ADULT. is a duo from Detroit (Adam Lee Miller and Nicola Kuperus) that, appropriately enough, plays electronic music. ADULT. recorded Why Bother, their fourth album, after a third member left the group. Their beats use lots of distorted keyboard and synth loops, which makes them heavy and intense, and Kuperus's vocals add even more tension.
It's an interesting idea, but it doesn't always work. Too many of the beats sound the same. The duo likes noise-filled beats, but on a lot of the songs, there's no break in the beat or change to a different texture or anything to change things up. And when everything has such intensity, you need to occasionally bring things down a bit, or else it saps the energy (like with Rage Against the Machine). They change things around on a couple of songs, but it's not nearly often enough.
There are a couple of good songs here, though. The best one here is "Plagued by Fear" -- it has enough variety that it keeps your attention, and the dynamics of the beat change between the verse and chorus. It's appropriate that the track is the best song here, because "Plagued by Fear" also describes their sound and feel, although this beat isn't like the rest -- it's much less fuzzy than the others here. Is it good that the best song here sounds the least like the rest?
The other good song here is "Inclined to Vomit." It's more in ADULT.'s normal vein, with lots of heavy, distorted synths; there's this great, oppressive, dissonant synth riff that goes around and around and penetrates your skull every time it comes in. The tension-and-release at different points makes it really dynamic and gives life to the beat. It also gives life to the vocals -- they have the most spirit of any song here.
Kuperus and Miller have a style that's distinctly and peculiarly theirs -- there aren't many bands that like the disquieting beats in which they specialize. If they can just focus on the craftsmanship, they'd really have something striking. They're definitely worth keeping an eye on.
I remember seeing Dashboard Confessional back when they did the "we're still bros" tour with Further Seems Forever -- Jason Gleason was singing for FSF, and Dan Hoerner was part of Dashboard at the time. The band that played right before FSF was Seville, which I found out was another "bro band" from Florida, featuring Mike Marsh on drums and vocals. Marsh, of course, was also a part of the proto-full band Dashboard Confessional back then, and he hung around to become part of the actual solidified band later.
I actually enjoyed Seville the most of all the bands that evening, so I was pretty stoked to discover that Marsh was part of The Agency, along with Chris Drueke (who shares singing and writing duties) and Klaus Ketelhorn. I subsequently found out The Agency pre-dated Seville as a band, but hey, let's not get too technical here.
The Agency does remind me a lot of Seville at times, of course, mainly on the Mike Marsh songs -- here The Agency evoke something along the lines of Bayside, or The Stereo, just good, loud, driving, pop-ish rock. On the Drueke-penned songs, The Agency come across as more of a Ben Folds-type band, like maybe "rocking pop" or something, especially when they pull out the piano on tracks like "Clean Water." Whatever you want to call it, both incarnations are great at what they do, and when the guys sing together (as on "Mary Mourn"), it sounds pretty damn phenomenal. I would compare them to Uncle Tupelo in that regard, or maybe even Fugazi. You_ve got two strong front men writing songs that might be a little different -- hell, the album might even get a little schizophrenic at times -- but at the end of the day you end up with two killer bands for the price of one. If the albums keep sounding like Turn, I'll always go with that deal.
Analog Heartbreak made me a little nervous with the liner notes to their self-titled EP. Not only do they thank the big J.C., but the cover features a tattoo bearing the legend "Deo Vindice," or "protected by god." Scary stuff for us secular types who still remember when people wore Stryper t-shirts.
Not to worry, though, as there's nothing here but solid alt-country goodness. The band gels together well, and you can almost smell the stale beer and van sweat. If they do have a connection to the guy upstairs, Singer Ryan McClellan is using it to channel the voice of Warren Zevon. Listen to the first few lines of "I'll Forget Again" and tell me I'm wrong. In the later songs it's less obvious; McClellan has maybe a hint of a J. Mascis edge to his voice in the slower songs. He is a charismatic singer, however, and can navigate the terrain of country song heartbreak while avoiding the pitfall of being overly earnest.
If there's something to gripe about here, it's that four of the five songs share a groove that's a bit Wilcoish, albeit grittier and bluesier. "Girl With A Broken Heart" slows down a bit and has a nice twangy lead break to change the pace. "I'll Forget Again" stands out from the other four, maybe if only because you hear it first. Still, it's the song I'd pick as a single, if I had to. Overall though, it's a very solid effort from the type of band I'd rather see live than hear on record, if only for the possibility of a "Lawyers, Guns, and Money" cover.
Rites of Uncovering
It's funny, but while Arbouretum's "Pale Rider Blues" swipes the title of a classic Eastwood flick, it sure as hell sounds like the band picked the wrong one to swipe from. This is far closer to High Plains Drifter, for my money. The bass plods along darkly, repeating the same two notes over and over again while the guitars wail forlornly above and frontman/songwriter Dave Heumann (who made his bones playing with Papa M., Bonnie Prince Billy, Anomoanon, and other folk) solemnly ponders deep, gloomy things. It's windswept, haunting, and dusty, a song for a dead, moonlit desert night.
The "desert" feel holds throughout Rites of Uncovering -- even brighter, prettier tracks like "Ghosts of Here and There" or the tribal-sounding "Two Moons" seep in like sand coming in through a hole in a tent. Heumann and company take hold of vintage California folk-rock a la Buffalo Springfield and force-feed it quaaludes 'til everything slows to an utterly deliberate pace, stark but with a hint of psychedelic strangeness peeking in around the corners. Simply put, Arbouretum could well be the genteel, thinking-man's counterpart to Josh Homme's whole blistered Death Valley rock scene.
At its sparsest, as on "Tonight's A Jewel," the band strolls along like a less-bitter Richard Thompson, but when they turn up the volume (a bit), they're Neil Young & Crazy Horse slowed down two speeds. That '60s vibe filters through from time to time (the murky storytelling of "Mohammed's Hex and Bounty"), lending a gritty, earthy soul to the music and giving some substance to the darkly-imagined lyrics.
The guitars are thick and meaty at times, lanky and prog at others, and tempered with a thoroughly post-millennial sense of restraint and balance; it all meanders, but it's not lost, just somehow searching. And with three languid tracks longer than 7:00 (closing field chant-cum-Are You Experienced? outtake "The Rise" is 11+ minutes long), these guys (Heumann, Walker David Teret, Corey Allender, and Daniel Franz) sound like they could draw out a jam for a couple of hazy, head-nodding days. Hell, if it's all like this, I know I wouldn't mind.
The Broken West
I Can't Go On, I'll Go On
You can sneer and the stick the ambient-noise CDs in the car stereo all you want, but it's a fact: done right, nothing beats a good power-pop song. And with I Can't Go On, I'll Go On, Silverlake/Echo Park popsters The Broken West hit the mark a ridiculous amount of the time. The music sucks in all the power-pop influences -- The Kinks, Big Star, The Cars, Teenage Fanclub, The Byrds, Elvis Costello -- along with a few surprises (the Velvets, The Magnetic Fields, The Stereo) and yet manages to emerge its own distinct creature. You've got the gorgeous melodies, the alternately hazy, shimmery, and jangly guitars, the richly textured organ, the Byrdsian group harmonies, the fuzzy-soft curtain of sound the surrounds it all, the whole nine yards.
The best part, though, is that unlike the somnolence of a lot of The Broken West's contemporaries/idols (Teenage Fanclub, I love you, but...), this isn't power-pop to listen to lying down. There's an undeniable fire to this stuff; the band's not content to just sit back and nod their heads serenely, but instead sound like they'd be happiest tearing up the stage at some tiny club in the sticks. Tracks like "Down in the Valley" and "On the Bubble" practically explode from the speakers with joyous abandon, the guitars sparkling and clanging, Byrds-style, the band grinning from ear to ear. Odds are, you will be, too, once they're done doing their thing.
No, I've never taken drugs (aside, mind you, from an accidental high I got just from being at a House of Pain/Cypress Hill concert, but that wasn't intentional...). No real good reason why not, no big X's scrawled across my fists; I just never have, and eh, I'm okay with that. So, given that, I generally have to resort to other means to do any kind of mind-expanding. Over the years, it's been music that really does the trick, that lets me just lean back and bliss out. Cue The Comas' new album, Spells.
I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting, but this wasn't really it. What I'd heard from The Comas previously had been fairly standard, laid-back indie-rock fare with an O.C.-friendly tinge to it and an endearing love of sci-fi themes (see "Last Transmission," off of 2004's Conductor) -- good, yes, but nothing really out of the ordinary.
From the first blast of "Red Microphones," however, it becomes clear that the gloves have not only been taken off but have been set on fire and dropped off the roof of the building. The song is a trippy, seductive burst of sunshiy psychedelic rock, a quirky re-envisioning of the valiant sword-wielding hero as mic-slinging monster slayer (er, I think...). This is the kind of music that makes me just want to lay back in a sunny place and bob my head along, smiling all the while. Think the Starlight Mints cramming their surreal pop through Marshall stacks and fuzz pedals, or the Flaming Lips with just a hint of the sinister (which makes since, as producer Bill Racine's worked with the Lips in the past), and you'll come close to the overall sound of Spells.
The whole thing is soaked in a sorta-creepily-smiling lysergic haze, pumped full of loud, overfuzzed guitar, and topped off with vocals just this side of Rivers Cuomo. Oddly, despite the band's Chapel Hill beginnings (as a joke alt-country band, or so I've heard), they seem to have the most in common with L.A. psych-rockers Silversun Pickups. Tracks like "Come My Sunshine" and "Stoneded" are simultaneously gorgeously distorted and furious, thrusting along in full-on rock majesty mode -- I particularly like how the latter song slowly disintegrates to nothing at the end, like the night's partying fades to daytime responsibility every sunrise. "New Wolf" is similar, frantic and thunderous, with a driving beat that grabs you by the head and doesn't let go. There's just something sublime about guitars that sound so thick and fuzzed-out you almost imagine you could reach out and grab the noise with both hands.
Of course, you've got to have some delicacy to balance out The Rock, so there's also some eerier, slower stuff, like "I Am A Spider" (which features some awesomely crazed Robert Quine-esque guitar leads), "Sarah T." (which almost sounds like the Byrds), or "Thistledown" (which reminds me of Sparklehorse in its gentle wooziness). The album finishes with "After The Afterglow," quiet but still drenched in low-key noise, a figurative chill-out room tacked on at the the rest of the album.
And then, just as it's completely bowled you over, Spells is gone. Poof. Who needs drugs with rock like this?
It seemed for a while that Victory Records was shifting its focus to more melodic bands, like Spitalfield and Bayside and eschewing the hardcore days of yore. Not the case, it seems. Comeback Kid's Broadcasting pretty much proves that Victory can still put out some amazing skullcrushers when they want to. It's probably the best metallic hardcore album that I've heard in a long while -- although admittedly, I had begun to think the genre had become stagnant, having jumped the jersey-wearing, tattooed shark long ago. I began to rethink that stance when I saw Comeback Kid open up for Gorilla Biscuits last year; they fucking killed at that show. Now I have their new album in my hot little hands, and it fucking kills, too.
Comeback Kid doesn't necessarily redefine the metallic hardcore landscape or anything on Broadcasting, but they show us how to do it the right way. The guitars rage, the drums pummel, and the vocals are ragged without becoming unintelligible grunts. There's even a dash or two of melody thrown in amongst the multitude of mosh breakdowns -- the title track has been stuck in my head since I heard it. Part of what makes the album so listenable is the production, handled by Bill Stevenson, of All/Descendents fame, and Jason Livermore, along with the band itself. It's crisp, clean, and punchy, with killer tones and separation, easily making it one of the best sounding hardcore albums I've ever heard. If you think you might be outgrowing the whole hardcore thing, give Broadcasting a listen. It may give you a new lease on life...or at the very least remind you of what it feels like to want to punch something.
Die! Die! Die!
Die! Die! Die!
Steve Albini is ruining music. True, he's probably made a hundred good records and more than a few great ones, but that's exactly the problem: he's made so many good records, so many well-loved records, that everyone who likes those records apparently wants to record with Albini, and sometimes it's not a very good idea. Case in point: Die! Die! Die! This Kiwi punk band has a pretty standard post-punk twangy-riffs-and-yelling sound that, live, might cohere wonderfully. They don't have the songwriting skills to carry a weak performance, though, and everything seems to have gone to hell in the studio. Drummer Michael Prain doesn't have the muscle to fill up the Electrical Audio sonic space or the restraint to play within it, and as a result the studio's characteristic reverb turns his drums to mush. Andrew Wilson's voice suffers the same fate, echoing weakly.
Albini's upside-down mixing -- drums and bass on top, guitar and vocals underneath -- doesn't help, either, as it allows Prain and bassist Lachlan Anderson, who is solid but doesn't lead, to swallow up Wilson's guitar. That guitar is often the most interesting part of DDD's music, but it's almost exclusively interpreted here as a backing instrument. An example is the clever, halting riff that opens "Out of the Blue" and then is immediately rendered inaudible by the entrance of Prain and Anderson. A further problem here is Albini's naturalistic philosophy, which has apparently prevented the correction of a major timing problem in "Shyness Will Get You Nowhere": as Wilson's scream announces the climax of the song, the tempo suddenly drops, as if the band had accidentally gone for second gear instead of fourth. Whoops!
Finally, the mastering process may have sealed the album's coffin: the band took their mixed record from the Studio That Punk Built to that hallowed hall of pop, Abbey Road, where it sounds as if the album was compressed heavily and turned up in volume. Whether this is what happened or not, something somewhere has squashed all the dynamic variation out of this record, thoroughly defeating the biggest strength of Albini's recording style, namely, the preservation the natural variations of live play.
Die! Die! Die!'s music is not complex, and their album's production is extremely simple. Any decent local studio -- which, admittedly, may be rare in New Zealand -- could have made a raw, tight, dry, fun document of it, and then any decent mastering house could have squashed and cranked it a bit. Instead, the band flew halfway around the planet twice to work with famous engineers, and they're left with a jumbled mess. Let's hope it was a learning experience. By design, Albini's best work was done with the best bands in the world. Crossing the Pacific on the assumption that you're one of them is a risky proposition.
New Used Car
It's not every day you randomly run across a noted female blues/roots artist, especially one who has several albums with the Austin-based Antone's label. Being a Texas gal myself, I'm automatically wary when non-Southerners attempt to play the blues (Foley's Canadian -- eh). Luckily for me, though, I'm also a huge fan of females kicking musical ass, so I was excited to hear Sue Foley's tenth album, New Used Car.
Unfortunately, that excitement waned considerably as I listened to the album. While I can't say anything about her first nine musical releases, I can tell you that New Used Car fell considerably short in the originality department. The title is quite apt, because that's exactly what the tone of the album felt like: a new used car.
I searched desperately for the intensity of feeling and heartfelt lyrics that are essential to creating a good blues album, but I never found them. What I found instead were uninspired, trite lyrics and, honestly, boredom. I was forcing myself to listen to each song in the hopes that midway through one of them I'd be blown away by some subconscious passion that had lain dormant and was itching to let itself out in these songs. Never happened. Even the artist herself didn't sound convinced of her own words.
As a result of the lackluster lyrics, the musical aspect of the album was completely lost. I tried to listen past the words and focus on the music, but it wasn't possible. The integrity of the album was completely compromised by the utter lack of feeling. It doesn't take a musical genius or even a blues lover to recognize that raw emotion and life experience are key ingredients for good blues. I've discovered that with age comes intense wisdom and understanding. Thus, logically speaking, one would assume the body of work that a blues musician creates would become more rich and fulfilling with every year. Sadly, New Used Car defies such logic and leaves the listener with nothing more than the intense feeling of sleepiness.
There's no 666 in Outer Space
Drummer Zach Hill and guitarist Spencer Seim of Hella gained cult fame for the jaw-dropping density and virtuosity of their work as a duo in the early 2000s, but by 2005 they were showing signs of artistic exhaustion. The tonic turned out to be a bigger band: the addition of vocals, bass, and backup guitar in 2005 dramatically revitalized Hella's performances. There's No 666 in Outer Space, recorded by Hella as a five-piece during 2006, captures this rebirth stunningly.
Hill and Seim's radicalization of rock music into a complex fabric of tightly interlocking riffs remains the foundation of Hella, but the expansion of the band and the addition of the human voice have enabled them to build a musical structure of more sonic and emotional weight than ever before. 666 is no less challenging than Hella's earlier work; Aaron Ross's wailing vocals, in particular, will grate on some listeners' ears. Careful investigation, however, uncovers a stirring contemplation of the knowability of nature, the mystery of death, and the intractable materiality of the human mind. Meanwhile, riffs of immense vitality run a dizzying race around and around each other, rearranging the language of rock into a gibbering sonic Esperanto. It's the musical equivalent of speaking in tongues. Like Ives, Beckett, Kandinsky, and Coleman before them, Hella are the mad prophets of a global culture that is continually coming apart at the seams.
The Jennifer Echo
Be Dangerous on Rock Guitar
Where in the hell did this come from? (Okay, apparently from Portland, and from the ashes of Wisconsin pop-punkers Ben Grim, but you get my meaning.) Get past the goofy cover art concept (i.e., making fun of cheesy "learn to rock!" guitar instruction books), and what you've got in The Jennifer Echo's Be Dangerous on Rock Guitar is possibly the most diamond-like, tightly compacted, brilliant gem of power pop I've heard in years.
Musically, there're echoes of everybody who's anybody in the realm of power pop/rock, from Cheap Trick and Big Star on through to the much-maligned Doughboys, The Stereo, and Semisonic (especially on the vocals). Every song on here combines beautiful, sweetly-sung harmonies, catchy choruses, bombastic guitars (with just a hint of hair-metal sheen showing through), earnestly sincere lyrics, and retro-sounding keys/synths, and the result is utterly amazing.
The detailed rundown: "The Last Disaster" comes off defiant and rocking, with keyboard melodies the Rentals would kill to have thought up; "There's A Halo" is darker and a little melancholy while remaining unrepentantly poppy (and heck, I don't even mind the occasional klunky lyric); "The Feeling" is the closest the Jennifer Echo gets to emo, with its pleading vocals and pretty guitar lines, like Jimmy Eat World covering the Gin Blossoms; and "Edna Avenue" is the album's crowning moment, an anti-ode to the historical landscape of a failed relationship with a chorus so simple and arrestingly catchy it makes my jaw drop.
Be Dangerous on Rock Guitar is like eating candy (really good candy, actually): no matter how many times I listen, I want to hear it all again (the EP clocks in at 14:03, by the way, which makes that part easier), and no matter how loud I turn it up, I still want it louder. More, please.
I have to admit that I was primed for disappointment with this album -- I've seen and heard too many reunions-after- long-hiatuses end badly. Despite my doubts, Lifetime is back, and it's like they never left in the first place. From the first blasted chord to the final note (a mere 25 minutes later), Lifetime picks up pretty much where the band left off 10 years ago: catchy pop sensibilities wrapped in hardcore riffage, delivered with boundless energy. It's pretty amazing that after 10 or more years of getting "borrowed" from, Lifetime can still come out with an album that sounds like Lifetime...but only as Lifetime can sound.
Sonically, Lifetime sits somewhere between Hello Bastards and Jersey's Best Dancers; it's got the energy of the former combined with the overall accessibility of the latter. The band is in the finest form it has ever been, beating the shit out of each song like it was their last performance ever. Lyrically, Lifetime's songs are still head and shoulders above most of their peers and illegitimate offspring. Calling them "hardcore storytellers" might be a little pretentious and lame, but, well, that's what they are, dammit. They take the mundane and make it epic, as in "Airport Monday Morning"'s description of a couple's long goodbye. In the hands of a lesser band, this would become treacly cheese of the highest order. Lifetime grounds it, makes it real, and makes it poignant.
You won't find Lifetime exploring new territory or anything, but really, should they be? They do what they do extremely well -- better than anyone else who's tried, in my opinion. Personally, I'm down with a return to form. After all, there have been 10 years worth of really crappy poseurs to forget about. The chorus of "Northbound Breakdown" says "I hope you're in your car right now, turnin' this shit up so loud"...and all I can offer is my heartfelt agreement.
Love Me Destroyer
The Things Around Us Burn
Love Me Destroyer, a four-piece from Colorado, fall somewhere between Jawbox and Braid, with a little thrash thrown in. On The Things Around Us Burn, the songs are mostly protest music in the style of Guy Pizzicato, with a few love songs here and there. The band comes up with lots of menacing lead guitar parts; they've got the occasional wanky moment, but also throw in some good moments, too.
They're good at coming up with interesting details to decorate the songs. During the chorus of "Choked and Charmed," the lead part has strange-sounding harmonics that are really wild. On "F.U.I.Q.," the singers trade off vocals, which adds to the song. The rhythm guitar riff on "Color of the Grave" is simple but effective, and the way the singers alternate between singing melody and harmony vocals at the end is really cool.
Unfortunately, more of these moments do come off as wanky. "Bleed It Now" has some doubled lead guitars that lean towards the pop side of metal, while the guitars and melodies on "I Went to Las Vegas and "Kiss and Tell" smell strongly of hairspray, even with the guys shouting the whole time. "You'll Never Take Me Alive" has some doubled vocals and "oooh's," which may have been meant to be fun but are just annoying. To Love Me Destroyer's credit, they do keep the wankier stuff towards the second half of the album, but since that's also where most of the best songs are, it makes their judgement seem less sound.
There are some solid songs here, mind you -- "Color of the Grave," "You'll Never Take Me Alive," and "F.U.I.Q" are all strong songs all the way around. And even the ones that aren't as good still have some interesting details, whether good or bad. Love Me Destroyer is definintely a band with some potential. If they can come up with better songs to add their interesting details to, they'll have something solid.
Our Last Sleep is Our Final Awakening
Mabou plays instrumental rock heavily in the My Bloody Valentine vein. They experiment with various kinds of distortion and noise. Their record, Our Last Sleep is Our Final Awakening, is almost entirely instrumental. They play trance-inducing grooves, with drum beats that are very precise and groovy in a heavy rock kind of way. The music ranges from simple repeated riffs to actual songs, with lots of noise on top of everything.
The problem is that the noise, which is what they're most interested in here, starts to sound the same after a while. If there's enough to the song, then you don't mind, and the combination works. But the melodic parts of most of the songs aren't very interesting either -- they're not even melodic, they're just riffs. If there were melodies for the riffs to contrast with (either vocal or instrumental), that would be one thing, but it's just a bunch of riffs by themselves, and they get old.
The one decent song here is called "You're Like Lights in December"; it doesn't have much melody, but it does have dynamics and more variety than the other songs here. The keyboard parts here are pretty, particularly when the volume drops down. And when they get to the big guitar riff (which is big and snarling and really cool), they don't go on for too long at that level -- they bring the noise up in the background, which keeps things moving. And the bells at the beginning and end add nicely to the song. The song keeps changing, and that's what makes it work so well. If the rest of the songs here were as dynamic, the album might be better, but they're not.
Unfortunately, one song isn't enough to make an album. Or even an EP. What do you do when there's one song on a record that you might like? I guess that's what iTunes is for.
The Higher You Get, The Higher You Get
The Mains are nothing special, but for some reason, everything on The Higher You Get, The Higher You Get works perfectly together. Luckily, the guitar riffs don't sound like any band in particular, but rather are just what I'd expect from a rock band called "The Mains". Guitarists Foster Calhoun and Rich McCully do an excellent job of taking classic, overdriven guitar lines and campy, soft acoustic lines and playing them with the right amount of energy and flow to make a cohesive album.
The Higher You Get, The Higher You Get is a special product of rock and roll. As the press stuff says, "The Higher You Get is a triumph, the sound of a thousand lost weekends and an endless summer of love." Now, it's fine to make an album based on late-night clubs, all-night partying, and love lost and gained, but please, don't be so direct with it. Yes, rock and roll is kinda cliché, but don't hop on that bandwagon. The Higher You Get rocks out, but it's nothing earth-shattering. It's the rock that you heard in a sitcom background track -- I guess that's why I need my rock and roll...
To The Mains' advantage, the vocals fit perfectly over the instruments and add some nice touches to the base. I like the synthesizer on "Tonight," too -- if they're going to indulge in the rock and roll feel, they might as well go all the way with it. The lyrics are what I expected: "We're gonna' live, but we never will die." It's very rock 'n roll. "I believe in love, I believe on you / If you believe in me, that's all well ever need." It's a tad sappy, sure, but Foster Calhoun sings with enough heart to take it completely seriously -- more power to him. Lyrics and guitars aside, the drums sounded solid throughout the entire album and helped keep that rock-solid energy constant.
The Mains have energy, and plenty of it. Sometimes, it doesn't matter what someone plays as long as it's played with the right energy. The Mains are full of energy, and they have a story to tell. That's what it takes to put a decent album together, so congrats, Mains; you're doing all right.
Mess Up the Mess
You Remind Me of Summer Vacation
Mess Up the Mess is a hysterical faux-"riot grrl" band from D.C. whose jangly brand of "messcore" reminds me of a prison break from the kitten pound. The music's mostly in a Buzzcocks-cum-Pixies style, but the harpsichord/keyboard accompaniment truly completes the package of cyberpunk virtual attack. As far as D.C. grrl punk bands go, Mess Up the Mess is very nice. Listening to this album is like watching the Power Puff Girls -- sure, there's innuendo, but with the cheeky lyrics, sung by Jeanni, and relatively clean melody backing from the rest of the group, there's still a reasonably commercially appealing excitement. The great thing about this band is that the band members use it as an outlet to release their angst in a cheerful manner, which makes for a fun, refreshing dose of irony.
Twelve Ways to Breathe
Look no further than Morello's own interpretation of their musical styling to discover what their new album is all about: "Morello's debut release Twelve Ways to Breathe is the Irish-Italian answer to American fans who worship Emo/Screamo bands like Refused and The Used."
Yup, folks. That's pretty much it. If you like annoying, whiny emo songs that are half sung and half screamed at you -- then you'll like Morello just fine.
Motion Commotion EP
They just don't make 'em like this anymore (well, other than this CD, that is). With a tremendous range of musical styling, Motion Commmotion's newest self-titled EP presents a landscape of spectral talents. From the violin and clarinet to rocking bass guitar and drums, the songs on this album flow in a way that truly complements the EP form. Each song has its individual merit, but as a whole, this album ranks one of the most cohesive EPs I've heard so far in this millennium. Songs "BBC Sue" and "Commotion" frame the album with rushes of rock n' roll distorted guitar, but the meat of the EP lies in the melodic, introverted tracks sung by Emanuel Ayvas, who shares an often lugubrious-yet-sanguine style somewhere between Robert Smith from The Cure and Cinjun Tate of Remy Zero. The instrumentation provided by violinist James Wolf, bassist Elliot Stevenson, and clarinetist James Cuccinoto, all accomplished graduates from highly esteemed musical academies, provides interesting layers to Ayvas's exploratory lyrics, bringing the tracks into a harmoniously emotional ambience. Realistically, this band has the potential to be one of the powerhouses of the music world. Motion Commotion blends beauteous melodious qualities and an eclectic "indie" format with catchy, passionate, and sophisticated songs, despite the band having only been together for a brief amount of time. I look forward to seeing what they can accomplish in the future.
Parts & Labor
I wouldn't have guessed it, I'll admit -- I never figured that NYC noiserockers Parts & Labor could top 2006's excellent Stay Afraid, much less do it so effortlessly. But here we are with Mapmaker, which truly lives up to its name; with this release, the band has charged off the edge of the musical map as we know it and are busy drawing the boundaries (such as they are) of their own little country, a utopian place where Hüsker Dü stands side-by-side with Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine.
While Stay Afraid was essentially a noise record with some almost-accidental bursts of anthemic brilliance, Mapmaker grabs hold of the promise of tracks like "A Great Divide" and "A Pleasant Stay" and channels all of Parts & Labor's considerable fury and power into it. The result is an album of roaring, urgent rock anthems that surge and crash on a sea of noisy electronics, guitar feedback, and propulsive, near-frantic drums. The songs on here are like rallying cries for some futuristic tribe of youthful rebels, practically demanding that you pump your fist in the air, stomp your feet on the cracked concrete sidewalk, and howl along. The lyrics evoke some kind of revolution, too, charting a course through a dystopian world where everyone thinks they're a celebrity, people do whatever they're told by the talking heads, and reckless leaders drag us through the muck and blood of war.
It's drummer Chris Weingarten's almost blast beat-like drumming that drives the pace on tracks like opener "Fractured Skies" or "Vision of Repair," while BJ Warshaw's bass comes thundering in overhead like a storm cloud and Dan Friel's guitar throws down the lightning. The guitars alternate between formless walls of melodic sound and spiraling, scraping lines that wind around the edges of the song itself, dodging in and among the electronics. Friel and Warshaw's fucked-up synths bubble and crunch, thick and chunky-sounding, and the two trade vocals that bring to mind Bob Mould at his bitterest, with a touch of Poster Children's Rick Valentin thrown in for good measure.
The Hüsker Dü tag, actually, is the hardest one to escape here. P&L sound like they're doing their damnedest to evoke New Day Rising on every damn song on Mapmaker, and in so doing get nearer to the Minneapolis trio's wall-of-noise aesthetic than anybody (and I mean anybody) else who's tried to fill Hart, Mould, and Norton's big shoes. With this album, there's no noise-for-noise's-sake, thank God, but rather, the band uses the noise, in all its skronking, screaming, blistering glory, and builds some absolutely gorgeous songs out of it. Which, in a way, is exactly what the Hüskers were all about.
The SST connection's given away, as well, by the inclusion of a Minutemen cover, "King of the Hill," which fits so perfectly it sounds like it could very well be a Parts & Labor song -- the only tell, really, is that the lyrics on most of the Frield/Warshaw/Weingarten-penned songs work better than D. Boon's (sorry, Minutemen lovers, but there you go). There's also an abiding love here for the old-school NY art-noise scene that spawned Sonic Youth and Swans, and some subtle nods to '90s indie-rock acts like Chavez, Slint, MBV, or Tortoise.
For their part, Parts & Labor succeed admirably at welding all those influences together (cracks, holes, jagged bits of metal, and all) into something wholly new. The more I listen to Mapmaker, the more convinced I am that no, I really haven't ever heard anything quite like this before. Despite owing a debt to the band's noisy forebears, this is new territory the band's exploring, one where there's beauty and hope lurking within the noise, and it leaves me drained, maybe a little shaky, but still exhilarated and in awe.
Her Bright White Light
Okay, so this is really weird. I'd heard of Ragged Hearts off and on for the past few years, so I picked up their debut full-length, Her Bright White Light, on a recent CD-buying binge, figuring I'd see what they were like. On the back cover, I see four disaffected folks in black, some w/tattoos and/or spiky hair. On their MySpace page, they cite the Stones, the Faces, the New York Dolls, D Generation, David Bowie, and the Replacements (among others, mind you; those were just the ones that really had me fooled at first). Plus, they've apparently got some kind of connection to Sylvain Sylvain and The Applicators, and three of the songs were recorded and produced by people who've worked with Dogs D'Amour, the Wildhearts, and, ah, Vixen.
Seeing all that, I figure, "Got it -- these guys are probably kinda raw, pretty glam-y rock, maybe with some blues thrown in. Hell, they've probably even got fake British accents or Noo Yawk sneers."
Um. No, not quite. What they are, really, is a country band, and not a bad one, at that. The album starts loud, with "Sure Felt Wild," a blast of rootsy, punkish rock reminiscent of Social Distortion or the 'Mats, but the band never really comes back to that level of loud rock during Her Bright White Light. Instead, Ragged Hearts veer off into occasional forays into pure-as-sugar power-pop, like on "The White Lady" (which brings to mind Cheap Trick), "The Absence," or cool, catchy "The Sense" (which has a more "British"/Kinks-y feel to it) or do what they do most on here: play down-home, soulful country songs with a touch of folk and a teeny hint of a British Invasion-era love of the blues.
Seriously, take a listen to the one-two punch of "Life and Times," which is slow and deliberate-sounding, and "Bad Man," where frontman/guitarist Corey Power and drummer Davey Jonez pull some really nice harmonies out of their musical hat, and tell me this ain't country. There's also "Leaving Bonnie," a gently poignant I'd-like-to-but-I-can't love song, jangly "The Absence," folky, minimal "Dance On Bailey," and "Sparkle and Shine," which even throws in some cool mandolin over a driving Hank Williams beat. All that from a band I had pegged as full on glam-rock.
Now for the important part -- labels and preconceptions aside, Her Bright White Light is a fine collection of well-written, well-played songs. "Sure Felt Wild" may be the only real burner on here, but most of the other tracks are knock-you-over good in their own right, particularly "The Sense," "Dance On Bailey," "Sparkle and Shine," and "Life and Times." (The only track I really don't like, actually, isn't even theirs; it's a cover of "Kings and Queens," penned back in the '80s by Dave Kusworth of the Jacobites...) I don't know how Ragged Hearts' love for glam and the Faces led 'em to where they are on Her Bright White Light, but I'm glad they got there somehow.
Believe What We Tell You
I hate to damn with faint praise, but after repeated listens to the reissue of The Sleeping's 2004 album Believe What We Tell You, I'm afraid I have to -- I've got to confess that while the album's okay, I'm not sure it really merited reissuing.
I mean, yeah, it's great that the band's done well since (and I hear the followup, last year's Questions and Answers, is better), but I think this is best viewed as a prequel to the band's later successes, with all the caveats that entails. There's a lot of promise here, certainly; it's just that this really feels like the Long Island band was still taking its first fumbling steps towards what they wanted to eventually do.
There's the overall conceit of the album, for one thing -- Believe What We Tell You has little "broadcast" interludes/sounds scattered throughout, including an utterly pointless outro of sorts at the end with "tune out." The Sleeping were apparently going for some kind of deep message about media brainwashing, which is commendable, but not really news, if you know what I mean.
Then there's the stumbling, disjointed-ness of some of the tracks, notably "The Big Breakdown," Days 1 and 2, opener "Sunday Matinee (Reel To Real)," and "One Flight One Flame" (the latter two show up here both as a bonus demo tracks and in their final form, by the way, along with non-album track "Until The Night"). The music runs along the same lines as fellow post-emo rockers like Taking Back Sunday and Spitalfield, merging elements of alt-rock, hardcore, prog, and sweetly melodic rock into, ah, pretty much a big mess.
Which is the band's main problem, really; there are ways to mash up all these styles and make it sound tight and unified (see A Wilhelm Scream or Taking Back Sunday), but with Believe What We Tell You it seems pretty evident that The Sleeping hadn't yet hit upon 'em. Songs shift styles jarringly and with not much apparent reason beyond the fact that the band members themselves can switch styles at will. Doing that kind of thing is well and good, and these songs aren't really bad, per se, but simply bouncing between hardcore, screamo, and prog-rock all within the space of a minute doesn't necessarily make a song good.
As I hinted at above, there are some moments of promise on Believe What We Tell You, primarily on the album's title track, which is a lot more focused and less overreaching than most of its cohorts; it's got a nice, big, hooky chorus that I can't get out of my head, as well as the most direct assertion of the album's premise. There's also "If Your Heart Was Broken... You Would Be Dead," which lunges towards disaster with a bed of annoying "party scene" noise/voices but miraculously rescues things by inexorably stacking one layer of sound on top of another and then incorporating angry, shout-sung female vocals that make their way up from beneath the sound. It reminds me of a pre-classic rock fetish Anniversary, and that's a definite point in The Sleeping's favor. Oh, and I like the production trick at the end where it sounds like the tape is speeding up to infinity.
Beyond that, "Broadcast Silence" does well with a subtler, simpler tack than most of the other tracks here, and "15 on the Freeway" uses coolly atmospheric, Sparta-ish guitars floating through the vocals to add some variety to things. Come to think of it, there's nothing inherently wrong with this album as a whole, so long as you view it, again, as a prequel of sorts. I may not be putting it into heavy rotation on the iPod, but the hints of good things to come have me intrigued enough to want more. And that's no bad thing.
Stemage bills itself as "Metroid Metal," and I have no freakin' idea what that means. It must be an inside joke, especially since Stemage is the creation of Grant Henry. Mr. Henry plays all the instruments, writes all the lyrics, and does all the singing. Music-wise, Strati wavers from math-rock to very average Buzz band rock to avant garde-ness that would make Buckethead proud. Since this is a one-man band, all the praise and criticism must be directed at one guy. Grant Henry obviously has a fertile and creative mind for music that few possess.
Three of the 11 tracks are instrumentals, and the tracks that do have vocal include long instrumental passages. The first track, "Star Ninety-Six," is an instrumental that sounds eerily like a Metallica song -- thankfully from when they were good. Henry also shows his guitar virtuoso admiration by imitating the duality of Paul Gilbert's pop star/shredder identity on "Fabulous Fabulist." Actually, all of the tracks sound great, musically. Each track seems to have its' own personality and complexity, from soft passages to very complex heaviness and then on to average-yet-still-engaging radio rock.
Where Strati takes a downturn is in the vocal department. The vocals go from bad emo to bad ballads to just plain bad. Grant Henry's voice drones so much that it should have a bomb strapped to it and be flying out over Iraq. Strati is like a great comic book with bad art or a great movie with Jessica Alba. One part's so great but the other part's so God-awful that it may render the other moot. What a conundrum.
Jennifer Love Handles
You would have to ground a teenager and then lock him in his room with nothing but a laptop and some vintage Playboys
to get music as outrageous, hormonally-charged, and wonderful as this. But Toof is no seventeen year-old wanker; he's a man named Trey D'Amico who lives in Austin and might be in jail right now, or so his blog
seems to suggest.
Toof's Jennifer Love Handles is a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the era of big synths and big hair, with songs that are shamelessly and viciously danceable. The lyrics to "The Theme Song to Boobies" consist entirely of the following: "Bumblebees dissaprove / Tight sweaters, go-go boots / Bumblebees, Juicy Fruit / Tight sweaters, go-go boots." The words are nonsensical, lurid, and sticky enough to make the song an electroclash anthem of "We Will Rock You" proporitions. "Thinking About Me, Thinking About You" is a gentle explanation of tits and strap-ons over distorted Casio. "Marshmallow" is a slow, sweaty analog grind. Is Toof heavy metal, or is this electronica? I can't decide.
Whenever the Travis County court system is through with Toof, he'll find a happy following in fans of the electroclash revival, the kids who follow bands like Matik and The Klaxons to giant warehouse parties in Europe.
Unsane are a very simple band: the NYC threesome have spent their entire career perfecting the heavily syncopated and quite catchy midtempo hardcore that they developed in the late '80s alongside Helmet and Rapeman. Unsane's devotion to the ideal of elegant, uncomplicated violence is clearly evident on Visqueen, which delivers several badass tracks, like opener "Against the Grain," follow-up "Last Man Standing," base-loader "This Stops at the River," or, god, cleanup hitter "Only Pain" -- it's a killer, isn't it? These songs rock; there's no better way to put it.
But Unsane is all rhythm; they've got no talent for leads, except as a sort of bonus rhythm, and even Chris Spencer's vocals are percussive. It's telling that Visqueen's weakest moments are the eight one-measure breaks given in "No One" to drummer Vinny Signorelli, a worthy rhythm player but an unimaginative soloist. To condemn the album solely for a lack of melody, though, is to beg the question of whether hardcore even needs melody. It's just as likely that it doesn't. After all, James Brown's famous funk formula was that every instrument should sound like drums, even the vocals, and, hardcore being arguably the funkiest kind of loud rock, it's difficult to pin down the reason why that philosophy doesn't work as well for Unsane. Perhaps it's merely that none of them had the good fortune to be born James Brown.