On that fateful Friday, 13th of November, just before the terrorists burst into Le Bataclan in Paris and gunned down 89 people, the American band, Eagles of Death Metal who were playing their gig there, had done six songs. They’d finished their amped-up, fuzzy guitar-laden cover version of Duran Duran’s Save A Prayer and had launched into their own Kiss the Devil, when the attacks began and the tragedy unfolded. We don’t know whether the band’s playlist that night would have included I Love You All the Time, a love song that would have resonated in happier times with the romantic city of Paris and not only because some of its lyrics are in French: Ce soir c’est le soir et toi avec moi/ Et tu viens me voir, tu viens… ouh la la (Tonight is the night and you with me/ And you come to me, you just… ooh la la).
Eagles of Death Metal play a brand of music that is not even remotely close to ‘death metal’, a particularly extreme form of metal that is loud, distorted and aggressive. The music of Eagles of Death Metal isn’t like that. They play loud, of course, but theirs is a blend of blues rock and psychedelic rock that is unpretentious and easily accessible. I Love You All the Time and their version of Duran Duran’s Save A Prayer are from the band’s new album, Zipper Down whose cover art you will have to check out for yourself because it’s funny but probably not quite appropriate an image for this magazine to carry. That’s the point about Eagles of Death Metal: their quirkiness. Everything from the band’s name to some of their songs and lyrics have a spirit of irreverence. On Silverlake (K.S.O.F.M), the band takes a jibe at a hipster enclave in Los Angeles (and by the way, you may like to check what K.S.O.F.M. stands for; this being a family mag, I can’t tell you, at least not here).
Eagles of Death Metal are a band from Palm Desert, a small town in California, and were founded by Joshua Homme and Jesse Hughes. Homme, a multi-instrumentalist, rarely plays live in the band (he wasn’t at Le Bataclan), although he plays drums for most of their recordings and composes many of the songs. Homme’s a key guy to track. Not only in Eagles of Death Metal but also his other project, Queens of the Stone Age, a hard rock band also from Palm Spring and whose newest album, …Like Clockwork, got nominated for the best rock album in the Grammys.
But my contact point with Homme is a weekly one – via radio. On Apple Music’s Beats1, a 24×7 worldwide radio channel that has broken new ground with its radio programming, Homme does a weekly show called The Alligator Hour. He sometimes has a musician whom he interviews or discusses things with or some other guest but best of all he has one of the most eclectic playlists that I’ve heard. Take his most recent episode, which starts with a nearly eight-minute version of Funkytown (you know the song – Won’t you take me to…) by the disco-funk band Lipps Inc. As soon as that song fades, Homme plays Johnny Winter’s Rollin’ and Tumblin’, a blues song from that gifted guitarist’s album, The Progressive Blues Experiment. Then comes Generationals, a new wave band from New Orleans that I hadn’t even heard of. Homme digs deep to find gems to play. On his show, I discovered Chron Gen, a British punk band from the late 1970s; rediscovered Eurhythmics, their lead singer Annie Lennox and their synthpop sound; and heard Dick Dale, an incredibly fast guitar picker whose surf guitar style is unique and whose music hasn’t lost its pace since the 1960s though Dale is 78.
The band members of the Eagles of Death Metal, their crew (except for one who died in the attack) survived the dastardly attack at Le Bataclan but so many of those who’d gone to their gig didn’t. There’s another bit of the lyrics in that same song, I Love You All the Time, that is in French: Ah dis-moi pourquoi. It means: Oh, tell me why.
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Last week, in the middle of a particularly hectic phase at work, Bruce Springsteen came to my aid. Just as long hours and frayed tempers were threatening to take their toll on my sanity came the announcement that the Boss was dropping a new EP with four never-before-released songs. The EP’s called American Beauty (I know that the use of that title could seem like blasphemy to many Deadheads, but never mind). As I write this, one single from American Beauty has been streaming all over the Internet. It’s called Hurry Up Sundown and it’s a classic rock and roll track, upbeat, lyrically direct and quintessentially Springsteen-esque: just what the doctor ordered if you’ve been stressed out at work. Read more
When I first heard a song off the debut album from the British band, Eagulls, I wasn’t aware of the way they spelt their name. The song, Possessed, was on a podcast and I heard the announcer say their name and not mention the spelling. For me, because of the way Eagulls is pronounced, it conjures up the name of another band and reminds me of a song about a certain hotel and then swiftly provokes a sharp attack of nausea. So I was keen after listening to Possessed (more about that song later) to quickly check out what this new band was about. I was very relieved to see the way they spell their name. Eagulls are a quintet from Leeds. And they are what you’d call punk revivalists. Their sound couldn’t be more different than the cloying soft rock of that other band I mentioned.
I’ve not been able to find out why San Franciscan folk rocker Mark Kozelek calls his band Sun Kil Moon except that the name is probably taken from that of a South Korean bantamweight boxer called Moon Sung-Kil and that Kozelek is deeply inspired by the sport of boxing. There’s a bit of Delhi-related but, otherwise unrelated trivia, too, which I found: Moon Sung-Kil won the gold in his class at the 1982 Asiad, which, as we all know, was held in Delhi! Sun Kil Moon’s new album, Benji, is punchy but not anywhere close to the kind of connotation that word could have in boxing. But the eleven songs on it have no-holds-barred lyrics and a sound that is haunting and spare.
We were sitting at Delhi’s perfect little French restaurant called Le Bistro du Parc and contemplating whether to order the Steak Tartare in a city that is otherwise in a strictly stringy buffalo territory (we did order it and it was great; and it was not buffalo, by the way!) when I thought I heard Bon Iver on the speakers. You know Bon Iver, the band name that is actually the alter ego of the indie singer songwriter Justin Vernon, who made waves a few years ago with his first full-length album For Emma, Forever Ago, an album of songs that he wrote when he chose to confine himself in a snowbound wooden cabin somewhere in Wisconsin. That album was a deeply emotional breakup album and it received both huge critical acclaim as well as popularity, paving the way for Vernon to get a Grammy for Best New Artist a few years ago.
I think the 1980s’ band named Smog, probably better known by its frontman, Bill Callahan, may be one of the utterly under-rated and unacknowledged bands in the indie music genre. Better appreciated by critics than by fans, Smog could well be one of the earliest practitioners of the genre that is commonly known as lo-fi or low-fidelity. It is today a classification that comprises hundreds of bands and also one that has some bands that I like very much – Pavement, Yo La Tengo, Neutral Milk Hotel, Guided By Voices, Blur, and so many more. Lo-fi is used to describe a genre but its roots go back to recordings that had a less refined lower quality of sound, marked by a fuzz and hiss and unsharpness, which has its own sort of charm. Read more
I had made up my mind to begin the column this time with soul band Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings’ brilliant new album that has been on my playlist for much of last week. The songs are great and there’s a not-so-happy back story to it too, but all that will have to wait because towards the end of the week, I was gobsmacked by something else I heard. And it wasn’t even something that was brand new. Just something I’d never even heard of before. It was an album by an Israeli musician named Asaf Avidan and his band, The Mojos, and it was called, simply, The Reckoning. Frankly, I wasn’t prepared for the impact that this album would have. Read more
Quite obviously Download Central is not a huge fan of swing era singers such as Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin and even less than that of more contemporary crooners such as Michael Bublé or Jamie Cullum. Easy listening stuff doesn’t really feature here much. But when my friend Luis spoke about his friend Frederico’s gig the next evening, I readily agreed. We were in Lisbon, enjoying the Portuguese capital’s mild winter, the warmth of its people and its roller-coaster roads with history peeking out from almost every nook and corner.
Another new year has trundled in and as I wait for the first bursts of new music to land, I went back to last year’s crop to see whether I’d missed out on anything that I’d acquired over last year but not given much attention to. Predictably, there were many. But I picked up three of them and spun them with a bit more seriousness. All three are gold. Read more
So many great albums have dropped in the past year that I don’t know how to even make a list of the ones that I liked. How many can I list? Fifty? Sixty? More? Music blogs and magazines have already put out their top albums of 2013 lists. Some, such as Rolling Stone, have listed 50; NPR has 100 favourite songs and 50 favourite records; PopMatters lists 75 best albums of 2013; and many others have lists for every genre (tip: if you want to get a smattering of what was happening in metal last year, do check out Stereogum’s top 50 in that loud genre; I was happy when I took a peek there to see the only metal album of last year that I bought, Deafheaven’s Sunbather, was No.1). Read more