Sunday, August 30, 2009

Freebies: new Ancestor EP.

So it seems like all my friends are giving away their tunes these days. My buds in the hardcore/metal outfit Ancestor recorded, mixed, and released a new EP, Allude to Illusion, yesterday. The title appeals to the Against Me! fan in me, as do the four tunes so technical that you want to call the guys liars for saying they only took a day to record. Check out MySpace for info on the band. Or just go straight to this link to download the chompie fo' free. They're not even going to bother asking for a donation, that's how deep their anti-capitalistic feelings go.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Birds of Avalon - 'Uncanny Valley'

Writing spacey, psychedelic jams is a tricky proposition. Get too loose, and one risks formlessness. Making the songs too tight in turn risks rigid formula. For the most part, Birds of Avalon succeed with the style on Uncanny Valley. Bearing passable resemblances to Portugal. The Man, Ghost of the Russian Empire, the Raconteurs, and, of course, the 13th Floor Elevators, the band crafts relatively tight psych-rock tunes.

Of the album’s 11 tracks, six are worthwhile. Though always guitar-driven, the band shows a mastery of all things rocking (“Side Two”), spacious (“I Never Knew”), and grooving (“Your Downtime is Up”). If you’re a fan of all things echo-y and otherworldly, Uncanny Valley is for you. The tracks aren’t too self-indulgent either. A song like “Eyesore” cycles through psychedelic ideas at a faster rate, without getting too ADD-addled on rhythms. The result is that fine line between roomy and tight arrangements I mentioned earlier. While it still doesn’t sound like it, Uncanny Valley holds to some of pop music’s ideals, namely shorter songs. More than half of the tracks are under three minutes long. Only two break the four minute mark.

That sort of discipline could stand to be followed more often, however. The band adds too much ambient noise in certain spots (hereafter known as “pulling a Mars Volta”). It’s OK when they do it on introductory track “Unkaany Valley.” At 22 seconds, it’s just fanfare segueing into the first real song, “Side Two.” But when they try going longer than that, such as on “Last Rites (Funky Side),” it kills the album’s momentum. It essentially makes the closing two tracks after it sound worse than they are, if only because “Last Rites” will kill off interest that easily. Given that the record is only a half-hour total, that’s precious time. Track five, “Dadcage,” further hinders the flow.

Of course, one could argue that Uncanny Valley attempts to showcase several different ideas. While the record is easily classifiable as psych, there are still varying tangents flowing throughout. Which is why the band must have felt OK with following “Spirit Lawyer,” arguably the catchiest and hardest rocking song on the album, with something as completely inverted as “Last Rites.” So cut Birds of Avalon a break; they travel a difficult path.

Modest Mouse - 'No One's First, and You're Next'

“The first thing I always did when I got a new single was flip it over and play the other side. I always hoped the B-side would give me another version of the artist, something as good as the A-side but somehow different. I expected great B-sides from the artists I loved.” Robert Smith, Join the Dots – B-sides & Rarities 1978>2001

When a band does it right, a good B-sides collection is almost more exciting than a good studio album. It means they’ve been bleeding so many great songs that they can’t be contained in mere episodic album installments. It means your favorite band is practically giving this stuff away. And it means you don’t have to hunt down too many pesky, overpriced singles. Think of the Smiths’ Louder Than Bombs, or Oasis’ The Masterplan, or Bruce Springsteen’s Tracks. There’s so much buried treasure on those collections. Well, make room for a few Modest Mouse entries as well. The band’s rarities collections - Building Something Out of Nothing, Everywhere and His Nasty Parlour Tricks, and the recent No One’s First, and You’re Next – are just as good as full-length knockouts like The Lonesome Crowded West or The Moon & Antarctica.

Just as Parlour Tricks served as an eight-track complement to The Moon & Anarctica, so does No One’s First serve Good News for People Who Love Bad News and We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. Here are another eight kind of catchy, kind of angry songs from the irascible Isaac Brock and his crew, and not a dud in sight. While it would be great to have a full-length’s worth of rarities, it’s hard to argue with such a solid 33-minute release.

The album opens with “Satellite Skin” and “Guilty Cocker Spaniels,” from a May seven-inch. “Satellite Skin” is reminiscent of the band’s sound circa 2007’s We Were Dead, which isn’t surprising considering it features the same personnel. “Guilty Cocker Spaniels” is a little more spacious – it has fewer instruments after all – with a dreamier, more acoustic bent. But it’s still anchored by Brock’s trademark voice. “Autumn Beds” goes even softer.

Despite featuring material from the last six years or so, No One’s First is expertly sequenced. It comes out big, dips down into mellower territory, and then ratchets back up with “The Whale Song.” This tune features some of the gnarly guitar work of Modest Mouse’s earlier days, earning its title by being a lengthy behemoth of a rocker. It’s arguably the strongest track on the EP.

The EP’s second half starts to resemble Good News more, thanks to the presence of that album’s horn section, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, on “Perpetual Motion Machine” and Good News bonus track “I’ve Got It All (Most).” The keyboard-driven “History Sticks to Your Feet” is straightforward indie rock. Finally, the 2007 single “King Rat” finds a CD release. It’s still a pleasant lil rocker.

And that’s what you get from No One’s First, great B-sides. Perhaps Modest Mouse has hit on a solid formula here: Write another great album, save what’s worth saving from the cutting room floor for an EP, then ship that out too. I think that’s a reasonable expectation.

regarding Nine Inch Nails' farewell shows. has been running a pretty excellent series of posts about Nine Inch Nails' final live shows, the best of which contains some bootleg footage from the Tues., Aug. 25 show in New York City. Frontman Trent Reznor brought out ex-Bauhaus singer Peter Murphy for three tunes - "Reptile," Bauhaus' "Kicked in the Eye," and Joy Division's "Dead Souls," which was featured on the Crow soundtrack, as well as the Downward Spiral re-release.

The video quality is a little pixelated, but the sound came out well, aside from the mic occasionally clipping. Anyway, it's stuff like this that makes me wish T-Rez wasn't pulling the plug just yet. I get his fear of playing past his expiration date - there's no way he wants to end up like Ministry. But I really, really wish he would stick it out a little longer. Dude's only 44!

The videos:

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Playlist: FUN!

[Playlist is usually an attempt to distill an artist to an 80-minute mix CD. Today I operated under the assumption that this could be a 90-minute mix tape. Look, this isn't Vietnam, man. There are rules. OH YEAH?! I used to be in charge of multimillion dollar equipment. Now I can't get a job... PARKING CARS!!]

I made this mix last night. It's supposed to be fun. It makes video games better. It sure makes exercising better. I kind of made it up on the spot; tweaked it a little this morning. It all pretty much stems from the first track, the DKD theme song. Matt Buckley and Erich Kreibel of Cetus have this joke metal band called DKD (short for Die Kill Destroy). Think of Andrew W.K. or System of a Down, and you'll get... maybe like 1/3 of the joke. Anyway, they've recently created their masterpiece. It's the greatest, funniest, most danceable song of all time ever shut your face. It makes all music irrelevant, as well as food, family, and oxygen. You don't need it. This song is the green bag of sustenance you've always talked about. THIS SONG IS YOUR NEW DAMN GOOD GODDAMN GOD.

Anyway, I really like that song. And put some other songs behind it that are almost as good. Except for "I Get Wet." That one is separate but equal.

-DKD - "Theme Song [8-18 mix]"
-Andrew W.K. - "I Get Wet"
-Queen - "Princes of the Universe" [OK maybe this is the best song ever.]
-Le Tigre - "Deceptacon"
-Eels - "Get Ur Freak On"
-Kasms - "Male Bonding" [I'm obsessed with this single. Look for a full-album review... eventually.]
-Bloc Party - "Two More Years" [WISTFUL!]
-Daft Punk - "One More Time"
-Naked Eyes - "Always Something There to Remind Me"
-Adam Ant - "Stand and Deliver"
-The Rascals - "Good Lovin'"
-Death Cab for Cutie - "The Sound of Settling"
-The Hold Steady - "Constructive Summer"
-Dillinger Four - "Let Them Eat Thomas Paine"
-Rancid - "Ruby Soho" [Know what's fuckin' weird? When the songs you listened to every day in high school become nostalgia-fests. So while these DCFC and Rancid picks are super-obvious, there's still this weird feeling. Like, "Oh, I remember being lost in New Jersey when this was on." "I used to sing the Lars part here." And those moments weren't significant at the time, or at least fun. There is nothing fun about being lost in rural New Jersey. But these bullshit moments in a car, waiting to get to somewhere else, become what I remember about the people and places I've loved, and then become the moments I love because of that. This is a tangent.]
-Sleater-Kinney - "You're No Rock 'n Roll Fun"
-Nothing Painted Blue - "Houseguest"
-Ted Leo/Pharmacists - "Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?"
-O Pioneers!!! - "Stressing the Fuck Out"
-Paint It Black - "Memorial Day"
-The Lawrence Arms - "The Disaster March"
-Armalite - "Dan's Hands Melt"
-The Groovie Ghoulies - "Doin' Fine"
-Discount - "Half Fiction"
-The Measure [SA] - "Hello Bastards"
-The Promise Ring - "Make Me a Mix Tape"
-Jay-Zeezer - "Surf Wax Off Your Shoulder"
-Michael Jackson - "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" [Is this guy buried yet? IS HE ALIVE?!]

Monday, August 24, 2009

Boris Smile - 'Beartooth EP'

There’s a fine line to be walked when dealing with the cute ‘n’ kitschy, but Boris Smile treads it well on the Beartooth EP. To be fair, it’s not excessively kitschy; surface glances yield melancholic indie folk. But it’s the topics that central songwriter A. Wesley Chung matches to his orchestral pieces that lend Beartooth extra quality. Sure, “Hour of the Wolf” and “Books of Blank Pages” cover traditional approaches to alienation and relationships, but both become a little more literal on “Program Me to Love,” a tune about robot romance. More importantly, the opening track, “Beartooth (spooky version)” is about the power of bears. And fans of the Lewis and Clark Expedition will tell you, bears are to be feared and respected.

Chung ties these novel ideas to stirring compositions, which is what makes Beartooth so memorable. There’s a long list of performers on the EP who handle horns, synths, strings, and choir vocals, and Chung puts ’em all to work. The result: lush indie pop. It’s got more balls than twee – I cannot overstate how much I love songs about bears – and a little more lyrical variety to boot. And it’s not like Boris Smile is all novelties all the time – there’s real heartfelt sadness on “Hour of the Wolf.” So pick your poison – Loneliness? BEARS?! Boris Smile’s got it covered.

Fight Fair - 'Settle the Score'

No. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Ffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck no.

San Diego, Calif. crew Fight Fair dishes out autotuned easycore with a dash of dancefloor electronics sprinkled around. Think New Found Glory mashed up with Hellogoodbye. Not bad enough? OK, fine, dick, pretend they sound like 3OH!3. On their Triple Crown debut, Settle the Score, Fight Fair serves up eight such indistinguishable craptastic tunes.

The group’s formula is simple: Start with overproduced pop-punk, add breakdowns, and throw in some studio vocal tricks. Oh, cute, that sounds like a vocoder. Oh wow, “Pop Rocks” opens with a Kool-Aid reference for no particular reason. The result: an unholy abomination! Kill it before it breeds!

Here’s the part where I try to say something nice in the interest of being fair and/or balanced, and I suppose I owe a band named Fight Fair as much. Fight Fair… they uh… hrm. Wait, OK, I got it. They definitely seem to understand their sound. The songs take on all the adolescent talking points: chicks, posers, and this thing called vinyl? I hear all albums sound better on it, even if they were digitally recorded. And the group shows some flashes of brilliance with their hooks, especially with the title track and “Beachfront Ave.” You might hate this band, but those choruses are still going to be stuck in your brain.

But being catchy and being good are two different things. Just look at ad jingles. And while Fair Fight does a decent job at synthesizing pop-punk and hardcore, it’s still laughable whenever the group tries leaning towards breakdowns and anything gruffer than nasally vocals. Based on their lyrics and the “Pop Rocks” music video, Fight Fair seems to like movie references. So here’s one: “I’m getting too old for this shit.”

Bouncing Souls at the Trocadero

Aug. 22 and 23 brought Philadelphia two shows celebrating punk pioneers the Bouncing Souls’ 20th anniversary. While they’ve always been a New Jersey band through and through, the band has plenty of history in nearby Philly, not to mention the Trocadero, which hosted the concerts. Saturday saw support from 7 Seconds and None More Black, while Sunday, which I attended, brought in Lifetime and former Avail frontman Tim Barry. From all accounts, it didn’t matter which you hit up; you were still in for a good time.

Both shows sold out, and rightly so. As I’ve written here before, the Souls are one of the most important punk bands of everything everywhere ever (Ever!). They’ve been making people dance since I was three years old. They’ve hit a point in their careers where it doesn’t even matter what they play, only that they do play. Surrounded by friends and fans (members of Paint It Black, Loved Ones, and who knows who else were in attendance), Philly made the perfect setting for the group’s birthday bash Sunday night.

Unfortunately, things didn’t start off too smoothly. The show began with a screening of the Bouncing Souls 20th Anniversary Special, a retro variety program featuring performance footage, ventriloquism and the Boogietron 5000. It was chock full of the band’s weird sense of humor, though watching the film proved a little difficult given all the noise from the balcony bar. The same issue applied to acoustic opener Tim Barry. He didn’t seem to care, though, as he soon unplugged his guitar and leapt into the crowd for a rendition of “Idle Idlyst” among his faithful. The crowd dug performances of “Ronnie Song” and “Dog Bumped.” He also took the time to berate his home of Richmond, Va.’s for building portions of I-95 over slave cemeteries, which was informatively infuriating.

After Barry, sound problems were nonexistent. Rather, Lifetime brought a new challenge: guitar straps. See, guitarist Dr. Dan Yemin has a thing for rocking out, and his strap came undone quite a few times during the band’s succulent set. They started with “Daneurysm” and closed with “Ostrichsized,” filling the in-between with a good mix of songs from Hello Bastards, Jersey’s Best Dancers, and Lifetime. Oh, and broken straps. Frontman Ari Katz teased Yemin a bit about his technical difficulties, but when a fan threw in some extra grief about buying a strap lock, Yeems let out some of his trademark sarcastic bile:

“Strap locks are for Iron Maiden,” he said. “…Punks use duct tape.” And true to his word, he did. It’s not like the strap-capades negatively affected Lifetime’s set that much anyway. Songs like “The Boy’s No Good,” “Rodeo Clown,” “Northbound Breakdown,” and “Airport Monday Morning” were still awesome.

But as good as Lifetime was, there was an even better group waiting to cap off the night. Emerging to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s “Born to Run,” the Bouncing Souls plugged in and proceeded to deliver the perfect 90 minute set. Granted, I say that as a super fan. Dudes were the first punk band I really fell in love with, the source of my high school year book quote (“I’m on the outside looking in / That’s where my story beings / Took the pain of growing up / And I will walk on through / This is how I’m showing up / I feel great / How ’bout you.” Thanks of asking!!), and just generally a source of joy and inspiration in a genre that tends to eat its own. But that’s a tangent. I’m sorry. Let it go and focus on how good Sunday’s set list was, OK?

If you were a fan of the Souls’ older material, this would’ve been a good show for you. 1994’s The Good, The Bad, and The Argyle got a lot of love via “I Like Your Mom,” “These are the Quotes from Our Favorite ’80s Movies” (complete with an Outsiders “We’ll do it for Johnny!” reference from a fan), “Joe Lies (When He Cries),” and “Neurotic.” Yeah, that happened. 1996’s Maniacal Laughter made some appearances in the set, with “The Freaks, Nerds, & Romantics,” “The BMX Song,” “Quick Check Girl,” “Here We Go,” and a jammed out “Moon Over Asbury.” “Moon” segued nicely into a cover of the Misfits' "Hybrid Moments." The Bouncing Souls weighed in with “Cracked,” “East Coast Fuck You!”, “Say Anything,” and a particularly awesome “Kate is Great.” Sadly, my cries for “Shark Attack” went unanswered.

Some newer material did show up as well. “Lean on Sheena” was the lone track from The Gold Record, while Hopeless Romantic’s title track did the same. Anchors Aweigh scored “Sing Along Forever,” the title track, and a fan-requested “Apartment 5F.” How I Spent My Summer Vacation’s “Private Radio,” “That Song,” and “The Something Special” rocked the set list, along with set opener “True Believers” and encore-ender “Gone.” Oddly enough, outside of “I Think That the World,” nothing from the band’s 20th anniversary single series showed up.

That’s a lot of songs – 25 by my count, and I’m working from memory. But in the moment, it barely felt like a half-hour, let alone 90 minutes or so. Which is perhaps the biggest compliment I could give the Souls – dudes played a lengthy set that was so much fun, I completely lost track of time. I was too busy watching frontman Greg Attonito shake around in his suit while bassist Brian Keilen and guitarist Pete Steinkopf tore at their instruments. Drummer Michael McDermott seemed to lead the charge in tweaking the band’s back catalog, switching up fills and extending songs, most memorably during “Moon Over Asbury.” The result was a fine blend of something old and something new which eradicated all sense of time (and temperature. It was pretty dang humid in the Troc).

Despite logging 20 years in punk rock, the Bouncing Souls show felt more like the beginning of a new chapter than the conclusion of an old one. The band sold advance copies of 20th Anniversary Series Volume Three, their newest seven-inch [SPOILER ALERT: IT’S GOOD]. They hinted at holiday shows and plans to learn new covers. Representatives from the Syrentha Savio Endowment passed out literature about cancer prevention and sold very cool “fuck cancer” shirts. So while it’s incredible to look back on those 20 years of music – yes, even the Greenball Crew EP – I can’t help but look forward to what comes next.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Paint It Black - 'Amnesia'/'Surrender'

Folks, I am full-on crushing on Dr. Daniel Mathias Jebediah Yemin. Obviously, living so close to Philadelphia means he’s always been a punk icon for me, but right now, I’m in the middle of Yem-love. Dude’s original main squeeze, Lifetime, is opening for the Bouncing Souls this Sunday. I just listened to the entire Kid Dynamite/Armalite discography in like 23 seconds. Seriously, those songs are so awesomely short. And his other, other, other band, Paint It Black, is following up New Lexicon, the best hardcore record of 2008, with a pair of seven-inches/digital downloads. The first one, Amnesia, came out last June on Bridge Nine Records, while a second one, Surrender, dropped this week on Fat Wreck Chords.

I finally got back in the PiB game last week when I picked up Amnesia, and it does not disappoint. It’s a little retro for the band by default, since it lacks New Lexicon’s experimental hip-hop/electronic edges. But given that the seven-inch idea was meant to honor hardcore’s past, retro is fitting. Fans get five blistering, rage-tastic tunes on white wax. Opener “Salem” is a little slower than the average PiB track, recalling Black Flag circa My War in its fury towards organized religion (“My intelligent design? No submission!”). “Homesick” and “Nicotine” are more CVA-esque by comparison. Side B adds two more beatdowns. “Amnesia” segues perfectly into “Bliss,” forming a coherent side of desolate urban landscapes and staunch determination. “Bliss” adds a nice little guitar interlude near the end, hinting at the band’s range. Paint It Black has always been good at crushing skulls, but “Bliss” reminds the listener that the guys know their way around melodies too.

Amnesia cycles through five songs in less than 10 minutes. Surrender does four in less than seven. Opener “Sacred” is the closest the band has come to writing a Kid Dynamite-style song, featuring fast-as-frick hardcore/punk with a bit of melody, plus a bass solo to break things up a bit. But any possibility that Surrender was tailor-made to feature poppier songs for Fat Wreck is quickly dispelled by the other A-side song, “Worms.” It starts out fast and fuming before settling into a slower, more deliberate form of aggression. The band goes into the penultimate cut time, as Yemin foams like a mad dog while the rest of the band issues discordant blasts from their instruments on the downbeat. Things eventually shift back into a standard hardcore beat, but the whole song is so primal and powerful that it’s easily my favorite track on the EP.

The B-side switches gears again, as the 46-second “Cipher” amps the BPMs back up. Paint It Black has always venerated hardcore’s roots while simultaneously adding forward-thinking elements musically, and that applies to Surrender’s lyrics as well. “Sacred” skips nostalgia to focus on how far the narrator has come since his self-destructive days of youth, and “Cypher” takes a similar stance against the way things used to be, decrying “Fraudulent allegiances, cheap facades / Our father’s flags, our mother’s gods” before warning the old guard, “This could be the dawn of a brand new day / So get out of our way.” The title track ties the past (“No more shame for what’s underneath my skin / No more nostalgia for the face I wore when I was young”), present (“We try to decipher the truth from the lie/ There were bolder lines in those analog times”), and future (“And I think I know what you’re wishing / So I’m renewing my vows / No more giving up, no more giving in”) together into a mantra self-determination. “Surrender” is about anything but.

Surrender brings PiB’s 2009 track count up to nine, almost a full-length’s worth. While Surrender and Amnesia were conceived from a place of modesty – “We can’t think of a single hardcore punk band that has released more than three awesome full-length records, and we’re not nearly arrogant enough to imagine that we’ll be the first band to make that happen,” quoth the members – it’s clear that Paint It Black is still one of the strongest, boldest hardcore bands out there today.

And they copy the Smiths’ billing (“Dan Yemin: Voice, Andy Nelson: The Bass Guitar,” and so on and so forth) in the liner notes, which I totally geeked out over.

Bouncing Souls - '20th Anniversary Series: Volume Two"

The year-long celebration of all things Bouncing Souls continues with 20th Anniversary Series: Volume Two. Collected are three more songs from the band’s ongoing song-a-month digital download project, as well a bonus track, an acoustic demo of Volume One’s “Gasoline.” Generally speaking, it’s the same set-up as Volume One: Two fist-pumping punk anthems on the A-side, with a mid-tempo game-changer followed by an acoustic number on the flipside. The diversity is in the details.

“Dub Says True” and “I Think That the World” are Gold Record-style winners. “Dub Says True” is a testament to friendship, but for it me it doubles as a song about my love of the Souls. It’s all there in the chorus – “You say we have been there for you / In all the tough times of your life / Remember you have been there too,” says Attonito before the whole band shouts, “We always will be true.” For the last eight years of my life, the Souls have filled my days with life-affirming joy. And no matter how emo I felt or how many Dashboard Confessional/Smiths/Bright Eyes smoothies I concocted, they pulled me back up.

Oh yeah, and “I Think That the World” is a cute little love song.

The B-side starts off happy with the easy/breezy/harmonica-laden “The Mental Bits.” It’s more laidback than some punkers might appreciate, but it’s still a fun song. Bonus cut “Gasoline,” in sharp contrast, is not so fun. It’s depressing, and having to move my record needle over the locked groove to get to it gets annoying after a while. To be honest, this demo feels a little like a copout, given that Volume One offered “A Life Less Ordinary,” an actual new track. That said, the demo brings the band’s lyrics into focus. Without a punk tempo to liven things up, Attonito’s nihilistic disdain for the world and himself fully comes through. It’s a major downer after all the peace, love, and harmony from the first three songs, but it’s also a reminder that the Souls know how to get dark.

“Gasoline” aside, Volume Two is a solid summer seven-inch, delivering songs about love, friendship, and good times. I’m not sure yet where it ranks in terms of the overall series. Volume One is a hair stronger, while Volume Three promises a ukulele version of “Quick Chek Girl,” which I’m pretty sure has to be awesome times a thousand, but Souls fans should be downright satisfied with the latest addition to the band’s discography.

regarding other people's Web sites.

-The guitar-slingin' folks over at Jemsite asked me to write a list of my top five guitar tunes. I gave it a whirl. It was an interesting challenge to write, if only because five is such a small number. My apologies to Jawbox, Against Me!, and Nirvana; I wanted to jock you so hard.

-Remember a couple of months ago when I said I had two announcements to make? Well, the one I was really excited about didn't pan out (Sad faces!). The other one was that I was starting a bad movie blog, entitled Saturday Night Crap-o-Rama (I miss The Ergs!). I forgot about it. But I started posting again! So uh... yay?

-Criminally unappreciated post-hardcore band Nakatomi Plaza is starting their farewell tour. No dates in Pennsylvania, which bums me out, but they're giving away their new/final album now through Aug. 30. Check out to download their swan song, then buy it when physical copies drop Sept. 29. If you're an old school NP fan, check out their blog. Word on the street is that they're bringing back Private Property tunes.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Gospel Claws - 'Gospel Claws'

Those who try out Gospel Claws’ self-titled EP shouldn’t be surprised if it bears a resemblance to Arizona indie rockers Dear and the Headlights (not to mention the Walkmen, Rufus Wainwright, and just about any Saddle Creek folk outfit). Former Headlighter Joel Marquard is the central brain trust behind this soul-inflected rock group. Given that he only left his former band because of its intense touring schedule, it’s perhaps natural that Marquard, aided by four other musicians, would pick up where he sonically left off in 2007.

Which is a good thing. Gospel Claws is a promising debut, boasting five earthy, rolling tunes steeped in American rock history. It’s not particularly religious, but it helps if you can tolerate the occasional God reference, at least in a “woe is me” sense. Case in point: The first lyric of the first song is “God keeps me alive / So you can laugh at my life.” Vague Christian assertions aside, these guys sound more like a streamlined Portgual. The Man circa Censored Colors than DC Talk.

Not that these guys ever try to get prog-y like Portugal. Gospel Claws writes pretty straightforward songs that blend a lot of elements. It’s sort of soulful in bits, but it’s also atmospheric and sullen. Closing track “Don’t Let It Die” even goes into bluesy territory. Co-songwriter/co-vocalist Sloan Walters has a voice slightly reminiscent of Isaac Brock without the bite (think “Ocean Breathes Salty” instead of “Teeth Like God’s Shoeshine”), whereas Marquard has more of a froggy, Wainwright/Boz Scaggs thing going on.

While the group could stand to have a little more punch – if at least to justify the second half of its name – Gospel Claws’ debut is filler-free. And it not only continues the Dear and the Headlights sound, but it does so under a vastly superior moniker.

Goodbye Etc. - 'Last Gasp'

Jerking off on the corpses of the Ramones can be totally rad and all, but sometimes it’s fun to spin a pop-punk band that lets Joey, Johnny, and Dee Dee rest in peace. One such act is Philadelphia, Pa.’s Goodbye Etc. On the band’s Last Gasp EP, the trio fires off seven expertly crafted tunes in the vein of ’90s pop punk acts like MxPx, Jughead’s Revenge, and early Green Day.

Though self-released, Last Gasp (which I hope is just hyperbole) has all the sheen and clarity of a SideOneDummy or Fat Wreck release, thanks to production from Dan Malsch (Bigwig, Forever the Sickest Kids) and mixing and mastering from Paul Leavitt (Strike Anywhere, Circa Survive, Senses Fail). This helps the band’s copious hooks shine. Track four, “My Body is a Battleground,” is arguably the strongest track here, stuffed with catchy choruses, a guitar solo, and that punk staple, the “whoa.” The song itself is about drug-induced lethargy (like Green Day’s “Green Day!”). While it doesn’t reinvent punk rock, it’s still a really fun song about being really bored.

“My Body is Battleground” is also representative of Last Gasp as a whole. What listeners get here are seven uncomplicated, easy-to-love pop punk songs about feeling stagnant and kind of, sort of, maybe hating your friends. Which doubles as the EP’s lone drawback. With the exception of the title track, the songs all clock in around three, three-and-a-half minutes, which blurs the tracks’ diatribes together after a while.

But how much that bothers listeners depends on their feelings towards pop punk as a whole. As for me, I could listen to tracks like “All the Rage” and “Happily in Misery” all day. This stuff is my bread ‘n’ butter. Diss tracks always sound better when they’re pop punk, and Goodbye Etc. somehow made a party record out of bile and disaffection.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Tori Amos at the Tower Theater

[Here's something momentous in the world of Picasso Blue. Our first guest article, courtesy of Michelle Kate Byrne. Full disclosure: I think she's really cute.]

At roughly 8:25 p.m. on Sat., Aug. 15, it was predicted that Tori Amos would take to the stage of the Tower Theater in 35 minutes just as she had two years before. This was much anticipated as opener One EskimO’s lackluster performance had matched the stagnant air of the theater perfectly. Think Seal + Bowerbirds + suck. Sample quote: “You float like a baby looking for safety.” +1 point for your genuine British politeness, though. I also want to give One EskimO another point for the Byron "Buster" Bluth lookalike grooving on their undistinguished jams, but I am pretty sure that guy danced the rest of the night too.

At 9:01 p.m., the theater transformed into a Tori dreamworld as Matt Chamberlain and Jon Evans subtly took to the stage, making me forgive and forget the opener. The evening, the set, and even the artist’s demeanor were different than the last Philadelphia performance. The show was not as "hippie spiritual" as the tours for Scarlet’s Walk and Beekeeper, not as rockin’ as American Doll Posse and Boys for Pele, not as heartbreaking but coy as Little Earthquakes, and not as dark as From The Choirgirl Hotel and Strange Little Girls. It was intricate, paced, and adult; but, still passionate. It was as dreamy as the To Venus and Back days, yet with a particular spice added from each song of a different era, making it a complex concoction.

As a Tori devotee for well over a decade, I know that there is a masterly method to this magnetizer’s madness (Wink.) Tori’s dreamworld was aided by her wardrobe (a primarily blue dress over gold leggings), the twinkling and swirling lighting effects, and the plethora of piano-based instruments on the stage; as well as several songs with the word “blue” somewhere within their lyrics, three songs with “Cloud[s]” in the title,” and nine songs with the letter “C” beginning a word in the title. (I know there is a reason for these things!) The song organization was in the same vein as this year’s Abnormally Attracted to Sin, cultivating the ethereality: "Black Dove (January)" into "Welcome to England!" "Northern Lad" into "Cars and Guitars!" What?!

When Tori took to the stage, I was surprised that her petite frame seemed even tinier than two years ago. But then, the nearly 46-year-old played for nearly two hours straight working her ass off the entire time. She spent the majority of the show doing sexy squats while straddling the piano bench playing keys on both sides of her; breaks were accompanied by a little vogue-like dance. The songs are almost too complex for a live show as it seemed she used three, maybe four, key-based instruments for “Starling.” Rarely straining, she is a master at pacing herself and keeping her sense of humor. Extra dreamy takes of “Hotel” and “Bouncing Off Clouds” with extended introductions added lightness to the newer and extremely involved songs, like “Starling” and “Welcome to England.” Two of my least favorite Tori songs - “Your Cloud” and “Carbon” - fit flawlessly into the celestial atmosphere Amos created, and made me think I just hadn’t “gotten them” before this date. “Northern Lad” brought this redhead to tears and left the lovely redhead two seats down from me sniffling as well. The classics were greatly appreciated by the audience, with “Crucify” bringing the audience to their feet with an air of great respect.

Tori closed with “Strong Black Vine” off of this year’s Abnormally Attracted to Sin, and she gave the performance of a lifetime. She bestowed upon us the most powerful and raw version audiences may ever hear with some extended “motherfucker” verses. Watching her work throughout the evening was exhausting, and after the performance of that song, I knew there was nothing greater on earth for my ears to hear. She gave us a tired encore of “Caught A Lite Sneeze” and “Big Wheel,” though she did perk up for the “MILF” chanting. The lights went on immediately after the first encore, which (in my experience) is a rarity. However, I was, as usual, more satisfied than I could have ever imagined and amazed at the stamina Tori possessed. I hope she got to spend the rest of her evening with her mother and father, who were also in attendance.

regarding Avalon 2009

[So, I spent last week at the Jersey shore with my family. It was awesome, with plenty of beach time and even a trip to Shore Things, the best record store in the area (and only one left standing, preharps?). Anyway, I kept a journal. It's mostly just a log of the albums I listened to during my trip, because that's the sort of thing I enjoy doing. Honestly, you're better off reading the soon-to-be-published Tori Amos review.]

-A Camp - A Camp
-Against Me! - Americans Abroad!!! Against Me!!! Live in London!!!
-Against Me! - New Wave B-sides
-Tori Amos - The Beekeeper
-Avoid One Thing - Avoid One Thing
-Band of Horses - Everything All the Time
-Bloc Party - "Two More Years" single
-The Bouncing Souls - The Gold Record
-The Bouncing Souls - The Good, the Bad, and the Argyle
-The Bouncing Souls - Hopeless Romantic
-The Bouncing Souls - How I Spent My Summer Vacation
-Bruno Coulais - Coraline soundtrack
-Cursive - Happy Hollow
-The Ergs! - Dorkrockcorkrod
-Face to Face - Reactionary
-Fugazi - The Argument
-Fugazi - 13 Songs
-The Glove - Blue Sunshine [deluxe edition]
-Jawbox - My Scrapbook of Fatal Accidents
-Kaki King - ...Until We Felt Red
-Ben Kweller - Ben Kweller
-Ladytron - Light & Magic
-Latterman - ...We Are Still Alive
-Less Than Jake - Borders & Boundaries
-Lifetime - Hello Bastards
-Lifetime - Jersey's Best Dancers
-Lifetime - Lifetime
-Lost City Angels - Broken World
-The Measure [Sa] - Songs About People... and Fruit 'N Shit
-The Mountain Goats - "Genesis 3:23"
-The Mountain Goats - Get Lonely
-My Bloody Valentine - Loveless
-New Found Glory - New Found Glory
-New Found Glory - Tip of the Iceberg EP
-Nine Inch Nails - Everyday is Exactly the Same EP
-Nirvana - From the Muddy Banks of Wishkah
-Nirvana - "Heart-Shaped Box" single
-The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
-Pretty Girls Make Graves - Good Health
-The Promise Ring - Boys + Girls EP
-The Promise Ring - Electric Pink
-The Promise Ring - Very Emergency ["Jersey Shore" came on as we pulled up to our shore house. Some things don't have to be scripted.]
-Propagandhi - Less Talk, More Rock
-The Raconteurs - Broken Boy Soldiers
-Rancid - ...And Out Come the Wolves
-The Rentals - It's Time to Come Home
-The Rentals - The Last Little Life EP
-The Rentals - Story of a Thousand Seasons
-Siouxsie and the Banshees - Greatest Hits
-Bruce Springsteen - Born to Run
-St. Vincent - Actor
-Strike Anywhere - Change is a Sound
-Strike Anywhere - Dead FM
-Joe Stummer And The Mescaleros - Streetcore
-Texas Is the Reason - Do You Know Who You Are?
-Third Eye Blind - Ursa Major
-Weezer - "Blue Album" [Played this on the drive back. Michelle and I decided to just listen to Weezer for the rest of the drive and played a ton of singles, B-sides, and demos from '94-'02, plus...]
-Weezer - Pinkerton

After a good pee and a better tomato pie post-three hour drive, I was ready for vacation.

...Twenty minutes later, my dad and I got kicked out of the water by a woman claiming to be a lifeguard. I have my doubts. Then Michelle and I went for a sun-kissed walk.

I'm working on and off through a stack of books Michelle lent me. Right now I'm reading the City Lights Pocket Poets Anthology. It's pretentious.

From Rafael Alberti's "Homecoming of Love Amongst Illustrious Ruins":

"After we too, my love, are only ruins / Let us lie like these stones singing in the sun / Leading others to love along our vanished ways." I envy this kind of romanticism that makes death irrelevant but no less potent. It's a fine balance.

So, I'm trying to read Allen Ginsberg's "Howl," and all I can think about is how this guy needs a thesaurus for all his penis references. Surely he knows another word for "cock."

Fraggle Rock Uno, rock music, and my lover = some images shout love from every angle.

It's raining, which means it's time for My Bloody Valentine.

Green Cuisine is one of the best vegetarian restaurants I've ever been to. The asparagus dill soup give me a food high, as do the myriad success this place accomplishes with avocados, bean sprouts, and other such hippie delights.

Peace-a-Pizza, meanwhile, took 45 minutes to deliver, overcharged us, and then shortchanged me. I got my money back, but the pizza sucked. The lesson: Fuck hippies. Then we got drunk and watched 30 Rock.

Went to a Farmer's Market in Stone Harbor. Not a whole lot of produce goin' on. Since we had some extra tie on the meter, we checked out some shops. We found some some really cool Halloween stuff at this one store. The Irish pride store had some great clothes, but they were way too expensive. I almost bought a Smithwick's shirt, I opted against it because:

A) I'm broke and should save money.
B) I have too many clothes anyway.
C) I'm afraid this is another step towards alcoholism.
[D) I'm typing this entry while drinking a Yuengling.]

Michelle says I'm a bad roommate on account of all the fumbling and/or stumbling I do when the lights go out. She forgave me after I fed her chocolate chip French toast from the Pudgie Pelican, though.

Michelle is crispy right now. We were supposed to make my parents dinner, but my dad pretty much took over.

Went to see G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra with my dad. It was about as good as a live action movie with Cobra Commander could be. My dad is a great film companion, because he always leans in when something important is foreshadowed, and then says, "That's important."

Wed. - Drove to Cape May to see Victorian houses and antiques and a really old firetruck. Michelle rocked her iPod on the way down, with a collection of tunes from Feist, Le Tigre, Justin Timberlake, M.I.A., and PJ Harvey. I played Bouncing Souls on the way back.

I finished Michelle's poetry book. It's a compelling argument for the importance of prose.

To OC from Avalon
L Avalon Blvd/619
N Garden State Parkway 11.3 m
Exit 25 - CR-623 toward Ocean City/Marmora 2 m
L Central Ave/619 2.6 m
R E. 10th st 0.3 m.

Went to Shore Things. Went buck wild on vinyl. They've really expanded their selection since the last time I was there. My haul:
-Static Radio NJ - An Evening of Bad Decisions (clear). The vinyl cover is significantly better than the CD one.
-Against Me! - The Original Cowboy (black)
-Bouncing Souls - 20th Anniversary Series Volume 2 (blue)
-Paint It Black - Amnesia (white)

And I bought Jawbox's self-titled album (with the "Cornflake Girl" cover!) on CD for Michelle, because everyone should love Jawbox.

When Joe Strummer's "Coma Girl" kicks in, I'm back on the beach with Tim and Christen and Chris. Five years down, and what have I accomplished? [Note: This entry is lame.]

Re-read the entire Cowboy Bebop manga set. It's been a while. Some of the stuff is extremely Japanese, like the humor with lady-boys. Not that we don't have trannies in the U.S., but Bebop sure handles the topic differently.

On the drive back, we put on Weezer's "Blue Album," and decided to just spin nothin' but Weerez the rest of the way.