Beefcake would be really happy if they can piss you off, or at least really annoy you. That's not joke -- they'll do it! Beefcake plays hardcore punk straight from the annoying vineyards of southern California; musically, they sound like Screeching Weasel, but they're less interested in being clever than in being mindless. At their best, they just don't care about anything, but it's not out of confidence -- it's just pure apathy. Even the "Tequila" drum roll in "Subliminal Message" sounds apathetic. The rest of the time, they just hate everyone, but they're fair-minded enough to hate themselves, too. They sound like they'd prefer that we all go the hell away and leave them alone, so they try to annoy us or piss us off or gross us out as much as possible.
Some of their satire falls flat, but when they sing "I just want to get laid before I die!" (in "I Just Want to Get Laid"), they really mean it. "Hung Over Again" and "Not an Alcoholic" also really work. The one thing that they care about is filling the record with as many 4-letter words as they can possibly jam in. "Fuck 'em" in particular attains Philip Glass-like levels of minimalism and repetition -- they sound like they're determined to squeeze every possible combination of the words "fuck" "and "shit" into the song.
But why should you care? Just listen. It's not about caring. It's about not caring! (HM)
(Fearless Records -- 13772 Goldenwest St. #545, Westminster, CA. 92683; http://www.fearlessrecords.com/)
Boy Sets Fire
After the Eulogy
I often would ask myself: "When are all these band with political leanings and messages going to learn to sing intelligibly instead of grunt or scream so that people will actually be able to hear what they're saying?" Personally, I think all that pontification is wasted if it's indecipherable, but maybe it's some sort of plan to get the kids to buy the album for the lyric sheets instead of downloading it. Hmmm...that bears investigation. But, to the point: Boy Sets Fire apparently gets this idea, to a degree, because a lot of the album ("Rookie" and "When Rhetoric Dies" spring to mind) is actually sung, and quite well, by Nathan Gray. Of course there's the requisite spitty, growly stuff, in case anyone thinks they're sissies or anything, but with this band I tend to gravitate toward their more melodic output (reminiscent of Lifetime or Stavesacre at times) because it sounds so damn good. In fact, the beginning "The Abominations of Those Virtuous" could very well replace the national anthem at baseball games. Well, probably not, but I guess it's okay to dream, right? (MHo)
(Victory Records -- 346 N. Justine, Suite 504, Chicago, IL. 60607; http://www.victoryrecords.com/; Boy Sets Fire -- http://www.boysetsfire.com/)
Trying to Figure Each Other Out
Brandtson piss me off. They piss me off because I wish that my band sounded like them. As far as vocal melodicism, song craft, and just plain rocking out goes, these guys have no equal. They've taken the formula that they used on Fallen Star Collection, tweaked it, tightened it up and locked it down. This EP features six songs, each a perfect example of What A Post-Hardcore Band Should Sound Like. The vocals are impassioned and plaintive, but not whiny. Rather, they are imbued with the fire of whatever emotion singer/guitarist Myk Porter has churning in his heart, and more importantly, in his gut. The guitars explode all over the place, and hypnotically whitewash each song with an urgent, distorted wall of sound. These things combine to make what is one of the best albums that Deep Elm has ever put out (and that, true believers, is saying something). Apparently "emo" music is talking a critical beating by the same people who championed it in the first place, but those people need to bend down and kiss these guys' asses. Emotional, sincere, powerful. What more could you want? (MHo)
(Deep Elm Records -- P.O. Box 36939, Charlotte, NC 28236; http://www.deepelm.com/; Brandtson -- http://www.brandtson.com/)
Right. So, I've never heard Slapstick, or Tricky Dick, or the Honor System, or Lawrence Arms, or any of the bazillion other bands that I'm told have somehow fed into/out of Chicago pop-punkers The Broadways. Broken Van is about all I've got to go on, and for that, it's pretty damn impressive. The production's not great -- at times the whole thing sounds just barely above your average high-school garage recording -- and one of the three vocalists' voices is so smoke-scarred it sounds like he's actually got a tracheotomy, which gets on my nerves a bit, sort of the same way Hot Water Music used to (no judgment on tracheotomies, mind you; that's just what it sounds like). Beyond the superficial stuff, though, Broken Van is one heck of a punk album. The crunching guitars manage to stay both melodic and loud as hell, and the rough-edged vocals tear through fifteen of the most desperately intelligent punk songs I've ever heard, somewhat like a cross between the punk snottiness of NOFX and the smart political savvy of Crimpshrine. These guys cover the whole damn radical spectrum, from the polluted Great Lakes to education budgets being cut to build more missiles to the privatization of prisons, and still have time to reminisce about friends gone by and the state of Chi-town in general. It's not all gold -- "Rainy Day," in particular, is almost unlistenable, vocals-wise -- but it's close enough to make me want to listen over and over again. The bad news? Yup, you guessed it: The Broadways are long gone. Ah, well...even if you (or I) never got a chance to see 'em live, Broken Van's a pretty good document, and I think I'd better check out the Honor System and Lawrence Arms, as well, while I still can... (JH)
(Asian Man Records -- P.O. Box 35585, Monte Sereno, CA. 95030-5585; http://www.asianmanrecords.com/)
Morse Code in the Modern Age: Across the Americas
Doug McCombs never fails to come up with something interesting to say, and that's particularly true when he's discussing a musical subject that he enjoys. He began this investigation as part of Eleventh Dream Day, where he and Rick Rizzo and Janet Bean infused the music with a spirit and emotion which left listeners with much to think about but little room for discussion. With Brokeback, he gives himself the time and space to talk more in depth. On Morse Code in the Americas, he conveys the sense of the Midwest as a cold, harsh place -- really more vast and lonely than cold, where the things that happen cannot be predicted, but when they occur do not surprise because they are inevitable.
"Lives of the Rhythm Experts" sounds like a really heavy snowstorm, so heavy that you can't see what's going on, that you're completely whited out. It reminds you of ice in your hair and the feeling of the cutting cold in your chest. Of the feeling when finally, after you've been out there a while, something finally happens -- a car, or something, a long way down a road, and you can barely tell it's there. Of realizing that if anything else had happened at this moment you would not have noticed. It reminds you that you know something could happen at any minute -- if you weren't paying attention or were being stupid you could die. It's the awareness at times like these that you can be paying attention, and that if you're not being stupid, you know nothing will happen, but that nonetheless you're constantly aware that it is still a possibility. That if it did happen, it would not surprise you.
There's a lot that sounds unsurprised, deliberate -- completely aware and present -- like it's supposed to be that way. "Flat Handed and on the Wing" investigates this sense of inevitability more in depth. The trumpet in particular sounds like it knows this; its melancholic tone apologizes for what it knows is going to happen and is sorry that some things have to be the way that they are. The slide guitar responds about what could have happened but didn't, while the arpeggiating guitar in the background conveys a sense that for all its deliberate change, the repetition still takes root, and we know that it is always going to be there doing the same thing -- it may be a little different here or there but that doesn't affect the grand picture, which has already been laid out -- it knows that no real change will occur.
The closer, a cover of Roy Orbison's "Running Scared," with all of its energy and focus, would not be out of place at a formal dance. Its energy lets it almost escape the burdens that weigh down "Lives" and "Flat Handed" by providing a sense of perspective -- that while there are things that we cannot escape, we can grow accustomed to them. But that point is far off -- it's not an instant realization, but something that must be ingrained; there will be no immediate relief. This burden does not disappear; on the contrary, we conform to it. We bear the load until finally that day of relief comes, when, our backs hunched and our shoulders stooped, it becomes a part of us. (HM)
(Thrill Jockey Records -- P.O. Box 08038, Chicago, IL. 60608; http://www.thrilljockey.com/)
"French hardcore?," you might ask, and the answer is "YES!" The opening track ("End Up Like You") is straight-up hardcore to the bone, but most of the rest of the disc is what I'd call "Hardcore Light" (i.e., Strung Out). About the only thing that seperates these Frenchies from any other HCL band in SoCal is the fact that their French accents appear from time to time; you might think that would be cheesy, but it actually isn't that noticeable. The accent actually works much to their advantage on the CD's closing track, "Wise Guy," a reggae dity that is a fitting end to a decent disc. Another cool thing about this CD is that it has 2 videos in AVI format for your computer. They are a little odd, but I guess that's how they try to set themselves apart from their American counterparts. If you are a fan of Strung Out or any other "Hardcore Light" band, you should check out Burning Heads. (RZ)
(Victory Records -- 346 N. Justine, Suite 504, Chicago, IL. 60607; http://www.victoryrecords.com/; Burning Heads -- http://www.burningheads.fr.st/)