Nickelback: Dark Horse

You either really love Nickelback or you really love to hate them, but six albums later, they must be doing something right to have lasted for this long.

That something right could very well probably be one of the most commercial sounds to hit rock n roll (or metal even) since Bob Rock produced The Black Album for Metallica in 1991. The said sound is composed of repetitive chords, monotonous drum beats, and constant mentions to 'paperback novels' in the lyrics. If you don't mind any of the above, you'll be glad to know Dark Horse, the latest offering from the Canadian rock band is more of the same-but taken up a notch.

Produced by legendary superstar producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange - whose previous productions include the albums of Foreigner, AC/DC, Bryan Adams, Def Leppard and Shania Twain - give an almost clear indication that everything on Dark Horse will be radio friendly and as geared to the mainstream as heavy guitar rock gets.

The grizzly sound of post grunge is given a jump start with first track, 'Something in Your Mouth'. The guitars are raw, almost like nails on a chalkboard, with a continuous wail in the background. The riff is interspersed with a groovy middle but the combination seems to be too crammed and you feel like you've listened to two different songs at the same time. 'Burn it to the Ground' was featured on the Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen soundtrack and is characteristic of a Nickelback filler song because it shares the same structure to the track before it, but with just enough tweaks to make it sound slightly different. Unfortunately, this is probably one of the lesser lyrical songs of the band, making it sound more of an anthem for drunkards than anything. The saving grace for the song is the solo which albeit very short is could've been very interesting if explored further.

'Gotta Be Somebody' was the first single released from the album, and features another one of Nickelback's staple songs, the rock ballad. Chad Kroeger, the front man for the band, is at his true element here. After all he also sang the song 'Hero' for the Spiderman soundtrack. 'Hero' and 'Gotta Be Somebody' do share some similarities, but thankfully they aren't that much. This song proves that behind the grunge and behind the melodic rock, Nickelback can do so much better than it already is doing.

'I'd Come for You' is another ballad and the entire pace of the album slows down. The only thing that holds down this song are the cheesy lyrics: "I was blindfolded, but now I'm seeing, my mind was closing, now I'm believing." The song would make a befitting soundtrack to the next cheesy love story Hollywood throws our way.

The band makes it a point to pick up the pace after the previous track and 'Next Go Round' starts to hit the ground running. The harsh guitars and the throbbing drums sound like a freight train charging down at full speed. Again, like the previous songs, there isn't much lyrical substance going around here which is a shame really since the song has a very head banging thing going on for itself.

Just to prove that the band can do songs with proper substance and lyrical matter, 'Just to Get High' is just that. The story of a young man spiraling into a life of drugs and desperation, the tone and motif of the song equally desperate and melancholy. This is probably one of the few tracks on the album that save it.

'Never Gonna Be Alone' is what 'Photograph' was to the last album, the almost obligatory western track that the band feels that they have to do on each and every album. It's the kind of track that you'd expect from Shania Twain or LeAnn Rhimes, but Nickelback? On the plus side, it shows that the band wants to be diverse and not pigeon holed as a rock band.
About ten seconds into 'Shakin' Hands' you find yourself tapping your feet to it. The track sinks you in with its groovy beat but for some reason it never really takes off. The repetitiveness kills it.

The opening riff of 'S.E.X.', like the previous two tracks, are powerful and grab the listener in by the collar and demand to be heard. This is Nickelback's strength and why they're such a radio friendly band. Their music is simple and easy to listen to even if you don't appreciate or like rock music.

'If Today Was Your Last Day' sings the same tune as 'Gotta Be Somebody' or 'I'd come for you' but this one is considerably more feel good than the two. Also, much like 'Just to get high' this track saves the album from what would be a repetitive and monotonous demise.
The album finishes with 'This Afternoon' and it seems that keeping the best for last was probably a good idea for the band. This is a no-nonsense, easy going, feel good track about taking matters as they come and not have a worry in the world. It's almost like Nickleback saying they'll continue to making music the way they want to and won't give in to their critics.

All the Right Reasons was the band's previous release and spawned a plethora of singles, but this seems to be not for all the right reasons. The New York Times wrote about Dark Horse: "Nickelback's real crime isn't one of form. Rather it is that lurking beneath the band's undeniably pretty melodies are literal, wildly unimaginative and often insipid lyrics. Unlike, say, Hinder, which flaunts its brute sensibilities, Nickelback is quietly crass." And that was one of the better reviews they've gotten for Dark Horse.

That said, Nickelback has a very strong fan base, particularly among the listeners of bands like Creed (who are now defunct) or Alter Bridge or even Theory of a Deadman. These bands, along with Nickelback represent the new rock n roll sound, rising from the ashes of grunge and metal of the 90s and making a sound of their own for a generation of their own.

Hail Caesar!

Salads have always been the primary bastion of the dieter. Though if you’ve never had to diet (you lucky so and so!) chances are your idea of a salad is limited to a bunch of leaves scattered around vegetables amid a sea of bland taste. Well, you would be wrong. Salads can be exciting, tasty and nutritious, and all at once too.

One such case is the Caesar salad. Contrary to what you might think the salad wasn’t named after the Roman emperor. In fact, it was named after Caesar Cardini, an Italian-born chef living in California. According to legend, Cardini devised the recipe for the salad on a busy July the Fourth in the 1920s when he threw together some leftover ingredients from his depleted stocks to serve his hungry customers. The light but delicious salad caught the fancy of some film stars and soon became a celebrity in its own right. Since then the recipe for the salad has travelled around the world and has seen countless incarnations — but the salad remains as regal as ever in its taste and presentation.

A freshly served Caesar salad is a refreshing meal; light yet filling at the same time. The main ingredients include romaine lettuce, crushed garlic, raw or coddled, i.e. very lightly cooked egg yolks, Parmesan cheese and freshly prepared croutons.

This is then seasoned with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and often Worcestershire sauce. If one wishes to avoid the salt, they can sprinkle extra lemon juice — blood pressure patients should particularly take note here. The lime brings out the taste of the romaine lettuce; combine that with garlic and Parmesan cheese and you’ve got an exciting blend going. If you dislike lime and can’t use salt, then vinegar is the next best thing for you. The mix between the cheese and vinegar makes for a particularly interesting flavour, though some might call it an acquired taste.

One of the best things about Caesar salad is that it allows great flexibility — in fact you can do just about anything with it. If there is no romaine lettuce, substitute with any lettce you have on hand. Similarly, if you’re avoiding the salt and adding more lime, then you’re better off using Romano cheese rather than Parmesan. It’ll give you a slightly saltish tinge without having to use salt.

If your palate craves spice you can drizzle some hot sauce over the salad or add some sliced green chillies to the mix. For seasoning you can use ground pepper. If you’re not too concerned about your weight you can add mayonnaise as a dressing to give it a rich, creamy flavour.

For vegetarians this is definitely one of the best meals out there, but you meat lovers shouldn’t worry, because Caesar salad is also served with strips of chicken, beef, mutton and even fish such as ground up anchovies or even boiled shrimp. For those of you who think of salad as limp and soggy, the croutons provide a crunchy texture and will have you munching for more.

Caesar salad for lunch keeps you feeling alert and active through your workday; for dinner it’s the ideal meal for weight watchers. So, though it isn’t named for the famed Roman emperor, Caesar Salad will make even a commoner feel like royalty because it can be anything you want it to be.

Earth to Discovery!

On September 11, residents of the state of California thought they had experienced an earthquake. In reality, it was a dual sonic boom of the space shuttle Discovery returning to Earth that caused the rattling of windows in homes.

The space shuttle’s landing on Edwards Air Force Base was the result of a diverted landing plan that had the Kennedy Space Centre as its original landing area. This is not unusual for a space shuttle mission, but bad weather prevented the shuttle from landing at Kennedy, so Edwards was the next best choice.

This mission makes Discovery one of the oldest space faring vehicles as far as space shuttles are concerned. This mission, titled STS-128, has dealt with a variety of matters, mostly part of the International Space Station. The latest mission lasted for fourteen days and covered more than five million miles in space.

Discovery’s mission delivered two refrigerator-sized science racks to the International Space Station. These racks house sophisticated experimental equipment that will be used to research better material development on earth. They are also used for fluid physics research, to understand behavior of fluids in micro gravity. These could lead to improved designs for fuel tanks, water systems and other fluid-based systems. These experiments are vital to the International Space Station which continues to rely heavily on Nasa to re-supply and build it through its space shuttles.

Discovery also delivered a sleeping compartment, air purification and a treadmill to the space station. The mission included three spacewalks that replaced experiments outside the European Space Agency's Columbus laboratory and an empty ammonia storage tank. Ammonia is used a coolant because of its liquid nature in the sub zero temperatures of space.

All in all, Discovery dropped off more than eight tons of supplies, life support gear and scientific equipment at the space station, leaving the space outpost better equipped to house crews of six astronauts. That figure alone goes to show you the importance of shuttle missions to the space station.

The mission was led by Commander Rick Sturckow who was joined on the mission by Pilot Kevin Ford, mission specialists Pat Forrester, Jose Hernandez, Danny Olivas and European Space Agency astronaut Christer Fuglesang. Struckow served as pilot on the first International Space Station assembly mission in 1998, and again in 2001.

Sturckow’s first command was on the STS-117 mission. Nasa astronaut Nicole Stott flew to the complex aboard Discovery to begin a nearly three-month mission as a station resident, replacing Tim Kopra, who returned home on Discovery.

A special crew member also returned during this mission. Disney’s toy astronaut Buzz Lightyear, from the Toy story animated movies, initially flew to the station in May 2008 on shuttle Discovery's STS-124 mission. He has now officially served as the longest tenured ‘crew member’ in space. While on the station, Buzz supported Nasa's education outreach by creating a series of online educational outreach programmes designed aseptically for children and young adults.

So far, Discovery has flown 35 of those flights, completed 4,888 orbits, and flown 117,433,618 miles in total, as of June 2008. Discovery is the orbiter fleet leader, having flown more flights than any other orbiter in the fleet, including four in 1985 alone. This mission also marked the 25th anniversary of its first launch on August 30, 1984.

And although it has just returned, plans for the next flight sometime in March 2010 are already underway. Discovery will be hoisted atop a Boeing 747 jumbo jet and flown back to Kennedy Space Station in Florida, where it will be recalibrated and fixed up for the 2010 mission.

Though the future of the International Space Station remains uncertain, Nasa is determined to continue missions to the station for as long as the space shuttle fleet remains in usage. The Space Shuttle Programme itself will be terminated in late 2010 or early 2011. This marks an era of space shuttle flights which has seen disasters such as the Challenger and Columbia, and as well as great feats such as the launch of the Space Telescope Hubble or the building of the International Space Station.

Even though the space shuttle will fold its wings and retire, Nasa will continue to expand its space programme, which includes a return mission to the moon and a planned mission to Mars.

First steps of both missions have started to take form in the proposed Orion spacecraft which is the replacement for the space shuttle and will come into service sometime in 2015.

Discovery’s journey might be coming to an end, but mankind’s journey of discovery is just about to begin.


Nouman Javaid: Expect the Unexpected!

“I’ve been a struggling musician for nearly nine years now,” reflected Nouman Javaid. “I’m a self-taught musician with no professional training whatsoever.”

Javaid is the unsung Pakistani star of the Indian movie just out, Jashnn (The Music Within), whose music score has everybody talking these days. The film produced by Mahesh Bhatt and also starring Humayun Saeed recently had a select showing in Karachi. While they many not have liked the film overall, critics and audiences are nothing short of praises for both Sayeed and Javaid.

Originally from Lahore, Javaid’s journey has been long, tedious and at times frustrating as door after door was shut on him. His disappointment at not being able to find work locally echoes the frustrations of the many struggling musicians of Pakistan who are not given the chance or trust to make their mark. Finding no luck locally, he was advised to set his sights abroad. His first reaction was, “Why should I work abroad when I can work for and within Pakistan?” Then through a chance conversation with a friend he got his hands on Mukesh Bhatt’s phone number. He placed a call to the producer who told the young singer to email his song to him. A week later, Javaid got a call from the Indian producer, telling him that he loved it. When Mahesh Bhatt next came to Pakistan to promote his film Jannat, he met the young singer of the song Dard-i-Tanhai.

“When I met Mahesh, he asked me if I had any other songs and I told him about Mein Challa. He asked me to sing it to him right there and then. I sang it maybe six or seven times as each time he asked me to sing it again. Then he called up his brother right there and then and told him that he was taking my songs for Jashnn.”

Having struggled for nine years, Javaid was overwhelmed with Bhatt’s response. The floodgates had literally opened for him and he traveled to India where the songs were recorded. “They trusted me, they believed in me,” gushed Javaid, adding, “I just went in and recorded the songs as they were.”

He couldn’t believe how open and trusting they were, “I wasn’t taught by them, I wasn’t told how to record the songs, I just went in and did my thing and that’s very different from the reaction that I got in Pakistan where every single record company wanted me to record a particular song in a particular manner — something I’m not ready to do even now.”

Having delivered two popular songs — and that too across the border — he has now recently recorded his debut album. “I’m just waiting for the right deal,” he says about the complete change of attitude of record label executives. “They’re all now calling me up for a change, asking me to come over and bring my album to them.” For the moment, he hasn’t made up his mind who will release it, which by the way might or might not feature Dard-i-Tahnai and Mein Challa.

The once struggling Nouman Javaid is now well on his way to what might be the pinnacle of his career. He is open to collaborating on music, starring in movies and even appearing in commercials. “I have a few offers, but I’m not going to talk about them just yet.”

The one thing that I’ve also learned about him is that you can expect anything from Nouman Javaid. His initial songs reflect the hardship he felt upon the constant rejection of being a struggling musician in Pakistan. Now, since his luck has changed, what can we expect from his music? “To be honest, I don’t know. What I do know is that you’ll be hearing my album very soon and my fans can judge it.”

Speaking of fans and criticism in particular, Nouman is quite particular about both topics. “I always ask my fans to tell me what they think of my songs, of my singing.” And of criticism, “I appreciate well thought out criticism, to help me become a better singer. I don’t think anybody appreciates unfounded criticism.” Whatever the case may be — criticism or not — Nouman has fans on both sides of the border and even beyond. Through the course of his career he has struggled a lot, but now that he’s finally arrived on the scene, Nouman’s determined to stay.


Going Kostal: Omran Shafique

A member of Co-Ven, frontman for the band Mauj, a guitarist for Ali Azmat, guest musician on Coke Studio (and part of the house band, a year later as well), and member of a musical collaboration known as Kostal. No, these aren’t a group of people, in fact, all of these musicians are actually one and the same; Omran Shafique.

When not playing music, Omran is laid-back and the epitome of comfort. Playing on stage, he is a beacon of raw musical energy, channeling it through his guitar. There’s absolutely no denying his musical talent, some of his fans have gone on to say he is the next Salman Ahmad, though musically they are worlds apart.

Omran, or Momo as he is called, started off with Mauj sometime in 2000 in Houston, Texas. In 2004, they released their first music video with Khushfehmi and soon after recorded an album which seems to be stuck in limbo. It’s a stigma that has attached itself with Omran, whose hard work is now buried somewhere in the annals of a record label company. “The point is that the label isn’t even telling me what the release status is, whether they will release it or not,” says Omran, “and that is incredibly frustrating.”

He refers to Mauj’s first album, Mauj in Technicolor, which so far has only seen the light of day on the internet through Amazon and iTunes, but has yet to see any form of release in Pakistan. “That’s the way it’ll be in the future,” says Omran, “more and more musicians will end up going through Amazon and iTunes, simply because it gives the control and the profit to musicians rather than record labels.” He quickly adds, “Being a musician in Pakistan is not about making money, you do it to make music and that’s about it.”

And that’s been the aim with Co-Ven, a true underground band that makes music for the sake of making music, and is in no way limited to Pakistan. But how does Omran balance his music between Mauj and Co-Ven? “I’m sort of an honorary member of the band, I don’t have to be there all the time, but when I do get the time, I’m always there.” Talking about Co-Ven’s new direction he said, “I’m loving the sound of the new songs they’ve been doing, and I hope to perform with them sometime soon.”

As if Co-Ven wasn’t enough, and the fact to deal and coordinate with a band in another city, Omran is now working hard on bringing Kostal, a band on another continent altogether, to our coast. Kostal began when Omran received an email from a producer/DJ in Texas who wanted to work with him. Omran replied and the two of them met up.

What followed was a small meeting where they decided that they should work together, but for Omran, Mauj was a priority. “I remember I was moving to Pakistan to try and get Mauj off of the ground,” he said.

Taha Malik (the producer/DJ) added, “And I was just about to get my set up off the ground, making my own personal studio. But once that was done, I started to work with other musicians to get Kostal off the ground.” These other musicians included the likes of Labh Janjua (Mundian Tuh Bachke-Punjabi MC feat Jay-Z), RDB, Punjabi Outlawz, Tehseen Javed, Sukhbir and others.

In 2005, they finally met up and recorded their first track together as Kostal. Jaan Jaye, which has also been made into a video recently (directed by Uns Mufti), was the result of that first recording. So what makes Kostal different from Mauj or even Co-Ven? “It’s more hip-hop based stuff, it has a very electronic sound,” says Taha. “I’d ask Omran to play a chord or he’d play me this progression and then I’d just mix it up.”

The experience for Omran was also surprising, “Normally, while recording music, I would play stuff and jam, but this was different. Whatever I played with Taha he’d just twist it around and place it in a different sequence entirely.” The resulting music is an elaborate mix of rock and hip hop, a genre of music unheard of locally thereby making it a breath of fresh air.

Once the song was recorded, Kostal finally took a form of its own. “We want to collaborate with everybody from around the world,” says Taha, and once they start listing down their recent collaborations one might think they already have done so. With collaborations with such diverse artistes such as Samy Elmousif, a French Morrocan rapper based in Canada; Shab Malih a Ra musician (a form of folk music mixed with Spanish, French, African-American and Arabic) and even the likes of Stereo Nation, whom they have recently worked with. “It was an exciting experience,” says Taha, “I mean, I was dancing to their music at weddings and now I’m working with him.” The track which will appear in a Gurinder Chadha film will bring Kostal to the global playground of musicians, one which has always been the goal of the band. “We want to work with as many different local and international musicians,” says Omran, “and that’s what Kostal is all about.”

The band is finishing up on their debut album and will most likely be released electronically, worldwide, through Amazon and iTunes later this year. Jaan Jaye’s music video has already been shot, and according to Omran and Taha it’s a video that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. “It was Uns’ concept and it’s just me and Taha acting like a bunch of rappers,” Omran said about the video.

Although now that even Kostal is seeing some sort of finality, what about Omran himself? According to the musician, he is on the fence as to whether he stays in Pakistan or relocates back to Houston. It all depends on the fact whether or not he still enjoys being a musician. “It’s just so different now. I’m finding myself picking up the guitar for reasons other than just playing music and having fun.” Granted, extra frustration must come from an album which he worked on so hard to release, and is now stuck nowhere. “I’m actually sick of the album, I’ve heard it so many times,” he says, which is naturally true. Omran isn’t the kind of musician that sticks around with one kind of sound for long. It would seem that the status of the album is no deterrent for Omran who already has started to work on another Mauj album. “I have about five demos ready and waiting,” he said. “I just need to take some time out for this and start work on it. And naturally, we want to be doing more shows.”

More seems to be a key word with Omran. Whatever the format, whatever the band, he is continuously looking forward to making more music. And although an unreleased album might be an anchor of frustration for him, Omran’s not the kind of musician that is deterred by such an anchor. In fact, more than anything, it’s given him more and more opportunities as a musician. Let’s just hope he sticks around in Pakistan and continues to explore more music opportunities, so that his audience has a chance to see and hear him.

Hadiqa: The Sky's The Limit

Hadiqa Kiyani’s latest album, Aasmaan, is aptly titled. If you think about it, the sky’s really the limit as far as she’s concerned simply because of the amount of distance she has covered musically in her career.

Her music may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but then again, how many Pakistani female musicians have actually performed abroad and alongside international artistes, won accolades, and have had a consistent career for the past 14 years?

Her first album Raaz was released in 1995 to much fanfare but she was quickly shrouded under the shadow of the late Nazia Hasan, who herself had only just stopped singing two years prior. Kiyani persevered and went on to appear on TV channels abroad, work with the likes of Bally Sagoo and appear on stage with stars such as Lisa Stansfield, Wet Wet Wet, Michael Learns to Rock, All 4 One and The Brand New Heavies.

All this and just after releasing her first album. Two more albums followed; Roshni and Rung, and during this time she also appeared on television and billboards across the country. Soon one saw her performing for international dignitaries at political and social conferences. She was also part of a rather interesting collaboration with guitarist Aamir Zaki in the form of an album titled Rough Cut. The English album for Hadiqa was yet another avenue of diversity since the singer has already sung in numerous dialects and languages.

Putting things into perspective, it would seem that her career is one of many firsts and no matter what happens, as bands break up and musicians come and go, Hadiqa has been a constant musical presence in the country and abroad.

That constant presence now takes the form of a fourth album, Aasmaan, albeit six years later. British producer JKD and Ifran Kiyani, her brother, act as producers for it. They establish a myriad of sounds, a dash of dance, a spatter of rhythm and blues, all added up to the distinctly eastern voice of Hadiqa herself with which she sings in Urdu, Punjabi, Hindko, Pushto and many other dialects. Thanks to her past experiences in the West, she can carefully blend that same voice from eastern to western effortlessly. Take Az Chashme Saqi for instance, a distinctly eastern poem penned by Allama Iqbal moulded by Hadiqa in song and a vocal performance.

There are good songs and there are songs that prove she can sing, and the same is the case with Sajna Sajna. The song proves that she can but knowing Hadiqa, we know she can do better. Sohnya features rapper Nas-T, whose sporadic interruptions make you wish Hadiqa had left him out. Nevertheless, Hadiqa is not one to shy away from experimentation which this track clearly does with it delving in funk and rap.

Tuk Tuk is a bouncy, tongue-in-cheek track all about being silly. The song will surely be a crowd-pleaser at live performances. Zara Zara shows indications of too much tinkering. It has diverse beats which rollercoaster through to being wired and techno, but it still sounds much better than its own remix which was clearly unnecessary. Baqir Abbas brings in his powerful and resonating flute on Wanjhli and Hadiqa brings her own singing up a notch to meet Abbas. Together on this track, the two of them take the album on another level. On Jab Se Tum, producer Irfan Kiyani joins in for a duet and the result is a sweet little number that also shines through the rest of the songs in the album. Could it be that Hadiqa sings best when she sings with others? These last two tracks are a clear indication of that.

This is Hadiqa’s first foray into the music scene in almost six years. Other than this, she has been around in terms of concerts and as brand spokesperson. Aasmaan is probably the most drastic image change for Hadiqa so far, and she’s taken on these changes throughout the course of her career on each of her albums.

Much like the changing of her image, her sound changes too, as this album shows that being away from making music for so long has scattered her direction on this album. It seems like she wants to go all over the place rather than concentrate on one direction or sound.

Perhaps this is yet another experiment by Hadiqa, who has crossed borders all her musical life. First by being a female musician in a predominantly male musician dominated industry and being a constant presence in it, then by performing abroad with musicians over the world and now by crossing borders within her own musical world where the sky is perhaps not the limit.