Sunday, December 21, 2008

REVIEW TIME!


So here we are again in what will probably be the last batch of reviews you'll see in 2008... which is a good segue for the annual top 10 lists that I'm currently gathering from label-affiliated folks. And that will be next week, or before the year ends anyway. So here's the goods:

ARCHITECT, “Ghost Of the Saltwater Machines”
It’s hard for me to be objective with Architect’s newest record, because... well... I never heard everything from their last full-length. I know, I have no excuse. I’m from Syracuse and so are they, and I’ve seen them enough times to know the songs. Still, what comes out live is often a bit different than what you hear on record. With that said it should be noted that if you liked Architect before you will most certainly be a big fan of this record as well. I know lyrically some of the more political leanings that at times read like conspiracy theories are replaced with more personal themes on this outing. Sure, songs like “Traitor”, “Camelot In Smithereens”, and “Death and Taxes” damn the establishment for even existing, but then you have songs like “Lamplighter” that are made for hardcore-pride sing-alongs (set to a metal soundtrack). Other things remain consistent with Architect- a love for metallic hardcore mixed with massive walls of sound that show a love for post-hardcore strains like Deftones, Far, and even Sunny Day Real Estate. Another staple of Architect’s bag of tricks, and one that sometimes works in their favor and sometimes against them, are long and drawn out feedback tirades punctuated usually with repeated sloganeering. The music often starts with incredible riffing and then the songs slowly break down into pieces of their former selves as things fall apart while the vocals continue, strained and tortured. Like I said, sometimes it’s great (like the end of “Lamplighter”- “Fuck tomorrow/ Live for today/ I’d rather burn out/ Than fade away”) and sometimes it’s a bit too much to take (such as in “Traitor” where it feels like almost the entire song is one big demonstration in the entropy of a song, collapsing on itself over and over again before finally devolving into torrents of feedback and noise). Otherwise, the band is in top form delivering grooving, crushing riffs, one after another throughout the first half of the record. Particularly fun is the staccato chunky riff in the opening track (which also makes an appearance again in the opening salvo of “Death and Taxes”) that sounds like the gears of one of those giant tank robots from the beginning of Terminator rolling over piles of human skulls. I think truly the only moment on the record I don’t like is the ‘you just don’t get how tough it is to be in a touring band’ rants in “Dog and Pony Show” where not being an understanding part of the punk scene is equated with some George Bush bullshit rhetoric of “if you’re not with us you’re against us” (that’s really in the lyrics). I’m just not following that one. Besides that get this for a lesson in being a completely crushing and heavy hardcore band that usually has something really rad to say. (Black Market Activities, www.blackmarketactivities.com)

BEHEAD THE LAMB, “Messiahlation” CDEP
Now this one is easy. After a bunch of records (as you will see below) that mix up genre’s and so forth, Poughkipsee, NY’s Behead the Lamb don’t bother with fucking around in other styles. They are a death metal band. That’s it. Hell, this record is called “Messiahlation”... do you really need to read any further? I don’t think so. It’s meat and potatoes death metal... er, maybe I should say ‘your basic blood and guts death metal’. How about that? It’s nothing that I’m going to toss on repeat, but then again, I don’t listen to death metal. If you do though there’s nothing wrong with this. (Trip Machine Laboratories, www.tripmachinelabs.com)

CUTMAN, “Big Deal/ No Trick Pony” CDEP
I had been intermittently enjoying this CD for a few weeks and it was finally set in the ‘to review’ pile under my desk. And then something terrible happened. My cats kicked this CD into a pile of shit they deposited on the floor under my desk. So this is how they repay me? These cats, who I raised from being only a few weeks old? Cats, who I bottle fed because they would have died otherwise. The same ones who I faithfully feed, change litter for, and care for on a daily basis... this is what I get? This really cool-looking CD by a pretty good band that comes in this fancy-shmancy cardstock package that was so kindly given to me by the good folks at Team Science Records is now smattered with cat turds. Thanks you fucking orphaned bastards... guess who’s not getting a fucking treat later on.
Oh yeah, you probably want to know something about this band? Well, on this EP that collects two separate seven inches they have a sound that recalls early Clutch with a more post-hardcore leaning and vocals that teeter on the verge of biker bro-dom. Yet it totally kicks ass... like if you’re over 30 and remember Stompbox you’d probably fall head over heels for this one too. I can totally dig it. Except the turds. (Team Science, http://www.myspace.com/teamscience, Kiss Of Death, http://www.kissofdeathrecords.com)

DIESTO, “Isle Of Marauder”
Thankfully, this record is not about an island where thuggish New York hardcore tough guys work out and mosh... get it? Actually, who knows what it’s about, all I know is how it sounds. And from the moment I popped this in my immediate thoughts were ‘Unsane’. From the filthy distortion, grimy tones, and the shouted vocals that sound like they were recorded with a broken mic I was hearing nothing but Unsane, circa “Total Destruction”-era coming through the speakers. So that means that things started out great. From there though it just slowed down a lot, so that every song seemed a lot longer, thus making it into a bit of a different beast. I definitely like it even if it felt a bit too long at times they definitely make good use of taking those shredding sounds of New York’s noisiest and giving it a different spin. By the time they get to the final track, “Black Water”, things start out with clean guitars playing some melodic riffs before the crushing sets in. Those cleaner, more classic-sounding guitars emerge again here and there throughout the song, before closing out with a repeating dirgy riff out of the “Scattered, Smothered...” play book. But wait! What’s with the Sabbath leads coming out here? Geez, this song is really long. It may one of the only times where 11 minutes of music of this style is welcome and tossing in a few different influence just to, I don’t know, get it out of the way.. and making it all sound good in the process. Of course, that’s just the last song. The rest of it is a sludgy affair, a nice surprise for this jaded dude. (Exigent Records, www.exigentrecords.com)

DISSOLVE, “Cavemen Of the Future”
Christ, it only took 10 years for this record to come out. 10 years! This is officially the “Chinese Democracy” of downstate metal. For those unfamiliar, let me give a bit of a backstory. Dissolve are from Poughkipsee, NY and have been around forever. They used to play here pretty often in the late 90’s and it seemed like this might have been the only town outside of the capital region where they could get a gig. I think most people were afraid of them, the band didn’t know who to call for shows, and they looked like a rouges gallery of sleazy metalhead subgenres, the likes of which most likely made it their day job to either spit in your burger, rent you porno, or ‘fix’ your muffler... who knows. Maybe it was because they were a weird band and still are. Either way, they had a couple records out back then no one really knew about, and then they got signed to a label that threw a lot of money at them and then promptly went under before they could release the record. Dissolve took that money, recorded “Cavemen Of the Future” and then it simply sat around. In the meantime I’m pretty sure the band split up for a few years. Finally, a few months ago resurrected label Trip Machine picked up the pieces and released this monster. So Dissolve celebrated by going on tour with Overcast. Not a bad turn of events if you ask me. So finally we have this record, recorded at the turn of the millennium and it sounds like Dissolve pretty much always has... except with a fancy recording. So what is that sound? It’s hard to say because they really are in a league of their own in terms of weirdness. It’s heavy as all get out, focusing on a lot of sludgy metal crunch, yet with a mix of psychedelic paranoia, and a Voivod-ish slant on bizarre out-of-this-world angular riffs... except slower. So maybe that puts them a little bit on the Meshuggah end of things as far as odd guitar parts? Regardless, all this heavy weirdness is punctuated by vocalist Paul Thorstons vicious screams that break into fits of spoken word hysteria in almost every song, going on about violence and destruction, yet in a way that is so over the top that often comes off as sort of tongue-in-cheek. It’s a pretty interesting listen and brings me back to younger days when this stuff used to fuel my destructive fantasies. The only real gripe here is that there are 13 tracks here and each one is filled with quite a bit, so it makes the entire experience a little overwhelming to take it. I mean, I know after 10 years these guys probably have a lot they want to get out... but they could have cut a couple tracks out of here. (Trip Machine Laboratories, www.tripmachinelabs.com)

EDIE SEDGWICK, “Things Are Getting Sinister and Sinisterer” 12”
Years ago I got so used to Dischord releasing nothing but quality bands that it was pretty much a given that whenever they put something out it was guaranteed gold. So when they decided to put out a record for a band called El Guapo I was curious what they were all about. They were going on tour with the label’s new hot shit band Q And Not U and I was beyond stoked to see them. So when El Guapo came on to do their thing all I could think was, ‘Is this a joke?’ Me and my friends were convinced that the people at Dischord had decided to play a joke on the public and release a record for this atrocious band. In retrospect I think I just didn’t get it. In all honesty, that first El Guapo record really isn’t very good. The second one was kind of neat though, and I finally started to understand what it was they were trying to do. Well, I’m pretty sure that band is done and the primary member of that band, Justin Moyer, has gone on to do other projects, like the minimalist proto-punk band Antelope, and now this, his solo alter-ego project Edie Sedgwick. He employs a lot of the same tricks from his other outfits- the absurdly simple yet clever repetitions of Antelope, the blippy synth-pop deconstruction of El Guapo, and the same love-it-or-hate-it vocals he’s been stuck with throughout everything he has done. Edie Sedgwick has a more overt political feel though and Moyer puts some ideas across that lyrically are odd in prose, but come to interesting conclusions that I can appreciate. The record begins with more of a dance feel, but slowly moves into territory that has some pop and rock vibes later on, bringing to mind more Antelope stuff. If you know nothing about the guy than trying to give an idea of what you’re in for is difficult. It’s like if Kraftwerk decided to get a party started, loosened up a little, but still couldn’t quite shake the fact that they’re all nerds and came across funky... but really awkward. Suburban white-privilage activist kid dance music? In some really weird way I can totally get down with this. (Dischord, www.dischord.com)

GIRL LOVES DISTORTION, “Earth Belongs On Exhibit”
This is another album that jumps into a lot of different territories throughout the course of the record and it makes it rather hard to pin down exactly what DC’s Girl Loves Distortion is going for. They start out with a sort of garage rock feel with jangly guitars and soothing vocals, but soon that mode is shifted towards a bit more rhythm-oriented dance feel reminiscent of older Q And Not U material. From there things continue to move more in this sort of alt-rock dance feel and it definitely begins to lose focus. By 2/3 of the way through I’m sort of bored by it all and I’m just not picking up what the band is laying down. Some of the ideas are good- a rather melancholy mix of alternating male and female vocals, a bit of synth here and there, dabbling in various genres- but I just don’t really feel like the execution is really working out right now. (Etxe Records, www.etxerecords.com)

JUMPER CABLE, s/t CDEP
STAY SHARP, “Four Songs” CDEP
OK, since both these records came out on the same label and are both really brief I get to review them both together.
Jumper Cable....I don’t get it? So, let me get this.... the intro and outro of this EP are sections of Sleep’s “Dragonaut” and sandwiched between it all are seven short fast punk songs with funny titles, yet apparently about semi-serious stuff? And the whole thing adds up to around nine minutes and change. I guess I’d be impressed if these songs were really good, but they’re sorta just bland middle of the road hardcore that just happen to not be too long.
Stay Sharp, on the other hand, recognize that they are a middle-of-the-raod hardcore band and seem like they’re trying to do something cool to make up for it. They have a neat-looking little CD here and go a more melodic route, yet still managing to keep the aggression present. There’s a strong Kid Dynamite vibe to the music, yet with a bit more melody and a lot of youth crew styled vocals. Clocking in at under six minutes I’m not sure why they didn’t just do a 7” instead? Either way, it’s the better of the two records here. (Monkey Wrench Records, 2491 Stoney Garden Rd., Kintersville, PA 18930)

KNIFE THE SYMPHONY, “Crawler”
I recall reviewing this group’s first EP and was afraid of what I would come across because their name reeked of some terrible pseudo-metalcore garbage. It was anything but, and I found myself enjoying it thoroughly. Now they drop their first full length and once again I find myself in fear because there is a giant millipede adorning the cover. It’s gross. I want to throw up acid on it and make it disappear from existence. Insects with more than 6 legs creep me the fuck out, sometimes to the point of abject horror... why does this band keep fucking with me? Once again, what goes on betwixt the 1s and 0s on the plastic is worlds better than the grossness on the cover. It’s good solid post-hardcore rock giving nods to the early days of Cursive, as well as the mid-90’s Dischord scene, accentuating the entire affair with some female vocal accompaniment. The first half of the record is all driving, energetic, and punchy. Once “Blindfold” hits though, things slow down, move into more introspective territory, and give the listener some respite before kicking back into first gear for the second half of the record. A good full-length all in all. (Phratry Records, www.phratryrecords.com)

LOOM, “Angler” EP
Imagine the ultra-noodley catchy math-rock of a band such as Damiera, but with a violin player accompanying the entire ordeal. Some may feel that this makes for too many cooks in the kitchen and I think I can feel that statement. After all, when you’re a rock band pushing the envelope for complicated timing and melodies, adding one more element to the equation to add their own spice to a song may be a bit too much. I think, for the most part, it works out alright with Loom. There are moments where I feel it may be unnecessary to have a violinist, or even to make a rock song so full of different parts and changes... though I’m typically going to feel that way any way about any band that attempts music this involved. On the other hand, it’s executed exceptionally well and has a pretty driving feel throughout. I’m thinking that maybe it’s better that this is just an EP because if I were to get 8 or 9 songs of this it might start running together. The five songs here are just enough to keep it a challenging listen and at the same time relatively enjoyable as well. (Exigent Records, www.exigentrecords.com)

LUCKY PINEAPPLE, “The Bubble Has Burst In Sky City”
What a weird record! Things start off with sounds reminiscent of old Tortoise, but more upbeat, complete with mellotron and horns. And then things change more as the record progresses. All sorts of genres make their way into the mostly instrumental music. It moves from indie rock and into... fuck, I don’t know. I listen to punk music mostly. This is stuff you play at a Hawaiian party, or some Latin festival, or going clogging. Honestly, I think this band can represent any nation or culture if they set their minds to it. It’s rather enjoyable. It’s like world music made for indie rock dudes. I can respect that ya know? Best part about this is some friend of this band won a free day of recording at Steve Albini’s studio in a poker game and donated the time to this band. That makes for a pretty good story. Like, “Hi Steve Albini. We know you’re in Shellac and stuff, but we’re looking for more of a rhumba sound here... can you make that happen?” (Noise Pollution, www.louisvillenoise.com)

PILOT THIS PLANE DOWN, “Glory Of the World”
This record has a few things going for it. First off, the artwork on this is great. Second, there is a sick breakdown that ends the track “Rise”. Finally, the song “Conquest” starts out pretty awesome for the first minute. And that’s about it. Everything else I just didn’t really have the patience for. Isis clones have grown into this gigantic mass that has gone beyond stale and become a heaping load of moldy bagels overflowing out of a smelly dumpster that even the crustiest of dumpster divers would give a disapproving stink eye to. At least Pilot This Plane Down has a very apparent mission with this full-length It is clearly a concept record detailing the rise of civilization from simple cultivators of the land into monstrous empire-builders and world destroyers that eventually leads to our own demise. Each song is preceded by an ambient track (thus the coupling of songs together). But it’s the sort of go-nowhere drone of the ambient tracks, as well as the unnecessary dragging on of each of the heavier songs well past the five minute mark that kills it for me. Sorry, I’ve had enough of stuff like this, even if the ideas behind it are noble. (Exigent Records, www.exigentrecords.com)

REVIVER, “Versificator”
The guy on the cover looks like he’s screaming in contrived agony about being photoshoped into oblivion. Poor guy. Thankfully, Reviver come off way better than this cover alludes to. See, in 2008 (or 2009 more like it) being a hardcore band, and I mean like a real deal straight-up no frills hardcore band, is a tough thing to pull off and sound original, let alone passionate about it. In this respect Reviver certainly earn the right to bear their moniker. Yes, they have a current sound, and that isn’t a bad thing by any means. They’re not being confined to three chords, fast parts, and gang sing-alongs. There is room for some cool changes in the music (like the first three songs rolling into one another- the post-hardcore chugging deconstruction in “Bukowski” sandwiched between two fast and furious ragers), flailing rhythmic pounding in “Hollywood”, even some singing parts that have a lot more in common with Ignite than they do with studio pitchshifted bullshit that passes for hardcore. Everything else is for the most part fast and furious hardcore full of passion. I think the only thing that bummed me out was whoever did the guest vocals on the last song... eeehhhhhh.... not so good. Anyway, it’s not that often that I get into a straight up modern-sounding hardcore band, but Reviver has certainly caught my attention. Thankfully they have something good to say. Keep it up. (Exigent Records, www.exigentrecords.com)

TOP DEAD CELEBRITY, s/t
The way this CD moves from one style to another throughout the course of the record is really sort of bewildering. They kick off the first few songs with a filthy hardcore rock feel, much like something the Doomriders would come up with. But then it moves into post-hardcore territory with a lot of longer, slower songs filled with effects reminiscent of, dare I say, the Deftones or something of that nature... yet still retaining a bit of a dirty feel and vocals that stick with a gruff and gravely tone. Regardless of a transition that bizarre in nature I gotta say I was pretty into what this band was doing regardless of style. It sounds heavy and mean, and with a good dose of tinkering around with new ideas. I dig it. Also, “Big Trouble In Little China” samples are always a plus. (Exigent Records, www.exigentrecords.com)

VENUS TRAP, “The Key”
For lack of a better thought-out description this kind of feels like a more reserved Sleater-Kinney mixed with some circus music. If that is an immediate turn off than you can stop reading. If you interest is piqued than this is the part where I earn free records and get into detail. Venus Trap hail from Louisville and carry on a tradition in that town that extends back to the late 70’s of punk bands that dared tread a different path. While most younger people know Louisville for loud and abrasive dirty hardcore it seems the majority of bands from there have always played a style of punk that takes chances, toys with melody in exciting ways, and overall does things apart from the norm. Venus Trap are one such group. It’s not to say this is the most groundbreaking thing I’ve ever heard because it’s not and at times I got a little bored. Yet I like the way they double up the vocals, making them almost the primary instruments. Both these ladies really know how to sing and coordinate their parts very well. Musically it’s relatively low-fi punk/indie that includes a fair share of organ as well to the mix. Again, it’s not something that blows my hair back, but it’s a good way to go if you want something different. (Noise Pollution, www.louisvillenoise.com)

1 comment:

Girl Loves Distortion said...

Thanks for reviewing our record. One thing -- the name of the album is Earth Beings On Exhibit. (Not Belongs).
Happy Holidays!!
xoxox,
GLD