Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Goodbye Sluggo - 'Frampton Comes Alive!'

Although they hail from Massachusetts, high school chums Goodbye Sluggo sound like a band that I, a Pennsylvanian, would have loved to have grown up with. See, to me, the band strikes a balance between The Loved Ones and Atom and His Package. Maybe it’s the mix of power chords and synthesizers, or gravelly and nasally vocals. Or maybe it’s because, like The Loved Ones and good ol’ Adam Goren, Goodbye Sluggo is pretty gosh darn good.

The band self-released an EP, Frampton Comes Alive!, back in April, and for the most part, it’s a keeper. As far as recording quality goes, it’s kind of limp, lacking a lo-fi edge or a hi-fi clarity and oomph. Goodbye Sluggo’s tunes, however, are still mighty tasty despite the presentation.

“The Record Song,” arguably one of the top two tunes on this seven-song disc, kicks off Frampton. It’s frontloaded with some trusty punk chords, with a dash of synth over it a la The Low Budgets (yet another in a series of Philly references! Huzzah!). Again, the recording quality is a little weak, but I hear the promise of a much more pounding rendition in a live setting. Lucky for me, GS will be playing my chunk of the East coast in August.

Track two, “Hard to Find,” offers Frampton’s catchiest chorus. Co-vocalists Matt Flynn and Eric Cline attempt to muster up reasons to wake up early, like scoring the leftover Chinese food in the fridge, or generally proving to your roommates that you are, in fact, not dead. But as the chorus states, “It’s getting harder and harder to find reasons to get up in the morning.”

The EP missteps on the next song, “Stranger,” but only because it blatantly bites off of Strike Anywhere’s “Sunspotting.” I keep shouting, “Instigate awake / overcome mistake,” while this is on my car stereo. And I’m always wrong. Also, people look at me funny. “Stranger” is the only derivative tune, though. The rest of the EP, which boasts a love song to Stephen King (the please-let-this-be-literal “Stephen King Rules”) and anti-douchebag anthem “Your Boyfriend’s Nü Emo,” is solid. I hate it when music reviewers say an album shows promise, as it often sounds like a backhanded compliment, but gosh dang if Goodbye Sluggo doesn’t have my attention. Here’s hoping they stick around long enough to melt my face live and maybe even drop a full-length or two.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tard - 'Dining With the Lepers'

Those who miss Propagandhi's sense of humor displayed on their punk masterpiece How to Clean Everything might get some diminished returns from Tard's new album, Dining With the Lepers. But be warned; Tard is a poor man’s Propagandhi, lacking the political vision and satirical wit of those Canadian dudes. But at least they have the potty humor and NOFX-brand o’ punk rock down.

Dining With the Lepers is more or less bookended with its two best tracks, “Yer Head” and “Double Wide.” “Yer Head” has the early ’90s Fat Wreck sound down perfectly. Snotty vocals, tons of “whoas,” and a grinding guitar/bass combo form some quality pop punk in the tradition of Face to Face and The Descendents. The song takes a weird detour into skit-skat-y territory near the end, giving it an extra dash of infectiousness, if only for 30 more seconds. It’s a great opening track.

Given the bar the band sets for itself with the first track, it’s a wonder “Hey Kid” can keep up. It’s still pretty rollicking, but loaded with typical punk cliches. “Hey kid (whoa!), no one can tell you what to say. Hey kid (whoa!), no one can tell you to look that way,” go some of the song’s opening lines. It’s defiant, but in a cookie cutter way.

The song titles alone reveal the band’s Fat Wreck-Lite sound. Whereas Propagandhi wrote a song called “Stick The Fucking Flag Up Your Goddam Ass, You Sonofabitch,” Tard settles for briefer, but lesser, names. Titles like “Butt Whore” and “Anarchy Yeah!” are shorter and easier to write, but those characteristics can also be attributed to their song quality. “Anarchy Yeah!” boasts some great punk bass work from GW, but don’t quite meet the standards set by “Fat” Mike or Matt Riddle. These songs are good, but not great.

Punk has always been about conciseness, which Dining With the Lepers honors with its 10 songs clocking in at about 26 minutes. That works well; the lesser songs breeze by without being too painful and the good songs zip by so fast you want to press “rewind.” “Boiled Meat” tries to be funny (”My dick’s as soft as boiled meat!”), but its juvenile sentiments barely match “My Vagina,” let alone anything else. But the album does end on a high note, thanks to “Double Wide.”

“Double Wide” turns up the punk fervor a lil bit higher. Guitarist Dray’s shredding and GW vocals combine for the best Chris Hannah impersonation Dining With the Lepers has to offer. Though it’s good, “Double Wide” still serves as a reminder that, ultimately, you could always just pop in a Fat Wreck classic like Less Talk, More Rock or Don’t Turn Away.

Bleach03 - 'The Head That Controls Both Right and Left Sides Eats Meats and Slobbers Even Today'

A good band by any other name would rock just as hard. Such is the case with Bleach03. Originally just called Bleach, the Japanese noisecore trio had to resort to calling itself bleachmobile when first attempting to break into the U.S. due to a far less awesome Christian rock band from Kentucky who claimed dibs on the name first. As the band’s profile rose a bit, the -mobile part got dropped and -03 got added. I don’t know why, nor do I care. All that matters is that Bleach/bleachmobile/Bleach03 still rocks, as proven by the group’s latest release, The Head That Controls Both Right and Left Sides Eats Meats and Slobbers Even Today . Holy crap that’s a bitch to type out.

Fans of j-rock can expect more of the same from Bleach03’s new album, which isn’t a bad thing. However, Bleach03 is always best the first time around, because the group sounds like three bat shit insane Japanese girls fucking the shit out of Nirvana. The result is harsh, beautiful, and totally blindsiding.

There are some differences between The Head… and older releases like, say, the bleachmobile days of course. Bassist Miya’s four strings sound less thick and grungy and just a tad bit more funky. The production overall is much cleaner, but doesn’t tone down the band’s intensity whatsoever.

There’s a bit more diversity to be heard from Bleach03 now as well. Standout track “Torch” serves as a perfect example. A Cobain-esque dirty guitar line sullenly opens the song before turning all sorts of speed metal. Frontwoman Kanna actually sings beautifully throughout the song. Of course, there's also some shredding guitar and a militaristic bridge. All three members join in on tightly assembled vocals in a catchy, post-punk-y moment. Elsewhere, like on “Head Cleaner,” the group achieves a slight Pixies-esque alt-pop feel. Catchy but weird.

Bleach03 still takes the time to tear shit up, though. The title track utilizes Miya’s discordant howl over Kanna’s high pitched singing, while drummer Sayuri picks up and drops cut time beats on a whim. Grating in a good way, funky but powerful, The Head That Controls Both Right and Left Sides Eats Meats and Slobbers Even Today is a solid j-rock release and should appeal to curious fans of hardcore, metal, and grunge.

Verona Grove - 'The Verona Grove EP'

[NOTE: Here's another one from the archives, hence the dated intro.]

I recently attended The Early November’s farewell show at The Trocadero. As per usual, the TENors tore it up with succulent emo ditties like the romper-stomper “Every Night’s Another Story” and the tearful farewell “Never Coming Back,” and on top of that, frontman Ace Enders’ pops, the venerable Mr. Enders, crowd surfed, which is the only time I have condoned the act (thus far), so that was cool. But what struck me most were openers Melee and The Rocket Summer. Here were two bands that, while not sounding too similar, still managed to rip off the same band: Something Corporate.

Before going on hiatus in 2004, Something Corporate was arguably one of the best pop rock groups on the touring circuit, delivering fun musician- and showmanship every night, everywhere. Hearing the group’s lengthy, emotional “Konstantine” live was (and hopefully will continue to be?) a revelation. But just three years later, it’s dishearteningly easy to hear main SoCo songwriter Andrew McMahon’s style ripped off by adolescent pop bands. For further derivative evidence, pop in Verona Grove’s new self-titled EP.

Released as a preview for the group’s upcoming full-length, The Story Thought Over, the Verona Grove EP is another in a mercilessly painful line of SoClones. Three fourths of the disc blend Sugarcult-esque touches with McMahon-isms to form bland, overly spit shined songs about girls and failing and whatever. Track one, “Everything You Dreamed,” is an amicable opener, which is to say it’s nice and okay and not particularly anything worth talking about.

“No Words to Say” and “Revolution” drop the Sugarcult sound a bit for full on SoCo power ballad-dom, and it is incredibly hokey. With a hook slightly reminiscent of SoCo’s far superior “She Paints Me Blue,” “No Words to Say” is banal and mildly annoying. “Revolution” is just plain stupid. Sample lyric: “You think it’s okay to hide behind stars/Or run from moving cars.”

In truth, Verona Grove doesn’t pique interest until the closing song, “Goodbye Surrender.” It’s the only song that doesn’t cop a feel from the influences mentioned earlier. In the vein of All-American Rejects without being imitative of them, “Goodbye Surrender” is infectious, embarrassingly so considering who’s singing the song, but infectious nonetheless. Opening with more of a techno-esque dance feel, the song segues back into standard rock rhythms once the vocals start up, but wait for the hook. While still overproduced, it’s powerfully infectious. When the bass and guitar get out of the way of the drums and vocals for four measures before one final hoozah of a chorus at the 2:17 mark, it’s the greatest sound to be found on this EP.

Verona Grove still sucks, though.

Token Entry - 'The Re-Issues'

One of several unsung heroes of the NYC hardcore scene of the ’80s, Token Entry will hopefully get some its due thanks to the I Scream-issued The Re-Issues, a compilation of the group’s final two albums, Jaybird and Weight of the World. Consisting of 22 songs equaling about 55 minutes, The Re-Issues is an enthralling listen from start to finish. If nothing else, it’s great to hear the music that influenced your favorite musicians. After reading the album’s liner notes, with anecdotes provided by Civ of Gorilla Biscuits, Ray Cappo of Youth of Today, Toby Morse of H2O, and Bryan “Papillion” Kienlen of The Bouncing Souls (all important punk/hardcore bands in their own right), it’s obvious that Token Entry has had a more profound influence on hardcore than the average Silverstein fan might deduce.

The first half of this retrospective is Jaybird, a badass hardcore record. While Gorilla Biscuit’s “New Direction” may have surprised first-time listeners with its triumphant horn intro, Token Entry goes for the ridiculous with a twinkling of film score synth for Jaybird opener “The Fire.” But then the band kicks in. Bridging Minor Threat and early Bouncing Souls, “The Fire” is a damn fine old school hardcore song. Blistering and powerful, it sets the pace for what’s to come for the rest of Jaybird. From “Windows” to “Pink Things,” Token Entry lives up to the accolades its fans have heaped on by pummeling the fuck out of listeners’ eardrums with harsh skate-punk anthems (in a totally cool way. Honest). The drums are fierce; the guitars are so rapid fire that they have mere seconds to squeal out anything resembling a solo before soaring back into beautiful beatdown chug-itude.

There’s really only one minor complaint to be had on this first half of The Re-Issues. Like most ’80s hardcore records, Jaybird's lack of variety may cause listeners to zone out after a while. Nonetheless, Jaybird stands up as a staple of hardcore, regardless of scene or era. Closing track “BTBW,” a cover of “Born to Be Wild,” breaks out of the mold a bit with it’s sublimely weird acoustic intro, which is followed by more rocking.

“Sublimely weird” could almost describe Token Entry’s third and final album, Weight of the World, which makes up the second half of The Re-Issues. Almost. Branching out from traditional hardcore in favor of the funk rock of Faith No More and ’80s/early ’90s-era Red Hot Chili Peppers, Weight of the World gets points for experimenting while still leaving some skate-punk layers buried in the mix. But while the album isn’t as lyrically handicapped as the average Anthony Kiedis tune and the musicianship is more diversified and intricate, it’s still a ho-hum release. Weight of the World may be only two years younger than Jaybird, but it sounds far more dated. Hearing frontman Timmy Chunks rap-rock his way through songs like “Don’t Want to Go Back” is just too jarring. Weight of the World is good for a few listens, but it only has value because it was made by Token Entry. Jaybird, however, has value because it’s a great record.

Adam Franklin - 'Bolts of Melody'

Swervedriver may have burned out back ’99, but the band’s former frontman Adam Franklin has continued on. In between starting new bands like Toshack Highway and Setting Suns (with Interpol drummer Sam Fogarino. Righteous!), the duder somehow managed to also crank out a solo album. But it may be perhaps because of all these divergent ventures that said disc, Bolts of Melody, comes off a tad flat and uninspired.

Franklin walks a weird line between country rock and psychedelia, though, and when he’s on, he’s pretty on. Album opener “Seize the Day” is a quick-shot distillation of Franklin’s songwriting style – twangy, slurred, and ever so slightly eerie. Unfortunately, it’s also kind of a clunker, which is extra depressing given that it’s one of the peppiest tunes on Bolts of Melody. None of the songs manages to remain as concise as “Seize the Day,” save for a reprise of the song “Morning Rain,” but that doesn’t really count. Rather, the record just kind of meanders along pointlessly.

But there are some moments of glory to be found as well. Tracks three, four, and five, “Morning Rain,” “Song of Solomon,” and “Theme from LSD,” respectively, are tripped out slow burners. Swervedriver was always misclassified as shoegazer; but on these tunes, Franklin captures the ethereal mood of the genre without sounding derivative of it (r.e. – you can make out what few lyrics surface! Wowzers!). “Theme from LSD” drops vocals in favor of a five minute drugged out jam session, building on simple guitar-monies to provide a sexy musical romp.

The album begins to decline come track six, “Shining Somewhere,” though. From this marker, Franklin sounds like a lot of great acts, but that’s not the same thing as being a great act. The guitar work gets a little more atmospheric on “Shining Somewhere,” but in comparison to more recent rock acts like Autolux and The Raconteurs, Franklin is outclassed. “Birdsong (Moonshiner Version)” channels Nick Drake, but the lyrics are too inept to elicit the same emotional reaction something like Pink Moon would warrant.

On Bolts of Melody, Franklin is a jack of all trades, and a master of dull songwriting. He’s a fairly redundant lyricist, often repeating meaningless phrases (e.g. - “You said you’d find a way” on “Morning Rain,” “Shining somewhere” on, that’s right, “Shining Somewhere”) in lieu of conveying a fully fleshed out message. At least the album proves that Franklin can jam on occasion. However, the musical restraint he brings to Bolts of Melody keeps this release from being worth much.

Ladybirds - 'Regional Community Theater'

Regional Community Theater accurately sums up the full-length debut from cross-country duo Ladybirds. While the mainstays of the project are candy-coated singer Teeter Alex Sperber and Gym Class Heroes keyboardist Tyler Pursel, the album boasts guest appearances from Say Anything mastermind Max Bemis on two tracks, as well as one-offs from Matt Pryor (The New Amsterdams/ex-Get Up Kids), Neil Sabatino (Fairmont), Justin Johnson (The Danger O’s), and a bevy of pre-teens. The kids seem especially appropriate for this album, as Ladbyirds, more often than not, sounds like Lazy Town with less awesome hooks, criminally fewer songs about pirates, and copious amounts of angst.

The immaturity of the record coupled with synthy dance beats make this emo-lovin’ boy cringe. “And in a mystery to be/When time to time shall set us free/Forgetting me/Remember me,” says frontwoman Sperber on the Ya-Ya sisterhood-aping opening track, “Slice Our Hands (We Are Blood Sisters).” Alas, this high school poetry is one of the best tunes on a slipshod, Hillary Duff-lite album.

Due to the low quality of the songs, having such an assortment of guest stars on Regional Community Theater damns it all the more. Bemis, Sabatino and Johnson are pretty much wasted here, although Bemis’ second track, “Maxim and the Headphone Life,” does play like the G-rated kid sister to “Wow, I Can Get Sexual Too.” Take that as you will. Not that the guys don’t try; they just can’t save the material. Pryor gets credit for the melodramatic piano ballad “Cooper, Thanks for the Birds,” if only because the song could be a decent New Amsterdams track – provided Sperber shuts the hell up.

Not that the record is completely terrible. Pursel’s compositions for Regional Community Theater are solid enough. It’s a dance record, and he provides the listener with such, although the low end could use some more cojones. The weak point is in the lyrics – they suck. Hard. “Always we’ll be searching/For something/Something perfect” goes the first part of the chorus to “Slice Our Hands (We are Blood Sisters).” Drop the cred bid via enlisting Bemis and Pryor and try writing as well as them instead.

Monday, July 28, 2008

1987 - redemption with chords

I’m going to say that six out of the 10 records on this list came from bands looking to prove (or redeem) themselves. Whether it be breaking ties with the style that made them famous (Jesus and Mary Chain, U2) or just demonstrating that they still had some good tunes left (George Harrison, Prince, X), 1987 was a year for rising above.’87 also had some “rage against the dying of the light” moments, courtesy of X’s farewell record See How We Are. On a personal level, while I may not have written Joshua Tree, I survived my first year of life, which is something to be proud of, I reckon.

10. George Harrison – Cloud Nine

I tend to favor records that aren’t too spit-shined. Lo-fi still sounds good and dirty years later. But what passed for a clean recording in the ’80s sounds like garbage 20 years later (I imagine the same will be said of today’s autotuned pop music). Such a fate befalls Cloud Nine, an overproduced record from my favorite Beatle that manages to transcend its bad recording thanks to Harrison’s effortless pop craftsmanship.

Harrison always seemed, to me at least, to have the best post-Beatles career. John Lennon wrote some incredible tunes as well, but in terms of high quantity with high quality, Harrison is tops. Cloud Nine, released after a five-year hiatus from writing and recording music, marked a return to form for Harrison. Spurred on by the monster lead single “Got My Mind Set on You” (and, to a lesser extent, follow-up “When We Was Fab”), Cloud Nine showed that Harrison was still a great talent. Of course, it didn’t hurt that his buddies Eric Clapton, Elton John, and Ringo Starr jammed with him. This in turn inspired him to form one of the few good supergroups, The Traveling Wilburys, with Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne. While it’s production sometimes causes its bluesy twang to sound too akin to a bad country record, Cloud Nine is still a winning pop record from an old master.

9. The Jesus and Mary Chain – Darklands

Why was this record so controversial in 1987? It basically sounds like the “big production” version of JAMC’s stellar Psychocandy, which is to say I love this record too. The Reid brothers, bored with being known only for crafting dissonant pop, opted to drop the distortion and keep the somber tunefulness, resulting in a record that’s cool in spite of having stereotypical thudding ’80s drums. Seriously, did everyone use the same kit for an entire decade or something? Regardless, Darklands was a solid sophomore act from JAMC. It’s a shame things got so muddled afterwards.

8. U2 – Joshua Tree

Hate ‘em all you want, I guarantee you already know the words to at least half of the songs on this album. Indeed, Joshua Tree starts off sounding like a greatest hits package, knocking out (in order) “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” “With or Without You,” and “Bullet the Blue Sky.” My gosh. Joshua Tree has a familiarity to me afforded only for The Beatles, and maybe Billy Joel. This album was inside me before I even bought it in high school. And while that association has kept me from ever truly loving Joshua Tree as much as people did in 1987, it hasn't kept completely away. I just prefer the joys of discovering songs like “The Refugee” and “Like a Song…” on my own.

But getting back to Joshua Tree’s content, it’s amazing how assured and triumphant the band sounds here compared to before. Gone are the herky jerky post-punk undertones of Boy and October. The heart-on-the-sleeve earnestness of War and The Unforgettable Fire has matured and The Edge’s love of chiming, ambient guitar work has reached its zenith here. Joshua Tree, and Rattle and Hum a year later, is a love letter to American roots music, and it’s apparent throughout. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” is one of the most soulful gospel songs of the ’80s, made even more apparent on Rattle and Hum.

7. Big Black – Songs About Fucking

The title says it all. Big Black was a vicious entity, and those snarling guitars and analog layers never stop obliterating me. Songs About Fucking is where industrial should have gone. That is to say, I wish it was more like hardcore with a robot drummer. Frontman Steve Albini sneers and shouts his way through a mix of political assaults (“Colombian Neckties”) and pure hatred (sample lyric from “Bad Penny:” “I think I fucked your girlfriend once / Maybe twice / I don’t remember / And I fucked all your friends’ girlfriends / God I hate you”). One of the few angry hardcore records of the ’80s to not rely on homophobia and chest-beating…

6. Embrace - Embrace

…along with Embrace’s only record. Essentially the sequel to Minor Threat and prequel to Fugazi, Embrace was another hardcore outlet for Ian MacKaye. Dude got to preach more about avoiding booze (“It is a Kool-Aid substitute!”) and just generally tear shit up. The group occasionally shifted from its straight-ahead punk chugging for more psychedelic, post-hardcore leanings (“Dance of Days,” “Building”). MacKaye would more fully realize this style with Fugazi, but he started down that path a few months earlier in the short-lived Embrace.

5. Depeche Mode – Music for the Masses

Here’s where Depeche Mode found its happy medium. Less political/preachy than their mid-’80s material and less vacuous than their debut, Depeche Mode achieved a balance between pop and darkwave on Music for the Masses. A sexy record perpetuated by hits like “Never Let Me Down Again” and “Strangelove,” Music for the Masses was a important driving/dancing album for me in high school. Not that I ever became a good dancer. Depeche Mode just made me care more about feeling the beat.

4. X – See How We Are

It’s crazy how productive some bands were in the ’80s. The Cure and The Smiths shat out records annually with a pretty good batting average. Same goes for L.A. punkers X, who put out six albums in seven years, five of which are great. 1985’s Ain’t Love Grand!, however, is not great. It sucks. You know how artists put out divisive records, like Against Me!’s New Wave or Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks or like ¾ of Neil Young’s backcatalog, where people can’t agree if they’re genius or bullshit?

Ain’t Love Grand! is not that kind of an album. It is shitty; even the band straight up hates it. Of the six X re-releases, Ain't Love Grand! is the only one with liner notes that essentially tell you that you wasted your money. Tons of factors contributed, like touring burnout and artistic differences. The biggest reason why it sucked, though, was Master of Puppets sound engineer Michael Wagener. Wagener made a lot of bank handling metal albums in the ’80s, so when X came to him looking for a hit album, they got bad ’80s metal production. Frontwoman Exene Cervenka was virtually removed from the record thanks to Wagener’s borderline sexist attitude towards her lyrics and singing style. You know that “metal drums” sound that everybody used back in the day? That heavy yet artificial snare/bass sound that sounds like it was made on a keyboard? Yeah, that’s what Ain’t Love Grand! sounded like. Dokken and Poison suck, and so does Ain’t Love Grand!.

The one good thing about Ain’t Love Grand!, though, is that it was so terrible that it made the band’s swan song (before the numerous reunions anyway), See How We Are, sound even better. I bought my X albums chronologically, so I can say I felt the same emotions as X’s original fans in the ’80s did. I was relieved to hear a return to the rockabilly sound. Less punky than Los Angeles, the band’s evolution into a true American roots band was clear here. And while Ain’t Love Grand! was as badly written as it was recorded, See How We Are manages to be as lyrically captivating as it is sonically. John Doe and Cervenka are American poets with way more eloquence than the average punk and enough sense to keep it all tightly packaged. Still dealing with urban decay, romance, and political rambling, X’s last stand was a good one.

Of course, the band reunited in the ’90s to record hey Zeus!, which I still haven’t heard, and the original lineup tours to this day.

3. Prince – Sign O’ the Times

That last truly great Prince album, aside from the oasis that was 3121, Sign O’ the Times found the artist formerly and currently known as Prince aside from that lil spat with Warner Bros. during the ’90s (a.k.a. TAFACKAPAFTLSWWBDT9) without a band and threatened by the rise of hip-hop. Even in 2008, Prince still doesn’t get rap (Although “Alphabet St.” is pretty frickin’ awesome). So in a way, Sign O’ the Times is a “last hurrah” record.

Prince played like 95 percent of the instruments on the album, aside from some auxiliary percussion and a couple of guitar parts, making this double album all the more impressive. The title track establishes maturation in Prince’s lyrics right away, even though he still ended up writing a party record, with a series of vignettes about urban decay from HIV, drug abuse, and apathy.

Side three boasts my favorite section of the album, starting off with the Sheena Easton-assisted funk-metal single “U Got the Look.” A typical tune about gender politics, Easton brings some humor to the sexy number when she calls Prince out for reusing the “dream we all dream of / Boy versus girl in the World Series of Love” line. “If I Was Your Girlfriend” continues the gender discussion, only this time Prince philosophizes over intimacy, hetero/homosexuality, and the benefits of polygamy in its attempt to bed a single lover. This cool R&B song features sped-up vocals, giving Prince’s voice a more feminine sound, thus allowing the listener to take the song’s sexuality in two directions. “Strange Relationship” stalls the listener long enough for “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” to knock him and/or her out. An emotional ditty about Prince’s inability to fulfill a woman’s desires, the song’s hook rests entirely in its keyboard line. The guitar noodling during the bridge is nice, but it’s that rock out section that makes me wish the song never ended. I’ve love to see Prince jam out “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” sometime.

2. The Smiths – Louder Than Bombs

In order to be a Smiths fan, I think you need to hate Morrissey to a certain degree. Dude pilfered the sound his band created for his solo records. As a lyricist, he can sometimes be self-indulgent, and I don’t mean in the angsty way. The last Smiths album, Strangeways, Here We Come, marks the beginning of Morrissey’s growing lyrical inconsistencies, resulting in an uneven album that is at times frustrating in its goofiness yet thrilling in its exuberance. It’s by no means a bad album; think of it as my #11 pick for ’87. Besides, I think at least part of what makes Strangeways, Here We Come feel lame is that it follows not only The Queen is Dead, but the stunning U.S. collection Louder Than Bombs, which was released the same year as Strangeways.

The Smiths were a great British band, but it was us Yanks who made Louder Than Bombs. The band’s U.S. label, Sire, designed the record as a means of combining the The Smiths’ U.K. rarities compilations Hatful of Hollow and The World Won’t Listen, minus the singles that made it onto the U.S. versions of The Smiths and Meat is Murder. OK, enough history. Let’s talk music.

Louder Than Bombs is crammed with Smiths gems. Literally; it has 24 tracks totaling 80 minutes. You’ve got tender ballads like “Asleep” and “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want” mixed with romper stompers like “Sweet and Tender Hooligan,” “London,” and “Panic.” There isn’t a bad track to be found, and this doesn’t even tap all of the singles The Smiths pushed out during their brief run. Some bands ooze brilliance. Hang the DJ!

1. The Cure – Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me

As much as I love “William, It Was Really Nothing” and “Panic,” there’s one angsty band I love more than The Smiths, and they are called The Cure. No band had a better studio run in the ’80s. Eight albums in 10 years – nine if you count Blue Sunshine by Robert Smith’s side project The Glove – and not a single dud among them. The Cure was a constantly shifting entity back then, and not just in terms of line-up. The band moved from post-punk to goth to goth/pop to psychedelic pop to whatever the hell Disintegration counts as. Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me caught the band mid-shift, and the results are brilliant.

Returning to the drug-fueled expansion of Pornography and The Top without the bottomless despair of the former or the ridiculousness of the latter, Kiss Me offers a buffet of pop music. You get the dark Hendrix-style rockers of “The Kiss” and “If Only Tonight We Could Sleep,” the ragtimey “Catch,” and the frenetic singles “Hot Hot Hot!!!”, “Why Can’t I Be You,” and “Just Like Heaven,” arguably the greatest Cure song ever written.

“Just Like Heaven” is so good it made my girlfriend cry when we heard it live back in May. The way all the instruments converge in the intro, with the bass and china cymbals getting covered in more and more guitars and keys, the way Smith is so enamored during this beach visit with his future wife (Is there any description of romance more moving than the opening verse?), the way everything combines into three-and-a-half-minutes of ecstasy, leaves me floored every time. Morrissey knows how it feels to yearn, but Smith knows how it feels to love.

NEXT WEEK: The right notes aren’t always in tune, 1988.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Quick and The Dead - 'Going Home'

Hey, know what the Org needs more of? Christian rock reviews! Kids, put down that Choking Victim record and gather round. Ol’ JTP (that’s me!) has a story to tell you. California Christians Quick and The Dead crapped out four albums in four years before being taken to heaven in a flaming chariot… I mean, breaking up. Their last will and testament, Going Home, dropped last year, complete with Jimmy Eat World-style positive vibes and ultra-clean rocking.

Going Home actually starts out OK before degrading into an indistinguishable emo/pop rock mess. Intro track “Please Come Home” is mostly ambiance and nothing more, but it’s follow-up, “The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side,” is actually catchy. Like Jim Adkins, frontman Shane Gould offers some uplifting advice for teens, telling them to take their time figuring out who their identities and avoid stereotypes even though they offer easy roles to fall into. In idea, at least, “The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side” works. I’m all about positivity. The recording fails the song, though. Gould produced and mixed the album, while the mastering was handled by Troy Glessner. One of them messed up on the guitars, causing them to sound clipped, and in a declawed sense, not in a Raw Power way.

“Grass” aside, though, the record is a an unappealing hodgepodge of power ballads and faux-rockers. I’d like to say these guys just needed some more practice, but honestly, at four full-lengths, maybe the band’s split was for the best. Now please… continue to live your life as if you never read any of this.

Crash Romeo - 'Gave Me the Clap'

Pop punk is a kid’s game. Or at least, pop punk of the post-blink-182 variety. The nasally, nearly prepubescent vocals, adolescent, male-centric angst, and super clean musical compositions really only stuck with me when I was still in high school, circa ages 14-17. Post-blink, like Neverland, is not for registered voters, legal drinkers, or anyone who owns a gun. In fact, don’t bother the guy holding the gun with this trite.

Age is what ultimately holds me back from enjoying post-blink pop punk, other than the bands I already loved back in high school. Case in point: When listening to Crash Romeo’s new album Gave Me the Clap, I took breaks to listen to my own music, just so I could get the taste of sugar and gonorrhea out of my mouth. The records I unthinkingly turned to were August Premier’s Fireworks and Alcohol and Midtown’s Save the World, Lose the Girl, two records which I’m sure bothered old people upon their release. Hell, punknews heavyweight greg0rb himself thought Fireworks and Alcohol was shit back in 2003.

The point of this extended ramble is this: I hate Crash Romeo, and I don’t know if it’s because they legitimately suck, or because, like Danny Glover, I’m getting too old for this shit. The band offers nothing lyrically insightful (fave lines: “I wanna feel it / Can you feel it, yeah / I wanna see you rip my heart out / And give it back to me the way it used to be”) nor musically compelling. It’s all spit-shined vocals and sterile guitar chords. It’s like if Simple Plan collectively had their heads caved with rocks, but retained the part of the brain that allows them to play instruments. At least the title is kinda funny.

The songs are also funny, but unintentionally so. In a way, I don’t even need to write a review, since you could easily check out Matt Whelihan’s review of the band’s first album (Hey Matt, careful with the sarcasm next time. CR’s publicist quoted your review like it was a good thing). Crash Romeo has achieved zero artistic growth between LPs one and two. There’s precious little to entice listeners, unless you like your Starting Line tunes reheated and overproduced. Even when the band bothers to cough up a decent hook, like on the title track, they end up abusing it until it’s lost all meaning. When Crash Romeo called their record Gave Me the Clap, they weren’t kidding. These guys are about as enticing as a painful vaginal discharge.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Lozen - 'Enemies Against Power'

Hailing from Tacoma, WA, that state that gave us grunge bands like The Melvins, Bikini Kill, and, oh yeah, Nirvana, is Lozen. The duo recently released its Australian Cattle God debut, Enemies Against Power, and while it sounds awesome in theory (two lovely ladies smashing out sludge rock in the spirit of the WA bands mentioned above), the album doesn’t know when to knock it off, pummeling the listener with repetitive drudgery.

Clocking in at 50 minutes, there is little to distinguish one of the album’s seven tracks from the next, with the exception of album opener “Breech,” which begins with emotive, Heart-esque vocals before kicking into sludge territory. Like a more metal Courtney Love, Lozen pursues some sort of grinding muse amidst noise, but few listeners will care to follow. The longest track on the album at nearly nine-and-a-half minutes, “Breech” sounds like three or four songs aimlessly smacking into each other.

Enemies Against Power engages a steady decline from there on in. “Made With Love,” Unspeakable Truths,” “Heart of Filth”… they’re all interchangeable and unlikable. Each track is roughly three times longer than necessary, churning and churning until all interest is turned out. Part of what made similarly grungy albums like Nirvana’s Bleach or Black Flag’s My War brilliant was their brevity. Granted, those two albums are just 8-10 minutes shorter than Enemies Against Power, but the song total is a lot higher too. This stuff is cliché sludge metal, slow and turgid and terribly dull.

On the flipside, though, it’s female-made, a rarity in all forms of metal. In the event that you do enjoy your riffs as dirty as possible, Lozen might fit right in. But be warned: Lozen is so sleepy it may cause unconsciousness.

Jupiter Watts - 'Jupiter Watts'

In music, everything gets recycled sooner or later. Even silly things like big band jazz and disco were resuscitated by acts like The Brian Setzer Orchestra and Jamiroquai, respectively. In the last few years, the pop charts have seen a resurgence of ’80s new wave via The Killers, The Bravery, etc. A few years have passed since then, though, so I’d say we’re about due to progress from ’83 to, say, ’89 – the year The Stone Roses invented Britpop with their seminal self-titled debut.

With their likewise eponymous album, the members of Atlanta, GA rock band Jupiter Watts have perfected a blend of Britpop-style psychedelic bravado and new millennial indie pop softness. Striking a balance between Oasis and The Changes, The Stone Roses and Death Cab for Cutie, this new record is a stunning collection of pop mastery, intricate musicianship, and classy jams.

Album opener “Felix” begins with a quick pace and a morose atmosphere as co-vocalists James Trigg and Ramon Wals play off each other. It’s a gorgeously somber pop song to kick off with, and it sets the schedule for the album nicely.

The Britpop slant of the album comes out more fully on track two, “Crown.” The drums are a bit funkier and Trigg’s vocals are a bit snottier, but it’s still just as satisfying a track as “Felix.” Recalling the ol’ Gallagher brothers at their cockiest, the song is only 17 seconds longer than the previous one, yet incorporates far more flourishes, reaching a frantic, sax-laden crescendo that feels epic and monumental while still ending under the 4:30 mark. The listener gets all of the urgency of Be Here Now without any of the boredom and self-indulgence of… Be Here Now.

Track five, “The Cloud,” sums up the album’s dichotomy perfectly. Instrumentally, it hearkens back to early Death Cab for Cutie gems like You Can Play These Songs With Chords and Something About Airplanes. But the vocals and drums have just a scootch bit more cajones, skewing towards Sgt. Pepper pseudo-psychadelia.

Jupiter Watts starts a down-tempo fallout with “On the Water” and “Hello,” but quickly reasserts itself with the oddly Sonic Youth-y No Wave of “Hit the Ground.” But the song isn’t nearly as drastic as one may think – Jupiter Watts still pack it with melody and ambiance. This song and “Our Lesson Learned” serve as a thrilling conclusion.

Overall, Jupiter Watts are a great band with a delicious sound. While the areas they cover are well worn, there are few bands that travel them so well. Alternately sensitive, danceable, and crushing, this self-titled release is one of the best rock records of 2007.

The Leftovers - 'On the Move'

Much like Spock, Superman and Jesus Christ, pop punk won’t stay dead. The genre’s latest corpse slingers: The Leftovers and their album, On the Move. Delivering pop-punk in the vein of the Ergs!, Allister, MxPx and, ya know…the Ramones, On the Move recycles a ton of riffs and topics but still delivers everything all of the pinheads across America could possibly want.

Album opener “Run Real Fast” sets the record's game plan within 10 seconds of its start -- chugging, simple power chords, frenetic drums and bubblegum lyrics abound. Lyrically, the song consists of chasing tail, trying to avoid a beatdown and needing shock treatment, three very pop-punk sentiments. With an Elvis Costello-like croon, the Leftovers recall an encounter with a super cute female-type person with a “leather jacket and Weasel pin.” The Screeching Weasel reference isn’t just a plea for credibility, though, as Ben Weasel himself produced and sequenced On the Move. Peppy and fun, “Run Real Fast” is a worthy introduction to the Leftovers.

The same bubblegum surf rock fun continues on track two, “Dance with Me.” It’s a toss up as to whether “Run Real Fast” or “Dance with Me” is the more infectious track, but what’s undeniable is that the two make for a sugarcoated one-two blast of pop-punk righteousness. “Dance with Me” keeps up the loser-in-love pose, innocent and desperate á la Buzzcocks. There are few giddier pleasures than when the band drops out before one final rousing chorus of “Dance with me, dance with me / And take my hand and walk with me, walk with me / I think you’re gonna be the one baby, one baby.”

There’s 11 tracks following “Run Real Fast” and “Dance with Me,” and they all follow the same pop-punk formula. Some are just under two minutes; some are just over. But they’re all basically the same. As catchy as something like “Lose Your Head” can be, listeners could very easily confuse it with lesser tracks like “Camel” up until the chorus. This problem is basically the only offense one can charge On the Move with, that it is homogenous to a fault. Fuck Fall Out Boy all the same, though; much like their contemporaries the Ergs! and the Steinways, the Leftovers are bring back pop-punk for realsies.

500 Miles to Memphis - 'Sunshine in a Shot Glass

A not-so-hypothetical question: What do you get when you strip away half of Country and Western music’s clichés? A not-so-hypothetical answer: You still get a fucking cliché.

The usually solid Deep Elm Records has dropped down a notch on my respect-o-meter with the impending release of Sunshine in a Shot Glass by 500 Miles to Memphis. Initially, Sunshine in a Shot Glass makes for a decent listen. While there’s no denying that it’s definitely country rock, and not the cool Johnny Cash kind, the album isn’t too big of a leap for punk fans already grooving to the resurgence of folk punk currently being propagated by bands like Fake Problems and Defiance, Ohio. In fact, some of the tracks do kind of rock.

“All My Friends are Crazy” follows the C ‘n’ W formula closely, as frontman Ryan Malott relates getting drunk with his buddies and being depressed. It deviates in that he doesn’t mention being American as fuck while driving his 4×4 truck, though, so that’s a point of celebration right there. It’s got a solid hook. The guitars are a little on the castrated side, but the fiddle playing is delicious.

Unfortunately, though, the album is just too much like all of the commercial country fodder 92.5 XTU cranks out every day. The album has a few punk-ish leanings; none of them fully work. Malott’s voice carries a bit of pop punk snottiness in it, but a whole lot of annoying twang too. When the band tries out a breakdown during “Don’t Mislead,” it’s awkwardly awful and awfully awkward.

I’m not saying country and punk can’t mix. Far from it, if you’ve ever heard of a lil band called X, or its offshoot The Knitters. X proved that punkers could slam dance at a hoedown over and over with the brilliant, successive albums Los Angeles, Wild Gift, Under the Big Black Sun, and More Fun in the New World. Now, it might seem unfair to compare 500 Miles to Memphis to a legendary punk band like X, but it’s also unfair for 500 Miles to Memphis to be so annoyingly trite, right?

Githead - 'Art Pop'

Starting with the genre-defining masterpiece Pink Flag, released in December 1977, Wire has gone on to be one of the most influential punk/post-punk bands of all time. Successive albums like Chairs Missing, 154, and even the relatively recent 2003 release Send have all expanded the group’s propulsive sound, and they’re all essential listening for fans of punk in all its forms. But such brilliance comes at a cost, as Wire is well-known for taking long hiatuses every few albums. Send, however, does not mark the beginning of a vacation for Wire frontman Colin Newman. Rather, it marks a segue into his new project Githead, which also features Newman’s wife Malka Spigel (ex-Minimal Compact), Max Franken (also ex-Minimal Compact), and Robin Rimbaud (Scanner). Having already released an EP and a full-length in the four years since Wire’s third break, Githead returns yet again in 2007 with the masterfully made, and literally titled, Art Pop.

Given his legacy, it’s hard not to use Newman’s work with Wire as a lens for interpreting Githead. Luckily, this condition doesn’t really matter, as Githead is every bit as thrilling as Wire while remaining different enough to maintain its own identity. It’s as ambient as 154, but far more lush and supple sounding. It’s got some of the drugged out noise of Send, but it’s never as grinding. Where Send recalls elements of industrial, Art Pop recalls elements of shoegaze and indie rock. Finally, nearly 30 years since Pink Flag, Art Pop retains some nervous post-punk energy on tracks like “Drive By.”

The album opens with “On Your Own,” a track that hearkens back to the fuzz of My Bloody Valentine’s Isn’t Anything, albeit with far more discernible vocals. Wire has always been more about conjuring up moods and textures than linear storytelling, and the same could sort of be said for Githead. The vocals are an instrument for painting a feeling, but not necessarily describing that feeling lyrically. This description is a roundabout way of saying that sometimes Githead’s lyrics suck. So it goes. “On Your Own” is a gorgeously atmospheric starter regardless.

Newman leads most of the tracks on Art Pop, and each one is brilliant. His songwriting has become more fluid and less herky-jerky with age, but credit for that belongs just as much to his bandmates. Everyone in this group is quite essential to the overall sound.

Spigel serves up some tasty concoctions as well. The more acoustically driven “Lifeloops” allows the album to mellow out a bit more as Spigel expounds on the human race's more pathetic elements. “Jet Ear Game” finds her speaking through a digitized voice box. Her vocals are distorted beyond recognition here, but they complement the computer bleep-like guitar work.

Art Pop is arguably one of the best albums of 2007 yet. At times reminiscent of the smart pop of Peter Gabriel and the guitar swirls of My Bloody Valentine (oh yeah, and Wire. It sounds like Wire sometimes too, if you didn’t know), Githead is atmospherically blissful and sonically delicious and/or nutritious.

Elk City - 'New Belivers'

A band’s first single should, in addition to being kickass, never be the strongest track on said band’s album. It’s kind of a bass ackwards logic to not start off with one’s biggest asset, but bear with me. By introducing itself with its strongest volley, a band sets listeners up for disappointment once they buy the LP or EP. They’ve heard the best, now they get the rest, and that’s… not so great. Sadly, such is the case for Elk City and its latest release, New Believers.

While by no means a “bad” record, New Believers suffers for the sins of its makers. The album’s lead single, and opening track, is “Cherries in the Snow.” Peppy, poppy, and ever so sugary, “Cherries in the Snow” is exactly like the orchestral indie pop Camera Obscura showcased last year on Let’s Get Out of This Country [NOTE: This ran in 2007], that The Smiths displayed during their excellent ’80s run, that David Bowie and Neil Diamond pioneered so very long ago. Complete with catchy arrangements, “Cherries in the Snow” is the strongest and quickest track New Believers has to offer. And that kind of sucks.

Everything that follows “Cherries in the Snow” is far tamer by comparison. While tracks like “Silver Lawyers” and “You Got Me” have their own indie-pop-meets-showtunes charm, they don’t quite ignite interest like that introductory cut. They’re just decent, although there are some other standouts. The mellow acoustic guitar and handclaps in “Little Brother” are cute, and frontman Renée LoBue’s smoky, sultry voice imbues the song with a beautiful soul. The dirty pseudo-psychadelia of “White Walls” is another solid track, but also a depressing reminder that this album could be so much more.

Next time around, Elk City could go two routes – write more up tempo numbers like “Cherries in the Snow,” or pursue the fuzzy classic rock that LoBue’s voice could easily lead. She’s got a strong, memorable set of vocal cords. It’s a shame that she’s trying to chill out like Feist when she could blow up like Janis Joplin.

No Trigger - 'Extinction in Stereo'

While No Trigger melted quite a few faces with last year’s Canyoneer, it was not the band’s first melodic hardcore salvo of awesomeness. That honor would be bestowed on the EP Extinction in Stereo, a collection of the band’s first two demos. Recorded between 2003 and 2004, and earning an odd Japan-only release from BigMouth JPN in 2004, Extinction in Stereo is finally available in massive doses here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. Good thing too, as the tracks presented here are delicious lil slices of incendiary punk rock. It’s easy to see why these duders scored a Nitro contract.

Combining Comeback Kid’s riffs with Strike Anywhere’s politics, No Trigger kicks off this EP with one of its strongest tracks, “What We Became.” Frontman Tom Rheault and crew tackle modern America’s racial and sexual intolerance, singing, “If a man and a man cannot walk hand in hand / would it make your little day and would you celebrate narrow minds running this democracy?” Later, he rejoices interracial relationships with, “It’s only skin / someday they’ll see it’s only love.” For an Alliance member such as myself, this stuff sounds like gospel with gang vocals.

Another knockout song explodes on track three, “Earthtones,” in which Rheault rocks some hardcore nature imagery. The coasts and forests of the Americas wrap these guys “up in all these earth tones,” forcing them to wonder why we aren’t trying harder to preserve the planet’s beauty. As guitars crash and vocal chords shred, Rheault screams, “Am I the only one touched by the setting sun?” but is not alone.

It is not surprising that “What We Became” and “Earthtones” are also the more recent tracks recorded by No Trigger – these guys keep getting better with time. That’s not a diss to the second half of Extinction in Stereo, which consists of the group’s first demo, recorded in the summer of 2003. These other songs kick quite a bit of butt; they just don’t tear it up quite as vividly as the newer chompies.

That aside, though, the band still shreds musically and lyrically. While tracks like “Domesticated” brim with violent war imagery provided by angry humans, with children being gunned down and planes being blown apart, it’s hard to divorce all of that negativity with one of the song’s lines: “Don’t hide the scars / stand up and listen to the sounds.” This defiance in the face of death strikes me as No Trigger’s credo. Hyper-literate and chock full of crispity, crunchity guitars, Extinction in Stereo is a brilliant introduction to No Trigger. Pick this one up. Then get Canyoneer. Oh yeah, and then do your part to save the world.

Broadway Calls - 'Broadway Calls'

Pop punk is like the mafia – every time I think I’m out, it pulls me back on. From New Found Glory my freshmen year of high school to The Leftovers my senior year of college, new pop punk bands have cropped up with ensnaring, sugar-coated hooks. Yet another gang of lads has cropped up and sucked me in: Broadway Calls. Hailing from Oregon and boasting a sound that falls somewhere between Allister’s snotty/polished dichotomy and Latterman’s heartfelt stomp, Broadway Calls’ self-titled debut is a fitting soundtrack to the end of my summer, and maybe yours too.

“Call It Off” kicks off the album. While it won’t necessarily cause any palpitations, it’ll certainly get the heart pumping. Sarcastic and snotty, “Call It Off” mixes the smoothed edges of California pop punk with Chicago’s Alkaline Trio/Lawrence Arms with zesty results.

That’s pretty much the M.O. for all of Broadway Calls. Lyrically, the album flirts with politics on songs like “Suffer the Kids,” briefly recalling women’s rights, the Iraq War, etc., but they’re just quick flashes. It would be easy to slag these guys as “Propagandhi Lite” when it comes to describing international controversies, but the tunes are so gosh dang catchy that it doesn’t matter (Kinda like Anti-Flag…). If nothing else, the song quickly describes where the band stands on a slew of issues. Really, though, the album’s heart is in road trips.

Songs like “Back to Oregon” and “Van Rides and High Tides” vividly recall nature imagery and friendships on the verge of being dissolved by distance. It’s a bit more depressing than righteous political anger, but it’s beautiful nonetheless. It’s perhaps because of the band’s Buzzcock-ian knack for delivering infectiously sad tunes that Broadway Calls includes a cover of “A Rush and a Push and the Land is Ours” by The Smiths.

Now, it’s thoroughly cocky and/or stupid for anyone to try to touch The Smiths’ catalog. It’s just one of those things not to be messed with, as Morrissey fans can be dangerous enemies. Granted, it’s not like Broadway Calls tried to cover, say, “I Know It’s Over” or something, but still, these guys have some cajones. And the crazy thing is… they do a really, really good job with “A Rush and a Push and the Land is Ours.” Broadway Calls preserves the momentum of the original version while adding its own punk spin. Frontman Ty Vaughn’s voice retains some of its harsh edge, but he captures the Mozzer’s vision well, I think.

Virtuously catchy, Broadway Calls is neither too poppy to turn off punks nor too punky to alienate those jerks who refuse to up the punxxx. While the band’s debut peters out a bit due to filler near the end, it is still a good record regardless. Besides, album closer “So Long My Friend” brings it all back for a huge sendoff. These guys are gonna be at Siren Records October 1st [Note: This article originally ran 2007. Don't bother]. I’m trying to make it out; howsabout you?

Static Radio NJ - 'One of the Good Guys'

“A little less tough and a lot more awesome” reads the inside of One for the Good Guys, the debut from Static Radio NJ, and that pretty much sums up the band’s existence. Punk/hardcore in the vein of every band Dr. Dan Yemin has been in (Lifetime/Kid Dynamite/Paint It Black/Armalite/your mom), the band packs plenty of crunch and four second bass solos into each song. With seven songs totaling less than 10 minutes, One for the Good Guys is a brief, but promising, hardcore release.

From the album opening title track to closer “Who’s Laughing Now,” Static Radio NJ does not let up, thrashing and grinding its instruments and listeners’ heads to powder. The band takes its motto seriously, as these tunes are anti-mook-core all the way. Songs are so trim that they can barely break the one minute mark (one cut, “Stand Aside,” clocks in at 25 seconds. But those 25 seconds are all wicked awesome). “Who’s Laughing Now” is only 2:10, but it feels epic compared to the rest of the EP. But while there may not be much to One for the Good Guys in terms of length, it does get by on extreme replay ability. One could easily spend an hour with this disc on repeat, allowing the blistering tracks to pummel the ear drums over and over.

Let’s face it: Kid Dynamite ain’t getting back together anytime soon, but with Static Radio NJ, the pain of such a loss can be abated. Hardcore and punk has been overrun by irony, guyliner, and “bros.” Praise be to Yemin and Jersey, One for the Good Guys is an invigorating, obliterating blast of hardcore righteousness.

Yellowcard - 'Paper Walls'

The only surprise about Yellowcard’s new album, Paper Walls, is that it doesn’t suck. For a kid raised on The Bouncing Souls, Jawbreaker, and Discount, that’s a difficult thing to say. Yellowcard, despite being placed in the same category of “pop punk,” is way away (pun intended) from such greats. Where someone like the Souls, Blake Schwarzenbach, and Allison Mosshart could put the listener in a hyper-specific scene, Yellowcard frontman Ryan Key delivers lyrics so vague that they could be about anything. Given that the album is frontloaded with pop punk business in the front and ballad parties in the back, one could argue that Paper Walls is the mullet of pop punk records. However, I’d rather theorize that, a la the band’s seminal cut “Gifts and Curses” from the Spider-man 2 soundtrack, Paper Walls can be interpreted as a concept album of sorts about comic books, so great is Key’s obscurity.

Through this lens, it’s hard not to think of the first four tracks on the album as being about Spider-man. First track “The Takedown” comes with a gnarly opening track and lines like “I feel things changing when I move” and “How did I end up like this, the chosen one?” C’mon now. Obviously, this song is about Peter Parker’s angst over being caught between using his spidey powers to save New Yorkers and staying at home to cuddle with Mary Jane, as she does require a fairly high level of intimacy.

“Fighting” is just more Yellowcard-pop-punk-by-numbers. The band’s biggest strength is still drummer Longineu W. Parsons III. Knock on the other guys all you want – Parsons pounds the skins with extreme prejudice and rocks “the fast beat” better than most. The aspect the band is prolly most well known for, Sean Mackin’s violin, is buried so deep in the mix here that he no longer matters all that much. He gets to play ball on the ballads and “The Takedown,” but otherwise he’s so low that he’s practically excised. Also, this track reminds me of Spider-man trying to motivate himself before his big battle. We’ll say he’s taking on the Green Goblin after he killed Gwen Stacey.

Later in the album, Key switches from Spider-man to the X-Men on “Five Becomes Four.” At first play, it might sound like Key is singing about the departure of guitarist Ben Harper from the group, but I like to think he’s referring to the first death of Jean Grey at the end of the “Dark Phoenix Saga,” as she was the first of the original five X-Men to die. Heavy.

The last track worth mentioning is “Dear Bobbie.” A country-esque love song about the Greatest Generation, it’s a cute ditty about getting old and staying in love. I’m lost as how to best transcribe this one, but, like Kurt Busiek, I shall find a path. I’m thinking this one is about Captain America at the end of his life in Civil War. He’s pledging his love to Sharon Carter while, for some odd reason, thinking of Cap. fill-in Bob Russo. Blame it on the blood loss.

Paper Walls is a decent pop punk record, provided you’re into the radio sheen end of the spectrum. After the commercial disappointment of Lights and Sounds, Yellowcard returned to the sound of breakout hit Ocean Avenue, with solid results. A worthy companion piece, while it doesn’t deliver anything new, at the very least, it gives me an excuse to think about Marvel some more. That Marvel Zombies vs. The Army of Darkness was something, eh?

regarding guilt

Jeffrey Rowland totally made me feel ashamed of this blog today. Phmeh.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

V/A - 'We Do What We Want'

It hurts when you realize you could’ve seen a beloved band before their end. The Ramones, Nirvana, The Smiths… I know I never could’ve caught them in their heyday. But Discount, Jets to Brazil, Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros, and Latterman were all within my reach. I even remember specifically choosing not to go to what would end up being Latterman’s last Philadelphia show. I am a fucking idiot.

Another band to add to my list of never saws is Shorebirds. The band’s two new-ish seven-inchs came in the mail two days after I read about the band’s break-up. I’ll leave the Something’s Wrong/Shorebirds split for another writer; right now I want to focus on We Do What We Want: Olympia Punk Comp Vol. 1. Packaged with a zine and sleeve made from a polka compilation (Note to self: Check out Frankie Yankovic’s “Pennsylvania Polka”), the comp has an intimate D.I.Y. feel before even putting needle to wax. It also boasts five top-notch Washington punk bands, three of whom have already broken up as of this last writing. As for the last two, I’m just assuming they’re still together since I can’t find anything saying otherwise online.

The accompanying zine claims “We’re smart. We’re beautiful. & We’re Loud,” which pretty much sums up the five bands. Son Skull opens the comp with “Down the Street.” Bottom-heavy, lo-fi, and short, “Down the Street” has a rough charm to it. Son Skulls is one of the two bands whom I suspect may still exist, so maybe one day I’ll experience this track in person. Contrary to what the record’s label says, Shorebirds follow Son Skull with “Bubz Song.”

Shorebirds is almost certainly the band you all want to hear about here. Good thing, too, since they don’t disappoint. “Bubz Song” has the same world weary “what the fuck am I doing with my life?” tone of Shorebirds’ eponymous debut, but somehow the band sounds more triumphant about it here. Could be the energy in the vocals. The slurred ending gives the song a “you heard this at a party” vibe, which helps. While it doesn’t surpass older Shorebirds material, “Bubz Song” definitely gives me my Matt Canino fix, or at least until that full-length drops. Small complaint, though: ex-Jawbreaker bassist Chris Bauermeister’s performance feels phoned in. If the low end was handled by someone I’d never heard of, I wouldn’t care. But because it’s the guy from Dear You, his lack of command feels slightly disappointing. Regardless, would’ve been nice to hear this one live.

Comin’ Up Roses, the other active band on this comp, closes out Side A with “Look Out Your Eyes.” It’s a little more atypical than Son Skulls or Shorebirds, but if you dig Hot Water Music and Leatherface, there’s no reason not to dig this track. Unless you’re one of those jerks who hates fun. Way to be, jerk.

Side B comes with a double dose o’ defunct, starting with Black Bear’s “We Fight This With Our Flesh.” This song depresses the heck out of me, but only because Black Bear broke up after the release party for this friggin’ compilation. Appealing to fans of HWM, Nakatomi Plaza, and Ugly Organ-era Cursive without ripping any of them off, “We Fight This With Our Flesh” is my favorite track on We Do What We Want. Boasting violin (viola?) over dirty power chords, this one is a powerful dirge. So if any former Black Bear members read this, do you have any other songs recorded? Being a capitalist born and bred, I will pay for them.

We Do What We Want closes out with “Penelope” by Hooky, another deceased, Canino-featured band. Matt only plays guitar here, though. Erica Freas and “Chainsaw” are the ones who deliver the vocals. “Penelope” is a Lawrence Arms-like quick shot, with vocal cords soaked in whiskey and ripping apart. Like with Black Bear, and the rest of We Do What We Want, I wish I had more to hear. Get on it, Rumbletowne!

Monday, July 21, 2008

1986 - The universe is born

A few weeks ago, I made a list of my favorite record for each year I’ve been alive. Making the list was a hefty task that required a few revisions and a heck of a lot of guts. This kind of stuff is much more serious than, say, finding a real job. I mean, can you imagine the night terrors I’ve had ever since I looked deep into my soul and said, “Pinkerton is not my favorite album of 1996?” I can’t sleep. No, really; I’m writing this sentence at 5:30 a.m. on the nose. However, picking my favorite album for 1986, my inaugural year o’ breathing, was a cinch. The slot clearly goes to The Smiths' The Queen is Dead. But when going through the other years (“Blue Album” vs. The Downward Spiral in 1994 was the hardest call), I felt like I should make a top 10. Granted, it’s kind of a cop-out; now I can gush about Weezer and Nine Inch Nails without feeling too guilty.

But the more I thought about it, the more attracted to the idea I became. I’ve been keeping a list of my favorite albums of 2008 so far, which I’ll publish New Year’s Day. And until January 1, 2009 rolls around, I intend to countdown the music from my life lived thus far. Every week (with a few mulligans set aside for impromptu week-long beach stints), I’m going to post a new top 10. It’s a lengthy attempt, what with this being friggin’ July and all, but that gives me time to think, as well as something to focus on other than being unemployed. So here we go.

On January 2, 1986, I was born. I was about two weeks late, and I’ve been making up for that lost time all my life.

10. Queen – A Kind of Magic

Some fools will tell you that the only Queen release you need is a “best of” package. And while it’s true that Greatest Hits I & II fulfills most of the average music fan’s Queen needs, there’s one crucial element missing from that release: “Princes of the Universe.” A.K.A. the Highlander theme (A Kind of Magic doubles as the Highlander soundtrack, by the way), “Princes of the Universe” is the best Queen song. “Bohemian Rhapsody” is numero dos. “Princes” is harder, faster, and more awkwardly sexual. It’s only flaw is when Freddy Mercury drowns out the guitar solo by shouting “Bring on the girls,” which we all know he didn’t mean anyway. But with soaring melodies and an epic, operatic sense of songwriting in place, it doesn’t matter. And when you combine Brian May’s searing, muscular guitar work with Roger Taylor’s powerful drumming, my word. In fact, Taylor’s double snare hits on this track may be one of my favorite percussion performances of all time, but that is a list for another time.

The best of the rest of A Kind of Magic is covered on Greatest Hits I & II, like “Who Wants to Live Forever” and the title track, which go for more of the synthy ’80s Queen sound. But it’s the power metal of “Princes of the Universe” which draws me back to the album. Sadly, the band never gave the tune its just due on the “best of” circuit until Greatest Hits III.

And that is why you need to buy the “platinum collection,” Greatest Hits I, II & III. Or, you know, pick up A Kind of Magic.

9. Paul Simon – Graceland

After steadily declining in sales with One Trick Pony, which “only” went gold, and Hearts and Bones, which never even hit that, Paul Simon needed a hit in ’86. He found inspiration for what would become the five-times platinum Graceland record in an instrumental Boyoyo Boys track entitled “Gumboots.” Inspired by South African music, Simon managed to merge his singer/songwriter style with this exotic form to form a catchy concoction that not only revived his career, but brought attention to all of the problems in South America

Even if it didn’t have socio-political connotations, though, Graceland still would have ended up on this list. The Chevy Chase-assisted video for the massive hit “You Can Call Me Al” always fascinated me as a kid. The song is memorable and nonsensical, and the same could be said for the video. Then there are the Gaza Sisters’ gorgeous backing vocals on “I Know What I Know.” Incredible. My personal favorite, though, is “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.” I can remember watching Simon perform that song on an episode of Saturday Night Live in 1986, in rerun form of course. Just as SNL was emerging from a low period, so too did Rhymin’ Simon. Oh, as for “Gumboots,” the song that started this project, Simon opted to write lyrics for it and put it on the record.

8. Depeche Mode – Black Celebration

Boasting some of Depeche Mode’s darkest material (it’s right there in the title, man), Black Celebration continued the band’s mind-blowingly thorough sonic experimentation and sociopolitical lyrics of Construction Time Again and Some Great Reward. One of the things that always impressed me about Depeche Mode was the lengths they went to get certain sounds, recording just about every cry, collision, and cough they could find in order to craft their dancefloor tunes.

The lyrics are much smarter than most ’80s synthpop releases as well. Take for example “New Dress.” While David Gahan and Martin Gore can be pretty heavy handed at times, there’s no denying the sweetness of the duo’s sarcasm when they juxtapose the lines “Sex jibe husband murders wife / Bomb blast victim fights for life / Girl thirteen attacked with knife” with “Princess Di is wearing a new dress.” Made all the more powerful by the fact that the media led to Princess Diana’s death, “New Dress” makes the pettiness of celebrity news so apparent. In 2008, it’s a welcome anti-celebreality anthem.

7. The Church – Heyday

Australia gets flagged for delivering us derivative bullshit like Jet, so how in the hell did they also give us the psychedelic pop of The Church? In a haunting league of pop brilliance with R.E.M., U2, Modern English, and my beloved Smiths, The Church feel kind of like the The Kinks of ’80s alternative to me. That is, they never got their due, even though The Kinks clearly got theirs eventually. Now, I have no illusions about my music taste; I know I’m not the only one who loves Jawbreaker or My Bloody Valentine. But even with the great reach of the Internets at my disposal, I’ve been hard-pressed to find fellow Church fans, aside from music critics like Noel Murray. It’s a shame. Heyday is a fine record that’s aged far better than most ’80s albums.

6. Big Black – Hammer Party

The grandpappy of industrial, electroclash, and whatever the hell Nine Inch Nails qualifies as, Big Black is angry, and occasionally funny. I’m drawn to the dichotomy between the computer-programmed steadiness of the beats, all stops and starts with no soul, and the man-made guitar thrash. And when the band fucks with the formula, like on the horn-skronking “Live in a Hole,” all the better. Here’s a hardcore records that breaks almost every rule.

Frontman Steve Albini is notoriously misogynistic and cantankerous, and listening to Hammer Party makes that second quality most apparent. I try to separate the artist from the art, though, in order to fully embrace this curb stomp of a record. So far that’s worked out OK.

5. Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band – Live/1975-85

Here’s one of several instances in this feature where I’m going to fudge the numbers. It might be unfair toss in a live record when I’m supposed to be exalting studio efforts, but the width and breadth of Live/1975-85 is too great to ignore. Originally released as five LPs, it was the first box set to debut at #1. It’s no small wonder. At the time, Bruce was still hot off of his Born in the U.S.A. record. But the hype behind Live probably would have been warranted regardless. Collected among popular hits like “Thunder Road” and “Hungry Heart” are stunning rarities – “Because the Night,” Bruce’s gift to Patti Smith; a raucous cover of “War;” and a touching take on Tom Waits’ “Jersey Girl.” Bruce truly makes it his own, so much so that some folks forget he didn’t write it. Of course, the originals are just as staggering. The rage burning through Side One’s version of “Adam Raised a Cain” stirs me every time.

Spread between the tracks are anecdotes about Bruce’s childhood and his attempts at songwriting, something I’d finally experience first hand when I saw the Boss live for the first time on his Devils & Dust tour in 2005. He’s still one of the best performers in the world, but those who can’t make it out can always get the same chills from Live/1975-85.

4. Metallica – Master of Puppets

I experimented with metal en route to punk salvation as a disposable income-laden youth. As a musician, I appreciated the technicality of metal bands, but I often found myself put off by the lyrics. Now, dragons are cool. Songs about dragons, though, tend to suck, and so I’ve never had more than a passing fancy in fantasy/power metal. I was never much for Satanism, so black metal is out too. Metallica, though, came from more of a punk (i.e. – shit is fucked) mentality, and so I’ve held on to them through the years, along with Tool and Megadeth.

Metallica put out an unholy trinity of metal albums in the ’80s, consisting of Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets, and …And Justice For All. Master of Puppets is by far the most brutal. There was a better balance of tunefulness and rocking on Lightning, and more refined technical craftsmanship on Justice. But Puppets, a few classical interludes aside, is the one that will kick the shit out of you for a full hour without much relief or apology. The tempos are quick enough to cover up the band’s weakness: Lars Frederickson is not a good drummer, but at these speeds all he has to do is play hard and fast. The band’s synthesis of Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, and Misfits, however, is perfect.

3. Prince – Parade

What was up with bands releasing soundtracks to films under different names? Just as Queen’s A Kind of Magic was attached to Highlander, so too was Parade to the Prince vehicle Under the Cherry Moon. In my mind, Prince was nearly untouchable in the ’80s, “Batdance” aside. Parade, while not as solid as his massive Purple Rain album, still serves up sexy funk with tunes like “New Position” and, of course, the hit single “Kiss.” In a way, I kind of prefer the latter Prince albums like Parade and Sign “O” the Times because they catch Prince at a moment when his palate was becoming broader and more eclectic, but before he completely lost his vision in the ’90s. Whereas Around the World was singularly a psychedelic record and Purple Rain a rock/R&B hybrid, Parade has a gleeful pop playfulness to it. There’s some audio experimentation here, some traditional piano bar there. It’s mashed together; however abrupt it gets, it’s always beautiful. And really, how could you possibly hate “Kiss?”

2. The Jesus and Mary Chain – Psychocandy

Here I go again with the liberal interpretations of time. Psychocandy originally came out in 1985, but it didn’t drop in the states until ’86. And that is how it got to the #2 slot. Opening with the best JAMC song of all time (“Just Like Honey”), Psychocandy is ethereal, distorting, emotionally affecting, and, above all else, damn hummable. The male/female vocals interspersed at the end of “Just Like Honey” are so perfect that I’m fairly certain this record would have ended up here for that song alone. That the rest of the album can meet that level of quality is astounding. JAMC eventually dropped the hazy guitar noise of Psychocandy for their follow-up, Darklands, but for one LP, they were masters of the domain that exists between pop and noise. My Bloody Valentine would officially pick up the torch a few years later, but if you’re looking for vocal hooks to stand by, Psychocandy is where it’s at.

1. The Smiths – The Queen is Dead

As a music addict, I’ve loved many bands and many albums. But I only list a handful that saved my life. The Queen is Dead is one of them. I was a fairly miserable bastard in high school, perhaps partially perpetuated by my love of The Smiths, but it was tunes like “I Know It’s Over” and “There is a Light That Never Goes Out” that kept me alive and feeling and raw. “I Know It’s Over” was my anthem for loss. I’m not what you would call a “smooth operator,” so I spent a lot of time listening to this song and being bitter over unrequited love, pretty much up until the moment I started dating my current girlfriend of two years. Unsurprisingly, I also stopped listening to The Smiths for a bit as well, because I was finally happy in a complete way.

But there’s more to The Queen is Dead than the misery. The pounding drums behind the politically charged title track opened the first Smiths song I ever heard, and instantly smashed all pretensions I had about what a band should sound like. I expected indie pop and what I got was something every bit as punk as a Clash record. Morrissey’s sharp barbs weren’t just directed at himself; in the first track, he takes on the Royal Family full-force, something he’d touch on again on the perfect late period single, “Irish Blood, English Heart.”

Then there’s the playful rhyme scheme behind the angry “Frankly Mr. Shankly,” making a “fuck you” into a nursery rhyme. Or the goofy yet somehow fitting duet between Moz and Moz. That second vocal technique, sped up to Chipmunk rpms, has never been better utilized.

Political. Humorous. Emotional. But mostly open. The Queen is Dead is the shining pinnacle of The Smiths catalog, and unquestionably my favorite record of 1986.

NEXT WEEK: Redemption, something to prove, 1987.