Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Every Time I Die - The Big Dirty

Every Time I Die - The Big Dirty

Every Time I Die is a metalcore band from upstate NY. Blending uncompromising metal with southern rock stylings and blistering tempos, they create some of the most enjoyable and exhilarating music within the genre.

'til death do we rock?
we're so full of shit.
'til death do we rock!
you keep buying it.

A common criticism directed towards metalcore is that of the unoriginality of the bands, and its current stagnation in the aftermath of Botch, Converge, and other pioneers of the sound. In the case of ETID, this complaint is certainly valid, but misses the point of the band in general. Their stuff may get a little same-y, but each release evolves upon the traditional ETID sound into something new, which is more than you can say for a lot of their contemporaries. For its part, The Big Dirty streamlines the approach from previous efforts, ending up with a more focused and tempered version of Gutter Phenomenon, while still keeping the southern metal feel of their former outing. Musically, you know what you’re going to get: hard, blazing guitar riffs stacked up upon one another delivered with the tempo of a speeding bullet. Essentially, it sounds just like its title would suggest. Music that would go well with a fight scene. Party metal for people who think AC/DC sound like pussies.

I've got a bone to pick with the morning sun and the first last call but I didn't put my hair in a pony tail for nothing, so if I'm going home alone I ain't going at all

But what really sets ETID apart is lyrically, where they are miles ahead of their colleagues. Each song is its own example of delightfully witty banter, delivered with a wry sense of self-awareness. But instead of just throwing out contrasting pieces of dialogue as stream of consciousness, with no forethought or intent, they create actual subject matters and narratives with which to snidely lambast. The band’s sense of ironic humour acts as a breath of fresh air for anyone tired of all the self-aggrandizing macho bullshit consuming metal.

we sing praises of the rebels who went by the book.
gravitate to teenagers artlessness' and sing it aloud.
the content is trivial. its pillow talk is plagiarized by the gadgets of lust.
just go to sleep, leave the gestures and customs to us.

For my part (and really, it’s useless to try and describe why I like this album so much without moving into the first person), this album represents a drastic change from the type of metal I was used to, injecting a much needed sense of humour into a brand of music which relies on any number of rather absurd and overdone tough-guy clichés. The sardonic sensibilities of this album feel practically slathered over each and every aural cavity, and the comments made hold a certain unsaid intelligence that threatens to belie the very nihilistic aesthetic of the album. It manages to remind me of In Utero in this sense, where the music gives a very raw feeling to it that it almost undercuts what exactly is being said by the artist. But it’s the fact that this appears the very intention of the artist that makes it interesting, as if they would prefer to see the message smothered by the surrounding musical onslaught, rather than have it front and center for the listener.

retract the accolade, the candid acclaim
inspiration is cutting its loss
regurgitate headlines or a theory on modern art
You've been fooled again, the red herring's a joke.

Regardless, this is fast, heavy, and surprisingly melodic metalcore that refuses to fall into the traps and pitfalls of the genre. While not innovative under any definition, it is a prime example of the lengths a band can go to while remaining within a rather stagnant style of music. Ultimately, The Big Dirty is a face-melting, surprisingly self-aware album that refuses to take itself seriously for more than a moment, and is far more intelligent than it bothers to let on.

it is better to destroy than to create what is meaningless,
so the picture will not be finished.

this is all very literal

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Please Inform the Captain This is a Hijack - Defeat or Humiliate the United States of America

Please Inform the Captain This is a Hijack - Defeat or Humiliate the United States of America

Please Inform the Captain This is a Hijack are a turn of the millennium six-piece punk/hardcore band fronted by Mike Kirsch, formerly of Fuel and Bread and Circuits. They play an innovative and spastic form of hardcore, making use of techniques and instruments that are rarely found within the genre. Specifically, their tendency to use samples, both vocal and instrumental, and then implement these into their music to create a variety of combinations across a number of genres (hip-hop, funk, soul). While together, PITCTIAH released only a self-titled EP, but would later, in 2006, release a posthumous full-recording, Defeat or Humiliate the United States of America.

Stylistically speaking, they sound like a more ‘bombastic’ Nation of Ulysses, playing a similarly muddy form of rebellious hardcore while differentiating in that they utilize higher tones and pitches in their music. And… the fuck are those hip-hop beats in the background? ‘kay, two major differences. But structure-wise, they feel like a throwback to a different time period, only employing an experimental new take on their hardcore predecessors. PITCTIAH aren’t re-inventing the wheel here, merely looking at it from an entirely different angle.

The songs on this album can be divided into two different types: the more expected, punkier songs, and the ambient, sample-heavy songs derivative of what you would see in hip-hop. Unlike their debut EP, they rarely mix the two here, opting instead to completely separate the two styles. The ambient tracks are seemingly used as salad dressing here, in order to call attention to the points and themes of the album through use of samples (such as the band using a Stokely Carmichael speech from a 1968 Black Panther rally to free Huey Newton). While this does help in emphasizing the main songs, the filler here can get tiring after a while, especially considering the number of filler tracks here outnumber the real ones eight to six. While this is being billed as a full release, the number of songs minus the filler are of the same number as their EP.

But it’s pretty hard to complain, given the quality. PITCTIAH combine some of the angriest music this side of Refused into a surprisingly listenable and upbeat package, making for a rather fun listen despite, or possibly because of the revolutionary thematic content. As expected by the album title, the lyrics are radical in content, speaking of guerrilla warfare (The Asymmetric Enemy), wide-spread revolution (Karma Collection Day) and the upheaval of an empire (The Ants Will Eat Rome). While it may seem a bit much, it works, mostly due to the sincerity of the words being spoken (another difference between Nation of Ulysses) and the epic properties of the music backing it up. Not only that, but the lyrics are intelligent and poignant in their anger, specifically referencing historical events of note and keeping a sharp wit grounded within their verbal attack (Pressure points and arteries, at home and overseas/capital gains have jugular veins/we’ve got sharpened steel and muscle).

While it’s debatable as to whether this is even the band’s best release, the group succeeds in pushing the boundaries of conventional punk rock well past its breaking point. In addition to its inimitable nature, Defeat or Humiliate the United States of America is a fiery, enjoyable piece of music that manages to invoke the grandiosity of its subject matter into two to three minute bursts of energy in a way that few bands can. Effectively combining inventiveness and creativity with the raw anger and passion of hardcore is a rare feat for even the best bands to accomplish. And even though they had already disbanded by the time this was released, there should be no doubt that PITCTIAH was one of the best, if only for a little while.

Defeat or Humiliate the United States of America

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Mission of Burma - Signals, Calls and Marches EP

Mission of Burma - Signals, Calls and Marches

Imagine the Stooges. Now, imagine taking Raw Power, rolling it around in fuzz and distortion, and throwing in lyrics about surrealist and existentialist philosophy. Amplify it by a thousand, and you have Mission of Burma.

Born out of the ashes of a short-lived Boston area band called Moving Parts, friends Roger Miller (guitar) and Clint Conley (bass), enlisting the help of drummer Peter Prescott, formed Mission of Burma in 1979. Mission of Burma quickly turned heads, gaining underground support and critical acclaim with both the release of their debut single “Academy Fight Song”, and their ear-shattering live shows. They would later release an EP and a full-length recording, on their way to reaching the zenith of Boston’s growing alternative scene before their break-up four years later, due to Miller’s worsening case of tinnitus.

To best understand Mission of Burma is to understand their influence and their innovation as a band. This was a group that played post-punk like no other, creating some of the most elaborate and improbable soundscapes ever to grace vinyl. They played with a sort of instrumental ferocity that is rarely, if ever matched, forging raucous arty punk through some of the most creative use of tape loops to date. Their music was often dark in tone, going back and forth between quiet minimalism to pounding desperation. Flanked by the thick, cascading guitar riffs of Roger Miler and the all-encompassing layers of distortion backing him up, Mission of Burma were noisy, loud, and often brilliant.

When cited, they are generally remembered for their one full-length recording, Vs., but their best work, in my mind, was the 1981 release Signals, Calls and Marches. From the opening isolated guitar line of “That’s When I Reach For My Revolver”, it becomes quickly aware that this is an entirely focused piece of work. One can almost hear the desolation in the background as the protagonist cries out for all that he has lost. The pounding drums guide this song along as it builds into its austere climax, remaining remarkably poppy and accessible despite its bleak subject matter. From here, we move onto the far rougher sounds of “Outlaw”, then on to the angry criticisms of “Fame and Fortune”, and then to the steady forceful punk of “This Is Not a Photograph”.

The final two songs are both stunning in their beauty. “Red” is a brooding anthem of sorts, progressed by striking guitar patterns and a hammering drum beat. The song is permeated by a haunting set of backup vocals, lending creepy disposition to the song that only grows as the singer cries “things are crumbling outside me”. Finishing the album is the absolutely exquisite instrumental piece, “All World Cowboy Romance”. Using the richness of the guitars to their full potential, Miller and Conley intertwine their instruments to construct a lush, luxuriant body of sound that has to be heard to be believed. Prescott wails away on the drums, orchestrating and directing the tempo with his almost methodical pace. Personally speaking, this is one of the finest instrumentals I have ever heard, and ranks as one of my favourite songs of all-time. Eventually the band reaches a serene crescendo, one still pulsating with the power of the drums as it climaxes and denoues.

With Signals, Calls and Marches, Mission of Burma created their greatest achievement, and set the stage for one of the most influential bands of the 80’s. This is one of the rare occasions in which an EP is the best thing in a band’s discography, and, given the quality of their other releases, this is not a remark to be taken lightly. It’s not just arty; it’s a full-fledged work of art on the same plane as, or perhaps even surpassing the best that post-punk has to offer.

(Note: The 1997 re-release includes the singles "Academy Fight Song" and "Max Ernst" as bonus tracks, and they are included in the link below.)

Signals, Calls and Marches

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Streetlight Manifesto - Somewhere in the Between

Streetlight Manifesto - Somewhere in the Between

Streetlight Manifesto is a third wave ska band lead by Tomas Kalnoky which first gained prominence with 2003’s Everything Goes Numb, then lauded as a breath of fresh air for a continually stagnating genre. Four years later, they returned with Somewhere in the Between, a mature, thought-provoking album in a field of music that has long since ceded mainstream relevancy.

What makes this album great is the introspective and intelligent manner in which it approaches its subject matter. Kalnoky is not just trying to throw together a bunch of clichéd phrases, add horns and call it a day. Instead, he delves into his topics, refusing simply look at any issue from a sole point of view (And I won't claim to believe the things I read / Black books or agenda magazine / I'd rather see in shades of grey). On this record, the themes range from the follies of pride, the past, and what to do with the present, all delivered through the wistfully mature voice of Kalnoky himself.

As for the music, all kinds of instruments abound here, with a relative plethora of different sounds being showcased on this album. Saxophones, trumpets, and trombones are all used in all sorts of pitches and harmonies, with the guitar varying between acoustic work and a deeper, heavier tone. However, the horns are not used simply as a prop, a verifiable gimmick as they are in so many other ska acts. The horn sections here weave up and down throughout songs, escalating into deafening climaxes that exude the bittersweet feeling that permeates the more pensive songs on this album. Not only do they compliment the themes and subjects being sung about, but they are used to help define them.

One of the most impressive things about this album is the lightning quick changes of pace between different tones, as shown to its greatest degree in "The Receiving End of it All". This is both a result of expert composition as well as strong musicianship to achieve such clean transitions at such a breakneck pace. And while the Streetlight Manifesto may retain the jumpy, accessibly poppy style that ska is known for, there is also a large enough amount of variation to appease the critics of modern ska. Simply put, this is quite easily one of the best albums the genre has ever produced, and one that remains entirely accessible for those who have no prior experience with ska.

Somewhere in the Between

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Pg. 99 - Document #8

Pg. 99 - Document #8

Punk rock should mean freedom. Liking and accepting anything that you like. Playing whatever you want, as sloppy as you want. As long as it’s good and it has passion.

When people think of punk rock, this might not be the first thing to enter your mind. This is a far cry from the Epitaph/Fat Wreck style of power chord punk that brought the genre back to the forefront of mainstream consciousness in the mid-90’s. There is no harmony here, no melodically repetitive rhythms to lull you into the feel-good rebellion. The music here has all the frantic qualities of a claustrophobic man buried alive, desperately scratching at the lid of his coffin to get out. Simply put, this is not meant to be a pleasant listen.

Pg. 99 formed on the outskirts of the D.C. hardcore scene in 1998, lasting five years and releasing a plethora of splits, singles, and EP’s in their short existence, as well as two full-length albums. Document #8 was their second full-length release, and in my opinion, their most mature as a group. Originally released in 2001, and later re-released in 2005, Document #8 sums up everything about the band into a nine song, twenty-eight minute assault. (Needless Side-note: I’m talking about the re-release time here, as that's what the file is. The last two tracks included, “The Lonesome Waltz of Leonard Cohen” and “The List” were both recorded after the initial release of Document #8, as part of a split with City of Caterpillar. These two songs were later included on the re-release of Document #8, after the band had already broken up.) With blistering sonic guitar patterns performed at furious speeds, accompanied by an equally vicious vocal assault on the listener, the optimum word here is “intense”.

A unique feature about this album, and one that distinguished the band as a whole from its contemporaries, is its featured 8-piece line-up. Boasting three guitars, two basses, two singers, and a drummer, Pg. 99 is unlike almost any punk band before it, focusing more on crafting dense, auditory layers that practically pummel the listener into submission. There is a frenetically forceful exhibition of sound on display here, strewn about between dark riffs and brooding silences. The vocals sound like they were completed under some horrific duress; every note is sung under the burden of some self-imposed torture, yet it still barely manages to penetrate the forceful wall of noise echoing throughout each track. In this way, the singing adds to the mood of the album, lending a sense of frustration that permeates the constant gloom of the guitars. It leaves the listener with a clear understanding of what the music represents, even if the lyrics are practically indecipherable.

With Document #8, Pg. 99 crafts one of the most passionately intense albums I have ever heard, and in the process, gave rise to many of the musical trends that would define emotive hardcore in the coming years. It’s dark, it’s (over)dramatic, and it acts as a full-blown fury of expression put into musical format. And despite the obvious discrepancies in sound, they still retain the spirit of punk rock, playing with speed, emotion, and an almost uncomfortable amount of passion and love for their music. You get the sense that this is what the musicians would rather be doing than anything else, and really, that’s all that matters.

Favourite tracks: In Love With an Apparition, The Hollowed Out Chest of a Dead Horse, The List

Document #8