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The Rapture – Echoes

There is something in The Rapture’s Echoes for everyone.

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It’s 1991 all over again! We’re at the Hacienda, dancing furiously to the Happy Mondays and their curious rock/dance hybrid. Well, maybe not, but certainly it is for San Francisco-based post-punk band The Rapture and their eclectic second album shows this. However, whilst the Mondays sang about drugs, sex and their Manchester council estate lives, The Rapture sing about much more emotional and intelligent issues; predominantly, love. The wife of singer/guitarist Luke Jenner must be one happy lady. The other Rapture members- Mattie Safer, Gabriel Andruzzi and Vito Roccoforte- must also be pretty heavily smitten, with a large proportion of the songs dedicated to the subject. The type of music varies wildly from song to song, from bleeping techno to saxophone-led slow jams. The sheer variety of this album is one of its very strongest points- the album could have appeared schizophrenic and confused, but instead the songs are remarkably diverse. The Rapture have a very specific sound, helped in part by the truly great production of the super ‘hip’ DFA, based in New York. The sound is predominantly lo-fi, verging on ‘recorded in a cupboard on a Dictaphone’ territory, and yet it feels right, you wouldn’t have it any other way. In a time where albums are often overproduced it really is a breath of fresh air. Even during some of the more upbeat moments, the romanticism of the songwriters pokes through the songs like a mole poking around the soil, looking for grubs. I know full well that’s a bad simile, but I don’t care. I like moles.

Opening track “Olio” sounds like Aphex Twin in a moment of rare cohesion, with Jenner’s paranoid, occasionally spooky lyrics; “Trapped in my thoughts / You repeating like a machine gun” – making a disorientating opening, to say the least. This confusion is reinforced with the discordant, strident opening of “Heaven,” sounding like a hallucinating Captain Beefheart trapped in your heart. The A Capella bridge is like cold water being thrown on you, awakening you from the trance. Unfortunately you are plunged straight back into this stupor by the minimalist swing of “Open Up Your Heart.” An album highlight, one could visualize an old couple slow-dancing into the night to this ethereal masterpiece of piano-led beauty. First single “House of Jealous Lovers” is a disco banger that is guaranteed to get the club moving, and reinforces the fact that the cowbell is the coolest musical instrument EVER. Title track “Echoes” is also a beauty, with walking bass and cowbell solo adding up to sheer punk-funk brilliance. “Sister Saviour” at the same time is an echoing work of disco perfection, with surrealist lyrics; “Last night I had a dream / A warm field with strawberries and cream” over Mattie Safer’s synthesized bass. “Love Is All” is just that, a ramshackle journey through the trials and tribulations of love and how it makes everything else outside of it insignificant. The accordion use is outstanding, and that is a compliment I do not give lightly. Lastly, “Infatuation” is a fuzzy rumble through the darker corners of the subconscious that leads to a disturbing and harrowing finish. Whew.

All in all, there is something in this record for everyone. Whether you’re in the mood to boogie on down to “House of Jealous Lovers,” pull your best Travolta-isms to “Sister Saviour” or jerk spasmodically to “I Need Your Love,” this record caters to your every whim. The main problem with this record however is the often-sharp change of mood that accompanies the many genres cycled through. First time listeners may be disorientated by these rapid changes and the gloriously ramshackle production, but with repeated listens, you’ll love it.

(Universal Music)

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Good Riddance – Thoughts and Prayers

The fire still burns brightly for Good Riddance

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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

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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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