Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Oklahoma Memorial Union, Norman, OK
The Union houses an extremely busy cafeteria, where most of the upperclassmen on the University of Oklahoma campus snag lunch. The programming board, hip to the latest trends, often asks a guitar player to come play during lunch as a little background entertainment. It was in these circumstances that I saw Robert Joslin play guitar.
Now, the Union is a pretty busy place. It’s also a pretty loud place. It’s so loud sometimes that I question the intelligence of having a musician there to try and play over the noise. Because the Union isn’t like a coffeeshop, where patrons talk quietly so as not to disrupt someone else’s listening experience; nope, people just talk louder to get their voices over the guitarist.
I didn’t hear a whole lot of Joslin’s set thanks to the din of the crowd, but what I did hear intrigued me. While Joslin was playing mostly coffeeshop standards, his voice carried a timbre similar to that of Conor Oberst’s (Bright Eyes). This made songs like “Imagine” by John Lennon a little difficult to swallow, but others like “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd sounded really great. His guitar playing was solid throughout, and I enjoyed it- but the voice is what really stuck out. I don’t know if I heard any of his originals and just didn’t know it, or if there weren’t any originals at all- but I would be interested in hearing those original songs. I’d also be interested in hearing Joslin in a crowd that didn’t set out to crush him.
Here’s to the fact that artists keep doing what they do, even when it seems that no one is paying attention. I’ll toast to that.
Monday, August 21, 2006
Stardeath and the White Dwarfs/The Neighborhood/Rohypnol Rangers
The Opolis, Norman, OK
Having not been to a concert in roughly four months due to a working at a [url=http://www.newliferanch.com]Christian summer camp[/url], I was highly anticipating this show. I was also anticipating it because it was at the Opolis- a near-legendary venue in the Oklahoma music scene. Okay, maybe ‘near-legendary’ is a bit of an exaggeration, but I’ve always wanted to go there.
The show didn’t disappoint the venue’s ‘near-legendary’ status. The Rohypnol Rangers kicked the show off with a rowdy, over-the-top set of fractured, caustic, charging rock that sounded a bit like Modest Mouse trying to cover the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The herky-jerky tunes were played by a band that was just as nuts, from the profane and amusing lead vocalist/drummer to the bassist who was mostly there for show to the lead songwriter sported what he later termed a “Batuir”- a double necked behemoth of an instrument that started out as one guitar and one bass, but was later lovingly modified into one instrument, with a saw, some wood glue, and some duct tape (mostly for cosmetic effect, I think). The songs usually started out with a manic-paced guitar or bass riff on the batuir, accompanied by a quick but very solid drum beat. There was some yelling, some singing, some parodying of gruff vocalists, and a sing-a-long literally entitled “Take Out All the Trash”. That was indicative of their lyrical style- bizarre, humorous, and sung with enough conviction to almost wonder whether the Rangers were serious or not.
After a break to soothe our ears from the assault that was the Rangers, The Neighborhood produced a set of extremely talented indie-pop. That’s not to say that they didn’t rock or that they weren’t loud- if anyone’s ears weren’t ringing by the end of the first set, they were definitely ringing by the end of the Neighborhood’s first song. Featuring a very guitar-centric sound, the 3-piece ripped through a set of hummable pop tunes that would’ve been even better if we could’ve heard more of the vocals. In the whole guitar centricity of the set, the vocals oftentimes got lost in translation. The best few songs were the ones were the guitar was set down in favor of a keyboard, an acoustic, or a bass/drums feature, as the unique tone to the vocals had more chance to shine.
The drummer and the bassist are to be commended- the bassist kept the sound moving with highly melodic lines while the drummer used a lot of unusual effects (electronic drumming, drumming on a guitar) to augment his usual drumming style. The Neighborhood’s pop-rock did have an artsy bent to it- they introduced their set with a five-minute sound collage that really didn’t have much melody but provided lots of interesting rhythms and sounds. The well-chosen covers of “Pepper” by the Butthole Surfers and “Another Brick in the Wall” were also indicators of some artsy background. The former cover was an entrancing song- they played it with a confidence and swagger that gave life to the sordid lyrics.
Stardeath and the White Dwarfs had the audience’s attention even before the set started- they handed out laser pointers to every member of the audience and told us to shine the lasers on them during the show. Then they killed most of the lights and started their set, as the eerie glow of about 150 laser pointers lit up the band. The glow fit perfectly with the band’s sound, as the dreamy, droning, heavily reverbed sound produced a trance-like atmosphere in the room. It was highly enjoyable, but it was almost useless to try to distinguish between songs- most sounded quite similar. It was kind’ve like listening to early Spiritualized if Wayne Coyne guest-vocaled for them. Trippy, melodic, and buzzy with great melodies interspersed throughout, but still very similar in sound.
Intermittently throughout the set, the band would turn on a smoke machine with the result of making every single laser visible. From the barrel of the laser to the fretboard, mic stand, torso or drum that it landed on, it was visible- only enhancing the trance-like state.
One of their last songs featured a genre switch that blew my mind- a grooving techno-sounding bass line was played, which was dramatically different than everything else that had happened. While this bass player went nuts soloing, the lead singer held up a large round mirror that reflected all the lasers back on the audience- one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen at a concert. Light went everywhere, the audience went nuts, the band kept throwing down techno, and it was totally incredible.
I couldn’t have asked for a more entertaining show. The Opolis lived up to the hype I gave it.
Friday August 18th and Saturday August 19th , 2006
MewithoutYou / Norma Jean / Dead Poetic / He is Legend / Showbread / Copeland / Lovedrug / Anathallo / Bradley Hathaway and many more
Ski Roundtop, Lewisberry, PA
Multiple-day, all-day music festivals are probably the coolest things in the world to attend. Yeah, you may come home the next day completely exhausted, sun-burnt, covered in dirt and various unidentifiable things, and have blisters all over your feet, but you have such an awesome time that none of those things matter. Seriously. You haven’t lived unless you’ve attended one. No, Warped Tour doesn’t really count; they have to have GOOD music. The music festival I had the pleasure of attending (for the first time ever, no less) was Purple Door, one of the largest Christian music festivals on the East Coast.
First of all, this is not just a music festival. It’s held every year in August at Ski Roundtop, and in addition to the bands performing, there are tens of food vendors, a skate park, and an art show with works compiled from mostly student submissions. The atmosphere itself is incredible, with people ranging from families bringing their small children along to goth kids that look like they’re either going trick-or-treating or trying to be Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance to elderly people sitting on lawn chairs enjoying the people watching. Now granted, based on the lineup, a good 90% of the people in attendance are wannabe scene kids in the 16 – 25 age group, but I was personally more amused with the elderly and satanic looking kids at the Christian music festival.
The music itself (since this is really supposed to be about the music) was all around amazing. There was a slight scare and He is Legend almost didn’t perform, due to some sort of van problems, but they soldiered on and put on a great, great set. However, their performance paled in comparison to MewithoutYou’s. In my opinion, they stole the show from every other band that played. Now you must remember that I am slightly partial, because they’re one of my all time favorite bands. However, by the last song of their set (which happened to be a new one off of their forthcoming album ‘Brother, Sister’), they had a good twenty to thirty members of the crowd up onstage dancing, along with at least 5 extra members on horns, drums, and the harp. If any non-Christian was in attendance and saw their performance, I guarantee that they instantaneously accepted Jesus as his or her personal savior. Yes, MewithoutYou’s performance was that moving.
While I was completely enthralled with MewithoutYou’s performance, there were some other excellent ones as well, namely Showbread, Norma Jean, and Anathallo. Showbread is awesome because a. they wore matching outfits b. one of the vocalists wore fishnets and gloves and c. they have a keytarist. A KEYTARIST. If that isn’t the coolest thing you’ve ever heard….then you haven’t heard a lot of cool things. Then there was Norma Jean, and admittedly, even though they’re the quintessential Christian hardcore band, I am not a big fan of theirs. In fact, I think the only really good song they’re ever written is “Memphis Will be Laid to Waste”. Despite this, they put on a great show, being that their music is conducive to being listened to live rather than on CD.
Quite possibly the highlight of all of Purple Door for me was hearing my aforementioned favorite song by them be played. I think the reason that it’s so awesome is because Aaron Wise, the vocalist from MewithoutYou does guest vocals in the end, and because both Norma Jean AND MewithoutYou were playing at the festival, I knew it was inevitable that they were going to play this song. …and when they did, oh man was it amazing. Another band that needs to be mentioned is a relatively unknown one named Anathallo. They just recently released a full length CD entitled [u]Floating World[/u] and it is unlike anything I’ve ever heard in an awe-inspiring way. For lack of a better way to describe them, I’ll resort to using their myspace description of Folk/Experimental. But trust me when I say that they’re so much better than that description makes them sound; because quite honestly, I don’t really like folk OR experimental. In addition to the greatness of their music, they also put on a great live show with audience involvement, crazy instrumentation, and dancing. Check them out, or you’ll be sorry, guaranteed.
Regardless of whether you were there for the Jesus or for the music, the atmosphere was amazing, and the sense of community that it fostered was a unique one. And really, how many times do you get the chance to see “Memphis Will Be Laid to Waste” as originally intended? Yeah, that’s right.
It’s amazing how big the world of music is, and how little a space I inhabit in it. I heard the other day that there are 300,000 bands on Purevolume.com- and that number just amazed me. I’ve heard maybe 1000 of those- and that’s probably an exaggeration. I buy WIRE magazine whenever I have the money to- I’ve never heard of anything that I read about between its pages (if you haven’t read WIRE, you should- it’s an amazing magazine, full of things I never would have thought of….ever). I consistently get music sent to me by people I’ve never heard of.
And that makes me happy. In a world that’s topsy-turvy with wars and exorbitant gas prices and terrorism and fear, it makes me happy to know that art still goes on. Life still goes on, because there is still new art to appreciate. Still new things to listen to and hear. Is this the end of the world? Who knows. I kinda doubt it, but that’s a whole other discussion. All I know is that as long as there is new music to hear, I still am. I will continue to be. Thank God for music, and its calming qualities.
Band Name: Edenpark
Album Name: The ___ Album
Best Element: Consistently good punk rock
Label Name: PoorBoy Records
Band E-mail: email@example.com
Edenpark’s style is right in the vein of punk legends such as The Misfits and the Dead Kennedys, without the horror movie or political themes. It is dark, brooding punk rock with a good “whoa” thrown in for good measure here and there.
If a revival of this style of punk music is what Edenpark is striving for, they’re on the right track. They incorporate this traditional style of punk and manage to deviate enough from track to track to make The ___ Album a good listen from start to finish.
For example, the song “It’s All Day” starts out as a punked-out 50’s style doo-wop song which becomes a more definite punk song, then transitions back to the doo-wop riff. This is contrasted with tracks like “New Way Home’ and “Ruthless Warrior” which are heavier and definitively punk.
The weakest element this album is the lyrics. The quality of writing is not consistent throughout the album. Some songs are well written, but others such as “Ruthless Warrior” are just repetitive and tiresome after the first minute of listening. Granted, lyrical maturity is not necessarily the goal of music in this genre, so if they weren’t going for that, then they have done a great job.
As far as replay value, Edenpark’s The ___ Album is worth a good couple of listens, but I personally would lose interest in this pretty quickly due to the lack of depth in the writing.
Best Element: Creativity
Genre: Indie Rock
Label: Paper Garden (www.papergardenrecords.com)
I’ve long said that my favorite bands are ones that have abandoned guitar as their main method of communicating and implemented more keys. Relient K, Coldplay, Mae, The Flaming Lips, and the Starlight Mints are just some of the many bands who have shifted or are shifting towards a more key-centric approach (although the Lips are shifting out of that stage). There are infinitely more sounds you can make with a keyboard than with a guitar, which is why keys-heavy music is just more interesting.
That’s part of the reason why I’m such a firm believer in Eagle*Seagull. Their indie-rock is that dark, swooping, melancholy indie-rock that is so trendy these days, but instead of being cliché and annoying, it’s heart-pumping and refreshing due to the emphasis on keys. The guitars are still there, very much so- but more often than not, the piano is carrying the melody on Eagle*Seagull’s debut.
Another reason I so eagerly prescribe to ES is that they have an ace up their sleeve which goes by the name “restraint”. Eagle*Seagull has seven members in their band, and yet their music never sounds cluttered. In fact, it’s the direct opposite of cluttered- everything seems to fit perfectly, whether it’s a secondary keys line or a banjo part or an extra guitar riff.
Another reason to love this album is that it’s got quality and quantity- clocking in at 55 minutes for 11 songs, these guys don’t skirt around the issue. They make every piece an epic, whether it’s a forlorn piano ballad (“Ballet or Art”, which has the added bonus of firework noises in the background), an indie-pop extravaganza (the mix-tape-ready “Your Beauty is a Knife I Turn On My Throat”), a song that’s a guitar tone away from being an alt-country bit (“Hello, Never”), or just a moody indie-rock song (“It’s So Sexy”).
A lot of what keeps the sound cohesive is the unique vocals- not the greatest in the world, but certainly unique. The tone is almost overdramatic- not whiny, but warbly and pointed, with a bizarrely interesting falsetto. It fits well over the moodiness, and it makes their music instantaneously recognizable. Their highlight comes in the mournful “Holy”, where the voice seems so fragile it could break while crooning “Everyone is holy/everyone’s an angel…”.
Altogether, this is one heck of an indie-rock album. It’s moody, it’s dark, it’s got variation, it’s got catchy melodies, it’s got what the kids want. And it’s got it with creativity. No wonder one of my friends bought it off Emusic and told me to listen to it…
Band Name: Blue Velvet
Album Name: Four Songs
Best Element: The total abandon of narrative post-rock
Label Name: Phratry Records/BC Records
Band E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
…then God created post-rock….and Mogwai to boot. He created the original and now allows for the evolution of His creation. Mutation in the form of Blue Velvet, who creates choppy instrumentals with an original idea in mind; they refer to their music as “organic.” Usually when one thinks of the word “organic” they think Kashi bars and eggs produced by unadulterated, hand fed chickens. In this case, “organic” is used to press the point that Blue Velvet does not utilize loops, processed guitars, or computer tricks. The New York sextet is comprised of a keyboardist, cellist, and a pair of guitarists and percussionists whose sole purpose seems to release their first self-titled LP. This is to be hoped for especially after the release of their third studio EP. Between the EPs and the two demos, you can put together their entire LP, whose tracks are listed on their website.
It is clear that Blue Velvet is creating their own instrumental identity. They take away the linear, narrative feel that is expected in the majority of post-rock, and replace it with a sharp, cutting sound throughout- hardly what I would expect from a band whose name comes from a silky material. The first track, “Docile 1”, fits in exactly with the band’s description of itself; “repetitive, drony, angular, and abrasive.” To most, these attributes may appear to be a disastrous mix, but let me assure you that it is just the opposite. “Docile 2” is just as rough as “Docile 1”. In fact, I had trouble feeling the difference between the two tracks. It is safe to say that Blue Velvet’s first tracks almost sound similar to math rock, a type close to that of Don Cabellero, but without being as drum-centered. “Blue Cannon” is almost a breath of fresh air to the EP. The choppiness does not disappear, but Blue Velvet has suddenly dipped their foot into a dimension of jazz with a simple yet catchy guitar line. The entire track feels as if it had been improvised. This is by far one of Blue Velvet’s strongest tracks. A close second would be their closing track, “Untitled (Two)”. The coarseness resumes, creating an almost hypnotic feel. Towards the end there is a barrage of chaotic, squealing trumpets and a haunting guitar line that leaves you with an empty feeling.
Blue Velvet has written a new chapter in the musical book. Never have I felt so tense while listening to music, but my feeling tense is just an affirmation that Blue Velvet has achieved their experimental goal. It is always nice to hear a band that is ready to go against the grain and experiment with textures and rhythms without so much as a glance back into the expected attributes of a post-rock group.
Band Name: Banner Pilot
Album Name: Pass the Poison
Best Element: Staying true to punk
Label Name: Arsenic Records
Band E-mail: email@example.com
Banner Pilot is punk rock. If that sentence doesn’t convince you, just check out their EP [u]Pass the Poison[/u] that features seven blistering tracks of punk rock goodness. We’re not talking Blink-182 or Green Day girly punk, either. With rough and gruff vocals by vocalist Nick, guitarist Mike and guitarist/bassist Nate throw down a constant stream of eighth notes and grungy chords while Danny slaps out a constant fast-paced drum beat.
The album kicks off with “Bender”, a so-so tune that quiets at the end and goes directly into “Uptown Sleep Solution.” While both songs have their fine points, I didn’t even know that the song had changed until I checked the track listing, as they are extremely similar in style/sound/rhythm.
“Sunbelt Scars” comes in a little more distinguished and provides the opportunity for Danny to toss out the cliché punk snare and keep the song at warp speed. A cool chord progression and vocal mixing makes this song one of the better ones on the EP.
Nate kicks off the next tune with a bass intro and takes “Portland Lights” into a more modern punk sound, straying away from the rawness of the first two tunes. “Wide Awake” starts off and makes the listener wonder if the guitars are in tune for a second before blasting into straight up punk again. The song outros into the next, which would have been awesome if the song wasn’t only 1:28 long.
Background vocals are prominent in “Columbia Lows” with many “oh’s” throughout the song- even a few guitar interludes found their way onto this track.
The last listed song on the EP starts off with a radio broadcast that is a nice effect, but due to the shortness of the songs on this album it cuts too much into Banner Pilot’s time. A cool guitar lead turns into a well done old school punk yet melodic song. “River City Blackout” is probably the most pleasant to listen to on the album while still maintaining basic punk roots and adding the modern lead guitar lines of today’s punk.
“Ever Fallen in Love” is the most modern punk sounding track on the album and closes it out the EP.
Overall, Banner Pilot stays true to their claim as punk rockers. They play punk and they play it well. While each song is cool in its own respect as a punk rock song, many of them sound the same with straight up eighth-notes of chords blending into one another while the drums go crazy. A little variety, however, would be nice.
Clocking in at a little over 17 minutes, [u]Pass the Poison[/u] is a nice buy for any diehard punk in the Minneapolis area who is looking for a little time to go crazy.
Band Name: 12 Summers Old
Album Name: Hair Spray and Hand Grenades
Best Element: Vocal Harmony, dynamics
Genre: Power-pop, Emo, Screamo
Label Name: Sub-Verse Records
Band E-mail: TwelveSummersOld@hotmail.com
Hailing from Belleville, Illinois, the band 12 Summers Old’s newest effort Hair Spray and Hand Grenades opens up with the fast paced track “Boy Like Me”. A sweet but misleading guitar effect carries the song into the typical chord
progression structure that has become all too familiar within the genre of music
12 Summers Old excels at.
“Hollywood Vs. The Dragon” kicks off with a nice harmony between guitarists Mike Davis and John Randall. A taste into the screamo side of the band immediately after the vocals enter might worry the listener, but fortunately the unnecessary screaming appears very little in the rest of the song until the end. Instead, Brandon Turner’s vocals flow melodically over the lead guitar line that appears throughout the track.
The album moves over the generic “Night to Remember” into the heavier and lyrically deep “Hard to Be Cool” that contains very cool vocal harmony as well as a toe-tapping rhythm, despite its simplicity. A cleaner bridge in the song adds dynamics before building back up into a final chorus.
The album takes a turn for the emo side with “Perfect Love Song” featuring the pining vocals that are typical of the emo genre. It gets worse with ”Break Up Letter”, which, despite having a sweet electric guitar rhythm jumpstart it, is tarnished by screams later in the song.
Screaming permeates “Jon and Richie, B.F.F.” as well, though Turner’s big notes throughout the song help keep the vocal talent on the plus side. Musicwise, Davis and Randall bring out some amazing guitar tones near the end
of the song with clean and impressive chords.
“Phonebooks Don’t Leave Bruises” delves back into the world of overdramatic and painfully downer lyrics about failed a relationship that, again, goes hand in hand with every emo/screamo/powerpop band out there.
The next song on the album, “Moment’s Notice” has the distinguished honor of being one of the few (if not the only) songs with a decent intro. The song takes off into generic power-pop bliss; however, seconds after the song starts,
Turner sings more overdramatic lyrics about dying alone and forgetting about someone that almost puts the listener into again, a downer mood despite the fast paced and intertwining guitar melodies.
The album finishes with “Read Between the Lines”, a song launched into progression by everybody’s favorite scream. Vocal harmony in the chorus adds a nice touch of depth to the song, while a vocal/drum interlude adds great
dynamics to the song. A closer look at some of the lyrics though comes off as downright disturbing. “I’ll cut your eyes out and shove them down your throat,” sings Turner. I’m not going to say anymore about that.
Josh Seiffert represents on the drums, keeping solid time on the CD while bassist Jonathan Clark, though overpowered by the guitars a lot in the album, works well with Seiffert.
The guys in 12 Summers Old are excellent musicians; there is no doubt about that. Turner’s voice is flawless on the CD (though staying in tune live with that risky emo voice is hard to pull off), while the rest of the band flows well
together with several offbeat rhythms, quick switches between electric and clean sounds, half-time tempos, and well-done background vocals.
The problem isn’t the musicianship; it’s the style and songwriting. Eventually the album blends into a massive trend of simple chords with a complicated sounding lead over it, high pitched vocals, the occasional scream, and switching back and forth between clean and electric guitars. While 12 Summers pulls off that style well on this CD, it is a style that is just too talentless when it comes to songwriting. Powerpop/emo/screamo bands are a dime a dozen these days and it’s getting old.
12 Summers Old has some decent things going on. Unfortunately for them, they are the exact same things as every single band on Warped Tour.
Oh no, I said it, the dreaded “P” word: piracy. Today, the major music industry is spending millions of dollars each year to fight piracy. We have seen Sony encrypt their CD’s so you can not copy them to a computer, which was determined to be an infringement on the rights of the consumer. Sony now encrypts many of their CD’s so they can only be copied to one computer with software that must be downloaded from Sony (I wonder how much money Sony is making from that deal?) All CD’s released on major labels now carry a warning from the FBI that piracy is illegal. But what affect does all of this have on the consumer and more importantly, what affect does all the attention to piracy have on the underground bands and companies that rely on word of mouth to exist? In an ongoing series, I am going to examine piracy in the mainstream and in the underground music scenes. In month one I’m going to look at the music industry through the eyes of the consumer.
As consumers we have all noticed the large stickers on the back of CD cases declaring it illegal to make copies of the CD. A majority of us have also ignored this sticker as we made copies for ourselves or friends. An even larger number of people have gone online and downloaded music through programs such as Limewire, DC++ or the infamous Napster. Any way you look at it, almost every music listener has obtained music through piracy. Each listener has his or her own reason, many of them include “I’m poor,” “It’s easier than going to the store,” “The musicians don’t get any money from CD sales” and “I’ll go to their show.” While I have plenty of sympathy for every poor music lover, it should not be an excuse. Second response: please don’t be that lazy. The third response is pathetic. While musicians don’t get a ton of money from record sales it is a lot more than they get from live shows. In general, artists, especially independent or bands on small labels are going to lose money on their tours. Tours are only a way for the band to get their name into the heads of their demographic. Each band is looking to become the band you recognize when you see a lineup at a local venue or a battle of the bands voting list. CD sales are the only income these bands are seeing. Is it right to deny these bands their income? I believe not. I believe these men and women of the indie music scene deserve to be paid for every song listened to.
But you may ask what of the major labels? Those slimy, disgusting labels that control the media, control what band get popular and when they get popular. Do the bands that receive a paycheck from a major label every two weeks still deserve to get our hard earned money? And do the labels that are paying these bands deserve any of our money? That is a personal decision. Personally I do not believe they do. That does not mean I pirate, I prefer to refuse to buy any album that was released by a certain major label. (coughSonycough) I will never condone piracy of music or videos. I truly believe each artist deserves to be paid when their work is being enjoyed. Choose what you enjoy carefully.
Until next month