Monday, 29 December 2008

2008: Verse - Aggression

2008 was a sad year for the melodic hardcore scene in that its brightest beacon, Modern Life Is War, announced their split. Despite this piece of news, one band really managed to mark themselves out this year as the most musically and lyrically impressive contemporary band in the genre, as well as one of the hardest-touring: Verse.

Aggression is a logical and mature progression from Verse's previous two outings, both filled with raging melodic hardcore. To my ears, Sean Murphy's brilliant, wordy delivery stands out from that of other hardcore frontmen, perhaps due to the fact that his talk-shouting style has echoes of Zach de la Rocha and Cedric Bixler's angrier moments on At the Drive-In's Relationship of Command. Lyrically, he has a tendency to direct his anger outward in political lyrics, the theme of resisting the hand of oppression and thinking independently being a recurring theme not only in the brilliant opener 'The New Fury' but throughout the whole record. At times it can get a little preachy (have a look at the words to 'Old Guards, New Methods' - "What about the overcrowded projects where desperation calls? What about the lack of education and the lack of love? But most of all: what about the innocent in rooms with bars and three walls?") - something that is particularly noticeable at their shows where Murphy has the tendency to rant slightly, and they're the only band I've known to include a reading list in the insert of their album's packaging - but the overall quality of the lyrics and music means that unless you are easily irritated by politically concerned music, it doesn't really matter.

Especially when you've got a centrepiece like 'Story of a Free Man' on your album. While the rest of the album is consistently great, this three-part song sees Murphy take on the role of storyteller and it really makes the album. He narrates the tale of a boy whose father went off to fight in a war, only to come back, as Murphy harrowingly puts it, "in a body bag". The boy receives no solace and comfort from his family, and, as an attempt to escape from his reality, slips into addiction. Finding himself homeless and at rock bottom, he eventually decides to sober up and start afresh, eyes now wide open to the cruel nature of the world that put him in that position in the first place. Thanks to Murphy's brilliant lyricism and delivery and an excellent instrumental performance, the song is an epic that could easily stand next to even the finest jewels in the aforementioned Modern Life Is War's crown as one of the best moments in hardcore to date.

Having made a huge impression on hardcore fans everywhere, Verse have proven with Aggression that they are something very special. Be sure not to overlook them - listen to the album, read the lyrics, go to a show, and discover one of the most important hardcore bands in today's scene.

No more control. No more rules. They try to make you and me live life by their design: No free thought. No free speech. No peace of mind. They make a move to confine. But they’ll never silence me as long as I can breathe.
Verse; The New Fury

Verse - Aggression

2008: Gregor Samsa - Rest

To put this record in context, Gregor Samsa started out as a band that took a heavy influence from moody, snail-paced indie-rockers Low and combined it with a love for orchestral post-rock in the vein of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. The product was something quite simple in its build-build-climax approach, even possibly quite generic, but nevertheless something startlingly emotional and affecting. In fact, their previous full-length 55:12 was quite a special record for me in that it soundtracked a few months when I was in a very vulnerable place emotionally, and so songs like 'Makeshift Shelters' and 'Lessening' still hold great significance for me in the associations they bring up when i hear them.

It came as a pleasant surprise to me earlier on this year when I read a newspost saying that Toby Driver and Mia Matsumiya of Kayo Dot, among other musicians that I admire, would be making appearances on Gregor Samsa's new outing, Rest. And, from the moment that I heard the opening track 'The Adolescent', it was evident to me that here was a new, more mature and more restrained version of the band. Gone are the sweeping string crescendos and obvious post-rock buildups, replaced by a careful, controlled sense of composition that sounds not far off from the tendencies of chamber classical music. The instrumentation is carefully chosen: 'The Adolescent' opens with a glockenspiel intro, soon accompanied by a chiming piano and then Toby Driver's delicate woodwind arrangements. Keyboards then enter, and the band's gorgeous vocal harmonies provide the icing on the cake and turn it into something really quite beautiful. As is evident here and throughout the rest of the album, the band are still using the crescendo as one of their main tools, but this time around it's a lot more subtle and clever, using minimalist repetition and subtle progression to great effect instead of the bigger post-rock guns that used to be in their arsenal. Where guitars used to be their weapon of choice, pianos now provide the anchor for most of the songs on Rest, a decision that is quite refreshing in a genre that has somewhat exhausted the possibilities of what you can do with a guitar and a delay pedal. This minimalistic tendency is particularly evident on centrepiece 'Jeroen Van Aken'. The first half is, perhaps, the section on Rest the most reminiscent of previous releases by Gregor Samsa - slow, moody, and utterly heartwrenching balladry. This leads onto an even more hushed but just as devastating second half that works through the repetition and slight change of the same line, culminating on the line "All things come and go/but we won't, no we won't, break". It's not immediately obvious stuff, but with close listening, it's so affecting.

My personal favourite on the album is the beautiful but bleak 'Pseudonyms'. Probably the moodiest piece on the album, it is a reflection on, among other things, futility and loneliness. The song progresses slowly but towards the end climaxes in a lovely and understated crescendo where gorgeous clarinet lines are played over shimmering pianos. Ambience is also used elsewhere in the album - as a segue between songs, or, in the case of 'Company', a full blown excursion into Stars of The Lid-esque guitar ambience territory. Rest is, indeed, a very varied album instrumentally and benefits hugely from it. But, above that, its careful restraint means that not everything is immediately apparent, something that affects the replay value as the album really must be listened quite closely to in order for its real beauty to show itself. For those who are fans of post-rock, classical music, moody indie-rock or just about anything you could describe with the word 'lovely', Rest is highly recommended from me as one of the most beautiful and heartmelting albums of 2008.

Murderous art has its grips on me - can't wrap myself around internally. I can't seem to put my name on anything. Our innocence yields to American dreams. Our innocence yields to pathetic conceit. Our innocence yields when our pocket's empty. The softest hearts break when the deed is done. I'll patiently wait for new days to come, then I'll wake and rise to write another song. Our innocence yields when we do it alone. The exodus begins now. I'll travel 'round and find you once more. You're reaching out less than before, but I know you're there.
-Gregor Samsa; Pseudonyms

Gregor Samsa - Rest

By the way - if any of you do enjoy what I post here, don't be afraid to leave a comment and say so! It's nice to know when your work is being read and when other people share your enthusiasm :)

2008: Fennesz - Black Sea

This should really be far higher up on the list but I've been enjoying it so much recently that I decided it was best to strike while the iron's hot. For those not in the know, Christian Fennesz is an Austrian electronica artist that masterfully meshes glitch, noise and ambience to create collages of sound that are as wonderful as they are difficult to pigeonhole. His highly lauded 2001 effort Endless Summer incorporated a subdued but evident pop sensibility into his work, the album's playful, glitchy and initially abrasive exterior eventually giving way to an underlying tranquility with repeated listens. Venice moved towards slightly more peaceful waters but was still very much the product of a man enamoured, in a slightly abstract sense, with pop music: this was most notable on 'Transit', where David Sylvian's guest vocals turned what would otherwise be a wash of Fennesz noise into a beautifully melancholy ballad.

Black Sea, however, sees the maestro completing his swing towards abstraction: taking a much more compositional approach, the new album, as the press release puts it, goes for the "slow reveal" method over Endless Summer and Venice's more song-based structures. This is, in all sorts of ways, a brilliant move: moving away from the repetition of previous song structures allows for a much more vast and expansive sound. One only needs to listen to the ten-minute title track for affirmation of this. Fennesz's music has always had quite a visual element to it, painting beautiful pictures in your head as you listen, and on Black Sea this is more evident than ever: the introductory swell of noise morphs into something sweeping and grandiose, giving the impression of a vast expanse of violent, crashing sea. The clicks and whirrs and abrasive sheets of static soon fade quite abruptly as we, the listeners, are pulled under the surface of the waves, down into the echoey depths of Fennesz's sonic sea, the crashing of the waves beating down in the distance. And suddenly all is peaceful: gentle sweeps of guitar ambience grace our ears and purposefully picked-out notes on an acoustic guitar reverberate wonderfully, providing a reassuring organic quality that would have otherwise been lost in all the sheets of fuzz.

That's one particularly impressive thing about Black Sea as an album: for a piece of experimental electronic music it comes across as surprisingly organic and human; bottomless in its depth and full of sweeping emotion. This may be due to Fennesz's immense attention to detail and recording technique: during the recording of the album, he reports that he experimented greatly with the quality of different rooms and microphones. As a result, each sound resonates in just the right way, creating whole open spaces with layers of echoing noise and distant, fragmented melody. Speaking of melody, that's another thing about Black Sea: where with previous releases Fennesz would have relatively obvious tunes anchoring his songs, this latest release is a lot more abstract for most of its duration, instead placing a lot more emphasis on texture and atmosphere, allowing the songs to build and envelop the listener. This is not, by any means, background music: Black Sea is an album to listen to on headphones and lose yourself completely in. There is so much going on at any given moment - distant rumblings, soft sheets of noise, washes of guitar, echoing strings, even prepared pianos - that the album is a totally engaging listen throughout. There are entire worlds within these sounds, ready to be explored.

My favourite thing about Fennesz is the sheer capacity for emotion and reflection within his sculptures of sound, and Black Sea is in this respect particularly powerful. The best pieces of music have the ability to say things that words cannot adequately express. 'Glide' does this perfectly: building ever so gently, it's easy to let your thoughts wander throughout its duration, but there's a moment halfway through where it subtly but powerfully hits home - and at that point it transports me completely, dredging up all sorts of memories floating around in my mind, reminding me of things, people and places that i miss, or that i've lost and that i wish i could have back. 'Vacuum' has a similarly intoxicating sense of melancholy throughout that lends itself very well to introspection and reflection.

While it's not the kind of thing that I'd like to come back to too often because of its sheer emotional weight, and while this is a purely subjective thing that others may not find here, there is a certain beauty in discovering pieces of music like this that can have such a strong emotional effect. And for all its emotional weight, its all-encompassing atmosphere and its beautiful complexity, Black Sea is one of the most fascinating and rewarding pieces of music released this year. If you have the patience to lie down with some headphones and lose yourself in its sound for a while, you will, with any luck, find the payoff immensely gratifying.

Fennesz - Black Sea

Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion (2009)

You're going to be sick of this one in a few months' time. Trust me. Predictably, the backlash has already started and Pitchfork haven't even posted their review yet. One thing's for sure, though: the new Animal Collective is a corker. In fact, after several listens, it's my favourite album of theirs yet. Their last effort, 2007's Strawberry Jam, was a good album (marked particularly by the raucous single Peacebone) but suffered from a slight lack of cohesion and an irritatingly tinny production job. Merriweather Post Pavilion corrects those errors: the album sports a much warmer, richer sound, keeping the electronic elements that were introduced on Strawberry Jam but also featuring rich vocal harmonies and a greater pop sensibility than ever before, suggesting that the band have also taken cues from Panda Bear's own 2007 solo effort, Person Pitch. It's also Animal Collective's most accessible and danceable record to date: in fact, if there's any justice in the world, the absurdly infectious 'My Girls' (which features an absolutely enormous beat that could rub shoulders with even Lil' Wayne's biggest hits) will become a dancefloor-filler in indie clubs in the coming months. 'Summertime Clothes' is also a hit waiting to happen: matching a Beatles-esque vibe to a squelchy synth-laden stomp, it's ironic that the song will be hitting our stereos in the middle of the winter because it would make the perfect summertime pop song. And, of course, I challenge you not to be compelled to dance around your room like a madman the first time album closer 'Brothersport' works its way into your ears: perhaps the most jubilant moment so far in the discography of a band who are no strangers to smiles and sunshine, its gloriously rhythmic call-and-response hooks give way to an instrumental mid-section buildup that is, rather surprisingly, very reminiscent of techno or house, before resuming the hooks and handclaps right up until the album finishes.

There couldn't be a more perfect way to start the record than with 'In The Flowers': starting with a floating cloud of psychedelic noise over which Avey Tare sings a dreamy melody, following the line "If I could just leave my body for a night..." the heavens open and gigantic rays of sunshine synths and thundering percussion tumble down from the sky. It's like falling asleep and finding oneself in a surreal but beautiful dream. The remainder of the 55 minutes is one giant trip: Merriweather Post Pavilion is a hefty dose of celebratory psychedelia, from the gorgeous free-form midsection of 'Daily Routine' to the candyfloss synth arpeggios of 'Taste' and the bizarre didgeridoo sample in 'Lion in a Coma'. There is a prevalent Beach Boys vibe too, particularly evident in the beautifully sugary lovesong 'Bluish' or its followup track 'Guys Eyes'. 'No More Runnin'' provides a nice respite from the madness, its nocturnal balladry allowing you to catch your breath before 'Brothersport' comes to finish the record in style. A wonderfully cohesive effort that retains all of the experimentation that we've come to love from Animal Collective while providing their catchiest songs yet, this album will inevitably get the hype-avalanche treatment in the coming months. Get in early before everyone from your dad to your grandma is jabbering about it.

In keeping with Domino Records' wishes, I've removed the link that was here before. Sorry!

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

And Just Like That The Year Is Gone: 2008 / Ohana - Dead Beat

As much as I enjoy writing end-of-year lists and reading others', the end-of-year list is still, I would say, an awkward concept. For one, it seems pointless putting albums in exact numerical order - for all the importance I try to place on using your critical faculty, my mind doesn't quite work that way, and an action like deciding between my favourite albums of all time feels like choosing between my own children - so I'm deciding to do things a little bit differently here. The reason I set up this blog was to present people with good quality music where I assume the case is that they might not have heard of the band or album in question, and I'm sticking to that goal here. In an effort to keep things interesting, I'm largely omitting from my list albums that have already been hyped to death or that people will have already either heard or made their mind up on even before listening. That means sorry Bon Iver, Portishead, Fucked Up, Deerhunter and The Mars Volta, you've already had your fair share of coverage. I'm not placing things in strict numerical order either: the general trend will be that I'll work my way up and post my absolute favourites last, but the idea is mainly just to present a few records that I think have been particular musical highlights this year. And without further ado, I present you with the first record on this rundown:

Ohana - Dead Beat

As a very recent discovery this feels fitting to start with, although with more time and more spins it could end up a lot higher on the list. Ohana are/were a tight-as-hell post-hardcore outfit from Australia that, in true Refused fashion, just broke up straight after releasing a kickass record. Comparisons could be drawn to Off Minor, Unwound or Fugazi musically, particularly in the way the band write their music around tightly constructed grooves where all the instruments interlock perfectly. They make the most out of having two guitarists by building fascinating textures with their instruments: the tone of each instrument is clear and razor-sharp and the arrangements, while consistently complex, are never too dense, the band constantly allowing for clarity in their sound. An excellent example of this emphasis on texture can be found, for example, in the last minute of centrepiece 'The Birth of the Clinic' where the exclusive use of harmonics alternating between the guitars makes for something that sounds pretty unreal and really impressive. There are other great points where, perhaps, one guitar will be playing razor-sharp Drive Like Jehu-esque dissonant chords while the other will be playing minimalistic reverb-drenched riffs over the top, and the effect of the two working together is brilliant. It's also refreshing to see a band that draws as much attention to the bass and drums as their guitar players: Dead Beat sports some of my favourite basslines this side of Off Minor and some great, detailed drum playing. Ohana also show a tendency to drift towards minimalism and repetition in their work: however, it's always used as a way of subtly but powerfully keeping the music progressing forward and it makes for some of the album's most interesting moments. The best example of this is opener 'One On Four', which, though repeating some riffs for most of the song, constantly shifts and works towards a subtle climax. For a more obvious build towards an emotional climax, look no further than 'The Birth of the Clinic', which gains tension as it goes along, only for it to be released in a sparse yet cathartic vocal-and-drums section at the end. It's a real highlight, although you'd be hard pressed to find a moment on Dead Beat which is less than enjoyable, as it really is one fantastic moment after another. The record is never boring, wisely clocking out at 26 minutes, leaving you reaching for the repeat button. The vocal performance is also of note: lyrically, the album is intelligent and emotionally loaded, while the angry shouts and yelps of the singer are, once in a while, replaced by a bizarrely effective use of the voice as a melodic, wordless instrument, singing melodies that interweave with the guitar lines. Another great thing about the vocalist, of course, is that he knows when to shut up and let the instruments do the talking, a crucial awareness of space that some bands in the genre lack. Perhaps it's time that I shut up and let the music do the talking too: what you really need to know is that Dead Beat is a stunningly tight, intelligent and enjoyable record that is one of the finest examples of post-hardcore in recent times.

Ohana - Dead Beat

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Versoma - Life During Wartime

One look at the curriculum vitae of Versoma's members (the group included past and present members of Hot Cross, Transistor Transistor, Anodyne, LickGoldenSky, Orchid, Bucket Full of Teeth, Saetia and Wolves) and you'd be forgiven for immediately forming the preconception that this is some sort of screamo supergroup. Well, you're not entirely wrong, but this is not the kind of well-trodden emoviolence you might expect - Versoma's glorious racket is as informed by 90s indie-rock as it is grounded in the passionate catharsis of emo. The ghosts of My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth and Fugazi all lurk within these six tracks, something that is immediately obvious as the noisy tremolo guitars of opener 'Gods and Queens' hit your speakers. Most songs on this 18-minute EP blend the dark aggression and heart-on-sleeve nature of emo and hardcore with the melodic sensibilities and guitar styles of the aformentioned masters of indie and shoegaze, creating something unique and fascinating as bludgeoning riffs meet desperate vocals and shoegazing guitar wizardry. 'November 2004' is an obvious highlight: opening with a major-key plod reminiscent of Pelican, the song is propelled by its urgent drumming and superb vocal performance towards an emotional climax before dissolving in a wash of MBV-esque guitars. The following track '4.' serves mainly as a segue but is an interesting departure in its own right, sticking to more ambient sensibilities as sheets of noise and clean guitars are layered up with yearning yelps. The song this gives way to, 'Black Train', is the most obvious indication of the sound of members' previous projects, mostly sticking to dark hardcore riffage layered with subtle noise experimentation. The intro of closer 'Come In Alone' could almost be that of a My Bloody Valentine song (I wonder what brought that band to mind - maybe the impossibly blatant reference in the song title?) but the song morphs into a perfect crossover between hardcore punk and 1990s indie-rock that really sums up what Versoma is about.

I need to order this from the Robotic Empire webstore sharpish because, while not able to find the lyrics anywhere, I bet that if they're anywhere near as good as the music on this EP, this record is a keeper. It's just such a shame that this, along with the demos of this release that can be downloaded from Robotic Empire's rarities blog, represents the only material that Versoma ever recorded before their premature split. However, ex-members are currently making great music in projects such as Tombs and Gods and Queens, both of which follow similar ideas, so be sure to check those out if you enjoy Life During Wartime.

Versoma - Life During Wartime

Monday, 8 December 2008

The Cold Return

As another hectic semester draws to an end I find myself with a little more time on my hands than usual. Or, rather, I'm decidedly ignoring the fact that i have two essays due and four exams to take after the Christmas holidays. I'll be taking this opportunity to get back to updating this blog hopefully a little more frequently, with plenty of music for you to feast your ears on, as well as providing the obligatory rundown of my favourite records from 2008. Watch this space.

The record I've been listening to the by far the most recently is Gospel's The Moon is a Dead World. Produced by Kurt "Midas Touch" Ballou of Converge, the record is, sadly, the only studio output the band have ever released. The band sound like what you would expect City of Caterpillar, perhaps, to sound like if they were closet Yes fans. In other words, Gospel play intense hardcore with massive prog leanings - insane drumming, psychedelic riffage, keyboard solos and nine-minute epics. This might sound absurd on paper, but The Moon is a Dead World is one of the most visceral, compelling and straight up awesome records ever to grace my ears. Its dense and dark racket will overwhelm on the first couple of listens, but every subsequent listen will reveal new nuances and amaze even more than the last time. Your ears will start to isolate awesome moments: be it the blinding riffage in 'Yr Electric Surge is Sweet', the superb melodic and dynamic changes of the epic 'A Golden Dawn', the stuttering rhythmic breakdown in 'And Redemption Fills The Emptiest of Hearts', the build and climax of 'What Means of Witchery' or the furious keyboards of 'As Far As You Can Throw Me'. Before long, you'll not only realise how tight and damn-near perfect this album is - you'll find that you're addicted to its propulsive dynamics and practically flawless instrumentation. In the realm of emo, The Moon Is a Dead World has little or no match in terms of how inventive and cohesive it is - fans of Circle Takes The Square and their ilk should probably download this. Right now.

I've also been listening to quite a lot of Harvey Milk. One of the more underrated bands in the field of sludge, it's suprising that, given their eccentric approach to the genre, more fans of bands such as Kayo Dot or Boris haven't picked up on them - or, rather, their early releases, which are particularly spectacular. They have admittedly received a bit of a buzz recently due to their most recent release Life... The Best Game in Town, touted by the likes of Pitchfork as a return to form. As entertaining as that album is, it seems to lack the extremity and astounding sense of experimentation that one finds in the band's early work, and thus comes off as comparatively lacklustre. My Love is Higher Than Your Assessment of What My Love Could Be, the band's debut, is a perfect place to start with Harvey Milk. The opening track 'A Small Turn of Human Kindness' throws you into experimental territory straight away: as an ominous cymbal counts the song in, one expects to be bombarded with sludge filth straight away. But Harvey Milk don't work that way: they choose, instead, to mess with their listeners' heads - playing around with keyboard noodling for a bit before reverting to cymbal counts, and then messing about a little more with some creepy strings. and then about three and a half minutes in, the real onslaught starts: one of the most vile, evil riffs you're ever likely to hear, backed by thunderous drums and horrible bass, rears its ungodly head. The band uses extended periods of (near-)silence, carefully controlled tempos and unconventional instrumentation (including the odd folk ballad) to contribute to the general disorienting effect of the album, along with the employment of a singer who could just as easily be a pissed-off walrus as be a human being. All of this leaves you wondering what you've just been hit by, but knowing one thing for sure: you've just heard one of the best experimental sludge albums you're ever likely to hear.

The follow-up to My Love..., the ironically titled Courtesy and Good Will Toward Men, dives into an even more serious - and sometimes surprisingly emotional - side of Harvey Milk's sound, while still retaining the experimental edge of their debut that makes the band so special and rewarding. One might argue that Courtesy is a bit more cohesive as an album than its predecessor, as it retains a constant feeling of utter gloom and misery throughout, while the predecessor tends to inject the band's bizarre sense of humour into tracks that otherwise might be more depressing, as well as having a few more particularly upbeat tracks among its numbers. The negativity of Courtesy and Good Will Toward Men is not necessarily to its detriment, but it certainly means that the album tends to lend itself a lot more towards moods where the listener is feeling a lot more, say, despondent. It has some disarmingly poignant moments: particularly the emotional climax of the album, a straightforward acoustic cover of Leonard Cohen's 'One of Us Cannot Be Wrong', a song that lends itself rather well to the singer's bizarre voice and is a surprisingly effecting respite in what is mostly a crushingly heavy sludge album. On an album full of highlights, one song to watch out for is the marvellously tense and evil opener 'Pinocchio's Example' which features - get this - a hoover. Yep, seriously. Also listen out for the interestingly structured and at times downright vile 'Sunshine (No Sun) Into the Sun', a great centrepiece - it starts with thirty seconds of a misleadingly charming ballad before propelling you straight into a black hole of downtuned bass and absurd guitar noise that lasts for the rest of the song. Nice. Courtesy and Good Will Toward Men may not be the most chirpy or upbeat of albums but it is certainly a powerful listen, and is one of the best sludge albums I've heard in a long time.

I'm also throwing in the new Glassjaw song as a bonus because, well, it fucking shreds.

Gospel - The Moon is a Dead World
Harvey Milk - My Love Is Higher Than Your Assessment Of What My Love Could Be
Harvey Milk - Courtesy and Good Will Toward Men
Glassjaw - You Think You're John (Fucking) Lennon

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Final Fight & Life Long Tragedy - Split 7"

The 7-inch is a tricky format to make a really good record with. Due to its brevity, it often feels more like a showcase of the artist's material than a well-rounded record. But as far as the format goes, Final Fight and Life Long Tragedy's split on Deathwish records is one of the best "showcases" ever put to tape. Each side shows the pinnacle of each band's recorded output to date.

The first side by Final Fight kicks off with T.S., a solid but comparitively unimpressive cut that feels like a little bit of a false start, but all is forgiven when Rage kicks in. An anthem by any standards, it is undisputably the finest song in Final Fight's discography and one of the most perfect examples of melodic hardcore ever written. The song is a soaring and impassioned tribute to "all the people swallowed whole and ignored/tagged 'scary' by precious daddy's girls/left in fields to crack in the sun" and an angry attack on the mindless drunken culture of "disconnect and privelige" that is so easy to lose yourself in. As a song it holds a lot of meaning for me as it soundtracked a few months when it more or less exactly summed up my feelings about what was happening around me and, in a way, that sense of connection was comforting.

The Life Long Tragedy side shows no let-up in quality, demonstrating a masterful prowess both lyrically and musically. The two songs here easily rival anything that Modern Life Is War has done in terms of passion and quality and are painfully relatable for anyone who has ever experienced disappointment, depression or disillusionment. The lyrics in 'Sweet Innocence' ("And true love was just a marketed ploy/So guys could hit their lines and girls could grab their boys/Sweet innocence with loser's luck/I know you think you're giving love but you're just getting fucked") are incredibly bitter but ring so true that they hit you like a freight train. Despite the undisputably pessimistic outlook, some rays of light still show through, especially the emphasis on how important friends are amidst all the doom and gloom. These songs have helped me through a lot and I hope that perhaps through this they might at some point hold a similar meaning for others, too.

Shivering with you, we shoot our breath into the cold
We see the shine from a town that sucked the life straight from the desperate souls
And out in the distance are silhouettes from the headlights
That brighten up our faces and the tears inside our tired eyes
And I finally realized that no matter where we go
We'll never truly find ourselves if we only ever look alone
We drank too much and here's to us
'Cause we succeeded in forgetting that we were still alive
And I lost myself along the way, still got ambitions
Because hope is the one thing that keeps me going in the worst of times
I know I never claimed to have a heart of gold
I haven't been myself lately and I felt so strong a year ago
Silent cries for help echo through late nights and empty streets
And I'd suffer outloud but no one would care enough to be listening
Proving to our heads that our hearts have reasons to still beat
Is sometimes harder than it seems, so beat some life back into me
But on nights like this say "fuck the world" and pass the drink
We'll only be alive one time 'til we rot in hell for eternity
And when I'm burning I don't want to fucking regret anything
So if life's a joke then show your teeth and raise your glass and sin with me

-Life Long Tragedy; Soul Search Party

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Ampere - All Our Tomorrows End Today & Split w/Sinaloa

"Young hearts don't always beat to standard verse & chorus", and that is certainly the case with Ampere themselves. Featuring alumni of the much-celebrated Orchid, they are one of the very finest bands currently active in the emotional hardcore scene, outstripping even their previous bands in terms of technicality, intelligence and impact. Those familiar with Orchid will be able to expect a logical progression in sound and extremity: the almost grindcore-like intensity and short song lengths leave no room for breath, the chaotic but intricate guitar lines grab you by the throat and the singer packs in as much lyrical wisdom into one song as he possibly can.

The band's most solid release to date is the full-length (if you can call it that, featuring 11 songs and lasting 10 minutes) All Our Tomorrows End Today. Opener 'Remain Unadapted' is the ultimate statement of intent at only 24 seconds, and the subsequent two songs, while increasing in length, still last under 45 seconds each. It is only at the fourth track that the real standout of the album is dropped: 'Woodlawn', the album's longest track at (gasp) nearly two minutes, is a powerful song about the loss of a close friend or relative that still haunts the singer. The culmination of the song, to me, is the part that is, interestingly, not written in the lyrics, where the singer screams "we have lost you" desperately, over and over again. The rest of the album from there onwards is, with the exception of the interlude 'The Old World is Behind Us', a barrage of more short, to-the-point outbursts, culminating with 'In Memoriam', a homage to the french situationists of the 1960s. My favourite thing about Ampere, as with many of my favourite hardcore bands, is the lyrics. They are full of a kind of confrontational, youthful spirit that seldom found in many current bands. Some may call them preachy or pretentious, but the thing that I like about Ampere's persistent message is that it essentially boils down to the idea that you should choose your own path in life without using fabricated and impractical ideologies as a crutch. It's an attitude that smacks of being fiercely DIY and punk, and this seems fitting given the likewise extreme musical approach Ampere take. The greatest virtue that they possess is the tendency to not waste any time in expressing an emotion or idea: there is not one note or lyric on the album that is superfluous, and this fact makes All Our Tomorrows a brisk but overwhelmingly affecting listening experience.

"everything we own, we have stolen. we've no regrets. obscurity and clarity collide. we've swallowed down these words for too long. all that is said can be disproved, and all that's not can be upheld. don't be content with being a spectator. speak up and choose a point you've made and expand it. choose a point you've made and destroy it. or critique the critiques. destroy the ironclad."
-Ampere; The Jailors Speak of Freedom

The band's more recent split with Sinaloa is another highlight in their career. It features marginally longer tracks, with four of seven lasting over a minute and two scraping the two-minute mark. Essentially, this is an EP of 'Woodlawn's: the songs here are all extremely powerful and emotional, from 'At Its Heart & At Its Head', a song that expresses the need for hope in the midst of deppression and ruination, to the haunting chord sequences of closer 'In Antiquity'. The 'Woodlawn' reference I make here isn't entirely superficial, either: in my opinion, 'Wormwood, Radiation' is, in subject matter, a continuation of that song. The contrasting lines "there is life here" and "this doesn't get any easier. this is a wound that time can't heal. it leaves a scar" seem, to me, to say that while you can regain perspective and compusure in the years following a loss, it is nevertheless an event that leaves an irreversible mark that one sometimes never fully recovers from. 'We Live Like Lost Children', by contrast, breathes positivity throughout: it is a life-affirming expression of the need to "reject the notion of modeling our patterns on archaic moral codes not in line with our lives", to live by your own standards. The last line of the song really encapsulates the spirit of Ampere: "now is the time to stand back and ask, "are we living the lives that we want?"'

"blood is filling our lungs & the room won't stop spinning. it's only now that we notice the ghosts in the mirror are us. we built these walls. somewhere, choking on words, in some far-off room, away from the fallout, we'll never make it out. and should this room become a morgue, our bed a coffin, our secrets will die with us. so still, so sterile. there are ghosts there, behind the headboard, under sheets. they keep us from sleep. footprints on carpet, and stark white walls keep secrets hid in plain view. and when our buildings topple, we will meet in the wreckage. among ashen remains, we'll be burning ember and we'll not leave any tracks. by sunrise, the wind will displace us. it'll be as if we were never there. and you said that there's not a word to believe in either of our whispured assurances, but we find solace... and we won't forget the sound of ruined gray cities, of shadows, and the silence..."
-Ampere; At Its Heart & At Its Head

(The Sinaloa side is also good but hey, it's Ampere I'm talking about here, right?)

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Flying Lotus - Los Angeles

Flying Lotus is Steve Ellison. Yes, he is well-known for his relation to the Coltranes, but he also churns out some awe-inspiring instrumental hip-hop on the Warp stable. With Los Angeles he has brought us perhaps the best in electronic music that 2008 has had to offer so far. Here we have seventeen cuts of sublime beats, skittering noise and beautifully hazy melody. FlyLo himself has said about his music that “I have this beautiful lemon tree in my backyard, and on a sunny day the light shines through. Little things like that inspire me." This kind of inspiration through mood shows; each track has a flowing sense of atmosphere to it - the opener Brainfeeder is like being skyrocketed into space, and from then on you're floating among the nebulae and the comets, right up until the moment that you're sucked into the black hole of bliss that is the vocal-laden closer Auntie's Lock/Infinitum. The songs here are engaging and layered, but never too dense or abrasive, always keeping a tempered sense of melody and space, making them perfect for either active or passive listening, whichever suits your mood. Headphone listening recommended.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

The Carrier - One Year Later

Following the untimely demise of Modern Life is War and Life Long Tragedy, hardcore started to look like a downhill slope for a while. However, there are a valuable few bands that seem to have the capacity to fill that gaping hole, and The Carrier are one of them. Combining a dark yet melodic sound similar to that of Shai Hulud with the intensely personal lyric-centric approach of early Modern Life is War, "One Year Later", their debut album, bleeds emotion from every pore. Anthony, their vocalist, sings of personal struggle: covering depression, self-loathing and loneliness, the fact that these tales of personal troubles are coming from someone who is "nineteen years young" makes them instantly and utterly relatable. This relatability is strengthened by the simplicity and urgency of his delivery: it's even the simplest lines like "I want to see better days, I want to see hope in things" that are perhaps the most breathtaking, because of how direct they are, because of how much we see ourselves mirrored in those words. This sense of relatability is the reason that I love hardcore: it's that "we're in this together" feeling, that knowing that there's others out there that feel just as bitter and disillusioned as you. It's a feeling of community spirit that's difficult to find in any other genre. The title track of this album is particularly poignant in its story of consuming and stagnant self-hatred, but it's the powerful undercurrent of hope in the anthemic Panicstricken that really provides the gem in the crown. "One Year Later" is The Carrier's "My Love. My Way". Give them a bit of time and they may well write their own "Witness".

I chose death over life, wanted to meet my maker, I was dying inside. Pain too great to deal with me made me try to take my life. But now I've seen the light, I've got a second chance at life. I'm not retracting my old tracks. I'm never going back to the locked doors and the blinding lights, to the uncertainty of whether the next will be a good or bad day. I never want to wonder what life would be like without me in it, because I'm alive. I'm done wanting to die. I've taken what I've learned with me, it's all I know, and I'll been kicking my old shit out the front fucking door. Because I don't need it anymore. I'm taking steps forward one foot at a time, making sure not to fall. And it will be the last trip of my life. Reaching up while the ship sinks to the bottom of this dead ocean. A thousand stars couldn't shine through everything we've been through, in this world that has no ending. I'm never going back to locked doors. I'm never going back to blinding lights.
-The Carrier; Panicstricken

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Converge - Jane Doe

Jane Doe is probably my favourite record ever. If not, it certainly comes close. I wouldn't normally post something like this because I assume that the two or three people that actually bother to read this would be familiar with this album. But then I had this staggering realisation that, you know, there are people who haven't heard this album, or people who, worse, don't "get" it. It saddens me that people are missing out on something so incredible. Well, here's your chance to repent.

Jane Doe is an album and needs to be heard as such. I need to stress the importance of this. It is a cohesive experience, the expression of and expansion upon a single emotion to overwhelming effect. It is highly unlikely that you are going to "get" Jane Doe just by listening to Concubine or The Broken Vow as standalone songs. Every moment in this album contributes to the next, hurtling madly towards those last three minutes of the title track. The album is a perfect example of the powerfully cathartic nature of hardcore: a comprehensive outpour of an emotion, like wringing water from a sponge until nothing is left.

This album is a rollercoaster of emotion recorded in the aftermath of a heartbreak that left Jacob Bannon feeling low and damaged. It shows, because all the associated emotions are there: from the shock, denial and desperation following loss to the ensuing feelings of spite and hatred, the nadir of defeat, depression and self-loathing, the cold grip of loneliness and, tucked away in a corner somewhere but nevertheless present, hope.

The lyrics, for one, are stunning. They don't necessarily match up to the music in a linear fashion - rather, Jacob Bannon writes them like poetry, then uses them as inspiration for the songs, lifting lines and placing them in appropriate places for maximum impact. Take Concubine's desperate cries of "Dear, I'll stay gold just to keep these pasts at bay", Bitter and then Some's vitriolic chant "Death to cowards, traitors and empty words" or the beautiful penultimate part of the title track "Lost in you like Saturday nights/Searching the streets with bedroom eyes/Just dying to be saved" and you have just some examples of Bannon's skilled and heartfelt lyricism. There is a particularly haunting passage in Hell to Pay, as another example, that really sums up the kind of engulfing depression that takes its hold post-heartbreak:

"That night, I think he cried himself to sleep
Just maybe, he felt more than we could ever know
And I think he pulled that trigger to empty that memory
I think he cut the weight to end the floods of you
Let him soar, let him ride as budding gravestones do
Just sleep, girl, just dream well"

Jane Doe, of course, isn't anything without the music. And what sublime music it is: from the discordant opening measures of Concubine the listener is thrown into some of the most intense, chaotic music ever written. The mood varies; from raucous and chaotic in Homewrecker and Bitter and then Some to pensive in Hell to Pay, with its enormous bassline, and epic in Phoenix in Flight. There is a sense of uncontrollable and climactic chaos throughout the album, untamed amounts of passion that are hard to find in any other album. One particular highlight is The Broken Vow, an anthem that finishes on the rousing and desperate chant "I'll take my love to the grave". There are some interesting but also successful experiments on the album such as the eerie "Phoenix in Flames", a short slice of chaos that sees the band stripping themselves down to a core of drums and vocals. Thaw is also particularly climactic with its jarring riff and its crushing closing chord sequence. This still serves as a mere warmup for the album's title track. There's a rather clichéd phrase that goes "it's always darkest before the dawn" - to me, much of the song Jane Doe represents that state of rock bottom. It charts that feeling of hopelessness, of being completely lost. There's a moment about 45 seconds into the dirge where Bannon suddenly switches gears into a voice that's so different to his usual scream that it's ethereal, singing "I want out" like a desperate cry for help. It's one of the most incredibly affecting parts of the album. The song repeats itself in a cyclic pattern, spiraling more and more into that pit of despair until something happens - something changes. There's a break in the music, and a wonderful sense of space and release. There is one final chorus, like a sigh put to music, before it kicks in. A searing crescendo that has so much intensity that it could easily rival anything that Godspeed You! Black Emperor have ever written, rising out of the gloom like a phoenix in flight, the culmination of so many things gone wrong but perhaps a sign of determination to move past those events, a sign of hope. And that concludes not only the best album closer these ears have ever heard, but perhaps the best album too. Jane Doe is an album of limitless passion and honesty, an intensely personal statement that stands as an incredible work of art. Whether screaming, chaotic hardcore is your thing or not, take a chance on this album - spend some time with it, get to know it well, and perhaps, soon enough, you too will feel its rewards. If you haven't felt anything by the time that culminating crescendo fades out, you can't be human.

Those nights we had and the trust we lost
The sleep that fled me and the heart I lost
It all reminds me
Just how callous and heartless the true cowards are
And I write this for the loveless
And for the risks we take
I'll take my love to the grave
As tired and worn it is
I'll take my love to the grave
-Converge; The Broken Vow

Converge - The Poacher Diaries

In all my excitement about seeing Converge tomorrow, I decided to do a bit of a Converge special today. And so, to get things going, I present you with their 1999 split with Agoraphobic Nosebleed, The Poacher Diaries. (Agoraphobic Nosebleed's side isn't worth bothering with. Trust me on this one. Regard it as a Converge EP).

This split has some of Converge's most punishing cuts to date. Opening with Locust Reign (a short but sweet live favourite) and This is Mine, the four-piece waste no time in announcing their presence with two short, sharp blows to the eardrums. From there on it gets a bit more pensive with the almost psychedelic They Stretch For Miles (featuring a very well-placed Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas sample) before resuming the skull-crushing riffathon in My Great Devastator (the album's best track) and The Human Shield. Minnesota concludes the album in epic fashion, featuring some great slide guitar and clean vocals (yes, your ears aren't deceiving you, that's Jacob Bannon doing some actual singing). The brutality and relative brevity of Converge's side of this split, alongside the overall strength of the songwriting, makes this one a keeper.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Grouper - Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill

Grouper is the Oregon-based Liz Harris. Noone more, noone less. Over the last few years she has been quietly making a name for herself through her ethereal and haunting songs, shrouded in a thick fog of vocal loops and guitar ambience, akin to perhaps My Bloody Valentine if they decided to ditch their "louder is better" approach and go acoustic. It seems that these days she's decidedly walking out of that fog: here on her latest effort, we have twelve folk songs that shine with a new-found clarity. Liz's stellar vocal harmonies float effortlessly above her gently strummed, reverb-drenched guitars to create something utterly mesmerising. Don't be fooled by the creepy cover art and equally creepy title, there's something about these songs that's beautifully calm and delicate - they lull you into a sense of total serenity where nothing matters but the haunting melodies that drift around in your subconscious. These are folk songs that are as subtle as they are powerful, taking a gentle but hypnotic approach that works its magic slowly but eventually becomes very endearing. "Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill" is the light at the end of the tunnel in musical form.


(link behind cover art)

Friday, 27 June 2008

Rites of Spring - End on End

Before the formation of Fugazi, there was a band that was every bit as good.

Depending on whether or not you've ever done a bit of research into the history of a certain infamous three-letter term, you may or may not already be familiar with Rites of Spring. Yes, they are often credited as being the originators of emo - or, that is to say, emotional hardcore. Obviously the real value of this term is highly disputable - as Picciotto said himself, "honestly, I just thought that all the bands I played in were punk rock bands. The reason I think it's so stupid is that - what, like the Bad Brains weren't emotional? What - they were robots or something? It just doesn't make any sense to me." As such, it makes more sense to think of Rites of Spring as a hardcore punk band for the purpose of this post, as it will also aid in understanding why the band were so important.

You see, context is everything if one wishes to properly appreciate Rites of Spring. Imagine this: the year is 1985. The DC hardcore scene is stagnating. Its giants, the likes of Bad Brains, Minor Threat and Black Flag, are showing signs of slowing down. Cracks were beginning to show in the movement: Hüsker Dü and their ilk were already taking steps to destroy hardcore as most people knew it, integrating more of a pop sensibility and elements of other styles into the otherwise straightforward, aggressive punk that had been established as the trademark DC sound. Suddenly, out of nowhere came an album on the legendary Dischord Records that used the hardcore blueprint, but introduced a new sense of pacing and melody that had barely been seen in the genre before. Not only this, but Picciotto's lyrics forsook the usual outwardly directed anger of most DC hardcore, instead favouring subtlety, depth and introspection. This, combined with his desperately passionate delivery, resulted in music that was unusually personal and emotional. It is interesting to note the staggering difference in lyrical depth between Rites of Spring and other DC hardcore bands - for the sake of contrast, here is a sample from perhaps the quintessential DC hardcore band, Minor Threat:

I don't want to hear it
All you do is talk about you
I don't want to hear it
'Cause I know that none of it's true
I don't want to hear it
Sick and tired of all your lies
I don't want to hear it
When are you gonna realize...
That I don't want to hear it
Know you're full of shit
-Minor Threat; I Don't Want to Hear It

Note that the lyrics are to the point and simple, full of outwardly directed anger. Compare this to the following sample from Rites of Spring's 'All There Is' and the difference is positively startling:

It's more than love
And it's less than love
It's what I give to you.
All there is is the knowing that this never had to end.
All there is to know.
If I could take, heart in hand, what I'd give to you.
All there is is in the knowing that this never has to end.
All there is to know.
-Rites of Spring; All There Is

The subject matter here is much more abstract and vague; far more personal and emotional than the former sample, dealing with deeper thoughts and ideas, using much more subtlety and leaving parts to speculation. Picciotto also had a notable sense of wit, providing a dry sense of humour in For Want Of''s declaration of "I woke up this morning with a piece of past caught in my throat... and then I choked" 0r Persistent Vision's "I was the champion of forgive-forget, but I haven't found a way to forgive you yet". Rites of Spring opened people up to the idea that hardcore could cover a greater spectrum of emotion than simply anger.

Picciotto's voice is awe-inspiring here, too. His unhinged delivery in Rites of Spring makes his contributions in Fugazi sound positively tame - a passionate, gravelly rasp that breaks into a desperate yelp at emotional climaxes. The band's songwriting made use of a pop sensibility that gives them a sense of immediacy that separated them from less accessible early emo bands such as Moss Icon's labyrinthine spoken word passages.

And the band's importance doesn't stop at the invention of emo - there is even a precocious post-hardcore gem in the form of album highlight 'Drink Deep'. The song sounds startlingly similar to newer bands such as mewithoutYou (who wouldn't come about for another 15 years) and uses the same kind of groove that would be later expanded on fully in Fugazi. Simply put, Rites of Spring were not only an incredibly influential and important band, but a wildly emotional and enjoyable one that is absolutely worth devoting some time to.
Download the band's compiled discography 'End on End' here.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Mix one: Nostalgia

Instead of doing the usual album-review entry, I felt like compiling a mix around a theme for this one. Lately I've found myself coincidentally listening to a lot of music that has a cutting sense of nostalgia to it. I'm not talking about songs that are nostalgic in that they remind you of a certain era: there's no mid-nineties europop here, no eighties cheese. Here I present you with twelve songs that sigh themselves: be it with over fond memories that never lasted, missed opportunities, opportunities that you never even got, friendship, love, or perhaps something even more abstract. In all honesty, it's not a good feeling at all, but it's a feeling that one tends to want to wallow in. In some way or another I have a strong emotional connection with each of these songs, and I strongly recommend that you investigate the output of all the bands featured here.

1. Mahumodo - April's
2. Trophy Scars - Assistant. Assistants
3. New Found Glory - Coming Home
4. Minus The Bear - The Pig War
5. American Football - Never Meant
6. Joanna Newsom - Sawdust & Diamonds
7. Gregor Samsa - Young & Old
8. Sun Kil Moon - Moorestown
9. Hopesfall - The End of an Era
10. Modern Life is War - I'm Not Ready
11. Thrice - Red Sky
12. Neil Young - Ambulance Blues


Monday, 16 June 2008


So... mounting coursework, exams and general stress overload put a stopper on this blog over the last few months, so apologies for the lack of recent updates to the grand total of zero people who read this. Now summer has well and truly kicked in, however, I intend to do a bit of a posting marathon, so fasten your seatbelts.

So to kick things into gear again, I bought Rinoa's debut EP today. This four-piece comprises ex-members of the incredible Crydebris and the similarly brilliant purveyors of pg. 99-esque chaos Chariots. Sonically, they play emotionally intense hardcore laced with post-rock, very similar to Envy and labelmates Devil Sold His Soul in many respects. From the moment the introductory buildup of 'Between the Pillars' peaks, the music remains wonderfully climactic for the duration of the EP, only letting up on the intensity front for the dense ambient segue 'In a Single Day and Night of Misfortune' which serves as a way of lulling the listener into a false sense of security right before the monstrously riff-heavy assault of closer 'Atlantis' comes to leave the listener mouth agape. The four tracks are shrouded in Mono-esque atmospherics: soaring tremolo guitars and swirling ambience that adds an impressive (if perhaps a little "tried and tested") sense of expanse and majesty. Also particularly endearing is the permeating sense of pessimistic desperation - and anyone who has heard and loved Devil Sold His Soul's latest opus A Fragile Hope will know where I'm coming from - that last mustering up of hope, the desperate clinging on to that light at the end of the tunnel. As such, the repetition of the line "Watch me wade through water/I'm not waving/I am drowning" at the swelling conclusion of 'Atlantis' is the musical equivalent of a stake hammered right into the heart.

This brings me on to Rinoa's now-disbanded predecessor, Crydebris. Crydebris were special. They were one of those depressingly short-lived bands that released one incredible EP that reminded you of everything you loved about your country's underground music scene, then split up just when they appeared to be going somewhere. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? The Severing spliced the dissonant time signature-shifting chaos of Botch and Eden Maine with the spaced-out beauty of the likes of Mahumodo and No Wings To Speak Of-era Hopesfall, resulting in a sound that, at the time, felt like a refreshingly unique punch to the gut. Particular standout moments include the incredible explosion after the ambient lull in the middle of the title track, or the gang vocal-laden finale of 'Mononoke-Picture'. I was lucky to get my hands on a CD-R copy of this EP while the band were still together but, as the EP is no longer in circulation and available for download on the band's myspace anyway, I figured that it would be a safe bet uploading the EP for your listening pleasure.

I've been told
that hate will break your heart in two
and change the face that I once knew

So try just once to see life unclouded by hate.
- Mononoke-Picture; Crydebris

Download the track 'Atlantis' from Rinoa's self-titled debut here.
Download Crydebris' EP 'The Severing' here.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Set Your Goals - interviewed

This article is due to appear in a future issue of the University of Nottingham's official music magazine The Mic. Many thanks are due to Natalie Passingham for helping hugely with the interview.

“I’ve been really frustrated the past couple of days. I feel everything’s changing musically. It’s sort of pushed onto us. People keep coming to us asking ‘what do you think of working with this producer/this songwriter?’ No one’s thinking for themselves anymore, everything’s being so mass produced.” Jordan Brown, one of Set Your Goals’ two vocalists, is pouring out his laments on the music industry in the dingy backstage area of Rock City. “At the same time, as much as that scene’s thriving and is dominant in the mainstream, there is always such a strong underground scene. I feel like it keeps me in a constant reality check, I really want to be such a part of that, it’s so much more real.” The band’s debut album Mutiny! is riddled with lyrical references to this strong independent ethic that they adhere to. “It’s important for bands to know they don’t need anyone, and that’s what the song ‘Mutiny’ is about - it’s about us taking over and doing it for ourselves. You need to be self-sufficient. Like the song says, people are telling you that you need to be their friend to get anywhere, which is not true.”

“There’s so many good bands out there” interjects Matt Wilson, vocalist number two. “If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from punk rock it’s that you don’t need that whole music industry, there are so many elements that don’t belong there. It’s not necessary - with the way things are now, bands releasing their CDs for free, anyone can get exposure. You can put it up on MySpace and if people react positively, you can press your own CDs.”

“It’s also true on a band-by-band basis. This tour is a perfect example of how punk you can be in the mainstream,” exclaims Jordan with more than a hint of excitement – “they [‘they’ being tour-mates Gallows] emailed all of us on this tour asking if we wanted to be on it. Obviously agents were involved in booking shows, but it wasn’t a case of ‘is this band going to help?’ It was more ‘these bands rule, these are bands we want people to know about’ and I think it’s important to have these bands in the mainstream that will bring others in.” “None of these bands give a shit about what people think of them”, explains Matt, “and Gallows are just interested in helping people out who they’re friends with that and that’s so awesome, all the bands deserve so much respect.”

Indeed, they’re no strangers themselves to the punk-rock touring schedule. Last year, they slogged it out on an enormous European tour – “7 and a half weeks with one off date” states Jordan, a figure that exhausts us just thinking about it. “We’ve learned our lesson as far as booking extensive tours go, you should take an off date every 3, 4 days. Especially to have time to see the locations you’re at.” Matt looks on the bright side, though – “It was amazing being able to go to places like Portugal, getting to experience their culture. I think it’s one of the best things of being in a touring band, getting to travel so much.” “I think it’s good to play in places outside of major cities, too” states Jordan. “Because obviously, France is not just Paris, not everyone can travel to Paris”.

Some major excitement has been coming their way as of late. On top of a support slot with Paramore and a coveted main stage appearance at Give It A Name this year, they have been approached by Vinnie Caruana to be his backing band playing songs by The Movielife at Bamboozle this year. Matt clarifies all: “We’d become friends with him through I am the Avalanche. Jordan met Vinnie back when he was in The Movielife, and we’ve been Movielife fans for a long time so it was an honour when he asked, it’s amazing.” “This is him giving closure to the Movielife so he can continue with I am the Avalanche and give back to the Movielife fans” beams Jordan, slightly bowled over by the whole thing. “We were thrilled when he asked. It was like ‘You didn’t even have to ask, you should have just booked it and told us ‘by the way’’…’’

Given the love they have for all things DIY and independent, we knew that SYG would have some bands that they would want give mention to. “I’ve been listening to a lot of A Wilhelm Scream recently, I think they’re awesome. I always try and plug The Swellers from Michigan, I think they’re doing something so amazing” says Jordan, eyes lighting up. “They’re really committed to touring and have a really good ethic. Even if you just go to our MySpace, we’re always switching up our MySpace friends so people can know who we think they should know about.”

So what is punk’s current situation in the midst of all this mainstream tomfoolery? Matt is confident about its relevance - “As long as the mainstream gets worse, there will be more revolt against it.” And as long as bands like Set Your Goals are around to affirm this, we couldn’t agree more.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Sika Redem - Entheogen

Sika Redem are a sadly underappreciated band from Coventry. Their schizophrenic, cathartic yet beautiful sound could be broadly generalised as screamo, but there’s so many different elements to take note of in their music that it’s quite hard to tell. While it fuses together so many different influences, never once does Entheogen sound contrived or, indeed, anything less than unique. There is a broad sonic range on display here: the epic album opener “The October Bird of Death” showcases Sika Redem’s capabilities perhaps better than any other track here, an impressively seamless flow from jarring discordance to inventive mellow guitar-tapping; from furious screamo to enormous epic climaxes. ‘Mr. Hunk’, ‘The Race From Hominid To Star Flight’ and ‘Shields’ sound, to throw some lazy journo metaphors out there, somewhat like Off Minor teaming up with Mogwai to fend off Isis at their most colossal. Their noodling post-rock guitar lines are juxtaposed with towering walls of almighty noise. ‘Euglena’ and ‘Proud Sons of a Magnanimous Land’, meanwhile, show that they also have the art of short bursts of cathartic screamo-meets-mathcore firmly under their belts. Sika Redem’s sense for the epic is, opening track aside, most noticeable in ‘The Protagonist Fails, The Pugilist Falls’ and ‘Stretching for the Zenith’, two sprawling, gargantuan tracks that reward attentive listening immensely. Tommy Jones’ vocals also display an impressive range, flitting from impassioned, abrasive screams and desperate yelps to ethereal crooning. Browsing the lyric sheet only makes things more involving – Entheogen is a complex, compelling album brimming with emotion. The production, done by Magnus Lindberg (most notable for his involvement with Cult of Luna), is also of note – it sounds enormous,s yet distinctly unpolished, a raw titan of an album. This review makes Entheogen sound frankly all over the place, but that is simply because it is hard to describe the sound without resorting to lazy comparisons. It is a very coherent and unique-sounding record, each song carrying with it a distinct sound that could only be attributed to Sika Redem themselves, whilst displaying an impressive amount of invention and variety. Don’t miss out, immerse yourself in their chaotic, dizzying wonderland – it’s a trip that you won’t forget.

Download three tracks from this album here.

Friday, 15 February 2008

American Nightmare - Background Music

Despite acknowledging that “Screaming gets you nothing”, Wes Eisold decided, regardless, to pen the lyrics to Background Music, a 24-minute hand-grenade of lovelorn desperation. American Nightmare (now using the moniker Give Up The Ghost) play hardcore in the hard ‘n’ fast tradition, coupling their short, frantic songs with Eisold’s passionate, throaty rasp. His delivery makes words often undistinguishable on first listen but, when accompanied with the lyric sheet, Background Music is a tour de force. You’re not even getting half of it if you don’t listen to the lyrics – behind this album’s incessant power chords and drumbeats lies a lifetime’s worth of upset and frustration. There is the odd Modern Life Is War-esque tale of suburban depression (‘I.C. You Are Feeling Drake’) but the most poignant thing here is Eisold’s stories of heartbreak and unrequieted love. It is something that most of us have been through, and he puts his frustration in such an eloquent way that the listener feels an immediate connection with what he is feeling. He displays a keen sense of wit with such gems as “I took a shot at the world/and I missed” and “If imperfections are illegal/Then you should call the cops/and they should lock me up”. In these lyrics you can hear how many lonely nights he’s had, how many times love has pushed him to the edge, how many times he would have rather been dead. Despite all this depression, you can still hear how much he values the world around him and those close to him in the final stanza of ‘Farewell’: “I've lived through days/I've lived through nights/I've had my loves/I've had my fights./You've got to know, you have my heart.” Background Music is the perfect soundtrack to being young, male and lovesick, and it is nothing short of inspiring.

Download three tracks from this album here.

mewithoutYou - [A-->B] Life

mewithoutYou have always been a band that have been misunderstood and mislabelled as a “Christian” band. Yet even the most hard-hearted atheist should be able to appreciate the lyrical genius of Aaron Weiss: his ruminations on faith, love and life are well thought-out, passionate and intensely personal. It is clear that his views on religion are well informed, intelligent and honest, far from the imagined black-and-white ethical system that so many misinformed Dawkins-worshippers jump to criticise. Lyrically as well as musically, there is an interlinked trajectory to be noted in mewithoutYou’s discography: the first two albums show increasingly searching reflections on faith, showing the difficulties and moral tests Aaron has faced on the path to finding God. Meanwhile the latest offering, Brother, Sister, is a more mellowed-out effort with a new-found penchant for lush instrumentation, its lyrics suggesting that while Aaron still faces plenty of tests, he has also found many answers to the questions posed on earlier albums. As such, [A→B] Life is a more endearing album to many fans, because, as the raging and yearning beginnings of mewithoutYou, listeners find themselves searching and asking questions alongside Aaron. Musically, it is far rawer than its successors, with an increased emphasis on post-grunge-isms and raging punk-esque guitars, while Aaron is more likely to be found screaming his heart out than speaking soft spoken word passages. The main element that makes the album what it is, however, is Aaron’s incredible lyrics: there are still ponderings on spirituality here, but what is more evident is a theme that is familiar to everyone, believers and non-believers alike, and is thus instantly relatable: love. Throughout the album there are so many eloquent passages that send instant shivers down the spine – take the line in ‘Silencer’ “She put on happiness like a loose dress/Over pain that I’ll never know” or ‘Gentlemen’s declaration of “And I’ll live without your love/But what good is one glove without the other?” Aaron’s poesy is made all the more authentic by his honesty: he is unafraid to admit that he is imperfect, that he makes the same mistakes that everyone makes in his relationship both with other people and with God. His impassioned delivery adds to the power of his lyrics, frenetically mumbling over spine-tingling breaks in the music. The beauty of his lyrics here is that many of us have felt exactly what he feels, while he communicates his problems in a way that is simultaneously breathtaking and heartbreaking. mewithoutYou have, to this day, maintained a near-flawless discography that is as affecting as it is essential. Whatever your beliefs, mewithoutYou are more than merely a band to check out – they are a band that you need in your life.

Download three tracks from this album here.