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Against Me! – White Crosses

White Crosses isn’t Reinventing Axl Rose, and it isn’t quite as disjointed as New Wave. But it’s a great big album that is every bit as personal as The Eternal Cowboy

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Few songs have resonated with this author in 2010 as much as “I Was A Teenage Anarchist”; Tom Gabel’s anthemic, razorfire ode to his own political awakening. His path led to his understanding that flying the anarchist flag was just as pointless as the politics so many fight against. It is a bold statement, and while my own anarchist beliefs stopped when I locked away my skateboard pants and chain wallet, there is something about “maintaining that fire” that almost anyone can hold in high regard.

The genesis of the song is about finding the spark that keeps your passion alight. In the case of Gabel, it is about discovering that changing the world did not necessarily mean one has to be tied down to conformity within an ideal or a movement.

And like much of White Crosses, the track is a polarizing anthem- big choruses and stadium-esque riffs much in contrast to Against Me!’s earlier material. Yet there is something enlightening about a punk kid’s discovery that they could break free from the constraints of mass movements while maintaining the same drive and fire that first ignited their interest. Butch Vig’s production means the album is sonically, the best thing they’ve ever done, and to some, the best written material too. “Suffocation” is an equally telling tale of modern life- done with simplicity and a catchy refrain. “Spanish Moss” and “Because of the Shame” are both poetic and accessible, and tracks like “Rapid Decompression” and “White Crosses” prove they haven’t quite forgotten about their musical lineage.

This isn’t Reinventing Axl Rose, and it isn’t quite as disjointed as New Wave. But it’s a great big album that is every bit as personal as The Eternal Cowboy with plenty to offer for anarchists, punks, and the guy who sold you the album at Hot Topic.

(Sire Records)

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Tennis System – Lovesick

This is furious noise

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Tennis System Lovesick

It is impossible to read music that taps into the shoegaze lineage without finding mention of My Bloody Valentine or The Jesus and Mary Chain. While the aforementioned bands are certainly the epicentre of the genre, bands like Los Angeles’ Tennis System aren’t all too interested in being just another page in the Kevin Shields songbook. Unlike the genre’s progenitors, Tennis System only graze the often plodding, overly moribund nature of shoegaze, and instead find more inspiration from uptempo punk urgency. Lovesick, their third album, is a culmination of what the band call their “putting it all on the line” mentality, wrapped in fuzzed-out, loud guitars, breezy percussion work and that ‘let’s go’ punk attitude.

Songs like “Alone” and “Esoteric” come cut from the same mold that crafted early emo band Cap N’ Jazz; manic, loud, frenzied, while opener “Shelf Life” digs deep into the fuzzy, distorted heaven of Jawbox meets Burning Airlines. The song itself feverish sudden changes, one that mimics what vocalist/guitarist Matty Taylor told Flood Magazine about the song’s “journey of realization, denial, and finally acting upon things”. It’s true then that songs on Lovesick owe more to J. Robbins than Kevin Shields, but it is not to say the album is not without its more shoegaze moments. It’s the moodier soundscapes of “Cologne” and almost whispering “Fall” that paint from that brush.

The album’s strongest outing is the terrific “Turn”. It is a song that is a well constructed effort combining early emo and elements of shoegaze with the furious noise of guitar powered alternative/punk, packing together all the best qualities of the band in alluring freneticism.

As the title track closes proceedings, the listener is left with a sense of aural delight that came with albums like Loveless, or Trail of Dead’s brilliant Source Tags & Codes. It doesn’t mean to say Lovesick is a trailblazing record, but what it does mean is that the album’s tightly wound energy and furiousness explodes in euphoric delight- even if it is temporary. In the song “Lovesick”, Taylor sings, “please don’t let me burn out”… and perhaps, with this much aural euphoria, it is inevitable. But as the saying goes, “it’s better to burn out…”

(Graveface Records)

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Pom Pom Squad – Ow EP

The latest EP by this Brooklyn four-piece is beautiful vulnerability

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Pom Pom Squad

Brooklyn “quiet grrl” band Pom Pom Squad may have a cute moniker and description of their sound, but like their riot grrl brethren that it comes from, it’s anything but tame. Pom Pom Squad is a four-piece led by vocalist and songwriter Mia Berrin, who on their second EP, have taken the twinkly sounds of Rilo Kiley and Mitski and injected it with the grungy, manic energy of Hole and Bif Naked and the distorted, punk urgency of Bratmobile.

Ow stands out from the opening “Ow (Intro)”, a song of delicate heartbreak that is both pensive and biting. It’s mostly just Berrin and her guitar, sparkling in a glow of Midwestern emo-esque strings and her voice. The song is beautifully wistful when it sings “he says he wants what’s best for me” and biting when it comes back and says “they all say they want what’s best for me / but they never try to be the best for me”. It’s from this you hear the strength of the EP; that when it gets a little brooding, melancholy, pained, it’s also gorgeous, vulnerable and definitely unafraid to show the listener honesty and character.

In songs like “Heavy Heavy” and “Honeysuckle”, Pom Pom Squad get a little dirtier, a little grungier, amping up the distortion and sludgier percussion work. The hazy bellowing of “Heavy Heavy” adds to the angry introspection of the song; its lines of “It’s getting heavy heavy / Telling everybody that I’m fine / I’m feeling heavy heavy does it mean / I wanna fucking die?” painted by lusciously loud guitar work that would make Steve Albini smile. “Honeysuckle” takes on a similar pained look inside the mind but with a more fuzzed-out, alternative-rock veneer. Berrin’s lyrics come across as vividly as she sings “If I’m nothing without you am I anything at all?” It’s songs like these, with words like these, that hint of comparisons between Pom Pom Squad’s captivating allure with that of Courtney Love and Babes in Toyland during their heydey.

“Cherry Blossom” taps into that beautiful sorrow again, plugging into the aura that is painted when it is just Berrin and her guitar again. It’s almost hypnotic at times, and just as quickly as the tension and the magnetism builds, it ends. The anger of the album works because unlike angst, it’s calculated and targeted, leaving Ow as much of a substantial outing as it is growth from their 2018 EP Hate It Here. The only real downside to Ow are some moments like on the closing notes of “Cut My Hair”- a song that builds up to its crescendo with more dazzling vulnerability but ends a little quicker than it ought to. In truth, that’s the only real con of the EP, that when the orchestral fade-out of “Owtro” howls away, you’re left searching for more, with only repeated listens as your respite. But in the end, what could be better for an artist you’ve recently discovered than to get under your skin and leave you wanting more?

(self-released)

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