Hunx and His Punx – Street Punk album review

We’ve been hearing it for decades now; almost from the outset of punk rock itself came the battle cry, ‘punk is dead!’ By now, it’s practically a marketing slogan. And while its generally acknowledged that yes, punk as a movement has been dead for several decades now, punk as a genre, just like any genre, can never really die. All that is needed is for one band to work in the same vein, and if all the ingredients come together just right, instant resurrection is obtained. Easier said than done, of course, as countless bargain bin failures can attest.

While nothing can turn back the clock on a culture that no longer exists, and nothing can bring back your youth, if it’s loud, fast, aggressive, snotty music from a band who doesn’t give a fuck and are more than happy to tell you, then Hunx and His Punx’ Street Punk will be instantly accepted. Chugging out of the speakers with the lowest of lo fi sludge, the record sounds as though it was recorded in the same makeshift garage shack/recording studio as early Misfits output. Tracks like “Everyone’s A Pussy (Fuck You Dude)” and “Don’t Call Me Fabulous” barrel in like a locomotive; their only lyrics, their titles, shouted at breakneck speeds over fuzzy, throbbing instrumentations, both screeching to a halt in under a half minute each. In fact, the only misstep in the album is also its longest, coming in at 3:48.

“Street Punk” draws obvious inspiration from Suicidal Tendencies, and “Born Blonde” almost subconsciously reminds of The Detroit Cobras. Misfits sonic textures (or lack thereof, as the case may be) and melodies abound, perhaps (and surprisingly) most noticeable on “Mud In Your Eyes,” which also recalls the 60s girl group sounds of the band’s debut record, Too Young To Be In Love. Bassist Shannon Shaw lends her vocals to several tracks, balancing the sleeze of singer Seth Bogart with a bit of punk sultriness.

Thankfully, the other abundant element of Too Young to be left to the wayside on this attempt is the extreme limp-wristed campiness, and the high, nasal whine of a stereotypical sex-crazed homosexual. Bogart still shimmies around onstage in mesh and leather costumes that would turn heads even at the Folsom Street Fair (a style not too many degrees removed from Iggy and other punk pioneers, truth be told), and the lyrics still drip with aggressive homoeroticism, but the nails-on-a-chalkboard, clichéd snivel is gone, allowing the listener to focus more on the amazingly catchy hooks and witty lyrics, all considering.

The line between the punk and gay subcultures has always been a bit thinner than some would like to admit, and that is certainly one way to view this act: through his camp, Bogart is able to call attention the shared elements of two very different groups. But if asked, he would probably make no such claims. And why should he? The music speaks for itself.

Weekend – Jinx album review

The powers to be (a.k.a. the internet…) describes San Franciscan group, Weekend, as lo-fi shoegaze. I guess that means that while listening to their new album one might be most compelled to sway their shoulders side to side with chin against chest and eyes at the ground. Do not let the genre classification be the only basis of what to expect from new album, Jinx. Instead of head down swaying, this album demands a little more motion. With high energy and resounding soundscapes, Jinx is definitely a great production. Its sound can fill even the largest of spaces and evokes images of a deep-space-like, echoic atmosphere (even though such a thing is technically a contradiction.) Needless to say, Jinx is a wonderfully well-balanced  and intriguing piece of work.

For a glimpse of the expanse Jinx inhabits, tune into track track three, “Celebration, Fl.” Its pulsating snares coupled with reverb-obsessed vocals and instrumentation are on point. They ebb and flow like they should, compelling the listener to come back for a second or third listen. Moreover, the track is an excellent taste of Jinx on a whole. Following “Celebration, Fl” comes “Sirens” and again a listener might feel a nearly overwhelming sense of spacial sound. The electronic timbre fills your headphones with a comforting drone which proves almost meditative. And if that is not enough to sway you, turn an ear to track eight, “Rosaries.” It is this track where you will find a certain reminiscence you might expect from spinning your favorite Tears for Fears album. A guitar rhythm marches on as a epic drones and fleeting vocals create a visual arrangement of imagined color and shapes.

All together, Jinx is without a doubt relaxing yet, impulsively, it demands an uncontrollable notion to move. The production of the album is perfectly lo-fi which creates a uniquely intriguing electronic texture. It is obvious Weekend utilizes the studio to their advantage, applying it as another instrument. My opinion–as you most likely could have already guessed–pick up a copy of Jinx. It will fill that void for new electronic shoegaze that you have been sorely lacking for some time now. And if shoegaze is just not your style, give it a try anyway. You may be surprised how the genre can be interpreted.

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros – Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros album review

When Rick Ross’s “100 Black Coffins” came flooding through movie theater sound systems during screenings of Django Unchained, drowning us in bravado and grunted foreshadowing, there’s a reason we didn’t laugh. Ross, an ex-correctional officer who reinvented himself as a rapper under an alias lifted from a real life drug trafficker, is able to sell us on a song like the bloody “Coffins” because his character was built to devour any doubt. This is why we rarely call bullshit on his fabrication of reality, and it’s the same reasons we watch action movies: we enjoy all this talk of violence and drug slinging as long as it’s in some alternate reality. When we hear the stomping, outsized western beat on “100 Black Coffins”, we’re reminded of exciting storytelling rather than CNN Headlines. It’s all about playing a good character.

Alex Ebert is playing a similar type of role. Once the frontman of the strung out electrodes in Ima Robot, Ebert found rebirth while in rehab as the character Edward Sharpe. The band he formed around this new creation sold a fan base on the mystery, releasing their debut Up From Below with a cover photo of the group literally jumping into the setting sun. There was a feeling surrounding the album, at least among Ebert fans, that this album could save your soul. Well, not quite, but something like that.

Up From Below ended up being a terrifically self-aware album, with songs like “40 Day Dream” poking fun at the grandeur expected of musical spectacle, even explicitly referencing The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour. When you listened to Up From Below, you knew everyone involved was in on the joke, that they knew music alone couldn’t save your soul, but you also knew these dudes believed in the power of their own musical community. Up From Below was essentially just an extremely clever way of nailing down a cliché.

On their third album, however, Alex Ebert has lost himself completely in character, and the result is a festival pandering slog through mostly uninspired sing-alongs. The trouble starts right away with Ebert (as Edward Sharpe, it should be noted) singing “We don’t have to talk/Let’s dance”. He sounds like he’s straining here, and not in the way Dylan used to. This is closer to Sam Waterson on The Newsroom.

The record’s biggest offense is the painfully generic “Let’s Get High”, which seems confused by its own lyrics, especially on awkward lines like “Ain’t we all just Japanese when we’re high/On love?”. This is the type of writing festival organizers salivate over but fans should ignore. It’s just streamlining the process and is also what ends up making the self-titled effort nearly insufferable. In the end, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes is like listening to Rick Ross giving a lecture; it may have been put together with good intentions but makes little sense. It doesn’t give us anything we can’t already get elsewhere. Why play a character if you’re not going to make something worth watching?

Gregory Alan Isakov – The Weatherman album review

For proof that the ‘Americana’ style of music has nothing to do with being ‘American’, here is Gregory Alan Isakov, native of South Africa. For evidence related to this proof, listen to ‘Time Will Tell’, with the banjos, acoustic guitars, and whistle effects that are kind of reminiscent of a musical saw.

Isakov is an accomplished songwriter who manages to convey a type of intimacy through his music. There is a story-telling quality to his singer-songwriter vibe, which turns the songs into images of existence. The songs generally unfold at a leisurely pace, utilizing rhythmic techniques in the accompaniment that convey a heightened sense of motion amidst the incredibly lazy tempos.

If there is anything lacking on this record, it stems from the fact that there is an overabundance of slow, melancholy tunes. Isakov is a talented songwriter with a great melodic sense, but the general aesthetic he conveys unfortunately results in a type of blurring, as the songs tend to blend into one another.

On the upside, Isakov appears to have some kind of training, or at the very least he’s picked up a pretty solid understanding of harmonic relationships and song form since he started touring at 16. His ability to harmonize a melodic line and pace the harmonic rhythm to the line is really solid, leading to moments of subtle emotional intensity.

With Gregory Alan, it’s not about virtuosity or overt intensity, it’s about the human element, the story, and the lives that people live. All that’s needed is a little more variety in tempo.

Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus album review

There are really only one or two good reasons that justify naming your band Fuck Buttons. The first acceptable answer is that you’re just really into zippers, and abhor any competitive fasteners. The second is that you need some kind of gimmick to garner attention, ostensibly, because the music is incapable of doing that on its own accord. The latter, unfortunately, appears to be the case with Bristol, England, duo Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power. Their fourth full length album since formation in 2004, Slow Focus is a textbook exercise in futility; as quintessential a modern-music-as-representation-of-callow-vapid-culture as you could possible look for.

While anyone who knows me knows electronic and/or experimental ‘music’ is not exactly my forte, I like to think I can, at the very least, appreciate those pioneering or expanding the genre. However, here there is simply nothing to appreciate. Every song follows the exact same formula; simple loops, systematically added ad nausem, until the resulting collection of noise would physically come crashing down if even one more track was added. And yet, despite this myriad of sound, no track ever moves beyond its starting point; the seeming complexity is completely artificial. Not at one point is anything ever said. Not suggested, not inferred, nor beaten into the listener’s skull; without any kind of statement, be it agreeable or argumentative, Slow Focus represents the worst kind of artistic attempt, one that does nothing but waste the participant’s time.

A collection of just seven songs, over half extend beyond 7 and a half minutes, and two reaching past the 10 minute mark. That’s an extremely long time to ask for an audience, especially when offering absolutely nothing in return. For this very reason, skipping ahead yields negligible results any time it is attempted; it will save you time, but you’ll be in exactly the same place, thematically. Like running on the treadmill at the gym; there may be more people in the room when you finish, but you’re exactly where you started. Had actual instrumentalists been forced to play these drudgeries, their aimlessness would have become blatantly obvious, at the very least cutting each track’s length in half.

In addition to being two to three times too lengthy, all songs on the album suffer from being virtually indistinguishable from one another. Critiques of boring, uninteresting frivolity, and shallow, bland annoyance apply to all at once, and none in particular. While “The Stalker” titularly brings to mind Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 cinematic masterpiece, its aural qualities fail to evoke any such comparisons. “Year Of The Dog” stands out as the worst in a bevy of contenders, trying oh so hard to convince the listener of its depth and brevity while relying on clichés that would make The Simpsons writers blush. Every aural clue used in 2001: A Space Odyssey to conjure the spooky, mysterious, powerful and otherworldly emotions, is repeated here in far less classy a fashion.

While it may well be that technology continues made computer based and experimental music easier and more financially feasible and lucrative than traditional instrumentation, it does not change the fact that not everyone is capable of creating good music. Hung and Power may well be very talented individuals in thousands of other fields, but music, electronic or otherwise, is not their field.

Ken Yates – Twenty Three album review

The twang of the steel guitar hits you instantly; the silvery plying of emotion from your body. Something about the sound of wilting metal that takes you instantly to an expanse of field somewhere in the Midwest…Ken Yates debut EP Twenty Three is everything that that initial note promises, stories of love and loss, simple songs thoughtfully penned without grand ambition, secrets of life extracted from caught moments in time.

So here’s the thing about good folk music; its melody and lyricism in equal measure. You can say whatever you like about how a harmonica makes you feel, or what the twist of a voice catching does to your insides, but if you don’t get that you’re listening to a sung story then you’re dead in the water. Ken Yates understands this.

Curtain Call is a beautiful song, one that allows valuable insight into Yates’ pared down expectations of fame. This song could be written about anyone. At first listen it’s seemingly written about a love interest, a girl at a country dance who projects a better version of herself because her confidence wanes when she is without approval, but it could just as easily been written about him. If that’s the case, think about the introspection that would have to have gone into writing a song about being the best version of yourself, flaws and all, for no audience at all. That in itself is true artistic merit.

‘I don’t want to Fall in Love’, arguably the album’s most commercially successful song, has gotten an incredible amount of airtime on Sirius XM’s Coffee House station. You’ve heard this song. Everyone has. It delivers what a country folk song should; unpacking both the fearful and excitable side of love from the viewpoint of a shy and most likely twice burned man who refuses to give up on the idea of love entirely, even if he writes a song telling us otherwise. What an incredible thing, a five minute profession of self realization that we as listeners recognize as a lie. That in itself is songwriting magic.

There is something pure about the way Yates approaches music. Soft country may not be everyone’s cup of sweet tea, but I believe Yates has talent. He is a great songwriter, as confessed publicly by his hero John Mayer. Twenty Three is a dish best served while you swing lazily in a hammock, a bottle of beer warming in fading country light, your cowboy hat tipped over your face as you listen to life lessons stream from the speakers as weaving silver threads.

I The Leviathan – Trespassing EP review

According to Hebrew lore as stated in the Tanakh, a Leviathan is a massive sea creature that has dwelled at the depths of the ocean since the beginning of time. In modern Hebrew, the word roughly translates to “whale,” thereby establishing a clear connection to the story of Job. The Leviathan has a rich history in the Abrahamic religions and more contemporary literature (even serving as the namesake for a work by Thomas Hobbes). Mere mention of its name elicits vivid pictures of a timeless, massive entity spanning the collective unconscious of entire cultures from East to West.

A young California band (read: a very, very young California band), have taken this in stride and used it as their namesake. I the Leviathan, as professed by their debut Trespassing EP, produce a brand of post-hardcore music that has been moving up from the underground into the mainstream quite seamlessly by them and their contemporaries. More At the Drive-In than A Day to Remember, the 5-track EP is defined by a caustic, accusatory tone with on-point and well-syncopated instrumentation.

The youth and complete lack of longevity of the band (a photo on their Facebook page pegs them at no older than twenty) indicates that a healthy dose of teenage angst fuels this record, which is good and healthy. The lyrics tend to point one (or several) fingers at nameless oppressive entities and wrongdoers in intimate relationship. Hell hath no fury like a teenager scorned, as the saying goes. The overall feeling of the Trespassing EP is undoubtedly punk in essence, with a metal influence lingering throughout the guitar riffs and leads. While the EP remains slightly unremarkable even after repeated listens (and some air-drumming by one reviewer in particular on a drive to visit friends), I the Leviathan show promise. It is hard to doubt that the debut release will not garner due press, but something about the release seemed so status quo that it seemed hard not to brush it away into the vast abyss that is “the Internet.”

I the Leviathan’s debut Trespassing EP is fun to listen to. The group seems earnest and well-intentioned, but personal preference (and to be frank, a mild case of punk rock elitism) leaves it sounding a touch too bland. If anything, the Trespassing EP should be interpreted as a step in a promising direction: not flawed, but with plenty of room for improvement. For fans of the genre, I the Leviathan would certainly be a band to keep on the radar.

Matt Nathanson – Last of the Great Pretenders review

As a rock and roll enthusiast, particularly of the classics such as Led Zeppelin, I am surprised that I like Matt Nathanson’s new album. Most of Nathanson’s older songs are on the slower side, and the slowest I tolerate is typically on the same par as Zeppelin’s “What Is And What Should Never Be,” which breaks into raucous guitar solos after every verse. But Matt Nathanson surprised me. Granted, I did roll my eyes at some of his slower love songs, such as “Sunday New York Times,” but the majority of the tracks on Last of the Great Pretenders had me tapping my foot and even singing along several times.

You probably know Nathanson because of his 2008 platinum-selling single “Come On Get Higher,” and because several of his songs have been featured in popular movies and TV shows, such as American Wedding and Scrubs. I first heard of him around the time “Come On Get Higher” became wildly popular, because I wanted to know who was responsible for the persistently catchy ballad that wouldn’t get out of my head, if ballads can be catchy. I accidentally saw Nathanson in concert in September 2012; I say “accidentally” because I automatically flock to any event that uses the words “free,” “live,” and “music” to advertise itself, and Nathanson was playing at such an event in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. I recall being surprised by Nathanson then, too, expecting more ballad-like songs similar to “Come On Get Higher,” but most of the songs Nathanson performed were fun, easy to dance to, and had lyrics so catchy I was singing along by the second verse. Many of the tracks on Last of the Great Pretenders are “danceable” as well, particularly “Kinks Shirt” and “Annie’s Always Waiting.” Like many other songs on the album, “Kinks Shirt” is peppered with references to San Francisco, which is both his and my current city of residence. From mentions of “sinking fast in the rocky waters off Alcatraz” to lines about “getting winks from the pretty boys in the Castro,” listeners in San Francisco will enjoy hearing the names of landmarks and popular spots in their city.

The aforementioned two tracks on Last of the Great Pretenders are my favorite on the album, “Kinks Shirt” for its upbeat feel and San Francisco references and “Annie’s Always Waiting” for its fun guitar hooks. Fans of songs such as “Come On Get Higher” will enjoy the ballads “Mission Bells,” “Sunday New York Times,” and “Farewell, December.” Hardcore fans of Nathanson will likely love this album. If you’re like me and this isn’t quite your type of music, check out “Kinks Shirt” and see what you think. You might be surprised.

Ghost Ship – The Good King album review

There is not much more of a valuable lesson than to be proven wrong. That enlightening result is amplified tenfold when it comes to being pleasantly surprised after making a wrongful assumption upon one’s first impressions. This turned out to be especially true upon the discovery of a new, industrious album by a band called Ghost Ship. Immediately, the mind is struck with an image of an exaggerated scene in which several middle-aged men dressed as ghoulish pirates, each posed in the perfect stance to be captured on an album cover. Nevertheless, that exasperating image aside, Ghost Ship turns out not to be a group of seaworthy specters, but a septet of seasoned worship musicians (their name actually comes from the idea of their fans being ‘vessels’ for the Holy Ghost).

In June of 2013, Ghost Ship honed their various influences and spawned a creation that they firmly believe will allow people to join together, through both religion and music. Entitled The Good King, the unique incarnation of Ghost Ship’s devotion to religion combines their musical influences that span from pop to country. While they utilize a variety of unorthodox instruments, the band coherently weaves together songs that turn the term ‘well-composed’ into an understatement; they just simply work. In fact, the ability to incorporate instruments such as banjos and cathedral organs within the same songs speaks for itself, because such instruments are able to work together so seamlessly. The Good King also includes a few hymns that, in banal terminology, would be considered ‘covers.’ The classic hymns are made completely unique as the enterprising band impresses their own musical stylings upon them. The band’s awareness of dynamics provides a refreshing reminder that musicians are still conscience of the difference between lullabies and breathtaking symphonies, both of which are present on The Good King.

The most inspiring part about The Good King is that Ghost Ship’s message and musicianship can coexist without depreciating one another. The music on this album does not fail to capture the listener’s attention, as it creatively reflects the trends of modern pop music, while simultaneously conveying their religious beliefs. The sheer beauty of their actions can not be captured simply by words. They have found a way to effectively advocate their religion to masses who have been brought together by music. This, in itself, illustrates the dream of every musician, whose fans are completely devoted to their music, as well as the examples they set and the values they promote. If more bands were able to capture such a mystical result from their work, focusing on the sending a message, rather than bulky paychecks and royalties, the world would indefinitely become a better place.

The Dirteez – The Wild Side of Love album review

Throwbacks to an older kind of sound don’t get much more authentic than when a band decides to re-issue one of its old albums. So it’s no surprise that French veteran voodoo rockers The Dirteez have done a convincing job with the genre for their latest release, The Wild Side of Love — after all it is, in fact, a digital rerelease of the 1990 debut record of the same name.

Given this fact, it would be pretty hard to dispute its authenticity. As an original artifact from the heyday of the genre, it functions as well as any record should. It plays up its deathrock influences well — the songs are simple but heavy, featuring standards like rhythmic, drilling instrumentals and a deep, haunting male vocalist. The tracks are loud and the lyrics indiscernible. To add to the theatricality of it all, the album seems to be centred around a theme. Called The Wild Side of Love, tracks with names like “Law of the Jungle,” “Cannibal Obsessions,” and “The Beast Inside” seem to work towards this imagery. In combination, these elements give the record a certain kind of horrific carnality. Its the kind of album that makes you want to headbang and thrash and rage without ever really understanding why.

This is obviously something that worked back in the day and it’s not hard to see why. The record is not necessarily very deep or full of emotion, but one look at its comic-book style cover and you know its not meant to be. The Wild Side of Love is, at its heart, just another way to let loose and have fun — whether you’re taking a trip down memory lane or discovering it for the first time.