Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Flatliners - 'Monumental'

With all due respect to their ska years, 2010 marks the height of the Flatliners’ powers. Cavalcade remains one of the best punk albums to come out this year, a refreshing burst of anthemic rock in the vein of fellow Fat bands Smoke or Fire and Dead to Me. The “Monumental” single delivers two B-sides taken from the Cavalcade sessions, revealing that the band has plenty more excellent tunes in their songbooks.

“Monumental” opens the seven-inch, and in case you forgot, it’s a pretty kickass song with a slight Gaslight Anthem vibe. Solid chorus, crunchy guitar, just awesome for everyone involved. Good times. The flipside offers “Christ Punchers” and “Cut Your Teeth,” which would have fit in perfectly on Cavalcade. “Christ Punchers” has a catchy chorus that doubles as a political statement (“I believe in reality”). It’s a short and sweet missive with a strong backbeat. “Cut Your Teeth” is a little rawer. Not as infectious, but still good.

I get why “Cut Your Teeth” didn’t make it on to Cavalcade. It’s good but not great, and the final album’s 12 tracks outclass it. “Christ Punchers,” meanwhile, is so fine it almost makes me angry. I’d be mad at the Flatliners for sitting on this song, except it just makes me more excited for their eventual fourth full-length. If “Christ Punchers” is what the band relegates to B-side status, then what they pick for their album must be gold.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Cold Beat - 'Get Safe'

Hailing from Allston, Mass., the guys in the Cold Beat deal in simple but fun rock. Containing flecks of punk and alt-country and falling somewhere in between the Replacements, the Get Up Kids and late period Nada Surf, the group’s new record Get Safe is a breezy, infectious listen. It’s catchy mood music.

Opener “Play to Win” is a midtempo, horn-driven rocker that skirts the edge of melancholy and pop. It’s not the catchiest or fastest song on the record, which makes it a somewhat questionable choice for a first track, but it gets things going regardless. “Copper Green” is a little peppier in an Old 97s way, but it isn’t until track three, “Snake Oil,” that the record starts to take off. It’s a rolling rocker that just keeps dropping big hooks like they’re nothing. The chorus is so huge and simple it’s perfect – “I could be the one” – and then the group throws in a coda that’s even better than that. Yeah, the lyrics aren’t particularly revelatory, but it’s so dang catchy.

The record goes in a similar sing-song fashion, which is perhaps one of its shortcomings. Get Safe’s 11 tracks are all pretty similar. The record isn’t exactly the most inventive musical document. It’s not deep on a lyrical level and feels a little tossed off in places. The production lacks punch. I’m not sure if this album needs to be glossier or grittier, but right now it’s in this awkward middle ground where it just sounds tinny. But it’s a fun album, dammit.

Get Safe is a good alt-rock record. It’s modest in ambition but effortlessly enjoyable. It’s just good.

Vinyl Vednesday 9/29/2010

[Vinyl Vednesday is a weekly feature about three favorite vinyl finds. It’s not meant to be a dick-measuring contest, but it usually turns out that way. E-mail with your own big finds!]

Records: Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm (2005) on black, The Hadituptoheres’ Wild City Honest Dancing (2010) on maroon marble, and the Pulp Fiction soundtrack (1994) on black.

Place of Purchase: Bloc Party came from eBay. Hadituptoheres was mailed to me for review. Pulp Fiction came from Disc World (R.I.P.) in Conshohocken.

Thoughts: I have this stupid habit of doubling up on vinyl and CD for records I love, and I sure do love Silent Alarm. I got it extra cheap on eBay since it’s missing the bonus Dim Mak remix 12-inch, which I honestly don’t miss. I have a bevy of Bloc Party singles, and I rarely listen to the remixes (although the Streets’ version of “Banquet” is pretty good). Silent Alarm is great on its own, a nervous British indie rock/post-punk collection of anthems about longing and/or dancing and/or getting high. It reminds me a lot about being young, and it’s weird thinking that this record came out five years ago. In my memory, it’s still a relatively recent release, and my girlfriend and I are still making out to “This Modern Love” for the first time.

I rarely keep promos lately. I’m trying to scale down my music collection, so I don’t feel like holding on to records that I only kind of like. Wild City Honest Dancing is an exception; this album packs a solid garage rock punch in the vein of many a great Detroit band. And the vinyl sure is perty.

It’s an unfortunate coincidence that I picked the Pulp Fiction soundtrack the same week that Sally Menke, Quentin Tarantino’s editor, passed away, but here goes. Music has always played a key role in Tarantino’s films, and attitudes towards his music selections tend to mirror attitudes towards his movies in general: Is he honoring or ripping off obscure works? Either way, he has great taste. Pulp Fiction is all over the place musically, and beautifully so. It packs funk/soul (Kool & The Gang, Al Green), original rock ‘n’ roll (Chuck Berry, Dick Dale & His Del-Tones, who perform “Misirlou,” which you probably know as the Pulp Fiction theme. You know the one, with the guitar part), and even some country courtesy of Ricky Wilson and Dusty Springfield. Sprinkled throughout the soundtrack are the most popular lines from the movie. “Royale with cheese.” “Zed’s dead, baby.” And of course, the “Ezekiel 25:17” speech by Samuel L. Jackson.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Fake Problems - 'Real Ghosts Caught on Tape'

Dear Fake Problems,

I'm breaking up with you. Please don't write me.


Joseph T. Pelone

P.S. - We'll always have How Far Our Bodies Go.

Overnight Lows - 'City of Rotten Eyes'

It took 16 years for Overnight Lows to finally release a full-length. Consisting of 22 minutes of ho-hum standard punk songs, City of Rotten Eyes has little to offer in originality. Within seconds, it’s clear that the record took so long to come together because the band couldn’t be bothered. While there’s something to be said for unassuming punk rock and all its freedom and whatever, Rotten Eyes does so little to deviate from the low tech, adrenaline-fueled songs of yesteryear that for all its rapid fire bluster, it still comes out boring.

The title track opens the record with a distorted riff, really, really fast drums and co-ed vocals. It’s snotty and speedy and has been done plenty of times before. The 11 songs that follow “City of Rotten Eyes” sound about the same. Again, it’s in keeping with the original punk sound, but it means fuck-all. The tracks could run in any order with the same result. And while that was a liberating in the ’70s, it’s dull for those of us who have since progressed from that sound. Rotten Eyes isn’t exactly bad, but there are so many more interesting punk records that came out this year. Why bother?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Grub Animal - 'Grub Animal'

Grub Animal just wasn’t made for these times. The Brooklyn quartet deals in jittery post-punk/new wave, resurrecting sounds long since mined by the likes of Talking Heads, the Call and the Bongos. The group’s self-titled full-length proves tiresome well before its 30-minute running time concludes.

Here’s the thing, a key part of rock ‘n’ roll comes from thievery. There are only so many chords, so many beats, so many ways to say “whoa” and “yeah” and “hunger dunger dang.” But Grub Animal can’t figure out how to use what they’ve stolen. Sure, some of their songs sound like they came from 77, but none of them captures the fire or wit of that record. The songs are often so inane lyrically and midtempo musically that the whole thing just feels cheap.

Frontman Randa Eid often slips into pre-verbal ramblings during the songs, like the second halves of “I Am Quite Unable” or “Day Brings New Love.” And while most bands will slip in the occasional “la la la” to attract listeners, here it just feels like she has nothing else to say. Sometimes the jibberish pays off – the caterwauling Fulci-fest “Zombi at My Door” is an awesome indie rocker in the vein of Modest Mouse/U.S. Funk Team. But moments like that are lacking. Grub Animal’s successes are few; its failures many.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Vinyl Vednesday 9/22/2010

[Vinyl Vednesday is a weekly feature about three favorite vinyl finds. It’s not meant to be a dick-measuring contest, but it usually turns out that way. This week’s entry celebrates Blake Schwarzenbach’s return to music with PUNS. IT’S SCHWARZENBACH SCHEVEN-INCHES DAYYYYYYY.

…e-mail with your own big finds...]

Records: forgetters’ forgetters double seven-inch (2010) on black, the Jawbreaker/Samiam split (1992) on clear red, and Surprise Your Pig: A Tribute to R.E.M. (1993) on black 12-inch with a clear yellow seven-inch, featuring Jawbreaker, Jawbox, and a lot of bands who butcher R.E.M.

Place of Purchase: forgetters was pre-ordered through No Idea “found” a box of Jawbreaker/Samiam splits earlier this year and sold for half the price they go for on eBay, which is funny to me since this seven-inch was originally included for free with a copy of No Idea Magazine. No Vinyl Vednesday feature would be complete without a reference to Siren Records in Doylestown, which just so happens to be where I found Surprise Your Pig.

Thoughts: I have listened to forgetters about 40 or 50 times since I got it in the mail on Monday. That means I’ve dedicated about 11 hours to listening to four songs. I really, really like this EP, and it means so much to me that Schwarzenbach is still making music. “Too Small to Fail” has been stuck in my head; it was one of the two songs that stood out for me during their set at the Barbary last year, along with “Vampire Lessons.” That bit at the end when he screams “Someone’s gonna love me someday” is quite cathartic. I had a lot of trouble trying to focus my feelings into a review, and I’m not entirely happy with what came out, but Schwarzenbach is just one of those writers that has shaped my life for so many years that it’s hard for me to find new ways to explain how much he means to me. I’ve been a fan since I heard Four-Cornered Night in 2001. I guess the best way I can put this is, “Too Small to Fail” and “Vampire Lessons” mean as much to me as “Accident Prone” or “You’re the One I Want.”

I bought the other two records featured today simply because they were available to me. I generally don’t pursue rarities like this, especially since in this case, Jawbreaker’s songs “Split” and “Pretty Persuasion” are both available on their rarities compilation Etc.. Stilll, when No Idea offered me a rare Jawbreaker seven-inch, I couldn’t help myself. And hey, it turned me on to Samiam, a punk band that blends a lot of different styles into their sound. I guess my short description would be that people who like NOFX’s snot and Sunny Day Real Estate’s guitars could both enjoy this band. Overall, a good purchase.

Surprise Your Pig, however, was a bad idea. It’s telling that the liner notes for Etc. say “Our first and last tribute record. It seemed like a bad idea at the time. And it was.” Most of the compilation consists of terrible indie rock and punk. Of the 17 bands featured three come out looking OK. Jawbreaker and Jawbox, who covered “Low,” went on to include their renditions on their respective rarities comps, Etc. and My Scrapbook of Fatal Accidents. That leaves The Mr. T Experience. Poor, poor MTX. I like their version of “Can’t Get There From Here,”, but not enough to try to find its groove for the needle. The only thing keeping me from selling this back is the bonus colored seven-inch with Jawbreaker on it. When I inevitably start scaling down my vinyl collection, this’ll be one of the first records to go. Argh.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

myPod: Box sets

[myPod is an attempt to edit down my CD collection as I import my music on to my brand new 160 GB iPod.]

Tori Amos – A Piano: The Collection

My girlfriend is the penultimate Tori Amos fan. If our relationship was ever going to work, I needed to appreciate that. Being the giant dick that I am, I settled for parodying Amos’ singing style instead. Michelle wore me down, though, and I eventually found songs from Little Earthquakes stuck in my head, especially “Happy Phantom.” Amos possesses an awfully dense discography, though, so I thought I could get everything I needed by picking up A Piano, which came out not long after we started dating.

I was wrong.

But for a while, A Piano really was all I needed. Price tag aside, it’s a great entry way to Amos. It breaks up some of her more difficult work (The experimental Boys For Pele is spread between two discs) and houses some great rare/unreleased material like “Take to the Sky (Russia)” and “Not David Bowie.” At five discs and a book, it’s a lot of material to consider, but it more accurately represents her work than her greatest hits album. My only real complaint is that it predates 2007’s American Doll Posse, one of Amos’ best albums. That aside, though, it’s an amazing collection of some of emotionally charged, deranged, yet catchy songs.

Verdict: Keep.

The Cure – Join the Dots: B-Sides & Rarities 1978-2001

I love The Cure. Sometimes I forget how much I love them, but then I put one of their albums on and fall in love all over again. Join the Dots was actually one of my first Cure purchases, and it taught me an interesting lesson: Demand great B-sides from the bands you love. In a way, this set predicted my love for underground punk bands who would eschew albums in favor of seven-inches, like The Ergs! and The Measure [SA]. Mostly, though, I just sit back and marvel at how a band could collect four discs of amazing rarities. Join the Dots is nearly flawless. Though its bum tracks are nauseatingly bad (pretty much all of the covers, although their 11-second cover of The Doors’ “Hello I Love You” is pretty funny and their take on Depeche Mode’s “World in My Eyes” has this one guitar effect that sounds like the transformation sound from Transformers), Join the Dots unfurls so many amazing tracks (“This Twilight Garden,” “Signal to Noise,” “Do the Hansa,” and many, many more) that any hiccups are welcome. That said, this album definitely benefits from some editing on my iPod. I love “Burn” from The Crow and “Dredd Song” from Judge Dredd. The only problem is the songs are separated on the third disc by an atrocious cover of David Bowie’s “Young Americans.” Other than that, the set expertly covers The Cure’s evolution from punk to post-punk to goth and beyond.

Verdict: Keep.

The Rentals – Songs About Time!!

I just wrote about this set, but here goes. Songs About Time isn’t too bad. The band continues to tone down its sound, recalling Matt Sharp’s quiet solo work more and more with each EP. It’s disappointing compared to Return of The Rentals and Seven More Minutes, but it still boasts enough good songs to justify its existence. I don’t see myself revisiting the accompanying DVD or book, but I might spin these songs on occasion.

Verdict: Keep, begrudgingly.

Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run: 30th Anniversary Edition / Tracks

Most of my Bruce is on vinyl, but I’ve doubled up on some of his albums, like Nebraska and Darkness on the Edge of Town. However, I waited until the anniversary edition of Born to Run dropped before making the jump to digital. It was worth the wait – I got the album digitally remastered, a decent documentary on the making of the record (Although it does get a little self-aggrandizing at points, as if one of the greatest rock records of all time needs an informercial). A second DVD reveals a performance from ’75 at the Hammersmith Odeon in London, England. It’s such a great performance that it later saw a CD release (and you best believe I snatched that up too). Born to Run the album, meanwhile, remains one of my favorite Springsteen records, capturing with cinematic lyrics and orchestral grandeur the highs and lows of being down and out in the swamps of Jersey. “Born to Run” defies the dulling of the senses that usually accompanies overplayed songs; it’s still hopeful and thrilling and rocking 35 years later.

Perhaps because it covers a much greater period, Tracks is a more mixed bag. A four disc collection of outtakes and rarities that Springsteen had piled up from 1973 through 1998, it starts out strong but gradually peters out. The quality more or less corresponds to the time period. The first two discs cover Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. through Born in the U.S.A., and they’re revelatory just like The Cure’s Join the Dots: here’s a guy who write something as epically catchy as “Thundercrack” and not even bother to put it on a full-length. Springsteen was just that good. But as much as I revere him as a poet and rock star, even I have to admit Bruce sucked in the ’90s (The Ghost of Tom Joad notwithstanding). The fourth disc is all slick production and cliché lyrics. The nadir of the set is “Half Man, Half Monkey,” which is, as far I know, Bruce’s only attempt at a reggae song. Still, though, the first three discs are stuffed with shoulda-been-hits.

Verdict: Keep, but I’m gonna cut out some of disc four from Tracks.

Talking Heads – Once in a Lifetime

While it got ho-hum reviews at the time of its release, the Once in a Lifetime box set was a huge deal for me in high school. It got slagged because it basically rips off the rarities from the Sand in the Vaseline hits package and doubles the prices, but it still served as my entry into Talking Heads’ discography. How funny then, that the first track is “Sugar on My Tongue,” a demo that never made it on to any of the band’s proper albums. It still boasts frontman David Byrne’s nervous energy and angular guitar work. It represents the band’s early sound despite being a song that fell by the wayside. The rest of the first disc cherry-picks highlights from 77 and More Songs About Buildings and Food before closing out with “Heaven” from Fear of Music (Featuring my favorite lines, “Heaven / is a place where nothing ever happens”). The next two discs are a little more hit-or-miss, just like the Heads’ later discography, and the accompanying music video DVD and liner notes are a bit tedious, but for a while this set was all I needed. At least, until I got myself a record player and inherited my uncle’s TH vinyl collection.

Verdict: Keep.

Tool – Salival

I loved the shit out of Tool in high school. That changed in college after 10,000 Days, their first record to ever feel like a creative step backwards. I’ve since sold that album, and I’ve been going back and forth over selling this one as well. Salival was released way back in 2000 with a collection of the band’s videos (Mine’s on VHS!) and a live/outtakes collection. The live takes are amazing, but the rarities are lacking. That the disc skips on track six, “Merkaba,” doesn’t help. It’s the first half that keeps me coming back, even though I own the albums these live songs are culled from. Tool remains one of my favorite prog/metal bands, but I’m not sure I’m still obsessed enough to hold on to their every recording.

Verdict: Keep… until I change my mind again.

NEXT TIME: A is for... menstrual minstrels, punk bands I used to like, and motherfucking Armalite.

Monday, September 20, 2010

forgetters - 'forgetters'

forgetters can at times come off as willfully difficult. The limited touring. The all-lower case name. And after a year of waiting for recorded material, they finally dropped a double seven-inch with a single song on each side, maximizing the number of times I, an entitled American, have to get up and flip the wax. They make me work for it. Yet when the songs are playing, it pays off.

If forgetters weren’t crammed with ringers, I wouldn’t mind their low key approach. But the band consists of Blake Schwarzenbach, Kevin Mahon and Caroline Paquita. These people have done time in Jawbreaker, Jets to Brazil, Against Me! and Bitchin’, respectively. If you enjoy any punk music from the last 20 years, you might be interested in their collective discography.

Let’s this out of the way: forgetters kind of sounds like Schwarzenbach’s other bands They’re more like Jawbreaker than Jets to Brazil – punk power trio with distorted guitar, powerful bass and one heck of a drummer. The lyrics are less scene-oriented than Jawbreaker’s but not as opaque as JtB’s could get. Songs are crammed with emotion and longing, but not in any visceral emo sense. “Vampire Lessons” is erotic. “Too Small to Fail” tries to find a glimmer of self-respect while dealing with lousy lovers. “Not Funny” is about an Afghani girl torn between her love for a soldier and her father. In trying to find a place between two cultures, the narrator concludes “Between the sand and moon there is no place for me.”

For those who have followed Schwarzenbach’s music over the years and just enjoy the way he writes, forgetters is rewarding. Folks looking for a good punk seven-inch can check this out too. The first half hits a little harder. “Vampire Lessons” is a little quasi-goth – it’s about late night sexy times – and it’s all the more fun for it. “Too Small to Fail” is the physical and lyrical flipside to that, then. “Vampire Lessons” could be read as the sexual fun that greets a new relationship; “Too Small to Fail” is the fallout near the end. They’re also super catchy. The second seven-inch is pretty good too. “Not Funny” furiously pounds eardrums as it sets it tale, while “The Night Accelerates” gently takes the listener out. The production is a little dry, but it suits the style.

It took nearly a year for forgetters to go from a studio to the open market, so I’m not sure if this is a teaser for an album or a placeholder for another year of gradual building. But it’s been eight years since Jets to Brazil’s Perfecting Loneliness, and I’ll take four songs over none.

Friday, September 17, 2010

myPod: Introduction

My girlfriend gave me a new 160 GB iPod for our anniversary. I had previously been using an 80 GB model, but it ran out of room earlier this year. Since then, I’ve been making some pretty tough calls to conserve space. Same goes for my physical collection – I rearranged my room to accommodate all of the CDs I’ve collected over the years. It’s time to scale down. My goal is to reduce my CD collection to about 2,000 albums. I own so many CDs that I sometimes go years without listening to them, and that needs to change. Yeah, I just doubled my digital storage, but it’s time to make some tough calls. How much of the Drive-Thru Records catalog do I need to keep? How many Nine Inch Nails remixes?

myPod is my attempt to reconsider my music collection. It won’t have a set update schedule; I’ll be lucky to complete this idea within a year. It will mostly run through my music collection in alphabetical order, with box sets preceding. It will probably rip off Noel Murray’s Popless column for the A.V. Club.

Time to make some tough calls.


Person L - 'The Positives'

Kenny Vasoli has come a long way since Person L’s more acoustic-based origins in VFW halls. Shit, he’s come a long way since the days of “I’m gonna tear your ass up like we just got married.” On The Positives, Vasoli has gone from pop-punk to indie rock, and the switch is a startlingly comfortable fit for him. Sure, he still knows his way around a hook, and perhaps some of the ideas on the Starting Line’s Based on a True Story may have hinted at this record, but ultimately, here’s a credible indie record from a Drive-Thru alumnus who isn’t Ace Enders.

The guitar tone Vasoli and Nathaniel Vaeth get on opening track “Hole in the Fence” alone is stunning. They slowly build it up into this behemoth of a song, going from plaintive acoustic strains to something explosive and ethereal, like Mogwai with a greater emphasis on vox. Drummer Ryan Zmaaro is there for the full ride. “Hole in the Fence” is the thesis statement for the album. It’s folky and post-rock and quiet and loud. Everything afterwards expands on this song’s ideas. Whether it’s the rolling indie of the title track, or the mellow lull of “Stay Calm,” or the balls to the wall rock of “Goodness Gracious,” a song I would compare to MC5 if that tag didn’t come with a shit ton of baggage and hype.

In a way, The Positives feels like a tour through Vasoli’s record collection, as it comprises just about everything he probably couldn’t pull off under the Starting Line moniker. To that extent, it’s almost like TSL is the side project, a pop-punk/pop rock endeavor to help put money in the bank while Person L allows Vasoli unchecked creativity.

That being said, the record has a few flaws. Vasoli probably could have shaved off 10-15 minutes from the record’s 51-minute running time. The first half of The Positives is revelatory; the back half is more of the same but longer. Lyrically, there’s nothing particularly good or bad. They fill space, and I don’t think anyone is going to take Vasoli too seriously, even when he gets all up in your face with lines like “I’ve been hearing rumors about a revolution / Have you got the crowd to back it up?” Still, this album is an exciting release, and a marked improvement over the sterile pop rock of TSL’s possible swan song, Direction.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Banner Pilot - 'Resignation Day' re-release

Generally speaking, remastering albums is a bad idea. Either the source material doesn’t change discernibly (Four Minute Mile) or it changes way too much (Let It Be… Naked). Either way, they can feel like a middle finger to fans. The recent re-release of Banner Pilot’s full-length debut, Resignation Day, defies this notion.

To be honest, I didn’t come around on Banner Pilot until last year’s Collapser. Before that album, I wrote them off as another Dillinger Four clone. It didn’t help that Resignation Day kind of, sort of, well, sounded like ass. By the band’s own admission, the record wasn’t properly mastered, so even calling this re-release a remaster is a misnomer. This is more like how the album should have sounded all along. The guitars are crunchier, the vocals are more distinct in the mix, and the songs just sound better and fuller overall. This is Midwestern drunk punk done right.

The new sheen also highlights what was already good about the songs. Guitar leads are revealed to be much more intricate than originally thought. Nick Johnson’s lyrics are clearer too. Banner Pilot has gotten a lot of Jawbreaker comparisons, which I don’t agree with musically, but Johnson is definitely one of the better, more descriptive lyricists in punk rock today. On that level, he’s shaping up to be a Blake Schwarzenbach, although it remains to be seen if he has a 24 Hour Revenge Therapy or Dear You in him. I actually get a mild Green Day influence. Nate Gangelhoff’s bass lines have a bounciness reminiscent of Mike Dirnt’s playing circa the ’90s, and the opening riff of “No Transfer” kind of sounds like a reworking of “American Idiot.”

Even if you’re not sold on rebuying Resignation Day for the fidelity, the album does come with two bonus tracks, “Spit Out” and “Deadender,” originally from a split with Monikers. But for those looking to expand on their library of Midwestern punk, now’s the time to buy Resignation Day. If you enjoy punk rock songs about being disappointed, cold, and probably drunk, Resignation Day is for you. It’s right there in the title! Then get Collapser. Well, assuming you already own Versus God and The Greatest Story Ever Told. Oh, and Alkaline Trio’s records for Asian Man. And ya know what, I’m gonna throw the Soviettes in there, because I always liked them and they don’t get enough love.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Distant Lights - 'Simulacrum'

Give Distant Lights this: Their album Simulacrum adequately runs through the Incubus/Hoobastank playbook. They’re just a decade late to the party. Over the course of 10 tracks, the band bashes and howls through competent radio rock that’s slightly nu-metal, slightly jammy, slightly boring.

Frontman Gabriel Fry is the biggest reason why Distant Lights deserves an Incubus comparison – dude does a really good Brandon Boyd impression. It’s clean vocals all the way while the rest of the band tries to “rock out.” Gaelan Bellamy, then, serves as Fry’s Mike Einziger, a guitarist who whips out all sorts of ethereal effects to lend atmosphere to the band’s rock.

It’s cellist/keyboardist Jon Dexter who adds new textures to the group’s sound. Think of it as orchestral Incubus. Sometimes Dexter’s place in the songs feels like an afterthought, but when Distant Lights finds a way to fully incorporate him into their sound, like on the classical/nu-metal hybrid “Artifice,” the results are solid. Yeah, it’s a little on the Trans-Siberian Orchestra side, but it’s still kind of awesome, so shut up.

Distant Lights rarely gets this adventurous though, and a majority of Simulacrum goes by in a blur. They certainly capture Incubus’ sound, but not the hits. There are no big Morning View hooks, although the band occasionally captures Einziger’s love of prog-rock and hip-hop, like on the showy “Monolith.” But the lyrics mean fuck-all. Here’s a sampling from “Patterns on the Rise”: “Weather patterns on the rise / Falling whispers cast a lie / Worn senses fail / New born rain / Impassioning / Storms endanger man’s duress / Rain will wash away the fragile balance.” Maybe if it was 1997, Distant Lights would have a chance at appealing to a broader audience. But it’s 2010, Obama’s president, and when was the last time you cared about an Incubus album, let alone one from an Incubus knock-off?

Vinyl Vednesday 9/15/2010

[Vinyl Vednesday is a weekly feature about three favorite vinyl finds. It’s not meant to be a dick-measuring contest, but it usually turns out that way. E-mail with your own big finds!]

Records: The Blasters’ Over There--> Live at the Venue, London (1982) on black, Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant (1967) on black, and The Psychedelic Furs’ The Psychedelic Furs (1980) on black.

Place of Purchase: Blasters was inherited from my folks (I know, right?), Guthrie was a gift from high school friends, and I scored the Furs from Siren Records. In fact, almost all of my Furs records came from there.

Thoughts: My parents’ record collection is weird. Some of it makes sense for baby boomers – Beatles, Beach Boys, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel. My mom’s love of rock extended into Alice Cooper, while my dad loved softer fare like Don McLean and Bread. I think this is where I got my dichotomous listening habits. It’s why I love The Mountain Goats and early Bright Eyes, but also Baroness and Fugazi. Even with that in mind, I have no idea how my folks got into rockabilly. Sure, they’ve also got that Stray Cats record with “Rock This Town” on it, but so does anyone who was alive in the early ’80s. Blasters are a different story. They weren’t the biggest of the rock revivalists, although they were certainly prominent. Anything with Dave Alvin on it is worth hearing. I respect the hell out of him for his involvement with The Knitters and X. And this live set from the U.K. is rip-roaring retro rock of the highest pedigree. I guess what I’m trying to say is I can’t believe my parents are… cool? I mean, this came out on Slash Records.

Interestingly, while my folky parents were into The Blasters, my punk rock best friends Tim and Christen were the ones who introduce me to Arlo Guthrie (Then again, they also smoked an awful lot of weed). “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” takes up the entire A side [NOTE: I just realized that this song wasn’t just called “Alice’s Restaruant”], and it’s delightfully anti-authoritarian. Over warm, gentle blues-tinged guitar, Guthrie tells a sarcastic story about how he was arrested for littering, and because of that incident wasn’t allowed to enlist in the army and kill folks over in Vietnam. I’m kind of ruining the story – all facts, no flavor – but you just have to listen to the song, which clocks in at 18:20. It’s funny, it’s rambling, and it has such a catchy chorus when Guthrie remembers to sing it. “The Motorcycle Song,” from the B side, was later used in G.I. Joe.

I love The Psychedelic Furs. While Talk Talk Talk remains my favorite of their albums, their self-titled debut delivers excellent, muted, vaguely post-punk gems. I got into the band through a trio of Furs covers: Dresden Dolls cover of “Pretty in Pink,” Jawbreaker’s version of “Into You like a Train,” and Foo Fighters’ take on “Sister Europe” from the deluxe edition of One By One. So it was Foo Fighters who inspired me to track down the original version of “Sister Europe,” which appears here. It’s a high point for this record, although it hardly represents the Furs discography overall. In fact, when I saw them play it live, it was somewhat out of place with the slicker pop songs they wrote later in their career. Anyway, good record.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

regarding band comparisons.

I received a promotional copy of an album in the mail yesterday for an up-and-coming singer/songwriter. I read the press release before putting on his EP, which was probably a bad idea since his publicist saw fit to compare him to Radiohead and Wilco. Those are lofty tags, and they made me laugh out loud when the album came out. Dude was turning out a Starbucksy soft rock/country hybrid. It wasn't necessarily bad, but it was boring, something that the hyperbolic one sheet exacerbated. I get why his publicist compared the guy to Radiohead (They're popular!), but it's still wrong. With that in mind, here's an open letter to publicists: THE FOLLOWING BANDS ARE UNTOUCHABLE. DON'T PRETEND YOU KNOW THE NEXT BIG THING.

Radiohead: Now, I actually don't like Radiohead. I like a handful of their songs, but overall, not a fan. But I still recognize their sizable cult and sound. So I know that "RIYL Radiohead" is code for "wiener faux rock." Bands that claim to sound like Radiohead don't know how to use guitars. They sing without balls. Bands that claim to sound like Radiohead actually sound like Coldplay.

Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band: When bios say a band recalls The Boss, they really mean they sound like John Cougar Mellencamp. They might sing about the working class and use classic riffs and big orchestration, but they still don't sound like Bruce. No one else has his grand poetic vision. The Hold Steady comes close with the rhyme schemes and The Gaslight Anthem's Brian Fallon does a good imitation, but even they can't match the E Street Band's arrangements.

Jawbreaker/Hot Water Music: Code for "gruff songs about drunks, beards optional." Jawbreaker and HWM get tossed around so much that I don't even know what those comparisons mean anymore. Sure, Banner Pilot seems poised to be "the next Jawbreaker," but that's more in spirit than in sound. Most punk bands jockeying for these labels are too straightforward; they can't match the twists and bursts of Jawbreaker near the end of their career, or HWM during the pre-Epitaph days.

My Bloody Valentine: My Bloody Valentine was atmospheric but rocking. Plenty of bands approximate elements of their sound (M83, Jesu, Deftones), and those bands can be good. But there's only one original.

The Cure: There is no way you think this is as good as "Just Like Heaven." Look me in the eye and say that.

The Beach Boys: There's a school of psychedelic indie/folk that aspires to Brian Wilson's dense orchestration and vocal arrangements, but never gets there. Truth is, Pet Sounds is lusher and Wild Honey and Smiley Smile are druggier than anything these dipshits with hard-ons for audio loops will ever concoct.

The Ramones: Well, unless you're Screeching Weasel or Teenage Bottlerocket. Then it's cool.

Monday, September 13, 2010

regarding band reunions.

The Dismemberment Plan and A Perfect Circle both announced reunion tours today, marking a continued trend in bands I love getting back together. '90s icons of the underground are reclaiming venues across the country (OK, APC's first album came out in 2000, but I'm working towards something, OK?).

Some of my favorites bands from the punk and alternative genres have recently reformed. Most are sticking to the "play the hits" mindset (Face to Face, Sunny Day Real Estate, Soundgarden, Rage Against the Machine, Cap'N Jazz, Kid Dynamite, and even Lifetime from a few years back), while a few are releasing new material (The Get Up Kids, Hot Water Music, and allegedly My Bloody Valentine). Yeah, some of these bands shouldn't have reformed (Stone Temple Pilots. I'd include Hole and Smashing Pumpkins, but those bands exist in name only), but for the most part, right now is a really good time for music fans from yesteryear.

The dual announcement of Dismemberment Plan and APC has got me all types of excited (Even though APC isn't coming anywhere near Pennsylvania). Dismemberment Plan inspired the name of my college band, Emergency & I. Their dance-punk fury is mighty fine. APC, meanwhile, left behind two haunting alt-rock masterpieces. Mer de Noms has all the hits, but I honestly prefer the more haunting, slow burn of follow-up Thirteenth Step. This news has also got me thinking about what reunions I'd like to see:

Why it would rock: They're one of my favorite punk bands. They'll always be one of my favorite punk bands. And they kept getting better with each record. I know the fear with reunions is that you can't recapture magic, but Blake Schwarzenbach did good work with Jets to Brazil and forgetters. Chris Bauermeister was in m.f.-ing Shorebirds. And given all the work Adam Pfahler has put in to preserving JB's legacy, it's clear that he wants this to happen.

Why it probably won't happen: Considering how much forgetters have fought to avoid blowing up, Schwarzenbach seems awfully reticent to jeopardize his reputation or cash in. I respect that, and Jawbreaker tickets would probably sell out before I could get one anyway, but man this would be awesome...

Why it would rock: Before there was Paramore, Discount was the prime source of female-fronted pop-punk. They left behind a perfect discography - emotionally in line with Jawbreaker. Allison Mosshart went on to bigger success with The Kills and The Dead Weather, so I know she can still put on a good show.

Why it probably won't happen: Shit, considering how big Dead Weather has gotten, I'm not even sure if The Kills are getting back together, let alone Discount.

Why it would rock: Jawbox technically did already reunite, for a one-off on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, so I already know that they've still got it, and what they've got is a discography crammed with some of the best post-hardcore songs of the '90s.

Why it probably won't happen: Frontman J. Robbins' song Callum has a genetic motor neuron disease, meaning J.'s full-time job is being a parent. Even if Jawbox got back together, they could never do a full tour with Callum's condition. Which is why I will volunteer to babysit, provided I get to see at least one Jawbox show.

Why it would rock: Because they rock so damn hard (The Woods) but write the best hooks (All Hands on the Bad One). Because they write songs about things I care about ("I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone"). Because they kept getting better with each record. Because I didn't get into them until right before they broke up. Some things just aren't fair.

Why it probably won't happen: Corin Tucker is a committed mother. Janet Weiss moved on to other bands. Carrie Brownstein has a TV show now. Even if the band got back together, they'd probably do a quick West coast jaunt, and that's of no use to me.

Why it would rock: You know that idealized version in your head of what a punk band should sound and be like? That's Fugazi.

Why it probably won't happen: While its members are still musically active, they don't keep the kind of intense schedule Fugazi did. I just don't think they have the energy anymore.

Why it would rock: Um, have you heard "New Noise?"

Why it probably won't happen: They're fighting the reunion rumors pretty hard lately, and I have a tendency to believe people's words.

At the Drive-In
Why it would rock: Sparta is too predictable and The Mars Volta is too formless, but their combined sensibilities made for a fine blend of punk. And they went out on one hell of a high note.

Why it probably won't happen: Because Omar A. Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala love drugs too much.

The Promise Ring
Why it would rock:
Because they wrote some of the catchiest indie rock jams of the '90s, then wrote one of the most beautiful mellow rock albums of the '00s. Their discography is perfect, and frontman Davey von Bohlen is essentially doing the same thing now with Maritime.

Why it probably won't happen: von Bohlen isn't keen on reunions. Plus, TPR had already changed like half of its lineup before its last album. There's no guarantee this would be a legit reunion anyway.

Crime in Stereo
Why it would rock: DRUGWOLF FOREVER.

Why it probably won't happen: Because they just broke up. But they are gonna do a farewell tour!!!

Weezer back when they were good
Why it would rock: They already said they were gonna do a "Blue Album"/Pinkerton tour, why not just bring back Matt Sharp?

Why it probably won't happen: Because Weezer has no idea what good music sounds like anymore.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Baroness - 'A Horse Called Golgotha'

Baroness is one of the best metal bands today. Descendents are one of the most important punk bands of all time. When Baroness announced that they would include a cover of Descendents’ classic “Bikeage” on their new seven-inch, I was surprised but excited. And while the result doesn’t quite meet my expectations, it’s still a nice curiosity for fans of both bands.

“A Horse Called Golgotha” opens the colored vinyl, taken from the group’s most excellent 2009 effort Blue Record. It’s an awesome single with a Tool Lite music video. Everything about this song is amazing – the thick riffs, the humungous drum sound, the barking vocals. It’s muscular but jammy. I get so excited when Allen Blickle pulls out a dance beat for a few measures simply because he can. This song is good. It does not sound like Descendents.

“Bikeage,” however, sounds disconcertingly like Descendents. There’s the same snotty vocals, that walking bass line, everything. It’s a thoroughly faithful cover, although it could be a hair faster. Which is somewhat disappointing. I was hoping for a 10-minute riff fest. I wanted something that completely re-imagined/desecrated “Bikeage,” even though I gave Dirty Projectors tons of grief for doing the same thing with Black Flag a few years ago. Still, after a few listens, this cover has grown on me. It’s not as good as the original (or the Face to Face version), but it’s appealing to those of us who enjoy metal and pop-punk, which is probably what drew the members of Baroness to the song in the first place.

Venia - 'Frozen Hands'

I talk a lot of shit on Christian hardcore. It’s not that I’m necessarily against the Christ component – religious art can still be moving. I just resent anything that argues for the degradation of other people at the expense of some self-righteous quest. I also hate shitty music. A lot of Christian hardcore sounds the same, so you can imagine my dismay when I flipped through the liner notes for Venia’s Frozen Hands.

“First and foremost we would like to thank our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” FUCK. This was not looking good. Still, I set aside my bias and popped in the disc. And lo, onto mine very own ears, a treasure was delivered: Venia is a good Christian hardcore band. That’s because they remember to add kickass jams, buzzsaw guitars and gang vocals for days.

They’re also not obnoxiously Christian. These songs definitely have a touch of the Vatican to them, but rather than just spout Old Testament rhetoric, Venia incorporates a Christian mindset into hardcore topics. These songs still possess the “let’s rise up, it’s us vs. them” attitude, but when Venia say they’re going to rise up, they really mean it. Consider a line like this one, from “Better Seas”: “These waves can take my breath / But they won’t take my life.” I can relate to that kind of spirituality, in a belief of a greater consciousness.

Venia is religious, but they’re not dicks about it. They know how to write a breakdown. Shit, they know how to write songs in general – these tunes are sufficiently punishing. That they can incorporate their most personal ideals into that songwriting is commendable.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Vinyl Vednesday 9/8/2010

[Vinyl Vednesday is a weekly feature about three favorite vinyl finds. It’s not meant to be a dick-measuring contest, but it usually turns out that way. This week’s entry is based around rarities compilations. E-mail with your own big finds!]

Records: Crime in Stereo’s Selective Wreckage (2008) on black and white, Jawbreaker’s Etc. (2002) on black, and My Bloody Valentine’s Before Loveless (1991) on black and clear blue.

Place of Purchase: Hot Topic. Repo Records. Grass Roots Music Store in Ocean City, N.J. In that order.

Thoughts: I’m a huge Crime in Stereo fan, and I’m still mourning their break-up, but at least they went out with a solid discography. I can’t say much about Explosives and the Will to Use Them, but The Troubled Stateside, Crime in Stereo is Dead, and I Was Trying to Describe You to Someone are all amazing post-hardcore records. Crime in Stereo has left behind a stellar catalogue. What they haven’t left behind is a whole lot of rarities. B-side collection Selective Wreckage is awfully skimpy – 10 tracks in 23 minutes, and one of ’em is an instrumental intro. While it may have been prematurely released – I’d love to hear what went on during the Describe sessions – it still contains some of my favorite CiS songs, like “When the Women Come Out to Dance,” which jumps from one punishing hook to the next.

Jawbreaker, however, received a thorough rarities collection back in ’02 courtesy of drummer Adam Pfahler. He’s always been protective of Jawbreaker’s legacy, going out of his way to preserve the band’s releases. Etc. is packed with choice cuts, like “Kiss the Bottle,” which is probably one of the most overrated Jawbreaker songs despite being so obscure. Then again, it’s overrated for a reason. “Kiss the Bottle” sums up everything great about JB – being alone even when you’re with someone, drunk as hell, and having only some very dissonant, thundering chords to sum up how that feels. The rest of the collection is great too, delivering a bevy of Dear You outtakes before Pfahler was able to convince Geffin Records to let him re-release that album. “Caroline” is another early gem, as is the cover of R.E.M.’s “Pretty Persuasion.” Fans of the Unfun years are well-fed by this compilation.

My fandom for My Bloody Valentine continuously grows. Loveless is one of my favorite albums of all time, so much so that it’s led me to check out the band’s entire canon. While nothing tops the sheer weight of Loveless, it’s still fun hearing how MBV evolved from a bunch of horror-punks to shoegaze originators. Of the MBV rarities collections available through Lazy Records, Before Loveless is the better overview. It reveals the group’s debt to bands like the Birthday Party and Jesus & Mary Chain in their early years before evolving into a more twee group. By the fourth side, you can hear the waves of Loveless lapping not too far away.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Megasus - 'Megasus'

Considering how much love for music goes into the Rock Band games, it’s no surprise that some Harmonix employees are musicians themselves. Four of them constitute the metal group Megasus (Puns! Yes!). On the band’s self-titled seven song effort for 20 Buck Spin, the group turns out a smorgasbord o’ metal.

Sometimes Megasus plays sludge (“Ten Kingdoms”), sometimes they get psychedelic (“Swords”) and sometimes they go for more of a cock rock thing (“Paladin Vs Berserker”). It’s not always great – “Swords” is seven-and-a-half minutes long and it sure does feel like it – but given the band’s pedigree, it makes for a nice curio. Besides, the riffs are plentiful, making each song a viable candidate for Rock Band 3 (Actually, “Red Lottery” is available for download right now).

And just like in Rock Band, the lamest part about Megasus is the vocals. Frontman Jason Kendall has versatile enough pipes, but he’s no Chris Cornell. His reluctance to stick to a vocal style leaves the band feeling slightly faceless. The gruff takes work alright, but whenever he cleans up his singing he reveals some laughably lacking lyrics. The songs tend to follow repetitive rhyme schemes without much room for depth, so anybody looking for something more meaningful behind the guitar tricks will be disappointed.

Still, the music is accomplished, and fans of Soundgarden, Mastodon and Kylesa might find a track or two to like. Hell, Megasus wouldn’t be out of place if they opened for either band. Until they do, though, they’ll have to stick to their day job… playing video games. Lucky bastards.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Bars of Gold - 'Of Gold'

The world is a cold, fucked up place, but every so often it drops little gifts to remind us that life is alright. Bars of Gold’s semi-self-titled debut, Of Gold, is one of those gifts. It sucked when post-hardcore masters Bear vs. Shark broke up, but from those remnants vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Marc Paffi and drummer Brandon Moss have built up a new, thoroughly awesome indie rock effort. This is the rock equivalent of babies and puppies laughing together underneath a double rainbow.

Call it an EP or a metal full-length, either way, Of Gold delivers eight new jams to satiate the BvS faithful. And for the first two tracks, that faith is rewarded outright. Opening numbers “Boss Level” and “Heaven Has a Heater” provide the follow-up Terrorhawk deserved. When I think of BvS, I think of three distinct, loud elements: Paffi’s bellow (check), Moss’s thundering kit (check) and sharp, crunchy guitar parts (not so much here). Indeed, the guitars aren’t quite as loud, especially as the album winds down, it starts to emphasize keyboards more.

That said, those first two tracks are rockers. “Birds” also has a heavy BvS sound, but it incorporates some more indie elements. The guitars plink and bend a little more. There’s a heavier emphasis on atmosphere. By the time the final track of the A side, “The Hustle,” arrives the group shifts into more of a Modest Mouse/Built to Spill vibe. “Hustle” could’ve easily fit in with the songs on We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. It’s got the same country/indie rock mix, blending banjo with a threatening 4/4 beat.

Of Gold could certainly be thought of as a transitional record away from the classic Bear vs. Shark formula, and the tracklisting makes that more literal. The A side phases out BvS’s most obvious characteristics, and by the B side, the metamorphosis is complete. “Doctors & Lawyers” is much more banjo-heavy. “Up, Up, Up” is funkier, not that Bear vs. Shark was ever afraid to explore a groove. “Cannibals” closes out the release. This makes Of Gold such an ideal release. It’s faithful enough to Moss and Paffi’s previous work while still pushing into new sounds. Bear vs. Shark probably won’t get back together, but that’s not such a bad thing anymore.

regarding the Mike Pelone Memorial Show.

Here's the more or less final word on the Mike Pelone Memorial Show. It' s tomorrow, Sept. 4, starting at 6 p.m. at the Lansdale VFW (805 W 2nd St, Lansdale, PA 19446). The confirmed line-up is:

The Wonder Years
Rough Justice

Those who knew Mike won't have to worry about getting in. This is our scene and our show. All you fucks who just got into the Wonder Queers after The Upsides can click here to fight over the few tickets being sold. They're $25, which is a little steep, but it's for charity. And besides, it's a chance to see TWY in the smallest venue they've probably played in years. Shit, you get a chance to see them live at the very first place they ever played. And hey, feel free to hype the show on

The VFW hall is the perfect place to host this show. Mike booked so many bands there, including Paramore, Crime in Stereo, and Set Your Goals. Our band together, Emergency & I, played countless shows there. E&I's last show was there. Same for The Premier. It was a cornerstone of our little scene, and we never quite recovered after some drunk war vet started fighting kids and we lost the venue. Yeah, a handful of Doylestown locations picked up the pieces for a while, but for me, the Lansdale VFW marks a golden era for hardcore and punk, at least in my stupid, tiny life.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that we should burn it to the ground.