New Versus Old

Axe Will Fall
Epitaph Records

For me, Converge sits at the crux of why I love some music, and why some bands drives me up the fucking walls. They are loud and abrasive and technically superb. They cover every inch of sonic space possible in the sound waves available to the human ear. They are aggressive and pummeling and make you want to break shit. They also push the boundary between genius and unsustainable, sometimes not knowing when to pull you up from the water, giving you that breath of hope before submerging you once again into the hell they produce. Axe to Fall is nothing short of a metal masterpiece, but it doesn’t quite cross over, which is a shame. Having said that, this is a great fucking record.

To begin with, much like Russian Circles recent outing, Converge give nods to modern metal’s greatest band, Neurosis. But it’s not through waves of drumming, instead it’s through short bursts of beautiful riffs. The first four songs alone are Converge at the best they have ever been, and though the album sorta drags into Metal Noodling territory a bit, the intensity is kept up throughout. And speaking of Neurosis, Steve Von Till lends his excellent, weary, rusty voice to “Cruel Bloom,” a song that owes a nod to the great Pygmy Lush, a band guitarist Kurt Ballou has recorded and nurtured to great acclaim. The song gets help from Pygmy Lush’s Chris Taylor and sadly under utilizes Aimee Argote from Des_Ark. This is my only true complaint, because I hear it as duet between the two voices and the shit would be unstoppable.

Axe to Fall is a driving force of metal and post hardcore destruction. Converge shows their true colors as artists here, even if only in short bursts and flares, thundering a wall of noise at you. They may never really temper themselves, and you can’t really argue with that when they aggression has never sounded so good.
Sunny Day Real Estate
Diary (reissue)
Sub Pop

I need to clarify something out right here. I’m not a huge Sunny Day Real Estate fan. When I first heard this band back in the early nineties, this album specifically I found it annoying. And frankly after almost twenty years, it’s still not really doing as much for me. Though this band was instrumental in so many bands I dug that followed (Promise Ring and Braid especially) I think what they inspired was far more noteworthy then what Sunny Day Real Estate actually accomplished musically.

But I bought the reissue anyway. Why? Well it was a bit of an impulse buy, but it serves as a perfect comparison point to Axe to Fall which is the art of mastering. Despite Diary being remastered, it doesn’t sound updated at all. The initial sonic feel that Sunny Day Real Estate wanted to capture is preserved. This is how you re-master a record. It is not kowtowing to the current trend to boost all the levels of all the songs to indistinguishable wave patters. Sunny Day Real Estate were Pixies enthusiasts, much like label mates Nirvana, and utilized the loud.quiet.loud formula to great effect. Thankfully, it is preserved for a future generation of sad sack white boys to brood over.

So, Diary is not as bad as I recalled it. Frankly it’s no worse then it’s most blatant rip offs that soon followed throughout the nineties. But boy is the sound sourly dated. It’s was a reflection and reaction to so much that was going on in music at the time and so much that proceeded it, but the style didn’t really last and it doesn’t quite hold up. Still, I appreciate the effort. There was no other band like this (save for their predecessors Shudder to Think, which the liner notes give a nod to for good, deserved, measure) when Sunny Day Real Estate landed. And fuck if Jeremy Engick

isn’t a great singer, even strained and road worn, his voice resonates like very few before him.

I wasn’t really looking to relive the 90’s that much when I brushed pass this record. But Diary is a decent place holder to have in my collection, a reflection on what was, what became of it, and where things went to.

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Tons and Tons of New Music

Man there is so much music I want to write about. This is gonna be a very different post. Right now I am listening to Spoonboy. He was in Europe over the last 7 weeks. He came home and played a show this week. I went to it. He has a demo of new songs. I love it. There’s a lot of Lou Reed type lyricism. Especially on “Not Coming Home”. Find Spoonboy. He’ll hook you up.

A few weeks ago I got Music for the Motion Picture Where the Wild Things Are credited to Karen O and the Kids. The songs on here are great. It plays pretty well as an album. It’s very playful and bright. A lot more uplifting then the movie really. But I think it fit. “Capsize” was a rad song not in the film. Highly recommend this jam.

Suicide Squeeze Records released Russian Circles new album. Holy mother of our floored, Geneva is fucking amazing. Drummer Dave Turncrantz is on some Neurosis type shit. Fuzzy bass from Brian Cook that rattles my car windows. Hints of Explosions in the Sky, but it’s more of a nod then an influence. I don’t like the sequence, I feel like that needs to be played with, but that’s a lot easier to figure out in the digital age.

Another eMusic discovery was We Were Promised Jet Packs. Label mates to The Twilight Sad, they are a bit more rambunctious. The album falters at parts, but over all it’s a fairly strong debut.

Delay would probably be bigger than Green Day if there was any justice in this world. But there isn’t. There is however a new Delay album out on Plan-It-X called Plain Language. A notch up on the recording tip, probably one of the best sounding PIX albums ever released. You will bounce off the walls.

Actor Ryan Gosling has this musical project called Dead Man’s Bones. It’s decent. It’s not quite as stunning as I had hoped for. It could use a little more Waits influence I think. A better recording, it just feels a bit subdued. Some what similar to The Gothic Archies record “The Tragic Treasury: Songs from A Series of Unfortunate Events”. That album was awesome. This one could use another pass.

Also bought the new Strike Anywhere album out on Bridge Nine called Iron Front. It sounds like a Strike Anywhere album. The snare drum is not nearly as annoying as on all their other albums which makes it their most enjoyable record. Way better than Dead FM which I can’t even listen to because the drum mix is so fucked up. Flight of the Conchords offer up their likely swan song with I Told You I Was Freaky. Some of the songs I don’t even remember from Season Two, but “Sugar lumps,” “Too Many Dicks On the Dance Floor” and “You Don’t Have to Be a Prostitute” are instant classics.

Finally, another Plan-It-X album. Stressface put out an album called “Oi…You’re Welcome” a few years ago. It’s got some Avail influence to it. The dudes run No Idea Records which is where you should buy most of your music if you can. This record rips it. It has a song about a dude that looks like Captain Lou Albano, rest his soul.

Man, that’s a lot of music. I think I covered most everything since last time. What a relief.

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More Album Reviews

The XX – xx
Rough Trade

This week we are going to explore my musical problems. I am a member of eMusic, an online digital web music browser. A few weeks ago they caught me with an offer to reactivate my account (again!) with 50 free downloads or some such offer. Naturally it wasn’t a hard decision to make. For $11.99 I get my 30 downloads, then I get 50 more free. That’s a lot of music for a really low price. During my shopping experience they kept shoving this record by some band called The XX in my face. So I caved and previewed the album. That was all I needed.

The XX make me incredibly self loathing. Why you ask dear reader? Because they are four twenty year old kids from South West London who have made one of the most stunning debut albums for a new band in many many years. I have been addicted to this music since I purchased it. So much so that during a recent record shopping excursion I had to buy it on Vinyl when I saw it. I love vinyl, it sounds AMAZING. but my life does not allow for a lot of vinyl listening opportunities. So that shows you my dedication to this fiendish habit of mine.

This album is a delicate journey into pop minimalism. What is so striking about The XX (the band) and The xx (the album) is that the band looks like a bunch of hipsters from several divergent musical genres and yet some how mesh together in this amalgamation of experimental music. And the use of the word experimental is not to suggest some type of deconstruction of form or the distortion of sound into collage, but a true experiment into how music can be made. The songs of The xx are hollow and haunting. And though they do not posses any huge blasts of guitar and drums, or any kind of symphonic hits or trashy beats, it’s no less engaging music. It’s musical fucking heroin.

The basic set up for the band includes two guitar players, a bass player, a kid who has a drum machine, and shared vocals. One of the guitarists spends a lot of time on the keyboards too. But these instruments are used sparingly. Through out the album, not one song has even one instrument playing through the entire song. Even during their most dense track “Crystallized” they manage to subtract at times. But the open space isn’t so much empty as it is stark. The focus any minute on a vocal melody, a thudding bass line, or a whispered longing lyric in intense. You can’t look away, even if you want to.

Since this record hit my ears, I’ve had a very hard time listening to a lot of guitar bands. Since The XX draw from so many different sources it seems, they make their predecessors look arcane. There is a less is more approach going on here, but not in your typical three chord punk rock song or folky acoustic guitar music. There is a bare exposure laid out across their entire album. The xx is a chilling debut. A classic English band straight out of the gate. If they can keep it up they will sit along side the likes of Blur, My Bloody Valentine and Joy Division. That’s no small feat for music that is so barren.

The Twilight Sad – Forget the Night Ahead
Fat Cat Records

What is it about Scottish bands that makes them so engaging? For me I think it is the drunken haze that they exist through. I can’t really say that’s a good stereotype or rule in which to hold any of them up to. It’s completely unfair. Just because it made the great Glasgow rockers Arab Strap the intense juggernaut they were, doesn’t mean that Mogwai or The Twilight Sad are a bunch of drunken buffoons putting on their best Jim Morrison impersonations. In fact the sonic similarities between Mogwai and their suburban friends in The Twilight Sad make you wonder what the hell is going on up in Glasgow because this shit is amazing.

What The Twilight Sad does to great effect is sound unabashedly mournful. James Graham is a front man on arena rock type levels. There is nothing over powering about his voice, he uses it to great effect. The building, budding rise of “The Room” is a fine moment. A song rooted on the growing intensity of the drummers pounding appendages, Graham sings the song upward from a quiet bedroom demo to a musically crushing rock fest.

This is found music for me. I relate to it’s similarities with Mogwai and Mogwai friends Envy. In fact I would put this band somewhere between the two. Though surely they aren’t as over powering as their Japanese counterparts, they certainly understand the effect of and how to apply electricity to music. It’s powerful without just being overpowering in volume. This is such a key to rock music. Steady as it comes, it’s nearly unhinged in places, and gets mad with piercing guitar sounds, but it’s always in the right places.

Volcano Choir – Unmap

Sometimes the music I like surprises me and that was the case when I perused the Volcano Choir’s debut album Unmap. The first fiddly notes on the guitar of “Husks and Shells” reminded me of the earliest works of Tim Kinsella of Joan of Arc. When the off kilter ohh’s and ahh’s come in, I was totally taken back to listening to How Memory Works while sitting on the shore of the pond circa George Mason University 1998. Shit was weird and wild. For me there is no doubt that music was pulsing through the arteries of this project. But I was pretty impressed. Tim Kinsella hasn’t done Time Kinsella as good as Volcano Choir.

I was shocked when I found out this was made up of one of the dudes from Bon Iver. I couldn’t get into that band at all, and yet this collaboration with Collection of Colonies of Bees is something special and spectacular. In fact it is interesting to listen to something so influenced by music that proceeded it by ten years. Unmap totally captures a moment in time. It’s quirky, layered and loose music, sometimes featuring not that much and sometimes featuring a chorus of improvised sounds. Justin Vernon’s almost unintelligible but beautiful falsetto vocals seem so well trained for this music. It’s a rare occasion when you get that type of vocal timbre to really work, but Vernon does it well.

Music is a funny thing. In the middle of rocking out with Raekwon’s thudding hip hop or bouncing around to Shang-A-Lang’s garage created pop punk, I still find time to travel through experimental, art rock. I have problems, deep rooted problems. I probably need a three month detox program. But I doubt even sobriety could keep me away for long.

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