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Record Reviews

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AGAINST ME!:
New Wave: CD
If a formerly independent-label band drops a record and it’s paid for by a major, does the band still make the same sound? Does superstar production and the loosened grip of financial fear change things? I’ve had to ask myself this question over and over since Bad Religion signed to Atlantic along with the plethora of other punk bands that went with the majors in the 1990s. At the time it broke my heart, but some bands have a credibility that can still exist if the listener holds the highest optimism for a band’s decisions, and Bad Religion eventually won me back. The same principle applies here along with another I’ve picked up on, which is that I can never know if I’m going to end up liking an album on the first try. Largely unimpressed by the opening title track here (our first taste of the “new” Against Me!), the next track “Up the Cuts” draws me right back in. I can do without the buhbupbuhs of the otherwise lyrically gritty “Thrash Unreal,” but “Piss and Vinegar” is still damned good and convincing. Against Me! have been pissing people off with the progression of their sound as far back as Eternal Cowboy on Fat Wreck Chords, and I freakin’ love that album. They have always created songs with a diverse range of sound. I know they can’t all be “You Look Like I Need A Drink” or even “Those Anarcho Punks Are Mysterious…”, but any band that can write songs like those gets my continued patience as we all wait to see what happens next. –Susan Chung (Sire)


AGAINST ME!:
As the Eternal Cowboy: CD
I’m probably the only person I know who didn’t go completely apeshit over this band’s first record. Don’t get me wrong, I like it and everything. It’s just that every time I’d listen to it, I’d think of something else that I’d rather listen to, like Sockeye. I didn’t have any expectations for this album, but it really caught me off guard. The drumming sounds a lot better than their first album, the singing is much more tuneful, and the guitar sounds, surprisingly enough, like it came off an early Cure album. Granted, I think the last two songs on this album completely suck, but the other nine songs are pretty fucking awesome, so I guess I’m converted. –Not Josh –Guest Contributor (Fat)


AGAINST ME! :
As the Eternal Cowboy: CD
I’m poorly ripping off Replay Dave (Grabass Charlestons) right here. We talked about this album at length. This is, secretly, Against Me!s third album. Zig and zag as you may, there are certain inevitable mistakes on a band’s second album. Everything from growing self-consciousness, “improved” playing technique, and the availability of a better studio can distract bands (“What does that knob do?” “Can we do solos?” “You got a theramin?”), especially if the bands had a modicum of success with their first full-length. (Against Me! had, well, much more than a modicum.) I’m not suggesting that there’s a wholly unreleased, in-the-vaults Against Me! album, I’m just floored at how much different yet the same this album is compared to Reinventing Axl Rose. The mistakes I’m so used to hearing in sophomore jinx albums just aren’t there. Here’s the unmolested template for Against Me! Acoustics are the core, wrapped around voices, strings, and poundables. Basically, what could be done at a punk barbecue, all revved up and written impeccably. Anthems that you’re not ashamed to sing, that sort of thing. Differences: overt politics are redirected to powerful personal policies and inflection. Rally cries seem to be coming from the inside, not just part of a small group. There’s a lot more singing on the Eternal Cowboy. Fuckin’-a Tom and Andrew can sing and I’m glad they’re given more of a chance. There are a lot of subtle differences in the music, too. Although there’s been some minor backlash with Against Me!, This Bike Is a Pipebomb, and the Hair Beard Combo as being jamboree punk, picking up the Young Pioneers banner that some wish would have remained buried, I just hear a great band, not afraid to listen to a broad swath of music. They let it ripple the waters just a little bit. In the corners, of all things, in the guitars I hear early ‘80s underground pop, especially the Cure. Hats off. –Todd Taylor (Fat)


AGAINST ME!:
Reinventing Axl Rose: CD

From the opening riff, when the ghosts of “Folsom Prison Blues” segue into a mid-tempo hardcore songs, it’s clear that this is not an ordinary album. Comparisons are hard to make. Sure, there are elements of folk guitar, but this is no Pogues rip-off. Sure, you can tell the singer has spent years singing along with Fugazi, but this is no emo record. Sure, the Clash drips off the edges of this CD, but that’s not what defines these songs. No matter what point of reference I try to launch from to describe this album – from “a hillbilly Husker Du” to “the black bloc throwing bricks through a Replacements record” – it all seems to fall short. And that’s a good thing. Considering how much new music I listen to, I’m amazed that I can hear something that’s this original and that’s this good. The songs are all well-written with thoughtful lyrics, catchy hooks, vocals that are tuneful even when the singer’s voice is ripped through to the chords, and a really happy guitar and a bouncing rhythm section backs it all up. I guess the best way to describe this album is this: these are the campfire songs I want to sing while the society around me burns itself to the ground.

–Sean Carswell (No Idea)


AGAINST ME!:
The Disco Before the Breakdown: EP (CD and 7")
I wasn't going to review this for stacks full of bias, but someone just asked me to tell them about the new Against Me! EP, and I figured that since I am writing this anyway... I like it a lot. Not quite as punk or sing-along as the last two releases, but that's not BAD. Tom from Against Me! told me that the 7" is better than the CD version. I like the cover photo because it had the guitar player, James, looking completely filled with passion, with the arm of some random crowd member leaning against him. Songs are as such: “Disco Before the Breakdown” – a beautiful, elaborate song about sexuality. Subtle message against homophobia. The horns... I have mixed feelings on. “Tonight We Are Going to Give it 35%” – God DAMN. My best friend and I had been having a breakdown in communication after a bad point in her life and she referred to these lyrics as exactly what she would have liked to have said. (Oddly, she and I toured with Against Me! just before this was recorded.) Blends Tom screaming his throat out with James singing and playing angelic melodies in the background. “Beginning in An Ending” – is a poignant, simple song that grows like a collage of unrelated material that somehow works together perfectly. Of course, go figure the song that has lines about reading my zines in it. (Seriously.) –rich (No Idea)


AGAINST ME!:
The Original Cowboy: CD
The question isn’t whether or not this is a good album. I liked As the Eternal Cowboy just fine when it came out back in 2003. It was catchy and it seemed like they were singing about important stuff like being passionate and shit. The question with me is whether The Original Cowboy is really necessary. The deal with this CD is that it’s the release of the demo tracks the band made for As the Eternal Cowboy, but I can’t really tell the difference at all. The sound quality isn’t noticeably different, there weren’t really any major changes in the lyrics or song structures between the demos and finished product, and it’s not all that sloppier or tighter than what the band eventually put down for the finished album. Don’t lose any sleep about not getting this if you already own As the Eternal Cowboy, unless you’re an Against Me! completist. This feels like bonus tracks in search of a deluxe reissue. If you’re new to Against Me!, this album wouldn’t be a bad first pick to be introduced with, though, as it’s basically As the Eternal Cowboy with different packaging. –Adrian (Fat)


AGAINST ME!:
The Original Cowboy: CD
There are people who absolutely love this band. I’m a guy that gets hot and cold depending on the mood. I was intrigued that this was in my inbox at HQ. They went major label, didn’t they? Haven’t really kept up since they left Fat. I look at the cover and see that Fat has indeed released this. Did they get dropped? Not that I can tell. I took a look at the promo attachment and saw that these songs are the demo recordings for As the Eternal Cowboy. I never heard that release, so I can’t make comparisons. What I can comment on is that they do make good music that is challenging and, at times, anthemic. Surprised that these versions of the songs weren’t used for the record. They have no elements of sounding like they are demos. –Donofthedead (Fat)


AGAINST ME!:
Transgender Dysphoria Blues: LP
On New Year’s Eve I showed up to a party my boyfriend at the time was reluctantly throwing. I walked in to find a fog machine raging as hard as the guests and upping the ante on the dense pea soup already outside. Between that and wisps of cigarettes, I saw him dancing in the soft glow while the little black dress he was in struggled to catch up with his moves. “Are you freaked out that I’m wearing a dress?” he asked. “No. Are you freaked out that I’m not?” was my response and he proudly went back to being unabashedly himself. Laura Jane Grace and crew are doing the same thing on this new record, only they’re not asking anymore. Against Me! are taking the piss out of gender roles and quickly show you what it’s like to have to live day to day as someone you’re not. This album aims to get under your skin no matter where you stand on trans-acceptance. With lyrics like “They just see a faggot / They hold their breath not to get the sick,” hopefully you feel as dehumanized and fed up as she does. “Drinking with the Jocks” is the angriest track and the shortest—very straight and to the point. It is the perfect coming out song: abrasive to those who don’t understand and appealing to anyone who’s been fucked with for being who they are. To me, that’s as punk rock as it gets. Quite a few friends I know through music have come out as transgender in the last year and their actions are creating a positive shift in those around them. Musically, this record is their best since Against Me! as the Eternal Cowboy and almost makes up for White Crosses and New Wave. And for those who’ve been wondering, her voice hasn’t changed; it’s only gotten stronger and lent itself to many of us struggling with identity.  –Kayla Greet (Total Treble)


AGAINST THE GRAIN:
Motor City Speed Rock: 10”
I will give this band credit for something: everything from the title of this record to the artwork gives an idea of exactly what they sound like. I was expecting a combination of Zeke-style speed and Hellacopters-style Scandi rock riffing. That is precisely what Against the Grain offer up. It is basically the style that labels like White Jazz and even Sub Pop were flooding the market with at the turn of the century: garage punk played at hardcore tempos. This band is as good as most but I have been burned out on this style for a decade and a half and am not likely to come back around. Fans of Gluecifer, Peepshows, Adam West, Puffball, and Roadsaw will want to be all over this Detroit band.  –Mike Frame (Self Destructo)


AGAINSTERS, THE:
A Few Notes on Darwin: CD
Sometimes, you just need some goofy, down and dirty rock and roll to get through the day. The Againsters are more than able to fill that prescription. I find that the majority of the bands out there doing the whole Dead Boys/New York Dolls thing right now are quite boring. These guys escape the trap and keep it interesting with humor and catchy tunes. We’re not talking about the reinvention of the wheel or anything, but my foot is tapping. –Ty Stranglehold (F.I.M.P.)


AGALLOCH:
Marrow of the Spirit: CD
I’ve known about Agalloch, the Portland, Oregon based black metal band, for a number of years. I worked with a guy in Seattle who is good friends with them, but beyond the name I didn’t really know much of them. I passed them over as just being another dumb black metal band that was “extreme” but lacking any real musical substance. And now I would like to eat my words, as I was severely wrong. What I have come to realize is that Agalloch is a complex four piece that is crafting way more than just some stereotypically evil-sounding music. The six songs that comprise Marrow of the Spirit are rich and diverse, especially if you come into this thinking (as I did) that you’re only going to hear some growling vocals and heavy guitars. What the sixty-five minutes of music on this album proves is that Agalloch has a depth to them that is lacking in so many metal bands. They’re not afraid of being creative and plumbing a range of sources to make for music that is able to touch a deeper, emotional chord that you’d expect to be hit when you listen to Sigur Rós or something more cold, atmospheric, and dark. While many fans of metal will no doubt hear strains of Isis’s later work in Marrow of the Spirit, Agalloch offers a wider array of sound than just heavy music mixed with a contrasting growling and singing vocals. There is a good dose of cello, neo-folk guitar work, and crystalline keyboards alongside blast beats and sinister vocals similar to such an act as Gorgoroth. It makes for compelling listening that often crosses the line into beautiful. Songs clocking in at twelve or seventeen minutes don’t drag whatsoever. Instead, they’re part of a skillful arrangement of ethereal beauty. It’s akin to that feeling one gets when they find themselves in a cold, snowy field and the sky stands grey. It’s not oppressive or depressing; rather it’s a capturing of the notion of environment that makes Marrow of the Spirit stand as remarkable in its delivery. –Kurt Morris (profoundlorerecords.com)


AGAPE:
Self-titled: CDEP
As simply as I can put it, this is electronic, industrial dance music. Now let's bring out those glow sticks and shake that booty like a tail feather! –Donofthedead (www.agape-technology.com)


AGAPE:
Self-titled: CDEP
These guys serve up equal parts grindcore and dancey techno stuff, usually within the same song, but neither part is exciting enough to warrant further investigation. –Jimmy Alvarado (www.agape-technology.com)


AGATHA:
Panic Attack: Cassette
Definite Olympia sound from the 1990s. Take some Bikini Kill, throw in some Sin 34, and you sort of get what this sounds like. Raw punk that refuses to be a pose. There’s a message in the lyrics and it’s delivered with convincing anger and insight. My favorite song of the seven is “Buying Time.” The music is urgent and the lyrics are great, with lines like; “Let us learn from our parent’s past / Put time in our communities, not in our shopping bags,” and “I’ve never had a picket fence, and I don’t want a cul-de-sac!” I’m a middle-aged old bastard, and lyrics like this still ring true! –Matt Average (agatha206@yahoo.com)


AGATHA:
Nothing Is Static/Panic Attack: 7"/CD
Consider the musical explorations and visual aesthetics of Submission Hold and the ferocity of Spitboy. The willfulness and sarcasm (and vocal delivery, too) of Bikini Kill, and the musical nimbleness of DesArk. That’s the template—Agatha doesn’t sound exactly like any of those bands, but it’s a rough blueprint. Now add a dollop of the chalkboard-versus-fingernails jaggedness of post-punk, some wire-tight musicianship, an energy level that’s on ten the entire way throughout, and you’re getting closer. Abrasive punk rock that’s provocative as hell and brimming with ideas.Challenging ideas. About gender, community, depression, and more. All of it run through a funnel of grating hardcore that eschews melody for sharp angles, with little guitar flourishes and rhythm section tomfoolery that stick out like bits of colored glass in a gravel pit. At their core, Agatha is one of those bands that remind me of how it feels to be politicized—or at least challenged to think—by the ideas behind punk rock. The music is awesome—there’s hardly a stumble here, even in the Panic Attack demo—the lyrics are whipsmart and acerbic, and the whole thing reminds me of what I found inspirational about punk in the first place. –Keith Rosson (Rumbletowne)


AGATHA:
Self-titled: Cassette
In a time when punk bands are merely social clubs to grow beer bellies in and hardcore bands are just genre-centric, font-fetishists, a band like Agatha couldn’t be more timely. Agatha stands out as art in a world of photocopies, because they are relentless in their directive. They are unabashedly queer, feminist, and radical and, thus, reconstruct a dialogue that hasn’t been present in punk for a long time. Listening to their songs and reading their lyrics often makes me uneasy, even though they are not particularly confrontational or reactionary. Their songs come from a more personal place, so it’s the courage of their convictions that challenge me as a listener and, more importantly, as a human being. They come from a personal demand to be recognized and respected that makes me question my privilege, complacency, and apathy. Why has it been so long since I’ve felt this way in anything involving punk? This isn’t easy-listening music like crust, restating the obvious like “war is bad” in a clichéd and detached manner. No, Agatha is so fresh in their anger that they render the “preaching to the choir” argument irrelevant because the punk scene itself has become so complacent and apathetic and “anti-P.C” (a term that I refuse to recognize) that the scene itself needs to be shaken up. I know that I’m shaken up. The power in these songs does more than move me. It moves me to be a better person. –Craven (Self-released, agatha206@yahoo.com)


AGATHA:
Self-titled: 12”EP
I’m not of the belief that political conviction is absent from the punk community any more now than it has always been. That doesn’t give apathy a free pass, but I also don’t disregard the countless bands who continue to write meaningful, insightful music. With crystal clear perfection, Agatha fit into my mindset of contemporary, infuriated, passionate, and knowledgeable bands using punk as a release and as a platform to express radical ideas accompanied by inventive musicianship. A main difference with Agatha is that the lyric sheet not only provides the lyrics and song explanations, but some autobiographical context that give each track even more power. In terms of dynamic, hardcore punk; the four parts of this band are doing their each individual task perfectly. The reliable, driving rhythm section, the wild guitar stylings, three different vocalists with very different voices melding together, and the lyrical content. They’re fucking pissed, and they explain why. –Daryl Gussin (Rumbletowne, rumbletowne.com)


AGE OF COLLAPSE:
Burden of Beast: LP
Waves of guitars and distortion come crashing out of your speakers, breaking across the room, decimating furniture, and ruining your carpet. Or something like that. Age Of Collapse have spun a few His Hero Is Gone records in their time, but they’ve built on that structure, put more of a crushing edge in their sound, and added some atmospheric touches to get the point across. I like that they pick up the speed and get into some thrash with songs like “Silver Lining,” as it helps to offset the mainly mid-tempo crawl of the other songs. The riff they kick into on “Hands That Take” is a killer. Fast, jittery, and direct. When they do stuff like this I’m like, “Fuck yeah!! More please!!” as they shift down the speed and move at a moderately hurried gait. Such actions only intensify their sonic power. Plus they have some NWOBHM influences—that come to the fore in the song “Life of Misery”—that make me wonder what they could do if they just went for it and wrote some songs that were more in that vein and less in the punk realm. Then there’s a song like “Final March” which has a cold and dreary introduction that gives way to a head banging riff, eventually going over into blinding speed. But the slower and mid-paced tempos in this song are the ones that crush the most. Opposing dynamics compressed in a short time span, pulled off with good results. –Matt Average (Aborted Society, abortedsociety.com)


AGE OF RUIN:
Black Sands of the Hourglass: CD
Dismal "hardcore" metal with a singer that can’t sing. –Jimmy Alvarado (href=mailto:ageofruin@darkmoonempire.com>ageofruin@darkmoonempire.com)


AGE OF WOE:
Inhuman: LP
This is a heavy listen in more ways than one. Yes, it’s crust-on-the-verge-of-metal, but it’s also emotionally heavy. There was a moment during the song “Cold Cycle” when I heard—no, not heard, felt—a grinding reaching out of my speakers, trying to wear me down, trying to instill in me the desperation, the last gasp, hanging-from-the-edge-of-a-cliff-by-the-fingertips-with-skull-adorned-spikes-below feeling. I wasn’t prepared for such a bludgeoning. I am now. –MP Johnson (Suicide)


AGENDA, THE:
Pessimism of the Mind, Optimism of the Will: 7”
I’d like to be nice, but I don’t think I can. This is probably the most bothersome record that I’ve received to review in a long time: extremely annoying shouted vocals over clean guitars and obnoxious drumming. I guess I don’t “get” it. –Dave Dillon (Fashionable Idiots)


AGENT:
I Wouldn’t Trade That for Anything: CDEP
Agent’s five song EP of melodic hardcore bears a striking resemblance to a lot of other bands of the same genre such as Braid, Lifetime, or Dag Nasty. The vocals, which go between spoken words that are kind of sung and gravelly yells, remind me of this band I knew in Indiana called Clark. I liked that band a lot and so Agent did somewhat endear themselves to me. There are lots of hooks and some catchy parts and it all times in at around thirteen minutes. It’s not anything much worth talking about especially since it’s just five songs. Maybe a full-length will be in order so that I (and no doubt a lot of other listeners) can make a complete decision on this Long Island band. –Kurt Morris (Iron Pier)


AGENT 51:
Just Keep Runnin: CD
More Rancid mixed with melodicore to these ears. I’m guessing that everybody in this four piece gets a chance to sing at one point or another. Big choruses and big production that came off a little too sterile for me. –Donofthedead (Adeline)


AGENT BULLDOGG:
Vi Ar Tillbaks: 7”
The only thing I had heard by this band before they sent me this record was a couple of tracks on a compilation LP called Screams from the Gutter (which is a great midsection of Swedish skinhead and street punk bands from the late ‘90s that is easy to find in the U.S. and well worth your time). The band had been broken up for a while. They recently got back together and put this 7” out themselves. If anything, I think these four songs are better than the old songs from that comp. Sound-wise, imagine a mix of the Templars and Discipline and you’re getting close. The production is slick enough for everything to be heard and the catchy, melodic riffs cut through the rest of the mix well. Oi seems to be in vogue again recently and it’s cool to see some older bands sticking around/coming back and doing it right instead of putting out some load of crap so they have an excuse to tour with the Business. Get this! –Ian Wise (Self-released, agentbulldogg1986@hotmail.com)


AGENT ORANGE:
Living in Darkness: LP
Yeah, the downside to this whole vinyl “renaissance” is the ridiculous price tags. Yeah, I know, 180-gram vinyl, faithful reproduction, blahdeeblah, but it doesn’t change the fact that it both limits the ability of the average schlubs to pick up a copy of a record to which they should have total access, and acts as a prime example of the fetishizing of ephemera by monied hipsters and record collector schmucks who weren’t around to collect it the first time around from subcultures they view as moribund and don’t really care to understand. That said, it is also admittedly very fuggin’ cool to see records like this on the format for which they were intended. Originally released on Posh Boy, Living in Darkness was Agent Orange’s opening, and some would argue finest, punk salvo—four tracks per side of proto-hardcore up to its eyeballs in the sun and surf pop thuggery that, along with other crucial releases by both peers and former members, became the template upon which the much-ballyhooed “SoCal Punk Sound” was built. From the siren-staccato guitar intro of “Too Young to Die” to the punked-up surf covers peppered here and there to the four-minute epic title track, this is the perfect soundtrack for folks who prefer their pop edgy and “like things that bite.” Whether or not it’s worth the twenty to twenty-five dollars I’ve seen it going for is a matter of personal choice, but it’s most assuredly worth the repeated listens that’ll inevitably occur. Limited to five hundred. –Jimmy Alvarado (Drastic Plastic)


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