All posts by Michael LeSuer

Moodie Black: Nausea

nausea

Moodie Black: Nausea- Nestling snugly in the annals of contemporary rap history between Anticon’s reinvention of hip-hop and Kanye’s postscript to the genre lies the formation of Arizona’s noise rap duo Moodie Black, whose minimalist-yet-massive industrial beats earned them a small cult following several months before Yeezus dragged their downtempo breed of racket to the mainstream. With their debut self-titled EP, Moodie provided a glimpse of their heavy-hitting post-rap which, though drenched in scuzz, proved club-friendly with its thumping beats and memorable choruses. Yet in what may have been an act of defiance to ‘Black Skinhead,’ the group’s newly released full-length Nausea takes another big step away from the mainstream by relying heavily on instrumental post-rock soundscapes for an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia, a feeling as alien to rap as your grandparents.

From track one it’s apparent that the duo has shifted to a slower, tamer, and more stripped down sound, and the unsettling sense of impending rapocalypse has lost its sheen for them. Similarly, the sobering subsequent ‘S K I E S’ overwhelms the listener with images of McCarthian bleak skies and circling vultures, almost as if the honeymoon phase of the apocalypse is over and slaying zombies (or hipsters) is no longer sufficient compensation for the fact that rap’s end is imminently nigh. Although significantly mellower and lyrically more abstract, Nausea’s flagrant evocations of 28 Days Later’s hysteria (and soundtrack) makes it the perfect companion piece to fellow Fake Fourer and former Anticonian Sole and his Skyrider Band’s cataclysmically prophetic debut.

With only a pair of relatively short and spastic exceptions, Nausea’s tracks sprawl like any good post-rock album, making its seeming lengthiness entirely necessary (see: Swans). Though ten minutes shy of the one hour mark, the album still may not suit the impatient listener due to its somewhat-monotonous content, often crawling pace, and sparse cathartic payoffs, such as the aforementioned spastics (‘Mollyap’ and ‘White Buffalo’) and a few goosebump-inducing reverbial crescendos (as perfected on ‘Death in L.A. Pt. 2’). But for Michael Gira enthusiasts Nausea should feel like an exotic appetizer for which the spaghetti western guitar twangs of ‘Wolves’ appear particularly inviting.

With its post-rock ethos of finitude and barely audible yet undeniably (and verbosely) anti-establishmentarian lyrics, Nausea is commendable not only in trailblazing the young noise rap genre (yes, Moodie Black owns the rights to noiserap.com), but it also excels in countermanding rap’s mostly-established position within the world of music. Much like the raps of their labelmates and similar pioneering art rappers, Moodie proves hyperconscious in each of their tracks, as opposed to the mindless choruses often adorning such radio-friendly artists as Kanye and this year’s newest Lil’ and/or Young. From the vaguely-blasphemous ‘Christ’ (in which the lyrics “oh my god” may or may not seep into “I’m a god”) to the concluding surreality of ‘B’ (which boasts a violent chorus of “light me on fire in my fucking sleep!”), Nausea is exactly what its title suggests – a record documenting an existential sickness with ourselves. “Listen with caution,” warns Fake Four…9.4/10

‘Wolves’

Tony Molina: Dissed and Dismissed

dissed

Tony Molina: Dissed and Dismissed – It’s 1994 again in the rock and roll community, and the apathy is as enfleecing as the flannel. With Pavement-spawned slackedelia lining the blogwaves and Parquet comprising rock’s once-stoneclad royal court, you could say it pays to be pathetic.

Stepping out from the iron entrapment of his hardcore project Caged Animal (not to be confused with minimalist synth-pop’s Caged Animals), Tony Molina takes this lesson to heart on his quick-and-dirty debut Dissed and Dismissed, a terse collection of power slacker bummers recently re-released by the ever-indifferent Slumberland Records. Clocking in at an overwhelmingly-palatable eleven minutes, Molina’s dozen downers combine the boisterousness of early Weezer with the heavy conversing guitars of Dinosaur Jr., cementing the impressive riffage with Stephen Malkmus’ legendary careless vocals.

Though none of the tracks exceed the one-minute-and-thirty-two-second mark, Molina manages to pack a heavy punch into just about every song. From the catchy sad-sack openers ‘Nowhere to Go’ and ‘Change My Ways’ (“all my friends like me more when I’m not around,” Molina proclaims from the get-go) to the highlight riff-and-squeal Dino Jr. offspring ‘See Me Through’ and ‘Don’t Come Back,’ there are few surprises on Dissed and Dismissed once you accept the fact that the Bay Area hardcore wunderkind has joined the neo-slacker elite.

Molina does manage to squeeze a few curve balls in there, though, namely the anticlimactic build-up ‘Nothing I Can Do,’ the ironically soothing ‘Sick Ass Riff,’ and the acoustic cover of Guided By Voices’ ‘Wandering Poet Boy.’ Each cut seems highly unnecessary as an interlude on an album of interlude-length tracks, but reminds us of Molina’s versatility as a musician, as well as his wealth of quintessential 90′s-alt influences.

Despite his treasure trove of tether-woven early alt-rock stimulus, Molina proves unique in being one growling frontman short of a grunge project and one heart-aching acoustic strummer shy of a folk group. Admittedly there’s not much new ground covered on Dissed and Dismissed, yet Molina creates a certain freshness in a subgenre as musty as the moth-chewed flannels recently unearthed from your parents’ basement, and with a record shorter than your average Godspeed! ballad there’s no time for such a dismal fate…8.2/10

‘Don’t Come Back’

Pujol: Kludge

Pujol: Kludge – “We’re gonna use our paws to rock and roll for good tonight, instead of complacent, negligent, self-hating evil!” proclaims Daniel Pujol over the sounds of dogs barking and glass breaking on ‘Post Grad,’ one of the most dysfunctional cuts from his eponymous band’s latest release, Kludge. The good he refers to, based solely on the lyrical content of Pujol’s third full-length, appears to be the banishment of old solipsistic habits and the acknowledgment of the world outside of ourselves, making Kludge play like a re-coming-of-age rock opera, a punk rock self-help manual for the inner-turmoil conflicted, or a series of arbitrarily chaotic noise clips inspired by a universe equally directionless. And “chaotic noise” is easily the most concise description of Pujol’s distinctively disgruntled southern garage rock art brut (top genre tags from last.fm’s flummoxed listeners include: “kickasstic,” “recommended,” “pay attention,” and the ever-unfolding blanket term “indie”), which on Kludge appears particularly amorphous. Daniel’s nasal rasp resembles that of an over-caffeinated John McCauley of Deer Tick and his mangy orchestra’s tumult appropriately suits this, well, kickasstic chaos. In fact, Daniel Pujol was most likely the kid in your class who always finished his Scantron tests way before everyone else while miraculously passing all his classes. All his philosophy classes, at least. The bulk of Kludge wrestles with the inherent struggles of the over-thinking man, as the narrator constantly sounds conflicted in pinning down his identity. The brash opener ‘Judas Booth’ introduces the issue via a grotesque pep talk about “getting back into the swing of things” after a terrible year of subservience to one’s worse half and finding full-time employment in eschewing suicide. Feeling Judased by his former self, Pujol vows to “kiss [old Daniel’s] mouth before [new Daniel] blows [old Daniel’s] brains out against the wall,” setting a unique mood for the album that’s equal parts philosophically insightful and garage rock-ily delightful. “The old me and the new me are in a fist fight!” Daniel shouts repeatedly on angst-ridden highlight ‘Manufactured Crisis Control’ with energy unparalleled and apologies unvocalized. By mid-album Pujol’s yet to have his caffeinated beverage shelved out of reach - even such relatively-slow burners as ‘Dark Haired Suitor’ sound concerned with obsessive untidiness. It isn’t until Daniel matches the stature of folkdom’s most elevation-gifted strummer that tongue vacates cheek – the surprisingly heartfelt and aptly haunting ‘Spooky Scary’ features a suddenly-naked Pujol revealing his seemingly simple fantasy (“to watch Dr. Who with you and the bunnies” after a long day of work), as well as his rational fear of the vampiric world, after countless existential complications. The whimsical pre-closer ‘Small World’ appears brilliantly conclusive at first (“I don’t wanna mistake my world for the whole world”) in it’s anti-solipsistic sentiment, but instead asserts that this conclusion is based upon a concern that the ennui of the self-centered “my world” may apply to the infinitely broader “whole world.” This, of course, is meant to remind us that Kludge should excel not as Pujol’s manifesto, but as a garage rock album in an infinite universe full of other garage rock albums, an infinitesimality explored on ‘Youniverse,’ the album’s final track. Accompanied by distant fireworks (and followed by an abrasive happy birthday wish of an encore), ‘Youniverse’ celebrates infinity with excitable twanging guitar and heavy chug-and-plunk bass, recognizing the proximity of those within arm’s reach and seizing the opportunity to reach out and touch them before we’re all dead – a simple observation, as many of the band’s most insightful realizations are. While Daniel’s ideas are actually quite complex, Pujol serves as a playful outlet for a mismatched kludge of influences – mostly from within classrooms and garages nationwide – and Kludge strikes an impressive balance between thoughtful discourse and thoughtless clamor that’s anything but complacent…8.5/10

‘Manufactured Crisis Control’

Nothing at Subterranean

It’s hard to know what to expect when the band you’re about to see has roots in both the hardcore and shoegaze communities – you could either walk away with severely dampened spirits or a pair of black eyes. Fortunately I was able to walk out of Nothing’s Thursday night show at Chicago’s probably-haunted Subterranean with neither, the only fatalities being temporary hearing damage and a suddenly-rational fear of being trampled at a shoegaze show. If you’re not familiar with the abusive slip-on-Vansgaze of the moody Philadelphia-based quartet, imagine what an east coast hardcore punk band like Blacklisted would sound like if they’d grown up on My Bloody Valentine, spent a few years soul searching, and ended their spiritual vagrancy with very disappointing answers.

Needless to say, the the mood at Subterranean was hard to pin down – the tattooed hands of those around me in the what-would-be pit seemed to wring in anticipation as local noisemakers Torture Love formulated a funereal solemnity which was difficult to reciprocate with more than mere courteous and sympathetic nods. After wrapping up their set with banana-stifled shouts (“yup, that’s Matt” the singer’s co-worker repeated to me several times with a chuckle as he recalled the spectacle, as if eating bananas and shouting was a typical Matt-ism), local dreamgaze cool-uncles Airiel brought the inscrutable heft with melodies unrestrained and whammy aplenty. Like Torture Love and the headliner, Airiel’s abstract expressionism reached its pinnacle at the end of the set as the band left their instruments stuttering reverb as they left the stage one by one (some more violently than others – apparently the demolition of a guitar is all it took to get a rise out of the sepulchral crowd).

As several stage-crowders backed out while Nothing set up, I reflected upon the impending ruination of my eardrums, and like those around me, accepted the fact that Nothing’s sonic nihilism may very well be the last thing we ever hear. To ensure general glumness, the band kicked off their set with a recording of Daniel Johnston’s ‘Devil Town’ – perhaps a lyrical summation of frontman Domenic Palermo’s aforementioned spiritual research – and immediately dug straight into the excavational contact hitter ‘Dig.’ Right off the bat it was apparent that there was little point in miking Palermo and co-vocalist Brandon Setta, as the immense wall of noise being emitted from their amps left little room for oral output (given these guys’ resumes, not much was expected in terms of angelic inside voices).

While the band mostly assumed the semblance of a typical shoegaze act (despite the physical appearance of flamboyantly straight-edge hardcore rockers), bassist Nick Bassett was granted apt acreage onstage to be as active as one can while wielding his slender instrument, and Palermo, channeling his reckless roots, hopped offstage during ‘Get Well’s’ crunchy outro to make a beeline through the audience, encouraging minimal jocular violence amongst the seemingly-pleased hand-tatted population. Kyle Kimball, shirtless drummer and vengeful Cillian Murphy doppelganger, served as the hectic percussive anchor remarkably out of his comfort zone in a band like Nothing, somehow making him the perfect candidate for the band. Setta, also brandishing guitar, kindly asked that the light over his head be turned off at the beginning of their set and remained in the shadows ‘til set’s end.

There were few moments of earblood-coagulating silence, as most of the band’s songs were strung together with other audio samples which were difficult to recognize over the squeals resonating from the previous songs, but recalled the mid-album readings of Titus Andronicus. Presumably it was the leftover wailing scuzz that wooed them back onstage for a one-song encore in which their expressionism evolved into an interactive exhibit when Palermo handed off his guitar to be passed around the audience (a kind gesture which, unfortunately, did little more than baffle the audience, myself included). It was as if Pollock was lending out his paintbrush for others to contribute to his splatter painting, and with that the night ended on a lighter note than many of us deemed possible.

Japanther: Instant Money Magic

Japanther: Instant Money Magic – Critiquing Japanther’s recorded material is about as fair as judging a play based on unfocused video recordings uploaded to YouTube in a dozen parts – the eccentric Brooklyn duo is known first and foremost as performance artists, incorporating synchronized swimmers, supervillains, makeshift prisons/museums, the work of Walt Whitman, and lots of telephones in their chaotic live shows, which are based in part on their slew of recordings dating back to 2001. In a sense, Japanther are exactly what you’d expect from a guitarless art-punk band: raw energy inspired more by creativity than defiance, all channeled through relatively mild-tempered bass thumps and colorful percussive linings. With neo-slacker tendencies, the duo’s buzzing, lopsided joviality is equal parts Ramones and No Age.

Instant Money Magic is the band’s thirteenth release resembling a full-length LP, spanning fourteen tracks while only clocking in at twenty-four minutes. Slightly more surfable than its skate-cordial predecessors, IMM boasts a mostly unfamiliar optimism that launches its strongest tracks and gives its handful of clunkers an endearing argument against skipability. Frontman Ian Vanik attests to the band’s handsome transformation on the album’s opener ‘Take Me In’ in which he pleads we “take another look” at their slightly-modified structure. Shirking their dependence on lo-fi recordings, tracks like ‘Take Me In’ and the equally sunny follow-up ‘Vicious’ are ripe with melodious flavor, despite the latter’s slightly-frustrating proximity to the one minute mark.

Elsewhere we see Japanther’s familiar childishness shine through in odes to the sun, dreams of laser beams, and general impish carelessness, all carried by borderline kid-friendly riffs resembling the flower punk of a less-sardonic Black Lips. Plinking percussive backing harmonizes Vanek’s vocals impeccably on ‘Green Juice,’ while the hushed “la la las” of ‘Onandoga’ seem fitting for a post-pubescent return to Saturday morning cartoons. ‘All We Got,’ exudes joy despite the “fucked up” world we’re stuck in (“it ain’t all bad / sometimes I’m sorta glad / that I’m alive”). Perhaps the perfect anthem for graduating-and-terrified seniors, ‘All We Got’ closes the album with a brief reminder that summer’s coming, and we’ll survive.

Although studio recordings may not be the ideal medium for which Japanther should be ingested, Instant Money Magic documents a certain energy that flourishes off-stage. As the early 90s taught us, it can be difficult to move on from the hiss and squeal of the oft-consoling tape deck, but Japanther’s promotion to a hi-er fi sees them strive for a sound apart from that of their grimy live shows. It may take some time for die-hard fans to adjust, but as an entry-level course, Instant’s right on the money…8.0/10

Take me in