Jul 31, 2008

np: "Sentenced To Thrash" - Gama Bomb

If you've spent any time following the current metal scene, you'll no doubt know that we are in the midst of a full-fledged thrash metal revival. I mentioned awhile ago the excellent new album by thrash veterans Testament, but there are plenty of young bands getting in on the act. This summer saw the release of three solid retro-thrash albums on the always exciting Earache label. I've been spending some time with each of them and here are my quick thoughts.

Violator - Chemical Assault
First up is this denim-clad quartet of Brazilian thrashers, who throw things back to 1986 in a serious kind of way with songs like "Addicted To Mosh" and "Ordered To Thrash". These guys are pretty talented, but honestly this was the one of three albums that seemed to grab me the least. Nothing to knock the band, but they just seemed to lack the oomph and/or gimmickry that jumped out from the other two.

check out: "Ordered To Thrash"

Gama Bomb - Citizen Brain
Irish thrash! All right! This group has been steadily building buzz for several years now, thanks to some solid self released recordings and thrilling live shows. Earache has finally snatched them up and propelled them to international acclaim! Well, hopefully. When I mentioned "gimmickry" above, these are the guys I had in mind. I'd have to consider Gama Bomb to be the Saturday morning cartoon version of retro-thrash and I mean that in the best possible way. In addition to the awesome cover art above, this album features songs about truck driving psychopaths ("Hell Trucker"), the Super NES classic Final Fight (duh, "Final Fight"), and Superman II ("In the Court of General Zod"). Not to mention songs about time travel wars and setting dinosaurs loose on London. Really, really fun... if not exactly the most technically accomplished band.

check out: "Time Crime"
Bonded by Blood - Feed the Beast
It takes balls for a band to name themselves after a beloved thrash classic (Exodus' excellent debut in this case), but these guys ably live up to the name. Playing off the more demonic themes demonstrated by their namesake, these guys offer a darker, denser take on the thrash sound. The guitar solos are fantastic and the mix allows every instrument punch and swagger. They aren't the fastest, they aren't the most original, but nonetheless they crank out some damn fine thrash. Well worth hearing.

check out: "Necropsy"

Jul 30, 2008

the return of the shuffle post...

10 songs. 10 thoughts.

Rufus Wainwright - "The One You Love" (taken from Want Two)
Believe or not I'm a pretty big fan of Rufus, he's got a dramatic flair that I fall easily for. This is an example of his great pop sensibility - such an impossible to ignore melody combined with such typical Rufus lyrics as "let's fuck this awful art party". His melodramatics are kept in check pretty well here, but this still has a very distinct Rufus vibe.

Crystal Castles - "Alice Practice" (taken from Crystal Castles)
This is one of Crystal Castles' noisier experiments, all insistent bass, distorted vocals, and digitzed bleeps and bloops. Certainly makes for a rough transition from the last track. If you like noise in your electro this is probably right up your alley, but this is one my least favorite Crystal Castles tracks.

Dead Meadow - "Lady" (taken from Dead Meadow)
This shuffle is certainly taking me all over the place, as we downshift to backwards looking stoner metal that owes a great deal to bands like Black Sabbath. The guitar tones, as expected from this band, are dark and murky and chock full of low-end. This rumbling, plodding type of sludge isn't for everyone, but I can't get enough of the smoky, Orange amps turned to eleven vibe these guys exude.

Bob Dylan - "Thunder on the Mountain" (taken from Modern Times)
A little recent Dylan for the ears, this is the rollicking (I really can't think of a better word to describe this swinging rhythm) lead off tune from his most recent album. Probably most famous for the lyrical shout-outs to Alicia Keys, I love the way this song really kicks into gear with that guitar solo about a minute and a half in. This is the timeless, classic sound that Dylan can pull off like no other.

Reatards - "You Ain't No Fun No Mo'" (taken from Bedroom Disasters)
Nice track to follow on the heels of my last post, this is a blistering garage rock nugget from Jay Reatard's ex-band. Dirty, scuzzy, poorly recorded, but packed with enough napalm to melt your computer speakers. If you've been into Blood Visions, you need to hear some of Jay's earlier work.

Black Moth Super Rainbow - "Forever Heavy" (taken from Dandelion Gum)
Another rather jarring transition takes us from the scummy bar stages of the Retards to the hippy-dippy rainbow psychedelia of Black Moth Super Rainbow. This track features lots of oscillating synths, computerized vocals, and a rather insistent beat. I imagine this is what might result if Daft Punk recorded an album after ingesting copious amounts of magic mushrooms.

This Heat - "Cenotaph" (taken from Deceit)
This Heat, the British experimental post-punkers, are one of those bands I always mean to listen to more of but never really seem to do so. Probably because you really need to be in a certain mood to absorb some of their more outre moments, but this track is sounding really good to me right now. The off-kilter harmonics and reliance on rhythm remind me a lot of Liars, which can never be a bad thing. I love the way this track totally falls apart at the end.

Future of the Left - "Wrigley Scott" (taken from Curses)
Why should you know this band? Because this is two-thirds of the awesome, awesome Welsh band Mclusky. If you don't know Mclusky, you need to remedy that by picking up Mcluskyism. Now. This track, meantime, lacks that classic Mclusky wit, but makes up for it in sheer energy.

Frank Black - "White Noise Maker" (taken from Teenager of the Year)
Such an underrated album. You hear critics right and left lauding the Pixies, and deservedly so, but I feel like the early solo work of Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV gets short shrift. This is alterna-rock heavily indebted to both his former band and classic rock. Dig that guitar solo.

Dalek - "Corrupt (Knuckle Up)" (taken from Abandoned Language)
Speaking of underrated. This New Jersey hip-hop crew is criminally underrated, being one of the most forward looking groups out there right now. Their complex, layered approach to music making puts them in a category far removed from stuff like Nas and Young Jeezy - but these guys remain remarkably loyal to the basics foundation of hip-hop. We need more boundary pushing hip-hop like this.

Jul 27, 2008

np: "All Over Again" - Jay Reatard

For those of us not lucky enough to have been able to track down all of Jay Reatard's various 7-inches over the past several years, the folks over at In the Red have put together one hell of a package for us. Singles 06-07 compiles 17 tracks pulled from Jay's various non-album releases from those two titular years. Even more fun is the second disc, a DVD that pulls together four different live performances from roughly the same time period. If you weren't hip to last year's fantastic Blood Visions, or even if you were, this is a great place to catch up on one of Memphis' greatest garage rock exports. This makes me really anxious to hear his upcoming material on Matador.

Seems that the fine folks over at Metal Edge have finally updated their website, so you can now check out some of my recent reviews without trudging down to your local newsstand. Although I highly suggest you do so anyway, as Metal Edge as a whole has really impressed me lately with lots of fine coverage. Of special note this issue is a fine piece on Paganfest by Adrien Begrand (Basement Galaxy) and a feature on the top 25 nu-metal albums (really, the entire genre didn't suck). So if you are so inclined, wander off and read my quick thoughts on some recent metal releases. Toby Driver's latest Kayo Dot album has a few decent moments, but takes far too long to really get exciting. Israel's Distorted offers an interesting take on gothic-tinged metal, but it all feels a bit too safe for my liking. But if you want to read what I thought of Mericless Death, Coldworker, or Power Quest - you'll have to pick up the August 2008 issue in person.

As a sidenote, I want to point out that something got lost between when my Kayo Dot review got submitted and when it was printed. That first sentence should read: "Since disbanding the beloved maudlin of the Well...". I'm guessing my choice of using the band's lack of capitalization in the "maudlin" led to some confusion. Anyway, I do know that Toby Driver's band was "maudlin of the Well" and not "the Well".

Jul 24, 2008

np: "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You" - Black Kids

A quick update on my post from yesterday, now that I've actually heard the album in question. It certainly does suck, Pitchfork at least got the score (3.3 out of 10) right. They may have possibly even overrated it ever so slightly. Any of the charm of the self-released debut EP has been obliterated by the squeaky clean production that renders every instrument sterile, clinical, and cold. Which is a good thing for someone like, say, Kraftwerk... but not for a band that is supposedly full of youthful exuberance. Thanks to his time spent in the producer's chair, Bernard Butler can certainly take a lot of the blame for this album's failures. But the band themselves cannot remain blameless. You can practically hear them straining to be hip and clever. It's just an awful, awful album. And a huge disappointment coming off the promising Wizard of Ahhs EP. Even the best of those early demos, "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You", is neutered and boring as presented here in re-recorded form.

BUT... my point from yesterday still stands. The staff at Pitchfork would have served their readers and themselves far better by offering an insightful critique of this album's failures instead of that sub-lolcat/Perez Hilton crap they tried to pass off as a "review".

Jul 23, 2008

Pitchfork Bitch Fest '08

Look guys, I know you were busy curating another festival this weekend and all, but WTF? Really? This is the kind of critical analysis we can count on from a supposedly trusted source? I know Pitchfork bashing is sooo 2005, but this type of stunt really bugs me. Not only is it lazy, but it's pretty damn insulting to the site's readers as well. I have no problem with the writers/editorial staff hating the album, but would it kill them for a little bit of an explanation as to why they hated it so much? I mean, we get it - you're sorry you foisted a band on us that turned out to suck. Don't worry, it isn't the first time. But when you consider that all four of the songs from the Pitchfork approved debut EP also appear on this supposedly horrible album, it kinda makes you want to know what went so horribly wrong. Lousy production? Half-hearted performances? What? Looks like we'll have to turn elsewhere for that kind of explanation, since it seems that the folks over at Pitchfork can't be bothered with any sort of critical integrity when their busy congratulating themselves on putting together another fine music festival.

Then again, why I am I surprised? They've pulled this shit before.

Jul 22, 2008

live report: Boris/Torche/Nachtmystium @ Chicago's Empty Bottle

For a variety of reasons I decided to skip out on this year's Pitchfork Music Festival and while it sounds like I might have missed a few great sets of music, I can take consolation in knowing that I was able to catch one of the bands in a much more intimate venue (along with two other bands that have released fantastic albums this year). If you've never been to the Empty Bottle, you are missing out on one of the city's best live music venues. Yeah, it's a bit of a dive and always about 20 degrees warmer than necessary inside, but there are few better places to get up close and personal with your favorite bands. When I saw that Boris was going to make a post-Pitchfork appearance at the bar, I knew I had to grab a ticket - quick. When I saw that Torche and Nachtmystium were both opening, I was thrilled.

Nachtmystium kicked the night off with a blistering, if a little too brief, set of their progressive take on American black metal. They shied away from some of the proggier moments of their excellent new album, Assassins, but still managed to hit on many of the disc's high points. It was an energetic set that got the crowd primed for the night, closing with a frantic take on Motorhead's "The Wolf".

Florida sludge-pop band Torche took the stage next and immediately launched into a fierce set that heavily favored the awesome Meanderthal disc. I have to admit that these guys were one of the most charismatic metal bands I've seen in a long time, between lead singer Steve Brooks' constant grin and guitarist Juan "in a million" Montoya's playful antics. Their songs manage to thread the needle between stoner stomp and pop buoyancy very skillfully, and they translated very well to the stage. Oh, and their drummer was an absolute monster.

After an excruciatingly long setbreak and sound check, Boris slowly made their way to the stage and kicked off an absolutely monstrous set. Backlit, bathed in smoke, and standing in front of awe-inspiring stacks of Orange and Sunn 0))) amps (note that the Marshall amps pictured above were not what they used this particular night); they looked like four rock gods ready to destroy the planet. As drummer Atsuo encouraged the band and crowd with his rock star theatrics and joyful smile, Michio Kurihara and Wata threw every ounce of energy into making their guitars sing and scream. Their set was a perfect balance between the roaring metal side of Boris and the trance-inducing psychedelic side of Boris. A thrilling set of music made all the better thanks to the intimate venue.

Jul 16, 2008

np: "Sequestered in Memphis" - The Hold Steady

It's pretty fair to say, at this point in 2008, that The Hold Steady is one of my favorite active bands right now. Since discovering them via blog buzz (it does work!) shortly before the release of their excellent second album, Separation Sunday, and subsequently reviewing it for Static; I've fallen hard for this band. Not only have I come to cherish each of their full-lengths, admittedly some more than others, but I've been fortunate enough to watch them put on four killer shows in the past few years. So, to put it mildly, I was anxious to hear their latest - Stay Positive. I wanted the full record buying experience, so I avoided all the early internet leaks and streaming tracks on MySpace. Call me old fashioned, but I love anxiously ripping open the plastic wrap and studying the liner notes as the first tracks wash over me. Anyway, after what seemed like an interminable wait, this thing was finally released for reals yesterday. And now that I've had a chance to let my first impressions sink in - damn is this one hell of an album.

Stay Positive is almost exactly the direction I'd hoped they would take after Boys and Girls in America. More classic rock elements, more epic arrangements, and a grander sense of time and place. Craig Finn has always done an excellent job of making his references feel universal, even when getting down to the nitty-gritty specifics that only a select few might catch on first listen. Hell, spending a lot of time with those first two albums made me feel like I spent my wayward teenage years in the Twin Cities - even though my adolescence was spent in relative boredom in central Illinois! But I think he's done an even finer job than ever before in nailing what I'll call those specific generalities. These songs may come across like explicitly narrative tales about friends and acquaintances, but they perfectly capture slices of life for a great many people. I know the reference is all to tired when it comes to this band, but I feel that Stay Positive is their most Springsteen influenced yet. It's not hard to imagine kids cruising around the Midwestern streets this summer with the same feeling in their hearts as those New Jersey kids might have felt back in the fall of 1975 when Born To Run came out. This is about as American as rock and roll gets right now.

Do yourself a favor, rush out and buy this damn thing. It's phenomenal. Separation Sunday was my #2 album of 2005, Boys and Girls was my #3 of 2006, this may just be the year that The Hold Steady tops the list.

(As a sidenote, I do have one minor complaint that has nothing to do with the quality of the album. I want to know why Vagrant thought it was a good idea to cram all three bonus songs onto a single track? It's really annoying.)

Check out a couple of my favorites for yourself (but really, the whole thing need to be heard):

"Sequestered in Memphis"

"Lord, I'm Discouraged"
np: "Weatherman and Skin Goddess" - Robert Pollard

Because, if nothing, I like to be an organized music geek (rather than just a plain old music geek) - I've taken to keeping an rotating iTunes playlist featuring ten songs are tickling my fancy and keeping me coming back for more. As of right now, these ten songs are:

Weezer - "Heart Songs" (taken from Weezer)
My Morning Jacket - "Aluminum Park" (taken from Evil Urges)
Wolf Parade - "Fine Young Cannibals" (taken from At Mount Zoomer)
Spiritualized - "Death Take Your Fiddle" (taken from Songs in A&E)
Robert Pollard - "Weatherman and Skin Goddess" (taken from Robert Pollard is Off To Business)
Motley Crue - "Saints of Los Angeles" (taken from Saints of Los Angeles)
Sigur Ros - "Ara batur" (taken from Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust)
Alkaline Trio - "Love Love Kiss Kiss" (taken from Agony & Irony)
Kidz in the Hall f. Masta Ace - "Drivin' Down the Block (Low End Theory)" (taken from The In Crowd)
Hero Destroyed - "Texas Heart Shot" (taken from Hero Destroyed)

Jul 8, 2008

np: "Destroyer" - King Khan & The Shrines

Okay, wow. I never would have expected a Berlin-based band fronted by a Canadian to be so great at recapturing the spirit and soulfulness of American psychedelic garage rock, but damn do these guys bring it! I've been listening to the band's new compilation on Vice, The Supreme Genius of King Khan & The Shrines, obsessively over the last few days and I've yet to find a negative thing to say about it. King Khan, also known as Blacksnake when he was a member of Montreal band The Spaceshits with Mark Sultan, is one hell of a charismatic frontman; but it's the rest of the Shrines that make this stuff absolutely slam. Vintage organ, a ballsy horn section, and a funky rhythm section all sound so authentic that you'll find it hard to believe this is a current, ongoing concern and not another Nuggets-style time capsule of a long gone band. I cannot recommend this album enough. If you are at all a fan of vintage sounding garage rock, or hell... rock and roll in general, you absolutely NEED to hear this collection of the Shrines' best work. Here's a couple tunes to get you started, but believe me - you're going to want to have this thing for yourself.

King Khan & The Shrines - "Destroyer"
(taken from The Supreme Genius of...)
King Khan & The Shrines - "No Regrets" (taken from The Supreme Genius of...)

A couple of side observations:
1. I'm not sure how I managed to drop this album from my list of the best of the year so far, but that new Panic at the Disco album deserves attention. For real.

2. Someone needs to tell Chicago boys The M's that the Elephant 6 collective isn't going to grant them retroactive membership status, so they should stop trying. The new disc, Real Close Ones, is a big disappointment on first listen - that thin, muddy production does no favors.

3. Seven Cubs on the All-Star roster? Fantastic. I'm really enjoying this season. Unlike, say, those Mets fans out there.

Jul 3, 2008

So Far... So Good... So What: The Best of 2008, Halfway Point Edition

We've made it to the halfway point of 2008, seems like a good time to look back and take stock of the year in music so far. Personally, it's been a really interesting year when it comes to the music I've been listening to since January. One of the biggest changes is that I'm now writing for two outlets - Static Multimedia and, more recently, Metal Edge. Which means I'm swimming in more promos than ever before. I know I don't need to listen to everything that comes across my desk or inbox, but there is just so much stuff that seems so interesting and worth a listen. I love diving headfirst into bands, and hell... whole subgenres, I've never heard before. So I've heard more albums in the past six months than I probably heard in any single year before. It's a lot to absorb and a lot to digest, but I like it... so far anyway. I'm sure overload will kick in one of these days and I'll have to step back and distance myself a little bit. It's all a part of learning to best appreciate music.

With that in mind, I'm approaching the list making a little differently this time. Rather than numerically ranking my "favorites" from the past six months, I'm going to alphabetically list the 25 albums that have most engaged me since January 1st. Records I've been compelled to return to time and time again, records I've poked around and lived in for stretches at a time. What this means to my list is that there are some records that have come out in the past month or two that I absolutely love so far, but haven't yet had the time to really wrap my brain around them - and because of this, I'm leaving them off the list. The 25 records below are ones that I have lived with enough to feel comfortable putting them on any kind of "best" list.

Without further ado...

Atlas Sound - Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel (Kranky)
Erykah Badu - New Amerykah, Pt. 1: 4th World War (Motown)
Be Your Own Pet - Get Awkward (Ecstatic Peace)
Black Mountain - In The Future (Jagjaguwar)
Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago (Jagjaguwar)
Cut Copy - In Ghost Colours (Modular)
Dead Meadow - Old Growth (Matador)
Death Cab For Cutie - Narrow Stairs (Atlantic)
The Dodos - Visiter (Frenchkiss)
Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes (Sub Pop)
Foals - Antidotes (Sub Pop)
Frightened Rabbit - The Midnight Organ Fight (Fat Cat)
The Goslings - Occasion (Not Not Fun)
Gutter Twins - Saturnalia (Sub Pop)
Hercules & Love Affair - Hercules & Love Affair (DFA/Mute)
Los Campesinos! - Hold On Now, Youngster (Arts & Crafts)
No Age - Nouns (Sub Pop)
Portishead - Third (Mercury)
Ruby Suns - Sea Lion (Sub Pop)
Spiritualized - Songs in A&E (Fontana Int'l)
Sun Kil Moon - April (Caldo Verde)
Torche - Meanderthal (Hydra Head)
Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend (XL)
Vandermark 5 - Beat Reader (Atavistic)
The Whigs - Mission Control (ATO)

And there you have it... twenty five releases from the first half of this year that have made me really happy to be a music fan. As I mentioned, there are quite a few more recent albums that I've really been enjoying but haven't heard quite enough to have made this list. So special mentions should be made to Sigur Ros, Nachtmystium, Opeth, Coldplay, Lair of the Minotaur, Wolf Parade, and Harvey Milk for their albums that may end up figuring out this same sort of list at the end of the year.

As a sidenote, it certainly looks like Sub Pop has been working wonders for me this year. Five albums out of those 25 listed came out on that veteran label, not to mention the awesome Mudhoney reissue and that Wolf Parade album. Great way to celebrate the 20th Anniversary guys!

Jul 1, 2008

np: "Steamer Trunk" - Alkaline Trio

(Okay, no, I don't have my best of the year so far post ready for tonight. I up and left my hand-scribbled notes in my desk at work today, so you'll have to bear with my and watch for it later this week.)

Surely it has been mentioned at some point (perhaps several points) throughout the history of this blog, but I love (formerly) local Chicago favorites Alkaline Trio. There's something about their spunky combination of punk power chords, gothic design sensibilities, and alcohol-fueled girl troubled lyrics that I never manage to outgrow. There are many that outgrew the band as their fanbase started to grow and the crowds started to get younger around them, but I've yet to lose my love for the guys. I may not hold the more recent albums as close to my heart as I do Goddamnit, Alkaline Trio, and Maybe I'll Catch Fire - but I've found a lot to enjoy throughout their career. In fact, they remain one of the few bands that I'll willingly splurge on questionable compilations (Masters of Horror, Tony Hawk's American Wasteland) just to get an exclusive Alk3 cut.

Today saw the release of the band's sixth(!) full-length release, finding them making the move from semi-indie Vagrant to full-fledged major Epic. Here's hoping they can get some of the mainstream success they've long deserved. Remember kids, My Chemical Romance wouldn't have existed without these guys.

In honor of Agony & Irony, I prepared an introductory mix tracklisting for those curious about the band, along with where these songs can be found. Maybe someday soon I'll post a link to this mix somewhere, but for now you'll have to make friends with iTunes or Amazon and do a little research on your own.

Blood, Sweat, & Beers: An Alkaline Trio Primer

01. Sun Dials
02. This is Getting Over You

03. Southern Rock

04. San Francisco

05. Enjoy Your Day
06. Trouble Breathing

07. Fuck You Aurora
08. Keep 'Em Coming
09. Take Lots With Alcohol
10. Stupid Kid
11. Steamer Truck
12. We've Had Enough
13. Blue Carolina
14. Time To Waste
15. Mercy Me
16. Hell Yes
17. My Standard Break From Life
18. Metro
19. Old School Reasons
20. Sadie

tracks 1-3 taken from Alkaline Trio
tracks 4-6 taken from Goddamnit
tracks 7-8 taken from Maybe I'll Catch Fire
tracks 9-11 taken from From Here to Infirmary
tracks 12-13 taken from Good Mourning
tracks 14-15 taken from Crimson
tracks 16-20 taken from Remains

But really, you can't go wrong with any one of those first four albums listed as a starting point.