Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Maidens – Shallows

November 25, 2011 • self-released

Another day, another sludge band to listen to. I don't even know how to start these reviews off anymore since I do so many of these.

Maidens waves the atmospheric sludge banner high, piggybacking right off the great bands of the genre. However, they don't reach much farther than that, and the EP is definitely lacking in the originality department; the opening to first track sounds like it was almost lifted wholesale from an Isis song (for the life of me I can't remember which; maybe it was Cult of Luna?). Now, I love Oceanic and I don't really mind hearing a bunch more music that sounds exactly like it, but this is really blatant. (At least their Bandcamp tags prove they're open about it.)

With that out of the way, Shallows is a pretty well-done record. The songs aren't the most engaging I've heard, but there are plenty of good riffs, some really nice and tense buildups, and great production on it. The atmosphere itself isn't particularly dark or oppressive, more introspective and neutral, but that's not really a bad thing.

Anyway for an early EP it's definitely not a bad start. I've heard their more recent album and I can't say offhand if the originality issue has changed any in the last two years, but even that aside Shallows is still worth a listen.


Monday, July 29, 2013

Capdownd – Civil Disobedients

May 01, 2000 • Household Name Records

While hardcore punk took a pretty big nosedive after the '80s and has only recently started to resurface (in my eyes, anyway), there are still a few good albums from that in-between period floating around out there. And apparently all the good '00s stuff is ska-hardcore fusion à la Leftöver Crack (not that I have a problem with that!). Capdown is basically a lighter and more fun version of that style, and pulled together a really good album.

Most of the album is pretty standard early-eighties-influenced hardcore with the polish of the late '90s, a good combination to start with. Ska is something I'm generally not a fan of, but it's mixed well into a few of the songs, although you won't hear as much of it as you might expect. Like Leftöver Crack, the horn section actually does exist, but it's very downplayed and barely even used. The exception is some extensive saxophone work, which is really well-done most of the time, playing both support and soloing roles. There's some dub thrown in as well (of course), and while I never really cared for dub this is a marginally more interesting example of the genre for me, especially with it being a bit more noisy and dissonant than usual.

The album does suffer a bit from low-level unoriginality; the melodies and riffs themselves aren't terribly original, so things definitely drag on in the second half. But things like the sax and scratching other gimmicks manage to keep things entertaining anyway. For me, Civil Disobedients is the kind of album I throw on for aesthetic appeal, when I want something a bit less dark than Fuck World Trade.

Maybe I don't listen to enough ska to see this sort of music as silly, like some people seem to, but that's okay. I still enjoy this sort of cynical, self-aware punk and this album nicely filled a hole in my collection; I'm happy to have heard it.


Friday, July 12, 2013

Dirk Frazel – Randy's Bacon

June 17, 2013 • self-released

This blog is quickly becoming The Place For Reviews Of Emo Bands On Bandcamp. Not that I have a problem with that; more good stuff for me to listen to. Today's entry is ultra-DIY band Dirk Frazel, whose style is pretty typical emo, though it's quite good stuff.

These are catchy tunes; the band pulls out one or two neat rhythms and riffs in each song. There are some complex and interesting guitar lines, and the music is relatively aggressive compared to most "twinkly" stuff (probably due to the guitar distortion). The drumming is really neat as well—very expressive and interesting for this kind of music. My biggest problem with this EP is definitely the vocals, which are really poorly-done. On the other hand, you can't even hear them 90% of the time since they're so buried in the mix. (To me, this seems like a bad case of self-consciousness. Don't worry, you'll get better!)

All in all, a fun little release by a band that is showing some promise (as long as they smooth out those vocals). Here's to hoping we hear something new by them soon.


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Curmudgeon – Amygdala

June 10, 2013 • IFB Records / Not Normal / Parade of Spectres

Curmudgeon plays a dirty, gritty hybrid of powerviolence and crust punk with some slower, sludgy sections as well. It's no big surprise these days, and there isn't much about it that makes it stick out of the flood of similar modern bands. Granted, they do play well, and the production sounds quite good. There just wasn't a lot that jumped out at me about them.

Amygdala is well-done and fun to listen to, but it's somewhat forgettable. The band shows promise, though; I'd love to see what a full-length from them might be like.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Varsity Cheerleader – Death to Denton

May 7, 2013 • self-released

Varsity Cheerleader is just a little punk band from Texas, but they sure do make some good stuff. A bit derivative, perhaps, but absolutely worth listening to in its own right.

Death to Denton is some pretty basic old-school punk rock, with plenty of pop punk and a bit of melodic hardcore thrown in, giving it a very early-'90s vibe—kind of like early Descendents or what Minor Threat might have sounded like if they'd lasted a bit longer (maybe). It also has a very well-polished production and a very thick sound (maybe that's what makes it feel '90s).

The riffs and songwriting in general are both really good, leaving songs that are catchy as hell; and it's impressively fast as well. The vocals are the EP's weak spot, as they are a bit buried on some tracks and don't have quite as aggressive of a delivery as this sort of music demands. Interestingly, they get better (and louder) as the EP goes on, so maybe it's an issue they've already fixed?

Anyway, worth picking up (and it's free anyway, so why wouldn't you?).


Monday, July 8, 2013

SRVVLST, Peace Be Still, Maumelle, Prize the Doubt

July 5, 2013 • The Summit, Columbus, Ohio

It was a bit weird to learn that The Summit is actually distinct from Café Bourbon St.—two equally tiny, grimy bars sharing the same building. Can't say it's not good for an emo show, though. While this was probably the lowest-attended show I've been to yet (top five, at least), I gotta say it was a pretty good time.

Prize the Doubt

These guys were really interesting for sure. It was a weird combination of dissonant screamo and hard-as-shit metalcore, with the occasional grindcore and post-rock segue thrown in. I thought they were too weird to enjoy at first, but they really grew on me during their set. Performance was middling, but the music was very neat. Worth seeing.
7Best Power Stances Award


I've got conflicting opinions on Maumelle. First off, the music is awesome—kind of typical midwest emo, with the stereotypical twinkly guitar (albeit very well-done, some really great licks) and excellent songwriting. The vocals seemed really out-of-place though, nothing but full-on screams the whole time; it was a weird juxtaposition that didn't make a lot of sense to me. It didn't bother me enough to not enjoy the hell out of the band, though.
7Best Mullet Award (aka Worst Mullet Award)

Peace Be Still

Even though Peace Be Still had probably the most generic sound of all the bands that played, they were still quite good in their own way. Horrible vocals, but in the satisfying emo way; well-played guitar and drums; above-average bass grooving (probably one of the better parts of their sound). I could have done without the between-song "stories" or whatever. Still, good stuff.
7Most Frequent Unnecessary Tuning Award


These guys had a much more math-rock oriented sound, kind of like an emo Battles, with a similar focus on instrumentals instead of vocals. Lots of 5/8 time and things like that, which was a nice change of pace. The complexity made for a slightly sloppy performance, though, but I guess that is understandable. I did really enjoy how for their last song, they invited everyone up on stage (maybe a dozen of us) to watch. It was a very cool experience, definitely they show's highlight; made everything seem a lot more special. Recommended.
7Best Fingertapping Award

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The End of the Ocean – Pacific·Atlantic

March 1, 2011 • Futurerecordings

You may remember hearing about The End of the Ocean from a concert post I made back in April. While I was there I was impressed enough with them to pick up a couple CDs they had for sale. While I won't say their studio material was as enjoyable as seeing them play live, it's definitely not bad stuff.

I know I wrote them off earlier as "crescendocore" which is often used as a pejorative, but here I think they actually do it pretty well. The style and mood is pretty reminiscent of bands like Explosions in the Sky, but the arrangements and songwriting are both more interesting. There is extended use of distorted guitar (65daysofstatic-style) and keyboards, the latter of which go very diverse with a lot of different voices used for support—strings, ambiance, etc. There are even some electronic elements like the beat in "Southern Skies".

The shorter songs are also interesting for post-rock. The opening and closing tracks both clock over ten minutes, standard stuff, but everything in between has a more urgent and polished feel to them. It's a nice contrast and it's good to see the trend of shifting away from boring buildups in post-rock (mostly) continue. Some tracks do have the problem that they don't really have a change to develop much or go anywhere, though.

It's tough to give a useful opinion on the album since I don't really listen to much post-rock anymore these days, but Pacific·Atlantic is definitely one of the better ones I've heard in a long time. Not ground-breaking or anything, but pleasant for sure.


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Have Mercy – The Earth Pushed Back

May 21, 2013 • Topshelf Records

Topshelf Records has been on fire lately. You Blew It!, Prawn, The World Is a Beautiful Place..., and this album a couple months ago. Top shelf stuff indeed.

Have Mercy takes a slightly (okay, significantly) poppier approach to the post-hardcore / emo stuff that I've been all over lately, and believe it or not that's not at all a bad thing. They crank out lots (and LOTS) of melody, with catchy lines all over the place and hook after hook (I've had "Let's Talk About Your Hair" stuck in my head for days) and some especially-powerful choruses (just check out the end of "Hell", it's fantastic!). It's in no small part thanks to having lots of really great dynamics; the album runs the spectrum from heavy pounding sections to quiet, introspective, almost post-rock parts (not to mention a neat little departure into alt-country for "Living Dead", which works really well).

Surprisingly, the vocalist is the shining star of the album by far—while the instruments are all quite good, he really carries the music to extra heights. His style is quite diverse, from almost-murmurs to emotive and powerful screams; and sure, maybe the lyrics are a bit cheesy (it's emo, after all) but damn if it isn't great to listen to.

Sure, maybe it's not a masterpiece, and some songs are definitely better than others, but this is an album I love all the way through. I can only hope they keep up this staggering momentum; but even if not... damn has it been a good time for emo lately.


Monday, July 1, 2013

No Omega – Shame

April 10, 2013 • Throatruiner Records

No Omega is another piece of evidence as to how metal and punk are slowly assimilating into the same thing—just some heavy, angry music—but they're also making me wonder if that's necessarily a good thing.

Stylistically, it's quite a mixed bag; there are some nice sludgy breakdowns, plenty of faster hardcore/crust sections, and even the occasional blasting bit, but they're all stacked one after the other and don't fit together particularly well into one whole. One one hand, it keeps things from getting too samey, but at the same time it can feel too chaotic sometimes. (Not on a huge scale, but it's there.)

It comes off like an album that doesn't feel entirely sure of itself; the vocals imply music a lot more aggressive than what is actually going on most of the time musically and songs often stop with no discernible ending. None of the riffs in particular stick out, and songwriting is equally unmemorable. It's a weird experience that I don't really care that much for.

Overall, I guess it's definitely a listenable album, and plenty of people will find it good, but it's not one that's going to be making any waves and I personally will probably have forgotten all about it in a month or two. Plenty of other bands are doing this better and I can do without Shame.