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The Vinyl Frontier Vinyl Reviews, Grouper “Ruins”, 2014

The Vinyl Frontier Vinyl Reviews

Grouper- Ruins 2014

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This might be the least accessible album I’ve reviewed so far, so buckle up. Who is Grouper you ask? Well, it’s the stage name for Liz Harris, a multi-faceted artist in every sense of the word. A painter, graphic designer and musician, Liz Harris made her musical debut in 2005 with her self-titled album released via CD-R. Growing up in a commune might have had a massive impact on her life, as one would imagine. The commune was a part of the “Fourth Way” philosophical ideas of one George Gurdijeff. I’m not even going to attempt to get into that pseudo-scientific junk; all that is important here is that they called themselves “The Groupers” and that is where Liz Harris got her moniker.

 

Now the fun stuff; attempting to describe her music. Liz Harris would not care for this description, but it most suits her and our purpose here. Grouper is an ambient artist, taking after the drone style of music that came out of Gregorian chant many hundreds of years ago. Her music itself has many uses other than just listening to it. It’s prime meditation music for laying down in bed or sitting on the floor and just examining yourself and getting totally lost in the layers of tones and soft vocals from her music. Her earlier stuff is entirely synthesizer-based and little to no acoustic instruments were used.

 

 

That all changed on her seminal 2008 release, “Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill” where she broke out of her shell a bit and began writing slightly folksier songs on acoustic guitars, still with many layers of reverb and synths, but there was a clear shift away from nothing but drones to more songwriter style of songs. “Ruins” takes this one step further, and completely stripped away her reverb and pounds of synths to just a small upright piano in the middle of a small coastal residency in Aljezur, Portugal in 2011. The music was recorded on a digital four track recorder in mostly one take, live. This album is unlike anything else she’s done, so barren and unfettered by her previous comforting reverb and layers covering up her vocals. “Ruins” allows for her voice to be heard clearly, showing us how beautiful her voice on its own, and the sparse piano notes compliment her voice, which for the first time, becomes an instrument all on its own. We’ll feature two specifics tracks worth all of your attention.

 

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“Clearing” is the second track on the album, preceded by the intro “Made of Metal”, which is just a minute of light drum thumping, like an ancient Indian drum chant. “Clearing” features a beautiful, hummable melody and the sweet tones of the notes being ever so slightly sustained by the sustain pedal. The song takes you instantly to a calmer place, but one wrought with some past battles with anger, as seen in these lyrics “And every time I see you, I have to pretend I don’t, You thought that it would help, but it’s only made us fall apart”

Ruins is an album of contradictions in many ways. While the music is so calming and peaceful, the lyrics and subject matter is not. As Liz Harris said herself “When I wasn’t recording songs I was hiking several miles to the beach. The path wound through the ruins of several old estates and a small village. The album is a document. A nod to that daily walk. Failed structures. Living in the remains of love.” While her vocals are so soft and beautiful, she is singing about the demise of her relationship, and of her own life. It’s a quietly heavy and dark album, one so soft you can fall asleep to it, and one so heavy you cannot bear it.

 

The final track I want to discuss is “Holding”, another beautiful piano piece, that starts off with just a few sparse notes lightly struck by the piano hammers. It builds up piece by piece into the melody that carries the whole song, with Harris gently singing the words “I hear you calling and I want to come, Run straight into the valleys of your arms and disappear there, But I know my love could fail you”. The song fades into the sounds of a thunderstorm Harris recorded, with the thunder crashing in the distance, and fades into the final track “Made of Air” which perfectly sums up that 11 minute ambient piece.

Ruins is a very special album for me, coming at a time in my life when my taste in music was evolving, along with myself as a person. Needless to say, it’s not a happy or uplifting album. However, it’s not all dim either. It’s a perfect album to completely fall into, and lose yourself in. It is in every sense of the word ambient and stuck in time; the music seemingly is floating in space in a ball of musical plasma, going no certain which way. Ruins is best played on a warm, humid summer night, and if you’re extra lucky, enjoy it on vinyl during a summer nighttime thunderstorm with a lava lamp the only light illuminating your room.

 

Until next time, take care.

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The Vinyl Frontier Vinyl Reviews, “Seasons of Your Day” by Mazzy Star; 2013

 

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Everyone has a band that takes them to a place where no other band can. For me, Mazzy Star is that band. While The Doors remain my overall favourite band of all time, Mazzy Star came into my life at a turning point for me; picture an awkward and out of touch ninth grader still figuring out how people work and needing a release; a trip to somewhere I’ve never seen before. Mazzy Star came to through pure chance in shuffle on Pandora. The song was their only major U.S hit “Fade Into You”. The instant I heard Hope Sandoval’s dreamy, other-worldly voice and the hazy psychedelic music to go with it, I was hooked. Dear god was I hooked. I bought all their albums on vinyl and added them to my quickly growing collection, and started finding more bands like them.

 

Well that was in 2011, and little did I know that they were working on a new release; their first since 1996. “Seasons of Your Day” was released on September 24, 2013, and soon after became the band’s most successful album since their infamous “So Tonight That I Might See” back in 1993. It somehow managed to peak at No. 5 on the U.S Independent Albums and No. 8 Top Alternative Albums. It even got to No. 42 on the Billboard 200- the chart for the most popular albums overall. That is amazing, considering this is a band that was on hiatus for close to 20 years. That doesn’t even factor how this music sounds, which, especially during the era of Gangam Style, folky, hazy, psychedelic laced music would not be normal to see on Billboard 200.

 

We’ll change it up and cover the three singles released for this album, starting with “Common Burn” released two years before the LP dropped. “Common Burn” is one of the most beautiful songs the band has, and can soothe anyone who’s getting a rush of anxiety. The song is a slow acoustic love song in the usual vain of Mazzy Star love songs. The few slide guitar licks from David Roback add a slight bluesy twinge to this otherwise dreamy psychedelic love song. “Common Burn” can be equated to slowly floating down a river of multi colored molasses in no certain time or place. It’s the definition of dreamy and timeless.

 

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“Lay Myself Down” is a bit more upbeat. It’s definitely more country influenced, but not at all in the way you would think. More like Johnny Cash meets Pink Floyd, but sung by a female. Sure, there’s slide guitar, but it maintains a very dreamy atmosphere. Hope’s vocals slide over the perfectly in time rhythm section and creates a very hypnotic feeling, one that is only broken up by the next single, “California”. “California” is an all acoustic song, with some sparse and quiet bongos from their long time drummer Keith Mitchell. The song is actually slightly similar to Led Zeppelin’s “Going to California”, in the way they both describe California as some sort of magical getaway from the rest of the world. Naturally Mazzy Star’s song is much more subdued and psychedelic, of course amplified by Hope’s soulful but whispery vocals.

 

The final single is the title track itself, “Seasons of Your Day”. Another all acoustic song, with some light chimes and sparse strings from the band’s long time violinist Paul Mitchell. The song slowly glides its way to and fro from moods of melancholy and comfort unlike anything else I have heard. It compliments “Common Burn” perfectly as a slightly more realistic feeling is felt on this track, one more grounded in actuality rather than dreamy fiction.

 

Naturally, this album is not for everyone. It’s not a party starter, rather, one to put on during a rainy and cold day, to sit back with some candles lit and the curtains closed to escape the reality and enter the stoned world that Mazzy Star takes you to during the album’s duration. “Seasons of Your Day” will drift you off to a better place during its 50 minutes, and luckily for us, they have three other previous albums that do the same. Take a day off and experience this album for yourself.

 

Until next time, take care.


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The Vinyl Frontier Vinyl Reviews “Clear Hearts Grey Flowers” by Jack Off Jill, 2000

Jack Off Jill is a band that never got the fame they deserved. Now, there are tons of bands who would be described in the same way, but that is undeservingly so. Jack Off Jill formed in 1992 by frontwoman and songwriter Jessika Fodera (known as Jessika Addams). Coming out of the Ft. Lauderdale goth rock scene along with Marilyn Manson & The Spooky Kids; they had a distinct sense of sharp songwriting and self-empowerment that Manson lacked. Whether it’s the bands “risqué” name or their brevity in existence, JOJ didn’t make it big. However, this is not to say they didn’t leave us an album worthy of immense praise and awe, and “ Clear Hearts Grey Flowers” is that such album.

 

Released on July 17th, 2000, it would be the bands’ second and final album. They debuted in 1997 with “Sexless Demons & Scars”, an angry goth punk album, and honestly, not a very good record. It did produce the bands’ only song to have a music video to go along with it, namely “My Cat”, a song about Twiggy Ramirez, who dated Jessika for a while, but is claimed by Jessika to have raped her. This dynamic between Marilyn Manson, whose co-founder Scott Putesky was also a guitarist for JOJ, and Jessika would have a huge impact on the themes found in “Clear Hearts Grey Flowers”.   When comparing the overall sound and tones between their debut and “Clear Hearts”, one notices a drastic improvement in the production and song length. Their debut is extremely influenced by the early riot-grrll scene with bands such as Bikini Kill and Babes in Toyland, who usually stuck to short and angry punk songs.

Jack Off Jill would go on to push those boundaries to the max, by expanding their songwriting and the style of their songs. Out with the overt shock value and excessive cursing (not that it offends me, but there’s barley one clean song on “Sexless…”) and in with some much needed polish and clear focus on impacting the listener without just offending them. “Clear Hearts” is very much so a concept album, with each song flowing smoothly into the next one, to create a vague story of battling a dark past and exercising presumably Jessika’s inner demons. To focus on each track would be starting a novel-like review, so it behooves us to focus on only the standout tracks.

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“Fear of Dying” is the second track on “Clear Hearts”, and immediately Jessika opens up in a blunt way about her feelings, seen in these opening lyrics “I’m not afraid of speaking my mind, I’m just afraid of being ignored, I’m not afraid of feeling and I’m not afraid of trying….., I’m just afraid of losing and I am afraid of dying!” Speculation on whether this is about Twiggy or not isn’t too vital to enjoying the song itself, and standing in awe at Jessika’s unmatched screams in the song. Now, “Nazi Halo” which follows “Fear of Dying” has been confirmed to be about Twiggy, and it’s fairly clear in these lyrics “Just cause I’m listening, Don’t mean we’re still friends, Can’t fix my problem, You crossed a thin line, You can’t just work it out, Not with me this time”.

The third to last standout track is perhaps their most well-known song next to “My Cat”. “Strawberry Gashes” is a slow and grungy song. A beautiful and personal song that could have been a radio hit, but never garnered the fame it could achieve. There’s immense speculation about what this song is about, but the most agreed upon theory is that it is about Jessika’s rape from Twiggy, and the “gashes “are her scars from cutting herself or imagined scars from being “used”. Now let me intercede here and say that the meaning of the song that the songwriter intended is NOT important to the song itself and your ability to enjoy it. Whatever the songwriter intended is only for their own sake, and if they wish to make a message be heard loud and clear, they need to make the lyrics so clear that it cannot be up for debate. “Strawberry Gashes” lyrics are fairly vague, and Jessika never commented on the exact meaning behind the name. So, with that in mind, we can only sit and enjoy the song as an incredibly moving and heavy piece of riot-grrll/ grunge music.

Flowing right in from “Strawberry Gashes” is “Author Unknown”, the most angry song on this album. Channeling the vibe on their previous album, much of this song is screamed, as a musical middle finger to whomever Jessika intended this track to be about. This lyrics make it very clear that she is pissed. “no forgiveness you’re no martyr, sell yourself, make it true, there’s no price tag on my conscience, here’s your answer, it’s still f*ck you!” This is that song on the album intended as a mosh pit opener, and it achieves that with flying colors.

Finally reaching the final standout track, and coincidently it’s the title track. “Clear Hearts Grey Flowers” is another angry song, but builds up with a slow chant, eventually leading to the lines screamed like shouts from hell from Jessika “I’m not the girl that stopped and stared, I’m not the girl that lied, Your mouth is like an open sore, Where kisses rot and die, This is what you want this is what you get, This is what you want this is what you get.”

This album is a snapshot at a time the band’s career when they had nothing to lose. They hated each other by this point, and they didn’t have much money left to spend on the studio time to make this album. Their producer, Chris Vrenna, is a genius; he has to be because he didn’t have much to work with, but made this album sound sonically incredible. Each instrument stands out, with the perfect amount of polish and fuzz to make it pack a massive punch but not sound like debut Wavves level of bad. Think “Blue Album” Weezer production with a tad more treble on the guitars. It’s an angry and in-your-damn-face album, a good fifteen tracks of Jessika venting her frustrations backed with slick songwriting and perfect production.

Until the next review, take care.

 

Written by Anthony Messina.


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The Vinyl Frontier Vinyl Reviews: “Clear Hearts Grey Flowers” by Jack Off Jill, 2000

Jack Off Jill is a band that never got the fame they deserved. Now, there are tons of bands who would be described in the same way, but that is undeservingly so. Jack Off Jill formed in 1992 by frontwoman and songwriter Jessika Fodera (known as Jessika Addams). Coming out of the Ft. Lauderdale goth rock scene along with Marilyn Manson & The Spooky Kids; they had a distinct sense of sharp songwriting and self-empowerment that Manson lacked. Whether it’s the bands “risqué” name or their brevity in existence, JOJ didn’t make it big. However, this is not to say they didn’t leave us an album worthy of immense praise and awe, and “ Clear Hearts Grey Flowers” is that such album.

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The Vinyl Frontier’s Vinyl Reviews: Petal “Shame” 2015

Throughout this column, I’ll take a look at album from whatever the year is, either from 1967 or 2017. I’m not rating these albums or doing only new album reviews, just albums that I regard as a staple for any particular band. Albums that have made a personal impact for myself, or that are a staple of a particular genre. So, To start this newly christened review column for Rowan Radio, I want to take a look at a fairly new album. Petal is a local band from Scranton, PA, and kicked off their career with an incredible EP from 2012 called “Scout”. “Scout” was a 4 track (5 on digital download) collection of nearly dream-popesque emo songs, with the multi-talented Kiley Lotz as the main singer/ songwriter. I will say this right now, that if you wish to get into Petal, start with that EP.

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Welcome Back to the Upside Down!

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Stranger Things (2017) Season 2, Episode TK Left to right, Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin Henderson, Finn Wolfhard as Mike Wheeler, Caleb McLaughlin as Lucas Sinclair, Noah Schnapp as Will Byers, Courtesy of Google Images

Halloween season might be over, but for all of you sci-fi, horror junkies, the scares and thrills live on. If you’re looking for a good series to watch on Netflix this holiday season, then step into the world of the Upside Down because Stranger Things is back and twice as STRANGE!  If you haven’t heard, the popular Netflix series returned this past Halloween premiering their highly anticipated second season to much excitement. The creators of the show, The Duffer Brothers return to the fictional city of Hawkins, Indiana to continue the story of their supernatural, science fiction drama that captivated fans last summer.

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