Friday, October 30, 2009

Album: Because Because Because - self-titled

Because Because Because
Album: Because Because Because
Sutton, 2009
Recording Date: 1991-1992
Rating: ******* (7/10)

Released under the radar this fall, this collection of six songs by oft-forgot indie band Because Because Because offers a rare taste of unheard songs from one American indie rock's best eras. The songs are cutting indie gems with sweet English pop melodies from frontman and principal songwriter Robert Randall, a British ex-pat. With sharp and aggressive yet lightfooted guitar hooks, Because Because Because displays a perfect balance of pop and punk-influenced rock.

Because Because Because paired Randall with to-be Nada Surf founders Matthew Caws and Daniel Lorca, along with drummer Blake Gomez. Unsurprisingly, the music does sound a lot like early Nada Surf, but with a richer sound and less quirk. "The Slow" builds with tense drumming and glistening guitar to an anthemic chorus. Later in the album, "Her Power" provides an excellent example of 90's indie songwriting - simple and catchy, it rocks hard and never looses focus.

According to a source close to the band*, Randall and Gomez published this album without informing Caws and Lorca, who apparently didn't particularly want this material in distribution. Caws only recently became aware of the release after seeing it for sale online. It remains to be seen whether he and Lorca will take any action against their former bandmates or Sutton Music Group, and there is no evidence that Randall and Gomez were beyond their rights in releasing the record.

This album is not a lost masterpiece, it is not revolutionary in any way. But for fans of this era of music, for those who prefer their pop-punk without all the gloss and certainly for Nada Surf fans curious about the band's roots, the album is well worth getting your hands on. And I recommend doing that as soon as possible, since there's a very real possibility that a potential lawsuit from Caws and Lorca could cause the album to be pulled from circulation, at least temporarily. You can get it on CD Baby, iTunes (I think) and probably some other places.


*I know I don't delve into real journalism very often so it seems prudent to reassure you that this is not bullshit.

Trying Something New...

Hi guys,

I got bored recently and made a bunch of playlists on MySpace. I'll try to rotate good music through in case anyone is interested in listening. I'm still trying to figure out if there's a logical way to link to them here, so stay tuned.

One of the playlists I made will have samples of the bands I mention when I list upcoming shows. That's here.

I don't know if this will be useful, but like I said, I was bored.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Upcoming Shows: Lightning Bolt, Stupid Party + more

Friday, October 30

Lightning Bolt + Black Dice @ Above the Auto Parts Store | Bushwick, Brooklyn (near Market Hotel)
Lightning Bolt are a post-hardcore band that play drums and bass at 10,000 mph, with enough distortion to singe off your eyebrows. They just put out what's possibly their best album yet. [RFR Live Review] [MySpace]

Saturday, October 31 (some sort of holiday, I gather)

Stupid Party @ Bruar Falls | Williamsburg, Brooklyn | $5 w costume / $8 without
I like Stupid Party. They are so badass. They are a punk-ish sort of band that is giving the finger to everyone else with their wild noise, sweet hooks and rawkus shows. Most importantly, they are way more down to earth than 99% of Brooklyn bands, and are 99 times more fun to watch. [RFR Live Review] [MySpace]

Monday, November 2

Knight School @ Bruar Falls | Williamsburg, Brooklyn | FREE
I couldn't not list this show, because it's FREE!!! Knight School are a fuzzy lo-fi pop band with some first-class melodies. They are noisy enough and rough enough around the edges to avoid the wussiness of many of their peers. [MySpace]

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

CMJ Summary - Part 3 (the last part)

The best showcase I caught at CMJ - and probably the best one that there was - was the free afternoon showcase at Knitting Factory on Saturday.

It was my first trip to the new Knitting Factory - they opened their Williamsburg location a month or two ago - and I was pretty impressed. It's a little fancy-seeming both compared to the old Knitting Factory and compared to Luna Lounge, the space's last incarnation. What was once one big room is now split into a front room, with a bar and beer garden style tables, and the room with the stage, visible from the front room through glass windows. The stage is at the back wall, making the area for the audience shallow and wide, good news for visibility. The sound was great too.

The first band I caught was Jeff the Brotherhood, featuring brothers Jake and Jamin Orrall, founding members of Be Your Own Pet. The two rock prodigies, Jake on guitar and Jamin on drums (don't be confused that the guitar says "Jamin," Jake named it after his brother), play irresistible tunes that move deftly between punk and classic rock. Classifying the band is pretty pointless, just resulting in nonsense terms like "psychedelic grunge-pop." Anyway, they sound pleasantly familiar, but refreshingly unlike most of the buzz bands of the moment.

I wrote up the band once before, and was equally impressed this time. Their music has hooks and doesn't try to sound quaintly spare or incompetent. For only two guys, they make a rich, full sound and don't try to hide the fact that they are fuckin good at guitar and drums. Come to think of it, I can't thing of a single bad thing to say about the band. There's no gimmick, there's no detached posturing, there's just rock music at its best. [MySpace]

After this, Screaming Females took the stage. This was the third time I've seen them and this time, they finally completely won me over. The first time, I couldn't really hear the singing (I'm increasingly thinking that was a bad night and not reflecting the band's abilities at the time), and the second time, the sound was a bit too messy for me to get the full effect. This time, everything was perfect.

To put it simply, Screaming Females represent everything that has ever been good about rock and roll. That may sound like an exaggeration, but I mean it genuinely. Frontwoman Marissa Paternoster sings like PJ Harvey channeling John Lennon and plays guitar like every rock hero from 70's arena blues-rock to 90's punky alternative. Despite her unassuming mumblings between songs ("hiwe'rescreamingfemales"), she's one badass lady, giving the finger to the un-edgy leanings of the current indie scene. (Certainly, I'm not the only one who is sick of edgeless bands like Dirty Projectors, Grizzly Bear, St. Vincent and the rest.*)

And if Paternoster is doing more for BIG, un-shy guitar than anyone since the likes of J. Mascis and Billy Corgan**, the rest of her band aren't doing any less to remind the world of what a good ROCK AND ROLL rhythm section can be. The bass leads carry the weight of the songs while the drums supplement head-banging worthy guitar riffs.

I really can't say enough about this band. If the future of rock music rests in their hands, I feel pretty sure we'll be OK. They've got it into them to defeat the reign of hipster crap once and for all. Let's hope they do. [MySpace]

The final act of the show was SubPop's Obits, who were miserably disappointing. I thought the Obits were a punk band. I apologize if I misled anyone into believing this. I'm still trying to figure out if I had them confused with someone else or if I just got the wrong idea from some song I heard. In any case, Obits are basically a bar band. They aren't bad, but there are thousands upon thousands of bands that sound just about the same. [MySpace]

* Just to be totally clear, Screaming Females seem way too nice to hate on other bands. The hating is all me.

** Don't hate! (And yes, I realize that sounds hypocritical. I don't care.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

CMJ Summary - Part 2

Despite trying to attend as little of CMJ as possible, I felt worn out by the time Friday rolled around. I skipped most of the SESAC showcase at Cake Shop, since I'd just heard and was unimpressed by the Depreciation Guild and wasn't that gung-ho about the other bands.

So my first stop was Little Girls at Pianos. The line-up has completely changed since I last saw them, but the band is essentially the solo project of one Josh McIntyre, who covers vocals and sometimes keys or a guitar. This new group of musicians backing him was particularly low-key, putting the entire weight - for better or worse - on McIntyre. The bassist and guitarist hunched on opposite sides, playing their parts adequately but without any show.

McIntyre, however, has a nervous energy that pulls the audience in. His behavior on stage is full of dramatics too weird and awkward to be a gimmick. No, he's sincere, and lacks any hint of the aloof disaffection of most of the talked-about DIY bands of late. It's refreshing to see someone being honest on stage.

With gothy, Joy Division-esque songs but with less polish and more fuzz, Little Girls certainly start with a tried-and-tested foundation, but from the awkward tension of the stage show, it's clear they wouldn't hesitate to break the rules. There's something extremely raw about the band, not only in that they are young and their sound rough, but also in that they seem incomplete. As with their recent album, this sense that the band has yet to come into its own can frustrate, but it also adds a special thrill to the already jittery music - potential can be more exciting to hear and watch than a final product. And this could be the early signs of true genius. Time will tell. [MySpace]

I caught part of Crystal Antlers at Cake Shop, and found the music far less abrasive than I remembered their recorded material being. It was also generally mellower than I expected - noise rock, but not without its gentle, grooving passages. The noisy parts weren't noisy enough for my tastes, but I can definitely respect the musicianship and creativity of the band. That said, it's not really my thing and since I couldn't even see the stage, I decided to cut out and return with the crowd thinned down. [MySpace]

Next up, after a quick shift from SESAC fo the FYF/Video Thing showcase, were English popsters Let's Wrestle. I've liked Let's Wrestle in the past, after hearing a few songs that ended up on my computer. Live, they were far less wussy than I expected - a raunchier, grittier guitar sound was mixed too low under even more aggressive bass and drums. The punk attitude was a pleasant surprise, but unfortunately, the quality of the songs was disappointingly inconsistent. For every great melody, there were a couple poor ones. Nothing was bad, but it wasn't outstanding either. There are plenty of bands that do the same thing at the same level. [MySpace]

Ninjasonik, jarringly, came on next, storming the stage and starting the set only minutes after Let's Wrestle's exit. Ninjasonik are a party-rap group who for unknown reasons often play with punk bands. Personally, I don't like party music of any variety - having fun is strictly against my religion. And Ninjasonik doesn't have much of an intellectual appeal. The lyrics are occasionally witty but mostly banal or needlessly obscene chants. The music is nothing to get excited about, and the rhythms are all mindnumbingly simplistic. There was no substance anywhere in the set.

However, I will say one thing for the band - they put on a hell of a live show. They got a huge mosh-pit going, and lots of call-and-response from the audience. Their abrupt start and extremely high-energy performance got nearly everyone dancing and shouting along. I can't recommend the band to any serious music fan, but partiers will be delighted. [MySpace]

Finally, the act I'd been most eager to see took the stage, the new SubPop signee Male Bonding. Though I had thoroughly enjoyed the Male Bonding songs I'd heard before the show, I didn't see what about their melodic, lo-fi punk made them stand out enough to get the attention of a label like SubPop, especially when that label is an ocean and three thousand miles of land away from the band's home.

Seeing them live at Cake Shop, it was immediately apparent that this band is something special. Gifted and competent, the three musicians played with an intense precision. These aren't youngsters who can write songs, these are musicians who know exactly what kind of music they want to make and exactly how to make it. You'd never expect a punk band to be more rhythmically complex and adept than a rap group, but Male Bonding drummer Robin Christian Silas could definitely teach Ninjasonik a thing or two.

As a whole, the band seems to follow in the tradition of SubPop greatness, with hooky guitar, solid singing and well-written songs. There was only one problem - when I heard the recording, I know I heard great tunes, but at Cake Shop, I couldn't pick out a vocal melody most of the time. Whether it was a bad night, bad sound at the venue or a lack of skill singing in live situations, it was disappointing to have none of the sunny anthems I was expecting. Still, I think it's clear SubPop made a great choice with these guys and I'll definitely be looking out for their debut. [MySpace]

Monday, October 26, 2009

CMJ Summary - Part 1

The first band I caught at CMJ was Washington DC's True Womanhood at Cameo on Tuesday. They are known for their dark post-punk ambiance, with eerie guitar and vocals over complex breakbeats. When we walked in, the band was already playing and the sheer volume at that moment took the music to a new level. I thought, "these guys are on fire."

Unfortunately, they weren't quite as on fire as I had thought - the sound was awesome in the house, but it seems like they were having some difficulty hearing one another on stage. The drummer stopped at one point because he couldn't hear the guitarist - which was an error, since everyone should ultimately adjust to the drums no matter what. The band was still clearly great, but they weren't playing very tightly. Bassist Melissa Beattie once again, held everything together, keeping the drums and guitar on the same page, taking the lead in stage presence and seeing every song through from start to finish.

TW are definitely worth hearing. Tuesday night was clearly a bit rough, and even with all the setbacks, they still sound more far more interesting than most of their peers. [MySpace]

I stuck around for Naked Hearts and reached a new level of dislike for the band. Now, I used to like Naked Hearts alright, but the beginning of the end was their EP last winter. I liked them live when I only heard a couple of songs at the beginning or end of their set, but as it turns out, trying to sit through from beginning to end is really not for me. All the songs sound the same. When Noah Wheeler sings, he's way offkey. Amy Cooper is better, but even at their best, the band proves nothing more than an excellent example of cliched mediocrity. It's generic indie rock for the generic fan. [MySpace]

On Wednesday, I headed over to Cake Shop to catch the Kanine Records showcase, catching first Depreciation Guild. The more I hear of this band, the more I've cooled off on them. They are a electro-shoegaze outfit, with dense waves of guitar sound over sharp electronic beats (coupled with live drums). Their walls of sound are some of the best you'll find these days, and the beats are interesting.

However, all of the songs sound the same. The melodies, sung by guitarist (and Pains of Being Pure at Heart drummer) Kurt Feldman, fail to hold any interest, and there's not enough variety in the instrumentation underneath to make up for it. It's great for a song or two, especially their best one or two songs. Unfortunately, the rest of their repertoire sounds like inferior versions of the same.

The band also suffered from the lack of their usual visuals. Depreciation Guild are one of the only bands around to effectively use projections to enhance their music - they generally project changing blocks of color behind the band, enhancing the already multicolored sound of their layered guitars. Without it, the band's shortcomings are further unmasked. Though they have some great talent and are doing some things very right, they've stretched their one trick far too thin. Time to break the mold or dissolve into obscurity. [MySpace]

Next up was Ringo Deathstarr, my perennial favorite among contemporary shoegazers. Like Depreciation Guild, their guitar sounds are inpenetrable, but unlike them, Ringo Deathstarr has melodies and songwriting to match. The baritone vocals ground the music in irresistible Britrock pop tunes, while the guitars growl underneath.

Near the end of the set, the band began pleading with the audience to dance, which was a misguided effort - their beats are good for a shoegaze band, but they're a shoegaze band. Singer Elliot Frazier threw himself into the crowd to generation some motion, which was certainly a noble effort and made the show that much more fun - but it's a scientifically proven fact that shoegazers don't dance. However, Dinowalrus drummer Josh Somethingorother took the opportunity to jump on stage and turn up all of the knobs on Frazier's pedal board, ending the song in a screaming mess of feedback and fuzz.

The band got cut short, which is par for the course at CMJ. They may have made a little to much of a stink about it, but they did a good job cramming what they could into the end of the set and narrowing down their setlist to the best of the best. I sure would like to see something happen for this band, but they don't have that aloof DIY cool that seems to be the golden ticket these days. Which is one of the reasons they're so great. [MySpace]

I skipped most of Zaza, who played next, because having seen them a few times, I've become bored with their droning.

However, I stuck around for Dinowalrus, one of my hometown favorites. The band plays drum-heavy noise that doesn't sound enough like anyone else to give me a single reference point to work with. From droning groves to descents into noisy chaos, the band is certainly unconventional.

This set (only three songs, I think?) didn't excite me as much as the last couple I saw. I've mentioned before the band's "lack of structure." Frontman Pete Feigenbaum pointed out that the band spends a lot of time on their arrangements, and so I should clarify what I mean by that point - I never meant that the band was oblvious to structure. In fact, it's clear that what Feigenbaum says is true, the band must arrange their songs with great care. It's just that the conventional elements of structure in rock music - songs, choruses, verses, solos, etc. - don't apply to Dinowalrus. If they did, it wouldn't be the band it is, but it does put them in a tricky position. There is a reason 99% of rock music uses certain structural elements, and if you're going to buck tradition, you've got to make the music work just as well without them. Dinowalrus falls a little short of this, leaving the audience a little lost sometimes as to exactly what ideas the band is trying to convey.

That said, they are still one of NYC's best. And while the first two songs seemed to ramble a bit without really drawing me in, the third was crowned with a sparkling guitar riff that stood out for its straightforward beauty in the dirty, mess of sound. The juxtaposition and the composition surrounding it was nothing less than brilliant.

The main appeal of Dinowalrus, in any case, remains Josh Whatshisname. After watching his CMJ set, I tried and tried to think of a single [rock] drummer who could show him up. But if I've ever encountered one, I've forgotten. I think it's safe to say Dinowalrus has the best rock drummer I have ever seen. It's not just the beats he plays, but the way he plays them, with absolutely natural, organic rhythm, the drums an extension of the man, the man an extension of rhythm in the abstract. He doesn't overplay, he's never flashy, he just plays the drums. Hell yes. [MySpace]

Monday, October 19, 2009

Album: Little Girls - Concepts

Concepts (Little Girls)
Album: Concepts
Paper Bag, 2009
Rating: ******* (7/10)

Little Girls first came to my attention last summer when the mythical "Jasper" saw them live and told me they were the shit. I saw them for myself twice, and it quickly became apparent why they were associated with Mike Sniper's Captured Tracks label early on - Mike Sniper (a.k.a. Blank Dogs) is the only other band around making this type of nervous, lo-fi, gothy post-punk. Like Blank Dogs, Little Girls is mostly a solo project, this one of Josh McIntyre, a high-strung youngster from Toronto whose influences span from no wave to hip-hop.

Concepts is a spooky album that does well capturing the band's tense energy - and it's this tense energy that sets the band apart from its peers and makes it worthy of note. On the opening track, "Youth Tunes," the vocals are almost completely inaudible, warning us that McIntyre will be speaking from a dark and distant place. The vocals never really come above the surface on the whole album, so though the press release says the album is about coming of age, the listener's only real clues are the song titles.

Following "Youth Tunes," the ominous mix continues with the atonal, reverbed vocals of "Seeing." "Tambourine" is the first semi-accessible song, with a great riff and vocals, but we don't leave the minor scales until "Imaginary Friends," a tune that manages to be simultaneously upbeat and sinister. The tightly wound, repetitive "Venom" is something of a mess, with the instruments and vocals seemingly fighting for control of the rhythm. [Update: it just occured to me that I should have indicated that comment on "Venom" is a compliment. (11/6)]

However, there are some questions of originality. The dramatic melodies of "Salt Swimmers" and "Thrills" are distinctly familiar - I'm almost positive I've heard the latter in some sort of musical theater or soundtrack. This may be more reference than accident, showing a refusal to be held back from dramatics by any typical indie rock sense of self-consciousness. It's a bold move, but I'm dubious that this was the best way for the band to display their lack of self-awareness.

Moreover, the Joy Division influences are undeniable, and at times a little overboard. "Concepts" has almost the same bass riff as "Disorder" and "Last Call" also borrows more than a few notes from Bernard Summer and Peter Hook. The similarities don't ruin the music, by any stretch, but it is a bit disappointing if you're looking for something new.

The songwriting in general leaves a bit to be desired. Repetition is clearly a part of Little Girls' craft, as is their anticlimactic composition, but the songs sometimes stagnate too much, crossing that thin line from expressing a dark ennui to being, well, a little boring. I appreciate short, simple songs, instead of cramming a million ideas into a single track, but here it sounds a little underdeveloped.

Still, all in all, Concepts is an electrifying album and shows a band with great promise. The uneasy darkness of all eleven tracks demonstrates McIntyre's rare ability to translate emotion into sound, making an indescribable anxiety palpable in the music. However, the band is young and this album wants for maturity in many instances. Of course, the rawness adds to the excitement in a way, but it also frustrates. The unsophisticated songwriting makes this album seem far more trifling than it actually is. However, McIntyre's sharp sense of pop, his innovative ideas about sound, and most of all, his sincerity are unmistakable. He's the real deal.

"Growing" makes a warm closer, as though the tensions of the album have found a little peace. But despite the major key, it's not a happy peace. It's a lullaby for the darkest of hearts, a resignation without resolution and a testament to the secrets told, if never explained, on the previous ten tracks of the record.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Upcoming Shows: CMJ Music Marathon

The CMJ Music Marathon is nearly upon us, and it's time I give you my recommendations.

Here is my recommendation: AVOID CMJ. Skip the bands from this area or any you have the opportunity to see in other circumstances. CMJ is awful. It is expensive. It always runs late. The bands are hustled on and off stage in half an hour. Forget proper sound checks. If you want to chance the latest thing, you're going to be in some filthy basement you've never heard of, crushed against the wall by boring hipsters. It is just not worth it.

That said, there are some bands you should hear at CMJ because they don't play around NYC much. Here's my list:

Dum Dum Girls (Los Angeles, CA) - That DIY crowd got old fast, but there are a few bands in the bunch still worth listening to. Dum Dum Girls (actually just one girl, plus a touring band) are one of those, with good songs sung in a beautiful voice. Check it. [RFR Live Review] [MySpace]
 * Saturday, October 24 * 8 PM * Mercury Lounge (LES, Manhattan) *

JEFF the Brotherhood (Nashville, TN) - Ex-Be Your Own Pet, these brothers are brilliant musicians who slide smoothly between punk and metal, with a familiar sound that's easy to love but hard to classify (psychedelic? garage? lo-fi?). They will be back in NYC before too long, though, so don't break your neck to check them out at C(rap)MJ. [RFR Live Review] [MySpace]
 * Friday, October 23 (technically Saturday) * MIDNIGHT * The Charleston (Williamsburg, Brooklyn) *
 * Saturday, October 24 * 10:20 PM * Union Pool (Williamsburg, Brooklyn) *

Let's Wrestle (UK) - Let's Wrestle are a fine lo-fi indie pop band with really, really catchy, lovable songs. I haven't seen them live yet, but love the recordings. [MySpace]
 * Wednesday, October 21 * 11 PM * Bell House (Gowanus, Brooklyn) *
 * Friday, October 23 * ?? * Glasslands (Williamsburg, Brooklyn) [unofficial]*

Little Girls (Toronto, Canada) - One of my bands to watch, Little Girls just put out an outstanding debut which I haven't written up yet because the release date snuck past me. Gloomy, gothy post-punk, with a very lo-fi aestethic and a nervous, lively stage show, Little Girls are the shit. (The only thing I don't like them is that pedophiles sometimes accidentally end up on my blog when I write them up, due to poor google searches. Not kidding.) [RFR Live Review] [MySpace]
 * Tuesday, October 20 * 1:30 PM * Cake Shop (LES, Manhattan) *
 * Wednesday, October 21 * ?? [not on CMJ schedule, for some reason] * Union Pool (Williamsburg, Brooklyn) *
 * Friday, October 23 * 10 PM * Pianos (LES, Manhattan) *

Lovvers (UK) - Fun, rowdy and somtimes nasty UK punks. Ladies, stand up front for a chance to get a smooch. [RFR Live Review] [MySpace]
 * Tuesday, October 20 * 11 PM * Santos Party House (Chinatown, Manhattan) *
 ? Thursday, October 22 * ?? * Pianos (LES, Manhattan) ?
 * Saturday, October 24 * Afternoon * Brooklyn Bowl (Williamsburg, Brooklyn) *
 * Saturday, October 24 * 11 PM * Union Pool (Williamsburg, Brooklyn) *

Male Bonding (UK) - I first paid attention to this band because I think I once read that “Male Bonding” was the name of an early incarnation of Sonic Youth and I liked the name when they used it. Presumably, this band’s name is unrelated, since that’s some pretty obscure Sonic Youth trivia (if it’s even true). But I’m glad I noticed the band, no matter the reason, because they are awesome noise punk, with simple, raw songs, endearing melodies and some loud-ass guitar. [MySpace]
 * Tues. (actually Weds.) * 1 AM * Cake Shop *
 * Thurs. * 11:45 PM * The Delancey *
 * Fri. * 11:10 PM * “On the Side” at Seaport *
 * Sat. (actually Sun.) * 2 AM * Mercury Lounge *

Ringo Deathstarr (Austin, TX) - The best shoegaze band of our generation, highly underrated, extremely awesome. Massive walls of sound, deep, entrancing melodies, pitch bends and sick beats. [RFR Live Review] [MySpace]
 * Tuesday, October 20 * 11:30 PM * Fontana's (Chinatown, Manhattan) *
 * Wednesday, October 21 * 9 PM * Cake Shop (LES, Manhattan) *
 * TWO NON-CMJ SHOWS - 10/22 & 10/23 - See their myspace page for more info *

True Womanhood (Washington, DC) - Radiohead-esque experiental rock from DC. Up-and-comers who put on a great live show. [RFR Live Review] [MySpace]
 * Tuesday, October 20 * 8 PM * Cameo Gallery (Williamsburg, Brooklyn) *
 ? Saturday, October 24 * 3 PM * Death By Audio (Williamsburg, Brooklyn) ?

Here are some other shows you might want to know about:

Atlas Sound (Atlanta, GA) - Experimental, arty low-key rock from Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox. [MySpace]
 * Tues. * 10 PM * Le Poisson Rouge *
 * Weds. * 10 PM * Music Hall of Williamsburg *

Broadcast (UK) - Highly lauded electronic duo with hints of shoegaze and post-rock, but with strong pop vocals. [MySpace]
 * Tues. * 11 PM * Le Poisson Rouge *

Busta Rhymes (Brooklyn, NY) - well, duh. [MySpace]
 * Thurs. * 11 PM * B.B. King *

Harlem (Austin, TX) - on the thrash end of the hardcore punk spectrum, Harlem are one of the best of their genre today. [MySpace]
 * Tues. * 10 PM * Santos Party House *
 * Fri. * 8 PM * The Suffolk *

Múm (Iceland) - Beautiful post-rock electronics, though perhaps a bit too gentle for some. [MySpace]

Pissed Jeans (Philadelphia, PA) - noisy, punky band in the SubPop tradition. They are hardcore but not at all off-putting, and make a real racket with their guitars. [MySpace]
 * Sat. (actually Sun.) * 12 AM * Mercury Lounge *

U-God (New York, NY) - mem. Wu-Tang Clan. Enough said. [MySpace]
 * Tues. (actually Weds.) * 12:10 AM * Southpaw *

And if you insist on checking out local bands, here are the absolute best:

Ambulance LTD - shoegaze-influenced rock with a guitar sheen and good songs. [MySpace]
 * Thurs. * 10 PM * Mercury Lounge *

The Antlers - a sad band that has some ambient influences and some electronics but is still a rock band. [RFR Live Review] [MySpace]
 * Tues. * 10:15 PM * Music Hall of Williamsburg *
 * Thurs. * 10 PM * The Delancey *

The Black Tie Party - some good DIY punky goodness. [MySpace]
 * Thurs. (actually Fri.) * 12 AM * The Charleston *

Cold Cave - not actually local, but they play around here a lot these days. A very interesting electronic group that can be really fucking loud and dissonant and in your face. [RFR Live Review] (...they've grown on me since then) [MySpace]
 * Tues. * 10:30 PM * The Studio at Webster Hall *
 * Fri. * 11 PM * The Suffolk *

Coyote Eyes - post-punk with interesting rhythms, guitar experiments and amazing, distinctive vocal melodies. [RFR Live Review] [MySpace]
 * Weds. (actually Thurs.) * 12:30 AM * The Delancey *

Darlings - their simple, DIY aesthetic is kept interesting by their apparent insanity that makes the sometimes appear to be playing completely different songs at the same time. [RFR Live Review] [MySpace]
 * Weds. * 10 PM * Glasslands *

The Depreciation Guild - massive electro-shoegaze walls of sound. And good-looking boys. [RFR Live Review] [MySpace]
 * Weds. * 8:15 PM * Cake Shop *
 * Fri. * 9:30 PM * Cake Shop *

Dinowalrus - off-the-wall, edgy music that defies convention, kicks out insanely complex rhythms and rocks as hard as anything. [RFR Live Review] [MySpace]
 * Tues. * 9:30 PM * Santos Party House *
 * Weds. * 10:30 PM * Cake Shop *

Hunters - an experimental punk band with a lot of creativity and no pretence. [RFR Live Review] [MySpace]
 * Thurs. * 10 PM * The Charleston *

Japanther - local pop-punk with a true youthful spirit and a pretty big following. They aren’t commercialized or dumbed down, they’re smart and uncompromising. They just also happen to be catchy and energetic as hell. [MySpace]
 * Weds. * 10:15 PM * Suffolk Back Room *

Knight School - lo-fi indie pop with sweet little melodies and a lot of fuzz. [MySpace]
 * Fri. * 8:15 PM * Bruar Falls *

Obits - first-rate hardcore punk. [MySpace]
 *Sat. (actually Sun.) * 1 AM * Mercury Lounge *

Screaming Females - PJ Harvey does classic rock? Gutsy guitars, hard rock common sense and a punk attitude, from one very small, very rad woman. [RFR Live Review] [MySpace]
 *Weds. (actually Thurs.) * 12 AM * Mercury Lounge *

Screens - I don’t really know much about this band, but from the little I know, I have a good feeling about them. They are probably not the most accessible, but they are doing something original and exciting. I haven’t heard them live, but I have a hunch they’re worth checking out. [MySpace]
 * Tues. * 7:30 PM * Santos Party House *

Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers - bluesy and rootsy, but challenging, punkish and just plain weird music by another very small, very rad woman, this one with a hand-powered harmonium and a very foul mouth. [RFR Live Review] [MySpace]
 * Thurs. * 11 PM * Pianos *
 * Sat. * 11 PM * The Delancey *

Young Boys - like the Jesus & Mary Chain, messy, feedback-laden noise with solid, head-bobbing melodies under the surface. One of the coolest bands in New York these days, and one of the few the scenesters have yet to uncover. [RFR Live Review] [MySpace]
 * Tues. * 7:45 PM * Fontana’s *

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Live: Teenage Jesus & the Jerks + Talk Normal

Damn, I am WAY behind in writing my reviews...

When: 10/3
Where: WFMU Fest @ Music Hall of Williamsburg

Of the opening acts, I paid most attention to, and liked the best, Talk Normal, and experimental noise duo with droning guitar and primitive, pounding drums. I didn't expect to enjoy the set, because I get quite bored with noise bands and rarely find anything original in their approach. So I was delighted to find Talk Normal could hold my attention. The main factor was the vocals, which ranged from mutter to shriek but always just hinted at some sort of melodic structure - it's as though you're seeing the ruins where a pop melody got bulldozed and then burnt to the ground. This, coupled with a very dimly lit stage, generated a sense of intrigue and suspense. I found the percussion vaguely offensive and the guitar only sporadically good, but despite that, I'd definitely go see this band again. [MySpace]

There were other bands on the bill, also playing avant-garde art/noise stuff with a punk edge. I think the bands in question were Drunkdriver and Sightings, but in any case, I came out pretty neutral on both and really don't have anything interesting to say on the subject. So onward!

Onward to the headliner, one Lydia Lunch and her infamous band, Teenage Jesus & the Jerks. [If you know the history of Lunch, Teenage Jesus and no wave, skip this paragraph and the next one.] Teenage Jesus were one of the flagship bands for the late 70's New York art-punk movement known as "no wave." A few people around the drug- and arson-addled city saw how punk rock on both sides of the Atlantic sold out and commercialized into "new wave" almost as soon as punk coalesced as a genre in 1977. Independently, these few people - some musicians, some visual artists - began to create forms of music that could never be commercialized. Soon enough, these like-minded rebels found one another and joined forces in making abrasive, bizarre music that could never be adapted for mass appeal.

Teenage Jesus & the Jerks, one of four bands featured on Brian Eno's genre-defining compilation No New York, were a highly incompetent band who would make grating, inhuman noise rock. The main features were unchanging pounding on a drum, caustic, waaaay out of tune guitar and bass lines and Lydia Lunch's angry, madwoman chanting. Their songs were mostly about 30 seconds long.

[OK, pre-educated readers, join us again here!] At the WFMU set, the band, featuring acclaimed no wavers Jim Sclavunos and Al Kizys on bass and drums, was doing exactly what they've always done. Audience members cried out declarations of love for Lydia Lunch, which she rejected with particular vicious hatred. When one suggested she marry him "for money," she asked him to open his mouth. When he complied, she spat into his mouth from the stage and then turned her attention back to the set.

The band played a characteristic 20 minute set (I didn't time it but something like that) of extremely ugly music. Then, apparently too disgusted to bear another minute with their despised audience, they walked out. It was pretty much perfect.

Live: The Coathangers

When: September 30, 2009
Where: Cake Shop

I've gone back and forth on Coathangers a few times; when I first heard a song by them, I really freaked out about how good it was, but when I listened to the whole album, I cooled off. After a while, though, the album really grew on me. And seeing the Coathangers live seems to have finally settled on which side of the fence I'll come down: I am a fan.

The Coathangers, all all-female punk outfit from Atlanta, seem to have struck a good balance between the extremes of female roles in punk - they have the badassery of riot grrrls but not the off-putting self-righteousness that sometimes comes with. I wouldn't rank them with the defiant but largely unspoken feminism of Screaming Females and Marnie Stern, but it takes all kinds, right? And trust me, I know how unfair it is to see every female band's existence as a political statement and to analyze them to death in those terms. But that's the reality of the world we live in - every female band is a political statement, the only choice is what kind of statement to be.

Identity politics aside, the band is certainly badass enough bang out a whole set of in-your-face yet catchy songs. Their melodies are simple and unrefined, more shouted than sung, and backed by passionately sloppy instrumentals. Their minimalism can be a bit deceptive, however, since there's a lot going on including keys and some very sweet guitar riffs. The band also has a knack for arrangements and composition, so despite the simplicity, not just anybody could come up with these songs.

Several things immediately won me over about the band. First, they traded instruments a lot, and I have a soft spot for bands that do this - it's usually accompanied by a down-to-earth creativity and collaborative spirit. Also, the band has four members and when only three were needed for a song, they were not afraid to have the fourth sit out a few numbers. Having been the person sitting out, I know it can suck a little, but ultimately, it's way better that cluttering the music or having redundant players on stage. It's a good call from a band who know what they are trying to do and how they're going to do it.

The member who did sit out for quite a while is (I think) Meredith Franco, a.k.a. Minnie Coathanger, whose main instrument is bass. Vocals were shared throughout the set, but Franco only sang one song, and here, she seemed rather uncomfortable, often turning her back to the audience. She made a very admirable effort to move around, but it was a bit stiff and self-conscious.

The rest of the band was unabashed throughout, not holding back any crazy antics, from primal shrieks to bizarre dance moves. Though clearly capable of playing her instrument, keyboardist Candice Jones (a.k.a. Bebe Coathanger) spent about half the time banging on random keys. And despite her unassuming appearance, guitarist and sorta-frontwoman Julia Kugel ("Crook Kid Coathanger") is anything but shy. Meanwhile, gangly (in a good way), tattooed oft-drummer Stephanie Luke ("Rusty Coathanger") served as the band's musical and personal backbone, keeping everyone edge but also keeping them from bouncing out of control.

I think it's safe to call Coathangers one of the best punk revival bands around today, both for their irresistible songs and their defiant mannerisms. They are keeping the spirit alive. Oh yeah, and they're fucking FUN.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Upcoming Shows: Raincoats, Shonen Knife, No Age, Marnie Stern + more

This is a confusing and difficult week for show-goers. Way too much that's way too awesome. The extent to which awesomeness overlaps will probably make you cry.

Thursday, October 15

Titus Andronicus, So So Glos, Grooms @ Knitting Factory | Williamsburg, Brooklyn (NEW LOCATION!!!) | $12
Titus Andronicus and So So Glos are two of the awesomest hardcore punk bands around. And by hardcore punk, I don't mean fifteen-year-old skinheads who go around beating people up. I mean nice kids who like to play rock music. Titus puts on a hell of a live show. Grooms are an odd fit, with a much slower, more complex, less energized sound. But they are good too. Also, this is their album release party. I just reviewed their album like 10 minutes ago. [TA MySpace] [SSG MySpace] [Grooms MySpace]

No Age @ MoMA | Midtown East, Manhattan
I don't know why No Age is playing at MoMA. It sounds pretentious and not worth missing the above show to see. But I figured I'd let you know. They play the New Museum the next day and have a proper show Saturday (see below). [MySpace]

Friday, October 16

Raincoats, Marnie Stern, Viv Albertine @ Knitting Factory | Williamsburg, Brooklyn (NEW LOCATION!!!) | $22 adv./$25 dos.
HOLY FUCKIN SHIT THE FUCKIN RAINCOATS!!!!!!!!! Or, more calmly put, one of the first and greatest UK punk bands and one of the bands that pioneered the way for women in indie rock music. The other band to fit this description, of course, is the Slits. And the Slits' guitarist was...anybody? Anybody? That's right, Viv Albertine! And as for Marnie Stern, she's the new generation, and just as awesome. You cannot miss this show, unless... [Raincoats MySpace] [MS MySpace] [VA MySpace] miss it to see this one:
Shonen Knife @ Santos Party House | Chinatown, Manhattan | $12
More of indie rock's leading ladies, Shonen Knife have one of the coolest backstories in rock history. Formed in the 1980's in uber-conservative Japan, Shonen Knife consisted of three women who worked as secretaries by day and led secret lives as indie pop musicians at night, unbeknownst to their families and employers - it was considered unseemly for a woman to play rock or pop music, but Shonen Knife gave chauvinism the finger and kicked out some jams, motherfuckers. [MySpace]

Saturday, October 17

No Age @ Above the AutoParts Store | Bushwick, Brooklyn
No Age are a "noise punk" duo from California. "Noise punk" is the in-term right now for bands like this, and it does make a lot of sense. Borrowing from shoegaze, lo-fi and noise pop, No Age and their ilk make dense walls of distortiony sound, but slam out fast 2/4 punk tunes instead of meandering ambiance or wimpy indie pop. No Age are the best of their peers at this style, with bright, irresistible melodies and an unbelievable amount of noise, made on only one guitar. Go see them. [MySpace]

Echo & the Bunnymen @ Mercury Lounge | LES, Manhattan | SOLD OUT!
Obviously, Echo & the Bunnymen is one of the greatest bands of all time. Their mopey post punk, with its stark landscapes and dramatic, tuneful tenor, adds a psychedelic sensibility to the mix. Formed in 1978, this band is the real deal. Mercury Lounge is probably the best small venue in the city. You will NEVER have another chance to see this band this close. Obviously, it's sold out, so if you don't have a ticket, good luck.

Glenn Branca @ Issue Project Room | Gowanus, Brooklyn | $12 adv. / $15 dos.
One of the leaders of New York City's late 70's arty No Wave scene, Branca is an avant garde composer who makes crazy-ass sounds on guitars and mentored Thurtston Moore and Lee Renaldo when they were both wee young things. Or something like that (the nature of the relationship depends on who you ask). I wouldn't go see this over the above shows. He's from town and will perform again. Probably at IPR.

Album: Grooms - Rejoicer

Rejoicer (Grooms)
Album: Rejoicer
Death By Audio, 2009
Rating: ******* (7/10)

Grooms (f.k.a. Muggabears) release their debut LP this week on Death By Audio Records, the label's first seriously promoted release. But despite being a young label, the name Death by Audio caries a lot of weight, arising from the same effects pedal factory, venue, studio and artist collective that gave us A Place to Bury Strangers and Dirty on Purpose. It's also home to two of my most recent most favorite bands, Coin Under Tongue and Sisters. So there's some pedigree.

In any case, Grooms, under their former name, have been around the city a while and have cultivated a lot of local respect. Their sound is noisy, experimental American post punk with some very weird-sounding guitars. For the indie fan, Sonic Youth is by far the easiest and most accurate reference point - the alternate guitar tunings and unusual effects generate a strange, ringing sound, and the band certainly doesn't let tired conventions like, you know, key signatures get in their way. As the guitar wanders through arpeggios, it rarely stays in conventional scales and chords for more than a bar.

Like the key signatures, the band's rhythms and song constructions are organic, drifting from one place to another with few markers. This makes the album a frustrating listen - using songs as units to divide the album seems almost arbitrary, as each section is just a jumping-off point for the next. Without trail markers like choruses and verses, it's hard to digest. Especially since there isn't huge variety between the tracks, it's easy to get lost and difficult to see the band's larger vision.

However, there is a lot to praise as well. Sonically innovative, Rejoicer certainly knows how to rock hard from time to time, but also contains plenty of intellectual appeal. And though Sonic Youth may be the easy comparison, the emotions here are far more raw and less analytical. In other words, the music is more personal. There's a lot of sadness in the poignantly titled Rejoicer.

Tracks like "Acid King of Hell" show hints of Pavement-esque ramshackle pop. Throughout the album, bursts of noise are heavy and careful enough to avoid sounding dated. Near the end, "She-Bears" is built around an eerie siren that recalls creepy songs from the likes of Radiohead far more than anything by Sonic Youth. "The Nights Were Walls (We Climbed Them All)" ends the album at its darkest. With heavily reverbed vocals, minimal guitar and no drum beat at all, the song is a portrait of utter isolation, tangible enough to send a chill down your spine.

On the whole, Rejoicer is an interesting, creative and meaningful effort, but it lacks the mature musician's sense of a larger-scale vision (or at least the ability to communicate that vision). Why this song and no other song? Why this sound and no other sound? Answers to these questions should be apparent in the music, but here, it's not clear. The record is all good but it falls short of its potential. Grooms is easily worth a listen, but are they worth freaking out over? No. Not yet.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Album: Lightning Bolt - Earthly Delights

Earthly Delights (Lightning Bolt)
Album: Earthly Delights
Load, 2009
Rating: ******** (8/10)

Post-hardcore duo Lightning Bolt debuted ten years ago, and they seem to get better with each release. The last we heard from the band, recording-wise, was their 2005 masterpiece Hypermagic Mountain. It's been a long four years, but it's worth the wait. Their new LP Earthly Delights, out tomorrow, may be their album best yet.

Lightning Bolt is "post-hardcore" in that it rests with a group of bands that borrowed the frantic speed and intensity of hardcore punk but melded it with metal-influenced technical skill and a heavy, dark sensibility akin to post punk and industrial. Lightning Bolt, featuring two boldly uncompromising and jaw-droppingly skilled musicians, on drums and bass respectively, fits this mold, using relentless distortion and speed, but with music far too complex to be classified with punk proper.

On Earthly Delights, Brian Chippendale and Brian Gibson amp up everything that makes their band outstanding - it's faster, louder, heavier and meaner than anything they've done yet (granted, Hypermagic Mountain came close). For a casual indie rock fan, Lightning Bolt might not be a favorite - it's not an easy album by any means, and this latest record is especially ill-suited for the casual listener. The first two tracks are lost in their own vortex of distortion and noise, and though the more subdued, ominous opening notes of Colossus let us come up for air, we're plunged almost immediately back into the cacophony.

One of the only real complaints to make about Lightning Bolt is that they don't provide a lot of variety, and here too, the sonic landscape is mostly limited to the band's usual distorted shredding and speed drumming. It's still valid because no one else is doing this, not with this intensity, volume and speed - but you won't find a lot of big surprises.

One of the few moments that does stand out is "Funny Farm," the sixth track. Here, Gibson breaks into a tongue-in-cheek hoedown, his bass stepping as nimbly as any fiddle. Despite the inherent joke, though, the melody is stunningly charming, and it fits comfortably between the skull-splitting noise of the rest of the track and album. This is followed by the arty ambiance of "Rain on the Lake I'm Swimming In," the record's one real break from its own fury. Here, the band shows excellent restraint in limiting themselves to two minutes before kicking back in with their slightly more musical sound.

"The Sublime Freak" also provides a point of contrast, allowing more subtle sounds to permeate the song. The record closer, the twelve-minute "Transmissionary," is classic Lightning Bolt, barreling through the mammoth fuzz and feedback with speed freakouts and sludge-metal dirges.

As a whole, the album does what Lightning Bolt have always tried to do - consumes itself in its own noisy flames. At times, it's difficult to hear what's actually going on, not because anything is mixed low but because the magnitude of the sound obliterates everything and everyone in its way. Listen to a few tracks before you buy it - many people would consider it unlistenable, and certainly, it is not an album for the faint of heart. But if you're into having your eardrums annihilated by the sonic, artistic equivalent of a hydrogen bomb, this is the album for you.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Live: Screaming Females

When: Sept. 26, 2009
Where: "The Maze" at Death by Audio

I didn't mean to see Screaming Females again after having seen then open for Dinosaur Jr. While I found them to be an outstanding band, all those chromatic guitar solos gave me a headache. But as fate would have it, I ended up at their show at Death By Audio, and I'm very glad I did. It's only been three months, but the band has evolved astronomically.

I say evolved and not improved because they were so good before, it's not necessarily a linear progression. However, I would say they've matured. And either when I saw her in the summer, Marissa Paternoster wasn't at the top of her game or she's become a much stronger singer over the last few months. She did a lot more singing, and did it much more openly than before, not buried under the instrumentals. And the voice she found is strange but compelling - like a young PJ Harvey but with odd open vowels like she has some unusual accent (she doesn't). It's a distinctive sound and a great fit for the band's weighty melodies.

Screaming Females (photo from
Screaming Females (photo from MySpace)

She's also scaled back the solos. Perhaps this is because the band's recent success has shown her she doesn't have to constantly prove herself, perhaps because she's able to take on more with her vocals instead - who knows? In any case, there are still some standout shredding solos, it's just no longer 50% of the set.

Death by Audio's "Maze" art installation, which I described before, was still in place for the show, though the DBAers wisely cut the front few walls to half the height so a much larger number of people could see the stage. This was a big improvement from the previous maze shows I'd seen.

But by the end of the show, there wasn't much of a maze left in the front third of the room anyway. Screaming Females' fans were so taken with the music that they basically went nuts. A number of people attempted to stage dive, which is pretty hardcore when the audience is split up by a maze - only a few people could reach a crowd surfer at any given time, and when the inevitably dropped, there was the thin wooden maze wall waiting to impale them. Pseudo-moshing at the front rearranged the maze (to put it gently), and by the end, the place didn't look like it had an hour before. It's amazing that no one was seriously injured, but all's well that ends well, and this show definitely did.

There are some concerts I will never forget and this one is definitely on that list.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Live: Wavves + Beach Fossils, Ganglians

When: 9/25
Where: Market Hotel

I've got a bit behind on live reviews here, but luckily, I took a few notes from this show almost two weeks ago, at which Wavves packed Market Hotel wall-to-wall.

The first band we caught was Beach Fossils. Honestly, I don't know what to say about them. There are so many of these lo-fi punk bands right now, and so many of them with some sort of beach/surf theme, that it's just impossible to think of anything new to say. Beach Fossils were okay in that they had decent melodies and songwriting. They weren't particularly exciting on stage, but you could hop around to their music if you wanted to. They are definitely in the upper 50% of bands of their type, but such bands are a dime a dozen right now, so I can't say you should go out of your way to check them out. But neither should you go out of your way to avoid them. [MySpace]

Ganglians, a California band, followed. It's a name you hear around a lot if you're following the DIY scene, but I have to say, they were very disappointing. The long-haired, bearded singer seemed like he was aiming for the ironic lumberjack look, which worked well in 1991 but doesn't really cut it anymore. He made me think of that Le Tigre song title "Dude Yr So Crazy!!" because I got the impression that's the reaction he was hoping to illicit. But the dude isn't crazy, and it's a pretty weak put-on.

All this would be irrelevant if there was some good music to back it up, but there wasn't. The "melodies" were hardly melodies at all, barely wavering from monotone. The riffs were immensely predictable, the kind you've heard already in a dozen different songs, with slight variation. The band does have a knack for arrangements, and the interesting, creative decisions did give the songs a sense of structure. Of course, that skill is kind of wasted when there's no melody. And when the music has no heart. [MySpace]

Wavves, of course, is the opposite in many ways. There are great melodies and quite a bit of genuine expression in the songs. Nathan Williams may not exactly be turning himself inside out, but it's clear he's putting some part of himself into the music. He's having fun, but he's a real musician with a real artistic contribution too.

The audience was young and very excited. The crowd surfing and dancing was alright, but rushing the stage became a problem when it resulted in equipment failure, cutting Williams off. He was clearly unsure of what to do about the kids, but Todd P. dashed over and scared them off. At the end, Williams himself lept into the fray, riding the crowd while his drummer finished out the set alone.

Williams has improved his playing and singing since I saw him last, but he's still looking down a lot to check his power chords. And that's exactly what's so inspiring about Wavves - if this kid can do it, anyone can do it. He's got no special gift and he clearly didn't have the privilege of childhood lessons (or if he did, his parents should demand their money back). That's why he, more than anyone else right now, is the hero of DIY.

His drummer, however, does not really fit. The drummer is excellent - too excellent. As a young man, he clearly has some impulse to show off his skills, and as a talented drummer, he clearly gets bored with Williams's ultra-simplistic punk. I sympathize with him, but all the fills and frills in his playing distracted from the essence of the music. Great drummer, bad match.

But despite these problems, Williams cranked out familiar songs from both albums as well as some new ones, all of them catchy, inspired gems. The sound was a little out of control with feedback - "Jasper" described it as "Wavves: the Jesus & Mary Chain version." It seems all the racket was neither intentional nor unwanted, but rather, in appropriate Wavves style, was just shrugged off with an implied "whatever." And despite the fact that a large proportion of people left clasping their ears, I'd be surprised if anyone didn't have fun. [MySpace]

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Album: A Place to Bury Strangers - Exploding Head

Exploding Head (A Place to Bury Strangers)
Album: Exploding Head
Mute, 2009
Rating: ******** (8/10)

There are no big surprises on the new album from A Place to Bury Strangers, out today on Mute Records. As always, the band is still something of a one-trick pony. The good news is that that one trick is so very awesome and original that it's far from played out - there are still lots more avenues to be explored, and more importantly, lots more eardrums to be shattered.

APTBS's trick comes, of course, from guitarist Oliver Ackermann's custom Death By Audio pedals. These create a mountain of fuzz, feedback and noise. Static covers the music like a thick layer of snow, while deep rumblings fill in every gap and piercing overtones punctuate songs. It's like My Bloody Valentine or the Jesus and Mary Chain on steroids.

For this reason, APTBS has always been more of a live band to me than one I listen to on record - it's all about volume, about overwhelming the senses and being swallowed whole by the noise. The record isn't the same experience. But then again, Loveless pales in comparison to My Bloody Valentine's live show and it's still one of the greatest records of all time. It's more fair to compare an album to other albums than to compare it to a concert.

Exploding Head starts off strong with the MBV-esque "It Is Nothing," a high-speed pitch-bender with simple but intriguing vocals and extremely tight distortion throughout. The song jumps into the sonic fray with both feet, as melodic overtones add phantom guitars and an deep foundation keeps the listener from ever finding the bottom.

There are a few sequencing problems on the album. Most notably, "Lost Feeling," with its weird Sonic Youth-like steps out of the key signature, is a great addition to the album, but is far too long, repetitive and unmelodious to sit up at track three. Later in the album, the silent beginnings of "Ego Death" break the album's spell and disrupt its flow. It would have been better to fill this space with more audible noise to keep the listener engaged instead of making them stop their concentration to check their speakers.

"Keep Slipping Away" is the album's standout centerpiece. It's well composed, with another simple but irresistible melody and a great sense of structure, driven home by half-tempos, drop-outs, breaks and the perfectly placed bridge. With a dancey, electronic beat and an anxious, repeating lead guitar, it recalls 80's synth music like Depeche Mode, but adds APTBS's characteristic NOISE. "Smile When You Smile" is a more typical APTBS track, but keeps things moving with hammering drums, a short bassy solo and an unforgettable melody. The decision to roll back the noise from time to time sends the tense, disturbed song hurdling forward.

The album goes out strong too, with the gothy, ringing reverb title track, followed by the intense "I Lived My Life to Stand in the Shadow of Your Heart." This closing song is writ large, with an expansive, open melody and a thick, distorted pulse in the bass. Feedback screams over it all until the song descends into its own static until it's only a hint of sound under the roar of white noise.

There isn't a bad track on Exploding Head. It's a solid, accomplished album with no filler and few missteps. It isn't groundbreaking for the band, it's just a further honing of what they've been doing for years. And what they've been doing for years is being more loud, more ominous and more awesome than anyone else around. Fuck yes.