American Fangs EP
How do you come up with what's bound to be one of the rawest, most crushingly addictive rock songs to come out of this just-started year? If you're American Fangs, you begin with a stomping, challenging rhythm and some guitar scrapes and throw on slurring, snarling, semi-threatening vocals that're kin to Tim Armstrong or maybe Whole Wheat Bread's Aaron Abraham, for starters. Then you kick in with a roaring, amps-on-10 wall of guitars-and-drums fury and shredded (yet still pump-your-first anthemic) howling Dave Grohl would be proud to own, and cram in lyrics that sound like they're halfway of a warning to a cocky junkie that everybody on the block knows where they keep their stash. And holy fuck, you've got yourself two minutes and forty seconds of fucking badass rock, no prefixes necessary.
Consider the rest of American Fangs' debut EP a bonus, beyond that (okay, "Le Kick"'s actually the third track, but it's the high point, nonetheless). Opener "Leukoplakia" holds up nicely, melding sludgy, doom-y bass with thundering drums and sneering vocals that bring to mind Alice in Chains' Layne Staley in his prime; this is music that could pretty much instantly kick off a circle pit, and I mean that in the best possible way. Same goes for "My Two Richards," although that one's a bit of a slower, more meditative grind -- I swear to God, when vocalist Gus roars, he pulls it off like few people out there truly can -- and EP closer "Get the Hell On," where the band gives the finger to our horrifically consumption-/fashion-obssessed society, declaring, "This song ain't for you!"
"Duke" shows off a softer, more post-emo side to the band, actually veering closer to Stadium or Sunday's Best territory with its melodic breaks, but even then the band holds tight to a current of bitter fury; the result is a jaded, sarcastic jab at people who've got money but still aren't happy, with the Fangs boys sounding like they're just barely restrained. "Sorry" is somewhat in the same vein, a beautifully melancholy slow-burn of a song that could easily lapse into sentimentality but never does, instead coming off like a gothic-tinged burst of real emotion.
And hey, the best thing about an EP like this? At six songs in just under 18 minutes, it's way too damn easy to just let it roll on back around to the beginning again, ready for the jaw to hit the floor again. Where the hell did these guys come from?
[American Fangs is playing 3/22/09 at RocBar, and also 3/28/09 at the Free Press Houston Westheimer Block Party, along with a ton of bands.]
The Coke Dares
The Coke Dares feature the rhythm section from the Magnolia Electric Company, but their stuff is nothing like Jason Molina's -- this is stripped-down punk rock, along the lines of Buzzcocks or the Minutemen but with a catchy garage-rock streak. Their songs have that Minutemen terseness -- songs average 0:45, but a surprising number of them are fully developed and remarkably melodic. Feelin' Up is the Dares' second album, and it's a lot of fun.
The songs range from a more standard punk template to the catchier Buzzcocks model. "Emergency Room Blues" is a whiplash-inducing energetic song with cunningly timed stop-time breaks and an interesting chromatic chorus. "Blind 17" is a big catchy anthem, despite only being 54 seconds long, that comes complete with some great guitar riffs, nice harmonies, and outro. "Overcommitted and Underloved" falls more on the highly melodic Buzzcocks end (it actually sounds a lot like MOTO); it's slightly slower, with the drums and the big harmonies on the chorus lending it more of a '60s feel.
The Coke Dares have an endearing dryly absurdist streak to them. "Oh No! Mailman" is about being afraid of the omniscience of one's mailman, complete with oddly timed drum breaks that enhance the absurdity of the song. They also manage to squeeze two verses, a chorus, and a bridge out of a song about a mask map, which is of course what you use to find your masks with. "No Pictures" is about absolutely nothing, merely noting the people one fan talked to. Good thing it's catchy!
These guys have a real knack for melody, and they use it in interesting ways. And the range of songs is broad enough it keep it interesting -- with an album of 33 songs, you might expect things to start to sound the same, but they don't really have that problem. The fact that they all sing really helps keep things moving along. Plus, the band is tight and economical with their parts, which is exactly what it all needs. Too bad Magnolia keeps them so busy; this group deserves some attention, too.
Bright Nights, Bright Lights
I'll admit that when it started, I was nervous. The bumping bass, the half-whispered (or half-muttered, maybe) vocals, the retro-sounding synths; it all made me wonder if Bright Nights, Bright Lights was headed straight into tepid, mid-'90s bland-rock territory. Then the killer, carved-into-my-brain hook came in, with its sing-song-y, smirking half-threat, and the band charged headlong into the chorus, guitars turned up loud, vocalist/guitarist Jeremy Botter's voice impassioned, defiant, and knowing...and hey, it's the best power-pop tune I've heard in like a year and a half (since The Jennifer Echo's "Edna Avenue," to be exact).
That first taste of The Favorites pretty much sums up the band, honestly. They do a lot of things that really shouldn't work like they do, that should leave me cringing and shaking my head as I hit the "Stop" button before they get through a handful of songs. And yet...well, they manage to pull it off. They grab hold of every loud, exuberant pop-rock influence they can, from Cheap Trick and Big Star on through to Fountains of Wayne and Semisonic, and end up with an album packed with hyper-earnest, quirky power-pop tunes that marry cranked guitars with beautiful vocal harmonies and some Rentals-esque synths.
The songs are clever in that way the best power-pop always seems to be -- see the brazen backflip of a love-gone-wrong-song, "Let Me Come Home," where the protagonist confidently asserts that the ex who's kicked him out (and changed the locks) needs him to get her life back in order, or "Hope In The Sky," which is a sneakily heartfelt story of two people finding one another out of the blue at an airport. It helps, by the by, that the songs happen to be brain-meltingly catchy, to boot, to the point where I've found myself searching the iPod randomly to find a track or two.
Even the missteps don't feel like a big deal, somehow, after a few listens. Sure, the lyrics in pre-emptive love-declaration song "In Case You're Wondering" and the gentle, heartbreakingly sweet "Golden Like The Fall" get a bit repetitive at points, and yes, the whole premise of "The Great Outdoors" is like a Chevy Chase movie that never really needs to be made, and the quasi-funkiness of rambling cautionary tale "La Tortuga Terrible" sounds misplaced, but in the hands of The Favorites, those little bits of imperfection come off as endearing and human rather than genuine mistakes.
And they're easily forgivable considering that Botter and his bandmates can come up with such hellishly catchy-in-spite-of-themselves pop songs. Seriously; anybody who can write a track like "Something That You're Missing" gets more than a little leeway from me.
[The Favorites are playing 3/6/09 at Rudyard's, along with betterLUCK & Esther Vonne & the Rottens.]
See the Light Inside You
Looking backwards from a musical landscape populated by plenty of heavy/soft dynamic shifts, fiery power-chord guitars, and yelled/sung melodies, it occurs to me now the thing that drew me to the whole emo thing wasn't really the music. Okay, the music was part of it, I'll admit, but the thing that really appeals to me, then and now, is the naked, unashamed feeling of it all -- "emo" as I first encountered it was all about honesty and pain and raw, well, emotion.
There was no overarching agenda, whether to party down or overthrow The Man, but rather just a burning need to rip open scars, let all the frustration out, and connect with everybody out there listening who could listen and say, "yes! That's me, too!" Emo was like one big sonic bonding experience, a shared way to cope with things.
These days, where the bulk of the post-emo alternarock crowd -- the Early Novembers, Spitalfields, and Fall Out Boys of the world -- fail is in that connection. All those bands have their fans, obviously, but I'm just not feeling the same kind of kinship, the sympathy. They just don't do it for me, for whatever reason. For a long time I figured the break was on my end, honestly, with me having shifted from being a kid to being a Jaded Old Dude, but now I'm not so sure.
See, thelastplaceyoulook's See the Light Inside You brings all those old feelings, that old connection, home to me in a big, big, awesomely huge way. They hit the emo sweet spot like few bands have in this decade, pointing backwards towards pioneers like Jimmy Eat World, Mineral, Starmarket, or Sense Field more than towards the bulk of their contemporaries, and that's a damn good thing. Literally halfway into "Just Let It Go," with its bitterly heartfelt plea to let a relationship die rather than fake it along, and I'm fucking hooked, head nodding along, hands drumming on the table, a wistful smile on my face.
As you can probably guess from that last bit, of course, the music measures up nicely, as well. The Jimmy Eat World resemblance runs strongly throughout, particularly that band's habits of shifting seamlessly from speaker-shredding blasts to melodic emo-boy passages and incorporating subtle electronics into full-on guitar rockers, but there're plenty of the other touchstones here. The music's got a Sense Field-esque muscularity to it, with vocalist Nava evoking SF frontman Jonathan Bunch's tense, impassioned urgency, and a Hot Water Music-ish epic feel, to boot. Then there're the heavy, loud bits, where the band betrays its more over-the-top screamo past a bit, edging near to Shadows Fall/Killswitch Engage territory.
The choruses make you want to close your eyes and pump your fist in the air, while Richard Sherwood, Derek Young, and Kevin Pool's guitars blaze and roar, all distortion and melody and rippling tension, drummer Andy Moths hammers away with thunderous precision, and singers Nava and Pool trade effortless low/high harmonies. Nava's voice threw me off a little at first, but I quickly grew to love the rough, thick-sounding, Bob Mould/Matt Skiba snarl and strained/restrained, down-and-out sincerity. Pool, for his part, glides beautifully over the top, and the pair of them surprise me on tracks like album ender "Take The Time" with the gorgeous way they manage to fit their voices together. I'm a big, big sucker for the low-/high-range dueling vocalists (see: 1997, Braid, The Anniversary), and these guys hit the mark.
The boys in thelastplaceyoulook aren't afraid to branch out into seriously non-"rock" stuff, either. Beyond the Jimmy Eat World-style electronics scattered throughout Light (see "Hopestar," in particular), there's the quiet instrumental "Interlude," and then the band dives headfirst into the solitary piano and voice of "I Know You Think Nobody Cares (But I Do)". In less-capable hands, the track could easily turn into cheesy, Drama Club posturing, but the pleading, desperate hope in Nava's voice elevates it to the realm of genuine heartbreak.
Oddly, it's another one of those "different," less guitar-heavy (at least at first) tracks that truly pins down the band's appeal. "Band to Save Me" is a dark-yet-crystalline, Postal Service-ish piece of electro-rock with echoey vocals, synths, and metallic drums, and it captures that yearning feeling of being a kid again, trying to figure out the world and looking for solace in the music of your favorite band, something to make sense of the confused, spiraling-crazily world around you.
By the time the guitars finally crash in and knock the walls down, I feel like I need to dig that old guitar out of the back closet, plug it in, and remember what it used to feel like to pound on the strings and just howl out all the pain. When Nava and Pool sing, "I just need a band to save me / I just need a song of hope and / I wish somebody would amaze me still / and not make me feel like I'm alone," I want to turn it all around and hand it back to them -- with this album, thelastplaceyoulook has become that band, the one that rips you out of your confusion and makes you feel like things matter, like you matter, like the music matters. thelastplaceyoulook makes me want to play that music, to burn with that same kind of fire again. And if these guys feel like they're all alone now, I'm predicting they won't be for long.
[thelastplaceyoulook is playing 3/27/09 at Warehouse Live, along with Mothers Anthem, Lockehart, Mechanical Boy, Goodnight Goddess, & Another Run, and also 3/28/09 at the Free Press Houston Westheimer Block Party, along with a ton of bands.]
Made in Mexico
On their second album, Guerillaton, Made in Mexico combines two styles you wouldn't think could possibly combine coherently, but they do -- namely, no-wave and reggaeton. And they make it work really well, in a highly original take on either genre. They manage to take a lot of the groove out of the reggaeton feel and turn it into something much more anxious. A lot of the credit goes to drummer Dave Matheson, who combines a spare and menacing feel with that unmistakable reggaeton feel.
They come up with some remarkably strong songs. "Viva La Luz" is probably the catchiest song here, with a relatively restrained and catchy vocal atop crazed marching-band drum fills that still manage to fit in behind a clave. The band also comes up with effective harmony parts that complement singer Rebecca Mitchell's vocals in interesting ways. "Yes We Can" has a vocal remiscent of Sleater Kinney's Corin Tucker, with a martial drum beat and cool Fugazi-style interlocking guitar and bass parts.
Surprisingly, the most menacing song here is their acoustic number. It starts out with just acoustic guitar and vocal, with an odd dissonant melody that's slightly offputting to begin with, and then they add some killer feedbacking noise guitar (the only time they actually use noise). It comes off sort of like the Sonic Youth-backed tracks Daniel Johnston put on 1989, but even more frightening.
Not all the songs here completely work, but even when they don't, they're not boring -- their cross of no-wave and reggaeton is remarkably easy to listen to. And they found the right musicians to pull it off -- Matheson, in particular, is their secret weapon. Made in Mexico has a completely unique style, and some cool songs. If they tightened up their songwriting a little, they'd be killer. As it is, Guerillaton is still a fascinating record.
Miss Autopsy is the one-man experimental rock band of singer/guitarist Steve Beyerink and is most definitely an acquired taste. There is nothing that I like about this Chicago-based musician's third full-length release, The Hill. I was anxious to listen to the album, but from the first time I popped it into my car's CD player, my excitement quickly turned to disappointment. I barely made it through the first song, scanned the other tracks to see if they were all similar (and they were), and quickly ejected the CD and put in something else. I didn't have any desire to listen to it all the way through, so it took me a while before I actually did.
Sometimes it takes me a few listens for an album to grow on me, but unfortunately, such is not the case with Beyerink's newest album. I listened to it all the way through, and honestly, it was a struggle for me; I don't like Beyerink's voice. I can see where he is trying to be unique in his style and vocals, but it doesn't work. It's just not a pleasant listening experience -- it's almost as if he is not actually singing, but rather talking and shouting to listeners.
The lyrics are dark and cynical and they just drag the listener down into Beyerink's depressing mood. Don't get me wrong -- there is definitely a time and a place for sad, depressing lyrics. Not all songs have to be happy and upbeat, but I feel like this album goes to the extreme and leaves listeners in the same dark place in life that Beyerink is at. That might be his goal, but I don't like it or think it's clever. The use of electrical guitar, synths, and heavy drums mixed with his vocals and the piano creates a dark mood that hangs over the entire album. I won't be listening to Miss Autopsy anytime soon.
Die in June
Die in June is Norwegian boy-band rockers Peel's first release, and from the opening "Cutting Crew"-style keyboards, I knew this would be a chore. Honestly, I don't even know if Peel is Buzz-radio-worthy. (Luckily, the mini-album is only four songs long.)
Everything is smooth and tightly wound, with very sanitary guitar riffs that scream "boy band," especially in the song "Falling from Grace." Incubus and Metallica are obviously influences, but Peel has managed to undermine that by developing really empty, shallow lyrics like, "What I am you can't see through / What I've done, I can't undo / and the end will come too soon / and all I love will die in June." When I hear that, I'd swear I've heard it before somewhere. Maybe it's just deja vu... Not to say that these boys don't have talent -- I just think they could use a lot of improvement in, well, everything.
Apparently the band calls their followers "peelgrims," and radio play in Germany is thriving. Maybe this Norwegian band will take the U.S. by storm next. I really hope not, but if they do, I'll be sure to run for cover.
I think I'm overthinking this. I've been wrestling with The Points' self-titled debut for way too long, trying to figure out something pithy to say about the Washington, DC, trio (Geo -- guitar/vocals; Cobruh -- drums/vocals; Rebecca -- um, keyboards? really?), and for the most part, I've got not much beyond, "They sound like the Ramones." Which is true, yeah, but doesn't really capture The Points as a whole. And the really dumb part of that is that I really, truly like this CD a hell of a lot.
So fuck it -- here goes the simplified version: blazing opener "No Girl" grabs you by the neck with its thick-ass, fuzzed-out guitars, driving beat, and punk-chanted vocals, and it doesn't let go. It sounds like, yes, the Ramones, if the Ramones had been big fans of Hüsker Dü instead of the other way 'round, slathering the Bob Mould wall-of-noise drone all over the track. There's a melody lurking under there, but it's sunk six feet deep in the thick guitar roar. Like the Ramones, the Points use their guitars as big hammers on a lot of the songs here, thudding out those fuzzy, half-buried melodies on the first track, the sludgy-yet-melodic "Never Trust My Heart," and the snarling, self-hating "Feeling Sorry."
The Points shift things up partway through, however, moving away from the "thick" guitars to more of a straight-ahead garage-rock sound on tracks like "Not Your Man," "Don't Care Much," and the Priestess-esque "I Don't Know About You." On these mid-album songs the band comes off more like The Sonics, early Makers, or Sugar Shack, wielding rough-edged riffs like knives to carve away raw, bloody chunks of rawk while the drums do a foreboding stomp in the background and Geo/Cobruh (I honestly can't tell 'em apart) yelp and shout. Not much melody, no, but just good, old-school garage-rock, which wouldn't be bad on its own.
I have to admit, though, that I find myself longing to skip backwards to the super-fuzzed fury of "No Girl," so I breathe a big sigh of relief when "Never Trust My Heart" rolls around. The track signals a melding of the band's two types of sound into something that works damn well on the last part of the album, with "She's Gotta Know," "Test Me Out," and "P.A.R.T.Y." incorporating the rawness of the mid-album stuff with the big, thick guitars and camouflaged melodies of the first part.
So, the ultra-simplified version: it's badass.
Pretty & Nice
Here we go again. White boy falsetto vocals? Good! Extra dirty guitar riffs? Great! Drums played by a monkey on speed? Awesome! Add that together, and you have a 30-minute, 10-track, lo-fi dance-pop album that aims to please. Boston clearly loves their hometown heroes, and so should you. Get Young opens with "Piranha," followed by "Tora Tora Tora," and from there on in the whole thing just shouts at you to jump around. There's so much energy in this album -- outside of the forth track "Peekaboo," which is clearly a chance for the band to take a break, grab some coffee, and recharge for the last five tracks -- that it's ridiculous.
I really wonder, however, how much I'd like Get Young had I not been listening to Fugazi and Ghostface Killah the week before. It's a caffeinated shot to the ears and it's kind of refreshing, but what if I had I been listening to, say, the White Stripes, Vampire Weekend, or Tokyo Police Club? Perhaps I would have been less impressed.
That's the whole problem with this CD: as good as it might be, it gets lost in the milieu of lo-fi noise-rock with which we've been inundated for the past few years. So while, yes, Get Young is a good CD, and songs like "Hideaway Tokyo" make me want to get up and dance, if I were into that kind of thing, when it's all said and done, you're left with another good album that isn't able to stake it's claim at the top.
Snitches Get Stitches
They always say to never judge a book by its cover. That's never been truer with the new CD by Rahway, Snitches Get Stitches. The cover looks like a Photoshop project that a band member did in school. Ten years ago.
Don't let the generic graphics fool you, however, because what lies inside is a terrific collection of hard rock that manages to combine some of yesteryear's staples with today's influence. Appropriately named after the infamous New Jersey industrial wasteland, the band seems to embody the area's solid work ethic. Starting off with "Machine," you're struck by how the band's melded a traditional hard rock track with a modern feel -- it counterbalances angst-ridden lyrics with a hooky yet seemingly off-key chorus. The band does a unique balancing act, going from Mötley Crüe to Creed.
The 14-track CD is loaded with several solid rockers, mixed in with generically-named power ballad "I Can Feel It." The song wouldn't be so bad, except that it follows "Draggin Fire," another slow-tempo track, and the both help to bring the momentum to a screeching halt. All in all, though, Rahway has made a solid album. While it may feel dated at times, so what?
The Reel Banditos
The Reel Banditos are an instrumental trip-hop duo based in Hamburg. On Indochina, their second album, the Reel Banditos incorporate lots of unprocessed sounds in their material, from guitars to keyboards to all sorts of percussion. The nominal subject of the record is the Vietnam War, but only a few of the songs are directly inspired by the war; it seems to be more of a loose theme. Concept aside, the record does cover a broad range of feels, from heavy rock to hip-hop to more electronic sounds. And they do have good taste in riffs.
One of the coolest beats is "Huey," which, appropriately enough, begins with loud thudding drums processed to sound like helicopter rotors, which become a theme throughout. The song has a big, heavy rock feel to it, accompanied by loud distorted guitar chords, but despite its heaviness, it somehow remains groovy.
"The Continental" manages to combine a spacey, atmospheric beat with lots of percussion and a disorienting feel. The band members use extremely long delay to keep things floating and keep things slightly off-kilter by occasionally weaving an extra beat in, along with an occasional piano dissonant cluster. Not the sort of thing you normally find in your trip-hop.
Overall, Indochina is a beautiful record, covering a wider range of ground than you might otherwise expect. And they are good at coming up with cool melodies, from the slide guitar in "Grunt," to the minimalist marimba part in "The Cu Chi Tunnels," to the distorted guitar in "Poisoned Sky." And all the parts come together in occasionally unpredictable ways. These guys have put together something unusual.
Scale The Summit
Carving Desert Canyons
With Carving Desert Canyons, Scale The Summit does something few other instro-metal bands have been able to do, at least for me -- they've taken the long-reviled guitar-shredder motif, stripped it of all the jaded, post-ironic hipsterness, set it on fire, and aimed the burning ship straight at the heart of the sun. And that's a good thing from where I sit, because these days honest-to-God guitar heroics-for-heroics'-sake have become nearly an auditory gag, a trick in a band's repertoire that allows them to sit back and smirk while saying, "see, I can do this; I just choose not to 'cause I'm too cool."
Hell, even in the heyday of guitar instrumentalism, when guitar-tab rags outnumbered hip-hop magazines and kids dreamed of being the next Nuno Bettencourt, there was a weird fakery to it all. The guitar gods of yore weren't doing it for The Rock, despite what they'd have had you believe, but for all the blow and chicks that came with it. And they were shticky, too, with everybody trying to one-up one another, to come up with the next great guitar virtuoso trick that'd send the kids running back to their bedrooms to spend hours trying to figure out how the hell that guy did that.
Scale The Summit, though, they don't fall into that trap -- there's no misplaced, over-the-top gimmickry going on here, but rather careful, meticulously thought-out and choreographed compositions that just happen to use guitars to do what the band wants to do. These aren't songs; they're orchestral set-pieces, as gorgeous and weighty and masterful as a symphony doing its thing. There's a serenely calm, almost smiling vibe to the whole thing, where you can practically picture the band members on stage just weaving in and out of one another, layering guitar line upon guitar line. At the same time, the fervor with which the four guys in Scale The Summit attack their instruments makes it clear that they are in this for The Rock, whether or not it takes them anywhere.
As the album's title implies, of course, this is considerably heavier than most symphonies you're likely to hear, and that's "heavy" in terms of plate tectonics; the guitars simultaneously grind and soar, sounding more like the soundtrack to natural upheavals than, say, star-crossed lovers or Vikings fighting hordes of zombies or something. Listening to tracks like "Age of the Tide," with its soaring, touch-the-sky, Satriani riffs, or album high point "The Great Plains," with its fucking brilliant pre-break motif and heavily prog-rock bass, makes me feel like I'm sitting in an IMAX theater somewhere, watching on a 6-story high screen as some time-lapsed glacier roars silently down a moraine. It's utterly epic, but in a grandeur-of-nature sort of way.
Obviously, these guys owe a fair amount to modern instro-rock contemporaries like Pelican, The Fucking Champs, or Red Sparowes, but they grab tight to that torch and turn it incandescent, to the extent where if you gave me the choice of listening to only one of the three aforementioned bands or Scale The Summit ever again, I'd pick STS in a heartbeat. When you dig beneath the crust of thundering, Mastodon-heavy guitar rhythms, too, there's a heavy prog-metal influence going on, with bright shards of Dream Theater or Fates Warning peeking out.
And yep, there's also a lot of insanely nimble, nearly jazz-y Steve Vai-/Eric Johnson-esque guitar-god acrobatics, enough to launch a whole new generation of guitar magazines. The band brings to mind Johnson's Ah Via Musicom, in particular, with their crazy "keyboard-or-guitar?" tone; as with Johnson, the guitars start to seem less like actual instruments and more like some kind of weird, beautiful, otherworldly sounds. Put it all together, and it's majestic and crushing at once, perfectly envisioned and pulled off like it was crafted by a bunch of guitar-wielding savants. I honestly don't think I've ever heard an instrumental guitar album -- of any era -- this start-to-finish fucking mind-blowingly cool.
[Scale The Summit is playing 5/2/09 at Javajazz Coffee House in Spring, along with Protest The Hero, Misery Signals, & The Number Twelve Looks Like You.]
Sea Sick Music
Provo, Utah-based band Shark Speed released their first full-length, independent album, Sea Sick Music, this month at a CD release show in Provo, where the band handed out the album free to all who attended. The band took out loans and scraped together the money necessary to travel to Arizona to record the album all on their own and are now in the process of sending it out to different indie labels.
Sea Sick Music is a 10-track, 37-minute album full of catchy, dance-rock music that does an exceptional job of capturing the energy of the band's live performances. Each time I listen to the album, I love it more and more, and each time I see them play and hear the now-familiar songs, my fascination with the album grows even greater.
From the beginning of "Cast Off Dance Off," my personal favorite, all the way to the last track, "Ten to Twenty Years," listeners will be caught tapping along and humming to the beat. Besides the pure catchiness of the album and the crystal-clear sound it radiates, what really draws me in to the album each time is the charming voice of vocalist Thayne Fagg. His clever lyrics draw from a range of issues, from death and old flings to dealing with personal failures. Adding to the appeal is the band's use of the trumpet in many of its songs.
Shark Speed's first full-length is a hit in my book. Although they are yet unsigned, I'm excited to see what will come in the future; they're going to be huge. This album, I feel, is flawless. They couldn't have done any better on their first go-round.
Post-Asiatic Lost War Dream Music: A Compilation of Eastern Influenced Experimental Music
Those hoping for Electric Psychedelic Sitar Headswirlers Vol. 88 may not get exactly what they're looking for, but this is a fine release from Urck nonetheles. It's a two-CD (it was issued on vinyl a while back) set of avant-garde, traditional, psych and electronic sounds made primarily by Westerners on stuff like ouds, singing bowls, gamelans, and dulsitars, as well as typical rock gear. There're a few recognizable names here -- Amps For Christ, Muslimgauze, Bill Horist -- but for the most part, it's a pretty obscure assembly (Catastrophic Mermaids On Parade, anyone?) that'll give adventurous record junkies some new leads to follow.
Ever since the Beatles and the Stones brought home sitars and tablas, musicians from Europe and the Americas have looked to the East for inspiration to get a little further out, and those tunings and tones are well represented here. This ride doesn't just stop at the Indian Sub-continent or the Middle East, though; the Orient is here in spirit, as well. Making the trip all the more authentic (and disorientating) are the side trip field recordings of strolls through Indian markets, bells, arguments, prayers, and jam sessions overheard through paper windows.
There aren't really any downers here except for some cheesy spoken lyrics (thanks, F-Space and Baba Larriji) on a mostly instrumental happening, and Muslimgauze's electronic track sounds only roughly more "Asiatic" to these ears than say, Eddie Money. The winners make it worth the price of admission, though, and theres plenty of standouts.
Forgotten Fish Memory Orchestra & Amps For Christ start it off with a sun-baked pair of daydreams, and you're already "there" moments after takeoff. Volcanosis' "Galapagobeats" sounds a bit like a Psychic Ills/Bardo Pond tag team. Metal Rouge brings first rate drone that transcends yer socks off. Frith-like guitar wizard Bill Horist gives us a Morse code tap dance and mystic violin serenade, supposedly with only guitar, screwdriver, and bow (I want video proof). Moe! Staiano's "Chungking" is a percussive blast that could bring the Boredoms to attention. Neung Phak delivers a fun little ditty that's equal parts "Telstar," spaghetti Western, and dub that somehow still sounds a little Oriental.
Go ahead and get it for yourself or, better yet, get it as a gift for a friend that wants to get into "world musics"; they won't like it, so they'll give it back and you can take it back to your opium den feeling good about it.
Supply and Depend
What do you do when the big-name, influential as all get-out metalcore band you're doing time in crashes and burns? In the case of From Autumn To Ashes' Francis Mark and Rob Lauritsen, well, you get a chance to finally do that side project-type thing together that you've wanted to do for a while now, and do something that's at least a little bit different in the process.
Not that Warship's debut, Supply and Defend, truly does a whole lot that's new, mind you. The songs the duo (Mark on vocals and drums, Lauritsen on guitars and bass) comes up with meld together the guys' metalcore roots, all speedy thrash and chunky guitars and half-screaming vocals, with doom-y, bluesy, straight-up metal a la Early Man, Federation X, and the like. The result is thundering, bass-heavy, with guitars that swerve between Pelican and Deftones, coupled with vocals that are shredded and ragged but never incomprehensible. It's heavy and raw, but not as far over-the-top as screamo, thankfully, and incorporates quite a bit of actual melody (again, drawing things nearer to Deftones territory, or maybe Far). A handful of the tracks are downright pretty, albeit in a desperate way, not something I'd tend to expect from a couple of metalcore vets.
Lauritsen's bass, all things considered, is the band's secret weapon. I've got no clue how Lauritsen makes his sound so crunching and heavy, but still keep it well-defined. It's big and grand, heavy but nowhere near sludgy, and that's no mean feat. His bass is like the sound of some old-world deity stomping across the landscape; it's "big" like a thundercloud is "big," and just as impressive. That said, he's no solo player. In spite of Warship being a two-man band, Supply and Depend feels a hell of a lot like a tightly-coiled four-piece unit.
Lyrically, this tends to be some deep stuff. Not pretentious, really, but deep, kind of a ten-song meditation on the burnt-out and cracked-wide-open state of the world; tracks like "Wounded Paw" and "Empty Vessel" are about searching for meaning in a world that sometimes seems designed to keep us stupid and compliant. It's got a serious political bent, but not in a real specific way, just more of a "fight the system" feel that's reminiscent at times of a less-overt Strike Anywhere.
Even the titles of songs like "Profit Over People" and "We've Never Been Equal" pretty much spell out Frank's general worldview. Will Supply and Depend change the universe, musically or sociopolitically? Nah, probably not. But it's a nice change of pace, all the same.
I'm not completely sure what to make of the intertwined, fuzzy (well, partly), messy knot of an album that is the self-titled debut of Calgary foursome Women. When it first starts, with the haunted voices, fucked-up guitars, and thwacking drums of too-short "Cameras," I feel like I'm staring down the barrel of a reinvented VU, primitive-sounding and raw but still melodic and 21st Century-ized, a little like Comet Gain without the Britishisms. "Lawncare" takes that initial noisy scrape and morphs it into a fair impersonation of a ceaseless, relentless machine, which then subtly fades into the background -- nicely done, by the way, so that I almost don't realize it's happening -- to form a bed of rhythm laid beneath plinking, delicately insistent guitars and distant, nearly choral vocals. "Woodbine" strips away even the machinery, leaving only a simmering, roiling, vocal-less mess of feedback and noise.
And then everything changes. With "Black Rice," suddenly me and the band are standing out in an empty field somewhere, and they're all strumming guitars and singing sunshiny, sincere, retro, handclaps-and-all psych-pop that sounds like it slid languidly off some forgotten compilation in your hippie uncle's back closet. What the fuck are these guys playing at, here? "Sag Harbor Bridge" makes things even stranger, dropping me headlong into a beautifully nimble, fingerpicked bit of instrumental guitar work, just echoing, back-and-forth guitars, shallow waves of synth, and a quiet bass drum thump in the background; at that point, I'm thinking maybe it's all a fake, that the primitivism shtick from earlier was just a lure to get me in so they could carve me up with the shards of Byrds albums or something.
"Group Transport Hall" and "Shaking Hand" somewhat solidify things, however -- the former is similar to "Black Rice," but less pretty and more Clinic-esque, with a nice, driving rhythm, while the latter takes those churning, mid-fi, trebly guitars from the beginning and welds them to the fleet-fingered playing later on. Ah, I'm thinking, okay; I get it now. This is what this band's really about. Only that's when the trip starts to go bad again. "Upstairs" is chunky and shambling but not too overbearing, but then "January 8th" is out-and-out frantic, building towards some crescendo it never really reaches, and it leads straight into "Flashlights," which is scattered, spiraling cycles of instrumentation winding down and down and down itself. And then it's done.
There's something weirdly captivating about Women -- I can't really say that I like it, because I'm not entirely convinced I do, but I'm having a hard time turning away, instead feeling compelled to bob my head to the quirky guitars and propulsive drums. There's a magnetic pull to it, in part because my brain's continually trying to figure out what the hell's going on. A glance at the credits helps; the whole thing was produced by Chad VanGaalen (for whom the men of Women serve as a backing band, to boot), a guy who's made his own musical name cobbling together bizarre piles of sound, layering his voice over it, and somehow making it work. Yeah, then it all snaps into focus and makes a kind of sense.
Not that Women are VanGaalen-Gone-Band-Sized, mind you; where his songs are like tiny, fragile icicles of melody that are pretty when they shouldn't be, Women's compositions really are like some kind of dangerous, schizophrenia-inducing drug. You hang on in part because you don't know where you're going, and sometimes it's scary and sometimes it's sunny, but the journey's worth it in the end.
[Women is playing 3/18/09 at Rudyard's, along with Crystal Stilts & Chase Hamblin.]