Animals As Leaders
Animals As Leaders
Animals As Leaders is the solo project of seven- and eight-string guitarist Tosin Abasi, who has played with such bands as the now-defunct Washington, DC band Reflux and Born of Osiris; I was quite honestly very excited to be reviewing the guy's debut album as Animals As Leaders. Besides being blown away by the absolute insane talent and musicianship of Tosin, I had never heard progressive rock so creatively fused with electronica outside of the likes of experimental free-jazz DnB artist Squarepusher. With a lot of progressive releases, it's often like a competition to see how fast one can shred or how many time signature changes one can throw into an eleven-minute song, but with Animals As Leaders the songs are all very organic and natural. AAL creates a listening experience that is combination of Blade Runner and Tron, with a little bit of Dreamscape thrown in -- and if you don't know those movies, you probably won't like this album, either. Easily one of the best releases of the year.
Let's get straight to the point: Blakroc is genius. It's rap-rock as it should be. It fills a void that neither rock or rap can adequately address while simultaneously erasing the damage done by the Fred Dursts and Mike Shinodas of the rap-rock world.
I've always felt that hip-hop could use actual instruments. Don't get me wrong , I enjoy the sounds of J. Cole and Z-Ro, but there's something about a drum machine and a synthesizer that feels too precise and sterile. Frankly, some beats are straight lazy -- I swear Gucci Mane, Jeezy, and Lil Wayne all use the same drum fill, and it's this kind of musicianship that can get a bit tiresome. That's what makes Blakroc so brilliant and so simple: grab some good musicians and make them write the music. Find some talented MCs and have them write the lyrics. Simple, right? Musicians make the music, and rappers do the rapping.
The difference between actual musicians and a drum machine or even a sample is huge. The Black Keys bring creativity through a guitar lick here or a vocal loop there, creating depth and style rarely heard in traditional hip-hop beats. Unfortunately, outside of Ludacris, the MC selection is all East Coast. It's hard to see how it could have been done differently, considering the album finished in eleven days, but there's something so enticing about having Dirty South MCs dropping lyrics to blues-inspired indie rock.
Despite this lack of diversity, though, each lyricist works hard at crafting their rhymes. Songs about heartbreak or the madness of sexuality fill the album, with each verse accompanied by a beat specially tailored for the individual MC. There are some low points on the album, especially RZA on "Telling Me Things" or Q-Tip's effort on "Hope You're Happy." The great thing about having a great duo of musicians, however, is that they can create music that'll still grab your attention, even when paired with a subpar lyrical performance.
Blakroc is an album that could have failed in a million different ways but didn't. Earlier this year, The Black Lips combined their brand of overly happy garage-rock with the GZA to create the mismatched and ill-conceived track "The Drop I Hold." Blakroc avoids all of that. Not a track on Blakroc feels out of place or awkward, due to the careful craftsmanship and focus of the participating parties. It's an album that's a triumph for creativity from the beginning to the end.
Paint the Fence Invisible
Psychedelia-infused '60s-retro rock-pop is still in full force. It seems that a new artist in this very creative genre comes out every other week with a good-to-great album. Drug Rug's latest album, Paint the Fence Invisible, is a beam of sunlight splashing down upon your magic carpet ride, ensuring a bright and enlightening trip to your favorite happy place. Replete with reverb-drenched vocals and guitar plucks, the duo of Sarah Cronin and Tommy Allen weave their vocals into magnetic harmonies that bring to mind acts like Dr. Dog and Kelley Stoltz.
Sunny, poppy and short synth-etic opener "Follow" sounds completely different from anything on the album but also sounds like the end of an album, the band's members reminiscing over the previous songs they have created for you and encouraging you to "follow your dreams." This explodes into the guitar-led chug-a-lug ditty of "Haunting You," a feel-good song that states that, "Your love is here even though the world is so weird." The happy duo successfully convince me with their lyrics that there is nothing wrong with me, and I feel that there is nothing wrong with this song, either, except that maybe it's too short. I could've used a few more compliments, even though I've found my love.
"Never Tell" reminds me of Fleetwood Mac, Sam Roberts Band, or even Bob Schneider, blending elements of dreamy rock and a bit of country twang. Next up is "Blue Moon," which is reminiscent of the Dandy Warhols and a softer version of The Vines, using some "Ba Ba Ba" lyrics as well as a trippy organ sound to fill out the Vines-y melody. Cronin's voice is the driving force of "Hannah, Please," alongside some more "Ba Ba Ba" harmonized support. This is definitely the energetic pick of the album, with some Starlight Mints-like quirkiness.
The second half of Invisible is slightly different. "Don't Be Frightened By the Devil" begins soft; it starts to layer, picks up some Kurt Cobain-like, mumbly, drugged-out vocals, pairs them with Cronin's backing charm, picks up some fuzzy guitar riffs and a tambourine, and ends up in a long instrumental that contains sounds like some of the stuff on The Flaming Lips' Embryonic. The next track, "Noah Rules," starts with chanting vocals, guitar, and a muted tribal drum beat, then adds bass around 1:30, when you realize you've encountered a builder of a song. Stoltz-y repetitive guitar, Vines-y vocals...this is a cool song.
Halfway through, some acid feedback shines through the thus-far crisp song and distorts everything into a psychedelic freakshow that actually has the band's mind haunting me. Sounds like playing a Zeppelin track backwards but forwards at the same time. The weather clears at the end, but then it still sounds like a mushroom trip. "Coffee In the Morning" is a twangy, bluesy song perfect for a Sunday morning with Cotton Jones on your playlist. "Passes On" and "Sooner the Better" are a mediocre blend of all of the above elements, sounding pretty similar to some of the other tracks. The last track is very sparse, just Cronin and a guitar for three-plus minutes, but it hits a very emotional, down-to-earth chord and is definitely worth a listen. The whole album is.
They're recommended if you like the Dandy Warhols, Spindrift, Kelly Stoltz, New Pornographers, Spiritualized, Dr. Dog, or Fleetwood Mac, amongst others. This talented psychedelic duo is coming to Houston on January 29, supporting Fiery Furnaces (another strong act) at around 8PM. Let us go and we shall rejoice. Free love for everyone.
[Drug Rug is playing 1/29/10 at Walter's, along with The Fiery Furnaces.]
Of the four tracks on Female Demand's self-titled EP, the one that hits the hardest is the opener, "Sweet Nothing" -- it starts off with almost wah-wah-sounding bass and stuttering, barely-restrained drums, then stomps its way into two minutes and change of driving, thundering, bass-and-drums instrumental rawk, leaning heavily towards the sludgy, garage-y side of things. The sound swings between noisy, punkish blues, stoner-esque metal, and an almost prog-funky vibe, if you can believe it, and the result is something like a loose, angry-drunk, alternate-universe version of Dub Trio, or maybe Jucifer rocking a dance party without the vocals. Put it all together, and it's a hell of a ride, especially for a two-man outfit.
The band slows things down somewhat for "I Thought I Told You...," and on first listen my heart sank, figuring the FD duo had done the inevitable and, y'know, toned things down for the record. Happily, they step back in after the mid-tempo intro, kicking and punching their way through the remainder of the track while riding a sing-song-y riff -- it feels weird to say that, I know, about a vocal-less instrumental, but Bradley Muñoz's bass at one point sound like it's taunting the listener, daring 'em to make something of it. "Skies Are Falling" is even more fuzzed-out and crunchy-sounding (a good thing, in my book), with drummer Jonathan Perez hammering away at his drums like he's trying to crack the ground below his kit wide, wide open. For final track "Like Catching Butterflies," the duo delve a bit deeper into footpedals-and-laptops territory, letting Perez manipulate stretch his bass sound out to infinity and then launch it into space.
If there's a quibble to be made about this, it's that I honestly wanted to hear it louder -- messier, more raw, more overdriven, so loud the speakers start to crackle. The bass sounded nicely grimy, but I wanted the drums right down in the muck with it, dirtied up and boomy, like, say, the way the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion's Russell Simins sounds on "Sweat." Muñoz and Perez pull it off on "Sweet Nothing," but not really on any of the other tracks on the EP.
The kind of noise Female Demand makes really shouldn't be cleaned up, not one bit; it should make you feel like the band's playing right on either side of your head. (And yes, I did turn the damn thing up 'til my ears nearly bled.) 'Til that happens, this is no replacement for seeing the band explode live on stage...but hey, it's a damn good start.
[Female Demand is playing 1/30/10 at Mango's, along with Caddywhompus & Smiley With A Knife.]
The Fiery Furnaces
I'm Going Away
The Fiery Furnaces's eighth album, I'm Going Away, is their rock album -- it's much more linear and stripped down than their previous records, with much less of the crazily proggy stuff. The record is for those people who wish they'd cut out that wanky prog stuff and just rock. It also has some of their indelible melodies they've written.
While the melodies are more straighforward, though, this album still has the Furnaces' trademark whimsical chaos. They still come up with plenty of strange riffs and breaks, interspersed throughout the songs. "Drive To Dallas," for example, starts as a slower ballad with a bombastic thrash-math style bridge which progressively subsumes the rest of the song, but there are also a number of songs on the album like "The End Is Near," which is a completely normal song with none of their weird prog stuff -- completely quiet and mellow, with a big epic rock solo in the middle, but even that solo is all straightforward rock guitar lines. Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary. (Which, for them, is extremely strange.)
Again, the thing that's most different on I'm Going Away is the shift towards big, simple, catchy melodies. Most of their other records have featured casually-atonal melodies, but the melodies on this album are their most striking yet. "Take Me Round Again" is one of the best songs here, a big chugging piano/keyboard epic with a big anthemic chorus, the kind of song you could imagine on the radio in the '70s. Rarely have the Furnaces written songs that have been this purely pleasurable. "Even In The Rain" has a similarly gorgeous melody, with another strong chorus and cool call-and-response instrumental parts.
The Fiery Furnaces continue to get a lot of ground out of their sound. You don't really think about it, because their sound is so distinctive and odd, you sort of expect all the albums to be weird in the same way. But each of their albums has its own character, and I'm Going Away is no exception. Most "weird" bands that find a sound try to milk it for everything they can, or if they try to do something different, they fail utterly. It says something about Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger's writing that they have so many different ideas for sounds and songs and yet can make everything work well. They've chosen a much harder course than a lot of their contemporaries, but it clearly rewards them, too.
[The Fiery Furnaces are playing 1/29/10 at Walter's, along with Drug Rug.]
Giant Battle Monster
Giant Battle Monster vs. The Man With a Gun for a Head
Okay, I give: I'm not entirely sure what to make of Giant Battle Monster's seven-track EP, Giant Battle Monster vs. The Man With a Gun for a Head. It's a bewildering, chaotic listen, wedged halfway between mind-melting prog-metal, weird-ass pseudo-screamo, Dadaism, and...hell, I have no idea what. The whole thing starts off with the oddball video-game bleeps and bloops of "Bill Spiller" -- which makes a strange kind of sense, honestly, because there's a seriously ADD-addled video game fanatic vibe to everything -- but shifts quickly to the stomping, crunching surrealism of "Man With a Gun for a Head," which marries seemingly stream-of-consciousness lyrics to weird, spastic, metallic noise-prog rock, then throws in at least a little more melody for "Dog of Man," which subsequently devolves into meditative noise before coming back in with the heavy guitars.
Tracks like "Avoiding Fornication!" make me think of The Paper Chase's John Congleton, but that's mostly the vocals; there's no Paper Chase-esque sinister-ness here, not really, just wild-eyed, off-their-meds weirdness. The end result is possibly closest to the late, great Bring Back The Guns, partly because both bands run in a frantic, desperate groove and play like they're really too damn smart for their own good. Giant Battle Monster come off like those freaky kids who nobody else in school can understand because they're so ridiculously bright, the ones whose collective sense of entertainment is on a completely different plane from the average kid. Oddly, the most "straight" track on here is the last one, an instrumental entitled either "Penguin" or "Pengwin" (sorry; the font's a little hard to read) that dwells at least partly in Pelican-land, with its crushing riffs, soaring melodic passages, and heroic drumming.
And yes, I like it. The Man With a Gun for a Head isn't easy to listen to, by any means, but I find myself nodding along and grinning as it runs, and then I zip back 'round to the beginning for another dose. Maybe on some level I'm figuring that if I listen to it enough, I'll "get" it; I dunno, and in any case, I'm probably deluding myself in that regard. Still, this EP's a fantastically sprawling, mesmerizing mess, lunging in all directions like some kind of many-headed prog-metal-playing beast anchored to the floor with adamantium chains, and it practically demands full attention -- I made the mistake of first listening to the disc as background while doing other things, and when it finished, I felt uncomfortable and confused, unsure what the hell I'd just heard. Listen close; it's worth the effort.
[Giant Battle Monster is playing 1/15/10 at Mango's, along with Clockpole, Darwin's Finches, & Cop Warmth.]
Keep in Mind Frankenstein
I've listened to the album several times, but it still all kind of blends together -- nothing really stands out to me. Don't get me wrong; it's a beautiful album worth listening to, and for the genre of music they play, I think they do it well. It's just that nothing about it says "wow."
Keep in Mind Frankenstein is pretty much a repeat of Grand Archives' previous release, debut album Grand Archives, released last year, with the same chill, relaxing songs and the same soothing vocals. I would say, however, that this new release is even more toned-down and less catchy than the band's previous release.
Whenever I pop in any of the band's CDs, it seems like the perfect music to listen to on a rainy day while stuck indoors all day long and working on homework or crafts or something. It's good background music.
Grand Archives remind me a little bit of Slowreader, the side project of Rory Allen Phillips and Gabe Hascall of The Impossibles, formed in 2001. Slowreader only released one self-titled album in 2002, but it's since remained on my list of top albums to fall asleep to. Grand Archives are quickly rising on that list of mine. The higher-pitch sound of the vocalist, mixed with a wide variety of instruments that seem to relax your mind and body at the same time, create something very similar to Slowreader.
Grand Archives use guitars, the harmonica, the tambourine, the piano, and several other instruments to create its indie-folk/country sound. All of the sounds fit well together and create a beautiful, original, and unified sound.
"Silver among the Gold" and "Did that Crazy Grave" pick up the tempo a little and could possibly be the tracks that get stuck in your head. Or they may just blend right in with the rest of the album. I think Keep in Mind Frankenstein is a good choice if you're looking for something to help you fall asleep late at night or want some rainy day music on your iPod.
If you're really interested in the band, I'd recommend checking out its previous release, and if nothing else, listening to opening track "Torn Blue Foam Couch." It's great.
A Fine Time
When I first encountered Chase Hamblin, my instinct was to shrug and dismiss him as yet another Fab Four fan trying to keep the music he loves alive. While the characterization's not wrong, though, the dismissal's a big, big mistake. Rather than just rehash the Beatles for the umpteenth time, on A Fine Time Hamblin takes that music he loves and grafts it into a handful of sublimely gorgeous, carefully-crafted pop-rock songs that expand -- rather than capitalize -- on the retro-'60s pop sound. The Beatles are there, sure, but they're just a starting point.
Take the title track; on the surface, it's sweet, bumping pop, all jangle and smiles, but the sweetness is cut by the sadly yearning lyrics and then (more overtly) with samples taken from our wonderfully modern world of war, fear, death, and stupidity. Consequently, the title "A Fine Time" comes off as bitter, biting sarcasm, which -- perhaps perversely -- makes me enjoy the song even more. Then there's the bait-and-switch raveup of "Think of the Good Times," which starts off tropical-smooth, with Hamblin crooning seductively, but quickly shifts to a more urgent tone; the seduction turns into a plea that might be meant to be reassuring but sounds more desperate than anything. There's also "Never Let You Go," which is rougher and rawer, more up-front about its aim, and less Beatles than Animals (and still good).
Music-wise, Hamblin displays a shrewd, sneaky ear, layering some surprising sounds onto the tracks and doing it so subtly that it takes a while for what you're actually hearing to sink in. The horns playing on "A Fine Time" are a nice touch, and one I noticed the first time through; it took me multiple listens to actually catch the awesome a-shoo-bop-a-shoo-bop backing vocals and (deeper still) the mbira ("thumb piano," to you and me) Hamblin plays towards the song's end. How did I not hear that 'til the fourth go-round? I have no clue, but I dearly love stuff like this that seems to unfold and reveal new layers each time you listen, so A Fine Time wins bonus points for me on that front.
The best track on here, "Bye Bye," weirdly happens to be the last (both on the EP and live, apparently), with Hamblin sounding at his Lennon-est while offering a heartfelt ode to fallen soldiers and bidding friends and loved ones who've passed on goodbye. I think. Maybe? Whatever the heck the lyrics are really about, I can't deny the absolute power of the song's hook, which grabs me, handclaps and all, and drags me along to the revival. If I've got a criticism of A Fine Time, it's that it's a blink-and-miss-it EP -- the songs aren't short, really, but they don't feel as long as they are, possibly due to the light, delicate feel of everything. It feels like it just zips past. And by the time it's over, I'm ready to hear it again.
[Chase Hamblin is playing 1/21/10 at Avant Garden, along with Mark Growden, and 1/22/10 at Mango's, along with The Nightmare River Band & Maryanna Sokol.]
Muhammad Ali/Black Congress
and that's how i forgot about the bomb
In my later years, I have to confess that I've taken to cringing whenever a split release comes through my door. Which is sad, because I used to like that sort of thing, honestly; it was the DIY way to go, back in the day, pooling your money with your compatriots in another band so you could both get something, anything, out there for people to buy, hear, and (hopefully) adore. I'd hear some of a band I'd seen a few times and liked, plus some of a band (most likely from the same scene) I'd never heard before.
In these days of Myspace, MP3 blogs, and cheap-ass CDRs, though, on the rare occasions when I get a split release, it's generally because I already like Band A on the album/EP/whatever but couldn't give a shit about Band B, so why in the hell wouldn't I buy an all-Band A release, instead, and cut out the filler? Besides, there's no guarantee that the two bands will share anything but maybe a practice space -- I don't necessarily want my mid-fi indie-pop colliding head-on with breakneck neo-thrash. That's what mixes are for.
Split releases for me have become a "necessity" buy, as in, "okay, Band A's got nothing out but this, so I'll get it and just pretend Band B's tracks don't exist." I've usually heard Band A before, but maybe I want something of theirs to listen to in the car or rip to my iPod, and I can't get it any other way.
And yeah, and that's how i forgot about the bomb, the split CD (originally only available on resolutely-old-school cassette) from Muhammad Ali and Black Congress, kind of is for me, albeit times two. In this case, I'd seen both bands previously and had been dying to find something by either one that I could hold onto and stick on my CD shelves, so the split was a surprisingly welcome thing to see, allowing me to easily slip past downfall #1, above. I could feel somewhat fulfilled, without having to shell out for two separate albums; a definite win, at least for me.
Of course, there's still downfall #2 to contend with: the fact that bomb essentially shoehorns together two bands that don't have much at all in common beyond the fact that they both use guitars, bass, and drums. Except that here, as with #1, the two bands have again bucked the odds. Muhammad Ali and Black Congress may not sound all that much alike, no -- the former is fuzzed-out and hooky, with a gleeful, crashing abandon that's near-impossible to ignore, while the latter is all-out post-hardcore menace, hammering and metallic and ready to punch you in the fucking face -- but they both point big (middle) fingers backwards to the same musical era, stylistically speaking.
Muhammad Ali come off slightly the better of the two, mostly because the musical throwback they're mining is one that's nearer and dearer to my own little heart. They sound like the early, early days of grunge, back before it even really had a name to tag onto it, storming through each song like drunk teenagers that don't give a fuck but are just out to have fun and happen to be talented as all hell when it comes to writing songs. They're as noisy and messy and unruly as a house party, with a great melodic undercurrent that grins wickedly through the squall. Think the Afghan Whigs circa Up In It, before Greg Dulli's soul stylings really took hold, or a more melodic Drive Like Jehu, and you'll get in the neighborhood.
Lead-in track "I Believe" is one of my ultimate favorite tracks of this past year, hands down, with its awesomely catchy, repetitive riff sending things skyward while the drums, bass, and guitar roar all thunder along like a freight train headed off a cliff. I love the barely-controlled chaos of "Cumincide," too; it's noisy and raw but still holds together, and that crashing, stomping, Mudhoney-esque chorus of "I'm sorry, Mom / you've got it all wrong" is fucking awesome. "Mysterious Skin" is frantic and scraping, while "Livin' in a Japanese Daydream" is droning, sweet, and harried at the same time.
Then there's "Here To Go," which is the prettiest track on here, a solidly forward-moving chunk of drone-rock that brings to mind Poster Children more than anybody else; the guitars buzzsaw the air, jangly and distorted all at once. The band's final track is back to the crazier stuff, a pell-mell sprawl entitled "Whata We Gonna Do About Ruben Ortiz?" that nails that fuck-it-all feel to the floor and leaves it there. My favorite thing about this band is that while there're definitely beautifully-crafted melodies lurking beneath the noise, that never stops the band from playing full-tilt, like their collective life depends on it. They're lo-fi and wide-open not as a selfconscious pose, but just because, well, it's how they themselves like to hear it.
On the Black Congress "side" of the split-release, the sound is far more menacing and, in spite of the band's notoriously rowdy live shows, more throttled-down than the Muhammad Ali tracks. The noise is crushed down, the guitars turned into solid, sharp-edged slabs of heavy bassiness, all thick and metallic beside the aggressive, NoMeansNo-esque drums. The Black Congress crew points backwards to the heyday of folks like The Jesus Lizard, Unsane, and Barkmarket, although with less of the off-kilter timing of the latter, and maybe a bit to bands like Frodus. I keep coming back to Four Hundred Years, too, although definitely not that band's more emo tendencies.
Of course, there's also the obvious comparison, to Houston forefathers the Fatal Flying Guilloteens -- it's difficult to avoid standing these guys up next to the noisy, dangerous, snarling sound of the Guilloteens, particularly since guitarist Roy Mata did considerable time in the FFGs himself. And hey, I mean no slight by the comparison; in my book, any band that can come close to the Guilloteens' level of raw, in-your-face energy is well worthy of respect. Taken as its own entity, the Black Congress half of this thing comes off like a bitterly angry facepunch of an EP.
The tracks start off with "The Knights of the Castle's Court," which is all crushing guitars and snarling/shrieking, sometimes Blood Brothers-ish vocals from (since departed) initial vocalist Clif, and veers further into the screamo realm (I think, anyway) with "The Trial of Dred Scott" and its murky, spoken-word bits thrown on top. "Bombs Over Buckingham" is the high point here, with the band unleashing more feedback and new singer Bryan Jackson making an appearance -- he shrieks less and screams more, spitting venom over the dissonant, stabbing/grinding guitars.
It's probably partly due to the song being recorded with Jackson at a later date than the rest of the tracks, but the sound itself is miles and miles better on "Bombs," especially when the "EP" shifts back into an older track, "Floater" that sounds more restrained and metallic. The latter throws out even a bit of melody, somehow, amidst the hammering, sludgy rhythms, before abruptly side-stepping into the Guilloteens-y twang-noise at the start of final track "Crooked Faces." Then the sludgy guitars re-emerge, over which the feedback just sits and hums, creating a nicely hypnotic drone, with things staggering to a close with tinny electronic drums and a seemingly misdirected, rambling-as-hell bit of voicemail left by Don from Rusted Shut about baseball. (Which, given the circumstances, feels weirdly appropriate, although I couldn't tell you why.)
Granted, this release is likely to be harder to find than a first-edition, signed Harry Potter book (or something similarly coveted), considering that it was initially a limited-edition cassette that later got re-released under the radar as a CDR with a handmade cover (which is the version I found). If you can make the effort, though, you'll have one of the best, jaw-droppingest, most addictive things I've heard in years right there in your hands.
[Muhammad Ali is playing 1/25/10 at Super Happy Fun Land, along with 10th Grade Cutie & FG and The Gunz.]
Let Me Be Your Partner
Okay, to be fair, I can see what this guy is going for. Entirely a cappella, echo-ey vocals, and nature sounds, Let Me Be Your Partner is like a very young Panda Bear with a more downbeat, minimalist sound. But please don't tell Panda Bear that I compared him to this album -- I believe the comparison would depress him. Let Me Be Your Partner shows a blatant lack of variety and creativity. Listen to one song, and you know what the entire rest of the album sounds like. Every track begins with airy falsettos, layered upon another until the lyrics are unintelligible, with little attention paid to harmonizing. And none of the songs improve from there, either -- it's just more of the same. Although it is possible that Orioles could get his act together in the future, I suggest that until then, you spend your time listening to something more worthwhile.
Breathing The Fire
They're coming out of the woodwork. Like any genre, when something gets remotely popular, they come crawling out of the dark like roaches. Even the relatively minute movement known as neo-thrash has experienced the same phenomenon -- a style that's supposed to invoke the legendary sound of the bands from the '80s has now become a moniker for bland guitar playing, lazy songwriting, and mundane vocals.
While Skeletonwitch does not fall into that undesirable category, their newest release, Breathing The Fire, comes precipitously close. The band showcases some very nice guitar playing that retains the thin but heavy sound that came out of the San Fran sound of the '80s. What's not there, though, are the creative riffs. Fast gallops with the most obvious of changes do not do this band any favors. You can tell where a song is going because of the predictability of it.
One thing this band does differently than their throwback contemporaries is the vocal style. Chance Garnett's style is more of the gruff black metal style with some growling added in. At first it may seem it seems off-putting, but that's due to its uniqueness. When used correctly, as on "Stand Fight and Die," it adds to the power of the track and helps to emphasize the guitars.
For this release, the band chose to use a more raw sound. While the drums do get a tad lost at times, the overall feel adds to the reminiscing of the style they are going for. This is not necessarily a sophomore jinx for the band, but considering the unbridled success of the their debut, coupled with the shortcomings of this release, this had to be a home run, and sadly, it's maybe a double.
Sounds Like BS
I write music critiques. I listen to music, digest it, analyze it, and give my opinion in an abstract-yet-demonstrative manner that will hopefully steer you into the arms of sweet musical eargasms and save your ears from the irritablity of listening to the crappy stuff. But just because I have a forum to express my views, does that make me the sage of musical integrity, the conduit through which the musical gods express their likes and displeasure? Damn skippy it does. Why would I be doing this if I didn't have the definitive answer on what makes music good or not? I don't have those Pultizers hanging in my bedroom -- alongside my limited edition gold plated Lone Star cans -- for nothing. Recognize. And that rant brings me to my case and point about this little group out of Canada called Sounds Like BS.
Sounds Like BS is a electro-hip-hop duo from Calgary. Made up of Dan Busheikin and Mike Searle, they derived their name from the initials of their surnames. Tragically, the moniker is a perfect description of their electronica-infused party pop-hop, because Sounds like BS sounds like BS. (I mean, that was so ripe for the taking I actually Googled it to see if someone else had used it and was shocked that I seem to be the first one to use that line. Shocked.)
This is not good music. Their new EP, 3, starts off like a conglomoration of Ghostland Observatory, 3Oh!3, and Flight of the Choncords, which I really have no problem with, but when you then mix in Jeffrey Starr and Tila Tequila, nausea ensues. These guys are trying to make fun, humorous music, but it just falls flat, like a guy bombing at a comedy club's open mic night. You kind of feel bad for the guy, but you can't help but heckle him.
The biggest problem is that the lyrics are often so sophomoric that they tilt to the moronic. How do you respond to lines from the song "Bitch You Got Way Too Many Dresses" when they say, "Bitch, you got way too many dresses / The way you move your booty's like molasses / I can see you better with my glasses?" I mean, what? Or, "I'm in the club and then I gets a boner / I'm not sure why I just got this boner," from the same song? It doesn't get much better. In fact, on "Hater," it gets so bad that I refuse to quote them any more. To make matters worse, they lay these lyrics down over these nauseous pop-techno beats that are so annoying listening to it makes you feel bad about life. This is music for people with no self-esteem.
I hate giving bad reviews; I really do. I think people who are overly critical of music or musical genres are close-minded douchebags who suck at life, but guess what? I've just been made the hypocrite. I wonder if their music would have been any better if they didn't cite Limp Bizkit as one of their influences. If by any chance you think I'm being over-critical, by all means, head to the duo's Website and judge for yourself. But do consider yourself warned.
While You Were Gone
One of the absolute best things about music, good music, is the connected-ness of it. If a band's doing its job right, you're able to grasp onto the feelings, the emotions behind the yelled/sung lyrics and roaring guitars; if there's no connection going on, the guitars and yelling are just that, but if the song sucks you in and makes you feel like you've been exactly where the singer is -- or, at least, that you can imagine that place, whether or not you've been there yourself in real life -- then hell, you're golden.
On top of everything else going on, that emotional connection is what makes While You Were Gone's newest EP, Winter/Summer, work so incredibly well. It would be ridiculously easy for somebody other than Misty Moore (formerly Gray) to sing the lyrics she's written and come off seeming trite and cheesy; I mean, honestly, lyrics about love and heartache just kind of veer that way all by themselves, without much help.
Honestly, it's hard not to sound cheeseball when you're singing lyrics like, "Now I know exactly / what love is / Feeling so alive / on a winter night" (from the title track). And yet While You Were Gone pull it off, crafting these insanely, unashamedly earnest songs about love and trust and loss and all the rest. It's immediately clear that Moore and her bandmates (which include guitarist/husband Anthony Moore) really, truly do mean every word they sing, every note they play. And as sincerity's pretty key to songs like this, that makes it all, well, close to perfect.
Of course, it helps that the music's pretty compelling; to start with, opener "Your Heart Can Hold The Weight Of Two" simmers beautifully, bridging the gap between classic female-fronted emo bands like Pohgoh and more baroque, orchestrated stuff like Eisley (albeit with vocals that make me think of Nina Gordon from Veruca Salt). I love the desperate, pleading vocals and the woozy-sounding record scratches (I think?) layered in the background, not to mention the roaring, loud-but-not-too-loud guitars.
"See You Next Summer" hits similar territory, a bitter, prettily caustic warning of a song with thundering, anthemic, Explosions In The Sky-ish guitars that just beg to be cranked up to ear-splitting volume (and still sound good that loud, which is nice). "Winter/Summer" is quieter and more low-key, with nice piano backing and great, gently-fuzzed walls of guitars rising up out of the snow, and "We Were So Young" is on the quiet side, too, at least near the start.
The latter track, by the by, is probably my personal highlight of the songs on here -- it's the story of a romance in total, from the beginning to The Big Day, covering all the uncertain ground and learning in-between with a sense of contented wonderment, and there's an awesome confidence to it, to boot, with Moore offering, "We were so youn / but we knew what we wanted."
And then, there's the break. When the question's popped, the drums come pounding in, and the whole damn track lifts into the stratosphere. Best. Damn. Emo-rock. Crescendo. Ever. No lie. I could listen to that one bit over and over and over again and still have to pick my face up off the floor; it's amazing, and it makes my sappy, romantic ass tear up each time.
This is the sound of love between two people who've been waiting to see what would happen after the curtain fell on childhood and they moved on into adult life. And it's heartbreakingly beautiful for that.