Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sounds of the Season: Calabrese

Okay, I originally planned to do a whole helluva lot more of these "Sounds of the Season" things, but the time is getting away from me awful fast. In all reality, I don't know if I'll be able to blog anymore before Halloween, so I may have to save some of the stuff I intended for NEXT year. *sigh* I've tried to represent a fairly diverse batch of music, and maybe not feature bands that are well known to all.

One band I've wanted to blog about for a VERY long time is Calabrese, a horror punk band from Phoenix, AZ. Now, for those not in the know, Horror Punk is a genre that is pretty self explainitory. While it can trace its roots to seminal punk band The Damned, the first "true" horror punk band was the legendary Misfits. In the wake of the 'Fits, many bands sprung up adopting their ghoulish looks and spooky lyrics, often with mixed results. Calabrese is one of the few acts that has successfully managed to pay homage to the Misfits, while also expanding and incorporating other diverse influences.

Calabrese is comprised of three brothers, using their last name as the band's moniker. All three sport a look that resembles the T-Birds from Grease...if they had become the thralls of Dracula! Their sound is a driving horror punk that features elements of hard rock, southern rock and rockabilly. Lyrically, they spin classic tales of terror that wouldn't be out of place in the EC comics of yore. Songs like "Voices of the Dead", "Midnight Spookshow" and "Your Ghost" are catchy as hell, yet have a hard rocking edge.

One of my favorite elements of this band is the fact that they never sacrifice their sound to be "safe", yet you can play their discs around your kids without any worry (unless the subject matter worries you...and if it does why the hell are you reading MY blog???). I know I've mentioned whether or not these discs could be played with children around on pretty much every one of these entries, and it has nothing to do with prudishness (for those that know me, I hear you laughing at that notion!). Being a dad myself, I pay attention to those types of things, and I make sure to not play certain songs around my kids. I figure if you are reading this, and considering getting some of this music for a Halloween party, you might want to know if it is kid friendly if you are a parent. I digress. My point is, quite simply, that Calabrese doesn't have a buncha F bombs in their tunes, but none of their stuff seems like it has been homogenized to please the masses. It is still kick ass hard rocking punk!

One of the reasons I think Calabrese works so well is that they don't seem to take themselves too seriously. The tongue is always planted firmly in cheek, and it frees them up to just have a good time with their tunes of terror. I had the pleasure of seeing these guys last year in San Antonio, and they were just as good live as they are on record (a true rarity with many bands). They play with an energy and ferocity that is missing in much modern Horror Punk (oh, and they can actually PLAY! That also sets them apart)! Now, don't get me wrong: they take their music VERY seriously, but everything else about them is done with a wink and a gnash of the fangs. Oh, and don't tell anyone, but they're actually really nice guys. They spent hours indulging me asking them question after question, and they graciously took the time to listen and answer.

Back to the tunes...yeah, these guys kick all kinds of ass. They have two full length discs: 13 Halloweens and The Travelling Vampire Show, both of which are solid, fear-filled spins through a haunted world (a third disc is currently being recorded). You can purchase their discs from their official site, as well as all kinds of cool merch (these guys have recruited some of the best artists in the horror medium to create fantastic shirts and stickers):

You can also get their discs off of iTunes, including their now out-of-print first EP, Midnight Spookshow, which contains earlier versions of tunes that later appeared on the full-length releases.

In short, no band SINCE the Misfits has been able to pull off horror punk the way these guys have. Quite frankly, I find them to be the true heirs to the 'Fits legacy, far surpassing other bands in the genre. If you dig this sound, and just want to have some great rocking tunes for your Halloween party, then check out Calabrese. They truly are the world's greatest Horror Rock Band!!!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sounds of the Season: The Moon-Rays

Most folks are unaware of the long history swing & big band music has with Halloween. I myself was oblivious to this until I heard some of these amazing tunes on Mr. D's MySpace page (it ain't around anymore, otherwise I'd post a link). Musicians like Lois Armstrong had Halloween hits in their day, but most of these tunes disappeared into obscurity after rock replaced big band as the dominant musical genre. In more modern times, we've had some acts who've recorded Halloween party-appropriate tunes in this style (Squirrel Nut Zippers and The White Ghost Shivers spring to mind), or who've incorporated elements of the genre into their tunes(Oingo Boingo), but no one has really revisited those songs of yesteryear...until now!

The Moon-Rays are an indie band I was introduced to by my soul-sister, Wendy the (VERY) Good Witch. With their album, Swingin' at the Seance, the Moon-Rays have dug up those old classic jazz, big band & swing tunes and strapped them to the mad-scientist's table. With their own brand of jivin' electricity, they've brought these beasts back from the dead...and unleashed them on YOUR Halloween party!!

The vast majority of these tunes I had never heard, and I was amazed at this fact! These songs are wonderful, fun romps that pay loving respect to this most wonderful of holidays. Add in the fact that the band is a tight, well oiled machine that can actually handle these tunes (something not many acts could do, in all honesty), and you've got one hell of a Halloween disc on your hands! I dare you to listen to tunes like "You've Got Me Voodoo'd" or "Headless Horseman" and not tap your feet! Kids will love these, as they're just FUN ditties all the way around, and adults will appreciate the fine musicianship. Anyone who loves Halloween will dig the imagery being weaved throughout. For good measure, the Moon-Rays have included a couple of original compositions, but these tunes blend in so perfectly with the vintage numbers that you'd have to have a fairly extensive knowledge of these songs to pick them out without benefit of the liner notes.

Speaking of liner notes, in this day and age when CD packaging is becoming a thing of the past, The Moon-Rays have opted to give us a disc with extensive pictures, notes and artwork (all lovingly assembled and designed by Wens herself)! This gives an added element that is missing from so many modern albums, with pics and artwork to add to the mood, and notes to give you a sense of the history involved.

Upon my first listen, I have been hooked! Swingin' at the Seance is an instant Halloween classic, and it will find itself in rotation at all my future Samhain shindigs! Let me be clear about this: I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this disc, and if you are a Halloween nut even remotely into swing, jazz or big band then this is a MUST for you! You can snag yourself a copy at CDBaby or Amazon!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sounds of the Season: Halloween Hootenanny/The Ghastly Ones

Surf rock and monsters have a long history together. Surf culture, for whatever reason, really embraced the classic monsters of yesteryear, and incorporated them into their iconography. Did this start with the classic surf rock theme song to The Munsters, or was that theme the result of surfers being enamoured of our favorite creatures? I'm not sure of how it all began, but today the two are inextricably linked. Surf rock is often played at Halloween parties, and a whole slew of surf bands have arisen in the past several years that wear their love of all things spooky on their sleeves.

In the late 90's, ghoulish rocker Rob Zombie assembled a macabre gang of his favorite bands to craft the ultimate Halloween party album: Halloween Hootenanny!

Now, you might think with Mr. Zombie in charge, that all the music would be in the vein of his signature growling metal, but nay! This is a completely different beast altogether, with bands like Reverend Horton Heat, Los Straightjackets, Deadbolt, The Dead Elvi and (my personal favorite)The Ghastly Ones! These bands, for the most part, skew towards the surf rock genre, and the result is a fun, spooky romp. Nothing on the disc is remotely offensive, and you can freely spin this one with kids in the room. Even Mr. Zombie joins in the fun, with a tune backed by The Ghastly Ones (Rob Zombie does surf rock! Yes, it is all kinds of awesome!). This is a perfect Halloween party disc, through and through, and it's great for all ages. My kids love this album as much as I do (their personal favorite is The Dead Elvi track "The Creature Stole My Surfboard").

While on the subject, I'll spotlight one of the bands featured...the aforementioned Ghastly Ones. They describe their style as "Haunted Garage and Cemetery Surf"...and you really couldn't have a better description! With tunes about spooks, monsters and "Go-Go Ghouls", you really can't ask for a more fun-filled, Halloween appropriate band to play at your Samhain shindig! Their first disc, A-Haunting We Will Go-Go is currently out of print, but if you do some digging you can still find it in some CD online outlets. Failing that, you can find many of those tunes re-recorded on their third disc, Unearthed (some fans argue that these versions are actually better than the originals, but I'll let you decide). Their second album, Target: Draculon, is equally packed with ghoulish grooves that will have you doing the Ghastly Stomp until dawn!

To snag some Ghastly Ones tunes, head on over to their official store:

and to get your claws on Halloween Hootenanny, pop on over to Halloween Town:

I give both of these extremely high recommendations. No, they aren't remotely similar to my previous entry (Midnight Syndicate), but they are equally excellent for getting you in the Halloween mood. For me, Halloween encompasses a fairly wide spectrum, so these fit the bill as well.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Sounds of the Season: Midnight Syndicate

Anyone who knows me in any real capacity is well aware that I love music. Moreover, I'm a fan of incredibly diverse musical styles. Everything from Mozart to the Misfits to Madonna gets played in my home, office and car. To me, music is incredibly crucial to setting moods, so it comes as no surprise that I find different genres appealing for different feelings or activities.

For the Samhain Season, there are a variety of artists and albums that can appeal to the Autumn children. I'm going to make the attempt to spotlight a few of these artists in the days leading up to Halloween. The artists or albums being examined will be as diverse as my tastes, and will often be more obscure acts. Everyone is well aware of the Halloween potential of Alice Cooper or Rob Zombie, but there are other acts who deserve to be played right along with them.

If you are a "home haunter", or just dig creepy musical scores, then you can't go wrong with Midnight Syndicate. They aren't exactly what you want for a hoppin' Halloween party, but if you're looking for something to spook the trick-or-treaters, or just want something to put you in that eerie mood, then they're just right for you! Most of the Syndicate's albums act as soundtracks to horror movies....that have never been made. The discs generally don't have lyrics, but use sound effects and music to convey a sort of story to the listener. Your imagination is left to fill in the details of the actual tale. My favorite disc, The 13th Hour, is a haunted house theme, revolving around Harverghast Mansion....a place with a bit of horrid history to it, it would appear.

Midnight Syndicate have been heard in haunted attraction throughout the US, and even used at Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights. Recently, their music has even graced actual films, with them scoring horror films The Rage and The Dead Matter (the latter featuring a script from the Syndicate team themselves). The lush, gothic scores create a foreboding mood that always puts me in the right frame of mind for Halloween.

You can find their music at most of the Halloween superstores, such as Spirit, Halloween Express and Party City. You can also order online (and sample some of their tunes) here:

Some of their earlier efforts, such as Born of the Night and Realm of Shadows are now out of print, but you can find them still at their online store (sometimes you can get lucky and unearth them at the aforementioned stores. I actually happened upon both of these titles at different Spirit shops. Both are great, most especially Born of the Night). Seriously, if you like haunting musical scores that make you think of haunted houses, vampire-plagued castles and possessed insane asylums, then you absolutely MUST check these guys out!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The "Christmas Creep"

I like Christmas, I really do...but not UNTIL the actual season starts (which is on Thanksgiving Day, as far as I'm concerned). Over the past few years, I've noticed stores being afflicted by the "Christmas Creep"...putting merchandise & Christmas decorations up EARLIER AND EARLIER. Heck, last year I went into one store that had Christmas music playing over the the first week of October! In some cases, I've seen decorations going up as early as August!!! Last year the Wal-Mart by my house was putting up their Christmas Tree...on Halloween Day!!

This bugs me for several reasons. First up, it represents nothing more than a crass commercialism of the Yule season, with stores going for the quick cash grab in the off-season, hoping to get people in the mood to start their shopping earlier in the year. Second, it means that by the time Christmas actually rolls around I'm utterly sick of the music, lights and decorations...they become robbed of their special quality when they've been around for months on end.

The biggest reason this irks me? It steps all over my favorite holiday of Halloween, and usually means that Thanksgiving gets utterly ignored altogether. This year I noticed Target putting aisles of Christmas crap all around the Halloween section, with it growing every week as the Halloween aisles shrink. Damn it, enough is enough!!!!! Let Halloween and Thanksgiving have their time. Autumn belongs to these holidays, while Christmas and New Years can dominate winter (as it should be). We don't need to see tinsel and holley in August (unless those happen to be the names of your favorite strippers at the local topless bar). Let's put a stop to the "Christmas Creep" once and for all!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Trick 'r Treat Review

At long last, I picked up my Blu-Ray of Trick 'r Treat on Tuesday! After waiting (literally) years for this movie, I wondered if it could live up to my own built up expectations. Well, I can honestly say that it actually far surpassed them, which is an extreme rarity when it comes to films for me!

I won't get into spoiler territory, but I will say that Michael Dougherty has crafted a phenomenal film, filled with love and affection for the Halloween season. Every scene is chocked-full of the trappings of this wonderful holiday, and you'd be hard-pressed to find another movie that could so easily put you in the spirit. The legends and lore that are the backbone of Samhain are on display here, creating a fun, scary joyride through the mythology that led to All Hallow's Eve.

Central to the proceedings is Dougherty's finest character, Sam. Sam is, quite simply, the Spirit of Halloween. He is cute, mysterious, mischievous, vengeful, playful, creepy and downright vicious! He truly embodies everything that Halloween can be, and that just makes him such a delightful character. He takes his place alongside Dracula, The Wolf-Man, Michael Myers, Freddy, Jason etc as a true big screen boogeyman...but also fits in nicely with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny!

Sam first made his debut in animated form, in a short film Dougherty did in college called "Season's Greetings" (a favorite of mine, which is included on the disc with the film!). Rendered in live-action, he retains his cute-but-demonic aspect. While he isn't always the focus of the four interwoven stories, he is present in all of them. He enforces the rules of Halloween, and punishes severely those who break them!

If you are a fan of horror, you'll enjoy this...but I also recommend this flick for anyone who just loves Halloween. It isn't a movie you want to show younger kids (at least not until they're older), but teens will love it. It is scary, cute, funny, creepy, sexy and just plain other words, it is all the things Halloween itself is! This is easily the best film centered around the holiday since John Carpenter's 1978 masterpiece, and in many ways this film is far more all-encompassing, since it focuses on the lore and magic of All Hallow's Eve itself. I give this flick my highest possible recommendation! See it soon...or Sam may be paying you a visit!!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Let the Trick 'r Treating begin!

At long last, WB will FINALLY release the film Trick 'r Treat on DVD & Blu-Ray today! Yeah, it blows goats that they didn't give it a theatrical release (considering that it's the best reviewed horror film in 30 years), but at least we'll FINALLY get to see this flick.

I've previously blogged about the ridiculous struggle to get this film released, and the incredibly insipid way that Warner Bros. has handled this flick, so I won't go into all of that here. I'm Just happy to know that we get to see this little gem. I know I'll be having a viewing party for like-minded individuals this weekend!