Thursday, June 25, 2009

regarding Michael Jackson's death.

Although his feud with Prince ended years ago, it seems fitting that Michael Jackson should upstage Purple Rain's 25th anniversary with his death. Even better, he went out with so much ahead of him - a comeback album with, plus a massive farewell to live shows in London for this summer. The guy was still hungry.

If anyone is in need of revisionist history, it's Jackson. The molestation charges, the reclusive behavior, the addiction to cosmetic surgery... these are the cultural baggage he amassed in life. But art outpaces artists. In the end, Jackson left behind a wealthy catalog of pop tunes. Forget comparing The Beatles to Elvis or the Stones; which is better, "She Loves You" or The Jackson 5's "ABC?" "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" vs. "I Want You Back?" "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" vs. "I Am Love?" How does Rubber Soul hold up against Thriller? Forget the canonization of the former and the demonization of the latter, and you'll find some interesting answers.

Jackson, along with The Beatles, was my first pop obsession growing up. I listened to Thriller a lot. I watched The Wiz and Moonwalker a fair bit too, although to this day I have no idea why and how Moonwalker was made. The short, redundant reason why I loved these things is because they were fun. The full truth takes longer to explain.

For a while at least, Jackson was a brilliant idea man, from songwriting to choreography to filmography. The "Thriller" video holds up as a legitimately great horror short film, not to mention an excellent song 'n' dance sequence. And while he never topped Thriller (then again, how could he?), he continued to put out some of my favorite videos into the '90s, including "Scream" and "They Don't Care About Us," although the latter's anti-Semitic tone totally went over my head as a youth.

Point is, the guy left behind some of the most enduring, alluring songs of the last 40 years. These songs prevail because they're so catchy and danceable, not to mention occasionally stirring. They succeed because they are fun. And inclusive. While his later material became surprisingly angry, Jackson was a family-friendly musician. Your parents and friends alike could groove to "Billie Jean" or "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'."

We're running out of superstars. But that just highlights their importance more.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Impulse International - 'Hollywood Underground'

Stiff Records’ power pop spirit, however recycled, resides in The Impulse International. The American band’s German-pressed seven-inch Hollywood Underground, from Finnish label Killer Records, is brisk at a mere two songs, but like a cheap beer with a higher than average alcohol content, it’ll still get you where you need to go.

Owing a great deal to Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, and the like, the vinyl opens with its nervous, jittery, peppy title track. Admittedly, the band milks the brief chorus of “oh oh oh / this is Hollywood underground” a few times too many, but it’s not too bad. Plus, each part is so brief that it’s hard to really get sick of it. The guitar solo lasts maybe 1.5 seconds. The choruses maybe 20. In fact, the bridge might be the longest section.

The B-side, “Gotta Run Home,” is the stronger track. Slightly slower, each section has more breathing room. There’s an honest-to-Bob intro and even a jangly guitar lead. I’m a sucker for build-ups right before the last chorus, which the trio delightfully provides me with.

Hollywood Underground is a pleasing listen, albeit a derivative one. And while folks might be better off spinning My Aim is True, Labour of Lust, or Tracks on Wax 4, there’s nothing wrong with setting aside $4 for this little number as well.

Confide - 'Shout the Truth'

[Here's an expanded review of Confide's Shout the Truth that punknews asked me to do. I hated listening to this record for Define the Meaning, and I still hate it now.]

THIS! ALBUM! IS! A! PIECE! OF! SHIT! Hear ye, hear ye, young lads and/or lasses – if you’re going to write “post-hardcore” songs, either make sure your lyrics don’t blow mega-chunks or check that your vocalist’s scream is so primal and devastating and demonic that it doesn’t matter. Confide frontman Ross Kenyon is stuck in a weird place; he can’t quite sound harsh enough to come off badass, but he can’t really hits notes either, so he’s not much of a singer. My advice: drop the douche and go instrumental. It’s not like couplets like “Honestly, were you sleeping? / Reach out touch me now” were defining kids’ lives anyway.

The music on Confide’s Shout the Truth is admittedly strong enough. The guitars are alternately gnarly, crunchy, and squeal-tastic. And metal fans will dig the copious amounts of double-kick drum. The breakdowns are obnoxiously plentiful. But for all the soaring and shredding moments, nothing feels particularly stirring.

“We’re moving forward, we’re not looking back, and we won’t be stopped. Shout the truth,” claim the liner notes. And maybe that’s Confide’s problem. It’s hard to move forward when you willfully ignore history, and Confide’s sound is atypical of the rut the much maligned screamo genre has been stuck in for the last decade or so. I’m not hearing any progressive musical ideas here, and the truth that’s being shouted is either watered down melodramatics or cookie-cutter Christian crap. Vague lyrics mean more people can relate, but tracks like “This I Believe” and “The Bigger Picture” don’t drop any insight into religion. Without any compelling reasons to believe, Shout the Truth makes for poor missionary work.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

regarding St. Vincent live.

SWOON! Pitchfork TV, sometimes you really pay off.

Monday, June 22, 2009

regarding the Sunny Day Real Estate reunion

IT'S ON MOTHERFUCKERS. Emo/alt-rock pioneers Sunny Day Real Estate are back, with two shows announced: Oct. 13 at The Fillmore in San Francisco and Oct. 16 at the Paramount in Seattle. I've never been so glad to see a Live Nation listing in my life.

Oddly enough, earlier today I was listening to The Fire Theft and feeling kind of bad for not buying the new Jeremy Enigk solo album. I'd try listening to Jets to Brazil and ignoring Thorns of Life to bring back Jawbreaker, but I'm afraid I'll miss out on quality new Schwarzenbach tunes.

But anyway, I'm babbling. All my favorite bands are reuniting. SDRE! Face to Face! Hole (sorta?)! And uh... Nine Inch Nails head Trent Reznor is back on Twitter...!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

CIV - 'Solid Bond: The Complete Discography'

Oh, so that’s where Set Your Goals got their name from. ’90s punk / hardcore act CIV (ex-Gorilla Biscuits/Youth of Today/Judge) finally saw their complete discography come back into print courtesy of Equal Vision. The appropriately titled two-disc set Solid Bond: The Complete Discography collects the band’s two albums and assorted EPs, plus live tracks, demos, and an unreleased song or two. At 43 tracks long, the collection is surprisingly bouncy and fun throughout. The duds are few, the energy is high, and it’s about got-damn time these songs got back on the open market.

Solid Bond doesn’t dwell much on nostalgia. Outside of a photo of the actual collected discography and some perfunctory liner notes, the packaging is minimalist. Basic cardboard layout. No self-aggrandizing anecdotes. Heck, there isn’t even a group shot. This collection was meant to let the music speak for itself.

And for at least one disc, the collection unquestionably proves its merit. CD 1 starts with the band’s full-length debut, Set Your Goals, and tacks on the Social Climber EP, a track from the Anti-Matter Compilation, and some live recordings. Two unreleased songs, “Blessed” and “Glue,” are also featured, and they fit in perfectly with Set Your Goals' fine blend of pop and punk sensibilities. Like a more streamlined Gorilla Biscuits or H2O, CIV tears through romper-stompers like “Can’t Wait One Minute More” and “Choices Made.” In spite of the aggression, the band also showcases brains over brawn (“Soundtrack for Violence” advocates being anything but) and humor (“Marching Goals” takes the title track’s already pep band-worthy drum beat to its logical conclusion). The record oscillates between punk (“Set Your Goals”) and hardcore (“Et Tu Brute?”) with equal quality. The live tracks, though a little grainy, further showcase these great posi-jams. The lone clunker is the final song, a demo of “Can’t Wait One Minute More.” After hearing a studio and a live rendition on the very same disc, this hissy, muddled recording is out of place and redundant. Otherwise, it’s all amicable punk rock tunes here.

After hearing disc two, which collects second LP Thirteen Day Getaway, Secondhand Superstar EP, some demos, and unreleased track “Hard Times are the Best Times,” it becomes clear why CIV opted for a full-on complete discography instead of two separate releases. Set Your Goals warrants a lavish reintroduction; Thirteen Day Getaway is just the second-rate bonus disc. Originally released on major label Atlantic Records, Getaway is a clear attempt at radio-friendly late ’90s pop rock. It’s got more in common with Matchbox 20 and Smash Mouth than any NYC hardcore band. The first half is pretty jarring, no thanks to overly slick production and vapid songwriting. Granted, the band’s hXc roots start to poke through later on with tracks like “Shout It” and the 34-second “Owner’s Manual.” But the stylistic retreads don’t elevate Getaway from its merely OK status. While the three demos peel some of the gloss, they can’t save bland pop rock like “Secondhand Superstar.”

At the same time, though, Getaway isn’t a bad record. It’s just disappointing coming after Set Your Goals. Getting back to the Matchbox 20 comparison, it’s a hell of a lot better than Mad Season (but arguably worse than Third Eye Blind’s Blue. Discuss). Like Token Entry’s The Re-Issues, Solid Bond features one essential album and its kind-of-good-I-guess follow-up. Average out a five-star and a three-star record, and you still get a pretty great four-star release.

Friday, June 19, 2009

regarding the best day ever.

-Bloc Party has a new single coming out. It gave me a dance-gasm.
-Hole got back together. Live Through This is still one of my favorite albums ever.
-Mountain Goats bootlegs are tops.
-The recently reformed Face to Face is recording a new album. One of the best bands of the '90s... I hope this doesn't ruin the legacy.
-I've got two big announcements to make. Could pay off huge dividends. But I gotta wait for now. A lot of ins, a lot of outs, you see.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

regarding ex-Braid songs.

Certain People I Know, featuring Bob Nanna (Heheh, Nannanannanannanannanannanannanannananna) of Braid and Hey Mercedes, posted four songs fo' free on their Web site. I'm halfway through and a little on the fence. "Neverlasting" is OK; "Our Lady of Guadalupe" is pretty good. Aw, who cares, the guy wrote freak-a-leekin' Frame & Canvas!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Rancid - 'Let the Dominoes Fall'

No Skinhead Rob. Better than Indestructible. Worse than Let’s Go, …And Out Comes the Wolves, and Life Won’t Wait. On par with Rancid (2000) in terms of quality, though the styles differ. That’s the ranking on Let the Dominoes Fall, the first Rancid studio album in six years. Plenty has happened to the band since 2003 – bassist/vocalist Matt Freeman went through a cancer scare, drummer Brett Reed quit, and guitarists/vocalists Tim Armstrong and Lars Frederiksen both embarrassed themselves with poor sophomore albums from their other bands, The Transplants and The Bastards, respectively. Aside from Armstrong’s excellent reggae disc A Poet’s Life, the guys needed a kickass album again. And Let the Dominoes Fall is pretty nearly that album.

Let's pause to dismiss the drawbacks and then get back to the gleeful return. The record focuses too heavily on East Bay gang mentality. There’s plenty of chest-beating and lower class fronting going on, which rings a little hollow this late in the members’ lives. But then again, rock ‘n’ roll has always been built on myths, and besides, after such a long studio hiatus, there’s nothing wrong with reaffirming the band’s identity. Furthermore, Armstrong used to be a homeless crackhead. Ergo, he gets to talk about the streets for life.

Another complaint might be the fact that Rancid still unabashedly follows The Clash’s musical template. To those critics I say, “Hey, thanks for coming out. I didn’t notice that connection at all. At all. Hey, does The Gaslight Anthem remind you of any other New Jersey bands? Do you think Bruce Springsteen could be the New Dylan?” The truth is that Rancid takes The Clash’s love of world music and keeps it planted in the punk realm. These ska songs still rock like a two-tone tune, clam flammit.

OK, back to the gushing. As much as I hate line-up changes, I suppose Brett Reed was the most expendable member of Rancid. His replacement, Branden Steineckert (ex-The Used), is a better drummer. Dude’s got superior chops, but he still knows when to get out of the song’s way. A diehard Rancid fan before being asked to join the band, Steineckert understands what makes the act’s formula works.

And at 19 tracks, Let the Dominoes Fall has plenty of room to work. There’s plenty of oi stompers (“Last One to Die”), dub jams (“I Ain’t Worried”), and the occasional stylistic experiment (the acoustic “Civilian Ways” is a touching pro-soldiers song about Armstrong’s brother, Greg, who served in Iraq). There’s even some goofy fun tunes, like “Lulu” and “Dominoes Fall.” The goofiest, most fun track, though, is “L.A. River.” Freeman returns to vocal duties to gargle out words like “boom shakalakalaka boom / shimmy shimmy shake shimmy shake shake shimmy.” It’s bad, but it’s fun, but it’s weird, but it’s good. Ya know? A good dumb party jam.

But maybe that’s the point of the album’s very existence. Armstrong swears “Let the bombs blow / I ain’t got control” on “Dominoes Fall.” A good chunk of the record consists of summer ska-punk jams meant to move feat over minds. But perhaps the moment comes from lead single “Last One to Die”: “You got it wrong / We’re still around.” For all the Clash comparisons, Let the Dominoes Fall fits into a different mold. It’s not Rancid’s Sandinista (That’s Life Won’t Wait) or London Calling (…And Out Come the Wolves) or Combat Rock (Indestructible). It’s really their Batman Begins, a faithful, exhilarating reboot that’s as much for a new generation of fans (2009’s latest high school mall punks) as it for older chumps like me and mine.

Zatopeks/Accelerators - split

U.K. kids looking to learn their punk rock A-Z without actually listening to influential bands can check out the Accelerators/ Zatopeks split out on Squinty Joe Records. With two songs from each band, the seven-inch is reliably predictable.

The Neatherlands’ Accelerators sound like any ’90s pop punk band ever. NOFX, Descendents, The Queers, and Pulley are all good reference points. Listeners who own any records released by Epitaph or Fat Wreck Chords pre-2000 will be instantly familiar with the band. The group’s songs, “I Don’t Want to Know” and “Got Kicked in the Front of My Head,” are catchy and rocking enough, although the latter tune uses its chorus a wee bit too liberally.

Zatopeks, of England and Germany, have more of a Buzzcocks vibe, as “Scum on the River” and “Amy Tonight” carry a layer of anxious yearning and energy. Frontman Will DeNiro doesn’t quite carry the same snotty sneer as Accerators’ vocalist Ox Accelerator. “Scum on the River” in particular is a pub-ready rabble rouser, however directionless and rambling it gets near the end.

It’s hard to pick a winner here. Accelerators write better hooks, but Zatopeks rock the fun gang vox angle.

Let’s just call it a split decision. *bum dum bum pish!*

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Skam Dust - 'Son of Skarhead'

[Dear Nate Adams: I wrote a rap review.]

My buddy Frank Zappa is on the ghost-phone; he wants to know if writing a rap record extolling the virtues of hardcore falls under the “writing about music is like dancing about architecture” rule. Skam Dust dropped a hip-hop EP, Son of Skarhead, on Eulogy Recordings last year, which will surely appeal to kids who wish Brokencyde meant it just a little bit more. With six songs totaling just under 20 minutes, it hurts. Sweet Lord how it hurts.

The Skamster comes from the school of yell-rapping popularized by Run-DMC, DMX, and others. He also enjoys the various forms and uses of words like “fuck,” “nigga,” and “gun.” Beyond profanity and yelling, there isn’t much going on. Over competently dull beats, dude shouts about being known and/or hated, making violent love to folks’ matriarchal figures, and threatening people, places, and things with guns. He also knows Madball. So… that’s something.

The songs are stereotypical gangsta rap, extolling hate and violence without really contributing anything insightful like, say, Notorious B.I.G.’s “Things Done Changed.” Instead, Skam settles for sound bites like “Fuck your mother and I fuck your brain,” from “Untouchable.” Speaking of sound bites, the guy barely raps, keeping his verses short and uninspired in between ho-hum hooks and guest rappers like Danny Diablo and Prince Metropolitan, the latter of which has an infinitely better flow than Skam. The closest thing to catchiness emerges on track two, “Godz of War (Harley is a Bitch),” if only because it crams gang mentality into the hook from Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” “Ready to Rock” repeats the trick by biting off of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man.

Skam gets stuck between two worlds. His barking is too slow for hardcore, too coarse and clunky for rap. Same for his beats, which don't rock and certainly don't groove. Not that this would necessarily make his rhymes better, but the fact that Skam never tries to sample more dance-centric songs like James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” or The Meter’s “Cissy Strut” instead of super obvious classic rock sort of hints at his cluelessness. Son of Skarhead takes everything deplorable about NYC hardcore clich├ęs and converts it to lackluster rap, meaning Skam Dust sucks at two styles instead of one.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

regarding new NBT.

My buddies in The Next Big Thing rocked a house show last night in celebration of their new EP, Condense the Nonsense. If you like aggressive yet catchy punk rock in the vein of Face to Face, Lifetime, and/or Strung Out, now's the time to expand your brainy bits with new rock tunes. For serious, this disc is catchy and crunchy like a bowl of plague 'n' Rice Crispies.

Dudes are also playing The Trocadero June 28 with Live for Today and War of the Roses. So uh... check that out too.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Deadlock - 'Manifesto'

If shock/schlock metal meisters Lordi and operatic hard rockers Evanescence had violent hate-sex at a rave (while making music… I guess…), the result would probably not be very interesting the first time around. But given the time and effort of one down-on-his-luck trainer and a gaggle of precociously sassy latchkey kids, clam flammit, the result just might congeal into Deadlock’s Manifesto. The album cover implies fantasy metal, so it’s pretty shocking when track one, “The Moribund Choir vs. The Trumpets of Armageddon,” opens with a 4/4 techno dance beat. The song’s single lyric, “Let’s go fucker-fuckers,” clearly shows the band’s sense of humor (I hope).

But before listeners can pop and/or lock it, “Martyr to Science” kicks in with double bass drums a-pounding. Co-vocalist Johannes Prem goes for demonic throat-shredding shouts, while keyboardist/co-vocalist Sabine Weniger brings soaring clean singing to the mix. While the scream/sing dynamic has been done too much here in the states (see any screamo band from the last like eight years), these German shredders actually blend the two more seamlessly. While the instrumental changes that accompany the different vocals sometimes overkill the moment – way too many strings crop up during some of Weniger’s parts seconds after Prem and the band thrash through Jericho and back – you can still respect the band’s approach. Granted, the band also sometimes gets too soaring fantasy metal at times for my taste, but whatever.

Getting back to respect, Deadlock happens to be vegan and straight edge. “Seal Slayer” sarcastically criticizes seal hunting with lines like “As long as there is no law against the hunt and the animals don’t speak / with a cruel blow to the top of the head we will kill and hunt down the weak.” It’s a little heavy handed, especially with words like “If he who sows the wind will reap the whirlwind, doom will soon await us.” And I’m not sure what to make of the rap breakdown on “Deathrace,” another pro-animal rights song.

Manifesto’s biggest flaw is its theatrics. Prem’s incomprehensible scream is powerful, but loses its edge by muddying his words. Throw in the fact that Weniger handles all the hooks, and Prem feels unnecessary. The musical experimentation the band uses - a sax solo on “Fire at Will;” slow-flow rapping on “Deathrace?” – certainly pushes metal’s boundaries well past chest-beating and Satanic worship. But there’s still that lingering preference on my part for Minor Threat when it comes to straight edge bands. Manifesto is a record I respect from Deadlock, a band I admire for both its technical musicianship and ethical stances. But I’d rather be spinning Embrace, ya know? Take it like this – I don’t like metal much, but Deadlock is one metal band with a whole lot to hold in high regard.


My PJ Harvey and John Parish concert review for has been linked by Harvey's handlers. FREAKIN' YES. This is probably the only time I'll be mentioned in the same breath as the Chicago Tribune.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

regarding The Raveonettes

Danish fuzz rockers - dare I call them shoegaze? DARE?! I?!?! - The Raveonettes promised to give away demos for their in-the-works new album via Twitter. Download the demos and post your thoughts. Right now you can d/l the first track of the experiment, "Last Dance," as well as sign up for e-mail updates about new songs.

While I'd rather just be surprised by the final product, I'm still pretty stoked to hear new Raveonettes material. I think their trio of EPs from last fall had their strongest songs to date; I can't wait to see where they go from here.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Jammy Dodgers - 'Fish 'n' Chips'

What’s that, punk rock seven-inch from No Idea Records? You’re totally awesome? The Florida label continues to roll out top notch tunes, this time courtesy of Gainesville’s The Jammy Dodgers’ Fish ‘n’ Chips. Get passed the, heh, dodgy artwork – seriously, did your kid draw this? – and there’s plenty of peppy punk to be had.

While co-vocalist Izzy Alacratraz’s helium-high pipes skew towards cute, it just makes her indignation towards modern America that much more biting. The Jammy Dodgers specialize in literate, angry punk and/or food references (Jammie Dodgers are a popular British biscuit line). The sound is loose and raw – think Ergs!, Shorebirds, The Measure [SA], or even Black Flag’s My War sped up to 45 RPMs – but still catchy, especially on “Laundry Day,” the last of the vinyl’s seven tracks.

The hooks are just dressing though. The real substance is in the subject matter. “Descendents” hits on American guilt over benefiting from the oppression of Native Americans (or First Nation if you're Canadian). “We are soldiers of on foreign soil that we got no right to claim,” the band says. The resolution? “We’ve got to try and set things right / And we’ve got to tell the truth / We’ve got to admit just what we are / It’s the least that we can do / Don’t pledge / Don’t salute / Scream fuck you!” “No Gods No Masters” takes materialism to task, but with enough humor – “Your mustache does not give you authority over me!” – to avoid sounding preachy.

Galvanizing in word and sound, perhaps The Jammy Dodgers’ M.O. is best summed up by this line from “Get It On”: “Listen to what people say / And give them a fair chance / But remember that talk is cheap / And action’s where it’s at.”

regarding Warren Oakes and Against Me!

Drummer Warren Oakes played his last show with Against Me! last night. He either quit or was kicked out; take your pick. On the plus side, he's opening a Mexican restaurant in Florida called Boca Fiesta. Road trip, prehaps?

I've said before that Against Me! was my generation's Clash, and apparently they're going through their post-Combat Rock phase. I guess guitarist James Bowman better watch out before he gets Mick Jones-ed. And I guess I can look forward to frontman Tom Gabel acting like a damn fool for a wee bit (Is Heart Burns his Earthquake Weather? Will the next AM! record be his Cut the Crap?).

It's been a shitty month for punk rock, ya'll.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

PJ Harvey and John Parish at the Trocadero

“I wonder what PJ Harvey’s internal monologue is like,” my girlfriend said as we drove home from the Trocadero Sunday, June 7. Given the frenetic, free-spirited dancing, toothy grins, and incredibly disturbed discussions we’d just witnessed courtesy of the British alt-rock icon, it was a fair question. After several years away from the City of Brotherly Shove, Harvey made her glorious return to Philadelphia with John Parish, her partner behind this year’s excellent A Woman A Man Walked By. Accordingly, the duo stuck mostly to their two co-billed albums – 1996’s Dance Hall at Louse Point being the other release.

Not that the night started out too hot. Acoustic opening act Pop Parker took to the stage an hour after doors opened and sucked for 29 minutes. Ostensibly a tongue-in-cheek acoustic troubadour, his profanity-laden tales of ribaldry, underscored by soothing acoustic guitar, stopped being funny after his sound check. Gustave Flaubert, he is not. Stand-out lyrics included “She smokes cigars / and knows things about cars” and “He has a mustache / whoa-oh-whoa-oh-whoa.”

Once the headliner began, though, the crowd erupted in joyous applause. Parish and his three-man backing band emerged in stylish suits and fedora hats. His partner in six-strings, Giovanni Ferrario (best name ever?), even rocked the same sunburst-colored Fender guitar. Barefoot and bearing a black dress, Harvey looked like she had just stepped out of the “Black Hearted Love” video before launching into that very song. It was loud and discordant and spirited, and those first and last adjectives also describe the second song of the set, “Sixteen, Fifteen, Fourteen.”

It quickly became clear that the group could not fail. Though Harvey is arguably more well-known for her non-Parish material - “Rid of Me,” “This is Love,” and so on – the pretty dang positive crowd lapped up every song played. Personal highlights included raucous renditions of “Urn With Dead Flowers in a Pool” and “Taut” from Dance Hall. The latter, a provocative anti-Christian dirge, was revelatory. While Harvey sounds possessed and/or crazed on the song’s recorded version, she opted for a more earnest, natural-sounding approach live, with the slightest knowing undercurrent of show(wo)manship. It made the contrast between lyrics like “And he used to make me pray / wearing a mask like a death’s head / when he put me there in the back seat” and the chorus “Jesus save me / Jesus save me” both more entertaining but also darker and more believable. Same goes for A Woman A Man’s “A Woman A Man Walked By/The Crow Knows Where All The Little Children Go” and set-ender “Pig Will Not.” Harvey was a blur of limbs as she danced around and vamped for the mic and audience.

The group successfully worked in more quiet tunes as well. “Passionless, Pointless,” about a failing relationship, was just as heart-rending live as on record. “Leaving California” was pretty good too, although encore-ender “April” was jarring and enervating after so much rocking. “The Soldier,” however, was perfect. Quiet songs are always a gamble at rock shows – people are incapable of shutting up, ever, you see, which becomes most apparent during this sort of songs. But the band had the audience entranced, making the chorus of “Send me home restless / Send me home damaged / And wanting” all the more haunting. You couldn’t hear anything from the fans, not even breathing, it was so silent.

But when “The Soldier” ended, there was plenty of applause to go around. Speaking of the audience, those gathered were polite yet excited, scoring beaming yet reserved smiles from Harvey and Parish (They are British after all). There was no too-cool posturing here; everyone clearly wanted a piece of the PJ. One particular silver-haired fan wearing a light blue golf shirt stood out among the crowd; I like to think that his loud voice, clear through all the cheers after the regular set, is what galvanized the band into an encore. This guy got some applause of his own, so great were his pipes. I don’t know what that man does for a living, but he deserves a raise.

I try to avoid shit-talking concertgoers – it’s too personal and specific to really sum up the show overall – but it’s worth pointing out a balding, portly fellow in a yellow golf shirt and sandals who seemed to bother just about everyone at the front of the Troc’s stage. Seemingly alone for the night, he cut through to the front with little regard for those around him. And while being the big guy who blocks people’s view is merely annoying, this asshole earned his d-bag award when he left, then came back five or 10 minutes later to fight the short woman who took his “spot,” as if he had claim over the standing room space in front of the stage. Her boyfriend showed up later to keep this guy in line. In the unlikely event that he’s reading this review, hey baldy, fuck you. To that woman: You’re an American hero and deserve a raise as well.

One jerk out of hundreds of good natured folk makes for good odds, though. These pleasant people made Harvey and Parish’s anthems about trannies, Jesus freaks, PTSD, failed relationships, and such that much better, as communal settings at their best always do. I can only hope the Harvey and Parish come back soon.

Friday, June 5, 2009

St. Vincent - 'Actor'

Two years after she broke out from under the Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens' collective thumb with Marry Me, Annie Clark, a.k.a. St. Vincent, is back with her stunning sophomore solo effort, Actor. Arguably superior in every way, the record takes Marry Me’s promises and expands on them. It’s at times grinding and lilting, but always beautiful and otherworldly. If it’s possible to craft a record that simultaneously recalls Nine Inch Nails, Feist, shoegaze, and Disney movies, Actor is that record.

Like Marry Me, Actor’s first half is easily the better part. It takes the ominous sound of “Your Lips are Red” from the first record and plays with it more. Album opener “The Strangers” kicks off with a steady 4/4 beat dance beat, Clark’s pristine voice, and some strings. It’s dreamy and classy, but dirty guitar fuzz starts to peak through during the second verse. Storm clouds erupt as the song takes on a second stirring, darker life. “Save Me From What I Want” goes the same route, with Clark’s ethereal voice entreating the listener to save her from thoughts “17 cold showers couldn’t wash away.” It’s erotic without being dirty, suggestive without suggesting specifics. Ditto for “The Neighbors,” which combines guitar tricks and vocals to make the ultimate “oh no” sound while Clark wonders “What would your mother say / What your father do / What would the neighbors think / if they only knew?”

The hits keep coming with lead single “Actor Out of Work,” with its propulsive, thundering floor tom and electro synth bits. “Black Rainbow” takes an awkward shift, killing the record’s momentum by rehashing Marry Me’s more plaintive/hopeful dichotomy – think of that record’s title track for the sort of pretty orchestral moments I’m talking about. The slow-building song has payoff similar to “The Strangers,” and is a well-placed left turn overall.

Actor’s second half is generally less immediate, but no less pleasing given time. “Marrow” is the standout, encapsulating every the record tries to do over 39 minutes in three-and-a-half. Orchestral opening, haunting vocals, electro-bluster stomp, pulsing guitar work, and pretty pop moments are all here. “The Bed” tries a different form of dissonance – squealing string instruments, in a controlled John Cage experiment. The final three tracks gradually, gently close the record out.

Clark’s progression from Marry Me, admittedly a solid indie pop record, to Actor is astounding. It’s her first real classic. It’s also a shining example of what can happen when a musician marries her pop sensibilities with fearless experimentation – to the numerous folksy Starbucks chanteuses of the world, the Bat for Lasheseseses and such, here’s the real innovator, a Bjork for my generation, if only in aesthetic.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

regarding Exene Cervenka's illness

X's Exene Cervenka might have multiple sclerosis. She's one of my favorite singers/lyricists from one of my favorite punk bands and, at 53, still puts on a kick-ass show. She's gonna keep touring/recording - X is playing World Cafe Live right here in Philadelphia Thursday, June 4 - but this is definitely gonna put on a damper on her days.

On a more personal note, my girlfriend promised to watch Road House (featuring X's John Doe!) if she can show me three movies I've never seen before. Sucker...

Pregnant - 'Wanna See My Gun?'

If you name your band Pregnant, you’d better be good. Luckily, this dirge-spewing Brooklyn trio shows a ton of promise on Wanna See My Gun?, their debut seven-inch for Don Giovanni Records (The Measure [SA], The Ergs!). Over the course of four songs/11 minutes, Pregnant more than compensate for their dubious name.

The record’s cover features a photo of the band sitting in front of a New York Dolls poster, which might be a hint of the thrashing threesome’s proto-punk to come. Other reference points worth tossing in are The Stooges, Seattle grunge, Cloak/Dagger, and The (International) Noise Conspiracy. Point is, these tunes are alive and/or kicking.

“Falling Over,” “You Give It To Me,” and “God is Nein” make up for the first side of this clear-colored beauty. “Falling Over” slinks compared to the other tracks, which are infectious, furious, and fast. “God is Nein” might be the catchiest of the bunch, with all sorts of “ba ba dadada”s crammed in over a rapid fire beat.

“Wanna See My Gun?”, at four-and-a-half minutes long, takes up the entire B side. It feels like two tracks jammed together, with the first portion going back to the more midtempo grunge feel of “Falling Over,” but a guitar interlude 90 seconds in transitions it into the fiercest rocker of the bunch. Frontman Kevin Manion howls his way through the finale, recalling the passion and power of Nation of Ulysses’ Ian Svenonius along the way.

Wanna See My Gun? was recorded back in May 2008, but it wasn’t released until February 2009. This makes the seven-inch that much more promising; as is, it’s a great record. Throw in the possibility of a year of artistic growth, and Pregnant’s 2009 full-length debut might just be one of the best records of the year. But what will the community think when its children start running around in Pregnant tees?

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Bugs - s/t

[I got a stack of promos in the mail today. Here's the first one. It's fun reacting to ignorance!]

Formed in 1998, the Gay-Straight Alliance Network helps link young activists looking to fight homo- and transphobia. I was involved with the group on and off during my college years. I was also the LGBTQ listings intern for City Paper in Philadelphia for a semester. I mention these things so that you, the reader, will be able to figure out how I handle pop-punkers The Bugs’ casual gay-bashing on their self-titled full-length.

Ironically featuring Queers bassist Dangerous Dave, the band churns out anti-gay sentiments at a breakneck pace (The album totals 13.5 minutes). “Never Went Gay” is a 42-second repetition of its title over Ramones-y pop-punk playing that’s too lazily written to feel like legitimate hate speech, but there’s something about the tone that gives it a bitter sound. The contradictory “I’m Turning Gay” is a joke song about gently loving dudes because ol’ Dave “can’t keep a girlfriend and I don’t know why / I think I just might do it / See a dude’s ass and screw it / and be gay.” “Email From a She-Male” worries about people learning that the protagonist knows at least one trans person. “Dave Navarro’s Goatee Fucking Sucks,” while boasting a scientifically accurate title, trips itself up by equating homosexuality with sucking. Oddly enough, the genre criticisms of “No More Emo Haircuts” never skew towards hateful ignorance. Dave just hates those kids for “writing lots of poems.” Because if there’s one thing The Bugs don’t do, it’s express feelings with words at any great length.

Admittedly, not every tune The Bugs write is homophobic – a good chunk of the album is about drugs. In a way, these tracks are worse, because while “Lesbo! Lesbo” is offensive, it’s at least more memorable than “Meth On My Mind” or “Back on the Weed.” “I Wish I Was a Mexican” would be racist if it weren’t for the fact that folks ’round here can “drink a Bud” and “get a mustache and some shades” regardless of ethnicity. This is America, dammit. It’s tempting to pull back a bit and let The Bugs lack o’ topics or depth slide. It’s just pop-punk, after all. But even on those grounds, the trio still fails. Folks would be better off with The Ramones or Screeching Weasel. And if you like your pop-punk homophobic, there’s always Descendents’ “I’m Not a Loser.”