Category Archives: Punk

Camper Van Beethoven: El Camino Real

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Camper Van Beethoven: El Camino RealCamper Van Beethoven‘s bassist Victor Krummenacher previously told Pop Matters “Young Camper is very different from old Camper,” and he’s certainly right. Mixing elements from styles ranging from pop to alternative country to ska, Camper has perpetually played with the boundaries between genres. Now, this year’s El Camino Real even differs from its thematically similar sister album, last year’s La Costa Perdida. Both reflect on the band’s home of California yet while La Costa Perdida celebrated the Northern part with a relatively upbeat, relaxed sound, El Camino Real focuses on the Southern part of the state with a significantly darker tone and tighter arrangements. Lead singer David Lowery’s recollections of shifting states between admiration and disillusionment for his old stomping grounds illustrate even further that Camper is a band looking at time through a looking glass, making their aesthetic alterations between albums understandable. As the men of Camper look back on the past, it’s only normal that their perspectives on events and places would change and this tonally and lyrically darker release marks another successful one for the band.

A sample of a Japanese  airline announcement introduces the album’s opener ‘The Ultimate Solution’ before Jonathan Segel’s violin cascades alongside Jonathan Lisher’s slide guitar. Singing of “violins and violence”, Lowery’s mannered and recently choice style of vocals recalls a Blur-era Damon Albarn and which can also be heard on the mischievous sounding ‘It Was Like That When We Got Here’. While violin weighs down a springing bass, Lowery sings in an unattached tone screaming of messiness and longing like a petulant child. Camper has previously paired disparate lyrics and music and this up-tempo track is another strong example of it for the group.

Though the more upbeat songs in the beginning of the album are definitely worth a listen, Camper seems most comfortable on more melancholy tracks like the dark dance number ‘Camp Pendleton’, where a downtrodden guitar moves slowly with sharp bass plucks and Michael Urbano’s steady drum rhythm. Here, the lamenting lyrics match the gloomier sound of Lowery’s calmed down vocals before a catchy lo-fi guitar introduces the ominous yet danceable chorus repeatedly chanting “Pump up the violence/Bring the lights on down.” And on the eeriest track ‘Out like a Lion’ where a baritone Lowery’s slow spoken lyrics about a baby born into it’s dead mother’s blood roll along soft and heavy drum thumps. The song is littered with Segel’s fiddle haunting the background and accents of bluesy guitar fluctuating in and out but the screaming battle between the two at the end of the track make this a praise-worthy piece of production on the album.

Faster songs on the album are equally satisfying like ‘Dockweiler Beach’ whose punk beat shadows over rushing instrumentals and Lowery’s serial-killer style vocals and when he stutters on lines like “they are never c-coming back” you almost shiver to the rhythm of the spookily low bass set against the ska-paced drums. ‘I Live in L.A.’ similarly pumps up the energy and although Lowery sings, or more appropriately yells, roughly out of range, the bluesy guitar, faint harmonica, and catchy chorus about the good-time that is L.A. nightlife save the song from its less impressive vocals.

Camper plays with its folk side on the ballad ‘Sugartown’ where Segel’s violin slow dances with the country twang of Lisher’s guitar but Lowery’s vocals sound far too guttural set against the smooth romanticism of the song. Also disappointing on the countrified ‘Darken Your Door’, Lowery’s sometimes rewarding stoicism turns into a uncaring drawl and although the song’s high and low pitched strings make one feel like they’re on a gondola in Louisiana, a lack of any climax makes this a forgettable moment on El Camino Real. The album’s end ‘Grasshopper’ keeps up the pleasantries with a slow rolling beat alongside Lowery’s most connected sounding vocals. The stream of harmony make this track a serene ending to a pretty frantic album. On El Camino Real, Camper plays with all (or most) of its favorite toys: punk, rock, alt-country, folk, and instrumental. And although Lowery may need to find a balance between his punky-dissaffectedness and a sense of connection with the listener in his vocals, the album is still a quality representation of the band’s technical and creative abilities and any longtime Camper fans should find it a good listen…7/10

White Reaper: White Reaper

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White Reaper: White Reaper — The classic punk number is a single scrap of an idea captured in about 2 minutes (3 more recently, advances in technology, y’know); the lengthier the track is, the more it runs the risk of proselytizing, of *gasp* believing in something, and hence shattering the illusion that the present moment is the pinnacle of fun and fanfare. The songs on White Reaper‘s phenomenal self-titled debut certainly fit this bill, and then some–they sound completely full, completely developed, and not just because they’re loud and fast like drunken wolverines on bicycles either. There’s a completely development of ideas, a flurry of melodies and elements that all pack enough punch to make you believe you went through a journey of twice the real-time length.

There’s a compliment I rarely deliver – “I don’t even know, man, these songs sound kinda . . . long . . .”, but imagine I’m saying it with my mouth slightly ajar and with one eyelid tensed and suspicious of what I’m hearing, rather than with a blase tiredness. White Reaper is a never-ending burlesque of street fires and chest-drumming mojo, with moments of gravitas that prevent dismissals of shallowness. The riffage is constantly profuse, the bass bouncy and insistent, and drummer Sam Wilkerson, Odin Almighty– he sounds like he could breast-stroke a liferaft to safety, with the towing rope gritted in his teeth. He hits with an intensity you wouldn’t expect from the hummingbird-schizo pace he operates at; there’s gotta be lead weights tipping those drumsticks or some such nonsense.

It’s a little bit nuts to try to pick a standout, every track seems like a how-to for succeeding in punk, six ways to success–opener ‘Cool’ is your catchy, nonsensical, Ramones-sing-along; closer ‘Ohh (Yeah)’ (love the parenthetical there) goes at a pace at once danceable, yet resembling the lurch of an electrified corpse, thanks to a thrumming bass courtesy of Sam’s identical twin Nick, and to the raw enunciation of vocalist/guitarist Anthony Esposito; and ‘Conspirator’, though it mostly pounds with a No Age sort of urgency, has these dad-rock moments of designed crowd-pleasing that avoids hamminess.

The tracks just seem to vibrate in their own little envelope long after they end, and the album as a whole begs to be repeated–it just hurtles on and on, like six tops spinning endlessly in a box. Not bad at all for a trio of under-agers…8.8/10

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Tony Molina: Dissed and Dismissed

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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’

Parquet Courts: Sunbathing Animal

Parquet Courts: Sunbathing Animal- Brooklyn-based four-piece Parquet Courts will release their latest album, cleverly entitled Sunbathing Animal, on June 3. This their third full-length endeavor follows 2012 release Light Up Gold, best described as an underappreciated compilation of gritty stoner jams. With Sunbathing Animals, Parquet Courts display innovation incorporated to the sounds of their first album. Is this a sign of musical maturity? That is yet to be determined. I give to you now Sunbathing Animals: a thirteen-track trip through the mind of lead guitar and vocalist, Andrew Savage.

The first track, ‘Bodies,’ begins with a riff that belongs in a Pinback song, quickly covered by melodic shouts of “Bodies made up of slugs and guts.” The song serves as a brief introduction to Parquet Courts’ sound – a little rough, a little dirty and (perhaps most importantly of all) a little humor. If you listen to Parquet Courts with the intent of taking their every word and musical experiment seriously you’re doing it wrong.‘Black and White’, track two, is featured twice on the album, it reappears in an alternative 7-inch Version as the album’s conclusion. The song itself quickly devolves into a noisy mess of feedback frequently throughout which makes listening to it difficult.

‘Dear Ramona’ is one of the standout tracks of the album. The song is a ballad to Ramona, an emotionally unattainable woman. The lyrics are intriguing, perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the whole song. ‘What Color Is Blood’ is a solid garage band-rock track. ‘Vienna II’ is the first song on the album to break away from the grunge rock sound of Parquet Courts, a brief track that evokes sounds similar to The Velvet Underground. Parquet Courts have developed from their Light Up Gold days, both instrumentally and lyrically and the experimentation and maturity is evident when listening to Sunbathing Animals.

‘She’s Rollin’, track seven, begins with a heavy bass giving way to a simple guitar riff. The track is indicative of Parquet Courts style – a gritty quintessentially “new york” rock song which disintegrates into the haphazard playing of instruments, massive amounts of feedback, and specifically in ‘She’s Rollin’ a drawn out harmonica solo. This cacophonous style can be dangerous, in that it has the potential to become irritating very quickly if you’re not careful.

The title track, ‘Sunbathing Animal’, is a punk rock tour de force that evokes a Dead Kennedys atmosphere. Another one of the strongest songs on the album. Immediately following ‘Sunbathing Animal’ is ‘Up All Night’, an instrumental interlude that leads into track ten, ‘Instant Disassembly’. ‘Instant Disassembly’ is hands-down my personal favorite track off the album; heavy on the influence of Lou Reed and it refrains from that raucous instrumentation present in so many of the tracks on the album.

‘Ducking & Dodging’ is track eleven, highly reminiscent of The White Stripes circa Elephant. ‘Raw Milk’, carries a sound similar to that of ‘Instant Disassembly’, with  monotone vocals and slower paced, drawn out instrumentals.

The album concludes with ‘Into the Garden’ (which is followed by the 7-inch version of ‘Black and White’). ‘Into the Garden’ consists of two minutes of a spaced out introduction, the sound of spaceships from old horror films accompanied by a simple guitar riff. About a minute before the song ends, the vocals kick in, with only a piano and guitar in the background. “Let me slip into my/Insomniac shoes” sings Savage. The alternative 7-inch version of ‘Black and White’ I find preferable to the originally listed second track, primarily because it does not possess the senseless feedback and random instrumentation that the original version does.

Sunbathing Animal is Parquet Courts’ testament to the music of their hometown, New York City. The album has its high and low points, and in some ways its flaws compliment its strengths so greatly that they need not be fixed. The album as a whole is typical to the sound of the band, so to all the Parquet Courts fans, here’s the album for you! …7/10

‘Instant Disassembly’

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’