Category Archives: Reviews

Ceremony – Rohnert Park [Review]

PURCHASE | LISTEN

The first time I put on Ceremony’s new record, Rohnert Park, I knew I’d heard it somewhere before. The promotional material told me I was supposed to be reminded of protopunk and 80s hardcore. RIYL Fucked Up, Black Flag, and the Stooges. Maybe. But that didn’t sound quite right.

Then it clicked. On Rohnert Park, Ceremony reminds me of Flipper, the San Francisco punk band that didn’t tune, played terribly and slowly, and featured irritatingly repetitive vocals. Flipper hopped on hardcore bills just to mess with the scene’s expectations. And they were awesome for it. Ceremony takes a similar approach, and this record is already dividing hardcore kids.

Rohnert Park begins with “Into the Wayside Part I” (of III) and leads directly into the first true song of the record, “Sick.” On “Sick,” vocalist Ross Farrar lists a whole bunch of stuff he’s sick of, including 20 year old bands like Cro-Mags and Black Flag (presumably because they rhyme), politics domestic and international (realism?), and even–you guessed it–sick of being sick.

“M.C.D.F.” swings awkwardly, and “Moving Principle” rails against the modern world (hate that thing). The next track, “The Doldrums (Friendly City),” is a slogging three minutes of piercing single note melodies and jangling guitars, torpedoing the momentum of the first few tracks. Later in the record, Ceremony offers the No Trend -esque “Into the Wayside II,” which forgoes lyrics in favor of a story about saving some old guy (I think), and includes an ill-advised guitar solo.

The album continues with four indistinguishable minute-and-change songs, and then, inexplicably, it gets great.

Continue reading

Field Mouse – You Are Here [Review]

Sometimes a voice makes a record.

You Are Here, the debut album from (south) Brooklyn-based Field Mouse, is just that sort of record. A lush blend of shoegaze and 90s indie rock, You Are Here is steeped in hazy harmonies, delayed guitars, and emotive strings. But the crowning achievement of the record is the voice of Rachel Browne, whose soft, pristine vocals provide a consistently impressive narration through a stylistically diverse set of songs.

“Good at Me” opens the record, and features tight drumming and memorable (read: this will get stuck in your head) guitar riffs that recall mid-era Built to Spill. Tracks like “Anomie” and “Touché” show off the band’s shoegaze acumen, and include a few of my favorite moments on the album. And on “Tracing the Map,” the band picks up the pace with a cross-country adventure, where “time taps out slowly” as the song rockets forward.

<a href="http://fieldmouse.bandcamp.com/track/good-at-me">Good at Me by Field Mouse</a>

Of all the songs on You Are Here, two stand out in particular. “Dirt vs. Grass” is a perfect summertime song. A simple, swinging jam including infectious handclaps and harmonies, the track is a welcome return to the best of carefree, 90s radio. The other highlight of the record is found in “End to End,” a heart-slaying, broken-down lullaby. The Disarm-esque chorus and the syncopated vocal line get me every time, and it has quickly become my favorite song on the record.

While the album is a fantastic listen, it is not without imperfections. Tracks, including the opener, could have been better served with a warmer bass, which is at times a bit too treble-y. “Tracing the Map” lacks a heavy guitar to match the locomotive drums and strong vocal delivery. And while the production is generally immaculate, sometimes I found myself longing for a more organic tone, without the effected guitars and vocals that make up a large part of the record.

However, these minor deviations do little to take away from the album’s overall strength. You Are Here is an excellent debut and a welcome addition to this summer’s soundtrack. Now let’s go outside.

The Governors – Got Better Plans EP [Review]

In the style of a well-practiced, drunkenly-belted tune by the crew of an 18th century frigate, The Governors “Got Better Plans” EP survives in a genre littered with failure.

Each song in the 5-track short program is catchy, carries the unmistakable tinge of sincerity and is ably performed. But the opening track “Check Thyself Before You Wreck Thyself” best represents their vision: Well thought-out campfire songs with a keen eye for old world aesthetics melded into spontaneous outbursts of modern rock magic.

Still, the production of the vocals is a frequent annoyance. After all, I have never seen a concert in a small cavern – so if that’s what The Governors are going for, it’s too distracting. And if it’s not what they’re going for, their work is too good for that sort of simply mistake in a sound booth.

But you’re more likely to remember some mesmerizing guitar and harmonica work. The Governors aren’t afraid of silence, and they know how to walk the thin line between monotony and progression, offering plenty of inspiration to learn these songs and belt them out in one of the many skeezy establishments we all adore.

The Got Better Plans EP is not quite ready for air, but worth it for any dedicated music fan who wants to help The Governors build a aircraft. If they were more confident that their voices could carry themselves, this EP might be a classic, but it’s certainly worth a listen, if only to keep track of their progress. I know we will.

The Governors Got Better Plans EP by The Governors

p.s.
The Governors reunion show is on Friday, April 23rd, 2010 at Spike Hill, 184 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, New York.

Adam Rudolph and the Go Organic Orchestra

What happens when you give a bunch of classical and jazz musicians some scribbled chord progressions, teach them a couple hand gestures, and then put some African hand drummers in back?

You get this:

If Go Organic Orchestra sounds like the worst kind of faux-avant garde nonsense, I have to admit the lack of hyper-aware, arched-eyebrow brand consciousness is refreshing to me. They don’t need a cool name to sell me on the concept.

Whatever it is. It’s something that is neither jazz nor orchestra nor “world music.” Despite a conductor, it’s somehow freer than jazz, which tends toward either the nihilism of free jazz or the sing out, step back of the quartet. Here we can improvise more than how to get from A to B; we can go to Z and get there on the kazoo. And instead of a conductor being a performance showboat who did all the real work with the orchestra in rehearsal, we get the thrill of music being invented on the spot; in theory, with the precision of a decoded Beethoven symphony and the carefree collectivity of African drum circles.

The thing about this is that it almost doesn’t matter when it doesn’t work. And it often doesn’t work. That’s what you miss unless you see this in action. (Go Organic played Roulette in New York last week; see here for stops on Rudolph’s tour.) Rudolph can be furiously signaling, starting songs over, to little effect, and yet you almost hope the orchestra keeps fighting him. If jazz and classical music are both caught in an age-old battle of tonal versus atonal, structure versus improvisation, the Go Organic Orchestra at least stages the battle in a completely new way.

Dum Dum Girls – I Will Be [Review]


Purchase | Listen

[2010, Subpop]

For a brief period of time in middle school, I was a riot grrrl. My friend Ben and I used to request Bikini Kill on K-ROCK (denied!), ‘surf’ the nascent internet for information about Olympia, WA, and at one point my parents even took away my Bratmobile record (denied again!). Needless to say, I still have an affinity for girl groups that slay. And Dum Dum Girls slay.

I have to admit I’ve been extraordinarily skeptical about “summer-sounding” bands of late. Perhaps after the nth time of having my low expectations met, I was over it. Or maybe it was the weather/music disjuncture (I don’t want to trudge through the snow to hear a band that sounds like the Beach Boys in a fishbowl). In any case, at first, the name Dum Dum Girls set a nearly insurmountable mental barrier. To my surprise, after dismounting my high horse and giving DDG a listen, I’m totally sold.

“It Only Takes One Night” starts off with driving, slightly overdriven drums and droning guitar, before the song is overtaken by haunting harmonies. The straight-ahead surf-rock beats, coupled with simple, fuzzed-out guitars work well throughout the record, especially on tracks like “O Mein M.” For my money, “Yours Alone” is the standout here, caking a simple love song in a hazy feedback and straight-ahead, single-note guitars.

In my view, the only missteps on this record come where DDG tone things down (see e.g. “Rest of Our Lives” and the incurably Vaselines-aping “Blank Girl”), losing the punch that otherwise sets them apart from the pack. On the whole, however, I Will Be stands out because, underneath all of the fuzz and reverb, it actually sounds like Dum Dum Girls are having fun. And isn’t that what summer is all about?

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Beat the Devil’s Tattoo [Review]

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

Listen | Purchase on Amazon

After 12 years of playing together, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club is a California band that has tried it all and still hasn’t found what it wants. After releasing the maligned “The Effects of 333,” BRMC returns to its roots with Beat the Devil’s Tattoo. However, like a cultural mutt, it can’t quite figure out what style to call home. And unfortunately, on this record, BMRC refuses to do the hard work of creating a coherent, consistent identity.

The record starts out promisingly, with the title track, “Beat the Devil’s Tattoo”, a chant-filled hillbilly stomper, where the vocals follow the minor-tinged guitars and the percussion is provided primarily by the boots of the band. The song iterates between verse lyrics and and “AH-ah-AH-ah” choruses, with more guitars added as the song reaches its climax, a hypnotizing recitation of the song title. A promising start.

The next tune, “Conscience Killer”, is a faux-Stooges rocker that tips its hat to the band’s Wild One motorcycle roots. Unfortunately, for all its “rock”, it gives me a greasy garage-rock-revival feeling that I thought was left back at the beginning of last decade. A brief detour for the brit-pop “Bad Blood” (and more guitar pedals), and the band returns with more stomp. The molasses-paced “War Machine” would be punishing, but for the deep-on-drugs vocals, which seem to have forgotten that the band was supposed to be gritty again on this jam.

After quickly breaking it down for the ladies on the acoustic “Sweet Feeling” (which according to the lyrics, “is gone”), BRMC drops “Evol,” a Jesus & Mary Chain-bitefest that does violence to the legacy of all earlier iterations of the name “Evol.” And as the album progresses, BRMC doesn’t “do” all too much. Mid-tempo rocker. Acoustic breakdown. Brit-Pop jam. Repeat. The album’s closer, “Half-State”, isn’t the impressive hail mary that it was likely designed to be. Instead, it’s like a conversation with too many goodbyes.

If this record was released in the late 90s, with a full run on the British festival circuit, “Beat the Devil’s Tattoo” may have hit my ears differently. But it’s been well over a decade, with a full cycle of progressions and revivals on both sides of the pond. As a result, this record comes off as late to the party, downing the swill from half-empties and searching the fridge for leftovers.

Cedar Avenue – Someday Soon [Review]

Purchase | Listen

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


Cedar Avenue’s Someday Soon is a pop rock confection with fresh programming and keys – turning what should sound monotonous into engaging experimentation. But the album could certainly use more of it.

Above all else, the Minnesota-based four piece offers smooth radio-friendly vocals and harmonies that the younger lady set will love. And its no wonder, Cedar Avenue is an immensely talented ensemble that seems to have ironed out any wrinkles in days long past.

But in music, you can oftentimes be too perfect — the primary weakness of Someday Soon is that the singing and melodies don’t sound much different across tracks, and the album needed far more experimentation with tempo and digital programming to distract from that.

Continue reading