Monday, September 18, 2017

Weezer: A Tale of Two Black Albums

Which one should see the light of day first?
With Weezer’s 11th proper studio release, Pacific Daydream, set to drop on October 27, loyal fans who stuck with them long enough to enjoy their redemption over the course of the last two albums might find a handful of reasons to scratch their heads at things that shouldn’t be all that surprising.  On the most basic level, listeners who became complacent with the marked increase in quality of Weezer’s recent records may wonder how the bottom could once again drop out with lead singles “Feels Like Summer” and “Mexican Fender”. However, this becomes less of a shock when one takes into account how few artists successfully recover from a mid-career slump and actually give justification to the music press’ obligatory comparisons to their classic period.  Indeed, when adding the latest single “Beach Boys” to the mix, the most surprising thing about the band’s return to vanilla becomes the fact that it’s taken them this long to explicitly glorify the Hawthorne, CA legends in one of their songs.   That being said, the rise and fall of Weezer had already become a tired narrative by the time 2014’s Everything Will Be Alright in the End showed that they could still win over some of the “Matt Sharp or bust” crowd.  As such, an aspect of this album cycle worth paying more attention to is the non-release of a previously hyped Black Album.
Building up to Pacific Daydream’s announcement, leader Rivers Cuomo had mentioned the forthcoming Black Album a handful of times in the press. Speaking to DIY Magazine in April 2016, he predicted the follow up would be “less summer day and more winter night” than the then-newly released White Album. While darker, more mature themes and coarser language were projected, the band ultimately scrapped this pursuit in favor of what became Pacific Daydream. Clear details regarding the quantity of abandoned material, or whether any of it carried over to the official product have yet to surface, but this change of direction should also not surprise longtime fans of the band. After all, a wealth of unused material has been the band’s calling card since at least as far back as when the demoed concept album Songs From the Black Hole was pushed aside in favor of 1996’s now-acclaimed Pinkerton.  A few years later, over 60 songs would be rejected before 2001’s Green Album’s 28 minute program was finalized, with the self-bootleg Summer Songs 2000 representing some discarded highlights that had seen the stage. In a similar fashion, 2005’s platinum Make Believe arose from a stockpile of more songs than Weezer had released to date. Though the sheer quantity of tracks left behind even halfway through their career is staggering,  the group’s productivity still grew to excess even past the 20 year mark, with approximately 250 contenders that didn’t make it past pre-production for their White Album. Clearly, Weezer is a prolific rock band who keep completionists hungry by the change of their moods, but even if they’ve built a brand on color-coding identically titled albums, it is still somewhat baffling why they would begin work on a second Black Album before even releasing the first.
Yes, between the Green Album and 2002’s Maladroit, another Black Album neared completion. At this point in their career, though they had just lost bassist Mikey Welsh (to what were long mysterious circumstances), Weezer was riding high on their first of many comebacks, and were creative as ever. With a heavy touring schedule sandwiching their studio dates,  new material was tested out on the road, like Black Album tracks “So Low” and “We Go Together", as heard on their occasionally bootlegged October 2001 HBO Reverb special. Having momentum on their side, work continued until November 2001, when a tentative 12 song sequence was assembled.  Perhaps the group was unsatisfied with the performances or expected that better songs would appear in short order, but for whatever still yet-to-be-explained reasons, this album made it no further than this step in production. Soon after, in December 2001, work on what would become Maladroit commenced. A majority of the original Black Album songs were also attempted during these sessions, but only two (“Fall Together” and “Do You Want Me To Stay”) would make it onto the released disc.  Fortunately for hungry fans, Maladroit-era Cuomo took great interest how the then-recent popular adoption of the internet could help bridge the gap between the band and their followers, and several work-in-progress demos were leaked from the man himself, including new versions of songs featured on the Black Album. However, by the time Maladroit was released in May 2002, the abandoned Black Album faded into obscurity for good.
Enough time has passed since then for many fans to reappraise Maladroit as a worthy successor to the Green Album and a hidden gem in the storied band’s cannon, though Weezer’s increasingly greatest-hits oriented concerts currently leave all but minor hits “Dope Nose” and “Keep Fishin’” off the stage. The intervening years have also treated listeners to variety of long-lost tunes, including some of Make Believe’s “Fallen Soldiers” on 2010’s Death To False Metal, and a complete (albeit discontinuous) release of Songs From the Black Hole via Cuomo’s Alone series of demo compilations. It’s a testament to how low of a priority for the band the original Black Album is that it wasn’t revisited on the above archival releases, and that no questions were raised when a second Black Album was hinted at in 2016 speaks volumes of the press’ commitment to research on the matter. With enough motivation, listeners today can approximate what the lost record may have sounded like via circulating demos, but between Weezer’s continued productivity and how overdue the deluxe edition of the Green Album is, a proper release of 2001’s Black Album doesn’t seem to stand a chance in the foreseeable future.

Black Album (2001) : 11/3/01 work in progress track list (courtesy of

1. My Weakness
2. Change The World
3. The Dawn
4. Ain't Got Much Time
5. We Go Together
6. Fall Together*
7. Diamond Rings
8. Your Room
9. Living Without You#
10. So Low
11. Faith in the Light
12. Do You Want Me to Stay (a.k.a. Love Explosion)*

*remade and released on Maladroit
#remade and released on the Japanese release of Maladroit

Monday, February 13, 2017

Artist watch: Philly shoegazer's The Virgouts

At Sunday night’s benefit show for the American Civil Liberties Union at Northern Liberties’ Ortlieb’s, Francisville-turned-Fishtown shoegazers The Virgouts finally found their match, opening for fellow Philly-gazers Starterjacket. Formed in Spring of 2016, The Virgouts, up until this point, were more or less an outlier on their bills, having shared the stage with a disparate variety of acts including switchboard electronica at The Fire, and their placement on Saturday night’s skatepunk showcase at south Philly spot The Pharmacy.

Consisting of guitarist/vocalist Rashad Rastam, bassist Nick Schon, and drummer Ryan Lohbauer, The Virgouts combine a rather unworn list of ingredients to set their brand of shoegaze apart. For one, Rastams’ethereal guitar washes are starkly contrasted by Schon’s surging, fingerpicked basslines that employ no effects. On Schon’s contributions, which display a slick, jazzy influence uncommon in shoegaze at large, Rastam assessed that, “I’m pretty sure that like if it wasn’t for like the basslines we’d be fucked.” Lohbauer also showed awareness for the whole being greater than the sum of the parts, recalling that “[The Virgouts have sometimes] been practicing [when] Nick’s not around, and it’s like ‘what is this?'” Adding to the sense that no cookie-cutters were used in the making of this music are the vocals, as Rastam opts for a raw, punk-seasoned delivery that helps one imagine what it would be like if Sick of It All were not so sick of it all. On stage, the sound-synergy becomes immediately evident, with set opener “Oversized” likely to induce closed eye visuals of a cyberpunk thriller’s obligatory, deleted snowboarding scene.

Still, although their stage act is power-packed, for the time being The Virgouts are among the countless artists whose available recordings leave the energy of their live show substantially uncaptured, making it imperative to see them live for the full effect. Fortunately, this should soon be remedied, as two new releases are on the way for 2017, including their Deaded EP and a yet to be titled full length album. Regarding Deaded, Rastam shares, “it’s gonna’ be a six song EP for sure. The songs that [we played] tonight are going to be on the EP. We recorded it last year, then I moved to Queens so it got a little tied up, but we’re gonna’ put it out this year for sure.” Though it will be directly preceding the album, the EP is slated to contain entirely separate material from the full-length, adding value for listeners. “Our new record’s like gonna’ be 10 to 12 songs. It’s 50% done. We wanna’ put out the EP first though”, elaborated Rastam on the forthcoming releases.

Having just found their way into the Philly’s thriving shoegaze scene, the trio has yet to gain much of a following, but 2017 looks promising with all that is in store, and showgoers owe it to themselves to see The Virgouts while they can still get to the front with ease.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

New York's Flower Shows-Off Bouquet of Fresh Tracks at Union Pool

Flower 2/10/17 at Union Pool, Brooklyn, NY (L-R: Ian James, Ed Baluyut, Richard Baluyut)
When bands take the stage after decades of absence, they tend to face a spectrum of polarized opinions. On the open-minded end, loyal fans who simply want to press rewind often crave authenticity in the form of an original lineup and familiar material. Opposite that are the hardliners who will eschew nostalgic retreads to the point that they would rather stand on the roof of the carwash playing washtub bass than attend any comeback show. Fortunately for those who arrived fashionably early to Brooklyn’s Union Pool on Friday night, New York college-rock gems Flower proved that both sides can be met in the middle while still staying far away from the middle of the road.

Flower’s appearance preceded that of The Jason LowensteinBand, whose leader has also performed with Sebadoh and The Fiery Furnaces, and +/- (Plus/Minus) ,who, like Flower, have a noticeable lineup overlap with the more widely recognized Versus. Such billing made it all the more easy for showgoers to mistake themselves for contestants on Guess Who’s Coming to Chickfactor, as within the audience also stood a veritable Who’s Who from the golden age of indie-rock, including Simple MachinesRecords/Tsunami co-founders Jenny Toomey and Kristin Thompson, as well as illustrator Tae Won Yu, formerly of the New York duo Kicking Giant.

For this show, Flower’s original lineup of Ian James (bass, vocals), brothers Richard (guitar, vocals) and Ed Baluyut (guitar), and Andrew Borwdin (drums) played a rather unconventional reunion set, consisting almost entirely of new tracks from their forthcoming album. In fact, the sole representative of their back catalog, Memorial Day (from 1990’s Hologram Sky LP),  came only as something of a favor to a superfan. R. Baluyut explained, “[Lowenstein] was a huge Flower fan as a kid, but he never got to see us ‘cause he was too young. We played with him before, like Versus, but [Flower] wanted to play with him, because I knew he was a fan. Sadly, I forgot that , oh, we should probably play some old songs that he knows, so we did one at the end, Memorial Day, just for him.”

"I think a show is when you’re always moving forward."
-Richard Baluyut

Still, even with 45 minutes of principally unfamiliar material, the Union Pool crowd was in for a pleasant surprise, as the new tracks avoided the pitfalls of most artists entering their second act . “We just recorded them and most of them don’t have words yet, so I wrote words this week, but everyone knows them by the number. We played 6, 2, 8, 9, 14, 17, 5, 20, its all like that”, elaborated R. Baluyut on the fresh songs that evince a natural continuity from where they left off 27 years ago, without the staleness or seemingly forced updating so prevalent in long standing artists’ new work. “It’s  just a project that was kinda’ like a what if: what would happen if we sat in the same room and tried to write new songs, cause it’s like we had this thing years ago but let’s see if we still have it, and we discovered that we do, and then all of these new songs appeared, kinda’ out of thin air”, reflected Borwdin.

Concerning the new record, patience is still very much a virtue, as vocals and other overdubs have yet to be completed, but a true sense of renewal has taken the members of Flower since reforming and, as far as they’re concerned, this is just the beginning. As Bordwin put it, “ we played a few kind of like reunion shows. We played at the Knitting Factory, we played at the Bell House, and we played at the Cake Shop, and that was just kinda’ like looking backwards, and this is all about looking forwards. We wanna’ play more shows, and we wanna’ find a home for this record at some point. We gotta’ finish it first, but it’s kinda’ about rediscovering something, and you know, it’s kind of an experiment, and everybody’s along for the ride.”

From The Archive: Former Magnetic Fields Singer Susan Anway Readies New Tunes (2010)

This article originally appeared in the April 2010 edition of The Raven Review, published by Prescott College in Prescott, AZ.

Correction: History Detectives featured scores composed by Jack Andrews, not Borris Black.

Update: Diskarnate's full-length debut album "Greed" was released on April 11, 2013, and can be purchased on bandcamp and CD Baby.