Tag Archives: Garage Rock

49th Favorite: Godspeed The Shazam, by The Shazam


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Godspeed The Shazam. The Shazam.
1999, Not Lame Records. Producer: Brad Jones.
Purchased, 2001.

IN A NUTSHELL: Hans Rotenberry has a gift for catchy melodies, terrific harmonies and all the things I love about guitar pop songs. I hear influences such as The Who, Cheap Trick, Big Star, The Raspberries, but most of all I hear his fantastic songs. The band can rock, it can mellow out, it can get weird and silly, but they always hit their mark. This record is definitely a success – even if it’s only you and I who know about it!
When I was young, I knew I would be famous, respected and, dare I say, consequential in my career as a … well … er, uh … something. Musician, maybe. Or comedian. Or actor. Or novelist. Or playwright. Whatever, the point is that WHAT I was going to be wasn’t important. What was important was HOW I would be that thing. Whatever that thing was, I was bound to be consequential. I would be important. It’s just a feeling I’ve always had.

I still have it.

[captionpix imgsrc=”https://www.100favealbums.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/consequential3.png” captiontext=”The Author, center, surrounded by other Consequential Creative People from history, clockwise from top left: John Lennon; Jane Austen; James Baldwin; Frida Kahlo; Leonardo Da Vinci; Billie Holiday; William Shakespeare; Barbra Streisand.”]

My genius was perfect and indisputable, and what’s more, it was tantalizing because of its latency; how it coiled in a hidden corner in the attic of humanity’s consciousness, tightly compressed beneath an old flag, or a princess’s forgotten wedding gown, waiting for the perfect moment to be revealed, to spring forth and burst into full display on humanity’s front lawn where it could be properly celebrated. Whether it would be revealed in my first novel, or my first acting job, or my first standup TV special, or my first music album, or my blog about my favorite records … well, these were mere details. The point, to my mind, was that it would, of course, be revealed.

The inevitability of my deep consequentiality, and its approaching impact on society at large, is so apparent that I’ve never felt compelled to work particularly hard to ensure that it would be, in fact, uncovered. It’s seemed like a waste of time and energy to, say, attend college for creative arts; unnecessary to deprive myself by working low-paying, menial jobs so I could focus on my creative endeavors. Attending Writers’ Camps, relocating to LA or New York, practicing my bass guitar … none of these things have been part of my path to success. I’ve simply relied on my gift: no, not that coiled genius, for that type of gift is unremarkable, common. My gift is Destiny. I can just sit back, relax, and let the glory make its way to me.

The glory has been held up, apparently, and slow to arrive thus far.

I’m not scared by this delay on the part of my preordained glory of consequentiality, for I’m aware that it’s silly to think something so eminently inevitable would somehow not occur. It’s like fretting about today’s sunset being the last. But there are times when I allow myself to consider what it would mean if I were to suddenly die before my prestige was revealed[ref]I’m aware that this thought experiment is foolish in and of itself, as the workings of Destiny are, of course, such that it is impossible for me to die before the promise of my fate is fulfilled. However, please bear with me while I use this ridiculous premise to make a point.[/ref]. Would my life have then been a failure?

The first place to start in my pursuit of an answer to this hypothetical is this question: What does the word “failure” mean? Merriam-Webster is pretty straightforward on the concept, and despite the best efforts of Lifehacker, its definition leaves little wiggle room: the omission of an occurrence; falling short; lack of success; ONE THAT HAS FAILED. So if you want to get technical about it, the answer is “Yes. My life would have been a failure.” That pretty much answers that.

But thinking of myself as a failure is very unsettling, so I’m going to continue to delve into the question until I’ve obliterated the idea through sheer reasoning, re-contextualization and self-delusional flim-flammery. And let me start by saying that if my life were to surprisingly end with little or no established “consequentiality” from my artistic endeavors, the failure will not have been mine but will instead have been that of Destiny. For it was Destiny that wrote the ending, not me. Destiny labeled me as “Consequential;” I’ve simply enjoyed my creative pursuits. My only culpability was in trusting in Destiny.

So if it’s true that I was merely creating stuff because it’s fun, then the simple fact that I DID CREATE, and had fun doing so, means that I was not a failure. The occurrence wasn’t omitted, I didn’t fall short, I did succeed, I am NOT one who has failed[ref]TA-DA!! I knew I’d find a way out of that mess.[/ref]! Then perhaps a better question than “Am I a failure?” for me (or any artist) to answer is this: “Why do artists create?” There are probably as many answers to that question as there are artists to answer it[ref]For the sake of this post, let’s call “art” anything that anybody creates. ‘Yeah, but …’ No, stop right there. We don’t have time for it right now.[/ref]. Some folks say they do it to avoid a day job, or to learn about others. Others just let the audience continue to wonder, “Now, why did he do that?”

One of the best places to go to explore the “why?” of creativity is Baltimore, Maryland’s, American Visionary Arts Museum, a museum that “emphasizes intuitive creative invention and grassroots genius.” You won’t find a Picasso or a Rembrandt in the permanent collection at AVAM, but you will find DeVon Smith’s First Family of Robots. There will be no exhibitions on The Impressionists, but there will be one on the History, Fantasy and Future of Food. It is pure creativity for creativity’s sake, and when you linger long enough looking at the bizarre space worlds and childish portraits, the answer to the question “Why do they create?” becomes perfectly clear: Because They Create.

Another great place to find answers to “why create?” is within the pages of artists’ autobiographies. I am a sucker for Rock Musician autobiographies in particular. (Only “auto-;” I’m not interested in biographies [unless the artist participated in writing the book].) I’ve read dozens, such as Keith Richards’, Pete Townshend’s, Eric Clapton’s, etc., etc., and those of less luminous stars, such as Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi, The Police’s Andy Summers and The Kinks’ Dave Davies. After reading so many of these books[ref]I’d be remiss if I didn’t recommend Chrissie Hynde’s book, and most especially Bob Mehr’s official Bible of The Replacements, Trouble Boys.[/ref] the answer to the question is as clear as it was at AVAM: Because They Create.

One gets the impression from reading rock autobiographies that whether or not “success,” in the form of money and record sales and radio airplay, had visited these musicians, they’d have been making music their entire lives all the same. When you read the words he uses to describe his passion for music, it is easy to conjure an image of Keith Richards in the 60s on an alternate path, pumping petrol for a National Benzole station along the motorway, picking out the blues on his guitar between servicing lorries. And it’s quite the same for all of them: making music for them is like having fingernails: it’s just, like, part of who they are.

So, then – if you are just doing what it is you do, creating art like other people maintain fingernails, is there any way you possibly can FAIL at it[ref]The grimy, gnarly, untrimmed fingernails of any creeps you know notwithstanding.[/ref]? I suppose you could create a piece that you yourself don’t like; or you could have the feeling that you never properly put down on paper, or in notes, or in marble or clay, what it was you truly wanted to create. These situations might make you feel like a failure, but I believe if you earnestly continue to work to improve and move your art closer to whatever vision is in your head, then it’s difficult for anyone else to make the case that you, as an artist, failed. Even if nobody buys your albums. (Or reads your blog.) This isn’t to say that any creative effort is good; it just means it wasn’t a FAILURE.

Another way an artist could feel like a failure is if few people ever see/hear/read the artwork that’s been produced. While it’s true that artists create because they create, I’d say greater than 99% of them also seek out an audience for their work. This means it’s not just the ACT of creating that’s driving them, but also the satisfaction of sharing the fruits of their labors. Keith Richards’ band continues to release albums and plan concert tours. If he’d be pumping petrol instead, I’d expect he’d spend his off days and free evenings recording songs and playing in a club somewhere all the same – opportunities to share his art with others. It’s no different than your aunt inviting you to the local library for the exhibition from her pottery class. You create because you create; you share because you take pride in your creations. (And, possibly, like Keith Richards, because you make a little money.)

The point is this: you may not have heard of The Shazam, and their fantastic album Godspeed The Shazam, but it doesn’t mean they’ve failed. It means our country’s musical-art-delivery-systems (i.e. radio, record labels, Spotify, live venues, etc.) have failed. It’s the same reason bands like Marah, Heavenly, The Shys and The Redwalls were largely unheard.

I first heard The Shazam back in the early 00’s, in the days of Napster and LimeWire and KaZaa and other fancy forms of thievery. Also gaining in popularity at this time were new garage-rock bands whose sound harkened back to the punkish, new-wave guitar music I loved from the late 70s. Bands like The Strokes, The Hives, The Vines, The White Stripes, The Mooney Suzuki … these were bands unafraid to showcase catchy guitar lines, and happy to have a definite article before their names, like the good old days. A friend in the comedy scene[ref]Another FPIP, come to think of it![/ref] mentioned The Shazam, and I bought the CD after stealing a song from KaZaa.

That song was the catchy, pop marvel “Sunshine Tonight.”

The crunchy, brassy guitar sound immediately reminded me of early-70s glam rock, like T-Rex. The wide ranging melody and harmonies were reminiscent of The Raspberries and Big Star. I played the song a lot. I love the drums, which sound a bit sloppy, but in a good way (ala Keith Moon?). The song is simple, but builds nicely until the second time through the chorus, about 2:03, where the band really sounds like they’re having fun. I could’ve used more of the outro guitar solo, from 2:33 on, but there’s plenty of guitar left on the record.

Most of the guitar, as well as most of the vocals and all of the songwriting, is courtesy of the Head Shazam Man, Hans Rotenberry. He’s got obvious influences (as stated above), but they’re excellent influences and he never sounds like he’s simply ripping off old songs. Or maybe he does, but I like it so much I don’t notice. A terrific song, with influences front and center, is track one, perhaps my favorite, “Super Tuesday.”

I love the drum entrance, at about 0:50, played by Scott Ballew, who isn’t as wild and flamboyant as Keith Moon, but who plays with a style that gives many of the songs a “Who” feel. And the harmonies on the chorus “This is it!” (about 1:20) sound great. Rotenberry has a vocal-fry style of singing that he uses to great effect, particularly on the bridge – about 1:48. In the final verse, beginning about 2:07, the band mixes up the harmonies and Mick Wilson’s bass line, which helps to increase the urgency of the song.

I’m a huge fan of melody and harmony vocals – probably due to years of immersing myself in The Beatles – and Rotenberry and The Shazam do these perfectly. Consider the song “Calling Sydney,” for example.

This is one of my favorites on the album, a song that seems to get better as it progresses. For instance, at 0:30, the verse gets a second melody, with great drumming and a cool bass line and harmonies that I like even more than those opening the song. Then about 0:39, the band adds some vocal hoots, and THEN – at 0:45 – the chorus adds a third melody, another soaring piece. (And of course I must mention the fantastic, pompous kettle drums!) There is a guitar solo that doubles the verse. Such is the limited renown of this band that I couldn’t find any lyrics online. But I will say this: whatever they’re saying, they sound pretty cool saying it!

The band had a bit of success in 2003, when Coors launched their “Guys’ Night Out” advertising campaign, which, viewed generously, reduced young men to drunken boobs; less generously to would-be date-rapists. A song called “Goodbye American Man,” from their 2003 album Tomorrow the World, was used, and it seemed like maybe good things were in store for the band[ref]I couldn’t find the actual commercial anywhere![/ref]. But they didn’t catch fire, waited 6 years to put out Meteor, and have been on hiatus since.

But those of us who followed them haven’t forgotten. We remember gems like “The Stranded Stars.”

With its boppity-bop drum fills, far-ranging vocals and soaring harmonies, and nifty guitar lines, it’s got a lot of what interested us in the first place. And it shows that Hans Rotenberry has a way with the mellower songs, too, not just the rockers. Another example of his sensitive side is the sad, acoustic lament to lost love, “A Better World.”

It’s a nice, sad piece. The cheap-sounding piano solo is a bit reminiscent of the sound of The Replacements’ “Androgynous,” and while there are some subtle strings added, it’s mostly just Hans and his guitar. The oddly-named “Sweet Bitch” is another sadly melodic gem that sounds remarkably like it could be a Cheap Trick song. But Hans doesn’t stay sad for long, as the frantic “Sparkelroom” demonstrates.

It’s got a beat and bongoes that remind me of the dance on the Bugs Bunny cartoon where he’s stranded on a desert island. It’s a high energy song with surfer girls and moonscreen and swirly space sounds. It’s one of a number of songs on the record that have a sort of updated, anything-goes 60s feel. Others include “RU Receiving,” which references Spinal Tap with a shouted “Goodnight Cleveland!” “City Smasher,” which is almost a novelty song.

Another of these is the strange “Chipper Cherry Daylily.”

It sounds like a late 60s garage band trying to capitalize on the “psychedelic sound” … but in a good way! This used to be one of my favorites on the record, and now I don’t know why that was. They also dabble in riff-rock on “Gonna Miss Yer Train,” the most guitar-oriented song on the album, giving Rotenberry a chance to show off his fretboard skills.

So what does it all mean? What is the point when a great band releases a terrific album and the world collectively yawns? The fact is, a great band[ref]Or writer or actor or comic or artist.[/ref] being ignored is far more common than a great one being noticed. But being noticed is only a small part of why creators create. I’d venture to say that Hans and his bandmates have to look back at Godspeed the Shazam and consider it a success, even if it’s only unknown-though-Destiny-bound-49-year-old-guys-with-album-countdown-blogs who realize what a gem it is. In the song “Some Other Time,” probably my favorite on the album, the singer tells an ex that the timing just wasn’t right for them. But if you imagine Hans Rotenberry talking to his bandmates, instead of an old lover, the lyrics describe a resignation that reflective artists everywhere understand. Even those of us with Destiny on our side.

Maybe in a dream/Maybe in my mind
There’s a place where you and me could really be something
Somehow, some other time.

I know/It was nothing that was ever meant to be
Except for the moment there/When I could plainly see
But it’s too late for it to hurt/Your name is just another word
Coulda been years ago/If I hadn’t been so shy
Who’s to say that you and me couldn’t really be something
Somehow some other time

Might’ve once ago/But the world just passed us by
Maybe in a fantasy/Or memory
You and me coulda really been something
Somehow, some other time

Track Listing
“Super Tuesday”
“Sunshine Tonight”
“The Stranded Stars”
“Some Other Time”
“RU Receiving”
“Chipper Cherry Daylily”
“Calling Sydney”
“City Smasher”
“Sweet Bitch”
“A Better World”
“Gonna Miss Yer Train”


75th Favorite: Astoria, by The Shys


Astoria. The Shys
2006, Sire. Producer: Dave Cobb
Purchased: ca. 2007.

album shys

nutIN A NUTSHELL – Driving, poppy guitar rock by a band with a knack for melodies, sung by a singer with just the right amount of desperation and sneer in his voice. Sometimes the songs border on formulaic, but excellent performances save them.

WOULD BE HIGHER IF – More of the songs were as good as the very best ones on the record.


I used to be pretty dang hip.backus

Pretty dang hip enough to write a sentence like “I used to be pretty dang hip,” immediately indicating that I probably wasn’t all that hip, as nobody since 1870s-era Colorado prospectors has said “pretty dang” anything in earnest (likewise the term “hip,” but substituting 1940s-era Bebop royalty for Old West claim-jumpers), yet leaves open the possibility that perhaps I was rather “hip” after all, bebopsince I am savvy enough to state it in such a preposterous way.

Having been a nerd my whole life, I’ve written a lot about the idea of “coolness” in this blog.

Having never been cool, I’ve been forever obsessed with the notion, much like sports announcers who’ve never played sports can seem to be over-the-top loony about dudes playing with balls.

However, although they’re often conflated, latest music“Hipness” is a different quality than “coolness.” Being cool is being cool. But staying “hip” is all about knowing what’s new and not missing what’s coming down the pike.

Being very hip is like being very good at that hot-for-a-moment video game, Guitar Hero, in that you are aware of what’s ahead,fonz and you’ve got it covered at exactly the right moment.[ref]Thusly providing a perfect negative example for hipness, as well, as referring to “Guitar Hero” in 2015 is decidedly UN-hip.[/ref] When that hot new director/writer/musician is becoming all the rage, the hip folks[ref]I won’t say “hipsters,” as that meaning has changed dramatically over the past few years.[/ref] out there were already familiar with them, and are already eying who’s on their tails. This is much different than being “cool.”

A “hip” person can be very uncool – for example, the music nerd who has rarely spoken to another human, but who’s just downloaded the latest tunes by Sauce Twinz and Silver Matter onto his phone in his parents’ basement. And a cool person can be quite un-hip – for example that popular girl in my high school in the 80s who sometimes wore a Barry Manilow t-shirt.

barryIn my twenties I tried to stay on top of the music scene and keep abreast of what new stuff was out there. I subscribed to Rolling Stone and Spin magazines, and later on Blender. I watched MTV 120 Minutes, and later, when MTV stopped showing videos altogether, MTV2. I frequented record stores and paid close attention to their “New Arrivals” shelves, and their chalkboards with funkily-calligraphed “Upcoming Release Dates” listed. I went topatchouli see concerts, and paid attention to the openers, and took the Xeroxed music ‘zines handed to me by shaggy, good-natured dirtbags while I waited in line and tried not to inhale their patchouli oil and BO.

I was Billy Idol, “Eyes Without a Face” personified; billy idolI was on a bus, on a psychedelic trip, reading murder books …

As I moved through my thirties, my quest for hipness took on the subtle acridity of desperation. It was no longer about the music, but it was about me – and the inescapable, quickening pace of middle age. It became imperative that my musical tastes NOT recede into the realm of oldies. I hoped to will myself to remain “young”[ref]Whatever that means.[/ref] by frequently stripes hold hivesscouring away the inactivity-induced gunk in my brain’s music-processing gears with sonic blasts of new guitar rock. I introduced new music as often as possible. I kept those gears spinning on fresh blasts of White Stripes, The Hold Steady, The Hives, Franz Ferdinand …

I believed I was staying hip …

I maintained my machinery in this way into my forties housewife– perhaps not as diligently, but always with the intention of staying hip and warding off “Oldies.” Like a young, 60s
housewife in the swelling tide of the Women’s Liberation movement desperately trying to ward off feelings of personal discontent by fervently cleaning her house, I kept seeking out guitar-based rock to stay young. It was challenging work keeping those gears clean – work for which a father of active, free-time-sucking elementary school age kids is ill equipped – but I did my best.

But as I approach 50[ref]What the fuck?[/ref] I’ve come to realize this: the level of griminess of my mental musical gears plays no role whatsoever in my hipness. And in fact, I’m not even equipped to stay “hip” – musically, anyway. My music-appreciation machinery works perfectly well for guitar-based rock music, and it always will. gearsBut guitar-based rock music isn’t the kind of music that makes one “hip” in 2015. I can clean and polish and lubricate my gears all I want, but the fact of the matter is that they aren’t connected to the proper chains and pulleys to stay musically hip. In fact, the gears, chains and pulleys performing the tasks of popular music comprehension and appreciation were long ago replaced by software, fiber optics and WiFi. axel fThe transition started in earnest right around 1985, when “Axel F.” topped the charts. Even then it didn’t seem like much of an upgrade to me.[ref]I specifically recall complaining about the suckiness of “Axel F.” to friends a year or two younger than me. “It’s not even made my real instruments!” I said. “That’s what makes it so cool!” they replied. They were Early Adopters of the new music appreciation technology.[/ref] My apparatus worked fine! Why change?

My machinery can still be used to comprehend and appreciate parts of some new non-guitar rock music. My 16-year-old son will at times say, “Dad, listen to this! I think you’ll like it!” kendrick tylerThen he’ll play me some hip hop song by Kendrick Lamar or Tyler the Creator or someone else, and I’ll say, honestly, “This sounds pretty cool!” and I’ll bop my head along to it for a while. Just like how old cordless home telephones used to sometimes pick up snippets of local radio stations, somehow my mind’s appreciation apparatus can decipher enough of the song to make some sense of it. But it is fleeting, and I quickly find myself looking for a melody to hum. And then it goes away.

loudMy dad, in the 70s and 80s, would every now and again hear one of his kids’ songs and ask, in a certain way that indicated he may begin whistling along to it at any moment[ref]My dad was a TREMENDOUS whistler. Alone in the basement, tying fishing flies or crafting muzzleloader rifles, he’d turn on the radio station that played watered-down symphonic versions of 40s and 50s standards and unleash a concert-ready stream of improvised solos that astounded and entertained, loud enough to, at times, interfere with my M*A*S*H viewing in the living room above his lair.[/ref], “Hey, who’s this playing?”

But the songs he noticed always had some connection to the music he understood, if not enjoyed. It may have been a Lynyrd Skynyrd honky-tonk or a mellow jazz throwback, but it was always something that his own apparatus could decipher. (He was also keenly debbie harryinterested in all things Blondie, but I suspect Debbie Harry may have triggered different apparatus within him than music appreciation.) However, let’s be clear: whistling along to Chuck Mangione in no way made my dad “hip.”

I am now 48 years old, the age my dad was when Jane’s Addiction released Nothing’s Shocking. I think he had as much ability to appreciate “The Mountain Song” as I do the latest by 31 Grammy.

He wasn’t hip, and neither am I.

The fact is, being a fan of guitar rock is simply band geeksno longer a method of staying hip. Rock music has become like jazz was when I was a kid. There were some folks who liked it back in the 70s and 80s, and some folks who were awesome playing it, some folks who still listened to it – even a few kids my age, mostly the band geeks who I associated with – but Miles, Coltrane, Thelonious, Dizzy … their most popular stuff had been made decades before and they weren’t going to be replaced. Everyone new was just rehashing their old stuff.[ref]This is from the perspective of someone who knows very little about contemporary jazz in the 70s and 80s. But ask someone today to name a few jazz artists, and they’re likely to name the same folks that would’ve been named in the 80s. Or 70s. Or 60s. Or 50s.[/ref]

rock godsAnd really, that’s where we stand with rock music in 2015. Since the heyday of the late 60s and early 70s, everyone’s been rehashing the Beatles, Stones, Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, James Brown, Janis Joplin, The Ramones, Joni Mitchell, and Bob Dylan.[ref]And of course, those artists were simply rehashing what they had heard in their youth. But they were lucky enough to be born at the right time, so they get the glory of being listed in my incredible blog.[/ref] Or they’ve been combining elements of those artists. Everything that’s new in rock music isn’t really “new” – at least not in a way that’s keeping me hip. And nothing is going to keep my favorites from becoming oldies, either.

There’s new stuff out there – as there always must be – and folks from newer generations than mine are making it, using instruments I don’t recognize as such, and assembling the apparatus to appreciate it. And it sounds better to them than guitar rock, just as guitar rock sounded better to me than The Dorsey Brothers[ref]Which touches on the reason I felt a little awkward taking my 16 and 11 year old kids to see a Foo Fighters concert this summer. When I was in high school, my folks took me to a “Jimmy Dorsey Band” concert. I remember having to pretend it sounded good to me to please my folks![/ref].

Rock and Roll Will Never Die!!” we all used to say, long liveand I guess the music hasn’t really died. But my son told me recently, “Rock music is good because it’s the music that everybody likes.” This statement reveals that indeed the music hasn’t died, but the spirit has. Rock music was never supposed to be the music everybody likes. It was supposed to scare you. Oh well. Time marches on. I keep marching in place.

Luckily for me, while I was sitting around trying to will my music to remain relevant, there were artists out there who didn’t care what was popular or hip or making money. They just wanted to play their guitars loud and shout some melodies into a mike. And I found a great place to hear them sometime around 2006 – Satellite Radio.

As a longtime fan of Howard Stern, undergroundI rushed out and bought a Sirius receiver when he moved his show there. Howard and his gang of weirdoes remained funny, but just as good were all the channels of music available. One of the best channels for new (and old) music that is right in my wheelhouse is Little Steven’s Underground Garage, programmed by Bruce Springsteen’s Mobster-playing sidekick, Steven Van Zandt.

It features “Garage Rock,” which is a term that casts a wide musical net to encompass everything from 50s Rock and Roll, to old Stones and Beatles to unknown 70s proto-punk, to 80s throwback bands, and grunge and new guitar acts. It was on this channel that I first heard – while driving in my hip Saturn station wagon – a song that immediately knocked my socks off [ref]As a hip person might say. In 1963.[/ref]

The song was The Shys’ “Never Gonna Die, and was featured as one of the “Coolest Songs in the World This Week” on The Underground Garage, so it got played quite a bit. The song has everything I like in a guitar rock song. It opens with a guitar call like an alarm ringing, drums that kick in to support it, then the whole band plays the riff and a desperate-voiced, coolly straining singer shouts a salute to youth, young love, and having enough fun to be stupid about it. I heard this song a couple times on Sirius, then got on the Amazon machine and ordered a copy of the album, Astoria, immediately.
shys 2

I was hooked on the album from the start, particularly the song “Two Cent Facts,” my favorite on the record.

It’s got a lead guitar line throughout, behind the vocals, a feature that I almost always take to, and a pretty awesome guitar solo at 2:00. The drums drive it along, and it has a catchy, sing-along melody. The vocalist, Kyle Krone – also the main songwriter and guitarist in the band (with help on songwriting by keyboardist Alex Kweskin) – is one of those rock singers who infuses his take on a song with much emotion. kroneIt’s a style that makes me feel young and emotional myself. He also hesitates a little bit on a few lines, and all together, his style is slightly reminiscent of Roger Daltry’s voice in “My Generation.”

As shown in both “Never Gonna Die” and “Two Cent Facts,” the band has a serious knack for catchiness. Krone knows what he’s doing as a rock songwriter. On “Call In the Cavalry,” he turns a simple little riff into the basis for a pub rock shouter.

It’s a simple song, with snotty brit-punk vocals [ref]Even though the band is from California.[/ref] Krone’s raspy voice always sounds good to me, especially singing these teenage fun-seeker songs, just a tad out of control, shys 1perhaps, but it seems to always suit the song. The band plays loud guitar pop songs that are fun to sing along to. It’s this way throughout Astoria – seemingly one fun rock song after another. However, songs like “Call In the Cavalry,” and the rocker “Having it Large,” also serve to demonstrate the inherent problem in a songwriter who can so easily deliver catchy hooks: the songs can sound a little like a beer commercial. I could easily hear a voice over either song …

beer party

“The nighttime is calling you. Are you ready to answer? New from Budweiser! Your favorite cocktail flavors in a light beer!! Apple-tini! Cosmopolitian! Sex-on-the-Beach! Each in a satisfying light beer! It’s new BUD LIGHT BARF!”

There’s a fine line between a great, catchy song and a beer jingle. To me, Astoria stays on the great-fun-song side of that line. This album is in some ways the flip side to Album #76, Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys. shys 3My appreciation for that album was all about the emotional and spiritual connection I feel for it, a connection that at times I’m just not in the frame of mind to indulge. I appreciate Astoria for its raucous fun and mindless joy, which is also something for which I have to be in the mood.

But not all the songs are mindless. Astoria features an honest-to-goodness “protest song,” a rally-the-people, Spirit-of-1969 call to action, called “The Resistance.”

It’s got a cool little backward guitar section in there, that as a Beatles fan I greatly appreciate. I also like the subtle reference to The Beatles’ own protest song, “Revolution,” in the lyrics “Count me out, count me in.” The song’s guitar riff is very cool, and the whole song has a rock and roll spirit that I really appreciate. But is it a formulaic “protest song?” In a way, you can almost hear the boys at rehearsal saying, “Hey! Let’s write a protest song!” Maybe it is out of a can, but I think the band does it really well and I love the result.

They also move away from the pub rock thing in the bluesy, classic rock-sounding “Waiting on the Sun.”

There’s lots of great little lead guitar doodles behind the vocals. krone 2The guitar has that Gibson sound, a rock and roll sound that always connects with me. Once again, Krone’s voice carries the song. He puts his all into it, singing lyrics that offer the Morning After response to all those previous Happy Party songs. He’s a talented guy who’s released a couple solo albums, and at least one pretty great solo Summer Pop Song.

On Astoria, he also composed the multi-part punk/pop epic “Open Up the Sky,” which closes the album. This song features a slow section, a fast section, some gibberish sounds reminiscent of The Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus,” and an extended guitar solo (about 4:30 to the end) by Krone to close out the song.

But I like his punk/pop rockers the best. The album title track is a particularly good one.

I’m a sucker for a song with a bouncy bass line. And when a little bit of organ is thrown over the top, I’m typically going to stick around to hear more. It’s all put together well here, and Krone uses his desperation voice, warning a girl that “the spotlight is fucking contagious,” and reminding her that she’s his “Astoria.” The neighborhood in Queens? Maybe. The US’s early 19th century Pacific Coast colony attempt in northern Oregon, which failed miserably? Possible, I guess. shys silhouette

But what does it all mean? I don’t know. The great thing about rock and roll is that it doesn’t have to make sense. With a good rock song, you can sing along and dance and shake and that’s enough. If you have the correct apparatus in your head, it will always sound good, even when you’re so old you shake and dance without meaning to. The music will take you right back to what made you feel so good in the first place. I’ve realized now that finding the music that keeps you young is NOT accomplished by staying hip and updating your apparatus. The music that keeps you young is the music that turns the gears you’ve had all along.

Never Gonna Die
Call In the Cavalry
Waiting On the Sun
Having It Large
The Resistance
Radio Rebellion
Two Cent Facts
Alive Transmission
Madly In Action
Open Up the Sky