Thursday, May 29, 2014

Plague Vendor - 'Free to Eat'

Despite considering myself one of those people who doesn't really like the direction that Epitaph has been going in the last decade or so, I actually like a lot of their current roster. The Menzingers, Off With Their Heads, Alkaline Trio, Bad Religion, The Lawrence Arms, Social Distortion, Motion City Soundtrack, and even Weezer to an extent. And now I can add Plague Vendor to that list. 

I don't even really know how I ended up at Epitaph's webstore, but somehow I found myself browsing their site and I saw the Plague Vendor LP/shirt bundle and it made me angry. Leaving vowels out of a band name as a trend already kind of annoys me, but it annoys me even more when a band regularly spells their name with vowels intact but leaves out the vowels on their merch. Plague Vendor's shirt did just that. Yet it still compelled me to check them out. 

I'm glad I did.

Remember in the early 2000's when all those garage rock bands like The Strokes, and The White Stripes were gaining prominence? Plague Vendor sounds kind of like that, if there was a more surf/garage feel to the music. I guess in a way, they're more like The Hives than the Strokes or White Stripes, if The Hives had more of an American proto-punk swagger. Free to Eat, the band's debut album, has ten tracks and only runs for about 18 minutes. There are surfy guitars, a thumping bass and pounding drums, but the real star of the album is probably the howling vocals of front-man Brandon Blaine. Even on a studio recording, he carries an intense energy that comes off like it's a live performance. Too bad the only time the band is coming near me soon is on the Warped Tour. I'm sure it'll be great exposure for the band, but I'll wait until they do their own tour to catch them. 

You can stream the whole album via YouTube below, or buy it through Amazon here.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Antarctigo Vespucci - 'Soulmate Stuff'

My initial reaction to Antarctigo Vespucci was "Holy crap. This is exactly the collaboration between artists that I never knew I needed." Given that Antarctigo Vespucci is made up of dear friends / punk celebrities Chris Farren and Jeff Rosenstock, I'm sure plenty of people had that exact same thought.

Soulmate Stuff, the debut mini-LP (or is it just an EP? I can never tell), bridges the gap between the indie melodies of Fake Problems' Real Ghosts Caught on Tape and the summery fuzz of Bomb the Music Industry!'s Vacation. Not that the gap between those two albums was really that large, and if you think that there's a whole lot of difference between those records you really should listen to Soulmate Stuff and hear how wrong you are for yourself.

"100 Years" is a nice, slow opener. Given that it's just an acoustic guitar and Farren, it could easily be mistaken for a new Fake Problems song (or at least a demo). "Sometimes" has more of a kick to it, and it also has that "Fake Problems" feel to it- not a complaint at all, seeing as how it's been far too long since Fakey P has put out a new album, but upon first listen it was kind of confusing as to why this wasn't just marketed as a new Fake Problems album produced by Rosenstock. Maybe that's how it originally came to be. Or maybe I'm just dumb. It's still an amazing song though.

The sequence of "I'm Giving Up on U2", "Guest List Spots", and "Don't Die in Yr Hometown" make up the real meat of Soulmate Stuff. "I'm Giving Up on U2" is huge, turning the fun to 11, and demands to be shouted loudly from a car with the windows down. Or at least I imagine that would be the ideal way to listen to the song... I don't drive. "Guest List Spots" finds the perfect balance of a Fake Problems chord progression and a Bomb the Music Industry! vocal melody and even tosses Laura Stevenson on backing vocals for good measure. It's also notable for being the only song here that really features Jeff singing lead (for half a verse). Meanwhile, "Don't Die in Yr Hometown" could have easily fit on Vacation. In fact, if it wasn't for Farren's vocals, I'd say that it was pulled directly from that album.

The momentum built up during those three songs takes a brief break during "100 Years 2: 200 Years", a variation of the opening track as the title suggests, before coming back for one final banger. Soulmate Stuff ends on the high note that is "Bang!", featuring guest guitars from former Fake Problems guitarist Casey Lee, and a chorus so big that lives up to its title.

If there are any downsides to Soulmate Stuff, it would be that these seven songs barely fill up 20 minutes. It doesn't seem like Farren and Rosenstock's friendship is going to end any time soon, so I'm sure that there will be more material by Antarctigo Vespucci in the future, but for now it just feels like there's not enough. Even if it was just like three or four more songs. I'm greedy.

In summation: This album rules and it arrived just in time for the changing of the seasons. Stop wasting your time and just download it already.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Top 5 Side One, Track Ones

Keeping it simple tonight, mostly due to my creativity being dead thanks to some massive writer's block. But also because it's been way too long since I've watched High Fidelity and this kind of thing has been on my mind lately.

Here are five of my favorite opening tracks.

05. The Dopamines - "You'd Make a Good Horsecop" - Expext the Worst
The only thing keeping me from ranking this song higher is because I love the entire album just as much as this one song.

04. Daytrader - "Kill My Compass" - Last Days of Rome EP
Whenever I hear this song, I want to start shouting along even though I can't sing very well (and I especially can't sing like Tym). Out of all the songs I've ever set as an alarm, this is the only one that I've used for longer than a month.

03. Against Me! - "T.S.R." - As the Eternal Cowboy
"T.S.R." lays down the groundwork for what Against Me! had become in the short period in between Reinventing Axl Rose and As the Eternal Cowboy, both lyrically and musically. It's also fun as hell at their shows to go crazy when the song explodes.

02. Off With Their Heads - "I Am You" - From the Bottom
"I Am You" kind of encapsulates everything I love about Off With Their Heads' ability to write songs about being miserable while also wanting a catchy chorus to sing. A wonderful introduction to what the band is all about.

01. Rise Against - "State of the Union" - Siren Song of the Counter Culture
I spent the first half of my senior year of high school listening to almost nothing but Siren Song of the Counter-Culture, and every morning as I started my half hour commute on the train this was the song that would wake me up and help me get through the day. Even now I can listen to this song and it'll put me right back into my 17 year old mindset.

XX. The Offspring - "Disclaimer"
This isn't really a song, but it is a hilarious way to begin an album.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Ataris - So Long, Astoria 10th Anniversary Tour at Irving Plaza, NYC (March 30, 2014)

Despite being billed as a '10 year anniversary' tour, The Ataris So Long, Astoria 10th Anniversary tour actually marks eleven years since the album's release. To make up for that, Kris Roe was able to recruit former members guitarist John Collura, bassist Mike Davenport, and drummer Chris Knapp (aka, the band's lineup when the album was recorded) to join him in celebrating So Long, Astoria on the road. On March 30 the band stopped at Irving Plaza in NYC for the final night of the tour with Authority Zero, Drag the River, Gasoline Heart, and Donald Spence providing opening support.

Donald Spence is probably best known as the vocalist of Versus the World (the current project of Mike Davenport) opened things up with a solo set. I wish I could tell you how lovely his soulful singing voice was, but I missed out on his performance (thanks, MTA). Luckily for me, Spence made several other appearances throughout the night. I happened to enter the venue not too long after Brooklyn's Gasoline Heart had started. The punk 'n' roll (that's the commonly accepted term, right?) act had a nice energy throughout the half hour that I caught, with a Replacement-influence swagger and presence not unlike similar minded bands like AM Taxi and Architects.

Alt-country act Drag the River came out next and set a very different tone. Composed of Jon Snodgrass and Chad Price (aka, the only two constant members of the band), the duo had a very different energy from that of Gasoline Heart. Authority Zero's rhythm section backed the twosome up during their set to give a more "full" feeling, while still keeping their laid-back vibes. A majority of the crowd didn't seem too impressed, with lots of chatter filling the room during the songs, but not enough to distract from the performance once you got close enough to the stage. To balance out Drag the River's mellow set, Authority Zero came out swinging hard. Without much of a warning, the band immediately launched into a very heavy set list, favoring short and fast songs with plenty of opportunities for the crowd to sing "woah".

By the time Authority Zero finished up, it was already 10:20, and the stage looked nowhere near ready for The Ataris to come out. Generally this wouldn't be a problem, but it's not a particularly ideal situation to be in on a Sunday night when you work a 9-5 Monday to Friday job, as was the case for most in attendance. But all that restlessness meant nothing once the houselights went down at 10:45 and the Ataris transported an entire room full of people back to 2003. It may have been years since this lineup of the band has played together, but they played as if they had never dissolved.

As with most full album shows, the setlist stuck to the order of the songs on So Long, Astoria, only slightly deviating by switching "All You Can Ever Learn Is What You Already Know" and "The Boys of Summer". Roe, Davenport, and even Donald Spence (who was playing third guitar on stage with the band) would occasionally make remarks or tell anecdotes in between songs to the audience- such as how "My Reply" was intended to be the album's second single until out of nowhere radio stations started playing "The Boys of Summer", kind of forcing the band to just go with it- but for the most part the night was dedicated to the songs of So Long, Astoria and nothing more.

By the time the band finished their set, it was 11:35, which didn't leave the band much time to let the audience build up much of a chant for the encore. Roe returned to the stage within a matter of minutes, said he'd play a couple of old songs, and launched into a solo, electric performance of fan-favorite "San Dimas High School Football Rules". Roe then introduced current Ataris bassist Bryan Nelson to the stage, followed by former drummer Rob Felicetti, and the trio launched into a faithful cover of the Misfits' "Skulls". Roe and Felicetti joked about being on TMZ together (in case you forgot, they had a bit of a public feud not too long ago) and it looked as if they've made amends since the last time they shared the stage together.

Once the So Long, Astoria line up regrouped on stage, John Collura had some parting words for the crowd: "We ARE The Ataris". Whether he meant that perhaps there was a future with this lineup or that he was just caught up in the moment of the tour wasn't clear (although the latter was more likely), it was a great sentiment to end the night on, and the band finished with "I Won't Spend Another Night Alone", a fitting closer considering a re-recorded version appeared as a hidden track on So Long, Astoria.

Aside from ending way too late for a Sunday night show, the final night of the So Long, Astoria 10th Anniversary tour was a very satisfying experience for everyone in attendance. The album may be over a decade old at this point, but seeing the band play these old songs still made them seem fresh. No one knows for sure when The Graveyard of the Atlantic will be released, but at least The Ataris will always have the legacy of So Long, Astoria.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

I've gotten lazy.

I've been in a funk lately and I think a lot of it has to do with not writing about music as much as I once did. I've gotten so wrapped up in working and writing for DyingScene that I've just ignored this blog for almost a year.

I'm going to change that. I think writing album reviews on my own terms could be good for me.

Stay tuned for at least one update a week for now.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Journey into the Cloud

So a few weeks back, my computer just stopped working one night. I can't really explain how it happened- it was beginning to move really slowly, so I decided to restart it before I ran out to grab a quick dinner at McDonald's. When I came back home, I was greeting by a computer that was simply turned off. I thought that maybe I had accidentally hit "shut down" instead of "restart", so I pressed the power button and sat down to enjoy my incredibly greasy meal. To my surprise, the computer did not respond to the power being turned on. That's when I thought that maybe I just hadn't pushed the button hard enough, so I tried again. Still nothing. This was when I started to get concerned. I tried a different power source, as well as trying a different plug to see if anything would work but to no avail.

I hopped on to the family desktop to see if I could look up any possible solutions to my problem. Not being a very technical person outside of knowing out to hook up a multitude of USB ports and cleaning dust out of the fan, I didn't understand a single thing that I read. I went back to my room, tried it once more, and decided that I would just have to deal with the fact that my computer was not going to turn on anymore. From my understanding of what I had read it was possible to recover the stuff on my hard drive... I would just need the assistance of someone smarter than me. But I kept calm because most of my files (college papers I was proud of, album reviews, photos, etc) were either backed up online or on my external hard drive, and all of my music was still on my iPod. The computer was four years old and I had been looking for a replacement anyhow- so I thought that in the long run this could be a blessing in disguise.

So I went on with my life- I bought an iPod dock, busted out my old DVD player to watch things (rewatching the first season of The Simpsons reminded me of how much I love that show) while I browsed on my tiny little netbook that would freeze up if I had more than two tabs open. Things seemed like they would be looking up.

Then tragedy struck two days later. I got home from work, and threw my hoodie onto the floor because that's the sort of thing I do sometimes. A few hours later I went to work out, and I looked for my iPod so I could blast something heavy to get me pumped. That's when I discovered that my iPod, which was in my hoodie pocket, was not working. Over the last five years I've dropped my iPod on the concrete and the damage was minimal except for a few scratches, but when I toss it on the carpeted floor while blanketed in a cotton hoodie, that's when the serious damage occurs. Awesome.

Needless to say, I was devastated. I've spent the last few years building up a nice collection of music ranging from stuff I would listen to consistently, to rare b-sides that were fun to show off to other collectors, to bootlegs of shows that I had attended (or wish I had attended). I could deal with all that stuff not being backed up on my external because I had it on my iPod, but now my iPod was broken and all that stuff was gone (unless, you know, I figure out how to recover stuff from my computer's hard drive without breaking anything). I didn't know what else to do, so I just laid down and tried not to touch anything else so that I wouldn't break it. Luckily I still had a decent amount of music saved on my phone (all the stuff that I listened to on a regular basis, and maybe one or two things that I needed to review for DyingScene), and my girlfriend was nice enough to lend me her iPod. Hope was not all lost.

Flashforward to last weekend. I spent a good deal considering my options for a new computer and I finally decided that I would go with a Chromebook. I had considered it before when my desktop was still alive, but I wasn't sure if I wanted to make the jump into cloud computing when I still had 70-80GB of music. However, with my iPod no longer working I had nothing tying me down to something with a lot of storage space. I decided that it would be a fun experiment to try out a paid Spotify account and see if it would ever be necessary for me to go back to needing another 160GB iPod. Then I remembered Google Play Music- the app on my phone has been telling me to sign up for the last few weeks before June 30 and now that I'm using a Google-powered computer it only makes sense to go with their services.

I still haven't signed up because I want to sign up as close to June 30th as I can so that I can get the $8 a month deal that they're offering, but also be able to milk my free 30-day trial for as long as I can. I'll probably sign up tomorrow though, because I've got the next few days off and I've been hankering to listen to some Fucked Up and Lucero (two artists that, sadly, did not get saved on my phone when everything of mine died). I'm going to document my experiences jumping directly into streaming based services after spending so much time avoiding them. Right now I'm feeling slightly optimistic. I can't wait to see how I feel at the end of the month!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Ian Rubbish and the Bizarros - The Best of Ian Rubbish EP

Ian Rubbish is a fictional British punk rocker portrayed by Fred Armisen. Created for a single, pre-recorded sketch for an episode of Saturday Night Live, the character takes a lot of influence from other British punk frontmen, notably Johnny Rotten and Joe Strummer. The skit was filmed in a faux-documentary style, exploring the "history of punk" and the Ian Rubbish segment specifically focused on Rubbish's fondness and adoration for the late Margaret Thatcher. Throughout the five minute sketch, there are clips of the fictional band playing some of their most "well known" songs, including the very Pistols-esque "C*nt in a Crown" (an obvious nod to "God Save the Queen"). And that's where this EP comes into play.

Featuring four cuts from the History of Punk sketch (the aforementioned "C*nt in a Crown" was cut from the final track list), The Best of Ian Rubbish consists of full versions of Armisen's take on the '77 Punk style. Tracks like "Hey Policeman!" and "Living in the Gutter" recall The Sex Pistols and The Clash almost perfectly. In fact, if you played them for someone who wasn't familiar with punk rock at all, you could probably convince them that Ian Rubbish and the Bizarros was a real band.

It's the other two tracks on The Best of Ian Rubbish where the humorous parts of the sketch come through in the music. Structurally speaking, "Maggie Thatcher" is still perfectly executed homage to the first wave of British punk rock, although the lyrical approach consist of praise for the former Prime Minister- something that was completely unheard of in the punk scene. The EP's final track, "Sweet Iron Lady", breaks the flow of the '77 punk feel by being a slow, but still electric, ballad. The lyrics point out some of Thatcher's controversial decisions, while still humorously praising her.

The Best of Ian Rubbish is a fantastic, albeit quite short, listen. Armisen really captured the feel of that early punk sound while also churning out some chuckle worthy songs (I'm sure if I had been alive to actually know a thing or two about Thatcher, instead of just reading about her on the Internet, I would have found it to be funnier). It's definitely still worth checking out, and it can be downloaded for free right here.

And in case you missed the History of Punk sketch that this evolved from, here it is:

Word is that Armisen performed as Rubbish opening for Vampire Weekend recently. Perhaps he's considering making a movie based on the character? (A movie in the vein of This Is Spinal Tap about a punk band would be very welcome).