Hailing from the mighty state of Wisconsin, punk/ska act Atrocity Solution somehow manages to build a crust punk bridge between Choking Victim and Leftover Crack. I know that’s a big variety of music, but bear with me. The group’s latest, a seven-track EP entitled Tomorrow’s Too Late, keeps a crack rock steady beat throughout.
“The Protest Song” lives up to its title, although lyrically it tends to come off like the ramblings of a crazy homeless person. Heck, they don’t even bothering using apostrophes. These guys don’t conform to your grammatical rules, man. Still, the music rips. “Change the Channel” adds in more ska. The rest of the EP oscillates between those two styles.
Not to belabor the point, but these guys really, really sound like Leftover Crack. The vocals alternate from snotty spit takes to demonic, throaty screams. The guitars are either faux-metal crunchy or upstroking ska. The only thing missing is LC’s sense of humor, which went a long way towards turning Mediocre Generica into a classic. Give me a joke song about Satanism. Hell, even songs like “Born to Die” had a tongue in cheek quality to them that made them better. Atrocity Solution’s biggest problem isn’t plagiarism, it’s that they’re trying so hard to cultivate a certain sound that they don’t seem to be having any fun with it. Somebody buy these kids a Star Fucking Hipsters record.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Hailing from the mighty state of Wisconsin, punk/ska act Atrocity Solution somehow manages to build a crust punk bridge between Choking Victim and Leftover Crack. I know that’s a big variety of music, but bear with me. The group’s latest, a seven-track EP entitled Tomorrow’s Too Late, keeps a crack rock steady beat throughout.
Monday, November 29, 2010
With the Heart Ache/Dethroned re-release, fans get two possible paths for Jesu, a droning quasi-shoegaze act built around the machinations of Justin K. Broadrick (ex-Godflesh/Napalm Death). Heart Ache, originally released in 2004, shows where the band actually went, which is experimental ambient metal. Dethroned, a heretofore unreleased EP dating back to the same year, is more industrial-tinged. You could even call it sludge metal. Decide for yourself which sound is preferable.
Dethroned is more accessible, but Heart Ache is the better test. If you like the swirling, sludgy drone of the 20-minute title track (“Ruined,” the only other song, is even longer), then you will enjoy the rest of the band’s discography. Some of it’s more ethereal (the EPs), some of it’s more rocking (the full-lengths), but Heart Ache is both the origin story and fulcrum of Jesu. Everything better than Heart Ache is amazing; everything worse than it is pretty monotonous. This is the kind of recording that sounds good turned up like a jet engine or turned down to a whisper. Perhaps the nicest thing I could say is the songs are each 20 minutes long, but they feel like they’re only 10.
Heart Ache takes longer to appreciate, but it’s ultimately both the better half of this release and the right choice for introducing Jesu. Dethroned is still pretty good, though. This disc offers four tracks in 28 minutes. It’s more accessible than Heart Ache, if you can call seven-minute songs with the vocals buried “accessible.” A lot what Jesu does best is represented here: Slow dirges and otherworldly passages abound. But there are little differences. Sometimes it’s as subtle as hearing an actual piano on “I Can Only Disappoint You.” Or it’s in the way opener “Dethroned” is so much more aggressive than what came later that it’s sort of like a bridge between Godflesh and Jesu. It’s easier to get into than Heart Ache, but that kind of makes it disappointing in a way. By being easier to digest, it’s in turn easier to move on from. That said, it’s Jesu. Debate the details, but still listen to both discs.
Wednesday, November 24, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org with your own big finds!]
Records: Bridge and Tunnel’s East/West (2008) on white, Devo’s Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978) on black, and Nakatomi Plaza’s Unsettled (2007) on clear brown swirl.
Place of Purchase: B ‘n’ T was pre-ordered on vinyl AND disco compacto online through the mighty No Idea Records. Devo came from Hideaway Music in Chestnut Hill, Pa. Nakatomi Plaza was purchased at a show. You had to be there, man.
Thoughts: One of my greatest regrets in life is missing out on Latterman live. I was a huge fan after buying No Matter Where We Go… on a whim back in the year 2005, but I never managed to catch these fine Long Island punk rockers in concert. When Latterman broke up, I was devastated. When the former members started forming new bands, I was all up in them shits. Shorebirds was a must (Latterman/Jawbreaker supergroup? Fudge yeah!). Bridge and Tunnel, featuring ex-Lattermanner Pat Schramm on drums, hooked me right away after a couple of live shows in Doylestown. After a stunning seven-inch, the band dropped this tasty morsel. It’s 41 minutes of post-hardcore-ish social awareness rock. I like it a lot.
I bought the first Devo record because it’s generally acknowledged as a punk/post-punk classic. Alls I knew was I liked “Gates of Steel,” but that song wasn’t even on this album. What I got instead was a whole lotta of sassy, sarcastic, amazing jams, like “Jocko Homo” and a funky yet mechanical cover of The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction)” (akin to what David Bowie was doing at the time). Speaking of live shows I regret missing, Devo, The Hold Steady, and The Loved Ones once playing a show together in Philadelphia. I don’t remember why I missed it, but I’m sure my reason was pure baloney.
I miss Nakatomi Plaza. These Brooklyn punks played with heart no matter the size of the crowd. They actually cared about songwriting and technical wizardry, but their live show sounded identical to their recorded output. I got to see them a bunch of times, thankfully, and I made it a point to pick something up from the merch table each time. They hooked me up each time with early releases, like a rare split with Latterman, but my most treasured find is Unsettled, my favorite NP album, on vinyl. Recorded by my main man J. Robbins, it sounds epic and huge. As literate and political as these songs got, they’re still so dang anthemic. Rest in peace.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
In a different life, stoner rock outfit Fu Manchu was known as Virulence, a group of Black Flag enthusiasts looking to bring hardcore to its technical breaking point. Defunct for over 20 years, Virulence finally has something resembling a career retrospective with If This Isn’t a Dream… 1985-1989. Crammed to capacity (79 minutes), the disc presents the band’s recorded output coupled with a bevy of live tracks. Given its length, the material can be a challenge to get through at times, but that was kind of the point: Virulence challenged conventions on what constituted hardcore, much like their heroes in Black Flag did.
Take My War, sprinkle in some Melvins, triple the song lengths, and you’ll get an idea of what Virulence sounded like. Stylistically, a lot of what they did was in keeping with the SST hardcore sound. It sounds like Greg Ginn himself is playing guitar, for good and bad. Yet the band’s rhythms possess a certain prog rock quality without actually being prog. There are no wind chime solos, no lyrics about elves. If Virulence formed today, they’d probably be called post-rock, or perhaps post-hardcore. I’m not saying they sound like Slint, but they certainly overlap.
The first eight tracks are a gauntlet of punishing guitars and, occasionally, screams. Per the liner notes, the band gradually phased vocals out of their repertoire. As the songs became more technical, the members realized that none of them could sing and play at the same time. Their ideas exceeded their ability, but they formed a new sound all the same.
But this is still rooted in hardcore, which means underground, which means that the live recordings are raw, perhaps too raw to warrant much attention beyond one or two listens. The songs become more traditionally ’80s hardcore near the end of the disc, which coincidentally features the group’s earliest material. Perhaps best typified by a cover of Void’s “My Rules,” these songs are more frenetic and brief. They’re more accessible at first, but what Virulence became later on is what will stay with listeners. Still, taken as a whole, Dream is more cohesive than one would think. Punk was supposed to reset rock ‘n’ roll after prog’s self-indulgence, but Virulence in turn found a way to make punk technical without coming off as masturbatory or irrelevant.
[myPod is an attempt to edit down my CD collection as I import my music on to my brand new 160 GB iPod.]
An 8-bit tribute compilation to Weezer first introduced me to the wonders of Anamanaguchi, an NYC chiptune/Nintendocore band. That’s right, they write songs that sound like video game music from yesteryear. It’s pretty awesome. Dawn Metropolis came my way not long after thanks to my gig as a staff writer for Punknews.org. These songs are so propulsive and fun, just like video games! Joy!
Ah, my first entry on local bands. Technical hardcore act Prevail eventually morphed into Ancestor (Although they’ll always be Prevail to me). The first EP under the new moniker, Koalacaust, continued the animal puns of Pandamonium¸ but the production is a lot better. Cetus drummer Matt Buckley is secretly one of my favorite producers – dude knows how to record metal. Allude to Illusion followed in 2009, with even more butt-kicking thrashers in tow. I love that one of the heaviest bands in my collection consist of some of the goofiest, nicest dudes I know.
I have a soft spot for Adam and The Ants/Adam Ant. Homeboy got his whole band stolen by Sex Pistols founder/manager Malcolm McLaren, but he still managed to consistently drop catchy new wave singles for about five years or so during the ’80s. While I’ve picked up a few Ant albums on vinyl, The Essential Adam Ant contains all I need on CD – “Goody Two Shoes,” “Kings of the Wild Frontier,” and my personal favorite, “Stand and Deliver.” The tribal drumming and hipster British slang make for an infectious batch of songs.
Anti-Flag takes the most amount of shit from people who probably agree with their politics. These Pennsylvania punks deal in rabble-rousing anthems, and while they aren’t always graceful or specific, there’s an important niche for songs that are blunt both musically and lyricially. There’s something very effective in songs like “No Borders, No Nations,” a song critical of America’s policies at home and abroad released just a year after the 9/11 attacks. I remember actually being shocked the first time I heard the lines “And you still look me in the eye / And you still wonder why / Your cities fucking burn.” Later on I found out that band actually had a sense of humor on tunes like “Right On” and “This is Not a Crass Song,” which makes A New Kind of Humor that much better. Their work during the new millennium weaned out the jokes (and pretty much anything else that didn’t take shots at the system), which is why I don’t have the band’s complete discography. A little bit of Anti-Flag goes a long way, but I’m stoked to own a couple of records from these Clash ‘n’ Billy Bragg fans.
Begun as a joke ska band about superheroes and sci-fi and all things awesome, The Aquabats eventually morphed into a joke synth-punk band about the exact same things. All of their song titles end in exclamation points. Topics include midget pirates, mechanical apes, snake attacks, and of course the very secret origins of The Aquabats themselves. A part of me wants to buy an Aquabats uniform, and all of my reasons come down to “That would be fun.” The Fury of The Aquabats and Charge!! put a smile on my face every time I put them in my stereo.
I was all set to ignore The Suburbs, Arcade Fire’s new album, but this project reminded me that I actually love this band. I mean, Funeral has always been one of my favorites; an immaculately arranged collection of love songs to dead family members. But I’ve recently found myself humming along with the orchestral indie tracks of Arcade Fire and Neon Bible as well. “No Cars Go,” which appears on both of those albums, remains one of their best songs, a rabble-rousing rocker packed with childlike glee yet operatic movements. Plenty of indie bands have moved in on Arcade Fire’s sound, but few can match that intensity.
Super awesome Philadelphia pop-punk/hardcore from Dr. Dan Yemin, Atom Goren, Mike McKee, and Jeff Ziga. In my world, this is the penultimate super group. I’m confident I could listen only to “Dan’s Hands Melt” for the rest of my life, happily.
A Poet’s Life came out when I was feeling burned out on all things Rancid. I mean, I still loved the classic albums, but the band members had dropped some questionable records along the way – Transplants, Lars Frederiksen and The Bastards’ Viking. The promotional videos for Poet’s Life were shot in the same frustratingly pixilated black and white that Armstrong favors; plus the title is pretty stupid. But when my buddy Eric put it on during a road trip, I learned that Armstrong is still one of the preeminent songwriters in America. Backed by The Aggrolites, Armstrong gets to play around with 33 minutes of reggae ‘n’ ska. He’s always been into this music, but this is the first time he’s been able to separate it from Rancid’s punk leanings. It works.
Atom and His Package
Atom Goren is a rather sarcastic Jewish punk rocker who loves cheap-o electronic music (hereafter referrer to as his Package). The music isn’t too different structurally from what he achieved with Armalite, just a lot more techno-ish. Which just means his music is a different kind of catchy. Redefining Music features three Mountain Goats covers, so of course I love it. Homeboy borrows a lot for his music, but he’s always upfront about it and he packs his songs with so much sociopolitical imagery that it works out.
At the Drive-In
The older I get, the harder it is for me to put up with Omar A. Rodrigeuz and Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s shit. At this point, the only At the Drive-In album I can still get behind is the monstrous-sounding Relationship of Command. I have no idea what any of the lyrics mean (“Send transmission from the one armed scissor,” anyone?), but the guitars are so massive and the drums so propulsive that it doesn’t matter. This record drips so much passion and intensity that I have to rock the heck out.
X’s Exene Cervenka and DJ Bonebrake plus Rancid’s Matt Freeman. Sounds good, right? While Auntie Christ’s one-off album Life Could Be a Dream doesn’t quite best the members’ main bands, it’s still a stellar batch of straightforward ’70s-style punk rock. Word on the street is Bonebrake is playing in Freeman’s other side project, Devils Brigade, which I’m pretty stoked on. Man, I love these guys (and gal) so much.
Autolux dropped an amazing shoegaze recorded entitled Future Perfect back in 2004. Their tour with Secret Machines was equally awesome. The music was so dang noisy yet hypnotic and groovy. Then they just kinda disappeared for a while. Listening to Future Perfect made feel like a dick for not attending their semi-recent show at Johnny Brenda’s. So it goes; can’t wait for their belated sophomore album.
While I saw them in concert during their heyday, it wasn’t until well after Avail went on indefinite hiatus (like eight years and counting…) that I started to really appreciate their music. I interned for the Philadelphia branch of City Paper my last semester of college, and it was there that I picked up a promo copy of 4 A.M. Friday, arguably Avail’s best album. I was hooked on the rapid fire music, big hooks, and personal lyrics. Avail wrote about everything that mattered to them, which mean Virginia politics, but also their relationships and personal problems. Hell, sometimes they’d play country and bebop songs simply because they could. I’m not too keen on their first album, but everything since that seems to be gold. Still gotta pick up Dixie, though.
Verdict: Keep/Expand on, minus Satiate.
Avoid One Thing
A side project for Mighty Mighty Bosstones bassist Joe Gittleman, Avoid One Thing dropped an awfully catchy self-titled debut in 2002. They put out one more album before fading away, but that first record still gets me pumped. It’s just a really catchy pop rock record, uncomplicated and fun.
NEXT TIME: B is for... New Jersey mooks, Mike Bahooski, and B-B-B-BOWIE.
Anyway, here's an mp3 of that song above.
On a semi-related note, Nate Adams is the underground John Darnielle. SHHHHH.
[EDIT: Someone complained about the link having a virus, so I took it down. E-mail me if you want the mp3 for now.]
Wednesday, November 17, 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 email@example.com with your own big finds!]
Records: Baroness’ Red Album (2007) on red and white, The Measure [SA]’s Art of the Underground Single Series Volume: 37 seven-inch (2009) on black, and Nico’s The End (1974) on black.
Place of Purchase: Baroness and Nico were purchased through eBay. I picked up the Measure single when I saw them live at the Fire.
Thoughts: I bought the Red Album on CD earlier this year after reading a great article about the Savannah, Ga. metal scene by David Peisner for Spin. The rest of the band’s discography quickly entered my collection as well. I have this stupid habit of doubling up on my favorite albums, as in purchasing them on CD and vinyl. I’m trying to knock it off because it’s a pretty expensive habit… but Red Album came in some nifty colors. I was surprised to see Relapse Records selling it through their eBay store, since the record has been out of print for a while. Turns out they were surprised too – according to their inventory, they were cleaned out. Just as the label was about to refund my money, though, they found two copies in like a supply closet or something. They let me choose my color. I went with red ‘n’ white, because look at it, it looks cool. Then they gave me some extra merch for my troubles, which was awfully nice of them. This is starting to sound like a commercial, but seriously, I love Relapse. I’ve had trouble with ordering from labels before, but they really went out of their way to help me out. And look at those colors! The colors!
Usually, calling a group a “singles band” is meant to be an insult because it implies their records lack substance beyond a few songs. Not so for The Measure [SA]. These guys (and gal) crap out great songs every couple months. While I was let down by their live show earlier this month, I perked right back up after listening to their entry in Art of the Underground’s “Single Series.” “We’ve Upped Our Standards, Now Up Yours” packs a wallop of a hook, as does B-side “The Five Chimes.” Is it time for another singles collection yet?
I used to make fun of drone music a lot, mostly because when done wrong it comes off as formless, pretentious, and boring. But I took a chance on one of the genre’s progenitors, Nico, and so far it’s paid off well. My most recent purchase, The End, is my favorite Nico record so far. The experimental atmosphere she worked with on The Marble Index is better fleshed out (She worked with John Cale AND Brian Eno here. How many people can boast that?), creating a record that feels threatening and dark and proto-goth. It’s mostly spoken word on the originals, which adds a nice layer of theatricality.
It’s the two covers at that record’s end that leave the biggest impression, however. First up is The Doors’ “The End.” Now, I respect The Doors as an influence on West coast punk. And they even wrote a handful of good songs. But frontman Jim Morrison was full of crap, and his lyrics are among the worst in mainstream rock ‘n’ roll. Nico’s deliberate interpretation of the song forces everything Morrison tried to say to the forefront. Everything that worked (The “father/son” bit, the intro), everything that didn’t (That whole section about California being totally awesome or whatever) is exposed. It’s so over-the-top that I have to assume Nico knew she was turning “The End” into a camp classic, even though they were lovers and “You Forgot to Answer” was about missing him. Yet she does the exact opposite with “Das Lied Der Deutschen,” turning it into a chilling, riveting piece. It’s the German national anthem, written in 1922, a decade or so before the rise of Nazi Germany, but if you know your history, you know that anything associated with that period is controversial by default. It lends the song extra gravity as it bathes the song in vocals and harmonium.
Monday, November 15, 2010
While they hailed from Glasgow, ’90s pop-punk act Beauty School Dropout could have easily come from the Gilman street scene that was going on around the same time. The vocals have nary a Scottish accent, and the music is very much in keeping with the style popularized by Mr. T Experience and Lookout!-era Green Day. After splitting in 2001, the group reconvened last year to touch up some old tracks, resulting in Palookaville, a sort of rarities/reunion record. The results, however, are sub-Kerplunk.
To be fair, though, there are a lot of things that Beauty School Dropout got right. Frontman Dave Lawrence emphasized harmony way more than the average punk band. While the liner notes swear these guys were a bunch of lazy Scots, they clearly put effort into their delivery. The production isn’t half-bad either. Sure, it could use a little more grit, but generally speaking these songs strike a nice balance between polished pop and, ya know, punk rock.
But there’s a huge gulf between sounding like Green Day and being Green Day, and what ultimately sinks Palookaville is the lyrics. They’re awful. Take for example “Pass the Buck.” In addition to using the phrase incorrectly, it’s just an awful song from a lyrical standpoint. Musically, it’s solid, but building a chorus around the phrase “Why not pass the buck to me” is just stupid.
Palookaville, then, is kind of catchy, but also kind of vapid. It makes for a decent listen or two, but eventually audiences are going to crave something slightly more profound, even if it is still sugary bubblegum pop-punk.
Friday, November 12, 2010
I hate calling records “cinematic.” What the heck does that even mean? But the new self-titled record from the probably twee, definitely French act the Limiñanas definitely has a cinematic quality to it. Split between spoken word excerpts and songs, it feels like a soundtrack to a movie that doesn’t exist. Tracks open with flourishes of drum loops and organ. This should be a cool film with espionage and beautiful people dressed in suits saying stuff like "Quelle honte" and "Dieu est mort" in between cigarette drags.
Musically, the record falls in line with the refined tastes of Belle & Sebastian and Elk City, by which I mean there are a lot of retro leanings. This is baroque pop, leaning towards the pop classicism of Burt Bacharach and early Nick Drake. The guitars shimmer, the drums play tastefully, and there’s plenty of extra instrumentation hiding underneath, like tambourine, melodica and sitar.
Now here’s where the ig’nant ’Merican in me rears its fat face. See, I speak the universal language of melodies. Mais je ne parle pas français (But I don’t speak French. Although I do know how to use Babel Fish). The spoken word sections are interesting at first, but after a while, they get old. I’m sorry, I don’t understand what’s going on, please play a song. I know that’s my shortcoming, but dangit, I gotta be honest. That said, a decent amount of the lyrics are in French, like on “Tears.” And even when the songs are in French, the choruses are at least easy to decipher (“Je Suis Une Go-Go Girl” is just the title repeated).
All the same, The Limiñanas is a nifty little number, an infectious French foray from Trouble in Mind. Plenty of these tracks would sit well in a film. Someone should play closing track “Got Nothin’ to Say” over a credits sequence or something.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
2010 has so far seen a dramatic increase in studio activity from Virginia punk band Smoke or Fire. After a seven-inch and an acoustic solo split from frontman Joe McMahon with The Lawrence Arms’ Brendan Kelly, Smoke or Fire finally gets down to releasing a proper full-length with The Speakeasy.
At this point, Smoke or Fire has developed a style that needs little deviation. Rapid-fire drum beats feed angry vocals and socially conscious lyrics. McMahon’s songs are fast and straightforward. Speakeasy, in that sense, feels very much like a continuation of This Sinking Ship. The production hits a sweet spot, though. As great as the band’s debut, Above the City, sounds, it sounds like ass. This Sinking Ship went too far in the other direction; it’s an overproduced record that still wins based on its musical content. Speakeasy eases up on the gloss without sacrificing clarity. It’s the record that most accurately depicts Smoke or Fire’s live show.
McMahon sometimes falters as a lyricist – too earnest, too many clichés – but he tackles issues far bigger than the typical punk “fuck authority” view point would allow. At the same time, he doesn’t get as preachy as, say, Propagandhi. Either he posits questions for the listener to consider, like when he argues against the 24-hour news cycle on opener “Integrity,” or he tries to find a dash of humor, like when he combats the bitter taste of the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on “Honey I Was Right About the War.” Sometimes he even pulls out a hook, like on “Sleepwalking” or the title track.
The Speakeasy is a grower. It shouldn’t be, considering it’s stock punk rock, but it gradually builds. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t experiment too much. Maybe it takes time to adjust to the fact that, for all his punk rock fervor, McMahon’s songs translate to Johnny Cash-style acoustic country songs. Point is, given time, the songs will bury themselves in listeners’ brains. Hopefully, that’ll tide them over until the next Smoke or Fire release, whenever that may be.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
On his sixth (!!!) album, Daniel G. Harmann took a few stylistic chances, most of which pay off. With an album title so on-the-nose it’s almost ridiculous, Risk finds the singer/songwriter backed by the Trouble Starts, who add a slight influx of muscle to his melancholy tunes. The songs are still ethereal and folky in parts, but the Trouble Starts allow Harmann to branch out more.
Risk is an ambient pop record that fulfills a lot of needs. It’s otherwordly and dreamy enough to be a good 3 a.m. record, but it’s neither formless nor self-indulgent in being as such. Harmann is still a craftsman at heart, and these tunes have a focus – verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus. He just happens to let the songs breathe, like on epic numbers “Solidarity” and “Estrella.” In a way, the group is like a less countrified Band of Horses, or perhaps a less paranoid Radiohead. Either way, they’re a little like the Long Winters, which is fitting since TLW bassist Eric Corson produced the album.
That said, this record doesn’t quite have BoH’s way with a hook. Risk has atmosphere to spare, but the songs blur together after a while. Sure, that’s part of the point of the style. And Harmann even breaks up the lengthier passages with potential singles like “The Horse & The Sistine Chapel.” But this isn’t driving music, or party music, of fightin’ jock music. Make-out music, maybe; sleep/sleep-deprivation music, definitely.
On their new EP Captains of Industry, Colorado’s Solar Bear dishes out blistering post-hardcore jams a la Dillinger Escape Plan and Every Time I Die. Boasting six tracks in about 30 minutes (minus some dead air between the last song and the bonus track), Captains of Industry is technically solid.
“Logical Fallacy” opens the disc with a hazy instrumental intro, as if the song was being played through a fish tank. Things finally shift into turbo on track two, “The Endless Choir.” Screeching guitars and off-kilter drums plow through, frequently shifting tempo in a fury. At five-and-a-half minutes in length, “Logical Fallacy” is a little formless in places, as if the band wanted to show off every musical trick it knew. But you could just as easily argue that the track sets Solar Bear’s M.O. There are gang vox and rock outs and break downs and this, that, and the other thing.
Pretty much every track afterward follows that same intense playbook, although the hidden track reveals a knack for At the Drive-In-style hysterics and classic rock guitar jams. Whether or not the band can synthesize those leanings into a series of full-fledged songs remains to be seen, but Captains of Industry certainly feels promising all the same.
Records: Torche In Return 10 “ (2007) on multi-colored vinyl, Reigning Sound’s Too Much Guitar (2004) on classic black and Black Mountain Wilderness Heart (2010) on classic black
Place of Purchase: First Unitarian Church at concert, AKA Records in Philadelphia, PA and Jagjaguwar.com.
Thoughts: Thanks to Mr. Picasso Blue’s recent love of Baroness, I finally have figured out how to get the inspiration to choose what records from my collection to talk about. A former bandmate turned me on to a band called Torche. Upon listening, I knew this was the kind of band I needed in my life. The sludgy yet catchy Floridians were right up my alley. We went to a show of theirs and I saw that not only was this band into kicking raw ass, but they had an eye for artwork. Immediately purchased the In Return EP, which was released on multi-colored 10” vinyl. The record itself was beautiful. When the needle met the groove, a hissing guitar followed by bludgeoning passages came forth via “Warship.” The titular track comes in with a fury and ends in a swirling barrage of spaced out yet distorted guitars slowly giving way to instrumental closer “Bring Me Home.” It’s hard to believe these three tracks last only half of the total 20 minutes of music. Side two has equally theatric numbers, with the highlight being “Rule The Beat” with it’s catchy, yet brutal hooks.
Equally loud yet in a different vein, Reigning Sound turn the amps up for their brand of classic garage rock. Jack White and Julian Casablancas only wish they were as cool as Greg Cartwright, frontman of the garage rock trio. Bathed in shimmering reverb and ear-splitting sizzle, the garage rock assortment is truly a wonderful album to own. And it being such a brilliant throwback to ’60s garage, there seems no other medium suited for it other than vinyl. The pop and crackle of the needle adds a flavor to the searingly loud guitars on tracks like “I’ll Cry” or the ridiculously loud “We Repel Each Other.” Their melding of CBGB-style punk rock and Memphis country on “If You Can’t Give Me Everything” sounds straight out of the late ’70s garage revival. The succinct tracks lead this record into a fury, culminating on side one in the fantastic cover of Sam and Dave’s “You Got Me Hummin’.” The garage stomper is one of my favorite covers of all time taking the original’s Stax sound into strange yet comfortable territory. If anything can be gleaned from Too Much Guitar, it’s that Reigning Sound don’t sacrifice grit for polished updates of garage rock tropes. If you play it honest, you don’t have to change the sound.
Black Mountain is one of those other bands I love that sound as if they rocketed in from some other time period or dimension of what popular rock and roll could sound like. On their new album, Wilderness Heart, they tone down the epic scope of songs like “Tyrants” or “Heart of Snow” from their previous two records for clearer, yet still epic-sounding pop numbers. This is easily the coolest artwork yet from Black Mountain. That shark is going to eat my face any second, I know it. Much like Too Much Guitar this record sounds delightful on vinyl. The high end of Amber Webber’s harmonies on “The Hair Song” sound even more angelic as the ominous swirls of Jeremy Schmidt’s organs gurgle behind it. “Radiant Hearts” futurescape swirls and swells and is given even more of a crisp sound on this vinyl. The Black Sabbath infused “Let’s Spirit Ride” skyrockets over your speakers in all it’s biker glory. This is the kind of band that the revival of vinyl was started for. It is imperative for fans of the band and fans of vinyl alike to own all their albums on vinyl, a personal goal of mine (anyone have the Druganaut EP on vinyl? I have cashahol for you!)
Monday, November 8, 2010
In 2009, Savannah, Ga. act Kylesa perfected its sludge metal style with Static Tensions. Just a year later, the band has already progressed beyond that sound with Spiral Shadow. It’s the kind of record that should easily win over converts. It’s the group’s most accessible release to date, as it skews closer to ’90s alternative a la Alice in Chains while still adding more psychedelic elements and even, on occasion, revisiting Static Tensions’ assault. Yet it’s these very same characteristics that might alienate fans, especially during the record’s second half. Given time, though, Spiral Shadow reveals itself to be every bit as good Static Tensions, just for different reasons.
When listening to opener “Tired Climb” for the first time, however, any differences between the two albums will seem negligible. Everything Kylesa does well is on display – twin drum kits bash and crash through dissonant guitars and vocals that can jump from dreamlike (Laura Pleasants) to gruff (Philip Cope) in an instant. It’s obvious why this is the first track – the song rocks. But stylistically, it’s a key move, an opening salvo that will satisfy metalheads before gradually feeding them new ideas.
Bassist Corey Barhorst lays down a thick, fuzzy bassline on “Cheating Synergy” before adding a haunting keyboard line that perfectly complements the song’s guitar harmonics. “Drop Out” retreats a little, just in case people can’t handle the group’s newfound sense of atmosphere, by blowing through another percussive punch. “Crowded Road” brings back a nice sludgy riff. Then the record tries something else to hook in listeners – a legitimately catchy song “Don’t Look Back” sounds like Kylesa alright, but it features an infectious hook so simplistic in design it’s a wonder no one thought it up first. The chorus is “Keep moving / Don’t look back,” which is right up there with such obvious punk statement as “don’t trust the government” and “I am a rude person,” but it works. The guitars are still sludgy, but the solo that cuts through the haze is triumphant. Fifteen years ago, this song would have dominated 120 Minutes.
The back half gives itself over to psychedelia. “Distance Closing In” is hazy, even for sludge metal, with the vox buried deeper in the mix and the guitars creating a cloud over the rest of the instruments. “To Forget” is just trippy. It all culminates in the five-minute title track, a retro-leaning piece of noodling guitars and tribal drums. There are still two more songs after it, but they’re just victory laps. “Spiral Shadows” is too epic.
Depending on what track is playing, Spiral Shadows manages to be both Kylesa’s most mainstream and experimental record, and a reward and a challenge to fans. Either way, Kylesa is in charge.
I arrived slightly late for an all-ages show at the Fire in Philadelphia, Pa. Sun., Nov. 7. A couple of dogs wandered the bar. The crowd was sparse, but at least people were buying drinks. I caught the last three or four songs from the local opening act, Factors of Four, and regretted not having arrived sooner. The group dealt in riotous female-fronted pop-punk. Think Discount and Tsunami Bomb, although on record they sound more like something off of K Records. Maybe Mirah. Frontwoman Naomi Davidoff bounced on a perpetual musical high while drummer Frank Hafto played with the biggest, goofiest grin I’d see all night. It was a good set.
What drew me to the Fire, however, was the Measure [SA]. Like Factors of Four, they sport a lady lead singer and up the punx. They’ve dropped an insane number of seven-inches over the years, and tunes like “Union Pool” and “Historical Fiction” rank among the finest songs to come out of New Jersey in recent years. I was excited to finally see them live, but I still had a few more opening acts to get through.
Worn in Red followed Factors of Four. They toured with the Measure down to the Fest in Florida, and now they were touring back up the east coast as well. This act played competent post-hardcore. They were alright; honestly, I was more concerned with getting pizza at this point in the evening. While Worn in Red has a sound that should prove palatable with fans of bearded bands that may or may not be Hot Water Music, consuming pizza is perhaps one of my top three overriding impulses.
Two slices later, I was back in time for Omar, a guy/gal Ramonsey two-piece. They were a little sloppy, but also self-deprecating and fun. Besides, who am I to deny the allure of buzzsaw guitars, thundering drums and short, loud, fast songs?
The sets were brief throughout the night, with each band playing 20-30 minutes. This was disappointingly also the case for the Measure. The band gave off this aura of indifference. Granted, they were wrapping up a pretty intense travel schedule. They soundchecked a single note together so they could do shots at the bar, which was funny at the time… until the vocals came out a bit more buried in the mix than they were for the other bands. Even in the brief time, though, the set still brought the hits, with half of the band’s excellent Songs About People… And Fruit N’ Shit showing up. “Hello Bastards” remains their best song, an anthem that serves as a mission statement, origin story and party jam. It kicked butt live. But considering the group just dropped a new record, Notes, you’d think they’d be eager to play it. Instead, they tried wrapping things up 12 minutes in. What the Measure bothered to play was good, but also perfunctory and underwhelming overall.
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Manchester, England to Paris, France
Spent our last night in Manchester with the whole family. Everyone came out for a night of Indian/Chinese/conversation. Knocked out four hours of sleep, and then got up at 4 a.m. for our flight to Paris. Terrorists are threatening the country. The locals are rioting. Let's do this.
Had trouble with Michelle's passport again, but otherwise the trip was easy. Hired a taxi to drive us for a flat rate of 70 euro. Between the terrorist threats and the strikes, things sounded iffy on the metro.
Checked in and made the steep walk to L'engilie du Sacre-Coeur. I view churches the same as mansions - extravagant wastes of wealth. But the architecture is still gorgeous. Then we walked to the Dali Museum. I'm not an art buff, but I've always had a vague interest in his work. This gallery stoked that notion. Yeah, some of Dali's paintings look like prog-rock album covers, but his sketches and sculptures are amazingly otherworldly. And he had a sense of humor that kept his surrealist art from collapsing under self-indulgence. I'm going to act on my interest when I get home and try to pick up some books about his work and life.
Michelle and I wandered aimlessly for a bit before stumbling upon Indiana, a Native American-themed restaurant. The food was good, even though the decorations felt weirdly racist, a mix of First Nation impersonation and American mockery. This place would never fly in the states, although I enjoyed the U.S.A. 666 poster.
Afterwards, the metro seemed to be open and running fine, so we traveled down to Notre Dame cathedral. Watched two dance troupes dance-fight, because why the fuck not? Notre Dame was gorgeous, a testament to human ingenuity. We slowed down after that - checked out some parks, sat down for a cappuccino at Cafe Richard - before hitting up the Latin Quarter and, briefly, the Louvre. I hate to admit this, but I love Paris.
Overslept but we still saw plenty of sights the second day. Spent hours in the Garden du Luxembourg - sat in cafes and enjoyed coffee and conversation. St. Michel is the place for record shopping. While it pained me to do so, I skipped on vinyl. I'm just not sure how I'll get it home, no matter how badly I wanted these Morrissey singles. But I found some great CD imports, like Six By Seven. They're a great drone/ambient group from the U.K. It's a bitch finding their albums back home. Yes, I specifically bought Celtic Frosts' Into the Pandemonium because John Darnielle recently wrote about it. Grabbed a late lunch at another cafe - salad with goat cheese and walnuts - and then walked to the Louvre. It was too packed, though, due to the security checkpoint. France isn't fucking around with the terrorist threats. So instead we walked through the Tuileries Garden for a couple of hours, and then took the metro back to the hotel.
We had a bit of a scare then. The metro doesn't open early enough for us to ride it to the airport and the phone in our room wasn't working. Eventually, we broke through a language barrier and hired a taxi, but then we realized we didn't have enough cash on us to pay him. So off I went at night to find an ATM.
Now, I like our hotel. It's cheap, clean, and close to the metro. But it's also in the red light district. I was propositioned by sex worked. A LOT. I'm convinced some of them were prostitutes, sitting alone by the entrances to dimly lit bars, wearing dresses that left little to the imagination. They constantly grabbed at me. I fought my way through a mass of whores and drunks and after six blocks, found an ATM. I have fallen in love with Paris, but I need to leave.
Couldn't sleep. Stayed up watching this French music program where celebrities get inside a confession booth and request live videos. Sometimes I got the Bee-Gees, sometimes I got Iggy Pop. The format seems odd. Why have Tim Robbins request "Louie Louie" when you can just play it? It seems like a dumb gimmick, but it still hooked me in. Europeans listen to a lot of crappy electronica, but at least they actually have music on television.
Turns out I was worried about nothing. The taxi showed up on time. Got into the airport without issue, although the line was a clusterfuck. In 80 minutes, I'll be on a plane bound for London-Heathrow.
Paris, France to London, England
I wish the flight to Heathrow took longer. Now we're sitting through a seven-and-a-half hour layover. Picked up gifts for the family, as well as some books.
London, England to Chicago, Ill. to Philadelphia, Pa.
I started going crazy on the flight to Chicago. Eight hours and I'm still not home. But at least I'm briefly in another city I never thought I'd see. I've been singing Alkaline Trio songs to myself for the last hour. I'm drinking a Sprite, the thirst-quenching high fructose corn syrup mix of the American masses. I'm one flight away from home.
"A rush and a push / And the land that we stand on is ours." - The Smiths, "A Rush and A Push and the Land is Ours"
-Venice is Sinking - Sorry About the Flowers
-Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
-Florence + The Machines - Lungs
-Yann Tiersen - Amélie Original Soundtrack
-Kenna - New Sacred Cow
-Venice is Sinking - Sand & Lines
-The Ting Tings - We Started Nothing
-The Long Winters - When I Pretend to Fall
-Bear vs. Shark - Right Now, You're in the Best of Hands. And If Something Isn't Quite Right, Your Doctor Will Know in a Hurry
-The Clash - London Calling
-The Raveonettes - Vintage Future playlist
-The Smashing Pumpkins - Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness
-Keith Jeffery - MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service 1909-1949
-Simon Pegg - Nerd Do Well
-The Cardigans - Best Of European deluxe edition
-Celtic Frost - Into the Pandemonium
-Kasms - Spayed with three bonus tracks
-Six By Seven - If Symptoms Persist, Kill Your Doctor
-Torche - Meanderthal
For me, being a Weezer fan is kind of like reconnecting with an abusive old friend. I think about the good times we had early on (“Blue Album,” Pinkerton), see a glimmer of hope (“Keep Fishin’,” “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations of a Shaker Hymn)”) and get excited only to get hurt. I wish a pox on the people who told me Make Believe was the new Pinkerton. So it goes; with each successive album, Weezer continues to alienate me while still selling tons of records. I instantly regretted buying Raditude; I didn’t bother with Hurley.
But somebody keeps buying these fucking albums. It’s something of a writing cliché to complain about how Weezer stopped being good after Pinkerton, and it makes me wonder how relevant that argument is anymore. I’ve met plenty of people who have never heard that record. Sure, everybody knows “El Scorcho,” but how many 14-year-olds know the words to “Butterfly” these days? My douchebag roommates freshman year of college swore up and down that the back-half of “Green Album” was tops. Fucking “Beverly Hills” was the band’s first number one single. Pinkerton, by comparison, didn’t go gold until 2001.
All of this puts the recent two-disc deluxe edition re-release of Pinkerton at a strange intersection of interests. As a jaded fan, this might be my last Weezer purchase (as of opposed to Raditude… or “Red Album”… or Make Believe…). I get a handful of obscurities (“Tragic Girl,” plus some alternative mixes of varying quality). Current fans get a convenient tour through my favorite Weezer songs: The original 10 tracks and some fantastic B-sides (“Devotion,” “I Just Threw Out the Love of My Dreams”), plus a whole lot of live acoustic filler.
Pinkerton is Weezer’s semi-controversial second album, a concept record of sorts about dirty, hateful, self-indulgent sex. It was a commercial flop when it debuted in 1996 and the band later disowned it for a while. But it found favor with a newer, more emo generation a few years later. It first destroyed and then saved the band’s career, yet remains an artistic black sheep. It’s the rawest Weezer record, in terms of both lyrics and sound quality. You could draw a straight line of logic explaining the band’s pop rock evolution from “Blue Album” to Hurley were it not for this album.
For a certain group of people, Pinkerton is one of the most important records of all time. This is our Sgt. Pepper or Nevermind, in that it sums up a lot of feelings from our youth, and in that it is simultaneously over- and underrated. It’s my favorite Weezer record, but I also agree that it can come off as misogynistic at times. A common complaint about emo music is that it turns women into whores/saints, and Pinkerton is guilty of both. A lot of these songs are about having meaningless sex and then bitching about it. The record’s best track, “Across the Sea,” is about frontman Rivers Cuomo getting off on the idea of a teenage Japanese fan masturbating, and that was my high school crush’s favorite song. Sometimes I wonder if I would love Pinkerton if it came out today.
Still, though, there are plenty of reasons to recommend this record. Sometimes I feel bad for current Weezer bassist Scott Shriner. He seems like a nice, funny guy, especially on the band’s Video Capture Device DVD. But his legacy is Raditude. Original bassist Matt Sharp is the one who provided bass for Pinkerton, and it’s the best low end of any Weezer record. Pinkerton isn’t very glossy compared to the rest of the band’s output, and it’s better for it. It has a slight Pixies bent, with Sharp and drummer Pat Wilson delivering a deep, pulsing sound. The guitars are ugly, alternating between dissonant chords and squealing, uncomfortable solos. The guitar solos on “Blue Album” are almost as catchy as the choruses; here, they sound like how Cuomo’s fragile ego feels. Sharp’s synth-obsession from the Rentals bleeds into plenty of the songs.
As written before by plenty of people, Pinkerton is about loss and longing and sexual frustration. That’s ideal teen territory, and while some of the songs are uncomfortably honest, like opener “Tired of Sex,” there’s still some fun to be had, like on infectious single “El Scorcho.”
I wonder how Pinkerton would have gone over in the ’90s if the track listing had been switched around. The B-sides that supplement the first disc seem like more obvious singles, if only because they sound less hurt. “You Gave Your Love to Me Softly” is a fast and forceful number, and while it’s still pretty emo, it’s not overwhelmingly so. It features a memorable set of hooks, a “la la la” chorus and this insanely awesome cut time break near the end of every chorus that gets better every time the band returns to it. It’s like a bridge between the pop perfection of “Blue Album” and the sadness and anger of Pinkerton. Same goes for “I Just Threw Out the Love of My Dreams,” featuring former Rentals/That Dog member Rachel Haden on lead vox.
The essential material for this re-release could have filled a single disc. There’s a needless parade of live material from various radio promotions; most of them are boring and inferior to their studio counterparts. Being a native of the Philadelphia area, I hold a soft spot for the three songs presented from the band’s Y100 Sonic Session performance from 1997, but I wish the band had just issued the whole show on a separate release and instead included more material from the band’s aborted Songs From the Black Hole record. Granted, a decent amount of that material has surfaced on Cuomo’s Alone demo series, and according to the liner notes, some songs like “Superfriend” have been lost, but it’s maddening how many times the band includes “Pink Triangle,”, with single edits and live acoustic versions nearly killing what was once one of my favorite songs. Besides, this new version of “Longtime Sunshine” references “Blast Off!”, which makes me wonder if there’s a higher quality version sitting in the vaults.
As is, the live stuff ruins the otherwise great first disc, and renders most of the second disc dull. Still, the second disc picks up near the end, first with some alternate mixes of “Butterfly” and “Longtime Sunshine” that are actually good, and then some legitimate rarities. “Getting Up and Leaving” and “Tragic Girl” have never been released until now, and while they don’t top Pinkerton proper or its B-sides, they beat out almost everything Weezer has issued in the last decade.
I hate assigning numerical values to records. Most of the time, I feel like I’m pulling numbers out of my ass. Pinkerton’s first disc is far and away a perfect five-star affair. You get almost all of the best songs of the Pinkerton era, and it’s unfortunate that the remaining winners, like “You Won’t Get With Me Tonight” from Buddyhead’s Gimme Skelter compilation, get relegated to the more ho-hum second CD. It’s this glut of useless material that kills the record’s success. You really only need 23 out of the album’s 35 tracks, and even then I’m being generous by including the 38-second piano interlude from “Across the Sea.” By my estimate, that means 66 percent of the album is worth hearing, but this is still fucking Pinkerton. So let’s call this a four-star record, forget that Death to False Metal also came out this week and go complain about something else.
[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. Today’s edition is Manchester-themed to tie in with my Endless Vacation story, which means it’s all about The Smiths. “OHHHHH THIS CHAAAAARRRRMIIING MAAAAAA-HA-HAAAAAN.” E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with your own big finds!]
Records: The Smith’s The Queen is Dead (1986) on black, Louder Than Bombs (1987) on black, and Strangeways, Here We Come (1987) on black. “Because black is how I feel on the inside.”
Place of Purchase: All three came from Hideaway Music in Chestnut Hill. They cater to baby boomer music, which means classic rock is massively overpriced and anything released from the ’80s and beyond is cheap. I probably would have paid three times as much for these records if I went to, say, a.k.a music.
Thoughts: Like a lot of young, unhappy people, I fell in love with The Smiths in high school. I used to work at Sam Goody and, thanks to my 40 percent off employee discount, was able to check out lots of music on the cheap. I bought The Smith’s The Queen is Dead because I’d read good things about the band in Spin and because we simply had a copy of that album. I didn’t know at the time that it would lead me on one of those intensely emotional journeys that music is capable of, that I was starting with the best Smiths record, or that “There is a Light That Never Goes Out” is totally the best song ever no wait it’s “I Know It’s Over” or hrm maybe the title track. Anyway, seven years later, this record still hits hard.
Almost as powerful is Louder Than Bombs, a American singles/B-sides compilation that wound up becoming the definitive Smiths rarities record. A singles collection, it’s packed with peppy numbers like “Ask,” “You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby,” and “William, It Was Really Nothing.” These songs feature lead singer Morrissey at his cattiest. There are a few quieter songs as well, like “Asleep” and “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want.” This record is an ideal place to start with The Smiths. The band burned with songs during its brief five-year run, and Bombs houses 24 hits. Unless you want to start with The Queen is Dead, because, really, that’s great too.
The Smiths’ final album, Strangeways, Here We Come was slightly disappointing upon its release. Morrissey had a knack for being maudlin and glib – check out those comments he recently made about China – but Strangeways is at times a bit too silly. Sometimes it’s in the delivery, like on the over-the-top grunting of “A Rush and a Push and the Land is Ours.” Sometimes the topics are just silly (“Death of a Disco Dancer,” “Girlfriend in a Coma”). Yet it’s such an amazing record, and arguably the band’s most rocking. The glam swagger of “I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish” and “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before” is infectious. And while I might knock “Disco Dancer” for its subject matter, there’s no denying the song’s epic rock-out coda, so laden with synth and guitar. I later saw Morrissey play this song live, and it was awesome. When people think of The Smiths, they think “fey,” but this group could show some real muscle when it wanted.