By Michael Lello
When I boarded a plane for a study-abroad program in Manchester, England, my opinion of the current wave of British rock was dismissive, to put it mildly. Oasis were a bunch of sneering prats. Radiohead? Whiny art-school pussies. The Verve? Boring.
A few things changed my opinions once I began to assimilate myself into British culture a bit, though. First, I wanted to get to know my surroundings a bit better, at least from a cultural standpoint. So I tried, and enjoyed, Indian food, ploughman’s sandwiches and odd beer-and-vodka concoctions (still don’t like Boddington’s, though). I knew Manchester had a serious music history, especially the late ’80s/early ’90s Madchester scene, with bands like James, The Stones Roses and New Order, the explosion of DJ culture – and the drug Ecstasy. Unfortunately for me, the notorious club The Hacienda, which was the hub of Madchester, closed a year before my arrival. But that did not stop me from being turned onto music that I still love today.
By Michael Lello
Cherokee Red creates songs that are equal parts catchy and haunting, tantalizing you but never pulling back the curtain to fully reveal what’s truly at their core. It’s a unique sound that one might not expect to come from Northeastern Pa., an area seemingly dominated by mainstream hard rock and the occasional jam/roots act.
On April 16, the band re-leased its self-titled debut album, a fine document of the band with the difficult-to-classify sound, with elements of dream pop, folk and two female vocalists. While there is no distinct pigeonhole readymade for Cherokee Red, some listeners might find similarities to the hushed indie folk of Belle and Sebastian, the dreamy jangle of The Sundays or newer groups like Beach House or Wye Oak.
“It just really happened,” Cherokee Red multi-instrumentalist Dirk Dekker said of the mood that permeates the record. “Everybody’s got the mood that they live by and how they view the world. . . . That’s not to say that there’s anything we said beforehand, like ‘We want to sound like this.’ We just let the songs develop organically.”
By Jason Riedmiller
In the winter of 1994 I was an 18-year-old white kid in Scranton, Pa., who was pumped for the party that would be the end of senior year and dreaming of what life as a Penn State English major would be like. In the winter of 1994 I didn't know much, but one thing I did know was that I did not want hear the cassingle of a song called “C.R.E.A.M.” by a ridiculous-sounding group called the Wu-Tang Clan!
It was not because I didn't like rap music. In fact, I loved hip-hop! The Beastie Boys, Cypress Hill and Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg had soundtracked my high school career as much the grunge bands that ruled the “alternative” charts.
No. My problem was I thought I was cooler than the kid who handed me the tape as we sat in my buddy’s Oldsmobile Cutlass. “Listen to this shit! It's the motherfucking bomb!” His words cut through me. You are not black! We are not black! Just listen to the music! Stop pretending! I did not want to hear the Wu-Tang Clan!
By Michael Lello
Enveloped in an uneasy haze of steel guitar, Brass Bed tells us, “I never believed it was true/ That life was just something to do” until the day “that death follows through.” It’s not exactly a pep talk in “Cold Chicory,” the opening track on the band’s third album “The Secret Will Keep You.” It’s more a case of accepting life’s letdowns as part of the big picture, a theme that naturally fits a maturing band coming to terms with its career, and, likely, the band members’ lives themselves.
“The Secret Will Keep You” is the Louisiana band’s multifaceted study of confronting the uncertainty of adulthood with trepidation but also a certain measure of resigned confidence. The themes are well-matched with a musical canvas that draws from the bounce of The Kinks and The Beatles as well as the quirkier end of the modern-folk rock spectrum occupied by groups like Floating Action, Dr. Dog and Wilco.
The power pop of “Please Don’t Go” follows the relatively downcast opener, recalling a slightly more polished Dr. Dog thanks to stomping rhythms and swirling organ, while “I’ll Be There With Bells On” is a straightforward slice of driving rock. “A Bullet For You,” with its ramshackle guitar and staggered rhythms, might remind some listeners of Spoon, and is one of the record’s more inviting tracks. That said, the unease factor is still high, both in the minor-key melodies and the lyrics: “Wasted all my years, thinking good would come from a dream/ Now I’m waking, my world is shaking/ Could I walk away?/ If I stop, would I still be me?”