Exploding Head – A Place To Bury Strangers

Contrary to popular belief, sometimes you can’t control how loud the music you listen to is.

Exhibit A – It doesn’t matter if you have the speakers turned up to a Spinal Tap-like 11, Elliot Smith’s tunes still sound delicate and intimate.

Exhibit B – A Place To Bury Strangers is crushingly loud even at low volumes and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.

The New York shoegaze act is unrelentingly noisy, and on Exploding Head the sonorousness is in full effect.

The band has a huge sound for a three-piece, including some cavernous drums, but the key is the guitar work. It is all over the place on songs like “Everything Always Goes Wrong,” featuring otherworldly clashes and moans covered by heaps of distortion. These sounds should not come as a huge surprise considering singer/guitarist Oliver Ackermann’s day job is building custom guitar pedals. He puts his craft to full use on Exploding Head.
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This Addiction – Alkaline Trio

Almost 15 years into the game, Alkaline Trio is back with their seventh studio album, This Addiction. In some way the album marks a return to their roots, but little issues show up in a big way to derail much of This Addiction‘s momentum. It should be really good album at it’s core, but Alkaline Trio shoots itself in the foot enough to only make it a decent listen.

The album kicks off on the right foot with the title track, “This Addiction.” Featuring a stripped-down sound and production compared to Alkaline Trio’s past two albums, the song highlights the core of what have built Alkaline Trio a following – great punk instrumentals and Matt Skiba’s fierce singing. Unfortunately, the album peaks on the first track.

The follow-up “Dine, Dine My Darling” is the first of the Dan Andriano led songs, and on This Addiction that’s a very bad thing. To put it simply, Andriano’s songs for this album just don’t fit. At all. They do not sound like Alkaline Trio songs. His other two numbers, “Fine” and “Off the Map,” are almost sickeningly cheery and bright. It’s hard to stress how much these songs do not fit with the band’s catalogue. Imagine if Coldplay suddenly wrote some anarchist punk songs. It’s like the opposite of that. “Off The Map”‘s chorus features dreadful lyrics including “I’m so far off the map the sun is shinning” and “I can row, row, row my boat back to shore someday.” Really? Row, row, row your boat? Alkaline Trio fans need to file a class action suit to prevent Andriano from writing anymore songs where he’s the lead if this is what he’s going to bring to the table. Continue reading

Yes! – k-os

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“I am not indie rock I was indeed hip-hop.”

k-os makes his allegiances clear on “Zambony,” the opening track of the wildly entertaining Yes!. Perhaps he feels the need to self-define who he is because of his atypical an MC offerings. A product of Toronto, Ontario, Canada (where he’s had great success), k-os is the type of eccentric that doesn’t fit into hip-hop’s archetypal molds. He’s more Andre 3000 than Big Boi, more Stephen Malkmus than T-Pain, more indie rocker than fortune-obsessed, gansta, or auto-tuned rapper. That’s not to say he’s not 100% devoted to his hip-hop core – he bleeds it – it’s just the method he goes about it is not the norm. It’s a fresh almost stylized take on the genre that should not be missed.

What makes k-os’s tunes stick out is the way he builds layer upon layer of sound that all come together in brilliant harmony. There is always some little audio detail working it’s way in and out of the music. It’s akin to a perfect, flowing 3-man weave in basketball – all the parts are crissing and crossing but instead of things colliding together and making a mess, it’s a smooth and fluid work of control and beauty.

Songs like “4321” jam packed with different sounds that it’s hard to even keep track of everything. The aforementioned “Zambony” starts with a simple beat and choir, then adds claps and sparse guitar trills, then throws in some orchestral strings and electronic flairs, and just keeps going along with more, more, more.
k-os does not shy away from unusual samples, like when he lifts “Love Buzz” (the original version by Shocking Blue, not the more well-known Nirvana cover) for the track “Uptown Girl.” When all these musical factors are combined with the scattered-references that pop up in the lyrics (there aren’t many MCs that namecheck Ellen Page or Tegan and Sara, as k-os does on “Astronaut”), it might seem like it would be something of a mess, but everything fits together tightly. k-os quite literally makes chaos sound wonderful. Yes! a musical party and any sound is invited. Continue reading

5 Best Live Sets Of 2009

No one ever claimed I’m not scatterbrained. Somehow in the dysfunction of the past couple months (grad school apps, freelancing, job hunting, not posting on here enough, ect.), doing a live music recap of 2009 totally slipped my mind. It’d be a shame to omit this from the good ol’ site, because I managed to catch some great sets last year. So here goes…

5. Mt. St. Helen’s Vietnam Band at the Empyrean in Spokane, WA (Apr. 16)

Buzzed about indie bands are a dime a dozen. But when a group delivers a live performance that leaves you buzzing and wanting to tell everyone how legit it is, well then you’ve got something special. Mt. St. Helen’s Vietnam Band’s set at the Empyrean was one of these performances. The band’s blend of shredding guitar work and off-kilter percussion was infectiously catchy enough to get even some of the most somber hipsters to bounce along.

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4. Weezer at the White River Amphitheater in Auburn,WA (Sept. 10)

It’s somewhat apt that Weezer’s first video was centered around Happy Days considering the group has gone on to jump the shark in such a grandiose fashion. But like Happy Days there’s still so much joy that can be taken from the early work. So, Weezer’s Blue Album set opening for Blink-182 was one such blissful nostalgia ride. Avoid any non-single material from recent albums, the band ran through beloved throwbacks including “My Name Is Jonas,” “Surfwax America,” and “Buddy Holly.” It’s the type of performance that makes downtrodden old-Weezer diehards. At least for one night these were all happy days.


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New Moon Soundtrack

I know what you’re thinking, “Ugh…more Twilight stuff? This has to suck.”

But wait…new material from Death Cab for Cutie, Thom Yorke, St. Vincent, and more? What?!?

This is the mix tape an angsty teenage vampire would make for his boo if he had indie sensibilities. And apparently vampires love reverb, because its the album’s common thread. If reverb was blood, New Moon would be more drenched than Carrie at the prom.

To no one’s surprise, the album chock-full of dark and moody songs. When the songs that stick out for being “chipper” have a choruses like “In the dark you tell me of the flowers,” (Sea Wolf’s “The Violet Hour”) you know you’re in for a mope fest. Overall, big names on here like The Killers and Yorke don’t stick out as much as their lesser known counterparts because the smaller acts are deliver more interesting songs on the whole.
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Actor – St. Vincent

St. Vincent’s Annie Clark has often been described as an indie pixie and used classic Disney cartoons as a muse when writing Actor. It should come as no surprise then, that the album sounds like a dark coming-of-age story of an idealized Disney princess being rudely thrust into modern reality and struggling to deal with it.

The dynamic that really stands out throughout Actor is the way Clark uses the contrast between soft orchestral sounds and noisy electrical chaos to mirror the psyche of the heroine. When she is in a stable, sane state the instrumentals are light and soft. They reflect a perceived clarity and peace of mind. However, when things get fuzzed out and distorted, it signals mental instability. The two opposites seem to be in a constant struggle, which makes for a fascinating psychological portrait and gripping listen. Is the heroine’s unblinking stare through the rough times a sign of strength or a mask to keep face as she’s twitching, tweaking, and cracking below the surface?

As the journey sets off on woodwinds driven “The Strangers,” St. Vincent hints at the troubles to come, but everything seems so lighthearted and the transgressions are merely minor misfortunes that can be shaken off like “Playboys under the mattress.” The first jolt comes when the song’s serene scene is disrupted by a dirty distorted guitar solo. It’s a glimpse of the volatility to come. Continue reading

Bowling For Soup Feature From The Inlander

Punk for Peewees

A bar band turns into a Disney Channel fave

Miley Cyrus. Jonas Brothers. Zac Efron. Four thirty-something guys with beer guts from Texas. One of these clearly stands out. But surprisingly, they all share the same audience.

A funny thing has happened to the pop punkers in Bowling for Soup as they have made their musical journey over the last 15 years. The more they age, the younger their fans get. And we’re not talking a little younger here. Bowling for Soup’s core audience has transformed from liquored-up, barhopping Texas dudes to pre-tween, Disney Channel-loving kiddie boppers.

Best known for the singles “1985” and the Grammy-nominated “Girl All the Bad Guys Want,” Bowling for Soup’s sound was seasoned over years of touring and stints on the Warped Tour. The group’s tunes have always had a snotty punk attitude mixed with a few dirty jokes, not exactly what anyone would expect to crossover to the Mickey Mouse crowd. Even frontman Jaret Reddick has found his audience’s demographic shift a little weird.

“We started out as a bar band 15 years ago, so we’ve always sort of had that crowd,” he says. “As we started to get on college radio, college kids started to come. And then ‘1985’ and ‘Punk Rock 101’ were both huge hits on Radio Disney, and our crowd got really, really young.” Continue reading