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