Saturday, November 26, 2016


One last bunch of reviews to get out of the way before I throw up some end of the year list thing.  I kept it (relatively) short this time around because that Tribe review took up so much space, deservedly.
Enjoy these in whichever form that takes, get something out of the webstore, or bandcamp, as I'm donating to various charities depending on what you purchase, and then make it yr business to be in Syracuse Dec. 30th and 31st for the Hex Fest shindig!
A TRIBE CALLED QUEST, “We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service”
In early November the nation was thrown into a weird and uncertain place due to the election.  Myself and most people I know were befuddled by the results and frankly, terrified and unhappy.  And then, a few days later, A Tribe Called Quest releases their first album in 18 years and suddenly this dark world got a lot brighter.
            It’s a bittersweet release though as it comes on the heels of founding member Phife Dawg’s untimely death.  And hearing him lay down his trademark verses early on in the record makes it all that much more difficult because this is by far one of the best things the group has ever done and it would have been beautiful to see him be able to enjoy the fruits of his labor.  It’s not some half-hearted reunion record where members are trying to relive some sense of nostalgia from their crappy adult lives.  It’s the sound of newfound energy, of people who never stopped being creative.  They just chose to pursue those endeavors individually for a long time rather than collectively and, as Phife puts it, “the nucleus is here now”.  Yes, they definitely are.
            I had read some press about this record and the process behind it and consistently Q-Tip discusses how they wanted to “keep the thread, but push it forward”, meaning they aimed to keep the spirit and the style of Quest from the past, but not re-hash old material.  They wanted to do something new.  And they have succeeded greatly in my humble opinion.  Admittedly, I am not one to have a good sense of what is, or isn’t, good hip-hop these days.  Much of it has been uninteresting to me for 20 years now.  It’s not on my radar so if critics want to consider me stuck in the past in regards to this record they are probably right.  But something tells me I’m of the popular opinion that this is some truly forward-moving stuff.
            The samples and instrumentation are in line with what you might expect from Quest, piling layers on top of one another without it sounding too busy or overcrowded.  It all fits together just right.  “We the People” is the standout single, and shows ATCQ going in a more subtle, yet political direction than in the past (which is actually a theme throughout the record).  Of course, there are tracks here that could fit well on older releases such as “Black Spasmodic”, “The Donald”, “Ego”, and “Conrad Tokyo” (possibly my favorite track overall?), while some other songs take some very interesting turns like the Elton John/ piano samples in “Solid Wall Of Sound” and the killer sex jam “Enough!”, which sounds like a companion piece to Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature”.
            Oh, and can we talk about Jarobi?  Holy shit.  Barely a peep on “People’s Instinctive Travels”, leaves the group for a couple decades, comes back and has some of the hardest verses on the whole record!  Who knew he could rap?  He gets the gold star on this one.  Cameos by a host of other people fill out the record, including Busta Rhymes all over the place and a handful of others who clearly were influenced by Tribe and are now doing their own thing like Talib Kweli, Kanye, Andre 3000, and Kendrick Lamar.
            In all seriousness, I couldn’t be happier.  This is an incredible moment.  From someone who got into this group when they first started as a young teen, and holding their records as some of my favorite pieces of music ever since then it’s a great thing to see this happen.  And we all need it now.  We need that ray of sunshine that creativity, positivity, and a powerful sense of determination lives on.  Quest has done it, above and beyond expectation. (Epic)

ARKLESS, s/t 12”
These Brits debut with a record of chill, un-distorted emo the likes of which could harken back to Amber Inn, Still Life, Braid, or early Promise Ring.  Like, imagine a record full of “My Firetower Flame” and you get an idea.  Vocals have that sort of off-key, serious/spoken quality and the music moves at a steady pace while keeping it emotional with no big loud parts that some of the referenced bands threw in here and there.  This remains relatively calm throughout I guess.  It’s pretty and melodic.  (Ruined Smile)

Buffalo has always had it’s own particular brand of meaty, metallic hardcore that only comes from being in the heart of the rust belt.  It’s the sound of thousands of laid off factory workers, cold-ass winters, and lots of knuckleheads who constantly have a grudge against…  something.  Disrepair sounds like that.  This quick two song demo tunes really low, plays pretty fast, and doesn’t make the breakdowns predictably obvious. They just churn it out.  I detect a hint of melody that closes out the second song, adding a little unique style to the chunky riffing.  Not too bad. (Disrepair)

Yes, yes, yes.  OK, all you weird pinheads out there who enjoy ripping fast and ridiculously aggressive hardcore, but just aren’t swayed by what’s being peddled for the most part- this is for you.  Not only is this one heck of a cool looking record (clear vinyl with crazy screen printed B side), but it sounds pretty great too.  Hell Mary unfortunately have to deal with being from New Jersey and all the awful driving and lack of places to actually turn around that come with it.  But they do draw from a rich musical landscape that has produced oh so many wonderful bands over the years, and maybe they’ll end up joining those ranks if they keep up what they’re doing here.  A good place to start for this group would be the speedy and chaotic violence that Converge are oh so god at churning out.  Add to that a good dose of the topical and emotional bent, coupled with the churning heaviness, of 108.  That’s really the best I can come up with.  I mean, that really ought to be enough to sway you right there.  If not I guess we just don’t really need to know each other anymore and we’re all friends here right?  Do what’s right.  Check this out.  (Dropping Bombs)

MALLWALKERS, “Dial ‘M’ For…”
This very part-time Buffalo collective has released a second (to my knowledge) LP full of a mish-mash of various influences that somehow work together pretty well into their own unique stew.  Consisting of about 9 people Mallwalkers gather sporadically, creating manifestos of danceable, social upheaval full of repetitive chords, blaring horns, multiple vocalists, and shaking asses.  Pull a bit of MC5’s explosive rebellion rock, add a taste of Fugazi’s use of odd chords and twangs that peck at their steady rhythm, and give a full-on high five to current rabble rousers Downtown Boys in regards to that horn blaring and ‘we’re here to fuck your system up’ protesting in the streets goodness, and you get an idea of what Mallwalkers are presenting.  There’s a feeling of that DC/Dischord ‘we’re nerdy white punks, but we can get funky too’ thing happening, along with a distinctly Western New York rust belt vibe that isn’t Tuffalo hardcore (you have to kind of be from around here to know exactly what I mean), but it is punk and it’s angry, and I’m OK with all of it.  So get your feel on if this description does anything for you.  (Peterwalkee Records)

It’s a not-unlikely collection of people creating an unlikely sound.  So take a couple guys from Off Minor, Saetia, and Bridge & Tunnel and you would probably think it’s going to be thoughtful, complex, and, at times chaotic, emo/screamo stuff, right?  Nope.  And if that horrifying thought is firmly dismissed allow me to inform you that this is way better, at least to a guy like me.  Instead think riffy/stoner post-hardcore, which is awesome.  OK, sure it harkens to a sort of late 90’s vibe (Syracuse people- think Farthest Man) and I am fine with that.  You know what this really sounds like, a lot?  Cutman.  Ya know, Gainesville, Kiss Of Death Records?  No?  Fine, fuck off.  Go listen to Farthest Man, Cutman, watch some Chico and the Man, and then go listen to this, and feel satisfied.  Start a push pit and wear flannel.  Get off my lawn.  Released by 37 different labels.  (Square Of Opposition/ Tor Johnson/ State Of Mind)

RED FANG, “Only Ghosts”
I haven’t listened to this band is quite a long time.  I see they are still playing burly beard-man rock, but the songs on this album, for the most part, seem to cater a little more to the average rock fan.  Simply put, it’s overall not as heavy as previous outings from what I remember.  They still manage to keep things fairly creative though, and I’d rather listen to this than radio rock any day of the week.  And much like past efforts Red Fang spare no quarter when it comes to creating beautiful cover art for their releases- this one a simple trance-inducing wave pattern, which seems to go against the rumbling riff rock ever-present throughout the album.  I guess if Clutch has been veering a bit too bluesy for you, but Mastodon is still somewhat extreme (OK, maybe not current Mastodon), Red Fang might be a good mid-ground to explore.  (Relapse)

WHORES., “Gold”
You are hard pressed to find a more rowdy three-piece band in the live setting than Whores, not to mention one with a ridiculously dialed-in mammoth tone.  It’s insane how incredibly heavy and loud their sound is.  It’s awesome.  You’re also going to have a heck of a tough time googling their name and not coming up with results that probably don’t mesh with what you’re looking for (or maybe you are, I won’t judge).  However, much like their previous two EPs this first full length doesn’t completely hit at all times.  I understand it’s good to break things up a little bit- a part that’s just bass and vocals here, a quick reprieve that is just guitar- but Whores totally excel when they’re just going full throttle, one smashing riff after another and truckloads of feedback.  Opening track “Playing Poor” does a fine job of this.  And as they roll right into the next track, “Baby Teeth”, you get the impression it’s going to go the same way as it lumbers along with a dumptruck-heavy slower rhythmic jackhammering.  But the verse, with just the drums and vocals, kind of throws it off for me.  I just want these dudes to smash all their guitar pedals at once (they’re going to need a lot of feet for that) and pound one ridiculous riff after another into my skull while worshipping at the alter of AmRep.  By and large they deliver.  To me, though, the impact is lost just a little when they go into parts not involving everything going all at once.  For some bands it’s great, for Whores I’d say space is not the place.  Smash everything.  (eOne)

Bonus Round:

FARSIDE, “Rigged”
When I was just getting into punk and hardcore music it was primarily through skateboarding.  So publications like Thrasher and mailorder catalogs like Sessions informed me quite a bit about what was out there musically that was in line with skateboarding culture.  At the time Revelation was one of the bigger punk rock record labels (still is!), but when I got into punk music they were beginning to take a turn away from the youth crew style that they are most infamously known for.  Of course, what was happening was that a lot of the musicians they had been working with in the past that had all those infamous bands were growing up a little and starting new bands that tried new things aside from just NYHC, and that led to groups like Burn, Supertouch, and Into Another to take hardcore music in bizarre new directions.  Well, this was all new to me.  So whatever Revelation was putting out around ’93-’95 was really appealing to me because there was so much variety!  One of the bands that, in a way, sprung out of this new style (except on the West Coast) was Farside.
            To a young person hearing Farside, and especially this record, for the first time they might mistake it for mainstream radio rock.  Admittedly, it does have that feel.  However, when it was released they were a really engaging and exciting band to me.  They possessed a lot of the melodic, upbeat style of Fat Wreck bands like Strung Out or Face To Face.  However, they were also incredibly great musicians that were not afraid to take a post-hardcore bent and write songs that might stretch 5 minutes to go with their quick tempos and thoughtful lyrics.  I know some may disagree, but when I think of Farside I think ‘skate rock’.
            I truly adore this record, and the emotional weight it carries amongst the energetic tempos.  “Kill Me” kind of comes off as the fastest, most aggressive song before it breaks into a sung chorus of “I’ll just wait/ Here in broken arms”, while “Silver Anniversary” is much slower and somber, but equally as poignant as it deals with (as far as I have gathered over the years) divorce.
            A big part of how well this record comes across is vocalist/guitarist Michael “Popeye” Vogelsang’s gruff but heartfelt vocals.  He sings in a way that hardcore bands of the day might have scoffed at for not completely shredding his throat. But the emotion is sincere and true.  When he gets at dealing with procrastination in “Wait For Monday”, stating that “I keep on lowering my expectations!” or going on about moping around and being alone on “Audience” before a big melodic breakdown it’s like getting punched in the chest.  I get those same feelings listening to this record 20+ years later.  (Revelation)

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