Archive for November, 2008

killSadie – Experiments in Expectation

November 19, 2008


ks-eie1The post-hardcore scene could be summed up in one possibly-contested word: unpredictable. Wrapped in the raw emotion of early punk and late-80’s hardcore, and laced with jazz-like physique and unsafe song structures, the post-hardcore scene isn’t for everybody, but for those few, they crave the creative.

Like Refused’s The Shape of Punk to Come and Botch’s We Are the Romans, Kill Sadie’s last-standing full-length, Experiments in Expectation, is heavy and always keeps the listener on edge for what is to come.

The album begins with a few simple bass riffs before launching into an all-out attack on “The Ivy League Donors (The Prescription Epidemic),” where lead singer Steve Snere, now of These Arms of Snakes, rips apart his vocal chords in just the first few minutes sounding like he’s competing to stay above all the instruments accompanying him. Guitarist Jay Clark and Patrick Scott keep switching guitar riffs like a 10-year-old kid with ADHD. The song even wears itself out into a jam that slowly looses its breath.

Now that’s only in the first track. “Laugh Track For Contemporary Music” and “Erf (The Place You Live)” will bring more of the same. What makes Experiments in Expectation great, is the irony in the album’s title. After two bombastic opening tracks, “Rebirth Through Adaptation” slows things as a foggy instrumental track while “The Quieting/Function of the Mouth” is about as acoustic as this album will get, sounding like a Murder By Death lo-fi b-side. The crown jewel is “Untitled Number Three Hundred and Thirty Three,” whose repetitive quality, duel vocals, engaging use of electronic instruments and distant screams makes it as haunting as much heightening.

The album continues to ride back and forth between spastic and calming instrumentals with “The Cocktail Party Effect” and “A Ride in the Centrifuge” into the eight-minute closer “An Antiquated Bluff,” combining every element of the album and every curve ball the listener may or may not have come to expect at this point.

Kill Sadie were short-lived, but many of the members would go on to bigger and even greater bands. Experiments in Expectation is a testament in the post-hardcore scene, but a stone tablet that unfortunately will be dug up by some, and walked over by others.


Russian Circles – Station

November 19, 2008


rc-sI feel kind of bad for Pelican. Both times that I had the pleasure of seeing them, one of the opening bands blew me away. This isn’t to say Pelican aren’t amazing; they are, but the first concert I was in awe after seeing and hearing Mono for the first time, and the second time around, Russian Circles.

Right on the heels of releasing Enter, Russian Circles were the second act every night of Pelican’s US Tour supporting City of Echoes. After witnessing Russian Circles’ grand performance, something kept boiling in the back of my mind: “How can three guys produce a better heavy sound and composition than half the so-called ‘metal-core’ or ‘screamo’ bands out there?” I said the same of Fall of Troy – the same mindset, just more amazed with Russian Circles by the lack of vocals.

Station is Russian Circles’ latest effort, and it doesn’t disappoint, though some things have changed. If Enter seemed gritty and just a tad bit raw, the sophomore follow-up is downright polished. “Campaign” shows that the band is capable of some harmony, countering songs like “Carpe” or “Enter,” something taken from touring mates Pelican. The creative sound on City of Echoes is still prominent, it just feels a bit more lighter than what one would have come to expect. The same thing goes with Station.

“Harper Lewis” and the following album track would have fit right in place on Enter, while “Verses” once again explores new territory and leads right into “Youngblood,” possibly the heaviest of the album’s tracks, which gradually falls off just to explode in the end. The album’s closer, “Xavii,” blends both old antics and some of that new sunshine that Russian Circles have seeped through the heavy sound fans were built upon.

Station is a another great disc by this out-of-nowhere band. It leads itself into some new direction which is pulled off wonderfully, while keeping in tone to older tracks. It may take some time to get into, or it may end up another record on the shelf to come out every once in while, but something has to be said about a record with three men and no vocals that sounds better than five kids whining about suburban life problems.

The Olivia Tremor Control – Black Foliage: Animation Music Vol.1

November 19, 2008


otc-bfMy car’s air conditioner is broken and it’s 85 degrees. A bunch of hot girls, way out of my league, are laying out by the pool. Final exams are around the corner. Summer is going to be here soon.

Every summer everyone waits in anticipation for that great seasonal album to go along with their days at the beach, drives to the mall, and cool, relaxing nights out on the porch. Panic at the Disco have decided to go back and pay homage to The Beatles and The Beach Boys, whose albums Magical Mystery Tour and Pet Sounds, respectively, are summer sentiments. While “Nine in the Afternoon” will more than likely become a sun drenched single this year, I’ll skip out and dig a few years back for The Olivia Tremor Control’s last proper full length.

Something like a melodic science experiment gone horribly right, Black Foliage: Animation Music Volume One plays with all the sounds found on The Sound of Animals Fighting’s Lover, the Lord Has Left Us, but it uses the harmonious Brian Wilson brain nerve. “Hideaway” sounds like it belongs on The Beach Boys’ Endless Summer while “I Have Been Floated” should be present somewhere on The Beatles’ White Album, possibly before “Happiness is a Warm Gun” or after “Dear Prudence.”

Black Foliage is laced with digital sounds and an array of unconventional instruments that could be found throughout Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea or Brian Wilson’s Smile. The vocal harmonies are what sell this album. Very rarely do you find a record with some key these days. Bill Doss, Peter Erchick, and Will Cullen Hart complement and hold each other up during their choruses.

The Olivia Tremor Control will add excitement to a beautiful day out in the sun, or even that fifteen minute drive to and from work in the morning or afternoon. Black Foliage: Animation Music Volume One attempts a lot, and this pays off for the listener. If Pretty. Odd. gets pretty old after awhile, pick this gem of a record up. Lay back by the pool and sunbathe in it.

Right Away, Great Captain! – The Bitter End

November 19, 2008


ragc-tbeAndy Hull is quite possibly one of the best new songwriters of the past few years. Sure, he’s not going to make Rolling Stone as the next Bright Eyes or Bob Dylan, and Pitchfork would probably write him off quicker than they would eat up the new Of Montreal album. Hull is as quiet as Sam Beam and possibly as metaphoric while possessing the simplicity of his friends and peers Jesse Lacey and Kevin Devine. With his main project, Manchester Orchestra, most can tell how Hull and co. take simple song structures and make them into something big and something real. The Bitter End is not going to be Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea or The Microphones’s The Glow Pt. 2, but the raw underlining is present.

The Bitter End is the first installment of a three part project Hull is working on. The album has a boat leaving harbor in the 1600’s with the lead character aboard. The lyrics read as a diary. For an entire review of the album, Hull has put up his reasoning in a blog on the band’s Myspace page.

“Oh, Deceiver” begins the record with simple string plucks and Hull’s quiet and questionable undertone of the lead character. From the very beginning, it’s clear the character is unsure of his voyage, what will happen, and where he will end up. Anyone who has heard I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child will find this common with Hull’s songwriting. The same struggles with God (“Right Away, Great Captain,” “Captain, I’m Fine and Thanks for Everything”), love (“Love Come Save Me”), and life in general (“Like Lions Do,” “Cause I’m Scared of Dying”) lie across this record.

Where The Bitter End falls is its length. While only a handful of songs seem to stand out on their own, the record works better as a whole. I feel the same way about The Glow Pt. 2 for the most part, though it’s a wonderful album. My feelings are the same with this first part of Hull’s quest. The record should be taken as a whole, and return listens will be few, but possibly wonderful when visited again, like great moderation.

I’m excited about where this project will travel next, and I believe Hull is always looking to expand on what he has previously done without abandoning his sound. Honesty and humbleness fill The Bitter End just as it does I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child. Thank you Andy Hull, for being no greater than anyone in his room writing music just to themselves, or to someone higher, or just trying to get those thoughts and simple melodies out his head.

Jaguar Love Interview

November 14, 2008



Jaguar Love: Jay Clark, Johnny Whitney and Cody Votolato

Being called “poppy” or having pop overtones to ones music may not always be a bad thing. While a majority of music listeners may associate the “three letter” word with a more mainstream accessibility and markets of corporate processing, Jaguar Love don’t really think twice about it.

“One of the first things that comes to mind about pop music is how universal it is,” says Cody Votolato, Jaguar Love guitarist, as he’s cutting in and out of his cell phone driving cross-country. Jaguar Love is embarking on their first big tour opening for The Faint. “[Pop music] is more accessible to a mainstream audience, but that comes off sounding pretentious. The sound can be captured across the board of musical genres.”

Votolato, vocalist Johnny Whitney and drummer Jay Clark make up the triangle of tunes across Take Me to the Sea, the band’s debut on Matador Records. Votolato and Whitney began writing songs, acoustically in an apartment living room, only weeks after their former band, The Blood Brothers, called it a day, says Whitney.

“For me, it was about moving toward proper melodies and something that sounded not so abrasive,” Whitney says, clearer on his phone, still tracking across the states. “As for the writing, the reason we did this record with only three people is that we wanted to do what we wanted to without stepping on a bunch of people’s toes.”

To fill out the other corner of the triangle is drummer Jay Clark, who in fact is out of his element somewhat after playing guitar in three previous bands including the now defunct Pretty Girls Make Graves, who broke up a few months prior to The Blood Brothers. Clark went on The Blood Brothers’ final summer tour as the band’s guitar tech where he became close friends with Whitney and Votolato.

Clark did more than drums and some bass on Take Me to the Sea, he also produced, recorded and engineered the album. “I’m all about freedom,” he says on the phone, wind blowing through the window. “The best way to work on anything is the natural feel of how it comes out. Sometimes you have to let go and not think about it.”

But Clark was also critical of how the album was going to come out. After he finished his drum tracks, he stepped back as the person to critique the album outside the band. He says it was a hard task.  “It was a strange place to be in, but someone had to do it.”

Votolato was pleased with the roll Clark took in producing the album. “One of the good things about having Jay in the group, is instead of writing something and jumping the gun, he kind of sits back and critiques.”

One of the things that came along with the band’s more “pop” sound is maturity. “When you write song after song, it’s just natural to refine what you do and you try to write things differently,” Votolato says about his guitar style over the years. “I think I just started paying better attention on how to write a song, and I wanted to accomplish that on this record. But at the same time, I’m looking to do more.”

Whitney says the same about his vocal transition from glass shattering high frequencies, to the melodic vocal burst throughout the new record. He says he cleaned up his vocals to challenge himself. “When The Blood Brothers got signed to a major in 2002, I was pretty much over hardcore music at that point, and I didn’t listen to a lot of bands with screamers.” But Whitney also recognizes that he has a unique voice that is criticized for better or worse.  To him, it just seems natural. “I’ve only really written my vocals in the last seconds of recording. I’m really into improvising and going with the flow, feeling natural with whatever comes out. It seems strange when people talk about how weird my voice is, because it just seems like second nature.”

For Clark, this is perfect. “When we were recording ‘My Organ Sounds Like…,’ I said [to Johnny], ‘go in there and run around and scream something in the middle of the songs breakdown.’” And even though Clark critiqued the five to ten track takes, he never goes in with a “maybe do it this way” mindset. “If I say that, then it means I already thought about it. If I want the unexpected, then I want the unexpected natural way of that to happen.” He doesn’t want the person creating thinking hard about what they are doing, he says.

Take Me to the Sea is musically across the board. Sure the opening and closing tracks (also found on the band’s debut EP) are pop driven, but there are rockers, “Jaguar Pirates,” slow jams, “Georgia,” and acid trip freakouts, “The Man With the Plastic Suns.” As for the band’s personal fulfillment, “Our record is only a snapshot of where you are at the time. If you’re really involved in a song, you may have a tendency to change live,” Whitney says. He also is continuing the creative process, always jotting down ideas when they come to him. “I find it hard to do things intentionally, whether it is musically or in creative design. You never know when a good idea is going to come out.”

Whitney is also content with listeners referring to his band as pop music. “There’s always a spectrum in a genre with really good music and really bad music.” Votolato would agree, “For the most part, everyone loves pop music, except for elitist,” he laughs, and the phone goes out again.

[photo: Renee McMahon/]

United Nations – United Nations

November 14, 2008


unMaybe the shape of punk never came. In a time when we’re all in debt, being put out on the street and when the “dollar menu” seems like a luxury, a soundtrack to all of this doesn’t seem to exist.

The United State’s social welfare is spiraling out of control, and there is nothing on the Top 40 that expresses that.

Spiraling along with it is the opening track off United Nations’ self-titled debut. Made up of Thursday frontman Geoff Rickly, Glassjaw/Head Automatica frontman Daryl Palumbo, and a few supposed members due to litigation, this flavor of the week supergroup blast out 40 minutes worth of urgency and despair.

“The Spinning Hear of the Yo-Yo Lobby” counts off “1, 2, 3, 4” like a march into spinning guitars and city tear-down vocals. “Resoluntion #9” keeps up the march, Rickly keeping the beat vocally referencing The Beatles. When the guitar and vocals ascend together in unison, it’s a capture upon the ears.

“The Shape of Punk That Never Came” is a change of pace, steadily heavy, ending in the melodic tone of Rickly’s main project. “Model UN” sounds like a brutal stabbing. “Filmed in Front of A Live Studio Audience” makes use of news samples and acoustic guitars, and a definite mid-album break, but shortly speeds up to fall off acoustically again.

“Keep Living the Same Day” sounds like an Aphex Twin b-side while “Say Goodbye to General Figment of the USS Imagination” is wonderfully constructed, and the horn overtones that fill our the rest of the song is like a bonus for making it to the end of the album.

Lyrically is where United Nations seem to make their stand though. The music is only the bullhorn for lines like “I took the money twice with no regret, but you should think twice before you sign.” and “If all the classics go out of fashion, what will we do with all of the passion?”

It helps that a lot of talented people were part of this project, but with its deathly sound, and at times, run-together songs, it will fall short of the message for many. When the bank calls and tells you that you only have $15 left in the account, better buy the soundtrack to that horrid day with what the market gave you.

Tony Danza Tap Dance Experience – Danza 2: Electric Boogaloo

November 14, 2008


tdte-d21While most people have told me the post-hardcore scene is just a bunch of noise. I would sometimes like to agree with them, especially after hearing a majority of “grindcore” bands out there. But well calculated noise is something I love. Heavy hitters like Coalesce and The Dillinger Escape Plan have always been favorites.

Another thing about some of these bands is the sheer fun they have. Go to a Daughters or Locust show– it’s pretty damn entertaining. Though I haven’t seen them, I believe The Tony Tap Dance Extravaganza wouldn’t be a snorefest. Look at their name, they know who the boss is!

The band’s first self-titled album was something new and fresh to what was becoming the extreme left or outrageous post-scene. With an album title that may be in violation to the amazing sequel to a great 80’s movie, Danza II: Electric Boogaloo is packed full of fun in the form of brain twisting guitar licks and beats.

Something like a story, “T.R.O.U.B.L.E.” is a sampling narrative, found throughout the album (I would think done by the band themselves and not taken from somewhere), that starts with what is known to the listener as a “troublemaker” making his way to the bar for the evening. “You Gonna Buy the Beers or the Whole Damn Bar” is a solid opener twisting its way so far from the beginning before it hits the end, that it sounds like an A.D.D. band getting bored with interlocking 20 second phrases. “I Don’t Mean to Impose But I Am the Ocean” throws in a nice “Who else seen the Leprechaun! Say yeah!” sample. “Go Greyhound” has more string bends than f-bombs in Scareface.

“Mad Max Beyond Superdome” is straight up freewheelin’ grinding while “Nobody Eats BBQ Two Days in a Row” turns up the low gain and pummels the ear for the first few minutes. The closing narrative has a nice surprise. “The Louisiana Dive Bar Massacre” (home state mention points!) leaves the listener with a closing blues jam, coherent in feeling throughout the record, but not at the forefront by a long shot.

The Tony Danza Tap Dance Extravaganza is fresh face in the vein of bands like Daughters and Genghis Tron who are continuing to create some kind of order ad-mist chaos. Danza II: Electric Boogaloo isn’t going to be for everyone, but even those breakdowns on wax and breakbeat dancing wasn’t either.

Sigur Ros – Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust

November 14, 2008



Sigur Ros bring up a wonderful questioning of whether one can appreciate music based on a lack of lyrical understanding. I guess the same would go for Bjork or any instrumental band out there. What has more power to move through the ear canal, nervous system and strike at the heart: Words or composition?

( ) was one of those albums that answered that question for me. Cluttered in what would be a late high school sifting through the likes of Thursday’s Full Collapse, Poison the Well’s Tear From the Red and Saves the Day’s Stay What You Are, I could say it was about the music, but I would be lying to myself if I said it lyrics had nothing to do with it. Let’s face it, if you knew the song “Konstantine” around your late teen years, you connected to it just as an 80’s hiptser connected to “How Soon is Now?” or any Tears For Fears ballad.

( ) was something I couldn’t grasp through lyrics. In fact, I couldn’t understand a damn thing of what was being said. But from the opener “Vaka” to the epic closing “Popplagið,” the album was a joyous ride of many emotions ranging from heartbreak to accomplishment.

Six years later, I feel no different about this Icelandic powerhouse.

Sigur Ros have always been about the build. Like very few bands, so perfectly does the outfit crescendo and decrescendo into a ray of excellence. For some listeners, I can understand that instrumentally some songs are lacking. With Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust, the band have brought in the carnival and stepped up the tempo on many a beat.

“Gobbledigook,” the first single and new glimpse into the unusual festive territory one wouldn’t come to expect, could be seen as a vibrant summer background. And if that’s not enough, pictures are clearly painted when listening to the child-like “Festival” which burst into a carnival while one is trying to take a nap.

The band shine slow steps ascending on “Ára Bátur” which would make for a great family movie ending walk off. You know, that one, where the little boy or girl finally finds the long lost dog or uncle. “Fljótavík” is just as beautiful, if not the next contender for this.

“Straumnes” does sound like filler while “Suð Í Eyrum” sounds too much like a great African safari, and would count for my least favorites on the album.

Sigur Ros have proven themselves yet again. Where 2005’s Takk… was much more uplifting in spirit than 2002’s ( ), it also proved to be a scene into a band forever pushing musical compositions and how they continue to manuever and create each layer. Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust isn’t what older fans have come to expect, but a few spins will set one in a brighter day or future. The same can be said for where this band will continuously head.

Girl Talk – Feed The Animals

November 14, 2008


gt1Good music can crossover. Whether it’s metal a country guy wants to listen to, or rap some indie kid enjoys. Good music can reach a mass audience, and have everyone enjoy it.

Gregg Gillis knows good music. Actually, a lot of good music. In fact, he combines it all, each intricate memorable line, guitar riff, drum beat, chorus, etc.

If you work for Congress, the Recording Industry Association of America or just love good party music, you do, or should know who this man is: Girl Talk. After the success of Night Ripper, Gillis is back with Feed the Animals. In fact, he’s feeding them with the Radiohead business model for all you mooches out there (note: I got it for free, but will more than likely put my money toward the wax copy).

If people thought Night Ripper was amazing, Feed the Animals is steps ahead in terms of the right samples from the best songs mashed with the unexpected, and it works (except for that Avril Lavigne sample in “Shut the Club Down,” I could have done without that).

“Girlfriend” aside, the songs one will recognize in this album is a who’s who over the past few years, and some indie favorites. The opener, “Play Your Part (Pt.1),” features Outkast and the Unicorns to blast things off.

My favorite mash-ups of the disc are Blackstreet’s “No Digitty” mashed up with Radiohead’s “15 Step” on “Still Here;” Jay-Z’s “Roc Boys” with individual instruments from Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android” on “Set It Off;” Metallica’s “One” most hard-hitting riff backing Lil Mama’s “Lip Gloss” at the end of “Like This;” Deee-Lite’s “Groove is in the Heart” up against Nirvana’s “Lithium” on “In Step.”

There’s so many other great friendships on this record, whether it’s Megadeth and Usher or even Kelly Clarkson backed by both Nine Inch Nails and MC Hammer.

The album even has a better ender than previous releases with “Play Your Part (Pt.2).” Gillis has done it yet again, with even better samples and unexpected, but beautifully done, mash-ups stretching far across many genres. Thanks for the gift Gillis, you just made mine and everyone else’s summer more enjoyable. Don’t let the man get you down, tell them to get up and dance!

These Arms Are Snakes – Tail Swallower and Dove

November 11, 2008


The stand out sound of the post-punk era of music was straight forward and thought provoking all at the same time. Gang of Four was a punk band, that thought on an angle. Snowballing, the post-hardcore scene that followed began to get more complicated in structure as the years went along.

For These Arms Are Snakes, whose albums have been unsafe constructions in A.D.D. outlets of rage and instrumental digital experimentations, getting back to a simple road was the plan of their new album, Tail Swallower and Dove.

“Woolen Heirs” is compact, but still burst into fits, just short and not drawn out like previous ventures. The song is also an indication of vocalist Steve Snere’s electronic incorporation into his vocal tracks. Something Snere was adamant when preparing for recording of the record.

“Prince Squid” builds a fury within itself, trying to contain its outwardly instrumental lines, but letting them loose at the same time. “Red Line Season” is more of the straight forward post-punk sound, but ending in a pummel of guitar and drums. “Lucifer” might be the “out there” track no one expected bleeding into the ambient high frequency of “Ethric Double.”

“Lead Beater” is a complete opposite punk track to its follower, “Cavity Carousel,” which showcases the most A.D.D. composition across the record, while still sounding more contained than any other song in the band’s discography.

A standout difference lies in the album’s closer, “Briggs.” A composition that truly builds like a fine orchestra. It doesn’t freak out at the end like other Snakes’ album closers, but simply crescendos and falls off– the most straight forward path the entire album takes.

Tail Swallower and Dove is unlike anything else These Arms Are Snakes have done in the past, while still sounding like the band themselves. The band has proven yet again that an artist can find a common ground between accessibility and experimentation. Older fans won’t get the picture, but the thoughtful ones might pick up on some retro-tricks and sound structures before their time.