50 Reasons To Explode
Death Of The Alphabet EP
For the past few weeks, I have been staring somewhat blankly at the two Schatzi CDs sitting on my desk, waiting for some sort of inspiration to strike. The problem isn't that 50 Reasons To Explode or the Death Of The Alphabet EP (built around four Reasons tracks) are so bad that I can't think of anything to say about them -- hell, terrible albums are marvelously easy to write about -- but that they're just so generically, listenably blah that it's hard to muster up much enthusiasm. They showcase your typical post-Weezer punk-pop band with melodic, forgettable vocals singing melodic, forgettable melodies (I note here that the voice that seems to stick out the most is ex-Anniversary keyboardist Adrienne Verhoeven's backups for "Death Of The Alphabet").
The boys in Schatzi are intent on portraying themselves as wacky, and so they end both Reasons and Alphabet with the same unlisted remix of "Death Of The Alphabet," which think they intend as a joke, but I'm not sure; I can't imagine that they'd want it played on the radio, usually the primary reason for such a stunt, since the song is mixed in a cut-and-paste manner so patently foreign to anything else on the discs that it would completely misrepresent the band to unsuspecting listeners. And if it is a joke, then it's just not that funny, certainly not enough to merit placement on two different releases. The rest of both discs is basically background emo, something that'll pass the time without you clawing at your ears. So, really, Schatzi could go either way at this point. Somebody call me when they get there. (MH)
(Mammoth Records -- http://www.mammoth.com/; Schatzi -- http://www.schatzi.net/)
Something To Prove
Few and Far Between
Shutdown specializes in the type of metallic hardcore that Victory is famous for. You know the drill - screaming, chunky guitars, mosh parts aplenty. It can all start to sound the same after a while, but thankfully Shutdown possess that something special that keep all their tracks from blending into one loud and angry mess. Not that they're insanely original or anything -- if you're a fan of ultra-aggressive New York hardcore, then you've been here before -- but Shutdown do what they do extremely well. Although the screams are loud and vicious, you can actually understand what vocalist Mark Scondotto is screaming about. What's more, guitarist Steve Della Croce isn't afraid to bring the metal chops out when the song calls for it.
The only downside of the Something To Prove EP is that it's only really three tracks (the first is an instrumental intro). You can pick up Few and Far Between, however, for more Shutdown craziness, if you so desire. You'll get more of the same good stuff, and it might even make you punch yourself in the face a time or two. (MHo)
(Victory Records -- 364 N. Justine St., Suite 504, Chicago, IL. 60607; http://www.victoryrecords.com/)
Since By Man
A Love Hate Relationship
I've been attempting to somewhat get back into metal lately. I know that probably sounds a bit strange, but I was a pretty serious metalhead as a kid, geeking out and headbanging to bands few people outside of the '80s/'90s metal scene would probably have even ever heard of (and some they probably wouldn't admit to hearing, if they had). In the small Texas burg I grew up in, people listened to metal, rap, or country, or some combination of the three; we could only even hear Austin's then-classic-rock station, KLBJ, on cloudless nights when the moon was full. My universe consisted of Metallica, Nuclear Assault, N.W.A., and Public Enemy.
Then came college, and the revelation that The Clash, Jimi Hendrix, Husker Du, and Parliament all somehow existed outside of my little insular rap-and-metal world. I didn't sell my CDs, but I moved on somewhat, forsaking the headbanging for rocking out at Superchunk and Jawbox shows, melting my brain with My Bloody Valentine, and dancing like a rhythmless idiot to various ska and funk bands (ah, Venus in Furs...). Metal became like a high-school crush who got left behind in the rush to grow up; never forgotten, but definitely not on my mind much.
I say all this to make it clear that I'm not real knowledgeable about the state of metal/hardcore/metalcore/screamo/etc. as it stands today. When we get in CDs by folks like Dead to Fall or Hatebreed, I pass 'em on. And that's really pretty dumb, honestly, because there is some really good, really intriguing metal out there right now -- I'm not talking Korn or any of their "nü-metal" brethren, no, but more of bands like Killswitch Engage, who manage to meld indie sensibility with heavy, crunching chords and screaming. I need to hear more.
So, when Since By Man's new four-song EP, A Love Hate Relationship, came across the desk, I figured "what the hell?" and threw it onto the iPod. And y'know, it's not bad. I can't claim to have a clue what songs like "Swan Killer" and "What You Got Is Gold" are about, but I find my feet kick-drumming along frantically. There's plenty of shrieking, but it thankfully doesn't take that unfortunate step over into Cookie Monster-rumble territory, and vocalist Sam Macon even comes close to actual singing at several points. The band's sound is pretty much bitter, angry metalcore, more on the technical, intricate, it-sounds-chaotic-but-it's-closer-to-calculus side of things than a lot of their compatriots.
The closest comparison I can come up with is defunct Scandinavian metalcore heroes Refused, minus the hard-to-fathom political posturing, and that's primarily because they're not afraid to experiment with the standard metal sound. The end of "What You Got Is Gold," for example, throws in some odd pseudo-electronic percussion touches, while "Goddamnit Baby This Is Soul" starts off with a bizarre fuzzed-out bass track that knocks the screamo blueprint off the table. Even "Who Would I Be Without My Middle Finger," which I had pegged as being fairly basic metalcore, pulls a bait-and-switch, jumping into Make Up-ish handclaps and chanting about halfway through. Metal's definitely changed a lot since I was a kid.
All things considered, I'm surprised at how much I enjoyed this. Since By Man may not be breaking much in the way of new ground, but for four songs, at least, they're worth hearing. From now on, I'll have to listen more carefully. (JH)
(Revelation Records -- P.O. Box 5232, Huntington Beach, CA. 92615-5232; http://www.revelationrecords.com/; Since By Man -- http://www.sincebyman.com/)
Deep Cuts, Fast Remedies
This was an incredibly difficult review to write, the reason being that I would pop in Snowdogs' Deep Cuts, Fast Remedies and like it, but then I would listen again and feel a little less moved. So I decided to keep spinning it to see if I could make up my mind.
Two months later, and I don't like this CD very much. Snowdogs is suffering from a bit of a personality crisis. The members of the band don't really know which of their influences they love more, so borrowing from all of them seems to be the route they chose. On "Average Kid" they sound like Bouncing Souls doing a super pop-punk thing, but then they switch gears to hard rock and even ska over the next four tracks. The highlight of the recording for me was their cover of "Boy in the Bubble" by Paul Simon -- they give it a really nice atomospheric treatment that serves the song well. It's dreamy and dark at the same time, and I probably like it more than the original.
The band has been playing together for over ten years and it shows in their tight musicianship. Brothers Mat and Ville Leppanen have no problem crafting songs; the only problem is that result is not very interesting. Nothing on this disc really sticks with you after you hear it. Snowdogs was the darling of the British music mags when it released its first full-length album, Animal Farm, but after then signing to Victory and releasing Deep Cuts, the band has so far yet to gain any real buzz in the U.S. press.
The band have hit the road and toured hard in the hopes of making something big happen for themselves. They've opened shows for the likes of Blink-182, Alkaline Trio and Less Than Jake, but whether the road work will pay off remains to be seen. Overall, this is not a bad record -- it will probably appeal to a small cross section of underground music fans and a stir may eventually occur. I just don't see it happening. (RD)
(Victory Records -- 364 N. Justine St., Suite 504, Chicago, IL. 60607; http://www.victoryrecords.com/)
What if the Fastbacks were from Japan? What if the Donnas had more balls (figuratively, that is)? The answer to these pressing questions can be found on Tenku, from Chiba, Japan's all-girl punk group, Softball. The punk here is of the super-energetic, fast, poppy variety, and the vocals are sung in Japanese half the time, and in English the other half. Makes for a really interesting and fun spin. Check it out -- it's a heck of a lot better than all of that lame J-Pop crap. (MHo)
(Asian Man Records -- P.O. Box 35585, Monte Sereno, CA. 95030; http://www.asianmanrecords.com/)
I used to know this guy in college by the name of Scott, who lived down the hall from me in my dorm. We had pretty much nothing in common -- he was a mechanical engineer, ex-military, a bit older -- but he exuded genial frat-guy bonhomie. It seemed like we'd only ever run into each other in the communal bathroom/shower area, and as we both went about our respective routines, we would mainly talk about music. I was somewhat surprised to learn, after a bit of parleying, that Scott spent his summers playing in a band.
"What kind of music did you guys play?" I asked, rinsing my toothbrush. "Oh, well, you know, mainly speed-metal and thrash...some Metallica, Venom, Sabbath...it was weird sometimes -- people would totally lose control and get naked onstage...you know," he said, cocking an eyebrow, pausing his razor in mid-stroke, "Ignorant Music."
I immediately understood what he was talking about. The hell with sub-generic classifications -- Ignorant Music is what satisfies that reptilian element of your brain that needs to rock. It's MC5, the Stooges, AC/DC, Sabbath, early Zep, Kyuss, Black Flag, first-album Mudhoney, the Damned, Jesus Lizard, Mötörhead, Fu Manchu, and so on and so forth with a zillion others, and now Solarized. What else but this criticism-defying desire could make me seek out Swedish-radio bootlegs of Queens of the Stone Age, pop it my station-wagon CD player and put "Quick And To The Pointless" on infinite repeat? What else could have motivated a record label like MeteorCity to devote itself solely to this kind of thing, bless them?
Solarized is principally the project of James Hogan, motor-obsessed denizen of New Jersey, and there the similarities with Bruce Springsteen end. Hard and heavy detuned guitars, pulsating grooves, scrappy drumming, trippy psychedelic interludes -- Solarized manages to pull all of this off wth style, verve, and humor, with significantly above-par songwriting, especially on standouts like the anthemic "Dig The Ride," "Chrome Shop," and "Meanspirit." Cool touches like the ZZ Top-esque instrumental "Southbound" and the leisurely Hendrixian classicism of "Angel" (not the Jimi song, though) make this special in a style of rock not exactly known for its subtlety. But make no mistake, this is window-rattling, give-your-dad-the-finger-while-his-back-is-turned, pound-out-of-the-speakers-and-alarm-the-neighbors, tear-ass-up-and-down-the-main-drag-of-your-one-horse-town, filthy, greasy rock'n'roll, and it feels good. (MA)
(MeteorCity Records -- P.O. Box 40322, Albuquerque, NM. 87196; http://www.meteorcity.com/; Solarized -- http://www.monmouth.com/~solarized/)
Don't be fooled by the title of this Denton quartet's debut effort: Greatest Hits is neither full of bona fide hits, nor are the songs that great. The songs are, however, rather catchy -- in the same vein as Foo Fighters or another Dallas-area band, Chomsky. Space Cadet makes poppy, guitar-driven rock tunes that instantly bring to mind cruising around with friends or hanging out at a party. There's nothing terribly original about their music, but nothing really terrible about it, either.
If you're into good pop songs, there are better bands out there (Caviar and Jimmy Eat World both come to mind) -- but Space Cadet's debut definitely earns its keep. And while "Top Ten," "Jackie Chan," "Girls Fall In Love," and "California" stand out on the album, it's ultimately the band's rendition of The Cars' "Let's Go" that makes Greatest Hits worth the price of the CD. (DAC)
(Trauma Records -- http://www.traumarecords.com/; Kirtland Records -- 3800 Commerce St. #121, Dallas, TX. 75226; http://www.kirtlandrecords.com/; Space Cadet -- http://www.spacecadetband.com/)
Remember Right Now
Like I mentioned in my review of Count The Stars' Never Be Taken Alive, it seems that Victory Records has really been branching out of late and signing acts that you wouldn't have expected to be on the label a few years ago. Credit the label's extreme influence on the hardcore scene for that, I guess. At any rate, Victory may be spreading its wings a little, but the quality of the product is still stellar. Spitalfield excels at delivering driving, hook-laden rock in the vein of Foo Fighters, Jimmy Eat World, and the late, great Texas Is The Reason. When I caught the band live, they even covered a Texas Is The Reason tune, further cementing the similarities in my mind (and garnering them lots of reviewer-points in the process). The album's opener, "Those Days You Felt Alive," and the rhythmic "Stolen From Some Great Writer" are probably my picks for standout tracks, but that's mostly a matter of personal taste, not a reflection on the quality of the rest of the songs. If this kind of rock is your thing, then I'm pretty confident that you'll find a lot to like here. Admittedly, Spitalfield don't blaze any new paths with Remember Right Now, but if you want to call writing killer rock songs "lame" or "unoriginal," then be my guest. Your loss. (MHo)
(Victory Records -- 364 N. Justine St., Suite 504, Chicago, IL. 60607; http://www.victoryrecords.com/; Spitalfield -- http://www.spitalfield.net/)
Sprawl is a band that sounds great, with impeccable musicianship used in the service of creating a diamond-hard, anthemic power-pop surface on top of songs that pretty much go nowhere. You can spend your time listening to Sarah Veladora picking out not just the band's influences but who they are actively imitating: the guitar at the start of the opening "Bad Girl" comes direct from the first Cars album, "Faded" sounds like Fountains of Wayne covering the Flaming Lips, little stabs of Oasis pop up now and then (particularly in "Purposeful and Clean") and singer Ralph Kircher comes off like a cross between Robyn Hitchcock and an especially drawly Liam Gallagher, with a few Thom Yorke-y screams dropped into "Feed Your Angel" for good measure. If I imagine that Sarah Veladora is on the Not Lame label instead of being self-released, I somehow manage to convince myself that it sounds vaguely psychedelic, especially during the closing "Allright." But all the above is the result of my making an effort to make Sprawl interesting, which should be their job, not mine. The only real thought that went through my mind while Sarah Veladora played was, "Yep, I sure am listening to something. This is an album, all right." Your ears deserve better. (MH)
(Sprawl -- http://www.thesprawl.com/)
Story Of The Year
By now you're probably as sick of hearing "Until The Day I Die" as I am. I have to admit that I cringed at the prospect of reviewing this album, but you know what? It's actually pretty good. Even if you don't care for the first single that much (I'm with you on that one), the rest of Page Ave. is decidedly non-sucky, and it reminds me a lot more of Silverstein and Glassjaw than, say, Papa Roach.
If you do dig "Until The Day I Die," and blast it incessantly on your mix CD right between Good Charlotte and Linkin Park, then I think there's still something for you here, so stop downloading MP3s and buy the album. The only track that gives me pause (besides the accursed "single"), is "Sidewalks," which has a decidedly Dashboard Confessional vibe going on. Not that that's bad, but after all the rest of the rocking out, it came as a bit of a shock. I eventually learned to enjoy it. I still hate "Until The Day I Die", though. Nothing will ever change that. (MHo)
(Maverick Records -- http://www.maverickrc.com/; Story Of The Year -- http://www.storyoftheyear.net/)