The Nutwork’s Album Picks – Jan/Feb 2014

Posted: February 2, 2014 in Music

crystalSo January happened. In case you missed it (and I’m sure you did), yours truly took a break from the rigors of writing last month. Blame it on the turkey/eggnog induced coma brought on by the holidays. Blame the freezing temperatures we’ve endured here in the Grand Valley. Blame an overall lethargy brought on by the flipping of the calendar. Whatever the case, it’s time to get back to business.

Instead of the normal, drawn-out review of just one record, I’m going to throw a few condensed reviews at you this month of some of the highlights of January, as well as a couple of sneak-peeks of some records coming in February, so buckle up and pay attention – this is going to be a lot to swallow.

The Crystal Method – The Crystal Method:

crystal-methodThe Grammy Awards just happened, and to a lot of people’s surprise (myself included) the DJ team of Daft Punk took home the gold for both album and artist of the year. Normally house/electronic music doesn’t get a lot of chatter in the overall industry, but we may have a repeat Grammy shocker in 2014. Ken Jordan and Scott Kirkland are collectively known as The Crystal Method, and released their ninth (and self-titled) record January 14th. The electronic music world has changed a lot in the past two decades (The Crystal Method are celebrating their 20 year anniversary in 2014) from the days when acts like Moby, KMFDM, The Prodigy and others pushed boundaries and challenged listeners. But the scene has scene a resurgence of late, and who better to keep the momentum going than these guys.

The album itself stays true to the duo’s roots, but freshens itself up to the modern craze, moving from dubstep beats to electro-funk guitars to smooth vocal tracks with seamless effort. Guest appearances are all over the place, including country/pop star LeAnn Rimes, Dia Frampton (of Meg & Dia fame) and former Scars on Broadway guitarist Franky Perez. If you liked The Crystal Method all along, this album will exceed your expectations, and if you are new to electro/house, you’ll get a quick lesson on perfection from one of the best in the business. 8.5/10

Throwdown – Intolerance:

throwdownIt’s been five years since frontman Dave Peters and his hardcore band Throwdown have released an album, and with good reason. Peters hasn’t really had a band. The revolving door of talent has spun at breakneck speed for the band over the last twelve years (who’s list of “ex” band members reaches double-digits), and frankly, the music world seldom waits around for people to get their shit together. But together the shit has gotten.

Throwdown’s new release Intolerance is one of the band’s strongest efforts to date, filled with mosh-inducing blast beats, and the angry, Pantera-influenced vocal stylings Peters has been known for. Lyrically, Peters goes a little off the deep end at times in his proclamation of his straight-edge lifestyle (which, for those that don’t know, involves being drug/alcohol free, amongst other things), but the album is a powerful assembly of everything good about hardcore metal. If you want to feel like your being chased by a crazed pitbull that just broke off his chain, tracks like “Fight Or Die” and “Without Weakness” are just the ticket. It’s hard, it’s aggressive, and it’s about as good as it gets. 9/10

Red Dragon Cartel – Red Dragon Cartel

red-dragon“Who the hell is Red Dragon Cartel?” you are probably asking yourself. Well, the answer is simple – it is the new band from former Ozzy Osbourne and Badlands guitarist Jake E. Lee, and that’s kind of a big deal. Lee has pretty much spent the last twenty years in recluse, surrounded by unfounded rumors of his demise, addictions, and even death. In all actuality, he was simply hiding out in Las Vegas.

His emergence from hibernation is as much of a surprise to me as anyone, as Lee had stated in the few scarce interviews over the last two decades that he was “done” with music (although he had hinted on VH-1’s That Metal Show in 2011 that he might return at some point). Apparently Jake didn’t leave his guitar too far behind over the years, as he sounds as triumphant as ever on the band’s debut, eponymous release.

reddragoncartelThe album’s opener “Deceived” will immediately remind you of  “Bark at the Moon”, and that style of fretboard assault continues throughout. There are other moments of brilliance as well, the first being “Feeder” which features Robin Zander (Cheap Trick) on vocals. This song has a trippy, Cheap Trick feel to it which unsurprisingly suits Zander’s voice. This track is also the first to be released for radio play which is a clever move. Another track of note is “Wasted” which again features guest vocals, this time supplied by Paul Di’anno. Again the rough nature of the track suits Paul’s gruff delivery well. Main vocal duties for the album are supplied by D.J Smith who is more than capable of carrying things off himself alongside Lee’s excellent fretwork. Overall, though, this is a good album rather than a great one. What is great though is to see Jake E Lee back in the rock fold where he rightly belongs. Hopefully Red Dragon Cartel can grow and deliver something special in the future, as they certainly have the talent to do just that. 7/10

Behemoth – The Satanist:

behemothWhile I understand that black/death metal isn’t necessarily everyone’s cup of tea, February 4th is a great day for fans of Poland’s Behemoth. The fact that this album even exists is a bit of a miracle, as lead singer Negral has overcome all odds and won a life-or-death battle with leukemia. The fight took from him his long, windmill-ready hair, but gave him something far more valuable – a second chance.

The band’s new album – The Satanist – is an extraordinary statement of renewed intent from a band that already had the respect of the metal world. Behemoth has perfected the art of taking the listener through the abyss and back with epic structures, dark, evil lyrics, and pristine production, and The Satanist is all that and more.  The standout moment, however, lies in the title track. The guitar line is beautifully haunting and there’s a good thick tone throughout. It’s an incredibly striking song that requires a few listens to fully take in because there’s just so much to it. A truly beautiful piece.

Granted, The Satanist (and Behemoth as a whole) isn’t not something you want your youngsters to listen to – and your grandma won’t approve of the message, but if pitch-black grandeur is what you seek, you’ll find it here. 8/10

Beck – Morning Phase:

Beck-Morning-PhaseIt’s been a while since we heard from the messy haired “loser” and college radio darling Beck, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been keeping busy. While he hasn’t had a record of his own since 2008’s Modern Guilt, Beck has been filling up the last six years writing songs, producing albums, and basically just being himself – a chilled-out father-of-two keeping his ear on the music scene.

Morning Phase (to be released February 25th) finds Beck in familiar territory – crafting songs with stunning harmonies, laid-back attitude, and heavy emotions – and sounding all the wiser along the way. The quirkiness and hipster vibe has taken a back seat to a more mature, free-flowing style. While the tracks may remind you of such bands as Pink Floyd, The Grateful Dead and others, the album is definitely his.

The record, as a whole, has a warm and comfortable feeling, but the biggest selling point in Morning Phase is that it is absolutely beautiful. It might not be profound or deep or daring, but it’s as embracing as it gets. In this day and age of indie music, making something sincerely and simply beautiful seems either incredibly difficult, or something artists are not just as interested in doing. But Beck pulls it off almost effortlessly, so much so that it’s hard not to listen to this album over and over again. 8.5/10

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