Monday, October 18, 2010
Thursday, October 14, 2010
Back in 2008, Gatorface dropped a promising EP entitled Sick and Stupid. It recalled Descendents, Rehasher and early Propagandhi. It ruled. Now in 2010, Gatorface has finally gotten around to releasing a follow-up. The group’s first full-length, Wasted Monuments, takes everything great about Sick and Stupid and essentially redoes it for 24 minutes.
While nothing here quite matches the pop-punk heights of “Kid in a Candy Store,” an uber-infectious track from the group’s debut, Wasted Monuments is still a fun, compelling listen from start to finish. So if you bought the EP, congrats, here are 13 more songs that rock (Well, 12 after the intro track).
For those who are new to this whole G-face thing, here’s a walkthrough. Wasted Monuments is a jolly ol’ record about topics like religion (it sucks!) and people (they’re stupid!). After a brief intro track, “The Cleaner” opens the album properly, and from that point on it’s pop-punk ahoy. The songs each have a sociopolitical point to push, and while they lack a certain eloquence, they still function well. The title track, for example, talks about how people get so caught up in society’s pettier aspects without considering what really matters. It’s like if Henry David Thoreau listened to surf-punk. Or as Gatorface would say, “Fuck wasted monuments / We all end up as dust.”
The record’s genius lies in its brevity. Gatorface was founded for fun by ex-members of New Mexican Disaster Squad, and to that end, the band succeeds. While the songs aren’t the most technically complex compositions, they’re certainly catchy and enjoyable. I’m a sucker for any song that works in a good “whoa-oh,” and on tracks like “Burning Crosses” and “Kids Stealing Kids,” Gatorface does just that. The band doesn’t invent anything new, but they take a formula so forehead-slappingly perfect that there’s little point in deviation.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
After one-upping formidable acts Thursday and Jesu on splits, Envy has finally returned to the full-length game with Recitation. Where those splits found the Japanese post-hardcore group composing epic, emotional outbursts that rose and fell within 20 minutes or so, Recitation is a far more epic endeavor. Over the course of 65 minutes, Envy goes through a series of ups and downs. While the song meanings might not always be clear – the lyrics are in Japanese after all – there is still plenty of passion packed in that transcends language barriers.
Running just over an hour, though, the album might test some folks’ patience. Recitation goes through two intros, first on “Guidance,” the spoken word opening track featuring Kaoru Okunuki, and then again for the gentle first five minutes of “Last Hours of Conformity.” This is a record of contrasts, kind of like a more extreme Mogwai, and so the record takes its time setting itself up. Here in the good ol’ U.S. of A., we like our albums to open with explosions and big choruses. But Envy makes the listener work for it, cultivating atmosphere in order to make their hardcore passages that much more intense. Enjoy the gentle moments, because shit gets real once vocalist Tetsuya Fukagawa starts screaming.
Suddenly the twin guitars of Nobukata Kawai and Masahiro Tobita stop shimmering and start shredding. Drummer Dairoku Seki finally gets something to do: thunderous toms and cymbals crash in over shoegaze guitars. It’s huge and then it suddenly stops. Then the band resets for “Rain Clouds Running in a Holy Night,” slowly building up into a punk outburst.
By the end of “Rain Clouds,” Recitation has gone through an entire album’s worth of dynamics in just 20 minutes. The record then decides to kick ass for a bit before settling into a dreamy Jesu-style ambience. The second half of the record starts to simplify a little, in that individual songs settle for one specific tempo rather than jumping around. But then, Recitation feels interconnected from start to finish. While in the act of listening, distinguishing between tracks seems irrelevant.
Okunuki returns for the closing track, “Your Hand,” by which time Recitation should have won over listeners. The album takes a while to assert itself, but that’s part of its charm. It’s a dark masterpiece. An expansive work that’s beautifully violent and vice versa, it could easily appeal to fans of M83 and Deftones alike. However you define it, Recitation finds Envy yet again beating out Western acts.
[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. Here’s part two of a two-part installment about 10-inches, in honor of 10/10/10. E-mail email@example.com with your own big finds!]
Records: Rage Against the Machine’s People of the Sun EP (1997) on black, Silversun Pickups’ Pikul (2005) on black, and Bruce Springsteen/Suicide’s Dream Baby Dream split (2009) on black.
Place of Purchase: Hot Topic, Repo Records, Siren Records.
Thoughts: Do you know what is ridiculously awesome? Screaming like Zack De La Rocha. Dude’s cadence is violent and direct yet so, so fun. People of the Sun has two of Rage’s best songs – the title track and “Bulls on Parade” – but the live tracks are what make this EP essential listening. “Zapata’s Blood” rocks hard. “Hadda Be Playing on the Jukebox,” an Allen Ginsberg cover, is epic at eight minutes. De La Rocha opens it by chiding the audience “Ya’ll look like a bunch of frat boys at summer camp” before dropping a poetry jam on their heads. Rage’s cover is pretty great; it’s a shame it wasn’t worked into their actual, somewhat terrible covers record Renegades.
Silversun Pickups have garnered a bevy of fans over the last few years, and they deserve it. They put a lot of effort into their songs and presentation. Their videos are usually great, and the same goes for their album art. I picked up an original pressing of Pikul from Repo a little while back, and the DIY nature of the EP does it for me. I have record number 73 out of 1,000 of hand-screened albums on cardboard, with a lovely 10-inch shiny black vinyl inside. These are the stupid details music geeks obsess over. I love this record because it’s so handcrafted and comes from a band I like a lot. Oh, the music? Yeah, it’s good. SSPU started off more acoustic-based, but generally Pikul sounds exactly like what it is: A trial run for Carnavas. Most of the band’s trademarks were already in place: vocals that go from androgynously soft to barking, atmospheric guitars, huge drums. There’s just more cello in the mix this time, which makes “Kissing Families” that much better.
Limited pressings are a relative thing. Pikul had a limited run of 1,000, but didn’t sell out for a few years. Dream Baby Dream had a pressing of 8,000 and sold out in days. That’s just the drawing power the Boss holds. This 10-inch is a hodgepodge of a sanctioned bootleg. The A-side has Bruce Springsteen covering the title track during his “Devils & Dust Tour” from 2005. It’s Bruce and an organ for seven minutes, which should come off self-indulgent but doesn’t. Like Rage, Springsteen is a master interpreter, turning the song into a Bush era plea for a return to sanity. It’s haunting. The flipside has the original, from Suicide, and for no particular reason, “My Ray” by Beat the Devil. I seriously think they were friends with the label.
This is song is class F2F. It could have been on the self-titled record from 1995. I've been skeptical about all the '90s band reunions going on right now - I don't want all my favorite bands to ruin their legacies - but "Anything" is a legitimately good song. Hell, this could be the track that introduces the band to a new generation of fans.
...also the group is going to be on LA Ink tonight on TLC, which could go either way...
Monday, October 11, 2010
I like Majesty Shredding, the reunion album from indie rock institution Superchunk, but I also feel disconnected from the reaction it’s getting. Like most comeback albums, it almost certainly means the most to the biggest and oldest fans. Me, I always meant to check them out, but didn’t get around to it until now, and even then, I primarily bought the record because John Darnielle (The Mountain Goats) sings on one of the songs. I think that explains A) My devotion to TMG and B) My apathy towards Superchunk up ’til now.
Primarily, the record reminds me that the difference between underground rock genres is at times ridiculously minimal. See, when I listen to these songs, I hear pop punk done right, which is funny since most of the band’s fans probably wince at the term. But these songs consist of nasally, sugary, high-pitched vocals and big fun guitar chords. Oh yeah, and whoas. Can’t forget them whoa-oh-ohs. Ultimately, I hear Get Up Kids without the ballads; Rufio without the faux-metal breaks; Hot Rod Circuit only not as good.
Not that this distracts me from enjoying Shredding. I just think it’s funny how stoked people are getting on it. Regradless, this record is a nifty little number. My favorite track is, natch, “Digging For Something.” It’s a sugar rush guitar track about partying, and it has Darnielle on back-up vox. Hell’s yeah. Drummer Jon Wurster pounds out beat after beat while frontman Mac McCaughan bleats his heart out. “My Gap Feels Weird” nearly keeps pace, and even comments on punk politics, but after that the record starts to mellow out into midtempo territory, although “Slow Drip” and “Learned to Surf” help ratchet that energy back up.
Aside from the dubious guitar solos, there’s little in Superchunk’s sound that resembles where indie rock is at right now. Then again, the genres I’d tag them with, emo and pop punk, have changed several times over, and for the worse.
I guess what I’m trying to say is I’m lucky to have Superchunk back, just like you.
Sunday, October 10, 2010
[I’m just gonna throw this out there. My dream bill for a ridiculously high energy tour would be Andrew W.K., Torche, and Fang Island. Who would you add?]
In an alternate universe, Torche is the biggest radio rock band in America. No one has heard of Nickelback, but they sure as hell know all the words to Songs For Singles. While it’s certainly a bummer that this is not the case here on Earth Prime, hopefully this Floridian metal act will garner a few new fans with their latest effort.
Songs For Singles is a somewhat sarcastic title, although still apt. At just eight tracks, the album doesn’t have the continuity of a full-length, but rather feels like eight really good songs collected on one disc. Maybe it was a defensive move on the band’s part, but it also makes a good point: All of these songs could be singles.
Calling Torche a metal band almost seems like a misnomer, since metal has splintered off into a lot of subgenres and means different things to different people. There’s some Savannah sludge in the group’s sound and even some drone, but an anthemic grunge vibe as well. Basically, it’s like a Soundgarden/Black Tusk mash-up that could probably open for, I don’t know, Foo Fighters. In fact, they should. I bet Dave Grohl loves the shit out of Torche.
Aside from the epic closing track, Singles sticks to focused rockers. Steve Brooks peels off guitar pyrotechnics, but he keeps them tasteful. He doesn’t distract from a good hook and the band as a whole keeps things brisk. At just 21 minutes, Singles opens itself up to repeat listens. The songs roll off of each other so well that one could easily get in three or four listens in a row. Torche doesn’t sound like any one band, but they sure vaguely recall ’90s alternative rock as a whole.
By the time punk rock was coming together, one of its progenitors, David Bowie, had already abandoned the loud, sloppy guitars and hedonistic lyrics that would become its trademarks. Sure, the genre was due to come about anyway, thanks to the work of the Stooges, MC5 and Patti Smith, among others, but the fact remains, by the time Ramones came out in April 1976, Bowie had shed his proto-punk/glam tendencies. This transition began on his ’75 tribute to Philly soul, Young Americans, but became complete with its follow-up, Station to Station, which recently received a deluxe re-release from EMI boosted by a live bootleg and, if you really want to spend some money, tons of alternate mixes, concert paraphernalia and glorious vinyl.
Originally released in Jan. 1976, Station to Station set about creating post-punk before there was even a punk. Granted, other artists like Kraftwerk and Brian Eno had already laid some of the groundwork, but Bowie’s late ’70s work was just as important. Taken in context with his subsequent “Berlin trilogy,” Station to Station is still pretty soulful. But compared to the legitimate R&B of Young Americans, it’s a downright insane album, a mere six tracks that take the electrified funk of “Fame” and turn it into some sort of alien dance music.
I should probably mention that Bowie did a shit-ton of cocaine around this period, which is how he was able to work in the studio for days on end before sleeping. And like any good coke record – Black Sabbath’s Vol. 4, Oasis’ Be Here Now – the songs are insanely long. The title track which opens the record is 10 minutes long, with a three-and-a-half-minute intro. And it opens with a train taking off for the first 73 seconds. This should be the most indulgent song of Bowie’s career, but instead its one of his best. The song slowly lurches to life, as Carlos Alomar’s guitar slinks in and wills it to life.
Can we talk about the drum sound David Bowie gets on his records? Because the stuff he scored in the late ’70s is ridiculously good. Eno nailed some fantastically metallic beats for Low, but producer Harry Maslin and drummer Dennis Davis get an amazingly nuanced sound on “Station to Station.” It’s a simple funk beat, drained of its heat and turned into a robotically precise jam. It’s for this reason alone that the title track rules, although it helps that Bowie bothered to craft a nice chorus, when he can remember to sing it.
Station to Station still has touches of Bowie’s old sound. The piano-driven “TVC15” has a pinch of Young Americans’ warmth, while “Stay” has the kind of guitar histrionics that would have worked on Diamond Dogs (and probably would have improved that album). But overall, Station is a new breed. It’s incredibly danceable and funky, but it’s blindingly alien and alienated. The lyrics deal with obsessing over technology. The music often pushes its histrionics into the stratosphere, reaching for something more spacey.
In the wrong hands, Station to Station could have been a prog-rock mess, the sort of instrumental masturbation that punk would reject. Instead, it proves that not all jammy ’70s records suck. The same can be said, intermittently, for “Live Nassau Coliseum ’76,” the live bootleg that accompanies the Station re-release. The two-disc set captures a taut set from Bowie, one which takes older glam rock tunes and repurposes them for this new sound.
Station to Station and “Fame” dominate the setlist, and they’re fittingly funky. Sometimes the songs get to be too much. Davis’ restraint on the record is commendable; his showboating live is deplorable, and he turns the title track into a self-indulgent mess live. “TVC15” still rips, though.
It’s the old songs that make this deluxe edition essential for Bowie fans, though. “Five Years” comes out a little perfunctory, but these tight post-punk versions of “Panic in Detroit” and “Changes” are nuts. Yeah, the solo section near the end of “Panic” ruins the fun, but up until then, it’s a completely new, excellent version of an already great song. This is Bowie in his prime, when any style he chose worked, and the crowd loves it. The banter between songs is pretty great too. I love how cocky Bowie gets when he introduces “Changes,” as if no one in attendance could have possibly heard of that particular song.
Young Americans and Station to Station are important transitional records for Bowie. He renounced his glam rock ways, dabbled in funk for a little while and then started exploring more economical post-punk songwriting with his seminal work, Low. The new Station re-release wonderfully captures Bowie just before that point, both live and in the studio.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
-Here's a review I wrote about the new self-titled Pete Yorn album for Montville Patch. Did you know that Yorn is from there?
-Here's a feature I did on an up-and-coming twee band called Turning violet Violet for Roxborough Patch. They're really nice people and they put on a good show. They need to record more of their songs.
-Here's an embarrassing video of my friend Nate shilling for Patch:
...although, seriously, thanks for the work.
Coupled with The Greatest Songs Ever Written (By Us) and 45 or 46 Songs That Weren’t Good Enough to Go On Our Other Records, NOFX’s new compilation The Longest EP should form a trilogy of the band’s most essential recordings. Full-lengths, rarities and, now, extended players have been summarized for future punk rockers. Instead, it’s an interminable mess. At 30 tracks, The Longest EP certainly lives up to its name, but it dredges too many less than stellar tracks from the band’s history.
Let’s get this out of the way now. Without “The Decline,” any EP comp for NOFX is going to be incomplete. Yeah, it would also make The Decline a redundant album, and it would suck up a lot of space on a disc, but the fact remains that NOFX’s best EP is unrepresented, however unreasonable I may be in claiming as such.
Not to get all blasphemous, but the Longest Line EP, which opens this disc and is beloved by many a punk, isn’t actually that good. It’s slower and less intricate than NOFX’s later work, and it’s sloppier to boot. Yeah, it’s a seminal release, but that doesn’t make “Kill All the White Man” any better. As the tracklisting continues, more malaise sets in.
The liner notes endorse my viewpoint. Frontman Fat Mike openly admits that songs like “S&M Airlines” and “The Punk Song” suck in the CD booklet. Even catchy numbers like “Straight Outta Massachusetts” and “Jaw Knee Music” get ripped on, which begs the question, why would NOFX self-release this anyway?
I can see that some of these EPs are beloved, but I can’t stop thinking about how NOFX has taken the exact same ideas – the bass lines, the guitar leads, the lyrics about getting all drugged up on drugs – and done them better on releases like Punk in Drublic and So Long and Thanks For All the Shoes. Oh, and The Decline.
Wednesday, October 6, 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. Here’s part one of a two-part installment about 10-inches, in honor of 10/10/10. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with your own big finds!]
Records: AFI’s “Miss Murder” (2006) on picture disc, Gatorface’s Sick and Stupid (2008) on gold with an etching on the B-side, and Get Laid’s Pretty Solid (2010) on clear red.
Place of Purchase: AFI came from Hot Topic. Gatorface was mailordered through No Idea Records on a whim. Get Laid actually sent me their EP for review.
Thoughts: Eric Crack was one of my college roommates, and he is the biggest Davey Havok fan ever. I have fond memories of 2006, and many of them relate back to Decemberunderground. Eric and I loved lead single “Miss Murder.” Yeah, the lyrics are cheesy, but that stomping beat is so dang rollicking that we got caught up in it every time. And the song overlaps with Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” so well that we’d often start combining the two and… aw shucks, it’s just a big ol’ gothic bag fun for us. I feel bad for “Rabbits are Roadkill on Rt. 37.” It’s a great B-side, it just doesn’t really belong on any AFI record. It was written too late for The Art of Drowning, and maybe it would have fit in on Crash Love, but it had the misfortune of being a catchy song that just didn’t sit well with what the band was doing at this particular time. I guess this one was always destined to be a B-side. Of course, what’s funny is that Decemberunderground ended up using all that rabbit imagery in its artwork.
I get a lot of e-mails asking me to review albums, but they’re mostly for Punknews.org and, if people are really out of touch, Wonka Vision Magazine. I rarely get stuff targeted at my blog, so I was flattered when Get Laid asked to mail me a copy of their EP Pretty Solid. I was double-flattered when it turned out that Pretty Solid was one of the best EPs of the year, packing in all types of thrashy goodness that oscillates from punk to metal and back. The music is so harsh that I can only assume Get Laid is super tough. I mean, the album reeked of cigarettes when it came in the mail.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Four years after the fact, I still have mixed feelings about Sleater-Kinney’s hiatus. Obviously, I can’t begrudge their decisions for splitting, and each member has kept busy. Drummer Janet Weiss has played with the Jicks, Bright Eyes and Quasi. Vocalist/guitarist Carrie Brownstein spread her talents around, blogging for NPR, doing comedy with Saturday Night Live’s Fred Armisen as the group ThunderAnt and finally getting back into music with her new group, Wild Flag, which also features Weiss. And vocalist/guitarist Corin Tucker focused on motherhood. I miss Sleater-Kinney a lot and never got to see them live, but who am I to complain if Tucker’s trying to be a good parent? Besides, with the release of 1,000 Years from the Corin Tucker Band, 100 percent of SK’s members are musically active, and that’s a good thing.
Tucker described her new album to Portland Mercury as a “middle-aged mom” record, which is true, but with a few qualifiers. This is not a stereotypical soccer mom album. 1,000 Years has certain flickers of the Sleater-Kinney sound. Pretty much anytime Tucker lets loose her trademark wail or a guitar solo, like on “Doubt,” it’s hard not to think of The Woods. But it also features a lot of ideas that SK didn’t pursue. Acoustic guitar. Organ/piano. Lyrics about grown-up responsibilities, like enduring unemployment and struggling as a parent and lover. It’s a logical extension of SK’s last few albums, but also calls up comparisons to Tori Amos, PJ Harvey and Natalie Merchant. It’s also one of those fun, catchy records with depressing lyrics.
The title track opens the album brilliantly. It starts off ominously with just rumbling guitar, slowly introducing more instrumentation and Tucker’s haunting voice. The song is about finally moving on after losing someone, thanks in part to music, which makes it all the more triumphant when drummer Sara Lund kicks in. “Half a World Away” is almost certainly about missing Tucker’s husband, filmmaker Lance Bangs, and it’s a sweet palate cleanser after “1,000 Years.” The lyrics are more hopeful; the music is more rocking.
Gradually, 1,000 Years works itself into a fervor, exploding halfway through the organ-drenched “Handed Love” and carrying over to “Doubt,” then it ebbs and flows all over again in the back half. Whether working out difficulties on the somber “Thrift Store Coats” or rocking the heck out on “Big Goodbye,” the record wins. It’s masterfully sequenced. It’s the kind of record that sounds good turned way up or way down.
Of course, with 1,000 Years’ release comes a new wave of rumors that Sleater-Kinney will reunite. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t, maybe they’ll just do a one-off. Honestly, if Tucker continues to release solo records while still taking care of her family, I’ll be a happy fan. 1,000 Years is one of the better indie rock records to come out this year. Some of these songs could have been on a Sleater-Kinney album, some of them allow Tucker to explore new territory, but all of them are compelling for their own reasons. Motherhood obviously suits Tucker’s personal life, but it’s starting to enhance her artistic life as well.
Monday, October 4, 2010
On their new album Castle Talk, New Brunswick, N.J. punk act Screaming Females further refine their raw sound. The tempos are a little slower; at this speed, the group recalls classic punk acts like the Dickies and Devo. But the tunes are still quite good. Over the course of 11 tracks, SF dishes out one distorted rocker after another.
“Laura and Marty” opens the album. It’s one of the longest songs on the album, but it doesn’t feel like it. Rather, the song lays out every twisting, pulsating move Screaming Females possess. Bassist Michael Abbate and drummer Jarrett Dougherty lay out a nervous framework before frontwoman/guitarist Marissa Paternoster starts dropping in thick, hearty riffs and jubilant word play (“Instead, in store / Cold hands, hot heart,” for example). There’s a second, equally catchy song buried in there where Paternoster actually starts telling the listener about Laura and Marty and their decision to attend a social gatherings, but it’s over soon enough so Paternoster can whip out a succulent guitar solo.
“Laura and Marty” is a really good song, so good that it kind of takes a while for the band to meet its energy levels. Not that there’s anything wrong with the songs that follow. “I Don’t Mind It” is less enthusiastically rocking but still catchy. It’s a good “track two” pick, but “Laura and Marty” opens with a lot of force. “Normal” comes close, though. Besides the acoustic track “Deluxe,” the songs all generally have a similar energy. Even though few songs are as explosive as “Laura and Marty,” Castle Talk still delivers plenty of tunes to appease folks’ ear holes. “Fall Asleep” picks up the dirty/sexy sound Yeah Yeah Yeahs abandoned long ago. “Deluxe” offers a quick palette cleanse before jumping back into the punx. “I don’t Mind It” is just a darn cute love song.
At 37 minutes in length, Castle Talk rolls by without overstaying its welcome. It could maybe be a track shorter, and Paternoster’s vibrato might grate on some people, but overall, it’s a fine record. Click below to see the video for “I Don’t Mind It” for a taste. Or, ya know, just consider that Screaming Females come from New Brunswick. That’s all the pedigree you need.
Friday, October 1, 2010
Originally recorded as a single full-length, Suns opted to break up nine songs into two EPs, thus creating Close Call in the U.S. Space Program and The Howl and The Many. However, they also decided to release these two EPs together on one compact disc (and fo’ free on the Internet), so there goes the whole “separate movements” idea.
That backstory is boring, I’ll admit, but I think it illustrates something about Suns. Like that story, the band tends to be needlessly roundabout and indulgent, and for all the detail they pack into their songs, they’re not nearly as smart as they think they are. Suns have a sound vaguely melding Radiohead’s grandeur with late period Brand New’s expansive rock with a dash of everything you hated about the New Amsterdams. But mostly, they just come off sounding like a better-than-average version of the Fray.
What’s funny about this revelation is that, had Suns bothered to separate the two EPs, their sound might stand a chance. They’ve got some decent orchestral ideas. These songs, when broken up, have a nice, expansive aura without getting too repetitive. Sometimes they rock (“Everything Changes”), but mostly they meander. And that’s something the double EP concept makes clear. The tracks were all written over the course of the members’ first year together, and while the players have some cool ideas, they haven’t quite figured out how to fit all the pieces together. Given another year or two, Suns might have something worth hearing. Right now they’re just wasting time.