Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Pretty Maids - Motherland

I had never heard of the Pretty Maids up until last year, or if I had I had forgotten them entirely. It could be because Pretty Maids found their biggest commercial success in the late eighties early nineties when I was still very young. It could be Pretty Maids never got very popular in North America, in fact outside of Denmark, Sweden, Germany and Spain, Pretty Maids are not altogether popular anywhere. It could also be just something as simple as me not paying as much attention to Denmark’s rock scene as much I should be.
Bad ass, Ronnie Atkins

I first became acquainted with Pretty Maids when Ronnie Atkins hit the stage in Berlin during the last Avantasia tour, which as you know was a big deal for me since I went to Berlin and Hamburg to see it. I had no idea who Ronnie Atkins was but when I first saw him and he started killing it on the microphone, I knew right away he was a badass. After the show in Hamburg (best day of my life) I had the good fortune of meeting Eric Martin of Mr. Big and after a delightful half hour or so of hanging out with him he promised get somebody else to come hang out with us in that back alley behind the Grosse Fahrenheit 36, and that somebody was Ronnie Atkins. Mr. Atkins was not as enthusiastic about hanging out with us as Eric was but he was undeniably a really cool guy. My new found Dutch friend Fabion asked him if he would be touring with Avantasia in South America later that year and he told us no. Pretty Maids would be on tour, presumably in Denmark, Germany, Sweden and Spain, and that was the priority, which is fair. I asked him about the new album “Motherland” since Eric Martin had mentioned it was really good, after a joke about how Eric had not even listened to it yet despite being given a copy by both Ronnie and his son, he informed me, quiet strongly, that it would be in my best interest if I bought a copy and listened to it.

And so I did.

And it was amazing.

Like so many central European metal bands I am late to the party discovering Pretty Maids greatness. It is a great challenge for all musicians to remain inventing and productive after many years and many albums, and with that in mind it is a delightful surprising just how good “Motherland” is. Ronnie Atkins and guitarist Ken Hammer started the band back in 1981, so being able to produce a great album after thirty plus years is incredibly impressive. For me this was the first big introduction to Pretty Maids and it made me very eager to investigate their earlier works and very quickly Pretty Maids became yet another band to add the song list on my computer, on my MP3 player and in my life.

The big single off of “Motherland” is “Mother of All Lies,”

Mother of All Lies

There are many tracks from “Motherland” that have a political commentary of some kind and I respect the nature of Ronnie’s messages. Too often bands that fancy themselves insightful in regards to politics come off as juvenile or wimpy, and there is nothing immature or meek about Aktins and Hammer. My favorite track on the album is the title track. Unlike some of the more critical theme that prevail throughout a majority of the album the title track is rather positive, in fact in contrast to the foreboding concerns in their political oriented songs “Motherland” is patriotic. The chorus is:

“I praise you,
I'll never ever betray you,
Pledge my allegiance to save you,
You are my soul you're my,

The motherland land for Atkins and Hammer would be Denmark, so this could be a song about their loyalty to that nation, and I would not blame them, Denmark is pretty cool. It could be a generic song about family, heritage and home, a theme song for all people from all lands maybe. It could be satirical, in light of the other challenging songs of nation’s governance, perhaps “Motherland” is showcasing the foolishness of nationalism, but I doubt it.

Here is what we do know “Motherland” is a hard rock song with a very busy lead guitar with simple and heavy rhythm drums and bass, and powerful vocals. We also know there is something very natural and instinctive in loyalty to one’s family and tribe and with that there is something very powerful and motivating to fight and protect those you love and the ideals you believe in. Hence why “Motherland” has such a great energy about it and why I said it could be a generic song about family, heritage and home for anybody, because very nearly all of us have all three of those things and most of everyone is proud of who they in and in turn where they came from. More important than all that, “Motherland” kicks ass, and isn’t that what is really important?

“Motherland” great album and great song.

Until next month keep on rocking in the free world.

- King of Braves

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Airborne Toxic Event - Numb

XFest, a lot of people talk about, but I had never been until this year. XFest is an annual music festival hosted by local radio station X92.9 FM. This year’s XFest’s main event was well accomplished weirdo Jack White. White is a mean musician and a very talented song writer, who may be the most influential musician in the past decade, at least according to my friend he is. However if I am to be perfectly honest I was actually more excited to see Airborne Toxic Event, and I appreciate the fact that I was probably the only one. Make no mistake, Jack White is crazy talented and he put on a great show; I am just a weirdo who really likes Airborne Toxic Event.

It was not very long ago I was telling everyone to go listen to “Welcome To Your Wedding Day” and it might seem too soon to talk about Airborne Toxic Event again, but if you come through my home town and I really like your sound, it seems the least I can do to share how good of a job you are doing, so let’s talk about “Numb.”

I really liked Airborne Toxic Event’s second album “All At Once” and as already stated I am very fond of the two song set that is “The Kids Are Ready To Die” and “Welcome To Your Wedding Day.” Alas, Airborne Toxic Event did not play either of those two songs at XFest, in fact they only played two songs from “All At Once” the title track and one other, “Numb,” which might be my favorite song by them after the above mentioned two song duo. I understand they only played two songs from “All At Once,” they have a new album out and a hit song from the “Dallas Buyer’s Club” soundtrack and they got to share those tunes, but I don’t, and that’s why I am talking about “Numb.”

A long echo is joined by the repeating of a single cord and then accompanied by the drums and lead guitar, and lastly a distorted howl finishes the intro and sets the entire song up. The melody instruments come and go and are present exactly when they are needed most, during bridges and silent vocal moments. It is like the guitar is wailing along with the words of troubled sombre hurt. “Numb” is a song that somehow manages to be both happy and sad at the same time. The lyrics are moody, and for all intents and purposes, depressing, yet the instrumental is upbeat with cool rock distortions and catchy guitar sounds. Front man and primary song writer Mikel Jollett has created something not unlike a really good Bruce Springsteen song with “Numb,” insofar it makes me feel pretty good about feeling pretty bad.

I make a constant effort to not make these reviews not about me because no one cares about me, including me, but it is very difficult sometimes because all I am really doing to telling the world why I personally like this song or that song. It is hard for me not to take a song like “Numb” as a personal reflection on things because a lot of the personality Jollett presents in his lyrical content and tone is something I would very much express if I made an effort at poetry, though presumably I would not be anywhere near as good at it as he is. It is not just an exclamation of sadness but an acknowledgement of great grief with a stubborn stance of stoicism; after all, the goal the chorus suggests is “I just want to be numb.” This is not a submission this is a position of belligerence, a willingness to endure.

“If I drink tonight I’ll get you off my mind,”

This is the only line in all of “Numb” that directly suggests the numbing taking place is alcohol induced, but the whole song just feels like it might be an ode to the sweet escape of liquor. There was a time when I took to the bottle on occasion, trying to chase demons out of my head and I just wanted to be numb. When I reflect on the bad times on my life, my creative writing and my general outlook on life, it has always been dark, but it was never solely about the darkness it was about overcoming it, and when I was overwhelmed, it was about putting up with it and giving up was never an option. That’s the flair of me that I see in a song like “Numb.” I hear myself trying to feel good about feeling bad, and that feels pretty good when I listen to this song.

Live the Airborne Toxic Event did not just perform the song “Numb” they rocked the shit out of it. It was different then the studio version in mood, it was sped up just slightly, I think, and played much harder, I know. During the live performance at XFest, and presumably elsewhere, Airborne Toxic Event made “Numb” a little less sad and a little more angry, a little bit stronger, bolder, and with all that, a little bit happier. Jollett was not giving in to great pain and despair on stage, he was flipping it the bird, (arguably the opposite of what Death Cab for Cutie would do later that same day at XFest) and it was great. Being able to make a stand against your own misery is the most empowering thing someone can do, feeling good about overcoming past bad feelings might just be the best feeling there is.

Welcome to Calgary Airborne Toxic Event, I am glad you came. Come again sometime. Why not?

- King of Braves
Anna Bulbrook on violin.


The biggest pop Airbone Toxic Event received was when they played “Sometime Around Midnight” and Anna Bulbrook opened with the violin. Two things, violins are awesome and Anna is adorable, Jollett, I am not your manager or anything but if you are reading this, let there be more of that. Cheers.