Unlike every laptop I’ve ever owned, my new laptop (which I have given the network identifier SWEET-LORRAINE in homage to the Uriah Heep tune) has very little internal hard drive space. Because she was designed to work with the cloud. Which is fine, except the thing is I like to listen to music while I’m working, and there’s not enough room in her caboose to house the vast collection of tunage I’ve been amassing since at least a decade before Spotify existed. Which I’ve never bothered syncing with the cloud, because it’s seventy megashitloads of tunage that would take too long to sync. The entire soundtrack of my life, and then some. Like Peter Quill’s Walkman. Something I just can’t part with. So I willfully splurged an extra hundred to expand SWEET-LORRAINE’s warehouse by a quarter of a terabyte. Her new appendage has been christened LADYINBLACK, after yet another Uriah Heep tune.
The New Jazz [Part IV]: Crown Lands
Folks, up until about a week and a half ago or so, I was fully convinced rock n’ roll had no more worlds left to conquer. Every conceivable genre and musical concept has been explored within the rock idiom at least once. Even if the results didn’t exactly set the world on fire, it’s still been tried. We’ve heard funk rock. Jazz rock. Blues rock. Punk rock. Latin rock. Soul rock. Reggae rock. Industrial rock. Country rock. All thirty-one flavours of metal up yer ass. We’ve heard several rock operas. We’ve heard rock that borrows heavily from Tchaikovsky, or traditional folk music, or hip hop. We’ve heard rock with a synthesizer as a lead instrument, or three guitars, or two drummers. A band with two bass players? Check. We’ve heard what happens when the usual guitar-bass-drums-and-sometimes-keyboards setup is augmented with timbres not usually found in rock, like a flute, or a bagpipe, or even a didgeridoo. Quirkier still, we’ve also heard rock that does away with the guitar entirely, or uses it sparingly. We’ve heard a whole slew of bands unplugged. We’ve heard them collaborating with symphony orchestras. We’ve also heard this, which most would agree is in a class by itself…
I look at a band like Greta Van Fleet now, and reminisce with amusement how a younger, hipper version of me would have hated them. With every fibre of my being. How dare they commit the ultimate sacrilege by modelling their entire sound on the Mighty Zep! Such was the way of thinking of yours truly at the age of twenty-one. But now the attitude is: Meh. Let the kids rip off Zeppelin if they like. The Hammer of the Gods hasn’t done much in the way of mammoth touring since Bonzo drank himself to death (unless you count that series of records and tours Bob and Pagey did together in the Nineties), and some folks in the know are opining that Bob Plant’s iconic banshee wail ain’t what it used to be due to his advanced years. Hence, it’s arguably refreshing to hear a younger and more vigorous band attempt to take up the mantle, even if their efforts clearly pale in comparison to the original. It’s not like there’s any uncharted territory for a young band to go exploring in…
…or is there?
Before I expand upon that question, let me share with you all an interesting little tidbit about Canada that even most Canadians are dimly aware of. We have our own football league. Gridiron football, the local variant. Ever wonder why there are no NFL teams in Canada? Well, now you know. If hypothetically the NFL tried to put an expansion team in Toronto, such a move would almost certainly cause friction with the existing Toronto Argonauts organization, one of the oldest and most storied franchises of the Canadian Football League. So they never bother with it. Most would agree that the CFL lacks much of the bombast and pageantry of its American counterpart. And it does. But hey, it’s our league. It’s the league all our local teams play in. My heart and soul has been painted and tattooed Bomber Blue since I was but a wee lad. If you have even a passing familiarly with the CFL and its associated lore, you’ll understand what I mean by that.
The other night I was watching my Bombers open up a big ol’ can of whoop-ass on their hated arch-rivals, the painfully nauseating Calgary Stampeders (if you think Argos fans are obnoxious, you’ve obviously never been to Calgary). Sometime during the second quarter, it was announced that some band I’ve never heard of was going to be performing during halftime. A band called Crown Lands, hailing from Oshawa, Ontario (one of Toronto’s satellite cities, for those not familiar with the geography). Usually halftime is when I get up to answer nature’s call and help myself to refreshments edible, drinkable and smokable, but I caught a certain vibe from this particular musical act. One that piqued my interest enough to stay tuned.
There are only two guys in this band. Which doesn’t seem so unusual on the surface. Duos have been a part of rock n’ roll since at least the Everly Brothers. But most musical duos hitherto have tended to fall in one of three categories. The first category would encompass the aforementioned Everly Brothers, and involves both performers being vocalists and frontmen. This type of duo functions very much so like a solo act with two people, and as such they frequently need to hire the services of a backup band. The second type is the Pet Shop Boys configuration, where one guy is the singer and the other guy replicates the sound of a backup band with an invariably impressive synthesizer rack, and doesn’t sing. Hip hop duos that consist of an MC and a DJ would be a variant of the Pet Shop Boys concept. You don’t see too many duos of this type used in hard rock contexts, although it’d be interesting to see somebody try. The third type is the White Stripes configuration, which is your basic garage-rock power trio minus a bassist. Probably the most minimalist rock n’ roll lineup there is. One that’s also rarely used, as it can have disastrous results if it’s not done right. Jack White is one of the few who somehow managed to make it work.
I hereby decree that there is now a fourth type of duo. Crown Lands, who are a category unto themselves.
One guy is the drummer. He’s also the lead singer. He sings and plays drums with equal virtuosity. Like Geddy Lee, only on drums. If that’s not cool enough, he’s got a Roger Taylor-esque gong as part of his kit to boot. The other guy is the guitarist. A guitarist with many curiosities among his vast array of pedals, which includes a prominent bass pedal as its centerpiece. During a performance, he plays the guitar parts with his hands and the bass (and synth!) parts with his feet. Like Ray Manzarek, only on guitar. A guitar that emits plenty of otherworldly sounds…
The preceding was the halftime performance in its entirety. Picture quality in that video is wack-ass, but at least it gives you an idea of what I saw. Here’s a slightly better-quality video that shows off more of the guitar player’s pedal rig…
Their music videos don’t blow nearly as much mind as their live performances, but here’s one of them…
The New Jazz [Part II]: King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard
My first exposure to Gizzard occurred a couple of years ago, on the way back from a therapy session. Interestingly and somewhat freakishly enough, it was by way of a radio station that isn’t usually known for playing anything cool, which for about half and hour exchanged souls in a manner suggestive of Freaky Friday with a way cooler station whose main broadcast antenna is located out in international waters somewhere. The impossible-to-forget moniker of this seven-man† Melbourne outfit was something I would learn after the fact; I was struck by the music first and foremost. It sounded highly reminiscent to me of the British space rock bands of the Seventies, like Pink Fairies or Hawkwind. But it was recent! Hot damn! Who says all new music sucks?
I swear there’s something in the water in Australia these days. First came Wolfmother, then Tame Impala, and now…
This band reminds me of the Red Hot Chili Peppers†† in their prime, in that every one of their albums has a different flavour to it. One album sounds heavily jazz-influenced, another is a driving psychedelic opus that could hypothetically be played on repeat and come across sounding like one continuous multifaceted piece that never ends, and yet another sounds like the soundtrack to some low fantasy spaghetti Western starring a resurrected Charles Bronson that never left development hell. They’ve even done a laid-back album that your mama would like, complete with a Sixties-tinged cover:
† Three guitarists, two drummers, a bassist and a keyboardist, with frontman Stu Mackenzie occasionally expanding the band’s musical palette by trading in his (usually custom-built) guitar for a flute, a zurna, or some utterly obscure instrument that rock n’ roll somehow hasn’t conquered yet.
†† Contrary to popular belief, Blood Sugar Sex Magik was not the Chilis’ first album, but their fifth. The three albums they did before that, which were graced by the spirit (if not the blatant guitar wizardry) of the late Hillel Slovak, easily rank among their best. It’s a crying shame more people don’t know they exist.
…and then there are those moments when Gizzard just isn’t in the mood for whatever particular flavour you’re expecting them to have, and just want to blow your mind clean off into a million little ectoplasmic rubber shards that will scatter everywhere in all dimensions. The end result would be something like this: