Growth, sincerity, and refinement.
These are three words that come to mind when listening to Light On The Lake, the third LP from Cleveland’s Signals Midwest. Tightening up the solid technical foundation laid down on 2011’s Latitudes And Longitudes, the band has released a record that is an improvement over its predecessor by every metric that matters. That is no small accomplishment, and the result is an album that’s likely to end up on at least a few year-end lists. Continue reading…
On their latest outing, Baltimore’s Wildhoney seem to suffer from a sort of identity crisis in their sound. Across the three tracks on this 7” EP, Wildhoney flirt with shoegaze, fuzz pop, art noise, and Brit-pop, sometimes even within the same song. By no means, though, is this all a detractor. It actually enhances the band’s sound and style into a convoluted noise that will hit listeners hard – and deep – and will all resonate with any music nerd who grew up surrounded by the so-called alternative music scene of the early 90’s.
The music may be all over the place on the whole and keep your guessing at what will come next, but the dream pop vocals are what hold it all together. The underlying wall of music acts as something that all the songs are set up on, and then they’re lifted from their weight with the pop-infused vocals and become lighter than air, becoming completely sweet to get endeared to.
After listening to the three songs on this EP, it’s a pleasant surprise that Wildhoney are delivering awesome shoegaze-influenced jangly pop goodness. Their music is sweet and jarring and punky, and completely hooks you the moment you hear it. Your mind will run wild to find accurate comparisons for the sound. In quite a few instances you might almost have previous bands’ names on the tip of your tongue to compare Wildhoney to, but you’ll end up dumbfounded and at a loss. That’s a perfect indication that you played the “compare game” and miserably failed because Wildhoney have won, making their own sound even though plenty of influences abound.
No Idea Records
Having lived there, I’ve known Louisville, KY to be a city of unbridled angst (at least when it comes to the hardcore punk music scene). Being basically a no-coast city, it had to create its own identity and music to rival – and set itself apart from – what may have been going in the NYHC and SoCal Punk scenes. Countless bands came and went, and a certain sound arose. It was a hybrid mixture of the typical hardcore punk elements, but with a greater emphasis on melody and emotion. Is this where Black God fits in? Yes and no.
Black God plays itself in a heaviness and speed that harkens back to the Black Flag days. But this spirit is merely the foundation, as they go beyond that with an urgency in the vocals and a melody that cuts through as any hardened metal band would. This makes sense, considering the pedigree of this band; members have done time in groups such as Endpoint, Young Widows, and Coliseum, just to name a few. Combined, the members bring in 20+ years worth of music across plenty of heavy genres.
With their third release for No Idea Records, the aptly titled Three sees Black God sticking to a formula of punk that works for them; short bursts of angry and heavy hardcore rival what any new band may be doing today. It’s a familiar sound, yes, but it doesn’t fall into the rut of being stale or played out. Across six songs, where none clock in at more than two minutes, we get a message of standing up for your beliefs, individualism, and a willingness to reach out to others and be exemplary. These are thought-provoking and deeply meaningful words and lyrics, which none other than Rob Pennington could pull off with his howling and pained vocal style. If the words to “Washington” are not the perfect declaration of having to stand up for marriage equality, then I don’t know any other song that comes close.
Black God‘s trajectory began with Black Widows and Black Cross. The band members dusted themselves off after time apart and carried on a torch of meaningful and pissed-off hardcore punk. With Three, they continue that journey of creating heavy music with a message that will move anyone who listens. It will not only move you in the proverbial moshpit, but also create a spark of thought in your mind. If that doesn’t add another meaning to heavy music, then I fail to find it. Black God are heavy, in sound and message.
Sweet Weapons sound a lot like Title Fight.
While immediately saddling Sweet Weapons with such a lofty comparison may (re: will) lead to some unfair expectations, the similarities are difficult to avoid. Much like their peers in Title Fight, Sweet Weapons are four kids playing a blend 90’s post-hardcore and alt-rock, citing bands like Texas Is The Reason and Quicksand as key influences. However, much like Title Fight, they’re also a lot better than at this kind of music than anyone their age should be. Whether they arrived at a similar sound by virtue of shared inspiration, or if they’re actually just somewhat derivative (as a more cynical set of ears might feel), such speculation is ultimately aside the point.
What matters more is that Sweet Weapons have dropped a solid debut LP with All Of My Best Friends Are Dogs either way, and if originality and innovation aren’t their trump cards here, then passion and execution certainly are. Continue reading…
Don Giovanni Records
Something happened to Laura Stevenson.
It’s evident when you give her third LP, Wheel, a few solid spins that something has changed for the singer / songwriter. No, it’s not just that she dropped the “… And The Cans” from her moniker. It’s not that she has dramatically altered her sound either; Stevenson’s latest output continues the overall style and aesthetic of her previous releases and should be comfortable for long time fans. She and her band still play the same impossibly catchy and difficult to definitively categorize folkish indie-pop we’ve come to know and love. Continue reading…
Florida is a mish-mash of music scenes. There is no doubt about that. Depending on the type of music fan you ask, you’re bound to get a different list of bands hailing from the Sunshine State. Ask a metalhead about Florida and you will likely get a reference to Tampa being the birthplace of death metal and bands like Obituary and Morbid Angel or a little further south in the Miami area with the sludge-doom sounds of Floor and later on Torche. It’s in this eclectic atmosphere that brought about Deafheaven’s performance a few nights ago at Will’s Pub in Orlando. It was the band’s furthest show south in not only the state, but also during their U.S tour with Marriages supporting their newest release, Sunbather.
Doors opened at 9pm, so we knew it was going to be late night in this small and sometimes-dingy indie music venue. Not to mention that the typical FL summer heat and humidity were seeping their way into Will’s Pub as the crowd started to arrive and pack the place. Local Orlando band Dzoavits hit the stage to an already-eager and expectant crowd. Dzoavits’ style of black metal may have sounded standard and formulaic to the casual listener of the sub-sub-genre of metal. But once you started paying attention, and watching the band’s presence on stage, it was evident that they have their own spin on the genre. This wasn’t your typical charred metallic guitars, screeched and guttural vocals, and blast beats type of metal. This was more akin to an off-shoot of black metal influenced by the proximity to Tampa’s Morrisound Studios sound in their heyday of death metal recordings. Dzoavits kept it interesting throughout their set. That’s saying a lot coming from a jaded fan of the genre.
If there is such a thing as a sophomore record slump in music, then Deafheaven must not have gotten that memo. And even if they did, they tore it to shreds and burnt it in a funeral pyre, as clearly evidenced in the brilliance of Sunbather. In this eagerly anticipated second record, the Bay area black metal shoegaze amalgamists have created a document in music and beautiful noise. It’s not easy to mix disparate and unlikely genres, but Deafheaven have done it so well that it looks and sounds easy.
Sunbather opens easily enough with “Dreamhouse” which is a standard showcase in the band’s sound. But as the song evolves and is followed by the later tracks, it’s apparent that Deafheaven have expanded their sound and style in the two years since Roads to Judah. Where Roads was a much darker and heavy album, Sunbather is more expansive, faster, and yet still heavier nonetheless. The best example of this new approach and heaviness is in the songs “Please Remember” and “Vertigo.” The former track builds up the noise and nuances, then bleeds into the latter and explodes in a chaotic wall of noise. And therein lies Deafheaven’s true essence as a band and as musicians. It’s the perfect harmony and balance of subdued and serene with the ugliness of heavy and dark.
Two things are clear listening to Sunbather. First, this album is a start-to-end record that has to be taken in as a whole. Each and every song compliments the one preceding and following it. The ambience and feel throughout is harmonious in that all the tracks work together to create a mood. Second, is that mood itself. This is an emotional record. It may be heavy and dark and fast at times, but it is rife with emotion. Sunbather gives you the sense of seeking a light in a world full of darkness. It is almost the musical question of the conundrum that plagues each of us since birth: why am I here? But better yet, it is the soundtrack to our search for equilibrium in this world where stability in shaky ground is ever-so elusive.
Sunbather is the album where Deafheaven expands not only their sound, but also breaks free of any and all preconceived notions anyone may have had of what they are supposed to sound like. This album is relentless with enough moments to reflect and breathe in all that we’re hearing. And hopefully closely listening to.
The first minute of album-opener “Little Shallow” will reach into your chest and open you up, fill you with the need to tap your foot, to run, to do something. You can’t help but move. When singer Travis Omilian sings, in between yells, “The problem started with me,” you suddenly realize you are listening to one of the most genuine, and oddly self-assured, records you will ever come across. That’s how the self-titled sophomore album from New Jersey’s Banquets opens, with an admission of fault and defeat coupled with an affirmation to pick up and keep moving. It’s like the first breath of fresh air on the morning you decide to start all over again. This is the point in your life where you look back to where you have been, assess where you are and who you are because of it, and then move on in a better, more honest direction.
Banquets’ latest full-length effort is all about growth or the beginnings of growth. And man has the band grown since This Is Our Concern, Dude and Top Button, Bottom Shelf, their debut EP and LP respectively. This is the best they have ever sounded, and I don’t just mean clearer sound and better production. While Banquets hasn’t necessarily sonically evolved too far from 2011’s Top Button, Bottom Shelf, there is a new-found confidence and comfortableness to the band and their sound that I have never previously heard from them. This is the best Banquets has ever sounded, and they know it.
Some lyric/vocal structures within songs like “Big Big Waves” recall lyric/vocal structures the band’s previous full-length, Top Button, Bottom Shelf, making the albums feel directly connected in a way. Now, I know I said the band hasn’t evolved very far sonically from that album; that doesn’t mean the band hasn’t grown. They have taken their ability to write catchy, ridiculously singable anthems for direction-seeking persons, and expanded and refined that sound until they owned it completely. For instance, “March 19th” is unlike anything the band has ever recorded with the way they play at the border of being downright delicate; “Starts And Stops” begins like a Midwestern hardcore song with double-time drums; and Omilian’s vocals on “Bums In The Breeze” show off his vocal ability tremendously. He sounds almost unlike himself when he pushes as far into his higher register as we’ve ever heard. Musically the songs are bigger and more open; not necessarily more accessible (because the band has always had an easily accessible sound), just more open, like they are letting in the world.
While they haven’t necessarily evolved, Banquets doesn’t need to. They’ve refined their craft to the point of perfection. This is the album that Banquets has been working towards writing their entire career. It all culminates in “Daggers,” a song about understanding and toeing the line between youth and adulthood. The theme of growing up runs throughout the album and it is no more condensed than in the album’s closing track. It’s all about moving forward and knowing when to let go, and what to hold on to. “Stay young, stay loud, stay brash and bold” they sing before the music rises in a staccato crescendo, crashing over you like waves. You are not alone in not being okay with leaving your youth behind, but that, in itself, is okay. It’s time to grow up anyway.
I love listening to a record and thinking to myself: There are some people who are going to hate this. You know the feeling I mean. We’ve seen the sentiment countless times before. When a band makes an album that doesn’t follow the path or style of their previous records, you just get this gut feeling that somebody somewhere is going to be upset. Four tracks into Sister Faith, the fourth studio album from Louisville, KY’s Coliseum, I couldn’t help but think exactly that. The truth is this: if you did not like the direction they took with 2010’s House With A Curse, then you probably won’t like this record either. We’ll get that out of the way upfront. This record may just not be for you. But if you are interested in watching and hearing a band evolve beyond its own boundaries and genre, then Sister Faith is here to both surprise and thrill you.
With that being said, longstanding fans of the band should not fear that the hardcore/punk trio has gone soft. Coliseum still brings the noise like nobody’s business on tracks like “Under The Blood Of The Moon,” which features Burning Love’s Chris Collohan, and “Bad Will,” the bridge of which feels like something caught between a hate-letter and a personal assertion. The first couple of tracks on Sister Faith could even potentially pull in the jaded crowd. While the songs on this album aren’t as sonically heavy as anything pre-HWAC, “Disappear From Sight” and “Last/Lost” are still fast and brash screamers that will get you moving, and pull you deeper into the rabbit hole of mortality and futility the Louisville trio has crafted in this album.
I mentioned earlier that this album will surprise you, and it will. “Used Blood” fades into weirdly beautiful guitar feedback as the drums roll softer and softer, as singer-guitarist Ryan Patterson’s vocals grow softer and softer, and the harmonies on “Last Night Trains” are downright astounding. These are the moments where Patterson and company excel extraordinarily. Not the bare-knuckled ones, but the moments that reveal a depth and maturity that this band has not really shown before. “Love Under Will” is the closest the band may ever come to writing a slow-jam. That sounds like a joke, but really it’s not. There’s something almost tender in the way that Patterson sings on the track and the down-tempo number may be the slowest song the band has written to date. It’s nice to see a band renowned for its gruffness and attack try something different. “Love Under Will” is exactly the kind of song I did not ever expect to hear from this band.
That seems to be the mode of Sister Faith: whatever it is you never expected from Coliseum, they’re going to give it to you. Take “Save Everything” for instance. Never have I even considered the possibility that a song from Coliseum could cause me to tear up. The track isn’t sentimental by any means, but its message of futility, of walking the same paths over and over again, of playing at rebirth, crushes me every time I listen to it, and I can’t stop listening to it. There’s a lot of lyrical interplay revolving around memory, mortality, and futility on this record, not enough to really consider it a concept album, but the overarching themes are definitely there to be explored.
At the end of all this is a record I cannot put down, but that I feel like I can never fully explain how floored I am by it. That’s the greatest thing about this record, not only does it revel in the darkness, but it will also fill you up with light. Past all the pretense of punk rock or “hard” music in general, Coliseum’s Sister Faith feels like connection, to another living soul, to the people that surround you past and present. It’s emotive and evocative but still maintains a darker edge like only Coliseum can. If you’ve ever felt the need to grow the hell up, or have been forced to face the fact that we are all human and not endless, then this record will knock you on your ass. And then help pick you back up to throw a few more ‘bows. The album is out April 30th on Temporary Residence. You can stream the album in its entirety at Pitchfork.
It’s hard to speak about a band’s sophomore LP without making comparisons to their first full-length effort. Restorations’ self-titled debut was a beautiful and, overall, somewhat subdued record. It was well-crafted and seemed to know how to hold itself, how to present itself to the listener like a gift. If it’s possible to say that an album is well-poised, then Restorations was that and more.
I’m not trying to gush over the past here. I’m not trying to set up a true dichotomy either. But if we are to discuss Restorations’ latest full-length record, LP2, then we need a place to start. It’s not that LP2 is not the above-mentioned. It most certainly is, and then some. Restorations is the kind of band that knows how to write songs that will both crush and uplift you at the same time, songs that are familiar yet challenge your understanding of music and structure at the same time. Every song on their latest album is just as tailored and emphatic as we’ve come to expect from the Philadelphia band. That being said, there are differences that are just as welcomed and welcoming as anything the band has written to date.
The major difference between Restorations and LP2 is loudness. We’re not just talking about bombast and pomp here. Both “Neighborhood Song” and “When You’re Older” from Restorations’ self-titled record are full of that and then some. No, here we are talking sheer volume. LP2 is loud—sometimes, as is the case with track two “Let’s Blow Up The Sun,” shockingly so. It’s the first time I’ve heard singer Jon Loudon push his vocals to near screaming. And it’s fantastic. The album explodes off the get-go. Whereas “Nonlocality” opened Restorations with a slow build to climax, LP2’s album-opener, “D,” cuts right loose, picking up where the band’s previous seven inch, A/B, left off.
Not only is the album loud, but it’s noisy as well. The album’s producer, Jonathon Low, is billed right alongside the band as “Additional Noise.” Take lead single “New/Old” for instance. Spun throughout the song is this screech, this scream, like the brakes of a train locked up. It adds so much more dimension to the track, making it seem that much more urgent and frantic, like it’s barreling right through you. The lead guitar parts on “Kind of Comfort” are jumpy, warped and twinkling, almost psychedelic in their intensity. The first few times takes the listener by surprise. The track is nestled in between two of the more subdued songs on the record, the jaunty “Civil Inattention” and the crushing “In Perpetuity Throughout The Universe,” so it’s pounding drums and slightly asymmetrical guitar sound erupts from the record.
In fact, there isn’t a single track on LP2 that sounds like any other track. “Quit” is a stomper and “The Plan” is as bouncy as a Van Morrison single while featuring my favorite lyrics on the album: I was listening to Bob Seger / While She was listening to Pete / With a wry smile, she says to me / “Well, which side are you on?” The opening of album closer “Adventure Tortoise” is riddled with warbling riffs like sound effects from a late-night 50’s sci-fi double feature before the guitars crash and the drums pound into a crescendo that pulses like the blood of everyone involved and everyone listening. Restorations have accomplished something great with LP2. The album is so varied and well-written, it should both infuriate other bands for not having written it, and be held as an example of what rock/punk/loud music can be and still hope to be. Give it a listen below and then check out the rest of the band’s catalog on their Bandcamp page.