My two nominees for Album of The Year. Photo Credit: G. Scott Hughes
Greetings & salutations readers. If anyone still reads this blog, that is.
Y’know.... it’s my platform and I’m going to use it.
So I dedicate this post to..ME!
Let’s get to it, shall we?
As this is the fifteenth of June, in the year 2023, there are two very strong albums available for your listening pleasure. Each album stands on its own merits and is very unique.
And since I’m an honest/hit you in the gut type of writer (& Man), I’ll go into exact detail as to why I can’t stop listening to the both of them. I must admit that the secondary purpose of this piece is to plead a case for both of these artists to be featured for the upcoming OC Sellout Fest 2023.
But I digress…..
(Authors Note) The order of which I am writing will be in chronological order that the albums were released.
Released on 3 March of this year, Flower of Life is a hefty, rich, exotic, swirling, refreshing pool of water in a vast desert……
Wait a minute. I’m not ready to get into the album just yet. I’m going into the WHY. Buckle up, Ladies and Genitals. We’re going back a bit.
Chronologically, this is circa 1985-6. Heavy Metal ruled my soul. Especially that new thing (at the time) called Thrash Metal. The loud guitars, drums & (especially) the bass flipped my switch. The lyrics were muy macho, resolute and rebellious. The music bore into my head like a chainsaw. No other music existed for this author. One could say that I spent enough on Albums/Concert Tickets/Tour Shirts/etc. to pay for a family to live in third world country. Anything else was total shit.
On the other side of the hallway, in our wonderful home, was my sister. Musically, she couldn’t be further away from me. I liked Judas Priest/Ratt/Motorhead/Maiden/Saxon/etc. She liked U2/Depeche Mode/R.E.M./The B-52's/etc..
On more than one occasion, we had serious Hi-Fi wars. Which was basically one of us stomping into each other’s room and shouting something like this to the offending listener: “TURN THAT SHIT DOWN! I CAN’T EVEN HEAR MY MUSIC!!”
The shouter would stomp out of the room and slam the door of their room shut in a startling manner. Then, the one having been shouted at would usually drag one of their speakers into their door way, point the door speaker towards the offending party and crank their volume knob so hard it might break off. This act forced the shouters’ hand to return the favor.
Needless to say, these incidents would most likely disturb the tranquility in our home. Necessitating a visit from the household authorities. Ergo, Mom was coming in hot. And she was not going to be in a pleasant mood. Once full-on attack mode was engaged, her main way of dealing with this situation was to rush into our rooms, throw around our gear, until she got a visual on the offending, terrible plug and rip it out of the wall. Then shout at the both of us and stomp out of our rooms in a huff.
This only had to happen a few times before we realized that buying new Hi-Fi gear was a costly endeavor. And so, our senseless, brutal Hi-Fi wars were parleyed to a painless conclusion.
But as the years wore on, I had to admit that some of the music she listened to was very good. I became very sneaky about “borrowing” her CD’s when she wasn’t looking. That music got me to places that Heavy Metal wouldn’t. Could I dare to reveal this to my heavy metal friends? Not a chance. I would be ostrasized quicker than you could say Lee Harvey Oswald was a patsy
Which brings us back to Flower of Life.
I suppose the main reason for my liking Flower of Life is that this album reminds me of the stuff my sister used to listen to back then.
Look..I could go on and on and on about just how good this album really is. And while I am here, could someone please tell me why this album isn't being blasted 24/7 on KROQ already?
Taleen's voice is top shelf stuff. Somewhere between Karen Carpenter and Debbie Harry. I’ll go on the record and state that the title track alone is worth the price of admission. The album doesn't stop there. Rest assured, there is zero slop on this album. Each track is a solid banger. The slower, moodier songs are rife with passion and emotion. Cazimi and Vague Flesh are perfect examples.
But what shall we call the music Taleen Kali creates? Is it punk? Not really. Although there is a smidge of punk in there. Shall we call it Pop. No. But there are pop elements within these songs. How about Alternative? Kinda. Taleen Kalis' music could easily be typecast in the catch-all that is the alternative music genre. Shoegaze? Yes, but only to a certain extent. So far none of these genres could be used to describe the music her and her band create. Let's try this on for size: Shoegaze Dreamcore Pop Punk.
My personal fave track, Only Lovers Left Alive, has a killer hook with style, soul and grace to spare. The lyrics that grabbed me were: “Show me your hell/And I’ll show you mine/Otherwise we/Are just wasting time.”
The secret weapon of this album is the production value. Jeff Schroeder and Josiah Mazzaschi get it perfect. As the liner notes on the backside tell the listener: “Flower of Life Is About Living & Dying”. If anything, this album made me feel alive. Very much alive.
& now for the next album. There’s More To It Than Climbing by Decent Criminal. Released on 19 May of this year.
If I had to create a recipe for Decent Criminal, I would go with this: Equal 1 cup amounts of The Pixies, The Ramones and The Beatles. Mix together in a bowl and let sit for 2 hours in the refrigerator until firm. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and drop that bad boy in there for one hour. After an hour, check for an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Upon removal, sprinkle on some Oasis & (90’s Prime) Weezer. Serve with three-part vocal harmonies, insanely talented songwriting and a generous helping of musicianship. Serve after cooling. Then..ENJOY!
And what a sonic feast Decent Criminal delivers! Each of their 4 albums demonstrate the evolution of a band on the rise.
The mustard seed that is their untitled debut album (which I’ll call Hermanos) is a bit rough to listen to. Especially after you listen to the neo-classics that are Bloom and Bliss. But therein lies its charm. Is Decent Criminal a fully developed organism at that nascent point? No. As you listen to songs like Death and Abandon, one can sense the undeveloped potential of an elite-level musical genetics that Decent Criminal has been blessed with. And those genetic traits will soon emerge for all to see.
From the monosyllabic song titles to the playing order to the artwork, the absolute perfection that Decent Criminal exudes both on stage and in the studio is something to respect. By no means do they play “music for musicians”. Their music is easily graspable and (in my humble opinion) should be in heavy rotation on all AOR radio stations. Is this new album a continuation of or another Bliss or Bloom? No. That was never in the plans. What we are presented with is a band lunging headlong into a new sonic frontier.
The one thing I’ve come to admire about a Decent Criminal album is that they challenge you as you’re listening to their albums. These albums aren’t made with the 3-chord, 2 and a half-minute song length people in mind. I myself adore Taken Days and Odd Robot. Those two bands are the vanguard of power pop punk present time.
As my appreciation of music and the people that create the music grows, I find myself intently listening for that small bit of in-studio chatter. A snide remark between band members. When one suddenly comes into my ears, I get excited.
What do I mean by that? Those bits of sound the artist decides to leave in on the track. A few examples? Sure. The first one that comes to mind is John Bonham chanting: “We’ve done four already and you know we’re steady and then we went 1..2..3..4!” on their legendary track, The Ocean. And who could forget the classic utterance before The Seed by Down kicks off: “The power of the riff compels me!”
By doing this, the artist is demonstrating a smidgen of soul/humanity between the tracks of the album we are listening to. When decent Criminal does this, the spaces between their songs give the albums a whimsical, Sgt. Pepper’s edge that is very hard to match in this day and age.
But enough of my gushing. Let’s get to the nuts and bolts of this album.
I will admit that as far as albums go, Decent Criminal has yet to let me down. The bar they have set for themselves is quite high. Let’s all face this fact, Decent Criminal is far too good to be typecast as a “punk band”. Sure, they can grind out 3 minute punk songs with the best of them. But they weren’t meant for that stuff. They will eventually take the song in an unexpected direction/drop in a cool acoustic guitar breakdown/scintillate our ears with a (GASP!) tasty guitar solo. And as with any plot twist, we need a few minutes to adjust to the new direction. Once everything becomes clearer, we are treated to vistas heretofore unimagined. And we would not want to be anywhere else.
How silly of me! I forgot to mention the superior sonic goodness that happens when Tristan Martinez and Brian Gellman get in a room with a microphone. Their harmonies remind me of Buck Owens and his guitarist (& best friend) Don Rich. In both cases, each are the peanut butter to their counterparts' jelly, vocally speaking. Do you need proof? Just listen to Time. Or Storm from their Sophmore album Bloom.
My final verdict: There’s More To It Than Climbing raises the bar once again. Listen to it and be amazed.
Any questions? No? Good. Now get out and see a show or 3. And buy some merch from the band you like.
Now I'm done.