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 ( 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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