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Rocking Out Is So Hard To Do

I like music; you like music. We all love music that rocks. It doesn't have to be loud; it doesn't have to be soft. It has to be played with passion. Here you will find some bands doing it right and some not so much. As always take your music as seriously as you take yourself -- we hope not too much -- and revel in the joy it can bring.

June.23rd.2003

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

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

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

Blessing the Hogs The Poisoning
A down-tuned trip to the far reaches of hell (or reasonable facsimile), The Poisoning, the debut album from a Billy Anderson-led San Francisco four-piece, tears most metalcore bands a new asshole. More in the vein of the bands Anderson is famous for producing (Eyehategod, Neurosis, Buzzoven), Blessing the Hogs are a lovely mess of venom and spew, pounding and bludgeoning with blunt instruments until it's just too much to handle. Give them dexterity points for a speed-sensitive version of the classic Crucifix song, "Prejudice," and take away brain cell points for a confusing cover of the Meatmen's "Crippled Children Suck" (which chimes in at 40 seconds long). Meanwhile, their originals show no desire for formula or anything remotely listener-friendly; instead the focus is on evil, ugly sounds. After a few tracks of this, even the happy-go-luckiest will be looking to slit their wrists vertically. High praise indeed, especially for a band that has only been around since 1999. Goodfellow Records JS

The Black Sea Self-Titled
Many will be touting this as Fugazi bassist Joe Lally's side-project when, in fact, it is more a vehicle for ex-Frodus guitarist/vocalist Shelby Cinca. Cinca's understated voice and poetic lyrics drive these three songs. The patented euphoric Lally bass lines do poke their heads out of gopher holes here and there, but he mostly takes a steady, rhythmic back seat. This is more Frodus than Fugazi; the feedback driven climax to "Ghost Lanterns" really says it all. Those expecting a deeper look into the musical mind of Lally, as previously exposed on Fugazi tracks like "The Kill" (Lally's turn at the helm on Fugazi's latest, The Argument), won't get any additional revelations here. Still, The Black Sea is a great new chapter in the epic novel that is DC post-hardcore. Lovitt Records JS

Botch An Anthology of Dead Ends
I've always been super hard on Botch. Maybe it was their stylish demeanor, or perhaps it was just being sick of hearing about them circa American Nervoso (early '98). Whatever the case, this postpartum EP of the last six songs they recorded before implosion is one of the best things I've heard this year. A continuation of the mind-melting they did on We Are the Romans, An Anthology of Dead Ends is perhaps the pinnacle of metalcore; and something tells me it's all downhill from here. This genre can now officially fold up and die (but, of course, it won't) because nobody will ever match the bellowing beauty of these songs. Hydra Head Records JS

Craw Bodies for Strontium 90
This requires two separate reviews: One review for a world that includes The Jesus Lizard in its history books, and another review for one that does not. First, the non-Jesus Lizard review: Craw play quirky, inventive, challenging music. Vocalist Joe McTigh sounds like a drunken pirate with a carrot up his ass, spouting and spewing the oddest lyrics heard in a coon's age. The rhythm section is tight and precise, leaving room for the guitarist to deviate a little from the normal riff-riffery. Bodies for Strontium 90 is an inventive, frightful listen, thoroughly enjoyable in a bad nightmare sort of way. Okay, now the review including The Jesus Lizard: The Jesus Lizard lives! Those still mourning the death of the Chicago masters of quirk-core will cream over the latest from Cleveland's Craw; a masterful Lizard-alike release that will have David Yow considering a copyright infringement lawsuit. Hydra Head JS

Godspeed You! Black Emperor Yanqui U.X.O.
When it comes down to it, there's just not enough time in the day for bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Sure, for arts students who like to chain smoke and stare at the wall all day, maybe there's time for a three-song, 75-minute record comprised solely of methodical, somber instrumental soundscapes, but for everyone else this gets more than a little tedious. Beautiful as the sounds created this Montreal nine-piece are, and as affecting as the slowly uprising climaxes of their songs can be, Yanqui U.X.O. requires a massive investment of time and hefty sprinklings of benefit of the doubt. This is the CD to hold onto for that never ending bus or train trip, or for the next time you slip into a coma and need a soundtrack. Constellation Records JS

Kerbloki Self-Titled
Now here's something different! It's white boy rap from this three-piece with one member each from San Francisco, Chapel Hill, and New York. The best compliment they could receive is a comparison to the Beastie Boys, and they get it with their debut full-length. Maybe it's the register of their voices, or their untainted enthusiasm, but something about Kerbloki just screams the Beasties. They're not the Warlock Pinchers (who is?) but Kerbloki are pretty damn good at what they do and tracks like "Double Cup" will have even the biggest tight wads busting some moves. Bifocal Media JS

Liar's Academy Trading My Life
The new four-song EP from Liar's Academy, comprised of three ex-members of Cross My Heart and one current member of Strike Anywhere, is way more rock and way less emo than their last full-length, No News Is Good News. The boys must have been spinning their Soul Asylum and Replacements records, because something has definitely changed, and for the better. It's a pleasant and comforting listen for fans of the mid-western collegiate sounds of old, but emo kids who dug their last record might be a bit confounded. Equal Vision Records JS

Motion City Soundtrack I am the Movie
I guess it was only a matter of time before Epitaph signed a band that could make a run for mainstream emo rock glory. Motion City Soundtrack play tight, energy-laden emo rock that would easily squeeze onto MTV alongside Jimmy Eat World and whoever else is hip this week. This Minnesota five-piece play with sharper edges now and then, but it never really strays far from radio rock territory. Songs like "Shiver" and "My Favorite Accident" even dabble in the kind of Moog-infused '80s sounds that would be perfect for a brat-pack flick. As for staying power, well, this is mighty disposable, but, hey, they might be the new small town teenage girl crush band. Not exactly my seal of approval. Epitaph JS

Snapcase End Transmission
Snapcase are one of the many bands that I've managed to tune out over the years. Can't listen to everything (right?) and I always shrugged Snapcase off as sort of dull. So, I stopped listening around ... actually it was after their first 7" (back when they were a straight edge band), so I guess I haven't given them a fair shake. After hearing their latest, End Transmission, I'm looking quite the fool. Maybe it's a new infusion of life's blood, but from what I've heard from this band in recent years, they were never this, well, rocking. "Coagulate" is an apt opener, with its herky-jerky Refused rhythm and piercing vocals, and the energy swirls from there. The true strength of the album comes not only from the shovel-to-face riffs of songs like "Believe, Revolt" and "First Word." Atmospheric interludes between the barrage and mellower, played out tracks like "Ten AM" and "A Synthesis Of ...," both upward of six minutes long, make End Transmission a solid album on the whole. As if the songs weren't enough, we get a theme album about the spiraling loss of control we have over our lives in a corporate realm, wrapped up in a visual package that would make Adbusters proud. Wow! Time to catch up on the Snapcase back catalog. Victory Records JS

Stillwell Don't Face a Problem ... Burn It
Stillwell's debut full-length (five years in the making) went in one ear and out the other. Uninspiring math-y rock that some might call post-hardcore, but it isn't really post-anything. More like pre-fabricated and pre-conceived. With songs titles like "Phone Rings. Wake Up. Remember Nothing. Repeat Cycle." and "Okay, man. Sure. No Problem. Um, thanks," and a totally non-enthralling sound that is a downright chore to listen to, this gets old pretty fast. Fore Again Records JS

Tora! Tora! Torrance! Get Into It
Another semi-tolerable band rendered completely unlistenable by a inexcusably annoying vocalist. Nick Koenigs has nothing to fall back on here; he plays no instruments and if he's writing the cheesy lyrics, well ... no dice there either. So why not fucking axe the guy? He's not adding anything positive to the band. Tora! Tora! Torrance! (change the band name too, while you're at it) have decent chops and a pretty kick-ass drummer, sounding somewhere in the realm of At the Drive-In or Rocket from the Crypt, but, argh, that singer! Pull the plug on this guy, please?! The Militia Group JS

Viza-Noir No Record
Ah, yes, the Chicago sound -- how I know thee well. The Windy City's Viza-Noir play off-kilter, at times jangly, post-rock that immediately brings to mind Mission of Burma and Gang of Four. Maybe squeeze a lit bit of Minutemen in there for good measure. I'd also like to mention Nomeansno, mostly because they are my hometown heroes. Bassist Mike O'Connell doesn't have Mike Watt or Rob Wright's amazing chops (but, then again, who does?), but he does have a locked-in bass groove that would make Shellac proud. It's this groove and the freedom to let loose and rock out that make Viza-Noir a band who deserve attention, not only in Chicago, but across the continent. Flameshovel Records JS

Warsawpack Gross Domestic Product
Not since the Consolidated dropped "Unity of Oppression" has the anti-establishment had a rallying cry like Warsawpack. Hamilton's seven-piece jazz/funk/hip-hop/alternative collective go after corporations, the automobile, and TV-culture (among other things) on Gross Domestic Product. The band pull no punches lyrically and stay in your face for 55 minutes, a trait that begins to wear on the nerves a little in the second half of this album due to information overload. Luckily, the players (horns, guitar, drums, and bass) always keep the pace interesting, busting out songs that range from hard-hitting hip-hop to mellower, funked-out jams. Vocalist Lee Raback's odd voice and raucous rhymes drive the bulk of these songs; he has the kind of serious snarl and soul lacking in most hip-hop emcees. Warsawpack combine danceable songs with a more than commendable agenda. Need added incentive? "Attention to Deficit" is officially the new "Television: The Drug of the Nation." The G7 Welcoming Committee JS

Howard Zinn Artists in a Time of War
It's easy to tell that this spoken word CD's topic of discussion, examining the role of artists in society during times of war, isn't political historian Howard Zinn's forte, but he still tackles the subject admirably. Using quotes from some of history's greatest and most outspoken artists, from writer Mark Twain to singer Eartha Kitt, Zinn explains how it is the responsibility of all artists (or people within any other profession, for that matter) to challenge the government and its decisions. Zinn also tackles patriotism and loyalty to one's country, saying it is important for people to protect their country, but to recognize the difference between a country and its government. A country should be celebrated, but its government should be continually criticized, he says. Artists in a Time of War is an engaging conversation with a lighter feel than most of Zinn's lectures. As always, he speaks with resonance and humor throughout, and has the kind of voice that captures the attention instead of droning away in the background. Another excellent spoken word disc from the dream team of Alternative Tentacles and AK Press, and while it won't move off the shelves like a Dead Kennedys CD, well, it should. Alternative Tentacles JS

Various Artists: Rebirth of the Heavy
This heavy compilation from the folks at Bully Magazine collects 16 of today's most groove-laden bands. The focus here is on the stoner rock end of things, with bands like Sons of Otis, The Sabians, Fireball Ministry, and Novadriver leading the cannabis-permeated charge. It's not all stoner, though; there's also the inclusion of bands like Ratos De Porao (raging hardcore/grindcore from Brazil), Electric Wizard (Eyehategod-influenced ear damage) and Antiseen (GG Allin-ish punk dreck) to keep things interesting, if not slightly annoying. The intention here is to prove to skeptics there is no shortage of good bands out there; and while this compilation proves that an abundance of heavy bands are locked into a killer groove, it also confirms there are always a few who are finely tuned in to the suck. Bully Magazine JS

Retisonic Lean Beat
Ex-Bluetip singer/guitarist Jason Farrell and ex-Garden Variety drummer Joe Gorelick have teamed up on Retisonic, a surprisingly full sounding two-piece quite similar to their previous projects. Bluetip were always a little too textured for the basic emo-rock they played, so it's nice to hear Farrell trying to keep things simple on these six songs. The result is often an almost new-wavey rock, thanks to clean vocals and some additional prodding bass lines by Farrell and another Bluetip alumni, Dave Stern. The true treasure is hearing Gorelick's eight-armed drum fills and never ending snare rolls again; this guy has only improved since his days of smashing and bashing Garden Variety's songs over the edge. The only complaint is Retisonic has that same expiration date quality Bluetip had; these aren't really songs that will stand the test of time. For the moment, however, they will have you bouncing off the nearest walls. Silverthree JS



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