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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