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Sunday, October 30, 2005

Orange Sky

Orange Sky
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Depending on your propensity for open-mindedness, this one is going to take a few listens before you appreciate this album for its true worth. When you first get around Orange Sky, a few things might come to mind. When did Phish suddenly resurrect itself? What is this overt hippie-like sound to something that sounds like Third Eye Blind running free in a bed of tulips? Just what the hell is an orange sky anyway?

On a more serious note, these artisans from Trinidad have something of genuine merit to offer, if you have the courage to accept it. Can you imagine Ziggy Marley tightening up his dreads, amping up and tossing a horn salute in the air? It’s closer to reality than you think. What’s so refreshing about Orange Sky and what it has to offer the hard music community is similar to what Ill Nino and Soulfly bring with their Latin percussive elements and Suicidal Tendencies before them with their multiculturalism crossover thrash. The same ideology applies to Living Colour and 24-7 Spyz. Orange Sky is one of those rare band entities I can picture myself in their home environment, chilling with a Corona and nodding along to their peaceful vibes given just an extra smackerel of loud that not only makes them more sonic, it makes them more righteous.

The vibrantly driving “Escape” is full of everything that’s good in a hard-rocking milieu: a jam-driven beat, a memorable melody, some wicked solos, and a soulful chorus. This one’s an absolute winner. The swaying, lackadaisical tempos of “Beautiful Day” and “Cast Away” take me right into the sand and the waves where I’m free of all that troubles me. The Shabba Ranks-like rap splices on “Alone” is another groovy trip worth taking, if not for the vocals, the spiritualistic guitar solo…goodness…

If you prefer it heavier than what I’m describing, get around “Dogs” or “Tug of War” and you’ll hardly be disappointed. The latter has a fleeting vibe of Bad Brains amidst its chunky rhythm, and the psychedelic solo by Nigel Rojas (also the band’s shimmering vocalist) only makes the song heavier, particularly with the jam session that fills the end of the song. More Bad Brains influence can be found on the Rasta-laced “Real Love,” one of the album’s best-realized tunes.

What’s also smashing about Orange Sky is their fabulous cover of Cat Stevens’ “Peace Train.” Before he turned away from music in favor of religion (a maneuver he’s unjustifiably taken heat over), Stevens was a figurehead of peace in the music community. The fact that a band with so much harmonious flavor and passive ambiance as Orange Sky took on this redo makes them a better band because of it. I almost never say that about a cover song. Take us home again…

If this album grabs you upon first listen, amen. If it doesn’t, give it a second shot. You’ll undoubtedly learn something about yourself in either case. As to Orange Sky, more of these vibes, please. The experimental meld of reggae and calypso into your hard rock infrastructure is most welcome. Peace, brothers…

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Welcome, Anubis

We had an addition to the family last week, a seven-week-old stray kitten who chose me over other people in the parking lot of my job. The little stinker hissed at others, then jumped onto my leg and meowed his head off, obviously begging me to bring him home. Judging by his initial state, I was positive the kitten was going to die if nobody took care of him. Given the cold and wet conditions that marred the past week, I think I made the right decision.

At first we were having difficulty trying to figure out the sex of the kitten. My wife wanted to name it Smitten, a cute name to be sure, but upon checkup with the vet who determined we had a boy cat on our hands, after much deliberation the name Anubis was chosen. Named after the Egyptian god of the afterlife, I feel it's an appropriate name for a little critter that found a way to cheat death by coming to me.

Our older cat Neo was none too pleased about these developments at first. A gentle, sweet but territorial cat, Neo naturally hissed and growled at Anubis for most of the week until today when we gradually worked towards putting them together. They are getting along now that Neo has pounced on Anubis a number of times just firmly enough to make him submit to her authority, shall we say, heh. When Anubis has tried to climb the gates, she is right there to bring him back down. We were worried they were going to be incompatible, but all is working out thus far...

Saturday, October 08, 2005

With Honor

With Honor – This Is Our Revenge (Victory Records) Ray Van Horn, Jr.

I’m highly excited by the recent number of hardcore and punk bands that are starting to take themselves and this style of music seriously. In due time, it’s going to be socially unacceptable to admit you’re an emo kid, much less acknowledge the term “emo” altogether. I’m predicting it might be ceremoniously buried like the word “def” back in the early nineties, complete with a funeral service. The death of emo and breakdown-manic hardcore is closer than you think, and ushering it in a hurry is With Honor.

Other bands who realize there’s nowhere meaningful to go in this genre on its current path are Blindside, Crash and Burn, Recourse and Bane, all bands looking to raise the bar on punk in its stagnant, whiny state. God bless the vibes coming out of With Honor; I’m hearing hints of Naked Raygun, Descendents and NOFX without the overt silliness of the latter band. Dig what I’m saying? It’s old school punk updated for the masses who originally missed out. Songs like “Plot Two,” “Elevens,” “Small Dreams” and the abbreviated “Up and Out” hit you hard and fast with loads of melody and upright fury. The intensity of “Closets” is absolutely breathtaking, while “Bottoms Up” chugs with energetic drive and animated vocals by Todd Mackey. Backing up Mackey, With Honor’s gang choruses create the same soaring mode of exhilaration Bane captured on their latest album The Note.

If you listen carefully, you can hear cross-twinges of The Cure and Hot Water Music in “You Always Said,” The Cure particularly on the tuneful and rapid verses. Toss in a denouement that sounds like Jane’s Addiction’s “Mountain Song” and you have a vibrant hodgepodge that is brilliant stuff. Coupled with lyrics with righteous messages like “When did life assume the shape a TV screen, a workhorse work week, and commute in between?” from “In a Bottle,” With Honor effectively helps bring balance and order to a disrupted punk scene that needs a serious kick to the curb.

When all is said and done, This Is Our Revenge is going to be heralded as an album for a generation that’s just beginning to seek out its roots, and what treasures they’ll unearth the further back they go past Bad Religion and MXPX into Dag Nasty and Rites of Spring territory. As far as this post-emo scene goes, This Is Our Revenge can be looked upon as a genuine masterpiece. Thank you, guys. This one’s a breath of fresh air. /