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Beck – Guero

Guero, though, displays Beck’s discovery of a musical center for the first time in his career.



Beck Hansen, in his own enigmatic, ADD-infused manner, has become the symbolic torch-bearer for a generation of restless Americans. Having bounced around like a proverbial pinball for over a decade by tapping into seemingly every musical resource available to him (“Loser” was 11 years ago, kids, and even that was after the eerie foreshadowing of “MTV Makes Me Want To Smoke Crack”), it seems only reasonable that Mr. Hansen eventually come back down to Earth sooner or later. Guero isn’t the sound of America’s favorite musical mad scientist settling into a groove as much as it is him putting his feelers out again and getting his bearings back. In such a tumultuous, helter skelter period in history, I daresay that having a new Beck album to absorb and bat around is downright comforting and reassuring, if nothing else.

Beck was saddled with the “alternative” tag from day one, more for the fact that music writers were significantly lacking in sufficient descriptors when he blew in from over the western seas than anything else. He jackknifed from amalgamation to amalgamation in record time with pretty much everyone trailing about four steps behind, culminating with his runaway hit Odelay in 1996. The upside of Beck’s schtick is that no one really had a lasting definition for it, and although “Where’s It At” and “Jackass” did have a groovy hipness about them, common touchstones from song to song (let alone album to album) were few and far between. After treading water with the “unofficial” acoustic gallivanting of Mutations and the hearty rump-shaking of Midnite Vultures, 2002’s Sea Change revealed the sharpest left turn of his already irregular story. Beck transformed into the sad, moping folkie, the likes of which hadn’t been seen since Nick Drake left Terra Firma. This in turn violated the confidence of those who had seen Beck as the president pro-tem of their fraternity stereos, while whipping those who had formerly shunned his nomadic trendsetting into a shocked frenzy.

Guero, though, displays Beck’s discovery of a musical center for the first time in his career. The years leading up to Sea Change represented Beck’s formidable years; he kept us on our toes often times by virtue of nothing more than his youthful exuberance and curiosity. He had no boundaries that he was aware of, and he reaped the benefits of being   We can see elements of his previous work scattered along Guero‘s surface, which is the opposite of probably the one and only thing that unified his entire back catalogue, that there was no pattern at all. “Missing” sounds like a b-side from Mutations‘ “Tropicalia,” with its sleepy, afro-Cuban lounge vibe; the spanglish-fried “Qué Onda Guero” finds him dipping into his vintage Odelay white-boy rap phase, while undoubtedly becoming the only song in history to name-check both James Joyce and Yanni; and lead single “E-Pro” is the resident Midnite Vultures roof-raising party anthem, with a side of chunky lead guitar. Brief glimpses of Sea Change even slip through the cracks on “Go It Alone” and “Farewell Ride,” though the rolling bass line of the former and the junky, alleyway blues of the latter tend to play the lead roles.

After throwing the curveball to end all curveballs on Sea Change, it appears that Beck is gradually easing himself into phase two of his career. Guero is less an exercise in him biding his time than it is just allowing himself to get reacquainted with the life he knew before his major, unscheduled detour. As great a success as Sea Change was in its own right (an album that proved he was a legitimate musical talent and not just a one-trick pony), it’s difficult not to think that the prodigal son has returned home. Guero is an album that never achieves the halcyon levels of Mellow Gold or Odelay, but as an ersatz sampler album chock full of vintage old-school Beck moments, it does quite well on its own terms. It feels good to have our old Beck back. 

(Interscope Records)

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Good Riddance – Thoughts and Prayers

The fire still burns brightly for Good Riddance



good riddance

It would seem that the current US administration has proven to be fertile fields for political punks. If there is a positive to have come out of the past few years, it is in the form of angry punk rock records. The aptly titled Thoughts and Prayers, the new record by Good Riddance, could very well be the best of them. For many like myself, Good Riddance was the gateway to a world of punk rock socio-political commentary; wrapped in aggressive, melodic hardcore that opened your mind as much as it punched a hole in the wall. 1996’s A Comprehensive Guide to Moderne Rebellion and the really terrific 1998 record Ballads from the Revolution, were eye-opening propositions for a wide-eyed kid. Good Riddance resonated because their songs were hard-hitting commentary that sounded like broken-hearted punk rock songs. They sang intelligently about inequality, human despair, and the sometimes broken system in which we live in. And when their broken-hearted punk rock songs weren’t about society and politics, they were broken-hearted punk rock songs about broken hearts (don’t think there have been love songs as good in the genre as “Jeannie” and “Not With Him”).

Four years since their comeback record, Peace In Our Time, we get the much more furious Thoughts and Prayers. 12 songs of trademark breakneck melodic hardcore that talks about the divisive current political climate without going as far as saying things like “Trump sucks”. But that’s never been the Good Riddance way. Vocalist and chief lyricist Russ Rankin has always found a way to express his anger and disappointment with poise and intelligence- sounding more like a well-read poet than a man yelling on a street corner.

In the track “Don’t Have Time”, he sings about the futility of repeating history to trumpet nationalism; “And those same old fears arise / With eyes too drawn to counteract / The ghost in you comes rushing back / Too caustic to subside / Just what have we done? / We killed a mother’s only son / Just to remain at number one“. And lyrically, much of takes a similar route of well-written stanzas that question a lot of what is going on in the world at the present time. Songs like the opening “Edmund Pettus Bridge” (let’s hope everyone knows the significance of this landmark), replete with Michael Douglas Wall Street sound byte, sings of social inequality but does it with a trace of hope. While songs like “The Great Divide” are an example of melodic hardcore’s finest moments; unrelenting sonic pummeling that is as melodic as it is potent. “Wish You Well” takes cues from Good Riddance’s “softer” tones of catchy choruses and mid-tempo verses; akin to the track “Saccharine” (from 2003’s Bound by Ties of Blood and Affection). Perhaps the best thing about the 12 songs here is that they are all very succinct, potent, with rarely a moment of filler. The album is consistently good, and while it rarely deviates from the Good Riddance sound, it never lacks in the fire and fury we’ve come to expect.

The album itself SOUNDS fantastic, credit again to Bill Stevenson and Jason Livermore at The Blasting Room for their production. The guitars rip at the right levels while the percussion work hits just right. The mixing levels are as close to perfect as you can get without any one element dominating over another- a constant the band have found since 1999’s Operation Phoenix (no surprise, the first of their albums to have been produced at the Blasting Room).

The appeal of Good Riddance has always been two-fold. Firstly, their music has shown steadfast quality, and the albums have found longevity due to the way Rankin and company write their songs. With lyrics referring to and talking about a multitude of humanist issues without having to directly reference them, they remain political, timely, writing music as urgent as it was through the 90s as it is today. That may be a sad indictment of society itself, but it doesn’t take away from their effectiveness and influence. Rankin himself has said that their music may not have changed the world per se, they continue to open eyes and minds. This writer can attest to the latter- and the importance of that can’t be underlined enough. Their early discography spoke to my generation about life, self, and the interconnected reality of the world we live- no matter how hard to try not to believe it. Thoughts and Prayers is a furious, timely, and potent slab of hard-hitting melodic hardcore and shows that the fire clearly still burns as passionately for Good Riddance as it did all those years ago. And perhaps it’ll be what A Comprehensive Guide to Moderne Rebellion and Ballads From the Revolution was to me for a whole new generation.

(Fat Wreck Chords)

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Hatriot – From Days Unto Darkness

From Days Unto Darkness is a relentless pummeling of thrash metal’s best qualities




When it comes to Bay Area thrash metal, there are two bands that sit atop the mountain forever entwined to its history; Metallica and Exodus. Both bands linked together by Kirk Hammett, both bands crucial to the Bay Area’s most destructive form of music. Exodus may not have their name in lights as Metallica does, but Exodus’ influence cannot be mistaken- and many point to them as being the one true progenitor of Bay Area thrash. Hatriot, a band that was started by Exodus vocalist Steve Souza in 2011, are a real chip off the ol’ block. Surprisingly, it isn’t just musically that Hatriot follows suit from Exodus, its a family thing too. While Steve Souza left Hatriot in 2015, his sons Nick and Cody continue on percussions and guitars with the latter taking on vocal duties once the older Souza returned to Exodus.

Hatriot does more than just follow on the Exodus path; they’ve loudly carved their own slice of the thrash pie. Led by Kosta Varvatakis shredding guitar work and Cody Souza’s blistering (sometimes ominous) vocal work, Hatriot may have found their Fabulous Disaster, ironically, also three albums in.

From Days Unto Darkness is a relentless pummeling of thrash metal’s best qualities; machine gun percussion work (I’m a sucker for some great double bass drums), shredding guitars, soaring solos, and vocals that does the growling well, and the screaming even better. Tracks like “Organic Remains” and the blistering “Carnival of Execution” showcase the band’s ability to craft songs that are equal parts urgency and solid musicianship. Thematically, From Days Unto Darkness covers the usual thrash metal spread; the end times, death, destruction, and humanity’s failing graces- all done with equal breakneck, ear piercing destruction sonically. “World, Flesh & Devil” is perhaps the album’s best outing- a raging beast of a song, that if carnage could be written in music form, this is it incarnate. At 4:26, it is one of the shorter tracks of the release, but much of the album features in at the 6-7 minute mark- a trademark of thrash metal’s desire to not only showcase talent but to do it over extended periods.

What the album lacks perhaps is that one magnum opus of a track. Sure, it’s not easy for any band to write “Master of Puppets”, but From Days Unto Darkness rarely takes a breather. It’s mostly positive, but while Master had at times, slow interludes to let you catch your breath, Hatriot takes absolutely no prisoners- staying true to their thrash metal heritage. If you’re not quite up for it, this album will hammer you into a stupor.

The halcyon days of Bay Area thrash metal may be long resigned to nostalgic documentaries, but Hatriot are not interested in just being a throwback to their roots. From Days Unto Darkness is not for the weak and if this is the sign that thrash metal is alive and kicking, then the future and present are in damn good hands.

(Massacre Records)

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