Thursday, September 27, 2012

On Music Criticism: A Sprawling Rant

Last night I was extremely bored. Having absolutely nothing to do after I finished writing a script, I decided to putz around on the YouTubes. I sifted through some Needle Drop reviews and ended up watching the entirety of Anthony's lecture at Wesleyan, well, listening. Tt's a good listen -- not to visually appealing, which is ironic because Wes's film program is one of the bests in the country. Anthony ran through the gamut of the Needle Drop - history, why, how, when, Cal's origin story - and he finally touched on the topic of criticism. Fantano mentioned that his negative reviews receive more attention than his positive ones: an extremely interesting observation, I found.

A couple of weeks back, I wrote on negativity in music and how I saw no place for it. But in my rant, I guess I missed the facet of a review that provides entertainment. Although most of the time I feel as though I am just drafting up arguments and practicing my writing on this blog, there also has to be some entertainment value. Whether it be a picture, video, or comedic point, there has to be something that draws the reader back. And this is what makes the plight of Flatted Third true; I am not saying this to brag, only to further justify my reasons to continue writing.

Reading is difficult. I have studied extensively on the subject of reading and writing's effect on the brain. It expands your vocabulary, allows clearer thinking, and increases your intelligence. While someone can "waste" this ability on fad reads that don't offer good examples of writing, it's still a healthier activity than perusing the internet for naked pictures of your ex-girlfriend on Reddit -- I am not speaking out of experience, just for the LULZ. So this is where I found Fantano's most interesting point was brought to the foreground. In so many words, he stated how he used to write about music - much like we do here - but found an overabundance of typed reviews, so he decided to forge new ground with a video blog, "vlog."

Fantano has found increasing success in this area, as videos are prone to go viral on the internet. His videos are entertaining, insightful, and well-informed, although Fantano refuses to admit how vast the scope of his musical knowledge. There were a few moments where the magician showed too much in the lecture, but I did listen to all of it and was thoroughly entertained. He has worked extremely hard to get to the point where can almost support himself with his work, giving many people hope to try the internet for future, self-made careers.

Fantano outlined his change in musical taste with a story about a friend of his who introduced himself to punk. I feel as though we all had this friends, for me it was my older brother, until I became obsessed and expanded past his tastes. This is why I continue to cover music. The best thing about having this blog is when my friends submit posts and I get to see what they think about music. I love hearing opinions mostly rooted in a pathos; a pathos that is heavily informed and intelligent. You try to establish a logic in your argument, but due to music's subjectivity, this proves difficult and a personal schema is implemented. So where The Needle Drop offers a different medium in its message, Fantano contributes heavily to the constant conversation about music in a original, entertaining way. The Needle Drop was even cited on Metacritic, adding to the vlog's validity. I would love to one day add to that aggregate, providing an extra voice.

One of the best points Fantano brought up is how a view can change with the reviewer over time. This adds not only mood and fads into the equation of how a reviewer will decide how good a release is but an epochal viewpoint. One can later argue with his or herself about how good a record is. I have often flip-flopped on bands and I believe that's a true sign of just how subjective musical criticism is; you can even argue with yourself.

So I would like to thank Anthony Fantano for questioning why I continue to update this blog and allowing me to rediscover why I love to criticize music. He is an inspiration to DIY bloggers and vloggers everywhere, even in the depths of /mu -- I ain't dick riding, and to prove it here is a picture of me not dick riding. I hope that whoever is reading this continues to read Flatted Third, and also check out The Needle Drop, so that his or her taste in music never becomes stagnant, the plight of this blog -- except we love reading and writing!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Leaky Pipes: Flying Lotus Returns with Until the Quiet Comes

A nice trend Flatted Third has shown lately is the welcoming of fall, and with it, the onslaught of new and season-appropriate music. Also, right off the heels of Kyle's 3 Huge October Albums mini-list, we are treated with an early listen of Flying Lotus' new album Until the Quiet Comes. And what a treat it is.

Electronic music is new to me. I was only introduced to it 3 or 4 years ago by close friends in college. Looking at all the music that comes from it though scares me sometimes, which got me a bit nervous about writing this review. Electronic music has so many sub-genres it just became a confusing mess to me (which is odd because you can say the same thing about metal for the most part). I've thankfully come to a point  where I know what my style is and what I like, and Flying Lotus is top of the list.

For old listeners, Until the Quiet Comes will feel pretty familiar to his first album, 1983. Filled with a blend of nu-jazz and hip-hop influenced beats, Flying Lotus was able to make a name for himself - something other than "that guy who creates the music for bumps on Adult Swim." But with his newest release, we see a whole new DJ. This is part of Flying Lotus' appeal; he strives to evolve and challenge himself with every album he releases. With this new LP, get ready to be treated with more jazz influenced hip-hop beats, but with a more low beat sound and tempo to it.

The first track "All In" sets the mood for the entire album. Unlike Cosmogramma's insane opener, you're treated with a much calmer beat, leading into one of the best tracks on the album "Getting There". For a majority of the first half, old fans will notice a much more polished, lo-fi beat. Things seem to meld together fluidly, sending the listener into a sort of calming zen -- which for me, blends together appropriately with the upcoming fall season. "Sultan's Request" and Putty Boy Strut" feel like classic cuts that would've fit easily on any previous LP he's released. The latter half of this album does provide some of the more weaker material (though I say this lightly). "Only If You Wanna" feels reminiscent of a Nicolas Jaar track; lazy beats over some slight horns breaks the whole mood of the album.

Until the Quiet Comes does a fantastic job keeping a certain pace and feel, throughout its whole listen. From start to finish, Flying Lotus is able to throw in his signature mixes and beats ("See Thru to U", "Electric Candyman") while incorporating a whole new side to his constantly evolving releases. For some fans, this may be a big change of pace from what he's previously recorded. Yes, a few tracks do sound lazy, but this is an unbelievable release. Flying Lotus is a good showcase in just how far an artist is willing to go to keep his music fresh and fun, and for him, it works perfectly.

Grade: A

For fans of: Bibio, Burial, Fourtet, Madvillian

Check out his new video for the song "Putty Boy Stut" off the new LP

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Dealing with Loss: An Uncharacteristically Personal Post from Kyle Murphy

Let me start out with this. Now I know we have a lot of fun at Flatted Third, but I recently visited my grandfather at the nursing home - the last remaining grandparent I have - and he has taken a turn for the worse. This wasn't anything sudden like a stroke or heart attack that weakens an individual overnight, it just seems like he's given up. The last time I visited, only a few weeks ago, he was cognizant, witty, and seemed in somewhat good condition. After a lump was recently discovered in his throat, medication was increased - he was in a lot of pain, but completely unaware of the lump. When I visited yesterday, he was drifting in and out, never fully holding a conversation or even an exchange, and didn't know who I was. The other deaths of my grandparents seemed almost detached, as if years of suffering had slowed down the grieving process, spreading it over time. But now that I only have one left, this time around seems much more difficult. My grandfather has already left us mentally, leaving only a tired husk, struggling to survive. I consider myself someone who can take things logically and in stride, though yesterday saw a man warring with losing the last of his grandparents, the wise supporters of his youth.

I don't mean to elicit any sympathy, but I did want to share a selection of songs that seem to help with the grieving process, for me at least. I searched through my song library to find five songs that coincided with the Kübler-Ross Model for dealing with loss, as most people know it: "The Five Stages." After about an hour of finding the perfect songs for each step, these are the songs I picked. Many of them are heavier in sound, as I find myself somewhere in between the anger and bargaining stages. I hope this may one day help you, thanks.

1. Denial: "Baraga Embankment" by Bear vs. Shark (Terrorhawk; 2005)
As soon as the first piano key is struck, an instant sense of doubt is instilled. The song detail loneliness left to brood in a community where the sufferer is seen in sharp negative light. Bear vs. Shark is my favorite band to recommend to people, hoping they will feel the same connection as I do; they have provided me with one of the most intimate ties to a band I have ever felt. If I could summarize this song with one statement, it would be "Oh no, not me." Denial seems juvenile at first, eventually evolving into a separate reality in itself. The rich imagery portrayed in lyrics such as "The kids were pushing their fingers in tarmac, the pavement / The lightening was breathing in faces" creates a surreal picture, an alternate reality's grappling with the extraordinary, all in the split second of a lightening strike. 

2. Anger: "Against the Tide" by The Homefront (Sacrifice; 2007)
Sorry for the live video - The Homefront are sort of a local band, what I consider to have been the last great Boston hardcore band. I have included the lyrics to this song for some clarification. Anger doesn't seem to describe this stage well enough for me. I think it would be more appropriate to call it frustration, frustration with uncontrollable outcomes. The song title alone describes a losing battle; fighting the tide will only weaken you, distracting you from the real struggle. But I think the most poignant lyrics come from the phrase "I'm giving up on giving in," a failure to compromise. Frustration leads to anger, as Yoda once stated in one of the reprehensible Star Wars prequels, but misguided anger isn't what dealing with a loss is concerned with. The anger is focused, but the option that the war may be won is unfounded and unrealistic, furthering frustration. This vicious battle is as constant and cyclical as the barking tides.

3. Bargaining: "Marked" by EMA (Past Life Martyred Saints; 2011)
A sense of desperation seems to always accompany bargaining - one side is always given the upper hand, forcing the subservient side to sacrifice in order to continue soem level of stasis. This is the feeling of EMA's "Marked", a outstanding cut off last year's amazing Past Life Martyred Saints. It feels like Anderson is pleading with someone while in a fugue state, aiming for the smallest bit of humanity from her counterpart. The use of drugs in the song resonates well with death - Yes, my grandfather is delirious with painkillers and not the same person, but I cannot imagine how he would be without them. Bargaining helplessly with something uncontrollable is demented, but when it's your only option, you'll do whatever it takes to get things back to some sense of normal.

4. Depression: "Replica" by Oneohtrix Point Never (Replica; 2011)
Depression is a tricky bitch, almost exponential in its growth. "Replica" illustrates the loneliest piano line in the world, surrounded by a frightening environment of blown out dreams and distant lights. These are the final stages of loss, the longest days you'll ever live through. Every detail of the room has been inspected, as a means of escaping love ones' glances. The retirement home bed has felt this before: the lifting of body weight, the glacial movement. Fact cannot be accepted until it has been proven to an individual, and until I leave freshly disturbed earth, my grandfather is still with me. These are the longest days.

5. Acceptance: "I Am Extraordinary" by Blacklisted (No One Deserved to Be Here More Than Me; 2009)
To finish where I started, hardcore/post-hardcore music, Blacklisted sees the final stages of death - what I consider to be experienced post-mortem. "I Am Extraordinary" is the perfect song, both to close this list and dealing with the acceptance of a loss. The fact that someone is able to impact another's life is beyond ordinary; we are miracles for even being alive - why should consciousness be assigned to human beings? While this song calls for the death directly, aggressively, "Just do what we agreed on and beat my brains in," it's a confident, brave acceptance of death; I have lived and now I am done. It also accepts a lot of responsibility with lines like "I am only scared because by myself I'm scary." Mourning is never enjoyable but necessary.

With my catharsis blinding most of the above writing, I hope someone can make sense of this. When everything is said and done with my grandfather, what comes next? My parents have recently become grandparents, creating a new generation in my family. Getting older has its advantages, but they come at the cost of the people responsible for your existence. It's impossible to close out this passage with something conclusive or concrete, so I'll try my best to leave with some dignity. I am only one person, and I love my grandfather very much; whatever happens from now on out is going to happen no matter what level of my own interference.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Three Huge October Albums

With October comes the first full month of fall. But it seems almost foolish to think of it as such, due to the more than noteworthy releases October will see. Flying Lotus, Kendrick Lamar, and Converge all have albums set to be released. On second thought, October may see the three best albums of the year, if any of these artists' prior releases are taken into account.

Flying Lotus - Until the Quiet Comes
October 2nd
If Cosmogramma has taught us anything, it's that each Flying Lotus release feels like a new artist; the guy never stops evolving his sound. From the hazy beats on 1983 to the nu-jazz sounds on Cosmogramam, Steve Ellison has crafted his own signature niché in electronic music, but always reinvents his sound throughout his discography. FlyLo recently released a video teaser featuring some of the material on Until the Quiet Comes. The video was shot on film by Kahil Joseph and is just as abstract and beautiful as the music featured on it. I can't see myself disappointed with this release, even if it finds Ellison staying on the same path found on Cosmogramma. You can preorder the record at Warp, and don't forget to check out the short film below.

Kendrick Lamar - Good Kid, Mad City
October 22nd
In order for TDE to continue its dominance over underground hip-hop, Kendrick Lamar's proper debut album will need to be the keystone. ScHoolboy Q's Habits & Contradictions was a well thought out and executed first release from the TDE group, just after signing with Aftermath. Control System provided the weirder aspects of the Black Hippy collective, as Ab-Soul is oft found to do so. Lamar has been compared heavily to A Tribe Called Quest's Q-Tip, and with good reason - the two rappers have a similar pitch and delivery, while focusing their raps more on progressive issues than opulence. Single "Swimming Pools (Drank)" offers the most interesting point of view of drinking I have heard in music, let alone rap or hip-hop. I was a huge fan of Section.80, listing it as my favorite mixtape of last year. And with all the rumored features on Good Kid, Mad City, it's hard to imagine a failure.

Converge - All We Love We Leave Behind
October 9th
Coming as the biggest surprise to me, Boston metalcore outfit Converge announced All We Love We Leave Behind in late August. Converge hasn't released anything since 2009's excellent Axe to Fall, and it's comforting to see just how the band is approaching this release - they are doing everything themselves, without any guests or help. Guitarist Kurt Ballou is handeling the recording, artwork, and by way of his own label, Deathwish Inc., releasing the vinyl record. There aren't any special effects or extra instrumentation on the record, just how the band performs live. "Aimless Arrow", the album's first single, is a mathy, brutal kick to the teeth. Flatted Third's own Gerry D'Apollo broke the news on this release to me and you can check that out here, along with the video for "Aimless Arrow".

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Seasonal Music: A Farewell to Summer

Yesterday saw Flatted Third reach its highest pageviews per day since I started this thing, so I thought I would continue the trend of "Seasonal Music." There are only four shifts from season to season each year; I have to take advantage of it.

This list concerns saying goodbye to summer with some of my favorite tracks from the summer of 2012. Not all of these songs have been released this year, but they certainly will remind me of this past summer. I've decided to break them up into zany, wacky, crazy, bats in the belfry categories for fun, so I hope you guys enjoy!

Wait, Is This Still Metal: Baroness - "Little Things"
Yes, I guess it is - either way, I really enjoyed this track. There is little to no distortion on the guitars, coherent lyrics, and vocal harmonies, but it is definitely still metal - I don't know how else you could classify it. When I first heard Yellow & Green, I was confounded by it. I had no idea what to make of it, drawing me closer and warranting more and more listens. Gerry even wrote an excellent article about the state of metal concerning this record. By the end of the summer I had purchased the double LP and can say with confidence it will breach my year end list somewhere around the top 25. And man, oh man, that guitar solo at the end...

That Girl/Boy Won't Stop Bothering Me - I Told Her I Was Drunk: Joyce Manor - "Constant Headache"
Yeah, I know the self-titled album came out last year, but Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired came out this year and that's what drew my attention to the earlier release, so I don't know, suck a brick or something - the latter Joyce Manor record was mentioned in my "Albums You May Have Missed" article. "Constant Headache" is a great one night stand song, and it will hopefully send the message to that girl or boy who keeps bothering you. Summer flings are often volatile and misguided by hormones, so make sure you use protection!

Super Sped Up Party Montage: Dan Deacon - "True Thrush"
This song is just so much fun. I reviewed America and found it Deacon's most ambitious album so far. The video is a load of fun, too, so make sure you don't just play the song and open another tab. It feels like a party in fast forward, an overload of instruments and chants flooding the ears. It's only fitting that I got the drunkest on the Fourth of July this summer and this is off of an album called America...or is that irony? I don't even know anymore.

The Best Rap Chatter: Danny Brown - "Bruiser Brigade feat. Dopehead"
This song is just straight shit-talking. I fucking love it. It's crass, hysterical, and features the best chatter in a song, maybe ever: "If you ain't pulling a nigga dick out, slapping yo' face wit' it, throwing this bitch in yo' mouth, sucking dicks with bubbles, fucking all night, and drinking protein shakes in the morning, get the fuck outta here!" I have screamed that countless times this summer. It is the perfect song to roll up to a random house party where most of you are already drunk, only because you didn't "forget the brew."

I Don't Have Any Plans, So I Think I'll Just Cruise: Das Racist - "Luv It Mayne (Featuring Fat Tony & Bo P)
With an infectious hook, excellent production and features, and the expected weird raps from Das Racist, "Luv It Mayne" is perfect to bump through your car speakers as you roll through the center of town. And the best part is screaming out "If gonna baaalllllllllooooooo" at random pedestrians - believe me, you have to try it.

Drunken Party Anthem: Chief Keef - "I Don't Like (feat. Lil' Reese)"
Let's face it, there's not much to this song. I do believe my friend thought the first thing Chief Keef doesn't like, in a litany of don't likeable things, was a "fart nigga." I don't care what he's saying because it's a lot more fun to make up what the two incoherent rappers don't like - A SHIP NIGGA THAT'S THAT SHIT I DON'T LIKE. The beat's pretty good, I guess; well, Kanye liked it enough to make a remix.

The Beach at Night, and Shit: Beach House - "Lazuli"
It's easy to pass off Beach House as the band that made the same album three times, but they're not bad albums, especially both Teen Dream and Bloom. You can practically hear the moonlight splash off the ocean in "Lazuli". I guess this song would also work as a companion on a rainy day you had beach plans on too, if you're into that sort of thing.

I Had Beach Plans, but Now It's Raining Out: Bear vs. Shark - "Baraga Embankment"
Yeah, I know it specifically says "pouring rain" in the song, but that doesn't discredit the dreary disappointment in the song. It also sounds like you were so upset your beach plans where cancelled that you lost faith and killed everyone in your house, but hey, we've all had those days, especially during the summer of 2012.

The Ninth Summer Song on This Playlist: Sonic Youth - "Plastic Sun"
The first live video, ruining what I had going on here, "Plastic Sun" is the quintessential anti-summer song. It's anything but poppy, which is perfect for those days where you want to just stay inside and brood. It's also a scathing comment on the pop acts of the early 2000s: always something I'm down to bump.

The Quintessential Anti-Summer Song: Andrew Jackson Jihad - "Hate, Rain on Me"
If you think I'm lying, then listen to the damn song. It opens with a beer cracking open and embraces hate. Sometimes, you just want to shoot the sun, ending all summer songs. And with the changing of seasons -- Emo is coming! -- it's perfect to say, "Fuck you, summer. Go away until I cannot bear the cold anymore. I'm emotional, and stuff."

So there it is: a farewell to summer. Goodbye, summer 2012, you have been nothing short of low expectations and mistakes.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Seasonal Music: Five Awesomely Autumnal Albums

With the changing of seasons upon us, we move from bright summer to gloomy autumn. I am always prone to following my mood into the music I become momentarily obsessed with, and for some reason, maybe a completely obvious one, fall brings with it a longing feeling. Maybe it's the departure back to school, losing summer's hormone-driven loves, or just a temperature drop that is the impetus, but I can personally say I am driven toward Emo music. Oops.

Although not all of these albums can be perfectly ascribed to the Emo genre, they certainly due elicit feelings of change and wanting, which is what fall brings for me.

Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) - Home After Three Months Away (2011)
Released just last year, Empire! produced a perfect piece of Emo revivalism. A brooding EP with just four songs, Home After Three Months Away is textbook midwestern Emo with symbolistic lyrics, shifty guitars, and Keith Latinen's higher register vocals. Even the heavily recondite references for song titles are here - "Everything Small Is Just a Small Version of Something Big" is an Adventure Time reference. This was my favorite EP of 2011, and I don't think there's anything about this release that won't age well. There's nothing better than taking a walk listening to this EP; and at ten minutes, Home is just the right amount of Emo to get your day ruined started. You can check out the entire EP at Empire's Bandcamp.

Brand New - The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me
I mean, if you haven't listened to this album yet, I don't know why you are still reading this: Go listen to it. Devil and God is one of those albums you heard in high school and it encapsulated everything you ever wanted to feel about losing someone. Clocking in at almost an hour, "Sowing Season (Yeah)" sets the mood for a record that deserves your full attention. One of Flatted Third's contributing writers, Benjamin Goodheart, detailed Brand New's discography comparatively to Crime in Stereo's last week. Goodheart called Devil and God the defining moment of Brand New's carrer, and after you listen all the ay through, it'll be easy to see why. Just as I was reviewing the album to write this, I kind of fell back into old ways, stopped writing this article, and finished the album. Maybe that's why it took so long...

The Antlers - Hospice (2009)
In 2009, The Antlers released one of the most heart-wrenching albums of all time: a detailed story of a hospice worker falling in love with a patient, and their ensuing descent. During almost every song, there are tender moments that feel as though they could fall apart at any moment, dissolve in time and memory. An extremely personal album -- although lead singer and songwriter Peter Silberman never divulges which parts are fiction and which are autobiographical -- Hospice certainly isn't for anyone who struggles with themes of loss and helplessness, as it can darken any blacks. The record is devotedly beautiful and fragile, never producing a listen that doesn't reveal a new aspect of the sound or arrangements. At the end of Hospice, Silberman sings "You're screaming / And cursing / And angry / And hurting me / And then smiling / And crying / Apologizing," a testament to the emotional range contained within this record; it's not for the weak hearted. 

Sunny Day Real Estate - Diary (1994)
If I were detailing a list with a  preface saying it dealt with largely Emo records and didn't have a Sunny Day Real Estate release on it, people would not recognize this article as my own - I personally love this band and think they're the storied rock band no one knows the history of, and they should. Diary was the band's debut album, with Sub Pop prepping SDRE to pick up where the grunge superstars Nirvana left off; the pressure and weight of these expectations are audibly present throughout the album. Diary ended up being Sub Pop's seventh best selling record of all time, a very impressive feat. The band was just getting off a statewide tour when they recorded Diary, forcing vocalist Jeremy Enigk to sing through the physical strain the tour had caused - this is one of the defining characteristics of the record, producing a more emotionally poignant delivery, on the brink of crackling. "Song About an Angel" is the ideal SDRE song, illustrating the held-back, quiet verse / loud chorus formula the band instilled in the second ave of Emo. 

Bright Eyes - Every Day and Every Night EP (1999)
I could have easily put an Elliott Smith record here instead, but why not give the "boy wonder" some credit. Back when he was anything but a happy kid, Conor Oberst released the Every Day and Every Night EP, everyone's favorite high school breakup EP - well, it was certainly mine, I don't know about you. This is the only Bright Eyes record I own, and I am proud to say so because of what may be Oberst's best song, "A Perfect Sonnet". The mentioned track is one of the best examples of Acoustic Emo music: violent and spiteful lyrics delivered with a palpable emotional ire. I would also like to point out this is the second time Oberst teams up with folk wizard Mike Mogis who handles a variety of instruments and production.

So these are the albums that I will indulge my autumnal self in, and I hope you will too. There's no use in bumping party anthems and sweet tooth pop when you can stay inside, wrap yourself in blankets, and revel in fall's gloomy goodness.  

Friday, September 14, 2012

Cross Section: Brand New and Crime In Stereo

For Long Island, no music scene was more fruitful than that which emerged in the late 90s and early 2000s. Bands like Bayside, Glassjaw and Taking Back Sunday found much - if a little undeserved - success a realm that, for whatever reason, reached past high school. Then there was the massive success that was Brand New. Ask nearly anyone who was in high school between 2002 and 2009, and they can easily list off their favorite Brand New cuts. Brand New’s success is no surprise. They started off with an above average pop-punk album and continually challenged themselves with each release in an effort to evolve. There was also the presence of Jesse Lacey, an oft frustrating front man who had a very contentious relationship with his fans. This relationship, I think, made the fans that much more rabid. While Lacey was known to be unwilling to give them an inch, his fans would go exponential lengths for him in an effort to gain attention. Mixed with the fertile soil that was the Long Island scene, it would have been more surprising if Brand New wasn’t a smash hit.

Residing in a hardcore corner unbeknownst to most whose introduction to Long Island was Your Favorite Weapon was melodic-hardcore band Crime In Stereo. Crime In Stereo was started by Alex Dunne; he was a member of post-hardcore band The Rookie Lot, in which Jesse Lacey played as well. Dunne chose to go the more aggressive route and Crime In Stereo quickly became a much adored Long Island Hardcore band. Brand New and Crime In Stereo’s career trajectory have many similarities. They both released four albums, one of each were genre-defying. They both challenged themselves continuously throughout their careers. They were both stalwarts of the mid 2000s punk scenes, in their respective scenes of course. So, two years after Crime In Stereo’s break-up and three years after Brand New’s final full-length release (by their own accord) which career holds up better to scrutiny? Let’s compare.

Freshman Album: Finding Sturdy Ground

Your Favorite Weapon: Released in October, 2001 this album is often cited as a crucial release, although upon relistening to it, I’m unsure why. The album starts off strong enough with “The Shower Scene,” a by the numbers angsty pop-punk song that, at least, is not embarrassing to listen to. From there, though…things get dicey. We have “Jude Law and A Semester Abroad,” a song that’s lyrically mysoginistic where victim blaming and violent images of women dying in plane crashes abound. “Mixtape” name drops the Smiths like (500) Days of Summer, but it’s somehow more annoying. “Last Chance to Lose Your Keys” is about masturbating but isn’t tongue in cheek? Curious. The only song I can really give kudos to is “70x7,” but even that is only because of the anecdotal evidence that Jesse Lacey absolutely hates that song. And if anyone ever says “Soco Amaretto Lime” is a good song but doesn’t mention the shit production, I’ll punch them in the dick.  So, generously, I’ll say “this album has not aged well at all.”

Explosives and The Will To Use Them: Similarly, Crime In Stereo’s first album is also their weakest, but not nearly as strikingly as Brand New. Explosives lives up to its name as  the album immediately kicks into gear with a gang shout “We’re all going to hell!” and then barrels through the next 12 songs in a blistering 28 minutes.  This album, while it slows down occasionally, never has an acoustic break (thank Christ) and packs a punch right up until “Arson At 563,” which demonstrates CIS’s knack for knowing exactly how to close an album. Here, you can even notice the staggering difference in lyrical content. Brand New obviously is hungup on ex-girlfriends and very contentious towards everything. Even though I’d assume that Crime In Stereo is the angrier of the two, Crime In Stereo’s lyrics exude a kind of waywardness towards their “trainwreck of a life.” They comment on more societal issues (“No Gold Stars for Nationalism”) where Brand New resigns to bitching about high school. This is a good album, but our own Kyle Murphy put it best when he called Explosives a “very good b-sides” record in the kitchen of the party that time we became friends.

Sophomore Record: Defining Genres

The Troubled Stateside: Like Brand New, Crime In Stereo’s sophomore release is easily their most revered amongst fans old and new. This defines Long Island melodic hardcore. Easily accessible yet unstoppably aggressive The Troubled Stateside takes stabs at everything from center to far-right republicans, lazy kids living off their parents money, and most importantly, the state of their own lives as a post-grad. The shotgun blast that is “Everything Changes Nothing Is Truly Lost” calls out faux-art students hiding from loan collectors. “Sudan” comments on the mundanity of suburban life, but somehow manages to remain captivating and relevant. That’s a lot harder to do that it sounds; there are few things more banal than the frustration of suburbia. Then, there’s the closing trifecta. “Dark Island City,” the pseudo instrumental into “For Exes,” arguably the best song they ever wrote, and then the grand finale “I, Stateside.” This album kills it, and many would argue that this album was when Crime In Stereo peaked. I wouldn’t disagree.

Deja Entendu: Let’s just get this out of the way: Deja Entendu is light-years better than Your Favorite Weapon in every way, shape, and form. It’s structured better, paced better, and sounds better. Similarly to The Troubled Stateside, it starts off with a short introduction track that sets the tone for the rest of the album. The tone is wholly different from that of Your Favorite Weapon; instead of angsty, the band comes off as resentful. But of whom? No longer of the girls that left Lacey masturbating on a Saturday night, but Brand New’s own fanbase. A friend of mine posited recently that Lacey has always been equally resentful of his fanbase and resentful of himself. By and large, Lacey’s music taste has always seemed more aimed towards indie rock, but here he is stuck making music for kids who listen to New Found Glory. His love of the Smiths, Modest Mouse, and Built to Spill is well known and you can spot the influence. However, his lyrics always seemed more directed than Morrisey’s devil-may-care English self-commiserating. Where Issac Brock’s song writing style is defined by his interpolation of American colloqiualisms, Lacey’s attempt at playing with idioms seems clumsy and he lacks the metrical sensibility (and guitar chops) of Doug Marsch. So, it’s no wonder that Lacey comes off as resentful in songs like “I Believe You, But My Tommy Gun Don’t.” But, where the previous angst stunted the song writing, it only helps the effort here. I also have to applaud Lacey’s use of challenging images here.  Perhaps one of the most complex allegories, the band constructs an uncomfortable five minutes describing a date rape from the point of view of the rapist: the events parallel a band being preyed on by a label. We’re also treated to the violent images of soldiers getting their throats slit in “Good To Know If I Ever Need Attention All I Have to Do Is Die.” Awful song title but great song. Unfortunately, once again Brand New falls short of Crime In Stereo in closing the album. Acoustic closers may do it for every one else, but I am partial to the idea of putting “Play Crack the Sky” before “Good To Know…” Like The Troubled Stateside, many people decree this as Brand New’s strongest effort. This time though, I think nostalgia is crippling people’s judgement.

Junior Record: Long Island Burns

The Devil And God Are Raging Inside of Me: Ah, the third record: always apt for a comeback from the sophomore slump, yes, but what happens when you’re second album didn’t flop? You experiment. Following a three-year break and nine leaked songs, Brand new finally released The Devil and God are Raging Inside of Me in November 2006. The album was decidedly a departure from previous material. It was louder. More abrasive. More sinister. Often uncomfortable. Lacey and co. had moved into a time when their friends began to die and they began to grow even more resentful of their fanbase; evidenced as their playing of “Degausser” twice in a row at Bamboozle 2007. However, The Devil and God channeled all of that unrest into Brand New’s strongest record of their career.  First and foremost, this record is LOUD. Howling shrieks cascade into explosive wall of sounds. They continue to challenege themselves, taking chances with their songwriting structure and futher obfuscating their lyrical content. Some similar themes are still there (lost love in “Not The Sun”) but overall, everything about this album is stronger. My main complaint, once again, is the closing track. Do we really need an acoustic closer every album? Regardless, I do genuinely enjoy “Handcuffs,” but again, it would have fared better in the middle of the album. That decision notwithstanding, I feel The Devil and God is Brand New’s defining album of their career.

…Is Dead: Following in Brand New’s developmental footsteps, Crime In Stereo decided to attempt a departure from the melodic hardcore mold they had conquered previously. The roots of hardcore are still there, but overall the band’s scope is much larger. Do I dare refer to this album as “cerebral?” “XXXX” (For Exes, four x’s. Get it?) answers that rhetorical question right off the bat: pounding drums open the track and soon we’re hearing lead singer Kristian Hallbert pleading for a challenge. “Say I won’t” as if an entire mission statement for the album emerges in those three words. No sooner this soaks in are we thrust into the weird, decidedly druggy jam “…But You Are Vast,” and then as we blink and we’re smoking cigarettes for our first time to “Small Skeletal.” Like Brand New, this is an album that has burned an image into my mind permantely in “Unfortunate Tourists.” Post-coital sitting on the edge of a bed. An unfortunate tourist in an unforgiving foreign land. Personal thoughts aside, you have the faux-nostalgic “Nixon” (Brand New are you writing this down?) and then the creepy and quiet “Vicious Teeth.” The album does not end as powerfully as The Troubled Stateside did, but the “Orbiter”/ “Choker” combo is a strong one regardless. Now, can I definiteively say The Troubled Stateside is better than …Is Dead? Not at all. The Troubled Stateside is endlessly more accessible, true, but …Is Dead is challenging in all the right ways. Both are phenomenal albums.

Senior Record: Life's a Train Then You Die

I was trying to describe you to someone: I know the title was named after a poem, but it is a truly beautiful name for a record. My friend, however, likes to refer this album as “Live In Tokyo” because of the somewhat bizarre cover art. I was… is a very bizarre album. The sound is cohesive, no doubt, but there are some puzzling moments that still somehow work. “Queue modernes” kicks off the record, takes a cue (eh? See what I did there?) from Brand New with an ethereal ambiance that blows into a jam. There’s the closest thing to an acoustic to electric song Crime In Stereo ever released in “Young;” a song that’s brutal none the less. They don’t relent on political commentary (“Republica”), it’s just a bit more subtle than before. Perhaps a bit too much. The most confusing moment in the entire record is a cover of  their own “Dark Island City” that actually builds on the original and fits within the context of the album. Then Crime In Stereo puts forth the best closer they ever wrote; a perfect end to their career with “I Cannot Answer You Tonight.” It’s the only song on the record that harkens to their early days without compromising their sound. No other song even attempts it. Is this album a dissapointment? I loved it when it was released, but three years later I rarely spin it. I’d rather just listen to their earlier work. Sometimes when I’m sad I’ll throw on “Young,” or attempt to cheer myself up with “I cannot answer you tonight,” but when Crime In Stereo announced they were breaking up, there was a sense of calm about the announcement. They didn’t end on a high note, per se, but you could track their sound and their trajectory and Live In Tokyo had a sense of finality about.  Crime In Stereo Is Dead. Long Live Crime In Stereo.

Daisy: Another final (?) album that was the source of great controversy, Daisy actually packs one hell of a punch. The record is as loud as The Devil and God but way dirtier. If you had told me that the band that wrote “Sudden Death In Carolina” would open their fourth record with a sample from a 1920’s opera singer, I would have punched you right in the mouth. But then again, here we are. Like Crime In Stereo, Brand New was not content to stagnate. This record is often overlooked because it pretty much completely eschews everything that made Brand New likable. There are no catchy sing-alongs here. You can check your angst at the door; this is unadulterated anger and frustration now. What’s that? You’re too soft for a forty-five minute blitzkrieg of sound? Well…I guess they put Noro at the end of the record for you. If Brand New had released this under a different name, I’m sure the praise would have been unanimous. Alas, precedent cripples judgment once again and a solid album is overshadowed by its overzealous older brother.

Post Script: Conclusions Upon Graduating

Brand New and Crime In Stereo are seminal early 2000s bands. Without Brand New, we actually may have been spared a bunch godawful pop-punk bands. The reach of Crime In Stereo has yet to be determined. I have no doubt both will be cited as heavily influential in the coming years, but to what extent? When melodic hardcore inevitably comes back into the forefront, will people be name dropping Crime In Stereo offhand as much as they do Cap’n Jazz for Emo? Will Daisy be the impetus for a noisey, and hopefully listenable, pop-punk music?

In terms of preferences, I think my allegiance is clear. I will always live and die by Crime In Stereo whereas Brand New remains a band I love, but love to be critical about even more. What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Leaky Pipes: A First Look at Dinosaur Jr.'s I Bet on Sky

When you see Dinosaur Jr. is releasing another album, their tenth, you know what to expect going in: J Mascis's slurry ennui, ripping solos, solid musicianship, and a good listen - this is exactly what I Bet on Sky amounts to. The album is concrete, nothing special, nothing that will top a year end list, nothing that will change how you think about the indie rock stalwarts.

I Bet on Sky does have its highlights, obviously, but they never shine bright enough to lift the entire effort above average. "Watch the Corners", the album's first single, is a great romping track -- the video is equally awesome, having been produced by Funny or Die and featuring Tim Heidecker as an angry dad -- but nothing feels new about it.

Referencing Farm, Dinosaur's 2009 effort, I noticed it had a little pep and energy to it, with songs like "I Want You to Know" and "There's No Here", but it also had lazy balancing songs "Said the People" and "Plans" that built and undulated. I Bet on Sky seems to have J, Lou, and Murph's half-attention; no one really steps out. Sure, there are some added keyboards in songs and Lou sings lead a few times, but nothing reinvents the wheel here.

Assuring the exercise is not entirely wasted -- and that I finish my compliment sandwich -- "Almost Fare" adds some extra country instrumentation and provides an entertaining listen; it's a fun song that would fit perfectly into a spring into summer playlist. Album highlight "What Was That" starts with a usual Mascis epic guitar riff, but then tumbles into a hefty Lou Barlow bass jam, finally finishing with the band implementing some attack and release, much like what can be found on You're Living All Over Me. "See it on Your Side" is an excellent closer, as it makes everything before it seem like it was just the legendary band stretching before a big finish; I guess it's always important to go out big.

So as we near the 25th anniversary of You're Living All Over Me, we find a band still playing together, since reuniting in 2005, and sometimes trying new things. But when I first listened through I Bet on Sky, I found myself trying to find just what exactly makes Dinosaur Jr. so important, often reviewing their older material, and getting caught up, forgetting to reference forward to I Bet on Sky; all of this created a really disorientating process -- I think I'll go listen to Bug and You're Living All Over Me.

Final Grade: C+

P.S. You can check out the album, streaming in its entirety, over at NPR.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Track Review: Cymbals Eat Guitars - "Hawk Highway"

Last year, Cymbals Eat Guitars put out Lenses Alien, an album that I believed to fit in more with an "Honorable Mention" than a "Best of" list. Continuing that album's sound is "Hawk Highway", although the track would certainly have been a highlight from last year's release - it could have fit perfectly anywhere in the lackluster second half, save the excellent "Wavelengths". The single is part of a mini-documentary web series called Masters From Their Day which pair up a band with a legendary producer - in Cymbals' case, it's the same producer from Lenses Alien, John Agnello. The band records a new single using the producer and everybody goes on with their lives. What makes "Hawk Highway" noteworthy is that it expands and refines the better aspects of Lenses Alien, providing hope for another solid release from the band in the near future. The lyrics, as is the case with Cymbals, are heavily coded and probably about space or sock puppets, but Joe delivers them in such an interesting way that it doesn't really matter what they are. You can pick up the single for free here, or watch the mini-doc below.

Friday, September 7, 2012

2 Hours with Swans: A Review of The Seer

Let's face it, an album that clocks in at around two hours is going to have its highs and lows, and if you're a band that sticks to the same sound, it'll end up being dull. Swans is able to achieve something very different with their new LP, The Seer. Although this is an incredibly dense record to get through, the outcome ends up being pretty well worth it.

Before this review, I sat through and listened to every track on this album three times. That ends up being around 6 hours of time trying to come up with a coherent review that best describes this album and long running band (i.e. PLEASE READ THIS AND MAKE THAT TIME SPENT HAVE MEANING). My efforts became futile when I remembered Swans treads that fine line between drone music, noise rock and everything else you could possibly imagine - Godspeed You! Black Emperor, anyone? Like I said, this album IS daunting to finish at points. "Mother Of The World" put me off this album every time I listened to it due to its Primus-y guitar riffs and terrifying vocals - can making an "oo-wee" sound be classified as such? The strong points of the album come from the guests featured in a few tracks. Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeah's eerily sings through amazing lyrics in "Songs for a Warrior", a standout track; also, it's one of the shortest on the album, coming in at just over 4 minutes. Folk/experimental band Akron/Family lends their talent on "A Piece of the Sky", which runs through 10 minutes of noise before coming in with a dark, southern jam.

After writing this -- while listening to the album...again -- it became easy to distinguish what's good and what's just bad. For fans of drone, this album is perfect: two hours of really good noise and ambiance infused with different styles of post rock and punk. For new comers, get ready for a difficult listen. The long tracks are sure to drive many away, but for the most part, they end up sounding incredibly well put together. Front man Michael Gira says it's taken 30 years to create this album, in the sense that it's every past Swans record crammed into a two hour mess that comes together at some points, and just plain falls flat at others.

Grade: B-

P.S. Check out the track "Song for a Warrior" featuring Karen O

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Leaky Pipes: A First Look at Grizzly Bear's Shields

2009 saw Grizzly Bear's Veckatimest play bridesmaid to Merriweather Post Pavilion on more than a few year end lists, including Metacritic's all important total list - Grizzly Bear took eighth that year of all music, second in critics' top lists. This year we see Animal Collective, Baroness, Mount Eerie and Dirty Projectors all come out with records; the only difference in 2012 is that Grizzly Bear is in pole position to take more than a couple year end lists.

Shields, from the moment "Sleeping Ute" starts to where "Sun in Your Eyes" ends, is abrasive, gorgeous, and fully engrossing, never feeling hindered or forced - the first time I previewed the album my jaw gave way. The album, in a year where Indie's heavy hitters all planned releases, far exceeds any expectations I had for it - and my expectations were extremely high, having been severely disappointed by both The xx and Animal Collective.

On the surface, Grizzly Bear haven't done much to change up their sound, not like Animal Collective seeing the reunion with Deakin ultimately producing a "too many cooks in the kitchen" situation and maximalist poppycock. It's still the same full band that released Yellow House in 2006, but Grizzly Bear continues to grow. Songs like "Yet Again" and "What's Wrong" perfectly blend elements from Yellow House and Veckatimest, while "Adelma" sees the band's first use of a purely instrumental interlude track, one that has its own movement and doesn't request a skip; Shields is perfectly planned out and executed to be an album, and entity.

While Veckatimest was dark, at some times even brooding, Shields seems much more cheerful: a band comfortable with its current state of affairs. Grizzly Bear has always impressed me with its use of acoustic and electric guitar - a formula so traditional that I try to avoid any music labeled as such - but they always sound fresh and inventive, despite their tried and true formula. The non-traditional tunings, brittle electric guitar tones, and syncopated rhythms are what make Grizzly Bear unique in the already too specific freak-folk genre.

I can see Shields taking a lot of critics' top spots on their year-end lists, not just because of how inconsistent this years' followup records were, but certainly by its own accord. A gigantic display of raw talent, originality, and growth are what make Shields my favorite record of the year so far -- so sorry, Mr. Ocean.

Final Grade: A

P.S. Check out singles "Sleeping Ute" and "Yet Again" below, and don't forget to pre-order at the band's website.