Monday, May 30, 2011

Red - Innocence & Instinct Album Review

This was originally published on January 29, 2009 at Decoy Music. Re-visiting albums (and their corresponding reviews) brings about many new thoughts about these albums. It is very rare that I hold the same opinion of an album both when I first listen to it and when I give it another spin months or years later. With this album, I have grown beyond it and, despite it being good for what it was at the time, it has not aged well or even been something I've thought about giving another listen. It faded away, demonstrating the lack of longevity that most modern hard rock bands suffer from.

It’s extremely easy to write off modern hard rock bands, often noting how they’re unoriginal, create music just for mass consumption, and don’t possess a modicum of depth. Each and every band that even remotely sounds like Nickelback or Hinder are immediately panned by critics, almost by default, because critics know they can’t possibly praise something that would appeal to the lowest common denominator, otherwise thought of as people who listen to rock radio while in their trucks driving to a local monster truck rally while hanging out with their 13 year old girlfriend. Listening to the radio isn’t bad in and of itself, but if you’re not listening to NPR, satellite radio, or an indie station then you’re not in the know when it comes to understanding good music, at least in the minds of critics. Since this is so ingrained in music critic circles, it’s hard to imagine modern rock bands even care about critical appeal anymore and with good reason—it’s a futile endeavor. Still, every now and again there is a band that defies their pedigree to, at the very least, grow beyond the artificial boundaries placed around them because of the genre of music to which their “sound” belongs. Red, on End of Silence, defied expectations and expanded beyond the nu-metal trappings that should have had their disc getting panned left and right. Breaking out of the realm of mediocrity once is commendable, but can they do it twice? Oddly, the answer is not very clear cut.

With Innocence & Instinct Red sound almost exactly the same as they did two and a half years ago. Any growth between their two major releases is completely negligible. Sticking to their mix of Linkin Park (sans rapping), Trapt, and 12 Stones influenced hard rock and nu-metal combination, every song on this album could easily be placed between any two tracks on End of Silence and not feel the least bit out of place. Once again, the most notable aspect of Red are the vocals of Mike Barnes. His crooning, mid-range tenor is put to good use belting out catchy choruses and flowing verses. What ultimately drags him down, however, is the continued notion that he needs to attempt to yell. Thankfully most of his yelling is minimal and doesn’t overtly affect Red's songs.

Keeping in mind the lack of progression between albums, Red have created a few noteworthy moments on Innocence & Instinct, some bad and some good, often both within the same song. You can feel the band grasping for that magical formula that will put them over the edge and get them even more mass appeal, such as with the track “Shadows”. The chorus is absolutely huge and hook-tastic. It is dying to be played on the radio and be heard, but at the same time Barnes has to kill the post-chorus sections with his underwhelming yells. Or take a look at “Mystery of You”, an obvious nod to Breaking Benjamin, but with an additional layer of melancholy. Some of the guitar licks are a little too similar to Breaking Benjamin for their own good, but again the band has created a killer chorus.

As a whole, Innocence & Instinct is an album that just barely breaks beyond the boundaries of its genre trappings, most notably due to the knack Red have for crafting choruses that are both memorable and relatively cheese-free. However, the undeniable lack of growth hampers the band and makes one wonder if they are capable of maturing beyond the plateau they appear to be stuck on. Still, the album is listenable, above average, inoffensive, and innocuous, so it is hard to trash it, but it is equally as difficult to heap praise upon it.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Fingers Crossed

For the third weekend in a row, it looks like we're going to have to be dealing with rain, clouds, and the potential for even more thunderstorms. I think we've had enough severe weather for the year, if you ask me, especially after the craziness of the tornado damage last weekend. Every year you see the devastation that tornadoes cause throughout the midwest, but most of the time the damage is done to cities and places that I have no connection to. Seeing the damage hit in the city I live, especially when you know exactly where those areas that were hit are, it's quite a different experience altogether. It's easy to say, "That's so sad," about damage to places you have no connection to and then go about your day, but when you see places you know it's hard to just forget about it. It's the same type of emotional response, to a certain degree, that I remember having when the 35W bridge collapsed.

Anyhow, putting that aside for a moment, I'm hopeful that the rain and storms will keep away at least for the afternoon today as we head back to my parents' place to visit and also to my grandparents' farm for a BBQ with the Gebhardt side of the family. I always love visiting the farm, especially when it is either harvest or planting season. The hustle and bustle of the farm work always give me pangs of nostalgia as I remember growing up, working, loving, and hating my time on the family farm. I continually tease my dad that he has to keep working the farm until I'm 60 and then I can take it over in early retirement.  I'm not sure how keen he (or my mom) are on him running the farm into his 80s.

So let's hope for good weather and fun times. And I hope everyone else has an enjoyable long weekend.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Last House on the Left - Among Flies Album Review

In the last 3 years, even though I wasn't blogging I was continuing to do a significant amount of music related writing for Decoy Music. I'll be taking a chance to post those writings here spaced out over the next few months. That way even if I can't come up with some new material, I have some old material to fill the gaps!  This was originally published on January 21, 2009.

How original, a brutal deathcore band name themselves after a controversial horror movie from the 70’s. Someone should tell all deathcore bands that naming your band after a macabre piece of underground pop culture isn't unique. Interestingly, on a tangential note, the 1972 flick Last House on the Left is set to be remade in 2009, this time "preserving the story and depravity of the original script." I’m not really sold on the idea that they’ll be able to release a movie that is centered around rape, fetishism, torture, more rape, forced sex, murder, kidnapping, and even more rape without some editing and sacrifice in story in order to have it released. Who knows, though, since schlock like Hostel and Hostel II were released to decent audience attendance. Now back to the topic at hand.

It’s somewhat fitting that this band is named after a movie so heavily centered on rape because, more than likely, your ears may accuse you of being forcefully violated after having been subjected to Among Flies, partially because the album is a blatant mimicry of the ever-so-trendy deathcore genre clich├ęs and partially because the production ruins almost any of the positives the album possesses. Through and through this is an unfortunate atrocity that somehow Siege of Amida and Ferret Records allowed to be perpetrated upon the world.

If you think that production really isn’t all that important for a deathcore release, Among Flies will be the album to prove that only bad things can happen when production is sacrificed. The entire album feels muddy and dirty, like it was recorded through an old four-track and not given a proper mixing. The drums feel muted and don’t “snap” like they should while the symbols are way too tinny. The guitars sound very imprecise, but it is most likely due to the muddling in the production than consistently sloppy playing. The bass is really hard to hear, and, lastly, the vocals are often low in the mix when growled or about equally matched to the rest of the band when screeching. Seriously, this entire album needs to be re-mixed and given some proper production to make it listenable.

Once you move past the extremely poor production, you’d hope to see some potential or maybe hear a track or two that are diamonds in the rough, but this is as cookie-cutter as it comes. There are melodic, Swedish inspired riffs interspersed with breakdowns. The drums have the pre-requisite number of fills and double-bass work to pound the songs ahead. The vocals alternate between screams and growls. That’s it kids. Each song uses these few elements to create a batch of tracks that are all pretty much interchangeable and, by the 8th or 9th track, pretty boring.

Maybe it’s the tough economy that forced Last House on the Left to cut corners or maybe they wanted to go with an under-produced sound in homage to many of the early death metal releases that they may have listened to for inspiration. Any way you look at it, though, this is an album that you should leave on the shelf. If Last House on the Left want to make an impact, they’ll need to come back on their next album heavier than ever, slicker than ever, more diverse, and have dropped the weak vocals littered throughout this album. It’s a daunting task, but that’s what needs to be done if they really want to stick it out in today’s deathcore world.

Who Was That Guy?

As I republished this blog at this new URL, I reintroduced the entire post history of my blog to the world (when my old host gave up on me, my entire blog disappeared... except from Google's storage servers...). I spent a good chunk of time from June 2002 (almost 9 years ago!) to December of 2008 typing and typing and typing away, making attempts to put my thoughts into a written format that would somehow express who I am.  Looking back, I sometimes wonder who the heck it was that I was.

It's amazing to scan back through old posts from years ago to catch a glimpse of who I was, or at least the me that I wanted portrayed to anyone who somehow stumbled onto my blog. Simply reading things I wrote from years back, I can definitely tell you that people change. I like to think that I've been consistent and not really made any significant shifts in who I am, and I genuinely think that's true, but there are enough little changes that I can see that make me wonder if they don't all add up to a tectonic shift in my underlying identity. 

I can guarantee you I often didn't give a lot of thought to what I was writing back in the heyday of my blog, but part of that was because I just wanted to generate content and provide a record of the events of the day and my associated feelings or thoughts. That lack of filter has led to some very interesting reads as I do actually look back on those recountings since, many times, the memories I currently have will differ a bit and the emotions I have attached to those events are definitely much different than what was hastily typed out shortly after those events.

Assuming I actually continue to keep this blog running again (I did manage to do it for 6+ years last time...), I'm extremely curious to look back on it in 5, 10, 20, or more years' time to see, again, how I have matured (or devolved... we'll see).  The internet, despite its ability to keep alive every embarrassing thing you've ever done, is also a phenomenal source for engaging in nostalgia. I can only imagine what it will be like for people who have spent their entire life interacting online and storing pieces of themselves throughout the internet. I didn't experience the internet until my teenage years and didn't really dive into it fully until I was in college. Now, I wonder how I would ever live without it.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Return?

In the last couple of months I've seen a few people I'm friends with on Facebook either starting or restarting blogs and it got me to thinking about my blog which, as you can see from the previous post, hasn't been touched since 2008. I'm not exactly sure why I gave up on blogging, but part of it was just plain laziness.

Shortly after my last post, my hosting plan expired and I didn't remember what my logon information was with my host and their customer service was unreachable so I essentially lost access to my site when it was hosted at I still own that domain, but also don't remember my logon information with the registrar so haven't done anything with it.

I thought about switching hosts and moving to a new platform, but then Blogger stopped supporting publishing via FTP, which was the method I utilized, so it was another item I'd have to figure out how to work around. It just wasn't looking good for me to continue blogging... and when you combine the hurdles I would have to overcome with a lack of motivation and tons going on in my personal life (new job, got engaged, moved, bought an investment property, got more involved at Decoy...) my blog was essentially dead.

Well... until now. For some reason unknown to me, other than the fact I've seen other people I know blogging again, I'm not sure what's giving me the urge to dive back in. But dive I will... at least until I get sick of it again...