Album Review: Jawbox – “Jawbox” (1996)

26 Mar

Jawbox’s eponymous last album is a blazing exploration of the sonic landscape that comes with Selling Out to the Man circa 1996. ‘Jawbox’ finds the band ditching their ruthlessly abrasive brand of DC hardcore for a series of startlingly MTV-able post-punk tracks that sound more ‘Breed’ than Big Black. The change could be chalked up to Atlantic Records’ less-than-punk motives, but, more likely, as lead vocalist J. Robbins notices in ‘Spoiler,’ “vindication [wasn’t] what it used to be” for a band that, after three studio albums and five years of touring, were finally fully realized (with a record, aptly, titled after themselves) – but not through hardcore punk. ‘Jawbox’ is an inescapably commercial record with an inescapably commercial sound.

Losing the harsh discord that characterized iconic-if-messy debut ‘Grippe’ and critically acclaimed sophomore record ‘Novelty’ may have cut down on the adrenal force that only cacophonously ugly guitar riffs and rumbling bass lines can really deliver, but Jawbox is by no means any less articulate on this post-punk swan song. The cryptically caustic lyrics on the album are odes to drug abuse and dysfunction that craft a harrowingly beautiful alternate universe for themselves through unending tangles of metaphors in songs like “Iodine” and “Mirrorful.” Matching these lyrics with dark, seething music that taps eerily at spider-webs of verses and plunges into radiantly catchy choruses with a startling force makes “Jawbox” one of the best records to come out of the DC scene of the 1990s – even if it indicates a movement away from the scene’s hardcore roots and into more commercial territory.

Retrospective: Scratch Acid – ‘The Greatest Gift’ (1991)

10 Mar

Scratch Acid – ‘The Greatest Gift’

(Touch and Go Records)

This lesser known classic is (yes I know this is patronising) not for the faint hearted. Scratch Acid – ‘The Greatest Gift’, released in 1991 consists of a mega twenty eight songs! It’s a compilation of three previous albums from the Austin trio (1982-1987) who, in true and unfortunate punk rock fashion were ripped off by there then record labels.

Although, the guys separated and went on to form numerous other bands, notably The Jesus Lizard, and deservedly experienced a sip or two of that long sought after elixir known as success. To the average you and me this means ‘BEING DULY PAID FOR THE HOURS PUT IN’, and yet it is arguably Scratch Acid who stand alone and in most cases rise above.

Along with other bands such as the Butthole Surfers and Big Black, Scratch Acid contributed in giving unholy birth to that early-to-mid-eighties U.S. scene where a rather more extreme alternative was offered to an already alternative genre. In tracks such as ‘She Said’, ‘Lay Screaming’, ‘Owners Lament’ and ‘Crazy Dan’  themes of rape, murder and insanity are not just touched upon but delved into with David Yow (vocals) and his debauched howling, coming through the speakers like that of a condemned opera singer clinging to the last remnants of what was once a soul.

This is built from the foundations of a solid bass/drums combo and some of the most unsettling, eerie guitar playing ever to be strung which all serves to present an Audio Nasty experience of the most depraved and therefore highest quality.  Think of being ten years old again and watching Texas Chain Saw Massacre for the first time after a day of Tom and Jerry, intrigued? You should be.

Album Review: The Dears – ‘Degeneration Street’ (2011)

9 Mar

The Dears – ‘Degeneration Street’

(Dangerbird)

Skipping the alpha and going straight for the omega, Montreal neo-romanticists kick off fifth studio album Degeneration Street with the funk laiden, groove departure ‘Omega Dog’. It’s a statement of intent from leader Murray Lightburn that see’s his recently reshuffled ragamuffins give their emphatic rock a new twist and a little added spice.

Having fallen off the radar somewhat it’s clear they are willing to make amends. The album is long, weighing in at the one hour mark, and as dense as they come. It’s a lot to wade through. The lasting impression however is nothing on said opener. The music ebbs and flows, reaching dizzying highs on the beautifully melodic ‘Unsung’, ‘Thrones’ and the reminiscent poignancy of ‘Yesteryear’. But it is fundamentally too bi-polar as it then immediately sinks in tracks like ‘Galactic Tides’ and the hysterically operatic closer ‘Degeneration Street’. There simply isn’t enough consistency and we’re left feeling
slightly miffed as with such great individual composition the mish-mash of styles and themes never really come together as one coherent album.

King Cannibal – Let the Night Roar (2009)

22 Feb

(Ninja)

King Cannibal is the main project for Dylan Richards. His 2009 record “Let the Night Roar” is a manifestation of dark bass concoctions, low frequencies, lyrical aggression and dystopia. ‘Tails of Slicing Faces’ and ‘Murder’ made Radio 1’s Mary-Anne Hobbs label the sound as too dark! From the opening strains of “Arigami Style” it’s clear why King Cannibal makes label mate “The Bug” sound like Bob Marley and the Wailers. The music has an aggression and intimidation about it, with nasty raggaclash, bastardised dancehall rhythms and an uncompromising, restless mutation. It is an essential record for anyone who has grown tired of the maligned trend-du-jour that we have come to know as “Dubstep”.

Favourite Album of 2010: T-Polar – ‘Zero’

4 Feb

Zero coverT-Polar – ‘Zero’

(Acroplane Recordings)

2010 saw numerous releases for Belfast’s Gary Spence, otherwise known as T-Polar. An artist whose production abilities allow him to effortlessly skip through the vast range of electronic genres, dipping in and out of each as he pleases, but doing so like each one of them had been his staple output for many a year. The most exciting of those releases came in the form of a seven track EP entitled ‘Zero’, a melodic and diverse adventure into soulful electronica.

Zero comes from the globally celebrated net-label Acroplane Recordings and both the artist and label head confirm that this is easily their favourite release from the desk of Mr. Polar since the two started collaborating musically over 7 years ago.

The EP commences with its title track, a haunting piece of music with a beat structure that seemingly has a mind of its own and bass lines that move slowly but powerfully from bar to bar, bordering on the subversive.

Edited, twisted vocal samples that seem to come from another world are something of a signature for T-Polar and you can hear them interspersed throughout the whole of the EP. As you listen through you will feel the focus shift between various beat patterns including slower two-step and hip-hop like rhythms and faster break beats, the latter making an appearance in form of the track ‘Hot Butter Interlude’. My favourite track would have to be the delirious ‘Fontaine’, one that truly demonstrates the depth of T-Polar’s talents and his ability to layer his music so skilfully.

Having mentioned the diversity in sounds on this release I think it is important to point out how well all of these elements are tied together to create a series of tracks that compliment each other and build a very strong overall feeling. This EP is a pleasure to listen to and is almost hypnotic in places. Listen on a good set of headphones for an even closer experience…