The A Frames
I'm nowhere near an authority on the noisier, dirtier end of the post-punk spectrum, I have to admit. I own no Gang of Four CDs, never much liked the Melvins, and couldn't tell you which Jesus Lizard CDs I've actually listened (there were a few, back in college, but I have no clue which they were). Granted, this is probably not a good thing to cop to right at the start of a review of the latest A Frames album, Black Forest, but I feel it's only fair to display my non-cred with the Amphetamine Reptile/Man's Ruin/Touch & Go crowd (Arcwelder excepted, anyway) up front.
With that out of the way, now, let me say that I fucking love this album. The A Frames (Erin Sullivan on guitars and sung-spoken vocals, Lars Finberg on drums, and Min Yee on the gurgling, rumbling bass) have created an awe-inspiring paean to death, destruction, and the fall and detritus of civilizations with Black Forest; the title, by the way, apparently refers to the remains of burned-out trees after a nuclear holocaust wipes all of us off the planet. Who knew you could write a clap-along ditty about the end of all life? And yes, the song in question ("Black Forest II," which is basically a reprise of the instrumental intro, "Black Forest I," with lyrics) is damn catchy, as are a frightening number of the tracks here.
"Galena," for one example, is all propulsive rock with a crashing, nearly tribal beat, but it floats a sing-song-y, almost poppy vocal over the top and throws in a dissonant pseudo-"Love Potion No. 9" riff for added effect. Songs like "Death Train" and "Flies" (which is a bizarre little Slint-ish meditation on the fate of Pompeii and other ruined civilizations) are practically grooving, complete with danceable rhythms just this side of The Raveonettes or The Rapture, while "Negative" utilizes call-and-response guitars to carve head-bobbing chunks of post-rock out of the air. On the louder-and-nastier side of things, "Experiment" is a careening mess of dangerous-sounding noise, the three "Black Forest" tracks are each a juggernaut of stomping, Barkmarket-esque trashcan beats and ominous bass, and "Age of Progress" takes that stomping sound and turns it into a militaristic march, edged with detuned low-end guitars.
"Eva Braun," a slinky ode to Hitler's mistress, plods along slowly and deliberately, cutting a fairly different figure from the "rock" part of the album, as do "Memoranda," which is somehow cleaner and more mainstream-sounding, and "My Teacher," which creeps quietly along below a bed of eerily flat vocals. The album's highlight, though, is "U-Boat," which cruises stealthily along like its namesake, Sullivan's guitar sounding a screeching, dissonant distress call out above the waves while Sullivan himself describes in near-monotone as the ship sinks to the bottom and is crushed. Throughout the album, the bass rumbles and rolls beneath the surface, an out-of-control train picking up speed, while the guitar yelps and sparks, jutting out of the structure of the song like a compound fracture.
The best part is that the songs are mercifully short, something that seems to be a rarity in post-punk circles. None of the tracks here go on longer than four minutes, and the best are quick bursts that speak their piece and move on, no dawdling, in about two. This isn't speed-metal, mind you -- the A Frames still take their time, not mistaking speed for urgency or energy; they just don't bother lingering by the wreckage. The whole thing overall makes me think of Steel Pole Bathtub, primarily because of the jagged guitars and the disturbing feel of the music, but it'd be unfair to just pigeonhole The A Frames and move on. Black Forest is its own unique kind of beast, and it's utterly fascinating for that. Put it on at paint-peeling volume and have an end-of-the-world dance party, 'cause after all, we're pretty much fucked anyway, right? (JH)
(Sub Pop Records -- 2514 Fourth Ave., Seattle, WA. 98121; http://www.subpop.com/; The A Frames -- http://www.dragnetrecords.com/)
Amazing Transparent Man
The Measure of All Things...
Punk-pop bands are a dime a dozen these days, and it takes a special brand of talent to stand out among the seemingly endless glut of mainstream bands like Sum 41, Blink-182, and New Found Glory. With The Measure of All Things..., Amazing Transparent Man breathe new life into a tiring genre and easily outshine their peers.
With excellent musicianship and vocals that sound like a cross between the Dead Milkmen and Blink-182 -- and without sounding overproduced -- the band's songs are refreshingly fun and energetic. Subjects include the typical insecure self-reflection, puppy love, and sex. Standouts on The Measure Of All Things... include "Edit Undo," the tongue-in-cheek "A Simple Retort," and a campy cover of Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." But it's the band's version of Smoking Popes' "Need You Around" that seals their credibility -- it's an amazing cover song for a nearly flawless album. (DAC)
(Springman Records --P.O. Box 2043, Cupertino, CA. 95015; http://www.springmanrecords.com/)
Armor For Sleep
What To Do When You Are Dead
I really like Armor For Sleep -- they manage to incorporate some of my favorite musical elements (infectious melodies, huge metallic guitars, and dark, introspective, sometimes morbid imagery) into a cohesive whole that works. That description might invoke memories of Hum for some of you; I find myself comparing Armor to Hum on a fairly regular basis. Not that they sound exactly alike, necessarily, but they definitely share the same spacey-rock spirit. With What To Do When You Are Dead, the Jersey boys take on a pretty massive task: that of making the concept album. Not only that, but a concept album based around the afterlife. Sounds like a pretty cool idea, does it not? Trust me, it is, and as soon as the band breaks out of the speakers on "Car Underwater," you'll be hooked for the duration of the ride. There are also some interesting ambient-type tracks ("Basement Ghost Singing" comes to mind) thrown in with the rockers to add a little flavor, but they fit right in with the grand scheme of things -- think "Teenager" off of the Deftones' White Pony. As much as I dig the album, though, my favorite part of the CD isn't musical at all, it's this neat little insert booklet included with the CD that gives you tongue-in-cheek tips on your life after death. What other band manages to rock you and give you helpful advice, all at the same time? (MHo)
(Equal Vision Records -- P.O. Box 38202, Albany, NY. 12203-8202; http://www.equalvision.com/; Armor For Sleep -- http://www.armorforsleep.com/)