ALBUM REVIEW: Ashland Avenue by Forgotten Tropics

By: Derek Spencer

There are moments of Ashland Avenue in which I decided I was enjoying the EP: notably the bridge of “Movement”, most of “Breaching the Peace”, and the verse of “Bound to Fall” before repetition degrades its focused disconcertion. But in the waning age of emo revival, one At The Drive-In imitator is really only as good as the next. Forgotten Tropics are kind of like your grandma that sends you a hilarious meme years after it stopped being funny, or like a meal of delicious tacos directly following a whole week of eating only delicious tacos: good content, bad timing.

If your goal is to do something a lot of people are also currently doing, you better do it fucking perfectly. This is Forgotten Tropics‘ failure. The production wavers between the “gritty, evocative amateur studio” sound and the “just an amateur studio” sound. The lyrics, when discernible, are trite and unmoving (if I never hear a song with the line “I gotta get out of this town” again, It will be too soon). The album lacks thematic ingenuity; it’s named after a street in the band’s hometown and features a picture of the band, presumably sitting in their apartment on Ashland Ave.

Again, none of this is to say Ashland Avenue is bad– it’s good music made by young musicians who should probably keep making music.  Forgotten Tropics are at their best when they dive into noisey or funky tangents, experimenting with tone in viscerally appealing ways. They lay out compelling rhythms and pull off complex transitions and I liked hearing all of that. It’s just that I’m pressed to find a reason to ever revisit this EP when there are other bands, genre-founding bands and contemporary acts alike, that simply do it better.

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ALBUM REVIEW: Tweak Knobs, Not Meth by Fat Randy

By: Derek Spencer

Self-awareness is a saving grace, of sorts. Self-parody, self-commentary– such mechanisms are safeguards against the embarrassment of sincere commitment, and the failure that can frequently follow.  These same safety nets can be limiting as well though; a spectacle is far less interesting when deprived of its inherent risk.

When writing for a very particular audience about a common subject– as is done on Tweak Knobs, Not Meth– it can be hard to avoid destructive, glib self-awareness. Admirably, Fat Randy‘s 2015 EP mostly avoids this pitfall and instead commits to something specific and genuine. Demonstrating a knack for separating their own talents and experiences from the chaff or unattainable, the trio deliver on an EP that is fully in their own wheelhouse.

The group draws on a myriad of musical influences, from Arab on Radar-esque 90’s no-wave to the psychedelic meanderings of Acid Mother’s Temple. The vocal delivery and guitar hues do some work to tie the songs together, but are ultimately unable to reign in a slightly mismatched musical palette. While the composition and textures can be disjointed, the 5-song collection is bound tightly together by tone and lyrical theme. In no ambiguous language, Fat Randy writes songs about the state-school college experience. They even clarify for the listener on track three: the album is about the University of Connecticut. Speaking brashly, and even absurdly, about topics ranging from hangovers to the administrative handling of sexual assault, Tweak Knobs, Not Meth aims for the bullseye and hits; a feat only diminished when one realizes how close the shooter was to the target in the first place.

At their best when they’re more serious-silly than silly-sillyFat Randy delivers most satisfyingly on “Our Beloved CEO” wherein one Susan Herbst, the president of UConn, is called out by name concerning her dealing with campus sexual assault policy (“How does it feel to compromise your sex,O’ Susan?//A politician in sheep’s clothing, O’ Susan//Watch contradictions circle on the floor//Watch her drop when the money don’t sing”). “Wings”, a ska-influenced closer professing love for (what I can only imagine is) the UConn student body’s drunk-food of choice, tarnishes the album slightly; though I can imagine this is a crowd favorite at hometown house shows.

Falling just short of being ~impactful~, yet clearly rising above the expected diligence of undergraduate rock bands, Fat Randy lays dynamic lyrics over a selection of musical styles that can all loosely be categorized as “fun”. Potentially compelling, potentially alienating for non-Connecticuters, Tweak Knobs, Not Meth is sure to elicit nostalgia from college grads and make current UConn students shout something along the lines of “Fuck yeah.”

ALBUM REVIEW: The Burning Bush by Moses Nose

By: Derek Spencer

It is the merry morning time. I am traipsing into my office and now I am sipping my coffee and reading messages left by other people who traipsed into their offices and sipped their coffee before me. Do I suspect, here in my morning state, that within the next hour, I will hear the line “We are the kings of Nova Scotia” sung over-upon-over in a bossa nova-esque melody, laying over harmonize-matched guitar riffages, creating for me some wry international pun and an internal, yet mild, sense of disquiet?  (What is nova, anyways, other than the obvious “nuclear explosion caused by a dying dead star”? I mean in the Brazilian and Canadian sense, what is nova?) No, dear reader, no. I do not expect this, but it is what has happened this morning.  The ceaselessly punny 80’s apologists known to over 2,000 facebook users as Moses Nose are responsible for this disruption to my life of expected occasions, and whether or not I’m happy about it is none of your business.

“Oh man, oh man. You’ve gotta check out ‘The Burning Bush‘!” reads the email I received from Mister Vincent Randazzo on March the 10th. He is a master of viral marketing, because indeed, upon reading this short message over 2 months past due, I knew that yes, I gotta check this out, this album, The Burning Bush. This Mr. Vincent is the vocalist and guitarist of the band aforementioned– again here in print for the second time, Moses Nose– and yet also he is clearly the mouthpiece of the band, using tongue and finger to spread word of his groups artistic pursuits to the world wide world.

I listen and I say “this is not what I thought I would hear this morning,” with all the 80’s coming all over the place like my ears, gushing some might even say. Headphones overflow with the 80’s. I hear a man, formerly known to me as Vincent but now known to me as the man who just spake: “rock or be rocked upon”, he says now, he says: “I’m a sad man…. i’ll tell you straight up I don’t give a shit.” Oh no!  This is a frightening time, that 80’s rockers such as Vincent and the Moses Noses crew might think so little of themselves.  they have so much to offer! So much music, so much yelling, so much good emails!  For what cause is this self-deprecation perpetrated and to what end? Shall I fear for the well-being of Vincent? What of Josh, Joey, and Trevor (if Vincent is the septum of the Moses Nose, then these thrice men-o-men are the duel nostrils and bridge, in turn)?

And then the bossa nova hits me and I am a new man. Please, lay more on me! Lay it on Thick! I will stop drinking this coffee and start drinking a new cup of coffee. This merry morning is merry in a new way, a way that only things that have been sitting in/on the backs of record stores for 30 years can be merry, pools of recycled slugde for me to drink out of my coffee pot with a smile on my face.  We are the kings of Nova Scotia indeed.  Please, by means of all to and from the people, continue to make rock which sometimes includes rapping. Please, for to all the folks who need it and you, never stop the pun!  Be well, Vincent and the Nose parts, continue on with music and your ways of living little by little.  You are adored.

ALBUM REVIEW: MBD EP 1- Man Bites Dog

By: Marshall Smith

On ‘MBD EP 1,’ (WHAT COULD IT STAND FOR?) Man Bites Dog of Illinois dish up a heady three course serving of rattling, jittery, math-y post-hardcore vibes. Song sections collide into one another with nary a regard for any of that ‘smooth transition’ nonsense—abrupt stops and starts abound, keeping listeners on their toes and band geeks happy. The guys are clearly talented musicians, so thankfully things stay nice and tight even during the most hectic passages.

Within each of the EP’s three tracks, MDB alternate distinctly between the emo/indie approach to ‘post-hardcore’ (think Kinsella brothers [I’m looking at you, vocal delivery at 1:36 on ‘Disconnect’]) and its more strident sibling (we’re talking ‘Relationship of Command’ era At The Drive-In). Although repeated, rapid changes in tone can wear down most listeners (I, myself being no exception), the short run time of the release keeps things sounding fresh and the execution more novel than tired.

The stand-out track for my money is ‘Take,’ which features a particularly gratifying vocal breakdown around the 45 second mark which dives head-first into a good old-fashioned math-rock guitar clash, with the bass and drums doing an admirable job of keeping things anchored. Sweet licks keep coming as the song unfurls and the band flashes some slick jazz influences; from there, the track gradually deconstructs itself until only a swirling mess of guitar pedal delay is left.

Man Bites Dog’s EP 1 definitely warrants a listen for fans of unconventional rock—I would also bet a shiny nickel or two these guys can put on a rowdy wild show, and that counts for a lot in my book.

ALBUM REVIEW: Carbon Jacket by Carbon Jacket

By: Derek Spencer

Brand & Marketing Guide for Carbon Jacket

Social Media

  • Acceptable words to describe upcoming shows: “sweet, tight, packed, DIY, exciting, new, rad, sold-out, amped, raw, uncensored, unsafe for adults, maxxxed out, tunes.”
  • Unacceptable words to describe upcoming shows: “shitty, uninteresting, garage, stupid, for babies, mangled, terrible, unsightly, educational, 10 hours long.”
  • Post one Facebook anecdote per month about what happens when band practice gets a little to crazy. Don’t forget the “lol.”
  • Retweet tweets from: Imagine Dragons (ironically), Less Than Jake (unironically), Kim Kierkegaardashian, Rand Paul, Fender, Zen Quotes Daily, and Southwest Airlines
  • Sample facebook post: “Rock’n’Roll is alive and well! 1 share=1 rockin tune.”

Viral Marketing

  • Paint the lyrics from your sweet track “Wonderful Day To Fly” on your bodies, go skydiving, take Polaroid pictures, tape them onto the windows of public transit buses, write a clever hashtag like #CarbonFly2015 on the back of the photos.
  • Buy an expensive grand piano, create a video of drummer Thomas Cruz mercilessly smashing the piano with a variety of hammers while shouting things like “The old tunes are dying” and  “Carbon Jacket is the best and will usher in a new epoch of tunes.”
  • Take out ads on popular porn websites, advertising for “Ravenous 50+ sex meetup near you!”.  List the time and address of your next show.
  • Get your video camera and go around the suburbs messing up/putting gum in people’s hair.  Promise to fix their hair if they say “Carbon Jacket’s got the tunes!” while looking directly into the camera without laughing.  Discard this footage directly after.

Fashion & Public Demeanor

  • Antonio Aguas- Dress like your bowling team kicked you out for putting silly puddy in the other teams fingerholes.  On stage, twiddle your thumbs and spit repeatedly during instrumental sections.
  • Thomas Cruz- Chains everywhere. Chew gum aggressively during interviews. Threaten to skullbash anyone who talks shit about Antonio cause “we’ve been through some shit.”
  • Julian Jansson- Your thing is that you are a sailormoon cosplayer who got kidnapped by the band and forced to play guitar.  In between songs, say things like “I don’t want to be here!” or “I really don’t want to be in this band, but I can’t escape all the tunes!”
  • Luke Montalvo- Call yourself “The Count” and insist that you are the only member of the band who has “peered through the keyhole at the gates of perception”.  Release solo project cassette tapes and chuck them at your bandmates when they mess up on stage.

Final Verdict: The bottom of the barrel, crowned victor over a garage stuffed with corpses.  Rock is dead/long live rock.  Age is a construct and your new god too.

Pitchfork Verdict: 4.2

ALBUM REVIEW: Chapter Two by The Shakes & Rumbles

By: Derek Spencer

In their submission email, The Shakes & Rumbles warn me that their album is “REALLY good”.  This conceit makes me want to, in equal parts: sarcastically write a review from the perspective of a person who might describe themselves doing anything as “REALLY good,” write a scathing review that unfairly nitpicks at the mix/specific lyrics and makes disingenuous comparisons, and write an unreasonably brief review.  I will strive to situate the following somewhere in the middle of all that.

Chapter Two, The Shakes & Rumbles’ 2014 EP release, is a cool collection of three anthemic party-rock songs, packed with all of the 4-to-the-floor rock’n’roll energy necessary to cause my leg to vigorously shake beneath my work desk (with the aid of several cups of hot, strong coffee).  While the EP does capitalize lyrically on hip 2014 themes like ~love~ and ~sexy vampires~, The Shakes & Rambles are ultimately unable to disguise their lack of a bassist, despite valiant efforts at boosting the lows on each doubled guitar track and scooping out all tonal mids for spare parts (seriously, even the White Strips pick up a bass in the studio).  Like many bands in the genre, The Shakes & Rumbles find it hard to touch their snare on the 2nd and 4th beats of each measure without doubling down on the floor tom as well, often providing the listener with low end drum hits on every. single. beat.  With the low-end loaded up and the highs occupied mostly with a searing cymbal ambiance, instrumental sections often deliver a mid-range primarily focused on all the unwanted noise that a fuzz pedal can muster.  It’s all pretty genius, if I’m being honest.

Vocally, we find here a duo that just won’t quit, thrashing the listener with a stream of melodic yells and shouts, generally conveying motifs like “fun”, “heterosexual”, and “vampires”.  For example: “you know you’re my vampire queen/ the sexiest girl I’ve ever seen…I liked the way you used to dress.”  Now imagine that line sang in an high-tenor vibrato by one of two singers, both of whom are possibly the lovechild of vocalists from The Scorpions, The Eagles of Death Metal, Van Halen, The Black Keys, and other dope bands.

Final Verdict: If I were scoring a vampire movie, I would use one of these songs for the rising action fight scene where nothing is at stake but all the characters are demonstrating hostilities/tensions while having a good romp to fun tunes.

ALBUM REVIEW: Low Demo by N A N C I

By: Derek Spencer

nanci is a weird name for a one-man-band given that the person’s name is Trey i kind of thought given the stylized nature of the email i received titled “N A N C I\\\\ 4 review” that this would actually be a house dj or something but i was wrong its a dude in a room with a guitar oh okay now im listening to the music and get why his name is weird its because the music is weird to i guess its not that weird its very soul-rock but like maybe if a character from disney was the singer im not saying thats a bad thing or that i cant take the music seriously just like i dont get the vocals on the first track here what is he saying im pretty sure he just said “my pores purr and sweat” i want pores that sweat is he a surrealist or did maybe try to say that his pores pour or perhaps poor pores? unclear but at any rate i feel bad for any regular old guy who feels that one word is insufficient to describe the activity of his pores oh well so heres another lyric “I’m as poor as an artist” wow hits me right in the caged heart i feel at once like this song is about a sad man who just wants to make art but has to eat pnj all day but also i feel like its about me and my personal struggles do i have to choose one lol idk but i think if i did i would not be able to OH i like the second song better he sounds better in a lower register and he doubled the vocals it kind of sounds like hes been listening to too much portugal the man but thats okay theyre an alright band and anyways who am i to judge all music is derivative at this point anyways so making statements like that is pretty much a pretentious but useless thing to say i shouldnt do that i really shouldnt do that sorry readers sorry mom anyways wow these songs are short like itle bitty bb songs okay the next song ishere and i’m thinking “okay that makes sense, sure okay yeah, this song, yeah i get it” and i do really think i mean that i mean it makes sense that N A N C I doesnt wanna be my girl anymore OH WAIT maybe N A N C I is a character being played by trey idk food for thought if a concept is unleashed in demo form but the artist doesnt describe it as a concept album is it still a concept album???? food4thought food4thought food4thought speaking of foods and brains my mom posted a study today about health benefits of wine food4thought food4thought food4thought

Rating: good

Stray observations: do you ever get really depressed when you realize that no one has swiped right on you on tinder for days and youve swiped right on like a million girls and maybe you just arent the type of guy who gets to have a lot of sex in your life maybe you need to reevaluate your goals and stop getting so worked up about internet dating haha i mean idk if this is how i feel but it might be how someone feels.? idk idk food4thought i like  tinder i swipe so much my thumb is gone