Posts tagged: garage rock

Titus Andronicus – Local Business

By , October 18, 2012 10:00 am

Titus Andronicus – Local Business

XL Recordings 2012

Rating: 8/10

As far as self-professed nihilists go, Titus Andronicus are the dingiest, the booziest, the most completely aware, revelling in their shit-stained universe like a technicolour dreamcoat of worthlessness. Local Business, their third album, comes essentially defined as an album of meaningless Replacements rock ‘n’ roll, beginning by celebrating resentment like the gang bumped into Michel Foucault ‘round the corner and decided there’s no escaping the bitter, repressive pill that is life. “I think by now we’ve established that everything is inherently worthless and there is nothing in the universe with any kind of objective purpose,” Stickles sings, like a song to self, a declaration that, after building up nothing and battling with it like an actual fucking civil war, there’s little to do but sit in the squalor and smile. If you’re worried that Local Business serves you little, that it’s quaint, short, lacking concept- that it’s not punk rock through a practical, patterned lense- who could blame you? This is a band who named themselves after a big bloody play, who made something so monumental in The Monitor that they can probably never come down from it. The aftermath, this, the jittery one-punch Local Business, is practically a joke.

What Local Business entails though, in all its dramatic-comedy borderlines, is that age-old poetical cliché, as made famous, presumably, by melodramatic Facebook pages: behind every joke there’s a layer of truth, or, in Stickes’ case, behind every joke there’s a man throwing his life away, or having it wrecked by a manipulative universe going nowhere. Local Business feels like a far more accepting record of its neuroses than The Monitor; the gang-vocals are sillier, less taglines to mission statements and more pantomimic jingles. “Food Fight!” is a joke before the dark wave of “My Eating Disorder,” and “Titus Andronicus VS The Absurd Universe” is two minutes of a band rocking out as a quintet for the frills. From a band who tagged a nine minute song with chants of “It’s still us against them and they’re winning!” Titus Andronicus seem, on Local Business to be treating their aphorisms with a sense of silly: no longer incredulous, drunk and confused by the universe, Local Business is a messy, bizarre account of things Stickles and co. know they will never really understand. And so yes, “Food Fight!” is the silliest thing he’s recorded with this band, all chants and tuneless harmonicas where your nine minute epic should be, but “My Eating Disorder,” washes over it like a dark, dark wave, a list of pains and struggles that can only be explained in their processes, and not the reasons why or even an attempt to find them.

“In a Big City,” the most distinctly anthemic song in Stickles’ career, seems to make a fair point about him and his band- if it sounds like they’ve changed on Local Business, become more closed off and wackier by eliminating all the recurring players on The Monitor, at least they’re always this band, one talking about what it is to be an awful (average!) human among a load of others with grass greener: “I grew up on one side of the river / I was a disturbed dangerous drifter / moved to the other side of the river / now I’m a drop in a deluge of hipsters.” A song like this has more levity than those that came before it, but none of the weight is shed; Titus Andronicus is still a band feeling this all quite heavily, even if a joke can spare their troubles. Hell, it’s not as if you can reject any of these songs on the basis of the band’s ability to shoot them loud and proud, not even “(I Am The) Electric Man,” another piece of look-behind-you! pantomime gold, played sweetly and comically but ever so profoundly. Titus Andronicus rollick through this album, saying what they feel they need to and occasionally a few other dumb things, but never insincerely. Less wide-eyed Springsteen and more weird scratchy Replacements is the verdict. Really, it’s more meaninglessness in meaningful songs.

Local Business ends with another long, meandering send-off about the discovery of shame, as was the long journey of “The Battle of Hampton Roads.” Unlike its predecessor, though, “Tried to Quit Smoking” is the work of the same sad-sac in resigned slacker mode, easy to imagine lying slouched in an armchair with the guitar pressed up close, humming high lyrics that are excuses for all the bad times (“it’s not that I wanted to hurt you, I just didn’t care if I did”). Local Business feels as pressed with adrenaline through its run as the albums before it, but this final indictment of meaningless life is as vitally summative of the album as anything else, a stony acceptance of what’s happened and a hundred justifications lacked. There are enough lyrics in their world to tell you that a Titus Andronicus record isn’t as much medicine for bad times as it is a time to grieve and grin, and so Local Business may not look up to the sky like The Monitor did, but there’s no denying this is the same band, done searching, perhaps, but rocking out to the persuasion of pointlessness. “There’s nothing for me to do now but turn the radio up loud, put Eric’s sunglasses back on and black it out.” Just five guys, hangin’ out and relaying basic philosophical arguments about nothingness. Blast it loud.

While the first two albums were elaborate concoctions, Local Business is of the earth. Titus Andronicus the studious recording project and Titus Andronicus the raucous touring machine are no longer two distinct beings; there is only Titus Andronicus, rock and roll band. This is to say, it was recorded primarily live with precious few overdubs, with an elite squad of musicians.
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The Hives – Lex Hives

By , June 7, 2012 10:00 am

The Hives – Lex Hives

Disque Hives 2012

Rating: 5/10

For all their talk of being rock’s saviors and how the industry is more about “middle-class guilt and whining” then balls-to-the-wall guitar guts and glory, the Hives are about as status quo as anything in music today, particularly if you think that the power chord and Rocket to Russia are the pinnacles of music achievement in the 20th century. Lex Hives is a warm and comforting security blanket for garage rock fans anxious to turn off those scary new sounds on the radio and embrace the past, and in this respect it’s little different from any of the Hives previous four albums. Given how resistant the band is to change, 2007’s The Black and White Album, which veered dangerously close to *gasp* experimentation, was practically a seismic shift in tone for the band. Lex Hives does away with the newfangled production that they tried out with that record and returns to their roots – a shameless sugar rush of fist-pumping, bass-stomping, garage rock ‘n roll.

So, no one should be surprised when the opening track has a title that encompasses the entire lyric, one which Howlin’ (a well-earned moniker) Pelle Almqvist sings with the abandon of someone who fervently believes that he is the one true savior of rock ‘n roll. It’s refreshing, in a way – Almqvist really gives it his all throughout Lex Hives, nearly to the point of exhaustion, and the band’s shtick, in a vacuum, is just as joyously energetic and unrepressed as it was when they helped ignite the garage resurgence in the early ‘00s. The band’s unerring consistency, though, is also their curse – “1000 Answers,” “Go Right Ahead,” “Wait A Minute,” “If I Had A Cent,” take your pick; all of these could have slotted in without a hitch on Veni Vidi Vicious or Tyrannosaurus Hives.

In that sense, Lex Hives is sort of sad – the band, dressed up in their trademark matching tuxedoes, wailing away on guitar and banging the ever loving crap out of Chris Dangerous’ drum set, Pelle Almqvist emceeing the wildest party he’s ever thrown (ever! He reassures the audience), but the joke’s on them: the party ended long ago and they’re playing to a room of disinterested twenty-somethings with vague memories of “Hate to Say I Told You So” bouncing about in their heads, muscle memory the only thing keeping them going. It’s nostalgic, sure, but it’s just as effective as an album of covers of old Ramones songs that everyone puts on the jukebox from time to time. The songs themselves almost feel like covers, stale renditions filled with buzz saw guitars and tired punk gusto, overplayed over the course of a thirty-minute album that only lets up on the gas pedal with the drunken karaoke sing-along of “Without The Money.” “Go Right Ahead” is a pretty perfect single, in the context of a Hives song – that chorus that just begs to be shouted by every member of the audience, the stop-start drum pattern, the gang vocals all combining into what is the quintessential distillation of what the Hives are all about. Yet, once you’ve heard it, you know that’s what you’re in for with the rest of Lex Hives. The fun fades and the tracks become more taxing, the focus less on the music and more on wondering how Almqvist manages to still keep his voice in such great shape.

“You gotta go from A to Z from when you’re born until you’re dead,” Almqvist sings on “Go Right Ahead,” but he’s singing about something he knows nothing about – the Hives have always been at point A, hammering home their mission on album to album with deadening regularity and the senseless vigor of overage clubbers who don’t know when to get on with their lives. They’ve always prided themselves on being louder, faster, more quick-witted than their contemporaries, but at this point in their career, with their sound becoming a retread of their own, not exactly original, old material, they’re very much in danger of becoming a loudmouthed parody of themselves: still the image of middle-finger-in-the-air rockers but all affected posturing and self-mythologizing, blustery and entirely inconsequential. Rumors of punk’s demise may be exaggerated, but perhaps someone should tell Almqvist and company that it’s long over for them.

The world's wisest musical council and international rock sensation, The Hives, present their fifth stunner- the 12-track contemplation of all law that is Hives-- Lex Hives. Self-produced, self-played and self-promoted, these 12 songs are not built to fit just anyone. These are not songs that sound equally good played on an acoustic guitar by the campfire. This is not music. This is compressed carbon hidden in the earth's crust for millions of years and unearthed, to be placed in your eardrums. Blistering proof can be found with the lead single, "Go Right Ahead."
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Sleeper Agent – Proper Taste

By , January 30, 2012 10:30 am

Another debut album I criminally missed out on in 2011, Sleeper Agent’s Celabrasion is a taut little set of garage-rock jams that puts to good use the dueling girl-boy vocals of Alex Kandel and Tony Smith. Check it out if you like Girls, Cage the Elephant, Wavves, etc. etc.

Sleeper Agent – “Proper Taste”

The Black Keys – El Camino

By , December 5, 2011 10:00 am

The Black Keys – El Camino

Nonesuch 2011

Rating: 7/10

The Black Keys indulge on a clever little bit of wordplay on their newest album, juxtaposing the image of a vehicle with the words “El Camino,” simultaneously connecting an album of virile, red-blooded rock with that rugged, high-horsepower Chevrolet pick-up. Of course, El Camino has nothing to do with the car; the minivan on the cover is the car that Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney originally toured around in, and “El Camino” is simply Spanish for “the road.” It effectively paints their seventh album in two lights: a very pertinent description of the record’s sound and a commentary on how far the Black Keys have come as a band since that minivan. Make no mistake – El Camino is a victory lap through and through, reveling in the tight rock classicism of its creators and lurching through all the many tales of women scorned and cheers lifted.

After last year’s unexpected critical and commercial smash in Brothers, the Black Keys could have easily coasted off the returns for a couple years, milked the festival circuit, and just reaped the benefits of finally making it to the top after years of being unfairly lumped in as the White Stripes’ little brothers. Instead, they recruit Danger Mouse, who produced the ubiquitous “Tighten Up,” and kick out another taut set of pop-rock tunes, nearly all of which could stand toe to toe with “Tighten Up” in a quest to give publishing companies worldwide early Christmas presents. Take “Lonely Boy,” whose fuzzed-out guitar lick and romping drums buttress a chorus absolutely primal in its catchiness. Although I prefer the off-kilter rhythm of “Tighten Up,” “Lonely Boy” is, simply put, the Black Keys doing what they were put on Earth to do – turning the amps up to 11 and paying homage to a brand of shit-kicking rock ‘n roll that took subtlety to a nice seafood dinner and never called her again. Throughout El Camino the influences change, but the Black Keys personality dominates. The ‘sunny harmonizing on the ‘60s California rock of “Dead And Gone;” the Cheap Trick-esque power-pop of “Sister;” the fist-pumping cock rock on “Gold On The Ceiling;” it’s still quintessential Black Keys, yet distilled down to a fiery, primitive essence. Workmanlike guitar rock with a melodic punch, featuring lyrics about industrious prostitutes and the joys of being your own man – this is the Black Keys at their core, and it’s both inherently vital and incredibly simple.

It’s shorter than Brothers, but it’s also almost too easy to digest in one sitting – the record’s unerring trajectory leads to some monotony at the tail end of things, and it lacks the layers that made Brothers such a rewarding listen. Even when “Little Black Submarines” promises a breather, with its lovely acoustic campfire vibe and a progression reminiscent of “Stairway to Heaven,” it’s just a fake-out before the massive drum fills and ragged guitar riff railroad any nuance out of the picture. Some might say this is a celebration of the Black Keys’ accomplishments, them throwing a party the only way they know how; others could see it as a disappointment after the adventurous sonic palette of Brothers and the ambitious, surprisingly potent Blakroc collaboration from 2009. I’m content to consider it their pat on their own back, a triumph of visceral over cerebral, all drum kicks to the gut and one-fingered salutes with rockabilly chords. Blues, garage, classic – call it what you want, but at its heart the sound remains the same. Is that trebly guitar solo at the end of “Nova Star” necessary? Hell no, but it sure sounds awesome. El Camino is the draft beer and greasy burger you stop to get after knocking boots in the backroom of some sawdust-filled dive bar. Down and dirty, it grooves by on soulful power chords and Carney’s relentless hammering of his kit. Have too much, and you might get a little sick of it all. Have just enough, though, and man, is there anything better in the world than the best kind of junk food?

The Black Keys – “Gold On The Ceiling”

Japandroids – Younger Us

By , July 12, 2010 8:00 am

Vancouver punk duo Japandroids have been working on a project that sees them releasing a series of 7-inch singles over the course of the year – “Younger Us” (along with a cover of X’s “Sex and Dying in High Society”) being the second. If you want a copy, you better hurry, as there’s only 2500 clear vinyl copies available (buy here). As for the song, it’s sort of a bizarro version of “Young Hearts Spark Fire,” with a similar guitar part and surging drums, all wrapped loosely around Brian King’s lusty, nostalgic lyrics. In other words, it’s Japandroids, and it rocks.

Japandroids – “Younger Us”

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