26 March 2009

Pelican/Wolves in the Throne Room/Tombs/Early Man/Via Vengeance @ The Sets 3/25/2009

To begin, let me qualify this review by saying this was my first time at The Sets, and I was thoroughly let down. Between the poor planning (to me, when the headliner ends at 12:30, but the show didn't start till about 8:30, and it's a Wednesday night, that's poor planning) and mediocre sound (I know getting good sound out of post metal bands that rely on distortion as a part of their sound is hard, but the mixing was unacceptably muddy at many points during the night), I struggle to say I'd come back to see bands here unless I was really desperate to see them.

Via Vengeance was the first act of the night and, like most post metal bands, the music is fairly simple technically, and it's the atmosphere that really matters. Well, this band didn't have the best atmosphere development, but I don't think you could expect anymore of a lone musician playing guitar and drums...at the exact same time. Via Vengeance is a band comprised of only one member, and he simultaneously plays drums and guitar. Most people struggle for the coordination just involved in drumming! Whatever technical failings this one-man metal band may suffer from are easily overlooked in the entertainment and novelty of that one-man band.

Early Man was next up and thanks to the records I keep, I know I had seen this band previously (the name did sound familiar), but I can't remember exactly where. The thrash metal sound these guys have is fun and definitely got the crowd going, but I felt it was a little bit out of place in an evening dominated by atmosphere-centric bands. I may, however, merely be projecting my antipathy towards thrash onto these guys unfairly. Like I said, the crowd liked it...who am I to judge?

Tombs I had also seen previously...I believe last October in New York. On CD, this band is certainly not bad, but they don't particularly stand out either. The songs have a tendency to run together and the album can be tiresome played start to finish. But where that hurts on album, the band is able to exploit it to their benefit live. From the beginning to the end of the set, there was not a moment of silence, and the net result was a 30 minute post metal influenced soundscape that kept crowd interest and energized the venue.

Wolves in the Throne Room went beyond the typical atmosphere bands tend to strive for, that being an aural atmosphere. They brought in candles and a fog machine, and with the fog machine working overtime, within 5 minutes of the start of their set, the entire venue was clogged in a deep fog penetrated primarily by those candles and the blue LED on one of the guitars. Normally, a physically foggy atmosphere wouldn't really add much, but when you're dealing with black metal, you can't help but begin to visualize yourself in a dark Scandinavian forest with a very occult feel as the music is played. As a band with quite epic songs, they only played three and, alas, my knowledge of their discography is almost non-existent, but the songs were quite enjoyable. Wish they're had a longer set.

Pelican played a set of too many new songs for my taste. The song they mentioned being from their new EP sounded good, so I may have to check that out, but in general I'm a man who takes Australasia or Fire over Echoes any day. As a result, the set list was rather lacking. In addition, the fact that they started at 11:15 and didn't finish until 12:30 didn't help their cause as I got crankier and more tired. They also played a cover of a band named Earth that was completely underwhelming. The riffs and ideas could certainly have been enjoyable, but there was a severe lack of substance for how much those riffs were recycled. I was bored after 3 minutes and then they played the same riffs for another 3. All in all not as good as previous performances, but then that could entirely be an issue of setlist preference...and sound preference (as mentioned, venue sound was quite mediocre).

25 March 2009

Devil at the Wheel - Crud

Despite the name of the band Crud is surprisingly good. Devil at the Wheel is the debut effort of Detriot band Crud. I took one look at the grindhouse like cover of the album and knew it would at least be an interesting listen. Crud describes themselves as, "super-charged fetish rock", it would be hard to argue that position. Devil at the Wheel starts strong with Reality with pounding drums and guitar work and the album doesn't let go from there.

The sound of Crud has a White Zombie like feel to the sound but with far less talk of death and the living dead. The lyrics of Vin E. have a distortied sound most of the album giving it a interesting if not unique sound to it, add the backing vocals of Danielle Arsenault and you have a combonation of strong power, with steamy and sexy. The song titles all have a grindhouse sound to them from Meat Detonation, and Murder is Fun to the title track Devil at the Wheel.

If you truely want an idea of what Devil at the Wheel is like I give you this. I feel it is what a grindhouse film would sound like if it was made into music instead of film. So in the end I'll give Crud a 4.5 out of 5 for their debut album.

Devil at the Wheel is currently availble in and was released by Heavy Hitter INC.
For more information from the Blaze 1260 AM's metal department visit our blog http://arizonametal.wordpress.com/

20 March 2009

Album Review: Youth Group - The Night Is Ours

This it: a haunting, beautiful excursion into anthemic alternative rock. Australian quartet Youth Group holds a modest profile, and this is potential evidence for the absence or nonexistence of God. They are known better in native Australia than in the States, but if Architecture in Helsinki and The Avalanches can both successfully make the leap to North America, then Youth Group deserves similar acclaim. Their blend of emotional catchphrases, alternately sparse and milky arrangements, and sometimes downright (or, rather, upright) masterful song structures triumphs over the CD that holds The Night Is Ours. Every song more or less drips with overflowing emotion, unrestrained. Perhaps it is this fully owned and embraced romanticism that distinguishes Youth Group from some weird Morrissey-cum-Gang-of-Four-cum-Cure Frankenband.

While the casual listener might gag at the sound of horns or strings (notably at the approach of the synthesized varieties), such textures are common to this disc, as are the delicate presses of piano keys; where electric guitars fail to convey doldrums or pluck away your reservations for the music one by one--like a sharpshooter--these sounds amplify the intensity or cake the soundscape in moodiness. It's the musical equivalent of Edgar Allen Poe melted together with Shakespeare (King Lear and The Tempest especially come to mind) à la Henrik Ibsen.

Intellectual delusions of grandeur massaged, I am forced by the necessity of clarity in my articulations to further my review by (sigh) talking about the music. I am struck and stricken by the conflict between minimalism and ornamentation orchestrated throughout the album. In a way, the structure of the CD reflects this. The Night Is Ours begins with "Good Time," a reflection on alienation that starts with nothing but a murmuring synth note, hung in the air like wind chimes. The tone is soon joined by a pensive bass note repeated over and over, followed by Toby Martin's soft baritone vox. As he begins to question his identity, he is joined in time by plodding piano keys and drum hits until he reaches an epiphany--represented both vocally and melodically. Though slow and containing little rock substance, this short tune evokes a kind of symbolic texture I rarely have the pleasure to hear.

From here Youth Group ventures into "One for Another," which recalls the subtle energy of God Is an Astronaut, but with excursions into the kind of bass-guitar interplay that the Futureheads use to great effect and all the lush trappings of the Human League. The ending switches gears entirely, shifting into a horn blowout that almost quotes Broken Social Scene's "Ibi Dreams of Pavement (A Better Day)." "Two Sides" is equally appreciated, as much a salute to self-conscious indie pop rock as to 80's synthpop. "Dying At Your Own Party" is purely channeled Morrissey with a backing band that explores the narrator's underlying emotions even as Martin sings abjectedly. The first half of the disc ends with the full-bodied "All This Will Pass."

Most memorable is "Friedrichstrasse," a single tune that reveals itself to be a microcosm of the rest of the 38-minute effort. A ballad of escape and fulfillment, Martin croons, "I'm never gonna leave/ The possibilities/ I'm blowing through my mind./ Can I leave this behind?/ I'll make it on my own./ I'm never going home." The reason the song is unsuitable for airplay in its original form is its usage of a single curse word. But the song, with its ringing ambience, steadily drawn rising action, and majestic peak, all flesh out the musical soul of Youth Group: bright and dew-eyed, longing for all the grace and innocence of a doe with a weary, forelorn expression. "Friedrichstrasse" more fully probes the idea of layering of instrumentation to achieve climax, with great results. The song progresses confidently, rendering each successive transition transparently and comfortably.

As "In My Dreams" and "What Is a Life?" close out the album with charm and sophistication, I wonder why Youth Group has failed to achieve widespread fame as other, less deserving artists have captured. Unless my musical instincts are vehemently misguided, Youth Group has put out a stunning fourth LP. Good show, lads, good show.

14 March 2009

Haiku Review

Back when I joined COTMA it was jokingly suggested that I do reviews in haiku. So I've taken up that suggestion as a little experiment. Here are the results, song-by-song haiku reviews of some previews and singles. The little stars denote a rating out of 5. Enjoy!

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Zero Single [?]
Metro ****
Pulsating rhythm
Electronic beats pervade
Not a bad single.

Kinch – The Economic Chastisement
The Economic Chastisement ***
Ominous organ
Like a game’s dungeon level
Pretty sounds prevail.

C.V. ***
Apathetic man
Singing over piano
What does this song mean?

Handclap. **
This sounds so happy
It is hipster irony
I just can’t dig it.

Ken Hoyne – Why
Why *
This is awkward man
The album art looks hardcore
Is this a church song?

Still You *
Classic rock strumming
This shit is way too sappy
Someone please stop him.

10 March 2009

The Valley Tonight: Adele & The Script

Tonight at 8 p.m., Welsh soul songstress Adele hits up Tempe's Marquee Theater, and Irish rockers The Script open the UK music celebration.

05 March 2009

Slipknot/Coheed and Cambria/Trivium @ Jobing.com Arena 3/5/2009

To begin with, I missed Trivium because, for one thing, I'd seen them previously and wasn't overly impressed with the show or the music, but even more importantly, I couldn't be bothered to be out in Glendale by 7 pm. Maybe I ought to have tried though. Despite arriving at 7:20, I wasn't inside until about 8, at which point Coheed and Cambria had already started. Getting in was worse than airport security, and worse than Marquee security. I don't understand how this happened given that they had metal detectors.

Coheed and Cambria was about on par with their performance in Gammage last year, and like then, this was also free (for me) so it has been nice to catch them under such conditions several times. Chris Pennie really is a stellar drummer, so it's too bad he wasn't given time to really shine in their short 30-45 minute set. In fact, for awhile I wasn't sure Claudio was going to even shine much when they chose to end on Silent Earth rather than The Final Cut...but he made the various solos behind the head/talking into guitar pickups/etc work into the ending of Silent Earth instead, which was cool. The set list focused mostly on the latest album, which was a changeup from the last show, though understandable given the audience and the fact that it's their heaviest album. However, as I expected when seeing this tour announced, most of the audience was retarded, so when they left the stage, a number of people in the crowd were giving them the middle finger or complaining that they weren't heavy enough. I wanted to vomit a little in my mouth. Normally, at a real metal show, even a band no one likes is shown appreciation if the musicianship is good (as it undeniably is in this band) because real metalheads appreciate talented rock musicians in the same way that good classical or jazz musicians are appreciated...in part because real metalheads like all of the aforementioned genres.

Slipknot was the headliner of this tour, and generally the reason I came all the way out to Glendale, because though I'd never really listened to them (I knew Wait and Bleed from high school), I'd heard good things about the live show. Some people obviously don't get out enough. The music is depressingly pointless. As mentioned in my review of Modest Mouse, one thing I cannot stand is bands who clutter the stage with band members who aren't at all necessary. Normally, I regulate this criticism to bands that double in size from the studio to the stage, but in this case I have to apply it to Slipknot in general. I feel quite certain the band could be cut down from 9 members to four with minimal musical quality loss. They can't disagree, because about 4 of them spent more time running around on stage than playing music. Of course, "playing music" is a rather kind term, since two of them were just banging on drums in that painful way lead singers sometimes do where it sounds a little ill-placed or at best uninteresting. The fact that there are three drummers in Slipknot is appalling not because there's three drummers, but because there's three drummers playing the same beat. So, music quality aside, what about the stage show? Well, it was ok. A couple guys were energetic, a couple of guys were entirely boring (why is the entire stage right still in the band, I found myself wondering). Some of the stage presence was present in the brand new stage props carefully crafted to appear really old and beat up (as opposed to actually old and beat up)m and some of it was in the hilarious masks the band wears. This band is quite obviously metal, because they spend so much time cultivating a rough and hard image through carefully polished and prepared front. Might as well be Good Charlotte, I mean really.

Of course, it is unfair to rail on the band for this without giving due credit to the compliant and conformist audience. I take effort in this review to separate real metalheads from people who attend shows like this. People who attend shows like this have low IQs, are obese, lack confidence, have a lot of pent up aggression, drink heavily, and think they're unique, even in a crowd of people exactly like them, inexplicably. For every 100 of these sorts of people, there is maybe 1 real metalhead, maybe fewer. Real metalheads are intellectual. They like classical and jazz for the same reasons they like metal, and tend to prefer progressive, symphonic, avant garde and/or technical elements. They are usually engineering/science/math people, or music people, scholastically. But most importantly, they like more underground metal, so when you talk to someone who knows what you're talking about when you throw out names like Cynic, Candlemass, and Carcass, you're talking to a real metalhead. These people are not to be confused with the ignorant masses in attendance at these KUPD sponsored shows.

04 March 2009

Skip the intro and listen to the album straight through.

It is best to know bands before they get big because when they do, the fan will not get that “personal show” feeling and end up forking over a little more green to see them at bigger venues. In this economy, such an action is best avoided. Before that happens, I will introduce a band called The Duke Spirit. The Duke Spirit released their sophomore album, “Neptune” last year, which is still delivering the goods. The band is still on tour supporting the album with their single, “Lassoo,” and performing for the audiences of Jay Leno’s and Conan O’Brien’s shows. Then, as one would expect, with that kind of recognition, The Duke Spirit also landed one of their songs, “This Ship Was Built to Last,” in the TV series, “Gossip Girl.”

Band founders Liela Moss, vocals, and Luke Ford, on guitar, met at the Cheltenham Art College in Gloucestershire, England, and then moved to a flat in London to write songs. The Duke Spirit now has four EPs and two full-length albums with “Neptune,” produced by Chris Goss (Queens of the Stone Age). The entire album fits any mood you’re feeling. An album listener can expect to hear the song, “Wooden Heart”, which is a power ballad, then get taken back by grunge-rock. It will be a hard album to get sick of hearing, with Moss’s sexy, raspy voice penetrating your ears through the wall of instrumental sound, landing them a spot for the second year in a row playing at SXSW (South by Southwest Festival).