Dharma’s Top 10 Albums of 2010

Top 10 Albums of 2010

First: I do not listen to the radio.

Second: I’m not fond of most of today’s “popular” music…hence you’ll find no Kanye West or Dead Weather here. Actually I kind hate of The Dead Weather.

Third: Other than Fozy Shazam being at #1, these albums are in no particular order.

Fourth: Amoeba Records, I love you.

1) Foxy Shazam- (self titled)– Completely out of left field, this one hit me.  The show must go on, and under flaming guitar hero-homage, on it goes. With obvious Freddy Mercury and Justin Hawkins operatic glam worship, Eric McNally and his misfit band of  mates concocted an over the top, beat heavy, piano ridden, bombastic, maniacal expression of self-doubt and self-worth. They’re pumped on their own ferocity and simply want to lovingly devour you with it. Let them .

2) Mumford & Sons- “Sigh No More”– Harmonic, rustic, foot stomping, soulful.

3) Black Rebel Motorcycle Club- “Beat The Devil’s Tattoo– You’d never know that a band at the crossroads created this album. Thankful for the retooling of “River Styx” to sound less like “Personal Jesus” and the songs that step back into “Howl” territory. Dense and weighty in spaces (lyrically and musically) as is their MO, and razor sharp guitars  make a well fleshed-out rock album.

4) The Stone Foxes- “Bears & Bulls”– Yeah they look like dirty hippies but the music is a guttural heft of classic rock/blues-fueled bravado.  These bastards killed Robert Johnson and have the nerve to sing about it. If you like The Black Keys, me thinks you’ll dig these Foxes.

5) Jordan Cook- “Seven Deadly Sins”– Oh my and I mean that live and recorded. Cook is that thing that once you’ve seen/heard him live, you wonder where has he been all your musical life.

6) Hanson- “Shout It Out”– Save your snickering for later, then get your head out of your ass and reacquaint yourself with a band that’s been making great music far beyond “Mmm Bop” on their own terms for years. Good musicians? Check. Write their own songs? Check. Great live show? Check. The term “boys to men” is entirely appropriate.

7) Dirty Sweet- “American Spiritual” An American concept album of sorts. War mongering, celebrity obsession, mental health,..it’s all here to the tune of semi- skuzzy, southern sounding rawk. Yet not one of these dudes is from the south…unless you count Southern California.

8) Fitz & the Tantrums “Picking Up The Pieces”–  The retro Philly, blue-eyed soul revival continues but with way more style, flair, and kind of a lo-fi sound. Co-vocalists Fitz and Noelle Scaggs make a fine pop rocking pair over solid bass, drum, sax, and organ arrangements that will make you bust a dance move. Or get your groove on. Or both.

9) The Silent Comedy- “Common Faults”– A human frailty album of the best and the worst in all of us. The old-fashioned opening track is just a trick; what follows are guitars, banjos, harmonicas, Hammond organs, pianos, strings, and rollicking tales of prohibition, Sunday church and the gold rush, tempered with life and death reality checks.

10) Dead Confederate- “Sugar”– Very fond of the heavy bass and Jason’s drum work on this album (in Atlanta, the opening strum of Brantley’s bass nearly took an ear out). The southern psych/grunge has evolved; lyrically strong (always a plus), progressive guitars, and Hardy delivers some quality fey/fierce vocals.

More Than Honorable Mentions:

The Black Keys “Brothers”

Janelle Monae “Archandroid– Saw this little dynamo twice this year. Afro punk/soul is alive and well within her.

Alain Johannes “Spark– This is a dear recording of remembrance. A headphone listener.

American Bang (self titled)– Southern rockers. KOL version 2.0.

Dharma’s Top 10 Shows of 2010

Top 10 Shows of 2010

It’s been a good music year. So good, that this list is in no particular order because trying to rate them would be ridiculous. Really ridiculous.

1)    Soundgarden @ Lollapalooza, August 8th– A no-brainer of seismic proportions as the music Gods saw fit to reunite and refuel this gargantuan survivor of grunge/metal days gone by.

Soundgarden @ Lollapalooza

2)    Black Rebel Motorcycle Club @ The Echoplex, Los Angeles March 11th, 12th, 14th -Music’s most unapologetic trio came home to rock, roll, reverberate, and rumble til the ears bled their gratitude. Peter Hayes, Leah Shapiro, and an under the weather Robert Been flexed the sounds of road-worn passion, grit, emotion, and leather upon the faithful with bullshit levels at a minimum. They were loud and they were loved and they’ve earned it the hard way. The extended recap can be found here: BRMC @ The Echoplex Review .

Peter Hayes, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club @ The Echoplex

3)    Imagine Dragons @ The Viper Room, West Hollywood, July 13th This one’s quite personal: it was my birthday. It was at The Viper Room. An awetastic friend named Chelsea booked a band that I really dig, Imagine Dragons, to play The Viper Room on my birthday. How were they? The room was sweating from the synth-pop dance and screaming for more. Position on Top 10 Shows of 2010 list secured.

Imagine Dragons

4)    Them Crooked Vultures @ The Wiltern, Los Angeles, November 17th– Rarely does the prospect of a super group live up to the salivating hype. Josh Homme, Dave Grohl, and John Paul Jones didn’t make any grandiose promises of overwhelming rock-groove brilliance; they just made a record and we found it brilliant. Putting all of their collective rock star talents on display, they were balls to the wall, acid trip dynamic. A systematic class on the art of music elevation, jams were stretched, grooves got expanded, and faces were melted. So much swagger, attack, riffs and sonic boom from one outfit but one hellishly extraordinary one.  TCV steamrolled over all who entered The Wiltern. We welcomed it.

Them Crooked Vultures

5)    Rage Against the Machine @ The Palladium, Los Angeles, July 23rd– You would never have known that this was RATM’s first LA show in 10 years for not a beat was missed, not a fist unpumped, not a body unmoshed, and not an f-bomb undropped during this benefit show in protest of Arizona’s SB 1070 immigration law.  Zach de la Rocha and crew unleashed the sound and fury upon the people the likes of which I’d never seen before.

Rage Against The Machine @ The Palladium

6)    Beth Hart @ The Echoplex Los Angeles, June 13th Beth Hart never fails. Period. No one covers Led Zeppelin or Aretha Franklin or Sam Cooke or herself like she does. No one shamelessly bares their imperfect soul via an epically (not really a word yet totally appropriate) soul-full voice on a stage for all who care enough to see the way that she does. And no one  raises the hair on my arms the way she does.

Beth Hart @ The Echoplex

7)    Helen Stellar @ Spaceland, Los Angeles, April 12th– This show winds up on my list because of how overwhelmed I was by their grand sound the very first time I saw them, where by the second song I knew I was going home with their CD. Intelligent and melodic guitar-driven rock that occasionally had me closing my eyes to hear all the pretty colors.

Helen Stellar

8)    Nico Vega @ The Roxy, West Hollywood October 30th– All you need to know is right here: Nico Vega @ The Roxy Witch Hunt

I gladly concede that this Nico Vega show truly was my #1 show of the year. Truly.

Nico Vega @ The Roxy Witch Hunt

9)    The Silent Comedy @ Every show I’ve seen this year– Music is the sound of your soul singing, dancing, crying, loving, living, and dying and San Diego’s own The Silent Comedy tend evoke all manner of these events with their special breed of well dressed (at least for a few songs), whisky marinated, Americana folk rock revival. If your feet don’t hurt by the end of their show, you’re doing something wrong. You simply have not lived until you’ve been baptized in the Church of The Silent Comedy.

The Silent ComedyThe Silent Comedy

10)  Saint Motel @ The Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, July 1st Kevin Bronson curated the “Also I Like To Rock” July concert series at The Hammer Museum and he tapped this foursome of young guns for the first show. What I saw was Saint Motel at their best and their most rocking for a packed courtyard that came ready to dance to their incredibly infectious rock with clever pop sensibilities. Local bands like Saint Motel are a gift to watch evolve and suck in new audiences.

Saint Motel @ The Hammer Museum

More Than Honorable Mentions:

Jovanotti @ The Viper Room, July 21st

Chris Cornell @ The Troubadour, January 29th

Semi Precious Weapons @ The Roxy, April 21st

Roll on 2011.

Nico Vega @ The El Rey Theatre, Los Angeles, CA 2/26/10: They Are Giving

Nico Vega @ The El Rey Theatre, Los Angeles, CA 2/26/2010: They Are Giving

It’s a full moon and I’m writing about a particular band which bodes well for said band.  Some bands have a loyal following and deservedly so, but Nico Vega is bordering on leading a cult whose members flock from town to town with unabashed joy in order to worship their leader. Seeing this three-piece for the first time bears a remarkable resemblance to being emotionally thunderstruck; this I know because I’ve been there, done that, and because I really dig getting feedback from Nico Vega-virgins. The slack-jawed, wide-eyed. “WTF was that?” look should somehow be registered and trademarked because they pretty much own it. The first time I saw this band in the live I walked away with my heart ripped open and many, many thoughts on the mind but two adjectives were overwhelming: purely visceral.


Nico Vega is Aja Volkman (Vox), Rich Koehler (Guitar), and Dan Epand (Drums); three individual bodies composing a singular combustible powerhouse. If you’ve ever wondered what the Earth, the Moon, and the Sun would sound like in recorded form, get yourself a copy of Nico Vega’s full length album and press ‘play’. On record their sound is challenging, and I mean that in a good way. Lyrically, musically they push and they push you around because of an inherent belief that we’re better than the average ground that we stand upon. In the live, that bullying is amplified by a factor of 10 as Nico Vega will abuse you with their love and damned if their audience doesn’t feed upon it whole.

Tonight their elevated place of authority was on the El Rey stage in front of the Los Angeles faithful who covet and claim them as their own. Once the curtain rose, the onslaught began with the immediate, seductive and sexual slink of “Taxi Cab” brought to life by the impressive spacey ambiance of Rich’s guitar, Dan’s thunderous percussion, and by a shrouded creature in pink and white with bare feet that connect her to the Earth. It didn’t take long before that being in pink and white became an unrestrained, howling, kinetic force of witchy empowerment. Aja’s voice is a blunt instrument unto itself and unlike any other: it rails ferocity and fragility somewhere between the likes of Bjork and Grace Slick but the voice is all Aja as it bellows from the depths of that tiny body of hers.

Aja Volkman

Nico Vega’s set traveled the familiar territory of unifying the initiated and uninitiated, alike, within their tribe. This band is an unusual being in that it looks, sounds, and feels nothing like what is so commonplace on the music scene; their intensity is as authentic as it is necessary, for it’s the only way they know how to communicate. With ‘only’ three members, Rich bears a great load on guitar as the chief noisemaker, but glance at his pedal board and know that he has all the tools that he needs to create aggressive shifts and tones from bass to lead. Throw in some fancy footwork ala James Brown and a mop of curls and you’ve got an axe slinger adept at the art of ebb and explode. I’m fond of the saying, “A band is only as good as its drummer.” which, if you subscribe to that theory, means that Nico Vega may just be the best band on the planet. Sometimes drummers are little more than background accompaniment, but Dan is more a force of nature, as tribal and primal as the instrument that he beats the shit out of. Between the beats he summons the beautiful violence that is the pulse of their songs and spending as much time levitated as he does seated due to his propulsive rhythmic nature, you simply cannot imagine this band without that kind of riot.

Dan Epand doing beautiful damage

Artifice, posturing, bling, game, ego, etc…these things seem to have no purpose here; its heart, soul, and unity that are firmly in their place championing change and connection on every level from personal to global. Their brand of rock/soul is tribal and social, political and loving, ethereal and sexual, and if you happen to get a little turned during a show, believe me, you’re not the first and you won’t be the last. As much a physical performer as a vocal one, Aja thrusts, kicks, and punches out every song almost as if the notes are coming from her appendages as well as her mouth only to soothingly balm any wound you may have suffered. Watch her. Tell me that she doesn’t ‘sing’ with every cell of her body whether she’s writhing on the stage floor during Rich’s blues odyssey guitar solo, climbing Dan’s bass drum, or stalking the edges of the stage to get closer, never losing her place as a musical priestess.

Enchantress much?

How did the El Rey crowd respond to Nico Vega? Like children being lead by the Pied Piper, dancing, singing, and fist pumping on command during “Gravity” with “Pick it up! Pick it up!” and souls exposed during the societal call to arms, “Beast”. One particularly shake-your-groove-thing moment in their set comes from the sassiness of “So So Fresh” despite having an off-tempo moment. I’ve heard the song live 2-3 times and it’s never been perfect but I don’t look for technical perfection from Nico Vega; I look to musically and emotionally transcend in a crowd of many to the point where we feel like one. Therein lays the perfection of Nico Vega.

Rich & Aja having a calisthenic moment

“One good thing about music when it hits you, feel no pain. So hit me with music, hit me with music now, brutalize me with music” Bob Marley

When he spoke those words, I think Bob may have had the likes of Nico Vega in mind.


Black Rebel Motorcycle Club Go DITY And Self-Release “The Effects of 333”

February 17, 2010

It’s a brave new music world that we live in…just ask folks like Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead who’ve eschewed the stale concept of record label management in favor of the freedom of control. Do it yourself (DITY), boys and girls, and what will be will be. Scratching that creative itch and effectively thrusting a lone digit in the direction of the man trying to hold you down, at its best, the artist inside is seeking a level of self-gratification.

On October 28th, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club released a memo of the impending:

“At exactly 3:33am visit this site for the exclusive access to the digital download of “The Effects Of 333”. A new album by BRMC featuring ten new instrumental/ambient tracks.

Released independently of any record company, it will be available as a digital download only through our new music store.

We are proud to announce our first release independent of any record company. As our first release through our Abstract Dragon label, this record is exactly that – no lyrics, no apologies, no regrets, just abstract. This has been in the works for the last 3 years at least, on and off the road, in hotel rooms, bus bunks, and back stage.

This will be available as a digital download only through our new music store. The banners will take you there at 3:33 am Pacific Time on November 1st.”

This cryptic memo had everyone who digs this band mentally, and I’m sure even physically, scratching their heads with “WTF?” wonder. Wonder about everything from the relevance of the numbers 333 (there’s been speculation…Google “333” and alcohol abuse if you care to) to why only a digital release to are these guys on crack to bring it on because any new BRMC music is good music. At the determined witching hour of 3:33 AM I just happened to be wide awake as I’d only gotten home from the Roky Erickson/Black Angels gig at The El Rey less than an hour prior. All went like clockwork; the download downloaded and for the nominal fee of $6, an abstract dragon made itself comfortable in my home and between my ears and, for some reason, I had to work at banishing the image of Sean Connery’s brogue-infected fire-breathing reptile with a heart. Ten tracks of unknown were cued and ready to play. I put the headphones on and this is what came:

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club “The Effects of 333”

“Instrumental/Ambient“…translation: free-form and obscure experimental shades of darkness and light. “And With This Comes” (which sounds like an alt-take on “20 Hours” from the American X-Baby 81 Sessions EP and stretches the richness of their signature sound distortion), “A Twisted State” (where very gentle acoustic guitar play overrides the background pickups) and “Or Needed” are the only tracks with a semblance of construct and, I assume, the tracks that most people will be able to dig into with any depth  and with little effort, inflecting their own personal head-trips and mental pictures upon these “spaces”. But for the lack of patience in how long the other seven anti-music tracks drone on (and their time spans from 3:33-7:00 minutes), it’s easy for the conveyance to get lost on the listener. Still, those other seven pieces are also “head spaces” and moody, metal-on-metal (perhaps so similar that you can’t tell one from the other let alone assign the correct title to them), whether you call them a “pile of steaming poo” (as one BRMC forum member did), traffic noise, sonic accidents resulting from too much drug use or what lies beneath the surface of these men/musicians coming to light. Even a reading of the song titles in order (or hell, scramble them for maximum confusion or an epiphany) elucidates a train of thought, also abstract, but nonetheless BRMC. If their 2005 left turn release “Howl” left even their most devoted fans shaking their heads, visualize a few of them now going cross-eyed trying to embrace these industrial echoes of nightmares, daydreams, unresolved love/anger or bad Chinese food. Nothing here has any traction outside of the value placed on it by its creator and its listener; and my, but isn’t that the pure definition of independent music? Yes, I think so.

So in that respect, as no other really matters (“no lyrics, no apologies, no regrets, just abstract.”), “The Effects Of 333” is Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s success and, as a non-artist of any kind, I can only assume to know or appreciate the level of satisfaction that comes with. Now whether you like it, love it or loathe it, you’re certainly in no way wrong since our headspaces all get tuned and turned on as specifically as our bodies do. Now I was listening to “Sedated With Sterilized Tongues” when I wrote those words and my head was very turned on.

So this is what they’ve been keeping in the pockets of their leather jackets. You can feel “The Effects of 333” for yourself by heading over to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s digital store at: http://www.brmcdigitaldownloads.com


1. The Effects of 333
2. Still No Answer
3. I Know You’re In There
4. And With This Comes
5. A Sad State
6. A Twisted State
7. Sedated With Sterilized Tongues
8. We’re Not Welcome Alone
9. Or Needed
10. And When Was Better