Monday, January 25, 2010

Review: Burning Streets - "Is it in Black and White?"

It seems like it’s getting harder and harder to celebrate good driving music with the awareness of our rising global temperatures, smoggy cities and decreasing supply of fossil fuels. But with a new CD player in my car and a copy of Burning Streets’ debut Is It in Black and White, there really couldn't be a better combination.

With their noted admiration of the Clash, it seems likely that Burning Streets took their name from one of Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros’ best songs off their final release, Streetcore. Said admiration is also embedded in the album’s lyrics as the opener “Kiss the World Goodbye” suggests, “The future is unwritten, true hearts never die / But if you've lost all your passion, kiss the world goodbye."

Musically, Boston’s Burning Streets don’t so much resemble the Clash as they do melodic street punk neighbors like Far from Finished, the Ducky Boys and Street Dogs. The Bouncing Souls catch a namedrop on “13 Hours” and would also seem to serve as an influence, especially on the punk ballad of a closer, “Throwing Rocks.” Vocalist Drew Juliano has a kind of Trevor Keith-quality in his pipes that blends with the natural Boston accent for a nice overall feel that isn't too poppy or too gruff. This is evident in tracks like “You’re Alive and Today” and “The Reason,” which also demonstrates the aforementioned Bouncing Souls influence in music and lyrics as Juliano sings, “Just stay a true believer / And we’ll never let you down." Most of the lyrics on the album are the kind of left-of-center rhetoric you’d expect from a punk band, though tracks four and five (“Tea Party” and “The Draw,” respectively) might throw up a flag to the wary P.C. progressive. However, “Tea Party,” which features Ed Lalli of Slapshot and the Welch Boys fame, seems like more of a historical account of the actual Boston tea party than any modern day Michelle Bachman-led idiocy, and “The Draw” (which proclaims “Attention everyone: I've never killed, but I've got a gun” is probably more figurative than any Second Amendment manifesto. The aforementioned Souls-alike anthem “Throwing Rocks” is probably the album's finest lyrics-wise as Juliano admits, “I’m alone and I’m scared / But this is who I am / This is what we are / Throwing rocks at the stars.”

The already impressive lineup of Sailor's Grave bands only gets better with this release. Rife with solid hooks, booming anthems and a sense of vigor that can’t be quantified, Burning Streets have crafted an impressive debut with Is It in Black and White. Grab it for a road trip or blast it through a boombox, it’s good Boston punk no matter where it takes you.

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Review: The Rudy Schwartz Project - "Bowling for Appliances"

There’s no way you could possibly take enough drugs to make this album good.

There’s no way you could possibly take enough drugs to make this album tolerable

There’s no way you could possibly take enough drugs to make this album.

…Unless your name is Joe Newman, and in 1987 you decided to throw together a chaotic spattering of spastic Casio melodies, schizophrenic children’s vocals, and drum machine cadences under the guise of the Rudy Schwartz Project and call it Bowling for Applicances.

The only noteworthy effort to legitimize this sonic earfuck in its press material is that allegedly Jello Biafra is a fan. This isn’t actually a huge surprise as it seems Jello isn’t a hard sell as long as an artist is strange and doesn't follow some set of rules. The vaguely similar Casio-punk of the late, great Wesley Willis is an example of music that Biafra not only endorsed but released on his Alternative Tentacles label. But where Willis lacked the complex compositions of the Rudy Schwartz Project, he made up for in humor and a certain charm that came with his character. But Bowling for Appliances is neither funny nor charming, with annoying, pointless songs ranging from “A Sandwich for Adolph” to “Bob Eubanks Initial Ritual and Subsequent Cumbia.” The only mildly entertaining track is the opener “Lynyrd Skynyrd Memorial Tractor Pull,” but only because it has somewhat of a circus feel to it and seems like kind of a dig at Lynyrd Skynyrd.

There’s really no point in listing off all the terrible songs on this pot of audio diarrhea or going into further detail about why it stinks so bad. The only thing you need to know is that it should be avoided at all costs.

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Review: The Framed - "Angels and the Knives they Carry"

Back in September, the Framed and Banner Pilot shared a release show at the 7th Street Entry in downtown Minneapolis, as Banner Pilot had just dropped Collapser and the Framed were promoting Angels and the Knives They Carry. In between sets, a small group of friends was gathered outside, remarking on their disbelief that recent Fat Wreck signees Banner Pilot were playing before the Framed, whom they had never before heard. I’m guessing they were out-of-towners, because it seems unlikely that multiple people in the Minneapolis punk scene wouldn’t have heard of the Framed, a band that’s been building a faithful following for the better part of 10 years, and who are referred to as “the mighty Framed” by Patrick Costello on Dillinger Four’s First Avenue Live album.

Angels and the Knives They Carry is a healthy dose of Midwest pop-punk, polished street sonatas, and rock 'n’ roll rowdiness. Guitarist Matt Benson has some of the best chops in town, and isn't afraid to show them off on songs like the rip-roaring “Down the Drain” and jagged anthem “Automatic.” Vocalist Matt “with the Hat” (due to his reliable stage attire) carries melodic tunes with ease, aping Greg Attonito of the Bouncing Souls a bit (whom the Framed opened for less than a year ago) but crafting one of the album’s best sing-alongs in the process on "Running Out of Luck." The 1/6 title track (“Angels”) also stands out as one of the disc’s best numbers with a catchy riff, strong melodies, and an energetic rhythm, while its follower “The One” starts off nearly identical to “Astro Zombies” but ends up taking a rather different direction. The thankfully un-DMB “Satellite” keeps the energy going while Matt (w/ the hat) attests, “We’re a nation that relies on our regrets / In a country that will feed off our mistakes.” Closing out the album is the piano-driven “Feel the Same,” a warm, layered send-off that wraps up the disc in fine fashion.

Aside from the saucy but perhaps unnecessary cover art, Angels and the Knives They Carry is a solid product of the Minneapolis punk scene. Catchy, thoughtful, and sincere, it’s the Framed at their best yet.

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Review: Star Fucking Hipsters - "Never Rest in Peace"

Even without excessive hyperbole, there are a few ways that parallels can be drawn between Choking Victim and Wu-Tang Clan. Superficially, they both emerged from the NYC area in the 1990s, and musically, they separately created styles that would be as influential in sound as in imagery and subject matter. But whether it’s the hardcore Kung Fu hip-hop of RZA and company or the Crack Rock Steady of Stza and associates, both acts’ members would go on to spawn a virtual franchise of additional projects and offshoots built on the success of their full-length debut. While Enter the 36 Chambers was followed by such offspring as Only Built 4 Cuban Linx..., Tical, and Liquid Swords, what followed No Gods, No Managers and the break-up of Choking Victim saw the eventual formation of a multitude of projects including, but not limited to, Leftover Crack, InDK, Crack Rock Steady 7, Public Serpents, Morning Glory, Piss Shit Fuck, American Distress and our subject here, the Star Fucking Hipsters.

When Stza put word out a few years back that the band was forming, finding a female vocalist was a necessity; Crass’ Penis Envy was a stated benchmark and they needed an Eve Libertine-type to serve as an equally ferocious frontwoman. Coincidentally, they almost could have mentioned the Velvet Underground as a basis for comparison, as Star Fucking Hipsters would eventually find their female counterpart in Nico (de Gaillo) who shares vocal duties with Stza in the same way Lou Reed and Christa Päffgen collaborated on The Velvet Underground and Nico.

Never Rest in Peace follows Until We’re Dead in similar fashion, with short crusty punk numbers, Crack Rock Steady ska tunes, a spattering of raw pop-punk and thrashy metallic jams. “3000 Miles Away” gets the disc going after the 16-second opener with catchy vocals and a comfortable chord pattern, brought to a head with the epic climax that kicks in three-quarters of the way through with the gang shouting “L-I-V-E against brutality!" Nico and Stza toggle back and forth with an unorthodox melody on “Design” while Dick Lucas of the Subhumans / Citizen Fish helps out on the ska-punk “The Civilization Show.” The feedback-heavy “Dreams Are Dead” rings slow and steady, a touch reminiscent of LoC’s “Ya Can’t Go Home” while the poppy fist-pumper “Severance Pay” evokes friendly memories of “Burn Them Prisons.”

The band polishes their metal chops on the slightly goofy “S.F.H.” and the more incisive pro-Native rallying cry “Banned from the Land.” The group sounds a little tired creatively on the generic anti-religious “Heaven” and presumptuously Roman Catholic-sounding “Church and Rape,” which is actually a pro-choice song that would be more effectively aimed at the post-Reagan conservative movement. The album closes out on a high note, however, with the title track (labeled as “You’ll Never Rest in Piece” in the booklet) clocking in at a well-used four-and-a-half minutes that seems to cover the entire Star Fucking Hipsters philosophy as Stza testifies "These ghosts will lead the way / Until your dying day / Unstitch the seams in your American dreams / From Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib.”

Featuring cameos from past and present members of the Bouncing Souls, Subhumans, Zero Content, Awkward Thought, Citizen Fish and a host of other formidable acts in punk rock, the Star Fucking Hipsters don’t disappoint on Never Rest in Peace. It may not be Fuck World Trade...Pt. II, but it certainly carries on in its tradition.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Review: Gogol Bordello - "Live from Axis Mundi"

What do you get when you cross one of the lamest and most played-out formats available (live CD + DVD) with one of the most entertaining live acts in recent years? Well, not a bad release in this case.

The DVD is certainly the more fun part, capturing visually what can only be described as the world’s foremost gypsy punk ensemble in their natural environment: a sweaty, liquored-up NYC club filled to capacity. That club is Irving Plaza, and for two nights in 2007, Gogol Bordello played passionate sets of their trademark Balkan/Ukrainian/dub/punk hybrid comprising their previous two releases and the then-new Super Taranta!. With an arsenal of cameras and more flashing lights than Battling Seizure Robots, the feel of the moment translates remarkably well through the TV screen. Among the highlights include vocalist Eugene Hutz climbing a stairway of amps into the balcony to give a female fan some affection, washboard instrumentals and the bongo drummer (?) coming out front and center to toast over the dancehall rhythm of an extended version of “Dogs Were Barking.” There are also excellent live renditions of “60 Revolutions,” “Not a Crime,” and “Forces of Victory.” The bonus features include music videos and “chronicles” which features a documentation of the creative process of making Super Taranta! from writing riffs, to lyrics, to Hutz making a scene on the boardwalk.

The CD is also good, but it’s made up of mostly familiar songs, performed during BBC sessions, plus “Stivali E Colbacco” from the Super Taranta! sessions, “Troubled Friends” from the Gypsy Punk sessions and several demos. It’s good music, but nothing really new for most Gogol Bordello fans.

There aren’t many bands who can rival the live show of Gogol Bordellow (perhaps Gwar, the Aquabats, or Peelander-Z among the few). And though this is certainly no adequate replacement for experiencing the band in concert, it does manage to capture the energy, vitality, and recklessness of two nights with Gogol Bordello.

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Review: Mr. T - Mr. T's Commandments

Top 5 reasons Mr. T and his hip-hop album Mr. T’s Commandments deserves a review on Punknews:
5. Ice T, the Original Gangster/Cop Killer/Cop on Law and Order, ghostwrote all the raps for Mr. T’s Commandments.
4. Bad Attitude Baracus: straight-edge by day, face pounder by night. Perhaps the surrogate role model for Elgin James?
3. Like Sid Vicious, Joe Strummer and John Doe, he’s known only by his punk name. Err, stage name.
2. He’s got a fucking Mohawk for crying out loud.
1. Without Mr. T, there could be no Mr. T Experience. And that, of course, would be a terrible shame.

The review itself:
The album pretty much sucks. There are seven songs of horrible '80s sound effects and cheesy hip-hop verses covering everything from “Don’t Talk to Strangers” to “No Dope No Drugs.” Sure, there are plenty of amusing moments (“Mr. T, Mr. T (He Was Made For Love)) and inspiring lessons that rival even the most optimistic posi-core (“You Got to Go Through It”), but with song lengths eclipsing the five-minute mark, getting through just one track is more likely a test of patience than it is from any level of enjoyment.

Final summation:
Cool guy, terrible album.

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Review: Koffin Kats - "Forever for Hire"

What makes the Koffin Kats’ latest album good is more what it isn't than what it is. Because though it is a reasonably enjoyable disc by any measure, Forever for Hire isn’t an entirely derivative and formulaic psychobilly album, the likes of which appear all too frequently in punk rock.

Hailing from Motor City, Michigan, it makes some sense that the trio wouldn't pepper their compositions with the same surf-styled selections of California psychobilly bands like Tiger Army and Stellar Corpses. In the psychobilly equation, the Koffin Kats clearly put their punk before their rockabilly, blasting thick power chord progressions front and center, while the upright bass of Vic Victor generally takes a backseat, which is appropriate since he’s also handling lead vocal duties. Though Victor does take the same over-the-top, Elvis-impersonating approach as many in the deathpunk/psycho scene, the vocals end up sounding more like NoMeansNo than Nick 13. And while a good chunk of the disc seems more Misfits than Nekromantix, there are a couple cuts that serve as a reminder of the band’s rockabilly influence. “Saw My Friend Explode Today” opens fairly flat, but eventually kicks it into a nearly upstroke guitar rhythm verse and a punishingly heavy bridge.

Lyrically, the Koffin Kats put forth what’s generally expected in the genre (“Asylum,” “Graveyard Tree Zero,” The Final Day”) but end up blending the traditional Halloween/B-movie themes with their Detroit roots in “Small Block & Flathead”: “If you’re carburetor county jalopy junction bound / Then you’re looking for some madness down in the south... Gasoline mixed with formaldehyde / Genetic hotrod mutation come alive." The album’s title track showcases its strength from the gang chorus within, and the final cut “How It Ends” features one of the catchiest vocal melodies on the CD, even though it lacks any real lyrics.

What Forever for Hire sacrifices in twang and hooks, it makes up for in uncharacteristically unique song compositions -- at least for psychobilly. Wrapped in a utilitarian digipak with action shots from Diana Price and Minnesota punk photographer Adam Degross, the Koffin Kats have delivered one of the better psychobilly efforts of the year -- even while downplaying some of the elements that give psychobilly its name.

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Review: Nine Eleven - "City of Quartz"

Obnoxiously attention-whoring name aside (claimed to be chiefly referencing the 1973 C.I.A. overthrow in Chile), Nine Eleven’s City of Quartz is one of the year’s best new-school hardcore full-lengths.

While bands like Bane and Paint It Black spent 2009 releasing EPs and singles, City of Quartz draws from the aforementioned alongside Verse, Have Heart and Modern Life Is War. From the hammering onslaught laid forth by “The New Shame of Punk to Come” to the head-bobbing opening of “White Trash Kids = Redneck Geeks,” Nine Eleven holds little back, if any at all. The French quintet tackles 10 songs plus an untitled bonus song on City of Quartz, which bounds between the 22-second “The Story of Our Life” and the nearly six-minute “The Quik and the Dead.”

Throughout, there’s a surprising proficiency of English, demonstrated for example in the balls-out barn-burner “Take to Remake”: “Mirages flower to the beat of hearts / Stirred by the thousand-paged modern tragedy that is hope to which we are leashed like a dog / The epilogue and prologue are united where new names and faces draw the well-built lines of the labyrinth / Sheltering windmills at the feet of which we once laid down our arms.” A bit stilted perhaps, but powerful nonetheless. The five-minute “Sen” opens with a layer of meandering notes, somewhere between Integrity and MLIW before lead vocalist Romain shouts Neil Young’s infamous Cobain-inspiring declaration, “It’s better to burn out than to fade away!”

City of Quartz has all the formulaic makings of a great hardcore record, from its measured buildups of potential energy to its thundering kinetic bursts of aggression. But more than just having the right parts, Nine Eleven channels the passion and vigor it takes to create a memorable album with the sincerity that hardcore fans demand.

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Review: Merauder - "God is I"

New York Hardcore outside of Long Island has gotten a bit stale in its evolution towards the "beatdown" variety over the course of the last 10 years or so. While Merauder certainly doesn't eschew any notion of this shift, they do mix in a variety of other genres to keep things interesting between the hammering double-bass breakdowns and deathcore growls of their fourth studio full-length, God Is I.

Boasting time-to-time contributors from a bevy of NYHC projects and beyond including First Blood, Agnostic Front, Leeway, Full Contact, Pro-Pain and Ill Niño, Merauder’s approach is uncompromising in the heaviness of their audio assault, with traces of metal (“Hell Captive”), thrash (“Never Surrender”) and even Holy Terror hardcore (“God Is I”).

Taking a cue from the Bad Brains, the album’s “Intro” is nine songs deep, while the crushing weight of the disc’s opener “Until” pummels forth with no delay. The band takes a bit of a breather leading into “Ratcatcher,” which serves as Breakdown Central for its four-minute existence. One of the album’s stronger tracks is “Built on Blood,” bludgeoning everything in its path as vocalist Jorge Rosado shouts “This city built by hate...this life a fucking fake!.” “Ahora” and “Perdona Me” highlight Rosado’s Latin roots, though only the former is actually sung in Spanish. The record closes out with “Never Surrender,” unleashing a barrage of double-bass drums and metallic riffage which alternates with the slow hardcore chugging of the verse as Rosado proclaims “I won’t be bought or sold by the lies of you.”

Whether dubbed hardcore, metal, metalcore or something else entirely, Merauder delivers a surprisingly effective batch of angry, brooding, and generally ferocious cuts on God Is I.

Review: Stellar Corpses - "Welcome to the Nightmare"

Of all the hundreds of sub-genres in bullet points beneath the bold-faced banner of punk rock, psychobilly has to be one of the most divisive, as well as having some of the most stringent rules for qualification. Think about it: You pretty much have to have an upright bass, matching black leather jackets, greaser hair (or a flat-top mohawk), and write apolitical punk crooners with lyrics that run parallel to B-movie horror plots. So while any band that goes to such lengths will verifiably fit in with the rest of their scene, it makes it that much harder to stand out in the crowd.

Consequently, Stellar Corpses’ Welcome to the Nightmare is about what you’d expect from a California psychobilly band. Though it’s the Los Angeles scene that seems to be booming on any given weekend, Stellar Corpses have created a noteworthy buzz even from deep within their haunted Santa Cruz basement base. While most of their songs are fairly standard fare as psychobilly goes (“Teenage Witchcraft,” “Valley of Madness,” “Cemetary Man”), there are some major gems on Welcome to the Nightmare. “Hale Bopp” is both amusing and macabre, recounting the 1997 Heaven’s Gate mass suicide that coincided with the appearance of comet Hale-Bopp: “Matching pants and matching shawls / Cut your hair and your boyfriend's balls / Come on baby let’s do the Hale Bopp!” Some tracks forgo the heavy upright thump in lieu of a slower horror-punk or deathrock style, such as “When You Don’t See Me” and, to a lesser extent, “Teenage Witchcraft,” which is in more of a latter-day Misfits style. “Can’t Keep a Good Corpse Down” features some nice surf-styled guitar licks in one of the better tracks on the album.

Though Stellar Corpses don’t break any new ground in sticking with the boundaries their psychobilly forefathers constructed, Welcome to the Nightmare nonetheless demonstrates a competent, driven, and ultimately rather enjoyable take on the narrowly defined genre.

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Review: Boozed - "One Mile"

Following on the heels of their lackluster split with December Peals, German cock-rockers Boozed are back with One Mile for another round of liquor-fueled rock 'n’ roll, though this time they turn up the punk. But will anyone be singing?

While the aforementioned split offering left little to desire in the form of Southern rock and AC/DC jocking, One Mile makes significant strides in the right direction. Though the disc’s opening number “Save Me” shows little promise, by the second track, signs of hope begin to emerge. “This Ain’t My City” darts forward with a hurry-up pace and choppy guitar riffs, while the following “You Gotta Go” owes a major debt to the Bronx in its chord pattern, melody and Matt Caughthran-styled yell. Still, there are plenty of the cringeworthy Americana anthems that made their previous release hard to bear, including “One Mile to the Moon,” “Asphalt’s Burning” and “Sexy.” The lyrics don’t translate particularly well either, as the German band sings on “Circus”: “Slowly I walk / Certainly don’t talk / I ain’t known a friendly man / Few people know / I’m only living for the show / And I’ll take my last breath stumbling through the sand.”

Though a great deal better than their previous effort, Boozed still has a ways to go for the good to outweigh the bad. And while some of the Bronx-styled tunes work better here, this German quintet could stand to let go of their Southern rock “roots.”