Friday, December 30, 2005

Album Reviews 2005

Suffering and the Hideous Thieves - Ashamed
Lujo Records

Watching this band grow and mutate since Real Panic Formed, this may be the most refined and progressive album the Hideous Thieves have put out so far. The usual hints of cliched melodrama still patents their music, but the clutter of sounds have developed into something more emotionally stable. Showing more aggression too, the track Babylon sounds like something that could've been on the last Ninety Pound Wuss record, which may be accredited to having contributions on guitar by John Spalding. -Stu

Asthma Attaq - Breathe Heavy
Forever Escaping Boredom

Here's a two-peice from Florida that amazingly isn't garage or noise rock, though they are still screamy. Asthma Attaq brings back the sounds early 90s feelgood emo-core by arranging lo-fi metal and indie pop riffs with dry-throat hardcore screams. What I like about this duo is, like Lightning Bolt, they have a tendency to take a song in all directions with jazz-like stop and turn experimentation. Well done. -Stu

In Praise of Folly - Means/Ends
Lujo Records

The clean and melodic flowing sounds on this album are attractive in a successful way that most commercial indie rock fails at. I'm guessing it's due to the fact that the songs are actually impressive in themselves and the added sleak production is just a bonus. The song styles travel extensively though and are hard to pin. With orchestrated waltzes and ballads characteristic of Bright Eyes or The Flaming Lips, some of the sounds are also comparable to Sunny Day Real Estate's motivational power pop. -Stu

Frantic Mantis - Data Is Not Information
Lujo Records

Frodus' Shelby Cinca once again moves on to form another front of modern tech rock, this time the band is Frantic Mantis and the style is 'data punk'. Collaborating with friends Håkan Johansson and Per Stålberg of Division of Laura Lee, the sound sees influences from all members' past projects come together. A lot of playing around is heard with industrial experimentation as 8 bit bleeps and sounds also add weird interludes to some of the album's moments. Cinca'ss screams dominate most of the album's uptempo songs, one of my favourites being Economy is the Enemy which outros with him reminiscing with an English accent about some ant in a cab giving someone the finger or something. Fookin' hilarious. -Stu

History Invades - The Structure of a Precise Fashion
Lujo Records

This album has fashion/art-school scenester written all over it, and I'm guessing that's the target market this band is attempting to infiltrate. I have to say the attitude at first reminded me of those guys who call themselves Interpol, as well as a dozen other bands from two years ago that I am simply just not a fan of for reasons probably due to excess of predictability. I'll quit my whining though and admit that a lot of the songs have a good edge to them that are worth grooving to. There's also a lot of variety that's brought to life with the help of Starflyer 59's Jason Martin who produced the album. I think if the lyrics were different I'd really enjoy these guys, or maybe they're just too cool for me. -Stu

Leo Abrahams - Honeytrap
Just Music

Cheesy cover, cheesy album name, cheesy songs, but a pretty sweet guitarist. This is a collection of Leo Abraham's guitar compositions, a guy who's played on Brian Eno and Ed Harcourt records. Plenty of the songs are just ambient doodling, but there are a couple that wail out the rock. As you'd expect, it's a very 90's studio band kind of sound which is where much of the cheesiness originates. So if you're a fan of that, then go for it, but I skipped through the albums and found maybe three songs out of the fourteen that weren't deathly boring. -Stu

Jakuta and Carl - i

The vocals on this record are a little tedious for me, but fans of Joy Division might like it. Fans of Joy Division might also not like it too. The few tracks on here of melodic and experimentally noisy laptop pop are rather similar to Xiu Xiu, but of a more home made quality. Apart from tweaked samples and sounds there are a few moments of guitar and harmonica that give it an original edge. There are other moments of songwritten vigor here and there, but just a few for my liking. -Stu

The Pope - Society of Friends
Satellite City

Terrorism's trendy little entourage has inflicted upon itself wounds of noise rock and distorted vocals over the past couple of years. What can I say about The Pope but that they bring it without the bullshit. The aesthetics of both the cover art and music are a fresh dent in my daily hypsosis of a life, hearing the unfettered breaking of air and eardrums. Each of these songs are bitten and chewed by bass guitars that sound like motorcycles crashing into each other and drums that are living their last hour. After each of the songs I'm forced to turn it up louder and louder just in order to keep up with them. -Stu

Collapsing Opposites - Mean Letters

Songs about the internet are here to stay. Riding the wave of fun that is the lo-fi indie scene, Collapsing Opposites help bring credibility to the world of DIY masterpieces. The first track is a simple acoustic guitar and snare drum composition with flute sounding casio keys coming in towards the end. It will most likely have you think the rest of the album is based on this format, but while this loosely is the case, the rest of the album is sparked with an impressive level of symphonic energy and effects. The vocals and lyrical style will remind most of Atom and His Package, but the music's format is less electronically focused. Check out their website and download some tracks! -Stu

Xiu Xiu - Life and Live

All these tracks are from Jamie Stewart's North American solo tours of 2003. I'm guessing diehard fans will love this release, but for the average listener Jamie's voice will become repetitive and the songs quite boring in comparison to their album versions. These were tough times for Xiu XIu however, and a lot of the emotion will be experience deeply in these live songs. -Stu

Growing / Mark Evan Burden - Split

The first track of only two on this split is pretty tedious, mostly just twenty minutes of creepy ambience and not exactly my choice of material to review. Mark Evan Burden's track gets off to a slow start, but soon enough sporadic hammering of piano keys is heard in a way reminiscent of Philip Glass. The theme continues under different variations as the piano keys are almost felt breaking and agitating a nearby audience. Soon enough it slows down and generated effects are thrown into the choppiness of it all. An required attention span of fifteen minutes is recommended. -Stu

Hexes *& Ohs* - Goodbye Friend, Welcome Lover
Noise Factory

Yeah so this is pretty good, but I can only take so much of the poetic sting of hyperbolic lyrics and emotional stains. As a whole, though, the tracks have great melodic rings to them and dance along strongly. Well produced sounds of acoustic and electric guitars, ethereal synths, and drum tracks highlight over the annoyingly in want of attention vocals. It's not a decidedly post-apocalyptic soundtrack, but I could really see myself listening to this if I was a young teenager in some future world with happy robots and Europeans everywhere. -Stu

Extol - Blueprint
Century Media

It's hard to gage judgement on bands who 'polish off' their sound and get signed to the bigger labels like Century Media, especially when earlier releases continue to stay as the apex of their memorial. Like Synergy, their previous release, Blueprint is lacking in Extol's once fundamental edge of death metal. I suppose a replacement of two guitarists would render this sort of change, but the album does still have moments of progression into the darker sounds of old. The focus seems to be on inspirational pop metal, a likeliness to where 'hardcore' has gone recently, and I suppose we'll have to either follow the new sounds, or wait around for something else to happen. -Stu

Final Fantasy - Has a Good Home

Toronto's so hot over Owen Pallet and his violin right now. With past and current involvement in local bands like Les Mouches, the Hidden Cameras, Picastro, and the Jim Guthrie Band he's already polished off his reputation as the indie scene's violin guy. With an education in composition, already the man has received what's justly due to him when it comes to the respect he's received. First seeing him open for his favourite band, Xiu Xiu, last July I was immediately and enthusiastically impressed along with the rest of the crowd who was there early enough to see his set. Since then he's toured with scenestars Arcade Fire and has drawn a considerable fanbase and is still headed for even exponentially furthered exposure. Each track on this release is uniquely imaginative in its own way, with poetic lyrics that fit their destined place. The vocals are soft and fitting as well, but could use some strength and definition if perfectionists are to be inclined their appraisal. Other than that, it looks to be one of the top albums of the year. -Stu

Decomposure - At Home and Unaffected

Yeah, holy shit. This is good summer listening. Caleb Mueller hits it off from the start with the long sought after genius of a pop composer. Moulding industrial and laptop experimental calamity into effective carriers of his modern and rivalistic ballads, he comes out on top. The only downer for the easy listening inclined is the interludes of pure instrumental experimentation that seems an odd fit in contrast with the hot hits. They do come off as drowing themselves in needless provocation, but there are likely more than a few fans out there for that too. This is worth the listen whether you're a fan of whoever's indie rock singer turned solo project is selling right out or even if you admit to liking Nine Inch Nails. Also, great artwork and one of the best artist promo pictures I've ever seen. -Stu

Buried Inside - Chronoclast

So the deal with these guys is that Big D told me to listen to them and then I realized I had their promo sitting in my room from god knows when. I must've listened to it at least once when I got it, but soon forgot about it in the midst of moving and doing nothing else in particular. Anyways, my second listen was of shock and suprise. Wow, a hardcore band that isn't all pussy-whipped. What year is this? Are musicians in BANDS now? Seriously, I'm happy to hear this album and am glad that something this good is at least remotely popular with the kids. Keep it real guys. -Stu

Tussle - Kling Klang
Troubleman Unlimited

If the grandpas from Tortoise got a day-pass from their retirement home and decided to jam with Black Dice, it would probably sound similar to what Tussle is up to on Kling Klang. Combining smooth, laid-back bass lines with minimal beats and subtle elements of background noise, Kling Klang is perfect for a long walk or a nap. Unfortunately, the record coasts on the same ideas for too long, and can easily lose one's interest. Nonetheless, this is worth checking out if you're looking for a change. -Josiah

Half-Handed Cloud - Thy Is A Word + Feet Need Lamps
Asthmatic Kitty

John Ringhoefer is clearly one of the raddest dudes alive! Every Half-Handed Cloud record is an amazing and essential collection of songs, always exploring themes of Christianity with an open mind. Thy Is A Word + Feet Need Lamps is no exception, exploring bizarre stories from the Old Testament through indie pop placed somewhere between the Beach Boys and Mt. Eerie. Charmingly innocent and sincerely reverant, Thy does not isolate non-religious listeners by being overly preachy. To the contrary, this is an amazing and genuine record that everyone with an open mind needs to own! -Josiah

Comeback Kid - Wake The Dead
Smallman Records

I suppose the 2000s are the era where we will see the final stages of hardcore's assimilation into the mainstream. With its slick production values and completely held-back vocals, Wake the Dead is a perfect testament of this. It is almost inevitable that it is only a matter of time before this is all over MuchMusic. Having said that, I am reluctant to admit that it's not all that bad a record. If you're a fan of DIY hardcore, you will hate it, but if you think of it more as pop-punk with a bit of edge, it's not completely terrible. -Josiah

Bear Claw - Find the Sun
Sickroom Records

From only a few listens of this disc I already owe this band a shitload for rocking my world. If you're a fan of the Fugazi and the Slint you're sure to be a fan of the Bear Claw. The tracks are stark as shit, engineered by a Mr. Steve Albini himself, and trek through the dead air to your poor ears that have been waiting much too long now. The power-math is there along with the dominance of the rhythm section to comprehensively sculpt and evolve each song accordingly. Not every track is a hit, but they are all a great listen. -Stu

Ateriavia - Regarding the Midwest: Sleeping
Lujo Records

Energetic and atmospheric rock with desperate screams and gang vocals. Is this the new post-hardcore? They certainly have long enough song titles to be post-whatever-core. Another sign of modernity is the fact that they listed their myspace profile in the CD booklet, but perhaps that's common these days, excuse me for living under a rock. So anyways, the songs are well developed and certainly (yawn) interesting. No, i'll give them credit for being much better than most of what I hear these days, it's just that nothing prominently sticks out besides the odd breakdown and build-up. I sure would be interested in hearing where they go after this record. -Stu

Mackenzie MacBride - Glam Rock Revelations

I was given this record at the last Canzine by the very Mackenzie MacBride herself who was seated behind me. The most I can say is that you have to listen to it yourself, or check out the video on the website. Also, I'm sure if you can get in touch you'd be able to score a free CD for yourself. -Stu

Treephort - Enchanted Forest
Springman Records

Ummm... yeah. I wasn't sure about reviewing these bunch of goofs at first. At first their cover design scared me, and then their song titles interested me, but then the music confused me. The opener is a pretty sweet psuedo-hardcore diddy with 'enchanted' keyboards providing a mystical mood that complements their cover design of some sort of unicorn and dragon forrest. The rest of the album is basic melodic punk bordering slop and with excellently cheesy keyboards taking their turn once in a while. I also have to admit that their song Jesus Would Play This Show For Free did give me a chuckle. -Stu

Twodeadsluts Onegoodfuck - Songs For Blasting Lasers and Fighting Evil-Doers 7"

This record pretty much rules when it comes to psychotic grind-core. It's extremely short as well, making you wish these guys could come to your house and play you to sleep all night while you're forced to have nightmares. One of the more interesting elements is the blending of lo-fi recording with high-quality electronics and sampling. All around it's refreshingly frightening. -Stu

Kruzenshturn & Parahod - Songs
Auris Media Records

Get this CD if you want to be the coolest kid ever. It's from Tel-Aviv! Kruzenshturn & Parahod bring you traditional Jewish music, but before they let you listen to it they amplify parts of it exponentially and then smash it with their fists and faces. The experimentation between the traditional style, avant-rock and hardcore gives you a whole new reason to dance and makes you wonder what the fuck is going on at the other end of the planet. I don't think I've ever headbanged to a clarinet and accordian before. -Stu

We Versus the Shark - Ruin Everything!
Hello Sir Records

Stop-on-a-dime, angular rhythms propel this juggernaut of an album. I can see fans of Babe the Blue Ox appreciating We Versus the Shark. We Versus the Shark is like a cross between Fugazi and U.S. Maple with it's a delivery heavy and frantic yet focused and rocking. The group is at its best when juxtaposes a simple melody to its jagged, disconnected rhythms. Witness the lulling female vocals of "Ten uh Clock Heart uh Tack" and how that works with the spiky asterisk of guitar works punctuating the song, especially at the beginning. -Tom Schulte

Mike Doyle - The Great War

Can't get enough of Elliot Smith? Try Mike Doyle. The resemblance is uncanny, but not in the 'oh he just sounds like Elliot Smith' way. The songwriting on this release is strong, and the tracks are as short and sweet as orgasms. That's about it. -Stu

Ahleuchatistas - The Same and the Other
Noreaster Failed Industries

Hey, remember math rock? These guys are math rock. One time a guy asked me if Van Halen was math rock, I was like "No". If you're into the avant, Don Caballero, can't-pronounce-their-name, twitchy, art bands then I think these guys will be your new heroes. Like any great math rock band they go all over the place without pausing to breathe, which is interesting because none of the songs have any vocals. The spidery riffs that some may easily grow weary of abound on this record, but not in the continous way that would take the attention away from the sporadic build-ups and pauses. I like math rock, though I've been cautious and picky over most of what I've recently heard, but I can admit that this album will at least be nominated for a nobel prize in mathematics. -Stu

Abernethy - He Teeny She

From Vancouver, this is Abernethy's second album released out into this crazy world of ours. It offers a new sound to those who would welcome a deep and mysterious voice to be an instrument of soothing melody. You know that singer from the Crash Test Dummies? That 'Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm' song from the 90's? It's kind of like that at times, but more comparable to Leonard Cohen or even Joy Division. The music is pretty 2005, but it's really more of a take on the epic folk of older days. Odd harmonies and dreamy songwriting cast the music into hypnotic reverberations and addiction, something which I've found hard to come across these days. -Stu

They Shoot Horses Don't They? - EP

These guys opened for Xiu Xiu last year in Vancouver. Jason saw them and said they're pretty good, and listening to this EP I'm going to have to agree with him. The songs are drenched in fullness and melody, like being at a carnival on a hot day with unknown salty and sweet residue in between your fingers. A brass section adds most of the character to their sound, and at many moments I'm reminded of New York's World Inferno Friendship Society, but the vocals are a little tamer, something that is not a problem at all. -Stu

Submission Hold - What Holds Back the Elephant
G7 Welcoming Committee

I remember seeing this band open up for Fugazi, in 2000 I think. The singer was pregnant and wore a belly shirt as she galloped around the stage; I thought it was weird, but it was cool. This new album is a definite breast of flesh air for me. The fingertip sensitivity of calloused darkness swindles with experienced post-hardcore engineering. The message is political and screams as much deserved attention as the music itself, as they both carry a movement of intelligence and straightforwardness. Vancouver, be proud. -Stu

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