Curious about what else goes on at CMJ? Here’s a description of a more cynical and less glamorous part of CMJ.
If “Great Expectations” was the start to The Gaslight Anthem’s critically acclaimed album, The 59 Sound, the first song on their new album might as well been called “Impossible Expectations”. With all eyes on them, Brian Fallon and crew have crafted the follow-up to one of the best records of 2008.
The Gaslight Anthem has recorded another gem in their repertoire on albums. American Slang is the newest addition, and while it sounds similar to their previous recordings, it shows the band’s maturity both as musicians and as people.
The album kicks off with the title track “American Slang”. Upon first listen, the song seems rather simple and uninspiring; however, with further listens it ropes you in, as most Gaslight songs do. Brian Fallon’s vocals and lyrics shine over the background cooing of “Oh Oh” as he belts, “Oh well you told me fortunes in American Slang”. With punchy guitars and a great melody this song sets the course for the rest of the album.
Unlike the band’s last record, The 59 Sound, this album lacks the reverb effect on Fallon’s vocals, which is somewhat missed on “American Slang”. Another drastic change in the recording process is the placement of the lead guitars in the mix of the record. At first the lower, more compressed sounding placement was off-putting, but after more and more listens it makes sense. The guitar flows seamlessly through the songs, never coming off as a standalone part as many lead parts can.
What is clear on songs like “The Diamond Church Street Choir” is the band’s affinity for soul and pop music. As a honky-tonk-like lead guitar part bounces along under Fallon’s New Jersey twang, one cannot help but think back to the days where rock-and roll wasn’t about image or being a rock star, but was about music.
“Orphans” may be a new crowd favorite. Easily one of the faster songs on the record, and more reminiscent of the band’s earlier release, Sink or Swim, it comes out of the gate running with drummer Benny Horowitz’s fast-paced drumming shines.
Ending with a slow song, “We Did it When We Were Young”, one can’t help but get sucked in with Fallon’s vocals set against themselves with him crooning and whispering on separate tracks (the reverb effect is seen on this particular track).
The Gaslight Anthem has largely been defined by their ability to craft songs that could be of a different era, while simultaneously having a contemporary sound. I have said it once, and I’ll say it a million times: This band can be the saviors of rock-and-roll, as we know it. An unparalleled sense of passion and fun runs through their veins, and is making them an indispensible part of Americana. I have not heard a band that I believed in so much since I heard Brand New. While there is a totally different style to both sets of bands, one thing is clear: The Gaslight Anthem has found their voice, and they want us to sing it with them.
Favorite Tracks: American Slang, Orphans, Old Haunts, The Spirit of Jazz
RIYL: The Boss, the Loved Ones, The Clash, Falling in love, not listening to sh*tty music.
Brian Fargnoli is a former WCDB DJ and is currently underemployed and riding a bike on Long Island.
The Dillinger Escape Plan
Oh yeah, it’s 2010. Well this review is a bit old but in light of the recent release of dillinger’s new recordoption paralysis (which is dope and continues down the path described below) I thought I’d dig into the proverbial crates for this…
At least once, you’ve said, “that band sucks now; they used to be good,” and/or, “their old school shit was tight as hell until they changed up their style and sold out.” At least once, your subconscious fear of change made you possessive and protective about your past. Well, stop being pretentious and listen to the new dillinger escape plan album, Ire Works. You might say that (by failing to stagnate) they’ve changed course. But you would be wrong.
On Miss Machine, the addition of front man Greg Paciato brought a poppy edge to some songs. His style is much more diverse than dillinger’s original vocalist, Dimitri Minakaki, and Paciato’s vocal repertoire rivals (and definitely draws inspiration from) Mike Patton (of Mr. Bungal, Fantomas, Tomahawk, Peeping Tom, and Faith No More) who did vocals for dillinger’s “irony is a dead scene.”
After alienating many of their fans with Miss Machine, Dillinger has now done the opposite of selling out; they’ve continued to experiment and evolve. The new record is more poppy, has less oddtime, and way more production and electronic effects than usual but is still unmistakably a dillinger record. Old school fans hoping for a strict “return to normalcy” after the experimental Miss Machine will be disappointed. Ire Works may not sound exactly like calculating infinity. I know. Classic record. But seriously, aren’t we glad blonde on blonde wasn’t highway 61 or freewheelin? (Oh yeah I did!) The best artists mature. (Miles Davis comes to mind.) The worst artists release the same record every two years. (Nickleback comes to mind.) Don’t get me wrong, changing your style doesn’t make a good record but not changing it up definitely is an easy way to make a bad one. (Mastodon’s Crack the Skyee is a fitting example of a disappointing new direction while the similiarity of Blood Mountain toLeviathan could be an exception.)
Ire Works starts off with a bang (in the way of brutal blast beats)! The first two tracks “fix your face” (which actually features vocals from Dimitri) and “lurch” are full of the mathcore genius, heavy breakdowns, and belligerently poetic lyrics that originally drew you to dillinger. But just when you think they’re has reverted back to their old style comes “black bubblegum” full of effects and falsettos. Complete with their catchiest and most twitterable lyrics to date, this overproduced pop sing-along is somehow haunting enough to be awesome (if you can swallow your hardcore-pride for four minutes and four seconds.) The song opens the door to the rest of the album: a mix of the heavy and intricate instrumental brilliance you expect from dillinger (and, if you don’t, go give their other albums a listen) and prog-rock with pop potential. “horse hunter” features mastodon’s brent hinds and is a standout track. The song starts out with trademark chaotic dillinger then progresses into a trudging breakdown where you can really begin to feel Hinds’s influence. (In the climax, the power of Gregs higher scream over Hinds’ voice might be the best duet since “hunger strike.”)
Throughout the album Paciato uses various vocal techniques. Right off the bat, it’s the powerful and consistent hardcore scream that has more sense of rhythm than pitch. In “black bubblegum” the verses are sung in a slightly winy (but in tune) singing voice that is backed up by a falsetto. At times he demonstrates another scream that is higher and more controlled in terms of pitch and intensity (as in “horse hunter”).
While Greg still feels new for long time fans of the group, the more recent changes to the bands lineup are more surprising, devastating, and ultimately relieving. Sometime between (the disappointing)Plagiarism EP and Ire Works, founding member Chris Pennie left the band…to play drums for coheed and cambria! (I’m not even sure if that counts as selling out. Coheed is hardly more popular than dillinger not to mention infinitely worse.) Pennie always seemed to be an integral part of the dillinger esc plan and indeed participated in much of the writing on their earlier records but Gil Sharone holds it down and Pennie is not severely missed. I don’t get the same pleasure from saying this, but neither is guitarist Brian Benoit who is also missing on Ire Works due to nerve damage. (Unlike Pennie, the band has promised him a permanent opportunity to reclaim his position.)
The album ends with “mouth of ghosts”, a fitting conclusion. It starts with slow brushes then a piano solo leads up to a climax that epitomizes dillingers new kind of heavy. The feel and intensity is led by Paciatos commanding vocal dynamics. Dillinger has matured. Rhythm and lyrical brutality is no longer the only focus of the vocals. It used to be. You got the feeling that the band wrote a song and Dimitri would fit the words and screams around the offbeat (literally) genius. Now the songs seem to be written around the vocal melody as much as the other way around. As much as I love calculating infinity (and acknowledge its importance and influence and ultimately its place as dillinger’s signature—if not best—album) the maturity was necessary. (To some extent, novelty is art.) In a genre/scene where clichés are cliché dillinger is continuing to do what they’ve always done best: shock, irritate, experiment, progress.
Gorillaz – Plastic Beach (Virgin)
Alright. So all you need to know as background is that the Gorillaz are actually that guy from Blur (Damon Albarn) and whoever he contracts to help him predict the future of music. This usually means writing a basic rock/pop song and performing it with synths, a drum machine, and occasionally a hip rapper. Whereas the first two albums featured production from Dan the Automator and Dangermouse (respectively), this album is self-producer and it hurts. (When there’s no one else to bounce ideas off, they can roll away and snowball out of ctrl.) Damon brought a boatload of high- and low-profile guests with him like snoop dogg, mos def, lou reed, and little dragon. Snoop always spits the exact same verse and as a result his track is straight bullshit. This album is even more hip-hop heavy and chippy than usual. Chip-hop, if you will. Damon’s apathetic static strolling vocals are often juxtaposed with what would be happy/dancy production if it were sped up just a tad and sung by modanna. But his vox are not all over the album. As much as this album wants to be the future, it tries to channel current indie rock trends such as rpm and the collaboration style of a music collective. The tracks aren’t songs as much as beats with vocals arbitrarily layed ontop. While the album overall isn’t really good, it’s conceivable that I could listen to it enough for it to become nostalgic quickly. Despite being pretty weird, it’s pretty accessible. But there’s no reason to really have a strong opinion either way about this album unless you’re reviewing it. I probably should try to coin chip-pop instead of chip-hop to describe this music because it really is a pop-centered record and i think hip-hop is implied in the rhyme. Chris (mondays 8-10pm) described it as “uninspiring; mediocre; better than most…” Look, if this record came out in ‘84 or even ‘94 it would be mind blowing, but right now it just seems trendy. Maybe criticizing this album as mostly apathetic throw away material is ignorant because it fails to acknowledge the skill behind writing an album this ballsy, poppy, and solid. Maybe. Somehow it’s nauseating, addicting, catchy, awkward, intimate, apathetic, insulting, and inspiring all at once. I could see myself building up a tolerance to it but dependence might be a stretch. It’s easier to hate than love this record because the bad (ex. tracks 2, 9) is really bad and the good is only respectfully good rather than super dope. Probably because of the 5 years that it took to make this record (and it did, it’s not like they were out touring) it suffers from “chinese democracy” syndrome. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, God bless you but I essentially mean simple songs that are way over-conceptualized.) Guests like Mos Def and Lou Reed (who dissapoints even more than usual) are drowned out and cannot save us from the truth that the missing D’s (Dan the automator, dangermouse, del, and doom) made the Gorillaz great. Look, if I made this record, I’d definitely show it off (even the snoop dogg track for the sake of the story) but if I was the Gorillaz and I made this record I would get another ill producer to make it worthy of the brand. Damon is obsessed with his synth. track 14 sounds like he just overdubbed some slide guitar and vocals over a casio. This record has less formal songwriting than usual. Probably because as a producer, the usual songwriter focused on the wrong part of the recording process. To (b)each his own, I Guess. But that’s just the problem with this album; despite all the appearances, there’s not enough collaboration—it’s too much just Damon’s unchecked record. It’s too bad he’s respected enough as a musician to unconditionally get all of these guests and make a record carte blanche (a similar problem to snoop dogg’s verse but not nearly as serious). Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad. There really are some gems. But after Demon Days, pretty much anything is going to be a little down hill. The problem is that Plastic Beach took it all the way down to sea level. Look, if you try everything (which they do) some shit is going to hit the mark (which it does) and some shit is going to fail miserably and embarrassingly (which it does). 6/10
my pix: 4, 6, 7, 8, 12, 13
Xiu Xiu – Dear God, I Hate Myself (Kill Rock Stars)
Noisy, loud, DARK, songs, generally having more pop tendencies than not. More discordant and experimental than the last few releases, Dear God, I Hate Myself does some exploring where the debut LP Knife Play left off. A wide array of percussive elements are explored, including; a bumpin’, seemingly ragamuffin drum machine, eerie clinking chimes, clunky pots & pans, and other crazy things I’m not even sure of. Jamie Stewart’s voice is a mad powerhouse of trembling torment, displaying quite a range of of intensely scary (but catchy) melodies. Chirping and whining weird electronics make insane noises in explosions of indescribable overlapping sounds. Songs that contemplate life (possibly through death) and other heavy subject matter including eating disorders and self mutilation give the album an overall disheartened and dejected vibe that is certainly brightened by the mostly upbeat tones of the instrumentation. Through the wonderful feedbacking, whaling mess of distortion lies a modicum of hope in the horror of life, a light that is slightly brighter than it once was.
Roy Montgomery/Grouper – Split 12” (Self-Released)
Roy Montgomery’s side consists of one 18-minute flanging monster track that was recorded LIVE. It’s drony, cool, calm psych (with intensified moments of buiding anxiety) that progresses through multiple movements and manages to stay on point, with only a few subtle reversions. Though it is eighteen minutes long, it is not “jammy shit.” I assure you I do not typically like “jammy shit”. However, I do like this, probably because I do not consider it as such (even though parts were probably improvised). This is most defintely structured, each riff gradually leading to the next, strummed chords on a guitar that almost sound like a sitar. There is a bright, serious energy focused in points of this song that soothes the mind, transporting one to a place of ecstatic joy, hovering blissfully in an other-worldly realm. Dreamy, whirring notes floating in the air, bouncing around wavering with reverb’d twang, sounding an echo.
Grouper (Elizabeth Harris) begins her side of the record in a hissing haze of ambient melancholy with waves of ancient lament emerging from the fallow fog drifting around. The EP contains no guitar that I can hear, which is typically what accompanies her vocals, but rather, makes use of some electronic organ. “Vessel” and “Hold the Way” employ this, making for tremolous, dreamy, piano-like tones covered in fuzz and dust, void of much light. Liz Harris’ voice is the most impressive instrument on the record, carving out smooth melodies of angelic murmuring, opening space for more fluttering coos and harmonizations that overlap, shining in pools of painfully beautiful serenity. Her fourth track closes with an organ groove fading-out to field recordings of barking dogs and dripping rain. Sparse, crackling songs that, even though somewhat uneventful (compared to pop songs), flow down with a sorrow and strangeness that’s chilling (in an almost happy way).
WARNING: THESE ARE NOT POP SONGS, JUST AMBIENT TUNES WITH GREAT MELODIES!
Written By Antony the Tank
on WCDB Monday Nights 10pm-12am
Since the new Galactic album has been getting a lot of attention on our airwaves (and apparently our blog), I figured it would be a good time to dig through the proverbial crates and fish out a review of their last album. Enjoy…
“New Orleans Jazz-funk-soul-jam-rock band Galactic has now got another, constricting, over-generalizing, genre label under their belts: hip-hop! On their 6th release, “From the Corner to the Block,” Galactic collaborates with some of the dope-est emcees that you’ve never heard of—unless you’re looking—in the spirit of The Roots. But the loose song structure that lets The Roots improvise so well live (but tends to let down the sucker who actually bought the disc) is one major difference between how the jam-band/hip-hop tradition is carried out here. The songs on “From the Corner to the Block” feature all the components of rock and roll songwriting that make the songs songs—and not just a hot loop or catchy chorus—(i.e. bridges, buildups, and breakdowns.) Other than four instrumental tracks (bounce baby, sidewalk stepper, fanfare, and tuff love, that all hold down the hip-hop attitude) every song features a different relatively underground emcee. Although you may not recognize the names of the emcees themselves, most of the featured emcees Galactic chose to collaborate with, on the album, are members of socially conscious hip-hop groups that are more familiar. (Lyrics Born and Lateef the Truth Speaker from Latyrix, Mr. Lif from the Perceptionists, Gift of Gab fromBlackalicious; Chali 2na from Jurassic 5; Ladybug Mecca of Digable Planets; Boots Riley of The Coup.) Each track was inspired by the album title and offers different angles of perception and interpretation of what happens “from the corner to the block.” (Whether it’s a place to “hustle in front of gramma” or a symbolic “memory lane.”) The album is solid and worth a straight through listen but, like most hip-hop albums, is not a cohesive record (in the sense of “dark side”) but each track ultimately holds its own. And, while I recommend all fourteen, the songs that especially stand out are “think back” with Chali 2na and “from the corner to the block” with Juvenile (also from New Orleans) who you might know and loathe from mainstream rap songs such as “back that azz up” (where the unique spelling isn’t even phonetic!) and “slow motion.” But with the help of Soul Rebels Brass Band, the title track is fresh funky and flavorful as shit! This is easily one of the most impressive and underrated albums of 2007. “From the Corner to the Block” is a flawless integration of under appreciated emcees and top-notch funk-rock musicianship that should serve not only as a standard within the hipster-hop circuit but to emcees and jam bands looking to produce albums that are worthy to promote live. The album can be appreciated by musicians and lyricists alike but stands out as a solid hip-hop record. And from that perspective it’s goddamn refreshing!”
Probably as a result of the touring that ensued (which featured the emcees’ own material with galactic as a backing band, galactic’s own stuff, covers, and awesome jam/freestyle sessions) gift of gab and lateef released “droppin’ science fiction” as The Mighty Underdogs which featured some of the other people on this album like chali 2na, lyrics born and mr. lif (among others like MF Doom). That album also did well on CDB.
Disclaimer: I loved “Is Dead” in fact, I’ve loved everything this band has done. This record is going to get shit on EVERYWHERE. The hardcore kids won’t like it because it doesn’t sound like their old music. The indie-scene- whateverthefuckyouwanttocallit kids won’t like it because it’s too abrasive, and hipsters won’t like it because they only like it when the Dirty Projectors try punk. So if you fit into one of these groups, I say, let your guard down and listen to this record because if you come into it expecting something you’ve heard before or if you’re expecting something that can easily be pigeonholed you are wrong. Crime in Stereo just gave a big fuck you to everyone. The leap this band just made is like the leap Radiohead made from Pablo Honey to The Bends. Crime In Stereo’s days of straight up pop-punk are gone. They’ve moved on to something more experimental that immediately makes one think of the direction Brand New went. However, this is not Crime in Stereo jumping on Brand New’s success.
“I Was Trying to Describe You To Someone” starts off with “Queue Moderns” which begins with a electronic drum loop before heading and a verse before heading into a more traditional sounding CIS chorus. It continues with “Drugwolf” which sounds fractured, emotional and powerful. The vocals are strangely paired with the music—it’s off-putting at first, but after a few listens you will fall in love. The band continues the progress they made from “Is Dead” and throws in much more effect-laden guitar parts and even utilizes a lot of vocal effects. “Exit Halo” is a brooding track with soaring guitars and a pronounced bass line; the double-tracked vocals add a great amount of emotion to the build up of singer Kristian Hallbert’s screams. “Not Dead” is reminiscent of “Shape of Punk to Come” era Refused meeting “The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me” from Brand New. There is a newfound aggression in this band that we hadn’t seen on their last effort. The hard-to-soft dyamic of the song is a great transition without being contrived.
“Young” is a wonderful ballad-like offering whose opening chords draw you in. The standout point here is the power behind Hallbert’s vocals over the soothing guitar part. This song is bound to become a crowd favorite. CIS again demonstrate their mastery of the hard-soft dynamic. “Type one” continues and is a journey all in its own. I’d say this song is almost perfect. “Republica” is overtly political in its lyrical content, and is anathematic. Dissonance is definitely a theme of this record. The song moves in a wave-like fashion. We see CIS remake one of their older songs “Dark Island City” which is lyrically only about a paragraph long. This much slowed-down and deliberative version really hits home, and is easily one of the standout
tracks on the album. The last track “I Cannot Answer You Tonight” sounds almost like it could have came directly off of “I, Stateside”.CIS on this record kept throwing curveballs and change-ups, and to stick with a baseball analogy, some people will not be able to adapt to the changing tide of the pitches. But those who can will clearly see why this album is a massive leap forward from these 5 dudes from Levittown, Long Island. Congrats to CIS, they’ve truly made their own niche in their respective “scene” a feat done by few successfully.