Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Dillinger Escape Plan with Mike Patton - Irony Is A Dead Scene (2002)

In late 2001, up-and-coming experimental mathcore band The Dillinger Escape Plan found themselves without a vocalist when founding member Dimitri Minakakis suddenly parted ways with the band because of their rigorous touring schedule. While they looked for a full-time replacement for Minakakis, the band recruited several of their friends to handle vocal duties on tour. Among these friends was the legendary Mike Patton, who they had met when Patton asked them to come on tour with Mr. Bungle. There must have been some sort of apparent chemistry between the group, because Patton later agreed to help produce and contribute to an upcoming EP. By the time Irony Is A Dead Scene had been recorded and released, the band had already been touring with newly-found vocalist Greg Puciato for over a year.

Patton's vocal style is actually very well complemented by the spastic style of The Dillinger Escape Plan's music, which is frequently on the verge of total chaos and destruction. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that there isn't structure and melody here, however. The first two tracks, Hollywood Squares and Pig Latin, are the obvious standouts of the EP and do a good job of showcasing some of Patton's unique vocal acrobatics. The only weak moment to be had here is the underwhelming cover of Aphex Twin's Come To Daddy, which they still manage to do a surprisingly good job of considering the circumstances. Irony Is A Dead Scene isn't an easy listen, but The Dillinger Escape Plan and Mike Patton manage to play off each other's strengths very well, despite the highly experimental nature of the artists involved. This ranks up there among some of my all time favorite EPs, and is a must listen for fans of DEP and Mike Patton, or just fans of experimental/hardcore music in general.

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Friday, December 5, 2008

Strike Anywhere - Change Is A Sound (2001)

Hardcore-punk revivalists Strike Anywhere have a consistent and raging attack with just enough palatability to make Change Is A Sound a great album. Formed in Richmond, Va in 1999 Strike Anywhere had a strong presence in the local hardcore scene. They released the Change Is A Sound EP in 2001 then issued the album version on Jade Tree later that year.

There is nothing genre breaking or redefining here, but everything is done well. The pace set is nothing short of relentless and the punk attack is vicious through out the whole album. The repetitiveness that can plague many punk bands is hardly and issue here. Songs stay fresh by changing on a dime without losing their liquid flow and hectic pace. Bridges, intros and breakdowns seem to come out of nowhere and give the songs a unique feel. To call the lyrics political would be an understatement. Strike Anywhere is staunchly critical of American culture and politics but their lyrics are always engaging and rarely heavy handed some bands out there (Choking Victim anyone?).

It may not be as thrashy or angry as some hardcore fans would like it to be however. A good dose of melody, occasionally powerful hooks, oozin' awes (and one Oi, oi oi!) and tiny hints of pop do make appearances, but is that really a bad thing? One of the most remarkable things about this album is the degree of palatability it has while maintaining an unabashedly hardcore revivalist sound. They didn't reinvent the wheel, but they definitely set the bar damn high for every other punk act out there. Anyone looking for 29 minutes of non-stop sonic energy are in luck because Strike Anywhere delivers in a huge way with Change Is A Sound.

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Monday, December 1, 2008

Bad Religion - Into the Unknown (1983)

I've been told that objective listeners consider Into the Unknown a masterful and pioneering piece of American prog-rock, but I'm not an objective listener. It sucks.

After three years in the LA underground punk scene, BR guitarist Mr. Brett decided to buy singer/songwriter Greg Graffin an electric keyboard. Graffin wrote and produced the entire album in an effort to break out of what he considered an increasingly close minded LA scene. Lyrically not much had changed, but ITU sounds nothing like any of BR's previous work aside from Graffin's distinctive vocals. The BR Page.net has a whole host of BR member retrospective reactions to the album that make for a good read. ITU is often credited with destroying the LA hardcore scene and almost destroying Bad Religion's career.

Slower tempos, acoustic guitars, wood blocks (really guys?) and that goddamn keyboard ooze out of every track. Nothing here even resembles punk-rock or Bad Religion except the complex and intellectual lyrics that fans expect. If it didn't have "Bad Religion" written across the top, Into the Unknown would be considered innovative and pioneering. But because of the time and place of it's release it is forever remembered as a collectors piece and nothing more. BR fans need to check this out, but only as a glimpse into one of the most infamous fuck-ups in punk history.

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Planet Smashers - Planet Smashers (1996)

Planet Smashers strike an amazing balance between classicism and innovation on their debut album, juggling all of the quintessential elements of punk-ska without feeling boring or derivative. Founded in Montreal in 1994 they released the self-titled Planet Smashers two years later on their own STOMP label. Over the years they managed to stay independent and build a modest following but failed to really break-out. They've released five more full lengths since then but have failed to keep the magic they had on Planet Smashers.

This album has everything you would find in the text-book definition of "Third Wave Punk-ska." Clean horn riffs, gritty vocals, jaded and sarcastic humor and the occasional punk attack all blend together here in perfect ska fashion. But the most amazing thing about this album is that it doesn't overplay any of the single elements and their sound manages to stay fresh and interesting. The horn riffs are clean and punctuating but not poppy and bubblegum. High tempos and punk breakdowns keep the energy up without venturing into metal territory. Smart, sarcastic and totally jaded lyrics add a remarkable sense of humor without getting wacky, zany or just plain silly like some bands (*cough* Aquabats *cough*). Songs poke fun at everything from relationships and job interviews to mainstream and alternative culture but never seem preachy or high-handed. Simply put, everything on Planet Smashers comes together and it all works.

Some may label Planet Smashers as unoriginal, but it is anything but. True, Planet Smashers do stand on the shoulders of giants, but they infuse their own sound into everything they borrow keeping this album fresh and exciting all the way through. Bottom line: everything on Planet Smashers- the horns, the vocals and especially the smart and observant lyrics, come together in exactaly the way you'd expect to create one of the better Third Wave albums ever released.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Consumed - Hit for Six (1999)

A lot of different labels have been applied to Consumed. Skate-punk, post-punk, hardcore-punk revival, etc.,but one thing is certain: Consumed is punk. Formed in 1994 in an industrial town in Nottinghamshire, England outside of Sherwood Forest (think Robin Hood), the British quartet quickly gained popularity and a presence in the national punk scene. They played punk songs at punk shows with a punk attitude, and people noticed. Consumed would sign with indie giant Fat Wreck Chords, go on to tour the UK with NOFX and even make it onto the THPS 2 soundtrack before breaking up in 2003.

Right from the start Hit for Six sets a blistering pace and refuses to slow down, clocking 14 songs in just under 34 minutes. The quartet's raw power is balanced out by excellent, but not overly-complex songwriting on every track. Guitar leads, instrumentals, harmonies, bridges and breakdowns all come together masterfully without loosing the "bare bones" punk aesthetic that Consumed cultivates so well. Add in powerful hooks, fresh and catchy (but not too catchy) lyrics and riffs, and their uniquely British charm and you get a great album that just came 5-years too late to really "break out".

Nit-pickers will point out that some intros and instrumentals get a bit long and that "King Kong Song" actually breaks the 3 minute mark. But these minor imperfections hardly detract from the overall quality of the album. Consumed hit the nail right on the head with their first full length. Relentless drums, vicious guitar riffs, passionate vocals and an almost cliche jaded and irreverent tone all come through loud and clear in all of the right ways. Hit for Six is not just Consumed's best album, but one of the best punk albums of the 90s and one of my personal favorite albums.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Thursday/Envy Split (2008)

The new split between American post-hardcore act Thursday and Japanese screamo band Envy was first conceived during a conversation between a hardcore Envy fan and Thursday vocalist/lyricist Geoff Rickley. I'm not exactly sure how everything managed to fall into place, but somehow the stars were aligned and the split was recorded in the spring of 2008. Thursday contributed the first four of seven tracks, and they're actually the first new recordings we've seen from the band since 2006's underwhelming A City By The Light Divided. I can actually say with confidence that this is probably some of the best material Thursday has ever released, and it just makes me that much more excited to see what they come up with for the new record. "As He Climbed The Dark Mountain" and "An Absurd And Unrealistic Dream Of Peace" are more in-line with material Thursday has released in the past, while "In Silence" and "Appeared And Was Gone" are both instrumental tracks that dabble into the realms of electronica and experimental post-rock. These instrumental tracks are no doubt the weaker part of the Thursday side, but are nonetheless somewhat interesting and obvious extensions of the direction they were headed in with A City By The Light Divided.

Envy's side starts off a bit weak with "An Umbrella Fallen Into Fiction," a track that features a lengthy 4 minute intro that slowly transitions into a wall of gainy feedback and beautifully melodic soundscapes. "Isolation Of A Light Source" brings us more into that familiar Envy territory with explosive guitars and chaotic drumming underneath a blanket of harsh screams. The final track of the album, "Pure Birth And Loneliness" is a mellower, more melodic tune that concludes the split with a really awesome guitar riff that is more than likely to get stuck in the back of your head. I'm really glad that these two bands got together, as they both step into somewhat uncharted waters and try to experiment with each other's unique sound. There are some weaker moments to be had here, but the stronger material more than makes up for it. If you're a fan of Thursday and/or Envy, you'll probably find something worth getting excited about.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

NoFX and Rancid - BYO Split Series Vol. 3 (2002)

Covers are a very mixed bag and BYO Split Series Vol. 3 captures that essence perfectly with a handful of brilliant remakes and a few tired rehashes. On one hand this is a unique and interesting album where NoFX and Rancid, vanguards of punk and very close friends, cover a half dozen of each others best songs. Just being able to juxtapose each bands' take on the other merits a listen for any fan. And while a lot of the album just feels tired and boring, there are some genuine standouts that rival the original material.

NoFX really steals the show here. They infuse their usual energy and original approach into some of Rancid's best songs and come out with great covers that seem fresh and familiar at the same time. A wide cross-section of Rancid's catalog is sampled here covering everything from the influential Let's Go to (then most current) Rancid (2000). Great care was smartly taken to avoid "radio songs" like "Time Bomb" and "Salvation" and focus on "fan favorite" gems like "Antennas", and "Tenderloin" in a true tribute to the band and their legions of fans. Although I don't understand why they changed "Radio" to a reggae ballad if they already had "Corozon de Ore". Overall the NoFX half of the album has an insane amount of energy and strikes a good balance between the two bands' sounds.

Rancid's contribution is on the whole much less consistent. Without going into too much history, the band was in and interim period, coming off of two poorly received albums and fractured by side projects, and you can tell right away. Just like on Rancid (2000) the band takes a "hardcore for hardcore's sake" approach to BYO Split Vol. 3. Most of the songs feel tired and repetitive and get stuck in loops of power chords occasionally peppered by overly notey bass solos. I never like it much before, but "Don't Call Me White" really stands out and sound like something a garage band, not a platinum record selling band, recorded thanks to Matt Freeman's bland and repetitive vocals. But just like 2000, there are a few noteworthy gems. Thankfully frontman Tim Armstrong nails "Bob", by adding his now infamous slurred vocals but keeping the songs original tone, tempo and passion intact. And "Vanilla Sex" almost sounds better than the original thanks to production values that were absent on S&M Airlines.

In the end, BYO Split Vol. 3 comes off as an inconsistent album, but it definitely merits a listen by any punk fan. Even if some of the songs are less than perfect there are a few exceptional standouts, and it's always fun to hear your favorite songs preformed by another band. But the "newness" of the songs wears off on repeated listens and you're left with "only" a unique part of punk history.

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Grim Luck! - Alexandra Vol. 1 (2007)

They may not have high production values, but damn Grim Luck! has massive potential. With a full, dark sound, a heavy and deliberate pace, and unflinchingly underground ethics they are the front runner in the San Diego Ska scene and a band that everyone should look out for in the coming years. You can download all three of their full length albums via their Myspace but Alexandra Vol. 1 stands out above the other two.

Grim Luck! brings catchy lyrics and a steady energy to the table but it's their distinctly San Diego flavor that really sells. Proud of their home town and not afraid to sing about it, half of their songs burst with a "fuck yeah, we're from San Diego" vibe. The surprisingly clever mariachi themed "Jose and Pancho" is about two Mexican teenagers that sneak across the border to see a ska show. The double song "College" and "Going to Santa Barbara" about going to UCSB for Spring Break has an eerily authentic feel. Maybe I'm a little biased but I haven't seen such whole hearted civic pride that doesn't come off as preachy since East Bay legends Rancid.

But that's not to say that the album doesn't have a few rough edges. They have a tendency to vamp the chorus ad nausea and some songs drag towards the end. Some definite Streetlight Manifesto plagiarism occasionally leaks through too, but not nearly bad as other bands. And Reel Big Fish fans need to look elsewhere for clear, crisp horn riffs. But despite their shortcomings, Alexandra Vol. 1 is full of good songwriting, a rich horn section and an unstoppable driving tempo and Grim Luck! is one of the most hopeful up-and-coming acts out there.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Common Rider - Thief in a Sleeping Town (2001)

Common Rider is one of my favorite bands and it pains me to see their two full length albums get such little attention, from anyone. The fact that their 2001 four-track EP Thief in a Sleeping Town was hardly noticed at all (allmusic.com doesn't even list it) is almost criminal as it represents a high point for the band and (ex-Op Ivy) frontman Jessie Michaels. Michaels brings his characteristic energy and passion to the songwriting, vocals and guitar work in traditional punk fashion in stark contrast to Common Rider's usual "post-ska" approach.

With only one track barely past the two minute mark, this blistering EP is over before you know it and leaves you wanting more. The lyrics deal with personal demons, the value of social activism and the pitfalls of modern society and are delivered with the energy, passion and conviction that define Michaels. More reminiscent of early Op Ivy songs than anything else Common Rider ever did, you could easily mistake Thief in a Sleeping Town for something written in 1987 by an overly-ideal punk band... and that's not necessarily a bad thing. The only stylistic outlier is the end track "What the Heart Looks Like When it's Hot" which is an intentionally laid-back ska tribute that sounds oddly like the extended version of "Healthy Body".

Any fan of Common Rider, Operation Ivy or punk in general needs to give this gem a listen, now. Even those that shy away from punk should give Thief in a Sleeping Town a chance because of the exceptional intensity and care put into every track.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Mesa Verde - The Old Road (2008)

Mesa Verde, originally hailing from Glasgow, Scotland, is another up-and-coming act from the hardcore/screamo scene. They released two solid EPs over the course of 2005 and 2006, and have finally returned this year with their first full-length LP.

Their post-rock driven style of screamo (influenced by bands like City of Caterpillar, no doubt) is just chalk-full of raw emotion, with harsh, biting vocals delivered upon layers of clean and distorted guitars and monstrous drum fills.

Anybody who is familiar with some of the more underground screamo bands probably knows what to expect here. Moments of absolute chaos are broken up by slow, calm instrumental segments that inevitably transition into more distorted guitars and passionate screaming.

And while Mesa Verde doesn't really push any of the genre's boundaries forward, they do what they do well. Very well in fact, and that's good enough for me.

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Between the Buried and Me - Colors_LIVE (2008)

The audio portion of Between The Buried And Me's upcoming live CD/DVD combo was leaked onto the internet just a few short hours ago. The show was filmed at the Rocketown in Nashville, Tennessee on August 2, 2008 and consisted of two different sets; the first set is Colors in its entirety, while the second includes a number of different songs from the band's previous releases. Unfortunately, the audio CD only covers the first set, so you'll need to actually buy the DVD (or acquire it elsewhere) in order to check out the insanely awesome second setlist. In regards to just the audio CD though, the band performs what is a pretty much a flawless rendition of their epic progressive metal album. I can't really recommend listening to it over the actual studio album however, unless you already love Colors and simply want to hear it performed live. Of course, this package really is all about watching the performance on DVD, so check that out to get the full experience.

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Thursday, October 2, 2008

These Arms Are Snakes - Tail Swallower And Dove (2008)

These Arms Are Snakes is a Seatle-based experimental post-hardcore band that formed after the breakup of the highly influential mathcore band Botch. Botch bassist Brian Cook joined up with members of Nineironspitfire and Kill Sadie to form These Arms Are Snakes sometime in 2003 (other members of Botch went on to form bands such as Minus The Bear, Roy, and Narrows). The band has currently released two full-length albums and is set to release their third, Tail Swallower And Dove, early this month. It's easily the most listener-accessible album they've released to date, with less focus on experimentation and more on solid songwriting and memorable, hard-hitting guitar riffs. I could see some people preferring this over the more experimental Oxeneers or the Lion Sleeps When Its Antelope Go Home, but my money still goes on the latter as being the better album.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

American Football - American Football (1999)

There haven't been any new releases in the past several weeks that have caught my eye, so instead of just sitting idly by with no updates, I thought I'd share an album I've been digging a lot lately. American Football was started in 1997 by multi-instrumentalist Mike Kinsella (formerly of Cap'n Jazz and Joan Of Arc and currently of Owen) in Urbana, Illinois.

Although the band was only together for a few short years, their one and only album has become somewhat of an underground classic in recent years. One of the most defining aspects of the album is that it is so easy to listen to, but difficult to fully explore and grasp, even upon multiple listens. The music can come off as rather simplistic at times, but underneath the jazzy drums and guitar lines are subtle melodic touches that really bring out the beauty and atmosphere of the album. Probably one of the last great emo albums.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

United Nations - United Nations (2008)

United Nations, a collaboration between members of Glassjaw, Thursday, Converge and The Number 12 Looks Like You, has made their entire debut album available for streaming on their myspace page. The project was started in early 2007 by Daryl Palumbo, the main man behind post-hardcore innovators Glassjaw, and Geoff Rickly, the singer/lyricist of Thursday. Definitely worth checking out if you are a fan of any of the aforementioned bands. It's much different than anything these guys have put out before and interesting enough to make it stand out from other albums in the genre.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Bryan Scary & The Shredding Tears - Flight of the Knife (2008)

An explosive psychedelic pop album reminiscent of many popular 60s and 70s acts such as The Beatles, ELO, Queen, The Beach Boys, David Bowie, and The Zombies.

Many of the songs are surprisingly piano-driven, however there is quite an assortment of different instruments to be found; there are just layers upon layers of sound here. And while each of the songs have their own distinctive qualities, they all share a certain ubiquitous energy that is hard to come across these days.

It's an incredibly strange and fun album that combines elements of everything you've already heard before and turns it into something unique and refreshing. One of the best albums I've heard all year.

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Genius/GZA - Liquid Swords (1995)

Released in 1995 during the first round of Wu-Tang solo albums, this solo debut from Wu-Tang member GZA (pronounced 'Jizza') is often regarded as one of the best hip-hop albums of all time. Almost all of Liquid Swords was produced by Wu-Tang leader RZA, whose dark, ominous, and brooding beats perfectly set the gritty atmosphere of the album. GZA is simply the most talented lyricist of the group, and while his delivery might not be quite as interesting as some of his fellow clansmen, the depth and intricacy of his writing certainly makes up for it. Every Wu-Tang member makes a cameo here, but I think Method Man's appearance on the excellent Shadowboxin' stands above the rest. A must listen for fans of hip-hop.

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Friday, June 6, 2008

Dynospectrum - The Dynospectrum (1998)

Not much in the way of interested new releases lately aside from stuff you've probably already checked out, so I'm just going to go ahead and post another album I've been digging a lot lately. If you're familiar with Rhymesayers Entertainment then you already know they put out quality hip-hop records, and The Dynospectrum is no exception.

Essentially a supergroup of Rhymesayers artists (including Slug and Ant from Atmosphere), this is a dark hip-hop record perfect for those murky rainy days. Ant's production sets the mood with simple, hard hitting beats and every emcee is consistently on point and in their prime, both lyrically and in delivery. This is a must-listen for fans of east coast hip-hop.

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