Music

Album Review: AC/DC – Power Up (2020, Columbia Records)

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ACDC powerup

On a whim, I recently decided to take a deep dive into Power Up, the latest album from Australian rockers AC/DC and their seventeenth overall. Not sure why – maybe I just felt like I needed some more classic rock in my life. And my initial assessment upon listening? It sounds like an AC/DC album, in the same way that every other AC/DC album before it has sounded like an AC/DC album. AC/DC are nothing if not consistent.

Yes, an AC/DC album sounding on brand is nothing surprising, but that sonic consistency is actually one of the band’s biggest assets. After all, you don’t go to AC/DC expecting flirtations with EDM or a Spinal Tap Mark II jazz odyssey. No, you go to them for those big riffs, Brian Johnson’s distinctive vocals and to think, “Wow, that 65 year old man is really still committed to wearing a schoolboy’s outfit, eh? Good for him, I guess.”

In a way, listening to a new AC/DC album is a bit like going to a chain restaurant – you know what to expect, you know it’ll be more or less the same every time, and even when there’s something new on the menu, it still has the same signature style. But often, that’s exactly what you’re in the mood for. And this new chapter in AC/DC’s story certainly holds up to the band’s legacy.

I could go into greater detail and describe the specifics of each song, but honestly, do I really need to? If I say that it sounds like AC/DC, pretty much everyone will know what I mean, unless they’re been hiding in a cave for the past 50 years or so. That said, it’s a pretty good effort with a few memorable tunes, and considering all that the band has been through in recent years (Brian Johnson’s hearing issues, Phil Rudd’s legal troubles, the 2017 death of Malcolm Young) the fact that the band even put out another album is pretty impressive.

Anyways, here’s Wonderwall “Realize.”

Album Review: Molly Tuttle – … but i’d rather be with you (2020, Compass Records)

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One could argue that (among other things) the mark of a great performer is what they bring to the table when interpreting someone else’s work, and to my mind, Molly Tuttle‘s recent covers collection, … but i’d rather be with you, is a perfect example of a great cover album.

Recorded during quarantine in collaboration with producer Tony Berg (Phoebe Bridgers, Andrew Bird), the album features Tuttle’s takes on songs by such unlikely bedfellows as The Rolling Stones, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Karen Dalton, and Harry Styles, but the songs all flow together perfectly, to the extent that it’s not at all jarring to hear her transition straight from the beautiful balladry of FKA Twigs’ “Mirrored Heart” into the much more rollicking sound of Rancid’s “Olympia, WA” over the course of the album.

Tuttle made her name as a virtuosic bluegrass guitarist (she’s been named the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Guitar Player of the Year in both 2017 and 2018), and her instrumental prowess is most definitely on display throughout this album. And yes, Molly Tuttle is an impressive guitarist, but just as important is her voice, with particularly strong and memorable performances coming through on her versions of Arthur Russell’s “A Little Lost” and the aforementioned “Mirrored Heart”.

In her song selection on this release, Molly Tuttle branches out and shows the breadth of her influences, covering artists across various genres and putting her own distinctive mark on each song while also showing her range as a performer – Bob Dylan’s not the only one out there who contains multitudes, you know.


Album Review: Jason Molina – Eight Gates (2020, Secretly Canadian)

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“The perfect take is just as long as the person singing is still alive. That’s really it.”

Those words, spoken by Jason Molina at the beginning of “She Says” were certainly meant to be a joke aimed at those with perfectionist tendencies, but they take on another, darker meaning when you remember that the person speaking them (and singing these songs) has not been alive for several years now.

Eight Gates is the last collection of solo studio recordings Jason Molina made before his tragic death in 2013 and while the above quote might suggest that this album is simply a collection of unfinished sketches, the reality is that they’re much more than just that. While the arrangements on many of the tracks are relatively sparse and straightforward, with most of them coming in under the three minute mark, there’s still a fair bit to unpack behind the seeming simplicity.

Though brief, the songs unfold at a languid pace and draw the listener in with evocative lyrics such as “I feel the dread as you re-read my palms” and “Whose wilderness has my heartbreak wandered through?” And at the centre of it all is Molina’s beautiful, haunting voice.

Jason Molina may have left us too soon, but his music lives on, and with Eight Gates, we thankfully have nine more of his songs to appreciate.

Eight Gates is out on August 7 via Secretly Canadian.

Album review: Japandroids – Massey Fucking Hall (2020, Arts & Crafts)

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Back in the day when music fans could still attend live concerts beyond the ones put on by country singers you’ve never heard of with made up sounding names, Vancouver duo Japandroids became famous for their particular brand of loud, sweaty rock shows – shows which are now quite unimaginable in our current situation. So it comes as a welcome reminder of the power of their live shows that the band have recently released a live album documenting their appearance at Toronto’s legendary Massey Hall … or rather, it would have if the album were truly able to replicate the feel of a Japandroids show on record.

Massey Fucking Hall documents Japandroids’ appearance on the Massey Hall stage back in October of 2017 (the bulk of which is also featured in a Live at Massey Hall video that’s up on YouTube if you’d rather watch it than just listen to it). To their credit, it sounds good and the band is in fine form, but for a band whose live shows have the feel of a massive communal celebration for the fans, it’s impossible for a recording to even come close to that. On the plus side, this also means that there’s zero chance of being jostled about by the more bro-ish contingent of their fanbase, although the chances of that happening in a seated venue like Massey were already pretty slim.

While songs like “No Known Drink or Drug” and “Young Hearts Spark Fire” stand out as energetic highlights, the whole thing ultimately feels a bit sterile, though maybe it’s the venue itself that diminishes the vibe somewhat. After all, it would be difficult to come close to that feeling in a seated venue like Massey Hall. The band even acknowledges this on the album when Brian King makes a comment near the end about the people standing up front making it seem more like “a normal Japandroids show.”

Maybe I’m being too hard on the band because I’m missing live music and this is really only kind of like that. Or maybe I just don’t like live albums. No that can’t be true – after all, without live albums, we’d never have the magic of Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, Rust Never Sleeps, Cheap Trick at Budokan and of course, that compilation of Paul Stanley’s stage banter (it counts as a live album in my books). Maybe if Japandroids followed Stanley’s lead and let out a few extremely high pitched exclamations of “How you doin’ Toronto!!?” or made punny references to their song titles before playing each song, I’d cut them a bit more slack, but alas, they have not done any of that.

Frankly, there isn’t a live album that can truly capture the feeling of being there, but I suppose the ones that do it right can remind us of the power of seeing a band in person. While Massey Fucking Hall may fall a bit short in that regard, it’s still a solid document of the band that will likely appeal to the die-hard fans. For the rest of us? Well, there’s always the hope that live shows might be a thing again by next year …

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