Blind-ing Initial Success

3 Rounds and a Sound
Blind Pilot
Expunged Records

Talk about a band coming out of nowhere. Blind Pilot, whom nearly nobody knew about or had ever heard of just a few weeks ago, has already accomplished more than many well-established bands can even claim.

It all started when their first single, 'Go On, Say It", was selected as an Itunes free download. The hype rose, and the internet chat rooms caught fire. As of July 22nd, the song was downloaded over 2 million times. As of the same date, their debut album- 3 Rounds and a Sound catapulted up to the #13 chart on the Billboard digital downloads chart. There was no fake hype machine which preceded all of this, nor were there rabid poseurs leaking them out over the internet. This band, unlike many of its online-launched brethren, is simply doing it with pure talent, some real genuine music, and a touch of nostalgia.

February 4th was one of the happiest days of my life- but only because I had not yet heard the news of one of my favorite bands, The Format, calling it quits. Instead, that day, I was parading around like every other Giants fan, celebrating the improbable events of the night before in the Super Bowl. When I finally came to from my euphoric state later that week and found out what had happened, I was truly crushed. How did I want to replace them? Should I bother replacing them? Obviously these thoughts were running through the minds of many a musician, since by April, you could hear the rumblings of artists inspired by the Jangle Pop-extraordinaires rising to the surface. I was skeptical, but gave some a try. All Get Out stood out to me, but it was more because of their sounding like Manchester Orchestra and The Format's lovechild. I stopped searching, and just continued listening to the band I had come to know and love.

Fastfoward to this week. While sitting on my computer (what else is new), a friend (fellow Animal Noises writer Heath) told me about Blind Pilot, and directed me to where I could find their album. I was expecting something entertaining that I would get a couple of listens out of. Instead, I found the artist which would fill the void left by The Format (I promise, this is my last reference to them). From the first track- "The Story I Heard"- Blind Pilot grabs you. It's poppy and active, but not too much so. Just enough to keep you interested. Then, something odd starts happening. The music begins to invoke memories.

I usually associate memories with music, as do many others, I would assume. The only thing is, that music usually has to have been apart of my life when the memory happened. Since Blind Pilot was not apart of my life, nor anyone else's until about 3 weeks ago, the fact that the music can have such an affect is astounding. It's lively yet quiet, active yet passive, and timid and bold at the same time. As the album has taken me on a trip back through my memories, I can calmly listen, or sing along. It reminds me of what was, and what is. And what is, for this band, is success.

Now, believe me, I won't turn this into a lovefest and then, to top it all off, declare it one of the best albums ever. Far from it. But, that being said, I'm still getting acquainted with it, so maybe in time, it can join OK Computer, Deja Entendu, Dog Problems, In the Aeorplane Over the Sea, and The Lonesome Crowded West in that space. For now, it occupies an endearing place in my mind, invoking the images and sounds of what was, and also did a very good job of subsituting for Anything Else But the Truth by The Honorary Title last night, if I do say so myself.

My suggestion: Check out this album. Maybe you'll enjoy it as much as I have, maybe you won't. It's not hard music to listen to. On the contrary, it's fairly simple. They seem to be one of the few that no how to do that anymore; simple.

Grade: 8/10; As I've said, I'm a tough grader, and don't hand out 9s very easily. Maybe with time, this one will enter that realm. We'll see.

Buzz:This blog has had very little exposure to the fact that Matt and I are huge fans of Brand New. This is mostly due to the fact that they aren't ones to let out material very often. Luckily for everyone though, a video has surfaced on Youtube for their new song, apparently dubbed "Brickhouse" by some members of the internet community, and "Trees" by others. Either way, take a listen. I'm pretty sure you'll like what you hear, especially if you like hearing chaos.


The Aggresive Pursuit of Originality

Artist: Verse
Album: Aggression
Release Date: June 10th, 2008
Record Label: Bridge Nine

Disclaimer: This is a band whose sole existence is based in expressing their political views. They are, in conventional terms, "far left." The views expressed by Verse are not necessarily the views of anyone involved with Animal Noises Music Blog, however, it would be a complete injustice to their artistic integrity if the political aspect of this record was left unmentioned.

Another Disclaimer: I feel I need to address this. In case many of you haven’t realized this about a lot of the bands I review, the music isn’t mentioned all that much, and I’ll tell you why: More often than not, there are no intricate guitar lines or pretty sounding harmonies. It’s all pretty much fast paced, in your face, music with a message. Sometimes there’s singing, sometimes there’s screaming. If I deeply investigated the music of every song it would all essentially say "This song is fast, they play power chords, the singer yells words, and you probably want me to stop repeating myself and shut up now because I appear unoriginal and keep saying the same things, when in reality, that’s the only thing that really can be said, because that’s the point of hardcore." It’s about the message, suckers.

This review may appear quite long-winded, but that’s because I feel as if there is a lot of explaining of outside factors that is necessary in order to convey my thoughts about this record in a cognizant manner (both for those who consider themselves "hardcore afficionados," and those who.. well.. may not). I will start off by talking about a completely different band. It absolutely amazes me the affect that Modern Life is War’s last and final release, "Witness," had on the hardcore scene. It amazes me in the sense that it was hailed by a whole lot of people as a breakthrough album for the genre, for the band, hell, even for the band member’s grandmothers. 

Of course, when things like this happen, everyone is well aware of the "consequences" (I use quotations because it’s not necessarily a bad thing.. in certain contexts): Other bands will without a doubt be influenced by the aforementioned album, and it was evident with "Witness" that the influence would extend for many years to come, not just a few months. However, you expect this influence to primarily be prominent in up and coming bands, or newly formed ones, it’s not really expected from bands that already have an established sound (do NOT misconstrue what is being said here, there is NOTHING wrong with a band maturing [Unless it’s "Crime in Stereo is F***ing Dead," but that’s for a different day]) mainly because you’d think that an established band would try to go their own route and not emulate a "new sound" that was already "discovered" by somebody else. 

What’s my point? This "band with an already established sound" is Verse, and they have indeed spun the "Witness" record a good many times over the past year. My problem with this entire album? There is no risk, it’s (as harsh as this is going to sound) a poor man’s Modern Life is War record. Did I absolutely hate it? No. Was I surprised by it? Believe it or not: No. Because this has become an all too common theme in music today. An actual original piece is presented and people absolutely love it, in this instance, "Witness" was the kick in the rear end that hardcore really needed and then it is demeaned because people don’t let it influence them, they don’t play off of it and try to work it into what they’re trying to do: they try to replicate it. Again, do not mistake what I’m saying here, Verse is a fantastic band and their previous release "From Anger and Rage" was one of my favorite albums in recent memory and in no way am I taking the hipster cop out route and saying "their older stuff is so much better because I’m a jaded tool." This IS a good album, saved mostly by the incredibly relevant lyrics in regards to the status of our country and the world around us. With references to New Orleans, the War in Iraq, Mummia Abu-Jamal, if you’re into political hardcore (this obviously means "left-wing politics") you will absolutely love what is being said here, and fully appreciate the sincerity of the message.

The opening track, "The New Fury" lulls you to sleep with a melodic opening out of a Sunny Day Real Estate song, then explodes with lyrics delivered with such urgency you are drawn to them instantaneously. Picture yourself lazily driving down the street and then you turn a corner, and suddenly, you see an attractive person of the opposite (or same) sex walking past you down that street. How quickly your head snaps around to catch a glimpse: that’s precisely what happens here. Is that the most artistic description ever? Probably not. But at least you know what I’m talking about.

The second track "Old Guards, New Methods" is vintage Verse and I can only think of a string of expletives to describe how excited I am about this song (especially on this record), but I will refrain in order to maintain some form of professionalism. It’s one of the faster tracks on the album and is a great representation of how hardcore has progressed up to this point in time. Lyrically, this is the title song to revolution, to protest, to standing up for yourselves in, what is described as, a country that is overlooking the travesties at home. It is wrapped up by the phrase "No War" being screamed incessantly and this track will more than likely be behind some form of acting out by some anxt-ridden teen somewhere.

Third we have "Suffering to Live, Scared to Love." Remember all that babbling about replicating and what have you? This would be one point of reference. The music is played at mid-tempo and the words are screamed over it. The guitar work is fairly complex in this one, and it’s not "your typical hardcore song," the drumming, as on the previous albums, and this entire one, is excellent and Verse should be overjoyed with the fact that they are definitely carrying one of the prominent drummers in hardcore today. Don’t believe me? See them live, then you will understand.

Fourth is the song "Signals," where, as hardcore usually does, the band takes a stand against the "Rockstar Lifestyle" and the "sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll" ideology that is fairly prevalent in some music scenes and pop-culture today. Example: "Everyone whispers and sends out a secret nod, the congregation’s in five minutes. ‘Meet me in the bathroom.’ Or maybe tonight the lines will get drawn right in front of you. The life you live is a life of stupidity like those on the pages of a Hollywood magazine." Take that Paris Hilton.. and Taking Back Sunday (that’s right, I said it).

We will now move to tracks 6-8: "Story of a Free Man:" Chapters one, two, and three.
(Once again, and I hate to beat a dead horse here.. but, here are three mid-tempo songs, that once again, are relevant to my earlier rant.)

Chapter One - The End of Innocence: Lyrically, a story is being told here and it actually does captivate you. The placement of these tracks is perfect, as they serve as the raft which carries you across from one shore to the other on this record. This initial part of the story can be described as a social commentary on the affects of war on a single individual, in this case a boy or young teen who is currently without a father because he (the father) is off fighting a war. The song opens with a description of a homeless man that lives under a bridge (Wondering what that aforementioned boy grows up to be? Bet you can’t guess.) And then recalls the homeless man’s childhood where his father was off to war and he, in turn, turned to drugs.

Chapter Two - The Cold Return: The song opens with the line "Dad came home in a body bag." And now chronicles the Homeless man’s current life. In which he is an addict that contemplates suicide on a daily basis. This is obviously linking the man’s homelessness/addiction to the fact that his father died in a war. With the recurring line of "Will we ever see an end to this?" this song is an attempt to drive home the idea that war destroys lives not only in the countries they are physically fought in, but it also has an affect of those waiting for the soldiers to return home. We are left with the addicted homeless man picking up a needle and saying "this is the last time."

Chapter Three - Serenity: This final chapter begins with a very intense build up, filled with drums and almost subliminal guitar lines, that you don’t really pay much attention to, but that build up the tension until the song finally erupts as the lyrics "He walked away a new man" leave the singers lips. Overall the story is a very intense one that may seem laughable in the manner that I have printed it, but in reality it is quite captivating and for a "hardcore band," the music appears fairly complex as well as artistic, and will most certainly impress you.

The twelfth track - Sons and Daughters, is, at some points, Verse doing what you love seeing them do. The song is upbeat and delivered with such conviction you know these guys believe in what they’re saying and what they’re doing. It’s based upon the idea that those who are the "Sons and Daughters" of the middle class merely exist to support and endorse the upper class, real people that simply serve as a means to an end to the wealthy. After you believe the song ends, there is an "outro" that is very reminiscent of the first and last tracks of their last tracks on Give Up the Ghost’s release "We’re Down ‘Til We’re Underground." It’s basically the band jamming and it actually does fit rather nicely and is a good closing to this particular album.

Overall, a quality record by a band that is a pillar in the hardcore community today. Despite my rant about replicating sounds and what have you, there are some stand out tracks in which Verse kicks it in to high gear and impresses you with a matured sound that does not seem to be ripped from the fret boards of Modern Life is War. If you are going to purchase your first Verse record, this should not be the one you choose, however, in time you may come to appreciate some of the things it does have to offer: a few of these tracks are a look at what hardcore has progressed into and the potential that lay ahead for those willing to pursue it, once they (Verse and others) get past the idea that they have to carry a torch that was ignited by the originality of others, and when it is realized that replication will only extinguish, not fan, the flame.


Going solo

Artist: Conor Oberst
Album: Conor Oberst
Release date: August 4
Label: Merge

Gather round, it's story time.

Flash back to March, 2005. It was a rainy day. It was the day I would say goodbye to my dying great-grandmother at the hospital.

I had time to kill before I met my mother at the hospital, so I went to a local record store called The Gallery of Sound. I was browsing through the CDs and saw Bright Eyes' I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning. I had heard good things, so I bought the album and went to the hospital for one of the hardest two hours of my life.

When I got back in my car to drive home in the pouring rain, my windshield wet with my eyes, I put the album in and there, in Conor Oberst's music, found warm comfort.

Death will bring us back to God
Just like the setting sun.

Those lyrics, from the first song -- "At the Bottom of Everything" -- pierced through me and brought a sense of closure to the situation I had just endured.

I tell this story now because there is no way any album released by Conor Oberst -- under the Bright Eyes moniker or not -- could ever live up to Wide Awake for me. I have too much invested in that album, too many emotions and too many memories for anything to ever surpass it.

That aside, Conor Oberst is a near-perfect album. The songs we get here from Mr. Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band are simple, elegant, emotional, personal, beautiful, haunting and memorable. We get an introspective Oberst on this album, with soul-searching we haven't heard since at least Wide Awake, maybe not since Lifted.

It all starts with the acoustic "Cape Canaveral," a catchy tune with a heartbeat that is brilliant in its simplicity. With the first lines we know this album will be about Oberst looking for deeper meaning in everything -- life, politics, death.

Oh, oh, oh, brother totem pole

I saw your legends lined up
And I never felt more natural
Apart, I just came apart.

It's songs like this where Oberst really shines. It's just him, a guitar and his take on the world, his thoughts, his feelings, his emotions. And it's a treat. And it comes full-circle on the album's closer, "Milk Thistle."

I'm not scared of nothing

And I'll go pound-for-pound.
I keep death on my head
Like a heavy crown.

And in between we get Oberst, who has battled comparisons to Bob Dylan since he started recording music more than a decade ago, at his most Dylan-esque. He and the Mysic Valley Band get all folksy on "Sausalito," "Souled Out!!!" and "I Don't Want To Die (In the Hospital)."

But the best song on the album, "Moab," meets somewhere in the middle. It's a ballad with a folk twang, a thumping piano and an important life lesson: "There's nothing that the road cannot heal," Oberst croons. But it's also a heart-breaking song, about going back home again when everything goes south:

They say the sun won't burn forever

But that's a science too exact.
I can prove it -- watch, we're crossing the state line.
See those headlights coming towards us?
That's someone going back
To a town they said they'd never, yeah,
They swore it all their lives.

I think those Dylan comparisons are finally valid. Oberst was set free with this record. He was able to take it wherever he wanted. And what we got is a masterpiece.

Score: 9.5/10
Stand-out tracks: Cape Canaveral, Danny Callahan, Moab


Track of the week:
Grizzly Bear - Two Weeks (Live on David Letterman)

Those indie darlings Grizzly Bear have been hard-at-work on their full-length follow-up to 2006's behemoth Yellow House. They chose Late Night with David Letterman Wednesday night to debut one of their new tracks, "Two Weeks."

It's a poppy, bright, sunny track with a pulsating piano that sounds like "Hard-Knock Life." This sounds really good for such a new track. Needless to say, I'm waiting for the next Grizzly LP with a newfound sense of excitement after hearing this.

Stereogum's got the ripped MP3 of the performance here.


An Uncertain Feeling

A Certain Feeling, Bodies of Water
Out 7/22
Secretly Canadian Records

1. Gold, Tan, Peach, and Grey
2. Under the Pines
3. Only You
4. Water Here
5. Keep Me On
6. Darling, Be Here
7. Even in a Cave
8. If I Were A Bell
9. The Mud Gapes Open

For the many that have not heard of this band, welcome to the Bodies of Water experience. The band has made a living out of mixing several aspects of indie, gospel, and "we have about 25 too many people in this band"-type vocals, and this release is no different. That being said, I still can't decide as to whether it is better than 2007's Ears Will Pop & Eyes Will Blink, or not. While maintaining the overall style that made them original in a cloud of indie white noise, the more somber and reserved feel of A Certain Feeling can do quite a lot to disappoint those expecting a continuation of their previous work- which, as I've said, may, or may not be a bad thing.
Go back to 2007. Bodies of Water burst onto the scene with something that was astounding (I'll apologize for the sensationalism now). It shouted, it screamed, it sang from the tops of buildings. The album made you feel like you were witnessing Arcade Fire: The Musical, if you'd even dare wander down that road. I saw something new- something which, (as I've said) amongst the white noise that is the current indie scene, had yelled out in protest of the monotony of the genre. Imagine a gospel choir singing tunes in the style of 1950s musicals, over inventive sonic selections of brass and strings. It's easy to be excited about something so unique.

Now, fast forward one year, to their newest musical venture. The gang-singing is still alive and well, but lacking most of the gospel crispness of the past. It still sounds like a chorus careening out of control above the ever-soaring horns, but this time we see a segmentation of the parts, a more-military alignment within the time signatures. The majority of the album keeps itself at a march of perhaps 90 bpm. The vocals separate, seemingly permeating each other, then weave themselves back out to their original form. While still utilizing the art of the gospel choruses from before, the band takes full advantage of distinct harmonies which had previously gone ignored.

So what does A Certain Feeling mean? It could be a direct reference to the sense of the album. Ears Will Pop & Eyes Will Blink seemed to directly refer to the feel of the album. You were surprised- your ears perked up, your eyes seemed to twitch in excitement, as you took in what you were hearing, and imagined where it could go from that point. The new album- maybe it invokes a certain feeling in everyone, just different from person to person. So different, it's difficult to put a finger on it, which is exactly why the band made an album title so vague. I won't say that this theory is carved in stone. It's just an idea; something I came up with while thinking about the album itself, and can easily be up for debate.

My suggestions: Give this album a chance, whether you were a listener previously, or not. If not, I'd suggest last year's album first, but feel free to do what you wish. Some recommended tracks, in my book- "Gold, Tan, Peach, and Grey", "Darling Be Here", "Under the Pines" and "Even in a Cave". If you're a big (or even marginal) fan of Arcade Fire, Bowerbirds or Black Kids (amongst other bands), this could be the album for you. Anyone who's wary of the musical aspects, fear not. The new album features many more rock aspects, focusing on more guitar- and piano-driven melodies than the unconventional machinations of the first release.

Grade: 7/10; I don't think I'm being harsh here at all- my standards for 8 and above are higher than most. If you're into this type of music, then you'll like it, but if not, you could dislike it quite a bit. I'd sample a few songs first, if you're not sure. They did a Daytrotter session last week, so that may be your best course of action.

Under The Pines - Bodies Of Water


Forward Progression: Why Each Step Towards The Sun Stings A Little More

We are all determinists. We, often, without thought or reason, succumb to each other's ideas and ideologies only because it's that much easier to wriggle into the layers of the already built. We're all hostages of simplicity. It's this doctrine of beliefs that cements our legs to a toppling world. It's not neccessarily our fault, though. It's how we, as a collective society, were brought up. We were taught early that we could learn vocabulary from a six foot tall, bright yellow bird. It's in the way we developed a disdain for healthy cereals after a cartoon tiger assured us that his flakes were "grrrrrreat". It's in the way that we fall in love with our father's favorite baseball team, only to jump ship to project an image of extreme individuality. It's in the way that we emulate our favorite porn stars during sex, just to heighten a developing libido to a universe of bragging to your friends. But, you know, we mostly look the same when we're in that box at the end. Eyes closed, lips straight, arms folded. And on that day - silence. Where will the music go?

I mean not to unearth a swirl of commentary, whether it's political or spiritual, but I say this because I look at the thousands and thousands of musicians, artists, and figures to cut through our lives for a few years, you know, just to sear through a couple thousand fans, and then they disband - leaving only the lyrics in our heads and the frequencies on wax. I look at these people, and I forget that there were ever a generation of pre-iPod people who found their solace in the strings and bows, and before that (the pre-pre-iPod ancients) found enlightenment in chanting. And, you know, maybe before that, there was a thing called silence, but we have far surpassed that with headphones and speakers and amplifiers and cabinets and CDs and MP3s. I think if we were reintroduced to silence, and I don't mean the "up in the Adirondacks at 3 AM" silence, I mean ancient silence, we'd all be lost. The same silence that maybe permeated our ancestor's bodies, the silence that would, today, send us into fits. It would twist our muscles and our tongues into bevies of tissue. I would think that there's an importance in a silence like that, because it makes every second of sound wealthy. A piano would be a gold mine to our souls. Sadly, we let this precious noise slide passed us, while we credulously careen through our days like the assassins that we are.

What I mean to say, in the basest way, is that we were born into music. We were always around it, and a lot of us were taught how to create it. While we grew up, we learned to listen to it. Some of us in passing, some of us more intently, and some, like myself, chose to be immersed in it. I think, now, that maybe to have such an obsession with music is a plague. It could be more worthwhile to listen to a song, or even a record for months, learning every interweaving message, every naive passage, every suckered sensibility, every blister, every cut, every mortifyingly long silence and every clamorous sound. But it won't be more worthwhile. I wish I had all of the seconds in the world to spend with the sounds that I love, but in between the money trees, the plates of responsibility, and the mountains of tasks, there is no way to consistently spend your life in between headphones. Surely, I'm not the only one who is this depraved. I think it not the best of aspirations, but it fits the description, nonetheless. My quandary, here, is that there are many who fail to appreciate the sensitivity between darkness and light, and that just don't see the scrupulous nature of how breathtaking an experiment we're all a part of. As people, we always air on the side of cautiousness, but never do we abscond the way a song makes us feel. A song can make you cry, it can make you laugh, it can conjure up images of places you've never been, and memories you forgot you had. We are all a part of a social phenomenon, in that we are allowed an instant and gratifying pallet, just by pressing play. How many of us, though, have embraced that ideal? Each step towards the sun stings a little more only because you're moving closer towards something real. Is it part of you to clammer towards that reality?

So frequently, we forget about the power of the things that we accept as just another raindrop. We cannot let music become a crack in the sidewalk, and whether it's turning on the radio, dropping the needle on the record, singing in the shower, or picking up your tuba, it's our job to keep this diamond in our hearts. Let yourself have a soundtrack to everything you do. Appreciate what millions of people have contributed to, this conglomerate of people. Reactionary people live reactionary lives at one hundred and twenty beats per minute. Be a part of something and keep listening, even when you think that there's no forgiving conclusions to conclude.


Knowledge (Apparently) Isn't Power

Artist: Halfway to Hell Club

Album: Knowledge is Curse

Release Date: May 18th

Record Label: Self Released

The debut EP from Long Island's own Halfway to Hell Club is a breath of fresh air in what can sometimes appear to be a stagnant local music scene. Hailing from Lindenhurst, these guys are best portrayed as The Anniversary being involved in a train wreck with the Bouncing Souls while Jawbreaker was standing in the crosswalk (they've also drawn comparisons to Hot Water Music, but saying that just isn't as fun). An amazing fusion of so many styles that you can't help but be impressed at how well they pull it off. If you want to be a stickler, we can go with "melodic hardcore" but those boundaries are definitely transcended in this release.

The initial track "Dearly Devoted" is a perfect set up for what is about to come. With an incredibly catchy guitar line that grabs your attention from the get go. The singer, Roy, has an incredibly unique voice that you can not help but appreciate and I'm sure someone, someday, will try to emulate. Lyrically, I absolutely love this band. They don't drop the typical cliche lines that one expects from this genre, they do have good one liners, but they're delivered so well you don't feel like a 13 year old girl while singing along to them.

The third track on this album "What a Surprise" is easily one of the best songs I've heard from any local band this year. Clocking in at just under two minutes, this song is the perfect example of the aforementioned hypothetical train wreck. Roy, once again, impresses with his impeccable delivery of the lyrics at key moments in the song that will most certainly give you chills. If you aren't entirely captivated by this song, then it simply means you have gone the way of Steve Irwin and have not realized it yet. Maybe Haley Joel Osment can help you.

The fifth song "White Collar Zombie" is precisely what I love to see. A band that has a unique sound and delivers a clear message. As quality as the musicianship of this band is, especially during this song, the point comes across loud and clear: We're hardcore kids, we love it, we live for it, and that's the way it is. Money or not, fame or not, this is what we want. This will have every fan of hardcore nodding their head in agreement and maybe even get a smile or two out of them because of the overall uplifting tone of the song.

This band is not signed yet. Why? Because this is their first release and they haven't had much exposure outside of the Long Island scene. If they continue on this path and manage to hop in a van to take a little tour of a few other states, their fan base will certainly grow exponentially. This EP is not available in stores (except possibly Looney Tunes, but their stock is limited), you can, however, visit their MySpace and message the band so that you can arrange to acquire it. This is your advanced warning: Get into this band immediately before they realize their potential and blow up, and then you'll just be some loser on the bandwagon, and we all know nobody wants to be that guy.


This Week's Top 10: Albums of 1998

Originally, we had planned to do a few articles looking back at albums from 1998 this week, so that was the inspiration for this.  Even without them though, we can still fondly remember the best music from a decade ago.  So, with that, enjoy the staff's picks for the best albums of 1998 (in alphabetical order).

1. In Casino/Out, At the Drive-In  Submitted by J.R.
In J.R.'s opinion, this is the band's best album, and I'd tend to agree.  One of the best bands of the 90s is oft-forgotten by mainstream music commentary, but not by us.  We'd rather pay respects to the group and its hard-hitting excellence which aided in setting the stage for many bands on the scene today.  If you're nostalgic for these guys, grab this record, or perhaps, if you're looking for something a bit more current, nothing wrong with listening to Sparta and The Mars Volta, the two bands which formed out of their ashes.  Either way, At the Drive-In stands the test of time.
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2. Mutations, Beck  Submitted by Heath
Well, first off, it's Beck, so I think it's understood that the music will still be relevant a decade later.  The appeal of this album may not be as great as the Grammy-winning Odelay, to which this album followed, but that doesn't mean it loses any of its luster.  Mutations, as with most Beck material, bounces without being too loud, and provides a fun energy, coupled with the charm he seems to execute all of his songs with.  You'll be happy you listened, but sad that it's over...feel free to just press play again.
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3. The Boy With the Arab Strap, Belle & Sebastian  Submitted by John
This is a great album in the sense that Belle & Sebastian hadn't taken the form of the much-goofier indie pop band they would become later on.  The catchy, energetic tunes on this record take on a more-polished vibe, seeming to use the great feelings from 1996's If You're Feeling Sinister (probably one of my favorite 30 or so albums ever).  If you've never heard this one, or its aforementioned predecessor, I'd highly suggest picking them up as soon as possible.  Everything they made after this one is up to your own discretion whether to purchase or not.
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4. Mermaid Avenue, Billy Bragg & Wilco  Submitted by Heath
I never have enough to say about this album, and the great story behind it.  For those who don't know, Woody Guthrie, country-folk legend died in 1967.  Years later, his daughter was looking for an outlet for the nearly-1,000 songs which he had written, but never recorded, and reached out to Billy Bragg and Wilco front man, Jeff Tweedy.  Bragg and Wilco collaborated to form a collaborative tribute to Guthrie, which in my eyes is one of the coolest album concepts of recent memory.  The songs, all done in the spirt of Woody himself, make for a great listen, for long-time fans, and newcomers alike.
Top Track:

5. Something About Airplanes, Death Cab for Cutie  Submitted by Matt
Before Death Cab was the band we all know them as know, they were a small-time Seattle solo project of Ben Gibbard.  For those who have never heard, this version of the band is much more stripped-down, has a much different approach to energetic songs, and overall, bares a solid resemblance to The Get Up Kids.  For more evidence of this, feel free to check out You Can Play These Songs With Chords, featuring one of my favorite DCFC songs, "New Candles", as well as demos of many of the songs on this superb record.
Top Track:

6. Midwestern Songs of the Americas, Dillinger Four  Submitted by J.R.
"One of the most influential punk/hardcore bands today, " says J.R.  How can I argue with that?  Every song on this record just screams out its affects on the music of the current scene.  If you felt like it, you could probably pick through each song and list a bunch of bands that used it as their main influence.  Regardless, I'll stop there, so as not to depreciate the praise I'm heaping on these guys.  If you enjoy energy, and some good, old-fashioned meaningful hardcore, looks like you've found it.
Top Track

7. XO, Elliott Smith  Submitted by John
I suppose I understand why people criticize this album (major label, etc.), but I can't help but appreciate it, because it's one of my favorites by the late Mr. Smith.  I wouldn't try to pass this album off as happy, or anything like that, because, well, it's Elliott Smith, so it's not.  I will say though, that there isn't a bad song on this album, from start to finish, you get a great, dare I say, chill, experience.  No song is too short, no song is too long.  It's just good, reflective art.
Top Track:

8. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, Neutral Milk Hotel  Submitted by Matt
I would've submitted this one, if Matt hadn't called it already.  My favorite album of 1998, and one of my top five albums of all-time, I could just go on and on about it, but I'll spare everyone that day-long rant.  Jeff Mangum, of the now-defunct NMH, had dreams about Anne Frank, saw ghosts in his closet, and had tons of other weird, really trippy experiences, leading up to the creation of this fantastic sonic experience, which plays upon so many emotions, it becomes difficult to explain.  The success of this drove Mangum crazy, as did life in general, so there has never been a follow-up.  In fact, very few people have even seen the man behind this music for the past decade, besides close friends.  I wish they'd come back.
Top Track

9. The Shape of Punk to Come, Refused  Submitted by Tom
I'll let Tom take the wheel here.  "It should go without saying that Refused and their ideologies were so pungent and widespread amongst a generation of listeners, that they came from a small brooding aggressive Swedish band to counterculture and hardcore fans.  It's due to this release, blending elements of hardcore, post-hardcore, electronica, and even jazz to create a sound spectrum so vivid that, even with the advances in post-production of today, most artists can't even dream to recreate.  The record is a 55-minute expose into a deeply sophisticated group of talented individuals who may have ben so consecrated that it eventually led to their demise in 1998.  This record will change the way you listen to music, and I don't just mean hardcore.  I mean all of it."
Top Track

10. Can't Slow Down, Saves the Day  Submitted by Tom
Once again, I'm going to let Tom take this one.  "I'll start by telling you that Saves the Day is my favorite my favorite band of all-time.  Understanding that, please take with a grain of salt the bias you're about to encounter.  The band's first release under the Saves the Day moniker was put out on Equal Vision records, at the time, a decidedly hardcore label.  The band broke this mold, releasing Can't Slow Down.  The record was melodic, catchy, fast, and rambunctious, and since this release, Saves the Day's songwriting has matured in content and texture substantially, which is to be expected after ten years.  While the lineup on this album is far from today's, they had a crucial punk rock sound, not far from their heroes in Lifetime.  With this record, Saves the Day boarded the rocket, and with their next releases, they would subsequently take off and land on another planet.  I love this record with all my heart, and you should too."
Top Track:
The Choke - Saves The Day


Review #2 (and a quick apology)

Dearest readers,

Regrettably, I was unable to make my post on Tuesday due to some unforeseen circumstances that were beyond my control. I realize, however, that this is a blog for your enjoyment, so I'll keep the apology to a minimum.

So, you know, sorry.

I did, however, manage to see The Dark Knight, the newest in the crusades of a man who dresses up like a man-bat thing and tries to thwart crime, three times in twenty four hours. I'm not incredibly proud of that, though I will admit that I only paid for it once. It's a good thing to have friends in high places (more appropriately, people that work at movie theaters). I'm sure most of you will go see it, so I won't sit here and tell you why it was a movie chock full of bad-assery, you'll all find out. Do yourselves a favor and contribute to the film that will bring down Spider Man 3 from the highest grossing 3-day weekend column. It's your duty, because, seriously, try to tell me that Toby McGuire is HALF the man that Christian Bale is. You can't. You just can not.

Having said that, I will share with you the review that was supposed to be posted on Tuesday.

Matt Pryor, “Confidence Man”
Due out on July 29, 2008
Via Vagrant Records

Track Listing
01. A Totally New Year
02. Loralai
03. Still, There’s A Light04. When The World Stops Turning
05. I’m Sorry, Stephan
06. We’ll Be Fine
07. Confidence Man
08. I Wouldn’t Change A Thing
09. Only
10. Dear Lover
11. Lovers Who Have Lost Their Cause
12. Where Did I Go Wrong
13. On How Our Paths Differ
14. Who Do You Think You Are
15. It Ends Here

When The Get Up Kids announced that they were disbanding 2005, an entire generation of music listeners, collectively, had their hearts broken. I, just as selfishly as most, without even putting an ear to the plethora of music that rose from their ashes, immediately wrote all of it off, claiming “this will never be as good as The Get Up Kids.” I eventually realized that it was time for me to grow up, and the truth about the whole operation was, ironically, that the members had been moving apart and growing up, themselves. A few had big career moves to make (for one, James Dewees, former Get Up Kids keyboardist getting the opportunity to tour as My Chemical Romance’s keyboard player), new music endeavors (former guitarist Jim Suptic’s Blackpool Lights, who a while ago had the honor of touring with the iconic Social Distortion), and, if anything else, families to go home to. Matt Pryor, the primary vocalist and guitar player for The Get Up Kids had a few projects to lean back on that were established and enjoyed a nice amount of success when his former band called it a day.

During Pryor’s tenure in The Get Up Kids, most fans recognized his unplugged (for the most part) project,The New Amsterdams, which ultimately served as the precursor to his newest musical exposé which he debuted simply under his own name entitled Confidence Man. Pryor’s latest Vagrant Records release explores his unbridled wisdom of songwriting, but unveiling a new side of himself in the process. Since his early days in Kansas fronting his legendary “emo” band, his penchant for writing infectious songs, coupled with memorable lyrics that provide a telescopic view into his life only fortified and like wine, grew better with age. Let us, however, divulge from thinking of Mr. Pryor as the young man belting out the lyrics to teenage angst anthems, and think of him as the traveled father and husband with a wealth of experience to share with the world through his music.

Confidence Man, which Pryor recorded entirely at his home studio in Lawrence, Kansas, boasts an impressive fifteen tracks, which are all performed and tracked solely by him, unlike his previous releases with The New Amsterdams. The CD’s first two tracks set the tone for the rest of the record. The songs, as lush and emotive as they are, turn the lens around for a more esoteric look at the world around him. The opening track, “A Totally New Year”, starts with an organ and slips right into a shaker and hand clap groove as Pryor sings about new beginnings with his own feathery texture. The next track, “Loralai”, follows an odd story in which he says goodbye to an old love, who happens to steal his car. Pryor’s only guide in the tune, a lone acoustic guitar finger picking away at a few chords, paints a pretty color over the song’s playful attitude.

Some would say the album is fairly stripped down, though there’s quite a bit of interesting sounds on the record. Pryor plucks away on a banjo on “Still, There’s A Light”, blows a harmonica melody over “When The World Stops Turning.”, and even a little bit of electric guitar on the chilling “Where Did I Go Wrong.” The title track, “Confidence Man”, aside from being the closest tune on the record to being layered with a full band, explores the truth of finding strength in another, even when the pillars can sometimes crack and crumble. Prior even sinks his teeth into the unsteady, as he sings “We all have a dark side that is ours, and ours alone” in “We’ll Be Fine”, he leaves no metaphysical stone unturned. Each work leaves Pryor unhinged for his listeners, a quality both intriguing and rewarding.

The album is refreshing because it’s a perfect display of a songwriter that can strip away the production, the fancy synthesizers, the triggered sounds, and still waltz through the process with a record that has virtually put on wax what has gone in. Records like Confidence Man become classics because of their depth; it’s almost like a craft, an art, even. Pryor’s voice has always evoked calm in me, and this record, even more so, will let you drift away to whatever tranquility and peace are to you, whether it’s a rocking chair on the porch somewhere in the Midwest, or sitting on a beach on the coast of California, Confidence Man will breathe life into your soul. The record is a must – because you owe it to yourself to get there.

Catch Matt Pryor performing songs from Confidence Man on tour through the summer with just a guitar, alongside Chris Conley of Saves The Day and, on select dates, Kevin Devine.

For Fans Of
The New Amsterdams, Kevin Devine, Mark Kozelek, Neil Young (maybe, lol)


Positively wonderful

Artist: The Hold Steady
Album: Stay Positive
Release date: July 15
Label: Vagrant Records

The driving guitars and piano that open "Constructive Summer," the anthemic opener on this thrilling album, you know you're in for a ride. And lead singer Craig Finn lets you know it: "We're gonna build something this summer/We'll put it back together, raise up a giant ladder/With love and trust and friends and hammers/We're gonna lean this ladder up against the water tower/Climb to the top and drink and talk."

The parallels and similarities to the Springsteen rock anthems that permeated clubs and bars in the 1980s goes without mentioning. This is music to party to -- dirty music, in a good way. It's great, grungy, angst-filled rock. It's music to play on warm nights drinking with friends or blazing summer days soaring down the highway. No wonder they chose that summer anthem as the first song.

This record grabs you in with that opener and doesn't let go. The next song -- "Sequestered in Memphis" -- is a humorous drunken sing-a-long about a hookup with a girl on the run with the law. This song is The Hold Steady in their element -- thunderous, piano-driven, fun rock.

And the rest of the album follows the same path. It flows by without warning, hitting you hard from every angle and by the time the closer, "Slapped Actress," rolls around, you'll be begging for more.

And that's the real charm of this record: as similar as some of the songs may sound and as hard as it may see this band is trying to evoke Springsteen, you want more at the end. You'll press repeat and listen to it again. Because the music is that good.

And not just the piano arrangements or the thumping guitars, but the lyrics that examine a broad range of topics from domestic abuse ("Some nights it's entertainment/And some other nights it's real" on "Slapped Actress"), suicide ("When one townie falls in the forest, does anyone notice?" on "One for the Cutters") and romance ("I know you're pretty pissed/But I hope you'll still let me kiss you" on "Magazines").

If this band keeps it up, they'll be legends just like The Boss.

Score: 9.0/10
Stand-out tracks: Magazines, Sequestered in Memphis, Slapped Actress


Track of the week:
Albert Hammond, Jr. - Miss Myrtle

On my first listen through Albert Hammond, Jr.'s terrible-Spanish-grammar-titled ¿Cómo Te Llama?, this track was the immediate standout.

The quick, tiny picks of the guitar dive into a Jamaican afro-beat jam about Hammond's angst and inability to tell what signs a girl is sending him.

"Tomorrow is long overdue/I'll be thinking of you and/Lights go out, I know it's you/I'm just like you: easily confused."

It's a quick, beautiful and great song that's unfortunately easily lost on the back end of the album.


This House of Cards Stands On Its Own

Witness: Radiohead. Their new video for the song "House of Cards", off of In Rainbows seems like nothing new for the band, at first. It's strange, it's different, it makes sense...for them, at least. What sets this apart from their other work however, is the fact that they don't use any conventional cameras in this video at all.

Lasers were used to graph out the images, and lay them out into the video format. The song, which describes the degeneration of the nuclear family as many perceive it, suburbia and society-at-large, is a favorite by many fans of the band's latest work, including one of our own authors at Animal Noises, Heath. I'll give him credit where credit is due here, as he pointed out the references to swingers- "throw your keys in the bowl/kiss your husband goodbye"- within a few days of us hearing the album. This lends to my being able to include that concept in this post now, so for that, I'll give him some props.

In this mini-cinematic adventure, the band actually plays on the words of the song (so rare nowadays), to form the images which the viewer sees before them. As mentioned, this song is about degeneration of various aspects of society, and the images stay true to this. At first just portraying someone singing (Thom Yorke), then gradually allowing the appearance of a suburban street. The street seems to melt away as gradually as it comes up though, as the lines which form its frame disintegrate into thin air. The images rise, and then fall more rapidly, as the video progresses, eventually leaving the suburb, and entering a city, in which we see the full scale of Radiohead's idea of degeneration in the song.

Soon after, we see what appears to be a bar/social setting, with people exchanging pleasantries and sharing drinks. Two characters, who seem to have been alluded to in the early goings of the video, are brought to the forefront (I'm guessing the woman is the "swinger" referenced in the lyrics), and they start to disintegrate, just as the lines forming the town and city had before. The last image shows a single house quickly forming, then being blown away, like dust in the wind, as expediently as it was erected. Alluding to the destruction of a specific household- the one of the swinger, I would imagine- as either the first or last step in the societal breakdown they describe in the song itself.

This is all opinion, of course, but due to Radiohead's penchant for discussing, or creating imagery of, a dystopian future (every album from OK Computer onward), and further supported by their commentaries on current society: i.e.- record label: _Xurbia_Xendless (referencing the endless urban-suburban sprawl which the entire western world functions within), we can say that this is more of an educated guess based upon previously recorded trends.

Of course, what's a Radiohead release without some sort of innovation? The band will also be releasing the data used to construct the video, so all of you do-it-yourselfers out there can have a blast manipulating the numerical sequences, and making your own "House of Cards" video. You all probably remember the frenzies that followed Decide your own price for In Rainbows and Here's all the parts of Nude, go make a remix, so chances are we're about to see a third wave of Radiohead customization-mania.

Just for fun, I've also got the "Making of House of Cards" video on here. Enjoy.


No Longer Free Agent(s)

Artist: Agent

Album: I Wouldn't Trade That For Anything

Label: N/A

Release: OUT NOW!

There's a reason why these gentlemen are now on the same label as Crime In Stereo and Nightmare of You, and why they are slated to share the stage with Have Heart and Verse on the 19th: They're everything you want out of a Melodic Hardcore band from Long Island. Notice I did not say expect. Although having the great misfortune of playing a "genre" that, some claim, can get repetitive and produce a multitude of carbon copies of the more renowned acts, this release not only sets them apart from the rest, but manages to evoke a sense of nostalgia for the days when you were growing up and first discovering punk rock and hardcore bands. The sing along's are there, as well as the one liners that (and let's not lie to ourselves here) we all love to hear and put in our away messages and Myspace headlines. To say that this release will get your toe tapping is the understatement of the decade. However, sticking to the typical hardcore platform (and what is usually a justification, to some, for avoiding it) the quality of the recording for this record is nowhere near the quality one gets from major label releases, though that is what makes this EP, and this band, so enticing: there's no intimidation factor. You feel as if you're listening to an EP your best friend's band just released: You can relate, it's not over-produced, and the rough around the edges sound makes what's being sung all the more tangible. The singer does not have the best voice you will ever hear, the guitar lines/chord progressions may not seem all that complex, but that's why you turn to hardcore, is it not? For fans of the Movielife, LIFETIME, and early Saves the Day, hop on this bandwagon now so you can arrogantly tell all of your friends "I was there BEFORE they were huge."

The first track "Anywhere is Better Than Here" is actually my least favorite track of the release. It seems restricted in the sense that the real sound of which they are capable is not shining through here. You get a little blip of life between the cliche lyrics and diluted tempo, but the band is best when they're playing frantically fast and loud, and you don't get that sense from this first track. Why the love affair then?

The second track "I'm Fucking Sick of People Leaving and Not Saying Goodbye" is by far the standout, albeit only one minute long. Which is quite the accomplishment considering the length, but that's probably because you can't just listen to it once. The outstanding lyrics aside, this would have been the perfect opener, fast, right to the point, the way hardcore should be. It's currently up on their Myspace and seeing as how this will be hard to come across other than purchasing it online, at least give this one a listen, it is sure to captivate you.

Third we have "Trying My Best" where, again, the band decides to go with an upbeat tempo and pulls it off very nicely. Throughout this song you are actually able to picture yourself singing along in the crowd, trying to climb up on people's shoulders in an attempt to grab the microphone and scream those heartfelt lyrics right back into the singer's face. Great placement here with this track, perfect for the middle of the EP as a way to bring everything together in a coherent manner.

"This is Getting Old" is one of those tracks that pulls at your heart strings. From the intro you get a real sense of this song and the direction it's going to go in. Nostalgia drips from the guitars and lyrics while you can't help but think back to "the good old days." A perfect example of how music should affect people, it really evokes a lot of emotion from the listener and you have a deep sense of understanding about the story being told here.


The last track of the album "Too Close for Comfort," in which the band makes a statement against the monotony of a music scene in which the cliche gets rewarded while it seems originality is cast aside and very rarely rewarded in a big way. Surprised to hear dueling guitar lines at the beginning of this song, first thought is that this will be reminiscent to the first track. However, the message in this one is much stronger and the music behind the lyrics is very appropriate for what they're trying to convey. This song defies all of the logic that one applies to melodic hardcore: this is where the band is taking a stand and saying, both literally and musically, that they'll do things their own way and that they don't exist just to fill a mold of expectation that has been set by everyone around them. This leaves the listener with great anticipation for the next release, to see where this band has taken themselves, and if they're concerned about their critics who will most certainly berate them if they don't "hold on to their hardcore roots" and go the way of Crime in Stereo.

Either way, for what this EP represents: a band on the rise in a genre that isn't as popular as it used to be, this is a solid release that you won't regret going out of your way to pick up. As I mentioned the difficulty with the availability of this, as well as possibly exposing some people to great music, Agent will be playing a show this upcoming Saturday, the 19th, at the Deer Park VFW Hall, 588 Long Island Avenue, Deer Park, NY, at 6:30 PM with Have Heart and Verse, where this EP will be available. It's at 6:30 PM and is $10 at the door. Look at that, music reviews and night life suggestions, who's better than us?