Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Fire on the Plains - 'Burning All Bridges'

Botch-style technical hardcore assault? Check. Funny song titles? Triple-check, thanks to “Mia Wallace Foot Massage,” “Lisa Turtle Bukakee,” and the simply titled “Burt Reynolds.” Movie samples? Let’s just say Marsellus Wallace stops by, and he’s “pretty fucking far from OK.” California four-piece Fire on the Plains’ Burning All Bridges is a perfectly conceived EP, delivering five pummeling assaults (plus a rockin’ bonus track) one after another. Running 17 minutes, it cuts out before the formula gets stale.

“Mia Wallace Foot Massage” kicks off the EP, and from the end of its Pulp Fiction sample to the end of the CD, shit gets kicked around. The M.O. is pretty clear: The guitars go from crushing to squealing while the vocals are consistently screamed. The style isn’t necessarily anything innovative, but it’ll still get metalheads where they need to go.

Not that it matters much when the songs are playing, but the band does show a brief glimmer of depth lyrically. “Navaho Joe’s Last Dance” discusses white oppression of minorities in America, specifically Native Americans circa New World colonialism and Japanese-Americans circa World War II. It’s a random political thought on an EP that otherwise traffics in hardcore clichés. Line after line condemns the listener for being a jerk. “How can you stand to look at yourself, the subtleties you thought that nobody pick up on,” asks “Burt Reynolds,” while “Mia Wallace” is angry about “you dictating what’s best for me.” “Lisa Turtle Bukakke” might get a laugh for its title, but the lyrics take a hateful turn when a love interest torments the protagonist like “a walrus trapped in the clutches of the polar bear.” It’s not exactly hateful towards women, but it does come off a little emotionally stunted, and that’s coming from a guy who spins Nothing Gold Can Stay for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

But the topics are easy to ignore, because, hey, I have no idea what the fuck the band is saying without a cheat sheet. In the moment, Burning All Bridges is a promising thrasher.

The Petafylers - s/t

[Punk bands keep testing my patience. I guess I really am just an emo kid at heart... time to put on Wood/Water to get this bad taste out of my mouth.]

Band names are crucial selling points. I know in certain genres, it’s cool to have a really shitty name (Dananananaykroyd, you make my head my head hurt). But for the most part, it helps to have a name that either A) sounds cool/attention-grabbing (Anal Cunt), B) says something about your sound/aesthetic (Strike Anywhere), or C) both (The Clash!). Depending on your tastes/psychosexual standing, The Petafylers will either come as a relief or a disappointment, given that their name relates to their sound in a roundabout way.

The Detroit band delivers uncompromising, unchanging punk rock on its self-titled six song EP in the vein of early Black Flag. The name is meant to be shocking – and “Petafylers” will net you a few quintuple-takes when you casually mention it at social outings. Same goes for the music – “Murder Junkies” wants nothing more than to “masturbate on your corpse.” “No More” celebrates anarchy. “V.D.” is about uh… yeah. And so on and so forth. The whole thing comes from the “I can say whatever I want and therefore am punk” train of thought. Which is cool, if you don’t care about, or even know, what words mean. Otherwise, it comes off as kind of stupid. If nihilism is your thang, though, you’re better off just jercle cerking to the Circle Jerks or G.G. Allin. Then again, maybe you should just settle down. Frankly, you’re scaring the neighbors.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Today John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats announced the Oct. 6 release date (not to mention the very existence of) The Life of the World to Come. It's gonna be Bible-themed, which isn't surprising if you're familiar with John's work. But he's also never gone this full into Biblical territory, as each song is named after a passage. The Goats' Web site has the album's third track, "Genesis 3:23," up for download.

Some theories percolating about the record, based off this taste:
1. It won't be too Jesus-y. You don't have to know that "Genesis 3:23" references the Fall of Man ("The LORD God therefore banished him from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he had been taken," quoth the Good Book), but it might help. Being a TMG super-fan and a (supposed former) Irish Catholic survivor/apologist, you know I'm going to do a lot of reading. So, dad, if yer reading my blog today, good news. I've got my St. Joseph medium size edition New American Bible sitting next to me right now.

2. It's going to be mellower than Heretic Pride. Not Get Lonely-somber, but this song is definitely not a rocker. John describes the album as "twelve hard lessons the Bible taught me, kind of."

3. I'm gonna be honest... this song is good, but I'm not so sure it's enough to launch the record ahead of The Horrors or Morrissey. But who am I kidding... ya'll know I'm gonna spin this baby right round.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Set Your Goals - 'This Will Be The Death of Us'

[This lead really only makes sense if you read the article on See, I'm shitting on a band that only has a contest running through the site, but also thanks said site in the liner notes to the album upon which I doth shit. I really don't think this article is going to appear on the Org tomorrow, but hey, who knows?]

So, uh, is now a bad time to dump on Set Your Goals? Sure, Mutiny! was a kick-ass pop-punk/hardcore mash-up, stuffed with positive vibes and pirate references. And the group’s emancipation troubles with former label Eulogy Recordings – in which the band had to buy-out their own contract for a rumored $150,000 – certainly casts Set Your Goals as hungry underdogs (and makes new album title This Will Be The Death of Us sound morbidly prophetic). But wipe away the good old days of summer ’06 and the sad buy-out backstory, and all that’s left is a merely decent pop-punk record.

Like many before them, Set Your Goals falters through a sophomore slump on This Will Be The Death of Us. It’s by no means a bad record; “The Few That Remain” and “The Fallen…” are both fist-pumping anthems in the same vein as “Flight of the Navigator” and “An Old Book Misread,” albeit with better, shinier production. In fact, on paper/computer screen, Death seems like it should be the better album. Drummer Michael Ambrose comes off steadier and more assured than ever before. The guitars are fuller. And co-vocalists Matt Wilson and Jordan Brown sound less auto-tuned, which shouldn’t be surprising coming from Epitaph Records.

And yet, for all its musical improvements, the record slips into homogeneity. There are roughly 1,300 guest vocalists on this g.d. album, and only one, Paramore’s Hayley Williams, stands out. Reasons for her highlighted performance vary; she’s the only gal at this weenie roast, but she’s also got arguably the best pipes too. And while duders like Chad Gilbert (New Found Glory/International Superheroes of Hardcore/ex-Shai Hulud, in case you forgot), John Gula (Turmoil), and Vinnie Caruana (I Am the Avalanche/ex-The Movielife) interchangeably slip in and out, Williams get her own introduction on “The Few That Remain.” “Whoa, whoa, guys, um, is it cool if I get in on this here?” she asks, to which the fellows respond with a hearty, gender-mangling “Dude, go for it!” And then much rocking is enjoyed.

There are some good ideas spread around, but the overall feeling I get listening to This Will Be The Death of Us All is disappointment. Too many of the early songs blur together. Given that Mutiny!’s optimism seems to have faded, maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Four Year Strong-esque tour diary “Summer Jam” stands out as a fun ode to the open road, and “The Fallen…” and “The Few That Remain” are two honest-to-gosh catchy numbers placed back-to-back. But those good vibes are killed soon after by “Gaia Bleeds (Make Way For Man),” a laughable attempt at more hardcore-oriented songwriting. By this point, the record is almost over anyway, so while “Flawed Methods of Persecution & Punishment” boasts a jumble of catchy sections, it doesn’t really sharpen Death’s dull blades.

At the same time, though, This Will Be the Death of Us isn’t exactly an epic failure. None of the 12 tracks will incite a riot, and I suspect a good number of fans might be satiated by the sound quality. If nothing else, it’s an excuse to tour. Chalk it up to growing pains, maybe. Set Your Goals’ members have grown as musicians, but they’re still developing as songwriters.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

regarding My Bloody Valentine and Weezer

-Head over to The Walrus to download three new old My Bloody Valentine tracks. These demos are remastered; to be honest, I'd have thought they were finished recordings based on how good they sound. My favorite of the bunch is "Cowboy Song."

-Pterodactyl Squad was hosting a Weezer tribute album made using 8-bit video game sounds, but their bandwidth seems to have died, most likely because the comp is flippin' sweet. While a few of the artists involved cheat - Anamanaguchi's "Holiday" cover in particular is basically the original with some blips - for the most part it kicks ass, NES-style. Highlight: Listening to "El Scorcho" while playing the X-Men 2: Clone Wars ROM. Is it possible for my favorite 1996 moment to come from 2009? Check out the comp's blog for clips, at least until someone else starts hosting this beauty. I never thought I'd have to assert the existence of a "definitive version" of "We Are All On Drugs," but Rabato's version rules.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Cass County Uglies - s/t

In 29 minutes, The Cass County Uglies doubled my interest in North Dakota. What I once only knew for giving me Chuck Klosterman can now boast a strong self-titled alt-country record in the vein of Lucero, Slobberbone, and, to a lesser extent, The Replacements circa Hootenanny. At 10 tracks, The Cass County Uglies is lean and bouncy, hook-laden, and certainly filler-free.

“Ten Dollars Worth of Wine” announces the record perfectly: Small town troubles, friendship, tough times, and drankin’ abound. It’s like a Springsteen song minus the melodramatic Magic Rat, with passing fears of welfare and hell flitting about. Simply put, if you like country, punk, and, uh, punktry, The Cass County Uglies are the band for you.

For those not sold, however, consider the album’s remaining nine songs. “Norman County” deals in more local flavor, attempting to bridge class divides and make new friends (“They’re quiet, hardworking, and cruel / We’re trouble but we’re not evil”) while “Disappear” remembers old flames (“Last I heard of her, she moved to Gainesville / But she could be anywhere as far as anyone’s concerned”). “After Party” and album-ender “Dancing in This Town” slow the beat down briefly, allowing Dan Nygard’s introspective, weary lyrics more room to hit. The best line of the record, “The problem with dancing in this town / There’s always somebody you’ve danced with before,” comes from the latter. In between the two weep-in-your-beer numbers are more rawking tracks.

Sure, there some downsides to Cass County. The clean production sometimes conflicts with the band’s grittiness, but it’s by no means a glossy record. And the songs, while fun, aren’t the most groundbreaking. Still, though, it’s hard to fault the Uglies for sounding like other good bands, given that they do it so well. And while “Move Silently” briefly, weirdly recalls U2’s “I Will Follow,” there’s little plagiarism at play here. If you like Lucero and Broadway Calls and somehow don’t like The Cass County Uglies, congrats, you’re a wiener.

Darren Deicide - 'The Jersey Devil is Here'

It’s amazing what a bad record makes you miss. Darren Deicide’s half-baked attempts at solo blues music on The Jersey Devil is Here makes me think of an old busker in Philadelphia who camps out on 6th and South sts. next to Repo Records (Best store in Philly, ‘cause they’re so dang loveable) and plays Beatles and Jimi Hendrix covers through a dinky 15-watt amp…poorly. I miss him because, in spite of every wrong note he plays and aggressive panhandling attempt he issues, he still knows when to shut the fuck up.

The Jersey Devil is Here, being an inanimate object, doesn’t know how grating it sounds during its 40-minute running time. It is unaware that, in addition to recycling a stage name that’s already taken, vocalist/guitarist Darren Deicide is neither a particularly stirring vocalist nor guitarist. His voice ranges from a dull whisper to a shrill bleat, lacking all of the nuance and emotion associated with the genre. Same goes for his guitar-work. In spite of the fact that it’s mostly just vox ‘n’ electric six-stringer, Jersey Devil’s analog recording quality sounds way too murky. Certain spots even sound slightly digitized and overcompressed.

The poor clarity ruins songs barely worth preserving. The seven-minute title track rambles on and on without direction. “The Cocaine Song” lists the pros and cons of that stuff they use in crack, along with lady troubles. “Hudson River Hangover,” in contrast, deals with drankin’. “The world’s a prison that I can’t escape / People walkin’ by are just distorted shapes,” sings Deicide, adding bad poetry to Jersey Devil’s crimes.

Over the course of nine songs, Jersey Devil shows hints of brilliance, however passing. “The Infidelic Boogie” is fleetingly catchy. “Napalm, Death, and Fire” is hypnotic and demonic in its opening bars. Its low recording quality even feels warranted sporadically throughout. But these successes are minor. Jersey Devil is a blues record for folks who don’t really care much about the blues. It hits the genre clichés – wicked women, Satan, and drugs – and leaves out the really fun and really sad parts. What’s left is a kind of gooey, amoral center where nothing particularly matters. At least at Repo I can hear bad blues versions of songs I actually like.

regarding rickrolling.

It's gonna be a good week.

regarding digital art.

This isn't explicitly music-related, but did you know that, like DRM music files, you don't really own e-books? This leads me to one of two conclusions: Either buy hard copies or endorse piracy. I think a good middle-of-the-road proposal is to buy a used hard copy, so you're not breaking the law but still fucking over jerk-ass publishers.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Land of Kush - 'Against the Day'

The book is (almost) always better. The “Harry Potter” series, The Natural, The Passion of The Christ… these are examples of that saying. Sure, there are exceptions (The Godfather, despite reducing the female characters significantly, is still superior as a film), but for the most part, transferring a book to another medium is a bad idea. Pacing, spacing, and flavor are all lost, either to create a work that hits all the plot points without any soul or one that attempts to capture the spirit without all those pesky facts. Either way, most adaptations become dependent on their source material. Which is why, at least in the case of the Land of Kush’s Against the Day, it helps to adapt something that’s loose, roaming, and experimental.

Those adjectives could also describe the record itself. The Thomas Pynchon book of the same name is over 1,000 pages long, spans decades and continents, and yet for all its length has the simplest semblance of a narrative. Land of Kush’s record only spans an hour, but it leaps from coherence to ambiance and back almost on a whim. Intended as homage to Pynchon for “permanently fucking my mind” by composer Sam Shalabi, Land of Kush dabbles in orchestral psychedelic pseudo-jazz. With almost 30 musicians employed to recreate Shalabi’s vision of Pynchon’s vision, Against the Day has quite a few instruments at its disposal. How well it succeeds for listeners depends on two factors.

First, this isn’t a “books on tape” translation. Shalabi’s attempts to honor Pynchon’s writing are, oddly enough, mostly nonverbal. Though the record does include lyrics in certain movements, like on sections of “Iceland Spar” and “Bilocations,” Against the Day isn’t a literal adaptation, and could be thought of more as an artistic response to the book. The music conveys certain emotions Shalabi felt while reading.

And, wonder of wonders, it sounds like he spent a lot of time being bored out of his skull. Against the Day drones a lot. And not like shoegaze or stoner metal; Kush makes those concepts sound like tangible pop trifles by comparison. “The Light Over the Ranges,” the opening piece, is almost all buzzing and moodiness. It feels like it’s building towards something, but seven-and-a-half minutes long, it sure takes a while to create anything coherent, or least segue into something that is, namely track two, “Iceland Spar.”

Cue vox and Middle Eastern touches for a few minutes, and then Shalabi and his band return to formlessness by the end of track three, the 21-minute “Bilocations.” But, again, it leads to something. The title track is righteous and furious and rocking. This is the rising action which the record has been leading towards, and with searing guitar segueing into droning synths, it’s a worthwhile wait. “Rue du Départ” wraps it up, though it takes eight-and-a-half minutes to do so.

Against the Day (the book) requires patience. So does Against the Day (the album). But the payoff, track four of five, justifies the slow, maddening introduction. How much it honors the book largely falls into the slippery bullshit slope of symbolism, and perhaps, to a certain extent, it’s better to think of the two as separate but equal.

regarding Bruce Springsteen covering Joe Strummer.

As previously blogged, Bruce Springsteen made his first Glastonbury Festival appearance this year. He opted to open with a cover of Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros' "Coma Girl." It's the first Mescaleros song I truly fell in love with, prompting me to explore Joe's post-Clash catalogue. I'm still doing that - I need to find a copy of the "Coma Girl" picture disc b/w a cover of Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop" STAT. For the time being, though, I'm going to enjoy this little gift from Springsteen, another songwriter and rocker who's shaped my life time and again. The recording consists of just Bruce on acoustic guitar and harmonica with accompaniment by saxophonist Clarence "Big Man" Clemons. The pair strips away the song's bravado a bit, but it's a solid interpretation, although I wish the harmonica came into play sooner. Still, though, it's Springsteen, one of the best rock and/or roll performers, playing one of the best songs by Strummer, one of the best punkers of all time.

I think I'm going to put on Global A Go-Go and enjoy some "ragga, bhangra, two-step tanga, mini-cab radio, music on the go" mixed with "Brit-pop, hip-hop, Lindy hop, Gaelic Heavy Metal fans, fighting in the road."

Also, seriously, did you click this link yet? Get into it!

Monday, July 13, 2009

OpeNightmare - 'The Harder They Come'

If there’s one thing the French are good at, it’s bein’ ornery. Oh, and losing wars. But mostly just being ornery. French punks OpeNightmare, albeit fronted by Belgian Yves Vai, fit that description mighty well. The band’s third full-length, The Harder They Come, while at times tedious, serves up riotous punk rock.

OpeNightmare is a play on the name of the atom bomb’s “father,” J. Robert Oppenheimer, and not a lazy spelling for Open Nightmare. This makes the pronunciation sound slightly exotic despite being inspired by a guy who lived and died in New Jersey. That’s where the exoticism ends, though, unless you count the liner notes’ info about helping out with education and art in France… and the cute way Yves says pronounces “fuck” as “fahk.” Yves sings in English, so us ’Mericans should have no trouble getting behind humanitarian tunes like “No Fun Atom” and “You Don’t Know.”

This is standard punk – think Anti-Flag, Tiger Army, and maybe Rancid (2000), only more homogeneous. At 40 minutes, The Harder They Come could stand to shed a few of its 13 tracks. Punk songs about being super wicked punk tend to suck, and “Rock’n’Roll Sucks,” a pro-punk/metal tune, is no exception. “No Buck No Fuck,” in which the narrator tries to kill a woman on the street after killing his wife, could probably go too. Depending on your perspective, it’s either a depiction of humans’ darker elements, like a weaker “Johnny Hit and Run Paulene,” or a lame Misfits retread. So, it’s either offensively terrible or terribly offensive. While “Sleeping With My Boss” examines the complex dynamics behind prostitution, “No Buck” comes off like a stereotypical horror show. It’s not inherently bad, but it’s still not on par with the rest of the record.

I have no idea if “Dragster Hollow Cost” is supposed to sound like a punk Rob Zombie or not.

Despite a few bum tracks, The Harder They Come has a decent percentage of solid songs. The first four tracks provide a strong 12 minutes or so of pogo-worthy punk. Skip the middle, and the record’s back-half comes off strong as well. “Dragster Hollow Cost” and “Burn / Destroy” add a little metal to the mix. All in all, not bad, not great.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Rentals - 'It's Time to Come Home'

July, the middle point of the year, calls for reflection. My dad traditionally declares the summer’s end after every Independence Day celebration. Fall is closer. And then winter. And then the end of the year, beginning another annual cycle, another slow death march to the grave, alone and forgotten. Plus, my Best Album of 2009 list is beginning to take form.

It’s July’s wistfulness in spite of its summery placement that makes it an appropriate month for the Rentals to release It’s Time to Come Home, chapter two in their Songs About Time project. This EP is all about regret (“Late Night Confessions”), nostalgia (“It’s Time to Come Home”), and longing (“Girls of the Metro”). Liner notes split into English and Spanish explain the songs’ histories. Like the band’s seminal release Seven More Minutes, both It’s Time to Come Home and its predecessor, Story of a Thousand Seasons, were conceived in Spain. That’s where the connections end, though.

Just as Seasons sounded mellower compared to 2007’s The Last Little Life EP, Home sounds even more subdued, weirdly recalling the barely there sound of frontman Matt Sharp’s solo material. While still a worthy purchase, it’s the slightest, perhaps least essential Rentals material to date.

The title track opens the album with bits of synth and steady drums before Lauren Chipman’s viola and heavy breathing lend the song some gravitas. “No Desire #2” follows in a similar electronic-heavy style, with slightly more propulsive percussion. “Girls of the Metro,” featuring Ozma vocalist/guitarist Ryan Slegr, is just as dreamy. Jamie Blake takes over on vocals for “Late Night Confessions,” a country-tinged lamentation. As sparse as the first three songs sound, the emergence of an acoustic guitar is actually startling. It also ends an already downplayed release on a depressing note.

It’s Time to Come Home is slight and bare, an EP that passes by rather quickly. The first three tracks blur together after a while. And while it’s not exactly a standout summer record, it is well-suited for a contemplative July.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Envy/Jesu - split

Summer’s halfway over, and I still haven’t made a beach trip yet. Haven’t burnt my feet on sand or dodged New Jersey’s tag policy or rocked my beach records. The Mescaleros, Band of Horses, and Minus the Bear always put me in a sunny mood, and that reissue of Dennis Wilson’s Pacific Ocean Blue was a welcome addition last year. Another album I always spin, preferably at night with the waves crashing in the distance and maybe some percussive rain, is My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless. The penultimate shoegaze record, it’s a beautiful hazy mess. A thundering behemoth. The dreamiest, the swirliest, the gosh dang bestest. And while I’ve found other bands that kinda, sorta, almost approximate that sound (M83, Mogwai, Sigur Rós), or rather certain angles of it, nothing has ever quite hit me the same way. And while sometimes that makes me sad, it’s still great to hear MBV’s ideas live on, however directly or indirectly. Which is why I don’t mind the year it took for Envy and Jesu’s split EP to drop in the states.

Jesu and Envy are two top-notch post-rock/post-hardcore/post-MBV bands that blend passion and atmosphere quite well. Envy goes first on the split with three tracks. If these songs recall Envy’s work with Thursday last year, well, that might be because they were recorded around the same time in 2008. There’s a more profound rising/falling arc here than on the Thursday split, and the material, when taken as a whole, feels better conceived. And also like that other EP, Envy comes out sounding like the better band. “Conclusion of Existence” opens the album with a subdued, droning electronic beat and ethereal guitars. It’s so hypnotic and calming that when “A Winter Quest for Fantasy” repeats the same trick before exploding during its final 90 seconds, it’s revelatory. Here is a band with a grasp of both chaos and order, violence and passivity. After this superb rising action, “Life Caught in the Rain” brings the listener back down. Where Loveless blew out of the gate with “Only Shallow” before creating a mood that stretched across the album, Envy shows moderation upfront, with a dynamic second act. However, all three tracks need to be considered together; the sequencing is crucial.

Jesu fills out the record’s backend with two lengthy ambient dance jams. Loveless was a lot of things; one them being a prediction of the U.K.’s love of jungle and techno. “Hard to Reach” winks at “Soon,” blending in cloudy, swirling instrumentation over a mid-tempo dance beat. At almost 14 minutes long, it’s somewhat of a patience-tester. But then, if you’re going to hate Jesu for droning too much, you probably shouldn’t have put ‘em on in the first place. “The Stars That Hang Above You” is more manageable at about half the running time, and just as solid. The tracks lack the flow of Envy’s material, though. Not that it’s a knock or anything. It’s just that Jesu’s songs work more individually, especially since “Hard to Reach” cycles through a number of ideas before its conclusion.

I know it’s been a year since these songs were written and recorded and what-not, but I can’t help but wonder where Envy and Jesu will go from here. Envy’s half of this split is arguably the best I’ve heard from them so far. Jesu’s got a full-length and an EP nearing completion for 2009. Until then, at least I’ve got five more nighttime ocean jams.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Big D and The Kids Table - 'Fluent in Stroll'

Big D and The Kids Table have always challenged themselves within their ska tunes, bouncing from ska-punk to two-tone to techno to hip-hop to the Salem witch trials over the years. With new full-length Fluent in Stroll, the Boston band takes on two new skancepts, with the first being LOVE. Ska songs about romance are perfect for summer, and Fluent in Stroll delivers another in a series of strong albums from the D. It’s also the first D record that isn’t a tribute to a style, but rather a new innovation called “stroll,” a mix of double-dutch, ska, reggae, and soul. The band’s punk elements are pretty much gone – most noticeably on tracks like “Stop, Look & Listen (Shake Life Up)” and “Known to Be Blue” – and this new sunny, fun genre complements the love songs better.

The fellas receive further help with their odes to the opposite sex from backing vocal group The Doped Up Dollies. The quartet announces their presence right away on track one, “Doped Up Dollies on a One Way Ticket to Blood.” They get fun times rolling with Internet references and schoolyard rhymes. Frontman David McWane carves out a little vocal niche for himself, describing his special lady friend as “See my mujer impressionante is known to dance / with sleeping feline eyes / ‘Cause she’s a long cat / a sly cat / Not someone going your way / She’s quite a little ninja / My tough little ninja.” Later in the song, McWane and his chick escape on an elephant after busting a crime, which explains the ninja bit. Also, yeah, this song is awesome. The Dollies are a welcome addition to the group, enhancing the D’s songs without cluttering them up. From the dubious boozing advice of “A Kiss A Week” to the posi-love jam “We Can Live Anywhere!” to the raucous lecturing of the title track, the Dollies provide a highlight in a record already full of ‘em. I hope the lasses tour with the band and, if so, serve up their own interpretations to the band’s older material.

Not that the record live and dies on the Dollies’ breath. “Describing the Sky” recycles the horn section from “Shining On,” but it’s a good part, so the song gets a passing grade. Big D deserves an A+, however, for track three, “Not Fucking Around.” Hit with a series of ridiculous hypothetical questions meant to test his fidelity, McWane fires back with brilliant responses. My favorite Q and A is the first verse: “If I found myself stranded on an island with six million girls / Well I’d put them all to work / We’d build a kickass sailboat / To get me back to you / See I’m not fucking around.” The song also recalls “Shining On,” if only because two years later, McWane is finally ready to say, “I’m damn well smart / And I know what I got / And I won’t be fucking around.” “Where Did All the Women Go?” is another statement of fidelity, with McWane going from being awash in wrong girls to seeing his one ‘n’ only. It’s another in a series of airy, cool jams.

Big D has always been good at closing out their records, and like “Moment Without an End” and “She Knows Her Way” before it, “We Can Live Anywhere!” is a damn fine hummable finale. A welcome upswing after the lumbering, slightly disappointing “My Thoughts Take Me Away,” the song condenses Away We Go’s optimism and romance into three minutes, 41 seconds, and without all those uncomfortable scenes about miscarriages and vaginal flavor. A haunting saxophone jazz solo segues into a rolling drum beat, chiming voices, and McWane’s assurance that “We can live anywhere / Pack you’re your things up c’mon let’s go / Didn’t you know we own this world? / Yeah we can live anywhere.” Plenty of political artists from the Bush era have struggled to find something to say in the Obama age, but Big D and The Kids Table successfully bring hope ‘n’ change on this track.

To a certain extent, Fluent in Stroll shouldn’t shake up listeners quite as much as Strictly Rude. The band’s break from punk is complete, bringing them closer to The English Beat than Less Than Jake. And while there isn’t a single “Checklist” or “L.A.X.” to rock the mix, Fluent in Stroll is a cohesive record. The title has a double-meaning – this is a band comfortable with its style and its meaning, not to mention enough sense to avoid power ballads.

D. Rider - 'Mother of Curses'

Hey sludge fans and indie kids; here’s your meeting point: D. Rider’s Mother of Curses. Short for Deathrider and not, sadly, a Dungeons & Dragons reference, the trio of Andrea Faught, Noah Tabakin, and Todd Albert Rittman specialize in cacophonous slow jams. Existing somewhere among Cursive’s wounded whine, Teenage Jesus & The Jerks’ post-punk horn bleats, and any dirge-y band ever, D. Rider makes experimental noisy noise that somehow doubles as dance music.

The band’s most defining elements come from vocalist/guitarist/drummer Rittman, who drops some great, loose, sloppy beats, especially during the album’s first three tracks. And while Faught and Tabakin provide an enticing layer of keyboards ‘n’ horns to enshroud the songs in an appealing murkiness, Rittman’s surprisingly clear vocal takes that are what give the noise more meaning through contrast. Rittman’s third contribution, the guitar, feels album erroneous by comparison. His playing is either periphery or extremely noodley, though he does on occasion find a sweet, grungy spot on tracks like “Dew Claw Don’t Claw” and “Misery Whip.”

Mother of Curses is expansive and freeform, but it does occasionally slip into formlessness. “Body to Body (to Body)” starts out great, with ringing bells and howling horns, but it dissolves painfully by its end. The song is meant to fall apart, and it takes just a little too long to get there. “Welcome Out,” meanwhile doesn’t go anywhere at all.

Soggy middle aside, though, the record works well. Faught and Tabakin are the stellar back-up players, providing noise rock without the masturbatory shapelessness. It’s almost disappointing to hear D. Rider pursue more traditional, guitar-centric rock near the end. But then, “Misery Whip” pummels so hard and so well, that it doesn’t matter. Plus, after the long, droning white noise of “The Marksman,” it’s a welcome retread.

But that’s why Mother of Curses should be appealing to a decent cross section of underground music fans. While it’s got a slight “jack of all trades/master of none” bent to it, the album manages to embody a great swath of loud ideas, making it a good gateway record in a bunch of different directions.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Against Me! - 'The Original Cowboy'

It might seem odd at first that Fat Wreck Chords is just now releasing Against Me!’s The Original Cowboy, a collection of demos for 2003’s As the Eternal Cowboy. As it turns out, though, the record is pretty well-timed. For the ex-fans who felt burned by the slick production on 2007’s New Wave and frontman Tom Gabel’s 2008 solo EP Heart Burns, here’s something grittier. For fans bummed to see drummer Warren Oakes leave the group, here’s one last shot at the sun. And super-fans and newbies alike get a glorious history lesson.

Granted, the demos and the finished product don’t differ too greatly. Original Cowboy was recorded, sans “Sink, Florida, Sink,” as a trial run meant to help producer Rob McGregor familiarize himself with the material. “Cliché Guevara” is still positioned as the second song and “Turn Those Clapping Hands Into Angry Balled Fists” is still near the end. Original Cowboy’s session for “Cavalier Eternal” actually ended up on Eternal Cowboy at label head Fat Mike’s request. And anyone who’s been to an AM! show knows that “A Brief Yet Triumphant Intermission,” renamed here as a triumphant “Introduction,” makes for a good opener. For the casual fan, the differences are minimal.

But for the dedicated, Original Cowboy is a treasure. A plugged-in version of “Unsubstantiated Rumors (Are Good Enough for Me to Base My Life Upon)” similar to the one on the Sink, Florida, Sink seven-inch is available. There are little differences in phrasings, like the ending of “Rumors.”

In a press release for Original Cowboy, Gabel noted that, “Listening to it today, there’s a part of me that feels foolish for ever recording these songs a second time.” And while these demos aren’t as fully fleshed out as, say, Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska or PJ Harvey’s 4-Track Demos, there’s a heck of a lot of truth to that statement. Original Cowboy is overdub-free, dirty without sounding too muddled, and certainly not a mere throwaway recording. Heck, these straightforward live takes outclass the band’s actual live record, Americans Abroad!!! Against Me!!! Live in London!!!. Aside from some flat vocals here and there, the songs are remarkably conceived despite their rapid-fire formation. The rock-out at the end of “Clapping Hands” benefits from the grit. “Cliché Guevara,” as kickass a song as it was in 2003, sounds even better with raw production, as do “Rice and Bread,” “Mutiny on the Electronic Bay” and “T.S.R.”. Eternal Cowboy is by no means an overproduced record, but Original Cowboy is unquestionably the better rock record, and arguably the better Against Me! album in general.

Now, I’m a super-fan. I knew I was going to like Original Cowboy before I even heard it, and Eternal Cowboy is actually my least favorite AM! full-length. So, I decided to try an experiment. See, most of you have probably already heard Eternal Cowboy. You know how the songs go. For some of you, hearing slightly different versions of those songs might sound “wrong.” So I wanted to test Gabel’s assertion that he felt silly for re-recording these songs by playing them for someone who wasn’t familiar with Eternal Cowboy.

My girlfriend is an Against Me! fan who has never heard Eternal Cowboy, or any of the band’s EPs. She has heard Reinventing Axl Rose, Searching for a Former Clarity and New Wave. She’s seen the band in concert multiple times. She prefers Gabel’s shouting voice over his singing voice. She is a big fan of what Tori Amos calls “audio porn” -- that is, clear vocals and discernible lyrics. She’s less concerned about instrumental clarity. However, she also prefers PJ Harvey’s 4-Track Demos over its studio counterpart, Rid of Me. She heard the former before the latter. She’s also wicked hot and I want to make out with her like all the time.

I asked my special lady friend to listen to my copy of Original Cowboy for at least a day straight, take two days off from AM! listening, and then play Eternal Cowboy for at least a day straight. In the interest being an amateur scientist, I hypothesized that she would prefer Original Cowboy for its raw intensity, as well as the fact that she experienced that record first. On both counts, I was right. With the exception of “Slurring the Rhythms” and “Rice and Bread,” she loved the demo sessions more. She was turned off by the acoustic songs, preferring the demos’ ferocity. “Clapping Hands,” her favorite of the demos, ended up being her least favorite on the finished album, feeling that the music sounded defanged and that Gabel’s vocals strained too much towards melodrama. Were it not for “Sink, Florida, Sink,” Eternal Cowboy would be irrelevant for both of us, as well as new fans.

Lest we forget, some folks, myself included, felt that Eternal Cowboy was a weak followup to Reinventing Axl Rose. Original Cowboy corrects this misstep. It isn’t overcooked, nor is it sloppily thrown together. Perhaps it is like Nebraska, in that it’s a beautiful accident, a collection that captures the band’s ideas without fussing over them. Against Me! is going to start recording their next LP with Butch Vig soon, and while that album is expected for 2010, Original Cowboy is a compelling argument for a fall 2009 release.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Passenger Action - s/t

[How the hell are these guys on the same label as Propagandhi, Daggermouth, and Comeback Kid?]

The problem with overselling something is that, if it works, expectations are created. High ones at that. So while there’s nothing violently wrong with Passenger Action’s self-titled full-length debut, there is something troubling about the Canadian rockers’ image. What Passenger Action promises is a compromise between technical and punk rock which, while contradictory, is still an interesting premise. What they deliver is competent, complacent pop rock in the vein of the latest albums from Valencia, Our Lady Peace, and The Starting Line.

Oh sure, there are flecks of punx speckles here and there, and the band doesn’t rely solely on common time. Album opener “Tonight We Resonate” is a solid first track, starting with a lonely chord progression before exploding into a fist-pumper. Instrumental numbers “(Night Frisbee)” and “(Good Ones Are Hard To Come By)” reveal a knack for more ambient, experimental material. They’re each under two minutes long, but reveal a musical depth that that band seems to subvert on their other songs. “Good Ones” briefly recalls U2 circa The Joshua Tree; combined with frontman Shawn Moncrieff’s love of clean, powerful vocals, these guys could really push themselves towards something bigger and/or better. By which I mean OLP circa Happiness… Is Not a Fish That You Can Catch instead of OLP circa Healthy in Paranoid Times. Five-minute finale “Twenty Weeks” further hints at the band’s potential for dreamier, sludgier material.

But for the most part, Passenger Action is merely an adequate release rendered disappointing by inappropriate marketing. These songs don’t have much in hooks or delivery. Passenger Action doesn’t do anything annoying or offensive, but that’s part of the problem: Their album is too safe and unremarkable. But if you’re into pseudo-emo rock, hey, here’s something from our neighbors up north.