Saturday, October 4, 2014

Bill Bondsmen- Singles Collection 12-

Paint-by-numbers is a cliché that has become such an adequate marker for modern hardcore that it becomes hard to avoid using. Innovation is almost nonexistent, and, when it does creep in, it is often artificial, unimaginative—as if the band is trying too hard to be different. Odd for the sake of oddness is not something that I find interesting. So rare is it that a band is authentic and unique, that when one does arise it can be easy to overlook them. This was the case, at least for me, when it came to Bill Bondsmen. A name that I had seen spread around for a few years, by the time I actually caught them live I didn’t know what to make of it; It seemed spastic, irregular, chaotic. I wasn’t sure what I was watching or listening to. While I wouldn’t say that I disliked the live experience, I don’t think that I was able to enjoy what was happening. Chalk it up to an unwillingness to invest my attention, because when these three seven inches showed up in my mailbox a revisiting of their material turned into a pleasurable experience.

While it would appear that the records could have been released simultaneously, the three EPs were, in fact, self-released between 2012-13. Featuring similar artwork, and all minimalistic in style—with either a one or two color screen-printed cover with no back print—the EPs form a thematic series that has been collected digitally as their Singles Collection 12-13. Modeled after the old-school two track 45s, the records are each quick and to the point; resulting in around 15 minutes of music. There hasn’t been any mention—at least not that I have seen—of compiling the tracks on a single physical format so as of now they have to be picked up individually.  

While I am not sure the trajectory of the writing process, or how and when they were recorded—although I do believe they were all recorded in a single session—, for these songs, the first single in the series is strongest. Opening up the first single, is also probably the best song of the six, “Overcrowded Control.” With gothy/post-punkesque leads juxtaposed over an upbeat almost 80s British Hardcore backing, “Overcrowded Control” gives the listener a taste of what can be expected from the remaining five tracks: cohesive disorder. At the 50 second marker the track enters into what I assume is the track’s chorus. This is the standout moment of the song, a simple, but infectious, memorable riff. While there are times where the shrieking vocals seem at odds with the music, it is during these modest driving moments that the vocals are the most impacting. The B-side, “(Untitled),” sees the band entering into a much more experimental territory. It is also in “(Untitled)” that the vocals show the most range, lowering the register a bit and shouting more than screaming. The songs compliment each other well, and are a strong kick of for the series.

Things take a slight turn with the second EP, Nineteen/Things Fall Apart. While I struggle to find a serious objective difference between this EP and the other two, there is something that feels a bit stiffer in these songs. “Things Fall Apart” emerges as the more enjoyable of the two, but in the end this is the EP of the three that I will revisit the least. What can be said of the two songs, however, is that they blend with each other well, leaving a unified stand-alone unit.

In the final addition the series, things are picked back up; ending as strong as it began. With the first track, “Dead,” Bill Bondsman again seamlessly blend discordant, chorus-drenched melodies over solid, driving riffs. As far as production is concerned, the three EPs are recorded in the exact manner they should be—no complaints at all. With a tinge of both gloss and rawness, the recording quality strikes a pleasing balance between lo-fi and hi-fi. The vocals, backing guitars, and drums distort in an aggressive and forceful manner, leaving enough headroom for the lead guitars to glimmer. Everything feels collected nicely, without preventing room for certain elements to rise above the rest. All in all, these are three solid releases, more than worthy of a listen and/or purchase.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Long Knife- Wilderness (2013)

Label: Feral Ward
Year: 2013

Music has always had trends, bands that imitate other bands, and manipulate genres and styles to create their own versions of inspired tunes. Since punk has had a relatively short history, it seems easier to focus on punk band’s that are clearly imitating other punk bands, and this has either become a thing of great admiration in the scene (see the sheer amount of d-beat bands praised for their imitation) or a source of ridicule for lack of creativity. I tend to look at it this way: if a band is writing good music that feels genuine and not forced then who cares if it is relatively reminiscent of something someone else has done. I mean do we really want to see the game reinvented that much? Think about it, I could care less that Trash Talk collaborated with Odd Future. That is at least somewhat new (granted there have been punk bands that have joined forces with hip hop, but not so much that I think I warrants calling it old and formulaic), and I’ll still take a band just playing good simple hardcore to that. Why is it we are no longer satisfied with great punk with killer musicians? It seems that more and more the interest is being pulled towards either drugged out sloppy punk or various post-punk revivalists. One band that defies this logic though is Long Knife. Long Knife, from Portland, has just (somewhat recently) released their first LP Wilderness on Feral Ward and I can’t say enough good things about it. In short, Wilderness is an infectiously catchy and intense American Hardcore record, stocked full of scaling bass lines, rapid drumming, demanding vocals, and best of all for me: melodic guitar solos.

This might sound redundant, since in many ways the Japanese punks were trying to sound like Poison Idea anyways; but Long Knife, to me, sounds like American punks imitating Japanese bands, who are in turn imitating Poison Idea. So what comes out, despite a lot of people’s belief, is not an exactly a band that sounds so much like Poison Idea, but a band that sounds like what Poison Idea would sound like filtered through the influence of Burning Spirits hardcore, and, hell why not, throw in some Kiss and Classic Metal in there too. What you are left with is quite possibly the best LP of last year. I am no longer interested in creating best of the year lists, and since it has taken me about 10 drafts and two months to write this (everything I wrote I felt did little justice to the record itself) it is way too late to attempt to write one for 2013 anyways. However, if I had created one of those boring and useless lists, I can assure you that this record would top it.

Every song on this record is great, but I am choosing to only discuss one. Why? Because it is the single song on this record that has gotten the most plays out of me. I do not have a digital copy of this record, so when I tell you that while I have listened to the record at least 20-30 times in its entirety, and that I have listened to the song Narco at least 20 more times, you know this involved the process of lining up the needle at the right time in order to grant the song in particular special attention. Now I know this isn’t a fairly painstaking process, but generally I don’t go out of my way to pinpoint specific songs when I am listening to vinyl. So what is it about Narco in particular that intrigues me? I can answer that immediately, it is the final segment of the song, where it erupts into an epic conclusion to side one; that can only be compared to the likes of Black Diamond by Kiss. I hate hyperbolic writing, especially reviews, so I apologize for coming off this way, but my enthusiasm stems from an absolute love of the record, rather than an inability to discuss music past easily written and consumed language. Upon my first listen of the record I found myself immediately enthralled with the music, but the moment the last segment of Narco kicked in I completely stopped what I was doing (for lack of memory lets just say I was cleaning my kitchen) and sat their completely taken back by the part. Is it the greatest part ever written in music? No. But I think part of me finds it so refreshing to hear a little musical ability in punk that isn’t afraid to showcase the talent, but also isn’t just an extremely fast solo. The ability to write a catchy and slow lead is something I am always drawn towards. Rather than flipping the record to hear what the B-Side had to offer, I found myself resetting my needle a few more times to the beginning of Narco, in order to attempt to relive that initial experience: chasing the dragon, I suppose. Finally, I was able to move past the track and I can safely say that front to back this record is nonstop enjoyment. If you haven’t listened to this record, stop what you are doing and do so now. Bonus points for the cover art, which I think has to be a homage to Poison (Japanese band no the shitty hair metal one). Available from Feral Ward.

Welcome 2014

Ok first post of the year. Sorry been lazy and haven't posted in a bit. Will try to make a weekly post from here on out.

But After the Gig

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Criminal Damage- Call of Death LP (2013)

Label:Feral Ward
Year: 2013

Apologies, it has been quite some time since my last post, and being a new blog that is problematic. I went through a big move and life change that didn’t allow me much time to reflect on recent purchases. Anyways, I am back and hope to get this thing back on track. First up is another killer LP brought to you by the always-amazing Feral Ward. This record is possibly my favorite of the year, I am not sure yet there is still sometime left to be wowed. Either way on to my mindless ramblings…..

Oi in 2013 is not an easy thing to achieve. It definitely had its heyday in the 80s (arguably still popular in the 90s but in a different way) and has unfortunately since faded out in a big way. I think that this is predominately linked to how high audience expectations have gotten. Oi has always had a simplistic and for lack of a better word, cheesiness: almost pop sensibility to it. It is very formulaic, simple and repetitious, but it is also, when done right, infectiously catchy and fun punk music. While most bands are focusing on becoming more technical and harsh/heavy, there are always a few bands out there looking to revive Oi, and moreso than ever recently it seems. One of the clear frontrunners is Criminal Damage from Portland, who far from riding the coattails of what I see at 2013’s newfound obsessions with Oi-Revival, have been doing it for years now. I was extremely excited when I heard about the prospect of a new Criminal Damage LP, because not only are the first two releases excellent but I was honestly interested to see if they could do it again; Spoiler alert: they did.

Before I get into discussing the lyrics, layout, or even the individual tracks on the album, I wanted to talk about the overall sound of the album. If you’ve heard the typical response to Criminal Damage in the past, in particular that they are a intentional Blitz clone, you can go ahead and forget that in regards to Call of Death. On Call of Death, Criminal Damage has definitely found a unique sound. Yeah sure they still sound in similar vein to Blitz, but no longer does it sound like they are trying to write songs that could have be added to Voice of a Generation. The new album is a bit slower, has even more hooks and has actually less leads than anything they’ve done prior. On this record I think Criminal Damage has really come into their own, crafting, to me, one of the most cohesive and enjoyable albums I’ve heard in a long time. At first I wasn’t sure this my favorite record of theirs, but as time goes it grows more and more on me. This LP feels like their most personal record to date, it genuinely sounds as if they put everything they have into making this record, and for that I find this record to be near perfect.

Ok now on to the specifics….

I think I’d like to start off the review by talking about the layout of the LP: nothing terribly special, but definitely a good-looking record. I dig the cover, kind of ends up looking like a cross between crust aesthetics and Oi, with the blown-out image of boots, but with a blue-tint where white would normally be. The art is simple but effective. I really like the lyric sheet. Pretty much the typical pocket sleeve insert, but the corners are rounded off, which I think gives the insert a real sharp look. The insert has the lyrics with minimal liner notes on one side, and a blown-out promo picture on the reverse side. As mentioned there is nothing about the layout that is going to make you rethink how bands package their record, but it is a great looking record.

Musically speaking, I don’t even know where to begin. If you think you like one song, I can almost certainly tell you that the next track will probably impress you even more. The A side is a total powerhouse of anthem after anthem; every song almost topping the prior track.  Call of Death opens with “The Storm”, and I’ll be honest on my first listen I really wasn’t certain I liked what I was hearing. It felt a bit slow and bland, that was however until the chorus comes in. The second the chorus started the record had me on a high that I am still riding (a few months after first hearing the LP). Each listen this record gets better and better, in fact it took me so long to finish this review because I found myself growing fonder and fonder of the LP and I was not quite satisfied with my original assessment. I would like to offer a list of favorite tracks but I am afraid that it may just be a recreation of the entire track listing. I will say that “Hopeless” is probably the song that caught me most off guard. Much like the title may suggest, “Hopeless” is a bleak track, I mean real bleak. While it doesn’t really shake the melodic nature of the record, it has a haunting feel to it. Using an almost gothy crust lead throughout the verse, and a definitely darker chorus, “Hopeless” is probably the least “Criminal Damage-esque”, or maybe even the least Oi song but honestly may grow to become my personal favorite. Just like the A side, the B side pummels through a few more killer and catchy tracks, ending on two of the strongest songs on the album. It may be impossible to only listen to this record once.

If you haven’t picked up this record from Feral Ward, what the fuck are you doing, you’ve really slept on it. Stop fucking up, go buy it right now, you will not be sorry, and if you are, well piss off.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Selfish- Life Has No Vacant Time 12" (2013)

Label: Feral Ward
Year: 2013

Excuse me for a second……… HOLY FUCKING SHIT, WHAT THE FUCK…..what the hell happened. Now I have always been a Selfish fan, but they have completely stepped up their game on this new LP. Typical complaints about the band have always been that they are just a second-rate Death Side wannabe band, or that they are boring and drawn out. These complaints fall short however when talking about Selfish’s latest effort ‘Life Has No Vacant Time’, brought to you by the excellent label Feral Ward Records. This album is absolutely the band’s pinnacle work, knocking my previous favorite ‘Burning Sensation’ off the top of the list.

Immediately something felt off. I put the record on my turntable and I was convinced that despite the label stating the record was 33, that something was wrong with the speed, it sounded too fast. However, I quickly learned that I was wrong, nothing was off and I knew this when the guttural growls of the vocals kicked in proving the records speed to be real. This Selfish LP is easily almost twice as fast as any of their previous works. It doesn’t slow down either. Each song pummels through, as if they are in a race to finish the album as quick as humanly possible. If I were to describe the sound I would say that Selfish took the melodic elements of Death Side, that they’ve always leaned towards (killer solos and all), and jumpstarted it with some total Bastard worship. The album has an intensity that the previous albums can’t compete with. ­ The production quality also assists in making this the best sounding Selfish LP. Whereas the previous releases felt stale, this LP is crisp and clean, cutting right to the core. 

I don’t really feel that I need to discuss any of the songs in particular in too much depth, because if you’ve heard any Selfish record, and I’m assuming if you are reading this right now that you have, you basically know what you are getting into. The solos are leads are better than ever, the riffs are faster, the drums more intense and the vocals are as good as ever. Maybe better?

One thing in particular I would like to discuss are the backup vocal (gangs? Chants? Whatever you’d like to call them). I always thought that this element in Selfish’s music seemed rather cheesy in the past. The backups were awkward and often took me out of the records. In ‘Life Has No Vacant Time’ though, the backup vocals are insanely good. They add layers of chaos into the mix, constantly competing with the main vocals creating an awesome multi-dimensionality to the vocal patterns. These are really well written vocal arrangements.

Lyrically the album is kind of what you’d expect, especially if you’ve kept up with their past work. The songs are filled with quasi-broken English discussing the "token" Burning Spirits concepts. They aren't breaking into any uncovered territories here, and while I am not one-hundred percent sure if their broken lyrical style is a complete emulation of the ways in which Japanese punks often write lyrics, or if it is due to the fact that English isn’t their first language either, I find something charming about simplicity and scattered nature of them.

If I were to have any complaints about the record it would be these: first, that the record is a little long. I think that they could of trimmed at least one, maybe two tracks off and had a near perfect record; and second, that the record could have been ordered a bit better. Side A is clearly the stronger of the two sides, and while Side B is in nowhere near bad, it doesn’t have quite the same intensity as the first. Maybe had they rearranged some of the tracks on Side A with Side B, the record wouldn’t feel as lopsided. Despite these things, which aren't really even that big of a deal, musically I have no real criticism. 

Other than those two complaints, I do have to admit that I was a little upset to see that the artwork was not a piece by Sugi. The art on this record is a big departure from the band’s previous releases. With this release the band chose to go with a far more subtle somewhat tranquil piece of art. The cover design depicts a simple marsh with two dragonflies in the foreground, kind of odd for an intense hardcore record but the contrast kind of works. Despite not having Sugi’s intricate work, the record looks rather beautiful printed on heavy-duty cardstock.

I’m relieved that the record is as good as it is. I wasn’t really even aware that Selfish was still a band, and coming off from the disappointment with Burial’s latest work (which isn’t necessarily bad but the swaying away from the Japanese sound they seemed to master came as a bit of a surprise to me) I am happy to say that Selfish have reemerged stronger than ever. There is nothing about this record that seems fake, nothing false; this is just pure and devastating Burning Spirits done right. While the year is far from over, this is coming close to taking the number one spot of records for the year.

Bottom line, even if you weren’t impressed with their earlier work this record is not to be missed.