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.


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.