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Record Reviews

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Below are some recently posted reviews.

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ZAO:
Awake?: CD
Awake? is Zao’s ninth album (or tenth—they re-recorded their debut eight years after its release) in their over fifteen-year existence. I think I’ve been following them for most of that and while I’ve not always been a huge Zao fan, I do recall using their music to get pumped up before intramural flag football games in college, over ten years ago. So we have a history. Their last album, the Steve Albini-recorded The Fear Is What Keeps Us Here, was a great album. The dirty, live sound made for a lot of energy and a raw feel that matched the sound of the band. Awake? on the other hand, was recorded by As I Lay Dying’s Tim Lambesis and while it sounds solid in a production sense, it’s not a sound that Zao necessarily should be pushing. After having been a forerunner of much of the metal-core sound, the latest album of ten songs sound like most of the artists who were trying to rip off Zao in the first place, including the played-out singing/screaming metal vocals. On past albums Dan Weyandt has shown he has some of the sickest vocals in metal, but here they seem boring and as though they’re going through the motions. My belief is that they were most likely eaten up in an attempt to go for a cleaner sound. If Zao were going to get back on the road and tour a ton (since 2007 they’ve become a studio band), I’d say this might be an album to help them really get noticed. It’s simple, straightforward, and has some fairly catchy riffs and choruses while still keeping a hard sound. Unfortunately, it’s that dialing down of any sense of wicked creativity that was evident at times on their former albums that causes Awake? to be an adequate, uninspired listen. And for a band that only exists in the studio that seems to be a killer. I’d say that they should call it a day, but with all the drama and line-up changes this band has produced, who knows what might happen in another two years? –Kurt Morris (Ferret)


DEAD GHOSTS:
Bad Vibes: 7”
It can be hard for me to get too into some of these extremely lo-fi garage bands—the production is very thin and the vocals are often buried in the mix. I just can’t really find anything to latch onto. I have those issues with the first song on this disk, “Bad Vibes.” It’s just too muddy for me. The second song, however, does capture a bit of atmosphere and feeling that I dug, and brings to mind a band like The Gories or Vivian Girls. Kind of jangly, kind of bluesy. Worth a listen for the second track. Would have been nice if the lyrics were included though, because I have no goddamn idea what the singer’s saying. –Evan Katz (Yakisakana)


COFFINBERRY:
Self-titled: CD
I’m usually a little leery when well-recorded indie music states that it’s tracked on a Tascam Portastudio. Though I respect DIY 8-track endeavors, usually what the audience is not told is what silly expensive outboard gear the group used, if any, or the accolades of the mixer or master person. With that written, Coffinberry has a honed indie style of rock music. They know how to explore different sounds from modern influenced altcountry a la “Celebrate the Holy Innocents” to textural guitar pop, i.e. Lorena. This is a well-crafted indie effort that sounds experimental without being pretentious and it’s recorded on an 8-track…well done. –N.L. Dewart (Collectible Escalators)


AUTOPILOT IS FOR LOVERS:
To the Wolves: CD
This is dark alt-country interwoven with the hand of gypsy styling, leading the listener into some murky waters. These tunes rest on the laurels of Adrienne Hatkin’s haunting vocal vibrato, crashing the moods to some forlorn places. These twelve tracks have all the ingredients for that instant indie darlings welcome recipe: sparse piano, unsettling guitar riffs turned noise, banjo, accordion, and glockenspiel. That is if you’re serving up some spiked punch. Autopilot Is For Lovers touch lyrically where many don’t dare to tread with topics such as the apocalypse (“Come Now”) and the reckless nature of capitalism (“PineBoxTown”). “Shadows” seems to be the band’s poetic “fuck you” to the administration with lyrics: “He is giving you strychnine to cure the disease.” Musically daring and lyrically poetic, this is a ship I recommend you jump on before it takes off. –N.L. Dewart (Bladen County, bladencountyrecords.com)


MOSTLY DEAD, THE:
Slightly: 7”
Hardcore with a poppy undertone? Melodic punk with some serious “don’t touch” quills on it? I don’t know. The Mostly Dead’s couched somewhere right in between the two. They sound something like the Riverboat Gamblers doing hardcore—there’s that bit of straight rock and roll swagger coursing through their veins, but the songs are still enmeshed in a fine coating of venom. Or maybe something like early Flatliners material with some ‘80s rock sped up and sprinkled on the surface. But again, there’s just a little something that’s keeping the rock and the hardcore elements at arm’s distance from each other. It’s definitely a decent record, but there’s just something about it (and that’s the shitty part, both for the band and whoever reads this: as a reviewer I can’t put my finger on what it is, what that little missing bit might be) that makes this 7” come across as cold and a little too clinical and distant, when this kind of punk sounds best when it’s blistering, lava-hot. A good record (and accompanying CD-R) that doesn’t quite make it into “awesome” territory. –Keith Rosson (Mighty Science)


WRECK OF THE HESPERUS / DE NOVISSIMIS:
Split: 10”
Both of these artsy, crusty bands play indecipherable, annoying, and maddening doom from Dublin. Each artist lays down one bizarre track, with Wreck Of The Hesperus being slower and crazier than De Novissimis. De Novissimis features not one, but two wacky “singers,” one of whom had a creature-like tenor to his voice reminiscent of voices on the soundtrack of the film Ghoulies III: Ghoulies Go to College. This record is the musical equivalent of setting one’s pubes on fire, and I do not mean that as any sort of compliment. –Art Ettinger (Stitchy Press)


WILD MOCCASINS:
Microscopic Metronome: CDEP
Wild Moccasins have a knack for interesting transitions that they actually pull off. Their first track begins outside around a crackling campfire and builds up, bringing the listener back into the studio. Though the music is thoughtful, their sound is tied up in whimsical indie fodder: cutesy girl and guy sung stuff bouncing with “oohs” and “ahhs.” It’s modern, shiny-produced throwback pop music sung with the jest of teenage nostalgia. If your wardrobe is season up to date with American Eagle, I have a feeling you’ll love this band. –N.L. Dewart (www.myspace.com/thewildmoccasins)


VARIOUS ARTISTS:
We Went and Recorded It Anyway: CD
I’m still obsessed with any comp with what I consider the “right dates” on it. This is a solid collection of obscure sloppy punk and power pop singles from ‘77 to ‘84 a la the Bloodstains series. Highlights include The Excerpts “Will I Ever See You Again,” a power pop anthem in the vein of The Records. The Rentals “New York” is snottier style punk that sounds as if it could be a lost Dangerhouse track. Some of the songs get as fast as X. The liner notes contain band histories; the bands are from all over the world. It isn’t mind melting, but it’s solid as hell if you love the sound. There are no clunkers. You know whether or not you would like this. –Billups Allen (Brutarian Quarterly)


VARIOUS ARTISTS:
Rocky Mountain Low: CD
If not for Denver, my hometown I dub a big city on training wheels, there would be no Dead Kennedys. It goes to show that although like many unhip places, Denver may be overshadowed by bigger cities with more vibrant music scenes. However, my town will never be completely overlooked by the punk scene. This is but a few of the historical and cultural nuggets unveiled in The Colorado Rocky Mountain Low. This effort of Joseph Pope and Dalton Lawrence is one part fanzine, one part music compilation, and one part painstaking labor-intensive love. And of the fine features of those endeavors showcased gracefully here, the authors contextually preserve the underground music scene and its contributing members of the RockyMountain region during the late ‘70s. Pope best summarizes what this zine is about: “What you are holding is an overview and recorded document of every band that was playing and performing underground music in Colorado in the late 1970s. Good? Maybe. Bad? Definitely. Ugly? You bet.” That’s what’s so appealing about The Colorado Rocky Mountain Low. It’s not some superficial “Best Of” punk re-hash music compilation limited in style and often flagellating in cultural do’s, don’ts and is and isn’t. This gives the reader an unabashedly honest and objective guidebook to this palpable music scene. Rasmussen encourages readers to capture their respective scenes in much the same way he and Pope have. Such artistic independence is a common motif. “I find it particularly interesting that most of the songs presented here were non-live (i.e., not recorded at a gig).” Rasmussen wrote. “Many of the bands exemplified a true do-it-yourself ethic, either recording themselves or having a friend with proper equipment record them, while a few of the bands were ambitious enough to pay for actual studio time.” For some, this compilation may be too much of an intellectual leap because of the apparent differences from band to band presented here and the whole historical duty may be lost on them. But for true music fans, this is a refreshing approach to learning about music because, beyond being stylistically segregated, this compilation is truly eclectic. This gives fans a chance to think for themselves in terms of what they like from that scene or not. With three hundred of these made, this is a wise investment and for Pope and Rasmussen. Bravo. –N.L. Dewart (www.rockymountainlow.com)


VARIOUS ARTISTS:
Drink, Fight, Fuck: 2 x 12”
A strong compilation of bands on the Zodiac Killer label. Double album with thirty-two songs. A lot of good-but-not-great punk rock songs with a handful of countrified tunes. –Jim Ruland (Zodiac Killer)


VARIOUS ARTISTS:
Drink. Fight. Fuck. III: CD
Whether you’re gynophobic or a freshly on-the-wagon meth addict, I have a feeling you’ll get just what you’re looking for out of Drink. Fight. Fuck. III. –Andrew Flanagan (Zodiac Killer)


UNDER A NIGHTMARE:
Cemetery Getaway: CD
Basic punk-a-billy with a heavy reliance on “whoa-oh-oh-ohs” and narrow-range, and strained, screaming vocals. Fast-paced, muddy and dark. Closest in style to the Demon City Wreckers, but neither executed as cleanly nor as psychologically disturbing. –Jessica Thiringer (Self-released, myspace.com/underanightmare)


TWO LEFT FEET:
Self-titled: CD
Two Left Feet has something interesting going on, yet something is missing. Big rock guitars mixed with poppy synth lines and occasional brass sound like they’re reaching for something but not quite making it. They’re almost there, and I feel like they could be really good if they finally nailed it (and maybe got a different vocalist. Sorry, but that’s a deal breaker for me). Imagine a harder-rocking and less-whiny Ozma with horns (I bet a shiny nickel they’re ex-rude boys). Hey, at least you get a lot of bang for your buck—this self-titled album has seventeen tracks, and the songs don’t fall into the trap of all sounding alike. All said, I think this could grow on me. –Sarah Shay (Skilletone, no address)


TRITES, THE:
Demo: Cassette
It’s probably not by accident but these guys completely live up to their name. Just when I thought three-chord pop couldn’t be feasibly reduced anymore and still be fun a band has to come out of nowhere and include four songs on a ninety-minute Maxwell tape prove me wrong. This sounds like some homemade recording experiment gone right with an ear-pleasing blend of garage rock and pop punk. Their last tune, “A Dirty Word,” is approximately twenty-nine words long and The Trites still manage to milk it for every worthwhile moment. This tape just schooled me in the less is more aesthetic. –N.L. Dewart (www.myspace.com/thetrites)


TRANSGRESSIONS, THE:
Waste my Time: CDEP
The six-song debut by one of the best punk bands to come out of Wisconsin in recent memory. Pop genius with no songs over 1:30 and two of them under a minute. If there could be any criticism, it seems like these guys are aping Off With Their Heads to some degree with joyous, catchy punk songs with lyrics dwelling on nihilism, substance abuse, and self-loathing. But fuck if I care. All is I know is that I can’t stop listening to this EP and can’t wait to hear more songs by this band. –Jake Shut –Guest Contributor (Self-released, www.myspace.com/thetransgressionshaveamyspacepage)


TOE TAG / WORLD OF LIES:
Split: CD
Toe Tag: Blaine from the Fartz/Accused heads the lineup, but they sounded like Blanks 77 with a slight yen for metal. By the time they began pilfering from the Plasmatics’ “Butcher Baby,” I was pondering how quantum physics relates to my kneecap or something equally scintillating. World Of Lies: Thrashy stuff with no small amount of speed metal in the mix. They won this mano a mano handily. –Jimmy Alvarado (Self-released, www.worldoflies.com)


TIM VERSION, THE:
Decline of the Southern Gentleman: CD
I don’t like to throw around terms like “near perfect record” too often for fear of cheapening them, but that’s damn well what you get here with Decline of the Southern Gentleman. Heartfelt, perfectly executed workingman’s punk rock without pretension. I had previously heard various tracks by The Tim Version on compilations that I found solid, but not mind-blowing. However, the band has elevated their game tremendously with this new release or I simply did not give The Tim Version their due attention on my earlier exposures. The standout track undoubtedly has to be the second song, “Murder,” a passionate and catchy tune about the human temptation to seek simple, messy solutions to the outrage-inducing injustices flaunted in front of all of our eyes by the world we live in. Overall, the lyrics are strong and range more towards the personal than political, but overlap within both spheres. In addition to having the lyrics printed in the CD booklet, they also have brief written introductions and explanations for all twelve songs—which I always appreciate—particularly with a release of exceptional quality that I fully anticipate listening to dozens of times in the weeks and months to come. –Jake Shut –Guest Contributor (No Idea)


THURNEMAN:
Luggsliten Evnad: CD
Swedish hardcore from a band named after a Swedish cult figure and murderer from the 1930s. (Thurneman is an anagram for manhunter.) I have no earthy idea what these cats are singing about but they sure go after it. Kind of like the Regulations, except for that whole Swedish lyrics thing and maybe a little rougher around the edges. Love how the last song slows it down, lets you catch your breath, reload for another listen. –Jim Ruland (DMC, myspace.com/dmc_rec)


THISISATRAINWRECK:
Self-titled: CD
A four song EP by a duo from Nevada. The first track starts with harmonic guitar wankery reminiscent about what I don’t like about U2, but it quickly dispenses with that in favor of driving, punked-up indie rock maybe somewhere in the neighborhood of Hot Snakes and the Toadies. The second track stays in the classic indie rock mode borrowing heavily, but well, from classic Mission Of Burma and Wire and a bouncing bassline that sounds like the most dance friendly extremes of Joy Division’s catalog all backed up by a catchy chorus. The third song has a lot of the sonic trademarks of the first two, but weirder, more dynamic and complicated, which makes this song a mess, albeit a somewhat intriguing one. The fourth track takes a turn for the downtempo and sullen, bringing in a violin and cello and more overly complicated songwriting that caused my interest to wane entirely. –Jake Shut –Guest Contributor (Devil’s Tower, no address listed)


SUNSHINE:
Peach Love and Sunshine: Tape
This is a steady paced lo-fi hardcore tape. The lyrics aren’t sung or screamed but rather spoken fast and loudly. The recording is vocal- and guitar-heavy but the band produces well-crafted, drum-thumping songs. Sunshine is using irony, I’m assuming, in terms of their peace, love, and sunshine art in their lyric sheets and with the hearts hand painted on the tape. I say this because the songs are all written from the gloomy perspective of life’s annoying events such as work, growing up, and being pathetic. –N.L. Dewart (Sunshine)


[SUB]VERSO:
Self-titled: CD
I don’t know how to describe this band. It’s kind of like if you breed a beatnik poet and a shitty coffee shop band. There are some worthy guitar riffs in there, but they are masked behind the unpolished vocals and stupid, trippy sounds of someone’s acid days. I will not be following up with this band in any way because, quite frankly, I would imagine that seeing them in person would be the biggest bullshit night ever. –Corinne (Self-released, myspace.com/thesubverso)


STUCK LUCKY:
Possum Soul: CD
I really wanted to like this album. I looked up information on the label’s website about the band before I listened to it and saw they were a ska band. And I thought, “Maybe this will be a really unique take on ska! Maybe this band will inject some creativity into the genre.” And, yet, I am so torn right now by possible things to write, both smart-ass and sincerely critical. But all that seems like it might be too easy. Instead, I will say that the album is fifteen songs in about thirty-two minutes and if you are familiar with the most recent wave of ska, then this will sound familiar. I know ska isn’t just a fad but a real style of music and I respect that some people want to create music using that genre. But I think that with a few exceptions, I am entirely burnt out on the genre and probably will be for the rest of my life. And the singer also sounded a little like the singer from Smashmouth. Take from that what you will. –Kurt Morris (Community)


STORMSTRIKE:
Make Total Destroy: CD
The quatro out of Wisconsin, offers up an interesting set of garage punk jams. The anomaly is oddball track, “Trollkiller” which would feel more at home in a RPG Xbox game. For a sec, it almost sounds like Bradley Nowell was resurrected and made the lead singer, but the vocals don’t have the same punch, nor the range the chords do. At times, the vocals are strained and detract from the melody, but your mileage may vary. –Kristen K (Mad Cook, www.myspace.com/madcookrecords)


STIMULATOR:
2: CD
Pretty trippy. I reviewed a CD of this band a few years ago and remember them being sort of new wave pop, so I was expecting more of the same. First thing that comes out of the speakers is the track, “Holiday,” that starts off with a straight-up Bee Gees-sounding guitar with keyboards riff that sounded like the song “More than a Woman.” My mouth dropped and was fascinated by how good this captures the disco sound. I can close my eyes and visually picture a dance floor of full of people with a disco ball spraying the room with bits of reflected light. Nothing like their previous release. This band has really reinvented themselves. The majority of this release falls into the pop rock category, which I would believe would do very well on adult contemporary radio. The Captain and Tennille classic “Love Will Keep Us Together” is attempted, but I was rather let down that it was so true to the original. –Donofthedead (Self-released, www.stimulatortheband.com )


STANDARD AND POOR:
Filthy Basement Secrets: CDEP
You got some street punk mixed with a pinch of rockabilly here. The first track, “Born Bad,” ditches the punches and goes straight for something sharper: “Born bad your gonna get my knife.” Standard And Poor takes well-traveled ground by writing tunes about liars (“Liar”) and broken hearts (“Heart Crusher Baby”) but put their spin on those topics and, let me tell you, there’s never a dull moment. I’ve already written about three of the six tracks on this EP. Needless to say, it’s going to be on repeat. Get your hands on these Filthy Basement Secrets! –N.L. Dewart (De Ville Basement Music, www.myspace.com/standardandpoor)


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