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DAILY RECORD: Lightning Round #4

Posted by: Necci – Oct 25, 2012

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That's right, folks, I'm starting this thing back up. I still have a bazillion as-yet-unreviewed promos piled up around the house, and I'll tell you about as many of them as I can possibly write about in a week. The plan is to really stick to a weekly schedule this time, too--guess we'll see if I can actually pull that off. Either way, here we go!

In Alcatraz 1962 - The Drive (Standby Records)

This Northern Virginia band's debut album represents an attempt to make an impression on a very crowded genre. With metalcore having experienced steadily diminishing returns since at least the middle part of the last decade, bands jumping into it right now are setting a much higher challenge for themselves than they would have been if they'd done the same thing a decade earlier. The challenge: distinguish yourselves in the midst of a saturated genre full of soundalikes and lowest common denominator retreads. Fortunately for In Alcatraz 1962, The Drive represents a solid attempt to rise to that challenge. In a week that also sees the release of the latest Converge album, In Alcatraz 1962 can't really hope to have the best new album in the metalcore genre, and honestly, they don't. However, their debut stands out when compared to the average product of the genre, which is more than can be said about most metalcore bands. Avoiding the overt melodic riffs and clean vocal breaks of bands like Miss May I, In Alcatraz 1962 nonetheless are capable of writing songs that grab and keep the listener's attention, primarily because of the success of their chunky guitar attack. "Eloquence" in particular starts out well, with an escalating buildup that eventually launches into a neck-snapping verse riff, which then shifts into a speedier pre-chorus and finally into a slower, more melodic breakdown. Even the most melodic riffs here don't get into catchy pop territory, and considering that they feature vocals that are for the most part deep screams and, for variety, occasionally change to hardcore-style yelling, but never full-on singing, In Alcatraz 1962 maintains a much heavier sound than many of their contemporaries. These guys may still color within the metalcore genre lines a little too much to gain a wider audience in the metal world, but they'll clearly rise to the top of that genre, and considering the size of it at this point, that should be enough to allow them to do quite well for themselves.

In Alcatraz 1962 performs live tomorrow, Friday October 26, as part of the 5th Annual Helloween event at Kingdom, located at 10 Walnut Alley (between 17th and 18th Streets in Shockoe Bottom). Doors open at 4 PM, admission is $10 ($8 with costume).

Police Teeth - Police Teeth (Latest Flame)

This is my first time hearing Seattle's Police Teeth, but despite the self-titled designation that often goes with debut albums, this is apparently their fourth. Opening track "Bellingham Media Blackout" seems like it may represent some artistic expansion, as it sounds both significantly different and significantly less good than the rest of the album. However, fortunately, once you get past that track, things improve quite noticeably. The choppy midtempo rhythm of that first song, which has "attempt at indie hit single" written all over it, gives way to the kind of post-hardcore rock n' roll that was the stock in trade of many groups coming out of Washington DC in the early 90s. The obvious reference point would be Fugazi, but I think it'd be much more accurate to compare Police Teeth's typical sound on this album to that of Circus Lupus. Guitarist James Burns and bassist Chris Rasmussen trade vocal lines on a lot of the songs, and one of them even has a very similar vocal timbre to the insistent harangue of Circus Lupus vocalist Chris Thomson. When they sing together, which happens regularly, the way their contrasting voices combine creates the feeling of snotty kids on a schoolyard delivering a taunting chant in the direction of annoying adults. Police Teeth aren't interested in slowing down and being quiet, and the fact that they follow up the plodding opener with ten songs of powerful uptempo post-hardcore jams proves that indie hit singles aren't really their forte anyway. I say in future they should just stick to what they do well and leave ill-fitting side trips like "Bellingham Media Blackout" off of their albums in favor of more tracks that sound like "The Politics Of Treble" or "Where's My Fucking Hug?" Regardless of that one less-than-bright spot, though, you should still get this album. The other 10 songs are more than worth the price of admission, and after all, there's nothing stopping you from starting it with track 2 every time you play it.

Ken Stringfellow - Danzig In The Moonlight (Spark & Shine)

I'm a big fan of Ken Stringfellow's work in The Posies and the modern, reformed lineup of Big Star, but I've never really checked out any of his solo material before. Danzig In The Moonlight, which is an anamazing and hilarious title, is Stringfellow's fourth full-length solo release, and while the bands he's made his name with are guitar-driven power pop (indeed, Big Star's original 70s lineup basically invented the genre), I kind of expected his solo work to be a bit different. Sure enough, this album has a much more mannered, bedroom-pop feel than any of Stringfellow's other music that I've heard in the past. Unlike my favorite Posies and Big Star albums, which sound like the result of a bunch of guys playing loud rock n' roll in a room together, Danzig In The Moonlight sounds like a reclusive pop genius holed up in his room with a shitload of instruments and a multi-track recorder. But genius is the common denominator here--Stringfellow is just as good at writing quiet, acoustic pop songs as he is at coming up with rip-roaring rock tunes like "Solar Sister" and "Grant Hart." Indeed, no matter how loud his guitar was on the Posies albums that first made me a Ken Stringfellow fan, it was the melodic heart of all of those songs that gave them their most memorable qualities. On this album, he's using far different building blocks to construct equally indelible pop tunes. Upon first listen, I was a little let down not to find the volume and crunch of classic Posies albums like Frosting On The Beater, but once I accepted Danzig In The Moonlight on its own terms, I realized that it was just as high in quality, even if Stringfellow took a different approach to realizing his sound on this album. Many of the songs here, in fact, are driven by keyboards rather than Stringfellow's usual weapon of choice, the guitar, but the man proves quite convincingly that he's just as proficient on a piano, especially on album highlight "Shit Talkers," a passionately sung ballad that accentuates its piano foundation with tasty distorted guitar licks. "Doesn't It Remind You Of Something" is another standout, drifting into outright country territory for a duet with The Head And The Heart's Charity Rose Theilen, who trades pithy barbs between lyrics with Stringfellow in a sweet, good-natured tone. Those who only like Ken Stringfellow when he's stomping on a distortion pedal and letting his guitar roar might want to stick to his full-band efforts, but anyone who recognizes that his true gift is his songwriting talent, and that he can play you good songs regardless of what instruments he's using to make music, is highly encouraged to hunt down a copy of this album.

Glocca Morra - An Obscure Moon Lighting An Obscure World (Kind Of Like Records)

Here's a short but sweet melodic punk EP from a Philadelphia band that bash through six songs in just over 12 minutes, lacing their catchy, upbeat tunes with feedback and less-than-precise vocal hollering. I'm not extremely in the loop where pop punk is concerned these days, but from what I can tell there are two different scenes for the style. Glocca Morra come from the ragged-but-right end of the spectrum, where bands don't sweat getting everything technically down pat. Instead, they blast through their tunes with a real rock n' roll sensibility, making the choruses catchy and the songs short enough not to wear out their welcome. The bands on the other end of things, the technically precise, overproduced bands who take tons of promo pictures with not a hair out of place, are not uniformly terrible or anything. But what they have in common is that they all seem to work so much harder to achieve so much less. Polishing your music until it gleams takes all the human heart out of it, and Glocca Morra have heart in spades (weird card-game pun totally accidental, I promise). If there's anything wrong with this record, it's not the unpolished vocals, imprecise production, or plentiful feedback--indeed, those are all good qualities. The only problem is that this record is too damn short. Solution: play it three times in a row.

By Andrew Necci

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