Sunday, January 18, 2009

Best of 2008: #6. Transistor Transistor - Ruined Lives

I've spoken at length about Transistor Transistor before, so I'll try and keep this relatively short and frame my opinion of this album in regards to the former. Ruined Lives is the second album by the east-coast hardcore stalwarts, and it continues the pattern of abrasively destructive rock music as set out by their phenomenal debut, Erase All Names and Likenesses. In fact, there isn't a lot of change on display here, and this can be taken a number of ways. On the one hand, when your formula already makes you stand out as a relatively unique band in an oft-stagnant genre, then change really isn't necessary, especially when the results are as good as this. Indeed, by my count, Erase All Names and Likenesses is a modern hardcore classic, an album which was beautifully captivating in its depiction of cynicism, anger and the apathy that follows.

Unfortunately, yet also rather expectedly, Ruined Lives doesn't quite live up to the quality of the group's debut; it feels less coordinated, more like a collection of songs than a fully-realized album. Gone is the overwhelming and all-encompassing sense of pessimism as seen in the suffocating misanthropy of tracks like "Power Chord Academy", and in its place is a kind of nihilistic party metal sheen that comes through on a few of the earlier songs. Now this isn't a full abandonment of the vivid frustration of Erase All Names and Likenesses - "Celluloid Rats", for one, is a delightfully angsty and vicious attack on social stasis - just the inclusion of a few songs that don't quite fit the mold, which as a result make the album feel a bit more uneven.

But please don't take any of this as indication of a sophomore slump. There are plenty of highlights here: "Diet of Worms" is a fantastic song that brings with it all the caged frustration that has come to be expected of Transistor Transistor. "Pillar of Salt" is a plodding, noisy behemoth, its rallying cry a distinctly jagged and relentless bark of "I hope I'll rot". "Irreversible" breaks to a sprint with reckless speed, the guitars dancing and swerving to form an all-out blitzkrieg on the senses as the song, against all odds, gets louder and more desperate as it moves to a devastating climax. No, this is nothing close to a sophomore slump; Ruined Lives sparkles with all the exasperated fury of a desperate youth parade, letting up only momentarily for periods of quiet reflection. If you've never heard Transistor Transistor before, then this is a great, if not quite spectacular place to start.

my apathy and I get along just fine

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