Water and Solutions
My first experience with Far was seeing them open up for the Deftones back in '96 or so. I was blown away then by the sheer energy that they exhibited in their live show, and ran out to buy the then-just-recently-released Tin Cans With Strings To You. I was not disappointed. Far's sophomore effort makes me even more ecstatic. Whereas on Tin Cans, Far established itself as a heavy band with melodic overtones, on Water, Far has now become a melodic band injected with heavy riffing. What sets Far apart from a lot of the new-metal acts these days are frontman Jonah Matranga's sweet and heartfelt vocals (but the boy can let rip a mighty scream when he has to). Shaun Lopez' guitar work is distinctive, and the rhythm team of Chris Robyn (drums) and John Gutenberger (bass) lays down some serious beats and bottom end. Far does a lot more experimenting with layers and texture with this album, and to no one's surprise; Radiohead is quoted as being one of their favorite bands. I would normally pick choice cuts for an album, but seriously, this one is great all the way through, from the plaintive proclamation "Really Here," to the radio-ready riffage and sing-along chorus to "Mother Mary," to the sweet "Nestle," a song about Jonah's impending fatherhood. It's all great listening, and it sounds good thanks to Dave Sardy of Barkmarket, Helmet, and Orange 9mm production fame. Run out and buy this album. I cannot stress this enough. Go get it now, dammit. You'll thank me later. (MHo)
The Fatal Flying Guilloteens
Yes, Houston's Fatal Flying Guilloteens are back with another helping super-high-energy garage-punk. The songs and song titles don't really matter, 'cause the lyrics are largely unintelligible (beyond lots of "yeah!"s, that is), but that's beside the point; if you're listening to the Guilloteens, it ain't for the insightful lyrical content, but for some totally stripped-down, lo-fidelity, raw rock. And there's plenty of that here, although things slow down a little on the B-side, with the wordy "Guilloteen Anthem." Unfortunately, these guys don't translate all that well onto tape -- their live show blows all this away in karate-kicking, guitar-bashing burst of fury. (JH)
(Peek-a-Boo Records -- P.O. Box 49542, Austin, TX. 78765)
I must admit that I was a little skeptical about this one, largely 'cause the sleeve looked like something I would've drawn when I was ten or so... But I figured, heck, it's on Dill, so it's probably at least decent, and I wasn't wrong. The production on here matches the packaging, lo-fi like you wouldn't believe, but these quick little songs are actually some damn catchy, cool little pop songs. The record starts off with a fairly generic punk song, "It's Time," but "Patootie" slows down and sounds like a neat, melodic Grifters outtake, from back before they discovered real studios, and the acoustic, ultra-brief "Oops!" reminds me of Lou Barlow's solo stuff more than anything else. The second side changes gears yet again, throwing out first a fast, Rocket From The Crypt-esque punk drone with "Bug", and then jumping to the surprisingly beautiful (and mildly sappy) piano love song "Valentino". I kept cringing, expecting the loud guitars to come in any second, but to 50 Million's credit, they never do, and I'm very glad. To be honest, I don't know what to make of this, but I don't care, because I like it anyway. (JH)
(Dill Records -- P.O. Box 347388, San Francisco, CA. 94134-7388; Rally Records -- P.O. Box 114, 3288 21st St., San Francisco, CA. 94110)
Couldn't Get High...
Just in time to save all us power-pop fans sick and tired of listening to those fucking losers Sugar Ray, The Figgs blast back with a damn fine third album. Following a brilliant-but-shaky debut (Low-Fi At Society High) and a disappointing 2nd attempt (Bando Macho), Couldn't Get High is finally the album they should've made a while ago, and y'know, after all the shit they've gone through in the past few years, they need this one. For once the band's live energy has actually translated pretty well to a record -- as evidenced by the punkish roar of songs like "Wait On Your Shoulders" and "The Noose Was Tight" -- and their songwriting's improved a hell of a lot (take a listen to the tight, catchy closer "Always A Breakdown" for an example).
The lyrics in "Said Enough" and "A Fuse About to Blow" make me think of Elvis Costello, among others, and the cool little pop touches they throw in throughout (i.e., the marimba-sounding melody in "Blinked My Eyes") make the whole thing bop along like a kid with an ice cream cone. There're also some cool rockabilly-ish bits, like in "If That's What You Want" (which also draws some inevitable early Beatles comparisons), and plenty of burnin' garage-rock intensity. Oh yeah, and the whole thing's over in right around a half-hour. Woo-hah. (JH)
(Absolute A Go Go Records; The Figgs, P.O. Box 3502, Steinway, NY. 11103)
Four Hundred Years
It seems like a lot of "emo" bands out there are just following the blueprint laid by previous bands of that type, and to my mind, at least, it's starting to wear thin. Thankfully, there are folks out there who play impassioned, heartrending music that might be construed as "emo," except that they throw normal song structures and emo hallmarks out the window, and the music's much more interesting for the change. Four Hundred Years play emotional rock, for sure, with plenty of tortured howling and melodic singalongs, but they don't limit themselves with the accepted tools of the trade, instead putting together jagged little songs resemble stuff like Polvo and Slint (to my mind, anyway) as much as they do Sunny Day Real Estate or Jimmy Eat World. Over-the-top screaming gives way to quiet, hypnotic guitars, shifting from soft to loud with hardly a warning (but never sounding contrived when the shift occurs). Transmit Failure kept me pleasantly surprised throughout. (JH)
(Lovitt Records -- P.O. Box 248, Arlington, VA. 22210-9998; http://www.lovitt.com/)
Most albums, even good ones, are like cries for attention. This one seems more like a gift, from Fox, from Dreamworks, from the entire goddamn recording industry; the fact that an album like this even exists in today's musical climate is a triumph. Tempting though it is to try to lump Kim Fox into the confessional-female singer/songwriter category, it's too easy and really does miss the point entirely: these songs are about being a girl, not a woman. Fox writes songs that are structured like dreams and sound like childhood (even if "Daredevil," towards the end of the album, is the only one that makes this explicit), centering them around that most childlike of instruments, the piano. They're a perfect fit with her voice, full of wonder and petulance, wrapping around her words and melodies like a scarf.
And through the shimmering surface, Fox leads listeners to a soul of marvelous depth and complexity, if no less shimmering. The lack of adventure in the dark "Bleed A Little, Allison" floats into a lovely and playful paean to sticking one's foot in one's mouth ("Say Anything"), which leads to the effortless melody of "Sweetest Revenge," and so forth. Paul Mahern's exquisite pop production (listen to the lilting "I'm Discovered" and tell me that you can find one reason why it couldn't be a hit) and Fox's supporting band (one of the most sympathetic backups in recent memory) only serves to strengthen her convictions, which many solo artists seem to have forgotten is the point. And so, from the opening "I Wanna Be A Witch" to the cover of Bruce Springsteen's classic "Atlantic City," Fox maintains a sheen of youthful innocence (with all the exuberance, too) that seems to portray the exact moments that bits of childhood drop away forever. (MH)