With the title of its debut full-length, Minneapolis five-piece Howler seems primed to bring the world (or at least this part of it) to its knees. It’s the kind of ballsy gumption one would expect from a band not even of drinking age yet, but the question of course is can they walk the walk to back up the talk. Um, maybe?
America Give Up reveals a band well-versed in its fuzzy guitar-rock touchstones, the most obvious being The Strokes. It’s hard not to hear the slack-jawed vocals and terse guitar jangles of frontman Jordan Gatesmith on songs like the leadoff “Beach Sluts” and “This One’s Different” and not think, “Is this it?” No, Howler channels The Jesus and Mary Chain too; “Back to the Grave” has more than a passing resemblance to “Taste of Cindy.” None of this is surprising in this age of appropriation, and the more one listens to America, the more one realizes the album’s charm comes from how Gatesmith and his gang appropriate. (The same was true of The Strokes 11 years ago, when they were cribbing from VU and Television.) In other words, the album somehow manages to sound brash even when jumping someone else’s train. An album or two from now, Howler may very well have us on our knees.
Apparently, Gary Lightbody, the driving force behind Snow Patrol, got a little tired of the alternately rousing and sensitive tunes he’s been plugging for the last 15 years and went shopping for a new pigment with which to paint his work. Despite his reservations, he was unable to resist the technicolor appeal of the can labeled “U2 can Muse like Coldplay.”
Thankfully, Lightbody can’t escape himself completely, so you’ll still be gratified by his stirring melodies and sing-along choruses on Fallen Empires. But you’ll have to get used to the fact that nearly every song has been enhanced with arena-sized effects. Take the wailing backup vocals from Lissie, who jumps in halfway through the leadoff track, “I’ll Never Let Go.” Or the synthetic chords and backbeat in “Called Out in the Dark.” Or the lame Afro-Celt Soundsystem hooks they borrowed for the album’s title track, or Owen Pallett’s cheesier than usual string quartet on “Lifening.” And let’s not even talk about “New York,” which is ready and waiting for when Cameron Mackintosh wants to reset Les Miserables in the Big Apple.
Even the songs that charm for stretches, like “Those Distant Bells,” reach a frustrating conclusion when the band can’t resist reaching for that dreaded brush. “The Weight of Love” starts out sounding like Snow Patrol with an intriguing new twist, but ends up a carbon copy of “Even Better Than the Real Thing.” So, I suggest listening to each song for no more than two minutes. Snow Patrol has long had a penchant for bombast, and they’ve frequently touched up their records with subtly, nuance and, well, taste. But in their efforts to paint on a larger canvas, they’ve taken a few too many shortcuts, and the results are frustratingly conventional.
Glasgow, Scotland has long been a hip, vibrant setting for indie rock, with bands ranging from The Jesus and Mary Chain, Belle and Sebastian and, more recently, Franz Ferdinand all calling the city home. There is also one Glaswegian band that has made an impact of a slightly more offbeat sort: Mogwai. And it is on Mogwai’s label, Rock Action, that the Errors have been bred. These young men, however, took an arguably different route, not only from their benefactors, but their other Scottish brethren as well. Opting not for the quirky luster of indie-rock or the perpetually dark aesthetic of post-punk, but instead blending the best of all worlds amongst a haze of electronica, they released their first full-length album, It’s Not Something But It Is Like Whatever, in 2008 to acclaim in the the UK, though the splash never extended to this side of the pond. That could change, though, with the release of their third full-length, Have Some Faith In Magic.
Though electronica can fall prey to every song sounding the same, the Errors manage, for the most part, to avoid that quagmire. The first half of the album is slow to start, especially with the lackadaisical opener, “Tusk.” “Magna Encarta” is a bit more engaging, with hypnotic synth-driven hooks and ever-expanding chords, but it’s hard to imagine listening to these songs while doing much else but stare into space. But the truth of the matter is that this band is too good to be relegated to background noise, a fact that isn’t truly discovered until psychedelic interlude “Canon.”
From there, however, the second half of the album showcases Errors’ relatively newfound penchant for melding the darkest inklings of ’80s synth with an unabashed ’90s electronic approach, specifically via the hypnotizing, sinister drum beats on “Earthscore” and the hauntingly deep, vocal-drenched soundscape of “Cloud Chamber.” This is Errors at their best, creating one spacey journey after another. The album, as a whole, is, as they say, downright “chill,” and at the same time, completely ethereal. It seems that whatever space and/or time-traveling path these young men take, they are on track to shift out of Mogwai’s proverbial eclipse and forge a name for themselves.
One wouldn’t imagine that Brian Wilson, Axl Rose and Al Jourgensen would have much of anything in common. However, there’s one thing that they share: all three have at some point been burdened by the announcement of records that have been, let’s say, slightly delayed. Wilson finally delivered Smile, twice, Rose eventually released Chinese Democracy, and now Jourgensen is releasing his long gestating Buck Satan project. It’s been about 20 years and some change since Jourgensen announced his intention to release a country album as a tribute to one of his heroes, Buck Owens. It never really made that much sense that the most industrial of the industrial would delve into the world of hayseed, but Jourgensen has always marched to the beat of his own drum machine. Hell, after he covered Rod Stewart, anything seemed possible. So the cliched saying rings true: better late than never.
The biggest question is how Jourgensen would approach the project. Would it be industrialized versions of country songs? The list of guests, which includes Rick Nelson (Cheap Trick), Dave Lombardo (Slayer) and Tony Campos (Static X), gives no indication. Well, hold onto your hats because Jourgensen largely plays it straight as Buck Satan. But while the album is pretty faithful musically, when it comes to the lyrics, Jourgensen is yucking it up. As its title’s overture indicates, Bikers Welcome! Ladies Drink Free is the sound of an after-hours honkytonk where the jokes get a little blue. There are some songs that are vaguely serious, like “Cheap Wine, Cheap Ramen” on which Jourgensen takes the record industry to task, but most tracks are more along the lines of “I Hate Every Bone In Your Body Except Mine” (not to be confused with Poison’s expression of the same sentiment, “I Hate Every Bone in Your Body But Mine”). The only misstep on the record is when Jourgensen doesn’t show restraint, either by letting some songs go on far too long or by going into full holler mode. When he’s relaxed, you can actually imagine him along side the classic players. While you’ll never see hear him played next to Carrie Underwood, Jourgensen has made his hero proud.
Dorian S. Ham
Authenticity is a quality that has come to be overvalued in our society. Part of the same train of thought that places the individual above all else, it is a flawed concept because it discounts other qualities in favor of this vague idea of implicit validity. Spend sometime with record fetishists and you’ll quickly see what I mean.
Anyway, as their debut, A Brief History of Love and now its follow-up, Future This, have made apparent, there is nothing authentic about The Big Pink. The British band is as confectionate as they come, each song a mix of grandiose emotions and an upsweep of synthetically darkened tones. Of course, this can make for great pop music, as was the case with “Dominos,” the lead single from the debut. On Future This, cuts like “Stay Gold” (the single) and “Rubbernecking” come close to repeating the successful formula, but fall short. And elsewhere—most noticeably on the discotectonic “Give It Up” and “Jump Music”—the cracks are already beginning to show. But again, there’s no point in expecting anything of substance from The Big Pink, so why complain about these 45 minutes of inconsequential music?