Friday, December 28, 2007

Zeitgeist: The Mixtape



Zeitgeist: The Best of '07 Mix

(Zeitgeist Your Ears/Time-ghost Sie Ihre Öhren)

Download


Here in the dying days of 2007, it's time to revisit some of the artists which made this year. Part of the idea for this mixtape, and the format in which it is presented, comes from josephlovesit's Playlist: Synthetic 2007. Musically, this mixtape takes one song from each of my Top 10 releases, plus a couple of others to round off the hour and bring it up to a proper dozen. Some attention has been paid to the construction, particularly in the separation of the two sides, so you should be able to listen to this enjoyably, straight through. (In addition, the gabba tape and the anti-mix Melt Yr Ears are still available)

Read on...


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Before we begin, though, an important plug for a new (music) blog in town:

Rgratzer from (mostly) blue skies above us has started digitizing old 90s hardcore/emo records, and has already posted Nuzzle, Reach Out, Breathing Walker (post-Moss Icon) and Rye Coalition. As he says:

"The music shared here comes from records I've collected. The purpose is to get people, who might otherwise not have access, into the music."

Check out his site for some cool photography, too...


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Side A:

1. Fight Like Apes - 'Jake Summers'

2. Arcade Fire - 'Keep the Car Running'

3. Dinosaur Jr. - 'Crumble'

4. The For Carnation - 'get and stay get March'

5. Envy - 'Thousand Scars'

6. Dan Deacon - 'Jimmy Joe Roche'


Side B:

7. Christian Scott - 'Litany against Fear'

8. Battles - 'Tonto'

9. Burial - 'Ghost Hardware'

10. Japancakes - 'Sometimes'

11. Fight Like Apes - 'Accidental Wrong Hole'

12. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs - '10X10'


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1. Fight Like Apes – ‘Jake Summers’ from the Jake Summers/How Am I Supposed to Kill You When You Have All the Guns? EP.

Everybody likes a good bassline to start off a song - and by extension, a mixtape - especially Bouncing Souls fans. In this case, the fan would have to be a Mclusky one, because that’s what this song sounds exactly like for the first few seconds. It’s great to be able to connect a undeniably unique band that are playing around now, with a defunct band from your musical past - especially when they write cracking tunes like this. I would apply josephlovesit’s appraisal of Mclusky to this band – “One of the few instances where humor can completely work in the context of actual good tunes”. Even at its silliest, it’s still sung in earnest – and that’s what makes it so good.



2. Arcade Fire – ‘Keep the Car Running’ from Neon Bible.

I won’t say there’s been a lot of hating on this album here – because there hasn’t – but it still seems this album has something to prove for a lot of people. Hence I wanted to choose this song carefully. Unfortunately, ‘Black Mirror’ wouldn’t fit (maybe the ‘un, deux, trois, miroir noir’ part is a bit pretentious, even if they are genuine Francophones, but it’s still a great, stirring song) so you’ve got this, probably overplayed, track instead. However, this was the song that encouraged me into buying the album, hearing it as the single with the long, slow-burning B-side ‘Broken Window’ (you can hear the four Neon Bible singles here). A tense, propulsive song which sounds, at least to me, as much like the songs from Funeral as anything else on this album.



3. Dinosaur Jr. - 'Crumble' from Beyond

And this was the song which got me into Beyond. One of those songs which has you turning up the volume whenever it comes on the radio. I don't know if the term 'mumblecore' properly applies to Dinosaur Jr., but it sounds like it should. Alternatively, 'gorgeous' could also be used to describe this song's sound. I quite like the Lou Barlow songs on the album, but it's the J. Mascis stuff that clinched it for me and made Beyond my no. 1. Probably the closest thing to rock, or punk for that matter, that I listened to this year.



4. The For Carnation - 'get and stay get March' from Promised Works (originally from the Fight Songs EP, released 1995)

From one guitar song to another, completely opposite (in style and volume) one, I kind of arbitrarily chose this as the most beautiful track from Promised Works. The 'Slint performing Spiderland' gig from back in August (review here) was probably the show of the year for me, but I had been getting into both Slint and the For Carnation since late spring. If you see the For Carnation s/t, buy it, but there is much to recommend this collection of earlier pieces. The full length is an eerily quiet, super-intensive atmospheric wonder but these simpler, almost folkier songs have their own haunting charm. And carry a good tune.



5. Envy - 'Thousand Scars' from the Abyssal EP

Continuing the slow part of the mix, the crescendoeing quietness of this song is one of the really fine parts of this EP, even if it isn't for every Envy fan. As I wrote before:

"...very much for the Insomniac Doze fan. Trilling, vibratory emo-peggio sustained over some six minutes, with a few loud steps into hyper-Spectorian, wall-of-sound screamo which really just amps up the arpeggio behind it. All very post-rock, and with the long, drawn-out chord progressions pinned to the quiet vocals and building crescendos, at some point you've got to stop trying to describe or categorize it, and just lie back and let it wash over you."


6. Dan Deacon - 'Jimmy Joe Roche' from Spiderman of the Rings

Perhaps not the quiet part of the mix, now, but the epic, pensive section. It also seems to me an appropriate counterpart to the Envy song, a kind of twisted take on post-rock build-up and catharsis. Once again I'll refer to mr. x indeed's masterly summation, "Gorgously complex composition that keeps slipping under itself, and all that", as well as pointing you in the direction of my live review. One of my favourite Dan Deacon songs (also named after, I think, the guy who produced the insanely good Crystal Cat video) and also the album closer, so a natural choice for finishing off the first side of the mixtape.



7. Christian Scott - 'Litany Against Fear' from Anthem

Apologies for the slight mindfuck it might be to switch between the manic-electronic heights of Dan Deacon and the cool grooves of jazz, but this is now side B! This year, I've been picking up the Miles Davis albums ending in -in' (Cookin', Steamin', etc.). My jazz collection now jumps between 1957 and 2007 (not entirely true - I have a couple of Ornette Coleman albums plus Christian Scott's 2006 debut, but that's about it). Apparently something happened in between, but I'm not too keen on listening to it. 21st-century bebop album Anthem incorporates a lot of 'rock' elements to it - guitar, non-jazz drumming - but far from sounding tacky or (god forbid!) 1970s-ish, it comes across as very original. As befits an opener to an album about the horrific natural disasters in Louisiana, there is a lot of captivating, moving tension in the song. All I said before was "'Litany Against Fear' really sticks in your head": partly because that's all you really need to know, and partly because I'm very much out of my depth in jazz criticism. I now notice someone on eMusic has written:

"This is not just an album, but this is a visionistic journey. You can feel the emotion in ever note that is being uttered. It is also an album that people of all musical tastes can enjoy. If I had to call it something, I would call it Jazz Emo."

Perhaps. After all, look at the song title!



8. Battles - 'Tonto' from Mirrored

This band not only gets the joint award (with Dan Deacon) for Pitchfork Indie Band of the Year That Is Honestly Fantastic, but also the similarly joint (with Dan Deacon, on account of 'Crystal Cat') award for Best Video of the Year. 'Atlas' might be a bit old hat by now, but it did show a band that had fantastic visual artistic sense in addition to mathy chops. 'Tonto', which by the way I chose to fit not-too-disconcertingly with the jazz track, continued and in some ways excelled that tradition. The song, so named because the beat is reminiscent of "old cowboy-type movies" (according to Dave Konopka) and probably because of that, the video is set in a rocky desert - although at night, and with vertical blue strobe lights. Like I said then, "while 'Atlas' was about mirrors (naturally enough), bright lights, and performing in a glass box, 'Tonto' is about strobe lighting, darkness, sharp rocks and performing in the desert".



9. Burial - 'Ghost Hardware' from Untrue

This is an artist I've been getting into just recently, based on multiple 'best of' lists on other blogs. Burial plays 'dubstep' which is simultaneously a return to two-step garage electronic music and an embrace of some of the spacey sounds of dub music - or something like that. To be honest, with ethereal male/female/androgyne vocals, it's not a world away from Massive Attack. The best description is from floodwatch:

"Crackly, neck-snapping rhythms collide with disembodied voices, icy string pads are buoyed by murky throbs of bass, and mangled synth tones scrape their way to the surface, all enveloped in a mysterious aural environment that’s neither welcoming nor alienating"

'Ghost Hardware' is only one of the most melodious and accessible tracks; the album doesn't quite hold my attention for its full length. However, as someone who likes the dub aesthetic in a variety of settings, rather than particularly in the original form, this is definitely an interesting find for 2007.



10. Japancakes - 'Sometimes' from Loveless

Another late purchase of 2007, this fully instrumental cover version of My Bloody Valentine's Loveless has received more than a few spins. I chose 'Sometimes' because I think it best exhibits the two main traits of this album: that "at some times it is eerily identical, while at others you would forget that you are listening to My Bloody Valentine songs at all". Assuming you know Loveless - the "Pitchfork-approved exemplar shoegaze album", in their own words - you'll surely recognize the opening melody to this track, especially the pedal steel which comes in at the 1:11 mark. However, elsewhere the sparseness of the instrumentation stands in such contrast to the original, distorted sound - easy to be reminded of if you put on the MBV disc at the same time - that the Japancakes version seems quite alien. In terms of criticism that isn't meant as a disparagement, but rather that Japancakes have created something simultaneously authentic (to their source), original, and wonderful.



11. Fight Like Apes - 'Accidental Wrong Hole' from the David Carradine is a Bounty Hunter Who's Robotic Arm Hates Your Crotch EP

I guess it makes sense to put the Irish with the Irish stuff, except that My Bloody Valentine were never technically Irish (they recorded in London) and become even less so when covered by a band from Georgia, USA. The bouncy synth lines at the start of this track might make for a slightly jarring transition, but they're only one part of the song. Only a short track, due to constraints of space, and doesn't quite pack the punch of 'Do You Karate?' which is probably the best song they've released so far. But fun nevertheless; it has the title 'Accidental Wrong Hole' and the hook/chorus line is "you're such a clumsy lover". Should I say more?



12. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs - '10X10' from the Is Is EP.

I wanted to get this EP for quite a while, but never saw it in the shops (admittedly, I didn't try very hard). 'Gold Lion' was one of the songs of the year for me in 2006, but I didn't think Show Your Bones was without its flaws. As an album, it goes on for a bit too long and tends to repeat itself. So the brevity of Is Is (when I went on Google Blog Search to track it down) was refreshing. I could have chosen any of the five songs for this mixtape - 'Rockers to Shallow', in particular, is a real firecracker, and 'Down Boy' brightened up a lot of radio playlists - but decided to match closer with closer. There's a slight agit-punk affinity, I think, between the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Fight Like Apes, which is also why I paired these two. '10X10's quiet opening, electricifying guitar riff and heavy beat make for a good rockin' showdown.



Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Reasons to be Emo #50 / Shotmaker-Maximillian Colby Split


(This special fiftieth post was originally going to be an unfinished essay on the parallels between Jawbreaker's 'Save Your Generation' and the teachings of Zen Buddhism. So consider yourself lucky!)


What this post is really about is an excellent record in the style that this blog (I guess) centres upon - mid-90's emo/hardcore. This is one of my top three favourite split releases, along with the 1998 Leatherface/Hot Water Music split and 2006's Ampere/Sinaloa (the latter can be found on Zen and the Art of Face Punching, and the former on this blog here... although the link is now down, I'd be happy to re-up it if anyone wants). Originally posted as an aside, I've made reference to it several times since, and now reckon the time has come to give it a post of its own.

Here's what I first wrote at the end of my Slint live review way back in August:


"...this 12'' record was released one year after Glenn/Rhoda, sits 3 CDs in front of Spiderland in my own collection, is deservedly one of Andy Radin's 'top emo records', and is an excellent split, combining two major bands with differing yet complementary styles, and indeed containing some of the best songs ever released by either group: the Shotmaker-Maximillian Colby split (as if this post needed any more Slint worship!)."


I have to admit, as I did then, that I don't own the actual release and just constructed it from the respective discographies. However, it's the music that matters most... I did find this originally on eBay, but Google searches today turned up nothing. A seller's picture from back then allowed me to make my own stab at the artwork (top), but if anyone has a photo or scan of the original, it would make a lovely post-Christmas present!

Shotmaker-Maximillian Colby combines the heavy, fraught and repetitive hardcore of the Ottawa, Canada band with the equally heavy but more Slinty and mathy sound of their American counterparts from Harrisonburg, Virginia. Both groups broke up within couple of years, leaving sizable (for the genre) discographies - Shotmaker's, two discs, Maximillian Colby, one - as well as leading on into further important hardcore groups Three Penny Opera and Sleepytime Trio, respectively. It's that loud-fast mixture of variety and single-mindedness which was, paradoxically, the style of emo:


"Another perfect split record that captures everything about its time. MaxCo combined the DC beauty and fury with a Slinty sense of when to shut the hell up and listen to pins dropping. Shotmaker played rocked-out emo like they were pissed as hell and wanted desperately to play fast but somehow couldn't"

(fourfa.com)


The Shotmaker side of the release begins with the pounding heaviness of 'The Game', rolling through their characteristic rumbling sound (until you get used to them, that's sometimes all you can hear in Shotmaker songs) and breakdowns into chugging, cyclical riffs that are almost metallic. Almost.

"and this ship must sink... and we must sink... this ship"

I'm assuming that's a commentary on capitalism. The style continues without much let-up for the next four songs; there's not much I can do to improve on Andy Radin's description, above. 'Blocks and Channels' starts off slow for about twenty seconds, and then launchs back into the spiralling, shouting hardcore of the preceding songs. As blend77 says:

"[Shotmaker] are also early progenitors of the current emo explosion, with their loud soft approach, complex guitar passages and screamy vocals. Though this is really just hardcore at its embroiled, impassioned best."

Shotmaker kind of follows the melody-through-chaos approach of other hardcore/emo bands- slightly like, say, the Swing Kids - and approaching at some times the full-on screamo sound. Melodies sit on top of the wall-of-sound guitars, and the rhythm is king. Listen to their final song, 'Newest Sound System'. The bass line throbs and wobbles heavily, the drums snap in and out, until the song explodes into the crushing rhythms of guitar noise:

"It's too loud, no-one listens/When we work the soundsystem"

Maximillian Colby's side is a collection of mostly instrumental, heavily Slint-influenced songs. In contrast I guess to the organic whole of the Shotmaker songs, these songs are disparate and fragmented. The opener, 'Last Name', strikes with sparse, heavy bursts of very Slinty guitar before it launches into its own explosion of Mohinder-like frantic screaming:

"What's your name?! What's your number?!"

The second song is even Slintier, recognizable not only by the very tuneful if minimal opening guitarwork but also by the eerily (or should that be spiderly?) similar guitar fuzz and disjointed chords. However, Maximillian Colby aren't solely a Slint rip-off; for a start, they aren't quite as frustratingly disjointed as the comparable Slint album, Tweez, and don't attempt to take their songs to the same rarified heights as Spiderland - with the exception perhaps of the split closer, 'Right Right Left', which is as repetititously minimalist as they come, but still suitably catharctic for a true emo album. Like the Lovitt site says:

"Maximillian Colby fashioned seminal works on their own terms. Neither purely aggressive nor depressingly somber, Maximillian Colby's music creates soundscapes that can rupture the eardrums and soon after lull the mind. As a band, they melded crisp whispers with clamor drenched in feedback to dizzying, cathartic effect...Maximillian Colby were all too happy to wring the utmost out of something as deceptively innocuous as a pair of notes, exploring their many inherently possible rhythms, dynamics, and effects."

In sum, this record won't change your life: unless you haven't happened to have heard these bands before.


Shotmaker-Maximillian Colby Split

Monday, December 24, 2007

Weezer - Pinkerton/Fuel - Monuments to Excess/Merry Christmas



So, first of all, it looks like I got no white Christmas. Not that it was ever really likely, thanks to our oceanic climate; the bookies put it at 50/1 against, and 10/1 on a single snowflake being recorded at the airport metereological station in Dublin. However, if we did have a white Christmas... this is what it would look like:






All the same, this seems like a good time to post a big, snowy, dark album such as Weezer's Pinkerton.

If getting up on Christmas morning as a kid to open presents and open curtains on a bright shiny day had a sound (other than tearing paper and screaming child-voices) it would probably sound like Weezer.

Melodramatic, loud punk-pop pop-rock power-pop is, not surprisingly, something I would like (my first CD was Warning). Although Pinkerton is the only Weezer album I go for, perhaps because it's known (jokingly) as their 'emo' album.

I asked you to go to the Green Day concert

You said you'd never heard of them

How cool is that??

('El Scorcho')

It's also known as their worst album: as in, the leader singer, writer and creator, Rivers Cuomo, went on record saying -

"It's a hideous record... It was such a hugely painful mistake that happened in front of hundreds of thousands of people and continues to happen on a grander and grander scale and just won't go away. It's like getting really drunk at a party and spilling your guts in front of everyone and feeling incredibly great and cathartic about it, and then waking up the next morning and realizing what a complete fool you made of yourself."

But I love it all the same. Okay, a concept album based on the Puccini opera Madame Butterfly does not sound like that great an idea, but the fact is that Pinkerton is so damn enjoyable it's easy to forgive almost all of its faults. (At the same time, their record label was sued by the Pinkerton Inc. Detective Agency, proving that litigousness and stupidity go hand in hand in the American pysche) Just lose yourself in the big, big guitars, the achingly introspective lyrics and the good, good pop songs.

This is beginning to hurt

This is beginning to get serious

('Getchoo')

Moreover, it has a Japanese woodblock print as its cover - Ando Hiroshige's Kambara yoru no yuki ("Night Snow at Kambara") from his Fifty-three Stations of the Tokkaido. It's a well-known print, anyway (second only in the genre, perhaps, to Hokusai's The Great Wave of Kanagawa) but it gives a unique aesthetic style to the album. And I'm all for the aesthetic style - particularly when its Oriental/East Asian - as you can see from the first post. Here's the original picture, with the text from the French catalogue of an exhibition of the prints I saw in Vannes (my own translation):

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"Dans le silence d'un nuit de neige, deux paysans abrités par des manteaux de paille, l’un portant une lanterne. A gauche, un voyageur attardé, juché sur ses socques de bois, cherche à gagner une auberge.

L’atmosphere ouatée et silencieuse fait de cette estampe l’une des plus célèbres de l’ensemble."


(In the silence of a snowy night, two peasants weighed down by coats of straw, one carrying a lantern. To the left, a traveller halted, perched on his wooden sandals, hoping to get to an inn.

The cotton-soft, silent atmosphere has made this print one of the most famous of the collection.)


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Weezer - Pinkerton (1996)


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So, the results from the second poll (favourite Mike Kirsch band) are in. A landslide victory for Fuel. Consistent with my own preferences, of course (even though I didn't cast a vote myself, this time) but a little surprising nonetheless. Navio Forge's As We Quietly Burn A Hole Into... is "the emo-est of all emo records". I can't or won't say a word against it, and there is already - just recently - an excellent post on it by Jared Dillon of Last Train to Cool.

Anyway, for those of you unfamiliar with the winning entry, here's a link (with d/l) to Fuel's Monuments to Excess from the wonderful Kissmysoundsystem. And here's an eMusic review by 'Puckett from Illinois':

"A Hardcore Classic

Sure, wags called them Fuelgazi when they came out due to the stylistic similarities to the D.C. quartet, but make no mistake, this album falls firmly in the East Bay's punk tradition. Combining speed, melodic hooks, shouted / growled vocals and politically conscious lyrics, this record has been an influence so strong that it was reissued TWICE (initially pressed on Rough Trade, Allied reissued it and Broken made sure it stayed in print). For fans of Leatherface, Hot Water Music, American Steel, Fugazi, East Bay hardcore and, honestly, punk."

[This album has also been featured on The A.V. Club's Vinyl Retentive]


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I haven't read that book, but it does sound kinda interesting. (I haven't heard Thurston Moore's latest solo record, either, but it sounds interesting too... I'm still ripped on RR). Anyway, that picture is just by way of introduction to a few things that will be happening soon on Hardcore for Nerds.

Right now, of course, it's Christmas Eve... and I'm feeling slightly foolish sitting at a computer, but I have to stay up to go to midnight service and exchange presents, afterwards - nothing music-related, as far as I know, mostly books... but the blog will return shortly, and probably at least once before the new year.

The observant among you might have noticed that this is post #49, so the next will be the big five-oh. I did the special Fuck this Band post for #40, so expect something special again. I like to get a bit meta- every now and then, it keeps the sense of a progression in the blog, as opposed to just ongoing repetition of album, album, etc. I'll make sure it's something good to listen to, though, and not just a lot of


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and funny pictures.

In addition to that (hopefully) I have a few mixes in the works. One of the top 10 of 2007, with a couple of 'honourable mentions' thrown in to round out the hour. Another, for the Hoover Genealogy Project, just to give people a taster of the collective awesomeness I will be and have been posting. And most interestingly, mr. x indeed has committed himself to doing a mix of current Irish indie/experimental music. (Well, when I say 'committed', I mean we agreed to it in the pub). On which note, we're all going to see Fight Like Apes again on New Year's Eve! Woo!

Merry Christmas to everybody...

- Gabba




Saturday, December 22, 2007

Radio Flyer - In Their Strange White Armour





I



Radio Flyer - In Their Strange White Armour is the sole release from one of the very first post-Hoover bands, recorded in one week in 1995 and released by Polyvinyl Records in 1997. Like Regulator Watts, Radio Flyer featured Hoover guitarist Alex Dunham and his tortured vocals. Unlike Regulator Watts, however, Radio Flyer was not just a traditional DC-sound production, bringing in as its three other members musicians from Chicago post-hardcore acts Gauge and Sweater Weather.

A lot perhaps can be told from geography: According to Polyvinyl, the suddenly formed group "descended upon Chicago" in April of 1995 to write and colloborate on the songs of the album. After six days, they drove to Arlington Heights (VA?) to play their sole live show. The album was recorded the next day, and Dunham went back to DC. The serindipitously created album still stands as a uniquely accomplished example of post-hardcore, although some critics play up the D.C. angle...


"The '90s D.C. emo/post-hardcore sound worked like this: vocals were spoken and screamed, hyperactive bass lines carried the melody, musty guitar screeches countered the bass and vocals and the drums thwacked loudly on the off-beats. Radio Flyer, a mid-'90s Washington D.C. emo supergroup led by former Hoover/Regulator Watts frontman Alex Dunham, embodied that paradigm perfectly. Although obscure everywhere else, this album had great impact in D.C., where it wielded enormous influence on later bands such as Engine Down and Sleepytime Trio."

(Yancey Strickler, from the eMusic Post-Hardcore Dozen)


Regardless of where it came from, In Their Stange White Armour stands on its own merits. It is 90's emo, or at least one of the (probably better) aspects of it. It's also a cracking good listen. Epitonic put it best when they say: "To describe Radio Flyer by tossing around a few band names and turning on the blender only tells half of the story, to understand the complete work you just have to listen"



II


Radio Flyer is also the brandname for a popular American toy company and, specifically, their historic little red wagon. The lower picture above is a panel from Calvin and Hobbes, the Bill Watterson cartoon that hardly needs an introduction for most people, American or otherwise. (If you're not one of those people, here's the Wikipedia page). There's nothing in particular in that cartoon to relate to Radio Flyer, although I did try and work in a joke about Gravity Records.

Nevertheless, from one cultural icon to another (drastically more obscure) one, there is a common thread of childhood memory. Josephlovesit from Geek Down is bringing Radio Flyer home with him to CT and says "the name alone is enough to get my emo-nostalgia sense up". Hopefully there are plenty of romantic-idyllic backwoods in Connecticut to put the harsh mathy-ness of the post-hardcore Radio Flyer into perspective...


"Calvin’s wagon is a simple device to add some physical comedy to the strip, and I most often use it when Calvin gets longwinded or philosophical. I think the action lends a silly counterpoint to the text, and it’s a lot more interesting to draw than talking heads. Sometimes the wagon ride even acts as a visual metaphor for Calvin’s topic of discussion.

Calvin rides the wagon through the woods, bouncing off rocks and flying over ravines. When I was a kid, our backyard dropped off into a big woods, but it was brambly and swampy, not like Calvin’s which seems to be more like a national forest. I was not a real outdoorsy kid, but occasionally I’d tramp out through the brush to map a pond, or to try to see unusual birds and animals. Calvin’s woods is important to the strip, because it’s the place where Calvin and Hobbes can get away from everyone and be themselves. The solitude of the woods brings out Calvin’s small, but redeeming, contemplative side."

(Bill Watterson, The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book)



III


And now, on the third attempt, on to the actual music... In terms of style, Radio Flyer's sound is kind of a halfway-house between the heavy raucousness of Regulator Watts and the downright emo-ishness of Hoover. In their Strange White Armour, with its winding, lilting journey across the sounds of post-hardcore is reminiscent of the sweep of Hoover's Lurid Traversal; but like Regulator Watts's New Low Moline, the album starts off with a balls-out rocker, 'Allied'.

The emo-ishness kicks in with the second track, 'Ice Cream Cheater', starting slow and building up, with Dunham screaming "you... CHEATER!" by the end of five minutes like there's no tomorrow. Childhood memories? Perhaps, but bad ones. The lyrics and the song titles are pretty obtuse, things like 'Six Year Ballet' and 'Salty Lollipop' not giving much away on first glance. The 'title' track, 'R is for Rocket' (reminds me of the little red wagon), has the phrase 'in their strange white armour' whispered ominously over its quiet, echoey parts. And there are a lot of those in this album; sparse, lethargic in pace, but illustrated with richer guitar work by Dunham than, on balance, one finds in Hoover.

To be quite honest, it took me a while to like this album. At first it seemed too empty, too slow, when what I wanted was the tension and bombast of Lurid Traversal. The truth is, In Their Strange White Armour is a different album - very and obliquely different. Radio Flyer's sound is about a richness and melody, albeit drenched in distortion and mathiness. The track that got me into this album was the centerpiece, '(312)', a deceptively simple build-on-the-volume post-hardcore song with one of the most gorgeous guitar lines you'll ever hear in a D.C. band (pace the fact that we've already established Radio Flyer are more Chicago than D.C.). Yancey Strickler returns to the theme of the D.C. sound in his extended review of the album:


"Considering the uniformity and camaraderie of the D.C. scene at the time, virtually any combination of Dischord and De Soto players could have done much the same, with much the same results, which may be why In Their Strange White Armor exhibits — and, in some places, defines — the classic D.C. sound of the era. Opener "Allied" opens furiously with guitars shrieking like sirens before Dunham, cocksure and throaty, yelps in approval; "(312)" rivals any post-hardcore composition with its cloying guitar chime; and "Swollen Buffet" exhibits the disgust its title implies with a Potomac-rippling shout-along chorus."


To return to my own difficult appreciating this album, it was perhaps a case of misunderstood identity. Being told in reviews how emblematic and, hell, paradigmatic this album was, I forgot to take it - and this is a point I wish to keep on pressing - on its own merits. This rather confused review I posted on the eMusic entry I think testifies to that, and how I gradually came round to loving the record:


"This record sounds to my ears quite similar to bands like Fugazi and Drive Like Jehu – stuff that gets called “mathy” and “angular”. It’s an aesthetic which I’ve often found somewhat harsh and unforgiving. However, Radio Flyer has a fair degree of smoothness as well – albeit in a convoluted, twisted sense. Overall, it’s more pleasurable to listen to than most math rock. There is a notable beauty and affection in songs like “(312)” with its delectable guitar line, or in the gentle lead-in to “Six Year Ballet”. A definite for any particular fans of Alex Dunham’s work, and a maybe for anyone interested in post-hardcore in general."


In there is evidence, of my younger ignorance (well, a couple of years ago), but also a developing sense of In Their Strange White Armour's richness and deep melody - its 'notable beauty' - and, of course, the genesis of my interest in the Hoover genealogy.

My second discovery of Radio Flyer was just something that happened - to be clichéd, it was something that 'clicked' - and suddenly I was in awe of the sound of this album; literally every note, every beat was golden and somehow transfigured. It may have been something to do with '(312)' and the way that guitar 'chime' just surfaces in the rhythm of the song, over and over. Or it might have been the abrasive, echoey scuzz of 'R is for Rocket', the start-stop destruction of 'Swollen Buffet'... it could have been any of it.

In the end, Radio Flyer has it all: but most particularly, it has that richness, affection, searing post-hardcore sounds and heartbreaking lightness of touch which makes it one of Alex Dunham's best works - not to mention the other luminaries he works with here. Emo bedamned - this is just good music.


Radio Flyer - In Their Strange White Armour

(dl link taken from Kissmysoundsystem, where there are plenty of similar albums - and you can buy In Their Strange White Armour from either Polyvinyl or eMusic)



IV

One of the most inventive - or probably, the most inventive - music reviews I ever read was this one of Hot Water Music's A FLight and A Crash (coincidentally, my most favourite album ever - probably) which doctored a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon so perfectly it's unreal. Check out Calvin's Dad's line - "Does that mean they sound like Pennywise now?".

But for the moment, here's the rest of this strip. The little red wagon is a really consistent feature of Watterson's work, although taking the form of a sled or toboggan in winter:


"While the ride is sometimes the focus of the strip, it also frequently serves as a counterpoint or visual metaphor while Calvin ponders the meaning of life, death, God, or a variety of other weighty subjects.Most of their rides end in a spectacular crash when they ride off a cliff, leaving the sled battered and broken, and on one occasion, on fire in winter. In the final strip, Calvin and Hobbes depart on their toboggan for possibilities unknown."

(Wikipedia, again)


R is for Rocket...







Monday, December 17, 2007

The Obligatory End of Year List: Hardcore for Nerds Gets Zeitgeisty















1-10, from top to bottom. I thought I would present it graphically first, since I'm a sucker for artwork anyway. Pretty much in order, although with a small break between #'s 7 and 8 which I'll explain below. Album-by-album descriptions, with a few others warranting a mention added in at the end, follow.



1. Dinosaur Jr. – Beyond


Grungey, well-produced goodness. Shamefully, this was my first introduction to Dinosaur Jr., even though they were on SST and all. Been listening to Bug a lot now lately, and I have to say they don't seem to have changed much. Awesome music then, awesome music now. Here's what I said about the album back in October, when I posted their Peel Session from '88:

"I never really knew this band until I heard their latest single, 'Crumble', on heavy rotation on my local radio. Soon I went out and bought the album, Beyond, and boy, is it good. So good that it's still on heavy rotation on my stereo; so good that the first 3 seconds of 'Almost Ready' contains the sum of all human emotion ever expressed through the electric guitar. Yes, it's that good."

(Peels Sessions II - Dinosaur Jr., Timber)

One might ask what that leaves for the remaining 2,969 seconds of the album, and the answer would be, honestly, more of the same. And what's wrong with that? First on the list because it's the most enjoyable thing I've bought all year.


2. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible


Yeah, I’m a hipster.

Well, not really. But I did like this album so much I went out and bought it, along with gods knows how many other people fooled into shovelling yet more money into this band's coffers. The thing is, there's a reason why this band is so hyped up, live show regardless: they make some really great music. At the same time, I don't have much love for Funeral, so I'm not totally sold.

Also one of the best records of the year because, as the A.V. Club says, Arcade Fire are "the only modern indie band that can namecheck Bruce Springsteen and get away with it." I actually thought 'Antichrist Television Blues' was a Boss song when I heard it first. If you look on YouTube, you can see a live video of Win Butler and Regine Chassagne performing Nebraska's State Trooper' with Bruce; and as you may know, I've got a lot of love for that album.



3. Dan Deacon – Spiderman of the Rings


What did I just say about being a hipster?

I don't know about you (I don't read Pitchfork everyday) but this must be the indie success story of the year: not necessarily the man himself, as he may well still be riding Greyhound buses with tied-up pants filled with corn when he gets back to the States, but the 'brand'. What I mean is, an electro-acoustic performer from a Baltimore experimental arts collective is not exactly a likely list-topper. It’s a valid point that a lot of people just extrapolate from 'Crystal Cat', pop song of the year (and not entirely representative of his work), to what the full album sounds like, but songs like ‘Okie Doke’ and ‘Jimmy Joe Roche’ are amazing in their own right. And yes, ‘Wham City’ as well. All the songs are good; it's a great album.

Video here; live review here; and, just found this today, an excellent mini-site on how Dan Deacon works - from Associated Press, of all people. So fuck Pitchfork.



4. The For Carnation – Promised Works


Okay, so this breaks all the rules of year-end lists. It’s merely the repressing of two old releases from 1995 and 1996 onto CD, but for me – not having heard the EPs, nor likely to ever – this came out in 2007. The s/t still rules, but this has its own twisted charm. My money’s on the first three songs, from the Fight Songs EP.

Of course, this year was a big Slint year for me, having discovered Spiderland through Zen and the Art of Face Punching back in March, and then seeing the reunion tour in August. This isn't Slint, but it's something close - kind of a 'logical extension' sort of thing - and it's definitely helped make my year.



5. Fight Like Apes – David Carradine is a Bounty Hunter Whose Robotic Arm Hates Your Crotch


It's good to have something Irish on this list, because there aren't a whole lot of home-grown bands that I identify with or really like. We're a small island nation, and as such have a small but vibrant indie scene, without pretensions to much else (except for U2, that is, but fuck Bono too). Fight Like Apes have kind of changed all that for me, even if they only have eight recorded tracks out. Great pop songs, but keeping noise-punk alive too, particularly with their nods to McLusky - another parochial interest, I guess. I’m putting this EP first on account of the song ‘Do You Karate’, and also because overall I think it’s the stronger of the two...



6. Fight Like Apes – How Am I Supposed to Kill You When You Have All the Guns?


...again, I'm breaking all the year-end rules. Not only are they both only EPs (but who cares) but I'm also putting both of them in, as separate entries, directly one after the other. However, I can't really choose between the two, and I reckon they deserve a good 20% of the list space. This disc is also known as the Jake Summers EP after its first track; but more importantly, it has the wonderful ‘Lend Me Your Face’. Better than the recordings, is of course the live show, which I talked about a little here (the Fuck This Band Mclusky post).



7. Envy – Abyssal


Maybe it’s because I actually paid attention to it, in order to write a track-by-track review, but I’ve really gotten into Abyssal. It may not be their best work, but it’s good enough to make my list. If I had done a list for 2006, it's likely that Insomniac Doze would have made it (not as no. 1, however - that would have gone to the Bouncing Soul's Gold Record). I can understand, though, that a lot of people haven't really fully warmed to Envy's new sound - even if has been part of progression that's been going on for the best part of a decade. However, no-one has taken me up on my debating point (very end of the review, in brackets): has Envy fallen between the cracks of hardcore and post rock?


_______________________________


(That’s pretty much my 'top 7' – I haven’t bought enough new stuff this year to make a fully fledged top 10. However, there are a few more albums which caught my ear, so here’s the last part… this isn’t a top 10 as much as it is a Top 7 + 3)


_______________________________


8. Christian Scott – Anthem


Discovered this guy via the eMusic 21st Century Bebop Dozen (Dozens are basically where a staff editor picks the top 12 releases in some genre or context). A New Orleans trumpeter who garnered comparisons to Miles Davis with his 2006 debut, Rewind That, this is an artistic response to the Hurricane Katrina tragedy of that year. I’m still a jazz neophyte, despite my own best efforts and the help of the eMusic catalogue, but the rock/jazz sounds of this record impress me pretty effortlessly. 'Litany against Fear' really sticks in your head.



9. Battles – Mirrored


Not to sound too self-conscious, but another hipster pick. Another show – like Dan Deacon – that I only got to see the second time around. But another excellent, outstanding album, and truly one of the most interesting of the year. (On which - polyphonically stretched - note, I found this via my new favourite blog Geek Down, a song-by-song discussion of the album by the band themselves - Paper Thin Walls - listening party. Incidentally, Mirrored is the only commonality on our lists - myself and josephlovesit, that is - although he puts it a couple of places higher). Anyway, Videos: 'Atlas' 'Tonto'; Hardcore for Nerds live review



10. Japancakes – Loveless


Just picked this up from eMusic this week, on the strength of the A.V. Club review. It’s a fully instrumental cover version of My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless album. Funnily enough, I guess this takes it out of the shoegaze range, since the defining feature of that genre is distorted guitars. Pedal steel is used heavily. So countrified, yet so beautiful. Strangely, at some times its eerily identical, while at others you would forget that you are listening to My Bloody Valentine songs at all. Perhaps it sounds like it shouldn't work, but trust me, it does.




Albums with Damoclean Question Marks/Honourable Mentions/The Following Also Ran:



American Steel, Destroy Your Future. The Weakerthans - Reunion Tour. Jesu - Conqueror ("16 years to top My Bloody Valentine"? See #10, above). The Future of the Left (ex-Mclusky), Curses. Saul Williams, The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust (all the boring kids are downloading In Rainbows... but this Trent Reznor-produced album is where the free music scene is at). And last but not least, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Is Is ... I'm literally listening to it for the first time right now. It's good!



Favourite Christmas Song for 2007:



Asobi Seksu - 'Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)'. Available for free at http://www.asobiseksu.com/audio.php. Gotta love the unveiled Ramones reference...



Exorcising the Zeitgeist: Pitchfork's Top 50 Albums



So their list was just published today, a big bloated mass of indie rock. But seriously though, some of it's quite interesting, more so than the amalgamated A.V. Club list. Strangely enough, Dinosaur Jr.'s Beyond, Arcade Fire's Neon Bible and Dan Deacon's Spiderman of the Rings (1, 2, and 3 on my list) all appear on the same page as 28, 27 and 24 - in that order. I guess that means that, as a hipster, I'm of middling but backwards taste.

Their piece on Beyond is actually pretty good, and nearly more praising than my own. Battles's Mirrored is no. 8, not unexpectedly. Finally, their Top 100 Tracks include 'Almost Ready' at 33, 'Wham City' (I'm still partisan for 'Crystal Cat', but since 'Wham City' comes with a 5-min radio edit too, apparently, it's not surprising) at 30 and 'Keep The Car Running' at 29. Almost spooky, that cluster. Battles, 'Atlas', comes in at 2. Verdict: fuck them anyway.



Friday, December 14, 2007

Regulator Watts - New Low Moline 7"




The Hoover Genealogy Project - An Introduction:


Hardcore for Nerds has a new project: to post as much as possible, with as much care as possible, of the Hoover genealogy. In total, there are fifteen bands which share at least one member with Hoover (source: bandtoband.com) of which I only know three or four well. So it will be a journey of discovery for all of us.


The reason behind this project is not only that Hoover themselves were an amazing group, but that the groups that followed in its wake are distinctively awesome bands. This is not the usual Dischord incestuousness, whereby the same bands are repeatedly recycled until they attained their best known form (read: Fugazi) but a much broader process. For a start, with the exception of the Crownhate Ruin, none of the post-Hoover bands were on Dischord itself - para-labels like Slowdime notwithstanding. Secondly, the majority of bands are progressions from Hoover, not previous, partial incarnations (Fine Day and Admiral aside). Hoover Union, to give them their full title as according to Lurid Traversal, were made up of disparate elements of jazz, dub, post-hardcore and searing emo rock. Therefore the bands after tend to incorporate differing balances of styles, musicianship and influences.


Personally I am most familiar with the later bands that Alex Dunham, guitarist for Hoover, has been in; namely, Radio Flyer, Regulator Watts and Abilene. So that's the kind of direction that this project is starting off at; however, exploring the genealogy works like the domino effect, where each record suggests something differen and interesting to follow. Hence expect the series to jump around a bit. Generally I hope to do single or double posts (the latter perhaps where albums/bands can be placed close together in sound or history) while also keeping up with the normal range of stuff on the blog - so don't worry, things won't get too close-minded.


What more to add? Like I said, I only know a small number of the overall family tree at all well, so contributions would be welcome. I'm hoping to listen to and discover some of the stuff I haven't heard before, but that seems more and more like a mammoth task. Essentially, I'm open to making this a communal effort, either on this blog or within a network of blogs. Also, requests - a few particular items I haven't heard: Winds of Change (an early Alex Dunham group); Side Car Freddie by Hoover; and the Watts System Ltd. compilation song (Regulator Watts by another name).


Other than that, this is simply the beginning of an interesting and hopefully long-running task: the Hardcore for Nerds Hoover Genealogy Project.



Regulator Watts - New Low Moline 7"



First up is this single, from 1997 and a joint release on Slowdime and Dischord. Regulator Watts was a three piece with Alex Dunham on guitar and vocals. One of the closest-sounding groups to Hoover, this is like a rockier, faster and heavier version of that band on the first track, 'New Low Moline', and a mellower, groovier version on the second, 'Rocket to Chicago'. [Edit: 'Rocket to Chicago' is actually meant to be the first track, and 'New Low Moline' the second. The order of these two tracks on the below-mentioned Mercury CD collection is also in error] As a three-piece, Regulator Watts are kind of stripped-down, not that you'd notice it much for the amount of frantic tension and energy on display; not quite the epic emo-scapes you would expect from Hoover, but 'Rocket to Chicago' does stretch things out in a very Radio Flyer-ish melodic way.


New Low Moline can also be found on the Mercury CD collection of Regulator Watts tracks. The second cover above is my own, since the image on Southern Records was badly pixelated. It was kind of my homage to the general design of Hoover/Radio Flyer/Regulator Watts covers, which all figure moody pictures of geometrically interesting and usually mechanical things (hence also the pattern in band names, with 'Regulator Watts' also being the title of a song on Lurid Traversal). The fact that it's not an inanimate object, but actually a photograph of a plant in my garden, is beside the fact. I liked the photograph...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Hoover/Lincoln - Two-Headed Coin 7"



Early Hoover recording: one track each, Hoover 'Two Down' and Lincoln 'Benchwarmer'. Slight, but highly recommended record. I might come back to this and write it up a little more, but I'm on my way to an exam now so I'll leave to the words of others....


Again from fourfa:

Hoover/Lincoln split 7" (Art Monk Construction #1). "If you ever had to be stranded on a desert island with four emo records, this has to be one. Perfectly captures everything that was happening in emo in 1993. Gut-clenching pain and sublime beauty at the same time. Amazing."


From Flex discography (fuzzlogic.com):

"Hoover have one of their noisier moments here; still good & powerful. Lincoln are more in the old DC vein, great noisy & still melodic HC. Good pick for DC fans."


And finally, from Art Monk himself:

"It wasn't until over three years after having released this two-song seven inch was I told that I learned that it is so widely held to be the hallmark of the emo genre as it is known today. The fact thay any would pigeon-hole this creation is of greater tragedy than the most searing chord it strikes. Both Lincoln and Dischord recording artists Hoover took the angst and heartfelt restlessness of hardcore and intricately wove it into a fabric channeled by syncopated rhythms and vocals that yearned without plea for pity. The message is sent mid-tempo, yet written by scarred hand in tumultuous melody. No sleep for the self-declared wicked, a record that after almost five years still speaks with ferociousness to the firery woebegotten..."


Two-Headed Coin split 7"

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Hoover - s/t, (reunion) EP



In response, or rather in addition, to:

Burning Down the Dreams of Forever - Hoover, The Lurid Traversal of Route 7

Hoover are one of the great emo bands, as well as one of the great 90s Dischord groups, and a great post-hardcore group, and the originator for a whole bunch of other great bands (Crownhate Ruin, Abilene, Radio Flyer, Regulator Watts, the Sorts [sorta!] and whatever else you can they list on bandtoband). So yeah, they're pretty damn important. As sbj said, "Whether you know it or not, this is the soundtrack you've been looking for". You'll probably have seen the term 'DC-style' thrown around a lot; and musically, as well as lyrically and artistically, this band is it - "...something of a milestone. A paean to the suburban disenchantment that looms over the nation's capital like flies on shit."

I use this guy a lot, but his description of this band in particular is one of my favourites:

"Wow. Some people say this sounds like Fugazi,and they miss the point. It sounds like classic DC twin-guitar midtempo style, as do Fugazi and a hundred other bands. The important part was the way the evil slithering basslines made it seem so dark and serious, and the way the singer worked up from whispering to a tortured animal howl at the end. 'Cuts Like Drugs' has it all." (Andy Radin, fourfa.com)

Lurid Traversal is, of course, doubtlessly the Hoover record. It gives you plenty of listening (13 tracks and just over an hour on the CD remaster, which appends the 'Return'/'Private'/'Dries' 7") and is pretty much a 'great' of 90s hardcore. But, if you still want more, they returned four years later to release a five-song EP on Slowdime Records, an offshoot label of the whole DC/Dischord scene. Here's a contemporary review of the record from Suburban Voice, to be found on the Operation Phoenix Records' zine archive:

"Hoover (Slowdime, EP)

Most emo bands today want to sound like Hoover and with good reason; they were a great band. They took that Fugazi/Dischord post-hardcore sound a step further into Eastern melodies and reggae. So Hoover re-formed last year to record four songs they had written but not recorded and one new version of a song from their lp, "The Lurid Traversal of Rt. 7". It's a spotty release: "Breather" sounds like mellow grunge and their new version of "Electrolux" has a great reggae/dub sound and cool horns, but goes on for far too long. For Hoover fans, this provides a chance to hear what they might be doing today; for those just getting into emo and/or Hoover, it's advisable to pick up the album or the seven inch first. (PO Box 414, Arlington, Va 22210) (Rachel)"

(Issue #42)

I think she's kind of harsh in parts although - and with a personal propensity to eulogise albums incessantly - that is in hindsight, Hoover having recycled its popularity many times over since with new emo kids (like me!). Nevertheless, 'Breather' - which others, like Andy Radin, call one of Hoover's best songs - "mellow grunge". What does DC mid-tempo post-hardcore normally sound like, and what's wrong with mellow grunge? Personally 'Breather Resist' doesn't entirely overwhelm me like some Hoover songs do, but I think it really points towards the later, more developed sound of Regulator Watts - another Alex Dunham vehicle with that same alternating lulling, melodic and white-hot angry guitar sound.

And the remix of 'Electrolux' - 'Relectrolux/Electrodub' to give it its full title - is lengthy, but mereticiously so. I mean, come on, it's a dub version - it's meant to go on for a long, long time - and Electrolux was never meant to be short in the first place (and had horns originally, I think). Interestingly, Regulator Watts did the same thing - spaceing out and creeping out further an already spacey and creepy song - with 'False Idols' first, on The Aesthetics of No-Drag, and then 'Version Idols' on the Mercury CD. It's just my opinion, but I think 'Relectrolux/Electrodub' is a great idea - and I don't even smoke. (There's also, on the Twenty Years of Dischord box set, a dub version of Government Issue's Asshole, performed my Ian MacKaye's Minor Threat. So yeah. Curious and curiouser...) Furthermore, it also provides a handy classification for the Hoover family tree: whether they are more Relectrolux / Electrodub than Electrolux, or vice versa.

The other three songs, 'TNT', 'New Five Drive', and 'Weeds' are very good, too. They all sound like they would fit in well in either Hoover's original album or in Regulator Watts/Radio Flyer (the, ahem, Electrolux end of the Hoover genealogical spectrum). 'Weeds' especially, with its screamed chorus of "Your backyard's overgrown" does the band justice. But see for yourself (not sure where you can get your hands on an actual CD copy, other than obscure distros. If anyone knows I'll put the link in, for ethics' sake):


Hoover - Slowdime EP

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Envy - Abyssal




I'll lay my cards on the table - I prefer Envy's later stuff. Generally, given the choice between screamo and post-rock, I'd opt for the former. GY!BE, EITS, etc, are great and all, but give me a list that starts with Indian Summer and Saetia and then works through the last ten years of obscure emo bands, and I'll probably be happier. Though of course Envy, as a band that lies on the cusp of screamo and post-rock, still retains a wide appeal.


The thing is, I came into the band in their mid-to-late stage - A Dead Sinking Story to be precise - and while I really like some of the mid-to-early stuff (All the Footprints You've Ever Left and the Fear Expecting Ahead is more than a fine album, if a little confusingly titled) anything before that doesn't do much for me. What happened to me was that I got caught up in Envy's extraordinally creative stage, and the momentum has kept me going since. I'm not one of those people who think Envy were better "in their old days" before "they went slightly post-rock but still a great band"; Envy still are, and have been for a long time, even more than a great band.



(The person who said that, incidentally, has been bigging up a couple of Malaysian and Japanese screamo bands recently on his blog - haven't actually checked them out as of yet, but will do! Man, this blog has more plugs in it than a box full of 3-1 extension leads)



That personal explanation was by way of introduction to Envy's new EP, Abyssal; because if you didn't particularly like the Insomniac Doze album, you're unlikely to like this much either. The four songs pick up where that gentle, ponderous epic left off, with more long songs and considerably less screaming. Not that there's really all that much wrong with that, in my opinion, but bewarned. It still sounds "mild enough for the dentist's office" - as Pitchfork said about their last effort; "Your interest may well depend on your attention span".


The first track, 'A road of winds the water builds', breaks the ten-minute mark and contains within it most of the disparate elements to be found in Insomniac Doze's cinematic, slow-building and shifting soundscapes. Martial drumming, shifting arpeggios that move so slowly between pitches that they sound like string arrangements, drawn-out spoken word overlays, and of course, long, long climaxes. Not only does 'A road of winds' begin with a soft intro that is barely audible outside of a quiet room (warm or otherwise), it slides into near-silence halfway through - a bit reminiscent of the half-cacophony, half-catatonic nature of A Dead Sinking Story there - and end s with what appears to the ears as soft angelic singing. In sum, it's a very good song; I'm not exactly sure whether it does anything different, and I'm not sure if that's important.


'All that's left has gone to sleep', actually, offers something for the old-school Envy fan if he has managed to stay awake. Kicking off with a very recognizable 'ka-ka, kaka chuh' of stuttery, distorted guitar, it keeps the arpeggiated quiet bits and spoken-word interludes to a minimum. It rides, like its audible cymbals, from swell to swell of guitar noise. Unlike the last album, where "Tetsuya Fukagawa's tortured howl-- as if the band hadn't told him that they're no longer constantly aiming for red-- sits on top like an oil slick", now he has to strive to keep up with the song's energy. It even has a guitar solo in it which sounds like a guitar solo, and not like pure gold transmuted into sound waves. In a word, it rocks. However, I think I still yearn for the attractive glisten of the oil slick.


By contrast, 'Thousand Scars' is very much for the Insomniac Doze fan. Trilling, vibratory emo-peggio sustained over some six minutes, with a few loud steps into hyper-Spectorian, wall-of-sound screamo which really just amps up the arpeggio behind it. All very post-rock, and with the long, drawn-out chord progressions pinned to the quiet vocals and building crescendos, at some point you've got to stop trying to describe or categorize it, and just lie back and let it wash over you.


Finally, if 'Thousand Scars' connects firmly with Insomniac Doze, the last track, 'Fading Vision', stretches the connection back to A Dead Sinking Story. More electronic than electric, it is full of empty spaces, percussive sounds and fuzzy, quiet vocals - like 'A Color in Fetters' from the previous album; although running through it is a rhythm and a melody which seems more akin to the obvious softnesses of Doze.



Abyssal is a good EP; I'm not sure what its message is meant to be. It seems, roughly, that the first two tracks are songs of action, and the last two tracks more contemplative, but all the songs have something to offer; 'A road of winds' being the most encompassing, a kind of Envy for Dummies or, Learn Envy in (just over) 10 Mins. Seriously though, this is another significant step for a significant band. You can place your analytical knife where you wish (an image borrowed from Pirsig), or you could just listen to it...



'A road of waters the wind builds' (Just the first track, since it's a new release - there are plenty of other places to find the full thing to download if you want to.)



(For the intellectuals among us, it might be of interest to consider Envy as a creature of art from the East; according to Edward Said's Orientalism and its Foucault-inspired view of language, the Western critical tradition does not allow the East to speak for itself, to define itself. Envy obviously owe a great debt to the US hardcore community (and probably by now the charges have been reversed, not to mention the equal challenge from Europe) but is there something about the Japanese music scene whereby, as one blogger puts it, 'everything rock they touch turns to gold'? Pitchfork said that "with Insomniac Doze-- gone is the furious band that once expanded rock palettes with tricky arpeggios and lots of air. Instead, Envy have given themselves completely to their once dormant spacey impulses and time-lapse songwriting." Is that, not just a fair, but a valid critique of Envy? Or do we have to be bound by the idea that Envy still falls somehow between the cracks of hardcore and post-rock?)