The hottest music from Chicago & beyond

Tag: punk rock

Album Review: Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love [Sub Pop]

87Heat Wave
Oh thank goodness Sleater-Kinney are back. It’s been 10 years since they chose to take an “indefinite hiatus,” and a whole lot of wild things have happened in that time frame. To quickly sum up, Corin Tucker started a family, then released two lovely yet quiet records fronting the Corin Tucker Band. Carrie Brownstein became something of a celebrity, grabbing attention for her acting chops in small films and TV shows, most notably Portlandia. She returned to music briefly in 2011 with a new band Wild Flag, which also included S-K drummer Janet Weiss. One album and one tour later, Wild Flag called it quits. Lastly, for her part Weiss has kept very busy playing in a variety of bands, most notably a stint with Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus as one of the Jicks. The reasons behind Sleater-Kinney’s 2005 break-up included Tucker’s decision to focus on raising a family and Brownstein’s serious health issues due to constant touring/recording, all of which seemed to imply a reunion would be unlikely. Yet maybe the time off was enough for the trio to recharge their batteries and begin to miss what they had together. After 10 years on and 10 years off, let’s hope that this new album No Cities to Love also marks the beginning of a new era for the band.

The primary concern with Sleater-Kinney, as with any band that reunites after a significant period away, is whether or not the new music will live up to the old catalog. 2005’s The Woods ultimately reflected a band going out at the top of their game, with everything prior building to that momentous record. A decade later, it’s very comforting to know that they haven’t forgotten how to write a song, nor have they mellowed with age. In some respects it’s like they never left, which is just about all you could ever ask for from Sleater-Kinney. Even John Goodmanson, who produced every one of the band’s previous records except for two, returns to the fold. Yet there are a few notable changes on No Cities to Love that are less apparent on the surface but become more obvious the closer you look. Brownstein has said in interviews that the trio began recording sessions for the album in 2012 with the intention of finding a new approach to the band, and by many measures that appears to be the case. They’ve never sounded cleaner or more focused. Clocking in at just over 30 minutes, the 10 tracks fly by without stopping for breath or even a ballad. The acidic and highly aggressive grit of their last couple records has been replaced with something a bit more accessible and mature, even though it’s by no means quieter or less vicious. Tucker’s vocals still show more power and range than most, Brownstein’s guitar solos remain vibrant and complex, while Weiss’s intricate rhythms keep everything held together quite nicely.

Perhaps the best way to get a sense of Sleater-Kinney’s more mature headspace across No Cities to Love is to take a microscope to their lyrics. These are some of the most personal songs the band has ever written, and that’s clear right from opener “Price Tag”. Acknowledging her status as a mother with a family, Tucker has harsh words about the recent economic recession and the challenges of trying to make a decent living wage when a lot of larger corporations are out to exploit their workers. Abuse of power is one of the primary themes of the record, and the biting “Fangless” along with the charging “No Anthems” address the issue in smart yet explicit ways. It’s also great to hear the trio sing about inter-band workings as well as their decade-long absence across multiple songs. The bouncy and fun “A New Wave” is about making your own path and not allowing the “venomous and thrilling” voices to change or shape you. They’ve got each other’s backs and will continue to do their own thing even if it drives them into obscurity.

Speaking of obscurity, the two main songs that deal with their hiatus show up right at the end of the album. Of the pair, “Hey Darling” is the most confessional, serving as a bit of a letter to fans. It also happens to be the one song on the record that sounds most like classic Sleater-Kinney. “Explanations are thin, but I feel it’s time/ You want to know where I’ve been for such a long time,” Tucker sings in the very first verse. What follows from there goes into how fame isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and sometimes even playing music for a room full of people can leave you feeling lonely. There’s not much subtext to be interpreted, except the idea that band life can become a bit of a drag if that’s all you do for a decade and sometimes you just need a break. “Fade” really plays that through to its fullest and most realized conclusion. “Oh what a price that we paid / My dearest nightmare, my conscience, the end,” wails Tucker over Brownstein’s heavy 70’s-style guitar riffs. There are dimming spotlights, a loss of a sense of self, and the question of whether or not the torture was ultimately worth it. The mere existence of No Cities to Love implies that the answer is yes. Considering how it all went down the first ten years, it’s probably best to assume things will be handled very differently from here on out. Who knows how long it might last, but as Tucker herself puts it, “If we are truly dancing our swan song, darling/ Shake it like never before.”

Buy No Cities to Love from Sub Pop

Listmas 2014: The Top 50 Albums of the Year [#10-1]

This is it! The final post of 2014 also marks the conclusion of Listmas and specifically this Top 50 Albums of 2014 countdown. It’s been a long road with plenty of bumps and delays along the way, but we’ve finally reached the peak of this imaginary mountain. At this point I’d like to give a special thank you to everyone who read something, clicked on something or downloaded something here at Faronheit over 2014. All of the content that’s posted here is for you to discover and enjoy, and I’m grateful for anyone who visits with that intention. It hasn’t been the best year for the site content-wise, but the hope is to generate more and return to form in 2015. Typically I’d tease a bunch of new features and exciting things in development for next year, but honestly most of that stuff either gains no traction or simply falls off never to be heard from again, so let’s just stick to the mantra of more everything and go from there.

So what can I say about these Top 10 Albums of 2014? Well, like the other entries in this list, there’s plenty of variety in terms of genre and style. It goes from weird to fun to noisy to sexy to relaxing to adventurous and back again. If you’ve been following me on Instagram these last few weeks, you’ve been given access to an early preview of the eclectic Top 5, though I can assure you that #6-10 are as equally exciting and wonderful. And hey, while I wasn’t able to write a lot of album and show reviews this year, some of the ones I did write about make an appearance here. Also worth mentioning: a particular pair of artists who are members of my Class of 2014 had an exceptionally great year, helping to continue to support that program. So I’m not going to spend any extra time talking this up. Please join me past the jump for the big reveal of my absolute favorite albums of the year.

Previously: [#50-41] [#40-31] [#30-21] [#20-11]

Show Review: Perfect Pussy [Schubas; Chicago; 1/22/14]

Seeing Perfect Pussy perform is akin to an incredible workout. You’re running faster and longer than you ever have before, lifting heavier weights and doing more reps, all while your adrenaline pumps furiously to keep you going. You hit the showers feeling drained but invigorated. Then you wake up the next morning and can’t move because your body is so sore. You snap back to reality and think, “What did I do to myself last night?” But before that pain there was pleasure, and once the soreness goes away you’re stronger and healthier as a result.

Simply listening to Perfect Pussy’s debut EP I have lost all desire for feeling forces your ears to do some heavy lifting, but seeing the band live is an even louder experience for which there is no volume control. I’m not entirely sure what decibel level they’re operating at, but it’s one humans were not fully intended to handle. You know how My Bloody Valentine are one of, if not the loudest live band currently in existence? No joke, Perfect Pussy give them a serious run for their money. They may even be louder. Whereas MBV largely operate on a deep, heavy and rocketship-like rumble frequency, PP go for the screeching, high-pitched feedback-laden white noise sort of frequency. It made my earplug-less eardrums freak out and vibrate in ways that I have never experienced before. When I develop tinnitus or eventually go deaf, their show at Schubas on Wednesday night will likely be the moment I point to that started the decline. And you know what? I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

The band’s entire headlining set lasted for just under 20 minutes. Granted, they only have an EP out with their debut full length Say Yes to Love set for release on March 18th. But they’re also a punk band, meaning a majority of their songs are under 3 minutes in length and each one feels like a blitz attack of noise. They performed their entire four track EP and a few cuts from the upcoming record, all of which bled into one another like some kind of amorphous monster. In talking with singer Meredith Graves after the show, she offhandedly mentioned that if they had continued playing much longer, she probably would have started violently puking everywhere. She wasn’t sick, but rather her unwavering commitment to the music takes so much physical and mental stamina that her body just wouldn’t be able to take it anymore. The entire band actually performs the same way, giving and leaving everything out on the stage, and I suppose that’s one of the big reasons why Perfect Pussy is so immensely compelling and quickly building in popularity.

The other main reason why is their lyrics. If you listen to any of PP’s songs, you can tell that there are words being sung/spoken/screamed, but can in no way make heads or tails of exactly WHAT is being said. That’s by design, and I can assure you it’s no clearer in a live setting. Yet on their Bandcamp they give you all the lyrics from their EP, which turn out to be intensely personal and beautifully worded. While most of the songs focus on tragic experiences, they also offer great insight and introspection about them, with lessons learned as a result. A teenage fan told Graves after the show that he goes around chanting the lyrics, “I am full of light / I am filled with joy / I am full of peace,” which close out the song “I.” It was obvious those words meant so much to him, as they do to Graves herself, who sings with so much emotion on stage that you completely understand even if you can’t make heads or tails of what words are being said.

The real tragedy is that there will be people who listen to Perfect Pussy, either on record or at a show, and immediately dismiss them as loud noise and nothing more. That’s an impulse inside of us all. But those who reject or simply don’t try to understand this band will be missing out on something incredible. Believe it or not, as abrasive as they sound PP are all about inclusion and not exclusion. They want to connect with you, embrace you and uplift you. They want to show you that good can come from even the worst situations, like that time you had your eardrums assaulted for nearly 20 minutes. And the best part is that they mean it. It wouldn’t be worth putting yourself through the sonic ringer if they didn’t.

Perfect Pussy – Driver

Preorder their album Say Yes to Love (out March 18)
Buy their demo EP I have lost all desire for feeling

Album Review: FIDLAR – FIDLAR [Mom + Pop]

FIDLAR sound like a band you’ve heard before. They are not deeply original, and by that same token are not trying to be. It’s almost ironic that though their name is an acronym for “Fuck It Dog, Life’s a Risk,” they take very few of them in their actual music. This is skate punk at its blissfully ignorant core, content to get by on sheer energy and force. You don’t listen to this sort of thing for nuance, but instead for the heavy-hitting guitar riffs that speed past at a thousand miles per hour, the angry sneer in the singer’s voice and how almost every melody makes you want to smash into something. This is music that demands you get busy living or get busy dying. It’s brash, it’s snotty, and it doesn’t give a fuck what you or I think because you’re not supposed to be thinking in the first place. Sometimes you need a record like this to clear your head and shove all the pent up emotions out of your body. The release is nice, but once you get past that, is there anything left worth writing home about? That’s ultimately the true test of a good punk band – whether or not you can move beyond cliche and towards something deeper and better. For their self-titled debut album, FIDLAR only partially succeed at making that magic happen.

Let’s start with the song titles on this album, because they pretty much tell you everything you need to know up front. There are songs about drinking (“Cheap Beer” and “Blackout Stout”), drugs (“Wake Bake Skate” and “Cocaine”), surfing (“No Waves” and “Max Can’t Surf”) and being broke or having a low paying job (“Stoked and Broke,” “5 to 9” and “Paycheck”). There are even a couple songs about the military (“White on White”) and women (“Whore”) in there for good measure. If these guys were a little younger, they’d probably have included a few songs about high school and how much it sucks. Then again, The Ramones, who have a little stylistic similarity to FIDLAR, had no trouble writing about Rock n’ Roll High School well into their 20s. So it’s all a matter of personal preference, really. If a track like “No Waves” calls to mind Nathan Williams’ band Wavves both in title and sound, it may be a somewhat unintentional coincidence but more likely is a sly wink and nod to their friend and future touring partner. The fuzzy digital mess that the guitars make on most tracks is definitely lifted from Wavves, though just about every other aspect of FIDLAR’s music can be considered old school punk rock in the vein of Gun Club, Descendents, Circle Jerks and Fear. There are still plenty of bands out there trying to mine from that exact same cave, but few fare quite so well as these guys, which at the very least tells you they’re doing something right in the studio and on stage. That, and they know their influences backwards and forwards, meaning that behind all these live fast and die young songs there’s actual intelligence and intention.

While FIDLAR’s self-titled debut may be smarter than your average punk record, it also falls into some traps and cliches that make you wish they’d thought some parts through a little more. I mean, songs about drinking, drugs, surfing and being broke can only take you so far, right? When the chorus to “Cheap Beer” comes in and amounts to a shouted, “I / Drink / Cheap / Beer / So / What / Fuck / You,” you can’t help but wonder if they could do just a little bit better than that. Sure, it’s memorable, and I’m sure it becomes a shout-along in concert at a rapid-fire pace, but perhaps the level of discourse could be just a little less lowest common denominator. There’s definitely an undercurrent of darkness and maybe even depression at the heart of some of these songs that are indicated in the lyrics, and that’s certainly interesting even though they tend to glide right over it to get back to partying most of the time. In some weird sense, this record is a kindred spirit with Andrew W.K.’s I Get Wet, one of the most single-minded but subversively brilliant records of the last couple decades. FIDLAR haven’t quite found their ideal mixture of insanity and perfection just yet, but the earnestness and youthful energy they bring to every second of this album absolutely makes them a band to keep your eye on.

FIDLAR – Cheap Beer

FIDLAR – White On White

FIDLAR – Gimmie Something

Buy FIDLAR from Amazon

Album Review: Screaming Females – Ugly [Don Giovanni]

Screaming Females have been something of a hit-or-miss band. Okay, so their misses have never been far off the mark, it’s just most of their records lose focus from time to time. In many ways that comes with the territory of crafting blistering punk rock, because it’s a messy genre that requires creative execution to avoid becoming repetitive. Kudos do go to Screaming Females for nicely fleshing out their sound over their last couple albums, moving further away from their namesake description and into a more melodic and structured direction. It’s gone a long way towards giving the band depth many thought they never had without sacrificing their intensity or killer guitar work. And though their name is plural, the trio only has one female member in frontwoman/lead guitarist Marissa Paternoster. She’s a one woman wrecking ball though, with the personality and skill of about three people. Bassist King Mike and drummer Jarrett Dougherty do their best to stay out of her way both on record and on stage, which is the smart move to make. That’s not to say they aren’t useful or essential members of the band. They provide the framework upon which Paternoster builds her kingdom, and my what a kingdom it is. Thanks to their fifth album Ugly, they’re more in control than ever of their sound and destiny.

By most accounts, Screaming Females are only adding to the legend that is Steve Albini. The guy has made some legendary punk records on his own the last couple decades, but these days he seems to be the go-to guy for bands looking for that gritty, yet clean-cut sound. He somehow knows just the right amount of polish to add so there’s a faint glimmer sparkling beneath the mud. Cloud Nothings earned the Albini treatment earlier this year with their record Attack on Memory, and for all the complaining they’ve done about the guy since, the album is one of the best 2012 has to offer so far. Screaming Females have yet to go on an anti-Albini rant, but from the way that Ugly turned out, they won’t have any reason to. Of course it helps greatly the band’s music is well in line with Albini’s producing style, as there are plenty of examples where the opposite is true and things don’t go so smoothly. Paternoster’s guitar and vocals are front and center, exactly where they need to be, but without losing the spiky bass lines or intense drumming in the process.

Paternoster shares a lot of qualities with Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney/Wild Flag/Portlandia fame. Not only do the two share similar hairstyles and complexions, but they’re musical soulmates too. The intense, menacing voice of Paternoster matched with her equally fierce guitar playing are unique qualities held by very few but very talented musicians, Brownstein being key among them. For those upset with Sleater-Kinney’s hiatus just as they were churning out some of the best punk rock of their careers, Screaming Females do quite the incredible job filling that void. It was almost kismet the way S-K went on hiatus in 2006, the same year Screaming Females self-released their debut album. Feel free to argue in favor of Wild Flag being the heir apparent to S-K’s crown instead, given that Brownstein and drummer Janet Weiss are principal members. What Wild Flag lacks is the same attack dog mentality and sheer intensity of S-K, though there are flashes of it from time to time on their debut album. Screaming Females absolutely have those qualities, and they’ve never been more potent than on Ugly.

The main shift the band has made on this new album is directly towards commercial accessibility. It’s a matter of focus, really, not to mention the skill required to come up with dynamic hooks. Ugly is filled to the brim with those, the choruses slamming you time and time again until you can’t help but get them trapped in your head. If anything, this album suffers from a glut of catchy songs, and the way they overlap one another is a small cause for alarm. The charm of “It All Means Nothing” is slightly dulled by how “Rotten Apple” forces its way into your brain immediately afterwards. The crunchy 90’s rock of “Crow’s Nest” is tossed aside as soon as “Tell Me No” races past the starting line. There are certainly worse problems to have, and of course one of the good things about it is that different things will jump out at you after each listen. So you may not become addicted to “Red Hand” the first 10 times through, but it’ll finally hit you on the 11th. There are a few moments that genuinely stand out on their own every single time though, and that’s mostly because they offer some variation compared to the rest of the record. “Leave It All Up to Me” goes a little heavier than some of the other songs, and playfully dissolves into nearly nothing before building itself back up again for one more run at the chorus. Closing track “It’s Nice” comes as described actually, a complete 360 from the rest of the record, bringing in acoustic guitars and a full string section for a grandiose moment of beauty. After all the grime and riffs from the prior 13 tracks and 51 minutes, here’s a final respite that proves this band can do more than rock out with their pseudo cocks out.

If Ugly has a piece de resistance, it comes in the form of the 7.5 minute dirge “Doom 84”. The riffs are heavy and intense enough to rival some of Zeppelin’s finest work, and the solos in the middle of the song are head-bangingly good. If you want to know exactly why Screaming Females are so impressive and ballsy, this is the song that will fully sell you on the idea. How they’re able to fill the track with so much noise it hurts while only being a spare three-piece is a mystery for the ages. That sentiment could be applied to the entire record, actually. Whatever their methods, the band and this album go a long way towards proving that rock and roll isn’t anywhere close to being dead. In fact, it’s quite alive and kicking. Ugly might not be a life-changing record or even the best record of a still-young 2012, but it’s huge for Screaming Females. After languishing for the last few years as underground punk rock heroes with a mindblowing live show, here’s proof they’re truly ready for the spotlight. Now it’s up to us to shine it in their direction.

Screaming Females – It All Means Nothing

Buy Ugly from Amazon

Snapshot Review: Ceremony – Zoo [Matador]

Ceremony are old school punk rockers. They take pride in avoiding social media of any kind, emphatically stating on their website that they do not have Twitter, Facebook or Myspace. When preparing their new album Zoo, singer Ross Farrar chose to write a letter using traditional pen and paper to outline for fans what the music was going to be about and how things had changed since their last album. “There are songs on the record that sound fast, slow, eerie, full, or abrupt, each one different, but at the same time very similar,” he wrote. That’s a very accurate way of describing it, and for the band’s biggest fans, that’s probably not good news. Quick and dirty has been Ceremony’s ethos for their first three records, and that’s not quite the case anymore. Moving from underground punk label Bridge 9 Records and onto indie superlabel Matador certainly didn’t win them any cheers either. Yet punk band labelmates Fucked Up have done a nice job proving that you can have success without losing any of your edge. The same can be said of punk supergroup OFF! and young upstarts Iceage, both of whom have been doing great work in reviving a genre that once called Blink-182 a member. That said, it’s a little unfair to call Zoo a hardcore album. It lacks the sharp edge and white knuckle energy to earn such a descriptor. The easiest way to describe this record is to slap a post-hardcore tag on it, which is a fancier way of saying the music is heavy but not quite heavy enough to kick you in the teeth. This more tempered approach enables the band to experiment a bit without ever straying too far from their base. Only “Citizen” really sounds like classic Ceremony. Most of the time the band seems like they’re aiming for garage rock and using early 00’s bands for inspiration. At any given moment a track bears the markings of The Hives, The Vines or The White Stripes. “Quarantine” does a surprisingly good job of re-creating the sound of pre-Dookie Green Day, and the driving bass on “Hotel” gives it a very Joy Division feel (who, of course, they’re named after). There are also potions of Zoo that pay tribute to the godfathers of punk rock. You can absolutely hear the influence of Pink Flag-era Wire, This Nation’s Saving Grace-era The Fall, and even a little Metal Box-era Public Image Ltd. on bits like “World Blue” and “Community Service”. The worst part about the similarity is that Ceremony isn’t quite in the same league as those heavy-hitters. There are a lot more hooks on this album compared to the band’s older material, yet most of the songs are shockingly unmemorable. John Goodmanson produced it, and he turns out to be a positive influence on the overall sound of the record, adding depth and color to even the most plain-sounding songs. Unfortunately, there are quite a few of those plain songs on Zoo, and it causes 12 tracks and 36 minutes to sound like something much longer. Ceremony may have broken free from their hardcore punk habitat to try and explore other options available to them, but this record is evidence enough that some animals truly belong in cages.

Ceremony – Hysteria
Ceremony – Adult

Buy Zoo from Amazon

Album Review: Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory [Carpark]

Cloud Nothings are the sort of band that has been hyped forever but has yet to deliver on the promise of true brilliance. They’ve always been “on the cusp”, without ever fully reaching it. Each of their two previous full lengths has kept them at such a precipice, meaning they’re great enough to be highly regarded but never to the point where their name is on the tip of everyone’s tongues. It is with such continued propulsion that we arrive at the band’s third long player in 3 years, the aptly titled Attack on Memory. This time, we’re assured, things are different. Previously, the band has been very much a one-man show, with Dylan Baldi writing and crafting most of the songs on his own, and then having people back him up in the studio and live. In a sense, it was sort of a “hired hands” band. At this point though, Baldi seems to have reached a point where he’s comfortable with the guys he’s working with, and the new record is more of a collaborative effort than ever before. They also chose to bring in legendary producer Steve Albini, which according to some recent interviews with Baldi, may have been a bad decision. The guy apparently treated the recording process as his time to do anything but pay attention to the job at hand. Still, the album is somehow able to retain that Albini sheen (or is it a lack of sheen?), and makes for the most interesting and ultimately divisive Cloud Nothings records to date.

The title of the album, Attack on Memory, is supposed to be a challenge to the way you think about Cloud Nothings. If you’re familiar with their previous two albums, Turning On and Cloud Nothings, then you should be clearly familiar with the band’s lo-fi pop-punk pedigree. It’s been a bouncy and fun ride, even as the sound hones closer to Sum 41 and Blink 182 than it does Fugazi or The Wipers. The new album tries to shake off those comparisons and re-establish the band as something more visceral and hardcore. They almost completely succeed at this, save for a couple moments of relapse. One listen to opening track “No Future/No Past” and you’ll instantly understand the changes and hopefully embrace them with open arms. Baldi sings like a man possessed, and it’ll be amazing if he can perform that umpteen times on tour and still keep his voice intact. It genuinely feels like this was the sound he was aiming for all along. Yet if that doesn’t do much for you, perhaps the nearly 9 minutes of “Wasted Days” will. To my mind, the song stands as the new piece de resistance of Cloud Nothings, a juggernaut that chugs along and actively engages the listener with every waking moment, doing the exact opposite of what its title suggests. Just when you think it’s on the verge of outstaying its welcome, it gets harder, better and faster than ever, falling somewhere in the path between Sonic Youth and Bitch Magnet. Seriously, the band should use the song as a mission statement for future records it’s so impressive and certainly shows off the talents of all the band members beyond just a series of power chords.

Speaking of power chords, fans of the first two Cloud Nothings albums will find that tracks like “Fall In” and “Stay Useless” are much more up their alley, the former moreso than the latter. Both are fun and speedy doses of proto-punk excellence, and are probably the two most easily memorable songs on the entire album. The 3 minute instrumental “Separation” is kind of the gooey center of Attack on Memory, and its title too is very apt. With the absence of Baldi’s vocals, the weight of the song rests entirely on the sharp and heavy guitar/drum assault, which is more than effective as a statement of purpose going forwards: separate yourself from what you thought you knew about this band. And though Baldi screams, “No nostalgia!” on “No Sentiment”, the song itself actually carries the drudging feeling that you’ve heard it somewhere before. That’s not to say the song is unoriginal, not by a long shot, but rather evokes the goodness of a Sunny Day Real Estate or even Slint, in glorious fashion. You can practically hear Baldi sneering behind the microphone, and there’s a certain kickass quality to that.

In spite of everything, Attack on Memory sort of loses steam in its final two tracks. Both feel like noble efforts to keep the same sort of spirit alive from all that came before it, but they’re a little more emotionally disconnected and drag in spite of their decent tempos. Baldi’s well-written lyrics remain intact, but his voice doesn’t reflect what he’s throwing out there. “It’ll never get old,” he sings on “Our Plans”, ironically sounding like somebody that’s pretty bored. You’d hope that wasn’t the case, particularly as the album is only 8 tracks total, with nothing except for “Wasted Days” crossing the 5-minute mark. In such cases it’d be nice if everything was as explosive as dynamite. Still, there’s so much quality over the duration of this album you’d be wrong to call it a misstep for the band. If anything, this should strengthen their resolve and push them even further in the right direction for the future. Is this finally the record that pushes Cloud Nothings into a new league of hyped bands that finally make good on their promise? It stands to reason that yes, this is finally their time. That said, why am I still thinking they’re still destined for even bigger, even better things?

Cloud Nothings – No Future/No Past
Cloud Nothings – Stay Useless
Cloud Nothings – No Sentiment

Preorder Attack on Memory from Amazon

Album Review: Iceage – New Brigade [What’s Your Rupture?]

Punk rock isn’t exactly known for its depth and originality. Quick, dirty and fun seem to be the main tenets, though that doesn’t discount it from being intelligent. A bunch of bands have been responsible for brilliant punk records, from Fugazi to the Misfits and well beyond, though it’s legitimately tough to name more than a couple of current bands that make what would classify as great hardcore punk these days. Credit that to a huge underground scene in which fans pledge their loyalties to whatever band they’re watching that night in somebody’s dark basement. On a national scale it’s tougher to pick out the highlights. In certain circles, Fucked Up’s new record “David Comes to Life” represents one of the strongest punk records in awhile, but there are just as many people that would reject the mere thought that it’s a “real” punk album. It’s too clean, too structured, way too long, and lacks a certain in-your-face attitude. Well, for the most serious of serious punk rockers, shove the Danish band Iceage in your ears and watch them bleed. Their debut album is titled “New Brigade”, and as its title might suggest, these boys are looking to usher in a fresh era of no frills, all kills punk. Hope you enjoy getting sonically kicked in the teeth.

One of the keys to unlocking Iceage is a careful look backwards into the days of both hardcore punk and post-punk. Before they were known as Joy Division, Ian Curtis & Co. called themselves Warsaw and their earliest recordings evoked the sounds of The Stooges and Wire, among others. The guitars were turned up to 11, the songs never went over 3 minutes in length, and the vocals were delivered from the back of the throat with enough spit that fans in the front rows didn’t need to shower the next day. At 12 tracks and 24 total minutes, nobody is going to say that “New Brigade” is too long, or doesn’t owe some debt of gratitude to the progenitors of punk. It ravages you from start to finish and doesn’t stop for a break, unless you count those couple momentary sets of drumstick clicks across standout track “Count Me In” as breaks. What these boys have is youth on their side, and being snotty teenagers means they’re pumped full of sugar, cigarette smoke and (most likely) alcohol. They beat on their instruments like they don’t know how to fully play them, which often results in very dischordant and unpleasant noise. But it’s through that sheer lack of giving a shit that only makes Iceage that much more compelling to listen to. Hooks or any sort of verse-chorus-verse song structure are virtually the antithesis of what they want to do, yet a song like “White Rune” turns out to be remarkably memorable anyways. And with their youth not necessarily signifying that they have any real idea of some of the great music their forebears were responsible for, a bass-heavy track like “Total Drench” sounds like a long-lost Joy Division demo. But even with the best of comparisons out there, there’s still something fresh and exciting about this band that defies any easy explanation. It’s one of the big reasons why they’ve risen far above their local underground scene and are quickly becoming recognized on a global scale. That indefinable “it” quality some of the best bands have? Iceage is one of those bands.

Unless you’re fully inoculated to hardcore punk rock with a bit of a heavy metal influence, chances are you’ll find “New Brigade” a tough listen. It is the auditory equivalent of walking out your front door to find that there’s a massive riot going on. If you’re not battle tested and prepared to accept the madness coming your way, it’ll eat you alive. Iceage are taking no prisoners and leaving everything they’ve got out on the floor. You may make it all the way through the 24 minutes, but after it’s over you’ll be grateful it wasn’t longer. That’s not to say it’s a bad 24 minutes, but rather your ears take such a beating that only silence will be able to soothe them. This is one for the punks that can name you two dozen bands at the drop of a hat that 99% of people have never heard of. There are whole scenes and communities we never know or hear about, that is unless one of the bands breaks free from that small basement and into something much larger. Iceage has become one of those bands, and should they keep the same piss and vinegar style of making music, they could inspire a whole new generation of punk rock. This is likely the most legitimate rock and roll album you’ll hear in all of 2011, demented art punk run amok like only the best can do. Brace yourself, strap on some steel-toed boots, and go have some fun with “New Brigade” as your soundtrack.

Iceage – Broken Bone
Iceage – White Rune
Iceage – New Brigade

Buy “New Brigade” from Amazon

Album Review: Fucked Up – David Comes to Life [Matador]

If you’re going to call your band Fucked Up, you’d best earn the name. If you’ve ever seen Fucked Up’s live show, in which the not-tiny frontman Damien Abraham aka Pink Eyes typically strips down, jumps into the crowd and destroys things on stage, then that might be reason enough to justify the name. What’s perhaps the scariest and most threatening thing about the band though is how legitimately brilliant they are. Behind the captivating live show, Fucked Up don’t write energetic punk rock songs that thrive solely on instrumental mastery and wild vocals. They’re one of those rare bands that actually tries to make music with an intricately designed purpose. Their first album “Hidden World” was technically concept-free, but there were commonalities and themes present across it if you paid close enough attention. 2008’s “The Chemistry of Common Life” was thematically strident in its presentation of songs about the mysteries of birth and death as well as the origins of life and re-birth. As if that wasn’t already somewhat impressive, the band has also been steadily releasing 12″ singles as part of their “Zodiac” series, which started in 2006 and has continued at a rate of about 1 per year. Naturally, everything in the Zodiac series deals with whatever animal is up on the Zodiac chart for that particular year the song will be released. Where things really start to get heavy though is this past year, in which Fucked Up have been intensely working on their very own punk rock opera. A story was written, surrounding the character known as David, a man that has been the subject of a couple Fucked Up songs in the past. Leading up to the actual album though, this year’s Record Store Day saw the release of “David’s Town”, a “compilation” record that features a collection of fictional bands from David’s fictional hometown of Byrdesdale Spa, UK. The style of music was decidedly Britpop, though the boys in Fucked Up put it all together and had a series of guests come in to handle vocals which included Danko Jones, Ben Cook, Cloud Nothings and A.C. Newman. The lengths this band has gone to in an effort to make immensely smart and effective punk rock while also providing completely extraneous elements that appear to be more about fun than function, now THAT is fucked up. Give a close listen to the finally finished, 78-minute full concept that is “David Comes to Life”, and you’ll agree with that sentiment completely.

The story behind “David Comes to Life” isn’t 100% clear, but that seems to be the way that Fucked Up intended it. Spread out across four parts and 18 total tracks, we meet David Eliade, a worker at a light bulb factory in the UK who appears to be unhappy with his life. One day he meets Veronica, an outspoken rebel and Communist, and falls in love with her. Via her committment to her cause though, she winds up getting killed in a terrorist bombing, which crushes David emotionally. While he wallows in misery, he learns details surrounding Veronica’s death might not be as clear-cut as they first appeared. It all leads to the thrilling conclusion in which David finally learns the truth and becomes emotionally unburdened. That’s the broad view of the story, neglecting the many fine details that are layered across the entire record but are not always easily understood. There’s a whole thing about the narrator of the story telling one version of what happened vs. David’s version of what happened vs. David’s ex-girlfriend Vivian’s version of what happened, so if it makes total sense to you consider yourself lucky. Pink Eyes’ rough and tumble vocal style doesn’t help with translation much either, and you’re best off following along with a lyrics sheet rather than trying to hear every word that’s being sung. What also is a story without dialogue from other characters, which is why Cults’ Madeline Follin and singer/songwriter Jennifer Castle both lend their vocal talents to characters like Veronica and Vivian. That variation in perspective and singers is actually of great benefit on a record like this, helping to provide something a little smoother and more emotionally strident next to Pink Eyes’ attack dog method. Despite his “one note” style, Pink Eyes sounds better and more vital on this record than he ever has before, which at the very least says something about personal growth and an ability to adjust should the need arise.

The real challenges a record like “David Comes to Life” provide are more those of patience and virtue than anything else. Though divided into parts, the record as a whole is intended to be digested in a singular sitting. Translation: to properly listen to this album is to carve over an hour out of your day to focus on it. With all of its energy and intense moments, it’s a really thrilling 78 minutes and one that deserves to be heard straight through as often as you can. But should you need to break the record down to the bare essentials, those moments that will get you off the quickest because there’s only so much time, there are a few notable highlights to keep an ear out for. “Queen of Hearts” surges to life like a sharper, racing punk rock take on a Bruce Springsteen song. Titus Andronicus had something similar going with last year’s “The Monitor”, but that record doesn’t have quite the wall of guitars and visceral vocals this does. The hook is dynamic and effortlessly catchy, and Follin shines in her singular verse matched against your typical Pink Eyes throaty yell. A mere couple tracks later, “Turn the Season” is dark and powerful in the best sort of way, an emotional sea change that provides a strong pathway into the next chapter of the storyline. “Ship of Fools” is a fist-pumping anthem that featured a sharp mid-track guitar solo that helps motivate it to another level. The head-bobbing rhythm of “The Recursive Girl” makes it one of the more genuinely fun moments on the record, and the guitars are also scaled back just a tiny bit to give the melody just a little more room to breathe. By the time the final cut “Lights Go Up” crawls out with a backing vocal assist from Kurt Vile, there’s a brightness and celebratory air happening. Pink Eyes’ scream has turned from one of desperation, frustration and pain into something vital and life affirming. It’s not only a triumph for the main character of David, but also the band, having just conquered a mountain of a record. Hell, if you listen to the whole thing from start to finish you’ll feel that same sense of relief as the guitars slowly fade away into a single tone that beeps almost like a hospital heart monitor, slowly and steadily until it finally stops cold when the album does.

When you make a heavy concept record like “David Comes to Life”, you run a huge risk of having everything turn out disastrous. The Decemberists seemed to learn their lesson after putting out “The Hazards of Love” to mixed reviews, though many of the complaints were more about their constantly increasing rate of pretension rather than the legitimate quality of the music. One could argue that punk rock is a much more ideal format for the rock opera, given its expedient and noisy nature, we’re less inclined to care about hearing something truly innovative making it that much more of a surprise when we do. Green Day worked that angle to massive success with their album “American Idiot”, even if they faltered significantly with its equally conceived follow-up “21st Century Breakdown”. For Fucked Up, “David Comes to Life” represents the culmination of years of hard work and development, and thankfully it appears to be entirely worth it. The sheer steps from conception through execution have been nothing short of smart, and the songs are both effortlessly catchy and raw while simultaneously having to deal with the heavy story content required. “Tommy”. “Zen Arcade”. “Double Nickels on the Dime”. These are some of the big and legendary records “David Comes ot Life” has to match up with, and in effect, it has. Punk rock album of the year contenders, meet your frontrunner.

Fucked Up – Queen of Hearts
Fucked Up – Ship of Fools
Fucked Up – A Little Death
Fucked Up – The Other Shoe

Buy “David Comes to Life” from Amazon

Album Review: The Thermals – Personal Life [Kill Rock Stars]

The Thermals aren’t really about making any “small statements” with their music. Their records, at least the last few, have all featured overarching themes that took on topics like government, religion, and how we deal with tragedy. Not that one topic is better than the other or that these concepts are wearing progressively thinner, but it does seem the band’s high energy punk rock songs aren’t as effective (or energetic) as they used to be. Last year’s “Now We Can See” was great evidence that the band was having just a little bit of a hard time as they stumbled into a newfound maturity and pushed their hard-driving punk into something with a significantly smoother pop edge. For their new album “Personal Life”, The Thermals maintain much of the maturity they gained last time around but move away from that pop polish and rough up the edges a bit. The theme this time is relationships and all the good, bad and ugly that comes along with them. You could say that’s also how this collection of songs shakes out.

Okay, so there’s nothing particularly ugly or even bad about “Personal Life”, but there’s definitely moments that shine compared to others. Opening track “I’m Gonna Change Your Life” introduces us to the new reality of The Thermals, something a bit slower and almost testy, and if the song title is a mission statement it falls pretty flat. Things pick up almost instantly after that with first single “I Don’t Believe You”, which is easily one of the most fun and catchy songs the band has ever made. “Not Like Any Other Feeling” has some fascinating guitar work that may come off as a little fragile and tepid but that careful composure is also what makes it one of the most winning tracks on the album. A good second single would be “Your Love Is So Strong”, as its backing “oh”‘s really encourage a sing-along. Almost equally delighful is “Only For You”, which could benefit from a slight tempo increase but still pulls its weight with a compelling melody and emotional resonance. But in between all these triumphs and semi-triumphs are tracks that fail to strike with the necessary force to remain memorable. It’s about a half-and-half game of good and bad almost directly correlating in an alternating fashion track by track. It may be fine lyrically (most of the record is, as usual), but “Never Listen to Me” doesn’t do much instrumentally, with Kathy Foster’s bass line hitting the same notes over and over again and Harris’ electric guitar holding down a somewhat dragging tempo that’s close to but not quite danceable. “Alone, A Fool” is almost worth not mentioning, that’s how forgettable this acoustic ballad is. It drops in almost like a deadweight trying to pull the songs that surround it down with it. And though it fares a little better, “A Reflection” feels like just that, thinking out loud for a moment without so much as a chorus to go back to, just a constant stream of thought.

One of the things The Thermals tend to do great with on every outing are the lyrics, which Hutch Harris really gets to the heart of whatever subject he’s writing about. Any emotions outside of rage aren’t really felt in his vocals, but the wordplay is pretty fascinating each and every time. Compared to past Thermals outings, “Personal Life” doesn’t fare so well, and maybe one part of the problem is subject matter. When Harris rants against the government or organized religion, these are universal topics people tend to disagree on. Everybody has an opinion and whether or not you agreed with Harris at the very least he made his points with conviction. By taking on the topic of relationships, that’s less a debate and more a blatant truth. Everybody has been in a failed relationship at least once in their lives, and that’s a private concern between two individuals rather than a group or sect. It’s why the album title is what it is. But in minimizing the conflict it also minimizes the impact. Yes it’s still relatable on a mass spectrum but the experience is different for each person. That plus the calmer, downtempo moments turn “Personal Life” into a bit of a drag at parts. One could argue that these sorts of moments come with the territory of growing up, but if you look at a similar artist like Ted Leo who’s still cranking along with high impact punk rock tracks many years into his career, there’s proof it can be done. If The Thermals are looking for a hot button universal topic to tackle for their next effort, the environment might just be the thing to stir up some of that old fashioned rage Harris used to spit out like water from a faucet. “Personal Life” may be something of a wash, but grab a sponsorship from PETA and save some wildlife next time and things might just turn around for the little punk band from Portland that could.

The Thermals – I Don’t Believe You

Buy “Personal Life” from Amazon

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén