The Open Heart
In the early-to-mid-nineties, there walked upon this earth a special breed of indie rock, resplendent with angular guitars, sporadically sprinkled with (but not founded on) dissonance, delivered in a whiny smart-aleck slacker vocal style that wasn't singing so much as talking in pitch and which would eventually point the way toward emo once its progenitors' implicit lyrical interest shifted from the sounds of their of own voices to the beating of their hearts. Perhaps distraught that Possum Dixon and Arcwelder (and, for those who like fighting words, Pavement) failed to foment a proper movement in their wake, New Grenada throws down The Open Heart, and suddenly it's 1994 and I'm spending my spring break visiting friends in the MIT student union instead of going to South Padre with all the steaknecks like everybody seems to tell me I should.
Well, everybody can go to hell, because New Grenada possess the one saving grace that all the truly great nerds possess: they don't give a good goddamn just how freakin' uncool they are. Note that two of the song titles on The Open Heart feature the word "Zaxxon," which had the single worst visual perspective in videogame history, resulting in a seeming disconnect between anything you could do to the controls and the actions on the screen. That shows you where their allegiances lie, while dragging up nostalgic frustration and irritation and inadvertently summing up the album perfectly. So much of The Open Heart sounds like a great time that you almost don't notice that you rarely get out of it what you put in. "Fuckfriends" is nice, what the Strokes would sound like if they didn't have a major label bankrolling them, but it's over at least a minute too soon, while the asking-for-trouble "Detroit Rock Sucks" throws out the line "Could you be more white/And have less to say/Than you do already?" and doesn't expect us to raise an eyebrow (or maybe it does: sarcastic self-awareness is so very mid-'90s).
When they can be bothered to actually write a song rather than merely affect an attitude, New Grenada show that they could very well amount to something. "Tiger Thompson," which seems to be about a séance but damned if I can say for sure, keeps building in tension through a combination of impropriety, infantilism and off-beat drumming. "I Know U R" could be electroclash with only minor tweaking, but don't hold that against it; starting with an immature comeback that turns into a slam on scenesters, it blooms into an off-kilter post-new-wave pop tune with a quasi-flat guitar rhythm and a snide spoken-word interlude by bass player Nicole Allie that, in a perfect world, would generate royalties for Janeane Garafalo. The slow and sweet-sounding ballad "Steady Diet of Slayer" neither makes an obvious homage to the kings of satanic metal nor plays the contrast for high-larious irony. Instead, it uses the memory of the noise that happened to be playing at the time as a way of connecting to something that has passed. That's when I discover that The Open Heart is precisely the type of album that, in my younger college days, would have made me go mental for a few weeks before I eventually realized that it wasn't worth the bother. I suppose it's a sign of maturity that I'm now able to come to that conclusion right away. (MH)
(Plumline Records -- P.O. Box 213, Marysville, MI. 48040; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.newgrenada.com/plumline/)
Till We Have Faces
When I was given Noise Ratchet's album Till We Have Faces to review, I was eager to hear the music based solely on the magnetic artwork found on and within the album's sleeve. Hoping that the creativity displayed on the outside package would foreshadow what I would hear once I plugged the disc into my stereo, I was pleased with not only what I saw, but also with what I heard.
Noise Ratchet is a tight band with their post-grunge emo alt rock; however, they aren't bringing anything new to the scene with their rock/emo mix, which places them somewhere between Hoobastank and Jimmy Eat World. The album is definitely easy to listen to, but it is by no means a breakthrough record. The songs are solid and have strong aspects, but they sound like so many other bands out there that attention effortlessly drifts away from the album and onto other things. It seems as though raw live energy would make this San Diego band more alluring -- some bands better suit a stage than they do a studio, and though I have yet to see Noise Ratchet live, I'd bet they are one of those bands.
On the album's fourth song ("For You I'll Be Forgetting Me") Noise Ratchet's emo star really shines, with its pained lyrics, emotional performance from vocalist Joel Hosler, and moody guitars from guitarists Roger Molina and Danny Lothspeich. This song really sets the scene for the rest of the album -- from here on in attention shifts back to the album, and it becomes more than just background noise. "Disappear" is the song that really taps you in the shoulder and pulls you in close; quiet, loving whispers and background gut-wrenching screams make the song one of the strongest, and the beats from drummer Brandon Young are more apparent here than on other songs. "Away From You" is more upbeat, with its loud and crunchy guitars; the song has an immense change in pace, and the excellent bass playing from Jon Jameson fits nicely with the drums before the "doo-doo"'s from Hosler pick up the song and make it one of the best on the album.
Hosler has a voice that sounds better when he's whispering and singing from his heart rather than screaming and singing from his gut like he does in the chorus in "Vanity." A more diverse vocal range is heard at the halfway point on the album, when Hosler does more singing in "The Train" and "Till We Have Faces." The latter brings the emo back, as the intro starts off with cute, quiet vocals that prove that Hosler can indeed sing, but once the guitar kicks in it becomes just another Noise Ratchet song. If you were to sum up Noise Ratchet with a single song, this is it. (Fitting, seeing as the title of the song is also the title of the CD.)
As one of the longest songs on the album, "My Day" runs over five minutes but certainly deserves the time, with its head boppin' beats and soothing guitars. I'm always a sucker for a good vocal and piano song, so personally, "A Way to the Heart" is the beautiful way to end the album; a perfect choice for a perfectly pleasing, but not necessarily groundbreaking album. (NK)
(The Militia Group -- 1215 N. Red Gum St. #L, Anaheim, CA. 92806; email@example.com; http://www.themilitiagroup.com/; Noise Ratchet -- http://www.noiseratchet.com/)