Thursday, May 28, 2009

Review: Trencher - "When Dracula Thinks 'Look at Me'"

When one thinks of oft-imitated bands, the Locust usually isn’t the first one to come to mind. Yet that’s exactly what seems to be dealing a large dose of influence in the direction of London, England’s Trencher. True, Trencher dons infinitely less full-body, skintight nylon suits and operates as a trio sans guitar unlike the full-band, four-piece Locust…but let’s be real: Their ultra-short, noisy blasts of keyboard grind with cringingly creepy lyrical themes (“Horse Race Amputee,” “Erotica of Flies,” “Wounds Cordon Bleu”) roll extremely close in the game of musical marbles to their U.S. tourmates….yeah, the Locust.

While this entire review could probably be spent comparing and contrasting the two bands, let’s pretend for a moment that there’s no basis for association and describe Trencher as is. First observation: no guitar. Distorted bass, shrieks and screams abound, and a Casio keyboard help fill in the sound, that succeeds in at least not sounding lacking at all, and fairly convincing in its grindier moments. Secondly: the songs are short. Like, power-violence short. Blink-and-you-miss-it, 40-seconds-tops short. However, it’s still plenty of time for bone-crushing brutality intertwined with Nintendo-buzz keys and brief flirtations with negative audio space. Trencher’s macabre snark is as incomprehensible on paper as it is in the songs, as the 35-second “Autopsy” reveals: “In through the veils of skin --Lusting! / Break through, hymen! / You’re cracking my cranium / Like scaling the dizzy spine!” Though claiming the prize of longest song on the CD at 1:10, “Hispanic Telepathy Attack” is only one line long: “When you’re running from the law, be more careful and play dead!”

Not including the final track with hidden bonus noise that comes eight minutes after the last song, Trencher crunch out a baker’s dozen worth of spastic Casio-core cuts in less than 10 minutes that are interesting, if not altogether memorable.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Review: Last Lights - "No Past No Present No Future"

When Last Lights opened for Four Year Strong at BU Central on December 5th, 2008, the band was celebrating their signing to blossoming punk label Think Fast! just two days prior, and singer Dominic Mallary was as energetic as ever, hurling himself about on the stage, screaming his lungs out and twisting the microphone cord around his neck, as he did nearly every show. A few hours later, his health began rapidly spiraling downwards, as he lost feeling in his legs and eventually convulsed in seizures after being taken to the hospital where he lost consciousness. Some 15 hours after performing what would be his final set, the last lights went out for Dominic Mallary, dying of a brain aneurysm before he could witness the full fruition of all his hard work and talent.

Though the band decided not to go on without Dominic, their recent contract with Think Fast! allowed them a proper sendoff, giving widespread release to their entire discography consolidated onto one album. From their initial self-released demos to their Bad Habit split and Mightier than Sword seven-inch, there’s no lulls or shifts in intensity; the collection is as seamless as if it had been cut in one clean studio swoop.

What Last Lights is able to do in 11 songs is rare. They don’t necessarily walk a line between the old school and the new school of hardcore, but they pull in the better elements of both and create something that’s as fascinating as it is raw and intense. Patches of short, fast Black Flag or Minor Threat riffs crop up (“Everybody’s Working for the Weak End,” “U.S. Out of New England”) to demonstrate the band’s sense of history, but co-mingle with discordant clashes of melody more reminiscent of Modern Life Is War or Bane. But what really solidifies Last Lights’ well-deserved recognition is the grimy, defiantly realist poetry of Mallary swimming in and out of the band’s damaging hardcore melee.

Mallary graduated from Emerson College in 2007. After one scan through the lyrics booklet of No Past No Present No Future, it’s hardly surprising that he focused his studies on writing, literature and publishing. Troubled by the wretched, creeping normalcy of modern society, burnt out on suburban blight and the false promise of the American dream, Mallary paints a bleak picture of the youth of recent past: “I was raised by radio waves in my parents’ separate homes / While our future was mortgaged for the down payment on a war of our own” (“No Future”); “These days are spent trading in cheap white lies / I’ll paint them black and call it a night / I tried but the light was never enough / This life could be the death of us” (“Destroy What Destroys You”). There's even the occasional homage buried in the lesson, as the Clash is quickly referenced twice in “Love + Rent”: “He who fucks nuns later joins the church / In the sad small town where fascism sells / The youth have hope, but give them enough rope and they’ll hang themselves from wedding bells.” “Oh, Modern World” showcases one of the best single lines in recent hardcore memory (“Hey, hey, hey humanist: your Holy Grail is a cup of piss”) but it slightly loses its allure the eighth time it’s repeated. The only track exclusive to this disc is the instrumental “Sink.” Recorded in January of 2009 after Mallary’s passing, it’s pretty good for an instrumental hardcore song, but is clearly missing the key element of Last Lights’ greatness.

Though lead singer Dominic Mallary is gone and missed, No Past No Present No Future is a stirring encapsulation of his legacy. Graced, with the hauntingly lush artwork of Tim Brothers and a lyrics booklet of complete with photos of Mallary and the band at their finest, it makes it all that much more of a shame that Think Fast! is abandoning compact discs, because no digital package will be able to capture the feelings that complement the music in this way. But to give gratitude where it’s due, Dominic’s final goodbye is in fine form with this release.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Review: Roll Call - "Sotto il suo Cielo"

Finally! A European punk band that doesn’t feel like they have to sing in awkward, grammatically-massacred English! It’s a breath of fresh air, but alas, it’s also one of the more exciting things about this album.

Roll Call hails from Italy and plays a standard style of slow Oi! punk and/or roughed-up rock and roll. Though the first track “Preludio” is an intensity-building angry mob clip like the beginning of Refused’s “Rather Be Dead” or Leftover Crack’s “So You Wanna Be a Cop?”, the album that follows thoroughly lacks the intensity to match.

The main problem is with the pacing. Slower songs aren’t inherently bad, but the sluggishness heard here is almost distracting. Songs like “Ricco Annoiato” (or “Bored Rich”) and “Fiero” (“Proud”) aren’t really bad, but with the average song somewhere around four minutes in length, they just spend too much time not really going anywhere. “No Mi Tzicheddi” is the fastest song, and at 3:44, nearly the shortest, which would generally make for the best of a punk band, but the repetitive chord pattern makes getting through it a chore. The album’s most enjoyable track is actually “Sotto il suo Cielo” (“Under Her Sky”) which is catchy and has a great gang chorus that captures the Oi! spirit better than anything else on the disc. The nice part about the included CD booklet is that it comes complete with translations of each song from the Italian they were written and sang in to the English of this review. Though the translations are a bit rough, it’s evident that Roll Call has a pretty good handle on lyric writing, though it’s hard to compare to other Italian bands who don’t include translations. Take “Appropriazione indebta” for instance: “Man open your eyes and look at your land / Raped by sheikhs and war debts / Our history derided and reduced to folklore / Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the big show.”

There are some pretty decent songs on here, but save for a few tracks, Roll Call fails to create anthems the way great oi! bands like Cock Sparrer and Sham 69 did.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Interview: Agnostic Front

The New York Hardcore institution known as Agnostic Front has been around in consistent form since 1983, making it one of the longest-running hardcore bands that hasn’t splintered into some unrecognizable faction or faux-legacy of reunions and hostile takeovers (see “Dead Kennedys,” “Misfits,” “Gang Green,” etc). Nearly thirty years after their formation, I (GlassPipeMurder) had the chance to sit down with founding guitarist Vinnie Stigma, Joseph James, Mike Gallo, and drummer Pokey Mo, who had just joined Agnostic Front last month. I don’t feel like I pulled any punches in this interview, and the band was very forthcoming, sincere, and appreciative of the interest in Agnostic Front.

The band released Warriors in 2007 and talked about the past, present, and future of Agnostic Front backstage before their show at Minneapolis’ Triple Rock Social Club.

You can click Read More for the details.

How are you guys doing? How does it feel to be alive and on tour in 2009?

Vinnie Stigma: Feels great. I’ll be doing it until I’m dead.

Are you still enjoying touring after all these years?

Vinnie: I do, we do, yeah. Me and Mikey always tour, we love it.

I read that 2009 is the ten-year anniversary of your tattoo shop [NYHC Tattoos] on the Lower East Side. Ballpark it: how many tattoos would you estimate Agnostic Front has collectively as a band?

Vinnie: Right now, as in the current members of the band? Definitely over a hundred.

Mike Gallo: Oh yeah.

Vinnie: Well over a hundred.

All done in your shop or around the world?

Vinnie: From all over, a whole lot in the shop, though.

After devoting the better part of the decade to Agnostic Front, Steve [Gallo] is no longer in the band and I know a lot of people are curious why. Can you give any indication or comment?

Mike: He was just…I think he was tired of touring. He’s teaching music now in New York.

So now Pokey Mo has taken over behind the kit. Pokey, what do you bring to the band?

Pokey: I guess I bring about 20 years of hardcore experience. I’ve been in the band Both Worlds with John Joseph and played in a couple of Cro-Mag shows and Murphys Law as well, Marauder, so I bring the old-school flavor to the band.

Agnostic Front and Madball are heading to South America this fall, though it’s not the first time either bands have toured there, as you kind of paved the way for future bands before it was really considered a viable touring option. With the fanbase you’ve built up down there and your connection with the Latino community having released the Puro Des Madre record, do you have big expectations for the tour?

Mike: I know all the major cities are already sold out, and I think Freddy’s gonna come out and do “For My Family” with us.

Vinnie, are you gonna jump on stage and perform with Madball at all?

Vinnie: Yeah, I’ll go on, we’ll make it a show, featuring me. We’ll have fun. The Vinnie and Freddy show [laughs].

I understand there’s an all-Spanish split CD in the works?

Mike: Yeah, we’re gonna do “For My Family” in Spanish, maybe another song and Madball’s gonna do something else also, a couple songs in Spanish. We’re gonna release it [in South America] first and then maybe we’ll release here, I’m not sure.

Vinnie, I wanted to offer my condolences that your presidential bid didn’t end up in your favor, but it seemed like the youtube videos were a big hit, where did the idea for that come from?

Vinnie: This great guy came to my house and puts a green screen up. And…jeez I don’t even know! [laughs and shrugs]

Are you okay though with the way the election turned out though? I mean, it could have been worse right?

Vinnie: It is what it is, ya know. He’s my President, I stand behind him.

Now talk a little bit about your new solo album New York Blood. Who’s been playing on the recording and for the shows?

Mike: Me, Vinnie, Josh, Luke, the whole band. Rob Lopez on guitar, and that’s our current, steady lineup. [We did] shows with Dropkick Murphys, H2O, couple of different shows.

Vinnie: We just had our record release party about 30 days ago, so it’s a brand-new record so we’re bringing new music to the table. And we already have the next record half-written!

Is New York Blood something you’ve been working on for awhile now?

Vinnie: When you do a solo record, it’s a different thing. Agnostic Front is my band, and then we went solo, Me and Mikey, and now we’re starting to put out records. If we’re gonna do it, we’re gonna do it right.

I heard you’re doing some acting too?

Vinnie: I got a new movie out called “New York Blood.” Mikey is in it, a bunch of my friends are in it. It’s like a Sopranos horror movie. It won the New York Film Festival award. It’s an hour long, it’s a feature film, it’s a movie, not a documentary. And if you like gangster movies, you’re gonna like my movie.

Is it out yet?

Vinnie: Yeah, it’s out. It’s on

What do you remember about your appearance on Phil Donahue’s show in 1986?

Vinnie: I remember that he liked to insinuate things for ratings. That’s what I remember. And I remember it was ahead of the curve [in that respect].

Yeah, Donahue was upset about [the song] “Public Assistance” even though Agnostic Front had already released songs like “Fascist Attitudes,” “United and Strong”…

Vinnie: “United Blood” too!

Yeah! Really anti-racist, anti-fascist songs…So were they just trying to construct their own controversy there?

Mike: That’s what the media does. That’s their job, of course they do. They blow everything out of proportion, even the weather. They say you’ll get twenty inches of snow and you get two.

Given the diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds of Agnostic Front’s members, do you have any idea why there are still neo-nazis and White Pride racists that seem to be into Agnostic Front? [Question was spurred by a MySpace comment to “keep it WP”, which seems illogical since Pokey is Asian]

Pokey: I have no idea. You’d have to ask them. It’s nothing that we’ve ever been a part of, and our message as a band is unity. I think what you have is people latching on to something from the earlier records they misunderstood in the first place and twisted it to fit their ideas. Growing up in the ‘80s in New York City, it was a different place, and there were people who wanted to speak out against discrimination of any kind. Everybody was against Reagan, but there were some [of us] who didn’t care for the anti-Americanism and wanted to make the country better and some people twisted that into nationalism on like the extreme, far right side. All the hardcore bands in New York know each other and play together so unity is something that is obviously very important to us.

Agnostic Front has always been very versatile with different sounds. With Epitaph and Lars Frederiksen there was more of a hardcore oi! sound, and with Freddy Cricien and Jamey Jasta producing the least two records they’ve been a bit more of a metallic hardcore style. What influences Agnostic Front in a certain direction and how do you decide which direction to take a certain album?

Mike: Basically it’s what we’re listening to at the moment or whatever we’re in the mood for.

Vinnie: Different members, times change, we change it up

Mike: We just put out what we love, whether it’s punk, metal, hardcore, oi!, whatever, you know? That’s basically what we do these days. Whatever we’re feeling, whatever feels right, that’s pretty much where we’re at right now.

Warriors was your last album, are you guys fans of “The Warriors” the movie?

Mike: Oh yeah, of course!

Was that kind of the theme for the last album?

Joseph James: Not really, actually what happened was we went to Japan on tour, and while we were there we experienced a lot of the culture, and the overall sentiment that we got from people was honor, pride, and respect for what they do and it kind of hit us in a way that made us think about the Warrior’s Code which is like, pride, faith, respect, and that really influenced the Warriors album and it just was a coincidence with the movie.

I was just curious because I saw they are remaking “The Warriors” movie and having it take place in L.A. and was wondering if you take offense to that being from New York?

Joseph: Absolutely! [laughs]

Vinnie: They don’t have as grimey of train stations in L.A.!

Mike: There’s no new ideas anymore, everything’s a remake. It’s disturbing to me because these are classic movies that don’t need to be touched, don’t need to be redone. It’s like taking classic albums and re-recording them. It loses some of the magic in the remake.

Vinnie: Like “The Honeymooners” remake!

Mike: How many movies can you name that are better than the original? “Cape Fear” was good but….don’t mess with the originals for the most part.

Have you started working on a follow-up to Warriors?

Mike: We’re doing that right now. We’re just in the writing process right now. We had to step back a bit, because we have a new drummer now but now we’re gonna start when we get back home, start writing more stuff.

Anything else any of you would like to add?

Joseph: Thank you for your continued support of Agnostic Front. Our heart is still in it and we’re very proud to do it and travel and hope to see you at the next show.

Vinnie: Come out to the Stigma show with me and Mikey, we’ll have a good time. We’ll be back here with Anti-Nowhere League and 999 in July, and you too can be in my movie [laughs].

Review: Roll the Tanks - "Suffer City"

First impressions aren’t nearly as important as everyone makes them out to be. If they were, I would be much more smitten over this album than I actually am. And even though (spoiler alert) it’s not bad, my initial enthusiasm faded quickly.

With a pretty good band name, cool CD booklet artwork, a clever title take on David Bowie’s “Suffragette City” and a good introductory song chosen randomly by the “shuffle” option on my CD player, this disc seemed to have a lot going for it. But by the end of the cycle, I found myself not only less impressed with Roll the Tanks -- I couldn’t even find the first song I really liked again! Either I was hyping up my own enjoyment, or the rest of the album’s patchiness washed away the early delight.

Based on re-listens, I would have to guess it was either “Police Me,” a catchy mid-tempo power-popper of threats to “Crash down on your Crown Vic,” or “Defense Mecca,” a choppy garage tune that must have been the one I liked because I remember muttering something to myself about the Briefs with an emo singer. And that’s exactly what some of the better songs come across as. Well, maybe not an emo singer, but whoever is singing (which is hard to tell since all the members are listed with respective instruments rather than vocals in the booklet) puts an unwelcome melodramatic sheen on every word in every line of every song. Case in point is “Gameshow Love,” which sandwhiches a charming intro and outro melody and great musical composition with an “iraaaaaaaational”-ly drawn out vocal delivery. Then there’s the dusty twang of “Loaded Gun,” which is also kind of catchy in some parts, but the repetitive chorus and vocals that keep reminding me of the Pink Spiders and the Matches nearly kill it.

But enough with the heavy-handed slander. There are some good songs on Suffer City and Roll the Tanks definitely know what they’re doing. “Look at Me” is a manic, bluesy screamer with the promise “In time we’ll reach up with a firm grip / See how strong his neck is / Bring him down to Earth for the Armageddon picnic” and “Blood Flow” is an infectious foot-tapper anchored by a fairly strong chorus. The main problem tracks are the wispy Spaghetti-Western-meets-Shins numbers like “Saddle Up,” “Loaded Gun,” and “Bonnie Brae,” which aren’t even unlistenable -- they just disrupt the flow and add some cringe where there otherwise might be none.

Suffer City is a fairly enjoyable, though sometimes mildly obnoxious debut that has the potential to get Roll the Tanks big. It has the pop appeal you would expect from a band punning David Bowie and the energetic kick to satisfy the rest of us. And fortunately for all parties, Roll the Tanks have nothing in common with their “similar artists” of “K’naan Ft. Kirk Hammet, Jonathan Davis of Korn Ft. Jim Root of Slipknot, and M.I.A. Ft. Jay-Z”, though the latter may have been kind of cool.