Welcome to the first edition of Wednesday music reviews. We’ve got an unusual batch for the first time around — I can’t guarantee we’ll please everyone, but then, you should be used to that by now.
Warship: Supply and Depend
I’m not going to lie - I’m probably at least 15 years too old to be listening to this album. But damn it, I can’t help myself. Warship is an offshoot of the now-defunct screamo/post-hardcore band From Autumn to Ashes, a howling fury of a band that played a violent, speedy brand of hardcore music. Mixing melodic, “clean” vocals with growling, screaming choruses (and sometimes vice-versa), they created an angst-ridden, deafening soundscape that might be seen as the natural evolution of the demise of late 80’s and 90’s hardcore as the musical landscape moved towards the dreaded “emo” label. The thing is, From Autumn to Ashes was actually a great band that put out four solid albums, and I was sorry to see them go. I was a new convert, and as is frequently the case when I discover a band, they either break up or someone dies shortly thereafter. I swear, I’m the kiss of death. If you’re in a band, don’t ever send me your CD — I swear you’ll start fighting with each other within a week. Anyway, to give you a taste of From Autumn To Ashes’s particular sound, here’s the video for “Pioneers,” off their excellent final album Holding a Wolf By the Ears.
I post this for a few reasons: First, to give you an idea of what you’re in for. Second, because Warship doesn’t have any videos. And third, to show you how remarkable a performer Francis Mark is — Phil Collins in Genesis aside, it’s rare to find someone who can sing (or scream) and play the drums simultaneously. Mark does it and does it well. Warship is the newest band formed by former From Autumn to Ashes bandmates Mark (drums, vocals) and Rob Lauritsen (guitars, bass). Supply and Depend, their first album, is a heavier, brutish effort — a grinding, powerful album that certainly has more hits than misses. Still dealing predominately with themes of friendship and betrayal, love and loss, hope and futility, they create a brooding lyrical atmosphere that shows their evolution from their hardcore roots. Yes, lyrically they can be a little too earnest and that might smack of immaturity, but they make up for it with a serious emotionality that is pretty damn evocative. Mark still mixes it up by both singing and screaming, but the screaming is certainly more prevalent. The album has a fuzzier, more lo-fi sound to it that, to be honest, works well with the overpoweringly heavy chords and thundering bass. Mark’s drumwork is remarkable, managing furious double bass and crashing cymbals and creating a perfect, mixed-tempo rhythm. Lauritsen is clearly a student of everything from Megadeth to Mastodon, and shows a wide range of metal/hardcore skills.
It’s still true to it’s hardcore roots, particularly in the smashmouth tracks like “Where’s Your Leash” and “Profit Over People.” Like most From Autumn to Ashes albums, it’s a ruckus coming straight out of the gate, with the first song, “Toil,” letting you know exactly what you’re in for, with Mark starting out wailing “You toil and stress, scratch and obsess.” It’s a pounding, almost concussive track and Francis Mark sounds like he’s going to scream himself bloody on it. Overall, the tempos of the tracks are slower than their previous efforts, with more emphasis on heavy and less on speed. At the same time, there are some more curious tracks that start with slow, more restrained verses and Mark singing in a softer, lullaby-like tone. “Wounded Paw,” the first of those, has a great little bit of guitar strumming to open it, before it opens up into a melodic yet grunge-like sound. As the track progresses, it switches to shredding guitars and eventually becomes a screaming plea, and then quickly drops into lower speeds again. My favorite track, “Lousy Horoscope,” demonstrates a similar range, although at it’s climax the sound has one more change, starting at a dirge-like plod, with Mark crying “Humming a tune to keep the chattering voice out, while running to where they smoke and drink in a treehouse, and then find your way home — immortals, with no morals and no hang-ups.” Clearly it’s a song headed for tragedy, for when it picks up, he laments, “I know I’m never gonna see you again, but I’m thankful for the time that we shared, and every time I lose a friend I lose another layer of my armor.” The lyrics are wistful and pained, but instead of switching to screaming mode, he takes it back one notch and makes it much more effective. It’s not a perfect album — “Fetus Flytrap,” while a great track name, sounds a little bit too emo, but overall it’s a great addition to those of us looking for something a little more nuanced than the offerings of metalcore acts like Hatebreed and Slipknot. Incidentally, while I hate to promote MySpace, you can listen to some tracks for free on their MySpace page.
Hipsters are people too. I’m sorry, but it’s true. And sometimes, just sometimes, the music they listen to (or claim they listen to, anyway) can be enjoyed by us commoners too. Sure, a lot of it’s esoteric and pompously artsy to the music fan that just wants something that will make him/her a) thrash, b) sing along, c) dance, or d) all of the above. Well, the self-titled debut by New Zealand’s Ladyhawke should do just the trick for any of your visceral musical urges.
Completely unpretentious and yet dense enough to be enjoyed by even the most cold-hearted “cerebral” hipster (music’s not cerebral just because people haven’t of the band you’re talking about, dammit!), the chanteuse/songwriter born Pip Brown has created an alter ego that already has me clamoring for a sophomore effort. Unfortunately, it should be pointed out early on, that this is just the type of music that the term “sophomore slump” was coined for. Cheesy synths are piled high, melodies that recall your unabashed favorite 80s songs populate the best tracks, and a general lack of eclecticism runs rampant throughout. Admittedly, you can’t get a lot of mileage out of something as candyriffic as this.
And yet, eff that noise. This is her debut; I can’t complain about something that doesn’t exist yet. Right here, right now, this album absolutely encompasses everything I love about dance pop: warm and friendly hooks, simple but effective guitar riffs acting as musical anchors to the songs’ vitality, and propulsive choruses that catapult the listener’s ears into neon-flavored (I’m thinking Fruit Roll-Ups’ Electric Blue Raspberry flavor) headphone orgasms. It’s gooey, sticky sweet, and a brief but deeply satisfying respite from reality. Add a high repeat-play factor into the mix and you’ve got a record perfect for long car rides, where you’ll be totally fine with it ending, because you can just let it play through again…and again, and again.
As far as specific track recommendations go, there are some distinct winners that are above and beyond the rest and a few that, while still fun enough to play through multiple times, do not stack up in comparison. “Another Runaway” is my pick for hand clap jam of the year, with the breakdown leaving Pip to sensuously exude “uh uh oh I don’t believe it / uh uh oh you never mean it” right before the keyboards pummel back in with a delightful tremolo guitar smack and low-end that deepens the song more than it ever was before that moment, just thirty seconds before it ends. It’s a mind-meld, really, that must be heard to be believed. The two big singles Modular and Island are currently pushing include “My Delirium,” which is a taut sassy track that ranks high on the record, but her other one, “Paris Is Burning,” is one of the album’s few semi-clunkers, with an annoying verse that feels like a silly carnival theme song. Luckily, songs like these don’t slow down the throbbing rainbow trip that is Ladyhawke.
It’s hipster music to the core, and was probably born out of the kind of post-irony that began getting plastered on Urban Outfitters t-shirts circa 2003, but hell if I don’t love it sincerely now. This is the kind of new music that needs not be relegated to those who read Fader or live in Williamsburg, but shared with and enjoyed by anyone who can get down with guilt-free pop perfection.
Various Artists: Twilight — Original Soundtrack
I can only hope that it surprises absolutely no one when I tell you that this album… well, it sucks. Probably about as much as the book does, based on Ms. Larson’s less-than-glowing review of the book, and undoubtedly as much as the horrid looking movie (though I confess I have not seen it, nor will I. Ever).
Movie soundtracks are so rarely even decent anymore, and this one is no different. A collection of fairly standard alt-pop (Blue Foundation), some derivative lite nü-metal (Linkin Park), and then a couple of bizarre has-been choices — Collective Soul (!) sounds like they’re raping Peter Gabriel with the corpse of their only hit, “Shine.” It’s a truly abysmal mix of poorly recorded synth and easy-listening, and is by far the worst track on the album. The young and painfully obvious Paramore has two tracks, and they’re both the standard tweeny wannabe pseudo-goth crap that I’m pretty sure now just evolves naturally when record execs leave kids in the dark for long enough, like teeny-bopper mushrooms being fed Orgy or Marilyn Manson records. With a chorus like this —
You got it, you got it,
Some kind of magic
You’re leaving me breathless
I hate this, I hate this
You’re not the one I believe in
With God as my witness
— there’s no saving them. There are some bright spots, however. Iron and Wine’s “Flightless Bird, American Mouth,” isn’t bad, and his lazy, nod-inducing melodies work well enough. Muse’s “Supermassive Black Hole” is pretty good, a bopping, funky, electronica-heavy piece that, if it isn’t already, should get substantial alternative radio play. Perry Farrell’s “Go All the Way (Into the Twilight)” is nothing short of inexcusable, however. The orchestral pieces that it concludes with — “La Traviata” and “Clair De Lune,” are well performed, but fairly common pieces, and no one will be able to listen to “Clair de Lune” without thinking of the end of Soderbergh’s Ocean’s 11 anyway, so why bother using it? Overall, yet another weak, paltry modern soundtrack, certainly not worth the couple of decent tracks it contains.
I bought the eponymous Beast not because I knew anything about any of the people involved, or because of something I read about them, or because of the glowing recommendation of a friend. I bought it because the name and the cover art caught my eye. It’s a terrible habit, I’m sure, but I’ve been very lucky thus far, and until I get burned I don’t see myself ceasing to buy music for no good reason that I can articulate.
In fact, if I had done any research or read anything substantive about it, I may not have bothered with it. It’s been described in various places as “trip-rock” and as “an experimental hip-hop project filled with trip-hop-style down-tempo electronica”. I’m not a ‘four on the floor’ kind of guy by any means, but neither of those descriptions really excite me. The second phrase, especially, just makes me think of aural mud. And then there is the French-Canadian aspect, which (and I fully admit this is out of my own ignorance) is not a geographic or cultural nexus that is associated with the music that I enjoy and love already. So, yeah; if I had read more about it, or read about them first, I probably would have passed Beast by.
It’s a good thing, then, that I am a simpleton and attracted to pretty cover art, because this album rocks in a lot of different ways.
Actually, the various ways that Beast rocks- the way the percussion and bass lines drive the songs without becoming overbearing or repetitious, the wide variation in instrumentation and arrangements, the gigantic range of musical and vocal styles in evidence on the tracks- all boil down to one key quality: complexity.
Beast’s music is complicated without getting in its own way, and without being obtuse. You don’t have to devote your whole attention to it to make it work, though; it’s just fine as background music while you clean your apartment, and the hip hop rhythms of “Devil” and “Microcyte” will flow right into the ethereal “Interlude 1” while you are doing the dishes without jarring you out of the zone. And the heavily distorted “Interlude 2” turns into the spiritual “Satan” almost without your noticing. But I think that the album really takes off when you start paying attention.
The melody lines provide a great and subtle counterpoint to the bass lines and chord progressions, and the lyrics themselves are smart and timely, and manage to pull off (to me, anyway) being extremely poetic without sounding sappy or simplistic. The phrasing is also quite excellent, with lots of unexpected half-pauses and tempo changes that by all rights ought to be awkward but aren’t.
I mentioned earlier how everything effortlessly flows when the CD is on in the background, but it didn’t occur to me until I listened to the whole album through without distraction was how much the musical style varies from song to song. The description that I was dismissive of at the beginning of this- the one that read, “hip-hop… filled with trip-hop-style down-tempo electronica?” It is really accurate, and despite my initial reaction, I must admit that the end product is not the mud I feared, but a cohesive, varied, and beautiful piece of work. But don’t take my word for it. You can check Beast out at www.beastsound.net.
—The Ursine Calamity
Wednesday Music Reviews / Pajiba Music Staff
Music | November 19, 2008 | Comments ()