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