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Month: May 2006

Mon Frere-Blood, Sweat, and Swords

Band Name: Mon Frere

Album Name: Blood, Sweat, and Swords
Best Element: Hooky danceability
Genre: Dance-rock
Label Name: Cake Records

Band E-mail:

Mon Frere is good. Just how good? Let’s take a look at standout track “You Don’t Mind” and see. The track starts off with a cascading, intertwined guitar and synth riff. Once that 9-second intro is done, Mon Frere unleashes the catchiest guitar riff this side of the white stri“Seven Nation Army” and Nouela Johnston’s passionate, yet contained vocals. Her tunefulness tames her bite in the verses- but not so in the chorus, as the pipes are thrown wide open and the soaring, searing vocals attack throughout the rest of the song. The guitars and keys reprise their intro for the chorus, reminding you of just how good that riff was, before launching back into the verses, anchored by solid drum beats and augmented by cheerful handclaps, ironically placed in this sludgy, punchy, dark environment. A ripping solo section comes next- and it’s fist-pumpingly cool.

Yes, the members of Monn Frere have grown into their self-proclaimed motto of “We’re dirty, we’re pop, and we just can’t stop!” In their first EP Real Vampires, the members of Mon Frere were extremely polar, delivering manic dance-rock freak-outs right up against jazzy semi-ballads. While I do miss the panic and vitriol of songs like “R.V.D.G.S.F (Fighting Mad)”, the songs on Blood, Sweat, and Swords form a much more cohesive unit, and cultivate a sound that Mon Frere can call their own.

The three-piece that is Mon Frere has a pretty distinct sound- huge distorted guitars, booty-shaking drums, and quirky keyboards that alternately turn the band into a dance-rock powerhouse (“Bigshot”) and a hook-laden power-pop outfit (“Y.M.M.W.D.S.B.”). But they even blur the polarity of those genres, as they often make poppy dance tunes (“Drain”), and dancy pop tunes (“Clever Boi”). That sounds like splitting hairs, but when you listen to the tracks, you’ll hear the difference- it’s all in how the drums lead. Despite the subtle differences between tracks, all these songs pound with an almost otherworldly passion- as if Nouela Johnston and co. are delivering the gospel according to Mon Frere.

As you would expect with any near-religious revelation, there aren’t very many tracks that drag, although there are some. As mentioned earlier, there’s no really fast, heavy, keynote track here other than “You Don’t Mind”, and that definitely sticks out when you’re listening to songs like “Bullition” and “Harsh Winds”- tracks that aren’t bad, but just not as good as you want Mon Frere to be. The setup of “Bullition” prepares the listener for an explosion of a track, but the build-up leads nowhere, unfortunately. “Harsh Winds” follows in the jazzy footsteps of “Orcs Don’t Know It” from Real Vampires, but “Harsh Winds” isn’t as sultry or pulsating as the original track.

But these are minor disagreements with an otherwise brilliant album. When looking at this album as a whole, it’s hard to deny that Blood, Sweat, and Swords is one face-meltingly good album. If you’re a fan of the current dance-rock trend, you’ll definitely want to add this to your ‘buy now’ list- if you’re a fan of good pop music, you’ll want to do the same. Mon Frere has jumped up a couple spots on my ‘bands that will be big soon’ list with this release.

-Stephen Carradini

Paul Kerschen-The Pacific Theater

paulkerschenBand Name: Paul Kerschen

Album Name: The Pacific Theater
Best Element: Well-crafted songwriting
Genre: Pop
Label Name: Byzantine Records

Band E-mail:

Home-recorded releases usually work really well with acoustic-based pop. The relative quiet of the acoustic guitar as opposed to the electric guitar makes it a perfect fit for smaller recording systems, as bands like Marc with a C, Novi Split, and ReedKD have discovered. That’s why Paul Kerschen’s The Pacific Theater is so immensely odd- this home-recorded album is split between electric-guitar power-pop and downer acoustic-pop, and it’s actually the power-pop that fares better here.

Kerschen’s power-pop sound is brash and forward- leaving no room for subtleties, he spits slightly off-color syllables in a hyperactive voice in highlight tracks such as “Les Jeunes Rimbauds” and “Chupacabras”. The instrumental backing matches the vocals- quick, choppy, and straightforward. The songwriting is quite good- cut down to the bone, the stark accompaniment provides a very arresting listening experience.

That’s the problem with much of the acoustic-based material on this album- the songs are cut down to their bare minimums so effectively that the only things holding them together are the musical frameworks and the off-and-on vocals. The vocals, when slowed down from their hyperkinetic rate in the power-pop songs, are a sketchy affair, ranging from annoying (“Lullaby”) to overpowering (“Six Times Before Breakfast”, “Golden Gate”) to perfectly matched (“Your Angel”). It seems that Kerschen is capable of writing a solid melody and pulling off a good performance, but for some reason many of these tracks don’t get the excellent vocal treatment they deserve.

Easily the best track here is closer “All My Life”, which features some great lyrics, a doo-wop feel, and a long outro that grows to epic proportions. It’s easily the most accessible track, and even though the vocal performance is a little clunky, the sheer talent of the songwriting redeems the track.

Paul Kerschen knows how to write good songs- this much is easily evident from The Pacific Theater. Whether his voice is solid enough to be fronting these well-crafted songs is a question that isn’t answered in this album- his future releases will provide the final word on that. At the moment, this is an average pop album by a songwriter who has the potential to achieve a whole lot.

-Stephen Carradini

Press Kit-a-holics Anonymous

Press Kit-a-holics Anonymous

I’m a minimalist- I don’t need a lot of stuff to get by. In fact, I’d go so far as to day that less stuff is in preference to more stuff. This approach to life has also led me into a very orderly existence- in order to get rid of piles, you need to have specific places to put stuff. This attention to neatness is evidenced by the fact that I relentlessly attempt to keep my desk clutter-free, I have folders on my computer for EVERYTHING, and I shred as many as ten pieces of paper a day. I hate junk.

That’s the first reason why I absolutely detest large press kits. But that’s not the only reason that I hate press kits- oh no. I have a litany of grievances against the press kit: takes away from the professionalism of the album, distracts from the music, puts off a pretentious air, steals from my vocabulary arsenal, and usually they’re just downright ugly.

I like it when a band is presented to me as a clean, tight, concise package. This type of band will have two or three comments on the bottom of their one-sheet from the highest-profile people that have commented on their band- a successful band, a high-powered magazine, a lesser review organization (usually a glowing review), or other celebrity figures from the music world. These bands come off as confident, self-assured, and not conceited. The focus is on their album, but just in case you wanted to know where they’re coming from, they’ve provided some basics for you. Since the quotes are not much more than a few lines long, there’s still a lot that’s able to be said about the album. The band, as aforementioned, is tight- before I’ve even put the CD in the player I like the band with a one-sheet more than a band with a ten-page press kit.

That band with the ten-page press kit gets on my nerves. First off, even if you’re getting glowing reviews from everyone and their dog, you don’t need to print all of them- just print the top three or four. When you have three or four or five or ten pages of press on you, it’s tough to say anything new- all the words on that release have been mined. IT not only makes my job harder, it makes my review less truthful because I’m hitting the thesaurus instead of writing my gut feeling. To put it more bluntly, putting five pages of glowing press in a kit that you send to other reviewers is like telling a guy to write about his favorite breed of dog, but saying that there are only four potential breeds left- choose from Pomeranian, Shitsu, Doberman Pinscher, and Jack Russell Terrier. What if my favorite is Border Collie?

Those ten pages are not only prohibiting, they’re usually cluttered and ugly- press clippings were not intended to look beautiful. All that visual noise distracts from the sonic noise going on in my speakers- while I’m obsessing over the fact that the band was so conceited and pretentious to include all this unnecessary junk, I’m missing the music.

Now I’m not saying that a crappy band with a tight one-sheet will get a better review than an amazing band with a crappy press kit- may it never be! But in the ‘first impressions’ bracket, a tight one-sheet will score points at Independent a press kit will not. It just doesn’t look good, and that’s all there is to it. We’re not trying to sign you- we don’t care what other people have said about your band. We care about what we think about your band.

-Stephen Carradini

Private Eleanor-No Straight Lines

privateeleanorBand Name: Private Eleanor
Album Name: No Straight Lines
Best Element: Very strong musicianship throughout
Genre: Indie Rock
Label Name: The Beechfields
Band E-mail:

Private Eleanor strives for individuality in a market flooded by indie-folk-rock artists, and in their struggle, they have succeeded. No Straight Lines is an infectious, engaging indie rock album with a certain something to the sound that is all their own.

Their overall sound is very pleasing to the ear and very relaxing, evoking a feeling of driving through a rural countryside at noon with the sun bright overhead, completely at ease and singing along. This is due to the fact that the musicianship on No Straight Lines is incredible. The use of strings in many places throughout the CD is excellent, adding an ethereal quality wherever they are used. At times, there is just a hint of keyboard, adding the same type of delicate feeling. The vocals are haunting and beautiful.

The writing on No Straight Lines is incredible as well. Each song is mature and poetic, encompassing a particular moment in time or a feeling that is hard to express in words. This is always done cleverly and with a minimal amount of cliché, as each song sets you up for a story that you really want to hear. Lyrics that stand out are from “Seventeen”: “On a two-lane blacktop that runs southeast to an ocean we can’t see/you are waiting for me to flip the tape/to play a song to keep you awake/But there are no love songs/when it’s right, you know.” More memorable lines come from “Babe Ruth”: “Babe Ruth died on a Monday in August/Made the front page for the first time in years/That was the paper my daddy read in the waiting room the day I got here/He knew that he’d be in those pages too someday.”

For anyone who is into indie rock in the vein of Death Cab for Cutie or Bright Eyes, but with a soothing undertone like that of The Shins, Private Eleanor’s No Straight Lines is not a CD to be missed.

–Andrea Caruso

RIFU-Dead End Street

rifuBand Name: RIFU

Album Name: Dead End Street

Best Element: Great blend between punk and hardcore
Genre: punk/hardcore

Label Name: Go-Kart Records Europe

Band E-mail:

It’s not very often that I get an album that embraces the original punk and hardcore scene as much as Dead End Street[u/”> does. This Norwegian band really knows how to rock. Their use of hardcore tones matched with punk-fueled lyrics really sets them apart from other bands on the scene. Some of the songs on Dead End Street [u/”> feel politically motivated, which I feel borders the punk genre, but their sound says hardcore all the way.

RIFU is a band I can appreciate. I love hardcore and punk, and the marriage between the two is so good that you feel like jumping up and moshing the very moment you hear them. Dead End Street [u/”> is in English, but personally, I would have liked to hear some Norwegian just for flavor.. Their music is awesome, but the band could not achieve their sound without the help of the singer. His voice completes the ass-kicking sound that is produced when punk meets hardcore. It just wouldn’t be the same without it.

On the other hand, I would have liked to hear a bit more clarity lyrically. Some of the vocals can seem muddy at times, and I like to be able to hear every word in a song. This is only personal preference, though. Other than that RIFU’s Dead End Street[u/”> is a knock-out album. If you get a chance, pick up Dead End Street [u/”>- it’s one of those albums you will not regret buying.

-Zack Albrecht

Small Arms Dealer-A Single Unifying Theory

Band Name: Small Arms Dealer

Album Name: A Single Unifying Theory
Best Element: The drummer keeps a steady beat?
Genre: Pop-Rock
Label Name: Deep Elm Records

Band E-mail:

So if you have ever wondered what Fall Out Boy would sound like if they were overweight middle-aged men who liked to say “fuck” a lot, you just found out. This album sounds like a few angry guys who got drunk one night and decided to make a band and decided to stick with it because they had told some girls they were in a band. There is no musical integrity here. I had friends in 8th grade writing more complex guitar lines and they played them with more accuracy then SAD (an ironically appropriate acronym for this band).

This is one of those bands that makes you wonder “why are there record labels?” I have never seen Deep Elm stoop so low to sign a band that has simplistic guitars, immature lyrics that rely solely on the word “fuck”, and no song structure. The band isn’t even heavy. They honestly sound like they are too lazy to put effort into their music. The only reason anyone would find any quality in this album is a result of the good recording and engineering.

The press release that came with this album billed SAD as a “heavy hitting rock band that would crush anything in its way,” which is very true. The guys are heavy, they are in a rock band and they will crush any beer can in between them and refrigerator.

-Scott Landis

From the Vinyl Stack:

From the Vinyl Stack:

The MC5

Almost any ’70s music fan knows the origins of punk rock: it all starts out with the three driving forces of the Ramones, the Clash, and the Sex Pistols. However, these bands obviously needed their own inspiration. Enter pre-punk inspiration.
Of course, there were bands like the Velvet Underground and the Who to push forward the hard rock attitude. Pete Townshend and Lou Reed’s inspiration on edgy and raw sounds were prominent for the punk genre. However, there was one band that pushed it all forward.

The Motor City Five, better known as the MC5, are as raw as music gets. The MC5 are Fred “Sonic” Smith, Dennis Thompson, Rob Tyner, Wayne Kramer, and Michael Davis. To understand how influential they were to punk music, they were one of Joey Ramone’s favorite bands.
The reputation preceding the MC5 is one of the most incredible things to be noted. They were the only band to play the riots at the 1968 Chicago Democratic National Convention. Their fan club, as dubbed by manager John Sinclair, was known as the “White Panthers,” to spin off of the current Black Panthers. They were known as founders of the revolution.
On top of that, lead guitarist Wayne Kramer knew that they were sexists who knew how to roll with the women. They were also quite aware that they were in no way politically correct.
Those afro-clad white boys knew how to raise hell. In their live album, Kick Out the Jams, the band seems entranced in a haze of pure inspiration. More likely, however, is that they’re stoned out of their minds.
The album opens with the track “Ramblin’ Rose”. Here the boys bust out their finest falsetto voice and thrash away on their axes. The intro alone makes their intentions very apparent: they want your attention, they don’t care about what you think, and they aren’t about doing it perfectly. By the end of Kick Out the Jams’ first track, the boys make it abundantly clear that they aren’t in it to win it.
If you didn’t get it at that point, the opening line of track two is, “Kick out the jams, mothafuckas!”
On their next album, Back in the USA, the MC5 make their plea to loose women in their song “Teenage Lust”. The song is summed up in the lyrics, “Baby baby help me, you really must, / I need a healthy outlet / For my teenage lust.”
In short, these guys are some of the original bad-asses of rock n’ roll. The punk attitude begins with the MC5. There will probably never be another band to have the same effect on the political and musical culture.

-Evan Minsker

Top Five of May

Top Five of May

Welcome back for month two of my top 5 of the month. This month has been full of travel and hours of studying, so I have had a lot of time to listen to a lot of music- but of course I fell into a pattern of listening to just a few albums. And here they are:

1. Casually Dressed and Deep in Conversation by Funeral for a Friend

This is a great band and a great album. I have been listening to it almost constantly and have fallen in love with the song “Novella” for the 3 minutes of instrumentals and the song “Red is the New Black”. An album that must be listened to

2. Waiting – Thursday

Amazing album- period. No questions, no arguments. This album opened up a genre that had a short but vivacious life. Know this album.

3. Incorporated – The Legion of Doom

Yes, the album does not exist because of legal troubles but the music does. This group creates mash-ups of emo and hardcore bands to create amazingly addictive music. I will never condone illegal downloading but in this case, it is the only way to get this music. Contact me if you want to hear it or download it from your favorite P2P program.

4. A City By the Light Divided Podcasts – Thursday

These are little teasers of the first few songs off of Thursday’s upcoming album. They show great promise for the album. I can’t wait.

5. Siren Song of the Counter Culture – Rise Against

This is one of my guilty pleasures. They are very mainstream and they lead the Rock against Bush tour (which I loved) but they have some great political hardcore (yes, they are hardcore).

Check ‘em out. You’ll find something you like.

-Scott Landis

Vindaloo-Diary of a Traveling Salesman

vindalooBand Name: Vindaloo

Album Name: Diary of a Traveling Salesman

Best Element: Crunchy guitars, rocking leads, toe-tapping beats

Genre: Modern Rock/Grunge


Label Name: n/a

Band E-mail:

Vindaloo is, by definition, “super hot” and ready to rock your face off. Even so, this album is no messiah to the world of rock. Don’t get me wrong- their 2005 release Diary of a Traveling Salesman has many good things happening in it, starting off with the rocking title-track of the album.

Seattle-based Vindaloo gets the album kicking with a nifty guitar riff and crashing drums that lead into a toe-tapping frenzy of rock. The noise quickly dissipates into a calming web of bass chords and Benjamin Harwood’s gruff vocals flowing over his clean guitar.

The album carries on to noticeable track “Looks”, where Harwood and bassist Matt Fortin’s solid rhythm begins a head bobbing verse that blossoms into full on head-banging carnage. Harwood extends the carnage as he slays through his listener’s peace with a simmering guitar solo sure to get even the mildest rocker pumping their fist.

Vindaloo cools it down with the very next track showing a little of their versatility as they launch into one of their softer tunes “Suffer for Now”. Proving they aren’t a bunch of softies, however, they fire right back into rock with “Zombie Love Song” whose intro involves a tasteful mix of straight palm-muted eighth notes and open distorted chords.

Perhaps the most intriguing track on the album is “Eccentric”, a five-minute rocker with a killer intro of light guitar and high wailing harmonics that dives into a thick rhythm. Harwood’s voice comes in sultry and heavy atop the music, eventually joined by the rest of his band who sing haunting back up to his lead. The song maintains an eerie feel throughout until its end, flowing into the light yet well written “Stuck in a Rut”.

The last song on the album ends Vindaloo’s effort with a bang. Beginning with a guitar delay effect that makes one want to get up out of their chair and beat box on the spot, “Swingin’ on the Devil’s Toe” stumbles into a foot-stomping song that has rock’n’roll written all over it. Reminiscent of Black Betty and Clutch, this song combines fast verses and a slow chorus to produce one fine rock tune.

As a whole the album contains several good rhythms and leads, and drummer Adam Kozie lays down solid percussion throughout to keep the boys on tempo. Harwood and Fortin’s guitar and bass playing are excellent throughout the album; there’s no doubt that these guys know how to rock.

Harwood’s responsibilities as lead guitarist and vocalist, however, cause his vocals to suffer in some of the tracks. He proves himself as a capable singer in the soft tracks like “Suffer For Now” and excels his grunge style vocals in “Looks” and “Zombie Love Song”, but during some of heavier lines Harwood’s voice is lost in the chaos of rock.

Vindaloo is nothing new to rock, but they do incorporate the finer elements of grunge, modern rock, and even the good ol’ nitty-gritty rock’n’roll the whole world loves. Seattle has been known as a great music town for years, and with Diary of a Traveling Salesman, Vindaloo do their hometown proud.

-Erik Williams