The New Scheme
Russian Circles and:
Envy The Grey Bouncing Souls Life At These Speeds
Editor : Stuart Anderson Contributors : Chelsea Bashford, Ryan Canavan, Nick Cox, Justin Crowe, Pat Dixon, Michael Flatt, Tom Loftus, Andre Medrano, Stirling Myles
Worth Mentioning : All Contents are © 2006, New Scheme Industries (Except all photographs, which are © by their respective creators) The New Scheme is published quarterly. All letters and subscription inquiries may be directed to the address below. Feedback is encouraged, though letters will rarely, if ever be printed. Contribution and subscription information is available on the website. Thank you for picking this up (or downloading it).
Policies : Current & full advertising & review material submission deadlines & information available on the website. We accept all records, books, publications and dvd’s for review in the next possible issue. Not all material that is sent is reviewed.
Help Wanted : We are currently looking to add new members to the staff in the following areas: - interview/feature writers - record reviewers - columnists - photography We are also always looking for people interested in helping with distribution. There is more information on all of the above on the website, or you can e-mail with any questions.
Contact : New Scheme Publishing Concern P.O. Box 7542 Boulder, CO 80306-7542 http://www.thenewscheme.com firstname.lastname@example.org
Envy in Denver
C : Chelsea Bashford
In January of 1997, I caught a ride to Kinko’s to pick up the first issue of my first fanzine. I couldn’t drive, because I was only 15. A few minutes ago, I was preparing to throw together these editor’s notes (which are always the last thing I finish). I realized that when the next issue of The New Scheme is released, I will have been officially doing this, in some form, for ten years. That means a couple things. First, I am old. Second, it gets me thinking about how far I have come and how far I have to go with this project. My hope is that the two distances are roughly the same, but it’s hard to say. This issue, maybe more than any that I’ve ever put out, really took it out of me. More than once through the process of finishing this issue, it seemed like it might be the last. But I’ve come this far, and there are still good things happening already for issue #16, so I know I won’t (or maybe can’t) stop publishing just yet. Financially and time-wise, this was the most difficult issue I’ve put out in years. Nothing seemed to fall together when it needed to. But, it’s also an issue of firsts. Most importantly, it’s the first issue since those Kinko’s days that this won’t be printed on dull, messy newsprint. Like every other change over the years, this is an incremental and fairly small change. But it’s an important, and positive one as well. This will also be the fourth issue to be released online, in digital form. This has also been a very successful change so far, which has already doubled the reach of each issue beyond the normal print run. Of course, there is already a lot planned for the next issue. But this time, there is already some of it completed before this will even hit the streets. Some actual planning ahead, along with some new help from a number of people should lead to the first timely issue of The New Scheme in almost two years. I’m also working on a number of new things for the digital version of issue #16, including links to some of the music featured. There are links to websites throughout this digital issue, including everywhere a website or e-mail address is printed (as well as a few others). I am looking to add more people to the staff than at any point in years. There are a number of positions already filled (with some new, and some old faces), but we could always use a few more contributors. If you are interested, please get in touch or check the website. I have always been hesitant to give up too much control over the contents of The New Scheme. But a fairly stale and often slow process the last few issues has me convinced it’s time to add as many worthy new faces as possible. I’d love to say that I’ll see you ten years from now. Frankly though, who the hell knows. Regardless, next issue will see the return of a more consistent schedule. And after that, I’ll figure it out. I always have. See you in January.
Ryan Canavan Productivity and Unemployment -“For a Day or a Lifetime”
Ever since choosing a life of unemployment as of New Years 2006 I’ve begun to see the world through a different lens. It’s not the first time I’ve amicably left a professional job to pursue the more leisurely things in life, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. In fact, by the time this goes to print I may have had to once again resort to gainful employment. The way I see it, life is too short to have to be spent laboring away and paying taxes. Joblessness beats forfeiting a chunk of my paycheck and labor to fund bombs that fall on countless unknown strangers without so much as a say in where my would-be tax money goes. But with this excess of free time comes a dilemma -- remaining productive. I try to stay busy with creative endeavors that I truly enjoy (like writing this column). In fact, I’d say I’m fairly productive for a guy who is getting used to the idea of waking up at 10:30 each morning and riding my bike around town all day. But this productivity can be tempered by forces that generally wouldn’t affect me, were I gainfully employed. For instance, when I was employed (I had been working in services for the disabled in one form or another for the last seven years) it didn’t matter if it was sunny, raining, snowing, hot, or cold. There was no difference if I was sleepy or wide-awake, if I was sick or if I’d just run a marathon. The work was always there on my desk and it required attention. It was sort of forced motivation to be productive. Now that has all changed. And a lot of it, I have found, depends on the weather. First off, I don’t necessarily have to do anything if I don’t want to, and that can be a tempting mistress. Motivation can be much more difficult to come by if you don’t have to really do anything if you don’t need to. Yet I’m the type that loves being outside when I can (you value that sort of thing when living in Syracuse, where it snows six months a year and is overcast for another four months). So when it’s a sunny day, you’d better believe I’m going to make a plan for myself that involves being out and about for at least a portion of the day. But if it’s dreary and raining it can be such a crusher. It can just wreck whatever bit of motivation I might have had and I turn into a miserable grump for the rest of the day. The weight of the gloomy skies can be so hard to get out from under, and forcing myself to do something worthwhile can be a difficult exercise. It feels terrible because I know time is finite, as well as this excursion into unemployment. I’m going to have to surrender to wage slavery again at some point, so I ought to make the most of all this free time while I have it.
When the sun comes out everything changes. I’m up, I’m excited, I’m ready to move and do something(s) worthwhile. Things just come together. I make an awesome breakfast for my girlfriend and I, jump in the shower, and hop on the bike. I drop off flyers for that show happening next week, and locate that one Unsane record I’d been searching for at the record store. On my way to Westcott Street I stop at Halo Tattoos and find out a friend from out of town is visiting so I make a point to see him later. The next three hours are spent at Recess Coffeehouse drinking powerful java on their porch and extrapolating way too much meaning out of the movie Barton Fink that turns into song lyrics for my band. On the way back to Marshall Street I see another old face I haven’t seen in forever. We randomly discuss music and both come to the conclusion that we ought to start a band that sounds like Giants Chair. From there I find my friend from out of town and we spend a good hour catching up on what’s happening. Later on I’m back at Recess watching Greg do his usual Tuesday night accoustic thing and he goes into “Devil Music”. It’s 6/6/06 and I figure it’s appropriate fare for the occasion. And everything just comes together perfect for right now. If only every day could be like this, disregarding the effect of the weather and relishing the freedom of unemployment. If every day could be like this, even with the numbing effect of employment. If this could be what work is -- working towards happiness and something personally fulfilling and productive, I think people would be much happier. I think they would be happy to get up everyday, and approach their lives with vigor, rain or shine. It’s not a call to be lazy, and it’s more of a fantasy or dream than anything. In essence, consider what you are doing with your life, and how you live it, and think for a minute about if it really makes you happy or not. Then think about what does make you happy and set out to do it. Challenge me: email@example.com
Playing Enemy, new demo Fucked Up, Hidden World Young Widows, Settle Down City Giants Chair, Red and Clear End Of a Year, Sincerely Channels, Waiting For the Next End Of the World Clutch, Self-Titled Drowningman, Busy Signal At the Suicide Hotline The Clash, Combat Rock
War On Winter
Brothers! Sisters! Comrades! I am sending out a call to action in regards to an event that has been plaguing us all of our lives. It may not be that obvious but it’s there. Oh, it’s there! The culprit is winter and I am sending a call out to a “War On Winter”. Don’t get me wrong, I love many things about the winter. Sledding down hills, skating, snowball fights, and many other things are uniquely awesome winter events. The downside is the absence of our good friend the sun. It’s easy for the day to escape you when you get home from work at 6pm and it is pitch black outside. Depending on where you live, the weather plays a part in not seeing people. Many of us hibernate in our domiciles and come out to play again in the springtime. I say no more, or at least not this year. Last year a group of friends got together on a regular basis at the beginning of the winter to go sledding. Those were some of the more rewarding moments of last winter. There is nothing like being outside with friends late at night on a weekday enjoying the cold outdoors. Moving down a hill at high speeds with only a piece of plastic under you to protect you is invigorating. Sure, we ended up hurting ourselves a number of times but throwing caution to the wind and hitting jumps at full speed will have possible negative results. There are any numbers of other activities that are equally as fun and not all of them are outdoors. The winter can be a great time to rediscover the joy of board games. You can find a coffee shop or someone’s house and have regular gatherings. Another simple activity to keep your mind limber and creative is to find interesting ways to get outside of your normal routine. One of my professors suggested the simple idea of just taking a different way to work. You don’t need to bike two hours extra or drive two extra hours but it could be as simple as getting off at one stop early and walking a route you may not see. If you pay a little bit more attention to your surroundings you will see a whole new perspective. Like I said, there are a million different things to do to fight back against the doldrums and drag of the dark winter days.
Be careful though! The winter is a fierce competitor and can take its toll easily. Dress warm, drink lots of fluids and stay positive. The staying positive is the biggest challenge and I always find that it goes hand in hand with getting sick. I encourage y’all to come visit the Twin Cities area in the winter. It seems to be the place to avoid for most people due to the harsh conditions and the bitter cold. If not lovely Minnesota, take trips to other interesting places. Very simple trips to towns not far away can be equally as fun as going somewhere extravagant. I find the company you bring is the determinant factor in a successful adventure. I promote lots of traveling during the winter but I also caution people to be safe. I have heard too many horror accident stories that happened in the winter. Take your time in your travels but definitely don’t let the weather hold you back. Send me stories of interesting ways you have fought off the winter drag. The biggest reason I write this article is to inspire excitement about life in others and to exchange ideas. I spent a better portion of last winter indoors and inactive. I let my job drag me down and I drank with the purpose of drowning the winter out. I intend on taking the winter on with full force this year. I have lots of ideas and I’ll be damned if the lack of sun will prevent them from happening. The world we live in is full of all sorts of fucked up things that can only really be combated together. Look out for your friends this winter, as well as the rest of the year, and find ways to help your friends get through in one piece. I hear too many stories about suicide, depression and friends in pain. Let’s take back the winter for ourselves. I look at it as one more way of getting by in the mess of a world we live in. Please feel free to write me at firstname.lastname@example.org I always enjoy hearing from readers of this zine. A special thanks once again to Stuart for letting me ramble once again. I have had the chance to meet up with him in travels twice this year and they have always been memorable events!
“When I hear the word instrumental used as a genre, I don’t think about the lack of vocals. I think more about the non-traditional form of writing and the amount of texture, depth and space that help the songs breathe.”
Text : Stuart Anderson // Photos : Chelsea Bashford It’s almost impossible to guess that just three guys are producing the ridiculous racket on Russian Circles’ debut record. Enter, which first surfaced in May combines elements of the members’ previous bands (guitarist Mike Sullivan and bassist Colin DeKuiper came from Dakota/Dakota, and drummer Dave Turnrantz from Riddle of Steel). It falls somewhere between the unabashed “instrumetal” that’s popping up everywhere these days, and the more contemplatively hectic arrangements of Tortoise. Along the way, it surpasses just about every sub-genre or comparison. They have spent most of the last year on tour, with the like-minded Pelican and Mono, then with more wide-ranging acts like Daughters, Appleseed Cast, and more recently, Minus The Bear and P.O.S. Their ambidextrous tour schedule does a fair job of illustrating the surprising breadth throughout Enter. Their heaviest sections are heavier, and frankly better, than Pelican (with whom they share a practice space). While at its lightest there are riffs in every song that are downright catchy, especially in “You Already Did” and “Micah,” which is definitely the standout track. Though it’s Russian Circles’ first proper release, Enter is easily one of the best indie rock records of the year, regardless of sub-genre or lineup. When held up against the relative glut of heavy-handed instrumental bands around right now, they are already miles ahead. This interview was conducted with guitarist Mike Sullivan in the scant time between Russian Circle’s tours earlier this fall.
Explain how the band met, and formed. Colin’s and my old band had just broken up and we were friends with Dave, who recently quit his band and we all agreed it would be great to play together. The timing was perfect. Dave moved up here from St. Louis in September of 2004 and we immediately started playing. How did you end up releasing Enter on Flameshovel? Are you planning on working with them in the future? We were talking to several labels, all of which seemed a bit intimidating and weren’t willing to fully support our direction and meet our minimal requests. Flameshovel has been there from the beginning and supported us without doubt. They were willing to give us a significant recording budget without any questioning. They have a great roster and picking up newer bands all the time. We’re very happy with their work with Enter and we’re looking forward to the future. What place does hailing from Chicago play in your band, practically and sound-wise? Obviously you recorded at Electrical Audio, and you share a practice space with Pelican, but does it go deeper than that? Chicago is a great music city with a very diverse and supportive scene. Despite the large number of bands in the city, there’s not much competition among the bands, so everyone is very supportive of one another. We’ve been huge fans of Chicago bands, such as Shellac, Tortoise, Wilco, 90 Day Men, and countless others who have had a significant impact on our sound. Whether it be choice of studio, engineer, or social places you frequent, everything has a subtle effect on the music. The band has been on tour pretty constantly since the record came out, and even before. What is the plan for the band after the Daughters tour ends in September? Has all the touring led to any burnout? If not, is it something you’re worried might happen? After we’re the Daughters tour, we have a week off and then we are going out with Minus the Bear, P.O.S., and The Velvet Teen for a six-week tour primarily around the perimeter of U.S. When that tour ends we’ll play some shows on the way back to Chicago and then take a long deserved break from touring. We’re concious of the potential of burning out, but so far its been a great experience and we feel that the best thing we can do right now is tour behind the record, since we haven’t done much touring prior to this year. More so than burning out on tour, we really miss writing and experiencing the creative side the band. We plan on spending the majority of this winter writing new material and maybe heading over to the U.K. in late winter early spring. Lately it seems like “instrumental” is almost becoming a genre label, which seems to be sort of under-descriptive at the very least. Do you worry at all about being defined by the lack of vocals, or being crammed into a sub-genre with other bands just because you share that lack of vocals? I agree that instrumental has become a genre label, but I think it’s more important to define a band’s genre more by their sound, than by whether there are vocals or not. It’s natural for people to want to compare bands to others or throw them in a vague genre for a quick means of identification, but it is not always accurate. When I hear the word instrumental used as a genre, I don’t think about the lack of vocals. I think more about the nontraditional form of writing and the amount of texture, depth and space that help the songs breathe. Do you find it better or worse to be on more instrumental-heavy tours, such as the tour with Pelican and Mono? Do you feel like you might get lost in the mix? The Pelican/Mono dates were great. Despite there being three instrumental bands on the bill, each band was significantly different from the next. I’m completely fine with instrumental tours, as long as the bands don’t sound like one another. Each band should have their purpose on the bill and so far we haven’t encountered any problems.
One thing that strikes me about Enter is the complete and full nature of the songs, despite not having vocals, or excessive wanking from any of the members (though all three of you could obviously pull it off chops-wise if you chose to). How does the songwriting process usually work? Is there a conscious effort to fill in melodies that might usually be handled by a singer? There is a great amount of freedom when writing without a traditional singer. Since we don’t think in terms of a verse/ chorus structure, our writing process is more about a linear progression of building or deconstructing themes. We try to make the songs feel comfortable without being predictable. Typically, there will be a few guitar lines that serve as the foundation for larger pieces. With any given song, it is common to throw away more than half of what was originally used in the song. The initial ideas function as a springboard into other directions that we never could have written individually. It really takes all of us listening to each other to know when to step up and down in the mix. How do you feel about the reception to Enter so far? How has it varied from city to city, or between different groups of fans (i.e. Pelican fans to Appleseed Cast/Criteria fans, etc.) as far as you can tell? So far we’re quite happy with the success of Enter. Without having vocals and by incorporating noisier ambient elements to our music, we weren’t setting out to win over any audiences. We’re happy to play the music we do, and if some people aren’t into it, we’re not too worried about it. We’d rather be playing music we love to an audience who truly appreciate the music, rather than play less inspired music to a potential larger demographic.
There are definitely different groups of fans that draw different aspects from our music. Recently we’ve been playing to more post-rock/indie audiences, which has been great, but at the same time, we’re really looking forward to the Daughters tour, where people may be a bit more familiar with a louder, more aggressive atmoshphere. Basically, we love playing with all types of bands. The more diverse the better. Catching an audience off guard can be the most rewarding experience in the live setting. Enter seems to flow really well from one song to the next. Was this intentional? Do you hope to do this with your future releases as well? Does the continual theme make songwriting easier, or harder? For sure. A lot of thought went into the sequence of the tracks and the transitions between each. I can’t say whether or not we will do this on our next album, but we will want to make the second album sound sonically different than Enter. Creating a different feel/theme is one of the reasons we’re looking forward to writing most of the next album in one solid block: so the album is very cohesive and each song has its place, instead of having moments that feel forced or out of place. What place does your live show occupy for the band, in terms of priority and style, as opposed to the recorded output? The live experience is very important to us. I think a lot of our character and individuality is represented more accurately in live shows. There is a certain sense of vulnerability and honesty with the live show that is hard to capture in the studio. When recording, its easy to hide behind the security of the studio environment. Watching a band perform live really says what that band is all about at that given time.
Contact Russian Circles: http://www.russiancircles.net email@example.com myspace.com/russiancircles Enter is available on Flameshovel Records: http://www.flameshovel.com
Life At These Speeds
Interview : Stirling Myles / Intro : Stuart Anderson / Photos : Colin Smith
When it comes to the wide-ranging factors that can lead a band in different directions, geography is often overlooked. Life At These Speeds hail from Portland, though much about their life as a band is tied to the East Coast. Their sound has distinct earmarks of much of the Dischord catalog, especially Fugazi and Rites Of Spring. But they mix that up with a healthy dose of frantic post-hardcore, most popular and usually born in the Northeast over the last decade or so. Their incredible, self-titled debut full length was released in a number of different forms over the last several years. It was also, more often than not, also tied to the East coast. Most recently, it was offered from Perpetual Motion Machine from Washington, D.C., and is now available in an expanded form on New Jersey’s Level-Plane. Their recently released sophomore record, “To Your Health” is also on Level-Plane. It features a bit more melodic and patient version of Life At These Speeds, without losing much of the angular rhythms and frantic feeling of their debut. It’s easy to find bands to draw comparisons to within individual aspects of their sound. But it’s almost impossible to tie up more than one into any sub-genre or band comparison. The title track features a confrontational, but mid-tempo approach along with a very Pichiotto-like vocal
performance, which will tempt numerous Fugazi comparisons. But then the much more melodic “Blocking Out The Stars” has a modern indie rock feel which isn’t completely out of place in the Northwest. “A New Design” features choppy and persistent rock and roll that nods towards Drive Like Jehu and their native San Diego. While it covers a lot of ground, “To Your Health” still manages a cohesive and continually evolving sound. It’s more even-keeled than the dynamically back and forth debut, but no less dynamic. Especially after it’s given a few listens to sink in, it’s a worthy follow-up to an outstanding debut. It firmly establishes Life At These Speeds as a band to watch, no matter where you’re from.
So, just for the sake of catching up, and to let people know who you are, I was wondering if I could get a little history of the band?
Yeah, its population is in the 500,000 range. To jump ahead a bit, it’s actually a lot similar to where I grew up in the Pittsburgh area. Both have a small downtown area surrounded by neighborhoods that act as the cultural epicenters (though, this is probably true for a lot of cities). Portland is a younger city, and that is evident in its aesthetic qualities when compared to Pittsburgh. They do share some visual similarities in the rivers, bridges, and industrial areas along the waterfront. Today, I find a lot of similarities in the music scenes and how varied they are and the support for artists in musicians in both cities. In both instances, I think the level creativity has a lot to do with the population participating in such activities. There are a lot of 20–30 year olds in both places that seek out others of like mind and contribute to the cultural growth.
Okay... Life At These Speeds formed in the early days of 2003. Luke, Asa, and Chris had already played music together before, and I was relatively new to Portland. I went through all of the bullshit you do when you’re new to an area and trying to meet people to play music with -- checking local message boards, placing ads, answering ads -- with nothing really coming together. Luke and I met randomly via the Skylab message board. It’s kind of funny, because it was the first time I had gone onto the board, and I saw this post looking for a guitar player in Portland, which turned out to be Luke’s first post on there. I met with Luke, Asa, and Chris; we played some songs, and everything else just kind of fell into place. Is everyone else from Portland? Luke is the only person who was born and raised here. Asa is an Iowa transplant, and Chris grew up in the Bay Area. Both of them have been here longer than me, though. Portland is a weird city like that; not many people you meet here are “from” here. You’ll see when you get up here... It’s like this point of convergence for a lot of different types of people with common general interests, usually involving some aspect of creativity, be it music, art, writing, etc. There seems to be a lot going on for how small of a city it is. So, Portland is relatively a small city? It’s interesting that you bring up the element that it’s a dense place for the arts. I’ve definitely heard this myself, I was wondering if you could tell me your thoughts as to why Portland has such a high rate of creativity. How does it contrast with the place where you moved from?
This interview, about balancing busy lives with rock and roll, the band’s native Portland, and their new record, was conducted with Alan (guitar, vocals) via e-mail.
This is really interesting. Do you think that industry has anything to do with the level of creativity? Also, is there a link between the physical landscapes of the city that influences the creative process? Hmm... Well, I guess that bridges and rivers are reoccurring themes in a lot of work that I’ve come across. It’s hard to say whether the physical landscape, the particular landscape of Portland, is more of a catalyst for people here than, say, that of San Francisco is for people there. I think people create because they have the need to do so, and whatever surrounds them is fuel for that output. As far as industry is concerned, I guess economics figure into the equation somewhat. A lot people seem content with working at places that allow them a certain amount of freedom to pursue other things like playing in bands or traveling or whatever. Others embrace the idea of building community and creative expression by starting smaller, independent businesses that provide an outlet for goods produced within the community. There are examples of this throughout the city in the way of record stores, bookstores, tons of clothing stores featuring local designers, and independent galleries featuring local artists.
That was a great answer for a vague question, so thanks. I’m interested in hearing a little more about these community spaces, how important do you feel these spaces serve in urban settings such as Portland. How do you feel like these spaces are effective? Also, how much of a need is there for spaces like this in Portland? Well, I feel they provide an alternative to what might be considered a commonplace model for retail/capitalist interactions. It’s the equivalent of going to a basement show versus something in an arena. These stores and galleries help make things accessible for participants on both sides of the fence, artist/creator and audience/consumer. It’s like a conduit that eliminates the separation. That true for other things, as well; there are a number of organizations devoted to educating anyone interested in various topics from printing your zine to developing photos to bike maintenance... There’s something out there for whatever you may want to do, and if there isn’t you could probably find the support needed to fill that gap. Wonderful! Going in a bit of circle, how have these elements nurtured the growth of your band? Are there any particular and specific places that have influenced the way you go about growing as a band? Life At These Speeds fits in via participation, I guess, both as a band and as individuals; we all go to shows or help others with shows, Chris records bands in his basement, we support our friends in their various endeavors when and how we can. I would say inspiration for us comes more from the people in the city more than the city itself. I guess the two can be interchangeable. For me, it’s more about experiences and interactions than physical place. Growing... it’s just a natural process. There’s nothing specific that we have focused on, like there isn’t a specific place we’re trying to get to or type of band we’re trying to be. We just write songs and what comes out, comes out. No limits, no rules, just a general agreement about whether we like what we’re doing or not. I think that as we have played together over time, we’ve become more comfortable and intuitive with our songwriting process. Specific instances might influence particular songs or something like that, but in my eyes there is no single moment that stands out as a turning point for us. That said, I think everything we experience influences where we are as a group and as individuals, and these collective experiences probably hold some sway over our direction as a band. Good point. I can definitely relate to the organic process of songwriting and letting whatever you feel most inspired by at the moment. I definitely feel this comes across in your music. There is a sense of urgency present. I’ve just been interested in this interchangeable relationship to people and cities, and how certain places can be unique to other urban forums, what makes Portland unique to other cities like San Francisco. Or, is there no difference between cities, that it’s simply chance that certain cities have bigger artistic outpourings. Have you witnessed any differences while being on tour? There are differences, definitely, especially when it comes to issues like community support. I would say that larger cities generally provide more of an opportunity to establish a forum for whatever kind of expression, if only due to sheer population and probability of finding others interested in the same things. On the flipside of that, some smaller communities are more tight-knit and support is derived from that feeling; a place like Arcata, Ca, would be a good example of this. They have an all ages multi-purpose community space (or “had,” I guess—it recently relocated to nearby Eureka) that serves as a space for various types of gatherings. A lot of larger cities don’t have that... Going on a similar thread, a lot of places that seek to harbor community, like these spaces, tend to have a problem of reaching out to a larger audience. For example, a community space/venue/info
shop in Denver closed down from lack of support. Do you feel that this is an issue in Portland? Is there anyway to effectively address this issue? I think it can be an issue anywhere. Portland has had its share of spaces close or change hands. I’m not sure how to effectively combat this, but I think that starting by looking at models that are working and copying their processes would be a good jumping off point. And this is just speaking generally, of course. It seems the primary reason these places disappear is of a financial basis. Finding a source for funding should be a top priority. This might include seeking out grants or other funding. Pittsburgh is exemplary in this aspect through the Sprout Foundation, which is a group that provides grants to individuals and organizations looking to contribute to the arts in the city. How has working with Perpetual Motion Machine been? Working with Paul was great. He’s been a good friend both to me and the band (I’m looking forward to seeing him this summer when we tour the East). Just to touch on that idea of community again for a minute, there were so many people involved with the first album; I can’t believe the support people have shown us to help get our music out there. The first pressing was Perpetual Motion Machine and Owsla doing the vinyl with Grey Sky handling the CD’s. The second vinyl pressing found Ryan from Owsla taking a bit of a break so Will at Clean Plate stepped up to help Perpetual Motion Machine. When it came time for a second round of CD’s, Jason had put Grey Sky on hiatus, so Greg and Level-Plane lent us a hand and repressed it. I step back and think how great it is that these people were willing to invest the time and money necessary to put out something we created; it’s a little overwhelming. I was wondering if you wanted to say anything more about what you’ll be up to in the coming months. And if there is anything in general you want to people to leave with. We recently spent the better part of three months in Chris’ basement recording a new album. We’re pretty excited about it, and it should be out on Level-Plane by August, just in time for our East Coast tour. We’ll be playing a few shows around San Francisco in July and a couple in Portland this summer.
Life At These Speeds: http://killingcupid.net/lats.html Both LATS records available from: http://www.level-plane.com Colin Smith Photography: http://www.distortedperspective.com/
“Epic” is a sorely overused word, especially when describing music (and I’m as guilty as anyone). But, there really isn’t any other word you can use to describe Envy. Hailing from Tokyo, they’ve seen their last three full-length records properly released on different labels. I first heard them on 2001’s All the Footprints You’ve Left and the Fear Expecting Ahead, which came out in the U.S. on Dim Mak. It alternates seamlessly between jarring, choppy hardcore and winding melodic passages. Two years later, they returned with A Dead Sinking Story on 2003’s was similarly dynamic and powerful. It leaned a bit more toward longer and more well developed melodic passages, but also had plenty of intense, thrashy hardcore moments as well. Both records showed incredible dynamics and one of the most forward thinking takes on hardcore anywhere. Aside from adding an obvious exoticism and distinct edge to their sound, the Japanese lyrics have always added another dynamic layer to Envy’s sound. Something about the inherently jagged and drastic sound of the language lends itself perfectly to what Envy is doing rhythmically. It’s not unlike the way epic French hardcore bands Amanda Woodward or Daitro use their native language to their advantage rhythmically. Insomniac Doze is their newest, and largest record to date. Overall, it’s obvious right away that they are leaning more toward the slower and more layered melodic end of their sound. There are still plenty of huge, chestpounding hardcore moments throughout the record’s 57 minutes. But they have focused even more on the haunting, and huge ambient sections, with melodically whispered vocal lines. The guitar work brings to mind Mogwai or Godspeed, while the persistent rhythm section and vocals wouldn’t be out of place on a Yaphet Kotto record.
From beginning to end, Insomniac Doze relies on dynamics, but never hides behind them. The swings from loud to soft are constant, but never predictable. And rather than waiting for the next big sea change, they’re comfortable enough to bury a lot within each individual section. I was already a fan of Envy before I got this, but Insomniac Doze is yet another huge leap forward for the band. Over the course of seven tracks, it cements them as one of the most important and exciting bands anywhere -- regardless of continent or genre. It may be overused, but there’s only one way to describe Envy’s newest and best record. If this isn’t fucking epic, I don’t know what is. This interview was conducted via e-mail with Tetsuya Fukagawa, just before the band embarked on its first ever full U.S. tour.
0 : Stuart Anderson // C : Chelsea Bashford
You are about to embark on your first full U.S. tour. Why has it taken 11 years to do a full tour of the United States?
sell more CD’s and they take music as business. In my opinion it’s not fun to see such thing.
Actually we were able to go anytime, but we all have jobs to do in Japan and it was very difficult to arrange a long tour. And we were not very interested in going touring U.S. to be honest. However, we are looking forward to playing in U.S. very much now.
What are you excited about, and apprehensive about as you embark on your first long tour of the U.S.? Have you done a tour with similarly long drives before?
Did your short run of East Coast shows last year help you decide to do a full tour? How did those shows match up to your expectations? As a matter of fact it is. We’ve met so many cool people on the way and it gave us this great direct impression that they are simply having good time with our music. You have released three full-length records in the U.S. on three different record labels. How has the progression of different labels happened? How did you end up doing “Insomnic Doze” on Temporary Residence? It’s just because each time we plan to record new stuff, different people approach. It’s not on purpose. When we played in NY last time, we met Jeremy from Temporary Residence and he seemed like a nice reliable person to work with, so we decided to put out a record from his label after been in touch with him for a while. “Insomniac Doze” seems a bit more mellow and atmospheric than your previous releases. Was this intentional? Do you guys think it is considerably different than your most recent records? In the basic, we haven’t really changed that much I guess. But we’ve always wanted to play some softer songs, not only those loud and hard ones. I think we are now able to play nice songs as well because we have better skills to do so. How is the band received, in general, in the U.S. and Europe, compared to in Japan? It is true that it’s much more comfortable for us to play oversea because there seems to be more people who understand the underground scene. Unfortunately there are many bands in Japan that only focuses on how to
We’ll be there just like we play anywhere else. If we expect too much beforehand, it’ll be a disaster when it went wrong. And it’s going to hurt. We’ve had some tours with long rides in Europe, but it seems like touring U.S. is way harder than any tours we’ve had before. The only concern to me is how can I kill time while we are moving in a car. Was the recording process different on “Insomniac Doze” than on “A Dead Sinking Story”? Nothing really changed. We recorded everything in 10 days. Schedule wise, it was a bit hard though. What is the plan for the band once the U.S. tour is completed? Play some shows in Japan and we are going to Europe. And we are planning to do another tour in U.S. next year. Also planning to play in Taiwan. Has anyone in the band been to the Western part of the U.S. before? I visited west coast to see Gleta festival in 95 and saw some sightseeing spots, but I don’t remember much. What does everyone do back home, outside of Envy? Are you able to make a living off the band at this point? We all have jobs to do. So playing in envy is pretty much it. I’d like to try something else but I just don’t have enough time. Playing in envy does not pay enough to get by. In fact, if you don’t belong to a major label, it is almost impossible to live off playing music in a band I think.
Insomniac Doze available from: http://www.temporaryresidence.com
T h e
It’s difficult for any Canadian band to really “make it” without some sort of support in the U.S. Unfortunately, The Grey won’t have much choice except to try, at least for the next five years. Thanks to a misunderstanding crossing the border, these Ottawa natives have been banned from entering the United States for the next five years. It’s a shame for them, but also a shame for those of us in the lower 48. Their debut full length, Asleep At The Wheel, is a simultaneously nostalgic and relevant blast of post-hardcore. Members’ previous bands (Shotmaker and Three Penny Opera) aren’t terrible starting points for their sound, though they aren’t terribly complete either. They combine bouncy, but still heavy-handed rhythms (think Hot Water Music, Twelve Hour Turn), with angular but melodic guitar and bass riffs which lean more toward Drive Like Jehu. Combined with melodically monotone vocals (think early or mid-90’s Dischord, especially Bluetip or Jawbox), they bundle influences from all over the Eastern half of the continent seamlessly. Still making the most of their touring opportunities, they have already been to Japan and Europe since the release of the record. With the record coming out on Lovitt in the U.S., I’m sure they will garner some much-deserved attention here as well. And in the end, their inability to play here live is as much our loss as it is thiers.
Text: Stuart Anderson // Images : Alex Cairncross
Explain how The Grey met, and formed. The Grey formed in 2003. We had all played in bands before, some of them together, and wanted to start something new. We started jamming for fun, and soon enough we were making plans to start playing live and recording.
What does everyone do outside of the band? How does this affect touring plans? We all work outside of the band, so it’s hard to tour constantly but we do our best.
How did you get banned from the United States? We got banned from the States by trying to play a single show, which was potentially non-paying, without work permits for the U.S. We had never had trouble getting across before, and it turned into a big misunderstanding. They took it pretty personally when they thought we were trying to sneak in and “work” and make thousands of dollars. That wasn’t the case at all. How is this going to affect your touring plans in the future? Are you going to try and sneak across the border at some point anyway? It definitely sucks in terms of touring. We would love to be able to play there, but we aren’t going to let it stop us or slow us down. Canada is a big country, and there are a lot of other places to play. It has made us look into other options sooner than we had planned too, like Europe and Japan, so that’s not a bad thing. We’re not going to attempt to get into the U.S. illegally, it’s just too risky. Judging from what happened last time, when we were somewhat naive to the situation, if we tried again we’d be in deep shit. It can wait another three years. Do the members’ past bands (Shotmaker, Three Penny Opera, etc.) affect The Grey, for better or worse? Does it change people’s initial impressions of the band, or how you guys approach the new band? The past members thing isn’t a big deal, but it can get annoying. I don’t think it’s ever had a bad effect on us that we know of. Sure we want to treat the new band as an entirely new endeavor, but if mentioning a few past things, that we are proud of, gets a few people to pay attention for a second, then that’s cool. I guess it’s when the exmembers thing seems to be a bigger deal than the new band is when it gets ridiculous. We don’t approach the new band in relation to the old ones. There is a big buzz about Canadian bands in general these days, at least in the U.S., with a lot of bands getting label and press attention based partly on being Canadian. It’s usually focused around Montreal and Toronto more than Ottawa. Does this matter to you guys, or affect the band in any way? The whole machine works in mysterious ways. It’s definitely true that a lot of Canadian bands are getting some attention. Most are deserving of it, so it’s cool. The hotspot thing around Toronto and Montreal especially are expected. It doesn’t effect how we conduct ourselves as a band really, and not at all in terms of writing songs. We do what we do regardless of what’s getting hyped up. In a round about way though, it affects any band that’s trying to tour and just make a go of being a self-sufficient band. By that I mean, because of the attention indie bands are getting in Canada it makes it harder to get shows the old way, through friends, email or phone. It’s really difficult without a booking agent or some kind of support. But then again, people may be a little more willing to let you play if you are unknown because they don’t want to turn down the next Arcade Fire for the same show. It’s a double-edged sword on that one. What’s the plan for the band, now that Asleep At The Wheel is out? The plan now is to tour as much as we can and try to get the record to as many people as we can. Do you think the process of writing and recording a second record will be different than the process for your first? Have you even thought about that yet? I certainly hope it will be different than the first. Our approach is usually the same in that we write for a while, playing all along, and then start talking to the label about recording times once we feel we have a good album in the works. But I hope it would be different than the first in that I would hope that every band learns form past mistakes or attempts to evolve and move forward. Be creative.
The Grey: firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.thegreymusic.com Asleep At The Wheel is available from Lovitt Records: http://www.lovitt.com
Few bands in punk rock can wear the title of “career band” better than The Bouncing Souls. After nearly twenty years as a band, they’ve never really “caught on” in any huge way. But more importantly, they never faded away, or over-extended themesevles along the way either. Earlier this summer, when they released their newest full length, The Gold Record, they made an intriguing choice to celebrate the event. They skipped the idea of a short tour, or a few huge East Coast hometown shows (the band is now spread out between New York, Philadelphia, New Jersey and California). Instead, they did a full week of shows at the intimate Knitting Factory in New York. We caught up with drummer Michael McDermott just before their set on the final night of that homestand.
Interview : Andre Medrano Tonight is the fifth show of your record release home-stand. Can you talk about why you decided to play a week of shows here to open up. I think it’s a very humbling experience to be able to play anywhere, let alone six nights somewhere. If it was a one off, we probably wouldn’t play here. It would probably be Irving or somewhere bigger. But going into the fifth night it’s very interesting (laughs). It’s humbling but at the same time, at this point you’re going, “Could it be over? Could it be over? Is it over yet?” Do you guys change the songs you play every night? Everything tonight Do you guys have five or six staple Bouncing Souls songs you play every night? Yeah. We try to change it up every night… tonight at least. But tomorrow, the record comes out and tomorrow night we are going to do the Gold Record in its entirety, start to finish. Is this the first time you have done so many shows with so many bands for the record release? Yeah definitely. We usually do like New York, Philly, Jersey; those three places. I think the reason that we did this was aside from the fact that it’s a little more intimate is also that the Warped Tour is coming up which is a situation where you can’t play for a long time, you have certain time allotted. [Vick from the Slackers enters the dressing room.] McDermott: This is Vick from the Slackers. Vick has been playing keyboards as well accordion for us. Vick: Hey how are ya? One of the songs on the new record has keyboards on it right? Vick: More than one. You mentioned the Warped Tour. I remember 1997 I saw you guys there. That’s almost a decade ago and you are still on it, playing it this summer. I was wondering if you could comment on the way the Warped Tour phenomenon has evolved since you have been playing it. I think if anything it has grown in a positive way. They try to keep everybody equal, you wait in your line to get food. You play a half hour a day. Everything, everybody, no matter what band you are, everything is equal. It’s pretty cool that way.
I was wondering if you have any insights from the position you’re in. From the eyes of a band that’s always touring and always playing out and has had some kind of success. I just think there are so many bands that it’s just nuts. The amount of bands these days is kind of ridiculous and it’s a bit more fashion over form. For any amount of money you can be whatever you want to be. If you want to play guitar at Ozzfest you go to a music store and you get that metal guitar or the Stratocaster or whatever, and within a month you could maybe be big enough to play. So it kind of sucks that you don’t have to pay your dues, go through the grind, because that’s like… Vick and I were just talking about how it doesn’t really matter what room you play, it’s just the crowd of kids. It’s not really about what you look like. I mean I give some thought to my attire, but not so much so like…Panic at the Disco you know? Just know I went to the mirror because there was something in my eye, not to apply makeup, you know what I mean? Something I noticed about the evolution of Bouncing Souls on the early records some of the lyrics are kind of us against the world, like the BMX song and a lot of that stuff where it is easy to identify with for kids that are kind of outcasts. But now that you’ve been around for so long I think a lot of songs on the new record seem more like sliceof-life type stuff. Like anybody can relate to it. It’s more personal. You know, in a sense… you start a band at an early age and you write about what you want, you write about what you know. You are a kid, so you write about your BMX bike. Then once you get a little older, you get married and there are mortgages and kids and car payments and being away from home so much. It is your life so then that’s what you write about. As far as the writing process goes now, you don’t live in the same place right? I think one of you lives in Los Angeles? Yeah, Greg lives in L.A., I live in Philadelphia, Pete lives in Jersey, and Brian lives in New York. Since you guys are spread out is it sort of one person brings an idea into the studio or do you all get together and collaborate on something? The last few records me, Pete, and Brian would get together. For this record we had a rehearsal studio out in Brooklyn so we would get together every day like a job. I think we were doing like 11 to 4, noon to 5, noon to 6. Just like a job, cause it is our job (laughs). Yeah, and then Greg came in a little while later and added his stuff. So most of the time it was all of you in a room… Right, right. We were all out in Greg’s garage in LA or down at Kate’s house in Asbury Park. I want to talk a little bit about the song on the new record by the Army guy. Yeah, Garret. He has been here the last couple nights. We just met some guys, a couple of years ago, obviously before the war started. No, the war was on actually. I meant they were just about to go over to the war. They were stationed in Europe? Right, right. It just sort of worked like that you know, we kept in touch. He started writing letters. The letter from Iraq song, we had written music that we had sort of demoed. And that was actually this long poem he’d written, and we started pulling stanzas, and words, and two lines here and trying to piece it together and we wanted to make sure that we could do that so we asked him for his permission. He was you know, more than grateful.
Do you still keep in touch with any of those other guys? Yeah, they come out all the time. Like I said Garrett was here last night. You have been overseas a couple of times since the war started right? I am wondering how you are received by people over there has changed? Do they identify with you being punk rockers, kind of detached from American policy, or do you get the brunt of antiAmericanism? We were in England nine-ten. We flew over there September 10, then we were in Glasgow (Scotland) and we had to spend the next month over there. For the next couple weeks the flights were crazy. Guttermouth was supposed to come over and they couldn’t get a flight then finally bailed out on the whole thing. I mean yeah, you know what, if you do what the Vandals did, like they went over to Iraq and played, I think you might get shunned a little. But no, not at all, we don’t get any of it. Europe is fun. Do you guys ever wish you had done something different over the life of the band? The only reason I ask is because as fans people only see the finished product and they like it or hate it or don’t have an opinion. Sometimes they don’t realize there are other choices that could have been made on the other side of the equation… Right, right. For me, having come to the band six and a half years ago, and dealing with the reality of the band that was given to me, no. I respect the decisions they made and how honest they were and that they stuck with the beliefs of things like wanting to own your own publishing and not caving in to MTV, that kind of stuff. I dig that, I like that. I think that this is one band that holds true to their way and what they believe. Are you guys involved in the daily operation of Chunksaah? That’s the other three and Kate. They formed that, with Kate and Shal. That’s something I didn’t think I should get involved in. The press kit that came with the record said Maniacal Laughter was a seminal moment for the band. Can you pick out another two or three or one moments that were turning points in the last few years. McDermott: Hmm, pivotal moments… Vick: Michael McDermott joining the band! McDermott: Haha, yep yep. That was a pivotal moment, that was a good time. I was playing with Mephiskapheles at the time, opening for the Souls at the Trocadero (in Philly) and there is like, fourteen hundred kids losing their mind and I was like…. (shakes head). That happened to be Shal’s last show because he….not only am I losing my mind watching this…and I am like, “God, this is horrible,” because Shal was losing his mind but I mean literally. And that was his last show with the band. And you just jumped on? McDermott: Not really jumped on then and there it was like a month or so later… He just became, you know, the outcast who wanted something different. And being in a band, if everybody is going to have a say then everyone needs to sort of have the same idea and want to go in the same direction. You really have to have one leader that has a focus or a direction where he is going to take you, or everybody has got to be on the same page. He was just in a band with these other four guys and he was the one that diverted from the program you know. I thought they were a great band, and they were one of those bands I would watch and be like, “Wow, if they just had a better drummer” because drummers you know, could really, your band could suck. Vick: There are so many bands like that. New York Dolls, they talk about. The old drummer from the Dolls was supposedly like “one of the guys” and spirit of the band. But Jerry Nolan saw the Dolls and was like, “I am going to play drums for that band, and when that happens, this band is going to rule the world.” McDermott: Really? Vick: Yeah, when they interviewed him he was like, “When that day comes, I am going to fucking, they are going to go places, because I know….” I have heard a couple of guys, particularly drummers, say things like that.
McDermott: Wow, that’s a great story. Even the singer. That’s the worst part when there are three or four or five guys raging and the singer just sucks. You are thinking, “You are sooo holding these guys back, they are so good.” You almost rather just have it be an instrumental. So that is kind of how I felt about Shal. Do the other guys still hang out with him? McDermott: No, no. Vick: He was a nice enough guy I thought. He was friendly or whatever. McDermott: He came backstage man at that Mephiskapheles show. They were all just like smoking a bowl and he came in the dressing room and was just a bug out. Like sat down, I wasn’t there, but the story was that for five minutes he was just like (intense staring straight ahead) and everyone was just like huh? Like right now if somebody walked in that no one in here really knew and just seemed off kilter, and kind of hung around and continually did things that were just a little off kilter. The first time I heard Bouncing Souls was probably ’94 or ’95, growing up in New Jersey. It’s kind of weird more than a decade later realizing that kids ten years older, as well as ten or twelve years younger are into that same band. I was wondering if you in the band see the different components of the fan base or if it’s just one sort of monolithic structure. I think if you were a band that was like flavor of the moment it would be like that but for the Souls it’s such an organic experience. People, we retain the people as we get older. You walk through the crowd and, don’t quote me on this because maybe it doesn’t happen tonight, but you usually walk through the crowd and you get such a mix. There are old people, no doubt. And the kids are up front, they’re having a good time, there are the smiling girls and they are cute. If any of them ever want to babysit my daughter, they can do that. But seriously, then you go to the back and there is you know… If this was the stage and then as you move to the back… [illustrated a rising slope, making the height of the crowd grow the further it gets from the stage]. Do you think the newer stuff is more a coherent project more than a collection of songs. Do you have a kind of framework when you go in to record? Oh yeah, it is. It’s not like a Coheed and Cambria where it’s like, “Here is a storybook on a fictional Indian”…which no doubt, that’s awesome. I can reference back to what I was saying before about Shal. You need all ears leading in the same direction. If one of those cogs is broken, it does not work. And that is what made him a little not right. When you guys look for lyrical material is it more what has happened since the last time you recorded? Or is there no limit to how far back you can go? Whatever stories you want to tell at the time you know? It kind of comes out that way. Again, it’s what happens in that time frame since that last collection of songs came out. This is the last question I have. Do you find some songs kind of take on a life of their own after they have been recorded and put out and played on tour? Maybe you wrote something with something in mind and then? To me they definitely change, and I like to change them. Sometimes those guys don’t like that I like to change them. But when you record songs you haven’t really lived with them. Then you go on tour and you play them for six months and you are like, “Wow I could have done this.” You find it could have sounded better, and you want to find a better way. At least for me, it’s like I want to do it like this, it sounds better… to me anyway (laughs).
Bouncing Souls: http://www.bouncingsouls.com http://www.chunksaah.com The Gold Record available from: http://www.epitaph.com
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Record Reviews ** By Stuart Anderson, unless otherwise noted
The Abominable Iron Sloth Self Titled
In the Dawn of Man, the world was a cold cruel world. After centuries of dormancy, the Abominable Iron Sloth was awakened as the world began to thaw. The Sloth was pissed – you would be too if you awoke from a long sleep where you were covered in ice and snow. At first, the Sloth was too weak to move. Unwitting hairless apes had fed him and nursed him back to strength until one day the Sloth turned on them. The Sloth began its trek across the land, laying waste all that lay in his path. Of course, the Abominable Iron Sloth is still a sloth, so many were able to escape his slow, devastating fury to tell the tale. Arrows and swords could not stop the behemoth as it lay waste to the countryside in a long scathing path. Just as suddenly as the Sloth began its destruction, it disappeared. To this day, researchers search for the Abominable Iron Sloth. Most dismiss its tale as legend. The whereabouts of the Abominable Iron Sloth were unknown until April of 2006, where remains of ancient men were discovered just outside of Sacramento, CA. The debut album of The Abominable Iron Sloth comes from members of Will Haven and Oddman. The album feels a little like the last offering of Vision of Disorder – dark, droning, and really freakin’ heavy. The vocals are reminiscent of Bongzilla or Iron Monkey, a growl mixed with a scream. The music is intensely slow and dark, dripping of Eyehategod. Despite this feeling, the songs are surprisingly short, with the longest tune clocking in at just over four minutes. The album feels a lot longer, as most of the songs blend into one another to create one seamless epic. The song titles are very tongue-in-cheek, completing an excellent disc. My favorite titles include “A Hot Pink Shell of My Former Self ”, “Parasite Hilton and Other Flaws Inherent to Wealth”, and “The Family that Slays Together Stays Together.” This is an excellent debut for this style of music. The disc furthers the “value” of buying the album for the artwork – a comic book-like interior of the story of the Abominable Iron Sloth. This is definitely an album not to miss if you like the bands mentioned above, or just some good heavy stomping music. [Review : Pat Dixon] Goodfellow Records
Dark Songs of the Prairie This long-coming debut full length from Denver’s Across Tundras walks a number of fairly fine lines. It does so with varying levels of success, which define the success of the record from beginning to end. Stylistically, it lands somewhere between more metal-influenced stoner riff rock and grungy 70’s blues. Mostly intermittent, reverb-drenched vocals leave it a bit more in the former, but there are strong hints of both throughout the record’s 51 minutes. The slow-developing, riff-based songs also walk another familiar line; the one between epic and
long-winded. They often come down on the wrong side of this one, though not always. The opening track, “Ramblin’ In The Shadows” is aptly titled for better and worse. It takes a slow motion, meandering, blues-influenced riff to a linear and slow-developing song structure. Sometimes, this wouldn’t be a bad thing, but in this case it takes almost four minutes to turn into anything else. Then, it becomes a slightly heavier version of a similar riff. What could be a head nodding metal riff seems a bit too choppy and unsupported by a strong rhythm section to really land any sort of groove. The same problem repeats itself throughout the record: there are solid ideas, but they develop just a little too slowly to really grab my attention in any real way. There are a couple welcome exceptions to this, especially the much more fluid “Cosmic Retribution,” which features the best guitar riff and the vocals on the record. Maybe if they’d opened with this song, I’d feel a little differently about the record as a whole. There are strong elements and execution to Across Tundras’ sound, but they’re usually buried under a pile of otherwise uneventful moments. With so many somewhat similar bands and releases these days, it’s tough to see where Dark Songs of the Prairie is really going to stick out or grab people’s attention. Crucial Blast Recordings
I have to say that, more than usual, I was intrigued by the opening minute of this record. I can’t stress enough how much bullshit you get as a record reviewer. You can only offer constructive criticism or just say that a record sucks so many ways and, after so many times, you wonder, “Why can’t bands just put out solid releases?” So when this particular release slid across my desk, I was understandably skeptical. Yet it was remarkably successful in delivering with the rest of the record what the opening minute promised. Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing about Branches that is notably new or different from at least anything I’ve ever heard. But sometimes that’s not the point, because that type of sound is only successful for people like Björk. It takes a superhuman amount of energy to sustain that, an energy I’ve found today’s bands sadly lacking in. But you’ll understand just what I’m talking about when you hear the record’s second track, “Now It’s a Year.” What it offers is simple: an enjoyable listen. It’s not challenging, but it coddles your ear ever so nicely. It’s worry free and actually a brilliant idea to sculpt a record full of songs with this simply beautiful quality. Even the vibraphone in “Maybe We’re Still Running” is not over the top, but rather a tasteful addition to the sonic landscape. This type of subtle boundary pushing, be it ever so slight, is often disastrous. Yet when the vibraphone begins to compliment the dulcet voice of co-vocalist Delaney Kelly, it’s a pleasantness that I can’t remember having felt at the hands of a rock trio for ages.
Just as a good wine gets better with age, so does this record. It’s something you’ll appreciate even more, increasing greatly in value as the tracks progress. A brilliant midway point, “Not the Next Anything” provides a welcome contrast to records that start well and lose momentum by track three. And, true to form, “Make Nothing Happen,” the record’s ninth track is worth waiting for. Featuring fantastic male/female vocal unisons, creative and tasteful drumming, the song rewards your foray into the fortieth minute of the record. In all, Antlerland leaves listeners as well satisfied as they might be after a wonderful sushi meal. It’s that contentedly-full-not-still-hungry-not-overfed nirvana that makes Branches an incredible delight. [Review : Nick Cox] Sound Family Records
Jessica Bailiff Feels Like Home
The singer/songwriter spectrum as of recent has had the tendency to sound bland at times, with each performer tripping over the other by sounding very similar. While Jessica Bailiff isn’t necessarily bending any boundaries, she is honing in on a sound that is uniquely her own interpretation. There is a consistency of layering simple chord progressions with synthetic tones, like a comforting blanket. Bailiff sings with a hollowed voice, reminiscent of Azure Ray. These songs are simple and intimate. A stand out track for me is “What’s In Your Mind,” with its simple song structure. It leaves the verse/chorus approach out and focuses strictly on the tones of the effects layering. Bailiff melds her voice within the angelic synthetic noise that plays behind the guitar. The only criticism I have is that the album is too long. There is too much of a good thing, the general atmospheric approaches within each songs is a little too similar to the other ones. Other than that, the album is a nice album to listen to at night in the quiet confines of the home. Feels Like Home reminds me of what it might sound like listening to your next-door neighbors’ songs and actually liking them. [Review : Stirling Myles] Kranky Records
Und Die Scheiße Andert Sich Immer Six years after their self-titled debut full length, Big Sir is finally releasing a proper follow-up. Both members of the band have been busy since 2000, with Bassist Juan Alderete de al Pena joining The Mars Volta and vocalist Lisa Papineau working with indie electronica standouts Air and M83. Big Sir also released a remix full length, Now That’s What I Call Big Sir in 2001. The fourteen tracks are probably pretty close to what you’d expect after looking at both members’ resumes. Their songs are mostly built on syrupy and smooth bass grooves, which oscillate from straightforward, slow-motion funk riffs to much more technical and chopped apart scales. Papineau’s vocals are airy and cold, but powerful at the same time and add an out front and
Another Breath Mill City
Records like Mill City can seem almost impossible to review. Upstate New York staples Another Breath originally caught my attention when I got their debut Not Now, Not Ever a couple years ago. Like Mill City, it featured really effective and exciting hardcore, with a combination of youth crew energy and more a current, involved delivery. The same is true now, though it’s still hard for me to figure out (let alone explain) exactly what it is about Another Breath that seems to put them head and shoulders above most of their peers. That’s what makes it so hard to review. It reminds me a lot of Modern Life Is War, who share many of the same good qualities. Their songwriting is fairly straightforward, but also varied enough to keep my interest even after multiple listens. They also have a more urgent and convincingly pissed delivery than you’ll likely find too often these days, from big or small hardcore bands. The standout tracks here seem to be the longer ones in general, especially “Diesel and Gunpowder” which is ominous and absolutely humongous. It takes a solid formula that’s established on the shorter songs and expands it into something much larger. The subtle variations in their riffs and structure are also more apparent on the longer songs. Haunting guitar lines and heavy-handed rhythms are hardly a new way to set up a hardcore song, but Another Breath seem to have mastered it on just their second record. It’s still hard for me to put my finger on exactly what it is that puts Mill City in a class almost all by itself. But the combination of the real intensity and anger of hardcore’s past with the slightly more carefully planned out riffs from newer bands definitely isn’t a bad start. If you only buy a couple no frills hardcore records this year, this is a good one to put on the list. If you’re still actively seeking out solid new hardcore, it’s absolutely crucial. Rivalry Records
defining element to the songs. Though it’s difficult technically to pull off, but I’m still rarely a fan of really funk-heavy bass playing. Alderete mixes an apparent and strong funk influence with more basic and smooth blues, rock and jazz ideas. It is kind of a lot to balance, but given the bass-heavy nature of the project (and the mix), there’s plenty of room for it. And rather than just showing off his skills (which would be more than warranted), he also manages to construct really pleasing songs. There is solid drumming throughout the record, and strong contributions from Money Mark and saxophone from Adrian Terrazas Gonzales (also a touring Mars Volta member) among others. Strong saxophone, keyboard and drumming all help “Cause That Shit’s Too Evil…” make the standout track on the record. There are other outside contributions throughout the record, which almost always benefit the songs. But Alderete and Papineau are able to fill most of the songs on their own. I think this will be a pretty polarizing record, but the people that will give it a few complete listens will be pulled in more often than not. GSL Records
I first heard of Boris after their split with Merzbow – one of the gods of the Japanese Noise scene. The split was only one song, dripping with epic ambience. I expected Boris’ own full length to feature more similar noise. What I got instead was much more impressive – a rock band that can blend that noise with the rest of their music. Boris can really create some heavy atmospheres. The thing I really like about Pink is that there is a little bit something different in each of its 11 songs. The disc starts out with “Farewell”, a tune dripping with reverb and sustain. Vocals in this tune are almost reversed, accentuating the psychedelic and spacey feel that this song crates. It is also long – over seven minutes of varying noise and tempos. The album’s title track is next, bringing the pace back up to late 70’s rock ‘n’ roll tempo. “Nothing Special” is a punk rock explosion with the warm distortion of a tube amplifier blaring out of the speakers. Spectacular! The next tune, “Blackout” is a droning feedback noisy almost 5 minutes of bliss. “My Machine” is the second to last song on here, and is a barely audible piece of beauty before bursting into “Just Abandoned Myself ”. The last tune on here is an 18 minute long rock attack of epic proportions before fading into feedback and noise. It’s brilliant, really. The artwork is pretty cool on this album too, printed on extra heavy stock and includes pink tinged reproductions of some great stuff like the Red Dragon and other demonic looking stuff. [Review : Pat Dixon]
Brothers and Sisters Self-Titled
What ostensibly had its beginnings in Austin, Texas as, indeed, a sibling-based duo seems, with this release, to have grown into a fully functional octet. With this selftitled debut, siblings Will and Lily Courtney aptly display the musical relationship only blood relatives can have, adding an additional six-person coterie to their song writing duet with incredible success. From the opening seconds, there is a clear Neil Young influence, both in Will’s voice and in the tremolo of the acoustic guitar. Admittedly, you could pick a worse folk mogul to emulate. And the Courtneys do it quite skillfully; their songwriting seems not to betray the talent of the legendary Young in any way. While ensemble bands can typically have any number of negative repercussions derived from the lineup alone, the tasteful lap steel of “Los Angeles,” (as well as a traditional and full assortment of other instruments elsewhere on the record) is a testament to the breadth of material they can cover with such an entourage. In spite of its lazy Indian summer emotional dynamic and folky momentum, the record somehow doesn’t miss a beat. The songs weave quite a complex and pleasing tapestry of Americana expertise. There isn’t a poorly written song anywhere in the relatively tight (for a folk record) 12 song and 50 minute track listing. Nor is there even a hint of mediocrity, as each tune sets a high benchmark of cohesiveness; “Old Age” is one of the better examples, amalgamating what was successful about early Tom Petty and giving it a slightly poppier Neil Yong and Crazy Horse tint. While I don’t always find myself charmed by this type of release, Brothers and Sisters has a pop sensibility that appeals to the anthem lover in me, and it is sure to please even the most discriminating folk skeptic. They don’t seem to be afraid to work with a few genre-bending riffs here and there; the group seems so comfortable in the pop idiom that “Lost and Found,” with its stop-and-go drums and infectious organ, could almost be a lost Beatles single circa 1962. In all, the record acts to remind us of the point of an eight-person outfit. It seems that only a strong aesthetic discourse occurring between this many discerning minds could create a record so unassailably strong and confident, and its status as a debut certainly adds to the remarkable nature of the feat. It seems that only the Courtney siblings are the non-revolving members; it’ll be a wonder to see what type of ensemble the duo dreams up next to take us on another authentic trip into well-crafted folk. [Review : Nick Cox]
Calla Lilly Company
Southern Lord Records
Conceive 12” EP Hailing from San Francisco, Bullets In are the perfect combination of throwback and modern melodic hardcore. Their sound is equally pissed and upbeat, with catchy,
fast-moving guitar riffs and cut time rhythms. The Torches To Rome comparisons are fair overall, though there are a number of similar bands you could also compare this to. This 12” features six songs on a 45 RPM LP that sounds awesome and loud, thanks in part to its format. The vocals trade off between gruff half sung/half spoken lines and more controlled screaming. The result used to be more common than it is today, and they pull it off really well. The vocals especially remind me of a number of Ebullition bands. The guitar playing, and some of the almost bouncy rhythms give this an uncommonly melodic and sometimes downright catchy quality. This isn’t something that I’d usually expect from similar bands, but Bullets In incorporate it really naturally and it works great. The title track features a rhythm section that alternates between bouncy sections and more angular stop/start parts and is probably the best approximation of their sound in any one track. All six songs are simultaneously refreshingly nostalgic and forward thinking enough to still come off as really relevant. The execution of all six is energetic, but thoughtful at the same time. Overall, this is well worth hunting down if you miss the glory days of mid-90’s Ebullition, or even No Idea LP’s, but with a more modern edge.
The Undying Darkness None of the members of Germany’s Caliban are older than their mid-20’s, though they are already veterans of the European metal-core scene. The Undying Darkness is their third proper full-length record and second produced by In Flames frontman Anders Friden. They use a number of pretty common elements of heavy, East Coast hardcore and European metal for a strong (if not pretty familiar) result. It’s hardly a surprise that Caliban have toured with American heavyweights like Shadows Fall and Killswitch Engage, as they have a lot in common with both musically. The guitar playing especially is proficient, though the musicianship and the vocals are both really strong overall. There aren’t a ton of unusual twists and turns stylistically, though it rarely becomes downright monotonous at any point either. The more varied songs are generally my favorite, especially “It’s Our Burden To Bleed” which starts off with one of the heaviest parts on the whole record but also has one of the most melodic choruses. The standard breakdowns are present, though they are few and far between enough to be much more effective than you’d expect from most metal-core bands. The vocals especially are stronger than most other bands in the genre, both on the heavy parts and the strong (though thankfully fairly sparse) melodic singing parts. Caliban aren’t reinventing the wheel anywhere on The Undying Darkness, but they are pulling off a pretty wellestablished mix of hardcore and metal much better than most of their peers. Abacus Recordings
A Caesarean These four dudes are from Sweden, which surprised me for some reason. I know that is a profound statement, now on to the record review. Cameran plays heavy, mid-tempo music that can more or less be placed in the technical hardcore realm. The album is not formulaic the way many bands pegged in that genre are, and shows creativity and an impressive ability to arrange songs in interesting ways within their framework. The opening song reminded me of The Day The Sun Went Out-era Boy Sets Fire, a sound that occasionally popped up again throughout the album. To give you a general idea, there is a lot of distortion, forceful bass parts that border on early 90s industrial, (think Ministry) and plenty of examples of the percussion spicing up songs and making unexpected contributions. The band builds a large, well-textured, cohesive sound. This seems to be their thing, and it is used to carry songs throughout the album. However, I noticed a few instances where an exciting and promising guitar riff was smothered by the overwhelming sound before it could spring to life. I know that’s kind of their thing, but maybe a little more room would brighten things up a bit. “Headphone Music OP 101” and “Tu Es Monono” are both interesting instrumentals that feature violins, which is pretty cool. At times the vocals on here remind me of the guy from Sparta. Also, in a certain way they are similar to Rage Against The Machine, particularly in the talk/chant parts. Some bands I would compare this to include countrymen the Refused and Frigid Forms Sell-era Milemarker, especially when you take into account the use of electronics to buttress the towering sound the album is built on. [Review : Andre Medrano]
Innocent Words Records
Birthing The Giant Cancer Bats are the newest Canadian band that I think may garner a lot of attention in the U.S. But they sound nothing like most any of the other bands from north of the border to make a splash stateside. This is the band’s first full length, though you wouldn’t know it from the sound of the record or the considerable momentum the band already has. Musically, this is well-produced, but not overly glossy hardcore that mixes the best elements of early 90’s youth crew and slightly more modern and metal-influenced Northeastern hardcore. They remind me quite a bit of This Is Hell (who they’ve toured with) and Another Breath, which isn’t bad company at all, since they are two of the best bands in modern, basic hardcore. They had the funding to record this in a pretty big studio, with a guy who’s done records for bands like Billy Talent and Three Day Grace. This can often be a recipe for disaster for similar hardcore bands, usually ending up with a completely neutered result. But Birthing The Giant walks the line well between being really clear and polished, without drifting too much toward just plain over-produced
at any point. The vocals are cleaner than metalcore screaming, but are far from shouted late 80’s style. This is part of where the Another Breath comparison comes from. The songs don’t have a ton of curveballs structurally, without a lot of twists and turns along the way. They’re never repetitive either, and maintain a high level of intensity throughout the record. There isn’t a ton of record reviewer hyperbole to really throw at the Cancer Bats. But they’ve put out a consistent debut that’s well constructed and head and shoulders above most of their modern hardcore peers. Abacus Recordings
Signal Corps This band hails from Long Island and features the singer from Silent Majority as well as members from other LIHC bands. Capital play fast, fairly basic hardcore with a ton of energy and a touch of melody. About a decade ago there were enough bands of this type that it had its own sort of sub-scene within hardcore, but I don’t think there are too many out there right now. Bands I feel make good comparisons include Heckle, Fury 66, Prediction of Things to Come-era Ensign, and even some parts of the Good Riddance catalogue. Capital nails this sound to a T. Fast and angry, they know how to play their instruments but there is no cutesy song writing. The album does have moments were melodies creep in and carry songs but this is the type of band that keeps the focus squarely on the energy. There are plenty of sing along parts and backing vocals, and I can see this band being very successful live. Bands in this genre often fall back on the trite lyrical content dealing with betrayal of friends and doubting the sincerity of peers. Capital’s lyrics are fairly interesting and tackle topics with fresh language and point of view. All in all Signal Corps is a pretty good release. If you like the kind of hardcore that was big in skate videos of the mid 90s and is not youth crew or metal, you should check this out. For me personally it was pretty cool because growing up in the NY/NJ area about a decade ago, this brought back a lot of memories of legion halls and garage shows. [Review : Andre Medrano]
Iron Pier Records
Electric Wolves (CDEP) Castle manages to take a number of related, but pretty divergent styles of hardcore and metal and meld them together smoothly. The most consistent, underlying sound harkens pretty strongly to Celestial-era Isis and other Hydra Head bands, especially Harkonen. But they also have more frantic sections throughout the songs, which remind me a bit more of Majority Rule or Pg. 99 (though only in short bursts). The guitar and bass riffs are well written, if not a bit unspectacular some of the time. They do work overall, with smooth transitions between well thought out parts. This makes for songs that don’t really jump out at you on the first listen or two. But once they get a little time to sink
in, they grew on me. The vocals are usually screamed, but occasionally growled sort of death metal-style. Though they aren’t a liability any of the time, the vocal lines aren’t a strength either (especially when growled). Electric Wolves sports only three songs, each of which is between five and seven minutes long. The whole thing comes in at just over 18 minutes, though it’s actually a pretty suitable length for an introduction to the band. It’s interesting and impressive that they’re able to meld so many closely related, but separate sub-genres of hardcore and metal. This combination is uncommon, though not awkward or forced by any means. Sometimes it almost seems like the songs are so well thought out, that they sort of just pass by you. But that is only the case some of the time, and overall they’re strong and well constructed. Init Records
The Chambermaids Self-Titled The Chambermaids hail from Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN and include siblings Neil (guitar), Martha (Bass) along with Colin (drums/non-sibling). Formally known as The ShutIns, The Chambermaids sound is a careful mix between Sonic Youth or Pixies pop. I have had the pleasure of catching this band live several times and have never been let down. It seems to me that most bands do a terrible job of capturing their live sound via slick studio recordings. However, the Maids have succeeded at this task. Neil (guitar player) used to work at Pachyderm and pulled double duty as the man turning knobs during the recording (with help from friends Andrew and David). Don’t get me wrong, this is not some over produced slick recording, but it is a great representation as to how they sound live; haunting vocals, distinct bass, steady beats and droning guitar riffs. They start the record off with a great selection, “City Predators” initiating their resounding attack with an innocent bass and drum lead intro, quickly turning the corner into choppy rock guitar starts and stops, eventually rolling straight into a driving pop rhythm. For some reason I keep thinking of early Raincoats material, but with more punch. Mid-way through the album “Park” kicks in with a very relaxing rhythmic/drum combination coupled with minimal bass and Martha’s soothing vocals reminiscent of the Pixies. However, this is a good thing, because they take the sound in a new direction. Actually as I get further into this record I hear a definite Pixies influence, but The Chambermaids pull it off with out sounding like a re-hash. Songs like “Ms. Stork” and “Sleeper” are perfect examples of this. Towards the end of the record is a fine song called “Nailed to the Floor”, which moved toward a Minutemen inspired sound. It’s something I never noticed at their live shows, but do enjoy. Musically, The Chambermaids thought out this record and didn‘t just throw together a bunch of songs. They took their time and it shows. Get this record and check them out when come through your town, you will not be disappointed by either purchase. [Review : Jason Zabby] Modern Radio
The Cardinal Sin Hurry Up and Wait
One of the hardest things about reviewing records can be seeing bad bands land on an undeserved fifteen minutes of fame, or good bands being completely overlooked due only to timing. Being on a trend at the right time can be as important, or often more important than whether or not a band’s songs are actually any good. Half of Cardinal Sin (singer/guitarist James Russell and drummer Becky Hanten) both played in Cadillac Blindside. By many accounts, their simultaneously gritty and melodic take on emo-core was just barely too early to really take off. Not six months after they broke up, similar bands (including may much worse bands on Fueled By Ramen, the label responsible for their final two releases) were taking a similar style straight to the bank. Four years later, The Cardinal Sin arrived with a stylistically similar debut full length. It’s a solid, catchy and well-put together record overall. It mixes elements of modern, melodic indie rock with a bit more gritty edge (The Replacements or early Alkaline Trio quickly come to mind) and slower, earlier Get Up Kids sensibilities. By all accounts it should be their ticket to bigger and better things. But the vagaries of what’s hot and what’s not make me realize that as much as Cadillac Blindside may have been just a little early, The Cardinal Sin is likely just a little late. Regardless of whether or not this is going to land the band in Alternative Press, its combination of hooks and substance is hard to ignore. Faster, more melodic songs like “Under Your Skin” and the Jawbreaker-induced “Saddest Song” are the first here to grab your attention. Unlike most similar songs, they’ll also hold it for more than a few listens. There are also slower, and darker tracks that take more listens to sink in but help really set this apart (see “He’s A Space Case” and “Swarm”). But The Cardinal Sin is actually at their best when they use a bit of both extremes, which is showcased on “I’ll Confess” and “White Light! What Light?”. Overall, most of the variety here is deceiving, since you won’t really notice it on the first couple listens. But each song does manage to bring something different to the table, though they flow well from one to the next. This helps Hurry Up and Wait earn its somewhat unusual length for this type of record, at just over 40 minutes. The simultaneous depth and catchy nature of this record may be the reason it can’t full latch itself onto any current trend, but it’s also the reason it’s well worth tracking down. Grey Flight Records
Tales From The Two Hill Heart / Sibylline Machine The prolific and multi-faceted band The Channel is back with their third release. This one is a double-disc featuring layer upon layer of home recording pop music bliss. These Texans have decided to try something that Outkast did on their album from the not-so-distant past. One disc was written entirely by a single band member, while the second CD was written entirely by another. Of course, the main difference between these is that one disc is worth repeated listens, and that other shouldn’t have been mentioned in this review in the first place (unlike the Outkast project). The first disc here is titled Tales From The Two Hill Heart and features 13 tracks written by Channel member Colby Pennington. The final track, titled “.Whirly Bird” reminds me of Mark Linkous and Sparklehorse. The second disc is titled Sibylline Machine and is a collection of ten tracks written by Channel member Jamie Reaves. While this disc may be a touch more eclectic, it fits perfectly with the first. This collection of 23 songs is surprisingly refreshing and inspiring, and widespread indie street-cred seems imminent. [Review : Derik Hendrickson] C-Side Records
Waiting For the Next End of the World The “ex-members of…” tag has always been one of the oldest record reviewer tricks in the book. In the case of J. Robbins, it’s pretty hard not to start with it. His previous bands (Jawbox, Burning Airlines) have each been pretty wildly influential in their own right. Lately, he’s also been known as an increasingly well thought of (and diverse) engineer and producer. Channels formed in 2003 after the demise of Burning Airlines, and is a trio featuring Robbins, his wife Janet Morgan on Bass and former Kerosene 454 drummer Darren Zentek. The result is pretty much what you would expect from any J. Robbins project; angular rhythms and precisely melodic guitar and bass work to compliment Robbins’ melodically monotone vocals. Even more than on Burning Airlines’ two proper full lengths, the songs seem overly even-keeled at first. But the more time I put into this, the more rewarding and varied it became. Morgan’s vocals are prominent in a few songs, and really carry “Hug The Floor,” which is one of the slower and best songs here. The addition of solid and distinct female vocals really does wonders for Channels when they appear. They compliment Robbins’ already outstanding and unmistakable vocal delivery perfectly and add a welcome extra layer to Channels’ sound. After three years as a band,
with only one previous EP to their credit, it’s fitting and not surprising that these songs are so well developed. The songs are obviously very connected to D.C.’s past, but relevant and fresh enough to help shape the city’s future as well. Dischord Records
Chin Up Chin Up
This Harness Can’t Ride Anything Few bands come from such tumultuous backgrounds as Chin Up Chin Up. I don’t care to reprint the tribulations they’ve been through here; I’d like them to be notable for what they are by virtue of their music, not in spite of the boundaries they’ve overcome. I remember feeling that their debut full length promised quite a bit, but I felt that their sound hadn’t quite developed enough. This band’s sophomore release isn’t quite the departure from their debut I would’ve liked, but they’ve certainly progressed. A prime example of this subtle transformation is present in “Water Planes in Snow,” the record’s second track, complete with driving drums, charming handclaps, and introspective guitars àla Pinback. This certainly trumps any song on the last record. And while it’s not an instant classic, it is successful. It’s refreshing to see a band at least moving in the right direction, even if they haven’t quite nailed a perfect sound. Admittedly, there are tracks that hold the record back. “We’ve Got to Keep Running,” for example, lacks momentum until it gets to the chorus, by which time it’s all but too late. The more upbeat “Islands Sink” is still further toward an overall sound that works incredibly well, but vocalist Jeremy Bolen seems not to have fully departed from the high school syllabic exaggeration that made Fat Mike so famous, holding the song back considerably. Still, there are moments that keep me from condemning the record completely. “I Need a Friend With a Boot,” for example, has a delightful piano intro. This is certainly a band that, for one reason or another, I’d like to see succeed. They just don’t seem to have found themselves. I do know that Chin Up Chin Up seems to be on to something with this release (at least, more so than its predecessor). And while they have not fully realized the sound that will make them irresistible, they are well on their way. [Review : Nick Cox] Suicide Squeeze Records
The Coma Recovery
Drown That Holy End In Wine OK, so The Coma Recovery is quickly becoming my new favorite band. They play thinking man’s post-hardcore with volumes of strength in musicianship and layers of
Echoes of the Past Dead Moon began their careers in the mid1960s as The Weeds, later changing their name to the Lollipop Shoppe after signing to MCA’s Uni Records in 1968. After going on to play with the likes of The Doors & Janice Joplin, husband & wife duo Fred Cole (Guitar/Vox) and Toody Cole (Bass/ Vox) fled to the Yukon to avoid the Vietnam draft, effectively closing the door on Lollipop Shoppe. After several musical incarnations, Fred and Toody formed Dead Moon in 1987 with drummer Andrew Loomis and continued to craft their brand of stripped down, DIY Rock & Roll. During the last two decades, Dead Moon toured the US and Europe several times, while releasing multiple 7”s and full lengths on their own label Tombstone Records, eMpTy Records and German label Music Maniac Records. Being that Dead Moon are from Oregon and have spent the last twenty-years influencing bands from all of the Northwest, it is only fitting that another Northwest staple, Sub Pop, released this “best of ” two-disc collection celebrating Dead Moon’s continuing endurance. As a cool side note, Dead Moon uses the same disc cutter used to cut The Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie”. This also means that most of the recordings are in mono, which adds a raw element of realism and makes it hard to distinguish between the live and studio tracks. The first song, “Graveyard” is a basic, three chord rock n roll song with steady drums and bass clocking in at about two minutes. Vocally, Fred Cole has a Detroit-sounding falsetto screech that lingers between soothing and stressed. Though I am a bit bored with the White Stripes, upon hearing several more tracks on disc one, it is fair to say that Jack White gets his vocal chops from Fred Cole. Actually, Dead Moon’s sound is very Detroit, while reminiscent of the late-60’s West coast sound, think Big Brother & The Holding Company, The Doors, or an unrefined John Folgerty. While it’s easy to hear Dead Moon’s bubble gum past, songs like “Walking on My Grave” brings to mind Neil Young’s driving rants in “Rockin’ in the Free World”.
guitar tone that hit precise, exact, and over-the-top notes along the way. The vocals are clear-cut and throaty; think June of 44 in a torrential downpour. These seven songs are exactly what the band’s one-sheet says: 52 minutes of epic progressive / experimental post-hardcore. “Drown That Holy End In Wine” is very impressive, and very necessary for every collection. Recorded by Chris Common of These Arms Are Snakes. [Review : Derik Hendrickson] Failed Experiment Records
Crime in Choir Trumpery Metier
Most bands will go pretty far out of their way to avoid the tag of “prog.” For better and worse, Crime in Choir seem to be pretty comprehensively embracing it. Based in San Francisco, they already feature an intriguing, but hardly instructive resume with two founding members of At The Drive-In (pianist Kenny Hopper and guitarist Jarrett Wrenn). Also included are Fucking Champs drummer Tim Soete and saxophonist Matt Waters of The Mass. The songs are really up-front in everything they attempt, pulling few punches. Most of the melodies and riffs are well written and generally often repeated, leading to revolving but linear song structures. The piano and synth lines especially more than earn comparisons to Goblin, or their more recent kin in Zombi. The strange, layered sound overall is pretty easy to draw more directly to Faust or Can, while many of the almost funky rhythm section work would make any Zappa fan smile. Somewhere between all of this is a surprisingly interesting and immediately pleasing record. This is Crime In Choir’s third full length, on their third record label. Given a chance to sink in, the songs’ own momentum could take Trumpery Metier really far with indie rock fans unafraid of some unabashed prog.
The Dark Romantics Another Song (CDEP) This quick five-song burst from The Dark Romantics pulls out all the stops early on. Well, at least those labeled “catchiness”; what the EP lacks in foresight or traceable signs of effort of any kind, it more than makes up for in infectious hooks and marketability. True, vocalist Eric Collins tends to overexploit the sultry, sassy, sexy tone of his voice, but it ends up getting in just under the wire. That is, the threshold beyond which this vocal tone would be horrendously played out has not yet been crossed. Congratulations, Dark Romantics. But you’re the last. We’re now turning away any stragglers. At a shade under sixteen minutes, the Dark Romantics
I am a sucker for tough female voices and what caught my attention most was Toody’s vocals on songs like “Running Scared” disc two’s “Poor Born”. These songs are usually upbeat and lashing compared to Fred’s more folky rock vocal style. However, on “I Won’t Be The One”, Dead Moon shows off their ability to write a great pop song. It is a perfect example of their pop past several decades ago. Overall, most of the songs on this double disc seem to be heavier and more “grungy” (can I still use that word?) think of Mudhoney. Dead Moon is REAL garage rock the way it is supposed to be, sticky, real, out of tune, energetic, sad, listenable yet not, and honest. The kind of record you could listen to at 3am after a long night of partying or on a long drive. Echoes of the Past is a great introduction to a great band. [Review : Jason Zabby]
Sub Pop Records
C : Ed Goralnick
The Great Depression Although the members of this band have roots in Columbus / Athens, OH and Bloomington, IN, their sound is not a product of either city. Defiance, Ohio is punk rock, not in the traditional musical sense, but rather in the way they carry themselves and express their observations. Don’t get me wrong, they ARE punk rock, however, they traded the their distorted guitars, bass and drums that most “punk” bands overuse for a more organic approach to music. Utilizing, instead, acoustic guitars, banjos, cellos, violins and beautiful to aggressive vocal harmonies. Overall, the songs are somewhere between pop punk and folk with a touch of mountain music and hardcore. Imagine a stripped down version of The Weakerthans, only not from Canada. This album is quite possibly the most mature DIY punk rock record I have ever heard. The beats on the first track, “Petty Problems” are tight and the rhythms are pretty clear-cut, at times structured somewhat like most typical hardcore songs. It’s also apparent they really know how to play their instruments as well. But I cannot help but notice that they still seem a bit loose, always trying to stay together. When they do hit a stride, they become powerful and forceful. Maybe this is intended or maybe it is just how it is, but either way it works for me. Lyrically, this song set the tone for the rest of the record and is one of many Defiance, Ohio’s cries for the individuals of the world to quit looking at their own dilemmas and start paying attention to others around them, both near and far. The fourth selection on the record, “The New World Order”, is a genius play on the old gospel song “Hosanna In the Highest” and by far one of the best songs on the record. Intelligently combining Bush’s use of God to justify the Republican agenda or maybe just the American agenda… I am just confused at this point. Besides being the best Bush bashing song I have ever heard, the music
waste no time in delivering the goods. “So Confused (and We Like it),” is the record’s best example; at just a touch over three minutes, it nonchalantly offers a “take it or leave it” stance. The Dark Romantics clearly have no time for the indecisive. Besides, you’ll know from the tenth second whether or not you’ll like it. Though I can’t guarantee you will, I can say with a certain degree of certainty that your electro funny bone will be tickled, your pop sensibilities appealed to, and your will not to like another hipster band weakened little by little. The Dark Romantics will come out with the big guns early, and you’re likely to be caught hook, line, and sinker. So just surrender. Get in touch with your hedonistic side, and live it up (at least for sixteen minutes). [Review : Nick Cox]
Daughters Hell Songs
Daughters lead singer Alexis Marshall Jonathan has turned the grindcore community on its overstretched ear just by using his inside voice. Jonathan sounds like a man liberated on this album. Free from the constraints of constant vocal straining, he now contributes to a mood, reveals personality and gives the group a face where we once stared intrigued at a featureless, furiously shaking head. Before the release of Hell Songs, it was hard to imagine what grind would be like if you could understand better than three percent of the lyrics. The effect of Jonathan’s mescaline-tripping lounge singer act is an amelodic quasicroon that allows for a broad range of dynamics. Instead of only pure panic, he conveys indifference, desperation and anticipation. Rather than making another record that is 25 minutes of balls-to-the-wallcore, like Canada Songs, Daughters has left a little room for improvisation and, well, breathing. One can also discern the well-written lyrics that we previously had to assume were present judging by amusing song titles. (“This is how you go burning their ass quiet as a mouse,” he says, trailing off at the end of “Fiery.” Song titles include “The Fuck Whisperer,” “Recorded Inside a Pyramid” and “Providence by Gaslight,” which is probably the album’s high point.) Musically, little has changed in Daughters’ technique. Time signatures still fly like bees around a broken hive, and the highly technical songwriting is executed on the recording with precision. What has changed is their willingness to bend the strings and create soundscapes, which on Hell Songs, they produce with greater regularity to provide more
is interesting and in the style of a seaport folk song with traces of cello and violin hauling the melody through out. The less-than-perfect female vocals fit perfectly with the upbeat tempo and drive of the song. Generally speaking, politically influenced records are not my flavor, but this one is different and seems to portray a mature politic, which is where I am at in my life. These are not new ideas and it would be a lie to say it has not been said many times before. This record left me wishing more bands would talk about ideas that actually mattered in an intelligent way. If you enjoy intelligent and clever humor or just need something to bounce your head to as you drink, this is the perfect record for you. [Review : Jason Zabby] No Idea Records
mortar for the metal mix. The experimentation evident on Canada Songs was fit to please fans of Deerhoof, and Daughters has taken it further. So now they’re hip, sexy and accessible. Moshers won’t like it, but that’s the way the cooter crumbles. [Review : Michael Flatt] Hydra Head Records
Dead To Me
Cuban Ballerina When I first started a fanzine ten years ago, almost every one of the records I got in the mail fell somewhere within the spectrum of straightforward punk rock. These days, it’s become increasingly rare to the point that it’s refreshing when I do get a record that doesn’t fit within any sub-genre or post-anything. Dead To Me’s debut is a great example of this. Featuring both founding members of One Man Army, Dead To Me play melodic but still thoughtful punk rock, which expands upon the rich tradition of their native Bay Area. Where One Man Army were solid, but a bit too one-dimensional to really hold my attention, Dead To Me have added just enough new layers to their sound to have it both ways. Cuban Ballerina is basic enough to capitalize on my nostalgia for Crimpshrine or early Swingin’ Utters, but isn’t just some mid-90’s throwback either. “Something New” especially incorporates elements of this basic punk rock, but adds a more contemplatively melodic edge that brings to mind Samiam. Come to think of it, I guess they use a somewhat wide base of sounds though most of them are still tied to something going on in the Bay Area the last 15 years or so… It’s far from being easy to figure out, but it’s also basic enough to set off some serious nostalgia as well. Either way, it’s a solid melodic punk rock record from the Bay Area, which may not be the most surprising thing on paper, but it’s also uncommon these days. Fat Wreck Chords
Death Before Disco Barricades
About ten years ago there was a band from the Philadelphia/South Jersey area with this same name. Since this band is from Belgium and are not high hair safety pins and spikes type dudes I gather they are a different band. This Death Before Disco put out a record that features different sounds on different tracks and is difficult to pin down in description. The record opens with a slow, somewhat plodding and sludgy, radio rock-type song. The vocals are
subdued to go along with the music and it initially brought to mind an Alice In Chains comparison. However, there is nothing on the rest of the album that resembles this. From there Death Before Disco launch into a few songs that to me seem to be closest to the bands true musical identity. It’s melodic metal of the vein that is so popular these days. Thrash meets melody, technical parts and fast angry stuff. The mix of aggression and craftsmanship is done well here and the sparing use of whining/screaming is very welcome. The fourth song is a stark change as the band maps out mostly instrumental territory that is very different from the frantic sounds elsewhere on the album. Although there are interesting ideas here and you don’t get the sense DB4D is filling space with this song, it failed to grab my attention. The track ends with a prolonged period of silence which I didn’t particularly care for. In the middle of the album there is a catchy sing-along Get-Up Kids-style song. Again, this shows the band’s wide range. It strongly resembles the type of stuff put out in that genre but is pulled off with aplomb. The disc closes with several songs that revert back to the pop-metal/core-thing that appears to be DB4D’s strong suit. Bands that come to mind as references are Dillinger Escape Plan, newer Stretch Armstrong, and at some points even mid-era Grade. The album provides a skilled tour of different sounds prevalent in independent rock music today, but does not explore any of them thoroughly. I have a feeling that as this band matures they will grow into a sound that is distinctly their own. For now, this record seems like a good start. [Review : Andre Medrano]
Self-Titled (CDEP) Boston has been a fertile breeding ground for hardcore of all shapes and sizes for more than 20 years. Rising from the ashes of There Were Wires, Disappearer are the newest Boston export, though little about their sound can be specifically tied to the Northeast. They play slow, instrumental, riff-based metal similar to Neurosis, older Isis or Pelican. I’m generally a sucker for this kind of stuff, though I’ll be the first to admit that there’s something of a glut of these bands lately. On this three-song debut, Disappearer standout almost right away, but without doing anything style-wise that’s particularly groundbreaking. Though it is only three songs and it’s listed as an EP, it covers more than 35 minutes. Overall, this is actually slower and more repetitive than
even Pelican or Neurosis. But because the riffs are so well written and fluid, it’s immediately effective at drawing you in. There are some subtle, and some really overt twists and turns sound and structure-wise, especially in “Universal Fog,” the 15-minute closing track. They help to give this a surprising amount of staying power on repeat listens, despite a really simple approach overall. Not unlike the fairly similar This Will Destroy You record, Disappearer take a standard set of tools to put together a noteworthy result. Since the riffs are so well thought out and the transitions are so smooth, this works really well from beginning to end. It’s hard not to realize that there’s a pretty serious glut of heavy, instrumental bands just over the horizon. But if this EP is any sort of an omen for where Disappearer are headed, they don’t have to worry about staying head and shoulders above the herd. Trash Art! Records
In A Million Pieces Every time multiple members of a successful band go on to form a new project, they spend their early years running from the “ex-members of…” tag. For better or worse, The Draft has little, if any, hope getting away from it at any point. When Hot Water Music went on an indefinite hiatus more than a year ago, it wasn’t long before 3/4 of the band (minus guitarist and singer Chuck Ragan) were forming a new project. Despite Ragan’s huge stamp on Hot Water’s sound, The Draft still sounds quite a bit like their previous band. Overall, the songs are a bit more simple, leaning (obviously) toward the more melodic end of Hot Water’s sound, with singer Chris Wollard taking on almost all of the vocal duties in The Draft. Their sound is hardly surprising to any Hot Water fan, though by today’s standards, it’s still downright refreshing. The driving force behind almost every song here is the combination of Wollard’s strong vocals and the rhythm section of drummer George Rebelo and bassist Jason Black. The result is both melodic and anthemic, but fast moving and interesting at the same time. Whether or not this sounds a ton like Hot Water Music hardly matters by about half way through “Alive Or Dead” the record’s fourth track and first real standout moment. The fact is that it’s a fist in the air (but smile on your face) punk rock record, of which there used to be 10 of coming out every month 5-10 years ago. But records like this have gone from completely overdone to sorely missed since then. The fact that they’ve put together a refreshing contribution to this already somewhat forgotten genre is noteworthy enough. In A Million Pieces being an obvious must-have for any Hot Water Music fan is sort of the icing on the cake. Epitaph Records
Drag The River It’s Crazy
Having heard this band’s name thrown around for several years, I was surprised to find out they have been together, in one form or another, for almost 10 years. If you have not heard of Drag the River, you would never know by listening that they are comprised of members from ALL, Armchair Martian, Pinhead Circus, Hot Rod Circuit, and The Nobodys. Lately, with the increase in popularity of AltCountry I have been pretty turned off. However, DTR are not AltCountry at all, but describe themselves as a “…brand of Country and Mid-Western”, which is as good a description as any. Imagine a stripped down version of Wilco or Jeff Tweedy without the whine or all the extra accompaniments. Not only does the band craft and execute well-written songs, they are able to achieve what too few bands can anymore: an album that is best listened to as a whole. After the first listen, the cohesive flow of It’s Crazy is forthright and quickly reveals itself as the most striking element of the record. Not that is tells a story in some sequential order, but by utilizing suspense to a certain extent the music seems to retain and hold the listener. However, there are several tracks that can and do stand out on their own. The shining gem on this record, “Me and Joe Drove Out to California” starts out with a vocal tirade, suggestive of a particularly famous Georgia Satellite song. It’s set over a straight-up rock guitar riff chased by driving drums and an almost continuous guitar solo reminiscent of anything off of Dinosaurs Jr.’s Bug. Other stand-out songs include the opening track “Leavin’ in the Morning” and “Tired & Fired”, which both capture the universal anthem vocal melody found in any good country ode. The most endearing element of this record is that just as you find yourself wishing it would never end, it repeats a selection of the songs, plus a few extra tracks. The total length running some 69 minutes. Whether you are a seasoned country fan or just finally starting your search for something new and fresh, this record is a great change of pace and will look good next to your P.W. Long records. [Review : Jason Zabby]
Suburban Home Records
End Of A Year Sincerely
End Of A Year is one of those bands that come to life because hardcore kids want to get into something more melodic and thoughtful. These guys are from Albany and have each been involved in the hardcore scene for years. Their new endeavor takes inspiration from mid 80’s DC bands. Embrace, Rites of Spring, and Wig Out at Denko’sera Dag Nasty all have their influences visibly on display here. It’s not bad, but the band’s insistence on honesty as
The End of the World
You’re Making it Come Alive If this is what the end of the world sounds like, bring on the apocalypse. This Benton Harbor, Michigan quartet adds themselves to the list of bands of whose origins you’re dying to know, but the revelation of their hometown makes you furrow your brow and incredulously intone, “Where?” It just goes to show you that Brooklyn, Chicago, and Detroit are not the only places that great bands are huddled together somewhere in a garage just waiting to spring on you and endear themselves to you. The record gets underway with a delightful drum part on “Track 02”, and the momentum is constantly upped slightly from there. In all, it’s an utterly unchallenging, enjoyable listen. And the shaker part on “Track 03” lets you know for sure than the End of the World aims to please. I realized in listening to this that it’s not often that a band puts so much effort into creating a record that’s as satisfying as it is well written. You’ll want for just about nothing after a good listen, and Stefan Marolachakis’s vocal line on “Track 04” assures the band that you’ll likely be coming back for more. And even if you don’t, you won’t be getting this song out of your head anytime soon. The mellow ocean breeze of a dynamic across the record’s 44 minutes is something you don’t often hear, but it’s certainly not too much of a deviation from the pre-Pet Sounds Beach Boys tunes, minus the surfboards, and with a little more sensitivity. It’s true, “Track 04” would be your perfect companion to a summer night’s walk on the beach, hand-inhand with that special someone. “Track 05” is reminiscent of what The Strokes might have accomplished if they had gone to school for something respectable like geography, and if vocalist Julian Casablancas had
a theme gets redundant. The name of the band, the lyrical content, and the press sheet’s statement that the album is, “too honest to be ignored” deliver a result that tends toward the opposite. If it sounds like I am ripping on this, that’s only half right. There are plenty of good songs on here with raw yet melodic riffs and equally effective vocals. The disc is a full length, which is great because it offers a substantive look at a band in its early stages. Something that kind of holds this back, in my opinion, is that interesting guitar parts are smothered a bit by the distortion and everything else going on. There are some cool riffs that you can begin to hear, but ultimately don’t find their way out from under everything else. In a way I think maybe End Of A Year would have really excelled in a different time, and not necessarily the era they draw inspiration from. Back in the late 90’s this whole hardcore-kids-mellow-out-and rock-softer thing was a huge and spurned a considerable sub genre. Bands like Daltonic, As Friends Rust, and Gameface enjoyed healthy careers. Looking back at that time you can totally see End Of A Year sliding into that scene and thriving. I would compare them favorably to many of those bands. It is fitting that Revelation put this out given that most of their roster seven years ago was comprised of these types of bands. [Review : Andre Medrano]
Escape Grace Two
This four song EP is the second release by Gainesville, Florida’s Escape Grace. It follows another EP entitled One, so you know these guys like numbers. All the songs are decidedly heavy, but they vary enough to keep the listener’s attention. The first time through, I was tempted to lump this band in with Florida metal-core bands of the mid to late 90’s like Strong Arm and Morning Again. After listening to the disc a few more times I realized that comparison has some merits but isn’t very accurate overall. During much of the music on this release one can hear a distinct rock n’ roll vibe poking through the sturdy metal framework. This moves the songs along in a more accessible, casual listener-friendly way than most metal stuff. A reference that comes to mind is Selflookingglass-era Snapcase. The rhythm section is solid and holds this band together, while the guitar player has a somewhat free hand, providing riffs that give the songs life. Vocally, it’s pretty standard heavy rock/metal-core fare screaming and growling. This singing style does not score points with me, but at no point does the screaming involve whining, so I can’t penalize it too much. It’s difficult to judge a band on four songs, but I think Escape Grace might be a band that appeals to a broad range of people. For those of you into heavier music this band has energy and melody, interesting
refined his voice a bit and decided, in light of his accomplishments, to stop hiding behind a lo-fi, garage-appropriate sound. Marolachakis’s vocal line is a unique achievement in its own right, but when matched with the excellent soundscape behind it is an oasis in a desert of homogenized sounds. Overall, this vision of the end of the world may leave you hoping all of those televangelists were right. Let’s hope the End is nigh. [Review : Nick Cox] Flameshovel Records
Fifth Hour Hero
Not Revenge… Just a Vicious Crush Over the course of a handful of records, Fifth Hour Hero continue to carry the torch for all of the best things about what pop punk used to be. The songs are super catchy, but not necessarily right away. The vocals are handled just over half the time by singer/guitarist Geneviéve Tremblay. She easily has one of the best voices anywhere in melodic rock music and reminds me a bit of Alison from Discount, which is never a bad thing. There is a lot of almost subtle interplay between the guitars, which accounts for much of the content of each song (even though it isn’t always apparent on the first couple listens). Their previous full length Scattered Sentences and split with Gunmoll were both solid and worth multiple listens. But things have obviously come full circle here, with their most well written and (perhaps just as importantly) most complete record to date. The songs are all similar enough to flow well from one to the next. But they also each push out on the boundaries of their sound just enough that by the end of the record, they’ve really expanded what they’re doing organically (but also in every direction). For once, the list of bands that someone has toured is actually a little instructive. In Fifth Hour Hero’s case it includes Strike Anywhere, Against Me! (Tremblay also contributed outstanding backing vocals on Searching For A Former Clarity), None More Black, and fellow Quebec residents The Sainte Catherines. They share much of the grit of each of these bands, though they also have a more delicate and well-developed melodic sensibility than any of them. This isn’t just due to Tremblay’s vocals (though that doesn’t hurt), which is well illustrated on “After All is Said and Done.” It’s a song that is actually lead by guitarist (and “other” vocalist) Oliver Maguire, and it’s simultaneously one of the biggest and poppiest songs
enough song structure, and an infusion of the rock angle which they may develop into their own niche in the genre. For record geeks, the make up of this disc is pretty cool, the CD is clear with a flower pattern on the disc. [Review : Andre Medrano]
The Evening Episode
The Physicist Has Known Sin I don’t get many records from bands of any size or shape that have as much immediate impact as this debut from The Evening Episode. Vocalist Teresa Eggers’ voice has a sudden and multi-faceted appeal, which will likely define the whole band for most people. This isn’t surprising, but it isn’t really fair to the band either. Formed in Sacramento in 2004, this is their first full length, though nothing about the quality or depth of the songs hints at their relative inexperience. Eggers’ voice is lofty and graceful, but more than a bit sexy as well. But there is quite a bit more to the record than just her standout voice (think Portishead or Denali). They weave mid-tempo indie rock guitar and bass lines with typically cold, but still melodic keyboards and electronics. The Physicist Has Known Sin opens with “High-Low” which begins with monolithic, but still poppy electronics, that remind me a lot of Kid-A, though it’s one of the only parts of the whole record that’s easy to pin down. It’s haunting and cold, but still melodic and easy to nod your head to on the first listen. Eggers’ voice really steals the show the most on this opening track, which is also where the apt (but far from complete) Portishead comparisons will start to come from. Not much later, “Learn Your P’s & Q’s” kicks in, with a much more jerky and drum-driven track. It’s noisy and melodic, though if not for Eggers’ more aggressive vocals, it would sound almost like a completely separate band from the opening tracks. Most of the remaining songs fall somewhere between the extremes established early on. Other highlights are “Photocopied Residence,” which is the most new-wave they get, despite bordering on it a number of times throughout the record. And though I’m not into most any new-wave revival, they even wear this well. There is really deceiving depth to all of the songs here, as well as a ton of variation from one to the next. Add to this is the fact that the band recorded their debut full length themselves, and the result of all of this is a record that’s impressive both on paper and in my stereo. It’s a great start for a band that shows a promising future, as well as an outstanding present throughout The Physicist Has Known Sin. Slowdance Records
on the whole record. Though it’s hard to summarize everything Fifth Hour Hero has succeeded at here in one song (let alone a record review), this song isn’t a bad start. If you currently have any interest in what melodic punk rock could be, or perhaps was during its heyday, Not Revenge… Just A Vicious Crush is a great place to start. Or, regardless of any sub-genre nostalgia, this is one of the deepest and most rewarding punk rock records I’ve gotten all year.
No Idea Records
5ive Versus (CDEP) What can I say? I love drone. No, this is not the crappy boy-band. 5ive is a two-man wrecking crew of “guitars/amplifiers” and “battery”, and has the penchant to make time simply disappear. This is a four-track Versus album with two remixes from Justin Broadrick (Godflesh/Jesu). This album sees 5ive’s “Soma” in its original form sandwiched between “Stage 1” and “Stage 2” of Broadrick’s remix. Well, not exactly sandwiched. The disc starts out with “Stage 1” of the remix, an organ calling the faithful to the church of drone. “Reso-l” is next, a track by 5ive. This is an 8:39 epic of experimental drone, repetitive and gorgeous. Layers of whirling guitars and sounds send the listener into a trance, of which he/she only hopes to recover. While in this trance, 5ive can have the power to crush you. The stop-beat in this tune makes you yearn for more. Next is “Soma”, a meditative drone that really exemplifies the mood of the short disc. Light the fires, burn the incense, because these guys will steal your soul should you allow it. “Stage 2” of Broadrick’s remix of “Soma” finishes off the disc, pulsating from the speakers. “Stage 2” mixes more feedback than the original song, and has the harmony of it all working so well that you would think that this was the original mix. Broadrick’s remix brings forth the brilliance that he’s known for, and simply does not disappoint. The one thing that does disappoint about this disc is how short it is. Four songs, just over 25 minutes long leaves me wanting more… I wish this were a new full length from these guys and not just an EP. [Review : Pat Dixon]
Hidden World All in all, Fucked Up is a pretty difficult band to figure out. The band hails from Toronto, and by all accounts are both set up for success and failure at the same time. Their difficult to locate previous singles have been known to go for insane sums on eBay, and the band can count members of The Arcade Fire and Bloc Party as fans. But they also seem pretty outwardly dysfunctional personally and otherwise (none of the members can legally drive, or owns a cell phone). This tension seems to thrive within a band like Fucked Up. They mix angry, My War-era Black Flag anger with slower tempos and longer songs (most of which are over five minutes). They also successfully add violins, acoustic guitars, pianos and a number of other odd instruments throughout the record. It’s especially surprising for a band that seems so simple on first glance. The combination is actually surprisingly seamless, thanks to creative parts for the extra instrumentation and keeping them fairly buried in the mix for the most part. The record is angry and clear-cut throughout, though the more I listened to this, the more layered I realized it was. The songs are pretty long for the most part, but almost always earn their length through daunting dynamics and
mesmerizing and hypnotic riffs. The record as a whole is long, at more than 72 minutes. It takes more than a couple listens to really make sense of it, but overall it’s well worth it. Hidden World is angry without ever sounding like hardcore, and threatening and intense without using fast tempos. It’s dysfunctional, schizophrenic and imposing in every way. All of which are really refreshing these days to say the least. Jade Tree Records
The Gash/The Ape Shits Split 7”
It probably doesn’t bear repeating that the split 7” became a lost art years ago. This is a new split 7” that is exactly as it should be, with two similar bands that have complimentary styles. The Gash broke up just as this was released, and play angry but melodic rock and roll. The songs have a proficient, but loose feel that’s still catchy and infectious, though never something that you’d classify as poppy. Both songs are strong, but I liked the first of the two “Can’t Say No” a little better, thanks to a solid harmony in the chorus. Comparisons to a number of AmRep bands, especially COWS are warranted. Solid stuff from two alltoo-short songs. The Ape-Shits hail from Austin and play a similar brand of straightforward rock and roll, with fast tempos. Their songs are a bit more involved than The Gash’s songs, though closely related overall. The vocals are pretty snotty, but still well sung. All four members of the band contribute vocals, which helps add energy and another layer to pretty simple songs. Both songs are fast and to the point, but interesting for this style. I guess you could say they have a theme, since they’re titled “Decadent Pig” and “Fuck The Pigs.” Fans of this type of rock and roll/90’s punk crossover will be into both bands, though it won’t pull in a ton of interest if you aren’t already sold on this style of stuff. So, in short, it’s a really effective split 7” that way. You’ll like both bands, or likely not be that into either. Big Action Records
Dead Mountain Mouth Genghis Tron’s debut EP, Cloak Of Love was one of the most audacious hardcore records I got last year, as well as one of the best. Its combination of drum machinedriven grind and intelligently cheesy techno was perfectly executed (novelty value or not). The EP seemed to garner a lot of well-deserved attention, and this debut full length was anticipated in a number of circles. For all of the curveballs the EP threw at you, they came in a pretty measured way (heavy part/techno part/heavy part/techno part). Since it was such a short, five-song EP, that hardly mattered. But as “The Folding Road” opens the record, it’s obvious right away that the binary song structures are a debut-only phenomenon. It combines the heavier, grind-influenced
Form Of Rocket Men
There’s very little about Form Of Rocket that is going to jump out at you on paper. They formed in 2000 in Salt Lake City (of all places) and have gone through a number of lineup changes since then. Men is their third full length and third record label (their debut Se Puede Despedir was on the now-defunct Braeburn, then Lumber came out on Some). All of this change and unfortunate geography has conspired against Form of Rocket, to keep their noteworthy previous full lengths from gaining much momentum. However, with an even stronger third effort, that seems like it might be changing soon. Despite such constant change, their sound hasn’t really shifted too much from one record to the next. Overall, they sound way more like a band from the Midwest than the Mountain West. It’s a screechy and confrontational combination of Big Black-esque angular rhythms and attitude, with more hardcore-influenced stop and start rhythms. There is a lot of variation from one song to the next, though “You’d Look Cute in the Trunk of My Car” sums it up as well as any one song here. It opens with a heavy, but still bouncy and melodic guitar riff. But it doesn’t take long for a bass-heavy group attack to kick in, which is exactly the combination of sounds that makes Form Of Rocket work so well. The rhythm section really takes charge of many of the songs, both through their musicianship and their prominence in the songwriting and the mix. The head-nodding and almost funky breakdown (“You never knew that I was coming for you”) is another really strong example of their versatility. Not unlike Haymarket Riot or Sweep the Leg Johnny, Form Of Rocket can borrow some of the best, bitingly funny things about any Albini project. Then they combine it with urgency, both in tempo and style that makes it seem intense and relevant at the same time. This is true even in some of the more mid-tempo songs, like “Gearth,” which is a bit slower, but no less intense. It features a more complicated, but still catchy breakdown toward the middle of the song as well.
hardcore sections with the more melodic electronic parts. The result is occasionally hard to figure out, at least on the first few listens. Yet it gives Dead Mountain Mouth immediate appeal to go with some of the staying power that eluded the band before. Both of the first two songs feature huge, towering breakdowns toward the end. They work in different ways, though both find a balance between melodic and heavy intensity that defines the whole record. The title track is probably the best summation of everything going on here, though it’s tough to cram any sort of abbreviation of Genghis Tron’s sound into one song. It doesn’t take long for it to find Converge-like intensity (for about 12 seconds), but under a minute later, it also finds one of the most melodic guitar-based riffs of the whole record. This back and forth from one extreme to the other isn’t anything new for Genghis Tron. But they’ve crammed more into every song on Dead Mountain Mouth and added strong and well-constructed transitions from one part to another at every turn. “Asleep On The Forest Floor” opens with cold electronics, which wouldn’t be out of place on an old Nintendo game soundtrack. It slowly builds up into one of the slower, but heavier songs on the record. They add a choppy, mid-tempo guitar riff to a heavy-handed drum line and ominous keyboards. It sounds like Agoraphobic Nosebleed trying to play new wave, just as it descends into static-heavy chaos by the end of the track. I never thought, for all of Genghis Tron’s innovative qualities that I’d ever be calling their sound “cohesive.” But the more I listen to this, the more it’s apparent that this is as smooth and well thought-out that something this inherently dual-natured can be. Given the way Genghis Tron set up their first EP, smooth is the last word I thought I’d ever be using to describe their sound. It’s still schizophrenic and jarring, but solidly constructed enough to work as more than a back and forth mash-up. And beyond its structure or transitions, or inherently odd combination of sounds, Dead Mountain Mouth is one of the most interesting heavy records I’ve gotten in years. Crucial Blast Records
Golden Bear Self-Titled
Austin, TX is a mecca of great music and musicians and Chris Gregory is no exception. With help from Matt Gardiner and the members of The Channel, Golden Bear’s self-titled debut album is a great success. According to their bio, Golden Bear’s inception occurred several years ago, yet this is their first release. Hopefully they will continue to put stuff out. Right away I am impressed with the oil painting of a bear raising a sword to the sky in victory printed on cardboard fold open packaging. This band has a definite J. Mascis song structure and sound. However, on songs like “Ten Thousand Orchestras” there is a great Beatles Sergeant Pepper’s thing going on, lots of horns and keys and loud
The two first songs (other than the introduction) “Go Get Your Buck” and “Teapot Dome, Bitch” are both highlights as well. “Go Get Your Buck” is built on a loud and imposing bass riff, and slowly builds up into one of the biggest songs on the record and a great opening. “Teapot Dome, Bitch” is a bit more contemplative, with a downright catchy dual-guitar part. It slowly evolves from one section to the next, and is probably the most immediately appealing part of the whole record. This is heavy and clever at the same time, combining funny song titles with smart songwriting. Think Lenny Bruce playing Shellac songs on fast-forward, and you’re getting close. Even more than Form Of Rocket’s two outstanding previous records, Men fucking rules. Sickroom Records
C : Randy Harward
intrusive drums. “Wonderful” is no different but as with all the songs on this album, stands on its own as a great arrangement. The guitars punch through on all the songs with fuzzy warmth and striking violence, which is hard to do while still remaining soft. Not sure how Golden Bear pulls this off, but they do with gusto and force. However, by the fourth track, “Santa Rosa”, I am a bit disillusioned with the keys. Many bands tend to overuse them, Golden Bear has fallen into this grease trap as well and it stinks. Thankfully, on “The Saddest Song” the Moog styled keys are closeted in favor of a styled honky tonk piano and a steel guitar played by none other than Lloyd Maines, who as you may or may not know is the father of Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks. Now I don’t give five shits about the Dixie Chicks, but this guy sure can play the steel. The last half of Golden Bear’s effort is an interesting musical mix between Mazy Star and Neil Diamond, especially on “Lady Soul”, which incorporates pleasant guitar picking with a restrained horn section flowing just below the surface. There is defiantly a dichotomy between the innocent songs and the more involved fuzzy sonic noise selections through out the record. If Mathew Sweet were the fifth Beatle, the result would be Golden Bear. [Review : Jason Zabby] C-Side Records
heavy in its own way, because it is. But instead of the more frantic energy that their previous bands relied on, Haram find a slower, heavy-handed tension with most of the songs on their debut. The songs are generally slow developing, but their linear structures still manage to pack a lot in. They combine angular Chicago-style rhythms, ominous guitar work (the one thing that’s reminiscent of Pg. 99 or Majority Rule) and biting, but not screamed vocals (hence the Drive Like Jehu comparisons). The combination looks sort of odd (or at least ambitious) on paper, but Haram make it work. Usually the songs work best at their slowest and heaviest, especially “Clean Sweep,” which combines a slow an ominous tone with a winding and melodic guitar line. It’s probably the best song here overall, though the choppier and slightly quicker “Fade Away” isn’t far behind. On the first couple listens, this is appealing, though it seems much more even-keeled and clear-cut than it really is. Like so many similar records that you end up holding onto for years, this takes several listens to really sink in. But there’s more than enough going on that it’s well worth the investment.
Chris Herbert Mezzotint
Spaceheater/Perfect Interior EP’s Drone, drone, and much more harsh drone. This release is full of harsh noise to fill your heart’s content. The Goslings are a husband and wife duo, a similar set up to the likes of Windy and Carl, but much darker. This CD features their two prior EP’s combined to create a seamless story between the two releases. I like these songs because they sound very organic. I don’t know how they make the noises they do which has a certain magical appeal to me. It sounds like they use very mundane everyday appliances that you and I see every day and distort the shit out of them. I am very new to the noisier pallet of sound. I have slowly developed an appreciation for this sense of music. To me, The Goslings represent the break down of music in itself. There is no form and very subtle substance. It’s noise, pure and simple, willing to invoke emotions that span over the course of the CD and it leaves the listener to find their own way to navigate through the static present within these tracks. [Review : Stirling Myles] Crucial Blast Records
Self-Titled Despite a resume that’s mostly full of members’ pasts in more frantic post-hardcore bands (Majority Rule, Pg. 99 and now City of Caterpillar) Haram take a much more contemplative approach. That isn’t to say that this isn’t
Calling yourself “a dedicated non-musician,” then expecting people to purchase your CD is a fairly bold proposition. Chris Herbert intends to do just that, and actually succeeds for the most part. Hailing from Birmingham, UK, Mezzotint is Herbert’s first release for Kranky and I believe his first overall (though I’m not sure). He has previously worked on sound installations alongside other digital artists, which intend to “reclaim the city’s post-industrial spaces.” The result, at least recorded, is noisy, layered and hiss-laden compositions that walk the line between IDM and noise without taking too much from either. He uses low-tech methods for either genre, with just minidisks, a partially functional delay pedal and an out of date PC. Noise artists usually like to brag about their behind the times means when it comes to equipment. Herbert actually uses it to his advantage. There really is a lot of character and varied texture to all of these songs, despite their completely digital origins. There is also a complete lack of rhythm or discernable structure to the compositions, which makes for something that’s hypnotic and jarring at the same time. At times, this reminds me of Christopher Bissonnette (also on Kranky), which I really liked, though this is not as consistently soothing. There are jarring, and clicky elements to this, though they aren’t the focal point of the songs. This whole record is built on dichotomies. It’s mellow and textural, but hardly soothing some of the time. It’s also noisy and static-laden, but pastoral and floating much of the time as well. Either way, it’s well thought out and layered, but haphazard enough to be interesting. Mezzotint walks a number of lines, but
almost all of the gracefully and intuitively enough to work really well. Kranky Records
Micah P. Hinson
The Baby and the Satellite (CDEP) 19 years old is pretty young to be writing and recording your first record, but Micah P. Hinson had more than earned it. By that time, he’d moved from his native Memphis (and away from his fundamentalist family), landed in Abilene, Texas, stumbled into a love interest, and become addicted to drugs (which led to bankruptcy and jail time). These songs were originally recorded in 2001 onto a 4-track, though eight of the nine here were re-recorded shortly thereafter with help from members of The Earlies. The first thing that’s so striking about these songs is that Hinson’s voice sounds like that of someone at least twice his age. Not unlike early Dylan or Tom Waits recordings, his voice is crackly and haunting, though it doesn’t seem deliberate or forced. Both have big boots to fill, though Hinson earns both comparisons (even on his first real recording). The songs are slow and fragile, but almost catchy at the same time. “The Leading Guy” features a keyboard-accented chorus, which is simultaneously dark and bright. It’s a balance that Uncle Tupelo or Lucero took years to master, but it seems to have come really naturally for Hinson. In fact, just about everything about The Baby and the Satellite have those two things in common: the songs are wise beyond Hinson’s years and seem to fall together either by accident or at least really effortlessly. The same is true on the subsequent full length (A Gospel In Progress, which Jade Tree has also thankfully re-released). Both releases constitute an outstanding start for one of the most exciting new songwriters to come out of the South in some time. Both are well worth hunting down on their own right, and will also serve as a great precursor to Hinson’s new full length, Micah P. Hinson and the Opera Circuit. I’d get in on the ground floor with this one if I were you. Jade Tree Records
Hope and Anchor The Wait and Wonder
Hailing from Asheville, North Carolina the guy and two girls in Hope and Anchor do strike me as a pretty strongly “Southern” band, though I couldn’t tell you exactly
why. This is their second full length, though I haven’t heard them before this. Their sound is pretty slow and contemplative, but still raspy and folky. The opening track, “6th Avenue” features piano, drums and guitar with two and three part harmonies. The result is lush and pretty, but seems a bit haphazard as well. It isn’t that it’s sloppy by any means, it’s just loosely arranged enough to maintain a really organic feel despite pretty melodic songwriting. The tempos are slow throughout the record, which also gives Hope and Anchor a contemplative and introspective feel. Vocally, this is really strong, with singers Tasha and Sarahbrown dividing vocal duties pretty evenly between them and usually working together on most of the songs. The harmonies add a lot when they appear, occasionally adding a third, male voice as well. In fact, the harmonies are often what put some of these songs over the top. Somewhere between American folk and piano-driven indie rock, Hope And Anchor have put together a strong and complete record. It’s hard to find too many bands to compare this to very closely, which makes it hard to review, but easy to recommend. Exotic Fever Records
You may remember my review of Intronaut’s debut EP, Null, from the last issue of TNS. I believe I said something along the lines of “Look for a full length from these guys hopefully this summer. I certainly will be.” Well, here it is in my hot little hands. The band went back into the studios shortly after the February release of Null to record this behemoth. We have the same jazz/metal/prog/hardcore fusion in here, further showing that the term “progressive” doesn’t have to mean Dream Theater. Again, the thing that stands out most is the use of each instrument as a stand-alone melody maker. The bass continues to impress, as the freestyle jazz jam in the first track “A Monolithic Vulgarity” sets the tone for the disc. “Gleamer” comes in next and has blasting pounding beats that pick up the pace and get the head moving. Just when you get in the rhythm of the moment, Intronaut drops it way down to a doomy dirge. The drums then take the center of the focus, with an excellent fill. We repeat our process until the noisy intro of “Fault Lines” splits the sounds. This is excellently mixed, and blends well from one song to the next. These guys are incredibly versatile, moving from noisy metal to fusion jazz effortlessly. “Nostalgic
Kill Them With Kindness While well-executed lead and backing vocals, lush string arrangements, and pop sensibility have long been a formula that has historically ended in both disaster and ecstasy, this Champaign quartet tips the scales well toward the latter with this recent Polyvinyl release. From the opening seconds of Kill Them With Kindness, “Your Old Street” delivers an aural arrangement featuring violin, cello, and accordion, that I’m not afraid to call beautiful. And the subsequent anthemic and bittersweet verse-chorus progression makes you wonder how you ever knew how to cry and smile at the same time before it. According to their website, this project has long been “an exercise in developing musical vision.” After one listen, it is clear how much work Headlights put into achieving this elusive artistic vision. “TV” is one particularly pleasing product of this aesthetic journey, offering every aspect of brilliantly crafted pop pleasure. Yet there’s more than meets the turntable needle with this particular record. The subtle yearning conveyed in “TV” adds a unique dimension to Kill Them With Kindness that delivers a truly heartbreaking consequence. The driving and urgent chorus will go down in my memory as one of the musically better moments in all of Polyvinyl’s history, which is saying an incredible amount considering the star-studded lineage that has developed from this imprint, from Joan of Arc to Of Montreal. At each juncture in the record, you imagine that at one time or another, the band has to reach a plateau in what they are able to offer you aurally. Yet the soundscape continues to expand, offering you a playful yet fragile intertwining of guitars and vocals on “Pity City.” Even more overwhelming is the fact that Headlights still manages small forays into the unknown, most notably on “Songy Darko,” proving that the band isn’t exclusively about understanding and exploiting an obviously arduous amount of study of what makes a successful pop record. That is to say, while they could’ve relied on the substantial amount they appear to know about how to beautifully craft a song, the chord progression to this tune tells us that there’s more to Headlights than successful manipulation of our innate affinity for dulcet harmonies. As you might expect, the record closes heartbreakingly with “I Love, You Laugh,” which, at under two and a half minutes, is more of an outro during which Headlights sweetly bids you farewell. The music ends abruptly, and undulating samples take over, leaving you pining over the feeling that still envelops your aural cavities and warms you to the core.
Echo” starts slow before going into an almost grindcore/ jazz meld of heaviness. “Teledildonics” comes in next, mixing a doom riff with a great drum beat. The only thing I hate to say is that this CD never comes out and rips your face right off. It keeps hinting at it, but still leaves you intact. The songs are excellently crafted, and the future is immensely bright for Intronaut. Recorded at Shiva Industries studio in California, Void is an excellent debut full length from some vets in the metal world. [Review : Pat Dixon] Goodfellow Records
Kayo Dot/Bloody Panda Split LP
This vinyl-only split LP combines two of the most boundary-expanding heavy bands you’ll likely hear in some time. Kayo Dot I was already familiar with and their eleven- minute track is similar to their two outstanding previous CD’s. Combining a typical rock band setup with prominent horns and odd percussion, they weave together heavy music trappings with free-jazz and more epic avante garde sounds. This song features strange, chanted vocals toward the middle of the song and almost Mars Volta-esque orchestration toward the end. It’s pretty representative of the stuff on their previous records, though even in eleven minutes, it’s hard to encapsulate Kayo Dot’s sound onto one track. Bloody Panda are from New York and they contribute two songs, which cover just under 20 minutes. They feature a decidedly more metal-influenced sound overall, with slow, sludgy tempos and ominous vocals. It sounds a bit like Neurosis, but slower and a little less fluid. The jerky nature of some of the rhythms and breaks keeps this from becoming just another stoner metal band. They also use a little more broad set of sounds generally, that makes this hard to jam into any single pigeonhole. Not unlike Kayo Dot, they manage to use a much broader set of ideas and tones than most any band they’ll likely get lumped into a genre, or onto a show with. This may shrink their potential audience right off the bat, but it also sets them apart and gives both songs more staying power. It’s a bit less engaging and layered than Kayo Dot, though overall it works in a similar way. As a whole, this split features a half hour of some of the strangest, noisiest and ultimately, more rewarding experimental heavy music you’re likely to hear these days. Holy Roar Records
In all, though the Polyvinyl logo sets the mark remarkably high for any release, Headlights has assured themselves a spot as one of the label’s more sublime bands in spite of the gigantic shoes they’re faced with filling. At this rate, there’s little doubt that they’ll soon earn a place among the label’s legends. And I can’t wait for the amazing ride they’re going to take us on in the process. [Review : Nick Cox] Polyvinyl Records
C : Meagan Holmes
ground that’s covered tonally or genre-wise, is how every corner of the sound is so tightly constructed. The one constant throughout all of this is the huge, imposing and layered feeling that defines everything about Jesu’s songs. Despite more guitar and vocals than I expected and shorter songs overall, there’s still something really bold and uncommon about everything on Silver. It’s the boldest and perhaps the best thing Jesu has done so far, and a perfect way to make sure no one knows what to expect from the next full length (Conqueror, which comes out in February). I can only hope that this represents the future of all progressive heavy music in some small way.
Like many people, I was pretty well wrecked by Jesu’s self-titled debut early last year. Despite coming out in January, it wasn’t forgotten in a lot of year-end top 10 lists (including my own) and with good reason. Though he did time in both Napalm Death and Godflesh, it’s hard to spend much time listening to Justin Broderick’s first record as most of Jesu without realizing he’s obviously found his calling. Somewhere between drone and post-rock, it’s absolutely humungous no matter how you slice it. Thankfully, he didn’t wait terribly long before releasing the outstanding Heartache EP later in the year. It featured two similar, though even longer tracks at twenty minutes each. They took the droney and reverb-heavy stoner dirges from the debut and expanded on them. Now, for Silver he has essentially done the complete opposite. He has compacted his ideas, and his songs into tighter and shorter bursts (at least by Jesu standards) at six to eight minutes each. The record starts off with “Silver,” which is the most similar to his first record of anything here. It’s definitely more guitar and vocal-oriented (as is most everything on the EP), applying a melodically gloomy approach to a more structured song than I thought I’d ever hear on a Jesu record. It’s followed by “Star,” which is even more of a curveball, opening with a downright fast drumbeat and melodic guitar line. Quickly culminating into a toweringly melodic chorus, it’s hard not to think of Hum or Failure in the best ways possible. How Broderick so gracefully turned the atmospheric stoner dirges on his first record into this, I’ll never fully understand. But it makes sense somehow as soon as you hear it, and every stage of the progression stylistically has been well crafted and engaging. Next is “Wolves” which is the darkest and longest song here (at more than eight minutes), and overall the most similar to his previous releases. It combines strong vocals with an almost Zombi-like keyboard part that works perfectly together. The EP is rounded out by “Dead Eyes” which starts with cold electronics and almost sounds like Aphex Twin in slow motion. It abruptly becomes the most metal part in the whole record, with a dark, persistent dual guitar riff. Overall, Jesu has covered more ground on this EP’s 28 minutes than most C : Lukasz Macheta whole bands will cover in their entire lifespan. But more impressive than the
Knut is hit or miss for me, but their last few efforts have been very good. Since this is a remix album, I can’t really consider it a Knut album. However, the disc is really good. Alter starts off with French artist Dither, with “Dither vs. Knut”, a noisy electronic sound-scape that sets up the mood of the album. Dalek comes in next with a remix of “deadverse”, another noisy electronic rendition. This is what the term “industrial” brings to mind - powerful, heavy machinery pounding out rhythms. J.K. Broadrick is in there next with his rendition of “H/Armless”. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Broadrick, it is worth mentioning that you should really get out more. The godfather of heavy institutional metal via Godflesh and Jesu adds his tinge of pure heavy euphoria to this track. It’s no surprise that this is my favorite on the album. Mick Harris (Napalm Death, Scorn, Painkiller) is next with his electro rendition of “5 turn grinner mix”. This is one of the most electronica sounding tunes on here, and it really is amazing – over seven minutes of interesting beats with atmosphere. Other hard hitters on this remix album include KK Null’s vision of an extremely noisy “dekompozition kknutll”, the oddly off-beat noise of Anthony Pateras, Robin Fox, and Oren Ambarchi’s “Karn Boys”, and the trippy tinkering of “Not Swiss Made” by Asmus Tietchens. In short, this is an excellent remix album of epic proportions, with tons of noise in it that makes me smile from ear to ear. [Review : Pat Dixon] Hydra Head Records
Ladyfinger (NE) Heavy Hands
From the opening seconds of Heavy Hands, Nebraska’s Ladyfinger forces you to set your sights relatively low. And then they still seem, remarkably, to disappoint. While I’ve never known Saddle Creek to sign a dud, we’re all human. It turns out that even mixing at the legendary Presto! studio couldn’t provide the sub-par “Who Believes Enough” with enough listenability to be swallowable. Combing the record for an element to commend, I come up empty-handed. But I did find a surplus of more failings. The frustratingly awful “Sea Legs” is most indicative of the vocalist’s style that, while it’s clear what he’s trying for, does little more than make the listener cringe, especially in the abrasively shrill high register. And behind the vocals are
uninteresting, vanilla flavored guitar licks that, while well executed, lack inspiration. This rounds out the package to catapult Ladyfinger into the world of releases you’re going to want to miss if you want to maintain your sanity. It is perhaps plausible that if the agony-inducing vocals didn’t make you want to shove screwdrivers directly into your tortured ear canals to render yourself forever deaf to the aural assault of which Ladyfinger is capable, you might actually be able to enjoy Heavy Hands. Still, there would be little reward, as the record offers little else of note. Accompanying the aforementioned lackluster guitar parts are drums that are just as generic, in spite of the good quality provided in part by the Presto! magic. Heavy Hands crawls to the finish line, in spite of valiant attempts such as the closing of “...Man, Woman...” A feeble attempt at an adrenaline-producing epic dueling guitar battle, it gropes at meaning, missing like a helplessly crawling burn victim begging to be put out of their misery. If you’re like most people and trust Saddle Creek enough to buy a record with their logo unheard, be warned: they, too, are apparently capable of musical barbarism.
Hydra Head Records
the two. But the difference here is that the songs seem a bit more developed and layered than they were before. The difference is definitely subtle, but it’s there. This is evident right away, on “Water Manes at the Block’s End,” which has a guitar line that’s downright catchy as soon as it kicks in. The same is true on the more soaring and emotional track that follows it, “Mumbled Words and Ridiculous Faces.” The trend continues throughout the record, a combination of East Bay punk-heavy pop punk and more grown-up anthems ala Richmond or D.C. So now we’ve arrived at the hyperbole, but don’t scrunch your nose up because I promise you that Latterman have more than lived up to it. This is the kind of proof that’s so rare today, but also so sorely needed, that punk rock is, in fact, not quite dead yet. Latterman are the real deal from beginning to end, and this is their best record to date. If you could bottled up “jaded” and sell it, this magazine would be in full color, but even I can’t deny Latterman’s power to make me feel 15 again (and only in the best ways possible).
Deep Elm Records
[Review : Nick Cox]
Saddle Creek Records
…We Are Still Alive It’s basically impossible to review any number of records, in any genre, without humping some sort of hyperbole all along the way. It’s something I try to avoid using, and I tend to roll my eyes when I come up against it in other people’s reviews, or especially in band bio’s. But it’s inevitable a lot of the time, especially with records like this. On both of their previous two full lengths, Latterman were the very essence of what a torchbearer should be. They were combining Avail’s best early anthems with Fugazi’s personal politics and common sense delivery of their ideas, with a slightly more recklessly melodic delivery (think Crimpshrine). All of the above are still evident on …We Are Still Alive, their third record and second for Deep Elm. But this time they have put together a slightly more cohesive and less choppy record from beginning to end. For what Latterman lack in difficultly pigeonholed or categorized genre bending, they more than make up for in quality. There are two types of Latterman songs and always have been: good ones and great ones. That’s definitely the case again here, and the ratio is similarly strong between
Make Believe Of Course
One year to the day after the release of Make Believe’s first full length, Shock Of Being, they’re back with Of Course, their sophomore effort. For a band that is known to keep a forty-hour per week practice schedule when at home in Chicago, it’s surprising to see that they wrote and recorded all of their second full length in under a month. This is party out necessity, as drummer Nate Kinsella was sentenced to two months in county jail in Oklahoma for an incident last year on tour. He exposed himself to a crowd, before wringing the sweat out of his shorts over the heads of those in attendance to see them play with god-fearing bands mewithoutYou and Veda. The somewhat government-imposed deadline on the creation of the record has added an obvious urgency to the resulting ten songs. Much like OWLS, which preceded Make Believe (along with Joan of Arc and Cap’n Jazz), calling this “angular” is like calling Emperor “metal.” It’s inherent. But the combination of Make Believe’s built-in obsessive attention to detail and the short time in which this was created has made for the best Make Believe material to date. It’s still hard to figure out exactly what’s going on with most of these songs on the first couple listens. A few tracks, especially “Political
Mysticism” does tip its hand a bit earlier than I expected. The interplay between Nate Kinsella’s free form drumming, guitarist Sam Zurick’s frantically odd riffs and Tim Kinsella’s nervous breakdown in slow motion vocal lines is much the same as on Shock Of Being. But there is added urgency, in place of the more contemplative noodling that these guys are known for (before and during their tenure as Make Believe). The resulting balance has added direct lines between some of the otherwise disconnected ideas, rather than just a filing down of the rough edges that are Make Believe. The Jesus-core kids, and the police in Bartlesville, Oklahoma may not get it, but I can’t get enough of it. Flameshovel Records
Malachi Constant Pride
After eight years as a band and two previous full length records, Malachi Constant have probably taken their biggest musical leap on Pride. The more varied and ambitious approach is obvious right away on Pride, leaning further from the angular, more guitar-based upper-Midwestern approach on Infinite Justice, their standout second record. But this isn’t just the “keyboard record” either, which is the usual path for similar bands looking to expand their sound generally. There is certainly a much heavier dose of keyboard parts here, but they’re mixed evenly within spacious and well thought-out arrangements. The result is a record that is stylistically pretty much all over the place, though it has a surprisingly cohesive sound all around. Bands like Trans Am and even Tortoise aren’t bad reference points (especially on the six minute epic “Princess Billionaire”). Though newer bands like Menomena or El Guapo are comparable from time to time as well, especially on the shorter and more energetic tracks (see the opener “Quid Pro Quo…”). The bottom line though, is that it’s hard to pin anything too specific on Pride unless you pick and choose a song or two at a time. As a whole, the record isn’t obviously jumping from one style or texture to the next. But it is shifting organically, though sometimes drastically as the record progresses. This makes for a confusing first couple listens, though it is rewarding and well executed once it’s given a little time to sink in. Modern-Radio/Guilt-Ridden Pop
We, The Vehicles Before Maritime’s disappointing debut full length came out, the members’ pasts were already looming pretty large. The band is (or was) made up of singer Dave von Bohlen and drummer Dan Didier, also known as half of The Promise Ring and rounded up by Dismemberment Plan bassist Eric Axelson. Glass Floor, their debut did little to pull them out of either band’s shadow with a depressingly simple approach. The edges were worn down to the point that you couldn’t have it on for more than one or two songs before forgetting you had music playing at all. We, The Vehicles starts off in a similarly dull fashion. “Calm” and “Tearing Up the Oxygen” are pleasing enough indie pop songs. But for what they have going for them in solid construction, they lack in design sensibility. Though by the time the album’s third track, “People, the Vehicles” picks up momentum it starts to become evident that Maritime are hitting their stride. The upbeat (both stylistically and rhythmically) “Parade of Punk Rock T-Shirts” is next, solidly cementing We, The Vehicles as quite the opposite of a sophomore slump. It’s bouncy rhythm and smart bass line courtesy of Axelson (who left the band shortly after recording this) combine with one of von Bohlen’s best vocal lines in years. The song is followed by one of the other serious highlights; “We Don’t Think, We Know” which is a bit more subdued (but no less catchy) take on a similar concept. Maritime aren’t about to blow anyone’s mind with the combination of sounds or ideas they present here. It’s melodic indie rock all grown up. But along with considerable experience, they’ve added enough perfectly balanced songwriting to make for a surprisingly good second full length. I was intrigued to see what this combination of former heavy hitters would put together initially, only to be considerably disappointed. But after writing off Maritime, they’ve already won me over here. Flameshovel Records
Mass Movement of the Moth The Catalyst Two Thousand and Six Six Six
This isn’t another one of your typical split records. Instead, it’s a truly collaborative release, written and recorded together by these two fairly new Northern Virginia/DC bands. The result is a sound that’s roughly as chaotic and mashed together as you would probably expect, given the format of the release. Mass Movement of the Moth lean more toward screamed, synth-driven post-hardcore, while The Catalyst are a bit slower and heavier (think modern grunge). The result is pretty schizophrenic, bouncing from one thing to the next within each song as well as from song to song. Some of the slower moments were actually my favorite, especially the uncommonly melodic breakdown on “Swallow Black Fabric.” Though the more sludgy “Thirsty Like Water Thirsty” is also really strong, and reminds me a little of a more cluttered Torche. There is a lot going on here at any one time, and by the end of the record you’ll either be really fulfilled or really confused. I guess I’m left with a little of each. Both bands have recently put out strong records on their own. And while this isn’t a great introduction to either band’s sound, it’s an ambitious project and more of a diving in than jumping off point if you’re interested in either. Perpetual Motion Machine
The Red Tree Moneen’s place amongst their solidly melodic and straightforward emo/rock peers is hard to really wrap my head around sometimes. On one hand, it’s hard to really pick a ton of stuff out about them that’s way different than so many of their easily dismissed peers. Their songs are dynamic and clearly produced, this time by Brian McTernan. The vocals are well sung, but not exactly radio-ready either. The songwriting itself doesn’t take a ton of chances, but it is considerably more dynamic than almost any of their label or sub-genre peers. They use a lot of stop/start rhythms and song structures, but usually pull it all back together for big and rewarding choruses. It’s hard not to trace elements of their sound back to bands like The Get-Up Kids, early Jimmy Eat World. But they are also, as a whole, a step or two ahead of almost all of the other bands that followed in those same footsteps. The Red Tree is probably not as much of a huge step forward as the bio would like you to believe (but that isn’t anything new, or anything worth slighting the band for). But it is a catchy, pleasing, and uncommonly well thought-out record for anything even bordering on this style. Moneen are some of the last grown-ups anywhere in the marketable emo-core hemisphere. It’s sort of like if you had children, and got stuck at a 2 year-old’s birthday party. It wouldn’t matter if the only other parent there just wanted to talk about motorcycles and football, because you’d just be happy to have another grown-up to talk to. Vagrant Records
Revolve (CDEP) Since the release of Paul Michel’s outstanding debut, These Are All Beautiful Things, he hit the road and subsequently lost his long-time partner. This new EP frankly and clearly conveys a very different tone almost right away. Gone from the debut are all of the quirky and darkly melodic electronics that really drove some of the songs. Instead, these seven songs feature just Michel’s voice (which, by the way finds new highs and lows here) and acoustic guitar. This still sounds like the same guy from the full length, but just barely. At first I was a bit disappointed but the more I listened to these seven songs, the more I liked it. Reference points like Elliot Smith or Jeff Buckley aren’t too far off, though this isn’t just another singer/songwriter record either. It features a legitimate “rock bottom” feeling that is much more plain and convincing than so most other similar attempts. The songs are legitimately haunting much of the time, but without overly strained vocal lines or cheesy lyrics. The EP is well worthwhile on its own. But held up against the starkly different (though equally outstanding) LP that preceded it, it’s even more impressive. This sets the table for just about anything to come out of Michel’s sophomore full length, which is due out late this year.
Magic Bullet Records
We Can Driving Machine I’ve recently been listening to a lot of bands featuring family duos. This time it’s two cousins, both under the age of 20. The CD starts with a very soothing and nostalgicfeeling operatic singing, and then the music slams through the door. Mikaela’s Fiend employs a series of frantic and rapidly paced stanzas of harsh noise with guitar and drums similar to the likes of Snack Truck. Each of the songs here is untitled, so it lends the listener to an ungrounded sense of displacement as the songs meld into the one another. The drums definitely lay out the foundation, playing at a choppy and tastefully sloppy. The guitar pedals are effectively placed while also being intentional and contribute to the wall of sound that is pushed out of the speakers. Driving Machine is the duo’s first full-length release after a couple of 7”s under their belts. The songs here are a perfect platform for expansion and I can’t wait to hear the different directions that will hopefully be conveyed over the following years from these two young lads. [First image: Some one drawing in sped up cinematography with brightly colored markers on paper. The ink is softening up the paper and tearing holes in it. The person isn’t really drawing anything, but is staring intensely at it with saliva building at the edge of their mouth.] [Review : Stirling Myles]
Mouth of the Architect The Ties that Blind
Dayton, Ohio’s Mouth of the Architect have released one hell of a sophomore release with The Ties that Blind. The follow up to their 2004 debut is one of the most beautifully heavy albums of the year. Dual vocals of the deep deathy vocals and the purely desperate screaming combined with plain old fashioned excellent music are showcased of this disc. The songwriting on this album is brilliant. Here’s another huge reason you know I’m going to love this album – six tracks, in just a hair over 66 minutes. This leaves room for these moody tunes to grow their own personalities, split, come back together, and just absolutely crush your soul. “Baobab” begins the record with an almost Neurosis/Godflesh dirge and morphs into an almost prog-metal overture, only to split yet again into a heart wrenching display of pure heavy art. The tune ends after 10:30, going into “No One Wished to Settle Here”, with its five-plus minute instrumental introduction showcasing interesting melodies and rhythms. The tune builds, as does the growing smoke and fog. At just over 15 minutes, this is the longest tune on the disc, and is further proof of the second track on a CD being among the best (if not the best) tune on the disc. Just after ten minutes into this mighty opus, the tune’s personality splits expertly. The tune then brings back the original melody begun in the introduction, fusing this excellent journey of a tune together. In case you couldn’t tell, this song rules. “Carry On” brings in track three, clocking in at just over twelve minutes. This is a slow, melodic tune that tugs your heart right out of your chest. The best part is that around the eight-minute mark these guys really bring the noise in and slow it down even further. The vocals don’t kick in until really far into the song, but make the build up worth every moment. “Harboring an Apparition” brings in a keyboard introduction, which slowly builds with reverbed guitars perfectly. This song ties with “Baobab” as my second favorite on the disc. Vocals kick in and the song actually slows down to accompany the mood change. Again, I cannot stress the fantastic use of both deep death metal vocals with the hardcore scream/shout vocals. It’s phenomenal in this song. “At Arms Length” comes in second to last, and is the shortest song on the CD at 7:04. “At Arms Length” also features Brent Hinds of Mastodon with a guest vocal appearance. Interesting rhythms and melodies also permeate this song, again proving the talent contained within these guys. We end our journey with “Wake me When It’s Over”, a twelve-minute good bye to seal a fantastic album. Time changes and contrasting rhythms serve as a tutorial on how to use bass and drums as instruments instead of timekeepers. This is a monster of a record, and if you have any soul in your body and metal in your blood you will love this. This CD is fucking awesome, period. [Review : Pat Dixon] Translation Loss Records
The North Atlantic Wires In The Walls
The North Atlantic hails from San Diego, though they originally formed in 1999 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The trio is comprised of singer/guitarist Jason Hendrix, brother Cullen on drums and bassist Jason Richards (that’s two Jason’s and two Hendrix’s for those keeping score at home). Even on the first listen, the density and depth of their sound is obvious but there’s also something inviting and even a little familiar about it as well. As simply as I could possibly put it, this combines elements of early New York post-new wave, San Diego’s spastic post-hardcore (especially from the early to mid-90’s) and jagged rhythms and vocal lines that bring to mind many Chicago and D.C. post-punk bands. So that’s three “post-something” descriptors in one sentence, which is annoying to read, but too fitting to pass up. I guess that makes The North Atlantic post-just about everything, which isn’t really all that far off. “The Lotus Eater” opens with handclaps (ballsy move #1 of many), which quickly turn into an angular and melodic opener that’s short and sweet. Next is “Drunk Under Electrics,” which shows off an equally melodic, though bigger and slightly slower side of the band. Both of the first two songs reminded me quite a bit of Sweep The Leg Johnny’s most successful and melodic moments. Next up are the considerably more chaotic and almost angry “Swallow Fire” and “The Man Who Saved Your Ass.” Neither is exactly accessible in the conventional sense, though both have immediate appeal thanks to a ton of energy and only slightly buried hooks. On the next two songs, the hooks are far from buried (though hardly predictable) and both are catchy in very different ways. “Scientist Girl” uses one of the only really basic and poppy moments with almost Weezer-esque backing vocals. Its chorus is easily the most poppy moment on the whole record, though even here they never fully head right off the deep end either. Next up is a straight up new wave ballad that is both wildly different than the rest of the record, and jaw dropping in its effectiveness.
The second half of the record features a number of the more dense moments here, between the huge, noisy dynamics on “Street Sweepers” and the seven-plus minute loud/quiet mash-up of “Atmosphere vs. the Dogs Of Dawn.” After a couple strong and shorter, though more varied tracks, Wires In The Walls closes with perhaps its best song. “The Ministry of Helicopters” opens with both the toughest, and the catchiest vocal melody on the whole record. It then proceeds to essentially sum up almost every one of the fine lines that The North Atlantic manage to straddle throughout this record’s 48 minutes. It has the swaying rhythms, jagged guitar lines and almost beat-influenced, wandering narrative lyrics. In short, it’s amazing that The North Atlantic can pack so much into one song, even a song that is just shy of eight minutes long. But I guess that’s the theme throughout Wires In The Walls, it’s far from short and sweet, but it almost always feels that way. It may have taken more than six years as a band to release their first record, though it was well worth the wait. This is one of the most appealing full lengths, in any genre (including any one of the three or four that The North Atlantic simultaneously occupy) that I’ve heard in some time. We Put Out Records (East/West)
The New Amsterdams Story Like A Scar
Since starting The New Amsterdams as a Get Up Kids side project in 2000, Matt Pryor has released a record under the moniker every couple years. Most recent was the hit and miss Worse For The Wear in 2003. The songs have always taken on a more acoustic-heavy approach than any Get Up Kids material, though Pryor’s signature vocals and overall approach are generally the same. After the timely demise of The Get Up Kids, Pryor began focusing much more heavily on The New Amsterdams. That much is obvious, both on paper and on all of Story Like A Scar. First, he assembled what is, as a practical matter, his first complete band lineup. After years of a fairly revolving cast of Get Up Kids and other friends, it seems like he’s finally settled on a solid supporting cast. The band headed to Nashville to record, which is also a first, leaving the familiar confines of Ed Rose’s Blacklodge studio (where most of the Get Up Kids’ records were done, as well as Worse For The Wear). The production features a clear, almost Americana-style sound. It suits the band well, and might lead to this being falsely labeled as “alt-country” by some. Regardless of what this is tagged, the production and lap-steel, harmonica and brushed drumming (all in pretty small doses) add welcome new wrinkles. All this background adds up to one thing: it’s not a completely divergent new full length for Pryor and The New Amsterdams, but it is their best to date (as well as the most complete). It isn’t because it’s Pryor’s main focus, or because of the production or the complete band, but somewhere amongst all of these small changes. It starts off really strong with “The Death of Us” and “Turn Out The Light,” both slow, contemplative songs. But they’re both also downright catchy in their own right, and perfect opening tracks for the record. At just over four minutes each, they are like pop songs in slow motion and capture the essence of the record perfectly. Next is the much shorter and poppier “Bad Liar” which is pretty clearly about the end of the Get Up Kids. It reflects the alcohol-fueled resignation that lead Pryor to bow out, thus ending the band; (“Let’s call it off/let’s take the memories and run. I’ll be the villain/the man with the smoking gun”). The record ends in a slightly louder way, with two pretty similar closing tracks (not unlike the way it opens). “Beautiful Mistake” and “A Small Crusade” are both deceivingly complex pop songs with evolving tones and rhythms. They are the perfect close to a record that seems simple on the surface, but actually contains much more than you’d expect.
Wolves in Wolves’ Clothing Depending on the mood I’m in, records like this are
either really easy to review or practically impossible. In this case, it’s more impossible than easy. NOFX are the very embodiment of an “established band” at this point. I believe this is their 10th proper full length, and they’ve been a band for 23 years. I tend to feel really old at shows these days, and even I was two years old when NOFX held their first practice. Their most recent full length, 2003’s War On Errorism was about as much of a surprise as you’re likely to ever get from NOFX. It was politically charged, though in the usual poop and fart joke way that NOFX created (and then Blink-182 and a hundred bands proceeded to ride all the way to the bank). It was also different enough from what they’d done before to be really easy to review. This time around, they’ve turned in a lengthy new full length with 19 tracks covering more than 45 minutes. They have also made it hard to pick much out of it that stands out for better or worse. There are strong moments, and a fair number of silly moments (which, like everything else about NOFX is either hilarious or annoying depending on your mood). It’s strong and well produced, though in the end it is what it is: another NOFX record. If you like this band enough to have followed them this far, you probably own it (or should soon). If not, you didn’t read this far into the review anyway.
Fat Wreck Chords
None More Black This Is Satire
Three years ago when None More Black’s debut File Under Black was released, they were still very much in the shadow of singer and guitarist Jason Shevchuk’s previous spot as the singer for Kid Dynamite. It was a solid, melodic punk rock record with a little more substance than is usually a part of similar records. Shevchuk’s voice was as strong as it had been in Kid Dynamite, though used in a somewhat different way. Since then they have released a solid EP, which was similar to the first full length, toured with a number of bigger bands and underwent a couple lineup changes. The whole story is hardly a brand new one, though it’s hard not to notice a lot of different stuff going on here, on their somewhat overdue sophomore record. Not too unlike previous label-mates, None More Black enlisted J.Robbins to produce This Is Satire. Better known for work with much more mellow, indie rock-centered bands, it’s an obvious departure for these guys. Focusing on who produced the record is one of the oldest record reviewer cop-outs, but it does help to explain what’s happening on This Is Satire. There is an obviously clearer and more contemplative sound to both the production and the song delivery. At first I didn’t like it at all, but the more I listened to this, the more it made sense. This alone is a departure for None More Black who have always been a strong band, though hardly prone to throwing curveballs musically. At
times it works, especially on the poppy opener “We Dance On The Ruins of the Stupid Stage” and “With The Transit Coat On.” But a few of the attempts at almost Beach Boys or Beatles-esque basic rock fall pretty flat, especially “10 Ton Jiggawatts.” My favorite song here is actually the shortest, most angry one, “You Suck But Your Peanut Butter’s OK” which is a solid, youthful anthem about cookie-cutter anarchists. The fact is that Jason Svechuk’s voice could probably save a Mest record for me; he’s a great singer with a deceiving amount of range and depth. And many of the quieter and slightly more mid-tempo moments work great when they’re applied to the more upbeat songs. But only “I See London” really scores when it comes to the songs that are mellower overall. None More Black took more chances on this record than I thought they’d ever take, which is encouraging. Though it only works about half the time here, it’s an impressive branching-out effort. Hopefully on the next record they can combine the best things about this and their debut, then they’ll really be onto something. Fat Wreck Chords
Black Mambas O Pioneers!!! is comprised of Eric Solomon and Jeff Johnson, though you wouldn’t know it’s just a two piece band based on the ungodly racket they’re able to produce. Hailing from Houston, I’m pretty sure this is their first release. This reminds me of a few No Idea records in a number of ways, but especially vocally. The vocals are strong and gruff, but also surprisingly well sung in a number of spots. Think early Against Me!, Scouts Honor, or True North, at least vocally. This is pretty simple musically, with just guitar and drums. The guitar is a bit too far back in the mix for my taste most of the time, and sometimes gets drowned out almost completely by the drums and the vocals. The frantic and haphazard style of the songs defines almost every element of the band, but they make it work in a way that never comes off as half-finished, or sloppy. I am willing to bet this band is awesome live, though it works pretty well on record, even with a recording that leaves something to be desired. Aside from the No Idea influence, this reminds me of (Young) Pioneers in spots as well. That alone is a welcome and refreshing change of pace from much of what tends to populate my review pile these days. This is, in every way, a punk rock record for more better than worse. Its energy doesn’t outpace or overshadow the songwriting, but it comes close in a few spots. In the end though, this works well on the first listen and on the tenth, and earns every one of the three exclamation points after their name. Team Science Records
The Obsessed Lunar Womb
This is not new material by The Obsessed (but most of you reading this review know that). Wino’s legendary band with Scott Reeder (who then went on to thump the bass with stoner rock legends Kyuss) and Greg Rogers is how he got his start. This is a reissue of their second album, and this Meteorcity release marks its debut in the United States for wider distribution. This album includes such greats as “Bardo,” “Hiding Mask” and “Back to Zero.” Hell, I could list the whole album. This is a classic stoner rock album originally released in 1991. This reissue features a full remastering to capture the power of the Obsessed and Wino’s incredible tone as well as great liner notes and full lyrics. This is well worth the investment as it is truly a great example of the genius that is (and always has existed) with Wino. [Review : Pat Dixon]
Numbers Eric Richter is back, with his second full length with The 101. Now based in New York, the singer and guitarist is most familiar (especially to those around Colorado) as the frontman for the hugely influential Christie Front Drive. After leaving town, Richter spent time in the more spacey Antarctica before putting together The 101. Christie Front Drive helped create the mold for what would become the monster that is (or was) emotional hardcore. The 101 are a bit less heavy-handed in terms of their arrangements, and the tone of their songs. This isn’t too far off musically from what you’d find on their solid debut, Green Street. Though after being hospitalized with a blood clot in his heart, Richter did have much heavier subject matter this time around. The songs are fairly straightforward, melodic indie rock fare, with Richter’s outstanding vocals carrying most of the strongest melody lines. Comparisons to bands like Jimmy Eat World and Rainer Maria are more correct historically than they are musically, since Christie Front Drive were friends/influences to both. But I’m still stuck for real solid comparisons outside of that. The music isn’t terribly evenkeeled, or easily pinned down. There are dynamic swings throughout the record, though they’re pretty subtle and gradual. The result is a record that’s rarely, if ever loud or drastic. But it’s surprisingly powerful regardless. Limekiln Records
One Starving Day
Broken Wings Lead Arms To The Sun When I first looked at this CD’s layout, I read this: “Of earth to suffocate shadows and silences, lying in arms of thorny bushes that attempt, a nature so alive that every day it raises, and then sets. Mine; Is the hand that raises the fire. Mine; Is the music, a light in which to disappear.” Afterwards, I knew what I was getting into. Senigallia, Italy’s One Starving Day use an eclectic grouping of sounds, all deeply resonating. When listening, it’s easily discernable to pick out influences from the likes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, SunnO))) and Neurosis. All elements involved here are heavy hitting and take their time in getting to the crescendos. There are a lot of layers developed over the course of the album and the tools to get there are heavy guitars, synthetic tones, sparse to heavy drums and distorted wailing in the background. During a first listen, my friend Scott, from the other side of the table, said that he wanted to break something elaborately made. Well, while this music doesn’t resonate in the exact same way for me, I can still hear it as a soundtrack to witnessing this experience. Broken Wings… is epic; pure and simple. There is a moody temperament brooding and boiling up to the surface to paint a desperate plea for acknowledgement. [Review : Stirling Myles]
At Home With Owen After drumming for renowned Midwestern bands Cap’n Jazz and Joan Of Arc behind brother Tim, (and fronting the tragically overlooked American Football) Mike Kinsella went solo with Owen. Over the course of three full lengths, and a handful of EP and split releases, Kinsella has tended to record all of his solo material in his childhood bedroom. The music that resulted from that arrangement has re-
flected the process; it’s delicate and insightful, mostly comprised of acoustic guitar and vocals. Though everything he’s done has been effective and well put together, 2004’s I Do Perceive was definitely Owen’s crowning achievement. It was a much further developed version of his previously well-executed, but still standard approach to the solo acoustic realm. The songs were immediately catchy and enjoyable, but haunting and layered enough to maintain their appeal for dozens of consecutive listens. Almost two full years later, Kinsella has returned with the follow-up LP to the what is widely considered his best solo effort, and I think one of the best records he’s ever been involved in. At Home With… was begun in his trusty bedroom, though much of this was also recorded with cousin Nate Kinsella (of Joan of Arc and Make Believe, also known as the “other” Kinsella) and then with Brian Deck (Iron and Wine) at yet a third different studio. The result is a more varied record sound-wise, but a charmingly simple record style-wise. Much more than on I Do Perceive, the songs here are subtly lush and layered, though the differences between them won’t jump right out at you. “Bags of Bones,” is the most immediately effective, with a simple but insightful take on the “I’m tired on tour” theme. “One of These Days” is a gorgeous, piano-heavy look at growing up in general, and the death of his father more specifically. It’s the other song that really stuck out after multiple listens, both because of its layered arrangement and its powerfully personal subject matter. This may not have all of the punch, or melodic twists of I Do Perceive, but it’s still an outstanding record from beginning to end. It takes at least three or four listens all the way through to really come together in your head, but everything about it is well worth the time investment. Owen has more than separated itself from Kinsella’s past at this point, and is already one of the most consistent and intriguing indie rock solo projects anywhere.
Panda & Angel
Self-Titled (CDEP) Panda & Angel’s core is made up of Seattle transplants guitarist Josh Wackerly and singer/guitarist Carrie Murphy. The band plays expansive and melodically dissonant indie rock, with strong songwriting that is often (and rightfully) stolen away by Murphy’s vocals. Her voice is melodic, but throaty and haunting at the same time. Comparisons to PJ Harvey or Chan Marshall aren’t far off, though she also reminds me of Nico at times, especially on “Mexico,” the EP’s opener. It’s an ominous start to their debut EP, which tips their hand to the much more melodic moments to follow. But for the most part, it’s a noisy and slowly building introduction to this record, and to this band. They seamlessly combine noisy guitar and percussion parts with keyboards, samples and even a few tasteful horns. Like so much else on this record, the song’s pace seems fast even though its tempo is slow. By the time the first chorus on “Dangerous” arrives, it’s clear that Panda & Angel are definitely onto something. It takes the noisy and more haunting elements established on the opener to expand them in every direction. Murphy’s voice is as strong as anywhere on the record, but it has to compete for your attention with strong, melodic guitar and keyboard lines. After that is the slow, simple and shorter “China” and the longer and noisier “Ohio December 24th” which seems like a much more urgent Broken Social Scene track. The EP is rounded out with the angular “Following the Death of Her” and the starkly dynamic “A Thousand Whispers.” In almost every way, this debut EP has the earmarks of the beginnings of something big. The songs are all over the place, but focused and well written enough not to completely lose you, even on the first couple listens. They do have a strong and distinct vocalist, though she rarely outshines the whole band or takes over the songs (at least not for too long at a time). This wouldn’t be too far out of place on the current Sub Pop roster, nor would it be out of its league there. In short, I would keep an eye out for this. Jade Tree Records
Remember the Night Parties In all seriousness, this album is horrible. The band’s bio states, “Like many of the best things, Oxford Collapse started as a joke of sorts”, and it is too bad it did not remain as such. I have heard better high school bands play this type of crap with more creativity. I am not even sure if this band can play anything other than open chords and octaves over and over and over and over again. The vocals are whiny, in an annoying emo kind of way. This is perfect for big corporate radio rock. It also might go over well in auditoriums and colleges, but not at my house. For all practical purposes this is pop emo, which is better than the heartcore emo that has taken over rock in the last few years, but still nothing special or even fun to review. As far as this shit goes, I quit. [Review : Jason Zabby] Sub Pop Records
Hello, Dear Wind Like many similar bands, Page France originally began as a solo project for frontman Michael Nau. Over the course of the last two years, Nau assembled a full band and released a debut full length and two subsequent EP’s (all on Fall Records from his native Baltimore). Along the way, he made the jump to Suicide Squeeze and recorded Hello, Dear Wind. The songs are delicate and straightforward, including the earnestness of Wilco (without the occasionally long-winded pitfalls). He combines it with the more simple and melodic moments off the first Shins record, though leaving out the sometimes effective but often a little nauseating cute factor. The result walks the line between both ends of the spectrum really well. There are moments where it seems like head to far off in one direction or the other. By and large the middle ground is effortlessly maintained, for a collection of songs that are familiar but never boring. Most of the songs are dominated by just acoustic guitar and Nau’s vocals, so I’m curious how they work in a live setting with a four-piece band. Either way, Hello, Dear Wind will likely be many people’s introduction to Page France, as it was for me. It makes a perfect first glance at a songwriter, and now a band that are taking a less is more approach style-wise but landing on something really effective in the process.
Suicide Squeeze Records
Raise The Bullshit Flag I have seen Phoenix Bodies’ name around a lot the last year or so, though this is the first I’ve heard from them. This is their first proper full length, but they’ve already done split releases with frantic hardcore bands from all over, like Shikari, Raein and Enkephalin. They hail from Indiana of all places, though their sound harkens toward bands from either corner of the country, in San Diego and the Northeast. They play genuinely chaotic and initially hard to figure out hardcore in the vein of Usurp Synapse, Clikatat Ikatowi, or a number of other Gravity bands. This is a strong record, though it’s hard not to file it away into its sub-genre pretty quickly. Strong, mostly screamed vocals and creative use of really short, but simple guitar breaks to separate the assault on your senses. The drumming is usually pretty simple, though the rhythms are complicated and constantly changing. There is a similar dichotomy with the guitar parts, which are chaotic overall, though the tone and some of the chords are actually pretty melodic in their own right. The songs are fairly similar from one to the next, though they’re still hard to predict with any regularity (even after a handful of listens). These ten songs only span a little over 15 minutes, but they do pack a lot in. It’s hard not to pigeonhole this pretty quickly, though they’re also one of the better examples of this style I’ve heard in a while.
Holy Roar Records
Raising The Fawn The Maginot Line
90% of the time, vocals will destroy otherwise good music. And it’s the other 10% that usually stands out. This is a band that falls under that 10% margin. Each song on this album is creatively driven and allows room for a noticeable pop sensibility. I am not ashamed to tell you that I danced to this album in the kitchen. Raising The Fawn have been very active in recent times, they have toured with The Stills, and play with heavyweights such as Broken Social Scene on a consistent basis. The only criticism from me is not finding out about them sooner. There’s nothing too groundbreaking about the album, it’s just really good indie pop. It has everything you want from a solid indie rock record: gritty distortion, loud drums, catchy hooks and nice singing. A song that stands out for me is the title track, which starts off with an uplifting guitar
line; it continues and builds with vocals and second guitar entering into the scene. Once things pick up, the mood lifts and intensifies by adding in interesting bass lines and increasing a sense of urgency by raising the volume on everything into a beautiful crescendo. The song reaches its most crucial moment and crashes into a marching and melodic drone, thus returning to a raucous and sexy ending. Pure magic. [Review : Stirling Myles]
Warped Tour peers (think Anti-Flag, or the like) they are a far more legitimate and acceptable starting point for kids who are stuck with finding out about punk rock through commercial radio and mall stores.
The Rum Diary
We’re Afraid Of Heights Tonight
Sonic Unyon Records
The Sufferer & The Witness If there truly is any such thing as “major label punk rock” in this day in age (which I guess the jury is still out on), it is built on compromise and lots of it. Rise Against are no stranger to that, after landing on MTV after the release of their DGC debut a couple of years ago. The catch? It was with a video for “Swing Life Away,” a catchy but fairly cheesy ballad that sounds little, if anything, like any of their other songs then or now. Determined not to fall into the typical major label punk band-turned FM radio fodder trap (or at least not fall into it again), Rise Against headed back to the Blasting Room to record their follow up to Siren Song for the Counter Culture. (We can discuss the fairly amazing irony of that title for a major label debut another time). They set out to run, at least a little bit, from the more predictable and frankly overproduced elements of Siren Song. By about half way through the fourth song here, they have, at the very least succeeded in large part at doing that. The record is built almost exclusively on the things that originally sent the band on such a steep upward trajectory on their two Fat releases. A combination of quick and melodic riffs, with fairly buried (but still recognizable) rhythmic and structural nods to late 80’s hardcore. Singer Tim McIlrath’s voice has always been all but perfect for their style, even if it is probably suited ONLY for this style of melodic hardcore. The highlights here are pronounced, and all share one thing in common: they stay very much within the bounds of what Rise Against does best. The album’s closer, “Survive” is a great example, a melodic (but never cheesy) guitar part with a heavy and huge breakdown in the middle… Other standout tracks are “Drones” and the more melodic “The Approaching Curve.” There is one botched ballad here, “Roadside,” which is well sung, but falls pretty flat even before the half-baked string part comes in. Overall though, The Sufferer & The Witness isn’t the most relevant, exciting, or threatening punk rock record of the year. But held up against most of their major label or
We’re Afraid Of Heights Tonight represents the third time I’ve gotten a Rum Diary record for review. It’ll also be the third time that I’ll be shouting from the rooftops about how they’re the best mellow indie rock band no one seems to have actually heard of. Their songs have always seemed really carefully crafted, though after spending ten months writing for this record it’s even more the case now. This time around they enlisted the help of Paul Jenkins of Black Heart Procession/Three Mile Pilot and Tim Mooney of American Music Club to help produce the record. Throughout their career, persistent (but largely pretty fair) comparisons to Three Mile Pilot have always seemed to pop up. I’m sure that will be the case even more now and it’s hardly a bad thing, though there is more going on here than just that. The songs are all pretty slow developing, though they all do go somewhere. That’s the difference between slow developing and long-winded, The Rum Diary’s songs get there slowly, but they do end up in a different place from song to song. Thanks to smooth transitions and more subtle twists and turns than you’d expect, they are all well worth the journey. We’re Afraid Of Heights Tonight won’t leap off the table at you, but it is one of the most finely crafted records of this genre you’ll find anywhere. Devil In The Woods
back up their biting lyrics with more brains than you’ll usually see from similar punk bands. The band hails from Los Angeles and have put together an intense and impressive debut full length overall. They are a power trio made up of well-known photographer Aaron Farley on guitar, Chris Burnett on bass (with Farley taking on most, but not all of the vocals) and drummer Dave Ferrara. Ferrara hadn’t joined the band when they recorded this, so ex-Mars Volta drummer Jon Theodore played on four songs and Erin Garcia (Brother Reade) did the rest. The band’s sound is hard not to trace just South of the band’s actual home, with San Diego bands like Drive Like Jehu or even Swing Kids getting stylistic nods here. There is also a little more straight ahead hardcore feeling here, despite slower tempos on a number of the songs. This doesn’t need frantic tempos to maintain intensity, with well-written breakdowns and choppy rhythms that keep things moving throughout the record. The combination of angular post-punk and angry, almost cut time hardcore (think Tragedy) isn’t exactly groundbreaking. But it’s done really well, with tightly constructed songs and perfect production from Alex Newport (who hasn’t done something so good in a while). Sabertooth Tiger isn’t reinventing the wheel on any of the eleven songs on their first proper full length. But they’re also taking something well established and getting a lot more mileage out of it than any similar new bands. This is a powerful, clearly defined and infinitely pissed record. But it also has enough brains, musically and lyrically, to have a lot of staying power as well. I tend to be a fan of most of what GSL puts out, and this is still one of the best records they’ve done in some time. If you ever believed in the real power of punk rock, this will be a refreshing reminder to you of exactly why. GSL Records
Extinction is Inevitable The annoying, but undeniable line between “political” punk bands, and other punk bands has always been there. It’s not that every punk band needs to be handing out animal rights brochures at their shows, but the fact that the term “political punk band” even needs to be uttered is problematic for me. I hesitate to use the term at all, but I guess these days it’s sort of inevitable and I’m going to have to lob it at Sabertooth Tiger. Their songs, and both videos that are included on the enhanced portion take on pretty well worn topics like poverty and governmental and corporate apathy toward human rights. But they do it in a more thorough and thoughtful way than usual, and more than
Planes Mistaken For Stars Mercy After most of a decade spent as a band, and almost as many lineup changes as members, it’s sort of hard for me to believe that this is actually only Planes third proper full length. As always, there were a number of changes in the Planes camp since Up In Them Guts came out two years ago. Most notably, guitarist and singer Matt Bellinger left the band to pursue his then side project, Ghost Buffalo. They also left their longtime home at No Idea in favor of Abacus Recordings. This afforded them one very important thing: recording with Matt Bayles in Seattle (Mastodon, Isis, etc.). While Up In Them Guts featured a couple of Planes’ best songs to date, the production just didn’t fit the band and it held back some of their intensity (especially in Gared’s voice). But this time, Bayles did a great job capturing the whole band’s live wall of sound and refining it into an intense, but still crystal clear recording. The biggest difference is Gared’s voice, which is stronger than it has ever been and never doubled. His vocals were usually double, or triple tracked on each of their previous recordings. It worked for the most part, and added to the haunting quality of his voice. But this time around the double tracking is gone, and his voice is even stronger, and much more feral than its ever been. This adds a similar, but somehow completely new dimension to most of the record. There is something that’s more cohesive overall about Mercy than any previous Planes records. At first, this makes it seem almost too smooth or even-keeled. But the more I listened to this, the more I realized that it was just a newfound consistency and straightforwardness, brought out by the songwriting and the production. This is perhaps most obvious on “Crooked Mile,” the second track on the record, and probably Planes’ first ever candidate to be a legitimate single. A choppy, but darkly melodic chorus combines back and forth vocals in a way that will pull in uninitiated listeners much faster than anything they’ve done. But thanks to a razor-sharp verse and humungous breakdown in the middle, it doesn’t have to trade any power for a more accessible moment. Not long after it comes “To Spit A Sparrow,” one of the most ominous songs to date by a band known for ominous songs. It also features the best vocal performance of the record, showing off both the growl
Scissorfight Jaggernaut I love Scissorfight. Scream it out! Shout it from the hilltops! This is an incredible album. Scissorfight sounds like no one else. They mix the crunch, groove, and tonguein--cheek lyrics to create a masterpiece EVERY TIME. This band grabbed me by the short and curlies with Mantrapping for Sport and Profit, and I have been hooked ever since. Jaggernaut brings forth the beast, and is by far my favorite album they have recorded to date. It starts off with the crusher “Dynamite” and proceeds to kick your ass from then on. “Victory Over Horseshit” is track two, previously available on the EP of the same name. “This is the sound
of previous records as well as newfound range. Other highlights that find a middle ground between the extremes of the two songs above include the angular, screeching “Killed By Killers Who Kill Each Other” and the slow and uncommonly patient buildup of the title track. Planes have come a long way, and been through a lot collectively since the start of the band. Each of their three full lengths have found a new wrinkle to their sound, while working as a continuation as well (despite constant changes off-stage). But Mercy seems like the biggest leap for the band yet in a number of ways. It’s on a larger, much more anonymous label, though it afforded them easily the best production they’ve ever had. It obviously challenged them individually, especially vocally, and it completely paid off. The slightly more glossy sound will turn off the Heartattack, “I have their first 7”’ club, but no one ever listens to those kids anyway. Mercy fucking owns.
C : J. Narcy
Sparrows Swarm and Sing
Untitled II & O’Shenandoah, Mighty Death Will Find Me Hailing from New England, Sparrows Swarm and Sing are fast becoming one of the strongest new torchbearers for epic slow-core. Both of these new releases are similar, but distinct enough to be worth tracking down individually. Untitled II is seeing its first proper CD release, after being available previously only on LP. It features three tracks, which make up one seamless composition, covering almost a full half hour. Their songs rely mostly on continuous and dynamic string arrangements, but they’re accented with slow guitar and found audio (think Godspeed) as well as odd percussion. The result is both uncommonly soothing and epically intense at the same time. The middle point of the 17-minute third track startles the listener with a sudden addition of solid and suitable drumming. It’s a step or two faster than I would expect from the first couple tracks, though they manage the sudden transition in tempo and timbre well. It shows off the band’s tasteful composing, but also their versatility and works as a great introduction to Sparrows Swarm and Sing. O’Shenandoah… is the band’s slightly more recent proper full length. It features only four separate tracks, though it covers just shy of 80 minutes. The opening track, “Across Canyons/Canons” could legitimately be a full release on its own, at almost half an hour. It establishes a more varied and discordant sound than they presented on Untitled II, with more prominent guitar work. More obvious than that is the addition of dual drum sets, which makes for a more jarring and angular sound. They manage to keep most of their more soothing intensity, but it’s broken up well with fluid, noisy drumming and even xylophone. There is also consistent, though still pretty intermittent use of gang
that nobody digs!” belts lead vocalist Ironlung. From the opener to the ending rocker Jaggernaut, this album will rock your socks off. Check out “Backwoods”, “Appalachian Chain”, “Jaggernaut”, “Mange”, and “The Dredge” to have a piledriver pound directly into your skull. These guys are halfway between the announcer on a boxing match to AC/ DC’s ass-kicking cousins from New Hampshire. There are few bands that can say “We give it our all”, but Scissorfight will force you to give your all as well. You cannot sit still while listening to this album, which makes typing a review very difficult. These songs are so goddamn catchy that you will be chanting them wherever you go – “Just another casualty – of Backwoods – Motherfuckery!” I love this disc. The only problem is that you cannot play this album quietly. Crank it up, because fuck the neighbors anyway. [Review : Pat Dixon]
Hydra Head Records
Scouts Honor I Am The Dust
Scouts Honor’s second full length starts off much like their first: sounding a lot like early Against Me. This is partly because of their overall approach, but mostly because of the similarities between Jared Grabb and Tom’s vocals. But it doesn’t take long for them to step completely out from the shadow of Against Me (which, incidentally was also the case on Roots in Gasoline, their outstanding debut). With the addition of a third member, bassist Jared Grabb, Scouts Honor’s sound is more detailed and often deep, though it isn’t too different overall. I’m all for progression and there is some of that here, but in their case I’m also glad they didn’t tinker too much with a good thing. This is simultaneously a punk rock record and an angry country or Americana throwback, though it couldn’t be further from alt-country either. They are often at their best on the slower songs, especially “The Songs They Sing,” but some of the louder, angrier songs stand out as well (see “Joshua” and “Like Death, I Will Come For You,” the huge, choppy closer). Whether it’s one of the more traditionally punk rock sounding songs, or one of the acoustic-based more folk or country songs, Scouts Honor’s vibe is similar. It’s angry, but thoughtful and basic and still interesting and layered. Outside of early Against Me, you can also find leanings toward Avail’s swaying anthems and Merle Haggard’s angriest moments (sometimes in the same song). Instead of alt-country twang, they use the more guttural and almost soulful elements of country and folk music. The difference is subtle on the surface, but really helps to set them apart from similar genre benders, past and present. The result is a record that could beat the crap out of Wilco, but is much more thoughtful and nuanced than most any acoustic-heavy punk band at the same time. No Idea Records
vocals throughout the record. This works well, in a more advanced, but similar way to A Silver Mt. Zion. Sparrows’ earlier record established the band as some of the best new purveyors of strings within the framework of epic indie rock. But they’ve taken everything they accomplished with that and added outstanding guitar and drum parts seamlessly. Over the course of more than 90 minutes, both of these releases establish Sparrows Swarm and Sing as one of the most relevant and complete new epic indie rock bands I’ve heard in some time.
Perpetual Motion Machine (Untitled II) Magic Bullet Records (O’Shenandoah)
Silence The Foe
Silence The Foe is a Norwegian hardcore band with a sound obviously inspired by the following greats: Frodus, Refused, and Converge. In fact, Frodus vocalist Shelby Cinca makes an appearance on five of the seven songs on this release. The tracks included on the band’s second EP, Sweet Sweet Suicide are deliberately rough around the edges, and the band is unequivocally solid throughout. STF plays in lab coats and SARS masks live, and it’s a fucking shame they don’t make it to the States more often. This disc also features two music videos, one for the song “Chaotic Mind” and one for “Playing With The Old Me.” Both clips give the listener a sense of what the band would be like in a live setting, and honestly they just make me want to go buy the band’s other releases: an earlier EP and seven inch. Silence The Foe are fascinating in that “I told you bands from Norway rock, man” way. If you haven’t had that conversation with your roommate yet, you better grab this disc and strike it. [Review : Derik Hendrickson]
For seven years, Strike Anywhere has consistently been a band that can have it both ways. They play gritty, cut time hardcore mixed with viciously catchy and melodic punk rock and clearly defined, idealistic lyrics. This is far from being a new recipe, but Strike Anywhere have always found the perfect mixture to keep it familiar and fresh at the same time. When their first full length, Change Is A Sound came out it was one of my favorite punk records in years. In some ways, it still is. The follow-up to it, Exit English was still really good, but seemed just a little too refined at some points. It was still outstanding, but not quite the leap forward from their earlier recordings that I was hoping for. Having always been a band that can generally avoid common pitfalls, I wasn’t as worried as some of their longtime followers last year when they jumped from Jade Tree to Fat. And it’s pretty obvious from the opening moments of “Sedition” that Strike Anywhere is back in a big way on Dead FM. This is, in a lot of ways, Strike Anywhere’s most immediately accessible record to date. But given a couple listens, it’s also much more aggressive in almost any way than Exit English. The combination of catchy riffs and vocal lines with choppy East Coast hardcore rhythms and structure is hardly a new one, but Strike Anywhere are doing it better than just about anyone (especially these days). The shortest bursts here tend to be the best, especially “Allies” and “Hollywood Cemetary” both of which hover below two minutes each. But the slightly longer and slower “Instinct” is another standout, and probably the most complete song here (and one of the most complete that Strike Anywhere have ever written). Lyrically and musically, Dead FM is straightforward and honest, but also complete, well thought out and refreshing enough to stick. If Dead FM doesn’t cement these guys as one of the best melodic punk rock bands still functioning, I don’t know what will.
Sweet Sweet Suicide
Sinking Ships Disconnecting
Hailing from Seattle, Sinking Ships straddle a number of decades without ever leaving their fairly comfortable niche. There is an obvious dose of the energy and cut-time rhythms of melodic youth crew, but they also use more melodic guitar melodies and sometimes melodic vocals to give this a more modern edge. There is always a fine line between melodic hardcore, and poppy hardcore. Even during their handful of downright catchy moments, Sinking Ships are able to maintain something that’s both aggressive and melodic, without ever ending up simply poppy. In My Eyes isn’t a bad starting point during the band’s faster moments, both musically and vocally. But there are some fairly obvious and some subtle departures from the youth crew revival formula throughout. Usually these end up leaning toward more the melodic end of Sinking Ships’ sound, and in the end they’re what really make the record. The intro to the standout “Ghost Story” is the most obvious example. It’s probably the most overtly melodic song on the record, as well as one of the longest at almost three and a half minutes. “Give Up,” the strong, angrier opener and “Comfort” the equally impressive closer make perfect bookends to the record as well. Sinking Ships never reinvent the wheel on their debut record, but they are so proficient and subtly adventurous within their sound that they never have to. Disconnecting is one of those records you’ll have pretty well figured out the first time you put it on, but the devil is in the details. And in this case, they are well on the side of Sinking Ships, so the result is a strong, standout debut. It won’t change the way you think about modern melodic hardcore, but it may restore some of your faith in it. Revelation Records
Fat Wreck Chords
From Silence There is something to be said about growing up with the same guys that you’re in a band with. There’s a chemistry that is unbeatable and a progression that each musician brings to the band. Tides is an instrumental quartet, delving into the trippy atmospheres that would otherwise be disturbed by vocals. From Silence is a three song EP with some exceptionally well-developed songs. It starts off with “The Sight,” a five-plus minute journey into the mind. Relocating from upstate New York to Boston, this quartet brings a distant and warm glow to the instrumental music world. This is not a fast album, despite it only being 20 minutes long. It weaves an intricate web that is so fluid that the name “Tides” fits perfectly. This band knows their instruments and really shows how tight they can be from playing so long together. It’s atmospheric, deep, slow, brooding, dark and very good. “Unveiled” is track two, the “short” song on the EP at four minutes on the dot. Tribal rhythms bring an excitement to
the song, while still preserving the floating feeling made by the reverberation throughout the rest of the music. The disc closes with “In Their Arms,” an eleven minute long “outro” that includes some of the best riffs the band presents on this three tune EP. This disc is heavy, warm, and just exceptionally good. Check ‘em out! [Review : Pat Dixon] Teenage Disco Bloodbath
Tight Phantomz/Tornavalanche Split 7”
This split 7” is the first I’ve heard from either of these fairly new Midwestern bands. Tornavalanche hail from Iowa City and feature three members from the outstanding, and tragically short-lived Ten Grand. The lineup is rounded out by two members from the similarly noteworthy Milwaukee powerhouse, Forstella Ford. I had pretty high hopes for this, since it’s at least half of two bands I really enjoyed. This is pretty similar to what I expected, if not a little bit slower overall. They contribute one song, called ���The First Gold Split 7”,’ which is a choppy, but infectious mid-tempo track. It’s pretty slow developing, but it earns its length with a lot of changes and stop/start rhythms. It reminds me of a slightly more patient version of what you’d expect if you combined Ten Grand and Forstella Ford. They have a new EP coming out soon on Level-Plane, and this is a great teaser for that. Tight Phantomz is a Chicago band that has already released two records on Southern, which I’ve somehow managed to completely miss out on. Their sound is considerably easier to sum up than Tornavalanche’s, though it isn’t easy to write off at the same time. They play uncompromising and angry 70’s rock and roll, which sounds like a much more melodic and complex Motorhead. There are also pretty obvious nods to early AC/DC. Their contribution, “Sickening” is strong and actually really catchy in a way that isn’t exactly poppy, but still got stuck in my head. It’s a surprisingly interesting song, for something that I would label as somewhat of a throwback band. The quick tempo and intricate musicianship (especially for this style) helps to set it apart from most similar bands in just one song here. Though this only features one song by each band, it’s a great introduction to both, or a worthwhile addition to your collection if you’re already into either. Both songs are awesome, and I’m looking forward to picking up longer releases by both bands. So, in short, this accomplished exactly what any good split 7” is supposed to accomplish. Modern Radio/Exotic Fever
Comes To Your House When I received my package of records to review for this issue, I took one look at this promo disc cover, dreaded
the task of reviewing it, and immediately put this at the bottom of the stack. I could not have been more wrong. England’s TODD delivers a heavy blast of straightforward metal noise. One could label TODD’s sound as doom or something similar, but this is just metal in my book. Imagine the Melivns, Carcass and Unsane…. only heavier; on par with early Today Is The Day. I even hear elements of old Season To Risk at times. To truly listen to Comes To Your House, you need to turn that stereo up and let the sonic blast of noise carve into every square inch of your flesh. It is that fuckin’ metal, but it was the traditional electronic noise layered in most of the songs that I dig the most. I was not surprised to find out that TODD is fronted by Craig Clouse, formerly of Crown Roast (and a short-lived stint in Hammerhead). Their bio describes them as a hardcore Jesus Lizard, but I am not hearing it. If they are referring to the incredible drumming and tight rhythms, then I guess you could say that. Even though I think this is a good record, after several listens it becomes obvious the record is redundant. I quickly found myself attracted to the next button on several occasions. However, there was one exception, “Chair Fight”, which began with a sludgy guitar riff accompanied by steady heavy drums that reminded me of Unsane. I wish there were more songs like it. According to their bio, TODD uses an old Casio keyboard. On most songs it’s buried in the mix, noticeable only if know to listen for it. However, there are times on the record when it is more prominent. One such example is on the song “Black Skull”, which is a very suave, electronic/industrial sounding tune, which makes great use of the Casio keyboard noise. Overall I love the heaviness of the drums and guitar riffs on this record, but the fact that it is a bit repetitive, makes it a struggle to continue listening to this as you get further into it. This should not change the fact that it is still a cool record. There will be elements you love to hate, and my opinion should not stop you from checking this band out, especially if you are a fan of boisterous, well constructed and arranged metal. [Review : Jason Zabby] Southern Records
United States Divorce Songs
Based in Brooklyn, United States is comprised of exmembers of metro area stalwarts such as the Insurgent, the Assistant, and Sometimes Walking Sometimes Running. This was one of my favorite releases of this issue. Divorce Songs consists of eight stripped down, but still catchy post hardcore tracks that show a variety of influences and are executed with their own signature. Some reference points useful in describing United States’ sound are Cursive, Q and Not U, the more accessible Sonic Youth stuff, and Fugazi. The album opens with the title track, which is a good starting point for the album. It is raw and urgent sounding, but with catchy vocals and a measured use of distortion.
This Will Destroy You Young Mountain Young Mountain was originally self-released by the band, though Magic Bullet is now making it widely available for the first time. Not terribly unlike fellow Texans Explosions In The Sky, these guys take a typical rock band setup and turn it into an epic and cascading instrumental sensory overload. Though they share quite a bit with Explosions, or early Mogwai, there is more to it than that. All things being equal, this is straightforward, but still one of the best instrumental records I’ve gotten all year. Given the fact that Young Mountain is This Will Destroy You’s debut record, (a CDR release that was only sold at the band’s shows) it’s even more noteworthy. The six songs here represent a somewhat short full length for this style, at just over 35 minutes. But despite slow tempos and generally pretty long sections, this still packs a lot in. Many of the structural and genre-specific aspects of this aren’t brand new ideas, but these guys manage to string them together in a way that’s more immediately appealing than most of their peers. Despite this quick appeal, there still is quite a bit going for this on closer inspection and repeat listens. Glacial, but loud slow-motion guitar riffs dominate your attention on most of the songs. They’re accompanied by slow, but still heavy-handed rhythm section work. This is where the apt, but incomplete comparisons to Mogwai will inevitably come from. The best example of this is in the huge and infinitely satisfying closing to the record on “There Are Some Remedies Worse Than Disease.” The whole song works as one patient, but still fucking loud dynamic arch. It earns every bit of its six-plus minutes with a gigantic climax, which works as a payoff for the whole song, and in some ways the full half hour before it.
“Radio On” and “Apartments” were the two other songs on this disc that really held my attention. The only song I found myself skipping over on repeat listens was “Grand Stand”, a slow and plodding track that lacks the punch and imagination of the rest of the album. Lyrically, United States tackle subjects both personal and political and are able to do it without falling victim to the shallowness and clichés that often plague bands in this genre. Listening to and enjoying music is a subjective endeavor, especially in the post-everything world, so I am aware this is just my opinion, but I think United States are clearly one of the better bands doing this kind of thing today. If you like the bands mentioned above or are just into independent rock music in general, I strongly suggest you check this band out. One quick note: I have always thought United States would be a cool name for a band. In a way I am upset someone beat me to it, but on the other hand I am glad my artistic/appellation vision has been brought to fruition. And considering the chances of me ever having a band to name being extremely slim, this is probably the best I could hope for. [Review : Andre Medrano]
Iron Pier Records
The Velvet Teen Cum Laude
Few bands have been able to migrate sounds from one release to the next in as complete and graceful a way as The Velvet Teen. I first heard them on their second record, Out Of The Fierce Parade, which showcased singer Judah Nagler’s soaring vocals and heavy-handed but bouncy and melodic indie rock. It alternated between slower, lush ballads and more upbeat, melodic rock songs. But the constants were bright, meandering guitar and bass lines and Nagler’s voice. Next up was Elysium, which replaced the guitar parts with ambitious piano parts and melodic rock with winding and unpredictable linear epics. Both releases worked equally well, establishing The Velvet Teen as sort of a “band to watch” in many circles (and rightfully so). On Cum Laude, which is two years in the making, they manage to land somewhere in between the best things about their previous releases. They also expand their sound at the same time, making it, without a doubt the band’s crowning achievement. They rely heavily on more driving, and occasionally meandering rhythm section work. But they’ve added noisy keyboards and bright IDM electronics, along with a heavy dose of melodic guitar and bass riffs. Nagler’s voice is again a central point for the sound, though there are, at times, sort of odd effects on it (which usually work). The songs all work together, with subtle shifts in sound from one to the next. But over the course of the whole record, that gradual movement adds up to a wide-ranging effort. The standout track, “Gyzmkid” is actually the album’s closer. It has a soaring and huge chorus, but also sports some of the most straightforward riffs of the
Throughout the rest of the record, tasteful, cold electronics and sparsely (but effectively) used strings both help to highlight everything else without ever taking away from it. These four guys can pull off so much with just guitars, bass and drums that they hardly need the extra instrumentation. But the few times it does appear, it’s definitely an asset. Though this doesn’t have the epic length of some of its peers, Young Mountain has more of an epic scope than many much longer records from much larger bands. All comparisons aside, this is one of the best instrumental records of any sub-genre I’ve heard in a long time.
Magic Bullet Records
Chad VanGaalen Skelliconnection
Chad VanGaalen’s outstanding debut, Infiniheart came, quite literally, out of nowhere last year. The record was culled from literally hundreds of home recordings, made in VanGaalen’s basement over the preceding years somewhere near Calgary, Alberta. After being discovered, Sub Pop helped VanGaalen dig through all of his compiled material for what would become one of the most surprising indie rock records of the year. Now he’s back with Skelliconnection, which was culled from well more than the record’s fifteen tracks, though not nearly as many as on his first record. The result is, not surprisingly, a more cohesive and well-rounded effort. It’s essentially exactly what I was hoping for out of VanGaalen’s sophomore release. It’s at times a bit more straightforward and rock-influenced than he’s ever been. But some of the more haunting songs are just as fragile and off-kilter as anything on Infiniheart. This combination is evident in the record’s opening songs, with the slow acoustic “Sing Me To Sleep” setting the tone perfectly. Then it’s followed by probably the most rock-influenced song he’s ever done on the driving, drum and fuzz guitar-driven “Flower Gardens”. The rest of the songs explore the territory within and mostly between these two extremes. “Mini TV’s” is a definite standout track about halfway through the record, with a slow but melodic chorus. It reminds me a bit of older Modest Mouse, and not just because of
whole record. The combination of brains, often-unpredictable electronics and effects and more melodic instincts than many far more poppy bands, adds up to The Velvet Teen’s best records. It’s also only semi-surprisingly, one of the best melodic indie rock records I’ve gotten in some time. Slowdance Records
From Anger and Range There isn’t a single thing about Verse’s second full length that plays the band’s cards close to their chest. They play simple, basic and pissed off hardcore. While everything about the band seems very plainly and unequivocally presented, it isn’t as simple as a lot of similar bands either. Hailing from Rhode Island, they have members that used to be in The Distance (Bridge 9) and What Feeds The Fire. Like a lot of these bands, I actually like them a little more during the slower, longer songs. The towering, mid-tempo “Start A Fire” is the longest song here, and one of my favorites. Similar to Modern Life Is War, they use ominous guitar chords and slow-motion rhythms to build up a ton of intensity. There is also a sort of angular breakdown that appears a couple times, but isn’t necessarily the focal point of the song (though it easily could be). The title track is another of the longer tracks, and is another standout for sure. Its first minute is a slow buildup, which is followed by probably the most instantly intriguing riff of the whole record. Verse uses a lot of common twists and turns, combining late youth crew rhythms, with more involved and modern structures not unlike label mates Another Breath. They are a little more heavy-handed, with sparse drumming that works really well to establish a ton of tension throughout the record. These guys manage to take all of the anthemic qualities of so many similar bands, and avoid some of the familiar cop-outs that those same bands use. This mostly involves slower tempos and less constant picking and drum fills. It gives the songs a little breathing room, and channels some of its energy into overall intensity, instead of just speed. The result is a somewhat familiar, but still noteworthy hardcore record. The songs vary quite a bit in approach and length, which also helps add depth to a pretty straightforward approach. Great stuff. Rivalry Records
Versus The Mirror Home
Let’s face it, no matter how you slice it, this is yet another semi-melodic hardcore band. It was thankfully recorded sans Pro Tools (which is hardly a huge deal, though it is pretty uncommon for similar bands). Home was produced by the same guy who has worked with The Bled, among other pretty similar bands. This isn’t a surprise as Versus The Mirror shares both a home state (Arizona) and most every musical trait with The Bled. The guitar parts are usually melodic, but fairly simple. The rhythm section is closer to what I’d call typical hardcore fare with enough
the harmonica and keyboard accents (though they don’t hurt either). The harmonica makes another really strong appearance on “Dead Ends” another one of the louder, and stronger songs on the whole record. The story that goes along with Chad VanGaalen’s discovery and his entry into proper music recording on Infiniheart was part of the reason the record was so intriguing. But with an even stronger second release, it’s obvious that he’s here to stay. Combining elements of the isolation inherent in basement recording, with some strong elements from many heavy hitters in the last decade of indie rock make for a record that’s practically perfect from beginning to end. Sub Pop Records
stop and start sections to keep things moving along. This style of hardcore has never been known for great vocal ranges in general. Though Versus The Mirror is more of an extreme case, as there is literally one solitary sound that the singer can make leave his mouth. The vocals could have probably been set to a drum trigger, since they are EXACTLY the same in every section of every song. This is a problem that has always plagued hardcore bands, though when combined with the more melodic guitar parts, it makes the lack of variety even more obvious. Unlike some other similarly afflicted bands, at least the one sound the kid can make is pretty decent (unlike the always irritating Chihuahua bark of label mates Fear Before The March Of Flames’ first records). But unfortunately, this only takes Versus The Mirror from annoying on up to boring. I guess it’s a start. Lately though, the more boring I find these “hardcore” bands, the bigger they seem to get. So that said, I hope Versus The Mirror spends all the money they make on black and hot pink t-shirts on something nice. Equal Vision Records
Whisky & Co.
Leaving the Nightlife Whisky & Co. hail from Gainesville, Florida and are among the growing legion of punk rock kids playing in country music bands, a trend which I think is cool beyond the initial novelty. I am not a country music connoisseur, but I appreciate it when it’s done well and I did enjoy this album, the second by W&C. There is not a lot of happiness in any of these songs. Most or all of the songs are about either A) drinking (sometimes in a good way, sometimes not) or B) regret and nostalgia for a long lost love. The genre is not known for sunshine so I suppose this shouldn’t come as a shock. Generally speaking the lyrics are not lengthy, so the tales are told on a basic level. However, Whisky & Co. use this to their advantage by crafting catchy and memorable choruses that induce instant sing-along’s. Vocalist Kim Helm’s voice is clearly the driving force of this band and it sounds as if the songs are written to support and showcase her voice, which they do very effectively. References that come to mind are Natalie Merchant (particularly her solo stuff) and that one chick from the Dixie Chicks (I don’t know any of their names). “Tail Lights” and “Never Said Nothing” feature guitarist Brian Johnson joining Helm in impressive male/female duets. Although the songs are not complex they do throw in some surprises like fiddle and lap-steel, which gives Leaving the Nightlife a sort of defining mark. “Nightlife” “Happy Hour” and “A Drink For You” were the songs I liked best on here. And while I recognize the merits “Tail Lights” and “How I Wish” it’s best to go easy on those unless you are already in a bummed-out mood. In which case, dive in. Whisky & Co round out the album with a cover of “Clocks and Spoons” by John Prine. If you are averse to country as a rule you won’t like this, but otherwise I recommend checking out Leaving The Nightlife. [Review : Andre Medrano] No Idea Records
Surface the Vessel William Goodyear made his mark in the music world as part of heavy bands such as Hopesfall and Between the Buried and Me. A few years ago he went off on his own and released an album entitled Tints and Shades. Some time has passed and over the last two years Goodyear has been amassing material that has come together as his second solo album, Surface the Vessel. The press sheet says the album deals with, “the artistic ups and downs of day-to-day life.” Unfortunately, lyrics are not included with the CD, which makes it difficult to appreciate this in full, particularly because solo projects like this usually feature lyrics as a focus. Musically, this was a bit different than what I expected. The best way I can describe Surface the Vessel is an intricate, refined solo version of the early 90’s “Seattle sound.” That might be a circuitous comparison to draw, but after multiple listens, it seems accurate to me. Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, and that kind of stuff as a base, with the touches of a unilaterally constructed solo project. Goodyear crafts each song with attention to detail and uses ingredients carefully. The songs are melodic, but not all-out catchy sing-along’s. The song “Portrait Soul” stands apart from the rest of the album as a pleasant, bouncy electronics filled track that reminds me a bit of the Faint. Surface the Vessel surprised me, and that is something I always appreciate, but it’s probably not something I will put on often. There will probably be devotees of Goodyear’s previous bands that will check this out, as well as fans of other more subdued rock, both of whom will find something to appreciate. [Review : Andre Medrano]
Wires On Fire Self-Titled
Wires On Fire the band have made Wires On Fire the album, and it is pretty awesome. I think along with United States, it was my favorite record of this batch for review. When I got the package I was intrigued. They are definitely an up and coming band in the mainstream sense having collected a favorable review from Alternative Press and adding a song to the soundtrack for Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes. When bands get built up like that it is often difficult for them to deliver, which made this record that much better for me. In a general sense this is a rock’n’roll record in the vein of Rocket From the Crypt and Hot Snakes, but Wires On Fire aren’t just a carbon copy of that sound. There are some more drawn out parts and the band includes some less aggressive influences to produce twelve songs that keep the listener interested from start to finish. The first three tracks are not very fast or explosive and the first time through the record I thought this band might be something completely different. It’s not to say those songs aren’t good, but the middle of the album delivers an infectious punch with songs like “Stallions” and “Dusty Bibles Lead to Dirty Lives” bringing out the rock that this band will make its calling card. One of the dudes just graduated high school, which I think is kind of cool. Also the cover
and the booklet of this CD have a weird vagina/tongue theme. It’s strange and I am not going to try to explain it, but maybe you take a look and come away “getting it” more than I did. Overall, I really liked this album and think you will too. [Review : Andre Medrano] Buddyhead Records
Wrong Day To Quit Vicissitudes
This is a new band featuring members from You And I, and The Assistant, both of which are notable in small, but tight circles. Both were choppy and intense post-hardcore bands, so in many ways Wrong Day To Quit’s sound is no surprise. They do add a number of welcome new wrinkles in the process, which makes for a noteworthy debut record. A trade-off between screamed, metal-style vocals and melodic (but still forcefully-sung) female vocals is the first thing that sticks out about this. Radically different vocal styles that are smashed together in the same song is hardly a new idea, and it’s really prevalent these days. But Wrong Day To Quit switch between the two at unpredictable intervals, and choose each ones’ spots, so it works really well throughout the record. The few times they use both at the same time it also works surprisingly well, despite the awkward combination. In fact, I actually wish they’d do it a bit more. “The Boss Has Left The Building” is the best example of this, and it’s also probably the best song on the record overall. All eight songs operate on slightly different rhythms, with structures that vary from really basic to pretty tough to figure out. “Pick Your Battle” features Leigh Schlatter’s best vocal performance of the whole record, with a soaring and melodic line over a mid-tempo rhythm. It’s combined with aggressively melodic guitar riffs that wind together perfectly and just haphazardly enough to maintain their intensity. All of Vicissitudes features some of the best things about Northeastern post-hardcore (think Saetia and their “ex-members” resume) with much more melodic (but rarely fully poppy) rock influences. Instead of switching between the two extremes all the time, they usually mix the two together. It’s hard to do, but well executed here. The space between the two extremes is what makes Wrong Day To Quit a new band to keep an eye on, and their debut well worth hunting down for fans of smart, but still frantic post-hardcore. Exotic Fever Records
In the Reptile House I’ve got a riddle for you. What do you get when you take two art school dropouts who heard that analog synths are
cool and used their suburban parents’ money to start a great collection while nurturing dreams of becoming the next and more tongue-in-cheek Kraftwerk, and mix it with a children’s amusement park merry-go-round, and a musically malfunctioning Nintendo? That’s right: Yip Yip. Though I can’t confirm the source of the small fortune it must’ve taken to build their admittedly impressive arsenal (from specialized Moogs to esoteric Casios), or their college background, one thing’s for sure: This band was clearly more interested in the concept of the music than making the music itself. One look at their website will show you what Yip Yip was aiming for. And I suppose they attained it, much to the chagrin of our ears. “California Fart” provides the most obvious example of this aural atrocity; a caustic drum n’ bass intro, which segues into an unidentified amalgam of, well, noise. It provides one of the more obnoxious sound palettes I’ve heard in a while. Don’t get me wrong. I can appreciate humor. But not when it’s at the expense of musical taste. Don’t forget: Mr. Bungle was both humorous and musically enticing. But if you’re just going for a laugh factor, leave the analog synths to people who can use them skillfully and head on down to the nearest comedy open mic. [Review : Nick Cox]
Your Black Star
Sound From the Ground Though unfortunate, it is often that a band establishes their sound in the first few seconds of the record, and, for better or worse, is locked into that pigeonhole for the remainder of it. Your Black Star is no exception to this rule, as the opening minutes of Sound From the Ground deviate strikingly little from the entirety of U2’s catalog. (You make the judgment call.) Further, the remainder of the record does little to redeem this fact; by the thirtieth second of the second song, you’re thinking both, “Didn’t I just hear this song?” and “Did Bono and the Edge spearhead an unbelievably less well-known and less hook-oriented side project?” In an age where almost every conceivable novelty, sound, or idea has already been exploited, sat dormant, revisited by revivalists, parodied, remixed, and then diverged from, starting the cycle anew, you tend to want anything but what you’ve already heard. So rest assured, when you miss this release from this Louisville, Kentucky trio, you actually haven’t missed anything. Even the quasi-interesting guitar intros fail to salvage an otherwise rehashed release. One can say, however, that what Your Black Star does, they do well. Still, it is a bit too well, translating to formulaic sound collections. At the best points of the record, it does little more than frustrate listeners, hinting at what the band might have been able to accomplish, had they chosen to take the path
Subliminal Genocide Xasthur started out in 1995, and featured a full band lineup (or at least other members) until 1999. Since then, the band has been only one person, who calls himself Malefic. He has maintained a pretty staunchly underground presence in the scattered (to put it lightly) American black metal scene. Though all the while he has released 5 full length and 5 split releases. Malefic also appeared on Sunn O)))’s most recent record, Black One. That is actually not a bad starting point for Xasthur’s sound; he uses mostly pretty lo-fi and treble-heavy sounds. But he structures them as slow-motion black metal songs with double bass-happy drumming (that’s usually buried pretty far back in the mix). His vocals are pretty standard death metal fare, though they are used in short enough bursts to be pretty effective. It leans a bit toward the slow, droney style of Sunn O))) or Jesu, with a similar isolated (and isolating) feeling. The drumming and vocals are both pretty different from either, though the overall tone of the songs is similar. I have never used the term “hollow” to refer to a guitar sound in a positive way before, but it actually works for Xasthur. It’s slow and throbbing, but also really static-laden at the same time. This has a hypnotic effect, though it still comes off sort of heavy and intense at the same time without any of the crunch or bass-heavy feel of the guitar in most any other modern metal. This is, as advertised, some of the most desperate and depressing music you’ll hear anywhere. The combination of slow tempos, haunting tone and persistent drone adds up to an intriguing record. You really have to be in the mood to make it through even the almost thirteen minute second song, “Prison Of Mirrors.” But it really is worth the investment if you’re up for it, and Subliminal Genocide is one of the most involved and intriguing underground metal records I’ve heard in some time. Chances are that with Hydra Head behind this, you’ll be hearing a lot more about Xasthur soon, and rightfully so. Hydra Head Records
less traveled. “Strings” is the best example of this; the would-be catchy guitar riffs could possibly have been better used in the newest (insert band you hate yourself for liking and whose infectious riffs you cite as justification) release. Some of the world’s greatest artists have offered the advice that we should play, sing, act, write, or otherwise create what we know. In Your Black Star’s defense, they have followed this sound advice to a T. Yet, some of the world’s best art has been created by choosing to act squarely against this advice (see also: Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come, the later Beethoven string quartets). I’d like to advise Your Black Star to follow the latter path in their next release, an event that, if done correctly, could prove to be noteworthy in spite of itself. [Review : Nick Cox] Reignition/Wonka Vision
Suicide Squeeze - Slaying Since 1996 I’m never sure how to feel about label compilations. I can name a select few labels from whom I would buy a compilation both for bands I love and to expose me to new bands, the latter being a clear motivation for the label. I have never thought of Suicide Squeeze as one of these labels, but considering their lineup now and in the past, this compilation offers you 34 reasons you might want to pick this up. Among the artists are notables like Modest Mouse, The Melvins, and Elliott Smith, with relatively new or lesser known acts like The Scenic Vermont, Metal Hearts, and The Aislers Set offering something novel. The clear strengths of this compilation lie in the label veterans and the out of print tracks from acts like Les Savy Fav and Hella. Some of my favorites come from the likes of Pedro the Lion (“July 18, 1976”) and The Unicorns (“2014”). The out of print track by Les Savy Fav is also extraordinarily infectious. The huge benefit of compilations like this is that they are typically extremely affordable. Though I’m not sure what this particular comp will run, it is not likely to be an exception. Granted, it is a double CD, but it should still sit well under the typical price for a similar release. It’s easy to say that this label has something to celebrate on their 10th anniversary. Having released albums by Modest Mouse and The Melvins certainly give them an astounding amount of street cred. And their new acts seem to be quite up and coming. It’s a rare occasion to see an indie label that has enjoyed such success. But Suicide Squeeze certainly deserves it, and they’ll show you why in the 34 songs here. [Review : Nick Cox]
Suicide Squeeze Records
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Book Review : Bronx Biannual Issue 1 The journal for urbane urban literature
Edited by Miles Marshall Lewis
This is the inaugural issue of Bronx Biannual, a publication focusing on contemporary sophisticated urban literature as the title suggests. The journal is founded on the concept of providing a forum for today’s urban writers to showcase their work in an environment free of constraints. There are no restrictive guidelines as reflected by the diverse lineup of contributors in this debut issue. It has pieces by college professors, new authors who are publishing their work for the first time, noted artists from other fields, and contributions from some are established authors. The subject matter differs as well. A considerable amount of stories are set in hip-hop situations, making the read a tutorial on that culture as much as a work of literary fiction. Others take place decades ago and deal with other sides of black culture. Some of the pieces I enjoyed most were: “Risk, Taking” by Adam Mansbach, which is a clever and skillfully written short story about a Jewish kid from Connecticut bonding with his lit professor grandfather through the magic of graffiti. Michael A. Gonzalez’s “Sweet Thing Superhero”, a creative story about a boy’s obsession with female superheroes that changes as he matures from a school boy in Harlem to a photographer in the gritty Lower East Side of the 1980s. And “Rhyme Scheme,” the tale of an underground hip-hop artist on the run in Southern California. That is by no means the extent of the quality writing in here, so I encourage anyone with an interest in literature and a thirst for something fresh and a little different to pick this up. I like the fact that this is put out through Akashic, an imprint that is not traditionally identified with hip-hop culture. This seems like a great opportunity for a crowd from one alternative, independent lifestyle to be exposed to art from another. The journal is edited by author Miles Marshall Lewis, who does not lack imagination, and the future of Bronx Biannual may include interviews, essays, and humor pieces. With a first edition that contains contributions from hip-hop icon KRS-ONE, muMs (Bamboozled, Oz) as well as stellar, lesser-known writers, the future for this publication looks bright. One thing that threw me off a little bit is that Bronx Biannual will be published twice a year. I assumed bi meant once every two years, perhaps that is hip-hop terminology with which I am not familiar. [Review : Andre Medrano] Akashic Books http://www.akashicbooks.com
DVD Review : Let’s Be Active: Keep The Fuzz Off My Buzz This is the long-awaited DVD and CD documentation of the Let’s Be Active Tour, which took place way back in May of 2004. There was an LP version of the compilation CD, which first came out last year on Modern Radio. This features William Elliot Whitmore, Paradise Island (Jenny Hoyston of Erase Erata), FT (The Shadow Government) and Let’s Be Active, who all took part in the tour and the CD compilation included with the documentary. The tour went around the Midwest, with all four acts packed into one van. Let’s Be Active is the name under which tour organizer Jarrett Mitchell who does spoken word, which is often funny and sometimes annoying. The footage of Mitchell is the most central part of the documentary. It’s usually a good way to format the film, though I could have gone for a little more footage of live performances. This goes mostly for Whitmore’s performances, though there are still plenty of them here. He has seen pretty consistent attention these days, and these earlier performances show exactly why. The Shadow Government and Paradise Island footage is usually pretty interesting as well, and clear cut enough not to take too many chances. This is, by all accounts, another solid and fairly low-budget digital video camera tour documentary. I usually can’t get enough of these, as long as I’m interested enough in the music presented and it isn’t too long. Both are true here, since the music is mostly solid and it runs just under 90 minutes. Tour and out the window footage mix well with the live music and Mitchell’s rants. Nothing on “Keep the Fuzz Off My Buzz” will reinvent the wheel for these projects, but it works well and is worth looking into if you’re interested in any one of the artists here. [Review : Stuart Anderson]
Sickroom Records http://www.sickroomrecords.com