The Fire Still Burns
"Good As New"/"My Assault on the World Begins Now"
Surprisingly, I kinda dug both songs on this two-track introduction to The Fire Still Burns. They play a unique blend of melodic punk/metal, with a tad of pop thrown in -- it has the speed and style of punk, with occasional bits of metal heaviness stuck in between. What surprised me is that it's punk with actual melodies and real riffs and vocals, not just chugging and yelling. Overall, the tunes are well-sung and well-played. The songs are indeed hard and fast, but they're not harsh. It'll definitely be interesting to hear a full-length release. (CM)
(Koi Records -- 18600 South Parkview #1836, Houston, TX. 77084; http://www.koirecords.com/; Engineer Records -- 1 Chandos Road, Turnbridge Wells, Kent, TN1 2NY, UK; http://www.engineerrecords.com/; The Fire Still Burns -- http://www.thefirestillburns.com/)
The Whole Shebang
Fluid Ounces is a Tennessee-based studio project/on-again, off-again live band, the brainchild of sweet-voiced popsmith by the name of Seth Timbs. The Whole Shebang is my first exposure to these folks, and it's absolutely one of the most pleasant surprises I've had this year. Manic, jazzy piano-driven numbers (the leadoff "Paperweight Machine," "Crazies") bump up against mellow, jaunty acoustic guitar grooves ("Lazy Bones," "Selma Lou") and outright electric rockers ("Fool Around," "Hung On Every Word"). There's a gospel tinge to the churchy "Big Deal (out of nothing)," and the Fl. Ozs. even echo either Elton John or the John Lennon Plastic Ono Band on the arch "Nobody Loves You (like you do)." Tremendously canny songwriting carries the day; this is a batch of vibrant, crunchy, exuberant tunes packed with sunshine and bonhomie. I've seen a few myopic comparisons of Fluid Ounces to Ben Folds kicking around the Web already, but don't believe 'em -- Mr. Timbs has his own thing going, and at the rate he's progressed, he might as well pack it up, go to New York, and stage that musical that'll give the Avenue Q people a run for their money. Hell, I'd even buy the T-shirt. (MA)
(Vacant Cage Records -- 2557 Oakhill Dr., Murfreesboro, TN. 37130; http://www.vacantcagerecords.com/; Fluid Ounces -- http://www.fluidounces.org/)
Everybody Out... Shark in the Water
The FM Bats pack in more action into their ten-minute EP, Everybody Out... Shark in the Water, than most bands pack into an entire album. Comprised of vocals, guitar, bass and drums, the FM Bats sound like a boiled-down, spastic Gang of Four (or maybe a less-bluesy JSBX) fronted by Jack White if he was singing while being strangled onstage. Or they would sound like that, if you could actually hear what they are doing -- the album is definitely in the lower part of the lo-fi range.
Surprisingly, though, the lack of fidelity actually sharpens the performances and heightens the band's energy. Which is important, considering that the FM Bats' specialty is the rave-up. They focus this even more with the shortness of their songs -- since the songs aren't more than a minute long, nothing wears itself out. They use their instruments masterfully to build behind a vocal and make the music escalate. On "Sinking Ship of Adult Lips," they use the same exact vocal melody the whole time, but the instruments all change almost continually, especially in a particularly dense section. This is followed by a more "open" section that the instruments are convinced is going to be a chorus, but the vocals refuse to give ground, and they battle it out for dominance 'til the end of the song.
They come up with some interesting riffs, as well -- also important for this kind of sound. "Cat Brat's Theme," a hard, fast blast of a song, uses a very simple and cool repeated bass riff, which the guitar punctuates with an even more simple riff that is exquisitely placed to build tension with just the minimum number of chords. "All You Do Is Jerk" is the closest they get to an regular song, being that it's the only song that contains something like a chorus or bridge. You can tell 'cause it's their longest song, to boot, weighing in at a whopping 1:59. Relatively straightforward minor-key riffing backs tom-heavy drums and the most varied melody here, which leads into a section with an actual second melody! Of such things are pop songs made....
All in all, an interesting and worthwhile effort. I can only imagine what these guys will sound like when they start writing real songs! (HM)
(TKO Records -- 8941 Atlanta Avenue, #505, Huntington Beach, CA. 92646; http://www.tkorecords.com/; Vinyl Dog Records -- http://www.vinyldogrecords.com/)
On Granite, 14er haven't quite figured things out yet. They sound too much like Hum, and their songs have that quality of formlessness, complication without complexity, that characterizes talented musicians who have little experience with songwriting. It's in the style of one's writing, not just one's playing, that one develops an identity, and until that identity develops, until a musician has enough confidence to look upon his own work with an honest eye and glean from that looking an idea of the person who wrote it, he won't know how to present himself, nor will the music reveal him to the listener except as the sum of his influences. Granite's press materials reflect this lack of identity, describing them in adjectives that have little or no descriptive value: "dynamic"; "melodic"; "original"; "passionate"; "shattering"; "catchy"; and most damningly, "not easily forgotten." It sounds to me like the band's admirers don't have a clear idea of how to describe them, let alone praise them.
And yet, though 14er may not yet know how to use their music to express themselves effectively, they do know how to present their music itself. Granite has a clear, unambiguous sound that showcases the band's obvious talent, particularly drummer Andy Beaudoin, who seems to be able to rip quite the fill when it's called for. And though the band's influences are perhaps too apparent, the music that they are mining for inspiration is rich and sweet. The ability to write well is acquired, and the learning curve is different for everyone, taking years and years in most cases. I have every confidence that 14er can develop the assurance and perspective necessary for creative success. (DM)
Full Scale's self-titled debut is decidedly a metal album for the clichéd mind. The cover art, for one thing, is jet black with Army helicopters on the back and a CD label meant to represent a bullet hole. Musically, this band reminds me of a cross between Biohazard, Rage Against the Machine, and a crappier version of System Of A Down. It's funny that this is the first "Major Label" (Columbia) metal band that I've reviewed, and yet Full Scale are the worst metal band I've heard, to boot. I refused to believe that Columbia's street crew could be this juvenile, but then I heard this record. Don't believe me? Here's a sample of the lyrical content these guys have to offer, from their song "Empty Texas": "Can't you see I'm alone? / Just like on Oprah fucking Winfrey / Where's my Hollywood screenplay motherfucker? / I'm gonna pump you so full of lead." How in all Hades can anyone take that with a straight face?
Seriously, Columbia has proven themselves to be employers of vacuous chumps who cater to the music-challenged general populace. To be fair, though, this album reeks of Big Brother "fingering" the band in the studio, and the actual band shouldn't take the album as a reflection of themselves (unless they see themselves as a crappy band, of course). What I'm trying to say is that while this is a horrible album, the musicians are definitely good and tight. To be clear, I'm not trying to condemn the musicians' abilities. For example, the drummer rocks, as his parts perfectly syncopate with the guitarist's choppy arrangements. The bass seems to be a non-factor, but given the context, that's seemingly by choice. Though I detest the lead singer's voice, I find it generally refreshing that he is willing to share his spot depending on what the song calls for. The guitars are okay. It's excruciatingly difficult to innovate in this genre, guitar-wise, but there are some interesting moments on "The Heimlich Manoeuvre" and a few other scattered songs. I give Full Scale an "A" for effort, but a "Z" for label influence. (SR)
(Columbia Records -- http://www.columbiarecords.com/; Full Scale -- http://www.fullscaleband.com/)