I feel like each year is like the Star Trek movies when it comes to good music- every other one is awesome. Last year wasn't so hot. 2009 was awesome. "Wrath Of Khan" was great, "Search For Spock" was meh. And 2011 is proving to be one bad ass year for good music, as far as I'm concerned.
Aside from some stuff I released that I'm very pleased about other bands, both old and new to my ears, are dropping kick ass records that are keeping my ears happy and overwhelmed.
So bear witness to quite a few reviews this time around. I know it's lengthy, but there's a lot of stuff coming at me I need to report on.
BLACK GOD 7”
This is the perfect kind of punk-hardcore seven inch- 6 songs, all short and fast, and interesting enough so it doesn’t all run together. Consisting of Ryan and Rob from Black Cross (and I suppose Nick too, since he played on the last record) this essentially picks up where they left off. There is that raw feel that was present on the early stuff (when they were Black Widows), as well as a bit more of the jagged melody present on “Severance Pays”. Opener “Fundamental Headwalker” blasts off with an awesome sing-along chorus, while the two strongest tracks come at the end of the B-side: “This Life” (I love when a song tells a good story, partially referencing other bands) and “Reach” (the most off-kilter of the six songs, prominently featuring Nick Thineman’s patented dirty low-end and another excellent sing-along chorus). “I am a hand grenade of love” indeed. Great stuff here. (No Idea)
GODS AND QUEENS, “Untitled III (EP 2)” 7”
Four more songs of Jaime Getz complaining on wax about how life is so tough. “Oh, I play in a band and I get to go to Europe three times a year, but it’s sooooo pointless!” Boo-hoo weiner baby. I kid, of course. Still, the three new songs (and one bitchin’ cover of “Which Way To Go” by the Big Boys) on this 7” are the most straightforward and direct songs this Philly group has offered to date. The bass is way up front and has that super sludgy KARP feel to it while the guitars ease off some of the more shoegaze style present on previous records in favor of a bit more mid-tempo rocking. Lyrically, there’s no mysteries hidden between the lines- jaded recollections of how lives are ruined by playing in a band instead of taking the ‘normal’ life route. I get it. While I’m definitely digging this a lot I think I prefer the previous LPs more. They sound bigger, more desperate, and that giant wall of sound that didn’t quite come through on this, but almost. Still one of my favorite bands currently out there. (Sons Of Vesta)
HELMS ALEE, “Weatherhead”
One of my favorite current bands returns on their second full length even weirder than they were on the excellent (and somewhat overlooked) “Night Terror”. Plus, this one is just loaded with a lot of tracks. It will certainly take the listener a few spins to really navigate all the twists and turns Helms Alee take on this record. But each and every one of them is rewarding- the creeping melodic strangeness that recalls the best moments of Unwounds “Leaves Turn Inside You” to the face-crushing heaviness of tracks like “Pretty As Pie” and the closer riff killing in “Mad Mouth”, even to the more up-tempo rocking in “Speed Sk8r”. Once again, both the mountain man roar of guitarist Ben Verellen, mingled with the soft coo of bassist Dana and drummer Hozji makes the vocal delivery yet another cool aspect of this amazing band. But between the weird melodies, the gigantic riffs, off-time rhythms, and far-from-direct approach I can see how the layperson might not be immediately drawn to this. Of course, that’s part of why I dig this group so much. Please, do yourself a favor and get this immediately. (Hydrahead)
LIGHTS AT SEA, “Palace Walls”
This band is about 5 years late to the game on the whole instrumental Isis-Tides thing, and I’m not sure if they were aware of the 10,000 other bands that also tried this style and failed miserably at it (and who also, like any musical fad, were gone after about 6 months). It’s just one of those things where about 5 bands did it really well and the rest were just really boring. And I gotta be honest- this band is just boring. (Barrett Records)
LKN/KNIFE THE SYMPHONY split
OK, the LKN stuff is just so awful I just can’t find the words to describe it. It basically sounds like a person brainstorming song ideas, or free jamming with a tape recorder. Yuck. And you get six songs of it.
Knife the Symphony gets three songs on the B-side of awesome heavy rock. There is a strong late 90’s Dischord/Touch and Go vibe to their style and a good deal of post-hardcore so you know I am down. The first song is more direct and just beats you around with thick bass plodding, lots of yelling, and jangling guitars. The second song is pretty long with a mid-tempo thing happening that busts into this extended chill part with a prominent Young Widows-style bass tone bringing the whole thing back into focus. They close out their side with a cover of fIREHOSE’s, “On Your Knees”, all stop-start bass riffing, followed by a Sonic Youth styled wall of guitar noise. Get this one for the B-side, forget the A-side. (Phratry Records)
MALA IN SE s/t
Things start off with pretty blasting spastic noisecore, the likes of which bring to mind early majority Rule or Page 99. It’s a good way to get things rolling. But eventually it sort of moves into kind of redundant late 90’s style metalcore. I’m not sure how that switch happened, and if this were 12 years ago I’d probably think this was the greatest thing since skateboards got double tails. In some parts I’m quite impressed and dig this band’s style- even recalling moments of Euro noisemongers like Breach and Lack. But the more metallic elements feel somewhat dated and tacky. Keep it noisy and messy, it suits this band better. (Phratry Records)
MEN, THE, “...Leave Home”
Friends and enemies alike rave on and on about this band, and how they’re the next big thing out of NYC. So I checked out their last record and thought it kind of sucked. I gave them a second chance with a 7” they recently released because it had a cover of Devo’s “Gates Of Steel” (my favorite Devo song) and they did a pretty rowdy, loose and noisy version of it. But I still wasn’t quite sold. Their recordings are way too into that really terrible, don’t-give-a-shit garbage can style that has some air of ‘listen to how punk and noisy we sound’, but really just sounds like shit that so many bands seem to think is really cool lately. I don’t get it. So it wasn’t until I finally saw them, and saw how much they actually have their shit together in the live setting, and was totally blown away. And thankfully, this record definitely does justice to sounding loud, abrasive, and noisy, but having the right amount of clarity so that you can tell what’s happening in all the noise and see how awesome this band really is. The Men mix up equal parts gigantic walls of guitar shoegaze type melodic noise, rawkus garage punk, and full on rocking to make for one hell of a great record. Opener, “If You Leave...” opens things with big riffs and a bit of slide guitar that falls into a massive melodic, atmospheric singing bit. Next is “Lotus” and a re-recording of “Think” that both rock the fuck out your speakers. They experiment with some doom and dungeon style evil on “L.A.D.O.C.H.” which I can basically skip. The B-side has the best track on the record, and probably the most concise idea of what this band does (aside from occasional tracks that go on pretty long), “Bataille”, and it’s a great rocking song as well. Another weird experiment, the drum-machine propelled “Night Landing” closes things out and could be a Trans Am out take if I didn’t know better. Either way, it’s good to see the sound this band has been working on finally realized in the best way possible on this LP. Damn good stuff. (Sacred Bones)
SKULL DEFEKTS, THE, “Peer Amid”
The idea of this record intrigued me a lot more than the actual execution. This is a Swedish band that has been around for a bit and got Dan Higgs to do all the vocals on this new record. And if you know anything about Dan Higgs.. well, it’s always something interesting. A friend whose musical opinion I trust brought their name up and I asked what it sounded like and he said it was like a more rocked-out, garage-y Lungfish... which is definitely interesting to me. So I picked it up. So yeah, it is pretty rocking, very garage rock, very psych rock, and Dan Higgs is definitely singing on here. But he doesn’t sound as animated as his more well known work with Lungfish. In fact, much of the time on this record he just doesn’t sound all that interested and it sort of brings the vibe of the whole record down. I guess it’s alright, but I think I was expecting quite a bit more. (Thrill Jockey)
THEY COME IN WAVES/ GREAT REVERSALS, split 7”
Two Michigan area bands (that also share members) activate their power rings and join forces to celebrate 90’s style hardcore in two different ways. Great Reversals has a very Bane-meets-’94 style New Age Records thing happening. It’s kind of slower, chunky hardcore, but with some twists and turns too to keep it interesting. They address life and religion in a thought-out and philosophical way that merits some reading. TCIW gets the B-side and goes for more of that late 90s screamo thing of longer songs still heavy on the hardcore, but quite a bit of melodic noodling. Actually, there’s no real way I can describe this band without it sounding cheesy. But I’ll just say they do a bastardized style the right way and do it well, giving some hope to the sub genre thankfully! They also packaged this thing up really nice, so check it out if you get the chance. (self-released)
TRAP THEM, “Darker Handcraft”
Hot damn. This is probably the best thing Trap Them has done to date. I really dug their debut LP quite a bit. I thought “Seance Prime” relied a bit too heavily on the mid-tempo Entombed worship and not enough on speed. “Seizures...” was really good and has some great tracks on it, but also a few forgettable ones as well. But every song on here is a ripper. No doubt about it. Armed with an inhuman speed freak (and not in the drug sense as I think it may be a naturally occurring substance in his bloodstream) for a drummer plenty of these tracks just fly right by, totally unrelenting with their heavy Converge-meets-Entombed sort of grind-crust-metal-punk hybrid. It’s fucking great. Not too long ago I saw Trap Them on tour with Converge and the lineup was fucking awesome. And it’s tough to say, but Trap Them were the best band of the night. They just had everything on perfectly, one song into the next, blasting the shit out of anyone and anything in their path. And that’s how this record sounds. Totally unrelentless and pulverizing in every sense of the word. (Prosthetic)
“THE VEGAN REVOLUTION... WITH ZOMBIES”, by Dave Agranoff
I have to say, I was very skeptical to read this. in fact, I almost didn’t want to. It was part because this book has a rather silly title, and the author (in my many years of having known him) can be quite over-the-top about whatever he throws himself into to the point where it’s overwhelming just to hear him talk about it. But once I started in on this I realized this is every humorous thing Dave has ever postulated, every bad sci-fi reference, every corny hardcore-related pun, and a plot so crazy that the only solid reference point I would recommend when reading this is to think of any purposefully bad 80’s horror flick and apply it to the situation in this book. Which leads me to what this book is about. The setting: Portland, Oregon. The scenario: the FDA has approved ‘stress-free meat’, which is a chemical injected into factory farm animals to dull the pain centers of their brains so they don’t find discomfort in the terrible conditions they are forced to endure. Our main characters, living in the progressive, but hipster-infested, portland have just decided to go vegan, right before this ‘stress-free’ meat hits the mass market. yet once it hits anyone who eats meat/dairy begins turning into a brainless, rotting zombie and the only people left are the vegans. From there the Earth Crisis references spew forth as justice is served with the splattering of zombies heads, all the while every activist sub-genre is not only brought up, but also with a fair amount of fun-poking, ridicule, and so forth. Freegans are not safe. They too become zombies. Honestly, by the end I thought this book was hilarious. Take it with a grain of salt, remember your bad horror flicks, and listen to hardcore. It will be a fun read I assure you. (Deadite Press)
WHY THE WIRES, “Telegraph Flats”
Already dropping a second LP, Ithaca’s Why the Wires continue on their path of exceptional indie weirdness, meets punk urgency... with saxophone and accordion. I can’t help but compare this band, at times, to the late, great Sweep the Leg Johnny. Yes, both bands have math rock tendencies (Sweep had it in spades actually) and great textural use of saxophone. But the vocals for both groups are really similar as well- slightly raspy, somber yet commanding, soulful yet a bit cold. I can’t say I’m too into the accordion when it’s brought into play. It’s just not my thing. But these songs go from hectic and upbeat rockers, to melancholy and relaxed. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, but it works pretty well and is, if anything, an interesting listen. (Habit Forming/ Angry Mom)