Tony Bennett, For the News Tribune
The holiday season is here, and so we're going to take this week to check out some holiday music by a group called Eira, a Duluth-based string-and-vocal combo that will be promoting their Christmas album "Glen Tidings" with a performance at Peace Church tonight. It just feels like the right thing to do, even though masked Satanic pop-metallers Ghost surprise-released a new live album a few days ago, and it might be nice to check that out, too.
It wasn't that long ago that King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard was just an up-and-coming band with a preposterously dumb name. As 2017 has unfurled, they've moved into another category altogether. Now, they're much-loved, much obsessed-over indie-prog heroes on a creative tear that few ever attempt, let alone match.
Oftentimes, bands will submit material for consideration in this column that are, if not completely unknown, then unknown to most people the members of the band are not related to by blood or marriage. Truth be told, these albums are often the most fun to delve into. No press hype, no scene reputation preceding them, just an album popping out of the void, asking to be judged, maybe even validated.
Charlie Parr's been doing the promotional rounds, recently, talking up his new album "Dog." A September cover story on him in the Minneapolis-based City Pages focused heavily on Parr's struggles with mental illness, and its title, "Man of Constant Sorrow" turned the piece into a bit of a branding exercise, one that we've seen so many times in music history: artist as tortured victim of their own mind. That stuff can be catnip for writers and readers alike.
The EP continues to be a popular option for musical artists these days. It makes sense: with more and more entertainment options all the time, everyone is pulled in a hundred different directions at once, and people aren't as able to sit with an album like they used to. However, an EP fits in nicely between "Stranger Things 2" viewings, or it can nicely soundtrack the drive between trips to craft breweries.
There was a time when Beck Hansen seemed like he could be all things to all people, all at once. Back when Kurt Cobain still walked the earth, when grunge was king, suddenly this weird dude showed up with some kind of blues-rap song called "Loser," and it was huge. At the time, it appeared that an enjoyable one-hit wonder had arrived. Closer inspection of the album the song was taken from ("Mellow Gold") revealed Beck had a much more diverse skill-set than his radio song would have indicated. And his bizarro Indie-label albums from the era showed that even further.
When it comes to country music, authenticity is a valued trait. It's the thing that separates the real deals from the wannabes. Call it what you want: legitimacy, credibility, what have you — it's that x-factor that can take a simple song about heartbreak or struggle and imbue it with a richness that can't be bought.
If you're aware of them at all, you probably know them as the group from the '70s with the weird guy with the Hitler mustache. And now you know why Sparks never became a hugely popular band. Although, it's quite interesting that they were able to become as beloved as they are. Indeed, the cult of Sparks is one that boasts global membership, and it's existed for nearly 50 years. Half a century. That's a long time to be under the radar.
This isn't a popular opinion, but if there's anything Queens of the Stone Age has been since their self-titled debut, it's frustrating. With the exception of their singular "Songs for the Deaf" LP — which was powered by Dave Grohl putting in his best drum performance since he played in some little-known trio called Nirvana or something — the band has put out work varying from straight killer to straight filler, with the latter category being comprised of far too many of the band's cuts.
These guys just shouldn't be this good at this age. Yet here Motorpsycho is, the key two members in their late 40s, laying out another of their yearly platters full of mind-blow. Their latest is a double-album called "The Tower." You might be tempted to take this album's length as some sort of big statement, but these guys put out supersized records on the regular. They're just that productive.