At this point, Providence’s Weak Teeth are three records, but several more years in. They may be more tortoise than hare, but musically there’s no mistaking their pace for a lack of tenacity. Bands from the more abrasive end of punk rock tend to hit their adapt or perish point within the first couple years of basement flailing and camping mattress tours. Weak Teeth have played the slow game, but don’t seem headed out to pasture as weekend warriors any time soon.
Fewer bands all the time straddle that now-quaint line between punk and hardcore, but Weak Teeth are doing it as well as anyone recently. Heavy on Northeastern post-hardcore, still wanders toward more adventurous punk-leaning songwriting. It shares more specific traits with both Orchid and Ampere, thanks only in small part to the spot-on production by Will Killingsworth. The result is a thinking man’s frantic bludgeoning, but with air-tight playing and flourishes which come off avant garde by the standards of any defined hardcore sub-genre.
Weak Teeth never did the record-per-year or four-month tour grind, and seem blessed with both staying power and tenacity as a result. Having saved up in a sense, So You’ve Ruined Your Life is hard hitting, but also surprisingly nimble. They’ve found a loophole somewhere, never sacrificing momentum for variety; weaving together novel moments without an ounce of novelty.
It’s a sad commentary that ‘get some consistent writing done’ has become an ongoing–and largely failed–resolution, stretching back half a decade at this point. Life, lack of ambition and a couple scenery changes are all contributing factors, though general burnout is chief among them. After years and years, covering untold hundreds of record reviews, it became impossible to imagine writing anything worth reading about band X, who sound like bands Y and Z.
Along the way, I finally squashed an old project/site and even worked a bit here and there on Just The Tip. Like the site itself, ‘All 7”s’ was a concept born out of a childish double entendre. But the more I turned it over in my head, the more I actually wanted to dust off my reviewing headphones. I guess if you want a new cart badly enough, you don’t care if you put the horse before it.
Future editions will stick mostly to the theme of 7”s, though any format of EP/single may be included. I’m planning on sticking with mostly new music, but not exclusively. As with the other reviews, I will be accepting submitted material if you’re so inclined.
Who Would Ever Want Something So Broken and Cheap Thrills On A Dead End Street
Early last year, word came out of a new band from James Alex, who fronted Weston; the Clinton-era, Pennsylvania sad-punk under-underground heroes. I didn’t check, but I’m assuming the news went pretty much the opposite of viral. But once each of these two 7”s surfaced a few months apart, people seemed to slowly and steadily take notice. The songs are a mix of aww-shucks power pop, way-post-Springsteen anthem anchored on sneaky hooks that share as much with Soul Asylum as Jawbreaker.
Taken together, the two releases skip right past the easy throwback routine. Really, it’s more a case of something sturdy enough to last, or the same as it ever was. So many years later, most songwriters would feel like they’ve got _something_ to prove. But there’s a focused feel to everything about Beach Slang, with a total lack of self-consciousness in the songs.
It’s bright, with the easy melodicism of a long line of mid-90s malcontents that’s never overly-sunny. Snyder’s vocals are nasally, but still powerful; able to demand attention without repetitive, obvious hooks or any sappy, writhing emoting at _her_. And, as it turns out, even a handful of months later: these eight songs are verifiably un-fuck-with-able.
Hailing from Peterborough, New Hampshire, Death Of Tyrants have always seemed enigmatic (and being from New Hampshire is low on the list of reasons). To start with, these three new songs represent their first recorded output in the better part of a decade. The songs came out of practice sessions before the band’s reunion for Ampere’s 10-year anniversary shows. Despite deep roots in the Northeast post-hardcore scene (the one with a word for shouting right in the outdated genre name), they’re almost fully instrumental. But considering the strong Wake Up and Be LP on Clean Plate a handful of years ago, I doubt they were simply the quiet band at the loud show, either.
Their music has always been sticky and noodly, but not in some “challenging for the sake of it” way. It mixes twisting guitar and bass lines with a forceful, deliberately-messy feel not unlike contemporaries like Sinaloa or an unpretentious basement show version of Don Caballero. Skipping the oft-effective but just as oft-tiresome loud/soft/loud dynamic shifts, they rely on swirling riffs and choppy, unpredictable rhythm section work. It’s tough to tell too much from just over ten minutes of new music. But if Death To Tyrants picked up significant rust from so much time on the shelf, it doesn’t show.
The recently-deceased Calculator hailed from Los Angeles, releasing these two final songs in the form of CALC. Their LP, This Will Come To Pass, was an ambitious, zero-bullshit version of something that’s usually both: the young take on an old sound. Not too unlike their purist-baiting LA peers Touché Amore, but tougher and more varied, recalling Shotmaker or Milemarker just as often.
Side A, “North By Northwest” hangs its hat on a warm, familiar mix of flailing melody akin to El Gran Orgo-era At The Drive-In and Swing Kids’ sturdy, dramatic bounce. On the B-Side “Graduation Day” mixes in a slower, starker feel and new wave maneuvers which never seem forced. A year or two on, Calculator’s final two songs come off like a sharpened version of the LP. It makes the end of the band seemingly premature, and thus probably perfectly-timed.
REKA formed in Moscow almost a decade ago, with most of their output in the form of splits and collaborative projects. _Dvala_ is a one-song, 18-minute single, featuring a lineup including two members from Sweden’s Amalthea–who are doing a youthful and surprisingly engaging take on heavy prog-metal themselves.
All of this international intrigue adds up to a sturdy, faithful (retelling) of Cult Of Luna or pre-_Oceanic_ Isis, mixed with Envy during their quieter moments. Saw-toothed riff metal as a whole began taking on water years ago. But Reka’s single 18-minute track breathes some transcontinental life into it all the same… The production is balanced and lacking the needlessly bass-heavy, overdone qualities of most heavy recordings. The result shows off depth and vulnerability, which sets this apart from most recent stateside attempts in the best way. It lets the songwriting convey something meaningfully cold and dark, without having to hit you in the head with shameless volume or needless “duh-duh-duh-duuuuuhhhh”-ing.
In amongst several 7” releases the last few years (including at least two more recent than this one), these two songs represent the third in their “Island Series.” As tongue-in-cheek as it is dead serious–first with Iceland and Jamaica–they record two songs each in island nations, now checking Scotland off the list.
“Indoor Wind Chimes” is full-on pastoral, especially by SDF standards. A bright, but never sunny guitar riff, resolves slowly, arriving at a confidently melodic refrain of “No reason to feel any way about it…” The vocal delivery is no less terse or abrupt than expected, though paired with a surprisingly light and user-friendly pallet of guitar riffs, it’s familiar and novel all at once. “Cottaging” follows a similar trajectory to side A, starting off slow, fragile and gruff. As I realized the expected mid-song cacophony wouldn’t ever arrive, it ends up something almost akin to “indie rock.” Or, what indie rock would sound like, were it ever played by actual, independent rock bands.
Both songs find a band as resolute and frank as ever, despite using a set of tones which are downright pastel compared to most of what they’ve been packing over the years. If you sucked at geography, you’d comment how this is likely the product of all the sunny island living in Scotland.
Runaway Brother manage to throw a wide net, even while fishing a relatively small pool of melodic underground history. Like a mountain constructed from a stack of similar molehills. Some touchstones hit along the way tend toward things I prefer in doses, if not avoided altogether. But still, the more I listen to Mother, the more I can’t get enough of it, in spite of what seem to be some of its ingredients.
It’s impossible to mention the W-word in 2015 without a string of qualifiers. But however you think of ”The Brief Period We Mention When Discussing Weezer,” Runaway Brother share a seemingly accidental way of spitting out impossibly sticky hooks–often without a ton of repetition. Other pieces tie directly back to the brief Vagrant heyday, with Get Up Kids build-ups and that self-conscious aww-shucks smirk which looks better on Runaway Brother than it did Hot Rod Circuit or The Anniversary.
The vocals nasally and distinct, in a way not unlike some 90s alternative radio bands you haven’t backed since Columbia House catalogs. The lyrics walk a similar line; ”I hate this new form of communication… the only reason we conform is for fornication”. Caustic lines are delivered in an almost-too-sweet way, without feeling melodramatic. The kid is really belting the shit out, in the distinct voice he was born with–a rare best-case-scenario.
Above all else, the songs are indeed catchy. Along with it comes a crucial, genuine tension and sense of apprehension which pervades even the otherwise-cute moments. All of Mother works thanks to this air of never holding back; vocally and in general. The result is an arrival for Runaway Brother in the form of 11 songs much greater than their familiar parts.
As the market in ambient music futures rises and falls, Loscil keeps too busy steadily releasing some of its best specimens to notice. Without detectable gimmicks or cheap melodies, Scott Morgan has found an ideal version of his formula over the course of fifteen or so Loscil releases. Most notably in 2013, as Sketches from New Brighton became one of my favorite records of that year, ambient or otherwise. At their core, his records seem born with an elusive gift of working as either background or foreground music.
Now, with Sea Island, Morgan shows again there’s still plenty of room for graceful, incremental expansion. It finds persistent, rolling anxiety through repetition and careful composition. The result is less soundscape-y and more quickly-evolving than former tourmates Stars Of Lid, while still not at all techno either. Linear piano melodies anchor many of the songs, slowed and stripped of flourishes, as if stretched thin over a huge canvas. It’s probably my duty to mention Morgan’s Vancouver home base as obvious and further proof that Sea Island will make a great addition to your “rainy day” playlist. And it certainly will be. But in this case, it’s also a bar much too low.
All things considered, this uses a similar pallet of sounds and methods to quietly-heavy hitters like Sigur Ros, The Album Leaf, or (more recently) Tycho. Loscil leaves out the barely-obscured hooks–vocal and otherwise–leaving any likely commercial impact off the table in the process. Besides, those YouTube inspirational video-ready hooks tend to age as well as the videos they soundtrack. Like Boards Of Canada before them, or Tim Hecker more recently, Loscil has transcended the original goal–a sound–for the ultimate goal–a catalog.
Heavy music’s labeling of sub-genres is a complicated, always-evolving world; one that’s hilariously arbitrary to all but a small sliver of the population. Red Apollo are a good example, heralding a revival of doom metal, or just as easily holding onto a remnant of the post-Neurosis wave from five or more years ago. As on Marche Funebre, their outstanding debut, Dortmund Germany’s, Red Apollo seem too preoccupied to really care. Whether they’re at the end of one hype wave, or at the crest of the next, they’ve pieced together something notable.
Their songs are generally slow, but without becoming plodding or dull. Call it whatever you will, this style hinges on sturdy riffs, pieced together in a directional way. Altruist has plenty of riffs, none of which are presented in a cute or coy way. Without any detectable winks or nods along the way, they manage to stay within themselves despite deceptively broad songwriting. The production also delivers the songs with stark clarity, cutting a path directly between a muddy wall of repetitive sound and tinny Black Metal squawking. The result is sharp and abrasive, but interesting as well. It keeps it’s claws without automatically boring anyone not already initiated.
Dortmund to Boston is something like 3,500 miles, though I can’t shake the feeling of the cultural exchange throughout Altruist. There’s pretty classic Isis snarl and urgency ala The Red Sea, but also careful melodicism and depth nodding toward Panopticon. More directly, though, it seems more directly tied to Disappearer, another (unjustly-obsolete) Boston-area peer. Rather than having some twinkly lead added in here or there, both bands manage to wind genuine, almost catchy melodies into their heaviest moments. Beyond any sub-genre earmark or geography, that balancing act defines Red Apollo. It’s also the reason I still seek out bands like this; regardless of the hype calendar telling me it “first happened” at least four waves ago.