Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Monitor Review

Titus Andronicus is a tidal wave. Each twang of the guitar and shout from Patrick Stickle's throat is another element that composes the enormous swell of emotion that is their sophomore album, The Monitor. If ever there were an album to encompass every bit of rage and confusion that comes with life, it would be what this band has created. They challenge the boundaries of lyrical sanity and musical limits with each twist and turn throughout the hour-length record, paying no mind to the standards set upon recent punk. And for them they have a repertoire of instrumentation from bagpipes to trombones to cellos; all utilized to spark that nostalgic war-time anarchism that you read about in high school. The good ol' boys that spent their days shouting about liberty while spewing their guts into the nearest gutter. Except they've honed that nausea into words, and they're spewing that passionate and unstoppable presence of anger and fear unto us. We are the audience, and Titus Andronicus is the marching band of hope.

It is apparent from the moment Stickle bursts onto the record on "A More Perfect Union" that he is both unhappy and undoubtedly inebriated. The pure energy that he supplies to his music is completely unchallenged in today's punk scene. With his throat spouting lyrical steam and the band boiling the pot, it creates that lump in your throat that inspires you to shout along with them. From the invigorating screams of "You'll always be a loser!" on "No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future" to the several derailed shrieks throughout the remainder of the record, you are hooked to this band and what they have to say. You feel Stickle's rising and falling from inebriated cries of freedom and justice to his hung-over fear of what comes for him in the future. It's this combination of energy and emotion that makes them one of the most unique and inspiring groups prominent in today's music scene. By the conclusion of the record, you've been on a journey with Stickle that remains embedded in your mind until you hear the words of Abraham Lincoln on "A More Perfect Union" reanimated once again.

However, the entirety of The Monitor, relies on each miniscule element that composes it - the powerful support of the group, the intensely personal and introversive lyricism, and of course Patrick Stickle's infectious vocal work. They all rise to ultimate fruition on "The Battle of Hampton Roads" which encapsulates everything that is incredible about Titus Andronicus. Containing perhaps the most exciting and tense crescendo of the record (where there are several), the song takes everything that drove the record and hammers it into a final grandiose fourteen-minute closure. Stickle's growl of "And so now when I drink, I'm going to drink to excess." and the proceeding lines grips you by the neck and captivates that rebellious spark in your brain that you never quite knew you had. This album can make you the most confident man on the planet, and it can make you terrified of waking up in the morning in fear of finding more people like Patrick Stickle. It took the guts of a madman to make something so raw and risky in today's music, but Titus Andronicus did it, and did it exceptionally.

Is there a boy in this town that's not exploding with hate?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Here, Hear. II Review

 It's the respect and maturity in the way that La Dispute crafted their Here, Hear., series that makes it so powerful. It's unfortunately rare in recent music to find a band that not only makes their music professionally, but does it with such craftsmanship. As shown with their previous entry in the series, La Dispute takes bits and pieces from the workings of authors and poets and supply all the other necessary elements to make the four tracks on part II. And it's with this approach that the group shines exceptionally as musicians, each member adding their own music for each of their literary selections and lead man Jordan Dreyer submitting his vocals. As displayed on their previous releases, La Dispute holds the pristine ability to create atmosphere and it is no different here, beginning with the light chirping of crickets on five.

Dreyer's confident and concise pronunciation is key to the way each song flows. His smooth, gliding, sing-song technique with the finger-snapping tempo on five and the playful, even childish tone during seven shows him experimenting with a number of ways to convey the message of each track. Everything is executed in a very precise manner, bringing out the hidden talents not shown on La Dispute's previous outings (save for the previous Here, Hear.) as well as showing just how respectful they are to their source material. This is no simple spoken-word tribute to the authors and poets; it's a downright gift to them. As shown on eight, the extremely tense and explosive feel of Dreyer's words holds the perfect intensity and passion not normally seen by the pseudo-poets loitering the corner coffee shop.

As previously mentioned, the music here is put in place only to accentuate the mood of the literature, and it does its job wonderfully. With the diverse instruments rising and falling with the mood of the speaker, it shows a lot about the group's ability to appreciate and control their tempo. For each song that La Dispute craft, a little more potential is revealed and their gradual growth is one of the most exciting developments in music today. From their usual post-hardcore fashion to this rare spoken-word treat, they slowly evolve into professional and ever-expanding musicians, and never cease to surprise the music world. And with Here, Hear II, they add another stepping stone to their next project, which promises only greatness.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Bench(Short Story)

2000, Missouri

My mother and I had taken one of our weekly trips to the local market on a sunny day in August. It was harshly humid out and a thick, dark cloud passed over the sun as we entered the store, casting a shadow over the building. I was no firm believer in destiny at the time, but what I saw that day begs me to believe otherwise. The tinted-glass doors slid open and a cool breeze swayed past my mother and I as we saw a man pointing a gun at another man behind the counter. They both looked at us, the store uncomfortably silent. It was a quick event, and I can only remember bits and pieces, but I remember the fear. I remember the look in my mother's eyes and I can still feel the memories of the glass in my head.

There were sirens in the distance and the robber panicked. He didn't get the money he desired from the clerk so he came after us. A black barrel of a small handgun was soon pressed against my mother's head. He picked the weakest in the room. I remember snapping at him in a gut reaction, grabbing his wrist and pulling the gun away from my mother. A shot went off, shattering the door behind her. I had saved her. His other hand soon reacted, smashing me in the side of the head, sending me into the glass counter behind me where the clerk still stood dumbstruck. The sirens sounded closer.

A sudden rush of sensations hit my brain. The glass embedded in my skull and the blood soon flowing out of it. My vision became blurred but I saw him strike my mother, take her purse, and jet out the door. The memory cuts short there. I know everything that my mother told me after I woke up. However, unfortunately for me, it was over a year after the incident that I did wake up. The blow to my head mixed with the garden of glass in my skull had sent me into coma. She was fine, however, and that put a sense of peace in my head. The man got away with fifty dollars.

It took months of therapy and seven weeks with a psychologist to put me back into the correct state of mind. Well, the term "correct" has several connotations for several different people. I'm thankful that I'm alive and thankful that my mother is alive -- however this event shook me further in my bones than I initially thought. I spent weeks in my room staring at the ceiling and reading children's books; wrapping myself in an innocent cocoon. My perception of the outside universe was much like that of a child's perception of what is under a bed -- Paranoid and fearful. It was this child-like curiosity and fear that once again got me outside.

It began with slowly removing the dark black blankets I placed over my windows. They were a barrier of sorts. Avoiding the existence of an outside existence was easier than staring it in the face. Soon I began to walk around outside my house, taking in the old scents of life. Things rushed back and my steps began to become easier and more comfortable. However I still refused to speak to anyone besides my mother. She took care of me out of the kindness of her heart. My paranoid brain says it's only because I saved her. I still wonder about this sometimes.

I did not go out much, but it was enough to keep the doctors away. They were interesting. The way they paid close attention to me, like I was a lab rat. Maybe I was a curious case, or perhaps they were just doing their jobs, but I took something out of this. Their sense of observation struck me. They detailed my every step and eye movement in their notebooks. Perhaps I'm just a book waiting to be written. Maybe my case will make it into a textbook. I began to adapt this skill for myself. I would watch the way my neighbors would speak with my mom. The way their lips moved, the way their eyes shifted. I could tell when they were talking about me.

I would walk up and down my rural street, listening to the sounds of televisions through open windows. There only seems to be bad news, or at least there's only bad news worth reporting. Man stabbed at baseball game. Boy taken from parents. Girl found dead in park. The chorus of news anchors all singing the saddest songs in the world. Their words struck me and sometimes I would stand in the middle of the sidewalk just to hear if the people inside their homes would gasp or react to these words. Eventually my mother would yell at me to come back inside. I never heard a word from the windows.

She was aghast when I said I was going to the market. Questions of whether I was comfortable with going back or not and whether I wanted her to go were soon shot out of her mouth. Fear was scribbled all across her face, but I was fine. I was quite alright with going back. I wanted to see more people, wanted to read more stories on their faces. Perhaps I could write something about them; perhaps I should take a notebook. I could have been like one of those doctors.

When she asked why I was going, I said I was thirsty. In reality, I was looking for words. The words of strangers. My brain hungered to know what exactly drives people day in and day out. Every other minute a child is reported dead or kidnapped, and I want to know why they aren't smiling. Why they aren't grateful for being able to go to that market; for being able to take advantage of life's privileges. It made me angry. It made me very angry. Perhaps the only emotion I'd felt since I woke up.

The walk wasn't far - only a few blocks down from where I lived. I walked with a patient step, in no real hurry. I could still hear the news stations from the road. My mother's eyes followed me until I was out of view. Eventually I was mere steps from the building and I expected tension to bloom in my chest like a fungus -- however my lungs remained stable. There was no real feeling as I walked up to the front door and grasped the handle. I looked back up to observe the clouds in the sky. I wasn't sure why, but it seemed like I should note that. They were dark.

The cool breeze from the air conditioner swam past my head as I walked calmly inside. They replaced the old counter, it was wooden now. There was now a woman behind the counter assisting an elderly man with his groceries. The man from before must have been let go. It took a moment for me to adjust and soak in the environment before I remembered what I had come for. Benches beside the entrance looked like a nice place to start, so I sat. And in that spot I watched the world pass by.

For hours on end I sat and watched person by person walk in. A few of them looked at me and I looked back. Their gazes were short lived as their eyes moved back in front of them. Curiosities breezed in and out of my mind; questions of whether these people knew what happened here a mere year ago. Was the most critical moment in my life worth a moment's thought for these people? I wondered where the sudden coldness of the world came from, and wondered if sitting in this seat was worth my time.

Every so often a family would come in smiling together. In one particular family there was a young boy. He looked at me, connected vision with me, and stopped walking. His parents were alarmed by this. He began to walk toward me, with the most burning curiosity in his eyes. I simply looked back. Soon another family came in, nearly colliding with the boy, and cut off our vision. Something about this child caught me off guard. His innocent eyes shouldn't have to see the numbed pupils of mine. I was glad when his parents grabbed him away from the crowd. He scared me.

I sat for a few more minutes after that, considering what just happened, but paid no more thought to it until my walk home. My cranium was bouncing with thoughts and observations. Few people seemed concerned with anything but getting their groceries. Was that all that mattered to them in that moment? Am I not giving these people enough credit? Perhaps setting your mind to one task and blocking out everything else is the safest method of living. Step-by-step. Thought-by-thought.

When I entered my front door my mom gave me the strangest look. She asked if I was okay. I was fine. She asked if I got lost. I did not. She asked what I did. I looked for things, didn't find anything, though. She was relieved and gave me dinner. I wasn't hungry that night and I soon went to bed. The next day I repeated the process, and I would for the next few months until I eventually stopped on my way to the store to watch a news story from the sidewalk. This time there were audible gasps from what they heard. It intrigued me so I listened closer. It was hard to hear - the anchor was panicked. Finally the family began calling friends and moved away from the television. I heard the anchor clearly from the road. Two planes had collided with two buildings in New York City. Nobody visited the store that day.

The pure panic shown on their faces was invigorating to my interest. I soon walked home after seeing the store was bare. My mom was fixed to the television and was soon shouting about what had happened when I arrived in the door. My confusion and curiosity fused together over the course of the next few days. People joined together in prayer and grief for those who had been lost, though their panic was still as clear as day.

After not visiting for almost a week, I returned to the store. There was still talk and chatter among the employees about what had happened and finally I saw the real hearts of the machines that had once roamed these floors. Every day there were murders and suicides, but it took the death of thousands to finally graze their heads. The sudden buzz of talk and prayer and comfort brought forth a new look on their faces. I had seen every expression and twitch in the cheeks and eyes of the citizens here and never once had I seen the fear and care that had been present those weeks.

It was from that moment that I realized that humanity relies on emotional extremes to show the true faces of people. When misery and death becomes commonplace, it takes absolute decimation to birth the compassion in the hearts of millions. I still visit that store and I still watch their faces and they now greet me when they walk in like I've grown into the chair that has been the catalyst in my observations. From this bench I've watched the evolution of humans and the evolution of myself. I tell my mother everything that I see. She says I should look into studying psychology. I thought about it, but found myself against it. The surprises are what keep me in this seat, and textbooks cannot capture these people.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Hurley Review

If there were any adjective to describe the last five years of Weezer's career, "serious" most certainly would not be it. Since the release of their 2005 LP, Make Believe, lead man Rivers Cuomo's writing went off on a strikingly strange and completely out of left-field tangent. The spectrum of his music went from witty, easy-going rock to a progressively immature and campy (or "self-parody" as some wish to see it) mess. After releasing two lackluster-at-best records, all within or just over a year of each other, the fan base had stopped scratching their head, and began turning their backs. And following the nearly unbearable midlife crisis that was 2009's Raditude, it was hard to imagine that there was any life left in them. However, they return once again, unsurprisingly within just a year of their previous record, sporting only a slightly more bearable approach to how they make music.

To showcase the positive aspects of Hurley would be to highlight everything that Weezer has done well before. There are the catchy melodies on tracks like Memories and Brave New World, and the somber moods of numbers like Unspoken. However, it's those familiar styles that also severely hinder this record. Saying that they are simply going back to their roots here is an understatement; a majority of this record begins to feel utterly recycled from the moment it begins -- and therein lies its killer. The guitar pattern on Ruling Me could easily be swapped for every generic lick on radio rock hits, with lyrics that only accentuate that statement. The bland and sometimes embarrassingly bad lyrics on Smart Girls and Trainwrecks continue to portray everything that has gone downhill with them since 2005. If a line such as, "I wanna be a bad boy right now" being sung by a forty year old man isn't enough to warrant a laugh, then I don't know what is.

While Hurley doesn't quite reach the lows that Weezer's previous outing achieved, it's still a prime example of what not to do when you're attempting a comeback. However for the fans who thought that the spark in Rivers Cuomo died with 2005's Make Believe, there may be a slight glimmer yet. There are definite signs of potential within the small successful moments of this record; however they are unfortunately overshadowed by the utterly dry musicianship and lyricism in all that remains. If there were any final words to say about Hurley, it's that the cover almost makes up for every misdeed throughout it. Almost.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Sirens and Condolences Review

If ever you've come across bands like Alkaline Trio, Brand New, or maybe even Death Cab For Cutie, then essentially you've heard Bayside's debut record, Sirens and Condolences. These New York hailing punk-rockers take everything you've heard from pop-punk and emo and throw them in a simmering pot of hate and distortion. However bland that may sound, the execution is actually quite endearing. From the opener, Masterpiece, it's clear what kind of record this is going to be, and that's what is really enjoyable about this record. You can shamelessly enjoy each pounding, harsh song with just as much enjoyment as the band had in creating it. The repetition of chords and choruses is all but expected from the genre, and Bayside does it well while still being able to have enough lyrical substance to keep them above stagnancy.

The group's lead man and driving force, Anthony Raneri, is really who carries this record. With his passionate shouts and intensely personal lyrics, it's evident that he really takes pride in this. And while the record is certainly serious, it still keeps that sort of fun that comes with the gritty-punk style that they're going for. Much like their genre-sharing predecessors Alkaline Trio, they utilize their ability to craft catchy music, while still remaining lyrically solid and genuine. While some of the lyrics can be relatively cheesy, there are a handful of memorable moments tossed throughout the record. On the album's closer, Guardrail, Raneri's shouts of, "Break your neck like you broke my will!" holds a really legitimate intensity that would soon become the band's niche.

When it comes to instrumentation, it's the same blasting distortion with the electric guitar and pounding drums that make up a majority of the album. However, as previously mentioned this is all a suit of the genre and it fits Raneri's vocals quite nicely. It would be hypocritical not to mention that this is really nothing new, and is easily one of the shortcomings of the record. Whether it clearly aspires to just be another fun and emotionally packed punk record or not, it still stands that had there been more depth in the instrumentation, it could have been a really fantastic outing by one of the now more prominent names in pop-punk.

Sirens and Condolences, has its hits and misses, but it has a lot of heart, and for a debut record it does its job. Despite being stale in a few spots, Bayside present themselves concisely and in a fashion that would soon become their own style. Their emotional-punk trend continues onto their second release and to great effect once again. Bayside exhibit that there are still bands willing to have fun while playing and hold that raw punch in their lyrics to keep them interesting, and that is all too refreshing.