And therein lies the point of this post: we decided to gather a group of local albums that we hadn't talked much about over the past 12 months (as well as a couple new ones) and write brief reviews of all of them, sort of as a way to draw last year to a close and begin the new one fresh. Of course, we've left out many releases that people have sent to us over the past year because we just don't have time to cover everything, but here are some interesting and/or noteworthy releases we thought we'd share our opinions on (all star ratings are based on a five star scale):Drink To Victory, s/t:
It’s hard to grasp the musical connection between the late Notes From Underground
, one of the most elusive, challenging, and devastating groups out of Denton this decade, and the no-bones-about-it hooky punk of Drink to Victory, featuring three of Notes’ core member. First of all there’s the guitar sound. Renowned as one of the loudest bands North Texas has ever seen, some of the same meticulously tweaked guitar tones and fearsome, beastly customized amps that laid the foundation of Notes’ sound are in evidence. Yet DTV is in no way an art-punk concern like Koji Kondo
or Eat Avery’s Bones
. Essentially, they're faux-sloppy punks with fantastic equipment. This is actually an excellent combination, and anybody who’s ever been flattened by Minor Threat or Black Flag at aneurysm-inducing volume levels can attest to that.
Drink to Victory’s eponymous 22-minute debut, recorded at the Echo Lab back in 2004, has that same kind of sound. Thick, saturated, and visceral. And believe it or not, the songs deliver too, never trying to be more than they are and often taking captivating left turns thanks to the colorful eccentricities of vocalist/guitarist David Saylor, better known to some as Notes’ crowbar-heavy drummer. In fact, the entire Notes arrangement goes topsy turvy, with Notes bassist Cory Hager on drums here, and primary Notes guitar mastermind Justin Lemons on bass. Of course, these guys have been in DTV since high school, so the arrangement probably doesn’t seem weird to them.
But back to the songs. Yes, songs, as in hooks, choruses, and melodies, rendered by David Saylor with charming over-exuberance to the point of overstretched, mangled-hoarse growls that are a hair off-key just for fun. “Alcohol” is the “hit,” a cathartic piece about self-destruction featuring appropriate wild mood swings and sudden growls, raging crescendos and lulls, all in the context of a classic pop formula with an unexpectedly grimy “descent into hell” outro as an added bonus. At three-minutes plus, it’s a long one for DTV, who refreshingly pump out succinct anthems like the minute-long “Little Girl” and the Nirvana-on-super overdrive of the album's eighth track, clocking in at 2-plus. Crammed full of cleverly rendered verse, chorus, bridge and thick walls of volume to burn, this album just jumps out of the speakers with life, possibly a result of the band being (deceptively) tight and comfortable enough to have recorded the entire album live in the studio with no overdubs. It’s primitive, angry, cock-eyed, and chorusy like the old school, but utterly saturated with dirty, overdriven filth not unlike Houston’s revered/reviled noise-punk anarchists Rusted Shut.
Perhaps predictably, DTV unleashes moments of choice weirdness to break up the battering-ram assault. The odd “I Get Laid” features David yelling his head off until halfway through when his screams of “why?” turn tired and wistful while Lemons works a little Mike Watt upper-register magic on the bass, hinting at the band’s newer, more unpredictable material. Maybe Drink to Victory will eventually morph into the messed-up art-punk outfit some folks around here apparently would rather them be, but until then, enjoy the unhinged beauty of classic punk falling apart before your assaulted eardrums. And remember, three bucks will get you a Pabst 40 and this ridiculously priced $2 treasure in a white sleeve, courtesy of the generous folks at Paperstain Records. (4 stars) (Rarebit)
Bryce Isbell, The Journey of Dian Cecht, Lake Shore Drive and the Violent White Nightingale:
Although Bryce Isbell is commonly associated with the bearded Denton folkies who can't seem to figure out exactly what's so funny about peace, love and understanding, much of the material found on this album, one of several that Isbell has released over the past few months, would probably sound more at home at a House of Tinnitus
or And/Or Gallery show than at Dan's Silverleaf
is a hazy, druggy and highly experimental electronic record that operates in a dreamlike state dominated by fleeting notions of paranoia, reclusiveness and wonder. Ditching traditional song structures and rock/folk instrumentation almost entirely throughout it's rather lengthy run time, things get started with a crisp, shiny ambient synth track that might remind listeners of Harmonia
, early Kraftwerk
and some of the early ambient work of Brian Eno
before the song merges into the second track, a 20 minute noise piece that might remind listeners of a nightmare. As the album progresses, "Starkage Arson" emerges as a standout with tribal chants and a pounding electro rhythm that serves as a highly complimentary backdrop to sliced, backward vocal clips, while "Ophelia Eats a Porcupine" incorporates synth orchestration and found sound collage on a slow moving and moody piece that hints at The Books
if they were conducting a seance. Journey's
latter section dives back into slightly more traditional folk territory at times but remains just as strange, with highlight "Safari Thirteen" fading in and out of conscious with quiet acoustic folk, eastern influened jazz snippets and haunting vocals that end up being far more interesting than anything Devendra Banhart
has done in quite a while. The record as a whole requires a good deal of patience and is certainly not without a few meandering moments and minor missteps, but listeners with an open mind who aren't expecting anything similar to Matthew and the Arrogant Sea
will likely find Journey
to be an oft stunning step forward for an artist who's well on his way to cementing his status as a songwriter who shouldn't be ignored. (4 Stars) (SR)
Denton Deluxe Vols. 1 and 2: In a year in which many of the area’s best acts didn’t get their acts together in time to release an album (We’re looking at you, Shiny Around the Edges and Great Tyrant, among others), it’s fitting that this refreshingly ear-to-the-ground comp series finds its way at the top of the list of local releases for 2007. This series has it all, from stylish electro (Ghosthustler) to metaphysical hip-hop (Vortexas) to stoned-happy slack-country (Sarah Reddington) to stoner rock (Chief Death Rage) to rriot girl no wave (Christian! Teenage Runaway) to early My Morning Jacket dream-pop (Matthew & the Arrogant Sea) to outsider Italo disco paintings (Farah), and every bit of it is top-shelf. It’s not only an amazingly comprehensive overview of the musical riches Denton has to offer, it’s also got a killer mixtape flow courtesy of Chad Withers & company. I haven't had a chance to pick up Vol. III yet, but with a few holdovers and several new/old favorites, it’s looks to be two more solid discs of the same. I’m looking forward to seeing these comps (uniquely packaged in DVD cases with striking covers by local artists) in wider distribution, and the store has indicated it will do just that in 2008. (4 stars) (Rarebit)
Aphonic Curtains: Virulent:
Like the Angry Businessmen tape mentioned elsewhere in this post, this is another release recorded at a group's flagship venue (in this case, House of Tinnitus), further proof of a lively active scene that produces hard copy evidence of the goings on of its respective creative hubs. Which, of course, is a fancy way of saying "people hanging out in their living room."
Since I witnessed the actual performance from which this recording is drawn, it's interesting to be removed from the setting, without access to who's making what sound, and with what instrument, in a given moment. Off the top of my head, I do believe that a Korg Kaoss pad was involved, along with some scrap metal, dangerously home-rigged electronics, a butter knife, and finally, a bass. All objects and instruments are played by the phenomenally talented trio of Aaron Gonzales
, Mike Maxwell
, and HOT proprietor Rob Buttrum
, a man who's never booked a bad show in his life largely through that magic word so foreign to the local music scene: "No."
The group produces an intimidating racket that swells with an imposingly alien detachment. Shrill squeaks, honeybee-buzz bass distortion, and uncontrolled feedback drop in and out in morse code rhythms as the highs and lows mingle, swapping out turns as the most upfront frequency. The peaks and valleys then band together to dominate the room and summon horrific daydreams of post-natural disaster rumbling, the earth shifting slowly, wounded amid the warning sounds of electronic alert systems panic audibly over the chaos.
Spirited applause sharply chimes in at the exhausting finale to this improvised storm, suggesting that the destruction Aphonic Curtains summons to fuck up the audience's eardrums is a welcome destruction. Glad to see that's available in a portable size, ready to fuck up my boom box at home. (4 stars) (DL)
Dust Congress, Egg Tooth: Dust Congress is Nick Foreman, a sparkling talent waiting to be discovered. Egg Tooth is full of raw, poetic, and affecting songs delivered with an untamed delivery similar to Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum or Okkervil River’s Will Sheff in his less raucous moments. You don’t have to see Foreman play drums with his feet while singing and playing banjo to appreciate this, but it might help to know that he scrapped a more polished, fleshed-out recording in favor of the original batches of demos that eventually became this EP. After all, it’s the intimacy of the recording that makes it such a favorite, with the deliberate, gut-wrenching “Banal” giving way to spare, shipwrecked shards of a soul lost in the meridians, buoyed by the intuitive and skeletal bass playing of Ryan Williams (Baptist Generals), ending with the cathartic, bouncy resolution of “My Name is David.” It's the best 15 minutes of 07. (3.5 stars) (Rarebit)
Mom, Little Brite:
How I failed to formally review this release is pretty much beyond me, especially considering the huge and surprising splash Mom made in 2007. When this website first posted
about them back in June of 2006, it seemed quite unlikely that local music fans would ever see a band like Mom on a Good Records sales chart, much less every Good Records sales chart for months on end. But that is exactly what happened in the year that Mom took the local music intelligentsia by surprise, and considering how strange much of their music is relative to other successful local bands, it was a noteworthy development indeed. Putting any pop sociological analysis aside for a moment, one can probably explain the Mom phenomenon simply by paraphrasing James Carville
: it's the music, stupid. Every track on this record is full of surprises, textures and effective broad strokes, but it's the intangible quality of the songcraft that takes these "electro-acoustic" pieces beyond merely interesting and thrusts them into the realm of celebratory emotional resonance.
Yes, the Books
can be heard throughout the album as a rather clear influence (as can bands like Stars of the Lid
), but such considerations get deprioritized pretty quickly when you permit yourself to get a little lost in these tracks. On opener "Skipping Stones," a pleasantly complex acoustic guitar piece fights for attention with bits of musique concrete and a continual recording of flowing water, establishing a core mood of hopeful, meditative introspection that is maintained throughout the record. Closing track "Little Brite" starts to effectively alter the M.O. a bit with a swelling section of noise at the one minute mark and the album's only use of vocals (which might remind some listeners of Songs of Green Pheasant
), but the unifying feeling of the record ends up remaining intact, and the possibilities of what Mom might one day turn in to remain audible. I've heard people complain that this music is too pretty and predictable to be anything more than indie fodder, but I think they're missing the point: these songs are largely instrumental and lack traditional verse chorus verse pop structure completely, and that alone makes it pleasantly surprising that so many in the area have taken to this band. And the fact that the record is actually good makes Mom's emergence more important still. (4 stars) (SR)
St. Vincent, Marry Me:
Ah, the big one. Polyphonic Spree
member Annie Clark outdid her main project this year with a solo record that made it's way on to many respected 2007 "Best of" lists. But what is it about this record that makes it so appealing to so many? No really, I'm asking, because after a couple listens I'm having trouble figuring it out.
To begin, the whole affair is quite dramatic and emotional all the way through, with sweeping strings and big choruses and bold lyrics that sharpen the focus on the stories and moods of Clark, who seems to play some sort of classic protagonist in many of her songs. The problem is that I really just don't give a shit, and the moments that make me reconsider my stance are too few and far between. Case in point is the title track, a piano and strings orchestral ballad dedicated to some dude named John who is apparently Clark's love. The singing and production values are top notch, and the whole thing is catchy and substantive enough to satisfy on some levels, but the track can't help but come off as a bit too stylized and forced to me. By its end, I really don't like John very much, and I certainly couldn't give two shits whether the two clever bohemians get married or not. And it's not as if there aren't a few solid moments scattered throughout, its just that Marry Me
feels more like a slice of lifestyle than a collection of songs worthy of more than a casual listen, which is a tad disappointing when you consider the talent and potential on display at various moments throughout the record. (2.5 stars) (SR)
Shane English, Conspiracy Theorist EP:
Although we posted about this just the other week, it seems that a bit more discussion is warranted considering how different much of this music sounds compared to any other local release from the last twelve months. A brief sample of rhythmic opener "Arriving at Camp Hero" might convince you that this EP will end up hitting like (English's former band) Ghosthustler
on a bad acid trip, but it's clear from the get go that this isn't an attempt at a dance record. Instead, harsh industrial touchstones rule the day and rhythm is pounded into place through cold repetition, yielding a set of songs that are surprisingly accessible in spite of the prevailing darkness.
As I mentioned in our initial post, the likes of Front 242, Cabaret Voltaire and Nitzer Ebb are probably the most obvious reference points here, particularly on the standout opener and the equally impressive centerpiece "Creation of Care," a slurred, slow moving hypnotically sludgy track that starts off as a formless noise piece before a classic industrial bass/drum machine groove emerges and English begins an echo laden chant concerning, uh, I'm not sure exactly. And despite taking a back seat to more experimental electro, dance music isn't totally out of the picture here either, as "I Was Born on 9-11" dives into the territory of YMO, Yello and Liaisons Dangereuses, among others, with a tight, skeletal rhythm and a Kraftwerk-like focus on funk through paranoia. Lyrically, the album features a loose fixation on various conspiracy theories surrounding the September 11th terrorist attacks (these colors don't run), and while the general approach is bold and interesting, the vocal performances occasionally leave a bit to be desired as far as tone and delivery, even though such slight setbacks are clearly fixable. All in all, Conspiracy Theorist is a promising solo debut full of smart influences and big ideas from a local musician who seems happily ready to take risks at the drop of a hat. We could use a few more of those around here. (3.5 stars) (SR)
Angry Businessmen, Self Titled:
This was the third release on the NPNR
cassette only label and it neatly sums up the spirit and philosophy of the label, band and 715 Panhandle
house that was the physical foundation for the culture that made this release possible. And although the tape's sides are divided into "Awesome" and "Bodacious," this young band is definitely spooked by some serious topics.
The articulate punk is introduced by some smart aleck samples that run almost as a narrative throughout the tape. The music and singing is at times reminiscent of The Big Boys
in not only subject matter ("Fraternicide"), but also in the soulful approach that is especially evident on the occassional instrumentals that are like stumbling on an old box of scratchy obscure surf and soul 45's.
The tape features an explosive opening in the form of the group's "Theme Song", a long running tradition of many great hardcore acts. Nuanced and melodic basslines carry the songs against lead singer Clint's throat shredding and some Rudimentary Peni
style backing shouts. The drumming is wonderfully understated with the bare necessities of snare, tom, and cymbal sans bass drum.
This isn't just frantic, hateful hardcore, but high concept minimalism with an emphasis on staying enthusiastic, involved and unpretentious, a message that avoids overpowering dogmatism. The sixteen tracks climax with the live favorite, "Galveston," a "dead zone" conscious environmental anthem that will ring true for anyone who's ever walked those cursed beaches. The delivery, though angry (duh), is at once light-hearted and firm, and is one of the most charmingly convincing arguments against selling out I heard all year. Now when's it going to be on Itunes? (5 stars) (DL)
Shiny Around The Edges, I Just Can't Let You Say Goodbye 7 Inch":
The Shiny Around The Edges seven inch quickly establishes the overall aesthetic of the group, and ends much too quickly. Like all good seven inches, you'll want to hear an album, or at the very least, an EP afterwards. Side A is a cover of the Willie Nelson track
"I Just Can't Let You Say Goodbye," which is done in the Shiny tradition of dousing more conventional material with liberal amounts of drone before peeling the comforting layers, lyrically and musically, until the fragile little emotional structure is left exposed. In this case, Jennifer Seman's
vocals bring to mind a mother singing an a-capella lullaby to a deathly ill child in the dark. The drone eventually gives way to such niceties as a keyboard part faintly employing the pop tradition of mimicking the main vocal and the subtle backing harmony of The Castanet's Ray Raposa
. When the track draws to its dreary conclusion, you're left startled at the abruptness of the needle clipping the runoff.
Side B is titled "Applied Quantum Physics" and builds up with an effective moodiness that's only barely threatened to be broken by the busy plink of pianist Sean Kirkpatrick
. Kirkpatrick is skilled to be certain, but is perhaps too much of a soloist and is stylistically so recognizable that I knew who it was without reading the credits. The playing sounds much like his work in The Paperchase
and his own solo project, where his menacing minor key sounds much more comfortable. It's not exactly a knock against Kirkpatrick to suggest he's better off not being a session man.
As the track releases, it reaches a place that they've come to live as the band has improved their live palette by incorporating a more palpable push in their dynamic. The backing vocals blend superbly with Michael Seman's
somewhat deadpan declarations and are offset by the upright tom pounding and starkly understated thud. Definitely memorable. (3) (DL)
Deep Snapper, A Drowning Man Can Pull You Under:
This is a release that got away from us, and we really have no excuse as to why we didn't review this record earlier. I mean, if some of us can literally throw some CD reviews out the window
, then certainly we can find the time to review albums that we can make it through, and even possibly enjoy. Considering how few and far between that occurs, there's even more reason to mention this record.
Deep Snapper has made a very clear headed and direct statement, where fairly dark themes are tackled with equal amounts of humor and lament. The separation and clarity is all the more compounded by another hands-off styled recording courtesy of Matt Barnhart
and The Echo Lab
, and it serves this music particularly well.
The group's sound is best summarized by the resemblance it bears to the progressive punk of the late 80's, where the rage was toned down a bit, mid-tempo rhythms started to appear more frequently on SST
recordings, and the Washington DC scene added a studious and thoughtful maturity to variations on the "Fuck You" theme.
What's immediately grabbing on "A Drowning Man Can Pull You Under" is the solid playing, and more specifically the manner in which the guitar playing contains more hooks and melody than the actual singing. Guitarist John Newberry's
approach to the instrument doesn't divert to the obvious break for a solo as much as he spends his time palming, scratching, and strumming in the high register and the end result is more striking and uniquely effective.
If Deep Snapper played more to its strengths, it would do a lot towards opening up some of the density that starts piling up around the album's midpoint. Some songs switch from crunchy barres to open chord chime, which changes the feel, but not always enough to differentiate emotion from emotion as the album progresses. On the other hand, a song like "Autopilot" has more space, tension, and release, resulting in a broken-dam finale that is also the group's most successful moment.
This is a band that has everything lined up to continue being a good, straight-forward rock band. They could easily transcend that and many similar peers by adding some more extremes, whether they be faster, harder, softer, or slower. It's determined dynamics like these that made records such as Pink Flag
such a classic, the important characteristics that distinguish each song from the next and a conscious effort to push a different button every time they attack.
There is much to return to here, whether it be the thinly veiled gallows humor often alluding to death and injury (sample song title: "Politics of a Misdiagnosed Head Bleed"
), or the audible debt to D.Boon
on the vocals, never a bad singer to look up to if you feel like being honest without being cheesy.
I would say that I'd like to hear what Deep Snapper does next, but apparently the wait is already over. According to the band's website, there is already a new release being prepared, less than a year after this record, and their third album overall. Between that and the shit that Violent Squid
pulls, we'll be posting this winter's releases sometime in 2010. (3.5) (DL)