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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Album Review: Sorority Noise - Forgettable

Album Rating: A
When it comes to naming albums, Sorority Noise are either terrible at it, or geniuses with ironic statements. Forgettable is one of the most memorable albums of 2014 so far, and the new and upcoming band has made a large impression for their debut. Equal parts cathartic and sentimental, Forgettable treads the line between heart on sleeve and heart on the ground if you know what I'm saying.

Sorority Noise play a style of music that falls into the quirky alt-rock genre that is becoming hazy with categorization. It's a blend of garage rock, with poppy hooks laden with sing-a-long choruses. Vocals are doubled with group lines aching to be screamed among with. The self deprecating "Mediocre At Best" is covered with angst and tongue-in-cheek self-hatred, and you can't help but smile and sing along, even with lines like "Nobody likes me. That's what I tell myself." Backboned by guitar chords that echo Pinkerton-era Weezer, the song stands out as a perfect representation of what Sorority Noise is.

Pinkerton comparisons don't stop there. The main theme of a strong personal examination is also present, without ever becoming cheesy or sappy. The guitars and drums never try to outshine the lyrics, and act more as a thickening agent to the vocals, to create a very well mixed final product. Forgettable is emotional and raw, and at moments very tender and sentimental. The lyrics are honest and open, and while they get personal, it never feels forced for attention.

Melodies reign supreme on Forgettable. Songs will work themselves into your head for days, as choruses and verse will replay as you hum along. The half-pace of "Blond Hair, Black Lungs," the honest verses of "Still Shrill," and even the simple bass line that opens the album ("Rory Shield") all stick out as glue-like ear-wormers.

Forgettable builds and maintains a certain level of energy throughout but does go out on a bit of a whimper instead of a bang. While I always enjoy a quiet moment on albums, for a record as powerful as this, it seems like a waste to end with two slower songs. This is of course just a small complaint when the entire album is so great, and those two slower songs that close the album are still enjoyable.

Various bands come to mind, and can be cited as influence for Sorority Noise; the short song structure of Joyce Manor, the quirky lyrics and guitars of The Front Bottoms, even the straight-forward rock of older Tigers Jaw. But the difference is that Sorority Noise does all of these better, and never feels like a cheap knock-off. They are their own contained unit and while influences are present, they never outshine what the band is trying to be. In their debut album, the band has created an amazing voice for themselves and that itself is truly rare these days.


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Track list:

1. Rory Shield
2. Mediocre At Best
3. Dirty Ickes
4. Nick Kwas Christmas Party
5. Queen Anne's Lace
6. Still Shrill
7. Blonde Hair, Black Lungs
8. Smooth Jazz
9. Smoke

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Album Review: Every Time I Die - From Parts Unknown

Album Rating: A+
Caution: Belligerent, chaotic metalcore ahead. Every copy of Every Time I Die's new album From Parts Unknown should come stickered with that warning right on the front. After releasing Ex-Lives back in 2012 to rave reviews, the Buffalo five-piece is back with a bloodthirsty vengeance. Is it Every Time I Die's best record? Probably. Is it heavy? Oh, definitely. Do you need to hear it? Absolutely, right now.

Every Time I Die have been around for practically forever. Roughly 15 years in the making and seven albums deep, you would imagine the band's sound would soften or slow down into a commercial soup of drivel rock, but that's not the case here. Kurt Ballou of Converge was enlisted as the producer and the band went to work creating an album that rivals their gritty back catalog in every way. The result is a 30 minute onslaught of screeching chords, deep chugs, winding chord progressions and a sweeping sense of civil unrest. It's chunkier, faster, and meaner than Ex-Lives, so as Samuel L. Jackson once famously said, "Hold on to your butts."

Riffs drive back to the good ol' days of Gutter Phenomenon ( "Overstayer") and occasionally carry a song all the way without any kind of technical clout ("El Dorado)." At times, music blurs the heavy and the melodic with that all-important bluesy hardcore jangle ("Decaying With The Boys") and early 2000's metalcore with Hot Damn! breakdowns ("If There Is Room To Move, Things Move.") "Old Light" is a rough tumbleweed headbanger featuring the slick and warm voice of Brian Fallon from the Gaslight Anthem, and it's a good change of pace from the speedy, technical tunes ("All Structures Are Unstable,", "Thirst.")

Things get downright spooky with "Moor," the most different and weird song on the album. The haunting, chinking piano intro looms as Buckley's vocals wail like a lost soul. When the song kicks in, it will envelop your room in a mass of sludge so thick you'll be stuck for days.

One listen is all it takes to appreciate the fantastic musicianship that holds From Parts Unknown together. Guitarists Andy Williams and Jordan Buckley tap, slide and riff out a collage of parts into beautiful, tempo-shifting songs. Stephen Micciche puts the bass to good work, and Ballou's mixing makes sure every thump and bump is out there and audible. Most notable is drummer Ryan Leger's blitz on the kit. To put it bluntly, he's fast – the snares pop off like automatic gunfire, and the toms roll like thunderclaps. Double bass pedals almost heckle the guitars, sneering at them to keep up in the high BMPs. Despite their age, these guys still rock like like they're in their early 20's. The music, however, reads like a mature piece of assembled chaos.

Buckley's lyrics are still top-notch and some of the best in the genre. Direct and poetic with an urgent abrassiveness, he delivers line after line of memorable headpunchers like a new-age Shakespeare. "Idiot" cascades into a fiery ending as he cries, "All I want is for everyone to go to hell/it was the last place I was seen before I lost myself" before concluding "All I want is for everyone to come to hell/there we can be free and learn to love ourselves." It's a hypnotic delivery that should have fans clamoring for mic grabs at future shows.

In terms of substance, the album is a bitter acid eating into fine machinery. It's like scratching into sheet metal with a screwdriver - expect no catharsis in this half-hour blast of maniacal metalcore. Crank the stereo, crack a beer and mosh around your room. No one's going to judge you, especially with such a masterpiece destroying your ear drums. From Parts Unknown is a blast, so listen loud and proud because a decibel is only a unit of measurement.

Be sure to catch Every Time I Die all summer long on the Vans Warped Tour.

Tracklist:


1. The Great Secret
2. Pelican Of The Desert
3. Decayin' With The Boys
4. Overstayer
5. If There Is Room To Move, Things Move
6. Moor
7. Exometrium
8. Thirst
9. Old Light
10. All Structures Are Unstable
11. El Dorado
12. Idiot

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

American Football - American Football: Deluxe Edition

Album Rating: A+
The warm summer air on the back of your neck. The soothing and rhythmic chirping of crickets in sticky grass. These memories or calls can reach into the recesses of anyone's mind and drag forth aching nostalgia. Picturesque moments from your past, or present, with vivid colors play forth like movies in your mind, as you drown in the atmosphere around you. American Football's self-titled album brings this forward. The highly influential album from 1999, was the band's only full-length, and while in total they only ever released 12 songs, the group left a massive lasting impression on indie music. American Football is an album that can be played on repeat, throughout your life. There is not a single song that falls short of excellence, and no dull moment exists. The music is one of the unique and unrepeatable defying moments in modern indie rock, and has set an unreachable bar for bands to try to replicate.

The recent reunion of the band, has lead to a deluxe reissue of the classic album, complete with the original LP and a bonus disc of unreleased demos and live tracks. For this review, I will first start with the album itself, and then proceed to the bonus disc.

American Football opens with one of the most emotional and important songs for anyone who has ever enjoyed "emo" music. "Never Meant" does not only have the delicate lyric content that tugs at ones heartstrings, but it is supported by the jazz-influenced noodling guitar that has defined the genre since then. Coupled with drums that stand on their own besides anything else, you get a track that is a staple for any romantic's catalogue. The duel guitar work, by singer Mike Kinsella and guitarist Steve Holmes, is mesmerizing and hypnotic. Time signatures and tunings vary from song to song and while the entire album has a immensely concise tone, each individual track stands out on its own. Backed by the often underrated drumming of Steve Lamos, the band is still one of the most organic sounding units to record.

The intermittent trumpet that graces a handful of tracks, eases itself in and is never used as a crutch or a gimmick. These soft, small unexpected moments are intimate and calming, and even though the album never reaches any speeds past "moderate," the slower tracks are the most inviting and warm. "The Summer Ends" drips with the bittersweet happiness/sadness of August, where Kinsella's lyrics are brutally relatable. "Honestly?" begins with one of the greatest "bass" lines ever (bass is in quotes because most tracks of the album do not feature bass, but just guitars tuned down). The driving line builds with call and answer vocal lines that blend perfectly with the music, only to crash and explode into the extended outro, where Lamos' drums come forth and flourish.

Many times throughout the record ("But The Regrets Are Killing Me" for example) the guitar tones transcend into unexplored territory. Warm notes and intertwining riffs intersect and create beautiful monuments of sounds. All of this with Kinsella's simple, yet honest lyrics and vocals overlaid. There are an uncountable amount of moments like this on the album, and it is truly a modern masterpiece of music.

The bonus disc of the deluxe edition bring us long lost demo recordings and live tracks from the band. The subtle tape hiss present adds to the nostalgic tone of the music, and the unreleased demo songs sound perfectly encapsulated in the time period. The live track "The 7's" is a building, lengthly instrumental that would've been a great addition to the LP, but was cut due to time constraints. Many songs from the LP are found again here, as practice rehearsal demos from the production sessions. These rougher edits showcase what the songs would've sounded like live during the band's existence. The entirety of the extra disc is intriguing, and while it may not be listened to as much as the album, it deserves subsequent revisitations.

The only thing missing from the deluxe edition is the inclusion of the three tracks from their only other release, the also self-titled EP (although we do get a live version of "Five Silent Miles"). This is just a minor exclusion and for long time fans of the band won't be a bother at all. The live tracks and demo recordings are a treat and a long-awaited surprise to many, and round out a wonderful deluxe reissue of a modern classic album.


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Track list:

1. Never Meant
2. The Summer Ends
3. Honestly?
4. For Sure
5. You Know I Should Be Leaving Soon
6. But The Regrets Are Killing Me
7. I'll See You When We Both Aren't So Emotional
8. Stay Home
9. The One with the Wurlitzer
10. Intro [Live at the Blind Pig, Champaign, IL, 1997]
11. Five Silent Miles [Live at the Blind Pig, Champaign, IL, 1997]
12. Untitled #1 (The One with the Trumpet) [Boombox Practice Session, 1998]
13. Untitled #2 [Boombox Practice Session, 1998]
14. Stay Home [Boombox Practice Session, 1999]
15. Untitled #3 [Boombox Practice Session, 1998]
16. Never Meant [4-Track Album Prep, 1999]
17. But The Regrets Are Killing Me [4-Track Album Prep, 1999]
18. I'll See You When We Both Aren't So Emotional [4-Track Album Prep, 1999]
19. The 7's [Live at the Blind Pig, Champaign, IL, 1997]

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Live Review: Warm Digits and Parastatic, Cumberland Arms, Newcastle (09/05/2014)

Krautrock is, as everyone knows, the crop of 1970s Germany, yet in North East England it seems to have found an unlikely second home. Sporting a wealth of cult outfits, this mini-scene was granted a thrilling showcase on Friday night at Newcastle's Cumberland Arms, with two of the region's finest exponents delivering a terrific exhibit of the genre's enduring appeal as well as its remaining creative capacity.

Unfortunately, my own lousy timekeeping saw to it that I missed opening drone merchant Charles Dexter Ward, however I did show up on time to catch the group who initiated the night's proceedings - the ever-excellent Parastatic. Optimised by their customary strobe and shimmering sea of reverb, the trio's eclectic marriage of robo rhythms and drawn-out celestialism essentially melds the sonic imprint of Jason Pierce with more familiar kraut reference points (Nue! Can, etc) to powerful and often mesmerising effect. With new single 'Oscillations' (preceding their second LP, due later this year) among the highlights, the coming months promise much for an outfit whose next hometown appearance can't come soon enough.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Album Review: Frameworks - Loom

Album Rating: A-
For me, Small Victories was hardly representative of its humble moniker.  In 11 crushing minutes, Gainesville, Florida's Frameworks handily made a name for themselves, seamlessly flowing from one "wave"-approved genre to the next, without so much as a three-second pause between songs.  Topshelf, expectedly, picked up on such compositional expertise, and with their assistance, LP1 was given the time, care and nourishment it deserved to bloom into the appealingly unconventional beast that Loom is today.  For a band that's already showcased so many different sides of themselves, there sure seem to be a lot more to uncover.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Album Review: The Menzingers - Rented World

Album Rating: A-
The Menzingers are a band that has paid their dues. The Scranton, PA natives have been playing music for almost a decade, and have built themselves up from playing YMCA's in suburban Pennsylvania to full-fledged world-wide tours. It comes as no surprise then that their fourth full-length album, Rented World, is as mature and focused as they are. Following up 2012's highly acclaimed On The Impossible Past, must have been a heavy weight to bare, but The Menzingers have succeeded in creating an album that transitions easily from their past work, while also injecting a different tone and style.

Rented World can be said to be the best Weezer album since Pinkerton. From the basic artwork featuring only the title and the band members, to the actual music itself, Rented World has a distinct early Weezer vibe. Guitars are distorted heavily enough, but never too much, and melodies are catchy. The distinct "sing-a-long" mentality is present from the opening track, and single, "I Don't Want To Be An Asshole Anymore." It has a powerful chorus that's backed up by gang-vocal "whoas." The song kicks the album with a burst of energy and leads it forward through 12 tracks ranging from early 90's poppy punk ("The Talk") to the Bob Dylan-esque closer "When You Died."

The band equals out each fast, more punk sounding track with a slower more melodic one. Tracks like "Transient Love" and "Where Your Heartache Exists" bring the tempos down slightly and give room to breathe for both the listener and the band. These slower moments only help accentuate the louder more powerful moments such as the opening riff to "In Remission" or the pre-verse section of "Sentimental Physics." Both tracks showcase heavy power-chord riffs that are infused with copious amounts of distortion.

Where The Menzingers are really finding their sound is in their choruses, with each song have memorable hooks and catchy lyrics. Quickly scanning over the track list, you are able to recall each and every song's chorus with ease, and it only makes you want to listen to the album one more time. The band's last record, On The Impossible Past, was their breakthrough, and Rented World may fall a tiny bit short of the heights reached by its predecessor, but it is only because it is a slightly different direction for the group. Rented World seems like The Menzingers have become very comfortable with who they are and what music they make, and as their fourth album, it feels more like a new beginning for the group.


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Track list:

1. I Don't Want To Be An Asshole Anymore
2. Bad Things
3. Rodent
4. Where Your Heartache Exists
5. My Friend Kyle
6. Transient Love
7. The Talk
8. Nothing Feels Good Anymore
9. Hearts Unknown
10. In Remission
11. Sentimental Physics
12. When You Died

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Album Review: Woods - With Light and With Love

Album Rating: B+
Woods have always been on the precipice of perfect moderation, and their seventh album in nine years is no exception. Their prolific churning has cumulated into some of the most forthright Indie Folk released in years. Applying the Goldilocks formula, With Light and With Love finds the balance between the rustic without being played, introspective without being over-indulgent and fondly familiar without the innocuous resin that laces most seasoned folk acts by this stage in their career, conditioned facial hair included.

Off the the back of 2012’s stretched and brittle Bend Beyond, Woods have varnished themselves off to a gleaming example of progressive Indie, retaining their coiled psych influences and creative instrumental breakdowns in lieu of some recycled melodies and themes. Frontman Jeremy Earl further embraces his infatuation with mortality and fleeting sentiment performed with an unsupposing resonance, teeming with existential wordplay.