Archive for October, 2008
The Vivian Girls are in town with Fucked Up for a Halloween series at Sneaky Dee’s. Along with Fucked Up, The Vivian Girls scored huge recognition from critics, including an 8.5 from Pitchfork. While some reviews weren’t as positive, I thought I’d take the chance to cover them.
The Vivians are a 3 girl trio out of Brooklyn gaining notoriety for their punk and shoegaze elements. For me, it’s not all that much punk but mores to the creative shoegaze style that I’ve learned to like over the past few years.
The album is just 10 tracks and clocks in a short 22 minutes. Personally for me, 22 minutes is like an EP and even then, I’m used to seeing EPs that are just as long. The production is very lo-fi and is very raw in nature. It’s very difficult to actually judge them in my opinion because we are given only bits and pieces and a small glimpse in general of what (if anything) the Vivian Girls can pull off.
After checking out the Vivian Girls and analyzing it a few times, it’s clear to me that this album isn’t as good/fresh as Pitchfork is making it out to be. Granted, it’s purely based on opinion and it always seems like P4K is promoting bands the blogs or other magazines necessarily don’t like.
Before I sound too critical, I do actually like this album but it shouldn’t stop me from saying it’s overrated. The simple lo-fi nature of the album shows off Cassie Ramones strong skills as a lead vocalist. I think when you think of “punk” bands, it’s hard imagining a lead vocalist capable of singing in other genres, but with Cassie, I wouldn’t mind seeing her on a dream pop band.
Musically, it’s still more “creative” rather then actually having substance right now. Of the music, the basslines are probably the greatest thing. I’m not sure about the guitaring effects as nothing specifically stands out from the production, though at times they are excellent. Case in point the excellent I Believe In Nothing where guitaring takes center stage with an interlude between Cassie’s I Believe In Nothing.
I think the biggest criticism and most valid point I can make is that while it’s clear the Vivian Girls are good, songs lack a more concerted effort to be great. Lyrically, it’s more structured to be a hypnotic anthem rather then something meaningful. Songs that have its moments are only for a short amount of time, with 8 of the tracks under 3 minutes.. it’s hard to dissect something I’m incredibly satisfied with.
Rating: 3.75 out of 5
Probably worth checking out. They are a hot new band but they may not keep you in your seat once they get a hold of you.
The Chemistry of Common Life maybe the kind of post-hardcore record Agnostic Front dreamed of making in 1988, but I don’t know if it’s necessarily the record Fucked Up dreamed about making in 2008. With its seemingly misplaced keyboard, bongos and synthesizers (that wouldn’t be misplaced in an early 70’s Genesis album) Fucked Up’s attempt sonically to take punk rock to the next level. But you’ll need a bit more than a few bells and whistles to start a revolution. And a revolution is what Fucked Up is about.
It’s impossible not to slightly dissect an image when a band chooses a purposely offensive moniker. It’s impossible further not to dissect the grander intentions of a band when they trash the stage at MTV, not once but twice. Both times causing the network to prematurely end the groups performance. While both these destructive televised glimpses of the band are clearly electrifying (and exactly the stab of adrenaline post-millennium MTV needs) it’s the now-modern-classic-MTV-bathroom-performance that actually reveals a moment where the ambiguous Fucked Up are left as slightly transparent with their possible true intentions left dripping to a wall.
This of course is when “Kurt RIP” is spray painted on to the washroom tile.
While I’m positive irony must have been in tact, it’s hard not to see the words as Fucked Up’s glowing mantra, following what every famous-underground-mainstream group has done in the past: not just piss people off but piss people off in large numbers.
So this is where things get interesting…While Fucked Up appear to be doing everything in their power to say “fuck you” to the media, they’re actually playing the anti-marketing-marketing card (thanks Mr. Hicks)…
This isn’t a problem at all.
If anything this is what our current mainstream music scene needs.
The problem is…
These boys clearly are striving for that delicate blend of punk of pop, soft and loud, the Raw Power or Nevermind of our generation, a hardcore record that may even entice a regular radio listener to buy it. And while The Chemistry of Common Life flirts with these ideas, it’s ultimately just the type of record that will only push hardcore bands/listeners into new ways of thinking about their music, leaving the average listener without much to cling to. The album just isn’t listenable enough, for all the ambition caked in.
This is just one of those rare cases where the hype of the band clearly doesn’t match the strength of the music. What this actually means? Smart Band.
Not that the album is completely a wash. The strongest portion of the album oddly enough occurs at the end of the disc with the last three tracks: Twice Born, Looking for God, and the title track. If the rest of the album could have matched the epicness held in the last 15 minutes, this would have been the hardcore record of the decade.
So while Fucked Up will definitely cause many bands out there to open their eyes to what’s possible in music, it probably won’t cause many new listeners to open their ears.
3.1 out of 5
i.e. Listen to it, but don’t rest the future of punk/hardcore on it
Lights Out Asia are a post-rock/ambient trio from Wisconsin, who released their third album, Eyes Like Brontide last month. They fuse an ethereal-like post-rock with electronic components, being cited as “sleep-rock” and “post-shoegaze.” This is the first album I’ve heard of Lights Out Asia so I may not have the right to compare to their previous albums, but other reviewers have said that Eyes Like Brontide is a lot darker and more abstract than the band’s first two releases.
The album, in its whole, is very good. It achieves a consistent tonality, using lots of synths, guitar and piano melodies to create a very ethereal, dark sound, imaginative of a drive through the city at night. The guitar and piano melodies definitely are the focus on this album when they do appear, but the band uses lots of synthesizers, background ambience, and the drum machine to their advantage. It is in the dream-like instrumentation that hits you quite emotionally, I think. The guitar riffs are striking, though very simple-sounding, when fused with the rest of the instrumentation. I will admit that the tracks with a guitar or piano focus are the ones that hook me in the most, as songs that are primarily synths tend to be a little unwavering and unobtrusive.
There are occasional vocals throughout the album as well, presenting to the listener the breadth of Chris Schafer’s vocal abilities. If you listen to “If I Die, I Wish You a Horrible Death” and “Radars Over the Ghosts of Chernobyl,” you’ll know what I mean. His vocal ranges are impressive. The vocals definitely contribute to the instrumentation, blending neatly into it like an instrument itself, as not to steal focus altogether.
The album ends off with, “Six Points of Fire,” notable for the only appearance of live drums throughout the entire album. This song is probably my favourite song from the album itself, lasting over a good eleven minutes. It has a drive that the other songs do not, especially in at 7:45 when the song is completely turned around into a darker, harder, distorted feel. The metal influence of this track is probably what got me into it the most, not to mention the abrupt rhythm change.
Eyes Like Brontide is a very good album, deserving a listen from those who enjoy ambient rock with lots of electronic influences. The frequent use of synthesizers help reinforce and redefine what post-rock is, I think. It’s a very tranquil, dreamy album, designed to sway you emotionally in many ways possible.
The critical consensus on J. Spacemen aka Jason Pierce aka Spiritualized, is that he reached his creative peak around 1997, with the symphonic-space-rock-blues-opus in pharmaceutical blister packaging, Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space. It’s been an eleven long years since then, five years since Spiritualized’s last album and nearly six months since Songs in A&E first appeared, heralding a return to form and a well-publicised brush with death.
Pierce’s contracting of periorbital cellulitis with bilateral pneumonia in 2005 has been regularly documented and has coloured most of the assessments of Songs in A&E (meaning Accident and Emergency) despite most of the material being written before Pierce’s three-week stay in intensive care. But for an album dedicated to the hospital that saved his life, includes the sound of a respirator on “Death Take Your Fiddle” and is furnished with eerily prophetic predictions of his illness, such considerations are obvious, but how much has changed to warrant this return to form?
The sole permanence of Jason Pierce in Spiritualized, as the band endured countless line-up changes, has preserved his place as a galvanising musical force but it has also kept his insular technique in focus for a little too long. This one portal and its shtick, of detailing pharmaceutical dependence and an associated desire for spiritual rapture, (that has been repeated for eighteen years) has become tedious in its monotony, despite the transcending quality of listening to someone singing from the squalor of self-medication (imagined or otherwise) as they look to the heavens to contemplate their mortality. Now, after a near death experience and a very real medical dependence, it’s a little too easy to expect that Songs in A&E has a newfound “he means it, man” gravitas, when the initial references to morphine, codeine, and Jesus start to service the here-we-go-again reflex.
Still, there are a few minimal changes to the Spiritualized model. “I Gotta Fire” and “Yeah Yeah” are a little more straight-ahead than expected, and a little too straightforward in their rock-by-numbers delivery, to be coming from someone who used to arrange ambitious psychedelic compositions. A sparser musical method may be warranted when the road to excess clearly doesn’t always lead to the palace of wisdom, but this back-to-basics approach presents a limp rock ‘n’ roll routine instead of a successful paring back of any extraneous sonic indulgencies.
What is significant is the voice, the sleepy slur of old has mutated into a fragile croak and the cracked words and the vocal strains add a lived-in authenticity to the down-tempo musings on vulnerability. This transformed voice charts a larger transformation, from a nebulous one-dimensional preoccupation with God, drugs and love to the consequences of a prolonged exposure to God, drugs and love. Pierce may rarely look beyond himself, but his age-old concerns seem plaintive on Songs in A&E because they sound plaintive, as opposed to being a supplementary consideration of the story of the man behind the artist. Spiritualized may not, after all, be matching the former grandiosity of their past glories or even ruminating on matters beyond the usual pleas for narcotic salvation, but Songs in A&E delivers a soulful voice, back from the dead, with a refined and seemingly haunted sensitivity.
After a long and gruelling two weeks, I’m finally back in action. While I’d like to say I was on vacation in the middle of Madagascar saving helpless elves from a fiendish dragon, I’m sad to report I was only swamped with midterms. Although if you’d like to believe in the earlier, feel free. But without too much commotion, I’d like to introduce today’s band. An artist I reviewed back in March is back under a new label and wielding a completely new sound. A Rocket to the Moon has been signed, and to none other then Fueled By Ramen. FBR is slowly building one of the greatest empires in the mainstream powerpop industry. With an incredibly stacked line up, it is almost a sure thing whenever they sign a new artist. While A Rocket to the Moon has always had the potential to be a huge success, it’s Nick Santino’s highly revamped sound which has won me over….again.
Greetings From… is the new EP by A Rocket to the Moon released under the FBR umbrella. I expected only the best from Nick when listening to the new EP, and I was more than satisfied with the finished product. Dropping the synthetic and mellow dramatic persona in favour of a new mainstream powerpop act, he has definitely come a long way. With crowd pleasing music, it is a huge step in a different direction. While I thoroughly enjoyed all of his former EPs, I found his self produced albums to be a little drab and amateur at times, and this is no longer the case.
Nick has always been creative in his sound, but to tackle a mainstream genre, and still keep it original is a task for anyone. All five tracks have that Rocket to the Moon aura about them. Beginning with track one, If Only You Knew, we get our first taste of what I hope will eventually become a full length. Right off the bat I can name another band that has a similar sound in terms of instrumentals and production, The Maine. Using the same style of aggressive instruments to produce a thoughtful and catchy melody is the first big change. It sounds like mainly live instruments are used, from the guitar to the drums which create a more vibrant and fuller sound. Beyond that, the vocals have taken a huge transformation, no longer hiding behind the synths which have slowly been pawned off to hip hop artists, instead using his natural vocals to produce the perfect match. Nick has always had very decent vocals, but with the more exciting, catchy music, they really found a home for his voice. If Only You Knew is an amazing powerpop track, full of catch, heart and soul.
The final four tracks follow this formula to create different but such amazing powerpop songs. Dakota, the first single to be released from this EP, has a great melody and an incredibly catchy chorus. The lyrics are thoughtful and addictive, and after a single listen I found myself humming the melody and singing the verses. The great thing about Greetings from… is the simplicity behind the music. Dakota is essentially a great chorus and melody followed up with simple verses, and this is what I enjoy in my powerpop. The stylistic mixture of sounding outrageous and exciting while still fulfilling the emotional aspect of music, is what bands like The Maine have done, and now so has A Rocket To The Moon.
I’m Not Saying Goodbye, may be the most average song on this track, and with that said it’s still very good. I say average because there is no catchy hook behind the track, and the melody is aggressive and loud but nothing that will remain stuck in your mind. The tones and tempo don’t change very much from the verse to the chorus which is probably why it seems so familiar, yet it’s still a very nice listen. I also enjoyed the lyrics in this song, and found the vocals to flourish over the common melody. Fear Of Flying is one of my favourites, and a song I had previously heard when it was first released as an acoustic song months ago. The new remastered version in this EP is full of the same characteristics of the other tracks; including vibrant instrumentals, passionate and fulfilling vocals and meaningful substance. I thoroughly enjoyed the original and I’m completely smitten with the new version, which is a great way to compare the A Rocket to the Moon of old and of new.
The album ends with Just Another One, my favourite track from A Rocket To The Moon and absolutely perfect in every way. Taking into account all the elements of a great powerpop song, including the melody, creativity, vocals and meaning, Just Another One fulfills each role perfectly. With the most simple yet satisfying melody and a creative and upbeat chorus, it is enviably a match made for success. The vocals are easy going and expressed in an honest and meaningful way. Fueled By Ramen sure knows how to pick them, and A Rocket To The Moon is on a level that has far preceded its former self.
Check out their Myspace for official tour dates and album info.