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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.

Review: Their / They’re / There – Analog Weekend

Analog Weekend Cover ArtEver wonder what would happen if one of modern emo’s most prolific songwriters teamed up with a genre legend to create a three-piece supergroup? Their / They’re / There have answered that question with their second EP release, Analog Weekend. Featuring the might of both Evan Weiss (Into It. Over It., Stay Ahead of the Weather) and Mike Kinsella (Owen, Cap’n Jazz, American Football, nearly every other influential Chicago emo band ever) along with Matthew Frank (Loose Lips Sink Ships), the band sounds about like what one would expect given the pedigree of its members, blending Weiss’s driving melodic approach with the Kinsella’s patented brand of angular guitar acrobatics. Continue reading…

Review: Death Of Lovers – Buried Under A World Of Roses

deathoflovers.buried.hiDeath Of Lovers
Buried Under A World Of Roses
Deathwish Inc.

Listening to Death Of LoversBuried Under A World Of Roses, it’s apparent that it’s much more than just a simply thought-out collaboration between members of newgaze stalwarts Whirr and Nothing. In DOL, little elements of each band’s sound are present, although a foundation is present from their respective styles. In this new band, a whole new feel and ambience are created; it’s akin to Sisters of Mercy, The Cure, and Joy Division. But there’s an extra something that sets them apart from being some sort of tribute of sound band. It’s a whole new approach to an established sound and style.

The EP opens with “Cold Heaven” in a bombastic way with the drums, courtesy of Kyle Kimball (Night Sins), kicked into high gear. As soon as the guitars and keyboards come in, the tone for the record is set. You’re in for a meandering wave of sound that will take you to memories of the coldest nights of tear-filled heartbreaks. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The wall of guitar noise here is augmented as vocalist/guitarist Domenic Palermo asks “Who played this joke on us?” repeatedly, adding an urgency to his words.

“Shaken” takes a dive into a more languid and ethereal sound that is reminiscent of a drugged-out Cocteau Twins track, but on a more pronounced Goth push. It’s these sonic and emotional peaks and valleys that keep you attentive to what Death Of Lovers are doing on this EP. There’s an idea and an initial impression of what you think the sounds will be like, but as the songs progress, there is much more bubbling below the surface.

Just as fast and loud as the EP starts and continues into the title track, it winds down on the last song, “The Blue of Noon”, subduing and putting you at ease. Buried Under A World Of Roses is truly a rollercoaster of a recording, full of emotional ups and downs and the uncertainty of what will be around the corner.

The only impediment with the EP is that it’s too short. Once the 20 minutes are over, you’re left with an insatiable desire to hear more. You feel a slight panic that there won’t be more to hear. You’re left craving for more of that small slice of sonic heaven. And it may be this inherent sadness at the fleeting span of the EP that makes me get philosophical about Death Of Lovers. Listening to Buried Under A World Of Roses, with all its ebbs and flows of sound and emotion, you become aware of the impermanence of things. You may not know it, but it’s the sense of “Mono no aware,” the Japanese term and idea of the transience of all things and the duality of joy and sadness to create beauty in life; the joy in the appreciation and the sadness at the passing of that beauty. This is never more evident than when Palermo softly whispers “Hold onto / The brighter side of life / I’m clinging to / Knuckles turning white,” during the title track.

All things will inevitably pass, and as sad as it feels, there is a heightened appreciation of the beauty in them – especially in life. This is the feeling and emotion that Death Of LoversBuried Under A World Of Roses evokes.

Review: State Faults – Resonate / Desperate

State Faults - Resonate Desperate Album ArtState Faults’ debut LP Desolate Peaks offered a strong, if not highly original, take on 90’s screamo and post-hardcore. With plenty of shrieking vocals belted out over meandering lead guitar lines, it was a decent facsimile of Envy’s early catalog mixed with a few borrowed ideas from the first couple Hopesfall records (if anyone still remembers that band). It certainly wasn’t unlike anything that had already been done before, but despite being slightly roughly hewn, it still showed enormous potential for greater things to come later down the road.

Flash forward to the present, and State Faults have made good on realizing said potential with their sophomore full-length Resonate / Desperate. With more polished and better paced songwriting, combined with the backing of a larger label after moving from Tiny Engines to No Sleep Records, it would be a shock if this band didn’t start to make some serious inroads in the scene. From the opening drum beats on “Meteor” to the closing piano outro on “Old Wounds,” this is an almost unquestionably better record all-around, and is one that better demonstrates what the band is fully capable of. Continue reading…

Review: Signals Midwest – Light On The Lake

Light On The LakeGrowth, 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…

Review: Wildhoney – Wildhoney EP

Nostalgium Directive

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.

Review: Black God – Three

BLACK_GOD_three_1400_1024x1024Black God
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.