Archive for the ‘Anniversaries’ Category

SunnWhy spend the time writing about some droning, satanic metal band from the depths of Seattle, Washington you ask?  Because Pitchfork magazine did, and I’ll cover myself in my own urine and run all up and down Route 22 before some hip metal reviewer from Pitchfork writes a review about an album that I’m not willing to take a few minutes out of my trivial excuse of a life to write about.  So, it’s time to take a trip down into your cellar or basement torture-chamber to break out that dusty ol’ cast-iron pentagram and bottle of Persian virgin-blood you’ve been saving for that one very special occasion, because today is that day: Sunn’s White1 is a ripe ten years-old.

After three full-length albums, a few shows with surprisingly large turnouts (even without including the bandmates’ parents and grandparents), and numerous burnt infant corpses, it’s safe to say that Sunn wasn’t looking to write a crowd-pleaser with White1.  I mean, the first track is anything but accessible, clocking in at a cranium-boiling 25:17.  If I wanted to hear a bunch of ringing in my ear for a half-hour I would’ve just fired off a round beside my ear using that vintage Nazi Luger P08 in my dresser drawer – or better yet just aimed it at my head.  White1’s high point (seriously, I’m not kidding here) comes at about the 2:00 mark in “The Gates of Ballard” when Joe Preston, guitarist/bassist/drum-programmer, starts the surprisingly listenable seven minutes of the album.  The moment I’m speaking of consists of a repetitive, fuzzy bass line which paves the way for complex yet catchy metal-like programmed drums.  Closer, “Shaving Of The Horn That Speared You,” is a typical example of Sunn’s droning melancholy, and is encouraged to be played at your daughter’s sixth birthday party.

For those of you interested in skinning goats and gulping down their coagulated fluids, White1 tells the story of a satanic enthusiast who finds himself in a barren land facing a wall, hence the album’s cleverly-titled opening track name “My Wall”.  The story’s satanist is apparently very out of shape and lethargic since instead of finding a way over, or around the wall, he just sits against the wall wallowing in his own self-pity and hatred, like a nark, for days or possibly weeks.  While hallucinating from dehydration, our main character notices The Gates of Ballard, of which the album’s second track finds its name.  He tries pulling the lever to open the gates and pass through the wall, but he’s too emaciated and weak to pull the lever at first – likely from not getting his lazy behind up off the ground all week to just order a goddamn pizza from Domino’s.  Eventually he manages to tug on the lever with all his might and open the gates where (no surprise here) he finds nothing but more darkness and despair for miles and miles.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, here comes the last track, “A Shaving of The Horn That Speared Me”, with some beast that shanks this poor kid in the chest where upon he bleeds out a slow death – bummer.

This giddy tale may have been true, or I may have just pulled it out from under my shorts.  Either way, a few things are for sure; Sunn is not for the light of heart, the vocals are delightful, and doom/drone metal will always be defined by the likes of one band – Sunn O))).

~D.B.

0000558079_500In some ways, Lagwagon’s five-year hiatus between 1998’s Let’s Talk About Feelings and 2003’s Blaze was a good thing—during the layoff, frontman Joey Cape made two stellar albums with his alternative side-project Bad Astronaut as well as a bunch of great covers with Me First and the Gimme Gimmes.

Of course, Blaze is my favorite Lagwagon record, so I should probably be thankful the band got back together. Today, April 8, the album is ten years old. Happy birthday, Blaze!

Jovial, driving, melodic, fast, harmony-filled… Blaze is really everything anyone could ask for out of a skatepunk album. It’s personal at times, political at others, and anthemic throughout. The classic punk drumbeats abound, but it never gets overdone. Cape’s voice has something in it that rings of the everyman, the blue-collar worker, the slightly-oppressed middle class—it’s very appealing, but never whiny, resulting in a very accessible band sound. Throw in solid musicality, punk snarkyness, and some humor, and you get a classic early-2000s punk rock album that helped cement Lagwagon in their current cult status as the frontrunners of Californian skatepunk.

The excellence doesn’t let up—album opener “Burn” blasts forth after a subdued intro, then the pop-punk of “E. Dagger” showcases the band’s considerable melodic tendencies. “Dancing the Collapse” has always been one of my favorites, and with good reason; it’s “my” song, evidenced by Cape’s lyric at the 48-second mark: “This one’s for Jimmy / with two more for me.” Thanks, Joey!

“I Must Be Hateful” is an absolute classic, as are “Never Stops” and “Lullaby.” “Max Says” and “Dividers” ramp up the punk again. “Billionare,” “Tomorrow Is Heartbreak,” and “Baggage” round out the album on three more high notes. All in all, Blaze is an album that’s both classic and essential in Lagwagon’s collection, as well as the entire Fat Wreck Chords catalog. Oh, and I always get a kick out of the cover art. (Although nothing will ever beat Hoss’s cover.)

There’s a chance that Lagwagon will be putting out a brand-new album this year… we can only hope it will be as solid and entertaining as the Lagwagon from 2003 was. Until then, we’ll have to rely on the now-decade-old—but still superb—tunes on Blaze.

~ J.M.

Beneath+Medicine+Tree+hq+pngAhh, Beneath Medicine Tree. An album instrumental in ushering forth what I call “the Spill Canvas Era.” What is the Spill Canvas Era? It’s those couple of years from—roughly—2002 to 2008 where 19- to 24-year-old girls wearing floppy beanies and hemp Toms stroll into their local Best Buy, pick up the newest Spill Canvas album, and proceed to bask in the feminine-voiced indie-rock lusciousness with their heavy-rimmed-glasses-and-leather-bomber-jacketed boyfriends as they drive home in their dark blue latest-model Honda Civics.

I might just have that all wrong, but I like to think it was an actual trend. It might still be going on, for all I know. Whatever the case, Copeland’s 2003 debut album, Beneath Medicine Tree, came out exactly ten years ago today, and it’s definitely one of the hallmarks of that era (even if I just made that era up).

A song like leadoff track “Brightest” finds Copeland at their most delicate and vulnerable. Moments like these are not really why I like Copeland; it gets a little too mushy even for my taste. Luckily, they redeem themselves quickly with songs like “Testing the Strong Ones” and the classic “Take Care.” Copeland is—oops, was, they called it quits by 2010—at its core a guitar-based indie-rock band, and the guitar riffs shine through excellently in these tracks.

Next is one of my favorite Copeland tracks, “When Paula Sparks,” written for singer Aaron Marsh’s grandmother. It blends wonderfully into the slow-building “California,” which concludes in an epic—epic by indie rock standards, that is—outro section bolstered by simple but tasteful drumming. More stellar tracks come along later, including “She Changes Your Mind,” “Walking Downtown,” and fan-favorite “Coffee,” which pretty much sums up the Spill-Canvas-Era mentality here with lines like “If it’s not too late for coffee / I’ll be at your place in ten / We’ll hit that all-night diner / And then we’ll see.” Those Spill-Canvasers love all-night-diner java runs, and “Coffee” is their mantra.

On album-closer “When Finally Set Free” the band treads into a more electronic-based aesthetic that would be featured more prominently on later Copeland records like Eat, Sleep, Repeat. It probably shouldn’t work as well as it does. In this song and throughout Beneath Medicine Tree, Aaron Marsh’s high-register wails soar over the guitar foundation, a combination that was really the root of Copeland’s success. Marsh’s voice is one of the most solid aspects of the record and of Copeland in general, if one can get past the “prettiness” of it.

Happy Birthday, Beneath Medicine Tree, and rest in peace Copeland. The band’s 2003 effort is both a sturdy debut release and an important fixture in indie-rock subculture of the mid-2000s. All of those beanie-toting Spill Canvas-types probably moved on by now to Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes, but we can hope they still give credit where credit’s due. If you ask me, that stuff wouldn’t be as popular as it is now without the hard work of bands like Copeland and solid albums like 2003’s Beneath Medicine Tree.

~J.M.

tumblr_mbk3huaLiF1qa13nvo1_500Today, AFI’s seminal sixth studio album, Sing The Sorrow, turns 10 years old! I invite you to join me in revisiting this classic, and wishing it a very happy birthday.

Before I really got onboard with the AFI bandwagon, they were a band that confused me. They confused me because they sounded totally different depending which album I’d hear. Their newer stuff—Decemberunderground onwards—sounded very polished, slick, almost new-age Green Day-like. Then I would hear some older stuff, say, from 1999’s Black Sails in the Sunset, that retained the hardcore punk sound the band championed on all of their early albums.

2003’s Sing The Sorrow is the album that bridges those two extremes. It’s widely considered AFI’s first big shift in sound, incorporating slower tempos, industrial parts, and a generally alternative-rock-based approach. AFI is one of the few bands I can think of that successfully pulled off a drastic shift without alienating the majority of their fan base; if you ask me, the fact that Sing The Sorrow was so different, yet so accepted, speaks to how good of a record it really is.

The meat of the album is, in my opinion, the middle: roughly tracks 4 through 8. “Silver and Cold,” “Dancing Through Sunday,” “Girl’s Not Grey,” “Death of Seasons,” and “The Great Disappointment” are all incredibly solid tracks, all in succession. Each one is unique, creative, musically solid, energetic, and showcases Davey Havok’s melodic vocal track superbly. The melodies and harmonies that Sing The Sorrow demonstrates throughout—but especially on these middle tunes—are easily the best of the band’s career.

Let’s not carelessly leave out other great songs, though—track 2, “The Leaving Song, Pt. II,” was a lead single and is another excellent cut. “Bleed Black” and “This Celluloid Dream” are two further highlights. I suppose it’s safe to say that every single track on Sing The Sorrow is worthy of high acclaim. There’s not a bad song on this record, and I imagine that’s why it’s faired so well both commercially and with dedicated fans.

Progressive, unique, and driving compared to AFI’s earlier work, retaining integrity and musicality despite being released on a huge label (the now-defunct DreamWorks, which was essentially absorbed into Geffen Records), Sing The Sorrow is the perfect mix of old-school and new-school AFI. This “meeting in the middle” approach serves the band well, demonstrating their true talent and songwriting capability. It’s rather strange to think it came out a decade ago; my favorite AFI record is now ten years old. Happy birthday, Sing The Sorrow!

~J.M.

P.S.  Also of note, although completely unrelated to this anniversary—today is 311 day! March 11th, 3/11. So everyone should listen to at least one 311 song today at some point.

Mae Destination Beautiful cover artThe year 2003 was a pretty genre-defining year in music – or at least in rock sub-genres.  The Postal Service released their debut album (along with bands like Copeland and The Format), Blink-182 released their self-titled album, and tons of the latest bands we listen to in 2013 were graduating from high school.  And as it just so happens on this particular day (February 25th) back in 2003 Mae released their debut album entitled Destination: Beautiful and showed a bunch of track-jacket-and-Dickies wearing emo kids how to actually have “happy” feelings for once.

I might just be amusing myself, but Mae had brought a new element to emo that I don’t really think was there before Destination: Beautiful – joy.  Before 2003 everyone playing the arguably indefinable genre of “emo” was singing about how sad they were about their feelings, relationships, and parents, but Destination: Beautiful accomplished something a bit different.  Even though these songs appealed to fans of the emo genre of the time, singer/guitarist, Dave Elkins, started singing about finding hope and all things generally uplifting.  Instead of putting marks on your wrist, Mae’s debut album would leave smiles on your face.

Mae starts off almost slow with the fan favorite “Embers and Envelopes.”  The song does a really good job of defining Mae’s signature sound for the rest of the album; spacey emo, distorted and palm muted guitars, catchy choruses, and keen drumming abilities provided throughout the album by the ever technical Jacob Marshell.  “This Time Is The Last Time” is a true measure of the album’s ability to be dynamic as it starts with an acoustic guitar melody, moves into a booming chorus, and finishes out with the same acoustic guitar.  The next track, “All Deliberate Speed,” is quite possibly my favorite track on the entire album.  The low bass and background harmonies that show up every now and then are almost eerie for such a generally cheery song.  I really think the drummer in me loves the technical rhythms between the guitars and drums, and the bass drum to hi-hat build until the end makes me levitate in my chair.  “Runaway” has most likely the catchiest chorus on the album.  “Sun” provides a change of pace (but only sort of, if that makes any sense) for the middle of the album with its piano ballad outro serving as a kind of album-interlude.  Also a favorite of mine, “Last Call” features the tight and packy snare that was a part of the trademark early 00’s punk/emo drummers.  The song “Skyline Drive” was written with Elkins’ previous band, Sky’s The Limit, and (if the album even has one) might serve as the album’s ballad.  With its poppy chorus and matching guitar and synth riff during the bridge and outro, I can see “Soundtrack For Our Movie” being poppy enough to air time on radio back in 2003, though it sadly never got the chance.  Easily the hardest track off Destination: Beautiful, “Summertime” provides my favorite outro on the release.  For all of you drumming aficionado OBR readers; notice how the snare sounds different compared to the other tracks, it’s warmer and has a kind of looser attack.  Finally, the album ends with the fittingly huge, uplifting, and appropriately named “Goodbye, Goodnight.”

Destination: Beautiful references driving and the sky in quite possibly every song.  Elkins has even mentioned before that around the time of writing songs for the album he would “gather [his] thoughts and eventually turn those thoughts into lyrics” during his long drives as a commuting student in college.  Having commuted to school for a year, I have to say, Dave Elkins crushed the nail on the head.  Destination: Beautiful is great album to listen to while driving or sailing or flying… or wearing that blue Starting Line t-shirt with a three leaf clover on it that is too small for you like it’s 2003.

~ D.B.