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.
  • Current Music
    Gary Myrick & the Figures

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.


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

Nina Simone - Just Like a Woman

Just Like a Woman: Nina Simone Sings Classic Songs of the ‘60s
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

Elliott Smith - New Moon

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

Thunder Express - Republic Disgrace

Republic Disgrace
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

Rufus Wainwright - Release the Stars

Release the Stars
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

Dungen - Tito Bitar

Tio Bitar
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

Peter Pan Speedrock - Spread Eagle

Spread Eagle
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