Tony Bennett, For the News Tribune
To most people, experimental abstract drone music (or whatever you want to call it) sounds like someone turned on a vacuum cleaner, recorded it and put that on an album. To others, it sounds highly emotional, rich and transportive in ways that traditional music with rhythm and melody cannot be. And, really, neither camp is wrong. Both are sort of true.
Nostalgia is a funny thing. Ideally, it's something that comes about as a result of a smell, a taste, a sound. You take in a sensation, and it transports you in an almost supernatural way to another time in your life, however briefly. When nostalgia is weaponized and used for crass commercial purposes, that's when it turns ugly. When "remember when" becomes a rallying cry for people who are long past their prime, that's when the cringe factor gets cranked to the max.
It's interesting to investigate the early days of career musicians. Oftentimes, you can get perspective on just how someone reached a version of themselves that they were grasping for through trial and error by listening to early demos or early sessions.
At first, it seemed like this Sidewalk Chalk album was gonna be a slog. On the first track, "Infinite Growth," there's this MC, and he's rapping about God and doing that thing rappers sometimes do where they have to tell you about how strong they are, while telling their life story and everything is me, me, me. But, underneath, some fairly intriguing things are happening. Are those horns real or sampled? The drums? Wait, now there's a xylophone. And now there's a jazzy female singer. Is this a guest spot from someone?
It makes sense that Trent Reznor has made his last few Nine Inch Nails releases of the bite-size variety. Reznor, who has released double and quadruple LP's under the band name that made him famous, has in recent years been on quite a tear of soundtrack work, scoring several David Fincher films, the climate-change documentary "Before the Flood," and the Boston Marathon bombing picture "Patriots Day." This fall, he will contribute music to PBS' Ken Burns documentary on the Vietnam war. He's a busy guy, to say the least.
Of all the bands you wouldn't expect to take the plunge into super-deluxe box-set reissues of triumphant albums, Radiohead would be near the top of the list. Or at least they would've been, until the recent release of the super-deluxe box set of "OK Computer," their tentpole album from 1997.
Here we are, about halfway through 2017. There's been a goodly amount of notable releases that we've covered in this column so far this year, and it might be a good time to pause and reflect on what has tickled our fancies before we launch into the back nine of 2017's album releases. So let's turn the Wayback Machine to January and remember some of the more notable local and national albums that have come through the mail slot or showed up in the inbox.
When it comes to idiosyncratic rock bands, there are few that have carved out their own unique place in the world like The Melvins. They are a crushingly heavy entity that can also be quiet and goofy. They are dark and challenging, and then, sometimes, they're light and pensive. But whatever they do, it comes out sounding like them, for the most part. They're truly one of the great American metal/punk/whatever groups of all time.
It's been nearly five years since the last album from Duluth's A Winter Downpour, and thus, it's been nearly five years since we've discussed the band in this particular column. The story in 2013 was that the group did some interesting things from time to time, but the headline was that the band was defined by the vocals of frontman Alberto Serrano-Rivera, whose tones were (and are), shall we say, not so dulcet.
We're at the point in history, now, where the rock gods are leaving us. Everybody has an expiration date, but the simple truth is that the icons who defined rock music in the '60s are reaching the ends of their journeys. There are more days behind them than ahead of them. Sure, Paul McCartney might live to be 90, but how much more music is there to be made in the time between now and then? How much of it good?