Archive for January, 2009

Taking Back Sunday: Tell All Your Friends (2002)

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The truth about this cd is I’m ashamed to even admit that I’ve heard it…much less have it…(gulp) much less like it. It is 100% a guilty pleasure that I’ve tried to resist, but time and time again I come back to it.

The band is really just a generic group of guys who are neither particularly good nor bad at playing music. They have two singers who do the call and return thing pretty well and different enough voices to distinguish that it’s not the same guy, but a similar sound overall. The genre is pretty emo pop punk, a la Dashboard Confessional and The Used. Not sure what else to say. Usually I hate that kinda crap.

But there’s something infectiously listenable about this album (and ONLY this album – their other stuff is abysmal). Songs like “Cute without the ‘E’ (Cut From the Team)”, “Bike Scene”, and “You’re So Last Summer,” have everything a hit single is made of: non-threatening simple chords (you too can play this song, even if you totally suck at guitar!), predictable but pleasing pop hooks, and easily digestible lyrics. And they’re fun. They remind you of summer and friends and youthfulness. A sort of built-in nostalgia without the hassle of real memories. And for all their simplicity, the lyrics are pretty clever – “The truth is you could slit my throat, and with my one last gasping breath I’d apologize for bleeding on your shirt.” Clever and… secret’s out… really fun to sing along with. God I’m so embarrassed! But seriously, try NOT singing “You’re So Last Summer” in the shower the day you hear it. You can’t. It compels you to repeat it.

Drawbacks of the album include the fact that it gets stuck in your head, in kind of the yucky way that the oompah loompah tune does. Plus, you definitely have to be in the mood for mindless music to play it. All the songs pretty much sound the same, so no need to skip any, but if you don’t like one, chances are you should pass on the whole thing.

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The Start: Ciao, Baby (2007)

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Ok, here’s another album I picked up from the merch table at a live show. Unlike with JoJ, though, I was already a huge fan of The Start and was probably seeing them live for about the eighth time. Because I’m bad at keeping up with stuff, I didn’t know they had even released a new album until Aimee Echo (still the only girl I’d go totally gay for) announced that they’d only be playing stuff off the new cd. That’s usually kind of a blow for fans who want to hear old favorites, and I was geared up to be a little disappointed, but I’ll be damned if the new album wasn’t their very best yet. Thus the purchasing it immediately after they walked off stage.

Ciao, Baby is a sexy album. It is poppy and dancy, but just edgy enough to make it too grown up for the pop stations (which is too bad cuz they’re a niche that unfortunately just doesn’t get any radioplay, even though their sound is perfect for it). Synth-driven, but not for want of distorted guitars, the Start conjures easy Depeche Mode and other brit pop comparisons. However, relations to harder bands (Human Waste Project & Snot) infuse the sound with a rockiness that mopey DM never grasped.  In the past, the Start has suffered from a revolving musician issue where random bass players and drummers left too many holes from album to album, but for this one it looks like they really embraced their twosome-ness and finally got down to their true flavor.

The album begins with it’s strongest track, Wartime. Echo’s voice is perfect, sultry – the sound Madonna goes for but doesn’t quite achieve on Human Nature. I imagine Wartime as the perfect tune for a burlesque song and dance, complete with a little camo getup. It just begs to be staged. “This is the perfect game, cuz no one loses.”

Dance Revolution is another track that has me jacking up the volume. Easily the most danceable tune on the album – which I guess is appropriate given the name – it’s also got surprisingly clever lyrics, including a shoutout to Emma Goldman. But my favorite part is, “When the beat drops let it bomp   bomp     bomp.” Other standout tracks include My Millionaire (really dissonant sounding voice – lots of minor notes, but eerily singable), Fix (“my heart, it beats so hard, it beats so hard, it beats for you”), and the title track. Plus, listen to the bonus track for Eno, their pet chiuaua singing along.

I wouldn’t say there are any skippable tracks, certainly the whole album is great. But Runaway, Master Plan, and Surrender are a touch too sentimental to earn rave reviews.

The album is best listened to where you can dance, although I’ve never heard it played at clubs. Therefore, catching the band live is a must! It’s also good for cooking/baking when you’re on your feet and can enjoy the movement. I listen in the car regularly, but I’m also guilty of rocking the steering wheel if the music really gets me.

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Between the Buried and Me – The Silent Circus (2003)

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I acquired this album on a routine trip to Tower Records (RIP) in Fairfax. Now, I’ve been told that Tower Records was not actually a cd seller with much indie cred, nor were its prices kind to customers. However, my experience was quite to the contrary. Not only was I always finding really cheap, awesome cds, but the Fairfax Tower had a huge punk/hard-core section, with hand-written reviews of many albums penned by its own hipster employees. It was one of these reviews that inspired me to put on the store-provided headphones and take a sample listen of the album.

And I am totally jazzed that I did! This cd is some straight-up crank the volume, scream your lungs out, bang your head metal. This is the metal that uptight conservatives have nightmares about when they’re having nightmares about metal. It is loud and speedy and the vocals are nothing short of animalistic growls. The liner notes tell me that there are lyrics, and occasionally I can make out a word or two, but much as I try, this just aint a singalong kinda album.

What makes this cd great is a bunch of talented young guys who can play the hell out of their instruments. While an untrained ear might accuse this genre of music as being not much but noise, a close listen rewards with intricate guitars layering beautifully together even while playing completely different things (different notes, tempos, sometimes completely different styles), fast but clever drumming, and just the right contribution of poppy synth keyboards – yeah, it’s metal and they use keyboards. Cuz they’re awesome.

The thing that made me fall in love – deeply, passionately in love – with this album, though, is track 4, Mordecai. This song starts aggressively, angrily, unleashing a viciousness of sound that would make wimps like Metallica blush and then gradually, brilliantly, and almost totally imperceptably transitions into a slow, quiet, introspective tune that kinda makes you want to cry. And it’s not the only time they do it on the album – listen for emo breakdowns about twice more later on.

The album is really best listened to from start-to-finish, in one sitting. It’s excellent for long car rides and even better for iPods at work (if you’re not the easily distracted type). All tracks are fantastic, not one falls under the category of “skippable”. And bonus points go to the boys for the David Lynch reference that is Camilla Rhodes.

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Jack Off Jill – Sexless Demons and Scars (1997)

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My first introduction to JoJ was actually live when they opened for Psyhotica and Genitorturers at 9:30 club in 1998. I actually remember the singer, Jesicka, pushing past me in the ladies room and thinking, “geez, crazy bitch.” And she was. Probably is. But not really in a bad way.

So, their live performance was pretty awesome – they were all dolled up like misfit schoolgirls and there was much screaming and some bad-ass razor-play. As always with me, watching girls totally rock out un-selfconciously is an inspiration, so I bought the album right there from their merch table. I later got to chat with the band after their set and they were totally gracious and engaging, but more on that later.

The album itself is good, but not great. The music is standard post-grunge pre-new-metal fare aligned with the Marilyn Manson style, nothing objectionable, but nothing that really knocked me outta my socks, either. The chick singing ups the ante (and mad ups to girls who could play their instruments well backing the singer in this particular sub-genre) with a voice that is sweet and studied enough to sound musical but a scream born out of such passion and rage that it felt genuine. The lyrics are overall clever, but the major problem with this album is that it’s too gimmicky. From the over-the-top Christian mockery (“Angels Fuck”) to the none-too-subtle innuendo (“My Cat”) it smacks of what an ex-Aunt would refer to as shock value.

In that sense, I feel like they were going after a kind of buzz, almost certainly on the coattails of Mr. Manson and friends, that ultimately cheapened what could have been an amazing album. Songs like “Girl Scout” and “Poor Impulse Control” are smart and strong and emotional – songs I am never ashamed to blast and scream along to. And even the seemingly crass “Cumdumpster” has a message that to me totally kicks ass, “Go ahead, call me a cunt, I am impervious to your verbal abuse.” But with the gimicky-ness, this is an album that I definitely have to be in the mood for.

The truth is, these girls are freaking awesome. They play their instruments and they hold their own in a dude’s world. And when I got to talk to them and hang out with them, they spent a lot of time talking about how much they loved other girls and supported other girl bands and they got started out really as groupies who were fed up with being backstage, not on-stage. I don’t begrudge them taking advantage of some free publicity at a time when any band could use some and I know that there are folks out there who just eat up the shock-value-type rock. Even me, sometimes.

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Bad Religion – Recipe for Hate (1993)

Recipe for Hate

I don’t remember when I actually got this album, but I started listening to it pretty heavily when I was 18 or 19. I recorded it from cd to tape – cuz I had a walkman – and would listen to it on the bus ride (yes, bus – awesome) from college to work.

I originally liked it because it was just a damn fine punk album that could drown out the creepertons on the bus. It was fast and loud, but the lyrics weren’t indistinguishable.

I started to love it because the lyrics weren’t indistinguishable. In fact, they were quite clear and amazingly intelligent. For example, the title track alone bursts with $5 words like “ubiquitous,” “suffrage,” “pomp,” and “vocation,” all in the appropirate context and all specatularly singable. And singing on the bus is another terrific tool to keep the creepertons at bay.

Beyond they lyrics, the music is everything punk should be. Not-too-distorted guitars, steady drumming, verse-chorus-verse type greatness. But buried in that formulaic is some really fun stuff, too. Like a way cool time change* in “All Good Soldiers” that actually makes you want to twist in your seat in between riffs. I can’t listen to this song without imagining myself with a guitar and clutching it up to my chest at those extended silences before slamming it down at the next set of notes. But I don’t play guitar. So what I actually do is squeeze my eyes tight headbang a bit.

Other highlights include “Struck a Nerve” in which there is a mysteriously woman sounding voice singing along with Greg Graffin with no discernable credit given in the liner notes, but a great layered vocal sound. Also, “Don’t Pray on Me” is just kinda funny with cultural references. And “Skyscraper” is the rightful closing track, even if there is one that follows it.

Songs I generally skip include “Man With a Mission” because it’s really just a bit too bluegrassy for my tastes (pretty sure there’s a slide guitar, but really it’s the whining that does it) and “Stealth,” the aforementioned closing track – nothing overtly offensive about it, but “Skyscraper” is really just a tough act to follow.

*time change may be the wrong terminology here, if anyone knows what I really mean, please feel free to correct

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