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Record Reviews

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Plethora: CD
What Polkacide did for polka and the Hickoids did for country music in the ‘80s, San Anto’s Piñata Protest seeks to do for norteño, namely take what is often considered a markedly “uncool” style of music and infuse it with copious amounts of punk energy and attitude. They handily succeed, due in no small part to the fact that keep things eclectic, and they approach what they’re doing with a seriousness in execution without taking themselves too seriously, if that makes any sense—despite polka and cumbia-derived rhythms and accordion solos aplenty, they are at heart a punk band that tempers their social frustrations with lots of humor, and vice versa. What you end up with is a band that ain’t afraid to get a crowd on their feet and dancing while singin’ songs in Spanglish about just how fucked up things in the world often are. Fine work here from a band worthy of much attention. –jimmy (Saustex, saustexmedia.com)

El Valiente: CD
Getting releases like this reminds me of why I love reviewing music in the first place: The opportunity to hear and be blown away by music from unexpected quarters. In that context, Piñata Protest deliver the goods with nine tracks of punk-infused, Texas-style border music. This disc literally drips with the steaming humidity of San Antonio on a sweltering day mixed with the taste of sweat and warm Lone Star. Some tracks are in Spanish while others are in English and the band isn’t afraid to tackle the odd Mexican classic either. Having a cookout on an hot, sunny day with a cooler full of beer? This is your soundtrack. –Garrett Barnwell (Saustex, saustex.com)

El Valiente: CD
Another fine salvo of norteño-slathered punk from these San Antonio malcontents here. Much like their previous release, they fuse serious musicianship with a “fun” tone, aggressive attack with “party” vibe, and blazing guitars and fiery accordion to kick down tunes that will have fans of both Flaco and Flipper scratching their heads as they shake their shimmy. Fans of Polkacide and the Hickoids would do well to take note. –jimmy (Saustex, saustex.com)

Blue Screen Life: CD
Wimpy college pap... er, pop. To the shitcan with thee! –jimmy (Ace Fu)

Information Retrieved: CD/LP
At this point in their career, Pinback has made one thing clear: every album they release sounds pretty similar, but dammit if they aren’t all good. What allows Pinback to get away with this redundancy is that there aren’t any other bands that sound quite like them. The dual harmonies of Rob Crow and Zach Smith complement one another so well, it’s as though they were always meant to go together. The multi-instrumentalism (it seems there’s always something else to listen to in each song­­—strings, keyboards, piano, electronic drums, bass, and various guitars), and the darker nature of the music mixed with the pop sensibilities cause the band to stand out in the indie rock scene. The lyrics continue to remain obscure, albeit catchy. “It shouldn’t be so hard to have a nice day,” the band sings on “Diminished” and soon I’m crooning along, too, but I have no idea what I’m even singing about. And in the course of the ten songs in thirty-eight minutes, this happens frequently. The opening track, “Proceed to Memory,” might be one of the best rock songs I’ve heard this year and while none of the other tracks can top it, “True North” and the closer, “Sediment,” are both strong numbers. The one stinker on Information Retrieved is “Denslow, You Idiot!,” mainly because the keyboard sounds like it was taken from a rejected Wesley Willis song, especially at the beginning of the track. While the nuances of the tone of an album can be rather subjective, Information Retrieved seems to be more melancholic than much of Pinback’s previous work, which sits well with this reviewer. The day this band records a happy pop album is the day I stop listening to them. But based on where they’re at with this latest album, it appears that’s not occurring any time soon. –kurt (Temporary Residence)

Headbanger Gangsta Youth Vol. IV: 7"
Mid-fi, jump and shag, poor punks huffing blues from Italy. Their swagger’s what’s convincing. Hips be a-shakin’. These guys would fit in perfectly in a Budget Rock Showcase, opening for Oblivians (who they cover), Mummies (who they channel), and the Rip Offs (who the dude on their cover looks like). Sprinkle on the dirty-yet-sharp rust flakes of modern banner holders, like Vee Dee and the River City Tanlines, and it’s definitely a strong showing from a band who used to be called the Pin Pals. Limited to 300. –todd (Goodbye Boozy)

Self-titled: Cassette
Tapes don’t sound that good. I use to lug a big boombox and a box full of tapes to my dishwashing job, and let me tell you, I don’t miss it. (I’m not some modern technology guy either—I mostly listen to records. I don’t own an ipod. But seriously, this cassette tape nostalgia that’s seemingly sweeping America (If the things I get for review are any indication) is beyond me.) That being said, this isn’t terrible. It’s at least listenable. There are some decent turns of phrase and the instruments interact well. Just put it out on an LP like the good lord intended, okay? –Ryan Horky (Self-released, pineaway.bandcamp.com)

The Barefoot Feel: Cassette
This tape is really something. It’s really nice, warm-sounding stuff that becomes a bit intangible when you try to put your finger on it. It’s punk in spirit but a little bit too tricky to fit into that box. You could label it post-punk, but that’s just a shitty cop-out term. It’s too cheerful to be called emo although what it reminds me of most is those more upbeat One Last Wish songs. While it’s not quite pop, it is lively and melodic. Each song has a whole lot of lyrics that lack choruses giving the listener a nearly whole narrative. If they had just a bit more information in the songs, they would make great pieces in a personal zine. Instead, you just get some great songs about living life. I could see this band being appreciated by pop punk fans, hardcore kids, punks, and even some indie rockers, yet, it sounds like none of that stuff. I guess it is still possible to make something that sounds completely new. –Craven (Fully Intercoastal)

Jack of Diamonds: 7”EP
It makes absolute sense that DIY punks—the ones born and raised on traditional country—after the initial fast, angry spurt, and facing a world that’s neither improving nor a head that feels right screaming the songs of youth, turn back to their roots. Most punks know abandonment. And, culturally, the world of Hank Williams Sr., Merle Haggard, and Johnny Cash, has been left solely as a fallow graveyard in favor for country that sounds like it’s selling toothpaste for Wal Mart. Not only do the Haints capture the ghosts of old greats, they’ve placed those ghosts in their hearts and at your feet. So, even if you don’t know that The Haints screen-print their own records, book their own tours, and help out a bunch of people, this 7” still stands up by itself as a testament: that old shack of traditional country is being candlelit once again by society’s discards who’re playing songs that give me chills. –todd (Arkam)

The Evening Star: Cassette
Here is another banjo-shredding release from folk punk/bluegrass favorites, The Haints. This limited edition cassette with an awesome silk screened cover is comprised of new tracks and rare 7” releases, but don’t stress, the LP version is widely available. Recorded in 2007, the same year as Ghost Dance, this could almost be an extension of those jangly banjo rhythms and numinous ballads. “Black Casket,” their latest single, is also thrown into the mix. While this isn’t anything new from The Haints’ repertoire, it goes to show: if it ain’t broke… Makes me wish I could carry my boom box around like in the ‘80s blasting fiddle tunes. For those who love a good ghost story, here’s something to warm your bones. Recommended. –Kristen K (45RPM, calimucho.net)

Split: 7"
Pine Hill Haints: Punk can be a weird cat. Give the tattoo-sleeved, spiky-haired, leather-jacketed fellow or maiden a couple of years and chances are about even that they’ll turn into a Republican asshole selling insurance and denouncing their youthful indiscretion. The Pine Hill Haints play traditional music with traditional instruments (bucket bass, banjo, mandolin, accordion, guitar) that’s haunted, honest, and eerie. They also just happen to believe, live, and breathe in DIY and not fucking others over. So, what may not sound “punk” to those on the periphery is ten times more genuine a gesture than a receding hairline mohawk interpretation of music. Trainwreck Riders: fans of Ninja Gun, Two-Cow Garage, and Drive-By Truckers take note. Jumpy, pleasant, faded denim, comfortable shirt traditionals played with songwriting savvy and current-day snap. –todd (Let’s Pretend, letspretendrecords.com)

Ghost Dance: CD

Let’s not forget the context. With this recent influx of bands that, when described, “folk” and “punk” come up in the same sentence, the Haints have been hard at work and play for years. It’s this seasoned, large-brush approach that illustrates how big a force the Haints have become musically and how broad-scoped Ghost Dance really is. It’s like walking into your favorite roadside restaurant during a long drive. Generous portions. Diverse, but down home menu. Expertly spiced, simple food. Well-worn linoleum, but sparkling clean. Wonderful, personal service, no forced grins or minimum amounts of flare enforced. Ghost Dance is, thankfully, long. Twenty songs gives them time to set the stage, fill your head, and take you to their home, which is as much a time as a place. It’s a collection of original pieces, a Riverboat Gamblers cover, and traditionals revisited. And then it struck me, something that’s been staring me in the face for some time. The Haints are to the South what the Pogues are to Ireland. Not only do they have a deep respect of what came before—and their musicianship is as impeccable as it is diverse (mandolin, washtub bass, banjos, and bodhran)—but they tap into that originating spirit so much, they can’t help themselves from reshuffling the deck and lighting small fires under themselves so they don’t get asphyxiated by the past. This record’s like watching a fire all night. Crackles and blazes giving away to smoldering and smoking, and the next morning, its memory is still being carried around in your clothes. Fantastic.

–todd (K)

Self-titled: 7”EP
Crystalline conviction: that’s what’s so striking about The Pine Hill Haints. These four songs are full of restraint—almost sounding like a singer/songwriter collection, with vocals and banjo up front most of the time on the A-side—but it’s not dalliance or affectation. When you hear folk songs played so stridently, they’re as simple and straightforward as a rocking chair. No new-fangled, bing-bong, shit-wizardry. Yeah, the songs designs are pretty simple and follow understandable arcs, but that doesn’t take away from the fun and comfort they provide. Plus, true craftsmanship gets further revealed with each simple push, time and time again. Some fires burn slow without a lot of distracting flames, yet are able to heat up large spaces and are good for cooking… The Haints do just that. –todd (Sunburst, www.myspace.com/sunburstlabel)

Alabama Country Ghost Music: 7"
The title says it all. Well, maybe not the ghost part, as they are lacking a saw player on this release, but this is still good, down home country music by people whose definition of country music is not Brooks & Dunn or the Dixie Chicks. Unless you are some crusty gutter punk that only listens to Crass, you'll probably like this. Caveat: The label on the record is blank and you have to look at the engraving in the runout groove to see which is the A-side. Who cares? Send 'em five bucks and tell 'em to keep up the good work. –Josh (Nation of Kids)

Self-titled: LP
With always-accelerating technology comes a sadness. It’s not a “kids these days don’t know shit” lament. It’s a true sadness that a mode of listening to music is largely considered a niche mentality, an outmoded way of enjoyment in an accelerated society. It’s a grey day, I open up the windows, feel the chilled air, put on a Haints record, let it wash over me, and let it soak in. It fills the air, fills the room. I get a cup of coffee, put my feet up, watch branches sway. I’m not shuffling through the songs. I’m not skipping tracks. I’m not looking at lighted bars representing the pulse of sound. I’m not itching for what’s next, but what’s developing in front of me. Try to push back some of the ache. Try to clear out a little bit of my brain. I’m listening to an album; trusting the talented Haints to take me on a journey. I’m on their time. I’m in their vehicle of conveyance and I don’t want to parse it down to milliseconds or favorites. I want the full thirty or forty minutes, the sequence, the sound broken only when the record’s flipped over. The Haints are a traditional band: wash tub bass, banjo, mandolin, washboard, saw, play-while-standing drums. They mix originals, covers, and traditionals, removing sentimentality and replacing it with respect and DIY energy. Here’s the thing; I listened to this record on CD several times and it sounded like tin foil around leftovers. The vinyl record sounds like food grilling on a barbecue. –todd (K)

Welcome to the Midnight Opry / The Evening Star: LP / LP
The future and past are filled with ghosts. Ghosts of memory. Ghosts of potential. The Pine Hill Haints somehow interconnect and harvest those two ghosts like sheets made out of smoke. To call them “old timey” music is a disservice because, although they play traditional music amplified, there’s no fuzzy mittens of nostalgia in their music, no regression to a time that exists as mere fable. One of the largest issues I have with new music is the motherfucking robots—with their bloodless computer brains, microchips, software, social programming digitized—making it. The Haints have the ability to continually remind me that all music’s worth listening to is based on the human heart. The valves. The pumping. The thrum in your ears. The pulse at the wrist. The thud, thud, thud, that it you listen to it closely, that if you listen to it for long periods of time, you can swear that you see a simple beat twining above you into this thing called a soul. In my book, music that does that is rare. Welcome to the Midnight Opry is a full-length of new songs. The Evening Star is a collection of previously released songs and it’s nice to have them all in the same basket. –todd (Opry, K, krecs.com / Evening Star, Black Owl Radio)

Peakahokahoo: CD
Twee synth-pop which sounds like little more than incidental music for early Nintendo games. –scott (Greyday)

Self-titled: CDEP
Kick ass! I can’t get enough of these guys. I about tripped over my belly getting to the CD player when this came in the mail. They keep getting better and better every time I hear them. Great songwriting as usual. They started out fairly poppy with their earlier albums but seem to get a little angrier with each release. Seems like they are mixing their pop punk now with a small touch of hardcore. Fucking awesome. Only five songs here at a length of about nine minutes. Just enough to tease me and get me excited for more to come. –toby (Not Bad)

The Black Power of Romance: CD
There's something tricky about Pinhead Circus. Their songs have a way of creeping into my brain. More than once, I've been singing along with a Pinhead Circus song and someone has walked into the room and said, "What are you listening to?" and I was stumped. I'll wake up in the morning with a Pinhead Circus riff on auto-repeat in my head and I can't, for the life of me, place the song. Then, gradually, the album grows on me. It reaches high rotation and I have to be careful not to play it too often. It's strange. "The Black Power of Romance," like all their other albums, filled me with apathy at first, then wiggled itself up there with my favorite albums. I think it has something to do with the way that Pinhead Circus can put together a song that sounds like no other band, but is vaguely recognizable pieces - a riff that almost sounds like Good Riddance, a tempo change that's almost like Tiltwheel, drums filling in like Youth Brigade, and so on. Which isn't to say that they're completely referential. They're not. They're a pretty original band that write solid, catchy songs. You just have to give them a few listens to creep up on you. –sean (BYO)

“West Side Highway,” “Anniversary Song” b/w “On the Ave.”: 7” EP
The world is a much changed place from when I was listening to Kerplunk! on cassette in 1992. Some folks became millionaires and release multi-multi platinum records (Dookie sold over ten million). Other folks kept digging under an oppressive culture to write about a different kind of gold. Yup. I understand Green Day isn’t Pinhead Gunpowder and visa versa, and a major difference, as far as I can tell, is PG’s sustained, intentional naïveté, the lack of “progression” from one thing to another. Pinhead Gunpowder hasn’t hardly changed musically at all (and they started out a little after Green Day). In the land of DIY punk, they’re the Pete Seeger to Green Day’s Bob Dylan (or the Slayer to Green Day’s Metallica, if that helps). This is their first release of new material since their split 7” with Dillinger Four eight years ago, and it’s a smoker: prototypical, tight, catchy EastBay pop punk, perfectly played by some of the folks who were instrumental in forming it in the first place. (One weird thing about this release, considering the band: photos of the band on both sides of the sleeve.) –todd (Recess)

Compulsive Disclosure: CD
I actually jumped around when I saw this, and I can be a pretty lazy fuck. I seriously can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t love Pinhead Gunpowder. They’re still poppy, still simple, still just so catchy. It’s only nine songs, which leads me to play it a minimum of two times every listen. It’s the kind of album that your favorite song is always the one that you’re listening to for each song throughout the whole album. Perfect for mix tapes, car rides, and dancing around. –megan (Lookout)

Self-titled: 7"
Has it seriously been almost a decade since this band put anything out? Nicely done opaque 45 RPM vinyl that belts out two gemy gems from this prolific side project of Cometbus and that other dude. You know, that one guy. –mrz (Recess)

Kick over the Traces: CD
What does it mean when one of your favorite bands releases a greatest hits album? Sadly, I am no expert in philosophical pop punk inquiries, so instead I’ll just say that I’ve listened to Pinhead Gunpowder in every possible context: in my bedroom in high school after enduring my mom screaming at me, on my headphones during countless late-night bike rides, in my college dorm room in the middle of ridiculous, almost-emo-ish relationship crap, in my apartment writing articles about labor history, and on the dance floor at punk rock dance parties. And, somehow, Pinhead Gunpowder always seemed like the perfect band in all of these places. Even though I’ve listened to these songs hundreds or thousands of times, it’s still hard for me to deal with how good these songs are. I drove from Minneapolis to Milwaukee last weekend and I listened to this CD for five straight hours. By the time I got to my mom’s house, I had a sore throat and my eardrums hurt. If this were a cereal, it’d be Lucky Charms, the highest honor this Razorcake reviewer can bestow. –Maddy (Recess)

Self-titled: CD
I’m not quite sure how to classify this. I mean, is anything still allowed to be straight up indie pop anymore? If it is, then that is what Pink Black is. The music is complicated but not overpowering. It damn near forces you to move back and forth. The best part of this, though, is the vocals. Sweet and powerful, she comes across in much the same was as Allison from Discount (although the two bands are quite different). I liked this a lot, but not as much as Elise did. I have a feeling this will be a car disc for some time. –ty (New Disorder)

Holiday Demo 2013 with Love for Friends and Family: CD-R
If a drunken frat party got its hands on a karaoke machine and decided to record a demo on their iPhone, the result would be this CD-R. The sound is muddy and hard to discern, which I’d like to attribute to the poor recording quality but may actually be the result of the berating gang vocals. Also Pink Eyes is an unfortunate name choice; it just sounds gross.  –Ashley (Self-released, pinkeyeschicago.bandcamp.com)

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