Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Fifteen Songs I Dug in 2011

It is now the third of January, and you know what that means: That's right, it means we're long past the point where people care about reading a list of my top 15 songs from last year! Well, tough noogies, because here it is anyway.

(links below go to youtube videos where I could find 'em; like the song? buy the record.)

15. "Gold" by Glassjaw (from Coloring Book EP)
Glassjaw returned from a long hiatus with a retooled lineup in 2010, and while I didn't find Coloring Book (an EP handed out at shows on their 2011 tour dates) quite as impressive as last year's singles collection Our Color Green, it still had some standout tunes, particularly this one. Daryl Palumbo's vocals are still as show-stopping as ever, but the real star here is Durjah Lang's polyrhythmic drumming.

14. "Generals of Dark Hymns" by Pulling Teeth (from Irons/Pulling Teeth split LP)
Pulling Teeth put out their much anticipated (and final) album, Funerary, this year, but in my mind this song from their split with ambient grou
p Irons was their best effort in 2011. It's a great showcase for every shade of their music, segueing from a quietly haunting intro into the sheer speed, lead guitar theatrics and bilious vocals that first marked them as a band to watch in the metal-infused-hardcore scene. It's in the final minutes that this song really makes its mark, though, with a tremelo-picked guitar outro I can only think to describe as "triumphant," as goofy as that makes me sound. Whatever, they were one of the few bands around that could pull something like this off.

13. "27" by Title Fight (from Shed)
As I've mentioned before, I unfairly dismissed Title Fight for a long time based on their name, believing them to be the kind of tough-guy hardcore I norm
ally avoid like the plague. Instead, I was surprised when I listened to Shed and found a band that had more in common with, let's say, Hot Water Music than, let's say, Terror. This track was one of the catchiest punk songs of the year, easy.

12. "Paths of Glory" by Dropdead (from Converge/Dropdead Split)
Now, this is one that surprised me, as Dropdead has previously been a band that really did nothing for me. But damn if these guys didn't show up Converge - one of my favorite bands - on their 20th anniversary split seven-inch. Dropdead's con
tribution is predictably a 90 second slice of powerviolence and political vitriol, but it really feels like the Aristotelian ideal for such material. In large part this has to do with Kurt Ballou's excellent production, giving the guitars and vocals a punch they rarely have on records of this type. And that breakdown towards the end is just killer.

11. "Evictionaries" by Trap Them (from Darker Handcraft)
At this point, Trap Them have firmly established themselves as the most take-no-shit metal/hardcore band to emerge in the past decade. If I had to sum up their approach to heavy music on the Darker Handcraft LP in one word, that word would be "effortless." They just make kicking absurd degrees of ass sound so easy. Here, they strip away any of their past post-grind theatrics to show that they can craft a simple, stomping hardcore tune free of any bells and whistles. It's the sound of a band with nothing to prove, out to not-prove it in the most aggressive way possible.

10. "Hell Broke Luce" by Tom Waits (from Bad As Me)
I've heard this record described as being like a "Tom Waits' Greatest Hits" album, but comprised entirely of new songs. I guess that would make this song the Bone Machine analogue, with a bit of Mule Variations thrown in. It's Tom Waits in full-on w
hackjob mode, spitting lyrics that are remarkably straightforward (it's one of the most overtly political songs I've heard of his) over a loud-as-hell drumbeat and a dirty lead guitar. It's nice to know that old age will seemingly never soften Tom Waits (this is also one of his most overtly vulgar songs in a while). His weirdness is a universal constant.

9. "Arrows" by Lunglust (from Western Syndrome/Lunglust split)
I wrote about this one a bit in my review of the Boston Ph
oenix's "Born of Fire" sampler in October. I wasn't sure I expected going in that anything from that sampler would really stick with me to the end of the year, but damn if this song didn't. It's a hell of a Botch-influenced metalcore song with a really burly low end that knows when to slow things down for optimal heaviness but also knows not to wear out its welcome. Definitely looking forward to more from these guys.

8. "Visualize Latham" by Drug Church (from Drug Church EP)
This one definitely takes the prize for "'90s Throwback of the Ye
ar." The new side project from Patrick Kindlon of Self Defense Family is pure Quicksand/Helmet, post-grunge-but-before-the-scourge-of-nu-metal chunky guitar riffsmithing. If you're not moshing in your chair within the first 30 seconds of this song, you're only cheating yourself. A promising debut.

7. "Strange News from Another Planet" by ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead (from Tao of the Dead)
Trail of Dead have caught a lot of flack for their post-Source Tags And Codes work (and, yes, this is their best album since that one). An hour long prog rock opus consisting of two 15-30 minute long 'parts' or 16 'movements' is unlikely to convince any of
the naysayers that these guys aren't pretentious as shit and/or huge nerds, but what can I say, I dig the bombast. This song in particular is their "Echoes," sixteen minutes of unmitigated prog-rock excess (and I have to say, it took true sack to open their set with this when I saw them back in April). Either you're into it or you're not. Personally, I think they pull this off a lot better than most bands trying to do the 'prog-revival' thing these days.

6. "The Greatest Story Never Told" by Saigon (from The Greatest Story Never Told)
I don't listen to nearly enough current hip-hop, and as such there's probably a lot I missed from the past year, but Saigon's debut studio album, released in February, made enough of an impression on me that it's still on rotation nearly a full year later. The title track sums up just about everything that makes the album an instant classic, f
rom Just Blaze's immediately catchy beats to Saigon's forceful lyrics, angry and hopeful in equal measure.

5. "The Shit That You Hate" by Bomb the Music Industry! (from Vacation)
Bomb the Music Industry! have done the slow, sad song thing before - about once an album, in fact. This song is the first time they've really sunk into out-and-out melodrama, though (If you knew the new BtMI album would feature a string section at any point, you're a more prescient listener than I). That it works is a testament to Jeff Rosenst
ock's songwriting, some of the best and in punk rock today. Vacation manages to be maybe their most accessible album while at the same time feeling like their most oddly specific.

4. "Violet" by Deafheaven (from Roads to Judah)
I really feel like there's very little I can say about Deafheaven that hasn't been said all over the internet already, but hot damn. It's really rare that a band can take such well-worn musical tropes and combine them in a way that feels totally unique w
hile still paying homage to their predecessors (in this case, Burzum, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and The Smiths - an interesting combo). The first four minutes or so of this track are some of the most haunting of the year, and the last eight should be enough to get anyone headbanging (at least as much as one can at a black metal show).

3. "The Blessed Void" by All Pigs Must Die (from God Is War)
If you were looking for a record to straight up beat the shit out of you this year, you could do a lot worse than God Is War by All Pigs Must Die. While their first EP was a fun teaser of angry-as-fuck music to come, the new album is a towering achievement, o
ne of the most crushingly heavy records to come from the Entombed school of metal in years. "The Blessed Void" opens up side two with a terrifying bang, but as scary as this band can be, I defy anyone to listen to the last 38 seconds of this song (I'll give you a hint: "DESTROY!") and not hear a band that's having a total blast.

2. "Sing My Loves" by Cave In (from White Silence)
Every year needs at least one good comeback record, and in White Silence, 2011 got one of the best in recent memory. Cave In have finally managed on this one to make a successful melange of everything that's ever made them underground favor
ites, from effects-laden technical metal to equally effects-laden spaced-out radio rock. This song, already the consensus favorite from an album not starved for standout songs, distills all of that into one eight-minute centerpiece. It's heavy, it's pretty, it instantly closes all the wounds opened by Isis breaking up... Is there nothing Cave In can't do?

1. "I'm Going Through Some Shit" by Self Defense Family (from I'm Going Through Some Shit b/w All Fruit is Ripe)
Self Defense Family (formerly End of a Year) but out a lot of great material this year: another two-song single for Run for Cover Records, and one side of a split with Fires that would've made it on this list if I wasn't consciously limiting myself to one
song per artist. It was even hard to narrow down which song I would choose from this seven-inch; All Fruit is Ripe, a first-person diatribe by way of religious invocation, is as energetic and clever a song as they've ever done. This song had to be it, though, if not for the way the mournful guitar melody gives way to an uplifting and more typically punk rock outro, then for Patrick Kindlon's vocals, never sounding quite so anguished or purposeful as here, and his lyrics, rarely more evocative. In my eyes, no other lyrics in 2011 contained the power of the couplet "Found no luck in finding work / but money is why they invented sex." Their first release under the Self Defense Family moniker, the band has musically reinvented themselves as well, and remain the most exciting band to watch in the punk scene.

Other stuff I dug this year:
Cold Cave, Kendrick Lamarr, True Widow, Clams Casino, Gods and Queens, Blut Aus Nord.

Other Stuff I might've dug if I'd bothered to listen to it: Killer Mike, Pharoahe Monch, Helms Alee, KEN Mode, Russian Circles

Top Ten Live Shows I Saw this year:
10. Mike Watt and Dirty Dishes at T.T. the Bear's
9. Glassjaw at the Paradise
8. Deftones and Dillinger Escape Plan at Lupo's
7. Doomriders, Sweet Cobra, Ramming Speed and Lunglust at Great Scott
6. Deafheaven, VYGR, The Proselyte and Western Syndrome at O'Brien's
5. ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, Surfer Blood and True Widow at The Middle East
4. Bomb the Music Industry and Cheap Girls at the Middle East
3. Cave In at Great Scott
2. The Dismemberment Plan and Certainly, Sir at The Paradise
1. Converge, Dropdead, Trap Them, Burning Love and All Pigs Must Die at The Middle East (Holy shit, I still can't believe that bill. I almost feel bad for all the other shows.)

Prettiest slab of goo that I bought this year: Roads to Judah by Deafheaven.

The record itself looks like a pint of Guinness, but it sounds more like shotgunning straight absinthe.

(Runner Up: Tao of the Dead by ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead)
Okay, so this record looks doofy as hell. But between the laser etching, the 16 page comic book printed on the record sleeves (double album, natch), the CGI artwork and the random Starfox cameos, it's a definite conversation piece.

Best song that sounds like "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" by Tears for Fears: "Sing My Loves" by Cave In (Runner Up: "I Can't Work a Straight Job" by Self Defense Family)

Best Movie of the Year: I'll go with the consensus for my demographic and say Drive. Shame, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and Captain America were also great.

Best Book I read this year: Solaris by Stanislaw Lem almost instantly became my favorite sci-fi book of all time. (Runner Up: Confessions of an English Opium Eater by Thomas de Quincey).

That's all, folks. Enjoy 2012.

-Michael James Roberson

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Interview with Patrick Kindlon (Self Defense Family, Ashcan Press)

Self Defense Family (née End of a Year) are one of the most interesting bands on the Deathwish Records roster right now. They don't fit neatly into the hardcore or metal genres at all, nor even with the tiny contingent of ambient music Deathwish puts out. Nevertheless, they put out one of last year's best punk rock albums, one of this year's best punk rock singles, and they continue to curate the most entertaining online presence of just about any band in 2011.

Instead of all that, I'm gonna talk about comic books.

Patrick Kindlon, the vocalist for Self Defense Family, recently teamed up with Matthew Rosenberg to form Ashcan Press, an independent comic book press. At this year's New York Comic Con, they debuted issues of three new comics: The Urn, a revenge story about a member of a biker gang released from prison embarking on a mission to avenge his dead lover; We Can Never Go Home Again, a teen romance story with superpowers; and Menu, the Jack Kirby-esque saga of a man and his dog traversing a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

I didn't get to go to the con, but my good friend Harris snagged me the first issues of all three books. They're all pretty fantastic. As an animal lover and rabid Jack Kirby fan, Menu is the standout in my eyes.

Patrick was friendly enough to engage in some comic book chat with my via email. The interview follows:

Me: So you sing in punk rock bands, and now you're writing comic books, labors of love and tough gigs both. Which one of these things would you say is more of a grind?

Patrick: Comic books are way more of a grind because I’m trying to make a living at it. With music, it never occurred to me that you could make a living, so I never tried. Comic books, as an industry, are getting to that point where the percentage of people starving and doing it only for fun will far exceed those able to eat off it. Actually, it may already be there. But I’m trying very hard to get in and stay in before that tipping point has been reached and the door is closed. It’s worth noting that there’s a huge difference in the resources it takes to create a finished product. I can create music on a very simple and inexpensive home studio, pretend the lo-fi quality is a stylistic choice, and put it up on Bandcamp. Very little financial reward, but very little cost. Comic books are a very different thing. No one will accept a shitty-looking book as a stylistic choice and very few artists are willing to work for free. So there is a large outlay of cash for a minimal to non-existent return. That’s a grind.

Me: You seem like you're the main promotional voice of Ashcan comics, but Matthew Rosenberg is credited as co-writer on all of your books. Would you care to expand on how your writing partnership works?

Patrick: Just the opposite. Matt runs the @ashcanpress Twitter and Facebook and all that. I’m only good at getting the most negative sort of attention and if I ran those things I’d be a hostile weirdo picking fights all day. This industry has fewer than a half-dozen publishers and if I tell them all to suck my balls, it’s not a long career for us. So we keep me off Twitter and the other stuff as much as possible. Matt and I co-write everything. Sometimes the co-writer title is really just a way of saying we edit each other’s work for moron mistakes, and other times it means we sat in a room and fought for hours about nuances of the stories. Varies book to book.

Me: Next to superhero comics, crime comics are probably the most popular genre around right now. What made you decide to write a crime comic of your own with 'The Urn'? Any other crime comics you took as an influence?

Patrick: Crime is fun to write. It gives you an excuse to write violent, odd characters who move a story forward. I imagine everything I write is a crime story in some regard. There’s always a violent man or woman doing something wrong and someone else who has to pick up the pieces of it or stop it. Sometimes it just happens to be in the Sudan, or on a spaceship, or has some other odd mitigating situation or location attached to it. I wanted to tell a revenge story because it’s a stretch for me, intellectually. I don’t want to hurt anyone, so writing a story where the whole thing is predicated on “will the protagonist get the opportunity to hurt the bad guy?” is a step outside myself. I enjoy a lot of crime comics, but the chief inspiration for The Urn is 70s suspense cinema. I like the way people talk in movies from that period.

Me: Jack Kirby is arguably the most revered comics creator in history, and has inspired many direct homages, now including your book Menu. What about Kirby's work resonates with you?

Patrick: What resonates most for me is how weird he managed to get with straightforward stories and simple characters. Everything is down-to-Earth and relatable, but only under five layers of freaky. That’s very difficult to do and should be celebrated wherever we find it.

Me: Favorite comic book dog? Krypto? Lockjaw? Other?

Patrick: Rufferto, from Groo the Wanderer. He thinks Groo is a genius despite the fact that Groo is a certified moron. It’s the most realistic portrayal of a canine in comics and also one of the warmest. The issue where Groo “drowns” for a few pages and Rufferto waits at the waters edge for him to return makes me tear up every time I read it.

Me: Lastly, any idea when we can start finding your books in stores?

Patrick: We’re weighing the best way to approach this now. Do we go with THE distributor? Do we go with THE distributor’s microscopic competitor that is scrambling to make a dent? Or do we solicit the books ourselves and deal with no middleman at all? The honest truth is there’s no way to break even on any of those options. We will take a financial beating no matter which way you slice it, but minimizing the damage is attractive. We’ve just got to pick one soon and run with it. By spring you’ll be able to order some of our books at your comic store.

Thanks again to Patrick Kindlon for answering all my nerdy questions. You heard it here first, keep an eye out on your local comic book shop this spring!

-Michael James Roberson

- official website of Ashcan Press.
http://selfdefensemusic.com/ - official website of Self Defense Family.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Week Three: As Long As We're All Living We're All Dying - Fatigue

Amazing. I've managed to cover three weeks of posts in about as many months. Well, let's not waste any more time, then:

As Long As We're All Living, We're All Dying - Fatigue (right click to download from Teenage Disco Bloodbath Records website)

Band names are tricky. They're a little like band iconography, in that they can often determine the someone's enjoyment of a band even though they have jack shit to do with music. I claim no exception to this; I have a couple of really prominent band tattoos and I only even halfway regret one of them.

A lot of times, perfectly good bands get stuck with shitty names. I put off listening to Title Fight for the longest time because their name made them sound like a dumb tough-guy hardcore band, only to discover that they're actually a lot better and less generic than I thought. I think Warsaw, Joy Division and New Order are all various degrees of stupid as band names, but I enjoy music by the band in all its permutations.

Coming up with inverse examples - shitty bands with good band names - is trickier. I guess if you're a generic band, you'll probably have a generic name. The only band that comes to mind that is worse than their band name for me is Deadguy. I dig the name, but the band never did much for me. Even so, I wouldn't call them shitty, I guess. They just don't necessarily live up to the name.

Band names get pretty fun in aggressive music. You see a lot of the first type of bands: good bands stuck with shitty names. Punk and hardcore names, in particular, get used up fast. Floorpunch must have been fucking thrilled to find out that name wasn't taken before they got to it. Ditto for Victims, Cursed, and Rise and Fall, all very good bands with band names that sound like every other hardcore band name. Metal names tend to be more evocative. I mentioned in my last post, when referring to the death metal band Scaphism, that I didn't know what their name meant but I bet it was gross. I looked it up and, holy shit, was I right. Metal's predictable that way. Just pick a disease or medical condition, serial killer name, some sort of death related term or torture device, and pray it isn't taken. Really, if you're a fucked up dude, you're halfway there (incidentally, my favorite current metal band name has to go to Trap Them; simple, evocative, and scary).

Basically, I think of good band names the same way I think of good tattoos: I should be able to look at it and say "that's cool" without following it up with "what does it mean?" In jokes are never funny and nobody wants to hear your stupid tattoo story.

Anyway, this is all a big roundabout way of saying that I think As Long As We're All Living We're All Dying is a kickass band name. It's not necessarily the deepest sentiment, but it's a coherent, complete thought, and it's hard to find a complete thought in a band name, let alone a complete sentence. I also dig the ambiguous punctuation; I've seen the name written out with or without a comma, and grammar be damned, I like it better without. I had seen this band name around a bit, I don't remember where. They're from Boston, so it was probably on flyers and stickers and stuff. Anyway, about a month ago I was in a shitty mood and had five bucks to spare so I decided to buy some sort of heavy music 7", because like all healthy privileged Americans, I solve my emotional problems by buying shit. I came across the record and the band name had stuck in my head, and I decided the band name alone was worth the three dollars that the record cost.

The record itself is pretty good too. Turns out they're a metal band, which is a relief, because as much as I love the band name, it could've easily belonged to a bunch of mopey pale kids with synthesizers*. ALAWALWAD's (sweet acronym) first track, Fatigue, is a nice little piece of thrash, with a badass fast paced guitar riff that only slows down at the end for a nice big double-bass-drum finish. There's no lyrics sheet included, so all I can make out is a pretty sweet "GO!" at the beginning and a gang-vocaled "we begin again" at the end. Pretty basic stuff, I guess. Apparently the band was made up of but two dudes, which I guess makes sense as the bass is a little thin, but I wouldn't have guessed it if I didn't know. They also thank The Hound "for being righteous" in the liner notes. Nobody's ever thanked me for being righteous. I've found a new ambition. Speaking of The Hound, their side is okay too. Their last song has a really sweet outro, but I don't like their vocals as much and as far as band names go, they're severely outmatched. The record was put out by Teenage Disco Bloodbath, the same crew that would later put out Ramming Speed's records, so they're okay in my book. Apparently it's one of only two records the band put out during their brief career. I'd like to find their first one; apparently it has a song called "Burn Allston to the Fucking Ground," which is a sentiment I think we can all get behind. Their page on the TBD website has a couple of tracks listed, but the links don't work, and the band website is long dead. Such is life for a Boston metal band.

So, yeah, I spent way more time talking about the band name than I did about the song. But, frankly, that band name's stuck with me for years, since before I ever heard anything by them, and it'll probably stick with me long after I forget how that riff goes.

-Michael James Roberson

*I don't know who I'm trying to kid, I love this kind of music.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Compilation Review: The Phoenix Born of Fire Volume One Sampler

So, as I'm stuck inside awaiting a potential hurricane that may or may not affect my neighborhood whatsoever, I might as well curl up in my recliner and offer my take on some news that I find far more exciting:

Last week, the Boston Phoenix, in cooperation with O'Briens Pub's bi-monthly metal night, Born of Fire (which I still haven't been to, but O'Briens is a cool little place), put together and released a free sampler featuring tracks from 15 contemporary Boston metal bands. Some of them are fucking great. Some of them, not so much. I'ma go through 'em track by track and offer my two cents.

Disclaimer: If I hate on yr band, don't hold it against me. I'm an average metal fan and a below-average musician. The shittiest metal musician is probably still more talented than me and you really shouldn't care what some guy on the internet says about you anyway.

Track One: Revocation - Cradle Robber
This one here? Not the most auspicious start. It kinda just sounds like generic tech-death metal to me. The vocals are decent enough in the verses, but in the chorus they get downright obnoxious. It never particularly goes anywhere either. The lead guitar work is so cheesy it hurts. It's well produced and features some competent musicianship for this kinda thing, but, y'know. It's technical death metal. If you're not into that, this is gonna be downright unlistenable, and if you are, you've probably already heard a thousand songs that sound like this.
Verdict: Lame. 2/10

Track Two: Ramming Speed - Perdition
I fucking love Ramming Speed. I used to go to high school with their former lead guitarist, Ricky Zampa (good dude), and as such I got into them on the ground floor with the excellent "Full Speed Ahead" seven inch. As far as I'm concerned, these guys do the whole 'thrash revival' thing better than anyone else. I got to see them live about six months ago with Doomriders, and they totally bring down the fucking house. I'm not sure where this song is from; it's not on the track listing for their full length, "Brainwreck," or their new EP, "Always Disgusted, Never Surprised" (neither of which I have yet, for some reason). It's a pretty excellent piece of D-beat, though, and it does a pretty good job of showing what these dudes are all about.
Verdict: Super fun. 9/10

Track Three: Doomriders - Come Alive
This song's kinda old, having been released in 2009, and I feel like it's shown up on about a thousand comps since then, but what the hell, it's a great tune. Doomriders, as far as I'm concerned, are the best thing to happen to metal in at least a couple years. "Darkness Come Alive," the album this title track comes from, was my album-of-the-year for 2009, beating out even the towering "Axe To Fall," by labelmates Converge. Their music is totally un-self-conscious, staying just shy enough of cheesy for dour metalheads to take seriously, while still embracing metal cliches to enough of an extent to be fun as hell. This song in particular features one of the better Danzig impressions of the past decade.
Verdict: Excellent. 10/10

Track Four: Motherboar - II. Amphibious
I've seen these guys' name around a bit lately. It's certainly an arresting band name. The music, less so. It kinda sounds a bit too derivative of Mastodon and their ilk of groove-oriented stoner-thrash or whatever the fuck you call all those bands. The tone is great, and the singer sounds exactly like Sean Ingram, which is a huge positive. The breakdown about two minutes in is kinda interesting too, but not enough to really make me want to catch a show by these guys or anything.
Verdict: Not great. 4/10

Track Five: Cave In - Vicious Circles
I love Cave In to probably an unhealthy degree, but I kinda feel like they don't really belong on this comp. I mean, they've been around since the late '90s, making them far more established than any of the other bands. That being said, their new album "White Silence" is ridiculously good, easily their best since 2000's groundbreaking "Jupiter" and their heaviest since 1999's "Until Your Heart Stops." This track, in particular, brings them closer to their mathy hardcore roots than any other on the album, making it a good pick for the comp, even if it seems to kind of defeat the purpose of showcasing up-and-coming bands.
Verdict: Good song, odd choice. 9/10

Track Six: Death Ray Vision - Not For Glory
Never heard of these guys before, but this is pretty solid. I mean, it's nothing groundbreaking, but it's really well done neo-speed metal. I fucking love the bass tone, in particular. The vocals don't do a whole lot for me, but I can live with 'em. I like the chorus, especially the weird sort of ethereal backing guitar. Yeah, I'd definitely pay five bucks to see these guys.
Verdict: Pretty cool. 8/10

Track Seven: Acaro - This Treachery
Eeeeh... I dunno, dude. This just sounds like sub-par Black Dahlia Murder and that's about the nicest thing I can come up with to say about it. The drummer does good blastbeats I guess? Technical death metal and melodic death metal both have to be pretty goddamn excellent to appeal to me whatsoever, and this is a little of both, which just terrifies me.
Verdict: Not good. 1/10

Track Eight: Panzerbastard - Gods, Thugs, And Madmen
This is another one of those band names I've seen around a lot. Musically, it's not half bad. Cheesy as fuck, dirty metal in the vein of Entombed but not quite as awesome. It's a lot of fun, though, and it sounds just nasty enough to feel genuine and not like a put-on. I imagine these guys all have really big beards and probably put on a great show. That Oxford comma kinda bugs me, though.
Verdict: Solid. 7/10

Track Nine: Lunglust - Arrows.
These guys opened that aforementioned Doomriders/Ramming Speed show I saw last February, and I remember them really catching my attention. They suffered that opening-band curse of having the worst sound mix of the night, but they managed to come across as really unique and interesting nonetheless. At the time, they reminded me of a kind of mix between Botch and pg. 99. This track sounds a bit more metal and less hardcore than that description implies, but it still eschews traditional lead guitar theatrics in favor of that hardcore kind of band unity. It's really damn good, too. The singer kills it, and the sludgy guitar breakdown is a near-perfect example of its form. These guys are absolutely a band to watch, they've got a really standout sound and I could see them being huge sooner rather than later.
Verdict: Excellent metalcore. 10/10

Track Ten: Blessed Offal - Seasons in Sepulchral Depths
Let me get this out of the way, since I'm frankly surprised it took ten tracks to get to an example: Metal songs are too goddamn long nowadays. I love Isis, I love Neurosis, but they have a lot of bullshit to answer for. So I see a track on a metal comp that's seven-minutes-plus, I instinctively reach for the skip button. That being said, this song is pretty awesome. It's does the grimy sludge thing well enough that the sudden tempo shift two and a half minutes in comes as a genuine surprise, and surprises are a really precious commodity in modern metal. I really love the vocals, and I really love the band name. "Blessed Offal"? That's just so wonderfully gross. I dig it in a big way.
Verdict: Post-metal done right for once. 9/10

Track Eleven: Scaphism - Slowly Digested Over a Thousand Years
Hahaha, oh man, this rules. So much death metal takes itself so fucking seriously that it's really refreshing to hear a band like this that accepts it for the high-school level goofiness it really is. It's also refreshing to listen to a death metal song where the lyrics are actually understandable, and the lyrics here are hilariously over-the-top gruesome. "999 years to go until this horror ends / my eyes have melted, my balls have popped, my lungs have turned to sludge." Oh, it's also a song about being eaten by the Sarlaac from Return of the Jedi, and opens with a sample of C-3PO saying the song title. This is excellent. I don't know what Scaphism means, but I'll bet it's something gross.
Verdict: Wonderfully juvenile death metal. 9/10

Track Twelve: Razormaze - Miseries of the Flesh
I can dig this. Neo-thrash that doesn't try to be any more than that. It reminds me of Vio-Lence, or maybe some of Suicidal Tendencies older stuff. I like that the vocalist doesn't bother trying for death growls or any of that shit and just gets his Joey Belladonna on. These guys are probably a blast to see live, I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for 'em.
Verdict: Straight outta the '80s thrash. 9/10

Track Thirteen: The Proselyte - Thirty Thousand Feet of Shark
I talked about these guys a bit in my review of the Deafheaven show back in June. I had mixed feelings on 'em at the time, but said I'd give 'em another chance. This song is pretty solid. As I mentioned back then, I really like the vocals, and while I'm not normally a fan of this style of metal, these guys do it better than most. The pre-chorus part has some really cool timing, and as a shark enthusiast I love the song title. It drags a bit once you get past the 90 second mark, though. The harmonized vocals at the end save it.
Verdict: Above-average beard metal. 7/10

Track Fourteen: Black Thai - The Ladder
I like the intro, but once the song starts in earnest about 45 seconds in it gets a lot less interesting. I feel like I've definitely heard this riff before, and the vocals kinda feel like budget-Josh Homme. I find their band name obnoxious too. Like, is it just me, or is that a remarkably stupid pun? I'm not even paying attention to the song, at this point. I'm just reading about sharks on wikipedia. Did you know the Megalodon is theorized to have had the most powerful bite in history, at over 24,000 pounds of force?
Verdict: Average beard metal. 3/10

Track Fifteen: Birch Hill Dam - Colossus
Oh man. The cowbell almost kinda won me over, but this is just bad. The best thing I can say about it is that it doesn't sound like these guys take themselves too seriously, but this sounds like something that'd pop up on WAAF in the early 2000s wedged in between Godsmack and Disturbed. Pass. Big time.
Verdict: No. 1/10

So, overall? Download this compilation. At a rate of 10 ill songs to five bad ones, I'd say the Boston metal scene is in decent shape, and there's a bunch of good free shit here. I even like the album art. Big ups to the Phoenix and Born of Fire for putting this together, and big ups to metal bands for being metal. Always.

-Michael James Roberson

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Updates from Summerville, Wsh Yu Wre Hre.

Once again, sorry for the long break between updates. What music related stuff has happened between then and now?

- I saw Bomb The Music Industry! at the Middle East Upstairs. It was the most packed I've ever seen that room, the sweatiest I've ever been, and my first time seeing them since the night I moved to Boston (about five years ago now). They ruled. Opening band Cheap Girls, who I'd never heard before, also ruled. They sounded kinda like a more pop-punky Dinosaur Jr. Which, y'know, if that sounds like something you'd enjoy (some people I know definitely shuddered involuntarily at that description), give 'em a listen. BTMI! also released their new album, "Vacation!", yesterday, and it's immediately hopped to a spot near the front of my 'best of 2011' list just behind the new Cave In record. It's free, but donate them some money, they're one of the best punk bands around right now.

- Before the show me and my friends drank all of the PBR in new Central Square Cambodian joint, The Floating Rock. Literally. They had to go buy more specifically for us. We should get our PBR badge for that, I think. The owner, Jenny, was a very good sport about it, and didn't seem to mind the scuzzy punk rock kids loudening up her classy-ish restaurant.

- I saw local bands Dirty Dishes and Viva Viva play a show at this weird Vitamin Water sponsored venue near Fenway. I had seen Dirty Dishes a while back opening for Mike Watt at T.T. the Bear's, and they blew my fucking mind, instantly becoming one of my favorite new local acts. They're sorta shoegazy, very loud, atmospheric, but with a great grasp of pop songcraft. Got a lot of math in their style too, which I always dig, being a nerd and all. They weren't quite as good this time; the venue was weird and the sound mix was also weird, although I dig any place that'll throw a free show with free earplugs, free vitamin water, and cheap beer (and there was foosball!). Dirty Dishes put together a great set, though. They're playing at Great Scott this Sunday, and although I'm not sure I'll be able to make it, you should go anyway. Their first EP is a real barnburner (pay the $5, cheapskate, it's worth it), and the new material they've been playing sounds even better. Viva Viva failed to really make an impression on me.

- All Pigs Must Die released the first track off their new album God Is War, which has the most metal cover art I've ever seen.

The song is great too, already sounding even better than their already impressive first EP (and come on, "Pulverization"? that's a killer title no matter how you slice it). These guys rule hard. God is War is coming out on Southern Lord soon with all sorts of package options. The one with their first EP and a t-shirt looks boss. I am such a consumer.

Anyway, I'll have a new post up soon. I just bought a random split 7" I wanna talk to you about.

- Bomb The Music Industry! @ Tumblr
http://cheapgirls.tumblr.com/ - Cheap Girls @ Tumblr
http://thedirtydishes.bandcamp.com/ - Dirty Dishes @ Bandcamp
http://www.thisisvivaviva.com/ - Viva Viva official website
http://shirtsanddestroy.com/all_pigs_must_die - All Pigs Must Die @ Shirtsanddestroy

Friday, June 24, 2011

Show Review: Deafheaven, VYGR, the Proselyte, and Western Syndrome at O'Briens.

I've been pretty lazy with updating this thing lately, as you can tell. Life gets in the way. I've got two weeks of song posts on backlog. For the time being, though, here's a review of the last show I went to, a really interesting bill of metal bands at O'Briens Pub in Allston on June 19th, 2011.

A preface: I am an old man.

Okay, I'm only twenty-three. But years of going to loud punk and metal shows have left me bruised, battered, deafened, and hungover in equal (and near-perpetual) measure. It was a month ago, seeing Converge at the Middle East in Cambridge, that I decided I need to start wearing earplugs to shows. Tinnitus has been a great fear of mine for years now, and recently that fear has started becoming more of a reality. Hearing will sometimes just cut out of one of my ears without warning with that kind of muffled sound you get when you're underwater. So, knowing that O'Briens is about the size of a thimble, and knowing how fucking loud Deafheaven is, I begrudgingly got some orange foam earplugs at Walgreens and brought them to the show.

I was a bit relieved to discover I wasn't alone. My good friend and constant show-buddy Jeremy Tyarks brought earplugs of his own, and once openers Western Syndrome took the stage, looking past people's heads was like staring into a forest of neon foam.

I had told Jeremy beforehand that I didn't really know or care about any of the openers (I listened to one song off each of their myspace pages; none of them grabbed me - and, seriously guys, all three of you list your primary genre as 'downtempo?' Is this a joke I'm not in on?), and as such would probably be arriving at least a half hour or so after the show's scheduled start time of 8:00 pm. Now, as I should've well known, kickoff wasn't until past 9:00 anyway. But I'm actually glad I got to catch all the openers. They weren't always great, but they were certainly an interesting survey of what the local heavy music scene is offering right now.

Western Syndrome were the opener whose online material had interested me the most prior to the show. At the very least, they had the shortest songs, and as an old man, I dig that. A four-piece punk-rock lookin' band with a female vocalist, I can dig that too. They hail from Cape Cod, and they seemed a bit nervous/flustered taking the stage, thanking the other bands for letting them borrow gear. So they're up-and-comers I guess, I dig that.

Almost as soon as they started playing though, I started feeling bad for them. Because, here's the thing: there was definitely some talented songwriting and musicianship going on onstage. The guitars had a nice droney vibe that clashed with the really upbeat hardcore tempo of the drums, and the drummer had some clear chops, and the singer had a very gnarly scream that reminded me of the girl from Kill The Man Who Questions (and thus do I reach my third consecutive post where I fail to avoid mentioning that band). But their sound mix was fucking abysmal. The bass was so loud and muddy that all I could really hear of it was a painfully loud grind, and the feedback from the guitar was killing me. It drowned out most of the drums and vocals (the backing mic in particular might as well have not been plugged in). I was really thankful for those earplugs. I kind of wished I had earplugs for my earplugs.

But hey, it's not their fault. And listening to that stuff on their myspace right now, there's a lot to like. They're bringing back that whole Orchid style of dissonant, grindy screamo. I dig that. And what I really dig? They kept it brief. The whole set didn't last more than 15 minutes, which is pretty much exactly the right length for a band of this style. Would I go see them again?: Yes. I feel like they have a lot of promise. Although I'd hope like hell they had a better mix this time.

Next up was The Proselyte. And boy was I dreading this one. Sleeveless Lynyrd Skynyrd t-shirts? Beards the length of a Subway sandwich? I was anticipating exactly the type of metal that I quickly lose patience for. And at the outset, it really did sound like a bunch of guys who listen to too much Baroness and not enough anything else. But before the end of their first song, something surprising happened: they started to win me over. It was pretty much entirely due to the vocals; they had a three-part vocal thing going on that managed to keep it interesting without being gimmicky. Their drummer was probably the most talented of the three, swinging between Danziggy croons and Caleb Scofield growls with ease (and oh, how I love a singing drummer that doesn't suck at one or both of those things), although the two guitarists provided good supporting vocals, both screamed and harmonized. Funnily enough, the first thing Jeremy said to me in regards to their set was "I like the music, but 90% of the vocals do nothing for me," so to each his own I guess.

And if they had ended at the 25 minute mark, I would have pretty much nothing but nice things to say about them. But they continued on with another two songs (which, as you can probably already guess, were like 6 or 7 minutes apiece), and I started getting restless. You got good stage presence and energy guys, but you're still band two out of four and it's almost eleven o'clock. Leave us wanting more, not wanting less. Would I go see them again?: Yeah, sure. Like I say, they're style isn't really my thing, but they won me over against my expectations. I admire that.

The third - and, from the reaction of the crowd, most anticipated - band of the night was VYGR (that is to say, "Voyager," but in that weird remove-all-the-vowels spelling that seems to have become popular among heavy bands these days; see also NRWS and, yes, DFHVN). And, well... fuck me, but I can't really think of anything nice to say about these guys. Two things: If you're a band, and you play in a style that could be referred to as 'Post-Metal,' you better bring something really interesting to the table, or I'ma get bored reeeaallll fast. And if you're going to use a strobe light as a prominent fixture of your stage setup? Well then you better be absolutely fucking spectacular. C'mon, son. You're not Neurosis and you're definitely not Botch. Sell your strobe light, use the extra money to take a day off, and write some more interesting songs. And like I've said already, don't play so damn long! Maybe 16 year old hardcore kids with gauged ears and violent antisocial tendencies have the energy for this, but I don't. I am an old man, and the longer you play, the older I get.

I will say that the weird loopy keyboard noises and stuff in between songs were kind of interesting, but only like the first two times. Jeremy left to take a walk (a walk!) probably a third of the way into the set, and not long after, I went out to smoke a cigarette and talk about Opeth with him until they finished sometime the next morning. Would I go see them again?: No thanks. Too old.

Finally, coming up on 1:00 am (keep in mind that the show was supposed to start at eight - that's four bands in about five hours, and one of them only played for 15 minutes; where the hell did that time go?), headliners Deafheaven stepped up to bat. This was the band I was there to see, playing their first show in Boston. The internet metal scene is all abuzz about these guys, so I'll just keep it brief and say what you already know; they play a pretty neat mix of Black Metal and Shoegaze ("Blackgaze"? No, that just sounds racist), they just signed to Deathwish, and they all kind of look like they could be in a Smiths cover band, except for the drummer, who looks like your friend's metalhead little brother. Their four-song demo and their also four-song debut LP, "Roads to Judah," have been on pretty heavy rotation in Roberson house for the past couple months, and I'd been waiting with anticipation to see if their live set could match the intensity of those records.

They did not disappoint. Probably by virtue of being the headliners, they had the cleanest, best sounding mix of the night. The guitars were ethereal one moment and crushingly heavy the next, just as they should be. The bass was just audible enough to provide a solid anchor. The drums were wonderfully crisp - and man, that drummer, he may look young, but he's an absolute monster, all precise blastbeats and cymbal fills and crazy eyes. The vocals were a bit low at first, but they fixed that pretty fast, and the frontman had all the intensity required of these songs and then some. I can't recall the last time I saw a singer for which the mic stand was so clearly an extension of their body, shoving the microphone out into the audience, screaming into it wildly from a distance, hanging off of it for dear life in the long instrumental breaks. It was really something.

And the best part? They only played three songs. Three! Songs! Granted, their songs do tend to push up against or over the ten minute mark, but this abridged version of "Roads to Judah" was still probably the second-shortest set of the night, and it was all the more intense for it. That whole "leave me wanting more" thing I was griping about earlier? Deafheaven is a band that gets it, full stop. They came, they saw, they black metalled, they peaced the fuck out. It was wonderful. Would I go see them again?: Oh undoubtedly, but with a record as immense as "Roads to Judah," I knew that going in.

So, yeah, Allston metal night. All things considered, O'Briens really was a great place for this show. You don't get that kind of intensity in a bigger venue, and while I tend to stay out of Allston, O'Briens and Great Scott remain two of my favorite places to see shows.

In summation, metal bands: Soundcheck quicker, play shorter. Take pity on aging metalheads, because it'll fucking happen to you too.

And I still don't know what a Proselyte is.

Western Syndrome @ Myspace

The Proselyte @ Myspace
VYGR @ Bandcamp
deafheaven @ Bandcamp

-Michael James Roberson

(editor's note: upon further consideration, "shoemetal" sounds like ten times better than "blackgaze.")

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Week Two: Agent Orange - Bloodstains

Unlike last week's entry, Bloodstains by Agent Orange is a song I only vaguely remember first hearing.

It was likely pretty early in the initial years of my exposure to punk and hardcore; Like I said last week, I started with local, current, or just weird shit that I'd find at friends houses or in the 7" bin at Newbury Comics (Toxic Narcotic, Limp Wrist, pg.99, whatever). I then started delving into the more historical stuff, like Black Flag and Minor Threat, and later the more experimental offshoots of that scene like The Minutemen and Fugazi. I'd pretty much give any band a shot if they had a cool sounding name or a good album cover. I was really into that first Millions of Dead Cops album for a while.

I don't exactly remember the first time I heard "Bloodstains," but I seem to recall being so impressed with it that I bought the band's first album, Living in Darkness, the next time I found myself at the Bellingham Newbury Comics (a digression: I namedrop Newbury Comics a lot, because in those years when I didn't really go to shows or even leave my neighborhood a whole lot, that store and my small circle of friends were my only real resources for finding out about new music. I swear they're not paying me for this, and though I did end up working for them for a couple months in 2007, I have no special affection for the company). If I did have that record at some point though, I don't know where it went. Probably into the same black hole that swallowed my copy of You're Living All Over Me by Dinosaur Jr. and my rad Dead Kennedys t-shirt.

Where was I? Oh yeah, the song. I hadn't thought about it in years, but lately I've been listening to it near-obsessively as part of my morning routine. In particular, I've been rocking the original version off their first seven-inch EP. It's got that great echoey sound that I love on early punk rock records, like it wasn't recorded by Spot, but it might as well have been (unfortunately, I couldn't find a youtube video of this version, so instead the above clip is the re-recorded version from their first LP, which is still pretty good). As far as hardcore songs go, it's pretty much perfect; I dare say it's a Platonic ideal of the form. One minute and forty-seven seconds of crunchy guitars, 4/4 drums, and pure concentrated sneer.

There are a couple things that set it apart, though. What Agent Orange seem to be most known for is being that California hardcore band that was really into surf-rock. Which, if you couldn't tell by the winding guitar solo at a minute and twenty, you'd probably figure out by the time you got to the Dick Dale cover later on the album. It's pretty neat. The same way Bad Brains carved out their niche with a fusion of speed-punk and reggae, Agent Orange created a sound that is both quintessentially "hardcore" and entirely unique within that scene.

What I've really been grooving on, though, is the lyrics. First of all, "They can't make things worse for me, sometimes I'd rather die" is one of the most perfect opening lines to a punk rock song ever, right up there with "I'm about to have a nervous breakdown, my head really hurts" or "I am an antichrist, I am an anarchist." The chorus, though, is just straight up weird. And pretty great:

Bloodstains, speed kills
Fast cars, cheap thrills
Rich girls, bye-bye
I've lost my sense, I've lost control, I've lost my mind

Seriously, what? It's this strange melange of punk rock signifiers, like they cut up the lyrics sheets to a bunch of late '70s punk LPs and glued them back together. It is, if you'll allow me to be pretentious (like I need your permission), totally Modernist, the kind of thing James Joyce might've written if he were an antisocial teenager growing up in 1970s California.

I guess.

Anyway, according to their official website, Agent Orange were still together and playing shows as recently as 2005. As much as I love it when bands break up, I think that's totally rad. I would pay good money to see a bunch of 40- or 50-something dudes rocking out onstage to this song. It warms my heart to think about.

-Michael James Roberson