Monday, August 17, 2009

Murder By Death/O'Death Split 7"

"Murder By Death are releasing the first of 7 records in a 7" series where they trade covering songs with other bands they know. The second 7" will feature MBD performing O'Death's "Home" and O'Death performing MBD's "Brother"."
- via Murder By Death's official website

The split opens with Murder By Death's cover of "Home", a string-driven southern gothic carousel that would sound just at home on Who Will Survive... as it does on Broken Hymns, Limbs and Skin.

O'Death's version of "Brother" follows, initially starting slower and more measured than the original, only to pick up to a frenzied, squealing pace come the chorus, sounding very much like the musical output of the barnyard band at a meth addict's country jamboree in the process.

Murder By Death/O'Death split

Monday, August 10, 2009

Air Raid Barcelona - Air Raid Barcelona

These guys put their demo up for free, and it's really good, and you should listen.

C'monnnnnnnnnnn. Do itttttttt.


Summary: Thick, jangly, Latterman-influenced pop-punk with hooks that sound pried from the cold, dead hands of Shorebirds (or perhaps some other band with a little more name recognition), with a little West Coast flare thrown in for good measure.

If that sounds at all up your alley, check it out.

Air Raid Barcelona

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Agnostic Front - Victim in Pain

she says she likes the agnostic front/they've got crazy fast guitars

A definitive attribute of early hardcore was its ability to push boundaries, be they political or musical. Hardcore advocated a different message and a different style with which to promote it, eschewing the almost glam sensitivities of late 70's punk rock for a more stripped down, back-to-basics approach. Shaved heads eclipsed the mohawk, and the ideals of punk shifted from pseudo-counter-culturalism to the notion of a scene based on acceptance (even if it didn't always abide by those ideals).

But as the 80's progressed, it became clear that the new flag-bearers of the hardcore landscape would not be the ones who played it safe and stuck only to the formulas established by the early luminaries of the genre; you can only re-hash Minor Threat so many times before people stop listening. And so hardcore pushed out of its box. Some bands experimented, infusing shots of country and Americana into their approach, crossing boundaries and gaining the closest thing hardcore had had to a major audience yet. Others slowed down the tempo and became more introspective, focusing their songwriting abilities rather than submitting to the 'harder, faster louder' approach borne by earlier bands. And others still went in the exact opposite direction, pushing the envelope in the only way they could, by taking hardcore and making it heavier, faster, louder and more aggressive than ever before. Agnostic Front belonged to this last group.

Unsurprisingly given their playing style, Agnostic Front hailed from New York City, a place whose hardcore scene they eventually helped define (alongside many other local bands) with their blending of grimy, down-turned punk and fast-paced thrash metal heaviness. In 1984, the band broke out with their seminal hardcore album Victim in Pain, which, for better or for worse, was hugely influential in the NYHC scene. This lead to further crossovers between hardcore and thrash metal, not the least of which by Agnostic Front themselves, that, depending on your point of view, either showcase hardcore at its most aggressive and fully realized or at its most mindlessly macho and insular. None of which takes away the fact that, as Victim in Pain shows us, Agnostic Front were a force to be reckoned with.

Listening to the album, the guitars are no doubt the first thing to be noticed. They have a very dark quality to them that seems universal in 80's punk, be it American or British, and the rate at which they're played borders on suffocation. Combined with the forceful and often relentless drumming, the whole package blares about like a sonic buzzsaw. While the song structures are fairly typical for hardcore, there's still something notable in the ferocity with which they're played. And yet, in spite of this when the band relaxes and takes their fingers off the button just a little bit, this results in Agnostic Front's best material. The typical Agnostic Front song volleys back and forth between the aforementioned buzzsaw-style passages and a selection of more measured parts that help to reel in the aggression, and thereby put a manner of emphasis on it. This isn't to say that the occasional straight-up barn-burner isn't there, nor to say that it doesn't absolutely kill - "Hiding Inside" is as strong a song as you'll find from the Agnostic Front. Just to say that when it comes to tracks like "Blind Justice" and "Last Warning", it's the comparably slower sections that make these songs notable, while the blast beat-style drum sections work only to de-sensitize the listener to the song's better sections.

Blink and you'll miss it - eleven songs, fifteen minutes are all that comprise Victim in Pain, but that doesn't make it any less of a hardcore classic. While their songwriting often suffered from immaturity, and while they may not hold up as well to modern ears as some of their more experimental and more influential peers, Agnostic Front still feel like the masters of their own niche: heavier than hardcore, more down-to-earth than metal, and as driven as anyone or anything else out there.

victim in pain

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Union Young America - Kill the Man in Everything 7"

This is an absolutely fantastic 7" from mid-90's Ontario hardcore band Union Young America. Originally made in 1995, this three song EP is the group's only known release to date, and it features a sound similar to Admiral, or Three Penny Opera, or maybe a gruffer Native Nod. Complex, powerful jams that mix beautiful instrumental sparsity with an ear for melody and a predisposition for intense, excitable crescendos. The guitars in "Dem's Be Fighting Words" make this worth a listen on their own, but each song has at least one part that makes you think "wow", including the gentle, sinewy breaks during "Kevorkian" and the soaring choruses of "What You Know".

If the name alone doesn't intrigue you into giving this a listen, then I don't know what else I can say.

you bet i fucking tried

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

One Year of failing [the rorschach test]

that's right everybody! it's been exactly one full year since i had anything better to do with my time.

fuck yeah

and to celebrate, i'm having cake.

i do not know how to draw cake.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Modern Life is War - Modern Life is War 7"

Early Modern Life is War release, a three song 7" of noisy, aggressive, and above all else, passionate hardcore punk. From the throwback hooks and infectious chorus of "Destination Death or Better Days", to the fist-pumping chants of "Fakes Like You (Make Me Sick)", this EP shows off Modern Life is War at their most anthemic. And while their sound isn't as ground-breakingly fresh or well-developed as it would become, there is plenty of intersting work on display, with the dense riffs and seething desperation of "The Farmer's Holiday Association" sounding a lot like the band circa Witness. This is a great, blood-pumping release from one of the best hardcore bands of the decade. Raise your voice (and your fist) and sing along.

Modern Life is War 7"

Friday, July 3, 2009

Admiral - Admiral 7"

Admiral was a short-lived emo/hardcore band from the early 90's, the members of which would on to play in Navio Forge and Hoover as the decade wore on.

The group maintains the atmosphere and wall-of-sound guitarwork that would be prevalent on Navio Forge, but here it is imbued with a sense of melody and songwriting mechanics that make the final product as catchy as it is moody. Sounding at times equal parts Naked Raygun and The Hated, the band merges post-punk despondence ("Brother Can You Spare a Dime") and D.C.-influenced hardcore nostalgia ("Horns Lay Silent") into a dynamic and interesting listen.

This is really great stuff for anyone who likes Rites of Spring, Gray Matter, or any of the aforementioned bands.

Admiral 7"

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Killing Joke - Killing Joke

Killing Joke is one of those bands that are made an enigma by their own inconsistency. At times, they are electrifying, a post-punk/proto-industrial hybrid that feels a full decade ahead of their time, playing moody, driven music loaded with political and existential angst. The band’s combination of ‘doom-and-gloom’ metal heaviness with the faster tempos of the burgeoning punk rock scene was notably different from the parallel direction hardcore bands were taking in order to further push the envelope in its stress of mood and atmosphere, as opposed to the catch-all hardcore solution of ‘just play a little faster’. Not only was this combination unique for post-punk, a movement splintering more and more into arty, futurist-aping synth bands, but it was a direct precursor, both spiritually and sonically, for the industrial metal movement of the late 80’s and 90’s. Listening to their self-titled album now with the benefit of almost 30 years of hindsight, Killing Joke practically define industrial as we now recognize it, even though they pre-date our current understanding of it, existing in a time when industrial was an often radically experimental genre lead by the Throbbing Gristles of the world.

And yet, for a band so well ahead of their time, Killing Joke is as much an object of frustration as they are an object of adulation. The group seems to exist so much better in singles and playlist snippets than they do on a full album listen. Sure, a track like “The Wait” is the kind of thing that will force you to take notice, comprising of an infectiously brooding buzz saw guitar line and a rapacious tempo that once again heralds industrial comparisons. The song is noisy like a steel mill and excessively bleak, yet there is no denying its inherent catchiness. And it’s not the only highlight: Opener “Requiem” is EBM at its most anthemic, a dance-y affair where the appeal transcends the no doubt gothic core of Killing Joke’s audience, and “Wardance” is an echoic, strongly-paced synth-metal track where the vocals are spitted out in a guttural, Germanic rasp.

Ultimately, what makes these songs great is their sense of urgency. Not only are they the fastest-paced songs on Killing Joke, but they just carry with them a feeling of intensity. Elsewhere, however, the band lulls about far too much to keep up this feeling. “SO36” is a plodding gothic waltz that never goes anywhere interesting, content just to linger awkwardly and take up space. This is symptomatic of a greater problem at work in Killing Joke. Too often the focus on atmosphere comes at the expense of listenability, and while it is this unique dynamic that makes Killing Joke so fresh and different, you get the sense that they don’t really know what they’re doing with it yet. Which is a shame, considering that just a few years later they’d be moving in the opposite direction, with their sound coming off as overdramatic and cheesy as opposed to overly insular.

So while it is flawed, Killing Joke remains a landmark, both for its influence and its ingenuity. Great at times yet occasionally middling in quality, as an album, it still manages to hit more than it misses. With their debut album, Killing Joke escaped the routine experimentation post-punk was mired in, and instead created something new, something rough, yet something genuine enough to be the launching pad for an entire generation of artists. And while it’s easy to get frustrated by what could have been, it’s just as easy to think of what couldn’t and wouldn’t have been without a jumping off point to begin with.

Killing Joke

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Ergs!/Lemuria Split EP

The Ergs! are a bouncy, hook-laden, Ramones-style pop-punk trio from New Jersey who show little to no shame in reproducing their influences. They also play a stellar version of "Hey Jealousy", which you may remember as that song from the trailer to every other mid-90's romantic comedy. Except now it's okay to like it, cuz it has mad punk cred to it.

Lemuria is a power pop trio from Buffalo, who play slower, but similarly catchy pop-oriented songs as The Ergs. Strong melodies and excellent use of dual male/female vocalists typify their sound, comparable here to early Thermals. Also typifying their sound: being really super good. I should mention that too.

Spoiler Alert: The Ergs! eventually defeat Lemuria through the use of the hereto unmentioned Ultimate Nullifier. The Earth is saved... but at what cost

the ergs! vs. lemuria

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Banner Pilot/Monikers Split EP

Banner Pilot are aggressively peppy pop-punk with a burning drive, a heart of gold and access to at least three Dillinger Four records. Monikers are a rough-and-tumble gang of misfits from the wrong side of the tracks, their unmitigated insistence on booze, debauchery and loose morals being the direct cause of many a sheriff to throw his hat in the air in an act of frustration.

One doesn't play by the rules. The other regularly converses with an eight foot tall bunny named Harvey that only Fred and Barney can see. Together, they must find the jade monkey before celebrity cameo Peter Lorre and his band of murderous fiends take Ohio... by force! Will they ever learn how to work together without hilariously offbeat shenanigans ensuing?

find out upon listening to...

another great pop-punk split release!

get it here, dum-dums

Next time: Unwitting superhero faction "The Ergs" face off against Lemuria, a being of pure energy that eats entire galaxies for sport! Don't miss it!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Andrew Jackson Jihad/French Quarter Split

Or: Fresh Quarter/French Jihad: Mix Tape Volume One: "Valley of the Slum"

This is a split release by Arizona folk-punk group Andrew Jackson Jihad and French Quarter, the ambient/lo-fi folk project of singer/songwriter Stephen Steinbrink. The entire thing is performed live, with both acts not only playing their own material but covering each other as well (French Quarter covers the darkly funny "Another Beer"; AJJ cover "Bold With Fire", possibly French Quarter's best song).

On their side, French Quarter play a relaxing brand of dreamy, atmospheric folk. Soothing and almost ethereal in sound, it comes off very well as a part of the live atmosphere, with both guitar and bass gently plodding along, the latter echoing beautifully among the lighter sounds of the acoustic guitar.

The Andrew Jackson Jihad songs don't translate quite as well here, but while their side comes off as almost (but not quite) hit or miss, it also contains the two most notable stand-outs from this split: the frantic "Sheriff Ochs" and the Dead Prez cover "DPS". The former is everything you expect from Andrew Jackson Jihad at their best and most up-tempo, while the latter is everything you would never think to expect; namely, a rap, performed with stellar instrumental backup. It's as white as you'd expect, but it's also very well done, making it a joy to listen to for more than just the initial novelty. "DPS" isn't the only bit of hip-hop flavour though, as "Fucking Science" also features a spoken word rant on the state of hip-hop, although it feels like more of an extended interlude than anything else. The two songs act as a kind of ode to the genre in question, allowing Bonette and Gallaty to give credit to some of the more non-apparent influences in their music (influences which would surface again with the more recent Operation Stackola EP).

All in all, this is a good full-length split by two strong, proven acoustic acts, catchy where it needs be, and enjoyable the whole way through.

Fresh Quarter/French Jihad

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

RVIVR - Life Moves 7"

RVIVR is a four-piece punk band that features members from Latterman and Shorebirds, sounding fairly similar to the rough, early sounds of the latter. Life Moves marks the band's first release, and it is a stellar example of gritty, emotional pop-punk that abounds both in hooks and intensity.

The band's formula could probably be written down as shouted vocals surrounded by whirring guitars and a humming, measured bass, but this would be to ignore the variety and intelligibility of each individual track. Every song stands out on its own as catchy, energetic and passionate, and this is why Life Moves is such a great EP, comparable even to Lifetime's Tinnitus in its ability to blend aggression and pop melody.

Title track "Life Moves" opens the EP, a wistful song which soars with hope and vitality almost in spite of itself, as upbeat for the future as it is nostalgic for the past. The theme is simple: life moves, regardless of whether you want it to or not. This is followed by the fun, frenetic whir of "Plenty of Time", a song which seems to reply to the previously addressed problem with a resounding "Who cares?".

At this point, RVIVR show off the poppier side of their attack; the third song, "Can't Stand It", follows a guitar riff that could be attached to the catchiest of 80s fluff, yet it still feels grounded in RVIVR's rough, basement punk appeal.

However, the stand-out track, if one had to be picked, would have to be the closer, "Scrooged". The song begins in a furious and lively fashion, building and maintaining tension beautifully throughout its three minute run-time as the singers wax poetic about government corruption. The lyrics are powerful, although less of their own accord than through the forcefulness with which they're delivered. "Scrooged" provides an impassioned and rather pessimistic finish to a fantastic and otherwise fairly upbeat EP.

and they'll take what they want

Download it here or buy it here.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Andrew Jackson Jihad - Holey Man, Holey War

Andrew Jackson Jihad are a prolific Americana-tinged folk-punk group from Arizona, consisting on this release of acoustic guitar, upright bass and drums (although the musical lineup has been subject to change between each release, generally revolving around main members Sean Bonette (singer, guitar) and Ben Gallaty (bass) along with occasional outside elements). Holey Man, Holey War was a demo release, one which would later be compiled along with a number of other tracks from the group's early days on Candy Cigarettes and Cap Guns.

However, from the rollicking anti-country of "Ladykiller", to the more desperate, although still tongue-in-cheek sounds of "Who Would Jesus Fuck Up?", it becomes clear that Holey Man, Holey War is more about taking the piss out of things than anything else. Perhaps the standout track in this regard is "My Father Didn't Love Me", a decidedly depressing singalong song that remains catchy in spite of itself, with the narration focusing on cartoonishly over-the-top depictions of child abuse that directly belie the innocent tone Bonette uses in singing it.

So no, for anyone still wondering, Holey Man, Holey War doesn't have the maturity, nor the depth of the band's superlative 2007 release People Who Can Eat People Are the Luckiest People in the World, but then again, it's not trying to be either - hell, it's a direct step in the opposite direction. What it is is a collection of catchy, offbeat and rather original sounding folk songs that shouldn't be taken with the utmost of seriousness.

You can find it here.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Rival Schools - United by Fate

There are at least two things I know about Walter Schreifels: 1) He’s the virtuoso guitarist and sometimes singer/songwriter/lyricist behind several of the biggest bands to come out of the New York hardcore scene in the past 20 years, including Youth of Today, Gorilla Biscuits and Quicksand, and, alongside former bandmate Sammy Siegler (drummed for Youth of Today, Gorilla Biscuits), the founder of Rival Schools and 2) He really likes using pedals.

I mean, if United by Fate is any indication. There are plenty of aspects of note that occur within this album: the supergroup-style collaboration of NYHC mainstays, the cultivation of a more varied and musically eclectic sound for long-time hardcore kids, as opposed to the raw, straight-forward outrage of the Youth Crew days, as well as just a general sense of established maturity that runs throughout United by Fate. But what always jumps out at me each and every time I listen is the guitars: the variety, the experimentation, the way they manage to emphasize both melody and heaviness in their own respective turns. Not only is the guitar work fantastic, but it sets the tone, taking an ambitious hardcore effort and turning it into a concoction that is as much owing to grunge and alternative as it is punk rock. Such a crossover could easily end up going sour in any number of ways, but surprisingly, it works.

Played differently, United by Fate could come off as just another melodic punk album, but then the very sense of maturity that sets it apart would be lost. The song writing would still allow it to stand out, but it wouldn’t sound as new, as fresh. Instead, the guitars are crushing when they have to be, and catchy, even elegant, when they don’t. Bits and pieces of Gorilla Biscuits come through in the underlying song structure, and one can sense a definite melodic hardcore influence on United by Fate, but it isn’t the prevailing influence. Rival Schools’ sound is more reminiscent of mid-90’s post-grunge, except instead of sounding watered down and depleted, like the pop radio hits of that era, they sound a novel combination, both vibrant and aggressive. A good comparison might be to the Matthew Good Band, circa Underdogs, another example of a band that manages to be listener-friendly without giving up its claws.

Guitar isn’t Schreifels’ only contribution to United by Fate though. As vocalist, he performs ably. Schreifels sings with a world-weary rasp, plodding through the slower sections with a sense of beaten down fatigue. This aspect perfectly serves to accentuate the urgency in his voice when the music picks up, as he powers through the heavier, more energetic sections with all the force he can muster. The result adds a human core to the otherwise interesting instrumental arrangements, one especially present on the excellent “Undercovers On”, a somewhat cryptic song about a meeting between two people whose relationship has lapsed. The song is driven by a slow-moving bass line and Schreifels voice matches with all the enthusiasm of grim death, but as the guitars pick up and the song crescendos, the simple tale of two people drifting apart becomes epic in scope, teeming with passion and relatable in sentiment.

Rival Schools’ debut album is a blistering tribute to what grunge should have begat: music which is heavy without being mindless and emotional without feeling feigned. If this is what happens when hardcore kids grow up, then sign me up.

United by Fate

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Snowing - Fuck Your Emotional Bullshit (Demo)

Snowing are a Pennsylvania-area band that play math-tinged emo in the vein of Cap'n Jazz, placing emphasis on smooth melodies and whirling, instrumental chaos, replete with light, winding guitar riffs and pained, throat-scraping vocals. Fuck Your Emotional Bullshit is a 5-song demo which was released by the band earlier this year, and although a demo, it has an orchestrated passion to it that far more experienced outfits would be hard-pressed to match. From the impassioned euphony of opener "Sam Rudich", to the fiercely energetic "Important Thngs (Specter Magic)", to math-influenced closer "Methuselah Rookie Card" , the group showcases an intriguing collusion of technicality, melody and emotion, a blend that is as much already realized as it is brimming with potential.

This is a must-listen for anyone who's a fan of Tim Kinsella, or even just 90's indie/emo in general.

Fuck Your Emotional Bullshit

Friday, May 22, 2009

Shorebirds - Shorebirds 7"

Pop-punk project featuring Matt Canino of Latterman on guitar and lead vocals and Chris Bauermeister of Jawbreaker on bass. Owing obvious sonic influences to both of the aforementioned groups, Shorebirds combine melody and passion into a powerful and occasionally uplifting package. This 7" is a lot rougher than their eventual full-length, It's Gonna Get Ugly, which was released last year, but it crackles with DIY enthusiasm and a vinyl hiss that adds to the roughness of the sound. Music for a restless night when you're trapped in the city with nothing to do.

Shorebirds 7"

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Latterman - Turn Up the Punk, We'll Be Singing

“what we need round here is positive people”

Latterman is one of those bands that’s just a joy to listen to. The Long Island foursome play with an intense energy and passion for their music, their lyrics are unapologetically upbeat, and their music radiates with an undaunted positivity, as if to re-assure the listener that everything’s going to be alright. To use an analogy taken from Allmusic, Latterman “is like the musical equivalent of a friend patting you on the back and dragging you out for a cold beer after spending the day feeling a bit down”.

Turn Up the Punk, We’ll Be Singing is Latterman’s first full-length album. Originally released on Traffic Violation Records in 2002, it got a re-release on Deep Elm in 2005 thanks to the greater popularity that came with the release of their second album, No Matter Where We Go…! The album is rawer than much of what would come after it, yet still imbued with much better production values than anything the band had released previously. Turn Up the Punk is then something of a middle ground in the evolution of Latterman’s sound, caught between the rougher, basement band punk of their demo and early seven inches, and the cleaner, more varied and melodic band they would grow into on subsequent full-lengths. And yet, it is undeniably memorable because of those clashing directions.

Musically, the group creates what sounds like a combination of pop-punk and post-hardcore, mixing the airy, upbeat tones of the former with the heaviness and instrumental complexity of the latter. Whether strummed or picked, the guitars emit a melodic and joyous pitch that wonderfully emphasizes the optimism and positivity that reigns throughout not just Turn Up the Punk, but Latterman’s entire discography. The music crackles with a youthful vigour, one that signifies the passion of the people playing it.

And while there isn’t too much variety to speak of, the songs never sound recycled from one another, with distinctions coming both in the form of well-placed hooks and well-defined lyrical subject matter. The typical punk subjects of mid-20 something apathy are touched on (“My Dreams About Not Sleeping Until 3 p.m.”, “Too Many Emo Days”), but always in the sense of “Well, what can we do about this?” Latterman doesn’t just examine the problems surrounding their lives, but actively (and optimistically) looks at what they, and you, as individuals can do about it. Rather than wallow in self-pity, each song is its own anthem of empowerment, garnished with equally anthemic chants and rallying cries.

If you let your heart tell you who you need to be
You'll find a beautiful person in the mirror everyday

Even when Latterman engages in social criticism (“The Biggest Sausage Party Ever”), they still address it from a perspective of what can be done about it, as opposed to one of abject despondence. Consumer culture and gender inequalities are chief topics of criticism, with awareness, honesty and DIY being promoted as ways of combating these social ills from the standpoint of the individual.

On Turn Up the Punk, We’ll Be Singing, Latterman conceive their inimitable and passionate brand of punk rock with a bang, creating a style just as individual as the message they preach. This is not just energetic and anthemic pop-punk, delivered with an upbeat attitude and a strong sense of social morality, but a shining example of the level of originality still achievable in punk. Pick yourself up a cold beer and give it a listen.

remind ourselves ten years from now
just what we need

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Nothington - One for the Road

Today's post continues this blog's current streak of me posting nothing but gruff, semi-melodic and all-too unheralded punk rock in bite-sized doses. May the streak never die.

Hailing from San Francisco comes Nothington, a punk band made of ex-Tsunami Bomb and Enemy You members that blends HWM-style punk with traditional Southern musical leanings. Nothington takes a bit of a detour from previous bands looked at, in that they noticeably veer off from conventional punk rock to the point where it sounds more like electrically charged, up-tempo country than anything else. The vocals conjure up images of a pissed-off Tom Waits, the singer's strained growl sounding like it was influenced by equal parts whiskey and cigarettes. Twangy guitars and low lying bass lines support, with the end result sounding as much bar band as it does punk rock.

This 7" was the group's debut, released a month before their 2007 full-length All In, and it features tracks from that album as well as some B-sides.

Recommended for Leatherface and American Steel fans.

One for the Road

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Chinese Telephones/Dear Landlord Split 7"

Recorded and released in 2007, this split is a dual effort from two talented Mid-western punk groups, Dear Landlord and Chinese Telephones. The first group, Dear Landlord, definitely has the better side of the split, as they play with the kind of relentlessness and energy usually reserved to basement shows and community centers, only with the skill to back it. They manage to successfully supplement their aggressive approach with a number of memorable hooks and melodies, sounding more than a little bit like early-00's Dillinger Four in the process. The guitars are pummeling in their assault, and the production works to emphasize their strength excellently. The vocals are spectacular as well, delivered with the kind of energy and urgency that, combined with the similarly desperate spirit of the lyrics, practically demand to be sung along with (if you can figure them out anyway).

we're not that hopeless
we're not as fucked as you think
in certain moments
we can do anything

we're winning when you bleed

Chinese Telephones, on the other hand, play a brand of punk that, while less refined in sound quality and production, emphasizes a more upbeat approach, namely in the guitarwork; if Dear Landlord can be compared to Dillinger Four, then a suitable comparison for Chinese Telephones could be a rougher-sounding Latterman. The result of both the production and the band's chaotic style of playing is a much messier and more organic feel to their songs. Unfortunately, the vocals tend to get drowned out much more easily this way, rendering much of the lyrics undecipherable. Regardless, this is a very strong split from two bands that deserve more attention than they're getting, and an excellent way to spend your next eight minutes.

i'm not saying get'er done, but don't just stand there

Friday, April 24, 2009

Banner Pilot - Pass the Poison EP

I've been on something of a pop-punk fix of late, most of it being your traditional post-00's Midwestern punk concoctions of smooth, hook-laden melodies, angrily shouted raspy vocals and drunken, self-effacing lyrics (e.g. The Lawrence Arms, Dear Landlord, Dillinger Four, Off With Their Heads, Chinese Telephones). All very good stuff if you don't mind the occasional redundancies in sound. But what prompts this post is one of the newer bands to surface from that area, Banner Pilot, who made waves last year with their full-length debut Resignation Day, and whose first EP Pass the Poison is now available for free download here. It's great sloppy and aggressive pop-punk from what has to be the world capital of such things by now, Minneapolis. Teeming with passion and energy, Pass the Poison is a very strong showing by an undoubtedly talented and promising punk outfit.

And if you like this, don't forget to look for their Fat Wreck debut, scheduled for release this fall.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Yanqui U.X.O.

There's a scene in Mulholland Drive. Two guys are in a diner, and they're talking about a dream that the one guy had, a dream which is eliciting a certain deja vu response for the one guy. He talks about a man that he saw in his dream, outside that very diner, and how the man's face hasn't left his mind since. So they pay their bill, they head outside, and they set off to investigate whether he is really there.

It's the middle of the day, the sun is out, and while everything about the scene looks normal in the sense that any scene can look normal, there's still something about it that just feels off, and it is from this that what should be an everyday occurrence is given this unbelievable wave of tension. The scene is paced at a furious crawl as the two men head towards the alley, their view of which is blocked off by a white, graffiti-tagged wall, and everything about the scene gives the viewer that horror movie feeling that something bad is about to happen.

When the two men reach a certain point, they witness nothing more than a dishevelled homeless man, but it is the way that this reveal happens, as if he glides in to the camera's eyeline like some sort of ghastly apparition, that makes it such a startling and memorable scene. Whether or not this was the dream itself or whether the homeless man was the same man from the dream and the entire scene was a sort of pre-meditated deja vu is left purposefully unclear. Nothing bad happens in the slasher flick way we are lead to expect will happen, but the overall result is more terrifying and unsettling because of it. What could just have been a trivial scare is lent a surreal, nightmarish quality, where the build-up takes prominence over the conclusion.

The reason I make this comparison is Yanqui U.X.O. holds within it the same dream-weary feeling of something that's just not quite right, from the eerie hum that guides along "09-15-00 (Part 1)", to the idling corkscrew guitar line of "Rockets Fall on Rocket Falls", to the shrill, frantic, yet oddly peaceful ending notes of "Motherfucker - Redeemer (Part 2)", which comes off almost like a rendition of "We'll Meet Again" amongst the proverbial calamity and destruction that just transpired. Godspeed You! Black Emperor have always been considered one of the most influential bands in the development of post-rock, and this is an entirely deserved title once one sees the incredible control of mood and atmosphere within their pieces; they are like an auteur honing his craft, managing his audience's expectations masterfully by making thorough use of every scene, every shot. And while Yanqui U.X.O. isn't usually considered to be Godspeed's best work, I think it shows a great band at their artistic peak, as it shows them craft some of the most beautiful and unsettling songs of their career.

Where this shows off is in the variety and experimentation shown on Yanqui U.X.O. A lot of the instrumental work feels completely dissociated from the expected sounds of the respective instruments. Drums carry with them the memory of the slow, steady march into war. The wail of a violin is turned into the tuneful drone of a flickering fluorescent light, or maybe the whistling of the wind as it flies by Major Kong's face. Guitars echo all sorts of elaborate pitches, warbling along amongst the expansive atmosphere of noise and reverb. That the instruments come across so detached, so fragmented in their composition works to give the feel that something here is not right.

And no doubt that's the point. GY!BE have always been a heavily political band; the picture below (which comes within the liner notes for Yanqui U.X.O.) shows the link between each major record label, the subsidiary that owns them, and factories that manufacture weapons and missiles for the American military.

Taking this as well as a number of other re-occurring motifs from this album into account, we can see Yanqui U.X.O. (with U.X.O. standing for "unexploded ordnance", weapons that were fired but didn't explode) as something of an attempt to capture the pervasive mood of its time. In America, the late 90's to very early 00's (the time in which this album was written and recorded) are always referred to as a 'boom' time, be it due to the explosion of internet business, the economic policies of the Clinton administration, or just the natural ebb and flow of the market system. The economy was good and as such, the generalization goes that people were living well. And yet at this very time, numerous bombing campaigns were being run overseas, in Serbia, in the Middle-East, where far poorer people in far poorer nations were feeling the brunt of political decisions they had no hand in making. Whether these political decisions were justified isn't relevant; what is relevant is that there's something that just doesn't feel right to such a massive discrepancy in the value of life that occurs when one draws a line between us and them, when dividing between which people deserve to live at the expense of their fellow human beings. The sad, echoic drums that pace "Rockets Fall on Rocket Falls" almost seem to recognize the fate of those below, but they can provide little but solemnity for the loss.

Of course, that doesn't really tell you what the album is like at all, only the perceived meanings behind it. So what then is Yanqui U.X.O.? Yanqui U.X.O. is that feeling of something not quite right, of that pang of guilt that comes with success at the undeserved folly of another. It's that feeling of sinister lurking behind a bright, sunny day - or perhaps, behind a white, graffiti-tagged wall. It's the sense you get out of a dissociative high that renders everything around you remains recognizable, but leaves the meaning behind them blurred and detached. It is sorrow and it is confusion, and it occurs within a state of affairs wherein the line between the two becomes so blurred as to be entirely inseparable. Yet it is also an utterly transcendent album, beautifully strange and delightfully eerie, moving and tragic, an album that is poignant and unique without saying a single word.

Yanqui U.X.O.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Lifter Puller - Bay City Rolling 7"

Lifter Puller is what Craig Finn was up to prior to fronting The Hold Steady and personally, I've always seen them as the superior band regardless of the mainstream popularity of the latter. Their material was not only much more consistent, but featured the type of gripping tales of drugs, drunkenness and debauchery usually reserved for pulp fiction. Bay City Rolling was one of the group's last releases (post-Fiestas and Fiascos), and it features two songs, the raucous "Secret Santa Cruz" and the more restrained "Yo Quereria", both strong efforts which make good use of the band's established sound from F&F. For fans of the band, or for anyone interested in the whereabouts of post-punk before its mid-00's revival, this is a must.

Bay City Rolling

Monday, March 30, 2009

Johnny Hobo and the Freight Trains - All Power to the Wingnuts! EP

This is an early release by one of my favourite folk-punk acts, Johnny Hobo and the Freight Trains. Two out of the three songs here would be re-recorded and re-released on the Chaos Infiltration Squad! EP, but All Power to the Wingnuts!, while immature in sound and demeanor, has a much better recording going for it.

While this certainly isn't the best Johnny Hobo release (that would be Love Songs for the Apocalypse), and while Pat's vocals come off even more abrasive than usual, All Power to the Wingnuts! is still a good example of the same anarchistic passion and teenage discontent that re-appear throughout the band's work. Apathy has never sounded so good.

All Power to the Wingnuts!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

we draped ourselves in noise

just got back from a show (see above). to recap the night: I got drunk in advance for the sake of practicality, got headbutted during a circle pit, bled profusely for about five minutes afterwards, and spent the rest of the time just generally jumping around like a fucking spastic while people in pull-over hoodies stood around motionless staring at their cell phones, thinking about which friend they should text next. hard-fucking-core, guys

there's not really a point to this post, I guess, considering I don't remember which band was which, and can't really analyze the show in any depth aside from "it was awesome". if anyone checked out that Black Ships link I posted here a while back (as an aside there was a guy wearing a Black Ships shirt there, which was cool to see amidst the almost comical number of people clad in Have Heart apparel - which isn't to say they aren't good either), the bands were mostly in that vein (i.e. fucking loud, fairly abrasive, and in some cases, surprisingly technical), blending hardcore with sludge with post-metal with crust with feedback and distortion and VOLUME. my opinion is likely biased by the amount of alcohol I consumed (I am the kind of guy who brings his own spiked water bottle; I am also the kind of guy who uses too many parentheses), but still


also, I picked up a pretty cool split of some bands I saw a while back that I'll probably post here once I figure out how to rip vinyls onto a computer (my current hypothesis is I just don't have the necessary technology, but if anyone wants to educate me on the manner, that would be swell). usually I just download anything I buy on vinyl so I can listen to it on my computer as well, but this one may be hard to find considering both bands are locally based.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Corpse Paint Not Included

Okay, so recently I made a black metal mix for a messageboard I frequent, and I figured that as long as I was writing (however sloppy) I might as well post it here as well. I haven`t really talked about metal much here as I haven`t been listening to it as much as I used to, but in case you`re unfamiliar with black metal, this is a fairly good mix for beginners to get into. Since I was making it while under the assumption that most of the people who would listen to it would not have had a lot of experience with black metal previously, I tried to make it as accessible as I could by focusing on the diversity of the genre, as well as the experimentation with different styles that occurred following the rather homogenous second wave (not a knock, just an observation). It also has a fairly low number of songs (nine total, as any more would have kept me from being able to use Mediafire as a host), so there's not much in the way of filler.

As such, there are no Darkthrone, Mayhem, or Immortal songs included, although these bands were all crucially important to the explosion of the genre in the early to mid 90’s. Still, a few of the important second wave bands are included at the beginning of the mix as a way of defining the genre and forming a template for what black metal is. From then on, the mix veers off in a number of somewhat radical approaches that, while often different in tone and sound from traditional black metal, are still firmly rooted and influenced by it. As a result, I think this mix should be a lot more accessible for listeners unfamiliar to the genre, which makes it a good introduction to an often suffocatingly insular brand of music.

1. Ulver - Capitel V: Bergtatt - Ind I Fjeldkamrene
Bergtatt - Et Eeventyr I 5 Capitler (1994)

Now then, let’s get right into the thick of it. This song begins with a blaring metal riff, and it continues in that same unwaveringly strong, insistent fashion for most of its duration. While Ulver may be most known for their experimentations blending metal and folk (they would eventually detach themselves from the genre, moving on to more experimental pursuits), this song is pure black metal in all its glory. Powerful, intense, atmospheric and lighting fast, this is a great song from one of the most heralded bands (and deservedly so) in black metal.

2. Burzum – Hvis Lyset Tar Oss
Hvis Lyset Tar Oss (1994)

Nearly every negative pre-conception held against black metal can be traced back to this guy right here: Varg Vikernes, the sole artist behind Burzum, and a fairly prominent part of the Norwegian black metal scene back in its heyday. Incidentally, he just got out of jail, where he spent the last sixteen years (and from where he released this album) for murder.

Regardless of his actions, Hvis Lyset Tar Oss is considered by many to be one of the classic albums of early black metal, a landmark of the genre alongside the works of other luminary artists as Ulver (above) and Emperor (below). Thick, unyielding guitars and a strong understanding and control of ambience make this one of the darkest and most atmospheric albums you’ll ever hear. And yet, it’s also one of the most inaccessible albums you’ll hear, if only because of the unique vocal approach, which are divided among listeners on a love/hate basis, where some feel it gives the album a tortured, almost evil feel to it, and others feel that it’s just fucking abrasive. The reason for this is that Varg doesn’t so much ‘sing’, as he does ‘scream like someone is tearing apart his genitals with a rusty penknife’ (sorry for the mental image). Either way, it’s a must-listen for its influence.

3. Emperor – Ye Entrancemperium
Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk (1996)

No other black metal band has quite the resume of the pull of Emperor. While other bands were adopting a rougher approach, attempting to make their sound even more distorted and poor than it already was in order to appeal to some misnomer about what ‘true’ black metal was, Emperor added keyboards and symphonic elements to their attack. Judging by their current influence and status as one of the defining bands of black metal, they made the right call.

Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk was the band’s second album, and while many would agree they created a classic with their debut, In the Nightside Eclipse, they still managed to not only live up to that standard, but in fact exceed it with their follow-up. “Ye Entrancemperium” is a fast-paced song that shows their innovative and influential blending of keyboards and dark metal, an idea which would be expanded upon by other bands on this list.

4. Summoning – Elfstone
Dol Guldur (1996)

Called ‘atmospheric black metal’ due to their tendency to slow down the pace and to introduce elements alien to traditional black metal into their approach, Summoning are possibly most well known for the fact that almost all of their lyrics are based on the novels of J.R.R. Tolkien (except on Stronghold, which finds itself drawing from the unfamiliar well of the poems of J.R.R. Tolkien). That may sound exceptionally nerdy, but come on; can you honestly say you never thought about forming a band (possibly in high school) for the sole intention of singing about Lord of the Rings? Think of all the chicks you would get, and then get back to me.

(They would be numerous, is what I am saying)

5. Windir – 1184
1184 (2001)

Windir was fucking amazing. They played vicious, relentless black metal, and they did it with a speed and precision that was unsurpassed by any of their contemporaries. What this band utilized that perhaps made them better than any other black metal outfit however, was the way keyboards were blended so seamlessly into their approach (much better than with Emperor), taking the dense and menacing ‘wall of sound’ technique used by so many black metal bands and soaring above it with expertly constructed melodic sections befitting of an electronica artist. Never does the amalgamation sound overdramatic or cheesy like with so many sub-par ‘melo-death’ bands; instead, it adds a power to their music, an emotional resonance that appears so rarely in black metal.

Unfortunately, the band ended prematurely in 2004 after singer and group mastermind Valfar died of hypothermia at only 25 years old (considering that he had been releasing music under the name for ten years prior to his death makes his accomplishments while alive all the more impressive). Still, we have four albums he wrote as Windir that stand as a testament to his strength as a songwriter and performer (there was no full band line-up until Windir's third album, the aforementioned 1184).

6. Arcturus – Collapse Generation
The Sham Mirrors (2001)

And now we are all but entirely distanced from traditional black metal. Arcturus was a collaboration between a number of influential metal musicians, including Garm, the singer for Ulver, and Hellhammer, the guitarist for Mayhem. Often called ‘avant-garde metal’ for the unique and frankly bizarre approach of their last couple of releases (including this one, The Sham Mirrors), they still retain some of the black metal qualities inherent to their earlier works.

For example, listen to the drums on this song. Holy. Sh*t.

7. Woods of Ypres – The Sun Was in My Eyes: Part 1
Pursuit of the Sun and Allure of the Earth (2004)

Woods of Ypres are a melodic black metal outfit from Toronto that combine folk, doom (much like the next band on the list) and black metal into a heavily atmospheric package. They are one of many modern black metal-leaning bands today that are looking to nature as a form of musical inspiration, rather than the somewhat questionable influences that guided the second wave of black metal. They are also exceptionally good, and are one of the most easily accessible bands on this mix.

8. Agalloch – Falling Snow
Ashes Against the Grain (2006)

Possibly the most well-recognized band on this list, and also one of the furthest to depart from traditional black metal, Agalloch take a similar approach to Woods of Ypres (which is more likely due to their influence on WoY, rather than vice versa). On their earlier releases (especially The Mantle), Agalloch take on an Ulver-inspired folk metal approach, wherein a natural atmosphere is emphasized and electric guitars are often eschewed in favour of acoustics. On Ashes Against the Grain, they rely on that sparse folk aesthetic a lot less, instead creating a thick, commanding, almost ethereal sound. “Falling Snow” is one highlight of many on this album, and the opening guitar riff is among the greatest I have ever heard. This song is a lot slower than most of the other stuff on this mix, and the atmospheric stance taken is one heavily dissociated from the common idea of black metal (you can occasionally even hear the bass). Yet the influences are apparent as well, especially in the vocals, and Agalloch serves as a strong example of what can be produced when creativity and artistic inspiration are stressed over following the norms of already well-defined genres.

9. Wolves in the Throne Room – Cleansing
Two Hunters (2007)

Dark. Overpowering. Suffocating.

All of these are accurate descriptors of the last ten minutes of this mix, courtesy of one of the most important bands in black metal today (and one of the only USBM bands to get it right). Though their personal beliefs often overshadow their music (think Thoreau), there can be no doubt as to the strength of that music, which takes ambient cues from Burzum while still retaining a forceful and progressive musical complexity (Varg was never quite lauded for his musicianship).

click here for EVIL

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Mischief Brew - Jobs in Steel Town 7"

Since I haven't really had the time to do any full posts of late, I'm going to continue to half-ass it (well, sort of) while posting various 7" recordings until my schedule becomes less unrelenting.

Mischief Brew is the undertaking of singer-songwriter Erik Peterson, a project which combines elements of the protest singers of the 60's with a highly varied assortment of musical influences, including Celtic, swing, and early jazz. The Jobs in Steel Town 7" was released just last year, and thematically, it focuses on the effects of business on working-class towns; namely, the reliance of the latter on the former and the almost indifferent relationship that exists on the other end of the scale. Peterson's lyrics on the title track paint a somber picture of what happens when the fruits of industry dry out - a picture which becomes especially resonant when looking at the current status of the American auto industry, which has shed workers by the tens of thousands just to stay afloat - as he traces the downfall and failed revitalization of a former industrial center. On the B-side, however, Peterson's tone is more hopeful, as he chooses to revel in the "beautiful decay" he sees rather than lament it. "The Barrel" focuses on the idea of finding yourself in a bad situation and seeing in it an opportunity for solidarity, growth and self-fulfillment, like when a flower peeks through a crack in the pavement. Jobs in Steel Town doesn't contain the strongest songs ever penned under the Mischief Brew name, but it does contain some of the most resonant, and it stands as a sympathetic ode to the trials of the working-class as the importance of labour continues to diminish in the face of a globalized world.

Jobs in Steel Town

Monday, March 16, 2009

Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead 12" Single

"Bela Lugosi's Dead" was Bauhaus' first single, originally released in 1979, and it stands as their most prominent and well-regarded song to date, as well as a landmark in the evolution of post-punk. Lasting over nine minutes, "Bela Lugosi's Dead" takes on a starkly minimalist approach, experimenting with a purposely sparse sound and accentuating atmosphere over musical complexity. The grinding, reverb-drenched guitars, the fidgety, echoic drums, the hypnotic, throbbing bass, all of it combines to create the overwhelming sense of foreboding gloom that teems throughout this track. Singer Peter Murphy's vocals have all the solemnity of a funeral dirge, as his trance-like drone carries along the drifting desolation of the instruments.

Morbid, eerie, and ominous, this single is a classic in every sense of the word. If you haven't heard it before, consider this an absolute must-listen. (The B-side isn't bad either.)

Bela Lugosi is dead

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Thursday Afternoon Music Videos: Matthew Good - Weapon

I haven’t been posting much recently – part of this is due to an increased workload, part of it is just general apathy – but in the interest of maintaining some semblance of activity, here is one of my favourite music videos by my favourite artist, Matthew Good. "Weapon" was the first single off of Good's first solo album, the brilliant Avalanche, and it marks a noticeable shift in his style of song-writing, moving from the aggressive, angst-ridden post-grunge of the Matthew Good Band to a slower, more ethereal sound. Orchestral flourishes give an almost heavenly air to a song that already feels deeply immersed in inner struggle, with the blaring din of the guitars representing the conflict that surrounds the speaker. Like a lot of Good's songs, lyrically, "Weapon" doesn't so much as follow a strict narrative or have a clear meaning to it as it does present a kind of poetic imagery, relying on the strength of its singer to convey the emotions of the words as they relate to the mood.

It is perhaps because of this that Good's music videos are often as beguiling as they are. Without having to push a particular story as it exists within the song, he (as well as whoever happens to be helping direct the video) is allowed to instead go the direct route of appealing to the mood of the song, rather than follow some pre-conditioned meaning that may not fit as well. Indeed, this is both an artfully and satirically adept music video that follows an entirely different path than the song, and yet, manages to enhance it beautifully. Through a bleak yet enrapturing collage of images and colours, the video provides a cynical and subversive backdrop that impresses upon its viewer the same feelings of desperate, mocking dissonance that resonate throughout Good’s material (albeit much moreso in his pre-solo career). At first, the video may appear to go the traditional route of "band pretends to play song while you listen to song", but that standard is immediately subverted through sarcastic and self-depricating editing, quick cuts filled with pseudo-subliminal messages, and a potent yet subtle sense of irony that takes nothing sacred.

But enough of my rambling:

Thursday, February 26, 2009

El-P - I'll Sleep When You're Dead

In a way, El-P could be considered a modern renaissance man (at least as far as hip-hop is concerned). In addition to being a skilled rapper and producer (formerly of Company Flow), as well as one of the most prolific and widely skilled voices of underground rap today, he is also the co-founder and owner of Def Jux, a highly influential label that makes up one of the largest pillars of modern independent hip-hop. So it should be no surprise that his solo career has come to combine the numerous facets of his repertoire, showcasing both his intelligent and forceful lyrical ability as well as his excellent ability for composition. On his second full-length solo album, I'll Sleep When You're Dead, El-P brings these elements together to create a dark, paranoid and fully realized world, pessimistic in its viewpoints, honest in its confessions, and ultimately dissociated from reality.

Do you think that if you were falling in space
that you would slow down after a while, or go faster and faster?
faster and faster
for a long time you wouldn't feel anything...

From the hushed whispers and ominous ringing that opens "Tasmanian Pain Coaster" (including the above sample from Twin Peaks), we are immediately introduced to El-P's unique and dissociative style. His beats sound alien even after repeated listens, with the constant implementation of estranged synths giving off the intimate detachment of a drug-induced fervour. Indeed, drugs play a large role in this album; not only are they referenced liberally (the aforementioned "Tasmanian Pain Coaster" is about PCP), but the production takes on a very psychedelic tone, overloading the senses with disparate elements as if the stated goal is to divorce the listener from corporeality. Crowd samples and foreign-sounding noises are channelled continually, fleeting yet disconcerting in their appearances, as they work to bring the listener further into the insular and suffocating world I'll Sleep When You're Dead exists in. For what it is, the production is often infectious, creating a diverse and imaginative landscape for El-P to preach over. Occasionally, the beats are too dense and too discordant for their own good, but overall, they show one of the most innovative and atypical producers in hip-hop at his best.

El-P's voice slices through the disorientation of the production with an unwavering strength, able to convey both confidence and compassion with the same preternatural gift for gab. Indeed, this is possibly the strongest lyrical work I have ever seen in regards to hip-hop, with El-P moving back and forth between surrealist stream of consciousness, foreboding narration, and effacing self-examination with ultimate poise. El-P's range includes tracks as varied as the sneering defiance of "Dear Sirs" (replete with apocalyptic imagery), the Brazil-meets-Blade Runner dystopian fantasy of "Habeas Corpses (Draconian Love)", and the tender balance between love and guilt as examined on "The Overly Dramatic Truth". While these songs all take on different subjects and in different ways, they are brought together by their starkly bleak worldview. "Dear Sirs" can be read as a long, bitter critique of modern society, "The Overly Dramatic Truth" deals with one man's attempt to come to terms with his reciprocated love for a younger woman (the overriding suggestion being that he cannot), and while "Habeas Corpses (Draconian Love)" starts out with a promise of redemption, it destroys all semblance of it by the end.

There are a number of standout tracks here that deserve mentioning for one reason or another, but a personal favourite is "The League of Extraordinary Nobodies", a seemingly simple song about getting high at a party that follows a deeply cynical and anti-social narrator as he describes the scene around him. The paranoid and remarkably self-aware style of rambling El-P utilizes here is a treat for anyone who's ever been in the same situation, "surrounded by the friendliest of strangers who would sooner kill themselves than give a fuck if [they] were dead".

I just counted in my head how many people in this room I'm talking to that I would never give the time
And here we are, all being vain and looking at ourselves in mirrors very closely nodding straight up in a line
All the funny little stories that are told are being fueled by what amounts to nothing more than minor crime
But I'm a whore, and I'm exploring territory where the party and the pussy both are numbered by the dime

The song is clever and endlessly quotable, and as the narrator's chagrin at the senseless repetition of his and everyone else's actions grows, a laugh track is introduced to the mix to poke fun at the predictability of the party-goers from a figurative perspective.

I've been noticing the fact that nothing glorious can happen anymore, we've run the gamut of our filth
But here I am again, pretending spontaneity exists with idiots all lifted out their little gills
Aren't you disturbed that everything you did tonight is something else you did already and its meaning is still nill
And all the people in your presence are just weapons, it's as simple as the theory that the dying love to kill

I could go on gushing, but the point would be better summed up in short: with I'll Sleep When You're Dead, El-P created a modern hip-hop masterpiece. The dark and disorienting production works perfectly with the world-weary cynicism of the lyrics. The songs are extremely well-written and composed, and El-P's stoic, often surreal manner of rapping only adds to the emotional resonance of his statements. But while I'll Sleep When You're Dead may be bleak - and it most certainly is bleak - it is also vigilant in spite of it all, unwilling to look away from the darker side of life for even a moment. But this album is not merely a celebration of desolation. Rather, it is a recognition of the necessity of being aware and the consequences of what it means to be aware - even if that means a few sleepless nights.

this is the sound of what you don't know killing you

Monday, February 16, 2009

Financial Panther - Financial Panther EP

1. Quick! Create a Diversion
2. Three Cheers for the Pantsuit Brigade
3. I Can't Be Sexist, I Read Heartattack
4. I Cannot Tell a Lie... You Chopped Down My Self-Esteem Tree

It's a band named Financial Panther. If that doesn't pique your interest, then nothing I could ever say would change your mind.

Get him, Sheba!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Best of 2008: Final Thoughts (/w Links)

Figured it would be a good idea to have one place for all this stuff, kind of like a handy reference guide in case you wanted to look up a post or find a link (more likely a link).

1. Atmosphere - When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold -> Download
2. The Gaslight Anthem - The '59 Sound -> Download
3. Verse En Coma - Rialto -> Download
4. Up-C Down-C Left-C Right-C ABC + Start - Embers -> Download
5. Verse - Aggression -> Download
6. Transistor Transistor - Ruined Lives -> Download
7. Pygmy Lush - Mount Hope -> Download
8. Fight Like Apes - And the Mystery of the Golden Medallion -> Download
9. Have a Nice Life - Deathconsciousness -> Download 1 2
10. Aussitot Mort - Montuenga -> Download
11. The Max Levine Ensemble - OK Smartypants -> Download
12. Have Heart - Songs to Scream at the Sun -> Download
13. Adebisi Shank - This is the Album of a Band Called Adebisi Shank -> Download
14. Off Minor - Some Blood -> Download
15. Daitro/Sed Non Satiata Split -> Download
16. God is an Astronaut - God is an Astronaut -> Download
17. Metaform - Standing on the Shoulders of Giants -> Download
18. The Mars Volta - Bedlam in Goliath -> Download
19. The Mountain Goats - Heretic Pride -> Download
20. Nine Inch Nails - The Slip -> Download
21. Made Out of Babies - The Ruiner -> Download
22. Baader Brains - The Complete Unfinished Works of the Young Tigers -> Download
23. ...Who Calls So Loud - ...Who Calls So Loud -> Download
24. Mogwai - The Hawk is Howling -> Download
25. Killing the Dream - Fractures -> Download
26. Mesa Verde - The Old Road -> Download
27. pg.lost - It's Not Me, It's You -> Download 1 2
28. The Riot Before - Fists Buried in Pockets -> Download
29. Black Ships - Omens -> Download
30. United Nations - United Nations -> Download

Also, there's some other albums that would have made this list had I gotten into them sooner that I'd like to use this space to give a shout-out to, half-assed though it may be.

Dillinger Four - CIVIL WAR

Attention, Dillinger(s): Kindly never go six years without making a record again. I know you have jobs and real responsibilities that your time would be better spent on and whatnot, but the teasing was just cruel. This album isn't quite on the level of Situationist Comedy, and it lacks the energy of earlier Dillinger Four, but it's still fiercely intelligent punk music that you can hum along to, and dammit, that has to mean something.

Star Fucking Hipsters - Until We're Dead

Longtime Choking Victim followers may not like the move to an often slower, more expansive sound, but I do. There's a weariness to this album, both in the band's propensity to slow things down, and in the vocals of Stza, which have lost a lot of power to them in the past five years (much less the past ten). I'd call it maturity, but anyone who's actually listened to the Hipsters know that's not the case. Either way, Until We're Dead is either a nice reprise or a mild disappointment for anyone who's been jonesing for some crack rock steady (I fall into the former group).

The Rural Alberta Advantage - Hometowns

Delightful Toronto-based, synth-infused indie rock from displaced Albertans remembering with fondness a simpler time in their lives. One that involved prairies. It has been said that the singer sounds like Jeff Mangum, and I agree with that assessment. Fun Fact: I have been to every single city/town they sing about on this album. Yes. That's right. I can feel your jealousy pouring through the computer screen. Anyhoo, this is probably the best example of Canadian music that 2008 has to offer. So if you wanna infuse yourself with a culture far superior to yours in everyway (not that we like to brag), look into this album.

Best of 2008: #1. Atmosphere - When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold

Atmosphere is a funny combination; rare is it that underground hip-hop gains such a massive following. And yet, given the growing alternative, it's really no surprise to see the Minnesota group gain greater and greater prominence over the more mainstream-oriented fare. But I'm not here to rant about the state of modern hip-hop; especially given that I don't care. What I am here to say is that the sixth album from producer/rapper duo Ant and Slug, When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold, is their best yet, combining the polish of You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We're Having with the emotional depth of Godlovesugly into a remarkably deep and resonant package.

As far as vocals go, When Life Gives You Lemonsrepresents something of a shift in approach for Slug. His rich, descriptive style is no longer focused inward; the same introspective qualities that have always abounded in Slug's lyrics still apply, but now more than ever they take on a narrative perspective, serving to illuminate the lives and mindsets of any number of eloquently explored characters. Through his empathetic and nimble direction, Slug weaves his way through the adversities and struggles of the people we see in our day-to-day lives, from the waitress serving taking your orders to pay her way through school ("You") to the homeless man on the street corner just trying to get out of the cold ("The Waitress"). One of the strongest is the tale of a blue-collar father trying to provide for his family in the face of near-destitution ("Guarantees"). Accompanied by a simple, bluesy guitar lick, Slug's first-person narrative exquisitely describes the plight of the working poor, pitting the abject hopelessness of trying to become something - anything - versus the necessity to keep on going anyway.

well maybe we can speed up the process
kill me in my thirties in the name of progress
put me in the dirt and then change the topic
some times it seems like the only way to stop it
contemplating my departure date
doesn't take a lot to get a lot of us to talk this way

It would take too long to explore all the great lines Slug peppers in throughout this album, but suffice to say they are bountiful, and they exude a cautious understanding of even the most flawed of individuals being explored.

wanna make her smile? want to make her laugh?
want to make up for the mistakes in the past?
want to act like he doesn't know better
if payback's a bitch, he'll be in debt forever
insecure, impatient
temporary gratification, self validation
that's what it's made of, it's all true
and it's the only reason that he's even talking to you

On the production side of things, Ant does some of his best work yet, staying away from the stark minimalism of early Atmosphere with lush recordings of pianos, woodwinds and synthesizers. Early on in his career, Ant was mostly just a backdrop for Slug's lyrical prowess, with his beats consisting of simple rhythms and usually an instrument layered over top, making sure never to detract unduly attention from Slug. And while this did well to showcase one of the best underground rappers around, it sometimes made for an overly basic affair. But with the duo's last album, You Can't Believe How Much Fun We're Having, this changed, as Ant's beats became thicker, and began to gain equal footing with Slug's vocals. On When Life Gives You Lemons, the production is remarkably crisp, with a variety of instruments popping up all over the place to enhance the aura, and it shows even as Ant moves further and further away from typical hip-hop production. (The flute makes not one, but two appearance here - giving it perhaps the most street cred of all the reedless wind instruments.)

Ant's production has an engrossing warmth to it, giving it a sympathetic edge that compliments Slug beautifully. This can be seen in how the lyre-like strings of "Like the Rest of Us" pace Slug's gentle crooning, or in how the desperation of the titular "Dreamer" is enhanced by Ant's orchestral flourishes. Or how the wonderfully nostalgic feel of "In Her Music Box" helps to give a sense of innocence to the song, making us feel like the child in the story, blissfully unaware of both her mom's distress and her dad's immaturity.

Yet Ant doesn't just compliment Slug; on several occasions, the instruments are the main focus of the listener's attention, driving the song along and giving it its identity. For example, the dark, dense synth-lead production of "Your Glasshouse" and "Can't Break" fantastically influence the feel of their respective songs. In the former, it serves to enhance the disorientation the lead character feels upon waking up to a hangover, and in the latter, it makes up for a rare disjointed narrative by giving it a menacing feel that helps piece the parts together.

Atmosphere's sixth album is a triumph of modern hip-hop that eschews the shallow themes and masturbatory self-aggrandization that makes the genre impenetrable to those who demand actual depth in their music. Both Slug and Ant are at the very top of their already, proving why each has the level of influence that they do in their respective fields. This is an extremely personable album that the listener can identify and empathize with immediately due to the beautifully deep characterizations and the intricate and original production. The next time you're ever feeling down or depressed, crestfallen over the latest of many things to go wrong, just put on some Atmosphere and paint that shit gold.