Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Today: Antimony. Now, it would have seemed that Antimony had a lot going for them. They were 3/4 of the often-brilliant Circus Lupus (Seth Lorinczi, Arika Casebolt and Chris Hamley); their record, Phantom Itch, was produced by J. Robbins from Jawbox and mixed by Dischord's own Ian MacKaye and all in all it's not a bad record. The guitar and bass get to be louder and more in focus than they are in Circus Lupus, and it turns out they have a lot to say. There are vocals here, but they seem almost superfluous, calibrated not to interfere with what the instruments are doing. Antimony, released from Chris Thomson’s plodding vocal style, created songs that are more driving and busy and joyfully complicated. There's an element of chaos here: You're not sure if it’s all going to come off, but against all odds, it somehow does.

What's working against Antimony? The band was already broken up when the record came out. I think you call that a “DC special.” I don't know if these songs were ever played live outside of a rehearsal space or recording studio. They were conceived, labored over, detailed and polished, only to be abandoned by their owners, destined never to be played again. (I guarantee you there will be no Antimony reunion). Antimony was the aftershock or maybe the death throes of Circus Lupus. An aberration. A rumor. They burned briefly and dimly but loudly. That's right. They burned loudly. It’s as if it was time for Circus Lupus to break up and these three reasoned, “Wait, we have one more thing to say on the subject. What could we do if there were no constraints? If we let ourselves go? If we ignored those voices from without and within that say to us, ‘That is too fucking busy’”?

So. Once more with feeling and busy as fuck.

Phantom Itch

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Volcano Suns

"The current lineup continues the mixture of surreal lunacy and singalong pop sludge that have already won them a spot in the hearts of many unemployed people on drugs."

-Homestead press release

I was listening to WFMU's Tom Scharpling this week, and I heard a couple of startling things about the Volcano Suns. The first: Merge is rereleasing the first two Volcano Suns records, the Bright Orange Years and the beloved All Night Lotus Party, in January. The second: Tom Scharpling seems to like the Volcano Suns better than Mission of Burma. Sacrilege to most, but when someone gave me a cassette of 1987's "Bumper Crop" in 1991, I took to it like a 21-year-old drunk kid takes to Volcano Suns: quickly and often. It was raucous and sloppy but slightly smart and intensely cynical, ie, the essence of Peter Prescott's contributions to Mission of Burma. Loose rhythm with a lot of screaming before the verses. Kristen Hersh says that they were the first grunge band and should have been famous instead of Nirvana. I'd be curious to see a world where Volcano Suns are legends and people criticize them for an acclaim not entirely deserved. I'd also like to see Peter Prescott write a "Dear Abby"-style advice column.

I'm not saying "Bumper Crop" is the best Volcano Suns record, but sometimes your first foray into a band, or inhalants, or intimacy with your own prostate is, at least, your most memorable, and one you inevitably try to recreate for the rest of your life. As in a lot of records of its kind, the vocals are mixed down deep, occasionally causing some confusion. For instance, in "Local Wise Man" I hear one lyric as "I know that one and one comes to two/ and I can put my foot through a nun." And I know that can't be right. But I think misunderstood lyrics are like a Rorschach test; we hear what we want to hear in those mumbly moments. I mean, maybe it's me and not the character in the song who wants to put his foot through a nun. It's something I should probably look into with my therapist or maybe local law enforcement. In "Peal Out" the vocals start with a scream, then some kind of flubber-lipped, head shaking noise that Shemp or Curly might make. Then a couple of "hep heps" followed by some "whoa-oa-oa" before the proper lyrics kick in.

I booked them to play my college a couple of years after this came out. I was so in love with this record, I wanted to hear nothing else. "We've done two records since then," Bob Weston said. I understood that. But it was my (entertainment committee's) $750, and I wanted to hear "Testify."

"I'm in love with everyone/ We're all god's chillun beneath the great big sun/ But don't you put no flowers in my gun"

Bumper Crop

Friday, August 8, 2008

Books Lie

"I guess it really doesn’t matter what you call this stuff anymore, does it? I could tell you it’s hardcore, or indie-rock, or post-hardcore, or shriek-core, or whatever, but all that really tells you is that there’s probably lots of loud guitars, hyperspeed drums, and a singer who yells or yelps as much as he/she sings—i.e., nothing particularly substantial. I mean, if you can’t tell that this is a loud, fast, violent album just from the name of the band and the cover art, you desperately need to hang out in more indie record stores. The lines are so blurred these days that terms like “hardcore” or “post-hardcore” are only useful to music critics like yours truly.

What the above all means is that, well, despite the declaration in the liner notes that this is “NYC DIY hardcore,” this isn’t your average bunch of NYcore thrash-metal heads. It’s plenty loud, sure, but It a Weapon is much more in the vein of stuff like Sweden’s Refused, Harriet The Spy, or maybe the Dillinger Escape Plan, melding chaotic noise, Fugazi-style song structures, decidely non-anthemic scream-along choruses, and severe sociopolitical critiques. The one nod here to the scenesters (and one of the tracks closest to traditional hardcore) is “Some Guys,” a decent little rant about posers in the scene; the rest is a little off the beaten path, so to speak.

To hit a few high points: first there’s opener “This Guitar Screams ‘Been There, Done That,’” which comes pretty damn close to living up to it’s title and starts the CD off with a brilliant burn; “Adobe,” a bitter anti-love (I think?) song with a strangely catchy, almost defiant chorus that reminds me a heck of lot of Avail’s Over the James; the awesomely noisy “Wonderful, Gorgeous,” which happens to be one of the few songs I’ve heard where the feedback is almost as important as the actual guitar; and the lo-fi instrumentals “Books Lie” and “Only One T,” neither of which sound like nothing I’ve ever heard on a punk album (but both of which make me think weirdly of Space Needle).

What else can I say? Good, loud, raw rock, the kind that’s criminally under-represented in modern music. This is not your little brother’s hardcore—well, okay, it might be, but if that’s the case I’d keep an eye on the little guy, ‘cause there’s no telling what he’s up to."

-Jeremy Hart, Popmatters

It A Weapon

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Hladno Pivo

I can't claim to know a lot about Hladno Pivo. Well, Hladno Pivo means "cold beer" in Croation, and of beers warm and cold I can make all kinds of claims, boasts and denials. But of Hladno Pivo, the regionally famous Croatian punk band, information in English is hard to come by. I first heard of them, ironically, in Serbia in 1996. Despite the animosity that existed between the two countries over the war that had ended only a year earlier (and, believe me, Slavs can hold a grudge), everyone I met recommended Hladno Pivo to me. And I know they weren’t offering me cold beer because, at the time, there was absolutely no cold beer in Serbia. Over the years I've attempted to find their music, with only a little success, but what I could find I really liked. The melodic punk, big guitars and occasional group singing reminded me of a lot of things. Sometimes it sounds like Agent Orange and Cock Sparrer, then it goes all Naked Raygun, and what's with that one song that sounds like Nomeansno? You probably have to be a lot of things to a lot of people when your country's isolated from the rest of the world by war. Just ask the Serbs. They really ended up jelly side down after that war.

This record is as catchy as a really catchy dose of syphilis and you'll be as happy as Vincent Van Gogh that you had one good ear to hear it with. And while you'll hear plenty of familiar things here, including melodies, this is a fun record with good production values and worth having. And I dare you not to drive faster than is safe for the loved ones in your car while listening to the end of "Ne Volim Te" (I don't love you). "Desetka" is Hladno Pivo in their prime. 1997. From what I can tell, like many good bands, they're well past it now. Let's just say I heard what can only be described as a "rap breakdown" in one of their later albums. It seems at this point they’ve jumped the morski pas.

Hladno Pivo