Hey, your barn door’s open. April Fools!
Ahhhh, admit it, we got you. Wait, what? You have an actual barn and the door is currently open? Well, you better close it, Mr. and/or Mrs. McDonald. Otherwise, some vagrant might sneak in and get bit by a cow, and that’s a pretty harsh way to start the week. Oh, and you might want to zip up your pants before you head out there. Ahhhh, April Fools! You’re not wearing pants.
Now that that’s out of the way, we can get to the business of explaining what the hell is going on at Last Rites HQ today.
We don’t like April Fools Day, we humans. And who really knows whether or not the rest of the animal kingdom chooses to observe it. If they do, my guess is they hate it as much as we do. Henrietta does not appreciate the other chickens replacing one of her own with an ostrich egg while she’s out pecking pebbles off the driveway.
Speaking for the human population, most of us hate April Fools because—big surprise—getting fooled just generally sucks. Plus, the chances of actually getting tricked by an April Fools joke in 2019 is about as likely as falling for that email from the Prince of Crotchcricketstan regarding an abundance of unclaimed gold.
So, instead of trying to pull the wool over your eyes about David Vincent breaking a leg in a bull riding competition, we’ve decided to focus on something you might WISH we were joking about: our conceivably dubious taste in music.
Let’s get something straight right here and now: Last Rites never jokes around. Like, ever. When other sites refuse to take Hammerfall seriously about Twilight Princesses, Last Rites is there to remind you that we’re ALL Twilight Princesseseses. Will your latest hellish demo rip open a portal to another dimension that allows entry for space goblins if played at the stroke of midnight during a very specific cycle of the moon? We believe you. And we applaud you for taking the necessary steps toward first contact.
In short: We take the music game very seriously.
Well… That’s not entirely true. One year ago today we planted Starship’s abominable “We Built This City” in an article that tried to convince you that Nile had finally released a new song. Chances are also pretty good that at least one of us will end up pantless at MDF next month. So yes, we like fun. But there’s no real trick to today’s article; the albums we’re about to share are absolutely near and dear to the respective writers’ hearts. Maybe some of you will think less of us because of it, and maybe a few will share some surprises of your own in the comments.
The gist started out along the following lines: “Share your guiltiest pleasure that could conceivably make readers who respect your opinion concerning death metal question doing so in the future.”
In truth, none of us feel guilty about anything we listen to, and neither should you, so we decided to take it from a slightly different angle…
If you were picking up Erik Rutan from the airport, what album would you least want your iPod to betray you with while stuck on the 101. Nothing says awkward quite like telling a guy responsible for some the heaviest metal on this earth how much you love the brutality behind “Summoning Redemption” when suddenly “I’m Too Sexy” jumps into your laps. Love you, Fred. But time and place, buddy. Time and place.
With that in mind, these are some albums that have found (and continue to find) ways to strike a chord with us, no matter how light, frosted, dated or fragile, and they’re also records that are pretty unlikely to fall into the “Erik Rutan Airport Pick-up Playlist.” And yes, of course we would genuinely LOVE to know what album Erik Rutan might pick as the least likely to fall on his “Tony Iommi Airport Pick-up Playlist.”
Keep your head on a swivel today, friends.
COUNTING CROWS – AUGUST AND EVERYTHING AFTER (1993)
It was a humid summer in the Berkshire mountain range when I first heard Adam Duritz croon about Omaha. A patchouli-soaked counselor, perhaps feeling sympathetic for me since I had been bitten by a snake earlier in the day, allowed me to hang out and listen to CDs with him. There was (and still is) something intoxicating in Duritz’s vocal delivery. I begged my parents to provide me with the cash to purchase the album (and a Malcolm X baseball cap that I’d seen in the window of a shop and simply had to have) and they obliged, because I was an adorable 12-year old. That record provided more than simply music exploration. Digging into the lyrics to one of the more upbeat tracks led to my discovery of one of my favorite authors, the Chicago-born Jew, Saul Bellow. As a lifelong pianist it was always exciting for me to hear a band feature the instrument and the minimalist approach of tracks like “Raining in Baltimore” married perfectly with Duritz’s emotive (fine, whiny) vocals. I still love that album. Many late nights can find Manny, whiskey in hand, mining YouTube for live performances of tracks off the album, each one wholly unique due to Duritz and his off-the-cuff delivery with regard to rhythm and melody. Sure, Counting Crows might mostly be the band you think of that had the guy who had perhaps fake dreadlocks, but they are so much more to me. They represent not only a place in time, but the burgeoning, curious mind of a pre-Bar Mitzvah Yid trying to survive in the wilderness of Massachusetts. [MANNY-O-WAR]
Deep cut: “Rain King”
RICHARD MARX – RICHARD MARX (1987)
First of all, fuck you. Not really, but sure why not if your gut instinct here is nausea. Secondly, good luck prying my copy of Richard Marx’s debut from my iron grip in hopes of separating me from this perhaps strange attachment. Well, maybe when I’m dead, but that’s only because I plan on being eaten by bears, and I probably won’t have this CD with me when that happens.
To be clear, I hated Richard Marx in 1987. Not the man himself, mind you—back then we had no way of finding out how great or awful artists were in real life, unless you were lucky enough to have a cable package that included MTV. I sure did hate Richard Marx’s music, though. With a passion. I was obsessed with records like Persecution Mania, Taking Over, and Abigail at the time, and everything about Richard Marx’s music felt like a soundtrack to a really bad cop buddy picture involving N.Y. detectives that tucked in their t-shirts and inflated their mullets to a point where they looked like fluffy alligators. Pretty much like Det. Richard Marx himself.
“Should’ve Known Better” was a smash hit you simply could not avoid, and it was about as tuff as an avalanche of distressed acid wash jeans toppling into a mousse display. And the ballads—great Christ, who on earth would want to feature a saxophone that pealed off notes that sounded greasy enough that they’d probably attempt to get a glimpse up a passing skirt before drifting into the night sky. Young Master Marx actually makes a point of highlighting an opportunity to “make love under the moon” from the equally prevalent “Endless Summer Nights.” You know something, Richard, we also poop under the moon. We do literally everything under the moon. If you really want to impress someone, try banging them ON the moon.
Funny thing about age, though—at some point the things that drove you up the wall twenty-plus years ago become just as strong pinpoints for easier times as the things you loved twenty-plus years ago, thereby transforming those things you hated in the past into things you love in the present. Iron hails, Richard Marx. [CAPTAIN]
Deep cut: “Should’ve Known Better”
YANNI – LIVE AT THE ACROPOLIS (1994)
You know the man, you know the mustache, you know the PBS special, and you know you’ve seen a dozen copies of the CD in the clearance bin at every single record store you’ve ever visited. Does this mean Live at the Acropolis is bad? Number one: shut your dumb mouth. Number two: no, of course not—what it actually means is that Live at the Acropolis is so stupendously good, so professional, so moving, and such a cultural landmark that it was mandated by common law in the 1990s that everyone had to own four copies: one for the car, one for the gym, one for the spa, and one for backup.
Still, on the off-chance you’ve remained oblivious to Yanni’s Live at the Acropolis until now, it is a concert album and film of the new age/world music impresario Yanni’s 1993 tour, recorded with London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Herodes Atticus Odeon at the Acropolis in Athens. Several of the setlist pieces remain primarily showcases for Yanni’s piano (e.g., “One Man’s Dream”), but more often, the album is an opportunity for his back catalog (though heavily tilted toward in In My Time album, which he was promoting on this tour) to get an entirely new sparkling coat of paint with the backing of a vibrant full band and orchestra. “The Rain Must Fall” features brilliant solo spots for bassist Ric Fierabracci and violinist Karen Briggs, while the trumpet and drumming on “Keys to Imagination” add a little Morricone flavor.
Most importantly, though, Live at the Acropolis is a love letter to the universe. It is a sort of prayer, and a living testament to the restorative power of music. Seeing Yanni on the Ethnicity tour was one of the most unabashedly joyful concert experiences of my life (likely second only to His Eternal Purpleness, Prince). If you have any friends who’ve suffered one too many hacky-sack-to-the-head injuries and still insist on listening to terrible Dave Matthews Band live albums, kindly throw their DMB paraphernalia in the trash and give them your spare fourth copy of this before heading to your nearest bargain bin to get a backup for your backup. Live at the Acropolis is music of the world, by the world, for the world. [DAN OBSTKRIEG]
Deep cut: “Santorini”
BRIGHT EYES – LIFTED (2002)
Oh, hello! Sorry I’m running late, it was hectic getting through all that traffic with the airport construction going on. Well, we’ve still got a ways to go, so feel free to pick the tunes. Yes, I do still keep a book of CDs in my car, call me old fashioned. What do you mean that copy of Painkiller is scratched to hell? Ugh, just pick the next one.
Oh. Um, uh-oh.
Don’t judge me. High school was a very confusing time for a lot of people. Fine, go on and pop it in and I’ll pretend I don’t feel the tugs at my heartstrings to the hopeful melodies of “Method Acting.” I’ll pretend I’m not still blown away by the sheer compositional scope and mixed instrumentation. I’m not singing along to the chorus of “You Will. You? Will. You? Will,” and I certainly don’t remember every word to the verses either. Fine, maybe I am and maybe I do. But I am definitely not going to get goosebumps to the eerie key melodies on “Lover I Don’t Have To Love.” I’m not crying at the way this hit hormone-driven teenage Ryan in the gut, you’re crying! Don’t judge me for feeling, you monster!
Oh, thank god. “Bowl Of Oranges.” What? How dare you accuse me of being “dainty,” this song rules. How can it not evoke feelings of sunny day walks in the spring? It just makes me feel like everything is going to be okay, please don’t take that away from me. Seriously, though, the storytelling on the album really picks up here, which sets up for the epic “Don’t Know When But A Day Is Gonna Come.” If I had to pick a favorite song, this would be it. The way it builds is just incredible and a masterful display of songwriting.
I’m not changing the CD now, so you may as well get comfortable as we work our way to the album’s conclusion. The last song is killer, trust me.
“Can I get a goddamn timpini roll? To start this goddamn song?”
Goddamn right you can, now bring it on home. [RYAN TYSINGER]
SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER SOUNDTRACK (1977)
The story goes that my parents didn’t particularly like disco (my father wants “never owned a leisure suit” on his grave) but my mom loved Walter Murphy’s “A Fifth of Beethoven.” Having Ludwig’s Fifth Symphony in a pop song made it an easy obsession a time when she was busy working nights at a hospital and raising my older sister. She eventually learned to love the rest, and I love that I got to grow up with this record without worrying if it made me cool or not. Thankfully, the true anti-disco wave was over long before I reached Music Obsession Age.
About half of the soundtrack amounted to the Bee Gees’ big victory lap; this was the top of their mountain after spending years building popularity across a variety of styles. “Stayin’ Alive” (inseparable from Travolta’s strut) was about as downright cool as true pop music got before the 80s, while every other Bee Gees tune on the record (“Jive Talkin’,” “How Deep Is Your Love,” “You Should Be Dancing,” etc etc) was a lesson in how to craft [prep that English accent] The Hit Reh-cord.
While The Brothers Gibb undoubtedly dominate, the soundtrack also showed off plenty of disco’s other top acts, including KC and the Sunshine Band (“Boogie Shoes”) and the extra funky stylings of Kool & the Gang (“Open Sesame”) and MFSB (“K-Jee”). Pretty much 76 minutes of irresistible boogie, leisure suit moose knuckles, and cocaine mustaches.
The same double LP my parents bought way back when now sits proudly on my shelves between Rush and Saxon. So shall it always. [ZACH DUVALL]
Deep cut: “How Deep is Your Love”
FASTER PUSSYCAT – FASTER PUSSYCAT (1987)
My love for glammy 80s hard rock is well documented, and I find no shame in it. And for a brief period in my teens (and maybe a little beyond), any of the three records by the sleazy Sunset Strippers in Faster Pussycat found their way into my CD player with dedicated regularity. For the purpose of this exercise, we’ll skip the better second record and the half-great third record, and go back to where it all started, for the band and for my fandom thereof, this purple-tinted eponymous effort with these five ugly ladies on the cover.
Like Poison’s Look What The Cat Dragged In, with whom it shares a producer, Faster Pussycat is a rougher-edged take on the more polished records to come. The songs are to-the-point, devoid of any subtlety, and heavily indebted to the Aerosmith-Dolls-Stones school of rock. Filling the role, the band sounds like they can barely make it through any of these tracks. There’s no shredding here, nothing but rock attitude and Taime Downe’s Steven-Tyler-with-strep-throat screech. From the rollicking drive of “Bathroom Wall” (as in: “I got your number off the…”) to the Thunders-y swing of “No Room For Emotion” (as in: “It’s like a cloud dripping radiation right on my head…” … um… right-o, dude), Faster Pussycat is a caricature of the scummy underbelly of Los Angeles glam rock. It mines the same festering darkness that friendly rivals Guns N’ Roses would explore to much edgier effect, because here it’s presented with a noticeable dash of Crue’s party-fun attitude. Most importantly, when it rocks, Faster Pussycat rocks, although I must concede that, when it doesn’t, it absolutely doesn’t, as on the inexplicable fan-favorite rap-parody “Babylon,” which holds up even worse now than it did then. Still, thirty years on, it’s a better record than history will give it credit for being, from a band that would get better, then get confused, then get tossed out with the bathwater… [ANDREW EDMUNDS]
Deep cut: “Don’t Change That Song”
BOB WELCH – FRENCH KISS (1977)
Bob Welch’s 1977 debut solo album, French Kiss, is a loud fart. It’s the sort of thing you enjoy regularly at home, but keep to yourself around others for fear of public reproach, even when you need it desperately. When the work-a-day tension is building, guts wrenching, social graces losing focus around intestinal myopia, this record is sweet release. As it rings out, it’s warm and smooth, but with just enough bite to make it substantial, satisfying. It’s melodious and bubbly and, if we’re being honest here, fun. When the hapless folks around you hear it, they look out the sides of their eyes, judging, shocked even, at your brazen tastelessness. It’s out there now. There’s no denying it. And you don’t care, because good lord it feels good. And as it fills the air, it takes you back to a time when even the coolest cats had a little bit of boogie in their britches. So you own it. You smile and dance like Travolta on Saturday Night, ignoring the wide, judgmental eyes of those tight asses around you. You know they secretly envy you, because imagine being comfortable enough to just do what makes you feel good, judgments be damned. French Kiss is that feeling, even if you only enjoy it openly on that rare occasion that you’re forced to air your secret pleasures, reluctant as you may be. Unless you’re drunk. Then you just let ‘er rip, because, “This is the greatest sound ever and I’ve loved it all by myself since I was a kid and if you just give it an honest chance you’ll love it too!” and everybody shakes their heads and leaves you alone at that corner table of the bar with dancin’ in your eyes. [LONE WATIE]
Deep cut: “Dancin’ Eyes”
E-TOWN CONCRETE – TIME 2 SHINE (1998)
July 24th, 2004 is a date I will never forget for the rest of my life. This was the day that E-town Concrete was able to play its first show in its hometown and city after which the band is named, Elizabeth, New Jersey. Playing your first show in the town you grew up in is usually not something a band has to wait over ten years to do, but if you’re ever passing through Elizabeth, you’ll understand why. The reason it was possible at all is due to the magnitude of the hardcore festival that was taking place that weekend. Yes, I’m talking about the infamous Hellfest that ended the festival for good, after the RexPlex was pretty destroyed in the wake of The Bad Luck 13 Riot Extravaganza’s concluding set. (But that’s a story for another time.)
Lots of big-name hardcore bands could have stolen the show over the three days of the festival, but nothing compared to the energy in the room when frontman Anthony Martini took the stage. A product of a broken home and upbringing common only to the poorest of America’s urban neighborhoods, E-Town’s songwriting wore its big fat heart on its sleeve, seemingly 24/7. From songs about growing up without a father, watching what a sibling has to go through when they are raped, deciding to have an abortion out of fear that your child will be born into a world you don’t wish upon anyone… It’s impossible not to empathize with Anthony as he raps / yells about what growing up in Elizabeth was like.
On the surface, most of the styles E-Town Concrete represents are difficult to swallow for some and downright uncomfortable for others, with Merauder-like slam segments, smooth jazz guitar sections that demonstrate out-of-nowhere technical proficiency, rapping, and other unconventional combinations that make the first handful of E-Town full-lengths some of the most unique hardcore albums out there. But taking the time to understand the heart and soul E-Town puts into its music really pays off. As a debut full-length, Time 2 Shine is certainly far from perfect. In fact, all of the styles put on display here were refined on the band’s two albums that followed. But the Madball-like heaviness and groove combined with a one-of-a-kind, in your face rapcore style of songs like “Justwatchyastep” do nothing but prove that even the most awkward of music genres can not only exist, but take the main stage by storm… Just like it did on that final Hellfest fifteen years ago. E-Town Concrete is for the real. [KONRAD KANTOR]
Deep cut: “Justwatchyastep”
DISCHARGE – GRAVE NEW WORLD (1986)
Discharge’s 1986 album, Grave New World, was a fuck up beyond imagining. The album transformed the hardcore behemoths responsible for classics like Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing? into poodle-haired rockers who derailed their career. Discharge’s frontman, Cal, ditched his gruff growl for mind-shredding falsetto vocals that must be heard to be believed. But Grave New World’s failings are also what secures its brilliance.
Prior to the album’s release, Discharge were extremely influential—hell, they invented d-beat and inspired countless crossover acts. After Grave New World, Discharge were chased out of every town by pitchfork-wielding punks, and they split up soon after, in disgrace. It’s hard to explain just how incredulous fans were about Grave New World, but try to imagine Blood Incantation suddenly releasing a polka album of Greta Van Fleet covers, while dressed as Devo.
Grave New World was a self-sabotaging nightmare that’s become a cult classic. Discharge’s crushing prowess was entirely absent and they abandoned all their principles in the hope of cashing in. But it’s because Discharge were so inept at embracing rock’s cliches that Grave New World is such a “success.”
Grave New World is 100% over the top and its Z-grade pyrotechnics and clumsy theatrics are what sells it. So much so that the record has inspired a new generation of “Grave New Wave of Dis-beat” bands—as well as zines and cliques galore. Where else will you find such lyrical misery wrapped in clunky shock rock that’d make third-tier Sunset Strip bands cringe? (Even better, before Discharge imploded, Cal was briefly replaced by ex-Wrathchild frontman, Rocky Shades. Thus ensuring the shit-ouroboros was complete.)
Grave New World is a magnificent, beautiful catastrophe. It’s utterly awful, but completely loveable, and it’ll leave you squirming while simultaneously shouting “Oooooowwww!” from the rooftops.
What a goddamn glorious fucking mess. [CRAIG HAYES]
Deep cut: “Grave New World”