Wednesday, May 30, 2012

After - Edges of the World Album Review

Grunge is a genre that is seldom touched any more, other than to maybe spice up the current hard rock song template. You have your Three Days Grace or Smile Empty Soul here and there that try to make the best of what they can do with the sound (which isn't much) while still maintaining their ability to attract radio play. You also have Alice in Chains and Jerry Cantrell trying to keep the sound alive single-handedly, but in comparison to the 90's, there's hardly a decent grunge album to listen to any more.

After don't go full-on grunge, but they do utilize the aesthetic quite well to craft their mix of Finger Eleven, Incubus, and Alice in Chains. Unlike other lost genres such as cheesy pop-punk or nu-metal, grunge isn't a bad influence to have attached to your music. After realizes this and make sure to put it at the forefront just often enough to show you that their love for the genre is not something they're ashamed of, but instead something that they're quite proud of.

The three original songs on this EP all feel like a combination of the aforementioned three bands (leaning much heavier on the Finger Eleveninfluence than the other two, though). "Days Ago" starts the EP off with what sounds like an unearthed Alice in Chains riff that leads into a strong, grungy, alternative rock effort. It's a very mature sounding song, and it would be well suited to be played on modern rock radio.

"Bones" and "Edges of the World" aren't as grunge riff filled, but take on a more progressive alternative rock sound with some grunge leanings. It's hard not to hear a lot of very early career Finger Eleven throughout these tracks. My guess is a lot of that has to do with the methodical, midtempo pace that the band utilizes to deftly straddle the line between full on rocker and anthemic alternative power-ballad.

The final track mixes things up with a grunge-ified cover of "Riders on the Storm" from The Doors. This song has been covered to death, but After do it justice and don't butcher it like so many others have before them. I sense a healthy respect as they transform the song into a distorted, riff-iffied new version.

There's a load of promise oozing from this EP. Given that it is quite a feat to find bands willing to play in this space and do it well, you'd be quite remiss in passing over Edges of the World.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Rick's Discoveries Volume XXI

Over the last couple of weeks, I retried a tactic I had previously used to find new, undiscovered music--I randomly picked albums to listen to from my long list of "artists to check out." It actually helped me develop this semi-diverse discoveries article while simultaneously whittled down my list quite a bit. It's amazing how many bands sound good on paper or on one song, but once you listen to more than a track or two they're simply awful. So after deleting plenty of items from my to-listen-to list, here are 10 albums that actually warrant your attention.

I'm really surprised there hasn't been more of a mixing of hip-hop and dubstep. The two genres seem like they'd be ripe to interbreed (and not just in remixing hip-hop tracks). In my search to find a good mix of the two, Victor has stood out as a great example of how to successfully mesh the two together. There's a solid foundation of brostep and dubstep that anchors Omar LinX's raps. Instead of feeling like the two styles are slapped together for novelty's sake, this feels like the two artists actively collaborated to compose a set of dubstep-hop tracks.

Blind Ambitions - Breaking Free

I'm very easily reminded of The Ghost Inside and Bury Your Dead as I listen to Blind Ambitions, which are two solid comparisons in my book. Their straight ahead metalcore approach is augmented by some melodic passages that sound very Misery Signals influenced. The vast majority of this album is focused on energy and aggression, however. The only issue I have with this release is the occasional resorting to beatdown style breakdowns, which I'm not the world's biggest fan of.

Klaypex - Ready to Go

It's getting to the point in the electronic music realm that there are nearly as many, if not more, subgenres than in the metal world. I can easily consider myself a metal subgenre snob, but in the electronic world, not quite as much. With Klaypex, I hear elements of house, dubstep, straight up electro, and other nuanced elements. That can be used to describe a lot of electronic efforts, though, so maybe if I said it sounds a bit like Neroteamed up with Daft Punk to re-do the Tron: Legacy soundtrack with a heavier emphasis on meatier tunes while utilizing the gorgeous vocals ofSara Kay in a few spots. That should sound like a good mix to you if you like dubstep, and it definitely is quite the combo.

Cyclopian - Cyclopian

One of my biggest issues with most atmospheric sludge metal bands nowadays is that they all seem to be focused on making long, long, long, long songs that really don't do much over their runtime besides plod through the same movements over and over and over. Cyclopian do tread down the distinctly long track length path, but there's a sense of progression through each song. I feel like their tracks are actually going somewhere… just very slowly. It might help that they have some post-rock-ish influences here and there, which no doubt contribute to that sense of direction.

7 Horns 7 Eyes - Throes of Absolution

If this band doesn't set the progressive death metal genre on fire, then I give up on it. 7 Horns 7 Eyes manage to do it all on their debut album, showcasing extremely mature songwriting that encompasses all of the tenants of prog-oriented death metal, while intertwining elements of atmosphere, technicality, and math (dare I say djent?) into what they weave together. If you're looking for band comparisons, you might as well toss into a blender the likes of Miseration, Vildhjarta, In Mourning, The Black Dahlia Murder, and Be'lakor and imagine what that would sound like after 60 seconds on the puree cycle. This could easily land in a number of people's year end lists; just you watch.

Johnnyrook - From Remorse We Learn

I honestly thought that these guys would have blown up into the pseudo-mainstream by now. Having been around since 2002 and this being their third full length (along with an EP or two), they've shown they're dedicated to their craft, especially since each release is an extremely solid slab of emo flavored hard rock. On From Remorse We Learn you'll hear flashes of modern Thrice, classic Further Seems Forever, and a bit of a stripped down version of The Juliana Theory. The combination of Johnnyrook's ability to tap into my nostalgia and their just being damn good will keep this album in my rotation for weeks to come.

Adolf Plays the Jazz - Form Follows Function

This band is an odd, collective-style band, never having a set lineup and never worrying about having to fit into a particular mold. Having been in existence since 2002 and putting out 4 albums and 4 EPs, they definitely don't lack history. Their latest shows the band continuing to experiment with post-rock, shoegaze, cinematic influences, and a combination of both short and long compositions. You'll get everything from the sub-3 minute trip-hop number "Dust" to the 12 minute post-rock opus "Oddy." Diversity reigns supreme on this album, which is a fantastic thing.

Kill Devil Hill - Kill Devil Hill

I was turned onto this band since I saw that it involved Rex Brown of Pantera fame. Don't expect anything like Pantera from Kill Devil Hill, though. Instead of heavy-f'ing-metal, Kill Devil Hill play a grunge infused brand of hard rock. The best description I can come up with is saying they sound like a superhero team-up between Skid Row and Alice in Chains. It's not something you'd think would work all that well, but they manage to pull it off with aplomb.

Dumbsaint - Something That You Feel Will Find Its Own Form

This album starts you off thinking you're in for a traditional post-rock album with "Rivers Will Be Crossed," and a competent post-rock album at that. However, by the time you get to the middle of the album you'll have jumped beyond the standard post-rock tropes and experienced a healthy dose of post-metal and Isis worship (sans vocals). In fact, you could swear that the bass lines in songs like "Lying in Sign" were stolen directly from unreleased Isis tracks. Yes, copying another band is usually frowned upon, but there haven't been enough bands copying that Isis sound I so much miss that I'll take whatever I can get, whenever I can get it!

A.I. (d) - Disorder

This album is… all over… and it's awesome because of it. At its core, this is a mathy, djent-styled metal album. However, there are enough outside influences (tech death, dubstep, Animals As Leaders, breakcore, breakdowns, etc.) to make this worn out template new again. There're passages that are perfectly discordant, others that are seamlessly awesome… some moments of menacing electronic-addled ambience… industrialized nightmare fuel… let's just say that my brain wanted to explode from the crazy that is this album.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Rick's Discoveries Volume XX

As I look over the list of albums below, I am pretty sure this is the most mellow list of releases I've put together to this point. I must be losing my edge. Either that or I've been extra moody lately. Or maybe I'm having a harder time picking out solid new listens in the heavier genres? Yeah, it's probably that one. With the vast majority of what I listen to trending into the metal and hardcore realms, it all eventually sounds the same, but when I listen to genres I don't have as much experience with, it's a tad bit easier to be amazed by something. So let's call this my "branching out" phase.

Kaddisfly - Demos & Rarities

I know, I know, it's not really a new Kaddisfly album, but this collection of 7 tracks will remind you exactly why Kaddisfly were at the top of the progressive alternative rock genre while they were in existence. While the songs aren't as expansive or "deep" as Set Sail the Prairie or Buy Our Intention; We'll Buy You a Unicorn, they do capture the airy, smooth approach of some of their more accessible songs. If anything, this collection will remind you to go back and listen to their past albums and love them all over again.

Love Sex Machine - Love Sex Machine

Is there such a thing as bite sized sludge with some doom influences? I suppose it exists and some band has done it, but is it any good? *Listens to Love Sex Machine* Huh, I guess I can confirm it is, in fact, totally good. There's not a lot of good comparisons that roll off the tip of my tongue for this album, but since I listen to a lot of atmospheric sludge metal, it's easier to put it in terms of how Love Sex Machine relates to that genre--it's the complete opposite. This is aggressive, raw, dirty, and unrelentingly heavy. Every song goes for your jugular, with the sole goal of ripping into it and tearing you apart.

Anoice - The Black Rain

In most cases, bands that play around in the ambient post-rock subgenre stick to uplifting moods or to creating unobtrusive soundscapes. Anoice approach this subgenre from a different angle, creating a darker, melancholic, longing atmosphere. You get the sense that the inspiration for this album came from a heart-wrenching place, but the music, despite being melancholic in nature, doesn't tread into depressive territory; there's always an edge of hopefulness around the outsides of many of the songs. It's this melding of disparate feelings that drives this album.

The Best Pessimist - Love Is…

Unlike Anoice, The Best Pessimist do approach the ambient post-rock subgenre quite traditionally, looking to craft airy soundscapes and uplifting movements. It's a great counterpart to Anoice, actually. I found both equally enjoyable, but when in completely different moods. The Best Pessimist likes to go for the long build-up approach when putting together songs, which is a perfect way to construct post-rock songs with lots of ambient, moody passages. The two-part "Above the Fog" really shows the band at the top of their game if you're looking for something to sample.

sAuce - Forge Through Future

This album is all about the thick bass-lines, mid-tempo pacing, and booming sound. It's a great mish-mash of dubstep with some glitch, IDM, and other electronic influences. Unlike a lot of other dubstep, however, this album also created a very unique atmosphere that permeates the album. It feels like a cohesive composition instead of a collection of a bunch of disparate songs. You're not going to throw a bangin' party with this on, but you will have one hell of a chilled-out gathering if you keep this humming in the background.

When Nothing Remains - As All Torn Asunder

This album revolves around some pretty hefty, epic-sized tracks (most notably the two best on the album, the title track at 13 minutes long and "The Sorrow Within" at 12 minutes long) that the band uses to show off their mastery of melding the death doom metal genre with atmospheric and gothic influences. Imagine Swallow the Sun on downers… meeting up with My Dying Bride while they say hi to Paradise Lost. That gathering might start to give you an idea of what to expect with As All Torn Asunder, but you really need to take the entire album in as a whole, soaking up every brooding, dark minute there is.

State Faults - Desolate Peaks

I'll admit it, I've never been a huge Envy fan. I can understand how many would enjoy them, but they never clicked as well with me as they did with many others. But if you took the screamo focused portions of Envy's sound (removing the post-rock leanings) and mixed them with a bit ofPianos Become the Teeth, I think you'd get a good idea of what State Faults brings to the musical table. Their songs are taut, punchy, and aggressive, just the way classic screamo tracks should be.

Skyharbor - Blinding White Noise: Illusion & Chaos

I was extremely sad to see Dan Tompkins depart TesseracT as his vocals were part of the appeal of the band for me. Considering One is what I look at as the pinnacle of djent albums, saying that Skyharbor remind me a lot of them is quite the compliment. Supposedly Dan Tompkins vocal duties on this album were a one-off thing, but I'm hopeful he settles down with the band since this feels very much like the second coming ofTesseracT.

Intandem - Demo EP Vol. I

For a supposed "demo," this 4-track effort feels pretty fully realized, spanning nearly a half an hour and showing a band that seems to have their "sound" pretty well established (it might help that guitarist Kyle McKnight is from Threat Signal). There's a lot of progressive metal leanings throughout the album, but there are also some nice touches of mathy metal, radio friendly nu-metal, and even some keys here and there. I'm most reminded of a proggier version of Sevendust minus the screams. For me, that's a positive comparison.

Edamame - Greenhouse

I've seemed to crave "chill-out" music a little bit more than usual lately and finding new albums that I can connect with isn't always the easiest thing. Fortunately, Edamame provided me with just the right combination of trip-hop, glitch, and instrumental hip-hop influences. There are even some great nature sounds added to the mix that give the album an earthy feel. Some tracks that focus a little too heavy on the glitch elements don't fare as well as the more trip-hop tracks, but it does keep the album from becoming too one-note.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Dessa - Live at the O'Shaughnessy

The O'Shaughnessy, at St. Catherine University in Minnesota, is a stellar theater environment with a balcony area that seems to extend upwards forever, giving most attendees a unique "looking down on the stage" view, as opposed to a standard balcony setting. I note this simply because it's a very different experience seeing a show from such an angle instead of the usual spot I occupy on the ground level of dirty hardcore venues.

Dessa's O'Shaughnessy performance was unique and once-in-a-lifetime type of event for a few reasons. First, this was the largest audience that the Minneapolis area superstar has performed in front of, having sold out the venue. Second, the show was a conceptual piece that fostered collaboration between various local artists to create compositions to be debuted at this show. And, lastly, it presented Dessa in a wonderful spotlight role, allowing her to showcase her down to earth personality and vast range of vocal talents.

The performance took on a three act structure with each act consisting of a duo of artists each performing a new solo piece, then performing a collaborative effort, followed by a performance from Dessa and her live band. The first duo to perform was Jeremy Messersmith and Cecil Otter. Messersmith is a local sensation who played his trademark singer-songwriter style on a tender new track, a duet with just him and his acoustic guitar. Otter, who is a fellow member of the Doomtree Collective with Dessa, followed with a short hip-hop piece leading into a song that Messersmith and Otter put together that showcased Otter's flowing verses and Messersmith's elegantly sung choruses.

Messersmith's and Otter's opening warmed the crowd enough so that when Dessa walked to the center of the stage, decked out in a sexy red dress, the crowd erupted as she made her way through some of the Castor, the Twin reinterpretations of her songs from A Badly Broken Code. Her live band gave the performance a lively and authentic feel that is often unable to be mimicked by pre-recorded beats. The audience was enraptured by Dessa as she proved how powerful of a leading lady she is as she commanded the stage.

The second act consisted of Aby Wolf providing a relatively tame indie-pop start, followed in stark contrast by Crescent Moon's emotionally heavy and aggressively performed solo composition. For their collaboration, they put together a playful number using simplistic beats, a catchy chorus and sly verses. I think it took the crowd by surprise in an unexpectedly great way.

Again, Dessa came back to the stage and weaved her way through her mastery of pop, hip-hop, gospel, and indie stylings, never wavering or shying away. Keeping things light, she also shared some brief banter with her band and kicked off her heels, performing barefoot and loving it. Throughout all three of Dessa's sets, it should be noted that Aby Wolf provided backing harmonies and accentuating vocal contributions that filled out the songs, giving them a flush, full sound.

The last collaborative duo was Black Blondie and Robert Robinson. The former started with an odd, almost Sleepytime Gorilla Museum-esque song that was at times grating, at times beautiful, and at other times just weird. Their performance was the only one that felt out of place. However, the entire audience forgot about Black Blondie the moment that Robert Robinson belted out the first notes of his solo song. His full-bodied, beautiful, gospel-styled voice filled the building with the sound of another age. It was so heart-warming to hear him fill the room with both his voice and his smile. The following collaboration between Robinson and Black Blondie further showcased Robinson's amazing voice while Blondie kept their oddness in check.

The final set from Dessa for the evening had her performing her most diverse set, showcasing a number of her strongest songs. Again, her blending of genres is something that should be propelling her on to expanded future fame. I wouldn't be surprised if she was filling venues this size throughout the US in the coming years. Her vocal range, agile tongue, songwriting chops, and stellar live performances all point to her commanding stages wherever she may venture. If you get the chance to take in one of her performances, don't miss it. You'll likely not find a more engaging show.