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


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)


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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