Saturday, May 2, 2009

New Irish Music: So Cow, Halves/Subplots, Cutaways

So Cow - 'Casablanca' (vinyl rip)

So Cow - 'Shackleton' (vinyl rip)

So I picked up So Cow's self-titled/'greatest hits' LP last week in Road Records (I would have got it there on Record Store Day, but I couldn't get in the door) and it's really rather good. A little less than half the tracks are from his 2008 album, I'm Siding With My Captors, and the rest are from his send-off-money-to-my-myspace-practically-self-released-CD first album, These Truly Are End Times and possibly also his homemade, stapled-together, super-limited ep. Some of them I know from the WFMU live session, especially the opener 'Casablanca'.

While the best songs - 'Greetings', 'Shackleton', 'One Hundred Helens' - are from the second album, all the of them fit together quite well. There is some interesting, quirky stuff like 'So Cow vs. the Future', 'League of Impressionable Teens' and various Korean-titled tracks ('Choh Ah' and 'Ja Ju Ah Pa Yo', as well as 'Moon Geun Young'). Obviously it doesn't supplant I'm Siding With My Captors, but it's great to have all these songs together and on a properly retro-progressive format. Speaking of which, the cover drawing really needs to be seen in its full size to do it justice; and the record label has got that old school gradient thing going on as well.

(the So Cow LP is a US release and can be bought direct from the label, Tic Tac Totally! Records)


Halves - 'Blood Branches'

Subplots - 'Leech'

This split 7" by two Irish bands, both on the sort of post-rock-y spectrum, is an interesting idea. Not that it's a totally novel idea for here - most notably two Cork bands climbed Ireland's tallest mountain, Carrantouhill, to record a split 7" single entitled 'The Highest Bands in Ireland' - but it's unusual enough. The 7" is enjoying a renaissance in indie/alternative music in general, especially with bands releasing material solely on 7". Another Irish example of this is the brilliant Hooray for Humans blue 7" of 'Already Sleeping', mentioned in an Irish Times article on the resurgence of the format. It's a similar deal with this record, except it comes with a download for the mp3s of the songs. People say that people buy these 7"s without having a record player, but that just seems a little weird for me to understand. In any case, if they do, their money won't be totally wasted, as they can get a good digital copy alongside the slab of useless vinyl.

Anyway, on to the music. Halves are a mix of Explosions in the Sky and Sigur Ros-type post-rock sounds, which they do very well, but usually in the framework of a lengthy 'EP' (Haunt Me When I'm Drowsy is 32 minutes long with 7 tracks, including an intro). One side of a 7" seems rather short to adequately present their sound, although that said, it is a good song. Subplots are a band of whom I've heard a fair bit, but this is the first time I've heard them on record. To my ears, it sounds quite like Radiohead, whom I have a mixed feelings about, but again it's a pretty good song. Make up your own mind, anyway. At least the artwork for each band is excellent, and as this was quite pricey for a 7" - €5.99 in Tower - hopefully the record will be a grower.


Cutaways are a "synth-driven indie-pop trio" (i.e. guitar, keyboards, drums) from Belfast that I think are pretty neat. Without going into all the socio-political history of this island in the 20th century, I don't know that much about bands in Northern Ireland. Of course I'm a big fan of the classic punk bands the Undertones (Derry) and Stiff Little Fingers (Belfast), but in my opinion the Radiators (from Dublin, and/or Space) were just as good if not better than either of them. Anyway, at the moment there's even a specific collaboration between indie magazines AU (for 'Alternative Ulster') and the Dublin-based State to bring bands from the South up North, and vice versa.

Hopefully Cutaways might be brought into one of those line-ups, because without actually calling them 'the next Fight Like Apes', they should fit very well into the Dublin indie scene. Even more than Fight Like Apes, they remind me a lot of Grand Pocket Orchestra (a minor-key, even quirkier version of the former) and the male/female vocals of Hooray for Humans, and even with a bit of jarring, Bats-like bounce to them. Outside of Ireland, in the mainland UK scene which I know even less about, Danananakroyd seem to be doing a similar sort of aggressively quirky indie-pop. But apart from all the comparisons, this band have really strong songs. I've listened through the full stream of the album Earth and Earthly Things (see below) several times, and it's strikingly attention-inducing, varied, and downright fun.

Promotion for Cutaways is done by Nick of Penny Distribution, which I mention because he writes a very good blog on how the music business, particularly in the case of independent artists, works - or should work - with the internet and the music blogosphere. Cutaways are using the Bandcamp service, which means you can listen to their whole album there or, well, here:

<a href="">Milo of Kroton by Cutaways</a>


(gratuitous picture of the So Cow LP on a duvet, with hat-tip to Those Geese Were Stupefied)

So Cow - 'To Do List'

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Top 15 Irish Artists in Words (top 10)

Top 100 Ticket list here, with commentary here and here

Those Geese Were Stupefied takes the bait with his 15.

1. Fight Like Apes (Ticket list #4)

"Ireland has, quite simply, never seen a band like Fight Like Apes." That about sums it up as to why this band is my no. 1, and has been for the last year and a half that I've been listening to them (starting here). Read the rest of the description in the Ticket article or here.

Their meteoric rise in that period is based essentially on two EPs (repackaged and re-recorded into a debut album) of great songs, plus a few more, and consistently fantastic live shows. Fight Like Apes aren't consciously a punk band, not even I suppose when they are channelling Mclusky, but to me their music is 90% there. The ability to be quite popularly appealing while retaining a definite hard edge has been crucial to their success. For all the people who find the band irritating or bemusing, there isn't really a corresponding faction which decry them as bland or derivative. Which can only be a good thing for Irish music.

2. Ham Sandwich (Ticket list - #!?)

While not as distinctive musically, the quality of this band's rock/pop output probably more than matches that of Fight Like Apes. Guitar-heavy, melancholy and perfectly pitched to male and female vocals, the debut album Carry the Meek is tragically underrated and under-recognised in Ireland. All-killer and no-filler, as a simple collection of songs it definitely puts them ahead of Fight Like Apes (as I did for my best of 2008 list, where it was only second to the Welsh/Australian Shooting at Unarmed Men record). Their live shows are fantastic as well, with a refreshing element of kitsch.

3. So Cow (Ticket list #99)

Lo-fi, straightforward and endearing punk-pop with the emphasis on the 'pop' in a complex, indie-rock deconstruction sort of thing. It's really difficult to describe the sound of So Cow in anything approaching one sentence, so I'll abandon that contradictory explanation for a simple statement that Brian Kelly is a pop genius. This is a rating based personally on only one album and one live show, but I can assure you there is a lot of depth to So Cow. Karl has a live review over on Those Geese Were Stupefied which declares him number one in Ireland (despite the name of the blog coming from a Fight Like Apes song).

4. Cathy Davey (Ticket list #3)

There a further acts, other than Fight Like Apes, in the Ticket top five that I do like a good deal, and definitely deserve their position, but that I wouldn't personally count amongst my top artists - Jape, Lisa Hannigan and David Holmes being of course three of them. Cathy Davey's album Tales of Silversleeve, however, was something I got into myself, even if it wasn't as rock-ish as the other Irish artists that appeal to my particular tastes. The first four songs on the album - 'Sing for Your Supper', 'Reuben', 'The Collector' and 'Moving' - are just stunningly good, while the quality of the rest, from 'Mr. Kill' which reminds me bizarrely of the sound of Green Day's Warning album, stand up equally if not as immediately noticeable. The fact that it is from 2007 (though I must have bought it the following year) but stills stands out as an obvious contender testifies to the strength of the album.

5. Boxes (Ticket list -)

A relatively recent discovery for me, this is one Irish band that definitely isn't 'indie' in the usual sense. I can't quite decide which is better, the 2008 album Animal or the 2006 (Albini-recorded) Bad Blood, but either way this two-piece's brand of post-hardcore/math-rock has made a great impression on me. They may not seem as original (at least, if you listen to a wide variety of 90s US post-punk) as some of the newer bands on this list, but they are distinctive, and accomplished, enough in themselves to be worth praising highly. Meanwhile, very few people in Ireland seem to have noticed them.

6. A Lazarus Soul

Constructed from the members of another well-known Irish rock band Future Kings of Spain, A Lazarus Soul is a more post-punk style (especially Joy Division) band based around the vocals of Brian Brannigan. The lyrical content - melancholy, reflective, and ambiguous - is about life in the parts of Dublin then as now left behind by the economic boom, but more generally recalls the impact of one of Ireland's greatest bands of the 1990s, Whipping Boy. Most of all, it's a portrait of an environment, "a hand brake wheelspin lullaby".

7. Bats (Ticket list -) and 8. Adebisi Shank (Ticket list #97)

These two bands are the cream of the current Irish underground. Bats would be my personal favourite, a sort of math-rock/dance-punk/metal combo which increasingly rip shit up every time I see them play. The first time was in 2007, supporting the Locust, when songs like 'Atom and Eve' reminded me of a more muscular Q and not U, while their more recent stuff destined for the group's first album has matured a good deal from there.

Adebisi Shank aren't really a favourite of mine at all, in that I'm not personally into their super-mathy, metallic instrumental rock, but I respect what they are doing and what they are trying to do. It's not something that appeals to most indie fans, hence the perception that they are often unfairly overlooked by Irish music critics. On the positive side, though, it appeals to a wider audience of metal and punk fans both outside and inside Ireland (the Sputnikmusic reviews of both Bats and Adebisi Shank are here and here). Given that Adebisi Shank's debut album was produced by J. Robbins, and that Bats are recording with Kurt Ballou of Converge, its clear that the real Irish alternative scene has the potential to travel some distance.

9. Chequerboard (Ticket list #19), aka Boldypants

Chequerboard's Penny Black was one of my favourite albums of last year, a beautiful, atmospheric combination of classical guitar and electronic beats. A musician and graphic artist, Chequerboard's John Lambert created something superbly nostalgic and evocative with the wonderfully packaged album, or as I (loosely) described it, "Victoriana put to dubstep". The electronica also has a harder side, as evinced on the previous album Gothica and in his recently resurfaced musical alter-ego, Boldypants.

Boldypants - 'Emotional Wreckingball'

10. Hooray for Humans (Ticket list -)

'Already Sleeping' b/w 'Hidden Hands'

This Cork-based electro-rock group with some tangential emo influences were a revelation when I first them on their heard their 2007 album, Safekeeping; that there was an Irish band who liked a lot of the same US bands I did but also made that into far-above-average indie music. The only release after that album so far has been the 7" above, which is brilliantly presented (pink sleeve, blue vinyl). In musical terms the band are fun, energetic and play great hook-laden pop songs, but at the same time you can find something much more expressive and 'post-hardcore' influenced in there. Plus, guitarist and main man of Hooray for Humans, Alan Healy, has a dead-on screamo mixtape posted on his blog.

Hooray for Humans - 'Already Sleeping' 7"

(more to come)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Top Fifteen Irish Artists About Now-ish

In a move partially designed to piss off the internet, or at least the Irish part of it (and the part that cares about somewhat-less-than-famous bands, the Irish Times published a list of the 50 best Irish music acts right now, with comments running to about three times that number on Ticket writer Jim Carroll's accompanying blog. The invitation to 'do it yourself' has already been taken up at a couple of sites, with alternative lists of fifty each on Nialler9 and 2 U I Bestow. I couldn't reasonably do a list of the full fifty (though there are plenty of bands out there), and after all the original Ticket list was the product of four professional journalists, so I'm going to stick with a comparatively meagre but more exacting fifteen. (And for the record, I'm not a rugby fan. But Ireland did just win the Grand Slam)

As with the Ticket list, these artists have all toured/released in Ireland in the last year or so. The picture is of the latest release from the artist, more or less. From the top down, as I'm not into cheap suspense:

1. Fight Like Apes - 'Lend Me Your Face' from Fight Like Apes and the Mystery of the Golden Medallion (2008) [file]

2. Ham Sandwich - 'Sad Songs' from Carry the Meek (2008) [file]

3. So Cow - 'Commuting' from I'm Siding With My Captors (2008) [file]

4. Cathy Davey - 'Moving' from Tales of Silversleeve (2007) [file]

5. Boxes - 'Animal' from Animal (2008) [file]

Download Ireland V (zip file, 21mb)

This list on Tumblr

6-10 & 11-15:


(Adebisi Shank - This Is An Album of a Band Called Adebisi Shank)

(Chequerboard - Penny Black)

(Hooray for Humans - 'Already Sleeping' 7")


(The Redneck Manifeso - RMNMN EP)

(Halves - Haunt Me When I'm Drowsy EP w/ elastic strap)

words above, here


Sunday, March 29, 2009

Age Sixteen - Open Up Finders, Please

'Peter Pan Complex'

This album is part of a series of events making me feel very positive about modern screamo. The first is last year's releases from well-established members of bands (...Who Calls So Loud, with members of Funeral Diner and Portraits of Past) and well-established bands themselves (Sinaloa), plus Loma Prieta's new take on Honeywell-style hardcore emo in Lost City. Age Sixteen's debut may not be quite up there with some of those former releases, but it fits into an exciting pattern. The excellent blog Stokingtheroots, which already covers a lot of current hardcore bands, has a brief but detailed review of the album here, but I think there are a couple more strands I can add.

First of all, there is a reasonably obvious La Quiete influence on this band - it's that kind of chaotic yet deeply melodic sound which defines European screamo for me in contrast to the more technical style of many US bands of recent years. Yet while La Quiete's most recent output - they haven't released a full album since 2004's La Fine non é La Fine, but have had two self-titled 7"s in 2006 and 2008 - has developed into a purer form, Age Sixteen is still distinctly a punk band. The album is only slightly over 20 minutes long, and mixed with the melody is a good deal of abrasive, old-school hardcore emo moments. Like Loma Prieta, Age Sixteen has managed to reinvigorate the earlier 90s styles of screamo in a contemporary sound.

Secondly, much has been written elsewhere about the other 90s emo revival of Algernon Cadwallader. I think they're pretty cool, although I don't listen to much of them, just as I don't listen to Cap'n Jazz/American Football in the first place. Great stuff, but not my style. What I do like about some of the Algernon Cadwallader songs, however, is how flawlessly shambolic, pained, and anxious they become that they move from the state of energetic, punky indie rock to somewhere very close to the chaos of screamo. Age Sixteen, with their La Quiete-ish melodies and harmonies, approach the process from the other side but with same endearingly tender result. The jaunty opening to 'Empty Nest' I think typifies this momentary glimpse into quite a different style, naturally woven into the general sound of the song and album.

So there are my reactions to this album. It's not solely about this release, which is as much a promise of further good things from a new band and, (as the Stokingtheroots review points out) a representation of a terrific live sound, as it is an excellent release in itself, but also it is symbolic of some new sounds coming through. Open Up Finders, Please is uncompromising screamo, nevertheless with deeply melodic and even poppy touches. Age Sixteen's creative adolescence straddles the old and the new of screamo and other related genres, resulting in a suprisingly mature and contemporary sound.

Download the album here or - because if you like it as much as I do, you're going to want to support the band - buy it via their Myspace ($7 US, $8 international).

Friday, March 27, 2009

state of the musical nation - Galway, Ireland

(Photo taken from the Indie Hour here and an MS Publisher sticker slapped on to it - instant graphic art.)

So Cow - 'This Angry Silence' (Television Personalities)

So Cow - 'I Wanna Feel The Warm Spring Breeze' (Kim Jung Mi)

"I WANNA FEEL THE WARM SPRING BREEZE (bom ahra bul baram) - 1970s Korean psyche folk singer...mostly associated with Korean fuzz dude Shin Jung-Hyun. More here. If anyone wants to get at me about pronunciation, shove it."

So Cow Sings!/So Cow In A Shed is an album of cover songs by Tuam-based lo-fi pop artist So Cow, aka Brian Kelly. The full list of songs is as follows:

1. This Angry Silence (Television Personalities)

2. I Wanna Feel The Warm Spring Breeze (Kim Jung Mi)

3. Boris The Spider (The Who)

4. Banana Uyu (Fiddle Bambi)

5. On M'a Toujours Dit (Annie Philippe)

6. Little Bear's Song (Big Monster Love)

7. They Don't Know (Tracey Ullman)

Download So Cow in a Shed

The opening track, 'This Angry Silence', is the first time someone other than Brian has been on a So Cow recording - Galwegian live drummer Tony Higgins provides drums and backing vocals. Under the moniker junior85, he's also been attempting an 'EP a week' project with three diverse EPs produced so far: Wiiiiiiiiiiide Awake (uptempo electronic music), Sleepy (ambient electronic) and now it's for everyone/now it's for noone (noise), each available for free download and as limited edition CDs.

Meanwhile, the So Cow 'greatest hits' LP has just been released stateside on Tic Tac Totally! Records. Artwork above. A North American tour is to follow in May and June, dates on the myspace.

Monday, March 16, 2009

state of the (musical) nation - Dublin, Ireland 2009

(video found via review of the recent Bats album fundraiser at the Lower Deck, Dublin)

The above video is of Ireland's best hardcore band of the moment (and by 'hardcore', I mean prog-metalcore/death disco punk, genres I wouldn't normally like if played by other bands, so I'll just call it hardcore), Bats, performing a track from the soon-to-be-recorded album with Kurt Ballou of Converge. Their sound has developed a good deal from the excellent 2007/2008 EP Cruel Sea Scientist, less schizophrenic (notwithstanding that I enjoyed that quality of Cruel Sea Scientist) and more rounded, though still heavy and hard-rocking.

Those Geese Were Stupefied: What Road Records Should Do

Also picked up here, this is Analogue Magazine writer and fellow Bats fan Karl's list of suggestion for how Road Records could improve their sales of music in Dublin. This is following on from the sold-out and, by all accounts, successful One for the Road benefit gig in Andrew's Lane. What some people seem exercised about is the suggestion of a gap between the headliners of that gig (Jape, the Jimmy Cake and Si Schroeder) and the generation of artists which should be connecting the record-buying youth - such as there are, and those who don't are mostly beyond the reach of any store - with a shop like Road Records.

It's a fair point that established acts are the ones to headline such a gig, which moreover was organised by the artists themselves, or at least that section of the musical community - but that in itself points to a gap between the ideals of the past, however sincere, and the realities of the present and future. A band such as Fight Like Apes - for example - is also restrained by touring commitments (specifically, SXSW) but again it's likely that they have achieved their success by more contemporary, i.e. internet-based methods (based even more on very physical gigging, though), beyond the willing and recognised support of somewhere like Road.

What it seems to me to come down to, as a somewhat similarly placed "average 20 year old who for one reason or another likes to buy a CD or a 7" every now and then", is a sort of ambivalence as to whether a physical local record store is totally necessary as well as merely valuable. I've enjoyed what I've found and bought in Road, but I'm still largely too young to have a real affection for the 'record store' experience much beyond a more immediate version of mailorder.

There are other issues there, such as the difference between Road and the generally very well stocked Tower Records a few streets away, and the availability of releases by small Irish bands (which could however be ably handled by an online distro, such as Bats' Richter Collective), but most of all I'm not totally convinced that a phsyical Road Records is absolutely needed by me, or even more importantly, by someone five years younger than me (i.e., a 16-year old) now and in the future.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Friday Video: Yeah Yeah Yeahs, 'Zero'; Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Show Your Bones

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, 'Zero' from It's Blitz (2009)

I don't really listen to that many indie rock bands, on the world scale, although from listening to the radio I'm probably more familiar with them than most other people with my otherwise obscure tastes in music. Of the handful of indie bands that I do end up really liking (the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Editors, Foals, Vampire Weekend...) it's usually because there's something in their music that I identify with, punk rock- or (specific) postpunk-wise. Not that they are punk bands, or the second coming of the Clash, or anything like that, but that they're interesting enough that I can spend time with them, absorb their music, as I would with the more solidly punk or hardcore sides of my music collection.

Of course, 'interesting enough' also just means something subjective and quality-wise - as Louis Armstrong said, there are no genres of music inasmuch as they all collapse down to 'good' and 'bad' music.

Which is all a roundabout way of saying that this a pretty good video, and sorta punk rock too (you could imagine the Ramones making it). 1980s New York new wave rock at its finest.


Show Your Bones is my fifth favourite album of 2006 (the order isn't particularly important). I first started listening to it in mid-2007, and bought the LP in early 2008, a week before I got my turntable. The LP has a couple of differences, some might say advantages, from the CD version: it is a track shorter (no 'Deja Vú') and the printed cover (below) is unadorned by text or title. The first is an advantage because, at 12 tracks, the CD drags on a little to long with Show Your Bones's somewhat undifferentiated indie rock; the second because, well, the cover picture is stylishly and strikingly awesome.

As for the music itself, 'Gold Lion' is undeniably the best song on the album, but the rest of the tracks are all pretty great. It's the rhythm and the heaviness to Show Your Bones that makes me like it so much - it's clever and affecting rock'n'roll, energetic indie rock played with both skill and fireworks. Plus, Karen O's often versatile, often unrestrained vocals are probably the best thing to come out of rock music this decade.

Hardcore for Nerds: Friday Video [#1] - The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, 'Gold Lion'

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Bouncing Souls - The Gold Record

'The Gold Song'

'So Jersey'

'Sounds of the City'

These three songs may be all you need to hear to know how great an album The Gold Record is: a solid 1-2-3 opening punch of punk rock. It's not like the album is all frontloaded, with it best songs behind it by track 4; it's also not the case that How I Spent My Summer Vacation being the Souls' crowning achievement in ridiculously upbeat melodic punk-pop, or its immediate follow-up, Anchors Aweigh, being next in line in the band's musical artistry, makes this album any less of a great record. Like Insomniac Doze, The Gold Record is a maturation from its predecessors, not an equal copy.

That said, 'The Gold Song' is a quintessentially Bouncing Souls track - fast, shoutalong and melodic. I remember seeing the Souls here in Dublin as part of a double with (ex-Hot Water Music) The Draft in 2006, and hurrying down the stairs in the Temple Bar Music Centre from the roof garden, where we'd spent the break in between sets, to the sound of this song's opening drumbeat.

'So Jersey' is Springsteen-esque punk-pop, which the Bouncing Souls were doing in their own way before the Hold Steady or The Gaslight Anthem, complete with organ and piano licks. It's about childhood, New Jersey and the importance of music - backing vocals from Chuck Ragan and Brett Gurewitz, among others - a common theme of the songs on this album.

I've never been to Jersey, but it's funny how its residents simultaneously seem to deprecate it and elevate it, how it's both classy and lowbrow, both Springsteen and the Souls, Garden State and Clerks II. There are sunny afternoons everywhere in the world - everywhere habitable, at least - but a Jersey one sounds especially pleasant.

The closer of the trio, 'Sound of the City' takes the directness of classic, punk rock Bouncing Souls - of 'The Gold Song' - and combines it with the nostalgic anthemicism of 'So Jersey' and other, equally classic Souls songs. Lonely streets, whoahs, soaring guitar riffs, and the philosophy of sounds and music. It's the final passage that crushes and uplifts, the essence of the Bouncing Souls translation of melancholy into optimism.

Afterwards, it's a detour into the slow, acoustic but charming 'Pizza Song', a throwback to songs like those on Hopeless Romantic and before, when Bouncing Souls were half jokey and wistful as well as - usually in the other half of the album - frenetically punk. It's followed by the super-anthemic 'Sarah Saturday', and an inspired, enthusiastic and heartfelt cover of the Kinks' 'Better Days' - "I hope tomorrow you'll find better things".

The second half of the album begins with a tribute to teenagehood and, it seems, to Iron Maiden, 'The Messenger' - "oh to be a kid with no worries it seemed so hard". 'Lean on Sheena' is another cover, this time of the relatively obscure - but rather good - punk group Avoid One Thing and, like 'Better Things', makes for a very good Bouncing Souls song. Simple but enormously affecting, and catchy as hell too:

A topical and political song - the words written by a real soldier who served in the war - 'Letter from Iraq' reminds us that 2005 and its surrounding years were one of the worst for global conflict of this millenium so far, and the role punk rock in presenting such information. (Indeed, at the show mentioned above, the singer Greg took time out of the set to remind the audience in the most humble way possible of the differences between the American people and the then government. It's okay, we Europeans already knew that). The next track 'The New Thing' is an injection of personal optimism, forming the start of a closing trio of powerful, superbly emotional songs, along with 'Midnight Mile' and 'For All The Unheard'; "for all the music left behind, all the songs left on the floors in the closets of our minds".

The Gold Record was the last Epitaph album I bought, from a label which was instrumental in shaping the sort of music I listen to now, as well as the sorts that I don't, at least not anymore. It's a maturation as well as an encapsulation of everything that's great about the Bouncing Souls - their music, their humour, their attitude and their influences.

The Bouncing Souls - The Gold Record (2006)

Epitaph Records

Monday, March 9, 2009

Hardcore for Nerds on Tumblr

So I've moved into a new field of blogging, the tumblelog (really dislike that word). Same name, same ethos, roughly the same raison d'etre, and similar but slightly different content. Despite what the screenshot above might indicate, I'm not just reblogging (sorry, terminology again) everything from this blog, but the aim is to tie in with the main Hardcore for Nerds - which isn't going anywhere - from time to time. So Insomniac Doze is there (briefly) to tie in with A Dead Sinking Story, which I've given with Tumblr the specific highlight that it's lacked on here so far; and both tie back into what I have written on them here.

The description is 'emo, screamo and 90-00s post-hardcore. whatever you want to call it. as seen here' and the link leads to the 'emo' tag on this blog. The main aim of the new format is to keep a focus on the genre/subgenre/historical period that this blog started off with, before I became distracted by all the other sorts of music I listen to. I think the Tumblr is a good way to condense down that side of Hardcore for Nerds and Reasons to Be Emo, etc., but also to cover some fairly important bands that I haven't gotten around to writing about on here.

The thing about Tumblr v. Blogger is that while, as I outlined in the previous post, I feel writing is an integral part of (full) blogging, tumble-logging or 'micro-blogging' is more immediate - superficial, almost, but beneath that surface is a world of links to other sites; either in the form of reblogged content from those users who do have the concision of writing style to match the constraints of the format, or to existing, long-form posts from this blog (and probably some others).

The issue of how Tumblr handles content, when you actually get to use the interface, is quite interesting. Though you can select a pure text post (and I think you can then add pictures, but they need to be already hosted), the main options I've used so far are the audio and picture posts, which include text as an optional extra. Theoretically Blogger works that way as well, but I've become so used to carefully constructing posts with stylesheets, paragraph layouts, and multiple pictures and streaming clips that 'micro-blogging' feels really fresh and new.

Tumblr allows one audio clip to be uploaded per day (and no more than 10MB so sorry, no 'A Will Remains in the Ashes' or 'Unrepairable Gentleness' from Envy unless you want them in 92kps or less). Although I've been supplementing that with externally hosted files (from Fileden, on this blog), I intend structuring the new format around one new band each day, time permitting. Tomorrow I'm thinking Moss Icon.

- A large debt must go to scott pgwp's oft-mentioned and excellent Do You Compute for pioneering this field of nostalgia [micro-]blogging (although it's only vicarious nostalgia for me); he gets the first reblog for Hoover's 'Pretender', in return for a previous nod to the Genealogy Project.

- 'Hardcore for Nerds, on Tumblr' - I wanted to keep the same name really only in broad terms, but couldn't think of any snappier recombination of what is I think an already rather streamlined moniker - is still at the experimental stage, and may yet prove to be ephemeral, so any comments, suggestions or tips are especially welcome. I'm only half the process, whatever the format or the medium.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Envy - Insomniac Doze

Envy - 'Further Ahead of Warp'

All photographs of the Insomniac Doze 2xLP - unfortunately sold out, according to the Temporary Residence Limited Catalog. Just sayin'.

Before I get on with the post for this excellent album (just listen to the rumbling bass, and trilling post-rock guitar, of the opening song above), a short service announcement...


The Hardcore for Nerds (Retrospective) Manifesto, with exposition:

  • to present music accompanied by writing; there are plenty of album blogs with little content other than download links, so basing myself on my original inspiration, I try to offer description and explanation of music that I think other people would like to hear. The aim is for it to be well-written, thoughtful and (to a degree) personal, but not an objective review - every album I put up here I already really like. At the same time, I want to show that I like this music for a reason, and that means putting it in context - genres, movements, history, and art.
  • to present music accompanied by images; while music can be (and mostly is) enjoyed purely through sound, the aesthetic benefit of visual artwork is integral to its full enjoyment. Also, the internet is primarily a visual medium and text cannot generally be presented on its own. Therefore, I try at least to provide a decent-sized cover (400x400 pixels) for each album. Vinyl - I've owned a turntable for just over a year - is especially well suited to visual aesthetics, and when I'm feeling artistic I like to try out my minor interest in photography on the sleeves, records and insets.
  • to provide music accessibly and responsibly; of course, words and pictures can be no substitute for the music itself, and it is in this sense that the internet is the most revolutionary for the transmission of new and old styles, artists and releases. I believe in the continuing and central importance of the 'album' in music, hence the full-album downloads instead of individual tracks - that's how I like to try out and hear new music. However, for the sake of immediacy, I've also been using streaming (full-song) clips in the past while, so you can listen to the band directly. On the flip-side of accessible music is the responsibility to support the artists and labels involved; I believe that "buy it if you like it" is implied with every download, at least where practical (and where you do really like it). To encourage an ethical approach of that kind, I try to include a link to the band and/or label website, and (legal download site) eMusic where available, and likewise to the Dublin city and online store of Road Records. Furthermore, I avoid posting full downloads of current (past year) album releases, although paradoxically a simple Google Blogs or Sordo db search will quickly lead you to at least the most popular ones.


Envy's 2006 album, Insomniac Doze, represented a significant shift from the almost genre-defining, 2001 release A Dead Sinking Story (one of my top six punk albums of the 21st century), itself a significant development in the expanse and nuance of the group's style from All The Footprints You've Ever Left Behind And The Fear Expecting Ahead (1999). Between these three full-lengths there is a fairly rapid evolution by the Japanese band from screamo to post-rock, and for many people Insomniac Doze goes too far in the post-rock dimension. For me, however, it's a great album in both categories, and deserving of almost as much praise as A Dead Sinking Story for creating the uniquely epic and intense Envy sound.

That's not to say I don't understand other people's criticism of this album, though I don't always agree with them. Pitchfork's 6.3 review took issue with the album's relative somnolence, describing it as "mild enough for the dentist's office", whereas I really enjoy its epic, cinematic tones. Nick from Worship and Tribute's generally very positive review for Sputnikmusic has a gripe with its "harmonic vapidity" and otherwise unadventurous musicianship; I have to agree that listening to A Dead Sinking Story, it seems much more musically creative in certain ways. As he says, it's "a trade-off; I like their ability to build huge passages out of simple, slowly repeating chord progressions, but I dislike the plodding feeling of it all"; though I find that the simplicity is mirrored by emotional intensity, the post-rock side just a part of the adapted screamo style.

'Scene' (video)

Though I came to A Dead Sinking Story some years after the fact, I was eagerly anticipating the release of its follow-up. 'Scene' was the first song - in the form of this video - that I heard, and it was really a microcosm of the issues raised by the whole album. Expecting more of the really crushing heaviness of A Dead Sinking Story alongside that same album's quietitude, what 'Scene' presented was a far slower build-up to a more muted crescendo. On the album itself, 'Further Ahead of Warp' is a more energetic if broadly similar opening song, and 'Shield of Selflessness' is the closest Insomniac Doze gets to the shorter old-school Envy style of hardcore.

'Scene' is the statement of the new Envy, which is really just an adaptation of the old Envy, as the video makes clear. All in a blue monochrome blur, views of clouds in the ether are interspersed with shots of the band performing the song live, edging towards full catharsis mode. It's the combination of the cinematic with the electric which makes Insomniac Doze work so well, long arcs of harmony mixed with smooth crescendos of angst.


Right after 'Scene' comes this next post-rock song, so epic that it takes up a whole side of one LP (as does the next one, 'Unknown Glow'). 'Crystallize' is in many ways more cinematic, and certainly more artistic, than 'Scene'. As discussed previously, it's got an insistent melody that reminds me of 'Soon' from My Bloody Valentine's archetypal Loveless, and I think that Insomniac Doze as a whole has a strong shoegaze feel to it. More importantly, 'Crystallize' signals a new interest by Envy in simple, yet arty, melodic songs that continues into their more recent, shorter releases, such as Abyssal and songs like 'Life Caught in the Rain' and 'Conclusion of Existence' from the Jesu split.

'Night in Winter'

Although 'Further Ahead of Warp', 'Scene' and 'Crystallize' I think provide ample proof of Insomniac Doze's brilliance, it wouldn't be right not to include anything from the second LP of the album. The ten-minute long 'Unknown Glow' is, like 'Scene', an epic movement of post-rock/screamo, at times almost quasi-classical, spanning the range from near-silence to aural near-destruction; 'A Warm Room' is an intense, cathartic closer with some of the most A Dead Sinking Story-like moments on the album. 'Night in Winter', however, is a particularly beautiful, atmospheric track to bridge the gap between Insomniac Doze's weightier moments.

Envy - Insomniac Doze (2006) (link via Zen and the Art of Face Punching)

Temporary Residence Limited

i wish this blog was more like tumblr that I could post like this more often.

let's see how this works out

Envy - 'Scene' from Insomniac Doze


"Envy is far from your run-of-the-mill "I just got dumped by my girlfriend of two weeks and want to kill myself" scene or image conscious, attention-whoring pop-punk "emo" facade; no sir, Envy represents something far more cerebral, personal, real. It's no wonder, then, that despite the language barrier, they've become renowned worldwide as one of the finest screamo bands on Earth.

Oh, and worth noting is that (despite their album names and song titles being in English) the vast majority of Envy's music is, in fact, in Japanese. Very poetic Japanese that you could learn a thing or two from, at that."

Proper post on the album coming up next.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Friday Video - Jape, I Was A Man; The Redneck Manifesto - Thirtysixsongs & Cut Your Heart Off From Your Head

Winner of the Choice Music Prize for the best Irish album of 2008, for Ritual. Well deserved, although the bookies should have been giving shorter odds than 6/1. See my Best of 2008: Year End November - featuring 'Phil Lynott'.

The Redneck Manifesto - 'Cut Your Heart Off...'

Richie Egan, aka Jape, also being the bass player for this fantastic Irish instrumental rock band. This is the double cd version of their first two albums, Thirtysixsongs (2001) and Cut Your Heart Off From Your Head (2002); a new release with new artwork (the above picture is the old version) is now on sale from Road Records for €9.99. If you liked Boxes, you'll probably like this (most of the songs are considerably heavier versions of the track above), and vice versa.

Normal posting to resume soon(ish).