Jacky Vincent–Life Imitating Art: High-Speed Guitar Engine Meets Synths & Beats

Jacky Vincent--Life Imitating Art

Times not recommended for listening to Jacky Vincent’s Life Imitating Art: basically anytime you want to chill. It’s not that the late-era Shrapnel Records alum is relentlessly hyped through his whole new album—relaeased August 31, 2018—but he never goes long without cranking open the throttle on his seeming V12 guitar engine. Even on the less bombastic tracks within the 40 minute collection, there’s relatively little that can reasonably be called “unhurried” or “restrained.” Nonetheless, for those familiar with Jacky Vincent from his work in the bands Falling in Reverse and Cry Venom (post-hardcore and power metal, respectively), Life Imitating Art is a different intensity.

Album opener “Awakener,” “Nowhere to Look but Inside,” and “Soul Shines Through,” all incorporate big synth sounds that would be at home in a dance club or at an arena-pop show. In some places, I wondered whether he is using a guitar-synth controller of some kind.  Replete with sudden shifts in texture; staccato heavy rhythm guitars sparring with complex synths; a neoclassical breakdown; and a brief breakneck solo excursion over a pumping dance beat, among other sections, “Awaken” lays it on thick from the start. There’s a lot of motion and contrast in the tune, and I could see Vincent going over well performing music like this on a bill with EDM acts and lots of bright lights. Nothing else the album throws in the kitchen sink quite as hard, perhaps for the overall good of the album, but each of the synth heavy tracks features interesting textures and shifts. The synth soloing on “Nowhere to Look but Inside” sounds like it could have been done with a guitar-synth controller; some of the synth lines are shaped much like Vincent’s often deployed sweep moves. With abundant guitar harmonies and high note-density runs, and with contemporary touches in lower proportion than in the album’s first two tracks, “Soul Shines Through” and “Grand Uppah” both veer into classic Shrapnel territory. Vincent’s chops are both undeniable in themselves and a key piece of the adrenaline-hyped mood he creates. Arguably the signature mood of Life Imitates Art, Vincent’s energy is thrill-ride, skateboard-getting-some-air, killer gymnastics routine, TIE-fighter battle variety; there’s little-to-no darkness to be found, something that separates Vincent’s music on this album from the gothic currents of many of the Shrapnel Records classics. Also contributing to the upbeat vibe of these tracks is the eschewing of frequency-eating, down-tuned, distorted rhythm guitars; Vincent’s charge is more power metal than djent.

Read more

The Posies–Solid States

The Posies--Solid States

Someone once told me a story about a bunch of college friends who had an inside joke around the line “The Posies suck.” If I understood correctly, this bunch had seen an early, raw, and, no doubt, very cool Nirvana show at their college, and, as a result, viewed themselves on the cutting edge of where rock was headed in the early 90s. The Posies, who played the same college circuit, were less of the moment. With the signature vocal harmonies of principal members Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow, the Posies were never really a grunge band, even when they turned up their guitars and stomped their fuzz pedals more frequently in the 90s. However, there has never not been a time when they put the power in their power-pop with soulful, creative guitar playing. On the road for a big chunk of 2018, and having appeared recently in New York City, the Posies are still not of the moment, but they endure heartily with their core intact.

Regardless of what a bunch of proto-hipsters may have thought, the Posies do not suck. Now well into their third decade working together, Auer and Stringfellow are most recently out with Solid States, a new album that may be their best collection of songs since their underappreciated 1993 classic, Frosting On the Beater. (Solid States was released April 29, 2016—this is a new edit of a piece written in 2016.) The Posies have always been poppy, in the best sense. At their best, a Posies record flows from hook to hook. Solid States is no change in this respect; the songs are well-structured, melodic, and catchy. There may be stray hints of prog and art rock (“The Sound of Clouds”), but there are no long jams or meandering ambient grooves.

Read more

Five Times Alex Skolnick Played on Someone Else’s Album

Alex Skolnick @ Iridium
Alex Skolnick concentrates at the 55 Bar, Feb. 23, 2018

Alex Skolnick’s eclecticism is well-known. Recent projects in which he is a leader or principal player include his eponymous improvisational trio, the Alex Skolnick Trio; the current incarnation of Testament; metal-tribute-turned-original band, Metal Allegiance; and the acoustic, world-music exploring Planetary Coalition. Even with all this activity, Skolnick frequently extends his musical reach with contributions to projects led by others. I recently had the pleasure of hearing him sit in for two sets with Nathan Peck & the Funky Electrical Unit, at the 55 Bar. With Skolnick’s collaborative bent in mind, here are quick looks at a handful of his guest appearances:

“Atman,” on Rodrigo y Gabriela’s 11:11 (2009)

Nearly four minutes into “Atman,” the penultimate track on 11:11, Rodrigo y Gabriela’s Latin-acoustic-by-way-of-metal extravaganza, comes the most surprising moment of the track—an electric guitar solo, courtesy of Skolnick. The track is intense from the beginning, and Skolnick’s burning solo is its molten core. Massive bends and tremolo picked eruptions culminate in an epic chromatic rising-and-falling sequence.

Album cover for Rodrigo y Gabriela’s 11:11

Read more

Review: Steven Wilson – To the Bone

Steven Wilson--To the Bone

Although parts of his new album recall his work with his earlier project, Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson’s To the Bone is not a simple throwback to an earlier stage of his career. To my ear, it sounds like the Porcupine Tree guy and progressive solo artist jettisoning the metal riffs and keeping the song lengths (more or less) under control, while holding onto his earlier project’s melodic hooks, broad dynamics, and sprawling atmospheres. Wilson’s dialing back of his earlier metal and prog leanings casts his melodies on To the Bone in a direct light and allows his earthy, Gilmour-influenced guitar style and pop instincts to leaven the progressive depth of his songs. It’s ironic that Wilson’s music seems most welcoming of human contact when he is making more of it himself. On To the Bone, when Wilson features another musician—specifically vocalist Ninet Tayeb, who takes lead vocal turns on three tracks, most spectacularly on “Pariah”—the contribution really packs dramatic impact.     

Read more

Preview Review — Queens of the Stone Age “Villains”


Queens of the Stone Age is about to release their first new album since 2013. Villains is due on August 25, 2017. Early press describes the Mark Ronson-produced album as danceable. Two tracks—“The Way You Used to Do” and “The Evil Has Landed”—are already available.  “Danceable” need not connote “full of funky clichés”: anything but, in this case. You can certainly dance to these tunes, but you should probably be the type that likes dancing to something sinister. If you’re also a rock guitar nerd, you’ll want to check to the intricate-but-never-fussy guitar arrangements.

Read more