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Month: April 2004

Like Clockwork

If there were a moral to Like Clockwork’s latest album, it would be: break-ups suck. Why? Because Jesse Astin recently suffered a breakup large enough to spawn 15 songs on the topic. Those 15 songs were compiled, and the title “A Cross in the Ground” was stamped on the resulting album.

These fifteen songs of electronica-tinted hard rock, rock, pop, and balladry are confessional in the highest sense of the word. This is some of the most emotionally draining music I’ve ever heard. It’s like Astin scrubbed his mind of every thought, then wrung out the sponge into these songs. I feel like I know Jesse Astin after listening to this album. That’s how much emotion was put into this. It’s truly amazing.

The songs range from sparse piano to thundering hard rock, and everything in between. I said that already, but there’s really no other way to explain it. It’s all extremely well coordinated and extremely well written, which was a surprise to me, as albums that span multiple genres usually fare horribly. The best songs here reflect that, as “Poison to Stir” is an acoustic-led ballad, and “No Out Girl” is a highly electronic, abrasive rock piece that crescendos wonderfully to a chorus that is epic in scope and sound. If there were more like “No Out Girl”, this album would’ve been even better than it already is.

In fact, the only thing that fares horribly on this album are the vocals. Astin’s voice is a train wreck of a voice: off-key, yelping, nearly screaming in some parts, and grating on the ears. In a few songs, his off-kilter vocal explosions fit well (A Poison to Stir to actually has an excellent vocal performance), but overall the impression left is: “AUGH, THESE VOCALS ARE KILLING ME!” I hate trashing vocals, but Astin’s leave a mark that you don’t soon forget.

Perhaps there’s some genius in that…It is true that whatever song you listen to by Like Clockwork will stay in your head. You may not be humming along (probably not, actually), but you will remember it.

I would put Like Clockwork in the column of ‘Bands I Like’; I just don’t think they would be very high up on the scale. After all, you have to work to appreciate it. I’m not opposed to thinking about my music and repeating it till I’m accustomed to it, but the best music connects without thought.

A Closing Skyline hardcore

I’ve tried to think up an intro for this forever, and I can’t do it. So I’m skipping it this time.

A Closing Skyline plays hardcore. They scream, a lot. They use double pedal bass thunderously and copiously. They use guitars that blast your mind with their intensity. But these guitarists are special. They actually have talent beyond power-chorded chug-a-thons.

On a quick glance, I would say that at least 50%, if not more, of this album is instrumental. Hardcore isn’t really known for instrumentals, but ACS actually is more interesting when they are playing instrumentally. This is because their guitarists are masters of melody. They play tons of interesting melodies that fit over the thrash of the drums. Don’t worry, this isn’t pansy hardcore….this is real hardcore. They just have a lot of variation and movement in the guitars, making sure you can never tell what they will do next.

They also eschew the verse/chorus/verse format most of the time, and often don’t play one section of music more than once. If this isn’t enough to intrigue you, then catch this: the guitarists are so talented that they even can play slow pieces with grandeur. The opener “Whitehaven Drive” is a melancholy piece that barely even uses distortion. It never gets loud, and the two guitars and bass intertwine sad melodies for nearly two and a half minutes. It’s an extremely serene song, and if I didn’t know it was by a hardcore band, I wouldn’t be able to tell.

In short, the guitarists for A Closing Skyline are insanely talented, and thusly, they make this a fantastic hardcore CD. I don’t usually like hardcore, but this cd piqued my interest from the second I popped it in. Fans of hardcore will enjoy this breath of life into a dying genre. It’s really that good.

The Lana Lang Effect-Defender’s debut EP

#1 Defender’s debut EP “The Lana Lang Effect” is an album that establishes a firm foundation for them to build on. It’s not a particularly spectacular release, but it’s not too shabby either.

Their sound is of the melodic emo variety; you know, the kind of band that likes to sound innocent and pretty, then eat your face off with unexpected bursts of intensity. Even though this formula has been used and abused, #1 Defender excels at the genre due to the fact that their explosions of hardcore madness are actually unexpected. They don’t follow a verse/chorus/verse structure very often, which leads to rambling songs that explore every possibility of a riff.

But don’t think that’s a bad thing. In fact, my favorite song here is the meandering “Recall the Summer”. The guitars seem to curl, twist, and glide during the first couple seconds of the song, before unexpectedly imploding into a rush of solid guitars. They continually switch about every 15 seconds during the verses….which is quite interesting and not as disjointed as you would think.

There’s not that much to discredit here, which is something #1 Defender has always been good at. They have some highlights here, but their later work shows more expansion of the themes that they briefly touch here. A worthy debut of a stellar band.

The Swampee

Once in a while, you hit a band that you just can’t stand. The swAmpee is pretty close to being one of those.

Their song “Andey” is 2 minutes and 41 seconds of bland power-pop. The only good thing about it would be the chorus hook, which I hummed briefly in my mind until an obnoxious and pointless guitar solo emerged, killing off the coolness of chorus hook. The rest of the guitarwork here is composed of chunky, post-Ramones block chords…which nowadays stands for boring. There is no bass line- at all. It’s completely eaten by the guitars.

On the singing end of things: The lyrics here are on the verge of drivel, and the vocals are tracked in a seriously annoying way. It sounds like a group of drunk guys is singing along the entire time. I’ve never been a fan of this vocal style, but it works even less here.



If you randomly heard the Letterpress while in a music store, you probably wouldn’t think anything of it. “It’s just another understated indie-rock band,” you might even comment. It’s possible, because until you know what the Letterpress is actually accomplishing, it doesn’t come off as anything brilliant.

The Letterpress is a band composed of vocals, drums, and two bass guitars. No electric guitars in this mix at all. The fact that The Letterpress can make music that would pass for smooth, hypnotic, guitar-based indie rock with only two basses is a spectacular achievement.

The basses intertwine with a fluidity that doesn’t convey how hard it must have been to create such a complicated and varied group of songs. Sometimes they act as one guitar, as in the title track “Input/Output”; sometimes they work together to create interesting harmonies (“Closer & Distant”, “Hanging in the Stars”); sometimes they contrast each other for dramatic effect, as in the best track here, “Launch Sequence”. “Launch Sequence” not only features the best riff that is present here, it also has a brilliant tempo change that sets it apart from all other songs here.

There is a point, though, where we have to distinguish novelty factor from actual musical ingenuity. While this is an extremely creative idea, and the music is good, “Input/Output” sounds like a lot of other subdued indie rock. The members have expertly imitated electric guitars without actually playing electric guitars, but they imitated a little too well. At points, I could’ve sworn I was listening to Mae (Jeremy Drysdale’s vocals are a dead ringer for Mae’s David Gimenez’s). I also felt a lot of ‘where have I heard that riff before?’ moments.

But on the positive side, I can not say that they are not immensely talented. This is an extremely groundbreaking album, and that’s not something you can say very often in today’s musical scene. If this review is remembered, I hope it’s remembered for the good points, and not the bad ones, because I really like this album. When their sound develops more, they will be a force to be reckoned with.