Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Festive Bestuv/Best Of Best ofs 2008

1. Best-Of Roundups

2. 2009 Schedule


Recommended Blogroll Best-Ofs:

Failing the Rorschach Test: The Best Albums of 2008: from #30 to #21; #20; #19 ("and then eventually to #1). Example - "Fucked Up - The Chemistry of Common Life: There was a lot of good hardcore music released this year. This wasn't even in my top ten." Plenty of hardcore/punk/screamo/post-rock/crescendo-core...

Geek Down, Best of 2008: Rock Albums, including Grails, Shooting at Unarmed Men, Mogwai and Have A Nice Life plus one other. Also, Rap and 'Pop Art' albums.

The Prisonship: Bestuv 2008, pt. 1: Haven’t Heards, Haven’t Heard Enoughs, General Trends. Example, 'Haven't Heards' - "No Age: I dunno, Bob Mould likes it". Also including Zomes, Earth, 'shoegaze' - i.e. "lush, rich gtr-blankets draped over sex-vocals with the feet-cymbals peaking out from under them blankets".

Last Train to Cool/Worship and Tribute (Sputnikmusic writers)

Still waiting on: Zen and the Art of Face Punching (his Best of 2007 list, from February 2008!)

Irish blog lists:

Swear I'm Not Paul: Best of 2008: Irish Blogs & Publications, Update 6 - like Largeheartedboy's worldwide aggregate list, but actually manageable.

Nialler9's Irish Albums of 2008 Reader's Poll: Jape and Rarely Seen Above Ground (see HfN: Year End November) at #1 and #2, streets ahead of the rest; Fight Like Apes at #3, Chequerboard at #9, So Cow and Ham Sandwich at #15 and #16 respectively.

Those Geese Were Stupefied: Best of 2008, including Interlude 2: Homemade, stapled-together super-limited EP, So Cow - Wackity Schmackity Doo (Unreleased); and Interlude 3: Free Download, Dublin Duck Dispensary - Luanqibazao, review by Brian Kelly, a.k.a. So Cow - example: "It's been tagged as no-fi. Incorrect. This is fi. It's pop-fi and it's smile-fi. It's gallop-fi and it's fist-fi."

Best Combined Post-Mcluskyite Inclusions in a List:

Gimme Tinnitus - Top 51 Downloadables of 2008 including Future of the Left, 'Adeadmanalwayssmellsgood' - "Award: Best awesomeness of the year" and Shooting At Unarmed Men, 'Boredom Is The Feeling That Everything Is A Waste Of Time' - "Award: Best song that took for fucking ever to be released in the states of the year".

Best/Most Inappropriate Description of Ham Sandwich - Carry The Meek:

Egoeccentric, Evil Bob's Best of 2008: "6. ...Ham Sandwich's first album mixes perfectly the female vocals of surprise preggers Niamh Farrell and fucking mentaller Podge McNamee to make some great pop-rock tunes. Great stuff all round."

(and thus) The Two Best Albums Of The Year That Almost Nobody's Heard (Yet):


Carry the Meek.zip

(If you like, buy: Shootingatunarmedmen.com, Eathamsandwich.com)


Best of Albums of 2006*, including:

Envy, Insomniac Doze

Shooting At Unarmed Men, Yes! Tinnitus!

Si Schroeder, Coping Mechanisms

The Bouncing Souls, The Gold Record

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Show Your Bones

*because it takes a year to hear about all the really good albums, and another year to appreciate them properly.

Looking forward to in 2009:

Dan Deacon, Bromst

and So Cow Greatest Hits LP

and Bats - split 7" with Fist Fite and forthcoming full-length album.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Regulator Watts - The Aesthetics of No-Drag

(Image from Jason Farrell's design site - various other, larger pictures online have the colour tones messed up so this is the best one I found. Jason Farrell also did the design/layout for a whole lot of other Dischord/Slowdime and Hoover releases)

This is the last major part/post of the Hoover Genealogy Project. I'll come back to The Mercury CD at some other time, and possibly other releases by The Boom/The Sorts/Sea Tiger... and Frederick Erskine's Just a Fire, which is very good too. However, the essence of the Hoover family tree has been for me the trio of Abilene, Radio Flyer and Regulator Watts. Which essentially makes it the Alex Dunham tree, but oh man, can that guy play guitar. The main alternative branch is of course Frederick Erskine and Joe McRedmond in the Crownhate Ruin, who produced the closest thing there is to a 'follow-up' to Hoover's The Lurid Traversal of Route 7 in Until The Eagle Grins, and then the former of which who went on to do great things in June of 44, et al, before re-intersecting with the Dunham branch on Abilene's second album. Of course, there a plenty of other groups scattered in and around there, for example Sevens; and a couple of 7" releases by pre-Hoover groups Admiral and Fine Day, which I suggest you go to Proven Hollow's long-dormant blog to find, as that was only where I heard about them myself.

The list of posts in the Hoover Genealogy Project so far:

13. Hoover - 'Side Car Freddie' b/w 'Cable'

12. Live on WFMU: Hoover, Lincoln and Crownhate Ruin

11. The Sorts, Sea Tiger - 'How Did You Get There', 'Theme Song' 7"s

10. Abilene - Two Guns, Twin Arrows

9. The Crownhate Ruin - Until The Eagle Grins

8. The Crownhate Ruin: Vol. 1-3

7. Abilene - s/t - (after eggcityradio.com)

6. The Boom - Movin' Out

5. [The Hoover Mixtape]

4. Radio Flyer - In Their Strange White Armor

3. Regulator Watts - 'New Low Moline' 7"

2. Hoover/Lincoln - Two-Headed Coin 7"

1. Hoover - s/t reunion EP

Regulator Watts came into the series early on with the 'Rocket to Chicago'/'New Low Moline' 7", also part of the 1998 Mercury CD. I guess I held off posting the first full-length until I could better absorb and thus transmit it, while the two-song 7" is a much more accessible way to get into Regulator Watt's high-octane sound. However, there are two songs from The Aesthetics of No-Drag which work well as an introduction to the album: the opening track, 'Mercurochrome', and the album standout, 'The Ballad of St. Tinnitus'.

Regulator Watts - 'Mercurochrome'

'Mercurochrome' is an opener of the kind that condenses down the intensity of Lurid Traversal's 'Distant' and cranks up the volume on Radio Flyer's 'Allied' into a whole other level of high-powered, electrified post-hardcore. Lyrics on a variation of "old grandads got my number/sinking highballs/hit me with it my mind/blind at the same time" added to the fact that mercurochrome, as I understand it, is another name for iodine (i.e., the disinfectant applied to wounds) makes this a particularly painful song. At the very start, 'Mercurochrome' is almost entirely a wash of screeching, atonal guitar noise, temporarily interrupted by a noisy rhythm and more conventional, rockish structure, but returning to its jagged, unreconstructed sound throughout.

The sense of barely controlled chaos is practically a cliche in Hoover-related bands, but 'Mercurochrome' puts it to especially vivid and immediate use; as do the following songs, '20th Century Ltd.' and - after a brief interlude of quiet instrumentation in 'Halifax' - the hypnotic, penetrating 'Candy Bullet O'. As is often the case with three-piece groups, Regulator Watts have the capability to create a lot of noise and abandon within each song, accentuated by the piercing, practically tortured sounds of Alex Dunham's guitar. 'Seedtick East' lays off on the punk rock fury with a calmer, slightly dub-influenced track which opens with an almost train-like boom and echoing, distant drums and vocals.

Regulator Watts - 'The Ballad of St. Tinnitus'

Even more traumatic than 'Mercurochrome'. Coming off the last swipe of guitar feedback in 'Seedtick East', 'The Ballad of St. Tinnitus' opens quietly, over a heavy drum pattern and a climbing guitar line that suddenly soars into ear-shattering volume: "I lost my mother to the needle, my father to the bottle" (though the lyrics sheet doesn't use the pronoun 'I') "let the people sing...". In 'The Ballad of St. Tinnitus' the harsh guitar sound developed over the previous tracks - and indeed, in Radio Flyer and Hoover - reaches its point of greatest refinement and intensity. 'Tinnitus' - the common affliction of those exposed to loud noise - is painfully beautiful music, a beat by beat, minute by minute attack on the conventions of rock sound, and a statement of distorted purity in art and artifice.

'Pemberton Red' works perfectly as more subdued follow-up, rather reminiscent of the calmer, yet tense, explorations of Radio Flyer. Alex Dunham's voice has a noticeably broken quality to it, almost as if injured and withdrawn from the exertions of 'St. Tinnitus', yet still enveloped in the rolling, accented rhythms of the song. 'Chechero' is another instrumental, atmospheric interlude, repeated on The Mercury CD at greater length. In The Aesthetics of No-Drag it leads into another slow-building but hard-hitting rocker, 'Eleven', which handles the quiet-loud transition and ultimate, cathartic crescendo in a very Hoover-ish manner.

'False Idols', written by Seven's Bobby Sullivan (see Proven Hollow's post here) is the dubbest track of the album, and in fact redone as 'Version Idols' for the last track of The Mercury CD. Along with Hoover's 'Electrodux' and the 'Relectrolux/Electrodub' version on the reunion EP, 'False Idols' marks the overt inclusion of the influential dub sound within the post-hardcore style. With this in mind, 'Firecrackerjack Tippy' seems to start off as a ponderous exercise in that combination, a hazy, slow-moving rhythmic track interjected with swiping, melodic guitar phrases which grow louder and more emphatic as the song goes on. It's as much Radio Flyer, and even Abilene-ish, as it is Hoover-like, but it also includes the extra dissonant edge of the Regulators Watts sound.

A reprise of the earlier instrumental track, 'Halifax Hellbound' adds a momentary passage of grinding guitar before giving way the album's final track, the supremely intense and aggressive 'Witchduck' - a remarkable, fiery closer. As much as 'Mercurochrome' and 'The Ballad of St. Tinnitus', this song incorporates the disparate elements of rhythm, distortion, screaming vocals and disturbing atonality into a tight rock structure; in essence coming probably just as close to a total reconstruction of the Hoover aesthetic as the Crownhate Ruin did a year beforehand.

Regulator Watts - 'Witchduck'

Regulator Watts - The Aesthetics of No-Drag (1997) (via Kissmysoundsystem)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Slint - Glenn/Rhoda 10" and Mogwai - Batcat 12"

Slint - 'Glenn' (1994)

Slint - 'Rhoda' (1994)

Mogwai - 'Batcat' (2008)

Slint's EP contains, minute for minute, the best music of their slender but massively important output - Spiderland a greater, but far longer, opus of the early 90s Louisville sound and post-rock point of origin. (The songs were recorded in 1989, after Tweez, but were never released until after Spiderland, in 1993/4) For a description of these two two songs, allow me to return to one of the very earliest posts on this blog, written before going to see Slint performing Spiderland in Tripod, Dublin - at which 'Glenn' and 'Rhoda' were played as part of an extended encore:

"1. this EP almost perfectly bridges the fairly disparate sounds of Tweez (a lo-fi, desultory and crunchingly metallic album) and Spiderland (a twisting, epic and subtle masterpiece of post-rock). 'Glenn' rejuvenates the minimalistic sound of Tweez, tightening it up and adding an extra dimension of tension to the instrumental style. The song quickly builds up into a crescendo, which almost immediately goes nowhere, except to introduce an ominous humming sound... part reminiscent of the antagonistic noise of Tweez, part prescient of the eerie claustrophobia of Spiderland.

2. the music of this EP was for me the most 'accessible' part of Slint, coming as I was from a particular musical direction. Previously, I had an allergy to the whole aesthetic idea of post-rock or math-rock (don't worry, I'm on meds now... the doctors call them the mercury program). The song 'Rhoda', in no small way, helped change that. You see, I was listening to a lot of Maximillian Colby, which was a very heavily Slint-influenced emo/hardcore band, similar in vein to the Swing Kids or perhaps Clikatat Ikatowi. But Slint-influenced is not the same as Slint, so when I downloaded Tweez (the only Slint record Touch and Go have released on eMusic... insert conspiracy theory here) I was a little disappointed, not to say confused. Because this alternate version of 'Rhoda' is simply so much better than that entire album. Right from the starting notes, it is probably Slint's loudest song, performing a similar synthesis of styles to 'Glenn' but simultaneously amping the sound up several notches, drenching the spaces between jagged riffs in perfectly pitched feedback, descending into weird, metallic noise and finally collapsing into a droning whine..."

(Slint - "Glenn/Rhoda" EP, August 2007)

I can't believe I had "an allergy to the whole aesthetic idea of post-rock or math-rock", because it would make a listening to a lot of what I follow now very painful. The Mercury Program are a very good band, though. After that post was the review of the gig itself, still probably the best I've seen in the last 18 months (including the Dinosaur Jr. reunion tour and Battles, twice, with the only real challenge being seeing Si Schroeder live for the first time as well).

"3. When they started playing the first few bars of 'Breadcrumb Trail', it sounded like the most familiar thing in the world. This was basically like listening to the album, but better in every way. Or if you were able to listen to the album at tremendous volume, in a room full of people, maybe that... The first sequence of 'Breadcrumb Trail' and 'Nosferatu Man' was pretty damn rocking, and then they slowed it down a bit for 'Don, Aman', when the two guitars came and sat opposite each other on stools in the middle of the stage. Halfway through 'Washer' I was thinking, maybe now I understand a little bit more what Indian Summer felt 'with the needle dragging the end of the slint lp', and where they took a lot of their sound from. The same with 'For Dinner' and the echoes of Max Colby... not really that all those bands are derivative, but that Slint just created this massively important aesthetic. Finally, with 'Good Morning, Captain', we were left with "I MISS YOU!!!" reverberating in our ears, and wondering... what happens now?

4. They played 'Glenn' and 'Rhoda'! That is, after playing Spiderland in its entirety, they played the Glenn/Rhoda EP in its entirety. I was pretty stoked to hear the album, and that would in itself have made the gig awesome, but hearing those two songs live just blew me away. Especially after just writing a review of those songs, to hear them so unexpectedly was memorable to say the least. Mind you, I used to think 'Glenn' was a quiet song. Not so live, however... 'Rhoda' was also upgraded to "earth-shattering". Just awesome."

(Slint - Live @ Tripod, Dublin)

Since then, I bought a record player, and pretty much along with it, a vinyl copy of Spiderland (the way it's meant to be heard). Later on this year, new reprints of the self-titled/'Glenn'/'Rhoda' EP, whatever you want to call it, arrived in the shops. I have to say the difference in quality - in audio terms and in the general experience - is less easily discernible than with Spiderland. Hence, the streaming clips are just ripped from the CD version. However, the pure aesthetics of the EP are enhanced by the 10" version, from the film noir-ish cover art (supposedly inspired by this 1992 book of NYPD crime scene photographs) to the unnamed, crimson-soaked pictorial side A/side B labels on the record itself.

(Click to expand)

A further enchancement of this most perfect encapsulation of the Slint sound and energy came also with the 2008 release of Mogwai's 'Batcat' EP for their current album The Hawk Is Howling. What a 'batcat' is, I don't know - visual, visceral horrorshows aside - but Mogwai did follow in the footsteps of another Slint (okay, Albini/Shellac) influenced band, Mclusky, with their song titles. And yes, that's not a hawk on the album (or at least it doesn't look like one), and no, it's not howling. But 'Batcat' the song is a condensed epic of post-metal, crushingly heavy, noise-making guitars and intricate post-rock composition, which immediately reminds me of Slint's 'Rhoda', the re-worked version.

It's not just 'Batcat', the second track on the full album after the winding, harmonious 'I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead', that makes the EP worthwhile, however. Two tracks on the flipside to 'Batcat', 'Stupid Prick Gets Chased By The Police and Loses His Slut Girlfriend' and 'Devil Rides', showcase Mogwai's less intense, more subtly crafted post-rock soundscapes, in a sort of combined 'Glenn' to Batcat's 'Rhoda'. The upfront heaviness of the EP is in some ways mirrored by the accessibility of the full-length, for all its sprawling, double-LP expanse:

"...Mogwai's sound on The Hawk Is Howling is in the style of their last few albums. The melodies on The Hawk Is Howling are direct and overt. It's grown man, heart-on-their-sleeve music without being veiled in pretense--probably why it got a 4 on Pitchfork. When Mogwai get heavy, they sound like Tool. And it rules. Mogwai are a great rock band because they sound honest."

(josephlovesit, Geek Down - Best of 2008: Rock Albums)

Slint - Touch and Go / Quarterstick Records

Slint 10" at Road Records

Mogwai - Matador Records

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Asobi Seksu - Merry Christmas (I Don't Want To Fight Tonight) 7"

Side A - 'Merry Christmas (I Don't Want To Fight Tonight)'

Side B - 'New Years'

For last year's Christmas post, I gave you the Guinness seasonal television ad and Weezer's Pinkerton/Hiroshige's 'Night Sky at Kambara' (the cover picture of that album). This year, I've already given you The Snowman cartoon, and now here's an Asobi Seksu 7" of the Ramones 1987 song 'Merry Christmas (I Don't Want To Fight Tonight)'.

Download (vinyl rip)

(Click pictures to increase size)

Asobi Seksu, based around the guitar of James Hanna and the vocals of Yuki Chikudate, combine the two elements of 60s girl-pop (another 7" of theirs is an original, 'Stay Awake' b/w 'And Then He Kissed Me' by The Crystals) and shoegaze into a fantastic modern indie-rock/punk-pop band. The Spector-ised pop-punk is resonant with the Ramones themselves (End of the Century is a favourite album of theirs for me) but also with current bands like Glasgow's Camera Obscura or Brooklyn's Vivian Girls. At the same time, the shoegaze reaches level of sheer indulgence and My Bloody Valentine-worship - nearly always a good thing - particularly on the second album Citrus. 'New Years' is one of the best tracks on that album, too.

Though I was familiar with some of their songs already, probably from the radio, it was hearing the 'Stay Awake'/'And Then He Kissed Me' 7" via Burning Down The Dreams of Forever that hooked me on the band. The author of that blog, Sweet Baby Jaysus or just 'Jay', is also the author of the quote/mission statement in the top right corner of this site. He also tour managed for Asobi Seksu in the US, and below is a picture from his collection of him and Yuki:

Asobi Seksu on Polyvinyl

Asobi Seksu on eMusic (incl. 7"s)

Band website/myspace

Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

At the End of a Fucked Up Holiday: Punk Rock 1998-2008

Pennywise - 'Badge of Pride' (Straight Ahead, 1999)

Fucked Up - 'Son the Father' (The Chemistry of Common Life, 2008)

(the post title comes from a mis-remembered line in the Embrace song, 'End of a Year'. It would be a mixtape post, except for the fact that there's nothing in between those two songs that I really want to include - and therein lies the rub, and the 'holiday')

This isn't an anti-Fucked Up post, or an anti-hardcore post. It's a pro-punk rock post, and a pro-progressive punk rock post. I do think that the current Fucked Up album is overrated, but I also think that the importance of things being overrated is, well, overrated. So my aim is not to denigrate that album, but to put it into some sort of perspective.

'Badge of Pride' is the song that got me into punk and hardcore, via Punk-O-Rama #5 (2000). That album, Straight Ahead (1999), still stands up for me today, as does its predecessor, Full Circle (1997). In that respects, it's thus the first and the last straightforward - however melodic or 'poppy' it might otherwise be considered - hardcore song in my listening history.

At the time, "Hardcore 'til the day I die" seemed to me the most impossible ambition, philosophically speaking, but also the most sincere musical statement that I had ever heard. Some of the lyrics became gradually more problematic as I grew older - for example, how do you square "Say what you wanna say I'm not listening anyway" with a liberal, progressive and democratic political outlook? It's not impossible - part of the sincerity of hardcore/punk is the expression of attitudes in conflict with, as well as in support of, idealism - but it is difficult, and I think it's that tension, above and beyond purely sonic issues, that drives the typical listener, from across generations, along the line from hardcore to post-hardcore.

Beginning with this post and this post, I attempted to address a fellow blogger's contention - urbanology - that Refused's 1998 album The Shape of Punk Come marked the last really great hardcore/punk record. I came up with a personal list of, broadly, post-hardcore and screamo albums from the last decade, or part of it. For me at least, those six records (from Hot Water Music, American Steel, Mclusky, Envy, La Quiete and Sinaloa/Ampere) covers the main movements in 'new sounds' that have kept punk and hardcore fresh. Even this year, which hasn't exactly been spectacular for punk - with the exception of the one album featured above - has provided new variations on the post-hardcore and screamo fronts from Have A Nice Life, Loma Prieta and ...Who Calls So Loud; as well as my personal favourite punk album of the year from Shooting at Unarmed Men.

Mostly for the reasons outlined above, there is an almost complete bias amongst those choices away from straight-up hardcore. Upon posting the list, I was encouraged to go listen to Modern Life is War's outstanding 2005 album Witness - which is of superb quality, but still not quite my thing. And more recently, urbanology returns - to 1998 - with the twin brother to Refused's The Shape of Punk Come, Abhinanda's Rumble. This record, also from Umea, Sweden, represents another side of the same end-of-the-century movement:

"In retrospect this period with its releases, its shows and the lyrics, the whole scene seems like the climax of the new school hardcore in Europe; soon after that the music changed and hardcore-music got more into metal and tough guy shit, while the scene that held up the ideals of punk and hardcore (sometimes in a very dogmatic way) branched off the limited possibilities of the music. The last records from Abhinanda and Refused are a good symbol of it. Both bands told in many interviews, that after their releases from 1996 they fell into a black hole and soon started to search for a new way, in music and expression in general. Refused undoubtedly went to the highest step with “the shape of punk to come“, the epitaph and throne of that sound in one. A few weeks after the release, and I hope I remember it the right way, also after Refused split up, Abhinanda released Rumble. A superb record, still with a hardcore basis, but with typical Swedish garage rock’n’roll influences and thirst for experimentation. The songs are rocking like hell, not as arty as Refused, more directly, but not losing the hardcore spirit, the rage, the desperation and the hope."

Rumble is very good, undoubtedly, and an interesting artefact from an overlooked scene, but it also sounds rather dated. A decade old, and it sounds quintessentially like an album from late 90s punk and hardcore. Now we've moved on, far beyond the Epitaph sound and its apogee with The Shape of Punk to Come. Post-hardcore and epic screamo - each one and two decades old already, at least - define the alternative edge of contemporary punk. While I'm partial to some more traditional hardcore, I don't mourn its absence, in stylistic rather than innately spiritual forms, from 2008.

Which brings me directly to Fucked Up, The Chemistry of Common Life. I'll begin by saying that it is a good record, even a very good record - but only potentially, or a slight possibility of being, a great record. In terms of hipster criticism, it makes an impressive #2 in the AV Club list, and a slightly more realistic #17 in the Pitchfork Top 50. Interestingly, in the latter #16 is the Vivian Girls s/t, and #15 the Crystal Castles s/t; both albums arguably more punk, subversive, and creative whilst being - respectively - catchily pop and vapidly electro.

The problem - for me - with The Chemistry of Common Life is that it's being held up as the absolute height of art-punk experimentation, as the apotheosis of post-hardcore. Yet when I hear it, it's a quasi-thrashy hardcore record with a (really) nice guitar sound and songs that extend past five minutes. Those songs are good - they have intelligent lyrics, great hooks, and generally a very agreeable mid-tempo pacing. The growling vocals absolutely don't bother me at all, as anyone who normally listens to hardcore is already familiar with that particular aesthetic.

Essentially, Fucked Up is a surprisingly normal hardcore record, admittedly with a lot of bells and whistles, and an arty gloss that makes it attractive (and this is a really good thing) to people who wouldn't normally listen to hardcore/punk. At base, there isn't then that much difference between the three-and-a-half minute long song from Pennywise above, and the six-and-a-half minute one from Fucked Up - apart from a misperception of the genre of hardcore, or the development of post-hardcore.

When looking for the development of punk rock since Refused - or as Pitchfork takes it back to, Husker Du's New Day Rising - it's to the side genres that the true aficianado turns: the sound of Revolution Summer and all the tunes that this blog originally focused on; this century, the noise-rock of Mclusky or the epic screamo of Envy; in 2008, the post-punk of Shooting at Unarmed Men or the latest developments in post-rock and screamo; or, slightly more commercially, Vivian Girls and Crystal Castles (perversely, I'll stick with them rather than the somewhat dull No Age). Making a melodic hardcore album not only just doesn't cut it for the most progressive record this decade, but also reflects the basic, straightforward hardcore sound - still valid, and still enjoyable - that all the really exciting albums moved away from.

- a guy called Clint got in touch about his sorta-melodic-hardcore band from Toronto that isn't Fucked Up, but who have a very nice EP/album available for download. It's called Outsourced from the New Enemy, and you can get it at their website here. And in case you're wondering, I don't usually do this sort of promo stuff, but in this case I just really like their sound.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Friday Video: Shooting at Unarmed Men on Radio Dingbat

Despite them producing my album of the year, I don't really know all that much about Shooting at Unarmed Men. So this interview from a podcast series site in Australia (where the group is based) is interesting to me at least. The live segments are pretty exciting too:

114: Shooting at Unarmed Men

The angry, spiteful, but undeniably comic music of Jon Chapple’s Shooting At Unarmed Men project is the feature of this weeks episode. Jon discusses the recording of his latest album Triptych, his approach to song writing, the bands numerous line-up changes, and his thoughts on life as a musician post-Mclusky. This interview and performance were filmed at the bands August 11 2007 performance at the Rosemount Hotel.


And that other band that Jon Chapple was in? Here's a little taster of their live performance:

('friends stoning friends', 2001)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Lydia Lunch/Suicide - Frankie Teardrop 10"

Lydia Lunch - 'Frankie Teardrop' (originally from Suicide - Suicide, 1977)

This is the latest release from the Alan Vega 70th Birthday Limited Edition EP Series from BLAST First (petite), the same as Bruce Springsteen's cover of 'Dream Baby Dream'. This one won't get as much attention - that post of mine got picked up by Metafilter - but if anything, Lydia Lunch, from the original No-Wave movement, is best placed to cover probably Suicide's most aggressive song:

"Lydia Lunch.

Known to Rev & Vega as the Baby Faced Killer who they so kindly chaperoned through that lost downtown night world crucible from where both their futuristic, and highly influential, black arts would be born.

Artistic Kings & Queens from the dumpster side of town.

Lydia gets all wet and dirty with thought of what young Frankie Teardrop might do to her, over a twisted frug of an electronic beat-nicked soundscape by David Knight."

(BLAST First (petite))

Yeah, if you read that last part - best not play this in the streets, it might frighten the horses. The transition from male to female vocals - equally unconventional in the original and cover, and both intensely carnal in their own ways - and the more 21st-century sounding backing track makes this a really good updated version of 'Frankie Teardrop'.

Of course, the original is pretty untouchable, and the 'Frankie Teardrop, the Detective vs. The Space Alien' extended demo version which, while interesting enough in itself, is still a far cry echoey scream from the finished version we all know and fear:

"...We're all Frankies

We're all lying in hell"

The cover image is very real: an X-ray from a knife attack in November 2007 on a 16-year old boy in London (he survived) that was released to the press by the Metropolitan Police.

(Click to expand images)

10" vinyl available from Cargo Records

Downloads from BLAST First (petite) on eMusic - this particular release isn't up yet, but the Springsteen and Horrors ('Shadazz') are

Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday Sound and Video - 'Walking in the Air'; late winter schedule

If anybody reading this is an Anglophile, you should love this. If you're British or even Irish, you should already know it (and made up your opinion on it). It is (or at least the first four minutes of it are) the song 'Walking in the Air' from the animated children's film The Snowman:

"'Walking in the Air' is a song written by Howard Blake for the 1982 animated film of Raymond Briggs' 1976 children's book The Snowman. In the film the song was performed by St. Paul's Cathedral choirboy Peter Auty. For the subsequent single release, which reached number five in the UK pop charts, the vocals were sung by Welsh chorister Aled Jones, who became a popular celebrity on the strength of his performance...

The song forms the centrepiece of The Snowman, which has become a seasonal perennial on British television. The story relates the fleeting adventures of a young boy, and a snowman who has come to life. In the second part of the story, the boy and the snowman fly to the North Pole. "Walking in the Air" is the theme for the journey. They attend a party of snowmen, at which the boy is the only human. They meet Father Christmas and his reindeer, and the boy is given a scarf with a snowman pattern."


The story was enchanting for me as a child, though a temperate climate and global warming have meant I've hardly ever experienced a 'White Christmas' (I've experienced snow, of course, just usually in January or February and often only up in the hills). 'Walking in the Air', with all its fantastical beauty and choral grace, is a little bit like 'Silent Night' or other religious Christmas songs, although The Snowman is completely secular: simply a reflection of the domestic, rustic even, non-commercial experience of Christmas,which has itself become part of seasonal popular culture in Britain and beyond.

The song has strong pre-Christmas connotation as well, though, because in Ireland it has been used for years as part of An Post advert for Christmas stamps, which obviously starts showing early in December. Unfortunately that clip (which uses an excerpt of the film) isn't on YouTube, but you can watch the full film, in better quality than the video above, introduced by David Bowie, that king of pop and oddly quaint British culture (see the film Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (aka 'Senjou no Merii Kurisumasu', aka Furyo). The 'Walking in the Air' song itself is spread between further sections 2 and 3.

In continuance of the spirit of giving, here's a sort-of Christmas song from that dude who played electric viola in the Velvet Underground:

John Cale - 'A Child's Christmas in Wales' from Paris 1919 (1973)


However, since it is a bit early for all this, be assured that I should have something far more punk rock (and vinyl) to post closer to Christmas. In the meantime, the schedule should also include these following posts:

- Pennywise vs. Fucked Up: Punk Rock 1998-2008 (a follow-up to The Shape of Punk To Come: 2001-2007)

- Lydia Lunch - 'Frankie Teardrop' 10" (same series as the Springsteen/Suicide record I posted back in October)

- Regulator Watts - The Aesthetic of No-Drag and The Mercury CD (continuing, and indeed concluding the major part of, the Alex Dunham guitar-melting part of the Hoover Genealogy Project, after handing over the Fred Erskine/June of 44 side to Time Isn't On My Side)

- Slint - 'Glenn'/'Rhoda' 10" and Mogwai - 'Batcat' 12" (this one's been dragging on for a while, and The Hawk is Howling doesn't seem to be ranking very highly in year-end lists thus far; but - obviously the important thing - I do have some nice photographs of these records. Plus 'Batcat' is still an amazing song)

- Possibly some more end-of-year mixtapes, more genre-specific (e.g. best of punk). However, I'll try and wait for more lists to be put up by other people, so I can get the fullest inspiration, range of inputs, etc.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The (rest of the) Best of 2008 Pt. 2 - with words

Hardcore for Nerds: The Best of 2008 Mixtape, Part 2

('Jingle Bells & Snow Drifts')

Total: 29.6 mins


7. Cold War Kids - 'Every Valley Is Not A Lake' - 3:34

8. The Gaslight Anthem - 'The Patient Ferris Wheel' - 3:34

9. Chequerboard - 'Toy Winds' - 3:53

10. So Cow - 'Shackleton' - 3:54

11. Foals - 'Olympic Airways' - 4:19

12. Envy - 'Conclusion of Existence' - 5:08

13. Fight Like Apes - 'Snore Bore Whore' - 5:20

Welcome to the doppelganger of Zeitgeist II - part two, the lower half of Hardcore for Nerd's top dozen (plus one) albums of 2008. These are the - at least -'very good' records; yet, although perhaps not reaching the excellence of the top six, they have many of their own moments of the sublime.

I've created a different coloured cassette in part because says-it doesn't have a 'side 2', but also because there's a sort of yin-yang division between the two mixes. Pt. 1 was the (comparatively) hard-rocking, propulsive and at times dissonantly erupting side; Pt. 2 is groovier and more expansive, though, at times, equally sonically dissolute - and on this basis, it has the festive subtitle 'Jingle Bells and Snow Drifts'.

Pt. 1 was almost exclusively guitar rock; Pt. 2 (excepting, mostly, the jazzy rhythms of Cold War Kids or the Springsteen-esque pop of The Gaslight Anthem) shades towards electronic sounds. Given those admittedly not completely sharp contrasts, there is also another important element of the yin-yang separation: the containment within each part of its opposite - the little oppositely-coloured dots in the tradtional ying-yang symbol. So, while on the one hand the first mix had the ambient sounds bleeding into Grails 'Natural Man', on the other this mix features the explosive, dissonant guitar freakout of So Cow's 'Shackleton'.

1. Cold War Kids, 'Every Valley Is Not a Lake' from Loyalty to Loyalty

(Category: Alt-Americana (Jazz-Blues subcategory) Album of the Year - Runners Up, The Black Keys - Attack and Release)

"every sermon is not the gospel, babe,

let me put it another way, every valley is not a lake"

From Robbers and Cowards to Loyalty to Loyalty there is a huge improvement, but also a strong strain of familiarity. Cold War Kids have made a better album with better songs all round, but their sound - piano-laden hooks, trilling guitar, bluesy rhythms and disjointed construction - is still the same. Particularly, if you wanted singer Nathan Willett to dial down his wassailing, you'll be disappointed. For me, it's an essential part of the band: that edge of sonic anarchy and extra touch of expressiveness. In part, he's a guy channelling female blues singers, or channelling Jeff Buckley channelling female blues singers (and no, he's nowhere near as melodious... but it works better this, the dissonnant, way). 'Every Valley Is Not a Lake' isn't the strongest example of that factor, but insofar as it does display the vocal experimentations of Loyalty to Loyalty, it blends well with the expressionist lyrics and jangly blues-pop to make a very fine song.

2. The Gaslight Anthem, 'The Patient Ferris Wheel' from The '59 Sound

(Category: Alt-Americana (Springsteen subcategory) Record of the Year - Runners Up, Bruce Springsteen - 'Dream Baby Dream', The Constantines - Kensington Heights)

Noel Murray, Popless - 30 favorite songs of 2008:

"It took me a spin or two to get used to the pop-punk polish and relentlessly anthemic nature of The '59 Sound, but I kept returning because the songs are so catchy—like Bruce Springsteen's Born In The U.S.A. as recorded by The Bouncing Souls"

I've been following Noel Murray's 'Popless' column over at the AV Club throughout 2008, and at times intrigued, inspired, baffled and amused by his alphabetical trawl through modern popular music. Plus, of course, finding wonderfully apt descriptions of artists I myself know quite well - of which this is one. The song he chose, incidentally, was 'Miles Davis and the Cool' which I used for the Year End November selection. In the end of the column, furthermore, it seems that other albums that Noel Murray was listening to this year included Human Bell and Future of the Left. A man of taste.

'The Patient Ferris Wheel' perhaps shows up the Bouncing Souls, Jerseyite punk-pop influence even more. If the Gaslight Anthem have their limitations, then the only really pertinent one is that The '59 Sound is a surrogate for the successor to 2006's The Gold Record by the Bouncing Souls, or Anchors Aweigh (more refined in its Springsteen-ism) or even (anthemic pop-punk masterpiece) How I Spent My Summer Vacation. For the moment, however, there's

"standing in the Jersey rain

thinking about what an old man said

maybe I should call me an ambulance

I've never felt so strange

standing in the pounding rain..."

3. Chequerboard, 'Toy Winds' from Penny Black

(Category: Electronic Album of the Year - Runners Up, Rarely Seen Above Ground - Organic Sampler, Matmos - Supreme Balloon)

It's been a pleasure to come back to this album again after marking it up for consideration in April. Even better, it seems to be cropping up quite frequently in comment submissions for Nialler9's Irish Albums and Songs Poll 2008. The winner two years ago was Si Schroeder's Coping Mechanisms, which I've discussed on this blog before, and of which there are certain echoes in Penny Black. 'Toy Winds' is the concluding track, which showcases perfectly the two elements of Chequerboard's sound: classical guitar lilts and glitchy electronic beats. Atmospheric music made extraordinarily visual (the creator, John Lambert, is a professional graphic artist as well) with the stunning artwork, and the conflictingly nostalgic sense of wistful Victoriana put to dubstep, in a loose sense, and meticulously crafted electronic sounds in general.

4. So Cow, 'Shackleton' from I'm Siding With My Captors

(Category: Irish Release of the Year Pt. 2 - Runners Up, Bats - Cruel Sea Scientist, Halves - Haunt Me When I'm Drowsy, Heathers - Here, Not There)

It's a bit disappointing, now, to hear So Cow backed with a drum machine - after seeing the current rhythm section in action, live - but it works, or is at least excused, here in I'm Siding With My Captors' mini-epic love song 'Shackleton' and its journey from minimum to max. It has its own "personification, exposition and tragic irony" all within its opening three, or even two, minutes: as the songwriter-within-a-song drafts his masterpiece, only to strip it all back down again, to the beat of a tinny drum machine and what sounds like a miniature organ; and haaving "paid the cellist for his time", all that's left is a heartful plea "one day I'll write the song that you require, and until then lalala [guitar noise]". Repeat, and close. Beautiful.

5. Foals, 'Olympic Airways' from Antidotes

(Category: Indie Album of the Year pt. 2 - Runners Up, Crystal Castles who were on Skins too)

A further stretch of finely crafted indie electronica, Foals 'Olympic Airways' is among at least a handful of other brilliantly constructed songs from Antidotes, the album that immediately separated Foals from being just another angular post-punk band, that happened to be on Skins playing one of their (now) duller tracks, 'Hummer', and showed them to be something altogether more interesting. After all, Radiohead's 'Nude' was used as almost the entire basis for the second season trailer of Skins - which was, televisually, also very interesting - but no-one goes around calling them 'Skinscore'. The breathy tension, the ably created mood of experimentation, and the obvious catchiness, make this track out to be what Q and not U's Power could have been had it taken another, equally valid direction. There's a certain post-rockiness to the sparse guitar lines, and the slightly over-predictable crescendo, but overall they are superficial elements to the underlying stylistic substance - nebulous, but affecting -of the track.

6. Envy, 'Conclusion of Existence' from Envy/Jesu (Split EP)

(Category: Electronic Release of the Year Pt. 2)

Like Noel Murray's brief summation of The Gaslight Anthem above, this rather lengthier discussion of the Envy/Jesu split on sputnikmusic reflects a lot of my own thoughts on this record (I only have it in mp3 form at the moment, because it has only been released in Japan for most of the year, but I have the white vinyl on order). I'm far more of an Envy fan than a Jesu, but I like some of the work from the latter (more so than from Envy's other split partners this year, Thursday) and combination makes even more sense when one considers the direction Envy has been heading ever since A Dead Sinking Story. The most Jesu-like, electronic track, 'Conclusion of Existence' is barely screamo in any sense, but it's still very strongly Envy. Glitchy electronic beats, again, take up half the song before exploding (at 2:44) into unexpected strings and, in general, the sort of chaotic beauty, though now somewhat more restrained and subtler, that made Envy so surprising in the first place.

7. Fight Like Apes, 'Snore Bore Whore' from Fight Like Apes and the Mystery of the Golden Medallion

(Category: Irish Album of the Year Mostly Re-recorded So It Doesn't Count (As Much) But Still Really, Really Good)

And finally, the album I couldn't leave out of the mixtape, and which really is in its on way one of the best of the year - the Fight Like Apes full-length debut, and the album closer 'Snore Bore Whore' (originally, of course, the closer to the 'Do You Karate?'/David Carradine Is a Bounty Hunter Whose Robotic Arm Hates Your Crotch EP). One half hushed melody synth ditty, one half total wall-of-sound shoegaze synth epic; one complete miracle of a song. Do, if you're a convert, watch the ecclesiastical performance from Other Voices (recorded partly in St James' church, Dingle, Co. Kerry; it's also the original composition - as it does, technically, sound better on the album) below:

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The (very) Best of 2008 Pt. 1

Hardcore For Nerds: The Best of 2008 Mixtape, Part 1

Total: 29.9 mins


1. Shooting at Unarmed Men - '------------' ('Peristalsis') - 3:38

2. Ham Sandwich - 'click... click... BOOM!!!' - 3:21

3. ...Who Calls So Loud - 'What I Learned in the C.O.U.M.' - 9:38

4. Vampire Weekend - 'The Kids Don't Stand a Chance' - 4:03

5. Grails - 'The Natural Man' - 4:41

6. Human Bell - 'Ephaphatha (Be Opened)' - 4:40

Hello and welcome to the successor to Hardcore for Nerd's first end of year mix, Zeitgeist: The Mixtape (2007). These are the top six records from the provisional best of 2008 list in the last post. Each one is assigned to a category, some of which categories repeat themselves here or in the other half of the top 12, and some of which are slightly frivolous.

'Runners Up' for each category are included to give some depth to the list, and because it is rather early and I'm working from a provisional end cut, I've included a few extra releases I just discovered from Zen and the Art of Face Punching's new 'Stuff To Get Into' which lays out several excellent punk/hardcore records that had passed me by.

I've discussed all of these records at length in previous posts, so rather than repeating myself as to the descriptions, explanations, exhortations and justifications relating to the albums as a whole I will stick to the particular track at hand. (None of which, by the way, have been repeated from previous mixes) This carefully selected mix, which comes in at just under thirty minutes in length and thus one half of a cassette tape, has - if I do say so myself - a very good flow and sense of coherence, despite its variety of sounds and styles. So do enjoy the second part of the Zeitgeist series, from Hardcore for Nerds...

1. Shooting at Unarmed Men, 'Peristalsis' from Triptych.

(Category: Album of the Year Pt. 1; Contemporary Punk Rock Album of the Year - Runners Up, Fucked Up - Chemistry of Common Life, Failures - s/t, and (if you're in the US) Future of the Left - Curses)

"Your Dear John letter/had grammatical errors/

and failed to mention that you're a cunt

Your Dear John letter/had grammatical errors/

and your spelling was atrocious"

And so begins the third and final disc of Triptych. A heavy, raging song lyrically resonant of Mclusky ('Gareth Brown Says' from Mclusky Do Dallas - "all your friends are cunts/your mother is a ball point pen thief" - though the swearing is mostly a cultural British thing, and not evidence [necessarily] that all Welshmen are misogynists) but still several steps removed musically. As with the rest of the album, it's avant-garde, ironic hardcore; a faster, punker version of Young Widows. And the closing couplet to the song? "It's called peristalsis/ ...fuck off!"

2. Ham Sandwich, 'click... click... BOOM!!!' from Carry the Meek.

(Category: Album of the Year Pt. 2; Irish Album of the Year Pt. 1 - Runners Up, Fight Like Apes - Fight Like Apes and the Mystery of the Golden Medallion, Jape - Ritual)

It's difficult to follow up the preceding fury without it being something less harsh, but here's the track with the hardest edge from Carry the Meek, anyway. The review in the end-of-year roundup of State wrote of the album, which came in at 24 of 50, that it arrived as fully-formed singles collection. All the songs are stand-out tracks, which is a prime reason for why I think this album is so good. 'click... click.. BOOM!!!' combines in stereo sound deep bass, crushing distortion and a lighter melody, female and male vocals, into a great dynamic pop song. Three justified guitars and great songwriting make for punk-pop, pop-rock, whatever, with real weight.

3. ...Who Calls So Loud, 'What I Learned in C.O.U.M.' from ...Who Calls So Loud.

(Category: 'Real' Screamo Record of the Year - Runners Up, Sinaloa - Oceans and Islands, Loma Prieta - Last City, Suis La Lune - Heir, La Quiete - s/t 7")

A nine-and-a-half minute long screamo song? Yep, that's what defines one of the greatest releases of the year. The true sound of screamo - blurred with some very pedantic and unnecessary descriptions, but having very recognisable and salient features - has been around, and evolving at a reasonable pace, for at least a decade at this stage. Building on the epic mode of preceding band Funeral Diner, ...Who Calls So Loud's debut album is a roller-coaster ride of barely-restrained emotion and technical proficiency, of which 'What I Learned in the C.O.U.M.' is the effective apex, as well as possibly the greatest excesss. As noted just above, there are numerous good screamo releases this year, from across the US and Europe, but this is still my definite favourite. Previously I've oscillated between the US vein of hardcore and 'Euro screamo', searching for the right balance between emotion, melody, speed and technical skill. This year, I think I've found it.

4. Vampire Weekend, 'The Kids Don't Stand a Chance' from Vampire Weekend.

(Category: Indie Album of the Year Pt. 1 - Runners Up, whatever else the cool kids are listening to these days - s/t)

And how to segue between screamo and Vampire Weekend? It's a difficult task, and one I've already attempted; but in this case, I chose a particularly appropriate, somewhat atypical track from everyone's favourite over-hyped indie debut. Seguing from the closing ambient streetsounds of ...Who Calls So Loud', it's the opening, solo rhythm of Vampire Weekend's last song on their album. 'The Kids Don't Stand a Chance' has a softer, looser feel to it than the other tracks, almost as if it's been produced differently from the rest of the album (it hasn't, as far as I know). Lyrically and compositionally, it is in reality just as archly indie - itself a perfectly acceptable quality - as the rest of Vampire Weekend, but to me it gives a certain warm feeling of, say, a Clash record. If you've seen singer Ezra Koenig's very competent appearance as guest vocalist for Fucked Up, you'll know there is an extra dimension to this band. But even the more obvious ones are more than remarkable enough.

5. Grails, 'The Natural Man' from Doomsdayer's Holiday.

(Category: Post-Rock/[un]Conventional Style Album of the Year - Runners Up, Mogwai - The Hawk is Howling, God Is An Astronaut - s/t, The Jimmy Cake - Spectre and Crown)

For this band I have, as in the case of the previous mix, eschewed the typically heavier, more forthright songs from the album, such as 'Reincarnation Blues' and 'Predestination Blues', despite the fact that, on the surface, they are probably closer to the album's intended 'sound' overall. And right from the start, 'Doomsdayer's Holiday' makes it clear that Grails are in take-no-prisoners post-rock mode; ramping it up exponentially from equivalent rockers like 'Silk Rd.' from 2007's Burning Off Impurities. Likewise, I saw an Irish commenter named Void describe the album as "giving post-rock a much-need Gothic metal kick up the arse" which strikes me as an excellent description for Doomsdayer's Holiday. Still, it is in the spaces between noises that I have learned to enjoy Grails - a sort of Zen-like self-abnegation, anticipating the heaviest of riffs in the most minimal of sounds, and finally creating the 'post' somewhat apart from the 'rock', while also merging them together in an extraordinary level of cultural complexity. There's no spoon, either.

6. Human Bell, 'Ephaphatha (Be Opened)' from Human Bell.

(Category: Post-Rock/Post-Hardcore Variation Album of the Year - Runners Up, Zomes - s/t, Have A Nice Life - Deathconsciousness, Young Widows - Old Wounds)

With this album I've taken the opposite approach to Grails, and selected the shortest, brashest track from Human Bell's exquisitely crafted LP of minimalist, instrumental post-rock, a coming together of Andy Heumann (Arboretuem) and Nathan Bell (Lungfish). 'Hanging from the Rafters', from the original mix in April, is probably more representative of the full record. Here, the rhythmic composition of guitars, which defines the whole album, is here swathed in simultaneously ethereal and abrasive trumpet sounds. For fans of the Boom or Abilene - you'll like this.