Friday, June 2, 2006
August Burns Red / Between the Buried and Me / The Number Twelve Looks Like You / Countdown to Hour Zero
The Chameleon Club, Lancaster, PA
The last time I saw the headlining band, August Burns Red, aka the city of Lancaster’s hometown heroes, I left three quarters of the way through their set due to the ignorance of several presumably underage smokers. I could insert a long rollicking story here about the perils of engaging in cancer-promoting behavior, especially when underage, but that would be misplaced and preachy. And preachy is not what the IC is about. Unless, that is, you listen to bad music- then we may preach a bit. But enough about that; more about the show.
According to their myspace page, the first band, Countdown to Hour Zero have since broken up, so that would probably make it slightly- well- dumb to review their performance. However, I’m feeling less than intelligent this evening, so I will say that their lead singer was rather charismatic, and the guitarists talented. However, they tended to merely play the same tired old riffs present in nearly every hardcore band today. If they would have not broken up, they could have potentially become a relatively decent band. The Number Twelve Looks Like You were just as excellent as I had anticipated them to be: hitting the audience with a double vocal threat and all the intensity one would expect based on their CDs. Crazy guitar parts and general chaos were accompanied by stage diving and crowd surfing from both vocalists; making for a lot of audience involvement.
Next was Between the Buried and Me, who are in my opinion one of the most innovative metal / hardcore bands currently touring today. Their live performance was slightly less energetic than that of The Number Twelve, but given the complexity and incredible musicianship of their music, this was both expected and not a disappointment in any way. What the main instrumentalists may have lacked in stage presence was made up for by the intensity of the vocalist, who easily swung back and forth between a brutal growl to an almost angelic and soothing singing voice.
August Burns Red headlined this show because of their hometown status, and while not the headlining band on the rest of the tour, they were probably the best band to play. Perhaps it was the loving reception of their adoring families and friends from home, or the fact that I actually BOUGHT their cd and listen to it non-stop, or that I have a special place in my heart for them because the guitarist JB attended my college last year, but ABR ruled. RULED. Their synchronized head banging and guitar thrashing was impressive, as was pretty much everything about their performance. If you’d like to see a lesser-known metalcore band that offers up an amazing brand of heavy hitting, lyrically strong hardcore and metal with catchy riffs, this is not a band to miss. Actually, neither are any of the other bands mentioned in this review. Except for the one that broke up. Obviously.
Band Name: Violins
Album Name: Pink Water
Best Element: A combination of tremendous musicianship and incredible songwriting
Genre: Indie rock
Label Name: Contraphonic Music (www.nokarma.com)
Band E-mail: n/a
Violins is Brit pop sucked into the Bright Eyes vein – folksy, bluesy, edgy rock with lyrics that flow like narration. Lead singer Michael Lyons (ex-Clyde Federal) has a voice that closely resembles that of Connor Oberst, but with more of a hook to snag your ears and make you listen.
In spite of these similarities, the members of Violins are no copycats. Michael Lyons is a legitimate musician in his own right and has talented musicians accompanying him in conveying his story. Beyond this, the lyrics are ingenious. As you listen to the music, it’s hard to get away from the feeling that you are right there in the moment.
Lyrically, parts that stand out are in the song “Should You Find Yourself,” with lyrics such as “Still you’re honoring the contract/They required you to sign/Like it’s a moral obligation/When its crooked by design/When you use the word “agreement”/Do you know what this implies?/That the terms were once negotiable/Agreed on by all sides”. Also, the song “Sophie and Pierre” is incredible and moving in its entirety, so for sake of brevity, I will just point you to their MySpace page (www.myspace.com/violinsviolinsviolins) to check out more of their lyrics and listen to some incredible music.
Band Name: Woodale
Album Name: Finish What You Start EP
Best Element: Excellent timing for this style of music
Genre: Punky powerpop
Label Name: Silent Majority Group
Band E-mail: email@example.com
Florida’s Woodale makes excellent punky power-pop right up the alley of bands like Yellowcard and The Starting Line. The best thing that can be said for their style of music is that they picked the right time to play this music- because without a doubt, their style combined with their talent will gain them some recognition.
Beyond picking the right style and the right time, the vocals on Finish What You Start are definitely a force to be reckoned with. They are powerful, emotional, and always right on key. This is in contrast to the two small weaknesses of this CD – the songs seem to sound very similar to one another, and the lyrics, while good, are fairly simple and rarely deviate from the subject of love – romantic or unrequited.
Nonetheless, this is a pretty good CD. Would I listen to it again? Sure. Would I see them live? Probably. This CD was recorded in my home city of Winter Springs, FL, so there’s a good possibility that if I keep my eyes open for a show, one will come by. If they put out another CD, would I buy it? You bet. I think there is a lot of potential for growth and, at the risk of sounding like I’m signing a yearbook, as the band’s sound matures, Woodale will go far.
Band Name: This Evening
Album Name: s/t EP
Best Element: Pristine vocals
Label Name: n/a
Band E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The problem with most fads is that they just suck to listen to- boy bands, electroclash, techno-pop (Moby or the Chemical Brothers, for instance). They just don’t have any staying power after you’re over the infatuation. But one of the more recent fads is problematic: dance-rock is a heck of a lot of fun to listen to. Other fads die to a lack of sincerity- but the Bravery has proven that there are directions you can go with the dance-rock sound that aren’t into over-the-top dramatics (The Killers) or morbid ruminations (She Wants Revenge). So we go to the next divider: many fads die off cause there’s just nowhere else to go in the genre.
That’s where dance-rock is still to prove itself. And that’s where This Evening comes in. This Evening doesn’t really contribute anything new to the dance-rock genre, but the members are extremely talented, and the songs that This Evening crafts are really, really fun to listen to. Is this the beginning of the end for dance-rock, with no new avenues to explore? Or should I just shut up and tell you what This Evening sounds like?
I’ll take the latter. This Evening is a mostly-organic dance band that occasionally uses electronics for effect. The vocals are smooth, palatable, and easy to listen to- a nearly perfect pop voice, as there are no traces of whininess that pervade so much of pop music today. The bassist is awesome, churning out fast, melodic riffs that propel each song. The bass line in “Sad Song for Amy” is mind-blowing…it sounds like there should be two bassists playing. The guitar provides melody and jangly interjections (“Fake Juice”), but mostly the bass carries the sound here. The guitars and bass do interact extremely well, though- especially on the ridiculously tight-grooving “Sad Song for Amy”. The drummer is standard dance-rock fare, heavy on the cymbals and the ba-chk-ba-chk-ba-chk-ba-chk drumbeat. Yeah, you know the one.
With only four songs it’s almost moot to pick out favorite songs, but I would be a bad reviewer if I didn’t again reference the Chili-Peppers-esque “Sad Song…”. This track gives me a lot of hope for the future of This Evening, as it sounds like what the Chili Peppers would sound like on a dance floor- mellow, tripped-out, bass-heavy verses backed up by a thumping, synth-squawking, club-ready chorus. Add in the laid-back vocals and you’ve got an instant melody for hit.
This Evening does a great job of writing smooth, fun dance-rock songs. The band is extremely polished, and I can bet that watching them perform live would be a blast. They fall squarely in their genre, without pushing any barriers (except “Sad Song…”) but hey, not everything has to be the greatest ever. Just enjoy This Evening. That’s what they’re there for.
Top 5 of the Month: Nostalgia
And now, on to month three of Scott’s Top 5 of the Month. This month has been devoted to studying for finals, so I’ve had one large mix on my iPod that has provided my music for the month. It was a month of nostalgia because it calms me down before finals. Here are the albums:
1. Full Collapse – Thursday
This is my favorite album of all time. Thursday’s best album, hands down. I’ve had the album since it came out when I was 12 and I haven’t stopped listening to it. But it is always a great album to listen to when I’m stressed.
2. Pollyanna – Northstar
Sometimes I hate this album and sometimes it just hits the spot. This month it has been hitting the spot. It’s very poppy and very simple but damn, I really enjoy it.
3. …And Don’t Forget to Breathe – A Static Lullaby
I may lose any credibility I had with the hardcore kids with this choice but this is a great album. It’s hard, it’s simple and I love it. It was one of the only albums I listened to during my trip to Europe.
4. Tell All Your Friends – Taking Back Sunday
I hate the band now but Tell All Your Friends was an amazing album, and it’s another one that I’ve had around for 4+ years. It’s not the best but I love it for that fact.
5. The Bends – Radiohead
The ultimate chill-out album. I have loved Radiohead for years and will continue to love them forever. The Bends is a great album to relax to after trying to figure out why Walt Whitman hated the world so much.
Band: The Psycho Nubs
Album Name: First Human Beings To Die On The Moon
Best Element: True to Punk – DIY Ethics.
Genre: Punk Rock
Band E-mail: thepsychonubs.com
Every once in a while, you just want to listen to something that’s stripped down, simplistic and enjoyable. In vein of traditional punk rock (A la the Ramones) you now have Richmond, Indiana’s The Psycho Nubs. The two-piece, composed of Brandon Owens and Nick Shadle, keep true to punk rock with their self-released debut First Human Beings To Die On The Moon. Both members are multi-talented and share the musical duties of Bass, Guitar, Drums, Vocals, and even some kazoo. Ten years of playing together has its advantages, as musically they are much tighter than many other punk bands. These two guys clearly know each other inside and out.
Though most songs are relatively short, there are 20 songs to enjoy, including a few stand-out, classic-sounding numbers such as “Captain Blake”, “Jail Song”, “State of Hate”, “World’s Largest Wal-Mart”, and “Gin and Smiles”.
The things which I respect most about The Psycho Nubs are their down-to-earth, do-it-yourself punk ethics and their socially motivated, anti-establishment lyrics. There is a massive disillusion in the mainstream about what ‘punk’ is nowadays. People think because you have a mohawk or studs on leather you are punk-rock. People even think that Good Charlotte is punk- and that is a travesty. Anyways I’ll stop rambling…the point is The Psycho Nubs are a true DIY band.
Formed back in ‘96 as two guys jamming in a grandmother’s kitchen, they have finally released their own, full length debut album, which overall is quite a good album. Like most, it is not without a few flaws. Despite the album being full of inspiration and emotion it seems to fall short on certain levels of their musical potential. It is likely more a personal preference, but with overly simplistic music my patience wears a bit thin. In their defense, the songs are well organized to keep a good variety of the tunes. Also in true punk fashion they have had their music in two indie films, including the spastic, catchy, “World’s Largest Wal-Mart” on theWalmart: the High Cost of Low Price soundtrack.
If you are looking for more traditional punk rock this CD should be right up your alley. Stripped down, politically/socially motivated, honest-to-anarchy punk.
Band Name: The Mark
Album: Blackouts of Whitecaps EP
Best Aspect: Amazing instrumental prowess
Band E-mail: email@example.com
Pop-punk has done a real number on rock music. Its influence has polarized the music scene to where ‘serious’ rock is loud, dark, and moody, while ‘fun’ rock is pop-punk or obviously-for-show retro. It’s hard for a band to get accepted when they occupy that space in the middle. The Mark not only occupies that space- it owns that space. It’s not available for sale.
The Mark knows how to be serious, have fun, and display an amazing technical prowess all at the same time. I know it sounds tough- but that’s just because we’ve inoculated against good rock music.
The Mark owns rock music by having each individual piece of the puzzle fall together. The bottom line is the bassist, who is extremely talented, but knows when to restrain himself. He’s equally at home in lightning-speed runs (“Jekyll Walks”), or simple lines (“Sapphire”), or no line (the second untitled interlude). He doesn’t try to steal the show, but he displays his talent very well.
The drummer comes next- his versatility makes the rest of the sound work. His change-on-a-dime capabilities make songs like “Sapphire” possible- without the passionate, shifty drums, there just wouldn’t be a basis for the song.
The guitars offer a lot to this album too- intricate and blazing, they are always fist-pumping. Whether they’re delivering coiled riffs (“Sapphire”) or huge chord riffs (“Compass Points”), they rock. They know when to get quiet, they know when to get loud, they just know. This band has a chemistry that seems telepathic- no matter what one part is doing, there’s another part that’s playing countermelody, interlocking perfectly. These songs are perfectly constructed. There is not anything wrong with any one of these tracks.
The vocals top it all off. There are two extremely talented vocalists here- a lead singer with a voice so smooth and persuasive that it could convince even the most hardcore skeptics of the moon conspiracy that we did, in fact, land on the moon. It’s the type of voice you listen to the radio to hear- a great, talented voice. The bgv’s are great as well, accentuating perfectly without sounding forced or false.
“Sapphire” is easily the best track here- the most intricate and complex, it also packs the most wallop. The two guitars weave in and out, creating in-and-out melodies while the drums and bass accentuate perfectly. The passionate vocals swoop and punch throughout, becoming forceful and furious without screaming (hallelujah).
Why the Mark isn’t famous is a mystery to me. They are easily the most talented band I’ve come across in all my music reviewing. They’re making the oldest genre in rock feel new again, infusing power, agility, and youthful vitriol into it. The Mark own rock’n’roll right now- it’s up to everyone else to get up to the Mark’s standard. They’ve moved to the top of my watch list with this EP.
Band Name: The Elms
Album Name: The Chess Hotel
Best Element: Catchy rhythms
Genre: Indie Rock
Label Name: Universal South
Band E-mail: Contact@theelms.net
In a scene littered with indie-rock acts, there are exceptions which break through the typical power-chord strumming, drum-pounding mold, proving that there is more to a band then playing a few notes and repeating the same lyrics. At the end of the day, the one item truly needed is chemistry. The Elms make it clear that the long-term friendship between members can only tighten up the loose bolts in their music.
This album is a first for the Elms. Their need to follow a more classic rock sound led them to outgrow their former label, the all-Christian Sparrow, and move on to create their debut LP for Universal South. These four twenty-something musicians, hailing from Seymour, Indiana, have transformed their long-awaited album into a description of life in a small town.
The Chess Hotel is deeply rooted in classic rock acts like The Kinks and contemporaries like Oasis. The album exerts a very tight, pulled-together feeling as each track offers up its purpose. The album opens with “I Am the World,” a track that can only truly be heard when the speakers are turned all the way up. “I Am the World” sends the cookie cutter, yet still emotional, “don’t waste your life away because it is now or never” theme. Perhaps some of the lyrics come across as “angsty,” but that only makes the focus of the album more defined. The title track is a blatant look into Seymour’s downtown aura, while completely contrasting any dull, small town sense with screeching guitars and lyrics being yelled by Thomas. As the album progresses, it becomes more thoughtful, ending with the soft acoustic “I’ve Been Wrong,” which lyrically sounds like a depressing apology to their peers who are stuck with dead-end jobs in their hometown.
The Elms’ new album shines musically and lyrically, giving these friends room to grow their rock and roll roots into successful future albums. The entire sound and feel of the album simply reeks of chemistry, both with the four band members and of their relationship with the town itself.
Band: STORM THE CASTLE
Album Name: The Free of CHARGE Demo.
Best Element: Creativity
Genre: Progressive Rock/Metal
Band E-mail: STCbandmail@stormthecastle.org
From the opening notes of “Where is my Crossbow?” I quickly realized that I was going to be in for a treat. Storm the Castle is an eclectic Arkansas-based band fusing Metal riffs with rock-style vocals and added progressive elements, overall leaving a truly refreshing taste on your aural palette.
The comical, Viking-based imagery that is associated with their album and website is as discerning as it is entertaining and comical, especially since these cats certainly aren’t Viking or Black Metal. I have to admire a band that can produce good quality music and still have a keen sense of humor about what they are doing. Just a glimpse at their song names is sure to make one chuckle with their witty titles…
More importantly, their musical abilities should be taken 100% seriously, blending highly melodic guitar work with a strong, vibrant, rhythm section. Just listen to the instrumental breakdown in “Lost in the Goddamazon”, for this is a clear testament to their musical ability, showcasing their ability to transcend musical borders with nice start/stop rhythms and unique time signatures. The vocals did take me a while a to warm up to, but in all honesty it is what sets their sound apart from many other metal/hardcore bands (Well, that and their fantastic song writing… but we’ll address that in a moment). Thankfully, the vocalist is not doing self-indulgent, generic, emo/screamo or attempting to produce a mere guttural growl.
As I was saying above, fantastic songwriting! And these guys have it. You won’t find the generic chug-chug breakdowns or trendy power-pop choruses here…STC are able to avoid the typical clichés of much modern heavy music. Each song is a wealth of skillful song writing and musical ability, as there is no filler on this 5 song EP. Even the instrumental track, “Victory, but at what cost?” is a well-composed score of European-inspired guitar harmonies.
Above all else, STC has done what many other bands are scared to do: make music for themselves first, and let the masses cast their judgment later. As a reviewer and a musician I can not only appreciate this, but also truly enjoy their music. A band this unique can only come from a strong vision. Hopefully they can keep their focus in the future. These guys have tons of potential and I cannot wait to see what their future holds.
Album Name: Self-titled
Best Element: Unique vocals
Band E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
When the first lyrics of School’s opener “Red Lights and Blue Eyes” cue up, it couldn’t be more perfect: “And now you see, there are no other men like me.” It’s definitely a truism, because although School plays indie-pop with dance rock inflections like many in today’s scene, they throw in a major twist: Matthew Teardrop’s vocals.
To say that Matthew Teardrop’s vocals are reminiscent of those that characterized the eighties new-wave movement (warbly, faux-operatic baritones with a lot of vibrato) would be like saying that Alpha Centauri is vaguely reminiscent of the sun. It’s not that they’re close to each other- it’s that they’re basically the same thing in different places.
After the initial shock of hearing what sounds like Robert Smith singing over a Death Cab song, I started to realize that this oddity actually wasn’t that bad- the pop sensibilities weren’t diminished any by the odd choice of vocals, and on slightly deranged, Joy Division-esque songs such as “Under the Radar”, the choice of darker vocals actually improves the quality of the song.
But if I attached all my attention to the vocals I’d be doing a disservice to this album. The songwriting and musicianship here is great- the guitarist and keyboardist work well together to create swirling, involving moods for the vocals to play around in. The drums are one low point of School’s sound- the beats are a little bit too simple. In abusing the closed high-hat sound, a lot of the drum work sounds the same, which is sad.
The repetition of the drum-lines and the growing annoyance that I feel against the vocal stylings work to make the best songs on this album all packed toward the front- the delicate, lyrically brilliant “Red Lights and Blue Eyes”, the pulsing “Man and Woman”, and the relentlessly catchy “School”. The darker “Under the Radar” does fall in the second half, but for the most part, the more enjoyable half is the first one.
School’s self-titled effort is an admirable one- they establish a sound and take some liberties within that sound. I’d like to hear them with some more exciting drumbeats and better production- I think they would be snapped up as the indie darlings they should be. Definitely an impressive album, and a great starting point for a band.