Being in a punk rock band in 2010 is a thankless job. It all seems like an endless slog through the commercial pig trough of the transparent. Yet they do it, hundreds of them across the globe forsaking widespread recognition for something with a bit of meaning. Boston-by-way-of-Richmond band Smoke or Fire are one such outfit; wading through the mess of pop punk poster boys, emo heartthrobs and mohawked poseurs to deliver an aptly profound statement of our current time.
The Speakeasy gets it due partly because the label, Fat Wreck, is no stranger to the airing of dissenting views. Fat Mike is like a bullhorn- for his own politics and that of his bands. Who else would release a song about the declining American media (“Integrity”) or a folk-punk ditty about the terrible mistake that is the war (“Honey I Was Right About The War)” without worrying about the consequences?
It isn’t all about the follies of politics, vocalist Joe McMahon spends a lot of time writing introspection; questioning morality (“Monsters Among Us”), suicide (“Shotgun”), the dissolution of the punk rock scene (“Hope And Anchor”) and moving to Mexico (“Expatriate”). And he does so with some wry humour, intellect and the very basis of what punk rock should be about; asking the questions no one else feels compelled to ask. Even when they veer towards more frenetic alternative rock territory (in the very end-of-career Crime in Stereo sounding “Porch Wine”) they do so while maintaining their collective purpose (in this case, facing mortality).
Wrapped in the kind of rock n’ roll buoyancy and melodic aesthetic that made The Lawrence Arms and No Use for a Name recognized figures of the genre, The Speakeasy is both accessible and urgent, music with meaning and an ample conscience. It’s great to know that the bands that still ply their trade in this craft are damn good at what they do. If only we could just get everyone to listen. (Fat Wreck)
Review: California X – California X
Sure, it sounds like Dinosaur Jr., but it’s got some Jawbox, some Burning Airlines and some Braid in there along with a lot of its own attitude
I am not sure if it is merely coincidence that both California X and Dinosaur Jr. hail from Amherst, MA, but while Dinosaur’s pedigree is an established one, it shouldn’t take long for California X to emulate their more famous city mates. True to form, California X’s love for a heavy guitar riff is something out of the J. Mascis songbook but there’s just something incredibly refreshing and pulsating about this self-titled debut.
38 seconds into the opening salvo of “Sucker” and you get an inkling of what the rest of the record will sound like; a giant wave of grunge-soaked post-rock that has more surprises than it does homages. Take the percussion heavy intro to “Lemmy World’s”; an albatross of a song sonically, but resplendent with pretty melodies and soaring vocals. “Spider-X” is full tilt rock n’ roll while “Curse Of The Nightmare” has a little Braid in its undercarriage. But it is with “Sucker” that the release really gets you- a mammoth 6.43 long; its slow but ascending nature is what California X is as an album. It is a mostly mesmerizing exercise into turning it loud and letting it loose.
Sure, it sounds like Dinosaur Jr., but it’s got some Jawbox, some Burning Airlines and some Braid in there along with a lot of its own attitude. The only remaining question is: where has this been for the last few years? California X is sludgy, noisy and anthemic; a real pretty kick in the eardrums and it’s been awhile since a thick guitar riff and a melody sounded this good. (Don Giovanni Records)
Review: Arrows – Try And Stay Upright
When things unravel, you search for a way to make sense of the countless thoughts that cloud your mind. There is a fetching quote from a set of lyrics I came across recently that I think is the most accurate summation of this notion. It ends with “So when I finally close my eyes / I’ll find my self control”. These words are the one tangible thing that connects my understanding of the aural connectivity between Arrows’ Try and Stay Upright with the so-called real world.
It makes sense because Try and Stay Upright is fuelled by a sense of loss, and pain, and a lot of questions. Arrows are Australia’s poets of melancholia, taking cues from the likes of the Gloria Record and Mineral, the aching riffs and slow building melodies come down in crashing waves of jilted couplets and serious Midwestern emo/indie introspection. In “Calling Your Sponsor”, vocalist Anthony Morgan ends the alcohol-fuelled letter of loves lost with the piercing kind of heartfelt bitterness;
“Why don’t I feel myself when I’m along through the weeknights or fucking somebody else / I don’t know I guess it’s not your place to say anymore, anyway”
It is an uncontrollable emotion at times, and through the six tracks, Morgan is often trying to make sense of the swirling ideas in his head. He writes about past love that segues into the piano-driven reflection of the title track, about being drunk outside a show before the lyrics swerve into the almost scribbled down words; “so I went for a walk.” Almost as if he needed to break away from the path in which the words and music were taking his thoughts.
“Always With the Leaving” is the album’s grand centrepiece; a monstrous 6+ minute epic that traverses self-doubt, anger, and recovery with a beautiful sense of melodic sadness. There is also a poignant moment in the track; the best, most understated manner in which explains the very existence of all these songs;
“You ask ‘why you gotta write these songs about me?’ / I don’t, you write them for me / I just add the melody”
Try and Stay Upright is a remarkable attempt at making sense of the unravelling. The words are frenzied but the music is serene. We do not know the stories behind the words, and we cannot relate to them on the level in which they do because they are an honest reflection of the moments that inspired them. It is an odd juxtaposition but it is music in its truest form; personal. The best we can do is close our eyes and listen. (Hobbledehoy)
AUDIO STREAM: Arrows – “Calling Your Sponsor”
Arrows – “Calling Your Sponsor”