Sunday, February 22, 2009

Mi Ami - Ark Of The Covenant

Mi Ami is a new band, containing two members of departed Dischord records noiseniks Black Eyes. That band blew my fucking mind just thinking about them. I picked up their last album, Cough shortly after it came out, and I didn't know if I liked it, was disgusted by it, or just plain confused. I mean, shit, they had two drummers AND two bass players. It was almost more than I could handle.

Anyway, one of the Dans from Black Eyes is in this band (the one with the high voice), and if you couldn't stand his voice before, then Mi Ami will not be of interest to you. He's still high pitched as all hell, and somehow even more yappy, much like a small dog. So far, Mi Ami's output has been restricted to a series of 12" singles, of which Ark Of The Covenant is one.

In 6:09, Mi Ami manage to capitalize on all of the dub directions Black Eyes were hinting at on Cough, like they're making up for lost time since that band broke up. The first half of this song is completely frantic, sounding a bit like The Rapture's "House Of Jealous Lovers" with way more spastic guitar. Things calm down a bit in the second half, in which an actually pretty melodic part rears its head. It's like the soundtrack to one night of incredibly heavy partying on a faraway beach, the second half being the point where the sun rises and you just start yelling shit because you haven't slept all night and can't believe it's actually morning. Rough.

Anyway, the first half of this single is kind of unimpressive, because people who listened to Black Eyes already knew these dudes could make a bunch of noise. It's just nothing new coming from this crew. If Mi Ami decides to pursue things more like the second half of Ark Of The Covenant, but still manages to retain some of the quirk of the first half, it'll be more than worth listening to.


Monday, February 16, 2009

Down In The Dumps - Dumps Luck

Yet another member of the highly incestuous Long Island punk scene, Down In The Dumps managed to kick around for a good four years, contributing tracks to split 7"'s with bands like Tiltwheel, and as a member of a four band split, Red & Blue, Potboiler, and Fellow Project. Dumps Luck is the band's sole full length, coming out in 2007 on the incredibly solid Kiss Of Death Records. (Seriously, find me something that label put out that sucks, because I haven't found it yet)

They're far from re-inventing the wheel here, but you'd be a liar to say they weren't completely engrossed with what they did before they broke up in 2008 (forming Get Bent and Jonesin'). All of the usual chords are around, you know, like three or four per song at times. However, I feel that Down In The Dumps stood out from the rest of their Long Island peers in that their sound was decidedly more West Coast influenced. Pinhead Gunpowder and early American Steel seemed to be logical touchstones for these dudes, and hey, if you're going to sound like any bands, those aren't bad ones to start with.

DITD weren't mere ripoff artists though, as there is plenty of creative lead guitar work going on here. Check the stabbing, spiraling riffs that inhabit "Ex-Brothers And Ex-Lovers," or the entire outro of "Raggedy Anne," which could only accurately be described as a riff-fest.

Basically, if you're a fan of punk rock, and you're ever starting to get burnt out on the whole thing, it's good that albums like this exist to remind you why you got into the stuff in the first place. You couldn't scrape an ounce of pretension from this album if you tried. It's nothing that spectacular, but it's more than proficient at what it accomplished.

Oh yeah, this album can be downloaded completely legally from the fine folks over at IfYouMakeIt, who have become somewhat of a clearing house lately for short-lived New York/New Jersey bands. Check out the Pink Couch series while you're there, because it rules.

Down In The Dumps - "Dumps Luck" @ IfYouMakeIt


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Shorebirds - It's Gonna Get Ugly

As his post-Latterman career continues, it's becoming increasingly apparent that Matt Canino will never be able to shake that band off of his back. Everything he puts out will inevitably be compared to Latterman. Even more odd about this is the fact that Latterman really wasn't doing anything terribly groundbreaking (I say this even as a gigantic fan of the band). I would like to think that beating the shit out of your instruments, making a huge melodic racket, and singing so hard your voice goes out, your head throbs, and your face turns red, hell, the entire concept of actually giving a fuck, was something that never went out of style to begin with.

So let's back up a second, and disregard band names, how big those bands were, and who happens to be in the band, and make a general declaration: No matter what band he is currently in, Matt Canino might be one of the most consistent songwriters out there today when it comes to melodic, heartfelt punk rock. In his songs, there will be singalong parts, there will be gruff shouting, and there will be chord progressions that are incredibly simple, yet undeniably effective. The dude does a lot with a little.

Drummer Keith Henderson, Canino, and bassist Chris Bauermeister (who played in some California band called Jawbreaker. Hm...sounds familiar.) only put out one seven inch and one full length under the Shorebirds name. While their breaking up kind of sucks, at least they went out like sattelite debris crashing to earth over Siberia (heads up, everyone).

Fuck, I can't avoid it any longer. I have to drop one Latterman comparison. It's Gonna Get Ugly, the sole Shorebirds full length, takes the time tested L-man formula and injects about 50% more upbeat energy into it. Yes, that is possible. Frantic is a word I would definitely use to describe this album. It's almost as if they only had a few hours in the studio, so they played everything faster than usual. I mean, just listen to "Circles." The song absolutely rips past you in 1:17 and still manages to contain some of the best hooks on the album. Henderson rocks the 1-2 punk beat to death, and the switch to half time near the end is just clutch.

Lyrically, it's interesting to see Canino move further away from the posi-cheerleading he admitted to getting tired of in Latterman. Some of the songs could even be described as bleak, such as late album highlight "Run Away." However, the dude still loves the recurring theme trick that Latterman used a few times, this time in the form of the line "The city's exploding," which is not only the first line of the entire album, but arguably the centerpiece of the closing track. As if this wasn't obvious enough, the songs are titled "Highways" and "Byeways." GET IT? IT'S ALL LIKE, CONNECTED, MAN.

When Shorebirds was formed, Canino had just moved from New York to the West Coast (Washington state, I do believe). It's Gonna Get Ugly only goes to show that you can change everything else around you, be it where you live, your friends, your dietary habits, but some things will always stay the same, even if they appear a little different at first.

So yeah, check this album out if you can get your hands on it. It's more than worth the 27 minutes it takes to fly by you.


Monday, February 9, 2009

Various Artists - An England Story

A quick disclaimer before I go any further: I don't claim to know a damn thing about reggae/dancehall/etc. But then again, that makes SoulJazz Records' An England Story a perfect release for me to write about on this blog. Once or twice a year, my roommate Nate and I trade a shit ton of music with each other, basically catching up on what each of us managed to pick up over the past year. Anyway, I got this from him, and I'm definitely glad I did.

The story told by this compilation is one of mutual influence- Jamaican on English, English on Jamaican. It's one of respecting the elders of the genre while showcasing some rising stars. It's one of teenage artists performing to huge crowds at ages when most of us were in high school. Above all though, it's a story of a bunch of artists fighting for individuality in a widely typecast genre and succeeding.

The two disc compilation kicks off with the title track, performed by who I believe to be the only white artist involved, the aptly named YT. In exactly four minutes, YT basically tells the entire history of the British MC, namedropping fast chat icons like Papa Levi or Tippa Irie alongside crossover artists like Top Cat. For a beginner like myself, it's the equivalent of CliffNotes, and a great primer for the other artists still to come.

Once again, only having cursory knowledge of the genre, I knew that re-using beats (or "riddims") was a well known practice. However, when co-ed duo Suncycle's "Somebody" drops in, I was a little taken aback. The majority of American listeners will probably immediately recognize the beat from rapper Pitbull's 2004 hit "Culo," which was produced by Lil' Jon. This, however, begs the question: how exactly did Lil' Jon "produce" this song? I mean, obviously, he may have been behind the boards when Pitbull put his lyric down, and he DID shout a bunch on that track, but it really just shows how different the definition of "producing" is when considering reggae/dancehall and American hip-hop. In the English tradition, it seems to tilt a little more towards the workman angle. In the American sense, it implies more creation on the part of the producer. Once again, I could be completely wrong with all of this. Be patient with me.

This leads me to one of my main frustrations with this compilation. There aren't any credits for any of the artists anywhere to be found. Therefore, the only way I can judge if a song is one of the ones culled from the 1980's is by the production style. Does it sound a little older? It might be from the 80s. However, all I can go by is speculation. The non-chronological track order only adds to the confusion.

If anything, this compilation serves well in pointing people towards specific subsets of the genre they might be interested in. It's in no way perfect. Some songs are repetative to the point of annoyance, while others straight up crackle with energy and vitality (Skibadee's "Tika Toc" being a prime example of this).

Things about dancehall/reggae/grime culture I have come to really admire due to this compilation that I was not aware of before:
- The sports-team like interplay between different soundsystems (ie: Tippa Irie almost being "traded" between different crews early on in his career)
- The lovingly paternal attitude a lot of the dancehall old guard hold towards the grime artists.
- The willing and encouraged cannibalization of the genre for future songs. The best example being the jungle/drum and bass reimagining of Top Cat's laid back, acoustic led "Love Mi Ses."

Whew. I didn't mean to talk (or write) your ears off, but this was a two disc affair!