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Let the Music Move the Masses

If life has a soundtrack, revolution and dissent definitely has one that rivals anything out of Hollywood. Though movie scores like The Matrix come close to having a cohesive, angry rant about the state of things, they are still bound by societal rules and inhibitions on what is acceptable. Or all the compilation CDs out there today it's amazing to me that no one has put together something that gets your blood boiling, music to get your ripe for civic action, anthems with an edge of education. Hmmm ... there's an idea.

August.8th.2003

The Austerity Program Terra Nova EP
Yeesh, two people can sure make a fuckload of noise! Together with their relic drum machines, bassist Thad Calabrese and guitarist/singer Justin Foley trudge through four tracks of atmospheric, arty chunk rock. Repetitiveness is the key here, as off-kilter riffs and thumping bass lines spiral around themselves, leaving each song in a shuddering heap by its end. And, unlike most bands with drum machines, that annoying techno drum sound does not overbear the songs (Godflesh, are you listening?). Foley's vocals go from almost folky sounding, soft-spoken storytelling to throat-damaging, lilting screams sung to lyrics that relay the myths and fables we were never told. The Austerity Program are the kind of band that could play heavy shows with Isis and Keelhaul, but could also fit right into the artier coffee house format of their own New York neighborhood. Hydra Head Records JS

The Blinding Light Glass Bullet EP
This might have been passable metalcore with a Swedish thrash influence if not for the wretched vocals. It's hard to believe the band, producer, or anyone within a mile radius of the recording studio didn't notice how bad these vocals sound! The only excuse for the inclusion of Brian Lovro's frog-scream is that he muscled his way into the band and no one was brave enough to tell him to fuck off. "Hey guys, I can sing! No, really, I can!" If The Blinding Light want to take their semi-interesting metalcore groove (by way of Entombed) anywhere past this EP, they had better cut this fucker loose. He'll be the death of them. Deathwish, Inc. JS

Brandston Death & Taxes EP
Another excellent EP from the angelic yet peppy Brandston. This Cleveland, Ohio band seems to be constantly developing their emo-rock sound to employ more and more hooks. These six songs will have you humming along uncontrollably as you go about your menial daily duties. One minor complaint about this EP would be that all the songs do have a samey sort of quality, save for the acoustic closer. Ah well, give them a full album (does this band do full albums?) and I'm sure we'd see some more variation. Deep Elm Records JS

Canterbury Effect Every Piece of Me EP
I used to despise EPs. I mean, why put 20 minutes of music on a piece of technology that can hold upwards of 80 minutes, right? Well my friends, times have changed over here at Schreurs review central. After enduring more long CDs than I care to mention, I now welcome the EP with open arms; the shorter the better. Anthology and other lengthy CDs are now treated with the kind of spite once reserved for the shorties. It's a complete flip-flop. Which leads me to this cool little 20-minute EP from Canterbury Effect. If this had been a full-length, I would have tuned out after a few songs. Here we only get a few songs, so I stay tuned. Get it? Competent emo rock with tinges of Hot Water Music (especially on "Lightning and Lottery") and a tiny bit of sass for good measure. Like all boyish-core, there's a few moments of pure cheese, such as the hilariously placed "Wooo!" right near the end of "Color With a You" that brought a big grin to my face. Every Piece of Me has five songs that kept my interest and teased me for another round. All hail the EP! Pluto Records JS

Cardia Self-Titled
Wow. Cardia are more Radiohead than the past three Radiohead records combined. Put this album on at a party (yea, like I have access to parties) and everyone will swear this is Yorke and crew really returning to their Bends roots. With members of Rival Schools, Shudder to Think, Speedball Baby, and the Verve Pipe doing time in this band, it's no wonder this self-titled album sings and sways with sublime melody. It's a bit too derivative at times; can a band really sound so much like another band and still be considered a success? But those discerning music fans who are tired of all the experimental noodling that Radiohead have been doing for the past few years will be excitedly redeemed by Cardia. Silverthree JS

Ward Churchill In a Pig's Eye
Although not exactly listener friendly, this double CD of spoken word from American Indian scholar and activist Ward Churchill is definitely worth the extensive time and effort. It's hard not to get information overload when listening to Churchill's observations on the repression of Native peoples by the US police state. There's so much here about America's theft of valuable Native land and the FBI counter intelligence programs that keep any organization or rallying by Natives in a perpetual state of lockdown on reserves. Despite the immensity of material on these discs, they are a harrowing and heartbreaking testament to the ongoing genocide against American Indians and should be listened to by everyone in the Western World. Churchill is steadily becoming more and more well known for his in-depth and comprehensive knowledge of his people's history, as well as their status today. Let's hope he can penetrate the minds of at least a good number of folks who are still in the dark about Native issues. G7 Welcoming Committee JS

Converge Unloved and Weeded Out
When it comes down to it, I think Converge are just too good at what they do. Maybe that's why I have tried hard to distance myself from them; because the sounds they create are so intense and chaotic that it's brain overload to spend too much time with them. Sometimes brain overload is welcome though; and for times like that, these high runners of the metalcore genre can deliver enough blazing riffs, change-up mania, and vocal shred to keep your head swimming for days. Unloved and Weeded Out is a collection of vinyl/compilation tracks and unreleased demos, so it's not a complete, cohesive album (like last year's amazing Jane Doe set), but that doesn't stop this from being a headfuck of mind-blowing proportions. The definite highlight is the five-song demo they recorded in 1997 before signing to Equal Vision. To immortalize metalcore forever (and in the good light it deserves), you'd only need to point in the direction of these five excellent songs. Deathwish, Inc. JS

Darkest Hour Hidden Hands of a Sadist Nation
Talk about an American band going through every effort to get that Gothenberg-style Swedish thrash metal sound! Darkest Hour actually went to Gothenberg and recorded their CD at Studio Fredman with producer Fredrick Nordstrom (At the Gates, In Flames, etc.). But it doesn't stop there. This morbid bunch of yanks then recruited Swedish death figureheads like Tomas Lindberg (At the Gates), Peter Wichers (Soilwork), and Anders Bjorler (The Haunted) to guest on Hidden Hands of a Sadist Nation. Okay, guys, we understand, you want to be a Swedish thrash band. We get it. The cool thing about these nine songs is they actually expand on that sound, adding US hardcore sensibilities and metalcore tinkerings to the Gothenberg trademark. The Swede guest appearances kinda fade away into the mix here; I'd be hard pressed to tell you who guests on which song, but it only adds to the community feel of this record and is way better than having songs that are dominated by guest vocalists and musicians. Definitely one of the better heavy CDs of this year, Darkest Hour have proven that imitation is indeed flattery, but using imitation as a starting block for inspirational new music is a hell of a lot better. Victory Records JS

Elliott Song in the Air
And I quote myself, "False Cathedrals might be the signal that something completely special is about to happen," from my review of Elliott's last record. Song in the Air is that something special. In the past, it was easy to compare this Louisville, Ken. band to other, more established groups; but that time has come to an end. The band has gracefully matured into their own skin, and will become an influence to younger bands, so the circle is complete. I'm not sure how much the addition of a new guitar player and bassist can account for the difference -- as well as hefty contributions from a string quartet led by Christian Frederickson of Rachel's. If anything, it's even more impressive that Elliott were able to gel well enough to release such a landmark album. Don't expect any leftover hardcore remnants here, this is pure melodic rock with swirly guitars and majestic vocals. Not the kind of album you can skim through, this requires the utmost attention and three to five full listens for everything to sink in the way it should. So far, "Carry On" and "Beijing (Too Many People)" are the standout tracks, but I'm sure that will change. Every minute I spend writing about this CD is one less minute I could be listening to it. So, um, see ya. Revelation Records JS

5ive The Hemophiliac Dream EP
Ahem, okay, this one takes a hefty investment of time and patience. Essentially a two-part, 38-minute instrumental/noise bash, The Hemophiliac Dream could be the soundtrack to a heart-stopping nightmare. When part one lurches into a suicide riff after about seven minutes of droning noise, it's an exhilarating, end-of-the-world experience that is difficult, if not impossible, to match. Unfortunately, the meandering noise sections are a bore, for the most part, and at best could be effectively creepy background noise for some sort of decadent behavior. 5ive are a difficult listen, and I'm sure that is exactly the point of this EP. Tortuga Recordings JS

Garrison The Model EP
Fans of Garrison's last full-length, Be a Criminal (Revelation), will be a little taken aback by the subdued nature of their new EP. The five songs on The Model take a slightly less rockin' path than anything from their last album, opting for a more mainstream, Jimmy Eat World-ish feel. The Garrison hooks are still loud and clear, front and center, but these songs have a little more resonance and introspection. They do get a little wimpy at times, but, hey, there's nothing wrong with that if you're in the right mood. Iodine Recordings JS

Harkonen Shake Harder Boy
Not only have Harkonen fine-tuned their assault over the course of the last seven or eight years, they've also managed to loosen up along the way. What results is a piercing, but somewhat comforting, listen that employs catchy, massive guitar riffs without beating them to death. Shake Harder Boy has the epic feel of Neurosis or Isis (especially in the vocals), but also a catchy energy that saves it from being the kind of record that requires the utmost of attention and atmosphere. In other words, Harkonen is equally effective as the background music for your late night walk or the soundtrack to own your personal nervous breakdown. It's their finest moment yet, with each of the successive 11 tracks every good as the last one. Watch for even bigger and better things to come from this amazing Tacoma, Wash. band. Hydra Head JS

I Farm Is Lying to Be Popular
Ah yes, I Farm... the bipolar band from Brooklyn that always gets my panties in a bunch. This band is so non-cohesive and all over the place that reviewing their CDs is usually the task equivalent of getting a root canal. It's an only slightly uncomfortable pleasure to report that their newest album, Is Lying to Be Popular, does not induce extreme pain; in fact, it's a comparatively straight-forward hardcore/punk attack that finally pulls this band out of the dark catacombs of personality crisis land. Those who actually appreciated I Farm's (how shall I say) perpetual variety will not be dummied down to on these 15 songs. The band still delivers enough herky-jerky stops and starts for the attention deficit disorder kids out there. Finally though, here's an I Farm album that doesn't send us screaming for the exits, as the barrage of screamy vocals, pop, and bang drums, tasty bass ties and guitar foolery remain enough in check to make the songs semi-memorable. I very much doubt you'll find me humming any of these tunes on a crowded bus, but at least Is Lying to Be Popular didn't require a healthy dose of painkillers to get through. Best song: The loving tribute to Captain Kirk that is "Bill Shatner Speaks Esperanto, Do You?" Go-Kart Records JS

The Jazz June Better Off Without Air
The Jazz June's fifth album is pretty neat stuff, riding the wave of various influences and sounds, from reggae to free jazz. Bass lines thump and plunk, drums tickle and bop, guitars noodle and pluck, and the vocals are pleasantly sparse. I hear a bit of Karate in The Jazz June, but I'm sure it's more a point of reference to these ears than a conscious decision by the band. Still, fans of Karate will enjoy, as will those of Fugazi's janglier stuff. Like Fugazi, The Jazz June haven't abandoned the scratchier sounds of their past, as is evident on the freak-out bop of "These Pills Won't Calm Your Nerves." One complaint about Better Off Without Air is it tends to drag along in a lot of places, and those with short attention spans will be tempted by the song-skip button on a regular basis. Initial Records JS

The Milwaukees This Is a Stickup
New Jersey's The Milwaukees might have just made the first great rock record of this decade. There's no bullshit or strings attached to This Is a Stickup; only solid, emotional rock that could be filed with ease alongside the classic albums of the post-punk era. Play this and The Replacement's Let It Be or Nirvana's Nevermind back-to-back and The Milwaukees will fit in seamlessly. No shit. There's 11 songs of pure rock here with excellent lyrics and an understated beauty that 99 percent of bands never attain. The best thing about This Is a Stickup is they don't try to do too much; instead they let nature take its course and the music pours out, untainted by thinking about things too much. It's a jam room where nobody says, "Hey, let's sound like so-and-so," or, "How about we stick a [insert genre name] riff in here?" They just let it flow and it works wonders. Does Everyone Stare? JS

Nakatomi Plaza Private Property
Nakatomi Plaza are from New York, but without the benefit of liner notes it would be easy to peg them as a Florida band. An essence of Hot Water Music and the always-shifting crop of screamier No Idea bands is more than evident on Private Property. Amidst songs like the melodic "Bike Rock Revolution" and spastic "Consider This a Hostile Takeover," Nakatomi Plaza deliver a fairly impressive range of emotional hardcore. And while they often side with the poppier sounds, these songs have lots of chaotic moments as well. Poetic lyrics and soft-spoken vocals, interspersed with those of the screaming chipmunk variety, push Nakatomi Plaza into a more respectable category than the glut of screamier emo bands that often have zilch for range. Immigrant Sun JS

Pelican Untitled EP
Praise goes out to any band who forego the vocalist. Either Pelican know that bad vocalists have been the death of many heavy bands such as theirs, or they are too busy pounding their instruments into rubble to care. The four tracks on this half-hour EP crumble then crush everything within earshot. Perfect for that late night walkman annihilation; when quite music makes you depressed and heavy music makes you inspired to work with blunt instruments. Riff-heavy and momentous, Pelican create a sonic barrage that demands repeated listens. And, oh joy of joys, no shitty singer to bring the whole proceedings down. Hydra Head JS

Premonitions of War The True Face of Panic
Fuck yeah! 18 minutes of raging aggro grind. When it comes to punishing metalcore, I doubt many can top Premonitions of War. The best thing about this Toledo, Ohio band is they are never content to stick to the thoroughly beaten metalcore path, instead opting to incorporate different elements of extreme music, including thrash, grind, death, mathcore, sludge, and other forms of audio carnage. Song lengths range from one minute to upwards of seven, and the intensity never lets up for a single moment. Wow! I can't imagine how many necks a full-length could snap. Goodfellow Records JS

Ring, Cicada Good Morning, Mr. Good
It wasn't a surprise to see Steve Albini's name in the production credits for this mostly instrumental CD. Ring, Cicada do get that meaty production sound associated with Mr. Albini, but also delve into more melodic sounds on this 11-songer. Only three of the songs have vocals, and those tracks are the weakest of the bunch. It's the barn-burning, instru-jams like "Esoterrorism" that find a groove, lock into it and keep the ears held, precision-tight, for a few minutes of enjoyment. The strained, off-kilter vocals just take away from that special excursion into rock jam land. Akin to Chicago noise rock like the Jesus Lizard or Albini's own Shellac, although with a decidedly mellower edge, Ring, Cicada are a completely self-indulgent group in the best way possible. 54-40 or Fight! JS

Scarlet Something to Lust About EP
As much as this has that "Why bother," run-of-the-mill metalcore feel, Richmond, Va.'s Scarlet manage to pull a mutilated rabbit out of the hat on Something to Lust About. With use of electronic samplers and a hefty Pro-Tools session (those stops and starts on "Suicide King" cannot be legit), this on again/off again band eek out a valid addition to the gluttonous metalcore brigade. Scarlet broke up in 2000 with members going on to play in Spitfire (Tooth & Nail/Goodfellow) but a reunion of sorts in the summer of 2002 churned out these six songs. Like all metalcore bands, they try like bandits to cram as many riffs, sneaky Kerry King licks, and tempo changes into each song; perfect listening for the attention deficit kids out there, but often a bloody mess for anyone looking for a simple song to latch onto. An EP of this stuff is a quick scream therapy session, but unless Scarlet continue in the experimental direction, I'm not sure I could handle their upcoming full length. Ferret Style JS

Shai Hulud That Within Blood Ill Tempered
People go apeshit over this band en masse, but I've never really seen the full appeal. That said, when it comes to chunkier metalcore with tons of melody and emotion, I suppose these guys do deserve a spot in the upper echelon. Personally, I find the whole package a little too verbose, from the self-proclaimed "neoclassical metalcorechestration" sounds to the goofy liner notes. I mean, instead of having a thanks list, these dudes have "an extensive list of the parties that keep us warm and hopeful in our hearts ..." I could go on, but I won't. A lot of interesting ideas are explored in these songs, but it seems only partially developed, as if the band jammed and jammed their own individual ideas until things meshed well enough to the satisfaction of the collective; but no one member's vision was fully realized. The result is a muddled, confusing, and often grating listen that gives me more and more of a headache with each successive listen. Revelation Records JS

Since By Man We Sing the Body Electric
Yea, there's a certain sassiness here, and the Nation of Ulysses send-off has to go. They even steal "A Kid Who Tells on Another Kid Is a Dead Kid" as one of their song titles. Despite the obvious reference points to their sound, Since By Man manage to eke out a strong album of Refused-style hardcore. The sounds of bands like Killsadie and The Blood Brothers also rear their ugly little mop-heads on occasion, but not enough to rustle too many feathers for those who prefer music made by grown-ups. Mainly, this Milwaukee five-piece deliver a jazzed-up skronk akin to Converge with a lisp. Revelation Records JS

Thirty Called Arson You're Only a Rebel from the Waist Downward
It doesn't take Thirty Called Arson long to stake their claim as the heaviest, fastest, loudest, most change-ups per song, most spastic stage performance metalcore band in the world today. Too bad this stuff now bores anyone who's heard a Converge or Dillinger Escape Plan record to tears. As is the standard for these kind of bands, rarely does You're Only a Rebel… stick to one idea for more than 15-20 seconds. Instead, the 11 songs (plus obligatory bonus track) veer and careen off into a gazillion different riffs and sub-riffs to the point of nausea. As far as raging and schizophrenic metalcore goes, this is as intense vocally and musically as pretty much any of the big guns. But Thirty Called Arson would definitely benefit from simplifying their songwriting process and perhaps sticking to, hmmm, maybe 20 riffs per song?! The best song here is the melodic and simple instrumental closer "Have You Met My Friend Burns?" which resonates with a lasting etch and a promise for something more memorable in the future. Pluto Records JS

The Turbo AC's Automatic
This NYC punk band can lay claim to the honor of finally bringing producer Blag Dahlia (Dwarves) and mixer Billy Milano (SOD, MOD, stupid) together in the recording studio. Ah, to be a fly on the wall during the production of this CD. Despite the non-talent involved, Automatic is amazingly subdued, surf-influenced rough and tumble punk with absolutely no songs about blood and pussy or killing middle easterners. Guess Dahlia and Milano's influence wasn't too strong in the songwriting department (thank the lucky stars). Still, the tunes aren't as rip-roaring as they should be, although the chorus for "Future" raises quite a stink before returning to la-la land for each verse. There's a hilarious line in the band's bio that says they would feel comfortable sharing the stage with anyone from Agnostic Front to No Doubt, and that pretty much says it all. Gearhead Records JS

Vic Bondi / Articles of Faith Fortunate Son EP
One new song by Vic Bondi (he of Articles of Faith/Alloy vocal fame) and a John Fogerty cover, along with two Articles of Faith classics, all in an effort to get people thinking more about US-led terrorist wars in the Middle East. "Hardball," Bondi's new offering is pretty solid with caustic lyrics against US foreign bullying policy. The song is similar to Alloy in its melody (and politics), and Bondi's patented fire-breath vocals are spot on. The cover of Fogerty's "Fortunate Son," well, I could have done without, but such is the case with most rock cover songs, and the sentiment is fitting for the purposes of this EP. The Articles of Faith classics ("Buy This War" and "American Dreams") are, of course, timelessly essential, more of which can be found on the Articles of Faith Complete Vol. 1 and 2 CDs, on none other than… Alternative Tentacles JS

Watchers To the Rooftoops
Oh dear, someone's been listening to their Talking Heads records too much. Watchers could be lumped into the whole no-wave movement, I suppose, but stick them in the '80s and you can change the "no" to "new," all the way. Put this on for anyone who is slightly familiar with Talking Heads and I'm sure they'll assume that's what it is. The talk-sung vocals, quirky arrangements, wailing keys, and ambitious guitar work are all here to enjoy; but anyone who got annoyed by David Byrne and crew (and there were a lot of us) will probably be doubly annoyed by this. Still, check out the sparkling album closer "When the Night Comes" and tell me this doesn't groove (or whatever). Gern Blandsten JS

Various Artists: Sad Songs Remind Me: The Emo Diaries Chapter Nine As Deep Elm's historic emo compilation series winds down (chapter ten will be the last), so do the bands who appear on it. Most of the 12 bands here contribute unplugged, mellow lullabies, with Japan's The Local Art, Sweden's Iamuse and Italy's Settlefish managing to keep me awake. The hands-down best song on here is by The Paper Champions; an amazing three-minute-plus song called "Ask Emma" which explodes in distortion at the end. And what welcome distortion it is! Some of these other bands were lulling me into a coma. Deep Elm JS


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