Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wavves - King of the Beach (2010)

[Ed. Note: I was going to hold off on putting this up until I had enough album reviews for a whole album review post, but in light of my dear friends Pitchfork giving it their "coveted" Best New Music today and an 8.4 rating, I'm putting it up now.]

Wavves - King of the Beach (2010)

Every single time a new Wavves record comes out, I try it. I'm not sure why, I just keep feeling like I'm missing something. I inevitably listen and then I hate everything about what I'm hearing. King of the Beach is a vastly different album from previous Wavves works and shows a lot of musical growth on the part of frontman Nathan Williams. The intrinsic problem of course is that the band still isn't good. The essential difference between this album and the last Wavves album is that apparently at some point Williams got really into Animal Collective. His adaption of that influence into his already bad music doesn't make it much better. It's just different, not better. Occasionally he stumbles upon a good pop hook such as in the absolute highlight of his career to date, "Take On the Word," but generally it's just what the title would lead you to expect. It is the shitty soundtrack to your summer surfing experience. But if you don't surf or smoke weed or live on the beach or wear board shorts or say "brah" or you are not Matthew McConaughey, it's just bad punk flirting with pretentious spaced out intellectualism. (D)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

REPRINT SERIES: sIngs, Somosuno and more (3/12/10)

[Ed. Note: Presented, as always, without edits in the original form I wrote it. Better, worse? You decide.]

On one of the odder days of my life, I somehow ended up at a place colloquially known as "The Ponderosa" seeing some local bands on Friday night. It's a long story of getting lost in Houston that led to me ending up there, I had actually been intending to go to the Fat Tony show at the Tipping Point that night, but I'll spare the details and get on with the bands.

First up to bat was the psychotically punk Somosuno. It was frontman Fernando Alejandro's 21st birthday and he was typically on fire, dancing through the crowd in the tiny, cramped room, crowd surfing, jumping off anything in sight, and shouting/rapping Spanish lyrics at a ridiculous pace that pretty much blew my mind. The rest of the band dutifully backed him up, holding down the rhythm with post-Fugazi riffage and a horn player for texture. Having only seen their name on bills of shows I didn't attend, it was a welcome surprise to find out how good they were.

When I asked when they were going to play, sIngs told me they preferred to go on second, and true to their word they were the middle band of the night. I have actually seen sIngs before, opening for Cursive at Walter's on Washington last year, but they started playing before Walter's would let anybody in the building so I only got to see about half of their set. What I heard then was a tremendous slice of shoegazing noisey post-rock soaked in enough distortion and feedback to destroy your eardrums even with earplugs in. Suffice it to say, I loved it.

They were just as good on Friday night too, covering mostly the same territory as the last time I saw them. I never got to see them when it was just singer/guitarist/drummer/band mastermind Brett Taylor playing on his own, so I can't compare it to that, though I've heard that was amazing as well. With the full band though, Taylor, accompanied by Buxton alumni Jason Willis on guitar and Justin Terrell on drums, as well as David Ibarra on bass, is able to do so much more, including making a lot more noise. There's an odd beauty in the cacophony, which can probably be attributed to the melodic songwriting piercing through the dissonance. I'm anxiously awaiting the release of their album, which they're having a release party for at Mango's on April 17th. Try to make that show if you can, it should be awesome.

Caddywhompus played last. I've had their demos since last summer, which probably marks the longest time for me between hearing a local band's music and seeing them perform. The band is only made up of the duo of scene vet Chris Rehm on guitar/vocals and Sean Hart, yet they're loud enough for a ten-piece band. Like sIngs, they make a great deal of noise, but it's pure lo-fi punk in the vein of bands like No Age. In the live setting their songs lost some of their clarity, as well as the synthesizer parts on the album, but it was just as much of a fun, raucous show as I expected. They're going to have a split 7" release with sIngs coming out soon so be on the lookout for that.

Despite the bizarre way my night started, which included accidentally wandering into DiverseWorks Fotofest 2010 among other things, it was fortunate that I ended up at "The Ponderosa" as it was probably the most fun local show I've been to in a while. All three bands performed like their lives depended on making this show rock and rock they did. I left with my ears ringing and I couldn't have been happier about it.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

How to Destroy Angels - How to Destroy Angels (2010)

In my angst-ridden teenage years, Trent Reznor was my hero. His songs were like totally about me and my relationships and my pain and my depression and blah blah blah. Everybody had that band in those years. Nine Inch Nails was that band for me. I still admire a lot of what Trent did musically too. When you look back on an album like 1999's The Fragile, you can put aside Reznor's angst-ridden lyrics and focus on the music which is actually damned impressive. The melding of industrial metal with hip-hop beats on that album is a stroke of genius. But since Reznor got clean, he's been stagnating. That's an old music industry cliche, but it's pretty much true in his case.

After The Fragile, his masterpiece and defining work in my opinion, NIN put out an incredible live album accompanied with a bonus disc of some impressive stripped down re-recordings of old NIN songs plus some new almost ambient post-rock sounding instrumental songs, which The Fragile had already somewhat hinted at but hadn't brought to fruition like Still (the aforementioned bonus disc) did. Then Reznor went into rehab. When he came out, he went from skinny long-haired gothy heroin addict to cleaned up muscled out shaved head bro. His music became more simplistic than it had been in years and his lyrics became, well, garbage. Even if you didn't like them before, they were honest. On With Teeth, the lyrics were completely hollow, reflecting the pure lack of angst in Reznor's life after getting clean. He could fake it well enough, but this was the weakest Nine Inch Nails release ever.

As if realizing that, Reznor shifted his focus and his sound on the follow-up. Year Zero was preceded by an elaborate game with mysterious websites showing up on the web and USB drives with songs turning up in bathrooms at Nine Inch Nails shows. It was a dramatic comeback, with Reznor's angst instead focusing on a bleak, Orwellian future he made up. It gave him new inspiration and it led to one of the best Nine Inch Nails albums ever. But afterwards, he stagnated again. Bush was almost out of office, the tide was turning, and his fictional future wasn't so much a certain thing anymore.

Stripped of his newfound inspiration, Reznor's music took some strange turns. The first NIN release we heard after Year Zero was a four disc album of instrumentals which followed up on that ambient instrumental sound I mentioned before that he had already explored on The Fragile and Still. However, he did it to much greater effect on those albums. Ghosts ended up being an aimless "look what I can do with these pedals" project and was quickly overlooked. Then came The Slip, a follow-up of sorts to Year Zero lyrically and artistically, but sounding more like a melding of Year Zero and With Teeth and ultimately just being a disappointment. It was a mediocre EP and it was sadly the last thing NIN released before Reznor decided to pull the plug on the floundering project, after a lengthy farewell tour.

That was what happened to Nine Inch Nails in the aughts. But it's 2010 now, a new decade. Where is Reznor now? Where is Nine Inch Nails now? Well, around the demise of Nine inch Nails last year, Reznor got married, and yes, she's a singer. So what happened to Nine Inch Nails? It changed its name and became How to Destroy Angels, featuring Reznor, long-time Nine Inch Nails collaborator Atticus Ross, and, of course, Reznor's new wife Mariqueen Maandig. The result is essentially a repeat of the last Nine Inch Nails EP, The Slip, but with Mariqueen singing instead of Reznor. To call it a disappointment is an understatement.

For a year after Nine Inch Nails was effectively killed, Reznor hyped the various studio projects he was working on. We got teased about a possible soundtrack for a Tetsuo movie (turned out to be one song), we got teased with a possible Gary Numan collaboration, we got teased a follow-up to Ghosts, we even got teased with a new Nine Inch Nails album (because Reznor only really wanted to kill the live entity of Nine Inch Nails). What we got instead was Reznor's Yoko Onoing. So happy and in love is Reznor that he's now writing the same stale music he's been writing for the past few years but now it's designed for his wife to sing on instead. Gag me. She's not a bad singer and Reznor isn't a bad songwriter, but this sound has been done to death in recent years. If not on The Slip, then look back a few albums. The opening of "Fur Lined" is straight out of the minor With Teeth hit "Only" and all the noisy distorted guitars have lined every Reznor work of the last decade. It's not that this is bad music, it's just unoriginal. It sounds like Reznor wrote it in his sleep. Furthermore, there's really nothing that Maandig singing adds to the mix. Reznor could be singing over this and we could call it a new Nine Inch Nails EP. It would be just as disappointing, but it would be less misleading. In fact, you could tell me that Reznor used a computer to make his voice sound like a woman and I would believe it. That is the extent to which Maandig contributes and that is to say that she contributes nothing. This is pure self-indulgence by Reznor.

I'm happy for him that he's happy with his wife, but my advice to him would be to quit pandering to her desire to sing on his music, quit putting out the same album over and over again, and maybe try a little experimentation. It's not going to hurt his career to think outside the box, he's giving all this away for free on the internet and he knows we'd just steal it if he did try to do a conventional release. In general, artists tend to try new things when finally free of record labels but apparently marriage (and pending fatherhood) have stripped Reznor of his experimental desires. Well, it's a new decade and I suppose this is the one where Reznor finally slips into a comfortable sound that he can keep churning out to a dwindling fanbase for the rest of his career. You'll always have your diehards that will eat up anything that sounds like Nine Inch Nails but I personally want a little more than the same old Trent. I know what he can do when he pushes himself and that's what I'm looking for. This is the farthest thing from him pushing himself. (D)