Part V: In Which Our Hero Calls It Like He Sees It...
Explosions In The Sky- Take Care, Take Care, Take Care (***½)
Post-rock is quickly approaching the “evolve or die” saturation point and many bands are caught in the crossfire. Yet, Explosions In The Sky seem so hyper-conscious of this genre’s critical mass that Take Care, Take Care, Take Care tries incredibly hard to infuse an organic atmosphere into its 6 expansive tracks. Unlike their Icelandic contemporaries Sigur Rós, who simply add Animal Collective freak folk into their often-lush arrangements, Explosions In The Sky play with looseness rather than cross-pollination. This grants their music some fluidity; their drumming doesn’t come across as robotic and their melodies have room to breathe within their aquatic, reverb-laced ecosystem. Though Take Care… doesn’t feature as many droning soundscapes like their past works, the group hasn’t lost their taste for fragile, immersive instrumentals. “Last Known Surroundings” is awash with twinkling guitar lines and a blooming sense of scope. Following that, “Human Qualities” rises and falls like sighing angels, gently chiming to heavenly heights before pulverizing drums crash in. After it’s all said and done, what really makes Take Care... stand out is the fact that it feels like it was created by human beings. Explosions In The Sky remind us that part of the charm of post-rock music is in human beings exploring something otherworldly through humble means. To that end, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care is the sound of them leading by example.
Key Cuts: Last Known Surroundings, Human Qualities, Be Comfortable, Creature
Max Bemis & The Painful Splits- Max Bemis & The Painful Splits 2 (***½)
Max Bemis has always relied on his ability to infuse wildly unhinged punk with theatrical bombast, but the thing that’s often over-looked is his natural knack for songwriting. Max Bemis & The Painful Splits 2 picks up where last year’s volume left off, displaying Bemis’ neurotic sensibilities front and center. “Lowman” is a deep-end belly flop into Bemis’ biggest insecurities, complete with some bare bones guitar wobble while he sings, “I'm bad at making love/I think I've never made it quite at all…” Elsewhere, the down-stroked chop of “I Never Knew You Were So Lonely” paints a Bemis as pop-punk’s Charlie Brown, but with more cigarettes and a fist full of other vices. At its worst, Splits 2 comes across as instrumentally dry and sparse, packed with scratchy guitars, overwhelming reverb, and melodrama that’s a bit too obvious for your average Say Anything record. Yet when it shines, it’s because Bemis makes you feel about as frustrated as he does. His gift isn’t in exploiting clichés, but in tapping into the feelings of inadequacy that we all share, like on the finger-picked closer “Monolo,” “And I know I can't explain it/But I'll still try…” That’s the real secret to Bemis’ success: He doesn’t write about the people or things have wronged him. Instead, his songs are all stories of discovery and how the climb uphill is bound to result in a few bruises.
Key Cuts: I Never Knew You Were So Lonely, Lowman, Monolo
R.E.M.- Collapse Into Now (**)
It’s rare to see a veteran band seem disinterested in their newest album but that’s precisely the case with R.E.M.’s latest effort, Collapse Into Now, a 12-track snooze fest that suffers from poor production and lazy performances. The record’s biggest problem is that its songs are mired in mid-tempo purgatory, missing the signature energy that defined R.E.M.'s late 80s material. Singer Michael Stipe is an obvious culprit as his phoned in, monotone drawl detracts from cuts like the FM-fuzzy “Discoverer,” or the surrealist paradise of “Alligator Aviator Autopilot Antimatter.” Where 2007’s Accelerate reveled in charging hooks and a dynamic presence, Collapse Into Now contently rides the waves of R.E.M. offerings before it, rather than braving into any new territory. Guitarist Peter Buck should share some of the blame for that as well. His typically twisting, stadium-ready melodies are few and far between, only cropping up on the spacey arpeggios of “ÜBerlin” and the layered, feedback soaked closer “Blue.” Jacknife Lee’s mid-range heavy mix smashes the life out of these songs, revealing how underwritten they are while confirming how R.E.M. has chosen to coast on their legacy instead of penning impassioned manifestos. In the end, the most disappointing part of Collapse Into Now isn’t that the band wrote bad songs, it’s in how it the displays the collapse of a once vivacious group of musicians.
Key Cuts: ÜBerlin, Blue, Out Of Time
Rise Against- Endgame (**½)
Everyone should have expected Rise Against to explore a more melodic sound with Endgame. The group sowed the seeds of such on 2007’s Appeal To Reason, unevenly exploring acoustic detours while scaling back their hardcore ties. Yet the distressing part isn’t in its accessibility, it’s how sterile and rigid Rise Against come across, for no amount of palm muted punch and sand paper vocals can elevated the album from its discount rack resonance. Endgame’s opener “Architects” is as close as Rise Against come to hitting their past glory, complete with machine-gun riffs and sledge hammer breakdowns. Elsewhere, “Satellite” sports the album’s most expansive chorus, wrapped in gritty bass work, tense guitars, and napalm-laced hooks. Yet the problem is really in the construction. Bill Stevenson’s production makes the group sound squeaky clean, not in a processed fashion, but in a way that strips the urgency off their crunchy riffs and scattershot drumming. Songs like tarantula-sized “Midnight Hands” and the charging “Help Is On The Way” should sound massive when the group kicks in with meaty power chords. As it stands, they sound meticulously crafted and arranged, the kiss of death for a band that derives it’s energy by flirting with danger. In the end, the group has become the new Pennywise: A band splitting the difference between accessible hard-rock and by-the-numbers skate punk. That’s not ultimately a bad thing, but it does undermine Rise Against’s passionate delivery, which has always been a unique, counter-culture battle cry.
Key Cuts: Architects, Help Is On The Way, Satellite
Yellowcard- When You're Through Thinking, Say Yes (***)
Ever since Lights & Sounds failed to capitalize on Yellowcard’s enormous popularity the Florida natives have tried desperately recreate their glory years. Since experimentation didn’t work, they front-loaded 2007’s Paper Walls with uptempo numbers, eschewing the balladry that rounded out their songwriting. When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes tries to balance Lights & Sound’s ambition and Paper Walls’ traditionalism, but only results in a handful of strong tracks. Yellowcard gallops out the gate with the frenzied pickslides and frantic drumming of “The Sound Of You & Me,” while the Cheap Trick-chug and Saves The Day shout-outs on “With You Around” show that they’re pulling out all the stops to appear irresistible. Still, the disc’s main problem is the same one that plagued Paper Walls: Sean Mackin’s razor sharp violin does more to break up the monotony than color the arrangements, while the rest of the band sounds like they’re a competent Ocean Avenue tribute ensemble. The album’s brightest moments are when the Yellowcard slows down and fills the space, like on the heartbeat stutter of “Hang You Up” or the sweeping, cinematic crash of “Soundtrack.” Still, When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes reminds fans that they don’t listen to Yellowcard for the unexpected, they listen because they know exactly what they’re going to get.
Key Cuts: The Sound Of You & Me, With You Around, Hang You Up
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Part V: In Which Our Hero Calls It Like He Sees It...