R.E.M.: Automatic For The People (25th Anniversary Edition) [Album Review]

Automatic For The People (25th Anniversary Edition)
Craft Recordings [2017]

headphone approved reissue

Fire Note Says: A masterpiece for all times!

Album Review: R.E.M.’s Automatic For the People is a masterpiece that gets a lot of love on its 25th anniversary. A live disc and 20 demos/outtakes accompany the original album. The extras are interesting and noteworthy; the live performances are nothing new for fans of the band but are still fun. The demos demonstrate R.E.M.’s process for song creation, which sheds light on how much of a team the band was. Everyone contributed, everyone took songwriting credits. This cohesion helped the band re-create their sound and diversify over 30 years.

R.E.M. means a lot to me. They helped me find new parts of myself that I never knew were there. And Automatic For The People was the first step in that process. R.E.M. is an authentic band. They were never the most technically gifted. Michael Stipe’s voice is by no means the strongest that music has ever seen; however, he can emit such a range of emotion that amazes me more and more as I grow older and listen to a lot of vocalists who don’t measure up in that regard. Any band that can release “Shiny Happy People” unironically is willing to take chances and to be genuine, no matter how uncool that is. R.E.M. was never anything but themselves.

I can still remember watching the video for “Everybody Hurts” the first time. I was aware of R.E.M. before then – I have memories of watching the video for “It’s The End of the World As We Know It” on Friday Night Videos. I wouldn’t have known what to do with myself with Youtube. “Stand” was cool, “Losing My Religion” was popular but I didn’t understand why. But “Everybody Hurts” struck the 14-year-old version of me to the core. The video was so striking. The subtitles; the traffic; the inclusivity. For a video that’s 25 years old it’s amazing the diversity of the characters that it contains.

The feelings I have as I listen to Automatic For The People are those of sadness and hope. There are pained characters throughout the album who are dealing with questions of mortality and loss. Of the cost of being genuine. Of how to make a difference when the system is stacked against you. I respect that there is no hiding from these difficulties, and R.E.M. pulls no punches. And that makes the album’s last three songs all the more impactful.

“Man On The Moon” celebrates a man who subverted social conventions. I can understand why Andy Kaufmann was so celebrated by the band. “Nightswimming” is so rich with nostalgia. Sometimes Stipe’s lyrics (and vocals) were so obtuse it made me wonder if they meant anything at all. Not so with this song. Stipe paints such a vivid picture with such clear vocals, he puts you right there with him. The arrangement, consisting of strings and piano, doesn’t sound like a rock band. And it doesn’t matter. My favorite line is the simple “Pining for the moon.” Just the delivery of that one line is perfect. It encompasses what R.E.M. does so well.

“Strength and courage overrides the privileged and weary eyes.” That line from the album closer “Find The River” shows audacity in the face of life not going our way. And that’s the theme for Automatic For The People. Life is challenging and wearisome and brilliant and heartbreaking. It comes to an end. We spend most of our lives trying to escape that reality. R.E.M. found a gentle way of encouraging us to grapple with our condition, hoping that it would lead to greater kindness and peace. It’s a message we’ll always need.

R.E.M. Website
R.E.M. Facebook
Craft Recordings

– Reviewed by Matthew Heiner

Circus Devils: Laughs Best (The Kids Eat It Up) [Album Review]

Circus Devils
Laughs Best (The Kids Eat It Up): Best of Circus Devils
Happy Jack Rock Records [2017]


Fire Note Says: Circus Devils are sent off in fine fashion with this career-spanning double-LP compilation

Album Review: Circus Devils has never been for the casual Robert Pollard fan. The “band,” comprising Pollard and brothers Todd and Tim Tobias, is as unpredictable as they are downright weird: what you find on one album is no indication of how the next will sound—or any in their fourteen-album discography, for that matter. The band has explored crunchy heavy metal rock operas, spaghetti western-inspired song cycles, studio experimentation, progressive rock excursions, moody ambient soundscapes, and straight-up power pop (albeit with bizarre, surrealist lyrics). So how does one begin to put together a “greatest hits” for a band that purposefully steers clear of commercial considerations?

While such a problem might stump even the most rabid Circus Devils fan, Pollard’s sequencing talent is the key. Not only do albums from his other projects like Motivational Jumpsuit, From A Compound Eye, and Let It Beard demonstrate his knack for ordering tracks in a way that is both satisfying and revealing, his other compilations—both official and unofficial, of his own and others’ material—are often definitive, even when they avoid obvious choices. The same is true of Laughs Best: Pollard often cherry-picks one or two obscure tracks from fan-favorite albums, resurrecting gems like “Locomotion Blue Note” (My Mind Has Seen The White Trick) and “Correcto” (Ringworm Interiors) and surrounding them with complementary tracks that bring them into sharper focus. Another surprising aspect of the track selection is its apparent imbalance: rather than taking two or three tracks from every album, some albums are (surprisingly) underrepresented with a single track (debut Ringworm Interiors, fan-favorite The Harold Pig Memorial, Five, Mother Skinny, and simultaneous releases When Machines Attack and My Mind Has Seen The White Trick). Others have as many as four or five, which makes sense for double-album Sgt. Disco, but less so for Ataxia and outlier Gringo. At three tracks, the new (and final) Circus Devils album Laughs Last gets more representation than most of the band’s other records.

Such an imbalance might not seem to work on paper, but once you throw the album(s) on your turntable, you don’t even notice—Laughs Best isn’t all of the best Circus Devils music, but it’s a fantastic and fascinating cross-section. Its thirty tracks make clear how well Pollard’s vocal and lyrical abilities fit the Tobias brothers’ musical sensibilities, and its sixteen-year span (which rivals the initial run of GBV) makes a good argument for the band’s importance in Pollard’s overall body of work. Long-time fans will appreciate some of the left-field song choices and expert sequencing, but as all good compilations should be it’s also a great entry point into the intimidating Circus Devils catalogue. While we wish there were more albums on the way, Laughs Best is a fine way to say goodbye. Circus Devils is real! Long live Circus Devils!

Key Tracks: All of them.

Artists With Similar Fire: None.

Circus Devils Website
Happy Jack Rock Records

-Reviewed by Simon Workman

The Brotherhood Of Lizards: Lizardland – The Complete Works [Album Review]

botherhood-of-lizards The Brotherhood Of Lizards
Lizardland: The Complete Works
Captured Tracks [2016]

headphone approved reissue

Fire Note Says: Captured Tracks unearths another gem from Martin Newell of Cleaners from Venus.

Album Review: I have to confess, I had no idea that The Brotherhood of Lizards was even a band, let alone a short-lived project featuring Martin Newell of Cleaners From Venus fame! Recently reissued by Captured Tracks (who also did the immaculate Cleaners From Venus reissues) Lizardland collects all of the works the band, which consisted of Martin Newell and Peter Nice (known as Nelson), recorded in a brief 2-year timespan before disbanding in early 1990.

Of the two albums collected on this compilation, Lizardland is the real jewel. It’s a jangly neo-psych masterpiece of the highest order. It deserves to sit up there on the throne next to Underwater Moonlight by The Soft Boys, that’s how good it is. Fans of the Cleaners From Venus won’t be surprised by any of this, Newell isn’t rewriting his formula for catchy pop songs on the album, though the fidelity is upgraded a bit. Tracks like “It Could Have Been Cheryl” and “Dear Anya” would have fit comfortably on any late 80’s era Cleaners album. As a songwriter, Newell follows in the long tradition of English artists such as Davies, Hitchcock, Partridge, and Barrett, he paints quaint pictures with his words, and his melodies seem to be plucked from thin air, sophisticated yet totally mellow, as if you have heard the song your entire life. With the possible exception of his excellent solo album (produced by Andy Partridge), The Greatest Living Englishman, Lizardland might possibly be the best Newell album I have heard.

Even if the Lizardland album alone was the only thing being reissued, this would be an essential purchase, but there is more. Also included is the 9 track cassette only album that Newell and Nelson recorded in late 1988. These tracks are slightly rawer fidelity wise, but only slightly. More acoustic based and subdued, it’s still quite a fantastic listen and definitely interesting to hear that this duo was really on to something special from the get go. It’s great to see a somewhat forgotten chapter of a significant artist’s career finally get it’s due. Long live The Brotherhood of Lizards!

Key Tracks: “April Moon” / “It Could Have Been Cheryl” / “The Dandelion Marine”

Artists With Similar Fire: XTC / The Soft Boys / Guided By Voices

Captured Tracks

– Reviewed by Kevin Poindexter

Ryan Adams: Heartbreaker (Deluxe Edition) [Album Review]

ryan-adams-heartbreaker-deluxe Ryan Adams
Heartbreaker (Deluxe Edition)
PAX-AM Records [2016]

Fire Note Says: Breakup masterpiece get’s the deluxe treatment that enhances rather than detracts.

Album Review: It’s early 2000, you are Ryan Adams and your band Whiskeytown is on the tip of everyone’s tongue. You are 27 years old, and you’ve got your whole career ahead of you. You live in an Apartment in Manhattan, 10th and Avenue A with your girlfriend, then she moves out and you have no money and you have to move back to your hometown, your one traffic light town of Jacksonville, NC.

So you’ve been through alot, and you are writing a lot of songs, and you’ve been kicked around a bit, and you think your musical career is over.

What you don’t know is that this record, Heartbreaker, released in September of that same year and knocked out in two weeks will not only save your career but send you right up there to the top of the singer songwriter pantheon.. One of your songs, “Oh my Sweet Carolina” will be covered by Elton John.

Back in 2000, hearing Heartbreaker for the first time was a revelation, for the first time, all the country trappings were filed away and what was left was the stripped down rubbed raw heartbreak of acoustic guitar, harmonica, and a little bit of piano and across 15 tracks you honor that heartbreak.

The album starts out with Gillian Welch collaborator David Rawlings arguing over what album the Morrissey song “Suedehead” appears on. From their they absolutely leap into “To Be Young (Is to be Sad, is to Be High.) With some of the finest harmonies you’ll hear anywhere. “My Winding Wheel” and “Amy” deal directly with the heartbreak, as Amy was the name of the gal who sent you packing from NYC to North Carolina.

And then “Oh my Sweet Carolina”, is the one, the kind of song that appears in Cameron Crowe films, that makes people’s hair stand on end. The song you wrote that stopped everyone who heard it in mid step. You duet with Emmylou Harris. This song will be covered by Elton John, who will later on thank you for restoring his faith in music. Yeah, it’s still that good.

“Come Pick Me up” still surprises after all these years, sounding raw and pissed off, you talk about how even after you’ve been screwed over, you’d still go back and do it all over again.

The rest of the songs on the album are just as sad and needing as anything, and you’ve written one of the greatest breakup albums of all time, right up there with Blood on the Tracks. There’s an economy to this album which you will abandon almost immediately after, recording a new album every few months.

But what’s surprising is how well the rest of the songs and versions of the songs mesh with the tone of the finished record. It’s refreshing to hear just your voice and acoustic guitar on these demos. We also get the previously unreleased songs “Goodbye Honey,” ,“Petal in a Rainstorm”, “War Horse”, “Locked Away”, to hear this whole Heartbreaker experience opened up and expanded, upon makes the whole record even more admirable, to hear you on “Goodbye Honey”, with as a demo, as a song that could make an entire album on its own, even though it’s just your voice and a guitar or harmonica. You didn’t just record your masterpiece out of heartbreak, you did it with grace and panache and at a very young age showed everyone that even back then, you were a heavyweight.

Key Tracks: “Come Pick Me Up” / “Oh My Sweet Carolina” / “In My Time of Need (Demo)”

Artists With Similar Fire: Jason Molina / Josh Rouse / Bob Dylan

Ryan Adams Website
Ryan Adams Facebook
PAX-AM Records

– Reviewed by Adam Strong

Bruce Springsteen: The Ties That Bind – The River Collection [Album Review]

bruce-river-collection Bruce Springsteen
The Ties That Bind: The River Collection
Columbia Records [2015]

headphone approved reissue

Fire Note Says: Springsteen revisits The River in this majestic box set.

Album Review: In 1980, Bruce Springsteen released the only double album of his career, “The River.” While the New Jersey-based singer/songwriter had already been on the covers of Time and Newsweek magazines and tasted major commercial success with his “Born To Run” album, five years earlier, Springsteen had reached a turning point. He wanted to take his songs to the next level, tell the stories of his characters with greater poetic depth, place the stories he told in a larger political and economic context, to bring them closer to the truth.

Now, 35 years later, Springsteen revisits these songs, and that period of artistic turmoil that produced them, in the majestic box set that is “The Ties That Bind.” Of course, the box includes the original two-disc album, as well as the original single disc version that Springsteen turned into the record company, which includes a couple songs that didn’t make it onto the completed release, and then over 22 songs that were outtakes, many of them not previously released.

The final, official release of “The River” captured the tensions that have always run through Springsteen’s work, the desire to create artistic statements that captured the lived truth of human existence and an un-tethered appreciation for redemptive power of rock & roll music. In that regard, it was a coming of age album, as Springsteen sought to write about what it meant to be in one’s early 30’s, dealing with the responsibilities and expectations of adulthood: jobs, marriage, children. “The River” featured some of his strongest story-telling ballads in the title track, “Independence Day,” “Point Blank,” “Stolen Car,” and “Drive All Night.”

But these more serious reflections on life’s challenges and the consequences of living with one’s choices were juxtaposed against the noisy, buoyant rockers that make up the balance of the album. Springsteen had brought in guitarist (“Little”) Steven Van Zandt to the production team on “The River” in hopes of capturing more of the band’s live sound, something that was missing often on previous efforts. “Sherry Darling” captured more of that house party feel, and the rockers leaned toward more of the raw energy that the band always delivered live, on tracks like “Cadillac Ranch,” “I’m A Rocker,” “Ramrod,” “Out In the Street,” “Crush on You,” and Springsteen’s first hit single, “Hungry Heart.” The album’s double length provided the necessary space for the artist and his crew to stretch out, in both directions.

Also included in “The Ties That Bind” is a beautiful coffee table picture book that captures the energy and charisma of Springsteen and his tight-knit musician friends that made up the E Street Band, which opens with an elegant essay of fine music journalism by Mikal Gilmore, titled “American River.” The icing on the cake is two blu-ray discs, the documentary film, “The Ties That Bind,” which bridges archival footage and photographs with current interviews with Springsteen about his songs and the work of recording them all those years ago.

Finally, the second blu-ray is a concert film, captured at the ASU Activity Center in Tempe, Arizona, in November of 1980. It’s a delight to see such a young and energetic Springsteen leading the 6-piece E Streeters through their paces on classics like the opening “Born to Run,” through tracks from “The River” and long-time favorites, “Thunder Road,” “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight),” “Jungleland” and the now infamous “Detroit Medley.” Over the years, Springsteen has added players to his band, guitarist Nils Lofgren, wife/singer Patti Scialfa, violinist Soozie Tyrell, and especially since the deaths of keyboard player Danny Federici and the Big Man, saxophonist Clarence Clemons, bringing on board Charles Giordano and Jake Clemons to fill in the missing parts.

Not only does this time-capsule capture that early band at the height of its powers, but features Springsteen at his energetic, charismatic and at times downright goofy best, dancing, cajoling the audience and his band-mates to toss convention to the wind and lose one’s self in a night of rock & roll ecstasy. The Blu-ray delivers 24 songs from that marathon show, but some have noticed that it does not include “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” “Independence Day,” “Factory,” “Candy’s Room,” “Here She Comes,” “The Ties That Bind,” “Stolen Car,” “Wreck on the Highway,” and “Point Blank” from the original concert’s set-list. If you want to see the full concert it’s available HERE.

If the breakthrough commercial success of “Born to Run” gave Springsteen the capitol to make the kind of records he wanted, it was “The River” that sought to deliver not only the kind of pop hits that fans expected but to dig deeper as an artist. His next album would be the quiet, profoundly literate and mostly acoustic “Nebraska,” but would be followed by his biggest selling rocker, “Born In the U.S.A.” Not only does “The Ties That Bind” work as an introduction to Bruce Springsteen for those who missed it the first time around, and a nostalgic trip back in time for fans who’ve been along for the ride since the beginning, but it’s also a chance to watch an artist stretching the boundaries, attempting to fulfill his potential and expand on what was previously possible.

Key Tracks: “Hungry Heart” / “The River” / “Cadillac Ranch” / “Drive All Night”
Single Album: “Cindy” / “Stolen Car” / Outtakes: “Meet Me In The City” / “Where The Bands Are”

Artists With Similar Fire: Bob Dylan / Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers / John Mellencamp

Bruce Springsteen Website
Bruce Springsteen Facebook
Columbia Records

– Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb

Chris Cornell: Euphoria Mourning [Album Review]

ChrisCornell-EuphoriaMourning Chris Cornell
Euphoria Mourning
Universal Music Enterprises [2015]


Fire Note Says: Title change, remaster and vinyl edition is all new on this reissue.

Album Review: Sometimes you get an opportunity to revisit a record that you had completely forgot about. Soundgarden’s frontman Chris Cornell’s first solo album is one of those albums. First released in September 1999 under the title ‘Euphoria Morning’ (note the missing ‘u’), this was Cornell’s only album released between the split of Soundgarden and the formation of Audioslave. The title of the record has been restored to its original spelling for this reissue, which was changed before its release after Cornell listened to some bad advice.

There is not much else different here as the album has been remastered and is available on vinyl for the first time. I still think Euphoria Mourning is his strongest solo effort to date, as it not only has some solo flare but also retained some of his grit. “Can’t Change Me” is still a great single while “Flutter Girl” was an outtake from Soundgarden’s Superunknown (1994) sessions. The record also contains “Wave Goodbye,” which was a tribute to the late Jeff Buckley whose loss still pains me to think about today.

I guess the title change and Cornell’s newly released solo album, Higher Truth, was good enough reason to reissue this record, although I have never thought of it as an essential listen. I do think that the album has aged gracefully and its darker undertones seem more prevalent today. I completely forgot about the bluesy “When I’m Down” and the spiraling groove in “Pillow Of Your Bones.” Chris Cornell still has one of the best voices in alternative rock and this solid solo release easily satisfied his fan base and showed a different type of depth outside the crunching rock support of Soundgarden. If you are a completest and vinyl fan, I say add this one to your collection. If not – without any extras here, you will need decide if the new cover art and remaster is enough to purchase another copy.

Chris Cornell Website
Chris Cornell Facebook
Universal Music Enterprises

– Reviewed by Thomas Wilde

Eric Gaffney: A Cassetterospective [Album Review]

eric-gaffney Eric Gaffney
A Cassetterospective
Joyful Noise Recordings [2015]
headphone approved reissue

Fire Drill Album Review: In 1986, Eric Gaffney and Lou Barlow formed Sebadoh. The rest is indie rock history after four classic records then Gaffney left the band to pursue his own musical adventure. Now, for the first time, you can hear the best of Gaffney’s work from 1988 to present day on this massive 10 cassette box set which contains 185 songs overall for a total running time of 362 minutes.

I will tell you that this collection is lo-fi nirvana! You can find a little bit of everything in here spread out over 10 titles from scuzzy rock to spoken word to short instrumentals and plenty of memorable acoustic ditties. It is not only a look into his process but it shines a huge light on Gaffney’s talent and how important his contributions were to Sebedoh. Gaffney’s Lou Reed meets Chris Knox sound is addicting for any lo-fi craver out there. There is a lot of ground to cover in this collection but that is the fun part as each album develops its own character.

The physical version of A Cassetterospective is limited to 100 hand-numbered copies and packaged inside a custom wooden box set. The lid of the box set doubles as a lathe-cut record and features the first song Gaffney ever wrote – “Invisible Mouse”. The box set sold out rather quickly and I don’t believe the digital only of this set is available for purchase yet, although you can find some of this material on Gaffney’s bandcamp page. Regardless of which version you snag, there should be no worries as A Cassetterospective is worth every minute you spend with it!

Eric Gaffney Website
Eric Gaffney Facebook
Joyful Noise Recordings

– Reviewed by Christopher Anthony

Flotation Toy Warning: Bluffer’s Guide To The Flight Deck [Album Review & Interview]

flotation-toy-warning-bluffers-guide-to-the-flight-deck Flotation Toy Warning
Bluffer’s Guide To The Flight Deck
Talitres Records [2015]
headphone approved reissue

Fire Note Says: This reissue should win FTW some new fans and it rewards their faithful listeners with a beautiful and worthy debut on vinyl.

Album Review: It all started for me in 2004 with “Happy 13,” the opening track of Bluffer’s Guide to the Flight Deck. The sound of waves lapping against creaky, ocean bloated wooden beams and a memorable lyric of “I’ve had dreams you couldn’t even fit inside your head.” A fitting analogy for Flotation Toy Warning’s debut LP, Bluffer’s Guide to the Flight Deck, a sumptuous album that can barely fit inside of the average music listener’s head.

Talitres Records, home to Flotation Toy Warning, has reissued this splendid psychedelic/chamber pop album, giving it its first ever vinyl release. I have been a proud CD owner since 2004, but just holding this record and gatefold make it feel new again. This is a cherished album for me and to see it get the love and attention that it did from Talitres Records is heartwarming. The artwork is incredibly detailed and each record sleeve has the lyrics printed on them.

Trying to describe Flotation Toy Warning music is difficult. For comparisons sake, they have a bit of Grandaddy, Mercury Rev, Neutral Milk Hotel in their DNA, but for me, I liken them to a Pink Floyd for a new generation. Beguiling and genre defying. Something that will stun you and evoke moments of melancholy and unbridled joy. Hard to find a record that can make you cry and smile at the same time.

Each track on the LP is a musical journey. Flourishes of brass, strings, keyboards, and samples abound throughout each track; but never are they overused, instead they punctuate and make each track different from the next. This album exemplifies musicianship intertwined with artistry. Get onboard music fans; this is a modern classic.

Key Tracks: “Happy 13” / “Popstar Researching Oblivion” / “Even Fantastica”

Artists With Similar Fire: Grandaddy / Neutral Milk Hotel / Mercury Rev

Flotation Toy Warning Website
Flotation Toy Warning Facebook
Talitres Records

The Fire Note was lucky enough to talk to FTW front man, sampler, and programmer, Paul Carter for a short interview regarding the reissue.

TFN: Bluffer’s Guide to the Flight Deck released in September 2004. Was this reissue a 10-year anniversary of sorts?

Paul Carter: We always hoped Bluffer’s would be released on vinyl. Sean Bouchard, who runs Talitres (the record label we are on) made the decision to release it this year. He had always intended to do it one day. As to whether he picked this year because it is the 10th anniversary, we do not know.

TFN: Is the band happy with the final product for the reissue?

Paul Carter: Delighted. Sean only had the budget to release it with blank paper inner sleeves, but we knew this was not right. So, we all chipped in from our own pockets to fund the inner sleeves with the original artwork on. Vicky West, our keyboard player, put the design together herself based on what she originally put together for the CD all those years ago. As always, she has done an amazing job.

TFN: What are the origins of the two previously unreleased tracks, “Not a Lifesaver” and “Even Fantastica (Goodbye to the Flight Deck Mix)?”

Paul Carter: “This Is Not a Lifesaver” is a song from the same period as the rest of the album; it just never made the final cut. Not everyone in the band thought it was as strong as the other tracks, so it did not go on. Although I did not agree at the time, I have always felt an album should consist of ten tracks, so it worked in a way for me. That said; the second album will have eleven tracks I think, so I have relented since! Part of it appeared on the CD as a hidden track (skip back to track zero from one to find it). I feel great it has finally been released in full.

The semi-acoustic version of “Even Fantastica” is something we put together on request for an Earworm Records compilation. They asked for a track, as they liked our stuff. In the absence of anything unreleased or new, we put together a different version of one of our favorites.

TFN: Are there any more goodies in the vault from the Bluffer’s era?

Paul Carter: Sadly, there is not much more in the vault from the Bluffer’s or pre-Bluffer’s era. There were so many songs written – we had a full set of songs as a three piece to start with, none of which were recorded. There was probably two albums worth of material that never made the album that is now lost to the mists of time. It is a shame really. It was all recorded in fragments on old-fashioned four-track tape recorders, but never finished. Times have changed – it is so much easier to record stuff now.

Our perfectionist tendencies mean that instead of completing three probably quite good albums, we whittled it down to one hopefully superior quality one.

The ‘For Drusky’ part of ‘Losing Carolina’ was originally part of a four-part extremely experimental song. I guess we did not realize at the time how special it was. I do wish we had released it as a 12” vinyl now. Looking back, I think it was absolutely outstanding. We often lacked a little self-belief in what we did at the time.

TFN: FTW have been on a hiatus of sorts, but from time to time there have been teases that the next album is almost done. Any insight on a future release from FTW?

Paul Carter: The album has been painfully close to completion for a long time. Sadly, to pay the bills we all have to work at least part time. We used to use up all our non-day job time to write. Alas, since several of us have had children over the past 6 years, that time has been eaten up. Time just evaporates when your life is that full.

That said, we have set a date for delivering a finished second album. It will happen this time. I am working hard on it now. Three tracks are complete – recorded, mixed, everything. Most of the rest are recorded and just need lyrics for the vocals to be finished. A couple still have not been fully written. How long will it take? Let us just say the proverbial piece of string is getting shorter…

– Review and Interview by Daniel Taylor

Failure: The Heart Is A Monster [Album Review]

failure-heart-is-monster Failure
The Heart Is A Monster
Self-Released [2015]

Fire Note Says: Failure return after 19 years with a sonic beast!

Album Review: When you talk about the multitude of bands getting back together for a new album. there is none more exciting than Failure. With The Heart Is A Monster, their first new LP in 19 years, the band steps right back into their sonic rock groove which made their 1996 Fantastic Planet an indie classic. From its over an hour running time, meticulous song structures and soaring vocals from Ken Andrews there is nothing on The Heart Is A Monster which sounds out of place, as it feels like the correct natural progression for the band in 2015.

Going backwards, I have liked every project Ken Andrews has been in since the demise of Failure. ON, Year of the Rabbit and his solo work all have excellent moments, while even his covers band, Replicants, was solid. He has a memorable voice and has always added in a smooth synth side to his music which appears throughout The Heart Is A Monster. It is the key component that gives many of the 18 tracks here depth even when the bolstering guitars and wall of drums take over.

The stuff that made Fantastic Planet and Magnified (1994) addicting are here but more importantly, the progressive pieces that make up Failure 2015 is what fans will ultimately enjoy on The Heart Is A Monster. The interesting piano-based ballad, “Mulholland Dr.,” is a track that will shock you as it walks off into a more psychedelic realm and is the perfect midpoint for the album. “Counterfeit Sky” benefits from a very slow propulsion of all instruments including Andrews’ vocal. The song is a sleeker version of their past selves and it works! “Come Crashing” is another slower burner that purposely drifts off in spots with its undertone of both theatrical and conceptual components that flow with the magnitude of this album.

Like any veteran band, Failure has a lot of experience that is carried into this record. Not only do you have Andrews previous catalog and his producing work with many artists that includes Beck and Nine Inch Nails but Greg Edwards has been making music with his atmospheric Autolux group, which clearly also has an impact here as well. If you were a fan of Failure’s earlier work then The Heart Is A Monster is a no-brainer because it has big rock moments. angular guitar shifts and plenty of memorable vocal melodies which soar. Nothing will equal those early albums but this record appropriately ages Failure. They sound just like you would imagine and have progressed without any releases in-between. That is quite a feat to pull off and honestly, I hope they stick around for another album because I think Failure is only getting warmed up!

Key Tracks: “Hot Traveler” / “Mullholland Dr.” / “The Focus”

Artists With Similar Fire: Nine Inch Nails / HUM / Faith No More

Failure Website
Failure Facebook

– Reviewed by Christopher Anthony

Haynes Boys: Haynes Boys [Album Review]

haynes-boys Haynes Boys
Haynes Boys
Slab / Re-Vinyl Records [2015]
headphone approved reissue

Fire Note Says: Haynes Boys debut should be in your collection.

Album Review: How about I introduce you to one of the best roots rock records you never took for a spin? An alt-country / Americana staple before the genre was really defined. That would be the 1996 self-titled debut (and only record) from Columbus, Ohio’s Haynes Boys. The recent reissue of this “local” classic has been newly remastered from the original tapes by Re-Vinyl Records and it sounds fantastic.

Featuring singer/songwriter Tim Easton, the electric guitar of Freddie Free (Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments), drumming at its best with Jovan Karcic (Guant, Scrawl) and bassist Aaron Rice (Whiteworst), Haynes Boys were set from the beginning of this process. During a 1995 appearance at South By Southwest, a demo tape was passed to The Judds management, and found its way into the hands of producer Brad Jones. Next thing you know, Haynes Boys had a deal with New York’s Slab Recordings and were set to record for 3 days at Alex the Great studios in Nashville and produced by Brad Jones (Josh Rouse, Hayes Carll) and Robin Eaton (The Spinto Band, Jill Sobule). The album then went into post-production with Fred Maher (Lou Reed, Matthew Sweet). All of this sounds like a story for success and with the exception of opening for some bigger acts, the record shamefully never took off.

If you have ever listened to any of Tim Easton’s work, you know that his wheelhouse is being more of a folksy storyteller. He of course is not afraid to rock it up but with the Haynes Boys there was no other way. This led to big barn stompers like the wild “The New Franklin County Woman” and the scorching “One Last Question” that showcased the Haynes Boys in your face and carefree attitude. Mid-tempo rockers like “Anybody” and “Goody Boy” were the glue that was the normal good time for the band while they also shined when things slowed down. “Bitters Past” is by far one of my favorite songs (of all time – not just here) because it is just simple greatness. Tim and his guitar make this song bigger than life and I think that most of us can relate to it on some level when he sincerely sings, “I don’t want to grow old drinking / But I want to grow old drinking with you.”

Along with Easton’s Special 20 (1998), Haynes Boys self-titled debut ranks up there with top releases from Wilco, Drive-By Truckers, Bottle Rockets, Old 97s, Uncle Tupelo and Ryan Adams. It is just one of those records you should hear if this genre even remotely interests you. It was a bright spot almost 20 years ago in 1996 when it was released and it is a bright spot today. Along with the remastering, the new vinyl version has corrected jacket art and some new liner notes, making the reissue closer to what the band originally wanted. For me, the entire package is a win-win as the Haynes Boys will always be the album that escaped commercial success but won the hearts and ears of everyone that ever pushed play!

Key Tracks: “Jackie” / “Bitters Past” / “Murder, Murder”

Artists With Similar Fire: Old 97’s / Wilco / Ryan Adams

Haynes Boys Facebook
Re-Vinyl Records

– Reviewed by Christopher Anthony

Most Popular Topics

Editor Picks