Lee’s Top 5 Albums of 2014

Posted: December 16, 2014 in Uncategorized

This was going to be a top 10 list, and even could be a top 15 list. But let’s just cut to the chase, the top 5 are what we all really want to see on these lists anyway, right?

And while it’s a shame that there wasn’t even a metal core album that went #1 this year (Though props to Taylor Swift, there almost wasn’t anyone to hit that milestone this year), that doesn’t mean there wasn’t good music released. So without further ado, let’s get to it.

5. Down – Down IV Part II

I’ve really grown to appreciate Phil Anselmo outside of Pantera over the past year, and that’s mostly thanks to Down. It’s almost like falling in love with Zakk Wylde’s work with Ozzy back in the day, and then finding out he went on to create Black Label Society. It’s a win/win bonus round for all.

No matter what, Down is extremely consistent in writing heavy, southern sludge songs that are beyond amazing. And I’m sure all the other fans of the band were thrilled with this EP. I certainly am, as it’s another solid entry in the band’s discography.

4. AC/DC – Rock or Bust

This might not be completely fair, as I’m kind biased (and almost obligated) to love anything that AC/DC puts out. They’re a huge reason I play guitar, and helped shape how I play guitar. Angus and Malcolm together are easily the best power house duo in rock, so to hear about Malcolm being diagnosed with dementia was truly saddening. He had written several of the band’s best songs, and produced/engineered a lot of the albums. He was pretty much the Australian Jimmy Page on that front.

So with Malcolm out (and what ever is going on with Phil Rudd), a lot of fans were questioning if they should even continue. Of course they should! And from what Angus said, it was a hard process to not have his brother there in the studio or in the writing process. But, the album still turned out amazing! I would even say I like it more than Black Ice, and I really enjoyed that one.

Even though it’s rated to not be the most dynamic album,  it still sounds great. There’s an “air” to the music, if you will. I don’t know how they did it, but it’s one of the best sounding albums in a while. Straight up rock’n’roll, no tricks or anything. The songs are outstanding, and Angus is at the top of his game. What else do you need?

3. Nick Johnston – Atomic Mind

As a fellow instrumental guitarist, Nick Johnston is undoubtedly one of the most talented guitarists on the planet, and his third album “Atomic Mind” shows that yet again.

With the backing band of Bryan Beller and Marco Minnemann (both of The Aristocrats, Joe Satriani, and much, much more), the album just soars. From the licks, technique, song writing, and my goodness… Nicks’ guitar tone, this is one of the best instrumental and best rock albums of this decade!

Also, with guest appearances by Paul Gilbert and Guthrie Govan, it’s a solid 10/10.

Nick Johnston - Atomic Mind Album Art 500x500

2. Black Label Society – Catacombs of the Black Vatican

Okay… Okay… I know that AC/DC being on this list was a little biased. And to be honest, this is too. Zakk has been my main musical influence for almost a decade, so it’s hard to not love a new BLS record. But, just like with Rock or Bust, this is a solid album.

Social media only built anticipation for this album as Zakk posted photos and videos from in the studio on Instagram, teasing the fans about what was to come. And boy did it deliver.

The opening track, “Fields of Unforgiveness”, is like if BLS and and Alice in Chains collaborated on an song together.

WAIT… Jerry Cantrell and Zakk writing music together… That would be a highlight of heavy metal.

Anyway, the rest of the album is amazing. And all of the bonus tracks (domestic and abroad) are all songs that would have been worth just putting on the album as regular songs. Dark Side of the Sun and The Nomad are two of the best BLS songs in my opinion.

Lately, it’s been teased on Instagram that Zakk’s been writing a lot of new music again, so hopefully a new BLS album isn’t that far away.

I thought The Order of the Black was the best Black Label album of all time, but then CCOTBV showed otherwise, and then told me to go sit in the corner for my amazing stupidity.

A solid 5 fists of fury out of 5.

1. Pink Floyd – The Endless River

Oh my goodness – if you told me a year ago that there would be a new Pink Floyd album (Actually, if you told anyone that), I would have thought you were just trying to pull a fast one on me. But low and behold, about a year later, this CD’s been in nearly constant rotation.

You all should know the story of this album by now. It’s all left over pieces and soundscapes from The Division Bell sessions. And, unfortunately, the last (new to the public) recordings of Richard Wright that we will ever hear.

From the second I hit play, the album constantly sent goosebumps all over my body. It was almost as magical as when I heard Dark Side of the Moon for the first time. The songs really do flow together perfectly, and while it’s bitter sweet that the only song any vocals appear on is the last track, it’s the perfect send off for the album, and what is the end of Pink Floyd’s history, at least as far as new music.

I can’t express how much I love this album. It’s one that, if you could marry music, It’d be my 20th wife.

The endless river 500x500

Lame jokes aside, those are my top 5 albums of 2014.

Honorable mentions go to:

Mastodon – Once More Round’ The Sun

Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways (Seriously, I liked this album a LOT more than Wasting Light)

Beck – Morning Phase (Seriously, listen to this album)

Next year’s “Best to come”:

Tame Impala – ??

Melody’s Echo Chamber – ??

Rob Zombie – ??

Dear companies that make music software (Audio work stations, VST’s, plug ins, etc.),

For years now, as a professional musician/composer, I’ve legally purchased your music software every single time I wanted or needed one. Whether it was from Musician’s Friend, or often right from your own websites, I’ve always paid for your software, and have never torrented or stolen it. I did use some pieces through a trial period, but just to make sure it did what I needed it to do.

I am not the only one like this. There are hundreds of thousands, dare I say millions, of hard working musicians like myself that regularly pay for the products you provide. And while I’m well aware of the number of people that steal your software and share it, I’m confident that the good outweighs the bad. So why do those who do good get the short end of the stick?

There’s nothing worse than finally buying the new virtual instrument you’ve been waiting to get, only to spend a ridiculous amount of time with confirmation emails and activation codes that are a character too short (or just flat out don’t work), and I wind up needing help from tech support – nothing turns me off from a company faster than needing to talk to tech support when I’m SETTING THE PRODUCT UP rather than using it. I worked hard to get that new compressor, so the last thing I want to do when I finally get it is wait over night for a half-assed and generic “We’ll be with you shortly” email, followed by waiting two or three business days for someone to get with me, about a problem that he or she likely has spent half their week helping others with. To your credit, everyone else’s problem probably isn’t about the product crashing. But when there are projects and deadlines, waiting to talk to tech support is the last thing I need to do.

So please: Stop screwing over your loyal, paying, hard working customers, and find a way around software piracy that isn’t a giant middle finger to your consumers.

Thank you very much,

- Lee Chavez

PS: It seems every single company now has their own separate software of which it’s sole purpose is to enter and keep track of activation/product codes. This is the cherry on top. While I have yet to run into any software that takes more than 20 minutes to simply download to my computer, it’s a major inconvenience to also have to install and keep track of (what honestly is) a major waste of time – this isn’t necessary, and I say that as a musician who, like you guys, is in an industry where everyone seems to expect your product/service for free.

Seriously – if anyone wants to contact me, I’m completely open to discussing and brainstorming on how we can get past this problem.

I have no experience in sound design. But since it’s something I want to do alongside music, I figured “why not just start?”. So that’s exactly where this video came from. The audio overall is decently consistent, and the highest it peaks is around -3db. And believe it or not, it’s not the explosion that brings it there! (If you’d like to read about the process involved, read below)

 

 

There is a lot that goes into sound design (seriously, sound mixers are one of the unsung heroes of the film production industry), and there’s a lot more that I could have done. Like I could have experimented with more reverb to give everything the proper sound for the environment depicted, and I could have gotten more sound effects overall, but non the less, this is what I did:

For the opening sequence of shots where I’m walking to the truck and before it “blows up”, all that’s there is a clip of outdoor ambiance I got for free from SoundBible.com. Originally, I recorded just ambiance from the camera mic, but decided early on in editing that this was the way to go. The footsteps from FreeSFX.co.uk, and what the camera mic picked up of the key’s falling and hitting things.

The explosion, flame and violin screech sound effect were also downloaded from FreeSFX, and a little reverb was added where need be. And I composed the music for the video, and recorded the frantic dialogue ADR right into Sony Vegas.

So there’s the process! There was a lot of help in Volume Envelopes to control the volume of the audio tracks, and to keep from there being a ton of audio tracks spread out all over the place.

It was great fun, and I look forward to doing more of this when I can!

 

Now available – listen to the new song and download it for free!

From my upcoming EP, “Death Riders”, due May 27th.

 

Volunteering at SXSW was one of the best experiences and times I’ve had! Four days at the Gaming Expo, and four days of Music Panels. I got to meet a ton of the good people from Rooster Teeth and Achievement Hunter, the creator of the Kerbal Space Program game, Gavin Laurrsen of Laurrsen Mastering, and a ton of other awesome people. But above all, I met Joe Zaffuto and Dan “PhunnyGuy” Friedman, the two founders of Laggin’ Out – who respectively have outstanding careers in television, comedy, and the gaming industry.

They run a gaming podcast on their Twitch and YouTube channels, of which I’ve been made their music composer!

This is a very proud partnership, and I’m excited to work with them and the rest of the crew.

 

Again, to Joe and Dan, thank you both for taking a chance!

(“Like” their Facebook page to get updates about LON, and to catch the bi-weekly podcast on Twitch and YouTube)

There are two services exclusively that I’m offering as of now – jingle writing, and song mixing. Learn more at the links below:

Jingles: here

Mixing: here

Thanks for reading!

What is normally an overlooked amp by many guitarists, the Roland Cube 30x has a TON of surprise in it.

I received this amp Christmas Eve 2010. It was a ton of fun to play with for a few months, but as I started writing my first EP that March, I kind of brushed it off as “lesser” than my half stack (a Crate GLX1200… I know), as it was “just a practice amp”.

Fast forward three years, I pulled it out of my closet in preparation of jamming with my little sister as she would be getting a drum set. I noodled around on it after not playing through it for a while, and found myself on the Dyna Amp setting. Out of the nine settings this amp holds, the Dyna Amp is by far my favorite. And it’s made me completely rethink my perception of amplifiers!

After practicing nonstop with the Cube 30x, I decided to check it out as a recording amp. And just as when I played around with the Dyna Amp setting, I was blown away again when I heard back the recorded guitar tracks from this amp. It’s midrange is very rich, and with the bass knob just past 9 o’clock, it had a ton of punch and provided a solid tone. (Of course mic placement is a huge key to getting anything sounding great when recording, but regardless.)

Bottom line, besides one or two other settings (the built in Jazz Chorus for the clean channel is a major beneficial factor), the Dyna Amp setting is really all I use the amp for. Which doesn’t bother me at all, as I’m already used to amps having two settings – clean and distortion.

It’s also found a home in my own rig as the second amp next to my Jet City 100. Plus, did you know my recent guitar cover of Black Label Society’s “My Dying Time” was recorded completely on the Cube 30x with a Shure SM57?

All that aside, it’s a bit difficult to classify this as review. But I’ll just say this – give it a shot. Take in your guitar and pedals and try it for yourself. If you’re looking for a new amp, why not possibly save a few hundred/thousand dollars if this could be what you’re looking for?

I’m not saying it’s a Marshall JCM 800 (though the Dyna Amp setting sounds like it’s modeled after it), but don’t make the mistake of overlooking it because of it’s price and size!

It’s quite amazing!