Friday, November 28, 2008

Naked Raygun - All Rise

So I was sitting in a psychology lecture today, and, as psychological discussions are wont to do, the topic inevitably turned to Naked Raygun (my psychology professor is awesome). Specifically, the instructor used his desire to listen to Naked Raygun vinyls in order to explain the concept of drive in relation to Drive Reduction Theory. The analogy was a mess, but it accomplished two things: one, it made me envious (I want All Rise and Throb Throb on vinyl), and two, it transferred onto me the desire of listening to Naked Raygun. It was a situation which could have been considered ironic, but only by someone who does not fully understand the definition of irony.

Released in 1986, All Rise, Naked Raygun's third album, marked the in-between phase of a transition in which the band would evolve from the brasher punk of their debut into the noisy-but-melodic post-punk outfit seen on Jettison (see my post here). It moves away from their previous album, Throb Throb, with an increased emphasis on atmosphere and a change in production style; the sound here sounds more like their later albums than anything they had done previously. There are still some examples of blaring, balls to the wall punk, specifically on "New Dreams", which almost feels like a Throb Throb b-side, but for the most part, the album is more mature than anything the band did before it. Still, this is vintage Naked Raygun, featuring some classic riffs, and the same overriding theme of pessimism found throughout their discography.

In some ways, All Rise could be considered the younger brother to Jettison (unless you have a better metaphor, in which case I suggest you use that instead). The two albums share a great amount of similarities, but the ideas presented on All Rise are accomplished to a greater degree of success on Jettison. All Rise contains the same strongly pop-oriented song structures of Jettison, but feels more like the Buzzcocks than Big Black in doing so, with some of the hooks veering closely into pop-punk territory (see: "Mr. Gridlock"). Combining this development with the darker, more cathartic songs like "Backiash Jack" leaves this album feeling disoriented, caught between the contrasting ideas of melodic punk and noisy art-rock dissonance. The main strength of Jettison was in combining these ideas, but here, the result isn't as cohesive. While some songs pull off the feat perfectly, others just feel awkward, as if they'd rather belong on a Stiff Little Fingers album; which is likely intentional, given the degree to which the former influenced Naked Raygun (see their "Suspect Device" cover for more). It's not that these songs are bad; it's just that they don't exemplify the reasons why I listen to Naked Raygun. Their ability to integrate haunting pop hooks into a blistering punk attack is unparalleled, and it comes off a tad disappointing when they take their foot off the gas just to ape another band's approach. Not bad, just... disappointing.

But slight blemishes aside (and they are only slight), this is still a fantastic album created at a time of transition in the band's career. All Rise generally gets ignored in Naked Raygun's discography, sandwiched in between the band's two more accomplished efforts, but just because it hasn't the intensity or creativity of their other efforts doesn't mean it should be looked over in the least. Lack of cohesion aside, some of the band's best songs are on this album, and it can stand up to, if not surpass, most any punk album of its time. No, it's not Jettison, but what is?

All Rise

Monday, November 24, 2008

Ampere/Funeral Diner Split EP

1. Ampere - Secret Hallways
2. Ampere - Sleepwalkers
3. Funeral Diner - I Was the Sword

I will not pretend to be overly fond of Ampere. Their spastic, chaotic style, while brimming with energy and a strong sense of technicality, never stays with any one idea long enough for me to grasp on to it. In fact, I have a fun and easy-to-use formula on the subject:

Orchid - enjoyability = Ampere

And while their side of this split is surprisingly listenable given their track record, that's not why I'm posting it. The reason why is because the other side of the record is possibly the best thing Funeral Diner has ever done, which is too bad, considering this was also their last release before breaking up.

"I Was the Sword" is quite frankly a brilliant song, somewhat reminiscent of On the Might of Princes at their best. It builds through some sharply darting guitar lines and chaotically rhythmic drumming to a blisteringly emotional and intense climax, breaks it down, and then finds a new and effective way to do it all over again. This is 'epic' in every sense of the word, and should be considered a must-have by any fans of the band.

Ampere/Funeral Diner

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I Wrote Haikus About Cannibalism in Your Yearbook - 8 Song Demo

Q: I actually wrote a haiku about cannibalism in someone's yearbook once.

A: He didn't get it.

There's an unstated point to this.

i wrote haikus about cannibalism in your yearbook

Thursday, November 6, 2008

I have way too much free time.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

New God is an Astronaut! Plus Additional Hyping

I've spoken before in this space about the awesomeness that is God is an Astronaut. They're a fantastic group that has carved out a niche for themselves, moulding layers of obfuscating electronic haze into breath-taking post-rock brilliance.

Anyway, they have a new album coming out on the 7th, the self-titled God is an Astronaut, which is currently streaming about half of its tracks on their myspace page (it has also apparently leaked, so you can probably find it if you're intrepid enough). You'll also be able to purchase it from their website once it officially releases. I encourage you to check it out.

And while I'm at it, I may as well throw out a recommendation for what is currently my favourite post-rock outing of the year, Up-C Down-C Left-C Right-C ABC + Start's Embers. Simply put, it's one of the best albums of the year, and an excellent example of taking a tried-and-true formula (in this case, the type of 'crescendo-core' [I feel dirty just writing that] derivative from Explosions in the Sky) and making it your own. If you want, you can order it from their website, or you can just wait until the end of the year, at which point I will likely pimp it into oblivion.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Eric's Trip - Love Tara

Eric's Trip - Love Tara

I had a chance earlier this year to see Eric’s Trip in concert. I didn’t, because it was at some club that requires membership to get in and it seemed like a pain in the ass to go through and they wanted five bucks or so for membership, but if I had, you can sure bet it would have made an interesting story to recount here.

Oh well. (True story too!)

Eric’s Trip was a Canadian indie rock band hailing from the listless shores of New Brunswick. They formed in 1990, and, after a number of demo tapes, were signed to Sub Pop records at the peak of their post-Nirvana influence. In 1993, they set out to record their first album for Sub Pop, ending up with Love Tara, a collection of garage-rock influenced, lo-fi love songs. They broke up in 1996, but have reformed multiple times throughout this decade to tour and play particular events.

I first found out about these guys a few years back while doing random searches as inspired by awesome songs (As you may as well have gleamed, I have no good stories about finding out about bands. Just random shit I found online while I was bored. Stay tuned for a future post in which I tell you about that one time, at the bank, when I deposited a check and the teller gave me a dirty look and I’m like what? and yeah pretty cool right). I figured hey, anyone who would name themselves after a Sonic Youth song with some of my all-time favourite lyrics probably has good enough taste in music to make some good stuff themselves. And lo, I was right. I just didn’t expect them to be this good.

Eric’s Trip’s sound is not the hardest to describe. Think of stereotypical folk-inspired indie rock, from the time before it became popular to emulate crappy post-punk from the 80’s and call it indie regardless of what label they’re on (no disrespect to all the good bands who were emulated as well). Add in conditional use of the electric guitar, and fill the recoding with all the crackling distortion of an overplayed vinyl record, and voila: pure, heartfelt lo-fi indie glory. This is music that you could imagine listening to before a roaring fire on an Autumn day; delicate enough to set the mood, but not content just to linger aimlessly in the background as first-date muzak. Singer/guitarist Rick White described their sound as "sappy melodic pop music on top of thick distortion”, and that’s probably a good way of summing it up. It’s a very simple formula the band uses, combining the softness of folk and the noisiness and anguish of grunge, but they utilize it to perfection. In fact, I’d go as far as to call Love Tara one of the best indie records of the 90’s, an all-too unknown masterpiece, and put Eric’s Trip well ahead of their more well-known contemporaries such as Pavement and Built to Spill.

Much of what makes this album great comes in the vocals, which are shared between Rick White and Julie Doiron with White taking the brunt of the duties on this album (also, both share guitar/bass duties alongside fellow guitarist/bassist Chris Thompson). Both White and Doiron display a great amount of tenderness and care in their deliveries, which does well to enhance the sincerity in lines like “looking around for an extra person in my life to call my friend” and “how come it upsets you so/shouldn't it be me who feels uneased”. The lyrics tend to fit into a very conversational style, with the songs mostly being person-to-person tales of love or regret, communicated with a muted sadness by the band’s vocalists. That they come off as so genuine can be put on White and Doiron themselves (especially White), who sing in very soft and melancholic tones, almost to the point of whispering at points (“Behind the Garage” being an excellent example). The way this album is produced is notable too in this sense, as the sound fashioned here takes on a very warm and personable style. The background noise on “May 11” for example, suggests a real-world atmosphere, as if the singing is just one half of a conversation we’re not getting all of. When White or Doiron sing, the clearness of their vocals in the otherwise often distortion-fueled mix helps communicate the band’s message as heartfelt and honest. Another example of a strong effect utilized by the band is showcased in the song “Frame”, which pits White’s soft croons against a very jagged riff, placing the delicacy of his delivery against the overlying sharpness of the guitar. The ensuing contrast is quite powerful, as White’s fragile voice is swallowed up by the strident waves of distortions, overcome by the power of the amplifier.

With Love Tara, Eric’s Trip not only put out an outstanding debut, but a lo-fi indie classic. The distortion, the folksy warmth, the emotional, utterly personal song-writing, all standards Eric’s Trip would uphold throughout their career, but possibly none used to the same success as on the band’s debut album. What we have here is marvellously minimal indie rock, adorned with lyrically relatable feelings regarding love, alienation and friendship. Put it on, sit by the fire, and watch the leaves envelop the ground outside your window, as they desert the now barren trees from which they fell.

Love Tara