprise that his first two solo albums were solid (but overlooked) gems. And this latest one is proving to be his finest, rewarding repeated listens with subtle nuances. Certain lyric lines just hit you, sometimes for their meaning and other times for Isbell’s phrasing; or both, when he turns a phrase like “No one gives a damn about the things I give a damn about.”

Continue reading →

Stephen Marley’s Roots Rock Revelation

Stephen Marley

Stephen Marley feelin' it.

Bob Marley once said that, while he knew he’d only be remembered for his music, his children were his true gift to the world. Bob Marley, a poet and a prophet.

With the recent release of Stephen Marley’s great new album, Revelation Pt. 1: The Root of Life, it’s time to start taking a closer look at the Marley kids, and the talents of Stephen Marley in particular.

Since Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers debuted in the mid-80s, and had a hit with Conscious Party in 1989, everyone has accepted and taken for granted that “Oh yea, Ziggy’s pretty good. Not quite his daddy but that’s ok cuz Bob was a legend.” And while most fans knew and appreciated Stephen’s presence and contribution to ZM&MM, the masses viewed the Marley kids as Ziggy and all the rest of ’em.

I don’t have the time or resources to research the 11 or so official children fathered by Bob Marley. With apologies to Ziggy, Bob’s beautiful-voiced daughters Sharon and Cedella, and his sons Rohan (who played football at University of Miami, has 5 children with Lauryn Hill, and runs the Marley Coffee business [seriously]), Julian (a few surprisingly decent albums to his name), Ky-Mani (a book and 6 [SIX!] albums to his credit), and even Damian ‘Jr. Gong’ Marley, he of the smash hit Welcome to Jamrock and recent collaboration with Nas, Distant Relatives… (did I miss anyone?)… I’d really like to shine the light on Stephen.

As much as most casual fans probably thought Ziggy “looked and sounded just like Bob Marley,” it was always Stephen whose voice really sounded eerily similar to Bob’s. Cherry-picking the Melody Makers CD’s and assembling all the tracks featuring Stephen on lead vocals would probably be a worthwhile endeavor.

It turns out that Stephen isn’t just a pretty voice and good musician. His production skills have blossomed over the last decade, as he was the maestro pushing the buttons behind the various high points of the Marley kids recent output (Damian’s Jamrock and Nas albums, Julian’s Grammy-nominated Awake, and both Stephen’s own solo albums). Add that to his contributions to some of the best tracks from Ziggy’s heyday (91-99, in my opinion), and you can see why I’m writing this article.
Continue reading →

“Getting” Bon Iver

The new Bon Iver record just doesn’t sound like anything else. Nowadays it seems that’s the last frontier: unique originality. There’s only so many notes. You’re not going to think of anything that Miles Davis or Leonard Bernstein didn’t already come up with. Everything else is Beatlesque or ripping off the Stones (who were rip-off artists).

So while it used to be good enough to just sound like something that was already considered great and successful, at some point being completely new and “indescribable” was the new benchmark. It wasn’t enough to combine genres, the best artists could defy them.

It probably started with invention of hip-hop and rap music in the late 70’s and it’s subsequent explosion in the 80’s. Sure, they literally and physically combined genres, but it didn’t sound like anything else ever. Later, Radiohead came along. Their earliest work was guitar-drums driven, but they morphed into something from the future. Something indescribable. You might make the case that more recent critics darlings My Morning Jacket have that “dude you just gotta hear ’em” factor that would put them in this category.

Interestingly, both Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and My Morning Jacket’s Jim James have something else in common: they like to do a lot of their work in falsetto, their high vocals often serving as either an attraction for fans or a deal-breaker for the listeners that just don’t like it.
Continue reading →

Tame Impala – Innerspeaker Review

Trippy!

There are certain albums–for example, the Beastie Boy’s Hot Sauce Committee Part Two–that you can listen to while doing mindless tasks and still enjoy the music. It’s “party” music. Other albums require you to be in a certain head space to absorb them. Tame Impala’s Innerspeaker is one of those albums (I will never forget when my younger self put on The Wall during a beach trip with my brother, who subsequently turned it off while insisting, “this isn’t beach music!”).

I was (illegally) sent a copy of Innerspeaker–the bands debut album–by a close friend who’s musical tastes often coincide with mine. And when they don’t, he still has a pretty good grasp on knowing what I might find interesting and within my stylistic preferences. Tame Impala is a band he thought would fit that mold…and he was 100% correct. His selling points were: great vocal harmonies, cool production, catchy songs, and oh yea, the singer sounds just like Paul McCartney. He was right about everything except the singer doesn’t sound like Macca…he sounds almost identical to John Lennon (and that is not a bad thing in my book).

Upon my initial listen, I will admit that it took me some time to get over that fact: holy shit, this guy really sounds like Lennon! I played some songs for friends under the guise of, “you gotta hear this singers voice!”  Then after a few more spins I started to find myself singing the chorus’ for days on end and studying the production (Dave Fridmann–mostly of Mercury Rev and Flaming Lips fame–mixed the album). Innerspeaker was really starting to grow on me.

Continue reading →