Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Album Review - American Slang

The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang (SideOneDummy, 2010)

This album came out back in June, but since I didn't have this blog back then and there's nothing I want to review this week, I thought I'd review it now.

I didn't care much for American Slang the first time I heard it. I thought it was alright, but it didn't really grab me initially. It took a couple listenings for me to get it. The same happened with the preceding album, The Gaslight Anthem's SideOneDummy debut The '59 Sound. But I had loved their first album, Sink Or Swim, so much that I gave it a few more listens, and now I consider it to be a highly superior album. So when American Slang didn't hit me on the first listen, I gave it the same chance I gave '59

To me, '59 had a vibe to it, sort of a theme. Most of the album seems to be a nostalgic view of youth with songs like the title track, "Old White Lincoln" and "Even Cowgirls Get The Blues" calling up images of high school and being in your early 20's. Even the iTunes bonus track, a cover of Robert Bradley's "Once Upon A Time," fits the theme.

Slang continues that theme, but twists it a bit. The first half of the album continues the nostalgic view of youth. Songs like the title track or "The Diamond Church Street Choir" feel like they would have fit right at home on '59. After that, though, the nostalgia starts to take on a darker vibe. Rather than celebrating the life lived, the album has a more "those were the good days," bitter vibe. This is most specifically seen on "Old Haunts," with frontman Brian Fallon pleading "don't sing me your songs about the good times, those days are gone and you should just let them go," then declaring, "God help the man that says 'if you'd have know me when,' old haunts are for forgotten ghosts." That last bit really stands out to me, as it stands in direct conflict with one of Fallon's earlier songs. "The Navesink Bank" from Sink Or Swim finds the singer saying exactly that, "Ah Maria, if you woulda known me when..." The lesson I take from it is that it's ok to look fondly on your past, as long as you remember that it's the past.

After one last burst of nostalgia in the form of "The Spirit Of Jazz," the album, and the bitter nostalgia, close out with "We Did It When We Were Young." The most melancholy song I've heard from TGA, "Young" is written to a woman from Fallon's past, a sort of "we had a good time, but now it's over and I'm with someone else" kinda love letter. Fallon declares that he "cannot hold a candle for every pretty girl" before closing out the album by saying "I am older now, and we did it when we were young." The iTunes version of the album comes with a bonus track, "She Loves You." The song is well written and well performed, and I love getting more music for my money, but this is one instance where I regret the presence of a bonus track. "We Did It When We Were Young" is just such a perfect closing track that its a shame for another track to start playing. It's like watching a movie that keeps going after the point where it should have ended.

Musically, the album builds on the modern punk meets classic rock and soul that TGA have been perfecting, but with more emphasis on the modern side. While I think '59 is a better album overall, Slang has its moments. Lots of great guitar work and Fallon continues his rough, honest delivery of the lyrics. The album has a few questionable moments though, most notably the opening of "Boxer," which is an otherwise good song.

If you've never heard TGA, this isn't the album I would recommend starting with. I would say start with The '59 Sound, but follow that up with American Slang.

Favorite tracks: "The Diamond Church Street Choir," "Boxer," "Old Haunts," "We Did It When We Were Young"


Monday, November 29, 2010

Album Review - Pretty Hate Machine (Reissue)

Nine Inch Nails - Pretty Hate Machine: 2010 Remaster (Bicycle Records, 2010)

In 1989, Trent Reznor released the first full length album under his Nine Inch Nails moniker, Pretty Hate Machine, on TVT Records. A commercial and critical success, the album cemented Reznor as a pioneer of the new American Industrial scene and an artist to watch in aggressive music.

The album is, simply put, amazing. Dark and moody, aggressive with some softer moments. But it is limited by its mixing and production. Later albums, such as the successful followup The Downward Spiral (which launched Reznor into the mainstream, mainly due to the popularity of "Closer" and "March Of The Pigs") and the tragically unsuccessful double album The Fragile, had significantly better production. It's not that the production of Pretty Hate Machine is bad, it just could have been better.

Well, now it is better. After years of bad blood between Reznor and TVT Records, Bicycle Records bought out TVT's catalogue, which included co-publishing rights to Pretty Hate Machine. Last week, Pretty Hate Machine was reissued in a remastered format that also included new cover art. In keeping with the Nine Inch Nails Halo numbering system, the reissue was given the number Halo 2R

The mixing is better all around, but two areas what really shine for me are the vocals and the bass. The vocals are much cleaner and clearer. Every bit of pain and despair Reznor recorded is blissfully intact for clear listening. And the bass is also clearer and more fun to listen to, especially on the tracks "Sanctified" and "The Only Time." The piano on "Something I Can Never Have" is also tweaked a bit, making the song just a bit darker (it's one of the darkest songs I have in my iTunes library). While the original is still amazing, the remaster, approved by Reznor, is a much better listening experience.

Another significant change is the art work. The original is pretty great (Reznor once stated that it is a picture of turbine blades distorted to resemble a ribcage), but the newer version (with a change in colors and word placement) seems more fitting to the new sound.

The track listing of the original songs is the same order, the order that Reznor intended. Which is good, as I have seen remasters that changed the order of the songs. The only change to the track listing is the inclusion of a cover of Queen's "Get Down, Make Love" (originally recorded for the promotional single release of "Sin"). It feels to me like it doesn't really fit with the rest of the album, but it was recorded in such a way that it doesn't feel too out of place.

Overall, Bicycle Music has taken an amazing album and somehow made it even more amazing. I would recommend this album to anyone who likes emotionally and sonically complex music, as well as to NIN fans that already have the original.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

No Posts This Week

You may have noticed there were no posts yesterday or Friday. I've been a bit preoccupied by my day job (retail/grocery, so you can imagine it's been busy lately) and working on my job hunt in the field. Combine that with not really having anything interesting to write about (no new bands to share, no new albums driving me to review them, haven't seen any new movies in a while) and I just haven't felt a compelling reason to post. So I'm taking the week off for Thanksgiving. In the meantime, I am planning some fun posts for the Christmas season, as well as some end-of-year retrospective posts. If there are any topics you'd like to read about for those two themes, leave a message in the comments and I'll see what I can do.

Also, if you have friends in a band looking for more exposure, tell them to get in touch with me. I love doing what I can to help out lesser-known bands. They can email me at tzdrojewski at gmaildotcom. Same goes for indie film studios, indie publishers, etc.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Few Random Bits And Pieces - 11/16/10

There aren' really any new albums out right now that I'm particularly interested in. Back To The Basement, the new Queers album, is out today, but I haven't really had much of a chance to listen to it. And I haven't really caught any movies in theaters since The Social Network. So while I sit here watching Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightening Thief (so I can return it to Netflix and get caught up on the last two Harry Potter movies before I see the new one), I thought I'd share some random little bits of stuff going on.

-Yesterday, Apple announced some big announcement that would be happening today. Apparently it was just that The Beatles are now available on iTunes. Is that really that big of a deal. As far as I know, the CD's are still in print, and a brief search on Amazon suggested that they're cheaper in physical format. The only reason it's a big deal is that The Beatles were one of the last major digital hold outs. So they finally caved. I was expecting something more exciting from Apple's hype.

-I'm not much a fan of Rockmelt. The browser does have some things I like, but there are a lot of features that I think get in the way. And as far as I can tell, I can't get rid of those features. I'll keep exploring, but for now I'm back to Chrome. I love you, Google.

-I finally saw Toy Story 3 last night. I have to admit, I've never been a huge fan of the Toy Story movies, though I do see their appeal. But I thought it was a nice way to close out the trilogy. Assuming they actually do end it, and don't try to continue it. Disney finished it, time to move on.

-I also finally saw Grown Ups. It was a nice reunion of a lot of 90's SNL alumni, and there were some good laughs here and there. But overall, I think it might have been the most poorly written major release I've ever seen. There were countless moments of dramatic build up that had little to no payoff, and nearly every problem presented in the film was either cast aside minutes later or conveniently solved minutes later. Lessons learned were explicitly spelled out for the audience. And, perhaps the worst of all, there was a huge reliance on fat jokes, fart jokes, crude slapstick and other easy comedy elements. Not a movie I would recommend. I told this to a friend who had seen it and his response was "Dude, it was an Adam Sandler movie." So? So was Funny People, and I loved that movie.

-Heard some of the songs off the new Ke$ha EP through a leak. I didn't hate it. I can't explain it, but even though every thing about her music contradicts my tastes and philosophies regarding  music, I enjoy it to a disturbing degree. I feel like I should hate every aspect of it, but I can't get enough.

-There's a lot of casting rumors and news going on. First of all, there's talk of Alan Arkin, Van Damme and Billy Crystal in the new Muppet move. One of the best things about the first Muppet movie was all the celebrity bit roles, such as Steve Martin and Orson Welles. I'm glad they continued that through so many movies and specials. Hearing these rumors do give me hope that this movie will continue Jim Henson's impressive legacy. There's also some rumors going on about the followup to The Dark Knight that adds support to the theories that Talia Al Ghul will be in it. Then there's the reports that Will Gluck has already tapped Emma Stone for a movie that has no name and no script and, as far as we know, no story or characters yet. Emma Stone is shaping up to be quite the leading lady, if a director will sign her before he even knows what the movie is about. Bow to the power of Emma Stone.

-The new Girl Talk album is interesting. And I mean that in a good way. Check it out if you get the chance. It's available for free under a Creative Commons license (and anyone who has read this blog from the start knows how I love Creative Commons).

Monday, November 15, 2010

My Essential Classic Albums

There's a lot of talk right now about the future of music. More and more releases are going digital. Some through Radiohead-style self-releases, some through digital-only labels like Quote Unquote or Death To False Hope, some through DIY sites like Bandcamp, some from labels trying to cut costs. But even as these releases go digital, more and more releases are also going vinyl. As we take steps forward, we also take steps back in some ways.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and so I decided to look some albums from years past for today's blog. Here is a non-hierarchical list of my essential classic releases. For the purposes of this post, "classic" is used to mean before 1985, the year I was born.

Bruce Springsteen - Born To Run (Columbia, 1975)
There's a reason Bruce Springsteen is referred to as The Boss, and Born To Run is a prime example of his musical abilities. He may have fallen in recent years (seriously, have you listened to Magic?), but back in 1975 he was king of Americana Rock. Rolling Stone listed the album as their 18th greatest album of all time, and it deserves it. My favorite song is the title track, but the album also contains classic cuts like "Thunder Road" and "Backstreets."

Black Flag - Nervous Breakdown (SST, 1978)
In 1978, Black Flag stormed out of the suburbs of Los Angeles with their debut EP, Nervous Breakdown. Much like the Ramones sparked the American punk revolution a few short years before, Black Flag's touring inspired a firestorm of imitators across the country, making hardcore a solid statement within the punk scene. Kicking off with the title track, an ode to reaching the breaking point, the EP packs a lifetime of punk agression into just over 5 minutes. Later releases are alright, but for me nothing compares to this.

The Clash - London Calling (UK-CBS, 1979, US-Epic, 1980)
Compared to Nervous Breakdown, London Calling hardly sounds like an album that could be called punk. But The Clash were among the first to merge punk's aggression with other styles, in this case rockabilly, jazz, ska and reggae. A true pillar of punk history, Rolling Stone ranked London Calling 10 spots higher than Born To Run, at number eight. The album is also one of the best examples of blending punk and politics, covering topics such as commercialism and consumerism ("Lost In The Supermarket"), government oppression ("Clampdown") and social unrest ("The Guns Of Brixton," which some claim predicted the race riots of Brixton in the 1980's). The  title track also cites concerns over nuclear incidents (such as Three Mile Island) and the potential flooding of London. 

The Kinks - Muswell Hillbillies (RCA, 1971)
The Kinks are more well known for earlier protopunk tracks "You Really Got Me" and "All Day And All Night," as well as "Lola," about accidentally falling for a crossdresser in a bar. But Muswell Hillbillies is the album that makes them my favorite band of the British Invasion. The album blends the British small-town idealism they perfected on The Kinks are The Village Green Preservation Society with Americana influences. The album covers paranoia, shady fad diets, poverty, the growing concern of alcoholism, and dreaming of living in America. The album also features "Have A Cuppa Tea," a fun tribute to the British cure-all, a good cup of tea.

Various Artists - This Is Boston, Not L.A. (Modern Method, 1982)
Remember when I said earlier that Black Flag sparked hardcore throughout the country? That's a bit misleading. Punk rock was a pretty general movement, but hardcore developed in pockets. No two scenes sounded the same. NYC, L.A. and Chicago have long flourished as hardcore hotspots, but other pockets started up as their own scenes. In the early 80's, some members of the Boston scene were considered that local hardcore kids were taking too much of an interest in L.A. hardcore, ignoring their rich local scene. The response was This Is Boston, Not L.A., a compilation comprised of 30 tracks from Boston bands Jerry's Kids, The Proletariat, Groinoids, The F.U.'s, Gang Green, Decadence and The Freeze. There are countless compilations dedicated to documenting local scenes, but This Is Boston, Not L.A. stands as one of the best.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Basement Show Blog

I didn't have much to write about today, so I decided to share a blog that I've been reading lately. The blog is called Please Don't Hang Out In Front Of The House.

PDHOIFOTH is a blog devoted to pictures, stories, poems, etc., about basement shows. The blog was initially inspired by a contest by Red Bull where independent bands could submit songs, with 4 winning bands being chosen to play a basement show in New Brunswick, NJ, a city which is legendary for their basement shows. One band from that would then be chosen to open for the band Thursday.

The contest caught the attention of basement show veteran Aaron Scott, formerly of the bands Marathon and De La Hoya, currently of Attica! Attica! With a firm understanding of the meaning and importance of basement shows, Aaron was disgusted by a corporation's attempts to subvert the legacy. His response was to create PDHOIFOTH. The blog consists of fan-submitted stories, poems and pictures about what basement shows mean to them. The blog is also getting ready to release 2 volumes of a free compilation of fan-submitted songs.

Red Bull eventually pulled out of the basement show part of the contest and moved it t a venue, citing "the sensitivity of brining (sic) more attention to the basement show scene to the local authorities" as the reason. But the blog continues, documenting the current state of basement shows. They also have a Facebook page.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Album Review - Decompositions, Volume 1

Hour Of The Wolf - Decompositions, Volume 1 (Think Fast!, 2010)

(As far as I can tell, this release is only available on vinyl or digitally.)

Hour Of The Wolf are a frustrating band when it comes to releases. They have steadily released some great songs, but only in the form of singles, EPs and split releases. Their unique brand of hardcore punk has not yet seen a proper full length release. Rather than remedy this with an album of new material, the band have instead released a the first volume in a compilation of all those scattered tracks.

HOTW have been compared to Black Flag, Motorhead and even The Misfits, and quite frankly those are all valid comparisons. They have an old-school approach to hardcore that owes more to Black Flag than modern bands like Terror or Blood For Blood. The aggressive instrumentation does call to mind Ace Of Spades-era Motorhead, with the menacing punk rock charm of Danzig-era Misfits. But HOTW do what I love about my favorite bands, they take obvious influences and spin them into something that is all their own. They also remind me a bit of a rougher version of Kill Your Idols. Rough in a good way, of course, as hardcore never sounds right to me when it's polished.

Volume 1 is, in a way, basically a glorified re-release of the band's 2006 EP, Power Of The Wolf, with a new track the band wrote for the release ("Domestic Wild") as well as some covers (Black Flag's "Nervous Breakdown," The Nerve Agents' "Fall Of The All American," Kid Dynamite's "Breakin's A Memory" and The Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog"). Think Fast! Records' statement about it says that this will be first time any of these songs are on vinyl, so that's not a bad for people who like vinyl. I would definitely recommend this to hardcore fans looking for a new band, but for people who are already fans that own the previous releases it isn't that great of a deal if you don't like vinyl. However, I just checked and the new tracks can be purchased individually on iTunes, but the release has not, at the time this is posted, been put on Think Fast!'s digital download store.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Upcoming Releases That Excite And/Or Interest Me

So my NaNoWriMo isn't getting much progress made, so I figured I should at least make sure I had a blog update for today, however late it might be.

I am constantly finding out about new albums coming out or recently out, but most of those are pleasant discoveries. Here is a list of known upcoming releases I'm excited about or at least have an interest in (due to the lack of specific details of some of them, often due to uncertainty from the band, I have decided to not include release date and label information like I usually would).

Hour Of The Wolf - Decompositions, Volume 1
This comes out tomorrow. I'll have more to say about it then.

The Decemberists - The King Is Dead
Rumored to be named in reference to The Smiths' The Queen Is Dead (and, in fact, frontman Colin Meloy namechecks Morrissey and The Smiths as influences whenever he can), The King Is Dead is the followup to 2009's The Hazards Of Love. As far as I know, the new album is not a concept album like Hazards was. I wrote on Friday about the first song they released from the album. Based on that song, I can't wait for this album to come out. Unfortunately, I'll have to wait until January.

Nine Inch Nails - Pretty Hate Machine (reissue)
It's not a new album from the amazing Trent Reznor, only a reissue. But still, I never bought a copy of NIN's first album despite loving The Fragile, With Teeth and Year Zero. So when I heard about this, I thought I might as well make this the opportunity to pick up a copy finally.

The Aquabats! - Radio Down
The renegades from the doomed island of Aquabania (read the band's backstory, it's pretty awesome) are back with their first new release since 2005's Charge!! (the band has been a bit preoccupied trying to get a cartoon show made and working on frontman Christian Jacob's Nick Jr show, Yo Gabba Gabba). They were meant to release a full-length album tomorrow, but when Fearless Records picked up the release they asked them to postpone it and release this 3-song EP instead.

The Queers - Back To The Basement
They have a terrible name, but The Queers have been churning out great bubblegum punk since the 80's, when Joe Queer decided to take up an offensive name and rip off Screeching Weasel. I loved their last album, Munki Brain, so I'm looking forward to hearing what they sound like 3 years later. And the title seems to imply a return to roots, so that's cool too.

My Chemical Romance - Danger Days: True Lives Of The Fabulous Killjoys
Does Gerard Way know how make albums that aren't concept albums? I guess not. I thought I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love was decent. I thought Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge was pretty good. I thought The Black Parade was kinda meh. So I am kinda interested in hearing what this new one sounds like.

Friday, November 5, 2010

New Decemberists Song

Oh happy day! The Decemberists have released a new song! By visiting their official website (www.Decemberists.com) and joining their mailing list, you can get a free download of a new track, "Down By The Water." Don' worry about the mailing list, they mainly send regular band e-mails, but worded Decemberists-style, so I always enjoy reading them. And you can unsubscribe if you want.

The song is great. Kinda reminds me of older, Her Majesty, The Decemberists era output from the band, crossed with Tarkio, singer Colin Meloy's previous band. Perhaps after the epic concept album The Hazards Of Love they felt like going back to their roots? It's a really good song, and I can't wait for their new album, The King Is Dead, available in January of 2011.

Here are the lyrics, for those interested:

See this ancient riverbed
See where all our follies are led
Down by the water and down by the old main drag

I was just some towhead teen
Feeling around for fingers to get in between
Down by the water and down by the old main drag

The season rubs me wrong
The summer swells anon
So knock me down, tear me up
But I would bear it all broken just to fill my cup
Down by the water and down by the old main drag

Sweet descend this rabble round
Pretty little patter of a seaport town
Rolling down the water and rolling down the old main drag

All dolled up in gabardine
The last flashing lee to appear nineteen
Queen of the water and queen of the old main drag

The season rubs me wrong
The summer swells anon
So knock me down, tear me up
But I would bear it all broken just to fill my cup
Down by the water and down by the old main drag

The season rubs me wrong
The summer swells anon
So knock me down, tear me up
But I would bear it all broken just to fill my cup
Down by the water and down by the old main drag

Down by the water and down by the old main drag
Down by the water and down by the old main drag

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

5 Bands You Probably Aren't Listening To, But Should

Sorry there was no post yesterday. I had some Internet issues and was offline most of the day. Combined with starting my NaNoWriMo project, I didn't have any time to post something.

Today I thought I'd use what little influence I have to throw a bit of attention on some lesser known bands. I've mentioned some of them before in previous posts, but now here's a post devoted to them. Check them out when you have a chance.

These guys are from Vancouver, British Columbia, way up there in Canada. I saw them live when they supported Two Cow Garage. They said at the show that it was only their second time in the states as a band, the first being an appearance at The Fest down in Florida last year. (As a side note, it kills me that I've never been to The Fest. Maybe next, which I've said every year for the past several years.) They released their second album in September, the phenomenal Sea To Sky. I really hope I get to see them live again some day. Go to their Facebook and check out the song "Mean Things." They kinda remind me of Hot Water Music, playing guitar-driven post-hardcore with a slight Americana twinge.

The Sweet Revenge
I randomly found The Sweet Revenge when I was looking through the available albums at Death To False Hope Records. Their album Creatures Of Routine is amazing, easily one of my top albums of 2010 (which I mentioned not too long ago when I reviewed it). Great guitar parts, great lyrics. They fall sorta on the musically upbeat side of melodic hardcore, kinda like a poppier version of Strike Anywhere. You can stream the album or download it (for free or donation) here (I especially recommend the tracks "Full House" and "Burning Pictures").

Dan Padilla
Dan Padilla, the band, not the man, as they often refer to themselves online. A great band that I heard about when ThePunkSite featured their album As The Ox Plows on their Free Music blog. The album is great (though I wish the vocals were a bit higher in the mix). They've got a sorta Menzingers/Dopamines pop-punk vibe to them. You can check out As The Ox Plows here, as Paper + Plastick Records have made it available with no financial risk.

Tin Horn Prayer
Apparently my inclusion in the promotional efforts for Two Cow Garage's last album got me on Suburban Home Records' media contact list. That's how I ended up with a free copy of Tin Horn Prayer's Get Busy Dying. And I love it. Only thing I don't like about it is that, like Dan Padilla, the vocals are bit too low in the mix for my tastes. The band who have an interesting alt-country/punkgrass sound, is made up of members and ex-members of various Denver bands.

Drag The River
Drag The River is a band that is, as one of their albums put it, bad at breaking up. They've been around since the 90's and are relatively well-known amongst the PBR-drinking orgcore scene, but have never really made the kind of impact in the mainstream that I think they deserve. Now is a great time to get into them, as they're planning a much-anticipated new album next year, and have posted a set of demos on their Bandcamp page that can be downloaded for a minimum donation of 50 cents. Worth it.