Wednesday, July 14, 2010

welcome to 2004, what's the future like?

TLA finally joined facebook.

Now you can get TLA updates on facebook, and facebook updates on TLA.


Thursday, July 08, 2010


I just rewrote my Devils of Belgrade - Đavolja Varoš review.

You're reading this post in my voice.

The reason I write --- the reason I geek out on music, is to go beyond "hey, I like that," and dig deeper. I dig to find out what was going on in the artist's life at the time, or where they were geographically when they recorded it. I want to find out what guitars they used, and what stories those guitars carry. I want to find out who produced it, what other bands they've worked with, and what their "sound" is.

Why do I do this?

I get a great satisfaction out of "getting it."

When you listen to something like John Mayer's "Who Says," and think "LOL pot, wtf is up with John Mayer and drugs?! LOL!", you're not getting it.

When you hear Sara Bareilles' "Love Song" and think "man, I wonder what dude pissed her off", you're not getting it.

But how do we "get" the real meaning of songs and music?

Well, I usually read about them on music blogs.

The clues that enable us to form a closer bond with our favorite musicians, to understand their music better, and extract more value from something that has been hidden in plain view, are discovered by people like you and me --- people that love music and just want to get inside their favorite album and wear it like a pelt. When those people make those discoveries and share them, they enable other listeners to share that same joy - the joy of "getting it."

I hope you enjoy the rewritten review. It captures my feelings about the album better, but most of all, and on topic with this post, it contains more information about the album , the artists, and the songs.

It even contains unauthorized quotes from band members.


Friday, July 02, 2010

Devils of Belgrade - Đavolja Varoš

 Q: What do all these things have in common?
A: They kick ass, and your girlfriend hates them.

Hot off the press is Đavolja Varoš, the sophomore effort from the Devils of Belgrade. 

Devils of Belgrade are a bit of a hard nut to crack. On one hand, they have musicianship to the hilt, but on the other hand, they sound so informal; so familiar. 

They are that bar band that you hear one night and lose your shit over.

Đavolja Varoš means "Devil's Town" in Serbian. The rock formations on the album cover are real, and they are known for making eerie sounds when the wind blows, and also for the extremely acidic (pH 1.5) springs at their base, appropriately named "Satan's Urethra." 

Just kidding, they're called Đavolja voda and Crveno vrelo.

<a href="">The Kuga Parada by Devils of Belgrade</a>

Anyhow, the name of the album, as well as the song titles have a distinct air of "we're in on the joke," poking a little fun at the way-too-serious nature of most metal and prog albums. The over-the-top name is a subtle, contextual in-joke, which got me excited as a listener --- these guys aren't going to "Dane Cook it" and let everything out at face value - there's going to be restraint, tension, release, and dénouement on this album. Nice.

First things first, this is an instrumental album. The funny thing is, though, that I didn't notice it until I was on about track 7 --- it doesn't sound like a band that's missing it's singer; it sounds like they very intentionally wrote every song around the instrumentation that the band has. Even that description sounds a little bit like an apology, but when you listen to it you'll understand - the sound is more like a Harley-Davidson Trike than a car missing a wheel.

Left: Karaoke version of "Sweet Child of Mine," Right: Đavolja Varoš

As you dive in, the first thing that stands out to me, is that while it's certainly aggressive, it doesn't sound mad or mean. Or angst-ridden, or immature. It sounds like you feel when you're chopping carrots or something in the kitchen - and you're going super fast and awesome, and you're like "I'm a frickin' MACHINE!"--- you're kicking ass, but not 'cuz you're mad.

I am a guitar geek enthusiast, so the guitar work on this album is of particular interest to me. First things first, the tones:

Most albums you hear, and most bands you hear, have "a sound." More often than not, that "sound" comes from a common guitar tone in all the songs. U2 is the easy example, but think of any of your favorite bands. This album (and this band) somehow retain a common "sound" without using the same guitar tones over and over. There are probably 30 guitar tones on this album - each a little different, and each prescribed for the riff or solo or song that they're on. That kept me interested throughout. After I picked up on what was going on, I was curious to see what was coming next.

You know how some metal bands will throw in one acoustic thing, just because every album has one acoustic slow jam? This ain't like that. It's all in stride and perfect in the context of the album. I appreciated that. The acoustic tone is bad ass, too. They even throw in our old bluesy friend, the resonator - and it sounds more at home here than on half of the blues albums I hear it on.

The clean electric tone on here furthers my belief that good tone can have 1000 definitions. What's most impressive is that everything sounds like it belongs. I often hear either no clean tones at all on a metal album, or SUPER CHEESY clean tones on a prog album. Well, since this album is what I would consider "progressive metal" it chooses a third category - clean tones that sound like they belong; like "of course that part is clean." Big ups.

Left: Devils of Belgrade, Right: me

The crunch and high-gain tones are thuper thweet. On "The Bay of The Seven-Headed Hound" they do a very mellow and major key'd breakdown, and you are thinking "ah, this is nice, like a puppy eating an ice cream cone!" and then they kick in the riff with a crunch tone with this sort of impossibly smooth+chainsaw=??? tone, and right when you are like, "OK, this rocks," they throw in a pair of very metal pinch harmonics that accent the peaks of the riff. It's details like that that make you want to hear what's next. And I don't mean the next album or the next song --- I am talking about the next second. The whole album is like that, and if you're anything like me, you'll get to the end and say "holy shit, I just listened to an entire instrumental prog metal album," but then after you get over that, you're going to say, "I want to listen to it again."

I got a lot of a backwoods, camping trip, bar-after-a-long-day-on-the-river vibe. I don't know if it was the song titles, like "Beerzerker" and "Oktoberfist" that put my head in that space, but listening to it made me want to crack open a microbrew and just listen to the album. Think about that - it made me want to just listen to the album. It's a shame that music these days has been relegated to what is essentially background noise. 

I don't know anybody who sits down and listens to albums any more --- as the only thing they're doing. I remember sitting on the floor in my room when I was a kid and listening to the new Stone Temple Pilots album --- and that's all I was doing - listening. I wasn't driving to work or writing a paper or painting a bedroom, I was just listening. Đavolja Varoš took me back to that.

The dual guitar setup is really effective and awesome. The melodies on this album pull you in, but they're not trying to substitute as a vocal. It's really something you just have to hear. You get some Thin Lizzy style harmonizing at times, too, which is just fantastic. You can tell the teamwork is fun for them, like you can hear them smiling. They also hit some major melodies in their songs, too, which is a great metaphor for what I love about this band --- they are musicians before all else, and their vocabulary has a wonderful breadth to it. I was reminded of everything from church music, to 90's grunge, to pop rock favorites, to black metal, to thrash, and all points in between. You get a sense that they could play an R&B gig or a classic rock gig tomorrow if you asked them to. The musicianship on the album is the constant thread from beginning to end that is intangible, but is present on every second of the album.

 The drummer is very dynamic, and has a great effect of the mood of each song. He's locked in very well with guitars, which provides a very heavy overall sound. The drum tones on this album have a lot of "presence," which you may love or may hate. The drums on this album have a recorded tone pretty similar to those on Thrice's "The Illusion of Safety," which was a formative album for me. The overall sound is very up-front and focused --- no atmospheric ambience here, just blazing the trail for the rest of the band with straight up rock drums, and often in interesting time signatures and styles.

Real talk: The mastering and mixing on the album are interesting. As some of you know, I am VERY focused on the mastering and mixing of an album. I even go so far as to buy albums from bands I've never heard of, simply because of who mixed them. Seriously.

This recording is very dry and is not hiding behind any compression or "studio magic." The sound you hear in your stereo is what I imagine the band would sound like in person. At first listen, I was like, "ugh, I don't know if I can get down with this mix." Then, something really cool happened. Adam, the guitarist from Devils of Belgrade, reached out to me to talk about the mixing of the album. He read my initial review, and noticed that I was kind of perplexed by the mixing and mastering --- we briefly discussed my obsession with mixing, and the importance of mixing and mastering in recordings, but he left me with this, which I loved --- because the reason I'm a music geek is that I;m not only interested in my reaction to music, but I love to find out what an artist was thinking, what they were going for when they wrote it and recorded it. This is why I write this blog.

He told me, "the sound and vibe of the record was a very conscious thing...I know a lot of people really like a polished, super-produced sound right now, but we worked to distance ourselves from that. I hope that, later on, it'll pay off, and this album will still sound fresh and won't be dated; in part because we made that choice."

 So there you have it, from the horse's mouth. It definitely sounded like it was on the continuum between a live recording and a studio recording. In a way, it added to the overall listening experience, making the album very friendly and intimate. Any way you slice it, once you hear the songs, you'll start to "get" the production. Or you'll never notice it, because nobody gives as much of a shit about mixing as I do. 

It also stands as a great reminder - this band hasn't made it yet. If you want to hear more from them, and you want a better mix, you gotta vote with your wallet. By buying it and rocking the hell out of it in your car, house, boat, golf cart, pool float, cubicle, or helicopter.

All told, I love this album. It's about the same length as my commute to/from work, and I have spun it probably 30 times in the last few weeks. I can't stress enough how much it does for me to restore the ALBUM as an art form. Also, it's a super-accessible format to expand your musical horizons, because it's kind of metal, without all the chest-beating and ego --- and it's kind of prog without all the wizardry and wannabe mystique. If you are bored with whatever's in your CD player right now, this is what you need: 4 guys from Indianapolis who have a ridiculous knack for keeping you engaged. Buy it now.



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