BRAD: 2009 has seen the rise and rise for Boston’s Defeater. Last year they were an act known to few outside the Massachusetts’ scene. Twelve months on, they’ve signed to Bridge Nine, put out an incredible debut LP, Travels, that easily ranks among the best hardcore records of ’09 and now they’ve immediately followed it up with an intense six track EP that manages to leap over the very high bar set by their debut effort.
Concept albums are something you don’t see all that often in the world of hardcore but that’s exactly what Defeater delivers with Lost Ground. Lost Ground is the story of a young American soldier in World War II, from his decision to enlist after being encouraged by his mother, to his violent experiences on the front before his traumatic return home to a society and has shunned and abandoned him.
As far as concepts go, it’s a brilliant yet simple idea that explores new terrain whilst neatly fitting within the usual tropes of hardcore. However it’s a move fraught with danger; come across as too overwrought and you’ll get laughed at; come across as disingenuous and you can kiss goodbye any credibility you once had. It’s a very fine line and the Boston four-piece tread it perfectly, thanks in large part to the understated and powerful lyrics that are delivered with burning intensity from vocalist Jay Maas.
BILLY: For me, it starts and ends with the opening salvo of “The Red, White and Blues”. Musically, it’s unafraid to be both unashamedly modern with its sludgy, mid-tempo bridges, while still holding true to more traditional breakneck conventions. I’m all for urgency in modern hardcore as I think a lot of the slower aspects, while technically sound, tends to take away from some of the more basic nuances of the genre. It’s also a great fucking song because it holds the same kind of closed-fist anger and determination of a young soldier braving for war; unafraid but hopelessly naïve of what’s to come. His determination slowly etches away as his duration through combat continues (in unison of course, to the songs of the EP).
The crescendo reaches a certain kind of apex in “Singin’ New York Town”- just unbearable post-war sadness. Am I wrong to think that this is where the once brave soldier completes his inner disintegration?
BRAD: You’re spot on. What really elevates this record is the cohesion of the songs; the way they meld together to tell the one story. In the opener “The Red White and Blues” (which is a killer opening track that just grabs you by the neck and makes shut up and pay attention) the young man is brave and idealistic- He’s going to change the world and make his family proud. By the final track he’s been kicked to the curb as garbage by the country he protected.
I’m having a hard time deciding which track I find the most powerful; the idealistic naivety of “The Red White and Blues”? The claustrophobic fear of the front line in “The Bite and Sting? The crippling survivor’s guilt in “A Wound and Scar” or the abandonment he feels when he returns home in the final tracks?
It’s a tough choice. Though I will say that “The Bite and Sting” has one of the most shocking endings that I can remember. “Awake up in a hospital bed / There’s rows and rows and rows of dying kid s/ And I know my whole infantry is dead” End song. Talk about a gut punch.
BILLY: In the end, the EP’s conciseness is what makes the material so effective. Concept albums tend to waver on the tedious side- exchanging urgency for “telling a story” not realizing that sometimes the process of ‘beginning-middle-end’ really doesn’t have to be that long to be any good. I will stick with the opening track as my strongest as musically it is my favourite of the bunch. Thematically, it is hard to pick one single song as the entire EP- all 6 songs- provide the punch and the thought in almost perfect unison. I think if they had pushed it further the effectiveness of idea would wear thin. Lost Ground is in my opinion, a great lesson for any band wanting to make their albums as part of a story arc without having to
go on about some mythological masterpiece lost in the vortex of hidden dimensions and blah blah blah be Coheed & Cambria.
BRAD: I find it disturbing to see you and me agreeing so much about one record. But concept albums are a difficult beast and can often be weighed down by their own pretentious sense of self-importance. Lost Ground is lean and mean, yet the story arc that unfolds is what sucks you in and holds you tight in its sweaty grasp. These tracks can be enjoyed individually but their true power emerges only when they’re played together. On top of that, the riffage is solid and will have you pumping your fist and diving off your nearest stage, but it’s the tragic tale of the young man that will keep pulling you back in.
I don’t know where Jay Maas got this idea from, maybe he was a war vet in a past life, but his lyrics are what gives this record its emotional intensity. You’ll feel the paralysing fear of a soldier alone in his trench as bombs drop around him. You’ll feel the guilt of watching your fallen comrades being put into the dirt as you continue breathe in air and you’ll feel the despair and loneliness of begging in the slums of a country that has turned its back on you. After the emotional punch of “Travels”, I shouldn’t really be surprised; nevertheless it’s still impressive to see a band exceed their already high standards in such a short period of time.
2009 has been interesting year for hardcore. When great bands like Have Heart and Verse call it a day, inevitably the question arises: “What’s next for hardcore?” Records like this restore my faith that hardcore will always have the ability to rejuvenate itself. Defeater aren’t Have Heart, they sound nothing like Verse and comparisons with Modern Life is War are misleading- they’re Defeater from Massachusetts and if Lost Ground is the new direction for hardcore in 2010 and beyond then sign me up.
(Bridge Nine Records)
The Down and Dirty: An interview with The Aggrolites
We chat to “dirty reggae” kings The Aggrolites about their new record Reggae Now!
It’s been a long time between records for Los Angeles reggae band The Aggrolites. 8 years to be exact. After countless albums and endless days on the road, the band felt like it was the right time to step away from the grind of writing, recording, touring. But the extended break between records meant the band just had time to get some air, recuperate and find the charge that would ignite that next spark. That next spark ended up becoming Reggae Now!, a collection of the band’s signature “dirty reggae” sound, packed with life-affirming songs about hope and positivity. And while the album isn’t afraid to challenge and question the current landscape we find ourselves in, it doesn’t shy away from having a good time.
The record has received some lavish praise, with noted filmmaker, DJ, and Big Audio Dynamite co-founder Don Letts saying; “Their tunes perfectly echo the human chemistry you can hear in those early Jamaican productions. The band’s old-school analog sound totally captures the spirit of the music I grew up on“. While Specials vocalist/guitarist Lynval Golding has said; “This is THE album.“
It’s easy to say that one of the most influential bands of modern American reggae is back. But the truth is, they never left. In between stops of their current North American tour, we had a chance to chat with vocalist and guitarist Jesse Wagner about Reggae Now!, how it feels to have written the record on their own time, and the significance of reggae music in America.
Congrats on the new record; how does feel now that it’s out?
It feels awesome. We are beyond stoked to see how positive the vibes are coming from all the fans old and new.
It was a long time between records- 8 years. It was the right time to take a break after 2011?
We felt so. We were going hard on the road for a good decade. I think 250 days a year can wear anyone out. We never quit though. We just needed some time to do our own thing with our families and friends back at home.
How did Reggae Now! come together- was there a spark that got you guys back into the writing process?
It just felt like the right time. We had talked about it for a while and when it happened it just worked.
Was this the first time you had the chance to write and record an album without the pressure of label deadlines? How did it feel that you could just write Reggae Now! on your own time- the way you want to 100%?
Yes it was. And it felt really chill and relaxing knowing that time was on our side. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
How did you connect and end up working with Pirates Press Records? It seems like a great fit- plus their roster of artists is incredible.
I’ve known Skippy for a long time now and have been a fan of what he has been doing with Pirates Press for years. Playing the style of music we play isn’t necessarily an easy target to market. We knew Skippy and Pirates Press would know exactly what to do with our album and are all grateful for them.
For those who may not be too familiar with the Aggrolites- share with us a little bit of your history and how the band came to be?
We’ve been around since 2002. We all pretty much come from the same scene in Los Angeles and all have the same love and passion for old school Jamaican music. With that passion, the band has managed to keep it going ever since.
How has the tour been so far? You guys are hitting cities all across the US until August; how is touring and getting to meet and perform for the fans now than, say, back in 2002?
It’s been an amazing run so far. If anything, things are getting better. I think with the internet it’s easier for people to find out about certain genres of music. We’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback.
I love the video for “Pound for Pound”- where did you shoot it? How was it?
It was filmed in the San Fernando Valley at an equipment rental spot called Zio. Our friend Josh Rousch was the director and mastermind behind the whole thing. We had a blast filming it. So much fun and we were stoked to have some Aggro fans involved in the video also. That was a first.
Let’s talk about reggae- because it’s such an important genre of music (in my view) and I think some people only see it in one color. But there’s a lot of history and culture- how did you discover reggae and what are some of the most important aspects of the music and culture to you and the band?
I found out about reggae probably like the majority of the American youth from the early 1990s; punk rock and Two-Tone. The thing that got me stuck on it was how tuff of a sound it is, but at the same time so beautiful. It is by far the most interesting music I’ve ever gotten into. I love how they sang about social issues going down on their small Island, but how powerful the lyrics would be in relating to people all over the world.
Reggae, and ska and rocksteady seem to have a close relationship with punk. You guys have toured with and are close to many punk bands; what is it about the two genres that make sense and connects?
I believed it all goes back to the late 1960s when reggae became popular with the working class in the UK. It’s music for the people. Songs about struggle and overcoming it. Very rebellious music also. I believe Don Letts said it best that reggae was the soundtrack to the punk rock scene throughout the late 1970s.
How important do you think music of good vibes is in today’s world? I think maybe the world could use a little more Reggae Now.
I thank you for saying that and agree 100%. We’ve always said we are “Feel Good” music. Sometimes it’s nice to just play a record and have a good time. Especially in this day and age. There is a lot of corruption going on and hopefully, we can ease people’s minds from negativity with our album.
The Aggrolites’ new album, Reggae Now!, is available via Pirates Press Records.
Allweather – Through the Floor
Debut album from San Diego’s Allweather is a compelling listen
Where did Allweather come from? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself through the first 5-6 times I listened to their debut album Through the Floor. Collectively the songs reminded me of a sound prominent in the mid-90s; tempered by the album’s melodic-hardcore demeanor. Punctuated by the terrific strained vocals, the initial reaction was to equate Allweather to a band somewhere in between early Polar Bear Club and early to mid-Transit. The music, for the most part, takes pop punk but substitutes the saccharine for more gruff melodies and the kind of pained, mid-tempo emotion that made those bands household names. But listen after listen I felt that was another connection; one that resonated with me more than those aforementioned bands did.
It hit me after listening to “Another Sad Song” for the umpteenth time- Allweather, while sonically more akin to current pop punk’s downtrodden, baggage-saddled sound, resonates closer to that of melodic-hardcore greats Lifetime. In part because vocally, Allweather’s vocalist Tim Putnam is so close to that of Ari Katz that it is almost impossible to discern between the two. And that is a very good thing- because Katz’s vocals reverberate as powerfully as it did back in 1995 as it does today. In Allweather’s case, listen to songs like “Grim Ave” and the a capella opening of “Die Slow” and you can swear that these songs are cuts off Hello Bastards or Jersey’s Best Dancers. Allweather employs more mid-tempo structures than they do Lifetime’s breakneck pace, but the sum of the parts make Through the Floor a compelling listen, even if the Lifetime comparison isn’t 100%.
“Groundswell” is probably the album’s best outing; melodic, emotional, hard-hitting in a way Texas is the Reason was, while “Die Slow” is not far behind for its sincerely great Lifetime-esque similarities.
For a band relatively new (having only released a two-song digital album prior in 2017), there is already so much to like and look forward to. Composed and packing a punch, those who miss the melodic but pained sounds of bands like Texas is the Reason, and of course, Lifetime, need not look much further than Allweather to find that what is old (and great) is new again.