Thursday, June 30, 2011

5 Reasons Direct Hit!'s Domesplitter Will Be One of the Best Albums of 2011

Direct Hit! is one of my favorite bands that is currently out there making music. They describe themselves as the Ramones meets Andrew WK meets The Thermals- which roughly translates to fun and energetic music that you can listen to and party hard. They've humbly released five EPs over the course of 2007-2010 as well as a couple of splits and they've given away all their music for free (although accepting donations and payment when offered). On August 2nd, they will be releasing their debut album, Domesplitter, and it will more than likely top a bunch of End of the Year lists. Here are 5 reasons why it will do that.

5. By the Fans, For the Fans
Before the band could afford to go into the studio to record, they raised money by selling boxsets of all their EPs on a cassette and with that package came a ballot of the receiver's 10 favorite Direct Hit! songs. They tallied the results and put the top 10 most voted songs on Domesplitter. So the songs that appear on the album were decided on democratically. Patriotism at its finest. 

This is a band free of ego. No annoyingly long song titles, no self righteous rants, no bloated schemes to steal your money (yet). They're straight forward and create music to have a good time. That attitude translates very well into the music. They may just rip off other artists who do it, but at least they rip off from the best. 

3. It's Like a Comic Book, But More Musical!
Okay, so technically Coheed & Cambria already called dibs on the whole marriage of music and comics (I'm sure KISS did it first, but Coheed ties their lyrics directly into the story of a comic). But Direct Hit!'s lyrics are more like pulp comics and B-horror flicks, dealing with monsters ("Monster in the Closet) or space ("In Orbit) or conspiracies to incite mayhem (Kingdom Come) or zombies ("Living Dead" and "They Came for Me") or even Satanism (Satan Says). You know, short stories that are still fun to read even if it's the millionth time. 

2. No More Need for Coffee, Soda or Other Caffeinated Drinks.
Seriously. Have you ever listened to a Direct Hit! song? There's so much energy rushing through them that a 5 Hour Energy Shot needs to take a 5 Hour Energy Shot just to keep up. Technically speaking, since all of the songs on Domesplitter already exist, but the new versions are even beefier. Compare the EP #4 version of "Monster in the Closet" with the Domesplitter version. They both rule, but which one gets you more pumped? I thought so.  

1. Because Fuck You, That's Why.
That may sound harsh, but think about it: If you don't like this band, you're probably not the type of person who likes fun anyway.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Big D and the Kids Table - For the Damned, the Dumb and the Delirious

I started listening to Big D and the Kids Table with their 2004 release, How It Goes. That album was a monster of a disc, with 20 tracks and a run time of an hour and 16 minutes. So naturally, since it was the first album of theirs I listened to, I hold it in a higher regard than the rest of their output. I didn't think 2007's Strictly Rude was awful, but it didn't have that same staying power for me. And when Fluent in Stroll came out, I, like many, was very taken back by the shift in sound. I didn't mind it too much as background noise for sitting out in the summer sun, but I didn't really care to actually absorb it either.

Now it's 2011 and the band is releasing their newest disc, For the Damned, the Dumb and the Delirious, a supposed "return to form" disc- a term that generally misses more than hits. When the first track, "Modern American Gypsy," was debuted online, I was actually kind of surprised. It didn't exactly sound like something that would have fit on How It Goes, but it certainly wasn't anything at all like the "boom goes the dynamite" lyrics that were all over the opening of Fluent in Stroll. The best way to describe it was as if Big D and the Kids Table was taking a bunch of cues from every band on Hellcat or SideOne Dummy that had been influenced by Operation Ivy. It was enough to keep my interest in this album, to say the least. The final product incorporates much more than just that sound however, and probably for the best. While "Modern American Gypsy" was enough to attract me, I would have been turned off if the entire album sounded like that.

For the Damned, the Dumb and the Delirious opens with "Walls," a high energy track that is a great way to start off the album. It's got the classic 3rd wave ska elements and uses them in the best way possible. It's something you'd want to skank to, and Big D is at their best when they write these kinds of songs. The energy keeps on through the next few tracks (the chorus for "Clothes Off" is cringe worthy, but I can imagine it would still be a fun song to hear live) but I think it's during track 6, "My Buddy's Back" where things start to fall apart. Lyrically, it tells a tale of a friend of the narrator who comes back from the War on Terror. This in itself is a fine subject for a song- many people have been affected by the War and seeing a friend again is always nice. That said, the repeated "wicked, wicked, wicked, wicked, wicked, wicked, wicked, wicked long war" refrain doesn't sit well with me.

Musically, the band shows a lot more punk influence than the last few albums. The aforementioned "Modern American Gypsy" has some resemblance to Operation Ivy, while "Best of Them All" could be a Celtic Punk tune if the horns were replaced by a bagpipe (cue more Hellcat/SideOne Dummy comparisons) and "It's Raining Zombies on Wall Street" is a little more straight forward punk (minus the obligatory ska moment in the middle). "Rotten" and "Set Me Straight" recall the frantic ska-punk moments of How It Goes (in the vein of "You're Lost, You're Crazy" and "You're Me Now").

There are times on the album when Dave McWane sings in a lower, almost mumbling, register which immediately brings Tim Armstrong to mind, showing more of that Operation Ivy/Rancid influence (an influence McWane has been very open about). I just thought that should be noted.

All-in-all, For the Damned, the Dumb and the Delirious is not a full on "return-to-form" album, but it's still a solid output. It may take some time to grow for some people and others are still likely to hate it, although I urge anyone turned off by Fluent in Stroll to give it a shot... you may find yourself surprised.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Farewell Continental - ¡Hey, Hey Pioneers!

Okay, let's just set this straight: Farewell Continental is probably going to be best known for the fact that Justin Pierre of Motion City Soundtrack is in the band and handles vocal and guitar duties. The band used aliases to disguise their real identities (cleverly using nothing but names from Harrison Ford films) but the cat is out of the bag, so we can move on from that.

What does Farewell Continental sound like? I hate to draw comparisons to Motion City Soundtrack, but it's going to happen. And they do sound somewhat similar, although Farewell Continental relies more heavily on the noisy production values that many early 90's indie bands used (whether intentional or not). It's not noisy like a Radiohead or Sigur Ros album, nor it is noisy like a teenage metalcore band. It's more in line with the fuzzy guitar tones of Dinosaur Jr. or something (I'm not an expert on this genre, so examples will be sparse). I've seen people describe the album's sounds as quirky and weird. I don't think it's any more weird than anything else Justin Pierre has done. Also there are duel male/female vocals present.

Obviously MCS fans will come for the Pierre-fronted songs, although keyboardist/vocalis Kari Gray has power to capture new fans too (such as myself). She sometimes sounds like she's straining to hit some notes, but they're also copying the best parts of a genre that was done by people who weren't necessarily great singers so she's in good company. Pierre and Gray are at their best when they trade back and forth, such as in "Capybara" where they seem to be having a call-and-response party, or in "Dagger, Dagger: Terror Terror" when Pierre takes the verses and Gray handles the chorus or even the flipping of positions in "Mad Operator."

Just to recap, Farewell Continental sounds like Motion City Soundtrack, if Motion City Soundtrack took more from Pavement or Dinosaur Jr than from Weezer and also had a female vocalist. Lyrically the songs are just as solid as anything else Pierre has done and the album is a whole lot of fun to listen to- even if it's not entirely original. The band even takes a jab at themselves for blatantly ripping off their favorite bands during the bridge of "Radio Radio: Are You Getting This?" so it at least shows that they're aware of what they are doing.

The album does begin drag on toward the end with only a few standout tracks during the ending half. I know that people will disagree with me, but I think this album probably could have worked better as a 10 track album. It's not a bad album at all and it definitely ranks higher than even some works by Motion City Soundtrack (particularly 2007's Even If It Kills Me). This band definitely has what it takes to become even bigger and better by album number 2, and I eagerly await it.

Fucked Up - David Comes to Life

What is there to say about Fucked Up that hasn't already been said before? They used to play hardcore. They've been all over MTV2 Canada. They like to get a rise out of people. They had a minor feud with Billy Talent. In print they have to go by F'ed Up due to their name. They're one of the only punk acts Pitchfork praises. Their songs equal progressive rock in terms of proficiency and length. Some people love Fucked Up, others can't stand them.

I'm going to be 100% honest here: I am only a casual fan of Fucked Up. For every Fucked Up song that I enjoy, there's at least two or three that I don't really care for. It's not that I hate any of their songs, just not every song calls to me. At least that's how it was before David Comes to Life. This album probably brings that ratio up a bit, so now it's more like an even 1:1.

With that in mind, I do really enjoy the ideas that Fucked Up bring to music even if I don't think all of them are successful. David Comes to Life is a rock opera about a guy (David) who works at a light bulb factory who meets a girl (Veronica) and they fall in love and plot to blow up stuff and things go all wacky... or something. At times it even seems to take a "Good Apollo I'm Burning Star IV, Vol 1."-esque twist in that the characters interact with the person narrating the story. I'm not actually sure what the story is outside of David and Veronica meeting and falling in love. So in terms of having a difficult to understand story, David Comes to Life isn't much different from other rock operas.

The sound is where this album really shines. Musically, the album plays almost like a classic rock album. Monumental drumming, neat guitar solos, power chords that ring out, epic background harmonies, this album has a lot of the same elements that I heard growing up thanks to my dad. "Remember My Name" would be right at home on an album by The Who at the peak of their career, while the acoustic guitar intro to "A Slanted Tone" reminds me of Led Zeppelin at their folkiest.  At this point, I don't think anyone really considers Fucked Up to be a hardcore band anymore. Calling them progressive rock doesn't really fit the bill either. Is is arena rock they're playing? I don't know. No matter what genre the band adopts, they will always have a hardcore singer. Which is great though: it allows the band to be creative and explore new styles without having to give up their identity because they can always be easily identified by Damien Abraham's trademark growl. While he has expanded his range too, he still screams with the same intensity that any singer has when playing in a basement with a broken microphone. The album has expanded to feature female vocals to represent the female characters in some tracks ("Queen of Hearts" and "One More Night" for example) and they work very nicely with Abraham's screams, while also reminding the listener that there is a story being told within the songs.

The album does run on for a little too long for my tastes. I'm a guy who enjoys a 35 minute play time, so when I listen to something that runs on for an hour and 17 minutes, it's a little intimidating. I have enjoyed most of the tracks individually (I've definitely devoted more time to the first half more than the second), but when it comes to a rock opera I think it's important on how all the songs work together as a cohesive unit. In that respect, I think Fucked Up did a wonderful job. Even the final track "Lights Go Up" ends with the same sounds that track one "Let Her Rest" begin with, signifying a cyclical nature of things.

So what's the final verdict? I don't see it being my Album of the Year pick, but I like it. My favorite Fucked Up album so far, in spite of its run time and hard-to-understand story.

Recommended Tracks:
Queen of Hearts
The Other Shoe
Running on Nothing
Remember My Name
Serve Me Right
Life in Paper

Album Review: Junior Battles - Idle Ages

In an attempt to pretend that I still care about blogging, I've decided to attempt album reviews (again... I did the same thing about 5 months ago and it failed miserably).

Junior Battles is a pop punk band hailing from Canada. They have two singers (because it's a big thing to do in punk rock) and one of their singers sounds a lot like Patrick Stump from Fall Out Boy. They're also really good at what they do.

The band's debut album, Idle Ages, came out today (June 28) on Paper + Plastick (a label that, despite being notorious for delayed shipping, is associated with a lot of my favorite artists). It isn't anything ground breaking, but it's still a lot of fun. Harmonized vocals, catchy choruses... it's all there. Lyrically the band often touches upon being young and playing shows, but considering how young the band is (based on the lyrics to "Twenty Five" it can be assumed that most members have yet to reach that age), it means that they're at least singing about stuff they know. "Nostalgic at 23" calls people out on not wanting to let go of memories that aren't even old enough to drink, while the penultimate track "Passing Out" goes into exploring long-distance relationship territory and the dangers that come along with it. There is also a general theme of being disillusioned with becoming an adult- a feeling that I share on a day-to-day basis as I'm turning 23 in a month and my life hasn't really come together like my childhood led me to believe it would.

Musically the album is what you would expect of a pop punk band in the post-American Idiot boom. A couple of chords wrapped around peppy lead lines, palm muting, gang vocals, consistent rhythm section. Even the occasional, if not required, slow moments. I'm not knocking it- it works great for these guys. Anyone who is a fan of their previous EP output will dig this, too.

My only complaint about the album? The aforementioned "Passing Out" is the exact same recording of the song that they used for their split with O Pioneers!!!. Not a major fault with the album and considering not everyone has a copy of that split, it's good that people will finally be able to hear this wonderful track. At the same time, however, I wish that they had at least recorded a new version of it (something that bands are prone to doing). Again, not a major fault, it's just the only problem I had with the album.

Since it's only been out for half a day, I haven't really given it as many listens as I hoped to. That said and given my love for (almost) all things pop punk, I'm certain that this album will make my End of the Year list.  Oh yeah, and Damien Abraham (aka Pink Eyes) of Fucked Up makes a guest appearance on "Ever Get the Feeling You've Been Cheated?" which is also worth mentioning (do kids these days still understand the Sex Pistols reference there?).

I don't want to do numerical or star ratings or anything, so let's just say I highly recommend it.

Recommended Tracks:
Nostalgic at 23
Send the Pilots Away
Living in the Future of Feelings/No Plan
Passing Out