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Review: Code Orange – I Am King

Code Orange KidsCode Orange
I Am King
Deathwish Inc.

Name any band and there will be plenty of fans who will be polarized in their self-entitled thoughts whenever a new record comes out and the sound or style has changed. Disregarding the notion that the band may want to evolve and grow, fans often tend to want familiarity and feel threatened at any sort of change. If you’re a fan of Code Orange (Kids), then you will either be throwing in the towel or completely embracing, and appreciating, I Am King.

On this new outing, Code Orange find themselves retreading some of the more familiar hardcore elements they blew the gates off of on 2012’s Love Is Love//Return To Dust and not only making their sound heavier but also more expansive and experimental. Throughout the eleven songs that make up the album you will find plenty of chugga-chugga riffing and rhythms that will make you scream nu-metal but there is an underlying “agro” factor that has made the band angrier and more in-your-face.

“Heavy” and “experimental” are two words that will come to mind as the album progresses. From the dissonant noise bookends that open the title track and close in “Mercy”, there is plenty of sampling and ambient noisescapes peppered throughout. As if that sonic shift and novelty for the band weren’t enough, halfway through the record you get to “Starve” where guitarist and vocalist Reba Meyers adds clean vocals in a dream-like state that counterbalance the aggressiveness of the song to make it menacing. And let’s not forget her sense of urgent pleading in the background vocals on “Bind You,” that make the song even more stunning than it is.

The addition of a few guests lending their vocals on “Slowburn” (AJ Borish of Path to Misery), “Mercy” (Joe Sanderson of Eternal Sleep), “My World” (Eric Schaeffer of Unit 731), and “Unclean Spirit” (Scott Vogel of Terror), it’s evident that Code Orange are willing to pay plenty of homage to hardcore of past and celebrate the aggressive music of today. This collaborative effort is what can always make any band even more interesting and well-rounded than usual.

The well-aged fans may find some parallels and comparisons to some of the more ugly sounds that made Vision of Disorder’s 1999 album Imprint such a paradigm-shift in hardcore. Code Orange are doing the same here. They’re once again changing the rules to the hardcore game on their own terms. And that’s what bands should always strive for: evolve in their songwriting and music. If all fans are as open-minded as they claim to be, then I Am King is Code Orange’s best and most intricate recording to date.

Review: Candy Hearts – All The Ways You Let Me Down

Candy HeartsCandy Hearts
All The Ways You Let Me Down
Violently Happy / Bridge Nine

Summertime is the worst time here. It’s hot and sticky all day long and raining almost every other hour. And as if the sweltering heat is not enough to worry about, we have hurricanes to be on the lookout for. It just plain sucks during the summer. But thankfully, this summer season we have a new offering from pop-punk cuties Candy Hearts. With All The Ways You Let Me Down, Candy Hearts are still subscribing to their own formula of pop punk with the assistance of New Found Glory‘s Chad Gilbert once again. But beyond the initial surface of the record there is another level that goes much more into a territory of power pop.

As expected and very much always welcomed, vocalist and guitarist Mariel Loveland stays within the same themes as previous recordings: longing and pining for that special someone, celebrating friendships, and expressing how much fun and carefree life can be as long as you try to make it so. It’s the foundation of any and all effective pop punk and power pop music. Couple that with the driving rhythms and crunchy guitars that permeate melodies and sing-along choruses and you have what could be the single-most perfect summertime album.

There is no real need to spend time dissecting the intricacies of each and every song on this record and sharing what you should think of it. Rest assured that from the start with the playfulness of “I Miss You” to the celebratory centerpiece of “Coffee With Friends” until the peak and end of “Top Of Our Lungs”, All The Ways You Let Me Down is the epitome of a fun-size sugary sweet pop punk album.

Candy HeartsAll The Ways You Let Me Down reminds us all that summer time and life itself can and is a fun time. As long as you put your best foot forwards and keep a smile on your face and stay POSI, then nothing and no one will let you down. At least not by any of your own doing. Candy Hearts have definitely improved our summer experience ’round here.

Review: Milky White – Milky White EP

Milky WhiteMilky White
Milky White EP
Bitter Melody Records

In recent years there has been an astounding resurgence in sounds that harkens back to the shoegaze and indie pop of the 90’s. There have been plenty of success stories in band that carry off the sound all the while adding a fresh twist that makes them stand out from the rest. Straddling a fine line of quiet and subdued indie pop and fuzzed-out shoegaze are Milky White. Hailing from Charleston, SC, the female-led quartet not only echo a pop-driven quietness that could be placed anywhere in a post-Siamese Dream Smashing Pumpkins world but also paying some mindful attention to the subtle noise of Silversun Pickups.

On their self-titled EP, Milky White play and toy with all styles of sounds across the four songs contained within. “Uncontested Divorce On The Grounds of Extreme Cruelty (December 17, 1964)” opens things up with a few singular guitar notes that echo in the openness of what is to come. Once the drums and a memorable bass line kick in, then a taste for what Milky White are all about is to heard. The pace is picked up as the guitar switch back and forth between a fuzziness and clarity that is reminiscent of SSPU’s sound. But that comparison is short-lived as vocalist Jules Campbell sings and extends a bittersweetness across.

“This Girl Is Full Of Keys” and “Soft Grunge House Party After Show” anchor the center of the EP and predominantly showcase what the band’s sound is all about: indie-pop driven melodies, fuzzed-out guitars that are not afraid to get loud and playfully flirt with quietness, and a rhythm foundation that is ear-catching. It’s as if the best of the 90’s bands featured on 120 Minutes got together and decided to create a sound that epitomized the music scene. This is a subtle hint to all of that. Plus, on the second song (“This Girl…”), there is a flirtation with country pop behind the music at the forefront. Whether that was intentional or not, it’s a seamless melding of styles and brings further depth to the song and band.

“Jesus Eagle Explosion Montage” closes the EP in a fast-driven, rhythmically-heavy song that is a solid expression to Campbell’s urgent vocals that seem to be begging to scream her pain and angst. It’s as if the band has been on an ascent of emotion and sound and reaching the peak will break them out in a million pieces. Thankfully though, there is inherent restraint at hand that holds them back in a very effective manner to leave you wanting to hear more.

Milky White are proof that a current band can pay plenty of homage to a music scene of long ago while still putting a new and unique spin of their own so as to stand out. Anyone having grown and loved bands like The Sundays, Slowdive, Letters to Cleo and always looking for something new, will definitely be hooked on with this EP and band. Here’s hoping that Milky White have more songs and music because they will be turning some heads and fit in and be loved in the same canon as the aforementioned bands. Their take on indie pop is not only sugary sweet with some added and needed bitterness, but it’s the right amounts of memorable pop hooks and guitar fuzziness to make them stand out from the rest.

Review: The Hotelier – Home, Like Noplace Is There

Home, Like Noplace Is There Album CoverThe Hotelier‘s career trajectory is an excellent case study in the messiness of creative growth and its necessity for positive change. Formerly known as The Hotel Year, the band’s new record, Home, Like Noplace Is There is both darker and more culturally aware than their youthful 2011 debut, It Never Goes Out, trading their former pop-punk proclivities for socio-political post-hardcore. It’s a record that embodies a level of both personal and creative reinvention uncommon for its genre, and it only takes a listen or two to understand why it has transcended genre boundaries within the indie / punk music press to earn a surprising degree of hype with seeming effortlessness.

It’s as good as everyone is telling you it is. Continue reading…

Review: Unrestrained – Forward Onto Death

Forward Onto Death
Trip Machine Laboratories

Even from its earliest incarnations and days, hardcore punk has always been a fickle genre of music, almost to the point where it can be argued it suffers from an identity crisis. This is even more evident nowadays with the resurgence of the 90’s style of the scene. You see, back there about a million years ago in the 90’s, hardcore went through an extreme change in influences and styles. Almost anything and everything associated with heavy and aggressive music was tagged with a “-core” at the end of it. There were plenty of success stories and bands that blazed trails and redefined what hardcore was all about. And of course there was a multitude of bands that just utterly failed. Thankfully in today’s hardcore scene we have a band like Unrestrained, that not only pays a great deal of homage and reverence to that long-ago 90’s scene but also creates their own sound, however mixed and mish-mash it may come across to untrained and unappreciative ears.

Unrestrained already has a few things stacked in their favor or against them depending on how you look at it. They hail from Portland, OR which is not a hotbed of hardcore or punk or even aggressive music. It’s a very isolated and insular area and scene to be a part of. Bands there, much like those in the South Florida scene, had no choice but to create their own scene of as maybe some of the bigger and more well-known bands wouldn’t come through on tours. That idea and effort was pervasive in the 90’s and it still is to this day.

So with all this back and forth about 90’s hardcore, how does it all tie in with Unrestrained’s Forward Onto Death? Simply put, this is a record that could have easily come out in 1994 when bands like Undertow, Unbroken, Poison The Well, and Shai Hulud were turning heads and create waves still felt to this day. But thankfully, Forward Onto Death is out now and it’s much, much more than just throwback record to a scene and sound of long ago. This record was created by band members whose ages are a direct reflection of having cut their teeth both musically and fanatically in the deepest and darkest recesses of hardcore. This is a record by and for pissed off older hardcore kids who can’t and won’t wrap their heads around what hardcore has become as of late. It’s as much a tribute to sounds from the past but also pushing forth an envelope of what hardcore is and should be having grown up just a bit. And grown up with piss and vinegar running through its veins.

It’d be easy and somewhat lazy to dissect each and every song of Forward Onto Death and describe the guitar breakdowns, riffs, grooves, the hard-hitting rhythms of the drums and bass, and the overall pain and anger within the vocals. But to hell with that. This is a record that is meant to be listened to as a whole and get infected with the anger and disappointment you feel towards life and how it’s just one letdown after another. The attitude of the music reflects the overall message of the words in the lyrics: we’re older now, we know better, and we’re pissed off. Do not fuck with us!

Unrestrained is the kind of hardcore that is upfront and in your face. Angry keeps coming up as the best to describe them. And understandably so. What hardcore kid having grown up and been weaned on the hardcore of the 90’s is not still pissed off today? Anyone who is still not holding on to that anger (in different and probably more healthy levels) then more than likely have sold out to the system and become the proverbial sheep and completely lost their heart and sense of self. In Forward Onto Death, Unrestrained show us that you can be an adult with all kinds of responsibilities and still be that pissed off hardcore kid you may have forgotten about. Want to hear what hardcore sounds like when it’s all grown up? This is the record to show you that. And it still hates everything.

Review: Black Monolith – Passenger

Black MonolithBlack Monolith
All Black Recording Company

In recent years, black metal has been mired with some controversy and dissension within its ranks, not necessarily by a throwback to burning churches down nor quasi-fascist rhetoric. It is more due to an outspoken division between purists of the genre and those who have appropriated the black metal styling and mixed them up with other disparate sounds. This rift has actually been beneficial though as some bands have pushed any and all preconceived notions of what a marriage between genres and sounds is like. It’s in this fine line between purism and experimentation that Black Monolith happily exists.

Black Monolith is the one-man project of Oakland, CA native Gary Bettencourt. In 2011, BM released the 2011 Demo to much fanfare in the underground of extreme metal circles. It was a raw and accurate representation of what a basis of black metal mixed with elements of grind and crust could and does sound like. Fast forward now to 2014 and we have the first full-length, Passenger, tearing these ideas anew and eschewing any shortcomings of these aggressive and at-times, listener unfriendly music. The noise of Passenger is a downhill ride, speeding like a bat out of the hell of one’s idea of black metal, the sound of the sun-soaked wishing for eternal darkness, the doom and gloom of Southern California.

Continue reading…

Review: Self Defense Family – Try Me

Self Defense Family - Try Me Cover ArtSelf Defense Family
Try Me
Deathwish Inc.

The title of Self Defense Family’s latest record, Try Me, almost sounds as though its issuing listeners a challenge. It isn’t just another name on just another faceless album, it’s a dare to willfully step outside your comfort zone and get full-on weird with verbally incendiary frontman Patrick Kindlon and his band of cynical compatriots (and we say that in the most positive way possible). Give the album a few spins, and that theory only gains reinforcement. Even after just a few songs, it’s apparent that this is not more of the same Self Defense Family you once thought you knew, but rather something else that might actually be more interesting. Continue reading…

Review: White Suns – Totem

White SunsWhite Suns
The Flenser Records

Every so often a band comes along whose music is so disturbing and jarring on the first initial listen that it prompts you to just stop halfway through their record. But then, you immediately keep playing and delve deeper into the record because it intrigues you and stirs your overall senses, redefining what it means to play heavy music that straddles a very thin line with noise and cacophony. This is akin to what was felt the first time hearing the music of an artist like Merzbow. But even though it may not be as extreme as that Japanese innovator of noise music, White Suns have created a very similar feel and kinship with Totem. Continue reading…

Review: Nothing – Guilty Of Everything

Guilty Of Everything

Plenty has already been said about Philadelphia’s Nothing. The band has taken an already-existing and intricate genre of shoegaze and made it all their own. They’ve added a noisier approach while still maintaining a sensibility for pop sounds and guitar-heavy hooks. In a sea of bands doing this exact same thing nowadays, how are Nothing able to stand out from the rest? The answer is quite simple after listening to their new album Guilty Of Everything: heart and attitude.

Guilty Of Everything is all that any fan of this newgaze scene would want to hear: jangly guitars, dream-like whispered vocals, plodding drumming that echoes, and a sense of pop-oriented noise for even the most jaded of people. Opening tracks “Hymn to the Pillory” and “Dig” strictly adhere to all the equally trapping and liberating freedoms of newgaze. Listening to them, you get the familiarity of the band’s sound from the get-go. It’s the third song, “Bent Nail”, it all comes together and blazes out of the gate. The song has a faster pace than any 90’s shoegaze band should’ve been allowed, yet the noisy escapes and distorted vocals – while still hazily executed –  bring a much-needed fresh approach to the tried and true genre. Right here is where Nothing shines through the most, but that is not to slight toward the rest of the record; there’s plenty more to get lost in.

“Endlessly”, and later on “Beat Around the Bush” and “B&E”, continue this onslaught of the senses and ambience, suffocating you in all the swirling guitars, languid rhythms, and – most importantly – the fragility of Dominic Palermo’s whispered and almost pained vocals. It’s in Palermo that listeners will find that the band clicks and connects. The man did enough angst-ridden yelling and screaming during his time in Horror Show; it’s now time for him to make an even deeper personal connection by bearing his soul with his words, and to create the dichotomy that is at the heart of Nothing: a plea for redemption that simultaneously wishes for everything to just end.

“Get Well” feels like it’s there just to mess with you. A punk-ish guitar song that is driven faster than the rest of the album while being held together by the still-whispered vocals. It’s a laziness in punk, and it works perfectly within the context of the album. The song is there to do away with any misconceptions you may have had about the album and the band.

The bottom line of Nothing’s Guilty Of Everything is that it’s an album written and performed with the mindset of seeking redemption and acceptance, all the while dragging in a wish to just say fuck everything and end it all. Physically, mentally, emotionally, and in terms of any other ideology you may subscribe to. It’s the musical embodiment of acceptance and forgiveness and the emotional tug-of-war of whether to give it all up. This is the soundtrack to that struggle. It just happens to be cemented in this whole newgaze, noise-pop, ambient, whatever-else-genre you want to stick to it sound. Deal with it. Get well.

Review: Have A Nice Life – The Unnatural World

20131017-104332.jpgHave A Nice Life
The Unnatural World
Enemies List Home Recordings / The Flenser Records

Every once in a while a band comes along that creates such unique and uncategorizable sounds and music, that it’s not only hard to wrap your mind around, but also create a cult-like following among people in the underground scene. Their name is whispered in hushed tones by like-minded fans and kept a secret as the most precious finding in human history. Sounds a bit over the top, but this is the sense you get when listening to and knowing about Have A Nice Life. The band, consisted of primary members Dan Barrett and Tim Macuga, created an incomprehensible piece of music and art with their debut LP, Deathconsciousness, in 2008. It was hard to understand in the sense of trying to figure out what it was. You could easily have slapped a “post-anything” tag to it and it still wouldn’t come close to properly describing it. The compositions of “oddly aggressive acoustic songs” and more is what caused Have A Nice Life to find fans in any and all nook and cranny of the metal anything underground scene for the most part.

Fast forward to today in 2014, and HANL have released their very-much anticipated new album, The Unnatural World. On this new album, Barrett and Macuga find themselves treading familiar ground but also expanding their sonic palette and offering listeners something unexpected. Sound-wise, there is a shiny sheen to it all, lessening some of the lo-fi recording aspect from previous outings. But don’t panic just yet, this is not saying that the album sounds like something produced by Bob Rock or someone who polished great metal bands back in the day and made them more “friendly” sounding for mainstream consumption.

The Unnatural World still very much retains that bedroom recordings quality albeit in a bigger bedroom now. With bigger recording equipment. Opener “Guggenheim Wax Museum” sets the stage with a sound straight out of the afterlife and removed from any solid structure. Vocally and musically it’s a very ethereal sound that pushes into a dream-like state. It’s almost a twisted chorus of chanting monk backed by a wall a reverb and noise. But all kept to a minimum and on the verge of spilling out. And it’s with the following track, “Defenestration Song” that things get kicked into a more structured and heavier sound. It’s somewhat fitting that the song is titled as such as defenestration is “the act of throwing a thing or especially a person out of a window.” And this exactly what Have A Nice Life Life are doing here. They’re throwing out all major misconceptions and expectations fans may have as to what this album is all about.

The rest of the album ebbs and flows in a sea of doom and noise and reverb that easily drowns out the world. It’s the sound of hopelessly being doomed to an uncertain future. If there were to be a soundtrack to the last few minutes of your life, then The Unnatural World would be it. With Have A Nice Life being the house band to that impending end of days. But, not all is doom and gloom with these guys. There is still some tongue-in-cheek humor contained within. Just like in Deathconsciousness with some of the song titles that hint at some dark humor and “don’t take things too seriously, please” mindset, on this new album you get a song titled “Dan and Tim, Reunited By Fate”. Just that. Honestly, I don’t know what to really make of that. It’s just a bit humorous to have a song within the album to be titled that.

The Unnatural World is Have A Nice Life’s next logical step in sound. Previous efforts were not ones to be topped as they all stood on their own as unique sounds and styles. Although this new material may be more concise and having a more rigid structure on the crafting of the songs, it’s all a sign that the band has a newly found discipline and focus that has taken them to a different level in music. It may be more accessible in the greater canon of their works, but it’s still a mysterious and dark and tantalizing effort that solidifies Have A Nice Life’s cult-like following.