...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead
Source Tags & Codes
I guess I've got a bit of a chip on my shoulder when it comes to "Austin music." It's not even the fault of the many bands and musicians who inhabit the Austin scene, but is more due to the seeming overhyping of any and every bit of music that comes out of our fair sister city. I'm embittered after years of watching incredible Houston bands wallow in obscurity and then die off while any goober with a guitar and a penchant for singing songs about Texas can get a record deal and see their music played in truck commercials on TV. Even in the indie world, Houston is the redheaded stepchild of the state -- bands pass us by on the tour circuit year after year (or they would, but for the hard work of the Hands Up folks and people like them) in favor of Austin, Dallas, and even San Antonio (and hey, if we're out of the way here, S.A.'s even further out of the loop).
All that said, even with my anti-Austin prejudices in full force I can't deny that there are a lot of deserving bands in the city to our north and west; sometimes I just need a reminder. Enter ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, a quartet of inconceivably smart Austin guys who embody everything I love about indie-rock, past, present, and future: they're loud, they're bright as hell (take a look at the "News" section of their site, and you'll see what I mean), they're not afraid to get weird, they namecheck figures in literature and philosophy unapologetically, they don't take themselves too seriously (take the story that their band's name comes from recently-deciphered Mayan inscriptions, for example), and they genuinely, truly don't seem to give a shit what anybody else thinks of what they do. Hell, listening to this I even forget that these uber-indie heroes aren't on Matador or Merge or Dischord but are somehow signed to Interscope...
Right from the opening blast of "It Was There That I Saw You," Trail of Dead grab the listener and pummel them, just to show how serious they are; sure, it's a love song (I think), but it's also a relentless, driving, beautiful rock barnburner the likes of Hüsker Dü's best moments. The band segues smoothly into "Another Morning Stoner," slowing things down somewhat and adding some atmospherics (Trail of Dead are, by the way, one of the few bands I've heard who use a sampler and don't end up sounding electronic or Korn-like). There's a major Sonic Youth influence through the whole album, an echo of their less-outrageously experimental moments, alongside what sounds to me like a love of the late Archers of Loaf -- "How Near How Far," a drifting, chiming gem of a song, sounds particularly like that band circa All the Nation's Airports, and the more uptempo "Baudelaire" bears some resemblance, as well.
There are hints of other influences, like Lou Reed ("Heart in the Hand of the Matter"), Fugazi ("Homage"), Sebadoh ("Relative Ways"), and even U2 (the dark, threatening "Monsoon"), but they all combine to make a beautiful, impenetrable whole that's difficult to accurately pin down. Perhaps the archetype of the Trail of Dead sound is best evidenced by "Days of Being Wild" -- it's a howling, intense, loud-soft rock non-anthem honest and gorgeous enough to make even the most jaded hipster bob their head (and which closes with a haiku spoken matter-of-factly over a squall of guitars). This is indie-rock that's unafraid of the "rock" part of the equation but knows all the same that there can be beauty in the sound of a guitar destroying a speaker. (JH)
(Interscope Records -- 2220 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, CA. 90404; http://www.interscope.com/; ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead -- http://www.trailofdead.com/)
Live from the Justice League
So many of the current "punk" fans believe that "their" music started with Blink-182 and Green Day -- give me a break. The Angelic Upstarts have been around since the early '80s. And yes, that is 1980, as in "before your young ass was even hatched." TKO, the San Fran sound of punk in America and abroad, has added this exceptional live recording to their roster of "Ringside" recordings. Recorded in January of 2001 at the Justice League (née Kennel Club) in San Francisco, this recording reminds us of not only what a great Punk band should sound like but also captures the raw energy, talent, and real political and social relevance of the punk scene. What? Yes, Punk (note the capital P) has social and political relevance, not just a desire to get into some 16-year-old's pants (although we won't say the libidinous urges get short shift in this recording). What a surprise for our less-than-well-rounded music listening fans...
Let us say first that it has been a while since we have heard a live recording worth a shit. Most of them are simply bad -- most are over- or under-produced, too noisy, and lackluster, and seem to be produced for the MTV crowd. There is almost an audible "applause" sign that lights up at all the right moments to capture the alleged highlights of the performance. Think Elton John's "Benny and the Jets" for the epitome of a pseudo live recording; this is NOT that. This album makes you truly wish you could have been there, and lacking that, makes you happy to have the CD, as it really is the next best thing. This is an exceptional live effort and should be the template for any band to use as a reference point for live recording excellence.
The Angelic Upstarts are U.K. Punk legends, and here you should not get the message that these guys are coasting, has-beens, or irrelevant. They just might kick your ass for even implying it and believe me, when they kicked your ass it would be with the grace and talent of some major ass-kicking Punks. I would love to able to take every person who thinks they know what Punk is to an Angelic Upstarts show; they would hear, finally, that Punk does not have to have buzzing guitars that are indistinguishable from chainsaws. They would hear that vocals have things called dynamics, mood, emotion, and tone, not just freaking hollering for effect. They would hear a band that is able to elevate Punk beyond the sad clichés it has become. Is it a contradiction to say that a Punk band can be pros? I don't think so. The Upstarts prove it song after song. Here is Punk with social, political, and sexual meaning. Angelic Upstarts have the stuff. (BW)
(TKO Records -- 3126 W. Cary St. #303, Richmond, VA. 23221; http://www.tkorecords.com/; Angelic Upstarts -- http://www.angelicupstarts.co.uk/)
Anti-Pop has become one of the most interesting new hip-hop groups -- the members of the Anti-Pop Consortium started the group with the intention of doing anything but the expected in hip-hop. With that kind of goal, it would be easy to lapse into pretense or, worse, suffer from a lack of focus, but the members of the Anti-Pop Consortium have taken their mission seriously. They pay great attention to the layered weirdness of the beats and sounds behind them, and the rhymes of the three MCs cohere as a group but leave each with enough room for themselves. Fortunately, they don't leave the playfulness behind, and that's what makes the record such a success.
On Arrythmia, the overall sound is less dense than the sound of the last full-length record. The sounds are as strange and unique as they were before, but it's not as (stress-inducingly) claustrophobic. Instead of cramming everything into the foreground, the production is much deeper and more layered-feeling. Sometimes a little grit makes things better, but not here: this is one case where cleaner production just makes it all that much better (i.e., weirder). Best sample: the bouncing-ping-pong-ball-turned-funky-rap-beat in "Ping Pong." And it's not just a novelty -- it's twiddled just enough to totally work. Plus, what's with the women on "Ghostlawns?" On other albums, this would be the incongruous potential big single, but Anti-Pop has enough presence of mind to make it all just peculiar enough that they reclaim it.
Their idea of what constitutes a rap lyric is somewhere in Kool Keith territory but with more logic to the free-associations. "Silver Heat" is simultaneously a battle rhyme and a hilarious send-up of MC battles. The rhymes come densely-packed and contorted: this is Kool Keith reduced (in the culinary sense) to aphorism. "Obviously you're not stingy with stupidity / Conceded / And your album's only one song strong" goes one off-kilter blast, but then they follow it up, and it just gets better: "Chew your arm off and raise your hand / Appreciation / Is just as impractical as masculinity for drag queens." And they manage to keep all of this up for the course of the entire record.
Anti-Pop may take a listen or two before you absorb their sound, but their unique style quickly pulls you in. As the group has recently broken up, there may not be any more Anti-Pop, and that is a shame, because it would have been interesting to see what this great group would have done next. As it is, Arrhythmia stands as a terrific capstone to the career of an amazing group. (HM)
(Warp Records -- 503 8th Avenue, 4th Floor, Brooklyn, NY. 11215; email@example.com; http://www.warp-net.com/)
The Appleseed Cast
Low Level Owl, Volumes I and II
What do you do when you make a critically-acclaimed, fanboy-approved and generally bad-ass epic concept album? If you're The Appleseed Cast, you follow that puppy up with an even more epic (epic-er?) double concept album and hope that you pull it off. I mean, after Mare Vitalis, there was really no way to go but up, right? To some that would seem like an insurmountable task, but these boys from Lawrence, Kansas, succeed, in spades. In my head, listening to Low Level Owl, it was as if the band had redefined the purpose of their instruments, painting with lush broad strokes to create a seamlessly beautiful aural landscape. You'll find one instrument or melody line blending into another, as well as one song blending into another...hell, even the discs blend together ("View Of A Burning City" is Volume I's closer, and is also the first track on Volume II). Even Christopher Crisci's vocals are treated like instrumentation here; when he does sing, it's just another sonic texture to add to the roiling whirlpool. Of course, in addition to a mastery of their existing effects, you'll find the band has added new sounds to their arsenal: piano, samples, tape loops and reverse playback, all bringing to mind OK Computer, Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, Loveless, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot...you get the idea. That alone should be enough of a recommendation for Low Level Owl, but if that doesn't do it for you, then I'll say this: this is one of the most hauntingly beautiful things I've ever heard, and I personally believe that everyone reading should turn off the radio, get a copy of Low Level Owl, pop it in (preferably listening through headphones to get all of the subtle nuances), practice their shoe gaze, and head off on an insanely cool journey of sound. (MHo)
(Deep Elm Records -- P.O. Box 36939, Charlotte, NC. 28236; http://www.deepelm.com/; The Appleseed Cast -- http://www.theappleseedcast.com/)
As Friends Rust
I guess it must be something about Gainesville, something in the water, that makes a bunch of dudes get together, grab instruments and say, "Hey guys, let's play a blend of melodic post hardcore." I'm sure As Friends Rust went through something like the following exchange:
Guitarist 1: "Hey, I'll play some cool punkish riffs, with occasional chunky breakdowns."
Guitarist 2: "Okay, how about I play these melodic note runs like this?" [does melodic note run]
Bassist: "Hey, that sounds like Lifetime."
Guitarist 2 [beaming]: "Good. [to singer] What do you have going on?"
Singer: "Well, I was thinking that I'd kinda go for a gravelly-screamy thing, with a lot of emotion."
Guitarist 1: "Yeah, you were in Shai Hulud for a bit, so I know you can sound like you're eating glass."
[At this point the drummer shows up.]
Drummer: "Hey guys, think I'm gonna try my hardest to put my sticks through the kit."
All: "Awesome! Let us now play with mucho angst, energy and emotion!"
[They play for 30 minutes, give or take.]
Singer [hoarse]: "Wow, that was pretty good."
Guitarist 1: "Yeah, we kinda sound like a cross between Avail, Small Brown Bike and Danzig-era Misfits."
Guitarist 2: "I tried to put some poppier Gameface-style stuff in there, too".
Bassist: "Yeah, I picked up on that, that was cool."
Drummer: "So...that makes us emo, right?"
[Drummer gets hit in the face with a '72 Sunburst Les Paul.] (MHo)
(Doghouse Records -- P.O. Box 8946, Toledo, OH. 43623; http://www.doghouserecords.com/)
Waking the Fallen
Waking the Fallen, the latest CD by Bay Area metalcore rockers Avenged Sevenfold, is a satisfactory disc, but it sometimes seems to fall short of its full potential. The members of the band undoubtedly possess numerous talents -- many of which are quite uncommon in today's metal scene -- but it seems that they employed some of them at the expense of others and the record as a whole.
The marriage of Synyster Gates' lead guitar and Zacky Vengeance's rhythm guitar illustrates what would happen if Iron Maiden and Pantera had a love child. Each song alternates between simple, heavy riffs and more melodic, complex riffs -- a technique that not many bands know how to pull off successfully. There are even several acoustic segments that work effectively in the midst of the heaviness. The rhythm guitar plays as it should -- heavy and with the drums -- and the lead guitar separates itself from the rhythm and skates over it, creating an interesting multi-layered effect. One drawback to the numerous changeups, though, is that no song seems to have one main riff around which all others are built. The songs often seem to be all over the place. I frequently found myself looking at the counter on the CD player if see if I was still on the same track. Another problem with the guitars is the bass guitar -- there isn't any. It's as if they just gave Johnny Christ the day off while they made the record, and this makes the entire thing sound tinny.
The vocals are quite good, even though they can be hard to hear, much less understand. M. Shadows likes to screech and he also likes to sing, reminiscent of Phil Anselmo of Pantera or Mike Patton of Faith No More -- a combination that is hard to find in the metal world (usually you get one or the other). Shadows also layers his vocals; it's an effect that's been widely used in recent years, but it's effective nonetheless. He'll sing in the front while he's screeching different lyrics in the back, and vice versa.
The background of the entire disc has serious gothic undertones, similar to those present in the works of Iced Earth. The album tries to achieve an overall epic feeling, but in my opinion, it doesn't quite make it. Good epic metal albums, such as Dream Theater's Images and Words or Queensryche's Operation: Mindcrime, are centered on a central theme. Each song is an individual work in its own right, but together all incorporate the main idea of the album while occasionally using repeated riffs and lyrics. Waking the Fallen is simply a collection of songs that aren't cohesive in this way. Even the two-part "I Won't See You Tonight" doesn't let the listener know that it is, in fact, one song split into two parts. It was a good idea to have two separate segments because each one conveys a different emotion: Part 1 deals with the sadness the narrator feels when his girlfriend breaks up with him, and Part 2 shows his feelings of sadness turning into deep depression, anger, and ultimately, suicide. I believe there's only one lyric that links the two songs -- no other lyrics or music are common to the two, which is quite disappointing because this could have been a really good 10-minute epic song along the mellow-to-madness lines of Guns N' Roses' "November Rain".
Overall, this record is pretty tepid. The band can play, there's no question about that, but it doesn't sound like they put enough thought into this disc to make it a really unique work. Metal fans should feel comfortable with this disc on their CD shelf, but when they are in the mood to sit for 68 minutes and read the lyrics along with the music, they are probably better off listening to Iron Maiden, Dream Theater, or Iced Earth. (CM)
(Hopeless Records -- P.O. Box 7495, Van Nuys, CA. 91409; http://www.hopelessrecords.com/; Avenged Sevenfold -- http://www.avengedsevenfold.com/)