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A ... is for Air Guitar

Review Archive:
Various Artists

7 Angels 7 Plagues Jhazmyne's Lullaby
It's a given that meaty straight edge hardcore of the 1990s was a pretty deplorable genre. Every bit as one-dimensional as the metalcore (ex-straight edger) scene is today, the old X on hand/boot to head has been responsible for killing nearly as many brain cells as the dreaded demon juice it rallied against. In the case of 7 Angels 7 Plagues, combine the two useless, linked genres of yesterday and today -- feed them through headphones at high volumes, and downing 100 proof moonshine until liver explosion would be more intellectually stimulating. The nine songs on Jhazmyne's Lullaby are punishing enough to please ex-Judge fans currently flailing in the pit and bleeding profusely to the new [insert seventh generation metalcore band name here]. Chuck a heavy nod to the Coalesce vocal style into this melting pot of shit and it's time to submerge in a hot bathtub, set aside a sharp blade, engorge the wrist veins and begin slashing. Uprising Records JS

Affront You'd Make a Good Looking Corpse
It doesn't take long for Affront to grab the ol' gonads on You'd Make a Good Looking Corpse. The title suggests phony metalcore, but this is a solid, driving punk band through and through. From the Capitol City, Affront bring back the positive DC sound with honors, employing that fuzzed-out Brian Baker guitar sound and the whoa-oh-whoa backing vocals that got us all through puberty. Vocalist Peter's snarl goes one above the likes of Smalley in intensity; but tends to meander in a Civ whine from time to time. A minor complaint though for a seven-song EP of charged hardcore/punk as good as any late '80s band, although by its very definition, not overtly original. A cover of the Bad Brains' "Pay to Cum" was totally unnecessary; when are bands going to stop fucking with songs that shouldn't be fucked with? Other than that, it's kudos to Affront, in a big way. Commode JS 7.2003

Aggression From Behind the Iron Curtain
Let me set it up for you ... Dig: I just got home from skateboarding, a fine sunless day in San Francisco, but the fog gives root to some actual heat that seems to permeate from the crooked asphalt below. I had a gleam shine of sweat and was ready for a tall water and dose of Elmo on mid-afternoon Sesame Street. But, I happened to catch my local mailman, Ferd (no not Fred ... Ferd) at my door sticking envelopes into the tiny slots. This is the same guy who always complains to me because there is no "package" drop off from all of the CD promos and whatnot I get (my payment for being a music journalist) who just happened to have a new one for me. Cool, I said. So I wished him well and off he and I went. Upstairs in my tiny shack, I opened the manila-sealed parcel and inside was a promo pack for this band called Aggression. Wow, I thought, I'd heard of these guys ... they rock! Yeah. But when I checked out the actual members, three young Aryan dudes sitting on some curb in middle America, I knew I had been thinking of the wrong band. I mean, wasn't there a band at one point called Aggression? I think so. I'm almost sure of it. If not please contact me and let me know otherwise. Regardless, I thought, three young tykes with a name like Aggression has to be fast and furious so let me crack open a tall boy and get into the groove, to quote Madonna a bit. With that, I plopped the silver disc into the machine, watched it slink into the stereo and waited for the sound ... that evanescent tuneage of pure aggro power rock, fast and devious with just a hint of old school thrash thrown in for good measure. But, what to mine wandering ears should appear, but nothing more than speckled power rock with no more than a flitty name to hold court in the reigns of some punk affiliation. It didn't work. Sorry boys, but WHAT is this? You whine about life, love, life and more crap about being young and obviously trapped in the urban confines of sub-America which we can all do without. Self-loathing can be dealt with in so many other ways; don't promise "aggression" and not deliver! Please. It sucks. But I wish you all the best of luck and, golly, call yourselves Castle Greyskull or Backwash or something. ANYthing but Aggression. Trust me. It'll work! Bailey Records MW 1.18.2002

The Agony Scene Self-Titled
Between Norma Jean, Zao, and now The Agony Scene, Solid State is quickly becoming the most reliable metalcore label. Who would thought those wacky Christians would be able to master the perfection concoction of heavy fucking metal and manic hardcore? While most metalcore bands sound like goofy hardcore kids trying their best to keep up with the pace of Slayer or The Haunted, Solid State bands have a certain level of knowledge and professionalism. Sounds like they actually know and like metal, but they aren't trying to sound like any particular band. Instead, the sounds seem to come completely from within and that honesty permeates the songs, lyrics and vibe of bands like The Agony Scene. More thrash than Norma Jean and less riff-focused than Zao, this Tulsa, Okla., five-piece create an enthralling (and without a doubt) metal sound that once again proves metalcore can work, despite my giving up on this mostly useless genre countless times. Bands like the Agony Scene continue, again and again, to prove me dead wrong. Solid State Records JS 7.2003

AM/FM The Sky Is the New Ground
Another four songs of melancholy long-walk-on-a-short-pier Beatles-pop. After a trashing of their last full-length, in which I described them as a boring Joan of Arc (the tag still very much stands), don't expect an unbiased review here. When it really comes down to it, I just don't "get" this band. Someone, somewhere must and that person will enjoy this. Polyvinyl Records JS 7.2003

Angelic Upstarts Live from the Justice League
Round two in TKO's "Ringside" live series documents a 2001 show in San Francisco by UK punk legends Angelic Upstarts. Their political lyrics and melodic sound put the Upstarts in the same league as the UK Subs. All the Upstarts favorites are here, including the anti-war anthem "Machine Gun Kelly" and anti-fascist rant "Leave Me Alone," as well as covers of The Clash and Sham 69. The between song banter is hilarious, Mensi's thick accent cutting into the rowdy crowd, who often heckle the slower, painful sounding tunes. "Solidarity" is downright embarrassing. When they go melodic, Angelic Upstarts sound tone deaf, but in stormers like "Last Night Another Soldier" they play formidable three-chord punk. The live sound is top notch too. TKO Records JS

The Anniversary/Superdrag Untitled Split EP
The first three songs belong to The Anniversary, an ether-toned outfit that enjoys elements of pure pop. It's perfect aural pleasure for the hungover beast. It begins with a grand tune titled "'Ol' Lady Butterfly," which shoots you into orbit in a cozy waffle iron and weaves a tapestry of neat little riffs and rhythms. The next tune, "Anais," is a definite Beatles take on nasal tones and sing-a-long breathy moans. "Up In The Sky" is a sludgepot full of trash rock goodness which drags a bit but you've got that thick blanket over you so you're well protected. Next up is Superdrag, one of those bands that gets a whole lot of hype for some strange reason. They're good, no doubt about that, but I've always considered them a sort of garage Oasis of sorts. Anyway, opinions aside (and to continue my review ... yeah), Superdrag are good at the slight and poppy thingy and do us proud with songs like "Take Your Spectre Away," which is much more than a great title. It is a repetition into loop hungry guitars and solid thick drumming with overall pleasantries involved. It really should pack the clubs. Next is the sorta sad "The Emotional Kind" and, yeah, it is just about what it says it is here. But what I really got into was the last song on this EP by them, "I Guess It's American," a grittier and louder and faster take on what we were delving into earlier throughout this fine collection. For those unfamiliar with either band, I highly suggest picking this EP up and deciding for yourself. The rest of you know what's going on so ... what are you doing reading my lowly opinions on your favorite bands? Vagrant Records/Heroes and Villains MW

Alien Beyond the Hell
Ah, the sweet waverings of some tunesmith gesticulating somewhere between the painful New Age fallacy and the stoned-up waves of hybrid fusion jazz. This is an instrumental astro parody to that former and latter sense of time and space music -- muzak? This Alien was born in Moscow and takes pride in jamming on his piano and Casio, inviting us all to float freely and headily through the big black above. Each song commodities a certain '80s-esque sci-fi soundtrack while at the same time laying down the grooves for a skin flick set amongst fog machines and astronaut mullets. Truly, this is an album of glib ambition, dorky as it may be, and, who knows, maybe this Alien himself can land a gig at the Parthenon. After huffing a bag of silver paint (high gloss) this album began to speak to me. I then realized that Alien was inspired by the Book of Revelations while composing. Well then ... off to the 700 Club with you then! Then off went this CD.

AMFM Getting Into Sinking
Two-person Beatles pop band, using electronics and melancholy to bore the listener. Like a dull Joan of Arc (imagine that), AMFM's 12 songs on Getting Into Sinking are a meandering blend of acoustic numbers. With this much pop, it's surprising none of the songs are catchy or memorable after a few listens. Although, this album does feature the best song title since Swallowing Shit's "If Assholes Could Fly, This Place Would Be an Airport," offering up the equally clever "If We Burned All the Assholes the Earth Would Look Like the Sun." Too bad the music isn't as interesting as the names of the songs. Polyvinyl Records JS

Anasarca Discography 1994-1997
What a difference a couple of years makes. If this emotional hardcore record had come out two years ago, Second Nature would have sold it by the truckload. Today, Dan Askew and company will be lucky if anyone bats an eyelash at this discography, as the label fills yet another huge Blood Brothers order for the fashionable masses. Anasarca was a relatively unknown band from the Washington DC area who only released a 7", split 7", and demo tape in their three-year existence. Lulling, brooding hardcore with excellent soft/quiet, hard/loud change-ups and some really inventive song intros to set the mood. One song starts off as if you're camping, with sounds of crickets and frogs all around you, before heading full steam into an assault on the heart and head. If anything suffers, it's the vocals, with an all too familiar prepubescent Kermit the Frog flavor that rubs against raw nerves after a few songs. Other than that, a great band, sadly ignored in their time, without much change in sight, despite this retrospective discography. Second Nature JS

Appleseed Cast Mare Vitalis
At first I thought this was just a Sunny Day Real Estate band, but while it is in the same vein it's a great release on its own merits. The guitars and sometimes the vocals sound a lot like early Cure. This has a real easy feel to it while the vocals are inspirational enough to not put you to sleep. Deep Elm Records MH/AH

The Appleseed Cast Low Level Owl: Volume I
I'm not sure what kind of a fan base the Appleseed Cast has, but the "Low Level Owl" sessions are sure to please anyone who's followed this band. Semi-new, to new listeners (like me) will find a lot of the audiophile aspects of the music self-indulgent and an irreparable dent in any pacing these songs could have. "Blind Man's Arrow" is a tune of true beauty, but ends in the senseless tape loop of "Flowers Falling from Dying Hands." And so goes a lot of this album -- right when the songs start to get interesting, they dip into a endless vortex of loops and delays. Count me out for Volume II, but you have to give the Appleseed Cast massive credit for making the records they want to make, even if the end result is generally unlistenable. Deep Elm JS

The Appleseed Cast Low Level Owl: Volume II
The second installment of the Appleseed Cast's Low Level Owl recording session is just as unlistenable as the first. These 12 songs, half of which are random sound effects or tape loop samples, are a continuation of the self-indulgent creativity found on part one of this overwhelming, soul-sucking project. Once again, track two, "Strings," is a thing of true beauty, much like "Blind Man's Arrow" off the first batch. The rest of the album alternates between semi-interesting but way too long songs (most clock in over six minutes) and those aforementioned litter of sound/instrumental tracks. Albeit, big kudos for making the kind of music only they and their minute fan base can understand and appreciate. After enduring this, it's time to fire up some Twisted Sister. Deep Elm JS

The Applicators What's Your Excuse?
The Applicators are four really hot girls who play even hotter punk rock and are here to set the gurgling music scene on fire! When the CD ended, I threw it back into rotation and pressed play again. An old buddy of mine, Greg, a true metal head, had this to say: "Dude, that song, you know, 'I Don't Bleed,' man ... that's a good song." Coming from a snob like him really means something. Really. In any case, What's Your Excuse is one of the coolest albums I've come across in quite some time. When they are not jamming it early Go-Go's style with a belly fulla Lone Star, they are driving their instruments toward true punk glory, by keeping it lean and mean and true to the game. Try this one: the four ladies from Austin, Texas do an awesome cover of Sleater-Kinney's "Good Things," making them almost viable for heavy rotation in your local college radio station. This is true Girl Power music set for the next wave of those who know better and will do all they can to keep the proverbial wrecking ball of female-driven angst-ridden rock and roll alive and smashing. Stars I tell ya ... STARS! That's what these girls are gonna be. I see a three picture deal and diva-nation in creepers and leather skirts. Well, maybe not yet. Let's just enjoy it while we can. Cornerstone Recording Arts Society MW

Arco Coming to Terms
Arco are good tenants. It seems that as they wrote their Pehr label debut Coming to Terms they didn't want to wake up any of their neighbors so they created a soft, atmospheric ode to the dour, which, while not filled with urgency, casts an affective spell of haunting melodies. Though mostly filled with deliberate ballads, Arco even finds moments to take things in a more charged direction, with the feedback driven "Accident" and similarly with "Alien" -- though both know better than to make that the whole of the melody. Instead they let if drift in and out, cutting back to their acoustic melodies as quickly as they let their guitars get near the speakers. In fact, Arco is in such control of their sound that their restraint is almost to their detriment. Though proving that they know what rock sounds like, Coming to Terms is more typified by songs like "Speak," "Babies' eyes," and "Movie" that concentrate on only a few instruments and the soft and purposeful voice of singer/guitarist Chris Healey. On the ending piano ballad of "Lullaby", Healey sings: "Another day calls out for you/ To make your own/ This one goes where all/ The other days have flown." It's a fitting commentary on Coming to Terms. While Arco knows the correct ingredients, they have yet to let themselves soar out of their own boundaries. Pehr Records RG

As Friends Rust Won
In the early days of hardcore music, that fine melding of heavy hitting guitars, super-bolic drums and lyrics spitting out images of nuclear winters sure to come and the absolution of beer, the idea of being a good friend came only to certain select groups. In unto themselves were 7 Seconds, Minor Threat, and the lot. Here though, in the 21st century, we tend to meld the likes of "I love you like a brother, but fuck you right now" to such an adverse extent that the meaning gets clogged much like the music scenes of today. So many various styles and links have drawn blood from one another only to form a mass-market/coming-soon-to-a-theatre-near-you type of amplified rot that we as individuals -- we the ones who love quality music and can feel a shit sandwich ten miles away -- are imbued with the resident malaise and have to sift through the muck to find that one golden ticket. Having friends rust is pretty cool. Doncha think? Sure ... it means that, yes, we do have buddies, they mean a lot to us, but at the same time, we know darn well that they too will melt away with the rest of the surface slush, only to leave behind some pan flash legacy one can hope to embody sometime in the distant future. Hardcore bands will always exist; the suburban heart and soul is just as fragile and pertinent as any other. And when all is said and done, it too will need to be heard and shout it out loud for the rest of the world to hear and try to understand. That's why when bands like When Friends Rust come around we have to drop what we're doing and open up, both internally and aurally. This is tight packed punk 'n' roll with some flair that will keep us all intact until the next round. Your friends will all agree. I think. Doghouse Records MW 1.18.2002

As It Stands The Turning Point
As It Stands is a band of very young men featuring Paul Long, drums, Jake Szafranski, guitars and vocals, Christopher Evensen, guitars and vocals, and Michael Larson, bass, and its album The Turning Point has a punky driving-rock sound too unvarying for my taste, but it is redeemed by their lyrics and attitude (honest, loving, humorous). The song "Thinking Of ..." is a naked affirmation of love, and surprising, though the half-chanted, half-brayed vocals, and fuzzy, scraping electric guitars and heavy drums are no surprise. The contrast could make this seem like masculine reticence (hiding feeling behind bravado) or, simply, the mix-and-match style of today's youth, a style that mirrors a state of becoming (no longer a child, but not yet a mature adult). "Running in Place" is about confusion regarding personal direction. In "Pieces of You" a relationship ends, and a boy regrets with a charming candor, but the music grates -- the energy, testosterone, and amps revved up. More variety of tempo and structure within the song would improve it, though the vocals, almost a call-and-response approach, are good. The song "Know It All" is preceded by the "you're just a kid" speech given by Robin Williams to Matt Damon in the film Good Will Hunting, and the song is about the fear of admitting feeling and also about self-disgust. "Ninth Life" begins with a quote about a cub scout preparing to survive a bomb's explosion. The song itself is about human connections, with the singer admitting "But I'm thinking, Is your vision of my life keeping you awake at night?" There are bonus tracks and spoken TV and film quotes at the CD's end. Distant Rise Records/Common Sense Records DG

The Atari Star And Other Smaller, Brighter Worlds
People will differ on what they think is the best Atari game. Pitfall is usually heralded as the number-one game for the Atari 2600 system. I preferred River Raid and Contra, once Nintendo was invented. Playing video games is pretty sweet, but only if you have tons of time on your hands and hanging out with girls isn't too important to you. Of course, some girls really dig video games, and God bless them, but none of them are going to be cool with you playing games all the time and not chilling with them. Now I was never very smooth, but I'd say I easily prefer girls to video games. It's a lifestyle choice more than anything else. Nowadays, with the advent of XBOX and GameCube, you could easily convince me to play some Halo or whatever blow-em-up shit is currently out there, but I'd be the first out the door if there was an opportunity to meet a special lady. What I lack in smoothness, I make up for in a bonafide desire to find love. You see, I'm a romantic, and in these electronic times, that can be overlooked. I live in Chicago now, just like The Atari Star. I bet we visit the same local music venues, and we're probably looking at the same girls, hoping to start conversation and not look like a pervert. Now they're rock stars, so they have it easy, like Barry Manilow. That guy got tons of chicks. Think about that. Life is often out of balance. Like jewels being guarded by giant scorpions and a joystick that sitcks, and flying over a river that serpentines like, well, a snake. And sometimes love is hard to find. If it wasn't, we'd certainly have less time to play video games. Johann's Face Records RG

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Also in Song ...
Song Archive

JS - Jason Schreurs

MW - Mark Whittaker

KG - Kenny George

ZH - Zachary Houle

MH - Melissa Hostetler

RG - Ryan Gowland

CS - Cameron Smith

CR - Chuck Reith

CO - Cory O'Malley

BD - Bruce Duncanson

JR - Jessica Richman

GW - Greg Wilson

DG - Daniel Garret

JT - Jessie Turner

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