Featured Reviews from Razorcake Issue 77: Hate inspires eloquence

Dec 17, 2013

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Writing a good review is a lot harder than it seems. It’s easy to love something. It’s a lot harder to talk about why you love it. I think this is why new reviewers tend to talk shit. Hate inspires eloquence. It takes practice to put a record in an objective context: it takes even more practice to make it interesting, engaging, and informative. Every review in Razorcake gets edited for clarity, accuracy, and to dedouche the tone. We don’t edit reviews to make them ads for the things we like or to remove the elements that we don’t like. We edit reviews to make them stronger and easier to read. Razorcake’s a resource for discovering new music and we truly care about making it a resource worthy of your time. It’s for the love of the game.

Finding new music in the internet age is like being in one those “money grab machines”—those phone booth-looking boxes that blow money around you while you try to grab as much as you can in a short period of time. It’s possible that you’ll grab a twenty, but it’s more likely you’ll get two bucks and a coupon for a pedicure. The dream is a delusion. The process of blindly consuming music is totally shits and giggles, but when the machines stops whirring what do you really have besides sore eyes and a sore ass?

When you read a review in Razorcake you’re taking part in something that has a lot of moving parts. A band made a physical record that was sent via snail-mail to Razorcake for review. We then send it back out into the world to our reviewers. The reviewers then sit down with the record and listen to it and thoughtfully write about what they heard. They send that review to us and several editors go over it. It’s a long process before it goes to print. That’s a lot of work. We hope you’re getting something out of it because my eyes and my ass are getting sore writing this and it’s almost time for my pedicure. Derp.

–Matthew Hart, Esquire

A.K.A.: Golden Chains: CD
Heavy nod to ‘80s punk with a vocalist who sounds, to put it bluntly, like she’s barfing nails and summoning a ghoul at the same time. Harsh, ugly, and wire-tight, with the occasional little Ginn-like freakout, such as the laddering guitar work in the title track. Eight songs with the brittle and consistent yowl of hardcore and just mean as shit, with lyrics that focus on labor, inequality, and the often soul-killing nature of work and profit. Go into Golden Chains expecting pop punk and you’re going to get your face sanded off. –Keith Rosson (A.K.A.)

Fuck, man. How can I be this happy and this sad at the same time? Happy first: holy shit, what a fantastic, labor-of-love reissue. Crisp, beautiful half and half translucent blue/clear vinyl. Paint splattered dust cover. Thick-ass chip cardboard silk-screened gatefold sleeve. Full-length zine of flyers, interviews (two that I did, for Razorcake and Thrasher), and original artwork. Japanese tour bill. Poster. CD. I don’t think you could get anymore deluxe packaging. Broken Bottles deserves it. Think if Social Distortion didn’t divorce themselves from Mommy’s Little Monster and rebrand themselves Fonzie Americana For Retired Skinheads, but kept drinking in gutters and skating culverts. Sad part: Jes “The Mess” Rich died in 2010. He was in his early thirties. Jes was deeply troubled. His brother, Travis, visited him in the hospital. They made songs together on an acoustic guitar. It was therapy. Those songs eventually became Broken Bottles songs, some of the best OrangeCounty punk to come out in the 2000s—2010s, in league with Smogtown and The Stitches. Travis is solid gold. He was the logistical mastermind and kept Broken Bottles on the rails when Jes was alive. He’s keeping Jes’s memory alive now that he’s gone. I’m literally fighting back tears and smiling when this record’s spinning. Thanks, Travis. You’re a lifer. This is important. –Todd Taylor (Bat Skates / TKO)

COME TO GET HER: Another Way to Go: CD
­Reviews are made a lot easier when bands sound just like another band. There’s always the possibility you can write a simple review: “I liked this band a lot better when they were called ____.” Or you can go on and on about the similarities between the band and the other band they sound like (but how they’re obviously not as good). Another option is to write, “____ called—they want their sound back.” In the case of Come To Get Her, they are trying hard to emulate Rise Against, circa 2001. I suppose if I received this a dozen years ago I probably would’ve liked it, but perhaps even then I would’ve noticed how derivative it was of the Chicago foursome. At least Come To Get Her includes a Dag Nasty cover (“Circles”), but even then, the vocals aren’t pulled off very well. And like a number of punk albums, it includes the obligatory acoustic tune. Another Way to Go is good, stylistically, but the thirteen songs in thirty-eight minutes just don’t seem original in much of any way. –Kurt Morris (cometogether.bandcamp.com)

CRASHDOLLZ: Self-titled: CD-R
Self indulgent, mind blowing-ly boring “punk-metal” on this CD-R which should more appropriately be used as a beer coaster. There’s so many fucking contacts listed all over this disc, not to mention a business card. Crashdollz, you obviously don’t read this fanzine so let me clue you in: we’re not an agency here so do us both a favor and stick with the one, sole, best way to get in touch with your band should anyone feel the need to. Me, I’m not going to hold my breath for that miracle. –Juan Espinosa (Self-released, crashdollz.com)

CRIATURAS: Espiritu de Libertad: 12” EP
I will admit, I was not instantly blown away by this band. Seems a lot of folks are. But with more listens I found myself starting to “get it,” and develop the opinion that Criaturas are pretty damn good. Musically, Criaturas crank out semi-speedy hardcore punk (emphasis on the punk here!) that recognizes the roots in the sense that they keep it raw and to the point. No polish and no frills. The songs are catchy. The mid-tempo bits help give the songs some weight and hold your attention. The drummer can bang, and I do like the basic approach in “Libertad O Muerte,” since it’s catchy, somewhat heavy, and gets inside your brain quickly. The vocals can be hard to take sometimes. When she’s just shouting and shouting, the words tend to run together and there’s not much distinction. Granted, songs like “Espirito de Libertad” are raging, but when you have songs in the similar vein right after the other, it starts to blend. When she switches back and forth between shouting and singing, like in “Lobos en La Noche,” “Asko,”(which has lightening fast vocal delivery) and “Opresion,” then the songs have more character. There’s also the song “Invierno Nuclear,” which is a bit different from the rest of the songs on the album. Though still driving, it’s not as harsh in its approach. The vocals are a combination of sung and spoken, while the music pulls back a smidge. It’s a pretty good decision, as it switches things up and accentuates the power they can generate with their songs. Something I’m really into is how these guys have a driving melodic sound, and at the same time there are some elements of bands like Discharge popping up here and there. I’m on board! –M.Avrg (Residue, residue-records.com)

I got Death By Steamship’s first album, S.S Endurance, to review a while back and I played it quite a bit. I really dug how the lyrics, sung in a spirited, almost spoken shout, dealt with the working class existence in the way it really is. The songs, alternating from angry screeds about the information age and jobs to a joyful celebrating of life’s simpler pleasures—like calling in sick with your lover or just kicking it with friends—have a droll, two-tears-in-a-bucket poetry. The music is engaging and shrewd post-hardcore. It wasn’t until I went out and saw them that I realized that they’re probably one of the most authentic bands in Seattle. They played their hearts out to a mostly empty room. Wearing ball caps and jeans, they could have been punks, but just as easily your co-worker. Their sound is unique and challenging, perhaps alienating Seattle’s patched drunk punks, mook metal heads, and far too sincere and proletarian for the scenester, Boeing/Microsoft babies to take notice. The singer gave me this 7” that night after I introduced myself. It has the same feel—appreciation of small things like smoking cigarettes and reading Vonnegut on the porch. Righteous rage is spit towards butt-hurt, aggressive alpha males and negative jerkoffs who throw their weight around. Like their last release, it’s relevant, compassionate, and bold music that’s uncompromisingly inventive. –Craven Rock (Whoa! Boat, whoaboatrecords.com)

GET DEAD: Bad Dead: CD
Given that this is a Fat Wreck Chords product that appears to be intentionally designed to give the impression that it might be a Goner Records product, I feared the worst. The truth is that this record is actually pretty interesting—it’s quite well-produced ((and not in a sucky way, either)) and the band’s varied instrumentation is surely more thought-provoking that I ((admittedly unfairly)) was expecting ((when was the last time you heard anybody actually rock the mandolin?)). That said, I’ve really found that the whole tattooed-and-raspy-voiced-and-hard-but-sensitive-proletarian-punk-poet ((who likes the Pogues and Johnny Cash! Don’t forget the Johnny Cash!)) trying-to-communicate-the-profound-sorrow-which-lies-at-the-bottom-of-his-whiskey-glass songwriting point of view lost whatever tenuous grip it might have ever had on my interest well over two decades ago ((which, to be fair, does not necessarily imply that it’s an invalid perspective)), so I’m gonna leave this one to the guys who wear the little cab driver hats down to the bar. Still, a commendable effort. BEST SONG: “The Process” BEST SONG TITLE: “Kerouac’s Teeth” FANTASTIC AMAZING TRIVIA FACT: There are thirty-eight lines of “thank yous” in the liner notes, and two lines of RIPs. –Rev Nørb (Fat Wreck Chords, fatwreck.com)

Music needs context. The context can come from anything, which is why, like art, it is so subjective. I recently read a review of this reissue in another punk rag that totally panned it as hippy music. What was missing for that reviewer was the context this band came from. Indian Dream was around in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s on the tail end of the anarcho movement. This was the era I went to see bands like Indian Dream, City Indians, Oi Polloi, and the like play with other like-minded punks at squats and punk venues around England. This reissue compiles their only LP and EP, both of which are melodic, tuneful anarcho punk with female vocals in the vein of Lost Cherees, Internal Autonomy, Omega Tribe, and the Mob. Along with the traditional sounds of anarcho punk, this band also has influences of the era, most notably the shimmery guitar which sounds like The Wonder Stuff. Taken out of context, the songs about whales complete with whale sounds and slow ballads seem laughable, but at the time of handmade zines, hunt sabbing, and dreadlocks this all made perfect sense. This is a tough one to recommend as the sound is so linked to my memories I can’t tell if this fantastic or ridiculous. Whatever, I love it. Now go get your own memories. –Tim Brooks (Boss Tuneage, bosstuneage.com)

MANDATES, THE: Self-titled: LP
Ignorance is bliss. Except, of course, when it comes to music. Sometimes, you miss out on cool shit. Which, in turn, is even worse for its creators; quality songs go unnoticed day after day, failing to make it into the hands of the right people. The Mandates, already extremely well-received in Western Canada, are just beginning to crack the shell of the rest of the globe. A band so sharp, that even though their songs are chock full of hooks (this band is nothing but hooks), when you catch them live, the entire set is spent watching them feed off each other, focusing on how truly talented each member is. The sheer technical ability of this group is mesmerizing. And, let’s be clear: we’re talking slick, punk-fueled, power pop. A subgenre that already has no room for imperfections. You need to be competent—tight as all fucking hell. And well, these guys fit right in. Now, while these Albertans fit right in with their obvious Canadian counterparts (Tranzmitors, White Wires, Sonic Avenues, Statues, and so on), there’s something inherently different about them. The aforementioned groups have a reputation for sounding Canadian, while The Mandates sound like they’re from New York. I mean, don’t get me wrong, they still sound a lot like their Canuck brothers. But, I’d be more inclined to compare The Mandates to the New York Dolls, the Sorrows, the Dictators and maybe even the Stitches, at times. But, faster and even, dare I say, tighter. More Dead Boys than Pointed Sticks, if you catch my drift. Bands get looked over every day out of laziness, oversaturation, and new trends. The Mandates are beyond worthy of your time. Given half a chance, you’ll be singing the outro-chorus to “She’s Walkin’ Over” over, and over, and over, again. –Steve Adamyk (MammothCave, mammothcaverecording.com)

MEGA GEM: Colors of the West: CD
First off, this is not a punk album. This is straight Americana/folk/alt rock. There is no doubt that Modest Mouse has influenced Mega Gem through and through. There are hints of pop punk spattered here and there, but it is fleeting at most. I’m not really sure quite how to review such an album, since I do not know much about Americana nor do I like it very much. However, Colors of the West is not without some charm; it’s melodic, has diverse instruments: hand bells, ukuleles, various horn instruments, mandolins, banjos, cellos, heavy use of gang vocals, even a little girl singing on one track. Really, it goes on and on. It’s amateurish and a bit sludgy at times. I can imagine it’s an epic ordeal getting everyone on stage to perform live, or even to get the studio time and space needed to produce this album. Colors of the West is decidedly unpunk, but hey, if you like Americana or folk alt. with all the frills, this might be your jam. –Camylle Reynolds (Wild Baby, wildbabyrecords.com)

MIND SPIDERS: Inhumanistic: LP
My puny earthling mind cannot begin to comprehend the sounds hitting my ear holes. It’s like waves of science that were created specifically for my enjoyment. With each repeat listen I find myself falling deeper and deeper into the lair of the Mind Spiders. Leader Mark Ryan is an alien scientist, calmly asking questions, making observations, and doing research on the human condition. Every question is asked for a reason, every emotion is clinically analyzed. Every story detailed. Musically, the band continues to build upon last year’s Meltdown, taking some of the best aspects of some of my favorite bands such as Devo, Pixies, and (of course) Marked Men and distilling them into something that is, simply put, unearthly. This is easily in line for album of the year in my book. –Ty Stranglehold (Dirtnap)

MOON BANDITS: Action Changes Thinking: 12”
Somewhere, out in the corporate music underworld, some poor bastard is going through piles of glossy photos and demos of the next big folk band slash teeny bopper poster boy. This, I am sad to report, is the state of Americana, or folk music, as it is represented in the popular media. Then, when you have given up on it altogether, the spirit of angry but gentle leftist folk comes back with an album like Action Changes Thinking by Moon Bandits. I loved this record. The Los Angeles-based duo has created a collection of songs about longing after nature, living in the city, corporate misconduct, and personal responsibility. This album is, in the most wonderful way, apocalyptic. The end is here. A new beginning is upon us. When I listen, I think of the great quote from philosophical anarchist Leo Tolstoy: “In the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you.” Beyond the great songs and lyrics, this album is beautifully packaged with original art, colored vinyl, and a zine that shares the song lyrics and personal reflections upon them by the band—Astrid and Tommy—and their friends. –John Mule (Self-released)

NEW SWEARS: Funny Isn’t Real: LP
Boy do I love it when an album’s cover accurately describes the music inside. It’s a collage of people in various states of partying. Beer, wounds, cross dressing, and an entire can of cranberry sauce being poured lovingly on a man’s chest. The pictures are cutout and pasted together in a haphazard manner which screams loudly “We’re not professionals! Try this at home!” Now imagine this aesthetic is applied to garage punk in the vein of acts like the Black Lips and Hunx And His Punx with the production values of a Dirtnap band. In short, fantastic. One of the best records of the year, no doubt. Put this sucker on and there’s a party immediately. Like, it just forms around the record. Grade: A. –Bryan Static (Bachelor, bachelorrecords.com)

Tonally, Proletar and Analdicktion are a worthy pairing. Jakarta-based Proletar has been together since 1999, and they have been featured on more than twenty releases since that time. The band recalls a high-octane reinterpretation of Napalm Death, if the lyrics were addressing imperialism, outsourcing, and politics of the left; pretty cool topic matter to hear from voices outside of the U.S. Take that intellectual activity with the blizzard of serrated chords and Proletar’s three tracks and make for a fine A-side. On the B-side is Anadicktion, a recently defunct group from Singapore, who are a bit more of an anomaly for me. I’m intrigued by the brutality of the vocals that are so engagingly awry with effects they seem to boil up from the bottom of a swamp (or fly in from outer space on radio waves made of crude oil) but songs like “Fuck Artsy Indie Girl Bullshit” and “Trendy Hipster Castration Bloodbath” seem a bit like caricatures. But the goregrind vocals are so pleasingly spooky that I eagerly sleuthed around for more material. Analdicktion’s 2011 album, Sluts, is well-reviewed, but similarly hard to get down with due to song titles like “Semen Covered Butchered Whores” and “Severed Scene Slut” and from the abundance of rape jokes in a few reviews I checked out in my hunt for more material. I get that the gore misogyny is probably intended to be more goofball than machismo, but the outcome is normalization of creepy misogynistic thinking. Call me Tipper Gore, but it reminds me in part of why even at punk and hardcore shows in 2013, many of my female friends can’t pass a night without being groped or harassed by dudes in the scene, and how DIY, even though it’s implicitly left leaning, can still feel like an angry hetero boy’s club. In sum, this is an EP of rad grindcore sounds but ultimately mixed messages. –Jim Joyce (Suburban White Trash, suburbanwhitetrashrecords.com)

The Thirty Six Strategies (or “stratagems,” depending on the source you’re looking at) is a collection of Chinese sayings akin to Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, in that it offers effective tactics in matters of war, politics, diplomacy, and so on. Strategy One, according to translator Stefan H. Verstappen, translates as “Fool the Emperor to Cross the Sea” in his book, The Thirty Six Strategies of Ancient China. The idea behind this strategy, he explains, is that in order “to lower an enemy’s guard you must act in the open hiding your true intentions under the guise of common every day activities.” With that in mind, Thirty Six Strategies—the band—play impressive poppy punk with ringing Hüskers-via-Leatherface guitars and flat-but-fitting vocals belting out lyrics addressing mostly personal issues with a vagueness that’ll surely help to avoid any potential controversies. Whether or not they’re adhering to the precepts of the aforementioned Strategy One is dependent on their ultimate, if any, ulterior motives—are they looking to capitalize on any subsequent popularity they garner within the punk scene to vault them into mainstream success? Is their end-game to subvert and bring down the whole of punkdom via ambiguous lyrics and catchy hooks? Are they just another band who picked a random name they thought clever, only to have some asshole reviewer pick it apart and find nefariousness in efforts wholly innocuous?—and only the band knows the truth at this point. I for one intend to remain ever-vigilant. –Jimmy Alvarado (Boss Tuneage)

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