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Below are 20 journal entries, after skipping by the 40 most recent ones recorded in High Bias' LiveJournal:

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Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007
9:34 am
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Baby 81
Baby 81
(Abstract Dragon/RCA)
Once a band hits a creative breakthrough, as Black Rebel Motorcycle Club did with 2005’s Howl, it often uses the follow-up to consolidate its recently acquired strengths. B.R.M.C., however, moves forward by stepping back. The trio largely subsumes the folk and blues-soaked sounds of Howl for a return to the loud, driving rock of its first two albums, but tempers the old ways with the airy openness and sharp songwriting it discovered on the third. Tunes like “Not What You Wanted,” “American X” and “Weapon of Choice” (the perfect single to light up rock radio, if only programmers outside of Little Steven would discover it) smoothly unite the band’s melodic, droning and political impulses into exciting modern rock. B.R.M.C. could at this point in its career easily coast along, rewriting “Whatever Happened to My Rock ‘n’ Roll” over and over. That the band has kept evolving and improving speaks volumes about its commitment to its own artistic impulses. Michael Toland
9:23 am
Josiah - No Time
No Time
No Time, album number three from England power trio Josiah finds the band kicking harder and dirtier than ever, even as it’s become more focused and precise. Leader Matthew Bettancourt really comes into his own here as a singer, songwriter and guitarist, keeping the riffs sharp and the melodies memorable, while the rhythm section proves itself the master of the ol’ stoner boogie. “I Can’t Seem to Find It,” “Time to Kill” and the title track rattle the Big Rawk cage to pieces, letting all the juices flow. Excellent. Michael Toland
Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007
8:16 am
Garfields Birthday - Deaf in Venice EP
Deaf in Venice EP
(Pink Hedgehog)
We all know you can count on death and taxes. You can also count on Garfields Birthday delivering sterling nuggets of guitar pop. The three songs found here, each of which highlight a member, are catchy, smart and heartfelt—simply excellent. If forced by radio tyranny to pick one, I’ll go with “Cocaine Joe,” but really, any of these would light up your stereo’s speakers. At three songs, it’s almost a cruel tease, but if this doesn’t whet your appetite for more Garfields Birthday cake, you just don’t like frosting. Michael Toland
8:13 am
Beardfish - Sleeping in Traffic: Part One
Sleeping in Traffic: Part One
Sweden’s rock community seems obsessed with the 70s sometimes. A few bands (the Hellacopters and The Soundtrack of Our Lives come to mind) drag 70s rock into the 21st century, but an awful lot of Swedish groups seem perfectly content to stay within the confines of the Me Decade. Not that there’s anything wrong with that on the face of it, as long as the artists are doing it well. On Sleeping in Traffic: Part one, Beardfish plays old-fashioned progressive rock, with symphonic flourishes, sophisticated arrangements and catchy melodies derived equally from pop, classical and folk as if Marillion and prog metal never happened. A sense of humor helps, as well—cf “The Ungodly Slob.” Fans of 70s Yes, Genesis and King Crimson who despair at ever hearing such sounds made fresh will be pleased with Beardfish. Michael Toland
Monday, May 21st, 2007
8:51 am
Dinosaur Jr - Beyond
(Fat Possum)
Beyond is the first album under the Dinosaur Jr name since 1997’s Hand It Over and the first to feature the original J Mascis-Lou Barlow-Murph lineup since 1988. Unsurprisingly, it sounds the way Dino Jr has always sounded: folk rock tunes overloaded with massive distortion, Mascis’ laconic vocals and lots of guitar solos. Despite Mascis having plowed this same furrow for 25 years, he sounds revitalized here, turning in ringing melodies and lots of splendiferous guitar work. “We’re Not Alone,” “Been Here All the Time” and “Crumble” hit the volume overload pleasure buttons with thrusting urgency, while the lovely “I Got Lost” is an acoustic close harmony session with Mascis and Barlow crooning sweetly. Speaking of the latter, the erstwhile Sebadoh leader contributes a pair of strong songs himself; “Back to Your Heart” and “Lightning Bulb” successfully transplant the songwriting persona he so diligently developed the past 20 years into Dino Jr Land. Naysayers won’t be swayed by Beyond, but fans should love it and the curious might do well to start here. Michael Toland
8:49 am
Various Artists - Lovin' Fire
Lovin’ Fire
(Psychic Circle)
Compiled by the Bevis Frond’s Nick Saloman, Lovin’ Fire compiles 20 cuts from the late 60s and early 70s, when such terms as “psychedelic,” “progressive,” “hard rock” and “heavy metal” hadn’t yet calcified into the rigidly stratified genre terms they would become. The 20 British and Continental bands here put their guitar firepower to use for more than just rocking ass, though they certainly do that too. Saloman’s annotation explains more, but basically these are bands that had no shot other than a 45 or two, maybe a single obscure album. Highlights include Mayroc’s grungy “Lovin’ Fire” (featuring guitarist Bari Watts, who would work with the Frond in the future), Andromeda’s folk rocking “Rainbow Chasing” (not the work of the other Andromeda, which featured Atomic Rooster guitarist John DuCann) and Whichwhat’s groovy “Parting.” Not everything here is a gem, but there’s enough rough diamonds on Lovin’ Fire to make it of strong interest to fans of past psych/rock obscurities. And it’s part of a series of compilations curated by the Frond, which is even better news. Michael Toland
Friday, May 18th, 2007
7:50 am
Tia Carrera - Heaven/Hell
Recorded in 2005, Heaven/Hell is a relatively quick (three songs in thirty minutes) blast of sound from Austin’s premier improvisational psychedelic rock trio. This is Tia Carrera doing what it does best, feedback-heavy guitar histrionics that still keep close to the melody—like Black Sabbath on acid with Hendrix sitting in. Earthless doesn’t have the market cornered on this sound, after all. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, to be sure, but those with the jones will appreciate the hit. Michael Toland
7:47 am
Marillion - Somewhere Else
Somewhere Else
The follow-up to Marillion’s shockingly strong masterpiece Marbles, Somewhere Else steps away from overarching concepts to present a mere collection of songs. The group is still in firm command of its songwriting and arranging powers, crafting fine tracks like “A Voice From the Past” and “Thank You Whoever You Are.” If I have any complaints, it’s that the record is extremely ballad heavy, without excursions into the band’s pop or prog epic sides, and that it doesn’t represent any kind of step forward. But even the best bands don’t knock one out of the park every time, and it’s conceivable I’m judging Somewhere Else on its predecessor’s considerable merits. Make your own choice here. Michael Toland
Thursday, May 17th, 2007
2:58 pm
High Bias - Best of the Best: May pt.1
The latest list is up at the MySpace page. Check it out. Thanks.

Michael Toland
8:18 am
David Torn - Prezens
Between illness and a busy session career, it’s been over a decade since guitarist/sampler David Torn issued a record under his own name. Prezens picks up where his 90s work left off, heavy on atmosphere, shifting rhythms and bizarre tones. Working with avant jazzers Tim Berne (sax), Tom Rainey (drums) and Craig Taborn (keys), Torn conjures up a variety of soundscapes that defy easy classification—”Sink,” “AK” and “Neck-Deep in the Harrow…” could be soundtrack music for a science fiction nightmare, except that they have too much body to be mere background sound. The presence (sorry) of Berne et al certainly makes these songs jazzier than Torn’s work has been in a long time, but I wouldn’t call it jazz—the influence of everything from Robert Fripp to Adrian Belew to Sonny Sharrock is too strong. Torn has always inhabited his own distinctive spot in the musical firmament, and Prezens is a welcome return to that shadowy corner. Michael Toland
8:15 am
Pat MacDonald - Troubadour of Stomp
Troubadour of Stomp
(Broken Halo)
Singer/songwriter Pat MacDonald will forever be known for his membership in Timbuk 3 and authorship of “The Future’s So Bright I’ve Gotta Wear Shades.” Never mind that the band hasn’t existed since 1995 and he’s released several solo albums since then. Troubadour of Stomp is MacDonald’s latest, an outpouring of emotion following a difficult year. Using the same instrumentation as a country bluesman (guitar, harp, stomp board) but playing his own grunged-out rock & roll version, MacDonald pours out pain, anger, confusion, lust, acceptance and forgiveness in “The Governor,” “Thanks, Man” and “Steele Bridge Song.” As befitting an artist known for his sardonic sense of humor, MacDonald also laughs a little in “Shake Well” and “This Band Sucks.” With melodies as catchy as anything he’s ever done and a voice grown supple with age, MacDonald sounds better than ever here, and Troubadour of Stomp is an excellent re-introduction to a talent too long dismissed. Michael Toland
Wednesday, May 16th, 2007
8:05 am
James Blood Ulmer - Bad Blood in the City
Bad Blood in the City
James Blood Ulmer continues his exploration of the blues with Bad Blood in the City. This time the focus is New Orleans; not only was the album was recorded there, but its devastation provides much of the subject matter. As with his past few records, Ulmer is partnered with producer Vernon Reid, longtime fiddler Charles Burnham and a stalwart crew, and draws from the catalogs of blues greats Howlin’ Wolf (“Commit a Crime”), John Lee Hooker (“This Land is Nobody’s Land”), Willie Dixon (“Dead Presidents”), Son House (“Grinnin’ In Your Face”) and, in a natural combo Ulmer should explore more often, Junior Kimbrough (“Sad Days, Lonely Nights”). Ulmer’s own writing challenges the masters, though, as he addresses Katrina both overtly (“Survivors of the Hurricane,” “Katrina”) and obliquely (“Old Slave Master,” “Let’s Talk About Jesus”) and reminds us that “There is Power in the Blues.” Musically this is one of Ulmer’s most traditional electric blues records, with his more avant leanings toned down. Old time Ulmer fans may find this album too sedate, but newcomers should find Bad Blood in the City a good entry point into Ulmer’s unique universe. Michael Toland
8:01 am
DVD Roundup
Yes: Live at Montreux 2003 (Eagle Eye Media) captures the veteran progressive rock band at Switzerland's prestigious jazz festival during the tour celebrating the reunion of the "classic" Jon Anderson/Steve Howe/Rick Wakeman/Chris Squire/Alan White lineup. Advancing age doesn't seem to have slowed this band down much, as its instrumental virtuosity is certainly intact—cf. the solo numbers from guitarist Howe (excellent), keyboardist Wakeman (fun due to its brevity) and Squire (almost overbearing due to excessive length). Highlights come less from the expected hits (though "And You and I" is particularly beautiful here), but from the lesser-known corners of the Yesverse, a la "In the Presence Of" (from the group's mostly ignored Magnification), "Heart of the Sunrise," "Don't Kill the Whale" and Fragile's challenging "South Side of the Sky," a tune rarely played even in the old days. No extras, but considering that the concert is almost two hours and 20 minutes long, Yes fans will get their money's worth. more behind the cutCollapse )
Tuesday, May 15th, 2007
9:12 am
Joseph Arthur & the Lonely Astronauts - Let's Just Be
Let’s Just Be
(Lonely Astronaut)
Several years ago I interviewed Joseph Arthur, whose then-current LP Come to Where I’m From I was in love with at the time. Over the course of the conversation, he told me that he had an experimental bent that he felt wasn’t getting properly exercised in his current work for Virgin. Now that Arthur has his own label, a backing band (including Golden Smog/Jayhawks/Run Westy Run guitarist Kraig Jarret Johnson) and full control of his career, he’s finally getting to indulge himself. And “indulge” is certainly the right term for it. There are plenty of tunes on this lengthy record that fill most listeners’ perceptions of the “typical” Joseph Arthur song (“Chicago,” “Take Me Home,” “Good Life”), full of his trademark yearning melodies and intimate atmospherics. Good chunks of the album, however, are given over to grooving ravers like “Shake It Off” and the title track, grungy rockers like “Cocaine Feet” and “Cockteeze” and noisy weirdness like the 20-minute opus “Lonely Astronaut” (a phrase of which Arthur is apparently quite fond). Arthur also passes the mic to bandmates Johnson (the admittedly wonderful duet “I Will Carry”) and guitarist Jennifer Turner (the nicely restrained “Gimme Some Company”), wallows in overt psychedelia with “Star Song” and lets studio chatter take the place of a guitar solo in “Yer the Reason.” It’s nice to know Arthur isn’t stuck in one groove, but sometimes his eagerness to prove himself outside of “In the Sun” seems forced, almost desperate. “Look, ma, I’m too weird to be a pop star, honest!” Michael Toland
9:05 am
The Mainliners - s/t
Sweden’s Mainliners started out as a hot-shit garage rock combo, but, like a lot of modern groups trying to outdo the Hives, they’ve matured. Mainliners pushes pop melody and textural variety to the forefront—the band call still barrel ahead full throttle (see “Good Storm”), but doesn’t crash and bash constantly. Singer Robert Billing has improved immensely, adding subtlety and nuance to his performances, where before he merely blared. Besides rocking out, the band successfully pulls off smoldering ballads (“A Secondary Truth,” “Bourbon & Ice”) and snappy pop songs (“Round Five,” Olivia,” “Is This Satisfying…?”) as if to the hook born. Nicely done, lads. Michael Toland
Monday, May 14th, 2007
9:02 am
The Beasts of Bourbon - Little Animals
Little Animals
(Albert Productions)
The last Beasts of Bourbon album (1997’s Gone) was so lackluster that many assumed it was the Australian institution’s last. Lo and behold, the group reconvened a couple of years ago for a series of incendiary concerts, including a pair at this year’s SXSW that are among the best rock & roll shows I’ve ever witnessed. Thus revitalized, the band rebounds in the studio with Little Animals, a tremendous rock record that reminds us why we loved the Beasts in the first place. It’s all here: the biting, snarling guitars courtesy Spencer P. Jones and Charlie Owen, the barreling yet swinging rhythms of Brian Hooper and Tony Pola, the unhinged yet soulful vocals of Tex Perkins, the dirty, corrupt classic rock hooks and all the spite, bile, anger, profanity and contempt you’d expect from these veteran mudslingers. “I’m Gone,” “The Beast I Came to Be” and “I Don’t Care About Nothing Anymore” kick open the barroom doors, slap leather and shoot down lesser rock & roll gunslingers, tempering the raw power with the maturity that comes from a life unwell lived. The quintet is (relatively) tender as well: “Master and Slave” ruminates on an unhealthy (but apparently happy) relationship, the title cut makes a statement of sorts about the environment and “New Day of the Dead”—well, I don’t know what the hell Perkins (singing Jones’ lyrics) is on about, but it sure is purty in its own ragged way. “Thanks” brings the record to a close with a sardonic, C&W nod to all the band’s bad influences (all chemical) over the past quarter century. All this and more in a mere 34 minutes. Little Animals will be the rock & roll record to beat this year. Michael Toland
9:00 am
Future Clouds & Radar - s/t
Future Clouds & Radar
(The Star Apple Kingdom)
Austin’s Cotton Mather made a big splash in the underground pop community eight years into its career with its 1999 album Kon Tiki, quickening critics’ pulses and garnering a tour with famous fan Oasis. But after its 2001 opus The Big Picture, the band unceremoniously and quietly faded from view. Pop junkies left scratching their heads over Mather’s disappearance can rest easy, as bandleader Robert Harrison returns with the self-titled debut of his new outfit Future Clouds & Radar. Harrison and friends spread 27 songs over two CDs, shifting through varying permutations of psychedelic colors and approaches, with the usual guitars and keyboards augmented by excellent use of a horn section. No matter if the style is anthems (“You Will Be Loved,” “Christmas Day 1923”), power pop (“Armitage Shanks,” “Hurricane Judy”), ELO-style symphonic pop (“Back Seat Silver Jet Fighter”) or flat-out rockers (“Get Your Boots On”), Harrison brings his usual strong melodies, eccentric lyrics and impeccable arrangements. Cotton Mather fans will be pleased, but pop fans of any stripe should also fall in blissful love with Future Clouds & Radar. Michael Toland
Friday, May 11th, 2007
9:37 am
Sly & the Family Stone - reissues
A Whole New Thing
Dance To the Music
There’s a Riot Goin’ On
Small Talk
It seems almost pointless to ruminate on Sly & the Family Stone. That this multi-racial, gender-mixed soul/funk/pop/rock/psych band was innovative is beyond dispute. Without Sylvester Stewart and his band of brothers and sisters (and cousins), there would be no P-Funk, no Earth, Wind & Fire, no Superfly, Prince, Michael Jackson, Fishbone, Beastie Boys, Roots, OutKast—hell, no Hall & Oates. Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder wouldn’t have been inspired to expand their horizons, take control of their careers and become artists. Family Stone bassist Larry Graham rewrote the rules of his instrument, becoming to the four-string what Jimi Hendrix was to the guitar. A DJ, producer and songwriter with eclectic tastes, Stewart’s equal reverence for James Brown, Bob Dylan and the Beatles has inspired thousands of musicians to dismiss genre boundaries in search of their own souls. In many ways the band exemplified certain 60s ideals—though Stewart was in firm control as songwriter and producer, the group’s egalitarian approach to performance and presentation set a standard for musical democracy, eclecticism and iconoclasm. more behind the cutCollapse )
9:35 am
Dimmu Borgir - In Sorte Diaboli
In Sorte Diaboli
(Nuclear Blast)
Dimmu Borgir is the target of much criticism in the black metal community for being “sellouts.” To whom? Is there a blasphemy-spewing, dissonance-embracing, vocal shreds-consuming mainstream radio station out there that I don’t know about? To be sure, Borgir incorporates melody more deftly than most of its blackened brethren, but In Sorte Diaboli is still violent, unpleasant stuff. Frontdemon Shagrath possesses one of the most venomous deliveries in black metal, and the band’s sophisticated musicianship (especially keyboardist Mustis, who’s taken on the orchestral parts himself) doesn’t obscure its brutal aesthetic. The conceptual thread running through this record—something about a priest turning to Satanism after becoming disgusted by Christianity’s hypocrisy—is hardly the stuff of mass acceptance either. In Sorte Diaboli is certainly Dimmu’s most accomplished and memorable collection of songs yet. I want to see some horns! Michael Toland
Thursday, May 10th, 2007
9:06 am
Jeff Dahl - Battered Stuff
Battered Stuff
(Steel Cage)
Every few years the irrepressible Jeff Dahl gets the urge to turn down the volume and soften his sneer; Battered Stuff is his latest effort in that regard. Playing all instruments as usual, Dahl deftly mixes acoustic and electric guitars (including slide) over a measured rhythm section, adding keyboards for spice—no four-to-the-floor distortion burners here. But that’s just fine—poppy tracks like “I Wouldn’t Change a Thing” and “California Blues” and epic ballads like “Outta Luck” and “Damaged Goods” prove that Dahl needn’t hide behind a wall of amps to be effective. “Ain’t Drinkin’ Myself to Death No More” even shows off an affinity for country music. While this album may disappoint fans who think of Dahl only as a furious rocker, it’ll delight those of us who admire his remarkable way with a tune. Michael Toland
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