Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Band Of The Week: Jawbreaker

I was contemplating giving Red City Radio another week of being the Band Of The Week, due to their new album coming out yesterday (and it's GOOD, expect a review soon). But that's not really fair to all the other bands in the world. So instead, I chose a band I've been re-listening to a lot lately that deserves more recognition: Jawbreaker.

Jawbreaker was a highly influential punk band that formed in the mid-80's and lasted about a decade (Wikipedia says 1986-1996), at which point frontman Blake Schwarzenbach formed the also influential Jets To Brazil. Jawbreaker played an agressive, rough form of pop punk that helped pave the way for some of my favorite newer artists, such as The Menzingers and Dan Padilla. In the years they existed they put out 4 albums, Unfun (Shredder Records, 1990), Bivouac (1992, Tupelo/Communion Records), fan-favorite 24 Hour Revenge Therapy (1994, Tupelo/Communion Records) and Dear You (1995, DGC Records), which was a pretty good record but most fans hated the slick production as well as the cleaned-up vocal style.

Jawbreaker have been credited as being one of the bigger influences of the 90's emo revival. Schwarzenbach's heart-on-his-sleeve, confessional lyrical style drew in teenage listeners who heard their own thoughts and emotions in the songs. For example, "Want" from Unfun is a love song that strips away all romantic notions of teenage lust, with Schwarzenbach saying not "I love you" but simply "I want you." Or the non-album single "Kiss The Bottle," long held by fans as one of their best songs. The song romanticizes a drunk who would rather spend time at the liquor store than a lover in need of support.

Despite it's lack of popularity, I would recommend checking out Dear You. Also check out "Want," "Boxcar" from 24 Hour Revenge Therapy (which contains my favorite line Schwarzenbach ever recorded: "You're not punk, and I'm telling everyone") and "Kiss The Bottle." There's also a pretty good tribute album titled Bad Scene Everyone's Fault (named from a track on Dear You), and Lucero do a really good cover of "Kiss The Bottle."

Friday, February 18, 2011

Album Review - Situationist EP

White Wives - Situationist EP (Lock And Key Collective, 2011)

I first heard of White Wives when I saw them open for Fake Problems last December and I have eagerly awaited recorded output since then. White Wives is a side project started by Chris #2, bassist and backing vocalist for Anti-Flag, and rounded out by Chris Head (also of Anti-Flag) and members of The Code, American Aramada and Dandelion Snow.

I had expected the band to sound more like Anti-Flag, but I was quite surprised. The sound is closer to that of guitarist/backing vocalist Roger Harvey's main band, Dandelion Snow, but a bit harder. Hard to compare them to other bands, but I would say the closest would be bands like Sunny Day Real Estate and the later output of Brand New, but without the sporadic outbursts of the latter.

The format of the band is interesting. They have the standard drummer, bassist and guitarist. But in addition to that Chris #2 occasionally puts down his guitar to play a second, simplified drum kit while singing. In addition to backing vocals and occasionally leading vocals, Harvey plays both an effects-heavy third guitar and an acoustic guitar. There's also some keyboards but I can't tell who is playing those parts (I don't remember seeing or hearing it live).

The songs have a punk feel while straying far from the 3-chord simplicity of the genre's early days. The overlapping guitars and keyboards give the impression of a soundscape where there really isn't one, an intriguing vibe that I can't get enough of. Despite the non-stop guitar noise and thundering drums, the bass is often crisply clear. The vocals are at their best, in my opinion, on the EP's opener, "Hungry Ghosts," in which Chris #2 and Harvey work together perfectly, along with some backing harmonies from the guitar and bass players. The band's experimentation of sound is at its peak on the closer, a haunting cover of The Pixies' "Where Is My Mind."

I looked forward to this EP for 2 months, and I was pleased to be so well rewarded. Check them out, you can hear the EP on Lock And Key Collective's Bandcamp page (where, at the time I'm writing this, you can get the EP for free or for a donation). I really hope they record more in the future. Preferably a full-length, as a 4-song EP isn't enough for such a promising band.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Band Of The Week: Guster

Got a bit caught up in job hunting the past few days, but as I was working on that I was listening to this week's Band Of The Week, Guster.

Guster is a band that was started in 1991 by three Tufts University students. The trio began playing acoustic-based poppy alternative rock around campus, set apart from the rest of the early 90's college radio scene by their use of non-traditional alternative rock instrumentation, most notably hand percussion instead of the usual drumkit set-up.

Eventually, Guster's use of additional instrumentation led to the band adding a fourth member, who as of last year was no longer with the band (due to a conflicting touring offer, not from any bad blood as far as I can tell) and was replaced. The new member is listed as a band member on WIkipedia, but I'm not sure if he is officially a member or just a touring member. The member he replaced was indeed considered a full member, but neither is seen performing with the band in the video for "Do You Love Me" (from the band's 2010 album, Easy Wonderful).

Guster were, as far as I know, the first band to adapt Virginia's tourism slogan for merchandise use, as they sell t-shirts and stickers proclaiming "Guster Is For Lovers," which I have since seen done by other bands, including Fall Out Boy.

I would recommend checking out either Easy Wonderful or their second album, Goldfly. Both are excellent. Goldfly features the hand percussion and acoustic guitars of their earlier days, while Easy Wonderful displays a more evolved version of the band, with more experimental instrumentation. The other albums are good, too, but these are the two I hold as being the best examples of their sound. You can also check out their Youtube channel and Vimeo page to watch videos and get a sense of what they sound like.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Some Libraries To Offer Free Music Downloads

I've been re-evaluating my goals for this blog, and one of the main ones is that I want to start writing more library-oriented posts, because that's what this blog was supposed to be. Well, now I've been given a great story to bring me back to that by my friend Rob over at Esoteric Timestream. Rob drew my attention to Tech News Today (part of the TWiT network of podcasts) episode 174, where they discuss Freegal.

Freegal is a service that allow libraries to pay a fee, listed as ranging from $1,000 to "six figures," to allow library users to download music for free. What's interesting is that the downloads are to keep, not like a "have the file for ______ days, then delete it" kinda thing that I have seen before. Also, according to TNT and the article they link to, these files are DRM-free (for anyone stumbling across this blog that doesn't understand that, DRM is Digital Rights Management, which is how, for example, iTunes can keep a music file limited to a set number of computers, or how movie companies can keep people from ripping a movie from a DVD).

I've seen libraries that offer free, DRM-free downloads before, but it's all "cultural" music, like folk recordings from obscure countries. But Freegal now has my attention because of their deal with major record label Sony. In fact, the article Tech News Today links to specifically mentions Ke$ha and Usher, two major selling artists. Freegal's president, Brian Downing, says that the full collection being offered to libraries contains over 400,000 songs from a variety of genres.

Freegal hasn't really made too many major headlines yet, which is surprising considering what it is offering. And they seem content with that, as their website's About page doesn't contain much information. But just the fact that a major label is working with them is intriguing. It makes me wonder if labels are finally ready to admit that they need to change now or fail eventually. Either way, I wish Freegal luck and hope they continue to expand and grow.

For more information:
Tech News Today episode 174:
Free Ke$ha And Usher Downloads Now Available At ... Your Public Library

Other stories covered or mentioned in that TNT include Facebook's secure connection (and how it turns itself off), the attack against a security firm by hacker group Anonymous, AOL's purchase of the Huffington Post, and's decision to charge a fee for mobile access (which has also grabbed my attention and may see a post on this blog). So check that out if you're interested.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Band Of The Week: Rust Belt Lights

I tend to enjoy more obscure bands. My friends make fun of me for it, but most mainstream music just isn't appealing to me. I don't go out of my way to find these bands, it just kinda happens. A song on a compilation, a mention in a newsfeed, randomly seeing a name that sounds interesting, whatever. These bands just find me.

The second Library Punk Band Of The Week is far from obscure. Alkaline Trio get radio play, they've had videos on MTV, they've made decent placements in music charts. But they're one of the exceptions. The other two, Red City Radio and Old Man Markley, are fairly obscure. I don't know anyone that has heard of  them beyond me talking about them. And the fourth part of my ongoing series is the most obscure yet: Rust Belt Lights.

I heard about Rust Belt Lights through a post on Punknews about Let Me Run (another good yet obscure band) and thought their name was interesting (I didn't remember this offhand, I had to search the Punknews archive to figure out how I heard about them). I figured from their name that they must be from relatively near me as I live in the Rust Belt*. So I looked them up and found out that not only are they from the Rust Belt as the name implies, they're actually from Buffalo, NY, about an hour from where I live. So that was exciting and I decided to check them out, because I love how many bands are coming out of Buffalo lately.

Despite being the most obscure band I've covered so far, I was surprised to hear a friend/co-worker bring them up in conversation once. A friend of his was in a band with current members of Rust Belt Lights, so it's kinda cool to know I have a "friend of a friend" connection to a band I had already enjoyed.

RBL play a kind of melodic hardcore with pop edge. Very anthemic, very fun, but still fairly agressive. I've seen them compared to The Movielife, so I just went through my iTunes library for This Time Next Year and Forty Hour Train Back To Penn and the comparisons are valid. Similar sound, but updated about a decade.

I've had their Long Gone EP for a while, but I finally got around to checking out the full-length they released late last year, These Are The Good Old Days (on Paper + Plastick Records, quickly becoming one of my favorite labels). Very good, it probably would have made my "Best of 2010" list if I had listened to it earlier.

You can check out "It Ain't What It Used To Be" from Good Old Days here. They also have tracks on ThePunkSite's It's Like Bringing A Fork To A Gunfight and AMP Magazine's 35 Punks Songs Are Better Than 3 Feet Of Snow Any Day.

*Side note: I had always assumed it was called the Rust Belt because of our winters. Very cold and very snowy, and a lot of salt gets dumped on the roads to combat the ice, which leads to rusty cars. But according to Wikipedia, it's because of the area's involvement in the steel and automobile industries. Which I guess also makes sense. I like to learn something new every day.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Bands I Need To See

I haven't gotten back to posting as much as I was planning. It's just getting harder to find things I want to write about. So I thought today I'd share this. This is a list of the bands I need to see live at some point in my life.

Bands that are crossed out are bands I have already seen. Crossed out bands with an * are bands that I need to see again. In alphabetical order:

Against Me!
Alkaline Trio *
Andrew Jackson Jihad
Bedouin Soundclash *
Blink 182
Brand New
Chuck Ragan
Dashboard Confessional
The Decemberists
Drag The River
Dropkick Murphys
Fake Problems *
Flogging Molly
The Gaslight Anthem
Gogol Bordello
Hot Water Music
Less Than Jake
MC Lars
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones
The National
Old Man Markley
Red City Radio
Reel Big Fish
Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band
Riverboat Gamblers
Rob Zombie
The Sweet Revenge
Tim Barry
Tin Horn Prayer
Tragically Hip
Two Cow Garage *
The World/Inferno Friendship Society

Also on the list, if they reform and perform again:
Fall Out Boy
Nine Inch Nails

A few of these, most notably (for me, at least) Lucero,are going to be on this year's Warped Tour, so hopefully I'll get a chance to cross them off. The rest, I gotta figure out how to see them since most don't tour near me.