Monday, August 31, 2009

Matt And Kim - Grand


WHAT: Brooklyn drum/keyboard/bf/gf duo's second album. You've probably heard songs from it in promos for that new show "Community," or in a Bacardi ad. Oddly enough, as a fan of their first album, I never got around to hearing this until just recently. Seeing them at the Pitchfork festival this past July re-sparked my interest in them, and yeah, here we are.

WHEN: 2009

1) Daylight (2:51)

The most ridiculously mind-lodging hook kicks the song off before that high synth and Kim's drums kick in. I find it a bit funny that the chorus of the song is actually less catchy than the verses. Kim's drums are either accentuated by a backing beat, or her bass drum is like 100 fucking inches wide. This shit is kind of irresistible. RIFF

2) Cutdown (2:52)

Way more reminiscent of their first album, mainly the song "Lightspeed," if it was a bit faster and more orchestrated. A pretty standard M&K song, but with a few extra bells and whistles, like the gang vocal-ed "Yeah!"s, and the big buildup/countdown at the end. It shows growth within their potentially limiting formula, so I'll give it a RIFF.

3) Good Ol' Fashion Nightmare (3:30)

I kind of see this song as the sister to "Daylight," with its oddly produced drums and its strict adherence to a relatively simple melody. It kind of makes sense that both this and "Daylight" are the songs that have been used on TV so much these days, because they're both extremely hummable, and thus, perhaps sadly, marketable. Still, dubious usage aside, it's another irresistible track. RIFF.

4) Spare Change (1:14)

File this, the shortest song on the album, into M&K's "experimental" file. I feel like I've walked into a choral-accompanied performance of STOMP. Despite some good ideas, they don't really give it enough time to develop. FLUB

5) I Wanna (1:38)

For the second time on this album, Matt and Kim follow a song that diverts from their original formula with a song that sticks right to it. It's a gloriously sloppy little song, with Kim offering a energy packed yet completely off drum roll about halfway through. A throwaway? Maybe, but a damn fine one. RIFF

6) Lessons Learned (3:36)

This song will probably always be overshadowed by its video, where M&K cavort nude around Times Square. It's a shame, because it's one of their most elaborate endeavors yet (well, relatively speaking). Kim is a fucking machine for playing the beat that acts as this song's backbone for so long. One of the more melancholy songs they've put to tape, but once again, a nice extension of their sound. RIFF.

7) Don't Slow Down (3:08)

In which the duo takes the riff from "Just Can't Get Enough" by Depeche Mode and stretches it into a full song, complete with octave jumps in the chorus, and an odd left turn near the end of the song. While charming at first, it kind of gets old about halfway through, when the Morse code-like keyboard part begins to get a little grating. FLUB.

8) Turn This Boat Around (2:10)

This album's slow jam. The keyboards offer a powerful low end, and the background vocals offer an additional heft. Points for using the melodica keyboard tone as well. A little confused as to why it's not at the end of the album, but I'm still giving it a RIFF.

9) Cinders (1:47)

The slow jam is immediately followed by the obligatory M&K instrumental, which follows the twists and turns their other instrumentals take. It's not that it's a bad song- there just isn't that much of a reason to really be impressed by it, considering they've done other songs very similar to it. FLUB.

10) I'll Take Us Home (3:27)

When I see that Matt and Kim have a song that's as long as this one, I really want them to prove that the running time is really needed. Luckily, they pull through on this one, offering a whole bunch of different keyboard tones and at least two or three different vocal hooks that are all pretty sweet. Plus, it's kind of funny how sappy/soulful Matt gets just over halfway in. The track length gives their ideas time to actually stick, instead of the "cram everything we possibly can into two minutes" strategy they rely on from time to time. RIFF.

11) Daylight (Outro Mix) (3:11)

Yep, a reprise of the opening track. However, this time, they make things downright epic- making good use of whatever string settings Matt has on his keyboard. The high-pitched synth part from the original makes a return, and aside from the same bass part and vocal/lyrical similarities, it's a way different beast than the original. This one relies more on buildup and tension, where the original thrives on being a fucking great pop song. Both are worthy on inclusion. RIFF.

TOTAL:

8 RIFFS vs. 3 FLUBS

SCORE:

(8 RIFFS/11 TRACKS) x 100% = 72%

So yeah, just under 3/4ths of this album completely rules, and then the remaining fourth is just kind of alright. It's one of the most fun, non-grim/serious albums I've heard so far this year, making it kind of hard to hate without coming off as a serious asshole. Their live show is still definitely worth seeing, and yeah- it'll be interesting to see where they go after this one. Bigger and more elaborate, or even further back to basics? Chamber pop or the happiest drone record ever recorded?

-Erik


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Modest Mouse - No One's First And You're Next


WHAT: You know who these dudes are, come on. Indie vets return with a new EP composed of songs that didn't make it on to their last two full lengths, Good News For People Who Love Bad News, and We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank.

WHEN: 2009

1) Satelite Skin (3:59)

It's a jangly little number with slightly off kilter guitar parts and an impassioned vocal from Issac Brock- who dials back the carnival barker mode I think he got a little too fond of on the last Modest Mouse full length. It's one of the more straightforward Modest Mouse songs I've heard, but after We Were Dead, I'm fine with a palette cleanser like this. RIFF.

2) Guilty Cocker Spaniels (4:02)

OK, now this really sounds like it's from the sessions that produced the past two full-lengths, except for some reason, Brock kind of sounds like a toothless elderly man during the verses. Here, I'm a fan of the words, but not so much the delivery. The song changes direction nicely about halfway in, though. There are some parts here that I wish were just louder though. It's something about the band that I've missed in recent years. I haven't felt much of the intimacy of Moon And Antarctica or even parts of Good News. It just kind of seems like they're treading an eternal middle ground these days- sound-wise. Makes sense that this was a B-side. FLUB.

3) Autumn Beds (3:41)

Consider my words eaten once they busted out the banjo. Brock goes through a few of his voices- the quiet speaking one, the restrained yelp, before settling into a nice repeated phrase of "we won't be sleeping" for a little bit. Intimacy restored, stupidity setting in a bit for my previous statements. This song stands as a winning instance of grabbing whatever instruments are in the room and writing a song- as I'd like to believe they did. Should've been on one of the albums. RIFF.

4) The Whale Song (6:05)

It may be called "The Whale Song," but i'll be damned if there aren't some guitar parts on this song that sound like seals. The song is instrumental for almost all of the first three minutes, so I hope you like a bufett of guitar parts/tones. Then, almost as if he remembered he was writing an actual song, Brock multi-tracks his voice a bunch and crams two songs worth of hooks into a part that builds and builds. It doesn't explode as much as it just returns to the earlier section with the volume turned up. However, during the last minute, I'm forced to eat my words from earlier once again, as the guitar gets downright titanic for a bit. The main riff may get stuck in your head in a bad way, but the rest of the trip more than makes up for it. RIFF.

5) Perpetual Motion Machine (3:11)

Nice! The return of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, who I never thought were used to their full potential by Modest Mouse. Brock seems to be resisting the temptation to slip into his Tom Waits swamp-romp voice, and instead offers a pretty standard vocal part by Brock-ian standards. A wise move, as it lets the unorthodox instrumentation shine. RIFF.

6) History Sticks To Your Feet (3:55)

A guitar plays the same part for the entirety of this song. I'm sure there's some great metaphorical reason for that, but that doesn't equal a good song to me. The rest of the band doesn't do all that much to pull their weight either. It stomps a little bit, but never really gets revved. FLUB.

7) King Rat (5:30)

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band fucking EARN the word "Dirty" in their name with the hellspawn trumpet blast that signals this track's opening. The trumpet doesn't return until nearly midway through the song, where it's used to playfully melodic effect. The banjo makes a return as well in this song, mixed nicely among the other instruments. It seems to be a running trend on this EP that the songs with the most bizarre instrumentation seem to turn out the best, and this song is no exception. RIFF.

8) I've Got It All (Most) (3:10)

This song gets points for actually getting loud about halfway through. The rest of it is pleasantly jangly. Sounds like it may have been one of the songs recorded with ex-Smith Johnny Marr on guitar, so even more points for that. RIFF.

TOTAL: 6 RIFFS v 2 FLUBS

SCORE: (6 RIFFS/8 TRACKS) x 100% = 75%

Yep. It's another mostly good release from Issac Brock and company. The songs that fail here fail simply because they are boring, or seem a little phoned in. But then again, the eternal excuse is there: "That's why they're B-sides." Worth checking out though.

-Erik

Punch - Punch


WHO: San Francisco, CA female-fronted hardcore. Recently had a great article/interview with them printed in Maximum Rock 'N Roll, which I recommend reading. This is their debut album, following an excellent 7" EP entitled Eyeless. They've been touring like mad, and have been receiving a great deal of attention for both their recorded output and their live shows. I have high hopes going into this one.

WHEN: 2009

1) Don't Start (0:57)

First off, I think it's hilarious that the song that starts this album is called "Don't Start." They kind of contradict themselves a bit here though, because what we have here is a damn fine opener. The production is leaps and bounds above that on Eyeless- everything sounds clear without being too polished, and Meaghan's vocals now cut through loud and clear. It's what you would expect from this band- pummeling, fast hardcore, except now it's more or less in HD. RIFF.

2) Fuming (0:58)

The first quarter of this song is spent flying through a catalog of hardcore song-beginnings: the blastbeat, the 1-2 beat followed by the guitar break, etc. But then the blastbeat comes back for the verse, if you will, before managing to flip on a dime to some slower parts. Then- fuck- it all drops out to bass and drums and I get so excited that I want to jump out of my second story window. The song is about riding bikes and having to deal with petulant car-drivers- never before have you ever heard anyone scream the word "muffler" with such anger. RIFF.

3) Get Back (1:01)

Out of nowhere, Punch reveal an intensely melodic side of themselves that I had no idea existed. Still, it's no less vicious. Their ability to completely stop on a dime to switch sections is extremely impressive, and I'm all about songs that feature some sort of bass break (although I believe Paint It Black are the current kings of this art.). Chalk up another RIFF.

4) Ol'factory (0:50)

If anybody else can point out another song that has been written about deoderant, that explodes into a blast-beat section that rattles off marketing data, I'll buy you lunch. RIFF.

5) Right Of Way (0:50)

Another song about bikes! This time taking on a far more sarcastic tone. I'm really starting to appreciate Punch's sense of humor, as it is. 5 songs in, I'm also really into their song structures. They manage to take several basic elements of hardcore and put them next to each other while still leaving things completely unpredictable. RIFF.

6) If Not Me (0:59)

Well, it had to happen sometime, and it happened here: the first song on this album that did not completely blow me away. I don't know how the band regards this song, but its two lines of lyrics and way more standard arrangement make me think this song may have been written either really early on or late in the writing process for this album. Basically, it just lacks the pizzazz of the first five songs, which set the bar VERY high. FLUB.

7) Been Here Before (1:03)

I avoided making this comparison as long as I possibly could, but this song really does sound kind of like a Ceremony song in terms of dynamics. It follows the Bay Area band's early formula of blasting intro-huge slowdown-pounding final riffs almost to a tee. Luckily, I do like Ceremony quite a bit. Plus, the total ambiguity in Meaghan's final lyric makes the ending that much more appropriate- the song just freezes, suspending itself until it's final crash. RIFF.

8) We're Not In This Together (1:47)

It's the longest song on the album so far, and it's the first that seems to explicitly deal with relationships. Much like a relationship dissolving, several emotions seem to be present here. The faster part is pure anger, while the slowdown that leads to the end of the song just seems like a huge mix of sadness/desperation/disappointment. It's a little painful to listen to, honestly, but in that grit-your-teeth good sort of painful. RIFF.

9) The Bad Times (1:47)

Well, this is kind of an odd choice. Punch goes the instrumental route, speeding up a breakdown-ish riff until it spirals out into noise and a fadeout. Fun, but ultimately inessential. FLUB.

10) Make The Good Times That Much Better (1:36)

Oh OK, now it makes sense. It's like the fadeout on Dillinger Four's Vs. God, where you flip the record and it all fades back in. This song is fucking anthemic, by the way. That's the only way I can even describe it. It falls in the more melodic camp of their songs, and basically incapsulates everything that was great about the first half of the album into one song. RIFF.

11) If You Can't Now, You Never Could (0:58)

11 songs in, I'm beginning to run out of ways to describe Punch's music. Props to them for cramming a breakdown and a blastbeat into about a 5 second period though. Another testament to their songwriting skills, but you could probably take this song off of the tracklist and still have an amazing album. Punch has proved to me that their FLUBS aren't because a song is bad- it's because they don't reach the dizzying heights of the songs surrounding them.

12) Break A Leg (1:36)

Another run-through through a bunch of hardcore stylistic stand-bys ends in the most pulverizing breakdown on the album so far. Ultimately, that's what saves this song from blending in with the rest of the album. RIFF.

13) Rewrite (1:12)

The second half of this album has ended up being a LOT heavier than the first, with more detours into slower tempos. Although, there are times where I wish they would just commit to a part and ride it out a bit more until the song's end. Ultimately though, RIFF.

14) Mending Is Better Than Ending (1:24)

The intro to this one had me thinking I would have to bust out the time-honored My War comparison that gets thrown around whenever a hardcore band slows down, but it quickly begins flying. The guitar parts get a little insane near the end, placing this one solidly in the RIFF column.

15) Not So Posi After All (1:07)

Oh fuck, huge singalong part near the end of this one- maybe a sly nod to posi-hardcore style in a song titled "Not So Posi After All"? You sly devils. RIFF.

16) Feminists, Don't Have A Cow (2:20)

On the longest song the album sports, it's more about the slow sections that bookend the absolutely furious middle. I could be completely off base here, but the lyrics seem to be about encouraging vegan action among the feminist community, specifically regarding cows. The sentiment is nice, but the dork in me can only think about how this song should probably have been in the middle of the album or something like that. It's an album where the personal is laid so bare, so it just seems a little odd to close on this note. Oh well, that doesn't take away from the quality of the song. RIFF.

TOTAL: 13 RIFFS vs. 3 FLUBS

SCORE: (13/16) x 100% = 81.25%

Seriously, one of the best hardcore albums I've heard this year. I'd be surprised if this didn't end up in my top albums of the year list at this point, after I've listened to it a bunch more times.

-Erik

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Slices - Self-Titled 7"



WHO: Pittsburgh, PA Noisy Hardcore. According to their label: "Crossed Out playing My War side B."

WHEN: 2009

1) Nub City (1:00)

The most unenthusiastic intro in the history of hardcore (I'm willing to bet) explodes into a simple descending riff and completely maniacal vocals. The production is rough, and a little fuzzy. Just as it should be. Nothing new brought to the table of hardcore, but still accomplishing just what good hardcore should. RIFF.

2) Desert March (1:05)

The more jangly guitar allows this song to basically ooze slime everywhere. It almost makes me want to clean my speakers off. Slices' vocalist displays that he has quite a bit of attitude on this one. He sounds like the kind of guy who will spit in your face as well as yell in it, which I like. The bass tone is revealed to sound like your stomach digesting food aka ROUGH. A blast beat closes things. RIFF.

3) Coping Mechanism (1:30)

Between this and the new Pissed Jeans album, I'm really starting to think that Pennsylvania must be a really shitty place, if it continues to produce such willfully ugly music as this. This song just stomps everywhere like it's throwing a tantrum. This band's heavy bass tone really makes it seem like you're walking up a hill in the middle of a landslide as you listen to it. Completely oppressive, but in the best way possible. RIFF.

4) Cave Crawl/Bad Mask (3:57)

The final track on this release is longer than the first three songs put together, which I guess may account for the slightly confounding My War comparison that the label provides for this band. In the end, the comparison makes sense. Over a straight up dirgy instrumental background, the vocals rant and rave in a far more emotional style than the first three tracks. A complete instrument basher, and a worthy entry in hardcore/noise's apparent recent fascination with more crushingly slow tempos. RIFF.

Total:

4 Riffs v. 0 Flubs.

Score:

100%

I don't even need the formula to let it be known that this release completely slays. Not a bad song on it, and now I really want to try and track down whatever else they've released. A promising new band, definitely.

-Erik

Nøught - Nøught




Who?: Oxford, England instru-prog trio.

When?: 2000

1) The Fans (8:10)

-There's been nothing but guitar feedback, and I'm already thinking- "Shit, they're only a three piece?" It's huge, tuneful feedback, and then some jazzy drums come in.

-Only three minutes in, it's apparent that these guys are pretty good at the ol' bait-n-switch. After a melodic buildup, shit gets really dissonant for a second, with a guitar part that actually sounds like vocals being sung through a megaphone, and then-JAZZ GUITAR. Kind of reminds me of Karate a bit.

-After a big buildup where the guitar actually plays a riff a few times, there's a release. Sounds like there's a string quartet in the background. We've gone spy-rock. Opening credits music.

-Back to another buildup, where the strings get a bit sassy. Guitarist starts soloing a bit in the back, and it shreds.

-Oh shit, tempo change. FRANTIC.

-I could honestly do without the strings in the background.

After 8 minutes, I'm going to have to give this one a RIFF. It's an extremely multi-faceted piece, that although relies a bit on the buildup/release trick, throws enough curveballs in there to keep me surprised. Except the strings.

2) Nought I (1:53)

-YES. Fuzz-soaked guitar.

-FUCK. 30 seconds in, the rest of the band kicks in, and they kick in hard. Like, kick to your chest that sends you flying across the room hard. This riff is evil.

Consider this one another RIFF. The song serves the purpose a great instrumental on an album with vocals would. The closest comparison I can think of being "Electric" off of Boris' Pink album. It gets in, punches you in the face, then gets out before it's just bragging about it.

3) Cough Cap Kitty (3:13)

-Well, the strings are back. I'm beginning to wonder how frequently they'll be around.

-Reversing the previous dynamics, things start loud then get quiet, and then borderline Reniassance Fair-y

-Eesh, letting the strings take the melody entirely makes things sound a bit goofy.

- The guitar takes things back for a tantalizing second, before relenquishing things back to the strings again.

Cough up their first FLUB. This song treads a bit too close to "Hey, classical music can ROCK too!" territory for me. That, and I'm picturing it being too appropriate for some sort of "rock opera" that you may see on Broadway. All I'm seeing is jazz hands during this one.

4) Red Rag (7:04)

-First song with a bass intro. Nice.

-Around the bass intro, the rest of the band drops in. The strings return, except seem to be used for more chaotic purposes than before. I approve.

-Also, the first song that seems to revolve around some sort of set structure. There's something that I guess could be considered a chorus, or would refrain be the more appropriate term?

-Nearly three minutes in, shit gets inhumanely loud. Fuck yeah.

-Scratch my previous note, the second half of this song gets way different, offering a gradual buildup that ends with a great, wiry guitar part.

-But then, it just kind of repeats for the rest of the song. The outro more or less takes up nearly a third of the song's running time.

RIFF. Kept me guessing the entire time.

5) Goddess Awakes: I. The Tricks Of Strangers, II. Locker, III. Widow's Lament (10:47)

-Bracing for the multi-part suite.

-Starts off sounding like video game boss music. With horns. At least it's not the strings again.
Feel like I should be dodging fireballs or some other projectile weapon.

-I fucking love this band's drummer. Busts some total Max Weinberg 7 shit whenever he has room.

-Things got quiet. I think I've moved on to the second movement.

-Yep. A slightly ambient section? Sounds like a movement transition part to me.

-Second section was definitely a lot more low key. But, here comes some noise again, so I think I've made it to the final section.

-I never thought I'd ever have to say anything about "math-rock guitars with a string overlay," but I just did.

First two movements were pretty sweet, but the third didn't really go anywhere. Two out of three isn't bad though, so RIFF.

6) Stain Stones (7:33)

- Woah. Jazz. We have horns.

- AND WOODWINDS. Clarinet solo! This kind of reminds me of the first time I listened to the new Kayo Dot album, except I'm not bored.

- The band takes things back over, as if telling the horns to calm down a bit. Then the guitar kicks everyone's ass with a solo that crams as much rad into it as it can.

- Things actually get pretty, five minutes in. It's a rare moment on this album so far, where everyone just seems content to lay back a bit.

- Things speed up a bunch near the end, kind of like in the first track.

RIFF. I actually enjoyed the more jazz inflected part that served as the first third of the song, and the rest of the song proved that Nought don't force themselves to overstuff everything they do.

7) All The Time Ha-Ha (3:55)

- Uh-oh. I'm sensing a bit of a repeat of the third track. JAZZ HANDS STRIKE BACK.

Yeah, I'm going to have to call FLUB on this one. It doesn't really go anywhere, and seems perpetually stuck in frantic showtune mode.

8) Heart Stops Twice (5:44)

- There was a sense of foreboding to this song at first, before it exploded into a "LET'S GO ON AN ADVENTURE" soundtrack a minute in.

- Do I hear ghostly female vocals? Operatic?

- Someone had to break out the sitar/koto, didn't they? For a hilariously brief cameo.

- OH FUCK ADVENTURE TIME AGAIN.

- A slight storm of feedback concludes with a brief return to order in the last 30 seconds.

FLUB. I don't know. I'm starting to feel like this band would be a lot better if they ditched their more orchestral leanings. I'm all about ambition, but it's starting to feel a bit like overkill.

9) Nought II (1:41)

-Hoping for more titanic shreddage that the first "Nought" track offered.

-Holy shit. It's the same riff. Minus the snare hits before the huge crash that goes into the rest of the song.

-No really, this is the EXACT same song as track 2. I can't be convinced otherwise.

FLUB. Couldn't they have at least titled it "Nought (Reprise)" or something like that?


10) Ignatius (6:53)

- This song has potential already, because the guitar is just howling like an injured wolf.

- And continuing to do so, again.

- And again.

- OK, sweet. Now it sounds like a power drill.

- Fuck. The strings just had to show up again, didn't they?

They know how to end an album on a good note, I'll give them that. Plus, this song contained some of the most interesting guitar work of the album, despite it's occasional repetitious nature. I'll give it a RIFF.

Total:

6 RIFFS vs. 4 FLUBS.

Score:

(6 RIFFS/10 TRACKS) x 100% = 60%

So yeah, there were some really good moments on this album, and then there were some really goofy ones that prevented me from being able to handle certain songs on this album. Still, over half of the album was good!

-Erik








New Format

It's going on two months since I updated this thing, which kind of bums me out. So, in an attempt to kickstart this mule once again, I'm instituting a format change.

Instead of big, multi-paragraph reviews of albums, I'm going to get a bit scientific. Well, mathematical. Have you noticed how some albums start off really well, and then the back end sags a bunch? You sit there wondering to yourself, "Man, I only really like half of this album." No amount of flowery prose can really convey how much of an album is truly worthwhile. Therefore, I'm going to do the dirty work and break down each album I write about, track by track.

Each track will be evaluated on a pass or fail system- to be known as "Riff" for winning tracks, and "Flub" for those that aren't up to snuff. Riffs and Flubs will then be added up at the end, and then plugged into this totally unoriginal formula:

(RIFFS/TOTAL NUMBER OF TRACKS) x 100

Offering you, the reader/listener, an approximation of how much of an album is worthwhile listening. Keep in mind, this is still only my opinion, so who really cares? I'm still going to be covering things I've never heard before, so take my reviews as someone who is just getting into things for the first time- as some of you might be.

Anyway, I'm going to do the first album in this new format right now. Woo!

-Erik

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Propagandhi - Supporting Caste



While I guess I would say I like Propagandhi as a band, I can’t really say they’ve released an album I like from beginning to end. I’ve found most of their past few releases to be way too front-loaded, and Chris Hannah’s vocal style begins to wear on me as the album progresses (especially on Potemkin City Limits)- most lines are delivered in the (caps denote a higher pitch) “duh nuh NUH NUH nuh NUH NUHHH!!!” style, and honestly, it would just get a little old for me after a while. Plus, I saw their transformation from skate-punk champs to a more thrash/metal inspired approach as a little dubious (and honestly, my eyebrows were a bit raised when the press release for this album cited Voivod and Rush of all bands as primary influences). Yet, the punk rock community at large continued to shit their pants over the foursome from Canada, so I figured I was just missing something.

That being said, Supporting Caste is the closest Propagandhi have come in recent years to crafting an entire album that I like. Sure, it may be a little front loaded. I would say the same thing about any band that decided to put a song as ferocious as “Night Letters” at the beginning of their album. Plus, there’s one song that just kind of bothers me, in the form of “Dear Coach’s Corner,” only because I wish they didn’t pull the old bait-n-switch and just let the entire song shred like its intro. That aside, it seems like Propagandhi’s metal-evolution has come to its full fruition- they’re comfortable in their new skin. Every song sung by bassist Todd Kowalski is an exercise in "how quickly can we shred ourselves to death," and they couldn't be better for it. It's no wonder dude's voice has been gone for the past few months apparently.

Lyrically, they’re still pissed as ever- but honestly, I’ve only been able to buy into their brand of sloganeering so much. This crosses over into my own personal beliefs: I believe what I do, and I keep it mostly to myself. I think that Propagandhi advocates a great deal of good causes, but should it be to the point where guilt may become present in the listener for thinking differently? There never seems to be any room for dialogue- all I ever detect is a message delivered so strong that it’s a little intimidating instead of inclusive. I don't know. It's something that will probably vary from listener to listener. At the very least, I'm thankful that they're a band that actually makes me think about what they're saying instead of just letting the lyrics fly on by while the music dominates everything.

My slight concerns aside, Supporting Caste is an album that I can comfortably file in my “Woah, I didn’t see this one coming” file. It took them five full lengths, but they’ve finally delivered something I now count among the better albums released in 2009.

-Erik

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Black Mountain - In The Future




I first heard about Black Mountain back when they were opening for Coldplay in 2005. Maybe a bit unfairly, I immediately dismissed them as something I probably wouldn’t like due to their tour partners. It wasn’t until last month that I finally heard In The Future (an album that originally appeared on this blog in my “Albums of 2008 That I Wanted To Hear But Didn’t” list), and I was a little shocked as to how wrong I was four years ago.

On paper, nothing Black Mountain does here should work. They somehow manage to use some of the most hokey sounding keyboard tones I’ve ever heard and fuse it with titanic-sized riffs that touch on a great deal of classic rock giants, ie: the Zeppelins, the Floyds, etc. Keep in mind that I really don’t care for either of those two bands, at all. I don’t know. I can’t really put a finger on why this album is so good. It just works. Some of the shit on here wouldn’t sound terribly out of place at a Lord Of The Rings convention, yet I can’t detect a smack of irony or pretension throughout this album’s 57 minutes.

Stephen McBean isn’t the flashiest singer, but that’s probably for the better- if he pushed it too hard, I don’t know if I’d be able to handle this album. OK, just to mention Coldplay again, I guess he sounds like a boozier, Canadian Chris Martin, but just barely. Even in constant-falsetto mode, as exhibited on “Stay Free,” things just click. Even when the 80's-science-TV-show synth comes in about halfway through the song, I just nod my head. I don’t care for Amber Webber’s vocal contributions as much, but I understand their place in the album. “Wucan” has the type of riffs that force you to constantly hit your rewind button- not advisable if one is driving. Throughout it all, Black Mountain displays a knack for the ebb-and-flow, letting parts gradually build to a roar before demurring to quieter sections.

Let me re-iterate how much of a shock it is to me how into this album I am. I usually can’t stand classic rock, or most of the bands that were involved in making it. Black Mountain have somehow made the genre palatable to someone like me. How, I’m not exactly sure. All I know is that this is the type of music that makes me wish I was in Dazed And Confused, driving around while everyone else in the car smokes weed in extremely comical and exaggerated ways.

-Erik

Friday, June 12, 2009

Telepathe - Dance Mother


I'd say I get the most fickle when it comes to electronic music. There are groups such as Ladytron that I really like, but I really can't stand a lot of the vapid, soulless shit that people with easy access to laptops have been cranking out for the better part of this decade. I don't know, I guess I just don't really feel much connection to the "New York lifestyle" so many people at my college have come to idealize- the non-stop party life, the deep immersion in the world of fashion, irony, etc. Summed up in a word, but explained by others way better than myself = hipsterism.

So that's one reason why Telepathe's debut album does not connect with me on any level. It's just some cold shit. I mean, it'll probably get them a few features written about them here and there, but I really can't see anybody being WAY into this album a year from now, or it even popping up on any year end lists. It's completely disposable. At best, there are two or three good songs on this album, and wouldn't you know it, they're right next to each other in the tracklist ("Can't Stand It" and "Michael"). The rest of the album I truly have trouble remembering.

Despite being produced by TV On The Radio studio wizard/guitarist David Sitek, Dance Mother is a tinny sounding affair, far from the lush production Sitek has lavished upon his own band. Pitchfork pointed it out in their review of this album, and I actually agree with them, that Sitek kind of deserves a lot of the credit for this album, more so than the duo that make up Telepathe. Melissa Livaudais and Busy Ganges just sort of chirp their way throughout the album, quite amatuerishly at best. Sometimes being way out of tune can be endearing (see: Los Campesinos), but in this case it's just obnoxious. And don't get me started on the song "Devil's Trident," which almost dips into Mars Volta levels of WTF-ness with the lyrics.

Oddly enough, for a group that is being marketed as electronic, the songs where they sound like a full band come off the best- the two that I mentioned above. "Can't Stand It" sounds like it could have been a B-side from either Ladytron's Witching Hour or Asobi Seksu's Citrus, with its swirling synths and surprisingly nimble vocal hooks.

In the end though, those two songs aren't enough to save this album from being just...blah. Another entry into an increasingly oversaturated scene. Being friends with TV On The Radio can only get you so far, I guess.

-Erik


Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Big Sleep - Sleep Forever



I missed seeing The Big Sleep when they were opening for Minus The Bear in early 2008, but for some reason I'm not really regretting it, because I feel like their live show would probably play out very similarly to how their second album, Sleep Forever does. A few opening tracks of shreddage, followed by quiter stuff, and ending not with a bang as much as an "eh."

I don't really know what it is about this album, but it just doesn't even seem like the band is totally interested in what they're doing. Most of the songs here are instrumental, which means it might fall under the blanket term of "post-rock." At the same time though, some of these instrumentals probably would have benefited from vocals. My other main gripe is kind of weird, and it's the lugubrious tempo that every song seems to follow. The band obviously has some great guitar tones, so why do they find it necessary to just plod through every song? I could see them sounding a bit more Fucking Am-ish if they sped things up a little bit, but dirty enough to retain their own sound.

The two previously mentioned problems I have with this album make it a pretty fucking frustrating listen, and at times, the band's name and album title almost come too close for comfort when it comes to stuff I'm listening to.

For a band that makes most of their songs instrumental, it's almost funny that the most memorable moments of this album come from the songs that feature vocals. It's not even that the vocals are that spectacular, it's just that the band actually seems like they give a shit at these moments. Take "Bad Blood." There are riffs for days in this song, and although the vocals make it a little hard to focus on the guitars, it's good to at least see The Big Sleep a little more invigorated.

But for every good song like that, there's one like "Organs," which seems like nothing more that studio tomfoolery gone wild. Like, "oh hey, here's this organ..woah that sounds kind of cool. Let's record an entire track based around like one or two riffs on this thing. Shit!" It's just filler, that's all.

Usually I can forgive a band if they at least seem like they're giving it their all (see my Sinaloa review), but I just can't get behind a group who seems almost, well, asleep during their album.

-Erik

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Anniversary - Devil On Our Side: B-Sides And Rarities


School is out for summer, my internship is over, and I'm unemployed until I get back to Ohio, and even then, probably until June. What better thing to do than review stuff then?

This right here is a two disc compilation of B-sides and rarities from The Anniversary (obviously, if you read the title). For those who never listened, the closest comparison I can think of when thinking about this band's first album would be Motion City Soundtrack, except a few years older. However, while The Anniversary's first album was a complete sugar rush of keyboard infused pop-punk awesomeness, they made a complete left turn on their second album, the classic rock indebted Your Majesty. It was a turn I didn't get when it first came out, and it's one I still do not get to this day. In the end, I think Motion City Soundtrack has had a better overall track record than The Anniversary.

However, this does not diminish how important of an album Designing A Nervous Breakdown was to me. I picked it up when I was in 9th grade, and became immediately attached to it. I first heard the band through one of those Vagrant Records Another Year On The Streets compilations (incidentally, the first place I ever heard Rocket From The Crypt!), and man, I thought I was on to some really underground shit once I tracked down their album. I kept that album like a secret, only showing it to a few people. Which is why Your Majesty was such a slap in the face to me- as it showcased a band abandoning everything they were really haphazardly.

As for this collection, it's a bit like a see-saw in terms of my relationship with The Anniversary. The songs that sound more like Designing are fucking great, and it's interesting to hear some of those songs in rougher, demo form. However, some of the other stuff on here is just head-scratchingly bad. I remember right before they broke up, in a couple issues of Alternative Press, that they had been working on some new EPs, one of which was supposed to contain "campfire songs" and the other would contain more reggae oriented tracks. Well, some of those songs are on this collection, and the idea of The Anniversary playing reggae is JUST as bad as you think it is. Please, skip the song "Che" every time you listen to this. I think I found myself actually shaking my head a few times during the duration of Disc 2, which compiles most of the Your Majesty era rarities.

Oh, and who thought it would be a good idea to put those two live tracks on there of Josh Berwanger talking between songs? Especially when they aren't the most endearing ones, it really just kind of makes him come off as as huge of a prick people were perceiving him as during the Your Majesty days.

Anyway, this was good for the sake of digging up some Designing-era B-sides, but at the same time a little disheartening to basically chronicle the way I feel this band managed to shoot itself in both feet stylistically.

They still have a MySpace, by the way: http://www.myspace.com/theanniversary69

-Erik


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Rival Schools - United By Fate


I don't understand this album. I don't understand this band, or the people in it. Rival Schools is composed of a veritable who's-who of the late 80's New York hardcore scene, and the post-hardcore scene that sprung from it. Members include Walter Schreifels, from the legendary Gorilla Biscuits and Quicksand, and Sammy Siegler, also an ex-Biscuit. I don't understand how people from so many good bands could make such a completely underwhelming album.

First off, what the fuck is post-hardcore? Does it even mean anything? If you look at it literally, it means "after hardcore." Well, this is a band that was started AFTER a bunch of these dudes were in hardcore bands, so I guess that qualifies. Apparently "post-hardcore" also means you write borderline radio rock songs that make fans of your earlier work scratch their heads and just sit there and wonder, "Why?"

Mainly, I could just see people buying this album based on the members' pedigree, and being extremely confused. They might check the liner notes, just to make sure they bought the correct album. First off, this album is produced as FUCK. I can almost anticipate a rock radio DJ beginning to talk at the ends of some songs. It's so slick, you could possibly go ice skating on it. That's not even mentioning Schreifels's vocals on this album, which inch closer and closer to aspiring-Cobain territory.

Ugh, I can't even focus on this. I'm just so baffled that people who actually contributed to an album as good as Start Today could be the same people responsible for such safe nuggets as "Good Things" or "Undercovers On," in my opinion two of the worst songs on this album, the latter of which throws in the "acoustic guitar over all the rest of the noise" trick that just pisses me off. I'm baffled at the apparently sampled drum parts on "Holding Sand" that sit right next to some near-nu-metal guitar riffs. I just can't wrap my head around this. If this is what post-hardcore really means, count me out.

It's official. Each project Walter Schreifels does, I like less and less. I really really like Gorilla Biscuits, I only like Quicksand's first album, and this, well this just doesn't do a thing for me. If anything, it just kind of makes my head hurt and confuses me. But, in the end, this album came out eight years ago, and I'm just another asshole with a blog and an opinion.

-Erik

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Rocket From The Crypt - The State Of Art Is On Fire


Let me start this post by saying I think Rocket From The Crypt may be one of the most consistent acts to have ever existed. No matter the release, you knew what you were getting yourself into: absolutely searing rock 'n' roll with blaring horns, and John Reis' perpetually sleazy vocal style leading the entire charge. As much as I liked a couple of the bands that came out of the whole "Return Of Rock" revival at the beginning of this decade (ie: The Hives, The Strokes), they were hardly needed to play the role of saviors, since RFTC was still trucking along just fine during that time period.

Reis also may be one of the craftiest businessmen to play the major label machine. In addition to getting RFTC on Interscope, he also convinced them to sign his other band at the time: the even weirder/more abrasive Drive Like Jehu, who put out their final album Yank Crime in 1994 before disbanding. Despite putting out most of RFTC's main LPs on major labels, Reis was also offered the freedom to put out smaller releases on labels such as Sympathy For The Record Industry. The State Of Art Is On Fire is a prime example of this.

1995 was probably the most busy year for RFTC- recording and releasing three different things by the end of the year. Kicking things off with this, then the quirky Hot Charity, and ending the year with the fucking cannonball of an album that is Scream, Dracula, Scream. A banner year, for sure.

The State Of Art Is On Fire is unique in its approach, as it was pressed on a 10" record where one side is played at 33rpm and the other at 45. As a result, the A side is a ton gritter than the B side, which actually goes as far to showcase a kinder, gentler RFTC, with some of Reis' most tuneful singing coming in the form of the song "Ratsize." As I just stated, the A side of this record absolutely slays, and it sounds like the band themselves might actually have been on fire while recording it. 3/4ths of the songs on the A-side even have some sort of reference to fire in the title. An aborted concept album, perhaps? And how about the part at the end of the A-side where everyone locks into the same riff? Chills.

Had the production been cleaned up a little more, there would be no reason any of these songs could not have appeared on Scream, Dracula, Scream. They're dually some of the harshest yet melodic things the band ever put to tape, and it's a shame that this release doesn't get more attention, in my opinion. I was lucky enough to snag a copy of it from Looney Tunes Records off the Hynes Convention Center T stop, and was thus pretty excited to write about it!

-Erik

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Cloak/Dagger - We Are


I'm really supposed to be writing a paper right now, but this album has made that basically impossible. I know I've been slacking on this blog for the past half-month, etc. Let's get into it.

I first saw and heard Cloak/Dagger when they were opening for Lifetime right after that band put out their phenomenal self-titled album (quick note, an album that stands just as high as Hello Bastards and Jersey's Best Dancers, making for one of the best 3-for-3 runs any band has had in my mind). They played to a slightly confused crowd, most of whom were actually there for The World/Inferno Friendship Society (another quick note: while I like the band, their shows are obnoxious experiences only because you're constantly getting slammed into by very nicely dressed ladies and gents who have no other desire beyond shoving you the fuck out of their way. Like, even before the band started playing). However, they had me sold.

Perplexingly, Cloak/Dagger contains one member of the underrated and defunct Renee Heartfelt, but they couldn't be any further from that band's effective Quicksand-aping. It's been stated a bunch of other times, but Cloak/Dagger somehow manages to slip into that comfortable slot between Hot Snakes and 80's hardcore. A couple of years after seeing them, I finally picked up their debut full length, We Are, at some used CD store that is currently slipping my mind. It would be months before it came up on my iTunes on my list of stuff to listen to.

Honestly, this is not the band I remembered seeing opening for Lifetime. It's a band that's like ten times better. A great deal of this credit goes to producer Chris Owens (who also handles guitar/vocal duties in the completely batshit insane Lords), a guy whose production work I have always admired. Owens really knows how to take a band and make them sound as raw as humanly possible without it devolving into a 2-track tape hiss/fuzz mess. The drums hit like punches to the stomach, and constantly seem to be on the verge of peaking, resulting in album that completely tramples the listener. Oddly enough, I see a lot of Owens in this band's vocal style, in which phrases are stretched out and given a little upwards inflection at the end of each line.

The first song on here had me a bit worried, as it initially seems like the biggest Hot Snakes rip of the bunch, namely the song "Braintrust" off of Audit In Progress. However, the aping quickly stops once "Sunburnt Mess" kicks in, which I swear could have been an unrecorded Minor Threat song. While there isn't really anything on We Are that sticks out head and shoulders above the rest, it's of little consequence. It's an album that doesn't give you time to breathe or think about things, where total destruction seems like its ultimate goal. There's hardly any room left between songs, and just when things seem like they're going to slow down a bit, after the mostly instrumental "JC Pays The Bills," "Hollywood Hills," immediately dispels that notion.

Basically, if I had to classify any album I've listened to in the past couple of weeks as a "complete and utter shredder," it would be this one. Hats off.

-Erik

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Sinaloa - Footprints On Floorboards


Sometimes, there are bands that I hear a lot of great things about, bands that get compared to other bands that I like a lot, and bands that because of this reason, I think I would really like. Which is why Sinaloa frustrates me. All of the above scenarios have happened with them, but for some reason, I haven't heard anything by them that really sinks its claws into me and won't let go.

I think the biggest issue I run into when thinking about Sinaloa is the scene in which they are from. Massachusetts has a bunch of fantastic screamo/emo acts playing around the area, including Ampere and Daniel Striped Tiger, two bands that I am big fans of. Coincidentally, I have seen both of those bands live before. Maybe if I saw Sinaloa I would finally get what they're trying to accomplish a bit clearer. Right now, all I hear is that Sinaloa is a band that traffics in the sort of early/mid-90s emo that bands like Moss Icon or Indian Summer became known for.

Meanwhile, Footprints On Floorboards, while being far from offensive, falls into pits of redundancy with me. It becomes hard for me to distinguish songs from one another, and the vocals are pretty uniform throughout the entire album, in that each line usually starts at a pretty high pitch, and works it way down. With the lack of a bass player (except on two tracks, and it's an acoustic double bass!), their guitar work becomes harder to distinguish from song to song. Basically, it all just kind of runs together. They lack the immediate, huge riffs of Daniel Striped Tiger, or the balls out chaos of Ampere.

Yet, part of me feels bad for being so harsh towards Sinaloa. The reason they don't have a bass player is because either their old or prospective bass player ended up dying. They kept the space vacant as a memorial. I also feel bad because there is a ton of emotion being released in every song. Not in a whiny/self-indulgent way, but in huge cathartic bursts. There's just some sort of indistinguishable wall holding them back from me really getting into them.

There are two minutes where Sinaloa hit true pay dirt on this album, and they're the songs "Green Street" and the absolutely staggering closer "With Our Ears To The Soil." The latter has to be one of the more powerful songs I've heard recently, no doubt.

I'll be taking a look at their 2008 album Oceans Of Islands somewhat soon. Maybe that will be the one to finally convert me.

-Erik