Champ – Tokyo Police Club

When Tokyo Police Club burst onto the scene, the group was immediately burdened with ridiculous hype. It’s not that the band didn’t make great tunes, but the level of expectation heaped on the Canadian quartet would be enough to suffocate most any band’s creativity. The people throwing the buzz around clearly lost sight of what Tokyo Police Club is. The group was never going to be “the next big thing” filling arenas with indie devotees (mainly because no one this side of Death Cab for Cutie fits that description). Tokyo Police Club is the type of group that operates best as scrappy underdogs, garnering a moderate but passionate fanbase and blowing them away in clubs – not arenas. Champ delivers just what those fans want.

Tokyo Police Club has sonically changed a great deal since 2006’s tremendous EP A Lesson In Crime. The group members are no longer shouty upstarts and Champ displays a real range in songwriting. It starts with the album’s opener “Favourite Food,” which begins with electronic drones only to give way to a bare-bones Neutral Milk Hotel sounding acoustic ramblings – with singer Dave Monks delivering worn and a quarter-slurred lines of melancholy. Then, somehow, the track finishes as a clappy rocker. The song varies about as much as one can in a four minute span. The songwriting array is also on display on songs like “Hands Reversed,” which pulls of a slow tempo – in a way that the band couldn’t have in its early days – thanks to a reserved mood and a sense of space that avoids unnecessary instrumental clutter.
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Future Breeds – Hot Hot Heat

Since the brilliant one-two punch of Make Up The Breakdown and Elevator, Hot Hot Heat has had a rough go of it. Guitarist/songwriter Dante DeCaro left the band due to creative differences (eventually landing in Wolf Parade), and the the band’s first effort without him, Happiness Ltd., was the antithesis of absolutely abysmal major label debuts. It seemed that the band had creatively kicked the bucket in a hurry. But on Future Breeds Hot Hot Heat has a pulse, if only a faint one.

While the lack DeCaro’s perfectly placed guitar work still leaves a gaping hole in Hot Hot Heat’s sound, the band does recapture some of the frantic and jerky energy that put them on the map. A song like “21@12” may not fully capture the jangly brightness of early Hot Hot Heat, it’s still got enough pep to carry the day. “Goddess On The Prairie” captures a bit of that old spirit of adding just enough guitar spritzes for taste. The sporadic “JFK’s LSD” also proves that the noisier the better on this album. Continue reading

White Crosses – Against Me!

No band rivals Against Me! in terms of the amount of abuse it takes from its own fanbase. The same people that listened to Reinventing Axl Rose until they knew every syllable and note by heart, have spent much of the past few years venomously spitting words like “hypocrite,” “sell-out,” and “fake” at Against Me! frontman Tom Gabel. Undeterred but not unaware, Against Me!’s new album White Crosses pushes the band into new territory. The cynics are sure to spend hours debating whether the band is still punk or if it’s now just rock. But this inane hair splitting misses the real question – is the music still any good? To answer simply – yes.

Because of the punk “purist” backlash, any discussion about White Crosses has to begin with the album’s first single “I Was Teenage Anarchist.” The song is the closest to Against Me!’s previous work, excelling thanks Gabel’s lyrical transition from deeply personal verses – addressing the disconnect between his present and his anarchist past – to a huge chorus that rings with a universal relatability (“Do you remember when you were young and want to set the world on fire?”). To the “hypocrite” and “sell-out” crowd, this tune seems like the perfect ammunition to prove that Gabel’s past work – most specifically Reinventing Axl Rose‘s rallying ode “Baby, I’m An Anarchist” – is nothing but lies and spineless posturing. How can he still play “Baby, I’m An Anarchist” live when he screams “The revolution was a lie” in “I Was Teenage Anarchist”?

But look at the songs for what they really are. At their core they are not political rallying cries. “Baby, I’m An Anarchist” is a love song and “I Was A Teenage Anarchist” is its accompanying break-up song. Looking at “Baby, I’m An Anarchist”‘s lyrics, it’s about a guy who is unable to reconcile severe political differences (“You believe in authority, I believe in myself. I’m a molotov cocktail. You’re Dom Perignon.”) in order to have a relationship. His true love isn’t another person – it’s the anarchist ideal. But just like a bad girlfriend, time together has shown Gabel that his love isn’t the perfect entity he thought it was. They’ve drifted apart. Things have been said that can’t be unsaid. There are irreconcilable differences between the two parties. And on track two of White Crosses they split up for good. Like any worthwhile break-up song “I Was A Teenage Anarchist” combines a hint of the good times of the past (the chorus) with a bitterness and realization of how flawed the ex was. “The scene was to rigid” in the same way someone can feel suffocated in a relationship. No one bats an eyelash when a songwriter falls in love and writes songs about their lover, only to have an ugly split which leads to angry songs about the ex. In Gabel’s case, he fell in love with an ideal. Stones should not be tossed his way because the spark faded.
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Emery Feature From The Inlander

Sugar High

Critics can’t hurt Emery — they do enough damage to themselves.

Josh Head has a standing-still problem. As the keyboardist for Emery, his stage performance is akin to what it would be like if you gave a 5-year-old boy 50 Pixie sticks and demanded he down them all in 10 minutes. It’s an absurd display of jittering, bounding off drum kits and trashing about that screams sugar rush. Head even ventures into the crowd and literally stands on them while he belts out raspy bellowed lines of lyrics. Emery’s bassist and vocalist Toby Morren speculated to BlogCritics.org his thoughts on why his bandmate is such a wild man on — and off — stage.

“[Josh] actually had never played keys before [joining Emery], so on stage he is actually mad at how hard it is to play the piano and takes his frustrations out by smashing the keyboard,” he said.

Emery’s live show is an exercise in blissful brutality. Mixing the raw frantic heaviness of hardcore with the bravado of arena rockers, the Seattle-via-South Carolina rock outfit can do what few bands can: put on a concert set that grabs the attention of non-fans and keeps them wanting more. And as punishing as it can seem to the onlookers, live shows take a toll on the band just as much.

“Our live show is pretty crazy, so I will just list injuries: I threw my guitar in the air. It landed on my head gashing me and giving me a concussion,” Morren told AbsolutePunk.net. “Matt sliced Devin’s ear in two with the head stock of his guitar. I smashed Matt’s hand while swinging my mic, and it hit him so hard he could barely feel the guitar…” He goes on and on. Continue reading

Sasquatch! Festival 2010 Day 2 Recap – Bullet Point Edition

Because when there really wasn’t a coherent thread, why force one?  Here’s a look back on the one day of Sasquatch! Festival that I trekked out to this year, complete with color pictures.

  • Caribou is exactly the type of band that should play the first set of a festival day.  The group was the first act on the mainstage and the light, non-abrasive but catchy brand of electronic music Daniel Victor Snaith and his live backing band dispensed was just the right mood setter.  One has to consider that many of the people watching are lightly hung over from first day fest antics or groggy from just waking up, so having something that eases you into a music listening mood with smooth grooves that are just fun enough to get you moving a little is ideal.  I’ve seen the first band, in such a situation not fit more times than I’d like to count.  Kudos to Caribou.

Caribou

    • For some reason there was a black backdrop covering the entire back of the mainstage.  This was a travesty.  Part of the magic of The Gorge is the unbelievable view behind the massive stage.  Someone seriously dropped the ball on that one.  Totally inexcusable.
    • I’m sure the general media consensus is going to be that LCD Sounsystem ruled the mainstage on Sunday, but the real king was Kid Cudi.  The kids in the pit were just rabid for him.  Chants of “CU-DI CU-DI CU-DI!” were heard long before he even took the stage.  Once he actually did make his way out for his adoring throngs, he delivered a performance that left them craving more.  Cudi really commanded the whole stage and worked the crowd like a true showman between renditions of “Soundtrack 2 My Life,” “Pursuit of Happiness,” and others.  For an MC that doesn’t rely on super high energy tracks, the energy was fantastic.  If anyone wasn’t a believer in Kid Cudi before that set, it’s hard to imagine that they still wouldn’t be after witnessing him kill it.

      Kid Cudi

      • Speaking of LCD Soundsystem, James Murphy’s dance contingent is officially in the “artists I just don’t get” category now.  Live it’s just dance music that’s really, really repetitive that lack a lot of energy and stage presence.  I understand the group layers lots of percussion and electronic sounds, but seven minutes of the same few words and beats isn’t that interesting.  To the group’s credit, the coolest moment of the day happened during their set when everyone on the hill started doing a synchronized dance and eventually the people in the pit noticed and joined in time.  Very sweet.  However, I’m slowly starting to suspect that LCD Soundsystem is just The Black Eyed Peas for hipsters, which…well…yikes.

      LCD Soundsystem

      • The reason I only attended one day (and the reason I didn’t attend at all last year) is due to the general decline in Sasquatch!’s lineup.  Even for the one day I did catch, man there were were a lot of boring bands.  Watching a group like Local Natives makes me want to take a nap.  Call me crazy, but I like a little energy in my rock festival.  Heck, even the day’s “headliner” Massive Attack couldn’t even keep my attention for two songs.  Is ambient electronic trance music really a good headlining fit?  Really? Continue reading