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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in High Bias' LiveJournal:

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Friday, June 3rd, 2011
8:57 pm
[mtoland]
A Quick Update
I don't know if anyone ever visits this old thing anymore, but just in case, here's a quick update.

Anybody attempting to troll the High Bias archives likely noticed that it has somehow become a porn site. This is because the domain name expired and, due to a combination of laziness and absentmindedness, I didn't think about renewing until it was too late.

But given that High Bias is (a) six years of my life that I'm still proud of and (b) still a research tool for me, I created a new domain name and put HB back on line. From now on please point your browser to http://highbiasmusicrag.com if you're still looking for old opinions or links.

If you're still interested in my musical ranting, you can now find my writing at the Big Takeover (both online and in print), Blurt (ditto), Sleazegrinder, Trouser Press and the Austinist.

Vaya con queso and thank you for your kind attention.
Friday, January 9th, 2009
2:25 pm
[mtoland]
New blog(s), new writings
Hey, all. High Bias will remain in a coma for the forseeable future. However, I've been posting regularly on the Sleazegrinder website blog, I have a couple of entries posted at the Trouser Press website with more to come, and I'll soon be a blogger on the website of The Big Takeover. So check 'em all out if you miss the ol' HB.

http://sleazegrinder.com
http://trouserpress.com
http://bigtakeover.com
Monday, April 7th, 2008
10:14 am
[mtoland]
New reviews
But not here. High Bias remains in hibernation, with no sign of waking up. The writer is restless, but the editor, coder and organizer are all still fast asleep.

However, I have been penning a few pieces for the online/print zine Sonic Ruin (http://sonicruin.com). Check 'em out if so inclined.
Monday, June 18th, 2007
9:12 am
[mtoland]
-30-
All good things must come to an end. So it is with High Bias. Today is the last regular transmission from this particular wavelength. After six years of me foisting my opinions on the music world, it’s time to shut up for a while.

There are a lot of reasons for this, but all of them come down to one thing: severe burnout. I love music as much as ever, and I will continue to listen to my favorites and seek out new artists, but the simple fact is that, for the moment at least, I’ve nothing more to say. The writing has become stale and predictable, particularly in the past year, and I’ve begun to repeat myself. It’s time to move on to new creative challenges.

There is a possibility that I may return to music journalism after time off to recharge my batteries. But, if and when I do, it will be as a freelancer, not as a website overlord.

All the High Bias related sites (this journal, the main site, the MySpace page) will remain online as archives for as long as I can afford the ISP fees, so all links should still work.

The past six years have been occasionally frustrating and annoying, but most often rewarding. It’s amazing how much great music has appeared in the new millennium. I’m sorry I’ll no longer have a part in championing it.

Thank you all and feel free to keep in touch.

Michael Toland
editor@highbias.com
8:31 am
[mtoland]
Nina Simone - Just Like a Woman
NINA SIMONE
Just Like a Woman: Nina Simone Sings Classic Songs of the ‘60s
(RCA/Legacy)
The title says it all. The late singer/pianist takes on tunes like Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Mr. Bojangles,” the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” and Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today,” as well as a couple of Bee Gees song and several Bob Dylan numbers. As usual, the arrangements straddle an imaginary line between R&B, jazz and Tin Pan Alley, and, as usual for the visionary Simone, the melodies bear but faint resemblance to the originals. This may cause some consternation for these songs’ fans, but Simone at her best is a genius, and her takes on Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne,” Sandy Denny’s “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” (from which Cat Power draws her own, much less successful version) and Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” and “I Shall Be Released” (one of the few tunes given a fairly traditional reading) are brilliant, quirky and soulful. Michael Toland
Friday, June 15th, 2007
8:30 am
[mtoland]
Elliott Smith - New Moon
ELLIOTT SMITH
New Moon
(Kill Rock Stars)
A two-disk set of songs recorded between 1995 and 1997, New Moon is a testament to the late Elliott Smith’s penchant for constant production. Most of these songs were recorded for but not included on his Elliott Smith and Either/Or albums, i.e. the ones that made his name. A couple of them (“Pretty Mary K,” “Miss Misery”) were re-written and re-recorded for other albums; “See You Later” and “Half Right” are tunes from the catalog of Smith’s former band Heatmiser, recorded solo for a radio show. Much of this material was left off the records for a reason, as it’s still fairly formatative, either in need of re-writes or a more developed arrangement. But there are plenty of exceptional tunes here, bearing Smith’s familiar musical hallmarks of heartworm intimacy and advanced melody. “Seen How Things are Hard,” “Go By” and “All Cleaned Out” are ready for prime time (except for the latter’s title, which the compilers approximated) and could have easily fit in the albums for which they were originally considered. New Moon is certainly not a starting point for the curious, but diehards will be enthralled. Michael Toland
8:26 am
[mtoland]
Thunder Express - Republic Disgrace
THUNDER EXPRESS
Republic Disgrace
(Razzia)
Robert Dahlqvist slings strings in the Hellacopters, but as the ‘copters are pretty much Nicke Andersson’s project, Dahlqvist gets his own ya-yas out with his band Thunder Express. Republic Disgrace improves on the 2005 debut We Play For Pleasure; Dahlqvist has grown as a performer, both by emphasizing his Stones side with a regular gigging band and working on his singing, which was pretty non-descript before. Most importantly, he’s become a better songwriter, leaving most of the lyrics to friends like Anders Osborne and The Soundtrack of Our Lives’ Ebbot Lundberg and concentrating on stronger riffs and better melodies. Dahlqvist and band prove as adept at ballads (“Matrimotion,” “Panic”) and moody midtempo groovers (“Everybody Knows About a Broken Heart”) as the expected firebreathers (“Pick It Up,” “New York Gold,” “From Pleasure to Pain”). Republic Disgrace is the record that shows Thunder Express to be more than just a footnote for Hellacopters completists. Michael Toland
Thursday, June 14th, 2007
8:09 am
[mtoland]
Rufus Wainwright - Release the Stars
RUFUS WAINWRIGHT
Release the Stars
(Geffen)
Intended to be a simple, stripped-down record, Rufus Wainwright’s fifth album Release the Stars instead became another big production. But that’s fine. Recorded in Berlin with an orchestra and loads of guests (Richard Thompson, the Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant, his sister Martha, Teddy Thompson, his mother Kate McGarrigle and more), the album puts Wainwright’s love of classical music and opera even more up front that previous platters, with sweeping melodies, heavily orchestrated arrangements and a reliance on tempos other than 4/4. The result is pristinely crafted, elegantly emotional pop songs like the title tune, “Rules and Regulations,’ “Sanssouci,” “Tulsa” and “Going to a Town.” If his previous record Want Two was the sound of Wainwright coming fully into his own vision, Release the Stars is a consolidation that demonstrates how much life that vision will continue to have. Michael Toland
8:08 am
[mtoland]
Dungen - Tito Bitar
DUNGEN
Tio Bitar
(Kemado)
Every generation of indie rockers needs its psychedelic warrior, I suppose. Ten years ago it was the Bevis Frond; now it’s Sweden’s Dungen. Like the Frond’s Nick Saloman, Dungen leader Gustav Ejstes has a deep reverence for late 60s/early 70s acid rock, particularly the obscurities that passed into legend with one album or less. Tio Bitar, the group’s fourth album, is full of familiar textures but never sounds like it’s copying anyone. Everything you’d want from a psych rock record is here: catchy power pop (“Gör Del Nu”), crunchy riff rock (“Familj”), atmospheric beauty (“En Gång I År Kom Det En Tår,” “Svart Är Himlen”) and, of course, heavy jamming (“Mon Amour,” “Så Blev Det Bestämt”). Ejstes pretty much subsumes his traditional Nordic folk side this time around, which is a shame, but as a straightforward psychedelic rock record, Tio Bitar is a strong one. Michael Toland
Wednesday, June 13th, 2007
8:24 am
[mtoland]
Peter Pan Speedrock - Spread Eagle
PETER PAN SPEEDROCK
Spread Eagle
(Prophase/Suburban/MVD)
With a name like Peter Pan Speedrock, I had visions of childrens’ songs played by a Slayer cover band. However, the Dutch trio instead worships at the altar of Motörhead, bashing the feces out of three chords at a hundred miles an hour. Leader Peter’s hoarse bark doesn’t have the charisma of Lemmy’s lecherous growl, but he’s a fine string-smasher and a solid writer, as evidence by “Alfa Female,” “Short Road to Nowhere” and the religion-bashing “Damn You All to Hell.” Raise your fist and yell. Michael Toland
8:22 am
[mtoland]
Trance to the Sun - Spiders, Aether & Rain
TRANCE TO THE SUN
Spiders, Aether & Rain: The Finest Works of Trance to the Sun
(Projekt)
Trance to the Sun has been recording for various independent labels since the late 80s; this best-of covers the years 1993 through 2001. Led by composer/instrumentalist Ashkelon Sain and various singers, TttS combines the electronics-based goth sound called “darkwave” (a sound pioneered and championed by Projekt) with spacey psychedelia and tinges of world music. Textures range from ethereal and ghostly to harsh and earthy, though the songs always retain melodic strengths and visceral thrills. “Thistle Lurid,” which almost reaches progressive rock scope, is the most impressive tune on a generally impressive collection. Michael Toland
Tuesday, June 12th, 2007
11:12 am
[mtoland]
Harry Manx & Kevin Breit - In Good We Trust
HARRY MANX & KEVIN BREIT
In Good We Trust
(Stony Plain)
In Good We Trust is the second installment of the occasional collaboration betwixt Canadian string-slingers Kevin Breit (who leads the Sisters Euclid and plays with Norah Jones) and Harry Manx (who has a fine catalog of worldbeat blues solo albums). As with Jubilee, the pair’s last joint effort, the emphasis here is not on technical virtuosity. There’s plenty of that, mind you, especially when Breit spins off a jazzy solo or Manx mans his mohan veena (a sort of Indian slide guitar). But the collection is all about songs and what each man can bring to them, from the banjo/slide mandolin duets on “Better Man’s Waltz” to the mysterious mohan veena vibes on “Death Have Mercy” to Manx’s homemade cigar box slide on a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire.” And that’s not mentioning Manx’s warm singing throughout. This is roots music made be musicians who respect tradition but don’t define themselves by it, making In Good We Trust a constant delight. Michael Toland
11:09 am
[mtoland]
Devin Townsend - Ziltoid the Omniscient
DEVIN TOWNSEND
Ziltoid the Omniscient
(InsideOut/SPV)
Strapping Young Lad may be no more, but SYL mastermind Devin Townsend isn’t resting on his laurels. The world’s foremost perpetrator of comic prog metal retreats to his Canadian home studio to urp up Ziltoid the Omniscient, the story of an alien from the fourth dimension out to conquer Earth for its coffee. Yes, it’s as silly as it sounds, a fact in which Townsend delights. He gives voice to his ridiculous characters with his usual croon-to-a-roar style and music that melds melody to metallica with smooth surety. Townsend’s attention to craft keeps the story from riding off the rails, while his wacky sense of humor prevents any whiff of pretentiousness from wafting. Ziltoid the Omniscient is for alien conspiracy theorists, headbangers and java junkies alike. Michael Toland
Monday, June 11th, 2007
8:43 am
[mtoland]
The White Barons - Up All Night With the White Barons
THE WHITE BARONS
Up All Night With the White Barons
(Gearhead)
The White Barons are fronted by burlesque performer Eva von Slut. Don’t think that makes the San Francisco quartet a novelty act, though. Von Slut has the roaring vocal capacity to easily keep up with the firebreathing tattoo farmers that comprise the Barons—she’s not particularly subtle, but that’s not a quality needed for this kind of melodic punk & roll. “Champagne & Cocaine,” “Life Ain’t Fair” and “You Never Were” are direct hits to your solar plexus, and you’ll be begging the Baroness for more. Michael Toland
8:41 am
[mtoland]
Roger Len Smith - New Dark Ages
ROGER LEN SMITH
New Dark Ages
(Roger Len Smith)
Singer/songwriter Roger Len Smith’s fourth album is his best yet. Recorded in Austin with the kind of roots-conscious musicians that don’t let Americana orthodoxy hold them down, New Dark Ages shows a progression for Smith as a singer, bandleader and especially as a songwriter. Smith’s ability to balance humor and angst, cogent analysis and populist slogans, gravity and fun has only sharpened over the years, and his melodies grow more engaging with every disk. Check “Hardest of Rains,” “Pharmaceutical Nation,” “Another Dawn” (and its quieter companion “Another Dawn 2”) and the salutatory “Holding On to My Guitar For Dear Life” for evidence. “Cold Night in Lowell” also shows off his ever-tasteful axe work, while covers of George Harrison’s “Isn’t It a Pity” and Lyle Lovett’s “If I Had a Boat” demonstrate taste (and reveal key influences). These times may be New Dark Ages, but Smith’s talent finds the light in the darkness. Michael Toland
Friday, June 8th, 2007
8:27 am
[mtoland]
Jon Regen - Let It Go
JON REGEN
Let It Go
(Jon Regen)
Singer/songwriter/pianist Jon Regen returns with Let It Go, a collection of piano pop gems along the lines of his previous record Almost Home. Regen opens up his trio sound this time, adding guitarist Andy Summers to the excellent “Close to Me” and “Finding My Way Back to Me” and inviting singers Martha Wainwright and Kami Thompson and cellist Julia Kent to join him on a few tunes. But it’s Regen’s own writing and crooning that carry the day here: “Better Days,” “Disappear” and the title tune make the most impact with no “name” assistance whatsoever. Regen’s proven himself a master of jazz and pop on separate records; now it’s time for him to rejoin the two sides of his personality and sew a truly distinctive place for himself in the music tapestry. Michael Toland
8:25 am
[mtoland]
Veil Veil Vanish - Into a New Mausoleum
VEIL VEIL VANISH
Into a New Mausoleum
(Veil Veil Vanish)
Into a New Mausoleum shows Veil Veil Vanish to be in thrall to the guitar sounds of the 80s underground. The San Francisco quartet has the vaguely gothic psychedelia of the Cure, Echo & the Bunnymen and the Chameleons down on these six tunes. Swirling guitars and Keven Tocon’s angst-ridden tenor dominate “What Will You Say Tonight” and “Shadows Dripping Like Honey Kissing,” while “All Hands in Prayer” dives deeply into the shoegazer/dream pop ocean. Like so many of its neo-post punk contemporaries, the band is certainly more about homage than evolution at this point, but who’s to say Veil Veil Vanish won’t someday drag its chosen genre into the future? Michael Toland
Thursday, June 7th, 2007
12:48 pm
[mtoland]
Pawnshop Roses - Let It Roll
PAWNSHOP ROSES
Let It Roll
(Earvolution)
With all the various genres, sub-genres and sub-sub-genres loose in the music world, it’s always refreshing to hear a band that plays good old-fashioned rock & roll. Philadelphia’s Pawnshop Roses strip away the excesses of rock on Let It Roll, leaving a few chords, blues-based melodies and a lot of guitars. Think the Faces, the early 70s Rolling Stones or even the Black Crowes (whose singer Chris Robinson Roses frontguy Paul Keen vocally resembles) before they started thinking they were a jam band. Like those notables, the Roses crank like playing rock & roll is the only thing worth doing, and also like those folks, they know how to write sharp, memorable tunes. Check out “You Got Me,” “Planning Out Your Heart” and the title track for some basic rock & roll thrills, along with the countrified “It Gets So Hard” and the ballads “Brown Eyes” and “All the Way Down” for variety’s sake. Sure, there’s nothing really new on Let It Roll, but new isn’t the point. The Pawnshop Roses simply rock it like it is, baby. Little Steven’s Underground Garage should take note. Michael Toland
12:45 pm
[mtoland]
The Sharp Things - A Moveable Feast
THE SHARP THINGS
A Moveable Feast
(Bar/None)
The Sharp Things get better every album; the group’s third disk A Moveable Feast is no exception. Striking a graceful pose between big-league gloss and mid-fi ambience by way of recording at home with a mountain of musicians, the Perry Serpa-led group boils its orchestral approach to sensitive, soul-inflected pop down to its melodic essence here. While the mainstream world will most likely continue ignoring these songs like the gaggle of troglodytes it is, “Cruel Thing,” “Through With Love” and “What’s the New Girl Wonder” should be at the top of any music lover’s hit parade, especially if they’ve ever fantasized about a merger of the Left Banke and the Impressions with the late David Ackles producing. If that makes the Things sound retro, you’ve got the wrong adjective. The correct one isn’t “retro,” but “timeless.” Michael Toland
Wednesday, June 6th, 2007
9:09 am
[mtoland]
The Two Dollar Pistols - Here Tomorrow, Gone Today
THE TWO DOLLAR PISTOLS
Here Tomorrow, Gone Today
(8th House)
The Two Dollar Pistols have long been favorites with the alt.country crowd, which is fine, but also a bit misleading. Simply put, there’s nothing “alt” about the Pistols—this is hardcore honkytonk all the way. Here Tomorrow, Gone Today has more in common with Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings than anything spawned by Uncle Tupelo. Between the band’s traditionalist arrangements, the sturdy C&W melodies and leader John Howie’s classic baritone, “I Don’t Know You (But I Don’t Like You),” “Nothing Left of Me” and “Stranger Things Have Happened” would have ruled country radio in the days before Brooks & Dunn. Dale Watson would be proud. Michael Toland
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