Wednesday, September 30, 2009

regarding Sunny Day Real Estate live.

Up until last night, I'd say I was pretty OK with not getting to see Sunny Day Real Estate's show at the Trocadero tomorrow. Then I saw the band perform "Seven," the first song of Diary and therefore the song that made me love them forever (Batman Forever excluded), on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Got-damn these guys sound good. So jealous.

Side note: Anyone else feel Fallon's show succeeds in spite of him?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Karen O and The Kids - 'Where the Wild Things Are'

I’ve been told that the better the trailer, the worse the movie must be. Comedies include the best jokes. Action flicks show the best explosions. And if a drama can completely boil down its essence to 90 seconds, there’s a good chance it’s really not that involved. The same seems to hold true for the Where the Wild Things motion picture soundtrack. Featuring original compositions by Karen O and The Kids (Or, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Friends From Other Bands and Kids), the album scores the upcoming film adaptation of the classic Maurice Sendak children’s book by director (and former O flame) Spike Jonze.

The trailer for the film, above, features the song “Wake Up,” from the Arcade Fire’s full-length debut Funeral. It’s bold and polychromatic and emotionally evocative all on its own. And Jonze, a music video maestro, expertly grafts that song’s resonance to images from his movie. Even if the theatrical cut is a complete failure and bastardization, this short film will still be beautiful. But nothing Karen O presents on the official soundtrack matches “Wake Up.” In fact, for the most part, she runs away from that song’s power.

Where the Wild Things Are presents itself as a subdued acoustic indie album with children on back-up vocals. It’s like if Show Your Bones met Kidz Bop and they decided to chill out. And while the disc is not without its intriguing indie quirks – lead single “All is Love” is pretty catchy; opener “Igloo” seamlessly blends dialogue from the film with a soft, cooing song; “Rumpus” and “Capsize” are just straight-up great – there’s this lingering doubt that these are all the second-best choices for the film when compared to the Arcade Fire.

At the same time, though, the soundtrack is by no means a failure. Indeed, the record has charm. Karen O’s boundless energy makes for a perfect match with the cherubic voices of children. Fans of O’s solo single “Hello Tomorrow” will note the similarities between the two. More coos, more chimes, more piano, more acoustic guitar. This is a deliberate break from her dance-punk day job with Yeah Yeah Yeahs (But then again, so was It’s Blitz!). The album is pleasant-sounding, but a little too understated, and underwhelming, to stand on its own. Perhaps once the music is shown with the film Oct. 16, the soundtrack will make sense. As is, it’s a little too formless. Nice enough, but it’s no Funeral.

The Photo Atlas - 'To Silently Provoke the Ghost'

Dance music this propulsive cannot be denied. On their five-song EP To Silently Provoke the Ghost, Colorado dance-punk quartet succeeds through sheer force of will. The guys keep everything fast and angular and groovy and catchy. It’s like if the Faint or theSTART didn’t burn themselves out.

Folks get a two-hit combo from “Class of 2012” and “It’s Always About the Money.” If I had a dollar for every press release I get that bullshits about a band sounding like At the Drive-In, I could give er’rybody free healthcare and be done with it. So believe me when I say that the Photo Atlas really does have a dash of ATDI. Not enough to erase all those bad memories of the Mars Volta and Sparta, or sell the band as post-hardcore but guitarists Alan Andrews and Bill Threlkeld III definitely graft some of that band’s textures to their dance music. It gives their tunes more cajones. And if Threlkeld (the third, dear chap) told me he could play The Relationship of Command on guitar, I would believe him based on his performance here.

But the band does have a problem – they only work at a certain tempo. Track three, “Jealous Teeth,” is a hair less intense, and thus significantly less awesome. It’s like the fast pacing is the lynchpin of the band’s whole dynamic. “Jealous Teeth” is slower, and the chorus becomes noticeably less infectious. Not so on “Paper Trail,” which adds Cursive-style strings with explosive results. How long the Photo Atlas can maintain this momentum remains to be determined; for now, To Silently Provoke the Ghost is an enticing chapter.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Modern Society - 'The Beat Goes On'

“Competent.” That’s about the best I can say about the heartland rock of The Beat Goes On, the latest from Georgia rockers the Modern Society. The quartet serves up 10 adequate slabs of radio rock in the vein of Goo Goo Dolls and Switchfoot, or perhaps a piano-less, more rock-centric Fray. But while the Gaslight Anthem and the Hold Steady are my generation’s collective E Street Band, then the Modern Society must be my John “Cougar” Mellencamp. Take that as you will.

On the plus side, the album is arguably filler-free and fast-paced. 10 songs, 35 minutes, no frills. And producer Stacy Jones (American Hi-Fi) gives the songs a pretty good sheen. Simply put, these guys could open for Aerosmith or something. But there’s little here to push me to either condemn or condone the Modern Society.

Opener “Matinee” sets the record’s formula. Vocalist Woody Brown is at the forefront, and dude’s got a decent set of pipes. Little bit of a whine, little bit of a howl, but nothing too offensive in any direction. The chorus is vaguely catchy – dig the gang vox. “Paper Moon” is the same song but catchier; it’s arguably the strongest track too. But nothing really breaks out of the speakers, as song by bland song rushes by. “Tokyo,” a love song to a Japanese girl half a world away, only stands out because it A) features Japanese and B) makes me want to put on Pinkerton. “Cosmonaut” is kind of infectious, though sometimes I just think that it sticks in my head because of the title. Space!

Still, The Beat Goes On is by no means a failure. It’s just an example of how you can make a record that’s technically accomplished yet totally boring. Besides, the Modern Society definitely has enough hooks to deserve radio play and an opening slot on a big name tour. The beat goes on, alright, but I’m already on another tune.

Friday, September 25, 2009

forgetters at the Barbary

“When the measure of your work is the measure of your worth / Then you better make it work,” Jets to Brazil – “The Frequency”

forgetters, the majuscule-challenging new band from vocalist/guitarist Blake Schwarzenbach (ex-Jawbreaker/Jets to Brazil, in case you forgot), drummer Kevin Mahon (ex-Against Me!) and bassist Caroline Paquita (ex-Bitchin’), played their fourth show ever Fri., Sept. 25, at Philadelphia’s the Barbary, with support from Onion Flavored Rings and Amateur Party. It was amazing.

Amateur Party opened the night quite well. Frontman Mike McKee (Armalite/ex-Kill the Man Who Questions) spouted leftist anthems like “Let Youth Be Your Drug,” “Public Utility Complaint,” and “Gun Fever.” The music was similar to McKee’s other bands – socially conscious punk with a D.C. hardcore bent, yet so catchy that this guy could be truly dangerous if he ever got his hands on the infernal youths of America – with a healthy injection of folk a la Ted Leo. Drummer Steve Roche and bassist Scott Mercer formed a tight trio with McKee, although the band still provided loose, fun, angry tunes about got-damn corporations and gun violence in Philly. Lyrics tend to get buried at punk shows, so it was cool of McKee to explain the meanings behind his songs (i.e. – “Public Utility Complaint” is about legislation Pennsylvania energy companies pushed through to make it easier to shut off peoples’ heat during the winter). The band has a seven-inch out now; go buy it.

Onion Flavored Rings, by contrast, seemed a little outclassed. The band went for a straighter bubblegum pop-punk sound – think Ramones mixed with Dead Milkmen. These guys had a bit of legacy on their side too, as bassist Paul Curran did time in Crimpshrine. But given how sloppily the band played in between fits of awkward stage banter (or lack thereof), it’s probably best not to think about that. While OFR weren’t exactly bad, they were easily the weak link in an otherwise stellar evening.

But you didn’t click this review to read about OFR. forgetters were the main draw. While the Barbary was a little empty during the first two bands (I blame the early start time. 6:30 p.m. on a Friday in a city whose streets seem to be perpetually under construction probably wasn’t convenient for a lot of people), the place was packed by the time forgetters went on. Which is good, because they are a very good band. They play very good songs. They say very funny things in between the very good songs. And they just generally make me abuse words like “very” and “good.” And this isn’t just the superfan in me talking (Although, can we pause to reflect that is a Jawbreaker/Against Me! supergroup? Is that OK?). At least one new fan remarked that forgetters might be the best Schwarzen-band yet.

Aw, but describing the band’s sound is tricky. Well, OK, it’s easy: Rock and/or roll. But there are so many mines to avoid. Schwarzenbach’s guitar tone definitely recalls Jawbreaker circa Dear You – dark, ominous, raw. But this ain’t 24 Hour Retread Therapy. In a way – and I might be making it worse for all the post-Revenge haters out there – the group seems more like a logical extension of Jets to Brazil. Swan song Perfecting Loneliness had moments of danceable indie rock, like “You’re the One I Want” and “William Tell Override,” which plays a role in forgetters, though obviously without piano or strings or country inflections or pretty vocals. That’s right; Blake’s back to screaming, and it is glorious. Throw in a pinch of Siamese Dream’s guitar pyrotechnics and Pornography’s romanticism/depression too.

Being the first time I’ve heard Mahon drum since, uh, AM!’s 2001 EP Crime, it was a thorough revelation just how comfortable the guy seems going from rock to 16-note dance beats. The group joked about going goth (“Do you wanna get down?” asked Schwarzenbach, to which Mahon chimed in, “Like sober-down?”), though that self-deprecation bears a hint of truth. Obviously, I’m just going off of surface glances, but the band’s got a song called “Vampire Lessons.” At least one of the tunes is about trying to believe in love. But then, “Not Funny” is about an Afghani girl torn between her love for a soldier and her father, so I’m pretty sure Blake’s lyrics overall are going to seem more political once I actually get to read them.

There were some missteps. Blake flubbed “Not Funny,” but he played it off well, and the band pulled together to finish the song. Some kid whose parents didn’t acknowledge him enough kept shouting “Holla,” and his attention-seeking behavior killed the mood every time. But these are insignificant bumps on an otherwise perfect show. For the record, I hope forgetters stick around for a while. Each member is essential, both in terms of songwriting and live performance. Schwarzenbach is the charmer, Mahon is the wiseacre and Paquita is the quiet, awkward genius. They’re all funny, they all rock and they form a strong contender for “New Favorite Band.”

I have a set list for you, though I should mention that A) It probably means nothing to you since none of these songs have been recorded and B) At least one of the songs listed (“1982”), which I got from reading Paquita’s list upside down in the dark, is not the full title. There’s already at least one video from the night online, but honestly the quality is so bad that you’re better off waiting for a studio recording. Still, get stoked:

Set list:

  1. Black Art
  2. Helicopter vs. Rabbit
  3. Deadly Death
  4. Not Funny
  5. Vampire Lessons
  6. Not Immune
  7. 1982
  8. Too Small


  1. Track Bike Speed

Closing tidbits: Schwarzenbach recited most of Thomas Hardy’s “Drummer Hodge” for his mic check. I talked to him after the show, and it took every ounce of will power to hold my shit together. I shook the hand of the guy that wrote “Accident Prone.” During our brief conversation, he told me that studio time had been booked and that I could expect a seven-inch eventually. Also, I’ve been holding this pun in for the entire article: Schwarzenbach is Schwarzen-back. Good night!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Venice is Sinking - 'Okay'

Having knocked out a stellar full-length this summer, the Georgian five-piece Venice is Sinking is already on to another task: Kicking out succulent B-sides. The Okay EP, featuring the single “Okay” from AZAR, adds two covers and two demos in an effort to bring back the maxi single (Remember those?). For the second time this year, Venice is Sinking dazzles with twangy orchestral indie awesomeness.

“Okay” is the first track, obviously, and it’s still just as triumphant and catchy in spite of its hidden angry message. The song was inspired by a California band of the same name, specifically their song “Now.” To that end, Venice is Sinking recorded two Okay covers, “Compass” and “Give Up.” It’s thematically delicious. “Compass” is notably slower and more ethereal than “Okay,” lending the EP a haunting air. Frontman/guitarist Daniel Lawson passes the mic to violist Karolyn Troupe for “Give Up,” and she gives the song a somber Camera Obscura feel. Strings and a simple yet rolling drum beat perpetuate the song towards an explosive ending. “Give Up” is arguably the strongest moment on the EP, not counting “Okay” itself.

The EP concludes with earlier versions of AZAR’s “Ryan’s Song” and “Okay.” Both have a more haunting, electronic feel. “Ryan’s Song [Henslee Version]” could have been a Dntel tune for all its space and slender melody. “Okay [Henslee Version]” might be superior to its final incarnation, if only for slight reasons. This edit opens with the same guitar progression, but with a typewriter for percussion. Again, it’s a small alteration, but a welcome one. But then, the AZAR rendition sounds fuller. Guess I’ll just have to love them both while I wait for LP #3.

The Mountain Goats - 'All Hail West Texas'

[This one was written to expand the Org's archives.]

Though he now enjoys a sizeable following thanks to anthems like “This Year,” there was once a point were the Mountain Goats, a.k.a. John Darnielle, were just a guy and a guitar. Supporting characters came and went (bassist Rachel Ware, the Bright Mountain Vocal Choir), but for the most part, it was just Darnielle, consistently turning out the best lyrics and stories ever. You like lo-fi? The majority of TMG’s records were recorded on 20-something-year-old boomboxes, and you can actually hear the tape turning round and round on the recordings. You like concept albums? Try All Hail West Texas, a loose collection of stories “about seven people, two houses, a motorcycle, and a locked treatment facility for adolescent boys.” Arguably his best record since he debuted on CD with Zopilote Machine (P.S. -- this guy used to be cassette-only. The early ’90s were different, man), All Hail West Texas is rife with vivid imagery and bombastic acoustic guitar.

“The best ever death metal band out of Denton…” I think the best way to sum up my high school years vs. my college years goes like this: I spent a lot of time in high school feeling like no one else liked the Mountain Goats, or Jawbreaker, or Jets to Brazil, or even the freaking Smiths, and therefore no one would ever understand or love me (This is how I used to think all the time, so you can see why I was an unhappy youth). Then I went to college and met a lot of people who did know what was up. My God, how many times have I heard people strum “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton” at parties? How many times have I danced a fit to “Jenny?” Conversely, my most vivid high school memory of All Hail West Texas is being begged to turn off “Blues in Dallas” because the keyboard line was “stupid.”

But enough with the emotional baggage. All Hail West Texas feels like the culmination of Darnielle’s boom box aesthetic. This album isn’t just symbolic of the last seven years of my life, it’s symbolic of the lo-fi sound -- lurking in the murky depths is a phantom orchestra, unleashing the most complex constructions you’ve literally ever imagined. I can hear drums buried in the mix, even though I know they’re not really there. It’s fitting then, that Texas became the last lo-fi TMG record, as Darnielle would make the jump to 4AD and high fidelity later in the year with Tallahassee.

Musically, TMG is pretty basic with just acoustic guitar chords. And Darnielle’s nasally voice can be a deal-breaker for some. His greatest strength lies in his words, although I’d argue that he knows how to deliver a hook or two. Every Mountain Goats record has at least one song that will change your DNA, like The Sunset Tree’s “This Year” or Zopilote Machine’s “Going to Georgia.” Texas knocks out two of ’em up front without breaking a sweat. First comes “The Best Ever Death Metal in Denton,” the tale of “a couple of guys who’d been friends since grade school / One was named Cyrus and the other was Jeff / and they practiced twice a week in Jeff’s basement.” What follows is the band’s history. Though they never settled on a name, “the top three contenders / after weeks of debate / were Satan’s Fingers, and the Killers, and the Hospital Bombers.” The band gets dumped on, Cyrus goes to art school and gets dumped on some more, and then the guys get angry, swearing that “The best ever death metal band out of Denton / will in time both outpace and outlive you.” Oh yeah, and uh, “Hail Satan!”

Denton” gives way to “Fall of the Star High School Running Back,” which boasts one of my favorite lines ever. After blowing his knee out at an out of town game, William Stanaforth Donahue starts dealing drugs. Here’s the killer: “But selling acid was a bad idea / and selling it to a cop was a worse one.” Will ends up in jail; song ends.

Texas is filled with these character sketches and lines. “Jenny” is about a date with the coolest kid with the sweetest motorcycle (“You pointed your headlamp toward the horizon / We were the one thing in the galaxy / God didn’t have his eyes on / 900 CCs of raw whining power / No outstanding warrants for my arrest / Hi-diddle-dee dee / God damn! / The pirate’s life for me!”). Conversely, “The Mess Inside” is about taking vacation after vacation in an attempt to rekindle a dead romance (“Found that bench we’d sat together on a thousand years ago / when I felt such love for you I thought my heart was gonna pop / And I wanted you, to love me like you used to do / But I cannot run, And I can’t hide / From the wreck we’ve made of our house / and the mess inside”). A lot of the songs have a moral ambiguity to them (“Color in Your Cheeks,” “Jeff Davis County Blues”), catching characters in moments of desperation and elation.

But it’s always moving and beautiful. Darnielle’s songs defy rock expectations by nature of their sound quality, though he also goes to great lengths to bring back sex and God and the blues. Which brings me back to the lo-fi symbolism bit -- deceptively simple, the whole universe (or at least Western Texas) resides in these songs.

Now, I’m not going to tell you to listen to All Hail West Texas. I mean, you should, because it’s one of the best albums of all time. But still, it’s your life; do what you want. But I would like you try this: Here are the chords and lyrics to “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton.” Sing it while you’re sober, or drunk, or in that buzzed mid-point where you’re still funny and coherent. I think you might have fun.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

La Strada - 'La Strada'

Light and airy. Those are the words for describing the self-titled EP from New York’s La Strada. Thanks to frontman James Crafts’ vocals, the group passingly resembles any Dan Bejar band, most notably the New Pornographers circa Challengers. I’d even say La Strada (Italian for “The Road;” French for… the Strada) recalls the softer side of Neutral Milk Hotel, but I wouldn’t want to oversell the EP. Because if there’s one thing La Strada doesn’t need, it’s hype. Hype builds false expectations. And while the EP doesn’t exactly knock out six life-changing tracks in a row, it does feature some really, really nice songs. Like North Carolina’s Bowerbirds, La Strada specializes in gentle, pleasant indie/folk songs.

“Orphan” opens the disc quietly, with drums, then guitar, then accordion. It’s like softly waking up, which makes the song’s opening lines (“Wake up you silly / Shake your sleepy head”) all the more fitting. It’s a warm, inviting beginning, which extends throughout. Though more prevalent percussion adds a little more kick on track two, “Sun Song,” La Strada generally sticks with that formula.

The nearly seven-minute-long “Starling” aims for more ambitious territory at the EP’s end. With so many musicians (seven, plus guests Tim Albright and Rachel Elliot on trombone and bassoon on half of the songs), La Stada teeters on the edge of orchestral indie rock, never fully embracing that genre’s sense of the dramatic until “Starling.” You could say that shit gets real, with bombast and swelling arrangements. It’s cool to see these folks can get cut loose, and it adds more hope for a strong full-length in the group’s future.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Playlist: Jets to Brazil

[Playlist is an attempt to distill my favorite artists to 80-minute compilations. If someone asked me to burn them a mix of the bands featured here, I would give them this collection.]

I'll be seeing Blake Schwarzenbach's new band, forgetters, this Friday at the Barbary, which is quickly becoming my favorite venue in Philly. Tix are cheap, parking is free, it's easy to get to, and it's small 'n' intimate. Before going to a show, I listen to all of my music by the artists expected to play. Which means I spun all of my Jawbreaker and Jets to Brazil tunes, plus Against Me!'s Crime EP, since forgetters features ex-AM! drummer Kevin Mahon. It's been an awesome two weeks. With ample amounts of Face to Face also included, I found myself wondering why I even bother buying new music. But I digress.

Jets to Brazil was Schwarzenbach's new band after Jawbreaker's dissolution, and while the group took a lot of flak for not sounding punk, I think time has negated that notion a bit. At this point, Jets to Brazil is almost as popular as Jawbreaker and, in my mind at least, on a "separate but equal" level. I've kind of always felt that way. I've been anti-music piracy, but in the early aughts, when my family first joined the World Wide Web, I took a taste or two of tunes that I couldn't find in stores. It's funny to think that at one point, my parents were so uptight about online shopping that they wouldn't even let their children visit

Anyway, when I first started getting into punk rock, a friend turned me on to Mitch Clem's Nothing Nice to Say, which in turn introduced me to Jets to Brazil and Jawbreaker. Curious, I hit up Kazaa to learn more about the bands and, thanks to tagging, ended up with a hodgepodge of tracks from Jawbreaker's Dear You and Jets to Brazil's Orange Rhyming Dictionary that were all labeled as JTB. On my first trip to a real live indie record store (The dearly departed, though really shady now that I think about it, Disc. Yes, that was the store's name), I picked up JTB's Four Cornered Night, pretty much because it was the only Schwarz release there. And thus began my slow but steady descent into Schwarzenfandom. Perfecting Loneliness, 24 Hour Revenge Therapy, and the Dear You rerelease followed in high school. I snatched up the remainder of Blake's discography in college, finally figuring out which albums had those "Sweet Avenue" and "I've Got All the Words..." songs I'd heard years before.

But that's all a tangent. My point: JTB finds Schwarzenbach developing even further as a lyricist, with all types of playful internal rhymes and obscure references. People bitched about how it wasn't 24 Hour Therapy, but honestly, I like it that way. JTB released only three records on Jade Tree in their too brief history, but they're all brilliant bursts of indie rock. Like Jawbreaker (click here to see that playlist), each release has its own identity, though I do consider Four Cornered Night to slightly be a precursor to what the band more successfully achieved on their best album, Perfecting Loneliness. Hence, this playlist takes five tracks from each album, in chronological order, before closing out with "I've Got All the Words..." from the band's first demo.

I Typed For Miles
1. "Crown of the Valley," Orange Rhyming Dictionary
2. "Chinatown," Orange Rhyming Dictionary
3. "Sea Anemone," Orange Rhyming Dictionary
4. "I Typed For Miles," Orange Rhyming Dictionary
5. "Sweet Avenue," Orange Rhyming Dictionary [I waited for years until I felt I'd met the right girl to attach this song to. It was worth it.]
6. "You're Having the Time of My Life," Four Cornered Night
7. In the Summer's When You Really Know," Four Cornered Night
8. "Little Light," Four Cornered Night
9. "Mid-Day Anonymous," Four Cornered Night
10. "*******," Four Cornered Night ["Mid-Day" segues into it, how could I leave it out?]
11. "The Frequency," Perfecting Loneliness
12. "You're the One I Want," Perfecting Loneliness [Oddly enough, I've attached this song to plenty of women that in retrospect weren't "The One," which is funny to me because this song is actually about NOT getting the girl. I always used to just ignore that tidbit because this song is so catchy.]
13. "Cat Heaven," Perfecting Loneliness [Right now this is my favorite JTB song.]
14. "William Tell Override," Perfecting Loneliness
15. "Rocket Boy," Perfecting Loneliness [I have clear memories of driving down 309 in the snow at like 2 a.m. to this. Well, that and Joe Jackson's Volume 4. I miss night drives like that, trying to stay with my girlfriend for as long as possible before heading back to school in the city.]
16. "I've Got All the Worlds...", Location is Everything Volume 1

Kevin Seconds/Mike Scott - 'Split 7"'

[You might say I've been watching too many action movies.]

One’s a seasoned veteran of the punk rock force. The other is a wise-cracking Brit who knows a thing or two about the Internets. Together, they have to figure out a way to take down crime boss Funekei Yoshida (played by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa). Trying to break up international drug rings is hard work; some would even say suicide. Armed with only acoustic guitars and two songs a piece, these mad men are… Kevin Seconds *BLAM!* Mike Scott *ZOOM!* in… Split 7” *KA-POW!* This fall, justice has a new face, and acoustic punk has a new slab o’ wax.

SCENE: Kevin Seconds, he of 7 Seconds fame, enters, beginning the seven-inch with “Disappearing Girl.” It’s about a flaky girl, and sure to appeal to Seconds’ fans. His other contribution, “Slights & Snickers,” is the catchiest track of the split. It’s a nimble little number about a love triangle (“You found the perfect woman / Too bad she married me” goes one memorable line), revealing that 30 years after he started 7 Seconds, Kevin still knows how to craft great songs. Also, he fights a gaggle of gang members without spilling his coffee.

SCENE: The record flips over. Expository dialogue about how Yoshida killed Seconds’ parents. Will revenge quench his thirst for… revenge?

SCENE: Mike Scott (ex-Phinius Gage) delivers two more acoustic ditties. Although subdued compared to Seconds’ toe-tappers, “Back to the Drawing Board” and “The Scandal Song” are still winners in their own way. Scott’s songs speak more about struggling with technology, romance, political correctness… really just working up the will to deal with people in general. Scott fixes a bad guy with his steely gaze and says, “You have the right to be dead.” Bad guy blows up.

SCENE: Seconds stabs Yoshida through the chest with a kitana, pinning him to a wheel. Fireworks shoot out of the wheel, which then begins to spin. Then he explodes. Seconds and Scott walk into the distance. Credits roll.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - 'Higher Than the Stars'

[Go to MySpace to hear two of the new Pains songs right now!]

New York City’s The Pains of Being Pure at Heart opened 2009 with one of the best albums of the year; now they’re closing it out with one of the best EPs, Higher Than the Stars. They’ve already been bleeding B-sides for a while; now they’ve gone and given me four new tunes, plus a really great remix of the title track. It’s like falling in love all over again.

For those looking to check out the Pains’ retro noise/twee/shoegaze sound (Early My Bloody Valentine, Jesus and Mary Chain, Belle & Sebastian with more distortion pedals, etc.), Higher Than the Stars might be the better buy in today’s economy, by which I mean it’s cheaper and still high quality. “Higher Than the Stars” opens the EP by slightly tweaking the band’s formula. It’s still dreamy and lovelorn, but the fuzz is all but gone. Not so on track two, “103,” the band’s love letter to Princeton University’s radio station WPRB 103.3 FM. It’s surely too soon to say a late ’09 Pains track has the classic sound of early ’09 Pains, but “103” is the most retro of the bunch. Already a solid addition to the band’s set list, “103” adds a dash of grit (relatively speaking) to the album.

“Falling Over” reveals the band’s seemingly growing push towards dreamy dance music, while “Twins” tries to bridge the gap. It’s fuzzier, but more mid-tempo. Without a Ramones-y tempo, “Twins” is easily the least appealing track on High Than the Stars. But the slack is soon picked up by the title track’s “Saint Etienne Visits Lord Spank Remix.” Sure, it’s an obnoxious title, but the remix strengthens the song’s more chill aspects. Given the mellow groove of “Higher Than the Stars” and “Falling Over,” the remix fits in better than “103” or “Twins.”

“Lord Spank” reveals yet another potential avenue for the Pains: remixes. Regardless of where the band goes for LP #2, though, I’m confident it’s going to be beautiful. Maybe they’ll drop a clean-sounding Darklands or a swirling Loveless. Hell, what if it turns out they have a Discovery in them?

Thought Crime - 'The End of the Beginning'

I’m not proud to admit this, but here goes: I was a teenage Limp Bizkit fan. I can try to justify it – it was 1999! Everybody but Mos Def loved them! And I was done with them by the time I turned 14! So it was really only a year at best! And like I still listened to good music like the Beatles and Tom Petty and Deftones! But I try to avoid revisionist history as best I can. Simply put, eighth grade me was a wiener. I overcame it to become a gloriously emo wiener. Go me.

I’ve been rethinking my childhood lately, partially thanks to repeat viewings of Mortal Kombat, X-Men, and Mystery Science Theater 3000, but also thanks in small part to Thought Crime’s EP, The End of the Beginning. The band doesn’t sound like Limp Bizkit. But since they do bear the relatively more “family friendly” rap-rock sound of Linkin Park and 311, Thought Crime does send me back about a decade in time. While a couple of the EP’s songs recall radio rock a la Hoobastank, the majority of the collection dips into hip-hop territory. That means plenty of cheesy rapping, as evidenced on jarring tunes like “Inner Peace” and “Life That I’m Living.”

To a certain extent, these nu-metal revivalists succeed by avoiding the genre’s most well-known downfall, mook-tastic aggression. The guitar sound isn’t particularly prominent or crunchy. This isn’t exactly the soundtrack to violence. Thought Crime aims for more of a unity theme in spite of depressing lyrics – hence the rap-rock fusion. But while their sound is inoffensive, it’s also kind of boring. While “Waiting for the Day” admittedly features a catchy chorus, The End of the Beginning is still a decade late and a couple singles short. If I wanted a real nostalgia trip, I’d rather spin Lostprophets’ Thefakesoundofprogress or Faith No More’s Introduce Yourself.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Teenage Bottlerocket - 'They Came From the Shadows'

Musical growth is for wankers. Once you know your sound, you own it. Which is what I could say about Teenage Bottlerocket’s latest homage to the Ramones and Screeching Weasel, They Came From the Shadows. Fans get 14 more delectable pop punk tunes bashed out rapid fire. Zero growth. Palate swap the album cover and change the text, and it looks the same as Warning Device. Or Total. Or Another Way. And while claiming a band basically remade a successful record is usually a criticism, it’s perhaps one of the best compliments I could pay TBR. This Wyoming quartet deserves a doctorate in pop punk dynamics; They Came From the Shadows is a compelling study in the genre’s workings.

The topics covered are familiar. Opener “Skate or Die” is yet another awesome skateboard anthem. A good chunk of the record is concerned with falling out with people, from break-ups (“Without You,” “Be With You”) and shitty friends (“The Jerk,” “Do What?”) to society in general (“Not OK,” “Call in Sick,” “Don’t Want to Go”). Body issues crop up (“Fatso Goes Nutzoid”), but the record ends on a happy note, the fast-paced love song “Todayo.” If Warning Device’s self-aware and sparse “She’s Not the One” wasn’t enough indication that TBR understands pop punk, “Todayo” repeats it for stragglers. In pop punk land, it ain’t “Today,” it’s “Todayo.” Extra “O”s are the cornerstone of your diet.

While the whole record is catchy and fast, Shadows shows a few ever so slight signs of wear and tear on the band’s formula. “Bigger Than Kiss,” a Kiss diss track (Say it five times fast! It’s fun!), isn’t particularly funny, but it’s still catchy. And at 14 tracks, repetition is bound to set in. How much someone likes TBR pretty much depends on his or her feelings towards pop punk in general. Do you love Rocket to Russia? Then slam this in your CD player. Oddly enough, while the band pledges allegiance to Kerry King on “Bigger Than Kiss,” I don’t see too many Slayer fans riding this rocket.

But that’s kind of beside the point. TBR is here to get all Boogadaboogadaboogada! deep inside your Subterranean Jungle, if you catch my meaning, and that’s exactly what they do. Shadows is yet another solid release from a band that, so far, has proven incapable of failing. Heck, the title track is about being attacked by monsters (Zombies? Vampires?), and not in a stupid Misfits way. Less than two years after Warning Device, TBR has already dropped another super fun blast of pop punk righteousness.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Banner Pilot - 'Collapser'

Go buy Banner Pilot’s new album Collapser. Because it’s gonna be a while before those drunks in Dillinger Four drop another gravelly, Midwestern pop punk masterpiece.

OK, let me expound on that. This Minnesotan gang of band sluts dropped their Fat Wreck debut this month (second album overall, give or take a few EPs), and it’s arguably their strongest release to date. Sound engineers Jacques Wait and Dave Gardner buff out the band’s rough edges a bit. Vocalist Nick Johnson still sounds gruff, but Banner Pilot doesn’t resemble the Lawrence Arms and Jawbreaker circa Unfun so much anymore. What’s left is not unlike D4 circa their Fat years – catchy and rocking.

I’m a big fan of the two-hit combo; records that open with two tracks so utterly awesome that you want to passionately embrace something ridiculous, like a bear or the moon. Collapser hits listeners with the Dragon Punch that is “Central Standard” and then catches them Hadōken-style with “Pensacola.” Granted, they’re both about falling out with friends, but they still got the beat to move yer feet. It almost doesn’t matter what happens after these two songs. They’re everything pop punk should be – short (“Central Standard” is less than three minutes long; “Pensacola” less than two) ‘n’ sweet.

Greenwood” carries those good vibes some more before Collapser starts to hit an early fatigue. “Starting at an Ending” is a little slower, and therefore a little less awesome. All the D4 elements are still in play – gruff vox, a hook or two, and lyrics about drankin’ – but the tempo kind of kills the album’s momentum. “Skeleton Key” similarly doesn’t start out balls-to-the-wall-blasting, but it soon kicks the bpms back up. And then the record pretty much goes back to bliss.

There’s not a single dud on the album’s back half. “Farewell to Bastards” has an infectious opening guitar hook. “Write It Down” is a perfect closing track, building itself into a fury. If anything, its final 90 seconds might be indicative of a knack for more expansive songwriting. If these guys turn out to have a Bivouac in them, I will be thoroughly excited. Thoroughly. “Empty Lot” is wicked fast. “Hold Me Up” is just straight up delicious.

So anyway, like I was saying…D4 yes please buy now.