Tool’s Fear Inoculum – impressions

First a tangent. I’m so disappointed the Sony noise canceling ear buds (WF-1000XM3) aren’t out yet. Listening to music for the purpose of a review while on a train is just brutal. These headphones are getting great write-ups as an upscale Air Pod replacement. I have been thrilled with the AirPod (1st Gen) for connectivity and sound, in that order. Hooking up to phone (with adorable animation) had never been so easy. And I also like the sound. Now, I have a chance to get improved sound (because the Sony is sonically better and because it has the active noise canceling). By all accounts, I will sacrifice some ease of connection because only Air Pods and Power Beats Pro have the H1 chip, but I think I can manage. Having now introduced other devices to my Air Pods, I almost never get to see animation, and it is not uncommon that I actually have to connect under Bluetooth in settings. Not so easy after all. So, just a few more weeks till the Sony comes out. 

Now on to the new Tool record, Fear Inoculum. I have an interesting history with this band, despite not being a huge fan over the years. I’ll get to that history in a second. Everyone knows that this is the first release in over a decade. I have not yet ascertained the reason for the delay, but the music really stands (or falls) on its own. I’m not too worried about an explanation on the earliest listening. 

Sometimes it’s good to just take the work on its own. I realize artistic expression is often designed to have a certain outcome. Sometimes bands get back together after a really long hiatus just for the money. can you imagine? Music, perhaps more than any other mode of expression, gives the audience a chance to approach the work on its own terms, without the worry of someone constantly trying to make the hand fit into the glove. 

Also, it should be noted that this album features the ‘classic’ lineup (thank you, half-assed internet research). I have an unexpected affection for the original bass player Paul D’Amour. He helped create one of my favorite albums of he 90’s after he checked out of Tool. It was Free Mars and the band was Lusk. Nothing else came of that project – no tour, no follow-up record, nada. D’Amour has landed on his feet twenty plus years later as the bass player for Ministry. I have no idea what kind of creative control he has in that endeavor, but when he DID have maximum creative input, the result was spellbinding. I could go on at length about Lusk’s one and only record, but instead I will draw focus back to more relevant matters. The new Tool.

There is a thickness to the sound with thunderous and rhythmic drums and heavily distorted guitars. Odd time signatures and polyrhythms create an atmosphere of constant movement, almost bordering on chaos, but it’s cool. That power remains, almost drones, and forms the contrasting backdrop over which singer Maynard James Keenan spills his poisoned honey. Even from the very beginning: 


Long overdue 

In other words, when you get to be this old, you can’t be harmed any more. Not by the fear of life’s cruelty and uncertainty. No explanation about why it’s overdue. Like I said above, it doesn’t really matter. My opinion might be that the Immunity CAN’T come without that passage of time, and that what seems overdue is actually quite punctual. But the real sentiment is that the freedom of Immunity should have come sooner. That dissatisfaction and agitation is the young man’s game. The game that involves a stalking vision of inadequacy. This band still runs from that. This is not an album by aging superstars who are now somehow comfortable in their own skin. Instead, the search into thse dark sounds and the pain they suggest is an ongoing process. Indeed, the more time you take off, the more you have to prove upon return. 

It’s not just Immunity, although that’s a good place to start and even gives the album it’s name. But the lyrical theme at the albums dramatic conclusion shifts from the ‘I don’t give a fuck you can’t hurt me’ to the other key ingredient that can only come with time: familiarity. 

You are darkness

Trying to lull us in, before the havoc begins

Into a dubious state of serenity

Acting all surprised when you’re caught in the lie

We know better

It’s not unlike you

The worry over being ‘overdue’ is now replaced by a cunning that can only come with age and experience. 

Let’s turn to the music. As much as Keenan provides a substantive incantation that speaks to a primal and violent side of masculinity, the amount of time when the vocal instrument is silent is by far the majority. 

When it comes to music, the intensity of my love necessarily creates a lot of baggage. I have listened and studied and learned and joined and rejected and tried and failed to love every kind of music. Heavy Metal could charitably be described as a blind spot. I look to the familiar ground of Prog. Dream Theater is not a band I adore, but I have listened to several of their albums and have seen at least one love performance. I know their association with both Prog and heavy metal communities. Does that help create an easy path to Tool? Many have told, and I have read as much, that Tool is a form of Prog band. 

There are similarities with Dream Theater, but I’m more struck by the difference. I would summarize the key distinction as patience. Tool seems to be a far more patient band. Perhaps that is evidenced by the thirteen years it took to get this record released. When Dream Theater engages in a ten plus minute excursion, it’s often a dance of swords. There are acrobatic feats of daring that keep the listener on their toes. Tool may employ a fancy time signature, but the emphasis is more on a chunka chunka built around Danny Carey’s controlled chaos. The pattern may be hard to discern at first, but it is there and it is relentless. 

Guitarist Adam Jones is a founding member, yet his playing is so understated. There is not a single solo in this mass of music that seeks to draw too much attention to itself. On the contrary, the purpose of guitar on this record appears to be building drama and clearing a path for percussion. 

And that’s the on-ramp. I was really surprised to learn that Tool wasn’t started by Carey because that polyrhythmic thunder seems to be the foundation of Tool’s sound. And not just on this record. This percussion design is not a motif or calling card, it’s more like a religion, or physics. A unifying principle from which all things in Tool-world can be better understood. Having embraced that for the first time while listening to this latest record has been a powerful revelation. 

Hot take alert. I apologize in advance, but to put this in context I would suggest that the funk infusion which makes Rage Against the Machine so listenable and lovable is a mere parlor trick by comparison. A gadget play that subsequent history has proven to be unsustainable. The building plod of Tool, on the other hand, is more akin to an infinite army of Lovecraftian nasties, marching over the hill with an unimaginably huge Cthulhu leading the charge. 

Both are heavy music, but in one case the reference point (hip-hop, rap, funk) takes over and becomes the thing itself, larger than anything in Rage’s music. They put themselves behind the eight ball. With Tool, the sparse simplicity of tone and poly rhythm suggests a much greater power, of which we can only see a glimpse. 

Oh, to be young and fit again

And this brings me to the opening of Lollapalooza 1993. In the sweltering August heat of Philadelphia, a friend and I staked out a space just behind the mosh pit. We were waiting to see Rage Against the Machine, then at the height of their powers. And we saw them alright. All of them. Because they came out, each completely naked (thank you, Red Hot Chili Peppers, except of a large letter painted on the chest. They turned all amplifier setting up to maximum and laid down their instruments with pickups facing the speakers. This created the most horrifying and painful feedback loop anyone should ever have to experience. The noise continued unceasingly as the band members came to the front of the stage and spelled out P-M-R-C. Take that, Tipper Gore!

After what seemed like an eternity, an unknown quartet came out to take Rage’s place. I don’t remember much of Tool’s set, but I’m proud to say I got to see one of their earliest performances. Now that I have embraced that big beat, I’m going to have an even better time reuniting with my old friend in another seat just behind the mosh pit. 

Mike Bloomfield – From His Head To His Hands To His Heart


Been waiting a good long time for this one.  Here’s Vintage Guitar magazine on the tendency Bloomfield’s playing had to change people’s lives.

Mike Bloomfield had that effect on people.  For a Jewish kid playing the blues in the mid ’60s, that’s no mean feat. But regardless of who his influences were and how proficient he became at various styles that preceded him, there was guitar playing before Bloomfield and guitar playing after Bloomfield. It’s as simple as that.

The compilation comes out next month.

One Voice. One Guitar. One Take.

From Rolling Stone:

I just wanted to go up there and see if a solo show would work…Obviously going up and doing ‘Big Love’ or ‘Never Going Back Again’ or some of these other songs that I’ve done before was something I was comfortable doing. Putting a whole show together by myself and having an arc that goes somewhere that holds people’s interest was really the challenge.


Lindsey Buckingham: One Man Show apparently will be digitally released on November 13, 2012.

If you love ‘classic’ Genesis, then this track-by-track commentary by Steve Hackett will give you chills

‘Genesis Revisited 2’ is Hackett’s second album reinterpreting the music of his youth.  It comes out in late October and boasts a slew of special guests.

Here’s what Steve has to say about ‘Fly on a Windshield’ from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway:

Influences in this powerful piece range from Ravel to Hendrix, with the ramming speed of Ben Hur along with echoes of the Egyptian pyramids, all brought to life under the watchful towers of New York. A wall of sound meets the wall of death. In this new version the guitar sometimes screams like slaves under the whip.


And on ‘Dancing With The Moonlit Knight’:

This is possibly my favourite Genesis song, with influences ranging from Scottish plainsong to fusion… Elgar meets Brave new World. It epitomises the character and magic of early Genesis. It features tapping, nylon and twelve strings. Jeremy Stacey’s drums give this version even more precision. The “Disney” section at the end has an English pastoral hypnotic feel – a thread to the world of Spencer’s Fairy Queen – a small corner of England remaining while the rest is sold off as a job lot plunging headlong into an alienated future. In this version I started this piece with the beginning of Greensleeves to give a sense of the old English thread and the poignancy of the song, which Francis Dunnery’s sensitive vocal also expresses.

Read the rest of Steve’s commentary at his website.

Squarepusher on whether he’s “going back to his roots”

There are numerous ways in which I’m concerned with this music that a listener just wouldn’t be. So I think that kind of assessment is really public domain. I don’t know what I can offer in that respect. I can certainly say the idea of trying to replicate something I’ve done in the past is quite offensive to me. Trying to recapture something I was doing 15 years ago, that’s certainly a long way from my intentions.

Read the entire Spin Magazine Q&A.

Squarepusher ups the ante with Ufabulum.

So far, I am very pleased with the new Squarepusher record.  I’m also enjoying how some critics can’t get a handle on it.  That means he’s doing his job properly.  As the artist predicted, it is both melodic and aggressive.  The grooves devolve to an almost unrecognizable digital mash, but are buoyed by the composer’s sense of melodic narrative.  The destructive decoration is the point, but it is anchored to very human sounding notes.

Here is the artist’s own track by track discussion.

Thrilled to present @jimmybing’s review of the new Dream Theater release – A Dramatic Turn of Events

Dream Theater is iconic, even outside the Progressive rock world.  Now they attempt to carry on without their founding member, drummer extraordinaire Mike Portnoy.

It’s an honor to present James Bingham‘s review of the new record, aptly titled ‘A Dramatic Turn of Events’, which comes out tomorrow.  Once you read the review, you’ll understand why I’m so pleased to be presenting Mr. Bingham’s considerable insight and wit.  Whether you are a long time fan of DT who remains skeptical about the new release, or you are simply someone who appreciates great music, or even if you just like a good story, I urge you to read on.     And, without further ado:

Dream Theater has got something to prove. They – and a million other bands – will swear up and down that everything they do they do for the fans. And while that’s true to an extent, “A Dramatic Turn of Events” (and how dramatic they’ve been) has got to be about more. With the departure of Mike Portnoy – who’s arguably been running the band for some time now – Dream Theater has got to prove that it can hang tough, that it’s not going disappear into the ether along with Betamax, the new Coke and other obscurities people only reference in reviews like this.

So the gauntlet’s been laid down. Actually, it was laid down a year ago when Portnoy first announced he was leaving the band. Well, the album is finally upon us and now it’s time for some straight talk. Dream Theater delivered the goods. And not only that, they’ve delivered their strongest album since “Scenes from a Memory,” more than a decade ago. And the haters – true to their name – are going to hate that. “The band’s lost its soul! Portnoy was a founding member!” they scream, conveniently ignoring the fact that John Petrucci and John Myung are also founding members, and that James LaBrie’s been in the band for so long he might as well be grouped with the rest of them. Portnoy may have been the most active with the fans, but that doesn’t mean he was single-handedly writing the music.

But after only a single listen of this new album, it’s obvious he was pushing it very hard in a certain direction. And now that he’s gone, the band has returned to a fuller, warmer sound. It’s something that’s been missing for quite a while, and it’s not until you hear it again that you realize how much you missed it. There’s a lot to look out for, so I’d like to hit the highlights, what stuck out most to me in my first few listens.

The album opens with the new single “On the Backs of Angels,” which any fan worth their salt has listened to already, so we’ll skip ahead to the next track, “Build Me Up, Break Me Down.” If any track could be said to bridge the gap between the old Dream Theater and the new, this is it. With its electronic drumbeat intro and screaming chorus, this may be the album’s most “mainstream” track, although the sound is very distinctly Dream Theater. There’s a really great orchestral backup that builds to an eerie outro and the sound of galloping horses.

This is the beginning of “Lost Not Forgotten,” and the first time the band really comes together and shines. It kind of took me by surprise, because when I listened to the minute-long clip that was released a few weeks back, it sounded more like “Black Clouds & Silver Linings” than anything else; something a lot like “A Nightmare to Remember,” which is to say same old same old. And while the chorus is very driving, it picks you up and carries you along with it. The only word I can think of to describe it would be “soaring.” The song’s also got a very proggy breakdown in the middle – think the very best bits of “Octavarium” and “Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence” – before picking up that chorus again and taking us out.

Things slow down a bit with “This is the Life.” This song, “Far From Heaven” and “Beneath the Surface” I felt were all very much of a piece. Actually, you can separate the entire album between its down- and up-tempo tracks. And it seems like there’s just the right number of each. I think these slower songs will appeal to those who haven’t been too impressed with the band’s work in that arena these past few albums.

“Bridges in the Sky” goes slightly Tool in the beginning with a weird shaman-who-swallowed-a- didgeridoo-chanting intro. Dream Theater’s been writing music for close to 30 years that stylistically has all been very similar, so I won’t begrudge them going off the reservation a bit and doing something so weird. This song is kind of a microcosm for the entire album, in that it strikes just the right balance between hard and soft. We’ve got the driving double bass and hard guitar rhythms, which seamlessly move into these beautiful choruses.

“Outcry” is definitely ADTOE’s beat-you-over-the-head technical masterpiece, a song that’s really got it all. Syncopated rhythms. Crazy solos. You notice this with the lyrical sections throughout the entire album, but I think it’s especially true here: LaBrie’s solo projects have definitely rubbed off. There’s a very strong Leonardo vibe here, although this album possesses a warmth that album didn’t (which isn’t to say I didn’t dig it). As for the music, there’s so much crazy switching off between Petrucci, Rudess and Mangini that I can’t wait to see them pull this one off live.

For my money, “Breaking All Illusions” is the winner; this album’s “Learning to Live.” It’s also the first song John Myung has written lyrics to since “Fatal Tragedy” on “Scenes.” While “Lost Not Forgotten” and “Outcry” showcase some darker flavors, “Breaking All Illusions” hits the lighter side. There’s some great back and forth between the guitars and keyboards. The entire song has got a very strong YES and Marillion vibe, but it never feels like it’s wearing these inspirations on its sleeve. The whole things ends in typical DT fashion, very epic, lots of pounding drums. This particular song feels more like the end of a soundtrack than a rock album. But there’s still more to come.

The band has done something here they haven’t done since “Awake.” They reel things in and end the album with the much lighter “Beneath the Surface.” This one is like a ballad plus some with Jordan’s Moogy solo in the middle, a reminder that these guys take different musical styles and make them their own. It was kind of the perfect note to go out on, and displayed a quiet confidence that we really haven’t seen in a while.

So they did it. If we’re looking at the band post-“Scenes,” I loved “Octavarium,” but I LOVED this album. It’s bigger, it’s fuller, it takes the band in a new direction while paying homage to the old school Dream Theater we’ve all been eulogizing these past few years. And none of that is a knock against Mike Portnoy. He’s a great drummer, and with DT he accomplished great things. They made great music together and we’ll always have that. But I think it had just gotten to a point where he was holding them back. And if “A Dramatic Turn of Events” is the album they put out after he leaves, I wish he had left after “Octavarium.” It’s something I never thought I’d hear myself say, but as the saying goes the proof is in the pudding. Dream Theater’s epic, proggy pudding. We’ve heard them say for years that they thought the band’s best years were ahead of them, but we never really believed it. But after this, I have a feeling they may be right.

James blogs at, and you can follow him at