Tuesday, August 30, 2011

REVIEWS FOR AUGUST (a little late, but hey...)

Computer problems, car problems, life problems, you name it, it's been a wild last couple months. And some good stuff too. Nevertheless, it has not left much time to do this stuff. So let me finally get it out of the way and present some toilet-laptop reading material.

AMPERE, "Like Shadows"
I put this on to check it out and before I could formulate any real thoughts about it the whole thing was over... even though there's 15 songs on here. I'm pretty sure the record was over within 12 minutes. A couple more listens and it still does nothing for me. I never got Ampere and I still don't. I mean, in one sense, yeah, I get it. Ultra spastic, hectic, Ebullition/early Level Plane/Witching Hour styled screamy hardcore. But not a lick of it makes any musical sense whatsoever. People go absolutely apeshit over this band when they play and flock to their merch table to pick up whatever scrap of music they can get their paws on. That makes no sense to me. The lyrics are pretty good and come in a neat little booklet, but everything else here is a foreign language to me. What they stand for in terms of how they carry themselves as a band is great. But this band cannot write a song. (No Idea Records)

ENGINEER, "Crooked Voices"
It only took a year and a half to get this out but it was worth the wait. When Engineer first started playing some of these songs out live I must admit to being slightly confused by the difference in sound. And just like any good record those songs took awhile to sink in and do their thing. but once I began getting the gist of this new material I was quite happy with how things came out. Engineer has always been known for creating songs that build up, take you down different paths before hitting their mark, and being well-written. But they also have had no qualms about beating the piss out of you for a solid half hour straight with sonic onslaughts. "Crooked Voices" aims to continue that beating, but with some sort of mediation upon why you're getting the piss beat out of you. A good dose of clean guitar, piano, and slide guitar regularly show up on this album and it's refreshing to see Engineer try some new things. Sure, the style of songwriting remains the same. It's just the way they dish it out that has some new twists and for that I'm exceptionally stoked on this record. "Shape Shifting", "Scavenger", and "The Starving Artist" are probably my favorite tracks on the whole thing. Get it and get floored. (Black Market Activities)

HALF HEARTED HERO, "Running Water" 12"
The best thing going for this EP is the wonderful package it came in. For something that is just an EP it looks really special, definitely a lot of care, hands-on crafting, and attention to detail make the record look top notch. The music, on the other hand, is just not anything I'd ever listen to and enjoy. I can sometimes get into bands that play really fast melodic hardcore, which this group does well. The techy melodic flourishes and noodling get on my nerves, but I know that really gets some people off. The nail in the coffin is the ultra-clean (auto-tuned?) pop vocals on top of it all. The guy could be singing about stringing up vivisectors by their ballsacks in the town square and I'd still feel miserable just listening to vocals like these. Again, some people hear stuff like this and fall in love. I just get annoyed and turn it off. (Animal Style Records)

The newest project from Oscar, who helmed NYC band Nakatomi Plaza for what seemed like eons comes across in a similar fashion, but with some marked differences. You can tell the dude is still strongly influenced by J. Robbins bands like Jawbox and Burning Airlines, insofar as a very direct rocking attitude, but adding some twists and turns that think outside the norm. Also, Oscar's voice seems to have dropped an octave and the dude could seriously start belting out hardcore if he wanted to at this point. But on some levels this kind of just feels like a standard rock record and that sort of dulls the whole affair. Not to say it's bad, it just doesn't move me. There are two covers on here by bands no one has ever heard and the first of the two, "Last Time We Talked" is awesome- very power pop influenced in the best way possible, while the next track, "Pilots" is the strongest song on the album. It has fucktons of energy, post-hardcore raging, and great riffs. I like that one the best. Overall, decent. But I'll tell ya, as a former promoter I'd never want to put this bands name on a flyer... it's just really ridiculous. (self-released)

Ugliest damn band around, and I don't mean old-man balding hardcore style with weird tattoos. I mean this music is just ugly as all get out. As the musical output of vocalist/guitarist Demian Johnston has progressed over the years (Nineironspitfire, Kiss It Goodbye, Playing Enemy) things have just gotten meaner, weirder, and nastier. Paired with longtime Playing Enemy bassist/head-smasher Shane Mehling, a familiar sound comes into play here as well which is discordant and twisted, gnarled and thick off-timed hardcore. Plenty of groups claim stuff like Rorschach and Deadguy as influences, but this is really where the end result shines brightest (or bleakest, however you want to take it). Many of these songs appeared on older recordings whey just had a drum machine, but they now have an actual human behind the traps and he helps flesh out these sludgy and frantic schizoid songs: Opener "Read Silver" and "Untitled Woman" blast through pissed off hardcore as gross and fucked up as it comes. "Hundreds Of Child Soldiers" and "All Clean Necks" drag things out to slow, off-timed spirals of noise disaster and almost tribal dirges, desperate and depressed groaning from guitars. Eight songs total on here and self-released from the band. I suggest checking it out if you really want something mean, noisy, heavy, and ugly. I sure like it a lot. (Dead Accents)

It's hard for me to believe that I really like this band. Typically, music of this variety is impressive insofar as the band's musical talent, but fails to keep my interest. Yet Leylines just, for one reason or another, does it for me. The music is of the noodly-emo variety and culls references from groups such as the technicality of Native or Damiera, the rough melody of Bridge and Tunnel, and the effects trickery of Minus the Bear. It all makes for cool songs that don't go too overboard on their own nerdy indulgences, and appreciates just rocking out every now and again. If anyone heard their demo, basically those songs have been re-recorded with four new ones as well. And it comes in a nice little package as well so do yourself a favor and pick it up. (self-released)

Yes indeed. I was so-so about their EP, but this full length is where it's at. I can tell this is where they were looking to be before and now hit it square between the eyes with this record. Dave and John from Philly's Jena Berlin front this new band that is, in some ways, much more reserved than the post-hardcore JB dished out. But in many other ways it expands on a whole host of other sounds that balance Americana with post-punk and subtle hints of post-hardcore. I know, genre labels abound, but whatever, this just kicks ass. John has a really great, gritty and soulful voice that carries many of these songs. And the playful and bouncy riffing on "Neighborhood Song" gives the rhythm section here a chance to inject some energy in that arena, while "Broken Vacuum" has all members firing with enthusiasm and the sing-along line "Nails to the bone" repeated over and over. All in all, I'm really impressed with how this came out and glad I had the chance to check it out. Please tell me "Sideways House" is a reference to The State skit of the same name. (Tiny Engines)

SEAWEED, "Service Deck"/"The Weight" 7"
Who is/was Seaweed? For those of us into our 30's and not hopped up on goofballs like so many young twerps these days, Seaweed is/was a punk band out of Seattle. They released a bunch of records and then unceremoniously split up about 10 years ago. Over the past 2 or 3 years they have occasionally played some shows, but this is the first new material in many, many moons. So now you see why I use the 'is/was' thing when describing them. So they're sort of a band I guess. Nevertheless, their brand of punk was always pretty cool. It wasn't the strict 3-chord bangers typical of snotty punk. It often infused a sense of melody common to the SoCal sect of Fat Wreck/Epitaph bands, not to mention some of the, dare I say, Seattle sound of the early 90's (cough-grunge-cough). But not in a Soundgarden sort of way or anything. It's just a Northwest vibe, if that means anything at all. So yeah, I like this band and their approach to punk. That brings us to this new 2 song 7" and it's good to know the band basically has not missed a beat. It really does hold up to their previous material, maybe a little cleaner, but overall fits in well with stuff up to, and including, "Spanaway" (which is the last thing I have from them). The packaging is friggin' great too. (No Idea Records)

THOU, "The Archer and the Owle" LP
It seems every time I turn around Thou has released another album. Get prolific much? Plus, everything they do is quality. But a lot of it does sound quite the same. I suppose that's not a bad thing when you really like what they do in the first place. So this, their 12th record this year (probably) you get 5 new crushing sludge epics and another random Nirvana song slowed down to a syrupy pace (and yet instantly recognizable) spanning 40 minutes. To some (myself included) that length of time, divided by number of songs, usually has me ready to fall asleep. But Thou keeps their massive sludge experiments interesting, rocking, and most of all, heavy as Marty McFly's opinion of time travel. It's like Eyehategod with extra brains and just as much spite, and some cool, twisted melody to top it all off. They probably gave this away for free online already anyway, but the vinyl looks pretty cool and I think they even made a run of cassettes for this release if you're into 80's technology. (Robotic Empire)