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Review: King Woman – Doubt

King Woman DoubtKing Woman
The Flenser

There are times when a band and even a single songwriter takes elements from their favorite styles and genres and melds them together to create the perfect storm of a song and album. In the case of King Woman, main person and head driver Kristina Esfandiari has crafted what is easily the perfect amalgamation of pained shoegaze/newgaze and fuzzed out noise-pop possible. Esfandiari cut her teeth in some note-worthy Bay-area newgaze noise bands but it’s when out on her own that she has allowed her true voice and talent to be heard and shine.

On King Woman’s Doubt, she’s not only allowing a fuller band back her up (with the ever so-great Sky Madden of Chasms assisting on bass guitars and more) but essentially opening up and becoming more vulnerable and personal. Doubt is the type of record that would be emotionally-jarring and a perfect fit for the 90’s shoegaze scene explosion. Thankfully this is here right now and fitting for what we’re going through emotionally at the moment.

Starting with the very haunting crescendo of lonesome guitars and vocals in “Wrong” that pick up a pace that is unlike anything heard previously, King Woman set the pace for what is to come. It’s a mood that is being set here. It’s not some “listen casually” type of music. It’s music to stir and twist up all the emotions in your heart and rattle your thoughts. It’s rare when a piece of music can do that.

By the time you make your way through the following three songs, especially “King of Swords”, you will easily be left as a husk of a person. All emotions and feelings left out and drained and simply spent. The jarring emotion that is inherent in the music is a glimpse into the difficulty and passion that went in to recording of Doubt. It’s obvious that this is a band and group of songwriters that truly feel and express all that is around and within them. And that right there makes for great music.

Doubt is King Woman’s preview of a full-length record that is yet to come. If this is so, then we’re in for a treat. Whatever label you may want to stick the group with, newgaze noise indie fuzzed out pop, it’s all right and wrong. King Woman is all about emotions and feelings. Most specifically those most pained and heartbreaking feelings that everyone can relate to. It’s all much better when they’re put into song and music. And this record has made it so. And we’re damn lucky to be able to listen to it.

Review: Milk Teeth – Sad Sack

Sad-Sack-by-Milk-Teeth-CoverMilk Teeth
Sad Sack
Venn Records

Something has to be said about this recent, the last two years or so, proliferation of bands reaching back to the 90’s grunge and indie pop/alternative sound and twisting it up for today’s scene. Among the great plenitude there are quite a few standouts that manage to retread the familiar sounds successfully while putting their own spin on things. And these bands are not concentrated to the U.S. Thankfully.

Hailing from Bristol, England, Milk Teeth has been blazing a noisy trail since their inception in 2013. And now with their second release in the form of the Sad Sack EP, the band proves even more that they’re not only the kindred spirits to the 90’s grunge movement but with a noisy edge that is fitting for today’s music fan that has grown tired of whatever may be of trend. The EP opens up in a very noisy and fuzzed out manner with “Vitamins”. Musically it’s an unrelenting song that seems to get louder and cacophonous as it progresses but it’s melodically being held under control by bassist & vocalist Becky’s (no last names needed here) soft-spoken and echoing vocals. There is an almost inherent pain to her delivery as if she’s trying her damndest to contain the chaos from spilling out. The guitar interplay between Josh and Chris hints at the dissonance that is a landmark of any self-respecting shoegaze noise band. And it all clicks together with Olly’s manic drumming rhythms holding the pace down.

“Melon Blade” keeps the pace of swirling guitars and melodic vocals that start to emerge as Milk Teeth’s sound stamp. But it’s with “Linda” that a new facet to the band emerges courtesy of Becky’s vocals taking a more upfront position and although the music itself slows down and remains a washover of noise, the male backing vocals add a grit that counterbalances the music. While “Bagels” places the vocal focus on Josh this time around, the music is still noisy and fuzzed out and just pummeling. The same can be said with “No Fun” as the back-and-forth between Becky and Josh reach a peak of frustration and anxiety, especially with Josh screaming his lungs. Then the song screeches to a halt ending in a lonely strummed guitar.

EP closer “Trampoline” best epitomizes what the all the previous songs have been all about. By jumping back and forth and in between all the noise and guitars and melodies and subtle tones, the song encompasses all that Milk Teeth are. They’re a noisy band that while paying respectful homage to scenes and sounds of past, they’re still snarky punks that want to have a good time with all of us. That’s what great music is supposed to be about and that oftentimes gets lost in the new breed of bands. At their heart, Milk Teeth are teeming with a punk attitude and making noisy and fuzzed out pop. And that is the best combination to have.

Review: Cadaver Dogs – Too Much

CavDogsTooMuchCadaver Dogs
Too Much
Mind Over Matter Records

It’s a known fact that any self-respecting hetero male dude has watched the movie Roadhouse countless times. Admit it. Patrick Swayze is not only a good-looking guy (for the ladies of course) but also pretty damn bad-ass and kicks ass (for the dudes). So oftentimes when you’re a music dork like the rest of us, you ask yourself, “what would be the current musical equivalent to Roadhouse?”. Let’s be serious. You know you ask yourself that. No need to lie.

Well, hell. No need to wonder any more. Cadaver DogsToo Much is pretty much the overboard and out of control musical version of Roadhouse. Yup. This is the type of record and band that don’t care and keep the chaos at bay but finds themselves saying “fuck it!” more often than not.

Too Much is the type of unbridled snot-nosed punk-influenced rock n’ roll that goes balls out in each every track on the album. From start to finish there’s an evident 90’s Seattle grunge kinship to the likes of Mudhoney but the rebelliousness of Cadaver Dogs tears that impression apart and runs off on its own. So much so that you’re left wondering what to make of any of it as you get through the record.

But just because it comes across as some unbridled punk-influenced rock doesn’t mean that there’s no musicianship delicateness present. There are plenty of melodies and emotions present throughout. “Buzzards” halfway through not only bring the insanity down to a halt and kick in some melody and surprises (the horns at the end) but it also gives a glimpse into the care and mindfulness of Cadaver Dogs. These guys want to rock out for sure, but they appreciate and want to craft a perfect rockin’ moment. And they succeed in doing so.

“Don’t Tell Me I Can’t” stands out as a track as a complete throwback to heavy country blues with a clever use of a xylophone but just as a heavily 90’s alt-rock influences jam. There’s something about it with its driving rhythm and flowing guitars sound that just makes you pay attention and jam out to. And the added vocals that evoke a pain and longing that is unknown completely seals the deal. And this is all before you get sucked into the last two tracks in “Exquisite Corpse” and “Too Many People” that completely throw you off in putting you in the middle of a punk rock honky tonk. There’s no other way to describe them.

Cadaver Dogs have achieved something that is pretty rare in music with Too Much, and that is to essentially throw it all in the mix and walk away and see what happens. It’s a very stream-of-consciousness approach but it works in the band’s punk-infested rock n’ country n’ everything approach. Caution is thrown to the wind as it’s evident in Too Much. The record’s title may seem like a bit of a warning, but it is definitely never too much of a good time when the Cadaver Dogs are the ones making the noise.

Review: Whirr / Nothing – Split 12″ EP

Whirr NothingWhirr / Nothing
Split 12″ EP
Run For Cover Records

One of the more interesting aspects of a few bands in the current newgaze scene is their ability to evolve and change things up with ease. Some of the bands manage to change their sound with each recording and this is even more evident with Whirr and Nothing on their split release. Both bands can easily be considered as the forerunners, and most hyped about of the bunch, with much due, given to the number of releases and tours that have gotten people enamored to their respective takes of the shoegaze and noise-pop genres.

Whirr’s side of the split comes out strong and rhythmically heavy with “Ease” and “Lean” not only showcasing more upfront vocals, but retaining that noisy and swirling guitar sound. The tracks may sound like typical Whirr, and while that is  true, the songs have a more mature and cemented feel to them. The band has found their proverbial groove not only in songwriting but also in establishing a more unique and identifiable sound for themselves. There is no mistaking that these songs are Whirr’s and that’s a good sign as to where they’re headed. And in case you’re worried about missing that “classic” Whirr sound, the outro on “Lean” should satiate you with the airy and floating guitar feedback and noise.

Nothing come in on the flipside with what could be their heaviest songs to date. “Chloroform” and “July the Fourth” are both heavier and crunchier than previous outings but still have that dreamy and lush guitar sound bubbling below the surface. The two songs delve more into the post-hardcore space-rock side of music. The jangly and fuzzed-out guitars weave back and forth between noise and melody while the very heavy rhythm holds it all down. The usual languid and dreamy vocals on both songs open up the claustrophobic space created by the music.

With this split release, Whirr and Nothing have proven that they’re unpredictable. When you start to think that the new release will be more of the same from before, they completely blindside you with something that is not only unexpected but also exciting to hear. It’s the true indicator that a band is willing to evolve and grow and not stay within the confines of any music scene and style or any made-up categories that critics and fans may want to stick them with and in.

Dear Whirr and Nothing, keep surprising and shocking us. We’re eager to listen and fall in love all over again with music.

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…