Friday, October 16, 2009

Review: Banner Pilot - "Collapser"

The fact that Banner Pilot has risen to such success (signing to Fat Wreck, international recognition among other merits) without heavy touring or high-profile promotion is the ultimate testament of this band’s ability to write a song. Their feisty brand of melodic (though not poppy) Midwest punk caught fire only a few years ago, and their popularity has exponentially grown with each release. Of course, it could also be having one of the best band names ever and/or being composed of members from such quality acts as Off with Their Heads, the Manix and Rivethead.

Still, Banner Pilot is somewhat misread by more than a few (my previous self included) as a Jawbreaker or Lawrence Arms by-product. And while they do claim influences from said bands, Banner Pilot’s approach is unlike any of the bands they’re often lumped in with. For one, Banner Pilot has rarely based songs around booming choruses á la “Indictment” or “Your Gravest Words,” for example. They are, however, more prevalent on Collapser, with tunes like “Skeleton Key” and “Starting at an Ending” packing some huge hooks chorus-wise. Furthermore, Banner Pilot offers a bit more of a personal, open-ended narrative than the Aesopic storytelling of Jawbreaker or the tongue-twisting tales embedded in the Arms’ lyrics.

Regardless, Nick Johnson writes damn fine lines, though they’ll surely resonate deeper with the Midwest/Minneapolis listeners who experience the same helpless urgency of soon-to-be long winters creeping up from summer happiness, as in “Losing Daylight,” where private trepidation is interlaced with imagery from John Fante: "I color inside the lines of days with blue / Since we drove up to Bunker Hill and you said 'I can’t take a winter one more year / If I don’t leave now I’ll die right here.'” “Farewell to Iron Bastards” is even more dismal, as Johnson attests, “Told you once that if life got too grim / I’d coast to Meadow Bay, become a ghost / I’d tie some weights on and think ‘bout what I’d loved the most -- you, in Minnesota air, ‘lone and standing there.” What may be lost on some listeners is this is no pity party -- this is commiseration. That’s not to say that all Minnesotans reflect so painfully on their surroundings, but it’s probably not something a lifelong native of Daytona Beach is going to fully understand.

The music on Collapser is also the best it’s been for Banner Pilot, production and otherwise. Nate Gangelhoff’s basslines are energetic and vibrant, and rise above the mix giving the sound a ballsy, more melodic shape. On tracks like the standout “Write It Down,” Corey Ayd’s guitar lead weaves in and out pitching a more somber overtone on top of the fill-friendly rhythm laid down by Dan Elston-Jones. Above it all is Johnson’s gravelly, half-snotty vocals describing the Twin Cities like Craig Finn on a steady dosage of the Broadways.

Collapser is a hell of a release, but only for what it is. Go in expecting 24 Hour Revenge Therapy and you’ll be confused, because that isn’t Banner Pilot. Go in expecting the gritty, intelligent accounts of the world according to four Minneapolis punks and relayed through catchy tunes with earnest lyrics and you’ll be more than satisfied with Collapser.

Review: Suicide City - "Frenzy"

Brooklyn’s Suicide City claims themselves as one of the last bands to emerge from CBGB before it closed in 2006. Which I guess is true. The problem is that even though the location and venue was still the same, this CBGB was nothing compared to this CBGB. Obviously.

Suicide City was formed by Biohazard guitarist Billy Graziadei in 2005. Eventually, Jennifer Arroyo from Kittie (remember them!?) was added on bass, and the resulting quintet began playing shows and actually building a solid following in the NYC area. Now, what the guitarist from Biohazard was doing forming a melodramatic emo-nü-metal band is anyone’s guess -- perhaps Biohazard wasn't controlling enough of the Hot Topic demographic. If that was the desired outcome, Suicide City has certainly positioned themselves for a run at it.

The greater part of the record (quantity-wise) is made up of three-to-four-to-five-minute modern rock songs inflected with heavy doses of emocore wails, treated vocals, nü-metal riffs, an occasional electronic sputter and a whole, whole lot of woe. Way more than necessary, and way more than tolerable. Vocalist Karl Bernholtz doesn't so much sing as he throws his voice up and down with indiscernible words, sometimes to the beat of obnoxious double-bass palpitations (“Undone”), sometimes to plodding hard rock (“Burn”) and sometimes to layered piano balladry (“Lost Years”). Spattered throughout the album that’s already too long for its own good are 18 to 33-second tracks of pointless filler that only serve to disrupt the flow of what might otherwise have been a fairly decent sequencing. Even though “Undone” may be one of the more bearable songs musically, the lyrics completely nullify any positives: “Jesus makes you cursed/ Jesus why’s it hurt / Undone, I come undone.” There are a couple vaguely redeeming moments in “Cutter” and “The Best Way,” but the vocals make sitting through an entire track nearly impossible.

It doesn’t matter what venerable rock veterans are contributing to this mess, the result is the same: run-of-the-mill nü-emo with intolerable vocals and cringingly forced lyrics. There should be a hotline to prevent this kind of outcome.