Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Message From Your Author - February Review

February has come to a close on this Leap Year and I decided that I will start a new tradition as I finish my second solid month of record reviews. Every month I will take a look back on what I've written about and pick some of my favorites from that particular month. Call it a "best of", or just call it "Tom's compulsive need to categorize things". Either one works. By all means, please check out the rest of the reviews if you missed any. For all we know my opinion could mean close to nothing if our musical tastes are not on the same page. There's a lot of other good stuff this month, but these few are sticking with me. Here goes.

Discourse - Demo 2011.
Straight Edge hardcore from South Carolina, done in a non traditional way. Featuring mart lyrics and good musicanship.

Classics of Love - S/T
Ex members of Operation Ivy, some people can still play melodic punk the right way.

Samuel - Lives of Insects
After all this time it's still great. For fans of Texas is the Reason and early Get Up Kids.

Sled - Parasitic Host
If every d-beat band sounded like this, I might change my mind about not liking d-beat.

The Exelar - Witness Relocation Program
Still under rated, still excellent.

Michael Cantor- Bless all the Debris
Singer/songwriter who has managed to write an unforgettable stack of songs.

Trenchfoot - S/T
Great hardcore played by some very nice people. Interesting parts, great tone, it's all there.

Worlds - Give Me Shelter
This New Jersey hardcore band should play more shows and put out some more music.

Lord Snow - S/T
Perfectly crafted songs with an urgency that pulled me in. I've been listening to this pretty consistently as of late.


Locktender - Collected

Do you like long songs with an epic feel, similar to bands like Buried Inside and Titan? Then you'll like Locktender. These 3 tracks clock in at just about 25 minutes and take you on a quite a journey of dynamics.

The recording quality is a little gritty, but it works well here and the band's huge sound seems to be translated perfectly. High gain guitars, sledgy bass and powerful drums blend well just below some dual vocal screams. Songs like "Visions of the Daughters of Albion" is a good example of what field this band likes to play in. There's some very quiet single guitar parts featuring introspective chords and picking, usually juxtaposed with a huge crashing wall of doom. They seem to have their sound down pretty well.

Locktender deviates a little from the doom ridden sound every now and then and dips their feet into more of the melodic, or dare I say "screamo" genre, at moments. This is most apparent in some of the clean guitar interludes that I mentioned before and some of the more melodic chaos that they tend to insert between the crushing doom sounds. Check out the second track, "The Strangest Secret" for an example of this.

"The White Dam" is another 10 minute track that concludes this release. I wasn't especially happy with the growling vocals over the clean intro. It works better over the crushing sound better, but sort of exposes some weakness during cleaner parts. There's an awkward transition to some faster paced parts here and it seems like it takes the band a second to catch up. They make a strong comeback though and the release concludes abruptly with some powerful, frantic soundscapes.

All in all, this is long ride, so if you're up for it, buckle up. You'll probably thank yourself.

Listen here.

Wolf Down - MMXI

I've been hearing a lot about Wolf Down, but just recently got a chance to check out their music. Wolf Down is a vegan straight edge hardcore band from Germany. The sound here is very traditional. There's not much deviation or experimentation happening and I find myself wanting to see the band take some chances. The recording quality is pretty on point, a heavy sound is translated quite well.

Lyrically the band focus on topics of environmental destruction, depression, working and authoritarianism. The vocals are a pretty powerful female fronted scream that never lets up. It's a well projected voice and possibly the one part that has this band sounding a little less traditional.

These four songs will give you a mix of fast hardcore, mid tempo two steps and chugging breakdowns. It's a little too traditional for me, but if this sounds like your cup of tea then you might be into it.

Listen here.

Artifical Limbs - Limited Mobility Vol. 1

Artificial Limbs are a punk band from New Jersey that have a late 70's sound to them. The songs are melodic, but gritty in their delivery. The guitar tone is very clean and bright, backed by straight forward drums and steady bass. The guitar solos don't really bother me here; which I'm usually repulsed by them. I can't help but feel this also has some early 90's alternative rock sensibilities in it's melodies; perhaps similar to Dramarama or The Replacements.

For the most part Artificial Limbs stick with a verse/chorus formula. There seems to be a lot of attention given to the choruses, as this band seems to deliver catchy hooks pretty consistently. I'm finding each chorus comes with some layered vocals that emphasize the melodies well. There's usually guitar solos, though tracks like "Life of Luxury" forgo the solos for something a bit more introspective.

"At Midnight" finds the back breaking their formula and getting uncharacteristically fast. I'm not sure that it works as well as the mid tempo tracks do. It's almost as though the music is going so fast that the same attention to melodic detail can't be applied. I tend to like when this band does a darker introspective sound like "In A Rut Again". It works well for them. They close with "Too Many Heart Attacks" which shows the band attempting some sort of "snotty punk" sound. The track doesn't really work for me with it's minimalism. We've seen the band capable of so much more on the record so it seemed like an odd song to close with.

There are some good moments here, though Artificial Limbs is a band where I would probably find myself picking and choosing the choice tracks and leaving the others behind.

Listen to it here.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Quiet Arcs - Morphine Derivatives

Quiet Arcs are a 5 piece rock band from Philadelphia who infuse a bit of hardcore into their sound. At times I find myself comparing it to Swiz and other times the more subdued musicianship takes on a Drive Like Jehu sound (see some parts of "Deep Womb").

When the band is all out rocking or doing some interesting start/stop techniques things come off pretty well. There are times when this gets a little too rock and roll for me though. 2 minutes into "Deep Womb" the vocals have some lower accompaniment which create a very radio rock effect. The verses of "Friends With Strangers" had me comparing this band to mid 90's glam rock due to it's sassiness and flanger guitar.

I find the band's strength is in a song like "True Love Never Dies" which keeps things upbeat and moving. The intensity is pretty non stop on this track and trades in the tricks for some very raw aggression. The instrumental "Brother Bishop" creates an introspective feel, despite it's guitar solo, which seamed a tad out of place. The band finishes things up with "Grand Prix" which revisits more of the Drive Like Jehu guitar. 2 minutes in they slow things down with some airy guitar. The band kicks in with some melodic driving style and builds up to a conclusive, clean guitar.

Take a listen here.

Animals of Ambivalence - CD

From the insert that I read it seems Animals of Ambivalence is the brain child of writer and musician, Katy Otto. These compositions are all lyrically done by Katy, documenting a relationship ending. There are five songs on here, but each song is performed by a different group of people. While all the lyrics are from Otto, the music is written by others, making the transition from song to song less cohesive and more like a compilation due to the drastic change in styles.

I couldn't find myself enjoying the first track "Bear", as it's unsettling electronic noise and distorted vocals are more of an experimental piece than a coherent song to me. "Lamb" is the second track and brings us more to a traditional song structure. The chord progression is catchy and makes the verse work quite well. By the time the chorus comes around it had me reminded of some mid 90's alternative rock.

"Naked Mole Rat" seems to be a bit of a minimalist garage rock track. It has that early 90's riot girl sound in it's verse that I don't particularly enjoy. The bass line is a bit too discordant for me and the vocals are a bit out off key and harsh. Thankfully, the choruses provided some more melodic fare. The second half of the song was a bit too much for me with the out of key vocals.

"Owl" features Aaron Scott of Attica Attica on lead vocals. The key and placement of the vocals over the finger picked guitar works well. I found the chorus to be a bit too radio-friendly sounding at times, but the verses have a soothing quietness to them that's quite beautiful.

"Woman" features Bonnie Schlegel, whose work in the band Bald Rapunzel has been quite memorable to me. This song carries that same soulful voice I remember Bonnie being known for. The percussive acoustic guitar creates something of an unsettling blues effect and Bonnie's voice effortlessly glides over the song very nicely.

Listen to "Woman" here.

Bottom Line - Black and White

Bottom Line are from Southern New Jersey and play a straight forward style of hardcore. Right off the bat I noticed their cover art is very similar to the Worlds Ep that I reviewed last month. I think the music is played well, but nothing is jumping out at me to distinguish the band's sound. The recording quality is sort of muffled, but everything is audible and the ability to hear the separate instruments is there.

"Out of Time" begins things with a short intro before the vocals come in. The divebomb guitar harmonics are a nice touch; more bands seem to be bringing this back into vogue. There's some strong dynamics placed in the song at times which are accented by some gang vocals. "Depths of Despair" goes the faster route but still maintains the band's personality.

Lyrically this band seems keep things very grim and hopeless. The vocals have a pretty "middle of the road" vibe to them. It's a shout that has a little bit more grittiness to it. "Black and White" sounds a little bit more "punk" with it's lyrical cadence and bass solo chorus. They break things down about 1:48 into the song, returning to their more familiar sound.

They close things up with "Shallow Water" which keeps to the slower side of things. At about 1:40 they pick things up to a non climatic mid tempo. The song plots it's ending with a vocal cue which drops into the breakdown. The ending has a feel similar to Youth of Today's "Envy"; the music fades out while the drums cement the conclusion.

Listen to it here.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Discourse - Demo 2011

It's strange to me that I'm just finding out about Discourse now. This straight edge band from Columbia, SC play an extremely varied brand of hardcore that keeps things interesting. The recording quality is a bit muddy, but the guitar tones and drums are sounding pretty tight. The mildly screamed vocals are a nice touch and fit the music well.

When first starting out with "Condemn" you may be thinking this is just another fast hardcore band. However, the song instantly drops the tempo and begins to mix things up. Of particular note is the double bass/tom work at the end. The drummer has good placement and makes the songs work well.

"Carved In Stone" begins with a slow package of chugging guitar and cadence style vocals. 40 seconds in the song tightly pauses and allows the bass to plot the speed for the next upbeat part. They land into a great chugging breakdown that smoothly works into some Messhuggah-esque low single note work, and then just as smoothly back to the chugging.

"Follow" takes on some more chaotic characteristics in it's approach and shows the band's use of less conventional arrangements. This is all blended well with some more straight forward fare to keep things interesting yet maintain a nice groove. "No Heroes" has a great flow to it, coupled with some great lyrical work. The instrumental interlude that begins about 2 minutes in provides a nice introspective feel to end the record.

Listen to it here.

The Saddest Landscape - After The Lights

The first time I saw The Saddest Landscape was probably sometime around 2002. They took a long hiatus and came back around 2009 or so with some line up changes. I will give them the credit of saying that "After The Lights" is definitely more mature in it's delivery than their older material and perhaps age has helped this band hone their sound. Some folks would lump this into the "screamo" genre. I think that this band resembles something that I would label "melodic hardcore" due to a less chaotic style and mostly mid tempo pace (with the exception of "Days Punched In").

My issue with this band's past work mostly lied in the vocal style. The older material had a very dramatic delivery that at times was a little much for me. You can hear this a bit on the beginning of "The Comfort of Small Defeats", "Desperate Vespers" and "Days of Punched In". This new record seems to trade in most of the dramatic style for more urgency and direct screaming. It's an improvement for sure and helps make the vocals and music become one, rather than the vocal style distracting you from the musical goings on. I suppose this is a double edged sword. When you hear that voice you know immediately that it's The Saddest Landscape and I suppose it's a distinguishing characteristic in that line of thinking.

The approach on this record is much more focused and hard hitting. Opening with "In Love With the Sound", the record starts you off with a very nice full sound that moves pretty quickly. There's some great use of gang vocals about 2:15 in and it adds some pretty nice character to the song. The song closes with some nice start/stop instrumentation.

You'll also hear quite a bit of waltz timing on this album, see "The Urge of Permanence" for it's 3 by 4 timing. Clean interludes like on "This Heals Nothing" and "The Urge of Permanence" are often used to set up the song to dive into a different tempo/timing. It works well and provides some powerful dynamics. "The Comfort of Small Defeats" shows one of these interludes at work, backed by tight drum roll. In this particular case it carrys the song to the end.

For the most part the band provides us with song structures that keep things lively.

Listen to it here.

Classics of Love - S/T LP

Featuring some ex-members of Operation Ivy and Common Rider, Classics of Love play an upbeat brand of punk. There are many catchy, melodic hooks, but the gritty voice keeps this sounding raw and less in the poppy neighborhood. The low gain guitar works here and fits into the overall sound pretty well. With shiny mid range, the bass tone really makes an appearance. The band presents some verse/chorus song formatting, but manages to keep things fast moving and interesting.

The record opens with "What A Shame" and it had me thinking of Operation Ivy quite a bit. The chorus brings us a bit of a British punk feel though, and the way the two parts are put together is quite seamless. It wasn't long before "Castle In The Sky" brought that ska upstroke guitar that I typically can't stand. Here it's used a bit more subtly and therefore doesn't come off quite as irritating as I've heard other bands execute this. You'll see this again on the song "Bandstand".

Mid tempo tracks like "Gun Show" are done with some finesse. The dual-vocal chorus and dark sounding chord progression made this the stand out track for me. There's also a great chorus extension featuring just drums and guitar, an age old technique, but done very well here. "Moving Pictures" shows the band slowing things down. The track stands on it's own pretty well, but does seem somewhat out of place. The chorus maintains the grit pretty well though and I suppose this track can work as the "take a breather from the fast stuff" interlude.

Just after the breather, the band jumps back on full force. "It Will Not Be Moved" has a bass opening with is reminiscent of Lifetime's "Danuerysm" and blasts off with full force speed. Tracks like "Last Strike" and "Dissolve" keep the fast and urgent pace a long lasting presence on this record. Things close up with the fast and melodic "We Need A Change".

So, if you're finding anything by Fat Wreck Chords to be annoying poppy to your eyes, check out Classics of Love to provide the gritty, raw version of great melodic punk.

Get it here.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Introspect - S/T 2x 7" (Classic Review of the Week)

Introspect were a great hardcore band from the mid 90s that featured some ex-members of Elements of Need. They had a great way of blending some heavier hardcore sounds with a raw, melodic sensibility. The musicianship on this record is pretty top notch, creating some interesting patterns and holding the interest of the listener well.

What drew me to this record at the young age of 17 was the band's ability to make the verse/chorus formula seem much less predictable than usual. Songs like "Muddy Water" and "Forced Reaction" are simply done in a verse/chorus format, but really deliver some beautiful urgency. This is a theme through the record and, for some reason, never gets old here.

Vocally Introspect take some chances and I believe they succeed in ways that other may falter. There's a great mid-strength scream that takes up most of the airtime. However, the appearance of some melodic vocals make for an interesting contrast. Songs like "Blue" and "Birth Right" use this melodic vocal for their choruses to provide some nice emphasis to the screaming choruses. It's an age old formula but you have to see how this band employs it.

Songs like "Blue" and "Always" show off the heavier aspects this band has to offer. The drum work on "Always" is extremely impressive and the pauses are perfectly placed with their vocal cues. The guitar tone on this record is huge and I think that this, along with the hard hitting drums, really makes this record hold up over the past 16 years.

Download it here.

Real Cops - Demo 2012

Real Cops is a band primarily from the Jersey Shore featuring members formerly of bands like Tear It Up, Staring Problem and Forward To Death. Lyrically this band is excellent. I love how the political content is specific and well delivered, covering topics like globalization, the occupy movement, war and certain ends of civilization.

Musically the band is similar to what you'd expect, considering their ex-bands and past scope of songwriting. There's plenty of fast paced action and we get it face first with the opening track "The Future Is Written". The band manages to throw us for a loop here and there, inserting some interesting stop/start pauses or off time drumbeats which are well placed in the song. Other tracks like "It's Only A Matter of Time" don't really deviate from the fast formula and as a result, didn't catch my ear quite as well.

"Death Squads" closes up shop with a mid tempo jaunt that may be a little too 80's sounding for my taste. The track ends abruptly at 1:11, mid measure. The production on the record is pretty gritty, but seems to translate the sound this band wants. The drum toms are a little loud in the mix and I could probably stand to hear the guitar be a little bit more high gain. The music is played well, but I think this would be great if the band could continue to mix their upbeat punk style with some more unconventional, off time parts. Similar to Teen Wolves and Altered Boys, I find the treasure in this music lies with the well written lyrics.

Listen to it here.

Dads - Brush Your Teeth Again

Dads is a guitar and drum duo from New Brunswick, NJ. The single guitar heavily dominates the soundscape and sets the tone for the songs with it's bright tone and noodly fretwork. There appears to be bass playing on this recording, though it's extremely low in the mix. There's a very minimalist feel to this band. You can tell that something is sort of missing and perhaps that's how they intended it to sound. It seems the two take turns on vocals and sometimes intermingle.

Lyrically the band seems to focus on sour relationships and lost love. There is a detour with "The Deer in The Basement" which I interpreted as an expression of embracing DIY culture. Perhaps I'm way off in my reading of it though.

The vocal break in "Pass Me The Ball" is quite memorable and, in contrast, makes you forget about the minimalism of the sound for a moment due to how strong it takes us back in. On "I Didn't Say Pass Me The Ball" the bass seems to be more prevalent in the mix and fills things out more under the noodly guitar runs. There's some very impressive drum work at the beginning of "Dos Penes Duros". The rest of the song comes off a bit awkward though and seems sort of loose and unpredictable. The lyrics are a bit blunt and make it a little less easy to take seriously.

By the time "The Deer in the Basement" rolls around either my ears adjusted or the bass has permanently found a more prominent place in the mix, though the distorted guitar seems to be in need a slight level adjustment. With the next track, "New Pantera", the bands seems to have adjusted the distorted guitar to a more manageable volume at first and the song has some great dynamics from upbeat to more subdued. 2 minutes into the track the band resembles something of a Mineral sound, though, the guitar again falls prey to volume issues again; at times the drums are almost inaudible.

I enjoyed the last track, "Dan's D'Angelo Impersonation" with it's subdued music and vocals. It's a very relaxing way to end the record and ironically, this is where I see the band's strength the most. The minimalism seems to work in this context quite well. For fans of Algernon Cadawalder, Snowing and others, you might like this quite a bit.

Listen to it here.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Esazlesa - chtel bych videt svet detskýma ocima

My friend, Petr, from the Czech Republic has been suggesting some great bands for me these days. Esazlesa is another band he's recommended and I can't say that I'm disappointed with the music I'm hearing from this set of musicians. In Petr's words, this is the Czech Repulic's answer to a band like Envy or Funeral Diner. The comparison is pretty right on, but there's a little something different that's happening from both those bands.

"Papírový Pouta" is the first track and clocks in at 7:22. There's lots of time for a myriad of changes and dynamics here. The band takes you for a quite a ride but mostly maintains a mid tempo feel. The melodies work quite well, as dueling guitars swirl around each other with elements of reverb and delay laced into the overdriven sound.

The second track, "Nemý Chlapec" is a bit more subdued in it's introduction, relying mainly on reverb/delay soaked clean guitar forming a long intro. The drums slow come in about 2 minutes and lead the next minute of subdued instrumentation. At about 3 minutes the track explodes with overdriven guitar, even adding some piano to achieve some more dramatics. The intense drum work at 4 minutes in is of note. With tight, fast rolls, this drummer is showing us some real chops. To conclude the furious roles the song drops into a great breakdown which really provides a great pay off. We see more flashy drums before the song's end to conclude this release. All in all, it's very impressive.

Listen to it here.

Troubled Sleep - Poltergeist 7"

Troubled Sleep are back with a follow up to their demo. If you missed my last review on them, Troubled Sleep is a 4 person indie band residing in Brooklyn, NY. They differ from the typical Brooklyn hipster fare and present an honest soundscape that bleeds with some great authenticity.

"Poltergeist" picks up where the demo left off, but makes some nice improvements to recording quality. The new songs are crafted with a bit more precision and I definitely hear the emergence of some more interesting drumming, which I thought the demo lacked.

The only thing that has me a little baffled is the double tracked female vocal. Vocally the voice is very dry and non-soulful. It has a certain charm and strength to it though. I think the voice is strong enough to stand on it's own, and the second track is not really necessary. It adds a certain sound to the music and perhaps the band is going for that.

These 4 songs have more of an edge to them and hit a bit harder than the demo did. There are moments of softness, but only used as a great way to execute some well pronounced dynamics. From the beginning of the first track "Waltz" you even get a more explosive dynamic than the demo tended to carry. The song ends with an upbeat explosion of high gain guitar, and I found myself wanting the band to pursue this more.

Take a listen here.

Put Under - Demo

Put Under is a new band from New Jersey that plays angry hardcore, similar to bands like Carry On mixed with a bit of Burn. The songs have some very differing tempos and the band tends to keep things interesting due to that. Lyrically the band seems to deal with disgust, misery and disappointment.

For me, the demo started off a tad underwhelming with the song "Bridge Burner". There's nothing bad about it necessarily, but the parts don't have that get up and go that I like for a first song. "Nine Cans" starts off similar but picks a bit more intensity toward the end as the music gets more urgent and angry.

"S.O.S" begins with some experimental musicianship that sounds an awful lot like slide guitar, while the China cymbal cranks away in the background. The chorus almost takes on a Breather Resist - esque vocal sound. This was definitely the most experimental track of the bunch, but also the absolute strongest and most interesting. If every song sounded like this I think I would be in love. There's sort of 108 meets Burn influence happening here and it leaves you wanting to hear more.

Listen to it here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Gatekeeper - Demo

What can I say? I'm feeling nostalgic today. Gatekeeper was a vegan straight edge hardcore band from Syracuse in the mid 90's. Similar to other bands at the time, Gatekeeper had a very metallic sound laced with guitar chugs and pinch harmonics.

The main thing you'll notice about Gatekeeper is their vocals. They're not the typical shout or yell that was so prevalent in this type of music. Instead, vocalist Shane Durgee (who would go on to sing in Framework, in addition to becoming a novelist) has opted to keep things on a gritty, yet melodic, end of things.

There's some great moments of double bass and blast beats here, that may not have been as common back then, but seem to be the standard for today. For the most part Gatekeeper keeps things in the mid tempo range and emphasizes the chugging guitar as it's weapon of choice. Lyrically, all four of these songs talk about the struggle for animal rights. The recording quality could probably use an update, but it captures the time well. Have a listen:

1. Filth
2. One Million Incisions
3. The Flames of Salvation
4. Vigilante

Crutch - S/T

Crutch is from Amherst, MA and play a very fast, noisy and aggressive style of hardcore. Lyrically these guys stay pretty angry, with songs about being totally disgusted and defeated. The recording is a bit blown out, which at times can add to the effect, but other times it is a little much.

The vocals are a pretty great over the top scream, though I wasn't really digging the lower growl vocals about 1 minute into the song "Choke". Guitar feedback pretty much rings through every pause, though the tone when being played is pretty full and warm. At a total of 4 minutes, these songs run by quickly. I find myself impressed with the drumming; it's executed quickly and confidently. For fans of everything angry.

Listen to the whole thing here.

Samuel - Lives of Insects

I'm reaching back to 1994/1995 here to bring a barely mentioned record back from the dusty vault. Samuel was a five person band who played in the DIY hardcore scene long before we started segmenting things into "indie" and "hardcore" and decided the two should never meet. Samuel could probably be put into the category of mid 90's bands like Texas Is The Reason, Mid Carson July and The Promise Ring. Though, Samuel carries something special with them that sets them apart from all those bands.

With some excellent female vocals and upbeat tempos, these two songs are catchy and exciting. The pairing of some male vocal accents does a great job of pulling off some great harmonies that emphasize the intensity. The guitar work here is interesting. Both guitars are usually doing something different, swirling around each other, but always lock together at just the right moment. The bass work is of some note here as well. Some of these bass lines pull off a great subtly in how they add that extra sense of dynamics. This guy is never just riding a root note, but at the same time, it never sounds too notey or sloppy.

"Lives of Insects" is definitely the stronger track due to it's gripping seriousness and urgency. "Sideways Looker" is no slouch, though. It's a happier sounding tune, but has a great dive in between verses that adds a dark interlude. There's a nice balance there. I'm glad I dusted this one off, it holds up well, even 17 years after the fact.

Download it here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Curmudgeon - Human Ouroboros EP

Curmudgeon comes to us from Boston. They have a sound and feel that is refreshingly different than the typical Boston fare and carries some nice distinguishable characteristics too it. "Human Ouroboros" is an eight song snapshot of the band's musical expression, which is mostly dark and angry. The vocals have a higher register sound and it works well in setting this band apart from others. The lyrics are also easier to make out due to this style of vocal delivery.

The recording is very dense and bass heavy. The drums are working with quite a bit of reverb as the distorted bass rumbles in the background of each song. It works well for this style of music, as all the heaviness is translated well.

Curmudgeon does a great job of mixing fast and slow with some great dynamics and transitions. It reminds me of bands like Troublemaker, but without the bruiting anger. Most songs break a minute, but there are few (like "Worthless Generation" which clocks in under 30 seconds) that come and go before you know they started. I would recommend Curmudgeon though, in the sense that this something that really stands out. I find myself liking it more on each listen.

Listen to it here.

Ravelin 7 - Kroku Po Zamrzle Rece

Ravelin 7 come to us from the Czech Republic. They play an interesting style of post hardcore (I think that's what you would call this), though I find myself comparing it to bands like Yage and Amanda Woodward at times. There's also some At The Drive In sounding moments in here that feature some nice melodic vocals and swirling guitar lines.

There's a nice use of the synthesizer within the music that works it's way into the mix without being too intrusive or overbearing. The time signatures on these songs have an interesting composition to them with excellent changes and well placed accents. The guitar and bass work is never lazy, always bringing something that's working it's way into you ears. By the end of "Vaznei" I can hear elements of prog rock, though, pulled off with a rawness and intensity that I love.

I probably could have done without the synth talkback track on "Ve Stracenych Casech Hledame Stopare". It has that "Speak and Spell" sound to it, that is sometimes tough to take seriously. The rest of the track works well though and has a bit more of an upbeat feel to it. The band also works well in the instrumental format. You can see during some extended instrumental breaks in "Kodex" where the band almost takes on a style reminding me of From Monument To Masses.

The closing Track, "Nad Ranem" has an uncompromising 9:24 run time. The first minute of the track sounds as though it's recorded in the room next door. With a slight pause around 1:15 the track returns to a proper mix and launches into an instrumental sound scape backed by busy drums. The bands detours here into some fusion sounds featuring a horn section and some wah-wah guitar work. About 5 minutes in the track takes a long pause which swells into about 4 minutes of feedback and noise to conclude the record.

Listen to it here.

Sled - Parasitic Host

Sled are from South Carolina and features members of the 90's hardcore outfit Assfactor 4. Upon listening this may sound like fast hardcore to most, but the knowledge and experience tends to shine through and give this a completely unique sound. With some angry political lyrics, high gain guitars and pounding drums, the songs are very well crafted and even insert a great melodic feel into each track.

"Parasitic Host" starts the record off and gives you an idea of the bands ability to mix d-beat, hardcore and some great guitar harmony to put together a well articulated sound. 54 seconds in the guitar work really stands out and shows you how these guys differ from other bands in the genre. Throughout the record you'll get more snapshots of this work. The very beginning of the next track "Point, Click, Capitalize" actually shows this off again. This track also shows the band also bend the time signatures a bit withing the standard fast format. It's an interesting technique and pulled off quite well. The album continues, 12 tracks total, and never lets up from this formula of unorthodox fast hardcore.

If you're looking for something fast that is a bit of a vacation from your typical d-beat or hardcore fare, you might enjoy this quite a bit. On each of my multiple listens I was able to pull certain things from each song that we're distinguishing. Whether you like fast hardcore, d-beat or just great melodic sensibility, you'll find something appealing about this band for sure.

Listen to it here.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Pliant - S/T

Pliant features some former members of Host and Veloz, playing some tunes very similar to Host in some respects. The band is split between Amherst, MA and Washington DC, which, I would imagine would be a logistical nightmare.

Pliant stays in the d-beat neighborhood most of the time, but takes several detours that range from slow bruiting drones to some more metallic waltzes. The production has some grit to it and fits the band's music very well. The vocals have a strong sense to them and are delivered relentlessly.

"Can't Keep Up" opens the record up with a slow palm muted crawl that opens up into some large chords and crashing drums. 1 minute in the band takes you on their d-beat route, sprinkled with a few blast beats. The angry and aggressive atmosphere is translated well. The song closes up with a driving waltz accented with some discordant guitar. "No Substance" follows up with a slow intro with some very ugly chords adding to the dense sound. They blast forward into their d-beat frenzy, which takes you to the end of the track.

"Pressure Builds" made me realize the melodic sensibilities in this d-beat parts and how the drummer uses the hi hat and ride cymbal to break up the melodies quite well. Both "No End" and "Sickened" display the bands d-beat qualities well, but mix in moments of well placed breakdowns that drop in and get your head moving.

Things end with "Dead Weight". The song takes off fast, but about 30 seconds in the bass plots a gritty breakdown. When the rest of the band falls in there is sledgy mix and well held out vocals. This is definitely some well constructed music that shows you can play and fast angry while still being precise and calculated.

Listen to it here.

Good Luck - Without Hesistation

Good Luck is an indie band from Indianapolis. At first listen I was getting a huge Weakerthans vibe. This was probably due to the high, animated vocals. As the album goes on things get a little varied and there are times they're reminding me of The Screaming Females or perhaps even Mates of State.

The production on the record is great for this style. The guitar is slightly over driven and has a very direct sound. The drums have just that right amount of reverb, while the bass subtly moves in the back of the mix.

"All Good People" starts the record off with a long guitar/vocal pairing that carries the song for the first minute. This is where the Weakerthans comparison probably hit me the most. The drums sneak in along with some bass guitar the locks a stop/start groove with the drums well. The chorus is absolutely catchy and on their first run the band puts a great taste in your mouth. "The Others" has a nice upbeat feeling to it, that has some definite technical proficiency going on under the hood. It's subtle and I think that's what makes it all the more worthwhile. "The Others" and it's follow up track, "Novel Figure" spotlight some female fronted vocals, and I find myself enjoying this format a little better than the previous vocal work. This woman's voice is strong and articulate, casting a great sense of power onto the music. The whirling guitar work at the 2:30 mark adds some nice character to bring the song to it's last chorus.

"Decider" slows things downs and every time the vocalist would throw out a "Woah oh woah" I would find myself thinking of something like Mates of State or Matt and Kim. The noodly guitar work is interesting on this one and some subtle use of piano keeps things succeeding where others would fail on something like this. Even more subdued, "A Song To Comfort the Sick" begins with that soaring female vocals over some quiet acoustic guitar. At about 25 seconds in, the drums and bass blast in and the dynamic is totally changed. I have to admit I was itching to just hear an all acoustic tune that spotlighted those vocals.

"Contact" returns you to the Weakerthans sound in a big way. "The Story, Rewritten" save us with more of those strong vocals over some very interesting instrumentation with great, catchy melodies. "Impossible" takes a much faster turn, uncharacteristic of the band, but somehow totally at home among these songs. The introduction of drum rolls and confident cymbal work is impressive and even when the song starts flying at 100 mph, there's still room for the band to execute some tricky and stylish accents. Another catchy chorus finds a place in this song and it seems this band can just write them with ease.

"Significant Day" begins with some great off time drums and well accented hits. The band creates a mid tempo verse/chorus dynamic using the creative drums to emphasize the chorus's effect. They bring things down to some crawling build ups before taking the some busy guitar to ride to the end.

Listen here.

Cassilis - My Colors

I first saw Cassilis in Allentown, PA about 5 years ago. They were very good, but my mind wasn't totally blown. Fast forward to 2 years later, I saw them play in Bethlehem, PA and they blew my mind. Finally I've got my hands on these mp3s and I'm delighted on how this band has evolved. Cassilis play a chaotic and noisy style of hardcore, similar to some noisier 90's bands, but with a touch of the down tuned heaviness of today's modern bands.

The record opens up with "Judgement Dude" which has an opening riff that I can only describe as a heavier, down-tuned version of Ampere. The musicianship is on par and through the heaviness there is still a melodic sensibility. The conclusion 1 minute in is aggressive and leaves you wanting to hear more.

"ESPN HD" takes the band on a bit more of a subdued route. There's not as much thrashing and chaos, but more attention to groove on this track. There's bits of older bands like Frail and Elements of Need happening here. "Dirt Shirt" brings the heavy, dark sound back into play. This is not gimmicky or moshy, this is just a wall of great heaviness hitting you very hard.

"Who The Fuck is Gil Lewin?" brings the upbeat heaviness we heard in the opening track for a quick 30 seconds before dropping into that slow wall of sound this band does so well. They create a nice dynamic between some cleaner guitar and the heaviness here. At 1:25 the groove is pretty overwhelming and though they cut it short, you won't be disappointed when they bring it back to close the track.

There's moments of genius here, like the 30 second mark on "Swallowing Cities" that uses a stop/start dynamic to pull of some great controlled chaos. The song moves further to a Breather Resist feel when the guitar goes to some higher fretwork laced with some reverb and dirty bass. "Gypsy" almost had me comparing Cassilis to one of my favorite bands from the 90's, Channel. It's stomping snare drum and soaring guitars create a great desperation. The breakdown 30 seconds into "Carcassonne" is of a head bounce; I think you'd have to be asleep not to feel the groove in it.

The record moves further and songs like "Church Tongue" and "My Colors" will remind you of the instrumentation that you've seen these guys produce. The band ends the record with "I Take an Interest In Clean Living" which opens up sounding as though the world is going to end. The slow calculated heaviness and raging scream has me wondering why this band is not talked about everywhere by now.

Listen to it here.

Friday, February 17, 2012

From Monument To Masses - The Impossible Leap in One Hundred Simple Steps (Classic Review)

How does an instrumental band tell a very distinct story or cement their political stance through their music? From Monument to Masses are a three piece instrumental band from Berkley, California who, through the use of various news and movie samples inserted throughout their compositions, are able to create a narrative of history that is striking and awe inspiring.

I first heard this album as a bit of accident. A friend of mine had burned a CD for me back in 2004 that featured The Evens and From Monument to Masses. However, I thought it was just The Evens. When the music and mood of the music changed so dramatically I was sucked in to the new sound and quickly distinguished it as a whole other band that must have been burned to this disc. Sure enough I was correct and my love for this band's music has grown since. The musicianship is very much on point. With a great mix and great sensibility for guitar tone, this record gleams like a masterpiece.

"Sharpshooter" starts the record off recounting the September 11, 2001 destruction of the World Trade Center buildings in New York and the resulting fear and war culture that resulted. This is one of only two songs that have small vocal parts and I must say they are excellently placed above the rolling drums. The song moves on and stays in the melodic/introspective side of things, but offers a snapshot of this band's technically proficiency. The more aggressive musicianship kicks in about 5 minutes in to the song but seamlessly transitions back to the melodic neighborhood. At about 7 minutes there's a great back and forth between melodic and aggressive verses. With a run time of 8:52, the first track never uninterested me in the slightest.

"From the Mountains to the Prairies" takes us on a great musical ride interweaving some noodly guitar with some more drawn out large chords. From a narration point of view, it seems to pick up where "Sharpshooter" left off; examining the responses to the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center with some quotes emphasizing the popular opinion among the frightened masses at the time, as well as some quotes that look more critically at the U.S. response. About 3 minutes in there's a nice break which includes some guitar finger tapping and choppy bass. I love how the guitar player will record and loop a part and then play something completely different over it. We see hear how this noodly groove can actually be taken in a much more textured direction due to this technique. The song comes to a close with a slow, introspective crawl consisting of multi-layer guitars and loud, crashing drums.

The shortest track on the record is "The Quiet Before" which begins by sampling the film "Pump Up the Volume". While generating some floating notes to lay down the basis of the tempo, the guitar then joins the drums as they accent the part with a series of rolls and cymbal crashes. This all builds up and the drums suddenly launch into a straight beat. This doesn't last long until the bass and guitar give way to rolling drums with "The Matrix" being sample over top. It's quick, but it's architecture is just right.

As the record moves on you see how this band has perfected their craft and can perfectly complete this soundscape of layered guitars, precise drums and audio samples to tell a great story. Songs like "The Spice Must Flow" and "Old Robes" take you on a a great journey and their run time becomes negligible by their ability to grasp your attention.

Another standout track for me was "Comrades and Friends" which employs some heavy electronic drum programming and subtle keyboard work to back up the mulit-layered guitar. The actual drums are brought in, along with bass guitar, to create a finale to the song. On the band's release of remixes called "Schools of Thought Contended" there is a version of this song with a different arrangement and beautiful melodic female vocals. Both versions conjure a great story though, and both have the moments of absolute perfection.

The album closes up with "Letters to Z Magazine", which also uses an electronic drum into, but only for about 30 seconds, when the drummer takes the reigns. The bass locks in wonderfully with the drums to create a stop start feel before joining the guitar's melody. At 2:55 the bass is given the floor. The tone is so unique and captivating. The drums take center stage soon after with a beat that sounds much like a balancing act. It has that slow motion effect with some quick stick work behind it. The riff opens up to large chords before breaking into an upbeat guitar notes to plot the part that will draw the record to a close.

What you'll get here is 7 tracks of some very unique instrumental music with shines with great musicianship and production quality. I love how the samples tell the story and the subtle use of keyboards and electronics is tastefully executed. This record will always be an influence to me.

The Exelar - Witness Relocation Program

I'm not sure I can think of another band who is as underrated as The Exelar. This record is so full of enthusiasm, catchy hooks, great musicianship and powerful symbolism. The production and mix translate a powerful a band playing music that is extremely unique.

"Motherland vs Fatherland" blasts in with some great tone and striking melodic chords that translate some great power. The song launches into noisy chaos in seconds before dropping right back in to where started. If you're meeting The Exelar for the first time, this is a great way to get acquainted.

At 50 seconds, "Bait and Switch" takes you on a quick ride of calculated noise and power. "Firing Squad" takes that same dynamic even further with it's noise and catchy rhythm. At this point you come to love the dual vocal technique used by this band, one voice more horse and deep, the other an over the top scream. "What's Special About Me Is I Like Weather and Volcanoes" give us a rest from the onslaught as the 2 minute track's first minute is given to a sample speaking about the corruption of large nation states. The music blasts in with some intense power and the sample keeps reeling beneath.

"Lines on Paper" seems to take Refused's "New Noise" riff and adapts it without palm muting, creating something totally different. The stop/start onslaught with vocals placed in between create some great aggression before dropping back into the high guitar riff, adding some extra instrumentation.

"A British Smile" intros with the huge bass sound before bringing in the angry guitar and drum work. The song culminates with some great chaos that is catchy and powerful. "Non Fiction" shows the drummers ability to throw some great blast beats at you and, at 35 seconds long, it comes and goes faster than ever. "The Summer's Wort Horror Movie" had me thinking of some 90's obscure ebullition material. It's similar to "Lines on Paper", but carries a bit more flow and speed with it. The song breaks and allows for some beautiful clean guitar that gives us some time to reflect. There's no conclusion to this clean build up, the song just fires back in as hard as ever. With a barrage of drum rolls and desperately screamed vocals the song comes to a close with breakdown waltz.

The title track seems to showcase the band's noisy side exclusively, not taking any breaks to allow some melody. "All the Mistakes Were Mine" closes the record out with a long guitar noise intro. The waltzy drum and bass drop in and seconds later a Malcom X quote fills the top layer in place of vocals. The song stays on the melodic end and does a great job of emphasizing the words spoken.

So, if you want to hear one of the most underrated bands ever, check these guys out.

Listen here.

Drew - Somewhere Else

I was told that Drew was a studio project with some folks who have done time in Bear and The Butterfly, among others. The sound is very easy listening indie rock laced with lots of reverb and delay.

For the most part Drew is giving you some very subdued music with splashes of vocals that are very sparse. The slow fade in to "Port Angeles" sounds a bit awkward until everything takes shape and you get an idea of how the rhythm carries. I can't tell if the vocals have been double tracked or are just working with the help of some reverb. The song is quietly upbeat and until about 1:40 when it takes a slow turn with some pronounced bass drum and swirling guitar. "Quinalta" almost has a From Monument to Masses feel to it with the exception of the reverb soaked guitar. I kind of wished the drums would come in full force and carry the song. But, alas, the song runs it's 1:58 seconds without taking us there.

In "Hoodsport" the band takes a bit of 80's new wave sound, not unlike The Smith or The Church. There's some acoustic guitar in the mix and the vocals are a consistent presence in the song. "Amanda Park" takes us back to the instrumental format, but keeps things upbeat. The drums do sound very buried in the mix and this makes the track consistent with the other songs. The 5:47 "Mount Baker" shows the band using a more conventional song structure and employing some piano to emphasize the epic feel as the song moves on and grows to a loud conclusion.

"Tenino" creates a nice instrumental soundscape. The acoustic guitar works the backbone as we get a more defined lead guitar that takes center stage. "Olympia" takes us back to the upbeat 80's sound that I mentioned before and I think was probably my favorite track of the record. The vocals almost have that grit to them that creates a bit more of an urgent mood. At 1:22 the song takes an instrumental bridge and I couldn't help but be reminded of "Daydream Nation" -era Sonic Youth here. Around 2:13 the track really opens up and brings back the vocals.

The record concludes with "North Bend" a 2 minute track of introspective guitar that, although minimalist in it's approach, acts as a sort "cooling down" or send off.

Tracks like "Hoodsport" and "Olympia" were my favorite. This band can do the upbeat 80's new wave style very well and, if only the drums could come up higher in the mix, this band could be making music that would really nail that sound well.

Check it out here.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Des Ark - WXDU Vol. 3

Des Ark is the creation of North Carolina native singer/songwriter Aimee Argote. The first time I saw Des Ark they were performing as a three member outfit, adding drums and second guitar to Aimee's compositions. The performance brought me to tears at times with it's beauty and power. The melodies were haunting and introspective. I was happy to receive a digital copy of this from Paramnesia Records, as it delivers some more of the excellence that I've come to know from Des Ark. This is a live recording on WXDMU, which means there are no studio tricks or adjustments. What you're hearing is the songs played in their most genuine form.

This performance mainly features Aimee and her guitar, though there are a few tracks where some additional guitar is provided by Johnny Ward. Aimee's voice keeps from falling into the standard folk-indie trap and this is probably due to some Southern influence that's working itself into the melodies. The louder vocals also carry a great sense of desperation and expose a vulnerability that is usually not as common in music like this.

"Peace To You Too, Motherfucker" opens the record up with very nice guitar work. The whisper-like vocals drape over the slow guitar and lock in a nice sound. There's some great dynamics that feature softer playing coupled with some even quieter vocals. "Coney Island Street Meat" takes a more upbeat approach with some fast finger-picking guitar work and more pronounced vocals.

Songs like "My Little Bantam Rooster" and "Nitetime Moths" show off some great dynamics with their quiet verses that transition into a loud, choppy choruses. Though, "Nitetime Moths" speeds by as at a run time of 1:07, the shortest track on the record.

The next 3 tracks featuring some extra guitar work provided by Johnny Ward. You can hear some extra texture in the instrumentation, but it doesn't necessarily make the other songs sound empty by any means. It's a subtle addition. "Giving Tree" was my favorite of the three; I just love the way the clear vocals find their way into the picking and strumming.

"You Pregnant Motherfucker" is the second song using the term "Motherfucker" and takes on the same slow and cautious mode as the first track. It's percussive guitar picking is almost piano-like in it's delivery and adds to the mood. Around 1:50 the song comes unleashed with strong strums and that quivery, urgent vocal I mentioned earlier. "Snake Stuff" closes things up with a smoother, upbeat approach that is held together with a great fullness due to the precise guitar work that fills the space well.

Lyrically, Des Ark seem to keep things very personal on this record. Each song seems to be a stand alone narrative, telling a story about a particular time in Aimee's life, or perhaps she's an observer telling the story of someone else's life. There's some very straight forward story telling here, but also some very nice use of metaphor to help bring you to your conclusion. I believe this some material that would make even the snobbiest of musicians take notice.

Find out more here.

John Moreland & The Dust Bowl Souls - Everything The Hard Way

Some people may listen to this and hear straight rock and roll. While that's true, it's that type of rock and roll that is just shy of being radio friendly. I can't place why that is exactly; perhaps it's the rawness of the execution. There's never anything too showy. The guitar solos stay pretty tame and don't run to fit 1,000 notes into a measure. It's almost like the replacements mixed some Chuck Regan style vocals. At times you also get that Bruce Springsteen feel from the gritty vocals.

"Everything The Hard Way" starts off in a folk direction which really reminds me of the Chuck Regan solo material. Just when we think this will be the general direction the drums kick in and the straight forward rock and catchy choruses proceed. The pace is kept up on songs like "Low" and "Young Love Lost in a Flood".

The pace slows a bit for "Holy Ghost Haunted" which opts to keep on the subdued side of this band's rock spectrum. We go even further off the spectrum with the folk sounds of "Gods" which has a nice haunting melody and beautifully depressed execution. "This Town Tonight" has the same effect and shows that this could easily just be a one man folk act and still translate the same power.

The opening groove on "Christmas Lights" swells with some nice stop/start guitar laden rock. The song flows with perfection and has some great technical subtleties that show how this band can really pull off great musicianship without sacrificing it's driving sound.

The band closes up with "Good Enough" which takes you to their well crafted rock sound. There's even a reference to the Misfits classic "Where Eagles Dare" in there. From what I can tell, the lyrics are very introspective; perhaps a look back on the past and some reminiscing on them. If you like bands like the Gaslight Anthem, The Replacements, etc..then this might be for you.

Listen to the whole thing here.

Chemtrail - Youth Obsessed Death Culture

From Asbury Park, NJ, Chemtrail is bringing us some instrumental post rock, similar to that of Explosions in the Sky. It's music that is never too technical, but always pretty precise in it's delivery. Apparently this band has been around since 2007 and for some reason this is the first I am hearing about them.

"Peace Weapon" and "Honorable Mention" start the record off with a nice variety of tempos and volumes. Reverb and delay soak the guitars giving them a more spread out, larger feel. The drumming is very straight forward and precise. You can hear the perfect metronome timing in each beat even when things get busy (5:30 mark of "Honorable Mention"). With some nice bass that locks in well and some tasteful sprinkles of piano, these guys have a sound that is very tight and well planned.

"Spaced Invaders" begins on the up swing, foregoing the previous songs technique of building slowly to bring the song to shape. The dual guitar work is remarkable as one guitar works up the fretboard the other dives down, creating a nice contrast. "Mischief Night" also busts in with no warning and drives the song with a powerful waltz. It breaks at 1:49 for some beautiful, quiet instrumentation. The drums creep back in ever so slightly to begin a nice build up that relieves itself to a subdued rolling beat before launching back to the powerful waltz. The guitar lead at 4:05 is excellent and opens up the floor for the dueling string work that happens immediately after.

"Means to an End" takes us back down the more subdued path and spotlights the piano/guitar intermingling. It has a power burst at 2:20 which translates some great dramatics. "Safety Feature" also begins with a nice spotlight on the piano, with the use of some white noise adding texture to the background. I love the beat emphasized here with nice, slow drum rolls on every snare hit. The song ends with this beat taking center stage and I love it's unique simplicity.
The band keeps things moving in a nice direction with songs like "Solid Ground" and "Think Tank".

They close up shop with "Escape Artist", a 4:17 culmination of their talents that have been on display throughout the duration of this record. Of particular note is the building that begins about a minute in with it's rolling high hat work and carefully plucked notes. It builds the intensity well and pays off with an abrupt stop before launching into some full overdriven power. The jagged chords that drop in at the 3 minute mark create an awesome groove and tend to totally command your attention to bring this band's 9 song effort to a powerful close.

Check it out here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Captive Bolt - Rape, Slaughter, Slavery and Vivisection

Captive Bolt will have these songs out on a 7" soon on New Ethic Records. The band comes to us from Jacksonville, Florida and play some politically charged hardcore emphasizing issues of animal rights, non-conformity and atheism. Their sound can be described simply as fast hardcore; angry, direct and leaving little room for interpretation. Though, there's something about the band's intensity and message that sets them apart from the legions of other fast hardcore bands I've heard in the past few months. As with most of this style of hardcore, the recording quality leaves something to be desired.

"Cogs" starts things off with a blazing drum roll that fires off into a fast barrage of anger. The songs remains on the upbeat side of things, but about 30 seconds in takes a spoken vocal and layers it over some ringing guitars. "Fight to Exist" made me understand that this drummer has some very solid form with the drum rolls and well executed fast beat. "Non Believer" begins with a spoken intro which is contrasted with full instrumentation that follows it. 45 seconds in the band shows us their ability to break things down. The tempo slows and for a moment as we get to breath and take it in. "Justified Arson" blazes right back out of the gate though and sends us on the band's usual twist of high speed energy. About a minute in there's a nice break that includes some iconic lyric work and anthemic delivery.

The band also includes a cover song; "Cats and Dogs" by Gorilla Biscuits, is lyrically appropriate here and follows the bands ideology. It's well done and recognizable for fans who familiar with this classic. I'd be interested to hear a better recording of this, as I think it has great potential.

Check them out here.

Wild Guess - Guesswork

Wild Guess have a very interesting sound. Their bright guitars and and interesting song structures are very distinguishable. It sounds similar to a bands like Stop It, but much, much better and more exciting.

"Jeans" kicks the record off with a track that is mostly instrumental. The work these guys are putting in here is great though, as we get some very interesting melodies and composition. 1 minute in come the vocals, which are a scream that falls right in the middle between underwhelming and intense. At times the vocals have a Pianos Become the Teeth vibe happening.

The second track, "What", takes a similar approach of laying down some instrumental prep before slowing down the tempo and bringing the vocals in. There's something very grand sounding about this one. The chords are nice and big, creating some great texture. The band shows off it's technical side about halfway through and once again we're reminded of their great musicianship. The vocals are abandoned at this point and don't lurk back until the song comes to a close with a nice, slow motion feeling.

"Again" has a powerful soundscape for it's intro before tightening things up with some stomping floor tom beats. A light bass break 1 minute in plots the band to blast in with an intensity of bright chords and screamed vocals. The dynamic is done well here. Once again, 30 seconds later, we come to a bass break, very reminiscent of Fugazi. This sets up the backbone for the proceeding introspective guitar riff.

"2nd" follows suit with a little over a minute of instrumentation before the vocals come into to a unsettling start/stop technique. The track is much slower and less dynamic than the others, not my ideal way of how they should have closed things out. Regardless, there are some great things happening here and I look forward to hear more.

Have a listen here.

Awful Man - Waiting For The Tanks To Come Rolling In

For the most part, my taste for pop punk was left behind about 13 years ago. I enjoy the grittier stuff though, like Iron Chic or Not the Bees. The super happy, poppy sound is hard for me to feel at home with these days though. Awful Man seems to straddle the fence between that Dillinger Four-esque grit and some of the more obnoxiously poppy fare that I find a little too much to take.

"This Cause Won't Lose Itself" starts off on a fast note, and melodic guitar work. The vocals have me confused, mainly because at times I'm hearing some of that rough style that I like, but other times it falls into that NOFX territory that sounds less than desirable. The song takes a nice slow turn though and dishes out some impressive hooks and good style up until the end.

"Running Up the Tab" beings with an overly peppy strut, only broken up by some nice powerful hits around 1:10. The song breaks later to let some clean guitar take center stage and build us up to the conclusion. It blasts back in at full speed and we end with a nice mid tempo stomp and dual vocals.

The production here is a little rough, but you can hear all the instrumentation fairly well. After a few listens I find myself enjoying it a little more each time. Who knows, maybe this band will have me back in the pop punk saddle after all.

Listen to it here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Torchbearer - Dirty Swagger

Torchbearer is band comprised of quite the ex-member list, spanning many New Jersey hardcore bands over the years. These guys seem to have brought it all together to produce some angry hardcore, similar to older bands like Deadguy and Time's Up, while having a bit of a modern swing, similar to bands like Run With the Hunted. Torchbearer's sound and feel leans toward the discordant and unsettling. This is by no means easy listening.

The production quality is quite good and maintains a hard hitting feel while still translating some brightness. Shiny bass mid tones and thick guitars flourish well over the busy drum work. The vocals are distinct and I wouldn't really be able to compare them to anything else. At times they may sound a bit too strained, as if the vocalist is having trouble getting a few last words out, but they never really go over the top. For the most part, the lyrics are coherent and understandable through the yelling, but the stream of consciousness style would probably not illicit any group sing alongs. Lyrically things focus on being very disgusted; disgusted with other people's behaviors, their own behaviors, and the societal landscape in general. Things keep to the abstract, but there's no denying these are some angry words.

"Pearls Before Swine" opens the record up using the "am radio" effect on the guitars to emphasize the power of the band when the song breaks in. The first riff will have your head swaying and they break up the groove with some floaty drums and ringing guitar pretty well. The song comes and goes pretty quick, but gives you a good idea of what the band is about. "Living Disorder" shows the band has an up-tempo side as it kicks in with pounding snare hits and quick guitar runs before returning to the slower bruiting sound. Even faster, "P.S. I'm Banging All of Them" starts with a fast and thrashy feel, before a relentless down tempo mess of aggression slow things down. Later in the record "Hollow" uses the same formula, just as effectively.

As the record moves you get a good mix of all these elements. Songs like "Security Blanket", "9-32" and "Ill Advised" show what the band is all about in terms of their sound and talent.

Two tracks on here break the 4 minute mark, "Stutter Syndrome" and "Decay". The opening guitar riff in "Stutter Syndrome" has a great experimental tone to it and it really stands out as the dueling guitars match up in eerie way. The songs length can attributed to the drawn guitar about halfway through which plots the band to begin a slow and drudging walk to the end. "Decay" draws the majority of it's run time from it's beginning verse/chorus format fronted with some unsettling clean guitar. It's a departure from the band's usual work, and it's good to see them taking some chances here.

I don't think this has been released in physical format yet, but it is available for download and stream. You can listen to it here.

Listen to it here.

Ampere / Ringers - Split 7"

This split is an usual pairing in terms of genres, but I suppose it pushes the envelope in that regard. Perhaps when two bands that sound nothing alike are paired together it challenges the listener, and I get that...or it can just result in one side not being so good.

Ampere uncharacteristically breaks one minute with the song on their side of this record. Though, it has all the parts you've come to love about the band. Combining the melody of bands like Portraits of Past and For Want Of, along with the directness of trash sensibilities, Ampere is well known for their well crafted, quick melodic bursts. This song is no exception. It's recording is a little brighter than some previous Ampere work and the duel tracked guitar is very apparent here. The song has some repetition which is a detour from the band's usual composition style. It works very well though and, at 1 minute long, the song hits very hard. There's a nice subdued break in the middle, focused on the tom drums and some palm muted guitar, along with some quick guitar breaks that take you furiously back in. Over all a great representation of the band's talent.

Ringers I can only describe as something like Jawbreaker meets "Re-Inventing Axel Rose"-era Against Me. I like both of those bands, but this is sort of like mixing both of those bands with a lot of water. It's upbeat poppy sound is actually a little harsh on my ears and not really executed exactly how I'd like. In the 2:47 the band has to win you over they stay upbeat and happy. You get that Irish drinking song feel sort of mixed with some high school talent show style pop punk at times.

Check it out here.

Trenchfoot - S/T

Trenchfoot has a dark, fast and angry sound which can sometimes sound like d-beat, but for the most part has some great hardcore sensibilities. I find their sound very unique. There's a very dirty sound; feedback rings through every pause and the distorted bass roars underneath the songs. The vocals are an angry shout but translates some great urgency. Lyrically, the band seems to stay in the personal spectrum. The songs are a bit abstract, but overall have a feeling of defeat to them. The recording is dirty and loud, but it fits the sound and emphasizes what the band is going for.

After two listens I was glowing with excitement. This band has great song structure and in a sea of fast punk and hardcore bands it's quite refreshing to hear something like this. "Depleted Mind" rips the record off to a great start. The fast paced beginning drops into a breakdown, and then uses some hanging notes to takes things to a more intense place. "Amygdala Haunt" shows the band staying on the slower side, but nothing is lost. It's a hard hitting journey and only 48 seconds it makes it's point.

As the record moves with songs like "Days Like These", "Mr. Cellophane" and "Say No" (all with run times under 50 seconds) you get what I can only describe as a mix of Deadguy, Carry On, Tragedy and Breather Resist. It's interesting and does a good job of keeping your attention.

Things come to a close with "Dead As Always" and "Worthless" which both clock in over 1 minute long in contrast to most of the other tracks. "Dead As Always" has an amazing breakdown that keeps your head moving. The vocals are well placed and I can see myself singing along to a live performance. "Worthless" has an interesting beginning with some vocal highlights over some structured bass strums. I enjoy the non conventional way the drums kick in. The song provides a nice dynamic and ends the record very well.

I'm totally impressed. This is a band I must keep an eye out for.

Check it out here.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Wet Witch - Ep

Wet Witch has members in New Jersey and Brooklyn. They play an interesting blend of straight forward punk with some very experimental detours which make the music much more interesting than the other bands in the genre. At times in may get a little too hip and rock n' roll for me, but other times these guys are showcasing some good talent.

"New Ways" opens the record with some electronic beats and controlled feedback. The song kicks in with some very interesting drum work featuring some quick rolls and tight, fast beats. The song opens up to a catchy chorus complete with some reverb laden vocals. This was my favorite song on the EP. The band has a good home with this approach and if they pursued it exclusively then I would probably be totally all in.

"Caught Up" was my least favorite track. It's mid tempo rock n' roll style has a little bit too much sass for me and I couldn't help but picture Brooklynites drinking pabst and swaying back and forth while trying not to look to excited as the band plays. Unfortunately, at 3 minutes, it's the longest track on the EP.

"Bad Insides" takes an interlude with some acoustic guitar and noise. It's a nice break and well executed. "Fuck with Fire" closes the record and takes us back to the style of "New Ways" with it's showcased, fast drumming. The band closes things out with a melodic breakdown which leaves a nice taste behind.

Lyrically, Wet Witch leans on the abstract pretty hard. The songs are well written, and leave a lot open for interpretation. This is my first time hearing Wet Witch, I'm sort of interested to see how this would translate in a live setting.

Find out more here.

The Demon Beat / Elephant Child - split 7"

The record starts off with The Demon Beat. I'll attempt to describe their sound by saying it sounds like 90's alternative rock with a very fuzzy, blown out mix. "Garage Rock" may be the hipper monicker to use for this I suppose.

"Teenage Wasteland" begins with some stop/start guitar and sassy vocals. It's actually pretty catchy and well executed here. Their dynamics and chord placement show that these guys probably have some good sense of how to keep a song moving. "Change The Subject" actually takes us to some territory that reminds me of late 80's / early 90's work of The Replacements and Paul Westerberg. It's melodies are more subdued and translate a gritty, college rock feel. Overall the musicianship on these songs is very well done. They seem to work very well with locking into each other musically.

Elephant Child, from Harrisonburg, Virginia, take side B and follow suite with their own version of minimalist rock. I don't get the same catchiness or musical proficiency that I felt while listening to The Demon Beat. Perhaps the band shot a little to high with a song clocking in at 6:07. The vocals here have an off key drone that doesn't create the sing a long feel I'd hope for. There's some creative guitar work here involving higher fretwork and harmonies, and that was the standout for me.

Check out The Demon Beat here.

Check out Elephant Child here.

Silence Equals Death - Ressurection

Silence Equals Death is from Northern New Jersey. The band has a melodic hardcore sound similar to One Win Choice, Ignite and Rise Against, but at times their sound can move to something less melodic; hardcore taking on sounds like Trial or Endpoint.

The production quality leaves a little bit to be desired, but definitely brings you the music in a clear manner. High gain guitars and shouted vocals present a very clean style of songwriting, void of any feedback or discordance.

"Reparations" is a good opening track that lays out the variety that the band offers. Opening with some melodic octave chords then launching into a faster melody which had me thinking of Ignite quite a bit. The song evolves well and takes us from this melodic landscape to a nice rolling drum interlude featuring some spoken and subdued vocals that remind me of some of Rob Pennington's work in Endpoint. This is all followed by some more aggressive work with chugging guitars and stronger vocals. My main complaint here is the vocals on the melodic parts don't really work as well as the more intense shouting does.

I was impressed with the introspective melodic work opening up the song "Hero". The song takes off into the bands brand of hardcore complete with gang vocal shouts. "Never Surrender" begins and instantly reminds me of some Sick of it All material with it's chugging guitars, mid tempo drums and shouted vocal delivery. The song breaks for a second into their spoken melodic style, but not for long. This was probably my favorite track on the EP, it has a directness and pace that pulls you in.

Lyrically, Silence Equals Death split the songs between some political and personal narratives. My only problem is that the political lyrics are a bit general and vague in their subject matter. The band may be trying to capture a general feeling here, but I typical prefer things to be more specific.

Listen to it here.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Dead Kennedys - In God We Trust Inc. (Classic Review)

It was probably freshman year of high school. That would make it around 1993. My friend Brian had this cool Uncle Steve who was always interested in what we liked musically. One day Brian and I were hanging out at his house, probably watching "Stand By Me" for the 150th time, when Uncle Steve came over with a pile of old punk records from the late 70's/early 80's. Among The Stooges, The Jam and many others we found "In God We Trust Inc." by the Dead Kennedys.

While we enjoyed the mid tempo, rock-esque, vibe of those aforementioned bands, it was when we put on the "In God We Trust Inc" record that our hair blew back (well, Brian's hair didn't move, it never does, but figuratively speaking of course). "Religous Vomit" blew open the record with angry discordant hits and blasted off into a 100 mile per hour run of quick vocals and full speed guitar. It flew by and everyone in the room just sat there in awe. "Moral Majority" opens with it's parody on the Mickey Mouse club before exploding into yet another punk blast of upbeat tempos and quick vocal delivery. These songs had hooks and catchy lyrics that got caught in our heads.

We listened further as songs like "Hyperactive Child", "Kapone Factory" and "Dog Bite" flew by and maintained the same velocity. We were getting sonically punched in the face over and over by something we couldn't explain. Our minds couldn't formulate how fast these guys were playing.

Then came "Nazi Punks Fuck Off" and we all lost it. The song spoke in straight and blatant terms about Nazism in the punk scene and tore it apart with ease. The delivery was amazing and had my spine tingling at the line "You'll be the first to go, unless you think".

By the time the jazzy interlude of "We've Got A Bigger Problem Now" came on, it occurred to me that this was punk for people who wanted to think. Sure, these guys probably endorsed their fair amount of drug use and nihilism, but this was music that was asking questions and pointing out critiques in a very smart and witty manner. It wasn't until later that we found out that vocalist, Jello Biafra, had run for mayor of San Francisco and was, in fact, a knowledgeable and well spoken guy. Sure you can date these lyrics due to their content (lots of references to Ronald Reagen and Jerry Brown), but topics like the corruption of religion, abuse of authority and fascism are just as relevant today as they were then.

That whole week the line "Welcome to 1984, are you ready for the third world war?" was stuck in my head.

Welcome to 1984
Are you ready for the third world war?!?
You too will meet the secret police
They'll draft you and they'll jail your niece

You'll go quitely to boot camp
They'll shoot you dead, make you a man
Don't you worry, it's for a cause
Feeding global corporations' claws

Die on our brand new poison gas
El Salvador or Afghanistan
Making money for President Reagan
And all the friends of President Reagan

California Uber alles
Uber alles California

Brian would later obtain a vhs cassette tape (that's how we had to do it back then) of a Dead Kennedys live show that featured just about all of these songs. The energy of the band's live show was up on screen in front of us, and though it was a 10 years old performance, it was still filling us with enthusiasm and ideas.

Download it here.